Create continuity for an easy SEO win

About a year ago (when I intended to post on this topic) a Moz blog post asked several well-known search engine optimisation experts to nominate an easy-win that clients could implement right away to improve their SEO.

Rand Fishkin’s response was one I’ve also found myself consistently suggesting time and time again when people want SEO advice for their sites: create continuity by updating existing pages instead of turning URLs over.

Let’s have a look at how this works.

SEO is still about getting links from other pages (whether they be social media or other sites), which signal to search engines whether your page is popular, and what it’s about.

One great way to maximise your inbound links is time. Links gradually build up. If you simply do everything you can to not change URLs and to instead re-use existing ones, you’ll find inbound links tend to compound like interest in a bank.

One of the best, easy wins you can implement is to simply stop throwing away old pages and try to re-use and recycle.

Recurring events

The most common example I see of this is when a site promotes something recurring. Let’s say it’s an annual fun run.

Now each year the event changes: the copy will change, sponsors will change. People often make the mistake of putting up a new page and removing the old one. Typically a page will be given a url such as YourSite.com/fun-run-2013.

Campaigns are then run – media releases, emails, ads, social media, etc. – to promote this event, and invariably some inbound links are going to be pointed to the page.

Then, following the event, the page is often removed until the next year, when a brand new one replaces it – YourSite.com/fun-run-2014.

Refresh, re-use, recycle

A small change to this approach can make a big difference over time. Put simply, you want a single page that doesn’t change from year to year, and is always live, so that this year’s inbound links are added to the foundation of those from last year and the year before.

Make your URL YourSite/fun-run. When the copy needs to change for a new year, archive last year’s page by adding the year to the URL, but make sure the address of the current event page is never altered.

Retail applications

The same principle applies to things like retail sites. Let’s say you have a product line of men’s blue t-shirts. Come the end of summer you may be out of stock and may even be thinking of changing supplier. Products like these are often removed from a site, leaving search engines that have indexed them with a 404 (Page not found), which is a signal to drop the page from the index.

In another 6 months or so a new page with a new URL goes up, for a new blue t-shirt, perhaps from a new supplier. It then has to start collecting links from scratch.

Far better to instead list the product as out of stock and remove any links to it from menus and searches, but leave the page live. Later when the new line is ready to be listed you post it in the same place (same URL) so incoming links are added to an existing foundation and not starting from scratch.

Tours that have closed

Perhaps you run tours or regular events that are seasonal. In the off season, don’t unpublish the page. As well as sending a message to search engines to drop the page, if there are good, well-managed sites linking to you, they’ll find their link is broken and remove it.

Simply update your page to state that your events are seasonal and currently closed. If you like, remove visible links to the page from your site and menus, but ensure it continues to be live and return a http 200 status.

It all adds up

Again, over time, this simple habit or change to your processes can deliver real gains.

What other easy wins have you been able to implement in your online marketing? I’d love to hear ideas from others.

SEO & your book’s Amazon page

An editing colleague recently asked me whether I had any advice for authors asking how to get more traffic to their book’s Amazon page.

I’m not going to delve too far into basic search engine optimisation here (see my post on Google’s SEO Starter Guide for that). But what’s different about trying to optimise a page you have limited control over on a third-party site?

  1. The Amazon domain is a huge advantage. It will have an alarming number of inbound links. All things being equal it will outrank a page about your book on your own website.
  2. Amazon is a search engine in itself. So you’re trying to achieve traffic from organic search (like Google) & from the onsite search at Amazon.
  3. In addition to standard SEO stuff, you’ll have categories & tags within Amazon to consider.
  4. Most significantly: your page title is still the most important field on your page & it’s going to be your book’s title.

Your title

Let’s explore that last idea a bit further. The page title tag is a key indicator of what your page is about for search engines. Ideally it needs to be full of keywords that have search volume if you want significant impressions in search results pages.

And on Amazon, that’s your book title. For novels that have obtuse titles bearing little relation to the book’s topic, this is an issue. A subtitle is worth considering. For non-fiction it’s a little easier to use a title that’s descriptive.

Choosing a good title comes back to keyword research. What are people searching for? Importantly, if an author is asking this question & considering keyword research after the book’s written, it’s too late to address the title. Sure some keywords can be used in the description, categories & tags but a useful, descriptive title/subtitle will produce the best results.

On page SEO

Take care to use relevant keywords, phrases & variations in the description on your page. (Note: You can’t name drop other authors or best selling titles in here to capitalise on their search volume).

Off page SEO

Authors generally spruik their work in various newsletters, social media pages, to libraries, community groups, local press & in talks to anyone who’ll listen. Include links to your book’s Amazon page when supplying your bio or press release. Try to vary the anchor text a little so your get a spread of relevant words around your title.

Ads

The on-site search on Amazon seems to favour sales & popularity. So to get even more traffic from here you need to win the war on Google first & demonstrate some traffic & revenue.

It’s worth experimenting with Adwords &, depending on your topic, Facebook ads might be useful (especially for hobby-based books that could be targeted to people displaying an interest).

What do you think?

If you’re an author I’d love to hear your thoughts on what’s worked & what hasn’t worked for you. You might also be interested in the video below where some indie authors discuss what they think works on Amazon.

Good luck!

Crimes against content

Having signed off on countless web pages & prepared many files for printing I’ve come to recognise it’s often the same problems being picked up over & over again.

Why? Awareness. The people creating the content are often not specialists in content creation or management. Let’s have a look at what some of these problems are & how easy they are to avoid:

Grammatical issues

Often writers have personal blind-spots in their writing style. A good editor can usually pick these out & run global checks to fix them. For example, you might always use ‘try and …’ rather than ‘try to … ‘

Another pet hate is using a singular subject but a plural pronoun (e.g. ‘See your advisor (sing) & they’ll (plural) be able to…’). Gender-aligned singular pronouns (he or she) are awkward to apply to a gender-neutral subject. But that’s no excuse!

A few other common issues include:

  • Capitalisation for emphasis & over-use of proper nouns (the effect is very grandiose but it doesn’t help readability)
  • Non-parallel punctuation of bullet lists (all points should follow same grammatical structure)
  • Consistent use of spellings, hyphenation & house styles (dashes, etc)
  • Repetition & passive sentence structure.

Content management

There are a lot of common issues when content is entered into templates for publishing too. In print, consistent styles need to be applied & page/paragraph length massaged to fit constraints.

It’s interesting that when preparing an Annual Report or newsletter it’s accepted that writers supply content to a graphic artist who will manage content in the publication. With websites a lot of people still believe if they can paste from Word, they can publish.

In truth, they often need protection from themselves. Here’s where that approach regularly falls down:

  • Failure to use image alt tags
  • Failure to understand accessibility compliance (misuse of tables, moving text, or failure to supply alternatives to inaccessible multimedia)
  • No meta tags (or poor, duplicate content used)
  • Poor page titles (too long, not keyword focused)
  • Text pasted from Word (with default font & margin & numerous other HTML tags included accidentally)
  • Incorrect linking paths (attempting to link to network drives or local machines or simply not using http:// in their links)
  • Failure to follow file naming protocols (creating mess & sub-optimal SEO). Includes page titles over 30 characters that are too long to be supported
  • Using big fonts instead of nested headings
  • No cross linking or wrong cross linking (e.g. using trailing slash at end of URL, causing duplicate pages, or using inappropriate anchor text)
  • Renaming files without thought to breaking existing links
  • Creating pages with nothing on them, resulting in a deep site structure
  • Uploading monster images of several MB & limiting display size in HTML, creating long page load times & pixelated results.

The worst

Of course, these are all minor issues. A lot of web content management involves, not majoring in minors but ensuring details are taken care of so little problems don’t start to entangle a site.

The worst crime of all, is failing to ensure an adequate sign-off process is in place – no matter what format you publish in. If it’s print, ensure you use a good editor, proofreader or ideally both.

If it’s web, make sure an experienced content manager is involved.

The social media challenge

Recently while my morning bus was idling at some lights, my eyes were drawn to a huge moving billboard featuring a new car that wanted to be friends. Facebook friends. I couldn’t imagine why. I visited its page out of curiosity & I still can’t.

It would be a brave marketing professional to suggest leaving social media out of any promotional campaign at the moment, such is its popularity. But the challenge with social media seems to be measuring return on investment (ROI) & applying appropriate strategies.

Promoting something on social media isn’t free. There’s a time cost (it can certainly drain time), an opportunity cost (could the time have been better spent?) & potentially risks – as there are with any public dialogue. What’s the best strategic approach?

The passive approach

Justifying this level of involvement with social media seems a no-brainer to me. Encouraging users to ‘like’ your web pages or share them via their favourite social networking, social news or social bookmarking sites is incredibly easy. Users have the chance to spread your messages for you. And spread links.

An advantage is that people treat information from friends differently to marketing messages.

Tools like ‘Add This‘ make it incredibly easy. Copy some simple javascript to insert a row of social media icons in the footer of your pages. Add This will even detect your user’s recent activity on various platforms and show the icons most relevant to your user – a very clever feature!

Asking to be ‘Liked’

Contrast this with a more active approach – setting up a Facebook page or Twitter account – then dedicating time to actively push out messages to build up a following. It’s labour intensive. People are electing to receive messages from your organisation, much like subscribing to an enewsletter. Only in regular little bites.

Facebook friends aren’t really a valid measure of success (in life or business).  You might think of Facebook friends or Twitter followers as you would email or RSS subscribers. You wouldn’t boast about sending out a message to 2,000 email addresses. ‘So what?’ your boss would say.

How many opened your email? How many clicked through to your site? How many of these downloaded your report, bought your product or met your target goal?

Think you can’t track that with social media? Of course you can. By tagging links shared & setting up Google Analytics goals you’re well on your way to measuring ROI (if you can monetise goals). If you can measure it for a direct email (& a lot of sophistication is expected of direct mail evaluations) there’s no reason you can’t measure if for social media & start to compare the cost vs benefits of social media marketing vs paid ads, SEO, offline marketing, emails & other promotions.

Awareness

Often people justify quoting ‘friends and followers’ numbers because their campaigns are about raising ‘awareness’. Awareness seems conveniently removed from direct action. But there’s still much that can be measured. How much unprompted discussion is going on about your campaign on social media? Free tools like www.socialmention.com allow you to get a feel for conversations around keywords you nominate.

Save time, use money

Another valid strategy is social media ads. Forget about the slog of building up a following, Facebook ads give you incredible control over the demographic & preferences of your audience. You can put your message in front of people who wouldn’t choose to ‘like’ you, instead of preaching to the converted. 

Curb your enthusiasm

I love social media. It’s revolutionised the web & is a great space to be involved with. Judging by the euphoria it’s been embraced with, the challenge for many campaigning with social media, is remembering to apply the same strategies and evaluation principles used in other business decisions. The tools are available.

Analytics accreditation

Yesterday I took an online exam to become a Google Analytics accredited individual & I highly recommend the process.

There seems to be mixed feelings towards Google’s Conversion University, where it offers a series of online accreditation tests for its various products. 

The tests are cheap ($50 for Analytics) & as an unsupervised online test, it’s like an open book exam. You have access to the web, Google Help Center & the Google Search Engine to find all the answers.

Google Analytics certificate

The fruit of my labour

On the other hand, as a Google Analytics user, you rely on these tools in your everyday use of the product, so why not in the exam?

Critics would say it’s a fast-food approach to accreditation, but Google has always erred on the side of inclusive rather than exclusive, & its motivation is likely to be helping to ensure people understand & use its products properly.

I have to be honest – I only just passed. An 80% result was required & the test featured 70 questions in 90 minutes – not much time to Google things you don’t know & digest the results. 

My motivation for sitting was largely to confirm my knowledge of the product & also, as I regularly show others how to use it, I was interested in the quality of the training materials & process.

On this count I was most impressed. Conversion University had a detailed set of video presentations, slides and notes that I’ll be recommending to anyone interested in learning more about the product. I especially found the Regular Expressions & tracking across domains tutorials very useful.

But I did skim over sections I don’t use in my communications work – like details of the correct way to install & modify the tracking code. Sure enough, I fumbled these in the test.

So now I have a dodgy-looking certificate & a warm fuzzy feeling, but I also have a new confidence in my knowledge of the product, experience of some great new training resources & some specific areas I know to brush up on.

A worthwhile exercise!

My top 15 FREE web tools for small business

When Tim Berners-Lee was creating the network that’s popularly credited with being the first internet, it was all about sharing stuff for free. Now, over 20 years later, the open source movement is as strong as ever and the web’s still a fantastic source of FREE stuff.

In fact, there’s a business tool for just about everything you need to create a professional online presence, using low-cost or free options. Here’s a few of my favourites!

1. WordPress

Free content management software & web hosting. You can’t beat it. There are lots of options – like the free hosted wordpress.com or downloading the software (www.wordpress.org) to customise it yourself. SquareSpace or Eden Platform are strong, low-cost alternatives. In Australia the Getting Business Online project offers free sites using the MYOB Atlas tool. And Google sites is another basic option. 

2. Free website designs

If you’re using one of the free content management systems above, you’ll get a choice of design templates. But if you’re site’s just got a few pages and static HTML suits your needs, there almost unlimited free designs to choose from. Sites like Dream Template or Free web templates offer literally thousands. You could spend a day looking through them all.

3. Stock.XCHNG (free stock photos)

I love this site – a stock photo exchange. Amateur photographers share their work and it’s mostly free to use (check the terms for each photo).

4. Gmail (free email hosting)

Host your email, with your domain, for free. That is, you can have an address like info@publishingservices.com.au (go on, send me a message) and host it through Gmail, making use of the calendar synchronisation and other small business tools.

5. The rest of Google’s toolbox

I’m lumping these all together – Google docs, maps, alerts, calendar, blogger, mobile – they’re all unique and separate tools that would probably make the list in their own right. Add to these:

6. LinkedIn

Social networking for professionals. Get real leads, connect with peers, share information on benchmarking and best practice. Yammer is another good social networking tool for within your business.

7. Open Office

An open-source alternative to MicroSoft’s tools.

8. Mozilla

More than just a web browser, Mozilla is open source web at its best. The code is absolutely free and you can download it, modify it and re-release your own browser no questions asked. The open source community also contributes to a wonderful library of add-ons that make Mozilla more than a browser. There are link checkers, accessibility tools, site speed reports – have a look yourself.

9. Issuu (a flash way to present PDFs)

Here’s a recent discovery of mine (there are a few of these tools around but this one’s so simple). Take your stock-standard Adobe Portable Document File (PDF), which is a free tool in itself that we shouldn’t take for granted, and turn it into a flash (another free tool) application so you can embedd a page-turning document into your website. Just looks so nice!

10. YouTube

Ok, you already know about it but, stop for a moment to think about how wonderful it is. If you can remember (or imagine) what it was like having to format your own videos and try to have them stream from your own server, you’ll appreciate every opportunity to use YouTube. Other options like Vimeo offer a similar service.

11. Mail Chimp (free enewsletter tool)

Choose and modify your templates, and get a fantastic looking HTML newsletter. Wonderful for small business.

12. Drop box

A free file transfer alternative. Don’t have an FTP site for moving large business files around? This provides a secure way to move them. Send This File is another and You Send It offers free trials.

13. eBay stores

Ok this isn’t quite free but when you think of what it costs to build an online store, it’s nice to have the option to set up your own on ebay and integrate it with the rest of your online presence.

14. Xenu Link Sleuth

Check your links and more! It doesn’t look flash but this little web crawler tool has a lot of cred. It’s light and fast and it just scans huge volumes of pages quickly. Scan your site for broken links, create XML sitemaps and more.

15. Wikipedia

Last but not least, perhaps the best free business tool available on the web is the wealth of information. Wikipedia is the poster-child for the best that the web can be – collaborative, expansive, global, ever-changing, adaptable and very, very useful. WikiSpaces is a free tool you can use to create an editable wiki space for within your own organisation.

Your favourites

These have been some of my favourites, why not share yours. Post a reply – what’s your favourite online business tool or freebie?

Making the most of Webmaster Tools

When it comes to search engine optmisation (SEO) lots of time’s often spent on keyword analysis and fishing for inbound links, but housekeeping to make sure the right pages are in Google’s index will also yield results.

Google’s free Webmaster tools are incredibly useful. In this post I’m going to share a handful of practical ways you can put Webmaster tools to use right away.

Before I start, here’s a great video from Google I found recently that summarises some of these concepts.

Let’s go through some of the tools as they appear in the left nav.

Site Configuration

Sitemaps

Here’s where you can submit XML sitemaps to google. There are lots of free online tools that can help you create sitemaps. For large sites I’ve found downloading Xenu Link Sleuth to be worthwhile. It will crawl your site and report on broken links, as well as generate an XML sitemap you can submit to Google. A sitemap won’t help your pages rank any better but if you have a lot of pages it can help ensure Google isn’t missing any.

Crawler acces

Once you’ve had a go at creating a site map using a link crawling tool, you may be shocked by the number of URLs and how many are not useful. For example, if you have print friendly pages on your site, you probably don’t want these URLs indexed and competing with your ‘normal’ pages.

In the crawler access section you can block search engine robots from indexing sections of your site. Be as thorough as you can.  

Remove URL Tool

This can be used in conjunction with broken link reports (see Crawl Errors Report below) to remove pages that no longer exist from Google’s index. (In time pages should drop out if there are no links to them, but this tool can ensure anything you need removed comes out of Google’s index. First the page must be either blocked to search engines or produce a page not found status.

Your site on the web

The Search Queries Report in this section is magnificent. It shows you keywords used to search in Google for which your site was returned in the results. You’ll find impressions, Click Through Rates (CTR), the average positions in Google’s search engine results page, and percentage changes over time.

You can also filter this report to find specific URLs on your site and see how they’re performing in search. Take a look at this screenshot. 

A Google Webmaster Tools screenshot

A Google Webmaster Tools screenshot

The Links to Your Site Report is also pretty amazing. It allows you to drill down and find all the links to your site that Google knows of. You start viewing by the domain that links to you, then drill down to the pages on your site that get the links, then click through again and see the actual URLs of the pages where you’ll find the links themselves. Great for seeing how your site is being promoted by others.

Diagnostics

Spend as much time as you have to on the Crawl Errors Report – this will show you the Page Not Found results from your site in Google’s index. Down the bottom of the report you can download a spreadsheet of the sources of all the crawl errors. That is, a list of URLs on your site that produce a page not found and, next to that, where the broken link is (whether it be internal or external).

HTML Suggestions will also show you lists of duplicate title and meta description tags (which can be a good indication you may have duplicate content issues to sort out).

The Fetch as Googlebot tool can also be a useful way to check the status of pages – as Google’s robot sees them. Are your redirects working as expected? Are your friendly Page Not Found (404s) actually producing the 404 status you want?

Labs

Finally, in the Google Labs section, where new tools are tested, the Site Performance Report is worth viewing. At a glance you can see patterns in site load times. While you can run better performance tests, it’s difficult to get trends over time, which is exactly what this will show you at a glance.

If you own a website, it’s well worth making sure someone has set up and is monitoring your free Google Webmaster tools account, to make sure your site stays on the right track in search indexes.

Segment everything!

Summer Lit review Part 1: 

Web Analytics: an Hour a Day

Web Analytics: An Hour a DayAs is summer tradition, I took to the holidays as a chance to get some reading done. This year I picked up Web Analytics: an Hour A Day by Avinash Kaushik.

Here’s the key take away message and the one quote I think can, on its own, change the way you do web analytics and save you a long read:

“Your instinct on seeing any metric should be to desperately want to segment it 3 levels down at least”.

If you haven’t come across him Mr Kaushik is the author of the infamous web analytics blog Occam’s Razor (named after a principle of logic espoused by a 14th century friar, which roughly translated, means ‘entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity’ – and it’s hard to argue with that!).

I picked up his first book in preference to his second because it seemed to focus less on the latest tools and more on the process of picking insights from the huge quantities of data available for any web sites.

The problem

As Avinash says:

  • Your web analytics tool won’t provide any answers,
  • It won’t even provide any questions,
  • It just dumps data on you.

Don’t mistake access to Google Analytics as the solution to measuring your site’s success.

The solution

1. Questions need to come first (harder than it seems).

Do you have SMART goals for your website?

If not, he implores us to stop producing ‘data pukes’ in the form of meaningless reports that don’t drive actionable insights, and to create some specific, measurable goals.

If possible, define some conversion goals in your software. Want users to view 3 pages or more? That can be a conversion. Perhaps you want them to download a catalogue? Make that a conversion goal.

Things will never be perfect so don’t wait until you have perfect data capture. Insights can come from trends.

2. Segmentation

Next create some custom reports that segment your data. Almost any statistic becomes meaningless when you look at it applied to your entire website. Especially if there are multiple user groups targeted and different types of tasks to complete on the site.

One segment of your users might like to read information about your business – the more time they spend on the site the better. Another might want to contact you directly with a sales enquiry so forcing them to spend more time on the site is bad.

So what does your time on site statistic mean if it’s looking at both groups? Nothing. Segment your data to look at each group separately. Then break it up into a smaller chunk by segmenting again. And again.

Segmenting allows you to answer some specific questions like how many of the users contacting me came from my enewsletter and how many of these converted by downloading a catalogue?

That’s data you can learn from.

3. Everything in context

Finally, he espouses context as a key to understanding all measurements. So you have 45 people downloading your catalogue yesterday? So what? Presenting this in context with stats over an 8-day week and you can instantly see where you are.

Similarly, simply reporting on a 13-month (rather than 12-month) basis instantly gives you like for like comparison with the same time last year.

His enthusiasm and directness can also be contagious. I can honestly say, the hours I spent reading his book were hours I expect to save with the insights I’ve gleaned.

And… I know I’ll get regular updates from his blog.

Adwords users – Don’t Panic!

If you make use of Google’s pay-per-click Adwords program, you may have had a nasty surprise recently.

When I left the office last Friday the Adwords accounts I manage were looking the best they’d ever been. Saturday morning, was a different story.

The Quality Scores assigned to each keyword had plummeted overnight. One of the standard account management tasks is to ensure all your keywords have a Quality Score of 5 or above out of 10. Friday, they all did – with many 10/10 scores. Saturday at least half my keywords were 3/10 and only a handful were over my cut off point of 4!

My initial response was to start pruning by deleting the 3/10 keywords – until I realised the extent of the issue. I would have had to delete almost all of them!

If you’re in the same boat, we’re not alone. The current consensus seems to be that there may be a bug in Google’s bot that crawls accounts and assigns the scores. Everyone who has experienced this problem is continuing to see the same performance from their ads.

But conspiracy theories abound – is this a new algorithm? With no announcement? It’s probably a profitable mistake, with lots of advertisers forced to up their bids to regain footing.

No official word from Google. 

In the face of comparably overwhelming complexity and seemingly insurmountable inconvenience, the HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy always presented it’s users with the words – Don’t Panic! 

So now we wait. The alternative would be to delete what are still quite good performing keywords, despite their scores.

Google’s SEO starter guide

Google first published it’s Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) starter guide 2 years ago, but a new update has just been released on its Webmaster Tools site.

Download: Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide

The beauty of the guide is, like everything Google produces, it’s simple and useful.

For those new to SEO it summarises everything you need to know, and for more experienced site owners there are some reminders – straight from the horse’s mouth – as to best practice for making your site Google-friendly.

The basics haven’t changed much since my SEO basics post in 2007. But this is a great document for bringing SEO to life, replete with cute little Googlebot cartoons and links to a wealth of resources. For example, below, Google engineer Matt Cutts explains the anatomy of a search result.

Some of the useful insights I took away for managing a large site:

  • A reminder of Webmaster tools’ handy content analysis section that points out if any of your meta tags are too short, long or duplicated
  • Some useful help on the importance of Google-friendly URLs
  • An explanation of 301 redirects and the rel=”cannonical” link element, which ensure duplicate URLs don’t confuse poor Googlebot
  • An introduction to the open source Sitemap Generator Script Google has helped produce (in beta testing phase) and image sitemaps
  • Google’s 404 widget for presenting useful and friendly ‘Page not found’ messages
  • A whole new section dedicated to Google’s separate mobile search functionality.