Search engine optimization for small and very small businesses.

Archive for the web design Category

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, you become 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.

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.

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.