Avoid Google’s Personalized Search – Use Google Chrome

My friend Jackie is delighted that her website is appearing frequently at or near the top of page 1 in Google for her most important search term.

Every day she types her search term into Google and her site is consistently on page 1 at, or near the top. So she thinks her work is done.

But she doesn’t realise she is not seeing the truth – she is seeing Google’s personalized search results – they are placing sites she often visits, her own amongst others, at the top of the search engine listings.

To see where you really rank on Google for a keyword or phrase, I’ve found the easiest solution is to use Google Chrome’s browser.

Google Wrench or Spanner1. Click on the spanner or wrench at the top right.
 
Google Chrome New Incognito Window menu option2. Then click on the “New incognito window” menu option
Incognito Icon2. A new browser window opens with this icon at the top left.

All searches you do from that incognito window will be unaffected by your previous searches.

A Truly Rotten Website Review – A Brochure Site

Starting with an apology

I’m sorry for that rather emotive title. I was asked about a site owned by a UK based businessman called Steve. I don’t want to reveal his site nor state the exact nature of his business. If I did, everyone reading this would know he’d been sold a sub-standard product. And that might embarrass him.

Steve hasn’t had his site long and he just got a feeling something wasn’t right. Steve’s business is a highly specialised consultancy service. He needs to present a professional face on the web to reflect his knowledge and experience, but his current site doesn’t achieve this.

Steve’s site is a brochure site. I don’t think he expected it to work wonders for his business. He said,

The website is not about selling, but more to give my business visibility and credibility.

Steve’s main question was

Is my site being indexed properly by Google?

The short answer is no. What follows is the long answer.

I wonder what he meant by visibility. It’s just that this requirement (and his question about Google) aren’t generally compatible with brochure sites because from a visibility and search engine point of view brochure sites are practically useless.

First Impressions Count Online

If I were interested in Steve’s service, I’d visit his site to ensure that the quality I’d expect was evidenced there. Given that Steve’s business is information based and deals in complexity, knowledge and current legislation, a site that fails to reinforce Steve’s competency in these areas will prevent visitors from making further enquiries.

A site that fails to reinforce Steve’s competency in these areas will prevent visitors from making further enquiries.

A website for a services business, is to a potential client, like a CV is to an employer. A university looking to employ a research scientist would look at the pile of 200 CVs and immediately bin the ones with spelling mistakes, bad grammar or a cryptic layout. The same thing tends to apply to business websites. Unless of course the business has no competition . . .

Domain Name

Starting at the top, I checked the ownership of Steve’s domain name using this domain ownership checking page.

It turns out that Steve doesn’t own his domain. His web designers do! I don’t know if Steve is aware of this or if he agreed to it (why would he?). Either way, not owning your domain name is bad news.

The danger is that if you fall out with your web designers they can just decide not to give your domain back. It means that you could work for years to build a successful site and then not be able to sell it. It means you don’t own your content. It’s just bad.

Site Design

Steve’s site has a minimalist design with large areas of white space. In this case there’re also areas of text which aren’t broken up by pulled quotes, images, graphs or any other visual interest. If he ever wanted to expand the site and fill it with lots of content, the design won’t lend itself to expansion. Rather like a woman in a tight corset, it’s restricted.

Small sites don’t make much of an impression on Google’s index.

In a way it doesn’t matter how much Google does or doesn’t index a brochure site. Because they’re too small and too infertile to count in the Google index anyway. Small sites don’t impress Google. Small sites don’t do much for their owners.

For Steve’s business, I would have preferred to see a rich, informative, searchable site offering advice online via articles, FAQs and tutorials. This achieves the following, it:

  • builds credibility
  • offers the opportunity to demonstrate he can organise material in an easily digestible format
  • shows he can speak to his audience and
  • encourages the habit of regular writing which in turn, provides a sustainable growth strategy

Size of Site

Steve’s site won’t figure well in the search engines until it has a lot more content. This is because there are millions of pages indexed by Google already.

If you want your web page to show up in a search your site has to contain the words people are searching for. You can’t show up for the search term “seo consultant” if the term “seo consultant” hasn’t been used in correct and various ways on your page.

Usually brochure sites don’t measure up.

What’s more, you can’t show up for the term “seo consultant” if the page you’ve got on your web site isn’t so interesting to other site owners that they haven’t linked to your page using the term “seo consultant” in their link text.

Basically showing up in Google is a culmination of a number of internet events coming together. Some are up to you and some are a result of your influence online. Usually brochure sites don’t measure up.

Although Steve’s adding an article each month it isn’t enough. The site needs three to four articles per week to provide the required growth to kick start the process of being found in Google by people who don’t already know who he is.

From a human perspective the site isn’t big enough (because it doesn’t have enough content) to give credence to Steve’s knowledge and expertise.

Small sites also suffer from a lack of internal link opportunity. There’s nowhere to link to internally, which re-emphasises the shallowness of the content. They are self-limiting.

External Links

The site is quite new (created April 2009), and as already stated, it’s light on content. What content there is is not enriched by links out to other sites and pages. Links out suggest to the reader that the writer has something to say and has the generosity to freely pass the reader to external resources for his further edification. There are some issues with linking out too much, but that’s a topic for another discussion.

External links to relevant related sites also indicate to Google that the site is attempting to help the reader and this adds to a site’s search engine credibility.

Internal Links

Strangely in some places on the site, where visitors are urged to “contact” Steve – there is no active link (except on the home page) to the contact page.

In fact the majority of outgoing links on Steve’s site go straight to his website designer’s home page. There are two of these rogue links on every page. This will leak what little page rank Steve has (granted none at the moment and if the site isn’t rectified, none for the foreseeable future) to them.

A Basic Useability Issue

So highlighted text is orange and links are orange. How are we supposed to find the links?

The colour of the in-text links (the few that there are) is also very annoying to the user.

Links need to stand out somewhat, but the links on Steve’s site are indistinguishable from the copious amounts of highlighted orange text that also appears on every page.

So highlighted text is orange and links are orange. How are we supposed to find the links? Is it a game? If the links were also underlined they’d be indentifiable. Currently the user has to run his cursor all over the place to see if the site has more depth.

The poor user not only discovers the site is practically link-free, but that it’s pointlessly concealed the few it has. It has been shown that underlining links improves a visitor’s length of stay on your site.

Page Not Found Errors – No 404 File

Page Not Found - no 404If you try to visit a page that doesn’t exist on Steve’s site, you get a page cannot be found error and you get a page like the one on the left.

Having a custom 404 page that kindly guides users back to a working page can improve a user’s experience.

A 404 page should at least have a link back to the site’s home page and could also provide links to popular or related content on the site. As it is, a 404 error will just make people leave the site before they get there.

No Sitemap (.xml)

There doesn’t appear to be a sitemap.xml (at least I couldn’t find it) for Google to use as a guide to the pages on Steve’s site. Search engine spiders usually discover pages from links within the site and from other sites. Sitemaps supplement this data to allow spiders that support Sitemaps to pick up all URLs in the sitemap.

Not having a sitemap is like inviting Google to a party in the middle of nowhere, and then not giving him directions.

No Favicon

Liz Jamieson FavIconA favicon brands a site and is also saved alongside a bookmark so that users can easily identify pages from a website. Steve’s site has no favicon. A small omission but these are beginning to add up.

Navigation

All site menu links – even to pages like the contact page don’t employ nofollow tags. This, if the site was growing – it would matter long-term to the site’s visibility to have a more sophisticated navigation structure.

Contact Page

There are a couple of things wrong with the contact us page. First, it’s possible to send empty email messages via the contact page. Code for validating the form (i.e checking that people filled it in) is included in the site but has no effect because it’s not being called. Even if it were called, it wouldn’t work that well as the validation code is pretty basic.

Once the search engines actually find the site, the contact form will be bombarded by spam bots, because the contact form makes no attempt to protect Steve from them.

Worse, the email address is visible on the site which again means it is open to spam attacks. Malicious spiders love this type of thing as they’ll collect email addresses and then use them to send masses of pharmaceutical and porn laden spam.

Companies Act

The site has no proper company details. All UK company sites (I assume Steve’s business is a registered company) are supposed to display certain information. The omission looks especially poor in this case as Steve’s business is one that is strictly rules based and regulated by stacks of legislation.

The fact that the site does not comply with the Companies Act doesn’t reflect well and suggests a lack of attention to detail. Not good for someone in the details business.

Internal Structure

This site has probably been created by a package because internally the whole thing is arranged in HTML tables. This is very 1990s and makes (amongst other things) the search engine’s work harder than they need to and it will hamper Steve’s SEO efforts.

Title Tags

This isn’t an achievement. If you’re not number one in Google for your company name, who’s going to be??

These are the easiest SEO item to get right and Steve’s worst offenders. One of the problems with getting a site set up cheaply is that there’s no budget for SEO. The site’s title tags are all the same (each page’s title tag is supposed to be different). In this case they all contain the company name.

As an aside, I’ve always been amazed at how excited some people are that they show upon page one in Google for their own company name. It isn’t an achievement. If you’re not number one for your company name, who’s going to be??

The internet is choc-o-bloc full of free articles that explain how to do title tags. The only keyphrase this site is going to rank for is it’s own name. Which when you think about it, isn’t much use.

Heading Tags

These are not used enough throughout text to break it up and lend hireacrhy to the document. Heading tags are used by Google to help rank a page for relevant keywords. The most important tag on the page for this is the title tag, whose contents should be reinfornced by heading tags. This isn’t happening on Steve’s site.

Other Meta Tags

On each page tags are supposed to be setup to reflect that unique page’s content and keywords. Every page in the site has the same keywords and description tags. Without title tags though, the effort of putting even those in, was pretty much wasted.

Google’s Index

Steve’s site is indexed in Google without the www. In other words page.html is in the index, but www.page.html is not. That isn’t great as it means that if the site ever did get indexed with the www versions of the pages, it’d suffer from duplicate content issues.

This is the because Steve’s designers (check the HTML code on the site) have set the site up to be referenced without the www prefix. However this problem can be addressed in Webmaster Tools. But Steve, if you are listening – get someone else to re-write your site and you won’t have to deal with any of these problems again. The problems on your site cannot be fixed by tweaks to Webmaster Tools alone.

Google Analytics

Google analytics is a free and comprehensive web site stats package that helps site owners understand their visitors. It tells you how many visitors you’re getting, where they come from, what they typed to find your pages, and much more. Google Analytics is missing from Steve’s site which keeps him further in the dark about the site’s performance.

Is Steve’s Failing Site, Steve’s Fault?

After all this, I think we can conclude Steve doesn’t have a great website. Is this Steve’s fault? I can’t answer that. Is it my fault my kitchen extension is so bad it has to be demolished? I’m not a master builder of kitchen extensions and Steve isn’t a web design and SEO expert. I guess it’s called civilisation – we are all specialists now and rely on others to do the right thing.

There are so many errors here that the only justification the web designers could possibly have is that the customer wanted it cheap and cheerful. Well, he may have got it cheap (I don’t know), but if this was my site I wouldn’t feel particuarly cheerful.

A Remedy? Start Using WordPress at The Power Bog Service

Power Blog ServiceThe advice I’d offer Steve is to get a new site elsewhere. He really needs a site built in WordPress as this lends itself perfectly to building a good looking, usable, rich information site over time.

WordPress also gives site visitors the opportunity to subscribe to the site, comment on articles ask questions and engage. WordPress used properly is the fastest way to build an interested audience.

If you recognise the sorts of problems Steve has check out our web design offering – it’s new, it’s different and it works.

The Power Blog Service fixes all the problems mentioned in this article and more, plus it provides training to enable you the business person to effectively make best use of your site and get found in search engines.

How To Cheat At Web Page Design (and almost get away with it)

For The Artistically Challenged

Not being a graphic designer but trying to be a one man band web developer used to be limiting.  Today there are lots of tools to help plug any lack of artistic ability. Of course you’ll never be as convincing as a good graphic designer,  but you’ll get by.

Look Around the Web For a Site That Fits

I am in the middle of a new web development project for a long standing client. We are re-branding his website to fit in with the new company colours he’s chosen. And, taking the opportunity while we are at it, to add in all the functionality he has ever wanted on the site.

I have a lot of database backend stuff to write, work-flow to develop and so on. The graphic design element of my task is not my favourite.  Here is what I do.  I look around the web for someone else’s site that has vaguely the right layout for my needs.  Then I attempt to do my own version of it. Because I am so bad at copying someone else’s site, there is no chance that the new site will be much like the one I used for inspiration.

Here is the home page of the site I have designed for my client, as it currently stands.

And here is the site design that I used for inspiration. As you can see, they are quite different, but I used the ideas in one to help me create the other. I have not finished this task yet so the home page will change, but you get the idea.

Graphics Tools and Sites Used

Ideas for An Architect’s Website

Some friends of mine are architects, and they’ve written their own web site.

They’re also currently designing extensions to my home and I am impressed by their attention to detail and infinite patience with us and the project. It’s not been easy.

They put together a good web site but I wondered if there were some other pages that could be incorporated- to give the overall site more pazzaz and so help it stand out from all the others in their market.

To this end here are my suggestions for possible pages on an architect’s website, based on my experience as a web developer, and a client.

Oh No – Not Flash

I definitely do not want to see one of those sites that are made from flash. As a client, I am probably desperate. I’ve been online, trying to find a replacement architect for hours to take over from the one that had a nervous breakdown and left me in the lurch. Or, I’ve been driven almost to the brink of insanity by the local planning department, so need help, from someone sane, quickly. Why would I want to look at an ego trip of an architecture site like this.

It’s well known that the job of a landing page is to persuade the visitor to stay longer than 5 seconds on your site.  This site takes 12 seconds to paint the screen and then goes into slide-show mode.  You’d never want to suffer it more than once in a life-time.

That particular site employs the technique of embedding scrolled regions into the page so that having invested in an enormous monitor for my computer, I still have to manually scroll as the designers have decided to allocate a tiny proportion of my screen to information, and the rest to a lot of red.

But then this enormous, international firm of architects does not need to bring customers in through its web site. They probably market in other ways. They are big. But look – notice  their news page is sparse. A big firm like that and their flashy flash website is information poor. It’s not that they have no news, it’s more like they’ve forgotten their web communications goals.

Smaller firms can’t afford to do this.

Some Page Suggestions for Provincial Architects

  • Home Page – featuring a well designed logo, words and images of attractive local buildings
  • People – an introduction to each member of the firm, their position in it and a photograph.
  • Inspiration – for each architect, photos of buildings around the world that inspire them, or that they simply find beautiful, and why.
  • Famous Architects – educate your audience about architecture and its most famous sons and daughters, via an article, or better still, a timeline of famous buildings, styles and their  architects.
  • Completed Projects – All your completed projects organised into time line photos and descriptive text.
  • Work In Progress – All your ongoing projects organised into time line photos and descriptive text.
  • Price Range – give a typical average price breakdown for say the design of a kitchen extension, or a small house, including all the stages involved.
  • Stories – funny stories that have happened to you in the past at client sites.
  • Terms of Service – your terms of service
  • Payment Terms – your payment terms
  • Special Interest Areas – are you specialised in any particular area? Good at planning law, historic buildings, dealing with distraught clients?
  • Awards – any awards from recognised bodies – link out to them
  • Free and Paid Downloads – write some useful material and give it away. For example – a document on the the most fuel efficient heating, the planning process. Write something even better and sell it online for a small fee.
  • The Perfect Project – describe a perfect project with all stages, so the potential client can understand what is involved. Point out the pitfalls.
  • Sustainability – Write articles on sustainable builds, or the contradiction between sustainability and historic builds.  How exactly do you insulate a listed building?
  • Conservation – how does your firm respond to sensitive and historic buildings.
  • Testimonials – client testimonials – with photos of the client outside their newly designed homes.
  • Blog – write a blog – you can talk about anything in the news to do with houses, house prices, green issues to do with housing, energy efficient homes, what happened to you today. Here is the site of an architects firm in San Francisco – an example of a good blog post. Here is another architecture blog by an architectural student – people are doing this already. Archidose is the top archtecture blog on the planet. You can do this too. See top architecture blogs.
  • Links page of local suppliers, builders and home related services.

Easy Image Resizing and Cropping

A Smaller Image – an Easy and Free Way To Resize Images

Programs are bits of software that do a job. Some programs are very big and complicated – like for example, Adobe Photoshop. Others are small and much less complicated (because they don’t do much).

An example of a program like the latter is A Smaller Image by Trivista. It only does one or two jobs – it resizes and crops images, and not much else. If you are a beginner, this is a program for you. Later you’ll want something more sophisticated of course . . .

You can download the trial version (which will expire after a set number of days) of A Smaller Image from the Trivista Web Site, OR you can download a special free version from me here. The free version doesn’t expire, it’s not a trial, but it is an older version. However it does the job – it makes images smaller, and/or crops them. Please leave a comment if you take a copy of the free download. Thanks.

How To Use A Smaller Image – Free Download Version

As this is a very simple program, there isn’t much to learn. Simply install it, then, when you run the program, it looks like this. It shows a demonstration image of a balloon. Click the open button as indicated below to go open your own image that you want to resize and/or crop.

Here you can see I’ve gone to get a photo of one of my dogs (he’s called Rio by the way) and below you can see the slider you move to change the size of the image. In the case below, you can see the image started out at 886×791 pixels, and is reduced now to 443×395 pixels. Alter the slider to be the size you want and the click on save. The program will then allow you to save the re-sized image to another name (so you don’t over-write the orginal one).

Or, if you want to resize the image and crop it, or just crop it, do as follows. Use the slider indicated to change the area of the photo that is selected. You can also use the cursor to move the selected area around so that you can select the portion of the photo you want. As you can see, Rio’s photo has been cropped to show only his handsome face, without the shadowy background.