I’ve gotten a lot of emails and requests about search engine optimization (SEO) and how to drive more traffic to websites, so I thought I’d write a post on this very hot topic. SEO and site traffic are intricately intertwined, so it doesn’t make sense to talk about one without the other. SEO isn’t just about getting your site at the top of a Google search, but rather it’s about increasing the relevance and availability of your site so users can find your content more easily. SEO is very important to any website as it makes content easier to find, drives traffic and generally results in a better experience for users. If employed properly, effective content and SEO techniques can be used in tandem to drive traffic to your site, which can then increase your site ranking. There are tons of things you can do to increase site traffic and optimize your site for search, but I’m going to focus on just a few.
Set Up Analytics
You can’t change what you can’t measure, so the first thing you should do is set up some analytics for your site to benchmark how it’s performing. Google offers a pretty good (and free) suite of tools, including Google Analytics (GA) and Google Webmaster Tools (GWT), and I’ll focus on those below. There are many similar options you could use, including some from Bing, but the key message is to get analytics set up and assess how your site is performing.
As you can see above, Google Analytics provides some pretty good info about your site. I could write an entire article just on how to set up Google Analytics and what you can do with it (please let me know if you’re interested), but the takeaway is that the first step of setting analytics up is crucial in optimizing your site and increasing traffic. All websites can be improved, and once you’ve set up analytics you can then assess which areas need the most work and prioritize your to-do list. And Google Analytics helps make that assessment easier. The dashboard offers some valuable information at a glance, including pageviews, average time on site, number of pages per visit, what percentage of visitors are new, where your traffic is coming from (search engines, referral sites, direct traffic or other) and more. You can even see where your visitors are located globally. Additionally, you can compare timeframes, so you can see whether your efforts are paying off.
Dig down deeper within Google Analytics, and you can get even more details: what browsers and operating systems your visitors are using (great for testing), what screen resolution your visitors have their screens set to, what sites are sending traffic to your site, what keywords are driving traffic to your site and more. You can even link your Adwords account and find more info about how your ads and keywords are performing.
Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) is another great tool you should think about implementing. It provides valuable search data, such as the number of backlinks to your site, a list of crawl errors, a list of broken pages and more. It even helps you to submit your sitemap to Google and tells you how Google sees your XML sitemap. And both Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools can be used with multiple sites.
Optimize Your Site and Content for Search
I’m not the first to point it out, but it warrants reiterating that many marketers are so eager to get their site up and running that they only consider search engine optimization (SEO) after the fact. There is definitely a “build it and they will come” mentality, which I sort of believe is natural actually. But to get your site ranked and indexed by search engines, there are a few ‘housekeeping’ items I suggest you strongly consider for your site (preferably before go live).
- Make sure every page has meta keywords and meta descriptions. The importance of meta keywords and meta descriptions is hotly debated, but since most search engines keep their exact ranking criteria secret, and this is easy and quick to implement, why not do it? Plus meta descriptions show up under your page title in search results, so a clear and compelling description increases the chances that someone will click on your link.
- Use alt text/tool tips for all links and images. This is another quick and easy thing that most people simply forget to do or put off until later. But it will make your site more accessible and therefore rank higher in search. Tip: Use keywords in image file names and alt text.
- Make sure you have a sitemap (preferably XML) and submit it to search engines. XML sitemaps make indexing your site easier for search engines. And anything that makes their jobs easier mean more traffic to your site. Plus it enhances the customer experience. Even if you site is just a few pages big, an XML sitemap should be created. There are plenty of tools to create an XML sitemap for you, so use one of those and upload it to your site. Tip: Make sure to upload your sitemap to your site’s root and name it “sitemap.xml.” The direct link to your sitemap should look something like http://www.johnmossmarketing.com/sitemap.xml
- Get rid of all those dead links and pages. Nothing can turn a visitor off like a dead page or link, and it makes your site look unprofessional. So use tools, like Google Webmaster Tools, to identify any dead links or pages and fix/remove them. Tip: Remember to remove dead pages from your sitemap.
- Make sure your robots.txt file is set up correctly. This file does a lot of things, but one very important thing is does is it allows search bots to crawl (and therefore index) your site. Or it can tell the search bots not to crawl certain pages you want to be crawled. Make sure you have a robots.txt file in your root and that it’s working correctly.
- Research keywords to find good ones to use on your site. There are a lot of tools out there to help you find keywords for your site, but one that I suggest is Traffic Travis. In addition to keyword research, Traffic Travis has some other cool functionality that you may find helpful.
- Use questions for the title of your pages and posts. This helps because many people type questions directly into search instead of playing the keyword-guessing game in which we’re all familiar. Try posing the question exactly how you think a potential visitor would word it, and the relevance of your page to the keywords will cause it to rank higher.
- Use good keywords in your page titles. The keyword research you did earlier will come in handy again. By using keywords in your page titles, search engines will rank your page higher for those terms.
- Make sure your site is set up for permalinks. What are you more likely to remember: yourdomain.com/WebForm/viewPage.aspx?categoryId=246 or yourdomain.com/title-of-your-page? The one that uses keywords and a title in the page’s link makes more ‘sense’ and is easier to understand for humans, and search engines also prefer links with titles and keywords.
- Monitor keyword density. The percentage of times a keyword or phrase appears on a page compared to the total number of words on the page is known as keyword density. Obviously you want to use keywords in your content, but it’s also important to pepper your content with your keywords at a sufficient density. Too low and it would seem that your page isn’t relevant for those keywords. Too high and the search engines may think you’re engaging in search/keyword spamming. Wikipedia suggests a keyword density of 1-3%, but I like a higher percentage, maybe 3-5%. Wikipedia also links to a few tools you can use to check on your site’s keyword density: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keyword_density
The thinking behind a backlink strategy is pretty simple. When search engines see that a certain site or webpage has a number of other sites/pages linking back to it, it assumes the page receiving site/page links to be highly popular and relevant. And the more popular and relevant a site is, the higher it is ranked. So you can see why a good backlink strategy should part of your larger marketing plan. The best backlinks are ones that are from a highly ranked “dofollow” site using your keywords in the displayed text. Here are some tools and ideas for you to incorporate into your backlinks activities:
- Comment on dofollow sites. And make sure to link back to your site using your keywords. The Follow List provides a list of sites that are dofollow sites. Inline SEO is a search engine that can help you find dofollow blogs that cater to your audience. And Website Link Building Strategies provides a list of high-ranked dofollow blogs.
- Create an account at Technorati. And ping it when your site/blog changes.
- Use a ping service. For example, pingomatic can be used to ping RSS aggregators.
- Submit your site/blog to directories. Robin Good’s list of RSS directories and DMOZ are good places to start. Listible.com is another good resource.
- Leave comments on blogs. Make sure to include your site’s URL and focus on related niches to increase relevancy.
- Put your URL in your signatures. Add your URL to everything from email signatures to forum signatures.
- Enable social media. Provide visitors an easy way to share your site and content to ALL social bookmarking sites.
- Get .edu links. Search for .edu sites and get links back to your site. They usually have a high page rank.
Promote Your Site
It sounds obvious, but promoting your site is probably one of the best ways to drive traffic to your site. And if you follow a few tips in promoting your site, you will also get some links, thereby helping your SEO efforts. Try some of these tactics:
- Tell your friends. Tell them about your site and specific posts, pages and functionality, and be sure to use your Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, etc. accounts.
- Answer forum questions. Target forums related to your industry and link to one of your pages that offers info about the question.
- Use signatures. Put your URL in your email and forum signatures.
- Write press releases. There are a lot of low- or no-cost solutions that make it easy to distribute your releases.
- Answer questions at Yahoo Answers. Yahoo Answers is a great place to answer questions that have to do with your industry. Make sure to add a link back to your site where people can get more info.
- Set up a MyYahoo feed. Doing so will help Yahoo keep better track of your site.
- Use RSS feeds. They are easy to set up, and be sure to make it easy for visitors to sign up for your feed.
- Make your pages Digg/Reddit/etc. friendly. The easier it is, the more likely visitors will share your pages. And don’t be afraid to ask them to share.
- Submit articles. Submit your best articles to article directories.
- Exchange ads. Find complementary sites and ask them to exchange ads for a set time. Not only will it drive traffic to your site, but the other site gets good traffic from yours, you have a potential ad customer.
- Plaster your URL everywhere. Put it on everything that goes out, including business cards, stationary, mailing labels, etc.
- Distribute videos. Publish on YouTube and post your URL at the beginning and end of every video.
- Use wikis, including wikipedia. Find wikis related to your site or industry and to submit your content to those pages.
- Get your site reviewed. Submit your site to free review sites like CoolSiteoftheDay.
Provide Useful and Unique Content
Content is still king, so make sure to provide quality content, and you will see traffic explode. Here are a few simple ideas for content creation:
- Make lists. People love Top 5, Top 10 lists.
- Use pictures. No one wants just boring text.
- Use video. It’s relatively cheap to produce for the web, and will drive up the time visitors spend on your site. You can even use YouTube to host your videos to cut down on hosting costs. Just make sure it’s not too long or takes too long to buffer.
- Write for beginners. Don’t forget those looking for introductory info.
- Use easy-to-read fonts. Make it easy to read on the web, and stick to common fonts.
- Look professional. Proofread your content to avoid typos, and make sure your site design is professional looking.
- Don’t forget your navigation. Make your site is easy to navigate, and it will be easier to find your great content.
- Reply. If your site supports comments, reply to every authentic question (get a good spam filter to save time). Do the same with emails.
- Translate. Install a translation plug-in or use a translation service to broaden the appeal of your content.
- Post frequently. Set up a schedule (monthly, weekly, daily or hourly) and stick to it.