Toolbox Blog: resources, tips, tricks & info for creative professionals

Posts Tagged ‘guide’

February 19th, 2009

Optimizing Your Blog for Search Engines

Everyone wants to be heard, chances are it was one of the reasons you started blogging in the first place.  A lot of beginner bloggers seem to have the “If you build it, they will come” mentality, and this just isn’t the case.   The sheer amount of blogs that exist today ensure that you will have to go above and beyond to attract readers.  This is where SEO comes into play.

Let’s assume that you are relatively passionate about your blog’s topic – which means that you are producing quality content on a pretty regular basis.  Great, that’s step one – here are a few extra things you should be changing to make the most of the search engine traffic.

Title Tags and Meta Descriptions

The terms may not be familiar, but you already know what these are…you see them every single time you do a search!

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Title Tags should be short and sweet, they should be unique and include the main keywords you want to rank for.  For a blog, the Title Tag is usually the post’s title, but you can tweak it by going into the page’s code and looking for these tags: <title> </title>.  If you use Wordpress these are located in your Header file.  The Meta Description is just a short sentence that describes what the page or post is about.  Again, it wouldn’t hurt to stick in a keyword or two and it should be kept short, under 30 words or so.  You can write unique Meta Descriptions for each post, but to save time using the first sentence or two of the post can be a good starting point.  Wordpress even has a plugin that will do the job for you: Head META Description.

Linkage

It is good to link out to other resources and blogs.  You’ll provide added value to the readers you have, and by linking out you’ll increase the chances that other bloggers and websites will link to you as well.  You should also be creating internal links – this means linking to other posts on your blog or pages on your website within the post you are writing.  Use your main keywords as anchor text in those links and it will help those pages rank for the specific keywords you are targeting.  Having quality links to both your own content and outside pages is important, just be careful not to over do it.  Having too many links on a page will look unnatural and ’spammy’.

Images

People use the search engines to look for images as well as web pages.  If your blog uses pictures often it’s a good idea to optimize them as well.  First of all, give your images names that mean something when you save them – for example, SummerHouseFront.jpg instead of image13.jpg or the date.  You should also use alt tags to give the image a short description (ex. alt=”Summer House”) and long description tags for more detail (ex. longdesc=”Summer House on Lake Michigan viewed from the beach”)  This will help the search engines determine which keywords your images are most related to.

Final Tips

Being aware of the search engine optimization strategies used for blogs can lead to much higher referral traffic from Google, Yahoo and other search engines.  If you use Wordpress download the All In One SEO Pack wordpress plugin, it does a good job of optimizing your content and avoiding duplicate content.  Finally, be patient!  It can be a slow process and take weeks (perhaps months if your blog is new) to see increases in search engine traffic. Trust us – it’ll pay off eventually.

November 17th, 2008

5 Great Pieces of Advice for Aspiring Web Designers

From the obvious points to the light-bulb-over-the-head moments, there is a lot of advice floating around out there for aspiring web designers.  Here are 5 pieces of advice you’ll get from anyone with experience:

Plan it out! Congrats, you’ve landed the project and now your just itching to go start the build.  But you’ll save time in the long run by having an overview of your design.  It just makes sense to do a site diagram in Visio or, if you’re old school, pick up that pencil and paper.  You’ll catch the obvious mistakes/problems early on and will be able to fix them before its too late.  As an added bonus, it gives clients something tangible to look at while you explain your ideas.

Practice, Practice, Practice. Once you’ve got the basics down practice.  Volunteer (aka do work for free) at first to find your style and build up a portfolio.  Do a site for your church/favorite local pub/barbershop quartet…whatever.  Build up and maintain a few sites of your own – people will generally be more impressed with what you can do rather than where you went to school etc.

Be a “Jack of all Trades”. Web design is a competitive market, so don’t expect to be able to learn the basics and immediately land freelance jobs.  Make yourself attractive to potential clients by learning HTML, XHTML, PHP, SQL, CSS, and Javascript.  Its unrealistic to become an expert in every single one of these – but it pays to be familiar with them all.

Get Inspired! Take a look around the Internet for examples of good design (there are countless galleries around that were created for this purpose).  Find out who designed your favorite sites and seek out their other work.  Don’t steal their designs – but pay attention to the fonts, color schemes, and techniques they are using.  Pay attention to things outside the world of web design as well; posters, menus, art, even graffiti on the street can be great sources of inspiration when your stuck.

Last but not least…

Go the extra mile! Experiment with new techniques and try things that would normally fall outside your comfort zone.  Be available to your clients – this doesn’t mean you have to answer when they call you at 3am (unless your up anyway of course) but being approachable will make the relationship more successful.  While you’re at it back up their site for them, clients will love you if you’re able to give them back lost material if/when something goes wrong.  In short, do everything in your power to continue to grow as a designer and foster great relationships with clients – their recommendations are often the most direct route to your next project!

Any other bits of advice you’ve heard over the years that were particularly helpful?  Let us know!

October 8th, 2008

A Simple Guide to SEO

Any time spent searching for information on SEO (Search Engine Optimization) will bring back literally thousands of resources and sites dedicated to the subject.  Why then are forums continuously overrun with requests for advice on this stuff?  One reason could be because there is just so much information out there.  You could easily spend hours researching and come away with only 2 or 3 major points.  Not exactly efficient, especially for a subject that changes and evolves almost daily.

So here is my attempt at an easy to understand guide to basic SEO practices – which I realize may be completely obsolete by next Thursday.

Right off the bat you need to know there are 2 main categories for SEO: On-Page SEO and Off-Page SEO.  Here’s what these mean in a nutshell:
On Page SEO: everything you do specifically on your website, i.e. site structure
Off Page SEO: everything you do outside of your immediate website, i.e. your relationship to other websites

ON PAGE – The Good

✔ Have a site map.  If you don’t have a site map stop reading right now and go make one.  Its one of the easiest ways to make sure the search engines find your site (and any new pages you add) easy to crawl.
✔ Keywords.  Put the keywords you want to rank for in your URL and domain name if at all possible. Put them in your your title tag, and just for fun stick them in the meta tag as well.  Now, Google says in no longer uses the Keyword meta tag, but others do so it can’t hurt to put them in there.  Be careful though – every single keyword in the keyword meta tag MUST appear somewhere in your body text, otherwise google will mark it as irrelevant and penalize you.
✔ Links.  Your internal links should have keywords, and lower level pages should be linked together appropriately.  A general rule of thumb is that a user should be able to navigate to any page on your site within 3 or 4 clicks from the homepage.  As for external links, make sure you only link to reputable sites (no links farms or ‘bad neighborhoods’) and check to make sure your links are all valid.
✔ Be old and new at the same time. Google likes old sites because of the perceived ‘trust’ they have, it also likes ‘fresh’ pages. The best site in Google’s opinion has been around for a long time and puts new content up on a regular basis. Good to know, even if you can only control the second part.

ON PAGE – The Bad

Keywords.  It’s a two way street, keywords are an essential part of good on page SEO but it can easily go wrong.  Rules of thumb: Don’t have too many (keyword stuffing) and make sure every single one is 100% relevant to your site’s topic.
Bad language/ethnic slurs/’stop’ words. Basically don’t use any word Google has associated with shady dealings in the past.
All Flash with no HTML option. Most search engine spiders can’t read flash, give them an HTML option to read or they won’t index your page and your ranking may suffer.

OFF PAGE – The Good

✔ Links, Links, Links. Incoming links from quality sites are extremely important. You want stable (the older the better) links that contain your keywords in them pointing to you from a site that is a trusted source – you get bonus points if its from an “expert” site.
✔ Traffic. The more people on your site the better. If your site is new and you don’t have much traffic, you get a little boost if there is an increasing pattern, you also get a boost if people stay on your site for a long time (low bounce rate). If visitors bookmark your page…even better! I know this seems a bit out of your control – but by creating content on your site people actually want to read and find interesting you can encourage better traffic.
✔ Article Submission/Blogs. By creating articles and submitting them to other sites you not only create links pointing to your site, you create interest among visitors. The same is true for having a blog. You’ll be creating new content on a regular basis (which Google loves) plus you’ll be building a loyal base of readers who may help your site to be seen as a ‘trusted’ source and give you a consistent stream of traffic.
✔ Page Rank. It’s based on the number of quality links pointing back to you, but other factors are included as well. There are differing opinions among SEO professionals as to just how important Page Rank is. Many say that it isn’t important at all anymore, some still rely on it. Our take? Don’t obsess over your site’s Page Rank, but don’t completely discount it either.

OFF PAGE – The Bad

Bad Links. Google is cracking down on link-buying by penalizing sites. Link exchanging is also an issue, while there is no penalty for exchanging links with other sites Google deems these type of links much less valuable than quality incoming (one way) links. You also want to look out for bad ‘link neighborhoods’ – sites linked together through spammy sites or link farms. If you link to these sites by accident chances are you’ll be OK, but if Google finds too many of these type of links on your pages you could be in trouble. Here is a tool to help check your links – Text Link Checker Tool.
Being “spammy”. Link building activities can get a bad rep because there are so many ‘techniques’ that are just plain spammy. Mass-posting links into forums, posting links into comment sections of completely unrelated blogs, or mass-emailing hundreds of bloggers/webmasters asking for links are just plain annoying and not all that successful anyway.

Keep in mind these are just the basics, there’s a plethora of resources out there if you’d like in depth info on one specific aspect of SEO.  Check out Vaughn’s Google’s Ranking Factors for more Google specific details, its a great resource if you’ve got the time to go through it.

If you have any SEO resources you use or just a great informational site let me know!

August 15th, 2008

Dashboard Updates From This Week

We’re glad to see the emails haven’t slowed down at all.  We really do try to add them all and our Dashboard is bigger than ever.

This week we added some interesting tools to the Site Maintenance tab.  SM2 is an analytic tool that allows you to monitor and measure social media.  You can find out how often people are talking about you and what they are saying.  SensorPro was also suggested to us, its a tool used to create online surveys.

Also, there are several new SEO resources.  The KGen firefox extension allows you to see what keywords are strong on a visited web page. Then you can retrieve them for social sharing (tag filling) or webmastering/SEO.  While the SEO Workers Analysis tool can analyze and measure the ranking potential of your site.

One more exciting addition is the Designer’s How To Guide, a resource for designers on how to market, manage and sell themselves.

Just a sampling of what we added this week…make sure to check the Dashboard for all our new links and please keep sending them!

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