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Build A Scottish Web Site - A Short Guide

I began building Scottish web sites about six years ago when Tour Scotland officially opened its doors. That site receives well over two million hits each year.

How did I get the traffic so high for a Scottish Travel site, hosted by a Scot who is not exactly a household name? Some of it, naturally, has to do with the fact that Scotland is a wonderful, and safe, tourist destination. But I think there are really three key factors that have drawn so many people to my Scottish Websites.

* Worthwhile, free content
* Registration in search engines
* Reciprocal Links

Substance Counts On The Web
There is simply no substitute for content. Just as you wouldn't open an entire art gallery to display only two or three paintings, you should not try to bring visitors into a website that is lacking adequate content. By adequate, I mean enough reading or viewing material to keep people interested in your site for at least an hour.

Obviously original Scottish web content is what will really keep people coming back but if you find yourself short of Scottish content, then it's time to surf the Web. There are many services out there who now provide limited free content, some are willing to share articles, others offer free news-wires, and many more offer free graphics. If your Scottish Web site site looks skimpy on content, you have no one to blame but the yourself for not checking out the hundreds of opportunities on-line to get free stuff to liven up your pages. Also try to write your own content. Your very own Scottish web site should reflect your view of Scotland and your local area.

Local Knowledge
When you design and build your own Scottish website try to concentrate on the regional location, local area sights, local history, activities and recreation, and also what unique events and activities your area has to offer.

Rev the Engines and Get Searched
There is no better way for people without big advertising budgets to draw visitors than by listing their URLs with as many search engines as possible. For those who don't already know about search engines, they are the Web's equivalent of the old electronic catalogue at a university library. You type in a keyword (a subject or a name), and the search software processes your request, skimming through millions of files to give you a list of all Websites which contain that keyword.

The Downside
Search engines are considerably less reliable than a university library's catalogue for the simple reason that a library's collection is fairly static. New books may be added, but old books tend to stay around. The Web, however, is in a state of constant flux. Thousands of sites continually open and close, sometimes overnight. Making matters yet more confusing, a Website, unlike a book, is a dynamic environment whose editorial content continually transforms. The inability of search engines to keep up with these changes is a source of frustration to surfers and website operators alike who depend on accurate descriptions of a site's current content.

Moreover, on-line search engines are quirky and quixotic enterprises which rely on website operators to list with them. No single search engine lists ALL the sites now operating on the Web. The same site which you may find listed in five big engines will be oddly absent from a sixth, equally big one. Why? Often because the website operator neglected to submit the URL, just as often because the search engine didn't follow up your request, and sometimes because your site doesn't meet the search engine's qualifying requirements for a listing.

Search Engines also will return scores of utterly irrelevant sites. As long as your keyword is buried somewhere on the page, the site will be listed when you do a search. You will also bump into folks who dishonestly list irrelevant but highly popular key words to dupe people into visiting.

Whatever the negatives, engines are the single most important way to locate sites and to ensure that other people can locate yours. At a minimum, you should you register your site with the best-known, and most heavily-accessed, engines such as Google. Do so the moment you know your URL: some of the big engines can take four to six weeks to process your request.

Bigger Isn't Always Better
The fundamental reason for signing up with engines is to disseminate your URL as widely as possible, without incurring any costs except your time and connect charges. Although small engines draw fewer people, they have their own advantages. Most important, the waiting period is much shorter, in some cases your site is automatically listed when you register; others get your link up within 24 hours. The sooner your link is visible on a links site, the sooner you will draw people to your page.

Although registering with the big sites is crucial (the equivalent of having your business phone number listed in the Yellow Pages), you will not necessarily get more hits from a listing on a big engine than you will from one on a small engine. For example, let's say a new search engine only has a thousand sites in its database. Let's say your business is a company which specializes in Scottish Prints. Any time someone types in "Scottish" or "Scottish Prints" or any of the other key words you've selected to describe your page, they will quickly find your links. Now imagine how many links people have to thread through on AOL or Yahoo! to find yours. Although the big engines draw many more visitors, you are competing for their attention against thousands of art-related sites. So the Web, by its nature, is a place where thinking small can sometimes lead to big results.

Cross-Linking
Another important way to spread word about your site is to get your URL listed or crosslinked on as many other sites as possible. The most acceptable way to do this (according to the world-wide Net ethos, which emphasizes mutual cooperation and egalitarian networking) is by offering "reciprocal links." In other words, offer to link to sites you want to be linked from and request a link from every site which asks you for a link.

Reciprocating a link may not be necessary, or even possible, in all cases, so you'll have to use your own judgment. For example, don't feel obliged to reciprocate a link if the person who has linked to you runs a page you're not crazy about. I had one man write me four times, each time getting progressively pushier, as he tried to force me to link back to his site from mine, making it sound as if he'd done me a big favor by putting my link on his site. In fact, his site was tacky and obnoxious. I wasn't sure I wanted to be listed there in the first place. I certainly didn't want to direct others there.

But, more times than not, I'm very pleasantly surprised by requests for reciprocal links and happy to oblige. Also, when I find a quality site that I want to add to my links catalogues, I will initiate a links request myself.

Asking For A Link
My method is to browse before emailing to make sure that my own work would fit it in with the other site's links requirements. As someone who runs big links lists, I can assure you that there is nothing more annoying than someone sending you on a wild goose chase to browse a site that simply does not fit your content requirements. Also, it's a waste of my time to write to people who are unlikely to link to me. And if your life is anything like mine, time is your most precious commodity.

Once I'm sure my pages' content meet the other site's criteria, I look for an email address (it usually appears in hypertext at the bottom of the homepage), and drop the person in charge a brief, polite note. I strongly recommend that you keep your letter low-key and to-the-point. Try not to over-burden the recipient with unnecessary details. Instead, write a straightforward and concise (25-50 word) description of your site's contents; and don't forget to include your correct URL. I've received all too many requests from people who failed to proof-read their URLs. One little typo and you're lost in the ether.

Make Time For Marketing
Marketing: the dread reality of a website's success. Many of us hate to do it; a few of us think it is too time-consuming; and some of us artsy types think it is beneath us even to dirty our hands with such business-like concerns. Alas, it is a simple fact that a website's success is measured by its ability to draw visitors. This is true whether you are selling services or merchandise; trying to promote or popularize creative work; or just running a site for a favorite hobby or personal passion. Whatever your reason for starting a Website, if you want it to have a long, healthy life, finding ways improve its traffic must be one of your chief operating priorities.

When I first opened my Tour Scotland domain, I quickly registered with as many search engines as I could find. Although I am less diligent now, I still spend at least an hour or two a month browsing the Web for interesting new engines where my domain is not yet listed. Naturally, I recommend this same routine to others: set aside some time every month to seek out listing and networking opportunities to promote your site.

Using Free Web Graphics
More and more independent artists and photographers are offering selections of fine work for you to use free. Most simply request that (a) you let them know you're using their work and (b) include a free link to their site from your page. But always ask first.

Again, don't forget to link back to whatever sites you borrow from. The people who provide the freebies are performing a fantastic service to the Web community--and if using their graphics helps to improve traffic to your site, you owe them. Acknowledging their contribution with a link is the best way to say thanks (short of hiring them for custom work, of course!).

Sandy Stevenson

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