Owning a website just isn't enough for your online presence
So, you have a website? Congratulations! Now, how will people find it? Find YOU? And how will they ultimately reach the point of buying your product / sending you an enquiry (or reach whatever the primary goal of your website is!)?
In the early days of the internet, having a website was seen as optional - maybe even a luxury. Nowadays, however, a website is a basic necessity for any business, and it's now more important to consider WHAT is on your website
SEO - (Search Engine Optimisation)
I've often been asked by new clients: "Can you make my website come to the top of the search results?". That's a big question. Sometimes it's even been assumed by the client that this will just happen automatically. Err, no.
My answer to this is that the position that your website appears in the search results is dependent on many factors, all of which need to be considered:
- If your content strongly reflects the search terms you'd expect people to find your site by.
Not everybody thinks this through properly, and they end up writing content and meta tags that don't mention the obvious words that people search for. Sometimes even they're too general with their wording, which immediately puts them up against the strongest of competition.
- What people are actually searching for (i.e. the actual search terms they're entering).
Research is the key here. It's no good writing all of your content around what you would personally search for. Try to think outside the box and gather all potential search phrases - then research which ones are actually searched for and worth optimising content around. If you sell a widget called AX-D1000 mkII, you might want to consider search terms based around what the widget does or what it's used for, and not focus on a model name that isn't likely to yield many searches.
- How much competition there is for optimising websites for those search terms.
If you sell "holidays", naturally you'd want to be found when someone is searching for a holiday. But just be realistic - there are literally millions of websites that contain the word "holidays". Not saying it's impossible to rank above the likes of lastminute.com, Expedia, Thomson etc etc (after all, someone has to be at the top!), but unless you have the budget to spend on SEO to compete with them, you need to realistically think about more specific search terms - like the types of holidays you offer, destinations, packages etc. The key is to do some research first, and find a balance between extremely popular search terms and ones that are so obscure that nobody uses them, and also what is relevant to your product/business.
But even if you are fortunate enough to appear on the first page of Google for pretty much every search term that is relevant to your site, it doesn't stop there. If your listing doesn't appeal to the person searching (e.g. if the description doesn't entice them to click through to your site), the chances are, they won't. Generally, the information you see in search results either comes from the meta tags behind your page, or from the opening content of the page.
Ok, so once you've got your visitor to make that leap and click through to your site, there's still more to consider, and the design should never be the afterthought:
- Does the site work on the device they're using?
If your website is not responsive, or you haven't developed a separate mobile site, your entire web pages will usually be squashed down to the width of the screen, making it hard to read the text, or see the navigation. A responsive design will adjust the layout of your content items so that they stack one after the other on the screen, allowing you to read all the text at the correct size, and possibly even having a navigation system designed for the mobile screen. See our previous blog article on mobile-ready websites for more info.
- Can they easily find what they clicked through for?
Hopefully they will have clicked on a link to arrive on the exact page of your site that contains the information they want, but if not, it needs to be obvious where they need to go. If it's not, most people will just go back to the search results and try another site. You lose.
- Does it look good/professional?
Maybe not everyone pays attention to this, but generally if the design of the site is up to date and modern, it installs reassurance and trust. What may have looked good 15 years ago will almost certainly show signs of it's age by today's standards.
A well thought out design will make content easy to read. Home pages tend to be the worst for 'clutter' because it is what is considered as the 'shop front': "see all this that we have inside!". The author tries to show a little snippit of everything that's available and the end result is often confusing and doing more harm than good.
Once you get a visitor land on your site, your aim should be to engage them quickly with your content, and hopefully the content they see will be the reason why they found your site and clicked through to it. It should reach out to your potential, current and past consumers. Your business site will want to engage in a conversation with them about your brand. This builds brand awareness and trust for your brand.
In this day and age, people's attention spans on web pages are much lower than they used to be - so if they don't see what they want, and can't see an easy route to it, many will return to their search results and pick another site that might offer the information quickly.
As we've seen for many years, since the age of the newspaper, what works well on home pages are images and headlines, and maybe a short bit of text (e.g. intro text followed by ...full story on page 9). It's enough to grab attention and invite them to click further, and might be in the form of a slideshow, or a separate feature block of content, or a popup or whatever. I refer back to the 'design' emphasis on doing this tastefully and sensibly without cluttering the page and confusing the visitor with 'too much' information.
Social media has become almost important as your website itself. It has become a new way of searching, and what's more, setting up profiles on social media sites is free - so having your own profiles on various social media sites is a no-brainer. The biggest ones to go for are Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus and Twitter. Each social media site has it's own slight twist on what it's purpose is, so it's recommended to try as many as you can and see what works best for you.
Facebook tends to try and encompass everything, whether you're a business, musician/band, charity, or just an individual member of the public. You create your own personal profile first, and from that you can then create and administrate other 'pages' (i.e. your business page).
LinkedIn is a more business-like environment, and is geared around making professional connections, joining discussion groups, and posting your own articles.
Twitter is a simple way of sharing your bite-sized posts (up to 140 characters) with whoever follows you. It can be breaking news, or an opinion, and you can share images and links to other web pages too. For example if you've just written a great new blog post for your website, you can write a very short teaser line followed by the URL of your blog post on your website (enticing people to click back to your website). You can re-tweet other people's posts too, as well as comment on them.
Google Plus initially adopted many features from Facebook and Twitter, mixing in its own unique functionality like Circles and Hangouts. It is a little different from other social networks, in that it acts as a social layer across many of Google's own features, including the display ad network - thus connecting millions of sites. Google is still the biggest search engine (about two thirds of all searches are done through Google), and, with Google+ posts passing link equity to other pages, building a presence here is a better idea than ever.
So with all of that in mind, you can hopefully see why owning a website just isn't enough to fulfil your digital marketing strategy any more.