Navigating the Internet Minefield Pt. 1

Tom Snyder photo by Tom Snyder on Mar 05, 2007

The omnipresent media message today is that you can develop your own Web site.

Network Solutions, and Go Daddy all have marketing campaigns that promise easy, cheap, and somehow still professional do-it-yourself Web sites in minutes. Microsoft promises Web site development as easy as creating a Word Document with Front Page.

Sure sounds great. But what most people don't know is that all of these "solutions" do nothing more than produce what we call the Internet Minefield.

And believing their claims will send you on a foot path through that mine field where missteps can be dangerous…or even potentially fatal to your reputation, your brand and even your company.

So when I was recently invited to speak to a group of communications professionals, and my assigned topic was "How to Develop and Maintain Your Company's Web site," my original reaction was to respectfully decline. In good conscience, I couldn't be guilty of facilitating the carnage.

Having been involved in Internet strategy and technology since the beginning of the medium, we always find it alarming when we see a meeting topic that implies that after a single seminar, anyone could be fully equipped to effectively, correctly, and legally develop, implement and execute all the Internet components of their business operation.

Why? Even simply going through a list of some of the necessary topic titles alone would take the full half hour!

How would someone be able to fully talk about current best practices for home page design including the conscious and subconscious expectations your visitors have when they come to your site; primary, secondary and tertiary navigational strategies; cross browser compatibility design issues; strategic sizing of the opening screen layout based on current prevailing desktop sizes; what to put above the fold and what can go below the fold; hierarchical content arrangement and bread crumb trails; internal page naming strategies; development of a privacy policy and terms of use; use of cascading style sheets and templates to facilitate common visual identity and fast loads; when and when not to use Flash; how to guarantee that your font choices are visible to everyone who visits your site; strategic use of text displayed as images instead of using HTML text; strategic and correct use of e-commerce or other integrated real-time data-driven interactivity; Security issues; Site Hosting, Digital ID and Domain Name Registration vendor selection criteria; Strategic multiple domain name registration; Search engine issues like content arrangement and text editing for maximum search engine indexibility and positioning; comparative benefits of organic placement versus paid placement and pay per clicks; use of metatags; how to create search engine friendly landing pages (and how to link to them other than navigational links); how to do the research to choose the keywords and phrases that people are actually searching for, and discover the ones that you have the greatest potential of achieving top position on; integrating your e-commerce front-end with your credit card processing company to provide real-time transactions; supporting your Web presence with bulk email strategies that are Federal and State Anti-spam law compliant; contending with ISP and corporate blacklisting and Spam filters... and tell you everything you need to know about them all?

Fortunately for me (and even more fortunately, the attendees), I was able to convince the event coordinators to allow me to change my topic. Instead of trying to cover everything they needed to know, I decided to spend some time taking them up to border of the minefield so they (and now you) can be aware of some of the landmines you will step on if you (or your boss) have decided that a do-it-yourself approach to your Web presence is a wise decision. Over our next few issues we'll talk about several of them.

And while the actual case studies and testimonials were gleaned while I visited victims in an Internet field hospital, the names of the casualties will be kept secret to avoid adding insult to injury.

Internet Landmine #1: Search Engine Excommunication

"I wasn't satisfied with my position in the search engines, and I heard that I could adjust my site's text, keywords and metatags to improve where I come up. So I made some changes based on something I read, but now I've disappeared from Google altogether."

Searching for virtually any word or phrase in search engines produces thousands, if not millions of results these days. And it's almost a certainty that your site is nowhere near the top of that list for any of the meaningful keywords or phrases that describe your Web site. Of course you want to be at the top. But so do all the other thousands and millions of other sites you see listed. And with so many of them using professional help to do it, the question is how do you think you can possibly do it yourself?

But even more important, how willing you are to face the consequences for doing it wrong?

Search engines have only one product... accurate, relevant and useful search results. And they constantly adjust their methodologies to improve that product. That means they reward sites that adhere to current best practices by moving them up, and penalize sites that don't by moving them down. But when they find sites that are blatantly trying to use trickery and dishonesty in their content and metatags, they label them as cheaters...and they remove them from their results entirely! And because of the cat and mouse games between the search engines and the cheaters, today's best practices regularly become tomorrow's tricks.

The sites that do search engine optimization right develop a strategy that includes research, reporting and monitoring. But, perhaps the most important element is their use of a reputable partner who stays on top of the changing whims and methodologies of the various search engines. But, if you're a do-it-yourselfer who has "read something somewhere" and attempted to raise your position by using some the same tricks the cheaters do, you are walking through an Internet minefield and running the risk of being blown right out of the search engines.

There are several more landmines... and we'll cover several more in next month's newsletter!

-Tom Snyder

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