Archive for January, 2010
Earned media spending to see biggest increase
Though not immune to the recession, digital marketing rode out the downturn, and marketers worldwide are bullish about the space’s prospects in 2010, according to research from the Society of Digital Agencies (SoDA).
The “2010 Digital Marketing Outlook” report found that 81% of the brand executives surveyed expected an increase in digital projects in 2010, and one-half will be moving dollars from traditional to digital budgets. Further, more than three-quarters think the current economy will push more allocations to digital.
Senior marketers reported that social networks and applications were their biggest priority for 2010, followed closely by digital infrastructure. While social media marketing looks set to stay top of mind, a majority of respondents considered a range of digital activities at least “important,” with only games failing to inspire widespread interest.
As paid traditional media investments stagnated or decreased, paid digital spending has held steady or gone up, usually by less than 30%. But “unpaid/earned/proprietary” media spending has seen the sharpest rise, with nearly one-fifth of respondents reporting increases of more than 30%. Climbing unpaid-media spending is likely an effect of the increased emphasis on social networks, where the most effective efforts are earned, not bought.
Marketers are looking closely at measures of engagement. Respondents considered time spent on a site to be the most important performance metric, followed by unique page views.
Despite a bright outlook for digital, the report warned marketers that they must keep pushing for advances in the channel.
“Digital agencies must avoid complacency at all costs and continue to focus on driving innovation as well as engaging consumers with relevant dialog in uncharted and fast-moving channels,” said Steve Wages, interim executive director of SoDA, in a statement.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is not pixie dust or snake oil. It’s a group of fundamental things that when done to a website it makes your site more accessible and usable. The thing that I tell people all the time is “A search bot is your dumbest blindest user. If you aren’t creating your site with that in mind then you aren’t accounting for this then you aren’t accounting for everyone.” What is great is that SEO really is just following web best practices. For a college that is trying to be Section 508 compliant this is a huge step in the right direction. The problem is that to so many people SEO has been given a bad name from people that “game” the system. It’s not that complicated or difficult to do 80% of the stuff properly. It’s that people simply do not know any better.
In its basic form there are two types of SEO, On-Page SEO and Off-Page SEO. This week we’ll look at On-Page SEO, and next week we’ll take a look at Off-Page SEO.
Introduction to Search Engine Optimization
Before we really dig in, if SEO is brand new to you then I highly suggest reading this post I wrote a while back, How to SEO a College Homepage 101. SEO revolves around keywords and placement of those keywords in specific locations on a page. This enables search engines to recognize that that page should show up in Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) for that keyword. We’ll talk about doing keyword research another time though.
What Matters On-Page
There are five elements that really matter to the On-Page optimization process. Are these the only five things? Of course not. But if you can handle these five basic things and do them properly then you will see a solid return and are probably 80-90% optimized. Of these five, there are three that are most important so let’s discuss them first.
Page Titles are the single most important SEO element on a page. Most people don’t pay attention to them because they aren’t an element that we spend a lot of time looking at. But page titles are EXTREMELY important for search results. The page title is the title of the search result and if it’s not relevant or says something as basic as “HOME” then how is this going to convince people to click on it at all?
Page titles should have relevant keywords (relevant means describing what this page is about) while also being no longer than 70 characters (because this is the limit that will show up in search results). Try and get the important keywords to the front of the title, and if there is room it’s perfectly ok to stick the name of the site at the end. The page title should tell me what THIS page is about and should be convincing in order to stand out in a long list of search results.
From a usability standpoint describing what the page is about in the URL can help someone figure out what they are clicking on when you send the link to someone through an email. It also is the only way that a search engine will know what the page is about from the URL. You definitely want to keep it short and friendly, but having a few relevant keywords can go a long way towards ranking for those keywords. This is one of those things that most Content Management Systems (CMS) just suck at doing right. Having a long URL of a bunch of random characters that a database can read in order to pull unique content might work, but it doesn’t tell anyone what the article is about.
Take a look at the following two articles both about a recent Braves game and try to tell me what you think the articles are about.
*Note: If you have a content management system that creates URL’s filled with ID numbers and want to make it more friendly you probably want to ask about “URL aliasing” or “URL mod rewrite” for your system.
If you haven’t heard of semantic markup then it’s definitely worth spending some time reading about it. Anyway what we are talking about here is specifically H1, H2, H3, and H4 HTML elements on a page. This means that your page title shouldn’t simply be bold but actually wrapped in Header tags and the same for subsections. Think of a word document that asks you to use Header elements. It is the same idea here. In fact all the sections of this document are in various levels of header elements. For those designers out there it’s as simple as setting up CSS to style the various header elements as you see fit.
Meta Keywords and Meta Description
The final two elements are the meta elements on the page, meta keywords and meta description. Although Google currently does not even look at meta keywords because of their nature to be abused, it is still a best practice and if they were to decide to start looking at meta keywords again you will be ahead of the game with minimal work to do. I recommend 3-5 meta keywords per page of content, but never waste your time optimizing for more than 10.
Meta descriptions on the other hand are still used and can help people decide to click on your listing in the search results. They don’t always show up, but if it is appropriate it can be what convinces people to click on your result and not the one above or below it. Be sure to get your keywords in the description and do not go overboard. One or two sentences are plenty and no more than 150 or so characters.
[Update: as Brad notes in the comments it's better to have no Meta description than to have the same meta description on every page on your site and he is absolutely correct. This can do more harm than good if each page's meta description, and keywords for that matter, aren't relevant and unique to that page of content.]
So just to recap the five elements on a page that matter the most towards on-page optimization:
- Page Titles
- Header Elements (Semantic Markup)
- Meta Description
- Meta Keywords
I flopped Meta Description and Meta Keywords because a description is more important than keywords in the meta elements. If you can do these things correctly you are well on your way to making your site easily found in search engines.
What do you think? Anything else that you do to a page and think REALLY matters that I should have listed? I would love to hear your thoughts.
I know that I’ve recently covered On-Page SEO, but I’m bringing back two of the specific elements. In my job at HubSpot one of the things that I teach people is how to optimize their site for search engines. (Just to be clear, no I’m not an SEO consultant because that is only one small part of the equation) In going over that I think it is just so vital to continually stress that search engine optimization is simply about usability and accessibility. If you have read Steve Krug’s book “Don’t Make Me Think” then it you know exactly what I’m talking about when it comes to usability and accessibility. If you haven’t read the book then you have some required reading to do.
So when someone performs a search in Google or any of the other search engines, a nice list of results is returned. In these results we see two things: the Page Title and a short description. Now as I’ve explained before, most of the time the description is pulled from the meta description of the page. When it isn’t pulled from the meta description it is pulled from content on the page, and this tends to happen when that content includes keywords that were in your search and not in the meta description.
So go back and look at any webpage and chances are you don’t pay a lot of attention to the page title, do you? Of course not. It is way at the top of the page and not actually included in the visual content on that page. It is the same for the meta data as you would have to actually go view the source code to see this. Even then if you aren’t familiar with HTML code it might take a little while to actually figure out where to look.
So from a design or content specific purpose these two elements of your webpage have absolutely no functionality at all. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t extremely crucial though. Hopefully you are already familiar with calls to action and why you should have them strategically placed on your website. Calls to actions drive individuals to pages that you want them to see or conversion pages where you can gather information or payment from visitors. Think of your Page Title and Meta Description this way…they are your calls to action in search results that make your page stand out from the other result, saying “This is what this page is about and why you want to click on me and visit our site.”
To give a higher education example, let’s say that our school had an excellent biology program and we wanted to tell everyone that. So someone might go searching for “top ranking biology program.” Take a look at these Google results and decide for yourself what results you find most compelling. Also notice the interesting results that Yahoo and Microsoft’s new Bing return on the same search. So you tell me. If you were an interested top biology prospective student looking for a good school which results would “call” you?
Press releases are not only great ways to spread the word about any announcements your business might have. They can also drive traffic, particularly from search engines. This is not news, but it's a commonly overlooked fact.
"Search engine rankings are arguably the most important small business marketing tool available today because it drives Web traffic -- and potential prospects -- to a small business' Web site," a PRWeb spokesperson once told WebProNews. "However, because improving search rankings is desirable, achieving results can be both challenging and highly competitive."
Back in the summer, PRWeb shared a case study with us, involving a firm that typically sees a boost in search engine rankings and a 50% spike in web traffic after they issue a release. In fact, for one release in particular, the firm saw a spike of 400% on two different Web sites, and the firm doesn't believe they were from the same users. They also incorporate social media tools like Twitter to extend the "shelf life" of press releases, and say that drives additional traffic.
"When we included a link to our press releases on Twitter and other social media networks, we saw these both expanded the scope of distribution and the extended the longevity of the announcement," the CEO of the company behind the case study had said. "With other news releases we saw an initial spike in Web site traffic on the first two days and then it dropped off. With these features we've seen increases in traffic up to five days after the news release was issued."
In a study from Arketi Group, also back in the summer, journalists were found to use the web in the following ways:
- 95% search
- 92% reading news
- 92% emailing
- 89% finding story ideas
- 87% finding news sources
- 75% reading blogs
- 64% watching webinars
- 61% watching YouTube
- 59% social networks
You've got to wonder if that social networks number has gone up by now. My guess is that it has, and social media has since become all the more important to search, particularly with the inclusion of real-time search results in Google and Google's social search experiment (which may eventually move beyond experiment status).
Marty Weintraub, the President of aimClear shared some great tips and insight into the use of press releases for search in a recent interview with WebProNews. Among other things, he noted that when you do a press release, you're "hitching a ride" in the search engine results and news results. You can use outbound links in press releases, and perhaps more importantly, you're out there where the journalists are looking.
Here are some press release distribution sites (some are paid and some are free):
- Business Wire
- PR Newswire
- 24-7 Press Release
- PR Zoom
- PR Leap
- PR Log
Beyond the distribution sites, don't forget to include your releases on your own site. Journalists like being able to find the most up to date information from the source itself. Earlier this year I discussed how some companies' own press centers are holding back some marketing opportunities for them. Your site should have a section for press releases, and that should be up to date with the latest release when it goes out. You'd be surprised at how often these go without being updated even when a press release has been spotted elsewhere. It is also a good idea to link to any company blogs, Twitter accounts, or any other place where company announcements are made.
I don't usually do this but I put a bid in for this job last year and I have to say... they got what they paid for! As far as I can see this site will do them no good and if I remember correctly it does not look like what they envisioned either.
What's wrong with this site?:
- Will never be indexed correctly with Google or any other search engine. Why you ask? The navigation is in Flash. Google and other search engines will not be able to read it to find the other pages.
- No sitemap.xml file... so it wasn't submitted to Google, Bing or Yahoo for indexing. At least this would help minimize the damage of the flash navigation.
- Umm... Title Tags!!!! This is a train wreck. I can't even begin to tell you how bad this is for SEO best practices.
- Music plays when you hit the landing page. Many studies have shown that this annoys the hell out of people! Don't ever do this! It's like hitting a MySpace page... Ugh!
- The design... gasp! What can I say... the design is not consistent across the site! Some pages have a white background, some pages are left aligned.
- The designer used tables (tr,td's)... although many do, I prefer div's and CSS. Lighter code which means it loads faster and easier to update.
- Email address given on contact page (not masked). Can we say SPAM! Oh, and the big email image (animated Gif)... so 90's and completely unprofessional looking.
- Typography???... GASP again. Times New Roman... eeekkkk! Not to mention there is like at least three other font faces used within the design.
- Text embedded in images... hmmm, Google or any other search engine won't read this either. Should have been a background image with the text positioned over it.
- Forms page... I see your email address again! They must really love SPAM.
- No CMS... means they have to contact the person to update the site for every single edit. Maybe I'm making the mistake here and missing out on some $$$... but I don't want to be bothered with updating a sentence. That's just a waste of my time.
- No analytics integration... Really? It's FREE from Google! I guess they don't want to measure the success or failure of the new site.
I could go on and on, but it's obvious this web designer is a newbie. No CSS used and I can see that they used CoffeeCup software to edit the flash. I didn't even know they still made that crap.
I can say with confidence that when I started out I probably did just as bad as this so I won't fault the designer (newbie) too much. They would be wise to learn CSS and utilize a CMS framework like WordPress or Joomla. Unfortunately, the real tragedy here will be for the business owner. First impressions on the web are very important and this site only give a bad impression. My prediction... this site will NOT help increase business or give them the first impression they are seeking. In fact, I bet my post will rank higher for the term "Creative Mortgage Financing" than theirs in the SERPS. I'll let you know in about a month...LOL.
I almost want to call them and ask them if they're ready for a re-design again!
So I went to check on this site today... Interesting that the only result in Google for them is #8 and it's not even the new site it's a page from their old site: www.creativemortgagefinancing.net/index2.htm. Total failure!