I’m Number One!

I shake my head over some of the promises being made to website owners regarding SEO.  I get lots of spam emails myself , where some SEO company based out of India is promising to make me “number 1 in the search engines!”  So let me address this a little bit, put it into perspective.

First off, the point is not just to be “number 1” – the point is to be “number 1” for the keyword that you want.  Huge difference.  Anyone can get number 1 rankings for the keyword phrase “doohickey 123” by simply placing that prominently on their website. Since no one else is competing for that phrase – give it about 2 weeks and you will be number 1 in google for that term. That is the scam – they take advantage of the fact that people don’t really understand what SEO is about.

If you make yourself a website and have high hopes for it’s success, an important area to look at is who your competitors are, and what are they optimizing for. Obviously they will be optimized for the keywords people are using the most – so a good tactic for new website owners is to use keywords that are more “niche” than what your competition is doing. So instead of optimizing for “idaho plumber” you optimize instead for “boise plumber” – you make the keyphrase less broad. To make that even more effective, you make lots of pages optimized for lots of niche keywords.

Another thing to watch out for with some SEO companies are the ones using what is called “black hat” techniques in your name. If you hire someone to get you better SEO, and they are using techniques forbidden by Google, then Google can ban your website – and it will take you awhile to recover from that.

I’ve had some good success doing SEO for my customers, and you want to know my secret?  I do what Google says I should do – and I do it very well. I admit that doesn’t sound as attractive as promising you the “number 1 position” or “10,000 backlinks” – what it is though is effective.  I’m just saying.

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Which Test Won?

I do a lot of testing of webpages – pitting two versions of a page against each other in the attempt at raising its conversion rate (CR).  The idea is to find the winner, and then do the test again having a newer version of the page to increase the CR even more.

Anyways, there is a website called Which Test Won that shows actual tests people have run, and for fun lets you try and guess which version of the test won. Pretty interesting, and a good place to look for ideas on how to improve your own site.

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Directory List

When creating a new website, the next important step is for you to get the word out that the website exists – to market the thing.  And for SEO purposes you need to get yourself some inbound links to your website (links coming from other websites back to yours).  So one of the basic SEO things to do is get your site added to some directories.  Directories are not what they once were – Google has downgraded most of them so they aren’t worth the effort.  And there are so many of them out there – which ones do you choose? As always when it comes to links, you need to base your decision on 1) relevancy, 2) quality and also 3) cost.

Relevancy – does the direc tory target your industry or did you have to search their listings to find your category?

Quality – what does Google think of the site?  Ideally you want to be listed in those website directories that Google considers important.  Its all about the Google.  And stay away from those directories that are more interested in pushing their ads than pushing your listing (just my opinion).

Cost – many are free, but I’d make a guess and say a “good deal” would be a link from a good directory for about 20 / year.

I’ve created a list of website directories that you can download, an Excel file.  I have a column in it for PR, which is for Google page rank, but do feel free to modify it any way you want.  The information like PR rank and cost is about a year old or so, so be warned not to rely on it.  What I try to do is sort them by page rank, then look at each of them for quality and cost.  And then make the ‘buy’ decision from that…

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Making Graphics

I ran across a free vector drawing program that looked like it could rival the big boys.  So if you don’t want to purchase Adobe Illustrator, etc, this is the program for you!  And did I mention its free?

Download it yourself here: Inkscape

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Sitemaps for Your Website

Sitemaps are very important for larger websites. If you own a website that has many webpages, say over 50, then it becomes increasingly important to have a site map. If you create a new webpage, you don’t submit it to the search engines – you just need to add it to your sitemap.

There are basically two types of sitemap:

  1. Site maps to help your website visitors, and
  2. Site maps to help the search engines

Sitemaps for your website visitors are meant to help website visitors find stuff on your site. Usually a link is placed at the bottom of the page saying “sitemap”, and it is a HTML page that you create that basically organizes your site into categories, kinda like a Table of Contents in a book.  The HTML sitemap page shouldn’t have every page in your site listed – it should just have all the important pages, or the ones people tend to look for or that might be hard to find.

Sitemaps for search engines are meant to help a robot spider your website. The spider can just scroll down the list of pages you have made showing it every page you want indexed. The sitemap file for Google is an XML file called “sitemap.xml”, and is placed at the root directory of your site like this: www.mysite.com/sitemap.xml. There are lots of sites that will make the file for you, the best I’ve found is XML Sitemaps. This particular service, which is free, also generates a second file called “urllist.txt” which is the file that the Yahoo spider looks for.  You just run the service on your site, download the two files, then upload them to your root directory, it is that simple. (you double check the files first, of course)

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Do you have a successful website?

One of the things I seem to do a lot is figuring out how to make a particular website more successful – which first begs the question of how do you define success?  Then more importantly is the question of what you do to get things turned around.  There are tons of helpful articles online that will help you get started (see below), I also have some other marketing articles posted that will help, and you will quickly notice that many are saying contradictory things to the point that you will get confused on how to proceed. No worries – remember that no single solution is right for everyone, and definitely not right for every website. Because if there was one single “best design” for a website, then they would all look the same.

Here is a basic list of things to get you going.

  1. First of all look at the level of web traffic – you may simply not be getting enough traffic to do anything with. If that is the problem, this needs fixed first.
  2. If you are getting web traffic, but no one is converting, then do a little detective work on what is ailing you and then take action:
    1. What is your bounce rate? If it is really high, then people are either coming to your site by mistake or your web design sucks.  Fix it!
    2. What is the page views per visit? If it is very low, then your web content needs fixed (assuming your website is set up with multiple webpages). If you have lots of people moving round your site but no one is converting, then your offer may need to be tweaked.
    3. What is the fall-off rate in your sign up form, or shopping cart?  If people are looking like they want to convert by clicking the sign up button, but no one converts, take a close look at your form or cart first. In my experience that will have the greatest impact on increasing CR.
  3. Basically you need to figure out what is going on – there are lots of statistics available to give you hints, so just narrow it down to the likely issues, and then address them!  Take action!  Usually it means for you do some of the things that the experts say you should, so take a look at some other articles in this blog, or do a little research online.  Below are some links that will help with ideas.  I would not take any single article from anyone and think it is gospel (even this one) – instead you want to find the “golden nuggets” in each.
  4. Lastly I would urge everyone to have some sort of testing program for their website.  If you put two different versions of your webpage up – the normal one you have (the control) and another different design – it will definitely give you improvement. Let the two run side by side and see which is better.  Once you have a winning design in the test – immediately take the winner and run it against a new alternative one, and just make it a continual process of improvement.  Something as simple as the button that gets clicked on the form can make a difference – you just need to keep testing.

Here are some links you might find helpful:

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How Much For A Website?

Without doubt the number one question I get from people can be boiled down to two words: how much? There is lots of confusion about the costs involved with having a website, so let me break it down for you. Basically it can all be broken down into three parts: your domain, your host, and your maintenance costs.

Domain Name Costs: $10 / year. I’ve written about domain names earlier.

Hosting Costs: $25 / month. This is the typical charge I have for hosting fees. You can find some hosting out there for $5 dollars per month, and others over $100. The average hosting fees to a small business is supposed to be $45 / month. At my company, I sweeten the pot by offering free maintenance with each hosted website that I make.

Maintenance Costs: $0 – 85 / hour. The maintenance includes the initial design costs, as well as any costs later when you need to revise or update the information on the website. An important question to ask the person building your website is how much it will cost to maintain it later on, that way you are not caught by surprise. My standard rate for doing maintenance work is usually around 30 / hour.

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Domain Names

So what is all this business about domain names? Here is some clarification for you, and it goes nicely with my previous post on website hosting. Some points about your domain name:

  • A domain name is your web address: www.yourdomain.com, or whatever.
  • Your domain name belongs to you and can be taken with you to whatever host company you want.
  • You don’t actually buy a domain name, you rent it for a period of time.  So if you stop paying for it, someone else can start renting it.
  • The domain names are theoretically rented out on a first come, first served basis. I say theoretically because I have some doubts to the reality of the statement, even though that is what everyone will tell you.
  • When you buy a domain name, all you are really doing is paying to have your domain added to the DNS database.
  • This DNS database is a core component of the internet and is what makes it what it is.  When you type ‘www.domain.com’ into your browser, your browser asks the nearest DNS database where your website is located, and then forwards the request on to the web host computer. The web host computer receives your message to access the website files and sends them back to your computer browser to be displayed.  And the great thing about this process is that it takes only about a second.  (at least for those of you fortunate enough to have high speed internet access)
  • Domain names are not case sensitive, and really are just for human convenience. You should avoid an underscore in the domain since that can confuse computer programs, and use the dash instead.
  • The DNS database will convert your domain name to what it really is: an IP address.
  • The DNS database could be a subject of a whole new post – but to say it quickly – it is a database that is shared across many different computers / routers. No one single computer holds the database information, it gets “propagated” or shared with all the others that are out there. That is why when you first purchase the domain it can take up to 48 hours for you to actually see it on the internet. This also shows its military background – the DNS database is bomb proofed.
  • The cost for a domain name is usually about 10 dollars a year. Companies like Network Solutions used to sell domains for something like 35 dollars a year, because apparently many people thought they had to, but NetSol finally dropped their prices to what has become the norm in the industry (urged along by GoDaddy’s success I’m sure).

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Website Hosting

Thought I’d talk a little bit about website hosting and how it relates to your domain name, as I get questions about it all the time. What is website hosting? Website hosting is where the public accesses your website from – the computer that has your web files, and where the internet points to when someone types your URL into their browser. Your host company is not the same as your domain company, and not the same as your web designer either.

Some points about hosting:

  • Remember your host is just a computer – a beefed up computer usually, but still having similar limitations.  It has a certain amount of memory, a certain speed on its processor, a certain operating system, a certain amount of space on its hard drive, etc – and what is best for your website depends on your situation.
  • For most situations, I recommend going with a Unix server as it is the least expensive. If it has MySQL and PHP installed, all the better – since most of the open-source software out there is based on that so it will save you money in the long run. (I think I read somewhere that 80% of all web servers are Unix)
  • You used to have to worry about how much disk space and bandwidth was needed as the hosting fees would go out the roof, but not any longer. The cost for both are so cheap nowadays, needing lots of either is no big deal. For my own hosting packages, I don’t even bother listing any limits – I promise to provide whatever you need since adding more to an account is no big deal.
  • According to a study done by 1&1 Internet, the average hosting cost is $45 per month, and 40% of small business (SMB) don’t bother to have one. Mostly because they don’t know how, think it too expensive to do, etc. (For the record, Idahowebpages.com will host your website for $25 / month and throw in some free maintenance to boot). The study also mentions that of the ones who do have websites, fully 80% of them call the website “essential” to their business.

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Increasing Conversion Rates

As I always say, it is much easier to increase your website conversion rates, than to get more traffic to your site. So I get asked how to best go about it – how do you increase your CR? First thing is that you need to know what your current CR is – duh.

I would recommend going back to the basics – reduce your form fields, place your offer up top and overt, etc. After making these initial revisions for improvement, you are likely to see dramatic improvements too. But what specifically are the “basics” you need to go back to?  A good place to give you lots of ideas is Conversion Critic.  Basically they ask you lots of questions about your website, then “score” you on your answers.  They don’t actually evaluate your website for you – they make you look at it yourself, which is what I like about it.  Also, the Conversion Critic website is ran by people who offer these type services, so beware that you may get a call from them about your site. But even so, it is one good way to go over the basic setup of your site and look for opportunities for improvement.

Now if you have already done all the basic stuff, then your site has already picked all the low-hanging fruit. What you need to do is set up a testing program, either A/B or multivariate, to find out what works best for the type customer you have coming to your site.  Google offers both types for free, as usual, and are not bad to get you started.

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