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eCommerce is hard work

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This image is of a fairly typical eCommerce page - images and text laid out in sections. The text below the first image has the text “Zen Pain Relief Herbal Gel - 40g” (all in capitals, which I find a bit hard to read), followed the snippet which reads “Zen Pain Relief Herbal Gel is a powerful…”. The snippet is mostly just the caption repeated. I wonder if a better alternative might be to make the full description start ..

"A powerful pain relief for injury, muscular cramps and strains, Zen Pain Relief Herbal Gel contains Arnica montana flower, Spatholobus suberectus stem, Boswellia carterii stem bark resin as well as many other ingredients which assist with muscle and pain relief."

That should reduce the repetition on category pages and better explain the product at the same time. If your site is a bit like this one, perhaps you should try this idea with one or two items. Then check it out with a “customer” hat on to see if it makes the page more helpful and seem less cluttered.

Anything you can do to convey information and make your customers life a little easier can only help your eCommerce site be more successful.

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A tale of two tree surgeons

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As chance would have it, when I checked my letterbox this morning there were business cards from two tree services (see the image above). I’m not in the market for a tree surgeon so I had no particular interest in these businesses other than professional curiosity.

Anything interesting about the cards? The colours were very similar (coincidence or the same designer?), as were the services offered. The lack of distinction makes the cards (and by inference the businesses) largely forgettable. Neither card shows a website or an email address. The only form of communication on offer was a mobile phone number.

Even if you needed a tree lopped when the cards arrived, would you just reach for the phone and ask for quote? There may be some that would but I am not one them. I think some research is required to see how long they’ve been in business, if they are licensed, have they tackled jobs similar to mine and what sort of reputation they may have.

There was nothing to this effect on the cards, so I was then off to the search engines to see if I could separate them.

This exercise was spectacularly unrewarding. Neither have a website that I could find. I found one referenced on TrueLocal. They had even claimed the listing and had uploaded a generic photo of a large tree. There was little else on offer. Very little advantage gained by this effort.

It seems both businesses are attempting to get lucky using “the right place at the right time” marketing strategy. In this instance putting a business card in a letterbox and hoping the home owner needs one of the services listed on the card and is impetuous enough to dial a phone number. This might work for the lower end, less specialised services offered (rubbish removal, gutters cleared, etc), but the chances of success for the more substantial tasks are less likely.

If the big paying jobs are tree lopping / trimming services, it might be more lucrative to target suburbs where trees abound. It has been a long time since the Inner West suburbs of Sydney have been a forest.

What would make you call one of these operators?

Filed under trees business card

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Old sites may not continue to cut it in the new world

Some of the regular readers will have read reference Matt Cutts elsewhere on this blog. He is head of the Google Web Spam Team. (No! He is not in charge of spamming people). In many ways he is the face of Google, and certainly he is one of the most important of the talking heads in the SEO world, and is particularly relevant as he gives the Google perspective. In short, if he says “jump”, the SEO world asks how “high?”.

So if I say older sites may not keep their ranking indefinitely because Matt Cutts said it you know I’m serious. But in case there’s any doubt, here it is straight from the Google guy’s mouth.

Matt talks about the site template. That shouldn’t be interpreted to mean, a facelift to a website you will give an immediate boost in the rankings. Matt doesn’t focus just on the layout from a style perspective but mentions several times the user experience. This can cover page load speed, graphic appeal, good navigation and useful content.

In days past, I would have said these on-page factors make it easy for Google to find your content. That is still true, but probably more important these days is the way these factors keep visitors to the site - consuming the content.

Why is the consumption of content important? Some SEOs talk about “pogo sticking”, meaning a visitor jumping between Google search results and the sites in the result set in quick succession. Google takes this as an indicator that none of the sites visited satisfied the users requirements for that search. If enough visitors pogo stick in and out of your website for a narrow set of keywords, your site will fall in rank. This means over time your ranking and traffic levels will fall.

It is true, both old and new sites can experience this impact. But tastes and expectations change over time, even in older demographics. Good colours, smart layout, good navigation and good content are always rewarded. Over time what is consider good or smart may change.

Is your website up to the challenge?

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Managing a reputation V growing a reputation

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This article is challenging - Can Freelance Writers Really Fix Your Internet Reputation Problem?

It is written by a copywriter but it argues a copywriter may not be the best solution to an internet reputation problem (I agree). Instead the writer argues a better solution may be a company that specialises in that particular corner of the internet (I don’t agree).

By the way, the article is published on a platform (Ezine Articles) that itself has a reputation problem at least with Google. The site is built on accepting submissions from almost any source and on a myriad of topics. Unfortunately, the majority of the articles are very light weight and seem more focussed on building inbound links for companies mentioned in the articles than they are about publishing valuable content for the visitors to the site. Google has seriously devalued the value of any links from the site, to the point where these links seem to be associated with penalties.

Of course, as with most risk situations, an gram of prevention is worth more than kilogram of cure. No matter how skilled an internet reputation specialist may be, their ability to fix a problem after it has occurred is very limited. A barrage of positive endorsements sooner after a negative comment always looks questionable. Many of sites that carry reviews will discount or ignore the value of any reviews and may suppress their display. Google certainly does.

An ongoing strategy to encourage reviews by customers and the resulting reviews can help protect the your business from the occasional blemish that may arise.

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Filed under reputation management online reputation

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"Links at all costs" - the time has come and gone

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In case anyone hasn’t yet realised it, the SEO landscape has changed and will continue to change while search engines strive to get better and spammers try to beat them.

One of the areas of change is links, particularly inbound links. For a long time the objective was to get as many as possible, with little regard for the quality. Recently, many smart SEO’s have started advocating restraint on the “link at all costs” attitude. Now they are emphasising relevant links, i.e. only those from sites helpful to visitors to your website. Usually this has implications from the geographic and content relationship between the linking sites.

One of the ways of acquiring links that has seemed safe enough for a long time has been directory links. However, as interest has risen in directories, more have been created many with little or no relevance to anything in particular. Some charge for inclusion, some show ads to cover costs, but many are nothing more than a way to easily acquire links.

Against this background, two of the recent blog posts I read seem at opposite ends of the spectrum. The posts are:

Links are important and will remain so for the foreseeable future. But the pendulum has swung from favouring quantity to quality. From my perspective a list of countless directories that will happily accept your listing is next to worthless. Directories that are niche specific and serve that niche well will remain valuable. But I can see a time when links on cloned directories that serve no purpose will become a risk factor, in much the same way spun blog posts on countless blogs that are just factories for words with no value have become a danger to any and all participants.

Yes, seeking links on appropriate sites (including directories) is worthwhile, but I hold the view that unless the destination (i.e. the page on your website) has some real value you will have trouble securing the link from a worthwhile source and the value of that link will be discounted.

Always discuss links with a trusted adviser and always consider the arrangement from the perspective of value for the visitors to your website, not the potential value to your website.

Photo Credit: Max Klingensmith via Compfight cc

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"insurance up the wazoo" - not a great opening act

How many times have seen a website start with “I’ve been in business for 20 years and I’ve got insurance up the wazoo, a licence to operate and more experience than you’ve had hot dinners”? I’ll concede that’s not an exact quote but I can’t remember the number of times I read that type of opening statement.

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After reading an introduction on a website like that my reaction is to walk away. It has the sense of buying tickets to the theatre only to discover the theatre is empty when you arrive. Nothing to see here, move along.

The copywriter cares more about themselves than their customers. A more generous interpretation is the writer isn’t experienced and / or doesn’t understand the true nature of a website, at least in the context of promoting a business. Regardless of why, writing in this form (self promotion) will always be less successful than the alternative (providing value to the reader).

It is true experience, license and insurance are all important considerations and have a place on the website. However, that place is not front and centre on the main landing page of your website. It is rare for these sorts of factors to influence the “buy” decision. Instead home page content needs to focus on what makes you special, memorable, worth doing business with.

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"Like us on Facebook" Sure! How do I do that?

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So many times I see a sign that says “like us on Facebook” but there’s no clue given on how to find the company’s Facebook page. I’m not sure the example above is totally foolproof but it at least gives a way to find the page, and importantly, it works.

If this was shown on a website it would be a link to the Facebook page, but on product packaging that is just not possible.

The Facebook block on this product’s packaging is well done. It sets out clearly why you should engage with the brand (brand provides tips and opportunity for users to provide feedback). And it shows a way to find the page.

How do I think this could have been done better? Here’s one option.

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It uses a well recognised icon for Facebook and follows it with the name of the account.

The worst thing you can do is ask for people to “like us on Facebook” and then give no clue at all about the company name, what to search for or the Facebook name. Even if the sign is shown somewhere on your premises don’t assume everyone knows how to connect with your Facebook page.

The process of asking and getting a “like” should be as frictionless as possible. A bit like a good shaving cream.

NB: I have no affiliation with Hobson Dell Pty Ltd the makers of Fast Shave Master, other than using the product.

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Yelp of delight for some as Yahoo adds Yelp to its search results

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A recent article at Search Engine Land Yahoo Turns To Yelp To Beef Up Local Search adds another incentive to add Yelp to the web platforms where your presence must be claimed and polished. By itself, Yahoo doesn’t represent a significant portion of search traffic, but when combine with the share from Bing and the use of Apple Maps, this platform represents an increasingly significant share of traffic from location based searches. Even though Google is not directly utilising Yelp data, Yelp is fully searchable and is often found in the results for location based and brand name searches.

Some readers have baulked at my suggestion that Yelp can play an important role in their business plans. One of the complaints was about the low visitor rates to the relevant Yelp page. This is significant but is only part of the story.

Visitor rates will vary for each industry niche and each location. If you are in a niche that has low visitors rates in Yelp, it’s likely the visitor rates to your website are low. These are both impacted by the number of people using online methods to find businesses offering the products and services. You can’t control the niche. The visitor rates to your page within Yelp and traffic levels from Yelp to your website are different issues. You do have some control over these levels.

The first issue to address is the volume of traffic to the Yelp page, which means your website has to rank higher in Yelp. Rank is controlled by Yelp, and they don’t publish their algorithm. Industry observer’s are confident the presence of reviews within Yelp and the quality of those reviews are significant factors influencing your position in Yelp. So if you want more prominence in Yelp, which will help the levels of traffic to your Yelp page, you need to start getting reviews. This represents double value, because Yelp reviews are likely to help your Google results and encourage more business.

The second issue is how to get someone to click on the link at Yelp to visit your website. This almost certainly is influenced by the quality of your Yelp page. Have you added a meaningful description? Are photos relevant to your business showing? Do you have any favourable reviews? This process is all about convincing visitors that you have something of value, that your website is worth visiting.

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Robots, Schmobots …. who needs ‘em?

As a matter of fact, the internet would be a very different place without them.

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A site I wrote about in Nov 2011 has solved one problem but created possibly an even larger one for themselves - they have block all of their content from search engines using their robots.txt file. (For anyone interested the original post was Who wants to rank for “Warning: getimagesize(D:\hosting\member…”)

What is a robot?

In the context of the Internet, a robot is a program that visits websites to collect information. The most common instance are the robots used by the search engines. These robots visit as many pages as they find on each site they visit to understand as much as possible about the products or service offered and about the organisation itself. The information gathered is used to determine the words and phrases for which the site will be found in the search engines and the rank of the pages.

What is a “robots.txt” file?

It is a file the owner of the website can create to limit the pages a robot can visit. Most of the major search engines follow the instructions precisely. However, it is possible to create a set of instructions in the robots.txt file that will severely limit what the search engines can see, perhaps even to the detriment of the websites chances of ranking for valuable phrases.

This image shows the outcome of a bad robots.txt file - one page in Google and no description. This means it is almost impossible for the site to be found for any search other than the company name.

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I’m not the only one writing about this topic. You can also read This one mistake turns away so many customers on Andy Sernovitz’s site “Damn, I Wish I’d Thought of That!”

Why do we need them?

The most common use of the robots.txt file is to keep search engine robots out of certain parts of the website - perhaps a new version of the site. If those parts reached the search engines listings it might be confusing for search engines and visitors, as it might it appear you have two versions of your website operational at the same time.

It is not a substitute for security system as it doesn’t hide the content. It tells anyone who reads the file where not to look. Of course, that can be an invitation to unscrupulous operators.

Is my robots.txt file working properly?

A give away sign that it’s not working is seeing “A description for this result is not available because of this site’s robots.txt” against one or more of your pages in Google results.

However, there can be other indicators of problems. If you have any concerns, ask a trusted web adviser to verify your website.

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Have you considered FUQ?

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In a lot of my client visits when the subject turns to ideas for content creation for their websites, I talk about the questions they are commonly asked by their clients. Every industry has them. You are probably well aware of the questions you are asked. Sometimes you hear them so often you almost don’t notice them. These questions and their answers generally make for good content.

But as more and more businesses adopt this strategy, it gets harder to stand out from the pack and continue to produce content. We need other ways to spark the creation process.

Perhaps it is time to think of the questions not asked but that should be asked. What are those areas that would help to make a potential client make a decision to buy from you?

What do you know that could help a customer make a better decision? Is a new model coming out soon? Is one product more durable than another? Warranty options? Price or availability of spare parts? Anything that helps the customer, helps your long term relationship with them.

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Filed under FAQ content