web design

Web Design: SEO is Worthless Without You

Despite the fact that good search engine optimization (SEO) consultants seldom make good web designers (and vice versa) both are essential for any business website as one hand washes the other, SEO and web design work together synergistically. Too often companies, big and small, rely solely on SEO to attract visitors to their site, forgetting about the need to convert those visitors into customers.

Two roles helping bring you customers

The job of SEO is to bring qualified leads to your website. Once they land on your website SEO has done its job.

Then it’s up to your web design to convert those visitors into paying clients, customers or patients. It does that by:

  • Your web design needs to make a good first impression.making a good first impression (you have three seconds for that to happen)
  • providing a professional appearance
  • making sure your website looks the same on all browsers
  • making it clear what you do or what you sell
  • creating a friendly impression so the visitor will want to patronize you
  • providing intuitive navigation so the visitors can find what they’re looking for
  • providing a mobile version of your site for cell phone visitors

Your web designer helps your search engine rankings

Yes, it’s true. The design and programming of your website can help your SEO efforts even beyond the specific coding issues laid out by your SEO consultant. Some of the important things your web designer can do to help include:

  • prYour web design needs to be hold the interest of your visitors.oper URL (web address) redirects when pages change on your website
  • readable and concise URLs for when visitors type them into their browsers
  • page speed issues so that your web pages download to browsers quickly
  • easy and intuitive navigation so visitors can find what they need quickly
  • overall pleasant and professional user experience

Great synergy

Effective search engine optimization multiplies the value of your web design by exposing it to more potential customers. And a great web design multiplies the power of SEO by converting more visitors into paying customers. With both of these positive factors in play, the value of each is multiplied by the contributions of the other.

Skimp on either one at your peril.

What’s your experience been with web design and SEO complementing each other … or not? Let us know in the comments below.

Need help with the SEO half of the equation. Give us a call.



Why Hiring a Professional Marketer is Good for Your Small Business

One of our strategic partners, Eagle Soars Consulting, has written a good piece explaining why investing in a professional marketer/designer is good for your business. The points they make aren’t restricted to the quality of work you can expect, though of course such work is almost always far superior to what non-marketing small business owners can produce. They also point out that the ROI is better when you hire a professional.

Some of the advantages of hiring a professional marketer or web designer or copywriter are

  • Why investing in a professional marketer is good for your small business.They bring objectivity and aren’t blinded to customer needs by being too close to the operation of the business.
  • You can offload the creative burden to them, reducing the strain on you and/or your employees’ time and attention. That allows you to continue to focus on what you do best: running your business.
  • A professional can produce effective marketing copy. That’s far more than simply grammatically correct text  — it’s a compelling customer-focused story that motivates readers to want to do business with you and only you.
  • Professionals help with managing deadlines, and aren’t distracted by business emergencies you may be exposed to. In the constant battle between what’s important and what’s urgent, the professional you hire can focus on the important marketing issues and free you up to handle the urgent issues in your business.
  • When you add up the true cost of doing it yourself  — salaries, overhead, lost productivity, distractions, and so forth  — using outside professionals is almost always less expensive.

The article by Eagle Soars Consulting is focused on marketing consulting, copywriting and web design. But it also applies to search engine optimization. Sure, our blog of more than seven years provides tons of information that (given the time and inclination) can be implemented by you, a small business owner. But our experience and that of our clients is that the folks at Eagle Soars Consulting are quite right. It’s easier, better  — and cheaper  — to invest in professional help.

If you need professional help, please consider Rank Magic and our strategic partners.

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Dashes versus Underscores in Your URL

Use dashes instead of underscores in your URLsBack in 2008 in a post about best practices for URL structure, we alluded to our preference to separate words in URLs with dashes or hyphens instead of the very common;l used underscore. We wrote that underscores (www.domain.tld/red_widgets.htm) cause search engines to see the words in the page name as redwidgets, but if you use dashes (www.domain.tld/red-widgets.htm) the search engines recognize and index the two separate words, red and widgets.

Google has just released a video explaining the historical rationale for that, why it’s still true, and why it’s unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. Watch the explanation by Google’s Matt Cutts.

Avoid Free Web Hosting for Your Business Site

Renee Shupe, the Redhead Virtual AssistantRenee Shupe, the Redhead Virtual Assistant, recently ranted about the dangers of using free web hosting sites for a business website. Of particular note are these:

  • Your site is a sub-domain at the hosting site. So instead of MyGreatSite.com, you become MySite.FreeWebHosting.com. That’s a killer for SEO.
  • Most of these require advertising on your pages. That’s likely to either be ads for stuff that’s totally irrelevant to you business or (worse yet!) ads for competitors.
  • You have little control over the look & feel of your site — you’re  forced to use their templates (some are just horrible-looking).
  • You lose rights to your site — if they shut down their service or go out of business, you don’t have a copy of your site that you can put up elsewhere.

Never skimp on your web hosting. Select a reputable hosting provider who will protect your interests in your web site and provide full value. Ask us to recommend some.

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Why Good Web Designers Make Bad SEOs

It seems to be almost universally true that someone who is good at web design is lousy at Search Engine Optimization. And anyone (like us) who is good at SEO is a lousy web designer.

Why should that be?

Right brain web designers versus left brain SEO consultantsEnter a little psychology to explain the difference between right-brain dominance and left-brain dominance. This is related (but not identical) to whether a person is right-handed or left-handed, but is far more pervasive than just handedness. We all have, of course, two sides to our brain, but just as righties have much better fine control over their right hands than their left, we are each much stronger in either the right or the left hemisphere of our brains.

Left brain dominant people tend to:

  • be text-oriented rather than visually-oriented
  • be content focused rather than presentation focused
  • work from the details to the whole instead of the other way around
  • be sequential thinkers as opposed to conceptual thinkers.

Right brain dominated people are just the opposite in all those things.

Web designers versus SEOsVery few of us are equally dominant in both sides of the brain. It takes a strongly right-brained person to make an excellent web designer. That doesn’t mean they have to be left-handed, although you’ll probably find a larger proportion of lefties among web designers than you will among SEO consultants. And it takes a strongly left-brained dominant person to be a good SEO consultant. Just review the characteristics listed above, and you’ll see how strongly split they are between characteristics needed for visual design versus those needed for a disciplined, step by step approach to SEO.

Increasingly, web designers are beginning to appreciate the need for SEO to allow their websites to be most productive for their clients. That’s a good thing, but some of them decide to try and do the SEO on the websites they design. That’s almost always a mistake. We see the results every day. Clients tell us their web designer has already “done their SEO” and wonder why they still have no visibility in the search engines.

You need to have different people do your web design and SEO.

You don’t necessarily need different companies to get the results you need. A web design company may employ both right-brained web designers and left-brained SEO consultants, and if they work well together that can be a terrific solution. But if your web designer is in a small design-only company, you’ll find much greater success working with an independent SEO. Check us out and see if we’re a better fit for what you need.

Or just drop us a question and we’ll be happy to talk with you.


Check Your Browser Compatibility

Makes sure your site is compatible with at least these browsers.I’m always surprised at how many small business websites I come across that don’t display properly in Firefox. I usually blame sloppy web design by their webmasters, but many small businesses cut corners and try to design their websites themselves. Sometimes they succeed,

Internet Explorer is still the most common browser in use, but other browsers are catching up. Last month Internet Explorer had 55% of the browser market, Firefox was up to 21%, Chrome had 10%, Safari had about 5% , and the rest filled out the remaining 9% or so.

That means that about half of the visitors to your web site are likely to be using something other than Internet Explorer. Web sites that haven’t been designed for cross-browser compatibility are usually designed to work properly only in Internet Explorer, with questionable results elsewhere. Common problems are misalignment of elements on the page, text overlaying images or other blocks of text, text running off the edge of the browser, and so forth. And you don’t just need to consider other brands of browser — there are differences in display even between different versions of the same browser.

A ruined user experience on your website loosely translates into a lost sale. Don’t let that happen to you!

Search Marketing Standard magazine has an article on how to approach the issue. They recommend checking your web pages for compatibility in a number of different browsers. While few of us want to install a dozen or more of the most popular browser, there’s an easier solution: BrowserShots. Just check off the browsers you want to compare, enter the URL of your web pages (one at a time) and wait while BrowserShots compiles screenshots from each browser you chose. If you find a problem, check your code and explore the suggestions in the Search Marketing Standard article.

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Page Speed Automated

Check your page downoad speed.Somewhere within Google, there’s an organization known as the “Make the Web Faster” initiative. It’s based on the belief that the faster pages load in your browser, the better. People are no longer content to sit drumming their fingers while waiting for a web page to display. Slow web pages are a user turn-off, and we’ve written before about how that can affect your rankings, at least in Google. In fact, Google’s position on this is clear from this statement:

“At Google, we’re obsessed with speed – we measure it, pick it apart, think about it constantly.  It’s even baked into our quarterly goals.”

We include page download speed issues in optimization recommendations for our clients, and wrote about a tool Google created called “Page Speed” to help webmasters identify specific speed issues and which suggests how to fix them.

Recently, Google announced a great new tool – sort of the next generation page speedup technology:

We just launched a new open-source Apache module called mod_pagespeed that any webmasters can use to quickly and automatically optimize their sites. (It’s like Page Speed, but makes the changes automatically.)

Google says this new tool can double the speed of web page downloads, and do it automatically. It’s not something the typical business owner should mess with, as it’s a bit technical. But you ought to make your webmaster aware of the tool if you have any slow pages on your site. Google describes it this way:

mod_pagespeed includes several filters that optimize JavaScript, HTML and CSS stylesheets. It also includes filters for optimizing JPEG and PNG images. The filters are based on a set of best practices known to enhance web page performance. Webmasters who set up mod_pagespeed in addition to configuring proper caching and compression on their Apache distribution should expect to see an improvement in the loading time of the pages on their websites.

The improved user experience will contribute to your conversion rate, and the prospect of ranking higher in Google as a by-product is nothing to sneeze at. Here’s Google’s page for mod_pagespeed.

What Makes SEO Fail?

What makes an SEO campaign fail to deliver results?What makes SEO fail? There can be many reasons an SEO campaign fails to achieve or continue achieving the results you desire. One way SEO results are bound to fail is if you don’t keep your SEO consultant abreast of website changes. We’ve seen this happen all to often. Let’s analyze what happens.

What the client thinks:

We need to make changes to the website to reflect the changing nature of our business and our marketing focus. We don’t want to run all of them past the SEO consultant because they don’t concern him or her. And they may charge us for their time to review stuff that’s not related to our search engine rankings. Who needs the extra red tape and expense?

What the SEO consultant encounters:

A Keyword Status Report for the client shows a substantial drop in rankings for a group of important keyword phrases. Manually checking some of those keyword phrases confirms the worst: the client no longer shows up anywhere for those critical search phrases. Next, a review of the client web site shows that the pages that had been optimized for those phrases are gone altogether, or combined with other pages, or have been rewritten such that the keyword phrase no longer exists in the copy or the page title tag or anywhere else. Diagnosis: SEO failure.

We’ve seen this far too often. One client that had great rankings five years ago (the last time we were in touch with each other) decided to get their web site redesigned a year or more ago. The new site really looks a lot better than the old site. But their new web designer wasn’t given a copy of our optimization recommendations, so they just redesigned the web site to look the way the client wanted. Result: every last optimization technique on the site vanished. Suddenly the site can’t be found in Google or Yahoo or Bing unless you search explicitly for the company name. Anyone who doesn’t know the company name will never find them by searching for what they do. That’s SEO failure. And until we happened to talk, the client was blaming it on the poor economy.

How to prevent this kind of SEO failure:

If your web site has been optimized and is doing well for your essential keywords, make sure any redesign includes your optimization. Keep the recommendations from your SEO consultant and give them to your web designer before they start redesigning your web site.

In fact, it doesn’t take a complete redesign to compromise your optimization. We recommend talking with your SEO consultant before changing anything on your web site. Don’t worry about the small cost that may be involved. You’re better off safe than sorry.

Spider Simulator

Search engines use little programs called “bots” or “spiders” to crawl the web and index information about all the pages they find. How well the spiders can understand what your web pages are about has a tremendous impact on whether you can achieve good rankings.

Some web sites are constructed in ways that hinder the search engine spiders. In fact, sad as it may seem, many web designers still create websites that can’t be understood by search engine spiders at all. Could yours be one of them? Why not find out?

Check out the Spider Simulator — type in your website address and see what it looks like to the search engines. Can they read the text content on your page? Can they see the links to other pages on your website? If the answer to either of those is no or partly, your search engine rankings may be getting hurt by your web design.

A particularly egregious example is a website designed in all Flash. An example is Nature’s Equity. For this site, the Spider Simulator reports that the only text it can read is the company name and no spiderable links were found. That means the only thing the search engines can understand about this web site is the company name. All the information on their site about the company, their team, the services they offer … all of that is invisible to the search engines. That means that potential clients looking for their services can’t find them unless they already know the company name.

Are you in the same boat? Check yourself out.

Google Hates Flash, Too

All-Flash Web Site is the SEO Kiss of DeathIt’s not just Apple dissing Flash. Google, at the end of the day, also hates Flash. Running an all-Flash environment is SEO death. Always was. Still is.

Flash websites are simply too complicated for Google’s spiders to actually understand. Google sees the internet primarily in text – flash, and other scripts are ignored. Of course it’s not just Google. No search engines can effectively index all-Flash web sites.

Google has made no effort to improve its searching of flash. Two years ago Google and Adobe announced they were working together on the problem. Since then, nothing.

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