What is website optimisation?

Website optimisation is often narrowly defined in a business context as the process of improving a site’s ability to drive traffic, generate leads, and convert visitors into customers.

That’s certainly a big part of it. But in broader terms, website optimisation is about making sure that your site performs well across the entire spectrum of online benchmarks, including accessibility, data privacy management, and so on.

Ultimately, optimising a website ensures that it is properly set up to fulfil its primary purpose, whether it’s a business goal like customer conversion or a more utilitarian one like granting everyone equal access to critical information. 

Read on to learn: 

What should be optimised on your website

There are many elements of a site that can be optimised. While the exact mix and priority will depend on your website’s main goals, here are the key areas you should consider optimising:

1. SEO

This is about optimising your site for organic traffic by looking at its search engine crawlability, indexability and on-site elements that affect organic ranking.

2. Website performance

This looks at your site’s technical performance, primarily relating to how fast it loads for visitors in different locations and on different devices.

3. Hosting setup

Somewhat related to the overall website performance is your site’s hosting setup. This covers the health of your hosting provider and whether the specific hosting architecture you’ve chosen is right for your needs.

4. Mobile optimisation

The focus here is on how well your site loads and displays on mobile devices, as well as how easy it is to navigate and use for mobile visitors via touch screen gestures.

5. Design and user experience (UX)

Here, you will review your site from a design and UX perspective. Is it intuitive to interact with and does it reflect your brand’s guidelines?

6. Conversion rate

This is about evaluating and improving your site against your primary conversion objectives like newsletter sign-ups, completed orders, new customer leads and so on.

7. Personalisation

Personalisation lets your site adapt and serve content intelligently based on visitor behaviour or explicit customer personas.

8. Internationalisation

This is about optimising your site’s setup to better cater to different geographical markets and languages.

9. Accessibility

This focuses on making sure your site is visible to and usable by people with disabilities, as well as its compatibility with assistive technologies like screen readers.

10. Content

Content optimisation looks at the on-page copy and other content elements to make sure they are free from errors and successfully fulfil their intended purpose.

It’s best to view the above elements as interlocking parts of the same machinery rather than isolated areas to optimise. For instance, you’ll have a hard time optimising for SEO without also looking at the content, mobile friendliness and performance of your site. 

website optimization on mobile illustration

What are the benefits of website optimisation?

In short, optimising your site makes it perform better. More specifically, properly executed website optimisation will improve your site across many major areas, including:

  • Driving more visitors
  • Increasing revenue due to improved conversion rates
  • Improving brand visibility and awareness
  • Raising your on-site experience and reputation
  • Detecting and address any potential security breaches
  • Ensuring compliance with web accessibility standards or other regulatory requirements 

What are the challenges of website optimisation? 

Optimising a website is neither a quick nor a one-off task. It’s an ongoing process that’s never truly finished. Because there are so many things to optimise on a site, the process requires prioritising potential improvements and allocating organisational resources to executing on these.

A lot of this can be challenging for several reasons. First, it often takes a while to see the results of your optimisation efforts. Second, optimising a website can be a time-consuming and costly process, depending on the amount of required fixes and the optimisation tools you use. Finally, it isn’t always easy to get everyone's buy-in for optimisation initiatives, especially in larger organisations. 

How to start optimising a website

While there’s no single correct way to go about optimising a site, the process generally goes through the same steps and has a few distinct milestones. Regardless of whether you’re optimising your SEO or web accessibility, here are the eight steps you’ll want to follow. 

1. Test and audit your site

You can’t truly optimise a site without first evaluating its current performance. No matter which area of your site you’re optimising, you want to start by running any relevant tests and audits to get a snapshot of how it’s doing right now.

Collect available data, use third-party tools to run automated audits and generate any relevant analytics reports to help you get the initial picture. If you’re working on areas related to content, design or user experience, it also helps to define your customer personas and your ideal user journey before starting your optimisation initiatives. This ensures that you optimise the site with your audience in mind rather than chasing potentially irrelevant fixes for their own sake.

2. Analyse results

Having the necessary data is just the start. Armed with whatever information you’ve gathered, you want to sift through the results to identify what to focus on and what to ignore. You likely won’t be able to address every potential error or issue. Focusing on a limited number of key priorities is a better approach.

3. Come up with a hypothesis

After identifying key improvement areas, you want to arrive at a hypothesis. In measurable terms, what do you expect to happen once you fix the identified errors or make improvements. for instance, you might hypothesise that by making your pages load in three seconds instead of four, you will convert 10% more customers. Defining a hypothesis anchors your optimisation efforts and gives them a clear purpose.

4. Set KPIs

This is linked to the above step and is a way to test your hypothesis. How exactly will you measure whether your assumptions were correct? What metrics and key performance indicators will you look at to compare the “before” and “after” picture?

5. Define priorities

Now that you know what you’re going to optimise and what outcomes you expect, it’s time to arrange your list of improvements in prioritised order. Typically, you’ll want to first tackle the low-hanging fruit: issues and improvements that are relatively easy to address but that are still expected to have a strong impact on your performance.

This approach helps you generate a clear roadmap and timeline for each task. It will also help you stay focused during the optimisation process.

6. Optimise your site

You’re now ready to implement fixes and improvements to your site. Start by addressing the high-priority issues first and work your way down the list. Many third-party tools automatically provide you with a prioritised list of optimisation tasks, so it’s often a matter of simply following their recommendations.

7. Monitor progress

As you eliminate errors and implement improvements, keep an eye on the KPIs you’ve set in step 4. Are they moving in the direction you expected? Keep in mind that it often takes time to see the full impact of your website optimisation efforts, so be patient and avoid jumping to premature conclusions.

8. Re-test

Remember that website optimisation is an ongoing process. As your site evolves, new issues might emerge while others become less critical. Continue to test your site in order to spot any potential errors and improvement opportunities in good time. Then you repeat the above process to keep your site continuously optimised and maintain it in the best possible shape. 

6 tips for smoother website optimisation processes 

To make the process of optimising your site run more smoothly, it helps to have the following six tips in mind.

1. Find website optimisation tools that integrate with your existing MarTech stack

There is no shortage of available website optimisation tools out there. Depending on the specific elements you’ll be optimising, you’ll often find dozens of tools designed for that exact purpose. So how do you choose the right tool for your needs?

One rule of thumb is to pick optimisation tools that can easily integrate with your existing marketing technology (MarTech) stack. In principle, with some effort, most tools can eventually be made to work with each other. But starting out with a tool that plugs directly into your existing ecosystem can easily save you weeks of setup time and training, as well as freeing up internal IT resources.

So, whenever you’re researching tools for website optimisation, ask yourself how easy they would be to use with your current setup.

2. Use automated tools to spot and react to critical issues

Not every aspect of website optimisation must be automated. But if there’s one area where automation makes a lot of sense, it’s monitoring for critical, site-breaking issues.

Incorrect technical SEO settings can instantly make your site invisible to search engines. Broken mobile templates will prevent your site from displaying properly on smartphones. A gap in your security settings will leave your site vulnerable to breaches. In the worst case, overlooking a period of server downtime where your entire site is inaccessible will cost you hours of lost revenue.

To prevent this, find tools that help you set up automated checks for any critical issues, so that you’re able to identify and fix these before they can do any harm to your website.

3. Prioritise critical technical SEO issues

All else being equal, technical SEO issues have the highest potential to harm your site. Improper technical setup can make your site disappear from Google and other search engines or even prevent it from loading entirely.

As such, whenever you identify any critical issues related to technical setup, make these your absolute first priority before moving on to the rest of your optimisation checklist.

4. Focus on the quality of your content

With critical issues out of the way, your site’s content takes priority. After all, your site exists to serve a defined group of visitors, and the main way it does it is through useful, well-organised and easily digestible content.

Review your site’s content from an end user’s perspective and ask whether it satisfies their expectations. Can you make your copy more readable and easy to understand? Do your key pages give visitors sufficient and valuable information? Is some of that information better off being presented using images, charts, videos and other rich media formats?

5. Make it a habit to manually test your website

Top-level reports and automated checks are immensely useful. They can digest and summarise huge volumes of information in a way that random spot checks never will.

Still, make sure that you regularly perform manual tests of your site. This is as close as you’ll ever get to experiencing your site the way an end user does. A summarised report can tell you about what issues exist, but a manual test can make you feel the impact of those issues. Knowing your site has a low score in mobile navigation can’t quite capture the frustration of repeatedly trying and failing to click a tiny hamburger menu icon on a touch screen.

Supplement your optimisation tools with manual checks of your site. It’ll help you better understand your visitors and design solutions that address their needs.

6. Always optimise your website with your audience in mind

On a related note, make sure that your optimisation efforts aren’t performed in a vacuum. The main reason to optimise your site in the first place is to make it better serve your end users. Because of this, always approach your optimisation checklist with your audience in mind.

This may even mean de-prioritising certain issues to focus on others that are more likely to affect your specific audience. Your site might have mobile usability issues, but if your intended audience are office professionals using desktop computers, you’ll probably want to focus on resolving security issues before making tweaks for mobile-friendliness.

Therefore, be sure to evaluate each issue through the eyes of your audience in order to optimise elements that are most important to them.

Essential tools for website optimisation 

As daunting as the process of website optimisation may seem, there’s help to be had. For every area of your site that can be optimised, you’ll find plenty of useful tools to help you test, analyse and implement improvements.

DCI report illustration

Here are the key types of tools you can use to optimise a website.

1. Website analytics tools

These are tools that help you understand your site’s visitors and their behaviour. Here’s some of what they’ll typically help you with:

  • Understand which channels drive visitors to your site
  • Understand the nature of those visitors (demographics, stage in lifecycle, etc.)
  • Define user personas and see how they navigate your site
  • Set up and monitor on-site goals, metrics, and KPIs

2. SEO tools

This is a broad category of tools that help with your search engine optimisation efforts. Depending on the tool, they’ll help you:

  • Identify and prioritise keyword opportunities
  • Track SERP ranking for your target keywords
  • Optimise your on-page content and internal links with SEO in mind
  • Compare your site to key organic competitors
  • Monitor the amount and quality of incoming backlinks
  • Suggest mobile optimisation fixes to support your mobile-first initiatives

3. Content optimisation tools

These tools help improve your site content, both from an SEO and reader perspective. This includes:

  • Identifying broken links in your content
  • Checking for spelling and grammar issues
  • Tracking content freshness
  • Spotting duplicate content
  • Evaluating your content’s readability and skimmability

4. Website performance optimisation tools

These tools identify and recommend improvements for a wide range of issues related to your site’s technical performance, such as:

  • Page loading speed
  • Server response times
  • Use of caching on the site
  • Image size and use of lazy load
  • Response codes for individual URLs

5. Website security tools

These look at security related elements to flag errors or suggest improvement, including:

  • Use of SSL protocol on the site
  • Links to and from unsafe domains
  • Site’s security headers
  • Server- and network-level security monitoring

6. Data privacy management tools

These tools help you manage customer data and ensure that your site complies with privacy laws. This covers:

  • Tests for compliance with consumer privacy regulations like the GDPR and CCPA
  • Keeping an inventory of personal data collected on your site
  • Taking stock of all the cookies your site uses

7. Website accessibility tools

These help you evaluate how accessible your site is for users with disabilities and to deliver an inclusive website experience to all audiences. This mainly entails the use of automated and human-assisted tests for compliance with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

8. Conversion rate optimisation (CRO) tools

This set of tools focuses on helping you achieve business goals by understanding user behaviour and testing conversion improvement ideas. This can be roughly divided into two stages:

Step 1: User behaviour tracking

  • During this stage, you collect data about how people interact with your site via:
  • Funnel visualisation
  • User journey mapping
  • Monitoring on-page interaction using heatmaps, click maps, and scroll maps

Step 2: A/B and multivariate testing

  • Using the data from stage one, you’ll formulate an improvement hypothesis that you will test via:
  • A/B testing: Serving several versions of a page to different visitors to see which version performs better at achieving a given conversion goal.
  • Multivariate testing: Similar to the above but with multiple combinations of on-page elements being tested at the same time.
  • Web personalisation: Trying to increase conversions by intelligently matching different versions of site content to relevant audiences.

How to monitor your website optimisation progress

Whichever areas of your website you’re trying to optimise, you can’t effectively do so without the ability to track your progress. So, make sure to define the KPIs you’re trying to improve and measure these before and after your optimisation initiatives.

Here are just a few examples of the different KPIs you may want to track and the relevant optimisation areas:

  • Soft and hard conversion rates (CRO)
  • Site speed (Website performance)
  • User retention, pages per session and time on site (User experience and mobile optimisation)
  • SERP rankings and clickthrough rate (SEO)

Alternatively, tools like Siteimprove often give you a combined top-level score for each optimisation area. You can use the score itself to track ongoing improvements.

Finally, you can simply keep a tally of how many of the identified issues you’ve managed to fix and resolve. Automated website checks are especially helpful for monitoring this.

In the end, website optimisation is an ongoing process with a focus on making your site better in the long term. Use the above tips and tools to get the most of your optimisation efforts.