Friday, February 25, 2005

The Phone Call

Every other month my phone rings and the voice on the other end tells me one of my web sites is not showing up in the search results. They tell me they can fix the problem. In fact, they will guarantee that my page will jump into the top ten search results within 30 days. They promise that through the use of optimized landing pages (doorway pages) and proprietary techniques, I will quickly see my page in the top ten.

When you hear someone promising a guaranteed top spot in search results, it’s time to say goodbye, gently hang up the phone and get back to work—which I did. And they called right back. So I ask to be put on their no call list, and that seemed to work for about 60 days—then they call back again using the same script.

It does not matter how many times they call back, NEVER hire a search engine optimization (SEO) firm that guarantees a top position. No one can offer such a guarantee. There are too many variables they can not control, ranging from the search engine's algorithm to your competition.

What will you get if you hire a firm like this? There are a couple of possibilities:

• At the best you might get a web page optimized for obscure key words that no one uses. It’s easy to get top ten positioning for keywords that are targeted by only a couple hundred web pages—and it’s of no value. The reason why no one’s targeting these keywords is because no one is searching for them.

• At worst your page will appear in the top ten search results on Google for your targeted keyword. Through the use of doorways pages, text hidden in JavaScript and CSS, redirects, hijacked web sites and other techniques that Google has banned it is fairly simple to get any web page into the top ten—for a month or so. But then Google catches on and not only does your page drop out of sight, but your entire web site gets banned by Google. The result is your business setting new records for low sales.

The best way to get to the top of the search results, and pull qualified customers into your business, is to create a web site with:

Lots of useful, unique, quality content (text) that uses your targeted keywords

Targeted page titles and descriptions

Plenty of incoming links (because of your high quality content)

Well designed pages that address the user’s needs

Good offers and calls to action

…and don’t use frames or Flash pages, unless you know wxactly how the search engines will deal with them (just don't use them).

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Power Title Tags

Effective Title Tags

The title tag is located in the HEAD section of every web page. For example:

Title tag located between the opening and closing head tags

The title tag is the most important part of a web page. Search engines typically use the text from the title tag as the link text in their SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). So this is the text people will use to determine whether they will click on the link to your web site. However, search engines use this text in another way. It is one of the key indicators, for a search engine, of the content of the web page. This means you'll want to include your most significant key word(s) and/or phrase in the title of the page.

How much space do you have to work with? Somewhere in the range of 50 to 100 characters.

To give you an idea of how much space that is, the above two sentences have a total of 88 characters. So even 50-60 characters should be plenty of room.

Create the web page first, then add the title tag. This allows you to use the page content as a guide to what you say in the title tag. Each page should have a unique title that is directly associated with the content of that page. A major mistake new web designers make is to use the same title on all of pages in a web site, or they use generic titles that are not associated with the page content. This is an important part of each web page, so it is worth the time to write unique titles for each page.

When writing a title tag use the key phrase on the page, then write descriptive text around that phrase.

Is it alright if the page title duplicates the headline on the page? Yes, it is. Although the page title can be longer than a headline, so take advantage of the additional room in the title.

Is it alright to include my company name in the page title? Yes, it is. However, you would generally only do that for pages you've designed to be found when people search for your company name. For example, it might be appropriate to include your company name in the page title on your home page, contact information page, physical location/map page, your site map, and your about me page.

How many times should a keyword be repeated in a page title? A key word should not show up more than two or maybe three times in the title. And a word should not be placed next to itself, even if separated by dashes. The search engines see a dash as a blank space. For example, the following is a good page title that includes the word "DVD" twice:

Red Hot DVDs At Discount Prices! Huge DVD Inventory!

The title below also includes "DVD" twice, but the two occurances are separated by a dash. Some of the search engines might see this as spam and lower the rank of this page.

Red Hot DVDs -- DVDs Discounted to Low Low Prices!

The first title could even be expanded to include the word "discount" a second time and "DVD" a third time:

Red Hot DVDs At Discount Prices! Huge DVD Inventory! Fred's Discount DVDs.

When writing titles, use a variety of formats. Put long titles on some pages and shorter ones on other pages. That way, if a search engine's preference for the length of the title changes, you'll have a page already online that suits that preference.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Don't Forget the 301 Permanent Redirect

I was once involved with upgrading a web site that have a very deep structure and I wanted to flatten it out and organize it better. For example, in the old structure a product might have a URL such as:

In the new structure the URL was similar to:

This involved relocating several hundred pages and finding a way to let the search engines know the page had moved.

When the new site was ready to be uploaded, I put it online all at one time and changed the old pages to have a meta tag redirect. Thus if anyone went to an old page, they'd immediately be transferred to the new page.

A meta tag redirect uses HTTP-EQUIV to cause a different page to be loaded. It looks like:

meta equiv="Refresh" content="0; URL=/computers/accessories/zd85.html"

You can set the URL to any URL you wish, including pages on different web sites.

This was great, and it was working fine. Visitors were ending up on the correct pages. But, I had forgotten something.

Search engines handle the HTTP-EQUIV with varying degrees of success. In most cases they go to the new page, cache the content of the new page, but assign the old URL to it. Thus the old URLs continue to show up in the search results. That's not what I wanted. Part of the reason for the change was to make the URLs more relevant and easier to read in search results.

What I had forgotten was to put in permanent redirects. A permanent redirect is done differently on UNIX and Windows systems. If your web site is hosted on a UNIX system, the permanent redirect goes in the .htaccess file and is called a 301 redirect. What's that, you ask?

The .htaccess file is a plain text file, located in the root directory. It can also be located in other folders, but I'll leave that for another article. To add a permanent redirect, a line of text such as the following is included:

Redirect 301 /oldpage.htm

There are three parts to the above:

"Redirect 301" - this tells any computer that reads this file, such as the Google spider, that this file has been permanently moved. It also tells the hosting computer that anyone who tries to access the specified page should be sent directly to a different page.

"/oldpage.html" - this specifies the page that has been relocated. The identification of this page always starts in the root folder, thus it always starts with a backslash, followed by the appropriate folder and file names.

"" - this specifies the full URL of the new page. It always starts with "http:" and includes the full path to where the new page is located.

For web sites hosted on Windows you'll need to have the system administrator set up the permanent redirect through IIS.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Getting Sales From An Error 404 Page - Pt II

404 Not Found - Part II

A custom 404 error page is the same as any other web page. It does not require special coding, ASP, PHP or Javascript. It's just an ordinary web page that displays the information you want to display.

What should be on your custom 404 error page?

+Tell people what happened and give some possible reasons why it happen -- and do so in plain English.

Tell them that the page they were trying to get to is not available. Apologize for the problem and give some possible reasons. It could be they typed in the wrong URL. Possibly there was a typo in the URL. Or maybe there is a broken link on the web site.

+ Give people some options for correcting the problem.

For example, ask them to check the URL they typed to be sure there are no typos. But, if they clicked on a link that brought them to this page, there's nothing they can do to correct the problem, so...

+ Provide options that help the visitor find what they were looking for.

Provide links to the most popular pages on your web site. Provide a search box for searching your web site. You can even tell visitors, on the 404 error page, what is on your web site. Be as helpful as you can in getting people to where they wanted to go.

+ Promote some of your best offers. After all, this page will have people reading it, so why not make effective use of the space?

Don't miss out on the opportunity to let visitors learn about new things. Are you having a special 10% off sale this month? Put an announcement on your 404 error page. Are you giving away a free white paper? Put an announcement on your 404 error page. People are going to be visiting this page, so make use of it to promote your business, product or service.

The final step is set up your site so your custom page displays instead of the default 404 error message. How this is accomplished varies depending on the operating system.

If your web site is hosted on a UNIX system, then you'll need to add a line to the .htaccess file. The .htaccess file is a plain text file in the root folder. It provides instructions to the host system. In this case the instruction will tell the host what page to display when a 404 error is encountered. Use a text editor, such as Notepad, to open the .htaccess file and add the following line:

ErrorDocument 404

Replace "" with the URL of your web site and "404-error-page.html" with the name of your custom 404 error page. Save the file and upload it to your server.

For web sites hosted on Windows Systems, the error page needs to be changed in IIS. This is something usually done by the system adminstrator.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Getting Sales From An Error 404 Page - Pt I

What happens when a visitor to your web site types in a URL that does not exists? Or maybe there's a broken link you missed fixing? If you have not set up a custom error message, they'll see a plain "404 Not Found" message, with no explanations or options. It's a dead end.

But this does not have to be so, if you set up a custom 404 error page.

One of the first things I do when I start working on an existing web site is to check the web logs for 404 errors. On some sites I've seen as much as 30% of the traffic going to the 404 error page. Eliminating most of those errors, and making effective use of those that can not be eliminated, will have some of the highest ROI you'll see.

Identifying and fixing broken links will eliminate a large portion of the 404 errors. Be even after all of the coding problems are fixed, there will still be some people getting 404 errors. They may be typing the name of the page wrong. For example, people commonly type, when they intended to type Leaving the "l" off the end of the URL results in a 404 error. Another common typo would be:

The default 404 error page is of no value. It tells the visitor there has been a "404 Not Found" error. Most visitors don't know what that means and leave in frustration.

Error messages should:

+ Tell people what happened and give some possible reasons why it happen -- and do so in plain English.
+ Give people some options for correcting the problem.
+ Provide options that help the visitor find what they were looking for.
+ And you can promote some of your best offers. After all, this page will have people reading it, so my not make effective use of the space.

Let's take a look at how the top three search engines handle 404 errors, Google, Yahoo and MSN.

I've set up a web site at that I'll be using to illustrate things I talk about in this blog. I've set up a custom 404 error page that also displays screen captures from the Google, Yahoo and MSN 404 error pages. All you need to do is to go to a page on that web site that does not exist, such as:

You'll see that Google's error page just displays a 404 error notice. That's not very helpful.

Yahoo does a little better. They display the 404 error notice, provide a search box, plus include a couple of links to key pages on their web site. Having a search box makes a lot of sense, after all, this is a search engine.

MSN does an excellent job with their 404 error page. They include everything Yahoo does, plus they promote some of their major services.

Tomorrow I'll look at how to set up a custom 404 error page.

What's ZD85?

Announcing ZD85, the ALL NEW computer accessory that lubricates the inside surface of your computer monitor!! (oops, we're not ready to announce that yet.)

Sound a little far fetched? It's a yet to be invented product that my new web site will be promoting. The web site is designed to be the worst web site possible. As I discuss various topics here I'll use ZD85 to provide real-life examples. And over time it should (hopefully) get better.

For now there's not much on the web site, not even a product. All I've managed to do is identify a problem and ask my web designer, Wally Krumple, to get it online. But I've put our vast staff of PhD's to work and I expect that we'll soon have a product to release as a beta version. So stay tuned. I'm sure you don't want to miss out on the next great innovation for personal computers! Coming SOON ZD85! The revolutionary... something or other.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Your First Glance At A Web Page

When you look at a new web page, where do you look first?

The left side is usually a menu. The right side typically has ads. The top has a masthead and maybe a banner ad. What part of the page are you going to check out first?

Here's what the Web Style Guide says: "The first thing the reader sees is not the title or other details on the page but the overall pattern and contrast of the page." - Web Style Guide

If you have a poor quality, or jumbled looking web page, you'll loose visitors before they read any part of the page. The page must be easy to scan and understand. So before you even start worrying about where a user looks, be sure you have quality, easy-to-understand pages.

Let's look at some eye tracking studies:

Some studies show most visitors will look at the middle of a web page first.

"In Western countries, people read from left-to-right. Our eye-tracking software shows that testers tend to look at the center of the screen first. Then they read the page from left side to right side. So testers see the main text first, not the global navigation scheme. Likewise, the search engines also view the main text first, not the global navigation scheme." - (WebPro News)

Based on the above, visitors base their decision as to whether they'll read more, or move on to the next page, on what they see in the middle of the page.

In another research study, done for news sites, they found that people start in the upper left and move into the center. They look at the logo to identify the site, then scan headllines. This makes sense for news because vistors would first want to determine the authority of the site by seeing whose site it is. Then they look for news. - (Eye Tracking on News Web Sites)

Although visitor behavior will vary, depending on the target market for the web site, in general the center of the web page, in the area above the fold (no scrolling required) is the most important part of a web page. This is where you should put an attention grabing headling, product pictures, and special offers. Whatever you want to be sure is a part of a visitor's decision to stay or leave, should be placed in the center section of the page.

People are usually looking for information, so they first look at the text. Use a headline in the center of the page to quickly let them know what the page is about. Remember, visitors make quick decisions about a web site, so keep keep headlines simple and direct.

Once you have a good headline, it can be followed up with a sub-heading that describes the benefit visitors get if they read the page.

For example, if you have a web page that promotes the Kaizen system for improving productivity, a good headline and sub-heading might be:

Complete Online Guide To Kaizen

Kaizen Improves Productivity Over 190% In Two Years

Don't you want to read more and learn about Kaizen?

What Purpose Does A Web Site Have?

I'd like your comments. What reasons are there for having a web site? What purposes can a web site serve? This question has to do with the overall purpose of the entire web site, not individual pages. For example, an individual page provides your contact information, but the purpose of the web site is to sell widgets.

Here's a few to start:

<> To sell stuff
<> To generate sales leads
<> An online "business card"
<> Provide customer support
<> A free exchange of ideas (forums)
<> Let the world know what I think (blogs)
<> Teach (online classes and tutorials)

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Increasing Responses With An Effective Call To Action

Web sites are very much like traditional direct marketing in many ways. One of those ways is that the call to action is important.

What is a call to action?

A call to action is a set of words that tells your visitors what you want them to do. It should be short and to the point, telling them specifically what you want

them to do. Examples of calls to action are:

Click Here
Buy Now
Sign Up
Call Today
Call Now

Another way to put it is, when a visitor is ready to do something, provide a convient way for them to do it.

The call to action goes hand-in-hand with an offer. The offer describes to the visitor what they can get. For example, let's say you have a web page with a

picture of a computer and text that says, "J-Vox 1655X 300ghz Computer". There is no offer and no call to action. Someone looking at that page doesn't

know what to do.

Let's say we add the following to the text, "Buy this computer for just $199.95." The page now has an offer, we are offering this computer for $199.95. But,

how do I take advantage of this great deal? We need a call to action.

We could add a phone number, "1-800-555-555". So you see the offer and you see the phone number. You could assume you are supposed to this

number, and since it's a free call, most people might do that. But the following is much more effective, "Call 1-800-555-555 TODAY!". It tells visitors what

to day, and that they need to do it today. That's a good call to action.

To give it more urgency, sometimes a call to action will include a limited time offer, "Call 1-800-555-5555 TODAY! This offer expires February 30th!"

Of course, the above is a limited time offer that never expires because Feb. 30th never comes. Don't do this. The FTC frowns on deception.

In some cases it may be appropriate for a call to action be in the form of a question, "Why not order two today?" Be careful with using questions, however. While there are some circumstances in which a question will work well, action oriented statements, such as "Call today!" are almost always more effective.

Where should you put a call to action? Any place a visitor might decide to take action--which means on every page. Don't be bashful. And don't hide the call to action in your menus. Make it easy to see. For example, after discussing a topic put a call to action related to that topic immediately under the concluding paragraph.

Never use pop-ups or pop-unders for a call to action. People don't like them, and you'll lose customers.

Finally, be sure the call to action matches the message. If the page/offer is talking about environmentalism, the call to action should be related to environmentalism. Don't try to sell computers with a call to action that says, "Save the environment. Call to Buy Now!", unless on that page you have told the visitor this computer is environmentally friendly.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Optimizing Organic Landing Pages - Part II

The first question that pops into my kind is, why do visitors come to this page? What keywords were they searching for? What questions do they want answered? What were they looking for? Sometimes we find the answers to these questions are not what we expect. For example, I created a web site for selling industrial pipe markers. These are large identifying labels that go on things like steam and fuel pipes. A lot of visitors came to this page and left. What I found out was that they were searching for ways to identify their tobacco pipes--a completely different and unrelated product.

How did I get this information?

The page was set up as a PHP page that logged the visitor's referring URL. When visitors come from a search engine the referrer URL includes the search terms they used. So I was able to see the searches visitors used to find the pipe marker page.

The referrer URL is also recorded in the web logs. Log analysis software is available to help you get information from your web logs in a form that is understandable.

You can also discover visitor's reasons for coming to a web page by looking at the pages that link to it. You can find those pages by entering the following in the search box for:


Yahoo and MSN


For this article I'm not going to go into the details about tracking down how visitors find your web page. If you can get the information, use it. But if you don't have the technical skills to write ASP/PHP pages, or the web log software tools needed to compile log data into a readable form, then a little trial and error can also get results--it just takes a little more time.

The following applies to marketing optimization for any page. In Part I of this article we learned which pages should be optimized first.

When someone arrives on one of your web pages, they will make a decision as to whether to stay or leave within a few seconds. The page needs to give them a clear reason to stay. To do that, it needs to quickly deliver the message that: their question will be answered; their needs will be filled; or it needs to present them with a very compelling offer.

All the information you want the visitor to see at first glance must be above the fold. This is a term that has carried over from newspaper publishing. What it means is that the information must be visible without the need to scroll the page up/down (or left/right). The resolution of the visitor's monitor will effect how much they will see "above the fold". Don't assume people have their monitor set for a high resolution. A good assumption is a monitor resolution of 1024 x 768. Set your monitor at this resolution and view your pages to be sure all the important information is above the fold. Whatever is above the fold at this resolution will be above the fold at all higher resolutions.

In general, the visitor's eyes are going to look at the center of the page first. So that is where you want the most important information to be located. Depending on the subject and the purpose of the page, it would be appropriate to include any of the following:

<> A headline in large, bold print that is easy to read (no fancy fonts). The headline should be short, to the point, and descriptive of the contents or purpose of the page.

<> An image. If you are selling a product, include an image. People like to see what they are buying. If you are selling a service, you are "selling" your people, so include a picture of them at work. Whatever the image, it must match the subject of the page. If the page is about industrial cleaning services, don't show a group photo of your employees--show an employee hard at work cleaning an office.

<> An offer. What are you offering people to take the action you want them to take? In other words, if you are trying to collect leads, why should people give you their name, address and phone number? You might offer a free white paper, a product sample, or a newsletter. Whatever you are offering as an incentive, don't hide it. Don't put it below the fold. Put the offer where visitors can easily, and quickly see it.

<> If you include an offer, there should be a call to action. The call to action uses action words to direct the visitor to do what you want them to do. For example, Call 1-800-555-5555 Today For Your Free Sample!

<> A testimonial. Testimonials are a powerful way to influence visitors positively. We all feel more comfortable knowing that someone has gone before us and had a successful, happy, positive experience.

One more important piece of information; don't forget to tell visitors how to contact you. This information does not need to be in the middle area of the page, people are willing to look around a little to find it. However, I've seen many web pages that make it very difficult to respond. If you want them to call, include the phone number on that page near the offer. If you want them to respond by email, provide an email link near the offer. The easier it is for the visitor to see how to contact you, the better your response will be.