Get Your Website Noticed

By Jason King

Voluntary organisations can put a lot of time, effort into their website, but if no-one looks at it, that effort is wasted. This article discusses various ways of promoting your organisation's website to increase its impact.

Website promotion is something that is often overlooked. In order to get noticed your website will need to have compelling content, be well designed, have a strong presence on search engines, and a marketing strategy. And in order to judge the success of your site you need to be able to find out how many people visit your site and what they look at, so let's look at the last of those first.

Statistically speaking

Here are two questions every organisation should be able to answer: how many visits were there to your website last month and which pages were most popular?

Website hosting companies should provide website statistics and these are key to measuring the popularity of your site. You probably already have web stats - take another look at the emails your host sent you when you bought hosting, look on their website or call them to find out. Typically you access these statistics via a website using a password. Check your stats monthly to track how many people visit, what they look at and what they don't, and look at the list of referring websites to find out if they followed a link on another website to find yours.

Content is king

A website with well-written, timely, interesting content, will draw visitors back time and again. Text on your site should be concise, properly punctuated, with good spelling and grammar.

One of the best ways to get people to revisit is to keep updating the content. The news page is often the most popular section of a website. If you have regular events, plenty of opinions, and if you want to keep your audience informed, consider starting a blog for your organisation.

A few years back there was a trend for website owners to try to fool search engines by putting unnecessary keywords throughout the text of their site. Search engines have improved and this technique rarely works, in fact it can backfire and cause your site to be penalised. Use plain English and no tricks.

Five web design tips

However good your content is, people have to find it in the first place. The following advice will help ensure that bad design isn't a barrier to your web pages being found on search engines.

1. Buy an appropriate domain name

Most UK voluntary organisations should choose a domain ending in .org.uk, not .com or .co.uk. Make it memorable and either keep it short or be descriptive. Organisations with a long name might consider using an acronym.

2. HTML and CSS code should meet W3C standards

You don't need to understand the code yourself: you just need to know that you can test your web designer's work using the compliance tools at http://validator.w3.org and http://jigsaw.w3.org/css-validator. If it's not 100% compliant, it's not good enough.

3. Be accessible

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 says your website must be accessible. Remember, Google is the single biggest blind user of the Internet. Read AbilityNet's publication How to Commission and Design Accessible Websites and look at the RNIB website.

3. Give every page a title and description

Meta tags provide additional information about your pages and are used by search engines to rate your website. A short, expressive title tag is essential as it's displayed first in search engine results. The description tag, in no more than 25 words, explains what the page is about. However, the keyword tag is redundant as the main search engines now ignore it.

4. Use heading tags to structure your content

The most important headings in your web page should be enclosed in ‹h1› tags. The second most important should be in ‹h2› tags, then ‹h3› tags and so on. Other paragraphed text should be in ‹p› tags.

5. Keep navigation simple

Navigation is the means by which visitors find their way around the content on your site. Keep your menus simple and, if possible, use text rather than graphics as the links.

Get listed on search engines

Search engines are websites which search the content of other websites. Google is the best known but Yahoo, Altavista and Ask Jeeves are also popular. You need to tell the main search engines about your website and each has a site submission page. Submit first to www.google.co.uk/addurl and http://docs.yahoo.com/info/suggest then visit the Search Engine Watch website for a list of the other major search engines.

When people search for the appropriate words using search engines, you really want your website to be listed on the first page of results. So let's take a look at how Google rates websites.

Google use software called spiders that travel from website to website, remembering what's on each page and how the pages link to each other. Google has a massive database of about eight billion web pages and when people search for keywords, it compares them with its database of web pages and produces a list of matching pages.

Google uses a complicated set of criteria to judge which web pages rate highest in its listings. Factors that boost your rating include having the search words: in your domain name; in your title and description tags; in your headings; or elsewhere in the text of your page. That's why good web design is important. But above all Google rates your website highly if other websites link to yours, especially where those websites are on a similar topic to yours and are highly ranked themselves. Google has more advice for web designers at www.google.co.uk/webmasters.

Get links from other websites

Links to your site from other sites will boost your rating in search engines. Also, you want people who visit similar websites to cross over to yours. So put aside some time to build links with other organisations' websites in your field of work.

Go to any search engine and search for whatever words you think describe your sort of organisation. For each website listed on the first page of results, consider asking them to link to your own site. Make a note of their website editor's email address and send them a short message, politely asking them to create a link to your website.

Then make a list of every voluntary and statutory organisation you work with and ask them to link to you. Ask your local council and CVS to link to you. At any time, you can check how many websites link to you by typing link:www.yourdomain.org.uk into most search engines.

Maybe your site has quality information that merits a mention on wikipedia, a collaboratively written online encyclopaedia. If so, visit the site and you'll find that you can edit any of the entries to add a link to your own website.

Who should do site promotion?

When you commission your website the designer may quote an amount for website promotion, often for as much as £500. There are also companies you can pay to submit your website address to hundreds of search engines. However, you can do this all yourself. It takes only an hour or so to submit your site to the main search engines, and building links requires specialist knowledge of your field, so the best person to promote your site is you.

Marketing your website

If your organisation has a marketing strategy, make sure the website is part of it.

Get some free advertising by signing up to Google Grants. You may have noticed adverts appearing in a column beside Google's standard search results; these ads are now available free to registered charities.

Tell everyone about your website. At the very least put your domain name on all your organisation's business cards, newsletters, reports, stationery and staff email signatures. At the end of your ansaphone message tell out-of-hours callers they can find information on your website. Send a poster to local libraries. Send postcards to your members. Have display boards and a rollup banner made to carry to outside events. If your charity owns a minibus put the website address on its side.

Have a launch event for your website and send a press release to the papers. Getting your website mentioned in magazines and especially on radio or televison will really boost your web stats.

You could put content on the Internet but not within your own website, to attract the widest audience. If you have a promotional video, set up a free account with YouTube and put it online with a link back to your website, especially if your target group is teenage. Find out which websites your client group use and start using them yourself.

Word of mouth made many websites successful. Find out about online messageboards and email lists in your field of work. It's impolite to use these services just to plug your website, but engage others in conversation and ensure your web address appears in every message.

A final question for you: if your website becomes very popular, will you write new content and update the site more regularly? Can you cope with an increase in enquiries? Will you move any services online? Will it change the way you work? With success come new challenges.

Copyright © 2006 Jason King

Some rights reserved

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

 


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