Following on from how to start a website – lesson 1, where we looked at understanding the internet and how the basics of search engines work, in lesson 2 we are going to look at keywords, choosing and buying a domain name.
I hope you had a little play to see how search engines return websites they feel are relevant for the words you typed in .. your search term (the example we used was cumbrian cheese) are called keywords.
Keywords are, in my humble opinion, the biggest challenge when it comes to building a website. Pick the right keywords and you can be found by your target audience easily but pick the wrong ones and you are lost in all that internet spam, never to be found.
You are probably now saying “where’s the links to the free stuff to build a website, I want to get on with it” but without an understanding of keywords you would just be making more work for yourself in the future trying to fix the mistakes you make at this point. I know, that is exactly what I did!
Please keep reading and you will see why it’s vital you get this right before you even think of buying a domain name.
Here’s an example which demonstrates perfectly what I am talking about:
My website Country Couples is a dating and friendship website for country singles in the UK but people are only going to search for that name if they have heard about and remembered it, whereas every day people search for country singles.
Now google “UK dating” and you will see I have to compete with over 38 million other websites for that search term.
Most of those sites will have huge budgets to pay experts to get them to the top of the search engine results and use affiliate programs to boost their rankings .. I don’t, I have me and my Mum so targetting the keyword “UK dating” would be a pointless waste of time as I would be somewhere near page 100 and nobody EVER looks there .. they very rarely look past page 3.
Now google “countryside dating” and there I am in the hot zone, near to the top of the first page because I am only competing with 1.5 million other websites.
So how does this work for farming produce? Lets go back to cumbrian cheese. If you google “cheese” there are almost 85 million websites to compete against … good luck with that one.
Look for “UK cheese” and we drop to 8.5 million website pages for that term but google “Cumbrian cheese” and there is only 132,000 pages to compete against.
At this stage you need to sit down at your computer and start a list of any terms you can think of that people might use to find your products.
Here is a great free tool to help you, it’s called Seed Keywords and I am still really mad at David for not creating it until after I launched my site.
Simply create a question (called a scenario) like “how would you search for local cheese in this area?”, the software will then give you a unique link for that question and the ability to go and view the results.
Don’t give the answers in your question, you are trying to get your contacts to tell you their ideas not follow yours, so don’t ask “how would you search for cumbrian cheese” because that immediately gives them an answer and they are not using their own unique perspective.
Get your friends and anyone else you can rope in to help to answer the question (if you are a member of a forum post a thread asking people to have a go), they simply type in anything they can think of for that search and the software will remember it.
You should end up with a list like this:
Cheese produced in the UK
cheese from cumbria
where to buy cheese in cumbria
cheese producers in cumbria
farm cheese in cumbria
Cumberland dairy cheese
Now choose the most popular terms and do some research on google, how many pages would you have to compete against for each term, are your main competitors targetting the same words and are there any popular terms your competitors have missed?
At this point the experts tell you to find out how many people are searching for that term each month, using free software like the by google adwords. Make sure your results are “tailored to English, United Kingdom” which it should say just above the box you input your search term into. When the results page opens make sure the little drop down box at the right of the column headers is set to broad.
You will now get information overload, as it will give you not only your search term and how many people looked for that last month (the next column is average per month) but also a zillion other suggestions based around that search term. Take it slowly and look for terms that are well searched for but not too much competition.
Type in Countryside dating as an example – I can see that last month (Jan 09) 720 people searched for countryside dating but 1,600 searched for country singles .. guess which one I should be targeting?
When my site started off I began with “countryside dating in Cumbria”, as it was much easier to rank well for but then removed the “in Cumbria” until I ranked well for countryside dating. I am now starting to go after harder search terms like country singles and when I rank well for that I will move on to a more challenging term and so on. It’s a slow process and can’t be done over night.
The term dating shows that over 30 million people a month search for that term but we have already established that I cannot compete with the likes of Match so why waste my energy. Look for terms you can compete with but that have healthy numbers of users looking for it.
Once you have a good list of strong keywords it is time to choose a domain name.
Buying a Domain Name
Now you are ready to start looking at domain names. This is where I made my first big blunder, I thought of a name I liked for my website and then bought the domain name country-couples.co.uk but unless people have heard of the website they are not going to google country couples because they are all googling “country singles” woops.
It’s too late for me to change the domain name but please learn from my mistake. My site can still be found for search terms like countryside dating because I have targeted my on page seo (we’ll get to that in a later lesson) but it can make life easier if your domain name is highly relevant for the number one search term you are hoping to one day be number 1 in search engine results for (bearing in mind what we have already said).
Again search for “uk dating”, against 38 million web pages found the number one spot is held by … www. ukdating.com .. coincidence? I don’t think so. Try again with “farming uk” and guess what happens, yes www. farminguk.com is the first site, even before the likes of Defra. That doesn’t mean you just choose the right domain name and hit the top spot, there is a lot more work involved but every little helps.
So if you decide your best keyword is “Cumbrian cheese” and that is your only product then try to buy a domain name like www. cumbrian-cheese .co.uk rather than www. Doug-does-cheese .co.uk
If your target audience is in the UK then buy a .co.uk domain name but if you want to sell worldwide get a .com domain. If both are available it is worth getting them both, if nothing else it stops any future competitors buying them.
For buying a domain name website designers I have met online all recommend the following companies:
123-Reg where you can buy domain names for as little as £2.99 a year.
GoDaddy which some say is better for buying .com domains.
Compila which may be the cheapest option.
I am always told never to buy hosting from the same company you buy your domain name from .. I have no idea why but I have stuck to the rule as each experienced web designer I talk to says the same thing.
There we go, you are off and running and so far have spent less than £5.
Of course the web is full of sites that offer free keyword tools and selling domain names but I found my bookmarks got to an unmanageable state having saved everything I came across that seemed useful, this was not helpful and simply confused the issue. Start small, find a couple of free tools you can understand and like using and stick with them to begin with.
In lesson 3 of how to start a website we will look at buying hosting and where to get free website software.