If you have plans of promoting your business or services come FIFA world cup 2010 to be held in South Africa please print this article – It might be all you need to survive.
Are you a farmer in citrus grower in Mazowe trying to find an international market to sell your produce ?
Are you a talented sculptor with stunning pictures of your works and struggling to market your wares through your website?
Or you just are just a talented poet or writer yearning to promote his or her work on the global village via your website?
Having a website is one thing. Having your visitors visiting your website is another.
Here I intend to discuss how to make your website visible on the internet by making your website search engine friendly so that when potential customers search for stuff of the Internet, your website comes up as one of the listed ones!
Ever wondered why so many businesses based in Africa have websites BUT when you search for services in Africa – you get websites built and hosted in either America or Europe?
Most websites do not come up on search engine searches because they are invisible to the search engines. Of course if you advertise your website on forums, other websites, newspapers, billboards – you will get exposure in that respect.
First things first.
Registering a domain name
In the modern world of the Internet, where people automatically turn to the Web for information, it pays to have a domain name that reflects your site or business. You can register a domain name any where in the world. You can register a .co.zw in Zimbabwe , a .co.za in South Africa or a .com in the US.
Domain names can be of any length up to 67 characters. So you register a name as short as www.o2.co.zw or www.MyResortCampingSafarisInKaribaDam.co.zw !!!
But before registering a domain name think carefully on how you choose the name. Choose a name that will make sense with your target audience. You don’t need an unnecessarily long, hard to remember domain name. Keep it simple and stupid. The earlier you chose a domain name the better chances you have that it’s still available. Domain names are disappearing fast by day. There are free services online to check and see if a domain name is still available. This service is called “whois”.
Free “whois' services.
Zimbabwe - www.zispa.co.zw/find.html
SA – http://whois.co.za
UK - http://whois.co.uk/
USA - http://whois.net
Hosting a website
It might NOT matter where you register your domain. But it certainly does matter where you host it. If you are putting up a site to lure “would be visitors” from Americas and Europe, your site better be hosted in that part of the world for faster accessibility. At present Zimbabwe’s international bandwidth is pretty limited .The impact of this is that some web pages take for ever to come up on the screen if you are accessing them from OUTSIDE Zimbabwe. Do your homework and make sure where you host your website on a reliable and accessible platform.
Not only should the web host be reliable and fast, it should guarantee its uptime (the time when it is functional). Look for a minimum uptime of 99%.This of course is challenging if you host your site with a provider that is more off line most of the time than online.
Zimbabwe has reputable and fairly reliable hosting companies that will also register a domain for you these include the likes of Telco , ZOL , Econet and Mweb.
Hosting sites in US or UK is reasonably affordable .You are looking at no more than $ 20 per month for hosting a website. Dozens of Zimbabwean websites have taken the internet by storm in the last 4 years or so. Web sites ranging from news , social sites , reunion sites , forums , dating sites , business sites have underlined people’s determination of not being left out of the online reality.
Designing your site
You either design the site yourself or you hire some professional to do it for you. Most web hosting companies in the US or UK provide templates for web site owners to simply customize the content and then publish the website.
The appearance of your site has a lasting impact on your potential customers who will visit it.If your site is dull and unattractive , you are assured that those visitors will not pass good word about your site and that they wont be too keen to make a booking to come to your hotel. Your website is what visitors see about your business when they go online. So , if your website is shabby , there is no reason why a visitor should buy a service or product from you.
Promoting your site
This is the gist of this discussion. There are several useful ways to promote and market your site. I have listed some of the methods below.
Advertising on print and electronic media
Posting on blogs , forums and chartrooms
Word of mouth
Linking your website from other website – Link exchange
Submitting to search engines
Web site optimization
I will delve deeper on the last two as this is one area that has been identified as the weakest spot for most African websites – Zimbabwe included.The other means of promoting your website are self explanatory.
This put simply refers to all efforts undertaken by a website owner to make her / his website visible and searchable on the web. Optimization includes less obvious but very simple techniques that will make your website search engine friendly AND it (optimization) also involves sophisticated strategies that are modeled around a firm understanding of search engine algorithms and intelligence.
Below I touch on very important aspects of how to make your website “Googlable “.As you might know – if you cant find it in Google – it probably does not exist. The Google search engine is a monster – literally! So would it not be nice to see Chibuku or Ingwebu beer coming up after a user in another country searches for natural beer or just beer? Yes it can be done. Read on.
Page Ranking – How does Google rank pages? This is where the tyre meets the road. Never mind if you won’t understand the algorithmic complexity of this basic explanation of how Google ranks pages. An algorithm is a set of well defined instructions to carry out a task. We make decisions in our every day life with specific patterns. In the computing world these instructions are represented as a set of mathematical & logic formulas and expressions. So Google uses about 200 mathematical calculations at lighting speed to determine the rank of your page. The most weighed component of that calculation are the links to and from your web page
In bound links – One of the ways in which Google ranks your pages is simply according to the number of links pointing to your web page. This concept is derived from a very well known foundation amongst academics – that “ .. the importance of a research paper can be judged by the number of citations the paper has from other research papers.” Simply put , the number of websites that refer to your farming produce at your Mazowe farm website adds weight to your ranking on Google search. Put in another way , the more websites you have out there that have links to your website the more relevant is your site on the Google search world. This sounds so trivial but you will be suprized as to how many Zimbabwean sites have other sites linking “ them to them “ – very few. This means that you must make sure your website is linked on as many websites , blogs and forums. For the citrus farmer this would mean exchanging his web link with businesses that she deals with like , transport company , bottle manufacturer , equipment supplier , food websites , farmers magazines and journals etc.
The title Tag - Google search engine appears to give weight to the title of your page. By title, I mean the text that is sandwiched between the HTML
Key Word Density – It is an open secret that Google considers keyword density a large factor in ranking pages in search engine results, more so than many other search engines. KD – can be considered to be the measurement in percentage, of the number of times a keyword or phrase appears compared to the total number of words in a page. It goes without saying that your web pages on your site must contain substantial key words in their title , meta – tag , links and the body of the page. Keyword techniques are NOT limited to placing these keys words in the meta tag alone ! Example – The following key words will make up the basis of key word density in your page title , meta tag , links and body of your website. Key words like “ orange fruit , africa citrus , orange juice , africa juice , vitamin C , sun crush , raspberry , imported juices , apple juice etc “ will have to feature prominently on all aspects of your websites if search engines like Google will find your site.
Submitting to Search Engines
Why submit my site to a search engine ? If search engines do not know about your website , then potential customers who use the internet to search for products and services will never know about your sculptor that you have posted on your website !
You might be the owner of the best farm that produces sweet potatoes in Ngezi and even if you have a website to promote your agricultural produce , it better be known by search engines.
Would people find you in a telephone directory if your name and number are NOT listed in the directory book ?
The top 4 search engines that you need to you to submit your website to include , but not limited to Google (67%) , Yahoo (20%) , MSN (7%) and ASK (4%) and other 2 %.These % are the market share values as of June 30 , 2008.
So how do you make your website known to the big 3 ? Below are the links where you need to go and register your website with a search engine for FREE. This is very crucial !
Google - http://www.google.com/addurl/
Yahoo - http://www.google.com/addurl/
MSN - http://search.msn.com/docs/submit.aspx
More advanced techniques would also involve creation of SiteStamps. Put simply a site stamp is a file that you upload to you web server and that file contains a list of all accessible web pages on your sites. So when search engine like Google crawls your site , it will register in its system the names and number of pages your site contains so that its visible.
This is called indexing - literally what an oxygen mask is to an under sea diver. If you do not register your website with say Google – it will not be known. It’s that simple. When a user types in a query into a Google search engine, the Google systems takes a second to query what are know as index servers. These servers located all over the world contain UP TO DATE index of all the known and registered websites in the web! Look at it like a catalogue book when you go into a library. Or an index at the back of a book – summarizing the contents of what is inside. Similarly Google search asks all indexed pages in its databases(index servers). In the citrus example this would be - who has registered pages with “ mazowe fruits “ ? . And the index server with the citrus orange pages will respond with a snippet containing a page title that is posted as a listing in the search results.
If you want to have an idea of the items I have discussed above simply open Google and search for “ Soccer World Cup 2010 Hotels “ and tell me how many Zimbabwean tour operators and hotels come up in the search results page.
Such technological initiatives we expect to be spear headed by ICT Zimbabwe which I am not sure is still in existence ?
The economic challenges Zimbabwe face today can only be resolved at the same level at which they occur. Only we can help ourselves.
Questions and comments are most welcome. Ngiyabonga. Ndatenda.
Robert Ndlovu © 2008
IT & Telecoms Consultant
New York – USA