Success online is not automatic. But if you take care of the fundamentals, you can maximize the traffic, advertising revenue and overall success – assuming you have great content.
An easy to use, pleasant looking site inspires users to visit frequently, spend more time, and share content. Think about the websites you go to on a frequent basis, or the sites that you stick on when you’re doing a search. Don’t they always look nice and make it easy to find what you’re looking for?
One of the keys to making a site look nice is to make good use of whitespace. As Mark Boulton says on this classic article on A List Apart, whitespace gives a feeling of luxury to a site. Pick up a magazine or newspaper and look at the space between the paragraphs and pictures. This ‘emptiness’ is good for your eyes and allows your brain to process what you’re looking at. The same principal applies online.
How long do you spend on a site before giving up when you can’t find what you’re looking for? The average is around 3 seconds. Unlike roaming the aisles of Home Depot where you are likely to spend 30 minutes or more finding the items on your list, websites are a lot easier to ‘escape’. The ‘Back’ button is forever looming and thousands of other sites, with easier navigation, are clicks away. If you see a very low time-on-site or high bounce rate, it probably means your navigation needs some work. Or maybe you need a site search – one that works.
For media sites like blogs or online magazines, advertising is a critical source of revenue. But it’s tempting to use too many ads and it’s easy to put them in awkward places. Just like poor navigation, improper use of ads is a quick trigger for the back button.
Luckily, the IAB has a set of standards for ad sizes that are easy to understand and apply. Not only do these standards benefit users, they also streamline the creative process and make it easier for your sales team to monetize your content. According to this heatmap expert, putting the right ads in the right place can double or triple your ad revenues, without any additional traffic.
This one is obvious, but there is still a lot more talk than action when it comes to search engine optimization (SEO). It’s amazing how many sites don’t follow simple SEO fundamentals like using unique Page Titles on every page and keeping Meta Descriptions under the 160 characters that Google allows in search result pages.
Proper use of keywords can have an enormous impact on your traffic. It’s important to optimize your site for as many long tail keywords as you can to make sure that you’re on the first page of Google for as many terms as possible. Studies have shown that users’ eyes spend most of their time on the first three results, so finding the keywords that will get you there is well worth the effort. Check out our short long tail keywords video for more SEO tips and tricks.
The other major contributor to SEO is link building. Unfortunately, this is also the most difficult and time consuming. One of the best ways to build links is to make friends. Ideally with people who have high ranking sites that can pass valuable link juice to your site with keyword rich links. A good way to make friends with bloggers is to retweet them on Twitter and comment on their posts. After a while, you build enough rapport to politely ask for a link from one of their posts. With a little manual labor, you can also build valuable links by listing in free online directories.
Check this post for additional SEO tips and tricks.
Once users find your site, content merchandising is a great way to keep them around. Users love to see what other users like based on ratings, views or number of comments. Make sure that popular content is easy to find and is begging for clicks.
As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Good use of pictures can draw users’ eyes to a specific piece of content which will help drag that mouse cursor over as well. Illustrations, photos and diagrams are easy to find, crop and place within your content for added kick.
If a picture is worth a thousand works, a video is worth a million. 30 second to 3 minute videos are a great way to get your message across with a little extra emotion. They are great for time-on-page and provide a boost to your search rankings. Some would say that YouTube is best for hosting videos because they are owned by Google (so your page rank should get a boost), but hosting video exclusively on your site can also help to build links.
The foundation of content merchandising is writing great content! Make sure to publish frequent updates. Whether you’re a blog or a magazine, new content should be posted at least weekly. Can’t find the time? Reach out to your community and ask them to contribute articles.
For every type of content there is an active social network that is talking about it. Tapping into your specific network can provide a huge boost in traffic.
The ‘big three’ networks for blog and magazine content are Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, but ignore the upstarts at your peril. For many sites, StumbleUpon is a better source of traffic than Twitter and Pinterest often beats everything but Google!
Make sure your content is easy to share across the major networks that work for you. With easy-to-use tools from AddThis and ShareThis there’s no more excuses. But don’t be too ‘in-your-face’ about it or you will turn users off. I personally find it irritating when the sharing buttons seem to follow me wherever I scroll!
If you want to show off your Facebook fan base, The Facebook Like Box is a quick and easy way to do that. But if you only have 12 fans, that can look at a little hokey to first time visitors. In many cases, your target audience may not be on Facebook, or don’t care to ‘Like’ your site. Just because it’s the world’s biggest social network, doesn’t mean it has a high percentage of your target.
Google+ is another network that should not be ignored. Often referred to as a ‘ghost town’, it is actually a very active network with over 100 million active users. While people aren’t spending hours sharing baby photos and commenting on relationship statuses, they are consuming professionally produced content and engaging in intelligent conversation. Again, you need to know where your audience is.
Don’t forget the original social network: email. Email sharing still accounts for more traffic than every social network except for Facebook.
Speaking of email, the Email Newsletter is a great way to syndicate content to your audience. A weekly or monthly digest of the best content, latest comments and other interesting tidbits keeps your publication top of mind and brings users back to explore, engage and share.
It’s also important to have RSS feeds for your site. While RSS is past its heyday, it is still widely used by readers and can also be used to syndicate your content into other sites and applications.
As the market share for smartphones continues to increase, it becomes more and more important to have sites and apps that work well in this medium. The mobile website is an excellent discovery vehicle for your publication through searching and linking as mobile browsers account for 9% of all web traffic.
Personally, I believe that apps are still overly expensive and unnecessary for most publications, but they are a great way to add depth to your content if done right. As tablet computing becomes more ubiquitous and the capabilities of HTML5 get better, we should see a drastic reduction of costs for apps or app-like functionality that works across all platforms.
To get started in mobile, make sure that your site is formatted correctly for the billions of smartphone and tablet browser users.
Magazines and blogs provide a venue for people to gather and discuss a shared interest. The web makes it extremely easy to build and foster this community. Adding comments and ratings gives your audience an outlet to provide feedback on your content and engage with other users. More engagement means more page views and more ad impressions.
Take it a step further by soliciting content from your audience. You can do photo or video contests or start a program for user submitted content to be used on your site. Your audience is passionate about your topic and can add a new dimension to your content. Plus, when someone contributes content on your site, they are likely to tell their friends and family about it which means more page views, more engagement and improved ad sales.
Good performance is absolutely critical to building an audience and keeping your readers happy. In fact, user satisfaction is lower when a web page takes more than 1 second to load.
When it comes to apps, waiting 1 second for something to load is excruciating. If content on your app doesn’t load in milliseconds, pull it off the shelf until it does or risk turning off new users and turning away loyal ones.
Try the Google PageSpeed Analyzer to test whether you site is operating within acceptable parameters