When it comes to website design and functionality it’s critical to know that you don’t know what you don’t know. It’s no longer acceptable to plead ignorance in business when it comes to your website because if you do you are offering yourself up as a lamb for sacrifice on the alter of ‘those who know’.
Five things will result from this:
1.You will pay far more than you need to for your website – as much as ten times more!
2.You will have a website that looks great and functions today, but has to be completely redesigned as your company grows and/or as technology changes. See above.
3.You will be dependent on your web designer/host to update your site with the result that you will always lag behind the times and usually at an hourly rate that will deter you pressing for continual updates. See #1
4.Your company’s Internet ranking will always be haphazard and leave you wondering why some competitor with half your magic is higher in a Google search than you are.
5.You will accept that your business is your focus and leave the website to the experts with a sigh thinking that once you get your sales up you will hire the big guns to get a site like the one who ranks high in your industry. See #1.
Let’s undo some of the mystique that leaves so many small as well as large businesses susceptible to being taken advantage of by those who hire themselves out as experts or vulnerable to the vagaries of hackers. Neither of these are costs you want to afford. How do I know?
Not very many years ago I invested over $30,000 in an absolutely gorgeous website. It was with a web design company with whom I had done business for many years in my executive capacity as VP of Sales and Marketing. I was then starting off on my own career and knew the Internet was the future. It wasn’t until I was getting at the thin end of my capital that I started asking why the site just wasn’t working. When I didn’t the get the answers that made any sense – they were in no language I knew – I took my first course in Internet Marketing.
On morning one of a three day intensive workshop with the room full of people, laptops at the ready, we were instucted in how to get into the source code of our site. Well, for the next three days, I just took notes because I discovered three things: I had no authorization to access my own website; I didn’t own my own domain, and the site was written in a code that was arcane and specialized to a point of non function. I was at the mercy of despots who charged $150.00/hour. And, I wasn’t the only one.
It took me two more years of books, courses and investigation as well as a fight with the designers for my domain name and files to finally realize that my site, though beautiful to behold and very much there on the Internet, was a write-off in terms of function. I began again, by myself.
This time I had the expertise and assistance of thousands of individual designers creating open source (free) software and authors offering in-depth marketing insights. There was a backlash to those who would take advantage. This is the distillation of that education.
A simple shift in perspective of how the internet works will put you nose to nose with your web designer or internet marketing team to confidently pose the questions to get the answers you want and a website that is not only cost effective and scaleable but your most trusted 24 hour employee.
The Internet ≠ WWW
This is one of the most critical distinctions to understand before proceeding. The World Wide Web is a database of information. It contains every bit of text, image and video from bombs to porn to scientific discoveries that has ever been input. It is a filing cabinet, a reference repository. It is pure content. It is the brain.
The Internet on the other hand is the mind. It is the way we retrieve, use and disseminate that vast amount of information. It is the context. The function of your website has to interface with the way the Internet functions. I make this distinction because many web designers know how to build a website to hold and display your information, but that does not necessarily mean they know how to put your website into play to its best advantage on the Internet. The question becomes: “Can the same guy who changes the oil in your car fix your GPS system?” Ask.
You might be dazzled by a beautiful site with a flash intro and all kinds of bells and whistles only to find after you have a hefty development bill that the whole site is invisible to the search engines. You see the site. It is there on the Internet, but only the people who are sent there can get there. The Google algorithm reads text only and unless your site is backed up by text behind the video or images or captured in a site map (see SEO – Search Engine Optimization), you are invisible.
Google is a Mathematical Equation, Not a Mythical God
Google creates a level playing field where the Davids and Goliaths duke it out for ranking. Google does not reward or punish but assesses according to a mathematical algorithm impartial to whether you are General Motors or Tesla. This algorithm is constantly challenged and changed as hackers rise to the opportunities to buy, cheat or piggyback their way to the top ranking.
Like a game of snakes and ladders, a company can step up in the rankings only to slide into oblivion because some enterprising but nefarious rogue chose a promising site to invisibly latch onto with a portal to a porn site. Some have seen their traffic increase meteorically only to witness it abruptly disappear off the radar when the Google ‘bot’ catches up and cuts the site like a ripe banana.
What can you do if that happens? Nothing. Just start over. But make sure your site is protected and healthy. Watch your statistics with Google Analytics. A spike in traffic should follow a significant event or posting. This way you stay clear on what is working for you and what might be suspect. Build your traffic in a credible way. There are lots of offers to buy mega numbers of followers or lists. Beware. There are no short cuts. They will inevitably get you lost. If not in rankings, in your reputation and customer perception which is infinitely harder to recover.
The next question is how, then, does Google know if are a Neurosurgeon – just because you say so? Your credibility is what the algorithm assesses. How it does that is by watching your website for traffic – how many people key in your URL? For references – how many other sites, preferably larger sites like educational facilities, ezines and such, link to you? How often do you add relevant content to your site? When there is little new activity on a site the Google bot does a larger orbit before returning to check your site for news. Where is your traffic coming from? Blogging or adding pages of interest (see Meta Tags, Keywords and the Informed Consumer) will increase your credibility and traffic. Social Media connections are invaluable and a separate topic.
Welcome to the Global Google Mall
Whether you are B2B (business to business) or B2C (business to consumer) you need to be in this mall. Some years ago there were competing search engines, but Google pulled out in front for one reason and one reason alone and that was it delivered what the customer wanted with speed and accuracy that outperformed its competitors.
There are Google detractors and the competition will always be fierce with the faithful sometimes get trampled in the melee. Uploading gmail contacts is not easy on Facebook while these giants vie for influence. However, until that changes definitively, Google is where the website action is.
Yesterday on Google there were upwards of 5 Billion searches. There will be more today. Yes, you are there. You have a storefront – a website But unless your website is created and functions according to the Google algorithm the only way your existing or potential customer can find you in the crowd is if your address is clasped in their hand as they get jostled in the avalanche of other choices.
Google is Consumer Driven
How do you set yourself apart? Well, the best way is to remember that Google is consumer driven and realize that at the beginning of each one of those 5 Billion searches are ten fingers on a keyboard. I’m sure yours were among them. How did you search? Did you know the name of the business to answer your query? Probably not or you would have gone there directly. What question did you ask to find your solution? What questions would your potential customer be asking to find you – if they don’t yet know your name?
The Google algorithm is impartial and responsive. However it does gather statistics to make it more personally responsive to individuals. You will notice that Google ads on your sidebars are mostly about what interests you or what you have been searching for. In the long run, search results themselves can gets skewed leaning toward past preferences. If you have been searching mostly liberal or democratic sites, chances are related searches will edit out conservative or republican sites. This can be seen as a plus in efficiency but a minus in freedom of choice.
For the business it means that the closer you comply with Google search criteria the more likely it will be that Google will put you above your competition on search results, if that competitor is less compliant – even if they are bigger than you or a more recognized industry brand.
Meta Tags, Keywords and the Informed Consumer:
We are an information rich society which technology has placed at our fingertips. Consumers – you and me and your potential client or customer will research everything from gallbladder symptoms to wedding gowns before we even go looking for a remedy or designer. And if we didn’t do it before we set out – we certainly back up our initial impressions with an internet search before making an informed decision.
Unless we know exactly what we are looking for before we set out, our initial search will be a broad brush. Before we arrive at Dr. X’s Quickie Gallbladder Clinic in our town, our search may start with “burping after eating”. What this means is you have to think like your potential client. In the book Made to Stick, authors Chip and Dan Heath refer to the ‘curse of knowledge’. We assume our potential clients know a great deal about us and our business and often approach our communication in that way. Before a bride finds the couturier gown of her dreams, she may be merely searching “pink chiffon”. “Burping after eating” and “pink chiffon” are keyword phrases.
Meta tags are descriptors incorporated into the code of your website and include your business name and description. Keywords – words relevent to your business like gallbladder, doctor, surgery should also be listed in the code of your website, but keyword phrases can continue to build breadth in your site to cast a wider net and increase traffic. Keyword phrases can be rated for optimum draw and blog posts or pages including these phrases add to the interest and information aspect of your site – ultimately attracting traffic and increasing rank.
The Store with a Thousand Doors
Our metaphor of a storefront is a misnomer in that a website has as many doors as there are pages. You never know which door a potential customer might wander in. Adding pages or posts regularly to your website not only captures the search engine ‘bot’ (short for algorithm assessor or robot) but adds to the many ways a client might find you.
Your keyword phrases and topics must be consistent with your industry to be most valued by the search algorithm but their diversity can bring in potential clients long before they are ready to buy your product. You can establish a relationship for future business by helping clients with present queries. A wedding gown designer might blog about seasonal fabric choices for consumer clients or about European style trends for the retail distributer in order to capture the broadest market. The more help you can offer your potential clients, the more likely they will turn to you when purchasing. It takes seven contacts to establish trust. How many questions can you answer?
The caveat to this is that like any retail store your entrance must entice – whatever door your customer walks in. Just think about how you respond to a website link that comes up in a query. I’ll share one statistic and that is it takes 15 seconds to decide you are on a site that interests you. You are busy and you are not messing around – and neither is your potential client. Fifteen seconds is all you have to catch their interest.
However, to gain recognition by the Google bot your page or post must be between 400 to 600 words of original content including the keyword phrase or phrases – prferably in Headline 1. This is the minimum considered to speak with authority on a topic. Sourcing content from recognized content sites gives relevant content without the worry of plagiarized or duplicated material – which is a search engine no no. Credit is always given for content.
SEO – Search Engine Optimization
There is so much hype around SEO that it is painful. My website developer once told me that I didn’t have enough traffic to afford an SEO expert. Is that double speak to you? It is to me. He also told me that people don’t like to read much on a page so write my pages under 70 words – to fit his design. He actually told me a lot of things I believed and paid for but were not true.
Google is a search engine and to optimize your website is to know what the algorithm looks for. And, what the algorithm looks for is what you as a consumer demand from your searches: reliable information as quickly as possible. Ask yourself how often you go to page two of a search. How often to you scroll even to the bottom of page one before you get a link that interests you or know your query is not producing the results you want and you rephrase your question?
Here are 10 Statistics on SEO
To cut it short – SEO is intrinsic to the design and functionality of your website. It is not an add on, nor is it a separate service – although you can certainly seek advice from others. Google’s criteria for measuring a website is in the Google WebMasters tools. It is accessible, simple and direct and must be incorporated into the design of your website – period.
What About That Website?
Now that you know what you know, you are able to find the right person or company to build the website you want and need. Just know this: we are no longer subject to the rare atmosphere of the custom design. In the spirit of collaboration, software designers from around the world are pooling technological knowhow and creating modular platforms. Some of these are Drupal, Joomla and WordPress. Each has their general industry specialization, but each is similar in offering ways of creating a custom solution using established components which are easily branded and integrated. Many of these are ‘open source’ which means many modules are free. It also means that software designers continually improve and expand on these modules or add new ones.
WordPress is probably the most user friendly and used mostly for blogs. It is an entry level site that can grow in complexity through plugins. Joomla and Drupal are more complex and require an expert in that particular design. However, these both allow in house management with varying degrees of authority to post content as news and events occur in your business.
This allows you to have a broad view wish list which can begin with a simple functional site that can grow with your company as you have resources in budget and manpower to manage the various functions of blogging and social media. There are many resources such as BlogCritcs.org which offer edited articles for content for blog posts. This site is sister to Technorati.com which is the highest ranking search engine for blogs.
Once you are confident in your comprehension of how and why a website gains ranking on Google you can begin to create your wishlist. Along with your wish list – which should be as detailed and specific with examples for your web designer – you now have your question list to make sure that the website you need is the website you get.
Depending on the expertise you have within your ranks, you can take advantage of outsourcing at sites like Elance.com. Here you can post your website requirements and have designers around the world bid on your site design. You can review existing portfolios and invite interesting designers whose work you like and/or you can post your job and invite bids. Some enterprising companies have posted a competition for a label or book jacket and for a price under $500.00 will get any number of potential designs. This creates interest and provides a snapshot of how a designer might treat your design parameters.
This site is totally secure and all monies paid out in preagreed portions. These fees are held in excrow until that portion of the work is complete and signed off. The caveat here is that you must be very clear on your requirements and expectations or else what seems like an hourly bargain may turn into a costly disappointment.
Sourcing a dependable consultant or a trustworthy website design company starts with knowing the right questions to ask. The first question is not how much – but what do you have to offer? If you think expertise is expensive – try ignorance. I did and that’s how I came to learn what I didn’t know.