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Building Weather Website Traffic

So you've got a weather website, huh? Below are some thoughts on how to help people find your website.

Good Traffic? Bad Traffic? •  Keeping Track of Visitors •  What about Hit counters? •  Domain Name •  What About Cost? •  Basic Site Design •  Why Do It? •  Listing In Search Engines •  While You Wait •  Traffic Killers •  Final Word - Patience

Good Traffic? Bad Traffic?

Before we discuss steps you can take to build traffic to your weather website, I want to focus for a minute on GOOD TRAFFIC and BAD TRAFFIC. Now, why should we care what kind of visitors come to our websites? After all, isn't anyone who visits good? The answer simply is "no". Virtually all websites either paid or unpaid have a bandwidth limit that cannot be exceeded in a month or the site goes dark (or we pay more).

"But I'm never even close to that!" you say?

Well, get your site posted on a very busy blog or news site (Slashdot.com comes to mind), and your entire monthly allotment will be gone in less than a day!

So keep in mind what you're trying to do here - attract a particular group of people. But who are they?

Well, in my case, CarterLake.org is looking to attract regular visitors from Carter Lake, Iowa (specifically) and Omaha-area residents (more generally). These are my GOOD TRAFFIC. I love to see repeat visitors - even several times a day - from the Omaha area. It says I'm doing my job well because they choose my site over many other sources of weather information. In fact, I've got a regular visitor from OPPD (Omaha Public Power) during storms to check on lightning. (We'll get to how you monitor traffic a little later).

Now, I also have a secondary group of visitors that I consider GOOD TRAFFIC - my fellow weather enthusiasts. Since I'm pretty involved in this hobby of weather stations and websites, it's nice to have folks with similar interests visit.

But what about BAD TRAFFIC? Well, I'm somewhat ashamed to say that I made a mistake a few months ago. I lost sight of my GOOD TRAFFIC goals in favor of just any old traffic. I wanted to increase my site's visibility without thinking and I submitted my webcam to one of those webcam sites; one which looked well built, heavily trafficked, and without porn. Unfortunately, I made several judgment mistakes: 1) I wasn't thinking of my core group of visitors; none of which visit such sites looking for weather; 2) I never thought that these sites STEAL links from one another like a pack of wild dogs; 3) many of these sites also STEAL bandwidth by illegally linking directly to webcam images.

Almost right away a certain percentage of BAD TRAFFIC started showing on my site from all over the world because of one careless mistake.

So remember, this is about striving for more visitors but more importantly the right kind of visitors.

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Keeping Track of Visitors

Every time someone visits your website, you have the ability to track their visit - where they came to your site from, what pages they viewed and how long. This is incredibility valuable information to help understand what kind of impact your efforts are having on increasing visibility.

Depending on your website hosting company, you may have some built in tracking features, but if you don't, you can always either install one yourself or use a third-party such as StatCounter.com.

Google: Free Website Traffic Analyzer

I currently use a PHP-based traffic tracker, which I installed myself.

I feel the most important information from these statistics is the referrer log (where did the visitor come from) and the page popularity (when people visit what are they looking at?).

Here's some example referrers for CarterLake.org:

http://www.weatherunderground.com/cgi-bin/findweather/getForecast?query=Omaha, NE
http://search.msn.com/results.aspx?q=weather+predict+device&FORM=QBRE3
http://search.earthcam.com/search.php?word=iowa <- Stupid webcam site!
http://weatherforum.net/forum/viewtopic.php?t=86
http://search.yahoo.com/search?p=omaha pollen count

And recent page rankings:

index 40 %
radar 25 %
cam 11 %
forecast 3 %
lightning 3 %
hazard 3 %
detectinfo 3 %
terms 2 %
about 2 %
links 2 %
stats 1 %
graphs 1 %
pollen 1 %
quality 0 %
almanac 0 %
static 0 %

So, is a webcam a good investment? Obviously my visitors think so. They choose viewing it 4 to 1 over the forecast page!

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But what about hit counters?

You are visitor #542 since Jan. 1, 2004!

I'm a strong believer in NOT using a visible counter. They're cheesy, amateurish, and if the counter is very low, says to the visitor "nobody visits this site".

I say avoid them.

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Domain Name

Having a root domain name is very important for word-of-mouth visitors to your website. After all, what is easier to tell a friend? "Hey I found this great weather website. It's members DOT cox DOT com SLASH carterlakeweather. Uh, maybe I better write it down for you." Or... "Hey I found this great weather website. It's Carter Lake DOT org" ???

Having a domain name is also important for search engines. Putting some thought into your domain name can really have a large payoff for when people search the Internet for it. In my case, I thought of CarterLakeWeather.com but I decided it was too long of a name. So I stuck with the shorter and available CarterLake.org. I would have preferred CarterLake.com but of course those leeches at Cities Unlimited had already snatched it up in 1999.

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But what about the cost?

Securing a domain name from www.godaddy.com is as inexpensive as $5.95 a year. And hosting? Also very inexpensive at www.e-rice.net.

I use E-rice and have had very few problems - enormous value for $10 per year.

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Basic Site Design

A few, very basic design decisions can have a huge impact on your website's visibility on the Internet. All web pages should have "head" HTML tags and in between them should be a "title" tag and two "meta" tags. Something like this:

<html>
<head>
<title>Carter Lake, Iowa Weather</title>
<meta name="description" content="Carter Lake's only source for live, local weather">
<meta name="keywords" content="carter, lake, Carter Lake, iowa, Iowa, pottawattamie, weather">
</head>
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<title>Carter Lake, Iowa Weather</title>

The "title" tag is the absolute most important tag. Some "experts" will tell you to fill the title with all kinds of keywords like "Carter Lake, Iowa Weather Station for Omaha, Nebraska and Council Bluffs, Iowa - radar lightning forecast warning watch barometric humidity".

I refuse to do so. Keep your titles short and sweet and to the point. Not only is this title going to be what shows in search engines, but it will also be the default for those bookmarking your site. And I don't know about you but the example above sure as heck looks like a SPAMMER site that screams "Click on me! Click on me!"

I do change the title from page to page, again keeping it short and to the point "Carter Lake, Iowa Weather Radar", "Carter Lake, Iowa Weather Forecast", etc.

<meta name="description" content="Carter Lake's only source for live, local weather">

Next, we need to add a page description. Again much advice is given on the Internet about what you should add here. I would suggest writing it in a descriptive (key words) way but keep it short and to the point. You can either leave this the same generic message on each HTML page or write descriptions specifically for each. Just keep in mind that this too can show up in search engines.

<meta name="keywords" content="carter, lake, Carter Lake, iowa, Iowa, pottawattamie, weather">

Finally, we come to the venerable "keywords" meta tag. I'm unsure how important this tag is with today's search engines. This one tag has been so abused over the years that they probably don't even look at it any longer. However, if you do include it, separate the key phrases with commas and again keep it pretty short and focused.

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Why go through the trouble?

It's all about search engines. Search engines key off these tags and the content of your web pages and use this information to list your site. With just a bit of effort, most personal weather website owners can be listed at or near the top of search engines. And if people can find you, they will come.

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Listing in Search Engines

Listing today is easy. There are really only two search engines left on today's Internet: Google and MSN.

All the rest get their information from these two main engines. So visit the links below. Submit your main webpage. DONE!

Google: Add Url
MSN: Add Url

That's it. You're done. Now you just have to wait. It can take up to 6 months before your website is properly listing in search engines.

Peak at CarterLake.org

MSN: Carter Lake
Google: Carter Lake
Yahoo: Carter Lake
Excite: Carter Lake
Alta Vista: Carter Lake

See? It's not that hard.

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While You Wait

Here are some ideas that also help build awareness about your site.

  1. Contact your local newspaper - reporters are always looking to fill inches, especially in smaller communities. Suggest that they write an article about your weather station and website. I wrote an article for our community newsletter, which they were happy to publish.
  2. Word of mouth - again, stressing a simple domain name, I've had good luck just by telling friends and family about CarterLake.org. They (hopefully) like it, use it, and tell others.
  3. Provide a service to local websites - create a custom screen image which local area websites can use on their site which provides weather. When you provide the code to add the graphic, include a link back to your website.
  4. Reciprocal links. Email local websites and ask them if they would be willing to add reciprocal links to your website (and you to theirs in your links section). One note of caution here - I would suggest quality over quantity. You want to keep your visitors in mind. A big o' list of garbage isn't going to impress them. I would suggest sites like newspapers, local portal sites, local government, etc.

Side note - I've received several emails from weather websites around the world (Italy?) letting me know they were linking to my website and would I add a link to them. Now, go back to GOOD TRAFFIC/BAD TRAFFIC. What possible good would it do for either them or myself? Why would a small town in Carter Lake, Iowa want visitors from Italy? Why would my visitors want to view their website? I mention because this is an example of how NOT to build reciprocal links.

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Traffic Killers

  1. Enormous load time - Run your home page through the webpage analyzers below and see how long it takes a visitor with a 56K modem to view everything. If it's longer than 10 seconds, you'll want to trim something. Those of us with high speed connections sometimes forget our low speed visitors and how really slow their experience can be.
    Sloppey - View your website at 56k speeds
    Web Page Analyzer
  2. Intro pages - especially Flash. These really serve no purpose other than to inconvenience a visitor. Worse, most sites that have flash intro do not have an HTML click-through link. So visitors with Flash disabled or not installed cannot get past the intro page!
  3. Spamming - Whether it's weather bulletin boards, search engines, or somewhere else, it's never a good idea to alienate people while attempting to attract them. This includes posting what is essentially an advertisement in wrong forums, multiple forums or even places completely unrelated to weather. "Come see me! Come see me!" isn't the answer.
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Patience

Building regular visitors takes patience. Keep your GOOD TRAFFIC goals in mind while using a website traffic analyzer to judge your results.

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