Building a new website isn’t enough to guarantee online success
If you're one of the people sitting at home thinking why doesn't my website generate any business, how do I get a website or wondering how to start a website for yourself, then this is a must read.
Each night as I sit on facebook, I notice a new wave of websites being built so that well intentioned people can make some extra income or start a new business.
Each website, whether super shiny, or a little bit clunky certainly does the job of getting across who they are and what they do but in the back of my mind I can't help but worry that none of them will bring any online or at least google generated benefit at all.
When I try to explain why simply building a new website isn't enough to guarantee success, those willing to listen think I'm mad.
In fact, just the other night a "friend" launched into a tirade of bemusement; "how can you say a website isn't the future? Everyone needs an online website".
It seems that in the eyes of many, to succeed on the internet (which is undoubtedly the future) all you need is a website, a cup of coffee and to sit back and relax as the money flows in.
Having a website is one thing, being number one on Google is another. The two should not be confused.
In my opinion being number one on Google is the future, great website or not. If you're not number one then the money probably won't just flow in.
This general mentality that all you need is a website has played into the hands of website developers who parade their sites like a fashion show, without actually telling you the impact they had to the customers business.
The truth is some websites are better than others, and often the more you pay the more bling your website can have.
There really are some fantastic website companies out there that will build you a great web site. But the problem comes after a website is built.
It seems there is a mentality that if you buy the shiny BMW of websites and you can't go wrong; build it and they will come.
What the website developer forgets to mention is that actually, much like that shiny BMW, if you don't put the effort in to learn to drive and buy some fuel then even the shiniest website won't actually do anything for your business.
The internet isn't some big mystery; all the information you need is out there, all you need to do is be prepared to work on your site as a long term project.
Ok Google might be good at keeping secrets, but the internet will tell you the basic things you can do to succeed.
The problem is, the vast majority of new websites don't do the basics. They forget what it was like before the internet. When you had a shop and you had to advertise to get footfall.
Without footfall you have no one to sell to, and the hope is that some of that footfall will actually buy your products.
If working on a high street was hard, then the internet is harder.
Imagine a high street with 100,000 shops (that's just the good websites in the UK); how will people ever find you?
Advertising and attracting footfall are just as important as they always were, and the internet is no different. Do nothing and your website will do nothing, no matter how shiny it is.
While you only have to look at the likes of go compare or bathstore to realise that traditional advertising still works for online stores, online advertising falls into two distinct groups; paid and organic (free) listings.
Of course you can pay to have links on big websites, but if you really want to succeed you need to tackle the behemoth that is Google.
Google is not the god like being we're all trained to think it is. It certainly isn't perfect and in fact I can tell you now that the best and most relevant content often does not get to number one on its organic listings; and whoever controls number one, beautiful site or not, wins.
Playing the Google organic rankings game is a different game entirely. In fact being number one is so competitive that it's spawned a massive online search engine optimisation (SEO) business to help us get there.
While there are some great tools to help you along the way, the truth is no one really knows exactly how to get to the top of the Google rankings.
So left with merely guess work to go on, the vast majority of search engine optimisation "experts" simply write the same article out 100 times and post them on relevant sites to get links; because with relevant links pointing at your site they think Google will be tricked into thinking you're important.
The sad truth is, with smaller sites, this actually works, especially if they are literally buying one way links from blogs.
But if you think this is turning into a rant against Google then it's not. Over time they are improving but getting rid of spam sites isn't easy.
For now, those of us who decide to optimise our websites from the word go, are left wondering just how to compete against the big guys that already have the number one spots.
In my honest opinion, I wouldn't touch any SEO companies with a barge pole. Well big ones at least (and that's not the barge pole I'm talking about). There are a lot of independent little guys out there that can give you good advice and help you build valuable links but finding one will be difficult; but most use smoke and mirrors in order to succeed.
SEO seems to be an industry shrouded in secrecy. No one wants to give you advice, yet they all want to tell you they are the best at their job.
When faced with an SEO person, I simply like to say "ok, I'll accept your bold claim and I'll pay you when you achieve it"; naturally they all decline.
Your best bet is to learn the basics of page optimization for yourself and then head over to Google adwords to find out what people are searching in order to start producing relevant content that people are actually looking for.
If you have a budget, I'd also look to get a good PR company to write some articles for you that can start building a few links from well ranked Google sites too.
But after blowing the budget on a shiny website, what can you do to start getting those visitor numbers up for free?
Here's my top five suggestions:
1. Write a blog at least 3 times a week on something relevant to your industry.
A friend of mine has just started a wedding singing business. Her website is named after her, which is a brilliant idea if you're well known; but otherwise useless for Google purposes.
I advised her to register the web domain www.bestweddingsongs.co.uk and blog three times a week about wedding songs or compilations.
The truth is, people won't search google to find out about her; they want to find the best wedding songs (it gets searched about 10,000 times a month).
If she got to the number one spot on this keyword she could use it as an opportunity to hook the customer at the start of their wedding planning, as if they love her blog the odds are they will want her to sing for them too.
2. Find the people that blog on your industry and become friends with them.
Remember in the old days how advertising was about finding footfall that actually wanted to buy your stuff?
Well it's even more relevant online. 100,000 hits a day that don't buy anything isn't as good as 100 that do (although 100,000 hits a day will probably get Google to increase your rankings thus helping you get that 100!).
The trick here is that you want to leverage their 20,000 hits a day an established blogger or industry guru has to your advantage.
Post relevant comments to each post (not links or anything that could look biased) and over time readers will get to know your name, check your site out and share it.
But in order to do that you need to have good content that they will like and you can't do that with a website devoted to how great you are; it needs to be a resource too.
Next, find the people that are commenting on this guru's blog and comment on theirs too.
Why? Well because the guru probably has better things to do than visit every site that they receive a comment from.
But the newbie who's trying to catch the guru's eye by commenting too is probably going to be as excited as you are that a real person has just commented on their blog and head straight over to your site too.
3. Don't waste time on twitter, for a new website with no loyal customer base, facebook is the way to go.
When we started out we spent ages on twitter only to find out that facebook is more effective.
We even did our own experiment on it, why not find out why facebook is better than twitter and tell us what you think?
4. Ignore virtually every seemingly independent blog post or website that says they got a huge number of hits in a short period of time.
They didn't, fact!
Well ok, maybe one or two did but the vast majority are just out there to sell something like SEO or software so it serves them well to make such a ridiculous claim.
In a similar way don't accept any of the guest post request emails you get. Your blog is probably way too small to get some serious Guru's wanting to post and the vast majority of those requests come from SEO companies that basically want a link from your site.
Guest posts are great if used wisely and linked to good sites, but if you link your site to one which has spam links elsewhere it can actually hurt your rankings.
Also beware of the "I'll link to you from my lowly ranked poor content blog (clearly they won't say that), and you link to my money making website" scam.
Stuff like this is just a way of tricking Google into thinking you don't have two way links while actually being an unequal exchange of links, helping them and not you.
5. Read the www.seomoz.org blog to learn about SEO
I can't recommend this more.
Basically it will teach you why good SEO is important, how to get links, what websites not to link to, generally help you improve your content and make your website more about being a resource to the potential customer than a direct sales piece.
SEO moz do offer their own software, but until you have a large website it's not going to be worth paying for. It's very good, but way too advanced even for a one year old website like ours (and we've tested it).
If you want to make the best use of your shiny new site you have to be prepared to put in the work and be there for the long haul, using good SEO companies (they seem very rare, and don't take the number of awards they have an an indicator value!) as and when you need them.
Although you will have different strategies for attracting traffic, combining online and offline advertising, SEO and blogging is something you will have to do (even if you get very little from it for a long long time!).
Whatever you do, don't just sit there and think this wonderful thing called Google will simply bring you customers.
After reading this you might be wondering why I can offer this advice.
As someone who isn't in the web site or SEO industries you might wonder how I know this stuff. The truth is, trial and error.
I was once one of those people who sat back and waited. I paid a fortune for our first website, then paid £400 a month to have an expert SEO it.
It literally did nothing, and the SEO company only blamed us.
So we decided to start again. We built a new site, with a great web designer who set us up along the right direction and then read the SEO moz blog.
Oh and we made a lot of mistakes until we learnt what worked and didn't work.
We blogged and blogged, making our website a unique bathroom resource until we started to see results.
In our first year our website went from 1 visitor per day to 130, and an Alexa rank of 20,000,000 to around the 550,000 mark.
In three years, the SEO experts managed to achieve just 10 hits per day.
By no means are we a success story, or even scraping the surface of what our website can do, but we are testament to the fact that simply having a website isn't enough, and that trusting SEO experts isn't always the best way forward.
There's so much more that could be discussed, not least that not all the number one spots on Google will have an effect on your business, but for now I would love to hear what you have to say about your experiences on building a new website and making it work for your business.