Often on the forums where I moderate, small business owners will ask how to get more traffic to their websites. On the surface, this might seem like a reasonable goal: after all, more traffic is better than less, right?

Well, not necessarily.

Unless those visitors are interested in what you have to offer, "more traffic" equates to nothing more than a waste of bandwidth. There's no point in having thousands of visitors to your site if not one of them is interested in what you offer. Sure, you may get bragging rights in some quarters thanks to all that traffic, but you don't make money from traffic alone.

The success of your business doesn't depend on how many visitors your website gets -- it depends on how many of those visitors you can turn into customers.

So how do you do "better"?

Make sure your site targets appropriate search phrases. This is one of the most important aspects of the site optimization process -- and the part that most often trips up small business owners. It's not about chasing the highest-traffic phrases. It's not about tracking down the lowest-competition phrases. It's about identifying the phrases that are commonly used by real searchers who are looking for what you offer.

Make sure your site design, architecture and on-page copy is laser-focused on your best prospects. Anyone who's tried on one-size-fits-all pantyhose knows they don't (fit all, that is). Human beings come in too many different shapes, heights and weights for any garment to comfortably fit everyone out there.

Don't fall into the trap of thinking your site needs to be one-size-fits-all. We often get site owners on the forums who seem to believe their target customer is "everyone." Nope, sorry. I don't care what you have on offer, not everyone needs it, can afford it, or even wants it. When you try to appeal to everyone, you most often end up appealing to no one. Be honest about who your most likely customers are, and tailor your site to meet their needs, experience and interests.

Trust me on this: you'll have much better results if you try to be the best thing for a focused group of people than if you try to be a generic "everything for everyone."

Remove as many barriers to conversion as you can. My son loves to watch a Japanese TV show called Sasuke. (Here in the USA it's called Ninja Warrior.) On each show, 100 contestants try to make their way through a series of insanely difficult obstacles spread over a four-part course. Over the past 10 years, nearly 2,000 contestants have made the attempt. Of them all, only two have managed to complete the entire course.

This makes for totally awesome TV, but it's not such a good way to run a website. Confusing site navigation, cryptic icons, unnecessarily-long checkout processes, required registration before you even let visitors start the checkout process -- just as on Ninja Warrior, every obstacle on your website will cause more and more people to drop out.

Realistically, which do you think is more likely to lead to maximum profit: featuring a minimalist, "artistic" design? Wringing as much personal information out of your visitors as possible? Or making your site as easy to use as possible? Hint: your website is not a Ninja Warrior course.

Don't be afraid to ask for what you want. You wouldn't believe how often site owners neglect this very simple step. They'll tell you everything you ever wanted to know about their product or service, but when they get to the end of their story, they get shy about the "call to action." Don't make this mistake. Seriously, how are your visitors supposed to know what they're supposed to do next if you don't tell them?

If you want people to buy something, put your "add to cart" button front and center. If you want them to sign up for your newsletter, don't be afraid to include a honkin' obvious link inviting them to subscribe. Whatever you most want your visitors to do, just ask. Be clear without being obnoxious -- and you may be surprised at how many people will do what you want.

Can less actually be more?

One of my SEO friends once shared with me a story of how they optimized a client site, and -- because they did a better job of optimizing for focused search phrases instead of going after higher-traffic but poorly-targeted phrases -- the site actually got less traffic after their optimization job than it did before. Unhappy site owner, right? Nope. Because they did a better job of optimizing for those focused search phrases and of making the site more attractive and easy to use -- the business owner was making way more sales and profit than ever before. Even with less traffic.

Which made the business owner (and the SEO) pretty darned happy indeed. Sometimes less is more.

March 18, 2008

Learn more about the ways Diane can help improve the performance and profitability of your business web site, or request a no-obligation personal consultation, by visiting www.NineYards.com.

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Search Engine Guide > Diane Aull > Not Just More. Better!