Everyone who owns a business website hopes that visitors will come to it to make a purchase. In truth, visitors often pay a call on any particular website to check out their content. They may decide to buy based on what they find. If they find crappy content, you can kiss that sale good-bye.
Sadly, there’s more than one kind of crappy content. For some reason, despite spelling checkers, bad spelling runs rampant on the Internet. Bad grammar also shows up far too often. But there is one kind of crappy content that’s even worse than bad spelling and bad grammar, and that’s pointless content.
Pointless content, by definition, should not exist. It’s the kind of content that does nothing. It doesn’t inform or entertain your visitors; it reveals nothing about your products or services; it just sits there, taking up space. It may be boring or hard to read, and it certainly does not help your visitor to make a choice or convert. Pointless content is content that wasn’t written with your visitors first and foremost in mind.
So how can you keep pointless content from appearing on your website? And if some of your pages do contain such content, how can you improve them? Melissa Fach writing for Search Engine Journal offers some tips to keep in mind. Please note that these are the absolute basics, to be used with your main product and/or service pages.
First, let’s consider your headlines. They should be constructed in such a way that a quick scan reveals or summarizes what the reader will find in that section. Say you offer a variety of accounting services. Your website might include a page that lists all of them, grouped under appropriate headlines: “Accounting Services for Individuals,” “Accounting Services for Small Businesses,” etc. Arranged in this way, your visitors can take in your offerings at a quick glance and know exactly what they’re looking at.
Let’s focus in on one of those headlines – “Accounting Services for Small Businesses,” perhaps. Why does a small business need an accounting service? How will your accounting service help? Answer those questions right away – immediately after the headline. It’s what your visitors really need to know if they’re going to buy your service. If they’re visiting your website, they may already know why they need this service, but hearing it from you will reassure them that you’re on the same page – and hearing why they should buy it from you rather than someone else will help bring about a conversion.
This brings me to my next point about your content: it needs to create trust and persuade. You won’t be able to do the latter without doing the former. For a company that offers accounting services to small businesses, you will probably need to create a high degree of trust, since you’re asking clients to share very sensitive information about their livelihoods – to say nothing of the potential consequences from the IRS if you mess up! So give your visitors the information they need to trust you – include testimonials, years of experience, other background details, etc.
As you write your content, keep your readers in mind. Make sure you tell them why they need the service, how it will benefit them, and why they should choose your company to do the job. Hint: don’t say “Choose us because we need the money.” Everything you write should tell the story from your reader’s perspective. You can and should sell your services, but you may want to do it subtly; let your reader reach the final conclusion.
And now I’m going to contradict that last sentence by reminding you to include a call to action. It doesn’t have to twist a visitor’s arm off, but it needs to tell them what to do next – to avoid confusion, if nothing else. “Send an e-mail to [email protected] today to set up a free consultation, before the tax season rush” could work for our example accounting firm.
Pulling my marketing hat on even tighter, I’m also going to remind you to upsell, but only for services that might interest your visitor. For example, our accounting firm might offer an add-on session that educates your client on reasonable practices to help organize their financial records for next year. For a small business, it might offer a full-fledged bookkeeping service. Make sure you integrate these services smoothly with the rest of your content, and that they’re appropriate for the type of visitor that’s going to view that content.
Up to this point I haven’t talked much about SEO, since I’ve been focusing mainly on content guidelines. But if you’re working with an SEO company – or even if you aren’t – I’d like to emphasize one of Fach’s points: “There needs to be an SEO strategy for each page that supports the overall SEO strategy for the entire website!” This is critical. While making sure that all of your content actually works for your visitors is a good first step, you will need an overarching strategy to make everything pay off. That means focusing on keyword research, the structure of your website, promoting your content, adding new content regularly – the whole nine yards. This isn’t easy, but replacing the crappy, pointless content on your website with the kind of information that really serves your visitors is a good start. Good luck!
So your website isn’t performing as well as it used to or as well as you hoped it would. You think the SEO might be to blame. So you ask for a review on an SEO forum and you’re told that your site looks horrible and needs a complete redesign. But that’s not an SEO issue! Or is it?
I’ve covered the question of whether you should choose a plain or fancy website design recently. This issue, however, is a bit more subtle. A site can look horrible for a number of reasons that have nothing to do with whether it includes flashing features or a confusing layout. Maybe its dated design turns off visitors, or it looks too amateurish to be taken seriously as a professional website.
Which brings me to the first thing you should consider when designing your professional website: what does a professional website look like in your field? If you sell bait and tackle, for example, your website will not look the same as one that sells photography equipment; for good or ill, visitors will probably hold the latter site to a higher standard of appearance, simply because photography is an inherently visual field. You can also expect that the website for a company selling a service will look different from one selling a product.
“Why should I make my website look like all the other professional websites in my field? I want to stand out!” If that’s what you’re thinking, it’s a good sentiment, but it’s NOT an excuse for sloppy or unprofessional design. Visitors following links to your website carry certain expectations as to what a professional website looks like. They may not be able to articulate them, but when they see your site, they know right away if you meet their expectations, or look like an amateur or hobby site. If they see what they take to be a hobby site, they’re going to hit the bounce button so fast that your head will spin.
A bad site design that causes visitors to bounce creates issues in several ways. First, of course, a visitor that bounces won’t convert. Second, Google can tell when visitors click through to your website and then click back; if they do that a lot, the search engine will assume that you don’t provide a good answer to that particular query, and lower your site in the rankings. Third, if your website looks unprofessional, other webmasters will not want to link to you, because such a link will reflect badly on THEM with THEIR visitors. Since we know links still play a major role in Google’s ranking algorithm, your website’s design can lead to it not ranking as well as it truly deserves.
Now do you begin to see the more subtle SEO implications of your website’s design? As one of our SEO Chat forum members recently observed, “web design is SEO because it affects user behavior and Google can see it.” Sadly, this may mean that you need to rethink your entire layout and site design; it might not be a simple change or a minor fix like adjusting your font or the colors you use.
If you haven’t redesigned your website in a long time – and I’ve seen some sites that haven’t been redesigned since the 1990s! – you might want to look at your competitors’ websites, or sites in a field related to yours, for some ideas. Think about how these sites present their content, lay out their links, and offer visual appeal to their visitors. What does their design accomplish that yours does not? What would you like to achieve with your website’s design? “Conversions” may be the obvious answer, but think about what a visitor to your website needs to see to convert. That’s going to be different for every field.
You may find yourself tempted to copy your competitors. Don’t copy them exactly; you’re trying to achieve a certain look and feel that’s consistent with your field, not a slavish carbon copy. And you will want to show your visitors why they should shop with you and not your competitors – which means that you should put your value proposition front and center. Do you have more knowledge and experience than anyone else in the field? Show it by serving up original content, and linking to it all over your website. Do you offer a wider selection of goods than anyone else? Make those goods easy to find, in multiple ways. As long-time respected SEO Chat forum member EGOL pointed out, “You will not win by mimicking your competitors. You will win by doing something that is far superior.”
If you’re an expert in your field, “doing something that is far superior” to what your competitors offer means creating original content. Those who sell many different kinds of items may publish original content on their websites at well – but it’s worth keeping in mind that not all original content is created quite the same. When you publish something online, you need to figure out how it’s going to reach its audience – and certain kinds of content find the right audience more easily than others. As EGOL pointed out, “If you are publishing product sales pages then you are the only one who will promote them. However, if you are putting up high interest content and have done a great job at it then it will promote itself.”
So I started with website design and ended up talking about content, links, and promotion. It’s hard to separate these out, because they are all related to and support each other. But perhaps now, if someone tells you that your website looks horrible and needs a redesign, you won’t automatically assume that this advice does not apply to your website’s SEO issues. Good luck!
After receiving many requests over the past few months from SEOs and webmasters, Google finally unveiled a disavow links tool. If you think this new tool will help you to quickly recover from a Penguin attack, though, you’d better think again.
At Matt Cutts emphasized in a nine-minute video, this is an advanced tool, and should not be used unless you’re absolutely certain that spammy links sit at the root of your rankings problems. I lost track of how many times he reiterated this point, and stated that your typical site owner won’t need to use it – in fact, only those who are really comfortable with the technical aspects of their site should even consider using it.
In fact, what I got from the video is that this tool is not intended to help websites recover from Penguin. Rather, it’s meant to be used by those who have actually received warnings from Google via their Webmaster Tools account that the search engine has detected links it considers unnatural. Refreshingly, Cutts stated that Google will start including in these messages examples – up to three, perhaps – of links to your site that it considers “unnatural.” It won’t be an exhaustive list, of course, but at least now you’ll have a clue of where to start and what to look for.
Google intends for you to use the disavow links tool after you’ve received a manual notification and tried to remove as many of your spammy links as possible. You may reach that point pretty quickly, by the way. In a recent SEO Chat thread on the subject, forum member Dr.Marie noted her own experience helping her clients remove bad links: “on average I get 15-20% of [bad] links removed using extensive email/contact form outreach. For some reinclusion requests that is enough, but for others it is not.”
So how exactly does this tool work? First, you need to have admin status for your website in Google Webmaster Tools to use it; this should help avoid a lot of potential abuse. If you own multiple websites for which you’re using GMT, pick a site, then go to the tool. You’ll get a warning screen that states “This is an advanced feature and should only be used with caution. If used incorrectly, this feature can potentially harm your site’s performance in Google’s search results. We recommend that you only disavow backlinks if you believe you have a considerable number of spammy, artificial, or low-quality links pointing to your site, and if you are confident that the links are causing issues for you.”
Next, you’ll need to upload a text file that contains ONLY the links you want to disavow, one per line. You can use the hash tag indicator (#) in front of a line to “comment it out” if you want to add notes for yourself that explain what you’re doing and why. SEO Round Table gives a fuller description of the procedure.
So how long after you’ve submitted a disavow links request will it take for Google to update your site’s standing? According to Cutts, it could take weeks, because they will need to completely recrawl your site and check those links. You see, you can tell Google to disavow the links, but the search engine sees this as a “strong suggestion” and will come to its own conclusions as to whether it agrees with you that those links should not be a factor in your standing in the SERPs.
Incidentally, this is part of the reason Google considers disavow links to be an advanced tool; it’s far too easy, if you’re not extremely careful, to accidentally disavow a link you wanted to keep. You can go back to your text document, update it, and upload it again if you’ve made a mistake, but according to Cutts, it will take even longer to fix these errors.
Responses to the tool have been mixed. Some SEOs seem to think it might be the best thing since sliced bread. Others, however, see a Google conspiracy. Barry Schwartz, for instance, describes it as “the best spam reporting tool Google has launched to day. Suffering webmasters point fingers at their competitors and friends and blame them for poor rankings, which Google can use.”
Schwartz is hardly the only one who’s suspicious of Google’s motives in launching this tool. On the other hand, with Bing launching its own disavow links tool at the end of June this year, Google may have felt pushed into offering something equivalent to help it stay competitive. Either way, you now possess a new tool in your arsenal to help you recover from certain kinds of issues in ranking your website. Do you think you’ll ever use it? Feel free to answer in the comments section.
This topic comes up in the SEO Chat forums from time to time; you can read the most recent thread dealing with this question. If you’ve designed your site correctly and managed all of the SEO-related issues properly (title tags, backlinks, content, and more), it should, in theory, be just as easy to rank a basic site as a fancier one. So why would you choose one kind of website design over the other? One concern might be what you’re selling. Brick-and-mortar stores offer a certain kind of ambiance, in part to give shoppers an impression of what to expect from the goods they sell. You wouldn’t …
Google’s late September modification brought many site owners up short because it targeted something Google hadn’t yet attacked: exact match domains. Danny Sullivan provides a thoughtful and extensive review of it over at Search Engine Land. He believes this EMD update will become a regular filter, much like Panda, and eventually be updated every month. To understand what the EMD update did, you need to understand that Google has historically given a boost – albeit a very small boost – to websites whose domain names exactly match the query performed by a search. So cheapwidgets.com might sh…
You can check out the official announcement in Google’s webmaster blog; the new set of guidelines is also easy to locate. I’m mildly disappointed that Google didn’t set this up with a little bit of AJAX. So many of the items listed under the quality guidelines link elsewhere; it would have been nice to click that link and just have the page scroll down to read that item. Both our basic quality guidelines and many of our more specific article (like those on links schemes or hidden text) have been reorganized and expanded to provide you with more information about how to create quality websites…