Catering to a Caterer: Search Engine Optimization at Work

In my opinion, web design should include optimizing the pages for search engines.   There should be no need to employ a second professional to make a site  show up in search results.

But, apparently most web designers consider search engine optimization something separate from site creation. Just last week I worked with a local caterer whose professionally developed site was invisible on Google and other search engines. I am beginning to understand how business that specialize in Search Engine Optimization can make money.

Marin Caterer for the San Francisco Bay Area:  Michael Goldstein
Michael Goldstein Events Updated Home Page

The original designer had put up a fine looking site, but there were no words on the site to tell Google what the pages were about.  I take that back: every page had the same title with “catering” the third word of the page title. But, that was it.

The site mentioned the type of events the business catered, like weddings.  But the word “catering” was not emphasized in the visible text on the pages.  None of the images had ALT tags — HTML code that describes pictures for the visually impaired and for search engines — with the word “catering”.

So, as far as Google was concerned, the site could have been about “wedding chapels” or “wedding planners” or “wedding dresses”.  Maybe the site could have been in results  “wedding food” or “wedding chef”, if anyone searched for those terms.  But, for “wedding catering”, the site was not going to show up.

We decided to try to attract searchers for:

We also decided to try to show up when people searched for “Marin” and the catering terms listed above.

Our changes went online Monday, and the search engines have started to respond.  Google already lists 3 terms in its top 10 results,  5 in the top 20, 7 in the top 30, and 10 in the top 100.

This morning I tweaked some pages to help more terms, and we’ll be monitoring this first round of optimization for the next couple months.

Real people are starting to notice the site, too.

Before the site was updated, we tracked visitors for a few days and saw that no one came from searches for “catering” on the Internet.  When anyone used Google to find the site, they searched for the business by name.  So, they weren’t looking for catering services, they were looking for Michael Goldstein Events catering.

When I looked at the statistics this morning, some people had come to the site after checking Google for “catering” or “Novato catering”.  It’s just a trickle of visitors at this point, but it’s a start.

I remain surprised that so many web designers can publish sites for business clients that don’t appeal to search engines.  When I create a new site for a client, I don’t charge extra for optimizing the site for visibility on Google.  I incorporate good search engine techniques as part of making the overall design.  I think all web designers should do the same.

But, until they do, I’m happy to help businesses with under-performing web sites get into search engine results!

Creating a Competitor’s Site

Marin Trust and Estate Attorney Marlene Getchell recently asked me to help her publish her new web site which was being designed by branding specialist and graphic designer Kristi Frelkin.

Web Design for Marin Estate Attorney Marelene Getchell
Site for Marin Estate Attorney Marelene Getchell

Kristi propagated the look of Marlene’s other marketing materials into a web design, and I received PFD’s of each page which I published as Search-Engine-readable HTML pages.

I enjoyed the challenge of being shown a picture and being told, “Make me one of these!”

Working for Marlene also posed another challenge:  I was already working for Marin Estate Planning Attorney Julia Wald.  I have helped Julia become #1 in Google searches for 5 terms, including “Marin Estate Planning Attorneys”.

In fact, when we first met, Marlene told me that she and Julia were competitors for some type of business.  She asked if I would have a problem helping her with her web site.

Yes, normally I would decline an engagement from a competitor to an existing client.  There is only one #1 position in Google for any given set of keywords, and I don’t want to choose among clients about who I best promote.

I agreed to work on Marlene’s site only for one reason:  Julia recommended me to Marlene and told me that she thought I should help Marlene.

With the client’s approval I felt comfortable helping another estate attorney get online.

Fortunately, Marlene and Julia have different focuses, although there are many clients who could benefit from either attorney.  Julia’s ideal client wants to create an estate plan while Marlene enjoys litigating disputes.  Julia’s most important keywords are “Marin estate planning attorney” while Marlene is looking for traction on “Trust and Estate attorney”.

I am careful not to suggest a marketing strategy to Marlene that I developed with Julia, and vice versa.  They may be friendly competitors, but I want to separate the accounts as much as possible!

The good news, of course, is if you are looking for an attorney to help you with your estate issues, I know two great ones.

Where to Find a Top San Francisco Hairstylist?

Len has trained in top hair salons and has over 20 years experience with precision hair cutting, hair coloring, highlights and lowlights, and other facets of hairstyling.

A few years ago he had a spiffy-looking web site created for him by a team with a graphics design background. He loves the site’s look… and he should! But, he’s been concerned that over time he has gained no clients from the site. In fact, when he searched Google for his site using any terms potential clients might use, his site didn’t came up. Len wants clients in Sonoma and San Francisco — he works in two studios — but anyone searching for a “top stylist” or other related term wouldn’t be told of his site.

Search Engine Optimization has helped Len’s site show up in the top 10 Google results within one week. He’s #4 in Google for “top stylist in Sonoma” one of his chosen keyword phrases. Eleven other of Len’s selected phrases now show up in the top 100 Google results. We don’t know when Google crawled his site for the updated pages, and we’ll be watching for additional result improvements in the coming weeks as all of the site’s changes are noticed by Google. And, his site improved in a similar way in Bing and Yahoo! results (the site is #1 in Yahoo! for “Precision Haircutting in San Francisco”).

The original, graphics-designer-published site had no page titles that focused on Len’s keywords. The pages had no descriptions, no text headings, and no ALT tags for the images. These HTML codes are all keys to Search Engine Optimization. Overall, the site was very pretty, but it didn’t tell Google and other search engines much about its content.

I went through Len’s site and featured one of the keyword phrases Len had picked on each page. Then I put in meaningful <title>s, headings, text, and ALT tags on every image. I also fixed a gross HTML coding error that wrongly told Google and other search engines that one of the pages ended in the middle.  See his top San Francisco and Sonoma hair stylist site — and if you’re a techie person, view the source code to see what I did.

Frankly, I was surprised to see any improvement in Len’s rankings in just a week.  When I first started optimizing web pages, it would take weeks for Google to revisit an established site, index it, and change the search results.

I wouldn’t want to guarantee results in a week, either. But, if you or someone you know need help with your search engine rankings, let’s talk about what can be done! I’m at 415.347.6479.

Get Ranking Juice for Your Business from the “News”

The Hearst Corporation’s San Francisco Chronicle has found a way to make money from its news service web site which I’m recommending to my clients. Here’s the program and why I like it.

First, let’s remember how Google looks at the universe of Internet sites .  Google knows that the Chronicle has developed one of the most popular news websites, SFGate.com.  Because that site is very popular and contains a lot of quickly updated news, Google crawls the site frequently and considers it an authority.

An authoritative site’s pages generally are put above those of non-authoritative sites in search results.  So, the pages of domain sfgate.com are likely to show up high on Google result pages. Google will check sfgate.com pages frequently because the contain changing news. Finally, links from an authoritative site to your web pages result in your pages showing up higher in Google search results. After all, Google figures, an authoritative site thinks your web pages are valuable.

Now, the Chron has created way for businesses to appear on sfgate.com. They’ve created a sub domain, local.sfgate.com.  The homepage there is a directory of businesses, and you’re able to buy a page for your business in the directory.

SF Gates's Business Directory
SF Gate's Business Directory

I doubt that many people will search this directory to find their accountant,  lawyer, or care repair service. Maybe some people will interrupt their reading of news to click on tiny link at the bottom of the front page of SF Gate that says : “Advertising services…. Local Business Directory”. But, not many.  And, that’s the only way I see to get at this directory.

That’s the problem with directories (online Yellowpages and their ilk): no human uses them.

Google Listing for a Local SF Gate Page
Google Listing for a Local SF Gate Page

In the case of SF Gate, though, I don’t care.  Google reads the SF Gate directory and loves the pages in it.  Each business gets its own page in the sub domain local.sfgate.com with search engine optimized text and other unique content, and Google eats it up.  Google is placing pages in SF Gate’s local business directory at the top of web sites in search results.

The example search SF Gate’s sales staff is telling people to run is “San Francisco auto smog”.  One of their pages shows up in Google’s results right after the map pages.  Pretty good.

In addition to showing up in Google results, each business’ page has a link to the company’s own web site. This means Google is being told by an authoritative site that there’s something important going on on that web site.  This vouching will help the main web site’s pages to rank more highly in search results.

But, wait!  There’s more!

One package of services which the Hearst folks are selling includes the writing and distributing of of press releases for your business via PRWeb.  That’s another news source read by Google, and properly written press releases are both search engine optimized AND have links back to pages in your main site.  Both good things in helping your main web site gain visitors.

I am recommend a trial of the Hearst Corporation’s services to my clients.

Of course we’ll need to watch the ROI and we’ll also need to watch for material changes in the program.  Google could decide suddenly to treat the “local.sfgate.com” sub domain as worthless instead of treating it as part of the valuable news site.  Too many businesses could crowd into a directory category making the too much competition for attention. Or, the Hearst folks may prove impossible to deal with.

We’ll see…  I’ll report more in a couple months after a client goes live.