When we evaluate a website, the first step is to give it a 30 second fitness test. Seriously, that’s how long it takes to determine whether a website is minimally equipped to compete for both visitor and search engine attention. There are certain telltale signs that a website is out-of-date (or modern, but poorly built) that stand out like a girl wearing a blue dress on Yellow Dress Day.
In a glance, your website needs to very obviously declare its purpose to the visitor without distractions. A general rule of thumb is that a man from Mars should be able to figure out what your website is about and what he is expected to do in less than 4 seconds. What appeals to a human being (or a Martian), is also what Google, in all of its algorithmic greatness, likes best. Clutter and flashing lights are out, while sleek and streamlined are in.
These are some of the website elements that will scream old age and poor quality, and repel the search engines:
- ENTER HERE splash page
- Ancient copyright (Google now marks even old blog posts as “Old”.)
- Flash and animated graphics
- A cluster of city names or keywords, whether linked or not
- Image heavy, content light (unless your site is about images or video)
- “Welcome to…” as a headline
- Autoplaying media
- Using graphic or gimmicky fonts (rather than Cufon or Google fonts)
- Intrusive background images and long loading times
- Direct email link rather than a contact form
- Obviously antiquated design
- Multiple or keyword heavy URL(s) (unless they are descriptive and useful to the user)
- A page just for links, with no obvious connection to your business
A deeper look into a website might also reveal the following fatal flaws:
- Archaic code and tags
- Outdated information
- Broken links
- Clunky navigation
- Design elements that get in the way of the sale
So, why does the age of your website matter? A website is a critical piece of a company’s credibility. An old or unprofessional website tells a story. You need customers to trust you, and a confusing experience on a website that does not appear to be maintained speaks volumes. Your older website may still look good to you, but compare it to the competition. Based on that impression, who would you choose to do business with?
Many of the tightly held beliefs people have about SEO are rooted in what used to be true, sometimes last week, sometimes years ago. An ever-changing popularity map, the rules of search engine cool have to be revisited frequently. While I could unravel literally hundreds of SEO myths, I thought it best to start with fifteen.
1. Only the number 1 rank matters. – Actually, studies show that users often skip right over number one. The more serious searchers tend to be more persistent as they look for exactly what they want, not just who happens to be first on the list. Still, page 1 remains ideal.
2. It takes no special skills to do SEO. – The art of SEO draws on a variety of skills, rarely present in someone outside of the industry. It is not likely that a lawyer, while certainly intelligent enough, is going to also know marketing, coding, PR, and all the latest in algorithm news. Plus, we are talking about a serious time commitment.
3. Linking to other highly ranked sites helps. – Actually, Google wants to know who thinks YOU are cool. Links back to your site matter a lot, while your links to them…not so much.
4. Usability does not affect SEO. – Whether it is a user trying to navigate through your site or search engine spider attempting to crawl through it, the layout and structure must be solid. If not, it will absolutely affect you rank.
5. The site with the largest quantity of links wins. – Each new algorithm makes this less and less true. Google has made it their mission to make sure relevant links from high quality sites that relate to your business provide the most ranking push. That’s quality, not quantity.
6. Links are more important than content. – Conversely, good content brings in the best links. You should seek to be an authority in your area of expertise so that you are “link-worthy”. Even if you have tons of links today, sites will eventually flush their sites of irrelevant links. You should make sure yours matter.
7. Good content is all you need. – Content may be the cornerstone, but a brand is difficult to build without getting the word out. An army of links is the perfect complement to good content.
8. AdWords customers get preferential treatment in organic results. – This is simply not true, as the two are not related. It may appear that way, however, since Google remembers your search history and serves results accordingly.
9. SEO is something only done once. – SEO something that should be done over the lifetime of a site. Competitors change, algorithms change, link values change, and you must change with them if you don’t want to fall behind.
10. You can manipulate search rankings. – There is no special knowledge or search engine relationships that allow this to happen. SEO firms that make ranking promises, and there are many, employ what are called “black hat” techniques to speed up the ranking process. The typical result is good, then horrible, right before your site is banned.
11. Keywords don’t matter anymore. – Keyword stuffing is out; but, keywords as they occur naturally in you content are what tell search engines what your site is about. So yes, they matter.
12. Buying links, likes or tweets can help you rank better. – Irrelevant links from poor quality sites do more harm than good, as they can get you penalized or even banned. In the social arena, 15,000 likes from fake profiles will do nothing to grow your business. Think about it.
13. Nofollow links are worthless. – It’s all about the natural. Google has determined that it is unnatural to only have Dofollow links in your SEO arsenal. Plus, a Nofollow link could provide you a direct “link” to customers. Don’t forget about them!
14. A long domain name will rank better. – There was a day, long ago, when keyword-packed URLs helped your rank. Today, branding is much more important.
15. SEO is dead. – That’s funny.
In line with increased use of the Internet as a revenue generator, the term “SEO” has entered mainstream vernacular. Problem is, many people misunderstand its meaning. That has created a whole slew of well-intentioned people who “know enough to be dangerous“, often employing outdated practices to the detriment of a company’s page rank.
We’d like to bring you up to speed with what “real” SEO currently is and isn’t, as well as expose the tactics that web designers sometimes use to make it seem like game-changing SEO is part of the package…when it’s not.
First, let’s look at the sales spiel a web designer might use. Let’s say that you are offered a comprehensive website package that includes “Search Engine Optimization”. They may even run down the list of what that includes: XML Sitemap, Canonical URLs, Google Webmaster Tools, Robots.txt, Homepage Meta Description, Keyword Research, H-tags, and on and on. You nod your head, as each additional item sounds vaguely familiar from what you read in the tech blogs.
You did your homework and are right to approve this list of on-site SEO services. While good web designers stay up-to-date with SEO trends and incorporate them into every site without an additional fee, most do not. So, this is a good start, but certainly only a miniscule part of the whole picture.
On-site and off-site SEO are two completely different things with similar goals. Basically, on-site optimization is a necessary foundation, while off-site optimization is where the real muscle behind your search engine rank comes in. So, even if your site is SEOed to the hilt, it is a rare phenomenon to reach page one on Google without running a strenuous and on-going off-site SEO campaign.
Off-site SEO involves a laborious string of creative ventures that ultimately “proves” your popularity and relevance to the search engines. White-hat techniques give you solid positioning over time, while black hat (dirty) techniques let you cut in line until the teacher (Google) catches you and makes you sit out. In other words, you can get banned. The biggest piece of rank-affecting SEO involves building links that boost your credibility.
Establishing Basic On-site Credibility:
- Valuable content
- Proper structure and coding
- Inclusion of key pages
Establishing Basic Off-site Credibility:
- Creative content like “Top 10” lists, PDFs, images, ,3D landing pages, or videos
- Article marketing
- Press releases
- Directory listings
- Link building on sites related to your industry
Just as important as what you should do, are the things you should avoid doing. On the first of March, Google made public some of the criteria they use to judge a website’s value. While Internet Marketing professionals rely on technical analyses amongst trusted colleagues to make experiential educated guesses about the current state of the algorithm, this was unprecedented openness from the search giant. So, from the horse’s mouth, here is what we know about how Google fights spam on the over 30 billion pages out there.
SPAM According to Google…or SEO Don’ts:
- Hidden text
- Keyword stuffing
- Unnatural links to another site
- Unnatural links from another site
- Hacked site
- Cloaking and/or sneaky redirects
- Spammy free hosts and dynamic DNS providers
- Thin content with little or no added value
- Pure spam
- Parked domains
- User-generate spam
The most important take-away from the do’s and don’ts of SEO is that it is a complex mechanism that requires both diligence and up-to-date knowledge. There is not, nor will there ever be, one singular thing you can do to reach page one and stay there. That is why we are here.
Have you ever thought, When I’m successful in business, I’m going to give back to the community? Perhaps you are doing it, or maybe growing your business took more effort than you thought and philanthropy was put on hold. What if I told that the time or money you put into charitable endeavors could be an incredible marketing tool AND make the world a better place at the same time? To me, it sounds like I just saved you money, made you money and made your philanthropic dream a very real first priority.
Before I give you a few guidelines for adding a charitable or socially responsible edge to your business, I need to make a point about intentions. It is well-known that giving back has its advantages, and some companies will do it solely with that motive. I am not, in any way, suggesting that you approach philanthropy in a selfish manner; although, if you did, the result would still be positive for everyone involved. The point is to realize that you can “give back” without taking away from your business resources. In fact, there is much to be gained.
1 – Pick a Cause That Resonates With Your Business
Not all causes are a perfect match for your business. The connection has to make sense, much like a child’s punishment should fit their specific bad behavior. Make sure you have shared core values and that your involvement is mutually meaningful.
2 – Get In Deep and Engage Your Whole Team
In order to have an impact, you have to get truly involved in one or two causes, not just send out some checks or widely scatter your kindness around. Think of it like a website. If you have too many messages, visitors don’t know who you are, what you do, or what you want them to do. By concentrating your efforts and really engaging your team in a cause, you become known as “the company that supports XYZ.” Secondarily, employee loyalty will grow if they feel they are working for a company with a worthy cause and able to personally contribute.
3 – Think Beyond Money
If you’ve ever bartered for a product or service, you know that money is not the only thing of value that can be offered. Your special skills are in demand or you wouldn’t be in business. Think about what you can offer that could make a difference and be a testament to your company’s caring contribution. Give something which matters, that’s remembered, and that speaks for your heart and talents. At Spiral Cities, we provide free Internet Marketing workshops and special pricing for non-profit organizations. A win-win scenario is just that simple.
4 – Commit to It
Integrate your cause into the company culture. Dedicate resources to it; and, keep it a priority. I’ll compare this to social media. If you do it, commit to doing it well and for the long-term. Otherwise, there is little benefit to anyone.
A loyal following can definitely be built by getting deeply involved with causes you already care about. The key is to choose something that forms a natural bridge between your ideals, your customer’s passions, and the uniqueness of your business.
Philanthropy has many roads in. My advice? Carefully choose one; then, make your philanthropic dream a reality!
The incredible control over targeting your audience and spending on quality clicks that convert to customers in AdWords is, by far, the greatest leap for advertising this century. No other medium can boast such audience data and allow instant campaign refinement according to that data. On top of that, Google is doing everything in its power to make Paid Search accessible to all, most notably with AdWords Express. But, how do you make sure it helps you actually make money and grow your business? Well, you just have to do it right.
Adwords Express is the “small business friendly” version of AdWords came out in 2011 that is getting a renewed advertising push this year. It’s a tool that does the work for you, making Paid Search advertising a breeze. Well, it is easy, true enough. What you need to know is that you can only control categories of keywords, not the keywords themselves, which are chosen for your campaign. Broad keywords can bring in tons of clicks; but, clicks are meaningless if they are not bringing in the right kind of traffic. So, choose your categories with care, knowing that narrower targets keep spending under control and get the biggest return on your investment.
If you have experience with AdWords, then you already know about negative keywords. These are even more important than your keyword list. Keywords bring in relevant traffic; negative keywords block closely related but irrelevant traffic. For example, if your business provides “certified mailbox installation“ to homeowners, negative keywords might include “jobs”, “training”, “guide”, etc. This allows a wide open door for customer traffic while blocking job seekers and do-it-yourselfers. To be honest, Google’s suggested keyword list is a good starting point for finding words Google relates to your business, but may not be your particular audience. AdWords Express does not allow control over negative keywords, so know this upfront and, again, make sure your categories are as tight as they can be.
As a campaign matures, keywords, negative keywords, bids, ads, match types, and sometimes websites themselves should get modified to improve the efficiency of your dollars. A good and experienced AdWords professional will do this, and a lot more. While it certainly has its place in your marketing toolbox, an automated campaign simply cannot do what a human being can.
Not understanding how Paid Search works can cause an business owner to lose money quickly and in more than one way. The new enhanced features of the full version of AdWords set defaults that could cause unintentional spending. You must carefully select all the settings AND re-check them after your initial set-up. You may also notice that AdWords Express offers cross advertising on your website and Google+ page. Make informed decisions when choosing where your advertising dollars are spent.
We have been running Google Paid Search campaigns for a decade. They were called Site-Targeted Advertisements at first, then AdWords. The ins and outs of the way it works can be cumbersome to keep up with. Periodically, Spiral Cities offers free AdWords workshops for those who want to learn how we do it. If you want to DIY, then, be sure to inquire about upcoming classes.