Category Archives: SEO

What do you want from the web?

I’m preparing training material for a client: “How your Web Presence Can Help You Build a Stronger Profile”.

The point of view I am taking is what it really means when your audience can do everything your organization can do online. Think about it: individuals possess the power of the printing press without the cost of printing and distribution. All they need to figure out is how to create content and attract audiences. That of course, is the hard part.

And yet, much of what goes online leaves me with a back to the future sort of feeling.

  • Facebook: Social (Connecting and sharing with your friends)
  • Youtube: TV (Broadcast yourself)
  • Flickr: Photo journalism (The eyes of the world)
  • Twitter: News (What’s happening?)
  • Podcasting: Radio (video) by everyone

That’s why the training program will focus on providing an understandable thought framework, and then demystify some of the voodoo – like SEO, UXD (yes, that means user experience design) – to empower my client to think smart and make good decisions as they strengthen their web presence, purposefully and without running off in all directions.

My basic message is that online marketing is about connecting with the right people where they are in ways that are meaningful to them. The enabling aspects are tried and true concepts:

Online channels are about dialogue and conversation; they work because of relevance to the audience and timeliness; and, most difficult of all in this engineered world they demand authenticity.

Website code and Competitive intelligence

I recently came across a piece of code on a web site I was checking out in preparation for my SEO seminar.

Programmers used green comment text as a way to distinguish notes to the programmer or reminders, from code that makes the site work. These notes do not show up as content in the graphic interface of the web site. If you want to see what sort of “conversations” and notes programmers leave behind when building a site, simply look at the source code and scroll for the green bits.

Now, imagine a company in a highly competitive field having this sort of programmer’s annotation about a future product in the code. This could well be a major issue if a competitor receives advance notice of future actions, just because a programmer wanted to identify a placeholder for a future product on the web page.

While I find this interesting from a competitive intelligence perspective, it raises another question: when you approve your web site, do you ever actually look at the code? Have you considered the liabilities that inadvertent disclosure can bring to your company? Do you have any sort of quality assurance and brand protection process in place re: coding? And, in earlier posts I talked about the importance of meta tags and title tags – so: what is your quality assurance process to make sure these search engine optimization aids are in place and make sense from a brand and messaging architecture point of view?

SEO Analytics

Analytics are an important aspect of search engine optimization. You can use analytics in developing a brand new site or you can use it to assess performance of an existing site and figure out what changes need to be made to improve the standing of the site. Some of the analytical data at your disposal, often available using free tools but at least cheaply includes:

  • Web Traffic Statistics – Traffic and keyword analysis. Whether you use a custom, proprietary package or Google Analytics, just remember that they give you great trending information, but they may not be comparable data points because they may use different methodologies, e.g. cookies based tracking vs. IP address look up, to arrive at their reports.
  • Text analysis – this includes keyword extraction from your curent web page to see for which keywords your page does well, and assessing term targeting, ie how well does your site perform against your important keywords
  • Crawl test – ie how does a search engine see your site
  • Indexed pages – are there pages missing that shoudl be indexed by a search engine. Here a sitemap and robot.txt file can alleviate any problems
  • Rank Tracker – software that tells you whether your site ranks anywhere near the first page of search results for specific keywords
  • Back links – get a report on how many sites and who links to your site. Linking strategies can be an important part of achieving high search engine rankings.
  • W3C validation – the World Wide Web Consortium is the standards organization for the web. It offers several free validation tools such as HTML validator designed to help you determine whether your site meets international standards.

SEO – keyword thinking

No doubt, the most important part of your web site is what it says to the human visitor. However, when you write your site with SEO in mind you should evolve a keyword mindset: Humans categorize and we use keyword concepts to make sense of the world and the web.

Keywords are also the driving force in search engines. That’s why in addition to weaving these important words and phrases throughout your web site, you need to ensure that the coding aspects of the site are considered.

Here’s the source code view of my web site (if you click on the image you can see it larger)  at www.strategicmoves.ca. Note the underlined elements:
– Description and Keyword meta tags
– Title tag
– Image alt tags
These tags exist in code only and should support your actual content. They are useful in ensuring search engines interpret your site correctly.

Consider this question: how do you make keyword thinking an integral part of web development?

For instance, do you task your creative writing team and technical web team with creating these tags as each new page is written? Who writes your description, keyword, image tags- your writer or the developer? Who determines the title tag – and are they in tune with your brand strategy?

I always recommend that the writing and web teams work closely together from the outset and involve the client to ensure the best results for the users. I say for the user because SEO is about users and positioning yourself effectively in the content of search engines.

SEO goes beyond search engines

This is a snip from my Facebook page: A colleague posted my new website to their feed. The text used to describe my site comes from my site’s description meta tag. It’s a concise positioning statement. These words do not appear anywhere on my web site other than in code. However, being written for people my home page  does present my consulting business in 4 paragraphs that expand and explain this positioning further.

SEO: write for people, code for search engines

One way to get search engine optimization right is to think of SEO from the earliest stage of conception of a web site, or a web page. That means you’ll write the site for people and you’ll construct the code for search engines.

Writing for people includes

  • Starting with your keyword list
  • Using your most important keywords, rather than many variants, in title tags, urls, page’s description tag, headings, and body text
  • Be authentic and trustworthy
Construct code for search engines
  • Heed the power of the url
  • Create the most important Meta tags; title tag, description tag, keyword tag
  • Create image tags for each image on your site (this is also a good accessibility guideline)

You can optimize every page on your web site. If you have 40 pages that’s easier than if you have 40,000 pages. Simply triage the needs for improvement and invest where you’ll see the biggest return on your investment: for instance, home page, secondary landing pages, or key sections. 

New content should simply be conceived with these simple SEO concepts in mind, rather than be retrofitted later.

Intrinsic connections: SEO and Brand

In my recent SEO seminar I put search engine optimization firmly in the context of branding and building customer relationships. My premise:

  • Web users want: what they want, when they are ready, wherever they are, and in just the way they want it 
  • People don’t want to ‘search’, they want to ‘find’, so SEO must foster user-centred and brand-oriented keyword thinking and writing

Online Channels are about: Dialogue and Conversation

  • They work because of: Relevance and Timeliness
  • They demand: Authenticity

In that sense then, brand matters. Because trust can be won and lost in an instant. And search engines are often the first encounter a web user has with your brand; they might also be the last encounter when web users choose another listing over yours.

I used a simple three step process to explain the importance of SEO from a brand point of view.

  1. Search for company name, or important keyword relating to your company in a search engine (do this with the top 3 search engines and note the differences): What does the listing say? Is the headline and short description search engines use understandable and a meaningful communication about your brand? Does it leave the right impression?
  2. Look at your company’s homepage: Identify where each engine is getting the information it shows from? Typically search engines use title tags – that’s the text that shows up in the browser’s tab – and either words appearing on the site or the description meta tag, if you have one set up.
  3.  Title tags and meta tags: Anyone can, you included, look at the source code of your web site. Most likely its in a menu drop down like “View – Source”. Or look for developer in the page icon drop down. Title and meta tags should be easily found at the top of the page for each of your web pages.

This may well be the first step to making improvements to your web presence that are championed beyond the confines of the web team, or maybe the web and marketing teams.

Because, SEO is a way to ensure your brand is effectively communicated. It is also a way to be found by the right people in the online environment.