A clients guide to industry standards and best practices for your website design project.

Ensure your chosen website design company follow these simple rules.

As the client it’s more than likely you’ll only ever see the front facing side of your brands website. It’s important then that once you’ve decided which website design company you want to partner with that you can trust them to deliver a build which follows industry standards and best practices to help ensure your website is both robust and Google friendly from the outset. Below I look at some of the key points to digest and discuss before making an informed decision.

Structure

Google is all about delivering the most relevant content based on a users search term and having a website that is structured correctly will help the Google bots to better index and understand what your product or service is all about. Things you will need to consider are:

Page title tags

These are the key phrases that cover your service, product and area of business and appear at the top of your browser window, on search engine results pages or on social networks. Ideally your page title tags should be between 50-60 characters long so they are displayed properly without the risk of being cut off. Always place your primary keyword as the first title tag as this will be given more emphasis and ensure tags differ for each page.

Page descriptions

These appear directly underneath your page title tags on a search engines results page and ideally need to be kept between 150-160 characters long. They play an important role in enticing users to make a click though to your website and should be written in a natural attractive way, contain keywords about your product or service and be relevant to the page it describes and be unique from the descriptions for other pages.

Page headings

Headings are used to provide hierarchy and help quickly communicate to both search engines and users what the page is all about. There are six levels of headings available to the web designer and range from H1 to H6. As H1 is often considered to be the main heading it’s advisable this contains some of your keywords whilst being written in a natural manner.

URLs

A clean structured and semantically accurate URL helps users and search engines get a better idea about your website pages and content. Whilst URLs can include numbers, codes and special characters it’s best practice to use words separated by hyphens as this is considered easier to understand. URLs are also taken into consideration when deciding a websites search engine ranking so it’s worthwhile where possible including a selection of keywords.

Website framework

The main programming languages that form the basis for all websites are HTML, CSS and Javascript. Whilst drag and drop builders are available that may potentially speed up a build, from experience I have found they’re commonly used by designers with limited knowledge about the web and not only increase the overall size of a build by injecting unnecessary code, but also have a tendency to include browser bugs which then require the right knowledge to get fixed. A well crafted hand-coded website will always be leaner and therefore be quicker performing whilst providing a better user experience. These are just some of the factors which Google takes into account when deciding on a websites natural ranking.

Browser testing

This is an important part of any build and should be done once the project is near completion. Browser testing helps ensure your website performs consistently across all the major platforms and devices. Whilst the languages used to build all websites are consistent, it’s the way in which the code is interpreted which differs from browser to browser and operating systems. Over time there has of course been improvement and more harmony amongst the engines used that power major browsers which has helped cut potential bugs however testing is still a must. One of the leading tried and testing tools available today is Browserstack. It allows instant access to realtime machines across desktop and mobile opposed to emulators or simulators that aren’t always as accurate.

SSL certification

With the majority of users using Google Chrome to browse the web, in recent times Google has been keen for websites to incorporate SSL certification within their websites for a safer overall experience. Simply put a website with an SSL certificate ensures there is a secure connection between your machine and the website you’re visiting and is shown by the use of a small padlock at the beginning of the URL which should also begin with https:// rather than http://. This gives confidence to your users as they’re safe in the knowledge they are free to browse your website within a secure environment. Users visiting any websites that do not have SSL integration are presented with a 'not secure' full page warning which whilst in most cases would still be safe to visit can often deter them from any online interaction with your business. Costs of SSL certificates can vary from one hosting company to another however depending on your agreement with your chosen website design company it is often absorbed into your annual hosting fee.

Cookie notification and cookie policy

A cookie notification is an unobtrusive message that users see when visiting your website for the first time. It’s a courteous prompt to let them know you have some form of third party tracking system in place (usually Google Analytics) to help you gain a better understanding of your websites users. A cookie notification normally includes a link to your cookie policy which then goes into a little more detail about why you use tracking and should users wish to do so clear cookies depending on the browser being used.

W3C validation

W3C is an international organisation who are committed to improving the web and ensuring consistency is adhered to when writing code. Whilst some views are of that it plays no part in a websites search engine optimisation, I find it generally good practice to run a website through this system as it helps to detect where any improvements could and potentially should be made.

Google PageSpeed Insights

Similar to W3C (although more authoritative) Google PageSpeed Insights allow the web design company to run each page of a website through its system which then generates a report on the performance across both mobile and desktop devices whilst also suggesting where improvements can be made. The report covers everything from minifying files through to image sizing and is a valuable tool for search engine optimisation purposes. As Google now uses mobile-first indexing for the entire web it’s essential your website performs well and provides a good user experience.