06/27/07
Pimp My Website

Credit to Net Magazine for inspiring this post.

As a Search Engine Optimiser I talk alot about how to tweak your website in such a way which makes it bait for search engines, but what happens once you have your site ranking and people arrive on your site. Does your website convert clicks into customers?

There are some basic things to look for, so basic that they can be easily overlooked leaving people scratching their heads as to why they are not getting sales from their sites in comparison to their traffic.

Here are a few tips to look out for. We will use Play.com for this example.

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Website Identity
Having a strong website identity is important. You should make it clear on your site who you are and offer some background infomation about your business. This gives you credibility when a user is deciding to purchase from your site.

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Call To Action
Most of us visually scan a site when deciding if we wish to stay around, a great tip is to ensure your products are visible through images as well as providing clear links leading visitor’s to read more on your products. Images of your products as well as prices on your front page will give a clear view of what you are selling and what your site is about.

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Unique Selling Point
USP? Now there is something you have probably heard before, even still, it can make the difference when someone is considering making a puchase from your website. So what makes your site different from the rest?

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Visuals
As said previously, most people visually scan a webpage, therefore, images work a treat especially for drawing the eye to those bargain products. Utilizing visual images on your front page for selling purposes is an easy way to help your visitors spot a bargain.

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Simple Navigation
There are many large retail websites out there, so having a simple navigation is paramount when expecting visitors to find your products easily. If your navigation is messy and pages are more than 2 clicks away from your front page, then it’s time to take a long hard look at your navigation and find ways to simplify how your all important pages are found.

A great tip is to get someone who is not familiar with your site and ask them to find a particular product. Watch how they try to navigate around your site to find a specific product, if they find it easily, then congratulations, if they come across stumbling blocks and don’t manage to find the product within a few clicks, then that is a sure sign your navigation may not be doing your website any favours.

These are just some basic things which keeps your visitors happy. It is also important to remember this is not a one time consideration. As you develop your website and add more products, keep these basic rules in mind to ensure your site continues to be well structured; keeping it simple to maximise the performance of your site.

06/27/07
Website Accessibility and Compatibility

How many websites do you come across on a daily basis that do not work? Either a page doesn’t exist, or the page doesn’t load or the page load’s, but doesn’t display properly.

The reason this can happen is because not enough testing has gone into the site. Some Webmasters assume if it works for them, it will work for everyone right? Wrong.

Different people use different browsers, the most common are IE, Firefox, Opera and Safari for Mac users. Because a website displays ok in IE, does not mean it will display the same in Firefox, this is why it is important to test your website compatibility in different browsers.

As well as testing how your site displays in different browsers, it is just as important to test the accessibility of your site.

webxact.jpgWebsite Accessibility is becoming more of an issue, so much so, website companies can be sued if their websites are not accessible to all users. It is in everyone’s interest who runs a website to check with their various laws on the stance of website accessibility and what you can do to ensure you website is accessible.

There are many tools you can use to ensure your website is accessible. World Web Consortium (W3C) website offers guidelines for web content accessibility which will help you tweak your site and bring it into line to make is fully accessible. Other tools you can use for testing are webxact.watchfire.com. WebXACT is a free online service that lets you test single pages of web content for quality, accessibility, and privacy issues.

If you use Firefox, a useful extension which acts a screen reader is Fangs. Fangs will show you how screen readers view your pages enabling you to tweak the textual content of your webpages.

octagate.jpgAnother thing to consider about your website is how fast your pages load. The quicker your pages load, the happier your visitors are. You can test the speed of your pages by using tools such as OctaGate.

Although the majority of Internet users are now on broadband, there are still those who access the web via dial-up. Therefore you should still consider the speed of your site and the load times of your pages.

Broken URLs are a common in alot of websites. A website may link to an external website, yet never check to see if that site or page still exists some months/years down the line. You may even move a webpage on your own site and not update your own links. W3c’s Link Checker is a useful online tool which enables you to check your website for broken links.

There are many tools on the web that you can use to check your website compatibility and your website accessibility. The testing of your website is a very important part of the success of your website performance. Testing does not just occur the first time your website goes live, it should be a continuous part of your overall maintenance schedule.

06/15/07
Duplicate Content

thief.jpgOne of the easiest (and annoying) things a website owner can do is copy content from your website and place it into their own without permission and not crediting you as the original author.

Search engines aim to deliver unique information to their users and do not want duplicate information showing in their results, they do not penalise websites for duplicate content, but they do choose which version of the content to index and rank, therefore, this can be a problem for the owner of the original content of search engines choose the wrong version.

Websites that display content taken from various other sites are called “Scraper sites”. Scraper sites are the most worrisome concern’s to webmasters when it comes to search engines handling duplicate content.

Lucky for us, Google offers some potential solutions to prevent scraper sites getting the credit for our content as well as those who duplicate content on their own sites.

There are times on your own website where you could have multiple URL’s pointing to the same content, a way to tell Google which version to use is by specifying the URL you would like search engine spiders to use. This can be done in Google Sitemaps. Nothing is guaranteed, but you might get lucky and the bots will take note of your requirement.

Another suggestion is to Authenticate ownership of your content. Unfortunately, although a good idea, it may not be the best solution, as most poeple who take your content are not interested in authentication.

There was a myth going around that search engines check creation dates of content to determine which version to use, however, Vanessa Fox of Google shot that one to peices when she said “creation dates aren’t always reliable”, so I guess we can’t rely on that.

Other ways of dealing with scraper sites taking your content could be by contacting the scraper webmaster and threatening legal action for breach of copyright (If your content is copywrited), sometimes this can bring positive results and the webmaster will remove your content.

The truth is, there is currently no magic formular that deals with duplicate content issues, however, search engines such as Google are talking to webmasters and interested in peoples ideas to find way’s to deal with these issues. It may take some time, but at least they are moving in the right direction.