SEOdamian's Blog

Helping others understand & share about technology, search

Inventory is Dead Weight.

A feature that you built and tested, but didn’t deliver yet because you’re waiting for the next major release, becomes inventory. Inventory is dead weight: money you spent that’s just wasting away without earning you anything. Joel Spolsky
http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2012/01/06.html

I discovered a new tool for quick survey of the series of tubes of the web (Daily Show fun) – AllTop.com which lets you get a single feed around topics that you can create, or others have created. The ‘generic’ page led me to Joel’s blog post today.

But Joel’s thought on inventory struck me. I have different posts in ‘draft’ stage. I have different ideas in planning stages. I have different relationships in development stage – I promised to get them some useful information (by their feedback) that I have not. This inventory (or more appropriately WIP-Work In Progress) is not creating value for me, or more importantly for others. I am short-changing myself, and others, and I need to stop that.

I notice so many people I respect are not getting hung up in working on getting ‘it’ perfect, before they publish/post/deliver/share so few opportunities are missed. The value they are reflecting is important. So the question becomes, how I do that myself?

I am finally not only hearing the need for creating, sharing and niching, but delivering. Whether that means publishing, posting or just hitting send more often. Thank you Seth Godin, and the many who have preached this newer concept over the old framework of: design, develop, test, fix, retest, fix, retest, fix, retest….. deliver an outdated design for a changing world and market.

So this year there will be more posting, more ideas and consequently more mistakkes as I ‘iterate’ and continually improve.  How are you going to change your models to improve this year?

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January 10, 2012 Posted by | Community, Simple | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Quick list of SEO tips

In browsing around I ran across a quick list of SEO Tips – 5 SEO Tips For Bloggers

As with most good tips they are focused on –

  1. Making it easy for humans to read and understand your ideas (quickly).
  2. Making it easy for Google and Bing to understand what is important (oh, and for humans to understand what is important)
  3. Be unique to your own voice.

These tips are geared for blogging in particular, but can be very useful for a traditional website. In fact, the advice is probably best applied to normal websites since ‘normal blogging’ will more naturally use these styles compared to most website authors who  get ‘stilted’ in their prose rather than focusing on clear communication with an honest voice.

I had not read Aaron’s book before, but I have seen his material elsewhere (or at least his logo) and it stands out as worthy of study.

October 18, 2009 Posted by | How To, Simple | Leave a comment

Google Spiders-I’m arachnophobic, and I don’t think I want spiders in my website

A reader asks:

Ewww! I’m arachnophobic, and I don’t think I want spiders in my website. What are they anyway, what do they do, and how do they work?

But you do want spiders all over your website. You want Search engine spiders crawling all over your website. While real life spiders eat bugs, Internet or WWW Search Enginee spiders bring you visitors to your website. You do want visitors don’t you?  Otherwise, why post on the web (well actually there are some good reasons, but that is a later post). Back to Search engine spiders.

Search engine spiders are computer programs that look at web pages, lots and lots of web pages. And they create the building blocks for the results we all see when we enter a search phrase at Google, Yahoo, Bing, GoodSearch or other search engines.

So how do Search engine spiders work?  Well, a lot of the process is somewhat blackbox – something goes in, magic happens, something different comes out.  The process is often referred to as ‘crawling a site’ as it seemingly wanders the web trying to understand what each web page is about.  But I will try to shed some light on it.

  • The seach engines have a ‘sign up page’ where you can register one page of your website.  Google’s is at Google. And Yahoo’s free submission is at Yahoo (there is paid submission, but that is another post).
  • The search engine then makes a list for of all the registrations.
  • It then gives the list to a spider.  Again remember the spider is just a computer program, so this list is in essence a batch file of  ‘your work for today is to look at these websites’.
  • Starting at the top of the list the spider ‘goes’ to the 1st page in the list.  Just like you can surf all day and never leave your chair, but still travel the world, a spider never leaves Googleplex or YahooVille or the Bada-Bing.
  • It loads up the page from the list, just like your browser does.  Only rather than looking at how it displays, it looks at the code that creates the page. You can see the code for this page (or most pages) by going to View Source in most browsers.
  • The spider then collects all the words and meta tags, and ALT tags and TITLE tags.
  • It then runs another quick program (remember the search engine is trying to look at the ENTIRE web as often as possible).  This program boils this page down to what keyword phrases it is about. It also assigns a strength or rating about each phrase. So a website that is for a business in Wisconsin gets some rating for ‘Wisconsin’ because the office address is there (2349 E. Ohio Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53207). But a site that is about tourism and the history of Wisconsin (http://www.wistravel.com/history_of_wisconsin/)will get a much higher rating for ‘Wisconsin’.
  • It then files all these keyword phrases and ratings about them for later.

After it makes a list of all the keyword phrases and their ratings, the spider then:

  • Looks for all the links to other pages.
  • It adds these links to its list of To Do’s (‘your work for today is to look at these websites’), with  additional pieces of information.
  1. What was the page that had the link on it about in keyword phrases.
  2. What does the information about the link say about the new page.
  • Is there text that is linked or is it just the URL?
  • Is there a linked image?
  • What is the ALT text about that image?
  • What is the image name?
  • What is the text around the link?

These are the clues that we as humans and the Search engine spiders use to determine what this linked page is about.  It collects all that information and uses it to ‘prejudge’ what this new page is about.

The search engine spider has now ‘crawled’ one page.

After building a list of all the linked pages on this page, it starts to go look at all of these new pages, one by one. If you have 5 pages it may look at all 5 pages, if you have 5,000 pages it may look at them all. (of course it may get tired or ‘bored’, again another post).  If you think of a line being drawn to each new page, including some being drawn ‘backwards’ to previous pages, you can start to envision a web of lines to all the different pages with all sorts of connections.  This web is where the Search engine spider name is drawn from.

You can see that if there are other websites pointing to your site, that the spider should eventually find you. But if you are an island, and no one is linking to your site, the search engine may never find you unless you register with it. The spider is not like an airplane that is going around the ocean looking for islands.  It needs to be pointed to an island at least once by someone registering the site, or another site (that the spider is visiting regularly) pointing to you.

Of course at some point the spider runs out of time for the day, and needs to return the results back to the nest to be merged with the many spiders looking at other websites.  There the ratings of the different spiders web pages are all merged together and rankings are updated.  This merging will also take into consideration when other websites link to your website – if a 3rd party felt your site was important enough to link to, then it is more important usually than a page that no one has linked to.

Way back in the early days of the WWW (1996-2000), spiders would actually go out at primarily at night (by California USA standards). When I analyzed the logs of different clients, I could see the spiders coming in the ‘wee hours’ of the morning.

Log files are the records that the hosting computer where your website is kept that lists every single visitor to your site. It lists when they came, what page they looked at, and where they came from. There are programs that take these logs and make them easier to understand. Some of these include Google Analytics, and WebTrends.

Now of course, the spiders are out searching around the clock in order to try and keep up with the vast changing content of most of the web. Especially the ‘good’ stuff on the web.  So there is a prejudice that new content is better than old content in our ever changing world by the search engines.  That is why your site’s rankings can change minute by minute, as different spiders come back home to the nest and report how a site has changed its content, or links out or links in. Other sites may have gotten better or worse for a rating of a keyword phrase. If yours has not improved, it will affect your ranking.

At some point after the spiders conquer the new website list, they will go back to websites on their existing list, and revisit and look to see if any pages have changed. The changes could be to add or delete links to other pages, or to add or delete information on that page or how it describes other pages.  It updates the information is its master list and lets the ‘nest’ re-rank all the websites for the different rankings.

Hopefully that helps clarify how spiders work and why you need to be descriptive in your words to get good rankings of your website.

July 3, 2009 Posted by | How To, Simple | , , , , , , | 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

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

FAQ – Get More Traffic by Saving Yourself Time.

Want to save time and get more traffic to your website?  I recommend answering your visitor’s questions as clearly and completely as you can.  This takes the advice written by Michael Gerber, decades before the Internet was even opened up to the public.

If your website is a part of your business, I highly recommend reading Michael Gerber’s The E-Myth Revisited.  It is written partly as a parable to describe the entrepreneurial myth of many small businesses. It is part parable, and part information. Gerber uses the story of Sarah, a struggling business woman, to describe the process of the written steps you need to take to improve your business. Whether your business is large or small, the website needs to have an entrepreneurial spirit.  Therefore, I recommend reading and integrating this classic book that has formed the foundation of the businesses I have started, and the hundreds of  business’ I have consulted for.

If you are trying to get more traffic to your site as easily as possible, I recommend creating or extending your FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section on the site. The idea of the FAQ is to collect all the different questions that customers ask on a repeated basis with answers.  Why does a FAQ get you more traffic? Because when properly designed  these pages will be descriptive of the terms that customers use to look for answers on your site.  These terms will probably be repeated just enough without seeming ‘spammy’. So take the time to write out the questions and answers on separate pages to let users understand your site in the context of the questions your visitors are looking at your site.

It has also been suggested that Timothy Ferriss’ The Four Hour Work Week is another great resource that really explores the idea of defining your business on paper in a way that can ge shared with others. There are some great concepts there and clear steps outlined on how to document your business and create FAQ or Frequently Asked Questions pages.  He has made a whole lot of money on implementing effective (both cost and time) ways of making money on the web following his own advice.

Are you a newer business without the traffic and experience of  knowing the questions your visitors will ask? Time to do some market research.  Larger business’ will pay a decent dollar to go out and see what perspective customers are thinking about. If you cannot afford to pay, it is time to get guerrilla in your approach.  Ask friends, set up a kiosk at a flea market, hang at  coffee shop, go to your kids soccer game and ask what questions do you have. Be ready to collect the questions, and test the answers. Stop by the library and read about market surveys and how to create your tests with as little bias as possible.

I would recommend a FAQ page that has all the questions on one page, then link to each question and answer on a separate page.  On the page, I recommend the following:

  • A clear title that states the site name, short version of the question, and contact info (800 number).
  • A clear description of the site and question in the Description META tag.
  • Keywords META tag related to the question and answer keyword phrases.
  • Question summary
  • Long question
  • Short answer with key phrases in them.
  • Longer answer with key phrases and links to other pages as appropriate to the site or off the site.  This is your chance to really explain and give the background appropriate to understand your site and what you are trying to have each visitor walk away from your site with, knowledge wise.
  • Ideally, ‘breadcrumbs’ to how you got to this page from the home page of your site.
  • Ideally, links to the rest of the site navigation system in text and graphical.
  • Ideally, UGC – User Generated Content where visitors are allowed to comment and ask follow up questions and give responses.
  • Ideally, have short poll questions to begin to truly understand how users view your pages (4 questions at most, ideally only 1).

These steps generally will create content that will allow the search engines to ‘understand’ your site and help rank you well on a variety of search terms. The key is to explain your site from the perspective of someone who does not know anything about your site.  Do not assume your users have much background when they come to this page and ask the question, if for no other reason than this is the case for Google. It does not automatically understand anything and it is up to you to ‘explain’ your questions to the search engines.

Understand that unless you have been writing interactive copy for decades (and the Internet has only been public for 15 years), you will need to continue to learn how your visitors interpret your site. That is OK, and the fun of online marketing.  This will require you to continue to tweak and improve your site. Google actually prefers to see sites that continue to evolve rather than act like the US Constitution (and even that we keep considering changing on a regular basis with admendments).  Remember, it is a lot easier to change a website than it is to change our tax code and laws, and ‘they’ change that with great frequency (usually for the worse, unless you have million dollar lobbyists, but I digress).  Sucks that we have 100 Senators, not to mention the hundreds of Representatives, and they have a whole lot of staff just to work on the wording of our laws.  Are you better than 600 legislatures and thousands of staff in your ability to write your website FAQ pages?  If so, please contact me ASAP, we could make millions together! Otherwise, keep reviewing your questions and answers and keep improving your responses based on your feedback of how well you are communicating.

The key is to put in writing on the site all those amazing visions you have for helping others with your site. It really needs to be written down and not just in your head.

June 8, 2009 Posted by | E-Myth, How To, Reference books, Simple | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Why Do the Search Engines Love Me? Why Do the Search Engines Hate Me?

I often hear the latter question whenever I tell people that part of how I market businesses is using search engine optimizations. Of course the next question is, Why? And the real question behind the question is ‘tell me the secret to getting lots of free traffic to my site without any work or money’.

Well one answer is along the lines of Timmothy Ferriss’  4 Hour Work Week – If your effort in the site is passionate, then you will not count it as work, and all you need to do is write to your audience and Google will love you.

The reality is Google (or Yahoo, or Bing) does not hate you, nor does it love you.  They are not even alive (ok a whole lot could and has been written on the personifcation on computers).  They are just algorithms that look at a lot of websites day and night, week after week.  They don’t care, they don’t judge. Judge as defined by Answers.com:

To form an opinion or estimation of after careful consideration: judge heights; judging character.

So while it is hard to get love from Google, that can work to your advantage. Think of it as the impartial, 3rd party that looks at how you communicate your message to others. It is the Terminator of website evaluation. It just evaluates.  Is it perfect, no, but it is highly efficient and its bias is not extreme.  How Google looks at your site is a pretty good indication of how people are probably looking at your site, relative to how other sites that are trying to communicate to your audience.

If you don’t have good content/information Google will tend to not rate your page/site well.  If you have a lot of good content (that is text based), you can expect a reasonable ranking of your site.

There are a lot exceptions, but most who consider that Google hates them really don’t have good content. Do you disagree – put a specific in a comment and we can start a conversation.  Recognizing this is a very wide open invitation, and responses may seem like personal attacks on the creator, I state I will only review the comments from the perspective of the machine that is running an algorithm of evaluating certain rules. It is just like your English Composition teacher saying your paper is too short – if the rule is 1000 words, and there are 990, you failed the test. It is not subjective, just count the words and look at the count.  I will help you understand the rules – they are typically a whole lot easier to understand than writing the composition paper in high school.

So, if you don’t have enough passion to get tons of traffic ‘naturally’, the next easiest way to get Google to evaluate you as a better result than other sites is to put more content on your site.  How to do that? Start with creating a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) collection from friends and family and staff and visitors, and put that on your site. More on FAQs to come…

June 6, 2009 Posted by | How To, Simple | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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