I'm enjoying the writings and advice in your newsletters. I appreciate your personal recommendation to focus on valuable content, rather than the appearance of valuable content.
Our site (Help-U-Plan www.helpuplan.com) provides a service on-line (creation and modification of a Gantt Chart in support of project management). We feel about ready for customers, after a year of Beta testing and subsequent development. Much of your (and other) SEO advice seems directed toward a different type of site than ours: businesses that are selling a product, and therefore have pages that describe the products.
Do you see the marketing/SEO task as substantially different for us?
Do you have recommendations for readings directed specifically toward marketing of a service? I am currently reading Search Engine Positioning, by Fredrick Marckini. It is excellent.
These are some really good questions. Since I'm only a beginner when
it comes to usability issues, I forwarded your questions to my friend
Kim Krause from the Cre8asite Usability and SEO forums I mentioned
You don't need to compromise search engine optimization requirements for usability with your Internet application, but there will be places where your development team may need to put in some extra effort. Fortunately these design "tricks" usually satisfy both your SEO and usability needs, or at least give them a positive boost.
Here's a mini-checklist that I hope will help:
1. Title tags - Every page needs one, but don't copy and paste the same one onto every page. Make the title descriptive so that the engine, directory and user know what the page is about. In the case of your user, they may bookmark certain pages of your app, such as the Help page, FAQ or Tutorial pages. Your Title tag describes the page for them. If the Title tag contains the top one or two keywords for that page, or includes the name of the application itself, all the better for SEO.
2. Text links - Your team wasn't afraid of .asp pages or .asp hyperlinks. This is good. They'll make maintenance easier and won't be a problem with engines because they don't contain the "?" symbol. If you do need dynamic URLs there are workarounds for how to make them search-engine-friendly, which Jill or I can refer you to. [See "Optimizing Dynamic Content" - Jill]
For users and engines, text links should go at the top of the page. For users, the order of the navigation should never change. Another tip on navigation is to avoid the use of more than two navigation schemes throughout the application.
3. Meta Description/Keywords tags - On the application pages themselves these are a moot point because there's not enough content to back them up. But you can add them to a FAQ page, or Help pages if you'd like. For SEO, anytime you beef up an inside page for users with topic-specific content it's an opportunity to create a natural "doorway" into the rest of the site. Make sure those pages have links to the homepage and any other top-level pages. You can submit these content-driven pages to engines and let them lead users to the actual application.
4. Articles/white papers - You asked about marketing a service. Here is one of my favorite promotion ideas. Write articles or white papers with highly informative content targeted to a specific market that introduces ideas, promotes services, shares knowledge, or discusses research data. These drive traffic to your site and are easily crawled by search engines. In addition, you can submit them to directories under specific categories. In your case, project management is both a job title and a process. By writing about project management you can attract interest in your application. This also helps establish credibility for users who may not know your company and are comparing your application with what's already on the market.
Tip: Make these articles plain vanilla HTML pages and also convert them to PDF files. You can make both versions available on your Web site for users. White papers look more professional in PDF form. Your users will appreciate the information and crawlers will find them if you provide a link to them.
5. The fastest way to make your application both engine- and user-friendly is to pretend that nobody can see it. Huh? You may have heard of Section 508, which is a law that essentially says any Web site of the US Government must be accessible to special-needs users. The best part of this is that the extra measures Webmasters take to make their pages more accessible, also make them more search-engine-friendly. For example, cleaner code, alt tags, more descriptive text and much, much more. A few resources loaded with information on this are: http://diveintoaccessibility.org/, http://www.jessett.com/web_sites/usability/index.shtml and http://www.w3.org/WAI/. To find more, run a search on "Section 508" in one of the major search engines.
Don't forget the little things:
* Clean code (redundant is bad, code clogged with spacer gifs and endless font calls is also bad).
* Watch out for small fonts. If users need a magnifying glass to read the instructions -- you've lost them.
* Even old techniques such as using H1 tags can increase usability along with being a benefit in some search engine algorithms.
* Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) are helpful. When you put all the font and color information, as well as other design specs into a CSS file and call it from the page header, you've removed lots of junk search engine crawlers must muddle through, plus you speed up load time for your users.
And finally, be aware of the terms you are using. These four ("Glossary," "FAQ," "Help" and "Information") are closely related. You might try combining them into a "hub" that leads to the others (like the way "Information" is structured already on your site.) By calling the link "About Help-U-Plan" you've just fed in another keyword -- the name of the application itself.
Good luck with your new Internet application!
[Thanks, Kim! Ron also asked about books he could read, and right
now, there's not a lot out there. Shari Thurow is coming out with a
book in a few months that will be very helpful to people like Ron.
Once it's published, I'll be writing a review here. In the meantime,
if you're into the techie details about how search engines work (which
of course can help you in your optimization endeavors) you might want
to try Mike Grehan's "Search Engine Optimization Report." You can
read my full review of it. - Jill]
September 19, 2002
CEO and founder of High Rankings®, Jill Whalen has been performing search engine optimization since 1995 and is the host of the free High Rankings Advisor search engine marketing newsletter, author of "The Nitty-gritty of Writing for the Search Engines" and founder/administrator of the popular High Rankings Search Engine Optimization Forum. In 2006, Jill co-founded SEMNE, a local search engine marketing networking organization for people and companies in New England.
High Rankings is an internationally recognized search engine optimization firm located in Framingham, MA specializing in search engine optimization, SEO consultations, in-house training, site audit reports, search marketing seminars and workshops. High Rankings has a 100% success rate for substantially improving client rankings and targeted traffic.
Jill speaks at national and international conferences and has been writing about SEO and search marketing since 2000. She's been quoted in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, U.S. News & World Report and The Washington Post. Her articles have appeared in numerous print magazines and online websites including CIO Magazine, CMS Focus, The Internet Marketing Report, ClickZ, WorkZ, Inc.com, Entrepreneur, Lycos Small Business, WebProNews, SiteProNews and others. Jill has also appeared on many online and offline radio programs such as Entrepreneur Magazine's E-Biz Radio Show, SearchEngineRadio and the eMarketing Talkshow.
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