A corporate Web site is a powerful tool in a company’s quest to win marketshare and influence customers. This is especially true for smaller firms seeking to expand awareness and sales of their products and services with modest marketing budgets.
However, there’s little value in creating a compelling Web site that few people can find, or that doesn’t lead to desired business outcomes.
That’s why it’s important to use search engine optimization (SEO) to improve the visibility of your Web site in search engines. Smaller firms that have taken advantage of recent advances in the “science of SEO” have experienced huge payoffs.
But Web site optimization goes beyond SEO. It includes strategies for “stickiness” viz: getting visitors to your site to stay there as long as possible, and enticing them to take desired actions.
Kipp Bodnar and Adam Blake know a thing or two about site optimization.
Employed with HubSpot Inc., a Cambridge, Mass.-based Internet marketing company, the duo say the first pre-requisite for optimization is finding out how your site is currently faring and what needs to be improved — and for this HubSpot offers a free tool dubbed Website Grader.
Bodnar and Blake, who have helped scores of small and mid-sized businesses use this tool, share key strategies to optimize Web sites for search engines and site visitors.
1. Emphasize your ‘call to action’
Many firms devote a lot of time and resources to building visually appealing Web pages. That’s fine so long as it doesn’t detract from what should usually be one of the main goals of a Web site — a call to action.
For instance, when analyzing the site of a specialty dental firm based in Singapore, Bodnar noted that a lot of premium home page space was used on branding-type images that didn’t include any call to action. “Relegating the ‘Make an Appointment’ tab to the right of the screen and making branding images the dominant element on the page could send conflicting messages to site visitors,” said Bodnar, inbound marketing manager at HubSpot.
He said even when branding images are used, they should, whenever possible, link to a call for action — which could be anything from an invitation to sign up for an e-newsletter, or to make a donation. “There are many ways to approach calls-to-action in a header image,” Bodnar told ITBusiness.ca “It can be as simple as including a phone number. However, focused offers that send the visitor to an landing page tend to work best.”
Blake, who is inbound marketing specialist at HubSpot, described how this was done well by Finca.org — the site of Finca International, a not-for-profit micro-finance organization that provides financial services to the world’s lowest-income entrepreneurs.
“The words ‘Donate Now’ feature prominently on the top and right navigation bars of the home page.” This is appropriate, Blake noted, as the main goal of Finca’s Web site is to collect funds for its charitable projects. Clicking on one of the pictures that scroll across the top of the home page also leads visitors to a form, where they can make a donation.
Even better, Blake said, would be to have a “call to action” message placed on the images. “Giving visitors specific things they can help with would close the loop on those powerful pictures.”
2. Blog intelligently
A blog is one of the most effective social media tools a business has for building brand and influencing potential customers.
Bodnar noted that many firms expend a lot of time and trouble creating a blog, but neglect to promote it properly or adequately.
A common practice on many sites is lumping the blog widget with other social media widgets (for Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, for instance).
He explained why this isn’t the best approach. “The blog is an aspect of social media content that a business owns,” Bodnar told ITBusiness.ca. “With Twitter and Facebook you are sharing content on a ‘rented’ platform that [the owners of these services] have complete control over.”
In the case of a blog, because it’s managed by the business it can be designed to easily integrate into a Web site and harnessed for lead generation through calls-to-action on the blog pages.
For this reason, Bodnar said, the navigation tabs on the blog page should be the same as on other pages of your site. “Having the navigation consistent makes it easy for people to find you via the blog and connect with you via the main Web site.” Also, while one can use WordPress, Blogger or other tools to create a blog that’s integrated in your Web site, it’s not a good idea to use the logo of these services to represent your company blog, he said.
The main links on your blog page should also align with your key business goals, the HubSpot manager noted. “This could include an invitation to people to do business with you, or some other call to action, or links to conversion forms that turn visitors to your site into leads.”
However, a call to action should include some give and take, HubSpot’s Blake added. “Give something back to people for their time and effort, he said. “For instance, a company that makes splints could offer an e-book that can be downloaded for free that tells you how to choose a splint.” Doing this, he said, could also be an opportunity to capture more details about site visitors than their e-mail address, so you can follow up with them later.
According to Bodnar, putting key words relevant to your business right within your blog’s URL may also be a good idea. “Search engines look at many different aspects of a Web page to determine what that page is about — one of them being the page’s URL. If that URL has keywords related to the content of the page, it will help the search engines better understand and rank that page in search results.”
Many corporate social media managers say they lack the time to blog regularly.
In such cases, Blake recommends that the firm use guest bloggers. “These could be drawn from any of your stakeholder groups — customers, partners, distributors. If a guest blogger contributed even one piece a month, that would help boost Search traffic.”
Having a Twitter account and Tweeting regularly can complement what you’re doing via your blog, according to Blake and Bodnar.
But they emphasized that these Tweets should be more interactive. “For instance, a dental clinic could do a Twitter search to find people who have questions relating to dental care and then answer those on their Twitter page. This helps build your credibility and extend your reach. You’re pereceived as an expert.”
3. Mind your metadata
Your site’s metadata — items such as your page title and page description — determines how often your site appears in search engine results and how many people actually click on to it.
For the page title, instead of using your company’s name, it often makes sense to lead off with with what you do and who you are, Blake said.
He said this has been done effectively by the Singapore-based dental group whose page title reads: Dental Clinic with Experienced Dentists, Specialist Dental Group in Singapore.
Using a description of the firm, rather than its name, in the page title especially makes sense when the business is new and trying to attract customers. In such cases, potential customers “won’t be able to search for the business name. Instead they will search for general keywords around the services that a business provides,” Bodnar noted.
Likewise, he said, the meta description (which appears below the page title in Google search results) should be enticing, but short. “It should be short because Google will only display the first 150 characters.”
While a meta description doesn’t play a big role in how Search Engines find a Web site, Bodnar said it does influence how many people click on your site’s link on a search engine’s results page. “So it’s in your interest to make the description as compelling as possible.”
And having smartly written headings, Blake noted, could help search engines navigate your site better and know what it’s all about. It also helps key those items to users.
“In your headings try to put in words that people are likely to search for,” Blake said. “At the same time, you want headings that make sense to users of your site. So it’s a balance.”
4. All about Alt-Txt and 301 re-directs
Most corporate sites use a lot of images. But many forget to fill in the Alt-Txt tab, which tells search engines what those images are. “These tabs are vital, as a Search Engine can’t see images,” Blake noted.
So if your Web site optimization report indicates that some images are missing Alt-txt, fixing that should be a priority — and it’s easy to do, he said.
Likewise, failure to do a 301 re-direct often prevents companies from getting the Google juice they deserve, despite putting in a huge amount of work into creating and optimizing their Web sites.
Bodnar explained how this happens.
“[That way] the search engine can detect all of the pages and credibility for your site.” Essentially, setting up a 301 redirect tells the search engine to look at only one version of your site.” Bodnar said. “It does not matter which version of your site you use for the redirect.”
When you fail to set up a re-direct, Blake added, the search engine looks at the two versions as separate Web sites. “This is unfortunate because after working so hard to get credit for the site you’re splitting your authority on Google. Pages get indexed across two versions of the same site because search engines get confused. If you notice this, it’s something you should get resolved quickly.”