5 ways to improve your web site in 2013

What better way to start the year than by thinking about how you can improve your web site? Here are five suggestions from the Jadu team to get you on your way.

1. Be responsive and mobile friendly

Responsive web sites adapt their style and layout according to the device they are being viewed on. With so many shapes, sizes and capabilities of devices out there, not having a responsive design can limit how your users can use your site. Research shows that people are more likely to perform a transaction on a mobile friendly site and not come back to a mobile unfriendly one.

The big benefit of a responsive site is that it's just one site that can be viewed on many devices - no separate "apps" to manage and update.

Jadu have created a number of responsively designed web sites, for example:

If you're looking for a more native app experience but don't want the cost and headache of creating and maintaining apps for each type of device (iOS, Android, Windows, Web) check out weejot.com

2. Make your site more resilient

An inconvenient aspect of life, and web development, is that things often don't go as expected. The hard drive in your web server dies, someone hacks into your database, you're the victim of a denial of service attack or, a nicer problem to have, your site is so popular you keep getting spikes in traffic that you didn't anticipate. All of these risks can be mitigated with a little planning and good practise.

A good place to start for security is The Open Web Application Security Project, and in particular the OWASP top 10. Security vulnerabilities are often easy to prevent with a little awareness and knowledge.

Making your site more resilient is often a cost versus benefit decision. For example, if you suffer a hardware failure your site could be unavailable for a relatively lengthy period of time while it is replaced / fixed / rebuilt. However, the cost of being more resilient to hardware failure could be to purchase more reliable hardware or double up, for example by having two web servers that are load balanced and direct traffic to one server if the other isn't available. The decision will lie with how much you're prepared to suffer in the event of something going wrong against how much you can afford to spend to mitigate it.

Getting consistently more traffic that you first expected could mean that you need to invest in more web servers but that might not be necessary if you just get occasional spikes, for example when there is bad weather or when the Pope visits. In these instances it's important that your site is scalable so that you can easily ramp up server resources when you need them and remove them when you don't. This could be achieved by adding more RAM or CPUs to your virtual machines or having VMs or servers on standby to add to your infrastructure when needed.

3. Do a usability review and/or user testing

Do you really know how easy your site is to use? Can people find the content they are looking for? Can they perform the tasks quickly, easily, without confusion? It is easy to think that a site is easy to use, especially if you built it or use it every day and know it inside out, but what of the person that comes to your site for the first time or for a one-off task?

Heuristic evaluations are quick and easy ways to get lots of valuable data about how your site is used and how it can be improved. Information about heuristic evaluations can be found at http://www.nngroup.com/topic/heuristic-evaluation/

4. Make sure it's super fast

Nobody likes a slow web site and there is lots of evidence to show how it can have a detrimental impact on the usage of a site. Here's a nice infographic that sums it up: http://blog.kissmetrics.com/loading-time/?wide=1

There are many aspects to web site performance including how the site is coded, the server configuration and what it's doing in the browser. Here are some suggestions for where to start looking for performance improvements:

  • static content (i.e. HTML, CSS, images and JavaScript) will always be faster than scripted pages. Make content static if you can but easily cacheable if not
  • make sure images are compressed appropriately and are not scaled in HTML
  • look at the number of requests that are made each time a page is loaded and reduce where possible
  • don't use inline CSS or JavaScript, put them in separate files. This contradicts the previous point but it means that the CSS and JavaScript can be cached, saving future requests
  • look at what your pages are doing server side, for example pulling in Twitter feeds or getting content from a database. Make sure that any content gathered from external sources is cached

All of these and much more can be analyzed with tools such as YSlow. Aim for an A grade!

5. Measure results and iterate

As Peter Drucker espoused, what gets measured gets managed, and this is an apt final suggestion in our list. For any change you make to your web site gather the data before and after and discern the impact it has had. Hopefully the impact will be positive but by measuring you will have the information to back it up. Also important is only making one change at a time. If you have the data but you've made lots of changes you won't know what in particular had a positive effect and what didn't. So get the data, make a change and iterate, iterate, iterate to make your site measurably improved.

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The official Jadu Blog (a peek inside). The musings and magic of the Jadu team and log of new web apps, customer super hero stories and mobile web marvels.

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