What you need to know about your email address

posted in: Email Marketing | 0

Simple as it may seem, an email address is composed of several elements. So when you see “person@mydomain.com”, there are a couple of things you should know about them.

Evidently, the thing that pops up the most is the “@” character dividing the email in two sections. You don’t have an email address without it. The left section is the user name (“person”) and the right is the domain name, “mydomain.com” in the example above. Let’s review them.

Part 1: The Domain Name

In the internet, domains are structured in a hierarchical system. The top-level is the last part of every domain, for example, the “.com”, “.ca”, .”org” after the domain name.

Under such top-level domains (or extensions as some people call them), the user (you) gets to choose their domain name, in our email example above is the “mydomain” part before the “.com”. In our website, it is the “searchengineop” part of our domain name.

To choose what comes after the “@” symbol, you have to purchase a domain name (mydomain.com). You can only use domains you own and control for your emails. So if you buy “mydomain.com” your emails have to be “@mydomain.com” and they can’t be “@md.com” or anything else. For that you would need to buy that domain itself.

The last point is important because we have had people ask us to buy a domain, then expect to be able to create a short version of it for emails without purchasing the actual short version domain. You must buy the domain you intend to use for email, so when buying a domain name you should consider what you want your emails to be.

Part 2: The User Name

This is the easy to customize part of the email. As opposed to having to register like in the domain portion, this can be created with absolute freedom as long as you own your domain (the right part of the email account). The user name is to the left of the “@” sign. This is the actual person/contact under the domain. An email is literally read as “person at mydomain.com” and it means exactly that, you are trying to send a message to someone identified as “person” that has an email address in “mydomain.com”.

Either your webmaster or whoever manages your domain and hosting (if not you) can create the email accounts. When as a business you buy domain and hosting, you can always create email accounts with your domain with the structure and names you want.

There is however, one small exception to the freedom. The characters you can use are defined by the internet standard document RFC 2822.

Characters Allowed in Email an Address

Because the standard can be quite complicated and is in technical terms, that most normal users don’t care about, we can summarize what characters you can and should use for creating your emails like this; Only use lower case characters, numbers, underscore, hyphen and full stop/period to create your email user name.

Can you use other characters? Yes you can, but there are several characters that are not allowed and by experimenting you may create a bigger problem than you expect. For example, it is technically possible to create email user names with “!” or “#” but some hosting services do not allow it. In other cases, the receiving server may not accept emails from accounts with those characters, so you will be able to create the address and send emails, but people will not receive them because their servers block email addresses with those characters. If you are running a business, definitively stay within the common characters mentioned above, people will remember them easier and there will be less trouble with emails getting lost.

Should your web design use a sliding banner?

posted in: Website Design | 0

The short and sweet answer is no.

Of course, almost everyone who is thinking about getting a new web design wants a sliding banner, the thinking is that they add a cool factor and some animated magic to an otherwise static world. Also, many times people have several important messages that they want to show to visitors right away, and adding a sliding banner seems to be the right answer. But again, it is not.

This is a case where what seems like a great idea and makes perfect common sense, it is in fact wrong and for all intents and purposes, bad web design. Science can be inconclusive, but in the case of sliding banners, every single study (and our own case experience) shows that sliding banners are a really bad idea, affecting usability, SEO and most important, conversions.

Web design data on sliding banners

The following are two important case studies on sliding banners and banner blindness. Most usability and conversion experts in the world, recommend to never use a moving banner, especially if it is in your home page. So, here below I show you some actual data on studies about sliding banners. Judge for yourself.

The Notre Dame web design case

The first case is an analysis of user behaviour for ND.edu (a Notre Dame website) done by Erik Runyon technical director and a web developer for the University of Notre Dame.

Back in 2013, he reviewed the behaviour of a little over 3.5 million visitors to the nd.edu website over a period of 6 months. What he found was that of all the users who visited the website, only 1%  clicked on the banner. Of those, 89.1% clicked on the first banner. This means that of that 1% who paid attention to anything on the sliding banner, the majority did not even see the rest of the banners. All those great offers or that amazing information on banner number 2, 3 and 4, most people never see it.

…over 3.5 million visitors… only 1%  clicked on the banner…

The NN/g study

Nielsen Norman Group is an important user experience research, training, and consulting firm. Some of the world’s brightest conversion and design minds are part of that firm. They have researched the subject of banner blindness on several occasions and published their findings in books, blog articles and conferences.

In a study done for Siemens Appliances, users were asked to complete the following task: “Does Siemens have deals on washing machines?”

Users had to find the website and read the first sliding banner on the homepage. The banner and the washing machine’s offer were the biggest elements on the page, so the expectation was that users had to see it, no matter what. Yet, most failed to even discover whether Siemens was in fact having deals on washing machines. When asked about it, the common answer was that the sliding banner moved too fast and they couldn’t read it.

On another case, they used eye tracking software to study people’s fixation (attention to an element on a web page) on banners. They found that most people simply ignore anything that moves on a website.

NN/g recommends that sliding banners and carousels should show a new banner only when the person asks for it. Otherwise, it should stand still and let people read the information at their own pace, without being rushed.

SEL’s observations

SearchEngineLand is one of the industry’s top blogging websites. Harrison Jones, a usability expert wrote an article about carousels and sliding banners. He studied three different B2B websites, a branding website, a thought leadership site and a service promotion site.

…barely anyone clicks on the carousel.

The first website showed that only 0.65% of visitors clicked on the banner, of the second case, only 0.22% and the third website had only 0.16% users clicked on the sliding banner. This was measured by having event tracking on the sliding banners and other elements of each website (a feature of most analytics tools) and proves that most people simply ignore sliding banners. Harrison Jones concluded that “Nobody clicks on the carousels“. Well, to be exact, less than 1%.

SearchEngineOp’s own experience

For years now, we have recommended our clients to not use moving or sliding banners on their websites. In some cases, the client insists on having a moving feature and we give in. However, every single time we’ve managed to convince a client to remove the sliding banners, conversion increases drastically and in some cases, even ranking in Google. More important, our highest performing websites, including our own, have a static home banner.

When we review click-through on moving features, we find that on average 1-3% of visitors click on something that moves. In some cases, that number is as low as 0.12% click on sliding banners compared to a 80% average clicks on static banners with a call to action. On mobile, numbers are worse than for desktop for sliding banners as users have a harder time reading sliding banners.

..as low as 0.12% click on sliding banners compared to a 80% average clicks on static banners with a call to action.

Well thought out design can solve the problem of having multiple offers or messages that you need to feature right away. There are many alternatives to having a sliding banner or carousel that have better performance that there is no reason to ever use one.

SEO and Conversion Optimization

While the data shows that people click very little on sliders and other studies have shown that people don’t even see them, there is yet another problem with sliders. Sliders push down your content. This means the content won’t even be visible above the fold. And this just bad SEO. It is not the large image that is the problem, the problem is the automatic movement of the slider.

There’s not a Conversion Optimization expert that will disagree on this: sliders kill conversions. So, as you may imagine, at SearchEngineOp we don’t recommend them.

Is there any time when a slider would work?

Oddly enough, yes there is. But there are very specific conditions and it definitively can’t be set to autoplay. For a carousel to not affect conversion (and sales), it must be static and should only move when the user clicks on an arrow or any other element on it that indicates movement will happen.

If you want your website to perform better and have higher conversion rates, give us a call, our web design is conversion optimized and we can help you setup conversion optimization tests. Sometimes you have the traffic and is conversion rate where you are loosing business.

Setup a Meeting to Discuss your Website Conversion

It’s all in the domain name

Do the new domain extensions (.business, .guru, .shop) help with SEO? Many of our clients and people at seminars ask us this question because most of them have been convinced to purchase 5, 10 or even 20 new domains for the “SEO benefit”.

Extensions like .guru, .shop or other such concepts that actually describe the business are being promoted as a great way to help improve your ranking and domain registrars are pushing them like candy. But do they really benefit SEO?

Google’s Article

Google recently published an article on its webmaster blog explaining whether the new personalized domain extensions have an impact on ranking or not. This is the definitive answer:

“Overall, our systems treat new gTLDs like other gTLDs (like .com & .org). Keywords in a TLD do not give any advantage or disadvantage in search.”

So there it is, Google treats the new domain extensions like regular extensions (like .com or .org) and does not give preference to .brand or .keyword at all. Except that the regular extensions have the added benefit that most social networking sites recognize them as links, where the new extensions are generally not.

Later, in a Google+ thread it was confirmed that keyword rich domain extensions have no effect or value for SEO. In the thread a UK marketer said that TLDs surely provided a little bit of increase in relevance, to which Gary Illyes (a Google analyst) simply replied: “It doesn’t.”

Country vs. City TLDs

Domains with country specific extension (ccTLDs) like .ca, .mx or .es still carry more value for the specific country than generic domain extensions (like .net, .biz or .com).

Lastly, there are new city specific domains such as .toronto or .guelph that may seem a good opportunity to rank locally, however, we submit to Google’s article again:

“Even if they look region-specific, we will treat them as gTLDs. This is consistent with our handling of regional TLDs like .eu and .asia. There may be exceptions at some point down the line, as we see how they’re used in practice. See our help center for more information on multi-regional and multilingual sites, and set geotargeting in Search Console where relevant.”

Worth noting that city or region specific domain extensions may benefit your SEO in the future (as per the quote above), but currently they do not have any benefit.

Money Wise

In any case, it is much more valuable to have the keywords in the domain name itself as that is a strong ranking factor that Google still takes into consideration. So, don’t buy ten domains because the registrar says they are the hot trend, save your money and use it in something real like hiring an SEO or paying some PPC ads that actually benefit your business!

Are Single Page websites good for SEO?

Some web designers are promoting the idea of Single page websites. In fact, there are now many single page WordPress themes or multi-page themes that offer the single page layout. A single page website is just that, you take all the information of your business and put it in one single long page, aided with navigation jumps and links, the information is relatively easy to reach and all in one single place. Sugar coat it with big visuals (parallax backgrounds, large image icons and image buttons, well coloured fonts) and you have a visual feast that is quick and easy to prepare. No more planning a website structure or designing multiple sections or layouts.

And while this concept looks promising, particularly for businesses that lack the writing manpower, a single page website can be a terrible idea if you want your website to be found on searches and generate traffic and revenue.

Right about now you may be thinking, “Why?”

Glad you asked.

User Challenges of Single Page Websites

The landing zone (page)

Let’s say a user manages to find your website through a Google search. That is fantastic, however, this user will always land at the very top of the page when reaching your website from an external source.

Users type a keyword phrase in search with a specific subject or topic intent, and the expectation is that the pages you visit will contain the information needed in an easy to find and read format. With single page websites, because all the information is lined down from the top, the user now has to find the specific section with the information being searched. The particular paragraph or section may be in the middle or the bottom or may be named differently on the tabs and internal links, so now not only did the information requested was not at hand, the user has to search for it in a mass of information and visual queues. Said user may end up confused and annoyed, only to click back to search and try another website.

Load times and page size

Generally speaking, the more information and images you need to present in one single page, the slower your page loads. This makes users wait for the page to load before even trying to find the content they need. If this user is opening the page in a cellphone, the wait may be even longer. Not a a good thing.

A long way down

On mobile devices, scrolling through a very long page with a lot of content is not a great user experience. Especially if the user is looking for just one bit of information and that information is buried within the rest of the content. Let’s say our user is trying to find one particular service from your business and doesn’t know if you offer it. Well, Google said you do, but if the user can’t find it, frustration sets in and the user leaves.

SEO Challenges of Single Page Websites

How many keywords can you target

Google itself recommends that webmasters should limit the focus each page to one main subject and supporting concepts. This helps indexing but most importantly, helps users navigate the information and find what they need.

Purely on the SEO side, you only have one title tag and one description tag. These tags should only target one to two topics to avoid being confusing and looking spammy. If you have all your services and products, your history, main staff and contact info in one page, then, which would the tags focus on? What is the primary topic of the page? Now consider you may want to target specific cities and regions, each with a different set of keywords, your one page becomes too little too quick.

Understanding engagement

Analytics tracking of engagement may be difficult or a bit of a nightmare on a one page design. Visitor intent segmentation and actions are harder to analyse and figuring out why users are or aren’t buying or taking action may be difficult to do.

Size and load times (again)

Just as slow websites bother users, slow websites loose marks with Google and other search engines for the same reason of being a nuisance to users. It is all about the speed for SEO and for users, keeping a one page website lean and mean can be an complicated task.

Conclusion

If one page websites are not that good for SEO or for users, then why do designers and businesses like them? That is a great question.

We’ve just reviewed some reasons why one page websites are not a great idea, and while it is a good list, it is not every reason, just the main ones. Even with this limited list, we can see one pagers are not a great idea, but there are legitimate reasons to use them and other not so good reasons too.

A one page microsite is a good idea when you are doing a very specific campaign promoting one product, service or company and you want to provide a very specific experience for users. We use one pagers for PPC, Display advertisement, some social media and email marketing campaigns, so these one page sites do have a use.

In most cases, business owners may like the one page website idea as they don’t have to write as much content or think as much about the structure. Either way, it is easier and faster to put all information together in one page as you only really need one paragraph per concept to fill it up very quickly. Also, some of the one page designs look pretty.

Designers like them because they make their lives easier. No need to chase the client for content, explain the structure or design different layouts for different information, life is easy and can look very pretty.

If you have a business and want your website to be a real asset, it is best to invest some work or resources into it. Think of your website as the 24/7/365 sales persons, this person better be great or your business will suffer (especially in the long run).

How to speed up your WordPress website

A website’s loading speed is becoming an increasingly important matter for conversion and SEO. Think about it; People really don’t like having to wait for a webpage to load either on their desktop or their mobile device (and particularly less in their mobile devices). Search engines also give a lot of importance to how fast your website is downloaded. Website speed is a key factor in ranking and is especially important when your website is competing for a ranking position. Also, improving your site speed is another way to reduce the bounce rate of your website and increase conversions. We’ve seen many WordPress websites in Guelph that are bloated and slow, this usually happens when the website is not properly optimized and the load on servers can become a real problem if not taken care of.

Benchmarking

Before any project to improve anything, it is important to establish a base metric to compare after we have done our work. To establish this baseline, we can use Google’s own PageSpeed Insights tool. This tool helps you analyze your website and even provides some improvements that can be made to speed your website up. Once you establish your current website speed, we can proceed to begin the optimizing tasks.

Hosting matters a lot

WordPress websites depend on several server resources (memory, CPU…) that in shared or cheap hosting solutions are very limited and are available in very unpredictable patterns. We recommend changing your WordPress website to a more professional hosting plan. There are many solutions available that go from the basic unmanaged to the most complicated managed solutions with CDN integration included. Unfortunately, none of these solutions is cheap, there are inexpensive options, but not as cheap as basic web hosting costs for shared accounts (and certainly not unlimited as that is just a trick). Consider picking one close to you (geographic location of your server does matter, at least choose one in your same continent). The closer the hosting server is to your visitors, the faster your site will load. Let’s get into the actual WordPress optimization tips.

Check your plugins

WordPress Plugins are one of the reasons why people use and recommend the system. They add functionality, features and connectivity with other tools that has little comparison in the market. However, having too many plugins is a sure way to slow down your site. That is why one of the first things you need to do is audit your plugins to keep your WP installation clean and mean. So this is what you need to do:

  1. Find and remove the plugins that perform a redundant feature. For example, people often install All in One SEO and Yoast SEO plugins together, but both provide almost identical features. Choose wisely and remove the unnecessary duplicates.
  2. Out of date plugins or ones that are no longer being used are a drag on your site. Old, not updated plugins pose a security risk and can get you hacked. So remove any of these.
  3. Sometimes, when developers create your website, we use plugins to migrate hosts or move your WordPress to its final destination. These are used once and have no further use for managing your website. We normally don’t use them or if we do, we remove them, but sometimes other developers don’t. Check your installation and clean them out. If we did your website, give us a call and we’ll be happy to correct the oversight.
  4. Plugins that can be coded into the website instead of using plugins. Using plugins to avoid programming is a sure way to slow down your site. Direct code runs faster than plugins, so if you can, code directly instead of using add-ons. Favicons are easy to add to a site, for instance, and using a plugin will slow you down for no reason.
  5. Encrypted code or too many redirects in a plugin are reasons why we blacklist them. Encrypted code slows down the site by requiring decoding before performing its function, redirects on the plugin can even cause a search penalty and make your website disappear from rankings. If you have any of these, find a substitute and remove them.

Database optimization 101: Remove old saved revisions

WordPress saves revisions of your posts automatically, this great feature allows you to go back to previous revisions and revert changes or figure out errors. This means that WordPress creates many copies of your posts and is particularly an issue with posts that get edited frequently. This bloats your server. Check the saved revisions and delete the unnecessary old versions from the archive.

Images, images, images

Images are a big issue. WordPress tries to optimize images by sizing them proportionately, however, websites sometime use the largest version possible. Images are one of the main reasons why sites end up being slow, so reducing the footprint is key. Use compressed formats, add image size into the code so that browsers don’t have to calculate at loading, use thumbnails instead whenever possible and use optimized vector images when possible.

CDNs (Content Distribution Networks)

For sites with many scripts or images, a CDN is a good option. These CDNs serve as external servers holding copies of your scripts and images which are then served to the website. This uses the third party server for processing of the files instead of the local server and dedicated resources help speed up the download and processing.

External Scripts, minimize them

What are external scripts? Font scripts that call web fonts, live chat plugins that connect to other sites, embedded videos (from YouTube, Vimeo and the like) and in many cases social sharing buttons. Some sites use “iframes” to load external tools or other pages too. External scripts are not necessarily bad, but it is important to keep in mind that you are using them and that each one of them adds load to the website. Like plugins, audit them, decide whether they are really necessary and figure out ways to combine them or reduce their effect on the website.

Code must be excellent

Over time, your website accumulates garbage data just like your basement accumulates boxes and unused stuff. Some examples of this bloat are old themes you don’t use. Most often than not, it is code used for frameworks or that was used for something in the beginning but now is no longer needed. While coding a theme is not for  everyone, having a theme that is coded cleanly and very efficiently is a great way to ensure fast speeds for your site. Web developers/designers who also do SEO are very aware of how the quality and efficiency of your theme’s code affect loading speed. That is why all our website themes are optimized and custom built to meet specific needs as opposed to trying to take generic themes and apply them to your website.

Mobile needs optimizing too!

Data connections are not as fast as most desktop internet connections, which is why website speed is even more important on mobile. Your mobile theme or app must keep the absolute minimum in code, functions and images. Content is more important than on desktops and ease of use is all about simple navigation and efficiency. Ensure that scripts are kept to a minimum and that the mobile version is fast, light and easy to read. If you are having speed issues and need help, give us a shout.

Website prelaunch checklist

posted in: Downloads | 0

All dots seem to be in place, all ‘t’s have been crossed and the website is ready to launch… or is it? With so many details to be taking care of before launching your new website, sometimes things fall through the cracks. This prelaunch checklist covers all the items you need to make sure are in place and avoid a launch disaster!

PRE- LAUNCH checklist

CONTENT

Check for incorrect punctuation marks, particularly apostrophes, quotation marks and hyphens/dashes
Consistency
Writing style / tense
Recurring/common phrases (e.g. ‘More about X’ links)
Ensure no test content on site
For re-designs, ensure important old/existing URLs are redirected to relevant new URLs, if the URL scheme is changing

FUNCTIONAL TESTING

Check on common variations of browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Chrome etc.), version (10, 11, 13.5 etc.) and platform (Windows, OSX, Linux)
Check on common variations of Screen Resolution
Test all forms (e.g. contact us, blog comments), including anti-spam features, response emails/text, etc.
Check all outgoing links are valid

PERFORMANCE

Server load test
Check image optimization
Check total page size / download time

MARKETING & FUNCTIONALITY

Check social media marketing setup (facebook/twitter/linkedin/etc share/follow buttons)
Verify SEO (meta-tags, XML sitemap, html sitemap, etc)
Check all functionality (forms, apps, builders, eCommerce cart, etc)
Set-up Google Analytics
Check for broken links and setup proper redirections
Setup a recurrent backup
HTML / CSS validation (0 to 20 errors range)

Download the website prelaunch checklist in PDF

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