OSEO Boot Camp, pt. 6: The Wrap-up.

This week, I’ll be doing a six part series on Organic SEO, and how to apply best practices to your web content. Read part 1part 2part 3,  part 4, part 5 and part 6.

I have a confession to make. Over the course of this series, I’ve taken you far away from the traditional definition of “Organic SEO”, and into something much more accurately defined as creating an organic user experience; an engaging and interactive environment which garners good search engine placement because it meets the user need, and accurately identifies that to the search engines. I’ve guided you down a path where you create not just a website, but a vibrant online personality for your brand, that both speaks and listens to its users. I did so because I believe when you make delivering value to your users your first priority, you naturally deliver better on the core Google values than you would if you simply focused on SEO. Doing so results in more people spreading your link because it is the relevant answer, which results in higher PageRank.

It took remarkably little searching to find this image on Google.Whether your brand is revolutionizing software interfaces as we know them, or providing custom clothing accessories for mid-sized rodents, it will benefit from a user focused approach to your web content and marketing. THIS is true organic marketing. If you want to convert those visits to sales, they have to have come there because your site was the right answer. Optimizing your site for search engines is not enough; you have to optimize your strategy.

I hope you’ve enjoyed and learned from the series, and please feel free to post any questions to the comments!

OSEO Boot Camp, pt. 5: Speed

This week, I’ll be doing a six part series on Organic SEO, and how to apply best practices to your web content. Read part 1part 2part 3,  part 4part 5 and part 6.

Today’s post is about your website speed. Ironically, it’s being posted two days late. Although I enjoy posting here, and hope that you find these posts helpful and instructive, my first priority is always as the web guy, and duty called. Now that the fires have been put out, let’s get back to making sure your site gets the traffic you need to grow your business.

As one of their four core values, Google practices what they preach by making sure their service runs at lightning speed. When you search for something, your results are near instantaneous. Their recommendation to you to do the same should be taken to heart:

“Speeding up websites is important — not just to site owners, but to all Internet users. Faster sites create happy users and we’ve seen in our internal studies that when a site responds slowly, visitors spend less time there. But faster sites don’t just improve user experience; recent data shows that improving site speed also reduces operating costs. Like us, our users place a lot of value in speed — that’s why we’ve decided to take site speed into account in our search rankings. We use a variety of sources to determine the speed of a site relative to other sites.”

Your website needs more hare, less tortoise.Understanding how Google values your site response time, open your web site, and use a stop watch to time each page load. If that number goes over 5, your site is losing both visitors and PageRank.

So, how do we get our load time down? Let’s start with the basics:

1. Optimize your images.

Photos, as a rule, should be in jpeg format, and unless there is a prevailing need for high resolution, should be compressed to ‘High’ (60%) quality. Non-photo graphics should generally be saved as pngs or gifs. Make sure that empty space around the image has been cropped, and that you have sized the image to the dimensions you want it to appear on screen. Many web content systems, including WordPress and Zen-Cart, create thumbnail or preview images by loading the full size photo, and displaying it with a width setting which makes it appear smaller. This slows your load time, so make sure you have already correctly sized your images before uploading.

2. Forget the Flash.

This is not a greater statement about whether Flash is a good method for providing rich content for your site visitors. I love to see a well designed and executed Flash site, since they can be very entertaining. I am saying, however, that Flash is not for you.

The uncomfortable fact is, 99% of sites using Flash do it wrong. They have lengthy Flash intros that delay users from getting to the content they need, including making them sit through loading screens. They encapsulate all the site content into a single Flash file, which looks pretty, but slows the delivery of the actual site value users are looking for, and hides its content from the search engines. Flash is generally inaccessible to mobile devices (Android has a slow and buggy implementation of Flash, and Apple famously rejects it entirely), so you are unnecessarily immediately cutting out a large chunk of internet visits. From start to finish, incorporating Flash in your website is almost guaranteed to have exactly the opposite effect you were looking for; it will hamper both your site usage and your search engine placement. Unless your site is a non-commercial art site which specifically requires Flash to execute some advanced artistic function, leave it out.

3. Streamline your landing pages.

With the prevalence of web widgets, it’s easy to place related content in your site sidebars, and there is a tendency to try to fit it all in on every page. Embedded tweets, Facebook posts, revolving galleries, book lists, recent links, recent comments, recent posts, recent bowel movements…while this level of available functions works (arguably) well for social networking and other community type sites, it is overwhelming and counterproductive to marketing driven pages, and creates a substantial and unneeded lag to your page loads.

Compare the overwhelming visual clutter of the landing page for HandMadeCraftShow.com (and the associated load time…I have it at about 10-12 seconds), with the clean and fast landing page of CupidsBowBook.com (which loads in just a couple of seconds, even including the non-recommended Flash!).

It’s a common mistake of new webmasters to try and wedge everything into the front page, but stop and consider all of the elements you’re including, and if they’re really necessary. The old adage “less is more” is particularly true when it comes to load times on your site page. If providing real time embedded social media updates is slowing your page load time down, all the work you’ve done to make that page a relevant response to your visitors’ needs are for nothing.

4. Break it up, already!

If you have a personal blog with a faithful readership, by all means, have all of your posts appear in their entirety on the front page of your site. However, if you’re a commercial enterprise, a leading paragraph with an interesting and inviting title and a ‘Read more’ link is all that needs to appear. Your goal is to entice the visitors to explore, not to hit them over the head with every bit of content you can slam them with the second they get to your site. MarketitWrite has this to say about your marketing text:

  • The role of the headline is to encourage the recipient to read the lead paragraph.
  • The goal of the lead paragraph? To invite the recipient to read the next paragraph.

If your landing page covers more than one topic, you don’t need to include more than a catchy headline and a well written paragraph for each topic introducing the content, and enticing the reader to click through for more. In fact, this simple change in approach not only decreases your load time, it begins the sales process by encouraging a “yes action” on the part of the visitor. Click for more info, click to customize, click to buy.

With speed, as with the other three points we’ve covered, the best practice approach is double sided; it not only enhances your search engine placement, it delivers a better user experience on your site, which leads to a feedback circle driving even BETTER search engine placement. If your site makes your users wait, unless you’re Reddit, don’t expect them to stick around until the hourglass disappears.

Check back tomorrow for our Boot Camp wrap up, and some Q&A with your questions and comments! Feel free to add your questions by commenting below.

45 free WordPress templates

If you’re just looking for something out of the box you can use to get your WordPress site up and running, check out Fuzzly’s post for a nice selection of modern templates:

Fuzzly's got 45 problems, but a WordPress theme ain't one.Yes that’s right 45 FREE WordPress themes you really should look at.

It’s round up time, being a bit of an enthusiast when it comes to WordPress I immediately set myself a challenge to find 45 FREE WordPress themes that are worthy for any business or general purpose blog.”

OSEO Boot Camp, pt. 4: Freshness

This week, I’ll be doing a six part series on Organic SEO, and how to apply best practices to your web content. Read part 1part 2part 3,  part 4part 5 and part 6.

Now that we’re beginning the second half of our boot camp, let’s review what we’ve learned so far:

  • Organic SEO means achieving your search engine placement by providing relevant content instead of paying for sponsored links or third party SEO services.
  • Keywords are not as important as search contexts, and you should incorporate as many of those contexts as possible in your site.
  • Greater relevance is achieved by having a growth plan for your site based on dynamic content, and slowly building your site to include thousands of possible search contexts.

See that “slowly” in the third point up there? There’s a reason for that. Today we talk about the importance of Freshness in your site, and how it can literally mean the difference between life or death for your online presence.

Bakery bread. See, cuz it's "fresh" baked, get it? "Fresh". OK, sorry, you got it, right.The single greatest appeal of online content is not the vast collections of cataloged data, although many appreciate those resources.  It’s one word: “New“. New email, new tweets, new Facebook posts, new blog posts, new NEWS! The more the medium matures, the more it is organizing into a system by which new data is created, filtered and delivered based on the user interest, as opposed to simply a library of virtual books. Web users don’t open a browser everyday and begin re-reading your clever marketing copy; they open social networking and social news sites, and peruse aggregated lists of linked information sorted by either friend network (Facebook), or topic and popularity (Reddit, StumbleUpon).

Given how people actually use the internet, it’s difficult at BEST to achieve online relevance with a static catalog or reference book gathering dust in that virtual library. Your content is not going to be continually linked and spread if it’s already been seen, which leads to a peak of traffic, and then stagnation. Except for compulsive hoarders, not many people are going to keep flipping through that 1952 Sears and Roebuck catalog.

So, we understand now that Freshness is key when building a robust online presence. How, then do we come up with “fresh” content all the time, to  keep our relevance high? Fortunately for you, you built a Comprehensiveness plan in the last section.

Pictured: Fresh dance moves. Also pictured: NOT fresh clothing.Remember when I said having that plan would help you maintain Freshness? Now is when that comes into play. You should have a large list of search contexts that you need to incorporate in your site. Your freshness goal is to update a minimum of 2-3 times per week, so pace yourself as you work through your list. That update doesn’t have to be anything more than a new photo, a new product, a blog post, a new topic in your forum, or the addition of any kind of informational page.  Each time you do, recompile your XML sitemap, and notify Google.

What? You don’t have an XML sitemap, and don’t know how to notify Google? Read this immediately. All of your efforts to create fresh content are for naught if the search engines aren’t getting notified every time you update.

Divide your context list into items which are date sensitive (promotional events, scheduled product releases or revisions, company announcements) with items that are not (general informational content, how to guides, history, etc.). At any point in time, you can create large chunks of the non-date sensitive content, and break it up into reasonable pieces to be published over time. Remember: Division is NOT Addition. Don’t turn what should be a single post on a topic into ten pages of one paragraph each. No one likes excessive pagination. (No one likes excessive perspiration either, which coincidentally, is not fresh).

Now you have filler content, which can be disseminated over time (according to your freshness goals) on the days or weeks you don’t have date sensitive content. You consistently have fresh fodder for the social media platforms, and your sitemap freshness rating (“changefreq“) is legitimately high (e.g. “hourly”, “daily”, or “weekly”). All of these factors will contribute to an overall Freshness which will be reflected in your search engine positioning.

In summary:

  • Use your Comprehensiveness plan to figure out content that can be created in bulk, and disseminated over time.
  • Aim for 2-3 site updates per week, minimum.
  • Use Google’s Webmaster Tools and an XML sitemap to report those updates every time you publish.

Remember, Google places a lot of weight in measuring relevance on third parties linking to your site content. By making site freshness a priority, you create frequent opportunities for that to happen in a consistent way over time, resulting in a naturally stronger PageRank. You also feed your users’ insatiable hunger for “New”.

OSEO Boot Camp, pt. 3: Comprehensiveness

This week, I’ll be doing a six part series on Organic SEO, and how to apply best practices to your web content. Read part 1part 2part 3,  part 4part 5 and part 6.

Today’s topic is a short one (I know, I can hear the sighs of relief already). Comprehensiveness is one of Google’s four key product values, and your site comprehensiveness will affect your overall organic SEO results. Whether you have a product, service, message or idea, you want your site to be a comprehensive resource which generates good search engine placement on hundreds of possible search queries, to pages which match that exact user need.

Predict their questions. Provide the answers.Yesterday, we learned to think not just in keyword usage, but search context. You plan for site comprehensiveness by listing all of those possible contexts, and considering how you can incorporate related content or function which delivers that context. Your goal, quite simply, is to have hundreds of site pages which will exactly match one or more visitor needs, generating thousands of possible entry points to your site.

Now, if you’ve been considering or are currently working with a 4-5 page site, that number may seem daunting, but it’s not as challenging as you might think. In creating your context comprehensiveness plan, you have many web technologies at your disposal to make the process of dynamic site updating simple and straight forward, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly your site begins to grow. Consider:

  • A blog updated twice weekly generates 104 total pages a year.
  • One new gallery of 10 images a month generates 132 pages a year.
  • An active user forum can generate hundreds of new pages a day.

Each of those pages represents an opportunity for one or more search contexts in page content, image titles, descriptions, and tags. Additionally, it engages your site’s repeat visitors by giving them new content and additional value. As your site grows more comprehensive, your PageRank follows suit as visitors share specific links to a precise context with others.

Engaging with your site visitors with site interaction is critical for this growth. Not only do user contributions increase your site comprehensiveness by adding questions, opinions, technical reviews and support, they can create new content at a far faster rate than you can, potentially turning growth of several hundred pages to several thousand.

It’s important to remember that the goal here is not to just generate hundreds of pages. The pages need to be relevant to one or more specific contexts, and answer the question or meet the need. Additionally, creating a comprehensive resource is not a project for a weekend, or a month. In fact, planning gradual but consistent site growth over an extended period of time is a great way to achieve tomorrow’s point, which is Freshness.

In summary:

  • Plan for your site to be a growing resource with potentially hundreds or thousands of entry points as opposed to a handful of static informational pages.
  • Engage your audience with interactive content to drive that growth, using content management platforms.
  • Make sure that you are balancing quantity with quality; each entry point should deliver value to the visitor.

If you’re the answer to every question, all roads lead to you.

OSEO Boot Camp, pt. 2: Relevance

This week, I’ll be doing a six part series on Organic SEO, and how to apply best practices to your web content. Read part 1part 2part 3,  part 4part 5 and part 6.

I know, I know, “C’mon, Web Guy, everyone has written about relevance in searches.” You’re absolutely right. A million people have already talked about being relevant to your keywords, about including meta tags on your pages to identify that relevance to the search engines, and to make sure you’re using your keywords frequently in your content. Got it. However, I’m going to write today not about being relevant to the keywords in the search, but being relevant to the actual question being asked.

The problem with strictly aiming for keyword results is that humans don’t speak in keywords. There are many sentences which may use the same keywords, but have entirely different meaning, along with many different contexts that the asker may be referencing. A mechanic and a 17 year old with her first car may both be searching for “carburetor intake manifold”, but their desired results are much different, and you may only be the solution for one of them. Your job, as the creator of content on your site, is to identify to the searcher that you have the correct context they are seeking. So, how do you do that?

Happy Senior Citizen is happy.To help us answer that question, we have today’s guest interviewee, Happy Senior Citizen.

TWG: Happy Senior Citizen, thanks for joining us today.

HSC: Oh, thank you, dear! You’re so polite. I bet your Mother’s really proud of you.

TWG: You’re welcome, and she is! Hi Mom, and Happy Valentine’s Day! Now HSC, how do you go about searching for something on the internet?

HSC: Well, I click on the blue ‘E’ on my desktop, and it brings up the Google page. My daughter set that up for me. Then, I type what I’m looking for into the search bar. I look at the first few sites it brings up into the list and guess which one sounds right. There are always lots of links to choose from, and sometimes, I’ll click through a few of them before I find exactly what I’m looking for.

TWG: So in that list that comes up, how do you know if a link is what you are looking for?

HSC: I used to just click through each one in order until I found it, but now the search results have so much information, I can usually tell if it’s what I need or not. Just looking at the title and the paragraph underneath it tells me pretty much what that web page is about.

Makin doilies...

Here are the top three results from our sample search. Now remember, our Happy Senior Citizen is looking for a method to make lace doilies. The top result has a generic title that matches some of the keywords, with descriptive text that sounds like you’re going to have to buy something. The second result seems to be some sort of generic answer portal, with paragraph text that is mostly irrelevant to the search. The third result has a title that, although phrased slightly differently, is precisely correct, with paragraph text that jumps the searcher right in to their desired information. Bingo!

Except, not.

Despite the fact that to the searcher, this link in the top three seems to indicate best context, clicking through reveals it’s just a blog post where Anna Swanson describes how difficult and tedious making a lace doilie is. This isn’t what Happy Senior Citizen was looking for at all. The best result, an actual tutorial on making lace doilies, didn’t show up until fifth place. Why? Because a blogger providing almost exactly the OPPOSITE of the desired result did a better job at matching the context to the search in the title and opening paragraph than these How To sites did. The message to take away here is two-part: Create Content that relates to specific searches relevant to your context, and put descriptive titles and opening paragraphs on that page (mirrored in that page’s meta tags). Now, let’s talk about those two things.

First, creating relevant content means more than just having a product or service description page; it means having one or more product or service usage pages. These pages can be informational pages or blog posts, but they should have examples of your product or service in action. This may come in the form of an ongoing how to guide, or testimonials and client success stories, but the important part is to be sure you’re providing greater context, capable of matching human readable search strings (phrases and sentences, as opposed to simple keywords).

Next, the title and description (both on the page, and in the meta tags) should contain some of those phrases. Francis Hunt learned about the power of a good title on his blog “Attempted Essays“:

“What I had forgotten on choosing the title was that the essay is also a form of writing with which millions of students have to struggle daily and that most young people nowadays have access to the internet. So, when I look at the ‘search key words’ which blogger.com helpfully supplies as part of the statistics, I regularly find phrases like ‘essays about the American dream,’ or ‘essay on early risers.’ “

The choice of title, blended with relevant content, brought an entirely unexpected source of traffic into his blog, helping to propel him to a higher PageRank than he had expected.

CraigAtkinsonLaw.com posting on Facebook.The description, either as a meta tag, or as the first paragraph of text on the page, is equally important. This information is what is shown on Google under the link result, and also what is used to populate shared links on social media. Law Blogger Craig Atkinson provides a great example of both, using a meta description which gives social media viewers a good idea of what’s behind the link, while writing a strong opening paragraph on the blog post itself which immediately provides a robust context to the content.

The end result is that your link is more likely to be listed early, more likely to be clicked on, and more likely to provide the correct contextual answer to the searcher’s need, which makes it more likely to be linked to as a resource for that need. Hellooo, PageRank!

To summarize:

  • Create specific content that gives an overall context to your product or service in action.
  • Give your page a robust title that accurately describes the purpose of the page content.
  • Include a strong meta description and opening paragraph that leads the reader right into the desired information.

Happy Senior Citizen will thank you.