Set your website on fire

5 Tips to Increase Web Traffic

All too often businesses get their new websites designed and then forget about them and expect them to do the rest. Business people sometimes assume that if a website doesn’t take off, that the web designer hasn’t done his job correctly, that may be true in some cases, but for a website to really excel it needs to be treated like a high maintenance girlfriend. Here is my list of the top 5 things you can do to set your website on fire and increase web traffic.

  • Blog – This brings us back to the old cliche about content being the ruling monarch or some other such drivel, the point is that your content is everything. Good wordy content drives search engine ranking up, it also encourages people to spend time on your site and it motivates visitors to return to your site again and again. Blogging is the best way for a website owner to add content to a website regularly and tools like RSS help disseminate that information and increase web traffic too. Set a schedule and stick to it, one new entry a week, or a day or whatever works with your schedule.
  • Inbound links – Probably as important to website ranking as good text content is inbound links, that is links on other sites that point to your website. There are a myriad places online where one can get linked. Online directories related to your local area or your particular industry, reciprocal links, blog comments and discussion forums. It takes more time and patience than anything else to find these places and get linked, but your efforts will be rewarded as your search engine ranking rises. Search engines aside, inbound links are good for the traffic they naturally generate too.
  • Social networking – Another great way to increase web traffic is to get your business on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and other social networking websites. Be aware though that simply creating a presence on these sites is not enough, you need to contribute to these communities by connecting to others and posting relevant information. There are tools available now that will connect many blog systems to your social networking account, so for example, when I post this article to my blog it will also appear automatically on my Facebook and LinkedIn account. This saves time posting to a lot of different sources and makes short work of keeping all your online marketing efforts up to date. Other tools of use in this area are sites like hootsuite that can post to various social networking sites at once.
  • Email newsletter – Implementing an email newsletter is another good way to increase traffic. This is fairly inexpensive to add to your website and can bring great returns because once you are set up it costs you nothing to send out as many of these as you have names in your database. If you are going to set an email newsletter up on your website take the time to schedule a time each month (or whatever schedule you want to keep) to write and send out your newsletter, a newsletter system that doesn’t get used is money wasted.
  • Mix things up – A static site does not encourage repeat visitors, update your website frequently. This is especially true of your home page, at least once a year you should change the look of your home page. This gives the impression that your company is active and will encourage people who have been to your site before to spend some time digging deeper to see what else has changed often times reading information that has been there for a long time.

A well designed, well thought out website can do a great deal on its own, but to really excel it needs care and nurturing. This doesn’t need to be expensive, in fact all of the above suggestions you can do yourself, you just have to make the time. The time spent will pay off when you see an increase in your web traffic.

Any other ideas? What have you done to make your website take off? Leave comments below.

The Ultimate Web Publishing Platform

The best web publishing platform is...

For years I experimented with various web publishing platforms to varying degrees of satisfaction. The ultimate, in my opinion, has to have several important elements.

  1. Easy to use admin interface: this is critical, for a web publishing platform to be successful it has to empower the website administrator, making it easy to add and maintain content quickly and easily.
  2. Extensibility: the system should be able to add new functionality and features as needed, relatively inexpensively and quickly.
  3. Easy to use templates: the look and feel of the site needs to be easily customized, so the templating engine should be easy to work with.

For awhile I used Drupal as my web publishing platform of choice to create a number of websites and it works pretty good. But I found that adding functionality to Drupal beyond what it was designed to do out of the box, was quite difficult. Also, the Drupal admin interface was difficult for some people to come to grips with, making it difficult for me to recommend it to my clients with limited technology experience.

Then I started experimenting with WordPress and have had fantastic success. WordPress makes it so easy to keep a website up to date that people are more likely to add new content. The admin interface is very simple and easy, I have no reservations about introducing the most computer illiterate users to the WordPress admin interface, it’s that easy. Additional functionality can be easily added to a WordPress site and I have been able to quickly and easily customize a website’s look and feel because the templating system is very easy to work with.

The number one thing you can do to make a website more successful is to add more content. More content means more things for people to look at and read, more reasons for people to link to your site, more pages for search engines to index and link to, more reasons people to return to your site. So an easy to use web publishing platform encourages more and better content by making it very easy to add and edit content.

Call and talk with us about making your web site more successful by adding WordPress.

Search Engine Optimization Secrets

Learn search engine optimization secrets

Who was it that said “if you build it they will come” because it’s definitely not true online. How many websites have failed because the person assumed that visitors would just magically appear. I recently met with a business person who had spent many thousands of dollars on an ecommerce website that had, over the course of many months, sold nothing at all. Building a website without search engine optimization is like putting a retail store at the end of a dark alley and then wondering where all the customers are. If you put that same store in a major shopping mall, thousands of people would begin coming through that store every day simple because of its location. Search engines are that shopping mall and search engine optimization is the way to get your business located there. The problem is that the search engines are extremely secretive about how they work and SEO firms are equally secretive about what they do. In order for a business person to make an informed decision about buying SEO services they need to learn a few of these search engine optimization secrets.

While there are many business offering search engine optimization, you need to be careful because some are offering substandard service, either they don’t really know what they’re doing and taking peoples money, or they are engaged in “black hat” methods, that is those techniques that are considered unethical and could result in a site being banned by search engines.

So what goes into effective “white hat” search engine optimization? It used to be about meta keywords years ago, hidden tags in the header section of a page’s HTML that told a search engine what that page was about. Thanks to people abusing keywords, they are not used by most search engines today. The big 3 (Google, Yahoo and Bing) will not use meta keywords to determine your rank.

The most important thing you can do to improve your search engine rank today is to develop inbound links. An inbound link is a link to your website from another site not in your domain. The number of links to your site tell search engines how relevant your website is, the higher the PageRank of the site linking to you, the more that link counts for.

How do you go about getting inbound links? There are lots of places online where you can buy links but this is against Google’s rules so you should avoid buying links to stay on Google’s good side. There are also opportunities for reciprocal links (you link to me and I’ll link to you), but some search engines can recognize reciprocal links and give them less weight when determining a website’s relevance. Another way of getting links is to comment on relevant blogs or message boards, be careful that you are not just spamming these websites, but actually leaving good, relevant comments. The best way to develop lots of good inbound links is still the old fashioned way, develop great content on your website that will make people want to visit your site and link to it.

There are a lot of other things that will improve your site’s standing in the search engines like using carefully researched keywords and the use of those keywords in the headings, subheadings, title and body of your page.

At this point it should be obvious that there is quite a bit of time and/or money involved in getting a website search engine optimized, researching keywords, building those keywords into the content, developing inbound links, not to mention making sure the code is clean and properly formatted so the search engines will not have any trouble reading it. So, what can you expect to see for all this? Let me illustrate, let’s say you have a website that sells potato peelers and has a conversion rate of 4%, (A conversion rate is the ratio of the number of visitors who take a desired action (fill out a form, make a purchase, etc.) to the number of visitors who view the page). So you get an average of 4 new customers for every 100 visitors to your website. The keyword “potato peeler” gets an average of 18,000 searches per month according to Google. If your SEO efforts put you in the top ten results for that term and capture even a tenth of those searchers you would have 1,800 visitors a month which would result in 72 new sales per month. Obviously the cost of search engine optimization is minimal compared to its potential to make money.

With these kinds of returns you can see why SEO is something that should not be an afterthought for a website but something that is built in right from the start. With these search engine optimization secrets you should be able to get started optimizing yoir site whether you are doing it yourself or hiring someone to do it.

5 Content Management System Advantages

Thinking about content management system advantages?

The task of keeping a website’s content fresh and up-to-date can be a daunting one, yet it’s of utmost importance to the success of that website. Adding a content management system (CMS) to your website makes updating content a snap. The cost of implementing a CMS is much lower today than it was when I started in web development. There are several good CMS software solutions available now that require very little customization and are open-source so there is no software costs to implement them. At iLab New Media we do a lot of CMS development, so I have a pretty good grasp of the pros and cons of different CMS solutions and what they can offer a business. So you might ask, “Why does my website need a CMS?”. In answer, here are the five most important content management system advantages.

  1. Fresh Content – The most obvious reason is that your website will be easier to keep up to date. It just takes a minute to add new content with a CMS, if it’s easy you’re more likely to do it and your website benefits by staying fresh.
  2. Lots of functionality is available – There are hundreds of free modules available that plug into existing content management systems adding complex programming features with very little effort. Meaning that the cost of adding certain features to your site drops significantly. Some of the modules available include:
    • Site search
    • Polls
    • Password secured content
    • Email newsletters
    • Blog
    • Discussion forums
    • Photo galleries
    • Much more.
  3. Dynamic content – Not only can you add new pages easily, but new categories can be added and the site navigation will expand gracefully to match. Also old content can easily be updated, new pictures can be uploaded and company news and events can be added. Changes to your website become easy, trouble-free and inexpensive to make.
  4. Extensibility – New modules are being written all the time and since modules are developed in common languages like PHP, almost anything can be custom tailored to work within the system. Also the CMS software itself can be easily and cheaply updated to fix bugs or security vulnerabilities.
  5. User friendly interface – The technical features of a CMS intimidate some people, but fear not, the interface is user friendly and easy to learn. So while the your CMS may have lots of technical features available, your interface for adding new content is user friendly and easy to learn.

A content management system used to be practical only for large companies, but with lower costs to implement and the content management system advantages listed here, any website can benefit and see a quick return on their investment. Contact iLab New Media for a free quote on a content management system and see how affordable it can be to add these advantages to your website.

Getting from Click to Cha-Ching

Turning web visitors into paying customers

I’ll let you in on a little secret, search engine optimization does not necessarily produce a successful website, better expressed as SEO ≠ $. While it’s true that search engine optimization (SEO) is very important to a website’s success it is by no means the only element of it’s success.

The goals of individual websites may differ quite a bit, for one the goal may be to get a visitor to buy a product, while another may be to get a visitor to call, or fill out a form to request further information. Whatever the end goal is, reaching that objective is called a conversion, in web design we refer to the ratio of conversions to visitors as your conversion rate. The nice thing about web marketing is that everything is measurable, we can know how many people viewed each specific page, how long they spent looking at it and where they clicked when they left so we can use these figures to analyze how a website is performing.

If you are interested in improving your conversion rate, here are the top 5 ways to do that.

  1. An attractive, professional looking website. It is well known that the look of your website effects peoples opinions of your company, but studies have shown that lasting impressions are made very quickly, a visitor to your website will form a first impression in just a 20th of a second.
  2. Well written copy. The most under-appreciated ingredient of a great website is copy-writing. People read differently on the web than on paper, they scan more and read less. Copy-writing for the web is a topic for another article but suffice it to say that well written copy will significantly boost your conversion rate. If you are serious about it think of paying a professional copy-writer.
  3. Keep content fresh. Nothing can turn off website visitors faster than stale content. Make sure you keep up with dated content like event calendars or company news pages, when these kinds of things become outdated it looks as though your website is not kept up and visitors will move on. You will find that changing around your home page or any other “landing pages” every few months will generate renewed interest as returning visitors notice the changes and take a closer look.
  4. Eliminate hurdles. Whatever the goal of your website is, make it real easy to do. If you are selling a product, put it on the home page. If you are collecting leads, put the contact form on the side of every page. If you want people to call you, put your phone number at the top of every page. Whatever it is,make sure your visitors have to perform as few steps as possible to accomplish it. For contact forms you will get the best results by requiring the fewest fields possible.
  5. Keep download times to a minimum. Believe it or not, some people are still using dial-up internet access, add to that the increasing number of mobile internet users on slow connections and with bandwidth limits, and you can see that download times still matter. The best way to lose a visitor is to make them wait too long for the web page to load, and when I say “too long” I mean around 4 seconds!

What good is search engine optimization if you abuse your visitors once they get to your website? Give your web visitors a quality experience on your site, make things easy for them and they will repay you by trusting you with their business.

Increase Web Traffic With Fresh Content

Increase web traffic by using the keyboard

It is often said that a year in real time equals anywhere from 4 to 12 years in “web time”, meaning that time moves much faster on-line than off. It is true that the content of your web site can become outdated before you’re done writing it. It is always surprising to me how many businesses are satisfied to put their web site online and then just forget about it, as if the web site could take care of itself from there on out. Keeping a web site current does not need to be a daily or even a weekly activity necessarily, but it is very importance to update the content periodically if you want to continue to increase web traffic.

The truth is that the simple task of adding to and updating the content of your website may be the easiest, least expensive and yet most neglected way to increase traffic.

Here are my top 4 disadvantages of not keeping your web content fresh.

  1. New visitors can recognize old content: If visitors to your web site perceive that your content is not fresh, they may look at it once, but it is unlikely they will bookmark it and even more unlikely they will return. It’s like the difference between a brochure and a newspaper, a customer may pick up a brochure and read through it once, she may even save the brochure, but believe me, she will not be pulling it out once a month to read through it again, and after a period of time will probably forget she even has it. A newspaper, no matter how small, always has fresh content so that if someone picks it up and likes what he has read, he will likely pick it up again later to see what it says now. Your web site is similar, visitors perceive whether your web site is a brochure or a newspaper and treat it as such.
  2. Returning visitors will not come back again: When a persons visits your site and likes your content, they may bookmark it and return another time to see what’s new. After a period of time when there are no updates, people assume it is not going to change and will stop coming back. It is these returning visitors who are most likely to become your customers, not only do they like what you have to say, but they are interested enough to keep in touch. If you are updating your content frequently you will increase web traffic as your web site becomes in essence a networking tool to business contacts you may never actually have talked to. This allows you to keep in touch with thousands of valuable contacts with very little work on your part.
  3. Others sites may not link to you: You probably know that getting links from other web sites is a great way of getting visitors to your site, but you may not know that this can also drastically improve your search engine ranking. Getting quality sites to link to you can be a very difficult task, a good webmaster does not link to every site that comes along and asks for a link, only those that will offer some valuable information. If you have a rather static, brochure web site, you will no doubt be able to get some links, but you can get more and better quality links if your site is fresh and ever changing.
  4. Google likes fresh content: Google will give an advantage to fresher content, so you can increase web traffic through Google considerably just by adding new content every so often. As your old content ages it may begin to slip in ranking so mix it up, add new pages, blog posts or just update your content in those old pages, it will make a difference.

Your web site will get more visitors and more return visits if you keep it updated regularly. This is really not hard, just determine to sit down once a month and write a little bit about what your business has been doing and some suggestions on how your customers can use your products or services. By updating your web content at least once a month you will be helping to keep your site moving forward in web time and will be helping to increase web traffic.

6 Steps to a Profitable Website

your website can be more profitable

Many people are unhappy with their websites because they have had so little return on their investment, no wonder so many businesses invest as little as possible in their web sites. The problem is not the limited profitability of the internet, the problem is incompetent or disreputable web designers, either do-it-yourself web designers, the high school kid down the street, graphic artists who have a limited understanding of technology or fly-by-night web design firms who care less how successful your website is after they develop it. The internet is complicated and to achieve a truly successful, profitable website requires someone with an understanding of web business and web marketing.

With that goal in mind here are the top 6 ways to drive traffic and make your website more profitable.

  1. Search Engine Optimization. Not just submitting your site to search engines, because even if you get listed in all of them, if you come up past the first page you might as well not be listed at all. For new clients to find you on the web you need to be at the top of the results for several carefully selected keywords. This may also include pay-per-click advertising campaigns. Read this post on the Secrets of Search Engine Optimization to help with this step to achieving a profitable website.
  2. Promote through existing channels. Your website is not just a tool for making new contacts, it is also a 24/7 marketing brochure in the hands of any prospects that have your URL. The key then, is getting your website’s address into the hands of as many prospects, clients and interested parties as possible. This could be critical to the success of your website, you just need to include one more line on all of your promotional material (business cards, flyers, yellow page ads etc) with your URL on it. Not everyone is interested enough to call or come in, not everyone has time during regular business hours, many people have more questions they need answered before they make a decision. This is where your website comes in; clinching the deal, answering the questions, making the sale without you or your employees having to so much as answer the phone or lift a finger.
  3. Establish a newsletter. Now that you have the customers you need to keep them, an e-newsletter can turn your website into a valuable networking tool. Visitors to your site are able to subscribe and unsubscribe to your newsletter and all you have to do is enter your content into a form and click the submit button and your contacts are alerted to any new services or products you are offering, any sales or other developments at your business, automatically, in their email inbox. A must-have tool in developing a profitable website. For help setting up an email newsletter check out Constant Contact or Mail Chimp.
  4. Track visitors, users and clients. By tracking visitors to your site you will know how many visits your website gets, what pages are being accessed and what features are being used. With this in place you know which portions of your site are the most effective and which may need to be reevaluated. You will also know where traffic is coming from, which marketing efforts are paying off and which are not. Every truly profitable website needs some type of web analytics to track visitors. A good resource in this area is Google Analytics.
  5. Update content regularly. Why would somebody want to return to your site time after time, give them something to return for by adding new content to your site at least once a month. Web users have high expectations for website content, they expect it to be kept fresh, if they perceive that your website is static or that your content is stale they may not return again. On the other hand if your website features regular updates, news items of interest or short informative articles, they will return regularly. To learn more about how fresh content can lead to a more profitable website read our post 4 Disadvantages to Not Keeping Your Web Content Fresh.
  6. Write web friendly text. Studies have shown that people online often skim text instead of reading word for word as they would in print. There are several things you can do to make your pages more readable and keep your visitors from getting bored and leaving. Keep the copy on your site short and to the point, use bullets and subheadings wherever possible, and break long blocks of text up into different pages.

By following these suggestions you can make a more profitable website and move your site ahead of the competition.

10 Ideas for a Smarter Business Website

a successful business website takes work

The web offers infinite possibilities for expanding and marketing your business, yet a business website is often viewed as having two possibilities, e-commerce and as a brochure, probably because these are the most common, but they are not even scratching the surface of what is possible.

Let’s face it, there are probably millions of sites out there offering the same or similar services as your business, how will you stand out from the crowd? The successful web site need not be extravagant, you just need to spend some time thinking about what your clients needs are, and how you can meet those needs online. Often the failure to provide useful web services is caused by a poor understanding of the potential of the web and what others are doing with it.

To help you in planning your website, and the services it can provide, we offer the following 10 ideas for a smarter website.

  1. Maps to your locations: A very simple yet useful feature sometimes forgotten. The visitor to your website often doesn’t know where you’re located and may need to call for directions before coming by, head off that question by providing a map, because you and your employees have better things to do than answer the phone. For multiple locations you may want to provide a different map for each, or have a dynamic map that pinpoints that location when the location is selected from a list.
  2. Online order tracking: This is a common feature of e-commerce websites but even if you don’t sell products online your customers will appreciate this type of feature. Whether the product is ordered over the phone, through email or even by coming to your location, if there is any shipping, processing or manufacturing involved it is convenient to your customers to be able to look up their order status on your website.
  3. Email newsletter: A powerful marketing and networking tool for you to keep in touch with your existing customers and make new ones. To mail out a traditional newsletter can cost quite a bit in printing, postage and handling, on the other hand an email newsletter’s cost is virtually nothing once the website is developed. Advise about upcoming sales, remind about services offered, provide tips and suggestions on how your products or services can be used, your email newsletter will be the cheapest, most cost-effective advertisement you can have.
  4. Customer poll: Put your finger on the pulse of your customers by adding an online poll to your website. It’s easy and inexpensive to implement and provides direct feedback from people interested in your services, what’s more it comes with a simple administrative page where you can see the results tabulated and change the question.
  5. Employee contact directory: If you have a number of employees or departments that clients may want to contact, you can help direct those calls to the right place by implementing an employee contact directory. This can result in more satisfied clients when they are able to call or email the appropriate department instead of having to go through a receptionist or phone menu.
  6. Online catalog: You may not want to deal with the complexities of an e-commerce application or spend the money required to set one up, but, an online catalog could be the next best thing. With your products displayed online and a phone number to order by, you could be selling to people all over the country or even the world. This can be a good way to see if e-commerce would work for you since a catalog is much less expensive to implement.
  7. Live news feed: There are millions of RSS news feeds available online for inclusion in your website, from the news websites to feeds about specific interests and industries. By including a news feed on your site you encourage visitors to check in often to read the news and give your website an aura of authority.
  8. Your company news: New and interesting things happen at your business all the time, new products developed, new services offered or maybe a large project completed, brag about it to your customers by adding a company news feed. This could be a simple a list of blurbs and respective dates about goings on or they can be linked to more detailed news articles or press releases.
  9. Online community: One of the most effective ways of getting repeat visitors to your site, depending on your business, may be to build an online community by including a message board or forum on your website.
  10. Business blog: A blog is most commonly personal in nature, but many businesses are finding great success in blogging. A blog can bring new visitors to your site, give visitors a reason to return to your site, establish you as an authority in your field and improve your page rank in Google.

You need an edge to stand out from the crowd online and this doesn’t necessarily mean throwing more money at your website, it means working smarter, not harder, anticipating your client’s needs. If you spend some time planning your website and thinking about the above suggestions you should have no problem making a web site that customers return to again and again.