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Small Business Success Index 4

Index Score*   Grade
73 marginal
Capital Access 67
Marketing & Innovation 65
Workforce 76
Customer Service 88
Computer Technology 73
Compliance 92
*Index score is calculated on a 1-100 scale.
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Posts Tagged ‘seo’


How to Use Delicious for B2B Marketing

October 25th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

Next in my monthly series on unsung social media platforms is Delicious.  If you missed my first two posts in the series, check out what I had to say about using Digg and Reddit for B2B marketing.

Delicious is a social bookmarking site that serves up “The Tastiest Bookmarks on the Web.”  (Until their recent acquisition by Yahoo, they were called Del.icio.us.) Their goal is to help you find cool stuff online and save it in one place that can be accessed from any computer.  You can share your bookmarks with others, see what other people are bookmarking, and search for the most popular bookmarks across a range of topics and interests.  To categorize all of your bookmarks, you use tags rather than folders.  So if you like to bookmark funny videos, you can tag videos with both words and they’ll be findable under both terms.

Even before I did research on using Delicious for marketing purposes, it became obvious to me that you can build quite a reputation on Delicious for interesting and useful information.  If your website, articles and blog posts get bookmarked on Delicious often enough, they’ll make it to the front page of Delicious, deliver a lot of traffic to your website, and brand you and/or your company as a source of great information.

With that said, your popularity on Delicious is dependent on the quality of your online content rather than your popularity among other Delicious users (no voting here!).

After you create a free account, here’s how to get going:

1. Create a network. A network allows you to collect your favorite users’ bookmarks in one spot—and vice versa.  You can organize your network in to “bundles” to separate friends from colleagues, etc.

2. Subscribe to tags. Make a list of your favorite tags.  As bookmarks are added with those tags, they’ll be delivered to your subscriptions page.  It’s a great way to find new users to add to your network.  (You can also create subscription “bundles” to keep things organized.)

And here’s how to get use Delicious for marketing purposes:

Post information that makes users’ lives easier. I found a great blog post about Delicious on Traffikd’s blog.  To get a lot of bookmarks, they suggest posting resource lists, guides and tutorials, online tools and useful services.  Avoid humor, gossip, videos, news and opinions.

Spread the word. Add a Delicious badge to your website and blog. Invite friends, colleagues, and people in your professional circle to join your network, and ask people to bookmark your website, blog, articles, etc.

Integrate your Delicious strategy with your SEO strategy. Make sure the pages, articles and blogs posts you want to be bookmarked (and become popular) on Delicious use the keywords or phrases that you are currently found for on search engines.

NetSol’s Refer a Friend Program: What a Deal!

October 21st, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

Even though you know me as a NetSol blogger here at GrowSmartBiz (and perhaps over at Solutions Are Power, where I’ve also been blogging this month), I am also a client.  When I first launched my business, I hastily put together a website myself using off-the-shelf software.  Last fall, I realized I need to overhaul the website’s look with something that was as sleek and stylish as me.  And so I became a NetSol customer.  I was so happy with the service and final product that I am working with them once again to make my website even better by adding pages and a blog.  I also host my website and e-mail with NetSol.

If you’re a happy-as-a-camper NetSol customer as well, you might want to take advantage of our Refer a Friend program. You give little, and you get a little something super useful.  For each friend you refer who becomes a new NetSol customer, you’ll get a $50 Amazon.com gift card to spend on, well, lots of things (did you know you could buy auto parts from Amazon.com?).  The best part of this deal: Amazon.com gift cards don’t expire.

I’m not eligible for this program, but I wish I were.  All you have to do is spend a minute or two submitting your contact info and the e-mail addresses of a few friends. Be sure you tell them about it, too, because they get 25 percent off their entire order, whether they buy a Web address, build a new website, overhaul an existing website, set up a shopping cart on their site, choose an SEO package, or purchase one of NetSol’s other tools to help small businesses find new customers.

There’s no crazy fine print, but remind your friends that they need to use the links or the “Learn More” button at the bottom of the e-mail they’ll get from Network Solutions in order to be eligible for the discount (and so that you’ll get your gift card!).

10 Cost Effective Ways to Market Your Business, Part 2

July 14th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

In my previous blog post, 10 Cost Effective Ways to Market Your Business, Part 1, I shared 5 tips for marketing that require little more than time.  I learned all of this valuable information I’m now sharing with you in a webinar (of the same name) sponsored by the American Marketing Association.  In fact, the webinar was so packed with great information that it’s taking me two blog posts to share everything.  Without further ado, here are tips 5 through 1.

5. Tap Into the Power of Google

The omniscient, omnipresent Google has some great tools you can use to strengthen your marketing efforts.  Look up the hot topics of the day via Google Trends.  Is there something being discussed that you can address in your promotions?   Use Google Insights to find out what key terms are being searched for the most; apply your findings to your SEO efforts.

4. Database Driven Email Marketing

When I hear the word database, I am almost immediately lulled to sleep.  For me, the word “database” means boring (too closely related to, gag, math), but in the case of email marketing, it means clever.  Instead of always looking for new customers, tap into the relationship you already have with your existing customers by using your CMS (customer management system) as the basis for a plan to upsell and/or cross sell to them.

3. It’s An Offer You Can’t Refuse

Never underestimate the alluring power of a limited offer. It could be exclusive to select customers, available for a limited time, include a special feature, or a sneak peek at a new product or service a week ahead of the official launch date.   

2.  Is Your Signature Working For You?

If the signature in your email messages does not include your website address, phone number, title, and links to your blog and social media profiles, go fix it.

And the #1 most cost-effective way to market your business:

Interact with your customers!

Yes, it’s a no-brainer, but are you doing it?  Solicit feedback on a continual basis via a virtual suggestion box and short surveys.  Build loyalty with contests, promotions, and events and case studies.  Co-present a webinar or seminar with a partner or customer.  And be sure your company’s phone number is prominently placed on your website!  No one can call if you if they can’t find your number!

The 4 Different Types of Press Releases And Where to Distribute Them

July 7th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

Thanks to the popularity of social media and blogging, I think public relations often gets overlooked by small business people. It’s too bad, because well-written press releases that contain valuable information and are distributed via the appropriate channel can go a long way in spreading the word about your business.  The argument that you don’t have time to write and distribute one more thing is a cop-out, because you don’t.  Just re-publish stuff you’ve already written about on your blog, in your newsletter, and on the polls/surveys/research you’ve conducted.

Stack of paperThe best part of public relations these days is the proliferation of online distribution services happy to do the work for you so your press release doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.  Just match your press release to the appropriate outlet listed below, and you’re good to go.

Significant Findings

You’ll want to distribute any huge news via Newswise.  They specialize in knowledge-based news content and are the go-to news source for journalists and media professionals.  The press releases they distribute include research results, feature pitches, and breaking news.  If your biotech company discovered the cure for cancer, this is where you’d announce it.  And you will want to limit what you submit to this site anyway; at $500 a pop, it isn’t cheap.

General

Press releases that are of a more general nature—a new product release or service offering, a change in leadership, significant new clients, success stories—would be distributed through PR Newswire.  They have a really broad reach and deliver press releases to the print and broadcast newsrooms, journalists, bloggers, financial portals, social media networks, Web sites, content syndicators and search engines.  They charge $100-300 per press release. 

Viral

If you’d like your press release to go viral—and really, who wouldn’t?—send your valuable, content-packed release to WiredPRNews.  Even though a lot of companies like to say their service is unique, theirs really is.  They use SEO to make press releases more visible to search engines, making it more likely that your press release is read and shared by a lot of people.  And they only charge around $25/press release. 

Social Media

Press releases that include a multi-media component—photos, videos, MP3 audio—are more likely to make it onto the social media circuit.  Distribute those via Marketwire, which specializes in multi-media press releases and even offers a monitoring service so you can track the effectiveness of your release.  Pricing varies depending on the services you choose to use. 

Photo courtesy of Crittz/Flickr.

Women in Business: Video Marketing Can Really Deliver Results

July 2nd, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

Way back in January, I published a blog post on video marketing based on a conversation I had with Jessica Piscitelli, videographer extraordinaire and owner of www.capture-video.com. She’s a film school grad and worked in the movie industry in NYC until she realized that the exhausting, chaotic movie business was not for her. Jessica now produces videos for promotion, training, and SEO and lives a slightly more sane life. She and I have become friends, and she even roped me into joining the board of a local non-profit.

Because social media and video marketing are very important for SEO, I thought another blog post that focused more on her business would be useful and interesting. 

Jessica PiscitelliWhy did you decide to go into business for yourself? How long have you been in business?

When I started working in corporate video [for another company], I was basically their do-it-all solution. In other words, I ran the camera, edited the video, and made the, ahem – dating myself – master VHS tapes. I frankly just thought that since I was doing everything, I should be my own boss. I didn’t realize there was a lot more involved. That was 1999. I have since learned a lot about managing and growing a business that I wish I had known then!

Why do your clients decide to use video marketing as part of their marketing mix?

Because it is useful. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. A moving picture is priceless. What does your product do? How do your services work? Who is being helped by your non-profit? All of these kinds of questions can be answered very clearly and concisely with a video.

Tracking ROI from marketing in general and social media specifically can be a challenge. There is no perfect answer for tracking ROI, but clients have come to me with specific goals in mind that were trackable. I had a client who wanted to get a certain number of clicks on a video we posted to YouTube. That was easy to monitor because YouTube tracks video “plays.” I had another client who wanted a certain number of people to click through to their website after watching or finding their videos. With Google Analytics or similar tools, it is possible to see where a viewer landing on your page came from and how many of them got there from various video posts.

Care to share the results of some of your most successful videos?

Wetlands Studies and Solutions:

The problem WSS was having involved explaining to a neighborhood association what their area would look like after stream restoration. Restoration is a long and ugly process, and people in areas where it is being done are often unhappy about it. Over a period of months, we captured the changing landscape – before, during, and after, as well as a full growing season later – and put together a video demonstrating exactly what you could expect from the stream restoration in your area over time. Of course, the improvements really are worth the process.

Georgetown University:

GU wanted to educate students on campus about the recycling program and facilities available on campus. They decided to put together a video using students to explain the benefits of recycling. Though not technically a viral video, as it was disbursed internally, the video was made like a student production – and it had the same kind of peer-to-peer energy.

GreatVenisonCooking.com:

 A new website was launching to help hunters prepare their meat. The problem with venison is that the quality of the meat is determined during the process of field dressing. There is not much out there to teach people how to field dress a deer, and so a video showing those steps was not only a great educational tool, but also a great draw for the website.

“I do think having the video adds credibility to our site; more than words, it positions us as experts on our subject matter. Having a short video is a great way to share some expertise and connect with the target audience…people automatically trust you more if they’ve seen your face and heard you speak. It’s a great and easy tool to use.” – Susan Rose, GreatVenisonCooking.com

Guys in Business: Transforming a Seasonal Business Into a Year-Round Business

June 28th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

When people find out my brother, Nikolas Pattantyus, is a massage therapist, they exclaim, “Wow, you’re so lucky!”  Yes, I tell them, I would be lucky if he lived nearby.  Nik owns and operates a massage therapy practice based in the beach resort of Avalon, NJ.  He also, as my mom and I like to say, lives the life.  Upon graduating from high school, he knew himself well enough to have the wisdom and audacity to skip college.  He traveled to surf and snowboard (he even lived in Samoa for 5 months), and he worked when he could, mostly during the summer at restaurants in Avalon and Stone Harbor, which share a barrier island. 

Nik lived a frugal, free-spirited life, but he also knew he needed to get serious and find a career.  Six years after kissing academia goodbye, Nik enrolled at the highly regarded Utah School of Massage Therapy in Salt Lake City.  He had found his calling, and he set up his business, 7 Mile Island Massage, in the summer of 2001. 

From the end of May through October, Nik works up to 10 hours a day.  Since most of his clients live 1 ½ to 2 hours away in and around Philadelphia, he has decided to cut back on the off-season travel, live in Philadelphia during the winter, and focus on growing his business into a year-round enterprise. Here’s how he’s doing just that.

Nikolas Pattantyus

Nikolas Pattantyus

Why did you decide to go into business for yourself?  How long have you been in business?

The decision was easy.  I like being independent and doing things on my own terms.  I started the business when I was still in massage school ten years ago.  When I began doing market research on the South Jersey shore (Avalon, NJ to be more exact), I found a niche in the market; there wasn’t a single massage therapy business in the county providing outcalls

Operating a seasonal business means intense work for a short period of time.  How do you balance the need to work a lot with not exhausting yourself?

I make a point of scheduling time for myself each week to stay in top physical condition.  I try to get to the gym at least 3 times a week, surf as often as possible, and get a massage every two weeks.  It’s a physically, emotionally, and mentally demanding job, so I need to take care of myself before I can take care of anyone else.

What have been the benefits and drawbacks of owning a seasonal business?

Having the time and flexibility to do what I want in the offseason is both a benefit and a drawback.  Another big drawback is finding skilled therapists to work with me.  Competent and knowledgeable therapists are difficult to find, especially those willing to do house calls at the beach for only a few months a year.

How have you transitioned to owning a business that operates year-round? 

Most of my clientele live in the Philadelphia metro area, so I have started sending text messages or calling my clients to let them know I’ll be working in their town or neighborhood that day. 

What outreach/advertising methods have you/do you use to grow your business?

The only paid advertising I do now is the Cape May County phone book.  Most of my business is repeat business, but I also generate business through word of mouth and my website, which is optimized for search engines.  I do some networking but I don’t have a Facebook page or use Twitter. 

Thinking back on the lean winters, would you have done anything differently?

Yeah, for sure.  I used to fill my head with different places I wanted to travel to during the winter; I had no intention of being in the Mid-Atlantic area at all.  My clients would always ask me if I was going to be around Philly during the offseason, and I would always say no.  I set myself back taking that approach but I’ve learned that by making myself available all year and staying in touch with my clients throughout the year has increased my summer business with my regulars.

What are your goals?  Where do you see your company headed? 

I plan on finding dependable, quality therapists I can employ during the summer and growing my offseason business to the point where I can keep them busy in the winters, either in Philly or at the Shore or both.

If you could give one piece of advice to a burgeoning entrepreneur/small business owner, what would it be? 

Explore as many different advertising mediums as possible and track them to see which works best.   Do what you can to get new clients without selling yourself short and do whatever it takes to accommodate existing clients because positive experiences will generate good word of mouth traffic.

How Much SEO Can I Do By Myself?

June 9th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

After months of procrastinating, I really need to get my website tricked out with some SEO.  Because it’s such a technical process and can be rather expensive, I started wondering how much I could do myself. I have zero knowledge of or experience in HTML and web programming, and a budget of…well, let’s say not enough to pay an SEO expert what their service is worth. 

Robot with Magnifying Glass

liferoiblog/Flickr

Based on my research, which consisted of my limited knowledge, a Google search, and finally asking SEO guru Ken Fischer of Click for Help, there is quite a bit you can do on your own.  Needless to say, it’s not going to be nearly as effective as adding all those tags and metadata and technical gee gaws to your website, but it will certainly help. 

Here’s what you need, in no specific order:

Keywords.  Research keywords for your industry simply by plugging words and terms related to what you do into any search engine.  You probably already know what some key terms are, but get really creative.  Ask friends and family for their thoughts—you might get even more ideas. 

Once you have a list of keywords, add them to your website’s content wherever possible.  To make your content both readable and effective, you’ll want to craft your messaging and positioning statements around the keywords rather than just randomly inserting keywords into your content. 

Strong, original, well-written website content.  If your content is poorly written, no one’s going to click through your website, let alone contact you.  Remember that the reason you want your site to be optimized for search engines is not just so people can find you, but so those people become customers.  Without good content, that goal is a lost cause. 

If you’re not a good writer, find someone who is.  If you think you’re a good writer, find a good editor.  Make sure your content uses plain English rather than jargon and is thoughtful and original.  Most importantly, make sure your content speaks to your audience’s needs.  Explain to them how you are going to solve their problems and how you are going to do it better than the other guy. 

Links from other websites.  Link from websites to yours (aka, a backlink) are gold in the SEO world.  Think about it: why would someone provide a link to a website if it didn’t contain useful or interesting information?  Links drive traffic to your website and make web pages more likely to appear at the top of a search engine’s results page, which, in turn, pushes more traffic to your website.  It’s a nice little cycle once it gets going.

Publish articles to the LinkedIn groups you belong to and to an online article distribution service like EzineArticles or GoArticles.  As long as what you are writing is relevant and interesting, it will be shared over and over again.  You can also distribute press releases, sprinkled with backlinks to your website, to an online news release service like PR Web.  It will get picked up by news services, and because PR Web is recognized as an authority, backlinks from their website can drive a lot of traffic to your website.

Social media.  When you post to your favorite social media platforms, be sure you are offering advice, tips, and success stories with relevant links back to your website.  Avoid outright sales pitches at all costs.  Of course, if you’re running a special promotion, a sale, or launching a new product or service, you’re going to advertise that.  But people are more likely to pass along good advice than an announcement regarding a new product launch.  If your company sounds interesting, people will visit your website.      

Blog.  As with social media, blog posts that offer useful, relevant information and contain links back to content on your website will spur web traffic.  Publish a great blog, and people will pass it along, post it to Facebook, tweet it, and refer to it and ultimately drive traffic to your website.

Inbound Marketing Should Be Your New Best Friend

April 16th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen

Our Grow Smart Business theme this month is inbound marketing.  For you non-marketing folks, that just means pulling business in online via your website, social networking, and blogs, rather pushing marketing messages out to your audience via advertising, direct mail, PR, etc.  Inbound marketing should be your new best friend, as it is the present—and future—of an effective marketing program.

Ken Fischer

Ken Fischer, Click for Help

The two person monologue (bilogue?) that appears below started out as an interview with Ken Fischer, President of ClickForHelp, a web 2.0 application development company.  In plain English, that means one of the things his company puts together and executes is an SEO program that is fully integrated with your marketing and branding efforts, which most SEO companies do not do.  It’s a very robust approach that generates unbelievable results.

Amanda Fischer

Amanda Fischer, Infinite Technologies

To make this interview more interesting, we decided to make it a case study using one of his clients, Amanda Fischer, Director of Marketing at Infinite Technologies, which makes orthotics, prosthetics, and helmets for babies with flat, flattening, or misshapen heads.  They just launched a new, totally rebranded website with Ken’s help called HelmetTherapy.  Ken and Amanda worked together to position HelmetTherapy.com as the go-to educational website for parents of children who need helmet therapy.  The re-launched website has been wildly successful thanks to a strategic online marketing plan.

I told them what I wanted to write about, and then just sat back and listened to their back and forth, scribbling notes furiously.  (Oh, and they are not related despite having the exact same last name.  They usually point that out to people, so I figured I would, too.)

Excerpts from the “bilogue”:

Ken: Our philosophy around online marketing is simple: understand your audiences’ needs and meet them.  You want to build trust and retain your audience.

Amanda: And education is a huge part of that.  We put together great content that would fulfill the expectations of what our audience was looking for online.

Ken: Exactly.  You want to educate people on issues they want to know about.  So we always start out by doing a lot of analysis.  We analyze audience data (who they are, what they’re looking for online, etc.), look at what the competitors’ are doing, and conduct an in-depth market analysis….Our strategy with HelmetTherapy.com became building an educational resource for prospective helmet therapy patients….All of this information does you no good, of course, if no one can find you.  The website needed to be searchable and findable around terms parents regularly search for.

Amanda:  Our goal with the website was to be top-ranked.

Ken: So, once you put an SEO strategy into place, you have to ask yourself: was the effort worth it?  You must have A+ analytics in place so you know exactly what is and what is not working.  We measure every path that customers can follow to your website.

Amanda: And the effort was worth it.  We had been attracting 1-2 patients per week via our website; now we’re getting 5-10 patients per week.  Our sales increased by 500% and we’re top-ranked on almost 300 sites!

Ken: HelmetTherapy.com is searchable for over 2,000 terms, and they have been found with 500.

Amanda: This huge project has also really helped with our brand awareness.  It’s been 5 months since the site launched, and at 3 months, people were referring to our helmets, which did not have a name, as “KidCap”.

And that, folks, is the formula for a successful inbound marketing program: valuable information + technology  + analytics.  Deceptively simple, and very doable.

Great FREE SEO Tools for Your Small Business

February 26th, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

As we come to the end of this month, what better way to wrap up this month’s theme of “Getting Your Business Found” than giving away free stuff. Well, free advice and content at least. A few months ago I came across this article of great SEO tools that are free written by Mark Thompson over at Web Analytics World. You can use them for link research, SEO, social media and analytics.

Here is the article list:

1. SEO Toolbar

This is by far the best SEO tool out there. No matter what client or industry I am researching, I always start with the data provided by the SEO Toolbar. It will give you a snapshot of a site, by providing high level information search engines analyze when ranking websites. Even though the toolbar will give you lots of different data points, there are only certain things I look at. I look at the follow data to get a basic overview of the site.

  • Domain Age
  • Inbound Links
  • PageRank
  • Pages Indexed
  • SEO X-ray (nofollow links, H tags, meta data)

2. Xenu

There was a great post written by Ann Smarty that talks about the different things you can do with the Xenu tool.

Basically this tool will allow you to scan and analyze a site to help find potential problems.

  • Broken Links
  • Depth of the Site (crawling issues)
  • Potential Duplicate Content Issues
  • Orphan Pages
  • 404 Error Pages

3. Website Grader

This web-based tool, allows you to enter a url and it will analyze the site, then it creates a user-friendly SEO report. This can be an easy report to generate for a potential client. However, sometimes it can be overwhelming for people because of all of the information it returns.

  • Overall SEO Score (out of 100)
  • Basic On-Page SEO (Meta data, Alt tags, H tags)
  • Basic Off-Site SEO (Domain Age, Pages Indexed, Inbound Links)
  • Blog Analysis
  • Social Media Analysis

4. SEO for Firefox

SEO for Firefox is a plugin that will pull in data about the site within the Google search results. I will use this to see how fierce the competition is and to help determine how much effort and time it will take to optimize a potential clients site. The nice thing about SEO for Firefox is the flexibility to only add data into the results that you want to see. These are the data points I pull in:

  • PageRank
  • Inbound Links
  • Domain Age
  • Google and Yahoo Rankings

5. Rank Checker

Rank Checker is a stand alone firefox plugin (also on the SEO Toolbar) that allows you to check the rankings of a site for specific keywords/phrases. One nice feature about Rank Checker is you can check not only US search engines, but foreign versions of Google, Yahoo, and MSN. Data I pull from this tool include:

  • Baseline Rankings
  • Ranking Improvements
  • What URL is Ranking

6. AuditMyPC: Sitemap Generator

There are a lot of sitemap generator tools out there, however I feel that this is the best…plus its free.

  • Generate a XML Sitemap
  • Generate a HTML Sitemap
  • Analyze Website Pages & Structure

7. Reverse IP Lookup

This tool allows you to see what other domains are on the same server. It is not often, but sometimes if a site that has been penalized by Google is hosted on the same server as your site, it can penalize ALL that are on the shared hosting server. This is another reason why being on your own dedicated server can help your SEO.

8. Yahoo! Site Explorer

There are a number of link analysis tools like Link DiagnosisBackLink Watch, andLink Assistant, however Yahoo! Site Explorer I feel still does the best job of not only finding backlinks, but ordering them in place of importance. Here are the main things I will look at when analyzing SiteExplorer links.

9. SocialMention

To see what is being said about a potential or current client, I will use a variety of real-time search engines. I usually will start at SocialMention because it will scour the web including Blogs, Q&A, Forums, Mircoblogs, Social Bookmarks, Events, Video, and News sites for mentionings of your brand or keyword you enter. I can get a better understanding of:

  • Brand Perception
  • Brand Reach
  • Industry Position
  • Influencers in the Industry
  • Types of Communication/Discussions

10. Google Analytics

Of course if you have access to a clients Google Analytics you can find out a wealth of knowledge that you wouldn’t be able to gather with free tools anyone can use. When I first look at a sites analyics I will look at certain data including:

  • Daily Traffic
  • Traffic Sources
  • Keywords
  • Geo-Location
  • User Engagement
  • Conversions

With all of these free tools you can learn a lot about a potential/current client and your competitors. You are able to cover a wide spectrum of information including on-page/off-page factors, social media, reputation management, and user engagement. Feel free to try one or all of these tools the next time you perform some research on a site.

Want to Learn More about Search Marketing?

Here at Network Solutions we have put together some great tools and services for search marketing, local search visibility and pay-per-click advertising. Check them out and if you need some help getting your site optimized, reach out via phone, e-mail or twitter.

How to Use Content Management Systems to Maximize Your Search Results

February 25th, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

Reading the title and coming this far mean the term “content management system” or CMS doesn’t make you want to run. Good, because there is some great stuff I will share with you. You probably remember the days of the simple, basic web site with HTML pages that made up your site. Once you had the site up, things were very straightforward but if you had to make a change you had to either know how to code web pages or hire someone on a perpetual basis to make edits.

Around 2000, there were some systems that allowed you to manage the content and placement along with giving users a simple interface to focus updates in small discreet chunks. These systems initial were very expensive and out of the range of most businesses. Besides, many businesses didn’t have that much to update so it didn’t really matter.

As search engines evolved, their initial goal was to go your web site and spider all the pages that were linked together. If you didn’t update your web site it looked old to Google and it fell in rankings. Not being able to scale a web site, especially if you were a small business, was very apparent.

So as the use of social media tools like blogs took hold in the mid-2000′s, there were open source content management systems like Drupal, Joomla and WordPress that made it easy to build a web site and publish. Granted, you still needed some good design up front but the content creation could be done by almost anyone. These tools made it easier for search engines to recognize your site as something that was being updated and worthy of a higher search ranking.

Still, it might be somewhat elusive as to what you should look for in a CMS. Search Engine Land has this great list of critical, important, desirable and optional features you should look for in an SEO friendly content system.

Here is the list in it entirety:

Critical CMS features

  • URLs free of tracking parameters and session IDs — Sticking session or tracking information such as the user’s clickpath into the URL is deadly for SEO. It usually leads to incomplete indexation and duplicate content issues.
  • H1 tags — No H1 tags on a given page is not desirable. Too many H1 tags on the page is not desirable. Low-value content (such as the publication date) marked up as an H1 is not desirable. The article title is typically the best content to have wrapped in an H1.
  • Customizable URL structure — If the default URL structure of the CMS doesn’t suit your needs, you should be able to change it. For example, if you don’t want /archives/ in the URLs of all your archived articles, you should be able to remove it. Or if you want to reference the article name instead of the article’s database ID in the URL, you should be able to do it.
  • 301 redirects to canonical URL — Duplicate content is the bane of the existence of many a dynamic website owner. Automatic handling of this by the CMS through the use of 301 redirects is a must.

Important CMS features

  • Static-looking URLs — The most palatable URLs to spiders are the ones that look like they lead to static pages, i.e. no query strings.
  • Keywords in URLs — Keywords in your URLs can help your rankings. It would be a shame to miss out on the opportunity this presents, if your CMS doesn’t support keyword-rich URLs (e.g. only article IDs in the URL).
  • RSS feeds — RSS feeds are essential if you want to reach bloggers; email newsletters won’t cut it for the hip, Web 2.0 crowd. Hopefully this feature also comes integrated with Feedburner, for improved visibility on RSS feed consumption by your subscribers.
  • Pings — This lets blog and feed search engines like Google Blog Search know you have published new content so they can come and grab your latest RSS feed.
  • Tagging and tag clouds — This Web 2.0 feature is powerful for SEO, thanks in large part to the keyword-rich text links. This is your opportunity to rejig your internal linking structure and how you flow PageRank without having to completely gut your taxonomy/ontology.
  • Individually customizable title tags and H1 tags — Each title tag should be decoupled from the post/article/product title. Same goes for H1 tags. That way anchor text can be varied from H1’s which can, in turn, be varied from the title tag. Thus, you can work in additional keywords (synonyms etc.) into the H1, and even more into the title tag — without spamming of course!
  • Multi-level categorization structure — It’s awfully limiting to your site structure and internal hierarchical linking structure to have a CMS that doesn’t allow you to nest subcategories into categories, sub-subcategories into subcategories, and so on.
  • Canonical tags — Although I don’t trust Google to always reliably obey this new tag, it is definitely worthwhile having it available as an option if the need arises (hopefully that need won’t arise if you have 301’s in all the right places).

Desirable CMS features

  • Paraphrasable excerpts — Duplicate content issues are exacerbated on dynamic sites such as blogs when the same content is displayed on permalink pages, category pages, archives-by-date pages, tag pages, and the home page. Crafting unique content for the excerpt and having that content display on all locations except for the the permalink page will help strengthen your permalink page as unique content.
  • Breadcrumb navigation — It reinforces the hierarchical nature of your internal linking structure using text links which are hopefully keyword-rich.
  • Flexible rules for automatically generating title tags — If the title tag always has to start with your site name followed by a colon followed by your article title, you’re sunk — at least as far as your SEO is concerned. You should be able to revise the “recipes” used to generate the title tags across your site to make them more optimal for search.
  • Page-specific meta descriptions — A cardinal sin of dynamic websites is using the same meta description across all the pages. This can be a contributor to duplicate content issues.
  • Meta noindex for low-value pages — Even if you nofollow links to these pages, other people may still link to these and you run the risk of ranking those pages above some of your more valuable content.
  • Keyword-rich intro copy on category-level pages and tag pages — Keyword-rich introductory copy helps set a stable keyword theme/focus for the page, rather than relying on the latest article, product, or blog post to be the most prominent text on the page.
  • Granular control over nofollows on links — If your site allows the posting of user-generated content through “comments,” your site will be a spam-magnet if you don’t nofollow the links posted by commenters. Heck, you’ll probably be a spam magnet anyways, it’ll just be worse for you without the nofollows. Additionally, regardless of your stance on PageRank sculpting and its value for SEO, you should be able to selectively decide when and when not to pass PageRank to an internal page within your site.
  • Customizable anchor text on navigational links — “Contact”, “About Us”, “Read More”, “Full Article” etc. all make for lousy anchor text — at least from an SEO standpoint. Hopefully your CMS allows you to improve such links to make the anchor text more keyword-rich.
  • Mass Edit, or Bulk Upload (or both) — It’s not efficient to go to each page’s Edit screen. Instead, mass modify the titles, H1’s, filenames, and perhaps even meta descriptions, within Excel or a “mass edit” web interface (like the one provided by my SEO Title Tag plugin for WordPress.
  • Declared search term — When you decide on a page’s primary keyword focus, you should be able to tuck away that crucial bit of information somewhere where it will be safe from the prying eyes of competitors. That means it should not be parked anywhere in the HTML — including the meta keywords tag — since all a resourceful competitor would need to do is “View Page Source” within their web browser. There should be a field in the database, displayed and accessible to your editors/administrators within the admin interface of your CMS.
  • Auto 301 redirect previous versions of URLs — Imagine updating a permalink or product page URL (e.g. “post slug”) multiple times. Each previous version of a URL could lead the search engines to discover duplicate pages if you’re not careful. Why worry about these old URLs and whether they will stop working or will create duplicate content; let the CMS “worry” about this instead and seamlessly 301 previous iterations to the latest version.
  • Google Product Search feed — If your CMS is powering an online catalog site, then this feature is for you. It can be a real timesaver. And if you are an online retailer not submitting your products into Google Base, heed this warning: neglect Google Product Search (formerly Froogle) at your peril!

Optional CMS features

  • XML Sitemaps generator — A XML sitemap can be submitted to the major engines to improve indexation, but it’s usually unnecessary if you have a search engine friendly CMS; the engines will usually do a good job crawling and discovering your site’s URLs on their own. Google will use your Sitemaps file as a canonicalization signal, but hopefully you don’t need it since your CMS isn’t generating duplicate pages.
  • XHTML validation — When entering your content, it is desirable to have the CMS automatically check for malformed HTML, as search engines may end up “seeing” a page differently from how it renders on the screen and consider navigation to be part of the content or vice versa.
  • Pingbacks, Trackbacks, Comments and Anti-spam mechanisms — The problem with comments/trackbacks/pingbacks is that they are vectors for spam, so if you have one (comments/trackbacks/pingbacks), you will have the other (spam). Therefore, effective spam prevention (e.g. Akismet, Defensio, Mollom) is a must.


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