What tools can webmasters use to understand, as Monty once asked, who our “web visitors are and what they want to see”?
The Google Keywords Planner (under Tools in your Google Adwords account) can tell you what related keywords are most popular worldwide. Google Trends looks promising – compare search popularity by time and region for colleges or english majors. Google Analytics can tell you where your visitors came from, the keywords they were searching for (if Google feels like telling you), and what pages on your site are most popular. For search, Google Webmasters Tools may tell you even more. Your server logs can tell you some of those same things too.
But none of these tools can tell you about the people who have never visited your website.
So, what’s a webmaster to do? Blindly rewrite all our pages to use all the most popular keywords? Google Trends has a list of those too. Blast an email to every website that’s vaguely related to yours, and try to convince the webmaster that your site is closely related to theirs and needs a prominent link from their site?
I’m a little sensitive about link building requests, after recently receiving two emails from the same “link building marketer” on behalf of two normally-reputable educational publishers. He was asking for his links to be added to some of our web pages. First to the Key Public Entry Points page, except that contains only A&M home pages. Then to one of our news releases, except that was released to the news outlets three years earlier. Apparently he didn’t actually read the pages first.
No, don’t turn your site into something that it isn’t, or pretend it’s something that it isn’t. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t let these tools serve as a wake-up call. If nobody is linking to your site, you probably need to start answering the questions that people are asking. If nobody is interested in what you’re talking about, eloquent and informative as you may be, you probably need to start talking about something new.
When our customers change, our products need to change too. When the world changes, departments should change. But a departmental website won’t succeed unless it accurately reflects its department. The department has to change first, then the website.
You’ll always be most successful by being yourself. For one thing, there’s no competition. Once you’ve decided who you want to serve – and who you can serve best – then give those people what they want to see. How do you know what they want to see? You have to enter their world. Or you could ask them.
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