The following is an article I wrote for another publication a while back. I’d like to re-post it here to help those who follow this blog. I’ve edited it a bit to be specific to this audience.
I’ve been a professional web designer for 10 years now. In that time I’ve seen a lot of people do good things and bad things with their websites. And by bad things, I mean: waste time and money.
However, the web is still a valid place to do business and/or promote your business. It can be a nice source of income for you too. The challenge is that most people don’t know where to start. It doesn’t help that there is a lot of misinformation out there, including a lot of very old information.
No matter what you are selling, there are certain principles that apply.
So here are 12 tips and myth busters to help you on your journey as a business owner using the Internet.
1. The Internet is Not a Magic Money Machine
A lot of people start a site or business online thinking they’ll just be rolling in the dough right away. To be fair, this has happened to some people. However, they are few. As with all businesses it can take time to turn a profit. Anytime someone is promising you fast riches: run away. As with the offline world, if it sounds too good to be true it probably is. Going into this with a realistic view of how things work and what to expect is a good start.
2. Have a Plan
Treat your web business like any other business. Start off right with a business plan and a marketing plan. You can find lots of information on how to do this at the Small Business Association.
3. SEO and SEM are Not Magic Either
There are people out there that want you to believe that there is some secret formula to SEO and SEM (Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing, AKA stuff you do to get your site closer to the top of the list in search engine results). There really isn’t a big secret, other than that most search engines only release some of their search criteria, not all. That part is the actual secret part. Part of SEO involves how you structure the HTML on your site. That part may be confusing if you don’t know HTML. Otherwise, the rest is pretty straightforward. Google makes a lot (though not all) of their criteria for search engine rankings available. Visit Google’s blog and see Google’s SEO Starter Guide. Over the years, a lot of search engines have begun using Google’s methods, so this impacts your rankings with other search engines too.
4. Promoting Your Site Takes Time
Anyone promising fast, overnight rankings is also full of it. Once your site is created, it can take weeks or even months for your site to be indexed in search engines. After that, it takes time to get links to your site. This can be a legitimate reason to hire an SEO expert: it just takes more time to learn and promote your site than you have available.
5. Everyone is Doing It
Years ago I once had someone that was angry that he couldn’t find his site by just typing photography in Google. Some of his problem (among many problems) is that there were literally hundreds of thousands of other photographer in the world, all using the same SEO techniques. He didn’t stand out in any way to increase his search engine rankings. Remember this when trying to increase your rankings: everyone is doing the exact same thing you are to boost their site’s visibility. Which brings me to…
6. Incoming Links Are Your Friend
Other sites linking to yours is pretty much the single best way to improve search engine rankings. Think of search engine ranking like a popularity contest. The more sites linking to you, the higher you go in the rankings. More importantly, the more popular and better ranked a site is that links to you, the higher you go. So that’s why you need to…
7. Give People a Reason to Link to You
You can join link exchange sites, but these are becoming increasingly unpopular since it looks like search engines dislike these tactics. Additionally, many of them may even charge a fee to be listed in their directory. So if you want links to your site, give people a reason to link to you. Sure, you’re an awesome person and all, but so is everyone else online. So they don’t care. Write in a blog, offer something for free, put up something original and funny or interesting. Think of what you can offer the surfing public that may be of interest to them. Then, when other people see a site they like, they’ll link to it to show it to others.
Some of you may know my husband’s site, Skippy’s List. To demonstrate how link popularity works, go to Google and type in Skippy. That’s it. Where is he listed today? Typically, he’s in the top 6 sites listed. But even to be on page 2 is impressive with just using that one word. His site was originally created before there was much SEO work done to it in terms of HTML and how the sites is put together. Although it has evolved over the years in that direction, admittedly, I’m also behind SEO work on it in terms of HTML since some things have changed. But there he is, still high ranked, all because of the number of people that continue to link to his site. He found something that makes people want to link to him: humor.
8. The Words are the Key
Most people come to me and say they’ve heard about keywords that go in the code. Yes, there is a type of metatag (HTML stuff) called keywords. Most search engines no longer use that is criteria in their search results. The important keywords now are the ones you can see on the page. If you want someone to find your business by typing in “vacuums for sale” into Google or “Dallas yoga”, all of those words better be on the page somewhere. If only the word “yoga” is on the page, then the other words used in the search is going to bring up pages from people that did have all those words on the page. The fact that those words are on other parts of your site make little difference in the search. If the words are not all on the same page, forget it.
9. Don’t Try and Game the System
There are things you can do to improve your search engine rankings that may work for a while but have a good chance of getting you kicked out of search engines. This is what we call Black Hat SEO. Read Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and at the bottom of the page, see what Google counts as naughty and avoid those tactics. Study up on other black hat SEO ideas and make sure you’re not doing those too.
10. Get Reviewed
Look for directories you can be listed in that allow users to rank businesses. You can get reviewed at sites like InsiderPages, Yelp, Google Local Business, Yahoo Local Business, YellowPages.com, Local.com, Superpages.com, and more. This can be a little more challenging for web based businesses; for example, Yahoo Local Business will not list me since I’m a web services business. Other sites won’t list you if you don’t have a physical location; in my case, I list my home address since most clients call or email before meeting me anyway.
11. Online Marketing Isn’t Always Free
Gone are the days of free search engine and directory listings. Ok, well, mostly gone. There are some like Google. But increasing numbers, such as Lycos, will want to charge you to be listed. You can get a free listing in Yahoo’s search results, but to get into their browsable directory expect to pay $299/year. Set aside funds for search engine listings. And again, some review sites like CitySearch will also charge a fee. You may find smaller directories and specialty directories (such as those that are industry-specific) that will list you for a fee too.
12. Stand Out From the Crowd
How many AAA Plumbing or AAA Electrical are there out there? A lot. Not to say this is a bad thing. But if you are using this as your business name it may also make it harder for you to be found. You’re one of many using the same name. Consider rebranding yourself with a name that stands out. I can type GeekArtist into Google and there I am. It’s different from all the other websites. It makes it easy for me to be found if a potential client is looking for me via search engine and knows my name but can’t remember my site address.
I know it can be a little overwhelming to venture into business, especially online. Planning and research can go a long way to getting you where you want to be. And remember: it just takes a little time too.