(Re)Building up a web presence

This rambling post comes about because every now and then over the years – since way, way back in 1995 in fact, when I had a high street computer shop / cybernet cafe* – friends and business acquaintances would ask for advice about promotions and web sites and so forth. And after inevitably agreeing whole heartedly with my suggestions, NOT take it.

Beating a dead donkey

*(My internet cafe of the time largely translated as students from the local college paying to access CompuServe etc on dial-up modem and bumming a coffee and networking Doom.)

I’m a fine one to talk as I’m murder for not doing what I preach and going off on wild tangents for weeks, months or even years at a time as my moods and (failing) health dictates. I recently got completely hooked on Warcraft and as a result my Google rating dropped from PR7 to PR4, with Alexa, overall site traffic and so forth similarly destroyed. If I can stay in focus I can soon rebuild it, but it will be hard.

A few years ago I built a site for someone’s holiday homes in the south of France, within weeks it was ranked between 1 and 3 (of millions for search terms) in several search engines (Google, Yahoo, MS etc). Then it dropped off the first page, the second page. Just searched now and there’s only 125,000 entries for ‘apartment perpignan’ and similar – and they aren’t in the first 200, which means pretty much they don’t exist. Remember me beating the dead donkey a few minutes ago? These were the same until I just gave up on them. Kept telling them over and over and over again, it needs to be updated, regularly. Need input! Apart from translating it into French, nothing, nada, zip, sorry, busy. Meh.

Blogs are a no-brainer. Just type away on whatever is going on in your head for your industry or niche subject and if you are any good, the traffic will come. How hard can it be? So when you design a blog for someone – that only puts in one entry every six months – and they moan they aren’t getting any visitors… Kind of gets my back up, y’know.

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression ‘If you build it, they will come‘ – Well, not on the Internet!

You can throw up a generic blog or forum in cPanel in seconds and it’s no great task put a theme on it. Doesn’t mean anyone will ever notice you. There are millions upon millions of blogs, forums and websites with few visitors and no repeat visitors – and it is the repeat visitors you NEED. You have to give them a reason to be loyal to your site, to keep coming back to see what’s new. If nothing is new between one visit and the next … and the next it’s still the same… well, plenty more sites in the sea.

Forums
If you look at my own forum you’ll see it’s exactly the same. Was better a long time ago but I was tinkering with the underlying code and destroyed it, and the database – and it’s backup. Just never had the heart to work on it much since. When it comes to forums there are some brilliant ones with huge numbers of loyal subscribers, so unless it’s something brand new, or you have obscene money to pour into advertising, you are wasting your time. If it was a totally new niche – like a forum dedicated just to one upcoming game like GuildWars 2, then maybe, but even then you are likely to get aced by the developers own forum and/or Wiki.

Blogs and Web Sites in general

Huge, HUGE amount of competition here, but if you know your subject and post coherently, and regularly you can do OK. This blog is fairly generic, pretty much covering games, computers and web design, plus ramblings. If it builds up a following, great, but it’s not focused enough, really. To be popular or profitable (preferably both) you need expert knowledge in a fairly specific area. Take for instance Breanni’s site dedicated to WoW pets, despite a low PR rank, it gets a lot of traffic, more to the point, a lot of repeat traffic. So much so that Blizzard put her into the game with a pet shop!

Similarly, for a long time I was #1 in every search engine for ‘guildwar pets’  with substantial traffic. As I haven’t touched it in years, not since I installed WoW (mutter), it’s dropped to about 25th place in Google. If I’d continued to work on it, it would still be #1 with comparative traffic. (Also noticed the menu is messed up, *sigh*, better fix that next. ) … If I work on it again I will go back up to a top position in the search engines. If…

High ranking

See here’s the thing, there are a lot of if’s, but’s and variables to factor in, but if you are any good at your subject,  it’s genuinely not hard to get a very high-ranking with any and all search engines. No-one can guarantee you a #1 rank and they are liars if they claim so (and many so-called SEO cowboys do try it on) .That said, I and others that actually know what they are doing, could probably get first page ranking. And yet every day millions can and do find themselves at the top of the search food chain, often without trying, knowing or even knowing how – and are equally clueless when they fall off the radar.

Yep, getting there is, as I say, relatively easy. It’s staying there that’s the beggar. And naturally the wider the potential target audience the harder it becomes.

Getting there

Advertising aside, getting there involves just four things thing:

  1. A healthy dose of luck
  2. A well written article with a good balance of keywords in the content
  3. Good code
  4. Putting it about!

1. This could be any of a number of chance factors over which you have little of no control, such as Google rewriting the bot rules and them favouring you (usually it’s the reverse!) or your topic finding itself in the national or even international press all of a sudden.

2. Stands to reason, really. People are looking for answers, or  entertainment. The search bot scamper round scouring for said data to feed their masters… and you are putting the food on the table, as it were. Think of yourself as a cook. Are you a greasy truck stop with roaches and mouse droppings in the food, or a 5 star restaurant? If your webpage was a meal, would you eat it, or leave in disgust?

There is another important factor here mind, that of keywords, but that’s an art and a fine balancing act in itself.  If you don’t know, keywords are what you enter into search engines to pull up hopefully relevant links. For a cooking site this could be ‘ginger recipes’ and ‘gingerbread men’.  The bot will latch onto this and scurry off to eat; too little ‘ginger’ and it washes its hands off, you are irrelevant, too much – known as keyword stuffing – and it not only washes its hands of you, it decides you are a spammer, a lousy cook and makes a mental note never to return. Officially sites don’t get blacklisted… Officially they are also programmed to detect dirty tricks…

3. Coding (and related). You either can, or you can’t.

The vast majority – I’d say over 99%  – can’t. All relative, I guess, but in terms of highly tuned underlying code, even Google are, at times, less than optimum (with for instance the default site search), and I only use a text editor to write static websites because I find the likes of Dreamweaver slip in unnecessary junk, though this has improved vastly over the past decade. WordPress too have improved leaps and bounds in recent years, thought it took until a few months back before I’d deign to use it.   Not arrogance as much as a fact. Anyone expert looking at the (thousands) of pages on Ackadia would have no trouble finding rafts of errors, but overall, it’s tidy – and constantly revised to improve it.

This isn’t about me though, it’s about you and what you can do to increase your visibility, and this is a many layered cake. So what can you do?

For a start, does your domain name reflect your topic? Or is it shortly enough and/or dynamic enough to be memorable?

Does the page name reflect the subject?

For instance, if you have a WordPress blog, have you gone into >Settings >Permalink and changed it to custom and /%category%/%postname%/ (or similar), or is the permanent link to your article something obscure like the default form of http://ackadia.com/blog/?p=123

I mean, really, how informative is ?p=213.

Same applies with ‘save as’ for files. It needs to be appropriate.

This applies doubly so for the header title (<h1>Title</h1>) as search engines do tend to put a lot of weight on these.  Imagine handing in an essay to your English Language teacher entitled ‘123’.  See my point?

Does the content include an image or photo, and if so have you remembered to give said image an alt name and title? Most, if not all wysiwyg, web editors allow this, yet few people bother. In the virtual restaurant of your web page, these are the salt and pepper shakers and napkin.

For blog etc, take another look at your theme – does it claim to be search engine optimised. If not it probably isn’t and that can make a big difference! Ideally need xhtml 1.0 or later and if possible at least a shot at an accessibility rating.

4. Putting it about. Hugely important this, and very, very few people bother. Annoyingly few – of the ‘I swear to the Gods, I’m going to slap you round the head in a minute‘ sort of beating a dead donkey. It drives me up the wall.
Hey Ack, can you get me ranked in Google, please, please, please?
Which I do, and then months later, when the whining starts:
“Did you… ? Ummm, no, forgot
How about… ? Ah, no, was busy, sorry.
What about… ? Please tell me you at least managed that. I meant to, it’s just…

If I had a quid for every time I heard I was just…

We are not talking about the kid next door here, we are talking experts in their field, entrepreneurs trying to corner a niche market, new businesses trying to get established. And it’s always the same. Hypocritically, I’m the same actually, but that’s just me. I only really have two modes, do everything and achieve nothing, or I obsess, but I’m kind of scary when I focus on things and it’s just not healthy. Yet, sans the obsession, it’s the later level of focus and dedication you need if you want to build up a web presence. No matter what it is, you NEED to get out there, get yourself noticed, make a name for yourself.

Varies with your hobby or field of expertise or profession, and your goals (you DO have goals?), but the level of dedication, commitment and work remains the same.

Finally (you mutter) here’s the bit where I stop waffling on and on and get on with it: How to put yourself about, social networking

For instance, a note on the school/college/work notice board.

An internal memo

Email to all your friend and peers and acquaintances, as appropriate

Letter / advert / advertorial in the local and/or specialist press.

Mention in it your other online spots – Myspace, Bebo, Facebook, whatever.

Online forums: do you contribute? If so how often, and how well are your answers and posts received. Are you ignored, flamed or thanked?

Other online sites – like Yahoo Answers – same applies. If you consistently get the voted for the ‘best answer’ here and on other sites like it, it can drive a lot of traffic to your website.

Similarly, does you page/site have allow self promotion via RSS feeds, Diggs, Twitters etc etc? All adds up.

(Assuming you really know your subject)  Same with Wikipedia and other wiki’s.  For many keywords Wikipedia will occupy #1 position. If you are accepted and valued as an editor, enough to be trusted with  internal and moreso externals links to your site in can drive phenomenal amounts of traffic your way.  Same with other specialist sites. Blizzard, for instance, warn that you need a sturdy server if you become an official fansite because the amount of traffic from a link can crush your average vps hosted web site.

Yet another way, one I’ve admittedly never bothered with myself, though I subscribe to a great many, is email newsletters. Dedicated sites like TheRegister, corporations like VNU and  marketing/social networking experts like Joel Comm, Chris Pirillo  all use these to great effect. Again, if you build up a following, it can generate a lot of useful traffic to your site.

No pain no gain!

And finally the hard part! If you are in for the long haul, you need to be doing some or all of the above on a regular basic:

Monthly?

Weekly?

Daily?

All day, every day?

The level of time commitment depends of your goal. Why are you building up a web presence? Vainglory? Build up local business? Promoting a book or video? A school project? Or feeding the family with a full-time blogging job

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