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Ten free and easy steps to increase your website traffic

The following has all been learnt from trial and error over the last 6 months. I'm not claiming this is the definitive article on improving your website ranking, not by any means. But these easy steps have improved the traffic on this website by over 600%, without paying for directory listings.

So in no particular order here are my top ten.

1. Do not use frames

That is probably obvious to you, but in our haste to throw this website up publish in October 2004, it was the easiest method for this complete newbie to grasp.

So for 18 months we had little or no traffic, due to search engines not being able to index anything more than our home page frame. Repent at your leisure.

2. CSS Menus

The previous menu was a nice javascript drop down jobbie. It looked good, but all the page link info was off in a javascript file and again not being indexed by search engines.

As we were changing to a page layout, it wasn't much extra pain to change the menu too. So the method chosen for both page and menu templates was css. I could evangelise about css, but I'll leave that for a separate post smile

The advantage was that all our main menu sections were listed on all pages of the site, that, along with ditching the frames, improved our traffic 100%. There are loads of great sites out there with example css templates for pages and menus, try some of these CSS Zen Garden, 456 Berea St and Robert Nyman. Or if you want a selection of simple css menus, we have some examples for download on our css menu page.

3. Free directory listing & links

There are a few directories and search engines out there that will let you register for free. I have to say that my experience is that the bigger ones are very slow to list your site, but you may as well submit early and one day you'll appear.

Some free ones are the ODP (Open Directory Project), Internet Archive and Scrub The Web. Do a search, but don't be disappointed when the 'free' listing that was advertised when you googled, turns out to be $40 when you actually get to the site smile

Links are important to get you noticed. Initially we linked only with companies we knew, then we went for quality highly rated sites and then reluctantly for webring type links. I had tried to avoid the latter, but they have brought some traffic in and it boosts your search engine visibility.

There are lots of link exchanges and some are truly shite it has to be said. Check their Alexa ranking to see if they're worth putting on your site. You can link with anyone, but it's smarter to exchange links that are relevant to your site activity.

4. Validation and link popularity tools

Validating your site means that it conforms with certain criteria stipulated by W3C, which is a body that attempts to standardise website structure and mark up. An impossible task with M$ Frontpage around I feel.

While this alone probably won't increase your popularity per se. It will tell you that your site is meeting certain standards, making it more accessible and less likely to break in different browsers (except IE which has an in built ability to do its own thing from my experience!).

You can check your (x)html at W3C HTML Validator and your css at W3C css validator. There is also a Firefox extension called HTML Validator, which is very helpful, as it sits in the background and shows the following signs in the bottom right of your browser when you browse a site

correct The page validates

warning Errors on page, that can be fixed by HTML Validators Tidy clean up tool

error Errors on page that cannot be fixed by HTML Validators Tidy clean up tool

not good! Page contains characters that do not exist in the specified charset. The document cannot be checked.

This tool will also highlight any problems when you 'View Page Source' and suggest solutions. It's probably the most useful Firefox extension I've ever used.

Using a link popularity site will tell you how many other search engines and sites are linking into your site. They are a useful guide and can also tell you which sites that you've exchanged links with have been worthwhile and which ones are a waste of time. I guess they're all useful to begin with.

A good link popularity site is urlTrends.

A site that combines both accessibility and link popularity to rank your website is Silktide Tools. It has definitely helped to fine tune this site.

5. Content

That's why people come to sites and so that's what you have to concentrate on. The more quality content you have the better.

Although about 75% of our entry traffic is through image searches, they will stay long enough to save the image (I'm guessing) and then leave if there is nothing else of interest here.

Initially this site had About Us, Services and Photo Gallery pages and I was struggling with finding new content to add. I then had an email asking how the watermarking was achieved on our images. I replied with the details and since I had taken the time to write it down, I copied it into our html template, added a few help screenshots and added it to the site.

Bingo! Within a week lots of hits on the bump map/watermark tutorial. So I went into overload and wrote down all the image manipulation tasks we had sometimes had to do, to get the images on the site.

Now an increasing amount of entry traffic is through these tutorials and because these are by nature longer stays, there tends to be more ongoing traffic to other parts of the site.

So, although this is what you may feel is a waste of time (ie. it makes your company no money), the knock on is that our company is now known to more people and we've doubled our ad clicks through it. Not enough to retire on, not at all! But enough to pay the website provider charges, so that's one less bill every month. Bonus.

6. Site map

You've got a pretty good menu system, so why on earth would you want to duplicate it in a site map?

Well there are two very good reasons I can think of, but there may be more.

a. Accessibility. You want your site to be accessible to as many people as possible don't you? Try navigating this site with only the keyboard, you can do this by pressing the 'Tab' key, which will go through all the links on the page in turn. On our menu it will open links that have no sub menu (the ones with no arrows), but the sub menus are not accessible.
Now carry on until the 'Site map' link under the menu is highlighted. When you press enter you have our site map, with all the pages on the site accessible through the keyboard.

b. Even if you don't care about accessibility, which you should, the second reason is search engines. They love them! They now have a link from every page of your site to a site map with all 230 pages (at the time of writing) visible to them.

So every page gets indexed. That's 230 different page titles and 230 times the chance that a keyword search will hit upon your site. Nuff said.

You don't have to type it all in yourself either as there are a lot of sites that will generate them for you. A good one is This will generate an xml file for Google, a txt file for Yahoo! and an html file for everyone else. It's a free service for sites with less than 500 pages.

7. Concise relevant titles

I can't stress this one enough, as it makes a hell of a difference. Keep it to the point and imagine what you would type into a search engine to find the topic you have just written about.

A very good example is our GIMP bumpmap/watermark tutorial. I added this to the site in May and it was a big hit on the traffic front.

The title was
'Tutorial on using GIMP bump mapping tool as a watermark for photos' Yeah I know, it's not concise at all. More like War & Peace in fact! But it worked.

Anyway wanting to bring all the GIMP tutorial titles under the same structure I renamed it
'Tutorial for GIMP, using bump map tool as a watermark for photos', still not concise, but now a big mistake. Over a two week period I had 2 hits on it.

Once I realised what was happening I quickly changed it again to
'Bump mapping tool for watermarking photos a GIMP tutorial', but still no joy for the next 2 weeks.

So I sat down and thought about what I would type into a search engine to find a GIMP bump mapping tutorial. And that was pretty much it!

'GIMP bump map tutorial', I mean who types more than four words into a search engine, you'll just pick up loads of irrelevant stuff. Within a week (my Google xml file indexes weekly) I was back to the original traffic for that page. It sounds simple and it is really, but it's something easily overlooked and far more important (in my opinion) than bucket loads of keywords in the META tags section, which tend to be ignored nowadays anyway.

So a lesson learnt and implemented throughout the site afterwards. As an aside, I add the company name afterwards like this
'Title of page · Tankedup-Imaging'

8. Statistics

For any of these things to have an effect, you need to be able to monitor them. Most website providers give you a basic system of monitoring visits and pages, but little more than that. For an effective way to see what is happening you need a proper statistics counter.

These will give you the search words that found you, the pages that were viewed, resolutions, browsers etc.

How is this useful? Well step 7 wouldn't have been possible without it for a start. They will also help you spot problems with your site. A good example is our red enhance image tutorials.

When I posted the two methods for enhancing red in underwater images, I noticed that people who were looking at all the underwater image tutorials were not looking at the red enhance tutorial 2. When I checked the page, I sussed that although there was a forward link from tutorial 1 to 2, it wasn't very obvious. So I changed the link to make it more visible and suddenly that page was viewed as many times as the first one.

Browser and resolution stats can also hint at problems with your site. For instance if you only ever have single page visits from Safari browser or 800×600 resolution users, then it may well be that your site is breaking with them.

There are lots of free stat counters out there, which have a limit on the amount of logged information. A good one is StatCounter, with a 500 page log limit, which is enough to start with and will help you analyse what you are doing right and what isn't working.

9. Image size

This is probably more relevant to photography related sites, but all sites have images of some sort on them, so bear with me.

Possibly my biggest mistake when we first published the site, was being under the illusion that not compressing the underwater images in our gallery would be the best way of displaying them.

Consequently some of the images were 200kb plus in size! The upshot being that people would have to hit refresh a couple of times before the whole image would display. Something very few people did, I wouldn't.

When I added the css gallery it became very important to reduce the image sizes, as this was loading 24 photo images (12 thumbnails and 12 previews), plus any background and logo images. So, implementing some of the methods described in our image tutorials, I aimed for 5kb thumbnails and 10kb preview images.

I also kept the main photo images down to less than 60kb (a few that won't compress well are up to 150kb) and other photos on the site to 30kb. Obviously the images don't look as good as they would if not compressed, but what's your priority? Fantastic quality and one page view or compressed images and 20 follow on views. I think that's a rhetorical question smile

With the popularity of broadband now, this should become less important in the future, which is why we decided to add video galleries recently.

10. Something you have no control over

Luck. In our case Google image caching. Probably due to the above steps, our site became a lot more visible to Google and other search engines.

As a consequence about a month ago (4th July 2006 to be precise) our traffic doubled again. And imaging/photography is what the site is all about after all.

The images that brought people to the site did surprise me a little. This is an underwater photography site after all, with (I think) some pretty good underwater images.

So, the top three? At the time of publishing (a 2 month period) they were :

i. (642 hits) Errr a camel, go figure. I don't know the search words that got people to this camel image and I'm not entirely sure I want to know! Still, it's nice to know there are lots of camel fans out there. Bless you all smile

ii. (555 hits) An excellent close-up of a barracuda, no surprises there, it's a fantastic photo.

iii. (318 hits) And all hail to the power of a girl in a bikini. Yes Ceri is the third most viewed image on the site. I think we went into the wrong department on this imaging thing, maybe we should have stuck with our original thoughts on the company name, which was Nauti-Imaging smile

I don't think Ceri's best pleased about losing to a camel though!