In my last post , I described how I turned my Web site into a business driver by dispensing with my Flash template in favor of an HTML-based site that was more search-engine friendly. Now I’d like to share five other important steps I’ve taken to drive visitors to my site.
1. I started a blog. To encourage current and potential clients to visit my Web site regularly, I decided to add a blog. I started an account with Blogger.com and created a custom template so the blog matched my main site. Instead of leaving my blog at the default url of http://lifeisartphoto.blogspot.com, I opted to publish the blog to my own Web host at http://lifeisartphoto.com/blog/  so that the traffic and content would enhance the performance of my site.
Recently, I switched to a WordPress blog for its extra features, such as organized categories and tags, improved search engine optimization, and the ease of submitting my blog posts to social networking sites such as Digg and Reddit. In addition to helping my search engine rankings, the blog has helped potential clients get to know me better — an important feature, since many of my prospects are hours away and cannot meet face-to-face.
2. I asked for links. I knew that having other Web sites linking to mine would not only bring more traffic, but would improve my search engine rankings as well. I started by researching local wedding vendors that display links to other wedding vendors on their sites. If my site was not on their list, I asked them to add it. Many of them were happy and eager to do so. If you’re not a wedding photographer, this link-building technique still works — try contacting local boutique stores, salons, or any other businesses that attract your target clientele, and ask them to link to your Web site, or maybe even display your work.
I also searched for non-local Web sites that would link to my own for free, such as wedplan.com . I made sure that only sites relevant to my business linked to my site. At one time I had a used-car sales site linking to mine, but it was not bringing me my target clientele and was not relevant to my business, so I asked to be removed from their site.
It is easy to fall into the trap of link exchange sites and “link farms.” The major search engines know when people are trying to cheat. You should not have to pay for links, and if your gut tells you it’s not good for your business, it probably isn’t.
3. I optimized my site’s code. Behind the scenes of my Web site is an infrastructure of HTML code that helps with search engine optimization. Although meta-tags for keywords and descriptions are not as important as they used to be, it is still worthwhile to include them. I also optimized the title of my Web pages, so the words that show up in the top bar of the browser both accurately describe the page and include some keywords for search engines. Additionally, I made sure the titles of my pages and important content were displayed in h1 and h2 heading tags.
4. I optimized content. The text content I chose for my Web site pages was carefully planned. Because content toward the top of the page carries more weight with search engines, I placed important keywords as close to the top as possible. I also made sure my text included a range of keywords. For example, my target clients are brides in the Chicago and Minneapolis areas, so I made sure that my copy included language like “…loves Stevens Point, Wisconsin, because it is a quiet town located the same distance from both the Twin Cities and Chicago areas, which she travels to frequently.” This way, people doing a search engine inquiry for “Twin Cities wedding photographer” are more likely to find me.
5. I began monitoring my traffic. I use the free Google Analytics tool to monitor visits to my site. This enables me to see what’s working and what isn’t, and to continually improve my site’s performance.
With Google Analytics, I can prove that adding a blog has increased the number of ways people find my site, as well as the number of pages viewed. Instead of everyone finding my site via the home page, people have started entering through the blog. For example, someone doing a search engine inquiry for “Lake Geneva wedding photography” might see a blog post of a wedding I photographed in Lake Geneva, WI in their search engine results.
With Google Analytics, I can also prove that my link-building efforts have been successful. I can see exactly which local wedding photography vendors are sending the most traffic from their sites to mine. I watch things like the bounce rate — the percentage of visitors who arrive at my site and leave without going to any other pages in the site. When the used-car sales Web site had been linking to mine, I saw that visitors coming from that site had nearly a 100 percent bounce rate. This meant one of two things — either the page they were landing on was poor and hurt their eyes, or used-car shoppers weren’t interested in what I had to offer. I guessed the latter.
With Google Analytics, I can prove that optimizing the code and content of my site has generated great results, too. I keep track of the different searches people make in the major search engines to find my site, and the number of ways people find me via search engines has grown significantly. The list of terms people use when searching for a wedding photographer is many pages long — so the more bases you can cover with your keywords, the better.
My Web site is out there marketing for me 24-7. Making these enhancements has turned lifeisartphoto.com  into my No. 1 marketing tool, and has saved me from having to spend marketing dollars elsewhere. Are you making the most of your Web site?