Don’t put all your eggs in Google’s basket

GoogleWorking on your website’s search engine optimisation (SEO) is all well and good but it’s a dangerous strategy to use this one source of web traffic in isolation. I’ve found this out the hard way.

Yes, there’s no disputing that appearing at the top of the Google search results for the right phrases will bring in visitors but using this as your sole strategy could be very risky. You shouldn’t be too dependent on Google as things can change very quickly.

I’ve experienced it myself a number of times. I’ve had my site sitting pretty in the top 5 results only for it to suddenty plummet down to the fourth page or lower or vanish from the search results altogether.

Google ranks web pages and other documents by following an algorithm, a complex formula. As they continually try to improve their search technology they tweak this algorithm from time to time. Depending on the change this can have quite dramatic effects on ranking. Through no fault of your own you can suddenly lose your foothold on a particular phrase or market.

Google indexes websites by periodically visiting them with it’s search robot, Googlebot. The frequency of these visits depends on the frequency of your site updates. If you’re unlucky enough for your website to be down at the time when Googlebot visits you’ll drop out of the index and have to wait until it drops by again before reappearing.

The other big factor is competition. In competitive markets your competitors will be working tirelessly to try to grab the top spot. Changes they make to their sites or search engine marketing activity can easily leave you playing catch up.

I’m not suggesting for a second that you should stop pushing for a high ranking on Google but you should be doing other things too so that should anything change your site doesn’t grind to a halt.

Hits schmits! What do Web Statistics really mean?

Pie ChartWith web technologies it’s very easy to quote and manipulate the statistics to make things sound better or worse than they actually are. There are some grey areas in the terminology used and it’s very easy to get lost and not understand precisely what you’re being told. Here is a guide to help explain some of the more commonly used terms.

Back in the nineties everyone would talk about hits, how many hits they were getting, hit counts, they’d even have a little hit counter on their home page.

So, what is a hit? A hit means a file that is retrieved from the web server. The key thing to note here is that it’s a file, not a page but a file. Therefore, if someone visits a page with 3 image files that’s 4 hits, the HTML file plus the 3 image files. A photo gallery page might have 60 thumbnail images in it – that’s 61 hits. It’s very easy to rack up huge numbers of hits and make it sound like you’re getting far more traffic than you are. This is because a lot of people misunderstand hits to mean visits.

A visit, sometimes called a page impression or page view, means one retrieval of a web page from the web server. This term is, at least, what it sounds like. Measuring visits does not take into account the same person visiting multiple times. This is an area to be wary of when paying for advertising on a per thousand impressions or CPM basis. You may get 1,000 impressions, views or visits in a month but it could be only 100 real people who access your page 10 times each. Do not mistake visits for visitors.

“88.2% of statistics are made up on the spot.”
– Vic Reeves

A visitor is a real person, most of the time. As well as people your site may be visited by search engine spiders or robots performing information retrieval tasks. These will all count so you need to be aware that what you see is not 100% what you get.

Another term that is used is unique visits and unique visitors. The idea behind labelling them unique is that they are not counted twice. It works either by using cookies or logging IP addresses or often both. It’s not perfect as I can visit the same web page from work and home in the same day and be double counted but it’s as close as can be realistically expected. The danger with the term unique is that it can have different parameters. Some people use the term unique to mean that the visitor is only counted once for the duration being discussed, e.g. per calendar month. Others use the term unique to mean that each visitor is only counted once in every 24 hour period within the duration. So, if I visit your web page every day in June you could get 1 unique visitor or 30. Quite a difference.

Before buying a website, domain name, advertising space or anything else where stats are quoted at you, be sure to nail down exactly what you’re talking about.

On the flip side, when trying to sell advertising space, a good solution to overcome any misunderstandings is to use Google Analytics on your website. This presents visitor data under clear headings in a way which many webmasters or website owners will understand.

Online ways to launch a website

3... 2... 1... lift off!In the offline world when you create a new publication, like a brochure or catalog, you need to plan its distribution. You need to get it in front of your potential customers. Online is no different.

Too many people out there still seem to think that having a website built is the job done. Get a website and then sit back and wait for people to visit it. Wrong. The offline equivalent is having your brochures printed and then leaving them in their boxes. Just building a website is not enough.

So, what can you do to distribute it and get it in front of your online customers? Here are some simple steps that should help.

Firstly, you need to change the way you view the website compared with a more traditional printed brochure. The website is not equalivalent to a brochure. Your website in isolation is not worth anything. No, really. It’s completely worthless. Without any way to reach it it may as well not be there.

The way to get it out there is by creating links to your site. These can be links in emails, on other website’s pages or on search engine results pages, like Google.

To get your site to appear in the search engine results you need to let the search engines know that it exists. You can either submit it to the search engines manually or just create links to it from other sites and they will find it and do the rest.

For more information on building links please see my other article Links, link exchanges and strategies.

It takes time to build links and get found through the search engine results pages so what else can you do? Well, this may be stating the obvious but tell people. Tell everyone. And I mean everyone. Even the people who you don’t think will be interested may know someone who is.

Ask for feedback. Approach people and say you need their help and value their opinion. We all love to feel important, valued and that we can help someone else. Send them a link and ask for their feedback. Most of them will take a look and if they’ve had a quick look it will increase their chances of remembering your site in the future.

Win win win! One of the easiest ways to get people to visit a web page is to incentivise them, put something in it for them. Running a competition is good. This will not only pull people in but may also have a viral effect as people forward links to your web page to friends and family. It also provides an opportunity to capture their data (only with their permission, of course) and approach them again in future.

Use social networks. By posting a link on facebook or twitter you can reach huge numbers of people in minutes and if they like what they see it can really snowball.

In short, when you’re budgeting for a new website like Click here to read more about Carlson Knives you should add in some budget to launch it or it may not provide you with any value.

Web Development – it’s not like building a shed

Web development - it's not like building a shedI recently read a great blog post on sub-standard web developers and how to avoid them. If you’re looking to get a website developed I’d suggest you have a quick read of this: Beware Web Developers Who Know Nada!

As a web developer myself I find it incredibly frustrating that I’m constantly losing web development work to graphic designers who know nothing about marketing on the web. Does your business really need a piece of online art or does it actually want to see some return? As I see it there are only two things that matter – 1) are people finding the site and 2) is it giving them what they came for?

My other bugbear is that web development is as its name suggests “developmental”. It’s not a one off bit of work – build it, take the money, next. To be really successful, a website needs to evolve to meet the needs of its users so requires an ongoing cycle of analysis, review and redevelopment. This doesn’t have to mean lots of expense or contracts. It just means stopping every once in a while and thinking about what is working, what isn’t working, how many enquiries are you getting, is the number going up or down?

If you’re serious about making money on the web, you need to be prepared to put a lot of work in yourself, not simply farm it out, and work closely with a  web developer who understands what your business needs from your site.

Marketing through Facebook, for free

FacebookFacebook is the fastest growing, most popular networking tool in the UK today. For many users it has made personal emails a thing of the past. How can this be turned into an opportunity for businesses?

Facebook is about people, real individuals. If you want to promote a company’s goods or services on Facebook you can’t just set up a business account – you have to do so from an individual’s perspective. So, what can you do?

Create a Profile

On your profile write about the company / products / services you want to promote. At first you may think that’s it’s only friends and family who will be reading it but open it up to Friends of Friends and that’s a huge network of people potentially taking a look at your profile. This kind of personal endorsement of a company/product/service is very powerful and people will sit up and take much more notice of this than an ad.

Create Groups, Events and Pages

Facebook allows you to create a group for anything you wish. This allows discussion and sharing of media around the group’s theme. On joining a group all user’s friends are notified via the main feed so the potential to grow very quickly is huge. Once a group has members there are options for the group admin to contact all members so it’s a quick and easy mailing list which manages itself. Events are similar to groups but for a limited timespan. Event invitations are highly effective as they ask for a response. Pages are again similar to groups but allow more in the way of content. Both events and pages have more prominence within individuals’ profiles so greater exposure than groups.

Get into the News Feed

This displays a summary of actions performed by a user’s friends. The more you can feature your content in this feed, the more attention you will get and drive more traffic to your group, event or page.

Import your Existing Content

If you have a website using an RSS Feed then Facebook allows you to import this into your profile or page, writing content to the news feed with each update. Here’s my own web development Facebook Page which imports the content from my web development RSS feed.

And finally, a couple of don’ts…

Don’t try to stay anonymous and set up a fake account. Facebook is about individuals and transparency. If you set up a fake account it’s only a matter of time before it’s deleted.

Don’t try to contact lots of individuals using Messages. Facebook is very hot on spotting spam and if you send the same message to lots of individuals you will quickly get blocked from sending any.