16Feb/15

How to correctly use Header (H) tags/styles

It’s one of those topics that triggers that little annoyance twitch above one eye. Web designers, hear my plea! Headers are not design elements. Headers are structural HTML elements. They define the structure of a page, and how different pieces of content relate to other pieces of content. I use the example of a fictional page about United States holidays. Please note, this is not an all-encompassing list, I’m not including every faith or ever secular holiday because this is simply a short example.

  • H1 : U.S. Holidays : Main topic of page
    • H2 : Faith-based holidays : Sub-division of main topic
      • H3 : Christian holidays : Sub-division of preceding H2
        • H4 : Jesus : Sub-division of preceding H3
        • H4 : Saints : Sub-division of preceding H3, related to previous H4, but NOT a sub-topic
      • H3 : Jewish holidays : Sub-division of preceding H2, related to previous H3, but NOT a sub-topic
    • H2 : Secular holidays
      • H3 : Patriotic Holidays
        • H4 : Soldier/Veteran recognition
        • H4 : National Pride

Notes on proper header usage:

  1. In most circumstances, you’ll only have 1 H1 per page. This is the main topic of the page summarized into a few words.
  2. Headers flow in progressive numeric order. An H2 must be preceded by an associated H1. An H4 must be preceded by an associated H3. Etc. Introducing a header of a higher order (lower number) than the previously encountered header indicates the start of a new content association.
    1. Using the example above:
      1. The 2nd H2 (secular holidays) tells search engines that we’re introducing a new contextual content section that is related to U.S. Holidays, but separate from the first H2 “Faith-based holidays”.
      2. The 2nd H3 (Jewish holidays) tells the search engines that we’re introducing a new content section related to Faith-based Holidays that is NOT directly related to Christianity, which was covered by the previous H3.
    2. Headers must have some informative piece of information that defines the content to follow. “Associated Products” is not necessarily a good header element.

So want to make something “look” like a header but not actually use an H tag? Simple alternative: Define a CSS class or ID and style accordingly in association with a DIV or P.

08Feb/15

The House that SEO Built

Introduction

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can be strictly defined as the modification of website code designed to improve accessibility to search engine robots. This technical definition broadly encompasses a variety of techniques from HTML validation and optimization to rich text markup. The more generally understood, broad definition of SEO takes these technical strategies and incorporates aspects of relationship building, content creation and distribution, social media, and all associated factors that impact a website’s organic search engine rankings.

SEO can be divided into two high-level categories: On-Site SEO and Off-Site SEO. On-Site SEO encompasses all aspects that are directly within the control of a website owner on the targeted domain. Off-Site SEO encompasses all aspects that are outside the control of a website owner, and lie under the control of other site owners or social media channels.

SEO is in an evolutionary state. It is sometimes referred to as “Search Experience Optimization” (SXO). This evolution places the focus on the user experience as opposed to technical considerations such as exact use of keyword phrases. As search engines grow to gain a greater understanding of the semantic relationship between pages and the contextual relevancy of content on a page.

On-Site SEO

Imagine you’ve purchased a new home. You may want to throw a housewarming party to show your new home to your friends and family, meet the neighbors, and begin your new life. However, before you send invite the guests, you want to ensure that your home is clean, well-organized, and presents a positive representation of your life. This analogy applies well to the On-Site SEO topic.

On-Site SEO can be divided into two primary areas: technical SEO and creative SEO. Technical SEO focuses on code standards, code efficiency, and technical specifications. Creative SEO focuses on the generation of content designed to attract and motivate human visitors.

Technical On-Site SEO

Continuing with the previous “new home” analogy, technical on-site SEO is the foundation and walls of your home. This includes:

  • HTML code validation (W3C Standards)
  • HTML code optimization (reducing the text-to-code ratio)
  • Structured data (Schema.org, RTFa)
  • URL path optimization
  • Image alt tags
  • Image URLs
  • Keyword density
  • Keyword context

Technical On-Site SEO will continue to evolve as technology evolves to accommodate increasing user demands. Website managers must keep their sites adaptive to an increasing number of devices and user interfaces. Additionally, the technical SEO manager must adapt easily to creative SEO, balancing engaging human content with contextual cues on which search engines can easily adapt. Tools like Wordle provide ways in which we can see the relationship and context provided by the text on a page.

Creative On-Site SEO

Once more looking at our “new home”, creative SEO includes the furniture, accessories, and colors used in a home. These are designed to make visitors feel welcome, and encourage them to stick around and share their experiences.

Creative SEO is the most time intensive, research driven, value-driven portion of SEO. Creative SEO focuses on content and how that content relates to site visitors. Rather than a project or process, creative SEO is an ongoing engagement.

Creative SEO can be visualized as a cross-connected feedback loop

  • Research indicates the topics on which potential visitors are interested (keyword research). Keyword research comes from a variety of sources including:
    • Google AdWords
    • Keyword Discovery
    • Wordtracker
    • Site visitor surveys
  • Creative teams develop content designed for these potential visitors
  • Deployment teams deploy the content on the most appropriate platforms, which may include
    • Articles
    • eBooks
    • Product Descriptions
    • Forum posts
    • Blog posts
    • Infographics
  • Distribution teams ensure that visitors can share the content easily (passive sharing), as well as engage thought leaders to spread valuable content (active sharing)
  • Analytics teams analyze consumption and engagement of content, and initiate research indicating additional topics on which potential visitors are interested (restart loop)

Combined with technical SEO via keyword placement, creative SEO delivers a rich user experience that encourages conversion and distribution. We’ll look at distribution more in the next section, Off-Site SEO.

Off-Site SEO

In the past, Off-Site SEO primarily consisted of one phrase: Link Building. Website owners paid agencies to acquire anchor-text-specific links on a variety of websites in order to increase a page or domain’s relevance for that anchor text phrase. With one update, Google shattered the established link building industry. Today, Off-Site SEO encompasses an array of tactics used to increase a page and/or domain’s authority for a given topic area.

Outreach

Not all of the “old school” link building methods have fallen out of favor. Webmaster outreach can still be very effective if done correctly. Approached as relationship building and community involvement, webmaster outreach may branch into a variety of tactics, including (but not limited to):

  • Broken Link Building
  • List Inclusion
  • Information Updates

Webmasters typically respect free help. Providing an informational update regarding site content can be an effective way to build a relationship and improve your site’s authority.

Content Distribution

As the power of unique content continues to gain focus, content distribution methods are seeing a rise in popularity. There is some debate on how long these methods can be sustained, and how they will be impacted in future search updates. The most popular methods of content distribution for link building include:

  • Infographics
  • Guest Blogs
  • Articles

Each of these approaches, and others, have advantages and disadvantages. Infographics are relatively inexpensive to produce, but may lose link value quickly. Guest blogs are more time and cost intensive, but when done correctly, can have significant value over time. Articles must be approached very carefully, as both the quality of the content and the relevancy and authority of the hosting domain will come into play.

Social Media

What started with MySpace has grown to include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and even a resurgent MySpace. The power of social media quickly grew from an interesting pastime to a worldwide communications mechanism during periods of social upheaval. Search engines have been slow to react directly to social signals, but indirect relationships can be observed. Particularly, a piece of content that receives high social traction also stands a high probability of gathering a higher link velocity.

Analysis

A variety of metrics exist in regards to Search Engine Optimization. These include:

  • Unique Visitors
  • Pages Viewed
  • Bounce Rate
  • Pages per Visit
  • Visits
  • Referral Source
  • Conversion Rate

These and other metrics cannot be evaluated in a vacuum. For example, while any marketer would be thrilled with an increase in traffic, an accompanying spike in bounce rate and decrease in conversion rate would be disastrous. Such parallels usually indicate either a significant technical issue interrupting the user experience or an extremely poor customer experience (for example, misleading or poor quality content). Likewise, it is relatively easy to produce a keyword rankings list showing significant increases in rankings for obscure phrases, but efforts to produce those rankings may be harming rankings for more targeted, user friendly phrases.

Taken together, analytics provide a window into the world of the website visitor. Without an understanding of visitor behavior, the search marketing cannot make the decisions that will advance a website’s goals.

Playing Nicely with Others

Search Engine Optimization does not exist in a vacuum. While viewing a search engine results page, users may be presented with paid advertising in the form of banner or sidebar PPC ads or product listing ads. The user may also be presented with a search engine’s “Universal Search” integration, in which image, video, news, and other search methods are injected into the organic results. As a result, organic search marketers must be aware of all forms of search engine marketing and how they will impact an organic user’s experience. Through cooperation and communication, a website can ensure that its message will appear to a user regardless of the medium.

30Dec/14

Five quick & easy technical SEO audits

Technical audits are terrifying. You never know if you’re going to get a two-page summary that boils down to “Your baby’s ugly”, or a thirty page detailed set of recommendations and actions. If you’re considering a technical audit, take it in small steps first and knock out the easier things before tackling larger issues like site navigational structure. Here are five things you can check for and (hopefully) address in pretty short order.

Schema.org markup

While this may not improve your rankings (ranking impact of Schema.org markup can be pretty hotly debated), it can definitely have an impact on your click-through rate. It’s also amazingly easy to implement on the majority of platforms. You’re mostly just updating existing HTML to include a few more bits & pieces. Check out their Getting Started guide at http://schema.org/docs/gs.html. Want an example? <h1>Name</h1> becomes <h1 itemprop=”name”>Name</h1>. There’s a bit more to it than that, but most of it is really that easy!

Make proper use of Header tags

Headers are for structure. Headers are not for design. If a designer uses a Header element (or “H” tag) to make something big and bold, smack them with a big Nerf bat. Don’t have one? There’s lots on Amazon and eBay. There’s even a range of colorful Nerf bats. Use them like warning levels. Green bat? Minor infraction. Red bat? Somebody’s in trouble.

Avoid boilerplate content

I’m stepping out on a limb including this in a “technical” audit recommendation list, but if your content has been provided by suppliers, scraped from the internet, or is in any other way an exact duplicate of information found elsewhere, you’re starting off on the wrong foot. Look at it this way: Google gets asked by hundreds of thousands of users per hour for an amazing array of subjects. Google has to decide which source(s) to display. Why should they display your site, which has the same information as other sites that have been online longer and have other pages with unique content?

Yes, creating content is painful. Yes, creating content can be expensive. But if you really want to survive long-term in organic search, figure out what your users want and create content that meets those needs.

Create unique and effective Title and Description tags

These two have very different impacts on your organic search presence, but are usually handled together. The Title element controls what shows up in your browser’s title bar, the default name of bookmarks, and (most important here), it SHOULD be the big, bold link in search engine results pages for that page on your site. In some circumstances, Google will pick its own display for the results link, but that usually means you did a poor job structuring the title tag to start with. The title should be short, sweet, and to the point, and ideally include some kind of unique proposition that makes it stand out from the other results on the page.

The meta description has a significantly smaller impact on your search rankings, but can have a significant impact on your click-through rates. You’ve got more room here than the Title tag, but don’t go overboard. Keep the message directed at the value to the user. What are you offering, and why should the user choose your result over the other 10 on the same page (assuming there are no PPC ads, local links, news links, etc. etc., when there might be 30 other links on the page).

Run Xenu Link Sleuth

There are a variety of site crawlers out there, all of which have their advantages and drawbacks. Xenu is a perfect starting point. You give it your website address, hit start, and leave it alone. Assuming you don’t have a massive site, Xenu will crawl every URL that it encounters and then give you a report on anything problematic. This is a great way to identify old/bad links that are giving anything other than a 200 OK status result.

Published on Tech Cocktail:

5 Steps for Startups Optimizing Their Sites for Mobile

mobile optimized site

So you’ve established an online presence and are ready to take your site mobile. Like most organizations – big and small – optimizing their sites for mobile for the first time, you may be wondering where to start. What comes first? Mobile optimization is a daunting task that leaves a lot of room for error. Getting it right now, however, can you help you avoid major problems down the road that will only get more difficult and expensive to resolve over time.

Here are five steps to optimizing your website for mobile for the first time:

25Nov/14

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Quick-Start Guide

If you’re operating a website, there’s a high probability that you wish you had more traffic from Google, Bing, and other online search engines. If you’re a good operator, you’re supplying information on your website that’s helpful to your target market. When you’re ready to make the investments to further your website’s return, the incredibly broad scope of online marketing services may seem overwhelming. What follows are my recommendations for a strong Search Engine Optimization (SEO) foundation.

Understand what SEO is and is not

A summary definition of SEO could be:

The process of making changes to a website designed to make it easier for search engines and users to locate the most relevant information on a page, improving the relevancy and authority of a page within the context of a user’s query in a public search engine.

The lay definition would be:

Making changes to my website so that it shows up on Google when someone searches for my product or service.

SEO Is SEO Is Not
Clean HTML Content Marketing
Optimizing Title Tags All about Title Tags
Monitoring a backlink portfolio Forum/Directory/Comment links
Proper implementation of Schema.org markup Keyword spam

SEO “Getting Started” Resources

Here are some of the best resources for anyone looking to get started with SEO:

It’s also useful to subscribe to RSS feeds from industry resources, as these can provide daily updates on algorithm updates, the latest thoughts, and interesting industry research. I use Feedly to monitor these RSS feeds:

Treat agencies with a dose of skepticism

There are a few things to keep in mind any time you’re evaluating an agency to manage your SEO efforts:

  • Google does not “recommend”, “authorize”, or “trust” SEO agencies. Anyone claiming to be Google Authorized, Google Recommended, Google Trusted, etc is lying. Proceed with caution. Note: Google does certify agencies for AdWords support, and some agencies have used this as a very tenuous reason for justifying the “Google Certified” claims.
  • No one can guarantee you first page placement for any phrases that matter. If you’re getting a rankings guarantee, it’s going to be for phrases that you don’t care about or don’t have any search volume, competition, or traffic.
  • SEO is not a one-time process. If someone offers you a one-time quote to “SEO your website”, proceed with caution.
  • SEO is an on-going partnership. Look for partner agencies that will recommend
    • Content improvements/new content
    • HTML improvements
    • Link building opportunities / Relationship building
  • SEO is not cheap. I wish I had better news for you, but you really do pay for quality and long-term results. PLEASE keep this in mind when working with an agency, freelancer, etc. If you pay for cheap now, you will pay for it ten fold later.

Be nice to your users

Know your user base. Create content that your users find useful, informative, entertaining, or otherwise engaging. Don’t create content for the sake of creating content. While that may get you rankings, it will cost you long term customers.

Be nice to search engines

Clean, compliant, validated HTML code goes a long, LONG way to improving search engine results. If the search engines can understand the purpose of your page, it makes it much easier for them to rank it appropriately. The goal should be to make it as easy as possible for the search engines to understand the content you’ve created for your users.

Some tips to better HTML:

  • Structure your markup appropriately.
    • Header tags provide structure, not design.
    • Tables are fine IF used to present tabular information (i.e. spec tables).
    • Use columns responsibly. Sidebars support the main topic, and content for them should come after main content.
    • Position your content as high as possible in your HTML.
    • Create streamlined navigational elements that don’t weigh down your code.
  • Use Schema.org markup
  • Close elements properly (I’m looking at you, img tags)
  • Provide img alt attributes

I hope this is helpful in some way! If you have any questions or recommendations to make this better, leave a comment or use the contact form!