Archives for November 2007

SEO Primer: Designing your site with SEO in mind.

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If ranking highly with Google is important to your business, here are some basics to follow when designing a website.

For the novice, Search engine optimization, or SEO, is the technique of publishing information and building links that makes search engines rank your website high in the organic search results. As more and more companies are seeking these desirable high ranks, SEO consultants are getting rich. No disrespect to SEO consultants, but these guys are not rocket scientists, just ordinary guys who understand how search engines work, and how to make them rank sites high.

SEO is not as hard as SEO professionals would like you to believe. Anyone can do it if you understand the basics. In a moment I will explain the fundamentals of designing a website with the proper search engine structure in mind. But first, I’d like to clarify a few common misconceptions about SEO in general:

You do not need to pay a small fortune to rank highly. If you know a few simple techniques, you can do a credible job of promoting your site. And if you still feel like hiring a consultant, remember, pricing for SEO can be all over the map. So shop around.

Here the top eight most important items to consider when designing your website, in order of importance:

  1. Keyword research – ideally, this is the best place to start when designing a site. Unfortunately this is not where most companies begin. Only by using keyword research will you be able to accurately identify and quantify your internet market niches. You can use a keyword research tool like wordtracker, for instance, to accurately show you which keywords are searched for the most, and have the least competition. For example, if you’re selling office lighting, the broad search term ‘office lighting’ is highly searched for, but a highly competitive phrase. Yet terms like ‘office ceiling grid lighting’ or ‘office fluorescent lighting’ may not offer the same high volume of searches, but have far competition.

Point to remember: keyword research is your foundation, or quantified roadmap to follow for internet marketing successfully receiving the most relevant traffic with regard to your target market.

  1. Domain – URL currently holds a lot of keyword weight. You may already have a URL, and it may or may not be descriptive or relevant. However, if you have the opportunity to start from scratch buy one that is short and somehow contains your most important keyphrase. As you probably are aware, there are not many short, descriptive URLs available these days. But that doesn’t mean you can’t create one. For example, for office lighting, you may be able to purchase www.officelightsweb.com or www.officelightsmn.com (localized) or other URLs contain your keyphrases. You’d be surprised what terms are still available.
  2. Title Tag – This is the 2nd most important part of design with regard to SEO. Your page title is what shows up in Google and shows searchers what you have to offer. That’s why search engines place so much value on this. Page titles should clearly reflect your primary key phrase and try to stay under 65 characters. Also, make sure every title tag is unique. So for www.officelightsweb.com/products/desk-lighting/ my title will be ‘Office Lighting | desk lighting, desk lamps’. For my root page www.officelightsweb.com it could be ‘Office Lighting Solutions for Business’.
  3. URL Structure – Simple and logical is best. Also always keep your keyword phrases in mind. In my example website, http://www.officelightsweb.com, because our product (and keyword phrase) is office lighting, I will probably have this URL structure: www.officelightsweb.com/products/desk-lighting/. I use dashes because most of the Search Engines see that as a space. The idea is to keep it simple, and straightforward so your site structure is easy for Google to navigate. You could add other pages in this fashion using more specific popular keyphrases in this fashion: http://www.officelightsweb.com/products/office-ceiling-grid-lighting.
  4. Content – Relevant content is king with search engines. The more content you have with your primay keyphrases included in a contextual manner, the more the search engines will value your site. Creating a blog, news, articles, and other sections of your site that are regularly updated with content is the foundation of a internet marketing website. The first 200-250 words are most important. Try to have your keywords phrase appear here at least twice. It does not have to be exactly the same and should not sound unnatural. See our section on content management to learn how to update your web content.
  5. Heading Tags – I try to match the h1 tag with the title tag. Which also happens to be your keyword phrase. Or at lease contain it within your h1 tag. Try to have it come right after your body tag so that it is the first thing crawled. It should only appear once on a page and corresponding h2, h3 tags should hierarchically relevant.
  6. Meta Keyword – This should simply reflect the keywords specific to that page. Not as important because it is only really used by yahoo right now. The more key words you have, the less value each one is. That is why each page should be very specific.
  7. Meta Description – Hard to say how much weight is put on here but it adds some value in click through rate. I usually try to put my keyword phrase in this twice. Once all together and once broken up.
  8. Images – If they are not in the CSS they should have alt tags that are descriptive and utilize some keyword phrase

Internet marketing 2007: Five critical, yet affordable, components for success.

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The good news, marketing isn’t nearly as expensive as it used to be. These days, it’s a small investment offering a big reward.

I often peruse the internet looking for new companies that market technology products and services. It’s a great way to quickly spot the truly serious and sophisticated online marketers. And, those that sorely need help.

What do I mean by sorely needing help? The websites of the technology marketers I refer to are lacking some or all of the five critical components for online marketing success:

  • Lead Generation
  • Brand & Message presentation
  • Positive user experience
  • Lead collection & conversion
  • Analytics/Optimization

The truly serious and sophisticated online marketers always, (without exception) have all these components working together like a well-oiled machine. As I surf through dozens of websites of budding technology companies seeking explosive growth, I witness many beautifully branded sites with consistent, compelling messaging. After a quick look at the source code, I notice that many of these sites are also optimized for search engines and powered by sophisticated lead tracking and data collection technology. On the other hand, I’m often shocked to observe many other start-ups, offering seemingly innovative products and services, that are woefully ill-equipped to compete in their particular marketplaces with their current websites.

These ‘ill-equipped’ sites are poorly branded with inconsistent messaging, and lack the most basic lead generation functionality and tracking. I see dozens if not hundreds of start-up companies relying on websites like this. I can understand that many technology start-ups are strapped for cash, but that’s no excuse. Until recently, a fully optimized, branded marketing presence could cost an arm and a leg, upwards of $100K or more. But in today’s fiercely competitive marketplace for branding and web development services, a savvy technology marketing company could build a powerful marketing presence with every feature necessary to compete for $25K or less depending on their particular needs.

With that in mind, here’s the question that every CEO of a technology startup should be pondering: what investment will take my company further, one new salesperson ($50K + commissions + benefits) or a fully optimized marketing web presence? To those serious technology marketing companies, the answer is obvious. Invest in a high-powered, fully optimized web presence.

So where do you begin? In today’s competitive marketplace, there are a number of mandatory website components that every technology marketer should have to achieve their business goals. So if you’re investing in sales growth, here are the five key components that your modest website investment should buy you:

1. Lead Generation – Attracting qualified prospects. You may have a beautiful website sporting lots of flash and such, but if no one in your target market can find it, it’s not a very sound investment. A fully optimized web presence is designed from the ground up with keywords and tags strategically placed in the overall site structure to achieve specific lead generation goals. Once this foundation is firmly in place, you can augment your SEO (search engine optimization) efforts with a variety of practical and inexpensive ways that drive qualified prospects to your website.

  • Search engine optimization (SEO) Online marketing is not as difficult or expensive as you would imagine. Just determine a niche you can dominate. Many online markets are not crowded. And it’s a safe bet that there are qualified prospects out there searching for the technology product, service or information resources you offer. So, to optimize your site, you don’t need to hire an SEO expert – just make sure your web developers plan ahead to get your site highly ranked on Google, Yahoo and MSN.
  • Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising – Depending on your particular technology product or service niche, Google Adwords or Yahoo Search Marketing offers instant, targeted and cost effective lead generation and outstanding ROI. The beauty of buying PPC adwords, is that you can set your budget for the number of clicks you want, and sit back and test the results. You can start with a budget as low as $200 a month. Plus, your PPC adwords will also help you build traffic which also helps your build your search engine rankings.
  • Online Newsletter Sponsored Links – Whatever niche your technology company serves, it’s likely that there are dozens of online newsletters with very high volumes of opt-in subscribers that may be looking for your product or service. These are not cheap, but produce high quality leads.
  • Banner Advertising – Let’s say your search engine analytics tell you that many of the qualified prospects that visit your site come from a particular website that offers banner advertising space. Running and testing a banner advertising campaign on a website with proven results makes sense.

2. Brand & Message presentation – First impressions are huge. And the moment a qualified prospect clicks to your site, it’s critical to establish your credibility as a major player in your niche.

  • Keep it simple – your message and brand presentation should instantly tell visitors who you are, what you do, and how you can offer value.
  • Graphic treatment and compelling value propositions combine to differentiate you from competitors and build credibility.
  • Aesthetically pleasing – consistent presentation of colors, graphics and images demonstrate your competence while adding to your credibility.
  • Unique selling messages speak clearly to specific target audiences, helping you compete for audience ‘share of mind’ much more effectively.

3. Create a positive user experience – Now that you’ve attracted a qualified prospect to your site, you have to make it easy to find the information that attracted them in the first place. If your site navigation is difficult to understand or it makes their life difficult, your hot prospect will simply move on and start searching for another source. Anyone who has searched the web for information can sympathize with that.

Also, you can easily scare off prospects with content that’s poorly written, too technical, or just plain confusing. Here are a few suggestions for designing an intuitive user interface that keeps your prospects engaged:

  • Keep it simple – use clear, consistent navigation that makes it easy to find content quickly and easily. It doesn’t hurt to make sure it’s enjoyable to use.
  • Design for the way people like to read on the web – short concise sentences, bullet points, animated diagrams, whatever makes the information more
  • Give the user multiple ways to find the same content.
  • Keep your shopping process simple and seamless.
  • Design so that your site functions consistently across all platforms and browsers.

4. Lead collection & conversion – OK, so let’s say your prospect has found you, is convinced you’re a credible company, has easily found the information they were looking for, and is now ready to take the next step in the sales process. What now? The tools you’ll use are slightly different depending on a couple factors:

  • You’re selling product directly on your site – The days of expensive development for ecommerce shopping carts are over. You have numerous choices of companies who offer shopping cart services that are easy to set-up and tailor to your needs.
  • You want to prospects to qualify themselves – For example, a common strategy is to give away a Free Whitepaper in exchange for a prospect’s name, job title and company information. Your website should have simple forms asking for minimal information. You don’t want to bog your prospects down and make them think too hard.

Whether you want leads or sales, or both, information from prospects and customers should flow easily into a database that sales and marketing management can access. If you have fairly simple product or service offerings, this should not be a major undertaking. These days, it’s just part of doing business on the web. The cost of automating your sales process in this manner can easily pay for itself in no time.

5. Analytics/Optimization – Now that you have a steady flow of site traffic, it’s time to consider ways to optimize your site and generate even more prospects of even higher quality. There are many analytics tools available to you that tell you everything you want to know about how your visitors found you and how they interact with your site. Using analytics tools you can:

  • Track and compare all of your marketing initiatives including banner ads, email newsletters, paid links, and keywords.
  • Discover where prospects are entering your site, and where they’re leaving, so you can make simple adjustments to keep them interested.
  • Set up goals to track prospect conversions.
  • Focus your marketing budget on revenue-generating campaigns.

Conclusion

If you want to increase sales for your company, don’t spend another dime on brand advertising, direct mail, telemarketing, or sales staff until you make sure that your website is pulling its weight in your marketing mix. As I mentioned earlier, online marketing is not as difficult or expensive as it used to be. With a website equipped with the tools I’ve described, all you have to do is zero in on your particular niche and dominate. Done correctly, it’s a small investment offering a big reward.