Thursday, November 27, 2008

Get the most from your website

coin_stack Many people see the Internet as a fast track to cash, and while you can make a lot of money on the Internet, it is not the fast track, or get rich quick scheme that many people believe it to be.

That said there are ways to maximise your website's potential, and we'll take a look at them below.

Running a website for profit

Like any other kind of business, running a website for profit, be it an e-commerce website or otherwise, is hard work. If you are expecting to simply create a website, place it on the Internet and have customers beat a path to your door, you are in for a rude awakening.

This is no different from running a small shop, sure you may get a passing trade, but to really get your business doing well you have to get the brand out there and well known, normally through advertisements.

The Internet is no different, if you have a website and are looking at making a profit from it, the search engines hold the key.

Visitors

Visitors to your website can usually be broken down into two categories, those who found your website from information in the real world, such as adverts in the local press or word of mouth, and those that found your website via the search engines.

If your business is wholly web based and you do not have any other way of advertising then the search engines are even more important to your business.

Organic

The most common way for visitor to find your website is by searching for your product and services in the search engines, known as natural or organic search results.

The success of your website in the organic search results depends on a number of factors; if your website was built by professionals using modern and search engine friendly techniques, such as XHTML and CSS then it has a good start. A good mix of keywords is also needed on the pages, again this relies on a professional website designer as keywords spamming or writing page content without thought to things such keywords could leave your site very difficult to find.

A simple example is if you want people searching for Acme XL Widgets to find your website, then you must have that phrase somewhere on the website, and not in picture or flash format.

Importance and Relevance

It's not enough just to have the right keywords on the page though, to ensure that your website comes in the top rankings and not on page 506 you have to make sure that the search engines see your website as important (or authoritative) and relevant.

The more links from quality websites that you have, the more important your site will be considered by the search engines. Of course getting quality websites to link to your own site is not easy, but the first step is to have interesting, useful and informative content on the pages that people will want to link to.

To show the search engines and visitors that your site is both important and relevant, you must update it regularly. Google and the other search engines see websites that do not change their content as less relevant and out of date. If Google checks your website every few months and find the same content, neither it nor any visitors are going to be in any rush to return.

A simple way of have useful and regularly updated content is to have a blog.

Blogging

Search engines love blogs and we advise every business to have some kind of blog on their website. Blogs offer a simple way of having regular content and information on your website, even if it is just product reviews or the latest information about your services.

Discussing issues relevant to your industry, giving help and advice or giving something away for free is a great way of getting lots of hits on your website and also some good quality links to it. 

Adverts

The quickest and easiest way of getting people to your website is through Pay Per Click (PPC) Advertising, such as Google's Adwords program. Those searching for keywords that you have chosen will view your advert, and hopefully click it to visit your page.

Although getting the visitors (or hits) is fairly easy, getting a return on your advertisement investment is not. Unlike other ways of having search engines refer visitors to your website, it isn't free. Moreover as you pay for every visitor, so getting as many visitors as possible isn't the idea, rather getting the right visitors to your website.

People clicking your advert by mistake or visiting your website looking for something that you don't sell all cost money. The trick with PPC advertising is to get only those that are interested in purchasing your product/service to click on your advert. This was covered in more detail in an earlier article, How to get the best from Google Adwords.

If you are already using Google Adwords but have found that you are getting a low return on your investment, lots of impressions but a low Click Through Rate (CTR) and a high cost per click, you should consider our Google Adwords Consultation.

Frugal

Google Product Search (formerly Froogle), offers those with a smaller budget a way of advertising their products for free. Signing up for a Google Base account allows website owners to submit a list of their products so that they appear in Google Product Search.

The ability to localise products and services means that even small, local business can target the right customers.

To get the best overall benefit from the search engines, Google's Product Search and Adwords, you need a fully e-commerce website.

E-Commerce

Once, such websites were prohibitively expensive to all but big businesses. Today however, you can purchase a fully automated, custom designed e-commerce website for one off payment of just £249.

Such a website allows you to add your own products quickly and easily, describing in as much detail as needed your product/service. This of course allows you to cover the keywords aspect of your website as well as the relevant and constantly changing content that the search engines like.

Such websites also allow you to better tailor Google Adwords and Products Search to link directly to a specific product or product category and get a better return on your time and investment.

Our package includes Google Adwords setup, a free blog, optimised website code and text and an excellent hosting package.

There are cheaper e-commerce website packages around, some are also open source and free, but to make sure that all the boxes are ticked; including the vital and often overlooked ones, such as security and usability, you should purchase a professional package from a reliable company.

Remember, you pay for the website not only in the short term, but you will also bear the long term costs of having a website on the Internet, so your best bet is a site that will give you a return on your investment and an advantage in making money online.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Why Flash isn't always good

Many people ask for flash based websites, believing them to be the best way of impressing visitors, having a professional and modern looking website and also giving visitors an interactive, and easy to use, browsing experience.

Whilst some of the above may be true, there are two areas in which Flash based websites lose out - accessibility and rankings.

Search engines

The importance of search engine rankings should not be understated, after all, what use is a website if no one can find it.

This extract from an email from Google explains:

"While our spidering practices may change in the future, we find that Flash is not a very user-friendly experience in a lot of ways. It is wholly inaccessible to the sight-impaired, not renderable on many devices (such as phones, PDAs), and so on. In particular, we hugely frown upon navigation done exclusively in Flash."

I have seen many sites fall into the trap of using flash completely, some do have a HTML site too, most do not. Using flash for the site navigation not only means that Google may not like your website as much non-Flash sites, but it may also mean that Google is unable to find and index anything other than your homepage.

It also means that those using mobile phones, PDAs and screen readers will be unable to view your website, let alone navigate through it. This wasn't much of a concern in the past, but with most mobile phones been web enabled, you could be cutting out a large portion of visitors.

While things have improved regarding search engines, notably Google, since this email was sent, the fact remains that if two exact sites were made, one in flash, the other in CSS and HTML, the CSS and HTML site would be ranked higher.

Small businesses

This is an important point to consider, particularly for small and medium sized businesses. These businesses don't have the kind of income to spend on teams of SEO specialists to get the best rankings, unlike the big companies that they may be competing with.

SMBs are going to be paying quite a bit of money just to get decent rankings, so anything that could count against them should be avoided, and whilst non-Flash website may not look as attractive or as flashy; SMBs need to get the best possible rankings from their content.

The bigger picture

It is probably best to think of Flash like pictures, they may look great but you really wouldn't want a site made up entirely of pictures, unless you're comedian Jerry Sadowitz.

Apart from taking far longer than text to load, even if a picture contains text, it can't be read by the search engines. Jerry Sadowitz's site for instance has only these words associated with it: Jerry Sadowitz - Comedy, Magic and More, and only those words as they are the title to every page. The search engines don't see pictures, they only see text, so an all picture site such as that of Jerry Sadowitz is virtually blank.

Pictures should be used to complement the site content (text), not replace it. The same goes for Flash, it should have a place on a website but should be used sparingly and not as a replacement to a website.

It is possible to get a great looking site through CSS and HTML alone, and then of course any amount of pictures and Flash can be added to complement that.

Although it may change in the future, CSS and HTML is still the best way to tick all the relevant boxes when it comes to your website.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

How to get the best from Google Adwords

Many websites today utilise what has to be one of the most cost effective methods of advertising, Google Adwords. Adwords is simple to set up and gives the user complete control over everything, allowing them to change their keywords and adverts almost instantly and quickly and easily respond to visitor trends.

Sadly the area where many users fall down, is right at the start with the keywords, and this area can be tricky to understand. Many users of Adwords assume that simply adding every conceivable word that someone will search for, such as price or sale, will get the best response, but as any SEO specialist will tell you, this isn't the case. This just leads to visitors finding you by mistake, and of course you pay for every click to your website, mistake or not.

We offer a full Google Adwords Consultation service to optimise your campaign for you, but we've also placed some pointers below to help you get the best from Google Adwords.  

Be Specific

The best way to get potential customers to your website is through specific keywords. If you sell nodding dogs on your website, you may assume that your best keyword is dogs, but you really don't want to use dogs as a keyword. If you do your adverts will be shown to anyone searching for the word dogs, and if you your advert says something along the lines of 'Cute dogs, take one home today..' and doesn't make it clear what the product is, you'll get thousands of clicks from people looking for something completely different. Plenty of clicks and no sales means money down the drain.

The owner of the above site would be much better served with keywords such as nodding dogs or bobbing dogs.

For the same reasons avoid other generic terms like price, sale, or cheap, unless you use them to form part of a phrase, i.e. cheap nodding dogs 

Be Relevant

Google constantly monitors your adverts and marks your adverts down for irrelevance. If your adverts or keywords have been disabled it's because Google decided that they weren't relevant enough for you, i.e. not enough people were clicking on your adverts for that term.

Which means you may have to pay more for a keyword, and this can get expensive if it keeps happening, I have seen people paying £5 per click for some keywords!

Tempting as it may be to go for one of the most searched for terms, you should avoid this, remember it isn't about getting thousands of people to your website in the hope that one of them will buy, but rather getting people who are searching for the product you sell to your website to purchase it.

Having your adverts appear when someone searches for Nintendo Wii, might seem like a good idea as it is searched for 10,000 times a day, but Google will soon realise that your keywords are not relevant to your adverts and you'll either have your ad disabled, your keywords disabled or end up paying more and more to have Nintendo Wii as a keyword.

Narrow your keywords down to make them more relevant to the product that you are selling. Put yourself in the position of someone looking for your product and think carefully about the words that they would use to search for your product.

Using Brackets

Another way of focusing your keywords is to use some of the options available in the keywords tool within Adwords itself. For example for the site mentioned above it is probably not a good idea to have the keyword simply as nodding dog as that will trigger the adverts whether nodding is mentioned or dog. So someone searching for cheap dog food may see your ad and click it before realising their mistake.

A better option would be to have the keyword as "nodding dog" in quotes. This means that only that phrase will trigger your adverts, but it can have words before or after. For example nodding dog toy and brown nodding dog will trigger your adverts but brown dog will not.

Brackets around your keyword, e.g. [nodding dog] means that only that exact phrase with no other words will trigger your adverts. This is useful as you'll know that the people seeing your adverts are definitely looking for that term, however if they add any other words, such as nodding dog car toy, it won't trigger your adverts and they won't see your advert at all, so the brackets must be used wisely.

Another option is the minus sign (-), this can be used to denote a word that you do not want to trigger your adverts, known as a negative keyword. For example if your site sold nodding dogs of every colour but black you would add -black as a keyword, ensuring that your advert doesn't appear when someone searches for black nodding dog.

Use Many Adverts

It is also important to have quite a few adverts to try different things and see what works and what doesn't, you should check your account regularly and see what adverts are getting clicks and which ones are not and work out why, the same goes for keywords. If certain keywords aren't working out, stop paying for them.

Don't be afraid to experiment, if something doesn't work, you can always change it. 

The Landing Page

The landing page is often overlooked, it is vital that this page not only makes a good impression but that contains the product that the person was searching for.

Visitors make their minds up quickly, if they don't see the product that they were looking for, they'll hit their back button and be off to your competitors site.

Remember, the aim is not to get as many people to your website as possible but to get a good return on your investment. You may get thousands of people visiting your website, but if they weren't looking to purchase your product, they are unlikely to do so because you've a nice website.

Target your keywords, make them relevant, you'll get less hits but the people visiting will be the ones looking for your product and therefore far more likely to buy from you.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Be Ranked No.1 on Google!

"We can guarantee to get your site a Top Ten ranking in Google, MSN, Yahoo, and Lycos…."

I get emails like the above quite a lot, usually I can't go a week or so without having some random company sending me an email guaranteeing that they'll get my site ranked No.1 in Google, or even just the Top Ten for the less optimistic ones.

The fact is that no one can guarantee any kind of ranking on Google and the other search engines, not a top ten ranking, and certainly not the prized No.1 position. Many of the so called SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) specialists that send these emails are just after a quick buck. Some won't even attempt to get you higher others will get you ranked for a keyword or phrase that you are already highly ranked for, such as in our case Horizon Web Development, which we are already in the top two for, as you can see here (I'll save you having to type in "Horizon Web Development").

Others use unscrupulous tactics that could get you banned from Google and other search engines, typically after you've paid. A common tactic is what is known as keyword spamming or keyword stuffing whereby they literally cram your pages with keywords in lists or in such a way as to make sections of your site unreadable. Tactics such as this usually work quite well at first, normally right up until after you've parted with your cash and thanked them for the good work, and then get you banned.

A famous US company that employed unscrupulous tactics is the one mentioned in this article.

So how can you be sure that you're aren't being conned into parting with your hard earned cash for little or no benefit? Well here's a bit of advice:

  1. Always check out their website and find out how well it is ranked.
  2. Carry out a quick Google search to see if you can find recommendations or complaints out there from any of their previous customers, or to just get a general idea of their reputation.
  3. If they have a list of previous clients, contact one or two to ask what they thought of the company.
  4. Ask them what they are going to actually do to get your site better ranked. Never hand over control of your site to a company without knowing exactly what they are going to do.
  5. Ask for a detailed invoice so that you can clearly see what your money has got and don't let them blind you with jargon.
  6. Finally make sure that you check to ensure that they've delivered what they have promised, preferably before you pay!

At Horizon Web Development we design our websites with Search Engine Optimisation in mind and are always on hand to offer advice of keywords, SEO, rankings and search engines.


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