About PM4Web

The PM4Web blog was born as an outlet to return knowledge back to the web development community. My goal is to share my experiences as a project manager from over the years in a manner which helps you succeed with your own projects.

25 June, 2010

SEO 101 - What to Tell Non-technical Clients

Explaining the absolute basics of SEO to non-technical clients

This article was born as a result of a question I'm often asked by clients. The question is usually along the lines of "how do I get my site to rank well on Google?" People generally know SEO is important, but they often don't understand how it relates to their own website.

A caveat before I go any further; I do take some creative license when explaining SEO. The liberties I take may cause a web developer to say "hey, that's not strictly accurate". Please keep in mind my explanations and examples are designed for lay people, not a lecture hall full of computing students.

Sometimes to answer a question you have to take a step back (in order to provide context). I believe this is the case when explaining SEO. Once a decent foundation is laid, the chances for an explanation to sink-in improve greatly.

So where do you begin when a client asks "how do I do SEO on my website?" As technology suppliers we often take for granted just how comfortable we have become with the web. Living in an online world can almost become second nature for some of us. This is the first key when explaining SEO to someone new to the topic - don't assume they're as comfortable with technology as you are.

Words that WorkThe second rule may seem obvious, but it should be stated none-the-less; you don't want to be condescending when explaining SEO. There definitely is an art to teaching without making someone feel stupid. The specifics of this are beyond the scope of this article, but a good starting point is a book by Frank Luntz called Words that Work (it's about marketing and how successful communication is achieved).

A good place to start is by identifying the two major aspects of SEO: on-page and off-page SEO. Much of what happens with on-page SEO is controlled by the web developer. When a website is being created the idea is to code pages in a way which 'pleases' Google.

Google periodically comes along and spiders every website it can find (nb. sites generally have to be submitted to Google for indexing). Spidering is the process by which Google trawls through all the pages it can reach and catalogues them for searching purposes. The amount of time between spidering can vary from weeks (for a new website) to hours (for a popular website).

You won't be able to explain all the techniques available for achieving good on-page SEO, you would be there forever if you tried. Instead, you need to give a couple of examples. Examples are paramount when attempting to explain a topic that's completely new to a person. For instance, you could say page titles need to be unique and descriptive. If a website has details about a cell phone, a page title like 'Nokia N97 mini' would be better than 'Cell Phone Specs'.

This is a good point at which to make a distinction between what a developer does to achieve good on-page SEO and what a client needs to do. Arguably the most important concept to discuss is keyword richness. Again, this is best conveyed with a simple example. You could make-up a scenario about a website which sells hammers. In one version of the scenario the website's homepage has the following text: "our hammers are made with the finest materials. They are award winning and manufactured at our plant in Belgium". The other version of the text would read as follows: "our hammers are manufactured with the finest materials. Winner of the 2009 best hammer award and created at our factory in Belgium especially designed for producing the best hammers in the world". Notice how many more times the word 'hammer' is used in the second version. The name of the product (or service) being promoted should be mentioned on the website as often as possible - within reason. Be sure to warn of the dangers of keyword-stuffing. Going overboard with keywords could actually have a detrimental effect on search engine ranking (i.e. Google can actually detect when someone is over using keywords on a page).

If you wanted to recommend a simple on-page SEO strategy for increasing traffic, you could suggest providing 'value add' information. This would be information which may not be directly related to the client's business making money, but which would be helpful to their customers. For example, if the client sells bikes, they could provide maps of cycling tracks around the local area. Each time a person comes to the site for track information, there is the potential to show them products available for purchase.

To explain off-page SEO, you could start by saying it's about getting the word out there, getting known on the Internet. The more websites that talk about you, the more you move up in Google's ranking. Also, it's better to be name-dropped by a 'relevant' website than one that has nothing to do with your industry.

What do I mean by relevant? By way of comparison, imagine you have a bike store; if another bike shop refers to you, that carries more weight than say a furniture manufacturer referring to you. Google is aware of logical similarities, it 'knows' that tables and chairs have little to do with bikes.

Being name dropped by someone prominent and relevant is what's needed for good ranking. The trick is figuring out ways to get other related, preferably high-profile, websites to mention your website. Obviously, a direct competitor won't want to mention you on their website (that wouldn't make sense), but someone who would benefit from mentioning you would. For example, a tourism related website may be very interested in talking about you if you own a motel and are running a special offer.

dilbert - seo

In simple terms, it boils down to this: if everyone is talking about you on the web, than you must be the best source of information for your chosen area. If you are the 'go-to' person for your industry, Google will direct people to your website. After-all, Google only succeeds as a search engine if it's sending people to the right place.

Join RSS FeedSubscribe to RSS Feed.

14 June, 2010

Why Users Demand a Top-Notch Interface These Days

How UI and usability are changing the focus of software development.

Let's take a trip down memory lane. I knew years ago I wanted to be involved in UI design. Back at university I enjoyed making 'pretty interfaces', and for some reason had an inexplicable ability to retain information about design patterns. Sometimes my aptitude for UI design gave people the impression that it came easy to me, but like most people who've gotten good at something, there's a lot of hard work behind it all. The truth of the matter is that the skills had to be refined with long hours of research, reading, experimentation, and most importantly doing interface design.

By far, experience has been my biggest teacher. I've learned that it's 'not done until it's done'; if a UI design has to go though 14 revisions - so be it (and this has happened to me!). If something can be done with 2 clicks instead of 3, than that's my goal (than, I start thinking about how it can be done with just 1 click). I could tell years ago that companies would one day be scrambling for people with Interaction Design (IxD) skills. When software development began shifting away from desktop applications and towards web-based systems, it was clear a fundamental change was on its way (in terms of how we use computers). A number of other trends gave strength to this revolution, including; pervasive broadband uptake, mobile/wireless broadband becoming reasonably priced, and Apple consistently changing peoples' technology-use behavior.

The World is Flat (book cover)One of the driving forces behind this fundamental shift was surely everyone getting access to low-cost 'always on' broadband. Without this, it simply could not have happened. If you've had the pleasure of reading Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat, you'll see that the reason we ended up with pervasive broadband was partly due to the optic fiber 'fire sale' which took place after the dot com crash. In a nutshell; what happened was businesses invested heavily in expensive optic fiber cable. Then they went broke and were forced to sell their assets. Other companies came along and snapped up all this cheap cable at a bargain price (which in turn, they passed on the savings to customers).

Technology wasn't the only catalyst for change. Another big factor was the shift towards the Application Service Provider revenue model. Finally the industry had found a way to stop software piracy dead in its tracks (i.e. host the software online and get users to pay a subscription fee for access to the service).

Personally, I think that thanks to companies like Microsoft, Google, and Apple the average Internet user has become spoiled rotten in terms of the UI and user experience they expect. The bar has been set very high, but people don't appreciate that Google and others pour millions of dollars into their interface design efforts. People now expect this level of quality from all their Internet enabled software. This is probably a good thing since it forces companies to produce software the way it should be; designed for normal human beings, self-evident (i.e. no manual required), and suitable for a broad audience.

So why is it that Internet users demand such high standards from their online software today? I'd say it's because 'doing things online' has become a cultural norm, or even a borderline necessity. Gone are the days when paying bills online or booking airline tickets was something only nerds did. Would you not look at a colleague sideways if they said "I'm just popping down to the post office to pay a bill" (as opposed to paying it online)? The reality is people still are clinging to the old way of doing things (e.g. people still physically go down to the bank).

The next stage of 'doing things online' could coincide with the dissolution of the traditional outlets of commerce. For instance; there are ISPs now who expect you to sign-up online, and they only accept payment via automated electronic mechanisms (e.g. monthly direct debit). Is it so far-fetched to think that in the not too distant future we will be voting in elections via a website?

The media has also played a pivotal role in this transition. Notice how every poster at a bus stop these days has the Facebook and Twitter logo on it? Mainstream media's ability to shape social habits shouldn't be underestimated.

Dilbert - confusing user interfaces

As more of the traditional physical outlets of commerce disappear in favor of their lower-cost online variants, it's as though the general public is being forced to do things online. If that really is the case, than the number of non-tech savvy users will skyrocket. This is what causes the demand for high quality interfaces, because large numbers of people who wouldn't normally do things online are beginning to convert. The companies that can deliver ease of use will no doubt prosper whilst those slow adapt will fall by the wayside.

Join RSS FeedSubscribe to RSS Feed.