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

 

Google+: Is it Important for Internet Marketing?

Google+ is a Distant Second in Social Media, but It’s Having a Powerful Impact on SEO/SEM

If you’re a social media maven, skip this post.  This article is intended for business people who have better things to do than follow the world of social networks like Facebook.

graphic showing Google+ plus sharing percentage vs. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest

Graphic showing the percentage of users who share content on the various social media platforms

Many of our SEO clients ask us for help with Facebook.  Some, but far fewer, ask for a hand in optimizing Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.  But very few seem to be asking for our assistance with Google+, or even wondering whether it’s important to their marketing efforts, or our efforts to optimize their websites for search.  When we mention Google+, most of our business clients seem puzzled, either that it’s coming up for discussion, or, in some cases, what the heck it is.  The question that many business people carry, if they have one at all for poor Google+, is, “will Google+ ever be important?”

I understand the question.  In fact I would be stunned to encounter anyone who’s not into tech that pays much attention to Google+ at any level.  And the facts support my conclusion. In a recent study by social media management company Gigya, it was evident that people are simply not buying into the Google+ experience, at least not when it comes to sharing.

So does that mean we can dismiss Google+ in terms of the Internet marketing “big picture” ?

My answer is a definite, No!  In fact it already is very important for anyone interested in Internet Marketing.

The Honda Factor in the Success of Google+

In the late 1980’s I was the proud owner of a Honda CRX Si.  For those of you who forget (or never even knew), the CRX was a 2-seater sports coupe that Honda produced to go up against cars like the Toyota MR-2, a very popular and nimble sportster of the time.  I once read a road test in Road & Track magazine that compared the Honda CRX with the Toyota MR2 and several other sports coupes.  The goal of the comparison was to make an evaluation as to which engine placement was best: front, mid, or rear.

crx vs mr2

At the end of the article, the test team concluded (and remember this was in 1989) that the best engine placement for a sports car was mid-engine.  However they said that the CR-X, with it’s front engine placement, performed about as well as the MR2.  I don’t have the exact quote, but it went something like “this is Honda we’re talking about; if they want to make a front engine placement work, they’re going to do it, regardless of whether mid-engine is best in the end.”

I have some of the same thoughts about Google and Google+.  Does the world really need another social network?  Not really.  But this is Google.  If they’ve decided to make a social network work, they’re going to make it happen.  If your business wants to succeed on line, don’t bet against Google.

But regardless of whether Google Plus succeeds as a network, what about the question of whether Google+ is really relevant to your day-to-day business marketing efforts?  If search engine optimization and search engine marketing are important in your overall marketing strategy, then the answer is yes (even if you have no real need of Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, or any other social medium).

The way that Google is making Google+ relevant is by leveraging their dominant position in search.

The issue of whether sharing a website post or post on Google+ will make it rank better is a matter of hot debate in the SEO community with some “studies” indicating that sharing content on Google+ makes it rank higher, and other studies showing it has no effect.

I believe that particular question can remain unanswered for the time being.  The important factor here is something called Google Authorship.  By tying your content into your own profile on Google+ you can raise the visibility of that content.  What it affects is how your content is displayed in search results.   Everyone has seen the small thumbnail pictures of people that appear next to many search listings (see my example below).

 example of search snippet showing Google+ authorship markup

The impact of this is considerable.  Human beings are hard-wired from birth to look toward human faces.  Which of the above listings do you look at first?  The ones that are plain text, or the ones with a face next to them.  Like it or not, the face draws the eyes of the searcher.  Increasingly you will need to make sure that a human face adorns your content in search results, not merely to stand out, but also to avoid fading away as your competitors adopt this tactic.

In a future post I’ll discuss how to get this done.  Or, if you want to get started taking advantage of this right away, contact your account representative at Horizon Web Marketing and we’ll help you get going with Google Authorship.