How to find a legitimate SEO firm

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It’s more common than not that most of our prospects and new clients have worked with a SEO company in the past. Whether they’ve been working with their current web developer, a full service agency, or an individual consultant, most have a bad experience story to share with us.

Just because your service provider tells you they can do SEO, doesn’t mean they really can at the proficiency level required to get your site a better visibility on the search engines. Dig deeper and ask the right questions. Here’s an article by Google that’s worth checking out if you’re considering hiring an SEO firm: Do you need an SEO.

Here are some highlights from the Google article:

“No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google.”

“Beware of SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings, allege a “special relationship” with Google, or advertise a “priority submit” to Google. There is no priority submit for Google. In fact, the only way to submit a site to Google directly is through our Add URL page or by submitting a Sitemap and you can do this yourself at no cost whatsoever.”

“Be careful if a company is secretive or won’t clearly explain what they intend to do.”

“Ask for explanations if something is unclear. If an SEO creates deceptive or misleading content on your behalf, such as doorway pages or “throwaway” domains, your site could be removed entirely from Google’s index. Ultimately, you are responsible for the actions of any companies you hire, so it’s best to be sure you know exactly how they intend to “help” you. If an SEO has FTP access to your server, they should be willing to explain all the changes they are making to your site.”

Here at Pilot Fish we play by the rules by following Google Webmaster Guidelines. We’re happy to share results, offer up references, and provide an easy-to-understand plan with every custom proposal.

To find out if your site would benefit from SEO, contact John Inama at or call 877-799-9994 ext. 2104.

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Website Design: Managing TMI (Too Much Information)

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Have you ever visited a website with the single purpose of purchasing a product, only to find that the website was so overloaded with information and so convoluted that you couldn’t figure out where to even begin your search?

I recently visited a very popular website with the purpose of updating some of my computer software.  When arriving at the home page, I found that the site was overwhelmingly packed with information. Too much information. There were so many images, so many navigation buttons and drop-downs (53 links under the first drop-down to be exact), and so many levels of hierarchy (font sizes, colors, anomalies, etc.) that my eyes immediately went crossed.

Every other page of the site was equally overwhelming, and frankly, annoying. If the product I was about to purchase wasn’t a necessity, or, if it was a product that I could have purchased elsewhere, I would have bailed immediately upon arriving at the homepage. I really thought that such a popular site would have been set up with a much simpler design and at least a trace of organization. Boy was I wrong.

After a lot of time and frustration, I was finally able to purchase what I needed. But, this was no thanks to the website. I actually had to contact the company directly to get the answers to all of my questions. The website was actually no help to me at all.

After leaving the site, I needed a nap. I thought, “What a shame.”  I am pretty sure the website included everything that I needed — somewhere.  But, the way the information was organized made it impossible to sift through and hard to even look at.

Of course, it wouldn’t be very productive to just complain about these problems without offering solutions that could possibly be useful to our clients. So, I’ve since returned to the site to critique it and to decide what I would do differently to reorganize and rework the site to make the user experience more efficient and more pleasant. (Note: The name of the company will remain anonymous to protect the not-so-innocent.)

So, here is what I have come up with:

Scattered information/poor sense of hierarchy

Visitors should know where to look first, second, third, and so on. The first thing that you should see should be the most important element on the page. With the proper placement, sizing and color of page elements, this can be achieved, no matter how much information you have to share.  Delete irrelevant information.  After doing so, if you are still left with a lot of material, that’s okay, just make sure it is properly organized with an order of importance being a priority.


Unruly navigation – 53 drop-down links under the first navigation button? Are you kidding me?


Simplify your navigation. It sounds pretty obvious, but having too many buttons is a very common problem. If you think you have too many navigation buttons, or drop-down menus, adopt a good system for organizing your buttons, such as, breaking those navigations up into groups (a top nav, a side nav, etc.). Or, try using sub-page navigations.

Make sure the buttons are easy to read and easy to click on. Avoid using multiple tiers of drop-down menus that are often very difficult to maneuver. (As you try to very carefully navigate your mouse across and down and across again, your mouse falls off the edge of a button and the drop-down disappears and you’re back to square one. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Ugh.)

Include a site map on your website and/or a search box so visitors can type in what they need and quickly arrive at their destination.

Trouble finding and/or purchasing a product

This is also directly related to hierarchy and/or navigation. Whether you have one product or service, or 100 products and services, make sure there is always an easy way to find the product and description and a direct route to the final sale (getting there with as few clicks as possible). Perhaps it’s as simple as placing a “Buy Now” button next to your product image, or, a phone number on each page where customers can contact you. Instead of a wild goose chase to the product and checkout, make finding and purchasing a product easy and as simple of a process as possible.

One last suggestion would be to take some time to evaluate your own site. Think about the sites that you find easiest to utilize and what it is that makes those sites so user-friendly. Compare those sites to your own. Ask your customers if your site is easy to use and if they are able to quickly find what they are looking for, or, what can be improved for a better user experience.

If you suspect your website is suffering from TMI, please contact John Inama at 877-799-9994 ext. 2104 for a professional website evaluation.

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Not an Off-Page SEO Believer? Here’s why you should be

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Most people familiar with search engine optimization recognize that ranking higher on Google involves two main factors: 1) On-page optimization, including keyword-rich content and related SEO tags and 2) Off-page factors, meaning links from other websites back to your website.

For years we’ve spent countless hours educating companies in the manufacturing sector on how the search engine algorithm works to achieve better rankings. The easy part has always been explaining the on-page factors of optimization centered on keyword-rich content and website related tags. In the early days, if you did that well, the results followed. But over time, more and more website developers and SEO companies figured out that secret sauce to rank, making it easy for spammy sites to earn high positions, which hurt the quality of search results.

Fearing that spammy results were hurting the integrity of search results and frustrating users, Google made a big change to the algorithm, adding inbound links from other websites as a factor affecting your site’s ranking. It’s now been that way for several years.

But, educating clients on off-page optimization is tough. I’ve heard it hundreds of times: “We never did this before, why now?” Even worse, try talking about building links to company management, where most are Baby Boomers or early Generation Xers, and the first response is a blank face. Then comes the skepticism and disbelief, and off-page SEO doesn’t get approved in the budget.

To achieve rankings today, off-page optimization is a must. Bottom line, if you don’t have good quality sites linking back to your site, you won’t rank for competitive search phrases that could drive a significant amount of traffic to your site.

For those non-believers, check out the video we’ve embedded here that comes straight from Matt Cutts, a Google engineer who serves as the public face for all things related to search.

Now that you’ve watched the video, it’s time to be an off-page SEO believer and let the linking begin. So how do you do that?  That’s another can of worms.

Link away! Or, contact Pilot Fish, which can handle all your off-page SEO for you.

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Is your website useful to clients and prospects?

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There’s been an exciting trend among our website design clients: More and more of them want to include features that site visitors – customers and prospects alike – can actually use.

It’s heartening to see companies moving away from static websites that mirror their sales brochures and creating online knowledge centers that provide distinct advantages, like a product selector, an equipment inventory, a service shop locator or installation videos.

I. Stern & Co., a plastic resin distributor and long-time Pilot Fish client, is the latest to join this trend. When I. Stern management decided they were ready to redesign their 13-year-old website, they took some time to consider what their customers and prospects wanted the most.

As a result, when it launched earlier this month, the new website included an extensive resin cross-reference chart, allowing site visitors to easily find which I. Stern resins meet their needs.

The new site also features a handy locator that quickly identifies which I. Stern sales office and warehouse are best suited to assist a site visitor, along with a blog and rolling newsfeed to keep customers and prospects informed of new developments.

At the same time they were looking for new features, I. Stern executives were also smart enough to cast a keen eye over their old website and keep useful functions like product data sheets and a simple resume uploader for job applicants.

Overlaying all of I. Stern’s great new content are the standards of any Pilot Fish web development project: carefully implemented search engine optimization and a user-friendly design that clearly illustrates just what sort of company I. Stern is.

I. Stern took its time and made sure the company was ready to move forward with a new site. If your business has had the same website for a number of years, it’s probably time for you to begin the same process. Contact John Inama or call 877-799-9994 ext. 2104 to create a website that your clients and prospects can actually use.

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What you really need to improve SEO performance

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“What do I need to do to improve the search engine performance of my site?” Talk about a loaded question! But, it’s one we hear multiple times every day.

Many companies that have recently come to realize that search engine optimization is a necessity fail to understand the complexity of it, largely because the target keeps moving. Unless you’re immersed in SEO research on a day-to-day basis like we are, it’s difficult to comprehend everything that’s required. Some elements of SEO that worked five years ago don’t work today or at worst can cause your site to be penalized. Other factors that are important require a more nuanced approach to be successful.

Unfortunately, at the end of the day, there’s no out-of-the-box solution that will guarantee SEO success for every business. Why is that? For starters, there are too many website variables that Google uses to formulate its algorithm – more than 200 of them. A recent article outlines what the SEO community believes to be the SEO factors Google measures.

Every SEO project we undertake is unique to that customer.  We first review their site to determine what elements are missing or done incorrectly on the client’s site. We look at whether the business has determined what keywords they should be targeting and whether those keywords really are the right ones based on how Google interprets that term and the competitive environment. We analyze their inbound links – where they get links from and the quality of those links – compared to the links that better performing sites have. We review the company’s online marketing initiatives – what other things they are doing besides the website.

We then prepare an SEO recommendation that usually requires work on the client’s website, plus attention to link building and content marketing that will promote their site across the Internet and provide good quality inbound links.  The execution of each project is unique to the client, based on the industry they’re in, and the condition of their site (how much help they need).

It sounds like a lot of work (it is), and it’s not inexpensive. But, then again, if it were easy and cheap, everyone would do it, and how would Google know who to rank on their first page?

Would you like someone to review your website to see what SEO elements need work? Contact Pilot Fish or call 877-799-9994 ext. 2104.

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Google outlines more SEO no-no’s

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Last week was a busy one for Google. The search engine giant Google announced that it had de-listed a French link network called Buzzea for violation of the search engine giant’s quality guidelines. They’ve also come out with a warning that guest blogging should no longer be considered a legitimate SEO strategy. And, they stated that old sites that have performed well on their search engine may lose their positions to newer sites.

What’s that mean for your company’s SEO efforts?

It’s a reinforcement of what we’ve been telling our customers, that there are no SEO shortcuts to getting better search engine placement. Google expects companies to build their websites in a way that communicates to site visitors with meaningful content and off-site promotion that is relevant.

They want to see companies create a rewarding and topical user experience and they will reward these efforts with better search engine position.

In addition to the website experience, Google expects you to use legitimate third-party methods of site promotion. Here’s a presentation I gave recently at a tradeshow that explains how blogs and social media sites fall into the SEO equation.

For assistance with your 2014 SEO strategy, contact Pilot Fish at 877-799-9994 ext. 2104, or fill out this form.

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Does your audience need Responsive Design?

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Over the past year Responsive Web Design (RWD) has started to gain more traction in the development world. In a nutshell, RWD allows your website to visually scale and display based on device type, avoiding the need for unnecessary scrolling to navigate or view the most important content. Like any new approach development it’s important to weigh the pros and cons.

Obviously there are many benefits to this new design approach. Here are a couple reasons why companies redesign their websites using RWD:

  1. Design fits all device types - Unlike a traditional web site, this new way of development automatically resizes the website to fit the display parameters of most new devices, such as tablets and smart phone browers.
  2. One centralized platform - No more need for a separate mobile app for phone/ mobile users.  Using RWD can eliminate the need for two sets of code, making content changes a simpler, more streamlined process.

Like any well thought out decisions, you also need to consider the drawbacks. While responsive design offers some tantalizing benefits, we think there are some reasons why it might not be a good fit for some our clients:

  1. Will your business attract a mobile audience? I’m not talking about tablets, I really mean phones users.  A majority of our clients are industrial in nature, where the sales process is very lengthy – and offline. Would you expect your audience to regularly use their phone or tablets to view your website instead of the traditional desktops I see in every office I visit? If you are developing a site for a mobile audience that accounts for between 2%-5% of your total visitors, is it worth the extra planning and cost? Time to look into your analytics to see how many mobile users come to your site.
  2. Is it worth the additional upfront cost? Consider a traditional website where you likely have one overall design. With RWD, you have to develop two or possibly three designs, which adds to the overall cost. Does the additional cost of development outweigh the benefit?
  3. Scaled down might lead to a frustrated user. We’ve all been on sites where the traditional and mobile sites widely differ. Will you frustrate your user if your responsive design isn’t well thought out?

Responsive design makes perfect sense for consumer-oriented companies where mobile information can have a strong impact on consumer response (ie restaurants, hotels, shopping). But, if you’re a B2B company that doesn’t foresee its clients needing to search for your site on their phone, then it probably doesn’t hurt to wait a while longer before you jump in.

BTW, in the interest of full disclosure, Pilot Fish is in the process of redesigning its website using responsive design. We’re doing it largely for research purposes so that we can relay to our customers whether this concept has legs for companies operating in the industrial space.

For assistance with your website redesign, contact us.

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If Your Website Ain’t Broke, Fix It Anyway

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Saying good-bye to an awful, outdated, ugly website is easy. If you can’t bear the looks of your site because the style is outdated, or, because the structure has fallen apart, making the decision to redesign is an obvious one. The hard part is saying good-bye to a website that you still actually like. But, because you still “like” your website doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s still functioning the way it should be for achieving the best results.

So, if you’re hanging on to a likable, but aging website, here are some of the things you might be overlooking:

  • Your website technology is no longer current.
    Sure, not all of the latest technologies are going to be the perfect fit for your company, but taking the time to review what’s available and what will give you the best return on investment might not be a bad idea. For instance, if your visitors are viewing your site from a variety of devices, switching to responsive design (where the size of your website adapts to any device, large or small) might be a great investment for your company.
  • The style of your site is looking a little dated.
    It’s kind of like having a favorite “go-to” pair of jeans that you’ve had in your wardrobe for a while. There is a reason you bought them in the first place and there is a reason you’ve been wearing them for so long. They fit you just right and they are comfortable. Sure, you think they look fine, but they might be the reason your friends refuse to be seen with you in public. The same might be true of your website. You think it looks fine and you’re used to it. But, others might be thinking that it’s time for you to say “Out with the old and in with the new.” Because, unlike that old pair of jeans, no matter how long you wait, those old website styles won’t be coming back around.
  • Your site has accumulated obsolete elements and features.
    Over time, you’ve added a few elements here and a few features there which are adding up and are making your site appear cluttered. Redesigning your site will give you an opportunity to reorganize everything that has been added since the last design was created. A new design will also allow you to restructure your navigation and will help to restore the balance of your website as a whole.
  • Your Search Engine Optimization has fallen by the wayside.
    Of course, you don’t have to redesign your website in order to adopt new ways of improving your SEO, but if you haven’t had the chance to keep up, this is a great opportunity to revamp this aspect of your site as well.
  • A new user experience is a great way to engage your audience.
    Promoting a new website is a great opportunity to reach out to your customers. You can gauge their interest by promoting the new site through email, and/or blogs and social media and inviting them to view the new site once it has been launched. You can encourage additional interaction by asking for feedback on the new site.

If you’re still having a hard time letting your go of your current website, please keep in mind that fresh ideas can be applied to many of the components that you like so much, making them brand new again.

If you have questions about your website, contact John Inama at 877-799-9994 ext. 2104.

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I feel your SEO, website design pain

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After nearly 15 years of exhorting clients to adhere to the best practices of SEO, usability and website design, I now find myself on the opposite side of those exhortations: I’ve started my own personal blog and am trying to optimize it myself.

Let me tell you something – this stuff is hard to do.

Picking a domain name, finding a suitable registrar, getting server space, downloading WordPress, uploading WordPress, looking online for the right SEO plugin, downloading that, realizing I can’t upload the plugin. … It’s nuts.

And we haven’t even touched on keyword research, incorporating keywords into each blog post and the million other little social media and linking things that need to be done to get the site noticed by the search engines and ranked well for my chosen search terms.

I’m stressing over everything, even though this is just a tiny passion project. As a result, I’m truly beginning to understand the level of concern our clients face in making these same decisions for their corporate websites – websites that need to support the companies that keep their families, and the families of their employees, afloat in even the most uncertain economic times.

Here’s the most important thing I’ve learned so far: It’s crucial to have the help of experts for assistance in areas where you lack experience. I’ve already had to turn to more technically proficient co-workers simply to get the site up and running (I’m a content writer and SEO geek – what do I know about creating databases?).

It’s been so good to have someone savvy to rely on for the more technical aspects of my project. They have the experience and the knowledge to get my website headed in the right direction. That sense of relief would be even stronger if I were depending on the site for my livelihood.

And what’s your take-away from my blogging adventures? It’s pretty simple: find solid SEO and website development professionals you can trust to help you make the right decisions for your corporate website.

Pilot Fish is a good place to start that search. Contact John Inama for more information or call him at 877-799-9994 ext. 2104.

Oh, and my little site? It’s Two Earle Girls. Someday, you should be able to find it on Google by searching for “literary tour of London” or “mother-daughter vacation”.

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Use your website statistics to boost traffic, leads, sales

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“Most site owners and businesses know exactly which pages on their site are the most profitable (i.e., the content that drives the most leads and/or revenue).”

That’s a sentence that I actually read this week on a respected SEO news site.

My first thought was, “Do most site owners even know exactly what pages are on their websites? … Do I know what pages are on our website? …”

Most of our clients are working their hardest, simply providing their core goods and services to their customers, cultivating new sales leads, just keeping the whole business afloat. It’s hard to imagine many of them having the time, the interest or the energy to routinely delve into traffic and statistical reports for their websites.

But, reviewing a website’s traffic reports is still a worthwhile endeavor, even if it’s undertaken only once a year. Just like an expensive piece of equipment or an experienced employee, a website is an important company asset, an investment that needs to be maintained so that it continues to make its contribution to the company’s bottom line.

This is a great time of year to check your website’s statistics – knowing how your website is performing and where it needs to improve are pieces of information that feed directly into decisions about corporate marketing budgets. And this is the time of year that companies start making those decisions.

Of course, the first question is: do you even have analytics coding on your site to track site visitors and which pages they click to? If you’re not sure, ask your SEO firm or the company that created the site.

If the answer is no, then insist that a good analytics tracking system be implemented for your site (Google Analytics is one of the most popular – and useful – tracking packages, and it’s free).

If the answer is yes, then request a username and password to gain access to the reports. And ask if a tutorial is available. A good walk-through, led by someone knowledgeable, can really improve your learning curve.

Once you’ve logged in, these are the areas that you’ll want to concentrate on:

  • Overall number of visitors – has it remained steady or increased?
  • Traffic sources – are search engines sending a decent percentage of visitors to your site? Are your online directory listings and advertising delivering the traffic you expected?
  • Most popular pages – are there pages that no one is visiting?
  • Behavior flow – are visitors leaving the site at a certain page instead of moving forward to your desired goal (downloading a whitepaper, calling your 800-number, submitting a contact form)?

With those statistics in hand, you can begin formulating a plan to make sure you’re getting the best value possible from your website:

  • If fewer people are visiting your site, you can check your search engine performance – it’s probably time to re-tool your SEO efforts given all the changes in the search engines’ ranking algorithms during the past 18 months.
  • If your online advertising isn’t delivering enough visitors to justify the cost, look at repurposing those dollars to improve your search engine performance or to make your most important information easier for site visitors to find.
  • If certain pages aren’t getting any visitors, those are prime targets for revision or revamping.
  • If visitors are abandoning your site after reaching a specific page, review that page. What can be done to help move site visitors to the next step you want them to take?

Granted, this research takes some time, but the payback can be immense: Just one or two good leads can cover the investment you’ve made. And who can’t use a few new leads?

If you’d like help in reviewing or improving your website’s performance, contact John Inama at 877-799-9994 ext. 2104.

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