5 Free SEO Tools to Help Your Website

SEO or Search Engine Optimization should be a vital part of your internet strategy.  SEO means configuring your website in order to improve the way search engines see your site and rank it on a search results page.  If you have a website, then you probably want to know how to get to be #1 in Google.  SEO can help with getting you there.

Whether you are a church, school or small business, you need to know how visitors are coming to your site and what search terms (keywords) they are using to reach your site.  Once you know this information, you can make changes to your website to target these search terms and thus attract more visitors.

Here are 5 Free SEO Tools that can implement right now to improve website traffic.

#5 – Alexa Rank Checker

Alexa Rank Checker is a great tool for seeing how well your site ranks up against millions of other sites on the Web.  It is one of the most accurate free SEO tool out there . You can track the keywords visitors used to get to your site, the high impact search queries and a back link listing.

#4 – Keyword Density Checker

The Keyword Density Checker is a nice SEO tool that explores a website and then extracts text as a search engine would and then examines the density of those keywords.  Once complete it provides you with a nice list of one, two and three word phrases that are popular on your site.  It also provides you with some good meta data information about your website.

#3 – Open Site Explorer

The Open Site Explorer from SEOmoz is great tool for determining what sites link to your site.  According to the website you can “research and directly compare your backlinks with competitors’ for intelligent and targeted link building. Identify your top pages and analyze anchor text.”

#2 — Google Webmaster Tools

Google Webmaster Tools is a powerful set of free tools that provides you will some very valuable information.  Once you register your site with Google it will provide you with information such as search queries, links to your site and keywords.  More importantly it provides you with crawl errors which shows you where you have bad links on your page(s).

#1 — Google Analytics

Google Analytics is “the enterprise-class web analytics solution that gives you rich insights into your website traffic and marketing effectiveness. Powerful, flexible and easy-to-use features now let you see and analyze your traffic data in an entirely new way. ”  Google Analytics allows you to track your pageviews, the number of visitors to your site, the average time visitors spend on your site and so much more.  If you have a website, you need Google Analytics.

So, there you have it.  A short list of tools to help you improve your SEO.  Have questions about SEO or using these tools, then let me know, I’d be happy to work with you.

Managing Projects with Technology

What is a project and project management?

So, organizations (large and small) all have “projects” going on all the time. I put the word projects in quotes because people define the word project differently and what one person calls a project, another would call a task or operations.  The Project Management Institute (PMI) states that a project is a temporary group activity designed to produce a unique product, service or result. They go on to define project management as the application of knowledge, skills and techniques to execute projects effectively and efficiently.

So a project is something like designing and implementing a new course management system or renovating a building.  Something that you do on a daily basis, like changing backup tapes, is an operation not a project. And according to PMI, there are distinct phases of the project management:

  • Initiating
  • Planning
  • Executing
  • Monitoring and Controlling
  • Closing

So, I’d like to take each phase and talk a little bit about how technology can help.  I know a lot of people use Microsoft Project, but I wanted to explore some other options.

Initiating

This is when people get together and discuss ideas and that idea for the project is considered, explored and elaborated upon.  Ultimately, the goal of this phase is to determine the feasibility of the project.  So what technologies can be used here?  I’m thinking this is a great please for Google Docs and some type of brainstorming tool.

Google Docs would allow this initial informal group to collaborate on documents and spreadsheets to gather data and information to support the overall project.  Multiple users can simultaneously edit a document that could be the start of a project proposal.

As for brainstorming, I would suggest a tool like MindMeister. This tool allows you to create diagrams of how various parts and pieces of your project will be connected together.

Planning

Probably the most important phase of the process.  Here you will establish a project manager and setup a project team and write your formal project plan.  One suggestion for a technology tool here might be the Zoho suite of tools that allows you manage processes like tasks, calendars, documents, reports and issues all within a single free tool.

Executing

Here the project manager coordinates all of the different activities that are going on and makes sure they are all on time and on budget.   Here I think continuing to use the Zoho suite will work fine.  Project managers could also look into services like Remember the Milk or ToDoIst to keep track of items.  In addition to this, mangers could use a program like Skype to keep in touch with project managers.

Monitoring and Controlling

In addition to continuing to use the Zoho suite and / or  Remember the Milk or ToDoIst to keep track of items, project managers may need to connect with the team virtually.  Here I’d recommend AnyMeeting or ooVoo for a quick free way to have a video web conference with the team.

Closing

Here you are wrapping up the project and celebrating your success.  Why not head on over to ThinkGeek and buy your team some cool gifts.

So, these are some ideas.  What do you use for project management?  Let me know.

Creating training videos

The Need for Creating Training Videos

As educators, we are always looking for ways to help our students. I frequently hear teachers saying things like, “I wish I could record what’s on my screen for my students” or “I wish I could show a video of me using this software” or something along those lines.

In business, there is a constant need to create video captures of computer screens. From how to use a particular piece of software or how to navigate the company’s network. New employees need training while those who have been around for a while need reminders.

Now, there are tons of videos out there on places like YouTube and different websites.  But, often times these are of poor quality or may not focus on your specific needs and the needs of your company. So, what do you do? You need a method of capturing what is happening on your computer screen. I know what you are saying, that is too difficult and too expensive. Not true! Let me introduce you to screen casting.

What is screen casting?

Screencasting

Image: renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

According to Wikipedia, a screencast is “ a digital recording of computer screen output, also known as a video screen capture, often containing audio narration.”  Simply put, screencasting, is recording what is happening on your computer screen and turning it into a digital movie.  This means every window, every click, every time you pull down a menu or anything that you do or show on your computer is captured and recorded.  In addition to this, you can narrate what you are doing on the screen.  By combining what you are doing on the  screen and the narration, you can create a quick tutorial for your students or customers.

How to create a screencast?

First you need some software to create a screencast.  If you are on a Mac, I highly recommend Screenflow.  This is an easy to use program that allows you to create professional looking screencasts.  My good friend Andy Traub has a nice overview of how Screenflow works on his website.

If you are on a PC I recommend two methods.  Camtasia Studio is a great product for recording professional looking screencasts on your PC.  While pricey, it does deliver on it’s features and functionality.  Another option, especially if you are just starting out is CamStudio.  Camstudio is a free screen capturing tool but it has limited options and functionality.

Finally, there is a really cool Web 2.0 tool that I like to use called Jing.   Jing is cross platform and allows you to also quickly create screencasts for free provided they are less than a few minutes.  If you purchase an upgrade, you can record longer versions and then upload them and share online.

What to do when you are done recording.

Once you have recorded your screen cast, you can upload it to YouTube and then embed it into your website, blog, wiki or course.  You can use it as part of a series and sell it to customers or as part of a training series.  The possibilities are really up to you.

Conclusion

Screencasting allows you to quickly create:

  • software tutorials
  • website tours
  • training videos
  • supplemental materials for courses

So, try it out and let me know what you think.

Some of my favorite tools

As you can see I have a Tools page setup to share with you some of the tools that I use on a regular (often daily) basis.  So, I thought I would take a few moments to highlight a few of my favorites.

Wikispaces

Hands down, Wikispaces is my favorite website for creating pages to share resources.  In a few minutes, I can setup a webpage that allows me to share links and resources. If you can edit a word processing document, you can edit a wiki.  I even use a Wikispaces wiki as an outline for workshops and presentations.  Wikis also allow me to easily embed YouTube videos, Google Docs and just about anything with an embed code.  The built-in widgets provide increased customization.   Teachers be sure to use the EDUCATORS link to create ad free wikis

WordPress

When I started my Teaching the Civil War blog years ago, I created it on Google’s Blogger platform.  As my blog grew and expanded (thanks to my readers), I needed something that was more customizable and flexible.  After some research, I decided on WordPress.  Now, there are two versions of WordPress.  There is the WordPress.com hosted version and the WordPress.org self-hosted version.  The WordPress.com hosted version means that your blog will be hosted on their domain and you will have a url like MYGREATBLOG.WORDPRESS.COM.  The WordPress.org self-hosted means that you can download and install WordPress on your own webserver or host.  My webhost, GoDaddy, has a one-click feature to install WordPress.  As you can see from my newly redesigned Teaching the Civil War website and my Beeghley Tech Innovations website, you can create an entire website from a WordPress install and a nice theme.  A theme is a shell or skin that gives your blog its look and feel.

Google Apps

I have already blogged about how I use some of the Google Apps, but I will say it again, Google Apps rock.  I can manage email, calendar, documents, analytics and much more, all in a free, easy to use interface.

Twitter

So, can you tell me what you are doing in 140 characters or less? If so, then you’d be great a Twitter.   Twitter is a microblog that allows you to share what you are doing, reading, working on or links to the world.  Twitter allows you to create a Personal Learning Network where you can ask questions and get quick feedback and follow others to learn from what they are sharing.

So, (cue Sound of Music soundtrack) these are just a few of my favorite of my favorite tools.  What are your favorite tools?

Getting Started with Google Docs

How many times have you typed up a document, emailed it to a colleague for review, go it back, made your edits, sent it BACK for review, and so on until you have five or six versions of a document and a clogged up inbox? I know, some of you have a network and can share files, but what if you need to collaborate with someone in another city, state or country? You need to be able to easily collaborate on documents without all the hassles of email attachments. Let me introduce you to Google Docs.

What is Google Docs?

According to Wikipedia, “Google Docs is a free web based word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, form, and data storage service offered by Google. It allows users to create and edit documents online while collaborating in real-time with other users.”

Similar to many other office productivity applications, Google Docs allows you to:

  • Create basic documents from scratch or start from a template.
  • Standard look and feel to the interface across applications
  • Easily make bullet lists, sort columns, add tables, insert images, formulas, change fonts and colors, etc.
  • Upload your existing files (in various formats like DOC, XLS, ODT, ODS, RTF, CSV, PPT)
  • Multiple simultaneous users viewing and editing a document

These are just some of the features in Google Docs and oh, by the way, it’s FREE!

Why Use Google Docs?

Are you tired of paying hundreds of dollars for your office productivity software and trying to stay up to date with the latest versions?  Google Docs is a great alternative especially for a school, church or small business.  Also, the learning curve is very short for any employee who knows even the tiniest bit about your current software.  Google Docs also allows you to assign document rights to certain individuals.  For example, you can quickly give edit rights to a co-worker and view only to your supervisor so they can track your progress.

With today’s economy, you need to be thinking about ways of saving money.  I know what you are say, “But Jim, EVERYONE uses Microsoft Office and Google Docs isn’t compatible with Office!”  Well, that’s not true.  As I said, Google Docs supports all of the standard document extensions like .DOC, .XLS and .PPT.  You can easily import and export files in these formats.  Further, you can quickly embed documents and presentations into your website.  You and your staff and access their document from any internet enabled device from a smartphone to a computer without the need for cumbersome VPNs.

Check out this video from Google:

Additional Resources from Google

 

So, why not give Google Docs a try for your next collaborative project or presentation.  You might find yourself switching.

Google Analytics

So, you created a website for your school, church or small business.  Perhaps you created it yourself or you hired someone to create the site for you.   The question is, now that you have “built it” will they come?  And by they, I mean your stakeholders.  Perhaps you are doing a marketing campaign advertising your new website.  If you are, how do you know if your marketing campaign is working?  Are people saying “nice website”?  Perhaps, but what you need is true stats on who is coming to your new website and how.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a free tool that allows you to track how and when users are coming to your website(s).  According to their website, “Google Analytics shows you how people found your site, how they explored it, and how you can enhance their visitor experience.”  What you do with the information is up to you.  With that said, from the information you receive from Google Analytics, you can improve the look and functionality of your website, get more traffic and potentially, make more money.

How does Google Analytics Work?

Once you create a free account, you need to add the URL of your website to Google Analytics.  From there, you will receive a piece of code that you need to place into (think behind the scenes) your website.  Most people place this code into the header or footer sections of their website.  Once you have your code into your site, Google will begin collecting data.  It takes 24hrs for the first reports to appear, but it is worth the wait.

Examining Google Analytics Data

The first thing you are going to see is the number of times people have visited your site over the past 24 hours.  You can also look at where the visitors have come from in the word, the specific pages they went to on your site and whether the traffic was direct (they typed in your URL) or it came from searching (i.e. Google).

Here a two screen shots from my Beeghley Tech Innovations site and my Teaching the Civil War with Technology site:

 

Google Analytics Graph

Google Analytics Graph

Another nice feature of Google Analytics is the Keywords data under Traffic Source.   From here, you can learn which search terms people used to get to your website.  Once you know this, you can then tailor your blog or website to target these keywords to drive more traffic to your site.

If you want to learn more about Google Analytics, I have provided some links to some additional reading below. If you need help setting this up for your website, drop me an email and I’d be happy to help.

More Google Analytics Resources:

Google Analytics URL Builder
Goals & Funnels
Site Search
Google Analytics: Power User Guide
50 Resources for Getting the Most Out of Google Analytics
The Huge Collection of Google Analytics Tips

Google Analytics YouTube Channel
The Official Google Analytics Blog

Google Analytics Results

 

Why I love WordPress for websites

I have spent the past several weeks really diving deep into designing and redesigning websites. I also spent a lot of time reading and researching.

Some history

When I initially started to plan out my Beeghley Tech Innovation website, it looked at a ton of different designs. Then I placed what I wanted in a website on a sheet of paper and drew some sketches. From there, I determined that my best option was a website that included a blog feature. But how do I do this? Enter WordPress!

Creating a website with WordPress

I had used WordPress on my Teaching the Civil War with Technology blog but never as a full website. First, I needed a theme. A theme will give you the overall look for your website and be the means for customizing your website. I looked at free themes but I wanted something that would be supported and updated as WordPress updated. So, I decided on the Thesis theme.

Once everything was installed and running, I started by roughing out the pages I wanted and customizing the layout. I quickly learned that I can easily customize colors, fonts, how the columns are setup and even how the pages are displayed.WordPress allowed me to set a static welcome page and place this blog on a separate page.

Within about 30 minutes, I had setup and installed a pretty good looking website. All that was left was to refine the content.

Not too shabby.

A long over due website redesign

My Teaching the Civil War with Technology website was long over due for a makeover. I really needed to combine info from several different sites into a single location. Having information on multiple sites really hurt me in terms of Search Engine Optimization (SEO).  So, I basically followed the same process I did for this site and in a few hours (it took a while to migrate the blog) I had moved information from three sites to one, cleaned up ugly looking links and URLs and improved my SEO. What does improved SEO mean? My teaching the Teaching the Civil War with Technology website went from page 3 in Google to #2 on page 1 of Google in two weeks!

Google Search Screenshot

Why I love WordPress

Out of the “box” WordPress is a powerful blog and website creation tool. In a few minutes you can:

  • Setup a website
  • Setup a blog
  • Customize it
  • Improve SEO

So, when people ask me why I love WordPress, I tell them I get all of this FOR FREE! Yes, that’s right, WordPress is free.

Let me know if I can help you setup your website with WordPress.

Improving Communication with Email

How are you communicating with your stakeholders? Do you have a regular newsletter that you send out? Or perhaps you even have an “email group” that you have created to send out updates. What about those who want to receive updates via email but are not sure how to get in your group? What if someone in your email group wants to add another email address or change their email address? Then YOU have to do all the work and upkeep. This wastes valuable time and money, especially if you are sending updates to hundreds or thousands of customers. You can save time and money by implementing an email subscription service.

How do email subscription services work?

Email subscription services allow you to have your clients, customers or stakeholders sign up to receive your message via email.  You simply place  a “Subscribe to my newsletter” box on your page (notice mine on the right) and then promote it to have people sign up.  That’s it.

Which service do I use?

Personally, I use a service called MailChimp.  While there are paid options for this service, I am using the free version because it fits what I am doing very well.  MailChimp allows you to create different lists for different purposes and provides you with different templates help you get started.  Additionally, this service provides you with some really good feedback.

This service is highly customizable.  It does everything from providing forms to automatically ask people to confirm they want to sign up to allowing you to automatically send a “Welcome to my newsletter” emails.

For example, say you are launching a new portion of your website.  You could add a link in your email that you are sending to your customers via MailChimp and then monitor how many times people click on that link.  MailChimp also provides you with information on how many times your email has been opened.

Now, remember not to SPAM your subscribers with too many emails.  This will just upset them and they will likely unsubscribe from your list.  Another tip is to send a personal “thanks” email for those who sign up to your email list.

So, check it out and if you’d like to receive updates from me, please take a moment to sign up for my newsletter.

MailChimp

Improving small business efficiency with technology

One of the biggest things that hamper many small businesses today is inefficiency in terms of simple office tasks. Everything from how documents are created to communicating with clients.

Here is an example from a recent visit I had to a local business. There were several staff members who wanted to do a relatively simple task of printing a document on a piece of letterhead. First, one person printed the document for their boss to proofread. Once the boss approved, the document went to another person for printing. The original person then went to a drawer and got a piece of letterhead and placed it in a printer. The document was then sent to the wrong printer so the letterhead had to be moved to the other printer. This entire process lasted about 5 or 6 minutes. I know, 5 minutes is not much in an 8 hour workday. But imagine this same thing repeated several times a day, 5 days a week. That is a ton of wasted time and wasted time means wasted money.

office productivity

Photo from http://www.lumaxart.com

Now, improving efficiency in this scenario is very simple. First, create a letterhead template in Word that contains all of the information that is on the current letterhead. Then save that as a template and the next time you need to print a letterhead, recall the template, type your letter and print. This also saves the money that it costs to have your letterhead professionally printed.

Other ways to improve this scenario, shared or networked printers so that anyone can print to any printer. You can have the boss approve the letter electronically (when possible).

So, what little things can you do to improve your efficiency? Is your staff using technology to its fullest potential? Are there ways you can improve how you communicate with clients? Take a critical look at your operations and let me know what you find.