Ways to Make Your Website Work for You by Vivian Lund
I am honored to have been asked to write a blog article for the Wet Noodle Posse!
In the interest of “writing what you know”, this article will discuss some simple (and some not-so-simple) improvements you can make to your website that should increase the number of visitors and keep them coming back.
I think that one of the most powerful ways you can make your website work for you is by doing the site updates and maintenance YOURSELF. When you have breaking news to post, you can control when it happens. No need to worry about when your webmaster is going to get around to it… AND you can make updates as frequently as you require at no cost. Paying your webmaster for all those tiny little changes really adds up, in which case, the website is not working for you; it’s the webmaster who is working for you...
Making changes to your website need not be any more complicated than using a blog. As a matter of fact, if you include a blog as part of your website, you can post breaking news and new content there easily and without the help of a webmaster.
Or your entire website can be built on a blog platform that is customized for you, and the blog interface can be used to maintain your website. There are many choices today: blogger, Wordpress, and Movable Type are only a few examples. This is a low-cost, quick-to-implement website solution, but in some cases, the blog’s user interface can be a little cumbersome.
If you want a traditional website you can maintain yourself, a better solution is to use a content management system (CMS). A content management system consists of a user interface that lets you add or modify pages of your website, and a database that stores the content of your website. A couple of currently popular content management systems are Joomla! and ExpressionEngine. Wikipedia has a pretty complete list of available CMS’s. Your webmaster may recommend one to you based on her experiences and preferences.
One thing to note: make sure the content management system you choose allows your site’s content to be crawled by the search engine spiders!!
Design it right the first time
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) publishes guidelines and recommendations for website code design. This group’s mission is “to lead the World Wide Web to its full potential by developing protocols and guidelines that ensure long-term growth for the Web.” Following these guidelines will go a long way to insuring that your website renders correctly in past, present, and future web browsers.
You can ‘validate’ that the HTML code in your existing website conforms to W3C standards by going to http://validator.w3.org/ . Websites that were made more than about 3 years ago may need a lot of rework to achieve W3C validation. Sometimes, a complete redesign of a site may be needed, since website programming languages continue to evolve along with the internet itself.
Compliance with W3C standards will not guarantee that your site will be completely problem-free in all browsers, but it can give you peace of mind that your website code will not be obsolete on the date of launch, and that most of your visitors will experience the website as you intended.
Also consider integrating Web 2.0 features in your website. Web 2.0 means different things to different folks, but basically, it’s all about ways of making your site more interactive for the user, more intuitive to navigate, cleaner in design, yet more dynamic at the same time.
Get your website noticed and stand out from the crowd
Once you have your website up, get the word out by asking your friends with websites to feature a link to your site on their site. The more prominently the link is displayed and categorized with other similar links, the better. (Pages with nothing but hundreds of unrelated links are not considered very useful to search engines. They are considered “link farms”.) If possible, provide your friend with a special graphic advertising your site that will integrate in with some aspect of your friend’s website design.
The more ‘inbound’ links you have from other sites to your website, the more ‘important’ your site is considered by Google and other search engines. This gets you a higher placement in search results if someone is searching for content in your website.
Google has a very simple list of things you or your webmaster can do to help search engines find and index your site: http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=35769
You can also put links to your website on your Facebook or MySpace pages (no, these social networking sites are not just for college students and teenagers anymore!), and include a link to your website in your signature line of your email. Basically plaster that link anywhere you think it won’t be considered blatant spam!
A humorous or entertaining YouTube trailer or podcast advertising your site is a great way to introduce yourself to the World Wide Web, and they are not hard to make if you have some basic video editing software, and perhaps a digital video camera. Some examples from the Wet Noodle Posse on YouTube are Esri Rose’s and Colleen Gleason’s video trailers.
Leave your audience wanting more (and get them to come back for it!)
Fresh, current content on your site keeps users interested in revisiting your site to see what is new and different. Also, adding and building relevant content increases the chances that someone searching for information contained on your site will find your site in a search. This means adding useful articles or blog posts about various topics relevant to your website on a regular basis.
RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds will alert your visitors with RSS readers to new content on your site. This is an easy way to help interested visitors learn about your latest updates and posts.
If you have a blog, make sure you have turned on the RSS feed! If you have a website, you or your webmaster can use an RSS feed generator to make a new page for your website that will allow RSS feed readers to learn about your website updates. Then you need to add a link to this new page somewhere on your website, and make it REALLY obvious that it is a link to an RSS feed, preferably with an RSS graphic of some type.
Also provide visitors a way they can receive email alerts or newsletters from you. There are many inexpensive newsletter programs that can be installed as part of your website, or stand-alone programs that run on your PC.
Look who’s coming to visit
Now that you have a great site, and you have told everyone about it, how do you know who is using it? A web statistics program will help you learn about who is coming to your site, how they found your site, and what they are interested in while they are visiting your site. This lets you know if your efforts to drive more traffic to your website are working.
Good luck with making your website work for you, and remember that a well-designed website is never finished!
Vivian is the designer of our Wet Noodle Posse website and this blog! You can learn more about her services at www.electric-webs.com