Boost your Web traffic with a few minor changes to your site.
- Boost your Web traffic with a few minor changes to your site.by Ray Justice and Wendy Brabon
Hows the traffic on your website? Is your site really serving your business by drawing in new views and potential customers? Is your traffic increasing, as it should? Or is your site just kind of sitting there like that ugly tarot deck you got as a freebie from your distributorthe one thats gotten shoved to the back of the shelf and is a little dusty, the one that customers glance at but never pick up?
Well, its time to blow the figurative dust off your website and get it into the high-traffic lanes of the Internet superhighway once and for all. Were going to help you make your site search-engine friendly with a few search engine optimization (SEO) tweaks. Best of all, it wont take very much work on your (or your Web designers) part to make your site a key player in your business plan. However, you should note that this could get a little technical, so if HTML talk makes you nervous, put up a shield, but make it porous, so the good stuff gets through. Youll thank us in the long run. Dont worrywell make it as painless as possible. Promise.
Now, with millions upon millions of websites out there, including plenty for New Age businesses just like yours (at last count, 12.6 million results for a Google search of New Age store), have you ever wondered how some sites get tons of traffic and others well dont? What does it take to stand out on the Web? In all honesty, it doesnt take much. Of course, its not like all New Age retailers are in the same room, vying for the attention of those customers. When it comes to competing in cyberspace, you cant wear silver spangly deely-boppers on your head and jump up and down to get noticed. But there is a Web equivalent to wearing odd headgearand its nowhere near as embarrassing.
The (Web) secret
There is onewe repeat, onesecret to getting more traffic to your site, and were going to tell you that secret right now. Are you ready? Are you sitting down? Okay, here it is:
The most important thing to do to get more traffic to your site is to keep Google happy.
Yep, thats it. Google rules the Internet world popularity contest; it calls the shots. It wasnt always this way, and it may not be this way in the future, but for now, Google is king. Yes, there are a lot of other search engines out there, such as Yahoo!, Ask, MSN, and AOL, but they dont come close to the traffic on Google. According to an August 2007 report issued by Nielsen NetRatings, a company that ranks the popularity of various elements of the Web, more than 53% of Internet searchesthats 4.2 billion (yes, billion) individual querieswere conducted on Google. Yahoo! was a distant second, with nearly 20% of total search activity, and MSN was third with about 13%. Every other search engine was ranked in the single digits, and many only garnered a fraction of one percent.
Whether its Google or any other search engine, the basic process is the same: A Web surfer types in certain keywords, and the search engine looks for websites containing the same words. The trick is that not all of the words the search engine hunts for are in the content of the site. It also seeks out title tags and meta tags.
Wait, wait! Dont glaze over. Those technical terms are just fancy words that mean descriptions of your site. And those tags are pretty easy to fine-tune, once you know how to tweak them.
Your title tag is what appears in the colored bar at the very top of your browser window. It identifies your site, but it also contributes important keywords (terms that define your site) that search engines pick up. So think carefully about which words you want to include in your title tag to accurately describe your website. To choose the best terms, think of the potential customer on the other end of the search, typing in words to find the perfect New Age shop to suit her needs. If that person is looking for Buddhist statues and enters those words, and your title tag has those very same words, its more likely that your site is going to pop up high on the search results she sees, bringing you one step closer together.
However, title tags should be kept shortfewer than 60 characters (each letter, number, symbol, and space constitutes a character)so you cant include everything that your store is about; youll have to focus on the most important things.
How to add a title tag: When youre first setting up your site, youll have the option to include a title tag. Your design program will either show you a field where you can enter your title, and it will automatically be placed into the HTML code of the page, or you can place it at the top of your pages code yourself (note that it should be included in all the pages of your site). It looks like this:
<TITLE>Your New Age Store Name and Brief Description Go Here</TITLE>
Or, you know, just have your Web designer do it.
More keywords that describe your business and site, meta tags also get looked at by search engines. You cant see meta tags when you view your site in a browser window; they appear only in the HTML of the page, also at the top, just under the title tags,
as part of the head.
There are two types of meta tags: keyword and description. Meta descriptions get noticed by search engines more than meta keywords, but it doesnt take much effort to include both if you want to cover all your bases. These can be longerjust keep them to about 20 to 30 keywords or phrasesand are exactly what they sound like: A meta description is a full sentence (or several sentences) giving the details of your site and shopalmost like a little ad blurband meta keywords are individual words that describe your business, just strung along within the tag, no cohesion necessary.
How to add meta tags: These have to be placed in the code, so if youre skittish about messing with that side of your site, definitely have your Web designer do it, or ask a friend whos more comfortable speaking HTML. Meta tags look like this:
<TITLE>Your New Age Store Name and Brief Description Go Here</TITLE>
<META name=description content=What your New Age store is like, what you sell, and your areas of expertise are described here.>
<META name=keywords content=New Age, New Age products, your city and state, New Age books, meditation CDs, Buddhist statuary, prayer flags, crystals, stones, psychic readings, other items you carry or other services you provide that you want to mention>
Word on the street is that many search engines no longer pay attention to meta keywords, so if you dont want to bother with those, you dont have to.
These tags do appear on your site sort of. Youve seen alt tags, even if you didnt know what they were called. Visit one of your favorite sites and pass your cursor over an image or graphic element; on a properly designed website, a small box will appear, with words describing the image or graphic. When you move your cursor somewhere else, the box with words disappears.
Sometimes the most important keywords on your site arent picked up by search engines because they dont appear as text. Instead, theyre part of a graphicfor instance, your stores name on the masthead. Usually thats not text you (or someone else) typed in, but an image placed there. So alt tags apply words to these pictures, which are picked up by search engines.
Alt tags arent just self serving, either. Yes, having them on your site helps search engines find your site and kicks it up to the top of a search results list, which is good for you, but they also help visually impaired visitors to your site. Alt tag descriptions are picked up by a computers reader that reads the content of a website aloud to a visually impaired user. Alt tags help these users see the images and graphics of your site.
How to add alt tags: This is easy to do and doesnt require any knowledge of HTML. When you add an image on your site, youll likely see a box somewhere in the design program that says alt text, and the program will give you the opportunity to type something in this box. Dont skip this step; at this point, type in a brief description of whats in the picture or graphic (for instance, recycled paper journal, lined, green cover or even just repeat the words that are in the graphic, like your stores name). Its that simple. However, if you peek into Codeland, this is what youll see:
<img src=photoname.jpg alt=Description of whats in the photo/>
The things you say
The most important part of your site that gets picked up by search engines is your content. When youre writing your content, think like a search engine, and make sure those important keywords are in the content on the site. Yes, the content is for visitors to your site, but those visitors include search engine botsthose automated crawlers seeking out keywordsso dont forget them.
Keep the most descriptive words in the content at the top of your page. The first few paragraphs are key; sometimes search engines dont look any farther than that. Plus its always good form to have the most important information at the top of the page for your visitors, anyway.
And, as always, be sure your content is well written and professional, yet easily accessible and friendly; grammatically correct with everything spelled properly; and detailed, yet not too long. Search engines may get people to your site, but its how you present yourself and your shop that will keep them thereand keep them coming back.
Is it working?
If youre wondering if your site is properly optimized to suit search engines, you can check by running your site through several different SEO (search engine optimization) programs. You can purchase packages like Page Primer (which costs around $100), or you can use the numerous free tools Google has to offer on its site. Google also has a lot of useful information that can help you learn more about search engine optimization and how to make your site Google friendly. And you dont have to wait for Google to find you; you can go to it, if youre so inclined, by submitting your keywords and site address to www.googlerankings.com.
How do you know if all of this optimization has worked? Google also has website analytics that detail how much traffic youve been getting, which pages visitors have been checking, and where there are problems with your site so you can correct them.
But thats a whole nuther subject to tackle, so check our column in the next issue for a primer on Web statistics.
Wendy Brabon has an engineering and sales background and has been a Web technologist for the last 10 years. Ray Justice is an entrepreneur, business coach, and poet with more than 40 years experience in owning and operating small businesses. Together, Brabon and Justice are partners in Brabon Justice design, development, and branding company.