Here are simple steps to take to build an effective website.
What are search engines looking for? How can you build your website in a way that will please both your visitors/customers, as well as Google, Bing, and other search engines? Most importantly, how can SEO help your web presence become more profitable?
During the Introduction to SEO session at SES New York, Carolyn Shelby (@CShel), Director of SEO, Chicago Tribune/435 Digital, fully explained the extreme value SEO can deliver to a site, and stressed the importance of basic SEO using the following analogy:
“Skipping the basics and spending all your time and money on social and ‘fancy stuff’ is the same as skipping brushing your teeth and showering, but buying white strips and wearing expensive cologne,” Shelby said.
Although the Introduction to SEO session was intended for industry newcomers, Shelby’s tips offer important reminders for even experienced SEO professionals who have been optimizing sites for years.
What is SEO, Exactly?
The goal of foundational SEO isn’t to cheat or “game” the search engines. The purpose of SEO is to:
- Create a great, seamless user experience.
- Communicate to the search engines your intentions so they can recommend your website for relevant searches.
1. Your Website is Like a Cake
Your links, paid search, and social media acts as the icing, but your content, information architecture, content management system, and infrastructure act as the sugar and makes the cake. Without it, your cake is tasteless, boring, and gets thrown in the trash.
2. What Search Engines Are Looking For
Search engines want to do their jobs as best as possible by referring users to websites and content that is the most relevant to what the user is looking for. So how is relevancy determined?
- Content: Is determined by the theme that is being given, the text on the page, and the titles and descriptions that are given.
- Performance: How fast is your site and does it work properly?
- Authority: Does your site have good enough content to link to or do other authoritative sites use your website as a reference or cite the information that’s available?
- User Experience: How does the site look? Is it easy to navigate around? Does it look safe? Does it have a high bounce rate?
3. What Search Engines Are NOT Looking For
Search engine spiders only have a certain amount of data storage, so if you’re performing shady tactics or trying to trick them, chances are you’re going to hurt yourself in the long run. Items the search engines don’t want are:
- Keyword Stuffing: Overuse of keywords on your pages.
- Purchased Links: Buying links will get you nowhere when it comes to SEO, so be warned.
- Poor User Experience: Make it easy for the user to get around. Too many ads and making it too difficult for people to find content they’re looking for will only increase your bounce rate. If you know your bounce rate it will help determine other information about your site. For example, if it’s 80 percent or higher and you have content on your website, chances are something is wrong.
4. Know Your Business Model
While this is pretty obvious, so many people tend to not sit down and just focus on what their main goals are. Some questions you need to ask yourself are:
- What defines a conversion for you?
- Are you selling eyeballs (impressions) or what people click on?
- What are your goals?
- Do you know your assets and liabilities?
5. Don’t Forget to Optimize for Multi-Channels
Keyword strategy is not only important to implement on-site, but should extend to other off-site platforms, which is why you should also be thinking about multi-channel optimization. These multi-channel platforms include:
- Offline, such as radio and TV ads
Being consistent with keyword phrases within these platforms will not only help your branding efforts, but also train users to use specific phrases you’re optimizing for.
6. Be Consistent With Domain Names
Domain naming is so important to your overall foundation, so as a best practice you’re better off using sub-directory root domains (example.com/awesome) versus sub-domains (awesome.example.com). Some other best practices with domain names are:
- Consistent Domains: If you type in http://www.example.com, but then your type in just example.com and the “www” does not redirect to http://www.example.com, that means the search engines are seeing two different sites. This isn’t effective for your overall SEO efforts as it will dilute your inbound links, as external sites will be linking to http://www.example.com and example.com.
- Keep it Old School: Old domains are better than new ones, but if you’re buying an old domain, make sure that the previous owner didn’t do anything shady to cause the domain to get penalized.
- Keywords in URL: Having keywords you’re trying to rank for in your domain will only help your overall efforts.
7. Optimizing for Different Types of Results
In addition to optimizing for the desktop experience, make sure to focus on mobile and tablet optimization as well as other media.
- Create rich media content like video, as it’s easier to get a video to rank on the first page than it is to get a plain text page to rank.
- Optimize your non-text content so search engines can see it. If your site uses Flash or PDFs, make sure you read up on the latest best practices so search engines can crawl that content and give your site credit for it.
8. Focus on Your Meta Data Too
- Meta keywords are pretty much ignored by search engines nowadays, but if you still use them, make sure it talks specifically to that page and that it is also formatted correctly.
- Your meta description should be unique and also speak to that specific page. Duplicate meta descriptions from page to page will not get you anywhere.
Title tags should also be unique! Think your title as a 4-8 word ad, so do your best to entice the reader so they want to click and read more.
You should always keep SEO in the forefront of your mind, and always follow best practices. Skipping the basics of SEO will only leave your site’s foundation a mess and prevent you from fully maximizing revenue opportunities.
Source: eMarketer, APR 9, 2013
Small business websites widely seen as most effective marketing technology
Small businesses, frequently strapped for both time and cash, often need their marketing dollars to work double time—using the same resources to attract new business and retain loyal customers.
Online marketing service provider Constant Contact conducted a survey in October 2012 of 1,305 small businesses and nonprofits from its customer base to see how different tactics and channels balanced customer acquisition with customer retention.
Respondents were most likely to say that their website struck an effective balance: 77% said the site was well-suited both to engaging existing customers and attracting new ones. A majority of respondents felt similarly about their blog (69% said it was effective at both tasks) and their social media marketing efforts (60%).
Among the different tactics, the greatest percentage of respondents, 45%, cited email marketing as a customer retention tool, and another 50% said it was effective at both customer acquisition and customer retention. Daily deals and online ads were seen as primarily suited to attracting new customers, although 11% said that daily deals were not effective either at attracting new customers or engaging current ones. Small businesses were also skeptical of social media monitoring tools: 25% said they felt they were not useful for either customer attraction or retention.
Having a mobile-friendly website was also seen as a crucial piece of the puzzle for small businesses: 79% said it was effective at attracting new customers and keeping current ones happy. Another popular mobile marketing option for both new and old customers was accepting mobile orders, although 11% said that it was not useful for either customer segment. Maintaining accurate mobile listings was also seen as an effective marketing tactic, particularly for attracting new customers.
But despite the fact that small businesses were largely optimistic about the effectiveness of online and social media ads, a minority were putting them to use. According to Constant Contact, 29% of respondents ran online ads in October, with another 13% planning to do so in the next six months. On the social media side, 25% were running ads when the survey was conducted, and 18% planned to do so in the near term.
Source: eMarketer, MAR 27, 2013
Retail, travel, entertainment each leaders by different measures
When it comes to website performance, a number of factors need to be considered: How sticky is the content? Are users encouraged to drill deeper into web pages? How much time are they spending per visit? And increasingly important, how well are websites optimized for tablets and smartphones?
A January 2013 study by Adobe examined how various industries’ US websites stacked up in terms of site performance and pinpointed those industries that stood out in certain categories.
When it comes to how long consumers spend on websites, for instance, Adobe found that the top-performing media and entertainment site kept users on the site for about 12 minutes per visit. Although it might not be that surprising that an entertainment site would capture the most user time, it’s interesting to look at the gap between the top-performing media and entertainment site and average site performance, which clocked 8.88 minutes per visit. Adobe noted that adding video and rich media to websites helped boost minutes per visit.
Adobe also examined website stick rates, defined as the percentage of visits that result in more than one web page view. The top-performing financial services site excelled at getting users to drill deeper and click on page links.
Overall, travel and hospitality pages averaged the highest stick rate, while media and entertainment fared worst by this measure. Adobe suggested that stick rate is an important indicator of acquisition and engagement. The more consumers engaged with content, the likelier they were to convert.
More disparity surfaced between the top-performing site vs. average site peformance when it came to tablet and smartphone traffic. According to Adobe, the top-performing site that got the greatest share of traffic from smartphones was again in the media and entertainment category, with top-performing retail sites and travel and hospitality closely trailing behind. The average percent of internet traffic coming from smartphones to these categories was over 10% for each.
When it comes to tablets, retailers, perhaps unsurprisingly, take a fair amount of internet traffic. The top-performing retailer site studied got 13% of internet traffic from tablets. Travel’s top-performing site trailed closely behind, with 12.6% of internet traffic from tablets.
Notably, there was less disparity on tablets between the average performance of sites and the top-performing sites in each industry. Perhaps this is due to brands realizing the likelihood of consumers shopping on their tablet and putting more consistent effort into optimizing for the devices.
Still, the results suggest that the high-tech industry, in particular, could stand to refine its tablet site strategy. Both the top-performing site and the average performance of sites ranked quite low. Although it might not be a highly visited category among tablet users, Adobe found that rich media and videos created better tablet experiences for this industry.
Sites optimized for tablets and smartphones are more likely to encourage mobile purchases, and conversion will be increasingly important on the devices going forward. eMarketer expects US mobile buyers to reach nearly 73 million this year, up 38% from 2012.
26.4% of SMBs cannot be found in online searches because their websites earn a Google Page Rank of zero or have no Google Page Rank,finds vSplash in an audit of 3.9 million US SMB websites. The audit unearthed a series of deficiencies, which the researchers believe translate into a $24.3 billion revenue opportunity for digital media and marketing solutions providers. That’s despite a recent report suggesting that 1 in 2 SMB online marketing service dollars are already being spent on web presence. (For that study, from Borrell Associates, web presence represented $202 billion in spending in 2012, and included such services as website design and management, hosting, and social media management.)
A separate study recently issued by Constant Contact found other discoverability issues with small businesses: half admitted never updating their online listings, and the same proportion had seen inaccurate listings.
Meanwhile, other deficiencies cited by the vSplash study include:
- 94.5% of SMB websites not being mobile optimized;
- 94.6% lacking a Twitter widget on their home page, and 91.2% without a Facebook widget;
- 94.6% lacking an e-commerce shopping cart;
- 93.7% without a contact email address on the home page; and
- 49.4% without a phone number on the home page.