Coming up with new content

Blogs are social media demand new content and it can be very hard to keep up. Here are a few techniques and tools I use to help my clients come up with ideas for new content.

What are people are searching for, asking about?

What better way to find content ideas than from your current visitors

Check your own search logs

Site search terms can be found in Google Analytics if you use their search tool.

Site search terms can be found in Google Analytics if you use their search tool.

What are people searching for on your site? What words are they using? Are they asking a complete question? If they do, they may have given you your next blog post title or social media hook. If you use Google’s site search then you can retrieve this data from Google Analytics. If you work for a large organization you might have to ask some in IT for your search logs. Look particularly at the longer search strings for the best ideas.

Ask your front desk, help desk, or sales staff

Anyone who regularly talks with your customers, vendors, partners, or prospective customers should be encouraged to jot down content ideas for your site. They know how people really speak. They know what the burning issues of the day are. They are probably great at providing content daily. When was the last time you interviewed your own co-workers to discover their ideas? (They should also be asked to review the persona you have in mind when you’re writing. Is the customer in your mind similar to the customers they actually deal with? Does it match the customer you’re seeking?)

Check related social media

What’s being discussed online already? Is there a forum related to your content that you can scan for discussions? How about checking Ask.com. Quora, or other question sites to see what current issues are?

Recent discussions in groups or forums

Google lets you search only recent “discussions” in groups and forums and to search only blogs.

quora

Review your analytics for keyword phrases and questions

Visitors may be coming to your site not because you have the best content, but because you have the content closest to what they want. By looking at keywords of a length of five or more, I can often determine the intent of the searcher and get an idea of how to tweak a page into a better page, or get an idea for a new page. Sometimes I even find a title for a new page when someone entered their entire question into the search box. (Here’s a template for this Google Analytics keyword phrases dashboard created by Justin Cultroni.)

phrases

What does Google think?

autocomplete_002

Play with Google Suggest

Google knows what people have been searching for. Sometimes playing with the auto-complete feature yields some ideas. Try various keywords related to your subject. Add a few words or phrases like “how to,” “for,” “best,” “buying,” or “frustrated with” into the mix and see what comes up.

For an even better experience, try UberSuggest which goes even deeper for you. It takes your keyword phrase and expands on it, letter by letter.

UberSuggest is Google Suggest on steroids.

UberSuggest is Google Suggest on steroids.

Spend time with Google Adwords Keyword Tool

You don’t have to run an Adwords campaign to use this tool. You can find out what keywords are popular in terms of traffic and competition. Google will suggest related keywords and you can target your research to a specific language or region. Google Adwords Keyword Planner

Check Google Trends

Google Trends

Google Trends

This tool allows you to compare interest in various keywords. In the example above I chose to compare hickory, walnut, and pecan. We can’t tell if people were searching for a town name, nuts, or lumber; but we can tell that interest in pecans peaks every year in November. So if you have a great pecan pie recipe to promote, I suggest you put it on your editorial calendar for September or October and do a social media push in November.

Google Trends details

Looking deeper at the report, I might suggest a blog post about where to find the best pecan cake in Texas or a social post asking where to find such a delight.

What are your best competitors or related industries talking about?

Keep a Twitter list of my client’s best competitors, vendors, and customers. By watching their tweets you can discover upcoming events, current news, and discussions. Create Google+ circles for the same group of folks if they are active there.  When you conduct your regular competitive analysis, include a review of blogs, Facebook, Slideshare, Pinterest, and other posts. I don’t suggest copying what they do. Look for items to celebrate, share, or that will encourage your customers. Look for posts that get you thinking about related topics. Challenge yourself to  be more interesting and of greater service than your competitors.

What’s happening in your marketplace?

There are several free services such as Google AlertsTalkwalker, or Social Mention to monitor what others are saying. These might not generate content ideas as often as the previous tactics do. Social Mention has a feature showing you the top hashtags related to your keywords and that can sometimes be helpful if you want to start following a new topic you’re not yet familiar with. It also tries to determine overall sentiment regarding your topic. So if you see that turn negative, you’ll want to investigate.socialmention

If your customers tend to belong to professional, service, civic, sport, or other groups, you should also monitor their conference topics, magazine articles, videos, events, etc. That way you can be ready to join in and add to their conversations with your content.

Talk to your customers

Take a look at your most popular content. Can you repackage it? Add to it? Update it?

Nothing beats having real conversations—the closer in real space the better—with your customers and with the people who influence them. They will tell you exactly what they want to know. Hint: Have a few leading questions ready, though. And be ready to respond with “tell me more about that.”

SEO and Readability Checklist: Review Before You Publish

8 tips for crafting a page that’s better for your readers and for search

After crafting your sales article, your history, your product description, it’s a good practice to take a step back and review a few basics like your headings, alt tags, navigation labels, etc. You want content that is quick to find, highly readable, easy to understand, obviously actionable, and eminently shareable.

Your first concern should be for your reader. Titles and headings should provide enough information for them to decide to read what follows. Navigation labels, including the text you turn into a link, helps them orient to your site. Well-considered labeling practices will can also help your site’s SEO (search engine optimization.)

What should we all be checking before we hit “publish”?

1. Titles match content

  • Does your title match your content?
  • Is it descriptive?
  • Does it describe the benefits of reading it?
  • Is it informative enough to share as a tweet?

    Many of automatically tweet using page titles for content. Which title would you be most likely to click on?
    sample titles used in tweets

  • Are you making productive use of all your space? Try for up to 70 characters.

    Sample page titles
    It’s usually best to place your most important keywords first. In the L.L. Bean example below, you have an additional reason to click. It also reaches those people who are searching for both free shipping and tote bags. And, more importantly, it ranked many places ahead of the second example. sample search titles

2. Titles, headings, or content matches ads and anchors

  • Are you matching keywords used in your marketing campaign? (This could be a PPC ad such as an AdWords banner, an email promotion, or a link you use in print.)
  • Does your message match your offer or marketing pitch?

3. Subheads, captions, links, list headings are informative

  • Are you paying attention to the content people see when they scan?
  • Are you using descriptive and meaningful word choices? In other words, are you avoiding using headings or link titles like “sustaining services” that provide no real information or context?
  • If you use a word like ”gas” that can have several meanings, are you placing it in context? This will help both your reader and the search engine properly determine the subject of your page. (Remember that someone might be dropping into the middle of your site and never see your home page where you describe who you are and what the site is about.)
  • Are you using the words your readers would use? Think about filling out a form to get a newsletter. Would you say “I’d like to submit my request” or “Sign me up”?

4. Reading level and word count match reader need

  • Does your reading level match your audience’s?
  • Are you offering a short synopsis or a treatise? What’s the best for your subject and audience? Avoid very shallow content. (Google will often evaluate a page short on content as unworthy of being high in their search results.)
  • Does your title provide any clues to the depth and breadth of your page? Examples:
    title_clues

5. Calls to action are present

  • Have you included a call to action?
  • Will readers know what step you want them to take next?
    Calls to action are often called out with an image, but can also be text.examples of calls to action

6. Images have alt tags

  • Do your images include alternative text?People respond to images. Social media posts tend to get more shares if they include an image. Search engines will index the alternative text you provide for your images. (Plus alternative text is required for ADA compliance.)

7. Text styling doesn’t detract from scanning

  • Are you making your important content easy to scan for keywords? Placing the important keywords first in lists will help.
  • Avoiding all caps will also help. Some of us read quickly by seeing the shape of word rather than the individual letters. Show the shape of a word by avoiding all caps. Scan for the word yellow in the lists below. As you scan, you probably look for that descending line of the y in yellow or the ascending double ls.
    all caps readability example

 

8. Tone and content match your brand

  • Does your content reveal your brand personality?
  • Does it meet your audiences’ need? Does it fit where they are in the sales or development funnel? Does it fit with their level of expertise? Meeting your audience at their interest level provides a positive brand experience with your site.
  • Is your content interesting?

 

What tips do you have?

Do your visitors trust you?

While running a focus group recently I was reminded of the importance of doing all you can to make sure visitors to your site aren’t made suspicious of your content. Not everyone believes in the infallibility of the internet. Your readers want to trust you, so how can you make it easier for them?

Positive trust factors

Authorship and ownership

Claim responsibility for what you put online.  This can mean posting a byline for every article or it can mean making your contact information easily available. One comment from our focus group: “I look for phone numbers—even if I don’t want to call anyone.”

Dates

I look for dates. I want to know how old an article is, especially on news, government, and educational sites. Change happens and I want to know that your organization can respond to it. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have historical or archival content. It does mean that you need an originally posted date and even better is a reviewed or updated date. If you add a link to a more recent article on the same topic I feel like you understand me.

Here’s an example of adding a date (and responsible party) to archival or evergreen content:

Tone

If you run a medical site you will inspire trust differently than if you run a fan site. Some sites can perform well if they come across as stodgy and professorial as long as they are easily understood and relevant. Humor might be possible on a law site, but you better be sure you’re doing it respectfully and carefully.

You’ve probably read that you should always avoid jargon. I disagree, but only for some sites and some locations, and only for jargon that actually means something to your audience. Lazy and bloated speech is not welcome anywhere. But if you want to promote your site to armed services members, for example, using specialized terms like AARs and PMCSing will make you sound like you understand your visitor. If you’re selling video games, an esoteric reference to the movie Scott Pilgrim might make a sale for you. Even if it doesn’t, it will give your site some personality and that might make a visitor more interested in your site. Slang and jargon can be very useful when posting to forums and social media. You should speak whatever language the other forum or group members are using and that can be very specialized. Just be careful if you’re using shorthand speech and the abbreviation OB, for example, that your context makes it clear that you mean operational behavior rather than obstetrics, a star, or a football club.

Images of real people

You can humanize your site by including photos of the some of your staff. A video of someone using your product in a personal or real-life setting can inspire trust because the visitor can relate to the human image you use. It can feel more informative. It’s adding more content.

Privacy and accountability statements

Having a link to a privacy statement probably matters much more than what the page actually says. Few will read your Better Business Bureau page, but seeing the badge can give your visitor just that extra bit of confidence in your company. This is a case where sometimes you can get the A for effort.

Your return policy is one that will get read; so will statements about not selling a person’s email.

Social proof

Testimonials, Facebook likes or product reviews can urge your visitor towards more trust as long as the comments seem genuine. If all your reviews are stellar, people will begin to wonder if someone has manipulated the data.

Negative trust triggers

Exclamation points

Returning to the issue of tone, one person in our focus group responded this way to an accounting reference site: “Can I just say no to exclamation points? Just no. They look silly.” You might be excited about accounting principals but if you’re trying to education the general public or your employees, skip the exclamation points. They feel like false enthusiasm.

Smiling faces

People respond to faces; we can’t help it. But sometimes people respond negatively. I’ve seen this with the generic smiling white woman photo. People will discount an image unless you can make it relevant somehow. Thankfully I no longer see the photo of the CEO on many company home pages when what I want to see is an informative produce shot.

Don’t let the image get in the way of getting to the content that interests your visitors. Make sure your images are content. In the words of an interview subject “I’m annoyed by images getting in the way of information I need.”

Hot topics

Focus groups participants were looking for a link and were unable to locate it. When they found it under “Hot topics” they all laughed. They were immediately suspicious. Hot topics seems to be a signal that what’s there is hot only to the creators and is unable to prove itself without the label. “I wonder how long is it hot?”

Broken links and other errors

Stuff should work as expected. Enough said.

 

Interview with a client

by guest writer, Kathy Cobb

Interview with Julia Mozumbar, president, Super Cubes LLC

 Julia Mozumbar, president of Super Cubes LLC, worked for a large container company for six years before starting her own container business nearly three years ago. She describes the importance of SEO and a web presence in her business.

 

 Q: Why did you establish a website instantly and hire an SEO?

JM: The container industry is relationship-based, and given my years of experience and contacts, the supply side was easy. But it was tough to find customers. I needed a website and SEO instantly to get myself noticed. I paid for “lead” services from two companies, but it’s cheaper to have customers find you directly.

Kristeen coordinated with all the search engines, placed advertising in the best places and offered me a full suite of services. I have worked with other SEOs—shopped for them, hired them and fired them. Anyone who promises stardom, stay away from—precisely the firm you don’t want to work with. The rules keep changing, you have to keep retooling and keep energizing the SEO. It’s like if you put up a billboard for a while and never change it, you can’t expect that people will remember that you had a billboard.

 

Q: What is your target client base?

JM: I don’t know who they are: all ages, individuals and companies, no singular demographic, which makes it harder to advertise—and more important to have an SEO.

 

Q: Are you doing niche marketing?

JM: Yes, Kristeen sees where traffic is coming from, or I’ll tell her it’s construction season, for example, then she identifies how best to reach those who might be buying.

 

Q: How has Kristeen met your needs?

JM: First of all, she got me going. Within a month, I had sales. I chalk it up to her. She suggested an overhaul of my website, advertising approaches, blogging, LinkedIn—a list of things to do.

I’ve been in business for three years in September and I can see trends. I’m on the front page on a lot of things, like key words. I’ve decreased what I spent on lead companies. She helped me focus my marketing spending.

 

Traffic to the site. (Dips have been caused by temporarily stopping PPC ads.)

Q: What kind of strategies did Kristeen suggest that you hadn’t considered, including social media, like Facebook and Twitter?

JM: Blogging is a big one. It’s hard to create a lot of excitement about, say, modifying a container, but Kristeen sees that people have certain questions and finds me information I can share through blogging. I can put my blogs on Facebook and LinkedIn. Social media keeps changing, but I can’t imagine being in business and not having a Facebook page.

 

Q: Have you seen a return on your investment?

JM: I can track where my inquiries come from and track sales, so I can see what I put in and what I’m getting out. Overall marketing costs are down and sales are up.

 

Q: Do you expect to expand your business as a result of your web presence?

JM: Oh, yeah! More people are finding me all the time. I have a business presence in 30 cities.

 

And as if on cue, at the end of the interview Julia received a phone call from someone in rural Missouri asking about using a Super Cube as storm shelter. “He read my blog,” she said.

What I’ve learned from my clients

I have great clients, most of whom are small businesses, non-profits, or part of educational institutions. I try to educate them about how search engines work, how to create great content, how to learn from their analytics and such, but they also teach me. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned.

1. Answer your phone

Some of my clients are doing well, building a business from scratch or improving on their past performance, not just because of my services  but because they answer their phones. This isn’t just a metaphor. Some small to medium sized business owners, particularly those involved in e-commerce, don’t like their phones. I can sympathize. But I’ve had clients tell me that they took business away from a competitor simply because they answered their phone or returned a phone call. Be there when the customer reaches out.

Obviously, taking a call is just one way of responding to customers and audiences. But it’s also more. Every time we speak with a caller, we learn a little bit more about our customers/readers and their needs and interests. We have an opportunity to ask a question or two about what people think of our website, products, calls to action, and branding.

I occasionally need to offer one bit of caution to clients, however. Remember that the plural of anecdote is not data. The fact that one person complained about something specific doesn’t not always mean that a significant problem has been identified. Sometimes it does but sometimes the real problem wasn’t the one identified by the customer. A person might call and complain that you moved everything around on your site and now they can’t find anything when the real issue is that you altered the color of the button they were used to clicking on. More research may show that that same change is paying off in more clicks by new visitors and most return visitors never noticed the change.

2. Ask the dumb questions.

I often use terminology specific to my field. It’s a mistake we probably all make. I love it when clients ask me to clarify and I never think they are stupid. I think they want to learn. The more informed my clients are, the better I can help them. I love questions like these: Why did this happen? Should I be worried about this? I understand these numbers, but why do they matter to my goals? These are all great questions. Some of the best strategic moves I’ve helped clients make have been generated by their own questions. Those questions pushed me to gather more data, put something in a different context, or think about a persona differently and good things have happened.

3. Find a really good web designer/developer.

I have worked on some sites that made it harder for me to do my work. I’ve seen beautiful sites that just don’t work well. Sometimes designers like to practice new skills on other people’s sites. Ask a lot of questions of your designer/developers. And listen to the questions they are asking you. Are they asking you about your business goals for the site? Do they want to learn more about your audiences? Do they want to learn all they can about how your audiences behave online? When they show you sites they’ve worked on, do they talk only about features and graphics and colors? Do they say anything  about how the site functions or how their design choices reflected the business goals of the site owner? How do they incorporate their knowledge of usability, information architecture, and SEO into the sites they build? Are the websites in their portfolio still using the design?

To create a great site, you might need the services of more than one person. You might need a designer to give you a logo and color palette and overall look. You might need a developer to create the functionality you want on the site. I prefer to be brought in on new designs or re-designs early so I can work with the designer/developer. We can both learn a lot from the client as they speak about their needs. And it makes it easier for me to suggest getting the designer’s help if we decide we should test any changes to the site, add any functionality, or just tweak it based on direct feedback or analytics data.

I can assist with content strategy and creation before or while the site is being designed.

4. Content is difficult to manage

Creating compelling, concise, correct, clear, and complete content is hard work. So is keeping it current. Few places have any plans for maintaining their content. I am often asked to help make current content more search engine friendly and end up working on a content creation and content management strategy. Often an organization’s priorities shift, but no one reviews their website content in light of that shift. Frequently writers create documents as if they weren’t part of an entire site or possibly the first page a person will see on their site.

Often new sites begin with whatever content is available and whatever people think their audience is going to want. After a time, we learn so much more about our target audiences that we need to go back over the content with that in mind. Identifying the most productive content on a site can teach us about what the rest of our content should look like or include. What I learn about your competitor’s marketing strategies or about terms appearing in your search logs will also generate content revisions.

Technology can also drive content. Perhaps you need a shorter version of a page for iPhone users. Or you want to make use of new semantic tagging abilities.

Microcontent such as page titles, photo captions, calls to action, or button text often gets overlooked during page reviews.

Few people budget enough for the time and cost of keeping all their content in great shape. Almost no one creating sites funded by a grant-making institution write content maintenance (or ongoing marketing) into their contracts, but they should.

5. Someone needs to have the big picture

Having been responsible for some very large sites, I’ve actually always known how advantageous the perspective from this position can be. Now when I’m working with clients with small sites, I see how mobile they can be. They can afford to try something new or to run a quick test with a new offer or new wording for an ad or call to action. They are able to act quickly on insights gained from looking at their web stats. They understand their business goals and can easily sacrifice one opportunity if it means meeting a larger goal.

My clients who have responsibilities for only a portion of a larger site have a much harder time creating sites with as much persuasive power. They have a harder time creating a comfortable but motivating site. Decisions might have been made based on someone’s strong personality rather than good data or a site-wide strategy. Opportunities for internal links are lost because page authors are thinking only of their small area of responsibility. Larger goals are ignored in favor of small gains in their particular area. Work is duplicated because no one owns specific content or because no one has the global view of how that content can be capitalized upon by more than one department.

I try to ask my clients big-picture questions, but I understand when they don’t always have the best-informed answers or have to compromise. When working for university clients I try to connect them with others who I know or suspect are doing similar work and could be used for strategic link exchanges or guest blog posting or other SEO tactics.

 

My clients motivate me to do my best work. Thanks for the business folks!

How to evaluate a newly added webpage

You’ve sweated out the words, located or created great visuals, and the new page has been posted. Was it worth the effort? Here a few ways to measure your results.

Why did you create the page?

First we need to look at why you created a new page. To capture new organic search traffic? Introduce a new product line? Answer a question your customer service people are getting sick of hearing? Provide more information to someone earlier or later into the buying cycle? Encourage other sites to link to your page?

Landing page

Let’s assume you wrote a new landing page. This is a page you can expect visitors to land upon from an organic search, a link in an email campaign, a social media link, or an ad. Success could be measured in any of these ways:

  • Number of conversions (sales, signups, contributions, etc.) made by visitors to that page. All good analytics programs will show this, although you have to tell it what you mean by a conversion.
  • Bounce rate for page. If this number is higher than for other landing pages, investigate the reason. Did the page match the promise of the ad? Are the keywords leading to the page appropriate to the searcher’s context? Are the links I have on the page engaging enough to lead the reader further into the site?
    (My personal blog gets traffic for the word caruncle which I use in reference to the rooster’s comb, but I know that visitors could be coming to learn about urethral caruncles, the red portion of the corner of the eye, or even the fleshy structure attached to the seed. I expect a high bounce rate for organic search referrals to that page.)
  • Number of new or returning visitors to the page. If you’ve written a page to pull in new traffic and to reach people early in the buying cycle or education phase, then you want high numbers of new visitors. If you created a page directed at current customers/clients/readers, or to people later in the buying cycle, then you want to see a higher number of returning visitors viewing the page.
  • Search engine optimization. Let’s look at a few analytics reports. These are all from Google Analytics.Google Analytics SEO image Google Analytics has two reports you want to look at to see if you are successfully making it to the first page of search results and if your landing page is attracting hits. (Remember that your search ranking is also influence by the searcher’s geography, past history, and social network.)
  • Let’s look first at the Queries report where we’ll see if your site is doing well for various keywords. This report will be most helpful if your new page introduces a new keyword to your site.

 


This site isn’t showing up well for the keywords “cowboy boots,” but is doing better for “black and white cowboy boots.” This is a longer tail keyword which tend to perform better since they have less competition. Even though its average position is 15, it isn’t attracting any visitors. The click-through rate (CTR) is zero. That probably means that the page title and meta description for the landing page should be rewritten in an attempt to get those searchers to click on my site’s search result listing.

Google Analytics landing page report image

In the landing page report we see that the page is doing a little better than we would have assumed by just looking at the query report. It is getting some traffic. It’s showing up deep within Google search results with an average position of 180. More investigation will show that the page is getting traffic from other long tail keywords like “girls in cowboy boots and shorts.” To attract more traffic I’d want to introduce or repeat those keywords into the page title, headings, image descriptions, and the general text. But only it they were relevant to my goals for the page.

A better custom report can be created like this one below. It looks at your pages and tells you if you made money or met your goals with the page. In this example, my real goal was to get my friends to encourage my boot purchases, but the goal completions reflected here are visitors who came to a page and then visited at least two more pages (my site-wide goal).

Landing page efficiency report image

 Not a landing page

Not all pages are landing pages. Perhaps you created a new page showing your certifications/awards/testimonials, a page for employee bios and photos, an axillary research report, an explanation about shipping charges, or a new 404 error page. Your goals for the page might not be more traffic. It might be to support your customer service staff by providing a resource they can direct callers to, for example. It might be a legal page like your privacy notice. It might even be a page to satisfy a CEO’s vanity.

Exclude the page from search. For these types of pages you want to check to see that they are not getting search traffic. Be sure that pages like your privacy statement have been excluded in your robots.txt file so the search engines don’t index the page. You might not want to exclude the page from your own site’s search, however, if it has one. Other pages might warrant remaining available for global searches.

Pageviews. You still want to look at your statistics for these pages. For the employee bio page, you might discover that one of your employee’s name is getting search traffic. Maybe that person has a social media following you didn’t know about. For the privacy page, a spike in visits might mean that there’s something negative in the media about your company/organization or about privacy concerns in general that you should know about.

Conversions. It’s important to know which of your web pages are the power hitters and which are critical. A page without much search traffic can still be an important page in moving your visitor along to taking an action you want them to take.

Look at the stats like these on right. You’ll discover if your new page shows up in the path of those visitors who turn into conversions. Maybe that new page about shipping will give more visitors the confidence to make a purchase.

In the example below, we see that a fairly old blog post lead directly to a request for a price quote. It’s time to review that post and learn from it how to make newer ones perform that well. Or update it and repost it social media sites.

 

Make sure your pages are performing. One of the great things about the Web is that you can quickly learn if you have a failure. You can keep testing a page until it performs at its highest level.

Web Search Basics for Writers

This is for my writer friends who sometimes wonder what they should know about how search engines work and what they can do to make their pages rank higher and be more likely to entice a click.

Let me also advocate for giving writers and editors access to search logs and website analytics. They need to know what keywords are converting and which pages are most successful.

Web Search Basics for Writers

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Problems with high bounce rates?

Just notice a sudden jump in your bounce rate?

Don’t panic, but get ready to spend a bit of time probing for the cause.

Possible causes

A broken page. Make sure the page still loads. Make sure it can be viewed on an iPad or other viewing tool that more and more of your intended visitors might be using. Are you requiring visitors to download something, like another application, that they just aren’t interested in doing?

Irrelevant, unexpected, or insulting content. Did you re-write the content? Add a new graphic to the page? You may have made vast improvements to a page but changed the look enough that your frequent visitors assume they’ve gone to the wrong site. Or you may have added content most viewers find distracting from their goal and so they leave your site.

I suspect that Abercrombie’s push-up bikini top for tween girls controversy caused traffic and bounce rate spike for their site. People weren’t going to the site to shop, but to see what the controversy was about.

Try rewriting the page or reorganizing the content. Try shortening it. Try a different visual. See what keywords are being used by searchers to discover that page and punch up related content. Look at what pages most visitors saw before the page in question and let that guide your edits.

Misdirected searchers. Look at your traffic sources by keywords. Do you see an unusual spike?

That might mean that you added a great timely news page, but it could also mean that people are being misdirected to that page. Look through your keywords sorted by bounce rate. Is there an unfamiliar keyword listed or did your intern’s name, which appears on a single page, suddenly show up with tons of visitors? Run your own search for the poorly performing keyword. You may discover that someone with the same name as your intern just got named to the Olympic Team or a news story surfaced about someone finding a rat tail in a sandwich that has a name similar to one of your products. Weird stuff like this happens. People come to your page searching for one thing and find something else and leave. That’s an appropriate action and no cause for worry. The bounce rate for that page should go back to normal in time.

If your ad copy promises something not evident on your landing page, visitors will feel mislead and misdirected and leave. So if you promise free shipping in your ad, you don’t want a big button or paragraph about comparing shipping charges on your landing page. An ad for mountain bikes should lead to a page listing road, racing, BMX, and mountain bikes mixed together.

Misdirecting external link. Check to see where the traffic to your high bounce rate page is coming from. Did a few bloggers just add a link to your site as a gag? Or, on a positive note, perhaps people are linking to your graphic as an excellent example of information design and the readers just want to see that graphic.

Is your bounce rate consistently low?

If you have a blog, recipe, or news site, that might not be a problem. Readers could be coming to your site daily, reading your latest post, and then moving on. Take a look at time on site and returning visitor numbers. These might make you feel better about that bounce rate.

Usability problems. Watch someone else use your site and have them talk aloud as they do so. Or better yet, have someone else do this and tell you what he heard and saw. If visitors can’t immediately determine what your site or page is about and what they can expect to accomplish there, they are likely to leave. If the site is cluttered and confusing and full of competing calls to action, a visitor might be overwhelmed and leave.

Navigation problems. If a visitor comes to your site and can’t figure out how to get around it, she is likely to leave.

Content problem. Your content can have too verbose, too short, too complex, too simplistic, or too confusing to read. It can also read as a dead-end. If your page exists to tell people how to properly remove an obstruction from a snow blower, you can expect a high bounce rate. You hope that they go out and get back to clearing their driveway before they come back and explore more of your site. But if you page exists to inform people of how easy your snow blower is to use, you want them to move to the next step of looking at size options or pricing. If that page has a high bounce rate, then your copy might be the problem.

Misdirected searches. If your site’s content is about something with a commonly used or commonly misspelled term, then you might see a higher bounce rate. Let’s say you sell confections in all sorts of shapes, including a horse bridle. Someone searching for “bridle confection” might find you when they wanted treats for their wedding instead. Writing good titles and meta descriptions for the page should help considerably. Let people know what the page is really about and eliminate that confusion.

Design problem. I have left sites just because they did not look professional. You don’t want your site to immediately cause a lost of trust because the design doesn’t match the tone of your brand and your message.

The good news is that a high bounce rate is a problem that can be solved.

Your URL and SEO

Page URLS

You want to make sure your page is indexed correctly, shows in the search results, and will entice a real person to click. That means you need as much information in that URLs as possible. Page URLs provide information to both human readers and search engine indexing programs.

A few content management systems, shopping carts, and blogging tools will create URLs friendly to only the computer. Don’t settle for a URL you can’t remember after seeing it. If a friend sent me a link to www.yourcompany.com/dir4/page53a3?data9902.htm I would not click on it. I’d suspect a phishing scam. To give humans and search engines a better clue to what is on a page, make the URL keyword rich and informative. I’m much more likely to click on a link to www.fuzziercats.com/funny/calico-and-polar-bear.htm and the search engines are more likely to list it and rank it appropriately.

Here are three examples from a search for “green cowboy boots” shown in the reverse order that they appeared on a search results page. All have pretty good titles, but the last has the far better URL.

Poorly written URL example

From the URL above I can assume I’d be buying form NRSWorld, which I’ve never heard of, and then I’d get to some page related to TWIST, whatever that is.

You’ll notice that my search terms are shown in bold font in both the page’s title and URL below. That bold text draws the eye and provides another confirmation to the reader that this is a page highly likely to meet my interests.

OK example of URL.

The URL is very long in the example below, but it tells me all I need to know. And it uses hyphens, not underscores, to separate words. This makes it easier for me to read and for search engines to locate the keywords. It also uses only lowercase letters, making it less likely for me to make an error if I copy down the URL and then retype it.

Best example of a URL

The only problem I see with Shepler’s URL is that it does not encourage me to copy and paste it into an email. It’s just too long for that even though it’s very informative. Once I get to the page I find that I can share it on Facebook or Twitter, but unfortunately it doesn’t provide me with a email option. You’ll have to balance these user needs with your own.

If you feel like you’re stuck with unreadable URLs, refer your webmaster to URL Structure at Google’s Webmaster Central for information on how to rewrite your dynamic URLs to static ones.

Your domain name

Why doesn’t my domain name say anything about what I do? I took the chance on using my name as the keyword instead of SEO or Web content. That’s because I have a highly recognizable name and I was getting in-person referrals by name. I knew people would remember my name and it’s unique enough that I have no competition for it. This not how I’d recommend most people choose their domain name.

Choosing a name that reflects your brand and includes a keyword can work well. I could have chosen Bullwinkle SEO, for example.

Just be sure to make it easy to read out loud and easy to spell. I never heard the word etsy before a friend started selling her glasswork on the site, but I could repeat and remember the word. Avoid hyphens. Make it memorable. That matters more than having a keyword in the domain name. Google indicates that it is now giving less weight to domain name keywords. Other search engines will probably follow suit. So choose a name for your audience, not the search engines.

Should you purchase a domain that won’t expire for several years? Google’s Webmaster Central response to that question indicates that it really doesn’t much matter.

Is it too late to change my URLs?

Look at your analytics and see if you have traffic to the pages with URLs you want to change. No traffic; no problem. If you do have traffic, you don’t want to lose it.

Create 301 redirects for any page with traffic that you make a change to. This will keep people from following a link and getting an error page and they are not hard to create. It will also prevent directories from automatically removing your page from a listing because it’s broken. It’s important to note, however, that Google does not move all your page’s rank from the old page to the new one when you use a 301 redirect. You need to balance the possible loss of a small bit of rank with the probability of more clicks by users and more accurate indexing of the page. If your URLs are a jumble of numbers and letters, I recommend making the change.

Contact the owners of the sites that link to the page you’re changing and let them know you’ve created a more memorable URL for the page. Ask them to update their link to your site. Hopefully this will give that site owner a chance to review your site again and add more links. It’s a chance to suggest the words they use to link to your site (Important SEO Hint: ask for a keyword-rich link like “quality bee supplies in Ohio” rather than just “www.KneesBees.com.”) It’s another chance to market your site.