Ways to boost hits at your site – for free

1 Dec

December 1, 2008

By Geoff Meeker

More and more of us are writing blogs, running web sites and even operating ecommerce sites.

In you fall into this category, you are interested in increasing the number of visitors – or traffic – to your site. And chances are, you’ve already received emails from spam artists, offering to dramatically increase traffic through something called “search engine optimization.”

Robert Woodhead, an entrepreneur, software engineer and former game programmer, has some advice for you.

“Ninety-nine percent of webmasters don’t need costly website optimization and submission services,” Woodhead writes, at his www.selfpromotion.com website. “Interestingly, ninety-nine percent of ‘search engine professionals’ don’t mention this – they’re too interested in charging you for their services.”

These spam artists don’t tell you that you can do this optimization yourself, Woodhead said, in a telephone interview.

“Search engine promotion is really the last step in the process,” said Woodhead, who in 1981 co-authored one of the first role-playing games for personal computers. “The first thing you do is figure out what you’re really selling and what people who would be interested in that are going to type in (search engines), and then adjusting your site so that it will score well for queries.

“It’s all about finding niche markets. You have to get into the mindset of people who are using search engines. They are not looking for your product. They are looking for a solution to a problem. If that problem can be solved using your product, that’s great… but they might not even know that your product exists.”

Woodhead’s site offers a step-by-step tutorial in how to make your website “search engine friendly,” with a focus on the fundamentals: a cleanly designed site that works well (no glitches) and, most importantly, offers a product, service or information that people actually want.

Once that is in place, you move to the next stage: site title, description and metatags. Hidden in your site’s html coding, these are the terms that search engines read first when scanning your pages, so they must be relevant to both your offering and your target audience. If you don’t know html, work these details with your webmaster. You can also access this information in the admin module, if you have a self-administered site.

I operate an ecommerce web site of my own, and must confess that I was doing a lot of things wrong; using search words incorrectly and not taking full advantage of the site title and description.

Many of us are too close to our own products or services to describe them properly, Woodhead said, so it is essential to ask customers and site visitors what they would search for, if looking up your site on the Internet.

Finally, when your site is ready, Woodhead suggests seeking out like-minded sites and asking them to link to yours – it’s this linking activity that gets the attention of the search engines. (There’s google, the biggie, and then a bunch of smaller ones.)  He also recommends submitting the site directly to engines. This is what spammers are trying to sell you, but don’t fall for it. Woodhead has developed a web tool called Tooter, accessible on his website, that does this work for you.

You simply fill out a basic form, just three or four blanks, and Tooter does the rest, submitting your site to engines that you select from a list. Best of all, it does it for free – though Woodhead does encourage a small tip of “10 or 20 bucks” if you like his service.

“I wrote my site about 10 years ago because I was tired of getting these spams saying ‘we can submit your site to the top 5000 search engines for only $100.’ Those are basically scams,” he said. “I got ticked off about it, and decided to build a site that tells you the important stuff, and makes it as easy as possible for people to do it themselves.  I was going to give it away for free, to screw all these scam artists. My wife and my mother said, ‘No you have to charge money for this.’ So I set up the site in a way that people could send me money, if they are happy with the service.”

If managing a web site of your own, you have nothing to lose by visiting this site. And, quite possibly, much to gain.

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at http://www.thetelegram.com.

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