Wednesday, September 26, 2007

How Important is Alexa Ranking?

Alexa Ranking - A Web Site Monetization Strategy?

All businesses that employ online marketing, strive to improve their conversion rate. Now, there are different ways of attracting targeted traffíc. Some try to achieve a good ranking in the SERPs, while others are satisfied with heavier traffic. Either way, everybody has the goal of achieving financial success.

But, while scoring high with Google may seem to certain business people the only way to make themselves known and thus reach their goal, there are others that think that a good position in the Alexa ranking system might benefit them just as well.

What is Alexa Ranking?

This is a ranking system set by (a subsidiary of ) that basically audits and makes public the frequency of visits to various Web sites. The algorithm by which Alexa traffíc ranking is calculated, is simple. It is based on the amount of traffic recorded over a period of three months from users that have the Alexa toolbar installed.

This traffíc is based on such parameters as reach and page views. The reach refers to the number of Alexa users who visit a particular site in one day. Page view, as the name indicates, is the number of times a particular page (URL) is viewed by Alexa users. makes it clear though that, if a particular user visits the same URL multiple times on the same day, all those visits will be counted as one.

The first step of the ranking process is calculating the reach and number of page views for all the sites on the Web on a daily basis. Alexa ranking is obtained by performing the geometric mean of reach and page views, averaged over a predefined period of time (three months).

How Alexa Ranking Works

It's quite easy to get started. All you have to do is visit the site and download (and install) the Alexa toolbar. This toolbar offers a search function, but it mainly displays the rank (at a global level) of the visited site, as well as the sites that have been visited by Web surfers that are linked in some way to the site being visited.

The Alexa toolbar not only displays information, but it also sends data to the central server. Thus, each time you visit a Web page via a Web browser (be it Internet Explorer or Firefox) that has the toolbar installed, information is sent to the server indicating your IP and the page you are visiting. Such data is gathered from all the Web users who have the Alexa toolbar.

With Alexa, the smaller the numerical ranking, the better. Most people say that if you manage to make it in the top 100,000, it is a sign that your site enjoys quite heavy traffíc.

Is Alexa Ranking Worth Anything?


  • Alexa Traffic can be used as a competitive intelligence tool, but you should take into consideration the fact that the audience sample size is fairly small. Just enter your competitor's site in the "Compare Sites" section and measure the results of your web marketing efforts in comparison with your competitors'.

  • As opposed to Google's PageRank, the lower your ranking number, the better.

  • It helps Webmasters and advertisers see the real marketing potential of your Web site. The better your Alexa rank, the higher they may be willing to bid to buy advertising space on your Web site.

  • Personal pages or blogs are also ranked in the same way as ordinary Web sites. They will even get a distinctive mark (*)

  • Because Alexa ranking helps you with information about your Web site, it is a good instrument for search engine optimization.


  • Not everybody has the Alexa toolbar installed, so there might be millíons of Web sites that, even if they have a lot of traffíc, will not be ranked (or not high enough) by Alexa. It is rather relative.

  • Many people say that it is inaccurate and that Alexa traffíc can be greatly influenced (or "gamed", as some prefer to call it).

  • Subdomains are not ranked separately, and neither are subpages within a domain. The overall traffic is calculated for the top-level domain only.

Ways to Improve Your Alexa Ranking

If you want to boost your Alexa traffíc ranking, you just have to follow some quite simple rules, such as:

  • Download and install the Alexa toolbar and then surf your own site.

  • Place the Alexa widget on your Web site. It will entice visitors to use it and, you know, each click counts.

  • Write useful, quality content, mostly webmaster-related. Promote it on webmaster forums and on social networking sites. The idea is to get as many computer and Internet savvy people as possible to visit your site, since the probability that they will have the Alexa toolbar installed is high.

  • Write blogs and articles about Alexa. You will get links to your pages that will help improve your ranking.

  • Try to get your articles on such blog sites as,, or

  • Optimize your site (or relevant pages of it) for Alexa related keywords.

  • Tell your friends about the Alexa toolbar, have them download and install it on their computers, and then tell them to visit your site.

  • Use an Alexa redirect. This means placing in front of your Web site's URL. Alexa will then take into consideration clicks on redirected links even if the visitor does not have the Alexa toolbar.

  • Apparently, Asian people are huge fans of Alexa. Therefore, many people suggest posting in Asian social networking forums.

  • Whenever you post on webmaster forums, include your site's URL in your signature. It is very likely that most webmasters have the toolbar installed, and there's a great probability that they'll visit your site.


As we have seen, there are pros and cons to Alexa ranking. The bottom line is that most people consider it valuable only for direct advertising. Given the fact that Alexa ranking for a site is calculated on the basis of how many visitors with the Alexa toolbar installed have visited that particular site, the results can be inaccurate.

Nevertheless, it may prove useful for sites with very good traffíc that attract highly targetëd leads, since Alexa focuses more on the traffic that Web sites receive rather than on links to it. As a Web site monetization strategy, we can safely say that Alexa ranking might be the right solution.

About The Author

Adriana Iordan is a Web Marketing Specialist at Avangate B.V.. She has in depth knowledge of internet marketing services and website analysis applied to the software industry and e-commerce development. Avangate is an eCommerce platform for electronic software distribution incorporating an easy to use and secure online payment system plus additional marketing and sales tools.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

SE Tactics: How to Avoid Alienating the Major Search Engines

Each of the major search engines Google, Yahoo and MSN have quality webmaster guidelines in place to prevent the unfair manipulation of search engine rankings by unscrupulous website owners. These webmaster guidelines change frequently to 'weed' out any new deceptive practices and those websites found engaging in these illicit practices are consequently dropped from the search engine rankings of the major search engine they have offended.

Being banned or dropped from the search engine rankings can have dire effects on your website traffic, online sales generation and site popularity. Especially if your website is classified as a 'bad neighborhood' site, you can then kiss your reciprocal linking campaign goodbye, as existing and prospective link partners will not want to be associated with your site for fear of their own rankings dropping.

If you wish to avoid alienating the major search engines then do not engage in the following SE tactics:

1. 'Cloaking' or sneaky redirects - displaying different content to the search engines than shown to your normal website visitors including hidden text and hidden links. Often this is achieved by delivering content based on the IP address of the user requesting the page, when a user is identified as a search engine spider a side-server script delivers a different version of the web page to deceive the search engine into giving the website a higher ranking.

2. 'Doorway' pages created specifically for the search engines that are aimed at spamming the index of a search engine by inserting results for specific keyword phrases to send the search engine spider to a different page. With doorway pages a user doesn't arrive at the page they were looking for. Similarly avoid 'cookie cutter' approaches that direct users to affiliate advertising with little or no original content.

3. Don't create pages that install viruses, Trojans or badware. 'Badware' is spyware, malware or deceptive adware that tracks a user's movements on the internet and reports this information back to unscrupulous marketing groups who then bombard the user with targeted advertising. This type of spyware is often unknowingly downloaded when playing online games or is attached to software or information downloads from a site. They are often difficult to identify and remove from a user's PC and can affect the PC's functionality.

4. Avoid using software that sends automatic programming queries to the search engines to submit pages or check rankings. This type of software consumes valuable computing resources of the search engines and you will be penalized for using it.

5. Don't load web pages with irrelevant words.

6. Don't link to 'bad neighborhood' sites who have:

* Free for all links pages

* Link farms - automated linking schemes with lots of unrelated links

* Known web spammers or the site has been dropped or banned by the search engines.

7. Avoid 'broken links' or '404 errors', your site will be penalized for them.

8. Don't display pages with minimal content that is of little value to your site visitors.

9. Do not duplicate content unnecessarily.

10. Do not use pop-ups, pop-unders or exit consoles.

11. Do not use pages that rely significantly on links to content created for another website.

12. Do not use 'cross linking' to artificially inflate a site's popularity. For example, the owner of multiple sites cross linking all of his sites together, if all sites are hosted on the same servers the search engines will pick this up and the sites will be penalized.

13. Do not misuse a competitors name or brand names in site content.

14. Sites with numerous, unnecessary virtual host names will be penalized.

15. Do not use techniques that artificially increase the number of links to your web pages ie. Link farms.

16. Display web pages with deceptive, fraudulent content or pages that provide users with irrelevant page content.

17. Using content, domain titles, meta tags and descriptions that violate any laws, regulations, infringe on copyrights & trademarks, trade secrets or intellectual property rights of an individual or entity. Specifically in terms of publicity, privacy, product design, torts, breach of contract, injury, damage, consumer fraud, false, misleading, slanderous or threatening content.

About the Author: Rosemary Donald is an SEO Consultant with Rank1 Website Marketing & author of the SEO ebook 'Insider Secrets of Rank1 Websites' available for $29.95 AU. Rosemary is a regular contributor to online article sites on the topics of SEO, website marketing, ecommerce, search engine marketing & small business development. Rosemary is also a successful online trader & owner of top ranking website .

Monday, September 24, 2007

How to Optimize for Yahoo!

With a reported 22.1% of search traffíc Yahoo is second only to Google's 64.4% (src: Hitwise ) for search user volume so it is extremely important not to forget that attaining a top ranking in Yahoo can be a big boon to the bottom line. As a result, I decided to write this update on how to attain superior rankings in Yahoo using today's useful tools and tactics.

Overview: Optimizing for Yahoo!

Algorithmically Yahoo is Google's much younger sibling. I say this because many of the requirements for a successful ranking mirror Google's requirement about 4 years ago and they sum up to one distinct fact; optimize your content boldly on Yahoo and you will be rewarded. When I say "boldly" I do not mean use

sp@m; by nature sp@m and optimization do not mix... they are two entirely separate concepts (black and white in fact).

The following are the current generalized specifications for achieving solid rankings in Yahoo.

Web Site Optimization

SEO tactics have not changed a great deal over the past 10 years I have been an SEO. In general terms the only effect time has had on SEO is to vary the intensity of the optimization for particular page elements. That is the rub of course; some search engines appreciate the optimization of particular page elements over others. In the case of Yahoo, this old property with a relatively young algorithm tends to favour the following elements:

Title Tag: Keep your title tag as short as 5 small-medium sized words and include one complete incidence of your keyphrase. Yahoo! blatantly favours sites that include the keyphrase in the title tag. For an example search "car sales" or for that matter any phrase. Within the top 10 results you will notice that the majority of sites listed will include at least one incidence of the keyphrase or a crucial portion of it (i.e. "cars"). The ones that do not include the keyphrase tend to be sites that are extremely popular so even basic title tag optimization is not required to attain a top ranking.

Meta Description Tag: Start this tag with an incidence of your keyphrase and then produce a short 15 – 18 small-medium sized word sentence clearly describing your site. Include one more incidence of your keyphrase in the sentence. Keep in mind that the description tag is often utilized as the description for any rankings you achieve so it is best to make it alluring.

Meta Keyword Tag: Keyword tags have long been considered ineffective and no longer have any importance on Google; however Yahoo does still consider the keyword tag so it cannot hurt to include it. The keyword tag should start with the keyphrase and then all following words or phrases should be ordered according to their relevance to your website; place the most important ones up front. The max size of a keyword tag should be 250 characters – comma-delimited. Do not over repeat words; no more than 3 repetitions of a single word within the tag.

Keywords in URL: Create keyword-based filenames that closely represent the content within the file. Yahoo rewards keyword-based filenames a small amount – perhaps enough to push past your competition.

Headings: Heading 1 and 2 tags should be applied on every page where appropriate to embolden the relevance of the page. In other words, use the page's keyphrase within a Heading 1 tag to further enhance the visibility of the keyphrase on the page.

Alt text for images: Don't forget to provide appropriate ALT text for each image on your website. The ALT text must not provide information that is already written on the website. ALT text is supposed to provide a clear and concise description of what the image is. Fortunately this means that adding an incidence of the keyphrase or a portion of the keyphrase is totally appropriate which can add slightly more credibility to your page score when Yahoo's crawler (Slurp) indexes the page.

Inline Links: In the midst of your page it is beneficial to include links to related pages from related content. These links will apply relevance to the linked page; which is optimized for the same keyphrase you linked from.

Site Structure: Site structure is a vital component to ranking success on Yahoo; especially in competitive marketplaces where every advantage is required to reach the top. One method that would be successful at Yahoo (and happens to work as well on the other major search engines) is a tried and true technique that revolves around the linear progression of related content throughout the website; it is commonly known as Themeing. The following example should shed some light on this subject:

Your site is a car sales site focused on Audi. In order to create a linear site structure you would focus each section of the site on an individual relevancy. Say you pick "Audi A5" as the relevant topic (see Figure 1.0). As you move deeper into the Audi A5 section you only see A5 relevant content. The search engine spider and your users will not be distracted by links to other vehicles – only information on the A5. This progresses as you proceed deeper into this arm of the website and because this section of the site is utterly focused on the subject "Audi A5" the odds of achieving a ranking for that term improve considerably.

When building links for Yahoo concentrate on quality not quantity. Quality links would be one way links from sites that specialize in content directly relevant to the content on your own website. Building these links can be done by creating content and syndicating it to your own industry for link love and to build credibility. In addition, if your website is a worthwhile resource it is entirely reasonable to tell the world about your site in order to build links; hopefully they will link to you because they like your site so much.

Finally, there is another tactic that has mixed results; send out press releases once a month using PRWeb or an associated press release agency. A good press release can easily build the links you need in no time at all. Unfortunately the mixed results I noted occur when press releases inevitably become archived, at which point the link relevance will fade. As a result, link building with press releases is only useful as an ongoing practice and should be considered a small facet of a robust link building campaign.

Site Explorer Settings

Yahoo's Site Explorer is a fantastic tool for monitoring your website(s) and running basic link reports. If you have not already done so you should create an account at Site Explorer and then validate your website (prove you own it) so that you can manage the information Yahoo has for your website. Once you have validated your website I have noted some Site Explorer functionality that may help your website perform on Yahoo:

  • Make certain to create a sitemap and submit it to Yahoo: If you haven't already done so use a XML sitemap generator to create a sitemap for your website and then submit it to Yahoo using the "Add Feed" form within your website's Site Explorer profile.

  • Removing unnecessary dynamic content from your URLs with new add-on within Site Explorer: Do your URLs contain session ID's or other dynamic content that is unnecessary within the URL? If so, this information can be indexed by the search engines and ultimately can cause havoc with your rankings. Thankfully Yahoo has implemented a new tool within the Site Explorer domain management section called "Dynamic URLs Beta". Here are

    the instructions to use the Dynamic URLs tool.

Other Considerations

After reviewing our notes from current and previous Yahoo promotions and taking a look at a variety of top 10 results the following points appeared noteworthy:

  • Ensure open indexing by using Robots.txt wisely

  • A lot of our client's older content appears to be sticking to top rankings with little or no monthly tweaking. As a result, I think it is fair to assume that fresh content is not currently gaining much weíght in the Yahoo algorithm.

  • In many cases top ranking sites have pushed the envelope and their sites border on sp@m. Considering the top ranking these sites have it appears Yahoo's sp@m filters are far less sensitive than Google's. I expect Yahoo will change this in the near future, but then again I have been surprised how long this has been the status quo.

  • One common claim throughout forums is that achieving a placement in the Yahoo Directory provides an immediate boost to Yahoo rankings. Unfortunately we have not seen conclusive evidence that the annual $299 fee will improve rankings dramatically in the short term. That said, I strongly believe that a Yahoo Directory placement is a very reputable incoming link that does pay dividends in the long run at any search engine that weighs incoming links (the ones that count).

  • Yahoo Search Submit was re-introduced back in February 2007 to

    significant criticism
    due to the potential favouritism to those who pay to get into the Yahoo index. Despite the negative feedback there appears to be some potential benefits to paying for submission. For one, in July I noted an interesting story where a website was banned from Yahoo and the webmaster got the site back into Yahoo's index by paying for inclusion ("Banned from Yahoo?" ). A second reason Search Submit may be worthwhile is the guarantëe that your site will be indexed. Furthermore, the Yahoo's Search Submit Pro service allows you to recommend your own title and description tags for each page submitted and to submit pages that may not normally be indexed by Slurp.

About The Author

Ross Dunn is the founder and CEO of StepForth Web Marketing Inc.. Based in Victoria, BC, Canada, StepForth has provided professional search engine placement and management services since 1997. Ross is a search engine optimization and placement expert with over 9 years of marketing experience and is a Certified Internet Marketing and Business Strategist (CIMBS). Blending his experience in the art of web design and search engine optimization, Ross offers a unique and informed perspective on obtaining top search engine placements.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Why is Search Engine Marketing So Popular?

The key to marketing has always been getting one's product recognized by as large a group of people as possible. Advertising has always been the key to any marketing effort. Companies spend millions on ad placements in trimedia campaigns that encompass print, radio and television.

Print, radio and television have traditionally been the main medium for marketing. However, in the past decades, another form of paid advertising has found itself on the rise, and this utilizes the internet.

Search engine marketing (SEM) is a form of internet marketing. It uses the web as a medium to spread awareness of its target product. Internet marketing has emerged as a cheap yet dynamic way to distribute information in the global market.

SEM seeks to promote websites - and the products being sold on those websites - by increasing their visibility through search engine results pages.

The development of SEM is an off-shoot of the success of the Internet in the global arena. As more and more people started using the web, more and more sites on a variety of topics started being created. In the mid-to-late 90s, search engines were developed to help people find the information they wanted quickly.

Soon search engines developed business models to finance their services such as pay per click programs.

A pay per click program is a small text ad that appears next to results from an on-line search. A marketer buys the rights for their ads to appear on a web page or a search engine. The ads are tied up to key words. When a searcher types in a particular query to a search engine, the engine not only offers up a listing of relevant websites but also the marketers "ad".

The first pay per click programs were offered by Open Text in 1996 and in 1998. changed its name to Overture and was purchased by Yahoo in 2003 and is now Yahoo! Search Marketing.

SEM methods include: Search Engine Optimization (or SEO), paid placement, and paid inclusion.

Search Engine Optimization is a strategy by which you attempt to improve the volume and quality of traffic to a website by "marketing" it to a web site. Using key words and content to ensure your site shows up many times during searches.

Paid placement is the pay per click program. Advertisers pay when a user clicks on to the links to visit their web site. These are also known as sponsored links or sponsored ads. Google Adwords, Yahoo! Search Marketing and MSN adCenter are the largest network operators of the pay per click program as of 2007. Minimum prices per click start at US$.01 to .50.

Paid inclusion is when a search engine company charges fees for the inclusion of a website in their search index. This fee structure is ment to ask as a filter against superfluous submissions - websites that try to "trick" the engine by using popular key words that are unrelated to actual content of site - and a revenue generator for the search engine company. The fee is typically an annual subscription rate.

SEM is a relatively cheap and inexpensive way to create traffic on you web site and cultivate brand recognition. A pay-per-click program is cheaper then a trimedia campaign and yet can reach a large number of people globally day and night. As a result, many companies are now taking advantage of the internet to let consumers know what they have.

According to a recent report by the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, advertisers in North America alone spend $9.4 billion in SEM in 2006. In 2006, the majority of search marketers (62%) said branding was the primary objective of search marketing campaigns. Nearly as many, however (60%) said that selling products was a key objective. This year, direct sales were the top choice, at 58%, followed by brand awareness at 57%. For more companies, SEM spending is increasing and actually earning a bigger budget then other marketing techniques. It is estimated that by 2011, companies will be spending $ 18.6 billion on SEM.

This growth will be driven by strong advertiser demand, rising keyword pricing and more small and midsized business discovering the effectiveness of SEM.

Currently, SEM is an alternative marketing tool with many possibilities. It's increase in popularity will eventually result in more businesses utilizing SEM techniques and a possible rise in rates for web space. The faith major businesses are placing in SEM - as denoted by the money they are willing to spend on it - makes this fast growing advertising technique that should be utilized by any business seeking to make a name for it's globally.

About the Author: Mikhail Tuknov, a Search Engine Optimization Specialist, can improve search engine ranking of your online business. SEO specialist providing search engine optimization (SEO), pay per click (PPC) management, web site design or development and web analytics services.

The Art of Website Maintenance

Now that you've designed and launched your website, you have a powerful marketing tool for your business. But, your website is only as useful as the content is current. The process of keeping the content on your site current is called website maintenance, and it's important to keep both visitors and search engines supplied with new information. Just like regular maintenance on your car, you have to make changes on your website every few months to make sure that things run smoothly.

If you update the content on your website on a regular basis, potential clients will be drawn back to your site to find out "what's new". The search engines pay visits to websites in their queue regularly. The catch is that you'll stay in the queue only if you update your site regularly. If the search engines visit your site several times in a row, and don't find anything new, they may decide not to come back-which can be a blow to your search engine rankings.

So, when is it appropriate to update your website? You don't want to waste time and monëy nitpicking at your site if you don't have updates of real value to add. You should update your site if you've:

- Grown your skills. Have you gotten a new accreditation? New licensing? Improved your skills? Any change in your skill set is a great reason to update your website - and your potential clients - with your new capabilities.

- Expanded your products or services. Do you have a new offering? Add it to your website and start making new sales in that area.

- Completed a successful project. If you've just finished a project, include it on your website. Create an online portfolio, add a case study - build a section on your website to use as a place to show the world your success.

- Gotten more testimonials, or added to your client list. Including more feedback on your offering helps to build your credibility. Be sure to get a testimonial from each of your successful client projects. Updating your testimonials regularly will also show clients who have visited your site a few times that your offerings are "up to snuff".

- Written an article. Writing articles is a great way to keep your website up-to-date and to put more content on your site. Search engines love content-rich sites, and visitors will love to see the new information. So, if you write articles to educate your clients and promote your business, be sure to place them on your website as well. They're likely to be full of keywords related to your area of specialty, which will help your ranking in the search engines.

- Issued Press releases. You should post all press releases and other information you publish about your company to your website. You nevër know who may be visiting, and you may get written up for your accomplishments.

- Made changes in your business. Have you hired someone? Changed your business structure, and you're now required to notify the public of that? If so, you should probably review your website and evaluate how you can add that information.

- Made Yearly checkups. You should do a basic review of your site at least once a year, to make sure that the content is current. Some things to look for include:

  • Your copyright statements should be updated yearly

  • Test and validate your links, to ensure that they still work

  • Your time references should be changed. If your "About" page says how many years you've been in business, this is the time to change that!

  • Your pricing and offerings - do you have new products or services? Have your prices increased over the past year?

Spotlight any major updates on your home page as well, so that people will learn of those updates as soon as they enter your site. The search engines will also discover the new update as soon as they enter your home page if you leave a bit of information, with a link to the full story, on the home page. That will act as a breadcrumb for the engine to follow - the engines will follow your link to learn more about it.

Any of these reasons, and dozens of others, are great reasons to make changes to your site. If you make keeping your website current a priority, it will pay off with better search engine rankings and increased sales and leads through your website.

Once you've decided to make your changes, the next choice is how to go about doing that. There are two steps involved in maintaining your site:

1. First, decide whether you prefer to edit your content on paper or online. This can be done in a couple of ways. You can start by printing the pages that have outdated information and then updating that information on paper first. Or, you can copy and paste the outdated content from your website into a word processing program such as Microsoft Word and then edit that file on your computer.

2. After you have updated your text content you can choose either to make the changes yourself or to hire a web designer to make the changes. There are several tools that you can use to make changes to your site yourself. We recommend an easy-to-use tool called Macromedia Contribute. It's fairly inexpensive, its simple to set up and learn, and it allows you to back up to older versions of your site if you make mistakes.

We suggest that you use this tool to make only simple text changes. More complicated changes - for example, to the overall design or navigation - are more difficult to make, and having a professional make those changes will save you energy and frustration.

If you are comfortable with a more complicated software program, then we recommend a professional-grade tool such as Dreamweaver. With a better software package, you'll be able to make some of the more complicated changes yourself.

By building more and more current information into your website, you will also begin to build trust with your potential clients, since they will have a snapshot of what's currently happening in your business available to them. Your website can go a long way towards making sure that your online prospects know, like, and trust you - which can lead to more sales from your website.

About The Author

Erin Ferree is a brand identity designer who creates big visibility for small businesses. Her workbook, "Design a Website That Works", will walk you through all of the questíons that you need to answer in order to create the best possible website

Dos and Donts Guide to Great Web Design

When followed, the guide will prove to be quite a valuable web design resource. From the inexperienced to the experienced, this guide has something for everyone.

The Process of Great Web Design

Just to make sure we are all on the same page, lets begin with the basic definition for "web design". According to Wikipedia, web design is:

"a process of conceptualization, planning, modeling, and execution of electronic media delivery via Internet in the form of Markup language suitable for interpretation by Web browser and display as Graphical user interface".

The process of web design can be compared to the process of writing a research paper. In the conceptualization/planning stage, flowcharts (the outline) are created which illustrate the navigational structure of your website. In the modeling stage, static wireframes are created (the rough draft) which illustrate the skeletal layout for each section of your website. After the wire frames are created, graphics, colors and text are used to create the design of your web pages based on the layout of the wire frames. In the execution stage, your design is converted into a format supported by web browsers, text and content are added, and finally, your website is published live to the Internet for the world to see (final draft).

All three stages of the design process are equally important. Many web designers skip a stage in order to save time or because they don't think that is is necessary. However, all three stages are necessary if your goal is to create a successful design and respectable website. Even if the three stages are used, there are many mistakes that web designers can make that will lead to poor-quality, non user-friendly websites. It's time to clean out the cabinet of bad web design practices and restock it with the good ones.

Stage 1: Conceptualization and planning

This stage is skipped more often than the other two stages. Most writers don't enjoy creating outlines for research papers, and most web designers don't like creating flowcharts either. Don't be lazy. If you put forth the effort and plan out your website, then you will find the web design process to go smoothly with fewer mistakes made along the way.

There are a few things that you will need in order to effectively conceptualize and plan your website:

* a brain

* a pen and paper

* (optional) flowchart software

* a general idea of the different sections of your website

To begin, grab your pen and paper or launch your favorite flowchart software. I use OmniGraffle Professional for Mac OS X which costs $150 per license but is well worth it if you create websites on a regular basis. If you're on a PC, then SmartDraw is a great FREE piece of flowchart software that you can use. A pen and paper work just fine, though.

There are many methods to creating flowcharts. We are going to show you the most basic way to do it for the sake of time and the length of this article. If you want to learn more about flowcharts visit flowcharts on Wikipedia.

View the flowchart that we created when conceptualizing Chromatic Sites. (1) At the top of the flowchart we list the name of our website.

(2) Next, we include each primary section of our website: Home, About, and Services. These sections are the main navigation for your website. What the names of each section will be is entirely dependent on the content of your website. Try to use as few sections as possible so that your visitors are not overwhelmed when navigating through your website.

(3) Next, add all of the secondary pages (subsections) that will be listed on each of the primary pages. For Home, we have included Professional Web Design, Web Development, and Search Engine Optimization. The secondary navigation needs to be more descriptive than the primary navigation. The deeper your websites' navigational hierarchy goes, the more descriptive each label should be.

The Dos

* Less is more; keep the number of primary sections to a minimum. We use 6 sections on our website which is more than enough.

* Whether you use a pen and paper or flowchart software, keep things as clean and organized as possible. Although you (and anyone working with you) are the only ones that will be using the flowchart, it still needs to make sense.

* Your primary sections should use broader terms, while secondary and tertiary terms should be more descriptive.

The Donts

Creating a flowchart is pretty straight forward; however, there are a few mistakes that can easily be made:

* Don't use very descriptive terms in your primary navigation unless your entire website focuses on one narrow topic.

* Don't try and lump multiple topics on the same page. Create a general section for these topics and from that section create subsections. This will make the subsection (descriptive) web pages more likely to have better rankings in the search engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN, Ask).

Once you have created a concise and descriptive flowchart, you're ready to move on to the second stage of the web design process: modeling.

Stage 2: Modeling

In the modeling stage, static "wireframe" mockups are created. Each mockup illustrates a bare-bones skeleton of the layout for each of the web pages that will be included in your website. This stage is important because it gives us an idea of where different elements will be placed in our design. Some of these elements are:

* logo

* navigational menu

* content

* images, videos

To create these mockups, you can use a pen and paper or your preferred mockup software. In the past we have used Photoshop, but lately we have been using OmniGraffle Professional. OmniGraffle is not as resource intensive as Photoshop is and it allows us to assemble our wireframe mockups much quicker.

In addition, make sure that you have the flowchart(s) that you created nearby as you will need to reference these from time to time to make sure that you are mocking up all of the pages that will appear on your website.

Here is our example of how a wireframe mockup should look. As you can see, there are no colors or graphics included. This is exactly how a wireframe mockup should be - a skeletal layout of your design. The purpose is to be able to have a general idea of where each of the web page's elements will be placed.

We usually begin from the top left and work our way down to the bottom. There is no specific way that a wireframe should look. Use your imagination. However, make sure that when creating your wireframes you don't forget to include the most important elements of a website (logo, navigational menu, content placement, images/video placement).

If some of your pages will be using the same layout, then it is not necessary to mock all of those pages up (although you certainly can). Just be sure to mockup any unique layout that your website will have. You'll thank yourself later.

The Dos

* mockup all unique pages

* include important elements (logo, navigation, content placement, images/video placement)

* start from the top and work your way down

* reference your flowchart created in stage 1 to make you don't forget to mockup any pages

* save, save, save - like with anything on the computer, save your mockup(s) every 10 minutes or so

* focus on clean, user friendly layouts

* label your elements so you don't forget what they are when you reference them in stage 3, execution

* use other web sites as inspiration; there is nothing wrong with taking elements from other sites and making them your own (see "donts")

The Donts

* don't include graphics or colors (that's for the next stage)

* don't make your mockups too "busy"; focus on clean, well organized, user friendly layouts

* don't skip this stage; it is just as important as the first and the last

* if you take elements from other websites, make sure you don't plagiarize; there is a difference between being inspired by another website to create certain elements of your design and blatantly ripping off their layout and colors

Stage 3: Execution

In the third and final stage, execution, the planning from stages 1 and 2 are combined to assist in creating a live, interactive website. The third stage is by far the most time intensive since you will be 1) creating the graphics 2) creating the content, and finally, 3) converting the web designs from images into code that web browsers use to present your website to the world.

By the time you reach the third stage, you should have a clear idea of:

* how your visitors will get from one place to another (stage 1, flowchart)

* how your web pages will be laid out (stage 2, wireframe mockups)

If you don't have a clear idea of these two things, go back to the first and second stagees and continue to develop them. You will find that the third stage is easiest when you have constructed a clear, concise battle plan for designing your website.

Ditch the pen and paper

In stage 3, you need to be using Photoshop or another image editing program since you will be using colors and graphics to create the layout for your website.

We usually begin creating the "home" page (index) first. Use your wireframes that you created in stage 2 as a template for each of the pages you create. However, instead of using solid boxes, use graphics, colors and text instead. Each page must look exactly how you want them to look on the Internet since this is the final stage of the design process.

Be sure to include the background for your navigation (but don't actually add the text to your image). When converted using CSS (cascading style sheets), your navigation should be in the form of text and not images. Images are not crawl-able by the search engines (the keywords used in your navigation won't be indexed in the search engine results pages, meaning fewer people will be able to find your website).

When you're happy with your designs and feel that they are ready to be put on the Internet, it's time to break apart the designs so that you can create a CSS based layout. For more information on converting your layouts to CSS or marking up your website in CSS, visit or The Blog Herald. After looking around the Internet, we couldn't find a decent image-to-CSS tutorial - so expect one from us in the coming weeks. Converting your designs into CSS is extremely important since table layouts are a thing of the past.

Here is an

of a nearly-completed website of the layout we mocked up in stage 2. This was taken directly from our web browser and as you can see, there is now a logo, colors, a pretty navigation system, a footer, and a most importantly, a clean, organized layout. Thanks to the planning in stages 1 and 2, our layout is well-organized and easy to use.

The Dos

* reference your templates that were created in stage 2; though it is fine to deviate from your original layout, you shouldn't need to

* do some research before creating your actual design; get ideas from other sites and make them your own (without plagiarizing)

* include color and graphics to create the final look for your web pages

* use CSS (cascading style sheets) to convert your designs from images into markup understandable by web browsers

* reference your flowchart from stage 1 when coding your pages with hyperlinks; it is better to use a drop down menu that includes all (or the majority) of the links in your website on every page; this will allow for easier navigation and also make your pages easier to crawl when the search engine spiders stop by; a great place to get CSS drop down menus is at Dynamic Drive.

* finalize your design while working in Photoshop or whatever image editing software you use; it can be a pain to make changes to your design once it is converted into markup (code)

The Donts

* don't include the text in your navigation menus when converting to CSS; instead of using image text, use regular text that is readable by search engine spiders

* don't use tables when converting; even if you need to buy a book on CSS, it will be worth it; tables are dead

* don't forget to compress your images when they are cut apart for CSS; there is nothing worse than a slow loading website because of large image files; Photoshop has a "Save Optimized For Web" option (CS3 - "Save for Web and Devices")

Process Makes Perfect

By following a web design process such as the one illustrated in this article, you increase the chances of creating a website that is well-organized, easily navigable, and very user-friendly.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Eye Tracking, Statistical Analysis and Site Success

How a subject views a book page, a store display, an advertisement or other visual stimuli is measured using sophisticated tools that track eye scan, also called eye movement. These tools measure which design elements capture visitors' attention and which don't.

Eye tracking is used in virtually every kind of marketing - TV ads, billboards, product packaging and web sites - to determine what works and what doesn't with consumers.

What Does a Visitor See on Your Site?

The layout of a site page is scanned differently by each visitor based on individual perception, interest, need, age, education level, computer monitor, browser settings and other variables that can be tracked in empirical, eye tracking studies.

The results of numerous eye tracking studies have been quantified, enabling web site designers and owners to optimize site pages for maximum impact and "stickiness."

Single- and Multi-Variant Testing

Single-variant testing involves changing one site element and measuring the impact on conversion rate, for instance. Multi-variant testing employs a series of simple A/B comparisons conducted simultaneously or sequentially depending on what's being tested.

Using statistical analysis, and eye tracking data across broad-spectrum demographics provides numerical sums based on number of observations and length of observations of different elements on any site page. That's something you want to know. What captures the attention of site visitors? What is ignored?

Single-variant testing is the simplest to initiate and track. However it's time-consuming and may lead to unsubstantiated conclusions. Multi-variant testing is a more efficient means of determining which site appearances and features deliver optimum results, i.e. the highest conversion rate.

However, multi-variant testing is more complex than changing a single variable and waiting to gather the A/B test results. It could take months to optimize a site for conversion. Further, single-variant testing often requires the tester to make certain assumptions that may or may not be true.

For example, a change in type font shows a boost in conversion ratio. Is it logical to assume the change in font style is responsible for the improvement? No. In fact, this fallacy is called "post hoc ergo propter hoc" in the world of statistical analysis. Roughly translated, it means "after this therefore because of this."

Simply because something occurs (an improvement in conversion rate, for example) after a single-variable change has been made (the change in font) does not mean that the improvement in conversion rate is due to the font change. The improvement could be based on another factor entirely.

Planning Your Test Model

"If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there."

If you blindly (or wildly) change design elements without a thought to site improvements, all you've done is collect a lot of data. In order to determine which changes to a site improve conversion rates, it's important to first define what you're looking for - your test metric. What site element or elements will be compared?

Next, in order to develop useful data, you must determine how you'll measure and compare functionality. What methodology or "conventions" will you employ to determine a reliable outcome?

And finally, you must be able to develop a strategy that optimizes site success, however that success is defined by you. Here's an example.

Let's say you want to determine which checkout software is better for your bottom line. Before you can conduct your test, you must first create a test metric - a measurement that defines the term "better" in your query: which checkout software is better?

You might determine the test metric to simply be the number of visitors who convert. That's easy to measure, but it may not provide the complete picture. Perhaps a more useful measurement of which checkout software is better is the dollar amount each visitor spends. Or the number of repeat buyers you see. An íncrease in the number of page views, number of unique visitors or a jump in bandwidth, indicating an íncrease in downloads from your site - all of these are reasonable test metrics depending on your mission. This leads to the next step in developing accurate statistical analyses: how will comparisons between the A/B elements be measured or quantified. What test "conventions" or methods will be employed? Will you count all site visitors in the study - even those that bounce - or will you limit the test pool to those who actually put something in their cart? Or actually reach the checkout but abandon the shopping cart? Or actually complete a transaction? Determining the methodology of your single-variant or multi-variant testing prevents jumping to unsubstantiated conclusions.

And finally, what steps can be taken based on the test results you develop? If you can't answer this last question, why are you going to all the trouble to conduct the test and collate the data? If you get result Y, what can you do with that information versus result Z? This is where statistical analysis is turned into a practical, organized strategy for improving conversion ratios.

Once the test metric(s) and conventions are established, you run an A/B comparison test using the two different checkout models.

Checkout A requires two clicks to complete a transaction. Checkout B requires six clicks to complete the same transaction. Your test results reveal that the more complicated checkout model leads to a higher percentage of shopping cart abandonments. So can you assume that checkout Software A is better than Software B?

If your test metric was a simple count of software usability, Software A is the clear wínner. But what if your test metric was to determine which checkout software led to the highest "per visitor" purchase amounts? And test results reveal that checkout Software B delivers fewer purchases but purchases of higher value. In this case, Software B would be the better choice. That's why it's essential to determine each test's metrics and conventions.

Measurement Tools

There are a lot of software packages to help in gathering test data. One, called Crazy Egg provides different GUIs of site activity - an overlay view, a líst summary and even a heat map showing what's hot and what's not on your site. Easy and effective analysis.

Another popular conversion rate analysis software is Click Density, which provides real-time visitor data to help improve everything from content architecture to link placements.

Click Tale tracks every movement of visitors as they move through your site. This data is then translated into animated graphics to help you understand visitor behaviors from the time they arrive until they leave.

Finally, consider using Google Analytics - the simplest statistical analysis tool available. And it's free. Google Analytics provides snapshot views of your site's activity, allowing you to perform tests and analyze data in seconds instead of spending hours poring through report after report.

The point is this: to improve site conversion rates requires an understanding of eye tracking and statistical analysis to produce a useful optimization strategy. The hit-or-miss approach is simply too time consuming. So, if statistical analysis makes you light-headed, hire a professional who can design and validate test metrics and translate those findings into actionable strategies.

That's how you improve site performance systemically and efficiently.

About The Author

Joel Tanner is a seasoned internet marketing consultant who has been educating web designers on the best techniques in search engine optimization and conversion rate optimization for nearly a decade.

Monday, September 17, 2007

How to Write a Media Release

Did you know that publicity is supposedly seven times more effective than advertising? And it is free – that is if you do it yourself. If you know the elements of writing a good media release to capture the attention of journalists, you can benefit from free editorial coverage. Here's a few tips to help you write a media release.

The Beginning

The first and most important thing is to have something interesting to say. Consider your USP – just like in sales. It's your unique selling proposition. After all publicity is "selling". You are selling a story idea to the media. I like to call it the unique shining point. It really needs to stand out, shine, be compelling – not an advertisement, not a boring product plug.

Another element that will really hook the journalist in is to consider the ESP the emotional selling point. Often it is the human element in the story that will capture the reader's attention therefore the attention of the media. Think about what your story is. What is your background? Have you overcome any obstacles to get where you are today? Any achievements or milestones? Where is the human interest?

What's more compelling? An announcement about a wedding limousine service, or the 30th anniversary both in marriage and business of the couple who run the service? This is a story I helped someone uncover in a seminar I conducted. The couple later went on to get a full page colour photo and editorial story in a wedding supplement in their local paper – for free, just by working out the human element of interest to readers.


What's in it for me? Or what is in it for them. How does your product or service help others? Your media release needs to state that key element. How will the reader benefit?

It's uninteresting to just say, "Jones & Smith Accountants today announced the launch of their revolutionary new accountancy software package... Better to state – small businesses now have a better way to measure, monitor and manage the costs involved in running their business, thanks to Jones & Smith's new online measurement & analysis accounting system.

The Heading

Write a catchy headline with a short, punchy phrase. Observe how headings are written in newspapers and magazines. You need to grab the reader's attention. Of course that is if you are planning to post your media release snail mail with your product sample or full media kit. But most releases these days are emailed. However, the same principles apply. Use a compelling subject heading or the journalist will simply hit delete. Make it provocative.

The Content

Have a bright opening; start with your strongest point first. Instead of the conventional "today announced that" lead, you should make your release stand out from the crowd with a strong, compelling lead paragraph. Since editors and journalists get so many releases every day, you only have seconds to grab their attention. The first paragraph is where your important information goes, but it needs to be written in an exciting, creative, interesting way.

Consider the 5 W's – Who, What, When, Where, Why; This is an easy formula to remember when writing your release but it is still not enough without some "zing" or compelling elements to "hook" the reader in.

Again - how does it help? Remember the benefit to the reader and perhaps include some "how to" tips on whatever your product or service is.

Use memorable quotes; either of you or someone well-known who can endorse your product. Quotes are often used by the media as they make the story more "real" or personal. A good quote can include why you've started this business or developed your product or how it helps your target audience.

The Format

Title it "Media Release" and always include the date. Include your contact details of telephone, mobile, email and website address. Use letterhead and keep the content to one page – any more and you will löse the journalists' attention. When using email, cut and paste into the body of the email – don't send an attachment.

The Contact

Send your release to the appropriate person – be sure to do your research. Chëck that the "food editor" is still just that and not now the "finance editor". Find out the name of the person and their direct email.

Always follow up with a telephone call or email and keep your media liaison consistent. If you provide good information you are not a nuisance, you are providing a service. Journalists and editors need our information to fill their newspapers, magazines and radio shows.

Supply a creative photo or suggest a photo opportuníty that will add to the impact of having your information publicised.

Gaining publicity in the media will help you become known as an expert in your business field; it will enhance your image and reputation and help you to grow your business.

About The Author

Sue Currie, the director of Shine Communications Consultancy and author of Apprentice to Business Ace – your inside-out guide to personal branding, is a business educator and speaker on personal branding through image and media. Sign up for free monthly tips on personal and professional PR at and learn more about how you can achieve recognition, enhance your image and shine.

Effective Email Marketing Subjects

Email marketing has exploded in growth over the past few years, as marketers have continued to see the benefits and outstanding ROI this marketing medium can bring. However, despite the great results being attained, many marketers still overlook a very important component of their email marketing campaigns: The Subject.

Just about everyone who uses email knows about the subject line. It's the little bit of information that is displayed along with the 'sender name' when an email lands in someone's inbox. Some email programs show the sender name, subject and a preview of the message, while other email programs only display the sender name and subject. In these latter scenarios, the subject is an even more vital part of your email marketing campaigns because that may be the single biggest factor in determining whether or not someone will open your email marketing campaign.

Far too many email marketers spend a long time perfecting their message content (which is a good thing!) and then they simply gloss over the subject. An there's the mistake. You may have the world's greatest content, but if your subject line isn't compelling enough to make your readers open the message, all that great content will just go to waste. With that in mind, here are a few tips for crafting your subject line:

1. Short & Simple: A Few Words Can Go A Long Way

A good subject line is short and to the point. Many email programs restrict the amount of characters that are displayed in the subject. What this means is that your subject may get cut short. Worse yet, you don't really know where it will get cut off, which would lead to some highly unexpected results. Imagine sending out an email campaign to business professionals with the subject line: "Learn to Diversify Your Sales Strategy." Now imagine if that subject gets cuts short by your readers' email programs, and all they see is "Learn to Dive". Chances are, your business-focused readers won't care to open that message. On the other hand, if your subject is just a few words, and is direct and to the point, then it will be displayed fully and you will know with the utmost confidence what each recipient is getting the context of your email marketing campaign, regardless of their email software.

2. Pique Your Readers Interest Everyday

People receive a lot of email messages, so you want to make sure your email marketing campaign cuts through the clutter. For your email marketing campaign to succeed, you need to pique people's interest. After all, it is their choice as to whether or not they open your email. And if the subject doesn't elicit some interest or curiosity, then it can easily be skimmed over. The best way to come up with a captivating and interesting subject line is to put yourself in your readers' shoes. Don't tell them what you think they want to hear; tell them what they actually want to hear! This can be tough because you need to keep it short (as per point 1), but a few words is more than enough to get a reader's mouth wet and make him or her want to know more. Remember, if your subject is dull, boring, or completely uninteresting, your reader will go looking for the delete button, and no email marketer wants that.

3. Cheesy or Overly Exaggerated Subjects Doesn't Fool Anyone

If you send out an email and in the subject you promise that "all of your dreams will come true", today's consumer will likely delete your email marketing campaign prior to even reading another word. If your subject guarantees your readers will be rich beyond their wildest dreams, then it will almost always get trashed (not to mention classified as spam). Today's consumer is very savvy and these cheesy, out-dated gimmicks simply don't work. Before writing your subject, assume that each one of your recipients is very well aware that your product or service is not the miracle of all miracles. The moment you send out an email with an overly gimmicky subject, you are really shooting yourself in the foot. This is not to say the content of your message is not special, but with limited reading time for emails, people quickly dismiss anything that sounds "too good to be true". Make sure your email marketing campaigns don't get filed into this notorious group!

4. Be Honest: Describe Your Content

Your email marketing subject should not be conjured up in isolation of your actual email content. They should go hand-in-hand, where the subject nicely describes what the reader can expect in the body of your email marketing campaign. Far too many times in the quest for the perfect subject (and while following the points above) an email marketer will stray so far away from their content that the subject ends up having nothing to do with the message. This is a catastrophic mistake because in addition to the subject acting as a determining factor for opening your email, it also sets up the reader's mentality for what they can expect to see in your email marketing campaign. If they open your message expecting to see tips for effective email marketing, but instead you give them tips for dieting, they will swiftly close your message. While a goal of the subject is to get the reader to open he message, you also want to set it up so that the reader keeps reading. And you can only do that when your subject is honest. After all, if you're trying to fool your readers into opening your message, then you can't expect them to be that attached to what you eventually want to say.

A good email marketing subject can go a long way towards boosting your results and helping you achieve your goals. This important part of every email marketing campaign should be given some serious thought and, when combined with the points above, will help more people open your email and read your content.

About the Author: Robert Burko is the President of, the leading email marketing program, serving thousands of businesses across the globe. The email marketing service is part of the family.