The Internet Marketing Driver: Glenn Gabe's goal is to help marketers build powerful and measurable web marketing strategies.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Top Blog Posts of 2008 From The Internet Marketing Driver

The Most Popular Blog Posts in 2008 from Glenn Gabe.
I always love reviewing my web analytics reporting for an entire year. It’s amazing to see which posts were the most popular. I can tell you that there’s definitely a trend with my most popular posts from 2008. My visitors really like "how-to" posts! That’s pretty clear and it doesn’t shock me at all. I’ve mentioned before the power of instructional articles and blog posts. Expect more in 2009! That said, there were also some non-instructional posts that made the top ten. It seems my visitors also like beer brands, mobile marketing, and DVR’s. That’s right, I said beer... Have I piqued your curiosity?

Let’s jump in. I’ve provided links below to my top ten posts, including a short description about each. I’m also eager to start writing my 2009 posts soon so definitely check back often!

1. Using SWFObject 2.0 to Embed Flash While Providing SEO Friendly Alternative Content
Natural Search is too powerful to keep producing flash content that can’t be crawled. My post about using SWFObject 2.0 to provide alternative html content ranks as my most popular post in 2008. In addition, I recently wrote a 2 part series on ReelSEO that covers using SWFObject 2.1 for providing alt content for flash video. Be sure to check out all three posts.

More About My 2-Part Series on ReelSEO About Using SWFObject for Flash Video:

2. 6 Questions You Should Ask During a Website Redesign That Can Save Your Search Engine Rankings
Be sure to ask these six questions during your next website redesign and you can very well save your search engine rankings. The alternative might be a serious drop in natural search traffic, which may end up forcing you to ask these questions anyway. ;-)

3. How to Make a YouTube Video, A Beginner’s Checklist for Marketers
With online video booming, it didn’t surprise me that my post about how to create a YouTube video came in at number 3. This post takes you through each step in the process of creating a YouTube video from storyboarding to choosing a camera to editing your final video. If online video is part of your marketing mix this year, then you might find this post extremely helpful.

4. Pabst Blue Ribbon and Negative Brand Perception, How Word of Mouth (WOM) and Brand Evangelists Can Impact Your Business
If you’ve ever had a negative reaction when hearing a brand name, only to find out that you actually like the product, then you might enjoy this post. I couldn’t believe how much I liked PBR, and after writing this post, how many other people like it as well!

5. QuickTime Pro, A Powerful and Versatile Video Tool for Web Marketers
QT Pro is my favorite utility for online video. Seriously, it’s the Swiss Army Knife for video. Check out this post if you plan to work with video this year. It can save you hours…

6. The Long Tail of SEO, How Long Tail Keywords Impact Natural Search Traffic, Bounce Rate and Conversion
I refer to the long tail of SEO often, especially when starting a natural search project. This post defines the long tail and explains why you don’t want to rank for just a handful of competitive keywords... You want to rank for the hundreds or thousands of long tail keywords associated with those keywords. Don’t overlook the long tail!

7. The DVR and Its Effect on TV Advertising Recall, Do Your Commercials Stand Out?
This post was in response to a study conducted to see what people retained while watching TV commercials at 6x normal speed (what is looks like when being fast forwarded at top speed on a DVR). Needless to say, I couldn’t hold back with my thoughts on this one… I decided to run my own experiment.

8. Setting Up Your Google Maps Listing, Make Sure Your Business Shows Up In Google Local Search
This post introduces Google’s local one box results and how to set up a local business center listing (step by step). If you own a local business, or you are helping a local business owner, then definitely check out this post. It can help you gain more exposure in Natural Search for local searches.

9. Mobile eCommerce, Blurs the Line Between Web and Mobile Purchase
If you’ve tried to purchase something on your mobile device, then you know it’s not the smoothest process yet. That said, my mobile e-commerce experience on blew me away. It was fast, seamless, and I was so impressed that I wrote an entire post about it! If you are interested in mobile e-commerce, check out this post.

10. YouTube Insight, How to Optimize and Enhance Your Online Videos Using Analytics
Did you know that YouTube provides a video analytics tool for free? It’s called YouTube Insight and it provides some outstanding functionality. You can learn a lot from the reporting that YouTube Insight provides. Read this post and start optimizing your online videos today.

There you have it, the 10 most popular posts for 2008 from the Internet Marketing Driver. I hope you have a chance to check some of them out and that you find them helpful! If you have any comments or questions, definitely use the form below to post a comment. In addition, if you would like me to write more about a specific topic, definitely let me know.

Happy New Year!


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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Connection Between SEO and Accessibility Standards, Why Keyword Prominence is Important For More Than Just Search Engine Optimization

SEO and Accessibility, Using Fire Vox as a Screen ReaderIf you’ve ever had a hard time browsing a website, then I’m here to tell you that everything is relative. Let me explain. Maybe you couldn’t find your way on a website, had a hard time buying something online, or couldn’t find a solid search result. Well, if you were visually impaired, you would have a whole new set of obstacles to deal with, right? Accessibility is currently a big problem on the web. Ask someone who uses a screen reader how browsing their favorite e-commerce website is and I’m sure you’ll get an earful!

Unfortunately, many people developing and designing websites don’t even think about accessibility during the planning process. I’ll admit it, I didn’t think about it as much as I should have when I was developing websites and web applications. It wasn’t until I started developing digital marketing strategies for clients that accessibility became a bigger (and more important) focus. In addition, I heavily focus on SEO, and I began to notice how much of an overlap there was with accessibility standards. For example, if make sure that your site is accessible, you’re knocking out a lot of SEO best practices while you’re at (such as creating descriptive title tags, headings, using text links, mapping out a robust text navigation, using alt text, etc.)

A Quick Side Note: Learn from Target
If you don’t think accessibility is important, just ask Target. They were sued by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) in 2006 and settled for $6 Million in 2008. Yes, $6 Million… You can read more about the lawsuit here, but needless to say, you don’t want that happening to your company, and especially if you’re in control of internet marketing.

SEO Overlapping Accessibility, Enter Keyword Prominence
In SEO, keyword prominence is extremely important. The definition of keyword prominence is placing the right keywords and text in the most important html elements (and areas) on the page. For accessibility purposes, that’s extremely important too! For example, if I created a webpage about a specific topic, I would want to make sure I used a descriptive title tag, meta description, heading tags to break up the content, a descriptive text navigation, and alt text for any images used on the page.

So, mapping out descriptive html elements is great for SEO, but it’s outstanding for accessibility too. You’ll find out why this is great for accessibility soon…

My Accessibility Experiment:
I decided to research what a visually impaired person would experience while browsing the web. I wanted to see how different types of websites held up while using a screen reader (or a screen reader simulator). I also wanted to see the connection between SEO best practices and accessibility. For example, I visited blogs, search engines, ecommerce websites, flash sites, websites using AJAX, etc. and tried to accomplish specific tasks. My guess was that webpages with strong use of keyword prominence would be easier to navigate and read.

After going through several websites, all I can say is that my findings were jaw-dropping. I was shocked to see how inaccessible most websites were. And just to clarify, it’s not because they were horrible websites run by mean people that don’t care about accessibility. It’s just that accessibility was overlooked during the planning and development process.

Meet Fire Vox, a Screen Reader Simulator
Fire Vox is a text to speech addon for Firefox and it basically simulates a screen reader. It’s an excellent addon to install and enables you to check how visually impaired visitors experience your website. You can learn more about Fire Vox and download the addon here. It’s worth noting that Fire Vox isn’t exactly the same as going through a website using JAWS® or Window-Eyes, which are popular screen readers. Unfortunately, they are relatively expensive and don’t have elaborate trials… I used the free trial for JAWS® for certain websites, but you are limited to 40 minutes per session (and then need to reboot). I would have loved to have used them more for this experiment, though. So, my simple disclaimer is that my experience with Fire Vox may be slightly different from using JAWS® or Window-Eyes. That said, it was close enough for my purposes. I visited several types of websites and tried to accomplish a task on each site. I’ve detailed each visit below along with my commentary. Let’s get started.

The Fire Vox Tutorial Webpage:
I started with the Fire Vox tutorial webpage, since I knew it would go well! And it did. When using Fire Vox, you can click Control and Shift L to bring up a list of all elements on the page (headings links, images, forms, etc.) Then you can select them as Fire Vox reads them to you using a simulated voice. Since the page used a descriptive title tag, descriptive headings, and descriptive links, I found it easy to find what I was looking for. This is a good example of why adding descriptive title tags, headings, and links is important! Yes, SEO and accessibility overlapping… It was a great example of a page that works accessibility-wise. See screenshot below.

Viewing all links on a webpage using Fire Vox:
Displaying all elements on the page via Fire Vox.

I checked out several top blogs (that obviously use full css layouts), and my experience overall was good. This shouldn’t be a shock, since blogs are text heavy, they frequently use headings to break up the page, have text links to each post, etc. I was able to navigate to various post pages, read the entire post and find my way back to the homepage. OK, two pretty good experiences. Let’s take a step further…

Google Search
This went relatively well, but I found sponsored search results mixed with organic results while using Fire Vox. For example, when I accessed all the headings and links on the page via Fire Vox, it was hard to decipher which ones were paid search ads and which ones were organic listings. I ended up following a paid search listing to the Apple Store when I was trying to find the specs for an ipod nano. I was able to at least find the links in each search result (and they were descriptive) and then I could link to each destination site. Finding the main Google search box was extremely easy by browsing the page’s form elements in Fire Vox. Then simply hitting Enter triggered the search. Other than the sponsored listing issue, my experience on Google was pretty good.

Finding the Google Search Box using Fire Vox:
Finding the Google Search Box using Fire Vox.
Yahoo Search

Searching on Yahoo went very well. Unlike Google, sponsored listings did not have headings associated with them, so if I accessed the page’s headings in Fire Vox, I was guaranteed organic results. The sponsored links were mixed with organic results, but at least I could check the headings to find only organic listings. My experience was pretty smooth and I conducted a number of searches. Also like Google, finding the search box was easy (via browsing form elements in Fire Vox).

And the experiment goes down hill…

Full Flash Sites
I heard the proverbial, “crickets chirping”. Wow, this didn’t go very well. I knew my experience wouldn’t be great on full flash sites, but this was ridiculous! I’ve written before about SEO and Flash, but this takes it to a whole new level. The pages loaded and the title tags were ok (thank goodness there were at least title tags!) Then crickets chirped. Nothing. I opened up the elements on the page (Control Shift L in Fire Vox), including headings, links, form elements, images, etc. I all I heard was “There are no such elements on the page.”

Side Note: Using SWFObject to provide alternative content will provide crawlable html for the search engines, but Fire Vox would not pick it up. During my tests, JAWS® did not pick up that content either. Just keep this in mind as you use SWFObject with your flash projects.

I could write an entire post about my Fire Vox experience with flash, but I’ll move on for now. It’s just another reason you should only use flash where its power is needed. Hello hybrid website! Read the next section below.

Fire Vox showing no links for a full flash website:
Finding no page elements on a full flash site using Fire Vox.

Hybrid Site (a mix of flash and html content)
If you are going to use flash, a hybrid website is the way to go (for seo, accessibility, and usability.) After loading a hybrid website, l easily found the text navigation below the flash movie in the header, there were headings on the page, and some additional descriptive text links. My experience wasn’t as strong as being on a blog, but I was able to navigate around the site. I also was able to find the html sitemap, which provided headings and links to each page on the site (this was a 25 page website using a mixture of flash and html). But keep in mind that the content contained within each flash movie was not accessible (at least via Fire Vox). Compare this experience to a full flash site and you’ll see why a recommend hybrid websites.

Website With Heavy Use of AJAX
The first website I tested used AJAX extensively to provide content. This was almost as bad as the full flash site I mentioned earlier. Fire Vox read almost nothing…since the data was loaded via AJAX from the start. Then, content that was loaded on-demand wasn’t picked up by Fire Vox either! Now, this might have been due to the way the site was coded, but there were no headings, images, or links accessible. They also used a flash navigation! Yes, flash navigation and content loaded via AJAX. Holy smokes, the SEO in me almost melted down! ;-) Checking other sites that use AJAX yielded varying results. Some sites that used AJAX sparingly were ok. I was able to at least read the initial data on the page and then maneuver to the loaded content to catch some of it. It wasn’t a great experience, but better than then first example listed above. Also, the sites that used headings properly made it much easier for me to find my way. For example, if there was a heading for product information and that div loaded content via AJAX, I could at least maneuver to the content and read what was loaded. So, similar to flash, I recommend using AJAX only when needed. BTW, that’s the same recommendation I make for SEO.

Note, there are ways to ensure your AJAX is crawlable for SEO and I'll be doing more testing to see if that also impacts accessibility. Look for future posts on this topic.

e-Commerce Websites
I checked out several top e-commerce websites and found myself running in circles most of the time. My favorite example was finding an image linking to men’s clothing that actually took me to maternity clothing! I tried this several times and found the same result. Yes, this was ridiculous, to say the least... Other e-commerce sites were ok, enabling me to find some of the items I was looking for, but the end result was typically the same. One problem that kept rearing its ugly head involved the product detail page functionality. As retailers include robust functionality for selecting color, size, etc. in your shopping cart, the functionality unfortunately doesn’t work so well accessibility-wise. I literally could not select certain attributes for the items I was buying. I sat in a shopping cart for 10 minutes trying to select the length for my pants and it just wouldn’t let me. I finally gave up and ended up with a 38 length (which for me would be like a 3 year old putting on his dad’s pants!) Thanks, now I get to step on my pants all day as I remember tinkering with a form on your website! How’s that for branding? :)

News Websites
News websites that utilize full css layouts made it relatively easy to find what I needed. The only problem was the sheer amount of links on the page! That said, compared to other experiences listed in my post, I’ll take it! CNN, for example, was easy to navigate, easy to identify articles you wanted to read, etc. Once in an article, I could easily read the content and then move on to something else. However, other news sites weren’t as clean. I found myself scrolling through tons of links, some of which took me to weird places. Then I couldn’t find my way back. It wasn’t fun… Another thing that bothered me once I found an article was the placement of social bookmarking links. Depending on where these elements were located, it got really frustrating to get through them. I sometimes had to scroll through each one in Fire Vox before getting to the actual text of the article!

So What Should You Do About Accessibility?
I can picture those of you who are web designers and web developers right now. You are either scared to death, in denial, or you want to reach through the screen and strangle me. I understand, so I’m here to help. The first thing you should do is to download Fire Vox and test your site. Identify the problematic areas of your site from an accessibility standpoint and create a remediation plan. And while you’re at it, you can definitely make some changes for SEO too. That’s the great part about developing a site using accessibility standards, you can also knock out some SEO best practices while you’re at it (as mentioned earlier in the post). I highly recommend testing at intervals as you develop to ensure someone who is visually impaired can navigate your website. The interesting side effect is that you might make it easier for everyone to get through your site (including Googlebot!)

Sure Glenn, But What About Creative Backlash?
I know…your designers and developers might be gathering outside your office holding torches and pitchforks wanting to oust you from web marketing leadership. :) Here’s an idea. Challenge them. Hand them blindfolds and have them go through your website using Fire Vox. Give them specific tasks like I used for my experiment. If they don’t quickly understand the problems with your site accessibility-wise, then you either have the most accessible website in the world or you have designers and developers in denial. Unfortunately, this is just the way the web is right now.

Summary and Some Accessibility Links:
Quickly summarizing my blog post, my goal was to reveal a few core things about accessibility.

I wanted to:

1. Introduce the challenges with accessibility on the web today.
2. Explain what screen readers were and focus on a free Firefox addon called Fire Vox.
3. Make the connection between accessibility and SEO.
4. Provide you a quick look at how various types of websites held up while using Fire Vox and provide some recommendations for making changes.

OK, you’re only a 30 second download from trying Fire Vox and testing it out on your own website. So hold onto your hats, you’re about to be shocked (and probably not in a good way!) At least you’ll be able to find your way to the Firefox addon. I can’t say as much for your travels after you start using it... :)


Related Links:
Section 508, The Road to Accessibility

Americans With Disabilities Act

JAWS® Screen Reader

Window-Eyes Screen Reader

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Saturday, December 06, 2008

My 2 Part Video SEO Series on ReelSEO, Using SWFObject 2.1 With Flash Video

Glenn Gabe's Guest Post on ReelSEOIf you’ve read my blog before, they you know I’m passionate about online video, video SEO, and how interactive video can be used for marketing and advertising. When it comes to video search resources, I’ve been a big fan of ReelSEO for a long time. They provide excellent coverage of the space and have a wealth of experience with video search. Needless to say, I was excited when they approached me about writing a guest post for the site.

My two part series went live this week and it covers providing alternative html content for your flash video projects using SWFObject 2.1. Please check out my posts below and I recommend subscribing to ReelSEO. I’ll also be writing more posts for ReelSEO in the future and I'll make sure to notify you here on my blog when they go live.

My 2 Part Series on SWFObject 2.1 for ReelSEO:
Video SEO Tip: Using SWFObject 2.1 to Provide Alternative HTML Content (Part 1 of 2

Video SEO Tutorial - Using SWFObject 2.1 to Provide Alternative HTML Content (Part 2 of 2)


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Monday, December 01, 2008

The Critical Last Mile for SEO: Your Copywriters, Designers and Developers

The last mile of SEO, your web developers and web designers.As I’m mapping out a half day SEO training course for creative and technical employees, I started to think about the importance of the last mile in SEO. In the telecommunications industry, the last mile (or final mile) refers to the final connection to end users (usually referring to data connectivity to businesses and consumers). It’s often an area where issues can arise. In SEO, there’s also a last mile, although it’s slightly different. The last mile in SEO includes your copywriters, designers and developers. Let me give you a quick example. Let’s say you were hired to help a company with a large SEO project. Your job was to enhance the company’s SEO efforts by removing technical barriers, optimizing important categories of content, and increasing quality inbound links. You start by performing an extensive technical audit and you identify key barriers to indexation. Then you map out a full remediation plan. Your client is excited, you’ve built up some well-deserved credibility, and everyone involved believes that better rankings and targeted traffic are on their way. But hold on a second... Your changes still need to be implemented successfully. Enter the critical last mile for SEO, or your designers and developers that need to implement those changes. Needless to say, your technical and creative teams are extremely important to your SEO efforts.

Why The Last Mile In SEO Is So Important
It is critical that your creative and technical teams successfully implement your SEO changes. If they don’t, then your changes run the risk of having no impact at all (or worse, having a negative impact). That’s right, imagine you’re brought in to fix a problem and you end up making things worse! It’s definitely possible. Keep in mind that problems typically arise in the last mile of SEO when dealing with larger sites when there are more people involved. For example, a 500,000 page website with 75 people working on it. However, whether you hand off technical SEO changes to a single developer or a team of developers, you’re relying on them to implement something they might not be very familiar with. And you need to understand that without your designers and developers, it’s going to be extremely hard to get your SEO changes implemented swiftly and accurately. Like I said earlier, they encompass the critical last mile… That said, your designers and developers also need to understand that your SEO changes are important to the success of the website. It’s a symbiotic relationship and each party needs to understand the value that the other brings to the table.

Let’s take a look at some quick examples of last mile SEO breakdowns, and more importantly, how you can make sure this doesn’t happen in the future:
(Note, I’ve included just a few examples below and not an exhaustive list.)

Search Engine-Friendly Redirects
The Breakdown: Instead of search engine-friendly 301 redirects, 302 redirects or meta refresh redirects were implemented on the website. Both 302’s and meta refresh redirects are not search engine friendly and will not safely pass the link popularity from the old pages to the new ones. Needless to say, this is not good. If your redirects are implemented incorrectly, then you could waste thousands of inbound links and the search power they provide. In addition, you could have wasted countless hours of inbound link analysis.

XML Sitemaps Throwing Errors
The Breakdown: The database administrator generating your xml sitemap files didn’t know that each xml file cannot exceed 50,000 URL’s or 10MB in uncompressed file-size. The files released to the website exceeded those limits, and the engines wouldn’t process the files. Unfortunately, he didn’t know that the files were throwing errors until your SEO Coordinator received the errors in Google Webmaster Tools.

--I worked on a site with over 20 million webpages last year, and we definitely went through a few iterations of sitemap files before we settled on the final result.

Content Optimization, Keyword Research, and Wasted Opportunities
The Breakdown: Important new sections of content went live without being optimized based on keyword research. You’ve lost a great opportunity to provide optimized content and to possibly rank for target keywords. For example, a new product section goes live and it unfortunately contains generic title tags, non-descriptive links, no heading tags, a lack of target keywords, etc.

As part of your technical audit, you might find URL canonicalization issues, which could cause duplicate content problems. For example, you might find URL’s that resolve using mixed case, querystring parameters, index files and root URL’s. 1 URL might look like 5 to the search engines (all with the same exact content).

For example:

The Breakdown: Your developers fix the most obvious problem, www and non-www versions of each page, but don’t tackle the other canonicalization problems, including trailing slashes and mixed case. You will unfortunately still have an issue although the action item might be checked off by project management.

Flash and AJAX
Let’s say you have a killer promotion going live along with campaign landing pages. There’s lot of good content to optimize and you have a feeling this promotion will gain some valuable inbound links. You hand off your content optimization spreadsheet, excited to see the pages go live.

The Breakdown:
Your new campaign landing page goes live, but the entire page was developed in flash or using AJAX. If you’ve read my blog before, then you know I’m a big fan of using flash and AJAX, when needed. That said, entire webpages or applications should not be developed using flash or AJAX (at least at this point). They should only be used for elements that require their power. If you do use flash or AJAX for entire webpages, then you run the risk of essentially hiding a lot of your content from the search engines.

Graceful Degradation and Progressive Enhancement
The Breakdown: User Experience wants to take 6 distinct sections of content on a product detail page and provide a tabbed structure instead (for usability). If the tabbed content launches without using Graceful Degradation or Progressive Enhancement, then you run the risk of hiding 5 out of 6 sections of content. For example, the search engines would only find the initial content on the page and not the additional five pieces of content. However, making sure your web developers use Graceful Degradation or Progressive Enhancement to expose the content would still put you in a good place SEO-wise.

So How Do You Prevent a Breakdown in the Last Mile of SEO?
Reading the examples above, you might think that SEO can be frustrating. It is sometimes, but there is a way to nip these last mile problems in the bud. Did you notice a common thread in the examples listed above. The common thread was simply a lack of information. So how do you make sure your designers and developers know about SEO best practices? The answer is training. SEO Training is critical to ensuring technical changes go live using SEO best practices.

In my experience, most designers and developers want to learn SEO best practices. Sure, there will be some push back (and I’m being nice with the term “push back”). But, it’s a great skill for your designers and developers to add to their skillset. They can still create killer applications and websites, but those sites will also launch using SEO best practices. SEO Training can also overcome conflict in the future by ensuring everyone developing a project understands SEO best practices. For example, there should be no surprises when reviewing projects if everyone understands how sites get crawled and indexed.

The Definition of Insanity
I’ll end this post with the definition of insanity. It’s doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Don’t become an insane SEO. :) Introduce SEO training, best practices, examples, etc. and you can make your life easier while helping everyone involved improve their skillset.

Now I need to get back to fleshing out my half day SEO training course. Actually, I think writing this post has helped me create a better training course. I’ll let you know how it goes.


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