How can you get more visitors to your website? What can you do to stimulate traffic? Here’s a checklist of items you need to consider.
Many of these you may be doing already; others you meant to do and forgot about; there also might be some you’ve never heard about. Check out the list below.
Perhaps the most important — and inexpensive — strategy is to rank high for your preferred keywords on the main search engines in “organic” or “natural” searches (as opposed to paid ads).
Search engines send robot “spiders” to index the content of your webpage, so let’s begin with steps to prepare your webpages for optimal indexing. The idea here is not to trick the search engines, but to leave them abundant clues as to what your webpage is about. This approach is called “search engine optimization,” abbreviated as SEO.
1. Write a Keyword-Rich Page Title. Write a descriptive title for each page — rich in keywords you want people to find you with — using 5 to 8 words. Remove as many “filler” words from the title (such as “the,” “and,” etc.) as possible, while still making it readable. This page title will appear hyperlinked on the search engines when your page is found. Entice searchers to click on the title by making it a bit provocative. Place this at the top of the webpage between the tags, in this format: . (It also shows on the blue bar at the top of your web browser.)
Plan to use some descriptive keywords along with your business name on your home page. If you specialize in silver bullets and that’s what people will be searching for, don’t just use your company name “Acme Ammunition, Inc.,” use “Silver and Platinum Bullets — Acme Ammunition, Inc.” The words people are most likely to search on should appear first in the title (called “keyword prominence”). Remember, this title is your identity on the search engines. The more people see that interests them in the blue hyperlinked words on the search engine, the more likely they are to click on the link.
2. Write a Description META Tag. Some search engines include this description below your hyperlinked title in the search results. The description should be a sentence or two describing the content of the webpage, using the main keywords and keyphrases on this page. Don’t include keywords that don’t appear on the webpage. Place the Description META Tag at the top of the webpage, between the tags, in this format:
The maximum number of characters should be about 255; just be aware that only the first 60 or so are visible on Google, though more may be indexed.
3. Include Your Keywords in Headers (H1, H2, H3). Search engines consider keywords that appear in the page headline and sub heads to be important to the page, so make sure your desired keywords and phrases appear in one or two header tags. Don’t expect the search engine to parse your Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) to figure out which are the headlines — it won’t. Instead, use keywords in the H1, H2, and H3 tags to provide clues to the search engine. (Note: Some no longer use the H1, H2 tags. That’s a big mistake. Make sure your designer defines these tags in the CSS rather than creating headline tags with other names.)
4. Position Your Keywords in the First Paragraph of Your Body Text. Search engines expect that your first paragraph will contain the important keywords for the document — where most people write an introduction to the content of the page. You don’t want to just artificially stuff keywords here, however. More is not better. Google might expect a keyword density in the entire body text area of maybe 1.5% to 2% for a word that should rank high, so don’t overdo it.
5. Include Descriptive Keywords in the ALT Attribute of Image Tags. This helps your site be more accessible to site-impaired visitors (www.w3.org/WAI/WCAG20/glance/) and gives additional clues to the search engines. The ALT attributes do help get your images ranked higher for image search (see #12 below).
6. Use Keywords in Hyperlinks. Search engines are looking for clues to the focus of your webpage. When they see words hyperlinked in your body text, they consider these potentially important, so hyperlink your important keywords and keyphrases. To emphasize it even more, the webpage you are linking to could have a page name with the keyword or keyphrase, such as blue-widget.htm — another clue for the search engine.
Some content management systems and e-commerce catalogs produce dynamic, made-on-the-fly webpages, often recognizable by question marks in the URLs followed by long strings of numbers or letters. Overworked search engines sometimes have trouble parsing long URLs and may stop at the question mark, refusing to go farther. If you find the search engines aren’t indexing your interior pages, you might consider URL rewriting, a site map, or commercial solutions.
8. Create a Site Map. A site map page with links to all your pages can help search engines (and visitors) find all your pages, particularly if you have a larger site. You can use a free tools to create XML sitemaps that are used by the major search engines to index your webpages accurately. Upload your sitemap to your website. Then submit your XML sitemap to Google, Yahoo!, and Bing (formerly MSN), following instructions on their sites. By the way, Google Webmaster Central (www.google.com/webmasters/) has lots of tools to help you get ranked higher. Be sure to set up a free account and explore what they have to offer.
9. Develop Webpages Focused on Each Your Target Keywords. SEO specialists no longer recommend using external doorway or gateway pages, since nearly duplicate webpages might get you penalized. Rather, develop several webpages on your site, each of which is focused on a target keyword or keyphrase for which you would like a high ranking. Let’s say you sell teddy bears. Use Google Insights for Search (www.google.com/insights/search/) to find the related keywords people search on. In this case: write a separate webpage featuring the keyword “teddy bear,” “teddy bears,” “vermont teddy bears,” “vermont bears,” “the teddy bears,” teddy bears picnic,” “teddy bears pictures,” etc. You’ll write a completely different article on each topic. You can’t fully optimize all the webpages in your site, but for each of these focused-content webpages, spend lots of time tweaking to improve its ranking, as described in point #10.
10. Fine-tune with Careful Search Engine Optimization. Now fine-tune your focused-content pages and perhaps your home page, by making a series of minor adjustments to help them rank higher. Software such as WebPosition allows you to check your current ranking and compare your webpages against your top keyword competitors. WebPosition’s Page Critic tool provides analysis of a search engine’s preferred statistics for each part of your webpage, with specific recommendations of what minor changes to make.
11. Promote Your Local Business on the Internet. These days many people search for local businesses on the Internet. To make sure they find you, include on every page of your website the street address, zip code, phone number, and the five or 10 other local community place names your business serves. If you can, include place names in the title tag, too. When you seek links to your site (see #15 below), you should request links from local businesses with place names in the communities you serve and complementary businesses in your industry nationwide.
Also create a free listing for your local business on Google Places for Business (places.google.com/business), Yahoo! Local (local.yahoo.com), and Bing Local Listing Center (https://ssl.bing.com/listings/). That way your business can show up on a map when people do a local search.
12. Promote Your Video, Images, and Audio Content. Google’s “universal search” displays not only webpage content, but also often displays near the top of the page relevant listings for images, videos, local businesses (see #11 above), and audio clips. Therefore, consider creating such content appropriate to your business and then optimizing it so it can be ranked high enough to help you. For example, if you were to get a top-ranking, informative video on YouTube (www.youtube.com) that mentions your site, it could drive a lot of traffic to your site.
Links to your site from other sites drive additional traffic. But since Google and other major search engines consider the number of incoming links to your website (“link popularity”) as an important indicator of relevance, more links will help you rank higher in the search engines. Google has a measure called PageRank that reflects the quantity and quality of incoming links. All links aren’t all equal. Links from trusted, popular sites help your site rank higher than links from lower traffic sites. You’ll find articles on linking strategies (www.wilsonweb.com/linking/) on our site.
13. Submit Your Site to Key Directories, since a link from a directory will help your ranking — and get you traffic. A directory is not a search engine. Rather, it is a hierarchical listing of sites sorted according to category and subcategory. Be sure to list your site in the free Open Directory Project (www.dmoz.com), overseen by overworked volunteer editors. But if you don’t get listed right away, don’t be impatient and resubmit, or you’ll go to the end of the queue. A link in this directory will help you a lot.
Yahoo! Directory (dir.yahoo.com) is another important directory. Real humans read submission, so be careful to follow the instruction given. Hint: Use somewhat less than the maximum number of characters allowable, so you don’t have wordy text that will tempt the Yahoo! editor to begin chopping. Yahoo! Directory Submit (https://ecom.yahoo.com/dir/submit/intro/) requires a $299 annual recurring fee to have your site considered for inclusion within seven business days. Other paid business directories that might help are About.com and Business.com.
14. Submit Your Site to Trade Organization Sites and Specialized Directories. Some directories focused on particular industries, such as education or finance. You probably belong to various trade associations that feature member directories. Ask for a link. Even if you have to pay something for a link from the organization, it may help boost your PageRank.
Marginal directories, however, come and go very quickly, making it hard to keep up, so don’t try to be exhaustive here. Beware of directories that solicit you for “upgraded listings.” Unless a directory is widely used in your field, a premium ad is a waste of money — but the (free) link itself will help boost your PageRank and hence your search engine ranking.
15. Request Reciprocal Links. Find websites in your general niche and request a reciprocal link to your site (especially to your free service, if you offer one, see #24 below). Develop an out-of-the way page where you put links to other sites — so you don’t send people out the back door as fast as you bring them in the front door. Your best results will be from sites that generate a similar amount of traffic as your own site. High-traffic site webmasters are too busy to answer your requests for a link and don’t have anything to gain. Look for smaller sites that may have linking pages.
16. Write Articles for Others to Use in Websites and Newsletters. You can dramatically increase your visibility when you write articles in your area of expertise and distribute them to editors as free content for their e-mail newsletters or their websites. Just ask that a link to your website and a one-line description of what you offer be included with the article. This is an effective “viral” approach that can produce hundreds of links to your site over time. You’ll find lots of information on how to do this from the most popular article marketing site, EzineArticles.com. When you create a free membership account, they begin sending you instructions and ideas each week.
17. Issue News Releases. Find newsworthy events and send news releases to print and Web periodicals in your industry. The links to your site in online news databases may remain for several months and will temporarily improve traffic to your site and increase link popularity. Use a online news release service such as PR Web. Placing your website URL in online copies of your press release may increase link popularity temporarily.
Two additional linking strategies, discussed below, are to ask visitors to bookmark your webpage (#20) and to develop a free service (#23), which will greatly stimulate links to your site.
Our next type of website promotion comes from the mushrooming field of social media, in which people are encouraged to interact with each other, and respond to each other’s blog postings and comments. You should be aware of four types of social media: (1) blogs, (2) social networking sites, (3) social bookmarking sites, and (4) forums. Don’t be upset if the distinctions between types of social media tend to blur. Social media help promote your site by sending direct traffic, producing links to your site, and generating awareness. The subject is too diverse to go into detail here.
18. Begin a Business Blog. Want links to your site? Begin a business blog on your website, hosted on your own domain. If you offer excellent content and regular industry comment, people are likely to link to it, increasing your site’s PageRank. Consistency and having something to say are key. If you have a blog on a third-party blog site, occasionally find reasons to talk about and link to your own domain.
19. Become Part of a Social Media Community. Some of the best online communities for business include Facebook (www.facebook.com), LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com), and Twitter (www.twitter.com). In addition, you may want to participate in a social bookmarking community in which members share with each other information about websites, articles, or news items that they like (or don’t like). These include Digg (www.digg.com), Delicious (www.delicious.com), StumbleUpon (www.stumbleupon.com), and Google Bookmarks (www.google.com/bookmarks/). Search engine spiders troll these sites looking for links to something new and relevant. You can usually place a link to your website in your profile, but the biggest gain comes when other people mention you (which generates traffic to your site), link to you (which increases your PageRank and brings traffic), or bookmark you (which increases your PageRank and brings traffic, see #21 below).
20. Promote Your Site in Online Forums and Discussion Lists — “old school” social media. The Internet offers thousands of very targeted e-mail based discussion lists, online forums, and groups made up of people with very specialized interests. Use Google Groups (groups.google.com) to find appropriate groups. Search online for blogs or other forums.
Don’t bother with groups consisting of pure spam. Instead, find groups where a serious dialog is taking place. Don’t use aggressive marketing and overtly plug your product or service. Rather, add to the discussion in a helpful way and let the “signature” at the end of your e-mail message do your marketing for you. People will gradually get to know and trust you, visit your site, and do business with you.
21. Ask Visitors to Bookmark Your Site. It seems simple, but ask visitors to bookmark your site or save it in their Favorites list. When visitors click the button on your page, they are automatically taken to a page that allows them to choose which bookmarking service they prefer, and then pre-populates the appropriate form with the title and URL of your webpage. If you are using WordPress, there are lots of social bookmarking plugins that will come in handy. If you have good content that people want to bookmark, this can generate hundreds of links to your site and significantly raise your rankings.