Friday, July 20, 2007

Small Business Needs Online Marketing

Christine Churchill of writes a nifty article for small businesses in Search Engine Land. "Small businesses not only have to know their core industry inside out, but now they have the additional burden of being proficient in online marketing," she warns in When Ignorance Isn't Bliss: What You Don't Know About Your Web Site Can Hurt You.

Here are some of her tips that small businesses need to watch for, and if you link through to the full article, she also gives deeper explanations and tips for the fix:

1. Your domain name is about to expire, and you don't know it
Every domain name has at least three contacts associated with it: administrative, technical and registrant. When the domain name is about to expire, renewal notices are sent multiple times.

2. Your robots.txt file has banished search engines from your site
This is one of those invisible problems that can kill your site with regard to rankings. To make matters worse, it can go on for months without anyone knowing there is a problem. How do you tell what's in your robots.txt file? The easiest way to view your robots.txt is to go to a browser and type your domain name followed by a slash then "robots.txt."

3. Your site is scaring your customers with expired SSL certificate notices
If you're a small business conducting ecommerce, you're probably familiar with Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) Certificates. These certificates enable encryption of sensitive information during online transactions. When the certificate is up to date the technology protects your web site and lets customers know they can trust you. Sadly, many times the person who originally set up the certificate moves on. Because their email no longer works, the renewal notices fall to the side. So you plod along unaware of the lurking danger.

4. Your content management system (CMS) is limiting your search engine success
Search engine optimizers have a love-hate relationship with CMS. The CMS can make adding content to a site easy for the non-programmer, but often times the system is hostile toward search engines. A CMS that doesn't allow unique titles, META tags, breadcrumbs, unique alt attributes, and other on-page optimization techniques can limit a site's success. For more details, I highly recommend you read an article by my colleague, Stephan Spencer, on search-friendly content management systems.

5. When you changed domain names, your redirects were set up improperly

6. Your site is sharing an IP address with a spamming site
Many small businesses choose to use a virtual or shared hosting service rather than purchasing their own server. This arrangement is usually less expensive than dedicated hosting and meets the needs of the small business. In many cases a virtual hosting arrangement is fine, but keep in mind that the search engines pay attention to who your neighbors are on that shared server.

7. You've got the overloaded server blues
Does your site take forever to load? If your page file size is reasonable and you have a fast browser connection, the problem may not be with your site, but with the server at the hosting company.

8. Your site is broken on Firefox
During the "browser wars" of the late 1990s, it was important to check your site under multiple browsers (including browsers for Macs and Unix) because many times a site would "break" or render oddly under different browsers. As Internet Explorer (IE) achieved dominance, many IE-centric web designers thought of browser compatibility as an issue of the past because IE was very forgiving. IE would properly display even sloppily coded sites. With the enthusiastic spread of the Firefox browser, the compatibility issue has reared its head again.

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