Tags Posts tagged with "Search Engines"

Search Engines

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SEO can be broken into two distinct areas – “onpage” factors and “off-page” factors. On-page factors include anything that you can affect on the page itself, such as the title tag, body copy, H1 heading tags, image “alt” attributes, etc.

Off-page factors encompass things that influence rankings but are not on the page itself, such as PageRank score and anchor text, better known by the layman as link text. When you are optimizing the on-page factors, you start with keyword research to identify the keyword markets that you should go after (as discussed in my “Keyword Sleuthing” article in the November issue). You craft prose targeted at those keyword markets (see my “Writing for the Search Engines” article in the December issue).

Keyword-rich prose isn’t enough though. In order to give your content its best shot at ‘singing’ to the search engines, you’ll need to optimize your HTML templates. Of course this all presumes that your ecommerce platform is friendly to search engine spiders (my “Avoid Complex URLs” article in last month’s issue). Here’s a quick guide on how to optimize your HTML, step-by-step:

Make sure each page can sing a unique song

The worst kinds of HTML templates have title tags and Meta data (such as the meta description) hard-coded so that they are the same across all pages that use that template. Make sure that your title tag, Meta description and H1 heading tag can be assigned on a per page basis, thus unique to the specific page in question.

Strip out extraneous HTML code

Superfluous code in your HTML negatively impacts your search engine rankings by pushing your good keyword rich copy further down the page thus lowering keyword prominence. Because the search engine spider looks at the HTML code rather than the rendered page as you see it in your web browser, elements in the HTML code that bloat the page up may lower your page’s keyword prominence. In addition, this “bloat” will negatively impact the user experience as it increases download time. As you know, Internet users are notoriously impatient.

Superfluous HTML includes HTML comments, JavaScript code that is “inline”, cascading style sheets (CSS) that are “inline,” and table tags used for layout. Not only are tables inefficient for layout; they also offer poor accessibility because “screen readers” (software used by visually impaired users to read each web page aloud) will read out all that table information to the user as if it were a tabular data such as a chart. So strip out all the comments, move the JavaScript’s and style sheets into separate “include” files (in the case of JavaScript, a .js file and with style sheets it is a .css file). So in effect you replace a many-line JavaScript or cascading style sheet with a oneline reference to an external file containing all that code.

Amplify the song that your content sings

Your content, when merged in with your HTML template, is what is served to the search engine spider. Your HTML template can squelch that song or it can amplify it. Above, we have already talked about ways that your HTML code can squelch the song. Now in order to amplify it, make sure that you include heading tags on your pages and utilize text navigation whenever possible instead of graphical navigation. For example, clickable buttons can be done as text but made to look graphical. Text links are much more effective than graphical links because the search engines take the anchor text that you have used and associate the words in the anchor text with the page that you are linking to. You will get a lift in your rankings for the keywords contained within those text links.

Not to worry

The Meta keywords tag doesn’t have much of a place nowadays in SEO, so you can safely leave them out of your HTML templates (unless your own site’s search engine uses them). A Meta robots tag with instructions to index and follow is unnecessary, as that is assumed, so leave that out as well. Image “alt” attributes used to be a lot more important than they are now. It seems nowadays that only when the image is also a link that the “alt” attribute is actually paid any attention to by the search engine. Taking all the above into account, you should end up with HTML templates that really enhance your search engine positions across all pages to which they are applied.

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SEO can be broken into two distinct areas – “onpage” factors and “off-page” factors. On-page factors include anything that you can affect on the page itself, such as the title tag, body copy, H1 heading tags, image “alt” attributes, etc.

Off-page factors encompass things that influence rankings but are not on the page itself, such as PageRank score and anchor text, better known by the layman as link text. When you are optimizing the on-page factors, you start with keyword research to identify the keyword markets that you should go after (as discussed in my “Keyword Sleuthing” article in the November issue). You craft prose targeted at those keyword markets (see my “Writing for the Search Engines” article in the December issue).

Keyword-rich prose isn’t enough though. In order to give your content its best shot at ‘singing’ to the search engines, you’ll need to optimize your HTML templates. Of course this all presumes that your ecommerce platform is friendly to search engine spiders (my “Avoid Complex URLs” article in last month’s issue). Here’s a quick guide on how to optimize your HTML, step-by-step:

Make sure each page can sing a unique song

The worst kinds of HTML templates have title tags and Meta data (such as the meta description) hard-coded so that they are the same across all pages that use that template. Make sure that your title tag, Meta description and H1 heading tag can be assigned on a per page basis, thus unique to the specific page in question.

Strip out extraneous HTML code

Superfluous code in your HTML negatively impacts your search engine rankings by pushing your good keyword rich copy further down the page thus lowering keyword prominence. Because the search engine spider looks at the HTML code rather than the rendered page as you see it in your web browser, elements in the HTML code that bloat the page up may lower your page’s keyword prominence. In addition, this “bloat” will negatively impact the user experience as it increases download time. As you know, Internet users are notoriously impatient.

Superfluous HTML includes HTML comments, JavaScript code that is “inline”, cascading style sheets (CSS) that are “inline,” and table tags used for layout. Not only are tables inefficient for layout; they also offer poor accessibility because “screen readers” (software used by visually impaired users to read each web page aloud) will read out all that table information to the user as if it were a tabular data such as a chart. So strip out all the comments, move the JavaScript’s and style sheets into separate “include” files (in the case of JavaScript, a .js file and with style sheets it is a .css file). So in effect you replace a many-line JavaScript or cascading style sheet with a oneline reference to an external file containing all that code.

Amplify the song that your content sings

Your content, when merged in with your HTML template, is what is served to the search engine spider. Your HTML template can squelch that song or it can amplify it. Above, we have already talked about ways that your HTML code can squelch the song. Now in order to amplify it, make sure that you include heading tags on your pages and utilize text navigation whenever possible instead of graphical navigation. For example, clickable buttons can be done as text but made to look graphical. Text links are much more effective than graphical links because the search engines take the anchor text that you have used and associate the words in the anchor text with the page that you are linking to. You will get a lift in your rankings for the keywords contained within those text links.

Not to worry

The Meta keywords tag doesn’t have much of a place nowadays in SEO, so you can safely leave them out of your HTML templates (unless your own site’s search engine uses them). A Meta robots tag with instructions to index and follow is unnecessary, as that is assumed, so leave that out as well. Image “alt” attributes used to be a lot more important than they are now. It seems nowadays that only when the image is also a link that the “alt” attribute is actually paid any attention to by the search engine. Taking all the above into account, you should end up with HTML templates that really enhance your search engine positions across all pages to which they are applied.

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As 2012 comes to a close and the year’s robust holiday season is over, small online retailers will have a bit of time to reflect on how to improve business in 2013.

The coming year is likely to see growth in overall ecommerce spending, increased competition for loyal customers, and advances in marketing technology. What follows are five suggested resolutions. If followed, these resolutions could lead to more sales and more profit.

1. Treat Your Customers Better

Consumers — customers — are spending much more online, perhaps $252 billion in the U.S. alone in 2013, according to Forrester estimates.

The number of businesses selling online is also growing, increasing the competition for Internet shoppers. While many of these new businesses will compete solely on price, some merchants will offer more than just discounts. These retailers will offer exceptional customer service.

Resolving to treat customers better can mean changes in a few areas.

  • Retailers should encourage a “customer first” philosophy. Everything centers on providing great service.
  • Retailers should be easy to reach, offering an 800 number, live chat, and easy email options.
  • Retailers should give shoppers many options for payments, shipping, and returns.
2. Focus on Mobile

According to consulting firm Strategy Analytics, there will soon be more than 2 billion smartphones in use worldwide. Tablets, which are perhaps the most revolutionary of mobile devices, are enjoying amazing popularity too.

Online, mobile shoppers are using these devices to make purchases when it is convenient. Some of these mobile buyers might be sitting on a couch watching “Dancing with the Stars” and placing Internet orders from an iPad. Others could be standing at a shop in the mall comparing prices from a web-enabled smartphone.

To be successful small online retailers must resolve to serve mobile shoppers in 2013.

  • Retailers must ensure that their sites look good on mobile devices, including the iPad Mini.
  • Retailers should consider using mobile specific capabilities like geolocation to improve the buying experience.
  • Retailers should engage mobile-friendly payment methods and SMS too.
3. Integrate Video

Video platform maker SundaySky recently reported that 48 of the top 50 online retailers were using product video to boost sales and increase revenues. Only 16 of those same retailers used product videos the prior year. As the trend continues, it will be quite common to see video demonstrations or explanations on many product detail pages.

Small Internet retailers that resolve to integrate product videos into their sites and marketing campaigns will certainly need to invest time and money, but could see significant returns.

  • Retailers should invest in an inexpensive camcorder, a green screen or backdrop, a few lights, and video editing software.
  • Alternatively, retailers could choose a video platform that automatically makes videos from still product images and text.
4. Use Email Marketing Better

Email marketing is, perhaps, the most powerful tool at an ecommerce marketer’s disposal. Done well, each email will generate sales and profits.

Resolving to use email marketing better in 2013 has a lot to do with planning.

  • Retailers should plan email marketing at least one quarter in advance, putting down on a calendar when emails will be sent, what they will offer, and how success will be measured.
  • Retailers should also seek to automate email marketing in 2013. Follow up emails should automatically go to subscribers that don’t open an email after three days, as an example.
  • Retailers should use transactional emails to encourage new sales.
  • Finally, retailers should have a content plan that makes emails worth opening.
5. Reduce Your Reliance on Search Engines

In 2012, Google released two significant updates to its search algorithms. Called Panda and Penguin respectively, these updates had two important impacts on search.

First, both generally improved the results Google users received for many, if not most, queries, making the king of search engines even better.

Second, both devastated some online businesses that saw dramatic drops in search engine traffic after the changes. Many of the effected businesses had been following the advice of search engine optimization practitioners, but were frequently doing things to please bots — not real visitors. Google’s goal is to please people, and that should be a site owner’s goal too.

In all likelihood, Google, Bing, and other search engines will continue to make changes as competition in the search engine market heats up. Given this fact, it may make sense for some small online retailers to resolve to become less dependent on search engines in 2013.

  • Retailers should use email and text marketing to build lists of customers rather than constantly depending on new shoppers wandering in from Google.
  • Retailers may want to explore subscription-based offers that build lasting relationships with loyal customers.
  • Retailers may look to content marketing, using video, magazine like articles, and social media to drive traffic.

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Editor’s Note: This is the second installment of a three-part series on optimizing ecommerce pages for search engines. The first installment, “Part 1: Keyword Research,”we published last week. “Part 3: Keywords to Content” we published after the article, below.

Keyword research is essential to search engine optimization. It’s the window into the words that real searchers use to find products like the ones you sell. But at the end of the keyword research process — detailed in “Part 1: Keyword Research” — search marketers can be overwhelmed by the vast amount of data staring at them from their Excel spreadsheets. Keyword categorizing and mapping help move the optimization process from the research phase to the actual optimization phase.

Categorizing Keywords

During the keyword research process, patterns start to appear. Different types of keywords emerge that can be logically grouped into different categories that reflect the site’s business goals and core product offerings. For example, if my site sells subscriptions to online games for kids, my keyword research could be 12,000 phrases or more based on the research conducted in Google’s free Keyword Tool. But because each keyword is needs to be related to my core product offering, I can start to categorize them and delete the ones that aren’t directly relevant.

Let’s say that my site sells games. But it doesn’t sell just any games; it sells online games for kids. That’s three vital components to choosing keywords that are specifically targeted to my product offering: “types of games,” “online vs. offline,” and synonyms for the word “kids,” as listed in the spreadsheet, below.

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By creating columns for each of these three keyword components, I can identify which of the 12,000 keywords are the most relevant to my business, and filter them to more easily choose phrases to optimize the different sections of my site.

By creating columns for each of these three keyword components, I can identify which of the 12,000 keywords are the most relevant to my business, and filter them to more easily choose phrases to optimize the different sections of my site.

For example, the keyword “free games” is huge, with an average of 823,000 searches per month in Google. That’s a mighty tempting keyword to target, but is it not directly relevant to my site’s core offering. I don’t offer “free games,” I sell subscriptions to online games for kids. A search for “free games” could represent someone looking for pickup basketball games, games to play as a family, pirated video games to download, or any number of other game-related desires. It’s too broad for my site and even if my site could capture those searches, only a small percentage would convert. It may be worth a test to see if enough additional volume could be driven that even at a lower conversion rate I’d see more sales, but it’s unlikely to be worth the effort.

“Free games online” is also quite large at 201,000 — getting closer because it represents two of the three key elements of a targeted keyword for my site. But still, the searcher could easily be looking for any type of free game online for any age group, and I still don’t offer free games. Perhaps it may be worth discussing offering a few free games or some free trials to be able to target these larger “free” keyword sets. That’s a decision that needs to be made at the executive level to ensure that it’s in line the company’s business goals.

Analyzing Keyword Categories

Regardless, to see the phrases that target my niche specifically, all I need to do is filter out the “free” keywords and all the blank cells in columns B, C and D so that I’m left with only terms that have all three elements: online, kids and games.

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By filtering out the “free” keywords and all the blank cells in columns B, C and D, I’m left with only terms that have all three elements: "online," "kids," and "games."

By filtering out the “free” keywords and all the blank cells in columns B, C and D, I’m left with only terms that have all three elements: “online,” “kids,” and “games.”

Now I can see that the largest generic keywords in my research that specifically target my niche are “online games for kids” and “kids games online” at an average of 12,100 searches each per month in Google. I can also analyze the most prevalent keyword patterns within the categories I’ve designated. For example, I can determine from my full keyword set that 56 percent of the keywords contain the word “kids” as opposed to only 3 percent of the keywords that contain the word “children.” This little tidbit tells me that when I’m writing copy for my site I should use the word “kids” more frequently than the word “children.” I can also see that 23.5 percent of the keywords relate to virtual world games, while 2.7 percent relate to fashion games and 2.1 percent relate to educational games.

In “Part 1,” I explained how navigational phrases on a site should influence the seed list for the keyword research. In turn, analysis of the categories and patterns that emerge in the keyword research can also be used to influence a site’s information architecture and navigational phrases. Of course, these statistics depend entirely on the accuracy and thoroughness of the keyword research. If the search marketer misses a category of terms accidentally, those keywords obviously can’t figure into the category and pattern analysis.

Keyword Mapping

Once the phrases have been categorized and analyzed, the mapping begins. First, make a list of all the URLs that need to be optimized. This list may be the entire site, or it may be a smaller subset of the major categories and most valuable subcategories and products. Each URL needs a unique primary keyword. It’s important that each URL have its own unique keyword theme so that a site’s own pages don’t compete with each other for rankings for the same phrases. In addition, each URL can also be assigned a couple of secondary keywords that are very closely related to the primary keyword.

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Once the phrases have been categorized and analyzed, the mapping begins — as shown in this spreadsheet.

Once the phrases have been categorized and analyzed, the mapping begins — as shown in this spreadsheet.

In this example the girls.htm page has been assigned the “online games for girls,” the largest relevant keyword, as its primary keyword. It also has two secondary keywords assigned to it that are nearly identical to the primary, except for word order and other slight differences. Assigning a set of very similar keywords to the same page enables the writers or optimizers to vary their copy to avoid the most annoying forms of keyword repetition while still maintaining a strong keyword theme.

If the map has empty spaces where URLs aren’t assigned keywords, more research is needed to identify the relevant keywords for that page. Conversely, if a group of keywords from the research lacks a URL to map to, more pages of content could be created to target those keywords.

The exercise of mapping of keywords to URLs identifies which pages should be optimized for which keywords, but not how to use those keywords on the pages. The upcoming “Part 3″ installment of this series on content optimization will focus on actually using the keyword map to optimize content.

The Complete Series: “Optimizing a Page for Search Engines”

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If you maintain a blog with your ecommerce site, honing your copywriting skills can make it more popular and increase the possibility it will appear higher in search results.

Online copywriting involves three parts: site readability, search engine friendliness, and writing skills.

1. Make your Blog Easy to Read

Even though tablets have made digital text easier to read, computer monitors are not ideal. Here are pointers to help.

  • Keep paragraphs short. Long paragraphs make comprehension difficult. It’s best to limit them to no more than three or four lines each.
  • Use bold and italics to highlight certain words and phrases. Using them to emphasize main points will help the copy and can draw readers into the details of the paragraph.
  • Use subheadings. When you change topics within a post, it’s always good to identify that with a subheading. Using a header tag is helpful. There are different levels of header tags, classified by number. An “H1″ tag, for example, is used for main titles, while the “H3″ tag is good for subtitles and subheadings. In this post, for example, “1. Make your Blog Easy to Read” is an H3 subheading.
  • Break up the copy by using bulleted points and numbered lists.
  • Use a larger font size. According to web design resource site Smashing Magazine, age plays a significant factor in how well people read online. “At age 40, only half the light gets through to the retina as it did at age 20. For 60-year-olds, it’s just 20%,” said the site. Although there is no one best font size, many sites now use 16 pixels.

You could also give readers the option of choosing a font size. They can do that using the browser, but you can facilitate resizing through the use of a plugin (assuming you use WordPress), jQuery, or CSS.

  • Allow plenty of white space around the text. This gives the eye a chance to rest as it follows line copy.
  • Make your index page easy to scan. One sure way to give your blog greater vitality is to keep copy on the home page short, so that readers can easily scan the page and see more posts. Allow no more than two or three paragraphs on the home page per post.

Most blog platforms provide means by which you can limit the amount of characters that appear on the home page for each post. WordPress, for example, has a “more” button in its rich text editor. The point where that option is inserted in a post is where it breaks. The portion above the “more” gets included in the index page; the remainder of the post does not.

2. Write with Search Engines in Mind
  • Use keywords. One of the best ways to optimize a blog for search engines is by including a keyword associated with the topic of your post in the title and two or three times in the body copy.
  • Link to relevant resources. One factor Google takes into account when attempting to understand your blog’s theme is where links point. If there is topical relevance, your chances of appearing near the top in search results increase.
  • Focus on quality, not word count. In the past, many search-engine-optimization experts recommended a minimum word count of roughly 300. Longer posts faired better. Today, Google emphasizes quality, not quantity. To quote one SEO expert, “Write for your reader and Google will figure it out.”

Google says that the best way to rank is to “ensure that it contains plenty of rich information that includes relevant keywords, used appropriately, that indicate the subject matter of your content.”

“Write for your reader and Google will figure it out.”

3. Hone your Writing Skills

Now that your blog is easier to read and you have tuned the copy to appeal to search engines, there is one thing is left to do: improve your writing skills. Here are some tips that can help.

  • Find your voice. A good blog reflects the personality and style of the blogger, qualities that are best revealed in the tone, or “voice,” of the copy. Finding your voice is about feeling comfortable with your writing and knowing whom you are writing to. Understanding the makeup of your audience will enable you to determine what tone to use.
  • Tell a story. Simply sharing facts lacks the power that stories can provide to evoke emotion and get the reader involved. A good resource to learn the art of storytelling isCopyblogger. It contains numerous articles on the subject.
  • Use good grammar. Blog writing tends to be informal and conversational. However, that’s not an excuse to use poor grammar. Three online resources I rely on are as follows.
    • Grammarly. A grammar checking tool that ranks highly in accuracy, ease of use, and that offers help in learning proper grammar. It also checks for plagiarism to ensure sources are properly cited.
    • Thesaurus.com. Part of a suite that includes Dictionary.com, the site suggests synonyms and antonyms.
    • Grammar Girl. A blog that provides punctuation and grammar usage guidelines.

In addition, a book I keep handy is William Strunk’s The Elements of Style, a popular American English writing guide.

Elements of Style

  • Proofread your copy. Before clicking the publish button, review the copy to ensure there are no typos or other grammatical errors, and that the content is as well written and informative. Always spell check.
Conclusion

Improving these three factors — site readability, search engine friendliness, and writing skills — can make your blog easier and more enjoyable to read, and achieve better rankings in search.

RANDOM POSTS

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SEO can be broken into two distinct areas – “onpage” factors and “off-page” factors. On-page factors include anything that you can affect on the...