FEATURE 

13 steps to increasing your website traffic

More and more publishers are increasing circulations with the help of online subscriptions marketing. To join them, you know you need a website but how do you get any visitors? Mark Nunney, MD of The Website Marketing Company explains.

By Mark Nunney

So you’ve built a website for your publication. It looks great but cost a fortune and, er, nobody visits it.

What to do? You’ve heard that 80% of web users find what they want by using search engines like Google and Yahoo. But when you search on Google your site is lost in the wilderness on the twentieth page of results.

Don’t worry. This happens to everyone, from new media revolutionaries to ‘reluctant onliners’ and there are two ways to get more visitors from search engines. The easiest is to pay the search engines for each visitor (pay per click, aka PPC, see http://www.google.co.uk/ads/products.html and http://www.content.overture.com/d/?mkt=uk). But with PPC you must bid for position on search engines’ results pages and bids can go very high making it tricky to get a reasonable return. Plus, you’ll be paying forever and your advert (for it is such) will never have the same credibility as ‘natural’ web listings.

If you prefer not to pay for each visitor and you would prefer it known that your site appears on search engine listings because of its merit rather than your wallet then you need to do some work. Your site will need to be customised (optimised) to bring you visitors from your target market, a process known as ‘search engine optimisation’ (SEO).

Whether you decide to DIY your SEO or to employ a professional (recommended but be warned — this is a bit like buying a second-hand car you can never see), you’ll need to know the following thirteen basic steps of SEO:

1. Keyphrases

Search engine users search with words and phrases, e.g., someone interested in old cars may search with the phrase "classic cars". You need to find and choose from the phrases your target market uses by comparing their popularity and the competition for them from other websites. Your choices will be your keyphrases and here’s how to find them:

* Research UK markets phrase use and popularity here: http://inventory.uk.overture.com/d/searchinventory/suggestion/ and US/UK audiences here: http://inventory.overture.com/d/searchinventory/suggestion/.
* Find out the level of competition or, how many websites already compete for visitors using those phrases here: http://www.wordtracker.com/* To assess the quality of competition you’ll need to at least know your thirteen basic steps of SEO. So we’ll continue…

2. Names

Your website name, folder names and page names can all improve your site’s SEO and increase visitor numbers if they include your keyphrases. For example, if you have a classic car magazine:

* The website (or domain name) could be www.theclassiccarmagazine.com. www.classiccar.com or www.classiccarmagazine.com would be better but someone already owns them. If you are just targeting a UK audience, www.classiccar.org.uk is ok and available. (If you are such a publisher, go buy that domain name now! — the research is on me.)
* You may have a folder called ‘jaguar’ as in the URL http://www.theclassiccarmagazine.com/jaguar/etype.html
* And the above URL also shows us a possible page name, ‘etype’.

Also, avoid capitals and spaces. Use hyphens and not underscores and then no more than two unless you must.

3. Site Structure

Attention to your site structure is essential. Get it wrong and your site will at worst never get on the search engines and at best be handicapped there. Do it right and you give all your pages a big boost. Apologies in advance for getting a little bit technical here. If you don’t follow all the terms, ask your webmaster.

Make the route from your home page to every other page (as measured in the number of clicks required) as short as possible. Good SEO allows up to 100 links on a page. So if you get your structure right, every page on a 10,000 page website can be reached from the home page with no more than three clicks.

Use simple text links if possible and use your keyphrases in that text.

‘Frames’ are best not used but if you must, make sure you use the ‘workarounds’, something which there is no space to explain here.

If your site is ‘dynamic’ (your webmaster will know what this means), insist on the URLs being ‘search engine friendly’ which means nothing with a ‘?=’ in it (especially if it is ‘?=id’) but all real words that you control so that your keyphrases can be used.

4. Page Structure

Sorry, a little bit more technical stuff is needed so I’ll be brief:

* Put scripting (eg javascipt and CSS) in separate files where possible
* Search engines analyse a page’s code from the top to the bottom and that at the top is considered more important. You can take advantage of this by dividing your page into <div>s, placing the most keyphrase-rich <div>s at the start of the page’s code and using CSS to control where the <divs> appear in browsers.

5. Site Content

Content is King. You want as much relevant (to your target market) content on as many pages as possible. Think hundreds of pages, thousands if possible. Chances are you’ve got a back catalogue of content somewhere. If so, get it up. If not, plan a programme of page generation.

6. Page Content

Use each page to target a ‘collection’ of keyphrases. For example, don’t just target ‘jaguar e type’ but also related keyphrases such as ‘jaguar e type sales’, ‘e type restoration’ and ‘etype spare parts’.

Make sure these phrases appear throughout the page, including: the html tags in the ‘head’ (title, description) and the ‘body’ text, including headlines (<h1> and <h2>). A few guidelines for their content follow:

* The more text you add to each of those ‘sections’ the more you dilute the importance attached (by the search engines) to the keyphrases already there.
* A keyphrase at the start of each section is given more importance than one at the end.
* Aim for 250 words minimum for each page’s body text.
* No more than about seven words for your title text and remember that this is the underlined blue text that headlines each page’s listing on a ‘search engine results page’ (SERP).
* The description can go a bit longer and is often used as the text underneath the title on a SERP so think about this from a wider marketing perspective than just SEO (as you should with all your copy).

7. SEO Spam

Trying to cheat the search engines (spamming) can get your site penalised or even banned. A simple rule for staying the right side of a ban is to not do anything that you might not do if you weren’t trying to impress the search engines.

Unfortunately that is not enough as there are many innocent practices that can get you banned, including:

* Hidden text
* Text colour similar to background colour
* Duplicating the same copy on different pages or different sites
* Excessive cross-linking between different sites

And the rules change so if you aren’t using an SEO professional make sure you stay well up to date.

8. Site Submission

The free route into the major search engines’ databases is via links into your site from other sites that are already listed there.

If you are in a rush and think you can afford it you can ‘pay to submit’ to some of the major search engines (but not Google). Make sure it’s worth your while as it may cost $29/year per page. And this doesn’t mean your site will perform well and get visitors, it’s just to get in the race. Should you get them, those visitors can cost you up to 30 cents per visit (or ‘click’). Crikey!

Did those prices scare you? With the free route you might have to wait three months or more before being indexed but you wont ‘pay per click’ once in. Time we looked at linking, I think…

9. Linking

The best (and free) way to get listed on Google, Yahoo and msn is via links into your site from other sites that are already listed. This includes important directories such as DMOZ (aka The Open Directory), Yahoo and business.com.

But there is much more to linking. To Google (and increasingly others), a link to your website is a vote of confidence. The more links you have the higher Google will rank your site and the more visitors you’ll get. Although it is not just a numbers game because the quality of those links is crucial so you must consider the following:

* The relevancy of the site the link is from, i.e., it should be in the same subject area
* The importance of that site as determined by google
* The nature of the link itself, i.e., the words in the text (if there is any text)


That search engines consider these issues, creates, for every subject area, a collection of ‘authority sites’ who cross-link, feeding off each other. You need to find your subject area’s authority sites, give them a reason to link to you and join their ‘club of the strong’.

10. Visitor stats

With good website ‘visitor statistics analysis’ software (not the package you got for free) you can find out where your paying visitors come from, what search terms they use and how they travel through your site. With such information you can target your SEO to where the money is.

11. Wait

It takes time. If you’ve done everything right, you might need to wait three months for your site to be visited and indexed by Google & co and then the same again for the sites that link to you to be indexed.

12. Don’t change a thing…

However innocuous a proposed change to your site may seem, don’t do it without consulting your SEO expert first. Even the smallest thing might change the way your site is assessed.

Also, search engines are constantly changing the way they rank sites. Don’t chase these changes unless you are an expert as the chances are you’ll do as much damage as good and that even an expert would get a better return from building new pages.

13. Measure your ROI

You do this on all your marketing, right? Well you should do it on your website too. The two key variables you need to measure are how much you spend and how much you get back over the lifetime of the product sold.

Now all you’ve got to do is sell something!

I knew we’d missed something! There is no point in getting visitors to your site if your site doesn’t sell, be it subscriptions, one-offs or merchandise. But "how to make your website sell" is the headline for another article.