Having a great website is one thing, getting it noticed online is quite another. Sean Greentree outlines how not to end up down an online back alley.

Only the most old-fashioned hairdresser would argue that the internet has not been a huge opportunity for hairdressing salons. Here you have a highly visual, interactive, fast-moving medium through which you can reach – potentially at least – way beyond your local high street.

Innovative new forms of “viral” marketing have emerged and, on top of this, the rise and rise of social media has created exciting new ways in which people can access, engage and communicate with salons. Many salons, rightly, are working very hard to make the most of the business opportunities now offered by the internet.

Nevertheless, for most businesses, especially small ones with little time and fewer resources, their website remains the core “channel” through which they communicate with online audiences.

So, given the exponential rise in web traffic and websites in recent years, what “tricks” can small businesses use to ensure their voices are heard above the colossal noise of information that is now the internet?

1. Interesting and unique content sets you apart

Writing for the web is very different than writing for any other media. Attention spans are limited and so it is vital to keep content short and to the point. It may be tempting simply to copy content in from another source (a sales or marketing brochure, for example), but you’ll get much better results if you craft content specifically for the web.

Search engines prioritise sites that come up with the most useful, unique and authoritative information for any given search – so make sure your information fits that bill.

2.  Format your content

It’s second nature but when we open up a book we look for a table of contents to help us “navigate” through the information. We will then drill down into further categorisations such as, perhaps, the specific name or title of a chapter. A search engine does exactly the same thing.

To rank your website, the search engines rely on you to name each page of your website according to the content of each page, and to title that content in a way that easily categorises on-page topics.

3.  Link recommendations

If you wanted to get a recommendation on, say, the best book to teach you Spanish who would you ask: a native Spanish teacher or your cat? I’m being extreme, of course, the answer is straight-forward (and cat lovers please don’t write in).

Again, search engines “think” in much the same way. In-bound web links to your website from well-established “authoritative” websites will give far more credit to your content and move you up the search engine rankings.

Avoiding broken links to old pages is also important. Equally, constantly moving pages around and breaking web link addresses can harm your rankings.

4.  Think where and how people will be looking at your website

As smart phones become ever-more ubiquitous you’ll probably need to think about ensuring your website offers responsive design.

By this, we mean the page changes and adjusts its layout to fit whatever device the visitor is using to view it – be that a laptop, a tablet device or smart phone. It’s important not to underestimate the growing numbers of people using varying devices to browse the internet.

Tools such as Google Analytics can help you monitor the response of visitors to your pages, and the most popular aspects of your site. Another great general tool, incidentally, is Google Places, essentially a free listings site that shows users looking for, say, local hairdressers where they are in any given area through pins on a map.

5. Once you’ve been found, give the visitor what they came for

This sounds obvious, and is basic business sense. But the functionality and design of your website plays a major role in how you present your organisation, its brand and your overall message to the world.

It stands to reason, therefore, that one of the first steps to designing the layout of your site is to understand why and how it will be used by your audience. Is it to gather information? To purchase products? Or is it going to be more somewhere for users to meet and chat, either with you or between themselves?

Whatever the answer, you need to make sure navigation is highly visible no matter what page the visitor is on, so the user knows where they are on the site at all times.

Always have at least one clear link back to the homepage and try not to overcrowd the homepage with content – often, as the old adage states, a picture can be equal to a 1,000 words!

Sean Greentree - NetXtra