The Search Light Newsletter
The Search Light Newsletter
  Guiding your site to the top of the search engines... 19 Nov 2003 - Vol 3 Issue #9  

In this issue...

10 Easy Steps to a User Friendly Website

Google Launches Desktop Search

Lycos Dumps Overture and Files Lawsuit

LookSmart Launches Bid For Placement

Google AdSense Goes Multilingual

Your Ad Here!

LookSmart Loses Microsoft Partnership

10 Easy Steps to a User Friendly Website
By Kalena Jordan of Web Rank

As a busy search engine optimization consultant, I don't have a lot of time to manage my website. But recently I learnt the hard way about the fickle nature of website visitors and the damage that having a user- unfriendly site can do to a business. Now I give my website usability much more priority than ever before.
Here's what happened. I had written a research report late last year and was selling it as a downloadable e- book via the site. However, I was relying on an offline press release and links from other sites to lead visitors to the specific page from which the report could be purchased. Although this report resulted in considerable press attention, much of the media coverage did not include a link direct to my report page, or in some casese, even my website, meaning that interested parties were forced to conduct a search for my site.
It wasn't until I received an email from a potential customer advising me that he had searched my home page and couldn't find a link to the report that I had my "Duh!" moment. I had forgotten to include a link to the report page from my home page!
My old website had no site map or site search tool either, so potential customers finally arrived at my site, only to click away in frustration after not being able to easily find information on my research report. Goodness knows how many sales I missed out on due to this oversight. Embarrassed, I quickly added a link to my home page and made a mental note to study up on website usability, pronto.
Since then, I've learnt that improving your website usability isn't time-consuming, it isn't expensive and it's certainly not difficult. It simply involves common sense and dedication to the task. Here are 10 easy steps that anyone can implement to make their website more user friendly:

1) Create a Site Map
No matter what the size of your website, you should include a detailed, text-based site map, with a link to every page and preferably, a short description of what each page offers. An excellent example of a site map can be found here. The advantage of using a site map is that you don't have to link to every page from your home page, but you should link to your site map from every page. Not only are site maps useful for visitors looking for specific information on your site, but they are great "spider food", meaning they allow search engines to easily find and index every page on your site.
2) Use a Logical Navigation Structure
When designing your site navigation menu, use logical headings and link descriptions. For example, web site design services is much more intuitive to a visitor than Internet services. Use Cookie Crumbs to show visitors where they are on your site at any point. These are headings you often see at the top of websites and search portals showing what category and page you are currently browsing (e.g. Home > Travel > UK > Bristol > Bed & Breakfasts). Guide Visitors to specific pathways throughout your site. You can do this using Call-to-Action links instructing visitors what page they should view or what action they should take next e.g. Click Here to Order, Bookmark This Page, or View Our Catalogue Now.
3) Check for Errors Regularly
There's nothing worse than browsing a site or following a link only to find it leads nowhere. Make sure you check your site at least once a month for any broken links. There are low cost link checking tools such as Link Defender available to help you keep on top of this. Make sure your HTML code is designed to display correctly in different browser versions. Also ensure that your site hosting provider is stable and reliable to avoid any unnecessary downtime of your website. Services such as Internet Seer can help you monitor your site uptime.
Make sure your site does not contain spelling or grammatical mistakes. If you're not the world's best speller, have trusted friends and colleagues check your site copy for errors. When proofing your site, remember to take into account regional spelling usage for different audiences worldwide, e.g. British versus American English. A webmaster service such as Net Mechanic can be used to check for many of these errors via the one location.
4) Use a Consistent Design and Layout
Common sense rules here - make sure you use a consistent design and layout for each page on your site. This means using the same general colour scheme, logo, consistent navigation menu, header and footer in the same location and consistent link attributes (e.g. always underlined). This way you never alienate your visitor or cause them to become confused and lose their momentum to keep looking.
5) Include a Site Search Tool
A user friendly website provides the visitor with the ability to search the site for specific keywords. Thought this one was too hard? Me too. Until I discovered Atomz Site Search. This is a software program that provides site-wide search for websites of 500 pages or less, for free. It's a quick and painless way to setup and customize your own site-wide search tool. They also offer a paid version for larger sites.
6) Ensure All Forms Work
It sounds obvious and it should be. If you're going to make your site interactive with feedback forms, newsletter sign-ups, guestbooks and the like, then make sure they work! Double check each form field is large enough to accomodate even the longest of names. Think about your international visitors when creating fields such as Zip Code. Make it clear which fields are required by marking them with an asterix. Test the form to make sure it submits correctly and displays the right confirmation message upon completion.
7) Ensure Shopping Carts are Functional
This is vital for any type of e-commerce site. Ensure you have adequate product descriptions, pictures, specifications and crystal clear pricing. Include information on shipping and freight costs and integrate any taxes within your price list. If selling internationally, include a foreign exchange calculator such as the free one provided by XE for visitors to compare costs in their local currency. Make sure your shopping cart pages are protected by SSL or a secure certificate to give visitors the confidence to reveal their personal and credit card information without threat or risk. Provide simple instructions for completing the online transaction, give them the ability to back out easily and provide a help email address or phone number on every page of the process in case they get stuck. For instant transactions, provide a receipt immediately and confirm their transaction was successful. As with your online forms, test, test and test again. It only takes one bad experience for you to lose a potential lifetime customer.
8) Include Obvious Contact Details
With all the scams proliferating the web these days, people are understandably sceptical when it comes to online business. To build trust, you absolutely, positively need to display contact details prominently on your site. If you're not willing to provide a way for people to contact you, why should anyone be willing to buy from you? You should include your business address (preferably your street address and a postal address), a telephone number and at least one email address. If you are concerned about spam email harvesters, you can either hide your email address within a HTML encoder such as Natata Anti Spam Encoder or use a contact form for people to submit to contact you with (although many people, including me, find the latter annoying).
9) Use Easy to Understand Language
The Internet is no place for verbosity. People are in a hurry - they want to find what they seek quickly and easily with the least hassle possible. You can help them in this quest by ensuring your site pages use simple language and easy to grasp concepts throughout. For example instead of brand-building web information architects, use website designers specialising in brand promotion. Keep the text on each page to a minimum, using bullet points and sub-headings to get your main points across or to demonstrate your product benefits. Use the old WIIFM (What's In It For Me?) adage when composing your body copy to keep the user's interests at top of mind. Remember your international visitors by avoiding regional word usage or technical jargon that could alienate. Want your visitor to take a particular action? Spell it out for them in plain English.
10) Make it search engine friendly
Last, but by no means least, make sure your site is search engine compatible. A user friendly site is generally a search engine friendly site too. Use body text and headings in place of graphical text. Use a text-based navigation menu instead of a graphical or drop-down javascript menu. Avoid frames, Flash or any code that could trip up a search engine spider trying to index your site. Use logical Title and META tags for each page, tailoring these to match the content found within. Scatter target keywords and search phrases throughout your body copy to give your pages better ranking potential on engines and directories for related searches. Don't compromise the readability of your copy to achieve this - hire an expert copywriter to strike the right balance if need be.
So there you have it. 10 easy steps to making your websites more user friendly. Now you have no more excuses for avoiding usability. Implement one of these per week and your visitors will repay you with loyalty.

   Dear Kalena,

You'll notice that the newsletter is a loooong one this month. That's because I'd written an article on website usability and I wanted to include it in full. The good news is that the length of the article permitted news items to be included in their entirety this month, without any links to the "full story" as usual. So those of you who hate having to click on a link to read the rest of an article should have no complaints.
I admit it, this issue is well overdue - almost a month overdue in fact. My apologies, but things have been very, very busy around here. Not only has our SEO biz taken off locally but I decided October was the time was right to drag my husband off on a whirlwind tour of the South Island here in gorgeous New Zealand. After all, a girl's entitled to a week off every now and then, right? We had a wonderful break and even found the time to buy a holiday home near Queenstown ready for the next trip.
Upon our return to the office, the 3rd edition of MarketingSherpa's Buyer's Guide to Search Engine Optimization Firms was released internationally and I'm pleased to say we're in it! The latest edition profiles 120 SEO firms in North America, the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, including our very own SEO firm Web Rank. More importantly, the Guide compares and contrasts the methods used by each firm, helps webmasters calculate how much to budget for optimization and explains the basics of how SEO works, how it's priced, and what "dangerous tactics" to avoid.
I bought the PDF and read it cover to cover and am so pleased to be associated with such a responsible publication on SEO. In an industry which is so often rife with mis-information, it is refreshing to read a guide that offers accurate and easy-to-understand advice to webmasters and marketers considering investing in SEO. Well done Marketing Sherpa!
Meanwhile, the search engine space has been abuzz with gossip that Microsoft held talks with Google over the past few months about some kind of buyout or partnership possibility. Rubbish, claims Bill Gates, who has gone to considerable trouble to deny the rumor. Does he protest too much? I'll let you decide.
Speaking of rumors, this week I heard one from a very reliable source that a large online retail company in Pakistan has just launched a lawsuit against Google for alleged violation of their own TOS via the closure of the company's AdWords advertising accounts.
According to my source, if Google doesn't respond within 7 days, the Pakistani firm will apply for a ruling from a local court restricting Google from operating in Pakistan, including denial of access to Google search sites (and their partners sites such as Yahoo. AOL etc) from within Pakistan. I've asked Google to confirm or deny the rumor and I'll post more details to my blog as soon as I receive them...

Enjoy this issue and remember to visit our daily Search Engine News Blog for the latest industry news and gossip.
Till next time - wishing you high rankings...

  • Google Launches Desktop Search
  •    Google Labs continue to pump out useful tools for webmasters, this time launching the Google DeskBar, a free search application that enables PC users to conduct Google searches at any time from any application.
    Once downloaded, the Google Deskbar appears as a search box in the Windows taskbar at the bottom right of most Windows-based PCs. Now you don't need to open your browser to search the net. Just enter keywords directly into the search box and your results are automatically displayed in a separate window.
    The beauty of the Deskbar is the ability to conduct a search from any application, such as email or a word processing package, without having to launch a separate program. You can access all your favorite Google tools direct from Deskbar, as well as stock quotes and other web resources.
    Forward and back arrows in the Deskbar window let you click through results pages quickly, or you can launch your browser from the program to view results in full screen. You can also customize Deskbar links using the options menu, including choosing which regional Google domain to search by default.

    Blog version...

  • Lycos Dumps Overture and Files Lawsuit
  •    Search portal Terra Lycos has dumped Overture paid listings from their U.S. sites after a disagreement over their contract, signed just 3 months ago.
    Terra Lycos are apparently attempting to resolve the dispute in court, having already filed a lawsuit against the Yahoo-owned Overture, according to CBS MarketWatch:
    "We understand a lawsuit has been filed by Lycos, but we haven't yet been served," said Jennifer Stephens, a spokeswoman at the Yahoo unit. "As a result, Lycos has removed Overture's listings from its site. We do not believe that Lycos has the right to take down our listings, and we're currently evaluating our options."
    Terra Lycos also confided to MarketWatch that it had begun integrating Google results on its U.S. properties late last month, in lieu of Overture listings.
    "We switched over to Google late on Friday," said Kathy O'Reilly, U.S. spokeswoman for a Terra Lycos.

    Blog version...

  • LookSmart Launches Bid For Placement
  •    LookSmart has changed their search model once again. This time they've introduced an auction style, bid-for- placement service similar to that offered by their major competitor Overture. LookSmart is claiming the move sees it become the first search engine to offer paid inclusion and bid-for-placement in one integrated solution.
    LookSmart Sponsored Listings will enable advertisers to bid for various search terms, resulting in their site listing appearing when persons type searches for those terms in the LookSmart network of sites. The higher the bid, the more chance their site listing will appear. For now at least, the existing fixed-price LookListings will apparently still exist in tandem with the new service.
    The company will also be distributing the new Sponsored Listings across a network of partner sites including CNET, Road Runner, InfoSpace,, Cox Internet, and Alltel. More information on the service is available here.
    The move by LookSmart is clearly motivated by the huge success companies such as Overture have had in the bid-based search market and the projected growth of this market over the next several years. But it is also likely a knee-jerk reaction to the news that their long term paid listings partnership with MSN will be coming to an end shortly.
    With Google the clear industry leader, Microsoft gearing up to launch their own search engine and a combined Yahoo / Overture way already ahead of LookSmart in terms of the paid search market, it remains to be seen how well LookSmart can compete.

    Blog version...

  • Google AdSense Goes Multilingual
  •    Google rolled out a major update to their AdSense program last month. Changes include:
    >> Expanded language capabilities - AdSense publishers now have the option of placing their ad code on pages with content in French, German, Italian, and Spanish.
    >> New 'Settings' tab
    >> Ability to specify a payee name
    >> Expanded payment history
    >> 30 character limit for address fields
    More information about the changes can be viewed here.

    Blog version...

  • Your Ad Here!
  •    The Search Light is looking for sponsors. Have a product or service related to search engines or online marketing? Want to reach a very targeted audience on a tight budget?
    Then sponsor one or more issues of The Search Light newsletter. Click Here to email us for more information and pricing.

  • LookSmart Loses Microsoft Partnership
  •    LookSmart confirmed last month that Microsoft has decided not to renew its distribution and licensing deal with the company.
    LookSmart had been providing Microsoft's search arm MSN with paid search technology that allowed advertising to be displayed along with search results.
    MSN apparently decided to end its licensing agreement on 15 January 2004. In response, LookSmart admitted that the loss will adversely affect their earnings outlook, with the deal previously accounting for 65 percent of listings revenue and all of their licensing revenue for the second quarter of 2003. LookSmart shares dropped sharply at the news.
    The deal loss puts in perspective LookSmart's move last month into the bid-based pay per click market. But starting out at such a disadvantage will not help them.

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