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Launching a New Website : Web Developer / Programmer

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Launching a New Website

Published 29 Sep 2008


As part of a project, I'm sometimes required to help launch a new website that I've helped create. Even if as a developer you're not responsible for promotion, you still need to take care of the technical things such as correct meta-tags in dynamic pages, XML sitemaps, etc.

Things to Make Clear First

There's a couple of things you need to make clear to your client (and be clear about yourself).

Build It and They Will Come...

isn't true. It takes time and effort (and sometimes money) to get visitors. You won't appear in the search engine indexes for at least a couple of weeks, and it will take months before the site will appear high in organic search results. It can also take weeks for a submission to appear in the major directories, if at all. Getting visitors to a new site initially requires word-of-mouth and advertising (on & off line).

Avoid Scams

There's plenty of sites offering submission to hundreds of search engines, Get thousands of visitors, No 1 position in google guaranteed, etc. Forget them - most are half a milimetre away from "get rich quick" websites. Unless there's budget for a genuine, respectable (not black hat) SEO expert, keep your wallet in your pocket (or your client's in theirs).

Don't be Lazy with Submissions

It's tempting to submit to lots of directories and search engines using automatic tools, and though I'm also a fan of the 1st virtue, in this case it's often better to submit manually and carefully. One tool I do recommend however is the Self Promotion website.

Before Going Public

Title & Meta Tags

Each page should have a unique, descriptive title tag, a unique description tag, and some appropiate keywords. For dynamic PHP pages, this means you'll need to fetch items before the page template is loaded - in psuedo-code: fetchItem(); #fetch item from the database $pageTitle=$item['name']; $pageDesc=$item['description'].' .MySite.'; loadTemplateHeader(); displayItem(); loadTemplateFooter(); Here's an article on meta-tags (though use lowercase for XHTML). Ideally, the description tag should be unique globally - add the short sitename to the end.

Search Engine Friendly URLs

SEF URLs are also more human friendly URLs. It's good to do this before submission (or creating the XML sitemap for example). This basically involves

  1. Setting up modRewrite or simlar and
  2. Configuring your PHP scripts to output URLs in the new SEF format - something you've hopefully thought about during the design phase.

To www or not to www, that is the question

Decide whether the site will be accessed with or without the www. prefix, and be consistent. If the domain name is long, obmitting the www. will save a bit of typing.

To force the www prefix, add in your .htaccess file (I'm assuming Apache with modRewrite): Options +FollowSymLinks RewriteEngine on RewriteBase / RewriteCond %{http_host} ^example.com [NC] RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.example.com/$1 [R=301,L] To force without the www prefix, use: Options +FollowSymLinks RewriteEngine On RewriteBase / RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^www\.example\.com$ [NC] RewriteRule ^.*$ http://example.com%{REQUEST_URI} [R=301,L] You can also precify your preference in Google's Webmaster Tools.

If there a multiple domain names for the website (e.g. www.mywidgets.com & www.my-widgets.com ), again be consistent with which one you promote, and ensure that the secondary domain names redirect to the primary (not cloaked) - othewise you may be penalised in the search engines for duplicate content.

Sitemap & RSS

You should have an XML sitemap. This will normally be a mixture of static links (home page, contact, section indexs) and dynamic pages that you need to pull as a list from the database. For large sites, use gzip compression. Have a look at phpsitemapng.

You also need an RSS feed. If the website has a news section, all well and good, though you can also generate an RSS feed from other frequently changing content, such as articles, new items added to the database, etc. Keep it small - 10 to 15 items is enough. The RSS specification is nice and simple, though you'll need to use some headers:
rss.xml.php example: <?php require 'dbfunctions.inc.php'; header('Content-Type: text/xml;charset=utf-8'); header('Content-Disposition: inline; filename="news.rss.xml"', true); echo "<?xml version=\"1.0\" encoding=\"utf-8\"?".">\n"; ?> <rss version="2.0"> <channel> <title>News from Example Net</title> <link>http://www.example.net/</link> <language>en</language> <?php # This is just an example # In reality, you need to stripslashes from text fields, escape html entities, etc. $db=connectDatabase(); $query=mysql_query('SELECT `title`, `description`, `date` FROM `items` ORDER BY `id` DESC LIMIT 10', $db); while($item=mysql_fetch_assoc($query) : echo "<title>{$item['title']}</title> <pubDate>{$item['date']}</pubDate> <link>$link</link> <description>{$item['description']} </description> </item>\n"; endwhile; @mysql_free_result($query); ?> </channel> </rss>

Don't forget to put the auto-discovery link in side the <head> tag of your page template: <link rel="alternate" title="News Feed" href="rss.xml.php" type="application/rss+xml" />

robots.txt

Make sure there's a robots.txt file in the site root directory. Something like this will usually suffice: User-agent: * Disallow: /members/ Sitemap: http://www.example.net/sitemap.php.xml where sitemap points to the XML sitemap created earlier.

Site Statistics

You (or your client) will need to know where, and many, visitors are coming from. Looking through raw log files isn't fun - at least set up something like Webalizer. If the website is going to be advertised online, you need to be able to track conversions. Google Analytics is good, as long as you don't mind that Google has your data.

Word of Mouth (Online)

When someone does come accross the new website (and likes it), is it easy for them to add it to their online bookmarks or tell a friend? Have a look at Add This or Share This for bookmarking widgets.

Submission

Before begining the actual submission process, there should be at least some content (news items, articles, etc.) already there. It doesn't have to be loads, and if more will be added in the next couple of weeks it's ok, but there should be something there first.

It also helps if you have a seperate email account (or an alias) setup to use for some of the submission processes.

Submit the XML SiteMap & RSS Feed

Directory Submission

DMOZ is the biggy. Read the guidelines carefully, make sure you choose the most appropiate category, and prepared to be very very patient.

Next is the Yahoo! directory (note this is seperate from the Yahoo! search index). This can cost money for commercial categories, you'll need to evaluate if it's worth it or not.

Other Directories

There's thousands of other directories out there. Most are a waste of time to submit to, and don't bother paying for a featured listing - you'll get few visitors and it won't really help your page ranking.

The directories that are worth submitting to are those that serve a niche that matches your site - either geographically (e.g. Directory of UK sites) or topically (e.g. directory of Widget Providers). Info Vilesilencer (strange name I know) can help you find some.

Major Search Engines

Link Building

Firstly, your site needs links to other sites that will be of interest to your visitors and relevant to your site's theme. Without external links, your website is a cul-du-sac or dead-end, which goes against the concept of the web, and search engines don't like it.

Find websites/blogs that are topically relevant to yours (google or use your search engine of choice) but not competing. Send a polite email to the webmaster suggesting your site, with a brief, neutral description. If you don't get a reply, don't send more emails, move on to the next site. If they suggest a reciprocal link, accept, but try so that the page you link to is different to the page you're being linked from.

Note that link building is a long-term, time consuming, ongoing activity. Avoid automatic link-building programs - they won't work page-rank wise (or at least not next time Google changes their algorithm). Here's an article on link building.

Advertising

Offline

It's important, even for online-only businesses. Word of mouth, flyers, business cards, make sure the domain name is on every piece of stationary and veichle, "old" media advertising (newspapers, trade magazines), press releases, etc., etc.

Online

Firstly, it's important to track results (see site statistics earlier) and the ROI. No point paying $1 per click with a 0.5% conversion ratio when your average profit is $100. It's also important to plan the advertising budget (and stick to it) - don't get bidding fever on PPC engines!

Secondly, targeting is important.

Also, don't put all your eggs in one basket. Use a couple of different advertising providers, and compare results.

Pay-Per-Click Text Adverts

The main way of advertising online at time of writing. Choose your keywords carefully, don't try to be too general. Experiment with different combinations to see what works best. Cap your daily/monthly advertising spend.

Banner Advertising

Has suffered since CPC took off. CTR is probably about 0.10 to 0.25% these days. However, banner advertising is now pretty cheap, and when launching a new site can be useful for creating "brand" awareness. Run a couple of campaigns for the first month or so, in combination with the PPC ads. Remember targeting.

Other

Project Wonderful has a refreshing model where you pay per day, rather than by impression or by click. You choose which sites to advertise on.

Niche sites, that run their advertising in house. Can be highly relevant to your target audience. Check their Alexa ranking, Google PR, and if they're listed on Quantcast. If you're paying by impression (CPM) you need independant verification of the page views.


Good luck, and remember, patience grasshoper :-).

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