Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Video Chat Makes Family Closer

Years ago we were promised a day of flying cars, automatic meal makers and video phones.  While cars still keep their wheels on the ground for the most part and free delivery is the closest we've gotten to meals that we don't have to make, video phones in the form of online video chat have been around for a long time.

So far I've used this blog to inform about the way technology can enhance your business or organization's goals, but today I want to talk about one of the ways that it can also bring families closer together.

Many people tried video chat when it first came out and realized that it was video with poor resolution that skipped and sputtered around.  USB video cameras were tricky to get working. More time was spent trying to get the software to work at all (and then make sure it was still working every 10 seconds) than to actually enjoying a conversation.

That has changed over time.  Most laptops, tablets and phones come with cameras built in and ready to go.  Bandwidth increased by internet service providers make the video, well, not crystal clear by any stretch, but at an acceptable quality.  And thanks to online services that make the process of setting up and connecting with other video chat users easy, the experience should be a lot better this time around.

Whether you use Skype, Google Hangouts or some other service, all the tools are right there for you.  And if you have friends and relatives who live far away that you don't get to see too often, it's a good way to catch up and feel a little more connected than with just a phone call, email, Facebook message or Tweet.

If you're like me, with a new baby and family members who live across the country, video chatting can let them share in the experience of watching your child grow.  So while our cars can't fly above traffic jams and we still have to cook our own meals, my wife's 80 year old mother in Texas can Skype with our 6 month old daughter here in NJ.

It's a start. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Search Engine Optimization the Organic Way

A few years ago, there was a great buzz about search engine optimization (SEO) largely driven by some "Get to the Top of the Listings, Quick" scams that search engine developers quickly figured out and began penalizing sites for. 

One of the benefits of this was that it got non-technical people who used their website for marketing their businesses or organizations thinking about search driven traffic and what they could do to make sure that they showed up when their customers searched.  As the SEO movement has evolved, it's become more and more clear that the most effective way to show up in search results is through the development of relevant content, proper website coding and intelligent cross promotion with complimentary websites.  Using these methods as part of a normal process of creating and promoting a website is considered organic.

Develop Relevant Content

As search engines get smarter, they are better able to determine how the content you provide matches with the words or phrase a potential visitor enters into a search.  If you try to think like your visitor, you'll get the best results.  I find the best way to begin is to create a list of keywords and phrases about the page I'm creating.  A list for this page might look something like:
  • Search Engine Optimization
  • SEO
  • Position in Results
  • Keywords
  • Website
  • Marketing
  • Content
  • Encoding
  • Promotion
Armed with that list, I can layout this article in a way that highlights each one of these keywords and phrases.  To keep things natural, I think about the key concepts in that list and order them in the way that they would be tackled using traditional writing techniques.  So the first section of this blog post is an overview.  It ends with a lead in to the three main sections.  Then I discuss each section.  This is the way content is developed organically, the same way any content writing is done. 

This is in stark contrast to the SEO scams where keywords were literally jammed into different areas of the page whether they made sense there or not.  Often, keywords would be hidden on the page using code as well.  Search engines caught on relatively quickly and started blacklisting pages that used these techniques and penalized them even after they stopped.

Proper Website Encoding

On the technical side, the way a website is coded can assist search engines "understand" how important you see the content you provide.  By using heading title tags (H1, H2 H3, H4) and Paragraph tags (P) to mark up the text on your website, you tell the search engines about the main themes of the page.  H1 is the first heading and should be as close to a short but exact definition of your page as possible. 

For this blog post, "Search Engine Optimization the Organic Way" would be a good choice for an H1 tag.  It is usually recommended that you only have a single H1 on a page  The H2 tag helps you further define the content of your page.  "Proper Website Encoding", "Develop Relevant Content" and "Cross Promote with Complimentary Websites" would be the H2 titles for this page.  As you get further down, H3 and H4 tags help you break down your main themes further if necessary.  Finally, content like what you're reading right now belongs in a paragraph tag.  Search engines will still look at the keywords in your paragraphs and how they relate to your other titles.

Cross Promote with Complimentary Websites -
The content you put up on the web is a great start, but how do search engines know that you're a legitimate source for information, products or services?  The short answer is they don't.  Not just "reading" the content on your site.  The internet is a...well, it's a web.  And webs are made up of interconnections.  Search engines have developed complex systems to determine what these interconnections say about each individual connection. 

So lets say you own a local restaurant.  At your restaurant, you have Heinz Ketchup as a condiment.  To let your customers find out more about Heinz Ketchup, you link to the Heinz website from your own.  That connection doesn't do much for Heinz' reputation from a search engine stand point.  In fact, Heinz only benefits from sites like yours when thousands or hundreds of thousands of them link to it.  On the flip side, if Heinz decides to create a directory of their favorite restaurants that serve Heinz Ketchup and they select yours and link to you, that's a great boost to your site's reputation with the search engines.

There's a catch, though.  Search engines recognize that some sites will allow others to create these interconnections.  So say Heinz has a discussion forum about Ketchup and they allow visitors to add links there.  That's less authoritative than say a link from a Heinz Ketchup blog that Heinz itself creates.  As I said, the search engines are getting smarter.  They can determine what's official content and what's user created content. 

Going back again to the SEO Scam, they would set up link farms where all their customers would link through to a specific page, giving it authority because thousands of less known sites "approve it", and then those link farms would contain links back to the SEO Scam's customers.  At first this provided a boost, but as I said earlier, the search engines caught on and not only frowned on this, but also penalized the sites long after they removed the dishonest attempt at gaining better position in results.

Exchanging links with suppliers or others that you do business with is a great way to promote each other.  Joining legitimate professional organizations, like local Chambers of Commerce and getting links to and from them are also good ways to legitimately build these interconnections.  You can also add your site to directory services and social networks, but select carefully and don't expect these links alone to boost your search engine placement very much.  They do provide alternative ways for people to find you, however.

In conclusion, doing things the right way goes a long way towards letting search engines know that you're a legitimate source for information.  Stay away from the tricks.  They might help you temporarily, but in the long run, it's better to just be honest with the search engines and your visitors.  Provide content relevant to what you offer.  Encode it properly.  Create connections to other websites that match or compliment your own.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

AddThis! Social Bookmarking on Every Page on Your Site

Social.  Social? Social!

Buzz words and phrases are fine, but figuring out what they mean for your business or organization is another matter.  We often can sense that some trend is important and might have some idea that it could help us, but implementation is another matter.  Typically, when you see an industry sprout up around a concept, like it has with Social Media in relation to marketing, you can bet that getting the most out of it won't be an easy thing.

With social, a little is better than none.  Not everyone can have a full time employee dedicated to managing the social experience tied to their organization or afford to hire a firm to manage it effectively.  Small businesses especially struggle there, where social becomes yet another hat an owner has to wear.

So if you can only do a little, where do you start?  Putting AddThis! on your website is a good place.  With a quick signup, answering a few questions and then copying a little bit of code into your website (and little being the equivalent of a couple of sentences, copied exactly) you can give your users the ability to share your page or go to your own social network offerings. 

For an example, just look to the left or the top right of this page if you are on a computer or laptop.   On the left, you'll see that just after the page loaded, a bar of icons appeared.   There are familiar icons, Facebook, Twitter, email and print.  Then there's a plus sign with dozens of other ways to share this page (and feel free to).  Then top right, you'll see a Facebook and Twitter circle icon.  Those go to my pages on those networks.  On mobile, a bar appears at the bottom of the screen and provides a similar experience.

Adding that functionality took me about 15 minutes.  If you don't have the ability to share your website with others right now, AddThis! is a must.  If you're a current client of inVisual, we are running a $10 special on adding this feature to your website.  Contact us to get started.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Hello, My Name is Dave, I Create Websites for a Living and My Web Presence Sucks

After many years of developing for the web for clients and always using the excuse that I simply don't have time to work on and maintain my own web presence, it is past time I rectified that situation.  To be clear, it's kind of embarrassing.

My clients could use the same excuses that I have.  Promoting your business or organization is time consuming and there isn't just one path you can take.  In the age of social media, it becomes even more difficult to stay current across multiple outlets.

Since what I am doing is what I assist my clients in doing, I think one way I can help them is to blog about my experience as I transition from having a (long outdated) web site to managing my online presence in a thoughtful and more complete way.

A few weeks back, I updated my website.  I used a "less is more" approach in order to ensure that I would get the new site launched.  Too many times over the last number of years, I came up with a new design or concept, but never followed through on it.  This time I figured I could make a site that was simple and then add to it as I had time or had the need.  I've made a copy of that initial launch here incase someone stumbles on this blog post in the future and my site is more developed than it is right now.  For those with websites they know are outdated, here is a link to the version of the site that I had been using up until this new one was put in place.  Note the 2009 in the URL.  You are not alone.

This blog is one of my next steps.  I also started a Facebook page for inVisual and discovered at some time in 2010 I had created a Twitter account that at some point had gotten hacked.  So my social exposure for inVisual was a Twitter feed full of spam.  I deleted the old posts and was pleased to discover that some of my clients were following my Twitter account even though I hadn't promoted it at all.

At the time of this writing, here are some of the recommended heights and widths for the images you can use in the mast head of Twitter and Facebook:

Facebook -
Profile Picture: 180px x 180px.  This one caused me some problems as my logo kept getting pixelated when I uploaded a JPG version of it.  I finally tried saving the logo as a PNG file and it was much clearer.

Profile Banner: 851px wide X 314px high.  This one didn't matter whether it was a JPG or PNG, there was some pixilation after uploading.

Twitter -
Profile Image: 500px X 500px.

Profile Banner: 1500px wide X 500px high.  I used PNGs for both of these, just to be safe.

I also filled out description information for both and added the Facebook Like and Share buttons to my site using Facebook's share code generator located here.

I'll finish up this blog post now and then work to design the blog theme to match my site.  I'm also setting up a subdomain of http://blog.invisual.us as the location of the blog, which requires some DNS changes.  I won't outline those here, as they're best left to the web people like me.  Once the blog is ready, I'll link it to my live site, which will of course mean that I have to continue to with this process and to document it.  Or else you will all know about it.