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« Go Back | Posted in: - on September 7, 2014


People often ask me, “What can I do to make my website more effective?” Ninety-nine percent of the time, my answer is the same — because, no matter how many small-business sites I review, I find similar issues. This infographic shares my top five online business practices.

effective_website infographic small size

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« Go Back | Posted in: - on August 25, 2014


The world of search engine optimization is a complicated one, and if you’re a “non-techie” business owner who’s been thrown into webmaster duties for the simple sake of having a business web presence, just learning the basics of SEO might seem overwhelming.

Unfortunately, the web’s search engine spiders don’t care about how skilled you are in the technical arena.  What they care about is the content they can read on your pages, so if you aren’t utilizing both basic and advanced SEO techniques on your website, you risk being indexed and ranked for the wrong words – or none at all!

For this reason, it’s important to familiarize yourself with SEO techniques and to implement SEO best practices to the best of your abilities.  Fair warning – the following three topics may seem complex.  However, if you invest a little time in reading more about them, you should be able to implement them in a way that makes sense for you and your website.

Let’s get started!

Technique #1 – Canonicalization

Canonicalization sounds tricky, but it’s not that difficult to understand.  Essentially, there are a number of situations that can cause content on your website to appear on multiple URLs.  These instances can cause your site to be indexed improperly or to trigger duplicate content filters, in which the search engine spiders must determine which version of your content (if any) to display in the SERPs.

The easiest example to understand is that your website can be accessed from both “http://www.mysite.com” and “http://mysite.com”.  If you have inbound links pointing at both of these URLs, they’ve likely both been indexed by the search engine spiders, which can lead to complications in terms of how link juice is passed and how your site appears in the SERPs.

Similarly, if you use a platform like Wordpress (which dynamically creates category and tag pages that display your articles in multiple locations) or a service that adds tracking or session IDs to your URLs (for example, “http://www.mysite.com/file.php?var1=value&mysession=123”), the search engines could be indexing multiple copies of your original articles.

To prevent these situations from influencing where and how your site is ranked in the SERPs, consider implementing the following best practices:

  • Use a 301 redirect (which we’ll get into next) to ensure your site is indexed at either the “www” version or the “non-www” version of your domain name (not both).
  • Build any external backlinks using the same URL structure you set with your redirect.
  • Use caution when building your site to ensure all internal links are structured the same.
  • Add the rel=”canonical” tag to your pages to specify which URLs should be indexed by the search engines.  Be aware, though, that this is only a suggestion – the search engines are not required to adhere to the URL preferences you specify with this tag.

For more recommendations on how to handle canonicalization issues, take a look at the following resources:

Technique #2 – Redirects

Deploying proper redirects on your site follows a similar principle as canonicalization.  That is, if you move content on your website (or from one website to another), you’ll want to be sure the search engine spiders are properly informed of the move and able to find and access your content in its new location.

There are two types of redirects that are commonly used in web development: 301 and 302.

301 redirects are permanent redirects.  Using this specific code tells the search engines that your content has been moved permanently and should be indexed at its new location.  301 redirects have the advantage of passing link juice and accumulated SEO authority to your content’s new home, which makes them incredibly valuable from a search perspective.

302 redirects, on the other hand, are temporary redirects.  A 302 redirect tells the search engines, “I’ve moved this content temporarily, but it will be back.  Please don’t attempt to redirect SEO authority away from my original URL.”

In most cases, you’ll want to use 301 redirects to control how the search engines index moved or deleted content.  To learn how to deploy this type of redirect correctly, check out the following articles:

Technique #3 – Schema.org microdata

Microdata – which sounds significantly more complicated than it really is – is a language that’s used to add supplementary tags to your site’s HTML in order to provide more data to the search engine spiders and result in the creation of “Rich Snippets.”

When you think about the tags included in traditional HTML, it’s easy to see where some major deficiencies lie.  Typically, the only tags found in your site’s code include the body tag, title tag, meta description tag, heading tags and a few others.  While the search engines are able to capture the data stored in these tags, they occasionally run into challenges analyzing this information qualitatively.

For example, suppose you built a website reviewing the popular movie, “Avatar.”  Your initial code might look something like this:

<div>

<h1>Avatar</h1>

<span>Director: James Cameron (born August 16, 1954)</span>

<span>Science fiction</span>

<a href="../movies/avatar-theatrical-trailer.html">Trailer</a>

</div>

 

And while the search engine spiders will be able to tell that you’ve written a page about the word “Avatar”, they can’t conclusively determine from this limited text whether your content is about the movie or about online profile pictures.

By adding Schema.org microdata, we can add extra information within our website’s code to instruct the search engines on how to process and index this content.  In the following example, the sample code shared above is modified with the “Movie” schema tag, which informs the search engines that what follows is content based on a movie called “Avatar”:

<div itemscope itemtype ="http://schema.org/Movie">
  <h1 itemprop="name">Avatar</h1>
  <span>Director: James Cameron</span> (born August 16, 1954)</span>
  <span Science fiction</span>
  <a href="../movies/avatar-theatrical-trailer.html">Trailer</a>
</div>

 

Not only does this Schema.org microdata help our sites to be indexed more appropriately.  When integrated correctly, sites marked up with microdata become eligible to use “Rich Snippets” (basically, SERPs listings with additional information) in the search results pages.  These snippet enhancements can result in an increased clickthrough rate from the SERPs, making the time needed to mark up a website with standard microdata well worth the effort.

To learn more about the different Schema.org microdata tags, as well as how to implement them on your website, check out the following resource articles:

Again, although these concepts may initially seem overwhelming, they’re worth learning (or outsourcing to a web development professional) in order to prevent negative SEO impacts from occurring on your site.  By being proactive about managing more complex SEO issues, you’ll avoid penalties or the incorrect indexation that could hind your website’s rankings in the natural SERPs.

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« Go Back | Posted in: - on August 11, 2014


Much of the search engine optimization (SEO) world revolves around generating backlinks that point back towards your website, but there’s a whole other set of best practices you need to be applying to your site as you build it in order to ensure success with the search engines.  So today, let’s look at on-page SEO and how it can improve your site’s chances of generating traffic through the natural search results.

The first critical thing to understand about on-page SEO is that it operates at the keyword level.  And although this might sound intuitive to seasoned SEO veterans, it can be a tough concept to grasp when you’re building your first website.

Here’s what you need to know…

The pages that display in the search engine results pages (SERPs) do so because the search providers feel they’re the best match for the given keyword phrase the user has typed into the search field.  For example, if you were to type the keyword phrase “dog training toys” into Google, the search engine will return the websites in its index that are most relevant to this phrase – not the best results for the pet niche in general.

So if you want your website to appear in the natural search results (and you definitely do, as this is one of the best ways to generate free traffic), you need to optimize for keyword phrases.  Even if you decide to build your website with a general niche in mind, you’ll want to choose narrower target keywords to improve your chances of appearing on the SERPs.

And while a full discussion of keyword research and the best way to choose keyword phrases to target is beyond the scope of this article, it’s enough for now to simply know how important it is to build your site around specific keyword phrases.

Once you’ve determined which phrases you want to target, the next step to getting your website ranked in the SERPs for these keywords is to complete on-page search engine optimizations for your site.  By improving your on-page SEO, you increase the likelihood that the search engines will notice your site and store it in its indexes as a good potential match for your target keyword phrases.

The following are a few specific tweaks to make to the way your keywords are deployed on your site in order to improve your chances of getting ranked on your keyword SERPs:

Page Name and Extension

When you create a new page on your website, its name appears in the address bar of your browser with a file name and extension like this:

http://www.yoursite.com/pagename.html

When creating your new pages, you have the ability to specify the text of “pagename”, either by uploading an HTML file with the desired “pagename” text as your file name or by setting your permalinks manually within your Wordpress dashboard or other site hosting platform’s back-end.

As you might expect, this is a great place to include that keyword you decided to target earlier in the article – in fact, this is one of the most important places to deploy it!  For example, if you’re targeting the keyword phrase “dog training toys”, as in our earlier example, you can set up a page that’s labeled as follows for the maximum on-page SEO benefit:

http://www.yoursite.com/dog-training-toys.html

Title Tags

Another important place to include your target keyword phrase on each page of your site is within the page’s title tag.  If you’re programming your site in HTML, you can do this by simply adding the following code within the body section of your page:

<title>Your Page Title Here</title>

By setting this information, the phrase you identify as your page’s title will appear on the top-left corner of a visitor’s web browser, as well as within the results blurb that appears any time your site is listed in the natural SERPs.

For maximum SEO benefit, put some effort into writing a compelling title that contains your target keyword phrase, but that also catches your readers’ attention, as this will be a vital part of increasing your clickthrough rate in the SERPs.

As a side note, plenty of on-page SEO guides recommend including your target keyword phrase in your description and keyword meta tags as well.  And while this won’t hurt, know that it isn’t as important as it once was, given how frequently overzealous webmasters abused this benefit.  If you do decide to include your target keyword phrase in these locations, do it once – don’t keyword stuff your tags, as this can lead to an SEO penalty.

Headline Tags

Headline tags are pieces of content on your website that are coded slightly differently in order to emphasize their importance.  If you think about a traditional newspaper, you know that it isn’t just large blocks of text – separate stories are broken apart by headings and sub-titles that highlight key points within the content.

These types of headline tags are used on websites as well, and are demarcated by the following tags:

<h1>Headline 1</h1>
<h2>Headline 2</h2>
<h3>Headline 3</h3>
<h4>Headline 4</h4>
<h5>Headline 5</h5>
<h6>Headline 6</h6>

As you might expect, H1 tags are reserved for the most important headlines on a given page, while the remaining H2-H6 tags should be used for sub-titles of lesser importance.

As a rule, for best on-page SEO, the H1 tag should be used once on each page and it should contain the target keyword phrase.  It’s also a good idea to have a few H2 and/or H3 tags on each page to break up text and improve the user experience.  Each of these sub-titles should have either the target keyword phrase or a version of it to improve the latent semantic indexing (LSI) value of the content.

Content Keyword Density

The idea of having a “best possible” keyword density within your web content has come under fire recently, as different experts recommend different values.  In fact, Google would rather you not focus on this metric at all, and stick to writing good content in the first place.

it’s absolutely important to include your target keyword phrase within your website’s content, as this is one of the only ways the search engine spiders know what your site is about and where it should rank in the SERPs.  But instead of focusing on some arbitrary value – say 2%, 5% or even 10% keyword density – put your time into crafting good content that’s valuable for your readers.

Image Optimization

According to Damien Willis, one area often overlooked when writing a new blog post is not only adding an image but then optimizing that image for SEO so that you rank better in the search engines.

Adding images to your site is a great way to both enhance the visual appeal of your pages and take advantage of additional SEO opportunities as well.  Here’s what you need to do every time you upload an image to your site:

  • Ensure the image’s file name contains some variant of your target keyword phrase
  • Add alt text to the image that contains your target keyword phrase
  • Consider adding a caption with your target keyword phrase, as text in this location is some of the most frequently read text on any site

By taking the time to implement all of these on-page search engine optimization tactics on your website, you’ll increase your odds of being seen in the natural SERPs, leading to a steady stream of free traffic back to your page.

 

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« Go Back | Posted in: - on July 28, 2014


If you're in the process of starting your first ecommerce business, you know that every penny counts.  In fact, saving money in one area – like your website design – could mean the difference between fully stocking your store at its launch or flying by the seat of your pants and hoping that no one orders those few items you haven't yet been able to purchase.

As you're planning ahead for your business launch expenses, you might be surprised to find out just how much a custom ecommerce website will cost to have built.  If you're looking to cut costs without skimping on the features you need for your site to be successful, check out Homestead Websites.

Here's how this innovative program can save you money:

Reason #1 – No Learning Curve

Upon seeing the cost of traditional ecommerce websites, many first-time business owners react by saying, “At these rates, I'd be better off just learning how to design websites myself!”

So they go out, purchase books on how to code in HTML and even buy the fancy Dreamweaver site design program that's supposed to be “intuitive” and “easy to use”.  And without fail, these site owners waste weeks or months trying to master the basics of web programming (let alone the more complicated Flash, Javascript and other languages needed to make an ecommerce site perform correctly), only to wind up with a site that looks like it was pasted together by a five-year-old at arts and crafts time.

At the end of this process, not only do they not have a working website – they've also lost the weeks or months of profits they could have generated if they'd started off with a site-building program like Homestead Websites.

The beauty of Homestead Websites is that there's no learning curve.  The “drag-and-drop” interface is so simple to use that you could have a professional-looking, fully-functional website up and running in just a few minutes.  Even though you'll pay more upfront than you will building a site on your own, you'll more than recoup the money you've invested when you're able to start generating profits sooner.

Reason #2 – Hundreds of Professional Designs at Your Fingertips

But suppose you're smarter than these newbies.  You know that there are better uses of your time than struggling to learn website design – including building up more inventory, making contacts in your industry and developing an advertising strategy that will bring in the buyers you need to keep your business afloat.  So instead of wasting your time pouring over coding tutorials, you outsource your website design needs to an overseas tech firm that promises the cheapest graphics on the internet.

Now you're really getting the best value for your money, right?!  Well, maybe not...

Outsourcing your web design certainly makes sense when compared to learning how to code a website yourself, but there's one key weakness you need to be aware of.  And that's that most outsourced web design contracts include provisions for a set number of concepts and revisions – say, three concepts to choose from and up to four rounds of revisions until you're satisfied with the final design.

The obvious problem is – what if, after all these concepts and revisions, you still aren't able to come up with a design that you love?  Your design agency will have fulfilled its obligations to you,  but not only will you be out the money you invested in the project, you still won't have a website design that works for your business!

Another major advantage of the Homestead Websites program is that you're able to choose from the hundreds of professional designs that come included with the system.  If you don't like the first design you experiment with, simply try out the next option.  You'll automatically save money over paying for extra concepts or revisions with your design agency – or, worse yet, having to start the project over if your first designer fails.

Reason #3 – Built-In Software Integrations

Even if, despite this obvious weakness, you still decide to go the private design route, another thing you'll find is that the more bells and whistles you want to add to your website, the more expensive it's going to be.

And this makes sense, when you compare a provider like Homestead Websites to a small design agency.  Because Homestead Websites specializes in providing small business websites on a large scale, we're able to customize our program to include the software integrations that most customers will need.  For example, because Homestead knows that a large chunk of our website customers are beginning ecommerce site owners, we're able to provide the tools to make shopping cart integration and inventory management as easy as possible.

A small design agency isn't able to offer integrations on this level, simply because it doesn't do enough of the same types of websites to be able to apply the integrations created for one site to other similar projects.  The agency might draft a site for a local library one day and a mega shopping site the next – but because it  never focuses exclusively on one type of website, it must code each of these integrations from scratch as new customers require them.  This is a costly, time-consuming process which is likely to result in extra expenses on your end when compared with working with Homestead Websites.

Reason #4 – Complete Support

Finally, good website support might sound like one of those last-minute add-ons that's thrown in to encourage buyers to purchase (sort of like that extended warranty plan your local electronics store tries to get you to buy at the checkout counter), but when your site goes down and sales aren't coming in, you'll see that support isn't just some flippant feature – it's a vital part of your site's profitability.

If you had your site built privately and encounter issues down the road, guess what?  That design agency that you relied on so heavily throughout your site's creation might tell you that you're out of luck – that ongoing support simply isn't what they do.  If you find yourself in this position, know that hiring a web developer to help sort out your issues is pricey, often to the tune of $100/hour or more.

But when you work with Homestead Websites, support isn't just included – it's a major focus of our site design process and community.  As you go through the website creation process, you'll work closely with a Website Advisor who ensures that your website isn't just running correctly, but that it's working for you and your business.  As long as you remain a customer, you'll have access to these professionals, who can fix any glitches that occur throughout your site's life, as well as the vibrant support community, which enables you to find quick solutions to your problems.

So when analyzing the cost of different website creation approaches, be sure to consider all of the factors involved before making a decision based on price alone.  If you aren't confident that an independent design agency will be able to develop a comprehensive look and feel for your site on the first go, integrate the software you'll need in an efficient and cost-effective manner or provide the ongoing support you'll need to make your site a success, do yourself a favor and check out Homestead Websites.

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« Go Back | Posted in: - on July 14, 2014


Website marketing is a complex practice, but it’s one that’s crucial to master in order to get the most out of the website you’ve invested so much time and effort into building.  So as you go about improving your web marketing skills, keep an eye out for the following mistakes.  They’re quite common to new website owners, but can easily be avoided if you know what to watch out for.

Mistake #1 – Making Decisions Based on Gut Feeling

There’s no doubt that building and promoting a website is a complicated process.  At every step of the process, you’ve got to make decisions that influence how successful your website will be – from the colors you choose to highlight specific features on your site to the words you select to promote new products.  However, one of the biggest mistakes you can make when marketing your website is to make these decisions based on “gut feeling” instead of solid data.

To get this all-important data, you need to install a program like Google Analytics and actually pay attention to what it has to say.  Data from this program can, for example, tell you which of your pages are the most popular and which traffic sources result in the highest conversions.  Using this valuable information to guide your decisions will ultimately be more effective than simply guessing at which changes will make the biggest difference in your website’s bottom line.

Mistake #2 – Not Split Testing Your Promotions

Another important way to use data to drive decisions on your website is with split testing – the process of comparing site element variants against one another in order to conclusively determine which version is more effective.

As an example, say you’re launching a new promotion and want to determine if a banner reading, “Buy Now and Get Free Shipping” or one that proclaims, “Buy Now and Get 20% Off” will result in more clicks through to your advertisement.  Using a split test program, you don’t have to guess at which one will result in the most sales – you can actually run the two side-by-side to figure out which type of promotion your customers will respond best to.

The data generated from your split test campaigns can be extremely valuable in informing both your current and future promotions, but you’ll miss out on all of these benefits if you make decisions based on gut feeling alone!

Mistake #3 – Ignoring the Importance of Long Term Goals

Once you’ve started using Google Analytics (or a related website data-tracking program) and split testing software to generate the web data needed to make informed decisions about site-wide changes, use these capabilities in order to set up measurable, long term goals.

Suppose you want your website to make more sales.  That’s a great start, but how exactly will you quantify this?  Exactly how many sales do you want to make each year?  Which traffic sources do you want to account for these sales?  What specific profit margins are you hoping to achieve?

By knowing exactly what you want to accomplish, you’ll be better able to align your actions in order to bring about your desired results.  Simply deciding to “increase sales” doesn’t give you much to go off of, but if you say that you’d like to increase sales from Facebook traffic by 50% within the next six months, you’ll be better able to come up with a concrete strategy for achieving these objectives, as well as put the necessary benchmarks in place to ensure your progress is on track.

Mistake #4 – Not Targeting Appropriate Keywords

Too many business owners put up web pages without a thought in the world for the keywords they’re targeting.  But given the potential free traffic that can be achieved by targeting the right keywords and optimizing your pages well enough to get ranked highly in the SERPs, failing to target the appropriate keywords puts these site owners at a major disadvantage.

So what does the “right” keyword look like?  Your specific results may vary based on the scope of your business and the amount of effort you’re willing to put into getting your site ranked.  But be aware that no matter how great your new website is, chances are you aren’t going to be able to get it ranked well in the Google SERPs for highly competitive keyword phrases like “lose weight” or “make money online” without years and years of effort.

Instead, target locally-oriented keywords (for example, “best Chicago pizza”) or long-tail keywords (ie – “lose weight with ab exercises”), both of which will be less competitive and more likely to result in high SERP rankings.

Mistake #5 – Failing to Optimize Your Pages

Once you’ve chosen a set of keywords to target, don’t just hope and pray that Google will pick up your site and rank it on these specific SERPs.  Instead, optimize your pages smartly, in a way that Google and the other search engines will understand.

A few of the steps you should take include:

  • Integrating your target keyword into your meta tags, headline tag and body content
  • Including your target keyword in your page URL
  • Building back links to your page that use your target keyword as the anchor text

Mistake #6 – Ignoring Your Social Presence

The level of activity you maintain on popular social networking sites – including Facebook, Google+ and Twitter – has never been more important than now.  While it used to be that these sites simply represented a good opportunity to get your marketing messages in front of prospective customers, it’s now widely acknowledged that “social shares” of your website’s content could improve your SERPs rankings.

According to Neil Patel, founder of web analytics giant KISSmetrics:

“Based on [statements by Google and Bing], you can assume that social media plays a role in influencing the search engine results by giving preference based on the authority of the author and the number of times a piece of content is shared on social networking sites.”

When you pair this understanding with the recent launch of Google’s Search Plus Your World (which has had a similarly major impact on social injections into the traditional SERPs), one thing is clear.  Your social presence matters more than ever, making it imperative that you invest time in building and maintaining your presence on the top social networking sites.

Mistake #7 – Expecting Overnight Results

Yes, your website looks great and the information it provides is top-notch compared to your competitors.  But just because a website is good doesn’t mean that it will be subject to a flood of frenzied traffic the second it opens its doors.

Instead, be aware that website traffic takes time to build.  The search engines need time to index your content and decide where it should fall in the SERPs, and your prospective customers need time to find your site and identify it as a better alternative to others on the market.

Don’t lose sleep if your website only gets a handful of visitors at first, but don’t sit back on your laurels either.  Invest time in promoting your website effectively and, before you know it, you should have the flood of excited customers you’ve been hoping for.

 

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« Go Back | Posted in: - on June 30, 2014


Today, we’re going to break down the “Top 7” split tests you should perform on your website first.  Hopefully, this guide will give you a concrete, actionable strategy for getting started with split testing on your site.

Test #1 – Headings & Sub-headings

There’s an often-cited statistic that claims that the average website visitor spends no more than seven seconds on your website before deciding whether to stay and look through your content or hit the back button and look for a different option (although recent research shows that this “window of opportunity” may be even smaller).

Because of these short attention spans, one of the first split tests you should carry out involves the specific wording of any headings and sub-headings you use on your site, as changes made to these elements can make a big difference in terms of getting visitors over this seven-second hump.  Consider testing your current headline against one of the many headline formulas out there to see how effective and engaging you can make it.

Test #2 – Images

Although most graphics are added as an afterthought based on what “looks best”, the truth is that images can have a dramatic impact on the effectiveness of various areas on your site.

To see how much of a difference images can make, consider the following case study, carried out by Jason Thompson of EmptyMind.org.  Jason was interested in finding out whether a generic icon or a personal photo would lead more people to click through to his “Contact Me” page, and the results of his A/B split test were astonishing.  Swapping out his plain old telephone icon for a closely cropped personal image led to a 48% increase in his clickthrough rate (CTR):

To test how effective the images on your website are, consider split testing images in any of the following places:

  • In your graphic header
  • Embedded in your page background
  • In your “About Me” featured section
  • In any buttons or icons that lead to personal connection opportunities

Test #3 – Calls to Action

In addition to the subject and placement of your images, consider split testing your calls to action.  A call to action occurs any time you ask people to complete some behavior, whether that’s clicking through to read your “About Me” page or purchasing a specific product from within your store.

Website readers are surprisingly responsive to different wording in these areas, so you might be surprised to find that changing your opt-in subscription button from reading “Click Now to Subscribe” to “Claim Your Free Reward Today” could result in a significant improvement in the number of opt-ins you receive.  Remember, any time you’re able to increase the percentage of visitors who take action on your promotions or offers, you’ll likely see a corresponding increase in your overall profits!

Test #4 – Offers

Similarly, the way you word and structure your offers can play a big role in how effective these items are – but you won’t know for sure until you split test them!

As an example, consider a case study of mobile phone retailer, Mobal, carried out by the staff at Visual Website Optimizer.  The company wanted to determine whether offering three or four phones on their international cell phone sales page would lead to more sales.  After carrying out the appropriate A/B split testing, the company was able to achieve a 27% increase in sales by including four phones in their product offerings:

Test #5 – Your Opt-in Form

If you aren’t selling products but are instead trying to encourage as many of your website visitors as possible to sign up for your email newsletter, be aware that there are plenty of different elements surrounding your opt-in form that benefit from split testing.

Consider experimenting with any of the following options in order to maximize your opt-in rate:

  • The location of your opt-in form on your website
  • The style of opt-in form you use (pop-up versus lightbox versus embedded)
  • The pages on which you place your opt-in form
  • The colors and text you use in your form
  • The number of fields required to subscribe to your list

Most email subscription programs operating today include split-testing features built-in to their programs, so consult with the customer service department of your email provider to see what opportunities are available to you.

Test #6 – Linked Text

Any time you use the text within your website to link out to another page (whether within your own website or on another page entirely), you’re inviting your readers to click through and explore this new content.  So why not make these invitations as appealing as possible by split testing the specific anchor text you use within your links?

As an example, suppose you want to filter visitors from your blog posts to your current “Specials” page to increase their likelihood of making purchases.  Obviously, you’ll want the text within your “Click here to view our specials” link to be as effective as possible, making it a good idea to test different variations of your linked text against each other to see which option offers the best results.

Test #7 – Colors

Colors play a powerful role in creating the “mood” of a website, but this effect goes beyond controlling the way visitors feel – it can actually influence how likely they are to buy from you!

 

:

As you likely incorporate different colors into a variety of different places on your website, the potential number of split tests you could run on your site’s colors alone is quite high.  Consider any of the following as possible staring places for this type of split test:

  • Your background color
  • The text in your header and headings
  • Different colored structural elements throughout your site
  • Your opt-in boxes or checkout buttons
  • Call out text colors throughout your website

Remember to focus on a single element at a time when you’re first getting started with split testing.  As you build more experience and become more advanced with your split testing skills, you can begin to experiment with multivariate split testing, which will allow you to compare multiple elements at the same time while still understanding the statistical significance of your results.

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« Go Back | Posted in: - on June 16, 2014


From a personal enjoyment standpoint, you know how frustrating it can be to wait around for a slow-loading website.  You’ve clicked through a new page because you’re interested in the content posted there – so every second spent waiting makes you less and less interested in what the site has to offer.  If it’s your site that’s slow, you could be losing tons of impatient visitors who aren’t willing to stick around and wait for your content to load!

But interestingly enough, slow loading sites don’t just irritate their readers – they annoy the search engines as well.  Google in particular has made it quite clear that site speed plays a role in their ranking algorithm.

“Faster sites create happy users and we've seen in our internal studies that when a site responds slowly, visitors spend less time there.  Like us, our users place a lot of value in speed — that's why we've decided to take site speed into account in our search rankings.”

Of course, while increased site speeds may benefit both readers and the search engines, the thought of modifying site code to enhance load times can sound overwhelming to beginning webmasters.  To combat this, we’ll first break down the process of identifying site speed issues and then show you how to implement recommended fixes to ensure you aren’t missing out on the benefits that come from speeding up your site.

Step #1 – Evaluate your site’s current loading speed

Before you worry too much about needing to invest hours upon hours improving your website’s load times, take a few minutes to evaluate how your site is currently performing.  Depending on the website building platform you’ve used, you might be surprised to find that your site is already performing well enough to meet Google’s strict criteria!

There are a few different ways you can go about testing your site loading speed:

  1. Google’s Page Speed Online Tool – This free tool analyzes your site’s load time and reports back both a score that compares your website to other web properties and recommendations on how to improve your overall site speed.  Some of the recommendations can be a bit technical, but otherwise, this tool is a great way to get an inner glimpse into how Google views your site and its load times.
  2. Google’s Webmaster Tools – Another feature that Google provides for measuring site load speeds can be found within its Webmaster Tools section.  To use this tool, you’ll first need to register and verify ownership of your site.  Once this is done, log in to your account, click on “Labs” in the left-hand sidebar and then on “Site Performance” to get more information about your site’s existing load times.
  3. Third Party Site Speed Tests – Plenty of other websites, including WebPageTest and WebsiteOptimization, offer other free tools that allow you to measure your website’s speed.  Be sure to try a few of these alongside Google’s site speed tools.  Since all of these programs measure different variables, getting your score from different services may help you to uncover even more potential areas for improvement.

 

Step #2 – Implement recommended changes

The results of your site speed analysis from Step #1 should have given you a few potential places to start with in order to reduce your load times.  However, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the number of highly technical solutions presented, consider starting with the following five “top priority” items:

  1. Resize images – Whenever you publish an image to your website, it should be resized in advance to the exact size you want it to display on your pages.  Taking the time to do this in advance will reduce the size of the image file that must be displayed, as well as eliminate the extra work your website platform and browser must undertake in order to resize your graphic on the fly.
  2. Minify HTML, Javascript and CSS code – “Minify” sounds complicated, but really, all it means is to remove extra white space from your code files before they’re published.  Although these spaces make it easier for human eyes to read complex computer languages, they only slow down digital processors.  Get rid of them, and see if your site speeds decrease correspondingly.
  3. Serve content from a Content Delivery Network (CDN) – If you have an exceptionally large amount of content on your site, serving it from a Content Delivery Network can make a significant difference in your load times versus storing it on your own web hosting account. 
  4. Structure supplemental code separately – When working with CSS and Javascript files, be sure that stylesheets are added to the top of your files and scripts to the end.  This ensures that unstyled content is never served to visitors (which could increase load processing times) and that content features are served before the added functionality of scripts.

Depending on the website platform you’re using, these steps may be done automatically for you.  Or, if you’re using a blogging platform like Wordpress, you may be able to take care of these needs all at once using a plugin like the W3 Total Cache add-on.  However, even if you need to hire a web developer to take care of these issues for you, you’ll likely find it worth the extra expense in terms of your site’s user experience and search engine rankings.

Step #3 – Follow up on your site speed efforts

Once you’ve implemented the above recommendations (as well as any others you uncovered during the site speed analysis process), wait a few weeks for your website code changes to be indexed and recognized by the search engines.  Then, run the analysis tools listed in Step #1 to see if you’ve made a significant enough difference in your overall load times.

If you find that your site speed has improved considerably and that the analysis tools listed above rank your site speed as “Good” check your search engine results page rankings for your target keywords as well.  You may be surprised to find that you’ve risen in the rankings by several places!

On the other hand, if you haven’t seen a dramatic enough improvement in your site load times to be satisfied, consider implementing some of the more complicated recommendations uncovered through the Google Page Speed Online tool.  Continue this process until you’re confident you’ve made enough changes to result in a load time that satisfies both your users and the search engines.

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« Go Back | Posted in: - on June 2, 2014


So far on our Homestead Blog, we’ve talked a lot about how to build traffic by achieving high rankings in the search engine results pages using a process known as search engine optimization (SEO).  And while these techniques are incredibly valuable in terms of your site’s long term success, there’s no arguing with the fact that SEO traffic can take a long time to materialize.

But what if you don’t want to wait for your site’s rankings to increase naturally to start earning money or generating leads from your website?  What if you want to start seeing results right away?

In fact, there is another way to get visitors to your site – pay-per-click (PPC) advertisements.  Although there is some cost involved with this method, when used carefully, it can be a great way to start testing your website’s conversion process before you begin seeing an influx of SEO traffic.  Here’s how to get started:

Step #1 – Choose a PPC System

First, let’s cover a little background information on PPC ads.  PPC ads are small snippets of text (or images and video files, depending on the service that you use) advertising your website that display in various places, including in the natural search engine results and as ad blocks on websites that publish these ads.  They are free to run in most cases, and you only pay when a reader clicks on your ad and winds up on your site.

As you might expect, this type of system offers a number of advantages for businesses.  Compared to the upfront cost of magazine or television advertisements, you don’t pay for your PPC ads until you’ve found an interested prospect.  In addition, the nature of PPC ads allows you to target visitors more effectively (again, compared to the broad reach of magazine and TV ads), ensuring that your ad spend reaches only the people who will be most interested in your products or services.

So where can you find PPC advertising programs?  The most widely known program is Google Adwords, which allows you to display ads within the Google search results pages, as well as on a huge variety of websites that participate in the Google Adsense publisher program.  Other top-tier programs include Microsoft’s adCenter on Bing and Yahoo’s Search Marketing platform.

Working with one of these top-level PPC providers gives you the most extensive reach and a greater number of opportunities for your ads to appear.  However, because these programs are so widely used, average cost-per-click (CPC) rates may be substantially higher than on second-tier PPC engines, like Ask.com, 7Search and AdBrite.  Be aware, though, that although these services may be cheaper, the traffic they provide isn’t often as high quality as what you’ll get through the Big 3 PPC engines.

For most beginners, the best approach is to start with Google Adwords.  Although it’s slightly more expensive, the interface is easy to understand and the help section Google provides is extensive.  Once you’ve honed your PPC advertising skills here, you can move on and apply these lessons to other sites as needed.

Step #2 – Identify Your Target Keywords

Once you set up your account with Google Adwords, the first thing you’ll do is to create a campaign for each web page you want to send traffic to, which will contain the specific keywords that your ads will display for in the search engine results pages.  Choosing the right keywords for your ad is as much an art as it is a science, but the following guidelines should help you to choose the best phrases when you’re first getting started:

  • Start small – Create a single campaign at a time and add no more than 5-10 highly-related keywords to each campaign.  This will allow you to create ads that are well tailored to your chosen phrases.
  • Think narrow – Advertising for popular keywords like “lose weight” or “make money online” will be prohibitively expensive.  Instead, target less expensive long tail keywords that still have the potential to drive significant traffic back to your site.
  • Focus on “phrase” and “exact” match to start – Read up on keyword match types in the Adwords help section, and stick to “phrase” and “exact” match keywords for your first campaign.  When you’re more experienced, you can add in “broad” match keywords to expand your reach.
  • Track your competitor’s keywords – See which advertisers are running PPC ads in Google for the keywords you’re considering.  If you see your competitors there, chances are good the phrases will work for you as well.

Step #3 – Write Your Ads

Once you’ve chosen your target keywords, the next step is to write the ad that will display in the search engines when your phrase is searched for.  Because you’ve only got a limited number of characters for each ad, it’s important to make them count!  Here’s how to structure your ads effectively:

  • Write a compelling headline – As with other types of internet advertising, you only have a short time to cut through the noise and engage a prospect, so make your headline as compelling as possible.
  • Use your target keyword in your ad text – When you do this, your keyword will appear bolded in the search results, setting your ad apart from others.
  • Consider your landing page – Don’t simply send visitors to your homepage!  The specific landing page to which you direct visitors should be as closely related to your keywords as possible.
  • Split test your ads – Whenever you set up a new PPC campaign, create two ads that can be split test against each other to improve your performance.

Step #4 – Set a Budget

Because the default setting in Google Adwords is to run your ads as often as possible in order to generate data faster, it’s incredibly easy to blow through your entire advertising budget – and much, much more – in a short amount of time.

To protect yourself from overspending, take advantage of features within Google Adwords and other PPC programs that let you set a daily spending budget.  Set your budget as low as $5-10/day until you get a feel for how these ads work and how you can maximize their impact on your business.

Step #5 – Evaluate Your Conversions

Of course, even if you’re only spending a few dollars a day, it’s still important to ensure that you’re seeing a positive ROI for your efforts.  That is, if you’re paying for traffic, you’d better be sure it’s resulting in sales!

Although there are several third-party software programs that offer this functionality, the easiest way to evaluate the conversions of your PPC ads within Google Adwords is to tie your account to your Google Analytics data.  This will help you to see which of your PPC keywords are resulting in conversions for your website, and which keywords should be eliminated from your campaign for non-performance.

Finally, as you begin adding PPC advertisements to your promotional strategy, be aware that there is a learning curve associated with this technique.  It may take some time until you achieve a positive ROI with your campaigns and are able to implement them on a wide enough scale to make a difference in your bottom line.  But by carefully launching campaigns and tracking the performance of every ad you run, you’ll ultimately find that PPC ads can be used to bring fast, steady traffic to your business website.

 

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« Go Back | Posted in: - on May 19, 2014


When it comes to building an effective business website, there are plenty of different elements that need to come together to form a cohesive whole.  Search engine optimization (SEO) is just one of these components that’s vital to internet marketing – though it’s one of the least understood by most businesses.  Hiring an SEO agency can help close this gap and improve your site’s rankings; however, be aware that not all agencies are created equal.

Here’s what to look for when it comes to hiring a good SEO agency…

A Website Doesn’t Exist Without SEO

Your business can have the best looking website out there, that’s packed with fantastic content – and still not receive any visitors. If your site isn’t search engine friendly, no one will even know that it’s there. Moreover, there are thousands upon thousands of websites in any given market. Without effective SEO, finding your particular website on the Internet can be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Sure – programs like WordPress can make it easy for those with no technical expertise to create professional-looking websites. There are even special plugins you can install that will help with search engine optimization. But unfortunately, these plugins aren’t going to tell a website owner if he’s using the right keywords for his target market or how exactly to promote his website to ensure optimum traffic and conversions.

If this website owner doesn’t have the time or inclination to learn proper SEO best practices, he may be better off hiring an agency to do the work for him.  A good SEO agency can help this business owner to find the right words and phrases to use on his website to separate the buyers from the tire kickers.  The agency can even look at the website’s Google Analytics and other metrics to determine how to properly promote the site in the SERPs and how to adjust individual web pages to increase conversion rates.

In general, search engine optimization isn’t a process that’s done once and then ignored – it needs to be monitored and tweaked over time to make sure that the site is attracting the right visitors, and keeping them. Unfortunately, most businesses – especially small businesses where everyone has two or three jobs already – don’t have time for this type of ongoing project. In these cases, outsourcing SEO to a qualified agency helps save the company time and money by building an efficient, converting website that increases overall revenue.

Invest in SEO

But beyond the time-saving advantages of hiring an SEO agency, it’s important to remember that keeping up with current SEO techniques takes an entirely separate amount of effort!

Search engine optimization techniques aren’t even close to the same as they were when the internet first developed as a place for businesses to attract new customers. In addition, with the launch of its Hummingbird Algorithm update last year, Google revolutionized the way keywords, links and other SEO techniques should be used on the internet.

Even for those SEO specialists working within the industry, it can be difficult to keep up on all of Google’s various changes.  For business owners and other non-professionals, it’s even more difficult to stay on top of what Google’s doing. However, the consequences for not adhering to the search giant’s most recent updates can be severe.  If Google deindexes your company website, you’ll probably wind up spending a great deal of time and money trying to back into Google’s good graces.

Outsourcing your business SEO needs can help avoid this hassle.  As many of Google’s recent changes have to do with keyword optimization, linking strategies and webpage optimization, a good SEO agency can help you navigate these latest sets of requirements. They’ll be able to help you make any necessary improvements to your site, both simultaneously improving your online results and avoiding the hassle of being penalized by Google.

Local SEO Is Just As Important

But just to add to the confusion, small businesses must be familiar with local SEO practices, as well as the online techniques needed to rank well in the traditional SERPs. If a business has local, as well as online customers, it needs to use local SEO techniques – which can incorporate Google strategies, using social sites such as FourSquare and even mobile strategies to help local consumers find both its website and physical location.

If you only conduct business locally, understanding and implementing these techniques becomes even more vital.  Given that nearly 80% percent of consumers conduct internet research before buying a product or service, it’s obvious why local companies must prioritize local SEO techniques that enable them to be found on the web.

But since learning local SEO requires studying an entirely new set of techniques, many small businesses find that they benefit from outsourcing these tasks in order to focus on more important areas of company operations. Hiring an SEO agency to take over local SEO can ensure that your business is found by both local and Internet customers through the appropriate use of linking strategies, keywords and tagging.  They’ll also be more up-to-date on the latest local optimization technologies – including both mobile and interactive applications – that can help make businesses easier to find.

How to Find the Right SEO Agency

If hiring an SEO agency to take over your business’s web and local SEO needs sounds like a wise use of your time and money, be aware that there are plenty of different aspects to consider.  For example, the agency’s expertise, strategies and past successes should be examined to make sure the organization is professional and competent.  It’s also important to understand the agency’s mission statement and how they deal with clients to make sure your final selection is a good fit for your business’s needs.

Here are a few of the specific questions you’ll want to ask when interviewing potential SEO agencies:

“Where are they located?”

An SEO agency doesn’t have to be local to be successful.  Some businesses like being able to have onsite meetings with their outsourcers to make sure everything is on track, although with today’s technology, online meetings can be just as productive as physical meetings.  As long as you’re comfortable working long distance and the agency you’ve chosen is well-qualified, dealing with an SEO organization located elsewhere isn’t a problem.

How well do they communicate?”

While it isn’t reasonable to expect someone at the agency to answer the phone all the time, your agency contact should call back or reply to an email within a single one business day.  They should also have established methods for updating clients and receiving feedback to alter a project as needed.

“Do they stay current on new advancements?”

With the field of SEO changing consistently, an SEO agency needs to demonstrate that they stay abreast of changes in technology and techniques.  To determine whether or not this is occurring, look for whitepapers they’ve written, notes on social media sites about seminars they’ve attended or blog posts their employees have written about new techniques in order to find out how knowledgeable they are about their field.

“Is a long term contract required?”

Because SEO strategies need to be monitored and changed over time, you’ll want to find an SEO agency that you can work with in the long-term.  However, be wary of getting roped into a long-term contact if you aren’t certain your SEO campaign will achieve good results.  When looking for a new agency, start with a three-month contract to find out if they’re a good fit. This way, you won’t be stuck with ineffective consultants you can’t work with.

Because SEO is so important to internet marketing, it’s imperative that you use the newest and best strategies on your business website.  If you aren’t able to commit to learning these techniques yourself and implementing them on your website, hiring an SEO agency to carry out these best practices for you could wind up being a smart business decision in the long run.

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