Spring Cleaning Website Work: Local Searches

April 14th, 2011

Many of us small business types create services for a local community.  We do not need to be found by someone several states away.  To answer this need Yahoo, Google, Yelp, Best of the Web, hot frog, and Bing have local search directories.  Because of the types of details that you can include in these listings, they can be an important part of your online marketing strategy.

As your business changes, your listings in these local search services should also change.  However, because they are not directly part of your website, it is easy to forget that these listings exist.  In some cases, the listings exist without you creating them.

So along with your other spring cleaning chores, consider looking at your local listings.  Maybe you have new or different

  • product offerings,
  • hours of operations
  • locations
  • accreditations
  • brands
  • payment options
  • pictures or videos of your services

These listings can be quite powerful if you keep them up-to-date with the right information.

Improve Website Download Speeds and Improve Online Marketing

March 15th, 2011

Why?

Search engines are the business of figuring out how to deliver to you links the content you want to go to.  On the basic level, the site needs to have the information you need or want.  However, another consideration is how easy is it for you to get to that information.  If a site loads slowly, you may get frustrated and move (and blame the search engine.)  If you do a search on “SEO” and “Load Times,” you will find a number of articles pointing to this very idea.

Mobile devices typically load pages slower than a broadband connection.  As mobile devices become more prevalent, download speeds will be much more important.

What to Do?

Eliminate Flash as much as possible.  Flash sites are very pretty, but Steve Jobs (Apple) among others consider the program a memory hog that slows down sites and causes other problems.

Reduce the use of images or make your images simpler

Make sure your code is compliant.  (http://validator.w3.org/).

Using streaming video instead of video that has to be completely downloaded before it shows.

Ask you developer to use CSS (Div tags) rather than tables

Keep your pages simple

2 Design Techniques that Look Good on PC’s, but not Mobile Phones

March 9th, 2011

Having a website that displays well on a mobile device and your PC is becoming increasingly more important.  According to http://www.nonprofitmarketingguide.com by 2013, more visitors will be using mobile devices to access websites than will be using PC’s.

The big difference is both simple and profound.  A typical desktop and larger laptop can easily hold a design that is 1024 pixels (14 inches) wide.  A large cell phone has a maximum screen width of about 6 inches.   When a mobile phone displays a website design it has two choices, make the display smaller or smash the design.

When the design uses fixed widths, as was common a few years ago and is common in many free templates, the phone has to make the text smaller to fit on the screen.  If the reading are of the site is too wide, then the user may have zoom in to read the site.  Then they have to use the scroll bars constantly to read the page.

A better design divides the content into floating sections labeled as “div tags.”  These content areas can change their width according to the screen width.  However, if the design uses many color transition effects that are designed to be a set height or specific background images, the graphic design can get distorted on a smaller screen.

The best website designs of the future will focus on one of two choices.

  • Use a very simple and clean look that can flexibly change sizes
  • Develop a different design for mobile devices.  (The site would be programmed to automatically choose the right site based on the browser coming to the site.)

The Most Important Content for a Mobile Ready Website Design

February 14th, 2011

Good website design borrows at least two ideas from newspapers:

  • The headline and
  • The area “above the fold.”

Of these two ideas, I think that the issue that gets less attention is the second idea “above the fold.”  When you buy a newspaper from a stand, it is usually folded in half.  You do not see the bottom half until you pick the newspaper and turn it over.  Since newspapers want you to pick the newspaper up and buy it, the “best content” and the “biggest headline” for that edition goes into the top half of the sheet, “above the fold.”  If they put the best ideas below the fold, you would be less likely to pick up the newspaper.  Another important point is that, even with all that space, a good newspaper limits the number of articles that start “above the fold.”  They do not want to clutter your mind.

Websites should use the same marketing principles.

The headline is still one of the most important things on your website.  People can absorb a good headline without really stopping to read it.  If you have a good headline, they can grasp what your website will be about without really seeing anything else on the page, just like a newspaper.

The website’s main headline must be “above the fold,” which would be whatever shows up when a visitor views the website.  On a desktop, you can generally get a lot more space above the fold much easier than on a mobile device because of the screen size.

Since we cannot predict exactly what each visitor will see, the most important stuff goes in the upper left hand corner.  The least important stuff goes in the bottom right hand corner.  (Browsers cut off the content at the bottom and to the right when the page first loads.)

Unfortunately, many current websites were designed with fixed margins that assumed the visitor would be using a large desktop computer, causing a lot of content to be cut off on a mobile device.  To further confuse things, different phones and mobile devices show different viewing sizes.

Consequently, the best mobile ready website designs use the following marketing strategies

  • A well written headline
  • A very focused message,
  • A clean, clutter free layout, and
  • The most important stuff in the top left corner.

Two Very Common Website Features that Many Mobile Devices Cannot Display

February 9th, 2011

Many websites use flash animations to ad interactivity to their website and drop down menus to help people navigate their website.  While these make great website strategies for a browser on a desktop or larger laptop, many mobile devices will either not display this website content or will take a very long time to load.

Apple iPhones, iPads, many Blackberry devices, and older Android phones cannot display flash content.  However, just because a phone can display flash, does not mean it is a good choice.  Most mobile devices use a much smaller processor and have much more limited bandwidth.  That means that all content, especially large flash files, takes much longer download and appear on the screen.  If the flash file  takes too long to load, you will lose the audience.

Some of the touch screen phones, such as my older Blackberry Storm, do not display drop down menus.  These systems do not fully support what graphic designers call “rollover effects,” basically anything that happens when a mouse is over an object.  By extension this problem could affect certain types of maps and forms in which information displays when the person rolls over a place on the screen.  (Clicking the spot still seems to work.)

Solutions:

One alternative for both of these options is to develop the site using jQuery or another JavaScript library.  Unfortunately, there are a few people who turn off JavaScript in their browsers.  So you may need to provide alternatives for those people.

The most fool proof way to handle the drop-down navigation issue would be to create a sub-menu that duplicates the drop down menu.  Each page in the drop down menu should have the same sub-menu.

For other roll-over effects on your website, you should probably ensure there are other ways to get to the information.

What Is Flash?

Flash is a very nice tool for creating on-screen animations.  Occasionally you will still see entire sites built in flash.  You have probably seen links that bounce or move, pictures that move or fade in or out, or banner ads with moving objects.  Some of these are built in Flash.  Simpler ones are often done in JavaScript.

To Search Engines, not All Identical Keywords Are Equal

January 27th, 2011

In our previous post we talked about how to identify the right keywords to use to be attractive to a search engine.

The next step is to determine where to put those keywords.  Not all places on a website are treated equally.

The most important places for a word (roughly in order) are the

  1. Domain name
  2. The page name
  3. The page title (which may or may not appear in the actual content) and possibly the page description (which will not appear in the actual content)
  4. Headings on the page
  5. Regular content
  6. As alternate text for video files and pictures.

If at this point you are thinking it would be wise to use a word or phrase as often as possible, then you would be partially correct.  If the search engines believe you are duplicating content for the purpose of beefing up your relevancy scores, they will subtract points from their relevancy rankings for your page(s).  You can also be dinged for the same web content appear on more than one website, or repeating content too often.

So the point is to use the words, just don’t go overboard.

Some of these items, such as the heading and regular content are readily accessible for you to change.  If you use a content management system, make sure that your provider either makes these details available to you or is willing to make the appropriate changes for you.  This area is one where good programming makes all the difference in the world.

Keywords, Choose Them Wisely to Drive Website Traffic

January 25th, 2011

People come to your site 3 ways:

  1. They find a link to it (because someone liked the content on your site.)
  2. They type it in (because you told them about it, such as on your business card or an advertisement)
  3. They searched for something, and the search results point to your page (because you did a good job of convincing the search engines that your site is worthy.)

So how do the search engines (like Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc.) determine whether a site is worthy?  They start quite literally, by cataloging the number of times each word or phrase shows up on each of your web pages as well throughout your website.  (Yes, it is a very large database.)  They then take a number of factors into consideration and give your web pages a relative importance rank for each of the words they have catalogued.  These factors include the use of social media, the number of links coming into the page, the number of visits to the page, and others.

When someone types in a search phrase, the search engine looks into its magical database and asks what sites are the most relevant.

The takeaway point is this:  if your site does not include the terms used by people doing searches, they will never find your site because it will not be in their master database.

So how do you find out what people actually search on? You do some tedious research.  http://www.seobook.com has a lot of good information for free.  Another source is www.wordtracker.com, and www.keywordiscovery.com.  The pay-per-click advertising programs such as http://adwords.google.com, Bing, and Yahoo also have key word search tools.

To use these tools you will type in a search term and the tool will tell you how many searches used that term or phrase.  Good tools will also provide you a list of similar phrases and the number of searches tied to those terms and phrases.   Remember that different search engines and processes attract different people, so the exact statistics will vary from tool to tool.  If you do this yourself, you will likely need to create a spreadsheet of key words and how many times they appear before you can make a good decision.

Once you determine what the most important keywords are, use them in all of your campaigns and materials.

If you need help determining the keywords for your business, please give us a call at 615-479-7518.

What Does Your Website Say in 30 Seconds?

January 21st, 2011

Random website visitors are like a boss I had one time.  From my cubicle, I could regularly hear him berate people for bothering him with problems that he did not think were significant or fit the situation.  Many times, they actually had a significant question; they just took too long to get around to the heart of the problem.  As I told my fellow employees, the solution was to start with your most significant issue and get it said in one sentence or two.  Once he tuned out, you were done.

Random website visitors will tune you even faster than my old boss.  You have 30 seconds or less to convince them you might

  • understand their view of their problem
  • solve their problem, and
  • have supporting information in the website to build your credibility.

We advise our clients to accomplish this goal with a powerful headline on the home page that leads into a sub-headline and an opening paragraph.  With this starter and good blueprint of the text skeleton, much of the content will write itself and your website will be a powerful communicator.  Website graphics are far less important.  We also think that for many people, the process is easier when a third party helps with the process.  (I know personally that it is very easy for me to get bogged down in wanting to explain all the details of my own business and  that it is difficult to remember the reader only needs a 20,000 foot view.)

Some of our example work includes http://www.farringer.com/, and http://arenalawfirm.com

Is Your Website Marketing Strategy Like an Elementary School Cafeteria?

January 15th, 2011

At my elementary school the cafeteria was right in the middle of school.  If the lunchroom got too noisy, the nearby classrooms could not hear their teachers.  For each of my 6 years there, the principals were always trying to find ways to keep the noise down.  Nevertheless, it always got loud, and the only people you heard were the people at your table of 6-8 students.

Every day we as consumers are bombarded by the “cafeteria noise” of people asking for our business.  It all sounds so similar:

  • Great “customer service”
  • Just like the “big company” but more personal service
  • “Low prices”

So how do you break through the noise?  Instead of trying to shout louder than everyone else, why not just be yourself?  All of us are unique individuals with our on take on our industry.

We help our clients develop their unique voice because we think it is more likely that you will get customers that you can serve very well.  These are the clients that will rave about you.  On the flip side, when the customer is really looking for an approach that is opposite to your style, it is more likely that they will chatter about what poor service your provide.  In the worst case scenario they become the customer that makes you cringe every time their number comes up on your caller ID.

We have helped several clients do a better job of identifying how they are uniquely positioned in the marketplace:  www.arenalawfirm.com, www.affordableclosings.net, and  www.laserone.com.   Call us at 615-479-7518 to see if we can help you.

Using Your Website to Help People Find Your Store

December 20th, 2010

Most people are familiar with the Google maps that people put on their website so that you can get driving directions.  However, the typical view shows what the building looks like from the sky.  Unfortunately, we are not living in the cartoon world of the Jetsons, where people get around by flying instead of driving.

Google maps has functionality that will allow you to place a street view of your location on your website.  All you need is someone like A Site that Works who understands Google’s mapping program to add the feature to your site.  Then you can also add other pictures as well.

The result is that people will be able to recognize your building even when they are driving in rush hour traffic and distracted by their telephone.