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Social Signals & Your Authority on Google

I’m often asked by people about the value of displaying Facebook Likes, Twitter Tweets, LinkedIn Shares and other social media signal buttons on their websites and blogs. In order to fully address that, I think that we need first to take a good look at what a social signal really is and how search engines interpret them.

What is a social signal?

In simple terms, a social signal is a link from somebody’s social media page (such as a Facebook or LinkedIn account) to your web page. When visitors to your website or blog click a Facebook Like button, or Google+ icon, they are creating a link directly from their social media account to your page that they have Liked or G+’d. This lets those who are connected with that person via social media know that they have found some value in whatever it is that you have posted. It’s a vote of confidence in what they have viewed on your web page – and something that they think is perhaps worthy of attention from others that they are connected to. It’s always great to have people appreciate what you have taken the time to create, but what is the significance of that from a Google search perspective?

A brief overview of how Google works

Google has a complex algorithm that it uses to determine what appears in search results when you type a particular search term into their search engine and utilizes a wide range of factors in order to deliver you a result. One of the more significant factors in that algorithm is the number of links to your webpage(s), and the relative importance of the pages that are linking in. For example, if your company makes rocket engines, having links from the NASA website might provide Google with some comfort that your company makes decent rocket engines. If your website had another link from the Virgin Galactic website, that might add further credibility. On the other hand, a link from your local hamburger store might hold less value to Google. Think of a link (including social signals) as a vote of confidence for the content you have provided.

What does Matt Cutts say about social signals?

For the non-geeks reading this (geeks already know exactly who he is) Matt Cutts is head of webspam at Google (update – Matt is now the former head of webspam at Google). There is a reason why people like Matt and the webspam team exist – and that is because as you now know – Google uses links to your web pages as one way of determining the relevance and usefulness of what you have posted. Unfortunately, some webmasters in the past have manipulated Google’s search results by producing and linking less than useful content to key web pages. Matt and his team work overtime to make sure that search engine results remain as untainted as possible, by detecting and punishing attempts at algorithmic manipulation. Any experienced webmaster will be able to tell you just how effective they are at this too!

Anyway, I have embedded a four-minute video that Matt posted to the Google Webmasters page on YouTube a little while back. The video is specifically about the effects of social signals on organic search rankings for web pages, and I found it most interesting. In effect, Matt is saying that Google is not (to his knowledge) placing any particular significance on social media signals. This is (in part) because of the difficulties associated with crawling some social media pages, and also the great speed at which interrelationships between social media users change. Here’s the important part – whilst Matt acknowledges that some pages with plenty of social signals rank well in organic search, he notes that’s correlation, not causation. In effect, he’s saying that the content was probably great to begin with, which is why it has plenty of social love!

What is the future of social signals?

My educated guess would be that the value of social signals will increase dramatically over time. Google, as well as other search engines and social platforms, are working very hard to ensure that they know who is responsible for posting what online, and where. As platforms become more integrated, and leading platforms make it more difficult to hide your true identity, anonymity diminishes. With diminishing anonymity comes the sort of transparency that makes attribution easier, and more reliable. Does that make for a better or worse internet? Maybe that’s a good topic for another post sometime. For now, it’s important to understand that this sort of transparency provides opportunities to build real authority, and the future of the internet as a communication tool lays in authority.

What about Authority?

The original thrust of this post was to question the value of displaying social media engagement buttons on websites and blogs. My view is that these buttons provide a ton of both short and long-term value to webmasters and bloggers. The Google algorithm gets better over time. Just a few years back search results could readily be manipulated with web spam. Today, that is largely not the case. It’s just a matter of time before the Google algorithm becomes smart enough (if it’s not already) to rank the “authority behind the authority”.

Tiger Woods and sub-aquatic golf shoes

I often use the example with clients of me stumbling across a web page about golf shoes, and Liking it. Google knows (or should know) from my social media pages that I don’t play golf. I like to scuba dive in my leisure time. Unless the page is about sub-aquatic golf shoes, I don’t think that my opinion about them is really that relevant. On the other hand, if Tiger Woods was to stumble across the same page, and he Liked it, that would be an entirely different matter. If Greg Norman saw that Like on Tiger’s Facebook feed (I’m assuming they are friends on Facebook here) then himself visited the page and Liked it, that would be cause for excitement! Two golfing greats Liking a page about a particular type of golf shoes is something that golfers would want to know about.

To use, or not to use?

It’s clear from what Matt Cutts says in his video that Google is super interested in establishing authorship, and thus authority. Social media by its nature is a first-rate way for Google to determine what people value in the real world, how many of them value it, and the authority behind what it is that they value. In the present, social media does exactly the same thing for webmasters and bloggers. Every time a visitors provides their stamp of approval for your content by clicking on a social media icon, they are also telling those they are connected with about the value of your content. My view is that any webmaster or blogger who fails to have social media buttons integrated on their website is missing a most valuable opportunity to get their message out there – and is just plain crazy! Install the buttons. Suck up their value!

I originally published this article under the title “Social Signals & Authority on Google” at i-Business, on 17th September, 2014. The post contains minor edits.

Some People Don’t Make Money Because They Are Dickheads

I recently had cause to sack a client. That’s not exactly a new thing for me, but it’s not something I’ve needed to do in quite a while. In fact, it’s the first time I’ve had to do it in several years.

The client in question (let’s call him Richard) runs a professional services business in a major Australian city. We’d built Richard a killer website, and had it ranking like a demon on Google for all of the keywords that really mattered to him. Richard had traffic. He had fresh leads pouring in each month. The problem is, Richard is a dickhead. He’d get new clients, get stoned or drunk (often both) – abuse them – then lose them. Somehow, that became our fault!

You can have the best website in the world. You can fill it up with great engagement and lead capture tools. You can implement killer auto-responder sequences, and have decision and action based sales funnels that would be the envy of any business. You can have a social media presence that makes you look like an expert. If you’re running a small business and you are the front man (or woman) you also need to be somebody that people want to deal with. People are going to need to like you.

I could write this exhaustive list of things that you need to do in order to have people feeling the love. The truth is if you really need a list like that you’re probably a dickhead anyway. I can’t help you. You need a different kind of help to what I can offer. All I can say is “stop being a dick”.

Life is far too short to deal with dickheads. I don’t do it. I find that life is so much better that way.

How to Hack-Proof Your Password | Easy Video Tutorial

AROUND HALF OF ALL PASSWORDS CURRENTLY BEING USED TODAY CAN BE CRACKED IN SECONDS DUE TO THEM BE VERY WEAK, AND ANOTHER 45% CAN BE CRACKED WITHIN A FEW HOURS.

Even in the digital era, passwords can still be easily compromised. In fact, some cyber-security problems are due to human errors, which include creating a weak password that is easy to guess. No matter the level of sophistication of technology, your organisation will remain vulnerable to threats if you do not have stronger forms of authentication. It is like installing an alarm system, but leaving the door open to intruders. Perhaps you are one of the many users who simply create a password for compliance. When prompted to create a password, you obliviously key in some letters and numbers. Something like password123456.

If weak passwords expose you to cyberthreats and data breaches, you need to create SUPER STRONG PASSWORDS to increase your data’s level of security and protection. Super strong passwords are longer passwords with a minimum of 18 characters. It can be taken from random sources, affirmations, famous quotes or even published sources. Passwords or passphrases have to be unpredictable. Watch the video to learn more about creating super strong passwords.

If You Build it They Will Come – A Website Myth Dispelled

Many people reading this post will have seen the film Field of Dreams. It’s a story about a farmer who keeps hearing voices from a cornfield that say “If you build it he will come”. The film isn’t really my cup of tea and I’m not going to spoil the story for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie – but (spoiler alert) – the ghost of the farmers’ long last father eventually comes to visit after the builds “it” (“it” being a baseball field). A lot of people seem to think that if they build a website, “they” (being customers) will come. Here’s another spoiler alert. It just ain’t so.

Is your website like a desert billboard?

Imagine for a moment that you set up a billboard in the middle of the desert. The billboard might be advertising air conditioning – which will probably seem like a damned fine idea to anyone who has ever spent time in a desert. It’s hot and any message about how to cool down might be welcomed. One problem. Very few people are ever going to drive by that billboard. Of the people who do drive by only some will be interested in air conditioning. Fewer still will want to buy air conditioning from you. Fewer again will want to buy air conditioning, right now.

Chances are that your website is just like that desert billboard. It’s got a worthwhile message targeting people who are likely to be interested in what you sell. The problem is that too few people are “driving by”. In the business it actually called web traffic – and web traffic is what you need.

Getting customers to drive by, or STOP

A variety of tactics can be utilised to drive discovery of your website. Those tactics should be informed by your digital marketing strategy. Here are a few traffic generating tactics which are in common use.

Search Engine Optimisation

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is the science (some say dark art) of driving traffic to your website via organic search results, primarily on the Google search engine. For most small, local businesses SEO is an effective, low-cost way to generate targeted website visitors. Just be aware that it can take a little time to produce results with SEO, so it’s not always a great way to generate immediate website visitation.

Pay Per Click Advertising

Pay per click (PPC) advertising allows you to advertise to potential customers and pay only for the clicks that result in a visit to your website. Google AdWords and Facebook ads are the two best-known examples of these types of ads. PPC can get your business at the top of search engine results TODAY and done properly can be an effective, profitable driver of website visitation and new business.

Remarketing/Retargeting

Remarketing and retargeting are very similar to PPC ads, but with the advantage that ads are served exclusively to people who have already demonstrated an interest by visiting your website. Remarketing ads can be served across a variety of “partner” websites and social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn. Personally, I think that almost every business should be using this very effective medium of reengagement.

Content Marketing

Content marketing focuses on producing, publishing and distributing content that is likely to be of interest to your targeted audiences. That content may consist of such things as blog posts, videos, giveaways, etc. This post that you’re reading right now is an example of content marketing! Like SEO, content marketing can take considerable time to pay off for your business. Don’t rely upon it as an immediate source of new traffic.

Social Media Marketing

Social media marketing consists of finding ways to reach out to and engage with the audiences that you build on various social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. Social media can help to make you the local, friendly authority in your business. Just be aware that social, means social. In other words, you need to take the time and make the effort to be human. That means actually engaging with people!

Outreach Marketing

Outreach marketing consists of you approaching potential clients, via various methodologies. That could be via email, personal messages on social media, commenting on forums, etc. This is a very direct form of marketing and you’ll often see fast results from doing this.

Build it, then tell people about it!

This post isn’t designed to be a “how to”. It’s more of a “what to”. Building a website and hoping that people might drop by simply isn’t enough. You need to make people aware of the existence of your website and let them know where to go. Some or all of the tactics suggested in this post might work for you and your business in building visitation to your website and converting visitors into paying customers. Try them out. Let me know in the comments how it goes.

The Best Websites for Tradies: Putting your Lazy Website to www.work!

I’m often asked by tradies “What’s the best kind of website for me?”. I’d sure love it if the answer to that question was as simple as some people would have you believe, but it isn’t. Like so many aspects of marketing for tradesmen, the answer is “It depends”. I’m going to try and cover off on the major things that you’ll need to consider, right here.

Who is your customer?

The very first thing to consider when developing a new website is your customers. By customers, I mean the kind of people you serve (or want to serve) within the area of your geographic reach. I’m going to use a real-world example here. Let’s say you’re a plumber. It might be that you spend all of your time contracting for builders. You might be more of a renovation specialist, or maybe you’re one of those 24-hour emergency callout guys. What you do and who you serve is going to influence the kind of website you need to develop.

If you serve builders, they are going to want to hear about your attention to detail, timeliness of completion, the guarantees you provide, your licensing status, your insurance coverage, your credit terms and the scope of work that you can handle. They might want to see images of completed projects and testimonials from other builders you have worked with. They’re not interested in your ability to unblock a drain or fix a minor bathroom leak!

If you’re a 24-hour emergency plumber, people generally only want to know a couple of things and they want to know RIGHT BLOODY NOW! They want to know your phone number, how quickly you can be at their house and how much a callout will cost them. Information about your license number and how beautifully your last bathroom reno worked out are of zero interest to them. You need a website that literally shoves what they need to know right in their face.

Clarify Your Value Proposition

Right of the back of understanding exactly who your customer is is clarifying your value proposition. Think of your value proposition is a promise that you make to the customers you serve.

First up, visitors to your website will want to know that they are in the right place. Make them think and they’ll hit the back button faster than lightning. This is no time to try and be clever. If you are a 24-hour emergency plumber, be bold and place the words 24 HOUR EMERGENCY PLUMBER front and centre on your homepage. You might then clarify that statement with a value proposition such as “We help drains go with the flow” or something that is clever or fun. The main thing is that your visitors will know immediately that they are in the right place.

People need to know right away that your website addresses their immediate needs. Provide a clear and compelling message about what you do and be CLEAR about the promises you make. Work hard to avoid excess clutter and noise that might distract your visitors in any way. That means no flashing words, scrolling images or annoying music! People want a plumber and you are it! Take care of this stuff or visitors to your website will be hitting the back button in droves – I guarantee you!

Design Matters

You only ever get one chance to make a first impression. Often, your website will be your very first point of contact with a prospective customer, so it needs to create both a realistic and positive impression about what you and your business are all about. My best advice is to keep the design clean, keep it simple and make sure that it properly reflects your brand, utilising your logo and using colours, fonts and imagery to reinforce your message.

Nothing screams amateur hour more than a website that looks ugly, is difficult to navigate and makes it hard for visitors to locate what they are looking for. Truthfully, most tradies shouldn’t be playing amateur web designer any more than a web designer should be playing amateur electrician or gasfitter. Spend some money and get the professional help that you need to create the right impression for visitors. Do it, or they’ll visit your website an quickly leave.

Have ONE Call to Action

A call to action is the ONE thing that you want visitors to your tradies website to do. Do you want them to pick up the phone and call you? Would you prefer that they sent you an email? Maybe you want them to download a free guide that you’ve created about bathroom renovations, or you’d prefer that they ask for a free quote, via a web calendar. Maybe a lot of things! The primary thing is to craft your message towards only ONE consistent call to action.

The research is clear that overloading visitors to your website with more options results in less actions being taken. Whilst this seems counterintuitive, the research cannot be ignored. Decide upon exactly what course of action you want your visitors to pursue, then structure your content and call to action to push them towards that ONE goal. Like many things in web design, less really is more.

Simplify Your Services

People often find dealing with tradies to be quite overwhelming. Unlike everyday grocery purchases, many people might only need a tradie a few times in their entire lives. It’s natural for people to fear what they don’t understand (which is mainly the cost) – and many people do fear talking to you. It’s up to you to make that easier for them and one of the simplest ways to achieve that is by simplifying your services.

A lot of tradies use jargon on their websites and also have a tendency to use 10 words where 5 might do. Write as if you are speaking to a 12 year old. If they can understand what you’re saying, so can pretty much everyone who visits your website. Even sophisticated buyers appreciate directness and simplicity. Make yourself and your services accessible by simplifying them. Your website visitors will love you for it – and loving your results in new leads.

Make Your Website Responsive

Responsive websites adapt to fit a variety of devices and screen resolutions. Making your website responsive means that it is usable on everything from desktop and laptops, through to tablets and mobile phones. Given that well over 50% of all searches on Google are now conducted on a handheld device, the importance of having a great responsive design cannot be overstated.

Importantly, in the early part of 2018 Google will be switching to a “mobile first” index, meaning that primary Google results will be drawn from their mobile index. Websites which are not designed to work with mobile devices will be downgraded or eliminated entirely from this supremely important index.

Set all of the foregoing aside and the back button is just a click away. People will use it if their mobile experience is poor, just as you would!

Don’t Make Them Think!

I touched on this in earlier, when I mentioned the importance of clarifying your value proposition. The less people have to search and think about where to find information on your website, the better. That isn’t because your website visitors are dumb – it’s because they’re busy – and you have to always remember that they can hit that back button and go to a website that makes things simpler for them. It’s up to YOU to ensure that doesn’t happen.

Remember that YOU are the expert. Part of being an expert is being able to break down the complex into its essential components and make them easily digestible for the non-experts who need your services. I’ll say it again: less is more. Think about what people need and want to know and make it easy to find and easy to understand. It makes you look way smarter than your competitors who use long words, frustrating navigation and confusing or contradictory calls to action.

Provide Social Proof

Testimonials are extremely powerful persuaders. You already have people whom your firm has helped and chances are that some of them will be happy to provide you with glowing testimonials. These can be placed directly on your website or sometimes be fed to it via integrations with social media platforms or review focused websites.

Testimonials provide compelling evidence of how other people just like your website visitors have acted and provides them with a kind of roadmap of where to go and what to do. If you don’t have any testimonials you can use case studies, or maybe even demonstrate the presence of a good-sized social media following. The objective is simply to provide some proof of your ability to solve your website visitors’ unique problem or problems.

Summary

Following these simple tips will keep the right kind of visitors engaged on your website for longer and will dramatically increase the chances that they will reach out to you. Like anything, the only way to know if this works is to make the necessary changes and put it to the test. Best of luck with making your lazy website start to www.work! for a living.

NB: This article was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse and has been edited by its original author.