Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Things to avoid in marketing your website

What techniques should you avoid in designing your website?

There are things you really should *not* do when implementing website updates and search engine optimization techniques. These are sometimes referred to as Black Hat optimization methods.

White hat techniques are those site optimization techniques that win you search engine favor, and black hat techniques are those that can cost you, big time. Several white hat approaches were mentioned in previous posts, and more are on the way. Black hat techniques include keyword spamming (overuse or inappropriate use of keywords), hidden or subliminal text on the page (a big no-no) and fake doorway pages (pages not intended for actual use but rather intended to increase site ranking.) Anything that seems “swarmy” or manipulative should be avoided. While you may get a short term gain on such tactics, once the search engines discover you are using these methods, your site may quickly be de-listed altogether. And, once a site is pulled from a search engine index, getting it back into the index can be a big chore indeed.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Link Building for Website Traffic - More to Consider

Even more on Links...

By now we all pretty much know that inbound links are a key to getting more traffic to your website. The link-building process is free, ongoing, and the results achieved just depend upon how diligent you will be over time in cultivating such links.

Having said all that, there are “bad” links that can hurt your site ranking. What are bad inbound links? One example would be a “link farm” linking to your site. Search engines tend to frown upon link farms - sites that just list hundreds, or thousands, of links with no apparent reason or value. This is another reason to be somewhat suspicious of those like exchange requests. If you agree to such an exchange, sometimes you will simply end up having your inbound site link from a link farm site, potentially damaging your ranking on search engines. An example of a bad outbound link would be linking to a spammy or poor quality website. You don’t want to be giving an outbound link to a site you don’t know and trust as linking to a poor quality site can hurt your own site ranking.

Another pitfall is paying for inbound links. Google especially frowns upon that tactic. And why pay for links when you can get quality links yourself for free?

When formatting your inbound links, you might want to vary the keywords you use in your links - working between several different link phrases. Using the same keyword links on all of your inbound links and adding too many too quickly can appear “spammy” to the search engines.

Quality inbound links can be cultivated from professional organizations and associations, from friends and associates with quality sites, and through time and effort. And remember, if you are approached by someone who “guarantees” you a quantity of inbound links for free or a charge, be very careful. If it sounds too good to be true, well, it probably is.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Affordable Ways to Drive Traffic to your Website

Link, Links and more Links...

If you are looking for a low cost method of driving more traffic to your website, then “Links” are probably the most productive means of doing so. The actual results will depend upon the type of links, the quality of the links and just how much time you can invest in obtaining a quantity of links. You will want to address two primary types of links: Inbound and Outbound links. For those who don’t understand what links are - anytime you can click on an image or text and be taken to a different page on a website (or a different site all together) “that” is a link.

Outbound Links
Search engines tend to favor sites that offer free content, informative content, and helpful links to other quality sites. Consider setting up a Favorite Links page and/or a How To page on your website. You can offer tips about your creative process, links to suppliers, links to professional organizations and the like. (Example: Favorite Graphic Design and Inspirational Links.)

Inbound Links
You will want to cultivate quality inbound links to your site. That is - other sites that have links to your website. This takes time, and is an on-going process. Start with organizations and associations through which you have membership. A blog can be a great vehicle for inbound links. If you take part in any social networking sites you can usually add your website link to your profile. For instance, my Pencil Drawings by Kelli Swan Blog has several links to both my own sites, and client/friend’s sites.

Formatting links
When setting up links, it is advantageous to be as descriptive as possible in the linked text. Even though the link address might be www.photographerjanedoe.com, the verbiage in the link should be a literal description, like: black and white photographs of windows and doors. (Example: Notice the descriptive links about each website sample on my Graphic Design and eMarketing page. Instead of using the url address in the text, the words used are descriptive and more like keyword phrases.)

Link Requests
If you’ve had a web presence for any length of time, you are probably receiving email requests for “reciprocal links.” In this case, a website is promising you a solid inbound link to your site in exchange for you placing a link to their site on yours. Personally I ignore the bulk of these requests. In most cases, I have found that the requesting site wants a prominent listing on my Favorite Links page, and in return I would be receiving a link nested somewhere in the middle of hundreds of other links. Hardly a fair exchange.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

How Important are Keywords?

Remember that the internet, for the most part, is based upon words. While we all like fancy, colorful sites, we generally find what we seek on the internet using words. Think about words and phrases that describe your business and/or service. Then, use your logic and perhaps one or more of the online keyword selector sites to help you research keywords. You are looking for words that other people are using in searches - words that relate to you and your business. (i.e. “pet portraits” and “dog breed art” for an artist who specializes in painting dogs.) You will typically want a combination of 2-4 words. The competition for a single key word if far too intense for most small businesses to make a dent. Let’s use “Artists” as an example. If you expect to be found on a web search of the word “artists,” you will likely be disappointed. “Black and white landscape artist” as a target keyword phrase for example has much better potential for success.

Once you select a keyword phrase, or ideally a number of phrases, you will want to write copy for your website that includes these phrases. Your top one or two keyword phrase selections should be used at least once in every paragraph on the page, as well as in the headline. Other keyword phrases should be used less frequently, though repeated at least once on the page if possible. The challenge here is to write copy that reads well, is informative, and yet enticing to search engine crawlers. (Spiders or webcrawlers are software programs used by search engines to search the internet for sites and site content.) Also, you can target different pages of your site with different keyword combinations to attract more traffic. Any page of your website should be considered a potential “landing” page - the first page a visitor to your site sees. You do this through well chosen and utilized keyword phrases. Don’t assume that all users will go straight to your home page.

Once on your site, the hope is that your visitor will stay a while to navigate the pages and learn more about you and your business. Make sure to highlight your chosen keywords when you give your copy to your site designer so that he/she can include these phrases in the description metatags contained in the source code of the website pages. These “metatags” are part of the behind-the-scenes workings of a website. While you do not see the actual code when you view a site, the code is responsible for how the website looks. Your computer’s browser interprets the code, and then displays the site for viewing.

Another concept that incorporates keywords is the “alt tag.” The alt tag is text that describes a picture or graphic on a website. It shows up when your cursor hovers over an image on the site. The website designer places this alt tag text in the source code of the web pages. The alt tags are one more way to get relevant keyword phrases onto your site. The file names of images and pages should also utilize your keyword phrases. So, if you have a painting of a Greyhound dog titled “My Best Friend,” the alt tag on the image, as well as the image file name, should be something like “Greyhound Dog Portrait,” not the title of the painting. If your images have quality names and alt tags, people who use Google Images to search are much more likely to find your work. Then, the picture will link them into your site! A good practice is to give all images file names that are descriptive (i.e. “vintage horse and buggy painting” as opposed to “my first landscape”) and use similar alt tags.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Of Domain Names and Hosting Services

This posting is intended as a primer for those who do not yet have a website. Before creating an actual website design, one would do well to consider the two prerequisite elements for having a website on the internet: a domain name and a hosting service.

Domain Names (www.yoursitename.com)
Domain names are leased from domain name companies and cost around $10/year. Generally you lease a name for 1-3 years, and then you can renew it indefinitely. Many of the catchy names are already leased, but chances are you can get a site with a desirable ring to it. If you find that your name is already taken, try including “Artist” or “Paintings by” or some other words with the name (i.e. www.ArtistJaneDoe.com). Registration of a domain name is easy and you can do this yourself online well before your website is constructed.

Hosting Service
In order for your website to be seen 24/7, the files need to reside on a server computer. Hosting companies provide this service. Hosting packages start at around $5/month and are typically billed to your credit card. I would select a well-known, global hosting service and put your site hosting in your own name or your business name. You might consider talking to several people you know with successful websites and ask who they use for website hosting.

I may hear some flak about what I’m about to recommend here. This is the advice I give to my clients, and I feel that it is in the best interest of most website owners. So, I’m going on record with it: Register your own domain name and website hosting - in your name or your business’ name. If you hire a designer or a design firm to do your website, make sure that the domain name is registered to you, not the design company. If you hire a designer or a design firm, I would strongly recommend signing up for your own hosting package, again - in your name, with large, well-known hosting service.

In the past few years, I have heard several sad stories about what can happen when people sign on for a “package deal” in the website design process. In one case, a business signed up for a domain name and website hosting package, not realizing that the domain name was then registered to the hosting company. When the hosting company later went belly-up, this business lost their website hosting AND their domain name. (One can always sign up for new hosting services, but what about the domain name he/she has put time and effort into marketing?) In another case, a business had registered it’s own domain name, but signed for hosting service with the small design firm that created the site. When that design firm went belly-up, the site went down and all site files were gone for good. That business owner had pay to have a new site created from scratch.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

How do I get traffic to my website?

More and more people are finding that having a website isn’t the sole solution for being found on the internet. I have talked with numerous people who have had sites for over a year, or even years, and have received little or no business from their website. This situation will likely intensify as the number of sites grows.

Getting traffic to your website involves what is known as “Search Engine Optimization” or SEO. When you search for something on the internet, say through Google, you get a list of sites that most aptly fit your search criteria. The sites that show up at the top are the best matches for your search words. Optimizing a site for search refers to the methods used to get a site into the indexes of the major search engines and ranked highly on searches for given search word combinations (known as “keywords” and “keyword phrases”). This topic is quite large, and there have been entire books, seminars and courses devoted to SEO. In the coming weeks I will share with you some time-honored tips that have a high probability of helping your website be found on the internet. To start, one needs to understand that SEO is actually a 2-part equation: Onsite Optimization and Offsite Optimization.

Onsite optimization includes anything done to the website itself, including the written copy, pictures or graphics, and the behind-the-scenes structure of the website (the source code). Design and navigation of the site should also be considered, as a poorly built site will not receive high ranking by the search engines. The amount and type of site content is another factor.

Offsite optimization has become increasingly important in recent years as competition for search engine ranking has increased. Offsite methods including quality inbound links from other sites. (A link from another website to your website is an “inbound link.”) The emphasis here is on quality. The site linking to your site should be a high-ranking site on it’s own merit, as opposed to a “link farm” that just lists pages and pages of random links.

FYI - A website’s ranking is not assured and will likely change over time as other factors such as competing websites come into play. A site’s ranking can change from day to day, week to week, month to month, etc. This is why it is important to continually look for way to enhance the site’s ranking.

Stay tuned to coming posts as I will be publishing many hints on how to drive traffic to your website!

Monday, December 15, 2008

What is Graphic Design?

by Kelli Swan

Graphic Design refers to a specialized area of the Visual Arts. Generally, Graphic Design is considered to be for commercial, advertising or educational purposes. It involves the enhancing of a product, service or information by designing a pleasing visual or set of visuals.

Traditionally, Graphic Design has included both the creative preparation and execution of materials in the areas of: Logo Design, Corporate Identity, Brochure Design, Photo Retouching, Charts/Graphs/Diagrams, and other printed materials. Graphic Design can also include the preparation of 35mm Slide Presentations, Television Advertisements, Multi-Media Presentations, and other Visual Aids.

Today, the term Graphic Design also includes the rapidly expanded Web Design market. While a Graphic Designer may certainly specialize in one area, it is common to find designers with applicable knowledge is more than one discipline. A Graphic Designer may be expected to design entire websites, edit photos for both print and web use, and design printed materials which also have web applications.

Most of us are surrounded by Graphic Design work daily without even realizing it. Many of the web sites you visit involve the efforts of a Graphic Designer. Advertising Agencies employ many Graphic Designers to prepare the ads you see on television. And here are some more signs of Graphic Designers on the scene: the signage you see in front of businesses; the menu at last night’s restaurant; the morning newspaper; the brochures at the doctor’s office; all those greeting cards at the store; and yes (unfortunately!) -- all that junk mail you receive.

In the past, a Graphic Designer could rely on predominately right-brain tendencies of being a “Creative” type. These days, a Graphic Designer needs to have a “balanced brain” in order to be successful. In the last two decades, knowledge of computers and increasingly powerful graphic software programs has become a requirement to accomplish the work of a Graphic Designer. One must not only be “Creative,” but also possess the “Logic” skills to pilot numerous software programs, trouble shoot computing issues, etc.

Graphic Design is a highly rewarding career. Not only does it challenge an individual mentally, it also offers the opportunity to network with a wide variety of professionals in numerous fields. Graphic Design is also a great Work At Home opportunity. Once one is established (education, contacts, etc.), a Home Office can be the perfect option. Incomes vary and are dependant on a number of factors, including: area(s) of expertise, years of experience, business contacts, etc.

About the author:
Artist and Graphic Designer Kelli Swan: Pencil Drawings by Kelli
, Virtual Graphic Design Services and Inspirational Dog Lover Gifts