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Tips on attracting visitors

What is the best way to attract visitors to my site?

Whilst attracting visitors to a site is not an exact science, I would recommend considering these in the following order:

  1. Content
  2. Get Linked
  3. Keywords and Meta Tags
  4. Submit to Search Engines
  5. Independent Review
  6. Advertise
  7. Services and Gimmicks
  8. Patience

Yes, submitting to Search Engines isn't near the top of the list. Surprising isn't it? Read on to find out why.

Content

Before worrying about the number of visitors your site is getting, consider first whether your site is ready to be visited. Does it have sufficient content for you to want any visitors? To help answer this question it may be easier to think about the following:

Get Linked

The best way to attract visitors is to get other sites to link to you. If you can find any relevant web directories then submit your site to them first.

As well as maintaining my own site, I also maintain the web site for my local church. I noticed that (initially) my church site regularly got significantly more hits than my web site. This surprised me because I was sure that my web site would be of interest to a wider audience than the church site. When I spent the time tracking back on where those visitors had come from, most visitors to the church site came from web directories on which the church site was listed - but at that time my site had only been submitted to search engines and was not included in any public directories.

Why are links more important that submitting to search engines? Three reasons:

  1. Firstly, if you are linked from a popular site then you will benefit directly from visitors coming to your site via that link.
  2. Secondly, if your site is linked from another site then most search engines will (eventually) find your site via that link.
  3. Thirdly, some search engines factor in the number of links to your site and give higher rankings to sites that have more links to them.

This is why so many sites are keen for you to put a link to them on your web site. So the more sites that link to your site the more likely it is that your site will be at or near the top of results returned by a search engine.

As a first start, consider dmoz (the Open Directory Project, http://dmoz.org/). Dmoz is indexed by a number of search engines. Entries included in Dmoz also appear within other indexes (quite possibly the same index but under a different name) so that a link in Dmoz will appear to generate a number of links from elsewhere. Dmoz requires that each page is submitted individually under an appropriate category, but it is well worth the effort. The same is equally true of Yahoo! (www.yahoo.com).

For other ideas on getting inbound links you might find the following SEO article of interest: SEO Tip: Get lots of inbound links.

Keywords and Meta Tags

Meta tags provide information to search engines about your site. Not all search engines use them, but for those that do Meta Tags provide a means for you to specify which keywords are relevant to your site and what description you would like the Search Engine to show when it lists your site. Probably the two most important meta tags are:

<meta name="description" content="Description of my site">
<meta name="keywords" content="important phrases, keywords">

The 'description' tag allows you to specify a description for your site. Visitors will never see this description unless they find your site using a Search Engine, in which case it is this description that the search engine is likely to have displayed. Not all search engines use the ‘description’ tag, some preferring to generate a description automatically based on the content of your page.

The ‘keywords’ tag allows you to specify which keywords or phrases are relevant to your site. Again, not all search engines use this tag. Indeed it is recognised that the big search engines (such as google) don't use them at all.

Interestingly I have observed that having descriptions and keyword meta tags have helped with rankings (and thus visitor numbers) even on some search engines which claim not to use them. I don't know whether this is because having them indicates to the search engine that you have spent more care and attention on a page or whether having them helps you think about the best content on a page. 

Submit to Search Engines

Ultimately most visitors will find your site by using a Search Engine. Provided your site is being linked to from other sites then your site will probably already have been visited by at least one search engine, if not dozens. This is why I consider search engine submission to be less important than getting your site linked.

When you are ready to submit your site to a search engines you have basically three choices in how you go about it:

  1. Manually Submit.

    Most search engines allow you to submit your URL for inclusion in their index. If you visit a search engine normally there will be a link called ‘Add URL’ somewhere on the page. Follow that and you can normally add your URL straight away. Some Search Engines charge for this, but most do not.

  2. Free URL Submission.

    A number of sites offer free URL Submission, where they will submit your URL to a small number of search engines for free. These types of free service normally submit your site to ten or more search engines. Since many search engines share the same data, it is not necessary to submit to every search engine, so these free submission services are well worth considering.

  3. Pay for multiple submissions.

    If you want your page submitted to hundreds (or possibly even thousands) of search engines and directories then the paid subscription submission services are the most attractive route. Again, there are a number of companies offering this service on the net.

    Something to be aware of is that whilst these claim to submit to thousands of search engines, that claim is suspect because there aren't that many search engines - at least not that many significant search engines. So mostly these are submitting to directories (lists of sites) rather than just to search engines.

Don't expect your site to be immediately available to a search engine after you submit it. Normally sites start to appear in search results anything up to eight weeks after they were originally submitted. Some search engines offer a ‘fast-track’ service, guaranteeing to have visited your site within a day or two, but this comes at an added cost.

Even then, it may be difficult to get your site listed on the first set of relevant search results when someone does a search that you think ought to return your site. Whilst each Search Engine seems to be different, factors which appear to affect the ranking of your site include:

Independent Review

Ask someone to review your site (or portions of it). The purpose of this review is to see if your site looks interesting and attractive to potential visitors. Accordingly this review does not need to be done by a trained web designer, a friend or colleague from your target audience will do. The things to look are are:

Advertise

After considering links and Search Engines, the only remaining avenue for attracting visitors is advertising. Means of advertising include:

Services and Gimmicks

Once you have a visitor how are you going to keep that visitor, so he or she comes back again? Are repeat visitors important to you?

If you have sufficient content, or your site offers a service, then this may not be an issue. Otherwise ideas that have appeared on the net for encouraging visitors to return include:

Personally, other than a user forum and email both of which can be a great addition to a site, I'm dubious as to how effective these are.

Patience

Give it time. Don't expect large numbers of visitors straight away.

It takes time for search engines to find your site (although you would hope that any search engines that you submit to directly will start listing your site within a couple of months at most). It will take people even longer.

Rest assured that if you have followed the guidelines in this article then given time you will start to have a steady flow of visitors.


If you have any comments regarding this article please e-mail the author care-of feedback@cryer.co.uk.