Wednesday, July 6, 2011

PROMOTING YOUR WEBSITE – SEO BASICS Part III, Keyword Research and Optimization

Keywords exist in two places on a web page. One place is in metatags. These are tags in the code of the page that are not visible to the visitor but are visible to browsers and search engines. Not all sites use them, and there are metatags for a variety of different purposes. We will focus on two types of metatags – the keyword and description metatags.

Meta tags are tags that are in the code of a website page not visible to site visitors readable by the crawlers that search engines use to index sites. To develop a list of keywords you will think in terms of what someone would type into a search engine to find a business like yours. What are they looking for? What problem are they trying to solve?

Keyword Research

A useful trick is to do searches on keywords in a search engine like google and see what sorts of sites come up. Notice differences in variations. The search “web development” and the search “web development las vegas” bring up totally different kinds of sites. You can also use the Google AdWords Tool here:

Google Adwords Tool

to test different keywords and get data on how many searches are done on those keywords globally and locally as well as related keywords. This has the added benefit of allowing you to download your searches as a CSV file which you can open in a spreadsheet.

Another is to visit your competitor’s and colleagues’ sites and right click on the page and ‘view source’. This will show you the HTML and code that is presenting the page in the browser. Near the top of the code you will look for the keywords meta tag which will look like this (not all sites have these tags);

<meta name="keywords" content="Italian cooking, italian recipes, italian food, italian style, easy italian recipes, cooking italian meals, italian meals, italian cooking, italian pasta, italian meats, italian wines, holiday meals, italian desserts, gelato, bruschetta">

The keywords shown above are taken from and Italian cooking website. One thing to notice is that some keywords are single words while others are actually phrases (keywords are separated by commas). These phrase keywords are what is referred to as “long tail” keywords. Usually in the process of selecting keywords the single word keyword selections are obvious. But long tail keywords are very beneficial for two reasons. One, there is much less competition on these keywords and more chance they will place you higher in a particular search. Two, they help you appear in searches that are more likely to yield you results if the user clicks through to your site. One example of this is geographical targeting. An auto dealer in Austin, Texas would want keywords like “auto” and “ auto dealer” on their site but it would also be beneficial to include keyword phrases like “central texas auto dealers”, “auto dealers Austin”, “auto dealers in Austin” and so forth.

Keyword Relevance

You don’t want to just stack your web page with keywords that you think will get you good rankings. You want to use keywords that relate to the actual content on your web page/site. This gives them relevance. Put some thought in to this. Start compiling a list of keywords in a document and test them in the search engines seeing what kind of results they produce. You can use any document format. We have found that a spreadsheet works well for this. For starters you will want to compile between 25 and 100 keywords that appear to be of value.

Don’t forget to consider is the fact that keywords exist on every page of your website. You can adjust the keywords on each page to be relevant to that page. In compiling your document you will want to have a separate section or page for each page on your website. Using page-specific keywords will improve your rankings and will also help people find what they are looking for on your website that much faster in many cases.

Keyword Selection

Once you have your keywords you will want to pick the ones you are going to use for a start. It is a good idea to keep it down to between 25 and 50 keywords per page. Beyond that search engines tend to penalize for “keyword stacking”. Put the keywords in to the keyword metatags on your web pages or if you are using a CMS there is usually an interface in the back end to enter this information. Now you will want to give it some time and watch your analytics to see which keywords are producing results. We usually recommend an initial 90 day watch/evaluate/update cycle. Once you have had time to get results your analytics will show you which keywords, both on and off your page, are yielding results. You can use this information to eliminate dead weight keywords and to find new keywords to try. Be sure and give them time to work. This is the reason we recommend the 90 day cycle for most websites.

Description Tag

The other tag we mentioned is the description tag. This tag gives a summary of what your web page or website content contains. This is an important tag because it is used in the results returned by search engines. It appears in the little paragraph below the link in the results listing. Carefully crafting this summary not only helps build relevance but can also be used to encourage the user to click on your link. The description can be as long as you want; the trick is to put as much pertinent information in the first sentence or two so that it will appear in search results. Usually in the content on the page there is a summary you can draw from to create your description. This practice also improves relevance.

Keywords in Content

This brings us to the other place on your website that contains keywords – page content. You will want to check the copy on your website to make sure you are using keywords in your copy. One thing you want to avoid is keyword stacking in your copy. You want to write your copy for humans not for robots. Obvious keyword stacking in the copy on the page will also count against you with the search engines at some point. Other areas to use keywords are:

  • In your page titles.
  • In the headings in your copy.
  • In the alt and title tags of your images and links.

You now have the second part of your SEO foundation started. In the next article we will explore content a little more in depth both in terms of SEO and also in terms of the user experience and marketing effectiveness.

Addendum – Published Recommendations for Better Search Engine Rankings.

From Yahoo! Webmaster Guidelines.

Many factors influence whether a particular web site appears in Web Search results and where it falls in the ranking.

These factors can include:

  • The number of other sites linking to it
  • The content of the pages
  • The updates made to indices
  • The testing of new product versions
  • The discovery of additional sites
  • Changes to the search algorithm – and other factors

Bing engineers at Microsoft recommend the following to get better rankings in their search engine:

  • In the visible page text, include words users might choose as search query terms to find the information on your site.
  • Limit all pages to a reasonable size. We recommend one topic per page. An HTML page with no pictures should be under 150 kb.
  • Make sure that each page is accessible by at least one static text link.
  • Don’t put the text that you want indexed inside images. For example, if you want your company name or address to be indexed, make sure it is not displayed inside a company logo.

Google recommends the following to get better rankings in their search engine:

  • Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines. Don't deceive your users or present different content to search engines than you display to users, which is commonly referred to as cloaking.
  • Make a site with a clear hierarchy and text links. Every page should be reachable from at least one static text link.

PROMOTING YOUR WEBSITE – SEO BASICS Part III, Keyword Research and Optimization

Keywords exist in two places on a web page. One place is in metatags. These are tags in the code of the page that are not visible to the visitor but are visible to browsers and search engines. Not all sites use them, and there are metatags for a variety of different purposes. We will focus on two types of metatags – the keyword and description metatags.

Meta tags are tags that are in the code of a website page not visible to site visitors readable by the crawlers that search engines use to index sites. To develop a list of keywords you will think in terms of what someone would type into a search engine to find a business like yours. What are they looking for? What problem are they trying to solve?

A useful trick is to do searches on keywords in a search engine like google and see what sorts of sites come up. Notice differences in variations. The search “web development” and the search “web development las vegas” bring up totally different kinds of sites. You can also use the Google AdWords Tool here:

Google Adwords Tool

to test different keywords and get data on how many searches are done on those keywords globally and locally as well as related keywords. This has the added benefit of allowing you to download your searches as a CSV file which you can open in a spreadsheet.

Another is to visit your competitor’s and colleagues’ sites and right click on the page and ‘view source’. This will show you the HTML and code that is presenting the page in the browser. Near the top of the code you will look for the keywords meta tag which will look like this (not all sites have these tags);

<meta name="keywords" content="Italian cooking, italian recipes, italian food, italian style, easy italian recipes, cooking italian meals, italian meals, italian cooking, italian pasta, italian meats, italian wines, holiday meals, italian desserts, gelato, bruschetta">

The keywords shown above are taken from and Italian cooking website. One thing to notice is that some keywords are single words while others are actually phrases (keywords are separated by commas). These phrase keywords are what is referred to as “long tail” keywords. Usually in the process of selecting keywords the single word keyword selections are obvious. But long tail keywords are very beneficial for two reasons. One, there is much less competition on these keywords and more chance they will place you higher in a particular search. Two, they help you appear in searches that are more likely to yield you results if the user clicks through to your site. One example of this is geographical targeting. An auto dealer in Austin, Texas would want keywords like “auto” and “ auto dealer” on their site but it would also be beneficial to include keyword phrases like “central texas auto dealers”, “auto dealers Austin”, “auto dealers in Austin” and so forth.

You don’t want to just stack your web page with keywords that you think will get you good rankings. You want to use keywords that relate to the actual content on your web page/site. This gives them relevance. Put some thought in to this. Start compiling a list of keywords in a document and test them in the search engines seeing what kind of results they produce. You can use any document format. We have found that a spreadsheet works well for this. For starters you will want to compile between 25 and 100 keywords that appear to be of value.

Another factor to consider is the fact that keywords exist on every page of your website. You can adjust the keywords on each page to be relevant to that page. In compiling your document you will want to have a separate section or page for each page on your website. Using page-specific keywords will improve your rankings and will also help people find what they are looking for on your website that much faster in many cases.

Once you have your keywords you will want to pick the ones you are going to use for a start. It is a good idea to keep it down to between 25 and 50 keywords per page. Beyond that search engines tend to penalize for “keyword stacking”. Put the keywords in to the keyword metatags on your web pages or if you are using a CMS there is usually an interface in the back end to enter this information. Now you will want to give it some time and watch your analytics to see which keywords are producing results. We usually recommend an initial 90 day watch/evaluate/update cycle. Once you have had time to get results your analytics will show you which keywords, both on and off your page, are yielding results. You can use this information to eliminate dead weight keywords and to find new keywords to try. Be sure and give them time to work. This is the reason we recommend the 90 day cycle for most websites.

The other tag we mentioned is the description tag. This tag gives a summary of what your web page or website content contains. This is an important tag because it is used in the results returned by search engines. It appears in the little paragraph below the link in the results listing. Carefully crafting this summary not only helps build relevance but can also be used to encourage the user to click on your link. The description can be as long as you want; the trick is to put as much pertinent information in the first sentence or two so that it will appear in search results. Usually in the content on the page there is a summary you can draw from to create your description. This practice also improves relevance.

This brings us to the other place on your website that contains keywords – page content. You will want to check the copy on your website to make sure you are using keywords in your copy. One thing you want to avoid is keyword stacking in your copy. You want to write your copy for humans not for robots. Obvious keyword stacking in the copy on the page will also count against you with the search engines at some point. Other areas to use keywords are:

  • In your page titles.
  • In the headings in your copy.
  • In the alt and title tags of your images and links.

You now have the second part of your SEO foundation started. In the next article we will explore content a little more in depth both in terms of SEO and also in terms of the user experience and marketing effectiveness.

Addendum – Published Recommendations for Better Search Engine Rankings.

From Yahoo! Webmaster Guidelines.

Many factors influence whether a particular web site appears in Web Search results and where it falls in the ranking.

These factors can include:

  • The number of other sites linking to it
  • The content of the pages
  • The updates made to indicies
  • The testing of new product versions
  • The discovery of additional sites
  • Changes to the search algorithm – and other factors

Bing engineers at Microsoft recommend the following to get better rankings in their search engine:

  • In the visible page text, include words users might choose as search query terms to find the information on your site.
  • Limit all pages to a reasonable size. We recommend one topic per page. An HTML page with no pictures should be under 150 kb.
  • Make sure that each page is accessible by at least one static text link.
  • Don’t put the text that you want indexed inside images. For example, if you want your company name or address to be indexed, make sure it is not displayed inside a company logo.

Google recommends the following to get better rankings in their search engine:

  • Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines. Don't deceive your users or present different content to search engines than you display to users, which is commonly referred to as cloaking.
  • Make a site with a clear hierarchy and text links. Every page should be reachable from at least one static text link.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

PROMOTING YOUR WEBSITE – SEO BASICS Part II, Search Engines and Keywords

The term SEO is a general technical term that is thrown around quite a bit. The letters stand for Search Engine Optimization. The term is often used in reference to specific practices, but what Search Engine Optimization is in reality is a process. It has many parts and often they are intertwined. In Part I of this series we covered preparing your SEO foundation by setting up analytics to evaluate your website’s performance on the web and starting the process of getting your site indexed by the major search engines. In this article I will quickly cover the concepts behind search engines and keywords.

First, a little bit about how search engines operate. When a user types something into the entry field of a search engine, the word or phrase that they type in and submit is called a search engine query. Think of it as a request to the search engine. The words or phrases that make up that query then become keywords.

Once the user has entered and submitted the query the search engine must look through literally billions of documents to return results. In doing so it filters results and returns them according to their “relevance” to the search query and ranks them according to “importance”. The goal of SEO is to influence both relevance and importance.

What relevance means to a search engine means more than simply having a page with the words searched for prominently displayed. The search engine engineers have worked hard over the years to produce mathematical formulas so that the search engine will return results that the users will appreciate and enjoy. Many factors influence relevance and we will discuss many of these as we move along.

Importance refers to the perceived value of the result. This usually boils down to popularity – the more popular a web destination is the more valuable the information it contains must be. This is not determined manually - it would be impossible to do this in a timely manner. Instead, the search engine engineers have written mathematical equations to sort through all the data in their index and filter them according to this importance. These formulas take in to account hundreds of factors which are referred to as Search Engine Ranking Factors. The good news is that in order to influence your ranking and results in search engines you will find success by focusing on a dozen or so of these factors. A focused, methodical approach adhering to best practice guidelines published on the web makes the job suddenly manageable.

This is starting to look like it might be a lot of work, it will be. You may ask yourself, “Is this going to be worth the effort?” I can’t really answer that question for you, but I can point out several key points:

  • Search is very popular, reaching practically every online American, and billions of people around the world. Currently a majority of purchases begin with a web search.
  • Being listed in the first few results is critical to visibility
  • Being listed at the top of results not only provides the greatest amount of traffic, but instills trust in consumers as to the worthiness and relative importance of the company/website.
  • A lot of offline economic activity is driven by searches on the web.

Once you have decided to do keyword optimization your first step is to find keywords that will work for you and produce the desired results. We will cover the basics of keyword research in Part 3.

If you decide to have a professional handle your SEO for you, you are now equipped with knowledge that will help you understand the concept and process. This will help you make decisions regarding who to hire and how to work with them. One thing I would recommend is having them show you the successful results of previous projects and provide references. Beware anyone trying to sell you a shortcut to make you #1 on Google overnight and such. Remember, good SEO is a process.

Friday, June 17, 2011

PROMOTING YOUR WEBSITE – SEO BASICS Part I, The Foundation

Your shiny new website is online and live – all you need to do now is get people to find it. Of course you should remember to do the obvious right away. Make sure your web address is on your business card, printed material and any advertising you do. Use it on signage where appropriate. When you do put it on signs make it big enough to be seen from a distance. This is not an afterthought. Web addresses are often easier to remember than phone numbers.

Next comes the scary part - Search Engine Optimization. So much talk is bandied about on the term SEO and much of it makes it seem like so much voodoo. It’s like you have to be some sort of technical expert or wizard to make it work. The truth is Search Engine Optimization is a many-faceted process. Let me emphasize that last word, process – meaning ongoing. The good news is that there are certain essential foundation steps you can take to improve your website’s optimization immediately. These steps form the foundation for further improvement and tweaking. Follow these steps and you will see a significant improvement in your website’s traffic in 30-90 days.

If you are in business you know how important it is to be able to evaluate the results of your efforts. In order to do this with your website you will need statistics on your website visitors and search engine rankings. This is known as analytics. There are many tools available for this. I recommend the use of Google Analytics. It is free, you just have to sign up for a free Google account and you can get your own analytics account and track as many of your own websites as you like. It will provide you with detailed information on your site’s traffic and performance. Once you have a Google analytics account, log in to your account and copy the tracking code using cut and paste. You can paste it in to notepad and save it somewhere on your computer where you can access it easily. This code will be pasted onto your website pages for tracking. If you are using a blogging platform or a CMS like Joomla or Kentico you have a way to enter this code using the backend interface. Once the code is on your web sites pages (you want the code on every page you want indexed) in a short time you will see the status column in your Analytics account display an green checkmark indicating that your site is verified and being tracked.

Once you have your analytics in place the next step I recommend is signing up for a Google Webmaster Tools account and add your site to that. After you have added your site you will need to verify it. You will be given several choices for this, and instructions for each. You will also want to add a sitemap to your website and submit it to Google through Google Webmaster Tools. Again, if you are using a blogging or CMS platform a sitemap function may already be included or you can easily add it with a plug-in. One of the advantages of these types of setups is that they automatically update your sitemap for you when your content changes. If your site does not create one automatically there is an online service that will create one for you. Just go to this website http://www.neuroticweb.com/recursos/sitemap/ and enter your website’s URL (web address) and it will generate one for you. You can then cut and paste it into Notepad (don’t use Word or any other word processing program, it will mess up the formatting) and save it as sitemap.xml. Then you will want to get it uploaded to your web host in what is called the root of your website. Once that is done you can add the site in your Google Webmaster Tools account and verify the site using your Google Analytics account and then you can submit the address of your sitemap in the form. If you have doubts about the address of your sitemap just enter the address in a browser. It will display in the browser if you have it right. If it is in the root the address will look like this http://<yourdomain>/sitemap.xml. It can take a while for Google to download your sitemap but once they do in your Google Webmaster Tools Dashboard you will have a report of the pages that were indexed as well as other important data on your site. If you manually created and uploaded a sitemap to your website you will need to be sure and update it whenever you add or remove pages from your website.

You will also want to add your site to the Bing search index. The easiest way to do this is to go to http://www.bing.com/toolbox/webmasters/ get a Windows Live ID if you don’t already have one and sign in. Click on Add Site and put in the address of your website. You will also need to verify your site for Bing and once you have submitted the site you will be given two choices to verify it and directions on how to accomplish this. It typically takes three days for any data to show up.

Now that you have analytics going and a sitemap submitted to get you indexed on Google and Bing you will want to register on other indexes. An important directory that a lot of people don’t know about is DMOZ. This is a free directory that a lot of search engines, including OL Search, Google, Netscape Search, Yahoo Search, and hundreds of other sites use. Just go to their website http://www.dmoz.org/ and click on ‘suggest url’ and there will be directions to walk you through submitting your site’s URL to the directory. Once your site has been accepted into the Open Directory, it may take anywhere from 2 weeks to several months for your site to be listed on partner sites which use the Open Directory data.

You can submit your site to Yahoo! Search for free by going to http://siteexplorer.search.yahoo.com/submit . It will require the creation of a Yahoo! Account. It may take several weeks for the site to be crawled. If you have a blog you can also submit your site’s RSS feed. Yahoo also has paid submission options which will guarantee quick submission in to the directory. For more information on these visit - https://ecom.yahoo.com/dir/submit/intro/ . I usually recommend using the free solutions first and move on to paid solutions later if you need to.

Whatever you do, do not try services or software products that promise to submit your site to hundreds of search engines, generate thousands of links or something to that effect – unless you really like getting hundreds of junk emails a day. They will also list you on spam lists.

You have now laid the foundation for making sure that your site is “seen” by the major search engines which drive most of the traffic on the web. It’s a bit of work, but will pay great dividends. Any further SEO work you do from here on out will benefit from having taken these steps. The next layer of SEO is keywords and content. We will cover this as well as some basic search engine theory in the Part II.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Avoiding Spending More Than Necessary on a Web Site

We’ve all heard the phrase, “ work smarter not harder.” Well the issue I am going to address here is spending for your business. Specifically, spending money on a website for your business. The key phrase here is “spend smarter, not more” and this is going to require a little work on your part.  It has pretty much become a given these days that every business should have a website. It helps you look established and it helps build your brand identity. Important also is the fact that one of the first things people do when considering a new purchase these days is do some research on the internet. If your competitors are online and you are not you could be losing a lot of business to them.
One thing I’ve learned in all my years of web development is that most people have no idea what a good website should cost them. I’ve seen the costs run the gamut from $150.00 to tens of thousands of dollars. There are a lot of variables. I’ll tell you right now that I can’t tell you what a website should cost you, there are just too many variable and no one-size-fits-all solution. I will tell you that I know that if you do your homework and make a plan, having the website of your dreams won’t cost you any more than is has to. And, the process of getting it going won’t be completely daunting. The good news is, you won’t need to become an expert at HTML or webhosting or programming. You are already the expert- on your business.
I have heard many disheartening stories from people who come to me, almost defeated, with tales of months of time wasted and dollars spent to end up with a very disappointing web site that yielded no results. Some of these people never got their web sites finished. Either because a designer flaked on them  or they got too busy or used up their whole budget before it was finished.
The biggest mistake most people make is approaching a web designer or web development company without a clear idea of how a web site is going to work for them. There are a couple of problems with  this. Most designers you go to won’t take the time to know your business really well and will be focused only on the visual design aspects of your website. What a lot of people end up with is spending money on a website that looks great but doesn’t produce much in the way of results. Usually since it did not give immediate results it lost priority with the business owner and is abandoned and neglected.
Web development firms can give you more help along these lines, but if you walk in not having a clear plan of how your website will work for your business they will have to charge you for all the time they spend helping you figure that out. I am not saying that you should not use a web designer or a web development firm. What I am saying is that if you take the time to work up a plan you will get better results for less money. There will not be any surprises in terms of what gets budgeted and what is actually spend to finish the project.
If you make a good plan, it is entirely possible to get a decent web site going for little or no money that will work for most small businesses or even non-profits and community groups. You can do this without becoming a technical wizard or an HTML ninja. The most important part is your plan. Since you know your business and your goals better than anyone you are the most qualified person to make that plan.
As you begin your website plan and start to move forward you will need to keep in mind a few key points that only you can determine:
· Your Goals for your website.
· Your target audience.
· Your key message
· How people will find you.
· Things that make you stand out from you competition.
Your Goals for your Website
Starting with your goals for your website. What do you want your website to do? Or, more specifically, what do you want your visitors to do when they visit your web site? Some people may want to sell a product line on their website. Someone may want to promote their professional services as an independent contractor. A merchant with a brick and mortar store will want to drive traffic to their business.
Your Target Audience and Key Message – Standing Out
Once you have decided on your goals for your website you will want to define your target audience and this in turn will influence your key message. For instance, if you had a high end restaurant to promote you won’t  talk about how cheap dining in your restaurant is or special cheap deals all the time. You will want to talk about the quality of ingredients, your atmosphere, wine list , and possibly your chef’s credentials. Once again, think “What’s in it for me?”, from the visitor’s perspective. This will help you decide on points that separate you from the rest of the competition.
How People Will Find You
In writing your content you want to think about how people will find you. With search engines you want to think about the terms people are most likely to use in a search for your particular type of business. Incorporating these key terms into your website copy will help you with search engines.
One thing you will notice as you move through this process. It is described as a series of steps, but the steps are all interlocking, dependant on each other. So don’t worry if it feels like you are a little out of order or if you have to go back over parts to adjust them.
If you looking to start a website or even revamp your old one these steps will be a tremendous help to your success. I will soon be publishing a report “5 STEPS TO CREATING A SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS WEBSITE” that will outline step by step techniques for the whole process.
You can sign up to receive a special offer on the report the day it is published by going here
In my next post I will go in to more detail on developing content for your website. Stay tuned….

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Promoting Your Website–SEO Basics

(Editors Note: This is an excerpt from my 20 page report,"5 Steps to Building a Successful Website"  available here for download - see sidebar.)
Your new website is up and live online – all you need to do now is get people to find it. Of course you should remember to do the obvious right away. Make sure your web address is on your business card, printed material and any advertising you do. Use it on signage where appropriate.

At this point you will want to do a couple of things that will help you prepare for the next steps on the web – promoting and optimizing your website.

In order to evaluate your efforts and the effectiveness of the site you will need statistics on your website visitors. This is known as analytics. I recommend Google Analytics. It is free, you just have to sign up for a free Google account and you can get your own analytics account and track as many of your own websites as you like. You will need to get a Google analytics account. Log in to your account and copy the code using cut and paste. This code will be pasted onto your website pages for tracking. Most of the solutions I mentioned earlier have a way for you to enter the code using the backend interface. You will also need to verify the site; you are given several options for this. We’ll cover this in more detail below. For now, just sign up for your account so you will be ready.

In order to use social media to promote your website you will want to have an account on each of the social media sites you plan to use. A couple of the very popular ones are Facebook and Twitter. Go ahead and get your accounts set up.

If your business is established and has a physical location you may already be listed in Facebook’s Places. Do a search on Facebook and see if this is so. If you find your business you can claim it and it will be transformed in to a Page for your business.

The next step is to do a little Search Engine Optimization. I mentioned above a Google Analytics account. Once you have your code in place and your page verified you will start receiving detailed analytics on visitors to your site. Later on you will evaluate these and tweak your SEO to improve your results. These will help you know what is working and what is not.

Promoting Your Website
Meta Tags and Keywords
Meta tags are tags that are in the head of a website page that are not visible to site visitors but are readable by the crawlers that search engines use to index sites. The two most important Meta Tags are Description and Keywords. To develop a list of keywords you will think in terms of what someone would type in to a search engine to find a business like yours. A useful trick is to do searches on keywords in a search engine like google and see what sorts of sites come up. Another is to visit you competitor’s sites and right click on the page and ‘view source’. This will show you the HTML and code that is presenting the page in the browser. You will look for the keywords meta tag which will look like this;
<meta name="keywords" content="Italian cooking italian recipes italian food italian style easy italian recipes cooking italian meals italian meals italian cooking italian pasta italian meats italian wines holiday meals italian desserts gelato bruschetta">

You can start to compile a list of keywords by visiting various sites. You can save them in a typed list or type them in to a word processing document or spreadsheet. When you are ready to pick keywords for your site you will want to limit your list to 25 keywords or so – 50 at the most. Search engines will penalize you for ‘keyword stacking’. There is also a factor called ‘relevance’, in other words search engines will grade sites based on whether their keywords are relevant to their content. If you have done a good job of writing your copy some of your keywords will actually appear in your website copy. If not, you may consider re-evaluating your copy and seeing if you can include some keywords or phrases in the content. Remember though, your content is for humans, not robots – don’t get carried away. Best practice is to optimize keywords for each page on your site. I know this can sound overwhelming, but it is an important step. The good news is you don’t have to do it all at once. If you can come up with 10 good keywords for each page that is a good start. Then, over time you can evaluate your analytics and see which keywords are working best and get ideas for adding and removing keywords. Also, don’t forget about keywords specific to your area, state or town as some people try to narrow their searches geographically.

The other important Meta tag is “description”. This basically contains a summary of what your page is about and will vary for each page. I have found that if I have written my content well somewhere on each page will be a summary that I can lift and paste in to my “description” Meta tag. This tag will look like this.
<meta name="description" content="Italian cooking is among the world's richest and most varied, with dishes perfect for every occasion, from the quick late night snack (spaghetti aglio e olio) to the romantic occasion (scampi alla busara) and the festive family meal (lasagna). Here you'll find hundreds of Italian recipes for every occasion, as well as advice on equipment, techniques, ingredients, wines, and more.">


Once you have these in place for each of your pages you have made a huge step towards drawing traffic to your site. It typically takes 90 days for these to really take hold on the web, but there are ways to speed this up a bit.


Social Networking


Next you can plan to make posts on your social networking pages. For this you will want to get a free account with bit.ly or some other url shortener that provides statistics on clicks. I like bit.ly because it allows me to customize my links so I can shorten the same link differently for different campaigns and keep track of how effective a certain post was and what kind of interest if generated. Bit.ly also allows me to share directly from their site so I can shorten my link and then tweet an announcement with it all at once.

The process works like this. You have something on your website you want people to see or act on. A sale or event or perhaps you just want to announce you new website. You grab the url to the page you want the visitor to land on, go to bit.ly and shorten it for your campaign and then write a post with the link in it. You can really have some fun with this on Facebook by using clever headlines and copy to grab peoples’ attention. You can even include pictures and videos. If you are consistent about doing this you can build a following and drive traffic to your site. Other strategies are to post links to content, information about your business or industry and include a link to your site in the post. You can also put a like button on your site for visitors who come there from other sources to connect to your facebook page.

I feel Twitter works best for promoting events or keeping a client base updated on your business and services. It is possible to include a Twitter follow button on your site and even a feed of your tweets.

One thing that can also help is videos on YouTube (yes, this is actually a social network). These can easily be embedded on your site. Most people don’t know this but YouTube is the third most used search engine on the web. A good strategy is to create your own YouTube Channel and post your videos there making sure to put a link to your website in the description. Then you can embed the videos in your website for interesting content.

Email Marketing

This is a very powerful way, done properly to drive quality traffic to your site. The real trick is building a good list. I recommend that businesses and organizations use a managed mailing list service like MailChimp or Constant Contact. The advantages are:


· Good looking email templates that help you build your business image.


· Easy list management – including sign up forms.


· Analytics on the results of your mailings, though you have to take these with a grain of salt – they are not 100% accurate. They will give you a good ballpark idea of how you are doing.


Ways you can build your list:


· Have people sign up at your place of business. Capture their email address on paperwork when you can.


· Be sure and have a sign up form on your website. The upper right area of the page body (below the header) is a hot spot for this.


· Post on Facebook to get people to sign up, offer an incentive like a coupon or an informative newsletter or have a contest.


· If you are selling online incorporate all of your customer’s emails in your list and keep in touch with them.


One thing you want to make sure of is that you don’t send people spam. Another good thing about managed mailing list services is that the emails include an opt-out link for anyone who decides they don’t want to be on your list. Even if someone signed up for you list if they change their mind and can’t get off your list they will perceive you email as spam. If you don’t use a managed email list you can manage this by putting something like this at the bottom of our emails, after the signature-“If you wish to be removed from this list simply reply to this email and put ‘unsubscribe’ in the subject field”. Then when you get those emails delete them from you list.


You can actually get creative and have a lot of fun with an email list. Let a little of your personality show through. This will help make it engaging and personal for your subscribers. Using interesting subject lines that will grab people’s attention will help your open rate and therefore your response rate. Most of all, try to be consistent in timing your mailings. Monthly or quarterly works well. More often than that is good only if there is really a lot going on in your business. For greater frequency you can use social media. Oh yeah, and you can put content from your emails in your social posts with links to your list sign-up.


One last email strategy I will discuss is one that works well if you don’t want to use a managed list service or even if you do. This involves having your announcement or newsletter as a page on your website and sending out emails with a summary of the message or content and a link to that page. This page on your website is an example of what is known in the industry as a “landing page”. This works particularly well if you want to use a lot of graphics as it won’t make your emails huge and it drives traffic right to your site. Writing a good excerpt or “teaser” in the email to entice them to click through to read the rest is good. Cliffhangers are great for this. Make sure and link to places in your site in the content of your email. For instance if you are making an announcement about a new product or service you can use a summary or description in the landing page and link to the page on your site specific to that product or service and hopefully there they can take some action and you have a conversion. There is a lot you can do with landing pages, but that is the subject of a whole other report.

Search Indexes

This is a very important step. I left it for last because it works best once you have all the other pieces in place. This is also a step that most people leave out. That is registering your site on search indexes. For Google signing up for Google Webmaster tools and registering a sitemap will get your site indexed. Some website solutions automatically create this sitemap and update it as your content grows and changes. You just have to point to it when you register it. A sitemap is basically an xml (text) file that lists all the content nodes on your site. Once you create one you need to keep it up to date. Opening the sitemap in a browser or in notepad to scan it will give you a good idea of when you need to update it based on changes you make. If your site does not create one automatically there is an online service that will create one for you. Just go to this website http://www.neuroticweb.com/recursos/sitemap/ and enter your website’s URL (web address) and it will generate one for you. You can then cut and paste it into Notepad (don’t use Word or any other word processing progam, it will mess up the formatting) and save it as sitemap.xml. Then you will want to get it uploaded to your webserver in what is called the root of your website. Once that is done you can add the site in your Google Webmaster Tools account and verify the site using your Google Analytics account and then you can submit the address of your sitemap in the form. If you have doubts about the address of your sitemap just enter it in a browser. It will display in the browser if you have it right. If it is in the root the address will look like this http://<yourdomain>/sitemap.xml . It can take a while for Google to download your sitemap but once they do in your Google Webmaster Tools Dashboard you will have a report of the pages that were indexed.


Another important directory that a lot of people don’t know about is DMOZ. This is a free directory that a lot of search engines, including OL Search, Google, Netscape Search, Yahoo Search, and hundreds of other sites, use. Just go to their website http://www.dmoz.org/ and click on ‘suggest url’ and there will be directions to walk you through submitting your sites URL to the directory. Once your site has been accepted into the Open Directory, it may take anywhere from 2 weeks to several months for your site to be listed on partner sites which use the Open Directory data.


You can submit your site to Yahoo! Search for free by going to http://siteexplorer.search.yahoo.com/submit . It will require the creation of a Yahoo! Account. It may take several weeks for the site to be crawled. If you have a blog you can also submit your site’s RSS feed. Yahoo also has paid submission options which will guarantee quick submission in to the directory. For more information on these visit - https://ecom.yahoo.com/dir/submit/intro/ .


This covers the big ones. Getting listed in all of these will over time help your site place well in search results. It will take about 90 days to really see results from this, but you will see a difference.
Do not try services or software products that promise to submit your site to hundreds of search engines, or something to that effect – unless you really like getting hundreds of junk emails a day. They will also list you on spam lists.
(In my next post I will publish an excerpt on ongoing optimization of your website - stay tuned, or better yet, subscribe.)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Managing Content–Manage What?

There is a lot of talk on the web about Content Development and managing content for web sites. But what exactly are these people talking about?

It has been my experience working with clients building websites that detailed thinking about content is sort of an afterthought. Oh sure, they have some idea what they want to say and what they want the website to do, but they haven’t worked out any content management strategy in detail. Content Development is one of the latest buzzwords in the internet and web development community. Sounds mysterious and expensive doesn’t it? But there is really no voodoo involved. Simply put, the major work of creating a successful business web site has very little to do with programming or design work. Essential to the success of every web site is the task of organizing and presenting information – and then getting people to act on it. Organizing your content is very important, but it does not have to be complicated. As a matter of fact, the less complicated the better. If you take the time to outline your goals and the information you want to present, creating some basic content – then having a professional editor polish it up comes very reasonably. And being the expert on your own business you are the most qualified person to do it.

First off let us define content in this context. Content is what your website says – its message. This is composed of copy (text), graphics, photos, videos and downloadable documents.  In my last post Avoiding Spending More Than Necessary on a Web Site I talked about defining the goals for your website and also deciding on your target audience for your website. These will define the ideas that will drive content for your web site.  It is important that you give this consideration before moving forward.

Now, chances are if you own an existing business you already have content in the form of catalogs, price lists, brochures, flyers, business cards, signage and other printed collateral. You may also have photographs that you can use in promoting your business. You may even have video. Text that has been used in emails can also be helpful. The next step once you have defined your Key Message and Target Audience is to do an inventory of your existing content. Gather up samples and make a list. Catalog and evaluate photographs, video, audio and other media. Once you have an inventory you have something to build from. This will also help make sure that your message is consistent in all media as you move forward. If changes need to be made to fine hone your message you can make sure they are carried out across the board. Taking the time to do this step now will save time and frustration in the future and will help yield better results.

In developing content for a web site there are several considerations. Unlike other static media a website offers an opportunity for interaction with your visitors. This interaction can take many forms. By having goals defined for your website you have narrowed down the desired results of those interactions. You can now develop content to hold the visitor’s interest and guide them towards the desired result.

Another consideration is optimizing your content for Search Engines. The main point here is to make the content relevant to people who will be searching for businesses, products or services like yours. This will not only help people find your web site, but it will help the right people – people who will appreciate what you have to offer and act on it, find your website. Search engine optimization is a separate topic, but having good content is part of the basis.

People look at websites differently than they do printed material. Visitors don’t actually read on websites as much as they scan. So your information should be broken down in bite size chunks; short paragraphs, bulleted lists, calls to action. Keeping visual clutter down to a minimum on your web pages will help the visitor find information and act on it. As you can see, content development and design should go hand in hand on web sites. When you visit a web site that flows well and easily takes you to the things you need you can bet that some thought went in to the information that was being presented as an integral part of the design process.

How exactly does this work? Believe it or not the early stages of this process are decidedly low-tech.  There are different approaches, such as:
*Putting all of your information on cards and laying them out in groups on a table. This way you can move them around and develop a flow.
*Iterative sketches of page content laid out on a table or tacked to a wall. Start with just lists of what should be on each main page and as you refine your ideas break it down to subpages. Then make hand drawn sketches of each page’s visual layout. (examples below)
                                                               
pagesScan Bobshomepage1Scan BobshomeStep2Scan
All Pages – General
Page Detail
Home Page Visual Organization
(Pages start out very general and become more detailed as you move along incorporating content and features.)
As you move through this process you can refer to your content inventory and see where you can plug in bits of content you already have. These processes will also help you see how you will need to adapt your existing content for use on a web page. And, lastly you will be able to see what new content will have to be created.
This is a very general description of the process. It should give you an idea how a little bit of thought and effort can break the job of creating and using really good content for on website down to a manageable size. Hence – Content Management.

Using simple techniques and a little thought you can craft content for your website that will help people find you through search engines, get them the information they need and most importantly get them to act, bringing you the kind of conversions you need to add profit to your business.

In many cases these days the websites I do for my clients are built on a content management system (CMS) which makes it feasible for them to do most of the content maintenance on their own. The usual strategy is we develop a structure for the page hierarchy which gives the content a basic framework. As the build progresses the client gives us initial copy and photos to input and after the launch we train them to add content, consisting of copies and pictures, to the website. This approach works okay. By okay I mean very okay – mediocre. If we are replacing their old website they usually see a slight improvement in traffic and then hit a plateau. Generally speaking, if they are the least bit diligent in keeping the site updated they will see improved interaction and conversions. But almost without exception the results are limited. This is a real shame, considering the potential that having a website presents and the investment that my clients make in having a decent website. I think Content Management Systems are great, but unless you have a strategy for using them, for how you will manage your content, a CMS alone will not be a great help.


I go in to more detail on the process of DYI content development and design in my report  “Steps to Building a Successful Business Website”. This report is a good read even if you are planning to hire a professional designer or developer. It can help you prepare for their process and save you time and money. To receive information on getting the report when it is released in March you  can go here and sign up for a notification.

Looky!