Conduct Your Own Website SEO Audit

Most people who contact me regarding their website’s performance worry about their rankings in the search engines. The website may not be ranking at all or may only rank for a few keywords, which affects the quality and quantity of traffic they receive. Most, however, don’t know how to evaluate their website in terms of it’s current status in the search engines and what to do to improve it’s rankings. Enter the SEO Audit. An SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) Audit will help you evaluate your website’s search engine friendliness and show you where it needs improvement.

Conducting regular SEO Audits is vital to any SEO success, in fact I recommend you conduct one every 3-4 months. While utilising the services of a professional internet marketer to perform your SEO Audit is ideal the following will hep you get started and show you the main areas of your website that need improving.

Are Your Targeting the Right Keywords?

Selecting the keywords to use when optimising your website is a vital part of the search engine optimisation process. Select the wrong words and it doesn’t matter how well you rank. Select just a few of the more obvious words and it will minimise your chances of attracting a wide range of visitors at different stages of the buying cycle.

When selecting keywords for your website you want to target a wide range of phrases. Select both easy (longer phrases) and hard terms (shorter more competitive phrases). This will allow you to work towards both long and short term goals. It’s also worth including locations, if relevant, synonyms and singular and plural versions of your keywords.

To see what keywords visitors are using to find you study your log files or web analytics data. This will show you what search engines your visitors are coming from and what keywords they used to find you.

Are Your Website URL’s Search Friendly?

There are two types of URL’s: dynamic and static. A dynamic URL is a page address that results from the search of a database driven website or a website that runs a script. The content on this page will change depending upon the query being run (variable strings). Static URL’s, or pages, on the other hand have content that remains the same.

A dynamic URL generally looks something like this:

http://www.website.com/products/widget.php?product=12345&cat=987

A static URL on the other hand, is a URL that doesn’t change, and doesn’t have variable strings. It looks like this:

http://www.somesites.com/products/widget-12345.htm

Dynamic URL’s can be difficult for search engine spiders to read. If your website utilises dynamic URL’s I’d recommend rewriting them to appear as static “search friendly URLs”.

Does Each Page Have a Unique Page Title?

From a search engine optimisation perspective page titles are one of the most important factors in getting pages indexed and visited. Each page should have a unique page title that describes the specific content of that page and contains the main keyword phases used on that page.

Search engines give the words in page titles great weight, especially if the words in the page title are also in the copy on the page.

It is recommended that your page titles be approximately 63 characters long. Some search engines, in particular Google, cut off the page title after about 63 characters. There are two main reasons to ensure a search engine displays a complete page title:

  1. It tells the search engine what the page is about.
  2. When listed in the search results it tells potential visitors what the page is about.

A page title should not be just a list of keywords. Instead it should include the main keyword phrase related to the page it’s on  and should be as compelling as possible to encourage potential visitors to click on your listing and not those around it. No two pages on your website should have the same page titles.

Does Each Page Have Unique Meta Description and Keyword Tags?

There are two main meta tags that should be included on every page of your website:

  1. Meta Description Tag: <meta name=”description” content=”Your description here”>
  2. Meta Keywords Tag: <meta name=”keywords” content=”keywords here”>

Meta Description Tag

The meta description tag has varying levels of relevancy in each of the search engines. Many search engines still support it and some will use it as a text snippet when showing their results.

Your meta description tag should be between a sentence and a paragraph, include your main keyword phrase, and describe what the page is about. It should also be compelling to encourage searches to click on it.

Your meta description tags should be unique for each page on your website.

Meta Keywords Tag

At this point in time the meta keywords tag is not supported by many major search engines. Of the top three search engines (Google, Yahoo! and MSN Live,) Yahoo! is the only one that gives it some credence.

Whilst it is not currently supported that’s not to say that this will change down the track so it’s still worthwhile spending a few minutes on this tag.

Your meta keywords tag should be unique for each page on your site and should include the keywords relate to that page as well as common misspellings, synonyms and alternate versions of a word.

Are You Using H1, H2 and H3 Tags Correctly?

H1, H2 and H3 tags create different sized heading on your pages  such as the main page title (h1), sub heading (h2) and small heading (h3). As well as being a great way to break up the text on the page search engines also take note of them so it’s important to use them and incorporate your keywords into these headings.

Does Your Website Have a Site Map?

A Site Map page, linked to every page of your website, and using html-based text links, provides another pathway for search engine spiders to find all of the pages of the site, and index them.

Google and Yahoo! Both recommend the use of a Site Map. From the Google Information for webmasters page (http://www.google.com/intl/en/webmasters/guidelines.html):

“Offer a site map to your users with links that point to the important parts of your site. If the site map is larger than 100 or so links, you may want to break the site map into separate pages.”

From Yahoo!’s search help (http://help.yahoo.com/l/us/yahoo/search/indexing/indexing-10.html):

“Our crawler isn’t always able to follow dynamic links, so to make sure that content is included, provide a static link to new content. If your site navigation is normally done only with dynamic links, you can create a site map page with a static link map of your site so robots can discover all of your content.”

An example of a Site Map page is this one from Google:

http://www.google.com/sitemap.html

It doesn’t link to every page on the site, but it does link to the most important ones, and it is organised to make it easy for people to find the information that they are interested in.

Do You Check Your Website’s Statistics Regularly?

Website analytics, the process of analysing your website’s visitors, is a powerful way to understand what is going on with your website. It enables you to see who is visiting your website, where they are coming from, what search terms they used (if applicable) to find your site, how long they stayed on your site, what pages they looked at and so on.

Website analytics can be handled in two ways:

  1. By analysing your website log files with a software program.
  2. Installing a small piece of code on your website.

There are many applications out there ranging from free to extremely expensive. I’ve listed some of the more popular in the resources section on our website.

Conducting an SEO Audit of your website is an essential part of the SEO process and vital for ensuring your ranking on the search engines and attracting targeted visitors to your site. As your site grows it’s easy to overlook these elements so make sure you audit your site regularly.

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Online Marketing in Tough Economic Times

We all know in tough economic times we’re meant to continue to market and advertise our business. But when cash flow is down it can be easier said than done. However that doesn’t mean you have to stop marketing, it just means you have to be wiser with how you spend your money.

One of the great advantages of online marketing is that it is highly measurable. If you try a new marketing initiative and it doesn’t provide a positive return on your investment (ROI) then stop, or tweak the activity. If you find an online marketing initiative that works for your business increase your spend and watch your profit increase. There are also many online marketing activities that you can do in-house, again saving you valuable dollars.

The sky’s the limit when it comes to ways market yourself online. I’m going to talk about three options available to you but don’t let that stop you from trying others.

Pay Per Click Advertising

If you’ve heard of Google AdWords then you’ve heard of Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising. Pay Per Click ads are the sponsored ads you see on search engines such as Google or Yahoo! With Pay Per Click advertising you pay only when a customer clicks on your ad, regardless of how many times it’s shown. You select your keywords and set an amount you are prepared to pay if someone clicks on your ad. When a user searches for, or is using, a keyword you have bid for, your ad will appear on the right side of results pages under the heading Sponsored Links. If a user clicks on your ad you pay the amount you bid for that term.

Pay Per Click advertising is a great way to target hundreds of niche keyword terms for a relatively low cost. In addition it is highly targeted and the results are highly quantifiable. The benefit of this is targeted traffic to your website – i.e. the people visiting are looking for your services!

Pay Per Click advertising is also highly customisable. You can target specific geographic areas and set specific times (hours and days) for your ads to be displayed. You can also start with a budget as low as $1.00 a day.

Pay Per Click campaigns can be running within hours and is a great way to drive prospective customers to your website quickly.

Blogging

Blogging is a fantastic and cost effective way to promote your business and stay in touch with your customers and prospects. There is an initial cost in setting up a blog but once you’ve done that all it requires is time and effort on your part. There are many benefits of having a business blog:

  • Blogging is a great way to communicate with clients, customers and prospects. Whether it be talking about new products or services, company news or resolving an issue, you can communicate on a level not seen before.
  • A blog gives you a voice which in turn gives readers an idea of who you and your business are. Your goal is to then engage them enough to want to do business with you.
  • Blogging can help position you as an expert in your industry.
  • Blogs attracts links and can help you in your search engine rankings.

When setting up a business blog I always recommend incorporating it into your current website design. Integrating your blog into your existing website design ensures that it provides a consistency of your brand and identity. It also enables readers who enjoy your blog to wander into other parts of your website such as your services and how to contact you.

If you decide that blogging is for you then make sure you set aside some time each week to write posts as there’s nothing worse than a blog that’s not updated.

Social Networking Sites

Social networking is a more recent phenomena on the internet. A social network is an online community of people who share interests and/or activities. Most social networks are web based and provide a variety of ways for users to interact such as though posts, messaging and email.

If your target market is into social networking then communicating with them via this method is a fantastic way to interact with them, promote your business and get your message across. There are many ways social networking can benefit your business:

  • It allows you communicate with a far reaching audience and promote your business on a global scale.
  • It can help you build trust and promote yourself as an expert in your field.
  • It can help you connect with potential business partners and employees.

If you are thinking of using social networking sites to promote your business it’s important that you take the time to understand social networking and the right way to go about it. The internet can be a very unforgiving place and bad stories and promotions can spread like wildfire.

Two popular social networking sites are Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook

Facebook is one of the most popular social networking sites online. Facebook can be used to connect with people, stay in touch, post pictures, share links and exchange information. It can be used to connect friends, family and co-workers. Used smartly it can also be used to promote your business and connect with your prospects and customers using the many applications that are being developed. You can use Facebook to:

  • Create brand awareness.
  • Engage with your customers and communicate promotions, contests and events.
  • Announce new products.
  • Generate leads and acquire new customers.
  • Manage your online reputation.

With the enormous market share and number of new applications being developed Facebook is one social networking service I highly recommend you familiarise yourself with.

Twitter

When it comes to social networking sites Twitter is the new kid on the block. So what is it? Twitter is kinda like micro-blogging – basically you can say (or tweet) anything you like in 140 characters or less. You can follow other people’s Twitters and others, in turn, can follow you. So why would you want to use it? Good question. Like all marketing initiatives you need to first look at whether it’s for you. If your target audience is likely to use Twitter then you should be too. Twitter can help you to:

  • Connect and network with others in your industry.
  • Share thoughts and ideas with like minded people.
  • Stay in touch with customers and prospects.
  • Test out new ideas and get feedback on existing products and services.
  • Monitor what’s being said about you and your business.
  • Monitor what’s being said about your competitors.
  • Monitor your competitors if they’re on twitter.

There really isn’t enough space here to delve into Twitter too deeply but hopefully I’ve given you some food for thought. I’ll post some resources on our website (http://www.thinkprospect.com.au/articles/resources/) that will help get you started.

They are numerous other social networking services that could be worth a look. They include: MySpace, Flickr, LinkedIn and Friendster. It’s also worth researching your market and looking for niche social networking sites geared to your industry and target audience.

With all these ideas it’s important to measure and track their performance. Ditch the non performing, expand the successful, rinse and repeat.

Tough economic times may mean less dollars to spend on your business’s marketing but you can still find smart initiatives that can help you grow your business in a cost effective manner. And don’t forget that promoting your business and website now is helping you to establish your business and your brand for the long haul.

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Harnessing the Power of Local Search

What is Local Search?

Local search can be defined as any search that is aimed at finding something within a specific geographic region. Some examples include “landscape gardener melbourne”, “baby photographer bondi”, “gold coast accommodation” or “yoga classes williamstown”. Local search includes searches where the transaction takes place online and searches where information is gathered online and the transaction takes place offline.

For some businesses their entire customer base is centred around a specific geographic area so local search is vital to their business. Examples include vets, restaurants, hairdressers, beauty salons, doctors and dentists. For other businesses their location is important and people based elsewhere will seek them out. Examples include tourist destinations, accommodation providers and car rental companies. Finally, some business will draw prospects from near by and far away. This includes businesses such as consultants, lawyers, accountants, graphic designers, psychologists and specialist shops.

The one thing all these businesses have in common is the benefits optimising their website for local search will bring them.

Where is Local Search Offered?

Local search is currently offered by the big three search engines: Google, Yahoo! and Live Search. All these search engines have a local component which collects local data and displays it in relevant searches.

It’s also very important to point that that most local search listings, including Google’s, include reviews of businesses by customers. This enables prospects to research businesses and get a variety of opinions of their products and services from others who have used that business.

For more information or to see local search in action you can visit the Australian versions of their local websites:

Google Maps
Yahoo! Local
Live Search Maps

Who Can Benefit from Local Search?

Many businesses can benefit from local search including businesses who service a specific geographic area to businesses who offer a unique, sought after product or service.

It’s also worth noting that most statistics show a trend in people migrating away traditional methods of finding businesses such as the Yellow Pages to searching online. In fact studies report that up to 70% of shoppers begin on the Internet with their favourite search engine. And Google states 73% of activity online is in one way or another “related to local content”. (Google 5/07)

Here are some examples of how your prospective customers might use local search:

  • To evaluate local companies – in particular service companies and individuals such as cleaners, plumbers, accountants and hairdressers.

  • To book or order a service that is location specific.

  • To hear others experiences of travel and accommodation providers such as hotels, bed and breakfasts and caravan parks.

  • To research a product that they intend to purchase offline i.e. in your store.

  • To find a unique product or service available in a specific area.

6 Steps To Boost Your Local Search Presence

Ok so you’ve realised the importance of local search. Now what? The following six steps will help you boost your local search presence in the three main search engines.

1. Add Location Keywords to Your Website
As well as incorporating the main keywords describing your products and services in your website add keywords related to your locations. I also always recommend adding  your address to each page of your website. And finally, include your location keywords to your page title and meta tags.

2. Link to Your Web Pages Using Local Keywords
Your link reputation (the number and quality of websites linking to you) is an important part of  getting high rankings in the search engines. So when asking for links from other websites be sure to get them to link to you using your main keywords and location phrases. Try to mix them up so you don’t end up with the same link text for each one.

3. Get Local Links
If you’re a business that relies on local business then networking and getting links from other local websites is for you. This strategy will not only help your local listings in the search engines but should help drive targeted, local business to your website.

As well as straight links look at other ways to link up with other relevant local businesses. Some suggestions include running joint promotions, sponsorship of local clubs and sporting groups or competitions.

4. Claim Your Local Search Listings
Claim your local listings at Google Maps, Yahoo! Local and Live Search Maps. At all three search engines you can claim or submit your business listing and then provide information about your business. Doing this can also help boost your reputation with the search engines and give them a higher level of trust and confidence in the information they display about your business in their results.

5. Enhance Your Local Search Listings
Once you’ve claimed your listings in Google, Yahoo! and Live it’s worth taking the time to enhance your listings by providing as much information as possible. Keep in mind that prospects are usually hungry for information so provide business information, photos if applicable, location details and opening hours, payments accepted, areas you service and any other information you feel is necessary.

6. Monitor and Manage Your Online Reputation
As I mentioned above most local search providers include reviews of businesses and their products and services as part of the local listing. These reviews are an incredibly powerful “word of mouth” thumbs up or thumbs down opinion of your business. In the past friends may have shared both positive and negative experiences with your business but now they can share them with anyone who is interested and looking for the information. So I can’t exaggerate the importance of monitoring what’s being said about your business online and if a problem arises stepping in and resolving it.

More than ever before people are using the internet to research products and services they require locally and it’s tipped to increase in importance over the next 10 years. So it’s vital that your business and your website can be easily found by people performing local searches.

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The Google Grail: Getting to the Top

With search engines accounting for up to 75% of visitors to a website, and Google being the dominant player in town, having your website listed and ranking in Google is vital to your online success. In fact not being in Google is like having an unlisted phone number. Unfortunately many business owners discover this to late and are unsure how to rectify the problem. The following article will provide you with a series of strategies to help ensure your site is listed, and at the top of Google’s search results.

There are a number of ways to ensure your website is at the top of Google. The three main approaches I recommend you start with are:

  • Building a Search Friendly Website
  • Optimising (SEO) an Existing Website
  • Implementing a Pay Per Click (PPC) Campaign

Building a Search Friendly Website

If you are about to start building your website you are in the perfect position to ensure your website is designed and built in a search engine friendly manner from the ground up. By search engine friendly I mean a website that is easy for the search engines to find, crawl and index. A search friendly website should also rank highly in the search engines for keyword phrases related to your business.

Unfortunately many web designers have no understanding of the search engines and do not take them into account when creating websites. For this reason it’s important that you find a company that understands how important search engines are and can help you develop and implement a strategy to ensure you are capitalising on the targeted visitors Google can send you.

The first step is to find out what knowledge of the search engines your potential web designer has. if they have none I would suggest looking for some alternative companies. Once you have determined your web designer can help you to create a search engine friendly website it’s time to sit down and discuss the strategies you will adopt. You and your web designer should discuss:

  • Website Goals
  • Your Target Audience
  • Keyword Selection
  • Content Creation

Website Goals

Talk to your web designer about what you want to achieve with your website. This could include generating online sales, attracting targeted leads, increasing newsletter sign ups, online subscriptions, advertising sales and so forth. These goals will help you with the steps outlined in the next few sections.

Your Target Audience

It’s important that you define your target audience(s). Who is your website gong to be targeted to? I would recommend breaking your audience down in terms of:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Location
  • Income
  • Internet skills

It’s also important to consider primary and secondary audiences. Perhaps your main audience are people you want to sell products to but an important secondary audience is existing customers to whom you provide online product support.

Defining your target audience will help you to plan your search friendly strategy. For example whether your online audience is local, Australia-wide or International will have a big effect on the approach you will take in relation to Google.

Keyword Selection

Keywords are the words and phrases that prospective customers type into Google to find products and services they are looking for. Too often businesses fall into the trap of using words they, and their industry have for describing their goods and not those their customers are using. A successful keyword strategy will look at the words your customers are using – this is vital, as they are the ones you are appealing to.

I always recommend you start by brainstorming with your web designer to come up with an initial list of keywords. When undertaking this consider looking at the keywords used by your competitors as well as talking to your existing customers to see how they describe your offerings.

This initial keywords list can then be used by your web designer who will do further research to come up with a list of relevant, regularly used keywords phrases to incorporate into your website.

Content Creation

A main component of any campaign to get to the top of Google includes creating interesting content that encourages other websites to link to you. These “links” help boost the popularity of your website (as well as attracting potential customers) and helps you rank higher in Google.

There are numerus content creation ideas you could consider. They include:

  • Publishing a blog;
  • Hosting forums;
  • Publishing a newsletter;
  • Writing articles on your subject area;
  • Running a topical directory.

These content strategies can be implemented over time and will help your website stand out by containing valuable information relevant to your prospective customers as well as helping your rank higher in Google.

All of this information will help you and your web designer plan and build a website that not only appeals to your target audience but helps propel you to the top of Google. Remember building a website is an ongoing process and working on it steadily over time will help increase your chances of top search rankings.

Optimising (SEO) an Existing Website

If you already have website that is not performing in Google you need to discuss your options with your web designer or a search engine optimisation (SEO) expert. It is important to point out that SEO is a medium to long term strategy. It takes time to implement and see results but once the results start to roll in you will reap the rewards for a long time.

Your SEO or web designer will help you to ensure that your website can be crawled and indexed by Google and will be able to rectify any problems your website may have. They will also help you define your target audience and help you research and select the appropriate keywords for your business (see above in Building a Search Friendly Website) and incorporate them into your website.

Finally they will be able to monitor and track your success and make recommendations to increase your targeted traffic based on your own specific needs.

Implementing a Pay Per Click (PPC) Campaign

The quickest and easiest way to get to the top of Google is to implement a Pay Per Click (PPC) campaign. PPC campaigns are a short to medium term strategy – they can be running within hours and are a great way to drive prospective customers to your website quickly. For this reason a PPC campaign can compliment your SEO efforts. It sends you targeted traffic quickly while you wait for your SEO efforts to kick in.

Pay Per Click (PPC) ads are the sponsored ads you see on search engines such as Google. With Pay Per Click advertising you pay only when a customer clicks on your ad, regardless of how many times it’s shown. You select your search terms and set an amount you are prepared to pay if someone clicks on your ad. When a user searches for, or is using, a search term you have bid for, your ad will appear on the right side of results pages under the heading Sponsored Links. If a user clicks on your ad you pay the amount you bid for that term.

Pay Per Click is a great way to target hundreds of niche keyword terms for a relatively low cost. In addition it is highly targeted and the results are highly quantifiable.

A search marketing professional will be able to help you with ad copywriting, landing page copywriting and design, and set-up and monitor your PPC campaigns. As with building a search friendly website or implementing an SEO campaign you’ll need to sit down and determine your goals, target audience and keyword list. This information will help you develop a successful PPC campaign. PPC campaigns are highly quantifiable which will ensure you can measure the return on your investment (ROI).

By focusing on the 3 strategies above you’ll be in the perfect position to propel your website to the top of Google, ensuring your website receives targeted visitors that you’ll then be able to convert into paying customers.

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Website Health Check: Is Your Site Search Friendly?

Kalena Jordan from Search Engine College has written a great article titled “Secrets Your Web Designer Isn’t Telling You”, in which she asks:

If I was to ask you right now “Are you absolutely certain that your web site is optimized for high visibility in search engines?”, what would you say?

Sadly the vast majority of websites have not been designed with the search engines in mind, and worse, many business owners have no idea that’s the case. And with so much traffic coming from search engines, it’s like being cut off from your air supply.

What to do?

If you already have a website, do some research to see if your site is listed in the search engines — especially Google. A quick way of doing this is to type your business name and/or website address into the search engine to see what results are found. Ideally you should be listed at the top of the results.

As well as making sure your site is in the search engine it’s important to see if your website ranks for keywords related to your business. So if you are a motel located in Bondi, for example, try typing “bondi motels” into the search engine and seeing what is returned. Ideally your website should be prominent. Repeat this for a variety of phrases.

If you are listed and ranking for relevant phrases good for you, however if you are one of the majority who is no where to be found, it’s a good idea to get some outside expertise to help get things sorted.

If you are about to start building a website, it is a good idea to discuss your search engine strategy with your web designers. If they don’t have one, or have no idea what you are talking about I’d suggest firing them and finding someone who does know.

Remember: Having a website that’s not in the search engines is like having an unlisted phone number.

References
Secrets Your Web Designer Isn’t Telling You by Kalena Jordan.
Website Health Check Report by ThinkProspect

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