Sweet Home (Page, that is)

web-search-greyWhat should be the on front page of your website?

If your focus is your blog, then make the blog the front page. If, however, you’re not posting regularly and frequently, go for a “static” front page. It doesn’t make much of a difference, SEO-wise, but when people visit your site and see an 6 month old post as the first thing on the home page, they will probably just bounce off — unless you have incredibly compelling content.

People get all wrapped up in Search Engine Optimization. How can I get to be #1 on Google? (Hint: You can’t.)  How do I “own” a keyword across the internet?

Focusing on SEO is the wrong place to start.  Good content is the basis of a good website. Focus on what it takes to attract an audience and use SEO to reinforce that.

Do you need help with your website?

Do you need help with your website?  As you start out on your entrepreneurial journey, you have to work IN the business as well as ON the business.   Every hour you spend with a client has to be matched with time spent on development, sales, and marketing.  A website that explains your value and delivers clear calls to action needs to be one of the arrows in your marketing arsenal.  Do you have one?

I'm working with a group of people affiliated with the BigOoga.  Our group consists of a communications and PR expert, a talented graphic designer, an SEO expert, and a WordPress and Drupal builder. Together, we can help you develop your value statements, articulate your message, and create a strong and easy to use website to drive your business.  Contact me and we'll help you be more effective on the web.

Ghost Writers

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One of the reasons I write this blog is to build my brand as someone who thinks and writes well.  I may not have the best "voice" on the interwebs, but it's mine. I find  myself unreasonably offended by this offer that just  hit my inbox:

Hi I`m [redacted].
We have an idea which we hope will be useful for sterndata.com.
We need some links and since there is an ongoing debate about the effectiveness of traditional reciprocal links, we would like to offer you two things:-
1) Some free of charge content for sterndata.com in return for a single link back. We are working with a large team of professional writers. We can get them (at our expense) to write some content for you to publish on sterndata.com. You can choose the subject and you have complete control. The content would be unique to sterndata.com – no copy/paste or tricks – and definitely no cost or other commitments for you. All we would ask is that you allow us to include one simple text link back to us towards the end of the content which will hopefully be found by the search engines in the longer term.
2) A 10% discount on any of our services
Please let me know if this would work for you and, if so, what subject you want our writers to cover.

Six Steps to a Better Website – SEO in a Nutshell

Is your website useful to your vistors, both human and non-human? You can spend a lot of time and money optimizing your website for search engines and making it friendly for your human visitors. There are books, tutorials, and videos.  Ultimately, it comes down to just six things that are important when you build a website. 

1.  Text is king
Search engines cannot read graphics.  Use graphics to make the site pretty for human visitors, but be sure that the really important content (name, location, phone number, hours of operation) are text elements on the page.  The page design and contents must be pleasing to both humans and machines.

2. URLs are not that important
It is important to have an easy-to-type URL (Uniform Resource Locator).  Your URL is part of your branding strategy.  In the grand scheme of things, however, the URL is not all that important.  Most people come to your site through an intermediary; they do not type in your URL.  It’s more important to promote your site to the intermediaries than to have the perfect URL.

3.  Reasonable Repetition
Search engines index the content of your site.  In the old days (two to three years ago), the engines allowed you to set keywords through “meta” statements. They found that self-declared keywords were unreliable, so they now read a site and figure out keywords and key phrases on their own.  This means that you should make sure any key terms people might use to search for your site are used on the pages of your site, and more than once. 

4.  Google can’t find what you don’t say
The converse of repetition is that if you don’t say it, Google can’t guess it.  I worked with an organization that was promoting webinars. They were upset when searching on "webinar" didn't get any hits.  After digging around for a bit, I found that they used "web conference" and "web based training" on the site, never using the word "webinar". You know what the words mean; Google just looks for the words.  We updated the site to use "webinar" and all was well.

5.  Tricks may be held against you
One of the things that doomed self-declared keywords was that some sites were gaming the system. They used a number of keywords in “meta” statements that had nothing to do with the actual content of the site. Search engines are now smarter. They look for attempts to game the system and punish them by pushing them down in the results.  Don’t put a term 20 times in white text on a white background or hidden with a no-display tag.

6.  Plan for mobile users
Have you reviewed your site from a few different brands of smart phones?  There’s not a lot of screen real estate and someone viewing your site from a phone is probably concentrating on one of those five questions above.  Make sure these are clearly visible on your home page, and that they’re text, not a graphic.  Smart phones understand addresses and will automatically link an address to a map and make phone numbers clickable.

5 reasons you should be using Twitter

Conversations about Twitter

When I talk to businesses, networkers, or friends about Twitter, I usually hear something like, “I don’t get Twitter. Who cares what I’m eating for breakfast?”. I’m good with that — I don’t care what you had for breakfast.

The second thing I hear is “And who would follow me anyway”? Granted, you’re not Aston Kutcher. (Who would have thought? Was That 70s Show such a big deal?)

But that’s not what Twitter is about when you’re a business or a networker who’s looking to expand your online footprint. Twitter is a way to publish, immediately and broadly, content on the Internet. Twitter is a way of handing out your business card.

Why should you use Twitter?

  1. Twitter is a tool that distributes your content on the internet.
  2. Twitter is the cheapest search engine optimization tool you can get. It doesn’t matter how many followers you have because Google, Bing, and other search engines read all tweets.
  3. Each tweet adds to your online presence and, if you include a link to your web site, increases its rank in search results.
  4. Tweets that relate to what you do increase your chance of being found in searches.
  5. Relevant, thoughtful, and occasionally humorous tweets increase your social reputation and help establish you as a though leader.

By the way, in case you care, I prefer Trader Joe’s Organic Os for breakfast. Follow me on Twitter.

Rogue security, Search Engine Optimization, and some darn clever folks

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A couple of weeks ago, Sarah Silverman was on Bill Maher’s Friday night show on HBO, where she showed her latest video. The next morning, I hopped on to Google to find it and forward it to some friends who had probably missed the show. The first 10 links on Google were sites that informed me my computer was infected by a virus, then downloaded a setup.exe file to the system to “clean” the viral infection.

Running a Linux system, I wasn’t afraid to download the files. I then submitted several to VirusTotal, a site that runs them through multiple anti-virus scanners. Only of of the samples was tagged as being “potentially” bad that Saturday morning.

Symantec has released a white paper about sites that install rogue security software, the characteristics of such software, and the methods of description. The report is well worth reading. It’s not the software I find interesting but what must be the highly automated systems that were able to mutate a trojan-dropper program to make it undetectable, determine hot search terms, and get pages up across the internet in a way that they turned up at the very top of the Google search results. Anyone with a web site struggles with Search Engine Optimization (SEO), the art and science of getting your web site noticed by search engines and returned near the top of any search that is relevant to your content. The evil doers who distribute the malware have this absolutely nailed.

The first step, I suppose, is to monitor topics of increasing interest using sites like Google Trends, Bing xRank, and TweetStats. As topics rise in trends, the next step is to enlist a web of web sites (see the Symantec white paper for more about these) and publish pages with matching terms on the page and in the keyword META construct, and then use the search engine submission APIs to push these pages into the search engines. I suspect that the sites involved appear to be blogs, because those are more frequently spidered and pushed into the result stream than sites with static content. In parallel with this, there needs to be an engine that’s mutating the malware payload of the sites to evade detection by the anti-virus systems. This requires its own ecology of mutators, base programs, and testing machines that use the anti-virus engines themselves to kill off the mutants that won’t survive in the wild. The final step is a system that tears all of this down after a day or so, as the search engines determine the sites to be malware hosts, the anti-virus systems develop antibodies for the malware, and legitimate sites begin to move up in the search engine results.

Symantec and other security providers have a number of ways for individuals, search engine providers, and system administrators to reduce the threat from such sites. Ultimately, it comes down to the message from X Files, “Trust No One”. Undermining trust and a feeling of safety is what terrorism is all about.

Why can’t the minds behind this use their powers for good instead of evil?