Raleigh Startups Specialized Marketing Needs

This post first appeared on https://dunntek.com/business-services/raleigh-startups/

Raleigh startups, as well North Carolina startups in general, have specialized digital marketing needs that can be a bit different than those of many traditional brick and mortar businesses.  We’re here to walk with you through the evolving needs your startup will have.  To understand what makes startups different in regard to what they often need in the way of services such as search engine optimization (SEO), web design, and so forth, a bit of brief discussion about the startup life cycle is needed.

What’s a Startup

The term startup generally refers to a venture capital funded business that has a strategic business plan of sufficient potential ROI that investors have supplied the money that the company needs in order to develop a new product or capability that isn’t in the market yet.  In many cases it’s fully expected that the startup won’t be profitable for some time because they have to first develop their new product or service and then bring it to market.  Let’s dig a little deeper into that.

Early Lifecycle of Raleigh Startups

Startups developing a new business to business service will often engage in a process of organically identifying suitable prospects and contacting them in order to solicit their involvement as beta testers during the development cycle.  You likely won’t be staffed or organized internally just yet to support a large onset of customers, because you’re in development mode instead of production.  Your primary concern will be ensuring that when you reach out to a prospect, whether in Raleigh or elsewhere, that what that prospect sees online conveys that you are organized, looking at the big picture, and taking what you are doing seriously.

Web Design for North Carolina Startups

Raleigh startups needs a web presence which conveys that you have something worth taking a closer look at.  This requires not only the right type of content and messaging on the website, but also a visual style that says “we have something special.”  To convey that, some startups may want to venture away from conventional approaches to web design and be deliberately different.  Others may have a quicker cycle and prefer to build their website to support runtime operations and visitor conversion.  I’ll try to explain the difference.

A traditional business providing home services, such as a plumber, for example, may benefit from well-studied designs based on neuroscience conversion principles in order to achieve the highest probability of converting a website visitor into a customer.  This is done through conversion-oriented design that looks at the composition of the page to ensure certain things are in the right places and that key things aren’t missing.  Color and messaging are very important as well.  The idea is to create subliminal trust and funnel your visitor into taking a specific action.

In contrast, Raleigh startups may have a different spin on this at this point in the life cycle of their business.  The startup often wants to be seen as a potential market disruptor with something new and different to offer.  Something noteworthy and compelling.  To accomplish that, they must strike a balance between standing out and maintaining a corporate image that says they have their act together.  The design challenge is to convey their essence and messaging in a powerful way so that prospects imagine themselves benefit from the product while potential investors alike find themselves wondering, “What if?” and envision the possibilities.

SEO Foundation

From the perspective of SEO, a strong brand presence should be established early so that when people search for the business by name, they will hopefully see a lot of results about you on page one.  This serves several purposes.  First, it will allow the various digital assets involved to begin earning trust and authority in search engines.  The authority of these properties will be increasingly important to the startup down the road if they plan to move into the mode of delivering their service to the general market.  Further, it will also ensure that key digital properties are claimed so that they aren’t hijacked by either a competitor or someone else hoping to siphon off some of the potential website traffic.  By properly creating and linking essential properties through specific methods, the startup can avoid some potential problems, eliminate entity ambiguity, and create trust with search engines.  I think of these early steps as the most critical foundation of SEO for a business.

Brand Search Feasibility

Before your business is instantiated, you may want to analyze the online search feasibility of your proposed brand and ensure that you aren’t going to be competing to be found for your own brand name against other established, high-authority websites whose branding may be similar enough to create problems for you.  You can find a high level view of that process on this site.

Why does this matter?  Think about very famous shoe brands named after the gods of Greek mythology.  Now, imagine that their main brand word is part of your company name.  Even though you may not be competing with them on products or services, you may very well be competing with them to be on page one of search results for your own brand name, as I’ll explain next.

For example, let’s say your business is called ‘Brand Marketing’ because you’re in the marketing business.  However, there’s a company simply called ‘Brand’ and they happen to have a marketing department of their own, and they’ve invested in SEO to be sure their marketing department is getting top billing for the search phrase ‘brand marketing.’  You’re competing with them in search engines even though you might not be competing with them for customers.  A preliminary competition analysis can help you understand the difficulty of being recognized in Google for your own brand.  Being recognized in Google search will cost less and be significantly faster if you select a brand name with good SEO prospects.

SEO for Products and Services

An on-going SEO campaign may or may not be called for at this early stage, depending on when the business needs organic search engine traffic to sustain operations.  Such campaigns often require anywhere from four to twelve months according to Google, though very competitive industries may require even longer than that.  Because the product or business service itself is likely still in development, it may not be possible to fully map out all of the taxonomies and naming conventions needed for SEO at this point if you have not finalized certain details relating to the product.  For example, if the product or service has a special name they want to rank for, that isn’t possible until the product name is nailed down.  Instead, you’ll have to focus on generic search terms to start creating some authority and come back to product naming later.  The sooner in the product lifecycle that the name can be nailed down, the sooner that more specialized SEO work for Raleigh startups can begin.

Paid Search Advertising

Paid search, such as Google AdWords, can potentially play a role in the early lifecycle of Raleigh startups.  This would potentially come into play if the startup is having difficulty identifying and reaching out to beta partners.  A possible solution is to use paid ads to get traffic to the website.  In such case, it is critical that the website landing page be designed in such a way as to maximize the probability of a contact request via the website.

SEO Project Management Considerations – Part 3

SEO Project Management Considerations - Part 3The article http://dunntek.com/seo/seo-project-management-considerations-part-3 was originally published to DunnTek News

This is the third and final installment in this particular series about certain special considerations with SEO project management. You should Part 1 and Part 2 first.  This isnt intended to be a guide on how to perform SEO project management, since that would be quite a lengthy document. Rather, my aim in this series is simply to shed light on certain areas that project managers used to working in other disciplines might want to consider, as well as to help business owners understand things that make SEO different from other types of Information Technology projects. Without further ado, lets begin.

SEO Project Management Model

As mentioned previously, a fairly standard set of activities will generally need to be performed at the start of any SEO project. These activities include the identification of digital assets, an assortment of various on-page tasks, competition analysis, and early off-page tasks such as link clean-up, just to name a few. Custom SEO agencies may apply their own secret sauce during this phase as well. While the general nature of these activities will tend to be consistent within an agency in how they handle client SEO, the exact details and level of effort required may vary greatly from one project to the next.

Once these baseline tasks are complete, the project will likely go through a series of progressive cycles until the desired results are achieved. A project management methodology that supports this approach of iterative work through successive cycles is recommended in order to maintain flexibility and avoid a constant stream of change orders that would likely result from trying to hold to a traditional waterfall approach.

SEO ROI

There are a lot of opinions and approaches to calculating the ROI of an SEO project. Certainly, every project requires a clear and compelling reason why the business would invest money in it. The bottom line is that SEO is not simply a marketing cost due to the fact that it potentially creates residual value in a way that other forms of marketing do not. SEO is a strategic investment that a business owners makes to help ensure a regular flow of inbound customers that don’t depend on paid advertisements. While beginning to realize the ROI may take anywhere from two months to a year or longer depending on your particular industry and location, this varies widely depending on the level of competition and the skill of your SEO.

Perhaps most importantly, SEO creates an exit-strategy for the business owner. It has an incredible ability to transform a business thats just getting by into a valuable target for corporate acquisition by a larger company. Simply put, if you’re sitting at the top of the search results for things that generate revenue, someone’s likely to be interested if your business is for sale. From such a perspective, the potential ROI is possibly much higher than when simply compared to alternative marketing strategies.

Project Communication

A communication plan is an important part of a project that details how communication is going to occur. This is important in order to prevent a free-for-all of instant messaging, email, phone calls, and cellular text messages that may result not only in complete chaos and missed deadlines but also the potential loss of important project data. A communication plan brings structure to how different types of communication will occur, both internally within the project team and with stakeholders, with the goal of ensuring that the project is successful. In this instance, my particular focus is on certain things that can come into play during communication between the client and the SEO provider which must be considered.

Having managed projects of so many different types, one thing Im certain of is that SEO is different. One thing you may encounter in an SEO project is that semi-technical people are very likely to try and understand things which are simply never going to make sense to them. While that could be said for IT in general, what makes SEO a bit unique is that we deal with a lot of things that people are used to looking at constantly, and, being smart people, they will be quick to think they understand them but theyve never looked at any of those things from an SEO perspective.

This can potentially lead to a lot of conversation because it arouses peoples curiosity when they suddenly discover that the online world thats been right in front of them has immense depths of subtlety they never previously imagined. Analytical people will be naturally inclined to want to get their heads around it, so to speak. Creative people may suddenly find themselves having no end of ideas they want to contribute. For all of these reasons, business owners should decide up front whether they want to pay for their staff to have kind of this extra dialogue or simply let the SEO firm do their thing.

As an example, consider a scenario in which the project is moving into content marketing. Suppose an appropriate piece of content can be sourced by the SEO for $50. Creative staff employed by the client, however, want to hold additional meetings to discuss the content to be used, possibly create their own content, and then invariably have to conduct additional meetings to discuss changes required to make the content suitable for SEO purposes. That type of dynamic creative process takes much longer, and the additional hours required are usually not going to be covered in a standard engagement. As a result, the client needs to determine in advance whether a creative engagement is worth the cost and schedule risk, or whether they prefer to simply let the SEO procure an appropriate piece of content to keep the project on-target in regard to both time and money. Neither approach is right or wrong; its a question of cost and preference, and its something that needs to be established during project inception to avoid any potential heartburn later.

Because SEO may take anywhere from three months to a year or longer, some type of regular contact is certainly needed to assure the customer that something meaningful is happening. I caution, though, against the standard inclination to produce detailed activity reports with tons of detail. If you go into too much detail, what may well happen is that when people read a report with a bunch of activities listed of things you did and digital documents or properties that you created, for example, people are going to try to look at those things online and try to understand both the individual activities as well as how they all fit together. Its human nature to do that. Unfortunately, theres a huge potential for them to end up feeling confused and frustrated for several different reasons. First, some of the things we do in SEO can be counter-intuitive or go against many common misconceptions. Second, they simply lack the years of experience to understand the strategic approach behind why these things are done the way they are. Unless youre dealing with another actual expert, consider the level of detail thats really going to be beneficial to the customer. More is not always better. Seek to provide meaningful indicators of progress while avoiding the inclusion of unnecessary data-points. There is another reason to consider keeping reports at a high level, though.

A critical consideration for any SEO firm is intellectual property and trade secrets. No one expects to walk into a major brand fast food restaurant and walk out with anything more than the vaguest understanding of their secret recipe, and SEO is no different. Within the field of SEO, there is a great amount of highly specialized tradecraft that changes on a very frequent basis. This tradecraft represents an SEO firms secret recipe in how they address the 200+ ranking factors. Accordingly, if you want anything more than a high-level report, dont be surprised if youre asked to execute a legal Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) which attaches a hefty financial penalty for violating the terms of the agreement. I prefer to avoid such a situation entirely and keep trade secrets and propriety business processes strictly on a need-to-know basis. As long as you can deliver results, people will not only understand that youve got something special, but theyll also appreciate the fact that you dont take just anyone as a client.

Conclusion

SEO should be seen more as a capital investment than a marketing cost. As a Raleigh SEO provider, our goal is to create residual value for our clients that can lead to a possible exit-strategy for a small business owner looking to sell their business. An SEO project can meet the criteria to be considered a project according to industry definitions, depending on the approach taken by the SEO agency. In selecting an SEO project management methodology, an SEO company should consider modern iterative approaches that will accommodate the dynamic nature of competitive SEO. Finally, if youre a business owner and need an SEO company, read this or visit https://dunntek.com/seo/

DISCLAIMER: Subject to terms and conditions as posted on the DunnTek website

SEO Project Management Considerations – Part 2

SEO Project Management Considerations - Part 2This blog post http://dunntek.com/seo/seo-project-management-considerations-part-2 was originally published to dunntek.com and is Part 2 in a series about SEO project management. I recommend reading Part 1 first if you haven’t already done so.

SEO Strategy

My intent with this section is not to articulate any sort of one-size-fits-all SEO strategy, because such a thing simply doesn’t exist in any actionable form, but, rather, to explain some of the associated issues that are going to affect which project management methodologies are used and how they’re applied. Youve probably seen ads where marketing companies say theyll provide SEO services for $200 per month. Having reviewed many such services myself, I can say that, at this price point, what you’re usually going to get is a pre-formulated package of specific items like X number of blog posts, articles, and so forth, which are all done the same way for each and ever client. In the case where a business may be close to the tipping point in ranking, it is possible that such a formulaic approach mightbe all they need to tip the scales in their favor. In my mind, that’s really just a nailed-down business process rather than a strategy, because a strategy to achieve a particular result has to be specific to that result. If it’s generic, then I consider it to be a conceptual approach- not an actual strategy. It also doesn’t meet the industry definition of a project.

In most moderately competitive industries, the people that I encounter who’ve tried such offerings generally didn’t get the results they hoped for. This could be because they bought SEO services rather than SEO solutions. In other words, they paid someone to come do some plumbing and carpentry, but not to actually build them a house. Unfortunately, customers really don’t have any way of knowing whether what’s being proposed by a potential provideris going to work or not. How is a customer to tell whether the technical lingo in fancy looking Power Point presentations represents an actual bona fide SEO solution that’s going to create results, or just a bunch of paid hours keeping someone busy? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this which is why it’s important to select real business partnerswho have a vested interest in your long-term success. Let’s dig into somenuances of SEO strategy a bit further.

To begin, boiler-plate programs may not meet the commonly-held definition of a project since you are simply paying someone to provide a predefined commodity service that they sell the exact same way to anyone that asks. Within the field of project management, we refer to this as manufacturing since youre simply following an existing process that you do the same way each time. Is your company and situation exactly the same as everyone else’s? The question to ask yourself is whether you expect to beat a medium to high level of competition witha low-dollar service that does the same thing for everyone. I am not, by any stretch, disparaging this approach. In the right situations, boiler-plate services can achieve results. They may even create a good foundation on top of which more advanced services can be built. You just have to be careful in setting your expectations based on the level of competition and the degree to which the approach has been customized for your particular business. In moderate to high competition situations, a custom SEO approach will almost always be needed.

When you get right down to it, the goal of SEO is to help a website to achieve organic rank in search engines so that you get more traffic to your website, which leads to more customers and more revenue for your business. As a business owner, that’s the result you’re after.If thats the case, why do many companies sell standard list of pre-defined services? Because people keep buying it, hoping that it will work. Whether their service works or not, a single month’s payment covers their cost of having acquired you as a customer, so they come out ahead whether you keep paying them or not. When your business model is mass-production, your focus is different than when you cater to a small number of clients determined to grow their business successfully. As an SEO service provider, when you are working with such clients in your local area, you need to concern yourself with establishing a reputation for quality.

An SEO strategy is not simply developing a standard business process and using it the same way for everyone, knowing that it’s going to produce variable results for different clients since their situations are different. A strategy requires looking at what its really going to take to rank a given website based on the competition and, at a high level, mapping out the pieces involved. Several hours are neededto perform such an assessment. Due to the rapid evolution of ranking algorithms and the resulting adaptations made by SEO experts, any SEO strategy should be understood to be conceptual and that changes will be made over the course of the project.

Insofar as what project management methodologies to apply, traditional waterfall models that try to map the whole out from start to finish may lack the flexibility required for moderate to high level competition situations where the effort can span several months or longer and require adjustments at each step. At minimum, you’d be facing the high probably that two particular risks are going to manifest at any time without notice. These are search engine algorithm changes and additional actions taken by competitors. More iterative project management approaches should be considered.

Timeline and Milestones

Assuming that you arent simply following a manufacturing blue-print which follows a rote schedule, SEO is going to occur over a period of phases during which you will see website rankings fluctuate greatly. A process called the Google dance often takes 2-3 weeks for things to occur, during which time you will almost always see your website rank drop initially sometimes quite dramatically and then fluctuate for a short period of time. This is completely normal, is no cause for alarm, and can take a month or longer at times. After this period, if your SEO was successful, your website will return to a higher position than it was before. Your SEO activities should be organized around these cycles.

While the role of milestones in a more agile project management framework is a bit different than in a waterfall approach, there will almost always be certain things that need to be done early. It’s quite likely this willinclude such things as on-site website optimization, social media profile creation and optimization, and other such fairly standardactivities that might need to be performed prior tomoving on to content marketing and other activities, depending on your SEO expert’s analysis and recommendations.

In SEO, we are trying to woo Google to like our website. Like any romance, sometimes it requires more work and determination than you expected, and we aren’t in control of the timing. We have to take things as they come and be fluid. This canpresent a challenge inasset allocation for larger SEO firms that follow an IT governance structure such as the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) and want to perform demand management. Resource scheduling is difficult when you don’t know when the next round of activity will need to commence.

Enter the SEO Expert

The role of your SEO expert is to guide you through these shark-infested waters to help you get your website ranked in the way that hopefully results in great long term results. This requires an intuitive understanding of SEO, an ability to assess risk, the application of technical skills, and the ability to keep things organized and on-track. Where the average lay-person will go wrong is mistakenly thinking the actual application of technical skills are the difficult part of SEO. In fact, once you know those things, they’re the easy part.

You are paying a real SEO expert for knowing whats actually going to work, and for having the kind of understanding needed to adapt as required throughout the course of the campaign.In practice, what a real SEO expert does may appear on the surface to be very similar to what a low-dollar provider might have done. For example, both might perform some content marketing such as writing blog posts as part of the engagement. The difference lays in the nuances of both how and when the techniques are applied and how its all knitted together. You may end up with just a bunch of digital tidbits floating in cyberspace, or you may get a well-orchestrated cohesive framework unique to your business that shows Google that you’re the real deal.

With Googles algorithmic updates happening on such a constant basis now, everything that you think you know is subject to change without notice. On any given day, you may be waking up to an entirely new set of rules. The SEO expert is on top of these changes and will make adjustments as needed based on knowledge that isn’t publicly available.

Project Deliverables

People want to know what theyre going to actually get. This is just human nature, and it’s the reason that standardized services are so easily sold. They readily cater to the basic human desire to eliminate uncertainty. It seems more of a “sure thing” when you’re told that you’re going to get A, B and C, and you can cancel at any time. I take the view, though, thats its crucial to be crystal clear that the one and only primary deliverable of an SEO project is an improved search engine rank, andother secondarily deliverables may be provided as needed over the course of the project. Such secondary deliverables may include the creation or optimization of such things as:

  • Social media profiles
  • Social engagement campaigns
  • Primary business websites
  • Images
  • Videos
  • eBooks and other digital content

Every project is unique; no two clients need exactly the same thing. The thing about these secondary deliverables is that they may well change over the course of the project, and they should not be recorded as obligations. Note that this will be in direct contradiction to the approach taken by firms that take a mass-production approach.

This is the crucial difference between generic SEO that gives everyone the same thing and a customized SEO plan. With a customized SEO plan, the focus is on achieving rank not checking off boxes for doing work and hoping maybe it helps boost rank. Secondary deliverables are going to be a natural result of the SEO process, but they should not be its focus. Trying to nail them down in advance and put them into a contract is setting both the customer and the SEO agency up for serious heartburn when the dynamic changing environment necessitates a shift in the approach or timing. This is a very realistic scenario that is best avoided by letting your customer know up front that while you may advise them on your activities over the course of the project, no specific secondary deliverables are guaranteed to be provided because your goal is to help increase their rank, not to create digital artifacts for their own sake. The right customer will understand this and value having a professional in their corner with the know-how to make that happen.

It really comes down to whether the customer is focused on an improved website ranking and trusts you to do whats needed, or whether theyre more concerned about secondary deliverables that may not lead to increased ranking if they’re set in stone. Unfortunately, many customers will have had prior experiences with the second scenario and thus have it in their minds thats what they need to ask for simply because its all that they know. Their prior experience shapes what they think working with an SEO professional should look like. Unfortunately, that way of thinking could undermine their success so the vendor may need to re-educate their customer prior to beginning work.

This concludes part 2 in this series about SEO project management that will be continued in Part 3.

SEO Project Management Considerations – Part 1

SEO Project Management Considerations - Part 1

The blog post http://dunntek.com/seo/seo-project-management-considerations-part-1 was first published to http://dunntek.com

Welcome to this first part in a series about SEO project management and some factors that make it different from what some customers and project managers alike may have encountered.  As a Raleigh SEO services (https://dunntek.com/seo/) provider and certified project management professional working in the field of Information Technology, over the years I’ve managed a wide variety of information technology projects including both big projects such as multi-million dollar system installations, the relocation of large corporate data centers, IT in new construction of 30+ corporate buildings, live football TV broadcasts, and of course software and infrastructure projects such as web development in everything from ASP.NET and WordPress to custom Linux sites using API’s to manage legacy systems.  Out of it all, I think that Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has to be the trickiest for project management because there are certain things which are virtually impossible to put numbers to with the kind of precision you might expect from other types of projects.  Before we talk about project management, though, let’s make sure you know what SEO is.

Search Engine Optimization

SEO strategy is about getting websites to rank in Google, Yahoo, Bing etc. so that a given website will show up near the top of the search results.  SEO methods have different nuances based on whether you’re selling services to local home-owners, products on the Internet, or electronic books on Amazon, and not all SEO experts are equally versed in these slightly different disciplines.

Origins of Project Management

It’s generally held that project management, at least as most people think of it with a traditional waterfall approach to planning, was born in the construction industry to provide a structured process to follow in first developing a design, and then building what you put down on paper.  Once you had a design and developed the specifications, it became possible to nail down exactly what things had to happen in what order to finish construction on schedule and within budget.  The catch is that it was all predicated on the idea of being able to accurately depict the duration of work streams and obtain hard bids for the labor and materials based on knowing exactly how much you need of every component.  The thing to keep in mind about construction is that once you finish putting in the last nail or screw and pass inspection, that’s when you’re finished.

Suppose, though, that you were supposed to not only build some houses, but win a quality award that you can’t control whether you get or not.  All you can do is try to understand what they look for, do your best to give that to them, and then cross your fingers.  Now, suppose that you didn’t get the award on your first pass, but that you know you’ll have another shot at it in a week, if you can figure out how to make them like your house better than the others, who are also trying to make their better than yours as you try to out-do each other a constant competitive struggle.  That’s SEO.

Why SEO Project Management Has to Be Different

First, the desired end result of search engine optimization – improved website rankings – occurs at the whim and mercy of commercial search engines that do what they do in order to make money.  They’ll rank your website when and if they feel like it based primarily on automated analyses.  It isn’t under anyone’s control but Google’s.  SEO is simply a deliberate attempt to woo their favor with things that experience tells us that they usually like.

The good news is that with experience, we can often at least guestimate how long it’s probably going to take to rank a website at least on page one for a given search term or keyword, and we can often guess at the level of effort required as well, but what we can’t do is say either of those things with any guaranteed certainty.

Second, you aren’t putting up a building on a fixed plot of land.  You’re working in a dynamically changing landscape that’s not only highly competitive where people may try to out-do you with every step you take, but the very rules of the game itself are subject to change without notice.  Search engine algorithm updates are constant, so every day you can be waking up to a new set of rules.

SEO Risk Management

A key activity within project management is risk management, the purpose of which is to identify and assess potential risks and present options to the decision maker on how that risk might be addressed, so that the decision maker can decide what level of risk they are willing to accept and allocate any additional resources that may be needed to mitigate that potential risk.  Within SEO, there is an ever-present risk that the project may take longer and cost more than anticipated since results occur at the whim of Google, and there is furthermore a risk that Google (or Yahoo or Bing) may, at any time, decide that they think you broke their rules and delete your website from their search engine entirely, a process called de-indexing.  This is potentially disastrous for a business that relies on inbound leads through organic search results.

Were this risk to manifest, the website in question would no longer appear in search results.  If you previously held a top ranking, you wouldn’t be anywhere to be found which would mean inbound customers would stop coming.  They would no longer be finding you online through organic search.  At minimum, your costs would increase greatly since you’d have to replace that free traffic with paid traffic, but even that might not generate sufficient volume to sustain your business at its previous level.  Simply put, the effects could be devastating.

Additionally, in creating any sort of digital content, there is always the associated theoretical possibility that someone might decide they think they have grounds for a lawsuit.  In hiring an SEO professional, realize that they are probably going to create and publish content on your behalf.  Because you’re the one that wants it done, you have a choice to make.  You can either:

    1. Review literally everything before it’s done at a much higher cost due to the time required for so much back and forth communication and changes, or,
    1. Accept that’s how it is up front, assume any legal risk, and give your SEO professional the green-light to create and publish content.

This particular risk can be partially mitigated by using various tools such as those at http://www.copyscape.com

If you do want to include such reviews as part of your project cost, you need to understand:

    1. What it is that you hope to accomplish;
    1. Who’s going to conduct the review;
    1. What standards you’ll apply;
    1. How they’re going to actually determine whether the content meets those standards;
    1. What will happen if they don’t;
    1. Whether it’s worth what it’s going to cost you both in terms of the labor to perform those tasks within your company as well as the additional cost with your SEO provider.

In other words, is it really just something that you think you want to do in order to make yourself feel better while slowing down the project and increasing the cost, or are you actually going to perform a thorough and proper analysis at the level that would be required to have the effect of appreciably reducing risk?  Very few customers will have either the budget or expertise required in order to undertake successfully this due to the level of effort involved, the cost, and the fact that they’ll invariably end up holding up the project.

Virtually all SEO companies will call out that the paying customer accepts any and all such risk.  That’s just how it is, but the likelihood of this happening is reduced tremendously by relying on local providers who have a true vested interest in seeing you succeed.

SEO Work Breakdown Structure

A work breakdown structure is simply a logically structured grouping that depicts the individual tasks needed to create the final end result.  That’s possible to create once you have plans for a building and a firm commitment on exactly what you’re going to build and how you’re going to build it.  SEO, though, by its very nature is like performing surgery on a battlefield.  Everything is moving and changing around you, and what you thought you’d need to do next month might be very different when the time comes due to changes in both search engine algorithms and the competitive landscape itself.  When it comes to SEO, you aren’t just being paranoid.  They are, in fact, out to get you.  Your competitors will try to actively out-do you for top rankings when those top spots mean incoming customers for a business, and they may well do so right in the midst of your project.  Your project management methodology needs to be nimble and provide fluidity if you want to not only get to the top but stay there.

Is SEO Really a Project

People often use the term project management fairly loosely to refer to keeping things organized when you have something that you’re trying to accomplish, but there is a very specific definition of a project set forth by industry authorities.  Some people might debate where SEO is or isn’t really a project according to the definition – and potentially with good reason.  I submit that it depends on who’s doing the SEO and their approach.  If the SEO company is following a standard methodology in providing a set of services such as X number of articles each month, that may not meet the definition according to industry guidelines.  That particular scenario represents the application of a manufacturing process.  Not all SEO is like that, however.  In fact, I contend that true results-oriented SEO does, in fact, represent a project.  Each competitive situation will be unique and the path needed to achieve results will vary from one client or website to the next, as I’ll explore in more detail as this series continues.

This concludes the first installment in our series about SEO project management.

Part 2

Part 3

DISCLAIMER: No parties referenced in this post should be construed as endorsing any statements made.  Links are provided only for the reader’s convenience should they wish to research these subjects further.  Subject to terms and conditions as posted at http://dunntek.com

Raleigh SEO Video Introduction

Hey everyone, as a Raleigh SEO company (learn more here) it’s important to us to help educate people about what SEO is, how it can help their business improve their visibility with search engines by better optimizing their website and content, and thinking about their overall backlink profile online from Google’s point of view before rushing off to do something that could get you de-indexed.  There are a lot of things you can do with SEO that can get you in trouble, or be against search engine’s terms of service.  Break those rules and you can find yourself de-indexed, which is to say, not showing up in any search results at all!  It’s important to take a more well-considered approach to your website’s SEO.  Approached correctly, SEO is about working together with Google to help them understand how your content is relevant to user intent.  This video provides a high level overview of some of the things we look at.

SEO Terms Defined

The language used in discussing SEO can confuse some people.  These are some traditional SEO terms and their typically accepted meanings:

 
 

* SEO – this stands for Search Engine Optimization and is a general term used to describe methods and strategies that will help your site rank better in the search engine listings.

 

* On page SEO- these are methods and strategies a site owner uses internally on their own site to help their site rank better.

 

* Off page SEO- this covers methods and strategies a site owner uses externally on other people’s websites and blogs to help his website rank better.

 

* Backlinking- this off page SEO method involves creating links on other people’s websites that point to your website. These links are called back links.

 

* No follow links- these are backlinks that do not carry the “power/authority” of the page rank of the site they are located on.

 

* Do follow links- these are backlinks that have the page rank of the site they are located on flowing through them to the back linked site.

 

* White hat SEO – these are ethical SEO tactics used by a site owner to promote his site, that are looked upon favorably by search engines

 

* Black hat SEO- these are unethical SEO tactics used by a site owner to promote his site, which are not desirable and may result in getting banned by search engines.

 

* Backlink profile – this refers to the mixture of the different type of backlinks a webmaster uses.

 

* Backlink Value- this is a calculation of the power of the backlinks a site owner has build. It equals the number of backlinks built  multiplied by the strength of each backlink( based on the page rank of the site where the backlink is built)

 

* Anchor Text- this is the clickable part of text within an article or other piece of content which when clicked will direct the user to another page or site.

 

* Page Rank – this is a search engines measure of a webpage’s authority on a scale of 0 to 10. Search engines rank individual web pages not websites as a whole.

 

* Contextual links – these are back links that are embedded within the text of piece of content and are surrounded by other content. They are the most powerful type of backlinks especially if they appear on a sites homepage.

 

* Keyword density- the number of times a keyword appears in a piece of content, expressed as a percentage. The ideal mark is 3%.

 

* Outbound Links- these are links a website owner creates from his website to external websites as opposed to a backlink that links from external sites to his site.

 

* Indexing – a term used to describe when a search engine finds content on the web and lists it in its search results. Some content gets indexed faster than other types.

 

 

 

Learn more about SEO at http://dunntek.com/seo

SEO and Press Releases

Small business owners frequently overlook press releases as a method to acquire backlinks in an SEO campaign since not many small business owners have heard of them or understand them. Press release sites are just news release sites that provide online capabilities and regardless of their traditional offline definition, you don’t really have to submit what you may think of as breaking news like you may be used to seeing front and center.  This is because we often think of alarming first page stories, when in fact almost all of the news paper is significantly less sensational. The majority of it merely talks about fairly regular things.  As one component of growing your brand, press releases could certainly help create local awareness about your company, which is what SEO is really about.

Here’s a few thoughts you may use to produce press release stories:

* Changes in your services

* Industry developments

* Events within your company

* How you are involved with the community

* How you are delivering more value for the same price

* Donated to charity

* Warn against a negative industry trend

* Start a podcast

* Implement new machinery or techniques

* Publicity stunt

* Tour of your business

* Improving employee benefits

* Developing a proprietary process

For many press release sites you can include what’s called a contextual backlink. Contextual backlinks an important part of your overall online profile and are characterized by being surrounded by language having to do with to your industry.  Use your most important keyword as the text of the link.  Check to ensure the particular press release service allows contextual links prior to selecting them.

Some examples of Press Release Services:

* http://www.free-press-release.com

* http://www.i-newswire.com

* http://www.pr.com/press-releases

* http://www.prlog.org

* http://www.ecommwire.com

* http://www.1888pressrelease.com

* http://www.pressreleasepoint.com

* http://www.addpr.com

* http://www.ecommwire.com

* http://www.theopenpress.com

An important thing to note is that you shouldn’t submit the same article to everyone. Instead you could submit unique language to each PR provider. One of many ways you can increase the speed of your press release submissions is to take one particular piece of writing and spin it into a variety of articles, and then submit each unique article to a separate press release site.

Another thing to consider is the manufacturing of the press release itself.  Some services do this as part of their base services.  Some will do it for an extra fee.  Others require that you provide a fully-written press release.  Given that this affects the charge, you will have to investigate this consideration.

Maintain a history of all your press release URL’s so that you will be able to reference them later on.

As usual, when you are thinking of SEO your primary consideration is always to give thought to your reader and growing your online brand, creating awareness of your company and services while doing so in a fashion that makes it much simpler for search engines to recognize how the services that your business provides are related to the searches that people are making.  Search engine optimization isn’t about any type of trickery; it is more about making things simpler for the search engines and simply being deliberate and not just throwing articles out there and hoping the search engines can connect the dots on your behalf.  Press releases aren’t any different in this way; they’re actually merely another kind of content marketing.  Reach out to us if you need help making sure you don’t end up doing a press-release the wrong way and creating an over-optimization penalty – it’s easy to do if you aren’t careful.

Avoid Doing These 4 Things with Your Website Design

As a business owner, it’s important to remember you only have a couple of seconds – literally – to get your visitor’s attention in a good way, or they will click Back and you won’t see them again.  First impressions are incredibly important in determining whether your website convinces someone to take a closer look, and, ultimately, call you.  There are a few things, though, that are just killers in terms of making an immediately negative impression.  What you have to realize is that it doesn’t matter how good the rest of your website is, or how good your services are, if you fail this first test with your visitor.

In terms of what makes a “good” website design, that’s a subject for many books since there is, in fact, a lot of research behind what design strategies and components convert visitors into callers.  That’s not my subject today, though.  Today, I’m talking about some specific things that you should avoid.  If you have any of these things in your own website, you should definitely take some sort of immediate action to do something about it.

1. Auto-Play Music

Don’t have your website set to automatically start playing any sort of audio as soon as someone lands on it, unless the entire page is either about music itself, or it’s a landing page with a video as the main feature.  Otherwise, anything with an audio component should not be activated unless the user chooses to activate it.  As a whole, people tend to have a negative reaction to such automatic background music because it’s seen as an unwanted intrusion.  Furthermore, there’s the distinct possibility that whatever music you like, your visitor won’t.  It’s one thing to have a professional relationship with your website visitors, but that doesn’t mean making them listen to your favorite song every time they come to your website.  It’s also unnecessary bandwidth usage for mobile users and slows things down while the music file is transferred.

2. Tiny/Large Font Sizes

Your website should be pleasing to the eye, and either tiny or unnecessarily large fonts are sure to ruin not only the aesthetic quality of your website, but the actual usability.  If the font is so big that they have to lean back in order to take it in, then it’s too big.  Conversely, keep in mind that just because you can read tiny text just fine, that doesn’t mean that your visitors can.  Always remember that your website is there to represent your business in the best possible way to potential clients/customers, and not everyone can read tiny text easily.  You want them to have a good experience with your website right off the bat, because they are going to extrapolate from that experience what the rest of their relationship with you is likely to be like.

3. Pop-Ups

Although there are cases where pop-up windows can serve a useful purpose, such as letting a shopper know they still have items in their shopping cart they may have forgotten about, if you are running a small local business then pop-up windows are something you should avoid.  They just tend to annoy most people.  If someone is looking for either a landscaper, or a restaurant to go out to dinner, people want to feel like they are in control of their online shopping experience, and annoying them with a pop-up window is a sure way to give them a not-so-great experience with you right off the bat.  As a general rule, don’t do it.

Why might you use pop up windows?  As I mentioned, one scenario is to let visitors know they still have items in their shopping cart.  Another potential use is to offer the visitor a discount when they are about to leave your website without having contacted you.  If they took the trouble to look at your website, but then leave, maybe they simply aren’t convinced yet that you’re the right vendor.  Giving them an unannounced discount offer can sometimes tip people over the edge into deciding to buy from.  You have to be careful, though, if you are serving a local area around you, because you aren’t just talking about random internet shoppers browsing through your website.  You’re talking about the same potential customer base, over and over again, so I do not generally recommend any sort of pop-up strategy in this situation.

4. Glaring Colors

Don’t use a lot of glaring or high-contrast colors.  Your website should have a nice overall aesthetic flow, be easy on the eyes, and make it very easy for a visitor to quickly scan through your site and naturally have their eyes fall right onto your Call to Action (CTA), whether it’s a Call Now button, contact form, etc.  Your CTA needs to ‘pop’ to catch their eye, but if you use a lot of strong colors everywhere else, it will be a lot more difficult for your CTA to do so.  I’m starting to cross over into some very technical aspects of neuroscience and how the brain works, which isn’t really the purpose of this article, so just remember to be careful in your use of strong or contrasting colors.  It’s very easy to use too much.

In closing, remember that you only have a couple of seconds to get a visitor’s attention and convince them to stick around a little longer and see what you have to offer.  You can easily ruin that first impression with autoplay audio files, tiny text, pop-up windows, and glaring colors.  If you need help fixing any of these things, visit me at on my web design business site.

Be Legit & Pass Inspection

If you want your business website to both reach and stay on the coveted Page 1 of Google for your particular keywords, one of the things you need to know is that you’ll probably be inspected by an actual human working for Google at some point once you make it there, so they can be sure that the site they’re promoting high up is legitimate, offering information and/or services that people are really going to want.  And with the top 3 spots getting 80% of the clicks, and 90% all staying on Page 1, the last thing you want to do is fail to pass inspection once you get there.  Google wants to be sure people aren’t just using a bunch of spam or other forms of trickery to get themselves ranked – and I think we can all agree that it’s in everyone’s best interest as consumers for them to do this.  What that means for your business is making sure your website has the ‘right stuff.’

 
 

Here are a few things to consider:

 
 

1. You need to look like a real business.  While this may seem obvious enough, unfortunately there are so many people trying to make a buck through less than scrupulous means that you need to be sure your website looks like it represents a real, honest business.  A few things to consider including are:

 
 

* A physical address, and possibly a Google map of your location

 

* Mailing address

 

* Telephone contacts

 

* Special awards, certifications, accreditations, etc.

 
 

2. Have a nice, well-organized website that’s easy to navigate and pleasing to the eye.  Be sure to include a privacy policy, about, and contact page, and give some thought to how you organize your site so it doesn’t look like it was hastily thrown together.  

 
 

3. Include customer reviews and/or testimonials, but remember that you may not have the right to just take them off of places like Google or Yelp.  

 
 

4. Don’t clutter your website with so many sales ads that it looks like your website content is just “filler” and the real purpose of the site is your ads.   That doesn’t mean you can’t have ads, but they should not be the dominant focus of the site.  Consider whether your site would be useful to people if the ads were removed.

 
 

5. Don’t cram keywords into every nook and cranny.  While keywords are important so that Google can correctly determine how your website is related to searches, you don’t want to over-do it.  Your website can up looking like one big spammy concoction designed to trick Google rather than make sense to visitors.  Everything should make sense from a human point of view.

 
 

6. If you don’t mind the work involved and dealing with spam etc., consider permitting and encouraging people to actively engaged in conversations with you on your website, and especially include social sharing in such case.  This shows that you’re a real person offering real services.  It’s also a terrific way to grow your brand, since if people ask you questions, you can take that as an opportunity to create and post new content in response, both solving their issue for them while creating new quality content at the same time.  

 
 

In summary, remember that if you make it onto Page 1, Google is going to have an actual person come look at your website.  They want to be sure that you’re a real business offering quality services and content – i.e. that you actually *deserve* to be on Page 1.  The main key to passing this evaluation is just to always keep your reader in mind.  Spend less time worrying about Google and more time worrying about the people who will visit your site.  If you design for the end-user in mind and ask yourself what would a visitor to your website want to know about you then you’ll probably be okay.

 
 

If you need me to take a look at your site and talk about protecting your ranking, contact me over at my website.

Web Application Development and ASP.NET vs PHP/MySQL

I’m going to step into shark-infested waters here a bit with this post, since there are some very heated opinions on both sides of this.  I’ve spoken quite a bit in recent postings about websites, from the point of view of the website serving as the nexus of a company’s online presence.  The vast majority of what I build are WordPress websites, because I primarily cater to the small business community.  WordPress provides amazing flexibility at a great price.  As long as you’re careful about plug-ins, you can get good longevity and reasonable software support with WordPress.

However, when it comes to developing an actual business application from scratch, over the years my go-to programming language has been ASP.NET for business web applications, with a MicroSoft SQL database, sometimes with wrappers for C++ API’s and such.

To explain what I mean by a web-based business application, let me give you an example.  Back around 2005, plus or minus a year, I used ASP.Net to develop an application called Scantastic.  (You won’t find it online; it was an internal tool.)  Scantastic was a browser-based mobile-oriented application to perform real-time property inventory location updates by means of using a bluebooth barcode scanner with the mobile device.  If you have no idea what I’m talking about, large companies like to know where there expensive assets are and they typically have databases to keep track of them.  I used ASP.NET as the core of an application to go from carrying around stacks of paper, to doing look-ups and making updates in real time.

When you talk about any sort of a business application, one of the first questions you need to answer before you can design anything is the importance of the application – how available does it need to be?  Does it have to be 24/7 with absolutely no exceptions?  Or are maintenance windows outside of normal hours OK?  This leads to other infrastructure questions about load balancing, clustering, and all sorts of technical stuff that you may need if your application needs to be “highly available” – but I’m wandering slightly off-topic a bit I suppose.

The reliability of your custom web application is something you need to consider, though.  If you’re writing a custom app and it’s important to your business, I’d go with ASP.NET rather than any sort of PHP based platform for several different reasons.

First, the stuff is designed and intended to work together.  That means you’re a lot less likely to run into any sort of interoperability problem if you stick with a core MicroSoft platform.  All of the native data providers and whatnot will, for the most part, just work.  In the event that something doesn’t work right, you only have to go to one place for support.

This is contrasted with any sort of MySQL and PHP-based environment where you’re patching together things that generally play quite nice together, but are, in truth, completely independent of each other.  Any time you are dealing with such an environment and run into a problem, fixing problems is more complicated and takes longer.

The other issue is sloppy coding.  The nature of ASP.Net and C# together are such that you’re more likely to build a better-structured program.  This is contrasted with the completely free-form nature of PHP, where they may or may not write their code in a way that makes it easy for someone to make changes to later.  With C# on the ASP.Net platform, I feel like you have more of a fighting chance.  Why does this matter?  It was, in fact, that very issue that prompted me to write this article.  I recently found myself needing to change something about a website written in PHP, and as I dug into the code, I was flabbergasted at the short-cuts taken by the programmer that essentially crippled the software.  It was actually incapable of performing what you’d think would be a basic function, and due to the way it was written it would have just been too much work to re-write the code.  As that situation unfolded, I found myself saying, this would never have happened with a ASP.Net C# application.  Perhaps I’m being idealistic but that was my reaction at the time.

Now, by no means am I diminishing the MySQL and PHP communities, because they have some amazing products and awesome user communities.  You can really do some amazing things with their products and I wouldn’t hesitate to use them – for the right application.  For a lot of lower-end business applications, I think they’re probably a terrific choice because they represent a great balance between cost and functionality – the primary concern of a small business owner.

In contrast, with the MicroSoft ASP.Net platform, you have a set of products all carefully designed to work together as part of a common roadmap.  Does it always with in such a utopian manner?  Of course not – but it makes things a lot easier.

So, if you find yourself considering having a custom web application built one day, think through the importance of the application first.  Understand what it needs to do, and how available it needs to be to you.  Then you can make a better decision weighing cost and functionality as you consider the ASP.Net and PHP/MySQL platforms.  If you need a ASP.Net web application developed, feel free to send me a shout over on my website at http://dunntek.com/webdesign