To SEO or Not to SEO

SEO has become somewhat of a buzz word in the web industry. People want more SEO, better SEO, optimized SEO. SEO means Search Engine Optimization, by the way, so if you’re asking for optimized SEO that proves you really don’t know what you’re asking for. The difficulty with SEO is finding the balance between SEO for the sake of the search engines and SEO that fits with the useability of a website.

Too often I see sites that have seemingly random blocks of text that feel disjointed from the content of the site. They do not blend or flow and often they contain unnecessary links. This is all for SEO. They are writing to fool the search engines into thinking it is worthwhile content. For the user, though, it is garbage. It is often bland and doesn’t make sense. What’s worse is when someone puts the exact same bland, disjointed text on every page.

So how do you make effective SEO for both search engines and the user?

First you need to understand what works with the ugly SEO. It’s the magic combination of long and short tail keywords blended into sentences. It’s also the structure of the code to have proper h1, h2, h3 and p tags.

Now that you understand what works in the ugly SEO, how do you get it into your site?

The simple answer is to re-write your content or add content where you don’t have any. The long answer is that you should look at you Google Analytics (or other analytics software) to identify the keywords that people are using to get to your site and to figure out what you think are keywords that are not driving traffic. If you sell and install ceiling fans, but more people are coming to your site for other electrician services, you need to modify your text to sprinkle in more about your ceiling fan services and less about electrical services. You also need to be aware of what page you are adding text to. If you are on the contact page, it should not revolve around parts & repair. If it is a product page, it should be about the product first and foremost and offer an install service as an addendum.

Once you have engaging, keyword oriented content that matches what a page is about, you need to figure out if you can add relevant internal links. For example, if you’re on a brand page showcasing all of your fans from Black & Decker (do they even sell fans?), sprinkle in links to sub categories (white, black, wood…) or specific product pages. Also, add in links to contact and installation services, but remember it should not be the primary content.

When it comes to the hierarchy on the code side, this might require a little more technical skill. This is also an area where the impact is highly varied. The best way to explain hierarchy is to think of it like a newspaper. What’s at the top is usually your headline. It does not need to be huge, but it is usually larger and bolder. Typically this is also the page title and it goes in something called an h1 tag. The sub headlines go into h2 and h3 tags. While you can extend the h tags out as far as you want, anything more than h3/h4 is highly atypical. Usually after h3, start using paragraph (p) tags to identify the main content of your body.

SEO does not have to be difficult and it does not require a special media degree, however, finding a good balance can be tricky. If you feel so inclined and have the money to do so, hire someone, but make sure that your objectives are clear and that you understand what they will be doing to your site to make it SEO friendly.

No One Cares About Your Staff Page.

Seriously. Too many companies put too heavy of a focus on the staff page of their website.  I’m not saying that a staff page is a completely useless and bad thing.  They do serve a purpose and can be helpful for a lot of reasons.  There are theories out there about people liking to see smiling faces– to connect with the world around them and know who they are dealing with.

Doctors offices & other healthcare professions and smaller companies all tend to see the most benefit from a staff page because it is a smaller group to understand and conceptualize how they work and interact.  Bands typically have a modified staff page or “bio” section because people want the connection to the band.  For these, they are warranted.

The problem comes in when you spend more time worrying about who is on your staff page and making sure they all have photos that look the same/similar than you do on your more critical targets, like sales and lead conversion.  If you update your staff page photos more often than the content of your site, you’re probably spending too much time.  Sure, you want it to be accurate and not show people who have moved on or been let go, but updating it whenever Sally gets her hair cut or your service team gets new polos is missing the point.

You need to make sure the focus still on your purpose, whatever that is.

CTAs

In the world of conversions and web design, it is important to understand the impact of a call to action (CTA).

First, we need to understand an ordinary, run of the mill link vs. a call to action.

Yes, both are, in fact, links and means of driving traffic deeper into your site. Yes, both can be great for SEO, especially if they are linked in the right means and effectively steer traffic in a way that will convert. They are not the same, however, and should not be considered interchangeable.

A standard link is typically text based and can be in the navigation or embedded as a hyperlink within a block of text. A standard link can also look like a button made either graphically or through advanced CSS. It hold the hierarchy of being another way to enter the site but it may not necessary entice or engage.

A call to action, however, is typically a more stylized button (or in some cases a graphic) that does entice. It is a link that asks you to do something– it wants you to click it and go further, become more and read on.

What makes a good call to action is the purpose and intent. Not every link on a site can be a CTA. If it is, you lose the hierarchy in the message and things become muddy—your users don’t know what is important because everything is important. Depending on your media, you should feature a few CTAs. If there is a slideshow on the front page, switch it up. For example, if you have having a sale on sweaters prompt visitors to “Shop Now!” Then if you are featuring the latest collection of tennis shoes, ask them to “see what’s new.” It is about creating the effect of engagement beyond “click here,” or “go.”

Even in your forms you can elevate the interaction from a simple link response like “submit” to something more engaging like “get it now!”
CTAs can be extended beyond your website as well. Think about your social media. Have you ever posted a photo and then just put in “view our site” with the URL? Think about this… If you post a photo of the latest hockey stick available in your store, promoted by the biggest sniper in the league, which would possibly engage more:

  • View Site >>
  • Learn More >>
  • Snipe Like a Pro>>

Chances are any might bring you a few clicks but are they qualified? The CTA that is more likely to get you the most clicks is the last version. It triggers a deeper action and meaning by playing on both the product and emotion. Hockey players want to be snipers– they like to go bar-down over the glove, pop the water bottle or dangle with a between the legs toe drag to the back hand – and this will make them a sniper.

If you’re a band, you can ask anyone to view your calendar, tour dates or buy tickets, but what if you asked them to “reserve their experience” or “get with the program?”

And it can be carried to print media too. Instead of simply saying "go to…" ask them to "get involved" or otherwise participate in the experience that is your website or your store even.

Again, a good call to action goes beyond the mundane link. It needs to succinctly create a false sense of need or demand from your user. It is not simply “click here” or “go now” or “learn more.” It needs to engage, entice and stand out. When it does, your users will respond by converting on your call to action. They will stay on your site longer and potentially send in a contact form or make a purchase.

Responsive vs. Mobile vs. App

To know what is going to suit your need best, it is a good idea to understand how your site works and how people are most using your product. In this article, I will discuss some of the pros and cons of each.

Responsive:

Responsive design gives a more seamless integration of the website’s user experience interface and retains your organic website’s SEO strategy. You no longer have to build pages multiple times to fit multiple devices or write special java scripts to handle recognition of other devices and re-direct accordingly. By using responsive design, you also don’t have to worry about missing or leaving out content on a mobile site because it doesn’t look right.  The website will automatically re-configure based on a device’s screen size and/or resolution.

The down side is designing responsively is tedious and time consuming. It also requires quite a bit of testing while developing and a knowledge of advanced website technologies, such as HTML5. While many people herald the use of Bootstrap which can save time in some instances, it is not necessary. Understanding, however, how Bootstrap works and has become popular can be very helpful in the build of the site. Additionally, if you are transitioning an older site into responsive design, you need to transition all of your internal content. If you neglect to do this, the internal pages will not play nice.

From an SEO standpoint, responsive can also be difficult for those that are used to tracking mobile visitors specifically on the mobile platform. Luckily, Google Analytics and similar systems are becoming more adept at tracking the data across different devices.  The upside for SEO is that you only have to have one strategy because you only have one site.  The site will search and respond on a mobile device just like it would on a traditional site.

Mobile Specific:

Mobile specific sites are still very popular and common. They can be easy to build & set up and java scripts are readily available for plug-n-play use to re-direct if a mobile user is detected. Mobile specific sites, more often than not, are streamlined versions of a full site. For example, if you visit a doctor’s website it may have 60+ pages of information, content about the physicians and services, but the mobile version may only contain an overview of the doctors practicing out of that office, hours, directions and contact info.

The upside, if set-up correctly, is the ease of information distribution. If you are a band, maybe you only need a few photos/videos, links to your social media and your tour schedule. More advanced sites like ESPN put it all out there. The down side is that you have to duplicate all of your content.  The more site depth you have, the more information you have to build again.There can also be the upside of more specific tracking metrics, but this point is debatable.

Mobile Application:
This is an option that is falling off in popularity as more developers become adept at integrating web content into either responsive or mobile specific sites. The mobile application functions much like any other mobile app that would be downloaded to your phone– it is a program.

The positives for a mobile application really depends on what you are delivering. If it functions more as an interactive or social tool, then it can be good idea. However, if the function is solely to distribute the content that is already on your website without any significant extra benefit, then this may not be the best option.

Another thing to consider along the same lines of content distribution is cost. Most app developers charge a fee– one time, monthly, every update, etc. If you are not providing content beyond what you could deliver in a simpler format, why spend the money? Plus, sometimes you have to tell all your users to update; the company distributing it won’t do it for you, which can be a hassle and user turn-off.

And what about SEO?  If a person is using your mobile application, they are not converting on your website.  They may still be converting, but to what extent?  Does your mobile application have advanced analytics to understand and track a user’s interactions to be able to determine ROI?

Regardless of which option you choose, always consider the user interface experience: how will the user find the content they are looking for the fastest and the most gratifying and what will potentially lead to the most conversions?

Be Thankful

If you are in the market for a designer or you have a graphic designer or creative that you work with, I urge you: be thankful.  Often times, designers will throw things in that very well should get them a check in the mail.  Sometimes, they will even throw in things that will save you money.  Imagine that, they just gave up a $300 pay check AND it will save you $400?  Who’s winning in that scenario?

Be thankful that they did this for you, their client.  Because they like you or they value your business or because they were bored.  Whatever the reason, be thankful that you got something for free.

I know it seems like a tough concept, but as a creative, I’ve been on the receiving end far too often of a client that just can’t get enough.  If they have to pay, they complain that they are paying too much.  If they get it for free they complain about how much their service contract is or that they didn’t have enough input in the build/design.  I think in today society we are so used to things going faster and faster and getting more and more for less money and working that big deal and we forget one key thing: to be thankful.

So, go out today and thank your creative person for what they’ve done for you, how they’ve help you.  Never know, a little thanks might land you some more freebies!

Over Exposed

Imagine this, you send out a tweet telling people to “like” you on Facebook and from that a random winner will be drawn.  Once in the morning is great, once again at night, also great.  Actually, 10am and 8pm are two of the prime push times because of typically traffic patterns.  What is not great is when you push it out every 3 hours.  Let’s discuss why this doesn’t work…

  1. If you are pushing it out that often, it is VERY obvious you are using a Social Media service whether it is Hootsuite, Hub Spot, Social Dealer, Social Flow or the multitude of other companies that provide Social Media Management.  People follow you on social media to be closer to you and to get a sense of who you are.  To connect.  You need to be able to keep up the illusion that you are not using a service, when you really are to maintain interaction and, ultimately, retention.
  2. As if failing to keep up the illusion of actually engaging your public isn’t enough of an issue, the general over exposure might bite you too.  Think of it this way, when you watch TV and the same commercial comes on every commercial break, how do you react?  For me, I want to change the channel or turn the TV off completely.  For social media, that means I want to un-follow or un-like.  Once someone has been turned off to your exploits, they are very unlikely to re-join the herd, if you will, and that can render your campaign (and potentially future campaigns) less successful.  Traffic drops, conversions drop, sales drop…

So how do you maintain the illusion and interaction?  First, get online once in a while and actually interact yourself with the people following you.  I know, if you are a big company this is difficult.  If you are an individual going in thousands of directions, this is difficult.  I get it.  I too struggle with making sure to post to my social media and to schedule posts as needed.  I tend to get too involved in maintaining client social media accounts to make sure my own is handled properly.  This brings us to the second way of maintaining the illusion: schedules and variables.  Schedule your content to go out at a certain time, if possible.  Three times a day is about the limit for identical content.  This way, similar content is not going out too many times in one day over exposing your program and de-emphasizing the importance.  When you do send it out, try to make it variable.  Change a word or two, switch up the sentence structure.  Do something to make people think you actually typed it yourself in that very moment.

Be the bell.

Being a creative person I am sometimes taken aback by people who cannot visualize a small change.  I get needing a new mock-up/demo for complete color changes or new logos or layouts.  But a word to the wise, learn to visualize the small changes.

If you are presented a mock-up for a poster and your have at the bottom right “Apply Now” and you want it to say “Apply Here” understand that this change will take up relatively the same space and be in relatively the same layout.  Your creative may see this as inconsequential and may request that you approve this design look without providing you a new mock-up with your subtle change.  Why? Because it will LOOK THE SAME.

It’s not that we don’t care about your change or that this change in text couldn’t potentially impact how one responds to your poster or whatever, but that it is wasting our time to make formal mock-ups for something so small.  Approve the look, then modify the small details.  We will be much more happy to know that we are headed down the right path before we make your small change, produce another mock-up only to have you tell us “no, that’s not the direction that I want this whole thing to head” resulting in us having to start all over.  But at least we know you want it to say Apply Here instead of Apply Now.

First Round Draft Pick

I’ve talked before about how everyone wants to be number one.  They want to be the first to show up for any search term under the sun on every search portal that exists.  Let me tell you, it’s not possible.  Anyone who promises this is lying.  What can be done, however, is make a great effort to capture the highest competing keyword selection possible and distribute their brand identity to broaden appeal.

What does this mean?  Every website has something they want to sell/teach/show/provide.  Good, service,  knowledge.  You name it.  For each of these things there are keywords.  Words that trigger relatability to your website.  Take for example someone who owns a fruit stand in Manhattan.  We’ll call it Joe’s Fruit.  For starters your keywords would be joes, fruit, fruit stand, new york, and manhattan.  Those six keywords, though, are probably not enough to get you ranked as number 1.  Or even on the first page.  Why, you ask?  Because they are not enough of a mix of narrow and broad terms.  In addition to those six, it would be smart to capitalize on other geo targets: Bronx, Harlem, Central Park– areas near Manhattan (clearly I’m not familiar with the area).  Then hit in on the target market– what are you trying to sell and to whom: quick lunch, healthy, breakfast, fresh fruit, local produce, farmers market, pineapple, apple, florida oranges.  See how this works?  Pretty easy, huh?

Now to throw a wrench in the machine…  Google and many other search engines are pulling away from meta tag keywords, but that doesn’t mean keywords are less useful.  It now means that you need to sprinkle the content of your pages with these keywords.  Content is king as they say!

You will see some sites that do more than sprinkle these keywords.  They look more like someone loosened the top on the salt shaker with paragraphs that read like:

Joe’s Fruit Stand in Lower Manhattan in  New York, New York serving all boroughs including Bronx and Harlem with easy access to Central Park. We have a wide selection of fruit including apples, oranges, bananas, pineapple, mango, lime, lemon.

This is called keyword stuffing.  They are not well thought out sentences that engage the potential customer, but rather rambling lists of things people might look for.  You can accomplish the same search effect with a paragraph that looks more like this:

Joe’s Fruit Stan in lower Manhattan is your first choice for locally grown fresh fruit in New York City.  We have a wide variety of fresh fruits including your favorites – apples, bananas and oranges– and even a few tropical selections like mango and pineapple.  We serve fresh cut fruit for a quick breakfast, lunch or mid-day snack.

Beyond the content of your site you also greatly benefit from social interaction and reputation management.  Currently, one of the hottest things right now in Planet Google is the ever-growing importance of a Google+ page.  Google+ and Google Local work together to be an enhanced version of the former Google Places– you know, when you show up on a Google map?!  Get a Google+ page.  Get a Facebook page.  Submit your site to Yahoo!/Bing to show up in their local listings.  Give yourself as many opportunities to be found as possible and let your customers be able to tell their friends (and complete strangers) about you.  Social reputation is an ever growing market, why not use it?

With that, make sure you use your social media and keep your local pages up to date.  If you move, update it.  If you flip your website to a new look, update it.  If you change your menu or offer a new product, update.  Interact with your people as well as just throw info into their face, but don’t like everything just to like it (please refer to this).  If someone leaves you a positive review, thank them.  If someone leaves you a negative review, try to handle it or rebut it in a calm, professional manner and, if possible, offer something to make up for it.

In conclusion, if you are smart about your content, utilize social media and engage, you will find yourself pushing to the top more often than not.  Even without AdWords and suspect back-linking.

Less is NOT always more. Trust me.

There is the saying less is more, however in advertising and marketing, you need to beable to walk the fine line between less is more and less is less.

In most adveritising, you need to do a few key things:

1. Know your target audience. Sometimes this is broad reaching and sometimes it is very specific, but you still need to know who you are reaching. Unfortuantley, this does sometimes mean playing into stereotypes, but it is a necessary evil.

2. Know your outlet. Knowing your outlet means knowing how you are promoting your business/item/event so that you are taking the best advantage of the outlet. If you’re making a TV spot, you have 15-30 seconds to convey your message. You want to add all of the pertintent information, but you need to know what to leave out as well. The same goes for an e-blast. It’s a tool of braodspectrum, targeted marketing. You tend to send it out to a lot of people knowing that only a portion of them are actually going to be interested. With that, you need to try to capture the ones that are interested while also trying to convince the others that they need to be interested as well. How do you do that? Pretty pictures and pertinent information to create engagement. There are several blogs and white papers you can red to learn more about this type of marketing, but real life experience tells me that a pretty picture with one call to action doesn’t work. An e-blast with 5 paragraphs of text and 20 calls to action don’t work either. A short blurb, list of events and 3-5 calls to action convert the best. Know your media outlet.

3. Make an impression. Everyone likes pretty pictures, but a cool/pretty picture still needs to make an impression that will cause a conversion. Think about all of the holiday advertising that’s been around since early fall. They draw you in with the warm, fun, and even funny pictures but they are ultimatley drawing you in and you remember the business or product. I bet you remember less the ones that had SO much going on. Remember those GAP and Old Navy commercials from the late 90’s? The ones with all of the dancing and singing? If you do remember them, I bet you don’t remember what they were for (polar fleece, by the way, was one of them.). Why? Well, first it’s because it was back in the late 90’s, but second there was a lot going on in those commercials. You were probalby able to grasp taht is was for GAP or Old Navy, but the message of it got muddy. Now, you can say it is great because people are going to go to the website or to the shop to try to unravel the mystery of what the commercial was about but more than likely people will carry on with their lives. Shopping at these two stores when they would regularly shop there only remembering that they had seen a new commercial, not that they NEED polar fleece clothes or that it is available at these two retailers. All simply because they had too much going on and not enough message. Less is more for stylization, less is less for targeted message.