Planning Your Publicity

Now that we’re at the end of the year, it’s a great time to plan your publicity for 2008.

With all the talk about the immediacy of a story, and the unbelievable speed that news pieces make it onto TV and radio, we often forget that for most media, lead times are crucial. Lead times can vary from a day to six months depending on the media you’re pitching. Generally women’s magazines have the longest lead times, sometimes as much as four to six months.

If you want to find out what magazine lead times are, call their advertising department and get a copy of their media kit. This will not only tell you when advertising deadlines are (signaling your submission cut-off) but it will also show you what stories to pitch when. Generally magazines will try and coordinate advertising to coincide with their themes, so if you have a story about the benefits of yoga, you might want to dig through the advertising calendar and see if they’re planning to address it in a future issue.

Once you define your publicity targets and get an idea of what to pitch when, you’ll want to open up a calendar and start circling dates that will matter to your story. Get creative with this! Often dates are overlooked because they may seem too small (like peanut butter and jelly day) but everyone’s competing for the biggies: Valentine’s Day, Christmas, etc. so why not add some off-beat holidays to your pitching calendar and see what happens? If you’re looking for every holiday under the sun (including international ones) try downloading the Calgoo calendar – this is a free program used to sync Outlook with your Google calendar – but an additional benefit of it is that it comes loaded with every imaginable holiday. A great tool to start your planning session!

Once you define holidays/seasons/events you want to pitch your story to, you’ll also want to be cognizant of the appropriate seasons and what the media is looking for. Here’s a brief outline of all four seasons as well as suggested targets/pitches. Keep in mind that breaking news stories and global events may slant these times considerably, but barring that, the seasonal angles tend to remain fairly consistent.

January – March

The first season of the year is pretty quiet. The holidays are over and much of the media is looking ahead and looking to summer with getting fit and weight loss stories, as well as New Year’s resolutions, getting organized and of course – the looming tax season. This is a very “anything goes” time of year, so if you weren’t able to sell fluff pieces during the holidays, you might want to try and repitch them now.

April – June

With major companies releasing their first quarter earnings (and hogging all the news space) this could be a tough time to get in. As April 15th looms out there you’ll see a lot of stories addressing taxes, saving on taxes, and everything financial, but once that date comes and goes the media will start looking ahead to summer stories and “spring fever” pieces.

July – September

With summer in full swing we’ll see a lot of lighter business stories, celebrity stories, trend pieces, and back to school. This is a fantastic time to pitch since many pr firms and media folk are on vacation. They still need stories but have less people pitching and less folks to field those pitches so if you can get your story in and it needs very little work you could be a shoe-in to get some coverage.

October – December

Many pr people think that this is the heaviest time of the year, but I tend to disagree. I think that the media is hungry for anything related to the holidays, end of year perspective, getting your life in order, New Year’s resolutions (yet again) as well as the next year’s prediction stories, etc. You’ll also see a lot of best and worst of for the prior year. Relationship experts – now is your time to shine! With all the family gatherings there’s a big call for getting along, making family relationships better/stronger as well as navigating the busy holiday season and still keeping your sanity.

Keep in mind that while we’ve only addressed media, these rules apply to online media as well as events you might do. It’s much easier to get someone interested in something they’re already interested in, and by coordinating your efforts, you’ll have a much stronger and focused campaign. Planning your media for the upcoming year is one of the best things you can do before the clock strikes midnight on December 31st. It’ll not only keep your campaign fresh but also tightly focused. With a plan in place, you’ll be ready to hit the ground running after January 1!

Wishing you a super-successful New Year!

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About the Author: Penny C. Sansevieri, CEO and founder of Author Marketing Experts, Inc., is a book marketing and media relations expert whose company has developed some of the most cutting-edge book marketing campaigns. Visit AME.

How to Create Search Engine Friendly Title and META Tags (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this article, I defined Title Elements and META Tags and took you step-by-step through how to create an optimized Title Element. Now it’s time to create your optimized META Description Tag.

Create Your META Description Tag

Take your líst of target keywords and phrases and open another text file. Again, you can use an existing sample META Description Tag as your template. Let’s say our existing description is:

You can make your META Description Tag as long as you like, but only a certain portion of it will get indexed and displayed by search engines. According to Danny Sullivan in his (old but still relevant) article How to Use HTML Meta Tags, 200 to 250 characters of the META Description gets indexed but less than that gets displayed, depending on the search engine. So you want to make sure all your important keywords are listed towards the start of the tag.

Now take your líst of keywords for the home page in order of importance. For our fictional florist these were:

- florists Miami
- florists Florida
- wedding bouquets

Now you need to create a readable sentence or two describing your web site and incorporating these keywords so they make the best use of the keyword real estate available.

Because search engines often display the contents of the META Description Tag in the search results, it is very important that your sentences make grammatical sense and are enticing enough to encourage readers to clíck on your link. Let’s start with:

If you’re seeking a florist in Miami Florida, Funky Florists create unforgettable wedding bouquets, floral arrangements, tributes and displays for all occasions.

Ok, so that’s around 150 characters long and gets our three important keyword phrases included. But it’s a bit bland. We need to add something to entice the searcher to clíck on it. How about:

Order online for a 10 percent discount!

So now we have the following completed META Description Tag:

Our new tag is optimized for our keyword phrases, it’s around 200 characters in length, it describes our site accurately, it speaks to the reader and it (hopefully) entices them to clíck on the link and view the site.

Create Your META Keywords Tag

We’re almost there. Now it’s time to create your optimized META Keywords Tag. Let me stress here that this Tag is quite unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Not many of the search crawlers even support it any more. You can see which ones do on this page. If you have the time and you really want to create META Keywords tags for your pages, then go ahead, but if not, then leave them out of your code altogether. This tag will have very little impact on your overall SEO campaign.

Assuming you do want to create a Keywords tag, take your líst of target keywords and phrases and open another text file. Again, you can use an existing sample META Keywords Tag as your template. Let’s say our existing Keywords Tag is:

You are just including a líst of related keywords to include in this tag. Now take your líst of keywords for the home page in order of importance. For our fictional florist these were:

- florists Miami
- florists Florida
- wedding bouquets

Because you have a lot more room in this tag, a good rule of thumb for creating a META Keywords Tag is to include the keywords and phrases you are targeting with your site content, as well as some terms that you don’t necessarily want to use in your site copy but are still relevant to the site content. For example, the site copy, TITLE and META description tags would include the most important search keywords, but the META Keywords Tag could be used for keyword variations and combinations that don’t appear in the visible site text, but that people may also search for. Examples include plurals, contractions, slang, variations, misspellings, cultural nuances and industry jargon.

For our fictional florist, these may include things like:

- wedding flowers
- roses
- wedding roses
- Valentine’s Day roses
- sympathy gifts
- Mother’s Day gifts
- funeral wreaths
- flower deliveries
- floral arrangements
- birthday gifts
- flowers
- flowers for wedding
- wedding decorations

So now we have the following draft META Keywords Tag:

However, when creating your Keywords Tag, you should not repeat any particular keywords within your META Keywords Tag more than five times and I would recommend excluding commas so that all your keywords can be indexed in combination with each other.

So we need to fix the draft tag to remove the excess repetition of the words “flowers” and “weddings”. This is easy to do because some of the keyword phrases already incorporate these single generic keywords.

For starters, we can lose the single “flowers” as it is already covered by some of the other phrases like “wedding flowers”. Next, we can drop “roses for the same reason. Then we can combine some keyword phrases together to save space, e.g. “flowers for wedding” and “wedding decorations” can be integrated to become “flowers for wedding decorations” so we can lose the extra instance of “wedding”.

So now we have the following completed META Keywords Tag:

Tailored TITLE and META Tags

While some webmasters remember to include a META Description and a META Keywords Tag in their home page HTML code, many forget to include them on every page of the site that they want indexed. Or worse, they duplicate the homepage TITLE and META Tags on all other pages. To give a web site the best ranking ability possible, it is highly recommended that each page of the site include a unique TITLE tag and unique META tags, individually tailored to the content of that specific page.

For example, our fictional Miami florist may have a page devoted to wedding bouquets and another devoted to funeral wreaths. The TITLE and META tags for the first page should include keywords relating to weddings and the page about wreaths should utilize keywords relating to funerals and sympathy.

The use of tailored TITLE and META Tags on each page creates multiple entry points to a web site and enables relevant content to be found in search engines no matter where it resides on a site. For example, instead of relying on visitors to arrive via the Home Page, the optimization of individual site pages makes each page more visible in the search engines, providing additional gateways to the site’s content. The more pages optimized, the wider the range of keywords and phrases that can be targeted and the more entry points are created to a site.

About The Author
Article by Kalena Jordan, one of the first search engine optimization experts in Australia, who is well known and respected in the industry, particularly in the U.S. As well as running a daily Search Engine Advice Column, Kalena manages Search Engine College – an online training institution offering instructor-led short courses and downloadable self-study courses in Search Engine Optimization and other Search Engine Marketing subjects.

Is Your Website an Asset Or a Liability?

Remember back in the good ol’ days when having a website was something every company needed and wanted? Websites were the wave of the future, and the dream of transitioning to conducting business onlíne filled our heads with visions of a revolution in the way commerce was conducted. With a website, a company could reach clients and interact with potential customers on a global scale. A website was indicative of a company’s technological prowess, symbolic of the desire to innovate and evolve with developments in the industry.

Today, this mindset has changed drastically. We all know that we need a website, but many of us think that simply having one is enough. In fact, there is research indicating that many firms with an online presence haven’t touched their websites in years. They haven’t spent any time improving functionality and appearance, and they have yet to consider the basics of website usability and the inherent potential of search engine optimization. Of course, we all recognize by now that having a website is an essential business asset, if it’s done correctly. It’s easy to see that if your site is an outdated eyesore, it becomes a liability that hurts you more than it helps you. Conversely, a well-designed site can make all the difference. It’s the first place users go to research your products and services, serves as a lead generator, a CRM tool, and even to make purchases.

We’ve all heard the adage about first impressions, and it’s no secret that they’re the most important factor in the way people remember their first encounter with you or with your website. On one hand, a well-designed, user-friendly website will showcase your business and your brand, impressing clients. On the other hand, an outdated and otherwise bad website can hurt you far more than it can help you. Potential customers will eliminate you as a possible vendor after interacting with your brand and substandard website for only a few minutes.

I’ll utilize a real estate analogy here to expand upon this thought. You’ll impress guests when they arrive at your home if it’s clean, well-kept, landscaped, painted, and overall welcoming. But, if you arrive at a home that’s dilapidated and falling apart with chipped paint and an overgrown lawn, you’ll think a lot of less of whoever lives there. Are they lazy slobs? Maybe. Or maybe they just haven’t had time to take care of the property. Either way, your first impression is less than positive. We all try not to “judge a book by its cover,” but in an online atmosphere, a company’s website is their cover, the digital face they present to the world, so in that case you can’t not judge the book by its cover. After all, that’s all you have to go by.

So this must leave you wondering: Is my website an asset or a liability? By answering the following questíons, you can find out if it’s time for an overhaul or just some simple changes. Or maybe your site doesn’t need any work at all. Ready to find out?

Home Page

Can visiting users tell immediately who you are and what you offer?
Is your site organized in a clear fashion that promotes navigation?
Is your home page an information destination or just a messy landing page?
Does your home page give a good first impression that entices users to clickthrough your links?

Performance Issues

Do your images, videos, and pages load quickly?
Does your site utilize clean, un-bloated code?
Does your site have a “search” function? If so, is it fast and useful?
Have you performed quality assurance testing to ensure your site looks the same across different browsers?

Content Is King

Is your content written clearly and persuasively? Does it speak to your target market?
Have you included useful and relevant resources like case studies, white papers, articles, or links?
Does your content effectively describe your products, services, and benefits?
Is your content keyword focused to cater to users and search engines alike?

Links & Navigation

First and foremost: Do all your links work?
Are your links clearly marked?
Do your links utilize descriptive and enticing anchor text?
Is your navigation menu or framework consistent throughout your site?
Does your navigation menu provide access to your entire site?

Critical Pages

Is there a top-level page that describes your products and services?
Do you have an “About Us” page to describe your company?
Is the “Contact Us” page clear, informative, and thorough?
Do you have a page where users can ask questíons or answer their own?
Do you have a Testimonials section?
Do you have a blog that you update frequently?
Do you have social bookmarking buttons to take advantage of Web 2.0 technologies?

Usability

Is your site organized so that information is easy to find?
Do you have a site map that wireframes this organizational structure and links to all your pages?
Is your site “user-friendly?”
Is your type scannable, easy to read, and written for the web?
Do you utilize bullets, headlines, and other stylistic elements to organize and present content?
Do you have calls to action that prompt users to take desired actions?
Are you using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to control the layout of the site?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Is your site search engine friendly?
Have you optimized your site for specific and relevant keywords?
Have you acquired a network of high-quality, relevant links?
Have you utilized online PR or social media marketing for its SEO benefits?
Does your navigation menu provide access to your entire site?

Now that you’ve answered all of these questíons, you need to decide what to do next. Start with some competitve analysis to see what your competitors are doing and what you need to do to catch up. Then, survey users to see what they think and act upon that feedback; don’t wait, evaluate and reciprocate.

So make as many changes as you can to improve your website, turning it back into a business asset instead of a liability, and watch as your web presence creates leads and ultimately sales that impact your bottom line.

About The Author
Nick Yorchak is an SEO expert and Search Engine Marketing Specialist at Fusionbox, a full-service Denver Internet marketing, web design, and web development company. He can be reached at his Fusionbox email (nyorchak@fusionbox.com) or at (303)952-7490.

The Impact of SEO Web Design on Search Engines

SEO web design is a concept which emphasizes great architectural design principles based on how the search engines determine relevance and site information. The design should be able to give out the information that the user is seeking and at the same time be easily navigable. This is part of search engine optimization because the SEO web design should also be able to satisfy robotic crawlers and spiders in their quest for information regarding the website and other data.

SEO Web Design and Site Optimization

Search engine optimization is more than just a trend nowadays. It is used and applied by almost all sites on the internet that aim to make money and reach online popularity. Among the many strategies of optimizing a web site, SEO web design is one of the topmost priorities.

The impact of the design of the site on search engine robotic crawlers or spiders can help raise the ranking of the site. This is where SEO web design comes in. There are many ways to make the web site more attractive to robotic visitors and human visitors alike. Actually, spiders and crawlers from search engines do not mind the overall aesthetic value of the site. All these robotic crawlers need is the information it can get from the site. The tricky part is how to put relevant information in the site in order for the crawlers to properly index the site due to its relevance. SEO companies who specialize in optimizing web sites must also know how to put a site in front of others in order to bring it to the attention of the Internet users. The search optimizers who will handle your site must be able to know the right strategies to place the web site ahead of others in its field through accepted methods of optimization.

SEO web design is a competitive area where web designers, or what I prefer to call website architects, work hard to come up with ideas and designs that are aesthetically appealing and relevant at the same time. There has to be consideration for ease of getting around the website, being appealing to a wide range of visitors and finding the right place for the website. Making a basic, visually appealing site is easy with the many technological advances available today, but the problem with these advances is that they are sometimes quite tricky to use thus making your website difficult to navigate. SEO web design should be easy to use and friendly to both human and robotic browsers.

Easy navigational access can be done by making the pages of the site easy to navigate to and having easy to understand and use button or labels to click on. The pictures and images on your SEO web design should be just the right size and scale to enable users to see them promptly after clicking instead of taking a very long time to download. Waiting for images and other graphics to load can be off-putting for most visitors and will eventually lead them to another site which is more optimized and easy to view. Even spiders and crawlers will give up on a site which is not easy to navigate and get into.

The overall appeal of the SEO web design should not only be focused mainly on the niche that it is targeted to but also for Internet users who might have stumbled onto the site. SEO web design should have a universal appeal even for the most specialized type of sites on the Internet. Some webmasters or website owners could opt for specialized SEO web designs and these can also be done with the targeted audience in mind. It will also benefit the site if it is indexed as it should be. You might want to have a specific SEO web design which is built around the entire concept of your site and this can add to the ranking if you are quite specific with what you aim to sell or market. If you are marketing a specific product or information, SEO experts can focus on this product or information and build the SEO web design around it.

Another aspect of SEO web design that needs to be considered is what your competition is doing. The saying “know your enemy” is the key here. You do not want to have the same boring marketing strategies as the competition. Why? Because it is a good idea to keep abreast with what they are doing and how well they are doing in this field. There are many site optimization tools that can help analyze and determine what is needed for the site. Hence, in regard to the SEO web design process, content is one of the prime needs and tools of making the site rank high in searches. Finding out or identifying the right keywords to integrate into the site can be crucial in making the site among the top ranking ones. Keyword search tools and having keyword rich content and titles can help to optimize a site efficiently.

SEO web design experts should also bear in mind that there are web strategies that may be unacceptable for search engines. Using these underhand or black hat tricks to perpetuate a site in rank can cause the search engines to ban the site and also the SEO web design company that did the search engine optimization work for it no matter how well the SEO web design is.

About the Author: Moe Tamani is a Marketing expert with a leading SEO Company specializing in Organic SEO.

Marketing Fundamentals For The Online Business

When going online, few people give much thought to all the aspects of running an online business. But in order to be among the 5% of the businesses that still run after their first year, you need to keep a few things in mind.

Know your target market

In order to create something that people would love to buy and use, you need to know your target market. To do this, you can:

• be an expert in your industry

• read websites in the industry, such as blogs, forums, social sites, etc

• ask your friends about your product idea, what they think, what they would suggest, etc

• ask various Internet marketing experts (there are plenty of blogs and forums out there) about your idea: they usually see a winner and can advise you how to improve your idea and approach

• ask your industry expert friends

If your idea is hard to duplicate, you can share it with other people, especially, if you have everything necessary for the start available. If not, it may be not a good idea to share it with the experts.

But one of the signs that the idea is worth implementing is if you hear people saying ‘I want this, but I can’t find it anywhere’ or “Wouldn’t it be cool, if..”. If you see plenty of such mentions related to your idea on the forums, blogs, then you are on the right track.

Ultimately, it boils down knowing the needs and values that run the people and what they need at some point of time.

Provide value to the people

Knowing the needs and values of the people is absolutely necessary to provide value to them. As people only do or use what is useful for them, you need to provide absolute, astounding and astonishing value for them to pick up your product and share it among their friends.

Offer an easy to use product

One of the most precious things on the planet, besides life, is time. You can’t control how fast your time runs: you can only control what you do with it. That’s why people also enjoy things they can use easily and that work fast.

• if you are creating a web application, ensure that it is easy to use and that it runs super fast

• if you create a piece of software, make sure a user has to click the least amount of times to do a task

• if you have a website, make sure it is usable and that you have optimized its speed significantly

• if you have an e-book, apart from providing the PDF format, provide other formats, reading applications for which load faster than Adobe reader (such as .doc, .rtf, .html, custom e-book software, etc)

• if it is a tangible product, only keep the most necessary functions with the least amount of controls (iPod is a perfect example of this)

About the Author:
Yuri Filimonov is a freelance website optimization and usability consultant, who writes about improving websites to gain more visitors, customers and profit at his blog, http://www.ImproveTheWeb.com.

How to Create Search Engine Friendly Title and META Tags (Part 1)

In this article, I’m going to show you step-by-step how to create search engine optimized Titles and META Tags.

The TITLE Element

TITLE elements, (commonly called TITLE Tags), are one of the most important factors that search engines “look” at when it comes to determining the relevancy of a web page against a search query. In their ranking algorithms, nearly all the major search engines attribute a high relevancy weíght to the content of the TITLE tag.

In the HTML code of a web site, TITLE tags look like this one (for a fictional florist):

To view the HTML code of any site, choose “View, Source” from your browser toolbar or right clíck anywhere on the page and choose “view source code”.

The META Description Tag

META Description Tags are designed to describe the content of web pages. Search engine robots will gather up this information when indexing web sites and often use it when referencing web pages in the search listings.

While not all search engines continue to utilize the META Description Tag, a majority of search engines rely on the content of this tag (together with a site’s visible content) to provide information about a site that they can match with search queries. It is therefore important for webmasters to include keywords and phrases in the META description that they would expect searchers to use to find their site content.

In the HTML code of a web site, a sample META Description Tag looks like this:

You can view the META Description Tag of a site by viewing the source code.

The META Keywords Tag

While only indexed by a small handful of search engines these days, the META Keywords Tag is still worth including within a site’s HTML code, if only to provide those search engines with as much information as possible about site content.

In the HTML code of a web site, a sample META Keywords Tag looks like this:

The current lack of support for the META Keywords Tag by so many search engines can be attributed to increasing sp@m abuse by ignorant webmasters. These webmasters thought the keyword tag was a good place to stuff hundreds of keywords in the hope of achieving a higher search ranking, thereby “sp@mming” the search engines with useless, non-relevant data. This prompted many search engines to filter out the META Keywords Tag or lower its importance within the ranking algorithm.

You can view the META Keywords Tag of a site by viewing the source code.

Create Your Optimized Tags

Now, it’s time to create optimized TITLE and META Tags for your site. Let’s start with the TITLE Tag for your Home Page.

Create Your TITLE Tag

Take the líst of target keywords and phrases that you want your web site to be found for in search engines. You should have already allocated them to the appropriate pages of your site to be optimized. I use a spreadsheet for this purpose, but you should use whatever works for you.

Now, open a text file in Notepad or something similar. If you like, you can use an existing sample TITLE Tag as your template. Let’s say our existing Title is:

Now take your líst of keywords for the home page and put them in order of importance, with the ones you want to rank highest for at the top. For our fictional florist these are:

- florists Miami
- florists Florida
- wedding bouquets

Now you are simply going to combine these keywords into a sentence or short blurb so they make the best use of the keyword real estate available. Always try to use as few words as possible in your Title Tags, because each additional keyword dilutes the ranking relevancy of all the others.

In this case, I would initially combine the keywords as follows:

Florists in Miami Florida specializing in wedding bouquets

Notice how I’ve got the keywords in the correct order for the search queries? I’ve tried to include the most important keywords towards the start of the tag. There was no need for me to repeat the keyword “Florists” more than once because the sentence I’ve used covers both “Florists Miami” and “Florists Florida”. Most search engines will ignore “in” as a stop word, so it shouldn’t matter that we’ve included it.

Although it’s tempting to put a comma between Miami and Florida, on some search engines commas act as a keyword separator, so we don’t want to use one here because we don’t want “Florists’ and “Florida” to be separated.

Now, there is just one problem with this draft Title. Our 3rd keyword phrase ‘wedding bouquets” is right at the end of the sentence, meaning it may lose some relevancy weíght (search engines consider keywords closer to the start of the tag as the most important). How do we fix this? Let’s try this:

Florists in Miami Florida – wedding bouquets a specialty.

We don’t want to use a period after “Florida” for the same reason that we don’t use a comma. But a hyphen should not make a difference to search engines yet still allow the sentence to read logically to a searcher. So now we have our three target keyword phrases covered in a very short space.

In fact, the above sentence now covers the following keyword combinations:

- florists Miami
- florists Florida
- florists in Miami
- florists in Florida
- florists in Miami Florida
- wedding bouquets
- Miami wedding bouquets
- Florida wedding bouquets

When integrating your keywords, remember that their order is important. If you want your site to have the best possible chance of being found for the search query “Miami florists”, you need to put the keywords in that exact order and not “florists Miami”, because the spider searches the keywords in exact order. Unless they are stop words, also try to avoid using extra words between your keywords.

If you wanted to, you could integrate your company name into the Title tag, but (unless your company name is super short or includes a keyword), don’t sacrifice a keyword to do so. Instead, try placing the company name at the end of the tag so you can be sure that all your important keywords will be indexed first.

In the case of our florist, let’s imagine their name was Funky Florists. We could easily accommodate the name into the beginning of our optimized Title as follows:

It may reduce the keyword relevancy impact very slightly, but including your company name enables you to brand your page, which may be more important to you.

The content of the Title Tag is also what gets saved in a person’s Favorite’s líst when they bookmark your site, so having your company name included is worth considering from a branding perspective.

In Part 2 of this article, I will show you how to create your optimized META Description and META Keywords Tags.

About The Author
Article by Kalena Jordan, one of the first search engine optimization experts in Australia, who is well known and respected in the industry, particularly in the U.S. As well as running a daily Search Engine Advice Column, Kalena manages Search Engine College – an online training institution offering instructor-led short courses and downloadable self-study courses in Search Engine Optimization and other Search Engine Marketing subjects.

Competitive Analysis SEO

One of the most telling things you can do in any business is study your competitors. Your competition can reveal weakness in your business and open your eyes to new opportunities in your industry. The same is true in the web world, and with search engine optimization in particular. Why does your competitor consistently rank higher than you for important terms? What programming, content, and link building strategies are they using to help attain those rankings? Answer those questions and you’ll be one step closer to out-ranking them and bringing that traffic and those sales to your site.

Who should you study?

A lot of industries will have hundreds of direct competitors, and many more indirect competitors. You can very easily get caught up in “paralysis by analysis” if you try to analyze every possible competitor that you have. The purpose of studying your competition is to better your business, so I prefer to limit my analysis to ten sites or less.

You probably already know a handful of your adversaries. Either they were the incumbent leaders in your industry when you began, or your customers constantly remind you that they have lower prices, or every time you Google a phrase in your industry they come up first in the search results. Those sites are the first ones you should add to your list to research. Fill the rest of the list in by picking sites that consistently rank high for the most searched phrases related to your business. If you haven’t already done keyword research, I recommend starting with the SEO Book Keyword Research Tool. Once you understand which terms are searched the most, it will be pretty obvious which sites consistently rank high.

What information should you collect?

There are a plethora of potential metrics that can be used to gauge the competition. The six below can be collected for free in a matter of minutes and do a great job of explaining why a site ranks as well as it does.

Site Age — the age of a site is generally considered to be one of the top five most influential factors in how high a site ranks. While it’s something that is out of your control, sometimes you’ll see a site from 1999 consistently outranking a better site from 2006 and it’s helpful to understand why. You can see the history of a site using a nifty tool called the Wayback Machine.

Y! Links – the number of backlinks the domain has in Yahoo. As you probably already know by now, the quantity and quality of links pointing to a site is extremely relevant in determining how high it ranks. Looking at the particular links that your competition has serves as one of the best ways to learn how they market their site. It is also one of the best ways to brainstorm potential link building ideas for your site. For example, if your competitors products are all reviewed on a popular blog in your industry, there’s a good chance that same blog would want to review your products as well (giving you free publicity and quality links).

Pages indexed – this refers to the number of pages listed in a search engines index (also referred to as cached pages). Sites that rank high are generally easy for Google, Yahoo, and MSN to spider and thus have nearly all of their pages included in their indexes. You can check how many pages are indexed by typing in site:www.yoursite.com, or by using a tool like the Indexed Pages tool on SEOmoz. Using sitemaps is a great way to ensure that every page on your site is indexed properly.

Last indexed — this is the date of the last time Google visited the home page of the site. Ideally your site is indexed every single day, but it usually depends on how frequently you update your content. If you update content regularly, you should be being indexed at least once per week. You can find this date by clicking the “Cached” link next to any Google search result.

Home Page PR – this refers to Google Page Rank, a 0-10 score that Google gives to assess the value of a web page. It’s primarily determined by the quality and quantity of incoming links, and is a quick and dirty way to see how popular a page is. Since it’s a universal metric that all webmasters can quickly check, it’s often misused to assume how much traffic a site gets or how high it ranks — neither of which correlate very well with PR. For our purposes though, it’s a nice barometer to look at. It can be checked using the Google Toolbar or a site like PRChecker.

Strongest Pages — SEOmoz has a great strongest pages tool that will list off the most important pages on a domain, based on number of links pointing to it and its current rankings. This gives you an idea of what content on their domain is causing the high rankings. Is it popular articles? Is it product pages? Whatever their strongest pages, you should take note and use those pages as guidelines for potential additions and modifications to your site.

Using the information to your advantage

Pretty quickly you’ll start to realize that all of the sites you’re analyzing have been around for a few years, are indexed frequently and thoroughly, and have a lot of quality backlinks. So how do you get there? Well there’s nothing you can do about site age, but the rest are very much in your control: you can model title tags and page headings after the competition, you can structure your site and internally link the way that they do, you can add sections related to topics that they rank high for, and you can most definitely expand your link building plan by studying what has worked for them. Ultimately, analyzing and understanding your competition will reduce your learning curve and accelerate the growth of your site.

About the Author: Adam McFarland is the co-founder of Faceup-Sites and the author of the Faceup Web Marketing Book: The Perfect Combination of SEO, SEM, and other tactics to maximize results without breaking the bank. Faceup-Sites specializes in helping businesses develop highly customizable sites that are easy to update, visually pleasing, and search engine friendly at a fraction of the cost of what most developers charge.

20 Things You Need To Know Before Optimizing A Web Site

One of the most important aspects of a search engine optimization project is also one of the most overlooked – preparation! There are some important steps to take in advance of optimizing your site that will make sure your SEO is successful.

Before You Start

Before you start any search engine optimization campaign, whether it’s for your site or that belonging to a client, you need to answer the following questíons:

1) What is the overall motivation for optimizing this site? What do I/they hope to achieve? e.g. more sales, more subscribers, more traffíc, more publicity etc.

2) What is the time-frame for this project?

3) What is the budget for this project?

4) Who will be responsible for this project? Will it be a joint or solo effort? Will it be run entirely in-house or outsourced?

Answering these questíons will help you to build a framework for your SEO project and establish limitations for the size and scope of the campaign.

Ready: How Search Engine-Compatible is the Site Currently?

Something I find very useful before quoting on any SEO project is to produce what I call a Search Engine Compatibility Review. This is where I carry out a detailed overview and analysis of a site’s search engine compatibility in terms of HTML design, page extensions, link popularity, title and META tags, body text, target keywords, ALT IMG tags, page load time and other design elements that can impact search engine indexing.

I then provide a detailed report to potential clients with recommendations based on my findings. It just helps sort out in my mind what design elements need tweaking to make the site as search engine-friendly as possible. It also helps marketing staff prove to an often stubborn programming department (or vice versa!) that SEO is necessary. You might consider preparing something similar for your site or clients.

Steady: Requirements Gathering

Next, you need to establish the project requirements, so you can tailor the SEO campaign to you or your client’s exact needs. For those of you servicing clients, this information is often required before you are able to quote accurately.

To determine your project requirements, you need to have the following questíons answered:

1) What technology was used to build the site? (i.e. Flash, PHP, frames, Cold Fusion, JavaScrípt, Flat HTML etc)

2) What are the file extensions of the pages? (i.e. .htm, .php, .cfm etc)

3) Does the site contain database driven content? If so, will the URLs contain query strings? e.g. www.site.com/longpagename?source=123444fgge3212, (containing “?” symbols), or does the site use parameter workarounds to remove the query strings? (the latter is more search engine friendly).

4) Are there at least 250 words of text on the home page and other pages to be optimized?

5) How does the navigation work? Does it use text links or graphical links or JavaScrípt drop-down menus?

6) Approximately how many pages does the site contain? How many of these will be optimized?

7) Does the site have a site map or will it require one? Does the site have an XML sitemap submitted to Google Sitemaps ?

8) What is the current link popularity of the site?

9) What is the approximate Google PageRank of the site? Would it benefit from link building?

10) Do I have the ability to edit the source code directly? Or will I need to hand-over the optimized code to programmers for integration?

11) Do I have permission to alter the visible content of the site?

12) What are the products/services that the site promotes? (e.g. widgets, mobile phones, hire cars etc.)

13) What are the site’s geographical target markets? Are they global? Country specific? State specific? Town specific?

14) What are the site’s demographic target markets? (e.g. young urban females, working mothers, single parents etc.)

15) What are 20 search keywords or phrases that I think my/my client’s target markets will use to find the site in the search engines?

16) Who are my/my client’s major competitors online? What are their URLs? What keywords are they targeting?

17) Who are the stake-holders of this site? How will I report to them?

18) Do I have access to site traffíc logs or statistics to enable me to track visitor activity during the campaign? Specifically, what visitor activity will I be tracking?

19) How do I plan on tracking my or my client’s conversion trends and increased rankings in the search engines?

20) What are my/my client’s expectations for the optimization project? Are they realistic?

Answers to the first 10 questíons above will determine the complexity of optimization required. For example, if the site pages currently have little text on them, you know you’ll need to integrate more text to make the site compatible with search engines and include adequate target keywords. If the site currently uses frames, you will need to rebuild the pages without frames or create special No-Frames tags to make sure the site can be indexed, and so on.

This initial analysis will help you to scope the time and costs involved in advance. For those of you optimizing client sites, obtaining accurate answers to these questíons BEFORE quoting is absolutely crucial. Otherwise you can find yourself in the middle of a project that you have severely under-quoted for.

The remainder of questíons are to establish in advance the who, what, where, when, why and how of the optimization project. This will help you determine the most logical keywords and phrases to target, as well as which search engines to submit the site to.

For those of you optimizing web sites for a living, you might consider developing a questionnaire that you can give clients to complete to ensure you tailor the web site optimization to their exact needs.

Go!

So now you are clear about your motivations for optimizing the site, you know more about the target markets, you know how compatible the existing site is with search engines and how much work is involved in the search engine optimization process. You’re ready to tackle the job.

About The Author
Article by Kalena Jordan, one of the first search engine optimization experts in Australia, who is well known and respected in the industry, particularly in the U.S. As well as running a daily Search Engine Advice Column, Kalena manages Search Engine College – an online training institution offering instructor-led short courses and downloadable self-study courses in Search Engine Optimization and other Search Engine Marketing subjects.

The Difficulty With Grabbing Attention In Search

Those much-revered top five placements on search engines for a given set of keywords only draws the viewer’s attention for seven seconds. Gord Hotchkiss sees this short attention span as a call to brands to keep doing their market research.

The humorous Short Attention Span Theater of Comedy Central’s earlier days condensed comedy bits into brief pieces slightly longer than a commercial break. Fifteen years ago it was just a funny idea. These days the short amount of time needed to watch them would be a huge obstacle to the typical Internet surfer.

Hotchkiss has been discussing market research, particularly with regards to the studies his firm, Enquiro conducted, like their eye-tracking panels. When it comes to search, online entrepreneurs with solid organic search results, or top placement of paid search ads, may be surprised at how little attention those receive.

(T)he famous golden triangle study we did with Eyetools and Did It, and subsequent ones conducted by Enquiro, have shown over and over how quickly we interact with a search engine and how much of our scanning activity is ‘top loaded’.

Also, we don’t really skip over sponsored listings, but in some circumstances (research based activity) we’re less likely to click on them. We’ve used this body of research to come up with a fairly consistent model of how people interact with search results.

The results belie what people indicated in our very first survey. Well over 60% of the clicks happened in the first 4 or 5 listings, including the top sponsored ones.

People generally spent just a few seconds on the page (around 10 to 12 seems to be the average) in which they scan (not read) 4 to 5 listings. There was almost no deliberation. People click quickly, and if they don’t like what they see, they click back.

There were no faults with the market research, Hotchkiss noted. People were just being people, and their subconscious spurred these quick decisions.

“As Malcolm Gladwell shows in Blink, often these decisions prove to be better than the ones that we endlessly deliberate over. Our brains, especially the 95% that remains under the surface, are amazingly adept at making good decisions,” said Hotchkiss.

Overcoming this instinctive behavior may look like a call for more research. Hotchkiss said, “campaign optimization, A/B and multivariate testing are all best practices and should be done religiously.” They all suffer from the same problem, that being their state as a lagging indicator of customer behavior.

What he suggested means looking at people as more than a series of data in a spreadsheet. “You have to try to get into that subconscious mind. And that’s not easy,” Hotchkiss said.

Rather than curling up with the Jets-Cowboys game at 4:15 pm ET on Thanksgiving, the determined marketer may want to spend time within the pages of The Culture Code, or How Customers Think, or even the work of the late CMU professor, Herbert Simon.

Besides, Dallas is favored by 14 points, Jets beating Pittsburgh recently notwithstanding. It may not be enough time to implement such new information into a campaign this holiday season, but there will be another one next year. That gives readers a year to dig into cognitive psychology and consumer behavior. This could be worth its weight in conversions someday.

About the Author:
David A. Utter is a WebProNews editor and writer covering business and technology.

WNW Design Launches Downers Dish Hire

WNW Design is proud to announce the launch of Downers Dish Hire’s new website, offering hire of catering supplies for all kinds of events and parties.

Downers Dish Hire offer a wide range of services from cutlery, dishes and crockery, beverages, buffets and service, plus an after-event washing up service. The company’s new website offers the chance to add items to a Wishlist and then submit this for a quote and approval of availability. You can see their new website here: http://www.downersdishhire.co.uk