Website development has come a long way since the first attempts of home-made homepages, written on NotePad in simple and straightforward HTML. With the internet exploding at the incredible rate of millions of new website every day it is more difficult then ever to stand out from the crowd. As a freelance translator, or a small agency looking for new clients, the Internet is your best friend, if you know how to use it wisely. This article does not pretent to teach you how to make a website. It can help you to improve your existing website, as well as giving you some ideas you might pass to an expert if you decide to have your website designed. I assume you are aware with some common terms in website-design, such as web-crawlers, HTML, JPG; Flash and Meta-tags. If not you can find thousands (if not millions) of references on each and every one of these themes on the Internet.
How Google (and it´s friends) work
Back in the days, when you where still able to reach the outer bounds of the internet (after a little trying and some sleepless nights, that is…) Search Engines simply looked for meta-tags like title, description and keywords and indexed them according to their content. These simple days are far gone now. Modern “crawlers” still use the meta-tags but rely on much more than that, by reading the full content of a webpage (unless it´s in Flash, but I´ll come to that later…) and define the relevance of the site comparing it with other sites with the same subject. The algorithms to define this relevance changes significantly every couple of months, is extremely complicated and subject to debate by thousands or specialized SEO-guru´s. Still, what Google, Yahoo and the others basically are trying to achieve is indexing websites on the relevance it has to a user, retrieving the following elements:
– The INFORMATION the site gives on a certain subject
– The LINKS the site provides to and receives from sites with a similar subject
– If tricks have been used to artificially enhance the amount of information of links on or towards the website, and penalize them accordingly.
The importance of INFORMATION on your site
If your website does not provide information it is not relevant. Who decides what is information and what not depends on the spectator, of course. What is relevant to one can be irrelevant or even offensive to others. What is clear though, is that if your website is blank, or appears to be blank for a web-crawler, it will NEVER be relevant, and therefore never be found on Internet. Your site should provide the maximum of information on the subjects that you would like your website to be found with, in a format that is readable by all mayor search-engines.
How to provide more INFORMATION on your site
While businesses have only recently explored, and are still exploring, the full potential of internet-marketing, the idea of a promotional website for selling your products is as old as the web itself. If your website has the basic setup (menu options) like: home-about-services-contact, it is very difficult to stand out from the crowd. A lot of these websites are created and completely left alone afterwards. Unless you are planning to spend quite a sum on promoting your website online (through Adwords or similar programs) or off-line (through brochures, business cards etc.) your website will hardly receive spontaneous visitors who might be interested in your business. More information will make your site relevant to more visitors.
A simple idea that helps greatly to promote your website is to elaborate on a certain theme in which you have some expertise. If you have a small freelance business, there seems at the first sight not to be a whole lot you can actually write about in your website. You could list the services you provide or even provide some description of these services. You could explain how and where to reach you and even provide your complete CV. But all this does not produce a lot of text, information that can be read by webcrawlers and visitors. Now if you could provide a complete page with YOUR experience in translating– let´s say– medical equipment manuals, a page that is ideally linked to the companies you worked for, maybe even provides your own private extensive glossary on medical equipment and terms, THAT will greatly enhance the amount of text/information the crawlers can read, and therefore make your site relevant to search-engines in terms related to the translation of medical equipment manuals. Most themes are fine to elaborate, as long as you think it could lead people, who are interested in that theme, are going to look for your translation services. A great article about the coincidences between Tango and Flamenco dance might be a great idea and attract lots of visitors, but how many of those visitors might be interested in your translation services? Keep that in mind with adding more and more text and themes to your webpage.
Text on your website should contain the keywords that you would like to be searched with. If you write about microbiology use the terms that people who are looking for translating texts about microbiology are likely to use. Use these terms also in your metatags (title, descriptions and keywords) but do not exagerate. Write your text as you would any article for a magazine or other medium, but instead of being too creative, be consistent in your terminology. If you are writing about Brazil describing it as “the land of Samba and Amazonas” which of course is super-clichee, it IS efficient because it uses three terms that visitors of websites about Brazil are likely to use. If you describe the country as “the biggest land on earth” which is how Brazilians often like to call their country, you don´t use any specific term at all and is therefore no good…
A little bit about Flash
Flash was introduced in 1996 to provide more flexibility in the creation of animated images, as an alternative for the simple GIF animations which are limited in number of colors (256) and size (because they are pixel-oriented, big GIF´s consume enormous amounts of Kb). Flash animations are often vector based images and can therefore be scaled without enlarging it´s size in Kb. While Flash evolved, webdesigners started to use it´s potential not just for images, but for the creation of complete interactive websites. Flash websites have become the rule, rather than the exception in several industries (I dare to say including the translation business…). Still, after all these years, web-crawlers are not able to read the embedded content and text of Flash-files. This means that if no exceptional SEO-techniques are applied, for search-engines the website is completely blank, and will therefore not be indexed. You can of course buy Adwords or other similar online promotion features, but the website will NEVER reach the first page of Google on it´s own strength. Do not develop your site completely in Flash if you want to reach lots of visitors.
Making images visible: Alt-text
Information in images (JPG, GIF or Flash) is NOT readable by web-crawlers. Worse than that, it is also not readable by visually impaired persons. Specially designed programs read out written text to visually impaired users of the internet, but as long as no special care is taken, images (or text converted into images, often done to produce a fancy letter-type or to avoid spam) are not readable. This is where the alt-text comes in. Alt-text is the text that appears at the spot of your cursor when you move the mouse over an image. The mentioned programs can read this so visually impaired people, as well as search engines, know what is on them. As a stimulation to make every website accesible also to the visually impaired, these alt-texts are considered very important in the ranking of a website. Make sure that every image on your website contains a relevant description in it´s alt-text (look on the internet how to do that).
How to improve the LINKS to and from your site
The importance of links to and from your website have given room for new hypes and terms like “Link-Popularity”, “Backlinking”, “Linking Schemes” or “Linking Farms”. Still, the principle is quite simple: “The friends of your friends are my friends”. Link your websites to and ask for links from other websites that you would like to be identified with. Which means; stay away from websites with sexual, violent, illegal (download!) and hacker-content (unless you want to identify your websites with those themes, of course ?). Do not submit your website to obscure directories (the ones that produce pop-up windows on your screen for example) that do not have a good name in the business you would like to promote and do NEVER participate in linking-schemes where you do not know the content and trustability of the sites you are linking with, or will receive links from. No links is better than bad links. Good links are better than no links. Lots of good links are better than few good links. But the most important is: Good information is better than good links.
And how about the tricks?
Everytime the mayor search-engines update their algorithms, thousands of SEO-experts jump on them to analyse the newest changes and propose a new wonder-medicine to their clients. “I can put you on the first spot in Google in 1 week”… When Google “learned” to read the Alt-texts, “experts” filled these texts up with keywords, and then… they were busted! When Cascading Style Sheets (for those of you who are familiar with this term) became the norm, “wizzards” started to create styles with names like “casino_poker_nude_paris_hilton_buttons”. You get the idea, right? Steer far away from these kinds of tricks. They will not help you for long!
Unless you consider a career-change and want to monitor the changes in algorithms and update your website on a daily base, do not try to use these so-called “black-hat SEO techniques” on your website. They might boost your amount of visitors on the short run but you will eventually get busted, and loose possibly all the ranking you had achieved the past months or years.
The bottom line(s)
When creating or updating your website, either if you do it yourself or if you have it done by a designer, keep in mind that no website is good as long as it contains no readable information. Provide as much as possible information on your website, on subjects that might be of interest to people who, after a while, eventually might be interested in your translation business. Keep in mind that the first function of your website should be to attract the visitors attention, then maintain it. Only after a several visits you can actually expect to sell something to your visitors. Provide lots of good-quality links on your website to other, trusted websites, and slowly try to attract links towards your website from the same, or other trusted websites. Keep away from tricks, “black-hat SEO” or links to site that you would not like your husband/wife/kids/parents to see. Good luck and lots of vistors!
Bariloche, December 2006