The sure-fire, attention-grabbing strategy to make a website successful

Wonderful websites know how to make you lookNo, a catchy title isn't the one I had in mind, but that was a pretty good one for starters, right? On the other hand, the picture on the right has a lot more in common with today's post than may first meet the eye ...

I've been doing a lot of surfing over the last week, going back to get a fresh perspective on some familiar things. Bossman (the elder) has been doing something similar, though his reflective retro trip has involved listening to such classic 80s musical greats as "Ghostbusters" and "Final Countdown" (not that I'm complaining – it makes me feel way younger than I have been of late).

One of the things I noticed during this week of “revisiting old things in a new way” was just how websites were marketed, and how I responded to that. So rather than talk about how to make a website this week, I thought I'd step back and talk about how to make a successful website, and what SEO has to do with making it a success.

I've talked at lengths recently about SEO (search engine optimization) and the central role it plays in making a website. SEO is all about ensuring your website attracts visitors by ensuring an optimal search engine placement. But I've also gone to great pains (though not literally) to emphasize the fact that you should never, ever write for search engines. Always write for your public: the people who'll make or break your website. Google, Yahoo, bing and the like couldn't care less what you write about, beyond a very mathematical, abstract lexical analysis to determine your placement on the pages of their search results. So if you spend your time writing solely to please Google through SEO, then you're wasting your time.

Your visitors, on the other hand, care very much about what you write. They're there for themselves, after all. And they're selfish - they couldn't care less about what you need, but are surfing around for their own reasons, whatever they may be. Analyzing my own, selfish surfing this week reveals that I spent time on websites for the following two reasons:

  1. interesting content, generally on an average- to dull-looking website that I already knew about
  2. average to dull content, on a fantastic looking website, or one that had really pretty pictures.

Now, as much as that may reveal things about me (such as my shallowness and conservatism), I'm pretty sure everyone else shares similar surfing habits. After all, the internet has become the new TV: it's there to entertain, and to inform. So your website needs to do one or both of those things well: to entertain and/or to inform. If it does neither, it's doomed to fail. If it manages to do at least one successfully, then your website may just attract a loyal following.

When you're generating content for your website (whether writing or working on your super-interesting and ultra-colorful page layout), just try to remember that what matters to your visitors is not how much time and effort you've put into your website, but whether they find it interesting, entertaining, or informative. Placing keywords in your content is secondary to actually generating content that's worth reading. Forget that, and you might as well give up on the idea of making a website a success.

After all, a successful website builder is someone who manages to balance the necessary constraints of SEO with writing stuff people like to read. Or who knows where to find lots of pretty pictures.

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