Archive for March, 2010

A/B Split Testing and Conversions

March 26th, 2010 by Lisa Rosenkrantz

What is split testing?
It’s all relates to conversion, which is the ultimate goal of any website. You want visitors to complete some sort of task – fill out a form, make a purchase, etc. A split test is a method used to determine whether your web design is working in terms of meeting your online goals. A specialized software application splits traffic between at least two variants of the same Web page, determining which one leads to a higher rate of conversion. Your users never know they’re part of an experiment.

Google Website Optimizer is a tool that allows people to do split testing and multivariate testing on a variety of different page designs.

What are some things that Web designers might check?
There are a number of variants that are open for testing; in fact, just about any aspect of a website can undergo an A/B split test. Here are some examples:

• Forms: Fewer vs. more fields or even different fields
• Shopping carts: Positioning, elements, etc.
• Landing pages: different graphics or even no graphics

Why should you conduct A/B testing?
The whole point is to maintain a website that yields optimum results – meaning, a respectable conversion rate. It’s good for everyone – the Web designer (who can charge more) and the client (who’ll enjoy a healthier profit). By implementing split A/B testing, you can find out what inspires visitors to stay longer on your website and interact with its components, to make a purchase from you, to fill out a form, subscribe to your newsletter, etc.

Split tests are great for your bottom line. Because they help you get noticed among your competitors, you’re assured that when it comes to advertising you’re getting your money’s worth. You’ll know exactly where to spend those dollars to maximize your ROI. Don’t just guess at what you think will create conversions – KNOW.

Who should do the testing?
Ideally, it should be the Web designer and it should be done at the launch stage. They have the source files and are thus better able to make changes.

Many big companies use the A/B split test to make their marketing decisions. It’s a simple form of conversion testing that works as a great tool to running an efficient, successful website.

Doorway Pages

March 26th, 2010 by Lisa Rosenkrantz

What are SEO doorway pages?
Doorway pages are simple HTML pages, copied from legitimate pages, that are customized to a few particular keywords or phrases and programmed to be visible only by specific search engines and their spiders. They fall under the umbrella of Black Hat SEO practices, and go by many aliases – bridge pages, portal pages, jump pages, gateway pages and entry pages.

Content rich doorways are even sneakier and on a more sophisticated level of black hat SEO. Their clever designers make the SEO doorway pages appear more authentic and include standard links. They look like legitimate landing pages that are used in pay-per-click campaigns.

What are they used for?
Doorway pages are created for submission to search engine in order to improve traffic to a site. They have been discredited by search engines for a number of years, so you should be wary of anyone who advises using this technique to get results.

How do they work?
When a visitor clicks through a doorway page from a SERP, they’ll quickly and deviously be redirected to another page via a Meta refresh command. Since most search engines penalize for this command, doorway pages trick the visitor into clicking on a link to route them to the desired destination page. This is considered code swapping or bait-and-switch, which is done to keep anyone for discovering how the page ranked so well.

Is there any good news?
Rest assured, since most search engines won’t display more than two pages from the same site in the SERPS for a particular keyword, doorway pages are relatively easy to identify. They’re designed for search engines rather than humans. Also, they are often copies of existing high ranking pages, and this alerts the search engines and causes the doorway pages to be bumped from the listings.

With search engines such as Google, doorway pages aren’t always as successful as they sound. Pilfering meta tags from a “real” page doesn’t guarantee a doorway page will rank well. But even if it does, it could lose its position once the search engine’s spider visits the real page.

SEM vs. SEO – is there a difference?

March 26th, 2010 by Lisa Rosenkrantz

Although many people consider them to be one and the same, they’re definitely not; however, they’re sort of intertwined as two parts of the same marketing campaign. They’re equally important for effectively managing and enhancing your website.

What’s SEM?
Search engine marketing (SEM) is an umbrella term for anything that uses current search engine technology and marketing techniques to promote a website, increase traffic to the site and elevate its ROI. Search engine optimization (SEO) is a one component of SEM – a very important one.

SEM encompasses the myriad of ways in which websites can be promoted and given online visibility. These methods include:

• Paid inclusion
• Feed programs
Pay-per-click ads
• Link popularity development
• Search engine submissions
• Directory submissions
Reputation management/development
• Traditional print/media ads
Search engine optimization

What is SEO?
SEO is the multi-layered process of shaping website content and code to be attractive to search engine spiders and human visitors alike. SEO strategists work to improve organic rankings in the search engines using a combination of balanced keyword integration, meta tags, link structure modification, backlink generation and high-quality optimized content. It is an invaluable component of SEM for the natural traffic it provides.

The relationship:
• SEM encourages search engines to spider your site — SEO increases your ranking
• SEM promotes visibility — SEO converts
• SEM drives traffic to your site — SEO qualifies and converts it to leads
• SEM delivers visitors — SEO draws them in

Use SEO To Network – Build A Sales Pipeline With Your Website

March 25th, 2010 by Patrick Hare
An interesting article in Entrepreneur magazine shows the value of networking when it comes to getting business. The premise of the piece, argued by Dr. Ivan Misner, is that a greater number of personal contacts can result in sales and leads even when you can’t make a direct correlation between your initial contact and your prospect. As is often the case with networking, the more you do it, the more business you’re going to get, even if you can’t draw a straight line between your contact and your new customer.

The use of Search Engine Optimization, in relation to online marketing and branding, can work in the same way. If you’ve ever brought up a topic in conversation, and had someone reference a website they’ve visited, you can see this idea in action. If that person fits the profile of most internet users, he or she came to that site by way of a search engine while looking for information online. The site (or sites) found by that person appeared in the search results because they were properly formatted for search engines to read and index. A line of other web pages, stretching into the millions of results, went unseen for one reason or another, and therefore did not enter into the attention span of the visitor. Without Search Engine Optimization, all the businesses represented by these sites remain virtually invisible.

SEO is also very useful if you have a business model with a long sales cycle or a small group of potential users. If you’re selling enterprise level CRM solutions, one good sale can keep your company in the black for years. Even if a handful of people look for your service offering by way of search engines, your presence in the results can result in inquiries from motivated customers, which are the easiest sales leads to close. When it comes to networking, some of your visitors may not be a good match for what you are offering, but may still bring up your site in conversation with colleagues (and even competitors) in the course of conversations and business conferences.

What can you do to increase your chances of getting more “word of mouth” via search traffic? Aside from the obvious advice to ensure that you have the most search engine friendly website, there are a few ways to make the site “sticky.” If your site has any useful tools, “how to” information, or unique features on your site, you can get people in your field to keep coming back. Users may also link to your site from their own websites, which is the kind of “networking” which Google and Bing reward with better rankings. Many respectable businesses will send white papers to readers in exchange for an email address or other contact information. In the same way that you hand out collateral at a trade show, you can also have PDF documents available online for visitors.

One of the most aggravating things for a website owner involves analyzing traffic, through a program like Google Analytics or Omniture, and seeing all the visitors who come to the site and choose not to take an action. Most of the online public seems to be doing “window shopping” even when your website is aimed at a very specific audience. However, you may not know that these window shoppers can become your unwitting evangelists when they talk about what they found on your site.

As most people in the sales and marketing field know, it can take a while to build a good pipeline, but after enough time it can become self-sustaining and quite profitable. In the online world, the presence of your site can help build the critical mass of eyeballs necessary to generate direct and indirect leads over time. In networking and SEO, patience can be the watchword when starting out, though it pays to get a head start and keep at it until you achieve the results you want to have. While you’re refining your approach, watching your search engine rankings grow, and getting more leads, you’ll also be building a network that can represent millions of potential prospects. All of these people can spread the good word about your products and services, but only if they can find your website.

Is your website hoarding links?

March 25th, 2010 by Patrick Hare
A common piece of advice given to webmasters by Google is to create a site as if search engines did not exist. In the world of search engine optimization (SEO) this hint carries a good piece of value when it comes to link building practices. Basically, if you are soliciting links, but not providing links from your own site, you are going to look like a “link hoarder.” When you consider that search engines base part of their algorithms on the relationship between sites, hoarding links can be counterproductive.

Search engines like to index sites that they believe will be useful to the average person. These sites have certain attributes in common, such as references to other sources of information on the World Wide Web. Originally, some of the most popular sites on the Internet, like Yahoo, were basically categorized lists of web pages that were recommended by other users. Similarly, early incarnations of Google made a greater use of the DMOZ directory in its results. Even today, Wikipedia results generally show up at least once in the top 10 for a query, which indicates the value of a reference resource.

Ideally, the link profile of your site should indicate an entity that gives and receives links. The whole idea of a “web” indicates interconnected sites that reference each other. If your site receives links, but does not give any out, then it is going to resemble a dead end or a black hole. Even if your links are fairly unobtrusive, and go to informational sites (as opposed to competitor sites) you can create a more natural looking site profile as you build your link portfolio.

Lastly, it pays to avoid complex (or not so complex) interlinking to your own sites, or to “web rings” which all link to each other. In the eyes of a search engine algorithm, these relationships are easy to spot and can work against you. Your link building profile should make your site look like a great source of information that isn’t afraid to refer users to other sites for further study. As an added bonus, users tend to go back to websites that help them find what they’re looking for, and that goes right back into the directive to “build a site as if search engines did not exist.”

Does Buying Google Adwords Improve Natural Rankings?

March 19th, 2010 by Patrick Hare
People who are new to SEO and PPC often think that having a Google Adwords campaign somehow improves their natural search engine results. Even though Google has insisted that this is not the case, and almost all SEO experts agree, there are still occasional claims of a correlation between paying for PPC and improved search engine rankings. Alternatively, there are some people who claim that their natural search engine rankings dropped when they started paying for ads.

SEO conspiracy theories aside, there are usually reasons why natural rankings improve in tandem with PPC. In many cases, people had started to pay attention to their websites within a few weeks of starting a sponsored match campaign, if only to improve the possibility of a conversion when the paid clicks started coming. At minimum, this increases the freshness of a website, and generally there are better keywords on the PPC landing pages when people start making changes. In many cases, we have customers who are doing SEO and PPC at the same time, so we can deduce that our own work, which once again may have started weeks or months earlier, was starting to bear fruit.

Secondarily, depending on your PPC spend, you might actually be getting natural search engine links after people visit your site through the paid channels. Site visitors may be bookmarking your site, commenting on it in blogs, or asking questions about it in forums. Although this roundabout way of link acquisition is not recommended as an SEO strategy, it does make for a reasonable link between PPC and higher search engine positions, especially if you have “sticky” or “viral” content on your site that needed to be discovered. People who have new tools, features, widgets, or content on their sites may want to consider the use of PPC to “prime the pump” if they believe that that a certain level of traffic may generate critical mass for sustainable word-of-mouth traffic.

Making your site more PPC friendly can certainly improve your chances for getting better search engine rankings. This is especially true since the advent of “quality score” measures in Adwords and Bing Adcenter, which give preference to landing pages that have text content that is relevant to the keyword being purchased. Natural search engine spiders, which read the same content, are going to give more credence to a page if it has a good keyword focus. Additionally, your site may already have met several of the factors that search engine algorithms are looking for, so improved content may be the difference between a lackluster ranking and a competitive position.

Finally, there is some consensus on the idea that natural search engine rankings, paired with visible PPC ads, results in an improved conversion rate. It may seem unusual that someone may want to pay for Adwords on keywords that rank naturally, but many advertisers choose to keep the paid keywords running if they have a high enough conversion rate to be profitable. The visibility of the same site in paid and natural positions creates a greater sense of trust in the mind of the customer, and it also means that you are holding a fair portion of search engine real estate. Experimenting with ads on keyword queries that already rank well may be one way to test an ROI improvement, but (as always) it could be unnecessary if you are happy with the traffic generated by your natural positions.

Online Visibility and the Importance of Branding

March 18th, 2010 by Jessica Runberg

The personalization of Google’s search results announced at the end of last year has brought a subtle, yet important change to the search engine and Internet visibility landscape. Now that everybody is seeing a slightly different version of Google’s search results (based on 180 days of personal Web history), the need for good SEO is even greater than before.

But, perhaps one of the biggest changes to come out of personalization is the renewed importance of branding. Now that Google’s default setting is tracking individual preferences, a click on a site’s listings increases the likelihood that listing will appear again for that user.

In other words, as soon as you show a preference for a brand or website, that domain will continue to rank highly in the future.

This is big news for branding professionals, as well as SEO experts. Suddenly brand awareness coupled with search engine visibility is having a big impact on rankings. What does this mean? It means that the integration of offline and online marketing efforts is more important than ever. Advertising campaigns such as Pontiac’s 2007 Super Bowl commercial in which viewers were asked to “Google Pontiac” could now have a lasting effect on rankings. If this same ad would have run in the 2010 Super Bowl, anyone who performed a Google search for Pontiac would essentially create a personalized preference for that domain.

What does this mean for your website?

It’s more important than ever to be in the top 10 of Google’s search results because not only are those websites already getting more clicks, but people who click on them are creating a branded preference for those sites. Good SEO can get you top rankings and therefore ensure that searchers click on your site and develop a preference for your domain. Even people that find your website through a PPC ad may see a preference for your site later on in the natural search results.

Also, anything that creates brand awareness for your site, whether it’s an offline radio ad or an online social media marketing campaign, is going to help create this personal preference. You can even leverage your existing customer base to create this preference by encouraging them to visit your website, and therefore creating partiality for your domain in their Google searches.

Want to increase your search engine visibility? Give Search Agency a call!

Mircrosite Marketing

March 18th, 2010 by Jessica Runberg

As you’ve probably figured out by now, there are many different ways to achieve success in the online marketplace. Whether it’s from a highly integrated online/offline marketing campaign or from an amazing link portfolio, there’s more than one way to get to the top of Google’s search results.

Microsite development is one of the tools you can use to enhance your online visibility. While its use may not be as universal as link building and some of the other pillars of SEO, there are a few specific scenarios in which launching a microsite may be just what the SEO doctor ordered, including:

Reputation Management

If damaging search results are associated with your website or company name, search engine reputation management is in order. While there are many different factors involved in successfully executing a reputation management campaign, at its core is the creation of microsites. Properly optimized code and content for separate “mini websites” can help push negative rankings down and increase the number of positive search results for your company.

Contextual Advertising
Microsites work especially well for websites that need a high degree of personalization, such as Pay-Per-Click (PPC) landing pages. Depending on the overall parameters of the campaign, PPC ads and the pages they’re associated with can be highly targeted to match the specific search query. Focusing on specific keywords can increase conversions and help improve the campaign’s quality score.

Social Media
In addition to creating social media profiles on sites like Facebook, there may be additional opportunities to create microsites in the name of social media marketing. While it’s best to keep blogs and the like as part of your main website so you don’t lose link juice, there may be reasons to create a separate site for unique sub-campaigns. Burberry, for example, launched to encourage customers to share their favorite photos taken in their classic Burberry trench coats. The site became an almost overnight success and is reported to have had more than 3.5 million picture views since its November launch!

No matter how you use it, the best microsite for your business will be the one that was created with care and thought as to how it complements the other components of your SEO campaign. It should be noted, however, that creating dozens of microsites can result in a “link farm” profile that could hurt your rankings. But when implemented correctly, a microsite can be another great way to market your business online.

Duplicate Content

March 18th, 2010 by Jessica Runberg

While the rules governing plagiarism are much looser on the Web, online duplicate content still poses a serious problem. Below is the rundown on what duplicate content is and how you can avoid it.

What It Is

Google and other major search engines are designed to bring users the most relevant, timely and unique results. Whenever they see the same content multiple times – duplicate content – they have to determine which website originally authored the text, and therefore is most likely to be the most relevant search result for that content.

Unfortunately, this task is much easier said than done.

How It Happens

Just because you’re the original author doesn’t mean you will necessarily rank the highest for your content. This determination can be a difficult task (even for a highly-technical search engine) and therefore, if a competitor has “borrowed” what you have written and has a stronger link portfolio than you do, you may find yourself outranked.

Remember, the search engine’s goal is to deliver unique search results and when faced with the same content, it has to weed through all of the duplicates and deliver what it thinks is the best result. In other words, if another site has more link popularity or a higher page rank, it may win.

But it’s not just competitors’ websites that are the problem – it may be your own! Perhaps the creator of your website content was a little too liberal in using another’s work as an inspiration, or you’ve included information exactly as it appears on a manufacturer’s website. Whatever your intentions, duplicate content is always duplicate in the eyes of the search engines.

Even the same content across your own site is subject to a duplicate content penalty. For example, it’s not uncommon to see websites that create a series of near-identical Web pages to target each geo-specific location they serve. Although they’re the original author of those Web pages, the search engines still want to see unique content on each page.

How to Fix It

So, what can you do to avoid a duplicate content penalty? Run your website’s URL through a duplicate content checker such as Copyscape to see if there are other Web pages (including your own) that have the exact same wording. You can also do this by taking a sentence or two from your website (usually about 25 to 50 words) and querying it on Google to see if other websites and specific Web pages are ranking for it.

If you do find that you have duplicate site content, the best course of action is to rewrite what you have so that it’ll be original. If writing is not your forte, we can help! Search Agency employs skilled copywriters who specialize in correcting duplicate content issues. We can rewrite your content so that it’ll be original and optimize it for specific keyword phrases. Not only will you have solid content, but your website can potentially rank highly in the search engines.

Top 5 Reasons Why You Should Start a Corporate Blog

March 12th, 2010 by Jessica Runberg

You’ve probably heard it a hundred times before: if you have a website for your business, you should have a blog. You’re probably thinking, I know, I know, but I don’t have time…or I don’t know how to get started…or I don’t know what to blog about…the list probably goes on.

What you may not have considered, however, is that the reasons why you should start a blog probably far outnumber the reasons why you’re just too busy to do it right now. Corporate blogging is a great way to help establish yourself as an authority in your industry and it can even help with your SEO efforts! And no – you don’t have to be a “corporation” to have a corporate blog.

Intrigued? Here are our top 5 reasons why you should start a corporate blog:

1. Show You Know Your Stuff. Blogging gives you an opportunity to position yourself as an expert in your field. If you have a website that sells fashionable clothing, use the blog as an opportunity to discuss this season’s trends or comment on what celebrities wore to the latest Hollywood bash. Use your blog to position yourself as an industry expert.

2. Market Your Business. While you shouldn’t use your blog exclusively to market your business (otherwise, nobody will read it!), there’s nothing wrong with the occasional self-promotional blip. If you have something newsworthy to share, such as the launch of a new product, use your blog to spread the word!

3. Keep Your Website Active. Google gives preference to websites that regularly update their pages and add new content. If you wouldn’t otherwise update your site that often, maintaining a blog is a stellar way to keep your site active and eventually increase your rankings.

4. Develop A Dialogue with Your Customers. A blog can be a great outlet to get to know your customers on a more informal basis and engage them in a conversation about your business, industry or other related happenings. Use a blog to give your company an extra boost of personality.

5. Rank for Specific Keyword Phrases. Is there a certain keyword phrase that you want to rank for? Writing a blog post that is optimized for that keyword phrase can help you build a portfolio of optimized Web pages, while also increasing traffic to your site. It can be a great way to go after some longer-tail traffic!

So, no more excuses. If you want to have a successful corporate blog, it’s time to get started. If you need some help, give us call!