I was speaking at a travel writer conference in 2006, and one of the fellow speakers was talk show host Sally Jessy Raphael.
One question that came up was what would be a good web strategy for a freelance writer? Her suggestion to the writer was simple. “Put it all up.” The other writer asked what that meant. She repeated. “PUT IT ALL UP.”
She meant put all your content up, and let the readers decide what they like. Looking at Sally’s website today, it’s not all up there any more; it’s mostly a promotional for her new radio show. It’s a nice looking site, though. She’s changed approach, but she was right then.
It’s a fact. You can’t get to the top of the Google pile if there is nothing for Google-bot to pile on.
Doing research on brand names, I am continually surprised at how little some companies do to promote their brands. For instance, many national consumer products companies don’t even have individual sites for each of their brands. They only put up sites if the brand is big. Yesterday, I ran across the iconic brand Ty-D-Bowl, which is owned by Sara Lee. They not only don’t link to a branded url, but there is no information about the brand on their site except that they make it.
At this time, there is no Ty-D-Bowl website. Wouldn’t someone love to see a Ty-D-Bowl site? Post some product images, old commercials and PRESTO, you have brand recognition. Add a game with the Ty-D-Bowl man and his boat in the crapper, and you’ve got some brand awareness.
But what if your brand is less known? What if you are a local insurance agency, restaurant, real estate brokerage, gas station, grocery or service company. Many of these companies still don’t have their own websites. And if they do, they really aren’t thinking about how they can move up the search engine rankings. With the change in technology, they can use big business strategies with a small budget.
A few tips:
- Don’t redesign your site too often. Redesign your website only after you have thought about, and gathered, the content that you want on the site. Remember, the nation’s top news site, DrudgeReport, has never redesigned. Readers have gotten used to the ugliness. Also, when you move your site, you move URLs and links. Google can find you again, but there is a lag time.
- Try Tumblr, Flickr and the rest. Set up some independent sites with your company name as a user name on Blogspot, Tumblr, Flickr, Facebook and other social networking sites. This is obvious advice, but it isn’t done very often by businesses. So we need to say it, even at the risk of stating the obvious. Registering and posting information at these sites helps to fill the first page of Google results with sites that ultimately link back to you. Be careful about sites like Twitter. Unless you like telling everyone where you go to the bathroom, it’s a lot of work. Whatever you do, don’t duplicate content on two sites. The traffic on my BrandlandUSA.com quadrupled when we took off old posts from our original Blogspot column.
- Fill out the top of Google results. If you work at a company that is pilloried online, or at risk of that, make sure that you are filling up the top mentions of your brand name on a Google Search results page. Brands that are taunted by the fringe (places like Miami Seaquarium) need to have as many social sites with their name registered. This will not only help you get good inbound links to your site, but when a person puts your company name in Google, you will bump down the bad stuff. Also, think of setting up a completely separate themed micro-site to reinforce your claim on those slots.
- You have to post to a blog to make it work. O.K., so you took a few hours out of your evening and set up a blog. Now what. Post one small item every day of the week for a week, and that will get you in the habit. Items don’t have to be big stories about your company. They could be staff photos, old brochures, links to suppliers, fun ideas and the like. Always include a link back to your main website. Post all of them at one time, as you can time them so they release each day. Make sure that each of your posts has a link back to your main website.
- Search your files. Search through all your company archives for old brochures, advertisements, etc. Are there cool old pictures on the wall? Old newsletters? Interviews with founders or old customers? Post the information online. Use these independent websites like Tumblr as your filing system for old clippings, photos, brochures and history, or put them on your site. It costs little, and every mention of your company can link back to you. You might be surprised who is interested.
- Get your younger staff to help. While you can go wild with Twittering and instant messaging, having a younger person on staff to help you through the jungle will be helpful. Ask them to think up ways to get the company’s name out on the Internet. They will FREAK when you tell them you will pay them to set up a Facebook page.
- Link to other people. If you want to get other people to link to you, you need to link to them first. Good outbound links won’t hurt your Google rank; bad ones will though. My Blogger friend Bunny Tomerlin gets thousands of hits each day; all she does is post cool pictures of fashion and society items, and then post a link next to it.
- Have links to places like Wikipedia. You may or may not like what sites like Angie’s List and Wikipedia are saying about your company, but you can’t ignore it. You instead need to get your customers to begin promoting you at these sites. So link to them. This is not just so that people will leave good comments. You have a more devious reason. When someone searches for “Joe The Plumber” and Angie’s List, if you have Angie’s list on your page, you just might get the person to bypass Angie’s and head straight to your site. Think about having a page of links to these pages.
- SEO is not a science. Google changes its methods all the time; Search Engine Optimization, while it has a fancy title, is not fancy work. If you hear of a web strategy that works with Google, great, but it might change next month. So just do what is best content-wise, and good things will happen.
- Do mention staff and product names. You want to have as many things that might catch a reader in a long-tail search. Make sure staff names, product names and geographic names are all mentioned on your site and if necessary, companion blogs.
- Don’t be afraid of linking to other sites. There is a line of thinking in web-land that you want blogs and the like to reside on your own server or site, so you get the traffic. That is a fine strategy, but you also want use other sites, as the inbound links you create help you. For instance, because of Blogspot’s association with Google, it is indexed quickly, so post a link back to your site from Blogspot.
- Don’t forget Title tags. While some debate the usefulness of meta tags, the title that appears at the top bar of a web page not only frames the page on the Google results page, it helps Google know what the page is about. Use straightforward title tags for your pages. If you want to see what your competitors use for meta information, go to their website and press “Control U” and the html code will show up.
- Make sure you have a content management system. Today, blog software like Word Press, with Content Management System software, can run your company website. Not only is the content management system a good thing for search engines, it helps you categorize and store your information for your own use. RSS feeds work well with these CMS systems, too, so its easy to migrate the website if sometime down the road, some other CMS catches on.
- Describe your location in words, not just a Google map. Words catch Google, and giving a longer description of the neighborhood of your location can help you. Instead of just an address, make it descriptive, and you have that many more chances to snag the search engines. “Joe’s Auto Service, located at the southeast corner of Palm and Vine Streets at 304 South Vine Street. The location is convenient to Mercy Hospital, the Holiday Inn in the Piney Oaks region of Anytown, U.S.A.
That’s enough for now.