Archive for May, 2009
May 29th, 2009 by Patrick Hare
Before I get to my “phone book” rule, I want to share some ideas about how customers view the web pages they land on. When it comes to customer conversion optimization, here are a few guiding principles that every webmaster should keep in mind when designing a website, or updating it:
- Every Page is a Selling Page. Even Contact and “About Us” pages.
- If someone comes to your site by way of a search engine, they have a pretty good idea about what they’re looking for.
- You can’t be too obvious when telling your customers what you want them to do.
- Too many bright colors can be confusing.
- Any “auto play” animation or video that is not part of the call to action will distract the viewer. The same goes for sounds and music.
So what is my “phone book” rule? Simply stated, it says that you shouldn’t leave out any information on a web page if you would normally put it in a phone book ad. First and foremost, this means placing your phone number on every page, assuming you want people to call you. If you’re selling anything online, you will be surprised at the number of people who are afraid to complete an order through a secure shopping cart, but not afraid to give a credit card number to a complete stranger over the phone. Secondarily, there are people who will not complete their transactions until they talk to a live person.
Continuing with the phone book rule, you should have a brief, compelling message about your services. You should indicate what credit cards you accept, and you should use the BBB logo if you are a member. If you have any accreditations, endorsements, association memberships, awards, or endorsements you can legally use in an ad, you should consider adding them to the website unless you have so many that they become obtrusive.
How does the phone book rule integrate with the principles of conversion optimization?
- Search Engines will land customers on whatever page of your site is most relevant to the original search query. Therefore, since every page is a selling page, the customer will get the message. If you know anything about “bounce rates” (the ratio of visitors who leave your site after landing on only one page) then you are aware of the need to communicate before your potential customers click the “back” button.
- Customers have something in mind when they get to your site. The messaging “above the fold” on the page should reinforce the search query, and explain the product/service in more depth as the page goes down. If you’re buying paid traffic that isn’t getting results, we have PPC Management services that can help you find out why.
- The call to action should be remarkably clear. If you want people to fill out a form, put the form in the middle of the page, and make sure it is the most obvious piece of visual real estate. To see this principle in operation, take a look at eSurance.com. Better phone book ads take advantage of this principle by making the phone number the most prominent item in the ad.
- Bright colors attract the human eye. Yellow on black seems to work better than red. Green and orange also draw attention. If all these colors are on the same page, the reader suddenly doesn’t know what to do. Until a few years ago, the only other color you could get in a phone book ad was red, and it cost more because it worked wonders.
- Granted, there are no animations in the phone book. It doesn’t need them. Video and animation can work very well for conversion optimization when they include a call to action and are the focal point on a page. If not, the human eye focus on any animation that is automatically executed (doesn’t require a click to begin) and your message could be missed. When it comes to sound, you should remember that quite a few people surreptitiously shop online while at work and they will click away from your site if it suddenly becomes audible.
My “phone book” rule almost always comes to mind when I speak with prospective customers. Almost all of our clients come to us with a website that has been active for some time but has not gained much traction. Several prospects have good traffic but aren’t making sales. In most of these cases we can jump-start the process with a simple addition of a phone number to every page. After that, the conversion optimization process can really begin.
Every website is different, and every customer niche has its own pattern of behavior. The advantage of a website vs. a phone book is that you can change the site’s message frequently until you get the results you want, or use multivariate testing to see what approach gets the most conversions. You can even use customer tracking software to record visitor interactions with the site, and follow recorded mouse movements to see what people are looking for. Once you have enough knowledge, you will have a web page that turns visitors into sales, and you might even think about dropping that old ad in the phone book.
May 29th, 2009 by Patrick Hare
If you’ve ever test driven a car at a dealership, the salesperson probably didn’t spend a lot of time explaining internal combustion, hydraulics, or pneumatics. Every day people buy cars without knowing the slightest thing about how the engine works, but they know the general principles of driving.
When you’re dealing with an engine like Google, it imperative for a Search Engine Optimization Company to explain how the Google Algorithm works, even though there may not be a single person in Google with full knowledge of the factors involved. (If there is such a person in Google, we invite them to prove it by emailing us a copy of the algorithm!) Therefore, some of the best ethical SEO salespeople use analogies to explain why optimization techniques are important.
The average new SEO prospect comes to Web.com Search Agency knowing that they aren’t where they want to be on Google (once in a while, people still say Yahoo) even though their competitors are right there in the top 10. Our salespeople take a great deal of time to explain on-page optimization and link popularity in ways that relate them to known situations. For instance, we usually explain link popularity or PageRank as a “high school popularity contest,” with the caveat that votes (links) from popular people like the homecoming queen (the New York Times) count for more than votes from most other students (unknown bloggers). One of the best ways to explain link popularity that we have found is the smiley face image which even works with executives who might not even use search engines themselves.
In many cases, the top challenges to an SEO sale come from the executive level. Many brick-and-mortar companies with websites are run by people who managed to succeed in a world that existed before the internet came along. The person in charge of the company website often has a very good idea that a site needs to be optimized, but does not have the experience or tools necessary to do the job. Getting budgetary approval from management is often the top challenge involved in the sale. Once again, the salesperson’s involvement and skill comes into play, not with examples or analogies, but with comparisons. Many of the best executives are quite competitive, and when you can show them that the “other guys” have top search engine positions, and that these positions are partially related to the number of links they have from other sites, a light goes on. We can usually add to the insight by showing that a few good links might be worth hundreds of competitor links, so it isn’t necessary to duplicate quantity to get the best results.
Explaining search engine optimization to experienced SEO customers can also be time consuming, but is usually very worthwhile when done properly. We have quite a few clients who got “burned” by cheap and expensive optimization projects that went wrong or just didn’t produce results. Normally we can point out the obvious challenges (like robots tags, canonicalization issues, and keyword blurring) and even show these prospects what we would do differently. Our conversion rate on people who have experienced “other” SEO is fairly high, and in almost every case it is because we explain our service in terms that people can relate to.
Selling Search Engine Optimization services (and upgrades) can be the biggest thing that defines the success of an SEO company. The playing field for White Hat SEO is fairly level, and the knowledge base is “open to the public.” The advantage of an agency like ours is that we have proprietary tools and cost saving relationships that make optimization less expensive and more efficient. By delivering clear information about ever-changing search engine algorithms, and using explanations that make sense to new customers, the value of SEO can be brought forward to an ever increasing audience of individuals and companies who need better exposure.
One of the goals for the search marketing industry should be to more clearly define SEO to the general public, so more people in business will consider search engine optimization to be an integral part of website development. By making “SEO” into a tangible industry buzzword, and explaining its components as concisely as possible, the entire world of SEO can mature into an indispensable component of online business.
May 28th, 2009 by Patrick Hare
A popular bumper sticker among college professors reads “if you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” A similar analogy can be used for SEO. If it is done right, it is worth every penny. If it isn’t correctly executed, then the same money would have been better spent on some other form of marketing. In fact, we have had to turn away potential clients who spent tens of thousands of dollars on black hat SEO techniques that got them banned in Google.
So how much does search engine optimization cost? It depends on the job. If you’re painting a house, you need to know the size of the house, how many coats, the quality of the paint, and whether you’re going to do it yourself or hire contractors. Similarly, a small local site might only need a few hundred dollars worth of optimization if you only expect to get customers from a tiny area. A large national or international web presence may require tens of thousands of dollars per month to get all its pages optimized.
An interesting paradox involving large companies is that they will hire an “in-house” person to do SEO, and often this person has no experience. No matter how diligently the new hire (or new lateral) works, there are pitfalls that can only come with the management of diverse search engine verticals. Going back to the education analogy, a person with a well rounded field of study will present solutions that someone in a specialized field would never consider. The more successful approach for enterprise level SEO is to have a knowledgeable in-house contact, and retain a professional SEO firm to handle the heavy lifting.
Small companies may not need a high-dollar solution, but usually the initial setup cost is high compared to other marketing expenses. Small business optimization could easily cost $5000 for the first 6 months depending on the needs of the site. Web.com Search Agency generally creates custom quotes for clients. This is because every site on the internet has individual characteristics, from the amount of content currently on the site, to the type and kind of links pointing at it from other websites on the internet. We also spend more time educating small business clients about SEO, because we want them to understand how optimization and link programs will benefit them, and how much time it will take.
In the final analysis, the price of an SEO campaign is justified by the results. In the same way that Wal-Mart stores succeed on converting foot traffic, most websites need search engine traffic to turn a profit. One of the features we offer is advice on what to do with the traffic when it gets to the site, because non-converting traffic is worse than no traffic if you’re paying for it. By combining effective search optimization with conversion optimization advice, and giving regular progress reports on visitors and rankings, we strive to provide the highest possible value for your SEO dollar. By squeezing all the possible ROI out of optimization costs, we make it possible for our customers to grow in the most challenging of business environments.
May 27th, 2009 by Patrick Hare
Many people in the SEO field will tell you that submitting your site to search engines is not necessary. If you have any links to your site from other websites, this is probably true. Nonetheless, or if you have a brand new site with no links, we have a free website submission tool that is a good first step down the path of search engine optimization.
Submitawebsite (Now Web.com Search Agency) got its start in the late 1990s as a search engine submission company. As you can tell from the domain name, submitting websites is what we did, and we submitted to multiple search engines that are now long gone. From a simple beginning, our business model evolved into advanced SEO techniques that make the old submission model seem quaint, but it still pays to get submitted if your site is new or if it has changed hands.
If you have a new site, you may not have any links pointing at it. The most likely result of submitting to Google, Yahoo, and MSN is that your site will get cached and then placed near the bottom of the list for its topic. This is not always bad. The clock starts ticking on your site when it is readable to a search engine, and “age” is one factor in rankings. Sites that are too young encounter a “sandbox” effect where they don’t get good rankings for a few months, so telling the search engine you’re there is the first thing you should do.
Following your site submission, you may want to get professional advice about getting your website found in Google, Yahoo, MSN, and other engines. If you are new to the website game, you should know that half of getting found in search engines involves avoiding penalties put in place for people who cheated the system in the past. You can learn quite a bit from studying online forums about SEO, or you can retain a Search Engine Optimization Agency like ours to give you a complete picture of what you need, and why you need it. Even if you’re shopping around for an SEO firm, we can give you advice on what to ask “the other guys” so you don’t overpay for the service you need. We help everyone from small businesses to large corporations, and a large part of our customer experience involves educating people about how SEO works.
May 27th, 2009 by Patrick Hare
At Web.com Search Agency, we have multiple link building offerings designed to present a broad profile to search engines. Usually our link building is part of a custom SEO package designed for on-page search engine compliance and off-page link popularity. In general, our advanced SEO customers see how the pricing breaks out and wonder why links usually cost more than metatags and content writing. Here are some of the factors involved in better link popularity:
- Research. We have teams in Scottsdale, Spokane, and Jacksonville that specialize in different aspects of linking. Usually the anchor text (the words or phrases that get linked) of the links determines your relevance on search engines, so we go out of our way to find the best possible keyword demand relative to your site content. This first step ensures that we can get external websites to reference you in the most accurate way possible.
- Competitor Research. In most cases, the cost of linking is directly proportional to the number (and quality) of links that your competitors have for the same keywords. Competitive terms need more and better links, while niche and local terms need less. Our SEO Competition Report will help you see who the top competitors are. Note: some of your competitors may have thousands of links pointing at them. We have seen many cases where a few dozen links in the right area will move your site above such competitors in the search rankings.
- Submission. We submit to “free” and “paid” directories. Even if you do DIY link submission, there are time and money factors involved. We submit to as many as 60 paid directories, and each submission involves finding the right category (or the best category they have for your site) and then navigating the payment process, which is different for every site. Our experience makes us a bit more efficient in getting through the payment and submission process, and saves you the frustration.
- More research and communication. We have custom link building programs, which involve (1) finding relevant sites in your field and (2) communicating with site owners for a link to your site. Sometimes it is difficult to establish who is the owner of a site, or get in touch with the owner/webmaster/editor to get your link. It may take several hours to get a good custom link, but the quality of these sites is far higher than directories or most text links. In some cases, a competitor in your field may even be willing to link to you. While this usually is distasteful to most business owners, search engines consider this to be an endorsement from a highly relevant site. This may be the only time where your competition can be a partner in your success.
- Execution and Placement. We get the link placed on the directory, list, or site in the best spot possible.
- Maintenance and Verification. We continuously check site for relevance, PageRank, and link presence on our existing link inventory, and change out links on sites that don’t pass muster. We have proprietary tools for this part of the process, and this is done continuously. It would take the average person several hours every month just to make sure the links are still present, relevant, and on sites that have not been obviously penalized.
Naturally, there are multiple other factors involved in link building not discussed here. For instance, the beginning of the sales process involves a site audit to see what kind of SEO and link building that would work best for your site. We check current anchor text and link quality, then compare it with the optimization relevance of destination pages. We take the customer’s needs into account and use keyword research to identify opportunities before the contract is even signed. In this way, we can help customers get a realistic picture of the search marketplace, and show them how their competitors stack up in the world of links. By creating a realistic profile of how many links your site may need, Web.com Search Agency will help you become more competitive using relatively few targeted links vs. a large quantity of general ones.
May 26th, 2009 by Patrick Hare
Understanding local and international markets is a key factor in good SEO. For our international clients, we do specialized keyword research on terms typed into search engines in their own countries, so we can create a keyword list that is more in line with local and national usage. In our own field, the most common case is the spelling variation “search engine optimisation” which is the preferred spelling among UK and Commonwealth countries.
The British vernacular is one of many considerations for creating effective campaigns in foreign countries. First and foremost, the audience is the primary concern, since many of our UK clients are looking to sell in Europe, Asia, and Africa along with North and South America. In these cases we normally recommend creating locally hosted sites that concentrate on the target audience, and have original content referencing the nation’s particular needs. Hosting a site from a local IP makes it more likely to rank in a host nation’s search engine (or version of Google) than having one site with several “foreign” pages or subdomains aimed at each area.
When it comes to “international flavor” there are also some limits. At Web.com Search Agency, we have several people who are fluent in different languages, but sometimes we encounter cases where we are not comfortable optimizing for a certain language group. This is because it is necessary to think and do research in a foreign tongue, since the best way to create good results is to make a site as relevant as possible to the search demand for products and services. For instance, we would not attempt to optimize a Chinese language site because (at present) we do not have anyone who could do keyword research, content creation, and link building in Chinese. Similarly, we would not try to manage paid search for the Chinese language. This would be a disservice to our customers, and bad for our reputation.
Meanwhile, we have done (and still do) UK PPC management and optimisation. Some of our clients do worldwide and US campaigns which require specialized research for each audience, and we are familiar with variations (Like “lorry” for “truck” and “SMS” for “text message/messaging”) that people use in different areas. We also ensure that the keywords we use are vetted by our clients so we don’t miss out on any local idioms or trends in usage.
Web.com Search Agency also has several different approaches for getting results in international and regional SEO. By using diverse factors including local competition, keyword searches, competitor PPC research, and analytics tracking, we can create a local “optimisation” campaign that focuses on matching your customer pool with your website.
May 26th, 2009 by Patrick Hare
The first fallacy of “free SEO” will hit you pretty quickly if you are familiar with an old business formula known as “time=money,” but it is still possible to optimize your website for free. Here’s a step-by-step process for getting Free SEO. For the purposes of this post, we will assume that you already have access to a computer and you already have a website of your own, and you are not paying a webmaster for the changes you’re going to need to make.
- (Most Unlikely) Create an instant success that sells itself. Facebook, YouTube, and Myspace don’t need much SEO because they are popular through word-of-mouth. These sites fit the model of sites that would probably be popular if search engines didn’t exist. The #1 paradox of SEO is that you wouldn’t need it if everyone knew about your site. Popular sites get “viral” link building that would cost millions of dollars if someone wanted to do it from the ground up. One of the good things about SEO is that a good site in its field can use optimization to get the ball rolling, and then fuel further link building through popularity.
- Go to the library and check out some of the books on Search Engine Optimization. Note that if an SEO book is over a year old you should read it for historical purposes, but you will still get the background of how SEO works and what the general principles are.
- Go online and check out SeoChat and SearchEngineWatch.com. After a few hundred hours of reading, you should be pretty well versed on all the nuances of SEO and the debates in the industry.
- Use free tools from sites like webconfs.com and our own seo tools section which will let you know how your site stacks up to other players in your niche.
- Do your keyword research. The best free tool out there is the Google Adwords Tool which gives a surprising amount of information about keyword demand. Be sure to properly use the options on the tool that define your audience and separate all the broad terms that are too vague.
- Write titles and descriptions for each page on your site. Ensure that each one is most relevant to the traffic demand for its topic.
- Write content for your site. Pay careful attention to keyword density and try to avoid keyword blurring. If search engines like Google or Yahoo see more than one page on your site with the same general topic, usually all the pages get a lower position than a single page with focused keywords.
- Build your links. It is very difficult and time consuming to do this for free. At Web.com Search Agency, we pay several full time people to build custom links, and there is extensive training on how to pick the most relevant sites and solicit links from them.
- Submit yourself to “free” directories. Best Catalog has a list of directories you can submit yourself to by hand. Before you spend too much time doing this, you can also pay a few hundred dollars to get this outsourced, but you must choose your anchor text wisely. Note that the quality on these directories is low, but aggregate links are a good first step.
- Use our free ranking report tool to check your progress. Note that our paying customers get a more in-depth report and analysis of the results.
- Add Google Analytics to track your progress under TrafficSources>Search Engines so you can see what keywords are driving traffic to your site. Although we use a lot of different analytics tools at Web.com Search Agency, Google Analytics is still the most popular with our customers.
- If your site is new, you may want to find something to do for a few months unless you have found ways to get around the Google Sandbox, the existence of which is debated among SEO professionals. You are more likely to believe in the sandbox when you see it firsthand. Most of the time, we see that new sites will receive artificially low rankings in the search engines until they gain some trust by getting links from other good sites, and demonstrate a certain level of quality.
- Sign up with Google Webmaster Tools to see how your site is viewed by Google and check if you’ve made any mistakes that got you banned. One of the contrasts between paid and DIY SEO is that experienced, well trained optimizers have been part of a collaborative learning environment, so they know what to look out for when running an SEO project. There are a number of innocent and inadvertent things that may put you into Google or Yahoo’s profile of a bad site or spammer.
The biggest problem with “free” SEO is that you get what you pay for. Many of our customers come to us because they had “enough knowledge to be dangerous” and either did not get the desired results, or watched their site placement drop after work was done. Even worse, we have clients who hired an “expert” with experience optimizing 2-3 websites, and ended up with sloppy SEO or dangerously outdated link building (link exchange, anyone?). Even though many of our account managers and strategists got their start doing optimization the “free” way, the value of multiple projects and a team environment becomes obvious because every site is a little bit different, and sometimes subject to nuances that have only happened a few times out of hundreds of projects. Paying for search engine optimization gives you the benefit of profiting from everyone else’s well documented misfortunes. Finally, (and to reiterate the starting thesis) the collective time you are going to spend learning and implementing your SEO is going to cost more on a dollar/hour basis than the price of getting a good program in place.
May 20th, 2009 by Patrick Hare
One of our biggest reputation management questions involves the removal of Ripoff Reports from search results. Since the RipoffReport.com site is famous for never removing reports the most common method for dealing with them involves pushing the report off the first page of search results.
First of all, there are quite a few businesses that legitimately belong on RipOffReport. However, many people who run afoul of the RipOffReport know that they aren’t running a bad business. There will always be customers who are unsatisfied, no matter what the circumstance. A fraction of these customers will post information about you and your site to every forum and directory on the internet. Sometimes, they will even post about the wrong person or company altogether. Sadly, RipOffReport is forever, so no matter how untrue the accusation is, it can’t be taken down. If you try to defend yourself on the report, you will add freshness to the site and may improve its rankings.
What’s the solution? Search engine reputation management services offer several different ways to mitigate the appearance of a Ripoff report. The usual way involves the “accentuate the positive” approach. We can increase relevance for sites that have positive things to say about your site, business, or person. You can do some of this yourself by soliciting testimonials on other websites that mention you or your business. It is also possible to create favorable PR that gets better rankings online for you and your services. Web.com search agency has a variety of ways to push negative publicity like the Ripoff Report onto a secondary page of results, so people don’t get the wrong idea about your site before they even see it. As a final tip, if you talk to any agency that promises to “remove” the report altogether, make sure to get the guarantee in writing, and don’t pay them until the report is gone.
May 19th, 2009 by Patrick Hare
If you’ve visited the newly hyped WolframAlpha.com site, you probably noticed that it’s not a search engine. Despite comparisons in the media saying that it could overshadow Google with its capabilities, it only takes a few minutes of searching to see this is not the case. Here’s why:
1. You can’t get to other websites. Google classifies relevant sites on the internet and gives you a list, which can include millions of web pages. Wolfram Alpha is “curated” meaning that its data is controlled internally, and not necessarily based on information from other sites.
2. Right now, the site is somewhat hard to use. For some searches, you get an error. If you look up Google, it suggests financial information on the company.
3. Search results don’t lead to a purchase. Every day, millions of people use Google to find sites that sell products or services. Wolfram Alpha is designed for people who want specific information, which is already free on other sites, but perhaps not as well organized. Scientists and academics will undoubtedly love Wolfram Alpha, but it is more of a threat to Wikipedia than Google. This is because Wikipedia information can be edited by anyone, and Wolfram Alpha is based on its own set of data.
4. The current form of the site is not very user friendly. If you type in “real estate” and search, Wolfram Alpha delivers the message “Wolfram Alpha isn’t sure what to do with your input.” The same message in Google gives you results, with ads that are geared to real estate in your area.
For our customers, Wolfram Alpha is not likely to be a factor in SEO at the present time. This is because we primarily serve people who want to be found for products and services that potential customers already want and know about. If you’re looking for a local plumber, you probably don’t want statistics on the number of plumbers in the US and their median wage history. Furthermore, since Wolfram Alpha is not a search engine, it does not read or list other sites on the internet, so nothing you do to your site is likely to attract its attention.
Wolfram Alpha can give a lot of details on the relationships between two different things, tell you what happened on a particular date, and it can calculate formulas. It has a lot of other interesting capabilities geared toward very smart people. Google, on the other hand, has made its reputation by bringing results to the masses, and presenting a nearly infinite number of choices to those searchers. As a search engine optimization company with customers worldwide, our job is to get you listed near the top of search results relevant to your site.
May 15th, 2009 by Patrick Hare
If you’ve look at the SEO landscape around the country, you may have noticed that Scottsdale has a bigger share of SEO companies than most cities of the same size. Just a few blocks south of Web.com Search Agency is a major competitor, and another one is about two miles to the east. Many of the top people in the SEO field in the Phoenix metro area (encompassing Tempe, Glendale, Peoria, Mesa, Gilbert, and Chandler) have worked their way through one or more agencies in their professional careers.
Why is Scottsdale such a fertile incubator for SEO? Given the niche nature of search marketing compared to other fields, there is not a large enough sample of industry players to give a definitive answer, but there are plenty of factors that would lead to conclusions.
First, the Phoenix area (until 2 years ago) was regularly trading “fastest growing city” status with Las Vegas. Housing was comparatively less expensive, and there were plenty of jobs in the technology field. With companies like Intel in Chandler, Insight.com in Tempe, Godaddy.com in Scottsdale, and Honeywell in Phoenix, there is a strong technical presence in the “Valley of the Sun.”
Second, there is also a strong entrepreneurial spirit in Phoenix, and the SEO field was able to take advantage of a business-friendly environment and a large pool of people familiar with the technical aspects of web design and data management. Some of the first SEO firms in Scottsdale and Phoenix literally started out of back rooms (if you lived in Phoenix, you would quickly see why nobody would start in a “garage” during the summer) and small home offices. In fact, the distributed nature of SEO work actually led one company (in 2005) to save money by shutting its office and having all its employees work from home.
Third, there are some very well funded companies in the Phoenix area, particularly around the Scottsdale Airpark. Many of these companies need high-grade SEO to build their presence on the internet, and aggressive PPC to stay competitive. The Scottsdale AZ area has more wealthy people in one place than just about anywhere outside of Beverly Hills. Scottsdale is also home to many “new money” people who may live in million dollar homes but they are younger and more active in their business lives. On top of that, Scottsdale is a popular spot for wealthy people from cold climates to maintain a second home.
The final advantage to Scottsdale as an SEO presence is convenience. Even though we have many global clients whom we have never met in person, we regularly see local clients in our offices who are just down the block, or who come out for a round of golf during the winter months. The talent pool in Phoenix allows Web.com Search Agency to recruit experienced, knowledgeable SEO engineers, salespeople, link building specialists, and account managers. As a result, we have been able to serve customers worldwide and remain competitive with the many talented search agencies who call Scottsdale home.