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Archive for April, 2009

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Search Engines But Were Afraid to Ask

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

Ever wonder why your competitor(s) outranks you in search engines? Want to know how to get listed in Google Local?   Want to know if you’ll ever find true love?

For answers to the first 2 questions, visit Search Engine Strategies’ (SES) Toronto 2009 Conference & Expo at the Sheraton Centre from June 8-10:  Entering its sixth year in Toronto and part of a multi-city travelogue, it truly is the answer to your search engine fantasies.

It’s all there…Everything you’d ever want to know about search, from driving traffic to your website, to page rank, link building and more; a smorgasbord of everything Search Engine optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM), along with other search-specific Three Letter Acronyms (TLAs).  And for those that want to talk in TLA, there’s a course just for you, aptly named How to Speak Geek.

SES Toronto features informative seminars, lectures and workshops from some of the industries best and brightest.  And with over 50 guest speakers, this 3 day search-fest is shaping up to be one of the biggest and best yet.

For those unable to attend, the next best thing is to call or E-mail someone (ahem) who knows something about this stuff.

Ray Litvak
Web Content Developer ~ Toronto, Ontario Canada
www.writingwebwords.com

 

 

 

GOOGLE LOCAL: HERE COMES THE NEIGHBORHOOD

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

You’ve got to hand it to Google.  Not content to corner the market as the most popular search engine in the universe, they now offer another in a series of innovative and soon to be indispensable features.    The latest idea is to now incorporate search queries via local area parameters that will make results pages region specific and thus, even more relevant.

This may not sound like much of an advancement, but in reality it is, and is yet another means by which Google continues to set the search bar higher.

By profiling and analyzing user queries, Google found that many searches are location specific.  What they finally realized however, was that location specific results are only provided if the user searches using location in the search query; any Toronto Googler worth their salt knows that looking for a good sushi bar or auto repair shop in Toronto will only show local results if you include the word Toronto in the query. 

 Not the case anymore…

To address this issue, Google now includes regional specific information regardless of whether you specify your location in the search request.

In a nutshell, Google will now match search results by linking your IP (Internet Protocol) address with a general geographic region, and will offer local area results via Google maps even if you don’t identify your location in the request.  

For example, entering the term Starbucks in www.google.ca brings up a list of local Starbucks locations in the (416), funny enough, where I happen to live.

As cool – some may say creepy – as that is, you can also use the ‘change location’ link above the map display to further refine your results.  The whole idea is to make searching for information as intuitive and relevant as possible.

Happy Searching

Ray Litvak
Web Content Development ~ Toronto, Ontario Canada
www.writingwebwords.com

The Do’s and Dont’s of Website Success

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

Part 3:

What makes a successful website?  This is a question that has as much complexity as ‘What makes a successful relationship?’   Unlike the latter however, the former is unlikely to require daily of doses of Dr. Phil or Oprah for answers; thank G_d.

The following are some pointers that should help make your site more effective.  Starting with the Dont’s:

Don’t assume that just because you have a great business model, all you need to do is present information as a static, inflexible regurgitation of your mission statement, uniqe selling proposition, or an online catalogue.  If you thought you had competitors locally, just imagine how many you’re competing with globally.

Start with the basics, such as what sets your company apart from other businesses in your field, and highlight those elements. As a popular advertising adage goes, “State Similarities, Emphasize Differences.”  And be prepared to frequently update your site with relevant content including text, visuals, video and sound if relevant.  This gives your customers the impression that your site and business is fresh and dynamic, as well as encouraging repeat visits from customers and search engine spiders – both desirable for any website with designs of success.

Don’t assume that visitors to your website have the same impression of it as you do.  In other words, if you like it, don’t assume everyone else will.  For example, if I thought the same as my neighbour, I’d be eating McDonald’s every other day, wearing spandex and driving a K Car: thankfully, I don’t.  It’s critical to engage in feedback to gain an understanding of what elements people like or dislike about their online experience with your website.  This can mean something as simple as an online form that allows people to comment on its usability – possibly offering something in return for their input – what they would like to see change, if anything, and how you can improve on their overall experience.  Or it may involve something more complex, like a focus group to get feedback and/or having people – other than your spouse – use, navigate and provide feedback on your site; also known as Usability Testing.  Regardless of the method, listening to your customers and providing for their needs can only help to make your website more successful.

Don’t copy other sites, especially those of a competitor.  In addition to ignoring the obvious legal issues that can ensue, this will only make your business look uninspired and lame.  By all means, take a critical look at other sites, ones you frequent or businesses that you know have a successful track record online; just don’t think that replicating their winning formula will automatically translate into success for your site.  The web allows you to be unique and present information in engaging and refreshing ways.  Take advantage of this.

Now, some of the Do’s:

Do your research.  Thousands, if not millions of websites end up in web limbo simply because businesses didn’t understand what they wanted their site to accomplish. So, to prevent this from happening, define the nature of the site.  For example, is its purpose to inform, educate, sell, or all of the above? Will it have a social aspect (i.e. Blogs, Forums)?  Will it be an extension of your bricks and mortar business? Will you need the ability to update it yourself? It’s best to keep the end in mind when starting your web venture – or adventure.  And once you know what you want, be prepared to learn, learn, learn.  Your success literally lies in your hands when it comes to the success of your business website, so don’t venture into the unknown without a good roadmap.

Be flexible.  If you find your site is not doing well, generating little traffic or few sales, change it.  Figuring out what makes your site effective, or ineffective, is crucial.  Spending thousands of dollars on the best designer in town doesn’t automatically mean success, or continued success.   If your site is not performing, find out why and be prepared to do some surgery.

Be sincere.  If you make claims and/or promises on your website – or offline for that matter – keep them.  Nothing destroys a business’ credibility faster than a bad customer experience and/or unkept promises.  The web can be a very unforgiving place, especially for those that fail to meet customer expectations or worse.  Forums and other web communities (see http://www.ripoffreport.com/) are littered with the the ghosts of broken and un-fulfilled promises past and present. So, as the saying goes, “Under Promise and Over Deliver.”

Ray Litvak
Web Content Writer ~ Toronto, Ontario Canada
www.writingwebwords.com

Understanding the specifics of website composition

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

Part 2:

Writing online content and utilizing basic design structure for the web requires at the very least a cursory knowledge of the factors that differentiate it from other written genres.  For those venturing into the great unknown of the web, this may seem extremely daunting, as it has unique constructs unlike any form of text you may have experienced before; things like keyword and search engine optimization, image mapping, hyperlink and HTML.

This doesn’t mean you need to get a master’s degree in ‘webology’ however.  After all, you don’t have to know how an internal combustion engine works to drive a car, but if you don’t at least know that it regularly needs oil, gas and air in the tires, you’re not going to get out of the driveway, much less make that cross country road trip.

The beauty of the internet lies in the fact that it’s simply the greatest resource tool ever created and making use of it wisely can provide a wealth of information that can give you all the necessary guidance you’ll need to create a website yourself   A great comprehensive guide to web terminology can be found at w3schools.com.

This site is invaluable for novice web production, as it gives concise descriptions of common web terms, as well as links for easy to follow, step by step tutorials on how best to incorporate these elements into your site. 

A resource tool like this helps ease the anxiety of feeling like a stranger in a strange land when it comes to getting a basic understanding of how to make your website the best reflection of what your company is, and how it’s best situated to serve the needs of your customers.

Ok, so now that you have a basic understanding of what is involved in getting your website started, what now?  If you’ve decided that it’s not as complex as you thought, and you don’t have the budget for a professional web designer, how do you go about it?  For the inspired do-it-yourselfer, visit htlmtutorials.ca.

This site is great at providing easy to understand tutorials on designing websites for both amateurs and professional designers alike.  The core of the site is a 48 step instructional guide on HTML design that covers literally everything you’ll need to know about producing an effective website.  Not only that, but it provides additional resource links for things like do it yourself ebooks, a Webmaster certification program and directories and submission services, some of which are available for a nominal fee, but most of the information is gratis.

Happy Designing!

Ray Litvak
Online Writer ~ Toronto, Ontario Canada
www.writingwebwords.com 

WEBSITE ESSENTIALS 101: A 4 PART TUTORIAL FOR BEGINNERS

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Part 1:

So, after much thought, debate, soul searching and presumably many memos, meetings and conferences, not to mention infinite cups of coffee, your company or business has decided to take the plunge and join the rest of the planet online.   In other words, you need/want/must have a website devoted to your enterprise.

Like many newbies entering the web for the first time, or even if you have an established site, but it isn’t generating the volume of traffic you anticipated, or you just want to update or improve on your current site, there are initially more questions than answers about how to make the darn thing work for you.

Relax; it’s really as easy as ingesting the contents of the average 40 volume encyclopedia.   I’m joking of course, but for many, that’s certainly how it seems.  To give you an idea of what it really entails, this is the first of a 4 part primer on what you need to know.   The real trick to it is to simplify the process, and these are some basic elements to consider;

 1) Recognize the essential requirements for your site, and what you want it to accomplish.

For many businesses, the idea of a website seems like a natural extension of your mission statement, but the reality can be more challenging than you think, especially if there’s no clear idea of what you expect from it.   Don’t make the mistake of assuming some flashy graphics and web slang will get the job done; it’s all about understanding the nature of your business and then getting that across in an effective and engaging manner.

This essentially means that you have to understand your customers or clientele, and what would interest them in your business over that of your competitors.  It’s not merely a matter of undercutting, but of highlighting the features and benefits of your business over any other in the market.

This may seem like common enough business practice, but it involves a dedicated recognition of who your customers are, what their needs are, how best your company addresses those needs, and how your website can distinguish and demonstrate these elements to your best advantage.

Many companies wrongly assume that throwing up a bunch of pictures of your products, while ramming home the idea that your prices can’t be beat is all it takes.  If your average customer is affluent, more concerned with quality than cost, or is more interested in long term service i.e. product or tech support rather than the price point, then making this the focus of your site will not serve your business well.

So begin with your customer, their interests and needs, what attracts them to your business and what keeps them coming back to you, and incorporate that into the structure of your site; it’s not only a more pragmatic approach to getting your message out online, but it’s a more logical way to reach those who are looking to find you as well.

It’s also a good idea to investigate your competitors’ sites as well, not only to see what approach they employ, but also to ensure that you differentiate from them in both content and style.

There are literally reams of online information available about getting your site off the ground, which are invaluable if you’re a small business that has a finite budget available, which I’ll cover in part 4. 

If your budget is more substantial, I recommend you consider a professional web designer, but shop around and get some referrals before settling on one, as there are unfortunately a good deal of shysters out there that can make your first web design experience about as pleasant as a colonoscopy, as many have found to their chagrin.

Ray Litvak
Web Content Writer ~ Toronto, Ontario Canada
www.writingwebwords.com

 

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