While it would be great if you could just throw up a website and start attracting visitors and search engines, it just doesn't work that way. You have to prepare your website to work the way it should for the people who visit it, as well as for the search engines that index it. This means you have to research the words that people looking for your products or services would use to find what you offer. It also means that you have to build it in a logical manner so that people will be able to find exactly what they need once they arrive. If you don't think about these things and prepare in advance, chances are your website is not going to perform the way you would like it to.
It's not always easy to know that your website is underperforming, and it often takes some detective work to figure this out. Thankfully, web analytics tools are a big help in revealing these types of problems.
Here are a couple of warning signs to look for as well as what you can do about them:
Warning sign 1: Your site is getting search engine traffic, but the visitors are coming in via keyword searches that have nothing to do with what you are actually offering. Everyone has this happen to a certain extent, but if you receive more irrelevant traffic than relevant, your site is underperforming.
What to look for: Fire up your analytics program and view all the keyword phrases that have brought visitors to your site. While all sites will show some irrelevant keyword phrases that bring traffic, the bulk of your search engine traffic should be coming via words that relate to what you do. Check which pages are bringing the most irrelevant traffic. In many cases, you'll learn that you're using unrelated and unfocused words on those pages.
The fix: Perform keyword research specifically for the pages that bring irrelevant traffic and rewrite the copy and Title tags to focus on the good phrases, while removing some of the extraneous words if possible. While irrelevant traffic is not a big deal when you're not paying for every visitor, it makes sense to minimize the irrelevant traffic in favor of that which is targeted to what you're actually offering.
Warning sign 2: Your website is receiving targeted traffic, but they leave as soon as they get there.
What to look for: Look at the "bounce rate" for the important pages of your site. If it's really high, there's a good chance that people don't feel that they're at the right website when they get there. Ideally, most people should be browsing other areas of your site, and some of them should be taking some action that you want them to take (e.g., filling out a contact form, signing up for a newsletter. etc.).
Review the look and feel, as well as the information that you provide on the high-bouncing pages and determine why they may not be meeting the visitors' needs. Do they look too amateurish, ugly or unprofessional? If so, that could be your answer. With online fraud a major concern, the overall look of a website is a determining factor in whether a visitor believes the site is trustworthy or not. Many people won't purchase from any site that looks like someone's nephew designed it in 1997.
If your site's look is professional and clean, perhaps it's a usability nightmare. Is it all Flash, which some of your visitors may not be able to view or simply don't like? Is it difficult to navigate to other pages of the site?
The fix: Redesign your website to have a look that's at least comparable to those of your competitors, and do some usability testing so you can see where visitors may be getting tripped up or simply leaving without giving your site a chance.
It's important to note that a high bounce rate on just a few pages of your site is generally nothing to be concerned with. People may be finding exactly what they want when they land on that page and then leave satisfied. Still, it never hurts to try to entice them to take additional action!
There are many more signs that your website is underperforming. My hope is that you will start noticing what's not working and do something about it before it gets out of hand!