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Information Architecture: Product Navigation


30. July 2009 19:06

Information Architecture put simply is the planning stage of a website and involves organising and designing the structure or "blueprint" of a site and should be carried out before any design or development takes place.
Here is a good example of the importance of Information Architecture.

Choosing Product Navigation Categories

You must consider the end user when deciding what categorisation to use for website product navigation.

We could categorise a company's products by brand, model number, manufacturer, or by function but which is best?

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What makes the most sense to the customer?
  2. Will a customer who is new to our products/brand be able to find what they're looking for?
  3. Will a user who knows what product they need be able to find it quickly?

Categorise Your Products Carefully

Some websites make the mistake of only categorising products by brand/model or manufacturer and using this as the product navigation on their website.  In this case customers who are not familiar with the company's products will struggle to find what they are looking for. 

For example, the Peugeot UK website categorise their cars by model number, 107, 207, 308, 3008, 407, 4007, 807 etc.  As a potential customer who is not familiar with Peugeot's model numbers I don't know what models to consider if I'm looking for an estate car.  Do I click through every model category to try and find what I'm looking for or give up?

Meta Tags and Search Ranking


29. July 2009 18:46

There are a number of meta tags that can be used on web pages, this post focuses on the two most misunderstood meta tags: meta keywords and meta description.

The Meta Keywords Tag

A lot of newcomers to search engine optimisation (SEO) believe that optimising a website involves writing a long list of keywords that describe your business, products and services which are then added to the website's meta keywords tags.  This was indeed the original idea behind the meta keywords tag, but over time this system was abused by webmasters "stuffing" the meta keywords tag with as many keywords as possible in order to improve their search engine ranking.  This led a lot of search engines reducing the influence of meta keywords or ignoring them completely. 
John Mueller of Google Webmaster Central stated:

"we generally ignore the contents of the "keywords" meta tag. As with other possible meta tags, feel free to place it on your pages if you can use it for other purposes - it won't count against you."

The Meta Description Tag

This meta tag is used to describe or summarise the page contents, it generally doesn't influence a web page's search engine ranking, but Google for instance may use its contents to create the description displayed in the Google search results.  Google state:
"While the use of a description meta tag is optional and will have no effect on your rankings, a good description can result in a better snippet, which in turn can help to improve the quality and quantity of visitors from our search results."

Conclusion

Meta keywords and meta description tags are optional tags and have limited benefit especially in terms of SEO.  We recommend you don't spend too much time writing them, instead spend that time writing more content for your website or improving existing content.  If you do want to include them focus on the meta tags for the most important pages of your website.

Email Marketing Strategy


28. July 2009 20:08

Just because email marketing is much cheaper than more traditional forms of marketing communications doesn't mean you should put less thought into your email marketing strategy.  Sending the same irrelevant message to thousands of in-boxes who aren't expecting email messages from your company is unlikely to be effective and will gradually reduce your future campaigns effectiveness as your emails will begin to be flagged by spam filters as annoyed end-users add your email to their spam list.  Remember that email marketing should not just be used for sales or promotional benefit but to maintain your relationship with existing customers.

Build Customer Lists

Crucial to the success of an email marketing campaign is building an opt-in list of customers who have actively chosen to receive your email updates.  How you do this depends on your business and website, but this needs to be thought through carefully as the wording will have a major impact on how many customers opt-in.  Don't just obtain your customers email addresses online as these may only represent a fraction of your customer base.  Remember you will need to state clearly how you will handle and store their data, especially in relation to 3rd parties; How you do this depends on the data protection laws in your country.

Market Segmentation and Personalisation

Producing emails that are relevant to your email recipients is vital.  Invest in Customer Relationship Management software (CRM) and use it to identify different segments within your list, you can then build emails that target specific audiences within your lists to maximise the response from your campaigns.  Consider using an approach like Amazon, which sends emails with recommendations based on your previous purchases.

Create Compelling Email Marketing Campaigns

Your email recipients are only one-click away from opting out of your email list, so it is vital that each campaign you send out has a clear purpose and objective which is relevant to each recipient.  Remember that your audience has chosen to receive communications from your company so reward these customers for their loyalty by creating offers and promotions especially for them which add value to your marketing messages.  Examples of this are restaurants such as La Tasca who regularly send vouchers to their customers by email.

Analyse and Learn from your Email Campaigns

It's important to spend time analysing each campaign you send out to make sure you listen to your audience.  Pay attention to hard and soft bounce-backs, keep records of every campaign, what changes you make and the resultant effect of the changes on opt-out requests, click-throughs and 'send to a friend' requests etc.  Determine which changes had positive effects and use this information to improve your future campaigns.

Domain Ownership


24. July 2009 18:49

Your domain name is a valuable asset to your business, without it your website and email would stop working.  Yet so many businesses fail to insure that the company's domain names are registered in the company's name.

This can happen for a number of reasons, either way when the relationship between the company and the person who registered the domain (domain registrar) comes to an end, the business will find out sooner or later that they don't control and therefore can't manage their company's domain name.

The company may find that the domain registrar is no longer contactable, may have let the domain name expire or simply retain ownership and make things difficult for the company.  If the business cannot negotiate for the domain name to be transferred to the company the last resort is to resolve the dispute through a procedure known as a Uniform Dispute Resolution Procedure (UDRP).

A company does not have an automatic right to the domain name and will need to present their case in order to succeed.  The business will need to either show that the domain was originally registered in bad faith, the registrar did not have a legitimate interest in it or the domain name is a registered trademark of the business.  A UDRP can be a time-consuming and costly process and success is not guaranteed.

It is therefore imperative that a business actively manage their domain names.

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Category: Domain Names | Legalities

Understanding Search Engine Ranking


22. July 2009 21:48

Lots of website owners want to know how to increase their web site search engine ranking.  To help understand how you can improve your ranking in Google and the other major search engines, let me start off by asking a question.

What makes a good search engine? 

The answer is to do with relevancy. As a user, when you type a query into a search engine like Google or Bing.com you are hoping to see results that accurately match the type of website you are searching for.

So it is in the search engines best interests to make sure that the best web pages are ranked highest for any query a user may search for, otherwise you will start using a different search engine that gives you better results.  As such search engines spend a great deal of time improving how they rank websites, but unfortunately they never tell us exactly what we need to do to achieve better results.

Most search engine optimisation techniques therefore are based on experimentation and guess work, and the techniques frequently change.

What do I mean buy best web pages?

When I used the phrase "The best web pages" I meant the kind that you bookmark to refer to later, the kind that you read and send to your friends, the pages that you find some value in.

Understanding Page Rank

PageRankTM is a technique introduced by the Google search engine and was the key factor which catapulted Google to where it is today.  It can be best explained as a voting system designed to rank pages with the most votes highest. 

Each hyperlink on the internet (besides links from your own site) that point to a page on your website is classed as a vote.  Not every vote is equal though, links from highly ranked websites and sites relevant to your industry/profession or topic are worth more.  The theory behind this is simple.  If a website has taken the time and effort to link to one of your web pages then that particular page must have some value.  The more websites that link to a page on your website the greater the perceived value of your web page and the higher your page rank.

You can use this Google PageRank Checker to check your own PageRank.

Off-Site Search Engine Optimisation

Techniques aimed at increasing your page rank by gaining so-called "backlinks" to your website is called off-site SEO (Search Engine Optimisation).  Unfortunately it can be quite difficult to get people to link to business websites because more often than not a business website exists just to sell a product, service or provide corporate information rather than provide content that other people may find useful.

As I mentioned before it is important to get links from related sites, as links from websites that are "off-topic" are worth a lot less that a link from a high quality relevant website.

If you get the opportunity to specify how a website links to you, be sure to specify a short sentence or phrase describing your website to place in the anchor text rather than your business name or website address. For example:

A good backlink might look like this.

24 hour plumbers in the Kent area

And a not so optimised backlink containing your web address.

handyplumbers.co.uk

Avoid black hat SEO

Search engines are cracking down on dubious SEO techniques which attempt to increase their rank quickly by trying to manipulate page rank, so it is best to steer clear of these methods:

Search engines are constantly improving code which detects such behaviour and can negatively impact your website's ranking or even ban the site from its index if you are not careful!

There are lots of "SEO" companies that will use so called "black hat" techniques to help your website get quick results but these can backfire long after you have parted company with the SEO firm so beware!