It, probably, crossed your mind that, if you knew how to improve your site yourself, you'd save yourself a lot of time, money and get infinite amount of traffic and sales. Let's see how you can at least know how to optimize your site and whether all that you dream about can come true.
The basics If you are totally new to website optimization, the best place to start would be forums. There you'll meet people with the same level (or absense of) knowledge, read about common questions asked and answered and you can ask any questions there as well. It'll give you a good ground to start learning how to make your site better.
Here's a list of more or less known forums, focused on optimizing websites:
Cre8asite Forums Founded by Kim Krause Berg, Ammon Johns and (maybe) Bill Slawski. The slogan is "Building better websites together" and the motto is "No question is dumb". My first forum and my favorite, too. Focuses on site usability, search engine optimization, marketing, web design (generally anything related to websites) and is run by a friendly group of admins
Also has such unique forums as "Site planning and preparation", "Cross-browser device accessment panel" and others.
Did I say it has one of the friendliest forum communities?
Search Engine Watch Initially run by Danny Sullivan. Focuses on search engine optimization (SEO). Has a nice forum on link building (along with other forums, such as Google, Keywords, etc.) and a good marketplace to post and look for SEO and Internet marketing related jobs too.
V7N Forums A nice forum run by John Scott. Focuses on search engine optimization, has other common forums and a forum on usability, which isn't insanely popular. Has a bunch of other forums, such as "Blogging", "Blog promotion", etc.
SEO Refugee A friendly forum about SEO. Though not as popular as others, you can get answers to any questions and talk about anything (in the corresponding forums).
I am sure I missed some SEO forums, such as High Rankings, but I haven't noticed serious impact on my knowledge level anywhere else. If you feel some forum has been lefted out unfairly from this list, feel free to let me know.
Being up to date with the news At first, reading forums (including the old threads in the archives) should be more or less enough. This should take you several months to study one or two forums extensively and be up to date with the information stored there.
Then you'll probably want to stay up to date with the information on the topics that interest you. For this, you'll need to read the latest threads on one or two or more forums. To become up to date with a couple of forums, you'll need to study their archieves first, of course. Then prepare to spend an hour or two on reading the latest threads on a couple of forums.
I still spend about an hour or two reading and posting in treads at Cre8asite Forums. It not only makes a good read, but also allows to communicate on a number of site improvement issues, which opens up the truth (as per Socrates), too.
Advanced information Though forums have some nice tips there (sometimes of unique value), there's more to be found outside forums. To find this, you can read the articles knowledgeable members link to from the forums. Reading them, while studying the archives, will take some time (a few months) as well.
Of course, you can use your favorite search engine to search for 'seo articles' or 'usability articles' or 'copywriting articles', but there are a couple of reasons this approach isn't effective:
• even quality articles may be buried in the SERPs
• some industry experts have started up blogs and searching for general terms won't help here
• some experts don't have a large depository of articles or a blog, but they readily moderate on forums
The above list makes it necessary to merge with the site optimization community to be guided to the best resources. Normally, the more people refer you to one source, the better it is, though there may be exceptions (like how many people referred you to this blog? ;) ).
That's why it is not only important to read forums, but it'd help to read experts' blogs often too. Sometimes they have really innovative tips for you, sometimes they bring the top news to your fingertips, sometimes you'll read a different point of view on a known subject. A good start would be blogs from my blogroll.
It'll take you several months to know industry experts by name and remember their blogs as well.
Beyond website optimization Sure, you may know how to write the title tags. You may also know what the search engine ranking factors are. But this alone doesn't make people buy from you or use your services. You need a more general, a broader point of view on the subject.
That's why continuously reading related material on all topics, such as:
• web design (graphics, images, colors)
• web development (HTML, XML, XHTML, CSS, coding, markup)
• search engine optimization (keyword research and page [site] optimization)
• website usability
• site accessibility
• Internet marketing
to grasp the basic principles of improving websites.
It is not dangerous to have an opinion that parts with opinions of others. It is dangerous not to advance in your knowledge. Some day, you'll learn that either you were wrong or you were saying the same thing in different words.
The interesting thing about learning website optimization is that you'll learn that it is not only about websites. It is about people. Knowing the inside of optimizing a website will allow you to make it easy for the people to find, use and buy from it.
Rounding up Sure, it may seem like a dream. But the only way to make your dream come true is to put some effort into learning about what you want to achieve and practicing it. "Practice makes perfect" - you not only need to know how to improve a website, you need to actually do it. The more, the better.
Sometimes it may be helpful start working and fill in the blanks during the whole process by searching about the issue with your search engine, asking on forums, talking with your friends, etc. As one signature at Cre8asite says, "There are only two mistakes one can make going his way: not starting and not finishing (Buddha)" (if I remember correctly). So start now and benefit while you go.
From my experience, I'd say that it'll take you a half a year to learn the ropes and another year to learn the advanced stuff by studying several hours a day and practicing another three to five hours a day. Of course, if you already knew something about websites or how to benefit people or both, it'll be easier and faster for you.
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