Black Magic

I’m quickly moving forward with my web site re-design.  My husband’s somewhat valid opinion is that what I’ve come up with is not a full step up from the old site, but his suggestions thus far have been unworkable:

  1. Pay our friend $1,000 to do it, who is talented and fast (but who is also in rural France and often without Internet access).  I’d love to hire her but I don’t think it’s worth the money for a business I’m planning to shut down in a few months.
  2. Turn my online store into a WordPress site, and integrate it with this blog.  Not a terrible idea from an SEO standpoint, but I don’t really want every post about my nervous breakdowns appearing next to “Buy Now” buttons.  Also, the WordPress E-commerce plug-in can’t handle shipping physical goods in the United States.  I tried all kinds of work-arounds but until they actually install this totally basic and necessary module, the plug-in is utterly useless.

So I’m just going with the design I made months ago and using the Mal’s shopping cart.  It’s not perfect, especially in its integration with Paypal, but it works well enough that I can get all of my orders processed correctly.  I’ll have to log in to the cart whenever someone pays via Paypal to make sure their shipping address is correct, but I have to manually forward those Paypal notifications to my warehouse anyway, because they’re still functioning in the 1980s, technologically speaking.  Also useless.  It’s amazing how many things are more trouble than they’re worth.

I got my shopping cart up and running, and when my husband has a break in his paid work, he’ll help me program the site to look like my design.  In the meantime, I’m working on some black magic: Search Engine Optimization, otherwise known as SEO.

People call it “Black Hat SEO” because bumping up your Google ranking is really more of a dark art than a computer science.  There an aura of magic surrounding things like Google’s “PageRank” system, and search engines update their secret algorithms so frequently it’s nearly impossible to “beat” them.   It’s not all smoke and mirrors, however.  All search algorithms are based on keywords, and if you use them wisely, it can do wonders for your placement in search results. You might not reach number one, but you can move way up the page just by making a few common-sense changes:

  1. Forget the “keywords” meta tag.  Period.  No search engine uses them anymore.  Google stopped in 2002.  Everyone else was out by 2007.  If you hired someone to do your SEO and he/she’s billing you for hours spent on your meta tags, fire them.
  2. Make sure your keywords and key phrases appear where you want them.  If you have a page on your winter-wear website that is devoted to hats and scarves, make sure it says “winter hats and wool scarves” somewhere on that particular page.
  3. Put your most important keywords in your page title.  Who cares if it’s ridiculously long?  Nobody reads what’s in the grey part of the browser window anyway.
  4. Name all your files after what’s in them.  Don’t call your picture “product-00876.jpg,” name it “red-merino-scarf.jpg.”  Same with your pages.  Call it “scarvesandhats.html” rather than “wint-acces.html.”  Search engines read all that stuff, so unless someone actually types “wint” or “acces” in the search box, it’s doing you no good at all.
  5. Use headings for larger text.  Rather than say “font=4” in your page code, put your important text between <h1> or <h2> brackets.
  6. Buy another domain.  Or two.  You can get them from some places for as little as $1.99. If your domain name doesn’t say what you actually sell, like “pookiespalace.com,” buy one that does, like “pookiespalacedesignerdoghouses.com” and link it up to your web site.  No one will ever have to type it in directly, but domains are the text on your web site that search engines give #1 preference.
  7. Update often.  You don’t have to change everything every time, but keeping your catalog and news pages current will keep those search spiders crawling back more often.

As a general rule, the best way to perform SEO is not to try to “beat” the search engines — in fact, if they suspect that you are trying to do this, they will remove your site from their search results completely — the best way is just to create and maintain a current, informative site.  To see how you’re doing, sign up for something like Google Analytics, which will give you exact statistics on really useful stuff (and is free!), such as how many people who visit your site actually end up buying something.  More details on that later.