There has been a lot of talk lately about how to make your website popular considering Google continues to release changes that make it tougher and tougher to succeed unless if you have big marketing dollars. Check out this latest "Farmer Update". I've been doing this since 2001 and have learned the tricks of the trade that helped me launch many successful businesses online and grow them to popularity within 12 months of launch.
I've put together a list here of things that I believe need to be done, and need to be done in quality to have your site do well from a few days after launch to 12 months to eternity. Keep in mind that you can do other things that go against Google/Yahoo/Bing guidelines, but then you will never have the long term success you will have by following the rules here. My rules are considered "white hat" which means they follow all guidelines and you won't be penalized for them in the future. If you mix this with "black hat" which is "illegal" ways of making your site popular, then you might gain rankings, but when google releases updates to combat them you will just have spent all this time and resources just to be back at the drawing board.
Most of these rules below pertain to Google since it's the largest search engine as of the writing of this post. This should work with Yahoo and Bing also, but every search engine is a bit different and might weigh one rule more than another. However, if you follow all of these rules, I would estimate that you have a steady flow of 1500 or so people per day on your site cranking out 4-5 page views each on average. Depending on your niche, you may have more or less.
I like to think of the site structure and layout before anything else. Regardless of the type of site you are going to have, eCommerce, Content, Forum, etc.... I recommend that for each one you setup a WordPress Blog that is on your server and is in a folder (mysite.com/folder) and not a subdomain (subdomain.mysite.com). People might argue with me about this, but over the years, I found the folder to be the best to bring and spread PR through your site. The WordPress blog will add the ability for you to have a CMS (Content Management System) in place that pings the Search Engines with updates whenever you make a post. This ping, once your site is established, will automatically add your content into Google with cache. So, no matter what type of site you have, add WordPress to it in a folder. Keep your updates strictly to WordPress.
Domain Name / Site Name
Keep your domain name as simple as possible, and less spammy as possible. Don't include dashes, excessive keywords or anything of that nature. If you can, keep the site name and domain as generic as possible. Keep in mind, this is also important in the future for reputation management. Here is an example... if your site is called Microsoft (for example), there is no other company out there called Microsoft. Therefore, if there is anything online negative about Microsoft, it will come up in a search. Now, if your name is "Blue Cars", you can search for "Blue Cars Reviews", "Blue Cars Fraud" all you want, and it will be too general to link anything back to you. Not saying you should engage in anything fishy, but especially in eCommerce people bash online first, and ask questions later.
Content is king
Before you begin your site, you have to know what it's going to be about. Prepare a list of about 10 topics that you want to cover. If your site is eCommerce based, come up with some topics about the widgets that you sell. Describe the different types of widgets or what makes the ones you sell the best. Once your site launches, you will want to release 1 to 2 of these updates a day. Come up with top 10 lists or anything that people would find interesting and link to. Remember, keep your content rich and interesting. Don't come up with SPAM or simply rewrite someone elses content. You will never be proud of your site, and are looking at a Google penalty around every corner.
Site Design and Code
Your Content Pages
Now that you are ready to start on content and post some, it's important to understand that the content you post does need basic SEO. Keep your keyword density to 15% or so, and try a few variations. Don't over use the keywords, it will be considered on page spam. Use spell check, and use the keyword in the Title, Meta Description, heading, URL, and content. In the content, use it once in bold, and once in italic where appropriate.
When writing, if you ever use a reference such as Wikipedia, then do link to it. Outbound links help Google to see that your site is allowing visitors to get more information from authority sites, and this gives them a bit of proof that you aren't a spammer that is trying to hoard visitors.
If you a referencing something you wrote before, link to it within your content. This cross linking helps to spread PR or Page Rank, which is an important in building a popular site. The goal of your site would be for you to get visitors each day to all of your pages. Having most of your visitors come to just one of your pages would mean the rest of your site isn't very compelling, and in a case like this, you would need to re-evaluate what you write about.
Keep in mind... 1-2 pieces of content per day.
If you are adding products to an eCommerce site make sure you write unique descriptions. Don't just copy the manufacture description... your site won't rank.
Links and Link Building
The key to having a successful and popular site is to get inbound links. If Content is King then Inbound Links are the King's mother. You can get your own links by submitting your site to search engines and directories. The best links come when you create good content, and other bloggers will link to you. Until this happens, I recommend you get a link in ODP which is the Open Directory Project or DMOZ. Good luck though, I found it to be near impossible lately to get your site listed there. If you do, it's highly beneficial.
I would also recommend taking 1-2 of your content pieces you prepared and submit them to article submission sites such as ArticlesBase. Usually sites like this have distribution channels, so they will submit your article to other sites and so on, building your link backs. Keep in mind to submit only unique content that you wrote yourself.
Once you are ready and have some content on your site, submit your site to the major search engines. Keep in mind, if your site is www.mysite.com don't submit mysite.com keep the www. there, and be consistent about this. Infact, make sure if someone doesn't type in the www. then your site will .htaccess 301 redirect it to include the www. This is crucial for duplicate content issues. Once you submit the site once, no need to do it again.
Find other blogs or websites that are focused on your topic. Ask them for a link to your site if they find something useful that would help their users. Asking for a link exchange in this day and age is looked upon as potential spam and most webmasters just ignore it. It won't help you reach your goals of a successful site this way. Interview other bloggers and post the interview on your site. They will usually link to you and you don't need to link back.
If you are in eCommerce, ask the manufacture to link to you on their page of "where to buy" or "authorized dealers".
When you launch your site, prepare a press release, and submit it to all of the free press release sites. Be sure to include a link back to your site in the press release.
Submit your site to your local BBB, local library's website and local chamber of commerce.
eCommerce? Create a coupon for a product or service, and submit it to all of the coupon sites.
Create a hub page on Squidoo and link to yourself. Make sure your page is well written.
Comment on other blogs. There are blogs out there that link to blogs that have DoFollow links (as opposed to NoFollow). Posting comments on these blogs gives you PR, so make sure the blog is Dofollow. However, take this with a grain of salt... don't ONLY submit to dofollow, submit to NoFollow also so Google doesn't think you're spamming.
Hold contests, offer free samples, offer free products, offer sponsorships.
Know how to design well? Release a wordpress or other theme, and on the bottom of the theme put a "Designed By" link, and link back to your site. Make sure in the copyright it says that if you use this theme that you can't remove the copyright.
I would recommend to review sites on Alexa, and products on Amazon. You can also use Yelp or ePinions. Include links back to your site. Have users also review products you sell. It's tough to do that, but you can always offer them a coupon or a discount on a future purchase if they come back to your site post-sale and review the product. Encourage positive reviews.
It's important to know what's going on with your site. Many people use Google Analytics, but I don't like it. The reason is that it's not real time. I much prefer to use StatCounter so I can simply hit refresh to find out what is going on at that exact moment.
Social media is becoming more and more important. Make sure you get a plugin for your WordPress site that automatically submits your blog post to twitter, and automatically creates a facebook post. Make sure your site has facebook like and twitter retweet buttons as well as share buttons. I happen to like AddThis.com as a solution.
If you follow these rules, and be sure to release your daily dose of content, you will be rewarded with readers and a successful, profitable, and popular website. Keep in mind to have fun at what you are doing. When it loses it's fun, it's not worth it. Be sure to release a site about a topic you are passionate about. Your passion will shine through and people will appreciate your site for it.
Questions? Submit a comment with any questions, and I will be glad to help or elaborate. Nothing site specific, please only ask general questions.