Monday 12 April 2010

Part 1: Does my business need a website, social media and all that stuff?

We have recently seen a spike in requests from customers to explain how the Internet, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and social media in general can help their business grow, and what it actually all means. Although many customers are wanting to generate new business leads and maintain customer relationships in a relevant and convenient way, they are primarily worried that embracing the web and social media will mean that they spend more time in front of their computer and less time face-to-face with their customers or family.

This is a perfectly valid concern and needs to be properly explored in the context of one's own business before plunging into the gripping, limitless world of digital media and communications. In my next few blog posts, I will explore numerous popular technologies that may (or may not) be of business benefit to you.

Please note that while I hope you will derive benefit from this information, you shouldn't apply it without due consideration to your own business requirements, target market, resources and processes. The information provided is intended to stimulate thinking rather than answer all your questions. If you are lacking in confidence or remain confused by all the jargon and options, we would be pleased to undertake a full assessment of how you could and / or should use technology to grow your business and embrace your customers. For more information please email us at

The Internet

The Internet has been around for years now and if you are reading this blog post then you already know what a browser is and how to navigate web pages. What you may not know is how the Internet is structured, how search engines show you exactly what you are looking for, and most importantly, how you can beat your competition to the next lead or sale.

How the Internet is Structured

I don't want to go into too much detail about how the Internet is structured as I want to try and keep this as jargon and clutter free as possible. If you feel you need more meat on the bone then take a look at Rohan's blog post about using 'View Source' to assess your website structure. What I will say about the Internet and how data is structured is that it isn't all a complete mess.

Most people use browsers to view websites and pages and those browsers are all trained to interpret structure and styles using standardised codes defined in languages such as HTML and CSS. If there was no structure to the Internet it would make a search engine's job of finding relevant information much more difficult - almost impossible. So bear this in mind: how your website is structured is important. You can get away with quite a lot but for optimal search engine results and usability, you absolutely must pay attention to how your website code and content are organised.

Search Engines

Nowadays one can find almost anything on the Internet. Individuals, families, groups, businesses and governments all contribute to the data available on the World Wide Web. The brilliant minds of Sergey Brin and Larry Page that created Google developed some incredibly complex algorithms to simplify the process of finding information on the Internet quickly and easily. Larry Page devised the system we now call PageRank which tries to determine the relative importance of a set of links and therefore pages. In academic circles, the basis on which he built his link analysis algorithms made perfect sense as it mirrored the commonly used 'citations' framework in academia. It was logical that the more times a paper was cited by other academics, the more important that paper was. And so, one of the key metrics used for evaluating relevance on the Internet was, and remains, links. The more times your website is referenced by others, and the more important those other websites are, the higher your website will be ranked relative to those with similar keywords, titles and content.

So, a key consideration for your web strategy should be link building. We don't advocate buying links (even though this may seem like a quick way to improve your rankings) primarily because search engines are becoming smarter all the time and will penalise you if they discover your site has tried to take advantage of this somewhat questionable ecosystem. Do this properly and traditionally. The Internet should be seen as another marketing channel and despite being shrouded in bits and bytes and unfathomable concepts, it is still administered by people. People write most of the content on the Internet and as such, are responsible for adding links and referencing other websites. Find those people and connect with them. I will discuss more about how to do this when I talk about Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and the other social media tools out there in a subsequent posting.

Beating the Competition aka Improving your PageRank

There are literally hundreds of articles on the Internet that will tell you how to improve your PageRank and drive more traffic to your website. Here are my top tips for doing so:

  1. Include high quality, relevant information on your website
  2. Promote your site to everyone you communicate with - ensuring you include your website address on business cards, letterheads, newsletters and emails just to name a few
  3. Get your website featured on some of the bigger sites on the Internet
  4. Tell the Press about your website
  5. Keep your website running smoothly and keep it up to date

...and for more advanced users:

  1. Consider Google Adwords and other online advertising opportunities to drive more traffic to your site (more on this in subsequent posts)
  2. Provide a RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed for your website which will alert users to changes in your website content

Those tips will get you going in the right direction. Remember that essentially when your website is published it simply says 'here I am'. Now you need to get search engines, blogs and other websites to point at your website and say to their readers - 'Look there, you will like that.'

In part two I will be discussing social media and how you can personally start to drive more traffic to your website. The tools are all free, but the process of cracking social media will take time and dedication.

Good luck optimising your website and ranking higher in the search engines.

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