Monday, September 24, 2012

SEO Tips & Web Development Notes

Like everyone else with a business website, we get SPAM from web developers trying to sell us SEO.

We have developed sites since 1995.  Our current Art & Technology has been the result of some 17 years work. Learnt a thing or two along the way. With that, we offer this random grab bag of website development points and SEO Tips. Note that the site doesn't sell "things", but a "service", and has samples of work in several different fields.

The most important thing is that a website must be readable by the search engine robots. A web crawling  robot cannot read it if it is all in FLASH or Javascript.  If it cannot be read, then it doesn't have any content in the search engines to find searches against.

Website design companies may make a fuss about having a beautiful main index page. Our experience is that people use the search engines to go directly to the page they want.  Many will not go to your home or index page at all, and it isn't highly ranked for our own site.  But it depends on what the site is for...

Some number of your visitors will also be using a translated version of your site, and are not native speakers of English.

Your ranking in searches depends on how many other quality sites link to your own site.   Go do a search for "stratocaster hum reduction" .  Go ahead, I'll wait.

You will probably see our own "How To Article" on the subject ranks highly. There are quite a few links around the Internet pointing to our Fender Stratocaster- Shielding for Hum Reduction. This is because it is useful. It gets mentioned on Fender forums all over the world. So having good useful content is important to get links.  

But just because one page has lots of external links coming in and visitors, doesn't mean that those visitors will look at anything else on your site. Google refers to this as the bounce rate, and we find the majority look at one page and nothing else.  They effectively use the google search results page as their index, and look at what it has presented to them.  That is what I do and the web stats show most do the same.

It is only Amazon or News where I go to their home page and search from it.

You want to have important, meaning full headings with h1, h2 and h3 tags.
Using the Google Keyword Tool will show you how popular those words or phrases are. No one has ever searched for them, or there are already a billion sites using them.
You also need meaningful text around them too. The real content.

You need to use Google Analytics and join Google Webmaster to get real useful info on how people use and find your site. You use this to then improve it. The forums also give the low down on recent Google algorithm changes and impact.
You may also find your own website tools also have webstats and other tools which give a different POV on things.

We find the Keywords used to find the site very useful. We also specifically track the About and Contact pages  (Google's Goal Conversion tools), and have found they are very consistent, even if whole site accesses go up and down. The best outcome from our website is that a visitor decides to contact you.

When you link to another page on your own site, you want to use the title of that page as the link, not click "here".

A really big one for me is you want to have meaning full text in the alt tag of images. Even if you do, Google will probably not be able to associate the image with searches anyway 8^(.  Have found the actual file name may or may not be more important than the surrounding text and headings. It also seems to randomly change.
Our "Car Caricatures, Logos and Cartoons"  is mostly images.  But if you search for "car cartoons logos" in a search engine, it may rank high, or it may not.  Seems to change a lot with Google tinkering with their algorithm.

A really cool feature of Google Image search is that you can drag and drop an image onto the text box, and Google will find that image.  This can be useful to find who is steeling your content 8^).

Try this search for this go kart image we originally used as a sample on our website without a watermark.

Interesting, don't you think?  So the lesson is watermark your content!  Put transparent branding on it, or whatever else is required.

We don't mind it when they leave my signature and website URL, that is marketing, but there are many places that remove my title, url and signature and claim it as there own. Beware.

There are a lot of skimmer sites that steal content, have a bunch of Adsense adverts and do nothing else.  Google revises the algorithms to beat these sometimes, but they come up again and again.  If your own site accesses drop a lot, this may be why.  Complain to Google via Webmaster and see what happens.

The other trick is other sites set up to take advertising referral revenue.  We have some T-shirts on the Art & Technology Zazzle Store.  I've found my own designs on other "t-shirt sites" that link to my own store, but take a commission on the way.  I guess that just means the designs are good enough to steel.

Be careful with large pdfs, videos or audio files.  You may find a robot such as the one from Yandex (the Google of Russia) is reading those files every few days and wasting your sites bandwidth.  You may need to block them multiple times, as they have multiple IP addresses that you will have to pull out of your webs logs.
We eventually put our audio files on specialist sites such as Soundcloud, and link to them from there, the same way we use YouTube for videos.

What we have found with these Music Producer Sites is that "real people" wanting to listen to music don't go to SoundCloud, BandCamp or ReverbNation.  They are just full of other musicians/producers promoting their own material. We get way more listens on a YouTube video than we do on any of the music sites. We have also found embedding a music player of our tracks on our own site doesn't improve that either. 

Google likes fresh content so you need updates, or your page rankings drop.  Having said that, our golden oldie "Sculpting Technique and Super Sculpey" hasn't been updated dramatically in a while, but ranks ok for search "Sculpting Technique". (Update 2015: not in the first few pages now, so effectively doesn't exist)

Have read a lot about the value of Social Networking etc  and now have the "Art & Technology Facebook" service page. We are also on Twitter and LinkedIn.  I have yet to see any real advantage to having these from a business perspective, in their own closed off communities, and expect putting the content and effort into your own open to anyone site would have better ROI. Facebook's real use is keeping up with friends and it does that well enough.  (Update 2015: Haven't seen ANY value in the Facebook page AT ALL.. a complete waste of time and effort. Facebook s purely for fun with friends...)

Don't use the email HTML tag so your contact email is available on the site as text.  Spammer robots just collect those addresses and spam you with junk.  Our current solution is to use a contact form, based around server side php and have sensitive info only as images.  We have a few tricks in the php code that removes all HTML and looks for a few SPAM robot indicators. If it looks like SPAM, the submission doesn't get sent. Works very well.

We also have our own Art and Technology Demo YouTube Channel. We have found Demo videos useful to embed on your own site, but really don't have any information to prove it helps promote your site or not.

As we put in a previous blog post, we also don't know why the popular videos are SO popular, with 85% not being from a keyword search. Google appears to suggest videos using an algorithm they don't know much about....

Our own site is written directly in HTML with php server side support. We have seen sites built around a CMS system require maintenance to upgrade and reinstall the website to keep the Malware injectors at bay.  The open CMS systems mean the flaws are known and can be exploited.  Your mileage may vary on this, and I know many website developers using CMS systems without any trouble.

Google Adsense.  For the longest time, we didn't want advertisements and thought it  would hurt the value of the site. Maybe it would, but we had a period of some months without any major work a few years ago, and that changed our mind. So we added Adsense to our main site, but not on all pages.  It did pay for hosting the site for a few years, but doesn't now. The current return on using Adsense is so low that I wouldn't expect it is worth to use for anyone. A few years ago it returned something around $20 a month by having the adverts along the right side of some pages.  Now that is more like $7, and the accesses to the site have steadily risen during that time, as have hosting fees.  So unless Google makes it worth your time, I don't recommend Adsense. (Update 2015: Adsense is now worth so little it isn't worth having.... have put up a few relevant Amazon book adverts on some how to pages and they are far more useful)
The banner adverts may pay better, but we have no experience with them getting and setting them up. We do know that they were a significant income on an accounting software site were were involved in a few years ago.

Haven't personally used Adwords, but do know that once you start, it is impossible to cancel the account.  Your mileage my vary.

We have become an Amazon Associate, and so far haven't seen that be worth the effort to set up either. (Update 2015:no it is worthwhile now!) A Music Artist on Spotify can get something like 0.0007 cents a play, and these are similar numbers.

We have started with Mobile friendly versions of some of our sites webpages.  We use a php file to determine mobile or not, then use correctly formatted pages for large screen or SmartPhones. Currently only 10% of accesses are from SmartPhones, but it is a growing area. Most iOS devices accessing our site are actually iPads.  (Update 2015: don't think mobile support is worth the effort, as an iPad or Samsung tablet looks fine with the normal browser, and people using their phone are just filling in time...)

I would also suggest that "Art & Technology" is a poor name of a business, even if that is what it is about, it isn't descriptive enough, and Google doesn't really know how to interpret it.  It is a very poor phrase to use as a search term.

Some of the pages we have were actually suggested by visitors. The How We Work page being a significant one. And I often have to refer people to it. 

There are many SEO tips around. Most such sites are junk. This isn't: 55 Quick SEO Tips Even Your Mother Would Love .

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