Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Search Engine Advertising & Sponsored Listings

Extensive exposure can be gained almost immediately through paid advertising in the search engines. Sponsored listings in the search engines, for many industries, are the most cost effective form of advertising available today. This listing can be highly targeted to specific search terms, geographic areas, and times of day, so that your ads are only shown to your target market. These ads are billed on a pay-per-click model, meaning that you only pay if someone clicks on your ad. If someone views your ad without clicking, it’s free advertising. The average cost per click across all industries is in the neighborhood of $1.25. However in many industries where there are fewer competitors the cost per click can be as low as $0.05. The greatest benefit to search engine advertising is the detailed tracking and analysis that can be done. You can tell exactly what it costs to get a visitor to your website, whether they filled out a contact form or viewed a phone number, what pages they visited, etc. to determine if it’s a cost effective form of advertising. Further, by implementing other web technologies you can display a different phone number to the people that come through your paid ads to be able to track the number of phone calls generated as well. The Helix Group can set-up, monitor, analyze and optimize search engine advertising campaigns to insure the greatest number of relevant clicks for your investment dollar.

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On Page Optimization for Search Engines

On Page Optimization involves rewriting, restructuring, and reformatting website pages to appear more relevant to search engines for a particular topic. When done correctly, this also makes your web site more effective and easier to use for your clients. The changes made in on page optimization are often subtle, and often no one but the original author or designer of the page would know that changes were made, however they can have a significant impact. On Page Optimization is crucial to obtaining relevant search placement. The first step in On Page Optimization is research. An initial list of keywords and phrases to target needs to be determined. Data should be collected on the search volume for those phrases and other related terms. The data is then analyzed to determine which keywords and phrases should be given priority in the optimization. The next step is the optimization of the website itself. The page and navigation structure should be analyzed to determine how a search engine would travel through the site and if the site needs to be restructured. If it is determined that a website needs to be restructured it should be done in a way that preserves the look and feel as much as possible and/or improves usability. The next step is rewriting the textual content in the website. The search engines look at keyword density (how often a word appears), placement (where on the page the words appear), color, size, contrast, context and use. We may modify any or all of these things to achieve optimal relevancy. It should be noted that no change should ever be done at the expense of clarity of message, purpose of the page, usability or readability. Finally a number of things are done to a website to facilitate their access by the search engines. For example XML sitemaps are added so the search engines can easily access every page on the website. Robots.txt files are added to help direct search engines to areas that are important to them and keep them out of areas not meant to be searched.

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Social Marketing & Search Optimization - Together at Last

Beyond what is on the pages of your website, the other major factor that search engines weigh heavily when determining a website’s ranking is who is linking to you; in other words, what websites are linked to your website? It helpful to look at it like a political endorsement, an endorsement from a like-minded, well known and respected politician will give your campaign a much larger boost then an endorsement from John Q. Public. Likewise a link from a popular, high traffic website with content relevant to yours will give a strong boost to your website rankings. The search engines look at how many links are coming to your website, what websites they are from, what the pages that the links are on say, and most importantly, what the link text itself says.

Link building can be done in a number of different ways. The most common is through listings in various online directories. While this worked in the past, it’s no longer a significant benefit to your website’s ranking unless the directory is highly popular and specifically relevant to your industry. Today the best ways to build strong relevant links to your website that boost your search engine rankings are also the best ways to boost traffic and gain exposure for your business online outside of the search engines. Most commonly called social marketing or viral marketing, it involves interacting with online communities in your target markets and within your own industry. The idea is to accomplish two things, first by interacting with your target market gaining direct exposure to your potential clients increasing name recognition and awareness of your service offering. Second, in all of your interactions you also create links, which are posted on those interactive website and which in turn boost your search engine rankings through a highly relevant link. Over time, if done well and regularly, it can start to spiral and your market will start talking about you and linking to you.

Highly relevant links can also be built through online press releases, blog posts, links from your clients and suppliers, etc.

The Helix Group can develop a strategy and implement a link building campaign that boosts both your exposure to your market and your search engine rankings.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Best Web Design Practices For Your Business - Search Engine Optimization

We've all heard the age old axiom of "if you build it, they will come." Sadly, what most people don't understand is that this concept doesn't apply to the internet. It doesn't matter if you have the best website in the universe, a beautiful flowing design brimming with well organized and easily accessible content. Unless you properly optimize your site for search engines, the likelihood of receiving traffic is slim.

Unfortunately, there is no one real tried and true method for Search Engine Optimization (or SEO for short) that will always remain the same. The technologies behind sifting through hundreds of millions of web sites and retrieving relevant information are constantly evolving.

Here are some tips to help your ranking with search engines.

  • Relevant Content – Text is one of the most important factors in determining whether or not a search engine deems your site relevant to a query. Try and write the content of your site to provide as many possible search phrases as possible. If your company is ABC Hardware, try and put words that you think someone looking for the type of products or services you provide would search for. Instead of having "Our company has a large selection of tools", try using "Our company has a large selection of tools including drills, saws, hammers and other hardware.".
  • Text vs. Images – Much like having Relevant Content, putting information about your business in text is better than just having it in an image format. Instead of just having your company name and contact information on an image with your logo, try adding it in text format somewhere else. Search engines cannot read images.
  • Don't Overdo It – When considering what sort of keywords to add to the content of your website, the instinct might be to load it with as many specific words and phrases as possible. Be careful, however. If you have the phrase "ABC Hardware" thirty different times over the course of three paragraphs, the search engine may see this as keyword stuffing. This will raise a red flag and will be detrimental to your standing.
  • Clean and Proper Code – Too much HTML and JavaScript on a page can cause a search engine to choke when it's indexing your site, causing it to just skip ahead. The less code you have, the better off you will be. Having improperly formed HTML code can also confuse a search engines. The easier you make it for search engines to index your page, the better off you'll be.
  • Sites Linking To You – A major factor in determining the ranking of your site is the number of other web sites that link to you. These days, however, just a simple link isn't enough. Search engines often check to see if the site that is linking to you has content relevant to your site. Try finding other sites that relate to your business where you can post in forums or blogs.

These are just a few tips to help you out with standard, generic marketing. Remember that even if you follow all of these rules, it can still take a month or three for your site to work it's way up in a search engines ranking. Many of the large search engines such as Google offer what's called "Pay Per Click" advertising. These are programs that allow you to pay a certain amount of money to have your site come up first in the search results. Many Web design firms are well versed in the intricacies of PPC and can help you set up a program that's right for you.

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Best Web Design Practices For Your Business - Layout and Design

Most owners of small businesses don’t necessarily understand the need for a Web site. Even if your company does not engage in any sort of e-commerce, a presence on the internet is almost crucial in today’s world. Not having a web site is equivalent to not having a business card. A well designed and marketed Web site can provide a business with almost unparalleled exposure at the fraction of the price other advertising means can provide.

There are several factors, however, that separate a bad Web site from a good one. If you are new to the internet, or perhaps looking at expanding or redesigning your current site, here are some important things to keep in mind.

  • Consistency – Consistency is perhaps the most fundamental rule in Web design. When a user lands on your site, their expectations of how the rest of the site looks is based on the first page. If elements of your site constantly change with each page, your user will become easily disoriented.
  • Simple Navigation – When you are planning the structure of your Web site, keep in mind that users will want to access information as quickly and painlessly as possible. The hierarchy of your navigation should be simple and intuitive. It is also important to keep standards in mind. For example, if you go to a Web site looking for contact information, you would immediately scan the navigation for a “Contact Us” or “About Us” link.
  • Search Features – Many times, a Web site will have too much information to warrant the user clicking from link to link just to find. If your Web site falls into this category, you might want to consider installing a search feature.
  • Minimal Movement – More and more each day, Web sites are implementing animated features. While these may look cool and add a bit of pizzazz to an otherwise bland design, it is far too easy to overdo. Many businesses like to have a quick introduction on their main page to draw the user in. This is sometimes called an “elevator pitch”, and lasts between 15-30 seconds. If this is something you feel the need to do, just remember that the more movement or blinking text on a page, the more your user will quickly become distracted. If you have an animation, have it play through once and then stop. Also try and limit it to one per page at the most.
  • Target Audience – A very important factor in designing a site is to remember who your target audience is. If you have a company that sells baby products, you probably won’t want to have a dark color scheme with a science fiction type theme.

While not a comprehensive list, these are some of the most important things to keep in mine when planning your Web site. Perhaps the best rule to adhere to is Keep It Simple. Assume that the people visiting your site have little to no experience on the internet. It doesn’t take long for a user to get discouraged and click that X in the upper right hand corner of the screen.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Publishing Content With RSS

Tivo has changed the way I watch TV. Rather than looking up when the shows I want to watch are on, with a few clicks of a button I can set up a recurring recording that will record the shows whenever they're on, for future viewing at my leisure. RSS provides a similar similar concept for online content, by automatically retrieving and storing news and information from my favorite sites.

What is RSS?

RSS, which stands for Really Simple Syndication, is a method for publishing and distributing online content. At it's most basic, it is a list of items, each consisting of a title, some content, and a link. There are a few ways subscribers can subscribe to a feed:

These readers will store a list of subscribed feeds, and periodically check to see if any of them have been updated. When a new item is published, it is added to the list of unread messages. Subscribers can then review the items, and read the ones that interest them.

What are the benefits of RSS?

As spam continues to clog email inboxes at incredible rates, it can be increasingly difficult to get email newsletters opened and read. It is unfortunately all too easy for legitimate emails to get lost in the clutter, or at worst, never even make it to the subscriber's inbox at all.

Because subscribers only receive the feeds they subscribe to, spam problems are removed from the equation.

What are the uses of RSS?

Here are some common examples of RSS uses:

  • Blog entries
  • News Articles
  • Forum posts
Basically, anything you would use email to notify customers, or website content that is regularly updated or added to, can also be published in an RSS feed.

How can I publish an RSS feed?

Many blog and content management systems include built-in RSS feed capability. Another option are hosted services that will allow you to publish one quickly and easily, and can include a variety of tracking and monitoring tools.

There are numerous directories you can then advertise your feed on, expanding the reach of your internet presence.

Contact us at the Helix Group for assistance setting up your RSS feed.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Using PHP5’s __autoload() function.

PHP5 has brought with it a great deal of new features, primarily the addition of better object handling. One of these functions is (or “magic methods” as PHP calls them) is the __autoload() function.

Many developers like to separate their classes into separate files, such as a database class that wraps MySQL functions, and another that handles XML processing.

Example (MySQL.php)

<?php class MySQL { /* code goes here */ } ?>

To initiate this class, you would first need to include the file MySQL.php, and then create an object

<?php require_once('MySQL.php'); $objMySQL = new MySQL(); ?>

While this does not pose a problem as is, it can start to be a pain to keep a list of all class files that are needed in a script and then include each one into your page. After a while, this can begin to pose serious problems.

With the magic function __autoload(), however, that is no longer necessary. When a class is created that has not already been included into the script, __autoload() will automatically try and include it. All that is needed is the following code.

<?php function __autoload($className) { require_once($className.'.php'); } $objMySQL = new MySQL(); ?>

Now if the MySQL.php class has not yet been included, PHP will automatically search for it and try to include, thereby saving you the trouble of have to manually do it yourself.

Things To Keep In Mind

__autoload() acts as a last ditch effort to load a class before PHP fails. Two important notes from the PHP manual are:

  • Exceptions thrown in __autoload function cannot be caught in the catch block and results in a fatal error.
  • Autoloading is not available if using PHP in CLI interactive mode.

There are two other important things to remember. One is that the value of $className which is passed to the __autoload() function is case sensitive. If your class is named MySQL and your filename is mysql.php, the function will fail. It is also important to remember to set your include path prior to calling the script, especially if you have your class files in several locations.

<?php set_include_path(get_include_path().PATH_SEPARATOR.'includes'); set_include_path(get_include_path().PATH_SEPARATOR.'includes/classes'); set_include_path(get_include_path().PATH_SEPARATOR.'includes/classes/more_classes'); function __autoload($className) { // if your class names and file names differ in case, here's where you could change it $className = strtolower($className); // try including the class file require_once($className.'php'); } ?>

This function obviously only needs to be defined once, such as in a config.php file. Afterwards, you'll never have to worry about having to manually include all of your class files again.

Further reading:

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