Google: “Make Sure Your Website Doesn’t Suck”

Google's Matt Cutts

Every day small businesses struggle to compete online and every day that struggle gets harder and more complicated. Partially because companies like Google are tying to make it harder on web spammers and partially because small, local businesses are running up against competition from big business. Small businesses often just don’t have the time or resources that big business has to promote themselves online, posting to their blog weekly, checking the competition’s website, checking their search rankings and analytics, posting to social media sites every day, sending out email newsletters, refreshing the content of their websites every month, redesigning every couple of years, etc, etc.

This issue was address by Google’s own Matt Cutts recently in a video post where he answers the following question

“Ranking being so valuable, how does a true biz owner that offers a legitimate business and has a vast number of customers supposed to gain the traffic “deserved” over those that specialize in creating traffic? Is it supposed to be this hard for us?”

Matt’s primary advice to website owners trying to compete online was

  • Make sure your website doesn’t suck
  • Make your website easy for mobile users to use
  • Have good navigation

At iLab New Media we are living this advice, we guarantee that any website we create will not suck, our mobile sites are fantastic examples of mobile ease of use and we always ensure that all sites we create have good, clear, easy to use navigation. So take Google’s advice now and about working on your website so we can make sure it doesn’t suck.

Below is the full video if you are interested in watching it.

What advice would you give a small business to compete with the big boys online? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.


A really great web design must…

A great web design takes strategy

Creating a great web design is a balancing act between many varied and sometime contradictory elements. A website needs to please different groups of people and accomplish several functions at the same time. It combines left-brain, logical thinking and right-brain, artistic thinking. The average user or even owners of websites have little knowledge of what all goes into a truly great website, therefore I have compiled a list of the different things a website must accomplish to be considered great. Compare this list to your website to see where it might need improvement.

  • Look good – This goes without saying and is the part you probably already knew. A good looking website portrays a positive image for the business it represents.
  • Work on a wide variety of screens – Every web browser will render a page slightly different, so will different operating systems, there are also mobile phones, tablets and other odd platforms to think about.
  • Be easy to navigate – The end user must find the site easy to get around in and not confusing or they will go to the competition.
  • Achieve it’s goals – Whatever the site was intended to do, be that getting potential clients to call or producing online sales, the site needs to be designed to naturally engage visitors and funnel them towards that goal.
  • Play nice with search engines – Almost any site will benefit by better search engine ranking. So another thing the website must do is make it easy for the search engine spiders to index the content of that site.
  • Be easily maintainable – At some point every site will need updates, a well put together site will be created with updates in mind using includes, comments in the code and clean, easily readable HTML.
  • Load quickly – Obviously, yet it is often not made a priority in web design. With the rise in mobile web browsing this element is more important than ever, yet still often neglected.

There are many other things a website needs to do, but these are the big ones. These are the items that separate the men from the boys in web design, the lowest bidder is most likely not going to nail these points. Likewise a person trained in traditional graphic design will not have all the skills necessary to create a great web design, it takes someone who understands the intricacy of website design, someone who understands things like:

  • graphic design
  • cross-browser and cross-platform website compatibility
  • information architecture and web usability principles
  • search engine optimization techniques
  • W3C HTML and CSS standards
  • server side scripting languages
  • image optimization

A really great web design has to look good, work across all browsers and platforms, be easy to navigate, achieve it’s goals, be fully indexable by search engines, be easy to maintain and load quickly, among other things. Creating a website that can do all these things requires a wide variety of skills that you won’t find at every business offering web design services. So how does your website stack up?

Search Engine Optimization Secrets

Learn search engine optimization secrets

Who was it that said “if you build it they will come” because it’s definitely not true online. How many websites have failed because the person assumed that visitors would just magically appear. I recently met with a business person who had spent many thousands of dollars on an ecommerce website that had, over the course of many months, sold nothing at all. Building a website without search engine optimization is like putting a retail store at the end of a dark alley and then wondering where all the customers are. If you put that same store in a major shopping mall, thousands of people would begin coming through that store every day simple because of its location. Search engines are that shopping mall and search engine optimization is the way to get your business located there. The problem is that the search engines are extremely secretive about how they work and SEO firms are equally secretive about what they do. In order for a business person to make an informed decision about buying SEO services they need to learn a few of these search engine optimization secrets.

While there are many business offering search engine optimization, you need to be careful because some are offering substandard service, either they don’t really know what they’re doing and taking peoples money, or they are engaged in “black hat” methods, that is those techniques that are considered unethical and could result in a site being banned by search engines.

So what goes into effective “white hat” search engine optimization? It used to be about meta keywords years ago, hidden tags in the header section of a page’s HTML that told a search engine what that page was about. Thanks to people abusing keywords, they are not used by most search engines today. The big 3 (Google, Yahoo and Bing) will not use meta keywords to determine your rank.

The most important thing you can do to improve your search engine rank today is to develop inbound links. An inbound link is a link to your website from another site not in your domain. The number of links to your site tell search engines how relevant your website is, the higher the PageRank of the site linking to you, the more that link counts for.

How do you go about getting inbound links? There are lots of places online where you can buy links but this is against Google’s rules so you should avoid buying links to stay on Google’s good side. There are also opportunities for reciprocal links (you link to me and I’ll link to you), but some search engines can recognize reciprocal links and give them less weight when determining a website’s relevance. Another way of getting links is to comment on relevant blogs or message boards, be careful that you are not just spamming these websites, but actually leaving good, relevant comments. The best way to develop lots of good inbound links is still the old fashioned way, develop great content on your website that will make people want to visit your site and link to it.

There are a lot of other things that will improve your site’s standing in the search engines like using carefully researched keywords and the use of those keywords in the headings, subheadings, title and body of your page.

At this point it should be obvious that there is quite a bit of time and/or money involved in getting a website search engine optimized, researching keywords, building those keywords into the content, developing inbound links, not to mention making sure the code is clean and properly formatted so the search engines will not have any trouble reading it. So, what can you expect to see for all this? Let me illustrate, let’s say you have a website that sells potato peelers and has a conversion rate of 4%, (A conversion rate is the ratio of the number of visitors who take a desired action (fill out a form, make a purchase, etc.) to the number of visitors who view the page). So you get an average of 4 new customers for every 100 visitors to your website. The keyword “potato peeler” gets an average of 18,000 searches per month according to Google. If your SEO efforts put you in the top ten results for that term and capture even a tenth of those searchers you would have 1,800 visitors a month which would result in 72 new sales per month. Obviously the cost of search engine optimization is minimal compared to its potential to make money.

With these kinds of returns you can see why SEO is something that should not be an afterthought for a website but something that is built in right from the start. With these search engine optimization secrets you should be able to get started optimizing yoir site whether you are doing it yourself or hiring someone to do it.

Choosing an SEO Company; 5 Must Ask Questions

Choosing an SEO company can be daunting

There is a lot of easy money to be made selling SEO (search engine optimization) services, that’s obvious from all the snake oil salesmen that are hawking SEO these days. Not that I don’t recommend search engine optimization as an important step in creating a successful website, I definitely do, but if you’re going to spend your hard earned money on SEO you need to make sure you’re getting your moneys worth. If you are in the process of choosing an SEO company you need to be aware of what to watch for. Unfortunately because the average person has a limited understanding of what goes into SEO they are easy targets for dishonest businesses.

If you are planning on paying for search engine optimization services you should get answers to the following 5 questions before choosing an SEO company.

  1. Are they eating their own dog food?
    Many SEO companies talk a lot about what they can do for your website through SEO, but the proof is in the pudding. Unlike web design where the results are more subjective, successful SEO is easily measured. If the company in question is so good at SEO they will apply it to their own website, how does their own website rank? You should do your own research. If a company can’t get their own site on the first page, do you want to trust them to get yours there?
  2. Are they obeying the rules?
    There are certain sneaky practices used by some, not-so-respectable SEO firms, that can get your site banned from Google or other search engines. Once your site has been banned it can be very difficult to get reinstated and can take months or even years. Make sure whoever is working on your site is following the rules.
  3. Are they hanging out in bad neighborhoods?
    Inbound links, links pointing to your site from other sites, are a major component of your website’s search ranking, and a large part of SEO. If you have links on your site that point to disreputable or spammy websites you can be penalized. You can even be penalized for links on other websites! If spammy sites have links to your site it can be detrimental to your search engine ranking. So make sure the SEO company you choose will be careful who they link to or get links from.
  4. Do they promise the moon?
    Nobody can guarantee you a certain search engine ranking. If somebody makes outrageous claims like promises to get you on the first page of Google this should be a red flag alerting you that this company is not reputable. Beware of choosing an SEO company that makes outrageous promises.
  5. What century are they living in?The web is still rather new, and the way search engines work has changed dramatically in the last 10 years. At one time not too many years ago, SEO was all about meta tags. Today meta tags are of very little value. Make sure the SEO company you choose is using up to date SEO practices.

You need to be careful when choosing an SEO company because the wrong choice can do very little for your website, or worse, even damage it’s reputation to search engines. These five questions are a good place to start when determining what company should be doing search engine optimization for your website.

Getting from Click to Cha-Ching

Turning web visitors into paying customers

I’ll let you in on a little secret, search engine optimization does not necessarily produce a successful website, better expressed as SEO ≠ $. While it’s true that search engine optimization (SEO) is very important to a website’s success it is by no means the only element of it’s success.

The goals of individual websites may differ quite a bit, for one the goal may be to get a visitor to buy a product, while another may be to get a visitor to call, or fill out a form to request further information. Whatever the end goal is, reaching that objective is called a conversion, in web design we refer to the ratio of conversions to visitors as your conversion rate. The nice thing about web marketing is that everything is measurable, we can know how many people viewed each specific page, how long they spent looking at it and where they clicked when they left so we can use these figures to analyze how a website is performing.

If you are interested in improving your conversion rate, here are the top 5 ways to do that.

  1. An attractive, professional looking website. It is well known that the look of your website effects peoples opinions of your company, but studies have shown that lasting impressions are made very quickly, a visitor to your website will form a first impression in just a 20th of a second.
  2. Well written copy. The most under-appreciated ingredient of a great website is copy-writing. People read differently on the web than on paper, they scan more and read less. Copy-writing for the web is a topic for another article but suffice it to say that well written copy will significantly boost your conversion rate. If you are serious about it think of paying a professional copy-writer.
  3. Keep content fresh. Nothing can turn off website visitors faster than stale content. Make sure you keep up with dated content like event calendars or company news pages, when these kinds of things become outdated it looks as though your website is not kept up and visitors will move on. You will find that changing around your home page or any other “landing pages” every few months will generate renewed interest as returning visitors notice the changes and take a closer look.
  4. Eliminate hurdles. Whatever the goal of your website is, make it real easy to do. If you are selling a product, put it on the home page. If you are collecting leads, put the contact form on the side of every page. If you want people to call you, put your phone number at the top of every page. Whatever it is,make sure your visitors have to perform as few steps as possible to accomplish it. For contact forms you will get the best results by requiring the fewest fields possible.
  5. Keep download times to a minimum. Believe it or not, some people are still using dial-up internet access, add to that the increasing number of mobile internet users on slow connections and with bandwidth limits, and you can see that download times still matter. The best way to lose a visitor is to make them wait too long for the web page to load, and when I say “too long” I mean around 4 seconds!

What good is search engine optimization if you abuse your visitors once they get to your website? Give your web visitors a quality experience on your site, make things easy for them and they will repay you by trusting you with their business.

What’s Under Your Hood? A Website Performance Check

use our website performance check to get your website screaming

Your website may look great but how is its performance? A website can be compared to a car in this way, it is important for it to look good but the real test is in its performance, where the rubber meets the road so to speak. If your website is not out there bringing in new business then you’re broken down on the information superhighway.

The problem is that business persons who pay to have a website developed often don’t know how to judge their website’s performance initially beyond its looks. In the long term they will notice if it is not getting new business but even then they are often not sure what specifically is wrong or how to fix it. You need an easy way to give it a website performance check.

If your website is sputtering we recommend a 10 point website performance check of all moving parts. Here’s the rundown of what’s involved.

You should check:

  1. HTML code formatting: Is your basic HTML code broken? If it is this could be holding you back. Clean, standards compliant code will work better in search engines, be easier to maintain and is more likely to look great across a range of browsers and devices.
  2. Download time: Long download times can discourage visitors from viewing your site and can even hurt your search engine performance since Google give preference to the faster loading websites. Remember that mobile devices are often browsing at much lower speeds.
  3. Image optimization: This is related to the last point, but images don’t just need to be the smallest file size possible, they also need to look good, not blurry or pixelated.
  4. Browser compatibility: How does your website look on all the most common web browsers? How about mobile devices? You need to look good to all potential customers.
  5. Web hosting: Your web hosting can have a huge impact on your website’s performance. Is your hosting company’s servers responsive and fast or sluggish and unresponsive?
  6. Keyword density: How frequently do the keywords you hope to compete with show up in your content? This is an important metric to how you will perform in the search engines.
  7. Keyword popularity: While we are on the subject of keywords. Just how popular are the keywords you are using? You should carefully pick the keywords you will use.
  8. Inbound links: More inbound links will help you improve your search engine rank. But be careful, links from low quality or spammy site can hurt your ranking.
  9. Outbound links: Your outbound links are also important, but just like inbound be careful to only link to high-quality websites.
  10. Google PageRank: This is a number between 1 and 10 that represents how important Google thinks a website is. The higher the number, the better you are doing.

Once you have completed this website performance check and got those 10 critical points tuned up, your site will be purring like a kitten and ready to tear up the road.

If you need help, iLab New Media can run your website up on the lift, check it out, and provide you our honest appraisal of what it needs free of charge. You will also get a written report of the results of our tests to keep and bring to your own web guy if you want. No obligation and no hard-sell. Just for your free website performance check.

6 Steps to a Profitable Website

your website can be more profitable

Many people are unhappy with their websites because they have had so little return on their investment, no wonder so many businesses invest as little as possible in their web sites. The problem is not the limited profitability of the internet, the problem is incompetent or disreputable web designers, either do-it-yourself web designers, the high school kid down the street, graphic artists who have a limited understanding of technology or fly-by-night web design firms who care less how successful your website is after they develop it. The internet is complicated and to achieve a truly successful, profitable website requires someone with an understanding of web business and web marketing.

With that goal in mind here are the top 6 ways to drive traffic and make your website more profitable.

  1. Search Engine Optimization. Not just submitting your site to search engines, because even if you get listed in all of them, if you come up past the first page you might as well not be listed at all. For new clients to find you on the web you need to be at the top of the results for several carefully selected keywords. This may also include pay-per-click advertising campaigns. Read this post on the Secrets of Search Engine Optimization to help with this step to achieving a profitable website.
  2. Promote through existing channels. Your website is not just a tool for making new contacts, it is also a 24/7 marketing brochure in the hands of any prospects that have your URL. The key then, is getting your website’s address into the hands of as many prospects, clients and interested parties as possible. This could be critical to the success of your website, you just need to include one more line on all of your promotional material (business cards, flyers, yellow page ads etc) with your URL on it. Not everyone is interested enough to call or come in, not everyone has time during regular business hours, many people have more questions they need answered before they make a decision. This is where your website comes in; clinching the deal, answering the questions, making the sale without you or your employees having to so much as answer the phone or lift a finger.
  3. Establish a newsletter. Now that you have the customers you need to keep them, an e-newsletter can turn your website into a valuable networking tool. Visitors to your site are able to subscribe and unsubscribe to your newsletter and all you have to do is enter your content into a form and click the submit button and your contacts are alerted to any new services or products you are offering, any sales or other developments at your business, automatically, in their email inbox. A must-have tool in developing a profitable website. For help setting up an email newsletter check out Constant Contact or Mail Chimp.
  4. Track visitors, users and clients. By tracking visitors to your site you will know how many visits your website gets, what pages are being accessed and what features are being used. With this in place you know which portions of your site are the most effective and which may need to be reevaluated. You will also know where traffic is coming from, which marketing efforts are paying off and which are not. Every truly profitable website needs some type of web analytics to track visitors. A good resource in this area is Google Analytics.
  5. Update content regularly. Why would somebody want to return to your site time after time, give them something to return for by adding new content to your site at least once a month. Web users have high expectations for website content, they expect it to be kept fresh, if they perceive that your website is static or that your content is stale they may not return again. On the other hand if your website features regular updates, news items of interest or short informative articles, they will return regularly. To learn more about how fresh content can lead to a more profitable website read our post 4 Disadvantages to Not Keeping Your Web Content Fresh.
  6. Write web friendly text. Studies have shown that people online often skim text instead of reading word for word as they would in print. There are several things you can do to make your pages more readable and keep your visitors from getting bored and leaving. Keep the copy on your site short and to the point, use bullets and subheadings wherever possible, and break long blocks of text up into different pages.

By following these suggestions you can make a more profitable website and move your site ahead of the competition.