Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What's Best For Your Company

I was going to write today about effective social marketing updates, but another topic got my attention this morning. I recently had a client call to tell me that his company was going to go with a web designer/SEO company that was local to him. The choice to have a local company handle your search engine optimization is a personal one, and I always encourage my clients to do what's best for them and their business. Since Crescent Moon Design Studio does business both locally and worldwide, I understand when a client wants more face-to-face contact with their Internet marketing professionals. I released his hosting and domain accounts and gave him all his site files and content for use with his new design company.

That was a few months ago. Today, out of sheer curiosity, I went and looked at my former client's new site. It was efficient, professional, and laid out well when it displayed in different browsers. But then, I looked at the source code.

There were literally ten pages of code before you ever found any content in the source code. There are some schools of thought to this that support the idea that search engine spiders will ignore code when crawling a page. Other schools of thought hold that the spiders won't crawl past a certain point in the code and will simply stop after a certain number of characters. The literature isn't particularly clear on this point; on the one hand, I can see how search engine spiders' algorithms are complex and could be coded to skip over the reams and reams of JavaScript, Applets, Flash, et cetera, that's been embedded in the source code. On the other hand, I've always thought it better to be safe than sorry. Besides, it's not that hard to write a line of code referencing JavaScript, Applet, Flash, and CSS files that loads them off the page. The effect is the same, and if the spiders don't like code, well, then, it doesn't matter, does it?

The second problem was that the new designer had buried the main keywords under a hierarchial menu, which means that the content that contained the keywords only appears two to three clicks away from the main page. This means that his main keywords, cultivated over literally years of working with the site, never appear on any of the main "hub" pages.

I suppose my advice at this point would be to keep an eye on the site to make sure it gets indexed properly by search engine spiders and alter the content on the main pages accordingly. Since I am no longer in charge of that site, that would be left up to the new designer or the site owner. There are, of course, dozens of other aspects to the SEO of a site that would have to be considered, as well, but, in the end, what's the point of having a flashy, professional-looking site that nobody visits?

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Social Marketing & You... & you... & you....

Social marketing is something of a new "buzzword" in the search engine optimization industry, but it has been around a lot longer under different names. In the modern context, what we're talking about is using sites that link people to one another in order to market your business, venture, product, whatever it may be. The most popular places for this are Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace. There are several others, including YouTube - which will get its own post here eventually - but the essential function is this: if people you know (or people in general) like something, you might, too.

These various networking sites give different names to this concept, but the end result is that, via recommendations, other people learn about some information, a page, a product, a movement, a business, a project, a video, a song, or any other thing or idea out there in the world of Internet content (and sometimes real-world content). Facebook calls these recommendations a few different things: "liking" someone's post, becoming a "fan" of something, or joining a "group" about something. MySpace calls it "friending." YouTube calls it "favoriting." Twitter calls it "Re-tweeting," "hash-tagging," or "@-ing." On Digg, you can "dig" or "bury" something.
The point is, if enough people recommend something, it can go "viral," meaning that, for a period of time, the "thing," whatever it is, will be everywhere on the 'Net.

This concept drives home the idea I've been promoting here of having excellent content that people will want to look at and share with others via links, tweets, likes, digs, or whatever the site happens to call it. How do you make this great content? Sometimes, you have a business or product or service that's a little quirky, so using that funny angle, you could create a humorous commercial and post it to YouTube, maybe even as a "reply" to a similar, popular video, so more people will see it. Then, you post that link to your Facebook account, which is linked to Twitter. This means that, once you post that link to your cute, funny video to your Facebook status, it automatically updates your Twitter status. Your Twitter account should by synched to your MySpace account, so the Facebook status updates your Twitter status, which updates your MySpace status. From there, you can also have the Twitter feed going to your web site and blog, so it updates that, too.

Finally, you would posted either a link or an embedded player of your video on your RSS-enabled blog. Over time, if your content is good enough, people will come and take a look. And they'll share your content with others. If your products or services are what people are looking for, you'll make sales. And that's how it links back to your web site content.

Next time, we'll talk about effective social marketing updates that don't come off as "Spammy."

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Flyout Menus Using Only CSS

One of the things that frustrates those looking to optimize their sites is that, to really do it right, every single page needs to link to every other page in the site. This could create an enormous list of links somewhere on the page that just ain't pretty or functional. Though some sites might not mind it, there is another way. It's not, necessarily, easier, but it is prettier, more functional in more web sites and site designs, and it's still good for SEO: the hierarchial menu.

Clunky name, but they're also known as flyout menus, drop-down menus, et cetera. What happens is, when a user hovers over a link in a navigation area, it highlights like a normal link. It is, in fact, CSS-styled text in an "unordered list." Inside that main navigation, you can have sub-menus where you need them, and those can have sub-menus, and then those can have sub-menus. In all, you can have up to four levels of sub-menus wherever you need them.

There are many places on the web where you can find such a code to use; I have designed a proprietary version that I use for my clients, but, like I said, there are many of CSS flyout and dropdown menus available on the web. Some are free; some charge a small fee for commercial sites or suggest a donation for personal sites.

In any case, this linking system removes all the Flash and JavaScript from the process, making it strictly styled using CSS (linked externally, of course), and all the links as simple text on the site's actual pages.

Next time, a trip into the world of social networking!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Page Heirarchies & Stuctures

The most commonly pictured graph of a hierarchy is probably the "management" or "chain-of-command" type hierarchy, where all the different areas branch off downward from one main area, with the bottom rows never in contact with the main starting point. The image to the left is an illustration of this kind of structure.

With a web site, the main area (your index page) needs to be connected to every other page of your site directly, or within one degree of it. The picture to the right over there kind of illustrates what I am talking about.

More than that, though, each page of your site has to be directly connected to each other. Imagine each of your pages connected by little lines, something like this:

See how it's starting to look more like a spider's web rather than a traditional kind of hierarchial structure? They call it the World Wide Web for a reason. More than that, though, this kind of structure increases the chances that every page in your site gets indexed by seacrh engine spiders that get on your little "web" there, looking for content.

It's a lot like linking to a site from your site: when you link to another site that you think your users/customers might find useful, you are, in effect, creating a spider's thread from your page to the resource, not only for spiders to follow, but for your users, too. It works conversely, too: when you've got great content that people link to, they create a thread from their page to yours, increasing your relevance to Google, in particular, thus helping your SEO.

To break it down: your index page should link to every other section of your site, and so should every other page in the site. A page without links to the other sections of your site or with only one way into it is pretty useless for both your customers and for search engine spiders (though I'm sure there are arguments for "orphaned" or "semi-orphaned" pages like that, though I can't imagine what they are).

In our next few installments, we'll discuss how to built a functional navigation system for your site that won't hurt its SEO (no Java or scripts?!?!), and effectively using linking to keep your social networks up-to-date and relevant.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Copywriting, Keyword Density, & Content

Traditionally, content is anything that is on a web page. That can be text, pictures, Flash movies, embedded content, music, links, documents, et cetera. Each of those things can be optimized using keywords in order to bring people (customers) to your site via search engines. Search activities have surpassed e-mailing as the #1 activity conducted online.

But, as I mentioned in an earlier post, while you're writing your content to get better rankings on search engine results pages (SERPs), ultimately, you're still writing for customers. The balancing act that has to be achieved here is to write content with enough relevant keyword density to rank well in search engines for relevant searches, but also - and more importantly - make users want to use your site and ultimately buy something from you. It doesn't matter what you're selling - your services as a landscaper to designer handbags - the goal is to make money with your web site.

That can't be done unless people can find you, and the fastest way to do that, as you have probably surmised if you've found this blog, is through SERPs. How do you accomplish this balancing act of writing content that brings in the search engine spiders and ranks you well in SERPs for your keywords and writing content that users won't find "spammy"?

It's actually easier than you think. And I am going to reveal that secret to you now:

Sit down at your keyboard and start typing about your products or services.

(It's really that simple.)

No, really. Think about it this way: nobody knows your business, customers, products, services, employees, and all the rest better than you or someone who works with you or your company closely do. So, in the beginning, just write. Write about each of your products or services. Write about your business. Write about your policies and prices.

Just write.

Once you've written about every aspect of your business that you can think of, look back to your list of keywords, and count how many of those keywords automatically appear in the text. Lots, huh?

Now, just start replacing generic words with keywords. When describing a product, instead of saying "It's made of 100% recycled materials," say, "This custom, tattoo-themed handbag is made of 100%$ recycled materials." Instead of saying "we provide a full range of products and services for the sawmill industries," make a list of all the products and services you provide, and then add a few short lines or a paragraph describing each product and its functions.

Then, go back and replace generics with specifics again.

It's easy to get complacent about writing about your products or services. You know them so well, that it can be easy to overlook details. but try to think about your product from the standpoint of someone who has heard of the product but knows very little about it. Describe it in as much detail as possible. The keywords will come with this writing.

In our next installment, we'll talk about page heirarchies and structures. Sound boring? Trust me: it isn't.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Scoping Out The Competition

When you're checking out your competition on search engines for how they rank for certain phrases, it can seem a little like a covert operation. It isn't, really, but it's kind of fun to think like you're some kind of spy, looking for clues.

Because that's what you're doing: looking for clues as to why your competition is ranking highly for search terms/phrases/keywords that you'd like to rank highly for. I mentioned in a previous post about how some keyword research tools will give you an idea about how your competition got ranked so high for certain keywords. Now, we'll get into the nitty-gritty, manual way of doing it. This way will allow you to see the SEO side of things in action, first hand, and in context.

Sticking with the example of a purveyor of purses, you would first start performing searches for the keywords/phrases/terms in your list you made. Let's say that, at the top of that list is "tattoo-themed purses." Click on the first result. Count the number of times the phrase you searched for appears on the text of the page. (This is the keyword density.) Let's say it's three times. Look also for variations of the words/terms/phrases. Maybe instead of "purse," the site uses the word "handbag." That gives you another term to add to your list to search for and possibly optimize for., if you haven't thought of it or run across it already.

Next step, right-click anywhere on the page. Hopefully, they've not blocked right-clicking. Once you do this, select "View Source" from the list. Near the top of the HTML coding, you should see some kind of META keywords there in the header. While Google doesn't rely on the META keyword, description, or content tags, some other search engines do. But what you're looking for here is more keywords. What do you find there? Most likely, if the page is the first in a search results list, there is something in that META header section. Some e-Commerce software - like the kind Crescent Moon Design Studio uses - even allows you to add unique header META information for each product, which is an awesome benefit for SEO.

Continue to go through your list, searching for terms on different search engines. Are the results the same? Do the same pages appear throughout the different search engines? In our example, just doing a brief search, I found that the results pages varied WIDELY between Google, Yahoo!, and Bing!. The top results from Google were - with the exception of one site that appeared on both Google and Yahoo! SERPs for "tattoo-themed purses" - completely different from Yahoo!. Meanwhile, over on Bing!, you can see that there are several results that appeared both in Google's SERPs as well as Yahoo!'s, but, strangely, the one site Google and Yahoo! had in common didn't appear in Bing's list. That one site? Linked to a site map on both Google and Yahoo! SERPs.

You might be asking yourself, "Why the disparity?" Different algorithms, some say; different SEO practices by the sites' owners, say others. But that's not really why we're looking at this stuff. You're looking at all these different pages in different search engines to find more keywords and to see how their content works. Because no site ranks well without good content. Some sites may be flashy with Flash-based everything, but, unless they have a text version lingering around somewhere, they probably aren't doing very well in SERPs. And they may even be asking themselves why.

And the reason is that search engine spiders have a lot of difficulty reading Flash; sometimes, not at all. And, if a search engine spider can't read your page because the text is buried inside a Flash code, it'll move on, maybe without even indexing it. Nobody wants that.

While you're doing this, stick to just the first page of results; many customers won't go any farther than that when searching for something. If you feel you must go farther into the SERPs, don't go a whole lot farther than page 3. Hardly anybody looking for something will go that far; they will have typed in something else by then. Read the content from the pages from those sites that appear in your searches for your keywords ony our list. How many times does that keyword/phrase/term appear on the page that ranked in your search?

Next time, we'll talk about the beginnings of copywriting for your site's SEO. We'll discuss keyword density, writing for customers, and inserting keywords into your text.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Keyword Research Tools

In today's post, I am going to talk about search engine keyword research tools. It's important to remember that many of these products merely make suggestions as to what might make good search terms for your site, products, and customer base, but you will always know the best, so don't take what a keyword research tool says as set-in-stone. Make your own judgements as to how productive and relevant those terms are going to be in the context of your site and your products.

Having said that, keyword research software can help you "think outside the box" for keywords, key phrases, and key terms that your potential client base might be searching for. Taking our previous example of a custom purse store in New York, one place to start would be to select a keyword research tool and just type in the word "purses." How do you find a good keyword research tool? Just do a search for "keyword research tool" on your favorite search engine. Literally hundreds exist, and many are free. Several hundreds more offer free trials so you can find the ones you like best. I hesitate to recommend any specific one over another because people's tastes for different features vary so widely, but Web CEO puts out a good product, as does WordTracker, though both can get expensive. Web CEO does offer a free version. Play around with some of these tools and find one that you like.

How do you know if a keyword research/suggestion tool is a good one? What a good keyword suggestion tool will do for you is show you 1) related phrases that you might be interested in or that might be relevant to your site, products, services, or customers; 2) how much competition there is for that specific keyword/phrase/term; and 3) (and maybe most importantly) how many searches are done per day on search engines for that word/phrase/term.

What I like to do is make several lists from numerous keyword research tools. I compile all the results (including the competition for those words and the number of daily searches for those terms) and narrow down that list to the best 25 to 100 word/phrases/terms. How do you narrow it down?

By my estimation, the best way to narrow down your keyword lists to the best ones, the ones to focus on, is to order the lists, first, from the most relevant to your site, your customers, and your products. Delete or cross out any terms that are irrelevant and focus on the rest.

Once you've made that list of relevant keywords, the next best thing is to rank them according to what you want to drive customers to your store for. If you run a custom purse shop, and you want to rank highly in search engine results pages (SERPs) when people search for purses with tattoo designs, then you would make sure that incarnations of phrases containing the words "tattoo" and "purse" appeared prominently and several times.

Side Note: Remember that you're writing for real people - customers - not search engines. Only use the keywords/phrases/terms in your content when it seems like it would fit. I'll go over this more in-depth in a later post.

Once you have that list, you're almost ready to start writing your content. The next step, and what we'll focus on in the next installment, is taking that list and seeing where your competition ranks for those phrases. While many keyword research tools offer the competition for a phrase as feature, sometimes, they aren't real accurate. In the next installment, I'll go over what to look for when scoping out your keywords/phrases/terms in the context of your competition.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Welcome to the CMDS Tips Blog!

Thanks for stopping by! I hope to make this blog a go-to source for tips and tricks of web design, search engine optimization, graphics, copywriting, and more. I'll also be answering questions, so feel free to ask any question pertaining to any of the topics listed above, as well as any computer hardware or software-related questions. I'll do my best to help... at no cost to you.

Let's get this thing started with the most basic piece of information regarding search engine optimization that I can give you: write for your customers. Don't write for search engines; they won't be making you money. They won't be buying your products or services. Your customers will.

Think like your customer: if you were looking for your products or services, what would you put in a search engine "search" field? Make a list of things you might use to find your products if you were a customer, or, better yet, ask your customers what they might search for. If you're just starting out and don't know what people might be searching for to find you, make that list, anyway. Think like a customer. "Custom purses New York" might be a phrase with too much competition to bring you results, but "tattoo purses" might not have that competition.

Next time, we'll talk about some tools to use to see what phrases and words from your list are being searched for, and what the competition for those words and phrases are.