Archive for the ‘SEO – Search Engine Optimization & Marketing’ Category

Hiring the right firm for your new website (an only partially biased article)

March 17, 2010

Most of the problems that we see when it comes to how people hire website companies comes from a lack of clarity from the person doing the hiring regarding what they want out of their website.

There are three primary types of website companies.

1. The IT company.
2. The Design Company.
3. The Marketing/Advertising company.

There is nothing wrong with any of the three; they each have a specific niche.

The real problem is that all three say they are fully capable on any front when they aren’t. The issue is compounded when a client doesn’t know the difference or doesn’t know what to look for when hiring the firm.

The IT guys.
There are many levels of Information Technology (IT), web development starting from the company whose main work is fixing your computers all the way up to the enterprise level company that solves large technical problems. You can easily spot an IT firm at presentations because they focus on the technology first and the marketing communications second. These providers can be the right solution for the smaller level companies without large budgets. However, in many instances, organization assume that all websites are technical tools which should automatically go to an IT firm when modern websites are usually marketing tools that an IT firm isn’t best suited to build.

The Design Shop
You can spot the design firm presentation because they will focus heavily on their past designs or showing you designs of what your new website might look like if you hire them. Assuming it’s a good shop, a design firm can help your web image look fantastic. There are many mid-level design firms that can get you on the web at an affordable price. Often times design focused firms will hire out freelancers to actually do the technical work on the site while they focus on making you look pretty.

The Marketing Guys
The Marketing or Ad Firm can be the best or worst decision among the group. Usually, they are most expensive due to high overhead (i.e. employees, buildings, offices, etc.). You can spot the Marketing Agency because they will talk about results first with design and tech as simply parts of the solution. The trick is being able to separate the good firms from the poor, as well as managing expectations. A good firm can deliver impactful change for your organization on the web. A weak firm may leave your wallet empty and you wondering what happened.

Here are some steps to help decide and make your new website experience more fruitful.

First, start at the end.
Define what it is you want from this website: What do you want it to do? More sales? Better image? More awareness? Provide a service? Once you know what you want to provide on the web, the type of firm you should hire will become much more clear.

Ask about Time, Project Management and Process.
A website is a multi-part process that can vary in production time due to a multitude of factors. The agency you hire should be able to clearly demonstrate how they will mange the project, as well as give you time estimations based on your particular variables. This point goes for every type of firm. Ask questions. At what stage of the project will we see what? Will they just disappear and show up with a “finished” site three months later? What work are they outsourcing? What happens with maintenance and support after the website goes live? Many firms will not show a design until the site is built. While for some this is okay, most organization like to see an illustration or sketch of what the end product before hundreds of hours are spent building it.

Define Deliverables
Because some clients are uncomfortable when talking about the web, they fail to ask for specific deliverables from their agency. Not defining deliverables or having them defined for you can lead to an open ended relationship where the web people are delivering what they think you want or the minimum they think they can get away with. But building a website is like building a building or any other product. You need to know what to expect. So, at the start of the project, outline specific functions of the website (i.e. timelines, content, etc.). If you can’t define these deliverables, ask them to define them so there is no inconsistency in expectations.

Where’s the beef? (Content)
Content is overlooked consistently but it’s what fills up your website, it’s what visitors will be looking at, and it’s what Google uses to rank you in searches. Is your content going to be text, pictures, video, some combination, or something else? Does the firm develop the content for you? Do you want them to? The IT Firm typically doesn’t develop content. The Design Firm usually subcontracts it out. And the Marketing Company does it at a premium.

Education
Do you want to be educated on the possibilities of the website and have a relationship with the firm so they always keep you on the cutting edge? It’s a good idea to look for a firm that talks about the present and the future.

How much money you got?
Figure out what your budget is going to be for this website because that will determine the level of service that you will receive. Spending more does not necessarily mean you will get more. But, like your father said, you get what you pay for in life. You don’t necessarily need to share your specific budget with the firm, but try to determine the amount you could conceivably budget on the project keeping in mind your goals (if you want a site to make you millions, you probably should spend more than $500). Different agencies charge a really wide variety of prices based on factors like expertise, location, staff size, and more. Websites can range from $1,000 to $200,000 and its a good idea to know what priority you give your site.

Check the References.
This gets overlooked more often than we like to think about. Ask and check references because it can save you time, money and sanity. If you call ten references and eight had amazing experiences, it’s much better than if none or one did. Think of it like you’re hiring an employee or accepting a tenant. You wouldn’t hire or let someone live in your house without checking their backgrounds. Why should hiring a web contractor be any different?

One other thing to keep in mind if you’re really small or have a super tiny budget: There are services out there that make building your own website (within templates and without any custom functionality) fairly easily. Companies like SquareSpace.com and Moonfruit.com are resources for this type of project.

And, finally, no questions are bad questions. So ask your firms the most basic of questions because, once your site is complete, it will always be more about you than it will be about them.

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Want To Get Found On The Internet?

February 12, 2009
SEO doesn't have to be a blind shot at the target.

SEO doesn't have to be a blind shot at the target.

Is your website really optimized?

Good Search Engine Optimization (SEO) means that your website is ranked highly by Google, Yahoo! and other search engines when your clients or prospects look up keywords.

Being found by a third party site like Google is great for business. It positions you as an expert in your field before you’ve even said a word.

So how do you get your website optimized? Here are three simple tips to get you started….

1. Update your website regularly. The days of set-and-forget websites are over. Google wants to see websites updated regularly because that’s what Google’s users want to see.

2. Link, link, link. Being linked to other websites or blogs increases your relevancy. So contact your sister organizations, clients and vendors and link to each other on your sites.

3. Put up video. Websites with video have a higher retention rate for visitors. So they get ranked higher than sites without video. Does your website have any video on it?

Remember that Google, Yahoo! and others change the rules every few months. So it’s important to always be working hard to make sure your website is optimized.

The First Step to Good SEO: Have Good Content

November 14, 2008

A lot of our clients here at GrafiQa regularly ask us how to get ranked as high as possible by Google, Yahoo! and other search engines.

Their motivations are pretty obvious: get seen by more customers, get more qualified leads, get more business.

Many people think that Search Engine Optimization is about manipulating or tricking search engines into ranking your website higher. That’s dead wrong. Why would you want to trick Google or Yahoo? That means you’re tricking your potential customer (who isn’t really your potential customer anyway since he’s probably not really interested in what you’re selling if you tricked them).

Trickery isn't nice. And it's not real Search Engine Optimization either.

Charlie Brown knows that trickery isn't very nice. But it's not good Search Engine Optimization either.

The first step to effective SEO is actually having relevant and useful content about your product, issue or whatever it is you’re marketing.

Sounds simple, right? It is.

Think about it: if you want to buy small-scaled steel kettle drums, you want Google or Yahoo to direct you to the best, most relevant dealer for that type of specialized equipment. You don’t want them to direct you to some random music equipment dealer in Tacoma who’s really selling indian tablas but “tricked” the seach engines into thinking his selection was broader.

Successful search engine companies are smart. And they know that finding the best, most relevent sites for their customers is what is going to keep those customers coming back.

So, if you’re thinking about SEO, start by understanding that the first step is being honest about what you’re doing.

(Of course, there are a million more advanced things to do after that. But that’s a whole other post….)

If You Don’t Link Love Yourself….

August 18, 2008
By x-eyedblonde via Flickr Creative Commons

By x-eyedblonde via Flickr Creative Commons

How do you expect anyone else to link love you?

One of the reasons we suggest our clients use a blog in their overall online marketing plan is that search engines love to see activity. They love to see other sites linking to yours. The more inbound links the better. And if those links are coming from particularly active and relevant sites, that’s even better than better. It’s the betterest.

So how do you get that link ball rolling? It’s pretty unlikely that the big names in your industry will happen upon your site out of nowhere and write a link-filled and eloquent blog post about how amazing you are. (Although, Debbie Millman, if you’re listening, GrafiQa wouldn’t turn down any links you might be able to spare.)

It’s likely you’ll have to start by linking to yourself. And there’s no shame in that. We’ve even done it ourselves.

Your blog is your place to share wisdom and insights and passion about what you do. It’s the most natural thing in the world to illustrate that with links back to your own website.

At GrafiQa, we’re really passionate about Brand Development. We could talk about it all day long, because we believe that a well-designed and executed brand is absolutely essential to an organization’s success.

So we write about it a lot on our blog, and whenever appropriate, we link back to our site. It’s not a matter of trying to “trick” the search engine. You can’t do that, anyway, and you’ll be punished for trying.

It’s about sharing something of value and doing it in a way that has a better chance of attracting attention.

Is Web site optimization a competitive advantage in Upstate New York?

November 7, 2007

We recently met with a client to discuss ways to make her site more findable in search engines like Google. Like most businesses, our client wants to appear on that first search results page, right up at the top above her competition. Who wouldn’t?

Despite the fact that our client works in a super-competitive industry; and despite the fact that the Internet has become so saturated with sites (and other media) that even well-optimized pages face major challenges ranking well, I was optimistic that we could make it happen for her. Why is that?

When it comes to search engines, Upstate New York’s Web sites appear to be under-optimized. In normal human-speak, this means that many organizations in Central New York and the Southern Tier aren’t doing the things they need to do to ensure that their page listings appear in Google’s search results when prospective customers type in appropriate keywords or phrases.

For example, many sites in this area lack basic on-page optimization features like:

  • Unique page titles
  • Unique page descriptions
  • Keyword rich copy, headers and editorial links
  • Streamlined information architecture
  • Navigational aids like redundant text navigation, breadcrumbs and site maps

I also see little evidence of local and regional companies, non-profits and public-sector institutions taking advantage of social media marketing opportunities (like blogs, community sites, sharing sites, etc.) in order to increase the number incoming links to their sites. This is an extremely important feature in any search engine marketing strategy.

Why does this matter? I’m sure that many of the organizations that fall into this group spent considerable time and money developing professional-looking sites in an effort to attract business. If those sites aren’t findable and effective, then the return on those investments is likely to be poor.

Nobody likes to waste time and money (unless they’re on vacation).

If you think you fall into this group, then you should consider this present climate a huge opportunity to elevate your organization’s visibility and attract more qualified visitors to your site.

Seize the opportunity to beat out the competition while it still exists!

Go forth and optimize.

Creature from the Blog Lagoon

November 6, 2007

It’s six days into NaBloPoMo, and already we’re five posts short. It happens.

Honestly, when I realized that we had missed the first few days of posting, I kicked myself, then slapped my forehead, then gnashed my teeth, then pulled my hair and begged forgiveness from the blogging gods.

I’m lying. I didn’t do anything but shrug my shoulders and think, “Eh, I’ll post something today.”

While I really like the idea of NaBloPoMo – and its more literary counterpart, NaNoWriMo – I don’t like the idea that a blog should be a big, scary burden hanging over your head and making your life harder.

Social media – and I count blogs in that group – are supposed to make your life easier and more enjoyable. They’re the digital versions of the campfire, the dinner table, the corner bar and the Main Street beauty salon all rolled into one.

Social media offer a meeting place, a place to connect with people who are important to you, and a place to find out what’s really going on in the world.

Not every organization should be using every social media tool. I mean, maybe my plumber is on Twitter, but it’s probably not generating a bunch of conversions for him. On the other hand, if he had a blog and he posted genuinely useful information such as how to solve easy problems that don’t really require his expertise (and are not a big moneymaker for him) or cool new products or what to do when your 2-year-old flushes a doll’s head down the toilet, I would go to it.

Would I subscribe? Maybe not, unless I were building a house and wanted really good product information. But I sure would go to it if I saw a headless doll floating on the guest bathroom floor.

And the fact that just having a blog increases the chances of your organization coming up in an organic search means everyone should have something.

But over and over we hear clients say they’re afraid to launch a blog – afraid of adding something extra to the workload. Afraid someone is going to make them sign up for NaBloPoMo.

Social media may be new. They may require a small learning curve in order to start using them. But they’re not scary. It’s just another way to offer your clients or customers something of value – and to remind them that you exist.

If you want to know more about starting a blog, using social media or how to remove a doll head from a toilet, contact me at etb@grafiqa.com or 607.433.8837 x206.

New Web sites launch

October 12, 2007

A little over a month ago, our fearless leader, Chris, and his wife had a beautiful baby girl. Meanwhile, our fearless web developer, Jason, and his wife are expecting a baby this December, and I just returned from a trip to Florida for another friend’s baby shower.

So maybe it’s because I’m thinking in terms of new life, or maybe it’s because I’m still the new gal in the office, but when we launch a new Web site, I always want to hand out chocolate cigars and tie a Mylar balloon to our mailbox that reads “It’s a Web Site!”

Here are a few spankin’ new sites that GrafiQa helped bring into the world:

Matco Electric
Specializing in large, industrial jobs for clients such as the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Tioga Downs and numerous healthcare facilities, Matco needed a site that showcased the company’s expertise and would serve as an alluring resource for potential clients. GrafiQa designed a site that reflects Matco Electric’s high level of service. We gave them a fresh, modern design, and a user-friendly navigation, as well as an online portfolio.

We also trained representatives from the company on the software they can use to easily update the site themselves whenever they need to, without incurring extra technical costs or delays.

Riverwood Gifts
Shoppers who love browsing through Riverwood Gifts on Cooperstown’s Main Street can now visit the store’s new Web site, which was designed by GrafiQa. The site, designed to capture and communicate the personality of the store and its owner, Rick Gibbons, features original photography, Flash animation and retail commerce capabilities.

Landfill Service Corporation
Landfill Service Corporation, based in Binghamton, offers a unique product: A spray-on covering system for landfills that reduces volume, eliminates odor and prolongs the life of a landfill. It’s also easier and safer for workers to use than other methods, such as tarping. GrafiQa created a site that uses streaming video to communicate the benefits of the product, and show it in use.

Beaver Mountain Log & Cedar Homes
Beaver Mountain Log & Cedar Homes needed a Web site that reflected the company’s status as one of the premier builders of log homes in the Northeast. People come from hundreds of miles away to visit Beaver Mountain’s amazing workshop, where entire homes are built, then drystacked, component-by-component to test for accuracy before being broken down and shipped to the building sites.

We built a Web site that comes as close as possible to giving homeowners and potential clients a cyber tour of the facility. We also optimized the site so that when people do Internet searches for log homes and other specific keywords, Beaver Mountain’s site will rank high on the results.

If you want to know more about the work we do on our clients’ Web sites, or you would like to have our expert audit your existing site to make sure it’s doing everything it could, you can reach us at 607.433.8837 or call me at etb@grafiqa.com.