Last month, I discussed the importance of building a marketing strategy in order to raise awareness of your business and drive footfall to your branch. Great, you’re ready to go… but choosing where to begin is itself a tricky decision.
One of the best things to do is to lavish a bit of TLC on your website. Nowadays, your online presence is likely to be at the heart of your brand even if most of the business you do is face-to-face. For existing customers, a good website reinforces credibility and adds value to your service (especially if you offer e-commerce); for potential new business, it’s the best way of getting found in the first place.
So, before you think about advertising, PR or any of the other ways of engaging with your target audiences, make sure your website is working for you.
First of all, it’s vital to realise that you have two main audiences – the actual human visitors you wish to attract, and the search engines (such as Google) you need to appeal to in order to reach those visitors. A good website will balance the needs of both groups. Google looks for patterns of information to determine where to place your site in its research results pages, and for what terms. By contrast, real people think more intuitively and will decide within seconds whether this is the right site for them.
The process of improving your website for Google is known as search engine optimisation, or SEO. A lot of it can seem dauntingly technical, but the pay-off is that your website will also be really focussed when it comes to attracting, and retaining, actual visitors.
There are three key elements to good website SEO, all of which will make a difference to how your website is perceived by one or both of these groups:
Design: The ‘look and feel’ of a website. Mostly, this is a matter of aesthetics – does your site convey a welcoming first impression? If not, chances are your visitors will leave as quickly as they’ve arrived. Nonetheless, there are also real SEO benefits, especially when it comes to site navigation, because a well-organised, tidy website is also easy for Google to find its way around.
Tip: If you’re making changes to your website, plan your structure in advance to make sure that it’s clear where visitors should go next on a page-by-page basis. When the website goes live, you can log this as an actual page – known as the sitemap – which Google itself can use to find its way around.
Content: During the past few years, Google has started to pay as much attention to the actual words on a website page as do your actual human visitors. This is where you can make a real difference to improving the performance of a website in search engine rankings, simply by rephrasing what you say and ensuring that the words you use mirror what people are searching for.
Tip: Choosing the right ‘keywords’ is a matter of research and common sense. Google provides plenty of free tools which you will tell you the most commonly searched-for phrases on any given subject, e.g. builders’ merchants. At the same time, though, you’ll need to apply your own wisdom in selecting keywords that might be low-traffic in the wider world but will bring high-quality, relevant visits from the building sector.
Coding: This is the ‘behind the scenes’ stuff that nobody sees, but which provides vital instructions to search engines on which search terms to prioritise. It’s easy to get confused by the terminology involved, so unless you know your H-tags from your meta descriptions, it’s better to bring in an expert. However, doing an audit of a site is relatively straightforward, and any changes are easy to make, so it’s worth the investment for long-term gain.
Tip: Pay attention to the structure of your URLs – that’s the physical address of each web page on your site. Ideally, you’ll want this to be descriptive so that Google can easily identify what it is about, but often the default is an anonymous string of numbers or digits. Avoid such gibberish! Figure out what you want each page to be called and change it.
By addressing all of these areas, you’ll find – within a few months – that Google is paying more attention to your site, and bumping you higher up the search results page. And, consequently, you’ll see an upswing in traffic to your website, too.
Next month: how to boost your website traffic locally.
Simon Kinnear is director of communications at Balls2 Marketing.