Helping People Find Your Web Site
Most business owners know that a print ad is only as valuable as the circulation of the publication, and a radio ad is only as valuable as the station’s listenership. But somehow these same people think that just having a website is sufficient. A website is only as valuable as the number of interested parties viewing it. Today we’ll take a look at some ways to get more people to view your website, making it more valuable to your business.
First, ask “what group of people do I want to serve with my website?” Is it prospects, existing customers, wholesale customers, retail customers? Are they male, female, married, single, 18 years old, 35 years old? Where do they live? If you’re a traditional retailer, just think about the faces of your best customers.
Now that you have focused on who wants to find your website, put yourself in their shoes. How would they find your website if they didn’t already know about you? They’d probably use a search engine. Now comes the hard part: what words would they type into the search box? Remember, they don’t know about your website or your company’s name. Maybe you’re too close to this process to be objective. Ask family, friends, customers, anyone who’s familiar with your services, what words they’d expect to search for to find your website. You might be surprised by their answers. Now try those words in your search engine of choice. If your website is already at the top of the list, that’s great! Odds are, though, that your website isn’t on the first page of results. That’s not so great. But look at the sites that are there. These are sites competing for your customers, some you may know about, some may be new to you. It’s now time for a reality check. You may never be able to get top placement on some search terms. At 3by400, we realized that we’d never get to be on the first page of search results for ‘web design’ (out of 200 million plus results), but we did have a chance of ranking well for ‘north georgia web design’ (about a half million search results). So choose these search terms wisely. After weeding out search terms that are too broad or don’t exactly match you, you’re left with the search words to concentrate on from here on out. These we’ll call ‘key words’ to follow the industry vocabulary.
Now look at your web pages. Where are these key words on your page? If they don’t appear, you’ve got some rewriting to do. Why? Because you can’t fool the search engines. They aren’t going to report your page as a possible match for a search on your key words if your pages don’t contain them. If the text on your website is about cat accessories, it will never come up on a search for ‘dog collars.’ So start rewriting your web pages to work your key words into the conversation. Important places to put them are in the page title and section headings. Search engines regard these as the most descriptive parts of the page. Next, create high-quality, unique page content using your keywords. Notice the word ‘unique.’ You can’t just copy and paste information from other sites and expect to rank well in search results. Search engines work hard to weed out duplicate content that’s presented to the searcher. If your content is identical to other content on the web and several months newer, guess who gets weeded out?
After doing all the above, your site still might not rank well. Why? I could either go literary and say ‘no web site is an island, entire of itself,’ or go pop-culture and say ‘I get by with a little help from my friends.’ Both are true. An important factor in deciding how important your web site is, is how many other sites link to it. The search engine programs that look at your web site can’t understand the meaning of the words on the pages to decide how good your information is. The search engines rely on your peers to do this for them. If a lot of other sites are linking to content on your site, then the search engines figure that you have good content and therefore your site is important. If nobody is linking to anything on your site, the search engines figure that your content is fairly forgettable. But all links to your site are not created equal. Links from other high-quality sites with lots of visitors and similar content will count the most. Links from poor-quality sites with low traffic don’t pull much weight with the search engines. How do you get the people who run other sites to link to your site? You could send them email and ask, but that generally doesn’t do too much good. The best way to get people to link to your site is to provide high-quality, unique content. It’s often said in the world of the web that ‘content is king,’ and justifiably so. If you’re providing good-quality information that can’t be found elsewhere (without an obvious self-serving sales pitch), then people will link to your site.
After people find your content and start linking to it, then you could politely drop them a note to ask them to include one or more of your key words (remember those?) in the link to your site. For example, our key words at 3by400 were ‘north Georgia web design.’ Instead of having links on other sites that just said ‘3by400,’ we ask that the link read ‘3by400, a north Georgia web design team.’ It’s another avenue to use your key words to give the search engines hints of what your site is all about.
In a sense, ranking well on search engines is like getting a loan from a bank. Who will the bank give loans to without hesitation? Those who don’t need the loan. Which sites will search engines rank highly? Those that have a lot of traffic coming to them from other sites. In other words, those that don’t need the search engine ranking to generate traffic!
A couple of final notes: your customers and search engines won’t find your site if it’s not there. In other words, you have to have a web site and it has to be hosted reliably to be of benefit. The other element in ranking well and being found is time. The older your site is, the more weight it carries with the search engines. Lastly, I’m proud that I’ve written this much on this topic without mentioning the word “Google” or the acronym “SEO” (Search-Engine Optimization), even though that’s what the bulk of this article was about.