Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Part XIII - Social Networking

A more recent internet phenomenon is social networking. Social Networking sites allow users to create personal webpages, include pictures, videos, blogs and other sharable media. Friends and family can view this media, give feedback, and post it to their own page. There are also a number of means to communicate with people by posting bulletins, posting comments to another user’s page and sending email.

The success of social networking can be seen in the success of MySpace.com and FaceBook.com. These billion dollar companies have tapped into the desire of many internet users to connect with old and new friends via the web or through similar interests.

Businesses have taken advantage of these platforms to increase communication with customers, and potential customers. This platform allows you to connect with more web users, and communicate directly with them. These platforms also can generate more links to your website, increasing your traffic and our PageRank.

It is important to remember that these platforms and forums are not there for you to get up on your soap box and tell the world how great you are. That is what press releases are for. It is best if you use them as a way to answer questions people have about about your industry. For example, if someone posts a question about the difference between Sleeping Beauty and Kingman turquoise, an informative forum response can expose you to new customers and let them know that you know what you're talking about.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Part XII - Social Book Marking

Social book marking is a relatively new phenomenon on the internet. Basically, an individual saves web pages or web sites that they like to a second website where they can share this information with others. Social bookmarks are considered highly reliable since they are not based on paid advertisements, but true opinions of other web users. Examples of social book marking sites include del.icio.us, Blue Dot, Diigo, Furl, My Web (Yahoo!), Netvouz, Simpy, StumbleUpon, Kaboodle and BibSonomy. All of these sites provide different features, but the applications are basically the same.

When users book mark your site, they are creating a new link to your site, creating more links. Second, these links expose your site to new users with similar interests, increasing your traffic and customer base.

You can increase the number of users that book mark your site by giving them the tools to bookmark your web site. A simple link, or even a web page that allows users to easily add your site to their book mark list is often all that is needed. Visit the websites listed above, and make yourself familiar with how they work. Many of these sites will offer tools to you to help increase your visibility on their site.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Part XI - Shopping Indexes

The web is filled with information for users to find anything, including the best prices on products they want to buy. Users go to shopping indexes, and search for products they want. Users can then compare prices side-by-side and go to the vendor’s site for more information or purchase.

Some shopping indexes provide this service free to both vendors and customers. Google’s shopping index called froogle.com offers this service for free. Yahoo!’s shopping site requires you to create a store on Yahoo!, which costs money. Amazon allows you to set up a store through them, which also costs money, but could generate more exposure. Integrating with these shopping indexes will increase the number of links to your website, and could generate more leads for customers to your website.

Do a search for shopping websites and see what different sites require. If their needs are more technical than you can handle, find out how much it would cost to have someone take care of the technical side, or teach you how.

Shopping indexes can be a great way to increase the exposure of your site and your products. Be sure to carefully weight the costs and payoffs associated with including your products in shopping indexes.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Part X - Public Relations

An often overlooked technique for small businesses is tooting your own horn. It is important for you to let the world know about important things that happen at your business. The simplest way to get this information out is by creating press releases. These are usually very short, and strictly fact based. Once these are circulated, the recipients can write a full article or reprint the press release.

There are many resources online for both writing and distributing press releases. Some press release distribution outlets can cost a fee, so be sure to figure out if you want to spend the money to get your word out there.

Articles written from you press releases will provide more exposure for your business, and more links from electronic versions of these articles. Best of all this costs nothing. Local, and state newspapers are always looking for information like this. Many of the magazines that promote the types of items you sell could be interested in your press releases. Additionally you could use the contacts you have made through your link-to-campaign to build your press release contact list.

Additionally, with the rise of the blogging culture, it is important to include bloggers on your press release distribution list. Be sure to start with friends and family, and expand from there.

Examples of press releases would be new products or product lines, new hires, personnel changes, big sales, volunteering, sponsorship or non-business related events in which you participate.

Another way to get your company name and website out onto the web is to apply for awards both online and elsewhere. Many of the contestants, qualifiers and winners will receive press coverage, and links from the contest’s website and the press. That coverage could grow exponentially if you were to win an award.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Part IX - Link to Campaign

As we discussed earlier, your site’s PageRank is a major contributor to where you appear in search results. The best way to increase your PageRank is get links to your site from other sites. Not only do links on other sites increase your PageRank, but will also increase the traffic to your site.

Since you do not have control over other people’s sites, you have to devise a strategy. Not only is it important to generate links on other websites, but to ensure that the text in these links work best for your needs. This will involve traditional sales techniques and public relations strategies. The web also offers many emerging means of adding links to your website, including shopping indexes, social bookmarking sites, and social networking sites.

How Does a Link to Campaign Work?

Google provides a tool to see how many sites link to a particular site. Type "link:yoursitename.com" into the Google search function. For example, Thunderbird Supply Company would search for "link:thunderbirdsupply.com". Google will provide a list of larger website that link to the site specified. You could also use this tool to see who is linking to your competitor's sites.

How Do You Generate Links?

The process of working a link-to campaign is very similar to the sales process. First you contact the people you know, or websites that already link to you. Then you generate leads through those contacts for more links to your site. Contact these leads and try to get links to your website, and more leads for people to contact. This process can continue infinitely, or can be cut off at any point.

Is your company a part of any associations? If so, insist on having a link to your website from any association website. Many association websites already have their member companies listed on the association website. Make sure that your company is listed, that there is a link, and that the link is worded properly.

Another source of potential links to your site is your vendors that you purchase from. Many of these vendors are happy to provide publicity for their customers, because they know the more you sell, the more you will buy from them.

Non-product vendors have websites, and are happy to showcase customers to help improve their image. These vendors could include software vendors, business machine vendors, etc. Contact these vendors about placing a link to your site on their site. There are other companies that you may work with that would be willing to place a link to your website on their website.

There are other means of getting links to your site through newsletters and blogs. This user generated content, and potential links are invaluable, not only to generate links to your website, but also to increase visibility to potential customers. You need to contact these newsletters and blogs, introduce yourself, and solicit links to your site.

The current customer base is another valuable asset. These customers that come back to your store could be a large generator of links to your site. You need to engage your current customers to see if they have websites, and if so, if they would be willing to link to your website. You would then ask for references from these customers.

A valuable source of links can be found through your competitors. Create a list of websites linking to your competitors’ websites, and add them to your leads list.

Create a “Link to Us” section on your website to make the process of linking to your site simple. This section should include materials that webmasters can use to create better links to your site. These items include images, suggested link text, colors, and general instructions if people want to link to specific areas of your site. Having these items available makes it easier for webmasters to link to your site, and increase the odds of getting those precious links.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Search Engine Optimization - Part VIII - Spelling Mistakes

One possibility that many websites overlook is the ability of searchers to misspell what they are searching for or search using a different spelling of a word (i.e. jewelry or jewelery). For instance many people that search for your site may search for the terms “jewerly” or "jewlry".

Create “did you mean” pages with these misspellings/alternate spellings intentionally placed on the pages, especially in the title. This will help your site appear higher in searches for these misspellings/alternate spellings.

Once you have these "did you mean" pages make sure that you have links to these pages on your site. The more links you have in your site to these pages, the more visible there will be to search engines trying to index them.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Search Engine Optimization - Part VII - News

Keywords can be included in your site through news stories. These news articles can take the shape of press releases from other sources, internal press releases and links to articles on other sites.

Many of your suppliers and other strategic partners can generate press releases to inform the general public about what is happening with their company. These press releases could contain useful keywords for your website purposes. They could be copied word for word, or have some aspects paraphrased to meet your purposes.

It is also important for you to generate press releases about your company. This will help to gain links from other websites, but I will discuss that in another post. These press releases can contain more of the keywords that you want on your site.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Search Engine Optimization - Part VI - Target Market Sub-Pages

Due to the nature of many businesses, your website caters to several different types of customers. You need to figure out what different types of customers you have. If you have the ability to create your own web pages, create pages that target these different customers. Pages that target specific products and customers can be packed with specific keywords, and are more likely to show up higher in searches. These sub-pages are very easy to set up. It is the research that will take most of the effort.

Remember, Google does not calculate search results by website, but by individual web pages. So the more specific you can be on one page of your site for a target audience, or product, the more likely that page will appear in search results on Google.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Search Engine Optimization - Part V - Outgoing Links

Links to external websites can help a site target its keywords and customers. External links also will cause a site to lose some of its PageRank, so there is an important balance that must be considered when putting external links onto a website.

External links help to create keywords on your site that would not otherwise exists. Perhaps your site does not contain any content on items that you would like on your keyword list. Find other sites on the internet that do offer this content, and would be beneficial for your users, and link to them. Make sure that the words you use for the link contain the keywords that you want to promote.

When you link to an external site, the portion of the linking page’s PageRank is lost to another site. This loss of PageRank forces the search engine conscious to remove any links that do not provide needed keywords for the site. All links to external sites should be carefully considered.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Search Engine Optimization - Part IV - Redesigning Your Site

How Does Google See My Site?
Click on the "Google Webmaster Tools" link in the "Helpful Web Tools" toolbox to the right. Once there, click on the "Statistics" link, then click on the "What Googlebot sees", and scroll down down to the "In Your Site's Content" section. This will tell you, based on the content of your site, the keywords that Google uses to rank your site in priority order.

Your goal over time will be to make this list look very similar to the keyword list you have come up with.

Re-Categorize Items
Look through the categories you currently have on your website. They may appear to make sense to you, but they need to make sense to your customers, and more importantly, they need to help searchers find your site.

Take a look at your keyword list. As I said before, this list will help you throughout the rest of this process, so make sure to put a good amount of time into developing it. How do the categories that you use on your site correspond with your keyword list? Most likely your categories will be on every page in your site, so make sure they are items near the top of your keyword list.

Reformat Your Pages
As we discussed previously, Google gives more prominence to words that appear closer to the top of your pages, and words that appear more frequently. This can explain why Google has ranked certain keywords very high for your website that do not match your keyword list goals.

For example, if you show shopping cart information on every page of your store, Google will give more weight to those words, such as "cart" or "quantity". Those are not the words you want Google to recognize your site for. Be very careful about what you put on your site, and where. Everything should have a purpose.

Given Google's keyword list for your site we retrieved at the beginning of this article , you can begin to see the types of changes that need to be made, and you can start giving priority to certain words over others. You will also want to add some items to your site, and remove others.

An important concept to keep in mind is that Google cannot "see" your web page, it can only read the HTML code that makes up the page. Web pages allow us to put elements visually at the top of the page, but these same elements do not have to be a the top of the code. If you are able to edit your HTML code, you can put the most important elements at the top of the page code, but place them visually wherever you want them to be.

Since you will want to promote some keywords, and demote others on your pages, it will be important to have a structure that will allow you to separate the order of the information in your HTML code, and the order of the elements visually on your screen. If you are able to edit your HTML code, you can do this using cascading style sheets (CSS). See the "HTML Tutorial" and "CSS Tutorial" links in the "Helpful Web Tools" section above to the right.

If someone developed your site for you, have a discussion with them about how you can move those elements of your page that are more important to the top of the HTML code without moving their visual placement. However, if it does not matter where your elements are visually, than you can just order the information on your site the same visually, and in the HTML code.

If you cannot edit your own HTML code, don't worry. There is still a lot you can do. I suggest that you familiarize yourself with how to create HTML code. Then, go to your online store and select the "View Source" menu option. This will show you what the HTML code for you pages looks like. From there you can experiment with the type of information you put into your ecommerce solution and how it affects your HTML code.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Search Engine Optimization - Part III - The Keyword List

Keyword Optimization
The basis of any Search Engine Optimization plan is the Keyword List. This is a document that will direct all of the other activities you conduct, and give you a measurable goal to continually try to attain.

The Keyword List
The keyword list is a list of keywords that reflects how you want Google to see you site. Since you cannot be all things, this list needs to be specific and prioritized. The list must reflect your marketing and strategic goals on the web.

Once the Keyword List is finalized, it will be used as a guide for you when updating information used on the website. The goal is to have the list of keywords provided by Google to match the keywords you specified on your list. This will also force you to create a clear vision for the content on the website.

A strategically developed keyword list can help you target the customers you want and help you target your market.

Since the factors that go into developing this list will fluctuate over time, it is important to reflect that in the Keyword List. Therefore, develop a systematic process to review and update the Keyword List at specific intervals.

Develop the Keyword List
The first step in determining your Keyword List is to see how Google views your site. The best way to do this is to sign up for a Google Webmaster Tools Account. Follow the "Google Webmaster Tools" link in the "Helpful Webtools Links" near the top right of this page. Sign up for an account, if you need to, and follow any directions to set up a site for use with Google's Webmaster Tools.

Once you have this account set up, click on the "Statistics" link along the left side, and select "What Googlebot Sees". This page will present you with a lot of information about how Google sees your site. The first table gives a list of the top terms that are used as links to your site. You don't have too much control over this, but we will revisit it later. Scroll down and look at the table labeled "In your site's content". This tells you how Google sees your site based on the content of your site. The content of your site would include page titles, product names, category names, etc.

As you can see, this list can be very different than what you want Google and your customers to see. How do we change this? The first step is to develop a keyword list that reflects what we want Google to see. There are a few tools we can use to devise this list.

How are You Found?
When web searches come to your site from a search engine you are able to track that visit and what words that person used to find your site. You can do this by using Google's Webmaster Tools, click the "Statistics" link on the left side and click "Top Search Queries". You will see two lists. One represents the searches that your site appears in search results, the other, represents a list of searches that users actually clicked on to get to your site.

These two lists give you a good idea of how customers are currently finding your site, and where your site appears on Google's list for that specific search criteria.

What are People Searching For?
The previous method of building a Keyword list involves understanding how customers currently find your site. It does not represent how customers could be finding your site. We need to know what other ways customers could find your site.

Google offers a web-based software product that allows you see what people are searching for on the web, and how many people are searching for certain terms. This type of knowledge can help you prioritize your keyword list based on what people are searching on. For instance, most customers might find your website based on the term “jewelry”, but we find out that there are more people searching for the term “earring” than jewelry. This indicates to us that we should reprioritize one key word over another.

This software has other benefits by allowing users to drill down into different types of searches to get more relevant information about user searches. This software can also provide information about what customers are looking for, and how you can respond to those market forces in areas such as marketing.

You can get to this software by clicking on the "Google Keyword Tool" link near the top right of this page. You either plug in you website, or a group of keywords, and Google will return to you a list of keywords, their relative competition in terms of ad dollars, a monthly average number of searches, and an estimate of the number of searches for that keyword last month.

How Do We See Ourselves?
Now that you have established some ideas for your keyword list, it is important to step back, and see what items do not appear on the list. What aspects of your business do you see not represented in these lists. It is important to check the popularity of these keywords with Google's Keyword Tool.

Completing the List
Now that we have gotten input from all of these different lists, it is important to devise a systematic way to prioritize these keywords given the different inputs. Once the list is almost completed, it is important to give it one more review with human eyes, and develop the final order of your keywords. This list should be updated at specific intervals, preferably every year, or more frequently.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Search Engine Optimization - Part II - Populartiy and Relevance

Why Google?
Google is the largest Search Engine in the world wide web accounting for 53.6% of searches compared to Yahoo!(19.9%) and Live Search (12.9%). Many other web search engines use Google’s technology, or have attempted to emulate it. For this reason we will focus our efforts on improving our ranking with Google. Our ranking on other search engines will also improve.

How Does Google Work?
Google uses two basic concepts to organize websites in search results, popularity and relavance. First, every page that Google looks at receives a PageRank, which reflects how popular that page is. Second, Google assigns a list of key words to designate what that site is about. Google will show your site if a search is relevant to the keywords on your site. Google combines these popularity with relevance with a user’s search to provide their search results.

Page Rank
PageRank is a mathematical model for gauging the popularity of any one web page, not an entire site. This distinction is important to keep in mind.

PageRank is calculated by giving each individual page on the internet an inherent "score". By linking to a second page, the first page “votes” for the second page, passing the PageRank value of the first page to the second page. If there are multiple links on the first page, the PageRank passed onto the second page is divided up amongst all the links.

Pages that have a lot of links to them have a higher PageRank. The higher the PageRank of the initial page the higher the PageRank of the receiving page. Sites with a large number of pages have an advantage because of the inherent value of each page in the site.

Google uses PageRank to determine which pages are more popular than others. Web pages with a higher PageRank are considered more popular than pages with a lower PageRank. These web pages appear higher in search engine results.

The goal is to increase the PageRank of the pages on your website. PageRank within your own site can be maximized by linking all pages on your website from all other pages. Increasing the number of internal links will increase the PageRank of all the linked pages. This must be weighed against having too many links on a page.

The other way to increase PageRank is to increase the number of links to your website. This way the PageRank of pages from other websites will be conferred onto a page on your Website. Conversely, it will be important to review the links on your site to external sites. If they are not necessary, get rid of them.

Google develops a list of key words for each page it looks at. These key words are words that Google believes are associated with this site, or hold meaning for what this site is about. The keyword list is based on two main factors. First Google looks at the words used on the page. Words that are used more often and words that appear closer to the top are given more weight. Second, Google looks at the text in links to your site, or links within our own site.

Search Matching
Google then takes a users search and tries to match the terms against the keyword list it has generated for different pages, and combines that with the page rank to generate its list of search results. A good page rank and a clearly defined keyword list are important for receiving a favorable search ranking.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Search Engine Optimization - Part I

Introduction to Search Engine Optimization

With so much competition on the world wide web, how do you and your products stand out from everyone else's? How can you get your message out to specific customers that want what you have to sell? How do you increase your website's exposure without spending vast amounts of money?

The most cost effective strategy for your website is to optimize your web site for search engines. What does that mean? Optimizing your website for search engines means a lot of things, but the end result is that your website will appear higher in search engine results, exposing your site, and your products to more people.

What is a search engine? A search engine is a program that gathers information about web pages on the internet, and then presents that information on a web page based on criteria someone provides. Google is the best known search engine in the United States. Others include Yahoo! and MSN search. Baidu is the largest search engine in China.

What are search engine results? The search engine results are the list of websites that come up when you do a Google search. The order of these results can make a difference to your business, and your bottom line. The higher your site appears in these results, the more people will see it, and the more it will be clicked on.

Over the next few months I'll be laying out some very specific and inexpensive ways that you can optimize your online store or website to appear higher in search engine results through a process known as Search Engine Optimization (SEO). My goal for each post will be to give you something you can implement today to increase the traffic to your site through search engines.

As we go along this journey, I encourage you to post comments and questions. This will help me to better understand your needs.

I'm looking forward to your feedback, and hope this will be helpful to you and your online jewelry store.