How To Get Google to Notice Your Website

Everybody wants the coveted first position on the Google search engine results page (SERP). Those first few listings garner the lion’s share of user clicks. While some pay a pretty penny on advertising to grab attention, users tend to bypass the paid-for placements. They’re more interested in sites that Google rates highly on their own merits.

get google to notice my websiteGoogle’s formula for rating websites is a closely guarded secret. However, the factors that drive top search engine ratings are pretty straight-forward:

  • Lots of visitors to the site
  • Lots of great content relevant to the search criteria
  • Lots of referrals (links) to that content

Notice the theme that cuts across all three factors: LOTS.

If you’re a celebrity, or you’ve developed that “must have” product, or you’ve created an exceptionally entertaining or topical web page, you may draw a lot of visitors with a single page or posting. Otherwise, you’ll need a collection of engaging, relevant material to attract an audience and keep them coming back. What’s engaging and relevant?

  • Answers to their questions
  • Solutions to their problems
  • Information on things that matter to them
  • Breaking news
  • Interesting editorials
  • Amusing content

While text and images are a common means to share information, you’d do well to offer a range of media (e.g., text/images, videos, slide shows, podcasts). Reading/scanning content works for some. Others are visual learners. And still others like to download audio materials that they can enjoy on walks, in the car, or at the gym.

Lots of fresh, high quality content makes your site more interesting to search engines. If they see that you’re posting regularly, they’ll stop by more often to crawl and index your site. It also makes it more likely that you’ll acquire referrals (links) to build your reputation as an authoritative voice in your industry. If you get recognized by an especially well-respected individual or site, you’ll see tremendous benefit.

Of course, having loads of great content won’t help if no one knows it’s there. Make sure you get the word out by adding links to your email signature line, your marketing materials, your public presentations, and your social networking sites. Don’t be afraid to invite folks to stop by!

Do You Know Your Target Audience?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Your web site isn’t about you or your mission or your products and services. [That is, assuming you’re not a Hollywood icon or a celebutante.] It’s about the people who come a-calling. It’s about their problems, needs, dreams, expectations, and curiosities and how your mission, products, and services satisfy them. So if you’re going to create a new web site or refurbish an existing one, you need to be a subject matter expert on the folks you plan to serve.

target audience

Here’s a simple process to structure your market intelligence:

STEP ONE: Name all the groups you’d like to attract to your site. This list will include key players whose participation in your enterprise is critical for success. For commercial enterprises, it could include prospects, customers, investors, suppliers, distributors, partners, etc. For non-profits, it could include donors, foundations, beneficiaries, members, partners, volunteers, students, voters, etc.

STEP TWO: Develop personas for each group and any associated subgroups. A persona is a hypothetical individual who embodies the characteristics of the collective as a whole. It’s a useful tool for helping you really identify with them – i.e., thinking like they think, feeling what they feel. Some key elements include:

  • Demographics (WHO, WHAT, WHERE) – e.g., gender, race, ethnicity, culture, age, education, disabilities, location, home ownership, employment status, mobility, et al. Focus on characteristics that affect your business and the manner in which you craft sales, marketing, and communications plans.
  • Psychographics (WHY) – i.e., any and all attributes relating to personality, values, attitudes, interests, opinions, activities, and/or lifestyles. Ask yourself: Who or what shapes their world view? What do they deem truly important in life? What are their goals and aspirations? What challenges and problems do they face? What are their immediate, near-term, and long-term needs? What criteria drive their decision processes? What makes them happy?
  • Behaviors (HOW) – i.e., what they do, when/how they do it. Ask: How do they spend their typical day? Where do they go when they need to solve a problem, find an answer, or secure advice? On what media do they rely? What words and phrases do they use? What style of writing appeals to them? What sorts of colors, images, and media strike a chord?

STEP THREE: Interview people to see if your perceptions jive with reality. Even if you’ve been working the same target audience for years, you’d be surprised what you’ll learn by encouraging people to talk about themselves. [For most folks, it’s their favorite subject!] Check to see whether your assumptions and beliefs hold true. Ask about recent purchase decisions – how they did their research, what options they considered, who or what influenced the decision process, and what factors determined their choice. Ask about the publications, web sites, blogs, podcasts, social networks, etc. they use and any opinions they’ve formed about them.

There are volumes upon volumes written about this topic. But I don’t want this task to seem so complicated that you avoid doing it. It can be as easy as sitting down with a pad of paper or your trusty computer and capturing notes on what you know, what you’ve learned, and what you assume. Rough outlines with bullet points will do. If you’ve got gaps in information, you’ll know what you need to figure out.

The payoff? You’ll start to get clear on what your web site and all other marketing channels need to say. And when you hire third parties to help write content or build your site, you’ll be in a position to leverage their expertise and get a much greater return on your investment.

Five Reasons Why Businesses Blog

I delivered a workshop on blogging at the Beaverton Area Chamber of Commerce Business Matters gathering last week. Most attendees to these monthly sessions are small business owners looking for ways to market their products and services. I opened the talk by sharing the 5 primary reasons why businesses blog:

bloggerThey have information or expertise to share.
Successful bloggers know their target audience very well. They understand their readers’ needs, problems, and interests. They focus on meeting their informational requirements with the right content in the right medium at the right time.

They want to drive traffic to their websites through organic searches and referrals.
Each post can be optimized for a specific long tail keyword – e.g., Beaverton long term care insurance provider. By featuring a long tail keyword in the content, the blogger increases the chance that the post will rank among the top 10 listings on a search engine results page. Those listings get the highest number of clicks. Moreover, readers are far more likely to refer their friends and colleagues to a blog post than a web page. When a critical mass of readers shares a link to a blog post, it elevates its ranking on search engine results pages.

They want to develop a following.
It takes fresh content to get visitors to return to a website regularly. A regular stream of blog posts satisfies that need. And when readers respond to invitations to comment, the blogger gets valuable feedback on what they’re thinking.

They want to convert casual visitors into customers.
Many bloggers create product or service offerings tailored to the contents of their posts. It encourages readers to take action once they have read the content. [Note: Weekly bloggers get ~150% more leads through their websites than non-bloggers.]

They want to make effective use of their marketing dollars.
Companies that invest money to improve their organic search results, stimulate direct traffic to their sites, generate referrals, and bolster their presence on social media enjoy higher lead-to-close ratios through these channels than traditional outbound marketing channels (e.g., direct mail, telemarketing). And the cost per lead can be one-half to two-thirds less!

Great blogging requires targeted, well-written content and a commitment to post regularly. It also takes a bit of effort to build your readership. But you can do them – and yourself – a favor by sharing your pearls of wisdom.

Four Questions Every Website Owner Needs to Ask

questionIf you’ve invested the time and energy to create a website, then you probably have some notion that it ought to promote your organization and/or serve its constituents. Unfortunately, legions of websites fail to live up to their potential. If you want to avoid a similar fate, you need to ask 4 simple questions about your website design:

Q1: Is my site doing a good job attracting visitors with content that’s tailored to their needs and interests?

Believe it or not, your website isn’t about you. It’s not even about your products and services. It’s about the problems, needs, hopes, desires, expectations, and dreams of your visitors. If you want to have an engaging presence on the web, you need thoroughly understand your target audience(s) and why they might search the web to find you. Get clear on the questions they’re asking, the issues they’re facing, the futures they hope to create, and the words they use to describe their journeys. Armed with that knowledge, you can narrate your organizational story through their eyes using language that helps you get noticed by search engines and the people who use them.

Q2: Does my site inspire visitors to take action – e.g., purchase, donate, sign up, volunteer, vote, etc.?

Great content makes a great website. I hope your site is so content rich that it’s a natural magnet for prospective customers! But if all you do is attract them to your site, you’re unlikely to reap the benefits of your hard work. You want a relationship, not the anonymous, drive-by encounter. Encourage visitors to make contact or sign up for your free newsletter. Provide a compelling offer – a free product, service, or white paper. Give them a video to watch and ask for comments. Simply put: Find a way to start a dialog.

Q3: Does the site provide fresh and engaging material to encourage repeat visits?

In the best of circumstances, your “perfect customers” find you readily on the web and are dazzled by your content. But they might not be ready to make a purchase or even start a conversation. What can you do? Make sure you provide a steady stream of useful content that will keep them coming back. Each encounter gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your competency and increases the likelihood that you’ll (eventually) connect.

Q4: Have I established my organization as a trusted resource to which others refer their family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances?

If you’ve created great content (with superb navigation, of course) and provided the means for engagement, you’re on your way to “trusted resource” status. But you’ve got to promote your content and encourage folks to Like It, Re-Tweet, link to it, and tell everyone they know about it.

Are you ready to amp up your website?

Your Blog is Not a Field of Dreams

Back in 1989, Kevin Costner starred in a renowned sports-fantasy film in which a down-on-his-luck Iowa farmer hears a voice whisper, “If you build it, he will come.” Believing that he has been asked to construct a baseball diamond, he plows under part of his corn crop and builds the “field of dreams.” This act of faith draws a collective of famous ballplayers, a long-lost family member, and the entire community to the farm. It’s a classic Hollywood, feel-good film.

baseball parkWhen I talk with folks about blogging, there’s a strong “field of dreams” sensibility. They’ve seen the statistics on the benefits of blogging – more inbound links, more website visitors, more indexed pages, more customer acquisitions – as discussed in an earlier blog post. [See “To Blog or Not To Blog.”] They think that all they have to do is blog once or twice a week and they’ll start hearing their cash registers ring.

Let me add a word of caution to this unbridled enthusiasm. According to the latest statistics from

  • There are 42 million blogs in the U.S.
  • There are 500,000 new blog posts and 400,000 comments every day
  • 60% of businesses have a company blog

That’s a staggering amount of content! With millions of options from which to choose, what do you need to do to help readers find their way to your “field of dreams”?

  • Create content using keyword-rich text to increase the chance that your posts will land favorably on search engine results pages. [I offer some hints and tips in a post entitled “Use Long Tail Keywords in Web Content.”]
  • Post regularly. Search engines and readers favor consistency.
  • Place links to your blog on your website, your business cards, and your email signature line. Let folks know that you’re publishing.
  • Post blog entries on social networking sites. Encourage your family, friends, colleagues, customers, and prospects to “Like” your Facebook page and “Follow” you on Twitter.
  • Contribute to third party blogs that cover your industry or subject area. Some will give you the option to track comments back to your blog. If you offer substantive commentary that others find useful, you may draw readers to your site. [Make sure you’ve earned your stripes with the community before you attempt any form of self-promotion.]
  • Stay with it for the long haul. Industry pundits say that it takes at least 50 blog posts before there’s a material bump in activity.

Are you ready to start blogging?

Mobile-ize Your Website

mobile phoneI’m going to start with a confession… I’m a mobile dinosaur. While most of my friends and colleagues are among the 100+ million Americans who own smartphones, I still use a basic cell phone. I know, I know… my kind is doomed to extinction.

Smartphones have become “go to” devices. Pew Research Center examined mobile user behaviors over a 30-day period and found that:

  • 41% used their smartphones to coordinate a meeting or get together
  • 30% used their devices to choose restaurants
  • 27% performed Internet searches to settle arguments
  • 23% looked up sports team scores
  • 19% got help in emergency situations
  • 17% did most of their on-line browsing using their phones instead of their computers or laptops

Social networking is accelerating mobile usage. Mobile devices account for 85% of page views on Japan’s leading social network. Facebook’s mobile users are twice as active as desktop users. And 40+% of all Tweets are created on mobile devices.

Mobile commerce is BIG business. PayPal and eBay process billions of dollars in transactions from mobile devices.

Advertisers are jumping on the bandwagon by adding QR codes to everything from product packaging to highway billboards. Scan a QR code with your smartphone and it’ll go to a web page, send an email, open social media, promote an event, make a call, open an RSS feed, play a video, or open a shopping page.

Given this “sea change” in Internet usage, have you tailored your website for mobile access?

Unless your visitors have Superman’s visual acuity, they’ll have a difficult time sifting through all of your standard content on their pocket-sized screens. You need to do some “downsizing.” The good news: It shouldn’t take an army of programmers to give your mobile users what they need. Here are some tips to jump start your planning process:

  • Set priorities for what your mobile site will offer. Mobile users don’t want or expect to have access to everything. Stick with capabilities and content that they really need when on the move.
  • Simplify navigation… and make the buttons large enough for viewing and selection.
  • Expect intermittent connections. Make it easy for folks to return to the pages they were on when they lost data transmission. [They’ll be frustrated enough as it is!]
  • Test, test, test. See how the mobile site functions on different screens with different users. The smaller the screen, the more pressure to get the design “right.”

Have you got a great mobile site? Send me the link so others can learn from your fine example.

Serving the Autonomous Customer

Telecom giants Avaya and BT Global Services published a study a little over a year ago entitled “The Autonomous Customer: Understanding the challenges of dealing with informed, demanding and networked customers.” While it’s primarily focused on customer service operations (e.g., call centers, eCommerce sites, et al), there are some results worth a moment or two of consideration for other enterprises.

autonomous customerThe study defines the autonomous customer as “independent, well informed, more influenced by other consumers than by brands, and turning away from organizations as sources of trust and advice.” Of 1,000 on-line consumers interviewed:

  • 78% use the Internet to conduct research before making purchase decisions
  • 51% trust peer reviews more than vendor websites
  • 59% prefer purchasing on-line to avoid sales pitches; those who seek assistance look for consultative support (a.k.a. subject matter expertise)
  • 35% have Smartphones and use them to research and/or secure attractive deals while shopping

This data is more-or-less consistent with other surveys I’ve seen. But what should you DO with these insights? Here are 5 actions I’d put on my list:

  1. Make sure your website puts your organization’s best foot forward. Like it or not, it’s a store front through which customers “window shop.” If it’s not fresh and inviting, you can’t reasonably expect folks to enter and explore.
  2. Build web content around your prospects’/customers’ interests and needs. Think about the process through which they gather information, explore alternatives, and make informed decisions. Find a way to plug into their process in a meaningful way. While you’ll certainly include information about your organization and your products and services, the narrative needs to focus on what matters most to them.
  3. Encourage your employees to stay current on your website and those of your primary competitors. Folks are doing their homework before they walk into your shop or pick up the phone to speak with you. If you want to add value to the equation, you need to know at least as much as they do!
  4. Create a mobile version of your website. Strip out the nonessentials and re-tool the site for the smaller screen size. [Don’t make me wear “coke bottle” glasses to learn about when when I’m out and about!]
  5. Keep an ear to the social media ground. People may be talking about you and your competitors. When they talk, others listen. You need to hear and respond to their feedback. Better yet, find creative ways to harness the power of customers helping each other. Create a self-regulating users forum or set up a YouTube channel where folks contribute “how to” instructional videos or case studies.

Have you found a way to engage customers more fully with your website?

May the Best Blogs Win

If you’re new to blogging or you simply want to sharpen your skills, here are some blogging best practices to help you reap the benefits of this on-line marketing tool.

  • blogging best practicesCreate “remark-able” content. Focus on topics that interest, illuminate, help, and/or entertain your target readers. Make it worthy of commentary and passing along to others.
  • Choose a central idea as the focal point for your blog. Identify a long tail keyword (e.g., “how to cultivate hybrid tea roses”) to use in your blog’s URL, meta tags (keywords, description), title, content, and “alt” tags for images.
  • Spend time developing a great title. If the title isn’t attention grabbing, your prospective readers will take a pass on the content.
  • Use a familiar, respectful tone for your posts. Write as though you’re in casual conversation with a friend or colleague who values your opinions and/or needs your advice. Avoid jargon, over-used words/phrases, and needless exaggeration. Steer clear of insider information and “trash talking” about your competitors.
  • To the extent possible, pare your content down to 200-400 words. Avoid long paragraphs. Make white space your friend.
  • For longer posts – especially the occasional 400+ word entry – summarize what readers will learn at the front of the post. It should give them an incentive to dive in… or at least skim the surface.
  • Use bold print to highlight key concepts so your readers can scan your posts quickly. [Search engines give more weight to bold print when they scan your text.]
  • Always include an image that relates to your central idea or a key concept. Blogs with images are read more often than ones without them. It can be a photo, chart, graph, cartoon, or video link. [Give proper credit when you use someone else’s work!]
  • Create keyword-rich links to relevant internal and external content. Internal links encourage visitors to explore your site. External links demonstrate your mastery of the internet “library.” And search engines take special note of linked text.
  • End with a call to action that relates to your topic. Possibilities include: (i) promotional offers for your products or services; (ii) invitations to register for upcoming webinars; (iii) encouragement to comment on the material or contact you directly; and, (iv) links to other valuable material.
  • Post all relevant feedback – even comments that aren’t flattering. You and your readers will benefit from all viewpoints.
  • Respond to comments and requests for contact.

Are you a blogger? What practices have helped increase your readership?

To Blog or Not To Blog

If William Shakespeare had been born in the late 20th century, he might have posed a different question in the opening soliloquy of Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 1. For the noble Prince of Denmark may well have endured the “slings and arrows” of anonymous respondents to innocent Internet posts and wondered if it was all worthwhile.

william shakespeareFor the organization that seeks a committed following, a regular stream of leads, or simply better placement on search engine results pages, the question of whether or not to blog has been answered. Organizations that blog at least once a week get:

  • Twice the number of website visitors – each post is an opportunity to optimize a page for a specific long tail keyword that a web visitor might use to fund you
  • Substantially more inbound links – people are far more likely to create a link for a blog post than a standard web page
  • Two to three times the number of web-based leads – the number of leads is proportional to the frequency of blog posts

Of course, in order to reap these benefits, your blog needs to deliver useful information that folks are eager to read and pass along to others. What constitutes “useful information”?

  • Commentary on major trends, events, or news items in your industry – e.g., the impact of healthcare reform on small business owners
    [These posts establish you as a thought leader.]
  • Answers to frequently asked questions – e.g., what’s the best way to get rid of weeds in my lawn
    [These posts draw readers to your site at the precise moment when they need help.]
  • Best practices – e.g., 10 key elements of an effective job description
    [These posts establish you as an experienced professional whose opinions carry weight.]
  • “How To” content – e.g., step-by-step instructions for linking Facebook and Twitter entries
    [These posts help your readers and their associates solve problems.]
  • Bold opinion statements – e.g., “diet and exercise are overrated”
    [OK, I don’t really believe it, but if I could defend that statement in a blog, I’d surely generate a lot of comments. Thoughtful participation benefits the community and adds to the blog’s readership.]

As with most disciplines, blogging takes a bit of skill and practice. If you’re game to give it a try, check out the blogging best practices.

Five Rules of Social Networking

The past few years have witnessed an explosion in social networking. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, and others offer venues for personal and professional communication. Here are just a few mind boggling statistics:

  • social networkFacebook topped 1 billion users in October 2012; half of them check in daily to share or read content (web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photo albums, etc.).
  • Twitter handles 400+ million tweets per day.
  • LinkedIn reported nearly 2 billion people searches in 2010. The current member list tips 100 million.
  • 175+ million professionals share connections, ideas, and opportunities on LinkedIn.

Social networking is a phenomenon that’s too big to ignore and too important to engage haphazardly.

There are plenty of folks who salivate at the prospect of using these venues to stand on their corporate “soap boxes” and sell their wares. But social networking doesn’t look kindly upon those whose only interest is self-promotion. People want trusted friends and colleagues, not “circus barkers.”

As you craft your social networking strategy, here are a few guidelines to inform your thinking:

  1. Social media is all about the users – their interests, their voice, their desire to connect. They want information, interaction, and entertainment on their terms before they’ll be open to a corporate pitch.
  2. The community wants to contribute. They’re ready, willing and able to “crowd source” answers or provide constructive feedback and advice.
  3. Participants expect a personal connection. They want to interact with “Bob,” not a nameless, faceless corporation.
  4. Users expect transparency. When they ask questions, they expect straight answers. If there’s bad news, better to break it yourself – with an appropriate action plan – than wait to be found out and suffer the wrath of the public forum.
  5. Users expect immediate responses. If you’re going to be a player, you need to keep an ear to the ground and be prepared to enter the conversation with enthusiasm, useful commentary, and a bit of good humor.

You don’t have to be everywhere, and you certainly don’t need a presence in channels for which there is no inherent customer need or interest. But you will need to be fully present in the channels that you choose to support. Quality trumps quantity if you’re trying to build a successful community.