XML Sitemaps, an SEO Primer

Excerpts from my latest article at Practical eCommerce: “SEO: Understanding XML Sitemaps.”

XML sitemaps serve a very niche purpose in search engine optimization: facilitating indexation. Posting an XML sitemap is kind of like rolling out the red carpet for search engines and giving them a roadmap of the preferred routes through the site. It’s the site owner’s chance to tell crawlers, “I’d really appreciate it if you’d focus on these URLs in particular, thanks.” Whether the engines accept those recommendations of which URLs to crawl depends on the signals the site is sending.

Simply put, an XML sitemap is a bit of Extensible Markup Language (XML), a standard machine-readable format consumable by search engines and other data-munching programs like feed readers. XML sitemaps convey information about one thing, the URLs that make up a site. Each XML sitemap file follows the same basic form.

Read the article in full, including examples and a Q&A at Practical eCommerce: “SEO: Understanding XML Sitemaps“»

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Originally posted on Web PieRat.

Petflow’s Clever Cardboard-based Push to Social Media

Surrounding today’s shipment of cat food, I met a new friend. His name is Box. And he (?) wants me to post pictures of my cats on Facebook. OK!

Every 2 months or so I get two bags of special cat food delivered to my house by Petflow.com. With free shipping. Without going to the store to attempt to find the special cat food or lug it home. One more time, with free shipping. Awesome. But for the first time today I noticed something else about Petflow that delighted me anew … a clever offline, low-tech, semi-hidden, shipping-materials-based push to Petflow’s Facebook page. Brilliant! And here’s why:

  1. Low risk: Normally the bottom of the box is just wasted space. The cost to add this generic message to the bottom of each already customized shipping container was probably very low.
  2. Delight: There’s a chance that some people won’t even see it, if the box is handled as intended right side up. but seriously, how often does THAT happen? So those who do see it get a little delight out of the fact that something interesting is actually ON the bottom of the box. Like they discovered it and others haven’t. Aren’t they clever consumers? Score one for positive branding.
  3. Personal feeling: I know every customer gets this same box (Oh my god, I just got a slight sad feeling at that admission, further proof that the message did hit home as a personal-feeling communication, awesome!). But it FEELS personal, perhaps because it’s in combination with the point above — it’s hidden so it must be meant just for people like me. Cool, smart people. And Box is casual. He’s real and normal sounding. He sounds like a pal, not a marketing person or a stiff paper box. I like Box. I kind of want to do Box this favor and share pictures of “my cuties” on Facebook for him. Score two for positive branding.
  4. Drive to social: To post these pictures, I have now Liked Petflow on Facebook and gone through the motions to post a photo of Mittens the cat claiming Box as his own. In the process I have also shared the Like and the photo with my network of 484 Facebook friends and commented on another post on Petflow’s wall, which was also shared with my network of 484 Facebook friends. Some of those friends have pets. Most, I’d wager. Some, like me, dislike lugging bags of pet food home from the store or wish they had more options in brands or formulas. They may decide to give Petflow a try.
  5. Naturally earned links: And a few total nerds and/or pet lovers like me will be so delighted by this whole experience and the brilliance of it that they will blog about it, thereby earning a valuable link back to the Petflow site and Facebook page.

All this for the low-risk addition of a generic but clever message on the bottom of a dumb old cardboard box. (Oh my god, I actually feel a tiny bit bad for calling Box dumb and old. I’m going to have a really hard time recycling him, I can tell.)

In all of our efforts to create the most brilliant online campaigns possible, this is an excellent reminder to remember the part that low-tech offline marketing can play in the digital marketing mix. Hats of to you, Petflow! Gotta run, I need to check and see if Box wants another cup of coffee.

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Originally posted on Web PieRat.

SEO: A Keyword by Any Other Name

Excerpts from my latest article at Practical eCommerce: “SEO Keywords: ‘Red Roses’ vs. ‘Roses Red’.”

Contrary to Shakespeare’s assertion of roses, a keyword by any other name would not smell – or rank – as sweet. Search engines are code-driven, logic-based pieces of software and hardware that know and do what they’re programmed to do: rank data gathered from crawling web sites according to specific algorithms against searchers’ queries. Those algorithms based on keyword relevance prefer exact matches between keywords and search queries. As a result, a site attempting to drive sales on the phrase “red roses” will not rank as sweet if it uses the phrase “roses red” across its pages.

Search engines are picky, and consequently so is search engine optimization. Small details matter. If two web pages look the same, the typical human will assume they are the same page. But if those two pages have different URLs thanks to tracking parameters, they are not the same page to a search engine. If a bad URL renders an error page the typical human will understand that that page can’t be found. But if the error page serves up a 200 OK server header status instead of a 404 File Not Found status, search engines assume that the URL is not bad at all and hold on to it like a dog to a bone. This is really picky stuff bordering on annoying for most marketers. However just as using the exact keyword matters, all of these picky elements matter in the world of SEO.

Read the article in full at Practical eCommerce »

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Originally posted on Web PieRat.

Search Marketing Stays Steady around Yahoo! Axis

Excerpts from my latest article at Resource Interactive’s weThink blog: “Yahoo! Axis Changes Search Experience, But Not Search Marketing.”

Yahoo! entered the modern search app age recently with its visually engaging new Yahoo! Axis app for iPhone, iPad and the desktop. Instead of the search industry’s tried-and-true page of 10 blue links with some maps and images scattered around, Yahoo! Axis has gone completely visual and removed all traditional links in favor of site thumbnails.

Much like Google’s Instant Search feature, Yahoo! Axis displays changing search results with every letter you add to the search box. As the searcher types “top surfers,” Yahoo! Axis offers a list of potential searches that the user might be working toward, such as “top surfers of all time.” In addition, though, the search results shown change to show different website thumbnails or images and videos shown based on each new character the searcher enters.

Interestingly, Yahoo! Axis is also a fully functioning web browser app on the iPad and iPhone. It has the tabs and bookmark features you’d expect from a browser, a customized homepage, and the power to sync your browsing experience across all three screens. The desktop version is an app that integrates into the browser experience for the four major browsers: Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari. So the net-net for searchers is that they can start a search on their iPhone, walk into the office and switch to the desktop to continue the same search experience on their PC, and then walk into a meeting with their iPad and keep on searching on the same thread.

But does it change search marketing?

Read the article in full at Resource Interactive’s weThink blog »

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Originally posted on Web PieRat.