Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Promoting Your Website–SEO Basics

(Editors Note: This is an excerpt from my 20 page report,"5 Steps to Building a Successful Website"  available here for download - see sidebar.)
Your new website is up and live online – all you need to do now is get people to find it. Of course you should remember to do the obvious right away. Make sure your web address is on your business card, printed material and any advertising you do. Use it on signage where appropriate.

At this point you will want to do a couple of things that will help you prepare for the next steps on the web – promoting and optimizing your website.

In order to evaluate your efforts and the effectiveness of the site you will need statistics on your website visitors. This is known as analytics. I recommend Google Analytics. It is free, you just have to sign up for a free Google account and you can get your own analytics account and track as many of your own websites as you like. You will need to get a Google analytics account. Log in to your account and copy the code using cut and paste. This code will be pasted onto your website pages for tracking. Most of the solutions I mentioned earlier have a way for you to enter the code using the backend interface. You will also need to verify the site; you are given several options for this. We’ll cover this in more detail below. For now, just sign up for your account so you will be ready.

In order to use social media to promote your website you will want to have an account on each of the social media sites you plan to use. A couple of the very popular ones are Facebook and Twitter. Go ahead and get your accounts set up.

If your business is established and has a physical location you may already be listed in Facebook’s Places. Do a search on Facebook and see if this is so. If you find your business you can claim it and it will be transformed in to a Page for your business.

The next step is to do a little Search Engine Optimization. I mentioned above a Google Analytics account. Once you have your code in place and your page verified you will start receiving detailed analytics on visitors to your site. Later on you will evaluate these and tweak your SEO to improve your results. These will help you know what is working and what is not.

Promoting Your Website
Meta Tags and Keywords
Meta tags are tags that are in the head of a website page that are not visible to site visitors but are readable by the crawlers that search engines use to index sites. The two most important Meta Tags are Description and Keywords. To develop a list of keywords you will think in terms of what someone would type in to a search engine to find a business like yours. A useful trick is to do searches on keywords in a search engine like google and see what sorts of sites come up. Another is to visit you competitor’s sites and right click on the page and ‘view source’. This will show you the HTML and code that is presenting the page in the browser. You will look for the keywords meta tag which will look like this;
<meta name="keywords" content="Italian cooking italian recipes italian food italian style easy italian recipes cooking italian meals italian meals italian cooking italian pasta italian meats italian wines holiday meals italian desserts gelato bruschetta">

You can start to compile a list of keywords by visiting various sites. You can save them in a typed list or type them in to a word processing document or spreadsheet. When you are ready to pick keywords for your site you will want to limit your list to 25 keywords or so – 50 at the most. Search engines will penalize you for ‘keyword stacking’. There is also a factor called ‘relevance’, in other words search engines will grade sites based on whether their keywords are relevant to their content. If you have done a good job of writing your copy some of your keywords will actually appear in your website copy. If not, you may consider re-evaluating your copy and seeing if you can include some keywords or phrases in the content. Remember though, your content is for humans, not robots – don’t get carried away. Best practice is to optimize keywords for each page on your site. I know this can sound overwhelming, but it is an important step. The good news is you don’t have to do it all at once. If you can come up with 10 good keywords for each page that is a good start. Then, over time you can evaluate your analytics and see which keywords are working best and get ideas for adding and removing keywords. Also, don’t forget about keywords specific to your area, state or town as some people try to narrow their searches geographically.

The other important Meta tag is “description”. This basically contains a summary of what your page is about and will vary for each page. I have found that if I have written my content well somewhere on each page will be a summary that I can lift and paste in to my “description” Meta tag. This tag will look like this.
<meta name="description" content="Italian cooking is among the world's richest and most varied, with dishes perfect for every occasion, from the quick late night snack (spaghetti aglio e olio) to the romantic occasion (scampi alla busara) and the festive family meal (lasagna). Here you'll find hundreds of Italian recipes for every occasion, as well as advice on equipment, techniques, ingredients, wines, and more.">

Once you have these in place for each of your pages you have made a huge step towards drawing traffic to your site. It typically takes 90 days for these to really take hold on the web, but there are ways to speed this up a bit.

Social Networking

Next you can plan to make posts on your social networking pages. For this you will want to get a free account with bit.ly or some other url shortener that provides statistics on clicks. I like bit.ly because it allows me to customize my links so I can shorten the same link differently for different campaigns and keep track of how effective a certain post was and what kind of interest if generated. Bit.ly also allows me to share directly from their site so I can shorten my link and then tweet an announcement with it all at once.

The process works like this. You have something on your website you want people to see or act on. A sale or event or perhaps you just want to announce you new website. You grab the url to the page you want the visitor to land on, go to bit.ly and shorten it for your campaign and then write a post with the link in it. You can really have some fun with this on Facebook by using clever headlines and copy to grab peoples’ attention. You can even include pictures and videos. If you are consistent about doing this you can build a following and drive traffic to your site. Other strategies are to post links to content, information about your business or industry and include a link to your site in the post. You can also put a like button on your site for visitors who come there from other sources to connect to your facebook page.

I feel Twitter works best for promoting events or keeping a client base updated on your business and services. It is possible to include a Twitter follow button on your site and even a feed of your tweets.

One thing that can also help is videos on YouTube (yes, this is actually a social network). These can easily be embedded on your site. Most people don’t know this but YouTube is the third most used search engine on the web. A good strategy is to create your own YouTube Channel and post your videos there making sure to put a link to your website in the description. Then you can embed the videos in your website for interesting content.

Email Marketing

This is a very powerful way, done properly to drive quality traffic to your site. The real trick is building a good list. I recommend that businesses and organizations use a managed mailing list service like MailChimp or Constant Contact. The advantages are:

· Good looking email templates that help you build your business image.

· Easy list management – including sign up forms.

· Analytics on the results of your mailings, though you have to take these with a grain of salt – they are not 100% accurate. They will give you a good ballpark idea of how you are doing.

Ways you can build your list:

· Have people sign up at your place of business. Capture their email address on paperwork when you can.

· Be sure and have a sign up form on your website. The upper right area of the page body (below the header) is a hot spot for this.

· Post on Facebook to get people to sign up, offer an incentive like a coupon or an informative newsletter or have a contest.

· If you are selling online incorporate all of your customer’s emails in your list and keep in touch with them.

One thing you want to make sure of is that you don’t send people spam. Another good thing about managed mailing list services is that the emails include an opt-out link for anyone who decides they don’t want to be on your list. Even if someone signed up for you list if they change their mind and can’t get off your list they will perceive you email as spam. If you don’t use a managed email list you can manage this by putting something like this at the bottom of our emails, after the signature-“If you wish to be removed from this list simply reply to this email and put ‘unsubscribe’ in the subject field”. Then when you get those emails delete them from you list.

You can actually get creative and have a lot of fun with an email list. Let a little of your personality show through. This will help make it engaging and personal for your subscribers. Using interesting subject lines that will grab people’s attention will help your open rate and therefore your response rate. Most of all, try to be consistent in timing your mailings. Monthly or quarterly works well. More often than that is good only if there is really a lot going on in your business. For greater frequency you can use social media. Oh yeah, and you can put content from your emails in your social posts with links to your list sign-up.

One last email strategy I will discuss is one that works well if you don’t want to use a managed list service or even if you do. This involves having your announcement or newsletter as a page on your website and sending out emails with a summary of the message or content and a link to that page. This page on your website is an example of what is known in the industry as a “landing page”. This works particularly well if you want to use a lot of graphics as it won’t make your emails huge and it drives traffic right to your site. Writing a good excerpt or “teaser” in the email to entice them to click through to read the rest is good. Cliffhangers are great for this. Make sure and link to places in your site in the content of your email. For instance if you are making an announcement about a new product or service you can use a summary or description in the landing page and link to the page on your site specific to that product or service and hopefully there they can take some action and you have a conversion. There is a lot you can do with landing pages, but that is the subject of a whole other report.

Search Indexes

This is a very important step. I left it for last because it works best once you have all the other pieces in place. This is also a step that most people leave out. That is registering your site on search indexes. For Google signing up for Google Webmaster tools and registering a sitemap will get your site indexed. Some website solutions automatically create this sitemap and update it as your content grows and changes. You just have to point to it when you register it. A sitemap is basically an xml (text) file that lists all the content nodes on your site. Once you create one you need to keep it up to date. Opening the sitemap in a browser or in notepad to scan it will give you a good idea of when you need to update it based on changes you make. If your site does not create one automatically there is an online service that will create one for you. Just go to this website http://www.neuroticweb.com/recursos/sitemap/ and enter your website’s URL (web address) and it will generate one for you. You can then cut and paste it into Notepad (don’t use Word or any other word processing progam, it will mess up the formatting) and save it as sitemap.xml. Then you will want to get it uploaded to your webserver in what is called the root of your website. Once that is done you can add the site in your Google Webmaster Tools account and verify the site using your Google Analytics account and then you can submit the address of your sitemap in the form. If you have doubts about the address of your sitemap just enter it in a browser. It will display in the browser if you have it right. If it is in the root the address will look like this http://<yourdomain>/sitemap.xml . It can take a while for Google to download your sitemap but once they do in your Google Webmaster Tools Dashboard you will have a report of the pages that were indexed.

Another important directory that a lot of people don’t know about is DMOZ. This is a free directory that a lot of search engines, including OL Search, Google, Netscape Search, Yahoo Search, and hundreds of other sites, use. Just go to their website http://www.dmoz.org/ and click on ‘suggest url’ and there will be directions to walk you through submitting your sites URL to the directory. Once your site has been accepted into the Open Directory, it may take anywhere from 2 weeks to several months for your site to be listed on partner sites which use the Open Directory data.

You can submit your site to Yahoo! Search for free by going to http://siteexplorer.search.yahoo.com/submit . It will require the creation of a Yahoo! Account. It may take several weeks for the site to be crawled. If you have a blog you can also submit your site’s RSS feed. Yahoo also has paid submission options which will guarantee quick submission in to the directory. For more information on these visit - https://ecom.yahoo.com/dir/submit/intro/ .

This covers the big ones. Getting listed in all of these will over time help your site place well in search results. It will take about 90 days to really see results from this, but you will see a difference.
Do not try services or software products that promise to submit your site to hundreds of search engines, or something to that effect – unless you really like getting hundreds of junk emails a day. They will also list you on spam lists.
(In my next post I will publish an excerpt on ongoing optimization of your website - stay tuned, or better yet, subscribe.)


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