Web and Hosting Tips
Written by Taylor Hawes
Thursday, May 23rd, 2013
If you spend any amount of time on digital marketing blogs, you’ve probably noticed by now that content marketing appears to be the “hot promotional strategy” of 2013.
However, what you may not have noticed is that content marketing is more than a fad – it’s a shift in online promotional paradigms that’s here to stay. According to the Content Marketing Institute “2013 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends” report, 86% of B2C companies plan to maintain or increase their content marketing investments throughout the year, with 54% of B2B companies sharing the same opinion.
If your website doesn’t yet have a content marketing strategy, it’s time to create one. Here’s what your plan should include:
Element #1 – A detailed description of your target audience
The first thing you need to know when planning a content marketing campaign is who you’re trying to reach. The better educated you are about your target customers; the more likely it is that you’ll be able to develop content pieces that appeal to them.
Specifically, try to find out your customers’:
Age and gender distribution
Average annual incomes
Belief systems and personal priorities
Online habits and activities
Your website’s analytics data can provide insight into some of these topics, as can customer surveys or simply tracking the behavior of your followers on public social media sites like Twitter.
Element #2 – The content channels you plan to utilize
As you learn more about your target audience, you should be able to get a feel for how they spend their time online. Make note of the social sites on which they’re most active, as these key locations will provide the basis for your content promotion activities.
While you might think that it’s safe to promote your content on Facebook and Twitter and call it a day, you’re always better safe than sorry. If your customer research efforts determine that your target demographic is hardly active at all on Twitter and instead prefers a niche forum for online engagement, it’s better to find this out before you’ve committed to a new Twitter marketing plan!
Element #3 – The content types you’ll produce
Another important component in a good content marketing strategy is a publishing calendar that details the types of content you’ll produce and when you’ll release each individual piece.
As an example, your customer research might indicate that your target audience prefers to share infographics and list type blog posts with others in their networks, compared with videos or long form, editorial-style blog posts. As a result, you could create a publishing calendar that involves releasing one infographic a month and weekly blog posts that periodically utilize the list format.
Keep in mind that consistent engagement is critical when it comes to content marketing success. By deploying content at regular intervals, you’ll expand your brand’s reputation and keep website visitors coming back for more.
Element #4 – The resources needed to create your content
As you’re building your publishing schedule, be careful not to get too ambitious!
If you hate writing, you need to either focus your efforts on the kinds of content you enjoy producing or you need to hire an outsourced writer who’s familiar with your industry. Similarly, if you love writing, but don’t have the time to commit to drafting regular posts, you’ll need to make the same type of decision.
Be honest with yourself. It’s fine to be optimistic about your campaign’s potential outcomes, but leaving yourself without the resources needed to develop high value content pieces will doom your promotional efforts from the start.
Element #5 – A metrics-driven plan for measuring the impact of your campaign
Finally, be clear with yourself about what you want your content marketing campaign to achieve. If you’re going to be investing either your time or your money, it’s important that you have a way to determine whether or not you’re achieving a positive ROI.
Potential goals for your content marketing campaigns include:
More website traffic
Increased brand mentions
New social followers
Viral content shares
More email newsletter subscribers
Whatever general goal type you choose, be sure to create both target milestones and a method for tracking your progress. For example, don’t just say, “I want to increase sales through content marketing.” Instead, say, “I want to acquire 10 new customers each month through content marketing,” and then set up a system (as in, Google Analytics Goals combined with Advanced Traffic Segments) that will allow you to determine exactly which sales can be attributed to your content marketing efforts.
Use the information your tracking program generates to regularly assess the success of your campaigns and to make adjustments as needed. By continually measuring and reevaluating your content marketing initiatives, you’ll position your business well to see improved performance through this powerful promotional strategy.
Written by Taylor Hawes
Tuesday, May 21st, 2013
When it comes to website promotional techniques, there’s almost nothing better than a good quality guest post. Not only does this powerful marketing strategy send traffic to your website and confer upon your brand the implicit recommendation of the hosting site, a well-crafted guest post also gives your website the benefit of a natural, highly-relevant backlink.
But that said, not all guest posts are created equal. There’s a big difference between securing a guest post spot on a well-known authority blog in your industry and posting your content to a no-name blog orchestrated by an SEO spammer.
If you really want to take advantage of the power of good guest posting, keep the following five guidelines in mind:
Tip #1 – Post to relevant websites
Plenty of websites accept guest posts – but that doesn’t mean that they’re all good targets for your guest publishing campaign!
For best results, stick with publishing to websites in your industry or in fields that are closely related. Trying to shoehorn your area of expertise into an unrelated article results in content that won’t encourage visitors to visit your site (as they likely won’t be interested in your on-subject content) and diminishes the SEO value of the link you receive.
Tip #2 – Post to well-known websites
At the same time, even sites in your industry might not represent ideal guest post targets if they’re new and/or un-trafficked.
If you post to a site without an established audience base, it’s unlikely that you’ll receive any significant referral traffic for your efforts. In addition, because the search engines tend to value links from well-known sites over their younger competitors, the link equity you’ll receive from this type of arrangement isn’t as strong.
While you might not be able to land any “big fish” guest post spots at the start of your campaign, you can work your way up by leveraging high quality articles published on smaller sites to prove your worth to bigger targets.
It should go without saying, but if you happen to land a guest spot on any website, the content you send over should represent the best of your abilities. This is important for two different reasons…
First, the search engines have made it their mission to reward high quality web content. While their algorithms aren’t sophisticated enough yet to ensure that the best possible results turn up at the top of every search result, they’re constantly striving towards this goal. As a result, it’s in your best interests to create great content – whether it’s being published on your site or on another website altogether.
But you also have to remember that most web communities are surprisingly small. If you deliver an awful guest post to one site, word could get out that you aren’t one who upholds your end of the guest author bargain, making it more difficult for you to secure high profile guest gigs in the future.
Tip #4 – Drive visitors to custom landing pages
Typically, when you’re offered a guest posting spot, you’re able to include 1-3 links back to your website. And while most guest authors use these links to point back to their home pages, you can increase the likelihood that any newly-acquired visitors will stick around and engage with your brand by driving them to custom landing pages.
These landing pages could include any of the following elements:
An acknowledgement of the referring site
A hand-picked list of similar posts on your site that new visitors might enjoy
Links to your social profiles
An email newsletter sign-up form
Encouragement to take any other action that supports your business’s bottom line
Though this might sound like a lot of extra work, it typically only takes a few minutes to create a new custom landing page once you’ve built an initial template for this purpose.
Tip #5 – Use Google+ authorship to claim your guest posts
One last way to get the most out of your guest posts is to claim the authorship of your posts using Google+.
In some cases, the hosting site’s owner will use a website plugin that adds you as a site user and uses your Google+ profile link to automatically form an authorship connection. But if this isn’t the case, you can still claim authorship by including a link to your Google+ profile (marked up with the “rel=author” tag, as described here) and then linking back to the hosting site from within the “Contributes to” section of your Google+ account.
While this second strategy requires a bit more work on your part, the benefits of Google+ authorship make your efforts well worth it. When combined with the tips described above, it’s a vital part of ensuring that you get the most value possible for every guest post you submit.
Written by Taylor Hawes
Thursday, May 16th, 2013
You’ve put tons of effort into building your website – so don’t let your hard work go to waste by slacking off on your webmaster responsibilities!
As a site owner, you owe it to yourself and to your business to be the best possible webmaster you can be. The following are just a few of the activities that separate run-of-the-mill webmasters from great site managers. Add them to your weekly routine and you’re sure to see a difference in your website results.
Tip #1 – Update your website regularly
Having a website is great, but if you never update the site that you built initially, you’re missing out on two very powerful webmaster benefits.
The first is that regularly updated content – whether published through an articles section, a blog or some other format – helps to form a connection between your business and your target customers. People feel much more confident interacting with and buying from sites that are regularly updated, versus those that clearly haven’t been touched since their initial launch.
At the same time, adding new content to your site on a regular basis confers a powerful SEO advantage that could lead to your site ranking higher in the natural search results. This, in turn, leads to increased traffic and sales, providing a tangible benefit for your investment into updating your site regularly.
Tip #2 – Run periodic usability tests
Whenever you make changes to your website (even if it’s something as simple as changing a font color on your home page), you introduce the possibility of coding errors that can take down part or all of your site.
For this reason, it’s important to run periodic usability tests that identify any errors that may be inhibiting your site’s functionality. Usability tests can be as simple as previewing your website in different browsers using a tool like Browser Shots or as complex as navigating through every page on your site in order to manually detect errors.
Tip #3 – Manage broken links appropriately
In particular, keep an eye out for broken links when running your usability tests. Internal or external links that refer visitors to pages that are no longer live (whether due to the movement of the page, the closure of the site or some other circumstance) both frustrate users and prevent the search engines’ indexing programs from effectively cataloging the pages on your site.
The easiest way to monitor for broken links is with the use of a plugin that automatically scans your pages for these failed connections (as in the case of the Broken Link Checker plugin for WordPress), though you can test your links manually as well. If you encounter broken links on your website, you can either remove the links or redirect your link to a different page entirely.
Tip #4 – Engage your community on social sites
As a webmaster, you can’t live in a bubble and assume that all’s well in the world just because your website is functioning properly. Engaging in social media marketing is now a “must do” for all webmasters, given the expectations of today’s consumers and the SEO value that can be derived from social networking interactions.
Fortunately, you don’t need to be a social media guru to enjoy the benefits this type of marketing can bring about. Start small by building a profile for your business on one of the top social media sites (including Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest) and make a commitment to post new content and engage with followers once a day. Once this becomes routine, expand your social presence to other networks or delve more deeply into marketing strategy recommendations for the site you’ve chosen.
Tip #5 – Solicit user feedback to drive website changes
Finally, good webmasters recognize that their opinions on their websites are just that – opinions. Instead of building and managing their sites from this narrow point of view, these business owners ask their users for feedback and make changes based on this advice.
As an example, a webmaster running an online jewelry store could send out a customer survey asking past purchasers about the products they’d like to see added to the shop next. Not only does this provide the webmaster with valuable market research on the products his customers are most likely to buy, it also demonstrates to customers that their opinions are valued – making them more inclined to buy from the shop in the future.
Truly, website management is an ongoing process that requires continuous commitment from site owners in order to maximize performance. While it may sound daunting to add all these different tasks to your webmaster “to do” list, you’ll likely find that the increased website traffic, higher sales and better natural search results rankings will be well worth your efforts.
Written by Taylor Hawes
Tuesday, May 14th, 2013
If you’re a webmaster who’s devoted hours upon hours to building up your site and its presence in the natural search results, there’s almost nothing scarier than the thought of logging into your Google Analytics account and seeing the massive drop in traffic that indicates a search engine penalty.
It doesn’t matter if you’re facing manual action by Google or if your site simply fails to meet the quality threshold imposed by an unexpected algorithm update. What does matter is the potential loss of traffic and revenue your site faces if you don’t take the necessary steps to determine whether or not your website is at risk.
To minimize your site’s chances of being struck with a search engine penalty, pay attention to the following three factors:
Factor #1 – Is your content written for humans or computers?
In the “good ol’ days” of SEO, the search engines relied more heavily on the number of keyword repetitions present in a piece of content than on its quality when it came to determining which site to place at the top of the search results.
As you might expect, website owners and early SEO strategists figured this out pretty quickly – resulting in websites that were cluttered with keyword-stuffed articles, “hidden” text displayed in the same color as the page’s background and paragraphs of “optimized” content buried in website footers.
But while these strategies would have helped your site to achieve top rankings in 1996, the search engines have come a long way since these early days. Their algorithms are now much more sophisticated and they’re constantly being improved, as evidenced by 2011’s Google Panda update, which specifically targeted low-value website content.
So how should you proceed when it comes to content creation these days? Simple – write for both your readers and the search engines.
As a website owner, your primary consideration should be developing content that your readers will find useful, as the search engines’ long-term intention is to reward sites that provide the best possible value for their users (even if their algorithms aren’t yet sensitive enough to achieve this 100% of the time).
At the same time, though, throw the search engines a bone when it comes to determining the subject of your content by including your target keywords at least once or twice in your body content in a natural way. Don’t go overboard (10% keyword density, for example, is a dead giveaway that you’re trying to game the system), but do make the purpose of your content clear to both readers and the search engines.
Factor #2 – Is your site too perfectly optimized?
Run a quick Google search for “on-page SEO techniques” and you’ll come up with lists of specific, easily implemented recommendations on how to make your site’s content more search engine friendly.
Now, don’t get me wrong – tips like adding your target keywords to your title tags, optimizing your body content heading tags and creating internal links between your site’s pages are all valid SEO and usability recommendations.
However, it’s totally possible to get carried away with on-page optimization, resulting in a site that’s weirdly uniform in its SEO value. If you’ve completed the exact same optimization steps on all of your pages, you’ve essentially created a digital footprint that tells the search engines, “I’m trying to manipulate your algorithms into ranking my site better.”
There’s no guarantee that doing too much SEO will lead to immediate action taken against your site, but it’s worth noting that Matt Cutts – the head of Google’s Web Spam Team – has been hinting about the possibility of an over-optimization penalty for years. To keep your site safe, focus your efforts on creating highly-valuable content – not on meeting some arbitrarily defined SEO standards.
Factor #3 – How “natural” is your backlink profile?
Finally, one major area that the search engines have been cracking down on recently is link spam – that is, low value backlinks created for the explicit purpose of improving natural search performance.
Google’s Penguin update of 2012 was one of the first major indications that the search giant intended to penalize sites using manipulative link schemes. Since the update’s initial rollout, a number of further Penguin modifications have been released, indicating that the elimination of any benefit generated via link spam is likely to remain a priority for the engines in the near future.
As such, it’s important that you take a look at the quality of the sites pointing links back at your own pages. Start by gathering a list of your existing backlinks using the information provided by Google’s Webmaster Tools program or a third-party system. Analyze your links, paying particular attention to any created on low quality sites for the specific purpose of building SEO value.
If you encounter bad backlinks in your profile, you can either attempt to remove them (using the Google Disavow Links tool if your efforts aren’t successful) or you can try to outweigh their influence by building quality links using more natural methods. Whichever option you choose, make the regular monitoring of your site’s backlink profile a part of your regular SEO routine in order to avoid search engine penalties that could threaten the stability of your web-based business.
Written by Taylor Hawes
Thursday, May 9th, 2013
There’s no arguing with the fact that the number and quality of the backlinks pointing at your website play a role in your site’s performance in the natural search results. But unfortunately, since the recent Google Panda and Penguin algorithm updates, building effective backlinks isn’t as simple as using an automated tool to crank out spam links from bogus websites.
Instead, the name of the game in 2013 is “natural” links. For a few ideas on how to create these highly-desirable site-to-site connections, consider implementing any of the following techniques as a part of your website’s SEO plan:
Technique #1 – Publish and distribute good “link bait” content
The phrase “link bait” refers to articles, videos, infographics and other types of content that use intentionally provocative titles and subjects in order to attract both attention and backlinks. As an example, a blog in the personal finance industry could publish a post titled “101 Ways to Save Money” – a topic that’s bound to generate excitement amongst its audience members.
A few typical link bait formulas you can follow include:
List posts, as in the example above
Interviews with industry experts
Content that takes a controversial stand on a popular topic
Resource roundup articles
Breaking news pieces that cover an industry change
That said, following an established link bait formula isn’t enough to guarantee the creation of links back to your website. If your content isn’t good, it simply isn’t going to gain traction amongst your audience. Instead, use the link bait suggestions above as the foundation for exceptionally high quality content pieces that are sure to gain word-of-mouth interest that leads to natural backlinks.
Technique #2 – Write guest articles for industry blogs
If your website is new and your audience is small, gaining traction with link bait link building can be difficult, as you don’t yet have the readership needed to spread content virally. So if you find that your link bait efforts aren’t resulting in new links, you can jumpstart the process by offering to write guest articles for other sites in your industry.
As a guest author, you provide a well-developed post to a highly-regarded industry site for free, in exchange for a link back to your site. Not only will this link help funnel traffic from the hosting site back to your own, it will give you at least one incredibly powerful backlink for your efforts.
To get started with guest posting, take the following steps:
Identify websites in your industry by searching Google for “[your industry] guest author”
Follow the instructions on these sites to contact site owners with guest post proposals
Direct your efforts to the best-known, most-trafficked sites on your list
Develop killer content for any approved guest post spots in order to build brand awareness
Promote your published guest posts socially in order to build good-will with the hosting site’s owner
Technique #3 – Leverage existing memberships and relationships
Need more backlinks for your website? Take a look at the memberships and relationships you already have!
For example, are you part of a professional organization or local business group? If so, see if your membership allows you to place a link to your website in your member profile. Are you close with other website owners in your industry? Try to leverage these relationships by asking them to promote any of your products or services that you feel would benefit their audience members.
Certainly, you’ll encounter some situations in which “stingy” webmasters are unwilling to lose any traffic or link juice by placing a backlink to your site on their pages. However, in many other instances, you’ll find webmasters who are eager to provide their readers with the best possible information. And if that means linking to your website, they’ll be happy to give you this important SEO factor.
Technique #4 – Check your competitors’ backlink profiles for ideas
If you’ve done all you can to deploy great content, post articles to other sites and leverage your existing connects for backlinks, but you still aren’t seeing results, there’s one final link building option you’ll want to consider – checking out your competitors’ backlinks.
Tools like Majestic SEO and the SEOMoz Open Site Explorer will give you a free glimpse at the sites that are currently linking back to your competitors. Or, if you’re willing to pay for it, both programs offer paid memberships that will provide a complete listing of all the backlinks pointing at a given site.
Once you’ve created an account, entering your competitor’s URLs into the programs’ search bars will provide you with a list of a site’s existing backlinks:
Read through these lists and take note of any possible backlink building opportunities that you aren’t currently taking advantage of. While you’ll want to carefully qualify any new link sources generated using this method to ensure that they’re legitimate options, this technique can be an easy way to get the backlinks your website needs to perform well in the natural search results.
Written by Taylor Hawes
Tuesday, April 30th, 2013
In many ways, choosing a domain name for your new website is the hardest part of the site creation process. Given how difficult it can be to transfer websites to new URLs – and given the potential SEO losses that could occur by doing so – it’s vital that you get things right from the start.
But staring down endless lists of available and already-registered domains doesn’t make the process seem any easier. If you’re struggling to choose the right domain for your new website, consider the following tips:
Tip #1 – Look for “.com”
When it comes to domain names, you have the option to register everything from a standard “.com” URL to a country-specific extension like “.tv” (Tuvalu) or “.ly” (Libya).
That said, registering a “.com” is the best choice for nearly all businesses, for two specific reasons:
“.com” domains have better name recognition. If you want readers to be able to enter your URL directly into their browsers, they’re far more likely to remember your address if it ends in “.com.”
There’s a small SEO benefit to registering a “.com” domain, as the search engines tend to view these web URLs as belonging to stable, legitimate businesses.
Unless you have a truly compelling reason to register an alternative domain extension, stick with “.com” for best results.
Tip #2 – Consider registering multiple domain extensions
Keep in mind that the right URL might not just be one web address – it might be multiple versions of the same domain name!
As the number of domain names registered continues to increase, good names are becoming more and more competitive. For this reason, it’s possible to have a competitor snatch up the “.net” or “.biz” version of your URL – even if you’ve secured the “.com” version.
Because this can lead to lost traffic – especially if your competitors wind up outranking you in the search engine results pages – consider buying up popular TLDs (Top Level Domains) for your chosen domain, if they’re available.
Tip #3 – Aim for no more than three words
Another issue that arises due to this increased competition is the availability of desired domains. If your company has a truly unique name (for example, “Kaczmarek Consulting”), you likely won’t have an issue securing your “.com” domain.
But if your business name is even the slightest bit more generic, expect to encounter some difficulties when it comes to finding a “.com” domain.
If you find yourself in this situation, your first instinct might be to register a longer domain name (as in, “www.johnsontaxlawattorneyssanfrancisco.com” rather than “www.johnsontaxlaw.com”). Again, though, keep in mind how important domain memorability is.
When your domain name is too long – typically, more than three words in length – your customers won’t be able to remember your website’s URL. And while they’ll still be able to find your business using the search engines, you risk sending traffic to your competition if these visitors enter their “best guess” URL into their browsers instead of doing their due diligence.
For best results, keep things short, sweet and easy to remember!
Tip #4 – Avoid “cutesy” names and abbreviations
On that same note, another domain name choice that’ll kill your memorability is to include “cutesy” names, abbreviations or numbers in your URL.
Take, for example, the sample domain name, “www.realtors4u.com.”
While this might initially look like a good way to skirt around availability issues while still maintaining your company’s branding, there’s a big issue here. Whenever you try to tell somebody your domain name, you’ll have to explain that your URL uses the number “4” – rather than the spelled-out word – and the letter “u,” not the full word “you.”
If you think people might have trouble remembering long URLs, know that they’ll have a field day trying to remember your text-speak domain name! Steer clear and look for alternative domain names that convey your company’s brand messaging without resorting to tricks like these.
Tip #5 – Avoid unintentional domain hilarity
One final caveat when it comes to choosing a domain name is to carefully review your final selection before hitting the “Register” button for any inadvertently inappropriate language that might pop up.
To see what I mean, consider the real-life URLs for the following legitimate company names:
Pen Island – “www.penisland.net”
IT Scrap – “www.itscrap.com”
Who Represents – “www.whorepresents.com”
Experts Exchange – “www.expertsexchange.com”
Speed of Art – “www.speedofart.com”
Clearly, one final check will go a long way towards maintaining your business’s dignity online!
As you go about the domain name selection process, remember that moving your site from one URL to another is a complicated process. Not only do you risk losing visitors as the result of your rebranding process, your site could potentially lose SEO value as well – damaging your ability to drive traffic from the search engines. Take the time to think through all of your available domain name options to make sure that your ultimate selection represents the best long-term fit for your business needs.
Written by Sean Valant
Monday, April 29th, 2013
WordPress has been under fire lately, though it is important to note that although WordPress has been the target that there is truly nothing the platform has done to cause these recent circumstances to occur. You may have heard about the recent distributed brute force attack, which is presently on-going still and targets the “admin” user name.
A subsequent, and slightly lower-level attack has since been launched against popular WordPress plugins, like WPSuperCache and W3TotalCache. While we did identify this circumstance very early on and take pre-emptive measure to effective mitigate this attack on our server farm, it simply reiterates a point we often try to make: please make sure your scripts and plugins are always up-to-date.
Metaphorically speaking, having out of date scripts or plugins installed is akin to having a very nice house, with a very nice door with a very nice deadbolt on it that you simply choose to not engage, effectively leaving your door wide open to anyone what wants to walk in and do as they see fit with your property.
As a web host, we provide the house, the door and the lock. We also hand you the key to the lock on the door, but we cannot force you to engage that lock, we can only highly encourage you to do so.
One thing to note in regards to keeping your script installs themselves up to date is that HostGator’s proprietary script install tool, QuickInstall, does allow you to opt in to automatic updates for WordPress and other popular scripts. We highly encourage you to utilize QuickInstall and it’s automatic update functionality.
Please take a moment to log into the dashboards of all of your CMS-backend websites and take a moment to ensure everything is up-to-date. Otherwise, you are choosing not to engage that deadbolt on your front door and ultimately welcoming in all manner of individuals who may not have your best interests in mind.