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Webmaster 101 -- Creating A Successful Content Based Website

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We have four web sites. One has had over twenty million page views in ten years, the others much less. They are all in the top ten on page one of Google for their key words. The topic of each one is a personal passion. The difference is how many other people are interested in these topics. We did a lot of research and experimentation to discover what you will be reading about in the next few minutes. Our purpose is to share with you what we have learned the hard way. These suggestions are focused on creating a "content" based site.

If you are creating a web site to attract visitors, the best strategy is basing your site on a personal passion that many other people are interested in too. Choose a niche topic that no one else has developed a great site for yet. Strange as it may seem, there are many niche topics that do not have great sites.

Pick several of your favorite topics and think about what the "perfect" site should be like. Next, use a search engine like Google and its Directory (based on the Open Directory Project index) and try out different categories, key words and phrases. As you surf, bookmark the best sites that you find for your topics. You may find several good sites that have portions of your vision. When you decide that you could do a better job on one of your chosen topics, you are ready to begin.

If you know little or nothing about creating a web site, you have four basic choices:

  1. Use a do it yourself software package like MS Expression Web 3, pick a website hosting company, do search engine optimization (SEO, see books below), set up visitor stat service, and so on.

  2. Use a well known online site building and hosting service like Homestead. They offer a 30 day free trial that you can use to experiment. Note that a site built with Homestead cannot be exported to another service.

  3. Use a business oriented site building online service like Site Build It 2.0 ($299/year) that offers many features all in one account at one price including hosting. If you like their features, this can be a good deal even for "content" based sites because marketing content is similar to marketing a business. See Business Website Builders for reviews and links. Before making a final decision consider special features that you may need like the "membership" function  offered by SquareSpace.com

Take the time to compare these choices and then take more time to learn how to use the one you choose. An investment in taking the time to learn about these options will pay off as you proceed.

For the first choice, your next step is finding a hosting service for your web site. Make sure that your potential host supports the web software that you intend to use. But do not sign up with the host or register a domain name yet.

Based on your topic, select a theme for your web site. Your domain name, page titles, meta-tags, and site content should all follow the theme that you have chosen. Using a word processing program, prepare a mock up of your site content without graphics. The content of each page should be consistent with your theme, domain name, page title, page description and keyword meta-tags. If the content takes on a life of its own as you write, think about fine tuning your theme, domain name, page titles, page descriptions and key words. As you work, try to keep in mind what you thought the "perfect" site on your topic should be like.

For an introduction to SEO, see Search Engine Optimization for Your Web Site, Christopher Null, PC World, December 4, 2008. Also consider reading at least one of these books:

When your pages are mostly complete, transfer them to notepad to strip out formatting and then to your web software. Create or purchase a graphic theme, import it, and set up your internal navigation links. As a test, publish your pages on your own computer to see how they will look before you publish them on the web. When your site is ready, it's time to sign up with the hosting service that you selected and to register your domain name. In a day or two, when your domain is active, you can publish your site to the host's server using your web software. You're online!

OK, so now what? It's time for marketing your new site. Search engines and indexes are the only cost effective way to do it, not ads. Submit your site to the Open Directory Project (DMOZ) Index. It's free and has hundreds of affiliated indexes. Then, use Yahoo's free site submit option. Be very careful about what you submit to these indexes, once done, it's hard to change them. Also, be patient, it may take weeks or months for your site to be added. For help with this, see Self Promotion.com

The primary benefit of getting your site listed in the Open Directory and Yahoo indexes is to improve your ranking in search engines like Google. Being added means that a human being (an editor or volunteer) has approved your site. For each index listing, Google gives your site more points when determining the ranking of your site in search results. The next step is to "claim" your site using webmaster tools and services provided by Google, Yahoo and Bing.

Tracking your search engine site rankings and visitor stats are important ways to monitor how well your site is doing. To check the ranking of your site on major search engines and indexes, try a free tool like the rankings feature of Web CEO free edition or Link Popularity Check. If your hosting service does not provide visitor statistics, you want to cross check them or want something better, try a service like Google Analytics, Extreme Tracking (ET) or OneStat. Google is best if you qualify.

ET is a highly rated free service to track your home page. ET also offers multi-page tracking for $5 per month for up to 10,000 page views. OneStat is unusual because they have highly rated free services for new/small sites and also offer professional services. You can start with a free service and move up as needed later without loosing your stat history.

Now, the hard part, is waiting. With a few exceptions, it will take at least a month before your site is listed in the Yahoo or DMOZ directories. In some cases, it may take two or three months. For Yahoo, direct paid submission will be the fastest. Take a look at Search Engine Watch, Bruce Clay and Site Pro News for more information on fine tuning your site and marketing.

Are you done yet? Nope, you just stared! Maintaining a web site over the long haul could be boring. If the topic you pick is one of your passions in life, it will be fun. Continue using the resources on the web to make your site the best that it can be.

Maintaining your site is important. For example, if you have many links on your "content" based site to other sites or pages like we do, it gets tedious or impossible to check them one by one. Broken links will frustrate your visitors and may hurt your search engine rankings. An easy way to deal with this is to use a service like Link Alarm.

Some things that you should not do: Banner exchanges, services that submit your site to more than the top 10 search engines, fancy graphics that make your pages download s-l-o-w-l-y, using the free web space from your Internet service provider or a free web site service (you need your own unique domain name to get listed in search indexes), a site that is all ads with no content, or using copyrighted material without permission.

Let's talk about making money. Once your site is attracting a lot of visitors, one easy way to make money on the Internet is by becoming an affiliate. Try an affiliate service like the Commission Junction network. It provides banner ads and product links from hundreds of merchants for you to choose from. Select merchants and products that are tailored to your site and the interests of your site visitors. The payoff is that you are paid a commission each time a visitor uses a link on your site to make a purchase from a merchant. For advertising revenue, try a service like Google's AdSense program which provides relevant ads for "content" based sites.

Last, but not least, let's talk about website security and privacy issues:

  • Your Computer -- To prevent your website files from becoming infected, you must protect your computer or small network. You should use a hardware firewall between your modem and computer or network, use personal firewall, anti-malware (virus, spyware, spam, etc.) and privacy software, and keep all of them updated at all times.

  • Your Website Host -- Select a web host that uses secure servers, backs up your site files, and offers spam and virus email filters.

  • Your Email -- Use one and only one "public" address for website feedback, domain registration, newsletter... Use your host's spam and virus email filters. Use an email service provider to "pick up" your mail that uses different spam and virus filters than your host. Use different (than the first two) anti-virus and anti-spam software on your desktop computer and use your desktop email software to "pick up" your email from your email service provider. This arrangement gives you three levels of protection. If you think that this is overkill, we got several thousand infected emails in August 2003 in a period of several days. Not one made it to our desktop. Getting only one could ruin your day.

  • Your Passwords -- Use strong passwords for software on your computer and all of your online accounts. Use a different strong password for each one. Get password management software, like RoboForm or LastPass, to make this easy and secure. At minimum, a password should include lower and upper case, numbers and symbols like "XYZabc789#$%".

  • Backing Up Your Files -- Select a host that backs up your site files. Select website software or an online site building tool that allows you to back up your files on your desktop computer. Back up your files on removable media (zip disk, CD-ROM or DVD) and store them in a fireproof safe or at a bank. Back up often for protection from infections, computer meltdown and other catastrophes.

  • Your Visitors -- Write and post privacy policies on your site before tracking stats (using an online service instead of your server logs) or selling ads, products or services as an affiliate. Check anti-spyware websites for information about companies that you are considering for tracking stats, publishing ads or posting sales links for. Many ad and affiliate programs rely on cookies and/or web bugs to track impressions and/or sales (not necessarily a bad thing but your visitors need to know). For newsletters, only mail to double opt-in users and tell them whether their address is completely private or if you intend to share or sell it to others when they sign up.