Simple measures draw the world to your Web site
by Alan Zisman (c) 2003 First published in Business in Vancouver , Issue #735 November 25- December 1, 2003 Small Business Report column
t's your window to the world, and you don't need high-priced consultants to be effective
Recently, reader Evanelina Meyer, marketing director of Pathways Enterprises, e-mailed, asking me how she can get the general public to visit her new Web site.
The pressure is on every small business to have a Web site. As a result, many probably share Meyer's puzzlement. If you build it, will they come? If not, how can you get potential customers to visit your Web site?
Pathways had done the first thing right; it has a domain name for its Web site similar to its business's name.
If you don't yet have an Internet domain of your own, it's easy to check the availability of potential names. Vancouver-based domain registration service domainpeople.com, for instance, has a box at the top of its home page letting visitors check the availability of the names of their choice.
When you have your desired Web address, include it on all your printed material: business cards, letterhead, brochures, print ads, Yellow Pages ads, and on and on. Don't wait to use up your existing stock of business cards, brochures, and letterhead; add the new address to them.
Get a group of people together and try to brainstorm search terms that might be used by potential customers. Make sure those terms appear in the so-called meta-tags hidden in your Web site's code. (Ask your Web page designer if you don't know what those are.) And include as many of these as possible in the text in the first paragraph of your Web page's text.
That first paragraph can be key to improving your position in search engine listings. Make your first paragraph a concise statement of what you can do for your customers.
Don't, however, try to outsmart the system by including your competitors' names or by including words like "sex" if that's not relevant to your business. And don't include text that's invisible on your page, hoping it will up your rating in a search; search engines are aware of such tricks and have started to bounce sites that make use of them from their listings.
Keep that first page lean, mean, and cleanly designed. Resist the temptation to start viewers off with a fancy animated opening page, no matter how cool. If it takes too long to get to real information, many potential customers will click back to return to the search listings, and go elsewhere, probably to one of your competitors.
Search engines have what are known as "spiders" roaming the Web looking for new Web pages and indexing the contents. If your business creates a new site or posts new content, can you simply rely on these spiders to ensure that your message will become available?
I post new content on my Web site (www.zisman.ca) every week. On November 2, I searched Google for my recent content. Pages that I had put up in the first week of October showed up but searches for more recent pages came up empty, suggesting Google's spiders had visited my site about a month ago. Getting no hits on your business Web site for its first month in operation may not be good enough.
When your Web site is ready to face the world, don't wait for the spiders to find it; most search engines let you jump the queue by manually submitting your address, adding your carefully drawn up list of key words.
Consider advertising with search engines. Google, for instance, has an affordable "Adwords" program, where your site's listing can appear at the top of particular search results. You pay based on how many viewers click on your listing, and can set a maximum amount you're prepared to pay.
For more on making Web sites that work, check Websitesthatsuck.com together with its companion books. And local author Crawford Killian will be offering an evening course on (Communications 345) writing for the Web at Capilano College, starting on January 14.