Friday, September 25, 2009

Backyard SEO... Keeping it local.

So, you just got this client down the road whose business is picture framing. She wants a website and she wants to be on that all-empowering first page because that's what her friends tell her. She only takes local walk-in traffic and phone orders. With some work, you may be able to get her business up there in a few of her chosen keywords but to what avail? Is her business going to really benefit from world-wide traffic? She's not collecting email addresses (as a pro you should be collecting those email addresses for her anyway) or taking orders online. Maybe not. That doesn't mean that her business won't benefit from good SEO techniques and a little know-how (or where in this case).

Today, if you're not on the net, you're not in business. You need to have an online presence if you want to compete. Local businesses sometimes believe that they are too small or too targeted to need an online presence. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Some of these people will be happy with their Yellow Pages listings or their ad in the local Pennysaver, actually, response from these offline types of advertising is still strong for certain trades and I highly recommend that business owners take advantage of offline advertising when it suits them. However, what if you could increase their traffic and business just by optimizing their website? Would you be a more valuable asset then someone who just knocks out a quick design, takes the money and moves on? Of course, this information is not just for the designer. It can be applied at any time to any website.

One of the main ways a site gets indexed on the major engines is through inbound links from QUALITY, TRUSTED and RELEVANT sites. What does that mean? Well, it means the days of link farms are over. You can't just link to anyone and everyone with a "click here" button anymore. Google takes a look at sites that change original content often and will index them often. These sites are TRUSTED, QUALITY and are generally RELEVANT if you found them using your keywords.  The key here is to "localize" your keywords and links. Oh, and Google loves directories. They are human based so submit as soon as you feel you page is up to snuff. More on that later.

Let's take the framer. I would build a site with a number of pages, some filled with contact info, history, all the stuff the local business wants on their pages. Make sure proper titles and descriptions are in EACH page. I would have the location at the bottom of EVERY page and I would include pages with relevant information on picture framing - techniques, the business, how to recognize quality materials - things like that. This is RELEVANT content. This is the content other sites like to link to. Pepper it with keywords - preferably local ones - maybe with links to art shows in the area or something. If you ask for links back be sure they are descriptive links meaning that instead of "click here" they have text that reflects the content and title of the page it links too. More on that later as well.

I would then submit to local searches, directories, travel guides and town pages. I would make sure they are listed with Google Maps, Yahoo! Local and Citysearch. I might run a small targeted Google PPC campaign using mapping or zip code based areas. Then I would submit the original content to news sites and informational sites with a link back to the client's site and some local info in the footer of the story. It's a bit more involved than that but just those things alone will get results.

This opens up many new opportunities like specializing in local search or, even more importantly, JVs (Joint Ventures). We'll get into Joint Ventures in the future.

Ron Smith is the president of Gorbs Corp., a print and web design and development firm on Long Island, NY. A new location in the heart of NYC will be opening soon for Internet Marketing and SEO consulting. For more on Ron or Gorbs visit

If you're considering a career in SEM, want to train your in-house web designers on the finer points of SEO or want to just boost your rankings, and you're in the NY area, come to a "Can You SEO?" seminar. - come and sign up for our newsletter and get updates on tools, tips and products.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Which Came First, The Organic Chicken or the Pay Per Cluck?

Some clients are under the misconception that their first effort to rise in the SE results should be to start submitting to search engines before anything else. Sometimes they demand to show up first under a wide range of keywords that they type into a Meta tag. This misconception comes from the mega-load of armchair web designers, inexperienced (or unscrupulous) SEO consultants or the next door neighbor's kid who runs a skateboarding site for his friends (Hey, nothing wrong with that. And I bet there's a bunch of amazingly talented pros doing it right now) and can now place first for "naked skateboarding on red boards in Hicksville Long Island on Tuesdays." Some of these people take a client's hard earned money and make promises based on black hat techniques, 2003 tactics and plain lies.

Ok, so what about paying a little to get listed? Surely you can get the top spot that way. Well, the short answer is yes. But keep in mind it still takes time, money and patience to run a PPC campaign. You still need to know what you're doing or you'll go broke, get tossed from the search engine or worse. Also, paid search doesn’t build “trust.”

So what do I do first? Good question. Thanks for asking!

Before I answer, as I’ve said in past articles - LISTEN TO THE CLIENT. They may have a totally different idea about what they want from their search efforts. Maybe it's just so they and their friends can share information on naked skateboarding. They don't need PPC promotion - or maybe they do if they want to earn affiliate money selling red skateboards! It's a niche site and can excel in organic search. Just listen and they will tell you.

Here’s a simple SEM strategy. Please keep in mind that not all SEO people work the same and that I will probably get a letter or two saying "That's not how you do it Ron Smith, you LOSER!"

All search engine placement efforts start the same way - keywords. You probably all knew that. There are, however, big differences in the way you approach these two strategies. PPC campaigns are generally run and experimented with using many, sometimes hundreds or thousands, of related keywords. This research is absolutely essential to narrowing down your target audience - you know, the ones who actually buy your product or service. So, pay per click is generally my starting point.

Now - after you've narrowed the giant list of keywords through your all-important CTR research, you can go back and rehash your web content to focus on these words. Pick a few keywords per page and then try and scatter them throughout your "relevant and actually informative" content. I'll hit that in a later article.

Now submit and wait. Viola! Organic Chicken! Uh, traffic.

OK, that's a bit naive and simple. There’s a lot more to organic results than waiting. Things like external, relevant links, data tracking and constant changes in your design approach are generally needed - especially for a new site. Look at it this way - the best and biggest are constantly revamping and upgrading to stay where they are after many years. You need to do the same.

So, my conclusion? It depends, but it's usually better to "cluck" first.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Educating Your Clients or "Walking the Tightrope"

In my many years of web design, I have often thought my job was to educate the client. Most of the smaller clients I work with are individuals, maybe with small businesses, maybe a local musician or even someone who just wants a mySpace update. Some (most) have a hard time opening their email no less have a grip on the web and what it takes to really be on top of the heap. Generally these clients are under the impression that they just "need a website." In many cases this is true. However, I have found that these same individuals tend to demand outdated design work, functionality and have a basic "out of touch with reality" view on how well their site will fair. I am not saying that sometimes these clients are 100% right, but most are not (sorry clients!) So, how do you educate your clients while at the same time, not belittle them or make them feel as if they are clueless? LISTEN TO THEM!

Anyone who has read any of my material knows that my top rule is LISTEN TO THE CLIENT. No matter how much more you think you know, how much better of a designer you are or how many web sites you've gotten to the top of the search engines, you still need to follow the number one rule. It's hard not to spout off about dynamic this and scalable that or the details of the history of the word pagerank (hey, look that one up - it may not be what you think!) However, if you hear any one of those words coming to the edge of your mouth ready to spill over into a conversation about what color they would like their background to be, just shut up!

You may say "well, this is important information and the client needs to know it." Maybe, in some cases. But for the most part, the client wants to hear "Yes. Excellent, I can do that on time and under budget."

Let's put it this way. If you had an idea of something you wanted to do like say, collecting shells and someone came to you and said "I can help you collect 100 types of shells from around the world... BUT, I will tell you the best shells to get, who to get them from, what color they should be to get the most oo's and ah's, how you need to catalog them so that they are easier to find from an administrative standpoint, how we can use the connections to get more links that will lead to greater shell position on the sea shell club circuit, how each shell can have it's own inbox so that as others see it, they can be alerted when another of the same shell is found by a competing club member."


"I can do all of this in 6 months for thirty thousand dollars, I need half upfront and we may or may not go over budget and schedule because you might change your mind about the scale of the project halfway through because I'm not listening to a word you're saying about how you want a one-page gallery to show off your six prize sea shells..." Ok, take a breath!

Clients who are not generally computer savvy or who see outdated sites or content will have a tendency to look for support when approaching you with their own project. They DO need to be educated, but first you need to make them feel comfortable with your suggestions. The best way to do that is to just close your mouth until they are done describing the picture they have in their head. THEN discuss exactly how and what they really want to do, the actual goals of the site and the image they are trying to portray of their business or project. There's no problem with making suggestions to up-sell or improve their vision - just make sure it's still their vision - or you're gonna have a hard time getting paid!

NEVER (too negative?) use negatives like "That's not how it's done anymore" or "The pink you chose for your logo makes me want to puke." (Sadly, I said that one early on in my design career back in print ad days!) Always, gently guide them AFTER trust is built. As a matter of fact, trust is really what all businesses are (or should be) about, and yours is no different. As the design progresses and they see you are doing what THEY envisioned, they will allow more input for improvement. They may even see it themselves - oh, and don't forget to add this discovery time into your price. Nobody REALLY expects people to work for free - especially when those people are reworking a project to THEIR ultimate vision (the one you have been guiding along the whole time).

I guess the point is, you can show off your knowledge and lose a client or you can say "I can make your idea a reality" and slowly mold and educate as you build trust. More on this in future columns.

Ron Smith is the president of Gorbs Corp., a web and print design and development firm on Long Island, NY. For more on Ron or Gorbs visit

If you're considering a career in SEM, want to train your in-house web designers on the finer points of SEO or want to just boost your rankings, and you're in the NY area, come to a "Can You SEO?" seminar. - come and sign up for our newsletter and get updates on tools, tips and products or check out (after October 1st).

Friday, September 4, 2009

SEO: The Way Of The Buffalo?

I've heard a lot of talk lately about search engine optimization as a profession being short lived or even a "fad." Not sure if that's because of the wealth of free (and sometimes erroneous) information out there on the subject or because of free tools and Google Analytics but I have to say I don't see it that way!

I've read in a number of articles that say SEO is moving in-house. As someone who worked in a corporate environment for quite a while as a designer and programmer, it ain't so bad! Consulting jobs are hard to find anyway. Another argument is that there is no real certification or even a test of skill. Don't worry, as the industry buckles down and marketers who can do it at a low price point overflow into the workforce, there will be standards that will need to be met. Not to mention, nobody will hire anyone unless they can get results. Oh, and I'm all for certification! (Gorbs Corp. is developing an excellence program as I write this!)

but, back to the argument that everything is available for free and anyone can do it.

As a parallel, let's look at the web design industry. There are tons of free and cheap templates out there to grab up, but you still need to know what to do with them. A person can go to a place like and lay out a site online with every option in it - for free! How do you compete with that? Try on for size. There are so many nicely designed templates that I even used one (the design anyway, not the code) for my corporate site. It saved me hours.

Web design for me has taken somewhat of a back door to SEM because of this. By that I mean that I do less ultra custom design work - you know, the stuff that pays the big bucks. Instead, I lead my customers to templates that are available to me as an affiliate. I just saved myself 20 hours of work and phone calls and made money before I even opened Photoshop. I pass that savings on to the client. Now I just need to customize a bit, optimize a bit and throw it up on a server. Easy money - especially for someone who has a background in it. I can do 4 times more sites, take advantage of some great design, make my clients happy and move on to the next one until it's time to update or they sign on for my SEO and SEM services!

Let's apply this to SEO. Sure there are a plethora of free tools (we will be offering them on our site if you can't find them) that can be used to do everything from picking the best keywords to writing dynamic pages as static html links. The learning curve is up there though. For the self motivated person, there is an amazing site that is packed with info and tools. They really have their stuff together. No, I don't work for them but I have to say, I definitely turned to more than a few times when I was stuck.

On top of that, SEO is just a small part of marketing. The search engines will ALWAYS be changing their algorithms, the Black Hats will always screw it up for those of us who try to do it the right way and most of all, most people just don't want to invest the time it takes to do it right or even to learn the basics.

Those who can do it quickly, with the free tools they can get - along with experience and knowledge - and those who can handle multiple clients at the same time will win. If you can take advantage of all those things that others may deem as the downfall of the profession, then you will shape your own future in the industry.

In conclusion, as long as you morph with the technology and change with the times, you'll have a career. SEO is no different. There will always be open spots for those who can help a company get more sales or higher profits at low or no cost to them. By the time the SEO industry is flooded with new people and less jobs, the industry will mutate and those who expand and change with it will always be successful.

By the way, although the buffalo died out we now have BEEFALO - know what I'm saying?

If you're considering a career in SEM, want to train your in-house web designers on the finer points of SEO or want to just boost your rankings, and you're in the NY area, come to a "Can You SEO?" seminar. - come and sign up for our newsletter and get updates on tools, tips and products or check out (after October 1st).