Having a personal website to attract clients can be a great source of business – cheap to run, no agency fees. But unless your site is highly ranked in relevant internet searches it’s unlikely to get many visitors.
This blog, based on my research and personal experiences, explores how best to promote your website.
Google keep their search ranking algorithm secret for a very good reason – they do not want people to be able to manipulate the system so are likely to continue to update their algorithm to hinder such attempts. So I ignore the many companies contacting me with promises of getting my site onto Page 1 of Google or getting me 1000’s of potential clients through email or social media and would advise you to do the same. As far as I am concerned people trying to flog you SEO are unlikely to know much more than you can glean from some simple research and Google’s own advice on promoting your site.
If you have an old site that already ranks highly you are in a great position. Google appears to rate longevity highly. It doesn’t matter if your site is clunky looking by today’s standards or hardly ever updated; it seems to be hard to knock established sites off their position. Perhaps its self-perpetuating in that highly ranked sites are bound to attract more visitors, which may in turn feed into the ranking. Who knows. In fact I had an old site that had established a high ranking and completely re-developed it with a new content system and host and from what I can tell its ranking hasn’t been affected.
Getting a new site to achieve a high search ranking used to be a matter of choosing a relevant domain name, along with ‘keywords’ attached to web pages. This worked fine with my first site developed about four years ago. However, this is no longer the case. Google looks at the actual content of your site to establish relevant keywords for your site to determine its relevance to a search. So simply write content that is relevant to what you are advertising. This is what Google recommends you do.
It makes sense. Google wanted to stop the practise of companies buying up large sections of relevant domain names to stifle competition. This does not mean that your domain name is irrelevant and Google may still refer to it – but it is no longer paramount. Also a relevant domain name is going to make it more likely that a potential client is going to visit your site – being bricksandmorter.com isn’t a good idea if you are advertising Maths tutoring services.
So I believe the main key to getting your website onto the holy grail of Page 1 is writing good, relevant content. Is that all? Probably not and this is where I diversify into areas which I honestly don’t know has had any effect at all. Google likes multimedia? So include at least a photo and maybe a video clip (published also on YouTube). Does blogging and social network sharing help? I don’t know, but my blogs definitely attract visitors even if they are not potential clients. It can’t hurt.
Whatever you do, be patient. Your ‘new’ site is likely to take a few months to even appear in the top 5 pages of searches. But I have watched my own sites gradually climb to prominent positions just by using the basic techniques I’ve suggested. No black art, no expenditure on SEO ‘magic’ just a bit of personal effort, time and patience.
If I search on ‘Maths Tutor Knebworth’, my site knebworthmathstutor.co.uk ranks highly, regardless of where I am located when I do the search. This is hardly surprising. Not only is the domain name relevant (though as per above I am dubious about its current importance in searches) but Knebworth appears in my content and is not exactly a common search word so there’s not much competition.
More interestingly, if I search on ‘Maths Tutor’ from my home or a close location my sites appear highly ranked even if my location is not included in the site’s domain name or its content. If I search from further away my sites ranking falls. Google knows where I am searching from through my IP address, but it must also know the ‘location’ of my website in order to promote my ranking for physically close searches. I conclude that Google cannot be using the location where my site is hosted (somewhere far away) but must be using the location where my domain name is registered, which is indeed my home address, to prioritise my sites on these ‘generic’ type searches in close proximity.
So if your business is substantially local, make sure your domain name is registered at your address and not to some third party such as your host provider. This should be standard practise for most hosting providers.
Have you heard that Google ‘hates’ duplicate data on websites and will instantly downgrade all sites considered to be involved in duplication? Again it makes sense. Otherwise unscrupulous operators would simply create multiple versions of the same site with very little effort to drown out the competition. But are you going to be penalised if some of your content is repeated elsewhere. Not in my experience. I now have three sites to promote my business: knebworthmathstutor.co.uk is focused on local clients; onlinemathstutor.net on clients specifically searching for an online tutor; and stepmathstutor.co.uk for STEP students. Their structure and much of the content is very similar, with quite a few paragraphs identical across the sites. But they are not actual duplicates, for the very good reason that I am promoting differing services. Has this element of repetition obviously affected my sites ranking? Not one bit. I’ve heard of people who are scared to have even a few sentences from a blog on another site repeated on their own. Its nonsense.
A few months ago Google announced that it would prioritise mobile-friendly sites on searches made from such devices. In fact you can test whether Google considers your site to be mobile-friendly by using their free tool. Mine are not. Should you care? Frankly I can’t see many potential clients searching for a tutor on their phone. Also when I search on my phone and tablet my sites rankings didn’t seem to be materially affected. So its not a priority for me, at least for now, but watch this space.
Generally we see tutoring agencies rather than individuals promoting their services through Google Adwords. Undoubtedly they will have relatively large marketing budgets and will compete on Google’s auction system for the coveted advertising slots at the top of the page using basic keywords such as ‘tutor’ or ‘tuition’. It is unlikely to be viable for most individual tutors to compete for business on that basis. However, this does not mean that Google Adwords cannot be a cost effective way of generating business for you. It just means you have to be a bit slicker and more cunning in your choice of search words that will enter your site into a Google auction and perhaps use a campaign to market a specific niche service.
This worked for me well in an Adwords campaign I ran to promote tutoring of STEP (Sixth Term Examination Paper – used by top universities to select candidates in Maths) through my site stepmathstutor.co.uk. Initially I set a budget of just £2 per day and allowed Google to bid for me in its auction process (this is the default option). With minor variances the CPC (cost per click) came out at about £1 and I got 2 clicks per day (having then utilised my daily budget). I then changed by bid to be a manual max of £0.50, and still got 2 clicks per day. So its quite possible to play around with the bidding parameters to reduce your CPC. The whole campaign cost me about £110 and I got 12 clients as a result. Now that is a low cost of acquisition.
The other perceived wisdom about Web advertising campaigns is that you should use a ‘landing page’ for your advert. This is a separate page often not linked to the rest of your site. It can be under the same domain, but is effectively a stand-alone page created solely for the promotion you are running. Concepts such as offering something ‘Free’ in exchange for registering and ‘Call to Action’ are suggested. Frankly, I think this is largely irrelevant in our world. We’re offering private tuition, not mass marketing widgets, or enticing clients with free gimmicks. In my campaign I simply directed visitors to my site’s home page.
I hope you have found this useful. Its certainly not fact, just a set of opinions I have formed over the past year from my experience and those of others. If some of it is off-the-mark I wouldn’t be too surprised.