A reader asked a question a couple of days ago that posed an interesting mystery. I’ll quote it again here, because this is a topic of general interest.
I just remembered that a friend of mine did her own ministry site. She posted all her articles on it. Later, however, when she did a “search” for it, it wouldn’t come up on Google. I don’t know if she tried some of the other search engines or not. A ministry site that can’t be found is of little value!
She called a tech, and got such an involved answer that she finally thanked him and hung up. What can she do?
Randy sez: Yesterday, I asked Sylvia to email with the URL of this missing web site so I could investigate. She did, and gave me permission to discuss this on the blog here.
Here is the URL of the site: www.ThePathOfFaith.com.
I had a look at the site today. It’s quite “pretty” but it is, apparently, completely ineffective because Google and other search engines seem to be ignoring it. What’s the deal?
The deal is that Google actually does index the site, but it’s lost in the noise. Here are some of the things I did to test that:
1) First, I Googled the actual URL of the site: “www.thepathoffaith.com”. (I didn’t enter the quotes, just what’s inside them.)
The result was one single entry, the home page of the web site. We conclude from this that Google knows this site exists. That’s the first step. The site is not being blackballed for some strange reason. But there are obviously no incoming links to this site, because if there were, the search above would have found them. (As an experiment, Google “www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com” and see how many results you find. It’s about 1950 as of this minute.)
2) There is an “Articles” section on the site. As I understand it, the purpose of the site is to make these articles public. I clicked on the button to take me to the “Articles” section. I was taken to a page that told me to go to the Site Map in order to get to the articles. This is a needless roadblock for site visitors, and it may explain why nobody links to it–the articles are pretty well hidden. It would be far better to put links to all the articles on this page.
3) I went to the Site Map and clicked on the first article. It’s titled “A Barrier to Trusting God” and begins with the phrase “Mandy struggled with trusting the Lord”. I Googled this exact phrase (including the quotes). The reason for using the quotes is that it tells Google you want to find all articles that contain that exact phrase, with all those words in exactly that order.
Google responded with one result, which was in fact the article I was reading. So that’s the second result–Google has indexed the entire site. However, if you Google that phrase in the normal way that people usually do (without the quotes) then that page does not appear on the first three pages of results from Google. The reason is that the site is not considered “important enough” by Google to rate a result near the top.
How does Google decide which sites are “important” and which aren’t? Part of that answer lies with their famous “PageRank” formula, which determines the rank of every page on the web, based on how many incoming links that page has. The formula is not complicated, but solving the formula requires some basic linear algebra methods which I don’t dare go into here.
The owner of the site could help things immensely by getting some incoming links to the site. In fact, she’s already begun, because my blog now links to her site. So within a day or two, if you do a search for her URL, you’ll see that there are now two results. I won’t be surprised if the first result is this blog entry, but we’ll see.
All of this ties in nicely with what I’ve been saying the last couple of days. A “pretty” web site may be completely ineffective. There are many ways to be ineffective:
* Nobody knows about the site
* Nobody links to the site
* Nobody comes to the site
* Nobody “takes action” after visiting the site
“Taking action” is what happens when a site visitor does what you want them to do. That’s up to you to define, which is the whole point of setting the requirements for your web site. You need to know why your site exists so you can guide your visitors to do whatever it is you want them to do. If you don’t know, they won’t know, and so they won’t do it.
If you want people to be inspired by your site, then the bar is pretty low. You just have to have good inspiring content and make sure people arrive at your site.
If you want to sell thousand-dollar widgets on your site, then the bar is a lot higher. You have to get people to your site, make them a sales pitch, close the deal, collect the money, deliver the widget, and do it all well enough to avoid chargebacks. That’s a whole lot harder.
Let me comment a little more on “pretty sites” since that drew some comments today.
As humans, we are visual creatures. So, if someone creates a barebones or cheap-looking blog and website, then it can make it hard for customers to take an author seriously. It’s like you’re sending a signal to the world, “I care more about saving money, than investing in myself and looking like a professional.”
Believe me, content always trumps graphics..you must offer real value for any book or message to sell. But, it’s also important to “package” your message professionally, which establishes more credibility with your audience. It’s hard to take someone seriously if they look “homemade.”
There’s nothing wrong with saving money on a website or blog, but make sure that it looks professional enough to save your career.
Randy sez: Folks, Rob is a marketing expert who really knows marketing of books. Check out his blog at http://wildfiremarketing.blogspot.com/. I had a nice chat with Rob a couple of weeks ago on the phone and we’re on the same page on a lot of things.
I think both Rob and I will agree that “prettiness” is not everything, but it counts for something. The question I would urge every web-site owner to ask is this: “How much does prettiness count with me?”
If you are a professional speaker or a high-level author, then you probably need a pretty site, because that’s what’s expected of professional speakers and bigshot writers.
If you aren’t, then you probably need a much lower level of “prettiness”. Now I would never suggest that you intentionally make an ugly web site. But content is king and always will be on the web. Get great content and get the word out well. As your profile rises, make changes to your “prettiness” as appropriate. An unpublished writer simply doesn’t need a $3000 web site with Flash, dazzling graphics, and hard-to-read grayscale fonts. I would argue that a nice template for a blog might be a reasonably “pretty” and yet inexpensive investment for the beginning writer.