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Debunking SEO Myths – part 1

First off, let me say Happy New Year to everyone! As we all reluctantly settle back in to a “regular” work schedule, devoid of festivities, short work weeks and staff parties, we can keep our eyes ahead on what is sure to be an exciting year in SEO

I was reading a great blog post ( http://www.highrankings.com/8-seo-myths ) from Jill Whalen, CEO of High Rankings, a Boston SEO Services Agency where she was debunking popular SEO myths. I wanted to repost a couple of them here in an effort to spread some of her wisdom and to take the opportunity to add my own two cents in to the mix.

SEO Myth #3: You can’t use tables in your HTML code

"This one makes me want to scream. HTML tables have been easily spider-able by search engines since the search engines were newly hatched. As far as I know, table code has never been anything that choked the search engines. I think this myth was propagated by website developers who advocate table-less designs to make you think you’ll somehow get better rankings out of their designs. You won’t."

Search Engine bots expect to find TABULAR data in a table so it should not be used for the formatting graphical elements. CSS, DIVs and TABLEs are (or should only be) used for presenting information to the reader and not used for the formatting and placement of graphics. Tables should focus on the physical layout of the page and are all about the presentation of the content and information to the reader.

The Search Engine bots are more concerned with the logical use of W3C compliant HTML code on a webpage to determine its content and how to categorize the information in the context of the presented formal language structure as it reads through the page (i.e.: the div, H1, h2, table data, blockquote etc).

Tables of course should be used in moderation. Avoid the use of nested tables. They can work great for a basic site but the strength of CSS is in its ability to automatically apply global changes to a site. You will not be necessarily penalized for using tables, but there reaches a point where CSS makes more sense. Page elements and physical layouts will always be rendered faster and more efficiently using a mathematical algorithm than a table that uses percentiles etc, to determine placement and size.

SEO Myth #5: You can’t use Flash on your website

"Yes, you can! While I don’t recommend that you create your entire website in Flash, using bits of Flash here and there for some cool effects will not bother or choke the search engines in the least. They don’t punish, penalize or otherwise nuke into oblivion sites that have Flash on them. You should of course avoid putting important content into your Flash elements, and also remember that some mobile devices such as the iPhone and iPad don’t support Flash. But if you add alternative text for non-Flash-enabled browsers, all should be well."

Since 2008, Google has been able to interpret links and some content from Flash elements. More recently they have the ability now to read meta information from them and to parse the textual content of the site. This means that while there have been some great advancements within the Google algorithm, it is still cannot fully interpret flash movies and that we are still some ways from where you can safely use flash on your website concordantly with effective SEO techniques. In the meantime, HTML 5 is gaining widespread implementation and is being touted by some as the “death of flash” ( http://www.readwriteweb.com/start/2010/01/death-to-flash-3-great-html-5.php )”. From what I have seen of these examples, I might be inclined to agree.

So what can we take away from this? The world of SEO/SEM is very fluid and is constantly evolving. To be effective as possible as web marketing analysts, we must keep our ears to the ground (or to the web) for new changes and developments that make the SEO industry to dynamic and exciting. The best way to do this is to read popular SEO blogs such as Jill Whalen’s to keep abreast of the new going-ons.

SEO news blog post by @ 10:33 pm on January 13, 2011


 

Increasing Website Conversions For The Holidays

As we watch the holidays fast approaching many (if not all) only retailers are trying to find ways to increase their sales.  Unfortunately it’s now too late for any major organic SEO initiatives but that’s not to say there aren’t things you can do to help you profit from this season of frenzied buying.  Published this morning is my latest article on just this subject.  It focuses on some simple ways to improve your website conversions.  Of course – it’s also going to be important for you to look at other traffic streams such as PPC, shopping engines, etc. but I’ll leave that for another author – I wanted to focus on ways to profit more highly from the traffic you do have.

If you read the article you’ll find some very simple-to-implement ideas and links to some of my favorite resources and tools for conversions optimization. Enjoy and happy holidays. :)

You’ll find the article on our website at http://www.beanstalk-inc.com/articles/design/holiday-conversions.html.

SEO news blog post by @ 6:21 pm on November 22, 2010


 

Learning SEO: Five Site Design SEO Faux Pas

No one ever said that designing a website was easy. If they did, they were probably trying to sell a CMS (content management system) to you. Some of the biggest web design/seo faux pas are listed below. Not only are they problems from an end-user experience, but from an SEO perspective as well.

Granted these are just the tip of the iceberg, but many of us who have been involved with site design for any length of time have probably been guilty of at least a few of these practices ourselves. In my opinion these are five major ones that should be avoided:

  1. Splash Pages: Nothing says the year 2005 like a large graphic on a useless page. Typically these are graphically intense; textually-light pages that only have a few links in to your site. Not only do these large graphics (and usually Flash animations) slow down load times, but they also keep people from getting immediately to the information they are looking for.
  2. Frames: In a perfect world (or perfect Internet), frames would have been outlawed many years ago. Despite the logical organizational benefits, this archaic practice looks to bots as multiple pages and cause very difficult problems for them trying to parse the linking structure between them.
  3. Bad Code: This one can’t be stressed enough. Keep things light, clean and simple and semantically defined ( http://www.w3.org/2001/sw/ ). What is valid code? Any html document should be able to pass through the validation service provided by the W3C ( http://validator.w3.org/ ). This ensures that Google’s bots will have the easiest time possible parsing your website data. It also helps to ensure that the page will load as quickly as possible due to the fact.
  4. HTML Tables: An increasingly outdated practice is the use of tables to format the layout and structure of html documents. At this point in the game, everyone should be using only CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) for all page layouts and formatting of text.
  5. Flash: Flash created a revolution in terms of site design. No longer were we destined to look at boring static html pages. Now we could have animation, lights, glam and pizzazz! It was a web design trend that many wannabe web designers got caught up in (including this writer).

The Sad fact is that Flash has next to 0% SEO merit. There are times and places were the interactivity of Flash aids in site flow or user experience, but use it sparingly. Even though the user feels they are browsing a site of many pages, the truth is that Google only sees it as one big page, devoid of content.

Surprisingly, many people still incorporate many of these design/seo faux pas today. Most of these practices are out of antiquated and have been replaced by better technologies and practices. Yet much to my chagrin, I still come across many newer sites using these practices.

Remember to always ask yourself: “WWGD?” (What Would Google Do?)…or more importantly, “WDGL?” (What Does Google Like?).

SEO news blog post by @ 10:06 pm on September 30, 2010


 

How HTML 5 Will Change SEO Forever

Conceived by the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG), HTML 5 has been the basis of a W3C working group since 2007. The first working draft of the new HTML 5 specification on was released in January 2008. (source: http://www.w3.org/TR/html-design-principles/ )

As mentioned over at WebConfs.com, on the surface, HTML 5, other than the exciting <canvas> element, does not appear to be much different than its predecessor, HTML 4. It will still be XML based and is not making any moves towards being a scripting language like PHP or similar complex programming languages. It looks like the new standard will mainly introduce more effective tags for organizing the content of a webpage to make it more readable by search engine spiders. The main prerequisite of HTML 5 was to keep it accessible to the masses and to have it continue being backwards compatible…which means you will not have to re-learn the whole language.

Most HTML 4 content is currently wrapped in <div> or <span> tags regardless of what it is. New tags introduced by HTML 5 have a more semantic meaning. Tags like the <article>, <nav>, <footer>, <header>, <dialogue> and <aside> (which can be used to indicate a piece of content removed slightly from the rest of the page in terms of relevance) will be increasingly important for SEO efforts. The new <audio>, <video> and <dialogue> tags will be part of the upcoming HTML 5 standard and will allow for further segregation of page content in relevant categories.

The biggest change with the new standard will be the concept of Page Segmentation. Google already has a patent for this and many believe that the practice is already in use today. Currently, there is no way for a website developer to tell the bots how to segment the pages correctly. By dividing pages in to separate sections, a cleaner more organized structure will be created allowing for increased efficiency by bots to parse your pages for content. This also means that bots are able to more efficiently analyze the segments individually and are not wasting time trying to divine content from navigation, scripts, css and other inline elements. This will drastically increase the understanding of the relevancy of the page and will allow bots to rank multi-topic pages more accurately.

Here are some of most important new HTML 5 tags and how they will relate to SEO:

<article>
The new article tag is probably one of the best additions to HTML 5 from an SEO perspective. This new tag will allow SEO’s to mark separate entries in online publications. It will clean up the code by reducing the need for excessive <div> tags. Search engines will probably place more importance on the content wrapped in the <article> tag compared to content on the other parts of the page.

<section>
The new section tag will be used to further organize the structure of the HTML document. By using the new <section> tag to identify separate sections on a page/chapter/book and maintaining a consistent hierarchical structure, each section can have its separate HTML heading. As with the <article> tag, it can be assumed that search engines will place more attention on the contents of identified sections. If the words of a search string are found in one section for instance, this implies higher relevance, as compared to when these words are found all across the page or in separate sections.

<header>
Not to be confused with the <head> element, the <header> tag is similar to the <h1> tag. The key difference being that it can contain <h1> elements, text content and hard –coded links (bonus!) and anything else you like. This one will be huge to SEOs!

<footer>
While maybe not as important as the new <header> tag, this new tag will also allow for lots of “extra” SEO content. The real bonus is that both the <header> and the <footer> tags can be used repeatedly in each <section> of the page. This gives a lot of flexibility for SEOs!

<nav>
The new <nav> tag allows for the definition of site navigation or a series of internal or external links. This is another instance of HTML5 trying to organize page content in order to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the bots that parse your site for content.

Like all W3C implementations it will take some time for the standard to be completely ratified and for people to begin implementing the new tags into their website design. Once enough web pages are using the new HTML 5 standards, search engines will inevitably begin to use it to improve search results in the SERPs. Links and content within certain tags will be treated differently than from those using redundant or archaic tags making the new HTML markup far more important to SEO efforts than it is currently.

Unlike other less popular HTML recommendations for past standardizations, I think this one is long overdue and will be embraced by SEOs and SEMs alike. Embrace the change and start building your sites with an eye on the not too distant future. Fortune favours the prepared!

SEO news blog post by @ 5:10 pm on August 10, 2010


 

Googe Fonts

Have you ever wanted to use a font on your website and weren’t able to simply because it wasn’t a web-safe font?  Perhaps you wanted a beautiful scrolling heading but knew that doing so would require creating an image heading and really – that’s just not good SEO is it?

Last week the solution to this issue was brought to my attention by Jacob Gube over on the Mashable site in his article on the implementation of Google’s New Google Font API.  Basically this is a standardized mechanism for pulling in external font definitions into IE, Firefox, Safari, etc. allowing designers and website owners to finally use the fonts they feel would best work with their design.

I’m not going to bother outlining how it works, Jacob does a great job so head on over to the article on the Mashable site at http://mashable.com/2010/07/29/google-font-api-guide/.

SEO news blog post by @ 9:28 pm on August 4, 2010

Categories:css,Google

 

Who needs a mobile website?

I’ve refrained from joining the plethora of mobile web users so far due to the fact that I’ve never wanted to surf the web on a squished cell phone screen at near dial-up speeds, but online hand held devices are becoming larger and more user friendly all the time with bigger displays, better software, and increased network speeds. Meaning that the time is “now” to catch the wave (and the gravy train) of the mobile web boom.

We’re already seeing incredible growth in the number of people using mobile devices to surf the web all around us. I think this is just the foundation for the exponential growth that is going to take place over the next few years and it will be one of the next great booms and revolutions of the internet. Entrepreneurs will find new services for mobile web surfers that we didn’t know we needed.

Up until last week I would’ve probably asked the same question many of you will ask. “Who needs a mobile website?” Who would surf the web on that tiny screen with that clunky interface at those terrible speeds?

That is until I heard that Panago (a pizza shop here in Victoria BC) has their menu on a cell phone friendly webpage and that if I were driving through an unfamiliar town I could find some good grub without even pulling over to find a phonebook. Even better, wouldn’t have to go to the restaurant or find a wireless access point for my laptop to even look at a menu? Alright, you’ve sold me. Now the question is, “Who doesn’t need a mobile website?”

Imagine you go into Walmart and have a look around but wonder if Target has the item for cheaper. Well if you’re one of the current mobile web surfer geeks who is ahead of the curve you’re going to be frustrated that the rest of the world hasn’t caught up with the convenience and services that businesses could be offering you online via mobile-friendly websites. But in a short time you’ll be able to walk down the isles of one store and on an impulse, pull out your smart phone and compare prices with other nearby stores.

In the near future providing mobile websites and services for your customers will be a must. There will be new conveniences to offer and new expectations from consumers. Businesses that don’t keep up with the conveniences may find themselves losing customers to more tech-friendly competitors. Businesses that do should see a lot of extra attention considering it doesn’t cost much to build and maintain a mobile website in comparison to daily business operations and advertising expenses.

I imagine this will be the next big .com style boom. The borders of yet another digital land of intrigue and opportunity are in front of us. Welcome, once again, to the Wild West.

SEO news blog post by @ 1:07 pm on June 23, 2009

Categories:mobile

 

Picking A Web Designer

As an SEO we get two kinds of sites; those that were designed in the past and where the designer is no longer involved, and the sites where the design is either ongoing or we are working with the web designers from the start. Both of these have their pros and cons as an SEO but there is a clear advantage of one over the other for the client.

First, let’s discuss the pros and cons to the SEO. If we are coming in after the design is completed there are more than likely (and by that I mean 99.9% likely) some structural and or major design issues that will need to be addressed. Unless the web designer is skilled in SE-friendly design we are going to have our work cut out for us just dealing with structural issues. On the positive side of this scenario, we’re left to just work on the site with no designer taking it personally when we tell them we need to make changes (and that can lead to some issues).

Now let’s look at the other scenario. Working with a designer has it’s cons which is generally – we’re going to have a designer taking it personally when we need changes made to the structure of a site or challenging us when we’re arguing that while an all-Flash site is visually appealing, it leaves something to be desired from and SEO standpoint. This conversation generally goes something like this (and all you SEO’s out there can sing along):

SEO – Flash cannot be properly read in the same way as HTML and we need to have easily spidered content for the search engines to see.

Designer – Flash can be read by Google.

SEO – But not in the same way. We need multiple pages of optimized content and Flash just isn’t going to provide that.

Designer – Well I disagree (probably read in some forum somewhere that a misc. guy had no problem ranking for “bob wyverniuschuck artist” with a Flash site) but even if that’s true – it’s the conversion that counts and this Flash site is going to convert.

SEO – Yes we understand that conversions are important but so is traffic. If we can’t get traffic to the site then a 100% conversion ratio is irrelevant.

Designer – There are other ways to get traffic.

SEO – <big sigh> Yes I understand that but this is what the client has hired us to do and has asked that we work together to build an attractive site that ranks well.

Designer – I’m going to have to talk to them about this …

SEO – <another big sigh in preparation to talk to the client about the fact that you DIDN’T say conversions are irrelevant, etc. etc.>

So this is the down side and an extreme example of it (for humor as much as illustration). But there’s a big upside and that comes when you have the opportunity to work with web designers who know how important SEO is (as an SEO who knows how important a good design is). Working to balance the two can be a daunting task and having the skills of the SEO matched with the skills of the web designer can be a true blessing. For example, I may have a great idea to make a site more easily navigated by search engines but an ugly solution to implement it whereas the designer may have a more attractive solution in mind if they know the problem and the technical solution.

Such a scenario has recently come about in our dealings with Moonrise Design. Moonrise contacted us in advance of their starting work for a client, had us sit in on conference calls to understand the client’s needs and has since had us helping structure the site properly from the ground up. There is no resistance and we don’t tell them what to do, we indicate the functions required – provide any technical background as necessary – and they implement it in a way that leaves the site FAR more attractive than if we had had to do it ourselves. Expert designers doing what they do best and understanding that what we do is SEO and the client wants to rank highly. Ah, it’s a beautiful thing.

It is this experience and reflecting back on other web designers we’ve worked smoothly with in the past that inspired me to write this article. The article is more for potential clients of designers than for the designers themselves. So for those looking for a designer – if you want your site to rank highly and/or you’ll be hiring an SEO – here’s what to look for.

Picking A Web Designer

There are two main considerations that you’ll need to make when you’re picking your web designer. The first is, can they build an attractive site and the second is can they build a search engine friendly site?

Building an attractive site:

I am probably the last person to ask about what’s attractive and what’s not. When the Beanstalk site was up for a redesign a couple years ago I hired a professional web design company to build it. I can’t create pretty things but I know how to test and I know how to monitor statistics to see if the traffic is behaving as I would hope.

Here’s what to look at:

When you’re choosing a designer take a look at their portfolio – put some of their designs past people in your target demographic and see what they think. It’s also wise to view the sites of the leaders in your industry to see what they’re doing (and maybe even who designed their sites). Just because you like something doesn’t mean it’s effective to your target market.

You also need to know if your designer is skilled at conversion optimization. Have they read such works as Enquiro’s eye tracking studies. Have they done their research (or have you) regarding which colors make people act in which ways? These are extremely important issues to be aware of. If you look at the eye tracking studies – the Beanstalk site places our logo, the Hacker Safe logo and main title in the key zones. We also went with green giving a natural (easy on the eyes) feel that implies wealth and is strongly associated with money. When we changed to our current design the effects were immediately detectable in how our visitors behaved visiting more pages for longer periods of time and, most importantly, increasing our communication with us significantly.

If your designer is not aware of these things do not despair, they may be a fine designer indeed and may have this understanding intuitively (though a little research to back up any intuition is always a sound policy). That said, be aware of the information that is out there and ask questions when you’re asked to approve designs.

Building a search engine friendly site:

This is crucially important but probably one of the areas we have to address most frequently. I can’t possibly get into all the various areas of search engine friendly design so I’ll simply list off a couple of the most common issue we encounter and then provide references to other reading.

Enormous amounts of code on the page. For some reason, even some new designs are coming to us as though they were out of 1998 as far as the page code is concerned. All skilled web designers should have a solid grasp of CSS and should be putting all the main formatting into this file(s). Way too often we’re getting sites with dozens of font tags, color tags, size tags, etc. etc. etc. This just gives the search engines a lot more to dig through to find what they want – the content. I’m not even going to get into tables as that opens a whole other can of worms. If your site is table-based (your designer or SEO will be able to tell you this if you don’t know) there are some basic practices to insure that the code these tables add is minimized. Unfortunately I can’t get into the myriad of different situations this can entail and will have to save it for a future article (so be sure to bookmark our SEO blog to keep up-to-date on that and other developments in the industry).

Bad internal links. You want your internal pages to rank. Most sites will generally target the highest priority phrases on the homepage of the site but the internal pages are the ones that will rank for specific products, services and long tail phrases. To maximize the rankability of the internal pages you need them to be easily found by the spiders and you need to associate these pages with the keywords you’re targeting. In short, you need to link to them with text and you need that text to include the keywords. This isn’t some deep, dark mystery of SEO and has been well documented and commented on but we’ve seen tons of instances where internal links are image only or worse, an unspiderable script-based navigation system.

If your designer is using image or script-based navigation for aesthetic reasons that’s fine. In fact, it’ll likely leave you with a more appealing site visually however you need to make sure your key pages are linked to in the content of you homepage or from text in the footer to insure they get found and spidered quickly and easily.

Over-optimized pages. I love seeing websites that were developed by a web designer who “knows SEO” and has stuffed so many keywords and header tags into the pages that it reads more like an eye chart than sales copy. I can’t list all the abuses that exist out there but here’s a quick sample of what your page shouldn’t read like (and I’ll use digital cameras as the example again):

Digital Cameras

Digital cameras are very useful. When you need digital cameras to take digital pictures you’ll want to look for our cameras first. Our digital cameras are the best digital cameras you can buy online. So when you want to buy digital cameras online be sure to visit our store and buy digital cameras online from us at the lowest prices.

Can you see what’s wrong there? Well so can the search engines. Your pages should read like your writing for a visitor and not a search engine. Yes you need to make sure your keywords get in there (which should be easy since that’s what the searchers is looking for information on) but you’re not looking to cram them in with a density of 30%. If you can get a density of around 3% and kept the content easily read by your human visitors then you’ve done well.

I mentioned that I couldn’t possibly list all the horrendous issues we’ve encountered from designers in the past but I also promised to list some other resources you can visit for additional information. Here they are:

If you see your web designer doing one or all of these then know in advance, you or your SEO is going to have some major hurdles to jump through.

SEO news blog post by @ 11:04 am on April 25, 2007

Categories:web design

 

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