If you’re a semi-retired professional who wants to build a consulting business, and you’re not an internet whiz, what kind of web site will really help clients find you? And how can you easily build and maintain a useful professional network?
My dad, Jack Gahran, is a semi-retired management consultant who knows many other semi-retired professionals. Today he asked me to look over the brand-new web site of a colleague of his, to offer some advice as to how it might be improved in ways that will build this person’s business.
The site is a pretty standard brochure site — a few static pages of basic information. It had a nice but simple design, and the content seemed to use keywords appropriately — both of which help search engines like Google index the site well. However, Google generally isn’t very interested in small brochure sites that are infrequently updated and don’t attract many inbound links.
I offered my dad’s colleague four basic tips for improving his site in ways that will make it much more visible in search engines, and thus more likely to attract inbound links from other sites (another thing Google rewards).
I get asked for this kind of advice a lot, so I figured I’d make a blog post out of it, so everyone can benefit.
Here’s what I told him…
1. Ask Google to start indexing your site
Eventually Google will find your site, index it, and start listing it in search results. But Google has a lot of sites to index, so it may take a long time for them to get around to indexing your site.
It helps to tell Google you’re there and ask them to list you, rather than passively waiting for Google to find you. Submit your site to Google.
You should also submit your site to Yahoo.
2. Add fresh content to your site often, the easy way: Blog
So far, your site appears to be mainly an online brochure. That’s someone useful for people who already know to look you up online, but it won’t attract much attention from search engines — and therefore won’t get much traffic from people who don’t already know who you are and where to find your site.
Search engines mainly care about timeliness and relevance. There is an easy way to make sure your site provides that: Add a blog to your site.
I noticed that right now, your site’s “news and events” section has no real content. I’d suggest turning that part of your site into a weblog (or “blog”) so you can easily add fresh items to the site on your own, without having to rely on a web designer to upload the content for you.
…You don’t have to call it a blog if you don’t like that term, you could just call it news and views, which would give you more flexibility in what sort of information you can post there.
IMPORTANT UPDATE: After discussing the following tip in the comments below, I decided that it’s better to integrate your existing brochure space into a blog, rather than vice versa. Read full instructions on how to get this done.
Talk to your web designer about integrating a blog into your site. You should set up the account with the blogging service in your own name, so you maintain control of it. But after you have the account it’s fine to get help with setup.
Once the blog is in place you can easily (right through your web browser) add fresh items to your site, and their titles and introductions will appear on that page, with the most recent item listed first.
You could write not just about news and events, but also share your insight or tips about things that might interest the people you want to reach — including answering common questions they have related to your areas of expertise. These can be really short pieces: just 1-3 paragraphs is enough. No need to write long articles.
The point is to post a new item at least a couple of times a month (of course, more often is always better, but you can start slow). Make sure the title and the first sentence of each post include words that you think people who need your services would search for.
If you add a tool like a blog that makes it easy for you to add fresh content to your site on your own whenever you want, over time you’ll grow the kind of site that Google likes, indexes often, and rewards with traffic.
Even better, when you regularly post fresh content to your site, that gives other people a good reason to link to your site. Inbound links are very important to Google. When people link to deeper content on your site (like specific blog posts, not just your home page), Google thinks your site is more useful and is more likely to position you better in search results.
Oh, and: If your web designers say they can’t easily add a blog to your site, they’re wrong. (CORRECTION: Actually, trying to add a blog to a static site is hard, which is why I now recommend moving your site into a blog.) You can create a blog using a free service like WordPress.com and integrate that into any site. Once it’s set up, then you just keep posting to it.
3. Offer an e-mail newsletter, the easy way
It’s always easier for you to go to people than to expect them to always come to you. For this reason, many people still prefer e-mail to the web as a way to maintain business relationships.
Dad mentioned that he suggested you offer an e-mail newsletter for your past clients and other key contacts, and I agree, that’s a great way to maintain those relationships. However, you can get even more mileage out of this effort by using a blog to create your e-mail newsletter for you automatically.
If you decide to add a blog to your site (as I suggested above), you can use some features of a free service from Google called Feedburner to turn the items you post to your blog into items in an e-mail newsletter which interested people can easily subscribe to. That way, they can see your latest items even if they don’t remember to visit your site.
Set up a free account on Feedburner, and follow their instructions to connect your site’s blog (they call it “burning your feed”) to feedburner. Then, under their “publicize” section, select “e-mail subscriptions” and follow their instructions. You might want to get your Web developer to help you with this process, but I strongly suggest setting up the Feedburner account yourself, in your own name, so you maintain control of it.
4. Link to your LinkedIn public profile
Dad already suggested that you get active with LinkedIn, a popular online service for professional networking, and I agree it’s very helpful — especially for independent professionals.
One useful option that LinkedIn offers is the ability to create a public version of your LinkedIn profile that anyone can view, whether they’re on LinkedIn or not. (Here’s mine)
I’d recommend completing your LinkedIn profile as fully as possible, and then posting a link to it from your site’s contact page. Then, make sure you keep your profile updated.
…Those are my basic tips, intended for someone with little to no experience with online media. I tried to strike a balance between empowering him to make truly effective improvements in his online outreach, while recognizing that he probably won’t want to spends a whole lot of time online, or know how to use social media.
So even though I could have suggested many social media options for this person beyond LinkedIn, I don’t think that would be a good fit for his current skill levels and interests. Later on he could grow into that. But right now, I think it’s more important for him to create a more effective home base on the web.
I didn’t link to his site because I wanted to give him a chance to work on it first.
What do you think of these suggestions? Are they appropriate for the situation I outlined? Any disagreements, corrections, or suggestions to add? Please comment below.