BOOST YOUR WEBSITE TRAFFIC - FORGET QUE SERA SERA
Que Sera Sera may have been Doris Day's recipe for a good life. However Doris Day wasn't a Webmaster. Equally she wasn't a Sales Manager. Consider the little episode recounted below.
HOW TO HANDLE A SALES REP
The owner of the company, Henry Brewster, pops in on his sales manager, Arthur Smith.
Brewster says, "Arthur, how's that new sales rep working out. Her name was Betty Jones, as I remember."
Smith replies, "I really don't know, Henry."
Brewster begins to look a little peaved and asks, "What do you mean? Has she produced any sales yet?"
Smith: "Not that I know of."
Brewster: "Well is Jones getting out there and meeting customers?"
Smith: "I don't know that either."
Brewster: "Are you sure Jones is right for the job."
Smith: "Well, when I interviewed her, she looked attractive and seemed to know what was needed."
Brewster: "So what should we do about this?"
Smith: "Que sera sera."
It's pretty difficult to imagine any company owner behaving like that. Indeed most will find the whole incident ludicrous. With that attitude both Smith and Jones would be out of the door in no time flat. That's how it goes in the sales field and so it should.
Now substitute 'website' for sales rep or Jones in that same conversation. You may be surprised to hear that it's the way many company owners behave towards their website. How can any owner accept the investment of effort and much-needed cash in a non-performing asset? Indeed in some cases, the website can be a very visible sign of a company's mediocre performance and may even have a negative effect on sales.
The tragedy in this website scenario is that it is such a lost opportunity. A well constructed website handled in the right way can be the most powerful generator of sales with the highest return on investment. Que sera sera is a slogan for inaction. Yet action can be so richly rewarded.
In this article we'll discuss one element in a website's selling-effectiveness. How much traffic comes to the website? How can that traffic be increased? It's also important that visitors are also converted into purchasers through their visit to the website but that will be handled in a future Newsletter.
Three steps are involved in a program to boost your website traffic.
- Understand your present website traffic
- Do what is necessary to grow your website traffic
- Monitor your actual traffic and learn from that
The most important message here is that this should be one of your key routine activities. Websites can be important drivers of sales. If yours isn't, then you're missing out. There are free ways of assessing your website traffic so use at least those. Be aware of what is happening and what could be done. There's serious money to be made here.
UNDERSTAND YOUR PRESENT WEBSITE TRAFFIC
There is a variety of ways of knowing your current website traffic. Using any of them on a regular basis will help you understand what is really happening with your website. The sidebar below gives the links to some popular tools. Here we'll just discuss the principles behind them.
FREE HIT COUNTERS
One method is to use a Free Hit Counter on your website. Google shows currently 3.4 million web pages for that precise phrase so clearly there are lots of choices. A Free Hit Counter requires that you add some code to your web pages and you then will be able to access reports on who is visiting. Often anyone else visiting your website, including your competitors, can also see what traffic your website gets so this may rule out this approach for you. Usually the reports on visitors you obtain include very limited information. So this is probably not the way to go.
TRAFFIC REPORTS FROM YOUR INTERNET SERVICE PROVIDER (ISP) WHO HOSTS YOUR WEBSITE
Most hosting services will provide summary reports on the traffic to your web pages. These are often prepared using one of the free programs available, such as AWStats or WebAlizer. The actual format of such reports is usually determined by your ISP and some of them provide only very limited information. However as a minimum, such reports when reviewed regularly can give you an indication of whether your website traffic efforts are beginning to have results.
SOFTWARE TO ANALYZE RAW TRAFFIC LOG DATA
If your Internet Service Provider (ISP) makes them available, the raw traffic logs contain a wealth of information. They are in practice text files that contain a long series of rows of information. Each row represents one file that has been downloaded from the host server for your web page. A typical row would look as follows:
fj1014.inktomisearch.com [02/Sep/2005:02:04:23 -0400] "GET /robots.txt HTTP/1.0" 200 121 "-" "Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; Yahoo! Slurp; http://help.yahoo.com/help/us/ysearch/slurp)"
Here the row has been cut in to pieces and some explanatory text added for each part:
|fj1014.inktomisearch.com||the domain identification of the visitor|
|[02/Sep/2005:02:04:23 -0400]||the exact time of the request for this file|
|"GET /robots.txt HTTP/1.0"||the file requested, in this case a file normally only requested by spiders or robots|
|200||a code to confirm that the file was available|
|121||the size of the file in bytes|
|"-"||the URL which "referred" the visitor to this web page - in this case there was no such referring URL|
|"Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; Yahoo! Slurp; http://help.yahoo.com/help/us/ysearch/slurp)"||an indicator of the visitor browser and identity - in this case the Yahoo! Slurp robot.|
Even looking at the raw traffic log file in a text reader such as Notepad can give some useful information. Those versed in the use of a spreadsheet program such as Microsoft Excel will find they can extract even more useful intelligence by suitable parsing and sorting of the data rows. However there are free software programs available that will give much detailed information very easily.
TOOLS TO ANALYZE WEBSITE TRAFFIC
FREE HIT COUNTERS
One of these, FunnelWeb Analyzer, was extremely good and often receives honourable mentions in discussions. Unfortunately, it is no longer available from its creators, Quest. Two others that provide similar information are Weblogexpert and Analog.
PAID IN-DEPTH TRAFFIC ANALYSIS PROGRAMS
To learn more about what visitors are doing on the website requires more information than is given within the type of log data shown above. Special code inserts on pages or creating cookies that are accepted by visitors are two ways in which such additional information can be derived. Usually a paid service will be used to analyse the data from such an approach.
One such service is ClickTracks. This offers in-depth analysis of visitor behaviour on the web site. It shows you statistics on site navigation patterns, PPC (Pay-per-Click) campaigns, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) initiatives and ROI (Return on Investment) instantly.
One of the most thorough and therefore the most costly service is NetTracker. According to their literature, their Web traffic analysis solutions are used by over 10,000 companies worldwide to analyze and optimize their online channels - Internet, intranet and extranet sites. NetTracker is considered the most flexible, comprehensive, and accurate world-class line of Web analytics solutions available. If you have a high-volume traffic website, then this could well be the way to go.
For a more detailed review, you can see some user reactions in a Cre8asite Forums discussion on Log File Web Analytics Software.
SOME IMPORTANT CONCEPTS
The total number of files of all kinds that have been downloaded, including web page files, image files and the robots.txt file.
The number of web pages downloaded by visitors. Each web page will cause the associated image files on that web page to be downloaded as well.
The number of visits of all types downloading files from the website. A delay within a visit before downloading another web page will cause the visit to be counted as two visits.
The number of distinct visitors involved in the visits above.
Robot or Spider Visits
The number of robots or spiders included in the above visits count. Whether this figure is accurate will depend on the software used and its ability to identify all robots.
There are some concepts that you should understand in interpreting website traffic reports and these are covered in the sidebar. The single most important measure among them all is the number of Visits. It should be noted that some arbitrary cut-offs are used in determining these statistics. For example, is a visit with a long gap between reading two pages a single visit or two separate visits? Different services may give different numbers. It is therefore best to compare like with like by using a single service and comparing results over time to determine trends.
The other important proviso is that some of your visitors will not be human but rather the spiders or robots that routinely explore the Internet looking for web pages. These mostly belong to search engines.
In a given visit such a spider will often download the robots.txt file, if such exists, as well as other web pages from the website. It is always good practice to include a robots.txt file for any domain since this will allow a spider to rapidly confirm that the domain is still active. The number of times the robots.txt is downloaded in a day gives an approximate indication of the number of search engine spider visits during that day. For low traffic websites, most of the visits will be by such spiders.
To give an indication of the magnitudes involved, for a recent typical day the SMM website had 27 visitors per hour and over 4 per hour of these were identified as spiders by the FunnelWeb Analyzer program.
HOW DOES YOUR WEBSITE TRAFFIC COMPARE WITH THAT OF YOUR COMPETITORS' WEBSITES
The traffic you would be interested in seeing are probably potential customers. How many of those are out there surfing on the Web at any time? That is a very tough question to answer with any precision. One way of arriving at an approximate answer is as follows. Presumably such potential customers will also visit competitor websites. So if you could compare your own website traffic with the competition's website traffic, then you can see how well you're doing.
If your website is in a market sector where there could be a great number of visitors and you can afford significant fees to find out traffic, then a service such as HitWise could be for you. This company works with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to identify traffic flows to websites. As with most Internet tracking services, there may be a bias in the way they collect data, but they can still be used to correctly track relative changes over time. Unfortunately if you're not dealing with a mass market, then HitWise is unlikely to be of much use to you.
For most mid-traffic websites another approximate method may give some guidance. This approach gives a rating of how well your website does versus your competitors. The method uses the Traffic Rating service provided by Alexa. Just click on the tab labelled Traffic Rankings. You can then enter your own website or the website of a competitor and Alexa will give a traffic ranking for that website. This ranking is based on data collected from the websites visited by all those who have installed the Alexa tool-bar. For example the top ranking websites were as follows at the time of writing
Top Sites - Updated Daily
1. Google.com www.google.com
2. Microsoft.com www.microsoft.com
3. Amazon.com www.amazon.com
4. Aol.com www.aol.com
5. Bbc.co.uk www.bbc.co.uk
The full Alexa explanation of the Traffic Ranking indicates that this ranking is based not only on the number of visitors to the website but also the number of web pages visited by them on the website.
There is no direct relationship between this ranking and the number of visitors to a website, and it is of course based only on those who have installed the Alexa tool-bar. However if you compare your website with the competitors' websites, it is likely that the same types of people visit both websites and the traffic rankings can therefore be compared. It is reasonable to assume that these rankings would have a direct correspondence with the actual traffic statistics. To give a point of comparison to a website that deals with a reasonably technical group of visitors, the SMM website currently has an Alexa rating of 600,470. Here are the comparable values for a number of companies selected for a Google keyword search for 'marketing montreal'.
#1/2 SMM - Alexa Ranking 600,470
#3/4 Marketing Association - Alexa Ranking 1,133,599
#5 Gray Cactus - Alexa Ranking 716,230
#6 L�ger Marketing - Alexa Ranking 1,848,142
This would suggest that in terms of website traffic, relative to these 'competitors', the SMM website is probably performing satisfactorily. It should be noted that the Alexa Ranking applies to the website/domain as a whole, so that it does not give a good measure for a business activity that is only a small part of a total company website/domain.
Of course increasing website traffic is always an advantage so the effort should not stop, even if the Alexa ranking seems satisfactory versus the competition. However this approximate analysis will give a good indication of whether the website traffic problem is one of extreme urgency that needs to be handled as a priority.
DO WHAT IS NECESSARY TO GROW YOUR WEBSITE TRAFFIC
So you're now understanding how many visitors you have to your website. It's probably lower than you would like. One important thing to realize is that as mentioned above, this count includes spider visits as well. This may be a significant part of the total traffic. What are the steps to be taken to increase that visitor traffic to the website?
GETTING WEBSITE TRAFFIC FROM SEARCH ENGINES
Website traffic that is looking for you is the best. Most people will instinctively think about search engine rankings for keywords as a way to boost website traffic. It is certainly an important contributor. However if a website has been constructed to be informative for human website visitors, then an important slice of the effort needed has already been invested. To go into details on what is needed beyond that would go outside the scope of this Newsletter. However the web page showing the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Key provides a short checklist on what is involved.
MAKE SURE THAT YOUR WEBSITE IS SEARCH-ENGINE VISIBLE
Some websites put obstacles in the way of the search engines so that they become almost invisible. If the website is not 'search-engine friendly', then a useful slice of website traffic may well be missing. You can check whether you have problems here by checking how many web pages have been indexed by each of the search engines. This involves doing a search of the type
to find the number of web pages that a particular search engine has indexed. It is worthwhile checking in all three of the major search engines, Google, Yahoo! and MSN. The same search works in all of them.
If the website has been up a few months and few or no web pages are indexed, then there are three major problems that could be causing this.
Your website has been banned
Another factor to allow for is that images do not provide any information to search engines for keyword emphasis.
In each case, there are ways of reducing the 'search-engine friendly' problems to a greater or lesser extent. These are only partial solutions but are an essential first step before considering other aspects of search engine optimization.
Websites in frames cause a multitude of problems for their human visitors and for search engines and should be avoided. Most competent web designers now understand the problems created by frames and no longer use them. The framing effect, if thought necessary, can be achieved with other programming methods that avoid these problems.
The only sound advice is to completely redo the website without frames. If it is not the appropriate time for that, then some measures can be taken that will improve the situation slightly with search engines.
- Ensure the Title of the web page is well constructed with any appropriate key words.
- Add a Description Meta-tag that describes what the company does for its customers
- Add a block of text within the < NOFRAMES > section of the web page that provides an 'Executive Summary' of what the website is all about and with information on the contact coordinates of the company.
This gives only a fraction of the visibility with search engines that a website without frames can achieve, but it is much better than doing nothing.
Flash websites have content that is not visible to search engines in a similar way to the content of framed websites. So the same steps must be taken as set out for framed websites. The only difference is in how the third item is handled. There are a variety of possible routes. The correct way is to add HTML content within the object that embeds the flash file. A fuller comparison of different methods can be viewed at the McAnerin Network's website.
YOUR WEBSITE HAS BEEN BANNED
The search engines have Terms Of Service and may ban from their databases any web pages that contravene these TOS. Unfortunately some website owners may not realize that the methods suggested by some of the more aggressive search engine optimization consultants do run the risk of such bans. This is a big subject and anyone interested is encouraged to contact SMM directly with specific questions. The only solution is to remove whatever has caused the ban and inform the search engine of the action taken. Usually after a month or two the ban will be removed provided there is no new infraction of the TOS.
IMAGES CAN ALSO REDUCE SEARCH ENGINE VISIBILITY
Search engines only look at the digital content, in other words the bytes of information in the web page files. Search engines cannot extract the information in any lettering that may be part of an image. An image provides essentially zero information to a search engine spider. This also is a problem for any human visitor who has visual impairment and is relying on a text reader to give an audible indication of what is on the web page. For such human visitors, images should be assigned an < ALT > tag that includes some word explanation of what the image is portraying. The content of this tag is also read by the search engine spider and forms part of its assessment of the content of the web page. So this is the way to ensure images do not make some part of the web page content invisible.
GETTING WEBSITE TRAFFIC FROM BACKLINKS
Not all your potential customers are doing searches on the Internet to try to find suppliers. Some may turn to appropriate directories or trade associations listings, most often now on the Internet rather than turning to printed copies. Such links on other web pages that "point" to your own website are called back links. You should try to register your website in as many such directories as seem useful. The Open Directory Project is a particularly important one, but often takes an extremely long time to accept submissions.
One powerful way of finding what may be important back links is to look at the back links that your competitors have. This can be done by the following search on the major search engines.
This same search works on all the three major search engines. The results for Google are only very partial, while the Yahoo! list is usually the longest and the MSN list is between the other two. All three may give interesting pointers as to where the competition has decided to be visible.
Another reason for getting such back links is that Google does include the number and importance of relevant back links in determining how high web pages will rank in keyword searches. However mindlessly seeking reciprocal back links from a host of unrelated websites is a waste of energy and may cause human visitors to find the website less credible. Such irrelevant reciprocal links have no benefit in Google ranking, but are not believed at present to create any ranking penalty either. It should be noted that linking to some "bad" domains that have indulged in unacceptable practices can result in a website being banned. Extreme caution is therefore appropriate in thinking about back links.
WEBSITE TRAFFIC FROM YOUR BLOG
New content added to your website is good for your human visitors to encourage them to visit from time to time. It also encourages the search engine spiders to visit more often and gives you an opportunity to add more content for relevant keywords. One way is to have a Newsletter and hold back issues in an Archive section.
The way many companies are going is to have a company blog. Blog is short for Weblog and takes the format of a journal. An earlier newsletter, Business Blogging Now, will give you more detailed information. In short, the blogging software is ideal since the entries are developed within an infrastructure of interlinking web pages that are particularly search-engine friendly. If your company is making news on a regular basis, a corporate blog may be a powerful booster of website traffic.
WEBSITE TRAFFIC FROM YOUR INTERNET MARKETING AND SELLING EFFORTS
Finally and most importantly among the website visitors are the hot prospects who are encouraged to visit the website by some direct contact from your company. It may be that they receive a business card with the URL from one of your reps at a trade show. Or perhaps they have subscribed to a company newsletter and receive e-mail copies from time to time. Such visitors are hopefully moving up along the AIDA scale:
From Awareness to Interest to Desire to Action.
Encouraging such prospects to visit your website should be only a part of the total way you try to make a favourable impact.
MONITOR YOUR ACTUAL TRAFFIC AND LEARN FROM THAT
The hard work is now done and your website is tuned for more visitor traffic. That isn't the end of the effort. It should be seen as a working asset that you have created. Now you should operate this asset for maximum performance. It's not like a billboard that just sits there. With a billboard, you have no idea of who may have passed by and what they may have looked at. It's a world of difference with a website. Every visitor to your website leaves a trail of footprints. That's what the raw visitor log files show. So by regularly analysing the patterns of visitors' movements around the website, we can identify what is working and what could be improved.
For high traffic websites, more intensive methods of identifying visitor paths can be used, for example using cookies. These can give more precise pictures of how the website is performing. However they will usually involve some paid service for the setup and the analysis.
In parallel, it is valuable to analyse the search engine positions for your own website versus the websites of the key competitors. There's a number of questions it is handy to answer:
- Have they more web pages being indexed?
- Have they acquired any interesting new back links?
- Are these back links ones that would be useful for your website?
- How have the rankings for important keywords with the major search engines changed for your website and for the competitors?
Without such a review, the website owner will be completely in the dark on how the website is performing. In this tough, competitive world with global marketplaces, the chance of a laissez-faire policy producing satisfactory results are pretty slim. Singing Que Sera Sera is unlikely to make it all right.
If your company wishes to boost your website traffic, SMM will be happy to help you figure out your best approach. Our help can be configured to meet exactly the needs you have. Our strengths, experience and creativity can complement those of your company. So write us a Message today on what you're looking for without obligation.
Added to site 14 September 2005
As a service to your readers, why not link to this article on Boost Your Website Traffic.
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