Website Marketing and Search Engine Consultants
for When You Are Short of Cash, Time, or Know-How

Bigger, Faster, Smaller, Fresher

Latest Trends in Search Marketing
And keeping your Website Competitive

There have been many recent changes on the internet that are now impacting your business' success. If your goal is to attract customers with your website, then you must start adapting to these changes immediately.

Many of these changes directly affect your website's performance in various search engines, especially Google, and how well your website will appeal to your customers. Some changes are technical, some are not. They are discussed below, along with a set of steps for taking advantage of the changes.

Do the following as soon as you can, and both Google and your customers will reward you:

  1. Add a Document Type Definition (DTD) to each webpage. Page designs should now specify "DOCTYPE HTML Strict" or preferably the more up to date "XHTML Transitional" specifications.
  2. Convert your site to the "Block Model" by eliminating table-based structure and fully implementing Cascading Style Sheets (CSS).
  3. Replace navigation menu scripts (like drop-down boxes) and other scripting with CSS techniques.
  4. Replace all images used as substitutes for text with actual text formatted by CSS.
  5. Check your website in Google Instant Preview. Be sure it looks like the full size version, and is attractive to potential customers. You may need to revise your design so it stands out better.
  6. Check your listings on Google Maps and Google Places. Edit your information, correct your map location, and add some photos.
  7. Be sure that all active content like YouTube videos has background images and placeholders for Browsers that block these items (most Search Engines block this content).
  8. Test your website with various web browsers, including Internet Explorer versions 6, 7, 8 & 9, Firefox and Safari.
  9. Look at your website on a wide screen. Reprogram the design to restrict the page width if necessary, but allow it to easily resize on smaller screens.
  10. Add new content at least add something every month. Adding new pages is even better.
  11. Add description tags to all important images so search engines will display them in search results.
  12. Add video content.
  13. Ask customers to write reviews about you on social sites, industry directory sites and discussion boards/forums.
  14. Within the next two years, adapt the CSS for handheld units. This should be easy once you complete the steps listed above.

These steps will assure that your website is stream-lined, fresh and relevant what Google wants to see. It also assures that your potential customers will see an attractive website, find the information they seek, and become actual customers. So, contact your web designer soon, and start upgrading your website.

Background Explanations

Please read on for more explanation and what you need to do in order to keep your website at the top of the search engines and most effective with potential customers.

World Wide Web Big and getting bigger

The World Wide Web continues its huge growth in content. The sheer size of all this new information is challenging the major search engines like Google.

Their mission, and therefore their challenge, is to record all the new content, sort out the good from the bad, and provide relevant search results to their users, who incidentally are your potential customers. Plus, the search engines must be able to do this within minutes after the new information is posted on the web.

These problems require solutions much more than for the search engines to simply install bigger computer systems to handle the increased workload. The solutions they choose may have a major impact on your website.

Speed Everyone likes "fast"

Short website download time has long been the focus of site optimizers because of its improvement in visitor usability. Slow loading websites frustrate visitors, and frustrated visitors will shop elsewhere.

Even though many users have high speed internet connections, faster sites will continue to have an advantage because Google now considers speed in their search ranking formula. This not only allows Google to provide a better experience to their search customers, but smaller page files means less cost for Google to keep up with the ever growing world wide web's total content.

Google "Caffeine" Speedy, Fresh and Connected

Search engines have a new focus on increasing speed, relevancy and accuracy in handling the huge number of web pages on the internet something Microsoft focused on when it released Bing in 2009.

Google's last major update arrived in January 2010 and was meant to eliminate any deficiencies Google may have had when compared to Microsoft's Bing. The update was nicknamed "Caffeine" in reference to the boost in energy and speed one gets after drinking lots of coffee. Google had also been working on many changes long before Bing was launched due to the tremendous change in the internet technology. Google recognized a number of trends and incorporated them into "Caffeine" such as:

  • Huge growth in the amount of new Web content challenges Google, so file size and loading speed are now critical to Google's ranking formula.
  • The new Google Search is FAST: It is often doubled the speed of the old Google.
  • Google now anticipates the keyword string as you type it into the search box. They will suggest other keywords, and will automatically load the search results it thinks you will be interested in. This makes it more important to optimize your website for these variations.
  • Google favors fresh content, so your content must stay fresh or Google may start lowering your search positions. Technically, this really means at least your file revision dates need to be current.
  • Google now relies more on keywords, especially keyword strings that are within the main content text on the page. More importance will be given to the exact matching domain names, and page naming will be more important than ever.
  • Search is moving into real-time. Being able to get info on breaking news events is clearly a priority for Google (and Bing). As Google search moves into real-time. News, information and social media results will be boosted by Caffeine, with this all being part of the large effort to make real-time search a reality.
  • Social networking and multimedia have become more significant it's all about having the latest and greatest information.
  • Local results will also be more important. A visitor's location may be detected based on their IP address or their host's address, and Google will provide different search results depending on location. (read further for more specifics)
  • All the technical trends covered by this article are now incorporated into Google's ranking formula.

Instant Preview

Google new feature called "Instant Preview" was fully launched in November of 2010. This is a quick display of an image of the page Google has on file (its "cache"). This instant preview allows a searcher to see the website before they click on the link to it, thereby helping them pick which sites to visit and saving them time.

Users of Instant Previews appear to be 5% more likely to like the sites they actually visit. This significantly impacts website performance in a couple specific ways:

  • If searchers don't like what they see in the preview, they are less likely to click to your site.
  • If users are 5% happier with your site, that translates into an increase in average Pages Viewed per Visit, Time on Site, and total Conversion. An increase in conversion rate usually translates into increased revenue for most businesses.

Now is a great time for anyone who has been considering a redesign of their website. Here are a few things you'll want to keep in mind as you and your designer are planning your new design:

  1. Logo Placement Make sure your logo is placed such that it holds a prominent position in your header. People like to see what company they are researching, they typically don't like "stealth" companies (those who try to hide their identity or don't have one).
  2. General Layout make sure your site structure is aesthetically pleasing from a "thumbnail" perspective. If it looks busy when you're on the site, it's going to look cluttered and overwhelming in a thumbnail. Also, be sure your most critical points are high in the page ("above the fold" in advertising terminology).
  3. Headline Text Be sure your headline is intuitive. If it's not a clear statement, rewrite it. This will allow a visitor to get an idea of what they'll get on your site before they get there. It also helps the user identify if your site will be useful for what they're seeking to accomplish in their search.
  4. Script and Active Content if you try the Instant Preview feature, you might notice that some website images show large gray areas. These are parts of those web pages that will normally display some sort of script-driven content, such as an embedded YouTube video. Google doesn't spend time storing a whole video, or reading what the content contains, so the preview only shows a placeholder box. Unfortunately, your potential customer will not find this attractive and you will lose the opportunity to impress them. You must provide Google with an alternate image so your preview will look like the real website.

Local Search "Google Maps, Places & Tags"

Search engines have become the substitute for phone books and yellow page ads. Shoppers now use search to find the phone number, hours of service, location, products and discounts for local businesses.

In the recent past, Google displayed additional local information for searches involving specific geographic keywords, like "Maine" or "Portland." Much of this information was driven by Yellow Page listings.

Google has recently shown a much greater focus on local search results, including changes to the way the maps are positioned in the general results pages, the results pages presented when a geographically-modified search has been conducted, and some significant changes to the Local Places pages. If you are a local business, you can leverage all of these changes to your benefit.

The location map is now prominently placed on the top right hand side of the page. You will notice that all basic search listings that have a "Google Places" page are indicated, with a link to that page. You will also notice that the map location icon is clearly shown both on the map and within the search results listing. This adds a lot of emphasis to your listing.

Your search listing might also include "Tags." Tags allow you to decide what's most important about your business and make sure it stands out.

A "Tag" can be for a discount coupon, or you actually can have several different types of tags, including photos, blogs, videos, and menus.

As you can see, Tags and Places really gives you a great deal of additional visibility that could lead to a visitor click and then a customer purchase.

Updating Google Places & Tags

Be sure that you fully utilize all of the options available so your Places listing consumes as much search page space as possible. Not only do you gain greater visibility on the page when compared your competitors, but the space taken up might push a competitor out of view.

To update your Places Page and get Tags, you first need to set up your (free) Google Account. If you are a Google Adwords advertiser (pay per click), then you can simply log in using the same user name and password as for your advertising account.

Once you have set up your "Places Page" listing, you can then add additional Tags for a nominal monthly fee.

It's not 2001 anymore: Websites must be technically up to date

Being "behind the times" reflects poorly on your business. Keeping your website modern will improve your credibility with customers. If your website is keeping up, customers will assume that your products and services are also keeping up. Search engines will also recognize the difference, and the latest technical approaches will speed up your files as well. Some components of being up to date are:

  • HTML formatting Search engines prefer CSS-based sites and score them higher in the search rankings because:
    • The code is cleaner and therefore easier for search engines to scan and store.
    • An HTML page converted to CSS may have a 25% to 35% smaller file size a huge savings for Google.
    • CSS designs can replace many old scripts that search engines cannot read and understand.
    • Important content can be placed at the top of the HTML document vital for optimization efforts.
    • There is a greater density of informative content compared to coding content.
  • Document Type Declaration ("DTD") Older websites do not use this feature. Basically, it tells a browser how to interpret certain codes. Without a DTD, a browser must "figure things out for itself." This not only slows things down considerably, it means that a website might be displayed quite different from what its designer intended. Adding a Doc Type will not only keep it up to date for browsers, it will be more easily scanned by search engines.
  • If you have text that is actually just part of an image, then it must be replaced with discrete text lettering. This shortens the download time and is also readable by the search engines.

Here a block, there a block Tables vs Blocks

Ten years ago, designers used "tables" to control the layout of a page by placing content in a grid of rows and columns. Tables are still used in certain situations, but improvements in browser capability over the past few years now allow use of the "block model" for page design.

This "block model" as it is known, conforms to international web design standards that all current browsers will conform to. In short, where a table is a grid within which content is placed, a box may be positioned anywhere on the page a designer wants, regardless of where the content appears in the file.

A block may be any part of a page, even a single word, paragraph, picture or group of these. Designers now use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to easily change where each block appears, and can even alter the appearance of a webpage when it is viewed on a large screen, small screen, a cell phone or when being printed.

In addition, user and search optimization benefits are multi-fold, especially when converting from HTML to CSS designs. Incorporating CSS for page layout is highly advantageous for usability, as it leads to significantly faster download times. Many sites are also seeing a significant increase in site visitors after switching from a table-based layout to a CSS layout due to better positions in the search engines.

Browser Safety Spam and Security issues are driving up website complexity

Ten years ago, or even just five, web designers were only concerned about how a website looked when viewed with Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE), which was once used by over 90% of internet users.

Today, heavy attacks on Internet Explorer's security vulnerabilities and constant "fixes" issued by Microsoft, have driven many users to switch to other browsers like Firefox, Safari or Chrome.

Here is what this means for your website:

  • Microsoft has tried to keep up with improvements in security and in web standards by introducing new versions of Internet Explorer all of which display websites somewhat differently.
  • IE might represent 55% of your visitors today, with another 25% using Firefox, 15% using Apple's Safari and 5% using Google's Chrome.
  • Unfortunately, each browser displays websites differently, and sometimes this means in very unflattering ways. Not even different versions of a browser display a page the same way.
  • We must now check a design's compatibility with at least Internet Explorer versions 6, 7, 8 and 9, plus the Firefox, Safari and perhaps the Opera and Google Chrome browsers. Then we must modify the programming to suit each one. If we don't, we risk losing a significant percentage of visitors before they even get to look at our website. Therefore, we lose them as potential customers despite all our other hard work and expenditures to attract their attention to our website in the first place. Unfortunately, this complexity means higher cost to design and maintain websites.

Big Wide Screens Readability Problems

Readability is very important for all written media, including print journalism and websites. That is why most print newspapers and magazines limit the width of a text column to 60 or 70 characters (about 500 pixels).

Unfortunately, maintaining the readability of a website has now become much more difficult. Here is how actual computer hardware advancements have made this a significant issue for website designs:

  • Ten years ago, screens were all cathode ray tube technology (like televisions) and were 800 pixels wide. This automatically limited line widths to very readable sizes.
  • Then screens became 1078 pixels wide (17 inch screens). Not a big change, but better for users.
  • Then, a few years ago, Laptop computers started coming out with LCD screens formatted to display High Definition movies (HD). This meant "wide-screen" formats with a typical width of 1280 pixels or more.
  • Within two years, the prices of wide-format LCD screens for desktop computers declined significantly, and today, LCD screens for desktop computers are typically 20 inch or more (1680 to over 2000 pixels wide).
  • Today, over 70% of your visitors are using these wide-screen displays.
  • A website that looked great on an 800 pixel wide screen may now be unreadable, as all the original lines are stretched much too wide to read easily.

Small Screens Mobile and cell phone use is becoming more significant, and they are small!

Why care about mobile and handheld users? Well, if you are in the travel industry many of your potential customers might be searching for your service with a handheld unit. In fact, many of your website's visitors might already be the result of a casual conversation that might lead to a handheld (ie, cell phone) being used to check you out and talk among friends. Are you ready to capitalize on this?

  • 2% to 5% or more of your website's current visitors are now using a mobile unit a cell phone like a Blackberry, iPhone, Droid or even a more basic cell phone.
  • This is very significant in the travel industry where customers (confirmed and potential) who use a desktop or laptop to view your website from their home or office will use a mobile unit to locate you once they are in your local area.
  • Mobile use is expected to increase dramatically during the next several years.
  • Most websites do not look very enticing a small cell phone screen. Many phones do not allow left and right scrolling, so most of a webpage, or at least the larger photos and logos, cannot be seen.
  • Most websites start with a navigation menu. On a phone, this forces the user to scroll far down the screen before seeing any meaningful content.
  • Photos consume airtime for downloading, so many users set up their phones to block photos in order to save time and money.
  • Fortunately, other changes you need to make, such as using CSS design techniques and removing table structures, will make it easy for you to adjust your website for mobile visitors.

Fresh Content, Fresh Content, Fresh Content

Remember the "location, location, location" mantra for real estate and retail businesses. It's "content, content, content" for websites. No matter how technology affects your website, quality content is still most important. So, what unique information do you provide that prospective customers will be interested in?

How much content is needed? Two hundred words per page at a minimum. And you will find that the most successful of your competitors have several hundred pages or more on their websites.

Search engines love content. The more content there is on a page the easier it is for search engines to define what topic the page is actually about. Having a large amount of information on a page is not an issue as long as your layout uses lots of sub-headings and white space to break up the text and make it easy for site visitors to locate the information that they're after.

Video Content

In the past, Google provided separate search functions for text, images and video. Now, search engines combine these in their search results. This means that you must now incorporate video somewhere on your website. Fortunately, stock video can be obtained for about $20 per year that will serve the purpose and this cost is easily covered by the increase in search engine visitor referrals.

Search Wars

One more change happened during 2010 that impacts your website. Yahoo and Microsoft formed a partnership.

In July, Yahoo stopped generation its own search content, and started using the content from Microsoft's Bing. You can see that your ranking is now the same for each search engine.

In October, Yahoo discontinued their pay per click advertising program, and all accounts were moved to Microsoft's "AdCenter." While managing one account is certainly easier than two separate accounts, one for each search engine, this does take away some flexibility as now your ads will appear on both search engines whether you want both or not.

Bottom Line

Do these steps as soon as you can, and both Google and your customers will reward you.

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