Archive for March, 2005

Branding

Tuesday, March 29th, 2005

Having a web site is no different than having a brick and mortar store. Irrespective of whether you are selling services, products, widgets or yourself, the same principles apply to on-line as brick and mortar with one significant difference and that is time.

If you have a brick and mortar store, once a person actually enters your store then you have at least a little time to make an impression. Having taken the trouble to open the door and step in, they are likely to at least spend a minute or two looking around before they leave. Your decor, your goods and services, your displays and the look and feel of your organization are all factors in that initial impression.

With a web site, the amount of time you have is very limited. Studies show that if you don’t attract a potential clients attention with something within 15 seconds, then they will click away and go elsewhere. Thats like the equivalent of attracting someones attention as they drive passed at 30 miles an hour.

To that end, you have to spend a significant amount of time and your budget working on your home page. This is your store window to the world, and you have to attract your potential clients attention so that they will come in. Once you have got them passed the entry page, your job is a little easier, but those first 15 seconds are crucial. Pay per click campaigns may bring potential clients to your front door, but if you don’t sell your message then the campaign is worse than useless.

Over the next few articles, we will be introducing how you brand your web site and successfully get them into your world. We will talk about colour schemes and how you co-ordinate your site with the product or service you are selling, and we will talk about writing attractive copy.

If you would like a free analysis of your web site, then please contact us and we would happy to advise you.

SEO Keywords - continuing 4

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2005

We have dealt with the categories of visible and sometimes visible text. That only leaves text that is not visible to the user. The two categories of entries here are meta tags and html comments.

Meta tags are largely historical in context. They have been so overdone by people practicing SEO on sites, that they are not given that heavy an emphasis by search engines. That being said, they still have a purpose and can add value. IF they support the visible and sometimes visible text, then there is every reason to believe that they add value. However, if there are keywords or description that don’t support your visible or semi visible text, then there is every reason to believe they are ignored at best, or used to penalize your ranking at worst.

Html comments are a bit of an unknown. I have no positive evidence that they affect ranking one way or another. To that end - play it safe and add some that contain your search keywords but don’t go overboard. If they are supported by visible or sometimes visible text, I don’t see that it will do any harm. If anyone knows anything to the contrary - I would really like to hear from them…..

If you would like an estimate for SEO on your site then contact us

More later……………

SEO Keywords continuing 3

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2005

Last time we talked about the always visible elements on the page, specifically headings and visible text. If you have done a good job, you have ‘threaded’ your key phrase into the headings, title and content and still have excellent copy. It is important to get high rankings on the search engines, but that won’t count if your page copy is gibberish because its stuffed with your key phrase.

Next we will look at the ’sometimes visible’ elements on the page. Specifically these are the ‘alt’ tags on each image, and the text descriptions associated with hyperlinks. I call these ’sometimes visible’ as they only appear after the cursor has been resting over the element for a little while.

The ‘alt’ tag on an image is an alternate description that is loaded if the browser has its image loading turned off. This used to be important when people surfed the web using slow modems, but these days, hardly anyone has their image loading turned off. This gives us an excellent opportunity to put content into the page that can be loaded with our key phrase.

Again, be aware that the ‘alt’ tag description will show if the cursor is left over that image for any length of time, so you still have to write good copy, but as its an image description, there is a little more latitude than with visible copy.

The same is true for hyperlinks. There is an optional elemt called ‘title’ that again only shows when the cursor moves over the hyperlink, and is really designed to give the user a bit more information about the hyperlink.

Great! - another place for us to put our key phrase. Again, its worth repeating that this text is still visible, so don’t go overboard, but some creative writing should allow you to do some threading.

If you would like a free estimate for SEO on your site then contact us

More later……

SEO keywords - continuing 2

Sunday, March 20th, 2005

Having carefully selected your keyword phrase - now its time to start ‘threading’ it into your web pages.

A number of years ago - it was simply a matter of entering it into your meta tags under keywords and away you went. Not so anymore!

Search engines providers such as Google are in the business of trying to deliver relevant content to their customers. To that end, for them to be successful, they need to have proprietary algorithms that they use to rank pages for particular search phrases. Those algorithms are continually being revised and are a ‘trade secret’ of that search engine.

When you optimise a page, really what you are doing is trying to guess how the search engine’s algorithm will ’score’ your page, and do everything you can do to increase that score. Each search engine is different, and having a page that works well for Google will not necessarily work as well for Yahoo or MSN. What we are going to do is talk about some general optimisation techniques that will help your page relevance, but discussion of full optimisation is much more complex. If you want a detailed review of any of your pages, then contact us and we will be happy to provide one for you.

The HTML page consists of three levels of information.

  • Always visible content
  • Sometimes visible content
  • Never visible content

Visible content consists of items such as page title, headings, page verbiage and hyperlink text.

Sometimes visible content consists of items such as image tags and hyperlink titles.

Never visible content consists of items such as meta tags.

These days, the search engines are paying much more attention to visible content, than either sometimes visible or invisible. Don’t ignore these categories, but spend your time on the visible content for best results.

Page title

This is a key element for most search engines. You should try to ensure that the words contained in your keyphrase are threaded into this page title. Again, remember that this is something that will be viewed on search engine result lists and also in browser windows, so try to make it a good marketing phrase as well. Keep the title relatively short.

Headings

Most search engines consider headings to be more important than plain page text. They also consider H1 headings to be more important than H4 headings. Try to thread your key phrase into a heading somewhere in the page, preferably close to the top. Don’t go overboard with this, as the search engines will also be looking at the ratio of heading text to plain text and will most likely penalize you if your whole page is a heading.

Plain text

You need to strike a balance here. It is important that your key phrase is contained in the boy of the plain text of the page, but too much can get you penalized. A reasonably good guideline is to ‘thread’ it into the content twice or three times. Also remember that this is your marketing copy too, so ensure that the insertion of your key phrase doesn’t mess up your copy.

If you would like a free estimate for SEO on your site then contact us

More later……

SEO keywords continued

Saturday, March 19th, 2005

In the last segment we talked about relevant keyword phrases, so at this point you have two or three phrases that you think might work well for your site.

The next step is to check out those keyphrases.

Open up your favourite browser and go to the search page of the search engine that you are trying to optimise for. Type in the keyphrase that you want to check and run the search.

You will get back a list of results. Make note of the following:

  • The words that were actually used for the search
  • The number of pages returned

Rinse and repeat for each of your potential keyphrases.

What you now have for each of your keyphrases is a list of the relevant words that need to be ‘woven’ into the elements of your web pages, and also the number of index entries that you are competing against.

At this point, you need to look at the number of index entries - if this number is in the tens or hundreds of millions, then you really need to revisit the keyphrase, as it probably isn’t specific enough. You have to think of all of the pages listed as your competition, and if you can’t get on the first two or three pages of the search, then for you, that seach phrase just isn’t going to be effective.

You can also page through the search results until they start to lose relevance. Search engines sort pages, with what they regard as the most relevant at the top. They may well have 20 million entries for your search phrase, but after the first 60, when you look at them, they really don’t seem to make sense. That is because the search engine found some or all of your search terms in each document, but it was more a random collection of the occurrance of the words than the page targetting that subject. If you find very few really relevant pages, then you have a good search key phrase.

This could take some time to do, but its time well spent. If you choose your key phrase well, then even partial page optimization will reap excellent rewards. If you choose badly, then you can optimise the page completely, and not manage to get any results.

If you would like a free estimate for SEO on your site then contact us

Coming up next - we get into page optimisation…..

SEO - keywords

Friday, March 18th, 2005

When you look at search engine optimisation for a site, probably the most important thing to think about are what keyphrases you want to be found under in the search engines.

If you are selling widgets, then it really won’t help you if you get a high listing for another search term, as its not relevant.

Its also important to be very selective about your keywords and phrases. If you decide to target the phrase ‘toronto’, then you are going to have an uphill climb, as there must be thousands or potentially millions of sites that are indexed for that term. When you are faced with stiff competition for a keyword, then unless you want to spend the rest of your life optimising the site, the chances are that you will be so far down the index, that a potential customer will need a microscope to find you.

So - get specific. Try to put yourself in your customers shoes and ask the question:

If I was looking for whatever it is I sell - then what phrase would I put into the search bar?

Write the phrase down and think about it a bit more. Can I refine it and come up with something even more specific that works?

Once you are happy, try to think of a second keyphrase.

Done that? Ok, now you stop.

You can optimise a site for a two or three keyphrases, but unless you are a word smith superhero that is pretty much your limit. If you try to optimise for more than that - all you will do is end up making a poor job of all of them.

The next thing to start thinking about is how you ‘thread’ your keyphrases into your content.

We’ll talk more about that later….

If you would like a free estimate for SEO on your site then contact us

Blogging and who cares

Friday, March 18th, 2005

What the heck is a blog?

First thought is that its a nasty rash that is only cured by expensive medicine, and that is partially true. The proliferation of blogs over the last couple of years can certainly be seen as a nasty rash - but the nice thing is that you don’t have to view them if you don’t want, and they can be very useful is a lot of circumstances,

First of all - what is a blog - well the full term for it is a web log, and basically its an on-line diary - just like the one that you kept in high school. It can contain pretty much anything you want, from a continual diatribe about your adventures in the himalayas, through to much more specific information related to business of various shapes and forms. There are blogs set up by Microsoft employees talking about the latest goings on in the Redmond VA operation that plans to take over the world through to political blogs talking about the latest escapade of your favourite senator or presidential candidate.

The growth in blogs has been exponential over the last couple of years, and now its considered a mainstream activity. It has left the realm of personal egotism and has become a network for publishing anything about anyone.

Ok - so far so good - you proceed to set up a web log account somewhere or you add one to your web site, and start spilling your on-line guts out - what good does it do and how the heck does anyone every find out about it.

There are services out there and the nice thing is that they are free that will publish the details of your on-line meanderings. Most of the web log sofware quite happily interfaces with these and will assist in the publishing of your on-line gems, and then all people have to to is to add the feed to their browser and every time you update your blog, they get the latest news.

Ok great - so now there is a way of publishing these words of wisdom, but again - when the rubber hits the road - what good does it do? Well that is totally up to you. You now have a method available to you to get your message out, whatever that message may be. Whether its a slightly acidic view on the current state of technology or whether its a way of collaborating with your client base, its a very effective way of communicating.

Lets say you are a retail sales trade association - and are considering a new program. In a conventional arena you could send out a survey to find out whether its workable. Why not test fly the concept on your blog? It is a hell of a lot cheaper than a survey and also you get cross fertilization from people commenting on both your original concept and any comments made about it. You are obviously opening yourself up to comments that aren’t helpful, but most blog software allows moderation of the comments, so no skin lost there.

What about using it for organizational news? No need to go for expensive web-site updates - simply post the articles on your blog.

The uses are endless and are only limited by your imagination.

Blogging is a fast and effective way of communicating. The technology is fairly straighforward, and can be implemented at a very low cost (or if you are handy free). The potential uses are endless, so why haven’t you got a blog?

E-mail - has it lost its way?

Thursday, March 17th, 2005

Judging by the number of unrequested e-mails that arrive in my inbox everytime I log on, the world is filled with hustlers trying to sell me everything from cheap drugs to cheap mortgages to highly dubious sex toys. It is an avalanche of garbage, which very quickly gets consigned to the waste bin. I’ve set up e-mail rules to filter some of this out - but still there is a significant amount that creeps through and clogs up my in-basket.

There are the get rich schemes that seem to be originating in Nigeria, where someone has found my esteemed name and would like to give me a million dollars for helping them free up a ridiculous amount of money trapped in some backwater regime.

There are the viruses - at least two a day that my virus scanner does a pretty decent job of catching, and to be safe, I never open an attachment these days without scanning it.

Which brings me back to the starting point - has e-mail lost its way?

Certainly it has become as much of a pain to sort through e-mails as it does having your fax machine clogged up by cheap travel offers, or all of the unsolicited garbage that drops through your mail slot. Personally, I find it even more invasive than the hard copy material - at least with that, someone had to spend money to create flyers and the post office staff are gainfully employed delivering it. Junk e-mail just sets my teeth grating, and when the next poorly spelled missive manages to sneak passed my e-mail rules, the delete key takes significant punishment.

SPAM legislation seemed to have a short run effect with the volumes dropping significantly for a short while, but they seem to be back to the epidemic proportions that pre-dated this legislation.

So is e-mail a legitmate marketing tool any more?

The answer to that is a qualified yes. The statistics still show that e-mail campaigns are cost-effective ways of getting your message out but like any other marketing campaign - you have to be selective and targeted. If you mass e-mail everyone on the planet with a broadcast about your product, then quite frankly you deserve to be locked up in a rubber room with the sounds of Lawrence Welk being played 24 hours a day.

When you create your e-mail campaign, you have to decide who your target audience should be, and craft your message to that audience. The more focussed your target audience is, the higher your chances of getting your message over. Purchasing e-mail lists from on-line sources is not a way to go here. While I’m sure there are some reputable vendors of this information, I certainly haven’t found them.

Our sources are usually taken from information we have gathered from our web-sites. At least that way we know that there is some degree of interest, and we’ll be discussing how you capture that infomation in a later article.

Next - you have to get through the junk filters. The first rule is that you send one e-mail to one person. If you have to buy software to enable you to do this, then go ahead, but the fastest way to kill a program is by sending one e-mail to multiple recipients. I won’t guarantee success with any campaign - but by breaking this rule - I’ll guarantee failure.

The next obstacle is to attract attention, and here is where your subject line comes in. You probably have a total of 40 characters to get your message across and make someone want to open that e-mail. There are two things that you need to do here - firstly you have to identify your organization and the second is to show WIFT (whats in it for them). Short and sweet - once you get the person to open the e-mail you are more than half way home.

We will continue this later!

Canadian eh?

Thursday, March 17th, 2005

The news is buzzing with the conviction of WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers, and there is some very negative spin on the fact that he came from Canada. Couple this with the recent hiccups at Nortel, and the ongoing fall-out from the various political inquiries into governmental slush funds, and some serious questions are being raised about the ‘ethics’ of Canadian business and government.

As you sit and listen to the testimony at the various inquires and trials, you really do start to wonder what the term ‘an honest days work for an honest days pay’ means these days. It would seem that when working in PR for the Government of Canada in certain areas, it has meant as little as possible for as much as possible as long as you have the right connections.

Magna is another example, with the CEO drawing down $54 million dollars in compensation for the last years effort. While there isn’t a whisper of any wrong doing at Magna, if my math is correct then Stronach is getting paid nearly $15,000 an hour if he works 12 hours a day, 6 days a week for 52 weeks a year. It is no wonder that car parts are so damned expensive!

Since Sarbanes Oxley, the level of ‘acceptable deniability’ has certainly been curtailed, and the ‘I didn’t know’ excuse simply isn’t washing anymore, but that only applies to publicly held companies that do business in the USA. Governments are not held accountable in the same way, and even though the Auditor General has done some sterling work, there is nothing on the books that allows for locking away senior elected officials for the types of activities that would make even the most hardened fraud artists blush.

Is Canada corrupt?

I sincerely hope not, and I can certainly show plenty of examples of ethical companies providing excellent value for fair compensation, but its a pretty slippery slope and you can make the case that there is too much sliding going on.

CSS and associated tunes

Tuesday, March 15th, 2005

Cascading Style Sheets provide an excellent way for easily controlling the look and feel of web sites, but as with most things, moderation is the key.

There is a trend that is emerging where the CSS is being used to fully control the format and presentation aspects of the site, and the HTML is nothing more than text, with lots of id’s to allow the stylesheet to do its work. I’ve seen some absolutely wonderful sites developed this way - but have my reservations.

The biggest issue with developing a web-site is cross browser support, and in my humble opinion, the cross browser support for stylesheets is still far from perfect. I’ve tried the seperation of format from content using CSS, but am still finding that the ’site degradation’ when you start hitting the browser differences is far more dramatic than using a conventional table driven approach.

When it goes wrong, it goes wrong in spades!

To that end, I think a policy of moderation is still in effect, where tables serve their uses and so do stylesheets and for the forseeable future it will remain that way.

Rip offs

Tuesday, March 15th, 2005

Running a small web-development business can be eye-opening. As part of the marketing, you look around to see what the competition is doing, to get ideas as to where the market is going and the quality of the work out there.

What seems to be happening is that there is an aweful lot of franchise operations that are hooking clients into a closed development loop. The sites are developed and hosted on the web-development companies own own servers, and usuallly use 3rd world development resources.

Bottom line is the client is then trapped - they don’t have the source for their sites and due to ignorance have no idea that they are being ’serviced’ by being asked to drop em and bend over.

Is this where our industry is going?

I sincerely hope not, but there is no doubt that there is a significantly growing community out there that is doing exactly that. The major thrust of these companies is selling franchises that ‘market’ web development to small businesses. The franchisees do the leg work and capture the clients, who are passed through a formula process with development being outsourced to the third world. The results are pretty variable, as the customer sites pass through multiple hands and multiple continents.

I guess that the small independants are behind the eight ball on this one, as they don’t have the marketing resources to reach a larger audience, whereas these franchise operations have been very clever in that they get an increasing sales force, and not only that - they get paid by each saleperson - boy talk about getting your cake and eating it too!!

I’d like to find out what others opinions of this approach are, especially if there are any clients of these large web franchises, or francisees for that matter.

Search Engines - Friend or Foe

Tuesday, March 15th, 2005

The numbers of people that use search engines is absolutely mind-boggling, but for the small business operator is there anyway to get a relevant listing on any of the engines without paying through the nose?

You can certainly optimise your site for search engine spiders, add the robots.txt file and load it with good content - but is that enough?

That is enough that if you get noticed, then the search engine spiders won’t object to your site, and will probably come back and visit on a reasonably regular basis, but will it get you a high listing……….NO.

Are there any approaches that work?
Is there anything that you can do with a small budget?

We would be interested in hearing from personal experience.

Welcome

Tuesday, March 15th, 2005

Are you looking for answers on web development or just want to comment on the state of the web universe? Come on it and make yourself known.

Over the next little while we will be posting topics for discussion, so feel free to have your say.

Some posting rules though:

No flaming
No obscenity

Those will get posts cut straight away

Other than that - have fun and be creative!