Tag Archive for: SEO

6 best practices for modern SEO

Google’s search results aren’t what they used to be. Need proof? Just look at its results page. No longer solely comprised of traditional, organic site matches, Google now lists local maps, images, videos and social cues as well — and it’s affecting more than just what you see.

If you rely heavily on search engines for pageviews and sales, as many businesses do, Google search results will drastically affect how your customers find you. If your business needs to be seen and clicked, take into account the following six search engine tips.

1. Local SEO Is Taking Over

6 best practices for modern SEO

There’s a good probability that a large chunk of the Google searches you perform will display Google Places listings – and consumers are taking notice. SEO software firm SEOmoz did some eye-tracking case studies on Google’s SERP (search engine results page). The results show that users heavily gravitate toward any of Places’ listings, whether they’re mixed into organic lists, concentrated in a group of seven or even listed in the middle of the results page. The heat map above shows the activity around a Google search for “pizza.”

If your business relies on local listings, concentrate on scoring a seat at Google Places. You can do this by using:

  • Citations: Ensure that your correct business information is listed in as many (reputable) sources as possible around the Internet. As always, consistency is king. If you write “Blvd.” instead of Boulevard on your Google Places page, make sure your other listings reflect the same.
  • Google Places page optimization: Just like your website, make sure your Places page is properly optimized. Include categories that match exactly, and point your Places page back to a city-specific landing page if applicable.
  • Reviews: Google will only display reviews from Google, but getting reviews from aggregators like Yelp, Superpages or Trip Advisor will help increase your presence.

2. You Can’t Have Search Without Social

The separation of search and social has officially ended. Social cues such as Twitter shares, Facebook likes and social bookmarking heavily influence search rankings. Essentially, search results are personalized for each person. With any SEO campaign you put into motion, include a social aspect to it to facilitate information sharing.

3. Think of People, not Robots, When Optimizing Keywords

People search in Google because they have a question. Anticipate those questions — whether about the best style of yoga pants or where to get the lowest mortgage rate. Your keywords and the content on your pages should reflect the answers to those questions. Keyword research is tedious, but it’s arguably the most important aspect of SEO. Transition away from thinking of keywords like data, and put more of an emphasis on the person who will be typing in that keyword.

4. Content Links Are King — Good Writers Are Sorcerers

Google is not stupid — it can spot paid and spam links. For the most effective long-term SEO strategy, move the focus back to great content, both on your website and across other sites. Guest blogging is great, for instance, but to get a leg up on your competition, target blogs that aren’t direct matches to your industry.

For example, a client of my company sells golf carts, so we wrote a blog post about the most tricked-out golf carts for tailgates, and the link we got back was one their competitors didn’t already have.

5. Check your Backend: Schema.org, Microformats and Rich Snippets

6 best practices for modern SEO

The Big Three (Google, Yahoo and Bing) have worked together to develop Schema.org, a set of website standards that will tell search engines what your site is about, making it easier for those engines to read the site’s data and index accordingly.

By using rich snippets, for example, you’re able to tell Google what information to feature in SERPs: product reviews and prices, upcoming events, recipe cooking times, etc. The added data will increase your click-through rate because users are able to preview more about the link before they commit to the click.

6. It Doesn’t Mean Anything Without Data

Whether you’re a one-man SEO show for your company or working in an agency with several clients, your site needs to see results. While ranking reports of keywords is still a great indicator of progress, personalized searches make it difficult to get the most accurate readings. Plus, when Google defaulted to private searches for users signed into their Google accounts, the company made it harder to track how people arrive at your site.

Start relying more on simple key performance indicators (KPIs) to show results, for instance, the number of landing pages you have, the bounce rate of those pages, and the number of keywords driving traffic to each of those landing pages. Google Analytics displays all of this data.

What are some other things you see that are affecting searches, and what are you doing to improve your rankings in these areas?

In the world of inbound marketing, integrating tactics provides marketers with incredible leverage. However, integration can often be challenging because individual marketing tactics sometime exist in silos with little collaboration. This is especially true with an unlikely power couple, search engine optimization and email marketing.

Search engine optimization is likely a strong source of traffic and leads for you already. And email marketing is most companies’ primary inbound lead generation channel. While both tactics rock on their own, they experience some exciting amplification when combined. Let’s look at a few ways we can combine search and email for even more leads!

Here are 7 Ways to Integrate Search Engine and Email Marketing

1. Distribute Link Building Content Through Email – Yes, email is mainly about lead generation. But don’t be short-sighted in your lead generation efforts. Search engine traffic can provide a steady flow of quality leads over time. For many companies, email marketing is their largest channel for marketing reach.

Emailing lead generation-based offers is definitely a great idea, but by also distributing content like infographics or awesome blog posts occasionally via email, you can improve the reach and, subsequently, the inbound links and authority of the pages where that content resides. In the future, you could then replace the content on that page with an awesome lead generation offer to take advantage of all of the search engine traffic the page is getting.

2. Optimize for the Best Lead Generation Topics – Look at your email data. Which offers and topics have the best open and click-through rates? If you have been doing email marketing for a while, then you probably have great historical data related to your lead generation efforts. Use this data to help you prioritize your search engine optimization efforts. Then optimize for the top-performing keywords and offers from your email campaigns.

3. Test Offer Conversion Prior to an Email Send – You don’t have to email an offer to your list the second it’s completed. Instead, you can use traffic from search engines, pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, and your blog to take a look at the conversion rate of the landing page and the offer. Use this data to make tweaks and improvements to the content or its landing page before sending it out to your entire list.

4. Use PPC to Boost Email Click-Through Rate (CTR) – In the crowded world of inbound marketing, your prospects usually need to be exposed to your ideas several times before they will convert. When planning your next big email send for lead generation, plan a PPC campaign that starts the day before and lasts a few days after the email send to help provide additional support for the email and its offer. The awareness built through these PPC ads can help increase click-through rates for your emails.

5. Search Engine Optimize Landing Pages – Don’t hide your landing pages! Landing pages are key to your inbound marketing success. Make sure that, beyond sending them out in marketing emails, you take the time to optimize the content of your landing pages for search engines. This means killer page titles, a great URL structure, and relevant copy optimized with keywords on the page itself.

6. Focus on Email Sharing for Link Building – Part of building links for search engine optimization is getting your content in front of as many people as possible. Simply sending out content to build links just isn’t enough. Instead, add social sharing links to the content you are promoting in your email. Include a quick message that also encourages folks to forward the email to their peers.

7. Use PPC to Test Email Subject Lines – Subject lines are a huge part of email marketing success. Instead of simply guessing which subject line you think will work best, use PPC to collect data on subject line options. Create five subject lines. Run a different PPC ad for each subject line. After you’ve accumulated enough data, determine which subject line had the highest click-through rate, and use it for your email send.

This article is about: The biggest copywriting mistakes you can make and how to avoid them. How to write for both search engines and humans. Tips on writing killer SEO-friendly headlines. Where to find inspiration for blog posts.Why list posts will always work. Why keeping a swipe file can be crucial.

1. Avoid Common Copywriting Mistakes

“There are still a lot of mistakes being made out there.” Here are some of the top copywriting mistakes:

  • Not knowing what a landing page is or how to utilize one. You can’t send pay-per-click traffic to your brochure-like website and expect results.
  • Not focusing on creating content. People want content, not a stagnant website.
  • Not paying attention to headlines. Headlines are how people decide whether or not to pay attention to your writing.
  • Not formatting your blog posts correctly. You need to include a call-to-action at the end of a post. You need to make your content engaging.

2. Write for Both Search Engines and Humans

“You have to take Google into account, but what Google wants to see is that people love it.”

With search engine optimization, you need inbound links. The principle way Google and other search engines decide how content/websites rank in search results is through analyzing the inbound links that site/page has received. Content that generates more inbound links is more valuable and more highly rankable than similar content without inbound links.

So if you have a good, easily scannable piece of content with a solid headline, people are going to share that and link to you. The more links you have, the more highly you rank, and so on.

The substance has to be there, but it’s also about how you present the information. If you’re giving an in-person presentation, you have to have great information and amazing slides. It’s the same thing with the written word and video.

You need to have great content, but you also need to present it well with an enticing, clear headline and easy-to-digest information. Your content has to be easy for people to find, share, and link to. And it needs to have the right keywords that your audience is searching for.

3. Create Clear, Interesting Headlines

“A traditional copywriter in direct response will always write the headline first, but they know what they are going to write about in general. They have a product to sell.”

Recommendations writing the headline before you write the post. You’ve had to think about your post and what you’re going to write and what you’re trying to accomplish.

Some people write the headline last, and it’s really just a different approach to writing.

The main point is that the headline is the promise of what the content delivers. So whether you write it first, or go back and create a headline after you’ve written the post, it needs to foreshadow your content.

4. Find Inspiration for Blog Posts

“I always love to tell the story about how the printing press was invented by Gutenberg seeing a wine press and a coin stamp. Those two things have nothing to do with printing, but he figured it out from there. Or like Henry Ford went to a meat packing plant in Chicago and saw how they had conveyor belt assembly lines, and he applied that to the automobile industry, which was completely unheard of before then. So you have got to look for the intersections, but they are usually off in another area, and just be very observant about it. There are ideas everywhere.”

You can find inspiration everywhere. Watch movies, read books and news articles, and you’ll start to see analogies you can make in your writing. It’s about making observations and judging whether the idea will work.

5. Don’t Undermine the Power of the List Post

“Think of yourself online. You don’t generally read every word unless it’s really something that is a homerun that you need to pay attention to. That is why list posts work. I know they are called trite and cliche, but they have been working for over 100 years, and they are not going to stop because people haven’t changed.”

It starts with the headline. The more specific you can be, the higher your click-through rates will be, because readers will have more information to determine whether reading the post is worth their time.

Specifying a number is just very brain-friendly, as is scannable content. You can go through a list post quickly and determine whether or not you want to go back and read every item.

6. Keep a Swipe File

“I don’t do it as much as I used to. People of all experience levels keep swipe files, but mainly, the great thing is seeing what has worked in the past and making sure you understand why they worked.”

A swipe file is a great way to keep track of what’s worked in the past and why. Swipe files are also great for inspiration. The important thing is to adapt great things you see (headlines, etc.) to your audience.

SEO and Copywriting Resources

“I don’t read a ton of blogs. A lot of what I go back to time and again are classic copywriting books, philosophy, even Aristotle’s Rhetoric. It sounds bizarre, but all those foundational aspects of persuasion date back thousands of years. Now, of course, times change, technology changes and context changes, but people are fundamentally the same. So you just have to adapt into this new environment.”

Leveraging local SEO can be a great way to get your business found by local searchers. And if you’re a brick and mortar business, having a great local SEO presence can also afford you some additional foot traffic from people who are searching for you on the go. In order to take advantage of local search at the most basic level, your business website needs to be optimized for your geo-targeted keywords. Standard SEO practices apply here. First, try to include your city or regional keywords in:

  • Your URL
  • Page Titles
  • Meta Description
  • H1 and H2 tags
  • Throughout your site content

Next, go the extra mile and use the following 4 simple ways to optimize your website for local search.

Best Practice #1: Refrain From Keyword Stuffing

Google and other search engines hate it, and so do your site visitors. It’s easy enough to convey to both your readership and search engines what your various web pages are about without entering “black hat” SEO territory. Avoid keyword stuffing as best you can.

Best Practice #2: Leverage Business Blogging

Blogging is a great way to increase your local search rankings. It’s easy for local businesses to include geo-specific keywords in posts about current events, local government policies, or business interests. You can even add these keywords to your tags and create categories. Again, just make sure you are writing FOR YOUR READERS and not causing harm by adding blog posts or categories that are geo-targeted but confusing.

Best Practice #3: Focus on Local Link Building

Local link building opportunities abound — as long as you know how to find local sites. Here are some of the most obvious ways to build links locally:

1. Use Social Media: Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn communities will help you network and find like minded people who would be willing to link to your site.

2. Join Associations and Organizations: Are you a member of the Chamber of Commerce? Better Business Bureau? Local organizations like these will link back to your site and help search engines trust you as a local authority site. Don’t stop there. Can you think of other local groups you are affiliated with? Credentialed by?

3. Query Local Blogs and Websites: You might live in an area populated by great local sites and blogs that you can tap into. Links from these sites establishes that local trust that search engines look for, so comment with links, offer to guest post for them, or request a link for a valuable “local resource.” To find sites like this, simply search for:

Your City + “Blog” or “News”
Your Zip Code + “Blog” or “News”

4. Submit to Directories: Finding local directories should also be easy. Use search queries such as:

Your City + “Directory”
Your Zip Code + “Directory”
Your Neighborhood + “Directory”

You can even do a statewide query for directories like this. You get the picture.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive link building list but rather a local compliment to the conventional SEO you are engaging in. Remember: content is KING! Writing valuable content will build credibility locally and not only attract Google, Yahoo, and Bing but will also establish your status as an expert with potential customers.

Best Practice #4: Be Congruent

It’s vital that you maintain consistency in how you describe your company, list your address, and provide other company-specific information. Your website should include your company contact information in your footer so the local listings you have worked hard to build can recognize your business. The biggest reward here will be when your site and Google Places listing populates in Google’s new “O-pack” local listings, or local listings paired with their corresponding organic search results.

All too often, businesses start advertising using paid search with the intention of growing sales, only to be distracted by flashy things like impressions and clicks. Although their campaigns may be sucking wind from a conversion standpoint, they find it difficult to pull back from the program because they don’t want to see the flashy metrics disappear. In many ways, paid search can be like playing with fire. It might seem like fun, but if it’s not done in a controlled environment, you can do a lot more harm than good.

Here are some paid search fire safety tips you can use to keep your paid search campaigns performing and under control without burning a hole in your pocket.

Tip #1: Determine how much you’re willing to pay for a lead or conversion.

Determine how much a customer is worth to you based on average order value, lifetime value of a customer, or some other metric that factors into operating expenses, etc. Either way, once you have this number, it’s pretty easy to back out to an acceptable cost-per-action/acquisition (CPA).

For instance, if you close 10% of all leads that you drive to your sales team, and every sale is worth $1,000, then you simply take how much a customer is worth to you and multiply it by your conversion rate. For example: 1,000 X .10 = $100, so you can reasonably pay $100 for every lead you drive. Obviously, this is a loose example. Always be conservative with this number because conversion rates can differ drastically between marketing channels.

Paid Search Fire Safety Tip: Manage your paid search campaigns to a set CPA. After you generate 15 conversions through your Google AdWords account, it allows you to set bidding that automatically targets your average CPA. This will ensure you don’t waste money on clicks that go nowhere.

Tip #2: Identify which organic keywords drive traffic and convert on your website.

We’re huge proponents of mastering inbound marketing before sparking up the paid search fire. It’s much easier to ramp up an efficient paid search campaign if you already know which content, keywords, and user behaviors are most likely to be successful. From a keywords standpoint, what’s happening via organic traffic to your website can guide you in structuring your paid search account and selecting which keywords to bid on.

Paid Search Fire Safety Tip: Pull a list of the keywords driving traffic to your website from organic search. Separate your brand keywords from non-brand keywords. Use all brand keywords and misspellings of your brand as the keywords in your brand campaign. Then, take the non-brand keywords, and determine which ones are driving the most traffic and, if possible, leads or sales. Use this keyword list to guide how you structure your paid search campaigns and ad groups (highly relevant groups of keywords, ad copy, and destination landing pages).

Tip #3: Constantly monitor keywords and set match types.

Believe it or not, it is very easy to garner a ton of clicks from keywords that have nothing to do with your products/services. This is probably one of the easiest ways to burn through cash in paid search. You have the ability to set multiple keyword match types in paid search to let the search engine know when to trigger your ad. Not only can you tell the search engine what you want your ad to show for, but you can also set negative keywords to tell the search engine when not to show your ad.

Paid Search Fire Safety Tip: All search engines provide reporting that will allow you to see which keywords search engine users actually typed in the search engine to trigger and click on your ad. This is called a Search Terms Report in Google AdWords. Pull this report on a regular basis (daily if you are just starting your account), and ad keywords that have no business in your account as negatives. Also, you can increase efficiency by adding keywords that are performing well as exact match keywords to increase efficiency.

Tip #4: Don’t Go It Alone

If you put enough thought and due diligence into the creation of your paid search program, it is not that difficult to get a moderate blaze rolling. However, that blaze can quickly turn into an inferno that is just incinerating your cash if you do not keep a close eye on your account and dedicate adequate time to it.

Paid Search Fire Safety Tip: If you do not have the time to optimize your campaigns and maximize your ROI, outsource it. There are plenty of agencies and services available that can help you get up and running fast. Also, paid search services like Trada will only charge you based on program performance, so you can’t make any horrible mistakes.

Even though Google recently ended it’s Realtime Search deal with Twitter, which means Twitter’s fire hose is no longer catalogued and used in real-time search results, there’s still a good deal of SEO benefit to be gleaned from Twitter.

Basically, Twitter is a natural complement to your site and a way to gain some additional spots on organic search engine results pages (SERPs), helping your website and its content get found. So how can you best leverage your Twitter account for search? Here are 7 tips to help you get started.

1. Use Your Real Name Wisely

It’s important to note that your Twitter “Real Name” doesn’t have to be your actual name, unlike with Facebook. Instead, it can be virtually anything as long as it comes in under the 20-character limit Twitter imposes.

As such, your Twitter “Real Name” is perhaps the most important thing you can set on your Twitter profile. It appears in the title tag for both your Twitter profile and your individual tweet pages. It’s highly searchable, and it’s something that will appear in Google’s link to your profile.

This means you need to make sure your real name is both relevant to you, a keyword people are likely to search for, and something that will make people want to click.

2. Make Your Username Count

Like your real name, your Twitter username is crucial content that will be displayed in the title of your Twitter profile page and, in some cases, your individual tweet pages. Also like your real name, it can be anything you want as long as it comes in under the 15-character limit Twitter places on usernames.

It is best to use this space wisely with an easily remembered, keyword-rich Twitter username that will get the attention of anyone searching for related keywords.

It may seem like an impossible task. Fifteen characters certainly isn’t a lot to work with, but a few quick Google searches for keywords related to your site can reveal what kinds of Twitter handles are ranking well, giving you a template for success.

3. Focus on Your Bio Next

After your real name and username, your bio is the next most important thing you can edit. At 160 characters, it’s longer than a tweet, and it can be crucial to your SEO as it is both highly indexable content, and the first few words of it also appear in your Twitter page’s description.

It is important to make your bio count. Make the first few words an interesting teaser that draws searchers to click and ensure that the entire bio has at least one or two of the keywords you’re targeting.

4. Link, Link and Link Some More

To be strong in search engines, your Twitter profile needs the same thing any other site needs: lots and lots of links. Link to your profile everywhere you can, and do so with strong keywords in the anchor text.

This works well because, even though your Twitter profile is closely related to your site, it is hosted on a different domain, meaning you can pass along a great deal of trust to it from your site. This makes your links to it much more valuable.

You can further this benefit by encouraging others to link to your Twitter profile as well, such as including it in an author byline when you do guest blogging, which will improve the amount of authority it receives from search engines.

5. Get Followers, Build Recognition

Every follower you get is more than just a person reading your tweets. It’s a link to your Twitter profile on their “Following” page and possibly retweets and mentions of your profile, which also include a link to you.

Although these links are “internal” in nature (meaning they are all links from within Twitter.com), they can help you compete with other Twitter profiles that might be on the same or a similar topic, giving you an additional edge.

Since many searchers who land on Twitter profiles were doing Twitter-specific searches, this could be a very powerful advantage to have.

6. Stay Focused With Your Tweets

While it’s certainly fine and maybe even a good thing to have some fun with your Twitter account and go off-topic from time to time, you need to stay focused and regularly publish tweets that are on-topic and keyword-rich.

It’s important to remember that your main Twitter profile, in Google’s eyes, is very much like any other page with a headline, body copy, and links. As with any other page, if that content is keyword-rich, it’s more likely to be ranked well.

Keeping your tweets focused lets you keep that copy keyword-dense, giving Google exactly what it wants to see and encouraging it to rank your Twitter page higher than other, less-focused accounts.

7. Don’t Forget Your URL

While it’s true that your URL doesn’t actually pass on any SEO authority due to Twitter’s use of the “nofollow” tag, it’s still an important tool for directing the traffic your Twitter profile gets back to your site.

Since the eventual goal of any Twitter presence is to turn that traffic back to your site and your business, forgetting to use your URL is a misstep you can’t afford to make.

In the end, what separates Twitter most from your run-of-the-mill sites is that it exists in an almost-completely enclosed ecosystem. Therefore, much of your link building has to be done from within, and nearly all of your content building is done in the form of tweets.

While this might limit what you can do with Twitter in terms of SEO, it doesn’t make Twitter any less powerful as an SEO tool. It just makes it one that you have to work a little bit harder at to succeed.

In this article, we’ll review a few techniques that will help Web designers and UI professionals improve their error pages in order to engage visitors and improve the experience. As C.S. Lewis said, “Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.” Website designers should take this to heart.

We’ll focus on error and maintenance pages, from both a tracking and usability perspective. You’ll find examples on how to use analytics and defensive design in order to optimize the user experience on those pages.

First, let’s go over error pages and how to optimize them. We’ll try to answer the following questions:

  • Does your 404 page succeed in engaging visitors, who are already frustrated from not finding what they came for?
  • How do you decrease the number of people who arrive on your 404 page?
  • How do you monitor 404 page traffic efficiently?

After, we’ll discuss techniques for improving conversion rates, even when the website is under maintenance. Here are some of the questions we’ll consider:

  • How to time maintenance periods wisely?
  • How to increase visitor engagement using a maintenance page?

Monitoring 404 Page Traffic

How often do you check the traffic to your 404 page? Most of the companies I have worked with never did, even once. Yet it is hard to overemphasize the importance of consistently monitoring it. For example, if a prominent blog links to your website but the link is broken, this will make for a very poor experience for users (who will not find what they expect) and for search engines (which will not crawl the right content). Below are a few tips on tracking those pages seamlessly using Google Analytics. (The screenshots were taken from the new Google Analytics version, which is still in beta, so your mileage may vary.)

Create an alert on Google Analytics.

As seen in the screenshot below, you can set Google Analytics to alert you each time 404 traffic reaches a certain number of visits a day. This way, you have to do the work only once, but you’ll be alerted every time there is a problem.

1create-an-alert-screenshot in Optimizing Error Pages: Creating Opportunities Out Of Mistakes

This is where you create a custom alert to track 404 page views.

Track your 404 page as a goal.

Setting the 404 page as a goal on Google Analytics will yield important (and otherwise unattainable) information. For example, you’ll be able to see the three steps that visitors took to get to this page. In addition, setting this goal makes it easier to find traffic sources with broken links.

2general-information-screenshot in Optimizing Error Pages: Creating Opportunities Out Of Mistakes

Create a goal to track 404 page views in your reports.

Add the 404 content report to your dashboard.

Every report in Google Analytics can be added to the dashboard. By adding the 404 page, you will be able to constantly monitor visitor trends on the page.

3-add-a-widget-screenshot in Optimizing Error Pages: Creating Opportunities Out Of Mistakes

Add a 404 goal to your dashboard.

Check your navigation summary report.

This will help you understand what visitors do upon leaving this page, which is important for knowing how to optimize it.

4-next-page-screenshot in Optimizing Error Pages: Creating Opportunities Out Of Mistakes

The navigation summary for a 404 page on Google Analytics.

Track internal searches from this page.

If your 404 page does not have a search box, seriously consider adding one. From searches performed on this page, you will be able to understand what people were expecting to find, and you will get an idea of what links to add to the page. Below are the metrics you will be able to track with this feature:

  1. Total unique searches
    The number of times people started a search from the 404 page. Duplicate searches from a single visit are excluded.
  2. Search result page views after searches
    The average number of times visitors viewed a search results page after performing a search.
  3. % search exits
    The percentage of searches that resulted in an immediate exit from your website.
  4. % search refinements
    The percentage of searches that resulted in a new search using a different term.
  5. Time after search
    The average amount of time visitors spend on your website after performing a search.
  6. Search depth
    The average number of pages that visitors viewed after performing a search.

Decrease Your Errors (Fixing Broken Links)

Monitoring 404 pages is important, but that alone won’t do you any good unless you act on it. Taking action means doing all you can do to decrease the number of people who reach the 404 page and improving the experience of users who do reach it (see the next section). Below are a few tips on finding and fixing both internal and external broken links.

Check the navigation summary report.

This will show you the route that visitors took on your website to get to the 404 page (and thus tell you which pages contain broken internal links). You will see the percentage of visitors who arrived on this page from internal sources as well as from external sources; and the internal sources will be listed in this report (see the navigation summary screenshot above).

Check the sources of traffic that lead to the 404 page.

This will clearly show which websites have broken links to your website. With the list, you should either contact the sources or create 301 redirects to the correct pages.

5-landing-page-screenshot in Optimizing Error Pages: Creating Opportunities Out Of Mistakes

Traffic sources that lead visitors to a 404 page.

Usability Tips to Improve 404 Engagement

Basically, usability practices for error pages are not much different from general usability practices. Below are a few tips to help you increase the conversion rate of your 404 page. For our purpose, conversion is essentially the click-through rate (CTR), because our main objective is for visitors to find what they’re looking for.

  1. Be simple and focused.
    Appealing images and an original design are important, but a clear focus is critical. Users are already disoriented from landing somewhere they were not expecting, so make their lives easier by presenting a clear action to take.
  2. Know your visitors.
    Many 404 pages use humor, including geek humor. Keep in mind that you are not your visitor, and jokes can be misunderstood, so use humor wisely.
  3. Let the visitor decide.
    As I said in “Web Analytics Process”: “Customers should tell us what to do, not consultants, friends or feelings; data and online surveys are the place to look for customers’ needs.” The best way to understand what works for visitors is to present a few page versions and let the best one win. (See the review of advanced A/B testing techniques by Paras Chopra.)

Optimizing Maintenance Pages

Not long ago, I worked on a website that had weekly downtime for maintenance, about one to two hours a week. The owners chose the day with the least traffic for maintenance, but I believe they did not completely understand how this affected the website and, more importantly, how they could have optimized the user experience and taken advantage of the downtime. In a post on Smashing Magazine, Cameron Chapman provides a good checklist for designing effective maintenance pages:

  1. Keep the maintenance page simple and useful.
  2. Realize it’s an inconvenience to visitors.
  3. Don’t be afraid to use humor.
  4. Give the page the same look and feel as the rest of your website.
  5. Let visitors know when the website will be back up.
  6. Recommend content.
  7. Invite visitors to return when the website is online again.
  8. Inform visitors about the progress of the maintenance.

Two other rules are especially important to satisfy and engage visitors…

Time Maintenance Periods Wisely

Common practice for timing maintenance is to choose the time of day or day of week that has the lowest traffic. But this overlooks an important point: websites should be optimized for performance, not for traffic. By choosing the maintenance time based on visitor count, you could be optimizing for traffic and not for dollars. A better way to decide would be to run an hourly report and check what time of day or day of week has the lowest conversions.

Increase Visitor Engagement Using Maintenance Pages

Increase visitor engagement while the website is in maintenance mode? Yes, you read that right. While in maintenance, you have a great opportunity to promote your other marketing channels: offline stores, Facebook fan pages, YouTube channels and Twitter accounts.

Maintenance-page-example1 in Optimizing Error Pages: Creating Opportunities Out Of Mistakes

The maintenance page for Online Behavior.

Today I want to share an incredibly simple yet massively powerful process for building search-optimized, “great content.” There’s no fancy tricks and nothing proprietary about the approach, but it is rare indeed to find an organization that follows these steps and hence, it’s a way to potentially differentiate and build a competitive advantage.

Step 1: Build a Survey

No one knows what searchers want better than the searchers themselves, so let’s hear what they have to say. To find out, we’ll start with a short series of questions asking the survey taker to imagine they’ve just performed the desired query. Here’s an example:

Content Experiment Form

See the full form in action here

The basic structure is simple – request the top 3 content pieces your audience desires, then ask specifically about features that would make the page worthy of sharing (this is important, because it often differs substantively from what makes a page merely answer the user’s query). Finally, you can ask them to actually do the search (you don’t want them to do it until the end, because what they find might bias their responses) and report any results they liked (which can provide additional insight).

Step 2: Send it to Your Customers / Potential Customers

I cheated and used a tweet:

Tweet for Content Experiment

You can find customers or potential customers virtually anywhere – your friends, neighbors, co-workers, friends on social networks, etc. Anyone who fits your customer demographic or is creative enough to imagine themselves as that demographic will work. A link in the bottom of your email newsletter or a share on Facebook/LinkedIn/Twitter can often do the job, too. You might even try posting a link in a relevant industry forum or discussion group (so long as you’re sure it won’t be perceived as spammy).

Step 3: Record Responses + Leverage them to Build What the People Want

My Twitter followers are clearly office chair experts because I got some fantastic responses:

Content Experiment Responses

There are some fantastic suggestions in there – enough to form a serious roadmap for content generation and to steer me clear of crafting a landing page missing these features (which would likely increase bounce rate, earn less links/shares and, probably, have a lower conversion rate).

It gets even more fleshed-out with the next section:

Content Experiment Responses

You can see all the responses to my Tweet here

Simply amazing. I really believe that by following the recommendations of these few, late-night, Twitter-obsessed, good web-samaritans, I could build a page of content better than anything the top 20 at Google or Bing have to offer right now.

When you’re doing this formally, collect as many responses as you reasonably can (before all the answers start to look the same) and use your intuition plus the aggregates of the data to make the best page possible. Any feature/content mentioned by 3+ respondents should definitely make the cut. From there, you can learn from what they liked/didn’t in the current SERPs and bolster it with any remarkable suggestions they gave for making the page “share-worthy.”

Last night I got my first look at Google+, I spent just over three hours diving in and playing with all the features they have to offer. For those of you who already have access, please share your thoughts in the comments and those without access, enjoy this preview and share your thoughts on what this new social network could mean for SEO.

First Look

Below is the “Home” screen, which seems vaguely familiar to a different social network I use but seems to be somewhat more streamlined. You can simply sort your friend groups, called Circles, by clicking on the “Streams” in the left sidebar. This give you a chance to only see things shared from your family or other Circles, for example I can select “Family” and see only their content. This looks like it makes it really easy to combine all your work and personal contacts into one network.


The first thing I got right into was creating Circles, which are much like Facebook groups where you can categorize people. This is helpful for people like myself who don’t like to share my SEO related stories/posts with my friends/family members. The process of adding people to these Circles was relativity easy, granted I only had 8 people in my list, but this process seems very streamlined.


An interesting feature that Rand, Space, Mike and I got to try last night was Google Hangouts. It’s a feature that allows you to chat and video chat with up to 10 friends. We found the feature to work, though it wasn’t as great as I thought it was going to be. The cool thing is that when you start a Hangout, it alerts other people in your Circles that you have started a Hangout so they can join. You can limit who sees that you have started a Hangout this prevents you from starting a business Hangout and having your Mom show up.


Next up was something that Google calls Sparks and describes Sparks as “an online sharing engine.” To me, Sparks seems to be a way to add a “live” SERP into your social network. I added SEO and Cycling as my first two Sparks to see what happens. Basically I got a list of webpages, press releases, and videos that relate to the term I entered and they seemed to update over the few hours I watched them. The content listed in each Spark has a Share link, which allows you to easily share that content with your Circles.


As with any social network, having the ability to share photos with your friends is key! Google+ has a few different ways of displaying and sharing photos with your friends. Below is the first way to see the photos that your friends have shared. It is quite a user-friendly way of seeing what images are included in each album your friend shared.

If you click on one of the options above, it opens a slideshow of all the images your Circles have uploaded. It allows you to quickly flip through your friend’s images and add comments quickly, along with seeing all other comments. Like other networks you can tag your friends in photos that you upload.

Next is what it looks like when you share a picture within an album that you created. When you roll over the image it increases in size and displays the whole images, which is helpful for some images. I found the ability to upload photos very easy and the uploads happened very quickly.

Overall I found that the ability to share photos was not as streamlined as I would have liked it to be but I’ll leave the final judgment up to others.


Below are some of the security options that you can set when sharing things with your circles. It allows you to stop people from commenting on the thing you shared and you can stop them from resharing it with their circles. Also when you first share something it allows you to pick what Circles you want to see the thing you shared. So if you don’t want your Mom to see the picture of Carlos from Agillian below, then you should make sure you share it only with your SEO friends.

My Takeaways

In closing, I have to say I was impressed with some things but overall I think they have some work to do before this really catches on with the main stream public. Google+ seems to have a large learning curve which could deter many new users. I spent just over 3 hours on it and don’t feel like I really touched the surface of what it can do, nor do I fully understand what the purpose of some of their new features. Rand may have said it best with what he shared on Google+ last night:

How Does This Affect SEO

How do you think Google is going to integrate Google+ with your search results? We did some quick tests last night to see how sharing things on Google+ will effect the SERPs of the friends in your social Circles. So far we couldn’t see any noticeable difference when your friends share something or +1 it within Google+. Now this doesn’t mean anything as Google often rolls out products early and works them into the SERPs later.

We will be doing more testing to see how this new release from Google will effect the way we do our jobs, so stay tuned. Also if you have seen anything that I may have missed, please do share it in the comments below.

Just because someone articulates a problem well does not mean someone knows the solution. That’s when we’re susceptible to a false solution. In my many years of experience, I’ve found these two fake solutions to be very common, very distracting — and very disappointing.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) Snake Oil

Oh, poor JC Penney. This major retailer fell victim to SEO snake oil, such as buying extensive link placements and other “black hat” techniques. And, JC Penney fell hard, with a detailed and brilliant expose of the situation making The New York Times, no less.

Now, besides avoiding embarrassment, I suggest that you avoid SEO snake oil because it will not bring you results. The spirit of a search engine is to find quality content. A search engine algorithm factors in signs of good content. When someone focuses on tips and tricks to game search engines instead of publishing quality content consistently over time, that person is missing the spirit of SEO. And, sooner or later, that person’s results will suffer for it. Google might punish the website or, more likely, the website will get the wrong kind of traffic, or visitors. If you drive lots of visitors to your content instead of attracting visitors who are interested in the content topics, you will be disappointed with the results.

And, now, a big caveat: I don’t think all SEO is bad. There are legitimate SEO concerns, techniques and advisors. Just remember that SEO tricks are not magic pills for your content ills. If you’re spending lots of time and money on SEO but not much on content, you’re on the way to disappointment.

Andy Budd recently discussed a closely related point of view in his recent article. He requests to “white hat” practitioners to distance themselves from the world of SEO, stop talking about search engine rankings and start helping clients deliver real value to their users. Therefore we should stop defining ourselves by the discovery medium and focus on the content itself, he rightfully argues.

Overpromised Technology

What else is not a magic pill? A technology product or feature alone. I see this false solution most often with larger companies, who put unrealistic expectations on products and tools such as a content management system (CMS), an analytics tool or a web application. For example, a prospective client recently vented to me that his organization spent $100,000 on implementing a new CMS but absolutely nothing on planning and creating content worth managing. The result was a one-person Web team destined to fail with its brand new CMS. This short-staffed team was saddled with:

  • managing every aspect of a very large website,
  • responding to strange or political stakeholder requests for new content and
  • dealing with the boss’s frustration with the lackluster content.

Sounds awful, right? Unfortunately, this situation is too common. And it needs to stop.

The Real Solution

No SEO trick and no technology product alone will solve the content problem for you. The real solution to the content problem is hard work that demands change in your (or your company’s) approach to planning, designing and developing interactive experiences. That’s what gets results. There’s no shortcut. And indeed, the path to content that counts is a hard road. But it cannot be the excuse for compromising the quality of experience we provide to our users.