The Geo of SEO

Everyone remembers 8th grade geology class: rock samples, videos about volcanos, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and especially the charts showing the layers of the Earth. Well, at Horizon Web Marketing, we may once again refer to that chart, and break down how Search Engine Optimization works in layers too, with the goal of getting your website better rankings.

 SEO and Geology aren't so different.

Layer 1- The Inner Core: The core is the inner-most layer of the earth, the center around which everything else rotates. In geology, the core is made up of liquid rock and metal, and the inner core is the very center of the planet, generating earth’s magnetic field and burning at about the same temperature of the sun. In SEO, the Core layer is our basic setup process: localization. Even if you have a nation-wide business, you need to make sure your address, phone number, and other contact info is correct wherever your company is listed. Your homepage, your social media accounts, your Google+ local listing, and even on ad listings and reviews like Yelp.

Layer 2- The Outer Core: The outer core is slightly cooler, and significantly larger than the inner core.  In SEO, this outer core involves secondary setup procedures for your site. These include establishing Google Analytics and Google Webmasters Tools tracking, and linking all of your reporting sites to your business website in order to get all your data in one place, and keep track of traffic to your site.

Layer 3- The Mantle: Now we’re starting to get away from the basics. The Mantle of our planet is made up of molten rock and metals- essentially the same lava and magma that erupts from volcanos! While the core is our solid foundation for both the planet analogy and SEO, the Mantle is constantly changing, flowing and heating and cooling. This is where we have the maintenance and upkeep process for your website. Algorithms change and traffic ebbs and flows just like the flow of liquid-hot rocks and minerals in our planet. At Horizon Web Marketing, we maintain your website with constant new keyword research; updating and improving content to make sure your site stays fresh and continues to rank as current search trends change.

Layer 4- The Crust: You may think of the crust as the solid ground you stand on, but any good geologist will tell you that it’s far from stable. Tectonic plates are constantly shifting, seismic activity causes earthquakes, and erosion is constantly wearing the crust down and rebuilding it, all beneath your feet. This, our SEO-troubled friends, is the Google Algorithm itself. When nearly everybody uses Google to search for sites, it is a huge upset in the SEO community when the Google Corporation changes the game. First came Google’s Panda algorithm in 2011, then Google Penguin in 2012, and now we have Google’s Hummingbird. Each time they change their algorithm- aimed at making search more user friendly and responsive to the individual searcher- it changes how we optimize for keywords and content. Considering that we seem to be getting a new algorithm each year now, it truly is a tumultuous time for SEO, and the ground we stand on is far from stable.

Is Your Website Search Engine “Friendly” (Part II)

In Part I of this series I laid out the concept of Search Engine Friendliness and gave you a couple of simple questions whose answers will help you get started with this topic.

Today I’ll explore 2 more questions for you or your developer to dig a little deeper.

Question 3 – Do You Have a Sitemap?

There are two kinds of sitemaps: the kind humans use and the kind that search engines use.  In both cases they are designed to identify all the pages of your website and make sure they all are accessible.  (Think of a directory at a shopping mall and you get the idea.)

The kind I’m talking about in this post, however, is the kind employed by search engines.  This type of sitemap is known as an “XML” sitemap (XML stands for eXtensible Markup Language, but that really is irrelevant to the discussion).  If you wonder whether you have one, the easiest thing to do is to enter your website address and then follow it with /sitemap.xml.  This is the conventional location for a sitemap.  Take a look at the sitemap for this website, for example:

http://www.horizonwebmarketing.com/sitemap.xml

Go ahead and navigate to that link and you’ll be able to see that it’s not very useful to humans.  Search engines, on the other hand, know exactly what to do with it.

What if you don’t have a sitemap in that location?  The most likely reason is that your developer did not set up either a sitemap or a program that automatically generates a sitemap.

You can generate your own sitemap by going to the resource we used last week to test whether spiders can crawl your website, http://www.xml-sitemaps.com/.  Go back to that site and let them guide you through the process (see screen capture below).  One word of caution however: if you use this method you’ll have to remember to re-generate the sitemap anytime you make a significant change to your site.

 

screen shot of xml sitemap generator

 

Or, if you have a Content Management System (such as WordPress, Joomla, Drupal) you should be able install a plugin or add-on that will generate a sitemap automatically anytime you make changes to the pages of your site.  This latter option is definitely preferred, since you don’t have to remember to update your sitemap manually.

Question 4 – Are Your URLs Search Engine Friendly?

A URL is the unique identifier to any given page on your website.  Search engines think in terms of URLs.  At the same time, URLs often are created by programmers to make pages display content based on a set of criteria.  For example, a typical Google search result page URL might look like this:

 google.com/search?q=site%3Ahobbfarms.com&oq=site%3Ahobbyfarms.com&aqs=chrome..69i57j69i58.4935j0j4&sourceid=chrome&espv=210&es_sm=122&ie=UTF-8#es_sm=122&espv=210&q=site:hobbfarms.com&start=110

Even though Google uses URLs like this, their robots, which constantly crawl the web, aren’t crazy about such a convoluted URL, and they would likely shy away from crawling pages with addresses like this.

More commonly, many people who set up WordPress blogs will let WordPress use a default configuration that is a simpler version of the same principle.  The following is a screen capture of a WordPress site displaying two different URLs.  The top one is the default WordPress URL, and the bottom one is a “search engine friendly” URL.

screen capture showing search engine friendly URLs

 

If you have search engine unfriendly URLs you’ll be able to tell just by browsing some of your pages and looking for addresses that carry characters like these:

& # ! % ; ?

If you see a bunch of these types of special characters in your website pages, better have a chat with the developer and see if you can convert those URLs to something that will be more friendly.  In WordPress this is fairly easy.  Just navigate to the Permalinks section and set it up as you can see in this last screen shot:

screen capture showing search engine friendly settings in WordPress Permalinks

 

In our next and final installment dealing with Search Engine friendliness I’ll be discussing two very common mistakes that many businesses make that render their sites far less welcoming to Google and Bing than they could be.

 

 

 

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.

We’ll Call this a Hollow SEO Victory

This is a quick follow up to the post I did yesterday.  In that post I claimed that I could guarantee a #1 ranking in Google virtually immediately.

And the proof is in the viewing.  Below is my screen capture from less than 24 hours after the page went up:

Internet marketing experiment