Sunday, February 15, 2009

3: Tips for Novice DIY SEOptimisers on Growing their Small Business Website: Pt 3

In previous parts of this blog intended for novice SEOers we've provided an introduction to the following areas:

Part 1: Writing Copy, Selecting Keywords and Keyword Strings, and Backlinking.
Part 2: Google PageRank, Submission to Search Engines, Sitemaps & Stats.

This final part will look at additional ways to promote your website. I'll present a combination of old-school and new-school techniques. Its weird to call them old-school, as we're only talking about 5 years ago, but all these methods are currently working for me, so I'll try and provide some insight into all of them.

Some have predicted that 2009 will mark a change in the way people search for products and services on the internet, so don't get left behind when you can jump on very new bandwagons right now.

Become a Pillar of the Community

This is perhaps one of the most rewarding and enjoyable ways I've found of promoting my website and my business. Find yourself a relevant discussion forum in your field of business, preferably one that your prospective clients will be seeking help on. If the forum rules allow professionals to post, and better still to leave links and post links in signatures, then you're on to a winner.

There you have a targeted audience who are actively seeking your product or service and they are looking for answers to questions. Give them those answers, but do it in a manner that is not in any way spammy, pushy, or grossly self-promoting. Suggest things, give your prospective customers ideas and be helpful but manage your online presence as though you are not at all after their business. You will not believe your site stats when you see the number of click-throughs from the well-placed links in your signature.

But please bear in mind that I'm NOT suggesting this as any form of artificial backlink building (most forums employ the no-follow attribute anyway meaning that a link from your signature file, for example, will not help the page rank of the linked page at all). I'm suggesting it as a sure-fire way to connect DIRECTLY with your prospective customers.

A final word of warning on this. Be very careful when you first go in to the forum. If you're new and appear to be touting your business around without having earnt the right to do so first, you will be shot-down in flames by the forum and by the moderators.
See this very recent example. Its a difficult relationship that takes time to cultivate. But it will pay dividends so give it time. Have I used that phrase before somewhere?

How Are Your Social Skills?

It used to be that business networking involved going to tradeshows and conferences and rubbing shoulders with your piers and customers. Nowadays and particularly in 2009, it looks like Social Media is the way forward.

Rob Jones from searchenginewatch.com sums the current state of affairs with social media nicely. He divides the options into four categories, Social News, like Digg, Social Sharing, like Flickr and YouTube, Social Networks like Facebook and Twitter and Social Bookmarking like Stumbleupon and Delicious.

For the small business owner here in the UK it very much depends on your particular line of business as to whether any of these new portals are going to work for you.

It would seem that there is a very real chance that by the end of 2009, we could see a significant change in the way people search for products or services online. Let's face it - what would influence you more? A Friend's recommendation on a service they've used - or a Google search and finding the website's testimonials page? Surely your mate, as you know they have first hand experience and you presumably trust them (otherwise they wouldn't be your friend?).

For this reason, Facebook Company pages and Facebook groups appear to rocketing in popularity as you can build a fanbase which spreads virally. People can see what groups their friends are joining directly from their facebook page and do the same. Its all a new way of reaching out to people and you should exploit it. Again, don't be spammy to your fans or followers. They'll quickly dump you. The same rules as forums apply.

Twitter is an interesting new phenomenon. It's basically the same principle as the facebook status message ("Tony is blogging right now"), the difference being that you can look at what everyone is doing without having to apply to be their friend. You can follow any individual including the celebrities that are signed up meaning that you get regular updates on what they are doing right now. Its initially quite hard to see how this might benefit small businesses. However, when you consider that you are allowed to post links in "tweets", you can begin to see that relevant content to interested parties could be disseminated quite easily. I've tried simply tweeting the URL of pages on my website to my followers and it has indeed generated traffic according to my stats.

I've even gone so far as offering discounts to prospective clients who get in contact through one of these social networking sites in an effort to garner more followers. Time will tell whether this actually works.

Stumbleupon allows you to rate (give a thumbs up or down) to pages that you come across on the internet. Surfers can then literally stumble across your page by hitting a "Stumble" button on the site. If you manage to get pages of your website or blog stumbled, then you have a good source of new traffic. If your website is good of course, as the more high ratings a site has, the more it will turn up when one "stumbles". I've found that this site tends to be biased towards outrageous, comedy or reality-type material as opposed to products and services.

You can also very easily add a link to any of your pages that allows a user to submit your page or pages to any of these sites. The addthis button appears to be the most popular and its the one that I've added to my site. You can track what people are bookmarking or stumbling and so on.

The downside of social media is that it can be a huge time-suck. Twitter can be addictive, facebook can be annoying, with people popping up to chat when you're otherwise busy, Stumbleupon can be hard to get good results on. But social media is not a flash in the pan. It is here to stay and exciting part is that it is in its infancy right now. Start jumping on board the bandwagons and who knows what you and your business' social standing might be a few years down the line. As I write, I've just made my first contact with a fellow-tweeter in the wedding business and we've traded details with a view to doing business in the future. Proof that it can and does work.


Don't Overlook Conventional Ways to Promote Your Site

With all the new ways to tout your business' online presence it can be easy to overlook the more traditional methods.

  • Related Directories. Find some search directories that are related to your business and list on them. Similarly local search directories such as FreeIndex.co.uk may help you. I say 'related' as Google can penalise multiple entries on link farms. Make sure the directories are geared towards your industry.
  • Well-respected General Directories such as DMOZ - bear in mind that it can be REALLY difficult to get listed here. Make sure your site conforms to the rules.
  • Paper Advertising. Yes, it can still work! Magazines, Newspapers, Trade Magazines, Newsletters.
  • Make an Email Template. If you create an html email template you can automatically have your most important links at the fingertips of any recipient of your emails without faffing about each time you send a mail. Don't spam!
  • Blogging. Hipocritically, I'm late jumping on this particular bandwagon, so perhaps this is a good experiment to see how it can benefit my small business. I've written a series of articles on SEO, which is not at all related to my line of business but something that I'm interested in and think can help others. If I manage to get the Blog respected and linked to, who knows, perhaps it will drive up my traffic and pageranks and then what? All I do know is that Blogging will be very high on most professional SEO's list of things you can do to promote your site.
  • Word of Mouth. Your collegues can help, but more importantly your satisfied customers can help too. Its so satisfying to hear that someone found you because their friend, a previous client had sent them the link to your website. This all boils down to an outstanding product or service though, which brings us back to where we started in part 1 of this blog series.
In Conclusion

I hope this series of blogs has managed an introduction to some of the principles you should be looking at if you're looking into some DIY SEO on your website. We've looked at everything from decent content for a quality product, through keywords, Google and pagerank and finally ended up looking at the new social media and other ways to promote your site.

I've not intended this as a full list of every SEO technique available. There are no doubt many many more ways of boosting your traffic. What these elements will do for you, however, is get your foot on the first rung of the SEO ladder. If you're anything like me, then these principles will inspire you to get on with your own research in a manner that's perhaps targeted more specifically to your particular market.


I welcome comments below if you found the information useful, or if you've anything further to add to the techniques discussed above. Please - I don't want to be lambasted for being too simplistic or too general. That's exactly what is intended with this blog series - to act as a simple introduction to this vast subject.



Further Reading


Text & Images © Tony Lewis 2009. Not to be reproduced anywhere without permission.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

2: Tips for Novice DIY SEOptimisers on Growing their Small Business Website: Pt 2

In part one of this blog, we looked at the importance of quality information on your website, using keyword-rich copy and the importance of gathering backlinks. Backlinks are in theory directly related to google pagerank. What is this and should you worry about it?

Google PageRank - Do I need to get obsessed by it!?

Pagerank is actually a trademark belonging to Google. Its a mathematical algorithm that determines the importance of a web page by looking at the number and importance of pages that link to that web page. PageRank goes from 0 to 10. If a page with a high PR (say 5 or 6) links to you, then Google will think that's a good thing, that your page must be important, and hence your page may get a PR boost itself. The higher your PR, the higher up the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) you will appear for your chosen keywords.

Of course, it's not that simple. When is it ever?

If you read what Google has to say about pagerank, you'll notice that it is one of around 200 signals it uses to determine the importance of a page. Not only does it look at PR, but, as we mentioned in part 1, it analyses the text and makes sure that the result is as relevant to its users' search as possible. Not for the first time in this discussion we seem to be arriving back at the point of creating varied and useful content!

Initially, I was completely obsessed with PR. I downloaded the SEOQuake toolbar for firefox (which I still do have on) and obsessed about the pages I was asking to link to me. I got really excited about a PR4 page linking to me and passed up on some PR1s. My main page for the band has a PR of 2 and my world crashed down around me when it went to PR0 around the New Year 2009 in a regular re-calculation of PR (known as the Google-Dance). But it didn't make a blind bit of difference.

My PR inexplicably went back up to 2 and a lot of my pages now still only have PR0 or PR1, BUT we rank on page 1 for our keywords and keyphrases. I strongly believe that's because we've tried to make a helpful and informative site that is appealing to a human being - the search algorithms know when this is the case. We rank ABOVE some PR4 sites for a lot of our main keyphrases.

So, no - don't get sucked in to the pagerank obsession. By all means keep an eye on it and it's nice if it goes up and an indicator that something may be wrong if it goes down. But that's all.

Whilst we're on the topic of Google, one of the most overlooked methods of promoting your website is to submit a SiteMap to Google. Lets look at that.

Google Webmaster Accounts and Site-Map Submission

So you've started optimising your site and you're pretty happy with the way things are going. If you've not already done so, have a look at what the Webmaster tools from Google can offer you. Aside from a wealth of information and guidelines, having a Google Webmaster account registered to your domain provides you with a way of directly submitting a sitemap to them and also the ability to have Google analyse your site for errors and to monitor the click-throughs you are getting from them. You can even see the keywords that people are using to find your site.

Sitemaps
come in two main forms. HTML Sitemaps and XML Sitemaps. XML is the format to submit to Google. The HTML sitemaps (RubberSoul's example) are designed to help humans navigate your site. The thing is, I think if you're relying on surfers to use a Sitemap to get around your site, I'd say it's not easy enough to get around and you're doing something wrong with your navigation strategy. I've got one anyway as I don't believe it hurts.

The XML Sitemap is the most common format for submission to Google. Google likes it as it show the location of pages in your website that it might not otherwise find. Very useful for dynamic websites if you employ that strategy. XMLs are very easy to make, and must adhere to the sitemaps.org protocol. Once submitted via the webmaster tools, I found that Google indexed the majority of my pages very quickly. You can resubmit your sitemap at any time without penalty which is a useful way to tell Google quickly of any changes you have made to your site.

Google's webmaster tools are very straightforward and numerous. Sign up and follow the clear instructions. It will help you a lot.


Its Not All About You, Google.

Well, mostly it is actually, but bear in mind that there are other search engines out there. Recent, albeit slightly conflicting data shows that Google has somewhere between 63% and 72% of the market share among search engines. Wikipedia maintains this useful list of search engines, general, geographical and specialised.

You should check the procedures for submitting to the rest of the major search engines too. Looking at my stats package on my server I'm seeing 82% of my hits last month (January 2009) coming from Google, with nearly 10% from Windows Live. Yahoo, MSN, AOL and ASK make up the rest.

Next on my list of things to do would be to check that I'm submitting correctly to those other search engines. Its all about keeping an eye on your stats to see where your new traffic is coming from and to see if you can establish what more you can do if anything....


Stats - Boring to some, Exciting to others

www.rubbersoul.org.uk is hosted on a server in the UK that has Awstats installed and running. This package tells me who is looking at the site, what pages they are looking at, where they entered the site, where they came from and, critically, what keywords they typed in to a search engine. You can immediately see the usefulness of that. Not only can you monitor which pages are benefitting the most, but you get an up-to-date list of search trends directly related to your business. You might see some keyphrases that you'd wish to optimise on further, for example.

Google's webmaster tools also give you a similar set of data for keywords and phrases, but additionally give you an at-a-glance look at your Google SERP rank for that given keyword or phrase. You can find it under Statistics > Top Search Queries in your webmaster account. Another reason to sign up.

Its essential to keep some form of handle on how your efforts are paying off. Beware though, it can be very easy to get obsessed with them. I've been through a phase of checking hourly. Don't try that at home - it's wasted time that could be spent doing other things!! A daily check of your stats will be fine.

Whilst we're on the subject of time...

Give it Time

Everything, sadly, needs time. Google needs time to index your site, your pagerank will take time to change, your stats need to be given time to be statistically meaningful. You'll need time to see whether your efforts are paying off. If you've done the task well, then you should begin to see traffic and queries to your business pick up fairly quickly. If you're still sitting there a month down the line, perhaps you need to re-evaluate.

I've only briefly touched on site promotion in the first 2 parts of this blog. And even then, I've only discussed Google Site submission and backlinking. In part 3 of this mini-series we'll have an introductory look at forum participation, the latest wave of social networking, blogging and other ways of getting yourself some more traffic.


In Summary


Following on from your backlink-building work, keep a healthy eye on Google Pagerank, and follow Google's guidelines on site submission to them. Keep an eye on your stats and use them to constantly update what you are doing based on what YOUR customers are searching for.

I welcome comments below if you found the information useful, or if you've anything further to add to the techniques discussed above. Please - I don't want to be lambasted for being too simplistic or too general. That's exactly what is intended with this blog series - to act as a simple introduction to this vast subject.

Further Reading & Useful Tools





Text & Images © Tony Lewis 2009. Not to be reproduced anywhere without permission.






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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

1: Tips for Novice DIY SEOptimisers on Growing their Small Business Website: Pt 1

Now I am a novice at all this. Yet, I've spent a great deal of time on and off over the last couple of months researching and doing some basic SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) on our pre-existing website, which looked good and read OK but appeared at best in the double-figure pages of a google search.

My goal was simple - I wanted more traffic and hence more inquiries to book our function band. I wanted to do this through legitimate techniques. I wanted to monitor how my efforts were being converted into actual traffic and enquiries.

I found a great deal of information in a wide variety of places and I thought it might be useful for other novices in a similar situation if I presented my experiences and research sources in one place, so here goes.

I don't pretend to have covered it all here. What I do know is that these techniques have quadrupled my monthly traffic and more than quadrupled my weekly enquiries for work for the band.

Write Strong, Relevant Copy (text) that Appeals to Your Customers

For this, there is no substitute. If you are knowledgeable and you believe in your product or service then you will be able to write informatively about it. Give your customers a wealth of interesting facts and unique selling points. Make informative pages on related topics that may give your customers help and ideas that work around your product. For example, we've started a set of pages offering wedding music advice - how to hire DJs and Timing suggestions for the evening entertainment for example. Our How Much Does a Live Band Cost? rule-of-thumb page is now one of our most landed-on pages via the search engines.

The Google algorythms have become so advanced that they know when a site is information-rich. The indexing system will reward that richness with a promotion in results page position - your site will appear higher up and you are more likely to be clicked on.

As well as attracting the bots, all this varied, yet relevant information will help attract potential customers who had no idea that they might be interested in your particular service or product, but knew that they needed something like it. I get hits from Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) like "wedding entertainment ideas" and "what music for evening wedding entertainment".

But how do you attract this type of traffic, from a web-searcher who doesn't yet know they want your services? Thankfully its the same technique that you use for attracting people who ARE looking for your product...

Make Your Copy Keyword Rich

Keywords are the search terms that people use when typing a query into a search engine. "SEO", "Coffee Shops London", "Wedding Soul Band South East" - These are all keywords or keyword strings. Use them cleverly in your website copy and the search engines will take note and return your web page when someone types in that string or one like it into a search engine.

Simple, right? Well - yes and no. If you search on "SEO" in google right now you'll find it returns upwards of 267 million web pages. Search for Coffee Shops London and you'll be given 15.5 million options (and there aren't that many in London I can tell you!). So the trick is to identify and use in your copy the keywords and keywords strings that people are searching for in your particular business, but that few websites return pages for. These are your niche keywords.

How? I used the excellent wordtracker which tells you what real people are searching for and helps you identify the niche keywords you should be using. More importantly, it suggests those keywords surrounding your specific search term that you may not have thought of. The site offers a free month's trial which I recommend wholeheartedly and there are practical examples to help you.

There are alternatives to wordtracker, including, as I've seen other bloggers refer to, the Google offering, however I worry that this is targeted towards Pay-Per-Click (PPC) ad keywords and data and not necessarily representative of non-sponsored search patterns. Perhaps someone can verify that?

Use your chosen keywords in Page Titles, Meta Tags (less important for Google but still worth doing), Internal Link Text and in your Copy. But make sure that you don't stuff your page full of one particular keyword. Search engines are wise to that and it is considered bad practice known as keyword stuffing. Use a keyword density checker to see whether you are overusing a keyword on a particular page.

I just did webconfs.com a favour without you realising it...My link to them in the paragraph above was keyword rich which will help them more than a link that just said webconfs.com. Why? Because I'm telling a search engine that may crawl this blog exactly what to expect at the other end of that link.

Which brings me nicely on to backlinking.


Build Your Own Network of Backlinks

Backlinks are incoming links to any page on your site from another web page. In basic terms, the more relevant backlinks a page has, the higher will be the perceived importance (in the search engines' eyes) of that page and it will appear higher up in the SERPs. A relevant backlink is a link from a site in a related industry to yours. The search engines are now wise to link-farms and other types of paid bulk link schemes from random websites. Avoid them. It will do your website no good and may even incur a google penalty.

So you can immediately see the problem. You have to persuade owners of other websites to place a link to your site (or a page within your site, known as deep-linking) on their websites and then preferably with keyword-rich Anchor Text, exactly as I did with the Keyword Density Checker above. Not easy.

But by now, I'm hoping that you begin to see why having good content will work wonders for you. Webconfs.com have a bunch of tools that I find useful. I've rewarded that content by giving them a keyword-rich backlink without them having to do anything. As have a bunch of other webmasters and bloggers. This, combined with a keyword-rich website meant I found their site near the top of a Google Search for Keyword Density. Its not rocket science.

As a final word on Backlinking, don't just think of it as an SEO tool. It can also drive relevant traffic to your site. As an example I recently exchanged links with a new startup business. What the hell, I thought - they're not that significant so it won't do my ranking that much good until a while in the future maybe, but it can't hurt. Indeed it couldn't. I noticed in my stats package on my server (more on that in part 2) that I'd had 1 clickthrough from that site. Last week I took a booking and when I enquired how the client had found us, they informed me that they'd stumbled on our link on that new website and the rest is history.

Backlinks are not just SEO tools, they are a way of spreading the word. Never forget that.

In part 2 I'm going to start with Google Page Rank and what you should or should not think of it. It follows on nicely from backlinks, so remember where we got to!


In Summary

Outstanding, interesting and relevant content on your product or service combined with well-researched keyword-use in your site can boost your position in the search engine rankings as well as help build natural backlinks.

I welcome comments below if you found the information useful, or if you've anything further to add to the techniques discussed above. Please - I don't want to be lambasted for being too simplistic or too general. That's exactly what is intended with this blog series - to act as a simple introduction to this vast subject.

Further Reading

  • webproguide.com boldly calls itself the world's best SEO/SEM Article Resource, but rightly so.
  • Matt Cutts works for Google - quite interesting to follow his blogs and tweets.

Text & Images © Tony Lewis 2009. Not to be reproduced anywhere without permission.













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Rubber Soul in the business of Blogging

Well, here we are. Blogging is the one SEO tool that appears on all the "how-to" lists on small business web promotion. Aside from a pure SEO tool status it's a good insight for our clients to see how we operate, what we're like as human beings. In the strange world of the function band, we're providing a very personal service to people on the biggest and most important days of their lives and in making that choice of who you hire, you have to make sure you're getting people who you can really rely on to make the day memorable for all the right reasons.

Rubber Soul's blog will discuss all manner of things and I'll try to keep things organised neatly. Come in, poke around, visit the website and see who we are and what we do.

Tony
Rubber Soul