WEBSITE REMEDIES Expert help for ailing sites

Boost traffic to your Web site

A consultant breaks out SEO tricks and other Web marketing tactics to help an online lamps retailer bring more traffic to her site.

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(Fortune Small Business) -- In our new feature, "Website remedies," Fortune Small Business enlists Web marketing and search-engine optimization specialists to analyze small-business Web sites in need of an overhaul. Could your site use a makeover? E-mail us at fsb_mail@timeinc.com. Plus, share your tips for improving our featured sites in our discussion forum.

Dear FSB: I do not get traffic coming to my Web site. On a very stringent budget, what can I do to improve in these tough times?

-Lidia, Palmdale, Calif.
http://www.elampsanddecor.com/

From Jean-Pierre Khoueiri, CEO of Constant Click:

A wide variety of traffic-driving Web site changes won't cost you a penny.

Let's start by removing unnecessary distractions from your homepage. On your left-hand rail, and in a header on the front page, you have a "Get Your Own Website" link. What is this for? Do you want someone to sign up as an affiliate - or are you selling both lamps and Web sites?

Visitors won't understand what you mean by "Get Your Own Website"; if this is intended as an affiliate program, you'll want to change the name of the link to "Affiliate." Then, on the page itself, you'll want to explain what an affiliate program is, how it works, why someone should become an affiliate of your company (and not one of its rivals), and how they will benefit. It's also industry standard to have your affiliate program link in the footer of your site, rather than more prominently displayed - your main purpose is to sell lamps, not to sign up affiliates. For examples of a standard link-in-footer structure, see Amazon.com or Zappos.com - or, in your own industry, LampsUSA.com.

You also have both a "Contact Us" and "Contacts" link. The "Contacts" link is broken and needs to be removed.

Next to the "Get Your Own Website" link you have a page titled "Links." Two problems - first, your Links page is empty. But beyond that, the title itself, "Links," is an outdated way of promoting other sites. It would be much wiser to remove this link and instead use your "Articles" page as a way to promote other relevant sites and any sister companies you may have.

Search engines, especially Google (GOOG, Fortune 500), can penalize your site if you have a links page with an excessive number of links on it. If Google thinks you're selling links, it can ban your site from its index. It's temporary for a first infraction, but if Google makes the ban permanent, you might as well shut down and start over: Negotiating with Google to remove the penalty is like being Wile E. Coyote chasing the Road Runner. Success is unlikely. (For those who want to try, Google has a "request reconsideration" form posted on its site.)

The modern way to promote other sites is to write about them, and give your honest opinion, in a blog. This is a good way to freshen up the "Articles" page of your site: Consider integrating blog software like Wordpress and writing regularly. You should cover any topic that interests you or your potential customers, such as the importance of lighting for setting the mood. Headlines like "The World's Most Expensive Chandeliers" can be a hook to bring in readers and keep them on your site.

In order to improve your search-engine results, you'll need to improve your title tags and description tags. For some search engines, you'll also want to tweak your meta keyword tags. (Meta keywords don't work for Google.) For example: Your homepage title tag, currently, "eLamps and Decor:Decorating Through Bright Ideas," would be better if it were more descriptive. You might consider these more relevant keywords that will help improve your search-engine rankings: Lamps Online, Lamps and Lighting, Buy Lamps.

Use these same keywords in a well-written description, and then make sure to include them on the content section of your homepage, and you'll be off to a great start at improving search-engine results and increasing traffic.

You should also start increasing your inbound link count, which is a strong signal to search engines, especially Google, that your site should appear in their top results. Inbound links are when other sites link to yours with descriptive text that helps establish your site's focus and identity: for your site, "buy lamps" would be helpful inbound-link text. The more inbound links you get from reputable sites, the higher your search-engine ranking will be.

Google uses a system called Page Rank to evaluate how highly your site ranks in comparison to others. The scale runs from 0 to 10, with 10 being the top score. A 10 score is reserved for Google itself and a handful of other sites. When pages with a high Page Rank link to yours, it helps improve your own rank. Yahoo (YHOO, Fortune 500) has a Page Rank of 9; its Yahoo Directory is one of the only sites with a high Page Rank that you can purchase a link from. It costs $299 per year, but it's well worth it. You should also submit your site to directories including business.com, JoeAnt.com, botw.org, dmoz.org, YellowPages.com, and any home-decorating directories you can find. Make sure to use the keywords I mentioned above for your title in the links as well. For more search-engine optimization tips, I suggest reading SEO Book, a blog by Aaron Wall that's filled with tips.

Also consider listing your site on wedding and registry directories, so that when someone needs a gift idea they come across your site and products. I like Gifts.com, My Bridal Favor and The Knot (KNOT). You can also increase your online visibility by setting up a storefront on Amazon (AMZN, Fortune 500).

Finally, consider redesigning your site to make it more visually appealing. Popular home decor sites are generally light and airy; your site's dark brown color scheme gives it a drabber feel. A new design won't help increase your visibility on other sites, but it will help ensure that once customers arrive on your virtual doorstep, they stick around.

Jean-Pierre Khoueiri is CEO of Constant Click, a Web site analysis and search-engine optimization firm in Coral Gables, Fla.  To top of page

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