In the final part of our three-part guide on creating a website, we'll cover ways to increase the visibility of your website to bring in more visitors; something worth thinking about before you start to build your site, as well as when you're looking to make ongoing improvements to it in the future.
We'll start by looking at how to make sure your pages are appealing to search engines, move on to using social media and inbound links, then cover how you can apply for free advertising from Google and finally look at ways to monitor your progress.
You could have the most beautiful website in the world, but you wouldn’t get any benefit from it unless users can find it. Once you’ve got a website up and running, you need to put some work into advertising its existence to your audience.
- Optimise your pages for searchers
- Use Meta Descriptions
- Encourage inbound links
- Get a sitemap
- Be sociable
- Do your redirects
- Free money!
- Tracking your progress
- Keep improving
1. Optimise your pages for searchers
Even for those who already know about you, internet search engines are how most people will find their way to your website. That's why it's important to ensure that your website is shown near the top in relevant online search results, a practice called 'Search Engine Optimisation' (SEO).
Although the factors that result in a page on your website appearing in a search result are hugely varied and complex, the most basic step is to ensure that you are providing the right signposts for search engines to work out what your pages are about. Ideally, all of the following elements of each page on your website would contain a keyword or phrase that the people it is aimed at might use in a search.
NB. Since you will be competing against other websites (many much larger or more established than yours), it's a good idea to make these reasonably specific rather than general: you have a better chance of being shown near the top of results for 'choir in Elsham' than for just 'choir', or 'barbershop concerts' than 'concerts'. Always consider what you would be typing in if you were looking for something.
On most websites this is the page's title. It appears:
- in the user's browser tab
- as the title in search results
- when the page is shared on social media.
This should be an accurate and concise description of a page's content, and be no more than 55 characters long (including spaces). It is often useful to include the theme of the page first (with any keywords near the beginning) with the brand/group name following after a dividing line - this also helps you avoid using the same title on more than one page.
For Making Music, we include the page's theme (ideally with keywords) followed by ' | Making Music' - e.g. 'Free event poster templates | Making Music' or 'Insurance for music groups | Making Music'. Likewise, see the example below - our 'Find a Group' Page Title (in the red box) as displayed in Google.
It's also important to remember that it will often be the first (or only) thing people see before they click on a link to your site, so try to make sure it's something that would appeal to users.
This is often overlooked on website homepages: a title of 'home page' or 'home' or 'welcome' will not help users or you very much, but 'Elsham Choral Society | Lincolnshire's Top Choir' or 'Jazzmatazz | Leicester Barbershop Singers' might.
URL (web address)
Ideally your URL (which will often be an automatic result of your page's title) would also contain a word that’s likely to be searched for.
- Use hyphens to seperate words (these are easier for both search engines and humans to read)
- Don't make them too long (ideally 50-80 characters)
- Remove unwieldly punctuation (some punctuation will automatically be changed to weird characters - e.g. '&' becomes '%26')
- Structure your website (and so URLs) to show the context of your pages (e.g. 'www.elshamchoral.com/concerts/russian-masters' rather than 'www.elshamchoral.com/russian-masters')
Image 'alt tags'
Search engines can't 'read' images. Neither can screen reading technology (used by some visually-impaired users).
Instead, they rely on 'alt tags' – text descriptions attached to images – to know what is contained within an image. As a result, you should always use a descriptive 'alt' tag, ideally with (once again) words or phrases that might be searched for.
E.g. 'Image_8872' is not useful, but 'Jazzmatazz perform at the National Barbershop Convention in Leeds' is.
- A great introduction to all aspects of SEO
- Tips for SEO from Google
- Tips on how to identify good keywords and phrases to target
- Webmaster Tools: a free tool from Google to help you with SEO, linking and finding who you best referrers are
2. Better Meta Descriptions
'Meta descriptions' (essentially a technical name for page summaries) are your opportunity to 'sell' your page to potential visitors from within search results.
By default, search engines will take the first bit of text on your page (c155 characters) and display this as your meta description. However, in many systems you can set these manually (separate from the content on your page, giving you more flexibility). Whichever case applies to your website, you should aim to make these show your page to best advantage: try to make them descriptive, concise and include a call to action where relevant.
E.g. the meta description for the Making Music homepage is: 'The UK's organisation for amateur music. Advice, discounts and public liability insurance for non-profit music groups and individuals. How can we help?'
2. Encourage inbound links
As well as looking at the content on your page, search engines will look to see who, if anyone, is linking to them to try to calculate how trusted and influential your page is for a particular phrase or keyword. A link from, say,The Guardian website (or from the Making Music website) will be counted in your favour. Where the linked text includes the key phrase or keywords you want to show up under, this will be even better.
On that basis, it is worth trying to ensure you have well-written links pointing to your website from e.g. websites of local authorities, libraries, events listings and local newspapers.
A caveat: beware of plastering your website address all over the web just for the sake of it. If search engines think that these links are not relevant they may be ignored or even lead to you being penalised in your search rankings, so make sure you're only putting them up where a user would find them useful and relevant (e.g. - link from local tourism board = good, link from foreign software company = bad).
- Introduction to inbound links and how to use them
- Free tool to identify links pointing to your website
4. Get a sitemap
A sitemap is a file or page that lists (with links) the web pages of your site (e.g. this is the Making Music sitemap).
This provides a list of pages and a hierarchy to search engines (invisible to your users) that helps them find and list your web pages. It won’t, on its own get you to the top of search rankings, but it will help ensure that your pages are visible and generally better rated.
Many website systems (e.g. Wordpress, Wix etc.) will automatically generate this file, but it's worth checking and creating one to have on your website if they do not.
5. Be sociable
If you have a social media profile, one easy thing to do is to drive traffic to your website from social media via 'teaser' information.
For example, if you have a new update or story, rather than giving it all away in a long post on Facebook, write a short bit of teaser copy that will intrigue users to want to know more, with a link to the full item on your website.
By driving traffic through you’ll get more benefit from search engines and you’ll have a greater chance of users doing something like buying a ticket or signing up for a mailing list while they’re on your site.
6. Do your redirects
This is very important if you're replacing an old website with a new one.
If you don’t point users (and search engines) automatically from old URLs to the equivalent new ones, you will lose out on traffic from all the links around the web to your old site. You’ll also lose a great deal of the quality listings you have built up in search engines, as they will notice that your page has gone and remove the item from search results.
In an extreme scenario, if all of your new site's URLs are different to your old site's URLs, any listings in search engines would disappear altogether, and it would take a long time to get the equivalent new pages displayed to searchers.
To get around this, ensure that you:
- make a list of all the old site page URLs (if your 'old' website has a sitemap - usually to be found at www.example.com/sitemap.xml - then this will probably be the easiest way to get this list)
- work out what the equivalent new page URLs are for these pages
- set up '301 redirects' from the old URLs to the new versions (your webmaster can help you with this, or there are how-to guides online).
- More detail on 301 Redirects (technical)
- Examples of different codes you can use to make redirects
- Unsure if your redirect is the right kind? This tool will tell you where it redirects from and if it's a 301 type)
7. Free money!
If your group is a registered charity, you can apply for a Google Ad Grant, that gives you up to $10,000 per month free advertising in Google search results (your adverts would look like a normal search result but appear at the top or side of the page of results).
This is a really great way to get your website shown to users looking for particular search terms when Google might otherwise think you are not big/important enough to show.
It’s not difficult to apply, and you don’t need to spend any money or too much time. You do, however, need to have had a look at how to use Google Ads and have clear goals so that you can describe how the grant would be used.
8. Back tracking
You’ve gone to the effort of clarifying your objectives, you know what you’re aiming to get from your website, so you need to track what happens on it to be sure that it’s working.
Some platforms (like Wordpress) have their own in-built tracking and reporting, but if you want to really get the most from your website we suggest that you spend the extra little bit of time setting up Google Analytics.
It’s not difficult, and it doesn’t take long, but it will allow you to see where your traffic is coming from (e.g. is it from your email newsletter, or social media, or a flyer?), how much there is, how long people spend on your site, what they look at, which pages they leave from etc.…
As key things to look for I would suggest:
- Users (the number of individuals coming to your site)
- Sessions (the number of times anyone has visited your site)
- Unique PV (the number of different pages individuals have looked at)
- Returning vs new visitors (are people returning to your site or staying away after the first visit?)
- Traffic sources (which sources – social, email, other blogs – are driving your visitors?)
- Conversions (how often are visitors completing an action like a ticket purchase or a newsletter sign-up on your site, and what traffic sources are they coming from?)
With this data, you can then see what things you’re getting right, and what isn’t working best yet. That allows you to follow the final principle...
- Introduction to Google Analytics
- How to set Google Analytics up
- 'The small business guide to Google Aanlytics'
9. Keep improving
The fact is, no website is perfect, and a website that seems perfect now will not always be that way.
Times change, as does technology and as does your audience. The way they interact with your site will change over time and you can use the insight you get from your tracking, your understanding of your audience’s needs and the guidelines we’ve been through to keep improving where you need to.
Rather than thinking of your website as an online brochure that you create every few years and forget about in between, try to engage with it in small chunks but regularly.
Keep an eye on your stats and try to identify areas where you can improve. Don’t be reluctant to test things: little changes like the size or colour or placement of a button can have an unexpectedly large impact.
It’s through this part of the process for example, that we know that having booking forms embedded into an event page (rather than linking to these elsewhere from the page) can sometimes increase bookings by up to 10%.
Looking at it, it’s only one extra click for the user – no effort right? But that little change can have a big impact!
In these three parts we’ve covered research, planning, structure, design, content, traffic generation, tracking and ongoing improvement. We’ve gone over a lot of ground but if you aim to follow most of those principles reasonably well, you should be on your way to a useful, successful website.
If you have questions, suggestions or learnings for other members, don't forget to post in our forum topic on websites.
We hope you find this Making Music resource useful. If you have any comments or suggestions about the guidance please contact us. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the content of this guidance is accurate and up to date, Making Music do not warrant, nor accept any liability or responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of the content, or for any loss which may arise from reliance on the information contained in it.