Five Lessons Learned from Web Publishing

By David Strom Print this article Print

Here are a few key things to think about when it comes to Web site design and management in terms of search results, audience and growth.

You probably already have a corporate Web site, but it might be time to do a refresh. Having created many Web sites over the years─some for myself, some for professional publishing organizations─I thought I would take a few moments and put together five important principles that I’ve learned from the school of hard knocks.

1. If you gate your site, your traffic will drop.

The New York Times found this out the hard way with its Times Select subscription-only service, and had to drop the gate and let everyone in. Today, the name of the game is clicks and eyeballs, and while some people (like The Wall Street Journal) can get away with charging admission, you are better off being open and letting the world come browse. Certainly, you still need to protect client-confidential areas, but if you are trying to put up a site and you want visitors, take down those gates!

2. Authoritative deep linking is key.

You want content, and lots of it, and links that come onto your site and bring visitors directly to your expertise and authoritative knowledge. In the early days of the Web, we had lawsuits to try to stop deep linking (in other words, site A has a link to a specific page deep within site B). Now, it is just the opposite, and the best way to get Google juice is to have lots of these deep links coming onto your site.

Encourage this, don't mess up these links with any site redesign, and you will benefit greatly. I have a page of Web-conferencing links on strom.com that I have maintained for more than 10 years, and it has lots of inbound links and as a result ranks high on Google.

3. Make your home page dynamic, but don’t overload the links.

Driving organic search is what everyone is after these days, and sometimes it takes over from putting out a dynamic home page. Resist this, and realize that your home page still needs to look uncluttered for humans, too. There are sites that try to cram as many links as possible on their home pages, and then have a completely flat site underneath–no sections, no organization, just a mass of content that defies human comprehension, all in the service of the Search Gods.

Make your home page pleasant, simple, direct─and by all means, change it often. The search engines will find you, have no fear. But first people have to find your stuff the old-fashioned way.

4. Newspapers need unique "hyper-local" content for their Web sites.

Newspapers still, for the most part, haven’t figured out the Web. The more successful ones know that they have to offer content that is more unique than what they offer in print for specific neighborhoods, particular demographics and particular purposes beyond selling cars and homes. The more hyper-local they become, the better the job they will do at combating the classified-killers like eBay, Craigslist, and Facebook.

Keep this in mind when designing newsworthy sections on your site: Focus on your niche and your specific audience, and deliver exactly what they need. Archive all your press releases so your customers can find them because they, not the press, are going to be linking to them and e-mailing them to their friends.

5. The site design should empower, not emasculate your readers, by putting internal search as a priority.

How often do you hear your Web editors say, I can’t find anything on my site? Well, if they work there and live with their content and they can’t find it, how do they expect outsiders to? I have been involved in plenty of Web site redesigns where making improvements to the search box was last or nearly last on the priority scale. Search comes first. Don’t expect Google to index your site; spend the dough and make search the best it can possibly be. If your visitors can’t find it, they won’t stick around.

These are all simple concepts to grasp, although not so simple to implement. But they will improve your Web sites dramatically, and I guarantee that they will bring you lots more traffic in the coming months.

This article was originally published on 2008-06-09
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