As the High Street groans, e-commerce and online trade continues to grow, so knowing what makes a strong website has never been more important
Entrepreneurs and advisers are realising that digital media will only grow in importance as a result of the recession. As we all seek more for less, the advantages of the internet become increasingly apparent. Simply put, it’s cheaper to run a store online than on the High Street. And, even if you don’t sell online, your website can still be a cheaper and more effective ‘hello’ to new clients than traditional marketing. However, creating a successful website can be a challenge. So, for those of you who aren’t fully clued up with all things Web 2.0, here are the main things you need to know:
Most of your online traffic probably comes through search engines, such as Google, Ask or Yahoo, either paid-for or organic. If you want lots of traffic, then a good natural ranking in the main search engines is essential. The art/science of search engine optimisation (SEO) is the method for improving this. To assess how well optimised your website is, type your company name into a search engine. Hopefully, it will be fairly high up on the first page. If not, you have a problem. Now click on the word ‘cached’ – this will tell you when the search engine ‘spider’ last visited your site. The more often these come, the better. If it is every day, then you’re doing very well indeed, although for many companies, a weekly visit is still a good result. Ultra-busy sites, such as the BBC’s, receive several visits a day.
There are a number of components that go into a search engine’s algorithm. Links to other sites, keywords, traffic, relevance, strength of content and site structure are all key. Andrew Atalla is the founder of London-based online marketing company atom42
, and has been working in SEO since the concept emerged. He says search engines are simply trying to get the best results for users and that success largely depends on producing content that people want and need. “By focusing on what your users want, you should find what is good for your search results, too,” he explains.
So breathe a sigh of relief, as the most important thing is to have a website that pleases your customers. If people like your site, then they will link to it from other sources, and the more this happens, the further you will rise up the rankings. However, the importance of links has led to some trying to cheat their way to the top. The ugly spectre of ‘link farms’ arose, and some websites clubbed together to create mutual links. However, Atalla warns against “random link exchanges”, and says that the search engines will penalise you for it. It is much better to get links that are genuine recommendations.
Content is king
Another way to improve your rankings is to have keywords on your site that people type into a search engine. SEO companies will advise you on what search terms to use, and they can make a big difference. However, don’t fall into the trap of trying to spam the search engines. If you sell shoes, don’t plaster your site with the word ‘shoes’ hundreds of times over. But do make sure it’s on there, along with ‘trainers’, ‘boots’ and the names of any other footwear you sell. Sensible and rational descriptions of your products are needed in the right places. “The search engines want sites that are well structured and have good content, which is regularly updated,” says Atalla.
If you have a good list of clients and customers, email campaigns and newsletters can work as a way of bringing them back to your site and highlighting new offers. However, just as there has been a friendly scrap between SEO companies and search engines, email marketers and the internet service providers (ISPs) also battle with each other. No one wants spam or a stream of Viagra adverts, but efforts to send these straight to ‘junk mail’ have led to legitimate emails getting binned as well.
Nick Gold is the managing director of EmailVision, which provides e-newsletter services. He warns against sending out unsolicited emails or material that might look or sound like junk mail. “Words in subject lines such as ‘win a great prize’ will not get past spam filters,” he says.
Design is also crucial, and many e-newsletters fall into the trap of using too many images, which both increase the file size and look poor in some inboxes. “Many ISPs don’t automatically download images, so recipients are left with blank boxes. This makes it hard to track response rates,” says Gold.
One of the great difficulties for internet entrepreneurs is that, unlike traditional shopkeepers, you don’t know who has been buying from you. As Trovus founder Caspar Craven observes: “People often say: ‘I know that 50% of my marketing campaign has been working, but I don’t know which 50%’.”
Craven believes his business has found the solution to this problem. Trovus’ software will track and monitor pages on your website and provide you with the ISP addresses of those who have viewed them in the form of an email. So, if you were to launch a big email push to potential customers, you would be able to discern who had come to your site, the page they had viewed and how often. This means you could choose to contact only those who had expressed an interest, saving a considerable amount of time.
Keep it simple
Despite the fact that the technology of web marketing is constantly growing in sophistication, it’s still best to keep things simple. After all, you’re dealing with human beings, and the purpose of IT is to make it easier to send, receive, store and compile information. Taking a straightforward, logical approach is the best way forward.
When talking with suppliers of web marketing tools, there are a few terms it’s worth knowing the meaning of:
Soft bounce – email address not found
Hard bounce – your email has hit a firewall
ISP – internet service provider
ESP – email service provider
CPC – Cost per click. This is the price you pay for each click in a pay-per-click campaign
CPM – Cost per 1,000 impressions. You can also pay for a pay-per-click campaign by the number
of page impressions
CTR – Click-through rate. Clicks divided by impression
Should I buy clicks?
The pay-per-click (PPC) industry made Google great and is always worth a look. Initially, it began as a remarkably low-cost form of advertising, although more recently prices have risen. The most important thing about PPC is being able to monitor and quantify it. If you can track a sale from the initial click through to purchase, then you can work out that all-important return on investment. However, PPC campaigns can be expensive, so decide on your exposure beforehand and limit your damage. It can get you a rapid response, although if it is to be sustainable, it needs to be combined with other campaigns. “In the past, even a poor PPC search campaign would work well. But this is no longer the case,” says atom42’s Andrew Atalla. “We find that PPC works best when managed alongside a number of different strategies, ensuring that the people visiting your site end up becoming buyers, rather than just browsers.’’