More about Basics of Search Engine Optimization

Use real headings
Use the h1 – h6 elements for headings. Using graphics for headings may let you use any typeface you want, but search engines aren’t going to pay much attention. Even if you (as is required) use the alt attribute to specify alternate text for heading images, that text will not be anywhere near as important as real text in a heading element. In my experience, this is true even if the images are inside heading elements. If you know otherwise, please tell. If you cannot use real text, look at the various image or Flash replacement techniques that are available. Be aware that there may be a tiny risk involved in doing so. Since image replacement techniques involve hiding text, it is theoretically possible for search engines to penalise you. Currently that risk seems very slim, but don’t say I didn’t warn you if it does happen.

Use search engine friendly URLs
Avoid dynamically generated URLs that use a query string to let the server know which data to fetch from a database. Search engine robots may have difficulties with this kind of URL – they may stop at the question mark and not even look at the query string. Use search engine friendly, human readable URLs instead. This will help both your ranking and your users. I’ve seen incredible improvements in search engine results from just changing the URL scheme of a site. Modifying and rewriting a site’s URLs can be a little tricky, and some CM systems make it more difficult than others to implement. It is worth the effort though.

Avoid using frames
While it is possible to provide workarounds that allow search engine robots to crawl frame based sites, frames will still cause problems for the people who find your site through search engines. When somebody follows the link from a search result listing to a frame based site, they will land on an orphaned document, outside of its parent frameset. This is very likely to cause confusion, since in many cases vital parts of the site, like navigational links, will be absent. Some sites use JavaScript or server side scripting to redirect anyone trying to load a document outside of its parent frameset to the site’s home page. This is a very user hostile thing to do, and it definitely does not help the people visiting your site. Just lose the frames. They are bad for usability anyway.

Be careful with browser detection
If you need to use some kind of browser detection, make sure that it doesn’t break when a search engine spider (or any unknown user agent) comes along. If the spiders can’t get in, you won’t be found. I’ve seen this happen on the sites of fairly large companies.

Don’t waste your time on meta tags
Most search engines don’t place any great deal of value on the contents of meta tags anymore. They have been used way too much by spammers. I’d suggest using the meta description element, but that’s all. Keywords won’t hurt, but they will rarely help either, so they are generally not worth the effort. Some search engines use the contents of the meta description element to describe your site in their search result listings, so if possible, make its contents unique and descriptive for every document.

Ecommerce Site – February Special Offer

BigCommerce – The Easiest Way to Sell Online!
BigCommerce is an all-in-one, feature rich ecommerce platform that allows even the most novice of user to create a fully functional online store and sell both physical and digital products online.

Utilizing an easy to use interface, online retailers can publish products in seconds, accept credit cards, use multiple shipping methods, run effective marketing campaigns and more. Built from the ground up to support search engine optimization features such as search engine friendly links, effective use of heading tags, alt tags and per product and per page title tags.

BigCommerce also features a built in content management system to allow easy publishing of website content including web pages, news items, blogs, promotional banners and coupon codes. 

BigCommerce Feature List

With BigCommerce anyone can quickly and easily create their own online store without any technical experience. Unique features such as Drag & Drop Design Mode make it easy to completely customize the look and layout of your store using just your mouse. BigCommerce has built-in search engine optimization features which help your online store rank at the top of all major search engines including Google and Yahoo. Below is a complete list of BigCommerce features:

Hosting & Security

  • Premium hosting for all stores
  • SAS 70 Type II certified hosting
  • Powerful Intel quad CPU servers
  • Daily offsite backups
  • 99.99% uptime track record
  • 3 co-located data centers
  • Create unlimited email accounts
  • FTP access to HTML and CSS files
  • Complete disaster and recovery support
  • 128 bit SSL certificate support
  • Hacker deterrent security provisioning
  • On-demand virtual data center
  • Geographic diversity
  • Three redundant network architectures
  • Best-in-class infrastructure
  • High speed, redundant connectivity
  • Hardware firewalls
  • Load balancing
  • Cisco hardware and networking
  • Denial-of-service protection
  • Free regular software updates
  • Network intrusion detection system

Search Engine Optimization

  • Fully SEO optimized HTML
  • Optimized by SEO experts
  • Per-page optimization (title, etc)
  • Proper use of H1…H6 tags
  • Automatically generated robots.txt file
  • Search engine friendly links
  • Alt tags on product images
  • Automatic sitemap XML file
  • W3C valid templates
  • Tableless CSS driven templates

Storefront

  • Full product catalog
  • Online checkout system
  • “Call for pricing” option
  • One click add to cart
  • Optimized for usability
  • Product comparisons
  • Order status updates
  • Live order tracking
  • Email/print invoices
  • Customer address book
  • Private wish lists
  • Public wish lists
  • Order messaging system
  • Related products
  • Suggestive cart
  • “You may also like”…

Marketing and Promotions

  • Trackable coupon codes
  • Coupon expiry date
  • Coupon limited uses
  • Google Analytics integration
  • Bulk discounts per product
  • Online certificate use
  • Promotional banners
  • Discount rules system
  • Buy one get one free, etc
  • Free shipping over $x
  • $x on orders over $y
  • Newsletter subscriptions
  • Export to Google Base
  • Affiliate tracking system
  • Gift certificates
  • RSS feeds
  • Google AdWords export
  • Yahoo Search Marketing export
  • Popular products list
  • New products list
  • Top sellers list
  • Quick search popup box
  • “Did you mean?” spelling
  • Integrates with any live chat software
  • LivePerson Express 30 day trial

Payment & Shipping

  • Accept credit cards online
  • Support for 50+ gateways
  • PayPal, Google Checkout, etc
  • Support for secure checkout
  • Support for “offline” payments
  • COD, pay in store, cheque, etc
  • Take orders over the phone
  • Sell in multiple currencies
  • Real time conversion rate updates
  • Auto-detect location for currency
  • Real time shipping quotes
  • UPS, USPS, FedEx, Aus Post, etc
  • Define your own shipping rates
  • Limit shipping methods by country
  • Limit shipping methods by state
  • Limit shipping methods by zipcode
  • Various free shipping options
  • Add handling cost to orders

Order & Checkout Features

  • Single page checkout
  • Shipping quote estimates
  • Guest checkout option
  • Refunds and store credits
  • Custom checkout form fields
  • Delivery/event dates
  • Shipping tracking numbers
  • Email order confirmation
  • Agree to terms before ordering
  • Add multiple items to cart
  • Create order shipments
  • Order messaging system
  • One click re-order

Technical Support and Training

  • Unlimited free email support
  • Unlimited free phone support
  • Hundreds of “how to” articles
  • Comprehensive user guide
  • Dozens of training videos
  • Weekly training Webinars
  • Built-in popup help tips

Design and Customization

  • Dozens of templates to choose from
  • W3C/XHTML compliant templates
  • Easily integrate your existing design
  • Edit templates in Dreamweaver
  • Drag and drop layout customization
  • Edit HTML and CSS in your browser
  • Upload a logo or use the logo editor
  • Change website text using your mouse
  • Edit email templates from control panel
  • Works in all popular web browsers
  • Web-based control panel

Tax

  • State-based taxes
  • Country-based taxes
  • Unlimited tax rates
  • Prices inc/ex tax
  • Flat tax option
  • Tax rate display in store
  • Tax shown on invoices, etc
  • Flexible tax rules and flow

Content Management Features

  • Full CMS functionality
  • 100% browser based
  • Publish web pages
  • Display returns policies, etc
  • Easy-to-use WYSIWYG editor
  • Page dropdown/pop out menus
  • SEO-friendly pages
  • Restrict to customer groups
  • Publish content from RSS
  • Contact forms on pages
  • Responses sent via email
  • Display page as home page
  • Recent news items
  • Banners and promotions

Search Features

  • Search suggest
  • “Did you mean?” suggestions
  • Related searches list
  • Advanced search options
  • Fiter by price
  • Filter by availability
  • Filter by free shipping
  • Search tips and advice
  • Shop by brand
  • Shop by price
  • Saved searches and views
  • Advanced order/product search
  • Search and export results (admin)
  • Search customers by name, email, etc
  • Quick Search popup in store
  • Search query reporting

Import/Export Features

  • Import existing products easily
  • Extremely flexible import system
  • Export products to CSV/XML
  • Sync to Intuit Quickbooks
  • Export to MYOB, Peachtree
  • Export to StoneEdge
  • Export in custom formats

Customer Features

  • Customer groups
  • Wholesale/retail pricing
  • Per-group pricing
  • Per-group discounts
  • Category level discounts
  • Product level discounts
  • Storewide group discounts
  • Move customers between groups
  • Add new customers to group
  • Filter customers by group
  • Export customers by group

Reporting Features

  • 25+ performance reports
  • Daily conversion rate
  • Top 20 customers
  • Best selling products
  • Order locations (Google maps)
  • Orders by item sold
  • Orders by revenue
  • Popular products
  • Inventory report
  • Customers by date
  • Revenue per customer
  • Search keywords with results
  • Search keywords without results
  • Best performing keywords
  • Worst performing keywords
  • Search term corrections

Product & Inventory Features

  • Per-product inventory levels
  • Automatic inventory control
  • Inventory reminder indicators
  • Sell physical & digital items
  • Product variations (size, color, etc)
  • Configurable purchase fields
  • Gift wrapping options
  • Per-product gift wrapping
  • Live shipping quotes
  • Product reviews & comments

* Feature list correct as of September 2009. Features are constantly updated, the latest feature list can be found on the BigCommerce website.

The Best 15 SEO Tools for Beginners

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the art of optimizing your web site to rank higher in SERP or Search Engine Result Position.

Being on #1 or page one of Google is the ultimate goal of any webmaster. It’s the key that separates the average site from the extraordinaire. Simply put, the higher you are on the search results, the more organic traffic you will get.

Studies have shown that most searchers don’t go beyond page three so if your site isn’t found in the first 3 pages for your keywords, you probably haven’t done enough to optimize your site.

Now the question is how do you know if you are doing the right thing?

That’s where online SEO tools are available at your disposal to check and diagnose the SEO status of your site so you can take all the necessary steps to improve your overall search engine ranking.

Below I have compiled a list of the Best SEO tools available on the net.

The Best 15 SEO Tools for Beginners
PageRank Checker is a free tool to check Google Page Ranking of any site and its pages easily and instantly. Google PageRank or PR is a measure of any sites popularity based on Google kept-secret algorithm. The PR is an indication of certain authority to your site and how important it is in the eyes of Google. For the uninformed, here’s how Google calculates your PR.

PageRank Search allows you to search Google using any keyword(s) you wish. It will then return, in order of Google relevance, the sites associated with those keywords. Each result displays a graphical bar with the PageRank of that particular site.

Internal Pages PR Checker will check the page rank of all of your site’s inner pages index by Google and it’s useful to use right after the PR update.

Link Popularity Checker is a tool that checks total number of pages in each search engines index that contains a link to your site, including your own website. It is used to measure your site’s online visibility. The popularity of your site is an important factor in your search engine ranking. The more popular your site is, the better it will be ranked on the search engines.

Backlink Anchor Text Analyzer help you determine the backlinks of your site and anchor text (link text) used to link to your site. Link Building is all about getting the quality backlinks along with the quantity. The truth is getting a few of the right links, from the right places can be more valuable than getting 100 links from the wrong places.

It’s all about using the right keywords you are trying to optimize as your anchor text (link text) from the right neighborhood.

Reciprocal Link Checker helps you ensure that your link partners are linking back to your site and determines what anchor text is used. Gone are the days when reciprocal links are considered important, the big G is now putting more weight on one-way (the best option) or three-way links (site A ↔ site C, site C ↔ site B and site B ↔ site A)

Keyword Density refers to the measurement in percentage, the number of times a keyword or phrase appears compared to the total number of words in a page which needs to balance correctly. Too low and you will not get the optimum benefit, Too high and your page might get flagged for “keyword spamming”.

This tool parses the most frequently keyword of a website and calculates its percentage share.

Keyword Suggestion Tool will help you with choosing of the right keywords for your website and analyze which keyword combinations are more popular. Choosing the right keywords is critical for a success of your site. Target the wrong keywords and you have lost.

There is pure gold hidden in less competitive keyword combinations and variations.

Link Analysis of External and Internal Links – The link analysis display all internal and external links of a website with the corresponding anchor texts in a summary table. It’s one of the best I have ever used.

SERP Position Checker is the keyword position analysis used to check on which position your domain is ranked for a given keyword and compare the first 100 results by Google, MSN and Yahoo.

Robots.txt Syntax Checker is the simplest tool to check the contents of your site’s robots.txt against the search engines standard, along with providing warnings on the wrong use of syntax.

In case you aren’t in the know, robots.txt file is the key to stopping search engines robots from indexing certain pages of your site which are deemed unnecessary to be included in the search results, yet many people still fail to get the syntax correct.

Copyscape scours the net and finds sites that have copied your content without permission, as well as those that have quoted you. It is designed to protect you against online plagiarism and article theft.

Search Engine Placement Check is a verification tool that checks if your site is in the top three pages of a search engine result for a specific keyword. It’s important to be in the top 3 pages of a search result because most people using search engines don’t go past the 3rd page.

Bad Neighborhood Checker checks link pages and reports if there are links to bad neighborhoods. This tool will scan the links on your site, and on the pages that your site is linking to, and flag possible problem areas. This can greatly ease your SEO efforts.

Website Grader is a free SEO report that measures the marketing effectiveness of your site. It provides a score that incorporates things like website traffic, SEO, social popularity and other technical factors. It also provides some basic advice on how your site can be improved from a marketing perspective.

Last But Not Least
SEO is never intended to be seen as touch-and-go effort in much the same way no success can be achieved overnight. It really takes a lot of patience, commitment and the know-hows to succeed. All the above tools will not bring you to #1 in search results but it helps you to be aware of ‘where you are now’ and ‘where you should aim to be in future’.

Knowledge is the key to SEO success

Indeed there are no hard and fast rules to SEO, it all boils down to the right mixture of quality content and quality inbound and outbound links with proper keywords optimization and all these tools will tell you if you are getting the right combination to move you closer to #1.

Using Keyword in Alt and Title Attributes

An important and largely overlooked aspect of SEO is images ALT attributes. Most website have a lot of images and pictures but they can be used to not just look good, but to help improve the overall SEO of your website. Alt attributes are the text that describes your image. Alt attributes are displayed on the site while the images are loading, or when you hover over the image with your mouse. They also helps disabled people who are using text readers to read your web pages. Alt attributes are another place where you should insert your keywords to improve your organic rankings in the search engines. Even if your text content already contains keywords, you can still improve and reinforce your most important keywords using this method.

Having alt attributes along with naming your images as something descriptive will also drive traffic to your site from Google Images, and in effect, help your overall ranking. Some SEO companies abuse alt attributes and just fill them with all kinds of keywords. However, alt attributes are required if you want your site to validate with W3C standards.

It is a good idea to use keywords in alt attributes, just don’t over do it. Not implementing alt attributes with your images could cost you important traffic.

The TITLE attribute, in contrast to the ALT attribute, can be used for virtually any html page element and is not a requirement according to the W3C. You can use TITLE attributes to describe links, tables, form, form attributes, individual table rows, lists, headings, blockquotes and other structural HTML elements. The TITLE attribute is more versatile than the ALT attribute and many search engine ranking algorithms read the text in TITLE attributes as regular page content.

Specifically, the TITLE attribute is an easy way to give the majority of your visitors more information without taking up valuable real estate on your page. The maximum permissible length of the TITLE text for Internet Explorer is more than a 1000 characters, but we recommend trying to keep your descriptions below 25 words, as much more than this can be very hard to take in at a glance.

6 Awesome Tips for Creating a Natural Backlink Profile

If you’re paying for links or building them manually, it’s becoming more and more important to make it look like you’re gaining them naturally. That’s because, as a site owner, you’re supposed to be gaining them naturally, at least in Google’s eyes.

And the search engines are becoming increasingly good at sniffing out links that, by their rules, haven’t been earned.

In an ideal world, what is considered ‘earned’ would be up for debate. In the real world though, we must play by their rules.

Therefore, if you’re actively involved in the backlinks you obtain and not simply sitting back and taking whatever comes at you via your ‘too awesome for words!’ content, then don’t raise any flags and make it easy for Google to discount your hard earned links.

Follow the tips below the help keep your link profile as natural looking as possible.

Because things that aren’t in accordance with nature are easy to spot.

1. Vary Your Anchor Text

Targeting one specific term and building links with exactly the same anchor text and description is never a good idea. Instead try to gain links that have varied versions of your preferred anchor text. For example, if your main term was “online college degrees” you might also target; ‘college degrees online’, ‘online colleges and degrees’ and even ‘degrees and colleges online’. Also get some links that are just straight URLs (and even images) as not every site would naturally link to you using anchor text or keywords.

2. Don’t Focus on Just Pages with High PageRank

Again, in the natural realm of things, not every site that links to yours would have high PR (or even any PR). Don’t be afraid to ask for, or spend your money, on backlinks from pages that are of good quality and indexed, but maybe don’t have oodles of PageRank. They’re not a waste of time if they’re helping to balance out your link profile.

3. Don’t Forget Your Inner Pages

Don’t focus your campaign solely on gaining links to the homepage. Choose important inner pages and get links to those too. By doing this you’ll be showing Google that your content is garnering interest.

4. Get All Different Types of Links

There are many different types of backlinks, with editorial style ones being the best. Definitely try to score these but don’t focus exclusively on any one type of link. Also strive to gain links from blogrolls/sidebars, resource type pages, quality directory listings, social media sites, sponsorships and awards etc. Basically anywhere it makes sense for your site to be listed or mentioned.

5. Stay Away From Link Schemes

Avoid automated link programs and spammy “submit site” or “add url” type of sites. Showing up in these places only tells Google that you may be actively seeking links to increase your popularity. Focus on obtaining links that not just everyone can have (i.e. ones you can bring home to mama).

And again, only get links where it makes sense.

6. Keep the Link Velocity Slow and Steady

Unless your site has recently been mentioned on CNN or made the homepage of digg, be wary of the rate at which you are gaining your manual links. Just remember, it isn’t only the sheer number of links that matters in the long run but the quality of the sites linking to you.

Using Keyword in Alt and Title Attributes

An important and largely overlooked aspect of SEO is images ALT attributes. Most website have a lot of images and pictures but they can be used to not just look good, but to help improve the overall SEO of your website. Alt attributes are the text that describes your image. Alt attributes are displayed on the site while the images are loading, or when you hover over the image with your mouse. They also helps disabled people who are using text readers to read your web pages. Alt attributes are another place where you should insert your keywords to improve your organic rankings in the search engines. Even if your text content already contains keywords, you can still improve and reinforce your most important keywords using this method.

Having alt attributes along with naming your images as something descriptive will also drive traffic to your site from Google Images, and in effect, help your overall ranking. Some SEO companies abuse alt attributes and just fill them with all kinds of keywords. However, alt attributes are required if you want your site to validate with W3C standards.

It is a good idea to use keywords in alt attributes, just don’t over do it. Not implementing alt attributes with your images could cost you important traffic.

The TITLE attribute, in contrast to the ALT attribute, can be used for virtually any html page element and is not a requirement according to the W3C. You can use TITLE attributes to describe links, tables, form, form attributes, individual table rows, lists, headings, blockquotes and other structural HTML elements. The TITLE attribute is more versatile than the ALT attribute and many search engine ranking algorithms read the text in TITLE attributes as regular page content.

Specifically, the TITLE attribute is an easy way to give the majority of your visitors more information without taking up valuable real estate on your page. The maximum permissible length of the TITLE text for Internet Explorer is more than a 1000 characters, but we recommend trying to keep your descriptions below 25 words, as much more than this can be very hard to take in at a glance.

SEO: 3 Things to Consider Before You Begin Blogging For Your Business

Blogging as part of a search engine optimization campaign is currently popular. A number of businesses blog to help improve their performance and results in different ways. A blog can be a useful SEO tool if used appropriately.

Before creating and developing a blog, there are some important issues which must be considered. If you do not take the time to plan these aspects of your blog carefully, you will likely struggle with your blogging in the future.

The first thing you must consider is why you want and need a blog. What do you hope to achieve by writing a blog for your business? There can be many benefits for a company which uses blogging. You must have a clear idea of what you hope to achieve from your blogging efforts before you begin because the purpose of your blog will affect many aspects of it. Blogs are commonly used to gain exposure for a business, to establish the business owner as an expert within the online community and to direct traffic to the website of the company.

The second issue for consideration is where your blog will be located. A number of blogging sites offer you free space for blogging but when choosing this option, you will not have control over the domain name of your blog. This can hinder how useful and effective your blog can be for your business. In most cases, it is recommended to create your blog as part of your company website. A number of businesses choose to do this because it can be highly advantageous. However, the purpose of your blog can alter the suitability of this option.

The third issue for consideration is the content within your blog. The content you want you write, how often you plan on updating your blog and the type of language you will use within your content are all areas which need to be explored.

Ensure you carry out thorough research for the content of your blog. Use keyword research tools so you know which keywords and phrases you need to be using in your content and make a plan of what different topics you aim to cover in your blog. Brainstorm ideas and gather some useful writing tips from reliable sources too. Techniques to help you to find inspiration when writing and tips to help you to express your ideas and thoughts clearly can be highly beneficial.

If you are hoping a blog will be useful for your search engine optimization campaign, there are some important matters you must consider before beginning the development of your blog.

We at Center Stage Web Design and SEO know how effective blogs can be when used as part of an effective SEO campaign. We help our clients at every stage of blog development and ensure blogs are used productively. We can provide you with the support and action you need to make your blog successful. Work with us and your blog will contribute helpfully to your SEO campaign.

5 Good Reasons why you need an SEO strategy:

Organic Search can help you achieve your business goals
Want more customers? More leads? More sales? The internet is a huge marketplace and consumers appear to have lost their fear of buying things via the web. Search engines are often the starting place for a product search, and they’re getting more popular. More than half of all internet users search at least once a day. E-commerce is booming.

Brand visibility / find-ability
About a quarter of all web searches contain a brand term, such as a product or company name, either on its own or combined with other generic keywords. Should you really have to pay to be found following a search on your brand? Also, when consumers add brand terms to generic searches it is a great indicator of purchase intent.

Don’t allow your competitors to rank higher than you on your own products!
Paid search is becoming more expensive
There is greater competition in paid search these days, which means click costs have increased in many sectors to a point where there is limited scope for profit. Your ability to generate ROI depends on how well you convert traffic to customers, and paid search traffic can cost a lot of money.

People prefer the natural results
Users tend to choose the natural search results in preference to the paid-search listings. According to a sample figures for selection of natural search were 60.8% for Yahoo! and 72.3% for Google. This figure increases for experienced users. This suggests that companies who concentrate on paid listings only are limiting their visibility.

SEO helps you build a better website
Therefore it helps you build a better user experience, if only because of the focus on what you should be doing for the maximum impact in the organic search listings. Better usability. Better fulfillment paths. Happy customers mean higher satisfaction rates and more repeat business.