Pulling in the punters, a lesson in SEO
In this post I explore ways of getting your website noticed because it's not easy or at least not like it used to be. The sad truth is just having a website out there, doesn't mean that people will come of their own accord. People need a little bit of a hint, a nudge, which may be based on a number of avenues, such as a keyword based search, responding to an advert or other kind of link that they see. The challenge though is getting that link in front of the right people, your audience, the people you want to speak with and establish long term relationships with. Pull in those punters and keep them entertained!
Preparing your site to be discovered
Let's consider some prerequisites...
- A good domain name certainly helps, as it should be descriptive
- Well structured content that aligns with your brand and domain
- A good homepage that is kept up-to-date
- Quality mark-up that can easily be crawled by search engines
- Google sitemaps (will explain in more depth)
- RSS Feeds (ditto)
- Accurate metadata (ditto)
Calls to action (CTA)
A "Call to Action" is an action that you want to encourage your visitors to take, such as signing up for a newsletter, registering for an account, sending you an enquiry and typically you make these invitations obvious, persuasive even! A good place for these would be on the home page and with links in the main menu. That is not to say they can't also exist deeper within the site but so long as they are obvious enough.
SEO - ways of being seen
Search Engine Optimisation is a little bit of a dark art because Google are very secretive about the algorithms they develop and with very good reason. An algorithm is a process that runs, basically a large software application or suite of processes that trawl through vast arrays of website data. The outcome being the Google Index that forms the heart of all the searches we make. It somehow decides where every page on the web is ranked against certain keywords. So if you searched for broad keywords such as jazz or blues what results would you see? It is hard to second guess and a number of factors might apply, your location perhaps would rank local jazz bands higher up the list, maybe your recent browsing habits might influence the search results too. On the other hand you'd probably actually see apex results and if you try it out you will see video links, news stories, a wikipedia definition for Jazz, a set of local links based around a Google Map plus further local links. I for example see those for Farnborough my home town.
So then you'd try doing a search for big band jazz which would probably base the search on still quite a broad scope, probably listing world famous artists, perhaps global concert halls and other options. It isn't until you apply something like Bournemouth big band jazz you would start seeing better results but they are only so because of your own thought processes, your own process of elimination, as you drill down to dig deeper into Google's vast index!
I am writing the following based on a real life Jazz club - So as a website owner you need to apply a little bit of psychology. You need to jump into the brain of your ideal visitor, those people who would most likely love to join you all for a night of Jazz discovery and a social. However what if they weren't actually looking for you but something related and instead make that serendipitous discovery? I've experienced this before, I have found all kinds of things on Google that appealed to me when I was looking for something else entirely! It is like looking for a tape measure for doing some DIY, discovering your favourite CD from two decades ago.... you end up spending the afternoon in the company of a long forgotten band and an irate wife who thought you were measuring up for some new bookshelves!
So sometimes people may find out about the club when looking for something similar (or unelated!), as you are more likely to get interest that way, sounds kind of counterintuitive but it is often the case. We all know the internet is a little bit of a rabbit hole like something out of a Lewis Carroll book.
In terms of content the page structure is important, the path to the content is also key and then the headings and the paragraphs that follow should all cascade down from that initial hook. Let's run through an example:
We are editing a new page titled - "Discover the music of Duke Ellington Big Band, a night of Vinyl" and the link to it could be "/events/discovery/duke-ellington-big-band", both are very descriptive and tie together nicely. They are also rather enticing because if you saw this title show up in a list of search results, you would be clicking on it to find out more. People may discover this link in a number of ways, there could be quite a few potential keywords for a piece of content like this and they are words that should be included within the content of the web page itself, as Google will pick them all up and match it all together to form a score for your page or "Google Rank". None of us truly know how it works other than that what I describe here is a good pattern to follow in content design.
Let's consider what those keywords could be:
- Big Band
All of the above can be used, scattered throughout the page that we create.
Your opening paragraph really matters to a page because if there isn't any additional metadata provided, Google will often take that first paragraph as it's summary for each search result that it indexes.
I could probably write books on this topic and people have done, there are dedicated professionals out there who make a living out of SEO.
Every site that I host for my customers has a sitemap, a special file that is generated each and every time we push up changes to the server. It helps Google find your content faster and you can train it to index your site more efficiently, helping Google do a better job and thus represent you as best as it can.
It also helps us with website analytics better, as we can actually see what is being indexed and how pages are performing. I can for example tell whether a site is improving in it's SEO.
External linking (backlinking)
You can't beat some external links but be as strategic as you can be in electing your "sponsors". So take for example a local interest group such as The Bournemouth Jazz Club. Notice my cheeky bit of external linking there, any traffic they receive from this site will be logged with tools such as Google Analytics. So they will know some of their traffic is coming from here but who else could they try? let's have a little think...
- I note that the Bournemouth Jazz Club hold their monthly meetings at the Kinson Community Centre just between Poole and Bournemouth. Ask the venue if they can place a link to their club on their website or if there are posters in the venue, put up some notices there. Links can be non-digital too.
- Once people hit your site, what do you want them to do? You want them to chat with you, to get them interested in perhaps becoming a member of the club. So it's helpful to make this, what we call a CTA (Call to action) fairly visible without being annoying or offputting.
- Once people visit the first time you will want them to come back again in the future, so perhaps entice them to join your mailing list, if you have one. That is another call to action.
- How can further people be attracted to the site and to the club? You can't beat local noticeboards, so try running a paper based campaign but we would not recommend leaflet dropping through doors.
- Consider other similar clubs linking to you
- Music shops, record stores
- Social Media
- Local publications
This site nicklewis.net uses "tags", you can see them at the top of this page, there you shall see SEO, Google, Content and for each of these keywords is a unique page. If you click on any of those tags, you will be taken to a "landing page" that will list related articles to the topic. These pages are also indexed by Google meaning that if someone is searching for SEO, they may find this landing page.
It is worth explaining what a landing page is and it works in a similar way to your homepage, think of it as another doorway into your domain. It is another way in which people can discover areas of your site and once they are in they will explore what you've got.
So this page already has 5 or 6 ways of being discovered, if it is listed on the homepage, the blog index, the tag indices and therefore multiple internal links to this piece of content. In turn this helps Google in it's referencing processes.
Once you start to encourage links to key pieces of content such as ths article, it's ranking will increase and if done right, the aim will be for a snowball effect to begin, as the rest of your content begins to benefit based on it's relevance.