How important is content vs style of your site?

If you’re considering having a website for your company; there’s plenty of decisions to make – from which company to host with, and who should design and code your website, or whether to make it yourself.

If you’re thinking of writing a website yourself, don’t fall into the trap of site generators and especially content generators.

It only takes a short Google search to see why these are a bad idea:

For example; this Google search:
Our firm’s reputation for providing quality service reflects the high standards we demand of ourselves. Our high standards, responsive service and specialized staff spell the difference between our firm and the rest

Generic text used this commonly is never going to perform well on search engines. Also, it’s accurate; but will your customers care to this style of writing? Having good copy on your site is as, if not more important than the design; and there’s a big difference between good copy and keyword-stuffing!

Remember, that the style of your site is only of important to your visitors. The content of your site, and how technically-sound it is, is important for your customers as well as search engines.

ZenCart, Magento and poor SEO – solving the issues

Pixel Ovenmitts from JustMustard.com

Pixel Ovenmitts from JustMustard.com

We’ve been working with JustMustard.com on a very special project involving ZenCart eCommerce software. JustMustard is an online retailer and wholesaler of a variety of very strange and very awesome gifts and presents. We really enjoy working with them. Plus we really want some Pixel Oven-gloves.

However, ZenCart is viewed with both praise and disdain from programmers. It is an excellent off-the-shelf system for an online shopping experience, very secure, and very customisable. However, like most off-the-shelf systems, it does require a lot of work to give the results wanted.

As an aside, if you are looking for a new shopping system, we do recommend looking into both off-the-shelf systems such as osCommerce and Magento against having a custom solution being built. A custom solution can mean better SEO and should be more in needs with your business, and although the costs may appear high and a require a good long-term development team, on the other hand, a generic site needing custom changes later can be expensive or impossible, and is more likely to be attacked and spammed. In JustMustard’s case, we’re finding that ZenCart (after some work) is working very well; but in other sites using a generic site could be a costly mistake..

ZenCart, along with many other eCommerce sites are not set out for great SEO opportunities. ZenCart’s biggest mistake is having duplicate content, since a product can be accessed by many URLs (via the cPath); and often different URLs for the same product is used across the site. ZenCart also doesn’t make any use of the URL for keywords, often making the common mistake of using the querystring for page navigation.

We’ve been able to work with the ZenCart system and rewrite all the necessary URLs, and also automatically use the product title (and optional description) as part of the keywords in the URL. This is simply done using some fairly logical PHP techniques alongside some custom htaccess rules and regular expression matching.

It means a URL which previously looked like this:

/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=1_4&products_id=39

Is now redirected, alongside any similar-looking URL, to the much neater and unambiguous;

/product-39/cactooph-toothpick/

The same technique has been applied to product categories, and has been to static product pages too.

If the URL visited isn’t exactly the right one, the script tries to find the product, category or static page, and redirects the customer to the correct URL. The URL includes the latest keywords via the product title; ensuring customers have an informative URL, and search engines have valuable keywords and non-duplicate content.

Scripts like this can really clean up a working website, and really help to achieve both better keyword position and make it easier for your customers to navigate your site; without requiring a complete re-write. Our version will work just as easily for any future product; and doesn’t require any additional effort from product administration.

list of shortcodes on derp.co.uk that come from rewriterules

derp.co.uk: we love rewrite rules!

We’ve done this on every site we’ve set up, and found it helps bundles. Often this is just a few pages, but we’ve integrated this same system on far more advanced websites too – including a complex laptop, battery and power browser system on the laptopshop.co.uk website – a total of over 300,000 pages. We’ve also used rewrite rules to a ridiculous degree on the image site, derp.co.uk

Certainly ensuring non-duplicate content and keywords are important to SEO. Changing all the URLs on your site can be a lot of work to achieve, and it should never be taken lightly, it can sometimes be better to improve slowly and carefully. At the very least, it is essential to ensure all old URLs redirect to the new address and include a sitemap. For a number of reasons, this was a good time for JustMustard.com, and we’ll be keeping a close eye on it and tuning accordingly..

Despite our technique being relatively simple, it requires quite some work before it will automatically with all ZenCart installs, and static pages have had to be arranged using some of our other tools. JustMustard.com was a perfect candidate for this work, but every site we’ve seen has different needs and requirements.

For this reason, we’re not able to provide source code, though we may provide some of our techniques if there’s demand; and we’re always happy to help if you contact us. We hope this is useful and motivating to get those site issues fixed!

Instead, we are happy to discuss similar installations and assistance with SEO and eCommerce.

Good Marketing Strategies and Techniques vs the Bad

All websites aim for a high conversion ratio; and if you have a high number of visitors but a low take-up rate or high bounce rate; it may be time to review your marketing techniques.

The wiki site, Dark Patterns, discusses the different techniques used in marketing – focusing on the bad, but also giving some great examples of good marketing strategies.

Most companies will be guilty of at least one of these poor marketing strategies, and it is a likely cause of low conversion. We’ve had clients that are guilty of some of these techniques, and seen the poor effect is has; however convincing those in charge that it could be a disaster can be a struggle.

Some of these are simple issues, such as long-winded registration processes – which may be a sign of poor navigation structure.

However, many of these tricks are ploys and scams – charging customers continuously after a ‘free period’, having content behind a pay-wall, or indelible products that cannot be removed from shopping baskets.

These can have a very strong negative impact on your brand that you may never recover from.

Of course, there are plenty of companies that have avoided these dark patterns too, and embraced honesty and clear marketing – such as Google and Play.com – and found it very successful.

The site can be found at darkpatterns.org, I highly recommend watching the 25 minute video/audio slideshow, as it has some fantastic examples and a brilliant style.

eMail: web@frag.co.uk
Phone: 07739 315821

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