May 3, 2006


Is Your Site A Rich Feast Or A Dogs Breakfast? Part 2 of 2



Nice sizzle, shame about the sausage. Legendary St Kilda and Hawthorn coach Allan Yabby Jeans summed it up in his famous post game quote. All the PR, advertising spend and marketing resources will only get you so far. The web junk yard is full of sows ear clutch purses and polished turds.

Marketing in general suffers from a bolt on philosophy in many organizations. A means of promoting a fait accompli. An afterthought to be brought in at the conclusion of the product cycle to stir up some hype and bundle it into a neat Powerpoint presentation. In this environment then web marketing is often the red headed step child of the marketing department. A bullet point reference quickly glossed over and farmed off to the work experience kid who knows a bit of Photoshop.

This is a mistake. A good snag can make a BBQ whereas a bad one reminds everyone that it is really just ground meat in a pigs intestine. Success requires a good recipe and involvement of someone who has marketing interests at heart in the preparation stage.

In the last issue I discussed the ingredients and encouraged marketers to be honest in their initial review and goal setting. Basically, (to continue the use of gratuitous sporting clichs), to enter the metaphorical hall of mirrors and have a good hard look at themselves, their website and the organization.

Hopefully this has now taken place and now suitably armed with this information we can start to cook. Please note that this article is very much a serving suggestion, much like the bananas on the front of the Corn Flakes box, rather than a set of hard and fast rules. Like all good recipes the best results can often be delivered through adding your own little touches.

The Recipe.

Task 1 Shell the eggs:

Remove any items that cannot be digested by search engines. Specifically this includes

Remove any use of Frames on the site. Frames are a simple way of allowing content on a page to scroll within the page boundaries rather than requiring the entire page itself to scroll. Frames are however search engine poison for the following reasons.

* Content in frames cannot be book marked or linked to

* Search engines do not recognise the unified frameset and if it catalogues the content at all it will index each frame as a separate page leading to links to content without menus or menus without content.

* Frames can look ugly and different browsers will display them differently.

* Having to resort to frames generally illustrates an organisational problem with the website. Proper use of a database with a Content Management System (CMS) generally eliminates the need for frames. It is generally better to split long content over multiple pages (pagination) than have long amounts of scrolling text within a frameset or otherwise. This also gives search engines more pages to list and can help boost your ranking for keywords contained within.

Remove any text content that is contained within images or Flash animations and replace with HTML text wherever possible. Search engines cannot read Flash.

If the menu is constructed or displayed using images, Flash or JavaScript make sure that these menu links are also available as HTML links somewhere else on the page. Generally the easiest way to do this unobtrusively is to duplicate these items in the footer at the bottom of the page. This allows search engines to always be able to navigate around your site. Remember search engines cant read images, Flash or JavaScript.

As much as possible bundle any JavaScript elements (commonly used in rollovers and image maps) into Include files to be called when required rather than requiring to be written into the code of each page. This is probably going to require the input of a developer and probably falls under the nice to have rather than must have items.

Task 2 Add Herbs and Spices:

The following are a list of simple things that can usually be done quite quickly to a website to make it taste better to search engines.

* Insert Heading tags. Search engines love tags as their search algorithm rates content within these tags as being more important than general text and ranks accordingly. Fill these tags with the best keyword mix and make sure that different pages have differing keyword variations. Best results come from placing H1 as close as possible to the top of the page. Use these wherever a heading or sub heading appears on site. If it is important enough to place on its own line in bold then it should be in a heading tag.

* Use relevant page titles (Title tags) and make them at least slightly different for each page. Title should have 5 to 8 words for best results. This should incorporate the highest priority keywords for the particular page. (Prominence may vary if doorway pages in use.). Note: If the title length is more than 75 characters, the extra characters may be cut in certain browsers or systems (eg. Mac) and your listings may not have an attractive look in search engine results.

* Place short relevant descriptive Alt tags on all click able images (one or two words). Whilst search engines cannot read images they can read the Alt tag that accompanies each image. Alt tags display first prior to an image loading meaning that they can be viewed and read irrespective of whether the image accurately loads. Alt tags also display when a user mouses over an image containing them providing more information regarding the effect of clicking on a link and helping boost site usability. Alt tags should only be used on links to avoid user confusion over what are click able areas and what are not.

* Consider a relevant naming strategy for images on site. (eg. enedia_melbourne_office.jpg not 00002.jpg)

Task 3 Sprinkle site liberally with keywords:

Using the keyword list compiled via the techniques discussed in the last issue the site copy should be re worked to accommodate these wherever possible. From the Google Adwords and Overture tools, plus a bit of common sense, you will be able to compile a priority list. The trick is to saturate the site with these keywords to appease search engines without making it unreadable for humans. Additionally over optimised sites can be viewed by search engines as spam and penalised accordingly. A few dos and donts

* Do: Try and include at least 200 words of searchable text on your homepage plus any other common entry pages to your site.

* Do: Use plural and singular versions of key words. This helps with your sites readability and covers your bases with search engines.

* Do: Try and make relevant keywords link to other relevant pages on site. Try and do this often but not to the extent that it becomes confusing to users.

* Do: Incorporate geographic locators to narrow the categorisation.

* Do: Use this keyword list as basis for defining page titles and meta tags.

* Dont: Never try and make text invisible to try and trick search engines. Such action will either be picked up by the search engine cataloguing process (eg. By checking the text colour against the background colour in the code) or leave you open to a complaint by a competitor. Either way your site and your IP address could be black listed.

* Dont: Never just list keywords on a page unless it is in a menu. Such action can be regarded as spam and end up coming back to bite you.

Task 3 The Cooking:

In many ways the actual implementation strategies, timing and follow up required will depend upon your business and the make up and competitiveness of your market. Some industries, niche markets and locations will be easier to secure than others or require a differing mix. With such a horses for courses approach then the following should be considered as suggestions only. Sometimes you need Damien Oliver to ride the frisky nag round the track whereas other times all you need is for Jamie Oliver to make the horse edible.

* Always integrate the site to compliment other offline marketing spend. List your URL in your Yellow Pages ad and link to it in the electronic version. If possible set up a unique landing page for arrivals from Yellow Pages (or any other directory) so that you can track effectiveness in delivering leads.

* Get your URL on everything that your company sends out. Search engines deliver customers who dont know you. Make sure those that do come direct by making sure that your URL is always handy.

* Consider utalising third party campaign management and analysis providers. Two of the main players in Australia are Hitwise (www.hitwise.com.au) and Red Sheriff (www.redsheriff.com.au). Both of these companies can provide a range of valuable information. They do tend however to have differing focuses. Hitwise tends to be more focused on positioning as related to competitiors whereas Red Sheriff tends to be more introspective and focuses on your site in isolation (or at least only in comparison with any of your competitors who also happen to use their tracking system). In the end the choice will depend upon your individual requirements.

Using a third party can take a lot of the headache out of the ongoing monitoring and maintenance of search engine marketing campaigns. A company such as Hitwise can actually set up programs for hundreds (or even thousands) of keyword combinations and juggle the focus, targeting and advertising spend for each. One of the most important parts of this is to make sure that you are not paying for clicks for keywords on which you are already getting a first page free listing. This can vary over time and unless you are monitoring can slip through unnoticed.

* Keep your content fresh. Only pigeons like stale bread and they shit on statues. The more times your site is updated the more likely that search engines will re index it and boost its ranking. Frequent updates also encourage repeat patronage which is important as web statistics indicate that few online purchases are made on a visitors first visit to a web site. Encourage engagement through web only specials, real discounts, convenience (theirs not yours) and quick response times.

* Consider online advertising. The day of the banner ad being the be all and end all of web marketing is long past, however it does have its place. The key metric for online spend is now skewed in favour of the advertiser. Rates are charged based on click throughs rather than simply exposure. Care should be taken that the wording of the ad and the positioning is such as to deliver relevant referrals that are likely to engage with the site and lead to a potential sale not simply dump traffic looking for something else. You are paying for each arrival after all. Using the search engine direct ad delivery services (eg. Google AdSense) will more than likely help your site positioning as well. Anecdotal evidence abounds regarding the tendancy for a site to miraculously leap in free listings once a paid ad campaign is purchased.

* Stir constantly. Make sure that your website statistics indicate the most common keywords used to arrive at your site. If it doesnt then set up one that does. Review these statistics in conjunction with the other keyword performance tools and refine the keywords used on site accordingly.

Remember it can take several months before the full effects of any search engine optimization overhaul can take effect. Whilst investing in a pay per click campaign can have almost immediate listing effects (assuming that you are prepared to spend to maintain prominence) it is the combination of on and off site techniques that will ensure success in the free listings. This is where the majority of customer traffic will come from.

About the Author

Tim Giles is a Pre Marketing Consultant for Enedia ( http://www.enedia.com ). Enedia’s client’s include Ansearch ( http://www.ansearch.com.au ), an Australian search engine and directory.

Tim Giles

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