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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

IT'S ABOUT KEYWORDS, STUPID

I hate when people type their e-mails in all capital letters. It's hard to read, and shows little regard for the laws of English punctuation. Just call it a pet peeve of mine, as a former reporter and copy editor.

But, I decided to cross my own disdain for this practice and use all caps in this headline. Why? Because regardless of all the hype over how many and what types of incoming links a site needs to perform on the major search engines, success is first and foremost determined by identifying the right keywords and optimizing the web site for them.

Case in point: We recently worked with a client that runs an established company, a brand leader in its industry. As part of our research into the "Performance Keywords" by which this site would best drive traffic, we asked the client for their list of keywords. We do this to establish a baseline from which we do our research, and usually the client will get some of it right. They will be able to identify some of the money words by which Internet users are finding their site.

Usually, however, by the end of our research, we will have found a number of keywords they didn't give us that perform just as well or better than ones they are using. In this particular case, more than half of our recommended terms were ones they hadn't provided and that were not being used on their site. The result is that the site is not being easily found by many Internet users searching for sites like theirs.

Depending on the strength of the keyword, that can mean the difference in traffic of tens of thousands of visitors. Carry it through and it also means lost opportunity for sales.

Fortunately, the client expected as much. They'd been managing the site themselves for some time and had reached a point where they felt it was time to bring in the professionals in order to maximize the value of the site.

But, for many businesses, ego gets in the way of having the most effective web site. The client feels "they know their business, they know their customers" so they do their own interpretation of optimization and then wonder why it didn't work.

There are lots of things that can affect the success of a web site. Most people understand the relationship between search engine positioning and site traffic. But still too few realize the relationship between keyword selection and site traffic. Being No. 1 on a keyword that no one searches for might be good for the ego, but does nothing to drive sales.

Because no business likes to hear they lost potential business because the prospect couldn't find them, A SUCCESSFUL SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION PROGRAM ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS SHOULD START WITH A KEYWORD RESEARCH PROGRAM.

Comprende?

Read more about what's involved in a Keyword Research project.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

What you need to know about 2nd generation SEO

DIY tools have made it really easy for companies to build their own web sites, but the increased complexity of getting your web site to appear on the first three pages of Google or Yahoo still favors having the professionals do it for you.

Just as companies learned that adding “tags” on their home pages was important, the search engines changed their requirements, making optimized content and inbound links more important to site performance.

In May, Google launched Universal Search, which incorporates site images and videos to the optimization equation. On top of adding these new elements to the search formula, Google also has made it more difficult to get your pages indexed at all. The company’s Supplemental Index is a way of limiting the total number of pages in the database that displays web results; the pages Google deems to be of lower quality are banished to the Supplemental Index, where they have little chance of being seen by search engine users.

Given Google’s continual fluidity, it’s tempting to say “To heck with them,” and optimize your site for Yahoo and MSN. Unfortunately, Google is the 800 lb. gorilla. In July, its marketshare was 53.3 percent, compared to 20.1 percent for Yahoo and 13.6 percent for MSN. So, not putting the effort to perform well on Google is pretty much a suicide mission for your web site marketing.

Continued developments in software have made it easier than ever for companies to build and host their own web sites internally. But, the lack of internal expertise in navigating search engine waters usually renders these types of sites completely ineffective, as though they don’t exist at all.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Hacked off over copyright infringement

I got a nasty surprise today. One of our employees accidentally discovered an unrelated company in another state had copied one of our web site designs for purposes of using it as a template to build their own site.

They had copied several of our pages and moved them, lock, stock and barrel, or in this case, content, coding and design, over to their servers, where they remain today. The home page that they're building still contains our meta coding, with our company name in the header! What's worse, the pages have been indexed into Google, which could really cause confusion among people looking for us.

So, now we're setting a curt letter to have the offending web pages removed.

Here are a couple sites that I found useful in determining how we'd handle this situation:

A 6 Step System to Stop People from Stealing Your Website Content

The U.S. Copyright Office's FAQ page

Monday, June 11, 2007

B2B Buyer Report Supports Importance of Search Engine Optimizaton

A new survey of business-to-business (b2b) companies highlights the importance of investing in a web site that is designed and optimized to perform well on the major search engines and that has visibility on other related industry sites.

According to the Business to Business Survey 2007 by Enquiro, 65.3 percent of b2b buyers say they would start their research with a general search engine. Depending on which phase of the purchase cycle the buyer is in (awareness, research, negotiation, purchase), other online sources (b2b vertical web site, vendor web site, and industry information site) come into play as well to provide the buyers trusted information.

The survey points to the importance of having a company’s web site perform well on search engines and industry portals. The two factors cited as most influential in a buyer’s decision-making are the vendor’s web site and word-of-mouth recommendation. Given that nearly two-thirds of the survey respondents would begin their research with a search engine, it is critical that company web sites be found easily in the search engines.

Also covered in the survey was the type information that b2b buyers consider most important. In all cases, b2b buyers said they preferred to get information in a text format that could be downloaded and was portable. The reason cited for this preference was that in most cases, the person doing the product research is not the person making the purchase decision; therefore, the information needs to be available in a format that can be easily shared.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Google’s Universal Search Coming Too Fast for Most

I think the Internet world is moving too fast for most companies. Just when businesses are beginning to understand the concept of on-page search engine optimization, we’ve had to try to quickly bring them up-to-speed with the importance of a good incoming link strategy.

Now, we’re going to have to turn our attention to Google’s Universal Search. Google has begun implementing a change to its algorithms to pull content from its vertical search engines (News, Video, Images, Maps, etc.) to display amid regular text results in the main search.

It creates a great opportunity for businesses to leverage content they may already have on their site, or content that can be developed to get additional visibility on the search engine.

But getting them to understand it and then to make a commitment to use all the technology will be quite the challenge for some time.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Help out the Search Engines with an Optimized 404 Page

Nobody’s perfect. And when it comes to web sites, no web site is perfect. Even with the best planning, it’s not unusual for a site redesign to result in there being a few broken links as the site structure is altered and old pages are removed.

In some cases, we’ll suggest a client keep old pages on the server to avoid a site visitor from being directed by a search engine to a dead page. But, that’s not always possible, in which case, it’s important to have the proper redirects set up.

Inevitably with a larger site that’s been online for some time and gone through several iterations, dead links will occur. In which case, it’s important to have an optimized Error 404 page.

The value of an optimized Error 404 page is that the site visitor has an opportunity to click on a link from a navigation bar to get to the main site and also to learn a little about the site, even though it’s technically a dead page. Also, the search engine spiders will be able to continue spidering your site via the links in the navigation bar.

Here’s a good article on how an optimized Error 404 page is set up.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Packaging company re-packages itself via Internet

It’s exciting when you come across a company in your industry that you know “just gets it.”

Among the news stories on our plastics news page this week is one about Avon, Ohio-based American Built Containment Systems, now doing business on-line as ABC Packaging Direct.

The custom packaging company revamped its sales model and now does business exclusively on-line, resulting in a 40 percent boost in revenue. What’s interesting about ABC’s web activities is how the company uses its web site to interact with prospects and convert them to customers.

Among the interesting features is a human greeter who interacts with site visitors as they enter the site at www.abc-packaging.com. The greeter offers to assist the visitor in locating specific products.

Additionally, the site has an interactive web meeting function that allows customers to work directly with ABC’s staff to design the packaging they need and obtain a quote.

According to the company’s president, the transition to an all-Internet sales model enabled the company to reduce the size of its sales staff, eliminate travel for face-to-face sales calls and turn around packaging designs much more quickly.

Besides the interactive features on the site, the company also has invested in making sure the web site performs on major search engines like Google so that prospects can easily find the site. According to ABC Founder and CEO David Marinac in a company statement, “The acceptance of Search Engines as a primary tool for decision makers to solve packaging problems has led to a tremendous opportunity for growth at ABC Packaging Direct.”

Industry data supports Marinac’s assertion. According to a survey of technical buyers and engineers by GlobalSpec, 73% use search engines or online industrial directories ahead of trade publications or printed directories when seeking product information.

Kudos to ABC.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Keys to Successful Web Site Strategy

Yesterday, I gave a presentation to the Rubber Division of the American Chemical Society at their annual Spring Conference in Akron, Ohio, on "You're Online: Is it Working?"

During the presentation, I described web site marketing as a “three-legged stool.”

The first leg is content, the second is design/coding, and the third is promotion. Without any one of these elements, your web site will fail to deliver the traffic and leads you expect.

The presentation covers the key elements to successful web site content, design and search engine optimization. Additionally, I've provided current statistical data on Internet use in the b2b and industrial sectors.

Here's a link to view Polysort's Rubber Division presentation.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Why Links Have Become So Important to SEO

When you're immersed in your business, you take for granted that everyone you talk to understands the jargon or innerworkings of your industry.

Internally at our company, we've had discussions about the level of understanding that clients and prospects have about search engine optimization and the factors that determine good SEO. Based on those conversations, derived from other conversations directly with our clients and prospects, it became apparent that we needed to take a couple of steps back and put together a basic piece on the history of SEO and how links have become such an important part of an SEO strategy.

For many people, links mean outgoing links, where a company might have a links page on their web site and provide links to various companies and organizations of interest.

But, for SEO purposes, it's incoming links as well as internal links that have greater importance.

For a basic understanding or how/why links are so important, read the article I wrote on "The Importance of Link-Building to SEO Success."

Monday, April 9, 2007

It’s About Links, Stupid!

I just finished reading a report on Search Engine Optimization and what factors SEO experts say are currently the most important in getting a site well-ranked on Google.

A summary of the report indicates that there are 10 primary factors that affect how well a site will be ranked by Google. But, look more closely and it’s clear that the overwhelming favorite is links, whether inbound, outbound or internal. Of the Top 10 ranking factors, 7 relate to links.

Do I agree with the report? Largely, yes. What we see with the sites we’ve optimized is that many older sites we optimize perform fairly well purely on edits we made to the site to improve keyword density and tags (an older standard for SEO). But, sites wanting position on extremely competitive keywords or sites that are relatively new need the extra help of a strong link-building campaign to convince Google that the client’s site is important enough to be ranked on the first page for a given keyword search.

The secret to Google’s ranking formula is basic in understanding. The search engine is prioritizing sites based on how important they seem to a particular topic. To Google, a site’s importance is demonstrated by how many other important web sites link to a given page on your web site. If you make widgets, and 15 (hypothetical number) highly visited sites about widgets link to your page describing your widgets, then there’s a good chance Google will deem your site important enough to list it on the first page when visitors search for widgets.

The concept is simple. It’s the execution that can get tricky.

Read more about how not having good incoming links could permanently damage your site's position on Google.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

What’s a fair price to pay for a site redesign?

The fair price to pay for your web site is determined by which designer/firm seems best equipped to build the site you envision for your business. Ask for web design samples -- you'll see differences in styles that will tell you whether the designer is foremost a programmer or whether they are a skilled graphic designer.

In addition to look and feel, ask them whether they write the copy for their clients or are provided the content for pages. Usually, a much lower hourly price reflects a business that is more one-dimensional -- you're getting a nice site design, but no expertise in online copywriting, SEO, site planning, etc. The higher end firms will have specialists in all those areas, and a specialist in each area to work on your site.

If you're looking to your site to generate traffic and leads, bite the bullet and use a company that writes SEO-optimized content along with designing the site. We've had lots of clients that came to us for their redesign after going to less-expensive designers – they ended up paying twice to get one good site – not a very cost-effective solution.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Flash isn’t the problem, it’s lack of text

We recently met with a prospect who asked us for an opinion about their web site and its performance on search engines. The site was beautifully designed, entirely in flash.

It was difficult to tell the prospect, who clearly had spent a great deal of time and investment on this site, that in order to achieve search engine positioning, the site would basically need to be blown up.

Ultimately, the problem wasn’t that Flash was used to design the site. The problem was that there was no text for the search engines to index. Flash can be used to improve the aesthetics of a site or draw attention to certain elements. But it shouldn’t be used to the exclusion of basic text, which is what the search engines need to index and rank your site.

Read more about how to properly design with Flash.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

PPC vs. SEO

A client recently asked whether they should embark on a pay-per-click online advertising program that another company had quoted them.

In the best of all situations, businesses would have enough money to work with to do both pay-per-click and search engine optimization to improve their visibility on the major search engines.

But in reality, most companies we work with need to get the most out of a limited budget, in which we case we will recommend search engine optimization over pay-per-click.

Why? Dollar for dollar, search engine optimization over the long-term generates more traffic to company web sites. Research shows that 30% of Internet users click on pay-per-click ads vs. 70% that click on the natural results that can be attained via search engine optimization.

Additionally, pay-per-click only generates leads for as long as you keep paying for the ads. An investment in SEO usually will last significantly longer, requiring periodic updates to maintain or increase visibility.

So, if you need to make an investment to improve traffic and leads to your site, target the 70%, rather than the 30%, and target long-term vs. short-term results.

Here are a few other articles on the topic:
PPC vs. SEO
The Issue of Click Fraud in PPC
PPC vs. SEO from Marketing Chat

Monday, February 26, 2007

Is SEO Necessary for Every Site?

I saw a post on this topic on an online discussion forum. The author proposed that if a site has a small universe of users, ie an internal site for a university, church, or business customers, and it is not intended as a tool to market anything or increase sales, then SEO is not necessary.

I disagree.

I've seen many instances of companies with similar names that could result in an Internet user not being able to find the company he does business with. For example, if XYZcompany.com is already taken as a URL, a company would use some sort of variation -- either a different extension, .net or .info, for example, or alter the domain slightly, like XYZcompanyinc.com.

If there are multiple XZY Companies across the country and the site's not search engine optimized, it's possible customers would not find it even under the company name. Not only is that possible, we've seen it happen.

My belief is that if a company determines that a web site is important for their business, whether for sales or customer service, then they make an assumption that people will find it and go to it. In this increasingly competitive web environment, the best way to ensure traffic is to optimize the web site.

Even in the case where a site is only targeted to a well-defined group, you can't make the assumption that everyone in the group will retain the business card, print ad, direct mail piece or letter that had your URL. You'll get a segment of that population that wants to go to Google, type in your name and click on your site.

Why make it difficult for them? Read more about "What is Search Engine Optimization?"

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Phone or E-mail?

What's more important to you from a business perspective, your phone or e-mail? I was pondering the question while feeling frustrated over phone issues in our office related to the transition to Voice Over IP technology.

In my case, I'd say I can't choose one over the other. E-mail has quickly become an essential tool to conducting business. On the rare occasion that it's down, I feel helpless -- as though I'm lost without the means to communicate, even though my phone sits just 18 inches away.

Likewise, when the phone isn't working, I feel the same way.

I guess that's because I've learned to compartmentalize the tasks for which I use e-mail and phone. Certain people, certain projects are best dealt with via e-mail, where I can document information and relay a significant amount of information without losing the fine points. Some projects, some people require phone contact for best impact.

E-mail allows me to extend my workday. I can communicate an idea or issue to someone at any time of the day without needing them to be at the other end at the same time.

But, if I need immediate response, I go with the phone. Not everyone checks their e-mail constantly.

Phone or e-mail? If I were forced to pick, I'd go with e-mail.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Don't let your designer bully you into a facelift

I was watching Dr. 90210 last night (a reality show about Beverly Hills plastics surgeons), and was astounded at how easily one of the doctors featured had manipulated a patient into agreeing to a surgical procedure he hadn't requested.

The patient had gone to the surgeon to check into rhinoplasty to improve breathing through his nose. The patient said he'd broken his nose a number of years earlier and, as a result, could not breathe through it. It affected his ability to be active in recreational sports.

As the doctor examined his nose, he commented to the patient that he had a weak chin, one that could be improved upon to make him look more masculine. (Frankly, no one would have mistaken this guy for not being masculine.) Amazingly, the patient agreed to the additional surgical procedure, which, unlike the rhinoplasty, was purely cosmetic.

Maybe the chin surgery would make the guy feel better about himself, but, in reality, the guy didn't have a problem with his chin till the doctor brought it up.

I relate this to web site design because too often I talk to companies that tell me they've just undergone a redesign. When I ask why, they usually say their designer recommended it, without giving a good reason as to why the previous site was a problem.

I'm all for making money, but I'd much rather see web designers approach a website redesign from the standpoint of solving a problem, ie getting more traffic, getting more leads, introducing a new product, improving SEO, improving site navigation, etc. The exception to this would be web sites that were never professionally designed or are outdated-looking, in which case a redesign for cosmetic purposes is clearly warranted.

Other than that, leave the facelifts to the plastic surgeons.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Internet offers the space to be creative

I was at a Bob Evans restaurant on Saturday morning for breakfast with my son, who was having a hard time deciding how he wanted his eggs prepared.

While he pondered his decision, it occurred to me that it would be a fun and useful feature on the Bob Evans menu and, even the web site, to have a "glossary" of all the different ways to cook an egg.

As a person who spent a significant portion of her career in print media, I really appreciate the flexibility the Internet offers as a marketing vehicle.

In my mind, some of the biggest advantages are:

  • Cheap, unlimited space;
  • Ease with which content can be edited (your mistakes aren't permanent on the Web!);
  • No deadlines -- you can add, update, edit whenever you want, without being at the mercy of a third-party publisher or mailing house.

As a result, the Internet offers companies (including yours) the opportunity to be creative in providing useful and engaging content.

Are you taking advantage of it?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

If Results Aren't Guaranteed, Why Bother with SEO?

Continuing on yesterday's article about SEO guarantees: If the results of true search engine optimization can’t be guaranteed, why bother?

First and foremost, research shows that 70% of search engine click-thrus occur from the natural results. Pay-per-click provides instant positioning, but your click-thru rate on PPC ads will be lower than what you’d achieve by being on the first page of search engine’s natural results.

Internet users consider the natural results to be more credible than PPC ads located on the same page, which explains the higher click-thru for natural results. Another benefit is that search engine users clicking on your link enter your site with high expectations that your company provides what they’re looking for.

Your search engine optimization efforts usually provide long-term return on investment. Once your site is positioned on the first page of the search engines, it’ll usually stay there for some time. Whereas with PPC, you’ll need to keep paying month after month to retain your ad position.

Monday, January 29, 2007

What's wrong with an SEO guarantee?

Ten years ago, our company would routinely guarantee that we could position our clients' web sites at the forefront of the major search engines for important keywords. Today, we'd never think of doing such a thing.


Why?


In the early days of SEO, actually, before the term was even coined, very few companies understood the importance of search engine positioning, let alone what techniques could be used to improve it. At the same time, there were still relatively few sites competing with each other for keyword positioning, making SEO a simple and very rote process for us.


The landscape has changed significantly since then. Where there might have been 150,000 pages competing for a certain keyword, there now could be 15 million. Search engines have become much more sophisticated, requiring marketers to jump through many more hoops to have their pages deemed as important content. And, SEO firms abound, creating a much more competitive market for site positioning.


From our experience, SEO firms that today offer guarantees provide a promise to do something that ultimately is of little value to the client. They guarantee to position a client on X number of search engines for X number of keywords, with no promise that the results will show up on Google, Yahoo or MSN or for high-traffic keywords.


They also promise to "resubmit" their client sites monthly; again, a worthless proposition as search engines no longer require any sort of submission to index a site.


So, how do you determine what to believe from a company offering such guarantees?


You don't. You just run -- fast, and far away, with your hand on your wallet.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Why another blog on SEO and web design?

This blog is intended for the average marketing manager of a business who has lots of balls in the air -- working with sales, executive management, and typically juggling multiple marketing programs, print, direct mail, web, etc.

So, their time is valuable, and limited. They don't have time to become SEO experts, but need to learn enough to be able to make some educated decisions about how to direct their company's online strategy.

That's my target audience. If you want real technical material, go somewhere else. This will be very high-level stuff, and easy to read.

That's why I've named it KISS -- Keep it Simple Stupid, SEO and Web Design.

Ciao!

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