Website Optimization Lifecycle

June 5, 2009 Category :Online Advertising| Search Engine Optimization| Web Analytics 3

Lately, I’ve been working on a number of local small business websites that are trying to optimize their websites.  Some of these companies have existing websites, others are starting from scratch looking to build the best website platform that will scale to meet their needs.

In order to have a well rounded optimization strategy that can guide you in what you should do for your website, I always recommend taking a step back and looking at the ‘big picture’ – more specifically, where you are at in what I call the website optimization life-cycle.  Optimization really breaks down to the lifetime cost per visitor to convert (what does it mean to convert?).  During different stages of your website’s life, it’s more valuable to invest in different online strategies and to target different visitors.

Before discussing each optimization aspect, I’d like to take a minute to define what each one is:

  • Organic Search – This is a visitor that comes to your website via any search engine or other un-paid link.  In this phase, the goal is optimize your website to get the most organic traffic naturally.
  • Paid Traffic - These visitors get to your website through paid channels: banner ads, paid ads, paid links, etc.  The goal here is, again, just to get more visitors but this time you are paying for them.
  • Testing - Once a healthy stream of qualified and relevant visitors gets to your website, the goal is help them convert into customers more effectively. At this point you may be buying traffic or you may not be, but in order for proper testing to occur, you need a steady stream of visitors.

Note: Each one of these optimization methods should be measured through a fully implemented web analytics tool (Omniture, WebTrends, Google Analytics, etc).

I’ve illustrated the following optimization methods in different stages with the below graphic:

Website Optimization Lifecycle

Website Optimization Lifecycle

Step 1: Website Analytics

Any website optimization process must have a clearly identifiable measure of success.  An Analytics tool is needed to provide an unbiased and clear look into which efforts are most valuable based on a measurable standard (cost/visitor, etc) as well as provide data articulating which optimization efforts were most effective and profitable.  Before this information can be fully trusted, the tool must be properly configured to remove extraneous data.  In order for any optimization to take place, specific website activities must be defined as Conversions (or Goals) so that decisions can be made to effectively maximize Conversions. This is crucial. Without clearly defined goals to associate value, no measurable action can be justified against another.

This step is articulated by the Orange Stripe at the bottom of the above graphic. It should take place during website development and will provide the measurement for each subsequent optimization.

Step 2: Organic Search Optimizations

Organic optimizations require the most investment and take the longest to produce results, but the returns provided by organic search optimizations will not only pay out over time for organic search, but will ultimately lead to lower paid search prices as well when a website owner decides to purchase advertisements in paid search (more below).  When optimizing a website for organic search engines, three key aspects of a website must be considered in order to get the highest return on investment.

Is my website robot friendly?

Because search engines rely on robots (or spiders) to scan all text and automatically catalog each page, a website needs to be reachable and indexible.  Certain technologies like flash greatly reduce the ease by which search engines can crawl your website.  If a search engine spider can’t reach your website then any/all optimizations are wasted.

Is my website talking about the right topics in the right areas?

Because search engines initially based their algorithms on early HTML, the highest ROI is going to come from optimizing the simple HTML tags in your page using the most relevant and popular key terms.  Note that it is exponentially better to focus a little on each element than to try to work on just one.  Did you catch that? Hitting each of the 5 Main HTML Optimization Areas a little bit dramatically improves the effectiveness of your combined page relevancy.

What are other websites in my community saying about my site?

Because search engines rely heavily on your online reputation, its important to keep in mind what other industry based websites are linking to you and what terms they use to tell others about your site. If possible, email your partners and encourage them to use more descriptive text to link to your website (vs. your company or brand name).

Step 3: Paid Advertising Campaigns

Once organic efforts have been maximized and a website is looking to attract additional, qualified visitors, the next step is to begin looking at paid advertising.  Organic optimizations will provide a website with a lower cost per visitor over time, but eventually the return on that effort will decrease to a point where it’s more valuable to tap into the paid advertising market.

Well targeted ads – using paid search for example – can provide qualified traffic to a website for reasonable cost.  In order to effectively understand how valuable a visitor is, a website owner must first decide how much a conversion is worth.  This is where defining a goal value on your site comes in handy. Once that goal value is defined, a webmaster can retro-actively figure out how much to spend trying to acquire that visitor. Using cost-per-acquisition will help you decide how much you should spend online (for example, if purchasing a visitor still provides a decent amount of profit then the smart webmaster would begin purchasing qualified traffic).

It’s also worthwhile to note that most paid search advertisers (Google, Bing, Yahoo!) use what’s called a “Quality Score”.  This quality score rates how well your ad corresponds to the landing page (and offer).  The better the correlation between the text on your landing page and the keywords you are purchasing the lower the price you pay for the ad.  This is a safeguard that search engines hope will provide relevance to the user so that visitors continue to use their search engine.  No one would enjoy clicking on an ad for soft puppies only to find out they are going to a promotional site for knives that cut through tin cans. Having a strong organic strategy in place (and executed) first will first guarantee strong organic rankings but then provide lower advertising costs for all relevant advertisements. A gift that keeps on giving.

Step 4: Ongoing Testing & Optimizations

No optimization plan would be complete without regular testing and user experience optimizations.  Free tools make entry into this phase easy, profitable, and effective.  Once you’ve been able to attract as many visitors to your site naturally (organic search) and adverting – both push and pull methods – its time to focus on the user experience on the site.

Keep in mind that when implementing paid methods it is even more important to make sure that any money you are spending on a visitor helps that visitor through the purchase path (or what ever your goal funnel is) as seamlessly as possible.

There are two primary forms of Testing:

  1. A/B Testing – This testing involves testing two primary layouts of a page and should only be done between two different layout designs.  All content and on-page imagery should be held constant while the layout (or overall design) should be noticeably different.
  2. Multivariate Testing – This testing involves keeping the layout of the page the same but alternating each of the elements with multiple creative options.  For example, changing the heading, alternating between two different graphics, having different sell text, and/or using bullets instead of paragraph content.

A website in the testing phase should begin with A/B Testing in order to confirm what type of layout/design a potential client is more attracted to, then follow up with ongoing multivariate testing to make sure that each element is fully optimized to reach their target clients.

When combining multivariate testing with paid traffic, its always best to pull out a significant sample size from entire campaign, run a multivariate test, then use the winning combination on the full advertising spend.  This will ensure that the greatest amount of people have the greatest chance of completing a desired action (conversion).

Webmaster Accounts vs. Website Registration

February 26, 2009 Category :Web Development 0

So you have a website.  And your hosting company has automatically registered your website with 348 search engines globally.  Wow!  That’s a lot of search engines.  The only problem is there is virtually no value in registering your website with 348 search engines when 95% of the traffic come from 3 search engines (Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft).

Unless you are registering for a niche search engine that’s tailored to your audience, then it’s kind of a waste.

For most websites that are trying to get the most out of search engine registration, there is a simple free tool that provides more than just registration – it provides keyword search information – for your website.

Search engines have evolved quite a bit in the last 4 years by introducing various Webmaster Registration Accounts that allow website owners to register and verify their sites with search engines.  You tell them you own the site , they ask you to prove it by uploading a unique verification code, then presto! they provide you with a list of keywords that results in visits to your site and ways to improve your ranking… for free.

Search engines open the door and provide these free optimization tools (and search information) to webmasters in the hopes that the savvy ones will use that information to optimize and tweak their websites.  That means a better user experience for everyone.  The benefit to search engines is that they can better index your website content, and the benefit to you is that more qualified visitors will be able to get to your website.

If you are looking to begin registering your website with the various search engines, I recommend you begin with Google Webmaster Tools.  Google’s tool has been around the longest and thus been developed a bit more thoroughly than Microsoft’s Webmaster Center or Yahoo! Site Explorer.  It’s worthwhile to register for all three, though, as they are continually improving their tools.

Top 5 WordPress Plugins

January 2, 2009 Category :Web Development 0

If you are a web developer looking for a solid content management tool to use for your website, I highly recommend WordPress 2.7.  It’s an amazing open source CMS tool that has been available for free download since 2003.  Yet, it’s only been in the last two years that I’ve seen some pretty significant leaps that make it consistent recommendable.

Recently, it’s become tremendously easy to install and make automatic upgrades your blog using WordPress (thanks Keith!) and I actually use it for all of my clients who are trying to build their first blog or simple content site on the web.

Because WordPress is easy to install and navigate (and there are a number of free themes to get you started), I highly recommend that anyone with a good amount of HTML experience give it a whirl.  If you don’t have HTML experience but are a small business owner or potential blogger - let me know.

Of course, my Top 5 WordPress Plugins all rotate around good Search Engine Optimization practices and improving the user experience so that both the blog visitor and the blog owner get more value from the website experience.

#1 All in One SEO Pack

Anyone who is anyone will have the plugin on their top plugins list.  It’s a great WordPress Optimization for Search that naturally helps catalog and effectively organize your webpages for search engines.

Search top plugins for WordPress and you’ll see how popular this one is.  (In fact, you’re probably already searching for good plugins).  It’s amazing to me that WordPress hasn’t bundled this plugin with the initial download so it automatically adds ability to create unique title tags and descriptive URLs.  The plugin works so nicely and provides a measurable, noticeable difference when it comes to being found via the search engines.

#2 Permalink Redirect

You never want to loose link equity if you don’t have to.  Whenever you move pages around your site and change the url you are inadvertently uprooting a valuable investment and giving it away.

If you ever need to rename a post or change a link, this great WordPress redirect plugin automatically creates a 301 redirect so that you can safely maintain all of the value through your link building and SEO efforts.  Without it, your visitors could be linking to broken content and you will be throwing away valuable link equity unnecessarily – and who wants to do that?

Broken Link - 404 File Not Found - Browser Error - Dead Link

Broken Link - 404 File Not Found - Browser Error - Dead Link

#3 Google XML Sitemaps

If you want to give your site a little Search Engine kick, get this quick and simple WordPress XML Sitemap Optimization Plugin to help Google keep tabs on your valuable content.

This XML Sitemap file will be updated every time you post and give search engines a single place to look for new content.  Once you’ve enabled this plugin you want to make sure you register your sitemap with all the search engines using their various webmaster registration tools  so that when they crawl, they can utilize your XML sitemap for new indexable content.

  1. Google Webmaster Tools
  2. Yahoo! Site Explorer
  3. Live Webmaster Center

The nice part of this plugin is that it gives WordPress the power to auto-generate or you as the user can manually set your post’s individual value.

#4 WordPress Database Backup

In general, having a great back up can save you from unfortunately loosing your data.  I recommend this sturdy WordPress Database Backup Plugin as a simple way to quickly and effectively create backup files so that you can restore your blog in the event that you loose your site goes sour.

If order to get the best out of the plugin, make sure to backup your data regularly.  At this point, it’s a manual process but I’m hoping they come out with an automatic backup shortly.

#5 AdSense Manager

If you decide to sell advertising with Google AdSense, this plugin works great.  There’s nothing too flashy and although there’s nothing tremendously amazing about this WordPress AdSense Manager - you can do most things via the plugin when directly in Google’s AdSense Manager.

Google AdSense

Google AdSense

But it provides a quick way of adding ad blocks to your website through the Appearence > Widgets menu.  Also, having all the AdSense Manager options available within the WordPress tool can help save time when making a quick ad change.

Bonus: Setup Feedburner!

This isn’t neccesarrily a plugin, but I thought it would be good to include, as setting up a feedburner feed gives your audience the option of quickly and easily staying up-to-date on your posts without having to manually visit your website everyday.

Obviously, more tech-savvy folks use RSS feeds to keep track of all of their favorite blogs but I regularly come across surfers who haven’t yet grasped the RSS revolution and would rather stay updated through regular emails – which can be done for free with Feedburner’s Email Syndication.  There’s also plenty of other tools from Feedburner to help grow your visitor traffic.

Note: If you are using an analytics tool to track visitors, adding an email feed will lead to an immediate drop in site visits but overall it will provide a better user experience that – in time – will reap greater returns for your site.

Simple Website Optimizations for Search Engines – Content

November 16, 2008 Category :Search Engine Optimization 1

Once you have your website built from the ground up for search engines – that is, you are using standard website mark-up for titles, links, headings, etc. – then you it is time to begin thinking about your website’s content.  And by content, I mean a lot of things including your style of prose (language, voice, keywords, etc.) as well as the type of digital information you keep on your websites (imagery, video, links, etc.).

Below are my quick and dirty, simple website content optimizations that any novice search engine optimizer can begin using on their website.

Use your audience’s language

Know how your audience speaks and what your target market is saying.  An “SEO” way of saying this is target the right keywords!

If your website is chalk full of the word “motorcycle” but your audience is searching for “hog” or “motor bike” as well, then there is a big disconnect between you and your audience.  Since you are strictly using one type of language and your audience a wide variety, try to incorporate those other keywords by enriching the sites vocabulary.

Stay cutting edge – and write about it

Try to keep up to speed in your industry or at least your favorite topics – and write about them.  Most search engine spiders value new and relevant information.  Especially around new topics.

So as your industry, company, or even blogging-topic-of-choice grows and develops a new product or service, develop and opinion about it and share it with the world.  You’ll not only begin to add that new up-and-coming keyword to your websites collection of keyword assets, but you’ll communicate to your audience that you’re knowledgeable and active in your space.

Think Multimedia

Don’t forget to incorporate video, imagery, and other multimedia into your posts.  With the ease of YouTube you can make videos and upload them to your site.  And with Twixtr you can take photos from your phone and upload them to the web.  It’s not only the keywords that are going to make your content valuable, but as search engine bots become more and more sophisticated, they will be able to crawl the other multimedia items you have and index audio content along with textual information.

Widgets & Gadgets

Adding extra widgets and gadgets to your website borders on the optimizing your website for popularity along with content.  I’m including it here because sometimes a branded widget or special tool can become a novelty in itself and can warrant topical content creation.   Thus, if you have the ability and ingenuity to create online widgets in your space, take the time and hammer one out.

Simple Website Optimizations for Search Engines – Markup

August 25, 2008 Category :Search Engine Optimization 5

As mentioned previously there are simple Search Engine Optimization Updates you can make to your website that simply enable a search engine robot to more effectively index your site.  I mean really, why not?  Some times it’s as simple as using standard markup and at other times it’s as simple as taking a look at what you can communicate to search engines and leveraging that information (like unique page titles). What I tell clients is that search engines are just really big, dynamic, automated librarians.  A search engine’s only goal is to catalog the web, then help you find the results you need based on your query.   That’s all.

The more you can help a search engine catalog your website effectively – the better.  And one of the primary ways is good markup.  Play by the rules, use good mark up, and search engines (librarians) will know who you are and where you belong in results pages. Here’s a collection of some simple website optimizations that enable search engines to better catalog your site for the vast majority of internet users who start their website visit via a search engine.

Use <H1>, <H2>, & <H3> tags

Resist the urge to use spans for all of your formatting.  Basic html was built on the old heading tags.  Search engines use headings to effectively catalog what your page is about. Also, search engines need to catalog each page based on one primary topic.  Your primary topic should be in your Heading 1 tag – and there should only be one.  Having more than one heading 1 tag essentially divides that value between two separate on-page titles.  To make sure you get the most bang for your buck, use one heading that encompasses one unique topic per page.  Use your secondary and tertiary headings for the rest.

Use your <title> tag

The next most important way to help search engines (and visitors) better catalog your website is to include unique title tags for every page.  Again, a search engine wants to index and catalog unique content.  Each web page should be about one specific topical item and your title should be a unique identifier for that page. Google Nalgene Search Results Imagine you search for “nalgene” and you get the following results: You’ll notice that the titles of both of the links don’t tell us anything about the page content for to each link.  This is a bad user experience that doesn’t help you with 1) usability or 2) search.

Know what Bots Can & Can’t Do

Think like a search engine bot.  They can only do one thing (at this point in time) – click a link … then click another link.  Bots can’t write cookies to their machines.  Bots can’t click on a drop down list to select a specific piece of content.  Bots can’t crawl flash effectively. Find your valuable content areas on your site and make sure they are accessible for a search engine bot.  In fact this sounds like a good post to put together in the future – trouble shooting your website for robots.  :)

Save your Link Equity & Redirect!

Making changes to your website content?  Changing urls?  Each page you have on your website has been gaining value since the day you published it.  Over time this “link equity” builds up.  Search engines like to give older websites more equity because they’ve been around longer. Don’t loose that equity instead make sure to set up a proper 301 redirect.  Not sure how to do that?  Here’s a link that has the most popular ways to set up a proper 301 redirect. Okay, so this was just a start.  Let me know if you’ve found this useful.  I’ll be putting together a few more optimization posts that cover more issues! Stay Tuned.