My Biggest Website Regrets
by Christopher Heng, thesitewizard.com
It's always helpful to learn from some others' mistakes. This is especially so in the case of web development, promotion, and e-commerce, where the entire field is so new (well, relatively anyway) that the majority of people learn things from the school of hard knocks.
Here are some of my mistakes and some possible ways which you might be able to use to avoid the same. You've probably got wind of some of these from my other articles where I've hinted of the difficulties I've faced.
Not Getting A Domain Name Earlier
Over the years that thefreecountry.com (one of my other sites) has been in existence prior to getting its own domain name, I have had to move web servers some 4 times. Without my own domain name, my URL changed all 4 times. Each time it changed, I had to start getting search engine listings (the lifeline of a website) all over again. In the interim before the new site is listed, I lost an untold amount of visitors. Believe me, pages that redirect people to the new site aren't as effective as you may think! I'll tell you more in another article.
Other problems with not having a domain name include my inability to get into some good affiliate programs that required members to have their own domain. The domain name also gives my site credibility - traffic to the site increased when I got the domain name. Some search engines apparently also discriminate in favour of sites with their own domains and rank it higher. Failing to have a domain name that matched my site name meant that I lost traffic from people who remembered the various sections of my site ("Logtime", "Developer City", "eCentriCity") but did not remember the URL. These names, by the way, pre-dated my obtaining the name "thefreecountry.com". Had I managed to get the domain name earlier, I probably would not have promoted these subsection names but the main domain.
I guess like many people, when I first started, I was not willing to spend any money on something that might turn out to be a failure. And, like many people, I associated getting a domain name with having to pay for commercial web hosting.
If you labour under that fallacy too, dismiss it. Many free web hosts will actually host your domain name free of charge. Indeed, some of them will even allow you to have unlimited email addresses, like firstname.lastname@example.org, for your domain. So the cost of the domain name is only the registrar fees. Most registrars nowadays charge something in the region of $10 a year - which means a cost of less than $1 per month. That's very affordable!
Besides, even if the site turns out to be a failure, you'll still have your own domain name as your email address. I'm sure that counts for something. So it isn't a total loss.
If you need help on how to register your domain name, as well as a brief review and listing of some registrars, check out my article on How to Register Your Domain Name at http://www.thesitewizard.com/archive/registerdomain.shtml
You can also find some tips on choosing a good domain name from http://www.thesitewizard.com/archive/domainname.shtml
If you want free web hosting that will allow you to host your domain name, you can start your search at thefreecountry.com's Free Web Hosting pages at http://www.thefreecountry.com/webhosting/freewebhosts.shtml.
Not Joining An Affiliate Program Earlier
Now that my site has had advertisers for some time, I really regret not having started earlier. I guess, like many people, I assumed that you had to be a big company or something to get advertisers for your site. All those wasted years. Sigh.
Anyway, you don't have to make the same mistake here. You can read up on my tutorials on how to get sponsors for your website, even if your site is only just starting out.
How to Earn Income from Your Website
Increasing Your Revenue from Affiliate Programs
How to Add Google Advertisements (Google AdSense) to Your Blog or Website
Or you can go straight to the Affiliate Programs listing at http://www.thefreecountry.com/webmaster/affiliate.shtml and start signing up.
Not Starting A Newsletter Earlier
If you are surprised at this, then you don't appreciate the value of a newsletter for your website. A newsletter or ezine benefits both you and your visitors. It allows you to inform your visitors of new stuff at your site, thus bringing them back, and it allows your visitors to be informed of those things that they're interested in. It's one of those mutually beneficial arrangements that I did not tap into (for lack of knowledge) until my site had a few years of history behind it.
You can read my article on this, as well as tips on starting your own newsletter or ezine, at http://www.thesitewizard.com/archive/newsletter.shtml
Not Promoting The Newsletter Enough
Nowadays, when you visit thefreecountry.com and its younger sibling, thesitewizard.com, you'll see boxes for people to sign up for the free newsletter on every page.
When I first started the newsletter, I set up a separate page for signups, and put a link to it from my main page.
Needless to say, the rate of signing up was small (relative to now). If you put a link on your site and expect people to click on it, you lose the majority of your audience who either fail to see the link or can't be bothered to click on it.
The general rule of making things convenient for your visitors applies here as well. Put the signup box on your main page. Better still, put it on every page. When I did that, the signup rate for the newsletter jumped manifold. Some people even recommend that you put the signup box at the top and bottom of every page.
If you only have a signup page, try this, and you'll be surprised at the results.
Not Promoting the Website Enough
I'm still guilty of this error. Promoting your website is not something you do when you first launch your site. It's a daily, weekly, monthly process. It's a great hassle, but the payback is that your site has an increased number of visitors.
Promotion means more than submitting your site to search engines. It means making your pages search-engine-ready, so that they appear on the first few pages of the search results of certain keywords. It means asking other relevant sites for links to your site. It means announcing your site at places like newsgroups, announcement lists, your local newspapers, etc.
It means a lot of work. That's why I never seem to do enough of it. I think I spend more time writing articles (like this) and adding content to the site. It should be both adding content AND promoting the site, not just one or the other.
You can get some tips on website promotion from some of my other articles at thesitewizard.com. Many of them can be found from the Website Promotion and Search Engine Optimization index at http://www.thesitewizard.com/sitepromotion/index.shtml
Putting My Email Address on My Site
Yes. I actually regret putting my email address on my website. However, unlike the preceding items in this article, this "mistake" is not really a mistake, and you should not simply wipe out your email address from your site. It's just my personal regret. Read this entire section first before you take action.
When I first started my site, I did what everyone else does - put my email address as a hyperlink for anyone who wanted to contact me. I soon found out that the people who wanted to contact me most were spammers! Somehow, these email spammers actually send out "robots" that spider your site, grabbing any email addresses it can find and adding them to their database.
Before you rush out to eliminate your email address, you should probably be aware of a few things. If you are a business concern, expecting people to go to your site and buy your goods and services, publishing your email address, business address and telephone number is mandatory. Failing to do so makes your site look like a fly-by-night operation that many people will not dare trust with their money. Hence if you sell anything at all on your site, this section probably does not apply to you.
Otherwise, what can you do about this problem? As it turns out there are actually a few ways to minimize it.
Putting up email addresses like "email@example.com" or "firstname.lastname@example.org" used to help. For some reason, such generic email addresses used to attract less spam. It doesn't seem to be the case nowadays though, and many people have found that any email address they display will be subject to spam.
If you are willing to put up with some inconvenience to your visitors, you can try what thesitewizard.com and thefreecountry.com do (at least, at the date of this writing). Don't put any email addresses on any page. Everywhere where an email address is appropriate, put a link to your feedback form. I must admit that it doesn't entirely eliminate spam, but it forces spammers to manually send spam. For example, I get spammers going to the feedback form and submitting their advertisements there!
If you take this route, you should also modify your CGI feedback script so that your email address is embedded in the script itself, and not in a hidden field on your form (spiders can always read those fields). The free feedback form script generated by thesitewizard Feedback Form Wizard does this automatically. Of course if you use a CGI-hosted service, this is likely to be outside your control.
One of my newsletter readers has also suggested another alternative: you can always put your email address in a graphical image (such as a GIF) file and put it on your web page. Since it is unlikely that the spam spiders would go through the trouble of using an OCR to read the text on your images, your email address will probably be safe from their prying eyes. However, if you use this route, you should probably also have a feedback form somewhere so that visitors who rely on speech software to "read" your page (such as the visually impaired) can still contact you.
I hope this article helps you. At the very least, you can minimize the amount of things you need to "regret" later by learning from my omissions and commissions!
Copyright 2000-2003 by Christopher Heng. All rights reserved.
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