Posts Tagged 'Search Engines'

CRO and Keyword Advertising

Keyword advertising costs money.

Now that we’ve stated the obvious, let’s look at another simple statement of truth. Keyword advertising offers one of the most cost effective and flexible mediums to advertise your business.

The second ‘truth’ depends greatly on your commitment to finding how best to convert ad clickers, into customers. The smartest businesses focus on conversion rates. It’s smart business, because it gleans the greatest return on your advertising investment.

Keywords and the Diverse Internet Audience

Because the internet involves such a diverse group of users, one size will not fit all. Good keyword advertisers internalize this concept when writing ad copy. The words you use, affect the types of users you attract.

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Many internet users search before buying. This group searches using more general keywords—they seek information to make a final decision.  Other users want to commit to a purchase. These users tend to search using specific product names or brands. Professional internet marketers know that each group requires its own ad text.

Include Keywords in Multivariate Testing

When implementing CRO, remember your groups, and their varying motivations. Landing pages consume a great deal of the conversion conversation. Multivariate testing often relies on testing variations of landing pages, but not variations in keyword text.

Your ad text may compel one market segment at the initial click, while your landing page compels clicks from a different segment. You then begin the ‘black box’ task of reworking your landing page. Changes in your ad text, may be the key to unleashing an already effective landing page. Using this approach saves work, and has the potential to reveal valuable market segments.

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SEO and CRO: The Long and Short of It

landingrhtcolpromoIf your small business maintains a website, you’ve most likely considered, talked about or implemented some type of SEO strategy. The belief being, that if you can attract traffic, you will by default attract customers or registrants. This may be the case to a small degree, but doesn’t accurately represent how things usually work.

Your site does need to attract visitors, but it also needs to drive those visitors to some goal. Establishing that goal, and subsequently compelling the user to satisfy that goal, means just as much to your business. Internet gurus label this concept conversion. Though the concept remains the same for all websites, the specific outcome— the actual goal, may vary. Your desire may be to register users, request a sales call or make a purchase. In any case, the final outcome provides some benefit to your business.

SEO and CRO work in concert to benefit your business.

SEO and CRO work in concert to benefit your business.

Just like SEO, where we optimize our sites so they will be found during user searches, we need to optimize websites so that they convert as many visitors to successful visits as possible. This concept is known as Conversion Rate Optimization. Many experts agree, including most major online retailers, that conversion rate should be considered just as important as SEO. Jamila White, owner of E-Commerce Diva said about conversion, “So many small biz owners don’t know that is THE most important metric.” The two concepts do not contradict, actually one complements the other. They do need to be approached with a different perspective.

SEO the Long Term Strategy

Irrespective of many claims by some SEO consultants, results from SEO take time. That’s because SEO is organic in nature. You should commit yourself to at least a six month effort before expecting consistent benefits. During that six month time span, you’ll need to work and rework your strategy to stay ahead of the pack. In short, SEO strategies are long term strategies.

CRO

CRO focuses more on the present. In short, it focuses on how well we compel the current site visitors, to accomplish a desired result upon visiting.  CRO has a more immediate effect. Conversion rate matters, whether you receive 100 visits per day, or 1000 visits per day. Conversion rate impacts your website efficacy more than SEO.

You can receive 100 visits per day, but convert twenty visitors into customers. This would have more impact than receiving 1000 visits per day, and then only converting ten visitors into customers. Again, we can stress the immediate focus of CRO, no matter the number of visitors, we need to convert as many as possible.

SEO and CRO a Combined Approach

SEO and CRO should not be considered competitive concepts. As website owners we should combine the two practices, knowing that our strategy will have short as well as long term business impact. It should also be noted that  CRO will benefit your SEO efforts.  CRO helps to better identify successful market segments, thus enhancing your ongoing SEO practices.

When converting customers, you will hopefully have analytics giving you customer data. Knowing what regions, pages or search terms used to find your site will elucidate more about the segments that find your product, service or information attractive. If this market doesn’t match your present SEO focus, now you know how to adjust, or better focus your current strategy.

SEO and CRO: Continual Efforts

Both CRO and SEO require continual modification. Consistent testing of landing pages and conversion paths– your CRO efforts, will greatly benefit your long term SEO. Let’s look at an example.

CRO can be affected by numerous factors. If a CNBC guest makes recommendations about what to look for in certain financial products, or throws out a new term, this could alter what financial products customers seek. Sudden drops or increases in conversions, could be the first clue to  a change in your visitor’s needs. Knowing this, allows you to also adjust your SEO strategy to be in place when that CNBC audience turns to the internet to find the company who will sell that product.

Putting Your SEO Strategy to the Test

Many small business owners in 2009 will decide to take a do-it-yourself approach to SEO. I say go for it! In fact, marketing trends indicate moving SEO duties in-house has become the smart thing to do.

If you’ve already started your efforts, you quickly discovered that executing a good SEO strategy takes a great deal of time. Your next thought– “I hope all this work pays off”.

The top ecommerce companies test and retest their SEO strategies to find out what works, and what doesn’t. You will want to do the same thing. This article will help you get started.

First let’s look at some of the tools required to test how well you’ve done. Then we can look at a simple five step plan to start your SEO testing strategy.

Analytics Provides the Foundation

First you’ll want to start with a good analytics package. If you’re going it on your own, utilize Google Analytics (GA).  GA offers a feature rich web based tool at no cost. The tool provides an extensive set of metrics and reports without any setup. Because its widely accepted in the industry, you’ll find lots of support across the web.  Start with the Google Analytics Forum. 

Multivariate Testing: The SEO Proving Grounds

Multivariate testing allows users visiting the site, to each view different versions of the same web page.  Your testing application tracks how users respond to each page. 

Google provides a great multivariate testing application— Google Web Optimizer for free. Again it’s easy to setup, and comes with the support of  a large user community.

How to Implement Your SEO Testing

Below I’ve provided a few suggestions on setting up your testing methodology.  I’m assuming you’re using the Google Analytics and Web Optimizer package.  If you decide to go with something else, it most likely will provide the same functionality, just with possibly different names and locations.  If your package doesn’t provide the abilities described here– scrap it, and go with GA.

STEP 1:  Place the GA Tracking Code on Your Web Pages
If you have a large site, this may take some time, but it’s worth the effort.  If you don’t feel the page merits tracking, then the page probably doesn’t need to be included in your web site.  Not tracking pages leaves you in the dark.  Not knowing what appeals to users costs you money– in either lost conversions or wasted effort.

  • Write down the file names of the pages included in funnels you want to track.
  • This is also a good time to make copies of these files as you prepare for multivariate testing.

STEP 2:  Setup Goals Tracking
Goal tracking allows you to guage the efficacy of the various funnels within your web site.  

  • Start with your most important landing page, and determine where you want the user to end up.
  • If your funnel includes a form, be sure to include the thank you page.
  • Include product display pages from your shopping cart.
  • Include the registration pages for your cart.
  • Your cart funnel should also include the thank you page.
  •  For keyword advertisers pay attention to the  landing pages that result from advertising clicks.

STEP 3: Setup Multivariate Testing
Now you can find ways to optimize your funnels success.

  • Create multiple copies of the same landing page.  Start with your busiest landing page. 
  • In each version of the page, things like graphics, page copy and page layout. 
  • With keyword advertising, test how various pages work with different ad copy.
  • If you’re advertising via print, radio or tv, set up specific landing pages.
  • Remember to that you can use different page versions to alter funnel flow.  Test if one flow works better than others.

STEP 4: Review Goal Tracking Results
Determine how well your funnels worked.

  • Utilize conversion percentages to establish baselines. These will be useful for future testing.
  • Look at visits as compared to visitors.  This will give you an idea of how often users converted on their initial visit, or on a return visit.
  • Also make note of referring web sites.  Knowing where users came from can help improve efficiency with marketing budget.

STEP 5: Review Multivariate Testing Data
Go back and compare your goals with various landing pages in the funnel.  

  • For a very successful funnel, use the best variations as a model for other pages.
  • Remember to note unsuccessful variations as well.  Try to analyze why the page failed. 
  • Take the most successfule variations from each page, and put them together in one funnel.
  • If variations all had similar success rates, take a good look at your goal conversions. Poor goal conversions may indicate an offer with little appeal to visitors. 

Going Forward

Don’t stop testing.  It will take consistent effort over the long haul to truly gain the benefits of SEO.  Don’t let early successes lull you.  Remember that the Internet and user behaviours change constantly.  What worked in January, doesn’t always hold true in June.  Attempt to run tests on at least one funnel per month.  This will require planning, but don’t let the additional work dissuade you.  The benefits will be worth the effort.

CSS Web Design, A Top to Bottom Approach

Take it from the top.  A familiar phrase used to mean start from the beginning.  In terms of CSS web design and SEO, you want to start your web pages with the most important content at the top of your web page.  We’re not talking about the visual page, but the coded HTML behind the scenes.

Though you may not have put much thought into it, you would probably assume the search engine parser crawls the page from the top down.  We generally ignore how that fact impacts our SEO strategy from the web page coding level. 

With proper CSS design, the style sheet dictates layer positioning on the visual browser page.  That allows the designer to put keyword rich content at the top of the HTML code to be crawled first, without regards to the visual layout in the web browser.  It also allows for the placement of important links where the web crawler will be sure to find them.

Keyword Primacy and SEO

Don’t discount keyword positioning when implementing your SEO web design.  The paradigms of SEO require us to provide descriptive page titles and meta tags.  Take note of where those elelments exist in your page’s HTML code— at the very top.  Web crawlers take into account primacy when indexing your page.

The concept of primacy relies on the logic that the most important information will be presented first on any particular web page— like the title and keywords.  Once the crawler moves past the meta tags to your content, it assumes the subject focus for your page should soon follow.  If it doesn’t, your page indexing and ranking will suffer. 

The logic of primacy falls in line with search engines’ goals to provide reliable search results.  We’ve all seen the old internet bait and switch, particularly in emails.  So making sure that page content is relevant to the page title, and vice versa, plays a role in the indexing alogrithm of most search engines.

Top Down CSS Design Tips

1. Keyword Rich Content First
Layers containing keyword rich content should be the first layer after the ‘body’ tag.

2. Menus and Important Links Come Next
Put your main menu, and any other important links after the keyword rich content.  This assumes you have parsable links.  If you utilize Flash for your menus, this doesn’t matter— we’ll get to Flash in a moment. Parsers find text the easiest to crawl, so putting important links immediately following the most parsable content, increases the crawlers ability to index all of your site’s content.

3. Place Alt Texted Graphics After Links
The important thing to remember is alt texted graphics.  If you have aesthetic graphics that don’t have alt text—  either get rid of them, or find an appropriate alt text entry.  This doesn’t include Flash content.

4. Flash Files Go Last
Put your Flash based content at the very bottom.  The crawler can’t do anything with it anyway, so put it at the very end so it doesn’t get in the way of good content

The SEO Big Picture

In the grand scheme of SEO, our CSS design won’t put us at the top of the ‘charts’ so to speak.  Yet bad design can hinder any good SEO effort.  If you’ve invested in professional SEO consulting, you want to ensure maximum value for your investment.  So look at CSS web design as that leaky faucet that slowly drips, and over time wastes resources you would rather use in more important ways.

Parsing SEO From the Ground Up – The Finale

parserpart3We’ve talked about the parser, and how it deals with various web technologies, so lets address how you can verify what’s being parsed.

Google Webmaster Tools

Google makes content parsing verification easy with a set of tools— the Google Webmaster Tools.  If you haven’t utilized this tool set, then you’re not serious about SEO or SEM.  The Google Webmaster Tools gives you direct insight into what the googlebot— the name for Google’s parser, sees when it crawls your site.

Getting Started

The tool set doesn’t require any downloads or installation, its all web based, making it really easy to use. Like all Google online tools, it will require an account.  If you already have an AdWords or Analytics account, you are ready to go.   If not, registration only takes a minute.  You will need access to your web server.  In order to activate your account, Google requires you to verify your site ownership by uploading a file to your server.  Don’t worry, its a simple html file with a specific name, that you create.  No security issues to worry about, and you can delete the file once the account is verified.

The Google Webmaster Tools provides a great way to know how your website is being parsed.

The Google Webmaster Tools provides a great way to know how your website is being parsed.

Important SEO Metrics

Inside the tool set you’ll find a vast array of metrics.  We’ll look at few of the most important.

What Googlebot sees
This section provides the top 100 phrases and keywords in your site content– as the Google parser views your page.  If you’ve paid for professional SEO work, here’s where you can ensure you’re getting your money’s worth.

Top search queries
Another critical SEO/SEM tool.  What Google search queries provide you the most traffic?  You might be surprised.  Again, here you can verify that your SEM strategy is on the right track.  You can also discover other areas of potential SEM success.

Index Stats
Find out what pages Google already has indexed.  Important information, especially if you see pages missing. Also provides a list of pages that link to your sites homepage.  This is the most important stat in terms of Google organic SEO.

Diagnostics
Another important tool set.  Lets you know if Google had any problems crawling your site.  We discussed potential technology related crawling errors the last post— this particular tool provides a way to ensure those pages, and all the other pages of your site are crawled properly.

Only the Beginning of Your SEO Journey

Hopefully our walk through web crawling technology has demystified CSS web design. SEO and SEM are always a work in progress, but your web design will provide a solid foundation upon which to build.  You should also note that SEO and SEM efforts will be greatly improved with the proper use of web analytics.  Even if the parser sees the correct keywords and phrases, you must still consider the human factor.  You’ll definitely want to implement multivariate testing as a part of your analytics approach.

One final note.  It’s important to realize that the Google Webmaster Tools only gives you the Google perspective.  The MSN or yahoo search engines may view your site somewhat differently.  Yet, good results with the Google tools, generally means a good chance of success with other search engines as well.  At this time, I don’t know of any similar tools for the other major search engines.  If anyone out there knows of any, drop us a line so we can spread the word.

Parsing SEO From the Ground Up – Part 1

parserpart1

Welcome to 2009, and a new year for the small business!  The bad news about the economy has all businesses– big and small, searching for ways to generate revenue.  Based upon all the expert predictions for the upcoming year, ecommerce looks like it might be in a position to grow.  Discount retailers have been somewhat immune to the effects of the economy, this means small businesses on the web should look for the customers looking for deals.  If you haven’t done so already, start thinking about your SEO strategy.  If you need some tips, take a look at this post from smallbiztechnology.com. This article touches on the risks of relying on your web designer for SEO.  The advice should be taken seriously.  Yet, the web designer doesn’t get a free pass when it comes to SEO.  The web designer has a direct effect on SEO.  In this post– the first in a series, we’ll talk about web design and its relationship to SEO.

Web Design and SEO

Web design and SEO are two separate things.  Your web designer might not be an SEO expert, and your SEO expert might not be a web designer.  That being stated, your web designer can have a huge impact on the effectiveness of your SEO efforts.  That last thought seems to contradict my first statement about SEO experts and web designers being two different entities.  Let’s clear up the apparent contradiction, and discern how your web designers can either hinder or enhance your SEO efforts.

Search Engines Begin With the Parser

We all know that Google, Yahoo and MSN allow us to search the web based upon keywords.  The searcher types in keywords or phrases, the search engine returns results.  Your objective as a small business owner– get in the top three listed results for your chosen keywords.  Real simple concept (What’s not so simple is the algorithm these engines utilize to rank pages).  Did you ever stop and think about how all those urls actually were found and cataloged? How do the search engines know that a particular page actually contains content about said keyword?  It’s not magic, its parsing.

Parsing the Web for Better Search Engine Results

More commonly known as a web spider or crawler, the parser represents the lynch pin of SEO.  That being said, very few SEO experts or Web Designers actually know how these tools work.  The parser reads the HTML of each page it parses.  It doesn’t see the page as humans do via a browser, it’s only concerned with the HTML code that creates the page.  To see what the parser sees, simply right-click on a web page, and select ‘view source’ from the menu.

parserpart1sourceview2

The source view gives a parser's perspective of your page content.

That’s how the parser views your page– but there’s more to it.  The parser doesn’t just read all the text within the page, it attempts to only read the content, with exceptions for following links and reading ‘alt’ tags for graphics.  The parser saves the text to be crunched by the formulas so your page can be ranked.  The parser follows link tags to the linked page and continues the process.

Not All HTML is Created Equal

So here’s the trick– some HTML parses more  easily than others. For example, ‘table’ tags don’t parse as easily as ‘div’ tags.  What does that mean?  That means if your designer utilizes tables to build your website– at one time a very common practice, there exists the chance that some of your content doesn’t get parsed.  It also means that if you have Flash based menus– some of those secondary pages may not be parsed.  No matter how well you’ve researched keywords or optimized your copy writing, if it doesn’t get parsed it won’t get ranked!

Protecting Your SEO Investment

Our discussion leads to a new set of questions.  You want to know how the parser deals with Flash, Active Pages (asp, jsp, php etc.) and AJAX. Those of you who have invested in a professional SEO expert want to know that you’re getting the most bang for your buck. In part 2 we will discuss web technologies like flash, active pages and AJAX.  In part 3 we’ll address how to confirm what the parser actually sees when crawling your site.

Rebranding Your eCommerce Site for Greater Exposure

landingpageYou have to love Taco Bell, not necessarily the food, but the marketing. Their creativity in rearranging various ingredients in different amounts, never ceases to amaze me. They never fail to come up with different combinations of ingredients, sometimes just in varying amounts, and convince us that its somehow a different Taco. All online shop owners should take note of this time tested marketing strategy.

Put Your Best eCommerce Foot Forward

When in doubt, change the packaging. At Christmas, Oreos come with green and red cream. Same cookie, same taste, different ‘packaging’. Changing the packaging for your online store provides even more advantages. You can market the same products to different market segments. To see this in action, visit the Major League Baseball Shop. Once on the home page, take a look at the individual team pages. It’s the same page, just focused on one particular team. “So What?” you say, that makes perfect sense. Then why don’t more online storefronts utilize this marketing technique?

Landing Page, Landing Page, Landing Page

We all know the key to a successful brick and mortar business— location, location, location. For an online store the paradigm should be stated as— landing page, landing page, landing page. Putting a different shop entrance for different market segments makes sense. Search engine marketing experts do this consistently. They will create a different landing page for every ad. That landing page links back to the same website. Your online store should do the same thing. Your eCommerce software home page doesn’t have to be your site home page. You could have several site home pages, with the same catalog. Let’s look at an example.

Not Just a Bicycle

If I Google the keyword bicycle, I’m prone to find many different online bicycle shops. Most of these shops sell all different types of bikes (mountain, road, tandem, etc). What’s more important is what I see after the click. If I want a mountain bike, and the home page displays only road racing bikes, the chances are good I’m moving on in my search. But if I own two different urls (total investment $20); the first johnsmountainbikes.com, and the second johnsroadbikes.com, I can cater to two different markets. The landing page for each will focus on the particular bike style indicated in the url. Yet, I can utilize the same catalog, with the same inventory. So when the visitor purchases the bike, you can still sell them the accessories. You get two different stores, focused on two different market segments, for almost no cost.

Quick Details

Remember to keep your look and feel the same. If I click through to the product page, and it looks totally different, my willingness to give up my credit card number may fade. Take the repackaging theory even farther, and add separate forums and content pages for each site. This will establish your company as an expert in that particular segment of the market. Using our bicycle website example, on each individual landing page, provide links to biking trail maps. On your mountain bike page these would be links to trails, on the other, road routes, or roads with separate biking lanes.