Monday, August 31, 2015

For the Love of CSS!

CSS, an acronym for Cascading Style Sheets, is a way of separating the programming code of a website from some of the design components. There are tremendous reasons for doing this, but I still see professional designers deviating from these principles and it causes nothing but problems. For a long time, web programmers relied on tables heavily to do some of their layouts because it was just the best tool available in many situations. However as HTML and CSS have evolved, there are now often better ways of doing things but it requires people using to classic methods to put aside old techniques and adopt the new way of doing things. One of the best resources for information about CSS3, the latest version, is, a site which I use quite regularly myself in the course of working on projects.
The primary audience for this document is small business owners concerned about their overall total cost of ownership with their website.
By separating HTML and CSS into separate files and using classes correctly, you can change multiple instances of something by making one simple change in the CSS file, instead of having to try and do large numbers of search-and-replace inside your HTML. This translates directly into less time.
CSS3 provides tremendous flexibility and the ability to do things natively that once required using external scripts, plug-ins, and graphic design. This lowers the total project cost, enables faster delivery, and makes future edits faster and easier. It also increases compatibility across multiple types of devices and reduces the number of places for something to go wrong.
With less plug-ins, your website will also load faster. Additionally, by using classes and a separate CSS stylesheet, there is less code overall, i.e. smaller file sizes, so your website will load even faster. Page load time is a critical factor in whether someone sticks around to browse your site, so this should not be underestimated in its importance.
By separating code and design, when you are working on the website you can keep a greater focus on the actual task at hand, which will improve your overall speed of execution on website design.
You have more control with CSS3 than you have ever had before.
In using CSS, regardless of whether you have a straight HTML website, WordPress, or anything else, to the maximum extent possible you want to completely separate your HTML code from the CSS. Your CSS should be referenced with classes, and all of the actual CSS code contained in a separate CSS file which is simply referenced in the HTML. There are times and cases when you need to perform "in-line" styling, where specific CSS code is used inside the HTML. It is sometimes unavoidable. What I have seen time and time again, though, are cases where badly designed themes did it completely unnecessarily, and the result was that I couldn't make the website do what the client needed with that theme without rewriting part of the theme itself. At that point, what you need is a new theme that doesn't have those sorts of problems. It's possible to make these sort of changes, but the problem is that you will have a problem with future updates and your custom code, causing the website to continue costing you even more over time. Choosing a theme that doesn't do this will lower your overall total cost of ownership.
So, having said all of this, for the love of CSS, please don't do any in-line styling unless it's 100% absolutely necessary - and it's almost never necessary unless the website theme you are using is badly written. In fact, I would say that 95% of the time that I have to do manually-inserted in-line CSS inside the HTML, instead of using classes like you should, is that the theme was poorly designed. When you use a poorly designed theme, it creates a situation where things might look good to start with, but the when you want to change something about the way it looks, you might not be able to do what you want because a programmer took a short-cut in the code and now you can't easily fix it by just changing the CSS file. Instead, you have to spend time digging around inside the website to find out where all the different instances of inline CSS are, and then change (and test!) every single one of them. That adds up to a bigger bill for the client.
If you are going to do your own website, pick and set up your own theme, etc., please - do some research, check with the developer, and try to confirm that any inline CSS is kept to a bare minimum. In the end, it's cheaper to pay a web developer to do something for you right the first time than to come back and fix something that's a bad setup.
PRO-TIP: Minify your CSS for a better Google website rating!
If you're struggling with getting your website to look 'just right' or not sure which way to go with something, by all means please reach out to me.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Important Design Considerations for Your Business Website

Most people understand the importance of having a website for their business, but high quality professional websites weren't always as obtainable as they are today. Thanks to innovation, website designers are now able to spend more time working with business owners on the content and message, and less time having to tinker with technical details, so they can now deliver even higher quality sites for a lower cost than ever before. Still, many business owners may have had websites they created themselves or by a friend and just want to make some basic improvements. This article is non-technical in nature, since it purpose is just to convey a few key ideas that will help keep you on the right track of not only improving your website, but the role that it plays in your business.
For a business, the primary purpose of your website is to help produce income by connecting you with the people who need your products or services. Your website fulfills a number of functions; it's the hub of your online presence because it won't come and go. All of those other things, though, all boil down to growing your online brand, and your website is where it all needs to come together so you can achieve your dreams. So, as you decide what things to include on your website or where to put them, ask yourself how if it will affect people's decision to do business with you. To do that well, you have to start by realizing they may not think about your field of expertise the same way you do, so everything that you do needs to be tailored to suit your typical buyer.
In designing your website, you also may want to drill down into your purpose a little further so that you don't fall prey to some common temptations. For example, if what you really want is for your website to generate phone calls, that end result should drive the design, either other forms of contact being not as obvious. It's very common to advertise every form of contact all over the place, but this is not always the best idea. It is better to guide your visitor to whatever it is you want them to do, whether it's call you, fill out a contact form, schedule an appointment, or buy something. Keep this end-result in mind as you think about what to include, and where to include it.
Your website should have a neat appearance. This is your store front - their very first experience with your company. A visitor should be immediately impressed with a sense of order, balance and professionalism. Subconsciously, they will infer from that what kind of experience they are likely to have with you if they contact you for service. To illustrate this, suppose you are walking down the street and there are two hardware stores next to each other. One is well lit, orderly, things are organized with signs to guide you, and inventory is in its proper place with related items logically grouped together. Next to it is another store, dimly lit, not so clean, and with stuff all over the place. Personally, if I'm working on a project, I'm going to choose the first store that I described because I will expect to be able to get in and out quickly with what I need. The same idea applies to your website. First appearance matters.
A few key considerations with presentation include:
1. Positioning should be based on research as to what converts well, not what you think is pretty. If you're making an art site for your hobby, design it however you want. But if it's for the business that feeds your family, focus on the results. If your website is there to make money, stick with high-converting designs until you are sure you have the knowledge to deviate and still have a well-converting site.
2. Spacing should be "just right." I realize that's quite subjective, but you don't want too much unused space, nor do you want things to be jammed together. This takes both an artistic eye and the technical skill to get things sized correctly.
3. Colors need careful use. You want to reflect your own brand, but you have to be careful in how you use color because too much bright color or glaring contrasts can turn people away. While it's your website, your customers will take your website as a representation of your ability to deliver a quality product. If you do painting or remodeling and the colors and spacing of your website are wild, they'll translate that to what kind of job you're likely to do inside their house.
It's important that where you have a Call to Action, such as a call now button or similar special purpose button, that the visitor's eye naturally gravitates toward it. This is part art, and part science, since this has received quite a good bit of actual research. The important thing with color is not to overdo it, and be sure the visitor can easily identify what it is that you want them to do.
4. Stick with simple, basic non-serif fonts for your main page text, for most applications, and keep special formatting such as bold and italics to a minimum.
Visitors should be able to easily find their way around your site without having to dig too hard for what they want. Think like someone who does not know your industry. Most people don't think like you or speak the language of your industry. In deciding on how to structure the navigation of your site, design it for the typical consumer. Make it fast and easy for them to find things.
If you are building an eCommerce website with a shopping cart, your product categories need to be organized from a regular consumer point of view, which may not be the same as how you might categorize things in your inventory system. Make it easy to edit the shopping cart, and reduce the number of steps involved in making a purchase. Consumers want to be able to buy things fast & easy, not click through a complicated multi-step ordering process.
People very often want and/or need things they may not have initially had in mind. Your eCommerce site should present related products, upsells, and product reviews, to both reassure visitors and offer more opportunities to buy. You aren't trying to trick anyone here; you are simply making an effort to connect them with products related to things they are likely to be interested in based on other products they've already looked at. As an example, if a person ordered a printer, they will likely need paper, and might be incented to buy an additional ink cartridge or specialty photo paper with a special one-time offer, that they might otherwise not have bought.
You may conduct your primary business activities during typical business hours, but when do most of your customers do their shopping and purchasing? If they have a problem during an attempt to make a purchase, you may completely lose the opportunity as they go shop somewhere else. After-hours support for purchasing is important for an eCommerce website, so you should offer multiple methods by which they can attempt to contact you for help based on the urgency of their need. This may have a cost to provide such support, but if you look at your website statistics and your abandoned cart rate, these may be clues that you are losing sales.
There are also completely outsourced solutions that offer purchasing assistance. This may not, at first, strike you as something you need, but you need to consider the type of services that you provide and when people are most likely to be trying to buy them. The trick to this is to first identify who your typical customer is, why they would be visiting your website, and what they would hope to accomplish in their visit to your site. Do they want to buy something with overnight delivery? Book an emergency appointment with you tomorrow? Or do they need someone at their house right now because of an emergency? Think through the scenarios in which people are going to be contacting you, and you will be able to tailor your purchasing support to support that.
Your website is always there, working for you 24/7/365. Customers may shop at any time. Be sure to monitor any email boxes or other contact methods at least daily, and preferably more often. Even if you don't have the answer, write people right away to let them know that you got their message, are investigating the issue, and give them a time frame in which they can expect to get back to you. By the time someone attempts to purchase, they are already invested in the decision and will be willing to wait, provided that they know how long it's going to be and the period of time is not unreasonable. Keep your customers well-informed and handle any issues promptly.
I've only just barely scratched the surface on website design considerations, but I hope if you're a small business owner that this gave you a few things to think about. If you need affordable website design Raleigh NC has you covered.  

Friday, August 28, 2015

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Avoid an SEO Penalty: Don't Game Google

This is not so much a technical or how-to type post, as much as a quick statement about philosophy because I want to state where I stand on something.  I've been doing a series on SEO backlink building.  This is a legitimate practice when approached with the right mindset, because all you're doing is making a point of interacting in appropriate places, while making sure good credit goes back to your own website.  There's absolutely nothing wrong with that.  When done wrongly, though, you can think everything is just going beautifully, only to come in one morning, look at Page 1, and realize you're not in there.  In a panic, you begin looking at Page 2 - nope, you aren't there either.  And so on you go, page after page, and you aren't on any of them.  What happened?  You may have been hit with a big SEO penalty from doing things you shouldn't have.
Don't Game Google
Where you run into trouble is when you start trying to game the system.  Yes, there are ways to go about automating various things, and that is not necessarily bad.  For example, if you look at the practice of news article syndication, you don't think everything is transferred manually between all those news websites running the same stories everywhere, do you?  Of course not.  Automation can be your friend, when your intent is correct.  So when you approach things from the point of view of trying to deliver legitimate value with content creation and distribution, that's generally a fine practice as long as you respect boundaries.  Authors and experts in their field are going to make statements that are going to be repeated across the Internet.  That's completely normal, as long as it's 'normal' - and in the nuances of that word lie the secret of staying above-board and getting good SEO value from your online activities, or crossing a line that gets you into trouble at some point.
Listen.  Google is smarter.  You can search the Internet and find all sorts of methods that promise to put you on Page 1 overnight.  Sometimes those things will work - for a year or so - until Google updates their algoritms, and then you go from Page 1 to Page 76.  Just do some reading about the Google Panda and Penguin updates, and you'll read all sorts of stories about companies losing their ratings.  I am absolutely saying this 100% to scare you.  Unless eating, and living under a roof, are just things you do for amusement, rather than because you need them, don't treat your business' online presence like a game of roll-the-dice-and-see-what-happens.  Be careful - everything you do is going to have consequences of some form.  Deliver legitimate value in legitimate ways, and you should tend to receive positive results.
The Case Study
The reason to take a straight-up approach is that while there are places you can buy thousands of backlinks for a few bucks, most of the time they are not websites you would really want to be associated with.  I have done tests - trust me on this - don't do it unless you really know what you are doing.  One of these supposed cheap miracles promised to create backlinks on high-authority sites like Facebook and others.  Instead, they created a bunch of spammy articles in robotic, artificial English that were unreadable by a human, on Russian websites.  And this particular seller/gig was very highly rated, i.e. 5 stars.  If you happen to be in Russia, that might be just fine.  I work almost exclusively with North Carolina small businesses, though.  Is it normal for 90% of a NC-based business backlinks to be coming from Russian websites?  This seller promised one thing and delivered another.  Maybe he gives you a refund for the $5 you spent with him/her - and leaves you with 25,000 Russian backlinks.  This person doesn't even live in the US.  How are you going to get rid of those links?  (HINT: It won't be cheap.)
What To Do Instead
1. Create and distribute real content that somebody might find helpful.
2. Give yourself credit (backlinks) in the process.
3. Focus on being in a handful of quality, relevant places, where others like yourself are found, rather than hundreds or thousands of places that really don't have anything to do with your business or industry.
4. Leverage automation responsibly.
5. Use video.
6. Have a legitimate social presence.
7. Give something away for free.
8. When in doubt, get professional advice from someone vested in your success.
Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Building Social Bookmarking Backlinks

Social bookmarks are another form of creating backlinks to your website.  To explain this idea I will use a real world example.  You can use special social bookmarking websites that let you do something similar with a website as with a book you might be reading and want to also let others know about, thus the term social bookmarking.

Social bookmarking sites have changed in value over time.  Their value has gone down a bit from what it used to be due to abuse.  However they are still a good source of backlinks for quantity, relevance, and diversity.

Examples of social bookmarking sites include:
* Digg
* Technorati
* Reddit
* Slashdot
* Tagza
* Newsvine
* Connotea
* Sphinn
* Fark
* Wsik
* LinksMarker
* Blinklist

You can create social bookmarks either:

[EDIT] This post was edited and some text removed in order to clarify that I do not recommend attempting to obtain any sort of paid bookmarks or automating their creation.  Create good content that people want to share and you will get them naturally.

Remember that, by themselves, social bookmarks are not something you should rely on, so you may want to consider hiring a Raleigh SEO company.

Disclaimer: Information in this article subject to my terms as posted on my website

Monday, August 24, 2015

Building Backlinks for SEO from Commenting on Blogs

The idea behind commenting on blogs to create more backlinks is to pick blogs where you can to include your own URL as part of the blog post, and make helpful comments within the blog.  There’s probably more to it than you might think at first, though.

Some of the advantages include:

* Countless blogs provide an endless supply of backlinks
* The diversity of IP addresses from which the backlinks come will be very high.  Your backlinks should come from multiple places for a natural link profile.  Backlinks will original from all sorts of places if people are truly interested in your website.
* With some work you should be able to find good quality blogs in a related niche that have high page rank, giving your backlinks more value.

3 Tips for Good Quality Blog Backlinks

* Use the Mozilla Firefox No Follow Plug to examine the backlinks on the potential target blog to see whether they are do-follow or no-follow. You want a natural mixture of both do-follow and no-follow included in your total backlink profile.
* Check the Page Rank of the page you want to comment on.  This may be different than the page rank of the website. Search engines assign page rank to individual pages within a website, not the website as a whole, so even though a website’s home page is a Page rank of 4, if the page you are posting a comment on is page rank of 1, your backlink will only draw value from the page rank of 1. To find out the Page Rank, you can use the Mozilla Firefox SEO Quake plugin.
* Make an effort to enhance the quality of the Internet as a source of meaningful, helpful information.  My advice is to make quality, meaningful comments to improve the odds of your commenting being approved.  This approach can only improve the quality of your brand.  Use your personal expertise to say something that adds value.

Finding Blogs to Comment On

One method is to use the following search operators in the Google Blogs search box:
* “keyword” + “add comment” E.g. “real estate” + “add comment”
* “keyword” + “post comment” E.g. “foreclosures” + “post comment”

A Word of Caution

The idea of more for less appeals to basic human nature, but can you in real trouble with backlinks.  It’s important to focus on quality over quantity with backlinks.  You need to think about the likely quality of the links you’re really going to get.  A sudden huge spike in backlinks, all from known spammy sites, is likely to earn you a nice big penalty with Google, and you’ll spend a whole lot more money trying to fix it.  When it’s time to get your business in front of more people online, find a local SEO company ( with a vested interested in your overall long term success. 

DISCLAIMER:  This post subject to my terms as posted on my website

Thursday, August 20, 2015

SEO Backlinking from Article Directories

Using article directories, sometimes called article marketing, is among the easiest and most common ways of building backlinks to your website. They are not quite as powerful as they used to be after the Google Panda update, but good quality article directories can still provide decent backlinks if done correctly. The main factor is to provide good contextual content for the backlink, which means that it isn't just a link randomly inserted on a page, but rather is in the midst of associated text where it would make sense to be. Contextual links are generally considered to be among the most powerful.


* Ezinearticles
* ArticleBase
* Buzzle
* Goarticles
* Articlealley
* Articledashboard
* Isnare
* Helium

There are many others, but those are just a few to get you started.


The rules for each article directory are different, so you will need to read their rules and be sure you place your backlinks properly for that site. Many directories only permit placing a backlink in the author's bio information or resource area for the article, or at the end of the article.


It's much easier than you might think to get started in article marketing, since all you have to do is write about things that you already know about. And if you are at a lack of ideas, you can always see what's recent in the news or find things that other people are - or are not - writing about. Sometimes it's easy to hop on the bandwagon of what's trending, but in the long run it's best to find an unmet need and fill it because you are now providing value and solutions that nobody else is.


If you operate a bakery and your Keyword is “bakery in New York”, you might write an article called “Why Does Everyone Love These 10 Sourdough Breads?” and then, in your resource box in the article site, write it as “Looking for a local bakery in New York? Susan James runs the Bistro Bakery, an upscale bakery on 43rd Street. She is a graduate of Such-and-Such Culinary School and has been baking since she was 8.” The keyword “bakery in New York” is the anchor text that will be hyperlinked to your main website.


Whether you write your own articles or outsource the writing to a professional writer, each route has pro's and cons. As the subject matter expert in your field, you're ideally suited to decide what an article could/should be about and make sure the content is technically correct. The advantage to using a writer is that it saves you time, but you need to be sure that anything they write for you is something you feel comfortable talking about. In other words, don't ever have someone write an article about a topic you know nothing about, since people might ask you about it. If you aren't a writer, though - and many people aren't - there's nothing wrong with taking your idea for an article and letting someone else do the word-magic to make it read well. Just be sure the overall tone and character represents you and your business.

Re-using existing content is one the best ways to optimize your use of time and money, but you need to do so correctly or you can be penalized. Ideally, you want any articles to be first published on your website and indexed by the search engines, before you ever put them in article directories. The reason for this is that although having the same content on different sites isn't necessarily bad - consider news websites with the same stories, for example - original content gets higher authority than this syndicated content. You always want your website to be seen as the #1 authority source, not the article directory. Another common technique to help avoid the syndicated content issue is to rewrite your article. You can either do this manually, pay someone to do it, or use automated software to "spin" your content, although most such software still requires manual editing afterward to make it sound natural.


Finally, after you write and publish your article, think about how you can re-use this information such as creating a video about it, or turning a collection of related articles into a book. In fact this approach is very popular, and the idea is to first map out the table of contents of your book, write and publish articles on each section to build your online presence, and then once the articles are all done, come back and bundle it all up as a book which you can either sell or offer on your website to help create authority for your brand.

DISCLAIMER: This information subject to my terms as posted on my website.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Choosing Your Domain Name

The majority of my work is with local businesses, as opposed to online brands that try to sell nationally or even internationally. If you are running a local business that services a local area in your vicinity, the domain name for your local business is a potential component of your local SEO strategy. Traditionally it has been helpful to include a main keyword and geo target (ex.: Raleigh) in your domain name for improved ranking, but nowadays many people believe this is not necessarily the case anymore, at least for any direct SEO benefit. I can't say for certain, but I am in the latter camp, meaning that I tend to believe more that it doesn't have the same significance that it used to. At the same time, it also isn't going to hurt, so I would still lean toward a domain name including your keyword and target city (geo target), with the caveat that you should also consider whether you have any long term growth plans to expand into other markets, in which case you may not want to include a city as part of your domain name.  Now, this is not a complete guide and there are a lot of nuances that I can't put in a short blog post, but here are a couple of basic points.

If you haven't yet registered your domain name, these tips may help:

1. If possible, pick a domain name that ends in .COM if you can. In the US, this is the most common and easiest for people to remember. If the .COM domain name is not available, your next choices should be .ORG and .NET. These are your best choices if you are a US-based business. However, a whole new set of specialty domain extensions are now being opened up, such as .PLUMBING. It costs a little more, but if you have the option, buy both the .COM and specialty domain if there's a clear match. The reason is that other companies will come along and buy up your name-matched domain and then offer to sell it back to you at a much higher price. You can go crazy buying all possible versions, but for a small local business this doesn't usually make financial sense, especially when you consider that in the future, they're likely to open up even more domain extensions. Most small companies just won't be able to afford to buy all possible permutations. (You can read more about domain names at ICANN.ORG)

2. Don't use hyphens in your domain name. For example, just because you the domain name is already taken, don’t register a hyphenated version like www.doctors-inraleigh or www.doctors-in-raleigh. Hyphenated domains don't have the same appearance of authority. It just LOOKS like you couldn't get the one you wanted, and settled for something not as good. Additionally, when you tell people your domain, you take the chance they'll mess up the hyphens and end up on the wrong website. It's best to just avoid the issue entirely. Instead try adding a prefix or suffix such as or

3. Keep it short. Ideally your domain name should include no more than 3-4 words: 1 word for your industry, 1 geo target, and 2 for your business name. For example, "Tom & Sons Plumbing" might choose or maybe, but that's pushing the limit about as long as I'd go on a domain name.  

4. Don't use other company's trademarks in your domain name unless you have written permission. You could get yourself into legal trouble if you do. Don't assume you have permission because of a business relationship; be sure you have such permission clearly spelled out in proper legal documentation.

5. Don't used what's called an Exact Match Domain (EMD) since it's very easy to accidentally trigger an over-optimization penalty.

Helping clients understand how to choose a good domain name is all part of our process, so contact us if you're ready to get your business going.