Many small business owners often wonder how they can increase website exposure, traffic and sales with search engine optimization (SEO). SEO may seem complicated, but oftentimes you can get results by making some simple changes to your website. Here are 5 things you can do to get started:

  1. Focus your homepage title on the most general topic/service you provide and include your location. Just like businesses in the phonebook are listed under the main service they provide, your homepage should also focus on your main service. A brief title, such as “Italian Restaurant in Dallas Texas,” is still descriptive, and therefore effective. Keep in mind that search engines only display the first 65 characters of your title, so put the most important information at the beginning. It’s okay if the title is longer than 65 characters, but only search engines, not visitors, will see the extra words.
  2. Write good content for your most important pages. Ideally, all the pages on your website should have content, but the first step is to get good content on the most important pages. If you can write 300 words or 3 paragraphs about a particular service or product you offer, then that product should probably have its own page on your website. A great approach to writing content is to address typical customer concerns or describe important product details that make the item unique.
  3. Give each page on your website a different title. Focus the title on the page’s topic. If you sell snowboards, don’t just put “Snowboards” as the title on all your pages. Be descriptive and create unique titles for each page, such as “Women’s Snowboards” or “Children’s Snowboards.” If you only sell to a local area, make sure to include your location: “Women’s Snowboards | Denver & Boulder Colorado.”
  4. Target good keywords. If you’re not sure where to start with keywords, you can use the Google Keyword Tool. This tool will show you the keywords that people search most frequently. Once again, if you’re a local-only business, make sure to include the cities or towns you serve when searching for keywords.
  5. Put your address on your website. Including your address helps Google and Bing associate your services with a particular area, which is great for local businesses. Simply adding your company’s address to the bottom or footer section of every page is a simple way to implement this tip.

If you’re still in the design phase of your website, incorporating the above tips in the beginning stages can be easier than going back and reworking content or coding that isn’t search-engine friendly. Regardless of what stage you’re at with your website, it’s still never too late to start on SEO. In the end, the extra work can pay for itself by increasing your company’s overall profitability.

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When choosing a web design company, keep in mind that you’re picking a team of people who will your business on the Internet, a very important component which can help improve your business.

Here are some points to consider:

Do they have a local presence?

Nowadays a lot of companies outsource their work. Make sure the company you’re considering has a local office and can meet with you in person. Take note of the company’s business hours, and make sure someone will be around to answer the phone or reply to an email when you need to get in touch with a person. The most praise Digital Dogs receives from clients is in regards to our responsiveness. We try to answer emails as soon as we receive them, and clients can always reach someone by phone during business hours.

Do they have an online portfolio?

Check out the company website and review previous work they have done. That will help you determine if you like the company’s style and their level of website professionalism.

Have you asked someone for a referral?

As with any service, ask your friends and family if they have used a company for web development. Ask them about the experience they had and if they would use the same company again. Also, feel free to ask the web design company for references from previous clients.

Where do they host your website?

It is recommended that the company creating your website also host it.  That way, the company is familiar with the hosting environment, and you call one place for edits and hosting. However, make sure that if you switch to a different company in the future, you own your site’s code and can easily access it and/or move it to another server.

Are they offering any advice on how to improve your site? How professional is their advice?

Consulting is the most important part of web design. A client might not be tech savvy or understand all the “rules of the web”. The web design company should be there to offer advice and guide you in the right direction. Be wary of companies that agree with everything you say and offer no new ideas in a professional manner.

Does the contract include everything you need?

Make sure that the contract includes the budget, number of revisions, hourly cost for additional edits/revisions, length of development time, as well as the length of the warranty after the site is launched.

Meet with the web development company and, if you like what you hear, make a decision based on knowledge and experience. As we all know, you only get what you pay for, so the cheapest solution may end up costing you more in the long run, and it may not produce the results you want.

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Most people think that their computers at work are quite safe. There’s almost always some sort of firewall on the network (with half of its workload being devoted to blocking your co-worker from being on FaceBook all day). Everyone typically sees an anti-virus program quietly waiting in the notification bar and works on a browser trafficking the same humdrum places as the fifty million others boxed in by four-and-a-half foot high walls.

Then your screen starts looking something like this:

Wondering exactly what went wrong? To be honest with you, nothing. Even the most techno-savvy individuals will eventually run into one of these cyberware “fishing hooks.” The most important thing to remember is to stay calm. In the end, these warnings are just a nuisance if they can’t goad you into doing something stupid.

These warnings are known as scareware, and they are surprisingly simple scams. They focus on loudly telling people their computers have been hacked or infected. Then, of course, the scareware offers to sell the computer users a “cure.” Often, the scareware will appear as an upgrade for the anti-virus or security program already on a person’s computer. It’s like someone broke your front window, climbed in and tried to hard sell you on buying a security system from him. Subtle as a brick, but surprisingly effective.

Your response is simple. Put your keyboard down. An infected computer is no good, so don’t bother trying to shut down the fake software or run your anti-virus program or even Google the name. Go to another computer or grab a phone and get someone with the tools to scrub the thing from your system. Don’t touch it again until you’re instructed by the professional to do so.

Now if you want to minimize your chances of being snagged in the first place, it’s important to have some idea of how it happens in the first place. There are two main sources for these types of infections: drive-by-downloads and malware-ladened spam.

The drive-by-download  is an invisible webpage element. They are either hacked onto existing pages or built as fake pages with some way or another of diverting traffic to them. These downloads try to exploit some bug or forgotten vulnerability of your browser to copy and run a small program on your machine that then installs the scareware program.

The malware -ladened spam usually takes the form of a form or document that is attached to a legitimate looking email claming to be a receipt or report or bank statement or whatever they think you’ll open without looking at too hard. This scam works by exploiting bugs in document viewer or player.

Oddly enough, most of these bug are well-known and can be fixed. But most people’s computers aren’t constantly up-to-date with all their security software. Here are some ways you can keep your computer safe:

Don’t use Internet Explorer if you don’t have to. Regrettably, sometimes you have to. There are some websites or apps that require IE to run properly. I can’t, as a web developer, say that there’s been any love lost for this particular product. But on the merits of security alone there are reasons enough. Here are the highlights:

  • Closed source – This ones a little counter-intuitive. You would think that the less people know about the inner workings of a browser, the harder it would be to compromise. But, in practice, the less transparency there is, the more often cracks form and the longer it takes to fix.
  • ActiveX – Powerful, useful but regrettably added to IE in a less than security conscious way.
  • Vbscript – A proprietary equivalent to JavaScript, along with its own share of holes.

Keep your Adobe products updated. The shear ubiquity of Acrobat and Flash makes them a prime target for scareware, though Adobe makes an admirable effort to stay ahead of. The problem has always been getting all of us users to keep the program up-to-date.

If you use Java, keep it fresh. The precision of the exact numbers is a little questionable, but more than half of computer uses have Java installed. There are all sorts of web bits built with Java, including file upload/downloaders, chat systems, screen and webcam streaming. It’s a problem that is easy to forget about.

Keeping the above tips in mind will help save you from the headaches that can come from scareware. However, if your computer does get infected, it’s important to stay calm and look for help from companies or individuals that are experienced in removing these types of malicious programs.

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Content management systems (CMS) allow for website owners, with no web development experience, to manage the content within their website. Back when Digital Dogs started in 1998, there were two options for CMS. You could pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for one developed by a software company, or you could use a proprietary system built by a web development firm. The first option was usually a show stopper because of cost, and the second option had many issues. Most proprietary systems were not flexible, feature rich or well supported.  In addition, proprietary systems often left customers tied to the web development company who built it, because the system was owned by the web development company.

With the advent of open source software and the development Joomla, Drupal and WordPress, the CMS world has changed dramatically. These content management systems are priced right at no cost, which means the only cost to the website owner is the development time to implement them. Each is well supported by a broad development community. There are modules that are pre-built to support most common needs, such as calendars, shopping carts and event listings to name a few. In addition, since they are open source, website owners are not tied to one web development firm. You have complete control over where your website is hosted and who manages the programing of it for you.

One of our favorite CMS is WordPress. Initially developed as a blog, it has evolved into a very robust content management system. As a matter of fact, the Digital Dogs website is built and managed through WordPress. It offers the flexibility to have creative themes, making a website custom to your design requirements. The site management is done through a very intuitive administration area, allowing for content to be updated and pages to be added with a few key strokes and a click of a mouse.

As the Internet has evolved, so have content management systems. For less of a cost than having a static website built in the 90s, you can now have a site that is easily updated, feature rich, well supported and, best of all, over which you have complete control.

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It’s that time of year again when you kids are going back to school or college.  It’s also a good time to go “Back to School” when it comes to your website.  We thought it might be helpful if we provided you with a quick “Website 101” list of guidelines that will help you see if your website is making the grade.

  1. Can people find you?
    So, you have a website – but can people find you? It’s important that people can also find you on search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing.  There are some simple things you can do if you are just starting out.  Make sure that each page includes title tags with key words, meta tags that describe the content on each page, heading tags that highlighting important info, internal and external links, alt text on images so they are searchable and make sure your content contains a good number of keywords.
  2. How engaging is your homepage?
    You only have a few seconds to capture the attention of your audience…make sure they’re seeing something important.  What is the “eye trail”?  In other words, where do your eyes go first? Try and format your design elements so that you lead the visitors eye to the most important elements first such as your logo, the navigation, how to subscribe, etc.
  3. Can visitors quickly understand what you’re about?
    Again, you only have a few seconds to communicate your unique value, so be clear and compelling.  Can visitors quickly understand your value?  What makes your business unique?  Sell yourself, but don’t go over the top. Highlight benefits more than features.
  4. Is your primary information “above the fold”?
    Above the fold is generally considered to be within the first 500-600 pixels of your site design.  Your goal is to have visitors see the most important information without having to scroll down the page.  Make sure your logo, opt-in forms and unique selling propositions are available without having to scroll down the page.
  5. Is there a clear call to action?
    If they like what they see, prospects need to know what to do next. It can be to buy now, start a free trial, or simply download a free report.  Make it easy for people to contact you – providing a contact us form instead of a static page is especially good for lead capturing.  You can also integrate these leads into your CRM system such as Sales Force.
  6. Are you personally connecting with your prospects?
    Consumers want to buy from people, not machines. Connect with your prospects by being honest, straightforward, and using a conversational style.  Keep your website content updated and fresh – give them a reason to return to your site.  You know your audience best; add content that will best serve their needs.   The goal is that your visitors keep you “top of mind” and think of you as the industry expert.  Post new content, photos, videos, portfolio of work or whatever the site was built to present.  Adding a blog is a great way to keep a site updated. Add posts on any topic and length related to your site.
  7. Do you have a thoughtful user interface?
    Is there a consistent look and feel from page to page? Is the navigation consistent and intuitive? Make sure that you use the space efficiently and content is logically organized.  People should be able to get to the information they want within a few clicks. Don’t overwhelm people by trying to add to much information on the page.
  8. Is your branding consistent?
    When a user lands on your webpage does it look like your company? Make sure you include consistent branding such as your logo, color palette and design features that are consistent with your other marketing materials that ultimately help people recognize it’s your company.
  9. Does your website load quickly?
    People do not like to wait… if the site takes more than a few seconds to load you will lose visitors.  Make sure your images are in compressed format at 72dpi, so they retain quality but still allow quicker download time. Using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) is another way to improve load speed.  If most of your pages share the same style information, the CSS keeps the style in an external file that allows the site to load the style once.  Then, all of the subsequent pages will load more quickly.
  10. Do you have links to social media?
    Many people want to do a little more research before buying. Linking to social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc) gives your potential customers another glimpse into your company.  Visitors can read testimonials from your happy customers and will help build credibility and entice people to want to learn more.  With the right approach, you can get pretty decent results with a few hours per week on social media sites.  Why not leverage your existing traffic to draw even more visitors?

So, how did you do?  Does your website make the grade?  These are definitely some basics that will get your site on the right track.  You only get one chance to create a good first impression, so try and make it count.  A clean, professional, and fast-loading site can ensure that your first impression will be a good one.

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