web design

Should You Avoid a Niche-Designed Website?

Niche Websites: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

search-magnifying-glassThere are web design and hosting companies out there that focus on a specific industry or niche. Some create only Realtor websites, others specialize in car repair shop websites, some do only podiatrist websites, and so on. They have advantages and disadvantages, and for some situations they may be the perfect solution. But for others, they can be a very bad solution despite how attractive the process might appear.

The Good

  • Considering their specialty, they may understand your target market or readership perfectly; better than other web designers.
  • Often you’ll have a single point of contact for web design, web programming, content writing, etc. instead of different individuals.
  • They may integrate with your back office systems like practice management systems, CRM (Customer Relations Management) systems, etc.
  • They may offer specialized, pre-programmed tools to enhance your website; things like mortgage calculators, diagnostic questionnaires, etc.
  • They may have pre-written content that can really expand and flesh out your website.

The Bad

  • You may get stuck. If you’re unhappy with pricing or customer service, you may be unable to pick up your website and plunk it down at another web hosting company.
  • If you’re stuck, you may find yourself at the mercy of abnormally high recurring costs for your hosting.
  • Once you’re stuck, the company may have less motivation to update your site to current standards and your site may begin to look stale.
  • Limited templates may mean your site looks like a lot of other websites that are in your niche.
  • In some cases, you don’t own the rights to the content on your site; it may be legally owned by the website creator, not you, the website owner. That means if you want to move your site away from them, all the content needs to be rewritten from scratch.

The Ugly  — Sometimes

You may be in a niche that doesn’t require SEO. Not every website needs to draw visitors from search engines. Someone new to a community may search online for a pediatrician or a podiatrist, but someone who needs a brain surgeon is very unlikely to search the web to find one. If you’re that brain surgeon, you rely on referrals from other doctors and patients, and your website serves to provide information to people who have already been referred to you. For you, a niche-sprcific website may be perfect.

But if you’re like most website owners you need to attract new customers, clients and patients via your website. You need to show up in search engines when people look for what you sell or what services you provide. Here is where niche-designed websites may get ugly.

Some may not permit many optimization techniques that will help your website show up for the searches your target is looking for.

Google hates duplicate contentBut perhaps the ugliest thing is something I listed above as a good thing: They almost all offer pre-written content for your website. If you’re a podiatrist, say, they may have content about bunions, ingrown toenails, ankle injuries, plantar fasciitis, and many other conditions of the foot and ankle. Good, right? Not really.

The Danger of Duplicate Content

Let’s say you want patients suffering from bunions to find you online. If a dozen local podiatrists have a page about bunions that says the same thing on all of their sites, Google is very unlikely to show more than one of them in search results. What good does it do the searcher if every one of the top ten results has exactly the same information for them?

How likely is this to happen? Well, in a search for a local doctor who treats bunions, I found a podiatrist’s web page that began with this sentence: “A bunion is a bone deformity caused by an enlargement of the joint at the base and side of the big toe (metatarsophalangeal joint).” That page has a good deal of relevant, interesting content. But then when I searched in Google for that precise sentence, I found quite literally thousands of web pages with exactly the same content. The likelihood that multiple podiatrists serving the same geographical community have the same page on their websites is very high. Any two or three such podiatrists are almost certainly not all going to show up on the first page of Google because of that duplicate content issue.

Those websites will be fine as brochure websites for people who already know the name of the doctor or medical practice, but almost worthless in terms of attracting people looking for a podiatrist on Google, Yahoo, or Bing.

Does your experience with a niche-designed website support or contradict this? Let us know in the comments below.

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Why Did Your Nice, New Website Destroy Your Search Rankings?

Loss of RankingsIt’s sad to say, but we see this all too often. An old website gets a facelift, and the new site looks great. But it’s not long before the website owner notices that they’re no longer getting any business from people finding them on the web. What happened?

We’ve written before about why good SEO consultants make lousy web designers, and vice versa, and there are just some SEO techniques that great web designers don’t really think much about.

The two mistakes that kill your online visibility

There are two main factors that govern where you rank in the search engines: Relevance and Reputation. A significant problem with either one of them will cost you rankings in the search engines.

Keyword relevanceRelevance

During the website redesign, the text copy on your pages may be updated. Certainly the HTML code behind the pages is changed. It’s not at all uncommon for the new copy to fail to use some of your essential keyword phrases or for them not to be included appropriately in the code. This makes it difficult for search engines to recognize that your page is an appropriate match for those keyword phrases.

The solution to this is to go back to your original optimization recommendations and re-apply them to your webpages.  (You do have optimization recommendations to reapply, don’t you?)

Reputation

This accounts for 40-50% of where you rank in Google. It’s important in other search engines as well, but Google weighs it more heavily than the rest of them. Your reputation (sometimes called  “authority”) is measured by your link popularity:” the number and quality of other websites that link to yours. Over time, the pages on your website have earned significant link popularity, helping them to rank well in the search engines.

URL changes can hurt your rankings

Unfortunately, most website redesign projects result in new URLs for the pages on your website. Without explicit action, all the link popularity earned by you or previous page URLs is simply lost. This is related to the issue of canonicalization we discuss in the SEO portion of our website, as well as in our blog.

The solution is to do the proper kind of “redirect” from the old URL to the new URL so that the new URL can inherit the link popularity and reputation earned by your previous version of the page. There are multiple kinds of redirects that will ensure that anyone who tries to go to your old page will be sent to the new one. But only one kind, the 301 permanent redirect, will also redirect the link popularity value from the old URL to the new one.

Don’t Panic

Don't Panic!

Obviously, if this happens to you you need to jump on it as quickly as possible and get things fixed. Better still would be to anticipate this potential disaster and deal with it before your redesigned website even goes live.

If this has happened to you and you need help recovering from the loss of search rankings, Rank Magic can help.

Has this happened to you? Share your experience in the Comments below.

WE hope you’ll  Like, Tweet or +1 this post if you found it helpful.


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.


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