Online design articles
by Jim Donohue
10 SEO Tips Your Website Designer Needs to Know
Do you have a beautifully written and designed website without built-in SEO elements? If so, it's like a 5-star restaurant on an uncharted tropical island. People would love to go there, but they don’t know how to find it.
A good website designer "puts you on the map" incorporating SEO in every step of the design process. But not every designer has the SEO skills to create a site that will rank highly in the search engines.
In fact, I was reluctant to tackle the SEO side of website design, until l realized that it’s not hocus pocus or a matter of tricking the search engines into noticing you. It’s about using linguistics to help them deliver relevant information to users. When you apply precise, descriptive language throughout your site, it allows Google, Yahoo, Bing and the rest to understand your content.
How to boost your site with built-in SEO
For greater online visibility and a more effective website, make sure your designer or web developer incorporates all 10 of these critical SEO elements:
- Keywords and key phrases
My keywords are pretty obvious – graphic designer, SEO websites, logo design, etc. By why should I compete globally, with every graphic designer and web design firm on Earth? I narrowed my market so I rank higher in my own neighborhood by adding geographic terms to the mix – San Francisco graphic designer, Bay Area SEO websites, East Bay logo design…
- Page URLs
Replace generic page descriptors with keywords. Rather than calling a page www.donohuedesign.com/services, give the search engines some substance to grab onto – www.donohuedesign.com/email-newsletters.
- Title tags
Another chance to identify the content in your page lies in the page title that appears at the top of the browser. You have 8 to 10 words to describe the page and include search terms your customers will use to find you.
- Alt tags
If you leave the alt tag blank, or simply name a photo "image 1" or "123.jpg," you've wasted an opportunity. Instead, describe graphics and images in relevant terms and keywords. My portfolio samples, for example, might have alt tags such as "San Francisco caterer logo" and "Palo Alto software company website."
- Meta descriptions
While it may not make a big difference in search engine rankings, it's still wise to include a unique meta description for each page. A distinctive explanation per page avoids the appearance of duplicate content and helps search engines distinguish between pages. The meta description usually appears on search results pages and helps attract visitors to your site.
- Text vs. graphics
Make sure you're using a balance of images and text, with your keywords appearing both in the copy and the image file names. Beware of embedding important content inside a graphic image, where search engines can't read it.
Incoming links from other sites are very important, but don't forget to link from page to page within your site. Because Google places highest value on the home page, links from there to interior pages help spotlight other key content. And be sure to make links between your pages descriptive and keyword-laden. Replace vague "click here" and "learn more" links with "see SEO website portfolio" and "learn more about email marketing."
- Site map
A great navigational tool, an HTML site map gives search engines and site visitors a quick overview of the categories of information they’ll find on your site. The map also provides a list of links to each page.
To attract search engines and visitors to your site, write content that’s clear, focused and above all, written for humans. Don't overdo it by stuffing multiple keywords into awkward, unreadable sentences. While it’s Google's software, not their staff that reads and ranks your site, the sophisticated system recognizes the difference between real, naturally written content and keyword gobbledegook. Concentrate on providing good information for your readers, and vary your language by replacing some keywords with synonyms. Google will get it.
- Google Analytics
Your website developer can set you up with this free site analysis service from Google. You can log on any time and get detailed reports that track the amount and sources of traffic to your web pages. This valuable data tells you which pages are working effectively and which need improving.
Add these 10 SEO elements and you elevate a good website to great – bringing you increased traffic and improved sales results.
Donohue Design provides marketing and website design services to San Francisco Bay Area clients. The firm serves companies, from Apple and HP to local entrepreneurs, that want stand-out direct mail, email marketing and websites. For help building a search engine optimized website contact Donohue Design at (415) 246-8472.
by Jim Donohue
Email Marketing – 10 Graphic Design Tips to Increase Your Response Rate
Email marketing is an easy, affordable way to extend your brand, stay in touch with customers and potential buyers and increase sales. But even though email is an online medium, you can't design it like a web page and expect to get the best results.
First, research shows readers spend an average of 51 seconds on an email newsletter. So pare it down to a clear, focused message that tells immediately why the reader should care. Show your company name in the "from" line and provide visual cues in the email, such as your logo and company colors, so readers immediately recognize the source. This will reduce spam complaints and help recipients decide to open it.
Here are 10 more crucial tips for creating email that gets opened, read and acted on:
- Design for the preview pane
Chances are, before email recipients see your beautifully crafted newsletter message, they'll see a glance of the first few lines in their preview panes. It could be as short as 200 pixels, so be sure to place a compelling headline or key message at the top, left-hand part of the email page. Is will entice the reader to open the email and view the entire message.
- Be sure your message makes sense even if images are disabled
Many email providers display messages with the images turned off, so make use of the alt tags to explain the graphics and make your message clear.
- Keep the design simple
Code your email like it's 1999. In other words, skip the innovative features you might use on a web page. They'll just overburden your email. Use simple tables to construct your layout and font tag. Keep embedded tables to a bare minimum and avoid using Cascading Style Sheets.
- Never use Microsoft Word to design or write your email
Think you're blessed with superhuman patience? Then you haven't created an email in Word and tried to edit it in your Constant Contact or Mail Chimp template. Don’t try it!
A document created in Word carries a load of proprietary, embedded coding that you can't see and can't get rid of. Why does it matter? The invisible coding plays havoc with your editing commands in the template. You end up with unpredictable alignment, weird font behavior and line spacing that will make you weep. Instead, save hours of aggravation by typing your email text in Notepad or another unformatted application, then paste it into the email template and edit it there.
- Use an email preview service
Wouldn’t it be nice to see how your email renders in many inboxes, before you send it out? How about finding out if you'll trigger any spam filters? This valuable info means the difference between your message being read or not. That's why I like Mail Chimp, a bulk email distributor that provides a preview service they call Inbox Inspector. (No, I’m not being paid to say this.) For a recent project, I previewed screen shots of the message in 24 email applications, including Gmail, AOL, and several versions of Outlook.
Although I'm a Mac user, I keep a PC around to test coding. The PC runs Internet Explorer 6, which is a notoriously fickle, non-standard email interface that about 20% of people are still using. I send a test email, and if it looks good on IE6, I can be pretty sure I won't be surprised later.
- Highlight special content in the sidebar
Like the email subject line, the sidebar is important real estate in your email. Especially when images are blocked, the sidebar gives you a visual way to highlight important information, links or a call to action. Be sure your sidebar content appears "above the fold," meaning on the first screen where it's immediately seen. You never know if people will take the time to scroll down.
- Avoid the spam filters
Don't let your hard work end up stuck in recipients' junk folders. The following gimmicks are used by spammers and you should stay far away from them:
multiple exclamation points
suspicious phrases that include common spam words, such as "mortgage," "Viagra” or "free"
repetitive use of keywords
- Write direct, informational subject lines
OK, it's not technically a design tip, but a straightforward subject line is critical to your success. In fact, it helps you avoid the spam filters and gain readers appreciation. Cute, clever and overly emphatic subject lines work against you. You'll get better open rates with "How to Create an E-Newsletter" than with a vague or hype-filled statement such as "Free tips inside!! Open now!!"
- Always include a call to action
Your message is not complete until you ask readers to take the next step. Sign up for your newsletter. Download the white paper. Order the product. And whenever it’s appropriate, incorporate time sensitivity and urgency in your call to action. A deadline increases effectiveness. "Offer ends Friday." Or, "apply by July 31."
The success of your email campaign depends on simple, smart graphic design, a clear message and pre-distribution testing. When you put in the effort up front, you’ll reap the benefits later.
Donohue Design combines email best practices and savvy graphic design to create email newsletters for San Francisco Bay Area clients. The firm serves companies, from Apple and HP to local entrepreneurs, that want direct mail, email marketing and websites that stand out and produce results. For help designing powerful email marketing contact Jim Donohue at (415) 246-8472.