Archive for August, 2010

Get Ready For Shopping Season

August 27th, 2010 by Patrick Hare

It may seem like the holiday shopping season is too far off, but the beginning of September is the perfect time to create and test you SEO and PPC strategies for the months ahead. In the online world, quite a few people start buying gifts in advance. If your site is positioned for Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa shoppers before these seasons arrive, you can pick up a nice chunk of business from these early birds. Better yet, you will have a head start over some of the larger online retailers who tend to launch website specials in big blocks or wait for the “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” times to ramp up their spending.


Here are a couple of things you can do today to get ready for the holiday season:

  • Update Your Pricing. If your prices are significantly higher than other stores, then there may be an even bigger gap when specials come out. Conversely, you may be leaving cash on the table if your prices are super-low.
  • Test Your Shopping Cart. Make a few test transactions, or actually buy a small item on your own credit card, and see if there are any issues that might prevent a shopper with marginal online skills from making a purchase. Carts that appeal to basic internet skill levels can make more sales and gain more loyalty.
  • Consider shipping cut-off dates. Many people who run drop-ship ecommerce sites can have a high return rate if they don’t announce the last possible day some items can be shipped, and if it is possible to ship next-day, there is a sweet spot of last-minute shoppers who can enhance the profit margin in the last few days before Christmas.
  • Send Coupon Codes to Past Customers. Whether you use email or post cards to send out collateral material, the cost of an online discount code is still usually less than the cost of pay-per-click advertising to new customers. The conversion rate is generally higher for these customers as well.
  • Train Your Staff. In many ecommerce companies, everyone becomes a customer service agent during peak buying times. Training your staff in advance, and soliciting feedback from experienced employees, can smooth out some of the inevitable bumps in the road that come during peak performance dates.
  • Prepare For Information Technology Issues. Do you outsource your IT, or pay a local agency to do it? Chances are, your professionals will be working on quite a few critical issues for big clients at this time. Companies with big IT staffs often implement a code freeze on sites just to make sure new bugs aren’t introduced that may take negatively affect the online store. Therefore, the best time to address any website functionality issues is today, before your programmers become distracted.

Holiday shoppers can be the difference between a year’s profit and loss for many online sellers as well as their brick-and-mortar counterparts. Whether economic times are good or bad, there is still more shopping in this time period, and it pays to be prepared for all the things that can happen. There are always a few surprises with vendors, shippers, the weather, and other events, but they seem to become more concentrated during the hectic holiday season. By minimizing issues with your website and your ability to get orders out the door, your level of anxiety and exhaustion can be significantly reduced.

Signals For Better SEO

August 26th, 2010 by Patrick Hare

Every day, people send out thousands of conscious and subconscious signals, whether they are indicating a right turn, raising their hands, or crossing their arms. Signals can be interpreted positively or negatively, or they can be completely misinterpreted with unfortunate results. Website designers most often want to send the correct signals to search engines, but often end up creating a mixed or incomplete message. Sending the wrong signal to Google or Bing (which now supplies results to Yahoo) can have consequences that take time and cost money fix. There are over 200 separate and distinct factors for ranking on Google, and certainly a similar number on Bing/Yahoo, so the right message about your site is imperative for search engine success.

Some signals for SEO are hard to fake. For instance, the age of your website and its history (in the eyes of a search engine) are factors that improve the trust experience. You can sometimes buy older websites, but it makes sense to check with archive.org to be sure that the domain associated with the site has been serving up content for a couple of years. You might also want to see if the site had any seedy content on it previously. Search engines purportedly keep records of whether a domain name had been “banned” in the past for abuse, and you don’t want to push the SEO envelope on a website that already has a few strikes against it.

Naturally, the links to a site are huge signals for Bing and Google, and the quality and age of those links plays into the algorithm. Older and more trusted links go a long way, but if your site has a poor link profile then you might want to start building one now.  As a caution, you could be sending negative link signals to the search engines if your anchor text is all identical, you get a whole batch of low-quality links at the same time, or you suddenly have a dozen links from sites with high pagerank without an expected ratio of low and average PR links. Many paid links are easy for search engines to spot, so sometimes the best way to send a natural-looking “signal” is to work with experience link builders who can feather in links in a way that looks more reasonable. Additionally, an SEO consultant can also advise you how to get genuinely natural links, which obviously require a lot more time and energy.

Perhaps the clearest and most basic signal for any site involves site organization and readability. If a search engine can’t read your site, it might as well not be online. If a search engine can’t categorize and classify your content, then it is not going to have a reasonable chance of getting the best possible positions. Search engines are looking to see a pyramid-like hierarchy of pages, so whether your site has 5 pages or a hundred thousand, you want to make sure the engine can understand the relative value of each page on the site. Recently the Google Mayday Update downgraded millions of web pages because they were not adequately showing trust signals and a clear relationship to other categories on the site. Sometimes this was because the pages lacked a clear directory structure, and in other cases the link popularity of the homepage was prevented from trickling down to the pages deep in the site.

Even though human usability is not directly listed in the signals here, search engines are always working to emulate a real user’s experience in order to deliver up the salient facts about a site. If a person can click through a site and find the correct information quickly, a search engine can usually do the same thing. In fact, a lot of search engine improvements have been made which deal with code issues that prevent spiderability, but this does not excuse the webmaster from making the site easy for people and engines at the same time. In many cases, SEO initiatives coincide with improved usability, and some of the recommendations made by Web.com Search Agency and other SEO consultants simultaneously result in better conversions from existing traffic. As search engines use more artificial intelligence, human behavior emulation, and actual data from users (like Google Toolbar data, for example) they will be able to understand which sites people actually like to use when they make certain search queries. By building such a site now, you can send a clear signal that you are positioned to make the search engine’s job easier while you improve your chances for online business success.

Get to the Point – With Bullet Points!

August 20th, 2010 by Jessica Runberg

A few weeks ago, I featured a piece about writing for the Web, specifically about how to make your online content sticky. To follow up, today’s blog entry features more great Web-writing tips.

Lists have long been popular, especially top 10 lists and other countdowns. Categorizing information in this short and easy-to-read format takes the work out of trying to flesh out the good ideas in an article. The Web has given rise to the trend since people want to get to the point quicker when reading online content.

So, here are 5 reasons why you should consider using a bulleted list somewhere on your website.

  • Bullet Points + Digital Media = Happy Web Users. Since the Web is nonlinear, bullet points greatly complement digital media. Internet users tend to scan content on the Web, making bullets a great choice
  • Build Anticipation. Regardless of whether the list is a countdown or not, bullets help build anticipation for what’s next.
  • Deliver on Your Promises. If the headline on your contact page says The Top 5 Reasons You Should Hire Our Company, people know exactly what to expect in the corresponding bullet points. It gives people a reassuring sense of coming full circle.
  • Save time. Creating a bulleted list saves time. Simply list your thoughts and then upload.
  • Bullets are Search Engine Friendly! Not only do people like bulleted lists, but the search engines like them, too!

While bullets work especially well for PPC landing pages, they also have a place in the SEO realm (provided that each page manages to have at least 250 words of content). Ready to learn more? Give us a call!

User Behavior Based On Browser Type

August 17th, 2010 by Patrick Hare

One of the overlooked tools in Google Analytics involves an analysis by browser type. By segmenting out traffic by web browsers such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Opera, you can learn a few things about your demographic as well as your site functionality. You can also understand how quickly people are migrating to other platforms which allows you to adapt your site to meet the challenges inherent with the platform-fickle marketplace. In Google Analytics, browser information can be found under Visitors>Browser Capabilities.

Bounce rate – A noticeable difference in bounce rate between browsers can be a signal or problems with the way your site presents itself, or it could indicate that error messages are coming up when people use a particular browser. Sometimes, it turns out that the elements on your page are all over the place compared to whatever “standard” browser you’re using, and you need to play around with your CSS until your site looks the same on all platforms. Whenever possible, you should view your site on all major browsers on a periodic basis to make sure nobody’s getting a bad user experience.

  • Segmentation – You may find that a higher percentage of people buy things when they come from certain browser types. This can either be because of demographics or usability issues. Sometimes the answer is simpler, since a site that sells Macintosh accessories would likely get better business from people using Apple’s Safari browser.
  • Visit Time – How long are people staying, based on the browser? If you are giving the exact same user experience with each browser, this number should be fairly flat. If people are leaving your site quickly, it may be because some elements on your site aren’t loading properly.
  • Browser Version – Not only can you find out what percentage of your people still use IE 6.0, you can also see how those customers behave. Knowing the percentage of clients who use older browsers can be critical if portions of your site are incompatible with older software. Likewise, if you are getting bad results from IE8 viewers, then you might need to adjust your site upward. Considering the wide variety of apps and scripts that a site can run, there are always a few that can hang up when a new browser comes to visit.
  • Missing” Browsers – This can be a tough one to spot unless you compare browser use on a month-to-month basis, or manage several sites. If your ratio of browsers shifts suddenly, it is either a sign of a sudden mass migration in use statistics, or you site has sprung a leak somewhere. Sometimes new tracking code has to be installed, or an old tracking pixel (for a completely different tool) is keeping your analytics from making a measurement. It is always good to note that search engines can get hung up on issues like these as well.
  • Mobile Browsers – Want to find out how many smartphones, media players, and mobile devices are accessing your content? This is the perfect place to learn. If you see a lot of mobile browsers being used to access your content, this could be a pretty clear signal that you should design a sub-site that is streamlined for the mobile web. As a secondary consideration, if you expect to have a big audience on Apple iPads, iPhones, and iPods, then you will need an alternative to Flash-enabled content.
  • Other Info – Operating systems, Flash versions, and even screen size are important analytics considerations. For sites that have a high quantity of daily traffic, and even those that don’t, an understanding of your demographic can pay off. For instance, if your users seem to have bigger screens and more updated operating systems, you can probably modernize your content. On the other side, if your audience is a bit more tech-conservative, then plain functionality may be more of a selling point.

Having a better understanding of the tools people use to browse your site is essential for a successful outcome. Studying your customer’s software preferences not only allows you to react to current trends, but also can give you insight into how your market is going to grow over time. As more and more people choose portable computing or browsing options, sites that are compatible with multiple systems are going to have the best audience. In the meantime, knowing about today’s browsing customer allows you to tweak your current settings and remove a few potential roadblocks to monetizing the traffic you already have.

SEO for .net and .org Domain Extensions

August 16th, 2010 by Patrick Hare

Sometimes you only care about getting search engine traffic. For example, you may want to generate leads and then sell those leads to other sources. Or, you might have a shopping cart that resides on one main site, but you can send traffic to it from a series of “feeder” sites. If this is the case, and you don’t have any concerns related to branding, then using a .net or .org domain extension can be a profitable way to get search engine traffic.

Why does this work? The main reason is that Bing and Google have a soft spot for exact match domain names. This behavior is known is some circles as “navigational search” and it implies that search engines know people are looking for specific sites (like a brand name) so they show results that contain matches on the search query. In many cases you can rank for long-tail terms just by having a little content on a site with an exact match domain name, and if the clicks you get are good converters, then the site can justify its own existence in a short amount of time. You can even occasionally get results with a .info domain name on a good website, but exotic domain extensions don’t appear to get the same consideration.

Obviously, a better website gets better results, but the appeal of exact match domains is that you can often snap up .net and .org domain names for the cost of registration, though some are listed as premium domain names by speculators. As an added tip, you can generally bargain down the price of a premium domain name since speculators may be carrying a large inventory. If you doubt the power of .net and .org domains, then you should consider the brisk sales in the domain name aftermarket for names that match some of the higher-end words and phrases in all fields of online commerce.

The pros and cons of .net and .org domain names should always be addressed in the context of the site’s goals. For one thing, buying names along this line usually indicates that you aren’t concerned about branding and name recognition as much as you care about traffic. A company interested in a brand should secure the .com version of the domain name whenever possible, because people will often just type in the brand name into the browser bar followed by “.com.” Developing a well optimized site on these domains is usually cheaper for the exact match phrase, but will be just as much of a challenge for terms not related to the site name. From a link building standpoint, you can get a better lift even when people just link to your domain name. Observations in the field usually show that .org domains seem to have an SEO edge over ones ending in .net, but not enough to be a roadblock if the .net domain name is the only one available.

As an added bonus, .net and .org sites also become more sellable when they start to crack the top 10. This is especially true in lead generation and affiliate fields where people may be prevented from buying PPC ads either due to keyword content, affiliate status, or previous behavior.  While domain flipping is an art and science in itself, it usually works better when there is an actual website involved, and a domain becomes more attractive when there is a site with a current search engine listing. Many companies will periodically buy ranking websites and then refurbish them with the knowledge that particular keyword combinations have enough volume and conversion to be profitable. Choosing the right domain extensions can put you onto the same playing field as companies that spend thousands of dollars per day on paid clicks, and get you some very attractive results.

SEO Without A Website

August 11th, 2010 by Patrick Hare

You don’t need a website to practice SEO. Depending on what your goals are, you can present yourself and your business to interested parties by using SEO principles and understanding a few things about how search engines work. In fact, there are several places you can get noticed for little or no money, and by using some simple optimization techniques you can piggyback off the trust of someone else’s site to achieve your objectives.

The main thing to remember about search is that it is all about matching up content with things that people actually type into search engines and other search tools. In many cases, those tools are not on the engines themselves but built in to sites that are dedicated to a single topic. Considering that many search tools are powered by Google or follow the same general rules, you can make your content stand out. First, you want to use a keyword tool to find out what the popular search terms are, and secondarily you want to blend some of the most popular terms into your content.

Here are a couple of different examples of how to SEO different online resources: 

  • Are you looking for a job, or wanting to move up? If the latest news stories are a guide, then 20% of the employable workforce is right there with you. This can be discouraging for the average job seeker, but you can use SEO and existing websites like Careerbulilder and Jobing.com to your advantage. When you put your resume on a job site, be sure to reword it with some of the most popular search phrases (but not too many) in a way that looks natural. For example, if you want a job in writing, you may note that “technical writer” gets almost 3 times the search volume as “copy editor” but if you’re looking for either opening, you can craft a line such as “I quickly moved from a position as a technical writer to a copy editor thanks to my detail-oriented approach.” Whether you are posting a resume on a job hunting site or updating your profile on LinkedIn (which is highly recommended) a bit of SEO editing can help recruiters find you when they search these sites.
  • Got a business but no website? If so, you may have already been picked up in Google Places, which shows local businesses for specific search results. If you want to get found more often, you should first claim your listing and then build up your profile with keyword-rich information. For instance, a painting contractor would add information about exterior and interior painting styles as well as low-VOC paints and anything else that would be of interest to someone looking for a local painter. Don’t forget to mention if you’re licensed, bonded, or insured, since there are people who look for those variations.
  • Another big advantage for businesses is local listings in phone book directories and online yellow pages. Lots of people begin and end their searches in directories like Yelp and Yellowpages.com. Even though you may not have a lot of space to describe your business, you can put some good keywords in the mix. On top of that, people are encouraged to write reviews, so if you can get your customers to write more descriptive reviews you will get more keyword matches as well. As an example, someone reviewing a Chinese restaurant might write “the egg rolls and dim sum at the Panda Dragon Chinese Restaurant in Anytown are the best I’ve ever eaten.”

While it may make more sense to get links to your site from these places, you can always add a site in later once it is created. SEO for social media resources and phone book directories can go a long way toward getting preferential placement or just getting found. If you can make your presence known in the space of a couple of searches, then you are more likely to get the calls which either result in a new job or a new client. Even if you already have your own website, SEO of your off-site assets can increase your traffic from non-search-engine related sources and represent a nice cost savings over traditional marketing packages.

Preparing For Bing Results on Yahoo

August 11th, 2010 by Patrick Hare

Many of our clients have been asking us about when Bing results will be visible on Yahoo. As of a few weeks ago, Yahoo has been testing Bing results for quality so periodically the user will be getting listings from Bing (based on MSN Live Search) instead of Yahoo’s in-house search engine. A recent article indicated that up to 25% or results on Yahoo come from Bing, so for people who get high volume traffic either from Bing or Yahoo, there can be a visible change in traffic from these engines.

Websites that have gotten better results on Bing (than Yahoo) historically are now noticing increased “Yahoo” traffic. Conversely, people who do poorly on Bing but well on Yahoo will notice an opposite effect. One of the key problems in preparing for Bing’s complete takeover of Yahoo search results is that Bing and Google have very similar ranking factors. Ordinarily, not much attention has been paid to Bing in search because it had the #3 share in the search market and hovered in the 10% range while Google still gets around 65% of the search engine market share. By adding Yahoo, this will make Bing a more important goal for SEO, but the problem with Bing SEO is that it is tougher to pin down despite its similarity to Google. We have seen cases where people have done very well in Google and Yahoo, but poorly in Bing, and the bulk of all major SEO companies will still be biased toward Google due to its market share. We have also seen quite a few cases where clients get great results in Bing and Google but suffer in Yahoo, so these customers will be the primary beneficiaries of the change.

What should you consider for Bing? First, you should look to your Google rankings. If you are doing well in Google, you should ask yourself how much you want to risk by making changes for what is still going to be the secondary combined presence in search. If you are not doing well in Google then this is an added reason to take more action. Overall, Bing uses link popularity and page content in the same way that Google does, but does not appear to filter links for quality in the same way. Therefore, low-quality links can do more for Bing results, but will either have a neutral or negative effect on Google rankings. Bing also appears to give more credit to keywords in URLs and domain names, and still has a certain preference for fresh content similar to MSN/Live search. Adding some new pages with a good descriptive URL structure may be one way to get more rankings on Bing, and as long as those pages are themed correctly, they will likely help in Google as well.

Optimize Your “Thank You” Page to Increase Post-Sale Revenue

August 10th, 2010 by Jessica Runberg

You did it! A customer found your site and made a purchase. That’s it, right? Wrong. The end of the sale is just the beginning if you want a lifelong customer. Many websites forget to optimize their most important page: the Thank You page.

In addition to providing customers with details regarding their purchase (shipping information, etc.), this is your final chance to make a lasting impression. Now is the time to give them a coupon for their next purchase, or offer them a subscription to your newsletter.

Here are more great ways you can use the Thank You page to turn a one-time shopper into a repeat customer.

  • Give them their say with a customer satisfaction survey.
  • Make it easy to download a catalogue.
  • Invite them to connect with your business on Facebook and Twitter or subscribe to your RSS feed.
  • Give them the option to “opt-in” to receiving periodic e-mails from your business.
  • Offer up related products (preferably with a coupon) on your site or an affiliate’s site.
  • Include a “refer a friend” button.

Thanks to the Thank You Web page, it’s never been so easy to make an additional sale and build customer loyalty.

Local SEO: 3 Ways to Gain a Competitive Advantage

August 6th, 2010 by Jessica Runberg

While many of the clients we work with serve customers nationwide or around the globe, we offer local SEO services for those who serve a geo-specific area. Whether it be a region, state or even just a few surrounding cities, local SEO marketing is smart for small businesses.

If you’re a retail boutique in Beverly Hills, isn’t that where your advertising dollars should be?

Local SEO makes sense for hotels, doctors, spas, boutiques, home repair businesses, mom-and-pop restaurants and other locally operated companies. Here are 3 proven ways you can make local SEO work for your business:

1. Pay-Per-Click (PPC)

Local paid-search ads are so effective that it’s almost as if PPC was created specifically for this purpose. Unlike organic search results, paid-search ads instantly appear on the first page of Google. You can optimize your ads for geo-specific locations so that they’ll display directly to users with a matching I.P. address.

2. Organic Search

Of course, you don’t have to buy ads to get the word out about your business. We’ve helped countless websites launch wildly successful geo-targeted SEO campaigns that enable them to compete with “the big guys.” In the search-engine landscape, it doesn’t matter if you’re a large national chain or a mom-and-pop shop; the one with the best SEO will rise to the top of the search results!

3. Google Maps

If your business has a physical location, you need to be on Google maps. Local business results usually show up before organic search results so it’s a great way to get to the top of the search-engine results. Just be sure all of your business info is correct, including your name, phone number, address and URL.

Bonus Tip! There’s no better place to implement local SEO than on social media sites. Connect with customers who live in your area and “tweet” about specials or upcoming business happenings. Also, ask us about our YouTube video slideshow designed just for local businesses.

Increase PPC Conversions with a Landing Page Makeover!

August 3rd, 2010 by Jessica Runberg

While driving lots of traffic to your site is a noble aspiration, the ultimate goal is to get the sale. Once potential customers click through to your site, the content you have there needs to get them to act – and preferably to act now. This is especially important for PPC landing pages, which should always be designed with conversions in mind.

Here are a few simple landing page best practices you can implement right now to bring home the sale:

  • Send users to the most specific landing page on your site for the targeted keyword.
  • Use a clear and relevant headline that best fits the user’s search query.
  • Keep the verbiage short and sweet (and include all pertinent information above the fold).
  • Use bullets.
  • Use colorful and relevant images to sell the product/service visually.
  • Include a clear call to action.
  • Make it easy to convert (with as few clicks as possible).

These proven techniques not only offer a great PPC return, but some of the same ideas can also be applied to SEO landing pages. The major difference is that SEO landing pages need to have more verbiage on each page to rank highly in organic search results. But in the end, the idea is to make it incredibly easy for visitors to become customers!