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Posts from Website Best Practices | 2011

5 Ways Your CMS Can Help Your On-page SEO

Posted 5:35 PM by

CMS Selection ProcessSelecting 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.

Collaboration is KeySide 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. ”

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Infographics: The Perfect Link Bait

Posted 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
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.

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Google Finally Gets Social with Google+

Posted 2:29 PM by

Google PlusIt 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. 

Circles

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.

Business Uses

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?       

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Think You Know What's Best? Ask Your Customers.

Posted 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?” 

Listen to your CustomersAfter 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.

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Open Source CMS and Security Issues

Posted 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.

HackerWith 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?   
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Effectively Leveraging QR Codes in Your Marketing

Posted 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.

Be Creative

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.      

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Your Website's First Impression & Why It's So Important

Posted 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.            


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Increasing Conversion Rate Series - 5 Features of Great Calls to Action

Posted 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:

Great Calls to Action

 

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.

 

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Increasing Conversion Rate Series - Conversions Don't Happen on the Homepage

Posted 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.  

Increasing Conversion Rates

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.

 
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Focusing Your Efforts on Foundational SEO

Posted 9:19 AM by

Foundational SEO 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:

  1. Content
    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.
  2. 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.
  3. Links
    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.

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Google's New +1 Feature Bridging Gap Between Social and Search?

Posted 5:30 PM by

Google's +1 LogoOver the next few weeks, everyone that uses Google will begin to see its new "+1" feature showing up in search results and across the web.  This new feature can be thought of as the Facebook "Like" button, as it is simply a recommendation for whatever type of content the +1 icon is attached to.  Once activated, the button will change colors, letting you know that you have "+1'd" the article, ad, webpage, image, or video (and on and on).  If one of your friends or contacts happens to come across that particular piece of content that you "+1'd", they will see your name as someone who recommends that information.  Each time you "+1" something, you're basically leaving your mark to all that follow that you trust this piece of content, and that it is worth checking out.  It's a much more passive way to recommend something to your network than sending an email, or a tweet, or posting on Facebook.


We've seen Google dip its toes into the "social pool" before, often times with failed results.  Google Buzz, which was launched last year, didn't really ever gain traction compared to Facebook, Twitter, and 4Square - all of which it was trying to compete with or replace.  Google Wave was another foray into the social collaboration world that crashed and burned.  On the other hand, the new +1 feature might have some added benefit in the search engine optimization world, which would make it a very enticing new avenue to pursue.  It is far too early to tell, however, how Google will utilize these "+1's" in its algorithm, but I would fully expect Google to factor the data in at some point.  There is already plenty of speculation out there about what Google has up its sleeve, like in this article from CMS Wire, or this one from Search Engine Land.

With so much attention being given to social media these days, it will be interesting to see how all of this plays out in the corporate marketing world.  Will we soon see TV ads ending with "Like us on Facebook AND +1 us on Google?" Will the social media experts out there begin to measure how many "+1's" you have and try to assign a monetary value to it?  Or, will this be another failed attempt at seamlessly bridging the gap between social media and search?

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Great Content is the Only Constant

Posted 6:15 AM by

There has been a lot of news lately about the recent Google update that was aimed at devaluing content farms out on the web.  Sites that simply aggregated content from other sources were hit hard in the rankings for terms that drove most of their traffic.  While there were undoubtedly some good sites that were adversely effected by the update, the change in Google's algorithm just reinforced one of the lessons that Google's engineers, like Matt Cutts, have been preaching over the years...Google's mission is to deliver the best sites on the web to the people using its search engine.  These sites offer unique content, case studies, and add something of substance to the conversation.  This has always been their mission, and no matter what they decide to change in their algorithm, you can rest assured that their mission won't change.

Even though your site probably wasn't affected by the recent update, use this opportunity to look at your site.  Sure you want it to rank for your related key phrases, but does it really deserve to?  The key here is to be honest.  When is the last time that you updated the content?  How long has it been since you changed something on your homepage?  What value are you offering to a searcher who lands on your site for the first time? 

If your site doesn't earn a passing grade on these three simple questions, don't worry, there is help out there.  First things first, you need an internet marketing plan.  Jumping in head first without some sort of process or idea of what to update is a recipe for disaster.  Once you have the plan, you need to assign the roles within your organization or who is responsible for content creation and updating the site.  If your site isn't utilizing a content management system, it is time to invest in one.  This will allow for quick and easy updates, and depending on which system you choose, won't be a burden on your IT staff. 

Your website is a living breathing marketing tool that deserves attention.  It is the hub (or should be) of all other marketing efforts.  The Internet landscape is constantly evolving and because of this, the days of a static, brochure website have come and gone.  It is time to embrace being the expert of your industry and add something to the conversation.  If you can commit to a schedule of content creation, you can rest assured that Google will probably take note and reward you for your efforts.

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The Problem With Company Facebook Pages

Posted 9:05 AM by

Facebook Only Web Strategy is Dangerous
I read an article this morning that asked the question "Will Facebook Replace Company Websites?" While the company focused mostly on big brands and B2C companies, and how they were leveraging Facebook effectively, I still find it hard to believe that any company would completely abandon their web presence for a Facebook based strategy.  I have a few questions for anyone who says otherwise...


What happens when Facebook decides to change something major?

Since Facebook is a private company (for the moment), they have complete say over the direction they take their product.  While I don't think they would do anything too drastic to endanger the brands that have bought in to the "Facebook is the next best thing" strategy, it is still up to them what does change.  What if they start charging your company based upon the amount of likes?  After all, it is basically free advertising.  Do they do away with "likes" completely, as they did with "fans"?  Does your company really want to rely solely on another company (Facebook) for success?  All of these things are out of a company's control, unlike a standalone website.


Why does your Facebook page have an ad for your competitor?

Because Facebook's revenue is solely ad based, they have to allow this to happen.  So, if I go to the Mentos US fan page do I see ads for other brands right alongside it?  You bet I do.  The funny thing is that Mentos actually only promotes their Facebook page on TV ads now.  I'd say that a Facebook only web strategy won't allow you to completley control your brand.


If I'm not on Facebook, how do I get to and interact with your page?

No one is going to argue that there are a lot of people on Facebook, with that number growing every day.  However, the entire population of the world is not on Facebook, nor will it ever be.  Isolating your brand to solely rely on your Facebook presence limits your reach significantly.  Your webpage, on the other hand, is accessible by anyone, anytime.


These are just a few of the questions that I have, but to keep this short, I'll stop there.  You get the idea.

Now, I'm not saying that your Facebook pages have no value.  There have been multiple examples of how certain brands have leveraged large followings to reinforce brand loyalty.  As I stated earlier, however, most of those companies are B2C with well-known brands already.  It's much easier for them to make the jump into connecting with their fans out there.  Keep in mind that putting all of your efforts into one marketing channel is never a good idea.  Abandoning certain avenues to throw more time and money at the hottest thing in the industry can leave you wondering what happened to your brand if that particular social network doesn't last.  If you don't believe me, check out Marketpath's MySpace page...*

 

*Just Kidding.  Marketpath never had a MySpace Page.

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The 5 Point Checklist of Selecting a CMS

Posted 5:08 PM by

With so many content management systems out on the market today, selecting one can be a daunting task.  Many times, the future users of the system are unaware of which questions to ask, or what to look for when evaluating each platform.  I have decided to put together a checklist that will help technical and non-technical users alike when the question of which CMS to use inevitably comes up.

  1. Security - This may be the most important element of selecting a CMS, depending on your type of site.  Open source systems have often times failed the security tests because anyone can develop plug-ins for these platforms.  Less experienced programmers or hackers can often times develop modules that bring along negative consequences once installed.  Hosted CMS platforms can usually alleviate these problems. 

    Also something to take into account is the user authentication process.  How many users are there?  How are they tracked? Does each have unique login credentials?
  2.  

  3. Simplicity - The choice you are making is one you will have to deal with for months or years to come.  Sure, there are a lot of simple content management systems out there, but don't take a developers word for it.  They are experienced in using their favorite platform and come from a technical background.  Make sure you push to see a demo of the product, and make sure you understand the process of updating a site, especially if you're a marketer lacking HTML knowledge. 

    Making updates to your website shouldn't be intimidating or time consuming, as that is the whole point of using a CMS.  Make sure you're comfortable with the interface and you understand how the CMS works with your specific website.
  4.  

  5. Support - When it comes down to it, all software will have problems.  Bugs are an inevitable annoyance that always seem to come up at the most important times.  Here are the questions that needs to be answered about the CMS you are choosing - What happens when I need help?  Who can I call? And finally, how much will that cost me? 

    Each platform varies in their answers to these questions.  Open source systems can be supported by the developer who set them up, but at a price.  Installed platforms have their own maintenance agreements.  Software-as-a-Service platforms, on the other hand, have the best answer for this (I know I am biased).  If something goes wrong, you call the architects of the system for the fix, at no additional charge.
  6.  

  7. Speed - When I say speed, I'm referring to the speed of implementation.  Some systems have to be set up each time a new website is built.  Some systems have to be installed on internal servers, which will inevitably take time.  Other systems, usually software-as-a-service models, are already built and running in a hosted environment.  This means the timeline to launch a website can be shortened considerably, saving time and money.

    Implementing designs and content into a hosted solution can often be done within weeks, not months. 
  8.  

  9. Scalability - How flexible is the system?  How unique is your website?  Depending on whether your site will be a brochure site or whether it will be a true marketing tool can sway your decision from one CMS to another.  Figuring out the marketing goals for your website prior to CMS evaluation is a must if you want to truly have confidence in your selected CMS.

    A few other questions to ask are - What systems need to integrate with our website?  Since the Internet is constantly changing, how do we add new functionality to our site once it has launched?

Addressing these issues early in your content management system evaluation process can guide you down the right path.  One thing to realize is that no CMS is perfect for every website, as they all have their strengths and weaknesses.  Make sure you do your research, ask questions, and see demos of each product before making your final decision. 
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Pros and Cons of Software as a Service Content Management Systems

Posted 9:07 AM by

Last week I discussed the pros and cons of open source web content management platforms, such as Wordpress, Drupal, and Joomla.  To continue the conversation, this post will cover the pros and cons of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) web content management systems (CMS). 

Advantages of SaaS CMS:

  1. Low cost of entry - SaaS CMS is based on a subscription model, so there is no large upfront licensing fee.  Usually, a SaaS CMS project will have a small setup fee that covers the cost of implementation.
  2. No Extra Burden on IT Staff (Supported) - When a support issue arises with a SaaS product, the burden to fix the problem no longer falls on internal staff.  The company that provides the platform is responsible for fixing the issue, most of the time at no added cost.
  3. Highly Accessible - Since SaaS CMS is usually a virtual product, they are accessible from any computer with an internet connection. 
  4. Security - Since all the development is handled by the company that owns the CMS, there is no need to worry about malware or buggy add-ons to the CMS.  If it is released by the CMS company as a feature add-on, you can rest assured that it won't expose your site to security threats.
  5. Multiple Users Model - Most SaaS products have a multiple user model, where the price will increase with the number of users given access to the system.  This is great because it is often easy to add new users to help spread out the workload.
  6. Subscription Fee Fits into Budget - Since support is often times included in the subscription model, you can rest assured knowing that the monthly fee will not increase even if something goes wrong with your website.
  7. Ongoing Innovation - All software products have innovation, however, with the SaaS, new features are added quickly and often.  Usually these features are available to all users at no additional cost.
  8. Speed of Implementation - Since the CMS is already developed, launching a new website can often times be done in as little as 30 days.  With custom functionality and e-commerce, the project lengthens a bit, but it is still extremely fast compared to traditional website development.

Disadvantages of SaaS CMS

  1. No Local Data Control - Since SaaS CMS platforms are built and housed at Data Centers, the IT staff feels like it loses a bit of control when it comes to security.  However, SaaS CMS's are built behind firewalls and are often times more secure than a company's local servers.
  2. Subscription fee is Added Cost - Since there are "free" systems out there, recurring cost is often times looked at as a downside to the SaaS model.  It is up to you to determine the value of the SaaS platform for yourself and your business.  However, I encourage you to read an earlier post about support issues.
  3. Closed Development - Since SaaS CMS platforms are often times proprietary systems that belong to certain companies, they do not allow for an open source type development model.  This means that customers must request features to be added by the company, instead of searching the internet for a plug-in that is probably already developed. 
That concludes my list of the Pros and Cons of SaaS CMS.  I believe that the days of installed software are numbered, and that open-source platforms are great for certain applications and not great for others.  It is up to you and your team when evaluating different CMS options to find the solution that best fits your project, as not one CMS platform is the universal choice for all website builds.  However, I truly believe that SaaS makes a strong case in most projects, so make sure you take a long, hard look at it as a viable option. 
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Playing Russian Roulette with Google

Posted 10:54 AM by

Recently, the SEO world was buzzing about a major website's search engine rankings being stripped away because of a seemingly massive breach of Google's Terms of Service. You can read a great take and explanation on the situation at SearchEngineLand.com. Here is the summary:

Basically, Google was turned onto the fact that JCPenney.com had been engaging in link spamming on a huge scale. Google's algorithms had begun to pick up this red flag of black hat SEO, noticing that links to the JC Penney website had begun showing up everywhere on the internet (especially on sites with zero relevance to JC Penney) with some very descriptive anchor text. Later, the Google web spam team manually removed the JC Penney rankings to finish off the demotion. JC Penney claimed ignorance and fired their search engine optimization firm, who of course took no blame as well. JC Penney had lost what we all assume to be a pretty staggering sum of money and a major revenue stream, and the search engine optimization firm went on their way, with no known punishment, looking for their next target...I mean client. So, in one sentence, JC Penney was caught buying links, which is a big no-no in Google's eyes.

Buying Links

Who can be blamed for this? Sure, most of the blame falls to JC Penney for not doing their research on their SEO firm. Some of the blame should be shouldered by the SEO firm itself, but of course it won't be. Who else is to blame? Well, in my opinion, Google...

Anyone who understands anything about search engine optimization understands that Google's ranking algorithm relies heavily on inbound links to a site (quality and quantity). Google states in document after document and video after video that if you want to rank something, it should be as easy as creating descriptive title tags and unique content. However, that isn't always the case. If you want to rank for a high-traffic, competitive term, you must have the links, or "votes" to do so. This is the idea that Google is based upon; it is why Google is the most trusted search engine in history. In theory, it works. It has worked. And it will continue to work (with the correct tweaking).  However, since gaining links naturally is difficult, companies feel forced to start throwing money at the problem.

Herein lays the problem. When SEO companies began to figure this out (years ago) they shifted their services to offer link building as their main source of income. Technically, these are paid links and violate Google's terms of service. However, as long as they can mask their links in what seems like good content, they can get their client's sites to rank for hundreds, if not thousands, of terms, most of the time without getting caught (insert sympathy for JC Penney here). The ability to rank any site for any term is a powerful skill to have, and with this skill came enormous monthly fees, and in-turn, enormous profit. These SEO companies are good; some of them are REALLY good. 100% proven track records, money back guarantees, case study after case study, white paper after white paper. Ranking #1 on Google has become like a drug to some of their clients, and when something like the JC Penney fiasco occurs, they all scramble to make sure their clients are reassured that they don't do anything to violate the Terms of Service.

I guess you can't really fault JC Penney for buying links, right? They were simply keeping up with the Joneses. If they aren't buying them, they are falling behind and losing revenue because it would be almost impossible to rank on page 1 for the term "Comforter Sets", or any of their other thousand products without the extra boost.

A truly organic search ranking, or what we like to call "Granola SEO" in our office, is hard to come by these days. Huge, measurable ROI is the main factor playing into this dangerous game of search engine Russian roulette, and until Google figures out a way to stop it all, which they work towards on a daily basis, companies will continue to take the plunge and contract with link building companies. If you're one of these companies, keep your fingers crossed that you hired the right SEO company and that your website isn't next. In the meantime though, listen to Google, get back to the basics of why you're in business and create some great, unique content that has some substance, because we're all tired of reading spam with your link in it.

UPDATE - One of our good friends in the SEO industry reached out to me about this article.  After hearing what he had to say, I must admit that I did paint a pretty bad picture of the entire link building practice.  There are "white hat" SEO tactics that are welcomed by Google, as it makes their job easier to wade through the sea of bad content on the Internet.  Press releases, partner site linking, and setting up social profiles to propagate content throughout the web are all ways that sites can be successful in the SEO world.  These are not link buying tactics.  There are companies out there that abide strictly by these rules and they should be looked to as the experts of the industry.

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Pros and Cons of Open Source Content Management Systems

Posted 6:14 PM by

Last week, I touched a bit on the main difference, as we see it, between Open Source Content Management Systems (Joomla, Wordpress, Drupal) and Software-as-a-Service CMS's like Marketpath.  To dive a little deeper into this topic, I decided to list out a few pros and cons of the Open Source model.


Advantages of Open Source Content Management Systems:

Software is "free" - This is partially true. Open Source software is software that has been developed by a community of people that do not charge licensing fees for their work.

Plug-ins - If you want to add functionality to your website, there is often a plug-in already built.  There is no need to pay for custom development.  

Flexibility - The right tool in the right hands can be extremely powerful and flexible. Many of these open source content management systems can be set up to do just about anything. The possibility is almost endless.


Disadvantages of Open Source Content Management Systems:


Software is "free" - The old adage "you get what you pay for" is very appropriate here. While there is no ongoing subscription or licensing fee, Open Source technology often takes tens of thousands of dollars to set up properly. Plus, who do you call to fix the software when a bug is found? The open source development community may eventually provide a fix but there are no guarantees as to when.

Plug-in security issues - Some of the plug-ins work better than others, but you can never be sure until you install it. If it doesn't work, however, there is nobody to call for technical support - you're on your own. It seems that not a week goes by where you don't hear or read about a major security flaw either on a prominent website, or with the content management system itself.

Updating versions - Often times, these open source systems need to be updated to work properly. Updating the open source CMS behind the scenes of a website can often times cause problems on the website itself.

Steep learning curve - Many of these systems have a steep learning curve, as they are built with the developer in mind, not the non-technical marketer. It is possible to learn any system, but these more technical systems can often times lead to frustration and lack of use.

Have any other advantages or disadvantages of Open Source systems? Let us know in the comments section below.


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How Important is Support?

Posted 7:31 PM by

"Why should we pay a monthly/annual fee to subscribe to your CMS when there are systems out there that are free?" 

Well, well well...if it isn't the question that we run up against in most of our prospective client meetings.  It is actually one of my favorite questions to answer, not only because it means the client is doing their research into the content management industry (or having another vendor present a different solution), but it is relatively easy to make a strong case for the Software-as-a-Service model. 

"Free" Isn't FreeFirst, let me just say that the majority of the time that Open Source is brought up, the client is referring to one of four CMS's: Wordpress, Joomla, Drupal, or Plone.  Each one of these systems has its strengths and weaknesses (I promise they all have downsides, no matter what that programmer tells you).  These systems are incredibly flexible and can seem to have an endless amount of plug-ins that can be utilized for increased functionality.  They are typically free from any sort of subscription fee, which is also very enticing. 

Software-as-a-Service Content Management Systems, on the other hand, are often times proprietary systems that rely on a single company's efforts to expand on the product functionality, which can be a bit limiting at times.  These systems, many of which have been in development for years, can also be incredibly powerful and flexible though.  The main difference, in the eyes of the customer, is that "pesky" subscription fee.

If you're a small business owner, marketing director for a mid-size company, or the Chief Marketing Officer for a fortune 500 company, you just want your CMS to work when you need to update your website.  You probably don't care about the technical specs, or how many developers contribute to the vast database of plug-ins, you just require simplicity and reliability.  My question to you, then, is "How important is support?"

Support is where Software-as-a-Service differentiates itself from Open Source Systems.  If your Open Source CMS system breaks, who can you call?  You can't call the developer of the plug-in that is broken.  You can't call Wordpress or Joomla.  You have to call whoever built your website in this system, and I'm willing to bet, the time required to fix your issue isn't free.

Software-as-a-Service CMS's come with unlimited support for the system.  If you have a problem, you can call the programmers who built the system and get it figured out.  There is no searching the web for help, scouring documentation that, depending on your technical skills, might as well be in a foreign language, or digging into your bank account to pay unexpected support costs.  Think of SaaS as a true website partnership with a CMS company.

With all of that being said, no CMS is the right CMS for every project. Since this post was primarily about supporting a CMS, I didn't get into detail about specific pros and cons of each type of system.  I plan on detailing this list over the coming weeks, so stay tuned.                      


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A Little Knowledge Goes a Long Way

Posted 3:02 PM by

Almost everyone who knows me knows that me and my Dad (and Sister) are fixing up an old house.  We are knee deep into this project that has spanned 2 and a half years, as we really only get to work on it during the weekends.  Now, each weekend that I work there, I require music the whole day, or I get stir crazy.  For the past couple of years, I have relied on the Pandora radio app on my iPhone to keep me sane, and while I don't mind the advertisements that play every hour or so, one finally hit home with me last weekend.

The ad was for a popular coupon site, one I'm sure we've all heard of because they spend, what I'm sure is, a small fortune advertising all over the internet.  The ad, which played about 9 times on Saturday and 4 times on Sunday said the exact same thing each hour.  "Hey Pandora Listener, sign up on our website to get the best deals in Indianapolis!  Now back to your music."  Simple enough, and non-intrusive, right? 

Here is where the ad placement goes wrong though.  I am already a member of the coupon site's mailing list.  I use the same email address to receive their emails as I do for my Pandora account.  They have obviously used some sort of geo-targeting process to realize that I am located in Indianapolis, so why can't they cross reference their database of emails with the Pandora account emails and realize that I am already signed up with them?  Marketing to me to sign up for their daily coupons does nothing for me. 

I began to think about this opportunity they have and how they are essentially wasting it.  I began to think about how almost every website is missing this same opportunity.  Sure, we all have analytics to see where people are coming from and how they are getting to our sites, but are we missing the opportunity to tailor content to their specific visit. 

A couple things to think about...

  1. If the visitor is coming from a search engine, can we customize content based upon their keyword search?  (Marketpath has recently accomplished this for two clients)
  2. If the visitor is coming due to a link in a newsletter, or a tweet, or a Facebook post, can we change the content to be personalized to them?  (I'll give you a hint...yes.)
I guess the major take away here is, a little knowledge of who your visitors (or customers) are can go a long way in improving the usability of your website (or product).
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