WEBSITE REMEDIES Expert help for ailing sites

How to make your Web site pay off

Our SEO experts tackle a real-estate Web site looking to cash in on advertising.

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By Emily Maltby, CNNMoney.com staff writer

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Teresa McBratney, co-founder of Focus Publications, needs help revamping her site, HousingMatrix.com.
homepage_2.jpg
The homepage is clean and easy to use, but the member login should be on the upper right.
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On the blog page, the author's name should be moved down and the RSS feeds button should be customizable. Images would brighten the page and hyperlinks in the text will boost search engine rankings.
registration_2.jpg
The registration page contains many fields that may deter interested subscribers.
Photos
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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Question: We are a marketing services company that has recently shifted from licensing our content for private-label branding and distribution to offering it directly to our target audience - housing industry professionals.

We have created a Web site for the content, HousingMatrix.com, and are sending out economic newsletters to 20,000 unique users. We also have a sales and marketing newsletter, called Tips and Tools, that we send to 200,000 people each month. We put a display ad on that newsletter to help drive traffic to HousingMatrix.com.

We want to drive a large amount of traffic to the Web site, gain repeat visitors, and sell online advertising to support the venture. We are using the e-mail newsletters to promote visits to the site, and are considering accepting paid sponsorship of the e-mails. What is the best way for us to use our assets and pull the whole scheme together?

- Teresa McBratney, co-founder of Focus Publications, Colorado Springs

Dear Teresa: Our experts say you're off to a great start with the design of your Web site.

"It's easy to get around, read the content and understand exactly what you are about - targeting real-estate professionals," says Mark Thompson, internet marketing manager at Atlantic BT, a Web design and marketing firm in Raleigh. "The things you need to work on are more advanced, because it's already quite visually pleasing."

Your goals to improve traffic numbers, boost e-mail conversion rates and build an advertising model are actually all related. "The look, usability, SEO, advertising - it will all drive traffic," Thompson says.

Going meta

Let's start with some basic improvements that you can make to hook more site visitors. The first tactic is to fill in your "meta" tags with keywords so that search engines better recognize what you are about.

"You don't just want your name in there - you want to make sure you have real-estate terminology so that when people search for specific words, they can find your site even if they've never been there before," Thompson says.

Meta tags are description tags that you can customize for each page of your site. For instance, when we arrive on your homepage, the top of your browser says "Welcome to Housing Matrix..." That's a title meta tag. Change it instead to a brief description of your site. You can play with tools such as KeywordSpy.com, WordTracker.com and Google (GOOG, Fortune 500)'s AdWords Traffic Estimator to see which words drive the most volume.

When you put title tags on your inner pages, like the blog posts in your 'tips, tools and tricks' section, you should integrate both phrases that describe your site and words describing the specific content of that post.

And speaking of your blog posts, another great way to boost your search-engine optimization (SEO) is by hyperlinking text within posts to other, relevant parts of your site.

"Search engines crawl the pages and index those links and their correlated text," explains Thompson. "So if you have keywords in the post that can link to a related article, both search engines and users will be able to follow those links."

There are other ways to boost your traffic that may take a bit more time and require some help from a Web developer. We're talking about RSS feeds and social bookmarking tools.

Get social

"You are extending conversations and intelligent content into new channels if you give users the chance to share and save it," says Arman Rousta, CEO of Blueliner NY, a marketing and consulting company in New York. "This will build repeat traffic and referrals."

To ensure that people can easily share and save your content, you need to make your RSS buttons more consistent on your pages and more prominent. Users should be able to get a customized RSS feed to specific content updates, such as those within certain categories or by a given author. In addition, Rousta emphasizes that each article should have 'share' and 'save' icons at the top and bottom so that readers can easily e-mail the content to a friend or propagate it on Facebook, Yahoo Buzz, Google, Delicious, Digg or other social media tools.

Another strategy? Hop on Twitter, Rousta says. "Start a profile and follow real estate pros so they can follow you. Add feeds from Twitter posts to your site and promote your Twitter profile on your site to build loyalty with Twitter members."

You can implement the same strategy with YouTube. If you make videos available, you can start a YouTube channel and promote it on your site.

Thompson suggests picking your social venues carefully - and listen first.

"Where are they talking? Is it Facebook or another site about housing professionals?" he says. "Don't make profiles for the sake of making profiles. Make it with a reason. Join groups, but also make sure you participate in them. You need to work to develop relationships with people."

There are a few aesthetic elements on your site that could use improvement, such as your blog posts.

"Try to get some relevant images in there so that readers don't just see blocks of text," Thompson recommends. "Also try adding bullets and lists so that readers can scan them and get the point." Move the author's name to the bottom of the post - readers don't care who wrote it as much as they care about diving right in to the content.

On the registration page, you have fields that may be unnecessary and could deter potential subscribers from signing up. "If you can get away with it, just ask for the first name, last name and e-mail," Thompson suggests. But make sure the sign-up link is always 'above the fold' on each page in a prominent place. It is a call to action, one that most people are accustomed to seeing on the top right corner of Web pages.

Rousta registered at your site and logged in to see if his subscription preferences were easily modifiable. "Negative," he says. "As a member, I should be able to change my e-mail preferences and subscriptions at any time."

Luring advertisers

When your e-mails go out, it's a great idea to place ads alongside the content - so long as it doesn't interrupt the user's ability to read the content. Same thing goes for ad placement on the Web site. Currently, your ads aren't placed in distracting locations. To test different page layouts, Rousta recommends using Google Website Optimizer to see where gets the best click-through rates.

Another tip from Rousta: "Wherever you have long articles, provide pagination - page 1, page 2 - to increase page views and give more ad impression opportunities."

Right now, you're using Google's AdWords to serve ads on your pages. That's a great way for small companies without a sales staff to make money off of advertising. If you choose to get your e-mails sponsored, you'll need to seek out an appropriate sponsor for your content.

"Don't just pick any old advertiser," Thompson cautions. "You'll only benefit if the relevance is in the same realm."

SEO is a long-term strategy - you don't have to tackle every initiative at once.

"Some of the strategies proposed may take some time, effort and funding to execute, which I understand may be out of the question during these tough economic times," Rousta says. "If you can find some funding for at least one or two of them, or utilize your in-house resources to research and execute, I believe that it could pay dividends in the near term."

In our "Website remedies" feature, CNNMoney.com 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 smallbiz@cnnmoney.com. Plus, share your tips for improving our featured sites in our discussion forum. To top of page

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