Websites

SEO Guide (For Regular People): 2019 Edition

It seems just about every year, I write one of these posts. 

Does search engine optimization change drastically year to year? The spam marketing emails with vague ‘your website is not optimized’ messages would have you thinking yes. (Note, if you want to stump these people, ask them for 2-3 specific recommendations for your website. I doubt they write you back.) 

Now if you want, you can pay someone like us to ‘audit’ your website. With a fresh set of eyeballs and some expertise, we are happy to go through our battery of tests and make you some recommendations. (Contact us here.)

Otherwise, read on for stuff I haven’t said in previous yearly-ish posts about SEO:

Move to a Let’s Encrypt web host.
I was working on the SEO for giftmdi.com when someone suggested I load the entire site in HTTPS and not just the payment pages. I did it and my Google score jumped 27 points…in about the 27 seconds it took to switch it from http to https! (This is one of the many tools Google has to test your site.) And rather than buying (and remembering to update) an SSL every year you can just use a host that uses Let’s Encrypt. The certs are:
1) free and
2) automatically renew so there is zero downside. 
We know Svaha has Let’s Encrypt SSLs but simply Google ‘NAMEOFWEBHOST let’s encrypt SSL’ to see if yours offers one. And if not, might be good to see who does!

Think about setting some Facebook markup code.
If you want people to share links to your website on Facebook, unless you intentionally set the image, title, and description displayed on Facebook it could pick something really random. You can set the image, website title, and description that gets shared on Facebook, either as a default for the whole site or page by page.
To see what Facebook is getting from your website, try their debugging tool. Note: don’t just test your homepage but pages you want people to share too. 

Use Facebook marketing pixels and other tools to fully integrate your website.
Did you know if you have an ecommerce store and you upload your catalog to Facebook, you can tag products in Facebook and Instagram? Did you know you can target ads specifically to people who have looked at specific pages of your website or have taken a specific action, like made a purchase? Take advantage of Facebook’s Business Manager to fully integrate your website into the world’s biggest social network.
(If you care more about the Insta, here’s the how-to for that.) 

Note: there are many ways to mess this up, and I have done most of them, so hire someone like us to help you if you aren’t sure. Remember, you need to know how to use it, setting it up is something you only have to do once. 

Make your site load faster.
You could have the prettiest website in the world but I bet even your mom would click away before the 8 seconds it needs to load. Test your website (and this will test it objectively from servers in different states and countries) and it’ll tell you what to do, whether it’s optimizing images or loading too many elements on a page. We’ve said this before but it’s worth saying again.

Consider an interactive element.
Did you know you can use Facebook messenger on your website to answer visitors’ basic questions? Big companies use bots but it doesn’t have to just be for them. Consider how your customers and website visitors get information and whether it’s offering order updates via email, a text message system for upcoming event alerts, or a Facebook bot that does customer service, making sure your website is a bit interactive will get those visitors to your website to be repeat visitors and maybe even customers.

Search Engine Optimization is basically improving your website so the experience for search engines *and* people is great. So keep on making changes for the better and Google and the rest of them will reward you for your efforts. 

Why Is GoDaddy So Cheap (For Domains)

You may wonder “How can GoDaddy offer you a .99 cent (or even cheaper domain name)?”

Since we’ve dealt with GoDaddy a few times recently, I will let you know 1) why this is possible and 2) how they make way more money from you on the other end.

Domains under $1 are a loss leader.

If you are a domain reseller (like GoDaddy or just about any other company you can buy a domain from), you can buy a domain for $8-10. Maybe if you are GoDaddy, Network Solutions, or some other large provider, maybe you can get them slightly cheaper for your bulk purchasing power. But $10 is a good general rule.

Because people/companies pay to be domain resellers (around $400/year I believe), they need to charge you a bit more than $10 to make up for paying this reseller fee, the time to help you buy the domain, etc. A company I use (Enom) charges $13.95. So Enom makes $4 on me when I buy a domain from them. This helps pay their reseller fee, their website support, and all that stuff.

What happens when GoDaddy charges 50 cents or 99 cents for a domain? They take a loss. I’ve even heard this acknowledged from someone who works there.

In the retail world, we have loss leaders. That means a product is advertised below cost to get bodies in a store (who ideally buy more things) and GoDaddy has taken this concept into the virtual world.

They make their money in the end, trust me. 

The other day, we went to buy a SSL certificate for a client (we’re making them a donation form). We bought a $12.95 cent Geotrust one from Enom to use on their site. The organization uses GoDaddy for hosting so we went to install it. Clicking on SSL certificates kept taking us back to the account page so we called up GoDaddy. This was my conversation with the guy almost verbatim:

Me: Hi, I have this SSL I just bought elsewhere and I want to install it on my site… but clicking the SSL icon keeps taking me back to the homepage for the account. Am I just not looking in the right spot?

GD Guy: No you are. You can’t install a third party SSL on a GoDaddy site, you have to buy one of our SSLs.

Me: But yours cost $69 and I bought the one I need for $12 and I want to use it.

GD Guy: Sorry, that’s not possible. What’s the refund policy on the one you just bought?

Me: I don’t want to buy something for $69 when I can have it for $12.

GD Guy: Well if you look up ‘GoDaddy coupon codes’ in your web browser, you’ll find some crazy deals. Then just buy it at least for a few years to lock it in.

Me: Umm….

So there you go. Once you enter the GoDaddy ecosystem, you are kind of stuck there. And some of their solutions seem to cost more (sometimes substantially more like in this case) than other equivalent solutions I’ve seen on the open market.

You can think of the free domain as your hotel offering you ‘free’ WIFI or your wedding photographer offering you a ‘free’ 8×10 print. It is a gesture of goodwill you are indirectly paying for anyway.

If you want to be one of those people that buys domains from GoDaddy and immediately transfers them elsewhere, be my guest. I have friends who do it! But saving $10 means taking the time to apply for the transfer, approve it, etc. so I find just buying it at the right spot works for me.

In terms of places I like to buy domains, I like enom.com and namecheap.com (note: this one is an affiliate link which means I get a portion if the money if you buy something).

So whenever you see a low price tag like Godaddy charges for domains, pause and think about why it’s so much cheaper than everything else. Reading online reviews, asking colleagues, and researching the company will tell you if it’s a deal… or something else.

Better SEO In Under One Hour: 2018 Edition

One of our most popular blog posts is ‘Better SEO In Less Than An Hour’ but almost six years later, there are other things we think are as important for making your site great (in less than an hour).

So mark off an hour in your calendar and tackle one (or some) of the items below… and we guarantee your website will be happier.

Reduce image sizes (and compress anything else possible).

Estimated Time: 15-45 minutes

Usually image and video files are taking up more room than you realize. Websites like videosmaller.com can be used to make videos 10-50% smaller without any noticeable quality loss online. Usually there are multiple images on your site that you forgot to resize before upload that can be compressed. Here are some tools that’ll let you do the job in bulk: https://mashable.com/2013/10/29/image-compressors/#fwSRDY1wAPqb

Smaller image files does two things: one it makes pages load faster for your visitors and mean you’ll keep your web hosting bill low over time. Compressing the images on my site saved me 236 MB of space!



Force site to load in HTTPS.

Estimated Time: 15 minutes

By adding a secure certificate to your site (check if your host is a LetsEncrypt provider and you could get one that renews itself yearly free!) and then make your pages load in HTTPS. We held off on doing this to GiftMDI.com (our ecommerce site) for awhile and when we did our Google Page Insights score jumped up 15 points immediately. (Do a before HTTPS and after test for yourself here: https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/)

Write unique titles and descriptions for all your pages.

Estimated Time: 5 minutes per page

Your page title and description are what shows up in search engine results, and seeing this allows people to decide if they should click on your website, or one of the other options. You can customize the title and description for pages, not just for Google but Facebook too. Wordpress has tools like All In One SEO and Yoast SEO for such tasks… and whatever website software you use will likely allow you to customize this as well for each of your pages.

Make as mobile friendly as possible. 

Estimated time: 30-60 minutes

Over half of most website visitors are on a mobile device. How does your website work on a mobile device? Google has a testing tool that you can run and gives you specific recommendations:  https://search.google.com/test/mobile-friendly

Find and fix broken links.

Estimated time: 30-60 minutes

Broken links are not just a bummer for search engines but for people too. You might have made a typo or you might have forgotten you changed a page title/link from /about to /about-us. Use a broken link checker (like this one: http://www.brokenlinkcheck.com/) to find and fix any broken links, which will make your site work better.



Make sure your site hasn’t been hacked.

Estimated time: 5 – 15 minutes

By making a Google account and registering your site in Search Console, you can find any security issues your site may have. Bonus is it will alert you when there are issues in future.

Update your software (if applicable).

Estimated Time: 5 minutes

Keeping your website well running and secure means updating software regularly, especially if you run Wordpress. If you don’t want to do this yourself, we offer a very affordable updating service. But for real, it’s really important to keep your software updated. We’ve unhacked enough websites to know that 100% of the time, when we asked the person when the site was last updated, they couldn’t tell us.

All this to say there’s always SOMETHING you can do to improve your site… so take an hour and do what you can… and imagine how great your site would be if you took one hour a week and worked on making it amazing. 



Website Launch: Mount Desert Island Historical Society

The MDI Historical Society has been an important part of our island for decades. Their website has a lot of interesting archival information, everything from listings of who is buried in different cemeteries to historical documents about Acadia National Park’s formation.

When you have this much information collected in one place, getting it all organized in a way that’s also user friendly can be a daunting task.

With some information archived in Past Perfect (a database for historical catalogs), some on external websites, and some on the MDI History website itself, we took on the task of getting people to the information they need while also giving them a pleasing design that matches their branding.

Branding That Is Clear

When you go to the homepage of the new site, one of the first things you see is their branding (with the Selectman’s Building and the Somesville Bridge outlined in a way that’s a bit more engaging). It also helps with user-friendliness in terms of orienting people to the site upon arrival.

The older version displayed a slideshow of the “Acadia Then and Now” photo series from the Acadia National Park Centennial celebration (photo composites were done by Anthony Palumbo, with support from Bar Harbor Historical Society & MDI Historical Society). This is a really cool photo series, and you can read more about the project here. It’s a bit more difficult to find what your options are as far as getting information.

A Research Page To Get Visitors Started

Speaking of finding things, another thing the new website offers is a “Research” page that serves as the focal point for the different types of offerings on the website. Before, it was not so clear to the average person where they should go to find Census Records or peruse the Champlain Society Collection. The Research Page is the ultimate navigation point- no matter what you’re looking for, this page is the compass to point you in the right direction.

The page itself describes what content you’ll find in Collections, Catalog, and Historical Resources (which is helpful if you’re not necessarily familiar with how historical records are archived). The menu on the right side of the page further helps with navigation and gives a clearer understanding of where to go for specific information (there’s also a “Search” bar at the very top of the page if someone gets truly stumped).

Accepting Donations, Selling Publications, And Otherwise Monetizing Unique Offerings

Another thing that’s available on the new website is the ability to accept credit cards for various things like memberships (which are given with anyone giving a donation of $20.00 or more annually), dual memberships with Seal Cove Auto Museum, event tickets, and purchasing publications. As you might imagine, a lot of these publications are niche and not necessarily wide-spread, which can make them difficult to find but having them available to purchase right on the site means more exposure and a greater chance of selling.

Utilizing Volunteers With On Demand Video Training

Although people looking at the site “from the outside” can’t see this, the new site is set up to make it easier to have website volunteers get set up. Some projects, like writing unique page titles and descriptions for each page on the site to improve SEO, are something that an intern can tackle. There’s a list of future projects, along with training videos, for reference, so it’s a lot easier for people to volunteer. We made MDI Historical Society a video collection for easy volunteer training.

Fun, Accessible Information For All With Internet Access

Other cool things to check out on this site include the Genealogy Project, which is an effort to share the genealogy of families on Mount Desert Island. Check out the list of last names, you never know if a good chunk of your family history is on there!

Another thing that I didn’t know about before delving into the MDI Historical Society’s site is that there’s actually a documented list of all the “named” cottages on MDI. Not only do you see the names and when they were purchased, but anytime the ownership changed hands (it’s a neat history lesson, from back in the days when people gave their home a name). Here’s an example of one I found particularly interesting:

If you have something you want to add to any of the archives, each page has information on “How to Contribute” (meaning you don’t have to remember the page you saw that thing on).

Check out the new website here, and if you’re so inclined, signing up for a membership is easy to do from the comfort of your home!

Congratulations to the Mount Desert Island Historical Society on their new site and all the great work they are doing to preserve the history of a very special place. 

Event Management / Scheduling Software Options We Know About (Part 2)

If you read our previous post about events, you might be reading this post because you figured you need some kind of event management on your site. If you haven’t read it and want this to be in context, check out Part One here.

I’m going to divide this into three categories for information digestion purposes!

Option One: Stuff That Sort Of Integrates With Your Website Software

Great if: You don’t need something robust, you are using something that already sort of works.

There are a variety of options that *sort of* integrate with your website.

For example, you could have a Gravity Form (Wordpress plugin) and use a Zapier ‘zap’ to send the information from a form to a Google Calendar, blocking it off.

A real life business example of this is my coworking space has one room that is rentable. Not 16, not 25. One. So I just need the one form that concerns it to connect with the calendar used to manage it (a Google Calendar). It would be total overkill to install a full booking system for this one room.

Because there are a whole category of things that don’t need deep integration but just have to communicate with one another, you have a whole robust category of websites:

Zapier
IFTTT (short for ‘if this then that’) 
Automate.io
Workflow…

You get the idea. Programmers are hip to the fact we have lots of tools and sometimes there just needs to be a connection.

So if you are already using a calendar and some kind of RSVP mechanism, rather than adding a whole booking system into your website, it might work best to connect what you’ve got online already.


Option Two: Stuff That Integrates Directly With Your Website Software

Great if: You’re going to do a ton of events, you already have a robust website

Now clearly if you start getting into multiple events that have to communicate with each other (or concern other factors like notifying instructors or closing automatically when full), that’s when you need a real system.

The two main Wordpress plugins I’ve used for this purpose are Event Espresso and Event Manager (free or Pro version).

I personally like Event Espresso for really complicated setups. Like you are running a regional camp for three weeks that has over 100 classes and different parameters (special pricing for students under 16 for Class A, needing to be able to email all students in a particular class in case the location of Class B moves, etc.) It can be overkill for some things, I won’t lie but it lets you set specific parameters for specific events and add things on (like a seating chart in case you want to have people pick out a particular seat as part of their booking and having that seat be a particular price).

Event Manager is a great option too because the free version does a lot but the paid one will let you sell tickets in the system. But let’s say you’re a downtown association that does a lot of free events and you just want people to be able to search them, have each event have a layout, and be able to print a calendar of all events in a certain category. Something like this can work really well

I like both these plugins too because you buy a yearly license that is relatively reasonable ($50-$200ish/year). So you could have like 50 or 500 or 50000 events and not be stuck paying a percentage of registrations or some monthly fee. They also do things like support recurring events (goodbye needless data entry), have great tech support, and a TON of settings (just Event Manager, ie the simpler one, has about 250 that I’ve noticed). In other words, you can set it up just for YOU, which is both a blessing and a curse.


Option Three: Third Party Options

Great if: You are uncertain about the capabilties of your own website, are not at all tech savvy

Listen, this is a totally safe place to admit it: “Nicole, I have no desire to mess around with tech settings. I just want something that’ll work in about 1-2 hours setup time.”

Third party solutions (which will link to your website not not integrate directly with it) are going to be both the easiest thing to do (and by default, offer the least customization). But there is a saying that good enough is good enough and if the thing does what you need it to, great. Bonus is whole companies have been set up to handle certain kinds of bookings.

Here are some examples:
ChowNow – For restaurant ordering, $200ish setup fee plus $100ish monthly fee for mid tier plan
EventSmart- For events, $10-$100+/month
Calendly – mostly an appointment thing, I know a lot of consultants who use this $0-12/month
Acquity Scheduling– booking calendar mainly for spaces $0- $50/month
Eventbrite – 6% of your ticket sales (remember 6% of $0 is zero so that’s why a lot of people use this for free events)
Fare Harbor- some of my boat tour clients use this but the fact their pricing information is buried on their website- so much so, I couldn’t find it easily and according to the internet, they only charge for credit card processing, I find it a bit suspect.

There are about 10,000 of these and you can find similar options if you go to similarweb.com, putting in the website, and clicking on the ‘Competitors’ section.

You’ll notice with third party options, you have to be careful. You start out as free or cheap and then suddenly, ‘oh you have more than 50 events so that bumps you to our next tier!’ They want you to be invested enough to say ‘meh, it’s just $20/month and I really don’t feel like moving everything to another software.’

These can be a great solution, just remember the devil is in the details and as long as you know yours, you can make a good choice.

If you aren’t sure what to do, before you pay an intern 20 hours to move your events into a system or buy $400 in software you don’t entirely understand, consider having a consult with a tech person give you a consult on what could work best for you. They could save you time, money, and headache looking out for things you aren’t.

Congratulations on being open to letting your customers book online. In the end, you might be surprised with how profitable (and accessible) it’ll make your business.



Why You Might Need Event Management/Scheduling Software (Part 1)

Do you schedule your own meetings and appointments? Depending on how often you do this, manually scheduling can be a huge hassle. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way to have all of this taken care of for you?

Something to consider is adding some type of online scheduling to your website.

Examples where this might be a useful feature to have:

  • Scheduling employee shifts
  • Booking an appointment with you (if you’re a personal trainer/masseuse/hair dresser/therapist/anyone who trades time for money)
  • Selling tickets to an event

Before you wade through the variety of options available, take some time to consider what you’re looking for in scheduling software. Some ideas:

Frequency of Booking. What is the common duration of time that will be scheduled? Is it by hour, day, week, etc.? Some programs you pick have pricing determined by number of events/appointments so even having a range is helpful.

What are people scheduling? A common example is time (appointments, meetings, etc), but it could also be something physical (rooms, seats, a car, etc). Some programs are built for theaters, allowing people booking to pick specific seats or allowing the venue to set different prices for different seating areas. Thinking about what information you need to collect might help you pick between options.



Does it need payment processing? Some businesses prefer to take payment at the time of booking, while others prefer to use the scheduling simply to make the reservation but accept payment at the time of service/pickup. Note: if you already have an online processor and want to use it for your online booking, make sure the payment processor and your software are compatible.

Do others need to be able to collaborate? If you have a team of multiple people scheduling things, or if they need to share their own availability, it may be helpful to have them able to access the scheduling system on their own. Some software charges by number of users so this is also helpful to know.

How much control do you want over it? Do you mind if all bookings are automatically approved, or do you want to manually approve because only certain people can book 1-2 p.m. on Thursdays and interrupt your yoga class? Remember in general manual equals more work but also more control.



What do you need to integrate? If you already are using a POS system or run a Shopify website, you may want your new event management software to integrate with it. Thinking about what you are already using might help narrow the field.

How much are you willing to pay? Depending on the features and control you would like to have, you may need to throw down some extra money. If you just need something simple, you’re more likely to find it for free. As far as software goes, some charge you a flat fee, some for a number of events/users, and some based on the features (for example one price based on basic ticketing and a second higher priced for a package of software with flashier features).

What online scheduling options do we know about? Join us for the next blog post where we’ll talk about the ones we’ve worked with and what we like/don’t like about each. In the meantime, what could you be booking/scheduling online that could free up your time?



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