Posted on Wednesday, 2nd November 2011 by bruce

The meta keywords tag has always been popular with web site owners, and even more popular with spammers, because it provides a way of stuffing a page invisibly with keywords without affecting the appearance of the page. However it’s been many years since search engines took much notice of this tag, exactly because it is so easy to fill it with spam. Until recently, it was widely thought to be a waste of time. Now it seems, using it might actually damage your search rankings.

It has been known for some time in the industry that Google ignores the meta keywords tag, and last year their spokesman Matt Cutts admitted as much in this video.

More recently, however, Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land prised an even more important piece of information out of Bing. Apparently Microsoft’s search engine (which now also powers searches in Yahoo!) does still follow the meta keywords tag, but uses it mainly as a signal to identify spam. You can read his full explanation here.

In other words, using the tag well does you no good. Using it badly can do you harm.

Following this revelation, the best usage advice for the meta keywords tag is surely, don’t bother.

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Posted on Thursday, 8th September 2011 by bruce

Earlier this year I took the plunge and dumped my Nokia N96 mobile in favour of a shiny new Android smartphone, the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc.

The fabulously bright and responsive multi-touch screen was an instant hit, along with the intuitive Android interface, which makes Nokia’s old Symbian job resemble the Hampton Court maze. I love all the apps and I’ve installed dozens, though it’s questionable how many I will ever actually use. I love the HD video capability, and the email and social media integration.

After a few weeks use, though, there are a some things that have begun to grate. None of them are rocket science, in fact there’s nothing here that I didn’t have in my old phone. And that’s the bit that’s really annoying.

So here from the school of smartphone knocks is my personal Android wishlist. Do any of these ring bells with you? Or does your phone offer these already? If so, please do tell me what it is…

  1. When I sync a playlist, I want a copy of the actual playlist on the phone, not just all the songs. Without having to use the appalling mess that is iTunes. Basically, I want it to work like my old Nokia.
  2. I don’t expect a camera with optical zoom and I’m not fussed about the number of megapixels. But I would like a decent close-up option, and a good quality lens – something like the cracking little number I had in my N96.
  3. Since I sometimes travel where there is no electricity, I would rather like a battery that can last more than a day of average use. So a battery life comparable with, say..  my old Nokia?
  4. I want a PC sync application that syncs my personal data and media automatically and reliably, whenever I connect. Not Sony’s botched hack of three different applications, no more than two of which work in any given sync event. In other words, like – yup, you guessed it…
  5. I would like a GPS application that stores the map data in the phone, so that I’m not burning up my bandwidth allowance whenever I use it. I had something like once. Oh yes, I remember. Ovi Maps, in my Nokia.
  6. I would like Tweetdeck to stop crashing. Not having Tweetdeck is a bit like… well OK, it’s horribly like the old Finnish relic.

In spite of all that, I would still hate to go back to a Nokia. Unless it had Android, which isn’t going to happen. So I guess I will have to wait for a phone that delivers Android’s ease of use and versatility, with the quality and reliability of my faithful old workhorse.

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Posted on Wednesday, 7th September 2011 by bruce

I’ve been suggesting for a while that Google’s next anti-spam campaign might be aimed at URL spam – the practice of buying up large numbers of keyword-stuffed domains like ‘small-red-widgets.com’, ‘small-green-widgets.com’ etc. A while ago, Google’s Matt Cutts hinted at the same in one of his YouTube videos (http://bit.ly/fDCXHE).

Now it looks as though Google has made the first move in this direction. The search giant announced on its Webmaster blog today that subdomain links will in future be treated as internal links instead of external ones (http://bit.ly/nWkCEW).

This means that in future, links from URLs like http://small-green.widgets.com to www.widgets.com will have less value than they have in the past.

This is a simpler and safer step for Google than trying to discriminate between genuine and spammy top-level domains. But an attempt at the latter is almost bound to follow.

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Posted on Sunday, 4th September 2011 by bruce

Twitter seems to be the Marmite of social networking. People either love it or hate. A lot of business people just don’t ‘get’ it, and for that reason they either avoid it or misuse it. And that’s a shame, because it can be a very powerful tool both for maintaining existing client relationships and cultivating new ones.

The key thing about Twitter is that it’s meant to be personal . From a business point of view, it may seem like nothing but ‘white noise’ – the trivial and seemingly irrelevant details of people’s personal lives. But to dismiss all of that is to miss the point.

“It’s a tool for reaching people who would rather do business with a person”

Like almost no other business tool, Twitter makes you a person in the eyes of your customers. It enables you to make on to one contact with them, for almost no effort. As such, it’s a tool for reaching people who would rather do business with a person than with an institution. In other words, practically everybody.

With that in mind, here are a few tips for using Twitter as a tool for your business.

  1. Tweet about your daily life as well as your business; but try to be interesting, amusing, entertaining and informative. Range wide, from good restaurants you visit to experiences of childcare and favourite jokes. People will ‘retweet’ what they like, copying your tweet to their own stream. Retweets are highly coveted, they help increase exposure and gain new followers.
  2. Actively attract followers. Follow customers, competitors, and any people you find interesting. Most will follow you back. Watch Twitter for trending topics and comment on popular subjects. Don’t be afraid to be controversial, but don’t be offensive. Precede important keywords with a hash tag, eg #twitter #business, but only one or two per tweet.
  3. Reply to the tweets of others and get into conversations. When someone replies to one of your tweets, it counts as a ‘mention’ and increases your profile in the Twitterspere.
  4. When you retweet the tweets of others, add a comment of your own. This gives credit to the original author but makes your tweet unique and increases the chance of a retweet. You may even get a retweet from the original author.
  5. Follow and quite primary sources. Get in early and try to be one of the first to break news.
  6. Use a tool like TweetDeck or Hootsuite to monitor your own mentions and to watch search terms that are important to you.

Twitter is increasingly popular as a complaint mechanism

If you do nothing else, watch Twitter for questions or criticisms from customers, and respond promptly and politely. Don’t be surprised if the balance of comments is more negative than you might hope for. Twitter is increasingly popular as a complaint mechanism. All the more reason not to ignore it, for the sake of your business and its reputation.

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Posted on Saturday, 30th July 2011 by bruce

Actinic’s ecommerce products have always produced sites that tend to perform well on search engines, but the forthcoming version 11 will have a few tweaks that help to keep the product in step with SEO best practice:

  1. New sites will use hyphens instead of underscores as the word separator in page names, as recommended by Google. Existing sites may be switched through the UI to use the same convention
  2. The default page Title tags have been improved, with the company name no longer appearing in the Title of every page by default
  3. You will be able to modify the Title tag of the Online Catalogue page
  4. In the new themes, of which there are three, the size of the style sheet has been greatly reduced, improving load time of the first loaded page (page load time is now a ranking factor on Google)
  5. By default, copied pages will be given more concise, consecutively-numbered page names

Expect to see version 11, with these Actinic SEO tweaks and some major new features, some time in the Autumn of 2011.

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Posted on Friday, 15th April 2011 by bruce

When it comes to optimising your web site for Google and other search engines, content is king. And although ecommerce sites are increasingly expected to include audio-visual content, Google cannot read it. So it’s important to have plenty of descriptive text on your site as well.

However, for many products there is not a lot you can say about them item by item. In such cases it may seem difficult to achieve the weight of text that you need to rank well on Google.

So here are three different ways to add optimised content, which have each proven effective for a number of quite different but equally successful ecommerce sites.

1. Top-loaded text

Cover Your Car (www.coveryourcar.co.uk) majors on just one product – a fitted car cover – but for 3500 different models. However they have still achieved a very high rank on Google by doing a few smart things with text.

web site optimisation with text

  • The top pages of the site are rich in text, and make frequent use of their most important key phrases
  • The text on the home page is given high prominence by demoting the navigation and product images lower down the page
  • They have multiple products per page to maximise the textual content
  • They have keyword-rich text links in both the navigation and the body text of the page

2. Non-commercial content

Anything Left-handed (www.anythinglefthanded.co.uk) is the original web site for lefties, having been online for over ten years. The people at Anything Left-handed have turned their site into a mecca for left-handed people by providing a huge range of additional information, from left-handed jokes to educational advice. Naturally Google indexes all this stuff, and the site dominates Google’s listings in left-handedness searches.

web site optimisation with additional information

3. Blog

A blog is a great way of keeping your site refreshed with new textual content. Once set up it needn’t take a lot of time to maintain, an hour or two a week is usually more than enough. As well as the extra pages the content will automatically be delivered as an XML feed, to which customers and prospective customers can subscribe, and through which you can push out your latest news.

Retro sweet company Chewbz (www.chewbz.com) have included a blog on their ecommerce site, and post regularly with updates and their products and activities. This provides additional fresh and relevant content for Google to digest, and also keeps customers bang up to date with what’s available.

web site optimisation using blog

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Posted on Saturday, 5th March 2011 by bruce

Mobile search is growing fast at the moment. For example, Yelp announced in February this year that 35% of searches on yelp.com are now made from mobile apps (http://bit.ly/iiYxT7). So it’s increasingly important for businesses to rank well in both mobile search, and locality-based searches on PCs (whose results generally come from the same database).

So here are some tips for getting your business to rank well in this type of search.

  1. Register your business with all the major local search and geosocial networking sites, ie: Google Maps: http://bit.ly/dj0SnC. Results can appear in Google web search results, as well as in Google Local and in searches on Android devices. In the UK, almost 90% of searches go through Google.

    Bing Local: http://bit.ly/h3i4mF. Bing is the default search engine for Internet Explorer and Windows phone, and its results appear on Yahoo! as well.

    Ovi Maps: http://bit.ly/dnwQm7. Mobile search and GPS application supplied with Nokia smartphones.

    Foursquare: http://foursquare.com. Foursquare is the current leader in geosocial networking.

    Facebook Places: http://touch.facebook.com. Facebook’s response to Foursquare’s success. Facebooks has massive user base of over 400 million.

  2. Use a couple of your most important keywords in the business name when you register, eg ‘Gino’s Pizza Delivery’, not just ‘Gino’s’. Keep it short, though.
  3. If your business has more than one location, register all of them separately. It may be worth using slightly different keywords in the name of each one, to maximise exposure in web search results.
  4. Enter your full address, including the county or administrative area people do search on those.
  5. Use more keywords in the description of your business. Make it meaningful and compelling though, not just a keyword list.
  6. If the site accepts reviews, ask a few friendly customers to write some. Consider incentivising them to do so, perhaps offering a discount voucher to each reviewer. Good reviews attract business.

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Posted on Friday, 11th February 2011 by bruce

On the face of it, today’s announcement of Nokia’s adoption of the Windows Phone operating system looks like an alliance of losers. Microsoft has so far made little impression with the mobile version of its popular desktop operating system. And Nokia is on a slide in the smartphone market, having failed to make a good impression with its new Symbian 3 operating system, which has mostly been seen as too little, too late.

In truth Nokia probably didn’t have much choice but to go for Windows. It has been under severe pressure to drop Symbian, and the market is already awash with devices running Android, the only other operating system available. And Microsoft will be happy to have such a strong partner for Windows. Nokia is still the leading manufacturer of mobile phones worldwide, with a good reputation for the quality of its hardware, and strong brand loyalty.

Apple’s iPhone is still riding the crest of a wave, and Android is rapidly stitching up the middle and lower ends of the consumer smartphone market. Consequently, the new alliance is likely to target first the business mobile market, where both partners have undoubted strengths and experience. This is also the traditional stronghold of the Blackberry. Today’s announcement leaves its owner, RIM, looking in a decidedly shaky position.

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Posted on Sunday, 23rd January 2011 by bruce

So you’re keen to get your website into the top spot on Google. Maybe you’ve even found a company that will guarantee to get you there. But hold your horses just one moment. ‘All that glisters is not gold’. That number one rank they are offering you may turn out to be worthless.

For example, I can almost guarantee that this page will take the top spot for “martian spotted bananas” quite soon after its published. It won’t be hard because there’s no competition. Martian spotted bananas don’t exist, and nobody else is writing about them.

For the same reason, nobody is searching for martian spotted bananas, either. So the top rank that I’m hoping for will in reality be of no benefit at all. There is no site traffic to be gained.

Obviously this is an exaggerated example, but the general principle applies. There is no value in ranking for a phrase that few people, if any, are searching for, not matter how relevant it seems.

So before you invest in optimising your site, take the time to find out which are the popular phrases in searches relevant to you. You can do this either by using Google’s free Keyword Tool, https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal, or by using a commercial keyword analysis system like Wordtracker.

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Posted on Tuesday, 30th November 2010 by bruce

If you are investing time and effort in search engine optimisation, or investing money in outsourcing it, you need to be able to monitor the results. What are your current rankings for the key words and phrases you are targetting? What were they last month? Are you trending up, or down?

Checking this manually search by search would be very time consuming, but fortunately there are some tools available that will automate the task for you.

WebPosition (www.webposition.com) is the daddy of all the rank checkers. Recently transitioned from a software package to an online system, it starts from a reasonable $19 per month for up to 10 reports and 5 domains, and provides a highly comprehensive keyword reporting tool covering multiple search engines. If you outgrow the basic package, though, the price rises significantly, and over time the cost can mount up.

For those on a tight budget and less demanding requirements, Free Monitor for Google from Cleverstat (www.cleverstat.com) is a neat little package that provides Google ranking reports for unlimited keywords and domains, including changes since the last report. Results are easily copied into Excel, so you can monitor trends over time and add graphs. The output provides more than enough information for the majority of smaller businesses.

Free Monitor for Google

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