Category: Web marketing

Jan 02 2011

The client’s responsibility for SEO

In my previous post, way back in June 2010, I tried to emphasize that what is called Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), consists of several tasks which need to be met by different skillsets. There was a follow-up comment on the LinkedIn discussion to the effect, “If it works then Yes; if it doesn’t, then No!” Agreed, but what exactly did the client ask for and expect?

As a website builder who feels that she incorporates search engine accessibility into her products, I would like my clients to be aware of the different facets of SEO, of what enables a website to show on the first page of results.

There is so much to making a website visible on the web, that it is truly fantasy when potential clients expect results within a month to six weeks. And are appalled at the cost of doing SEO thoroughly.

You may have been assailed by emails from overseas companies offering SEO services. Be aware that anyone can provide an automated report that purports to diagnose SEO ‘errors’ on your website. I recently saw such a report of four pages of narrow spaced script, in which four short lines stood out. And I could have told the client those points by just looking at the website for less than five minutes.

SEO has been defined as comprising two parts: online and offline optimisation.

You need to get the online optimisation right at the outset and you need the full cooperation of your web designer to do it. Thereafter, the followup work is offline optimisation – which you can do yourself, even if it is time-consuming.

Online optimisation ensures that websites are easily navigable by both visitors and search engines, that titles, meta-keywords and meta-descriptions are included, that headings, images and links are appropriately styled and tagged, and that the website loads quickly. Make sure that your designer/developer understands and acts on implementing SEO friendly urls.

But it’s the offline optimisation that takes time, continuing effort and relentless attention to detail. Offline optimisation requires you, the website owner, to put effort into building incoming links, that your unique selling point is clear, that your terms of trading and customer service are transparent and that your website visitors feel that they got good value by visiting. Extrapolate this into other online marketing outlets, and you will note that you need to monitor what people are saying about your business on Facebook, Twitter and in reviews on shopping or other consumer websites. The businessman who wanted to take TripAdvisor to court for publishing bad reviews about his hotel might have won the case but he committed a marketing catastrophe.

Here are various resources on the web that might help put SEO into more context.

Data about online usage

Much of what you read about how websites are found is anecdotal. Websites like Mashable and TechRadar that publish the news about what’s trending online pull in data from elsewhere. You need to go to their sources, such as Experian Hitwise and Nielsen to find the data for yourself.

If your resources are a little more slender and you’re looking for a summary rather than data, try eConsultancy which publishes regular reports on online behaviour, email marketing and valuable guidance on SEO, how to convert customers and what to pay attention to in ecommerce sites.

Inbound marketing services from Hubspot

Hubspot offers online marketing software services. Their website tells you that Hubspot will:

  • help you get found online by more qualified visitors
  • show you how to convert more visitors into leads
  • give you tools to close those leads efficiently
  • provide analytics to help make smart marketing investments.

If you’re unsure about how to start offline optimisation for yourself, with the free tools that are available on the web, Hubspot may not be a bad place to start. The company offers a 30 day free trial for you to find out. It also offers free webinars (online seminars) which will guide you through the optimisation process.

Disclaimer: I have not used the full Hubspot service myself, although I have used some of their trial features in the past.

How Google finds you

Google updated its search algorithm in a major way during 2010. You’ve probably noticed how search results begin to appear before you even finish writing your query

Broadly speaking, the speed at which your website loads is taken into account. Bloated code, obsolescent styles of scripting, innumerable widgets on the page (including the Facebook Like button), all these can slow down the speed at which your website appears on the screen. Google is looking for clean code, and fast download times.

Meta tags are back in fashion. Page titles are essential and meta descriptions should truthfully reflect the content of the page. Headings should contain keywords or keyword phrases.

Content should be fresh and unique. Which is why it’s extremely useful to update your blog with company news and information at least once a week. (a rule that I admit I’m not very good at keeping myself!)

The volume of search queries for the type of product or service you are offering will influence Google’s view of your website’s status in the scheme of things.

Make sure that you have Google Analytics code installed on your website and that you understand what the Google Analytics’ reports are telling you about what your website visitors do while they’re visiting. It’s free! So why not.

Copy writing

There’s a skill to writing good copy for the web: short, succinct sentences in which every word counts, bullet points and no more than around 250 words on a page. Those words must incorporate the search terms that people use to find the product or service that you’re selling.

Don’t try to stuff keywords into your copy. Google, Bing and Yahoo!, the major search engines, recognise that as spamming. Instead, optimise the copy on each page for no more than two to three different keywords or phrases.

Despite all the changes and fashions that have happened to search engine optimisation since the web became so dominant in our lives, good writing that provides clear information and help is the web’s biggest asset. And that will reflect in how Google ranks your site.

Use Google webmaster tools to find out how Google sees you, who else links to your website and to tell Google about your website.

Doing it all yourself?

Many small traders want the ability to alter and add to their websites themselves. You’ve no doubt heard of WordPress, which is used on so many small websites nowadays.

Contrary to what a lot of people think, WordPress is not a generic website building tool. It is blogging software with some content management service capability. You will probably still need a designer to get the installation up and running and tweaked to your satisfaction, which includes building the final design.

Its biggest advantage is in the wealth of free support provided by people all over the globe. People design themes for free and plugins for free.

One of the best plugins that I’ve seen for SEO comes from Yoast. When you add a new post, the Yoast SEO plugin gives you the opportunity to add meta descriptions, keywords and to write snippets that will show up in search results.

I’ve just created a WordPress installation for a local client who is overwhelmed that at last she can add information to her website without having to ask the web designer first. She’s finding the concept of SEO a bit foreign but is learning fast. Naturally, we’ve installed Yoast.

See Helen Burrell, beautiful jewellery to treasure for ever.

Dec 30 2008

Now offering SEO and Online Marketing

I’ve just refurbished my website and its companion blog, SoozNooz.

October through to December, I’ve been very lucky to be able to attend several business seminars sponsored by East Midlands Business Link, paid for by the East Midlands Development Agency.

The seminars have come at an auspicious time for me, covering issues of online marketing, search engine optimisation, selling online, pay-per-click advertising and social networking.

I’ve already implemented many of the practices suggested, which means I’m on the right path. All the same, I learnt something new in every session, making the investment in time very worthwhile.

I’ve discovered over the last year or so, that when I tell people that I design websites, they ask me to take a look at theirs.  “I’ve just paid out all this money on a new website, and I’m not getting any business from it!” they complain.

It takes no time at all on clicking through to their sites, to discover that the designers have not optimised them.  Simple things like Flash animations without entry text, no page titles, lack of copy text on the home page and generally, no targeted proposition or call to action.

I think there is going to be more and more emphasis in the future on making your website work for you, rather than just on building websites to have a directory presence on the web.  Online marketing is all about connecting with your customers.  Use your experience in dealing with customers face-to-face combined with web 2.0 technology to sell online.

For example, I’m hoping to have my bathroom overhauled in January.  It makes sense to me to look at bathroom websites to see what ideas bathroom companies can offer and evidence of their work.  Very few of the tradesmen who came to see me had an understanding of this need, often dismissing their websites as ‘something the wife does.’

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a structured process which aims to lift your website to the top of Google search engine results for your particular product or service.  There’s no mystery about how it’s done.  There’s plenty of websites out there falling over themselves to offer advice.  In fact, Google offers some of the best resources.  See my page on SEO for some starter links.

In the end though, do you have the time?  This is work that you can out-source. Or you may like some guidance on how to set up your own SEO strategy and maintain it yourself.  These are services which I am now offering.  Call me on +44(0)1509 650759 to talk through the options.

Dec 29 2008

Gothla.co.uk up and running

I have joined a cooperative of enterprising ladies, including my daughter, who are organising a gothic bellydance event in Leicester in June 2007.  We've found that we've been able to do most of our PR and marketing via the web so far, using niche groups at Tribe.net and LiveJournal.

The website was created with one page initially to which the MySpace diverted enquiries.  Our aim was to collect email addresses of people who were interested in attending the event.  I use List Messenger Pro to manage the database and to send out email newsletters.

List Messenger also allows people to confirm their subscription and to opt out.  I haven't used the facility to design forms to collect preferences yet. 

Paying for the software meant that I did get a personal reply from the creator, and I can use the ticket system to get priority support but otherwise, I have to use the forum just like everybody else.  A free version of the software can support 100-200 subscribers.

The Gothla website is designed for a specific event, and thus is likely to have a limited lifetime – unless the weekend proves so successful that the organisers decide to do it again.

Thus we have focused on just the information likely to be required by attendees.  We've used PayPal for bookings, but also allow people to download a booking form to send with a cheque if they prefer.  We've used a Google map to highlight the whereabouts of the different venues, bus and rail stations and hotels.

Each member of the cooperative has her own email address.  One of the benefits of doing the website is that it seems to have focused the organiser's attention on their specific roles – a great aid to management of the project.

I commend Compila, the webhost, which was in turn recommended to me, for the facilities it provides for just £20 a year, with second year free.  250Mb web space, unlimited POP3 email addresses, 2 MySQL databases and unmetered bandwidth.

We have also used MySpace and YouTube to garner interest.  And I have learnt how to convert a video in DVD format to something that you can see and hear on the web.  Every web project pushes the boundaries that much further.

First published 15th February 2007.

Dec 28 2008

Free blogging tools

This entry was first published on 6th August 2006. I moved over to WordPress in December 2008, and am currently loading all previous entries.

Welcome to Sooz Nooz, the blog accompaniment to Sue Hutton, which enables me to share information with you more speedily, to update articles from the past, and to present new articles relevant to my professional interests.

The tool that I'm using for the blog is an open-source (free!) program called Pivot, which I have been able to configure to echo the layout of my main site.

It requires PHP to be installed on your web server, but unlike other software, does not require MySQL, which saves you having to set up a database in which to store the entries. The postings are stored in a flat file.

It's appropriate, I suppose, for relatively light use.  The developers believe that the maximum number of postings can be 6,000 to 8,000 increasing on a fast server to around 12,000 postings.

However, you can create different user profiles which facilitate searching for individual contributions, and also several blogs in the same account, each stored in its own flat file, which will increase the maximum number of postings accordingly.

I've seen a query on the forum about using the software for 800 different users on an intranet.

I use NucleusCMS, another open source software, on my newsBriefsOman website. It uses both PHP and MySQL.  This software was very easy to set up and configure.  There are lots of templates, and I found that it was easy to hone the display.  It's a breeze to use, although I'm still stuck on getting an include file to display on single-entry pages.

Another very popular blog software that I have considered using is WordPress, which also uses both PHP and MySQL.  

But it requires your server to enable mod_rewrite, so that you can use easy urls.  This is supposed to make it easier for Google and other search engines to find your entries.  My current webhost does not permit mod_rewrite, so I've had to look for alternatives.  WordPress is now offering free hosting to get around some of these problems.

Postings on the NucleusCMS forum suggest that they haven't been able to configure the easy urls extension totally reliably, so I've chosen not to use that extension for the time being.

A tetchy little problem I've come up with web servers, is whether they will accept .htaccess files which can override some server settings, as well as enabling you to redirect, and to install custom error 404 pages.  I've tried to install a .htaccess on two different servers now, and the file simply disappears once it's renamed.  That's something that has to be resolved with the webhost.  (I resolved this problem by using a different ftp client.  SmartFTP can rename files .htaccess on some servers).

Given the flexibility and power that these tools offer, you're almost beholden to donate to the projects, although no-one will force you to.  I usually find all the support that I need from the associated forums.

And of course, there's all sorts of free blogging tools out there now which require hardly any tech knowledge to use.  Think of Windows.Live, on which I post The Kitchen Drawer, Live Journal and My Space and Blogger.  Yahoo! has just started Yahoo! 360 degrees.  The focus of these sites is social networking and staying in touch with friends.

You can even contribute to your blog with your mobile phone.

Happy Blogging!

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