For many small businesses, a more-or-less generic site structure works just fine. Your basic home page, an About Us profile, some pages on Services and/or Products, a number of Testimonials, perhaps an e-commerce function, and a Contact page, and you’re set.
But what happens if you’ve built a career on being a visionary pioneer, and you need a web presence to match? Ah, then it gets a little more interesting….
That’s when you need to ask some deep questions about your mission, your message, what you are offering to your visitors, and what they are seeking when they arrive.
For example, if you’re a healer with a controversial new approach, should you put the spotlight on your credentials and reputation, or the solid history behind your modality, or the perspective and trainings you offer? A straightforward sales approach might dictate the last of these options, but the question isn’t necessarily so simple.
For example, if you’ve built a blended modality with orthodox experts both cheering and jeering, you probably should provide some solid content on the credentials of your work before you start promoting workshops. If you’ve become a recognized authority, or if you have well-known followers, it would be important to include experts endorsing your achievements, not to mention testimonials from your clients.
Perhaps you’ve created a training center to pass on your approach, or a nonprofit to raise funds for disadvantaged clients…so you’ll want to provide information about these, and their credentials, and ways for students to enroll or donors to contribute. And then of course you’ll want pages to link to your own publications, your books, articles, videos, podcasts, etc. and a bookstore link to sell the books you’ve authored.
So you’re not only dealing with the issues of validating your approach, promoting your current work, and bringing in an income, but also the larger issues of ensuring your legacy and changing the world.
No wonder your website doesn’t fit the norm!
So how do you achieve this quadruple goal in a website that is intuitive, easy to navigate, and compelling to read?
First, identify your audiences. For example, as a visionary healer, you may have skeptics, starry-eyed potential clients, prospective students, and donors Googling you. They may have searched under terms ranging from “success stories” to “lawsuits”. So — especially if you have a large amount of information on your site — you want to have it organized in a way that anticipates those searches, and directs your visitors to exactly the information they want, no matter how they arrive on your site.
And the best way to do this, on a WordPress site, is through 1) effective site structure; 2) strategic use of metatags (for pages) and 3) categories and tags (for blog posts).
The Home Page is connected to the…
Imagine what would happen if your ribcage were connected to your jawbone, or each of your fingers were connected to your spine. Your body would be functioning under some significant disadvantages, right? That’s roughly what happens when your site structure – the skeleton of your site – is set up without careful consideration. You’re likely to wind up with visitors’ attention being directed to the wrong pages, while the pages that you want them to see remain untouched.
Just as you’d take the time to structure chapters for a book, or slides for a slide show, you need to spend time on planning your site’s structure for usability and easy navigation. You’re aiming for Zen elegance here, with minimal clutter and maximum simplicity. Here are a few pointers to help:
- Use one menu if you can – a horizontal menu, below your banner image, is better than a sidebar menu.
- Avoid having more items on your horizontal menu than can be displayed on one line.
- Use the Parent field to organize your pages hierarchically.
- “Parent” pages are on the top level of a menu.
- “Child” pages appear in sub-menus below the parent pages.
- Avoid having more than seven items in any sub-menu, if possible.
- Use the Order field to determine the order in which your pages are listed on a single (parent or child) level.
Showcase your pages for the search engines with metatags
Go ahead – take the leap and Google your own name (you may be surprised at what shows up!). Now, look at each item in the search listing. Each one will probably have a title in large type, bold, followed by a description (or ordinary body text) in a normal-sized font….or something along those lines. What you see in those search results is determined by the metatags for those pages; if you see strange verbiage below the title, it probably means that no metatags exist for that page, and the search is pulling up body text or raw data.
So you want to have metatags that help your entire site – not just the home page – to be attractively showcased when someone runs a search on a keyword or phrase that’s relevant to its content.
This is beginning to edge toward the murky and ever-changing depths of search engine optimization – how to determine those keywords, how to set up extended (“long-tail”) key phrases, and so forth. Right now, what you need to know is that each page’s title and description should be loaded with keywords that show up frequently in searches, but do not have a large number of competing sites using them.
You can use any number of tools to find these keywords, from the free Google Keyword Tool through the affordable, incredibly flexible and function-loaded Market Samurai…an absolute must-have if you plan to do serious search engine optimization for your site (total disclosure: yes, I’m an affiliate – and yes, I was using and recommending it long before it profited me to do so!).
Highlight your blog posts with categories and tags
So you’ve organized and optimized your web pages…now, how can you ensure that your visitors can find the blog posts they want to see? That’s where categories and tags come in…the two tools that every new blogger is likely to avoid using.
Why? Probably because they seem so picayune…until you realize that these two tools can transform a confusing, labyrinthine blog into an easily searched, easily navigated model of usability!
Here’s another analogy: picture a desk strewn from one end to the other with papers about every aspect of your work, from acupressure to zinc, so to speak. Never mind a visitor being able to find something — you can’t even track down a post without mental gymnastics.
But that’s why you have a Search box, you tell yourself….
Problem is, the average visitor, not knowing what to search for, won’t spend the time poking around. Every time you force your visitors to click a link or take an extra step, you’re likely to lose at least one potential client, if not more. In today’s ADD society, they simply don’t have the interest or attention span. So you want your content to be as easily accessed as humanly possible.
Categories and tags basically function as a filing system for your blog posts: categories are usually larger topics (the drawers) and tags are more specific (the file folders). So, for example, you might have Traditional Chinese Medicine as one category, and then set up tags such as Chinese Herbs, Eight Principles Acupuncture, Five Elements Acupuncture, Shiatsu, and so forth.
To simplify things even more for your visitors, you can add widgets such as a category listing and/or a tag cloud, allowing them to see all the posts you’ve stored under a certain category or tag.
When you structure your categories and tags based on optimized keywords, you’re adding extra power to your posts: not only are they organized and easy to find, but they are also organized according to the words on which your visitors are most likely to be searching.
Whether you have a blog with dozens of uncategorized posts, or whether you’ve just posted your first blog entry, do yourself a favor: sit down and identify the categories (large topics) and tags (smaller topics) you find yourself addressing frequently. Then set them up under the Posts menu in your WordPress dashboard.
Does it take some time? Yup. Is it a bit of a pain? Well, sort of…
You’re probably thinking right now of about 10,000 things that look like a better use of your time…but I can guarantee you that the time spent in organizing your site and your blog posts will pay off when visitors land on your site and stay to explore.
To entrance online visitors with the beauty of your vision, the credibility of your work, and the promise of your legacy, they need your website to serve their needs…and that means being able to find what they need to know.
If your WordPress site structure is simply too tangled and confusing, drop us an email. We’ll be happy to work with you and your web developer to create a site structure that makes sense, metatags that attract visitors, and categories and tags that showcase your blog entries.
Your vision deserves no less.