Is It Our Job to Educate Businesses in Tactical SEM?

by John Sylvester

Around the middle of last month I took a phone call from a friend who runs a similar web design agency to ours, with a request for help in putting together coherent SEO/SEM packages for seven of his clients. Before we met, I looked at his clients’ websites and found there was much to do.

When looking at the SEO, virtually all of these sites used keywords in the title that had been plucked out of thin air; most of them had no relationship with the copy whatsoever. With research, we made recommendations for changes in both title and on-page copy. The easy part was the SEO; the difficulty was then to educate the client about how they need to be involved. The feedback from one company was instant and unusual: they accepted our recommendations without question.

In the good old days of directory submissions and the like, SEMs had the sole responsibility for search engine marketing. Not any more. Today, it’s about providing advice to clients on writing press releases and articles, on-site blogging, and how to get involved in social media marketing, together with tweeting.

But how many website owners either have the necessary skills or the resources to relate information about their “products” in a meaningful way in online articles and press releases? In my experience, not many. Most companies appear reluctant to become involved in this, and worse, cannot perceive any real value in a subject they barely understand.

At the height of the dot.com crash at the start of the millennium, I was working with a web design agency in London. To my mind then, and it remains so now, the importance of using the internet as a medium to expand reach and to bring in more business could not be clearer, but the bottom line is that when times get tough, the tough cut internet spend. That will sound a little strange to our industry, but it is inexplicably true.

From my company’s perspective, quality SEO’s are a rare breed and their real value should not only be to provide an excellent service but to educate management (those who will listen, that is) on what we have to offer, which is to help drive traffic to their website and boost revenue. In reality though, this is a far harder job than one would expect. It seems that most companies are resistant to dedicating resources to this effort. As such, SEM lacks both the financial and human resources that need its support.

Our industry has a long way to go yet in assembling and disseminating this concept. With directories moribund and other short-cuts removed from link building processes, providing quality SEO services today belongs in the hands of the wordsmith, the blogger and the social media engineer. And yet, how do we get this message across convincingly?

In one of my posts on this issue, I got the following comment: “Show them the results. Don’t even talk about SEO…then tell them how much in time and resources it’s going to take.” That’s all very good and valuable but how many company executives understand what they are paying for prior to “showing them the results”? Case studies and/or a results-based campaign? That is one strategy we are using for our clients.

In a related article I read recently, an SEO company was explaining why they didn’t end up closing more of their proposals. It was because they advised the company from the outset about how much in-house involvement was required in successfully delivering a comprehensive SEM campaign. It sort of summed up why we need to do more in providing information that will educate companies about the effectiveness of what we are looking to achieve for them.

There is also a case for educating SEO/SEM firms themselves, as almost every week I receive emails from SEO outsourcing companies, generally from India. The majority of these emails pitch the same tired old submission services, including the outmoded reciprocals. On one occasion I decided to try them out – it was a very cheap experiment – and found that not one single link out of the dozen they had submitted appeared in Google’s indexes.

Also, there are many SEO companies that falsely claim they can get a client’s website to the top of the search engines for a given keyword or phrase. This has always been a contentious claim, as we could easily get any site to the top of the first page of Google/Bing if the search term is easy to compete on, although the chances are it won’t be searched on. Too much of the time these blanket assurances are an across-the-board, indiscriminate boast. Try “music”, go up against Yahoo, and see what happens. So, let’s now look at some possibilities:

  • It is extremely rare for management to understand the benefits and economics of SEM in organic search and how it can lead to extended market reach and more customers. Too much of the time they take the view that to boost revenue, or in a recession to maintain it, they need to fall back on the reliance of traditional media. The result of this is that migration languishes and profitability targets stagnate. We need to convince them otherwise with case studies and, where appropriate, with results-driven campaigns.
  • One of the major problems in SEM today is that human resources do not normally extend to writers who are conversant with the web in general, and blogging and social media in particular. As such, the SEM is often asked to write about subjects they are unfamiliar with. If no in-house assistance is provided, the chances are the project won’t ever get off the ground. Ideally, companies need to start to look at hiring staff that can implement SEM strategies effectively. But they won’t change until management starts to understand how marketing online actually works. When they do, it could result in a shift of marketing spend towards SEM.
  • The other difficulty is in the actual measuring of SEM, as the search engines have blocked page ranking tools, which in turn leads to sketchy reports on how the campaign is proceeding. Placement is the only real arbiter on this and that takes time. Companies need to be made aware of this.
  • It really is no excuse for companies who are looking to the search engines to broaden their exposure to say that they don’t have the time. They have the time for glossy brochures and hoardings, so why not divert some of that effort to the internet? We may all be experiencing difficult times at the moment and the idea of expanded SEM campaigns now, with companies downsizing and all that entails, should not translate into “campaign postponed”. SEM is the cheapest way of getting a company’s message across to new markets.

As one of the clients we have just taken on board mentioned above, let’s look at the guts of the proposal we submitted in developing their online presence:

  • Creation of RSS feeds for the dissemination and syndication of news;
  • Submission of articles to high-value article sites;
  • Updates to the meta information, including adjusting copy where appropriate to target specific key phrases;
  • Creation of a presence in the Facebook community;
  • Setting up a Twitter account to post weekly news as well as breaking news;
  • Development of an on-site blog with regular updates, linking the headline from the home page so the search engines see movement;
  • Writing and submitting to blogs related to their industry;
  • Where circumstances permit, post regular podcasts, including YouTube and Google videos.

To sum up, we need to create a method, typically via case studies, by which companies not only see the value in SEM but, more importantly, how they ought to be participating in it.


 

John Sylvester is the media director of V9 Design & Build, a company specializing in web design in Bangkok, and who is an expert in search engine optimization and web marketing strategies.

Making Your Site Search Engine Friendly (Spiderability)

by John Buchanan

One of the keys to obtaining top rankings, or ANY rankings for that matter is making sure that the search engines can properly spider and index your site. This means doing whatever you can to make sure the search engines are able to reach each page of your site as easily as possible.

When I talk to my clients about spiderability, I’m generally referring to two things…

  1. Are all the links in the site true hyperlinks that can be picked up properly by the search engines.
  2. Are all the pages within the site reachable within 2-3 clicks from the homepage.

So let’s go over the above two areas of concern.

Hyperlinks

This may seem almost silly, but you would be amazed at the number of sites I run into when doing consultations and website analyses that have non-standard hyperlinks. By “non-standard”, I’m referring to JavaScript generated hyperlinks or hyperlinks embedded within flash files.

There is nothing inherently wrong with JavaScript or flash when used properly, but the simple fact is that JavaScript and flash are NOT search engine friendly. Google is pretty much the only engine that is able to pick up links within JavaScript or Flash code. At this time, I have seen no evidence that either Yahoo or MSN have this ability.

While Google may be able to pick up links, it is unclear as to whether or not Google places any VALUE on the links it finds in this manner. Remember, much of a page’s ranking in Google is determined by links, so you want to be absolutely sure that each and every link is valued.

So, be absolutely sure that your links are true hyperlinks (by “true” hyperlinks, I’m talking about hyperlinks coded with the normal href tags) if you want to make sure they are found, followed, and counted by all the engines.

Distance from Homepage

Ideally, you want your visitors and the search engines to be able to reach any page within your site within a maximum of three (3) clicks and preferably two clicks. The more clicks it takes to reach a page, the less chance there is that the search engines will index that page.

It is for this reason, that site maps have become so popular. By utilizing a sitemap, you are able to link from your homepage to a page that lists all or most of the links to the various pages of your site. The search engines (and visitors) are then able to get to virtually any page of your site within just a couple of clicks.

You’ll notice I’ve mentioned not only the search engines but the visitors as well in the above paragraphs. By reducing the number of clicks it takes to get from your homepage to any page on your site, you will find that you also increase the overall usability of your site.

While site maps can definitely help to increase the spiderability of a site, it is important to remember that they are not a total fix for bad navigational structure within a site. As mentioned, all of the search engines utilize page link popularity in one way or another in their algorithms.

In general, the homepage of a site will have the highest link popularity of any page within the site. This is because most inbound links to a site are pointing to the homepage. It’s from the homepage that all the internal pages derive their link popularity from a sort of “trickle down” affect.

A site map will only derive a certain amount of link popularity that it can pass on to the pages it links to. To understand this best, think of the homepage as a large river with each link on the homepage a smaller river branching off from the main river. Each river will be fed a similar amount of water by the main river. Alone one branch of the river will never be able to deliver as much water to the various areas as all the branches of the river can combined.

The site map is one branch of your sites link popularity river and it has value, but it will never have the same impact as a well thought out and implemented links structure that makes use of all the rivers of link popularity within your site.

To make the most use of the link popularity of your site, you should try and setup your sites navigational structure so that even without a site map, the search engines and visitors are STILL able to reach any page on your site within 2-3 clicks.

So…to make a long story short…always be sure to utilize true, standard hyperlinks throughout your site and be sure that your sites navigational structure allows any page of your site to be reached within no more than 3 clicks.

See you at the top!


John Buchanan is a veteran search engine optimization specialist with over 9 years experience. For more information, visit his site at http://www.sesecrets.com or his newest site http://www.seovideoanalysis.com where he will provide you with a professional SEO video website analysis of your site.

More Tips on SEM and SEO

Here is a down and dirty checklist I compiled a while back. Feel free to use it when you audit your own websites. Enjoy!

Matt

HTML Coding/Development

  • Add brief descriptions to the alt attribute of image tags. The attribute should describe the image, not be a summary of the article.
  • Use H1, H2, and H3 for titles and headings. Ensure the main body content is immediately after the H1, with no breadcrumbs or navigation in between.
  • Create a relevant HTML title for every page. Using the actual article title that appears in the page is a good idea.
  • Use style sheets as much as possible to keep the page size low.
  • Use brief and relevant meta tags (keywords and descriptions) to provide a backup for the description that appears in search engine listings.
  • Don’t fill the meta tags with words that don’t appear in the content of the page. The exception to this is to put common misspellings in the meta tags.
  • Don’t repeat meta tag content on every page. The content should be specific to the page.
  • Create separate sites rather than making a site a sub-site of a larger one.
  • Do not make every visit to a URL unique by appending a session ID or something similar.
  • Create a site map. This is as much for users as for search engines as it can serve as a gateway to deep content.
  • Don’t link to redirects. Better to link directly to the destination page.

Images, Flash, Video

  • Avoid creating images that contain only text (i.e. if an image contains just text, consider using HTML instead.)
  • Ensure all images are named appropriately, have alt tags and are placed near text that is relevant to the image.
  • Don’t put content in Flash movies. Better to have the content outside of the Flash and in the HTML.
  • Provide transcripts for video or audio interviews.

Copy and Content

  • Create a title that uses words that describe the main theme of the article.
  • Use headings and sub-headings that describe the main theme of the copy that follows.
  • Don’t automatically swap out repeated words and phrases in favor of less common words and phrases.
  • Post all content on the web site including newsletters.
  • Keep all special content such as Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving specials on-line.
  • Don’t use pop-up windows for content. If pop-ups are necessary, provide an alternative link to the same page that isn’t a pop-up.
  • Don’t remove content from a web site.
  • Ensure all content—in particular old content—has a link pointing to it. Use a sitemap or archive list page if necessary.
  • Allow search engines to view forum discussions. This is free content.
  • Update content as often as possible. Search engines like frequently updated sites and will visit more frequently.
  • Don’t worry about writing articles that are too long. The longer the better when it comes to SEO.

Links

  • Use link text that is relevant to the destination page. Avoid creating links that read “click here” or “read more”.
  • Don’t create links out of entire sentences.
  • Don’t fill the page footer with links to other sites. Better to keep the list short.
  • Cross-link between pages in the web site.
  • Link to external sites.
  • Encourage external sites to link to specific content. Many sites are open to sharing links.

More SEM and SEO Tips

  • Decide what search phrases you want to target. Use a tool such as the Google keywords suggestion tool to see what search phrases are popular, and optimize your site for these. You can optimize for any number of phrases; a bigger site can target a greater range of phrases.
  • Clean up URLs. No capital letters, no spaces, no special characters. Separate each word with a “-” dash. Make sure each URL accurately describes the page.
  • Remove query strings from URLs. No question marks in your URLs.
  • Redirect the non-www version of your site. When you enter domain.com into the browser, it should redirect you to www.domain.com using a SEO friendly 301 redirection.
  • Make sure you don’t link to “index.htm” or “index.php”. Instead, link to “/”.
  • Remove frames from your site.
  • Ensure the title is different on every page of the site.
  • If your main navigation is flash or image based, ask yourself if it can be done using CSS. If it can, do it.
  • If using CSS styled text for navigation is unthinkable, then add text based footer navigation on every page.
  • Add a Google XML sitemap, even if it’s just a simple list of all the URLs on your site. Submit this to Google through the Google Sitemaps program or Google Webmaster Tools.
  • Is your website tables-based? Consider a cleaner CSS-based layout for your site.
  • Have you got a website statistics program installed? Do you know how to access it, and do you check it regularly? If not, discover Google Analytics.
  • Do you know where your website currently sits for your main phrases? If not, check Google, the localized version of Google (e.g. google.co.nz,) Yahoo and MSN. Remember: few visitors will search past page three.
  • Check the optimization of each page. Pick one search phrase that is relevant to the content on the page. Ensure the page contains the phrase in the title, H1 heading, twice in the meta description, twice in the opening paragraph, and also in the URL if possible.
  • Have good content? SEO will be much harder if you don’t have plenty of original text content, so engage in more time writing good content.
  • Check the source order of your page. Good source code will have the page content as close to the top of the HTML document as possible, and the least important elements such as sidebars and footers last. If you can get the content above the main navigation, great.
  • Action all recommendations that it makes, such as fixing broken links. Look carefully at the list of URLs, and make sure they are clean (no spaces, capitals, etc.)
  • Check the search engines to see how well indexed your site is. If the search engines have indexed pages that have since been moved or deleted, setup a 301 redirect to redirect all traffic that these pages generate (or lose it).
  • If you are a local “bricks and mortar” business, make sure you use your town / city / country on every page, in the title if possible, and in close proximity to your chosen search phrase.

Contact Matt to optimize your website and help you with your search engine marketing.

When Do Cookies Expire?

Cookies will either time out on their own, OR your browser will clear them out (manually or automatically). Take Firefox, for example. In your menu bar, go to Tools> Options…> Privacy and look at the cookies area in this panel. You can clear your private data (including all cookies) by hand or set things to clear every time you close your browser. You can also view the cookies that have loaded onto your machine from here and you will see expiration information for each.

So—while companies may like to set their cookies on users’ machines for their own time periods—they are ultimately at the mercy of the user’s sophistication, preferences and paranoia. This means the data collected from cookies will NEVER show the whole picture, though they may offer a decent snapshot at times.

Contact Matt to optimize your website and help you with your search engine marketing.

6 reasons why a website is critical to your business

by Jamie Kiley

Since I’m a web designer, I have a tendency to think everyone understands that having a website is important. Every once in a while, I have to remind myself that some people just haven’t heard yet!

We’re going to go back to the very beginning and explain. Here are 6 reasons why having a website is such a big deal:

1. A website increases your credibility

Your website has a powerful impact on a potential customer’s confidence in you. A professional design, well-written copy, helpful product information, and good contact info can tremendously increase trust in your company. It lets people know you’re knowledgeable and up-to-date. If you take the time to develop a good-quality site with helpful information, visitors will have no choice but to be impressed.

2. A website makes your company visible anytime, anywhere

As of April 2002, there are roughly 165.8 million people online in the US alone. Some of them are looking for your products and services. With a website, you open yourself up to a world of opportunity in reaching people who might not otherwise find you. With the click of a mouse, anyone can get to your company’s website 24/7.

3. A website makes it easy for people to refer new customers to you

For many businesses, referrals are a crucial source of new customers. Having a website makes it easy to encourage referrals, because customers can simply send friends and business contacts to your site. Website addresses are easier to remember than phone numbers. Plus, giving people multiple ways of contacting you makes it more likely that they will do so.

4. A website is a powerful sales tool

Selling your products through an online store is often a killer way to expand your business. You have a perpetual, easily-accessed storefront—one that costs a fraction of a brick and mortar store and can reach many more people. Effective sales copy can do an incredible job of hooking visitors on your products and compelling them to click that “buy” button.

Even if you can’t sell your services directly over the internet, a website is still a powerful asset. It’s a primer that you use to convince visitors of why they need your services. You get them salivating to buy, then invite them to contact you through your site.

5. A website increases the value of your advertising

Adding your website address to all your advertisements, business cards, and company literature is a great way to draw potential customers to your company. Providing a website gives people a way to act on your message whenever they hear about you or see an ad for your company. Going to a website is easier than writing, visiting a store, or even making a phone call. Customers get the information at their convenience and don’t have to wait for a salesperson to help them. Also, it’s often more comfortable to visit a website, because there is no obligation. Visitors don’t feel pressured.

6. A website helps you stay in contact with potential customers

There are frequently people who are interested in what you have to offer, but they might not be ready to buy right now. You need to stay in contact with them so that you immediately come to mind when they ARE ready. A website is a great way to facilitate this. You can use your website to collect email addresses from visitors. Then you can periodically send out promotional emails or a newsletter. Staying in contact keeps your company fresh in visitors’ minds.

Well, there you have it–6 ways a website benefits your company and helps you sell more. Do you want to leave this opportunity to your competitors? Surely not! Each day you wait, you’re letting them establish themselves online as the resource in your field. Stop giving them that advantage!


Jamie Kiley is a web designer in Atlanta, GA.