Is Your Website Search Engine “Friendly”? (Part I)

6 Questions to Ask that Will Help You Determine Whether Your Website is Search Engine Friendly

You have to crawl before you run, as the saying goes.  And before your website can be “optimized” for search it must be “friendly” to search engines.  That’s where “Search Engine Friendly” comes in.

Most of our business consulting clients have heard of SEO (Search Engine Optimization), and some of them have heard of SEM (Search Engine Marketing), and I’ve blogged about those terms before.  However the one term that very few businesses have encountered is SEF, Search Engine Friendly.

Think of a store as an analogy.  If you want your store to encourage visitors, you’d better have the door unlocked and the lights on, right?  A nice window display and a flashing “open sign” would be nice as well.  I recently shot a brief video to make this point.  Watch the video to get the concept down, and then look below the video for 6 questions you can ask about your website and how to answer them (this post will deal with 2 of these questions, and we’ll deal with the rest of them in part 2 and part 3).  These questions and answers will help you make a quick determination about how friendly your website would be to Google, Bing, Yahoo, or any other search engine.

 

Question 1 – Can a Search Engine Crawl the Pages of Your Website?

To show your pages to searchers, a search engine first has to have your pages in its “index” (i.e. it’s database of web pages).  They use programs called robots or “spiders” to visit your site and find all its pages.  To determine whether the automated programs the search engines use can find your pages, here’s a quick method that is very effective.  Go to http://www.xml-sitemaps.com or a similar site (you can also use a program like Xenu Link Sleuth or Screaming Frog to do this step).

Enter your website homepage (see screen capture below):

screen capture of entering a url to a sitemap generator to check search engine friendliness

 

Once the program does it’s thing it will report results.  Here are the results for the test site I entered (by the way, I have no connection with this site, I chose them randomly for the example):

 

another screen capture of a sitemap generator that only found a single page

Notice how the spider only found 1 page.  This is a big problem.  It means that the site architecture (i.e. the way it’s navigation is structured) creates a huge barrier to search engine spiders.  There are ways to get around this, but they require a fair amount of effort and are always a class b solution.  If you have this problem, you need to find out why and get it fixed immediately.  Consult a developer if you need help, but get it done.

A few possible reasons a spider can’t crawl your website

  • poor url structure
  • flash-based navigation
  • a robots.txt file that is discouraging spiders

Question 2 – Does Your Home Page Load Extremely Slowly?

What do you do if you go to a site and you have to sit there about 10 seconds watching a spinning wheel on your screen instead of seeing the website you want to visit?  If you’re like most people, you hit the back button.  So do the search engines.   But sometimes a page can load slowly for you because you have a lousy internet connection or your computer is loaded up with viruses and malware.  Here’s how to tell if your site is slowly just for you, or for everyone.

Go to http://tools.pingdom.com/fpt/ and plug in your website URL, but don’t hit Enter yet.

Click the “settings” link below the URL field (see below):

screen capture of pingdom to show how to check the load time of your web page

Set the checkpoint to the geographical location nearest you.  Now you can hit Enter or click the submit button.

If your site takes more than a few seconds to load (I would consider anything above 4 to be pretty slow) you have a slow loading site.  You may want to repeat this test several times during the day to make sure it wasn’t an unusual load condition at your website host (although if they regular periods where your site is slow to load you need to get a better hosting provider).  Again, correcting this problem is going to take a developer.

A few possible causes for slow web page load times

  • extremely large images
  • lots of javascript
  • poorly written javascript
  • a poorly configured or overloaded server
  • a web host with too little Internet bandwidth

In our next blog post we will give you two more questions to ask yourself or your developer to determine whether your website is open for business and a friendly place for Google and Bing to visit.

If this post is useful to you, I’d appreciate you giving it a Plus One, a Like on Facebook, or a Tweet!

 

The CDC Zombie Apocalypse Post

image from the original CDC zombie apocalypse post

A Social Media Success Case Study

(Editorial Note: The CDC post mentioned in this post has been removed from it’s original location.  However you can still read it on the Internet Archive here. Be patient, the link takes a while to load.)

In 2011 the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a quintessentially staid and stolid government bureaucracy, did something quite unexpected.  They explained how to prepare for a zombie apocalypse.  Yes, a zombie apocalypse. On May 16th, 2011, a blog post authored by Ali S. Khan, CDC Director of Preparedness, appeared with the strange title Social Media: Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse.  Readers didn’t quite know what to think.

If you're    ready for a zombie apocalypse, then you're ready for any emergency.    emergency.cdc.gov

Of course the CDC had not totally lost its grip on reality.  Nor were Zombies a real threat.  The CDC was merely using a clever – and tremendously successful – method to attract attention to its annual push for disaster preparedness.  According to an excellent account and blow-by-blow timeline on The Benshi, the unexpected post was the brainchild of two CDC employees, Catherine Jamal and Dave Daigle, who were searching for a way to motivate people to do some disaster preparedness at the beginning of the hurricane season. Soon the post was generating incredible viral publicity (Writer Randy Olson reported that the CDC media analyst Cision valued the P.R. at $3 million), being featured on The New York Times, Fox News, the Huffington Post, Time Magazine and hundreds of websites.  In less than a week the post had received 963,000 page views. If you read the post, I think you’ll agree that it was indeed moderately clever, but certainly nothing breathtaking.  So what was the secret to it’s success? I think it has to do with three things:

  1. They tapped into a powerful cultural meme: Zombies.  AMC’s show The Walking Dead and countless zombie movies beat a path and the CDC followed it.
  2. They did something unexpected.  What do you expect from the CDC?  I know what I expect: dry warnings about the flu and smoking and HIV and reports of medical research.  No one expects anyone there to have fun with anything.
  3. They followed up well.  In fact the campaign is still generating traffic 3 years later and you can still embed zombie-flavored CDC code on your website (in fact, we’re showing you some of their embeds below).  They’ve added a zombie poster, zombie educator tips, and more.

Return of the Zombies

Of course there are consequences.  In 2012 the CDC was once again enmeshed in zombies, but this time repeatedly, and incredulously, trying to debunk the rumors that the dreaded zombie apocalypse had actually begun (see the Huffington Post report here).

The Zombie Preparedness List

Oh, and by the way, in case you’re curious, the following is the list of the most important items to have on hand for when the undead are unleashed:

  • Water (1 gallon per person per day)
  • Food (stock up on non-perishable items that you eat regularly)
  • Medications (this includes prescription and non-prescription meds)
  • Tools and Supplies (utility knife, duct tape, battery powered radio, etc.)
  • Sanitation and Hygiene (household bleach, soap, towels, etc.)
  • Clothing and Bedding (a change of clothes for each family member and blankets)
  • Important documents (copies of your driver’s license, passport, and birth certificate to name a few)
  • First Aid supplies (although you’re a goner if a zombie bites you, you can use these supplies to treat basic cuts and lacerations that you might get during a tornado or hurricane)

For a full disaster preparedness checklist, the CDC has a less humorous, but certainly more complete page.

Infographic: 10 Tips to Keep Visitors 20 Seconds

This infographic is a companion to a blog post we published that gives some easy-to-understand tips that anyone can put into practice to make sure their web content has the best chance of engaging site visitors quickly.

 Info graphic, tips for writing engaging web content

 

Here’s a snippet of the infographic:

info-graphic-writing-for-the-web-highlight

Feel free to embed this infographic on your site.  Here’s the code:

In Internet Marketing, 10 Will Get You 20

woman with clock to illustrate point for web copywriting article

How to Keep a Visitor on Your Site Long Enough to Make Them a Customer

According to Internet usability guru Jakob Nielsen, the first 10 seconds are crucial to your online success.  Here’s what he says:

If the Web page survives this first — extremely harsh — 10-second judgment, users will look around a bit. However, they’re still highly likely to leave during the subsequent 20 seconds of their visit. Only after people have stayed on a page for about 30 seconds does the curve become relatively flat.  Source: http://www.nngroup.com/articles/how-long-do-users-stay-on-web-pages/

When he talks about “the curve,” he means the rate at which users leave your web page.  The drop-off is highest in those first 10-30 seconds.  If you can engage your visitor for a scant half a minute, your chances of being able to communicate your full marketing message improve dramatically.

If you’re a business owner who can’t afford to hire a “guru” to write your web copy, simply keep a link to these tips handy and you’ll be on your way to that magic “conversion” moment when a visitor becomes your customer.

10 Tips for Writing Effectively for the Web

  1. Info graphic, tips for writing engaging web contentYour headline is the key.  Make your headline powerful.  Your headline is the key not just to the first 10 seconds, but the first 3.  Spend time with it.
  2. Understand your visitor.  Before you even get started with point number 1, do some research on who your target audience is.  Research doesn’t have to be hard.  Try asking some of your existing customers or website visitors (for example with an easy online survey) why they came to your site.
  3. Focus on visitor intent.  Once you understand your ideal visitor, and why they came, you’re ready to craft a message that addresses their specific wants and needs.  If you match that “why” you stand a better chance of getting them to ask “how do I buy?”
  4. Engage them.  No one wants to hear your elevator pitch.  People don’t like to be preached at, and make no mistake, a lot of sales talk comes off as preaching.  Instead, involve your visitors with a hook or a question.  Sort of like we did with this blog post, right?
  5. Make it clear.  If you confuse your visitor you might as well give up on them.  And you’re not a good judge of what will confuse them.  Why?  I guarantee that you’re too close to your product or service.  This doesn’t mean you should stop writing your own copy.  Just make sure you share it with at least 5 people outside your organization and see if your written content is immediately clear.  Remember, it has to be clear in seconds.
  6. Don’t fight their eyes.  People have predictable ways of visually taking in your content.  Don’t get so creative in your layout that you ignore typical user behavior.
  7. Use the golden “F.”  Eye tracking studies have shown that people scan a page in an “F” pattern.  They start at the top left, move across then down.  Their eyes stop going across the page as they go down looking for something interesting.  Make sure your important points are top and left.  This is also known as the “golden triangle.”
  8. Go lean.  Too much text puts eyeballs to sleep.  Even if you have a lot you need to say, break it up into short paragraphs and lots of headings.  Better: try always to say what you need to with fewer words.  The Gettysburg Address is not the most famous speech in American oratory because it’s long.
  9. Use bullet points.  Remember those eye tracking studies (see tip 7)?  Well they also show that people invariably will scan bullet points.  Make sure you use bullet points to present the things that are most important to your visitor.  (Use these bullets to match their intent, as indicated in tip #3)
  10. Neuroscience is your friend.  Use it when selecting images.  Part of “writing” for the web is making sure that you include some visuals.  (If people wanted nothing but text they would all have the 1995 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica on their shelf.)  But more than a pleasing image, use a shot with some persons face looking at the visitor.  Reason?  From the time we are babies we are wired to look at faces and eyes.  Naturally you want to make the face relevant to your content.  Example: If you’re marketing a car show the face of someone driving it, or standing by it, or sitting in it.

Get the Infographic

As a visual reminder of these 10 tips, we’ve created an infographic, 10 Tips to Keep Visitors 20 Seconds, that will help you to quickly remember them and apply them whenever you write for the web.  Follow these tips and you’re well on your way to breaking that 10-second barrier and connecting with your next customer.

Website and SEO Services: Like Peas and Carrots

Peas and Carrots photo shows how SEO and Website services Often when companies go in search of SEO services on the web they are thinking of “SEO” as a service separate from website design.  I can understand that, for a couple of good reasons.

First Reason SEO Services are often Divorced from Website Services: Lack of Training

Let’s face it, it’s not hard to find someone who is willing to build a website.  I’ve been in Web development since 1995, professionally since 2000, and if I had the proverbial nickel for every time that I encountered a website built by someone’s nephew or brother-in-law I would be able to retire in Fiji (and that’s only a slight exaggeration).  The nephew or brother-in-law won’t be combining search engine optimization talent with web development talent, since in all likelihood they haven’t even got the web development side down yet.

On the other extreme are websites that are extremely sophisticated and polished.  But in order for a web tech to achieve that level of skill in this day and age they need to spend every spare moment honing their web development skills.  Real web development is a demanding profession as Google approaches its sweet sixteen birthday, and it does not favor part-timers.

Second Reason SEO Services are often Divorced from Website Services: Differing Mindsets and Skillsets

In my experience the types of techs who have an inclination toward web programming and design tend to have a disinclination to the fuzzier, more abstract world of selecting keywords, creating content, and cultivating the types of partnerships that lead to quality links.  So even though some web development professionals will engage in SEO, in most cases their heart, and their time and training, are not into it.

But Divorce can be Messy

Certainly there are SEO companies that work on just Search Engine Optimization, in a world totally divorced from website development technology.  Such companies rely on another company to deal with the website technical issues, but that creates a powerful disadvantage.   The disadvantage lies in the fact that search engine optimization, which is part of search engine marketing, has a technical site that relies on a keen understanding of what can and cannot be accomplished in website programming.  A failure to have a good grasp of that can lead the SEO services firm to expect the unrealistic, or to spend time and money making inappropriate demands of the web development people.

The other disadvantage arises when one of the two organizations isn’t up to standard.  If a highly skilled SEO firm has to rely on a lax and incompetent web developer to get things done, they end up looking just as bad as, if not worse than, the developer.

Best SEO and Website Services Solution: Different People, One Team

At Horizon we realized long ago that we would need a team approach to serve out customers in the best way possible.  For that reason we have assembled a multi-disciplinary team that can deal with your companies online marketing needs from development to search to social media.    Within our team we can address Website needs as well as the broad range SEO and SEM services necessary to succeed online.

So, if you’re tired of eating your peas and carrots separately, give us a call and we’ll discuss how we can put our Website and SEO services team to work for you.