SEOdamian's Blog

Helping others understand & share about technology, search

What Can I do to Build My Online Reputation?

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.

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June 30, 2009 Posted by | Community, How To | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Breadcrumbs-Not Just for Meatloaf Anymore

Sounds like a good fairy tale (Hansel and Gretel) … but isn’t that what Google is all about, helping the searcher tell a story?

As many of these posts speak about, what is good for the visitor in making a better experience to your site,  is often good for the Google Spider – that robot computer that wanders the web and looks at websites to determine how to return results for our searches.

So part of making a better visitor experience is to have breadcrumbs as part of your website’s pages to make it easier for a visitor to know ‘where they are’ relatively speaking on your website.  This also will improve your search engine ranking.

A Breadcrumb definition from Wikipedia-Breadcrumb (navigation):

Breadcrumbs or breadcrumb trail is a navigation aid used in user interfaces. It gives users a way to keep track of their location within programs or documents. The term comes from the trail of breadcrumbs left by Hansel and Gretel in the popular fairytale.

These navigation aids are typically near the top of the page just below the ‘navigation bar’ that map out how you would ‘logically’ get from the home page to the current page in a very structured ‘top-down’ fashion.

Typical breadcrumbs look like this:

  • Home page > Section page > Subsection page

This may seem redundant since the navigation bar or the back button may also let you follow that same path if you came in from the home page and followed the top-down structure.  But more and more, traffic analysis (using Google Analytics, WebTrends or others) show that visitors do not prefer to walk through your site in the same fashion as you design it.  This lets them wander around and still facilitates them not getting ‘lost’ in the site.

These breadcrumbs also let Google know how to relate your pages to each other and what makes your site have some coherence.  This helps it index well, because it can also define what the different mean by defining each link (not just ‘home’ but ‘main page for Evanston IL Handyman with 20 years experience’) by have a descriptive ‘crumb’ that has a clear ‘TITLE’ tag in the HREF line describing the links back to the ‘parent’ pages. For example:

<div id="breadcrumbTrail"><a href="/" title=”Schaumburg Books”>Home</a> &gt; <a href="index.shtml" title=”Sell Books and make money”>Sell Books</a> &gt; Inventory Solutions </div>

Use this layout ‘trick’ to take the opportunity to tell Google exactly what each page is about, and have your site rank higher for the description you want, not what the witch wants.

Unless of course you have the new AT&T iPhone with GPS, but that is another story.

A good article on implementation of breadcrumbs is at http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/03/17/breadcrumbs-in-web-design-examples-and-best-practices-2/

June 29, 2009 Posted by | How To, HTML Issue, Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment

Will PPC increase in 2009?

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?

June 23, 2009 Posted by | SEM Industry | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Email is a Traffic Generator?

Your personal email is a great way to improve your site traffic, for at least two major reasons:

  • You are sending a personal message to someone. You should have a great deal of trust in what you say and recommend. Your signature link to a site leverages that trust.
  • It helps create a mindset to tailor your site to optimizing your links and ALT tags to effective communication to Google about what your pages are about.

If you can’t put a good reason in your email for someone to visit your online presence to the people you are emailing, then you are doing something wrong. Sorry to be so direct, but is it that hard to have something worthwhile to share with those you are emailing?

If you are trying to promote or market yourself and you cannot put a softsell reason to have someone visit your online presence (website, Facebook page, Linkedin page, any of your blogs, where you have posted on someone else’s blogs) then you are either too selfish in not helping others out by sharing your information, or you are way too shy about your knowledge and wisdom.

To paraphrase podcaster (et al) Douglas E Welch puts it ‘if you have one more piece of knowledge than someone else in some area’ then you are an expert.

Your expertise is what you want to be sharing through your online presence.  That presence should be linking back to your website. As you share your expertise, you should ‘naturally’ be creating more content that the search engines can use to understand why you should rank high in their listings.

So the key is to be altruistic and give your expertise and wisdom away.  Think about how you would ‘gently’ let others know about your knowledge and put links in your email signature.  Then look at how to describe that wisdom in short snippets –

  • 5 ways to work more efficiently
  • 3 ways to lose weight
  • My favorite wines in the last year
  • How I improved my  business 15%
  • How I improved the health of over 1000 patients
  • How I helped 200 people save money with xx product
  • My favorite flowers for clay soils in the midwest

These quick descriptions belong in your email signature. They also belong in your blog posts, comments where appropriate on other sites, and in your links to specific pages on your site.  These descriptions also tell Google what your pages of content are about.

These links should not just be to your home page, but specific links to specific information on your online presence. I would recommend creating a catalog of signatures and rotate them on a regular basis so that people know to pay attention to the extra ‘nugget of knowledge’ you give in each of your emails. That little bit extra you give in each interaction with your visitors/clients/friends/community.

Start thinking about helping others with your email signature, and you can help yourself.

Thanks to Dr. Kent Christianson for the inspiration to this blog

June 22, 2009 Posted by | How To, Simple, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Building a Quick and Easy Website on GoDaddy – Can It be Done?

I had a couple of clients that were going to create their own websites.  So since I have recommended Go Daddy for domain name registration for years, it made sense to not dissuade them from trying the concept of one stop shopping.  I was wrong.

I knew that the site builder would be simple to use. Generally, site builders on domain name registration sites are easy to use, being designed for novices. They are designed for simple sites that are ‘quick and dirty’. Not complex, not hard for a beginner to create, not easy to get into trouble.  So my expectation was, it should be simpler to create a site on Go Daddy than on WordPress (this blog is created in WordPress).  It should have a variety of templates to give a basic look and feel. But most importantly, it should be easy to use.

So the people using this tool have advanced degrees.  One has been using computers for marketing for decades.  The other gets all the latest technical gadgets – early iPods, GPS, Prius, smartphones, palm pilots.  In others words these are not techno-phobics.  These are smart people that are willing to work hard to get technology work for them.

Both clients ended up in extreme frustration, calling me for help on something I was hoping would be easy for them.  One said ‘even their technical support admits the product is bad.’  This just seems wrong.

Of course, parts of the company are great.  I had a domain and site hosting for another client that auto-renewed. While I would have preferred an email the week before the auto billing, they did send me an email once it did renew. But here is where they excelled:  a few days after it renewed, an American sounding person called me.  Not a robodialer, but an actual person. It was nice to have someone that I understood easily on the phone. It reminds me of a recent visit to Dunkin’ Donuts. The person behind the counter was Indian, and the customer was Hispanic.  English was both their second language, they spoke with a thick accent and were having a hard time understanding each other. It was nice to have someone on the phone understand me, and someone I could easily understand. And the person seemed to understand my product.  He even found out that I could cancel (the project had ended, so I no longer needed the site hosting).  He was just providing really good customer service, on less than a $100 sale.  I was impressed.  So impressed that I gave some honest feedback I had received from my clients.  He seemed attentive and asked for details to follow up. He also did admit that the quick and dirty site creation are bad, and that corporate is working on improving it.  Unfortunately, they are ruining their reputation selling  junk in the meantime.

Conclusion – GoDaddy is good for domain, ok for hosting and email, and poor for web creation/templates.

What exeriences have you had with GoDaddy?

June 20, 2009 Posted by | hosting, How To | , , , | 2 Comments

Want Traffic? – Don’t Try to Boil The Ocean With Your Website

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.

June 18, 2009 Posted by | How To, HTML Issue, Internal Organization, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Don’t Be Stingy With Your Pages – We Are Not in the Print World Anymore

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!

June 17, 2009 Posted by | copywriting, SEO tools | , , , , | Leave a comment

SEO Copywriting for Visitors and Search Engines

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.

June 16, 2009 Posted by | copywriting, How To | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Google as a 3rd Grader

One of the challenges as an SEO specialist, when reviewing a site for a new client is gently letting the client know the difference between what a site actually says compared to what they think it says.

Many site developers assume that a graphic (especially if it is ‘cool’ and ‘stylized’) is obvious and clear in its meaning. The challenge is all the cultural assumptions that go into that communication.  More importantly (from an SEO specialist perspective) is that Google and other search engines like Yahoo, and the visually impaired (including most users of smart-phones) cannot ‘see’ or understand those logos.  That is why the ‘standard’ is to have text links on a site.

But even then, those links need to be complete enough and clear enough to communicate context and direction.  Many text links assume you came to the site from the ‘front door’ or home page. When I send a link to friends and colleagues I send them to the page they are most looking for, which is often not the home page.  Just as I don’t send them the cover of the book, if what I am recommending is in the 14th chapter.

So links that are clear and provide some context are very helpful. The easiest way to determine if you have provided enough contexts, is to ask yourself ‘would a 3rd grader understand the links and where you are going?’ If not, keep on providing more contexts, because that is about the sophistican of your 1st visitor – Google’s spider.  If you don’t get Google to understand, not many others will ever get to see your site.

You can argue that Google is stupid, but when you build a better search engine that controls 73% of the market (beating Google’s current market share), I will listen. Until then, what Google says, we follow.  They are the 800 pound gorilla in the room.

Besides the challenges of full intelligence in computers, Google’s 3rd grade understanding is also related to how most searches are entered.  When you read actual searches, you will see most are no more sophisticated than a 3rd grade level.  Therefore, Google matches the level of what its users request.  I am sure this is based on the feedback to Google and to users. I know when I put in more sophisticated searches and I get back the wrong or no answer, I simplify my queries until I get the answers I want.  So there is a loop where we are training each other.

As I started to say, a big challenge is what so many content developers think their words (in text not pictures/images) actually say. It is amazing how many skipped sentences there are in the final copy. Often, whole ideas get skipped. When pointed out, the response is often –‘well, they know what I mean’.  Guess what, Google does not, and more than likely, neither do your readers. And if they do, can they be sure they truly understand what you intended or are they just guessing?  The moral is, make sure your content is complete, and fully states what you intend to communicate.

So when designing your site, make sure the navigation and key topics of your site are understandable by a 3rd Grader and Google.

June 11, 2009 Posted by | How To | , , , , | Leave a comment

ALTernate Universe – Letting Google and Others Understand Your Site.

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.

June 9, 2009 Posted by | How To, HTML Issue, Simple | , , , , | 2 Comments