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SEO: A Summary

Emma Sadonick-Carriere

Aug312015

SEO Source Code - Modern Earth Web Design - Search Engine Optimization Winnipeg ManitobaWhen asked “so, what do you do?” I find myself responding with something along the lines of “I help clients make it easier for Google to find their website”.  I've tried saying "I do Search Engine Optimization" which is often met with a puzzled look or a blank stare.

What is SEO?

Search Engine Optimization is a complex process that involves several small pieces of one larger machine.  Starting from the code up, almost every part of a website can be search engine optimized.  Good SEO tells a search engine what your website as a whole is about, and what each individual page of your website is about.    

While there are a large number of elements to optimizing your website, here are some very quick, easy wins for your SEO strategy.

 

Page Titles

Specifying a unique title for each page of your website lets Google, and other search engines, know what the page is about.  This helps them achieve their end goal of providing users with the most accurate search results possible.  Make sure titles are concise and informative.

Meta Descriptions

This is the area where you can expand further on the information contained in the web page itself.  While there is no set character limit for page meta descriptions at this time, making sure users can see the description in its entirety from the search results page helps them make the decision to click on your website.  Write descriptions that are compelling and attention grabbing.

Image Alternative Text

Alternative text on images is important for all users; tags that accurately describe their corresponding image are regarded highly by search engines.  If an image does not load on a page, or a user is using a screen reader, they will still have an idea of what the image is and how it relates to the rest of the content on the page.  

Link Title Text

Title tags on links, both in website navigation and in page content, can help users navigate your site.  These tags can also potentially help improve click through rates within your website - keeping users on your site longer and encouraging them to view more pages.

This is a very high-level summary of just a few of the elements of website SEO, much like my “what do you do?” answer.  For more information, or if you would like to discuss how Modern Earth Web Design can help implement search engine optimization on your website, we are just a click or a call away.

 

What’s in a Name?

Michel Stryker

Aug272015

Ever wonder what the difference between a Web Designer and a Web Developer is at Modern Earth? I know when I first started at Modern Earth many moons ago I thought they were one in the same. Turns out, they have completely distinct roles in making amazing websites! 

Here are a few samples of what each role does:

A Web Designer:

  • takes a large collection of ideas and combines them in such a way that is visually appealing and suited for businesses' needs
  • makes sure websites are easy to navigate and have clear calls to action
  • takes the completed design and generates the code for it to run on the web server

A Web Developer:

  • creates the functional elements of the website, including contact forms and user login systems
  • can add custom interactivity, such as how a menu animates or how a map displays their information based on an address you clicked
  • creates complex applications that help reduce the amount of overhead you may be experiencing doing things via pen and paper
  • ensures that everything in the website is functioning and working together smoothly
  • inspects systems to be free of bugs
  • creates reports of data collected

To put it into an analogy, web designers are the artists and draftspeople, whereas web developers are the engineers and the mathematicians. Each part makes up an incredibly important piece of a well greased machine. We depend on one another to create amazing pieces of work.

As a web developer, I thrive on all the different technological challenges that occur during my day. There is always something new that could improve my problem-solving abilities. I have to think multiple steps ahead to make sure a change in the system will be integrated correctly. Sometimes, the slightest, most insignificant tweak can cause an entire website to go down!  It's my job to make sure that doesn't happen.

I have to say, some days I wish I had the ability to create designs out of thin air like our designers. With every project I work on I am given a chance to see the new and exciting web design ideas they generate. Without client websites to build, our designers’ creativity and our developers’ logical minds go to waste. Don’t let that happen! Contact Modern Earth today to see what we can do for you.

Imagine that you have your own minion that works for you 24/7, day and night, even on weekends, holidays, and never takes a vacation. Well, that’s basically what a website is. Whether or not it actually does a good job at what it does, is entirely up to you.

Often people come to me asking what they can do to make their website actually “work” for them and the answers I give them are easier than you’d think!

Beneath the fancy “skin” and alluring pixels of any website, are the mechanics and interaction that are key elements to a successful website. Whether or not you’re selling products, services, or providing information, you’ll probably want to make sure that your website is actually effective at doing what it’s supposed to do.

So let’s take a look at few common mistakes to avoid that will improve the  effectiveness of your website :

Get to the point!

Time is precious. Visitors should have some kind of intuitive response after being on your website for a few seconds. Why are visitors coming to your website and what action do you want them to take? It is best to make the action efficient and engaging for your visitors.

Effects and animations – Are you building a website for children?

It’s cool the first time you see an effect or animation in a user-interface, but too many bells and whistles can distract or annoy your visitors. I love seeing people take technology and user-experience to the next level by exploring animations and effects (where it has a purpose or function). It’s always nice to see new and interesting concepts at play when visiting a website. However, are they really needed? And do they serve a purpose? Do they provide focus points to features or actions?

Personally I find it hard to take the content too seriously if it’s on or near moving video, animation, or fancy “parallax” effects. There are some rare cases these effects may work, but for the most part it usually doesn’t and often slows the average computer down or distracts from what you want your visitor to do. In the end, it depends on the type of website you have, the function/purpose, and the target people you’re engaging.

Loading screens

One of the last things people like to do when visiting a website is stare at a loading screen. Most visitors are impatient, by making them wait you’re  betting that everyone will find your content worth waiting for. On average users will close a website if the page they are expecting hasn’t loaded within 3 seconds - don’t waste that time on a loading screen. This backs up my earlier recommendation: get to the point!

Bad links

No matter how cool your brand, product, or service(s) are, a broken link can tip the scale on whether a visitor stays on your site or closes the browser. Broken links often result with the visitor closing the window out of frustration and/or immediately losing trust in your brand. Scanning your website for broken links and fixing them (via redirect or similar) is very important and can also improve your google search ratings as a bonus.

Conclusion

We often get distracted by what we personally prefer, then what will add value and enrich the user-experience for visitors. It really helps to know who your visitors are and what they are expecting before leaving things up to chance. It’s great to go on and on about the benefits of your products, services, information, and have all the bells and whistles... but what does that really do for you if it’s not working for your visitors?

Researching and Choosing Keywords

Emma Sadonick-Carriere

Aug242015

Keyword research is one of my favourite parts of doing organic search engine optimization for a website.  There are always surprises; sometimes it’s a keyword I would never have thought of, other times it's a term I didn't expect anybody is searching for.  I particularly enjoy seeing how people search online, and how search trends change over time. 

When picking keywords for a client website I like to look in several different places.  Our particular SEO process focuses on ranking in Google Search results, so I often stick to their tools. 

I use the Google Keyword Planner Tool to research estimated search volume for potential keywords.  The tool provides average search volume over the past 12 months, and a low-medium-high ranking of how competitive the term is. Related terms that are often searched for after the initial search are also provided as alternative options.  That part is especially interesting to me because it gives you an idea of how people refine their search if they don’t get what they’re looking for the first time around.     

To get an idea of whether a keyword could be efficient for a particular website I'll run a search to see what results search engines think are most relevant to me at that time.  Then I have insight into how that term is perceived both by users, and search engines.  I also check related searches on the results page once I’ve found some terms that have the potential to be a good fit.  

In an ideal world I’ll be able to view the Google Analytics data for the website I’m focusing on at the time.  From there I can see what terms the website has already been returned as a result for, and how the different keywords performed.  Google Webmaster Tools has the queries report which is similar but provides a less detailed breakdown.    

Ultimately, choosing keywords that align well with the content of your website is the single best thing you can do to help your rankings.  Giving users exactly what they’re expecting when they choose your result out of the list helps keep your bounce rates low and your user engagement high.

Writing is Hard

Philip Giles

Aug202015

With most web design projects, there are several sticking points where progress can come to a screeching halt. The most common one is when written content is required. The design is approved, the site is built, and we have lots of blank pages just waiting for ‘stuff’ to go in them.

Almost always it’s because the person who is writing the content thought it would be easy to write, and when they sit down to write it, they discover it’s much harder than they thought.

Writing can certainly be hard work; personally I always find it hard. I’ve developed some tricks and tools to make it easier over the last 30 years, but for me it’s always something that takes significant investment, emotionally as well as time-wise.

So, some tips for how to make it easier to write:

  • Write on a schedule - set aside the same time every day/week/month to write, and treat it like a client meeting
  • In your schedule decide what you’re going to write about before you sit down to write it. Otherwise, you’ll spend all your time deciding what to write rather than actually writing.
  • If you don’t know where to start, you are trying to write about something that is too big. It’s easier to start writing about Selkirk (if you live in Selkirk) than it is to write about The World. Pick a small thing, and write about that.
  • Just write. Something. Anything. It may be bad, it may be great, it may be somewhere in between. The hardest part of writing is getting started.

If you’re still struggling to write, remember that you aren't a professional writer. So, in the same way as you may choose to hire a contractor to finish your basement, maybe you should hire a writer to write for you. If you need help to find a writer, we can certainly help, so don’t hesitate to get in touch.

 

As one of the members of the designer team here at Modern Earth I have a list of tools within my arsenal always at the ready. One of my favourites is the elusive call-to-action that guides a user to perform a specific action on a website. But before we can simply place a call-to-action on a website we need to figure out exactly what it is.

 

What is a ‘Call to Action’?

On your average website, there are different parts that come together to build a functional website such as the header, navigation, footer and content. The call-to-action is just as important as any other section. It defines an action that can be taken on the website and guides users to pursue this action. It can come in many different forms and could be placed almost anywhere on a website. In most cases, it takes the form of a button or a heading that tells a user what to do. In this case below one of our clients, Acuity HR Solutions has some really good examples that invoke users to view team members or read about services they offer. The call-to-actions on this site explicitly get users to learn more about the benefits of their service and in doing so increase leads for the company, which brings me to my next topic.

 

Acuity HR Solutions Screenshot -Modern Earth Web Design - Online Marketing Winnipeg Manitoba

(Click to view larger version)

 

Why is a ‘Call to Action’ important?

Every website has goals associated with it; a reason it exists in the first place. Some websites are meant to sell products while others serve as a hub of information and let users find the answers to the questions they have. Call-to-actions are meant to fulfill these goals on a website. It’s important that they exist on a site so users are informed of what actions can be taken on a website and to guide them to where you want them to be. Call-to-actions are often meant to generate leads on your website, making your business more profitable.

 

How do you implement a ‘Call to Action’ on your website?

Call-to-actions can’t simply just be thrown around your website loosely and expect leads to come flooding onto your doorstep. It takes careful thinking about what goals you want your business to achieve and how your website can be used to meet those goals.

I like to be frugal with my call-to-actions on a website. I make sure I can count them all on my hand on any single given web page. Too often users are given too many choices on what to do and next thing you know, they bounce off the site. Less is usually better in this case.

At the end of the day, it’s incredibly important to have a proper call-to-action on your site. By far it’s one of my favourite tools to use as a designer, and I make sure there’s a properly defined call-to-action in every single one of my designs.

Aug172015

Since marketing has made the switch from outbound efforts to inbound there has been a steady increase in marketing customization.  We see it on platforms like Netflix and Amazon all the time; recommendations for shows and products you may like based on your past behaviour.  We also see it on social platforms like Facebook - when I was helping a friend plan her wedding last year ads for dress alterations and David’s Bridal started appearing regularly in my news feed!

While some people find it irritating when ads start to follow them around the internet (I’ll be real, sometimes it is creepy) I still think it’s fascinating to see how far online marketing has advanced in recent years.  But why is marketing customization important?  How does it work, who benefits from it, and what separates a good experience from a bad one?

How It Works

Requiring users to create an account or login to gain access to a product or service, or make a purchase allows brands to collect information about who their customer base is.  Users provide the information themselves and in most cases choose what details are shared and what are kept private.  

Who It Helps

Marketing customization benefits both brands and users.  Brands are able to provide content to users that is more relevant to their needs and interests based on their past behaviour - this increases chances users will convert into leads and eventually sales.  The overall experience is then more enjoyable for the end user; people like that their needs are understood, and the feeling that someone is looking out for their interests.  It also helps that they are provided with easy access to products or services they may not have know about that align well with their needs at the time.

What Makes A Good Experience

A good user experience is vital to the success of any online interaction with a brand.  Seeing the same advertisement several times across the web after you visit a website once does not leave a positive impression.  Users don’t like to feel as though they’re being followed by a pushy car salesman.  Showing your ad, or connecting with a potential customer at the moment they’re looking for what you have to offer should be the goal every time.  Twitter users expect a response from a brand within 30 minutes in a customer service situation, so acting fast is just as important as meeting the customers needs.

 

Aug142015

Philip Giles, President­ Modern Earth Web Design ­- Search Engine Optimization Winnipeg ManitobaHomelessness matters. It matters to all of us, no matter where we live, what we do, or whether we encounter it on a day to day basis.  There is a commonly held “Statistic” that says we are, in general, all only 3 bad decisions from being homeless.

So, once again I’ll be participating in the CEO Sleepout, being held this year on the night of September 24th with 200+ other business and community leaders. Our collective goal is to raise over $200k to support a group of social agencies, allowing them to employ members of the homeless community, and improve their employees’ lives – not just for the short term, but to change lives in the long run.

Why do I participate? A significant proportion of homeless people suffer from mental health issues, whether those issues surfaced prior to homelessness or during their life on the street. Mental health issues have had an impact on my family; one of my cousins sadly took her life after suffering with depression for many years. Improving mental health in my community matters to me on a deeply personal level.

One of the hardest things for someone suffering from depression to overcome is the persistent feeling of inadequacy, the feeling that there is no way out. I can only imagine how this feeling of inadequacy is compounded when coupled with having nowhere to live. It must truly feel hopeless. One of my strongest beliefs is that we must feel that we have choices in our lives. Homelessness, coupled with depression, and accompanied by hopelessness disempowers people, and more than that – makes them feel like they have few or no choices.

The CEO Sleepout aims to give choice back to people who need options, and more than that – make people feel like they have choices, and control over some part of their life. It provides them with direction, the beginning of a new road in life, and some of the tools required to take the needed steps to move forward with hope.

Support the CEO Sleepout – donate today and help homeless people feel hope again.

- Philip Giles