How to Post an Emergency Alert

As you can imagine, clients have been asking to post emergency notifications on their websites. We have been getting these requests on a daily basis in the past three weeks. Everyone seems to have a different request or idea on how to do this. The problem is I am seeing many websites break the design of their homepage to post these alerts. While it does draw attention, is it the right attention?

I work on websites every day. When I see the tops of web pages with messy formatting to me it says something is wrong. Usually because someone put something up in a hurry. We do have a need right now to let customers know that our business operations have changed. Changes are happening on a daily basis right now. What’s the best way to do this? What is the best practice for an emergency alert? We did some research to find out.

What makes a Good Alert or Notification?

We see the business need to post notifications on your website. The problem is notifications are not user-friendly by nature. Their purpose is to get attention and distract the user from the task they came to your website to complete. And if that task is a sales lead or to buy something, you don’t really want to turn attention away from that!

According to a study by UX Plant, a notification that works will be:

  • Non-interfering. It’s OK to distract the user’s attention. But you do not want to prevent them from doing what they need to do on your website.
  • Small in size. Big enough to communicate the necessary information. But not too big. Nothing that breaks your website design or prevents the user from taking that next step. This includes mobile too.
  • Temporary. It needs to make sense in context. Use the notification to post needed warnings, but then take it down. Don’t let it become a permanent part of your website.

Methods for Posting an Emergency Alert

Here is a list of options for posting an emergency alert on your website. We have tried all versions in the past couple of weeks. We have also described pros and cons for each.

1. Notification Bar
A Notification Bar is usually a message you see in a strip of color across the top of a webpage. They are very easy to post. They can appear on every page, not just the homepage. Especially for WordPress website owners. Visitors find them more user-friendly than pop-ups. And they work OK on mobile views too.

You need to put some thought into the formatting. You don’t want them to blend into the rest of your page format. The biggest mistake is to use a Notification Bar all the time. In order for this to work as an emergency alert, visitors need to notice that it is new.

2. Pop-ups
There are a couple of benefits where using a pop-up might be appropriate in this situation. A notification that has extreme urgency would benefit by a Pop-up. It would ensure that everyone who comes to your website sees its. What if part your warning involves a change in completing requests off the website? A Pop-up prevents visitors from going any farther. They won’t submit requests you can’t complete.

A Pop-up should be a very temporary solution. Most visitors find them annoying and they don’t work well on mobile. If users are blocking Pop-ups with their browsers, they may never see your message.

3. Banners or Sliders
Many sites have an area on the homepage that rotate images or content and images at the top of the page. They are usually the first thing visitors see on the homepage. They are easy to update quickly, without breaking the homepage design.

The problem with this option could be the format. If this is the space you typically use to promote new products or content, new banners may look too much like ads. Web visitors have been trained to ignore ads that distract them from their tasks. Because of this, there is a risk of important messages getting missed.

4. Add updates to your Contact Us page.
On any website, the Contact Us page is typically one of the top 3 pages visitors will see. This is the place they will look first to figure out how to get a hold of you. It makes sense that if you have a change in operations, put the message next to where they dial the phone.

Downside is, people use your Contact Us page a lot. Adding more information here, could change the usability of the page. Especially if users have to scroll more to find your phone number. Contact off the website are what we need right now. Don’t hide how to do it.

5. Designated area on your site for breaking news.
A designated news area could be a section of your homepage or a standalone page. This is the solution businesses should work towards. Having a designated spot where their customers could go to find out what is happening. You would not want to clutter it with your latest chamber awards or press releases. Instead, this is where you could post changes in operations. Things customers won’t want to ignore. A standalone page could also act as a landing page. A place to send clicks from email marketing or social media posts.

Some guidelines from Google on how to post urgent news on your website include:

  • Make sure your alert headlines easily identifiable.
  • Publication date and time of the latest update should also be easy to find.
  • Minimize the presence of other dates on the page so the lastest update is obvious.
  • Don’t change the URLs (permalinks) of your main news page. More effective for Google and your visitors to find the latest and share the latest.
  • Add Schema data for your latest publication date and keep it updated. This could help news updates appear in Google searches on your company.

What is the downside? Well, its not the homepage. Maybe not be the first thing people see. You could fix that by using your homepage alerts to drive traffic to this page. Using one of the other alert techniques we discussed to send visitors to this page. Use the alerts to get visibility for this page. Start training customers to check this page on a regular basis.

SEO Implications – How an Emergency Alert can impact SEO

Don’t let a brief announcement or breaking news impact your SEO. We have seen a lot of these posts result in immediate alerts from Google Search Console.

When using banners on your homepage, keep an eye on your page speed. Remember a large image or a video playing will immediately impact page speed scores.

One thing I have noticed on a lot of sites is posting a signup form. Either at the top of the homepage page or in their notification bar. To get visitors to sign-up for ongoing news alerts. The problem comes when you put the form fields right on the page or in the notification bar. We are seeing crawl alerts because the form code is blocking search spiders.

Also, the rules about pop-ups have not changed. Google does not love pop-ups. If you decide to go that route, make sure it is urgent and make sure it doesn’t become permanent.

Everything you post still has to be mobile compatible. Test all alerts on mobile devices.

Freshness Factor

One of the many business lessons we will learn from this crisis is the role of our business websites. Companies are finding they need a platform to communicate to their customer base. But many have not been updating their websites with new information. The problem is you have not trained your customers to look to your business website for updates. It took a world-wide pandemic to do it! COVID-19 will likely change many business practices. We hope regular website updates will be a change that sticks.

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