This article was written by Ian Vella and published on the Tech-Sunday, Sunday Times of Malta 18th August 2011
The traffic we are going to talk about is not the one we experience every morning on our way to work, nor is it the trading of some illicit substance, but rather we will be talking about the importance of increasing the number of ‘visitors’ to a website and how to achieve this on a small budget.
It has already become a standard for every small business or self employed to own a website and display it’s url on business cards and stationery. Some of these websites may be quite elaborate and may have even cost the businessman an arm and a leg.
However one has to pose the question – what good is a static website that receives only minor traffic. The more traffic a website manages to attract, the more conversions (The amount of sales registered as a result of an online presence) it will achieve and the happier it’s owner will be as his profits plummet. However most small businesses do not understand this, they are more than happy to say they are also selling online but neither track how much sales they are achieving via their online presence nor they do much to attract more ‘traffic’ to their website.
SEO is another buzzword which has found it’s place in modern dictionaries, simply stated SEOor search engine optimisation can be defined as an effort to increase a presence in the search engine results such as google or yahoo. Perhaps we can take an example to understand this better, let’s imagine a small local shop owner who has invested in a website.
It is a known fact that people looking for information normally start off on a search engine such as google or yahoo and then type a query. What good is a website to a business, if it does not appear in the top results when someone googles a term related to this particular business?
The business owner may decide to ‘help’ his website climb the search results to the top so he can attract more targeted users to his website and therefore increase conversions. Outsourcing an seo-company to do such work may eventually cost much more than engaging in an online advertising campaign. Small business owners may eventually try to do seo work themselves instead. Even tough this is no easy task it still is not rocket-science and seo may be mastered by anyone computer literate enough to know how to use the internet.
First we have to understand how the search engines themselves ‘rank’ the results for a particular keyword. The modern search engines give importance to onpage and offpage optimisation. Ok so before you start panicking about these two new buzzwords let’s understand what these mean:
Onpage optimisation means how a website is constructed, so search engines give good points to webpages which are constructed in a certain way, for example search engines will ‘like’ websites which have related content, good headlines and structured articles. These will all help a website to rank high in the search results. Keeping your website up to date is also important, search engines will give a small boost in the search results to websites which are periodically updated. Creating an online sitemap of your website will also help the search engines crawl (Search engines will periodically index pages on a website to make them available in their search results) the entire contents of your website. On the other hand search engines may penalise websites with too many pictures and no text. Flash intros may also hinder results.
Offpage optimisation focuses on how many other websites link to a particular website and search engines count these backlinks as ‘votes’ for a website. Search engines interpret a link from page A to page B as a vote, however not each vote has the same weight, important websites cast a massive vote whilst smaller or relatively new websites cast a diminutive vote.
Onpage optimisation can be done in minutes however offpage optimisation can take some time and the results are not always immediately apparent on the search engines. Most of the effort directed towards an seo-campaign must be in backlink building, this can be achieved in various ways. Most notably today SEO-experts recommend participation in social networking sites such as blogs and forums. Therefore a website owner may want to spend some time online in various forums and contributing to the overall conversations in these sites. Such blogs or forums allow the owner to post a backlink on their site and therefore will ontribute to the overall number of backlinks from other sites to the target website.
Other methods include listing your site on specialised online directories or local listings. More aggressive tactics may include the submission of online media releases whereby a business will publish a media release on specialised sites such as webwire or prweb and this will help the target website to be mentioned on various online news services which will help the website achieve important backlinks. Remember not all backlinks have the same rating therefore it is better to invest time and energy on notorious and popular social websites such as reddit.com and del.icio.us rather than the newer hyped social bookmarking sites. Same goes for directory submission, a listing on dmoz.org is worth a thousand other backlinks from less known directories. So don’t spend your precious time submitting your site to websites of which no one has heard before.
SEO may be viewed as a daunting task however the payoff may sometimes make the difference between a struggling business and a highly profitable one. The results may not be apparent for the first few weeks but when the traffic to your site starts rolling in so will the profits.Ian Vella