Google’s Free Tools

Most businesses don’t realize that Google provides a variety of free tools to improve your website traffic. Following are some of the most useful free Google tools:

Google Analytics

Install Google Analytics on your website to track all sorts of nifty data, like how many visitors came from Anchorage, AK last month or the average time a visitor spends on your products page during your Tuesday Special Sales. Analyzing this data tells you how successful (or not…) your web initiatives are.

Google Local

Gain an edge in Google Search Results by signing up for a free Google Local listing. Your business address, logo, phone number and website address will appear on Google’s maps when users search for your products or services

Google Webmaster Tools

Get Google’s advice on how to improve your site for search with Google Webmaster Tools. See what other sites link to yours, upload your sitemap for Google to use, see what search queries lead visitors to your site and more.

Google’s Feedburner for your blog

Manage your blog’s RSS feed with Feedburner. Features include the ability to specify a delivery time, see how many email subscribers you have and customize the look and feel of your feed. Feedburner works with your existing RSS feed.

Building Your Website Traffic

Every small business knows they need a website, but it can be challenging to build website traffic. Even if you have beautiful web design and an easy-to-use layout full of great information for your customers, your job is not yet complete until customers and potential customers visit your website. This article will provide tips for success while exploring the two major ways for building website traffic: pay-per-click advertising and search engine optimization.

Pay Per Click Advertising (PPC)

Search engines such as Google and Bing offer companies advertising with a pay-per-click model. Each time a searcher clicks on your ad, you pay for it. Pricing is determined by an auction model where companies compete for higher rankings and more frequent showings of their ads.

PPC advertising is one of the most effective ways for a business to advertise. You only pay when someone searching for your keywords clicks on your ad. Keywords are words or phrases that describe your business, products or services. There is a high likelihood that someone will be interested in your products and company when he searches using your keywords.

Benefits of Pay-Per-Click Advertising

Fast results

See your ads within minutes of completion.

Trackable

Google, Microsoft adCenter and Yahoo give specific, useful data on when your ads appear and how often they get clicked.

Effective

With proper love and care, PPC advertising will grow your business results. Within a year, one of my clients went from averaging 5 leads per month from their website to over 50 qualified leads per month.

Customizable

There is complete control of your ad and landing page, allowing companies to guide visitors to relevant information.

Scalable

The budget, ad formats, ad wording and landing pages can be changed at any time.

Drawbacks of Pay-Per-Click Advertising

Stiff competition can require a large budget

If you have low-quality ads or landing pages or very competitive keywords, your budget will have to be quite large to make the first page. However, for most small businesses, a well-managed PPC campaign will cost less than most other advertising

Can backfire if not properly managed

An ad taking a searcher to an irrelevant page will waste your budget and reduce your credibility.

Tips for small businesses already using PPC advertising

  • Create relevant landing pages. When someone clicks on your ad, they are searching for a specific term. If they don’t see that term on your web page within two seconds, they will move on to a different site.
  • With Google AdWords, use the “Search Query” report to discover new keywords that trigger your ad but aren’t in your keyword list yet. Add them for more results.
  • If people searching for an irrelevant keyword often click on your ad, add them to your list as “negative keywords.” This will save your budget unwanted clicks.

About non-pay-per-click Internet advertising.

Many website directories offer non-pay-per-click advertising. They often use persuasive personal selling techniques to get companies to agree to monthly or yearly contracts. I usually recommend to my clients that they create the free listings offered by such websites as yellowpages.com and ignore the sales pitches. The directory listing websites can’t provide the same return on investment as pay-per-click advertising.

Caveat: Advertising on websites for a specific community can be helpful to certain businesses. For instance, a wedding photographer may want to advertise on The Little Wedding Guide or The Knot, places where couples gather and do research.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

The process of making your website easy for search engines to find is called Search Engine Optimization. Essentially, you pick one or a few keywords and incorporate them into your website often. If you do it well, search engines will rank you higher in searches for your keywords, but your website will still remain readable for actual human visitors.

Benefits of Search Engine Optimization

Authentic

Often, searchers believe in the authenticity of organic search results more than PPC advertising results.

Cost

Search engine optimization doesn’t require any advertising budget, only time, knowledge and effort.

Incremental benefit

A little SEO will help your website traffic a little. Put significant efforts into your SEO, and it will increase your website traffic tremendously.

Drawbacks of Search Engine Optimization

No short term results

Search engines, such as Google, may take up to six months to show the results of your SEO work in searches.

Hidden costs

SEO can require a lot of time and effort, resulting in hidden opportunity costs.

Requires constant attention

You can’t just optimize your website once, then forget about it. Good SEO requires periodic research and frequent updates to your website.

Tips on Search Engine Optimization for Small Businesses

  • Choose to optimize for keywords that will have less competition but still be relevant to your customers. Instead of “financial planner,” optimize for “financial planning in Alaska.”
  • Relevant anchor text is incredibly important to search engine rankings, but most business people don’t know what it is. Anchor text is the word or phrase that constitutes a link. Always make your anchor text relevant to the page you link to and ask others who link to your site to do the same. Good anchor text: Marketing for small businesses (tells search engines what your link is all about). Bad anchor text: Click here! (Search engines can’t determine what this links to).
  • Blogging is great for search engine optimization if it’s done well. The first rule of any blog is to update it frequently—twice a week is a good goal. Blog entries don’t have to be long, just relevant to your chosen keywords and your customers’ interests.

Web Design Essentials for Small Business

Web marketing starts with a visitor-friendly website.

For most businesses, the ultimate purpose of web design is to encourage a visitor to become a customer. To achieve that goal, websites need to be visitor-focused. Every decision about the website should answer the question, “Will this be better or worse for the visitor?”

One person needs to be responsible for the outcome of the design, and that person needs to be visitor-focused (not CEO-focused or sales-department-focused or technology-focused). There is a snide response to the adage that a symphony can’t be played by just one person: No committee ever wrote a beautiful symphony.

Just like a composer learns music theory to help his symphony achieve his vision, web designers should use the body of knowledge we have concerning good design to meet your company’s goals. This article will discuss some of these essential principles.

As I wrote week, good design is passionate and purposeful. We have established that the purpose of website design for businesses is to encourage visitors to become customers. (We’ll visit how to grow the number of visitors to your site in a future article).

Donald Norman's Design of Everyday ThingsDonald Norman wrote The Design of Everyday Things in the 1980s. The book is so brilliant that his design concepts remain crucially important and can be applied to website design today. He writes,

“Design should… make sure that:

  1. The user can figure out what to do, and
  2. The user can tell what is going on.”1

For example, if your website visitor wants to send you an email, you should make it easy for her. If your website is trying to load content for her to view, she should be able to tell what is happening.

“Okay, but how can I make things easy for my visitors?”

Design your website to behave in ways they expect and are comfortable with. Through research, we know the most viewed spot of your website is the top left corner. You can use this area to tell visitors who you are and what you do. Typically, visitors expect to see a “Contact” link on the right side of the top navigation bar.

Your website should be designed to allow visitors to use their web-browsing habits to discover content on your website.  Visitors refuse to learn a whole new way of browsing just to use your website. In his book Habit: The 95% of Behavior Marketers Ignore, Neale Martin makes a compelling case that most human behavior is driven by habits, and if a habit is broken, a person will experience a feeling of dissonance.2 For something as basic as finding the FAQ’s on your website, a visitor should never feel dissonance.

Visitors also hate to be annoyed. Many companies, in an effort to help visitors learn as much as possible, will have every link open in a new window. After closing a dozen open windows, what the visitor really learns is to never visit that site again. A good rule of thumb is to have links referring to your own site open in the same window, and links referring to outside sites open in new windows.

We can please a visitor’s sense of habit by following more advice from Donald Norman. He advocates making the most common things visible, using “natural mappings” and giving the user feedback.3

Make Things Visible

Don’t hide the most important information in menus on your website. If you want visitors to contact you, put your contact information on the home page.  This is a very easy-to-understand principle that just as easily gets suppressed through design-by-committee antics.

Use Natural Mappings

Norman writes, “Mapping is a technical term meaning the relationship between two things, in this case, between the controls and their movements and the results in the world”4 In other words, if you want your car to turn right, you turn the wheel to the right. Unnatural mapping explains why so many drivers find it difficult to turn while backing up; you have to turn the wheel the opposite of the way you want to go.

Mappings are especially important on websites because everything on computers is virtual, not tactile. For example, if you have a slideshow on your website, make sure it behaves as quickly and naturally as flipping a page in a magazine.

The Apple Mobile Me service has an admirable slideshow feature,
which showcases the use of natural mapping.
Apple's Mobile Me Gallery is a good web design example of an effective slideshow

Give Feedback

A visitor won’t know they have completed a task successfully unless you tell them. So, if they fill out a web form, direct their browser to a thank-you page. If they sign up for your newsletter or buy a product from your site, let them know it was successful.

There’s no need for fancy animations that take time to load. Visitors won’t stick around to see them. The average visitor will give your website one second to start loading before moving on to the next search result. If it takes longer than ten seconds to load, no one will wait for it.

For more detail on these aspects of design, read the first chapter of The Design of Everyday Things (or even better, read the entire book).

Website Design Examples

The best way to experience the importance of website design essentials is to visit good and bad websites. As you visit the links, ask yourself the following questions:

Website Design Checklist
What does this company do?
How would I contact this company?
How would I log into this site?
Is it pleasant to visit this website?

We’ll start with the bad websites.

If you can endure the rousing repetition of the “William Tell Overture,” this angelfire.com site is a great example of design gone horribly awry. Fortunately, it was intentional. Unfortunately for the rest of these companies, their website design was intended to attract visitors. Poorly designed websites can be found in all business sectors. Procter & Gamble is a global company, with a large marketing budget. It doesn’t matter how much money you invest in a website if you don’t design for your visitors.

Bad web design that slows down browsing

Brill Publications

Bad web designt that makes it hard to log in Web Marketing Magic
Bad web design that wastes valuable screen space Procter & Gamble
Bad web design that makes links hard to read Coastal Heritage Society

Now for the well-designed websites.

Ask yourself the same questions as you visit these well-designed websites. None of them are perfect, but they are all visitor-focused.

Apples website shows good web design in their navigation bar Apple

Shows good navigation bar design.

Google has good web design in making the search field prominent Google

Makes searching, the most important task, prominent

Peter Yastrow's web design has a good description of what he writes about Peter Yastrow’s Blog

Lets the visitor know what Peter Yastrow writes about.

Overnight Prints' good web design helps the visitor navigate and see special offers Overnight Prints

Easy-to-find contact info and prominent special offers.

Decide for yourself if the following sites are well designed or not. I’d like your opinion. Leave a comment or email me at amanda@zooinajungle.com with your feedback.

Footnotes
1. Norman, Donald A. The Design of Everyday Things. New York: Basic Books, 2002. 188.
2. Martin, Neale. Habit: The 95% of Behavior Marketers Ignore . Upper Saddle River, NJ: FT Press, 2008.
3. Norman, Donald A. The Design of Everyday Things. New York: Basic Books, 2002. Chapter 1.
4. Ibid., 23.