Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Strengthen Your Website Content with Online Database Access

Website content, as articles, has taken center stage as web publishers scramble to differentiate their online offers. As both the quantity and quality of articles have accelerated, so too have online directories. These directories often resemble mere lists, but they can be powerful content additions that serve to deepen the value of the overall selling proposition by helping users in locating critical, related resources that for the visitor is otherwise much too time consuming.

On today's websites, it is not uncommon to find online databases designed to provide the data-hungry website visitor with more comprehensive database management functions which are far superior to list-style directories. At a minimum, we find web-driven data pages that include search and display functions which facilitate quick and easy manipulation of back-end SQL databases. Many sites also include options to add, edit, delete, print, and even download data directly from the database to the desktop, all enabled with multiple levels of login/password security. While this is not revolutionary, the technical expertise required to build database-driven web pages has been the domain of more sophisticated online publishers who not only owned the back end database outright, but possessed the required expertise to build and maintain such access for their loyal constituents.

But that has all changed. A flurry of new, low-cost desktop tools have entered the scene, leveling the playing field for the budget-strapped internet marketer who, until recently, was limited to throwing in a basic "telephone book" style directory in an attempt to bolster his value proposition.

Three such tool categories warrant a closer look:

Web data extraction tools costing less than $400 enable web content, as "repeating data", to be easily extracted to MS Excel, MS Access, or virtually any SQL database in high volume. This data serves to build, or at least augment the publisher's's new online database. (Ideally, one should first obtain permission from the website owner before scraping large volumes of data).

The next challenge is to manipulate the collected data now resident in multiple files, and often in disparate data formats. Though list processing applications have long been available, lower cost tools now offer powerful merge/purge capabilities without the need to import and export files in the process. Some simple routines and the data is ready to upload to the database on the host web server.

Finally, the publisher builds the web pages which access the database. Perhaps most exciting is the arrival of a wide variety of desktop code generators, many which are open source, that allow a non-programmer to build customized web pages that rival the database search, display, add, edit,delete and download capabilities previously reserved for the more technical publisher. No longer is the web publisher required to know a single SQL command to accomplish this feat. Amazingly, most of these tools generate pure PHP or PERL code. All that remains is to upload the generated code to the host database and the project is complete. The website now houses a "living, breathing" database, to the extent that the publisher desires to maintain fresh data.

One of the more common, and simple applications of database-driven web pages is to build versatile Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) pages. Questions and answers can be queried by category (e.g. pricing, product) or keyword (e.g. sporting goods), while enriching the users support experience.

How can such newfound capabilities be monetized? The possibilities are plenty. Limited datasets can be made freely searchable and viewable for casual visitors, though it's usually wise to request that the user register even if membership is free. The idea is to prime the pump, getting casual users to thirst for more comprehensive database access. Extended and full database access can be reserved only for paid members.

Never has a publisher had such power to build data-rich content that can serve to immediately strengthen his unique selling sales proposition. In the old paradigm, he who owned the data held all the power. Today, data is everywhere for the internet entrepreneur. By applying the latest database tools, any website publisher can now cement the most loyal of customer relationships by ensuring that his customer has a reason to keep coming back.

Web visitors have a difficult enough time sorting out the perceived sameness of online offerings. For the content builder, there are few better methods to establish and lock in immediate credibility with customers than to implement an easily accessible database that underscores the site's overall content theme.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

10 Costly Search Engine Mistakes to Avoid

If you have a website then you already know the importance of traffic. Traffic is to Internet marketing as location is to real estate. It's the only thing that really matters. If you cannot generate targeted visitors to your site, you will not make any sales.

Usually the owner or designer of the website is the person designated to drive traffic to the site. The chief ingredient in generating traffic is the search engine. Of coarse, you can use advertising, but it's going to cost you. Using the search engines to generate targeted (interested in your product) traffic is the least expensive method known.

Unfortunately, many website owners do not understand the importance of search engine visibility, which leads to traffic. They place more importance on producing a "pretty" website. Not that this is bad, but it is really secondary to search engine placement. Hopefully, the following list of common mistakes, made by many website owners, will help you generate more targeted traffic to your site...after all, isn't that what you want.

1. Not using keywords effectively.
This is probably one of the most critical area of site design. Choose the right keywords and potential customers will find your site. Use the wrong ones and your site will see little, if any, traffic.

2. Repeating the same keywords.
When you use the same keywords over and over again (called keyword stacking) the search engines may downgrade (or skip) the page or site.

3. Robbing pages from other websites.
How many times have you heard or read that "this is the Internet and it's ok" to steal icons and text from websites to use on your site. Don't do it. Its one thing to learn from others who have been there and another to outright copy their work. The search engines are very smart and usually detect page duplication. They may even prevent you from ever being listed by them.

4. Using keywords that are not related to your website.
Many unethical website owners try to gain search engine visibility by using keywords that have nothing at all to do with their website. They place unrelated keywords in a page (such as "sex", the name of a known celebrity, the hot search topic of the day, etc.) inside a meta tag for a page. The keyword doesn't have anything to do with the page topic. However, since the keyword is popular, they think this will boost their visibility. This technique is considered spam by the search engines and may cause the page (or sometimes the whole site) to be removed from the search engine listing.

5. Keyword stuffing.
Somewhat like keyword stacking listed above, this means to assign multiple keywords to the description of a graphic or layer that appears on your website by using the "alt=" HTML parameter. If the search engines find that this text does not really describe the graphic or layer it will be considered spam.

6. Relying on hidden text.
You might be inclined to think that if you cannot see it, it doesn't hurt. Wrong.... Do not try to hide your keywords or keyword phrases by making them invisible. For example, some unethical designers my set the keywords to the same color as the background of the web page; thereby, making it invisible.

7. Relying on tiny text.
This is another version of the item above (relying on hidden text). Do not try to hide your keywords or keyword phrases by making them tiny. Setting the text size of the keywords so small that it can barely be seen does this.

8. Assuming all search engines are the same.
Many people assume that each search engine plays by the same rules. This is not so. Each has their own rule base and is subject to change anytime they so desire. Make it a point to learn what each major search engine requires for high visibility.

9. Using free web hosting.
Do not use free web hosting if you are really serious about increasing site traffic via search engine visibility. Many times the search engines will eliminate content from these free hosts.

10. Forgetting to check for missing web page elements.
Make sure to check every page in your website for completeness, like missing links, graphics, etc. There are sites on the web that will do this for free.

This is just a few of the methods and techniques that you should avoid. Do not give in to the temptation that these methods will work for you. They will do more harm than good for your website.

Not only will you spend weeks of wasted effort, you may have your site banned from the search engines forever. Invest a little time to learn the proper techniques for increasing search engine visibility and your net traffic will increase.