We don’t like to toot our own horn…

But if our clients want to do it for us, we’re delighted! (Read more testimonials here).

The smart and talented June at J Ellen Design has this to say about our work:

“At my invitation, Holly was a guest presenter at Window Covering Association of America’s Seacoast Chapter monthly meeting. Holly’s presentation was focused on SEO and Social Media and was geared toward Interior Designers and Window Treatment Workroom professionals. This can be a difficult topic for a group of non-technical individuals; however, Holly was amazing at breaking down each piece into bite-size chunks that were easy to grasp. The group was quite impressed with her skill set and were able take away valuable tips they could use immediately to improve their web sites and enhance their social media presence.

[In addition, hasOptimization] created my business website and has been working with me to create content and leverage SEO to improve my business traffic. After a bad experience with this in the past, Holly has been a breath of fresh air and I look to her for her expertise on a regular basis. Her breadth and depth of knowledge never ceases to amaze me and I look forward to taking the next steps with her to improve my social media presence and continue to beef up my own web presence as my company continues to grow.

[Finally,] I have referred Holly to my client who is opening a new laser medical spa in Manchester, NH. Again, Holly is quite knowledgeable in her field and never ceases to impress! In our first meeting with the client, Holly was able to shine and really present herself as an expert in the web optimization and social media realm. She was able to answer my client’s questions and build a comfort level almost immediately. Holly has been retained to provide her expert project management skills and expertise when developing the website, social media presence and site optimization as we prepare to open this new business. As with my business, Holly will continue to be a valuable, long-term member of the team. (Holly has also already been asked to review one of my client’s other business websites to see how she can make it better!)

I can go on; however, the best thing I can say is you will not be disappointed when you work with Holly. She is a remarkable young woman who continues to impress me every day.”

–June at J Ellen Design

June, you’ve been a delight to work with and we deeply appreciate the referrals. There is no higher compliment!

j ellen design finished website

J Ellen Design’s finished website (click to view the real thing!)

Organizing Your Blog Part 2: Setting Up Your Blog

Last week I discussed why you should spend time organizing your blog. This week I’ll start telling you how to go about organizing your blog, starting from launch.

Is a Blog/Has a Blog

The home page of XOJane.com

XOJane, an online lifestyle magazine for women, falls into the category of ‘sites which ARE blogs’. The focus is on the blog posts, with little to no other content, and the organizational structures reflect that.

If you’re launching a new website, think about the overall structure at the beginning to save yourself time and hassle later. Do you want the home page to be a static page, or do you want it to have your most recent blog posts? Is this a blog site, or a site with a blog? The answers to these questions will determine the information architecture of your blog; in other words, how the information is organized and how users will encounter it.

Pages vs Posts

Typically, blog posts are for timely information and pages (with the associated ‘present in the navigation’ privilege) are for permanent information. News about your business? Blog post. History of your business? Page. If your site IS a blog, you won’t have to think much about this. If your site HAS a blog, you might think about this a lot. Particularly if you’re blogging for business, it may be worthwhile to you to consult a marketing professional to ensure you are setting your site up for search engine and user experience success. At a minimum, have a conversation with your web developer or content manager about how your content will be structured.

URL Structures & You

By default, blog software like WordPress often uses a ID number to form the URL for a post. This is not doing you favors with search engines or general organization, so switch to a URL structure that includes the post title. I prefer to use a format that includes the month and year, as it’s a simple indicator to the reader if they are reading an older post or a new one. The URLs on this blog are in the format http://www.domainname.com/YYYY/MM/title-of-post/, which is a popular option. This setting can be found in the WordPress Admin area under Settings>>Permalinks.

The other structural choices mentioned here are also controlled by setting various options in the WordPress Admin area, but they are scattered around the interface rather than being in a single location. If you aren’t familiar with WordPress (or the software you are using), you may want to hire a consultant to assist you with the setup process.

This is part 2 of a series on Blog Organization. Part 1 reviews why blog organization is important. Part 3 will cover categories and tags.

Organizing Your Blog Part 1: Why Bother?

There are many, many reasons that people write blogs. A few of the most common are personal blogs, blogs for the purpose of drawing in traffic to a site,  informational blogs and photo blogs. While personal blogs may have the luxury of not paying attention to organization, the majority of blogs do not.

Why is Organizing Your Blog Important?

You certainly can choose to not make use of categories, tags, date archives and URL structure to organize your blog. You have that option. However, even for a personal blog I wouldn’t recommend it. You might want to be able to find something again, and good organization will be a big help. Other reasons to make use of the structures available:

  1. Categories and tags selector on WordPressEase of use for visitors. This is the user experience element. If you want people to enjoy and make use of your blog, you have to make it easy to use, and for a blog ‘use’ means ‘find things’. Making use of organizational structures groups related posts together even if you do not crosslink, making it easy for a reader to browse topics.
  2. Ease of use for search engines. Search engines need a good user experience, too. If you want your blog posts appearing in a Google search, you want to make it easy for Google to read your site. Organizing your blog well makes it easier for search engines to index your content.
  3. Ease of use for you, the writer. If you want to reference a past post and link to it, it’s much easier to do so when you have a logically structured blog where things are easy to find. If you need to move your blog to another part of your site or to a new domain, it’s easier to do so without errors if your content is well organized.

As a search engine optimization consultant, I spend a significant amount of my time setting up blogs, telling people how to use them, and optimizing blog posts and structures. My focus is on attaining good presence in search and keeping visitors on site once they have entered, but the same blog organizational elements that make sense for search engines and good user experiences also make good organizational sense.

Stay tuned for Part 2, Setting Up Your Blog, where I’ll talk about having a blog vs being a blog, pages and posts, and good url structures.

Site Launch: Antonia Designs

It’s always a good day when I get to announce the launch of a new website, and this one has been a long time coming.

The development of the Antonia Designs site has been plagued with vacations, indecision, and last minute changes as Antonia and I struggled to realize her vision within her budget. Ultimately I learned a lot in the process, which is always a good thing for me. The web is in no way static, and new solutions and options are always appearing when you least expect them. This was, for example, the first site that I built from the ground up with Yoast’s SEO plugin rather than the collection of various plugins I’d used before.

While I was always satisfied with Platinum SEO and All in One SEO (despite occasional conflicts with other software), Yoast’s SEO for WordPress brings the features of those plugins together with those of XML Sitemaps and others, adds excellent tooltip explanation and built-in optimization assistance, and packages it all neatly in one download. I’ve so far been 100% delighted with everything I’ve used by Joost De Valk.

The development process for Antonia Designs also included a last minute addition–the home page slider. Antonia originally concluded it was unnecessary, but with the site nearly completed she made the decision to feature more of the photographs she recently had taken on the site. So the slider addition was born, requiring an additional round of edits to a nearly-finalized website. The result, I think, is totally worth the extra effort:

screenshot of Antonia Designs pre-slider

The pre-slider version of the site.

Manipulated image showing how the slider would appear

a GIMP mockup showing where the slider would go on the site

screenshot of the final version of the Antonia Designs website

a screenshot of the final version of the site, with the slideshow header–Click to go to the site.

So without further ado, I am very pleased to announce the launch of Antonia Designs, a custom graphic designer in Washington, DC. Antonia Designs is a one woman company, specializing in custom print work such as wedding invitations and save-the-dates. She also does a lovely text logo or other branding work (and she made the floral background for her site!). Please take a look at the site, and consider following her on Google Plus or Facebook.

August News & Updates

July was a very busy month! I joined a BNI group, which has been great for networking and marketing my business but has taken up a decent chunk of time. I’m also near-launch on a new website, organized a pretty smashing advertorial for a client who composes custom wedding music, and have been working on site reviews and new business development. I’m excited about working with some very interesting new people!

In other words, writing on my own blog has been the least of my concerns.

This month, I’m focusing on new business development while completing the aforementioned site launch, training a new project manager so I can focus more on Analytics, and working on promotions for the Concord community chorus I’m on the board for, the Suncook Valley Chorale. It’s shaping up to be an extremely busy, very interesting month!

In SEO news, I’m appreciating this article on the investment aspects of SEO. In brief: SEO is an investment in your business, and one which can give an excellent return over the long term even in times of downturn. Online marketing was a growth industry through the recession!

If you’re looking to make that investment for your business, please contact me. I’m always happy to meet with you, free of charge, to learn about your business and discuss your needs.

Small Business Marketing: Think Local

My favorite projects to work on are small business clients from my hometown area. Why? Well, I’m from a small town (Canterbury, NH) and live in a small city (Concord, NH), and when you grow up in small communities you understand the value of local communication. I’ve also lived in the big city (Los Angeles, CA) and the contrast between small business marketing there and small business marketing here in Concord is stark. Small business in Concord, NH is interdependent. There is less competition, and more incentive to cooperate with your fellow small business next door or down the street. This makes for an interesting local marketing environment.

Canterbury NH town center

This is the center of my hometown. Yes, really.

A small, tightly knit community doesn’t allow a small business the luxury of alienating potential customers, and word-of-mouth has a lot more impact than in a larger city. A small business who annoys five people in LA today will have no trouble getting business tomorrow, but a small business in Concord, NH that annoys five people has just irked a fairly significant segment of potential customers. Make someone happy, they may tell a friend. Make them angry, and they’ll tell everyone they know what a jerk you are.

I enjoy working with local small businesses, because local SEO and local marketing are a more authentic sort of marketing project. You have more ability to speak directly to people, and there are so many excellent opportunities for online optimization for local businesses: Google Places, Yelp, and Facebook Place Pages, to name just a few. With a good local marketing strategy, and the investment of the business owner in keeping up with social media content and helping to get reviews, checkins and the like from the local customers, great things can happen. And it doesn’t require shady linkbuilding, crazy content strategies, or fancy coding.

Local marketing takes us back to the real core of marketing work. You speak more directly to people. There’s a greater investment in offline strategies to go with the online marketing. Social media efforts take on a different flavor when you’re marketing for a local small business rather than a multinational brand.

It’s particularly rewarding when you get to do local marketing in an area you know well. I grew up only 15 minutes from where I now live in Concord, NH so I know this town, these people, this political and social atmosphere very well. Living in ‘the big city’ for a few years only gave me more perspective on that! Even better, when I work for a company in Concord, NH I can actually go to their store, use their services, and recommend them to my friends and family–something I can’t do when I market for local businesses in distant areas.

Ultimately, what I offer to local small businesses, whether in Concord or elsewhere, is an opportunity to fill in the gaps in their marketing. Whether that means helping them develop a social media strategy, getting them going on blogging, or helping with creative ideas for offline marketing programs, my goal is to get your small business more business. If that sounds like what you’re looking for, contact me. I’d be delighted to talk to you about how we can improve your marketing ROI, get you a more professional web presence, leverage social media, or anything else you need help with.

This is not a magic trick. This is what I do.

When you hire me to do SEO, online marketing, UX optimization, advertising, social media, or anything else:

  • Consultations are always free.
  • Marketing services will always come with education.
  • I bring you new marketing ideas not because I want to make more money from you, but because I think that my ideas will help you do more business, and you will want to keep hiring me and referring your friends.

While there is a lot of SEO and marketing information freely available on the internet, it seems to me that a lot of SEO companies are in the business of not explaining themselves to their clients. Perhaps they believe that if they educate their clients, the clients will stop hiring them. Perhaps they like keeping SEO a ‘magic trick’. Perhaps they don’t really understand how Google works, but my opinion is that you can’t tell your client “Google search traffic is highly important to your business” and then expect them NOT to turn around and Google search “how to do your own SEO”.

Fact is, whether you CAN do your own SEO is beside the point. I CAN do my own sewing when I want a jacket altered, but I don’t. Why? Because hiring someone to do it is ultimately cheaper than the time I would spend learning to do it right and then doing it, and also likely to result in a better final product. SEO and online marketing are the same way.

multichannel attribution report from Google Analytics

Do you know what this means? I can help.

When someone hires me to work on marketing their website and their business, I take the time to educate them about how SEO works, what I can and can’t do, and what sort of results they are likely to see. I do not worry about them taking this information and running to do their own SEO. Quite to the contrary, I see this education as an explanation of my value to them. From the client perspective, online marketing looks like a black hole that their money falls into. It is hard to see the connection between the spend and the result. Educating clients bridges that gap in a couple important ways:

  1. It usually makes it quite clear at the outset that the client does not currently have the knowledge to do marketing themselves, but that I do have that knowledge (no longer throwing money into a black hole).
  2. It creates a more tangible, immediate product (the education) that they have received from me, even if I accomplish nothing else for them (though, of course, I will!).
  3. When they see results, the client is more inclined to connect the result to my work, rather that thinking those results might have happened with or without me.

Take my alterations example above. If a tailor explains to me how she sews my jacket and why she chose the thread, it does not make me more likely to do it myself the next time. Rather, it assures me that my tailor is intelligent and thoughtful, and I’m more likely to feel good about paying her fee and referring my friends to her.

I do not do what I do because I want to make large amounts of money. I do it because I am good at it and I enjoy providing people with a service that helps them enhance the awesomeness of what they do.

I measure the success of websites not by rankings or number of links, but by their traffic, their conversions and the satisfaction of their owners. I measure the success of my business not by dollars, but by whether people want to refer me to their friends and family or hire me for additional work.

I am here to enhance the awesomeness of your business, and explaining how I do it does not take away from my value. This is not a magic trick. This is what I do best, so you can do what you do best.

Search Plus Google+

Google’s latest revision to search has created a small uproar in the online marketing and SEO communities–not to mention annoyed Twitter to no end (Facebook’s probably irked as well, but Twitter needs the publicity–complaining loudly is a bid to stay relevant that Facebook doesn’t need).

Here it is in a nutshell. Google has always personalized your search results, tailoring them to location, previous searches, and a whole host of other things. It’s the reason why your “ranking”–where your link appears in the search results–is not as cut and dried as many people believe. I don’t see the same results you see, and your Aunt Maggie sees a different set of her own.

The latest update to Google Search, however, is adding a whole new element of personalization, bringing in socially syndicated content from your friends, contacts, family and professional circles. Great, right? Okay, but the kicker to this is, it’s only bringing in Google+ information, not social data from Facebook, Twitter, etc. That’s why Twitter’s so annoyed.

So what does this mean for your business or brand? It means, that while Google + is still a fairly new social network with relatively low adoption, and despite the fact that the ability to have brand/business pages is still pretty new, you need to be on it and sharing your content via Google+, or you’re missing out on a newly-important way to get your name in the top of the personalized, individual results that Google is dishing out.

Marketing agencies are jumping on this train for all their clients. You can certainly set up and manage your own Google+ profile, but an experienced online marketing professional can be a big help in getting that profile set up to give you the greatest benefit in search results.

Want help with your Google+ or other social media profiles? Contact me.

For social media, marketing, usability and other tech news, you can follow me on Google+, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Should I fill my footer with keywords?

I recently had to research this question for a client–I knew the answer on a gut level, but needed the data to back it up. Turns out, it’s kind of hard to find.

There’s a lot of information out there about what you should do with footer links. And there’s a lot of information out there about the practice of “keyword stuffing” (and if you’re still doing this in your site, please join us in this decade!). But there’s actually relatively little information about specifically stuffing your footer with keywords.

Everyone wants to rank well for key terms that may be a little hard to work into your home page content. And back in the day, keyword stuffing (whether in the body, hidden by colors or slide-out panels, or in the footer) did actually work. That was a simpler time…an easier-to-spam-the-search-engines time. But that time has passed. We can’t keep thinking of Google (or even Yahoo) as just a term-frequency-matching system.

Try Googling (oh, the irony) how Google’s algorithm actually works to deliver search results. They’re not actually going to explain it to you. But what you will realize quite quickly is that IT’S REALLY COMPLICATED. Ranking highly for your key phrases hasn’t been a matter of simple frequency on the page in a verrrrrry long time. Keyword stuffing simply ain’t what it used to be. The other thing you’ll quickly realize is that the Google algorithm is REALLY SMART. The Google “bot” is parsing more than just your text content, and it’s making a lot of judgements in the process

Think about it. Google isn’t just a search engine anymore. They’re a translation algorithm (Google Translate), a multi-national location service (Google Maps), the provider of your email (Gmail) and the creators of a brand-spankin-new DRIVERLESS CAR. Google has access to a wealth of information about human behavior and human language, and if you think they aren’t using it to assist search results then you are a fool. To top it off, they’re increasingly using human factors (user experience factors!) to influence search results.

So, back to that question of keywords in your footer. SEO is often seen as a game. The game goal is to get the best–number one in the SERP. You’re playing against the computer (Google). The computer understands what is and is not proper written English.

Do you still think you can beat the computer by filling your footer with (to use an example applicable to this post):

Keywords, keyword stuffing, footer keywords, fill footer with keywords, footer seo

When was the last time you saw a sentence that was actually written like that?

SEOs are waking up and smelling the coffee…SEO is becoming less of a game. The better Google’s algorithm gets, the less of a game SEO is, and the more we have to focus on building real, quality content to get good rankings, and, far more importantly, good traffic, dedicated users and ROI. Let’s stop playing a game and start making better websites.

And no, you shouldn’t fill your footer with keywords.