Archive for the ‘Website improvement’ Category
Want to make your website more effective? It’s easy if you know what your visitors want. But how do you find out?
One of the best ways to find out what your clients want is to ask them to take a short online survey about your business, your products or whatever it is you want to know. There are several online survey companies which you can use to create a really professional looking survey. An example of these is SurveyMonkey.com.
It is also a good idea to offer some sort of incentive to intice people to take the survey. We at CityCenter Co. offer a small magnetic flashlight with our name on it and the chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card.
It can be very valuable to know what your clients want to find on your website. Online surveys are a great way to find out.
Want to find out more about online surveys? Try taking ours. We’ll even give you a free gift and a chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card. Start here!
We have recently been asked by a couple of people what we think of the free, build-your-own website solutions which are being promoted on TV and by spam. Two which were mentioned were Weebly.com and 1and1.com. So we decided to do some research.
Both sites offer proprietary content management systems (CMS) with which someone can build a website. They each offer a number of templates which you can work with and a variety of functionality you can add, either for free or at a nominal charge. Once you have created your site, it is hosted at the company you used.
The advantages are, of course, it is cheap and easy. Weebly.com even offers a limited free version. Any of the systems we looked at will create a simple website.
There are, however disadvantages which, in our opinion, outweigh the advantages.
- The systems are proprietary. That means you are stuck with the company forever. You cannot move the site to another host if the host decides to change the pricing structure.
- Your site will disappear if the company discontinues its service, or goes under. We have a current client who used a proprietary CMS and the company has since disappeared. We have kept the site going but it has several glitches which we cannot fix as we do not have access to the underlying code and there is no one to ask.
- You are limited to the design and functionality offered by the host. If you want to do something which they do not offer, you are out of luck.
- Although it may look easy, putting a website together will definitely take a considerable amount of time. And you will most likely want some modifications or features that simply are not possible.
We, at CityCenter, prefer using an open source CMS like WordPress, or Joomla!, or Drupal, which can be moved to another host without the loss of data or design. As they are open source, there are developers working on new design templates and functionality which are then available to you. WordPress, for instance, has literally thousands of design templates and functionality plugins available at little or no extra cost.
There are also a plethora of books and on-line tutorials available to assist you with creating and maintaining the site. And with open source solutions there is professional help (like we provide at CityCenter) to assist you in creating a professional looking site which you can then maintain without further assistance.
There are many different CMSs available. Many are proprietary to a certain firm or webhost and many are open to anyone. We recommend the latter as it does not tie you down to one company with your website under their control. The three most popular (and free!) CMSs available to anyone across the web are WordPress, Joomla!, and Drupal. Which system is best for you depends on your specific needs.
If you are interested in using a content management system for your website your first step (after hiring CityCenter Co. to do the conversion) is to determine which CMS is right for you.
WordPress: It has available, an excellent system which provides, through third party developers, a large variety of easy to add functionality such as photo galleries, contact forms, slideshows, calendars, banner ads and much more. Examples of WordPress sites we have created are www.fedde.com, www.rosebowl-renovations.com, and www.melindalee.com.
Joomla!: This is a more robust CMS for larger, more complex sites. It has a great deal of functionality built in or available through third party developers and can grow handle almost any sized website. Examples of Joomla sites CityCenter Co. has worked on are www.skatepasadena.com and www.descansogardens.org.
Drupal: Another powerful CMS, Drupal is an excellent choice for websites that rely heavily on a database for dynamic content. Many government (such as WhiteHouse.gov) and entertainment sites are built with Drupal. An example of a Drupal site we designed is www.uppcolleges.com.
If you are interested in discussing which solution is right for your website, feel free to contact CityCenter Co. at 626.449.0100.
A CMS, or content management system, is an online system for publishing and modifying the content of a website without having to always use a website designer.
A CMS enables almost anyone to make website updates with a simple online interface from almost any computer. Users can create new pages, add-edit-delete content, upload new pictures and more. All without the need for outside assistance or having to learn HTML or another programming language.
But they are not for everyone. If you don’t have the time, or desire, to learn a new, albeit simple program, or don’t have someone in your office you trust with your site, then it is probably not for you.
But if it sounds interesting, call us at CityCenter and keep an eye on our blog for further postings.
CityCenter Co. works hard to make sure your website is visible to the search engines. It is vital that your site be found by the search engines so that it can be found by the searchers. We do however caution not to over do it, not to over optimize the site.
What do we mean by over optimizing? This is when the use of keywords supersedes the message of the website. The key is purpose. The purpose of a website, like any other marketing media, is to invite the reader to communicate. It is very important that the site present the message you want to your prospects to hear and to solicit some action from them in the form of an e-mail, a phone call or some reach for your services.
Over optimization can take several forms:
- Keywords are used so many times that the text reads like it was written for a ten year old. The site becomes stultified, it no longer delivers your message or guides the reader to action.
- The headline for the site does not attract the reader’s attention. Readers scan your webpage to see if this is the information they are looking for. They read the headline or the first paragraph and on that basis they decide whether to keep on reading. If the headline is more focused on impressing the search engines than on securing the reader’s attention then you’ve wasted the visit.
- A keyword can be overused to such an extent that the search engines adjudicate the site is spamming that word and ignore it.
Write for the person reading the website, not the search engines. You sell to people not search engines. Make sure your message stays intact and on target.
Optimization is necessary, you have to be able to be found, but we urge caution when doing it. Keep your message in mind and be sure not to lose it. Use keywords but use them to deliver your message not obliterate it.
How do you motivate your employees? How do you keep them up to date with new technology?
Say you have an employee who is “just doing their job,” making you some money, doesn’t embarrass you but isn’t putting forth that extra effort to create new business or learn anything new to better service to your clients. What would you do?
You could fire them, but that means all the time and energy you’ve already put into them goes with them.
You could try to motivate them. Get them to see how much more their fellow employees are doing and try and get them to “get on board”.
Or you could just let them be.
Now what if that “employee” was your website? It looks good, brings in some business and presents your company in a good light. But is it doing all that it could? How do you find out? It’s not a flesh and blood person you can sit down and give a pep talk to. You can’t ask it to look at what the other employees are doing, or to “try a little harder”. Or can you?
True, the website can’t look at what other websites are doing, but you can. When was the last time you checked out your competitors’ websites? Are they doing something on their sites that you should be doing on yours? Does their homepage explain their services better than yours does? Are their product pictures clearer, or presented in a more attractive or eye-catching way? Is it easier to find their contact information?
We suggest you occasionally search for competitors. Go to Google and search your keywords and see what comes up. Now look at their websites. Take a good look. Not just at their design, but at their functionality. Take good notes. Any time you find a feature you think would make your site “a better employee,” write it down with the URL of the page you found it on. Then keep going. Find something else on the site you like, or go on to the next site and see what’s special about it. This doesn’t have to take long, but even if it takes an hour or two it will be time well spent.
Now take your list and email it to your web designer. (You can use email@example.com if you can’t remember their email.) We’ll look at the sites and the various features to determine how best to incorporate them into your site. Then we’ll put together our recommendations and a proposal for implementation.
Get the most out of every employee you have, flesh and blood or cyber. Look them all over and start those pep talks.
We sometimes run across online tools that can show you how to make improvements to your website. Here are two really good ones:
Website Grader: http://websitegrader.com/ Just fill in the URL of your website (and if you wish some of your competitors) and it will give an overall score reflecting things like website traffic, SEO, and social popularity. It will also give you some ideas on how to improve your website.
Browser Size: http://browsersize.googlelabs.com/ From Google, this one helps you visualize how much of your web page others can see. This is useful when originally designing a page, but also later on when you add a new element and want to make sure that the majority of your users can see it without scrolling.
Both of these are simple but effective tools – enjoy!
And Happy New Year from CityCenter!
In the last few months we have talked a lot about what you can do internally to improve your sites ranking on the search engines. We looked at finding and using your keywords in the Page Titles, Page Content, Image Tags and using Proper Coding to up your sites rank.
There is another very important aspect of getting your site ranked high on the search engines: link building. This is the practice of obtaining or creating links on other web sites back to your site. There are a number of ways to go about this. Here are a few suggestions:
- Blogging – Set up a blog for your website and create keyword rich content which will be of interest to your clients and prospects. Then let the world know it’s there with ads, links from your site, links from your newsletter and RSS feeds. You can also connect your blog to your Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media accounts and also set it up to automatically send out as a newsletter. All these would create links back to your website. You can learn more about blogging from these articles.
- Social media sites – Set up business accounts for your company on Facebook and LinkedIn. and keep them current by updating them with keyword rich information. Be sure to link your posts back relevant pages on your website.
- Write articles – Write and submit keyword rich articles to article directories like Ezine, www.goarticles.com or www.articlecity.com or use an article submission service such as SendArticles.
- Write press releases – Write and submit keyword rich press releases to sites like PRweb or PRlog.
- Buy links – Pay per click search results and services like Google Ads.
- Ask for links – Requesting links from other related sites is always suggested. Find sites which relate but don’t compete with your site and request a link. Some good sites include trade associations, clubs, directories, Chambers of Commerce, and sites about your product or service which do not themselves sell. The higher the ranking of such sites the better the affect a link will have on your site. Avoid sites which have no relation to yours, such as link farms, link exchanges which indiscriminately put you on any site no matter the content (you could end up being connected to porn.)
Links into your site are vital. Some SEO gurus estimate they account for up to 80% of your Google ranking. How many links do you have now? You can easily check it on Google by searching “link:www.yourdomain.com”. Now that you have a number, get to work increasing it.
Here are some articles on link building which we hope you find useful:
It’s not just what you say that matter’s, it’s how you say it.
Sometimes it’s how you code it.
If you’ve got something important to say, you want people to see it. So what do you do? You can make that sentence bold, italicize it, increase the type size, or put a bullet point in front of it. That way the reader knows that sentence is more important than others.
But how would a search engine know what was important on the page? Simple, by properly coding the webpage you can let both the reader and the search engines know at the same time. Here’s how…
- Header Tags
Header Tags tell the search engine “This is important” By default the text is black, the type size is increased and bolded, however they can now be custom programmed to look however you wish. There are eight levels of Header Tag, <h1>through <h6>. <h1> showing more importance than <h2> which is more important than <h3>. You should utilize their hierarchical structure logically. If you use <h1> for the main headings of your content, the next level of subheadings should be <h2>, and so forth. Include keywords and phrases within header tags for the best bang for your buck.
- Emphasis Tags
Emphasis tags include bold <strong>, italics <em>, and underline. There is no difference in value, so you can utilize them all to spread emphasis around “organically” within your content. But don’t overuse them. Bolding or italicizing too much text takes away the emphasis for the search engine as everything seems to be important.
- Bullet Points and Number Lists
Using the ordered (number) and unordered (bullet) lists offers an excellent way to put emphasis on content in short, quick bursts. Using keywords and phrases within lists is a way to boost the emphasis you’re placing on pieces of your content. As with any of these emphasizing features, only use lists when it makes sense and when they flow naturally with the page’s content.
- META Descriptions
The description tag is one or two sentences (about 25 words) describing the site. This tag often appears on the search engine results page as the description of the site. Proper use of keywords in this tag can help the search engines find you.
- META Keywords
The keyword tag is simply a list of the keywords a person might put into a search engine when trying to find a site that deals with what your company does.
Good text is essential. Proper coding of that text is just as important. It not only lets the reader know what is significant, but tells the search engines as well. Take a look at your website. Does it emphasize your key points? Are those points coded so that the search engines can see the emphasis? If you need help checking these points, please let us know.
“One picture is worth a thousand words,” according to a Chinese proverb.
“A picture of a thousand words isn’t worth squat,” according to Google.
(Okay, we made this up.)
While images are important to your website’s message, they do not communicate to the search engines unless you take the extra effort to make them visible. There are several ways your web designer can code your images for better search engine visibility.
1. Name your images correctly. The image name should be descriptive and contain key words. If the site is about clouds naming your pictures cloud.jpg is good, but a name like “cirrus-clouds.jpg” is better. Don’t over do it, “clouds-clouds-clouds.jpg” or “clouds-cirrus-clouds.jpg”, may be looked on as spam.
Separate the words in the name with dashes. “Cirrus-clouds.jpg” will rank higher than “cirrusclouds.jpg” as cirrusclouds is not a word that is likely to be searched on.
2. The ALT attribute. The original intention of this attribute was to describe images for the vision impaired and to provide an alternate (ALT) description of an image which did not load properly. Thus, the ALT attribute should be a brief description of the content of the image as if you were explaining it to a blind person or a computer program which cannot see it, like a search engine.
The ALT attribute should utilize your keyword but not to the detriment of the description. A good ALT attribute for the picture above would be cumulus and cirrus clouds at sunset, it describes the picture while containing keywords relevant to the site. A bad ALT might be clouds, cumulus clouds, cirrus clouds as it is nothing but keywords. There is a good possibility it will be tagged as spam.
3. Image TITLE attribute. The image TITLE attribute can be valuable in making your images work for you. It gives you another opportunity to display keywords to the search engines. On some browsers, the TITLE attribute text displays when you place your cursor over the image, it also tells the search engine more about the image. It can be the same as the ALT or can go into more depth using your keywords.
4. Captions. Place a keyword rich caption next to the image. If the image is placed in the body of the site, surrounded by text content, having the keyword physically close to the image will also have benefits.
Images are important. They make your site more aesthetic and quite often are the only way to make your point with visitors to your site. However, to make them valuable to your sites search engine ranking remember the following:
- use keywords in the image file names
- separate the keywords in a file name with dashes, not underscores
- include keywords in the image ALT attribute
- include keywords in the image TITLE attribute
- place the image in the immediate vicinity of keyword-related content and use a caption
As mentioned in the last post, if your image contains words, such as a quote, a testimonial, or a beautifully calligraphed message, those words will not appear to the search engine unless completely duplicated in the various attributes. They will not help your search engine ranking the way properly done text does. Therefore you have to weigh the importance of how it will look versus what it can do for you.
In the next post we will discuss other HTML coding that make your website more easily found.