<%@LANGUAGE="VBSCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Ignite Your Site: May 2008

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Can I redesign my site without losing my rankings?

It's a common question among people who so badly want a newer looking website, but don't want to lose the great search engine visibility that they are seeing. How much is too much, and if it drops will it ever come back?

Unfortunately there is no guarantee that anyone can make you as to whether your rankings will go up, down, or remain the same. However if things are done correctly you can certainly minimize the risk of them going down.

Keep File Names the Same:
You need to make sure that you keep the file names the same where possible. So for example if you have a page for products and the file name is products.htm you want to be sure that you keep this file name. If for some reason you can not keep the file name products.htm, then you want to be sure you can use 301 redirects before you start changing the names. 301 redirects are a search engine friendly way of telling the robots that the page that used to be called products.htm is now called cleaning-products.htm.

Keep Title Tags the Same:
Just like the file names you want to be sure that you keep the title tags of your current pages intact. The slightest change could make the spiders give your page a different "score" for their listings. Of course it could turn out to be a good thing if your visibility and rankings increase, however you may not want to take that risk.

Keep the Content to Same:
Whenever possible you want to try and keep the main content on each page the same or increased. For example if you have a page for widgets and it has 3 paragraphs of information about your widgets you want to try and keep that info intact. Reducing it or removing it will make the search engines look at that page again and decide if it is as relevant as it was before.

Always have a Sitemap:
A sitemap is important because it is a page with links to all the pages on your website. When the search engines crawl your site and find this page they can easily see all the pages that are available for them to crawl. There is no hard evidence that this helps your search engine visibility but it certainly can't hurt.

These are just a few tips to help improve your chances of redesigning your website without haring your search engine visibility.

Remember: Change can be a good thing, but there is such thing as too much change.

Ignite Media LLC, Ignite Your Site™
Website Design & Development eCommerce Development Search Engine Optimization

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Should we hire an Inhouse SEO/M or Outsource?

Choosing whether or not to go with an in-house or outsourced SEO/M can be somewhat agonizing for many companies. There are many things to consider when going with either option, and each has its own set of pros and cons. And believe it or not, just because we offer these services here at Ignite Media, we don’t always believer outsourcing is the right choice.

In-House SEO/M
The biggest thing to consider when thinking about bringing your internet marketing in-house is not how much it will cost, but rather how many people you will need. The immediate thought might be that only one person is needed, and in some cases that might be correct. However, for larger companies you may need an internet marketing team. Not every SEO/M is good at all phases of the marketing.

The challenge with finding the right person(s) is knowing enough to know whether they will be effective for your company. This can be tough because most likely the reason you need an SEO/M is because you don’t know enough about this subject.

Outsourcing SEO/M
This should also should to be completely decided on price. You need to make sure that the company you are going to use will really give your company the best possible change to gain more traffic to your website. As we all know, more traffic means more chance for conversions.

It’s not always easy to tell the difference between each SEO/M company, but the biggest sign will be if you go to them and say you want this to happen they come back to you and say ok but you really should be doing this or that. You don’t want a company that is just going to do what you tell them you want, after all they are supposed to be the experts here right? You wouldn't go to your accountant and tell them how they would best do their job on your account would you?

How do we decide?
Unfortunately there is no easy answer, but if you do your homework and you carefully consider your options you should be ok. Don’t be afraid to get on some SEO forums and ask them if the have heard of the companies you are considering or what questions you might want to ask a possible in-house candidate.

Remember: Don’t be afraid to change companies or employees if they aren't taking you in the right direction.

Ignite Media LLC, Ignite Your Site™
Website Design & Development eCommerce Development Search Engine Optimization

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Is Email Marketing Effective?

Email marketing can be one of the most effective marketing campaigns that your company does. You have a captive audience that most likely has expressed an interest in your products/services before. With email marketing you are connecting to the people who want to hear from you and hopefully attracting them to purchase from you again. However there is always a right and a wrong way to do things.

How is email marketing done wrong?
Maybe wrong isn't the correct word, but not effective. One of the biggest things that I hear from clients is "Can't you just buy a list that we can email to?", and I always say "Yes, if you want to be seen as spamming and annoying!". Even if that list is suited just for you, the chances of you seeing a good response is not good. The people on that list don't know who you are, don't have any brand recall of your company, and may or may not be interested in your products/services.

Another area that tends to be a problem is the frequency of the emails. Many customers want to send out emails everyday, or every hour (ok, maybe not that often). Lets think about this for a second. How many times have you received the same email day after day after day? How many times did you just hit the delete button or the opt-out link because you were tired of seeing the emailing? I would venture to guess that is what most people will do, I know I do.

So how is email marketing done right?
Ok, again probably should use the term more effective rather then right. The most effective email campaigns are going to be those sent to people who have subscribed to your list. These people have expressed an interest in your products/services. They know what they want and they know your company already. The chances of them reading your email and taking action are much higher then that of a "cold lead".

There are some really good companies out there that offer great email marketing tools. One of them is Constant Contact. They have been around for a while and have made their product easy to use, and feature rich. When you send out a campaign using Constant Contact you can get a real time look at who has opened it, who click the links inside and who opted out. With this information you can see how effective your emailing is.

Another way to increase the effectiveness of your emailings is to specialize them. For example, lets say that you run a home goods store and you have departments for Lawn & Garden, Kitchen, Painting, and Bathroom. You can create groups within many email marketing programs so when your website visitors sign-up for your emailings they can tell you exactly what they want to get information on. You now have an even more qualified contact. This person has told you exactly what they want to possibly purchase in the future, so you can send them and all the other people in that group an email specific to that department.

Email marketing is only as effective as the time you put into it. Make sure you have a qualified list and you know what they want to get information on and your email campaigns will be very effective.

Remember: Marketing TO THEM not AT THEM.

Ignite Media LLC, Ignite Your Site™
Website Design & Development eCommerce Development Search Engine Optimization

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Monday, May 19, 2008

We started a blog, now what?

Many people are under the misconception that starting a blog will automatically increase the amount of traffic coming to your site. Wrong! A blog takes time, content and links in order to really start driving traffic. It could be weeks to months before your first reader comes along.

So what do I do to get more blog readers?
There are lots of things you can do to get more blog readers. The most important thing above all else though is to ensure that you are writing quality content. Content that means something to your target audience and isn't just a link to another post you've read, or a short one paragraph post. If you want to attract readers, you have to give them something to read!

Another good way to attract readers is to see if you can get a guest blog writer to write a post or two for you. This person should be someone who has something of value to bring to your readers (or potential readers). For example if you have a blog about surf boards and surfing you wouldn't want to get a guest writer on there talking about the newest computer software. However, you might very well want a guest writer who will write something about the ocean and the scientific aspect of the tides. This may not seem relevant to a surfing website at first, but surfers live by the tides and if they know a little more about how they react to certain things then they'll probably get some better surfing days.

How long should I wait for visitors to my blog before I give up?
That question is up to you. My feeling is that if you have something worth reading and you enjoy writing it, keep going. Even if you aren't getting tons and tons of visitors from your blog postings, you are creating new content and sharing your thoughts on your industry.

I often refer to a blog as an "online diary". It's a place that the blog author writes his/her thoughts, critiques, ideas, issues, etc on his/her industry or passion. Would you stop writing in your diary (or journal for you masculine guys), if you knew no one was ever going to read it? Then why stop writing your blog?

What if I run out of topics to blog about?
Then you aren't thinking creatively enough. There are a thousand different things you can talk about within any field. I promise you, if you asked a colleague or friend what they would want to know about your industry you would get some very interesting post ideas.

To use the surfing reference again, you don't just have to talk about surf boards and pro surfers. You can talk about the technology of the surfing industry, the locations of the surf events, etc. All you have to do is take a step back and think about your industry on a little bit broader view.

Remember: Write because you have something to say, not because you want to drive more traffic.

Ignite Media LLC, Ignite Your Site™
Website Design & Development eCommerce Development Search Engine Optimization

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

A referral is great - but your actions speak louder!

This may seem a little off the beaten path today, but I assure you it most certainly has to do with marketing and your business. Have you ever been referred to someone by someone else? Usually if you have the person who gave you the information spoke very highly about that company and/or person. With this referral comes a certain expectation that you will be satisfied at the very least if not amazed with the service or product they provide.

When the referral works out everyone is happy. The person that made the reference is praised, the company or person they sent you to is looked at like gods and you are extremely happy. So what happens when the referral goes wrong? What happens when you get to that company/person and they disappoint you so much so that you will never go back to them again nor send anyone else there? The chain is broken and that business has just lost not only a possible client, but their respect and possibly other business as a result.

Here's a perfect example of how things can go horribly wrong. You get a referral from a friend about this great therapist who has done wonders for them and is the nicest person they have ever met. So you give them a shot, you call and make the appointment and are all pumped up about this. You think, this time it is really going to work, they are going to be able to help you figure out what is going on and hopefully move on with things. You get to the appointment and the doctor can barely remember your name during the visit, pays no attention to the things you are telling them and seems to have a diagnosis before you even walked through the door. To say the least you are disappointed, and when you are done you never want to see him or any other therapist again.

In the scenario above, this therapist has tarnished his/her reputation. Will they go out of business because of this? Probably not. Will they lose a lot of their existing clients? Probably not. But they will lose future clients and have most certainly lost you as a client. Not only that, but now they have someone walking around talking about their horrible experience and every time naming that therapist. Not something any business would want, especially a business that deals so directly with its clients.

So how do you make a referral work for your business every time?
It is as simple as this - Customer Service, we are in business to service the customer. Sure you want to make money, but without your customers what business will you have left? Every client that walks through the door, or picks up the phone and calls you should be treated as if they are the only client you have and will ever have. They should feel like you are really listening to them (because you should be) and they should feel like their project/situation/issue is unique and you will treat it as such.

In the age of the internet, people too often think that the quick down and dirty approach is what everyone wants. Well as a business owner, and a client I can tell you personally that I want to be treated with respect and given the attention I deserve. I don't mind spending a few extra minutes on the phone to discuss my project with a vendor if I know that those extra minutes are being spent well and the company is really taking my thoughts and concerns into account.

You have to treat your clients with the same respect you expect to receive as a client to another business.

Remember: Your company is only as good as its last interaction with a client.

Ignite Media LLC, Ignite Your Site™
Website Design & Development eCommerce Development Search Engine Optimization

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Which meta tags do I use and which should I not?

There is a constant debate over which meta tags the search engines use when considering listing a certain page in their results pages. So how do you know who you should listen to and who you should ignore? Well that is not so easy, because no-one except the engineers working for the search engines know what they are looking for or not.

So what do I do with my meta tags?
Our suggestion is to use what you feel is necessary to define that page. The reason that meta tags became such a problem was because people were "stuffing" them with "keywords". What this means is if you were selling red cars your meta tags would only say red cars, red cars, red cars, etc. Although for a while this worked, it is now considered SPAM to "stuff" meta tags and/or page content.

A meta tag should be used for the purpose they were created. For example the eta description tags are just that; a description of what that page is about in 2-3 sentences. This is not a place to pitch your product or service and not a place to use your keywords as every other word. Should you use keywords at all in there? Yes, whenever it makes sense to do so you should use your keywords/phrases, but make sure it makes sense to the people who will be reading it (yes people do read the things you write on your website, it's not all just the search engines).

What happens if I use a meta tag that the search engines don't use?
As long as you aren't spamming or stuffing your meta tags then there should never be a problem. If they don't use that tag, then you just did a little extra work. Better yet, you may have done something before you had to! What I mean by that is the search engines are constantly changing what they look at to list a website, and there may come a time when that meta tag they aren't using now will actually be used. So you've just covered your bases.

Remember: Create for your visitors not for the search engines!

Ignite Media LLC, Ignite Your Site™
Website Design & Development eCommerce Development Search Engine Optimization

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Thursday, May 8, 2008

SEO Rules - Do they exist?

There are no hard and fast rules of SEO (search engine optimization). There are many people who believe that they have a pretty good idea, by testing and researching, of what the search engines are looking for from a good website, but only the search engine algorithm creators really know. This research and testing has lead to some industry accepted best practice guidelines, but in reality if the algorithm changes, these guidelines will have to as well.

Does this mean we shouldn't SEO our site?
Absolutely not! A well optimized website will most often do much better then a website that is created without the guidelines and best practices of SEO and usability. SEO should be done as naturally as possible. A good SEO'd website in our humble opinion should go through at least 5 things:

Keyword research: the agency you hire should do their homework and find out as best as possible what phrases people are actually using to find your products/services.

Site Review/Usability Review: an objective review of your current site, or a solid plan before starting a new site is key. You need to know that the efforts you put into optimizing your site will stand the best chance of succeeding and good website that is usable is the only way that is possible.

Natural Inclusion of Phrases: the list of phrases that you choose to optimize your site should be naturally worked into the site. Ideally there would be a page for each phrase. If this is not the case, don't just use the phrases anywhere. Really put some thought into how those phrases are used and be sure that when a visitor reads that page it still makes sense.

Quality Content: your website needs to have quality content. Quantity is good, but quality is better. You and eight other people could be selling lounge chairs, but if your content is better, more informative and keyword rich, you will stand a better chance of not only being found but keeping that visitor and converting.

Good Code and Structure: You might have the best content in the world and from a visitors perspective the most usable site, but if the spiders cannot get through the code to get to that content, you will have a hard time being found in the search engines. Good, clean code will go a long way in making sure you stand the best possible chance of being indexed.

There are many more things that are important (right now) to optimizing a website, but these are some of the very basics that should be kept in mind. Just because you don't know how to optimize your website doesn't mean you shouldn't be able to ask the "experts" working on your site if they've done their job thoroughly.

Remember: When having your site optimized ask yourself this "If I didn't have to worry about the search engines would I take that approach?", if the answer is no then don't do it.

Ignite Media LLC, Ignite Your Site™
Website Design & Development eCommerce Development Search Engine Optimization

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Monday, May 5, 2008

SEO or SEM - What to do?

There are two terms that people sometimes get confused, SEO and SEM. SEO is search engine optimization and SEM is search engine marketing. From someone outside of the field they may seem identical, and in some respects they are. They are both focused on getting and converting website visitors into customers.

So what is the difference and which is better?
The answer to that is not nearly as simple. It really isn't a matter of doing one over other, but rather one before the other. SEO as noted above is search engine optimization. This is the process of taking a website and making it as optimized for the search engines as possible. For example this would include creating keyword rich and powerful title tags, enhancing and/or cleaning up the code of a website, and many other things. This is extremely important to ensure that the search engines will be able to quickly and easily index your website for the appropriate phrases.

Recently there has been a lot of debate over whether or not SEO is an ongoing process or a one time thing. At Ignite we feel that for the most part this is a one time thing. We optimize your site for the phrases we are targeting and let the search engine spiders have at it. If the company changes it's focus, or things change with the search engines then more optimization may be needed. Usability and traffic analysis are often clumped in with SEO, but these are really subsets of SEM and website development in our eyes.

SEM on the other hand, is search engine marketing. This is the process of marketing your website to the internet and trying to drive as much targeted traffic as possible. This includes but is not limited to inbound link building, social media marketing, email blast creation and more. For the most part this can be thought of as any means by which you use to drive more and better traffic to your website.

So which comes first, SEO or SEM?
SEO would ideally come first. You have to make sure that your website is optimized for what you are going to be marketing it for. For example if you are selling bicycle and bicycle parts and your page about seats had a poorly phrases title tag and the code was a mess you certainly would not want to be sending the search engines there. Along with SEO you want to make sure to perform some usability tests as well. After these two things have been done then you can start with your SEM campaigns. This approach will ensure that the traffic you are sending the the site will have the best possible chance of converting.

Remember, you aren't just sending the search engines to your site, you are sending people and people will be the ones to decide if you are successful or not.

Ignite Media LLC, Ignite Your Site™
Website Design & Development eCommerce Development Search Engine Optimization

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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Quality first.

It seems that today people are most concerned with being found in the search engines, and getting the highest ranking possible. The problem that I have noticed though, is that the site that they want to send thousands of visitors to is second rate at best. I don't mean the design, although a good design doesn't hurt, I mean the quality of the content.

The internet was founded and created to share information. People seem to have forgotten this over the course of the years. Information is what the entire internet is made up of and quality information will stand the test of time.

Think for a minute about Microsoft. Imagine they built their website with very little information and took very little time to get quality content on their website. Do you think that developers would even consider going their again in the future? Probably not. Your website should be thought of in the same way. What is the point in sending visitors to a site with poor or no information?

Stop and ask yourself, after you have the first draft of your website, whether you would stay at a site like yours. Be critical because you can be sure that your website visitors are going to be. Don't be afraid to say "this is crap, we need to start over". A website is more then just some text on a page with your phone number. A website is a sales person, a point of reference and the image that you are portraying about your company.

Remember, if you are going to take the time to drive the horse to water, you better make sure the water is there.

Ignite Media LLC, Ignite Your Site™
Website Design & Development eCommerce Development Search Engine Optimization

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