Looking after a WordPress website is about more than just finding somewhere to host it. Like a car, a website needs to be maintained and cared for if you want it to keep running. But what does that involve, exactly?
If you’re blogging on a business website, you want to make the most return on your efforts. Here are 5 tips to help your blog posts or news items hit the mark.
Blogging on your business website can bring all kinds of benefits – especially to your bottom line – but getting going is easier said than done.
This post is for you if you’ve wondered whether you should blog, have been told you should, or if you’ve always intended to, but never got going.
If you have a website, chances are you get bombarded with emails from Search Engine Optimisation ‘specialists’ offering to get you onto page 1 of Google. But can they really help your site do better in web searches? We look at the truth behind the claims of the SEO email spammers.
We thought we would take three of them up on their offer of a free report and website analysis.
For the test we used a hobby site of ours, ApriliaFutura.co.uk. The site isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough and most importantly sits at the top of Google searches for lots of the appropriate search terms.
It also gets probably one email a week from an SEO company touting for business, so we didn’t have to wait long for them to come to us. In a previous blog post we covered how another of these spammed us without first doing their homework.
Can they really help your website?
Unsurprisingly each of the companies found a lot wrong with the site and offered to do lots of totally unnecessary work to put right problems that didn’t exist.
Their claims – and the true position – are posted here so that you won’t fall for them if someone tries to tell you this is what you need.
All three reports we received insisted there were no links anywhere on the web pointing at our website – they included a screenshot of a Google link search – i.e. the result of typing link:www.apriliafutura.co.uk into Google.
The truth about backlinks and SEO
This method does not display all links pointing to the site but it’s a great way to make people think they have none at all.
In fact only the owner of a website can see how many links point at it, and that’s through the Google Webmaster Tools account. Actually there are 2,593 links pointing at the site.
We pointed this out to one of the companies and they told us they were talking about ‘Google backlinks’, which are different from ordinary backlinks. There is, of course, no such thing.
It’s true that links pointing to your site are important and can help your site do better in searches – but they have to be from the right places. Above all they should be relevant to the subject matter and ideally from a site Google thinks is authoritative.
For years SEO companies have seized on this as a way of pushing sites to the top by posting links on all sorts of sites. For a long time it worked, but Google can now detect dodgy backlinks and downgrades or even black lists sites that use them.
Creating backlinks remains one of the favourite tactics of dodgy SEO companies, and if you use them you may well regret it.
2. Dmoz listing
All three of our reports (two with identical wording) insisted that getting a link from Dmoz was essential as Dmoz is the ‘most authoritative site by far’.
So what’s Dmoz? http://www.dmoz.org, also known as the Open Directory project, was an early attempt to put all of the web on a directory. But while it was important when the web was young, it’s not these days.
The truth about Dmoz and SEO
These days a link from Dmoz isn’t really worth any more than a link from many other sites. Today most sites aren’t listed on it, yet still do fine in searches. But it’s a great way for someone looking to do unnecessary SEO work to find fault with your site.
As Google engineer Matt Cutts puts it: “It used to be the case that people would have a check list of the links they really wanted to get. And it’s not that there’s something special or different about the Open Directory Project. It’s a very well known directory, but it’s not a requirement. It’s not the sort of thing where you have to get a link from Dmoz.”
More information on Dmoz listings and backlinks
Google Webmaster Help video: What role does being in Dmoz play in rankings (this video also covers the backlink: issue)
Note: Dmoz was closed in 2017 but we’re leaving it here because this still crops up in dodgy SEO emails.
3. Yahoo Directory/Yellow Pages listing
Two out of three claimed we needed links to our site from both of these online directories. One also mentioned Alexa, another directory site.
The truth about directory listings
All these directories are seen as authoritative but links from them are not essential to do well in searches. Again, it makes unnecessary work for our SEO companies. Getting links from these sites won’t make much difference, if any.
4. Reverse IP
Our site currently shares its IP address with many others sitting on the same server. Two out of three of our SEO companies suggested the site should have its own IP and claimed search engines prefer this.
The truth about shared IP addresses and SEO
In short, this is totally untrue. There are reasons why a dedicated IP is necessary for some site that we won’t go into here, but SEO is not one of them. It has absolutely no effect on search and never has.
This is another great way of creating demand for your services as the vast majority of websites are on shared hosting and therefore share their IP address with upwards of 1,000 other sites.
It’s easy enough to look up and sounds technical enough to fool the average business owner.
More information on shared IPs
Other dubious SEO claims
Generally all the reports did their best to mark the site down with false statements and subjective judgements – remember this is a website that scores in the top of the first page for hundreds of relevant search terms.
But they still managed to mark it down for quality of page content, a couple of errors in the code, keywords (which Google doesn’t even look at now) and even not having a live chat feature on the homepage of the site!
The interesting part came with the follow up email conversation where we asked one of the firms which search terms they would optimise the site for – something none of them had mentioned.
They came back with a list of terms most people wouldn’t use when looking for the information on the site, missing out on the most obvious ones, possibly because the site is already on page one for them!
How to pick a good SEO company
As we said at the beginning, if you own a website then you will have received emails from these SEO companies.
We know a few people who have fallen for them and ended up paying hundreds of pounds per month for no obvious benefit.
The site we had assessed is in the first page of dozens of Google searches because we followed some basic rules when building it – they are in Google’s SEO guide for everyone to see – and because it’s useful to the people it is aimed at, who helpfully post lots of links to it on social media. And because it’s relevant.
And here’s the key: Follow the basic rules, make your site relevant and useful and have some good links pointing to it and you won’t go far wrong.
There are plenty of good SEO companies to choose from, but most are too busy to send out masses of emails to random website owners.
A good company will ask you straight away which search terms you want your site to do well at, and tell you whether that is realistic. No-one will guarantee you a page 1 listing for any term you choose, especially if there is a lot of competition.
Search Engine Optimisation is a young industry and it seems there are plenty of companies ready to take advantage of changing requirements and confusion over what matters and what doesn’t.
Get your content right and the rest will follow
We mustn’t lose sight of the most important factor in search engine optimisation – content!
Good content trumps many of the factors our SEO companies picked on – and by good we mean relevant to the information searched for.
And in the race to get people to find our website we mustn’t forget one crucial fact: Getting people to the site should not be an aim in itself – it’s what happens when people get there that’s most important.
Google webmaster help video: How can good sites that don’t know SEO rank well?
There’s possibly nothing more disappointing when browsing a website than following a link only to be met with the message: Page Under Construction.
Although Under Construction pages are not as common as they used to be, they are still with us, and often used by businesses who should know better.
Often they are accompanied by nice graphics, as if to somehow make sloppy look professional.
They could have used the time it took to make the graphic to put some information in the page instead!
Frustration and disappointment are the main reasons people give up on websites, and finding pages under construction is a great way to do both to your website visitors.
It also reflects badly on your business.
In many cases your website is the first contact your potential customers have with you.
You have promised but not delivered. They followed a link expecting information, only to be disappointed.
It looks like you can’t be bothered.
An obviously incomplete website could indicate a business that is disorganised – even a business about to go under.
Under construction pages tend to stay that way a long time, if not forever, and most people will not check back soon, if at all.
Even the phrase Under Construction is negative – apart from being a little pompous and unhelpful in its language.
There are better ways to say it.
How to avoid using ‘Page Under Construction’
The simple rule is if your page isn’t ready, don’t put it on your website. And don’t release an incomplete website.
Don’t tell visitors what you don’t have – focus on what you can do here and now.
If the information is important to your website then put some brief useful information there. You can always go back later and add more.
Better to have something than nothing at all.
It’s part of the beauty of the web: You can change anything on your website at any time. Your website should never be finished.
Don’t say ‘Coming Soon’ without giving a date
Often alongside Under Construction messages is an invitation to check back soon to see a completed page.
These almost never have an indication of date, so what does soon mean: In the next few minutes? Next week? Next month? Next year?
To the website visitor, ‘soon’ doesn’t mean anything without a context. So rather than ‘soon’, commit to a date and stick to it.
But still it’s easily avoided – and you’re still talking about what isn’t on your site.
Do you think there’s a place for Under Construction pages on websites? Have your say in the comments.
Sitepoint: Top 7 Usability Blunders Of The Big Players
Openglobal.co.uk: Don’t display ‘under construction’ pages
Jakob Nielsen: 113 Design Guidelines for Homepage Usability
More Website Sins
Things to avoid saying and doing on your business website.
Writing for the web is different from any other form of copywriting and needs special attention.
It’s not just a matter of taking your printed promotional material, grafting it onto your website and hoping it will do the job – because it won’t.
And going on at length about what you have to offer and expecting people will read every word will not work either.
Content marketers like to bang on about web copy that is ‘engaging’ and ‘grabs the reader’s attention’, but this is wishful thinking at best.
After all if your customers are on your website you already have their attention: The hard part is keeping it!
How to write website copy that works
So here are five tips to help you make the best of your business website. We’re not intending to cover everything here – just the basics of how to structure and lay out your website content.
1. Make your text easy to understand
Generally, people will arrive at your business website with a task in mind and want to know if you are the people to do it for them.
Also, most people do not sit and read web pages from top to bottom, savouring every word: They scan pages, eyes darting over the words looking for something that matches what they are looking for.
So your writing needs to be clear and concise, without complicated sentences with ambiguous meanings.
You also need to put the most important points at the top: If you keep people waiting to get to the point the chances are they won’t hang around long enough to find out.
Don’t try to be clever and throw in some puns or other ‘witty’ writing. That sort of thing can get old very quickly, but mainly doesn’t help get your message across.
Make it easy for people and they are more likely to stay around long enough to find out if you can help them.
2. Break up your text
Great big blocks of text are hard to scan and therefore hard to read on a website.
Everyone is time poor these days with a thousand different things competing for our attention. This makes us impatient and blocky text will be skipped over rather than read.
So you need to use short, succinct sentences and lots of paragraphs – ideally one sentence – and one idea – to a paragraph.
You’ll be amazed at how much easier a page is to read if it’s been split up properly.
You can also use headings (heading 1, 2, etc, not just bold text and bigger font size) to break things up, and if you use the right, relevant, words these actually help your page get found on search engines.
3. Go easy on the formatting
Another trap that people fall into is to try to emphasise different aspects in their text, but tests have shown the more you try and make something on a web page stand out, the more you end up hiding it!
Bold text, entire words in capital letters and random big text sizes can all be used to add emphasis, but once you start using them it’s difficult to stop.
If you find yourself doing this, then the chances are there is too much irrelevant stuff in your web page and you need to edit the copy down.
Formatting needs to be consistent and sparse. Don’t use italics (hard to read), underlining (easy to confuse with links), stick to a body text size and font and set heading sizes and use bold very, very sparingly.
4. Keep it short and stick to the point
Information overload normally goes hand in hand with trying to squeeze too much into a web page – it’s a very common problem on small business websites.
We often see business owners go into all kinds of detail their potential customers do not need to know. The end result is visitors are bombarded with too much information and end up taking in nothing.
If you want to take your car in to be fixed by a mechanic you don’t want to know what make of spanners he uses, or for that matter anything about his methods. You just need to know that he is competent to do the job and how much it’s likely to cost.
Yet many business websites are marred by the business going on at length about how they do things when potential customers do not need this information.
If you want to make it easy for your website visitors (and that’s the only way they will stay), keep it short, simple and stick to your essential information.
5. Read it – Then cut it! (Then read it again)
If you are expecting others to read your carefully crafted web copy the least you can do is read through it properly before you press the Publish button. Sadly this doesn’t happen.
Everything that goes on your business website should be read by at least two people first, to make sure it makes sense and doesn’t contain grammatical errors. A spell checker is also a must.
If you can’t get someone else to read your copy, then take a break – overnight at least is good – and come back to it with fresh eyes. Sometimes it’s easier to read through copy that has been printed out.
At this point you should be reading with a view to cutting it down by up to a half. And once you’ve cut it you’ll need to read it again.
If this sounds extreme it isn’t – once you get into practice it’s amazing at how much you can lose and every word you remove will be helping to make your copy more concise – and above all more effective.
Concise, SCANNABLE and objective: How to Write for the Web – Neilsen Norman Group
How to write for the web: BBC News School Report
If you want to hide it, emphasize it: Gerry McGovern – New Thinking
A few days ago I received a spam email from yet another Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) company offering its services for one of my sites. If you’ve ever received one of these emails yourself then you need to read this.
Though better worded than most it was the same old story: An SEO ‘expert’ offering to get much more traffic to my site and increase my sales, and return on investment by improving its position in Google etc etc.
The site in question is www.apriliafutura.co.uk, one of the first sites I built for myself as a hobby for a motorcycle I used to own. The site is an online reference for owners of what is a rare bike and I keep it going because it’s still useful to people – I’ve never made money from it: That’s never been the point.[caption id="attachment_513" align="alignright" width="300"] Look! I’m top and I don’t need your rotten SEO services![/caption]
It’s not perfect by a long way and I haven’t changed it for years, but the main thing about it is that if you do a Google search for Aprilia Futura or most associated terms it’s top, even beating Motor Cycle News and Wikipedia.
For most other associated terms it’s in the top three or four results.
I don’t think you can get any better search engine optimisation than that and that’s good enough for me.
But apparently it’s not enough for these search engine optimisation ‘experts’ – I get at least one email a week for the Aprilia Futura site.
So how does this company (who shall remain nameless) think they can improve the search engine position for my website when it is already top of the pile?
Here’s what the email says:
“I’ve noted down some important things as I looked at your site. I see you have Google analytics installed, which is excellent, but there are lots of things I would recommend you do to increase the number of visitors that find you in Google.”
ApriliaFutura.co.uk gets maybe 600 visitors a week from all over the world, not bad since only 4,000 or so Aprilia Futuras were ever built. There are only 80 registered in the UK. This is a niche market!
Further down the email gushes:
“If you like I can analyse your competitors with our in-house designed software which will give you an instant insight into how easy it would be for you to achieve a dramatic increase in website visitors, and a matching increase in your business. I can tell you a few sneaky facts about your competitors and see how many people are searching Google for exactly what you do.”
Errm. It doesn’t have any competitors, it’s not a business, and if people search on Google for ‘exactly what I do’ they find my site. How can you improve on that?
And besides, this convenient wording ignores one thing – you can get an increase in website visitors but that counts for nothing – it’s what those visitors do when they get there that counts.
Official Google search engine optimisation guide
That’s not all. Our SEO ‘expert’ says:
“If you’d like a copy of the official Google SEO (search engine optimisation) guide that we normally only send out to clients I’d be happy to ping you back a copy”
Actually, the official Google SEO guide is available to anyone. Here it is: Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide (PDF download)
The email goes on to say:
“Alternatively do a google search for “optimising my website for google” and you’ll find all the details you need.”
The implication is that you’ll find the company responsible for the email’s page. Now I can never resist a challenge so I did exactly that. You can do the same.
The first two places are taken by web design companies who had received the same spam email and had decided to make a point of it. Obviously, this blog post is a shameless attempt to do the same.
And what of our search engine optimisation ‘experts’? Where are they when you search for ‘optimising my website for Google’?
They are half way down page three – i.e. nowhere.
So what do we learn from this?
To be honest I’ve given up on being offended by these emails but aside from mocking these countless SEO ‘experts’ sending out thousands of emails a week there is a serious point here.
If you have a business website and you feel you need to get your site further up the rankings this sort of offer can no doubt sound very attractive.
But often their claims do not stand up to scrutiny. Only last week we came across a website owner who paid an SEO company around £200 per month with no effect.
Search engine optimisation is not rocket science!
The truth is that SEO is not rocket science as you can see from the Google guide. Just follow a few simple rules and make sure your site is relevant and you’ll be well on your way. You do not need to pay thousands for this.
But most of all these emails always claim to have looked at your site and claim they can offer all sorts of improvements in performance and search engine rankings.
However if they had bothered to do that – for example by Googling Aprilia Futura – they would have realised they could not improve my site’s search engine position.
Also if they had really looked at my site – even for a second or two – they would have realised it’s not a business.
And finally it doesn’t say much about their abilities if they tell you to Google them and they are not even on the first page!
SEO companies are everywhere – cold calling, emailing and offering to do wonderful things for your site.[caption id="attachment_506" align="alignright" width="300"] “I don’t care about your mission statement! How much do you charge?”[/caption]
They say driving traffic to your website will magically increase your sales.
Many will throw lots of figures about page rank, keyword analysis, backlinks and optimisation for good measure.
But while these things are important, a lot of these Search Engine Optimisation companies miss the big picture:
Getting more people to look at your website is not an aim in itself.
Fine, you can get more traffic, but what will these people do when they get to your site?
If your site lacks focus, is badly written, unnecessarily complex and difficult to use then the chances are the increased traffic will only lead to more people leaving the site almost as soon as they have arrived.
You might as well just throw your money down the drain.
The point of your business website is to bring you new customers and sometimes to serve existing ones, but if your website is difficult to use or lacks professionalism then you could end up putting people off.
So take a look at your website from the point of view of a prospective customer who has never seen it before and knows nothing about your business.
Answer their questions
What questions will that person have in their mind? Have you answered them? Is it easy to get around the site? Does it really create the right impression for your business? How effective is it at getting your key messages across?
Search engines, and Google in particular, are placing increasing weight on the relevance of a site as well as its quality. In other words, good sites do well in searches.
So if you get the quality right, you will not need to spend a fortune on SEO consultants.
A simple website will not only get your message across to your customers in the most effective way possible, but it will save you money, too.
Many web companies will try and sell you a site with all the bells, whistles and gimmicks they can but this will only end up annoying your website visitors – so why bother?
All the research shows that website visitors have less and less patience with websites.
They just want to get in, find out what they need to know and get out again.[caption id="attachment_516" align="alignright" width="199"] A usability boffin, yesterday[/caption]
Anything else just gets in the way and often makes the page load slower, adding to their frustration.
A good website doesn’t need:
- Flashy animated graphics (including dancing gnomes!)
- Swish designs that baffle and confuse visitors;
- Pages of waffle and mission statements;
- ‘Cool’ greetings that say good morning/afternoon/evening according to the time of day you arrive;
- Any other pointless gimmicks that detract from your message.
In fact these features will only get in the way of your business connecting with your customers.
So why go to all that trouble, let alone pay through the nose for a load of stuff you just don’t need?
Still not convinced? Then read on…
So what does your business website need?
Your website should be:
- Easy to use and find what you want;
- Short and to the point, and written in plain English;
- Built according to web standards and display the same for everyone;
- Easy to find on search engines and other media such as Google Maps and Facebook.
Find out more:
- Jakob Nielsen’s site provides a guide on how web content should be written: Concise, scannable, and Objective: How to write for the web
- BBC News website: Web users ‘getting more ruthless’
There’s a massive choice of web design companies out there – so how do you spot the diamonds and avoid the duds?
One of the problems with web design is that anyone can do it – to an extent. But you should exercise the same caution when looking at web design companies as you would if you were hiring a builder.[caption id="attachment_921" align="alignright" width="350"] Building websites in his bedroom every now and again[/caption]
Steer clear of companies who offer web design as an add on to their main business – common among IT and telecoms companies, as well as public relations and marketing companies. They often lack the skills to give you a decent website.
They may be able to have a go at giving you a site, but it will probably cost you more money and hassle in the long run.
And in the end you will probably have to go to a proper web design company!
The perils of amateurs
These days anyone with a computer can set themselves up as a web designer and this amateurism can make hiring a web designer a nightmare.
They may have flashy websites of their own, but there’s a lot more to building a professional website than the ability to make it look nice.
There are also web companies who want to sell you all sorts of complicated web solutions – but at a price. Often these web agencies are more biased towards the technical side of things.
Sure – you’ll get a website, but you may well pay through the nose for a solution that uses a sledgehammer to crack a nut.
We’ve seen clients charged large amounts by these companies only to be left on their own once the site has been built.
On the other hand, some may charge very little and only deal with you via e-mail. Always be suspicious of someone who will not speak on the phone or meet in person. And be wary of people claiming to supply ‘cheap’ websites – it will always cost you more in the end.
Long term relationship
Even if you only have a three page simple website you are still entering into a long term business relationship with the company who builds it. So you should treat your website as you would any other long term partnership.
Any company worth its salt should have a portfolio of websites they have produced for other clients. The company should be happy for prospective clients to contact its customers.
You are looking for a broader range of skills, not just an expert in IT, public relations or graphic design.
Those skills include:
- Writing and editing – specifically writing for websites
- Photography and design
- The necessary technical skills
- In depth understanding of web user behaviour and how to present information
- Web marketing skills, including search engine optimisation
- Project management skills and a proven ability to deliver
But above all else they must have good customer service skills. You must be able to build a rapport with your web provider.