July 9, 2010
A lot of businesses today are wondering if they should start a blog. And for many businesses, a blog is indeed a great way to build traffic to your website by providing relevant content for the search engines to pick up. It is also a very effective way to demonstrate your knowledge and expertise in your particular market.
But before you rush to start a blog, here is a word of warning. Blogging may not be the most effective use of your time, in terms of marketing your website.
When should you blog?
Blogs are best for companies that need keep on the cutting edge of their particular niche market. If your market is continually changing and you want to keep your prospective customers up to date, then blogging is a good choice.
Furthermore, if you want to build and maintain a “newsy” or “daily thought” element to your website, you should add a blog.
If you create something remarkable and capture the attention of a few thought leaders who like it, you are going to get links.
But how do you create content that people will like?
If you are passionate about a topic, know more about it than anyone else, and openly share information, then it’s pretty straightforward. Start blogging and eventually people will notice and link to you. Express your worldview and your bias in a way that matches their worldview.
Social interaction of any type leads to links. Speak at a conference? Someone will likely blog about it. Want to get thought leaders to promote your site? Create a community project or contest and ask them to participate. Or give out awards, etc.
An example of a successful business blog
One of my clients has developed a hugely successful business selling nutritional supplements and skincare products to the US, Asia and Europe, from a small office in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Virtually all his products are sold via the Internet and he gets over 300,000 visitors a month to his website. Furthermore, he doesn’t spend a fortune on Google Adwords or other online advertising.
The secret, he told me, was due largely to his blog, to which he tries to post two or three times a week. Virtually every one of his posts has comments beneath it from people who have visited the blog. He often makes controversial statements about the nutritional supplement industry, which guarantees him a lively readership.
Here is his blog: http://blog.xtend-life.com
This is a classic example of how powerful blogging can be for your business …. if you do it right. That’s a big IF. A lot of people start a blog and have a spurt of enthusiasm and then give up. Or they try to make their blog posts too overtly sales-oriented.
Your blog needs to be informative, interesting and ideally a bit controversial. For people (like me) who don’t like going out selling face to face but are more introverted, blogging can be an ideal way to build up your credibility and attract new customers. You don’t have to do any sales or ever have to pitch; people will call you after reading your blog.
You can imagine how much more receptive people will be to buying if they have approached you, rather than you approaching them. You’re already half way to the sale before you even start talking to them.
The downside of blogging is that it does take time to build up traffic. You will feel as though you are writing away in a vacuum for a while and wonder if it’s worth it. Then, after a few weeks, you’ll start to see visitors who have found your blog posts in the search engines.
Google seems to love blogs, much more than regular websites
I’ve seen this with my own websites. I’ve had a site for about four years selling my website design services and have got a steady trickle of traffic to it. At the beginning of 2009 I built a new website using Wordpress, which is a blogging software that can also be used to create full websites.
Within a month, this new website built with Wordpress was already getting more traffic than my four-year-old conventional site!
So this is good news if you’re serious about blogging. If you post consistently and offer something of genuine value to to readers, you’ll gradually build up a following and your business will take off more than you dreamed possible.
If you’re not a writer, or simply don’t have time to write a blog, you could do what more and more businesses are doing – hire a freelance writer to share some (or all) of the load.
Another example of a successful blog
To conclude, I’d like to share another example of a truly successful blog, which I learned about today. It is written by a tailor working in upmarket Saville Row in London. You’d hardly expect a tailor aiming at the upper end of the market to be a blogger. But Thomas Mahon sells bespoke suits using mainly his blog, and word of mouth, as marketing. He is constantly booked and his customers include Prince Charles.
Here is his blog: www.englishcut.com
A good business blog is like the best kind of salesperson. It offers information and advice but is not pushy. It makes you want to come back again and again and also spread the word to your friends. It’s well worth the effort!
Now for the downside of blogs
Getting a blog online has never been easier. And therein lies one of blogging’s biggest pitfalls. The sheer volume of blogs (hundreds of millions) makes it difficult to get noticed. Most blogs never do. And this leads to a massive failure rate among bloggers.
And here’s another downside of blogging. As Chris Anderson, executive editor of ‘Wired’ magazine and one of the most prominent bloggers, noted:
“A blog is this beast – a monkey on your back. It wants to be fed every day. But we all have jobs and it’s hard to do.”
Despite all the “buzz” about blogging, the failure/abandonment rate of blogs is nearly 100%. Only exceptionally talented bloggers build up a significant following over a sustained period.
Most bloggers are commentators. The world, unfortunately, only needs so many “commentators.” An excess of supply versus demand is always bad economics.
So, before you start a blog, you need to think long and hard. It’s a long-term commitment and you will need to be dogged and disciplined in posting regularly. Are you up for the challenge? Only you can answer!
July 9, 2010
In addition to web directories, there are many blogs and other websites that discuss your topic. Contact the owners of these blogs and websites, and discuss the possibility of a link to your site, in exchange for a “reciprocal” link from your site back to theirs.
It helps if you provide valuable content on your site that is worth linking to.
Do a Google search for other websites that are in related fields to your own but who are not direct competitors. Contact them and ask for a reciprocal link. In most cases, this is a win-win for both businesses and the owners of the sites will be delighted to exchange links.
Link-building is an ongoing process
In some cases, a website has such useful and interesting content that people will want to spread the word and link to it from their own sites. If your site is like this, your link building will occur naturally and steadily over time.
There is a snowball effect on the Web, where links beget more links. If you start a blog (we’ll discuss this later), send out newsletters and generally keep yourself in the public eye, you will gain more and more links, and Google will increasingly love your website!
Link building in a nutshell
1. Link building should be done personally – don’t automate the process.
2. Search for sites that contain content related to your own site (but are not direct competitors).
3. Contact the website owner directly to ask for a link.
4. In some cases (e.g. if you are in a very competitive market) you may need to pay for a link.
What does the future hold for search engine optimisation?
In short, it’s going to get more and more difficult to “trick” Google into giving your site a high ranking.
Google has only one objective. To provide the most accurate possible search results, which are as close as possible to what people are actually searching for.
One very significant change that is occurring as I write this (mid-2009) is that Google is now taking into consideration feedback that is submitted by “real people” (as opposed to primarily software calculations).
Google is now asking Web surfers to “vote” for sites in the search results, based on the surfer’s own idea of how important each one is. If they like a certain page in the search results, they can move it higher on the list.
Google claims it is not currently using this data in its algorithms to determine search rankings. But it’s likely to be only a matter of time before they do. In future, Google will give higher priority to sites that Web surfers vote for.
It will look at criteria such as:
- How often have Web surfers voted your listing to the top of the results?
- How many times has your website been bookmarked (voted for) on a major social networking site (i.e. Digg.com, LinkedIn.com, and StumbleUpon.com)?
- Does your web page have video? If so, how long do people watch it?
- How often do website visitors return to your page?
- If you have a blog, how many comments does it have on it?
These changes will make it more and more difficult for SEO experts to manipulate Google search rankings.
But the good news is, you don’t need to worry if you make sure you provide plenty of good quality content on your website, which is of value to your target market.
The old saying holds true: Content is King.
Plain and simple, if you have good content, people will bookmark it, comment on it, and talk about it on other websites. And Google will take notice. This will continue to boost your SEO efforts more than anything else.
Focus on building content and everything else will take care of itself.
One final thought
Keep in mind that even a top ranking on Google won’t mean a thing for your business unless your website is designed and written to convert that traffic into paying customers!
July 9, 2010
Google puts a very high value on the number of links coming in to your website, and where these links come from. The more popular the site is that links to you, the more value Google places on that link.
Links are considered to be a recommendation that your website is relevant and worth visiting. The ideal is to have high quality links to your site, with your relevant keywords in the anchor text. So, for example, if your site is about solar energy, you would have ‘solar energy’ in the clickable text of the link.
But getting links from sites that Google considers trustworthy isn’t easy. The big question now is, how are you going to get them? Are you going to do it yourself, or outsource? Because the cold truth is, free traffic isn’t actually free. It’s either going to cost you money or your valuable time.
If you’re in a competitive market, you may need thousands of links to gain a top 10 position.
There are many services that will get your links to your websites, in return for a (usually large) fee, but I do not recommend going down this track. Most of these services use automated software and some very sophisticated setups to trick Google into thinking they are genuine links.
I know people who are getting top rankings on Google as a result of these kinds of automated link-building services. But their success is always short-lived. Sooner or later, Google always catches up with those who are trying to game the system. And once that happens, your site will be blacklisted and it will take a long, long time to regain your ranking again. It simply isn’t worth the risk.
Virtually every day I get emails along the lines of:
“Dear webmaster, I have just visited your website and would like to exchange links with you”.
These requests come from automated link buildings services and I immediately delete them. The links you would get from such services are worthless.
There is no cutter-cutter approach to link building that works for every website. Each site is different, and needs an individual approach. And above all, it takes time. You will need to spend more time on link-building than you took to build your site.
So, how do you build links the right way?
First, the correct way to build links is to do it manually, one link at time, rather than relying on automated software.
One of the easiest was to start building links is to submit your site to web directories – both general web directories and directories in your market sector.
Some general New Zealand directories include:
NZ Pages – www.nzpages.co.nz
NZ Webz Directory – www.nzwebz.co.nz
NZ Search – www.nzsearch.co.nz
NZS.com – www.nzs.com
Finda – www.finda.co.nz
Kiwi Websites Directory – www.kiwiwebsites.com
Xpress Directory – http://dir.xpress.co.nz
Index NZ – www.indexnz.co.nz
Directory NZ – http://directorynz.net
New Zealand Websites – www.newzealandwebsites.com
Access NZ – www.accessnz.co.nz
The Web Directory – www.thewebdirectory.co.nz
NZ Entry Network – www.entry.net.nz
All the above directories are free to submit to. Of course, there is also the Yellow Pages online directory (www.yellow.co.nz) which is not free but is well worth getting listed in.
In addition, there are local web directories for each region of New Zealand, where you can also list your website. And within your market sector there are also likely to be directories where you can get your website listed.
Each of these directory listings creates a valuable link to your website, which will help to improve your ranking on Google and other search engines, in addition to attracting visitors who happen to see your site in the directory itself.
Beyond New Zealand there are a huge number of directories where you can submit your site, both general directories and those related to your particular niche market.
The most important international directories:
Yahoo! Search Directory (http://dir.yahoo.com) is arguably the most important international directory for your site to appear in.
It has a page rank of 8, so a link from there back to your site is very valuable. For this reason, it costs US$299 annually to appear in the Yahoo! Directory. If you can afford it, it’s worth it. Human editors will read your submission and reserve the right to edit it. Leave out any kind of marketing spin because they will just delete it!
The Open Directory Project (www.dmoz.com) is a free directory, which also has a page rank of 8. It takes longer to get into the Open Directory because each submission is considered manually and they are notoriously short of volunteer editors. But if you don’t mind waiting, it’s worth submitting your site.
Jayde. This is another free directory, with a page rank of 6,which is worth submitting to. (www.jayde.com).
Avoid ‘link farms’
While on the subject of directories, it’s worth mentioning what are known as ‘link farms’, which you might come across. Some search engine optimisation companies have set these up by cross-linking a whole lot of websites, to try to fool the search engines that the sites have a large number of incoming links.
It sounds good in theory and it did work for a while. But Google has got smarter. It now looks for meaningful relationships between sites that are linked to each other. When it sees is a group of random links to all kinds of sites, on totally unrelated subjects, it sets off a red light. Being involved in a link farm could see you penalised or even banned by Google. So, don’t risk it.
July 9, 2010
Keyword research must be the foundation of any serious website design process.
Most web designers make a serious mistake when they build sites. They either don’t consider search engine optimisation at all, or they add it as an afterthought once the site is built.
You need to build each page of your website on the right keywords, right from the start. Do your keyword research upfront, so you know before you even build your site what keywords your visitors are likely to be searching for.
And most important, don’t undertake a website design … or a re-design … without first taking SEO into account. Even the best looking site is worthless if no one can find you on Google!
Three top keyword tips
1. Use your main keywords in the headline on your page.
2. Use your main keywords in the first paragraph of the page.
3. Use your main keywords liberally throughout the page. But don’t “stuff” your page with keywords. It must sound natural, or Google will get suspicious and penalise your site. It helps, too, if some of the keywords are in bold. This is an extra bonus that will encourage the search engine “spiders” to give greater weighting to your keywords – and give you a better ranking.
Meta tags – the second aspect of webpage optimisation
Meta tags are the hidden tags written in the HTML code of your website. They are designed to tell the search engines what your page is about. If you want to get a top search engine position, you must put the right content in your meta tags.
The all-important TITLE tag
It’s worth noting that Google now relies most heavily on the TITLE tag when it ranks your site. It is vital that you put your keywords in the TITLE tag. Don’t just put your company name. This is a mistake that many website owners make. You can put your company name as well as your keywords, if you like. (But if your title is more than 10 words, the last words will probably not appear in the browser bar.)
Sometimes the TITLE is the only information about your site that appears in search results. The TITLE is what people use for bookmarks. So it’s important to get it right.
Using your primary keywords in your TITLE tag is the most powerful thing you can do to boost your search engine ranking.
The DESCRIPTION tag
After the TITLE, the description is your second chance to persuade people to visit your website – or not. So it should be an accurate guide to what’s on the page. And it must be worth reading.
Ideally, you should use exactly the same keywords to start your description tag as you used for the TITLE. Then you can elaborate further on the content of the page.
The KEYWORD tag
The third meta tag is the keyword tag. A few years ago, people used to think the more keywords they could cram into this tag the better. They would list hundreds of keywords. Now, this is a waste of time. In fact, Google regards it as “spamming” and will penalise you if you repeat too many keywords.
So limit the number of keywords on each page of your site. It’s best to focus on just a few keywords for each page.
As you can see meta tags are not rocket science. And if you do it right, you are almost guaranteed to dramatically increase your search engine ranking.
After the meta tags, the next thing search engines look for on your web page are the headings.
In HTML, these are designated by H1, H2, H3 etc. H1 is usually the main headine, with H2, H3 etc for sub-headings.
Since headlines often contain important hints to the content of the webpage, search engines take note of any keywords found here. So it’s important to include your keywords in the headline and sub headings.
This may seem a bit technical, but it’s important. Make sure your web designer uses these H1, H2, H3 tags on your pages (not all web designers do).
Don’t accept from your designer that it isn’t important to use H1 tags anymore. If you’re serious about SEO, it definitely is!
This refers to the main content of your web page and it is very important that your keywords are used in the right places on the page.
Search engines look at the first paragraph for a clue as to what the web page is about, so you need to include your main keywords there.
Furthermore, search engines look at the final paragraph, on the assumption that it will summarise the ideas on the page, so it helps to have your keywords in there, too.
You also need to use your keywords on the rest of the page, in a natural way. Don’t overdo it, though. The copy must sound natural. Google is so sophisticated now, it can detect when keywords have been used unnaturally in a page, and you are likely to get penalised.
Every page on your website – not just the home page – needs to be search engine friendly! This is the basic level of care that your website designer should take when building your site. If they didn’t, you will need to go through each page and make some tweaks.
The ideal web page has the main keywords in:
• the title tag
• the description tag
• the headline and sub-headings
• the first and last paragraphs
• a few times in the main body of the page.
If all these places use the same keywords consistently, you will have the maximum chance of getting a good ranking.
July 9, 2010
1. Webpage optimisation
Basically, webpage optimisation means setting up your web pages so the search engines can easily understand what they are about, and thus give them the best-possible ranking.
At the heart of web page optimisation is ‘keyword’ research. You may think this looks tedious and boring, and be tempted to skip it. But please try to stick with me. I’ll explain why keyword research truly can make or break the success of your website.
Over 80% of all online transactions begin with a keyword search.
To compete, you need to target all the relevant keywords.
So what are keywords? They’re the words that people are most likely to type into Google (or other search engines) when searching for your product or service on the Internet.
On the Internet, keyword research essentially fulfils the same purpose as market research does in conventional offline marketing. It helps you discover exactly what your target market is looking for and how you can target your sales message to meet their needs.
I hope you are now starting to see why selecting the right keywords for your site is one of the most important areas of Web marketing – and one that’s sadly too often overlooked.
Pick the right words and phrases for your website and you are well on the way to attracting visitors. Pick the wrong words and you will sabotage your search engine optimisation efforts.
Here’s an example
Let’s say your business is selling golfing equipment. A potential customer for your products might type “golfing equipment” into a search engine. Or they might type a variety of other words or phrases. (People usually search using phrases rather than single words.)
They might type in “golf clubs” or “golf equipment” or “golfing stores” … or many other possible variations, such as a specific make or model of golf club.
Or maybe your potential customers are not looking specifically to buy golfing equipment right now. They might just be surfing the Net looking for information on golf. Wouldn’t it be great if somehow they came across your website during their search?
They will, if you pick the right keywords. And if your website also provides lots of relevant information about golf, based around those keywords, your potential customers have a good reason to stick around and check out your site.
So how do you pick the right keywords?
You can do this by guess work. But you run the risk of picking words and phrases that no one is searching for, or for which there’s already a lot of competition. And that’s not what you want.
Fortunately, there’s a much better way. You can services such as Wordtracker (www.wordtracker.com) or Keyword Discovery (www.keywordiscovery.com) to help select the best keywords. These services will help you to find words and phrases that are in high demand by web searchers but in relatively low supply.
If you’re serious about search engine optimisation, you really can’t do without Wordtracker or Keyword Discovery. Using these services, you can experiment with lots of different words and phrases that are related to your business. They will tell you which keywords have the best demand-supply ratio.
A free keyword tool from Google
The Google Adwords Keyword Tool is a free service (adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal) which shows the approximate number of search queries matching your keywords that were performed on Google and the search network in the previous calendar month.
While the information is not as detailed as that provided by Wordtracker or Keyword Discovery, it is a useful starting point for keyword research.
These are the words and phrases around which you will build the content of your website.
July 9, 2010
I’m sorry to tell you but the Web is a harsh place. You can have the best looking site in the world with great resources and content and go entirely ignored or unnoticed. It happens. It’s happening right now. Somewhere out there in cyberspace is a brand new, attractive website loaded with great content, and nobody cares. Poor little lonely site.
Here’s the sobering truth …
No matter how much money you spent on it, how stunning it looks or how persuasive the sales copy is, your website is nothing more than a bunch of files sitting on a computer. It just so happens these are HTML files on a computer that is connected to the Internet, therefore anybody can get to them.
But ultimately, they can only get to them if they know they exist. Somebody has to link to them, or they need to be given the URL. Otherwise, your website remains invisible.
But there is hope
Every website had its early days. Even sites that get hundreds of thousands of visitors a day started out with none. But it’s a gradual process and you won’t suddenly start getting hundreds of visitors to your new website overnight!
In most cases, you cannot rely on ‘free’ traffic alone
There’s still a widespread myth that you can run a profitable Internet business without spending money on advertising. It’s simply not true. Very few online businesses can succeed without paid advertising.
The vast majority of Internet businesses will need to advertise or they doom themselves to a meagre existence of small sales, smaller profits – and gradually decreasing profits at that.
It’s true that by carefully optimising your website for the search engines, you can bring in a steadily-increasing stream of “free” traffic. But this takes time (at least three to six months to see significant traffic). And, of course, this traffic is not truly free because you need to invest time (and probably money) in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).
Traffic from search engines
To get a steady stream of “free” traffic from Google and the other search engines is the Holy Grail of Internet marketing.
Not only is search engine traffic the least expensive, but the people who find you through the search engines are likely to be the most responsive, because they have sought you out themselves.
To get traffic to your site for the search words or “keywords” that are important to your business, you will need to put some time and effort into search engine optimisation (often abbreviated to SEO).
There is a huge amount of literature now available about SEO. Much of it is highly technical, and much of it is out of date.
Slow and steady wins the SEO race
For most businesses, it’s a slow and steady process to get your website to rank on the first page of Google. There are many factors that need to be working well to get a website firing on all cylinders and delivering well qualified sales leads on a regular basis.
But the good news is, it can be done, once you grasp a few basic principles.
The approach I recommend is to attract Google’s attention by creating the types of content that people value and want to read.
Once people start talking about you and like your products, then you are probably going to get some free high-quality links to your website, which will make Google love you even more.
Google is the only game in town
It’s worth noting that more than 92% of all web searches in New Zealand are now made through Google. (Figures from Hitwise New Zealand, January 2009). By the time you read this, Google’s share is likely to be even higher. MSN and Yahoo have about 3.5% each and the rest are really insignificant.
Worldwide, Google is slightly less dominant but its share of global searches is now more than 70%.
The bottom line is, optimise your website for Google and your ranking on other search engines will take care of itself.
January 12, 2010
If you own a website and are serious about selling anything from it, you’ve probably come across search engine optimisation (or SEO for short).
There are several experts now in this field in New Zealand, charging clients an arm and a leg to get their websites ranked near the top of Google.
Now, I want to stress I endorse the concept of SEO and acknowledge there are many honest and sincere practitioners of this art (or is it a science?) But I got angry recently when one of my clients approached me after having their website assessed by an SEO company.
The client pushed the results in my face as if to say: “Look at all these things that are wrong with my website from an SEO viewpoint – and you built it!”
When I looked at the SEO company’s assessment, I found some of the comments laughable. For example, they noted the web pages had no ‘keywords’ meta tag. For the last two or three years I have been omitting to the ‘keywords’ tag – for this reason…
Keywords meta tags are totally ignored by Google
A few years ago, filling up the meta keywords tag with keywords/terms (known as keyword stuffing) was an effective way to improve a web page’s rankings in the search engines. But this tactic became abused by web designers and spammers. Search engines started to ignore (or at least de-emphasise) the importance of the keywords tag in making their rankings.
On September 21, 2009, Google made an announcement through a blog post that seemed to confirm that the keywaords tag now has has no influence in their search results.
To quote from Google’s blog:
“Our web search (the well-known search at Google.com that hundreds of millions of people use each day) disregards keyword metatags completely. They simply don’t have any effect in our search ranking at present.”
There it is in black and white. And yet SEO experts are still charging people money to tell them their websites are lacking keywords tags.
What Google is starting to look at, which will increasingly affect a website’s ranking in the search results, is the speed with which the web page loads.
Google’s Matt Cutts has stated that web page load time can definitely influence rankings. In other words, the slower a page loads, the lower it will be ranked, and vice versa.
This is something I am going to focus on more in future. I’ve been guilty of building slow-loading web pages, without realising they could have a negative impact on my client’s rankings in Google. By optimising the images, so they load faster, and minimising the amount of superfluous code on the page, I hope to help my clients gain an extra edge in the search engines.
January 3, 2010
In my two previous posts I have explained why I believe the web design industry (as we currently know it) is in for a major shake-up during the next few years.
No longer will it be good enough to build websites that look nice (essentially works of art). Web designers in the future will need to think like marketers, first and foremost. They will have to think less about being “creative” and more about selling.
Yes, selling. That’s what makes the world go round in business. One of the oldest adages in business is: “Nothing happens until someone sells something.” Yet this appears to have been forgotten by the “creative” experts in the web industry.
Nice-looking sites… hardly any sales!
Even the few web designers who do think like marketers (myself included) have tended to rely on making an educated guess about how to design a website that will sell effectively. We’ve used the experience gained from previous clients, in the expectation that the same principles will work for a different client in a different market.
Sometimes, we strike it lucky. Our client’s new website starts selling like gangbusters. They tell us how wonderful we are… and our ego grows bigger. These sites get added to our portfolio and we write case studies about how our websites have dramatically increased our clients’ businesses.
But equally often, the results of even the most experienced, marketing-driven web designer will be disappointing. The site will be slow to build up traffic and will not bring in as much new business and the client hoped for. These are the sites we want to quietly forget.
Sometimes, a plain web page outperforms a glitzy one
Often, extra effort put into prettying up a website’s graphics has no effect at all. I am continually amazed when I meet people who are quietly making a fortune from a crappy-looking website. The reason is, they’re smart marketers. They know how to make an offer their website visitors can’t refuse.
Could these people do even better with a prettier-looking website? Maybe. But more often than not I’ve seen conversion rates actually fall away when the website has been redesigned.
Creativity + analysis + success
I’ve become more and more convinced that web design should be a process that occurs over a period of months, rather than simply building a site, launching it and then leaving it to sink or swim.
We need a process of testing and tweaking, so improve the website’s conversion rate.
We need to begin with…
1. A clear goal in mind (a certain number of sales, enquiries or some other action we want our website visitors to take)
2. A way to measure that goal.
In other words, we need measurable results. Increasingly, clients will demand this of web design companies. Much as it strikes fear into our hearts, it’s a truth every web professional needs to face, sooner rather than later.
A strategy for optimising websites
I’ve recently begun testing some of my clients’ websites using Google Website Optimizer.
Basically, it works by designing two slightly different versions of the same web page – version A and version B. You might change the headline, or the placement of certain elements of the page, or other changes.
Then you “split test” version A against version B using Google Website Optimizer. This means you send 50% of the traffic to version A and 50% to version B. The whole process is trackable and measurable, so you can see which version of the web page produces better results.
But you don’t have to stop there. You can then come up with versions C, D, E etc and test them against the “winner” from the previous test. As a result of this process, you come up with a web page that is the most effective.
It took me a long time to accept the need for testing
I first heard about the principle of split testing in 2004. Back then, a few of the top American Internet marketers were doing it. But I resisited the idea I could actually do any split testing for my clients.
Firstly, it would involve extra work. My clients would need to pay for my extra time, and they would complain, I reasoned. Furthermore, my clients expected me to know what would work, first time around, without having to test it. It would make me look incompetent if I admitted I didn’t always get it right first time.
So I shelved the idea of testing. I continued to build websites that pleased my clients. But the niggling doubts increased until I recently (late 2009) decided to take the plunge and embrace testing.
So, do we still need “creative” people in the web industry?
Yes, of course! A good creative process gives you strong alternatives to evaluate. If a web designer lacks creative skills, or is lazy, they will simply end up testing “bad version A” against “bad version B”, which will only give a bad result.
The way to build world-class websites is to start with the best you can find, and then to test them against other great alternatives.
No longer will it be good enough to design competitive websites simply as a “creative” – because creative ideas and graphic design are only a fraction of what a website needs to be great.
In the coming new world of web design, we will still use all our creativity to develop several great solutions. But that will be just the start. Then we’ll put those solutions to test… and find the winner!
January 2, 2010
As I noted in my previous post, web design is typically driven by graphic designers and IT geeks. Little (or no) thought is given to marketing.
The result is, most websites are designed to be aesthetically pleasing to the client and the designer. In other words, they are essentially works of art. Often, they are self-indulgent works of art, with the client paying a large sum of money.
In terms of how effective the website will be as a marketing tool, it’s pretty much hit and miss. If the client is lucky, the website will bring in some new business. More often than not, the site just sits there as a liability rather than an asset.
I am often appalled when clients tell me they have spent many thousands on a web site design that fundamentally doesn’t work – or, even worse, a redesign that I have no reason to expect will work better than the site it replaced.
Recently, an Auckland company asked me for advice on why they weren’t making any sales from their e-commerce site, after spending $40,000 to have it redesigned! Looking at the site, it was easy to see why. Although it had some nice fancy effects, it was a nightmare for prospective buyers to find their way around. The home page was so busy, you didn’t know where to look first.
What’s wrong with the current way of building websites?
Tyically, a web design company will present their client with a couple of mockups, and let the client choose the one they like best. Then they build the site to that design. The problem is, from a marketing viewpoint, no one really has any idea how well the site will perform.
Even if the web designer is one of the rare few who have some marketing nous, at best they are only making an educated guess about what will produce the best response.
That’s why we need a radical change in the way websites are designed
One of the great advantages of the Internet, compared with any other advertising medium, is that everything you do is measurable. Unilke other forms of advertising where 50% is wasted (you just don’t know which 50%) with web advertising you can see exactly how your site is performing to convert visitors into customers.
The new aproach to building websites, which clients will increasingly demand, will be to regard website design as a process, during which the site tweaked until it achieves a strong conversion rate.
Testing, testing, testing!
It’s hard for a web designer to break away from the natural compulsion to go with our own personal instincts and tastes, and instead be willing to put our designs to the test… and be willing to tweak things until we get the best possible results.
But the rewards of doing this are immense.
Which of these two websites is better?
For example, take a look at the two websites below. Which of these two sites do you think performed better in terms of getting visitors to take action?
These sites are both owned by one of my clients. We both agreed the one on the right “looks nicer” … more modern etc. But over a few weeks of driving traffic to the sites by per per click advertising, the site on the left out-performed the one on the right by about four to one!
In other words, four times as many people submitted the survey form (which is the desired response) for the site on the left. This site, when you look at it, seems more “old fashioned” with no fancy effects. Conversely, the “modern looking” site, which has some nice effects when you hover over the images, proved to be a flop.
The moral is… you don’t know until you test!
January 1, 2010
As we enter a new decade, I want to make a prediction about where I see the web industry going in the next few years.
During the past 10 years, website design has largely been driven by graphic designers and IT geeks. These combined skills have produced some nice-looking websites that function well technically. And for most businesses, that’s pretty much all they’ve expected from their website.
But times are changing. More and more businesses are starting to realise that their websites are simply sitting out there in cyberspace looking pretty. They are failing to bring in any new enquiries and sales.
Business owners are starting to ask the question: “How can I actually SELL more from my website?”
And the graphic designers and IT geeks look at them blankly. You see, they’ve never actually had to sell anything in their lives. They don’t know how to do it. Nor should they be expected to.
So what’s the solution?
A small (but growing) number of web design companies in the United States and the UK are grasping the idea that a radical shift is needed in the way websites are designed.
New Zealand is lagging behind a little but in the next few years, we’re going to see more and more businesses demand that their websites be built primarily with a MARKETING focus.
What part will graphic design play in websites during the coming decade?
Certainly, graphic design will always be important in terms of a presenting a sharp, professional image. But fancy graphic effects are on the way out. More importance will be given to the layout and structure of the site (so people can easily find their way around) and, above all, the WORDS on the site.
Ever since I started in the web industry in 2003, I have believed that writing is the number one skill required by anyone who is serious about selling on the Internet. But most businesses think about the words on their websites as an after-thought. They pay through the nose for fancy design and then cobble together some words to fill the space.
It’s a recipe for failure… as 95% of New Zealand businesses with websites are now discovering.
What will be the most critical skills for web designers in the 2010’s?
I believe the web industry will need to look beyond just building nice-looking sites that work well. Web companies will need to know how to write persuasive headlines that draw visitors into the site and entice them to actually read what is on the page. They will need to understand the art of writing to keep people engaged. They will need to grasp the fundamental marketing principles of having a ‘unique selling proposition’ and making an ‘irresistible offer’.
They will also have to appreciate search engine optimisation (SEO) and know how to read traffic Analytics.
Any web company not designing with SEO in mind is already off the pace
There are two fundamental things a website needs in order to succeed. The first is traffic. If your site isn’t getting seen by the right number of the right people, it can’t succeed, no matter how nice it looks.
The other major factor is website “conversion”, which is the hottest topic today in the web industry in the US and UK. You see, however much traffic your site gets, it needs to convert those visitors to take some action. The proportion of visitors who take action (either by buying something, contacting you or whatever other action you want them to take) is called the Conversion Rate.
Hardly any New Zealand web companies are giving much thought to conversion rate optimisation. But that’s going to change in the next few years as clients demand it.
And for good reason. If you can double your conversion rate, you can double your sales, without having to increase traffic. Once your site is converting well, you can confidently spend more on advertising to drive traffic to it, and know you’ll get results!