Just like in ‘real life’ your online reputation is key to building trust and credibility. That trust and credibility is key to having visitors convert into customers who convert into fans. It is key to continually keep building your reputation with your potential customer base in all your online interactions.
One of the best ways to build your reputation if your niche is not a large category where you need to prove your expertise by printing 27 books, is to show your expertise on smaller questions. Show the community that you understand and can explain what you know. So what are some ways to do that?
- Talk to the local Rotary, Chamber, BNI group, leTip or other community service organization.
- Write articles for your customers, not necessarily for your peers – this might be for the local newspaper or consumer magazines.
- Invite your potiential customers to breakfast and give a presentation.
- Create a Blog and share your information.
- Put White papers on your website.
- Answer question on question websites.
What are question websites? They are sites that collect answers to community asked questions, that volunteers answer. Why would volunteers work to answer questions? Self promotion. By answering the question, everyone reading the answers can see you are the expert. Including the search engine experts.
Are you a local dry cleaner that knows how to remove stubborn stains – answer questions on Yahoo’s Answer (a site that Yahoo bought because it was such a great way to understand and generate traffic) – http://answers.yahoo.com related to laundry and stains. Build a profile and put links to your website. Have more details on separate pages where visitors can get the full scope.
Are you a handyman that knows the secret to fixing squeaky stairs – post and answer questions at answerbag.com and let the world know they can trust you over the next guy.
http://www.marketingvox.com/draft-question-answer-site-visits-up-118-percent-yahoo-answers-is-clear-leader-037442/ reviews how traffic at these sites is up.
This trend is part of why Microsoft rebranded its search engine to Bing.com to go after the market that ASK.com was going after – providing answers, rather than references. These are great ways for the search engines to know what your site is about and why it should trust your site over others and rank it higher for the answers that visitors are looking for.
Once again – like a smile that you share – the more you share your wisdom, the more you get back from others.
The ultimate place to post articles is on Wikipedia. But be prepared – if you do not create very informational and really curb your marketing, the open nature of Wikipedia can allow you to be edited right out in hours. If you are posting information, try to site sources with high credibility. But if you can get your postings to stay up, that is a great way to create traffic to your site.
Any recommendations to your site are usually welcome, the more credible and liked your recommender is, the more it can help create traffic.
Here are some thoughts from Kevin Lee’s Poll on Linkedin,
Do you think your PPC (Pay Per Click) search spending will grow this year compared to last?
I believe SEM (search engine marketing) will increase, but the real question is will more dollars go to SEO (search engine optimization) or to SEM?
SEM will increase, because it is measurable and you can plan on it a lot more the SEO. More importantly, the results are often quicker with SEM than SEO. These days management wants quick results – harvest the sales this month, not planting for when we might be in business next quarter. SEM has fewer variables as far as knowing at least how many ‘clicks’ you are going to get. Certainly you still have a lot of back end ratios that can be ‘tweaked’ to get your true CPA (Cost Per Action) including copy, call to action and creativity. But at least you can report a ‘we had a million people come to the site’ that matches up well with the retail side of ‘Orbit’ people counters or what ever the ‘bricks’ side is using to count bodies. ‘Orbit’ people counters are devices that counts number of people entering a store each hour-most stores are counting how many are entering the store, as well as how many are buying and average spent per visit.
I think the answer is - it will be a draw – more dollars will go into SEO as SEM gets saturated. But SEM will get the easy money as response from traditional marketing continues to drop in response to TiVo, DVR, Hulu, YouTube, programming fragmentation (what time was that show on? – now its what day, time and station is that show on?), programming standardization (how many ‘dancing shows’ are there?) and simplification (reality TV), diluting brand equity and a host of other core mistakes on the traditional marketing side as it tries to adapt to the changing world of ‘500 channels of TV and nothing’s on’.
It will be interesting to see if the additional money in SEM produces good results or will too many hacks waste too much money and destroy the reputation of the industry for years to come, pushing marketing dollars back into traditional marketing as soon as the economy recovers, and traditional marketing can get their own act together for measurable results (especially with live viewings vs. 24 hour viewings vs. 7 day viewings).
So what do you think? Are you investing more in PPC in 2009 than in 2008?
The concept of the HTML/and the web is lots of small chunks.
If you look at what is the ‘correct length’ of a blog post, it is often listed at 400-800 words. This is typically 5-8 paragraphs to cover a single idea in a bite sized chunk. It is a singe idea, and the blogs are set up to have each post be their own page.
So when you are designing your site, map it out by focusing on what you are trying to accomplish. Then outline your site with separate pages for each idea. Each page should have a clear purpose. This makes it easy for your visitors to understand what you are trying to communicate to them. It makes it easier to accomplish your purpose and for your visitors to be in sync with what you are trying to accomplish.
Of course, your ‘number 1′ visitor is the Google spider – so these ‘rules’ for your human visitors also apply to Google’s spider. If you design for good human readability, then more often than not, you will have good Google readability and Google will reward you with high rankings accordingly. If your page is focused on a single idea, then Google will more likely see your keyword phrases and understand your page is concerned about that and rank it higher than a page that is focused on 5-6 ideas and is crammed with various keyword phrases. Google will ‘read’ your page and rank it lower for multiple keyword phrases. There are exceptions, but trying to ‘trick’ Google these days is a hard way to build traffic, and you run the risk of Google shifting its formulas and bouncing way down.
So don’t try to boil the ocean with one fire, create separate pages that have single purposes. It is easier for your readers, it is easier for Google. It will get you more traffic.
Break up your Page
James Michener wrote novels that were great for those wanting a single summer read. They were long and full of detail. They carried a lot of ideas interwoven together. They had great plots that kept you following along for hours and hours, page after page. You got great value from all the details painting the complex pictures of his topics and themes.
But the web is not designed for reading long sections of text sequentially. It is designed for chunking – lots of breaks. Those breaks are headlines, and pages. In fact, that is how Google determines what is important – if you label something as an H1 heading-that is your headline, it assumes that those words are more important than the little footnote at the bottom of the page. The H1 heading is specific, do not just use a relative larger font for a few reasons:
- It is sloppy coding that will often come back to haunt you.
- Google prefers the H1 heading to clearly identify what the Heading is on the page.
- It displays more consistently across the various browsers including mobile browsers.
By putting a single idea on a page, it makes it easier for the reader to plan their reading – they can see how big the page is, they can see the topic and determine how in depth you will be going for that topic. Google also has an easier time ranking your site’s page for that specific topic.
Thanks to Hubspot.com for inspiring this idea.
One of the challenges for many people trying to create a website is the sense of scarcity of space on the Internet. This goes back to the days of printing when each impression on each sheet of paper was a significant effort.
The world of the web is different. Space is just about free. Sure there are some hosting plans that charge a slight increase to have more pages, but if that is preventing you from effectively communicating your messages, then you need to reevaluate your hosting (another post). The amount of server space you are taking up with most well designed pages is minimal (if the pages are big enough to measure, they will be too slow to load. Make them smaller in graphics, or optimize your code).
So unlike a book or article printed on paper where ‘white space’ feels like a waste, on a website ‘white space’ is a sign of focus and professionalism. This also makes it easier for the reader to get a single idea at a time. Use the page as a way to segment ideas. You will notice that complex manuals use this concept because it improves effectiveness and comprehension. Complex manuals break the ideas into separate pages because it allows for cohesiveness within a concept being communicated.
And guess what – Google and other search engines do well with this. They understand and appreciate a page that is trying to communicate one idea better than a page that is about 15 ideas and all over the place. When you review search engine analysis programs like WebPosition and other tools, they talk about the precise number of words, how often to repeat the keyword phrases, the percentage of keyword phrases to total text and further formulas. But when you get down to it, if you write at a reasonable grade level of understanding, and cover a single idea rather than a bunch, these numbers magically fall into place. Search engine analysis tools are great tools for tweaking, but following 1 idea per page solves a ton of tweaking work later.
So, don’t be stingy with your use of individual pages. Don’t create one long page that covers it all – it is confusing for your visitors and for Google. Create lots of pages, there’s plenty of room in web-space!
There is a whole sub-specialty of copywriting for search engine optimization. That is, writing the text of a page so it specifically ranks higher in search engines.
One way to look at trying to meet ‘both’ audiences of Search engine and your visitors, is to clearly write the objective being met by each page. If that is not clear, at least to yourself, then it probably will not be clear to your visitors. The search engines will have a better chance of getting it wrong as well.
One of the big challenges many web designers have is looking at the site from a visitor perspective. It becomes too easy to focus on the bells and whistles, the hits and graphics. The old saying -’ the customer is always right’ still applies here and in essence is the golden rule.
Sometimes the visitor perspective is taken, but only from the point of view of someone looking at the entire site, as if each visitor is going to do a formal audit of the site. But the truth is, most visitors pass judgement in seconds of when they 1st see anything on your site. And part of the challange (and great benefit) of the web is that you have a vast number of doors to your site. Not just your front door. So you cannot just make your entry way/lobby beautiful. Your fire exit, your sliding door, the door to the inside of the mall, the side door, the dock door, the hatch to the roof – all those entrances need to look inviting and well designed as entry ways to your business or site.
The easiest way to accomplish that is to look at each page as a stand alone site. Does each page convey a clear sense of purpose to the visitor, and allow them to continue on to the rest of the site? Does the page make sense by itself, or is like turning to page 72 of an Agatha Christie mystery? Does this page answer a question or does it seem like the middle of an index without the title INDEX at the top? Does the page provide details or does it feel like you dropped onto page 916 of the federal statutes?
If you can create a breadcrumb trail (list of pages that naturally would lead you to this page from the front door/home page), that is great. But you still need enough context on the page to make sense. This will also let the search engines make sense of the page as well.
When you are laying out your site (possibly doing a wireframe or other methodology to be covered in other posts), be sure to define what is the objective of each page. Then review the pages after they are created to see if they met those objectives. Try to minimize the objectives for each page – do not try to ‘stuff’ too much into each page. And ask an independent party to review each page to see if they consider it meeting the pages objectives. Then after all page objectives have been met, test to see if you have met the site’s objectives.
An objective that may often be forgotten on many pages is – speak in the visitors language. Most people are not looking for blackwater remediation, they are looking for sewer backup flood cleanup. Most people are not looking for polyamidoamine dendrimers (PAMAMs) they are looking for nanoparticles. Speak in the language of your visitors and the search engines will understand your site in the language of your visitors.
Finally, see if your copy meets the overall objectives of your site. It is hard to work in a vacuum, so use Google analytics and real visitors to find out how your site is really viewed.
One of the challenges of having a beautiful site, is that it usually includes graphics and lots of pictures. Even if your site is all text, the easiest way to control how your site looks is to make them into graphics. It solves lots of problems with columns lining up and borders being just right.
The problem is, as smart as Google is (or is not), Google (or Yahoo or Bing) cannot really tell what an image really looks like. But that is ok, there are a bunch of people that cannot tell either. Some are visually impaired, some are technically impaired. Others may be on limited bandwidth – whether it is a slow connection of dial-up across the world, or a ‘smart phone’ that automatically strips out all the graphics. Many of your visitors may not be able to see your site with its pretty graphics.
So why is this OK? Because when HTML/WWW was designed, they allowed for that possibility of graphics that not everyone could understand. The designers implemented a standard called ‘ALT Tag’, as in Alternative description tag for graphic elements. So what does this have to do with SEO? The ALT Tag is the tool to tell the search engines what your site is about.
The ALT Tag is the place to describe your site as if a martian was looking at your site, and had not come from another page, another search engine or link to your site. They just walked in the room and sat down at a computer and here was your site’s page. What do the graphics mean? So do not describe the front page as ‘home’ but instead as ‘Flutist Jennifer Bartel of Chicago North Shore Home Page‘. Do not describe a page as ‘Hot links, Cool Tips’ but as ‘Resume Writing Links and Tips by Executive Career Services’. That way the descriptions stand alone. When Google visits, it looks at how you describe the pages and takes the hint. These are far more descriptive then ‘page 1′, ‘home page’, ‘about us’.
How do you know when your ALT tags are complete? When you can have a friend look at a page with only the ALT tags and understand what your site is about, and where to go next.
Are your ALT tags not complete yet? Don’t worry, after 14 years of doing website optimization for search engines and usability, I have found few sites that are complete. Of course there are all the ‘clever’ graphic designers that feel I must intuitively know what every icon and graphic relates to. Those are the ones that most often don’t use ALT tags. What does a purple smiley mean – where will it take me? Most often it takes me to the ‘x’ for close this tab, and I go to the next site.
Optimizing ALT tags is a continual process of improvement. But it is a lot easier to fix a website than it is to fix a printed brochure. So keep on tweaking and asking for feedback on how to improve how you communicate to your visitors, including the spiders in the night that Google, Yahoo and Bing send out to try and understand your site.
What have you seen? Do you ever use ALT tags to find your way around a site?
Let me know your favorite ALT tags and your ALT tag experiences.