What we are talking about here is “Search Engine Optimization” or SEO. This is a big topic, but there are a few simple things anyone can do to get started. I will assume you have already set up a blog or web page somewhere.
When you search Google or Bing for something, how do they pick which web site goes to the top of the search? There are really only two things that get a link to the top:
- Money – you pay for the privilege to be at the top.
- Relevance – lots of other web sites link to yours.
Starting from these two foundational facts, we can arrive at a nice set of practical steps anyone can take to increase web traffic.
Ads – Mostly easy and not as expensive as you think
Internet advertising allows you to target your ads to narrow groups of people. It also allows you the option of paying more when you really want to be noticed. There are many ways to purchase ads online, however there are two major players everyone should know about: Google and Facebook. Both platforms track extensive information on their users in order to sell ads, and they make billions doing so.
Note: It is a common misconception that Google and Facebook sell information about you to advertisers, but this is not true. What they sell is the ability to put an ad on their network and say what kind of people should see it. This keeps your private information private while allowing advertisers to approach you. It’s a pretty neat system, actually, because it helps ensure that most of the ads you see online are relevant to what you might care about. For example, I’ve personally never seen an ad about going to monster truck rallies, but I see ads all the time about electronic gadgets and video games, things I do actually shop for. Targeted advertising is truly a powerful service for both businesses and individuals.
The main difference between Google and Facebook is how they are able to target ads:
Google: What? Google can target ads because of what they know about a user’s searching habits. Their ad system is built around buying specific words or phrases. So let’s say you have a web site for making custom Lego kits. You might want to buy ads for specific word combinations people are typing into google search such as “custom lego”, “lego kits”, “lego building”, etc. You could also try branching out by buying “star wars hobbies”, “batman stuff”, “bored with netflix”, etc.
Facebook: Who? Facebook knows much more about who you are as a person. They know how old you are, family status, job status, interests, hobbies, etc. When you buy ads on Facebook, you are buying into a demographic. Facebook’s ability to do this is unparalleled and most people don’t realize how powerful it is (expect to complain about it). Using the custom lego kits example, a useful demographic might be “single men, with tech jobs, aged 25-35”. Another relevant demographic might be their mothers who would buy custom kits as a gift for their children: “educated married women, ages 45-60”.
On either platform, you can set yourself up with a budget to limit your spending over a period of time. You can also specify the maximum amount you want to spend on any single ad. Spending less means that others who are spending more will get their ads in first, but there is usually enough to go around. If there is not too much competition in your subject, you can reach people for around 20 cents per person. The “gold mine” for any particular ad is to find a niche demographic or search term without a lot of crossover into other domains. This will give you cheap ads because there is little competition, and high click-through rates because the targeting is so precise.
To wrap up: buying ads is a good way to jump start a page. I’ve done it several times and it is pretty easy to generate traffic. The harder part is to know what kinds of ads work best for your money. This takes a lot of experimentation and all of the ad providers have tools to help, but there is still some art to it. There is also a art/skill to helping users stay on your web page and become “converted” by doing something such as reading more articles, buying something, or leaving a comment- that’s a more advanced topic I’m not going to cover here.
Links: The path to “free” advertising
Remember WebCrawler? Alta Vista? Those were the big search engines before Google showed up and blew them all away with a powerful search algorithm that was fast and accurate. The way Google accomplished this was to look carefully at which sites that got linked to the most. The links were evidence that other people trusted the web site as a source of useful information. The actual algorithm is not quite that simple, but it still boils down to having a site that is relevant to what people are searching for.
If you don’t want to spend money on ads, then you can still generate traffic by triggering the things that the Google algorithm is looking for. Here are some ways to do that:
- The most important thing is to put lots of excellent, desirable content on your web page. There has to be a reason for people to go there. Some ideas:
- Write your own stories and articles
- Report news that interests you
- Review products, movies, other web sites, etc.
- Post the status of projects you are working on
- Participate on the internet to generate interest for your web site. E.g.: If you make a web site about lego building, then find social media web sites where people talk about building with legos and use those platforms to write about your web site and send links.
- Create a unique brand name that is easy to remember and unique for searches. I made a program a while ago for little kids and I looked for a name that would for sure rise to the top because it was unique. I ended up calling it “PixelWhimsy” My web page is still the #1 hit for that term. To test the uniqueness of a name, just do a Google search for it. E.g.: check out the hit counts for these different terms:
- “Lego” 743,000,000 hits
- “LegoBuilder” 186,000,000 hits
- “SpaceLegos” 341,000 hits
- “legonaut” 11,600 hits
- “LegosInSpace” 342 hits
- “Uberlegonator” 0 hits
By no means is this a comprehensive list for generating web traffic. I’ve left off some powerful options such as getting published or getting an influencer to mention your site. However, what I have listed here can at least get some eyeballs onto your page. The only other piece of advice I have is to make sure there is a way for users to contact you. Actual contact from a user is a rare and insightful and thus valuable.
Hope this helps and good luck!
PS: If you want to dig deeper, here is a site that has a good comprehensive introduction on SEO: https://moz.com/beginners-guide-to-seo