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Do you need to hire an expert?

Recently, I saw an article called ‘do you need to hire a SEO expert’.

My immediate response was yes and no – depending on what you mean by ‘need’, you may or may not need a SEO expert.

Do you need an SEO expert because you have to be qualified or an ‘expert’ to do it (to at least an acceptable level)? No, not really.Professionals see how pieces fit together

However, an expert may do it faster and have knowledge to work more efficiently and get better results, but it is possible to do it yourself. Of course, if you don’t know anything about SEO and have to study it first, an expert’s value is greater.

Do you need an SEO person to help you get SEO done alongside everything else you do? Then quite possibly, yes you do. It depends on how busy you are and how much importance you place on SEO obviously, but SEO is one thing you can consider outsourcing.

Of course, if you are just after time saving, you may be able to use someone to work on your SEO (such as finding places to guest blog or comment and checking your site for deadlinks and duplicate meta data) rather than finding someone qualified to give you advice and expertise.

Does the same apply to hiring a professional writer?

Again, it is a maybe type of answer.

Do you need a professional writer to help you get everything done in a working day? Yes, you quite possibly do need help.

Do you need a professional writer because you can’t do it yourself? That depends on what you’re after. Most people in business can probably write webcopy and blog posts themselves so a writer is perhaps not necessary to get the content onto the page.

However, some people can’t write well so would get much better results via a professional – and probably find it is done with less time and stress, too.

Some people can write reasonably well, but will still benefit from someone who has a better understanding of business writing and can be objective about the content.

So if you can write with good spelling and grammar, understand about writing for a business audience and have plenty of time, no you don’t need a professional writer to help you!

Blog post linking

In a recent blog post, Anna Cairo stated that many links to other blogs can theoretically make your blog successful – rather than just the blog itself.

Working together through linksSo how does linking to other blogs help your blog?

  1. you provide additional information for your readers which they will appreciate – especially if you link to someone who gives a different perspective or technical input to your blog
  2. you can support your opinions and knowledge with other posts to build your credibility
  3. search engines give you credit for outgoing links when assessing your blog’s ranking so linking to others, especially other good blogs and posts, is good for your SEO
  4. the people you link to will probably appreciate your links. Many of them will leave a comment in your blog or return the favour by linking to your blog
  5. others’ blog posts can inspire ideas for your own post so why not link back to the post that inspired you? Either as a courtesy or as a means of introducing the issue you are posting about (i.e. it saves you writing out a detailed background for your post)
  6. your blog is more interesting if it has variety and links off to relevant materials, whether on your site or elsewhere – and people are more likely to share interesting posts and blogs than boring ones!

So when is the last time you linked to another blog within one of your blog posts?

Considering an interactive website?

Having an effective interactive website is up-to-date, interesting and easy to set up but can be very time consuming, so why consider making your website interactive?

  1. it gives you fresh content which is great for SEO and getting repeat visitors
  2. you can get input and feedback from customers and visitors which can help you improve your business
  3. you can develop relationships which is good for you as a human being, puts a personal feel to your business and develops a group of people who trust you and may just recommend you
  4. build trust and credibility in you and your business by sharing information and encouraging a community
  5. it makes your site interesting and therefore gives people a reason to come back
  6. you can centralise information rather than promote various online profiles – for instance, if I can read your Tweets on your site instead of logging into Twitter I stay on your site for longer
  7. it can be an easy way to announce business news (new products, extended hours, more articles on the site, etc)
  8. you never know why you may learn from the people who decide to interact on your site – use the internet opportunities to positive effect
  9. it will certainly appeal to some groups of people and is unlikely to offend or upset other people
  10. it puts you into the ‘up-to-date’ minority, showing you have an interest inner technology and advancing your business
  11. it shows you are interested in other people and can accept their ideas

 

Getting your website found…

yelling look at meThere are many ways to promote your website, some will be more effective than others for your business and some are cheaper than others.

You will probably get the best results by using a number of promotional means, especially as some will take time to have much impact (promotional articles for example are effective over time).

It is also worth remembering that it is not just in the early stages of your website that you need to promote it – it will be an ongoing process although the level and style of promotion is likely to be different at various times.

So here are 9 tips for getting your website found…

  1. put a listing into some online directories – but remember free isn’t always a good investment and that some directories are really only used by people adding listings. However, more incoming links helps with search engines, too (excluding links from link farms and other black listed sites)
  2. list your URL in your signature in emails you send and comments you add in any online forums
  3. if you have an enewsletter, get it included in a newsletter aggregator for more links to your site and potentially building your subscriber list
  4. include your URL prominently in your social media profiles and in some of your updates
  5. submit promotional articles to various sites and newsletters – they build credibility as well as incoming links
  6. put ads in newsletters sent to your target audience
  7. Having a blog in itself can build your website traffic, and you can enhance that further by adding your link to blog directories, and commenting on other blogs
  8. place ads on other sites (including through search engines themselves and social media platforms) – this often will cost money but sometimes you can barter or find free opportunities
  9. making use of offline promotions (think about ads in papers, radio ads, flyers, business cards, stationery and the like)

SEO needs to be understood as it encompasses all of the above to some extent and can send you a lot of traffic if harnessed well. It is also an ongoing process and will require many adjustments on your site over time to keep things fresh and allow for changes in search engine rules.

It is certainly possible to manage your own SEO or you can hire someone to help you with it. However, there are many people offering SEO services who are not ethical or qualified to help so be very careful who you trust with any SEO activities – and my personal opinion is to never use a SEO company who sends you an unsolicited email asking for your money.
This post is part of Word Constructions’ Setting up a website series
1. having a website helps more than you
2. what’s involved in setting up a website?
3. Learn about web hosting
4. Preparing your initial website content
5. Managing website design 101
6. Choosing a web designer
7. Basic web pages
8. Navigating your site
9. Making your website attractive

 

Social media is not all good

Like it or not, social media is here and is a major part of our society.

I think it is important that we all have some understanding of social media so we can make informed choices about participating or not.

Unlike some, I don’t think every business MUST be on social media to survive or thrive. Although it is becoming more important as more people expect it.

Mark Schaefer recently posted about social media sewage… and hope. He lists a number of the negatives social media (including blogging) has brought with it – I totally agree that leaving heaps of spam comments in a blog, disreputable SEO approaches and practices, and stealing people’s content are unacceptable behaviours and I don’t understand how people can live with such actions.

I haven’t had Marks ‘hope’ experience but I still believe in sharing information and believe social media has a part to play in my business.

mix of marketing methods

Social media is just one form of marketing

It got me thinking that perhaps some business people need to hear that it’s ok to not be on social media, that it isn’t the cure to all business woes nor is it perfect.

So here are some reasons against using social media which you can weigh up against the advantages when making your decision.

  1. it takes time and patience. You’re unlikely to see more sales or leads in the short term, and it takes time to put up some content (especially if you put thought into it and try adding value to your community)
  2. you open yourself up to more spam, malware and virus exposure, scam invitations and other undesirable people
  3. if your audience isn’t interested in social media, your efforts will go to waste – be sure to only use media your audience uses
  4. if you just want to advertise, rather than share information and build relationships, your presence on social media is probably a waste of everyone’s time
  5. social media gives you the opportunity to speak your mind and get on your soapbox. Great for people wanting to exercise their freedom of speech, not always so good for a business spokesperson – if you can’t moderate your words to suit your business brand, social media may be a little risky
  6. social media is about communication – if you aren’t interested in having a two-way conversation, a static website may be more your style
  7. the message you write is critical to your social media success so if writing and communicating your thoughts is a challenge, consider your social media strategy carefully – short tweets may work better than long blog posts, a ghost writer could help with blogging and videos for You Tube may be your best option
If you are already using social media, have you thought about how it is benefiting you compared to what it is costing you? Is it doing the job you ‘hired’ it for, another job or is it just costing you?

               

* Image courtesy of 123rf

Managing website design 101

Unless you are a web designer, I strongly recommend you do not design your own website.

Yes, software is fairly easily available to make it possible, but don’t let that fool you into thinking anyone can design a decent (let alone good) website. Website design is more than choosing colours and putting the content on a page with a few links to a shopping cart or a blog. Even a good eye for design may not be enough as websites have specific requirements as well as coding issues.

And doing it yourself isn’t likely to be cheaper either. It may not cost you in terms of paying an invoice, but it will take a lot hours that you can’t invoice for and a low quality result can cost you in customers.

Enough of the negatives, and on to how to manage your design (or redesign)…

  1. know your brand and make the design suit it. Have a sedate and professional brand? Don’t get a young and funky web design as it will clash.
  2. think about what you want on the site in the longer term. You may be happy with five basic pages now with the expectation of adding a blog and forum in six months or so – include those expectations in the design brief so they are easy to add later without needing a new design.
  3. choose your designer carefully – there is a huge array of designers from those who overcharge and under deliver to those who give great results at a value price. We’ll look at this in my next ‘getting your business online’ post, or look at my tips on choosing suppliers
  4. while standing out by being different can be an effective marketing strategy, remember that some differences are a hindrance. For example, putting a menu in a strange place, not underlining hyperlinks and cute or clever alternatives to ‘submit’ and ‘buy’ buttons may confuse people and push them away form your site – colour backgrounds may look nice, too, but if people find the text hard to read the nice colour is hurting your site
  5. put humans first and search engines second – search engine optimisation (SEO) is an important part of attracting people to your site but no one will stay if you haven’t also considered a human’s needs on a website.
  6. keep important information visible and easy to find. For example, if you want people to call you, don’t just have your phone number in the footer – make it prominent high on the page
  7. plan the navigation carefully – this can be the hardest and most time consuming step for you but it is important enough to warrant being done thoroughly. Discuss your plan with your designer, content writer and anyone else involved in the project as their expertise may spot weaknesses
  8. make sure your design complements your other business materials. If I was given your business card or flyer and am interested enough to follow through by typing in a URL, I expect to see something similar when I reach your site. If your site is heading in a new direction, update the supporting materials ASAP
  9. increasingly, people are accessing websites via mobile devices. Sites can be designed to suit mobile devices now so incorporate that into any new site – if you’re going online, you may as well be online for everyone!
  10. be wary of using templates, especially free templates. If the finished product looks like some text placed into a template people have seen 50 times before, your website is not communicating much of benefit (it says cheap, unprofessional, lazy, boring and uninspiring  – is that what you want your site to say about your business?) On the other hand, a template adapted to your needs can be effective and cheaper than a custom design – it’s a matter of balance. Make sure you get a template that allows you to change background and font colours, images, header height and the like and, most importantly, lets you decide on the number of menu items showing.
  11. communicate with your designer frequently and honestly. Insist on seeing drafts and giving feedback on what you do and don’t like, and ask questions about why something is done in certain ways – if the designer has a good reason you may be best to leave it alone, but things based on designer preferences can change to your customers’ tastes.
  12. test the site before you approve it – search for relevant information and be sure someone could find it, look at it on different browsers and screens, click on links to be sure they work, and make sure any tools work properly (shopping carts, search boxes, subscription forms, etc)
What other tips do you have for managing the web design of a new site?

 

This post is part of Word Constructions’ Setting up a website series
1. having a website helps more than you
2. what’s involved in setting up a website?
3. Learn about web hosting
4. Preparing your initial website content

Influencing search engine results

Having a website is of little business value unless it is getting seen by people, and preferably the type of people will buy your goods or service.

The March survey of small businesses showed that about two-thirds believe search engines is the key means of finding new customers. Now that may be more or less applicable in your industry or in Australia vs the USA (the survey was in the USA only), but search engines do account for a reasonable amount of website traffic.

Which means that making your website as attractive as possible to search engines is important. You can pay SEO (search engine optimisation is the term for making your site perform better in search engine formulae) or marketing companies to improve your site rankings, but there are also things you can do quite simply. In fact, I’d say some of the simple tasks should be done even if you are paying someone else to help you with SEO.

Here is a quick list of the easy SEO tasks you can do to increase your chances of being found in relevant searches:

  • meaning of SEOuse relevant keywords in your web and blog content
  • provide quality and relevant content on your site – a blog is excellent for this
  • aim your web and blog content at humans – search engines are getting more sophisticated at picking out fake pages of keywords
  • make your content web friendly – search engines read headings, too so make use of them
  • add links to relevant information (on your site and elsewhere)
  • encourage links to your site as much as possible without getting into link farms or spam
  • ensure your web pages and blog posts have relevant meta data (background information about the page) – which means it shouldn’t the same for every page
  • update your site and blog as often as you can to keep it fresh and give people a reason to come back for more – fresh content and visitors both help your search engine rankings

encouraging links to your blog

On the assumption you want people to visit and read your blog, it is a good idea to get people to link to it.

Incoming links obviously lets more people see your blog exists and is also good for your SEO (search engine optimisation – in other words, getting search engines to list you high in their results).

I think the single step that is most effective in getting links is quality content – no one will link to your blog if you don’t provide useful or entertaining information. Regular additions to your blog will help bring people back, too, and repeat visitors are more likely to link to you.

Having said that, here are some more specific tips to increasing the number of links to your blog…

  • link to other blogs – only some will reciprocate but it is polite and shows you are part of the blogging community. People seeing your comments may lead to visitors to your blog  or someone else linking to you
  • write something controversial or outrageous (but stay within your brand and identity or it’s all for nothing!) and ideally back it up with your reasons
  • summarise complex issues relating to your topic to help people understand what’s going on
  • disagree (nicely) with someone or a ‘well known fact’ in your industry
  • participate in something unusual and interesting – it could be a treasure hunt across the web, running a competition, blog action day or a local event
  • join in or run a blog carnival
  • offer something valuable to readers – an eBook, a theme, plugin, a sample, etc – that they will be willing to tell others about
  • write something very funny – people love sharing jokes!
  • report on something new – if it is based on research or observations only you have access to, even better
  • be the first to review/announce/do something
  • stay topical – for example, post information relevant to an upcoming event, discuss a news item in relation to your industry or give ideas for the current season
  • get involved in guest blogging – either posting elsewhere or inviting people to post in your blog
  • come up with your own terminology for something – sometimes phrases just stick but people like to read how it originated

It is also important to make your blog and posts appealing so remember the usual things like paragraphs, good spelling and grammar, using pictures as appropriate or for interest, use white space and avoid clutter.

The last tip is to actually ask for other blogs to link to you – but managing that is probably worth a post on its own!

Personalised search plus content

In 2010, Google is introducing personalised search where your site preferences will impact on the search results you get. For example, if you often read my blog, it will rank higher when you use a relevant search term than it may have done if you didn’t regularly visit here.

What is interesting is that Google has found  a way to encourage good content rather than search engine optimisation (SEO ) ‘strategies’ so the search results we are given are less likely to be junk. Rob at Just Web explains it as “If the content you provide to the visitor is rubbish, it is less likely they will return. So the end results is you may get one visit from that user, but they are less likely to consider you a future source of information.

This is another move by Google to ensure it gives priority to good content.”

So although there are some simple SEO techniques that are worth using on your website, I stand by quality content as the main way to be successful with search engines and site visitors.

Blogging for promotions

Thanks to some external limitations, I found some time to catch up on some blog reading this morning.

Let me start by saying I do believe in blogs as a promotional tool in business – they are a great way to keep a site fresh, to build a relationship with clients and build your credibility. Yes, there are many social media choices now but I don’t think they are replacing blogs. Personally, I learn more from reading a good blog post than a tweet for instance!

A blog on your domain is going to give more SEO advantages than other social media options, too.

Des Walsh blogged about some survey results about blogs and business. He wrote “Companies with 10 or fewer employees are 30% more likely to use social media for public relations, branding and understanding customers. And they are twice as likely as large companies to use social media for lead generation.”

It certainly didn’t surprise me that small businesses use more social media than large ones – there is the obvious budget differences meaning small business owners need to find more affordable ways to interact with potential customers. I also think that many small businesses do well because they provide a personal service (no account managers or moving customers between departments, and a stronger sense of ownership) and social media depends on the personal side of a business.

If you are a sole trader, the approval process is easy; if you work in a large company, especially if it is heavily regulated, the effort of getting blog posts, tweets and so on approved can be huge – and the time involved takes away form the immediate nature of social media anyway.

From the blogs you read, would you agree that small businesses use more social media than their bigger counterparts?