Would you wear a blindfold while driving? Didn’t think so. In much the same way, analyzing your site’s statistics is a must. Here are some great resources for learning more about web analytics.
- Google Analytics hosts a blog chock-full of information about new functionalities and how to use them. This service is very powerful and, best of all, free.
- OneStat.com offers real-time web intelligence plans starting for a little more than $10 per month.
- If you prefer to get your information offline, Web Analytics: An Hour a Day by Avinash Kaushik is a great beginner’s guide to web analytics.
- Want more? Check out Web Analytics World’s five great web analytics tools.
- GoingUp.com offers an easy-to-read analytics interface and some great functionality.
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The great advantage of websites over any other advertising or marketing medium is that you can instantly see if you’re reaching your target audience. Think of your site statistics as a virtual and immediate performance review. This information can help you grow and improve both your website—and, by extension, your profitability—in a number of ways.
For those new to analytics, following are a few simple statistics you’ll want to look at when gauging your site’s effectiveness:
Unique visitors – The number of users that visit your site within a period of time.
Repeat visitors – The number of visitors who return to your site two or more times. You’re aiming for 30 percent or more of your traffic to come from repeat visitors.
Pages visited – Your home page should always be your most-visited page. If it’s not, that means you’re burying important information on your site and could be losing potential visitors. If this is the case, tweak your site’s content, making sure the information visitors are interested in is easily accessible from your home page.
Visit length – In a perfect world, you want your visitors to be on your site for five minutes or more at a time. If visit times are on the low end, that means you’re not engaging visitors and should tweak your content to pull them in.
Referring URLs – This tells you where your traffic is coming from (i.e., search engines, PPC ads, or links from other sites).
Most web hosting companies will be able to provide you with your site stats free of charge. In addition, there are also a variety of free online tools that allow you to access all of the information mentioned above. Assessing your site statistics is critical as they will help you both target the information your clients are most interested in and ensure you’re reaching your desired demographic.
It probably won’t surprise you to hear that Google offers one of the most comprehensive and user-friendly free programs available, Google Analytics. Just register your website with Google Analytics, then follow their simple instructions to add the provided HTML code to each page of your site. Once you’ve completed this simple step, Google will begin to track your site’s traffic.
With Google Analytics, you can track your visitors’ location, how long they’ve spent on your site, what site or search engine they were referred to you from (as well as any search terms they may have used to locate you), how many pages they’ve viewed in a single visit, and even their out-click (which allows you to monitor any links they may click on or, alternatively, lead you to competitor’s sites).
All of this information is provided in user-friendly charts and graphs that make it simple to view your site’s short and long-term traffic trends. One of this program’s greatest features is the wide array of options for reports and information organization, allowing you to get as specific or broad a view of your traffic as you want. All of this information will help you refine both your content and your keywords to ensure you’re maximizing site traffic and keeping visitors interested and engaged once they’re on your site. And, speaking of keywords, Analytics is particularly useful if you are participating in Google’s AdWords PPC program (for more information about PPC advertising, see our previous Web 101 post). Analytics provides a user-friendly AdWords report that lets you see how much traffic each of your AdWord keyword campaigns is generating and, from there, to determine how effectively your marketing dollars are being spent.
Much like the keyword search mentioned in our previous SEO blog, site statistics should be monitored on a frequent and regular basis. Remember, though, while you should certainly use this information to make tweaks and improvements to your site, you really need about a month’s worth of statistics to derive definitive information. Site traffic and visitor habits may change on a day-to-day basis for any number of reasons and you’ll drive yourself crazy—and, more than likely make your site less effective—if you’re responding to websurfers’ random whims. You want to look at general trends and build your site around those.
Whether you decide to use Google Analytics, your host’s site tracking information, GoDaddy’s Site Analytics, Sitemeter, or any other analytics program, the ability to have all this information at your fingertips will allow you to be nimble in your web messaging and strategy, immediately changing those things that are not working and building upon those that do.
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Creating an SEO-friendly website takes some research. Luckily, there are some great online tools to help you along the way. Following are some of our favorites.
- Type your domain name into SEOMoz for a basic analysis of your site’s SEO. For further analysis, you can pay a small fee for their Linkscape Pro service.
- Use Google Rankings to discover where your site ranks in specific Google keyword searches.
- Gather SEO inteligence on every site you visit by installing the SEOQuake browser plugin.
- Stay up-to-date with SEO tips and tools with the Search Engine Journal.
- If you have too much on your plate as is, you might want to consider outsourcing your SEO to HubSpot.
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You know the old riddle about whether or not a tree falling in a forest makes a sound if no one’s around to hear it? Well, much the same can be said about websites. Even if you build the most state-of-the-art website around, ultimately it won’t do any good if your customers can’t find it. Luckily, there are several free and effective tools out there that make increasing your website’s visibility a relatively simple process.
What is SEO, anyway?
More than likely, even if you’re completely new to the wonderful world of websites, you’ve heard the term SEO. SEO stands for “search engine optimization” and is a more technical way of referring to how easily the big search engines like Google, Yahoo, and MSN pick up your site.
Search engine optimization is primarily based on how smoothly and prominently the appropriate keywords for your product are placed within your website text and tags. Basically, you want to make sure that when a potential customer Googles property management companies or apartment rentals in your area, your site is as far to the top of Google’s search results as possible.
Keywords are the key to your success.
Helpful (and, even better, free!) tools can help you figure out exactly what those keywords are. Google’s Keyword Tool is a great, easy-to-use resource that will help you easily identify the best words and phrases for drawing traffic to your site. Just enter in a relevant term (for example, “rental listing”) and Google’s program will provide you with a list of related words, showing you how frequently they’re searched both on average and within the past month.
You can also do a Google Keyword search by website. Just type in the name of your website (or a successful competitor’s site) and Google will suggest keywords based on site content. Again, each listing will also include search stats. In addition to Google’s Keyword Tool, you can also try Wordtracker’s keyword program, which provides results for a database of 330 million terms.
Incorporating SEO content on your site.
Now that you have your keywords, it’s time to incorporate them into your site copy. For best results, Million Dollar Website author Lori Culwell recommends including at least one of your top ten most frequently searched keywords in every title, headline, and paragraph of your website. This means you will not only want to keep a list of the keywords you found on Google and Wordtracker close by at all times, but also that you should run these searches every month or so to make sure your website remains up-to-date with web surfers’ searching habits.
A final word of warning on keyword integration: Search engines are trained to pick up on “keyword stuffing,” so haphazardly cramming as many keywords onto your site as possible just won’t cut it. You want to be sure you actually weave keywords into your web content in as natural a manner as possible. If you’re really ambitious, you can up your SEO content by including these keywords not only in your copy, but also in your page title descriptions, links, and tags. To test your site’s keyword density (basically how keyword-friendly it is), run a free site scan at KeyWordDensity.com or Webjectives.com.
Paying for clicks (PPC advertising).
If you want to invest a little bit of money in advertising you site, you may also want to consider signing up for a pay-per-click (PPC program). Essentially PPC advertising means that you pay a designated amount every time a visitor enters your website by clicking on an ad on another site.
The most prominent PPC advertising providers are Google AdWords and Yahoo Search Marketing. A PPC program will either provide an ad link to your company’s site at the top of their search results page (under a heading like “sponsored links” or “sponsored ads”) or place an ad and link for your site on network websites or blogs that contain designated keywords.
It’s critical to note that you determine the keywords that will lead users to your site … yet another reason to be thorough and up-to-date with your keyword research.
Getting on the search engines.
It won’t surprise most to hear that a Google presence can be the difference between your website’s success or failure. Websites do not automatically appear in Google searches—be sure to register your site with Google by clicking here. You should also know that just registering your site doesn’t guarantee it will appear in Google’s search results; they have the right to accept or decline it. With that in mind, as important as Google registration is, you should not submit your site for review until you have done some keyword SEO work on it.
For maximum visibility, you’ll also want to register your site with Yahoo and MSN. If you want the large network of smaller search engines out there to pick up your site, you’ll need to register with them as well. Because this can be an extremely time-consuming process, you may want to consider paying a small fee to GoDaddy.com’s Traffic Blazer program, which will save you time by taking care of these registrations for you.
Since our last post discussed creating company websites, we thought these links to hosts, domain name registrars, and site builders might help you get your site started off on the right foot.
- Infamous for their Super Bowl ads, GoDaddy.com is a top choice for many first-timer site builders.
- Provided through FatCow.com, MiniMoo plans start at just $5 per year; this includes domain name and hosting.
- RackSpace.com offers managed hosting, cloud hosting, and email hosting.
- For instant gratification, choose a do-it-yourself package from Register.com and you’ll have a website in just minutes.
- OLM.net offers hosting services specifically tailored to businesses.
Company websites have quickly become less of an option and more of a necessity. While advertising available units on highly-trafficked websites like Craigslist and Yahoo is a good step in the right direction—and certainly something you should continue doing even after you have your own website—it doesn’t provide your company with the kind of visibility a website offers.
Particularly in more trying economic times in which consumers are looking for the best deal available and providers are fighting for business, marketing is essential. And building a company website is one of the most effective ways to get a jump on marketing. Best of all, building a website is a lot easier and less expensive than you think (yup, you read that right).
But remember, there’s a lot of web traffic out there and investing any amount of time and money in a site that will never be seen is a waste of your resources. Over the next three weeks we’ll walk you through the three elements that will make or break your website: building a website that works, getting your site noticed, and using web tools that will tell you exactly who is—and perhaps even more importantly, who is not—looking at your site.
And now … let the website building begin!
1. Purchase a domain name.
You’ll want to begin by purchasing your domain name (essentially, your website address). This can be done in just a few minutes at sites like GoDaddy.com, Yahoo, and Register.com. Just type in your desired address to see if it’s available, make your purchase (this usually costs between $10 and $15), and you’re set. Website addresses should always be as simple as possible; you want potential visitors to easily remember the address in the time it takes them to get to a computer.
Most companies use their company name as their site address. You may also want to consider seeing if there are more generic names available that web surfers may just intuitively visit, thus increasing your traffic. For example, if you live in Burlington, you might see if something like BurlingtonRents.com or BurlingtonApartments.com is available (note that you can have more than one web address leading to a single site).
2. Find a host.
Some domain name providers also offer web hosting services. If yours does not, you’ll need to find a separate company that does. Essentially, a web host is a company that makes your website available on the internet. Web hosting prices vary depending upon how big your site is (i.e., how many pages and files you include), and what sort of options you want included in your hosting package. Along with domain names, GoDaddy.com also offers a variety of hosting services. You can also try Yahoo or 20m.com. There are a ton of options out there, and a Google search should help you identify the best fit for your company.
3. Create your content.
Now it’s time to create your website content. Decide what information you want to include, being sure to keep your language simple and to-the-point. Your site doesn’t necessarily need a lot of pages (and, in many cases, less is more), but you do need to think carefully about what information users will be looking for and make sure it’s all online and easy to find. Also be sure your website copy is spell-checked and proofread before your site goes live.
4. Build your site.
If you’re new to web development, you’ll likely find it easiest to build your site with the help of readily available content management systems (CMS) and website templates. A CMS lets you build web pages using an intuitive, WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor in which the content displayed during the editing process appears very similar to the final output. Translation? If you’re comfortable using Word, you’ll be comfortable using a CMS. In the past few years, such templates have become far more sophisticated, allowing users to enjoy the ease of using a simple program while still creating a visually appealing, unique-looking site. A Google search will turn up many options for content management systems and site templates, and you can also refer to GoDaddy.com or Yahoo once again. If you’re a Mac user, the iWeb application is also very user-friendly. Once you’ve selected the right template for your business, insert your content and you’re in e-business!
In just four steps, you now have the most time-consuming part of the process taken care of. Next week, we’ll take a look at how to get customers to your site and keep them interested with search engine optimization (SEO) and pay per click advertising (PPC).
We all know that security deposits are funds reserved for repairs beyond “normal wear and tear.” What’s sometimes not so clear, though, is what exactly constitutes normal wear and tear. This is one of those questions you should be ready to answer, both in order to give your tenants a specific idea of what is expected of them from day one and to make sure you remain in compliance with federal and state laws.
Essentially, security deposit funds are reserved for any damages a tenant causes to the unit he is renting. (Whether the necessary repair is the unfortunate result of an accident or simply negligence on the part of the tenant is not important … your only job is to look at the damage itself and make a determination from there.) The costs of normal upkeep and updates, on the other hand, fall on the shoulders of the landlord.
Although this all sounds cut and dry, in practice the line between damages and normal wear and tear is not always so clear. For example, say the drawstring on a set of blinds has broken off—at a glance this may seem like damage caused by the tenant. But if the blinds are old, it may actually fall under the definition of normal wear and tear.
On the other hand, while you’re responsible for making sure your units are thoroughly cleaned between tenants, you may be able to withhold money from a tenant’s security deposit if she leaves an extraordinary mess in her wake. According to Rental Housing Online, extreme build up of dirt and mold and stained carpets (just to name a few) can all qualify as damages. Be aware though, that even a careful tenant will likely leave behind some wear on the carpet and paint … and this falls under normal wear and tear. In many cases, you’re gauging the degree of, rather than the presence of, such occurrences.
Following are a couple more examples that frequently cause confusion when it comes to deciphering between damages and normal wear and tear.
- Holes left in the wake of a former tenant’s pictures, shelves, and other wall hangings are a frequent nuisance for property managers. Pesky as they may be when prepping for your next tenant, a few carefully inserted nails for picture and shelf-hanging purposes will likely qualify as normal wear and tear. Holes all over the unit or large holes, on the other hand, fall under the damage domain.
- Paint can be another cause for confusion. As mentioned earlier, you should expect some minor scruffs and dings in a unit’s paint job as normal wear and tear. But what if your tenant has left a pristine paint job behind? Paint policies are often subject to specific lease rules but, generally speaking, even if your tenant has left a nice new paint job behind, it still classifies as damage if the color is significantly different from the original color of the unit and was not pre-approved.
Finally, although it’s been mentioned in previous Buildium blog posts, it bears mentioning again: always do a unit walkthrough with your client—both at the beginning and end of her lease. This will go a long way toward ensuring that both of your interests are looked after. In addition to running through a thorough checklist, you may even want to consider taking pictures of the unit’s current condition should any questions arise later on down the line. After you’ve gone through the apartment, carefully checking off what damages are present at the time of move-in, be sure that both you and the tenant sign off on the document and that the original copy is kept in a file for review upon lease termination. At the end of the lease repeat the process so that the tenant has a good idea of what sort of security deposit deductions she’ll be looking at ahead of time.