Best of 2012: February

Continuing our look back at some of the best advice and discussions we’ve had this year, here are my half-dozen selections from February’s articles…

1. For most companies, the idea of “redesigning” their website means waiting for it to look very out of date, then going to a website designer and saying: “can you make us a new one please, these are our company house styles, here’s the content from our current site which you can re-use, and here’s some extra material”. If you’re thinking that’s not a great approach, well done; but I can assure you that’s what most companies do. And not only is that more of an upheaval than a website may need, it’s also correspondingly expensive. The key is to think about a website’s “design” as being four things, and asking yourself if they really all need to be updated. They are: the content management system; the structure of the site (the paths set up for visitors); the content; and the graphical design.

2. Search engines such as Google keep up to date with your website by visiting your domain and running a program – variously called a crawler, spider or robot – which follows all the internal links and hoovers up everything it can find. One of the first things the crawler looks for is the existence of a “robots.txt file”. This can contain a number of instructions for the search engines, but its main one is to tell the search engines which pages you don’t want them to spend time examining. If you’re thinking: “I want everything on my website indexed – so do I need this?”, the answer is probably no. But you should check that you don’t have one sitting there and stopping search engines from visiting pages on your site which you would like indexed.

3. Many companies can instantly improve their standing in the search engine results by removing a “canonicalisation” problem. If your website has been set up correctly, you’ll have standardised on using the “www” or not, and if you type the other format into your browser’s address bar, you should see the URL automagically change to the format you do want. If your website hasn’t been set up correctly, it’ll stay in the wrong format, and effectively you have two separate but identical websites. That can be an issue with the search engines.

4. You should take every opportunity to bring your business to life on your website. That means pictures of your staff, profiles, a photo of the office or factory …whatever you’ve got. If, for some reason, you believe those images are going to dissuade customers, for how long did you think you were going to get away with the pretence? Far better to concentrate on the prospects who are going to be encouraged by seeing the people they’re going to be doing business with. And please, don’t use one of those pathetic stock photos of an unfeasibly pretty 19-year-old woman with a headset, over the caption: “call us now”, unless that really is one of your sales engineers, in which case I apologise. Your customers want to talk to people who can talk technical.

5. If you’re offering something useful to the world on your website, there’s every reason why people might want to highlight what you’ve got. Don’t forget, every external link helps your website in the search engines. Here’s a way of finding some of those websites.

6. You might wonder how to optimise the titles and description meta tags for your site when you’ve got hundreds of pages. And the simple answer is …you don’t. At least, not unless you have a lot of time, budget and enthusiasm to spare. You just start with the most important pages on your site, and work from there. If you’re only able to do one page, at least it was the most important. So how do we find out what are the most important pages on the site?

My quote of the month from February: “What business is your company in? Are you in the business of selling widgets? Does your marketing all revolve around your widgets and what they do? Or are you in the business of helping customers do whatever they need to do, in a better way than they’re doing at the moment? It’s not about you, it’s all about them.

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