6 steps to making your site search engine ready

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How to Create a Search Engine Friendly Website

by Christopher Heng, thesitewizard.com

Over the years of running thesitewizard.com, I have had numerous webmasters write to me asking why their web pages do not appear in the search engine results page even though they directly search for terms that should cause their site to be listed. More often than not, a quick visit to their site reveals that they have created a web page that is not search engine friendly.

This article brings together some of the main points on how you can create a website or blog that is search engine friendly.

  1. Add Text to Your Images, Flash and Videos

    The first thing you should note about search engines is that their software can only read text. When I say text, I don’t mean text that you embed in an image or text that you place inside a Flash file or those that appear in a video. I mean text like the text you see everywhere on thesitewizard.com’s articles: plain, unadulterated, ordinary text.

    While it’s true that some search engines have the rudimentary ability to scan a Flash file, you cannot assume that this ability is sophisticated enough to obtain all the information you want them to have. In fact, I suspect that only Google can do this, and even then only to extract straightforward links embedded in the file. And certainly no search engine I know can view an image file or video and determine the text that it contains.

    This is not to say that you cannot create a photo-album site, Flash game site or a video site that ranks in the search engine results page. You can still place your pictures, Flash, videos on your site. However, you will need to write content for each of these non-text elements to describe them.

    For example, you should describe each picture in the “alt” text for the image. For those who don’t know what I’m saying, images are put into a web page using HTML code like the following:

    <img src=”name-of-image.jpg” alt=”Picture of a search engine ready website”>

    Notice the “alt” part in the example HTML code above. Here, I described the image as a picture of a search engine ready website. You should of course replace that text with a brief description of what your image really shows. While search engines cannot actually see your picture, they can read your “alt” text and will include that in their index for your web page.

    Likewise, for sites with video files or Flash file, you should include additional text on that web page describing what your video shows or what the Flash file does.

    To put it another way, when designing your website, make your website more accessible for blind and other visually impaired visitors and you will also reap the side benefit of making your site more search-engine friendly.

  2. Validate Your HTML Code

    I have written elsewhere on the importance of validating your web page. By validating, I mean checking to make sure that your HTML code does not have errors. Note that I’m not talking about spelling or grammar errors here. I’m referring to the underlying HTML code that allows the web browser to format your web page according to how you want it to appear. If you use a WYSIWYG web editor like Expression Web, Dreamweaver, BlueGriffon or KompoZer, such code is usually generated behind the scenes by the editor as you type your text.

    Whether you write your HTML code by hand or use a WYSIWYG web editor, it is a good idea to always run the final code through HTML and CSS validators. You can find details on how you can do this in my article on HTML validation at https://www.thesitewizard.com/webdesign/htmlvalidation.shtml

    While the search engines don’t care whether your HTML code is error-free, they rely on the basic correctness of the code to find out which portions of your web page to index. If your HTML code contains errors, it is possible that only portions of your web page are included in the search engine’s database. The errors, while undetectable in a web browser, may lead the search engine software to think that some of the text on your page is part of the HTML formatting information rather than your site’s content. As a result, the search engine may ignore that text, and your web page will not be shown in its results page.

  3. Create Relevant Title Tags

    Many search engines give additional weightage to the text appearing in the HTML <TITLE> tag for your page. Note that this is not the title that you see in the body of your web page. Rather, it is the non-visible text in the HTML code that the browser uses to display in the title bar of the browser window. The search engines use that tag as part of its algorithm to determine what your page is about.

    A number of new webmasters don’t bother to set the title tag to something meaningful. Instead, they just put their site name in the title tag of every page on their website. They should, instead, put the site name only in the title tag of their home page, and place a meaningful title on each individual page of their site. For example, on a page that describes a product “Widget XYZ”, the title tag should read “Widget XYZ Product Features” or something like that. If you feel that the name of your website is important to have on every title tag, place it at the end of your title for the sub-pages on your site, for example, “Widget XYZ Features – XYZ Company”.

  4. Use Straight HTML Navigation Links on Your Website

    I wrote an article some time back on the importance of a good navigation system for your website and how one website I examined used only JavaScript-generated links to lead to other pages on the site. Since the search engines at the time did not understand JavaScript, they were not able to find the other pages on the website.

    While that article only mentioned JavaScript-created links, this problem also applies to websites that rely only on links embedded in Flash files. Google is said to understand such links, but until search engine technology improves so that every engine (Google, Bing, etc) can accurately detect all the links embedded in Flash files or JavaScript code, any website totally reliant on such links is surely at a disadvantage compared to websites that use straightforward HTML links.

    Again, this is not a call to throw out the baby with the bathwater. You do not have to ditch all JavaScript code or Flash files from your website. Instead, what you need is to provide a way for search engines (and visitors who do not have JavaScript-enabled or Flash players) to visit the other pages of your site. Put simple HTML links on your web page linking to the other pages in addition to your state-of-the-art gadgets.

    You should also add a site map to your website and link to that site map from your main page. That way, search engines and human visitors who don’t have JavaScript or Flash facilities can find their way around your site.

  5. Eliminate Apparent Content Duplication

    If you use a blogging service, blogging software or some other content management system (CMS), you will need to watch out for duplicate content on your website.

    By duplicate content, I mean pages on your website that are identical to other pages on your site. If you manually create your website using a web editor, this will probably never happen. However, some of the automated services/software mentioned earlier create alternate routes to the same article. For example, a content management system or blogging software may duplicate the same article you wrote under two different URLs, such as www.example.com/archive/article-name.html and www.example.com/2007/01/05/article-name.html. Another manifestation of this is when your software adds a session id to the URL. Since every visitor receives a different session ID, he/she will link to your page using a different URL.

    The problem with duplicate content on your own site is link dilution. As I mentioned in my article on How to Improve Your Search Engine Ranking on Google, Google and other search engines take into account the number of links pointing to your page to determine how important your web page is. If you have identical content appearing on two different pages on your website, some sites will link to one page while others will link to the alternate page. The result is that neither of those pages will be regarded as very important in the search engine’s index since you have effectively halved the links pointing to your article.

    Find a way to remove that feature in your software or service of allowing your article to be reached under different URLs. In the case of session IDs, see if you can use cookies instead to track individual users. Solutions like blocking out alternative URLs from search engines using a robots.txt file may seem like a possible solution, but they do not solve the problem of link dilution.

    You may also want to read How to Solve Duplicate Content Issues by Specifying a Canonical Web Address (URL) for additional help on this if you face this problem.

  6. Remove Hidden Text

    Nowadays, everyone knows that it is counterproductive to use hidden text on your website. By hidden text, I mean text that is included in the main body of your web page but is not actually displayed on the screen when visitors view your page in a browser. In days of old, some unscrupulous webmasters used such text to add keywords to a web page to influence search engine results. Search engines try to deal with that tactic by not showing pages which they think contain hidden text.

    As mentioned in another article, More Tips on Google Search Engine Results Placement, I inadvertently discovered that sometimes search engines wrongly penalize sites even if the hidden text was innocuous — for example, text that only showed for people using a particular browser to tell them that they may not be able to access certain features of the website due to deficiencies in the browser. If you have not read that article, you might want to take a look to avoid facing the same problem.

    You should also be aware that if you use a free web host, your site may contain hidden text on its pages without your knowing. In my investigation of some free web hosts for thefreecountry.com’s many free web hosting pages, I discovered that a few of the hosts that place advertisements on your websites include hidden text around the advertisements to influence the type of advertisements shown on your web page. This may lead to your website being penalised (“penalized” in US English) by the search engines through no fault of your own.

    Unfortunately, you cannot simply look for a free web host that does not impose advertisements on your website, since such web hosts regularly disappear overnight due to the lack of a viable revenue model to sustain their service. If you can afford it, the best solution is to get a domain name and place your site on a commercial web host.

Creating a search engine friendly website does not necessarily mean that you will get top listing for a particular keyword or keyword phrase. It is however a necessary first step if you want to rank anywhere near the first few pages of the search engine results. A site that is not search engine ready may not even appear in the results for any query. The tips in this article are the prerequisites for any website aspiring the top positions in Google, Yahoo, and the other engines.

Is Your Website Putting Customers at Risk for Identity Theft?

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In a perfect world, every website would be SSL encrypted; there would be no concerns about submitting credit card information through a Web form. In reality, many websites are lagging far behind, without using encryption.

The biggest problem is customers don’t know their credit card information isn’t being safely transmitted when a website isn’t using SSL.

SSL is no longer optional

As a business owner, it is your responsibility to protect your customers wherever possible. This includes securing your website with SSL. SSL stands for “secure sockets layer” and provides a secure, encrypted connection between a web browser and the server being interacted with.

Since information submitted through Web forms passes through multiple channels prior to reaching its destination, there is great risk involved when that information is not encrypted. SSL encrypts data submitted through Web forms. Even if the data is intercepted, it can’t be read.

Are you putting your customers at risk for identity theft?

Skimping on SSL encryption has the potential to destroy a customer’s financial life. If your visitors submit their credit card information through an unencrypted connection, they’re more likely to become a victim of identity theft.

According to the credit experts at Lexington Law, “When you fall victim to identity theft, your credit score also falls. Typically, a criminal will open accounts, apply for new loans or lines of credit under the name of their victims, and then not pay the bills. When this happens, scores plummet. Credit inquiries also impact your score and bring it down by a few points each time a lender checks your credit report.”

Identity theft is worse than a fraudulent credit card charge

When someone steals credit card information and makes an unauthorized purchase, it’s easy to file a claim and be refunded by the bank. Recovering from identity theft isn’t as simple. The damage is often realized when it’s too late, and the victim’s credit reputation has been destroyed.

Although consumers can file a fraud alert to let creditors and potential landlords know their identity has been stolen, it doesn’t restore their credit score immediately. The unauthorized, unpaid bills can remain on their credit report for years and it’s a hassle to clean up.

While a fraud alert will be visible to anyone checking their credit report, they’ll have a lot of explaining to do when applying for lines of credit, renting an apartment or applying for a job.

If one of your customers winds up a victim of identity theft because you didn’t secure their credit card information, you could be putting their ability to gain employment at risk.

It’s common today for hiring managers to check a person’s credit prior to hiring them. As Brian Larsen discovered, having bad credit can trump your expertise in your industry.

Working as a banker for 14 years, he failed to land a job for three years. Potential employers used the short sale of his home listed on his credit report to determine that he was high risk. They concluded that because he had missed four mortgage payments that ended in a short sale, he was likely to take a bribe.

Employers need to look out for their business, but good people are getting the short end of the stick. Larsen wasn’t a victim of identity theft, but his story is a good example of how employers will use a poor credit report to deny employment.

It takes time to resolve identity theft, so even when items on the credit report are inaccurate, landlords and hiring managers won’t know it.

How to know if you need an SSL certificate

You need SSL if you’re collecting sensitive information like logins, passwords, financial information, personal data, proprietary information, legal documents, client lists or anything else that should remain confidential.

Obtain your SSL certificate ASAP

Not all SSL certificates are the same. In fact, there are different types of SSL certificates that exist for different purposes. Some certificates cover one domain; others cover multiple domains.

Certificates also vary based on the level of validation needed. There are domain, organization, and extended validation certificates that all serve different purposes.

Your Web host provider likely offers SSL certificates for a decent price. If they’ll set it up for you, it’s worth paying extra. Just be sure you get the right certificate. Don’t buy it online; talk to a live representative to be sure you’re purchasing the correct certificate.

Net Neutrality Repealed: The End of SEO As We Know It?

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net-neautrality

Have you noticed all the recent headlines about net neutrality? If not, you should be aware that on December 14, 2017, the net neutrality act put into place by President Obama was revoked.

If you aren’t familiar with the purpose of net neutrality regulations, you are not alone. A large percentage of Internet users don’t realize what it is or how it could affect them. Not to worry though, here is a quick overview.

What is Net Neutrality?

Net neutrality legislation was put into place to prevent Internet service providers from discriminating against or showing favoritism toward certain websites. For example, let’s say your cable and Internet company offers a streaming video service, they could now intentionally slow down the stream of competing services such as Netflix, giving themselves an unfair advantage.

How Will It Impact Internet Users?

What’s more, without net neutrality in place, broadband providers will be able to charge consumers and companies varying rates. Let’s say you want to use Netflix (or other streaming video sites), you could be charged more for a package that allows unrestricted access to those types of sites than someone else who only uses their Internet for email and reading newspapers.

You, the consumer, aren’t the only one that could be impacted. Just as you may have to pay more to get Internet service that allows high speed video streaming, the company offering the streaming video (i.e., Netflix) could be forced to pay more to keep high speed access available to their service.

What Does This Mean for SEO?

Currently, websites all have an equal opportunity to be found and visited. Without legislation in place to keep it that way, the stage is being set for large, established companies to be able to push out “the little guy” much like with current TV stations.

In a “pay to play” environment, large companies could put their websites in an express lane of sorts, giving them an advantage over similar services. Let’s say that a new streaming video service wants to compete with Netflix. Without the same funding, a new company, even if they have a better service, could be put at a major disadvantage by the Internet service providers (ISPs) who slow access to their site. This is of course bad for the new company and bad for us as consumers, because our freedom to fairly evaluate two services on a level playing field is being pulled from beneath us.

Specific to SEO, a lack of legislation could mean that sites that rank well may not get the traffic or customers they did in the past. Beyond that, when you consider how highly Google values website speed, sites that are paying for “express lane” access to their sites will have a clear advantage, based on money and not merit. There is no doubt that the impact of SEO could be strongly impacted by an unregulated internet market.

The Internet has become an integral part of our lives. Even though past legislation protecting Internet equality has been killed, I highly doubt it will take full effect before it ends up in court. It will take months if not years to see the full impact of an unregulated Internet and chances are, before enough time has passed to allow an online doomsday scenario, major companies (with plenty of lobbyists) will get their day in court, and help shape future legislation that keeps the Internet from turning into a pay to play only source of entertainment and information. For you, the website owner or the online marketing professional, don’t start looking for a new career just yet, the SEO industry isn’t going away for quite some time.

May SEO as we know it change in the next couple years? Absolutely, but change and evolution are just part of the game, good marketers will evolve with change and bad ones will disappear.

30 Ways to Adapt to Facebook’s End Game

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While it is a feel-good time of the year, marketers do not have much to look forward to when it comes to traditional Facebook marketing in 2018. They can no longer rely on old optimization ‘tricks’ to boost engagement and earn valuable referral traffic. Facebook has unfriended marketers.

Algorithm update after algorithm update have de-emphasized brands’ role (particularly publishers) on Facebook by limiting news feed exposure, at least when advertising spend is not involved. If that were not enough, more change is on the horizon. Facebook’s test of a separate feed for business posts is alarming, and the threat to as-is social media strategy is made more real by the fact Snapchat has redesigned its app to separate “social” from “media.”

Snapchat’s actual separation of friends from publishers could indicate more networks will follow suit particularly Facebook, which seems to really admire Snapchat already (if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery).

Facebook and Snapchat are very different environments, of course. Snapchat’s news feed separation, for example, is made possible by swiping left or right to access social or media content, respectively. For those unfamiliar with the app, it opens to the camera to encourage people to create content versus simply viewing it.

With the redesign, users will swipe to the left from the camera for Chats and Stories (those quick, expiring photos or videos that made the network famous) from friends and swipe to the right from the camera for Stories from publishers, creators and the community. One could imagine only out of boredom would someone swipe right, as swiping left will be all of a person’s closest contacts sorted by Snapchat algorithms.

Facebook’s potentially separate news feeds, however, could very much resemble Google’s search engine result pages of the past. Think of a single page where friends’ posts are prioritized based on, once again algorithms, and only brands who pay to be included in this feed will be (see Facebook’s comment below).

Where does this put brands? It is possible brands will only appear in the right-hand column. Users, however, have been trained over many, many years to ignore this section, because that’s where ads have always been. Look at this screenshot (via Facebook) from 2014:
facebook-ads
Since people know to avoid right-rail ads, Facebook could prove quite clever to push all organic Page content to the right and posts from friends, family and advertisers solely in the main feed where paid advertisers will “live” as well with likely better results than before. Not only will less advertisements be ignored, but people may not be able to distinguish ads from organic content similar to how everything looks the same to them in the search engines or they simply do not care enough to make the distinction.

What, however, happens to brand posts in mobile is up for debate as this right-hand column does not exist within the app where most users access Facebook. Perhaps mobile users would have to expand this column by, well, swiping right like Snapchat or locating business posts and publisher articles from an already overly crowded navigation menu.

For fairness, Facebook has this to say about its tests:

“The goal of this test is to understand if people prefer to have separate places for personal and public content. We will hear what people say about the experience to understand if it’s an idea worth pursuing any further. There is no current plan to roll this out beyond these test countries or to charge pages on Facebook to pay for all their distribution in News Feed or Explore. Unfortunately, some have mistakenly made that interpretation — but that was not our intention.”

Call us cynical, but Facebook has already profited (greatly) from limited organic reach. Buzzsumo reported in Aug. 2017, “The average number of engagements with Facebook posts created by brands and publishers has fallen by over 20 percent since January 2017.”

Not so coincidentally, Facebook’s third quarter 2017 results indicate advertising revenue is up 49 percent (year over year). Facebook invests in a platform that collects hyper-specific user data to allow advertisers to target potential customers in a hyper-specific manner. That’s really it, friends.

We all share information on Facebook, Facebook relies on us sharing and Facebook lets advertisers use this information anonymously (e.g., name, address, friends, interests, political ties, careers). Users are hooked, and brands on Facebook are now just a convenience with the network throwing them a digital bone when they advertise, use new features such as Facebook Live or listen to what the network is telling them like USE VIDEO.
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(Image Source)

When businesses and publishers understand Facebook’s end game, they can better realize the strategy needed to reach and communicate with audiences on this channel.

With so much of people’s day spent on Facebook, there is no way to simply ignore the network. What marketers need to do, however, is consider Facebook in the same category as they would Google where they can play by the network’s rules but ultimately are at their mercy to be visible with their audiences. Let’s take a look at 30 different ways to refresh strategy based on Facebook changes.

  1. Pay attention to algorithm updates and adjust accordingly
  2. Change strategy based on Facebook’s priorities at the moment, such as responding quickly to incoming messages or using Facebook Live
  3. Use Messenger bots to allow users to take advantage of self-service options like scheduling an appointment or getting quick answers to frequently asked questions
  4. Budget for the spend needed to reach targeted audiences on the network
  5. Consider Facebook the Google My Business of the social world where profiles must be completed, reviews must be left and post-click experiences must be optimized for a person’s device in order to enjoy some form of visibility on the network
  6. Use real-time features like Facebook Live and Stories (once the latter is available to Pages) in order to communicate with audiences directly and in the moment, which can spark actual conversation
  7. Offer Facebook exclusives for customers to encourage them to seek out your brand even if its hidden in the news feed(s)
  8. Create a Facebook Group and link it to your Page (even better create a separate branded community)
  9. Enlist industry influencers to speak directly to audiences with less Facebook interference
  10. Start an employee advocacy program to enable staff members to share news, stories and links (not held back by Page stifling)
  11. Share links less often, as they receive the lowest engagement and likely the lowest organic reach (why would Facebook want people to leave its app/site?)
    average-facebook-engagements-chart
  12. Consider other website traffic referral sources like Medium, Twitter or guest blogging on niche sites
  13. Create a promotion schedule and content before going Live on Facebook to generate buzz
  14. Double down on video creation for Facebook as it will likely increase organic reach and engagement as shown in this chart from Buzzsumo:
    average-engagement-facebook-type
  15. Spend the time that used to be allocated to posting daily or multiple times a day on Facebook on personalizing email and website content
  16. Think of Facebook as an online directory of businesses that needs to be updated in order to appear in search results and as a customer service and inbound channel where people will reach out when they have a problem (be ready to respond)
  17. Use a service that delivers Facebook ads in the moment a person needs it like an ad for a dentist when someone says their tooth hurts
  18. Share events on Facebook
  19. Create a Page call to action so when people do arrive on a Page they know what to do
  20. Create custom audiences on Facebook using your current email list
  21. Post jobs to Facebook
    facebook-feature
  22. Post events to Facebook
  23. Respond to reviews on Facebook
  24. Respond to comments on Facebook
  25. Optimize for search engine visibility as well since Google has regained its position as the top referral source for publishers
  26. Boost organic posts that have already been popular on their own
  27. Use the bull’s-eye icon for organic posts to target relevant audiences
    targeting
  28. Initiate and maintain real conversations with partners and people
  29. Turn on your Page’s visibility within Facebook Discover
  30. Check the Insights tab weekly to evaluate what content is reaching people and resonating with them

+ Bonus: Use, yes, but never build a brand entirely on someone else’s platform.

Website Redesigns that Better Serve Modern Marketers

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Investing in a website redesign? Systematic shifts in search and design may make you think twice about where you spend your money. 

Companies investing in website design projects need to understand the changing nature of search and website design before investing in a site that may need major changes soon after launch. By tracking search filters used on our company’s agency directory, we found users are predominantly hiring marketing agencies to help with Web design projects and content marketing. While it’s natural to outsource those tasks, it is now more vital than ever that someone interested in hiring an agency understands the major shifts happening in those fields. Search trends have shown that content creators need to adapt to Google’s Rankbrain update and searcher intent shifts. Any website design investment must take these changes into account.

 

Website design and content creation go hand in hand when it comes to creating an exceptional site that converts visitors into customers. A beautifully designed site that lacks any substance will fail to keep a visitor’s attention. Even the best content will fail to find the right audience if the user experience makes it too difficult to find or consume. Our own research shows that when looking to hire an agency, business owners search for website design and content creation more than any other service. Website design searches made up 20 percent of all service-related searches on our agency directory in August, while 11 percent of searches went to find content creators. Our 2017 research also indicates that growing SEO, blog creation and content amplification were the top three priorities for the upcoming year among marketers.

Given the importance of these services for a marketer – not to mention the cost in time and money associated with an investment into these areas – it is imperative to approach an agency or provider with a current grasp on these subjects. In the world of search, there is a movement happening where marketers are shifting from focusing on ranking for keywords and toward ranking for topics. In this model, a marketing team develops a page – called pillar content- that is built to rank for a broad topic and they use supporting blog content to link to that piece of pillar content.

Help Scout provides a great example of this in action. They created a page that acts as a go-to resource for any kind of information related to the topic of customer acquisition. Customer acquisition is the topic. Help Scout uses their blog posts to expand the number of keywords related to customer acquisition they want to target, while always ensuring they link back to the pillar customer acquisition page.

Our research department found that structuring content based on a pillar structure led to higher average ranking on search engine results pages and more impressions. Focusing on topics and building your site based on a pillar content structure means that marketers need to re-think their approach to content production. Focusing on long-tail keywords and trying to rank for a broad spectrum of keywords might no longer work for your company. If a content provider proposes that kind of model for your company, you should press to make sure a pillar content model fits better with your search goals. While the idea of creating pillar content is not a new one it’s something that a marketer should keep top of mind when investing in site design or content creation.
fishkin

Much like how ranking for topics is changing search marketing, growth-driven design (GDD) has changed how website design firms build new websites. The concept of GDD was created to better serve modern marketers obsessed with data and making educated choices. Traditional website design firms have a trusted process for approaching a website redesign that includes gathering research, creating mock-ups and launching a site over the course of an extended amount of time. While the quality of work for these kinds of projects can be exceptional, this model has a core flaw with the length of time it takes to launch a new site. Launching a site may take anywhere from a few months to two years to complete! Marketing messaging can shift in a week and launching a site based on research conducted a year previously might leave out valuable current user information.
traditional-redesign

The old design model also included a big launch of the new site that created buzz and a public relations opportunity. With that big launch came the end of the work. It is true the design firms might help with ongoing maintenance, but a majority of the project ends with the launch. This way of launching a new site leaves little time for testing to see what about the new site works and what does not work.

Growth-driven design addresses these flaws by focusing on launching iterations of a final site and testing along the way. Rather than launching a big bloated site all at once, GDD firms will create a test or launch site along with a comprehensive testing plan to ensure the new site resonates and tests well with its users. GDD is a different way of approaching website design that focuses on testing and gradually creating a working site.

Even with these new approaches, it is worth pausing before you completely overhaul your content creation efforts or ditch your almost complete website design launch. Every company should create a unique approach to content creation and website design that complements their goals. Building a foundational knowledge on these topics will help ensure you make a wise investment in the future.