It’s not good to make your website flashy

Alice

I saw a question on LinkedIn that asked how to optimise a website’s homepage that consisted purely of Flash. Flash is a programme that provides animation with images and graphics for websites, and you probably have come across many examples (I did the other day with a digital marketing firm) where you are greeted with a little ‘show’ of moving graphics that are supposedly meant to be impressive.

This particular website showed a graphic of a computer with a running newsroll describing in a totally unnecessarily cryptic message about how impressive their business was and why you should use their services. The other pages had graphics that moved if you moused over them, but were not immediately understandable with what they represented, and unless you bothered to use your mouse it was unlikely you would have an inclination to progress further.

Luckily someone else had already answered with the correct response to that LinkedIn question – don’t use Flash! – so I was able to confirm he was, in my opinion, quite right.

For starters, Flash, since it only uses images, is not picked up by the search engines. Internet spiders are programmed to only search for words, so will not be able to understand pictures unless they have a ‘alt tag’ attached to them which describes them, an attribute which is also useful for the deaf.

Therefore, since there weren’t any words on that index page that weren’t hidden within a graphic, it was unable to be optimised. OK, you could do the relevant keyword research and populate the meta tags appropriately, but if they were unable to correspond with words on the page associated with them, especially various H-tags, their impact would be severely impeded.

Another problem is that some Flash programmes take time to upload before they can run, which results in a variety of ‘wait’ messages while the process happens. Some websites provide ‘skip’ buttons, but if this is the case, why did they bother with Flash in the first place?

It is becoming a well known fact that the average time a new visitor spends on a website, before they decide whether it is the right one for them, is less than 3 seconds. If after a few seconds you are still waiting for the Flash presentation to start, you can guarantee the majority of visitors won’t bother waiting around.

And the whole point of a homepage of a website is to establish that this is the correct website for the visitor. Not only should they immediately recognise the subject or business type, but it should be made as easy as possible, with recognisable links or click buttons, to progress further into the site.

Not everybody has the inclination or time to waste fathoming out what to do next, it should be instantaneous! Websites are now mediums for finding facts and, more appropriately for Web2.0, interacting with the website’s owners, so the process should be inviting, encouraging, enthusiastic and obvious!

And that means being ‘Flashy’ with your website is, as well as being pretentious, sooo last century!

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Why you shouldn’t neglect your blog

Alice

All the excitement of creating or building a blog, the newness of it all, can be quite short lived. Many would-be writers avidly start their blog with great gusto and go through the settings and themes to get the ‘look’ they want, vowing to contribute posts regularly every week.

But the reality is different. My boss asked me to design a banner for one of her clients’ WordPress.com blog, and taking a quick look at the existing content I noticed that the style and subject matter were good, lively and readable, but he hadn’t posted since May. All that frenzied activity for the first month had quickly fizzled out, the enthusiasm had drained away, and a poor, neglected blog that appeared to have great potential languished before me on my computer screen.

This is the plight of so many blogs out there (the same is with Twitter accounts and other social networking profiles). A blog with no content might as well be a cheese sandwich! These self-editable websites are carefully designed to attract the search engines and their spiders, and thrive on consistently produced new material stuffed full of keywords and links that are so appetising to the internet bots who constantly roam looking for something to index. To forgot to regularly update them is as sad and unthinkable as getting a new puppy and then forgetting to look after him properly!

The adage “blogs are not just for Christmas, they are for life” may be scary, but this needn’t be so. If you are as diligent and full of enthusiasm as you need to be to make your business a success, then you need to do some sort of social networking activity, and a blog is an easy (and it is easy) example.  If you can’t write well, hire someone who can – there are lots of good ghost-bloggers out there who will do a good job. Even so, I’m sure whatever you write will be suitable towards promoting your business the way you want to. After all, who else knows your business better than you?

That is what the blog’s content should contain – all about you and your business.  Don’t submit irrelevant material like you find on Twitter, instead write about what you know. You must be a fountain of information and expertise about your industry, so why not share it with your existing and potential customers? Use your blog as somewhere you could record everything you think is important for your customers to know, a point of reference that can be fed into your social networking accounts, back-up links to affirm your points of view, a place to hold your latest revelations, fantastic ideas for the future, past successes with great clients, scintillating information that your clients would really benefit from…

So don’t neglect your poor old blog!  He needs visiting, reassuring, feeding – remember, he’s hungry for your knowledge!

What is a search engine spider?

Alice

An internet spider is a robot that crawls around the world wide web. They are also sometimes called crawlers. They use an algorithmic programme that follows links throughout the net searching for new content. This then fetches the new webpages and adds them to the search engine indexes. Google is a crawler-based search engine, as it relies on spiders to automatically create its listings.

Some spiders have even been given names, such as Mozilla for Netscape, Scooter for Alta Vista and Slurp for Hotbot. They leave evidence of their visits just like human surfers in analytics, code and stats.

Spiders enter and leave websites through links, which act as portals throughout the net. That’s why it’s important to have lots of incoming links to your website to encourage spider activity. If you provide lots of new content for spiders to feed on, they will remember to visit your site more frequently.

Spiders only see text on the webpages, therefore pictures and Flash programmes are invisible to them. You can add alt tags to your pictures which are written descriptions behind them, enabling spiders to understand your images.

Spiders are programmed to look for new content with links, tags and keywords. They particularly relish appropriately selected keywords combined with extremely relevant links and their destinations.  They don’t like hidden or invisible keywords, as they think they’re being fooled. If your site’s navigation is complete, spiders will visit every page, indexing anything that’s new. If you treat spiders well, they are more likely to return.

Spider top tips

• provide lots of new content for spiders to feed on
• remember to put alt tags behind your pictures
• gather as many relevant inbound links as you can for spiders to enter
• remember to add your tags within your blog posts
• create contextual links (linked key-phrases) for maximum effect
• make sure your links go to relevant destinations
• blogs are visited hourly by spiders, unlike websites who may not be visited for several weeks

5 tips for webpage success

Alice

There are many factors that should go into a webpage. I see so many that lack even the fundamentals, resulting in a boring, uninspiring, even an useless product. Consider these tips below to give your website the kick-ass it needs:

1. No hierarchy. The index or homepage is not the most important, all webpages should be considered equal. In fact, treat each one as an individual homepage for its particular subject. This is because an internet spider will send a visitor direct to a relevant page if it fits their search criteria, and analytics show many websites are not entered via the homepage. 

2. Optimise each page. Keywords pay an important factor in every webpage, and should be present almost everywhere in the correct amounts. Put them in the page title, metatag descriptions, headline, subhead, content, incentive, call to action, navigation – but be aware, anything more than 10% saturation or both spiders and humans will be turned off and benefits missed.

3. Initial reactions. Each webpage has a 3 second margin to make the correct impression to the visitor before they decide to continue or leave, and an important element is recognition. Within a second the visitor should realise this is the correct page they are looking for: it’s the right subject, it matches my search, it provides good information, I understand the content, it’s easy to find what I’m looking for, I know exactly what to do to fulfil the reason for entering this webpage.

4. Positive performance. A webpage might just as well be a cheese sandwich if it doesn’t fulfil its purpose. Why do you need it? Information based, marketing, selling something, providing a service, explaining a procedure, gateway to somewhere else? Each should have a prominent call to action, or the visitor will do nothing (except leave). The navigation should be obvious, intuitive, commanding, helpful – a button should look like it’s just waiting to be clicked on, not a flat uninspiring image.

5. Add an incentive. By human nature we’re all greedy, as well as cautious. Both these factors can be used to your advantage: provide a good reason why the visitor should take up your call to action. Is there an early-bird offer? What benefits will your customers get? Do you provide a follow-up service? Will multiple sales result in a discount? And to counteract indecision: Do you have a guarantee? What testimonials of previous happy customers do you have? Who can endorse your service/product? What return on investment is there?

There’s a lot here to take on board, so don’t feel you need to charge ahead to incorporate them all at once. You need to be aware of the reasons why, and whether they would work for your website or company, and what marketing strategy do you have behind these actions. Shoving up anything to fulfil these criteria without proper thought could cause damage, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. But getting it right from the beginning could make an extreme and very exciting difference!

Webcopy: it’s not just words

Alice

I had a bit of a rude awakening the other day when an expert told me off about my webcopy.

My trouble is I think visually, which sometimes I concentrate too much on how a website should look. This isn’t necessarily how pretty it is, but how the visitor views the page when they enter the site – but that’s a subject for another post…

I was working on unravelling some webcopy for a client, bringing it out of its corporate mode and into the customers’ point of view, using bullet points for quick scanning properties, working on the call to action to command a response, and thinking hard about the headline.

It’s important to put into practice these questions visitors might think when writing webcopy: ‘Is this the right website?’ leading to ‘Does this page contain the information I need?’ and then ‘Now what can I do here?’ – making sure there is suitable navigation to back you up.

But the well-meaning expert pointed out to me the lack of keywords, not only in the headline and the copy, but also the page title as well. Since this webcopy was for a specific landing page for an Adwords campaign, it’s important to be aware of matching up keywords with those used in the adverts themselves.

There were other factors to consider as well: give the spiders and therefore the search engines enough fodder to work on, so at least 200 words using no more than 10% of keywords, thinking at the same time to make it readable and focused totally on the audience’s point of view. There is nothing worse than a piece of text totally given way to keywords, it can be desperately boring to the initiated and a turn off for the rest.

And there should be a goal set up for your campaign – where do you want your visitor to go to, eg a contact form – and Google Analytics can easily trace these actions, to prove whether the call to action is working in conjunction with the number of bounces from your landing page.

So there’s a lot to think about when writing a webpage – hopefully making you aware that this kind of writing is not easy!