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Why Is It So Complicated? It’s Just a Wedding Cake

One of my projects is helping out a small non-profit. Their advocacy website is in WordPress. So when WordPress.org let them know that a new version was out, WordPress recommended upgrading 3 days after the release. The non-profit  had a natural question: Should we upgrade our site to the new version? Seems logical. Newer is better, right?

Well not so fast.

The issue is one of managing risk by understanding the risks and the benefits. Here is where some analysis can be helpful.

Story of Wedding Cakes

photograph of 4 layered wedding cake with his and hers iPods on top

In one of my former lives, I was an event photographer. I always vowed (pun intended) to not do weddings. The primary reason – the expectations of the customer (bride) are unreal. On that magical day, expectations are unreal and beyond control. If the baker makes a mistake, I as the photographer am already doomed. The expectation is perfection. For the entire wedding day. Everything. Including the weather. If anyone on the ‘team’ makes a mistake and all fail.  Especially since everyone can make a cake, press a button on a camera (or cell phone, or a computer).  So the question becomes why is making a cake (especially for a wedding day) so complicated? Well after listening to a few bakers and artists, I learned there are a thousand critical points where a simple cake turns complicated. Mostly because for each layer you add, all the little mistakes on the layer below it show up. Those little mistakes get amplified until you end up with the tower of Pisa or worse. While it may all work in the shop, taking it to the wedding or putting it out in public can expose those issues in ways not desired.

It becomes about risk. And managing risk. You cannot get rid of all the risks, but you can mitigate and prevent risk in many ways. Did I mention that risk plays into it.

Simple WordPress Upgrade – that’s all

A similar situation exists with a ‘simple’ WordPress website.

Now don’t get me wrong, I feel WordPress is a great tool for most websites (since most websites are simple in objective and construction). For those websites that is is not the case (more complicated) the conversation becomes far more nuanced.  And I recommend WordPress as the 1st consideration for a site. Even if it does not belong on WordPress, it becomes a great prototyping tool, and scrum development platform for at least a place to converse with key stakeholders.

Recently, I was asked ‘should we upgrade to the latest version of WordPress?’  WordPress 3.3 had been released 4 days ago, and logging in to update the site created a prompt to upgrade. The short answer was ‘not now’. But I was not in a short answer mood. A big part of the issue was risk management, and the software layers involved like the layers on a wedding cake. I took this opportunity to have a teach able moment in understanding more about what is happening on a website.

Layers Upon Layers Upon Layers

In the world of web services, that layer cake that creates a website is sometimes referred to as LAMP (Linux, Apache, MS Sql, PHP). A whole other topic worthy of its own site, let alone a single entry. But back to the layers on our website ‘cake’ for this non-profit site.

LAMP stack demonstrating logos of different tools of LAMP. Open Source is a powerful force on the web today

The different logos of the layers of the LAMP stack. All are open source.

  • Why, let me start with listing the layers we are using, and where there could be issues:
    • The hosting company hardware – usually shielded by the operating system. In fact most people working with a hosting company do not even know what the hardware is, or when it was last updated or changed. Not knowing is fine, but that hardware may not play well with this new version. But maybe this new release creates a lot more disk input/output and an old model hard drive cannot handle it. It it is a new ‘fancy’ SSD drive not optimized for this change and will wear out in only a couple of week. Perhaps the hardware is very slow in its RAM, and this new version is optimized for fast RAM and actually slows down because of this hardware configuration. Probably only a .1% chance of causing grief in this scenario.
    • The hosting company OS (operating system), typically a Linux variation for most hosting companies not using heavy database tools. Again typically hidden, and takes some effort to determine the micro-release. But this is key in making sure all the hardware plays with the software. Whose version (or distribution) of Linux probably adds .1% risk. The micro-release adds about a .2% chance of challenge. (.4% running total)
    • The web serving software (typically Apache or Microsoft IIS) and it’s micro-release. Again another layer to work in partnership with all other layers. This adds a .8% chance of challenge, mostly because it is more directly accessed and more configurable by the hosting company to meet the needs of the type of hosting (shared, virtual hosting, VPS-virtual private server, full server, reselling…). (1.2% running total)
    • The control panel software (cPanel being the largest in the Apache web hosting management arena). This is the tool that lets you manage your hosting account. It lets you:
      •  create users,
      • email accounts,
      • empty log files,
      • add more space for x subdomain,
      • lock out Suzy’s account until she pays, or forward until she returns from long term absence.
      • This adds about .3% risk to the stack. (1.5% running total)
    • The install software. This is typically a button on the control panel software. Sometimes it needs to be updated to handle the customizations in the lower layers. This adds about.5% risk to the stack (2% running total)
    • Add-ins – these can be at almost any of these levels but 2 main areas would be at the Apache/web serving software like a spam tool on the server, or log tracking tool (for collecting traffic statistics). Depending on how many are running, for a stable hosting company they add .1% risk to upgrading a WordPress level. (2.1% running total)
    • WordPress release itself. This it what is creating the website on top of all the other layers to be shared with the world through the WWW. This adds risk based on where WordPress is in its lifecycle (the risk changes from when the product is new and ‘raw’, to stable, to needing to change and catch up to other tools that are ‘beating’ it in the industry, to being at its end of life cycle).  At this point in WordPress’ cycle I would estimate that a .x (vs x. or .xx release) adds 1.5% risk to a stable ‘simple’ website. Part of this risk is just updating any software that is installed and running over installing from scratch.  It is much easier to build from scratch in most software then to overlay running software and not do any harm (3.6% running total)
    • Plugins or Add-ons to WordPress. These are the SEO optimization tools, traffic analysis tools, and the other 17,409 plugins currently registered at WordPress.ORG (http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/). These can add lots of challenge and conflicts. This is where a patient attitude can pay off in saved aspirin and Tylenol.  This adds 2% to the risk (5.6% running total)

      wordpress CMS logo - logo over the stylized name wordpress

      Free Website in minutes for prototyping or full deployment

    • The theme in WordPress. There are 1,458 as of today registered at WordPress (http://wordpress.org/extend/themes/).  This is just what is registered at the site. This layer is the template gives the look and feel of the site, integrates all the previous layers (especially the plugins) to the site. Since this is on top of WordPress, it is more susceptible to issues. The risk level here is a function of how mature the software it is sitting on, and how major the release is. In this case a 3.x release, and a simple theme with few plugins (sorry for adding so many weasel words here, but it gets specific quickly) I estimate the risk at .2% (5.8% running total)
    • Customization of the WordPress theme – this can be very minimal from changing the color theme from blue to green, or as major as adding a blog to a theme that was not designed for it. In this example, we had minimal customization on a simple theme. I estimate it adds .1% risk. (5.9% running total risk)
    • Some tweaks to the stack that the hosting company added that is not clear, documented and well maintained. This is a black box of unknown. Since I did not choose or research this hosting company, I will guess the risk factor by the size and reputation of the hosting company. A better way to determine a more accurate risk estimate would be to look at the questions and comments posted by customers of the hosting company based on real issues they have had. Part of the detective work is to look at the responses and timeline of the hosting company. My estimate is .2% in this instance. (6.1% running total)
    • Security patches applied to all the layers listed above based on when they came out, how thoroughly they were tested and how long they have been applied.  Add .1% risk this month.  (6.2% running total)

Add all the risk estimates up (sorry, the risk is cumulative), and the potential risk to upgrade is around 1 in 18 upgrades will have some challenge. This is where a testing and roll-back plan comes into play. And that is a whole other entry.

Of course if you only get 2 visitors a day, the true risk is low. If you get 2000 visitors a second, your strategy will be slightly different.

Conclusion on New WordPress Release

As complicated as this all sounds, new releases do usually work quite well. They typically run far more reliably then my car. The world we live in is complicated, but our ability to understand its systems is also incredible. Embrace the fun of change. Even a field of sugar cane and acres of wheat that make the wedding cake changes and evolves. Ask any farmer and they will certainly tell you about risk and risk management.  Just like our web serving stack.

But remember there is risk, and consider the trade off of benefit to risk in your upgrade decisions. Oh, that is a whole other side to this analysis – what are the benefits of a change, or in this case an upgrade?

What kind of risk management do you typically perform in your decisions to upgrade software? Comment and contribute to the conversation below.

December 17, 2011 Posted by | Definitions, hosting, How To, HTML Issue, SEM Industry, tools | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Should I Upgrade to the New Version of WordPress? Testing Plans for Success

As I wrote about yesterday, One of my projects is helping out a small non-profit with online presence and social marketing. Their simple site is in WordPress, so when WordPress.org let them know that a new version was out. Of course, they recommended upgrading just days after the release. So the executive director asked the natural question: Should we upgrade our site to the new version? Seems logical, newer is better, right?

Well not so fast.

WordPress 3.3 was release 4 days ago. My short answer was not now. It is probably best to add this to the list of todo’s for next year. But I was not in a short answer mood. A big part of the issue was risk management, and the software layers involved like the layers on a wedding cake.

In one of my former lives, I was an event photographer. I always vowed (pun intended) to not do weddings. The reason – the expectations are unreal.

A similar situation exists with a ‘simple’ WordPress website and its’ many layers of software that are used to let someone see our site. Tomorrow I will run down the different layers, but for now, here are the reasons that most jump out to not upgrade.

Now don’t get me wrong, I feel WordPress is a great tool for most websites (since most websites are simple in objective and construction). Those that is is not (more complicated) the conversation becomes far more nuanced.  And I recommend WordPress as the 1st consideration for a site. Even if it does not belong on WordPress, it becomes a great prototyping tool and scrum development platform for at least a place to converse with key stakeholders about how to meet the site’s goals.

Recently I was asked ‘should we upgrade to the latest version of WordPress?’ So my reactions were:

  • New releases are best tested by others. Unless they are fixing a core issue that is not working today. I am so appreciative of the thousands in the Internet and in the WordPress community that will find all the other ways a new release does not work on all configurations all the time. They will share with all the different layers and get those problems fixed. Hopefully before we upgrade.
  • This release does not really improve our world today. This new release does not really change the limitations of the template, it may make new templates easier to build or old templates easier to improve, but it will not ‘fix’ the limitation of the existing template. So this is another reason not to upgrade right away. Tomorrow I will go over all the different layers and what risk I estimate they add to such an upgrade, but here are a couple of highlights:
    • Whenever changing software and its many layers, it is important to have a testing plan and program. We have not had the time to develop that, and it should be done before we upgrade releases.
    • Add all the risk up (sorry the risk is cumulative), and the potential risk to upgrade is around 1 in 18 upgrades will have some challenge. This is where a testing and roll-back plan (the ability to undo the changes in case they make it worse then the ‘upgrade’) come into play.
  • There is no testing plan in place yet. A testing plan minimizes these risks by being able to duplicate the above issues as close as possible, and determine if in our specific circumstances, if there is a problem. For usually very few dollars, a test bed can be set up (usually less then $50 per year). Costs usually include:
    • ‘testing domain’  – $10 per year
    • setting up a 2nd domain/website – $10
    • Reinstalling WordPress, plugins and all the other layers listed above. The key is they need to be all the same version and configuration except the one change/upgrade (in this case new version of WordPress).
    • Possibly some testing software (although there are many low volume free versions) to thoroughly test a site, and some monitoring software to see how the ‘new’ version works.
    • This does not include the extra time on various peoples part to:
      • Define a testing plan.
      • Set up the testing platform.
    • But, once a process is defined, it will be much easier for all future upgrades, and far less stress before, during, and after (if there is a problem, there is a test bed to go see what is happening, and how to troubleshoot it, especially if the site is not fully down, but only ‘damaged’.)
    • This of course assumes a low volume, simple site. Issues, and solutions scale up as the sites objectives and complexity scale up. However, these fundamentals still apply, we have to add other considerations.
  • Other questions to consider:
    • Has the hosting company added the new release to its auto install packs?
    • Have they tested the new release on their servers (at least on one of them, they should all be the same, but as you can see from above there are a lot of areas where variations can be introduced)?
    • Has the theme tested itself on the new release?  Their site or page should list comparability with the current release.
    • Have all the plug-ins (or add-ons) been tested as compatible with the new release? According to the page http://www.projectrace.com/wp-admin/update-core.php it has not yet be tested.
    • These three ‘pre-tests’ will be very helpful in determine when to start considering when we should install the new release. Relatively speaking this is not a major release and does not seem to add much.

Sorry for giving a long answer to a short question, I got on a roll and wanted to map it out to share with others. Even if you don’t set up the testing platform, just thinking through the issues and steps to test them will improve your ability to resolve issues once they do occur. Not if, but when. So this exercise in risk management has value in many different ways. And yes it is a pain in the productivity to getting it all out.

What are your thoughts on WordPress 3.3 and upgrading software?

December 16, 2011 Posted by | Definitions, hosting, How To, HTML Issue, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Another site review on how to improve your sites traffic

I had a request to give some feedback on a 6 year old site on how to improve conversion, and traffic for the gift basket site Blissful Balance . Here in no particular order are some quick hit suggestions. Feel free to comment and ask some more questions.

  • http://www.blissfulbalance.com/essential_oils.html
  • Some suggestions for improving your SEO and site conversion
    • Script font is hard to read, contrast is low, graphic is not SEO compliant
    • There is No call to action above the fold
    • If a gift, not as clear that you cater to the giver – include a free gift for the giver or way to reward the giver for their giving thoughts.
    • No alt text to attract Google juice
    • Image names not leveraged – xdfwe99 is not useful to Google as to what the image is about. Consider listing in Google Images
    • More trust building across the site. Why should I trust my money with you where there are so many other sites out there to buy gifts from.
      • Above the fold
    • No header text to help Google understand
    • Need video for demonstrating product. Video can get YouTube traction today, Google takes months.
    • Audio to demonstrate CD as to why this is something I want to send to my giftee, this seems more unique then other parts of your baskets
    • About us – it should tell a story of passion – why should I buy from you. Because you have passion in these products
    • Tell me about you last 6 years – what have you done.
    • Hosting on Yahoo can be a challenge for other sites on IP could be tripping you up.
    • You have many Duplicate descriptions and boring titles on your pages throughout the site (site: blissfulbalance.com)
    • Articles page is missing your call to read on the description
    • You have links on spam farms
    • What keyword phrases are you going after?
    • No keywords in domain name
    • What is your niche?
    • You footer text should be unique on different pages.
    • Allow larger text options
    • What is your conversion rate?
    • Site is slow on Contact Us page
    • No physical address is listed here. You need to build TRUST, too many other options to go to the next one.
    • No 800 number (still need local number for trust) – Kall8.com is a great resource for low cost, easy to work with for 800 numbers in about 5 minutes including an autobill credit card number.
    • Have product info also on separate pages to allow the power of smaller pages. Tell more of a story with these sub-pages to allow for long tail search engine optimization by Google.
    • Look at SEO (search engine optimizing) your Aromatherapy page.
    • Tell me a story on your essential oils page. Consider making this a better resource for others to share by flushing out a greater list of resources, links to other sites and stories of the benefits of these oils helping others.
  • Driving traffic to the site
    • Create a few blogs to demonstrate your thought leadership and how you understand your customer. As the site reads now, you look like a salesman, not a person who understand the buyer of gift baskets.  Explain to me how you care about your customers, and they will care more about you.–
      • Post content at least weekly (partner if you need to – perhaps a trade of a basket for every 4 stories including shipping)
      • Mix ideas (for how to use) and stories (of how the baskets change lives by allowing for balanced life)
      • Post ideas on other site

Remember that the objective is not to trick Google, but understand that Google is trying to best understand what you can share about your products. Google is not human, so you first have to communicate to Google what your pages are about in order to most effectively communicate to it what you are selling.

Understand that there are many types of media to share with Google (and YouTube) and your perspective clients the value of our site.

Good luck, and let me know what your reactions are.

July 30, 2010 Posted by | Community, copywriting, HTML Issue, SEO tools | Leave a comment

Judge a (web) Page By It’s Title?

The TITLE tag is one of the most important part of any webpage. That is what tells your browser to put up at the top of the screen between the BluE and ‘- Internet Explorer’ or the Firefox logo and ‘-Mozilla Firefox’ or after the compass in Apple Safari . It is even in a distinct color from the rest of the browser.  This is what gets listed in the tabs of your browser to help your visitor get back to your site while switching between the others sites competing for your attention. The TITLE tag is also a trusted part of what Google determines your webpage is about.

But most importantly, this is the underlined, Bold and Blue text that shows up in Google’s’ results page (SERP) – This is where you get to 1st sell your potiential visitor that they need to click on the link and come visit YOU!  This text is your best chance to get a person to decide what that your site will meet their desires better then the 9 or 99 other pages listed next to it. This is where if you fail, it is pretty clear it is your fault for not meeting the needs of your potiental visitor.

So how to get your potential visitor to choose you?

  1. Don’t waste it.  Don’t use ‘generic’ titles that are written from the perspective of the website – Home, About, Contact. There are 4.2, 4.1, 2.6 Billion pages you are competing against respectively compared to 436 Million for Fire, or 126 Million for Pizza (95% easier to rank at the top of).
  2. Don’t be too specific. If people are searching for your business name – ‘Smith’s Itailan Bar and Grill’, then use that. But usually they are not, they are searching for a restaurant.  You potential customer probably does not know he is looking for you specifically, but what solution as a good or service that you provide. List that good or service from the customers perspective. If they know your restaurant’s name, they are a different kind of prospect. They deserve a separate page with ‘their’ own Title. That may well be the ‘Contact page’.
  3. Don’t be too general, there are 327 Million restaurants sites listed on Google. Of course they are all over the world, and all types of quality and cost. Some of the sites are not even about specific restaurants, but related to restaurants – including goods and services for restaurants. If your customers are looking for you, they won’t be looking for your vendors selling your restaurant cleaning supplies. Typically this is where you want to get geographical – Naperville Restaurant limits the selection to 1.7 million pages. Again, another reduction by 95% in competition. But you may need to limit yourself down some more – Naperville Pizza Restaurant – cuts the pages down to 63,000 – again cutting your competition by another 95%. Balancing 2 and 3 can be a challenge – the key is to look at how your visitor will look for you. The perspective is from your visitor’s search box, not from your business or web design
  4. Sell your site.  This is where the advertising industry earned their living for decades. How to write quick headlines that attracted you to read their ad further, in a short compelling fashion. If you had the following titles which would you click on:
  • Joe’s Bar And Grill, Downers Grove
  • Downers Grove’s restaurant for dining-Joe’s Bar and Grill
  • Downers Grove’s best restaurant for casual dining-Joe’s Bar and Grill with nightly chicken dinner specials ranked by Zagat’s review

The third one tells a story like any good headline should, while at the same time giving the search engine the information it needs to place it well for your visitors search terms on Google.

Now that you are on the right track on how to craft a TITLE tag, perform some searches from a visitors perspective for your site. Look at the different Titles and see what catches your eye as well as what communicates that the page is what you are looking for. Search similar topics on Google and Bing to see how effective Title tags are constructed.  Take some time to learn what is most effective at drawing you to click on a link. This will help you learn how others are looking at your Title tag.

When you are crafting your Title tag, take some time and even consider soliciting some feedback as to what best attracts someone to your site.

Once you have crafted your Title tag to meet these criteria, consider testing – try different titles every 2-4 weeks and see what creates the most traffic based on your Google Analytics (free) or whatever tool you use to track your sites traffic.

How did you craft your Title tags and what did you learn along the way?

October 23, 2009 Posted by | How To, HTML Issue, SEO tools, Uncategorized | , , , | 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

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

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

What should I do 1st to get ranked high in the search engines?

I am often asked, “What do I do first to get my site noticed on the search engines”?

Of course it is important to understand that SEO or Search Engine Optimization is best if it is an ongoing process to react to the world of other websites and changes in Google and other search engines way of ranking well. But we all want to take a pill and feel better in the morning, so here are some quick pills to take.

First, understand that Google has about 72% of all search engine traffic, so that alone says you should do whatever Google want. Second, the next 2 biggest search engines (Yahoo.com and Microsoft’s search engine-whose name seems to changes weekly) get most of the remainder traffic. Google basically sets the rules for ranking well on search engines – so lets do what Google wants.

So the question becomes – what should I do to rank high with Google.com?  3 ‘quick’ steps:

  • Register your domain name for at least 2 years. The reason for doing this is because Google thinks you will be around for a long time, and rates a website with a domain name registered for multiple years higher than a ‘fly by night’ one year registration. If you don’t have confidence that your site will be around for more than one year, then why should Google think you’ll be around and rate you higher?
  • Put a ‘good’ title on your page – a title that someone who does not know you would understand what the page is about without seeing the page.
  • Put a description on your page in the ‘meta’ tag section – again if you were emailing a description of the page to a stranger, that would let them know what the page is about and why they would WANT to visit it.

Domain Name registration

When Google looks at a new site, it is just like when we meet someone new.  We are trying to determine if that person is worth the effort to get to know. If that person is just stopping in the office, but you do not expect to meet again (say a friend of an employee that is leaving) – you probably do not put much into getting to know them. But when the new boss (that you think will stay around till at least your next review).  You prioritize her a lot higher and listen much more intently. So how does Google know a boss relationship vs. someone in the hall?  One hint is how long you register your domain name. If you register for 2 years, then you have ‘signed the lease’ for at least 2 years. That sense of commitment shows Google you plan to stick around and to value over someone who did not commit.

Page Title

When creating your website page there is a line of code called the TITLE line.  It can look like this:

<title>Social Media Marketing - Reputation Management, The Other Side of Social Media Marketing</title>

Notice this is not the typical ‘Home Page’ description. This is a keyword phrase and a clear benefit that includes the keyword phrase. Remember this might be the only thing that someone sees of your site in order to determine whether to visit your site.  Limit to around 70 characters, because that is what most of the search engines consider, as well as visitors read before making a decision. Your business name is usually not the correct title – unless someone is searching for you by name. If someone is searching for you by your product or service, that is what your site should be about.  Your website should be about your perspective customer’s needs, not about you.

‘Meta’ Tag Section

The meta tag section is the part of the website page that describes what a page is about.  This area has been abused in the past 13 years as people have tried to ‘game’, the search engines.  So search engines ignore most of the meta tags except the ‘description’ – this is what Goggle usually uses to describe your site in its listings. Because other people will read your description, it tends to trust it more.  A sample description of a page is:

<meta name="description" content="If you need Photoshop brushes or just love Photoshop brushes then come to Phatbrush. Phatbrush has High Quality Photoshop brushes of all kinds. Our Photoshop brushes will satisfy your hunger." />

Conclusion

These are few quick hints.  I will explain more as we go through different posts, but these are some quick hints that you should be able to implement in a day. Depending on Google, results may not show for a few weeks or more, depending on how often Google visits your website.

May 30, 2009 Posted by | domain name, How To, HTML Issue, Simple | , , , , , | Leave a comment