Note: This post is meant for beginner-level webmasters, more so small business owners who often have to play the webmaster (and several other roles) for their online businesses. If you are already an internet marketing expert and an accomplished web administrator, this post may not be for you. That is, if you have already mastered search engine optimization, PPC, social media marketing, and other related online marketing techniques. I would however encourage you to read on, you might find a nugget or two that you did not know about.
In a previous post, I explained why every business organization must have a website. While everything I wrote there remains true, you need to go beyond merely having a website, to having lots of relevant targeted traffic that adds to the business’ bottom line. The “how” depends on your overall web strategy and the goal of your website, but if you follow my suggestions below, you’ll at least be on the right track.
1. Design your website for human beings first
Remember it is real people who will buy your online products, subscribe to your special offers mailing list, click your ads, etc. You do not want to make it hard for them to perform those activities. Anything in the design that makes it hard for users to find information or to take certain desired actions is bad design.
Most probably you are not a web designer yourself, so concepts like “usability”, a “good navigation structure”, and “great user experience” may sound foreign to you. But even as a layman, you should test your website before publishing it to the world. Your intuition can help you tell a bad design from a good one. Do not blindly use technology just because it is available. Flash and animation may be fancy for example, but when over-used they become more of an obstruction than enhancing the user experience.
2. From the word go, your design should cater for flexible SEO (search engine optimization)
In simple terms, SEO is the art, or science, of making your website discoverable through search engines like Google and Bing. If you are selling curios for example, you want people searching for such terms as “curios”, “handicrafts”, “antiques”, etc to find your website. The “how to” is what we call SEO.
Despite what some of us would want you to think, SEO is neither magic, nor rocket science. There are some key SEO principles that you can easily learn, among them is the importance of the title tag (it is one of the most important on-page SEO factors at the time I am writing this at least. It remains to be seen if this will change in the future due to the ever-changing search engine algorithms)
Ideally, your website should have a content management system (CMS) that allows for flexible on-page SEO. You should be able to easily change the title, other SEO tags, etc if and when needed. That way, you can correct any mistakes you make, as well as add more content whenever necessary.
3. Learn the basics of SEO
For a start, you should know how and where to conduct keyword research. Do not assume that just because you are using the term “African curios” in your website for example, your potential clients will use the same phrase to search for products like yours. They may be using other related but more popular phrases that your site should optimize for. Adwords keyword tool, Wordtracker keyword tool, and Trellian keyword discovery tool are just some of the tools you can use for keyword research.
Once you have done your keyword research, you should know how and where to use them optimally within your content and pages. To learn more about SEO and how to use the keywords in your pages, I recommend you read the beginner’s guide to SEO by SEOmoz. Chapter 4 of that guide is particularly useful for on-page optimization.
4. Optimize your site for business/conversions
You can build a great site, with lots of relevant traffic, and still sell nothing. Why? Because you have not optimized for conversions. Interested people get to your pages, like the content, but do not find an easy/intutive way of placing an order or making an enquiry. A waste.
There are several things you can do to improve website conversion, e.g have clear calls to action, declutter your conversion pages, and include trust enhancers, etc. To learn about more website conversion factors, read the article on the silent killers of conversion at the marketing experiments blog. This post at Dr. Ralph Wilson’s web marketing blog is equally useful.
5. Build links to your website
In short, get other websites to link to you. Inbound links benefit your website in two ways: referral traffic (i.e visitors coming to your website from the external websites that link to you) and search engine rankings boost. In fact, links are among the most important SEO factors today.
Admittedly, link building is not a very easy process. In the earlier days, it was quite easy to get good links through reciprocal linking (link to my website, and I will link back to you). Today however, links are like gold, not many people are willing to give them to you. However, if your website offers some real value, related websites will not mind linking to you when you approach them. Reciprocal links may still have a small place today, but remember not to overdo it. Search engines frown upon excessive reciprocal links. Google for example.
You should read Eric Ward’s link building primer to learn how to go about building links. Chapter 7 of the SEOmoz resource I mentioned above is also helpful.
6. Measure the results: use analytics for your website
When you have a website, you need to know how many people are visiting it, from what source, which pages they mostly visit, what actions do they take while there, how long they stick around, and several other important metrics. In web-speak, this is what we call analytics. Web analytics helps you gauge which of your marketing efforts is paying off, what pages to fix, etc.
I would recommend you use google analytics, it is easy to set up and use, and provides great reports. But it is not the only analytics solution. There is piwik, an open source alternative to google analytics, Awstats, Webalizer, and many others. If your web hosting company gives you access to cPanel, you might find Awstats and Webalizer already preinstalled for you.
7. Do not ignore social media
Some people think social media marketing is a fad. Trust me, it is not. If you read my post on the most popular websites in Kenya, you know that social media websites rank tops. A big part of your target audience are visiting sites like Facebook, twitter, and linkedin to interact and network. You cannot ignore these social sites in your marketing effort. If for no other reason, monitor social media discussions that may affect your company’s reputation (reputation management)
From my personal experience, social media, especially twitter and google plus, are also a great way to get the opinion of experts in your chosen field. There’s a lot you can learn from such authorities that can help you grow your business. I have for example learnt a great deal by following/adding to my circles such web authorities as Eric Ward, Danny Sullivan, Dr Ralph Wilson, Rand Fishkin, and many others, in twitter and google plus.
8. Leverage on your offline channels
Simple things like putting your website address (URL) in your business cards, company letter heads, and even on your car (if you have one) can get you more visitors.
9. If you do not have the expertise, outsource
I know, doing all the above may overwhelm you if you do not have the necessary skills. Often, you’d be better off focusing on your strengths to build your business, then outsource on areas you are weak in. That’s why there are experts like me ;-) to help you. Feel free to contact me, if you need assistance in your online marketing efforts.
10. Bonus Point: Ignorance is not bliss
Read the old but still very relevant article on common mistakes small business webmasters often make, at Danny Sullivan’s search engine land.