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:
- Get Linked
- Keywords and Meta Tags
- Submit to Search Engines
- Independent Review
- Services and Gimmicks
Yes, submitting to Search Engines isn't near the top of the list. Surprising isn't it? Read on to find out why.
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:
- What is the theme of your website?
Or put another way, what is its purpose? Unless you have a clear theme then your site may appear muddled.
- Why might visitors want to visit your site?
For instance if you are putting your family photo album on-line then this may be of interest to you, your family and friends, but do you really want strangers from the other side of the world stumbling across your web site?
- Does your site have a consistent look and feel?
- How many pages are there on your site?
No strict rule here, but if you've only got a few pages do you really have enough content to make it worth while for a visitor?
- Is the site ready for visitors?
It is worth remembering that most web-sites are never truly finished. There is always something else that can be added or updated. So there is no need to wait until everything is there that you have planned. However, if all a visitor will be presented with is ‘Under Construction’ at every turn then the site probably isn't ready for attracting visitors. Dead links (links which don't work) are another indication that the site isn't yet ready.
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:
- Firstly, if you are linked from a popular site then you will benefit directly from visitors coming to your site via that link.
- Secondly, if your site is linked from another site then most search engines will (eventually) find your site via that link.
- 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.
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">
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 ‘
tag, some preferring to generate a description automatically based on the content
of your page.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- How many other sites link to yours
Some Search Engines use this as a way of gauging how popular your site is and rank it accordingly.
- Relevant Keywords
How many of the keywords you have specified match the keywords that were used in the original search.
- Meta Tags
Simply by specifying the relevant meta tags (i.e. probably ‘Keywords’ and ‘Description’) can improve your ranking, or put another way, leaving them out can lower your ranking.
- Bid Price
Some search engines when you submit to them allow you to pay money to improve your ranking. Pages which have paid will always appear above pages which have not.
- The Type of Search Engine
Fundamentally there are three types of search engines (this may be simplistic but it reveals a lot about how Search Engines work):
Normally human reviewed, but the Search Engine will typically only contain one page in its index - the page that you submitted. Thus other pages on your site will never come up.
- Shallow Spiders
A shallow spider will visit your page and the pages that that first page has links to, but will go no further. This means that all the pages on your site that are one link away from the URL you submit will be visited, but non others. Particularly for large sites this can lead to a large proportion of the site remaining unvisited. Accordingly those unvisited pages will never be listed by the search engine. This is likely to be more of a problem for a large site than a smaller one.
- Deep Spiders
A deep spider will visit your page, all of its links, and all of the links on those pages and so on, until it has visited every page on your site. Deep Spiders could potentially return any one of the pages on your site.
No doubt there are some search engines which have a combination of index and spider, and there are various shades between the shallow spider and deep spider.
Search Engines normally indicate whether they operate a human reviewed index or whether they have a spider. If they have a spider it is very unlikely that they will reveal the type of spider or how it works. Accordingly, if you are submitting your site you may want to consider whether there is more than one ‘major’ section, and submit each ‘major’ section individually. If the search engine explicitly states that this is not necessary (as some do) that it may be that they operate a ‘deep spider’ and that this is unnecessary. If however after say two months you cannot find some of your pages listed then it may be worth resubmitting the relevant sections.
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:
- What are the reviewer's initial impressions of the site?
- Can the reviewer navigate easily around the site?
- Are the names of elements on the site clear?
After considering links and Search Engines, the only remaining avenue for attracting visitors is advertising. Means of advertising include:
A banner is an advertisement that appears on other web sites. There are a number of sites that offer 'banner exchanges'. These typically work along the lines of them ensuring that your banner is displayed in exchange for you displaying banners for other sites. Normally you will expect to have to display more banners to your visitors for other sites than you will have displayed for your site. However it is a means of reaching a much wider audience. The disadvantage is that if you have few visitors then you will get even fewer of your banners displayed to potential visitors.
Links have already been discussed because as well as promoting visitors they can increase your ranking with search engines. Get linked and listed wherever you can.
- e-mail signature
As a free way of advertising to your friends and colleagues, consider placing a small advert (or link) in the footer of every e-mail (or newsgroup posting) you send. The disadvantage of this is that you typically don't e-mail many people, but it can be an effective way of advertising your site to your friends. If you post to newsgroups then your posting may be picked up by one of the many newsgroup archives, and your link will may be seen by many.
- Paid Advertising
If you have a budget to spend then you may wish to consider paid advertising. There are a number of sites on the web that allow you to invest to have banner adverts appear on other sites. These are typically more select than banner-exchanges, because sites normally have to agree to show your banner and are therefore more likely to show banners that are relevant to their own subject matter. The other advantage is that you don't have to show any banners in exchange.
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:
- a user forum.
A forum provides a means for visitors to post comments and even participate in discussions. An active forum, i.e. one which people regularly post to, can be an excellent way of getting return visitors.
allowing the visitor to submit an opinion on a topic and return the following day or week to see the results of the survey.
- joke or cartoon of the day.
Offering your visitors an email address at your site can be a very effective way of getting visitors to return regularly.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.