Rethinking SEO in Online Communities

We all know online communities have become a guiding and influential force in individual decision making, networking and basic day-to-day contact. As these communities grow larger everyday, with younger and older generations jumping on the Internet every second, web-based marketing companies must learn to understand why reaching out to a larger audience (young and old), who’s waiting all in one place, can help produce the long term, effective and successful SEO results their clients are looking for – visitor retention and Internet popularity.

SEO + Forums = Bots Denied

Right. We’ve all been told that SEO has no business being in forums because of Google’s nofollow attribute in those communities. That being said, guess who does have access? Humans, real people, users, facebook lovers, tweeters, website owners, CEO’s, Mom’s….and the point’s made. If you want to help increase the value of your client’s website, in the most organic fashion, then step inside a forum and start chatting. Real people are the ones who are going to make your client popular online – not bots. For example, think about spam bots on twitter, do you retweet their tweets? How about spam in your email, do you forward it to your 10 closest friends? And this is why ‘block user’ was created. No one likes to be blocked.

To help prevent getting a not-so-pleasant online SEO rep (for yourself and your client) you’ve got to do a little mind-set relocation of instant gratification, where your results are as measurable as using a broken broom to sweep up glass, which will only leave holes in the type of results your client is looking for – it’s brand building 101, and it’s going to take more than one month to do. That’s why you should think of forums as the word-of-mouth on the Internet and a great way to create backlinks. It’s real people, interested in a specific niche who use a specific community as there go-to for info. The best part is: thanks to our sharing addiction (brought to by the makers of social media), they will share, share, share and link, link, link any, and all websites they like. Everyone likes a ‘Thumbs Up’.

Forums are Savings Accounts

Think about it this way: forums are your savings account and your client’s website is money. If you put away a certain percentage of money, oh let’s say $100 (links), into your savings account (forum) each month for six months you’ll end up with $600. So, if you plant conversation seeds, and are regularly involved in 10 online communities, with a redirection to your client’s site, for four months, what do you think the estimated amount of external inbound links will be? If you’re willing to put in the effort the ROI could have your client smiling bigger than the Grinch at Christmas.

While that Grinch smile is pretty iconic, it didn’t come without some hard work and patience – two factors in making forum-link-love work for you. Like said, forums are nofollow, and that in itself is discouraging (even more so when you’re looking for instant, measurable results). But a forum isn’t the lottery, it’s that $100 in your savings, and you have be to genuine about wanting to share your client’s information for the good of the community. This isn’t a get pagerank quick scheme, you’ve got to build that internal reputation that will get the users sharing.

Here are two (maybe not so common) things to keep in mind when venturing into the land of forums…

SEO – Where Online Communities Fit In from Paul Biggs on Vimeo.

Keywords and the 80/20 rule

In Paul Brigg’s short video presentation, Where Online Communities Fit In, he points out that about 80% of searches come from 20% your keywords or core keywords. That other 80%? It comes from long tail searchers – real people using their brain to guess and generate search phrases, not keywords the marketing department research. These long tail searches are where you’ll get the top organic links. This is where seeding ideas, creating conversation and reaching out into forums can and will increase your client’s long-term success, and the chances of them renewing their contract. Clients like customers, customers are people, and people like people to actually care.

Saying this, forums can help you discover new trending keywords and/or help you re-purpose existing ones. Taking user generated phrases and content is a best practice for Internet Marketers, and the major trick for saying ahead. So, if you don’t have the resources or commitment for SEO in forums, you can at least use them to find out what words and phrases certain communities are using to describe what you need to be selling.

The Wheel’s Easy to Turn

Strategically it’s pretty simple. These communities already have the system and template setup for you to network with their users, and access copious amounts of high-value websites – It’s really a goldmine for SEO opportunities. And thanks again to the famous makers of social media, we understand how fast and simple it is to sign-up, log in and get going in any online community you want to connect with. You have full access to insider information that can help your client (and company) figure out how to best approach your audience’s mindset and optimize their website. It’s also a great reputation management tool for your client and your business.

In all virtual reality, you’re helping your client build organic relationships with these users, without being penalized, by creating, building and maintaining an original web dialogue. This in turn establishes your client’s online presence in the virtual world by developing greater and longer lasting, beneficial results for their site’s pagerank. And guess what, their pagerank will jump because… (insert drum roll)…those users want to share the content, on their own, not because you directly asked them to. But, in order to turn the wheel the right way and keep on moving, you’ve got to be patient, and offer the community something worth having/sharing.

Rebecca Black or Y U NO Meme?

Consumer behaviour online and offline still relies on the trust of what others are saying and thinking when a product or company is mentioned. And gaining this respect (which is trust) online doesn’t happen over night like a YouTube star on our lunch breaks. But, thanks to the Internet it’s not a flip-the-hour-glass time schedule, but more of a ticking digital clock.

In any case it’s always important to assess your client’s expectations of and for SEO, and their level of understanding (as well as yours) before you take off. Working with their knowledge can help you decide if it’s even worth the time to pursue forum land or not. Do they want to be Rebecca Black or Y U NO Meme? Just a thought.

WordPress as a CMS – Wordcamp Montreal Live Blogging

In this Wordcamp Montreal session, Brian Rotsztein explored how WordPress can be used as an CMS. Everything that follows this italicized paragraph is based on his presentation, and does not represent my own ideas.

Brian started off with an overview of what a CMS was — namely, software that allows you to update a website. In face, Brian argues that even a Twitter client is technically a CMS because it updates Twitter.

Now, WordPress is a more advanced CMS because it can be used to both power a blog and manage a website with static pages. It allows you to add text, media, edit sections, manage users, and add comments. So it actually allows you to do a lot more than many basic CMSs that power many conventional business websites.

The point is that a blog is a website. The only difference between a blog and a website is its purpose. So you have to start thinking of how Wordpress is being used by the end users.

Why WordPress is Such a Powerful CMS

First off, it’s free. This save you money on resources that you can reinvest in something like marketing, design, etc…

Second, it’s really easy to use. It’s easy to install, and its user interface is very intuitive and easy to use.

Third, WordPress is extensible, adjustable, adaptable, versatile, and flexible. Essentially, it can accommodate a lot of different features and integrate them quickly.

Fourth, there a ton of themes available. Many of them are free, but even the ones cost money are relatively cheap and represent great value for the degree of design and coding talent you get when you buy one.

Fifth, there are the plugins. So many features and functions can be added on, and your site can be adapted as needed. Also, the average WordPress installation can usually handle 40-50 plugins, meaning you can get very custom with your site.

Sixth, it has a strong community behind it. If a bug or glitch arises, there is a vast amount of forums, docs, and message boards to help you trouble shoot your problem.

Seventh, WordPress is mobile compatible. Between apps and

Eighth, it is modular by nature. There are 3 mains parts to it: (1) content, (2) design, and (3) programming. This means you don’t need to know all 3 to do any of the individual one — i.e. you don’t need to code to update content.

Using WordPress as a CMS

The first thing you want to do is go to your Reading settings and choose a static page as the homepage. This way, the index page won’t feature the reverse chronology of your blog. Of course, you’ll have to create a page called “Home” with the appropriate content in advance.

Next, go to the Permalinks section, and set the URL structure to only feature the page name. For example, change www.example.com/2009/08/post-name to www.example.com/page-name

Third, you want to disallow comments. Go into the discussion settings and un-check the box that reads “allow people to post comments on new articles”. This will deactivate comments on all future posts. For any previously created page that have comments active, simply go into the edit setting for those pages and deactivate the comments box.

WordPress also lets you set up a page hierarchy. For instance, you can create pages with sub-pages. This allows you to feature only higher level “parent” pages (such as product category pages) in your navigation menu, and exclude sub-pages (such as individual product pages) from top-level navigation.

WordPress Plugins and Themes

What WordPress doesn’t do out of the box, there are many plugins and themes to add on that functionality.

First off, you can install premium themes to really customize your site. These cost a few bucks, but are often very worth it for the design/functionality that you get. Also, there are CMS specific themes that will offer custom functionality that is ideal for using WordPress as a CMS.

Of course, you also want to rank well in search engines. There are several themes and plugins available (both free and paid) that allow you to optimize your site content for search engines.

As for managing the website, WordPress out of the box support different user permissions, meaning you can give different users different levels of access to changing content. There are also some plugins that allow you to make user permissions even more nuanced and customized.

And when you are making major changes, some WordPress plugins offer a “maintenance mode”. This allows you to take the site offline and put up a maintenance notifications while you work on it.

When it comes to maintenance, though, you want to back everything up first. Several plugins are also available to do this. So if anything ever goes terribly wrong during maintenance, you can always roll everything back to before you started tinkering with things.

SES Toronto 2010 Live Blogging: Speaking Geek: How Marketers Can Work with Web Developers to Achieve Business Goals

Moderator: Tracy Falke

Speakers:
Jonathan Allen, Director, SearchEngineWatch
Puneet Bhasin, Independent IT Consultant
Casey Rovinelli, Director, Digital Marketing, National Hockey League Players’ Association

Casey takes a personal approach to presenting by leaping off the stage and asking people in the audience what their challenges are when marketing approaches IT. Two members of the audience attack each other in an passive aggressive manner both representing their sides of the story. Casey goes on to talk about how common it is to have this friction between the two (not talking about the ladies)

He outlines how each party percieves each other:

IT on Marketing

  • Unrealistic
  • To many changes
  • Where are were going?
  • Don’t understand
  • Pain in the ass

Marketing on IT

Not design focused
Too Slow
Too expensive
Don’t understand
Pain in the ass

Although these perceptions are a bit of a caricature it does have some elements of truth.

He goes onto explain the steps to take in order to bridge the gap and bring some harmony to the relationship:
1. Take accountability
2. Sell internally
3. Market the project to IT
4. Give IT a roadmap

Having more minds looking at and contributing to the plan will only result in saving money and meeting deadlines

Reiterates not looking at IT or Marketing as an ‘Us and Them’ scenario. Build teamwork. Give more autonomy but also give a bigger picture view so they can have longer term goals.

Jonathan Allen says the battle between Marketing & IT is broken down to Cash vs Detail. He shows several examples of graphs and charts he created that help IT understand marketing goals and motives. Focus on educating IT and his experience of using images to contextualize what’s going on. Important to clearly outline goals and internally sell projects. Much of what Jonathan covered was also covered by Casey.

Now we can hear the other side of the story. Puneet represents the IT interest. He poses the question, What is the disconnect? He says the reason is because each department has different individual goals and this creates the disconnect. He mentions IT is often last to be consulted on a plan and is rarely involved in the beginning phases of a project. When the project is finally brought to IT, their expectations are completely different.Talks about when they work together it will cut down costs & time when

The take away points from this talk are really to not allow the divides to appear in the first place by keeping the lines of communication open.

Interview with Vanilla Forums

During Make Web Not War, we caught up with Mark O’Sullivan and Brendan Sera-Shriar of Vanilla Forums. Vanilla is free, open-source forum software and, like WordPress, offers a hosted version, as well.

Mark and Brendan discussed how Vanilla strives to do away with a lot of the clutter in other forum platforms. They also touched on their business model, and that Vanilla also offers a number of premium services.

Make Web Not War Keynote with Joël Perras

Yesterday was the Make Web Not War conference in Montreal. The keynote was presented by Joël Perras (@jperras) and I have to say it was more than interesting.

It was called “Maker of the web” and talked about us the web developers, our users and the state of the web.

photo by motionblur

According to M. Perras, the web is still a child and we’re still not sure of what our goal is with it. It’s like being in the dark and the difference this time is that the flashlight is a little bit bigger than before. In other words, the web offers so many possibilities that are still to be seen that it’s hard to define exactly what the web is.

During the last couple of years, the web evolved so much and changed in so many ways that if you look back at it, you can actually see the trends that we passed by. As of today, with the big interest with mobile technology, the latest trend is minimalism and M. Perras said it well by saying “minimalism is the new black”.

Us, web developers, need to make applications the easiest possible to understand and at the same time, fully featured to please our public. Our users doesn’t care about how and with what we made our web apps since those “non-geek” or “normies” (as labelled by M. Perras) just care about the end product … not how it was made. For myself, I actually don’t think they should care about our process to develop our apps like, for example, we don’t know how a microwave is made but we are still happy to use it.

Also, let’s not kid ourselves, our job is not an easy job and we’re learning new things everyday since the technology moves so fast. Before, we didn’t have to build web apps and think about compatibility with every browser, there was actually a time we would dictate what browsers the users would use to view our work but that time is long gone, today it’s “Interoperability is not a feature, it’s a requirement”.

Web Not War Recap – Start to Work in HTML5

Another one of the sessions we attended at the Make Web Not War conference yesterday, was called “Let’s Start to Work in HTML5”. During this session, speaker Benoit Piette gave an overview of what’s to come in HTML5 and how to implement it and begin trying out its supported features.

Speaker: Benoit Piette

Let’s Start to Work in HTML5

It’s been a while now that HTML5 has started to be hyped in technology news. Some say that HTML5 might mean the end of Flash, others say that it won’t change a lot. It is now time to take a serious look at what HTML5 brings to the table. In this presentation, we are going to look at the new elements and functionality within HTML5 and where and when we should start using them in our work. Also, because it is always better to look at real code, even if we don’t have a lot of time, we are going to try to bring parts of a WordPress theme to HTML5.

The session was very generic and technical and I can’t say it gave us a chance to learn anything more than the information published by many websites such as W3C on HTML5.

Benoit Piette basically went through all the biggest features to come, one by one, and showed us a code example. Here are a few definitions by the speaker.

Section is not a div, it’s less generic. Each time we open a section, it starts with a H1.

Article is a self contained content and reusable. A section is inside an article.

Nav is a section enclosing navigation links. Not to be mistaken with header or footer.

Header is a group introductory or navigation aids.

Footer can be used on each article or section. It contains links and author information about the article.

Hgroup contains a title and subtitle. Only the highest titles are in the hgroup.

Aside is a section of content that is related to the content around the aside element. Not for advertising. Example: Blogroll, Glossary

Figure and Figcaption Self contained unit of content. Groups images and their caption, or example of code.

Time represents a point in time in a Gregorian calendar format.

Mark highlights part of the document that is dynamically relevant of the current reading context. Example: New changes in a document.

I, b, small, hr now has semantic meanings.

Video to embed a video in your page without plugins. Attributes: Autoplay, preload, loop, poster, source, control, subtitles, caption, accessibility, fallback, API for your own controls, canPlayTime to verify browser support.

But HTML5 videos do not support DRM so people are still using Flash videos. There is also no fullscreen except on Safari so it’s not a complete video player yet.

Audio to embed audio in your page without plugins.

Web Graphics

The canvas element and 2D API to insert graphics with Javascript.

SVG is now supported by IE9 but doesn’t work without a SVG doctype.

Web Forms

Lots of new types like telephone, search, number, email, etc.. New attributes like placeholder, autocomplete, autofocus, list, pattern and required. Multiple file upload!

For a form completion, you can also use the new progress tag based on Ajax.

Details and summary is a disclosure widget. Example: click to show more

Finally, to be able to test a website in HTML5, you only need to change the DOCTYPE to HTML as HTML5 is meant to become a standard.

Web Not War Recap – Cascading into CSS3

The final session we attended at the Make Web Not War conference yesterday, was called “Cascading” into CSS3: Exploring the features of CSS3 and the use of jQuery as a substitute. For this session, speaker Nathaniel Bagnell explored the features of CSS3.

Speaker: Nathaniel Bagnell

“Cascading” into CSS3: Exploring the features of CSS3 and the use of jQuery as a substitute

“Cascading” into CSS3 will highlight the exciting capabilities of the upcoming CSS specification, CSS3. We’ll get a quick introduction on CSS and an in-depth look at what CSS3 has to offer. After the ice-breaking, we’ll dive into some demos and examples of common tasks faced by web developers and see how CSS3 will help make these tasks easier. As well, for those who can’t wait for tomorrow’s technology, we’ll examine some jQuery workarounds to replicate some useful CSS3 functionality, today.

Great session given by Nathaniel Bagnell, one of my favorite speakers at Make Web Not War. He went through the most exciting features to come with CSS3 and gave solutions in JQuery for developers who couldn’t wait to try them out.

For my part, I will be patient and wait for the real CSS3 attributes to be made available but it’s a great option to have some fun on a personal website.

Here’s my recap of the most interesting facts and features mentioned during the session:

CSS3 features have been broken into modules. Browser developers can implement CSS3 piece by piece which helps the whole process.

There are approximately 41 modules and each module is logically organized, like anything to do with backgrounds are in the Background Module.

Each module has to reach Recommendation (REC) Status to be published.

Chrome is the leader in supporting CSS3 and IE is the last. Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, IE

JQuery is used to replicate CSS3 features that may not be supported in some of your target audience.

Great features to look forward to as a Web Designer:

  • Rounded corners with border-radius: 20px; and you can also control specific corners
  • Box shadow effect with box-shadow: 5px (horizontal) 5px (vertical) 10px (blur) #000 (color); You can also have multiple shadow sets using the virgule to follow horizontal and vertical value
  • Text shadow with text-shadow: 3px 3px 6px #fff;
  • Custom fonts with CSS3 @font-face with font-family name and src for the file. Font can then implemented as a regular Web font
  • Multiple backgrounds with background: top, right, bottom, left; color or images!
  • Columns with column-count:2; column-gap:15px;

Web Not War Live Blogging – Why Just One Is not Good Enough

Another one of the sessions we attended at the Make Web Not War conference today, was called “Why Just One Isn’t Good Enough.” During this session, the panelist discussed the advantages of being able and willing to develop websites in/with both Microsoft and open-source technologies. The panelists included:

  • Moderator: Jeremy Wright
  • John Oxley
  • Guillaume Bouchard (our CEO)
  • and Julian Egelstaff

Why Just One Isn’t Good Enough

You’re starting a new business, have an existing business or looking to grow – meet some of the local industry experts and successful agencies to find out how they are making it happen and why they all think ‘just one isn’t good enough.’

First of all,  the panelist are invited to explain in a few words their work.

Guillaume Bouchard, CEO of NVI – Building websites and ranking them on both Google and Bing

John Oxley, Director Community Evangelism at Microsoft Canada – Managing a bunch of geeks and meeting people to make sure everyone enjoys what they do.

Julian Egelstaff, Technical Architect at FreeForm Solutions – PHP Developper for a not-for-profit.

The session started with a question: What are we talking about exactly when we say One Isn’t Good Enough?

The speakers were then invited to speak up what One meant to them, and that led to some pretty interesting conversations and different ideas of One.

Guillaume Bouchard

One Coding Language
NVI started working with Open Source and PHP from the beginning because that’s what beginner and intermediary programmers mostly do. Even if it’s very popular in the dev world, it doesn’t mean that offering this type of programming only is good because it can also make you lose business as you start dealing with bigger clients who have more specific needs and won’t automatically be able to work with an Open Source solution.

One Set of Mind
What can also be frustrating with clients is that VPs will take decisions on what technology a company should use to create a new website instead of being open to whatever coding the dev team works with. This can save a lot of time and lead to interesting meetings about what features could be added to the site. The platform is not that important anymore as long as you can bring what is needed and be up-to-date.

One Browser
Browsers should all be able to offer the same just like programming; the end result is something that should work everywhere.

One Brand
People should be able to use technologies and products without restraint if it responds to their needs, no matter if you work for Apple or Microsoft.

John Oxley

One Platform
The world has changed from what it was five or six years ago. It’s no longer about the religion of being passionate about only one technology but instead being able to transfer this to many platforms.

One Coding Language
One is not enough. Be a great developer and you will learn the languages that you need. The more languages you support, the more work you will get.

One Type of Customer
One type of customer isn’t enough. Working on only trying to get the big clients can be a waste when there are so many smaller clients to reach and who are eager to hear about what technology choices to take.

Julian Egelstaff

One Platform
Sticking with one thing is bad for your business. The decisions you make for your business will last forever just like standards last forever.

Wrap Up

Finally, all the speakers ended the panel by discussing standards and the coming of HTML5 — something that will is a big factor in bringing standards between all the different browsers out there.

They also discussed how frameworks have brought standards amongst developers on the web. This made the wrap-up the only part of the session where everyone thought that one set of standards can be a positive development.

Interactive Design – Brendan Sera-Shriar Interview

This is an interview with Brendan Sera-Shriar (aka @digibomb), an open-source web developer. We caught up with Brendan the night before Confoo at the pub that all the speakers were hanging out at. Brendan was scheduled to give a presentation, as well as sit on a panel. He told us about his new project, CreerMag.com. It’s a magazine aimed at designers and bloggers, and in this first half of our interview with him, he discusses his inspiration for CreerMag.com, what makes the magazine unique, and a few things that designers should take take the time to learn about if they’re interested in designing anything that users are going to interact with.