Posted Aug 16 2011 5:35 PM by
Selecting a content management system can be a daunting task. On the surface, many of these systems appear to have the same level of functionality and the ability to accomplish many of the same tasks. While one blog post isn’t enough to compare each and every feature that a good CMS should have, it is perfect to discuss one subset – Search Engine Optimization capability. Since SEO is seemingly at the forefront of every site owner’s mind, here are five things that your content management system should allow you to do (in no particular order):
1. Create Search Engine Friendly URLs
Each time that you create a page, a new blog post, or add a product to your store (if applicable), your site’s CMS should create a search engine friendly URL for the new content. Not only does this make it easier for the search engine to determine the topic of the page, it is much easier for a human to determine if the page is applicable for their search. If you’re not sure if your URL is search engine friendly, take a look at a subpage, blog post or product page…if it makes sense to read, there is a good chance it is search friendly. If it contains strings of question marks and numbers, it may be time to look into a new CMS.
2. Create Unique Title Tags, Meta Description Tags, and H1 Tags for Each Page
Probably the most important aspect of on-page SEO is the ability to create unique title tags for each page. Title tags are still a determining factor for search rankings (although a bit diminished), and they definitely help with usability of the site as well. Meta description tags aren’t factored into search rankings any longer, but they can help increase the click-through rate to a specific page and feature calls to action. Each page should also contain one H1 tag to tell the user the exact topic of the page.
3. Manage Alt Image Tags
Accurate alt image tags help increase the chances that your website’s images will be returned in an image search. Alt image tags are simple 3-5 word descriptions for what the topic of the image is. Every image on your site should have a unique alt image tag.
4. Built In Blogging Software
Blogging is a great way to create keyword rich, sharable content around a certain topic. Your CMS should feature a built in blogging software that makes it easy to add blog posts to your site. These blog posts should be open to comments from readers, feature the ability to share on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google’s +1, as well as an RSS Feed. The content should be displayed in a chronological order, be searchable, and created with friendly URL’s as described above.
5. Create Permanent Redirects
One of the often overlooked aspects of creating content using a CMS is the ability to set up permanent redirects. 404 errors are unacceptable as far as good SEO’s are concerned, so having the ability to create permanent (301) redirects to live content is a must. This is especially important for larger sites that are updated often.
Side Note - Keep in mind there are more factors that go into a CMS selection than just the SEO capabilities of the platform. The fact of the matter is that the selection of a CMS should go hand in hand with website design, SEO vendor selection, social media strategy determination, and overall online branding evaluation. These different aspects of Internet marketing have become their own industries, with specialists excelling in each vertical. The most successful websites that we have seen have been products of collaborative efforts between software providers, service providers, agencies, and the client itself. After all, there is nothing worse than hearing the words “We just launched our newly designed website, can you help us with the content management strategy, SEO, or insert another service here. ”
Posted Aug 2 2011 1:59 PM by
Infographics are everywhere these days, and for good measure. Personally, I love them, and judging by the spike in their usage, I'm not alone. In case you're not familiar, infographics are a way to display a complex idea quickly and clearly, using images and statistics. Here is an example of an infographic on Facebook's users.
Visualize the Data
Companies and organizations have jumped on the bandwagon, creating infographics whenever possible, to reaffirm (or establish) this expertise within an industry. However, the biggest reason for the explosion of infographics may be to gain exposure on search engines and within social media. Because these graphics are usually very interesting or intriguing, they get shared a lot. This creates a buzz about the graphic, the topic, or the company. In turn, links to the graphic are built naturally, increasing search engine ranking position for the website where the graphic is hosted. Basically, infographics are great link bait.
If you're interested in creating one of these graphics, make sure you follow a few simple rules:
1. Create an amazingly catchy headline
This should be simple to understand. Just like with any link bait, a catchy headline should increase the odds of someone actually viewing and sharing the content.
2. Don't try to cover too much information
Some of the best infographics that I have seen stick to one major topic. Trying to cover too much in one infographic makes for a cluttered, difficult to follow layout.
3. Don't focus too much on your company/organization
This may seem a bit counter-intuitive, but trust me, it will work better in the long run. Including general statistics without your brand associated with it seems more transparent, which will be shared more. You can include your company's logo and brand at the bottom in the credits of the infographic.
4. Hire a professional
If the goal for the infographic is to be shared across the Internet, it should look like a professional graphic designer put it together. Graphical representation of the topic is what it is all about, so it shouldn't be too text heavy. There are quite a few companies out there that create awesome infographics, but one of my personal favorites is Visual.ly.
Update (8/3/2011) - It turns out that Visual.ly's "create an infographic" feature isn't live yet. As for hiring a professional company for help creating infographics (or any other link bait), any professional new media agency should be able to help. Since the nature of an infographic is for sharing, you should be able to check out a few samples of work from any agency you are looking to hire. Thanks to Doug Karr of DK New Media for the alert on Visual.ly.
Posted Jul 14 2011 2:29 PM by
It has been about two weeks since the launch of Google+ and it’s safe to say that it has been Google’s most successful “social” launch yet. With the failed experiments of Google Buzz and Google Wave, no one was quite sure why a company such as Google couldn’t get social right. However, Google+ has showed promise, ingenuity, and more importantly, rapid user adoption and growth. Still in its infancy, Google+ is poised to hit 20 million users by this weekend, which is undoubtedly impressive considering it was limiting invitations to join the network for the better part of a week.
If you haven’t gotten an invite to join, or you haven’t had the time (or desire) to join another social network, you’re still probably wondering why Google+ is any different. Some people have coined it the “Facebook killer”, and while I think it is a bit premature to label Google+ as “David” to Facebook’s “Goliath”, there are a few reasons to take note of the service.
Everything is in One Place
Anyone with multiple social networks, or web-based services, knows that separate logins for everything can become a pain. Google+ utilizes your already existing Google Account that ties into Gmail, calendar, documents, reader, etc. If you’re an avid Google user already, adoption of Google+ is one-click away.
To put it simply, Circles are a way to group your connections on Google+. Facebook has groups and twitter has lists, but those features were implemented after users’ contact lists had already gotten out of hand, making implementing them effectively a time-consuming, and often difficult, endeavor. Circles are available from the beginning, and with a drag and drop interface, it is truly easy to separate contacts and share content with certain groups of people. I can now utilize my one account for business and personal fun, which has always been an issue for me with Facebook and Twitter.
The Best of the Best
Google seems to really understand it when it comes to connecting online. Twitter is great because I can follow anyone that I find interesting…there is no need to request a friendship. Facebook is great because it makes sharing simple and easy (you get more than 140 characters). Google+ seems to be a hybrid of the two services, which I love. I can add friends, business contacts, and people that I’ve never met but find interesting into different circles which automatically formats my “stream” of information. Also, I don’t have to click a separate link to watch a video or view a picture anymore; it is all displayed in a Facebook-like feed.
The Value of the +1 and Search
Google rolled out the +1 feature over a month ago, which is their version of the “like” or “tweet”. It is fully integrated into the Google+ service already, and you can guarantee that Google is already taking these social cues into account within the search algorithm. Data is everything to companies like Google, which is why these services can continue to be offered for free. I would bet they care more about crafting a profile for each individual user so they can display the best search results (and deliver the best ads – $) more so than “dethroning” Facebook. Now that all of the sharing, +1’ing, connecting, and socializing is happening on their servers, it makes it much easier to truly be effective.
So far, Google+ isn’t allowing businesses to set up profiles, even though I have seen a few businesses break the rule and set it up as a personal account. Google has said they will roll-out the ability to create business profile later this year, so be patient. It will be interesting to see how companies craft their Google+ strategy and if it will differ at all from the dreaded “Like us on Facebook” campaigns that seem to dominate marketing at the moment.
Google+ isn’t without its growing pains though. Already users have complained that the sheer amount of data from some of the “tech celebrities” out there have caused them rethink their circles, as one user can dominate a stream. I’d like to see Google implement a Google Alert style system here, where I can get all of the updates from any particular user as they happen, once an hour/day/month, etc…They already have the technology, so I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to implement.
What do you think? Have you been an early adopter? What do you like/dislike?
Posted Jun 23 2011 6:52 PM by
I was in a prospective client meeting yesterday where we were discussing a possible e-commerce addition to their existing website. The company’s product list, although not too extensive, consists of a highly-specialized product…which isn’t exactly e-commerce friendly when you add in the fact that you probably can’t purchase these items with your American Express Business Card ($).
After about 90 minutes discussing the current site’s limitations and the extensive goals for an online ordering system (there was quite a bit of custom development that would need to occur to make e-commerce work with the business model, which meant quite a hefty price tag for the development), I asked the question: “So, if we build this, you’re sure your customers will use it, right?”
After thinking for a few moments, the CEO mentioned that their old site had an e-commerce system, but only a small fraction of their customer base utilized it. When the e-commerce functionality was removed during the transition to a new CMS, only one client complained about it, and they still continue to order today. It didn’t take too much more thought to realize that all of this discussion about added functionality was probably overkill.
After further discussion, we did determine that it was going to be important for growth to allow for online ordering, so I suggested sending out an online survey to their client base to find out what they would like to see in an online ordering system. Letting their customer’s guide the design process to ensure they get a tool they enjoy working with will ultimately lead to a more successful (and economical) project.
I think a lot of companies make this same mistake. Getting caught up in the day to day aspect of their business can sometimes hinder the growth and decision making. Assuming that they know their business and what will be best for it, they don’t take the time to get an outside perspective and listen to who matters the most…their customers.
Posted May 31 2011 11:40 AM by
We have discussed this topic before, but because it was thrown into the lime light over the weekend, I thought I would again touch on the pros and cons of Open Source CMS platforms. Over the weekend, PBS.org's homepage was taken over by a group of hackers that gained access by exploiting the security flaws in the open source content management system that the site is built upon. The hackers changed the content to include a fake news story about rapper Tupac Shakur being alive in New Zealand, which of course spread like wildfire around social media sites. While creating a fake news story may seem harmless, it did showcase the security risk that all open source CMS platforms must deal with, source code that is open to the public.
With thousands of developers working with standardized source code to tweak and customize the program, coders often times find loopholes which will allow them access to your data. In an article from Information Week, it was stated that MoveableType, the CMS platform that PBS.org uses, had a security update just seven days before the attack, but PBS administrators failed to apply the patch - a problem that proprietary systems or software-as-a-service content management systems can automatically remedy.
There are certain situations, mostly depending on the type of site, where open source CMS platforms probably aren't suitable. A few of those situations might include:
School Websites - Sure, the "free" price tag of open source is always enticing, however, with the amount of free tools available to help someone hack an open source CMS driven site, a school's website could be an easy target for a student prank.
Financial Institutions - Anytime that someone's personal financial data is involved, open source should not be an option. This is pretty much a no-brainer.
- Government Websites - Any site that could contain an individual's personal data, or prompt them to enter it should be completely secure. An interesting exception to this category, however, is the Whitehouse.gov site which is run on Drupal, an open source platform.
It should be noted that proprietary CMS platforms aren't immune to attack. However, since the source code is usually unfamiliar to the hacker, the task becomes more difficult. What are your thoughts on the issue of security?
Posted May 13 2011 9:10 AM by
QR codes are beginning to pop up everywhere these days, and for good reason. These 2D barcodes are easy to scan (with the right device) and much easier for the user to interact with than a clunky mobile web browser. Quickly scanning the image can deliver extremely targeted content directly to the user when he/she is in the market for it, making a conversion much easier for the QR code provider. However, with any new technology (barcodes aren't new, but utilizing them in this manner sure is), there are questions around how to most effectively utilize these simple tools. Here are a few recommendations on getting the most out of your QR Codes:
Make Sure You Can Create Effective Landing Pages
As a consumer, if I'm scanning your QR code on a piece of print material, I'm thinking I had better not be directed to your homepage only to have to search your website for what I was looking for. Among other destinations (videos, coupons, etc), QR codes give you the ability to deliver a highly targeted landing page with content that is connected to the particular advertisement. If you cannot create landing pages on your site, it is time to invest in a content management system to allow for this. Keep in mind this landing page should also have a call to action...what do you want the user to do when they arrive? Buy? Fill out a form? Call you? Whatever the call to action is, make sure it is apparent.
QR code example - Need an easy way to create effective landing pages?
Ensure the Destination of the QR Code Adds Value for the User
This doesn't always have to be some sort of coupon or discount for your services, but those seem to be some of the most popular items for QR codes right now. Everyone loves free stuff, so if you're just dipping your toes into a QR code campaign, this is probably the safest option to gain traction and make the promotion worthwhile. For more on this, Jay Baer of Convince and Convert had a great article about a sandwich shop using QR codes during an Easter promotion that I recommend checking out.
Sounds simple, right? This tip goes back to the "don't send the user to your website's homepage" recommendation. A user that is willing to scan a QR code on an advertisement is inherently curious by nature. The content that greets them should be unique, fresh, and captivating...not the same boiler plate sales information that is featured on the rest of your website. Creating something that is both entertaining and engaging is a critical step in successfully utilizing QR codes.
Have you utilized QR codes yet? If so, how effective was the campaign? Leave your thoughts below.
Posted May 6 2011 10:59 AM by
As Google continues to modify its search algorithm, tweak the way search results are displayed, and add new features for searchers to interact with, it has becoming increasingly apparent that site owners and administrators have an extremely tough job on their hands to capture the ever-fleeting attention of first time visitors. Now, with the addition of the "user block" feature that Google has introduced, allowing a searcher to block an entire domain from appearing in any search results (if they are logged into their Google Account), the first impression that your site makes could be its last. So, here are a few items to think about, since the first impression that a site makes goes way beyond just the way it looks.
1. On-Page SEO
Before a searcher ever reaches your website via a Google search results page; they will be greeted with a few pieces of information from your site. The title tag, the meta description (or a snippet of it), and the page's URL are all displayed in the familiar listing that Google provides. If well thought-out, crafted, and maintained, your title tag and meta description can lead to a great user experience for the first time visitor. Properly, and truthfully, labeling each page within your site to summarize the content is the first step in convincing a would-be visitor that your site is worth their time.
2. Quality Content
So your search engine optimization expert told you that you needed to create content on a regular basis to help improve rankings, right? While this idea is correct, you must commit to writing quality content. Think of it this way...if you put garbage in, you will get garbage out (and probably blocked along the way). Each visitor's time is valuable and wasting it with poor, repetitive, or unoriginal content will result in a poor experience and possibly a block. With Google's increased ability to rank new articles extremely quickly (and increase exposure), you must write compelling content that is for the user, not the search engine. Here is a great post from Search Engine Land about this same topic.
3. Off-Page Factors
With the advancement of social media in combination with traditional offline marketing efforts, it could be quite possible that someone would have an impression of your overall brand way before reaching your website. If a searcher has a negative impression of your brand based upon some other marketing channel, they can block your URL without visiting your site at all. The important idea here is that your website's first impression may not be made by your website in the first place.
4. Design and Site Structure
As far as making a first impression goes, this one is the no-brainer of the group. Your sites design and layout either lends itself well towards increasing the impression of the first visit, or it doesn't. Is it clear what your company or organization does? Is it easy to find the information that a user is looking for? Try taking yourself out of your roll and visiting your site for the "first time." Would you come back? Did it provide the expertise/news/products/etc that you were searching for? If it needs improvement, can the changes be made by a few modifications, or will it require an entirely redesigned website? My advice, contact a web design expert for help if you're not sure...
It is unclear to what extent Google is going to utilize the user's feedback on certain URL's in the overall ranking algorithm, but it is undoubtedly going to be factored in at some level. Ensuring that your website (and your brand) is committed to creating well optimized, well designed, and well written content across all channels of marketing will keep visitors coming back and keep your site off the block list.
Posted Apr 21 2011 6:54 AM by
Having a great call to action on each page of your site is an essential factor for today's website-centric marketing efforts. An effective call to action can be the difference between a visitor bouncing off your website, or a visitor converting and continuing the conversation. Whether your conversion is getting someone to subscribe to your newsletter, pick up the phone, download a white paper, or buy a product, there are attributes of successful calls to action to keep in mind when implementing yours. Here are 5 of them, in no particular order of importance:
Make the button BIG
This tip should make sense without much explanation. A larger button will stand out more from text, decreasing the chance that someone simply overlooks it. If you have the ability to do so, testing different sizes of conversion buttons should be done to see what the optimal proportions are.
Utilize Negative Space and Alternate Colors
Used in conjunction with a large button, negative or white space can also help draw the eye to the call to action. Enhancing this even further, choosing an different color for the button that stands out compared to the main color palate of the site will help it gain the attention of the reader. Think bold, bright, contrasting colors...
Position the Call to Action High on the Page
The call to action button should definitely be above the fold, but this may not be enough. Keeping the call to action in the high center or high right side of the page is a good idea as this has become the trend for placement over the past years. Website visitors are familiar with this placement and changing it could cause them to overlook the button. If your page is longer, however, you might want to implement multiple calls to action throughout the content of the page. As a reader scrolls down, the call to action on the top of the page will disappear from view, so giving visitors another opportunity to act is always a good idea.
Use Actionable Language
The call to action should feature language that clearly lays out what you want the user to do. If your conversion is a visitor subscribing to a newsletter, use the phrase "Subscribe Now". If you want users to donate to your cause, try out "Please Donate" or "Donate Now". Using verbs such as call, buy, download, register, and find out all help encourage the website visitor to act.
Place the Call to Action on Each Page
This tip reverts back to an earlier post that conversions don't necessarily happen on the homepage. The same goes for a call to action. There is a good chance that each website visitor will interact with your website in a unique way. While there are analytics tools that can help you predict which pages get the most traffic, you can never be certain that each visitor will be ready to act at the same point in your site. For this reason, it is important that you give them the option to "Subscribe Now" or "Download a Whitepaper" (or whatever your call to action is) on whatever page they decide to take action.
Calls to action can often times be the determining factor in how successful a website is, once a user arrives. Following these steps can help you ensure that your website has the best chance to do its job. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that a call to action button should be tested and optimized to find out what combination of factors (size, colors, verbage, placement) converts the best. Whether you do this manually, or utilize a call to action optimizing tool, it is an important step in increasing conversion rates.
Posted Apr 15 2011 9:23 AM by
There is a good chance that if you're even thinking about redesigning your website, your current site is underperforming and not helping to convert visitors to customers. There are many things that can cause a site to underperform, and fixing these issues might require more than a design face-lift. After all, a pig wearing lipstick is still a pig, right? Over the next few weeks, I am going to focus on seemingly simple topics that can help you increase your conversion rate. This week's topic is realizing that true conversions don't occur on your homepage.
Often times during website redesign projects the majority of the attention is given to the homepage. While the homepage is the flagship of your brand, the point of your homepage is to get visitors to click- through to other information, leaving the page that the majority of discussions stemmed from. Now, I'm not saying that the homepage is unimportant. The site's usability is determined by the homepage layout. Factors like branding, menu layout, and site hierarchy are all determined during the design phase of the homepage...but more needs to be taken into account. Make sure you determine how you want users to interact with your site.
As an example, let's say that a successful conversion for your site is getting someone to swap their information for a whitepaper download. This can be a very powerful lead generation technique. You get their name, organization, contact information and the topic they are interested in (based on the topic of the white paper), and they get the download. Even trade, right? So, where do you put this form and download button? Well, if you want it to do well, you'd put it on the subpage the user was already interested in that had information about the same topic. This content should spark interest and convince the person that giving their information is well worth the trade.
Your homepage should guide users to the specific content they are interested in, not try to convert every visitor that gets there, especially if your business has a multiple service offerings. Sure, including calls to action, such as "See a Demo", "Find out why", and "Schedule Today" can all help point users in the right direction, but the targeted content on those linked pages is what will truly help convert a visitor to a customer.
Posted Apr 8 2011 9:19 AM by
It is no secret that the way Google ranks sites is constantly evolving and changing. It has been doing so since its inception more than a decade ago, which is a good thing. Think about it, the web has changed dramatically over this same time. We've seen websites evolve from online brochures to true marketing hubs for companies and organizations. We've seen the power of e-commerce truly emerge with companies like Amazon leading the charge. We've seen the dawn of a new technology called social networking and with it, have seen a site like Facebook become insanely popular. Google had to change the way it ranks sites to keep up, but one thing they haven't changed is their mission: Delivering the most relevant results to searchers as fast as possible.
While Google changes its algorithm to better suit today's searchers, site owners are often left wondering what they can be sure of when it comes to ranking well. For instance, Google may have just lowered the value of keyword heavy domains to give an equal opportunity for truly branded websites (think buy-hiking-shoes.com vs. zappos.com). Putting your entire stake in registering that perfect domain name might not matter so much. This is just one example of a recent change, but you can rest assured that there are certain things that will remain important to Google, and those are:
Nothing new here...content is king. Creating unique, relevant content and promoting it through your website, blogs, emails, press releases, and social media can help establish your site as the expert on a given topic. Make sure to establish a schedule for this content creation, and stick to it.
- On-Page SEO
Structuring your website with good on-page SEO not only helps search engines determine what your website is about, it also helps visitors navigate your site properly. A website without good URL structure, Title Tags, Heading Tags, etc, is like a city without street signs. Try navigating a city for the first time without any guidance...the same thing happens when people land on your un-structured website. Don't assume website visitors know what you do or sell.
Counting the number of incoming links that a website has is the idea that separated the quality of Google's search rankings from all of the other players in the late 90's. More links equaled more authority about a topic, which equaled better results for the searcher. While the idea of counting links still exists, it is much more complex (this is still an understatement). Simply having a lot of inbound links isn't what is important. PageRank of the linking site, anchor text, placement of the link, and relevance are all taken into account now. Attracting links these days should be done organically, by creating great content and promoting it through popular channels on the web.
Since Google started, these three items have been a major part of the algorithm. All signs are pointing to the fact that this will never change. Sure, other factors influence ranking, and this list over simplifies the criteria, but focusing on great content, good website structure, and promotion of that content is a great start for any website looking to increase relevant traffic.