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Do You Own Your Website?

Yesterday a very dear, long-time friend called me to ask my advice about a website. “Sara” (not her real name) is just finishing a naturopathic degree and thought it would be a good idea to have a website to market her services.

Sara’s mainly a stay-at-home mom (most demanding job I know of) to her three incredible daughters -all under 8. She’s committed to being a wife to her husband Tom first, mom second and business owner third. So, unlike many of my own clients who need full-featured, client-focused websites to grow their business, Sara needs a small, simple, somewhat causal website with few, if any features beyond her content.

Sara and Tom are good friends to my wife and I. We all talk regularly by phone. During a casual conversation a few months ago was when Sara first asked me about what she needed for a website. We talked briefly about her business needs, her audience and writing content. We also talked about the basics, such as domain name registration and hosting. It’s this conversation that spawned her new interest in having a website.

Luckly, she found the Yahoo! Small Business website. “Perfect,” she thought when she saw that she could register her domain name for $1.99 when she signed up for hosting with Yahoo!. Cheap domain registration and easy hosting, right.

It’s true, companies such as Yahoo!, SiteBuilder, and Homestead offer some great, and easy-to-use services. If you use their templated designs, you can often have a website up very quickly. And for seemingly little cost.
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Business, It's a Family Affair

As many of you already know my wife and I had our second child, a son a few months ago. His name is Ahmed Dawud Miracle. He’s now four months old and doing great adjusting to life, as my daughter says, “outside the womb.”

The birth of my son has led to great adjustments for me, my wife and daughter, and my business.

Both my kids have taught me so much about living. And they’ve also taught me about business.

Yeah, I know, sounds odd. How can a 2 1/2 year-old and a infant who freshly planted here have anything to teach me about my business?

Well, just the other day, I was working on a design. It was all but complete, except for a bug in Internet Explorer (no surprise) that was causing some of the text to disappear. It worked fine in all the other web browsers, just not in IE.

After three hours of trying to fix the bug, I had made little progress. My normally patient, calm self was disintegrating fast. And just at the point when I let out a loud UUUGGGHH!, my little girl knocked on my office door.

She was bringing me lunch – which she often does. Of course, she’s two, so she asked me what UUUGGGHH! was. I gave her some answer she could understand. Then she reminded me that I was using my outside voice inside. Which was true.
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The Keyword Myth

I had some time over the holidays to think about the past year; the projects I’ve worked on, the people I’ve worked with and many of the conversations I’ve had. It’s been a great year and I thank you for that.

As I looked back over past conversations and one-on-one consultations, I’m struck with the overwhelming amount of misinformation about search engines. And unless you’re following current trends closely, you’d have no idea if what you’re being told is accurate or not.

Probably the biggest piece of misinformation “out there” right now is about keywords – how they’re used and what they can do for your website.

You’ve probably been told that all you need to do is get a big list of keywords (some times called search terms, or search phrases). This big list of keywords then goes in your copy. It also goes in what is called a META tag in your web code. And when you’ve got this done, you just sit back and watch the search engines build your business for you.

Well, it used to sort of be that way. But it’s nothing like that today.

You see, when popularity in the internet was growing early on, search engines did track big lists of keywords and use them in search results.

Ten years ago one of the most effective ways to get high rankings in the search engines was to add that big list of keywords to the META tag.

Remember, the internet did not begin with commerce, blogging or personal interest in mind. It began with scientist wanting to quickly share data from experiments. The first search engines were designed merely to make it easy for researchers to find data for papers and projects.

So, the people who wrote the parameters for internet coding (HTML, HTTP, etc) created META tags. These META tags housed metadata that was used to catalog and quickly search for research data.

META tags have attributes. One of those attributes is called “keywords.” The keywords attribute was established so that researchers could better cross-reference similar data. That way when a research chemist searched the then internet for “peptide reactions,” they would not only get specific experiments about peptide reactions, but also data that related in some way to it.

So back then the internet was nor more than a valuable research tool. Therefore, the accuracy of data and the ease of searching and sharing that data was of the only importance. And the keyword attribute was one of the most important ways to catalog that data.

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Is Your Bio Page "About You?"

Can you be found in your website? No, really, can your site visitors find you?

I’m sure they can find out about your services, you upcoming events, and how to contact you. And you likely have a bio of who you are and what you’ve done. But do these things express who you are – you know, as a living, breathing person?

It might seem odd to ask these questions. Of course you’re a living, breathing person. How else would you have your business if you weren’t alive. What a ridiculous question.

If you have a service-based business, asking these questions is not ridiculous at all. Actually the answers are very important.

The other day I was working with a client on a website. She had written some great copy. As I looked over her homepage, her services pages, and her pages describing her services and how they could help someone, they were really good. Her writing was clear and easy to understand.

My client had done a great job writing engaging, alive and caring copy. As the audience, I could see myself clearly in what she wrote. It wasn’t hard to figure out, right from the homepage, whether or not she could help me. I felt heard and seen in how she wrote. It made me want to find out more – more about her services, and more about her.

Just as I do with many of the clients I work with, I read her bio page almost last. I like to get a tone for how someone is writing to their audience and about their services before I read how they speak about themselves. Many times the style of writing changes when I get to the bio page.

My client, like most others, was no different. She wrote in the all-too-familiar style of reporting about herself in the third person. Gone was the feeling of personal relationship and aliveness I had felt with her other pages. And while her bio was technically well written, I felt like I couldn’t find her in it.

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Distribute Your Content and They Will Come

Your website is done. Your content is really good. Your design is elegant and complements to your content beautifully. You’ve set up your enewsletter campaign with a great giveaway. Now, all you need is traffic. So how do you get it.

The answer is obvious, right? You need to get in the search engines.

Everyone you know has told you this. They even suggest search phrases (or keywords) that you should be using to get ranked high in search results. And, of course, you have your own ideas for search phrases as well. All you have to do is put those keywords in your web pages and sit back and wait for the flood of visitors.

If only it were that simple.

Search engine placement and optimization takes a lot of time and effort. More time, even, than effort. And today, with so many websites vying for those valuable positions at the top of the search results, it can be very difficult to make your website visible. Especially if you’ve just finished your first website or if you content has greatly changed. So while your efforts with the search engines will payoff in the long-run, don’t expect too much from them immeditately.

But don’t loose hope. In my last newsletter I covered seven strategies for building traffic without concerning yourself with the search engines. Today I want to expound a bit on, perhaps, the most useful and powerful of those strategies: Distributing Your Content.

There are many website owners who are constantly looking for good content. Guess what, you likely have good content. Not only that, you know how to write good content. And even if you don’t feel you content is good (who ever thinks that their writing is good, anyway?), it probably has more value than you think. So share what you have; share what you know.

Even better, write some new pieces that are targeted specifically to each of the websites you want to submit content to. Your articles don’t need to long and the writing doesn’t need to win you a Pulitzer. You just need informative and helpful articles that will add value to people’s lives.

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Is Your Site Relevant?

You have a website and need to know how to “get in the search engines.” Or, you are just starting a website and need to know the same thing. The bottom line is, whether you have a website or just beginning, you need visitors.

Conventional wisdom says get listed for some search terms (often called keywords) and you’re all set.

This isn’t necessarily the case, however. Search engines have a business too. Their business is in giving their users the most relevant results for their search. That means the role of the search engine is not about marketing your website. It’s actually about meeting the needs of their customers – everyone who is looking for something on the internet.

I often tell my clients, don’t expect help from the search engines. And certainly not right away. You won’t begin to see much traffic from the search engines until your website (and your business) have a level of relevancy on the web for your products or services.

So how do you gain relevancy? By getting lots of visitors to your site.

I know, I can hear you saying, “Wait a minute! If I’m going to get no help from the search engines in getting visitors until my site has some relevancy, but most people use the search engines, how will I ever get rankings? And actually, I’m not even sure what ‘relevancy’ means.”

Well, being a relevant website first means that the content of your website is consistent with your business focus and that you’re using key terminology in your content to describe what your business. Secondly, it means that within your business niche you are mainstream enough to be important to potential clients while being unique enough to set yourself apart from the mainstream.

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