Tuesday, July 24, 2012

SEO and Testing Software and Free Sites

John Abert

After you have your web business all researched, keywords and all the names picked out, and have your site built with all the pretty pictures on it, you still aren’t done. You can’t just sit back and let it run without knowing what it, and your visitors, are doing.

Web site analytics… an introduction…

The first thing you need to install on your nearly finished site is an analytics program of some kind. There are many on the market, some free and some for a fee, but I see nothing wrong with Google’s own Analytics Tool. It not only belongs to the world’s largest search engine, but it’s also free, and easy to set up and use. All you do is go tohttp://analytics.google.com and fill out a simple form about your site and they give you the html script to install in the html on your site, or in the case of WordPress, they have a plug-in for it. Blogger also now has a form in the settings where all you have to do is insert the user ID number that Google assigned to your site. All you have to do is add your ID number to a form box, and it installs the script in the proper place for you.
Html isn’t hard, but some people seem to have a mental block against such things. Don’t worry, as that is one of the great things about WordPress. The plug-in installs the script for you and all you have to do is click a link that says “activate”. But they do have to have a link to your Google Analytics account, which has a registration number that you have to copy into their form during the setup. You won’t even have to look at any html, but you DO have to set up the account with Google before using the free WordPress plug-in. After you activate the plug-in (and this is true of most of them), there is almost always a settings page you need to go to in order to set up the program properly, but it is just form boxes and check marks… no html.

Once the Google Analytics plug-in is installed and configured, you will go back the Google Analytics site mentioned above and click on your site URL to get the data. It typically takes about 24 hours before it starts to display data. You will be amazed at what you see, and overwhelmed at first, but don’t worry, Google even has instructions on how to interpret all that data. And if you need more, you can always find lots of help on YouTube. Don’t be afraid to click on things to see what it does. You can use your “back” button on your browser to go back to the previous page.
You will find many instructional videos on YouTube, but ALWAYS… check the dates on the videos to make sure they are up to date, as once the videos are on YouTube they very seldom ever get removed. You don’t want “old” outdated information! Usually the date will show on the video description. If not, it will usually be below the video once you bring it up to watch it.
Most other blogs, like Blogger, have developed their own analytics programs, and you can usually find them in the dashboard of your site. For casual bloggers, these programs are more than enough, but they still don’t compare to Google Analytics, which is for more serious site owners who are depending on traffic for income. With Google Analytics, you can see more detailed information, right down to what city they are in, what computer they are using and what their screen resolution is!
Detailed information like that is critical to make sure you have your site optimized for the most users and traffic that you can get. Every new reader means a potential sale!

What does analytics do?

Analytics can tell you literally everything that you need to know about your site to make it run at its best. The most basic of information is how many visitors per day, per week, or per month, how many are new and how many repeat. It also tells you where they come from, right down to the city, what kind of browser and operating system they are using, and even their screen resolution! It tells what they click on, how long they stay, what pages they look at, what keywords they used to find your site, what page they entered on, where they were before they got there, and what page they left from!
This is important because you want to see what your customers want. Pages that get more hits are obviously more important to them, and the longer they stay on those pages, the more effective the page is for sales. By using that data, you can steer your future posts toward topics that interest them more, and therefore increase your readership.
Google has even added some new things to the site that goes into even more detail on ecommerce sites, and we haven’t even had time to try those out yet. So let’s just say that Google makes every attempt to cover all bases, and if they don’t tell you, then you probably don’t need to know!

Paying a fee for the same information from a paid site is just plain foolish. Only the most savvy of webmasters will take the time to fully understand all of that data anyway, and to be honest… there’s no need to go into ALL of the detail that analytics provides. Only a small portion of it is really relevant to your sales volume, so don’t waste money on something of which you are only going to use 10% of the information, and the rest of which you aren’t going to understand anyway!
Such things as what search engines are most popular, are controlled by the industry in general anyway, and aren’t going to change because you tweaked something on your site! It only serves as confirmation so that if a trend starts to occur, you can be aware of the situation.
An example of that is the use of mobile devices to access the web. Over the past couple of years we have seen a definite increase in mobile use, to the point where now, more than half of all users are accessing the web through mobile devices! Just two years ago, it was less than a fourth. That is important, because in order to reach those customers, we as webmasters have to make sure that our web sites and blogs are “mobile friendly”. If they can't read your site on a mobile device and leave through frustration, there goes half your potential income!
Mobile devices, because of their smaller screens, do not display web sites the same way we see them on our laptops and desk top units, and the more likely our sites are to be accessed by mobile users, the more important it is to accommodate them. Things such as restaurants, travel, rental cars, taxis, tickets, cell phones and accessories, and directions are accessed more by mobile users, while things like tools, office supplies and commercial products are accessed more by laptops and desk units. You have to be aware of YOUR market and know the demographics of YOUR visitors in order to reach as many of them as you can!
Most site builders and blog platforms have a provision in their themes (sometimes a simple checkbox) for making them show up as they should on mobile devices. Still, you should always confirm that before using one, as there are still many out there that won’t adjust automatically, in which case we have to set them up properly in their design. If they adjust automatically, we have no need to learn special programming techniques… it just does it! To check your own site to see if it’s mobile friendly, just run it through the analyzer at http://marketing.grader.com and it will tell you in the results. Are you reaching the right market?
Another way is to download a free mobile device “emulator” for PCs and laptops. You will need two of them, one for mobile phones and another one for tablets like the iPad. Just because they are both considered “mobile devices” doesn’t mean they will show up the same. If you do a Google search for “mobile phone emulator”, or “iPad emulator”, you will see all kinds of results. All you have to so is download it to your desktop. When you click on it, it will open up just like a phone or tablet screen, and you can actually type your site into the address bar to see how it is going to look on that device.
Remember, if the site looks so bad that no one is going to be able to see it properly, you are losing over a third of your potential readership, as well as sales! You NEED to fix it!

As an example, on one of my sites, I discovered that the built-in search form in the menu bar showed up on top of the entire header! You couldn't even read the name of the site! In that case, I had to go in and tweak the code (it was on Wordpress, the dot org version on my site) to eliminate the search box totally. I then compensated by using a search form built into a gadget along the side bar. This is very typical of the types of problems you have to learn to solve as a marketer!

So why do you need to know about analytics?

Besides the things mentioned above, knowing what pages people are going to the most and staying on the longest gives you a clue as to what people want, so that you can create more similar pages to attract more people. If you see that they are clicking on a particular link, more than any other, then moving that link to a more predominant position on the page, and/or doing something (bold, different color, etc.) to it make it stand out more, might even bring more people to it.

In turn, you also need to pay attention to what pages they liked the least. Usually it's the topic, or the tone of the page. Once you realize what they don't like... then don't do that again!
Remember the three-second rule. When a page opens it will usually show the top part of the page. That’s called “the fold”. Think of it like a newspaper. You can’t see what is below that fold without taking an action (unfolding it or turning the paper over). If you were at a news stand, with 20 other papers with only the part above the fold showing, which one would you choose? It is likely that your first action will be to choose one that has a headline or topic of interest to you, and then open it up to see what else is there.
But is what you see on the “top of the fold” of your page enough to entice you (or anyone else) to do that? Your most important items should be “above the fold” so they can see it without taking any other action. First of all, it has to have a nice bold headline that attracts their attention. It has to give a clue as to finding the answer to their problem (or attracts their interest enough to make them want to scroll down to read more). Your most important ads should be there, as well as your opt-in box (subscribe form, RSS feed button, follow button, etc.) along with your most compelling headline to get them to read more and go “below the fold”.
ALWAYS provide more than one means of subscribing to your site! Some people prefer regular email notices of new blog posts. Some of the more savvy types may prefer an RSS Feed Reader notice. Some of the more social savvy may be signed up with Google+ or any of its variations, and prefer a “Follow” button. ALL of them are important, and should be included if you expect to get maximum traffic to your site! To leave any one of them out means leaving out a part of your potential readership! And if doing any kind of sales, that equates to money lost!
You may even have to attract their attention to get them to perform the required action, such as subscribing (opting in) to your site or offer in return for a free downloadable gift. To do that, you may have to have a large red arrow or some other thing that catches their attention, and “steer” them toward that action. Close your eyes, relax, and then open your eyes, look at your page, and think about what the first thing is on your page that your eyes went to first. If it wasn’t your most important call to action, then maybe you need to change your graphics, or the placement of those items!
The analytics will tell you how important each item is on your site by how much it is used by your readers. Maybe you think you have a catchy image to attract their attention, but how do you know for sure? The only way is through split testing. You can use one image on one version of your site, and another image on another version of your site for a month and see what your visitor count is, and then try a slightly different image against the winner, and check your visitor count again, to see which one gets the best response.

Maybe moving an ad, changing the graphics or even a different theme will attract more visitors. But you want to be sure to only check one thing at a time, otherwise you won’t know what change made the difference.

There are tools available, both free and paid, that will create a mirror image of your site. Then you can change one item on the mirror image, and the browser will bring up the different site each time it is loaded... similar to what rotating banner ads do. As an example, if you saw the Amazon ad in between paragraphs at the top of this page, you can refresh the page and see a different banner. That's the same principle behind split testing an entire site. You can see in the analytics which one they like best.

Testing site components, or even the entire site itself is a standard procedure in web marketing and is performed continually... always pitting the winner against a new version. But it doesn't have to take a lot of time. A test should be run for about a month on only one component at a time. Arranging a new test and setting it up can take as little as ten minutes per month.
There are going to be pages on your site that are necessary (i.e., policies, disclaimers, etc.), but you really don’t have to worry about optimizing those. They are there for necessary and legal information, but they aren’t selling anything. The pages where you have links and payment buttons are your primary concern in analytics.

Free Webmaster Tools

A way that you can speed up that testing is by using the Google Webmaster Tools. Within those free offerings, they have a “split testing” tool, where you can create a duplicate copy of your site, where you can make minor changes, and then they will alternate which version is shown every time a new visitor comes to your URL. That cuts your testing time in half, and speeds up your sales revenue!
This is part of checking to see if your site is set up properly, and what you can do to make it better. To that end, Hubspot has recently released a tool at http://marketing.grader.com. You can enter your site or blog into the query, and it will tell you your quality score, what things are missing, what you need to add, and even how to go about adding some of those things! I have been using it on my sites for myself, as well as those I build for other people, and it works great!
Don’t expect to ever get a grade of 100% on it though, as it checks for some things that some sites simply may not have and never will. But you should strive for at least an 80% grade, and that shouldn’t be that hard to hit if you just go down their checklist and complete the tasks (that are possible to complete) that it tells you about. If you put your email in the opt-in box, they will also email you updates every couple weeks or so, to let you know if your grade is improving or declining, along with what changes it detected. Keep in mind, if you fail to keep your site updated, it will also detect that, and your score could go down!
If you use WordPress for your site, there is one plug-in that I highly recommend before you get to building too many pages. It’s called the “All in One SEO Pak” and what it will do is add an additional form at the bottom of your post editing page. In that form you will put your post title, the description you want to show up on the search engine results under your site name, and the keywords that are relevant to that post, so that the search engines can find you. Be sure to also add your “tags” (which are also keywords). You should also create whatever categories your site would need for the topics it talks about. If you display your “categories” widget in the sidebar, readers can click on a particular category (if that’s all they are interested in) and see a list of posts that fall within that category.
In “the old days” they used meta tags within the html for such things, and on regular web sites certain tags are still helpful, but most of the search engines (including Google) no longer use the keyword meta tags to choose your position in the results listings. If you have a description meta tag, they will usually use it, otherwise, they randomly choose a partial paragraph that sounds like it matches the keywords of the page. But there’s a problem with that random selection…
We have all seen results listings on the search engine where it shows a bunch of gibberish underneath the title line. How are we supposed to interpret that? Many times it means nothing to us. When I see a listing like that, I immediately think “amateur”, and I very seldom click on them.

A proper description as displayed on the search engine results is the most important “first impression” and sales tool you can have!

DON’T leave your description to random chance by the search engines! This is very important… a description is your FIRST IMPRESSION when meeting a potential new customer! It should be your MOST COMPELLING introduction and sales pitch in 160 characters or less, to get them to take action by clicking on that title bar in the results listing! If you don’t get them to do that… they are probably gone forever, along with any money you could have made from them!
Think of it like this (an analogy): Let’s say you had a roadside produce stand, with a sign out that only has the name of your stand on it (your title), and all you can do is watch and wave as the cars go by! You KNOW that everyone has to eat, so the problem isn’t that they don’t “need” what you have! The problem is that you aren’t giving them a compelling reason to buy it from YOU!  There is no enticement for them to stop! But if you have some signs that say (something like) “Taste before you buy!”, “Elbow dripping sweet peaches!”, “Mouth-watering sweet watermelons!”, “The best sweet corn in the county!”, “An extra one free with every dozen!”, or “We’ll ship it to you for free!”, wouldn’t that give you more of a reason to stop and see what he had?

The name of the stand (such as Jones' Produce) is only the title of the stand. It's the other little signs (the descriptions) that draw people's interests and make them want to stop. That's why your description on the search engines should be your most compelling sales pitch!
What if you put out some samples along the road on both sides, or a picture of what you had, so that people could see what you have before they get there, wouldn’t that increase the number of people who stop? Sure it would! Near our former home in Arkansas, is Cave City, the home of some of the best watermelons in the country. Before you get to many of the road side stands, you will see “half melons” dropped along the roadside for a quarter mile before you get to the stand. This gets you to thinking about it before you ever get there, and also tells you what’s up ahead.

It seems a shame to waste good watermelons that way, but think of that as the cost of advertising. Without that enticement, the farmer would be lucky to sell a dozen melons per day. But with the real-life advertising, he sells hundreds! That more than makes up for the cost!
It’s no different on the web. Having enticing descriptions, as well as properly optimized pictures (with “alt” tags) that will show up in the search listings as images, with links to your site, is no different than how to attract visitors in the real world! You HAVE to give people a reason to click on your link, and that “first impression” is too important to leave to random chance by the search engines, yet that is a HUGE mistake that I see on every results page on every search engine! All you have to do to get listings above your competitors is to THINK… and do your marketing better!
I still like to use the meta tags on a regular web page, but they have to be added to the html of the header section. If Google chooses to ignore them, then so be it, but some of the other search engines still use them, so the way I see it is…it may not help, but it can’t hurt.

But what about all that other competition that I see in the search results?

First, realize that Google is far from perfect. An example of that was explained earlier in the fact that what they show on particular searches by keyword is about four times what you will actually see in visitor count. The other thing is that they may say there’s 10,000 results (or millions) in the little numbers at the top of the page, but if you go down to the page selector at the bottom, and keep going to the end until you run out of pages, there may be only 30 pages of results. Do the math…ten listings per page times 30 pages is only 300 results. Whatever else is triggering that counter at the top of the page is of so little value they won’t even show you the pages!
In other words, your competition isn’t 10,000,000. It’s only 300. And in reality is probably only the first ten on the first page, because few people go beyond that if they find the answer to their question there. The farther down the page you are from that very first listing, the faster your visitor count will drop! It happens almost exponentially. By the time you get to the fifth listing on the page, you may only get 1/10th the amount of traffic that the first position gets! By the time you get to the last listing on the page, it may only get half of 1% of the traffic of the first listing. Yes, it drops off that fast! This is why SEO (search engine optimization) is so important if you want to get generic traffic!
Also, let’s use another analogy… pick any industry or any sport, and try to think about who is second in command, or who came in second at any sports event. Chances are you don’t know… because no one remembers anything except who’s in “first place”. The search engines are no different. Searchers start with page one and work their way down the page. They will click on the first page, first position listings if it answers their problem, and they won’t go any farther! If you aren’t in that first page first position on the results, the visitors you will get from secondary positions drops almost as fast as those who remember who it was that “came in second”!
The reality is that the ones that show up in the top positions of the search engines are the ones who (probably) know what they’re doing, especially if they are targeting a highly competitive keyword. But when you find those lesser known keywords and longer keyword phrases, many of them show up only by chance!  If you have any clue at all as to what you are doing, it is very easy to take over that first position on the first page! I've done it on several of my sites, so I know it can be done!
If you look at the relevancy of the results on not only the first page, but the second page and all others after that, you will see that the relevancy to the keywords drops off steadily as you get farther away from that first page. After all, the search engines look for anything that has those keywords on whatever page they find out there in cyber space, and many times, the site that it’s on has nothing to do with what people are looking for! So even though those sites are included in the results count at the top of the page (and even less so at the bottom of the page)… they ARE NOT your competition! Your competition is those first ten listings on page one! If you can’t beat out at least a few of those first ten sites and get on page one, you won’t have enough visitors to even stay in business!
So don’t worry about there being 10,000 (or ten million) searches showing for your keyword. You only have ten “real” competitors to deal with. Look at each of those ten sites on page one, and analyze those. You can even run them through the free tool at http://marketing.grader.com, and see how they really score. You can also run them through a free tool at http://submitexpress.com and have it do a search for the keywords on the page. I use the free metatags analyzer for that. At the bottom of the results page you’ll see all the keyords on the site, starting with one word, then two word phrases, and then three word phrases. There are other free tools on the web that will do that, but I like Submit Express. Knowing what keywords the competition is using might help you to optimize your own keywords to get ahead of them! I’ll have more on that later.
Currently, the most important thing going on today as far as reaching the top of the search engines is your quality score and the “importance” of your site to the general public. Your site pages or posts content has to be “on topic” on all counts, and has to be recognized as being important to other relevant and important sites. To do that, you have to get involved socially with other sites in your topic, or have other people talking about you on important social sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and many others.

How do I know they are “talking” about me?

The way the search engines do that is by checking the inbound links from their site to yours. If the search engines see your URL on another site, that is like a “vote” for your site. The search engines also rank those votes by the importance of the site that they are found on, so seeing a link on a generic personal blog that only has 20 readers is not going to have the same importance as seeing it on a site that has a million or more users. In other words, that site has to rank high in order for the “vote” for your site to count much. Also, if the site has nothing at all to do with your site, it won’t count as much, because they will consider that to be a random fluke.
We’ll get into all the aspects of social marketing on another post in the near future, as it can be a very complex issue. but easily learned, once you see how to do it.

Summary and Expectations

So don’t worry about software expenses when starting out in internet marketing. You will receive a lot of offers for various marketing products, software and techniques, and your biggest challenge will be to stay focused on one task at a time.
When our dog, Angel, was a puppy, it was fun to watch him in the yard, as every little grasshopper or bug was new to him and he would jump and try to catch them. Now that he has “matured”, he doesn’t pay much attention to them anymore.
Marketers are like that. When they’re new to the business, they try to learn anything and everything to build up their knowledge. The internet in general is a HUGE place to get lost in, with following links from page to page until we forget where we started from, or what we were looking for.
Most “guru’s” won’t tell you to specialize in something, because they worry that you might pass up some offering of theirs because it doesn’t fit your plan! The way to avoid that is to know what’s available as far as marketing methods, and what fits with what your goals are for up to five years down the road, and then ONLY look at what fits into those goals. If you don’t learn to focus, you will end up with “information overload”, and do more research and studying than making money!
There HAS to be a balance! There will always be new things to learn about, and that is a necessary part of this business. Time must be allotted for it. But make sure you also leave time for doing the important tasks that are going to put money in your pocket.
When you first start out, you may spend as much as 80% of your time studying techniques and only 20% implementing what you learn. As time goes on, you will notice your study time decreasing as you spend more and more time implementing those techniques. When you reach a “leveling off” point, I would estimate that you will be spending only 20% of your time studying, and 80% of your time implementing, and that’s where you have to be to make money. And if you set up the part that makes money to run properly, on auto-pilot, your actual working time per day might be less than two hours.
Remember, everything you need is available online for free, and all you have to do is look for it. I will help guide you to find those free products as you need them.
If you simply stay focused, remember three things, and use your head to think outside the box to accomplish those things, you will be further ahead than 95% of the rest of the population.
(1) Find a huge number of people that are hungry to solve a problem and aren’t finding many answers.
(2) Find or create a product to fill that need, and
(3) Put it in front of them. The product should sell itself.
Many marketing products hash these facts over, turn them sideways and even inside-out, but if you really stop to analyze what they are doing, most of them will boil down to these three simple things. If you can think outside the box, and remember these three things, you won’t need their redundant products!
Feel free to comment to make your thoughts known… and above all… don’t be afraid to ask questions! Without particpation, there can be no learning!

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