Thursday, April 20, 2006

SEO: My Secret To Handling Link Exchange Requests

One thing for today: locate the delete key on your keyboard. Yes, my secret to handling link exchange requests is to delete them, 999 times out of 1000.

If you don't delete them, be very careful about which ones you accept. Linking to anyone and everyone is a recipe for trouble. Search engines have a low opinion of certain types of site, especially those offering bulk email (spam) software, illegal online gambling, unlicensed pharmacies, etc.

Even if you aren't linking to one of these directly, chances are that a lot of the folks you are getting link exchange requests from are doing so. Linking to a site that links to a bad-guy site is little better than linking to them directly.

When I take new students into my coaching program, one of the first things I look at is any link exchanges they may be doing. About one out of three is either linking to "bad" sites directly, or linking to many other websites that do so. While we can't prove that this is harmful, long experience tells me that it does more harm than good, and the search engines tell us the same thing.

With reciprocal links largely discounted or ignored by search engines these days, what's the point in chasing link exchanges? In terms of the best way to use your time, the delete key is probably the way to go. Make sure you know where it is.

One thing I owe you from last week: Using htaccess to redirect from example.com to www.example.com

Thursday, April 13, 2006

SEO: Where's Your Home Page?

Okay, one quick thing for today that a lot of sites have gotten wrong. Start by answering this simple question: What's the URL for your home page?

Your answer is probably something like http://www.example.com/

Okay, now go look at your website. I'm sure you have lots of links to your home page from all over the site. There should be one on every page, right? Now, answer the next question - is the URL those links point to the same as your answer above?

Or are you linking to something like:
  • http://www.example.com/index.html
  • http://www.example.com/index.php
  • http://www.example.com/index.asp
  • http://www.example.com/index.cfm
If you are using one of the above instead of linking to the shorter URL (http://www.example.com/), you need to fix that. I can hear people out there shouting "but it's the same thing!" No, it's not the same thing... it's the same content, that you are showing at more than one URL. It's duplicate content, to the search engines, and you are the one who is linking to it so they can find it.

Pick one URL for your home page, and link to it consistently throughout your website. If you need a programmer to modify your shopping cart or content management system, maybe that's just what you have to do.

If that sounds like a major ordeal, you have another option, which is to set up a permanent redirect from http://www.example.com/index.html or whatever to http://www.example.com/ - on an Apache server, this can be handled through a .htaccess file; I won't get into too much detail here on how to set up the .htaccess file, but the entry should look something like this:

redirect permanent /index.html http://www.example.com/

This issue comes up most often with content management systems and shopping carts, but it can also happen with a lot of WYSIWYG design tools like Dreamweaver. In some cases, it's not just the home page links that are a problem, but all of the links, for example where:
  • http://www.example.com/articles/
    delivers the same content as
  • http://www.example.com/articles/index.html
    and you are linking to the latter version
Part of the configuration of your web server is which filename contains the Directory Index - if it's index.html, then you don't need to put /index.html into your URLs.

So there you go, one thing for today - clean up those URLs and links. Tomorrow I'll talk about some other duplicate content issues, and how to use .htaccess to clean them up.

If you would like an expert to look over your site and give you a "to do list" for technical issues and improving your on-site search engine optimization, I offer a low-cost site review and SEO consultation package. Check it out if you need help, in my humble opinion it's the best deal in the business.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

SEO: Are Your Title Tags OK?

Today's post is a good example of what happens if you aren't playing the game right. Instead of posting first, I checked my email.... and I never got free all day long to just write a post. The funny thing is, I actually answered two emails with questions about title tags today, when I could have just referred them to this post. Funny. Not really.

One thing for today - if you aren't making the most of the title tags on your web site, you are losing out on search engine traffic. There are just a few things you need to know, to do this right:
  • Every page of unique content on your site should have a unique title tag (and one unique URL, by the way). Having 500 pages that are titled "Welcome!" or "Catalog" invites the search engines to filter them out as duplicate content.

  • Page titles should contain keywords describing the page - ideally, the title tag should make sense if you used it in a link to the page - in other words, the title should tell the visitor what they're getting on the page. If you aren't using relevant keywords for a page in the title, expect less search engine traffic, from lower rankings.

  • Building on that last point, did you know that searchers are more likely to click on a link (in paid ads or organic listings) if the link includes the search terms they just typed? This effect is amplified by search engines like Google that apply bold formatting when the search terms appear on the search results page (SERP). If you aren't using keywords in page titles, expect less search engine traffic, because fewer searchers will click on your listing.

  • Speaking of rankings, did you know that you can only expect the search engines to index the first 10 words in the title tag for ranking purposes? Stuffing 50 keywords into the page title won't help you at all, and it will annoy more than a couple of visitors. 10 words, that's the size of the canvas you get to paint on.

  • Speaking of SERPs, did you know that you can only expect Google to display about 65 characters from your title tag on the search results page? (Yahoo will display about twice as many). If your keywords appear after character number 65, regardless of the number of words you're using, don't expect the keywords to be visible on the SERP, and expect a lower click-through rate.

  • Unless your brand name is especially valuable, you may be better off putting the company name last in the title tag, rather than first. If you're Amazon.com, you probably get a higher click-through rate from a title like "Amazon - The Da Vinci Code : Books : Dan Brown." If you're Fred's Internet Book Emporium, you may want something like "The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown - free shipping @ Fred's Books" instead.
If you do nothing else with today's tip, at least make sure you're using unique titles on every page.

Shameless Plug: If you're finding this series helpful, but would like to get things done more quickly than "one thing a day," please consider joining me in my upcoming "SEO Your Site" teleclass beginning April 25th. We will do a complete review of every student's web site, and spend 10 weeks getting your site into shape. Register by April 15th for the best price.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Analytics: If You Aren't Measuring, You're Wasting Your Time

If you aren't measuring and analyzing what visitors do on your web site, you aren't really running a web site. Oh sure, you have a website, but you aren't managing it unless you're measuring what happens, and taking action to improve your website's performance.

One thing for today: if you don't have any kind of analytics program in place, do something about it. In fact, if you're playing the "box of dreams" game with me, just forget about pulling anything from that box until you've got some way to measure success.

This is essential, folks! It's not optional. It's not something to do some day in the future. In the "future," I will have a flying car and a robot maid. Today, I need to know what visitors are doing on my website so that I'll be able to afford all that cool stuff when the future actually gets here.

How can knowing what happens on your website lead you to that promised land of flying cars? Well, here are just a few things you will be able to do once you start measuring:
  • Identify important search terms from your organic and pay-per-click campaigns, and create a feedback loop so that your SEO campaign tells you what to add to your PPC campaign, and your PPC campaign tells you what your priorities should be for SEO. This translates to acquiring more targeted traffic to your web site.
  • Measure the performance of key pages on your web site, using key performance indicators (KPIs) like the bounce rate from your home page, the conversion rate from your landing pages, the opt-in rate for your email newsletter, etc. When you can measure these things, you can test different ideas to see if your KPIs improve.
  • Analyze visitor behavior, to see which links visitors click. This can help identify navigation and usability issues, but it also gives you a clearer picture of what visitors want. This allows you to give them more of what they want (and make it easier to find). The result of this activity should be increases in the average time on site and page views per visit, which should translate to a higher conversion rate.
  • By measuring and managing to a set of key performance indicators, you can develop a clear direction for the long term and short term management of your web site. Every incremental improvement you make adds to the others you have made. The cumulative effect can easily mean tripling or quadrupling your profitability within a few months.
In my free keyword strategy video, I discuss different ways to use testing and analytics to improve the performance of your website's search engine marketing campaigns.

When you start measuring and testing, you will begin to see that small changes can lead to big results. Andy Jenkins of Yahoo Store Profits showed me how changing the wording on his free shipping offer from "free shipping on all orders" to "we pay for your shipping" led to a substantial boost in sales.

You can see Andy's Tapestry Standard store for more examples of little things that lead to big increases in conversion and sales. Those 3-D tapestry pictures aren't there because they're pretty, they are there because people buy more products when they see the product in 3 dimensions. There's no way he could have done any of this without a good analytics and testing program in place.

In terms of getting started, you have a couple of choices:
At this time, I am suggesting IndexTools (tagging) or Clicktracks (log files) for most of my students. My personal preference is to use page tagging rather than log file analysis, because I believe that it works better for tracking visitor sessions. Most page tagging solutions do involve monthly subscriptions and fees, but when you factor in your time/labor, the overall cost of ownership is comparable to logfile-based solutions.

I will continue to post about analytics and conversion as the "one thing a day" series continues, but don't worry, my next post will take us back to the familiar world of SEO. For now, let me suggest a few good resources and let you get on with the rest of your day:
Watch this space.

Shameless Plug: If you're finding this series helpful, but would like to address specific challenges you're experiencing with SEO, SEM, conversion, or other topics, I offer private one-on-one coaching. It's just $495 for the first month, and $395 per month thereafter. What do you get? A weekly conference call with a small group of other students, up to two hours of one-on-one time with me each month, and access to our private website with a huge library of recorded video trainings. Start any time, quit any time, and keep your private site access for a full year.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Conversion: Make Your Links Work Harder

In my experience as a consultant and coach to a lot of hard-working people, one of the most common issues is the poor use of internal links. There's one thing you can do today that will improve your web site's profitability - make your links work harder.

Since I'm trying to give you ideas that you can act on quickly, with immediate results, I will start with the one thing that has proven to be worthwhile time and time again. This is by no means the only thing you can do to get more out of your internal links, but it is by far the easiest to implement, and we've never failed to improve results by doing it.

Here it is, the big idea: If you want visitors to click on a link, then you want the link to appear blue, and underlined. That's not even a link, but I bet most readers either moused over it, or tried to click on it.

If you have used a stylesheet or other methods to change the appearance of the links on your web pages, so that they are no longer blue and underlined, you are probably losing a lot of visitors in the process.

Sometimes, it's okay to make links look different - maybe you don't really think the links to your privacy policy, terms of service, etc. are that important. Maybe you have a drop-down menu or Explorer-style tree navigation system, that is easy enough to use. Fine. Your decision, but you might want to test* whether standard-issue links perform better.

But if you have links within the actual body copy of a web page, the only way that you can expect visitors to see your links and click on them is if they actually look like a link. Anything else is folly. Sorry, web design "artistes," but it's a fact. It's been shown time and again in eye-tracking studies that the visitor's eye is drawn to blue underlined links.

*How to test the results:
If you are using an analytics package like Clicktracks, Google Analytics, or Indextools, you can prove that blue links work better by looking for an increase in the number of people clicking on links. With Clicktracks, this is very easy to see visually, but any analytics application should allow you to measure the average page views per visitor.

Why is this such an important statistic? Based on my experience, with thousands of website tests, just about everything we've done that improved our overall conversion rate also increased the average number of page views per visitor. After seeing this play out time and time again, I realized that I could get a good idea of whether a change was helping simply by watching the page views.

So go ahead, check your stats, and write down the average page views per visitor from the last week. Then go make your links blue, and check again in a week. Did the number rise? Did it fall? Do you have enough visitors to make a week long test meaningful? If you have fewer than 1000 unique visitors per week, you will want to look at 2 weeks, 3 weeks, or more.

If you aren't using any kind of analytics program today, and you can't tell how many pages your average visitor is seeing, then you have a bigger problem. I will address that tremendous calamity in my next post, on Monday April 10 if not sooner.

One of these days, I'll also talk about another important factor in making your links work harder - using the right words in the text of the link. Like many things I'll talk about, this affects usability and conversion as well as search engine positioning.

How You Can Help: Folks, I do this stuff because I want to help people... but I do have to make a living too. You can help me out by telling your friends about this blog, my newsletter, and my training and coaching programs. If someone you know is lost in the search engine marketing wilderness, don't leave them hanging, send 'em here to get some help.

New Beginning, 1 day at a time

This post represents a new beginning for the SEO coach blog. It's been months since my last post, and it's time to get back in the saddle. My intent for this blog remains the same: to provide practical, actionable advice for people trying to make the most out of their websites, with a focus on SEO and search engine marketing.

Today, I am beginning a series of posts with a very simple concept. One post a day, with one simple idea, one thing you can do that day to make your web site and marketing perform better. Sometimes it will just be about SEO, or just about PPC, but I will also talk about a lot of other things like conversion, email marketing, etc.

Here we go...

Today, I want you to think for a moment about all the things you haven't been doing. All the things you've meant to do, but haven't actually done. All the good ideas, all the post-it notes, the action items, the to-do lists. Grab yourself a box, or a bin, or a file folder, or something, and chuck them all in there. Whenever you get an idea, and notice that the post-it is still on the monitor a couple weeks later, chuck it in there. For fun, we'll call this repository your box of dreams.

Now, let's play a little game. Since you now have room on your monitor for a new post-it note, go ahead and write one that says "grab hold of your dreams."

Every morning, before you check your email, grab one thing out of the box of dreams, and think about how long it would take to do something with it. If you can do it right away, just do it. If you can't, then you have a choice to make. You can put it back into the box and pull another one out, or you can check this blog for something short, sweet, and simple that will make your world a better place.

Then you just do it. Do one thing, first thing in the morning. I don't care how you do it. If you don't like post-its, you can print the blog post at the end of the day and put it on top of your keyboard so you remember to do it in the morning. You can unplug your mouse and wrap the printout around it.

Your first one-a-day is already posted. Get to it. :D