Business issues you should consider before you launch your website

Website launch party imageAt The Levels we agree with the mantra that it’s all in the planning!  Every now and again we’re asked what we think are the most important business issues to consider when launching a website and we keep coming back to that mantra.

Write your business plan, consider your customer, understand your market and your place within it.  Once you’re confident you have a great product, you’ve engaged with a web development agency and you’re about to hit the “Go Live”  button stop for a minute.   Take a look at the site afresh and go through the following check list.

1. SEO AUDIT

Run a full SEO technical audit of the site: However good (& or expensive!) your web development agency is, it’s vital that you take another look at the site from Google’s perspective.  It doesn’t matter how powerful your content is or how numerous your site back links may be, if you don’t have a clean & searchable site you’ll struggle to place well at Google and the other search engines.  An SEO audit of your test site will allow you to fix any major issues before you launch.

2. ANALYTICS
In order to measure the success of your site and to spot any usability issues it’s vital that you’ve deployed an appropriate web analytics tool.  Spend some time with your provider or your web development agency configuring the tool to measure  the success metrics applicable to your business and to flag any usability issues that might present themselves after launch. If you’re spending any money marketing the site then ensure that your agency or marketing department is using your analytics tool to track these campaigns as well.
3. eCRM PROCEDURES & POLICIES
We all hope that no one will ever be critical of our site or the business we run but in reality everyone likes to complain some of the time!  Before you launch you need to understand exactly how you will deal with negative comments or complaints.  Have a clear & documented eCRM policy in place.  Ensure  that everyone in the organisation is aware of this and understands escalation policies. 
4. CONTENT POLICY,  CHECKLISTS & TRAINING
If you have a team of writers or contributors adding to the content at your site you need to establish the ground rules.  Work with them to establish a tone of voice and brand identity that will colour all of the content you deliver to your users. It’s also vital that they’re considering how their content will be consumed on-line.  Are they trained to write for the web? Are they aware of SEO considerations when uploading content?  Have they been fully trained on your content management system?  If you’re running a content heavy site it’s worth considering a “Writing for the Web” training course to refresh even the most experienced journalist on the latest trends and techniques.  

5. CHANGE MANAGEMENT
As with any business it’s vital that everyone involved in the launch and development of the site has clear sight of the change management responsibilities and procedures.  You must have well defined & documented sign off polices in place and quality checking on any changes that effect the user experience.  Many a great website has been ruined by a lack of change management. 
6. TEST, TEST & TEST AGAIN
Before you launch you need to test every element of the user experience again and again. Have you delivered a site that meets the needs of your users or the assumptions you have made about them?  If you have the resources to run lab tests to observe users travelling through your site then do it.  If your launch budget doesn’t run that far then ask your friends, family and colleagues to play with the test site and let you know what they make of it.  It’s better to delay the launch of a site which subsequently meets the expectations of your customers  than to launch with a substandard product.  TEST, TEST & TEST AGAIN

Google recruit us to help in their battle against the content bandits

Google versus the content farms imageGoogle have taken yet another step forward in their war against the content farms who fill up their ( & our) results with spammy nastiness. Writing on the official company blog last night Amay Champaneria and Beverly Yang, Search Quality Engineers for the search giant revealed new functionality that allows you to block the sites you don’t want to see.

This functionality isn’t aimed at sites that don’t quite meet your expectations in terms of the search you’ve made, but rather at the sites that you find offensive, pornographic or in their words “generally low quality” ie the content farms chasing traffic by writing about subjects purely because they’re popular search terms.

You’ll need to be signed into your Google account to use the new features, but once you have and you click on a result and return immediately to Google you’ll be asked if you want to block all results coming from that domain.  Click yes and you’ll receive a confirmation message as well as the option to undo your block.  Once you make a new search these results will magically disappear!  You’ll be notified by a message either at the top or bottom of your results that pages have been blocked.

So, back to Farmer and the content bandits.  At the bottom of the blog post Amay and Beverly write “while we’re not currently using the domains people block as a signal in ranking, we’ll look at the data and see whether it would be useful as we continue to evaluate and improve our search results in the future.” In other words they’re recruiting us to help them get rid of the spammers.

As marketeers how do we respond to this?  Well the good news is that you don’t need to hire the editorial team from The Times!  But you should be producing original and high quality copy that’s rich and useful to your readers, subscribers and visitors.  If you’d like to know more about Farmer and how to craft website content that actually benefits from this update then give us a shout at lucy@the-levels.com and we’ll get back to you.

To read the original Google post go to http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/03/hide-sites-to-find-more-of-what-you.html

 

Google take on the content farms with new update

image of a farmerYesterday ( Feb 23rd 2011) Google announced a major algorithmic change.  Although they haven’t given this one an official name many in the SEO space have nicknamed it “Farmer” (more of that later).   Google  admit the change will have a significant affect on the search results we see, impacting almost 12% of their US queries.  So, why the change?

In the company blog post Matt Cutts writes “this update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful.”  In our analysis this looks very much like they’ve declared war on the content farms.

Content farms produce articles based on keywords that are highly trafficked.  They respond to the changes in search behaviour and churn the stuff out.  Generally, it’s badly written filler guff that’s only there to grab the attention of the search engines and offers no real or tangible value to the readers.   In other words it’s spammy as hell!

This has been a long time coming, some insiders report that Google engineers have been working on this update for over 18 months.  With a initial roll-out to the US announced we’re hoping that this will eventually roll out to the rest of the world.

Cutts adds, “we’re very excited about this new ranking improvement because we believe it’s a big step in the right direction of helping people find ever higher quality in our results.”

So, lessons to take from this?  Invest in the content at your site, get your staff blogging, find an advocate and give them a voice.  Think about how you’re going to deliver useful, vibrant and search friendly content that’s a true resource for your customers and will serve you well in the future.

Using a content farm might seem like a convenient and cheap alternative but remember when we used to say that about buying links back in the day?

If you’d like to talk to us at The Levels about putting together a content strategy and delivering  training your staff to write effectively for search then just give us a shout at lucy@the-levels.com.

To read the blog post in full go to http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/02/finding-more-high-quality-sites-in.html