How do I drive traffic to my website through search engines?

How do I drive traffic to my website through search engines?

Here’s a question for you; what’s the point of having a website if no one is around to read it? Well, perhaps there is some nobility in developing a website for the sake of it. And I won’t argue that website design as an art form is beautiful. But that’s not the focus of what I am trying to share here on Charlotte Web Development. My goal is to provide you the answers you need for your small business to be successful on the web.

One of the most frequently asked questions I get asked by small business owners is how to drive more traffic to their website through search engines. By this they overwhelmingly mean the free, organic results. In this article we’ll step through some of the basics of driving traffic through search engines, explore the foundations of how search engines work, and discuss strategies both to employ and avoid.

The first point I want to unequivocally state is that I do not know what Google’s algorithm is. No one who works outside of Google does. If someone tells you they do, they are lying. This is a multi-billion dollar trade secret and they are not sharing. Don’t be fooled by the thousands of self-proclaimed search engine optimization experts out there. The next time someone tells you they know Google’s algorithm I want you to think of it in terms of how likely someone would be to know Coca Cola’s trade secret recipe. Or Warren Buffet’s next acquisition. Or the ingredients in special sauce. Or the nuclear launch codes. That’s how ridiculous it is that someone would know Google’s algorithm.

Brooklyn Bridge, New York City.

Brooklyn Bridge, New York City. by ::novocainated::

So why I am qualified to write this article then? Great question. As I said earlier, I do not know Google’s algorithm. What I do know is the very basics of how you would build a search engine. This is part of what I studied as an undergraduate Computer Science major and then again later in depth as a Graduate student. Additionally, I have built many sites that rank exceptionally well in Google by applying that knowledge. I have had particularly noteworthy success with small business websites in local markets. While I cannot expressly give you any search engine’s algorithm, by my education, experience and by staying current with the news on this subject I feel I have a handle on what’s going on.

The Basics

I’ve previously spent time writing about what I call the 3 C’s of Google. They are Content, Construction, and Context. Let’s revisit each.

Construction

This area covers both web design – the aesthetic layout features and website coding – the underlying nuts and bolts of what your browser renders. In short, your website needs to be built using clear code that search engines can read – and remember, search engines read website code differently than how humans do. Additionally, if a search engine can’t read your code, or if your site has poor architecture, it may not be indexed. Sometimes, Google will even ascribe a penalty to sites that exhibit poor design. For example, see this official Google article on a recent change to their ranking system on web page design.

Tactics here would be to construct a website with easy to read HTML mark up. In other words, avoid flash. If you are not hand crafting your site, use a system that can output clean, browser friendly code. This is part of the reason I advocate WordPress to run your small business website. (Well, that and it’s free!) Use clean styling in your site. Avoid the website companies you see on TV offering easy, turnkey websites – the more automate a website building system is, generally the worse code they spit out.

Content

Now that you have a website that is built in a fashion search engines can understand, let’s move on to what it is that they will be consuming. Great content is essential to have people actually read, bookmark and spend time with your website. It’s that content that describes the value your small business offers to readers but it also gives Google something to sink their teeth into.

Part of this Content metric is ensuring that your website is optimized with words people actually search for. In other words, make sure the search engine knows what your website page is really about. Think what people would type in to Google, if they were interested in the information you have on your website. Put that information into your page titles, into your meta descriptions, and in your text.

Again and again Google states that it’s goals are to reward the best content on the web with high search rankings. This offers a great alignment of what is best for your audience – great, valuable, actionable content.

Context

At this point let’s assume your website has great content that is easy to consume for both people and search engines. You’re almost home free… except for this one catch. Search engines don’t know good content from bad without some help. Given two sites that index in a similar way for content, how would Google rank one site above another? That’s where you and the rest of the Internet population comes in. You do it for them.

Remember that phrase your mom would tell you growing up? “You’re only as good as the company you keep?” Or how about this one, “Birds of a feather flock together?” Those are both applicable here. Your site is judged by who links to it, how they link to it, and what site you link to as well.

It used to be that one of the most important things you could have done for your website was to obtain relevant back links -links from other websites in your genre. For example, if you are a landscape, links to your site from other landscapers, gardening blogs, etc would have been extremely helpful. This is still true to a degree. Back links are a way for search engines to decide how trustworthy your site is.

Of course the incentive to get back links to your site became so huge that people started abusing it. Webmasters sold links from their sites to others. Giant link farms sprouted up. Article marketing took off. After a while search engine results were getting filled with spam so algorithms changed. Today social media is becoming a huge driver of search results. Google just announced a major change to how their search results will now take into account what your contacts in Google Plus think of content on the web.

Conclusion

Another phrase to think about in this arena is “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” Effective Search Engine Optimization takes effort but is well worth it. SEO is a skill in itself, which requires education, time and practice. Like any skill, it is something you can learn to do yourself with some effort and patience. Also like any skills, it may be worth your time to hire help with this and focus your efforts where you already excel.

Also remember that there are no guarantees. There are many tools on the web to help you find relevant articles more quickly. There are tools which will help you get posted in social marking sites at the speed of a click. Remember that there are no tools or experts which will guarantee you qualified prospects who are interested in doing business with you. And there are certainly no tools or experts that will ensure you have the spot in a search engine. Just because you can drive traffic to your site does not necessarily mean you should.

Due to popular demand, the next article will cover some explicit tactics you can employ along the Construction, Content, and Context strategies. However, remember that traffic is only one part of the website development process. Once you have attracted people to your website, you still have to convert them to become buyers of what you’re selling, supporters of your cause, or what have you. You’ll probably want a way to make sure they come back. And tell their friends. And to make sure they’re the right visitors you want in the first place.

As always, please leave any questions or comments in the comment fields below.

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