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Website Re-Design Project 11/2010

For this recent client project, the goal was to take their website into the 21st century. The original design was fairly clean, yet simple, narrow, and not well positioned to grow.

website redesign before

So, for us the goal was cleaner layout, wider layout, and incorporating interactive tools to spice-up the user experience – in brief: to build a better mousetrap. I had already worked with the client on a fairly extensive SEO campaign, initially and mainly building for them niche, SEO-friendly informational content relating to all the nooks and crannies of their local real estate market. We have to date added over 150 tarted SEO pages into the website files. Indeed, the website is mostly composed of this originally written information describing the local real estate areas in hopes that the search engines will take notice. The strategy is working; the client has started to own or rank well for a variety of these local areas.

Of course, search engine awareness is not the only goal, and alone is insufficient in impressing real people to fill out contact forms and call. Complicating the project/goal to make the site a kick-ass resource is that in real estate, the most important thing people are often looking for is access to the MLS, or Multiple Listings Service, which shows all the current listing in the market. In Pittsburgh, access to the MLS is very difficult, with only brokers being allowed to carry it on their websites. Plan B was to utilize third-party real estate research and information that, wrapped up with an attractive homepage interactive map, will serve as a great research wetting the appetites of the local real estate marketplace. Another important component of this client’s sales pitch to the local market is her fairly developed (for real estate) presence on the top social media platforms. We in turn made these options more tangible with custom buttons on all pages of the site.

Obviously Google Analytics analysis is going to be the true judge and jury for this project, though I look forward to an increase in time on site and a decrease in bounce rate in the coming weeks. This project is also not complete in my opinion, as we intend to develop out the SEO pages with local pictures and specific calls-to-action. Hopefully the pesky MLS solution will be remedied one of these days as well. The website is and I would be remiss without giving props to Andrew Bowen at, who helped take my design sketches and overall concept to life.


Clarity Trumps Persuasion – Email Marketing

In email marketing, as in life, clarity trumps persuasion.

A more applicable definition as relates to email marketing is to be clear as to what is is you want the viewer to do, and back that simple message up with WHY they should do what you want them to do. We so often in life, and in email marketing, clutter and bury our real intentions with meaningless extra stuff, or vague calls to action.

Having internal clarity with what your objectives are, and then distilling that message down to something the end viewer can really use is the most important key to a successful campaign.

Other important factors of the email marketing  medium are the aspects of personalization and conversation. Many times in email campaigns the advertisements look like mass-produced print advertising replicas. Take to heart the unique opportunity to use personal messaging and a more conversation-based approach, and I’m confident your campaign results will benefit.

Dr. Flint McLaughlin of MECLABS gave an interesting presentation on this topic Marketing Sherpa’s Email Summit 10′ which you can view here:


Guidelines and Checklist for SEO and Web Design Standards

The checklist below I’ve found to be of great benefit when creating a guide with which to design a website that accomplishes and conforms to what the search engines want to see when crawling and indexing your website. So, without further ado, my General Website SEO Checklist

1. Cross-browser Testing. Site must look good in:

IE 6 (Use emulator to test)
IE 7
Firefox 3

2. Screen Resolution Testing:

- Site must look good at 1024 X 768 screen resolution

3. TITLE tag configuration:

- Each page (both custom and template) needs to have a unique, relevant TITLE. – About 60 letters total.
- No page should say “Welcome To My New Website!” or “Hello” or “Nothing” in the TITLE
- As a default, use this format for TITLE of each page: Page Name – Company or entity Name

Example 1: About Us Page on a site
<title>About [insert Company or entity name] – [insert Company or entity purpose]</title>
Example 2: Products Page
<title>[insert ONLY 2-3 product descriptors relevant to the site] – Company or entity name]</title>
Example 3: Contact Page
<title>Contact   – [insert Company or entity name]</title>

4. H1 Header Configuration:

- Each page (both custom and template) needs to have an H1 header that describes the page. If a custom header is not provided, then default to the first part of the page TITLE (for example, a generic H1 header for the About page would read: About <insert company name here>

5. W3C Compliance:

- Make sure every page has the W3C Validation code as the 1st line in the source code of EVERY page on the site.

6. Alternate HTML text based navigation on each page:

- Every page on the site needs to have HTML footer navigation that mirrors the main navigation (even the homepage). This footer navigation can go on the line right above the Company footer
- The “Home” link AND any other homepage links need to go to the domain and NOT /index.php
- DO NOT add the HTML text footer navigation to the homepage of sites that already have text navigation under the main navigation

7. Alternate image for Flash pages:

- If a homepage has flash, there MUST be an alternative, permanent static photo behind it that can be seen by people that don’t have flash
- As a default, use the first image in the flash presentation
- Put an ALT tag on this image
- Make sure to test on a browser after disabling flash

8. All CSS needs to be external:

- There should NOT be any towards the top of the source code of any page.

9. Keep Javascript towards bottom of coding:

- Move as much JavaScript as possible towards the bottom of the page or off of the page, external file. The more JavaScript there is before the actual content or links start the less likely it is that a page will be search engine friendly. A basic rule-of-thumb is that SEO content should be as high up on the page code as possible.

10. ALT tag configuration:

- All images on homepage need to have ALT tags. As a default, just use whatever the image is representing.

Example 1: Nav image for About [] alt=”About”

11. Homepage link from each page header:

- If using an innerpage main top banner, the entire inner page banner image should be a link to the homepage, not just a portion of it.

12. Site Map configuration:

- Site maps should not have any left navigation.
- There should be exactly one link to each page on the site.
- Make sure links go to LIVE version of site, not a staging version and also make sure that links go to the absolute url ( and NOT the relative url (/index.php)
- place any SEO pages directly after main navigation links
- remove Home link
- remove all framed pages
- remove Terms of Service link

13. Verify NO Broken Links:

- Use a link checker like this one: to make sure that all links on the site work and that none are broken. Set recursion depth to at least 5 to ensure that all pages are checked.

14. Quality Test all forms:

- Test out all forms to make sure that they function.
- No form on the site should give an error message when the required information is entered.
- Also test to make sure that the leads are entered into the backend of the site and are forwarding to the correct email address.

15. All links on site must have a TITLE:

- Navigation links should have title attributes that match the titles of your pages.  It’s a small thing, but it will give significant SEO improvement.

Example 1: This looks like <a title=”name of page” href=”link”>.

16. Provide META description for all pages that don’t have a paragraph of HTML text content:

- As form pages, photo galleries, flash map pages, video libraries, and other media rich pages don’t have much indexable HTML text, it’s important that a META description is provided for these pages that accurately describes what the page contains.

Example 1: a photo gallery page could have this META description: View photos of downtown Santa Barbara real estate using our interactive gallery.
Any page with at least a paragraph of information does not require a META description.

17. Force Domain Name:

- Important! All of these versions of a client’s domain need to be forced to this version: where ‘example’ is replaced by the client domain name.

18. Homepage Font Issues:

- Homepage SEO content should between 10-12 points. Smaller fonts should be avoided as it will ding search engine readability.
- SEO content fonts should have the highest color contrast possible. Font colors that essentially hide or diminish the visibility of the text we should assume will hurt SEO rankings.

19. Homepage Hyperlinks:

Hyperlinks embedded in text should be underlined. Blue hyperlinks are best, however in keeping the design uniform, same color links are permitted.

20. Grammar Errors:

Grammatical errors in the text should obviously be QA’ed and corrected.


Sample of Recent SEO/SEM Proposal


Internal Marketing General Overview

GOAL: Professional online marketing campaign setup and ongoing management for X-brand. To lead an aggressive marketing charge into the search engine space, placing the brands and products up front and center for potential clients.

Project Scope and Suggested Internal Team Makeup

A holistic marketing approach including SEO/link building, SEM, social media marketing, and email marketing.  A project this large can/must be more easily understood by breaking it down into stages. First there would be a research stage, then an implementation stage, and an ongoing management stage to each aspect of the overall campaign. Much of the work will require dedicated time, research, and budget allowances.

SEO/SEM Campaigns will need developer resources to redesign website elements and landing pages/ build new ones. It would also be preferred to have the ability to implement call codes throughout our websites, adjust the way our sales call handling operates, and possibly even add sales phone numbers to help facilitate tracking conversions from our ad buys. Social and Email marketing also would be in alignment. The best strategies will be discovered during the research phase. X-brand website/landing pages updates will be coordinated with the Marketing Design liaison following the campaign direction.   Both the SEO and SEM campaigns will intimately inform each other to align X-brand company’s organic marketing with common sales objectives shared by SEM.

SEO Campaign

Projected SEO Timeline: 80+ hour initial commitment, not including 20+ hours/week for ongoing management

Projected Budget: $10,000 initially for writing costs, press release launches, and link building, then a TBD figure for monthly SEO maintenance

Goals: Ensure X websites are meeting best SEO practices in terms of usability and optimization. Using sales goals and SEM successes as gauges, setting benchmarks for natural campaign success, implement a strategy that far exceeds X-brand’s current rankings for high value keywords, justifying additional re-investment.

SEM Campaign

Projected SEM Timeline: 80+ hour initial commitment, not including 20+ hour/week for ongoing management/optimization of campaigns

Projected Budget: $20K/month

Goals: Identifying sales goals through SEM channels, setting benchmarks for campaign success, then implementing the strategy to far exceed X-Brand’s current ROI for SEM.

Overall Campaign Breakdown

Each component of the marketing campaign is broken down into stages. All components depend upon certain aspects of the Research Stage to be completed before successful setup and implementation, indeed these first steps are the most important. The initial portion of the research stage consists of the following steps.

Stage One (Research)

  1. Interview sales managers – to determine sales goals for the company, identify potential marketing initiatives
  2. Interview sales staff – get the most commonly used and successful pitches for our products, brainstorm marketing ideas
  3. Research current sales data set – define current sales attributable to online campaigns, set benchmarks for increases in web sales and overall sales
  4. Web analytics / Keyword discovery – based from historic website data, determine what keywords seem to drive highly interested web users to the site, and what pages people use most and stay on – this process will also involve in-depth analysis of visitor paths. This is a big one
  5. Identify traffic streams (keyword clusters) for potential high-value keywords
  6. Research landing pages – build wireframe designs aligned with sales objectives and pitch concepts
  7. Research marketing streams – beyond scope of what we are currently doing – find any platform that could deliver high quality traffic streams whether it be paid, social, paid links, or organic based
  8. Assemble Campaign Strategy Proposal for approval by President which includes ad spend design, targeted initial keywords, creative, landing page wireframes, benchmarks, budgets, and goals

SEM Stage Two (Implementation) 80+ hours

NOTE: I’d like to create a PPC sandbox campaign created before we move into PPC full-budget and final keyword research to test for best converting keyword targets

  1. Edits to existing landing pages and design of new landing pages to incorporate multivariate testing
  2. Full integration of Adwords conversion tracking with Salesforce
  3. Implementation of other tracking methods (phone promo codes, alter pitches, possibly alternate sales numbers tied to initiatives)
  4. Creation of ad campaigns for X on defined SEM platforms
  5. Setup of reporting tools, report templates and fully define reporting processes

SEO Stage Two (Implementation) 80+ hours

  1. Revise TITLE and META tags through X-brand site to incorporate optimal keywords, breadcrumbs, potential removal of META keywords, Salesforce tags adjustments
  2. Adjust existing internal link profile for X-brand website
  3. Adjust existing internal link profile for X-brand client websites, a process which includes restructuring linking on client sites with different anchor text, embed keywords into TOS of client websites, build a matrix of anchor texts to support the diversity of link profile we want from our client websites
  4. Develop up to 50 pages of keyword-driven SEO content
  5. Paid Link building campaign – identifying link building opportunities from link brokers to target our desired high value keywords. Also, press release blasts
  6. Organic link building campaign – develop manual strategies to acquire new links naturally through the negotiated use of content writing, content hosting, article submissions, link exchanges, and other forms
  7. Image optimization throughout X-brand websites
  8. Adjust demo pop-outs on websites
  9. Renovate FAQ section of X site
  10. Define how best to utilize our blogs for link building

SEM Stage Three (Ongoing Management) – 20+ hours/week

  1. After initial “scrape” campaign, hone down focus of campaign to high ROI keywords and pass these high value phrases to SEO, Social Media, and Email Marketing
  2. Evaluation of campaign initiatives as sales figures start to roll in that have been tied to conversion tracking in SF
  3. Daily manual tracking and reporting analysis to ensure staying within campaign budget
  4. Adjustments and improvements to landing pages
  5. Incorporation of new sales initiatives into SEM campaigns as they arise
  6. Assemble marketing expense reports on a monthly basis for evaluation by President

SEO Stage Three (Ongoing Management) – 20+ hours/week

  1. Hone down focus of SEO campaign to high ROI keywords and design additional campaigns to boost these phrases in the rankings
  2. In depth evaluation of keyword rankings and link profile on a monthly basis
  3. Monitoring of Webmaster Tools and Analytics to ensure website is displaying correctly (without dead pages) and without interruption
  4. Usability adjustments and improvements to websites – VIDEO!!!
  5. Incorporation of new sales initiatives into SEO campaigns as they arise
  6. Assemble marketing expense reports on a monthly basis for evaluation by President

What I learned from Pubcon 2009

A Late Night Snack On My Last Night In Pubcon

A Late Night Snack On My Last Night at Pubcon

Original, unique, compelling content is, in so many ways, still the cornerstone of a website’s SEO goals. I would emphasize the word cornerstone, as it is one ingredient or building block in a larger recipe, and that unique and compelling content is paramount, as this content will stand the best chance of getting picked up and linked to. The better we can get at our keyword discovery, and the better we create and develop our clients site’s into comprehensive local resources, the more we will ascend the rankings and produce real results. For on-site SEO, bolded text, header tags, meta keywords are basically cosmetic, but title tags, anchor linking, great keyword topics certainly still help and we should be doing perfectly.

One way to look at how Google Search actually functions is a two-tiered system. When the engine seeks/finds search terms that it finds further down the long tail, less competitive, many of the techniques we apply towards SEO fall fairly-well in alignment with ranking methods -proper page tags, original page tags, anchor linking. The closer you get to the short tail, and more importantly the more competitive the target, the more authoritative links become the measure to meet. Authoritative links means; if highly-ranked authority hubs in your industry and location haven’t heard of you, you must not be that important. This means that even our best on-site optimization, perhaps 100′s of pages of SEO copy, will not compete for a Grade A target.

“Think about this, Google has over 24 of the world’s top mathematics PHD’s full-time on staff, every day. The algorithm can almost perfectly define and rank relevance to a website without ever visiting a page on the site, purely through link analysis…!” –Our new Pubcon friend Jeff from San Diego after about 5 martinis.

If you find all this above wildly fascinating, learn more about how Google works here: – super-interesting stuff, the original Google prototype, in 1997, 12 years ago…
– super-interesting stuff, expert documents.
– more on authority.

I think regarding our current keyword research techniques, web strategists would be wise to avoid keyword terms that have Top Tier scores, and within those results, higher anchor link and page rank numbers. (FYI – my experts at the conference claim the pagerank tool to be totally unrelated to whatever is Google’s current, actual “pagerank”, but rough gauges are better than none for us at the moment…)

A few cool things to brush up on:

using Boolean search operators: AND, OR, etc
using site operator searches more in Google and Yahoo
understanding benefits of the canonical tag, and cross-domain canonicalization

There were many other super important things I learned at Pubcon, but in the interest of job security I’m going to keep them to myself. jk – but if I think of anything important I’ll let everyone know.

Some helpful (in no particular order)

There are great tools/links on Jon Henshaw’s presentation slides: – a variety of cool tools, from the makers of SEOQuake – scrap user content for keyword ideas and more – identify authority hubs for link building strategy majestic seo – link analysis


Todd Malicoat – super sharp guy

Google webmaster channel – a dinosaur, but still sharp – Jim Boykin – a Link Building Conference Panelist, and former park ranger Sharp SEO from Philly – SEO Dojo


Review: SEO Reporting and Keyword Research Software Tools

This article is regarding various SEO/Keyword research and reporting software currently on the marketing addressing SEO’ers needs to simplify and enhance the SEO process. These various new software options give us the opportunity to increase our keyword research and link building techniques.

Rank Tracker:


  • cool excel-like platform
  • great keyword reporting and tracking
  • you can concurrently track competitors
  • cool keyword research tool
  • great quality and design report

Additional Cool Program: SEO Spyglass

  • great link research/discovery
  • great link monitoring/tracking


$249 per individual full license
$599 per individual SEO Powersuite full license

I think an SEO’er should have (at least) rank tracker to handle SEO keyword reporting over time. However the SEO Powersuite can certainly help with bigger SEO projects and link-building related projects. This may be the best, cheapest software addressing these issues for a start-small SEO Shop.

Interesting Way The Charge You:

They get you at the sign-up however because SEO Powersuite contains 4 programs, two of which are really helpful (Rank Tracker, SEO Spyglass), two which you could use, but to buy two costs almost as much as the suite so you might as well buy the suite. They also have packages that bundle the suite but dont let all the computers export reports, which I think is a hassle to work around – but you can buy upgrades to those accounts for an extra $150 each. Example 3 full accounts would cost $1300. All these software makers have interesting ways to charge you…

Raven Seo Tools:


  • great keyword reporting and tracking
  • you can concurrently track competitors
  • cool keyword research tool, but not better than the free tool at
  • decent link research/discovery
  • link monitoring
  • some type of social tracking
  • decent quality and design report


Per Month: $79 or $199, 2 Users vs 6 Users, 1,000 or 2,500 Keywords/Engine per month

Interesting Way The Charge You:

They have a maximum keywords per month and one could exceed the monthly limits – overages are 5 cents per keyword.


Benefits: Keyword research

Not fully-researched, but does offer pay services, specifically, and theres a cute russian-sounding chick explaining in the vid:

Hubspot Suite:

A turnkey solution to be sure.


Small Business: $250/month, agency $9,000/year. At $9k, certainly an investment.

Interesting Way The Charge You:

They have a maximum keywords per month and one could exceed the monthly limits – overages are 5 cents per keyword.


Certainly a cool service, however this is mainly a keyword sorting


Per Month: $300 per month

Interesting Way The Charge You:

Perhaps the most straightforward, coherent billing option.


SEO Consultant Job Trends since 2005

And how is the SEO Consultant marketplace fairing these days?

Seems not so bad!


Small Business SEO Content Writing Client Questionnaire

SEO QuestionnaireChoosing the correct keyword targets for SEO is extremely important. As an SEO professional, you can apply research and intuition to the process, but the ultimate information resource and essence of the strategy needs to originate from the client themselves. The client will know at least the raw ingredients that the website designers and marketers can then build into a coherent and effective business front online.

Sometimes this process is a very detailed and collaborative one, especially when working in tandem with a pre-existing marketing department or liaison, other times you are dealing with the wrong person, or an owner with little online experience and perhaps inability to clearly articulate goals. Luckily, great online marketing results can be grown out of almost any type of soil. The client questionnaire below is something I’ve found to be extremely helpful in framing the picture, drilling down the essence of the business mission and intent, and also gathering clues towards defining those local and niche keyword terms that are most effective and enticing to go after.

Hopefully you can put this to work for you!
The following questions will help us understand how to compose the SEO articles for your website.

ABOUT YOU & YOUR BUSINESS These questions will help us understand who you are so that we can help you stand out from the pack.

  • What is your company vision?
  • What types of services does your business offer?
  • What are the best attributes of your business (or product, or service)?
  • Describe your typical client.
  • What emotions/goals are behind customer purchases of your products/services?
  • Who is your Target Market? What is their Need?
  • Who is your Competition?  Do you have website examples?
  • What is your Point of Difference? What are they doing that you are not?
  • How are you currently marketing your business?
  • How long have you been in business?
  • Are there any achievements or accreditations you or your company has which you would like to mention? (education, professional)
  • Is your market seasonal?  What seasons are the busiest, and why?

ABOUT YOUR COMMUNITY For the following questions, we are trying to locally, regionally define your business presence. This will help us best target the most accurate and complete local search segments of your business.

  • Which communities / neighborhoods / cities / states do you do the most business in or would you like to do more business in if not currently?
  • Please also describe any local attractions, local organizations, business entities, other connections to your local community that you are heavily associated with,  that may be important

STYLE We also want to insure the writing style is accurate as relates to your business theme and tone.

  • What tone do you prefer? (select one) Formal <    1 2 3 4 5    > Conversational
  • What point of view would you like to adopt in the writing?

Third Person (ie: With Larry and Sheila Young assisting all your..) -standard

First Person (i.e. – I would like to welcome you to my website…)


Some Helpful Online Information and Resources for Internet Marketing

Many thanks to imFORZA marketing for providing this list of one-stop-shop online marketing resources:

All-Inclusive Internet Marketing

SEO Book
SEO Chat
Search Engine Journal
Search Engine Land
Search Marketing Standard
Bruce Clay

Subject Specific Internet Marketing

Pay Per Click
PPC Blog
Inside AdWords

Search Engine Optimization

SEO Theory

Social Media Marketing
Chris Brogan

General Marketing

Seth Godin’s Blog
Duct Tape Marketing
Marketing Sherpa
Entrepreneur Marketing


Google Webmaster Central Blog
Yahoo Search Blog
LIVE Search Blog

Web Design

A List Apart
Smashing Magazine

CSS Beauty
Sitepoint Design Blog


An Example of Good, Clean Web Design

Here’s two screens of a financial website I found informative, and more to the point, a great example of good web design. From layout and font, to breadcrumbs and call-to-action, this site was easy to navigate and clean and concise in it’s information.