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Articles
Learning the Lingo: How to Talk to a Webmaster About the Site You Have or the One You Want to Build
by: Rebecca Ragland
 

Most professionals I talk with who have Web sites feel that they must have one to be up-to-date, and must also have a professional e-mail address and a Web site address for their stationery and business cards. But other than that, they really do not see the benefit that a Web site brings them.

I hope to help those of you who are disappointed with the impact of your current Web site to make some positive changes, as well as to encourage those of you who have not yet committed to a Web site to take the plunge.

More than ever, technology impacts the business world and its influence will only grow.

This article will give you a targeted “cheat sheet” of terminology and definitions that will allow you to confidently interact with your webmaster or Web site development company as well as your colleagues. As in any other aspect of business or life, if you know what to ask for, you will be more likely to get what you really want.

Critical Terms: These are basic yet often misunderstood terms defined in simple English.

Web site: An organized group of documents/pages designed to inform, sell and/or entertain. It is, by nature, like a small “machine” with working parts that need maintenance. Thinking of it in those terms makes it far less intimidating. Whether one page or a thousand, it is—if done well—no more complicated structurally than a basic outline.

User: Someone who has registered with your Web site and accesses it with a username and password.

Visitor: Anyone who visits your Web site.

Backend: Simplistically, there are two major components of a Web page—one you see and one you don’t. What you see is created by the code that you do not see. What you do not see—the code—is what is referred to as the “backend.” Code is written in several languages, the most common of which are Hypertext Markup Language (html), Active Server Pages (asp), ColdFusion (cfm) and Hypertext Preprocessor (php).

Navigation: The system of links that allows the smooth and logical movement from one part of the Web site to the other. This may be the most underrated factor in whether a Web site is successful or is just a frustrating maze. You want to be able to get to all major parts of the Web site from the home page within one or two clicks of the mouse.

Click: Every time you press the right or left button on your mouse you have clicked. Most of the time a click is simply the means to get from one place to another. In Internet marketing, it is money. It is how a visitor’s interaction with your site can be tracked. It is how you know if your visitors are going where you want them to go. It is how you track potential sales and/or leads, or how many visitors are viewing what properties or accessing what information. It is how analytics are compiled.

Analytics: The way in which visitor information is tracked. Analytics will tell you as much or as little as you want to know about who is visiting your site, where they are going when they get there and what action they take as a result of the action items you have put in place for them. No matter what size your site is, analytics are critical to measuring your effectiveness and what you need to do to improve. Whether you use a free service—like the excellent Google Analytics—or one of the big analytics companies, this is a must-have. It is also critical that you learn how to read your own analytics reports. Not doing so is like letting a monkey do your accounting.

Action Item: “Call to action” is a pretty trendy phrase right now, so you probably know that this means enticing your visitor to communicate with you through filling out a form, sending you an e-mail, filling out a survey or picking up the phone. The lure is often something for free or a discount or some other tidbit that your visitors are likely to be tempted to give up their e-mail address or contact information to get. You will find that simply providing a pleasant experience on your Web site will encourage people to contact you and is the most consistent action item you can offer. Getting contact information from a visitor is the goal.

Conversion: This is when a visitor takes a desired action that can be tracked. A conversion results in the creation of a record of a contact point, lead or sale. Conversion rate is the percentage of visitors that act on your call to action. Success is converting a visitor into a client.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO): This is the process of making your site ready to take optimal advantage of any search engine listing. Whether you choose to purchase search engine marketing or submit yourself, optimization is the key to getting that coveted top position in the natural listings. In intent, it is simple; clearly state what it is you have to offer. Make sure every page describes in text what people can expect to find there in direct, searchable terms. (Images cannot be read by robots.)

The application of the intent is more complicated. There are really no tricks or shortcuts. It is a matter of commitment and time. Web sites like BruceClay.com, Bravenet.com and Google Webmaster Tools are of enormous help. No matter how fabulous your site, if your target audience can’t find you, you are lost among the billions of sites out there that have not taken advantage of straightforward, intuitive steps to get listed.

MetaTags: This bit of code gives a snapshot of your site to the search engine robots that scan your site for relevance. There are several schools of thought on the use of MetaTags. Most of the serious pros will tell you to use them—especially if you are doing it yourself. Any search will turn up tons of MetaTag Generators which will create a proper set of MetaTags for you. They are all about the same.

Below is code that you can use. Just replace the items in red with your information and copy/paste the tags between the <html> --- </html> tags in your code.

Example:
<title>Your Web site title should have key words or phrases in it—keep it short</title>
<meta name="resource-type" content="document"> [if you have listings on your site you might want to classify your content as catalogue/catalog]
<meta name="generator" content="Your Company Name">
<meta http-equiv="pragma" content="no-cache">
<meta name="revisit-after" content="30 days"> [if you change your content more often change to 15 days]
<meta name="classification" content="short descriptive phrase such as residential listings">
<meta name="description" content="description—keep under 350 characters.">
<meta name="keywords" content="keywords—less is more—try to keep it less than 25 words or phrases and make sure they really relate to your site and appear in the text of your Web page. Separate each with a comma, e.g., keyword, keyword, keyword or phrase,">
<meta name="robots" content="FOLLOW">
<meta name="distribution" content="Local">
<meta name="rating" content="Safe For Kids">
<meta name="copyright" content="Your Company">
<meta name="author" content="Your Company">
<meta http-equiv="reply-to" content="contact@yourcompany.com">
<meta name="language" content="English">

Submission (search engine submission): This is the process of submitting your Web site to a search engine for listing. Manual listing is the only way to go, whether you do it yourself or hire someone to do it for you. Claims to “Get Listed in 3 Million Search Engines for Free” are a complete waste of your time and you will have given your e-mail address to people who will sell it to anyone. There are lots of reputable search engine submission companies out there. Choose one that offers to MANUALLY submit your site. If you do it yourself, the most important submissions you make will be to DMOZ (The Open Directory Project). Their partners include AOL Search, AltaVista, HotBot, Google, Lycos, and Netscape Search. You should submit to Google and Yahoo as well.

The Conversation:
So, when you are talking to your webmaster, ask about parts of your site that seem confusing or unnecessarily complicated. Take the time to go through the site yourself. I know you are busy, but you are the best judge of how to serve your target audience. If it feels good to you, it is probably going to work. If it doesn’t, you need to have “the conversation” with your webmaster.

Ask if your site is optimized. Ask what keywords are being used. Look at the list of words and phrases and ask yourself, if you were searching for someone offering what you offer, would you use those words or phrases? Trust yourself. Trust your webmaster too. Just let him/her know what you want—they cannot read your mind any more than you can read theirs.

If you do not think your site is well-organized, ask for a sitemap and use it to plot changes. Make your own sitemap like you would a flow chart to show what you think would be best. This is a nice one from Google that gives you an idea of how to plan a Web site. Notice that every major element is reachable in a couple of clicks.

Your site should look good and be up-to-date in design. Go to Web site template sites and look at what they have in their high-end templates. Find something you like and show it to your Webmaster. Looking good is not enough, you have to have everything else I have mentioned as well. The best of both worlds is what you want; look great and function even better.

NetLingo is a great site to bookmark or add to your links for ready definitions of all things Web.

You will never regret taking the time to do these things. If there is someone in your office that you trust, delegate. Whatever you do, do not throw good money after bad and neglect these basic checkpoints for your Web site. You would not be intimidated by a challenging property negotiation, so don’t let your Website be any different.