Is SEO Really What We all Need?

As you can tell I’ve really cranked up the posting frequency on this site. I’d love to increase the readership, and even make some money with the site. So what do I work on, SEO or content? Of course content is important, even with the best SEO crappy content means no one will stick around to actually read it.

Notice I don’t have any sharing buttons on my site. First I think they clutter up stuff, and second on 99% of sites they just sit there blank. So they question is how to get readers to share the content for you?

So when I read that SEO is not the most important thing I really listen. Basically the article is a bunch of tips on writing content that users will share.

SEO, It’s Not Magic, and It’s Hard Work

SEO image

SEO image
SEO image

During almost every website I build I get asked by my client’s what I’ll be doing to make sure their site ranks high for XXXXXX search term. Unfortunately this stems from the widely held belief that SEO is some sort of magic Voodoo that is done by the site code only. We can’t blame clients for wanting to rank well in search since it’s such a traffic driver but we can educate them so that they think of SEO properly.

It’s All Wrong

I’m not sure where this dumb idea about SEO being all in code and trickery came from but the fact is that this is wrong. Sure a well coded site using current best practices is a huge leg up in gaining search engine ranking but if there is no original, good content on the site there is nothing to be crawled by search engines.

Good Content!

I think back about one client who had lots of content on their site. They put up something new each day. It was relevant to their field even. Unfortunately it sucked. All they did was grab a news story that related to search terms they wanted to rank for and put the headline on their site with the first paragraph from the article. Sometimes they added a link to the original source. The article was followed by a link to their contact form.

While this is content, and it is published regularly, it’s not good original content so ultimately they’re just wasting their time. SEO comes from good original content.

I Now Refuse

Unfortunately with the client I list above about 4 months later they came to me complaining that they still weren’t ranking for the search terms they wanted to rank for and started blaming me for it. When I asked if they were writing at least one original article a week I was told:

In a perfect world we’d take the time for that, but it’s just not going to happen.

This has lead me to one response to clients when we start talking about SEO. As soon as they start to talk about it I ask if they’re going to write original content at least once a week. If I get any other answer than “Yes” I tell them to stop talking about SEO. If you give me no original content to work with there is nothing I can do.

SEO is not magic. It’s good content, Good Content, GOOD CONTENT

The Right Way to Think About SEO

When you think about SEO you need to be thinking about a long term plan for how you’re going to achieve ranking for search terms. It’s not instant pay off, but a long term commitment to produce good content.

I currently like to cite the paddling site I run with a friend. I’ve been heavily involved in the site for 3 years. The first design/code I did for the site sucked. I can live with that reality. I was new to WordPress and hadn’t dug into SEO much so the markup was not well suited to identifying content to search engines.

I only rebuilt the site last year and while we did see some increase in repeat traffic and see more people clicking on more articles with the redesign, we really didn’t see an increase in search engine visitors. We see about 1000 people a day come directly from search terms. Having talked with a number of other paddlers running sites we’re far and above the highest in about 90% of the cases.

We out rank local stores for purchase specific search terms. I don’t even sell anything.

We have accomplished this with approximately 100 articles. When we want to rank for a new search term, or better for a current one, we come up with 3 or 4 articles to write that would pertain to the term then sit down and write them. Then we wait a few weeks and guess what, we start seeing people come to our site via the terms we wanted to rank for.

That’s my big secret.

Just Stop

So stop thinking that some company can come in and help you move from not ranking at all to ranking number 1 on Google for a term. Sit down and get some original content on the site. Do some work instead of expecting someone else to do it for you. Stop being lazy. Setup a long term plan and follow through on it. Sure it’s not easy but it’s what needs to get done.

Don’t Force Your Website to Fail

failed business man stapled to wall
failed business man stapled to wall

Most companies today realize they need a presence on the web. In most industries now if you don’t have a web presence of some sort you won’t have a business for long. I know one company that stocks lots of rare items for their brick and motar store because on the web it sells across Canada and the US thus making it worth stocking. The problem I see with a number of business’s that get into the web is that they force their website to fail.

No the management doesn’t sit in the office and say “Let’s start a website and make sure it tanks and costs us needless money.” But they do sit there and decide to only go half way with solutions that rely on going all the way.

The Fail

The biggest example I have worked with is a great retail store that I did a bunch of SEO work for. We were ranked 1 or 2 on the search engines for some very generic search terms. When you searched for manufacturers of goods we carried we were ranked just below the manufacturer. We were the first place you could actually buy the product.

The problem is that the web store had a huge limiting factor that meant despite all of the good SEO work they only saw a maximum of 20 orders completed in the busy months. I happend to also know that competitors were seeing ten times those web purchases without the good SEO during the slow months.

The reality was that it didn’t matter how good the SEO was for the company. With no way to let customer purchase online it was a waste of their money. Eventually I told them that. We talked about the limiting factors of the web store and came up with a range of options to help fix or totally fix the problem (ranging from 2,000 to 20,000 in price on a monthly in store sales of 250,000 in busy months) and they just simply weren’t willing to let their website succeed.

The Conclusion

It’s all well and good to want a web presence but if you are going to jump into the web be willing to jump in with both feet. Don’t start a project only to do it half way and force the first half to fail. The conclusion to the above story is that they got me to stop working on SEO and now they’re on page 10 and still have a mostly non-functional online store.

The News: Firefox is alive, seo, and some marketing advice

Today is a great day for web designer’s. It seems that Firefox is finally over 20% of the market share in browsers. Firefox is awesome, and it is wonderful to see it reach this milestone. Hopefully this really pushes IE to be standards compliant instead of the PITA that all web designers are familiar with.

How about some marketing advice now. Mike Smith (just guessing cause of the URL) has a cool post on 17 things you are probably not doing with your marketing. Ranging from the old school but essential business cards to writing for Hubpages. I actually used to do the latter and may have to pick it up from time to time with a new article. I’m not so sure about the directory submissions though. Some reading I have done leads me to believe that one day google will clamp down on those who are listed in directories that aren’t specific to thier market.

Tieing in with the last article nicely is an article on good SEO practices. All the basics are covered here. I do believe that meta tags have some relevance to search engine results but definitely not as much as they used to have. I would advise that you have good meta tags but really concentrate on producing quality content. As the article states your title tag is very important for good rankings.

Finally today is a post on How to spot a dud client. If you’ve been freelancing for more that 2 weeks you’ve had a call from a client that just doesn’t quite sound right. Often you end up taking at least one of these dud projects on without realizing what happened. Well here are some things to watch out for. If you see them in your clients get out now.

What Services should a Web Designer Provide?

It can be hard for small business owners to know exactly what services they should receive from a web designer. Of course they will design a site for you and publish it to the web but what exactly does that mean?

Prep Work

The first thing  a good web designer should provide you with is a creative brief before they quote on the project. A creative brief will ask you a bunch of questions about what pages you need on your site, what sites you like and should be used as design reference, what sites you consider your competitors, who your target market is, and what content will be going on each page. All of this information will allow the designer to quote on your site accurately so that both of you are on the same page.

What if you don’t get asked these questions? It doesn’t mean that the web designer is a bad one but it may mean that they will not be prepared for all of the things you want on your website. If that happens then the relationship will be strained on both sides. You will both assume that you are on the same page and you won’t be. You as the client may expect a very complex form on your ‘contact’ page while the designer may expect that all you need is a basic three field form. Both of you will be frustrated by the lack of understanding of the other.

With the information gathered in the creative brief the designer should then take the time to survey your competitors to get a better understanding of your market. Without a good survey of your industry the designer will be unprepared to really design a site that is good for your users, and ultimately the site if for the users not for you.

Build for SEO

A good web designer should also be building your site with on page SEO in mind. On page SEO makes sure that you have proper heading tags, alt tags on images, and that you have all of the appropriate meta tag information. I would also expect them to set up a proper 301 redirect so that if people type in your site address without www at the beginning they will be sent to the version with www at the beginning. If they don’t do this both sites will be viewed as different sites and that will hurt your search engine ranking. This initial set up is not a full SEO plan for your business but a firm foundation for you to continue with a good plan to maximize your search engine results.

Web Standards

Your web designer should build your site to proper web standards from the start. Not only does this provide you with a site that is easier for search engines to read it also sets up your site for easier changing in the future. While I’ll admit there are some valid reasons not to have a site that validates to the W3C spec there should be a good reason that this is done. Accidentally capitalizing a break tag is not a valid reason to fail W3C validation.

Accessibility

Finally a web designer should take your target market into account when implementing accessibility on your site. If you are getting them to design a site for video gamers then it you can safely assume that they will have the latest plugins for Flash, and Javascript. While if they are designing a site that is marketed at the elderly it is safe to assume that they may not be the most technically savvy of users and you should build to suit their needs, which in not necessarily with the newest and greatest technology. If you just try to have the newest technology in your site without addressing how this will affect your end user you are doing them a disservice. Your web designer should build the site for your users not for themselves or for you.

The Daily News: GIMP, usability, and WordPress

I decided that I would start rounding up interesting links each day and pass them along to my readers. I will still be publishing my own articles, but find that I don’t have as much time to get them out as often as I would like. So expect a semi-daily round up of cool links and once a week an article that I will write.

Today we’ll start with an article from Ar-bent-ing on places to submit your articles. The author correctly states that many of the main stream sites for social traffic really aren’t that great for niche blogs. I have personally seen that stumbleupon drives a few hundred visitors on the days that I get stumbled but there is not an increase of subcriptions to my feed and the bounce rate is high. I test submitted an article yesterday and saw about 15 people hit the site and around 3 new subscriptions. I would go through the list and start submitting your articles to some new sites.

Second up is a post that presents a new plugin for WordPress called the Homepage Excerpts Plugin. It really just gives you more control over how the content is displayed on you your homepage but can also make things easier for people that land on your homepage. I will probably install this over the weekend and start to make use of it to clean up my homepage.

I know for most of us Photoshop is the end all in photo editing but there are some pretty good Open Source tools out there as well. The most popular is the GIMP. Over at Noupe there is a post linking to 30 great GIMP tutorials.

Finally today is a post on usability (funny enough it on the usability post blog). The post details 7 usability mistakes often found on websites. A good read for anyone in web design cause if you’ve fallen into bad usability habits now is the time to break them.

Generating Links to your Site

One of the big things that you need to do to improve you search engine rankings is to generate links back to your blog. That’s easy to say but much harder to do so lets look at some ways to generate links back to your website.

Have Something Worth Linking to

Before you start working to generate links evaluate your content. Do you have appropriate landing pages for customers? Are you hard or soft selling on the site? Is there even any good content there for customers?

I am a web designer. I do web design for small and medium business. I write about web design for small and medium business. I hope that you find good content here for your business but I’ll admit I have a  motive too. I want you to read this and hire me. Is there good free information here for you so you won’t have to hire me? Sure, but I specialize in what I do. While people may be able to take a step forward in their web management there is a ceiling that a business will hit and they will have to decide whether to hire a freelancer or an in house person.

If they picked up a bunch of their hints from me then they are more likely to come back to me for some paid work as well. So do I have content worth linking to? Yes I do. If you don’t have content on your site that others need why would they link to you?

Start with the Easy

Once you have some content on your site that is worth reading, start by knocking off the easy avenues for link generation. If you participate in any forums put a link to your site in your signature it they let you or at least on your profile page. I don’t find that this will drive a lot of traffic to your site but it is a simple starting point. Every time I start a new site that I plan to do some advertising for I add it to the signatures in any forums I participate in. I generally try not to put to many in but two or three are alright so evaluate what needs to be in there for each forum. I have different sites on my signatures depending on the nature of the forum.

What About a Contest

A great way to get other blogs or sites linking to you is to run a contest. Many times companies will contact bloggers or site admins and offer them a give away. They do for the publicity and the blogger is happy to write the content also because of the publicity. This type of link generation is called linkbaiting and is a great way to get people talking about your site and your content.

Let the contest run over a month and really advertise it. Use Twitter, forums, facebook… to get people talking. Lots of blogs will link to you because they want to share your contest with their readers. You may be surprised sometimes how popular a blog is that links to your little contest.

Share the Love

This post is about link love and how to get it. So why would I now suggest that you give it to others? If people are always giving you links and never getting anything back then the love could start tailing off. Now I am not suggesting that you link to your direct competition but what about a business that would offer complimentary services? What about a contest run on another site? Offer up the love to others will make it more likely that they will be sending links your way in the future as well.

Remember a good SEO plan takes time it doesn’t happen over night so you need to be patient and keep up the hard work. The day will come when you have more clients than you know what to do with and that will pay for all of the time spent up front.

Search Engine Optimization for Small Business

I deal with many small business’ as a freelancer. One thing that they most often have in common is the knowledge that websites need some work to get good results in search engine rankings. What they often don’t know is the bit of work they can do to improve their search engine traffic.

1. Content Management
Use a content management system. If you are getting a new site built then insist on some sort of content management system. It will cost you more up front than an entirely static site. You will no longer have to run to the designer each time you need to change your hours of operation or your prices. That also means you won’t have to pay them for every little change. A content management system will also allow you more control over the SEO of your site.    

A good content management system will also have a number of SEO items built in. Look at the title of this post and then look in your url bar in your web browser. Notice that they match. Having a url that is readable and not full of question marks and = signs can make a big difference in the traffic that your site gets.

 

2. Take the time to do it right
Alt tags. Alt tags are the alternate tags found on images. If you don’t have alternate tags on your images search engines can’t tell what the picture is of. If the search engine can’t tell what the picture is of it just ignores it and you loose the possible boost that could be gained by the presence of an alt tag.

 

3. Figure out who you want to market to and write appropriately
If you are a Motel in a small town known for it’s fishing and want to get more fishermen to stay at your motel make sure you talk about the great fishing in the area. Yes I realize that you are a hotel and don’t actually offer fishing in your parking lot but with content written about fishing in the area you are more likely to appear in a search about fishing in the area. If they are searching for ‘fishing and motel’ you are even better positioned to be a primary hit in your area.

 

4. Get links from related business
Using the example of the motel again, you should network with related business’s. I know that other motel’s will not link to you as a competitor but what about a local fishing lodge? They may have a list of accomodations in the area, are you on it? If not consider asking the owner for a link in return for a link to their business as a provider of fishing trips. This link will help increase your page rank through google and make your site a more relevant search term for places to stay while fishing in the area.

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