Archive for the ‘optimize’ Category

Buying Text Links

March 22, 2008
Buying text links. It’s all the rage.
Is it evil? Is it good? Will it help your search engine rankings? Will it get you banned? Will it increase your PageRank? Will it increase your link popularity? Will it bring targeted traffic to your site? Should you do it? Should you hire a broker to do it?
These are the questions on webmasters’ and search marketers’ minds. What follows is my take on buying text links.

There’s nothing wrong with purchasing an ad on a website that links back to your website. Advertising your site is good. Advertising it on popular sites where your target market hangs out is even better. After all, the name of the game is to bring in targeted traffic. Your advertisements on other people’s sites are none of the search engines’ business and will not get your site banned or penalized. They will not hurt your site in any way. How you market your site is completely up to you, and you don’t need to worry about the search engines if you decide to purchase text link ads.

So what’s the big deal?

Here’s where it gets tricky. A good portion of ads that are bought on websites are not purchased for the targeted traffic they will bring, but as an attempt to artificially inflate the link popularity of the site being advertised. No big news to you, I’m sure, and no big news to the search engines. Since having a popular site can often help with natural search engine rankings, people have been looking for cheap and efficient ways to boost their site’s popularity for years.

Ya gotta do what ya gotta do — but so do search engines.

To the search engines, a link is supposed to mean that someone found a site useful and wanted to tell others about it. This may very well have been true at one point in time many, many years ago. But today a link could mean something completely different. A link might be a simple trade between webmasters, or an ad, or even a vote *against* another site. With no way for a search engine to really know the intent of a link, things have really gotten complicated for them.

Ads used to have tracking links so that webmasters could measure their return on investment; however, today’s text linkers often prefer to keep the tracking codes off because their web analytics software no longer needs them. And besides, if you’re going to buy an ad, you might as well get the possible link popularity credit that comes with it. That’s more likely to happen with a plain old, stripped-down href link.

Unfortunately, this is wreaking havoc with search engine algorithms. On the one hand, they know it’s not their place to tell people whether they should or should not advertise on other sites — especially since most of the engines are advertising companies in their own right. On the other hand, without any way to figure out which links are truly a vote for a site, and which are simply a paid ad, the relevancy of the search results for any given keyword phrase can be skewed towards those who are willing to put their money where their mouth is.

The good news for search engines (and I guess the bad news for link brokers) is that most text link ads and the sites that sell them tend to leave noticeable “footprints” behind in the code. It would be no trouble at all for a search engine to do a little digging into what the latest footprints are, seek out all pages that have them, and simply not allow them to pass any link popularity. This is not a penalty, mind you. It would just be a way for the search engines to count only votes and not ads. Your ads would still be worthwhile for the exposure and direct traffic they bring, but not for providing you with link popularity. So although your site wouldn’t technically be penalized, its rankings could drop if it was dependent upon the link popularity of paid links.

For those of you who don’t believe the search engines can or would do this, you obviously haven’t been paying attention over the years. What do you think every major update at Google has been about? They haven’t been specifically about purchased link ads, but they have been about finding a subset of pages that all have similar characteristics and no longer allowing them to count the way they used to count towards rankings. Which means every page using the technique in question suddenly finds their rankings have dropped like a rock.

It’s not a matter of *if* this will happen with paid text link ads, but *when*. It could be next week, next month, or next year. Regardless of when the engines decide to lower the boom, you can bet we’re going to hear a lot of crying in the forums about it! For now, if you’re buying text link ads, or have been thinking about it, I wouldn’t really worry about it. Just make a mental note to yourself that whatever boost to your rankings they may provide now could vanish at any time. It’s no big deal if you’re getting real traffic from your ads, or if you’re simply using them to jumpstart your SEO campaign. It’s going to be a problem only if your livelihood depends on buying or selling text link ads to boost link popularity.


All About Title Tags

March 22, 2008
What Is a Title Tag?

The title tag has been — and probably will always be — one of the most important factors in achieving high search engine rankings.

In fact, fixing just the title tags of your pages can often generate quick and appreciable differences to your rankings. And because the words in the title tag are what appear in the clickable link on the search engine results page (SERP), changing them may result in more clickthroughs.

Search Engines and Title Tags

Title tags are definitely one of the “big three” as far as the algorithmic weight given to them by search engines; they are equally as important as your visible text copy and the links pointing to your pages — perhaps even more so.

Do Company Names Belong in the Title Tag?

This is one of the most common questions asked about titles. The answer is a resounding YES! I’ve found that it’s fine to place your company name in the title, and *gasp*, even to place it at the beginning of the tag! In fact, if your company is already a well-known brand, I’d say that it’s essential. Even if you’re not a well-known brand yet, chances are you’d like to eventually be one. The title tag gives you a great opportunity to further this cause.

This doesn’t mean that you should put *just* your company name in the title tag. Even the most well-known brands will benefit from a good descriptive phrase or two added, as it will serve to enhance your brand as well as your search engine rankings. The people who already know your company and seek it out by name will be able to find you in the engines, and so will those who have never heard of you but seek the products or services you sell.

Title Tags Should Contain Specific Keyword Phrases

For example, if your company is “Johnson and Smith Inc.,” a tax accounting firm in Texas, you shouldn’t place only the words “Johnson and Smith Inc.” in your title tag, but instead use something like “Johnson and Smith Inc. Tax Accountants in Texas.”

As a Texas tax accountant, you would want your company’s site to appear in the search engine results for searches on phrases such as “Texas tax accountants” and “CPAs in Texas.” (Be sure to do your keyword research to find the best phrases!) You would need to be even more specific if you prefer to work with people only in the Dallas area. In that case, use keywords such as “Dallas tax accountants” in your site’s title tags.

Using our Dallas accountant’s example, you might create a title tag as follows:

Johnson and Smith Tax Accountants in Dallas

or you might try something like this:

Johnson and Smith Dallas CPAs

However, there’s more than enough space in the title tag to include both of these important keyword phrases. (I like to use about 10-12 words in my title tags.)

One way to do it would be like this:

Johnson and Smith – Dallas Tax Accountants – CPAs in Dallas, TX

I’ve always liked the method of separating phrases with a hyphen; however, in today’s competitive marketplace, how your listing appears in the SERPs is a critical aspect of your SEO campaign. After all, if you have high search engine rankings but your targeted buyers aren’t clicking through, it won’t do you much good.

These days I try to write compelling titles as opposed to simply factual ones, if I can. But it also depends on the page, the type of business, the targeted keyword phrases, and many other factors. There’s nothing wrong with the title tag in my above example. If you were looking for a tax accountant in Dallas and saw that listing at Google, you’d probably click on it.

Still, you could make it a readable sentence like this:

Johnson and Smith are Tax Accountants and CPAs in Dallas, TX

I’m not as thrilled with that one because I had to remove the exact phrase “Dallas Tax Accountants,” as it wouldn’t read as well if it said:

Johnson and Smith are Dallas Tax Accountants and CPAs in Dallas, TX

It sounds redundant that way, as if it were written only for the search engines.

In the end, it’s really a personal preference. Don’t make yourself crazy trying to create the perfect title tag, as there’s just no such thing. Most likely, either of my examples would work fine. The best thing to do would be to test different ones and see which rank higher and which convert better. It may very well be that the second version doesn’t rank as well, but gets clicked on more, effectively making up the difference.

Use Your Visible Text Copy As Your Guide

I prefer not to create my title tags until the copy on the page has been written and optimized. I need to see how the copywriter integrated the keyword phrases into the text to know where to begin. If you’ve done a good job with your writing (or better yet, hired a professional SEO copywriter), you should find all the information you need right there on your page. Simply choose the most relevant keyword phrases that the copy was based on, and write a compelling title tag accordingly. If you’re having trouble with this and can’t seem to get a handle on what the most important phrases are for any given page, you probably need to rewrite the copy.

I recommend that you *don’t* use an exact sentence pulled from your copy as your title tag. It’s much better to have a unique sentence or a compelling string of words in this tag. This is why you have to watch out for certain development tools. Some content management systems (CMS) and blog software such as WordPress automatically generate the title tag from information you provide elsewhere. In WordPress, for example, the default is to use your blog name, plus whatever you named the page. The problem is that this same info is also used as the headline, plus in the navigational link to the page. Depending on your setup, it could also be the URL for that page. Very rarely would you want all those to be the same.

The good news is that most of today’s CMS and blog software have workarounds so that you can customize your title tags. For WordPress, I recommend installing the “SEO Title Tag” plug-in developed by Stephan Spencer. It works like a charm on all my WordPress sites.

10 Blogger Types: The Good, the Bad, and the Sleazy

March 22, 2008
These past few weeks I’ve watched how things played out in the blogosphere after breaking the story of Google’s new “unavailable_after” tag.  I have to say that what I learned was extremely interesting and educational to me!  I have been writing articles for the High Rankings Advisor newsletter and other publications for many years and have seen bits and pieces of my work get picked up in various places; however, it’s a whole ‘nother ballgame when you break an important news story.Sharing What I Learned

As with most of my more popular newsletter articles, requests for republishing started coming in soon after it was published.  What made this one different was that many of the more popular bloggers in the search marketing space picked up the news quickly — and then things really went crazy.

A Google search this past weekend for “unavailable_after” brought up 93,000 results!  I don’t know for sure, but I imagine there weren’t any results for this phrase previously, or at least very few. 93,000 pages all mentioning unavailable_after and, presumably, my original article.  Pretty cool, eh?  Unfortunately, it’s not as cool as it appears at first glance.

The Rankings Letdown

For one thing, I kind of expected that my original article would be showing at the top of the search results, but it wasn’t even close! Although, when I looked at it with my SEO eye, I had to smack myself because there were good reasons why it wasn’t in the top.  For one, the unavailable_after tag wasn’t the focus of my article since it was a synopsis of everything Dan Crow had discussed at the SEMNE event.  For another, “unavailable_after” wasn’t even in my article’s Title tag, again, because it wasn’t the focus.

But What About the Links?

I did think that all the links pointing to the original article should have given it more “oomph” to rank for that phrase despite the fact that the article wasn’t optimized for it, but apparently they didn’t. The good news is that the article does rank #1 for “getting into Google” as one would expect, which in the long run is probably much more important!

My SEO Efforts

I was still intrigued (and slightly annoyed) about not ranking for “unavailable_after,” so I added it to my Title tag and the top headline to see if that would have any effect.  As of today, Google hasn’t re-indexed the page, so the jury is still out on that one.  I also began reviewing the pages that were showing up before mine in the search results. What I found was an enlightening look at the SEO blogosphere. Unfortunately, it wasn’t always pretty, and at the end of my review I was pretty disgusted with some bloggers.

The 10 Types of Bloggers

Here are the results of my review and the 10 types of bloggers I found.  You’ll notice that they range from good to bad to sleazy.

1. Good: People who ask permission to reprint your article and add a bio with links back as requested.

These are people who are generally looking to add some content to their own sites.  They usually republish the article in full, and are happy to add whatever bio and links you specify.

2. Good: People who republish without asking permission but at least link back to the original article.

I don’t really have a problem with the folks who haven’t asked permission if they at least have the courtesy of linking back to the original article.  Sure, it’s not as great as controlling what the links say in a bio, but it’s generally fine.

3. Good: People who blog about something you wrote and who link to your original article, providing their own unique commentary or spin to go with it.

This is the best type of blog post as it isn’t a complete dupe of yours, and it gives credit where credit is due.  Watch out, however, as sometimes these types of blog posts are critical of what you’re written.  Personally, I have no problem whether people agree or disagree as that’s the foundation for blogging.

4. Okay: People who blog about what some other blogger blogged about, and link to both the original article and the blogger’s commentary.

I probably should put this one in the “good” category — as it really is fine — but it still is irksome when the secondary blogger’s post seems to get more credit than the original piece.

5. Bad: People who blog about what some other blogger blogged about it (as in #4 above), but who link back only to the blogger and not the original.

I was surprised at how prevalent this one was.  I don’t think that most people intend to snub the original author, but it happens a lot! Sure, you could say it’s okay because the post they DO link to posts that link back to the original, but that’s just not good enough. I strongly believe that the original writer should get credit where credit is due in a more direct manner.

6. Bad: People who blog on the topic and then Digg their OWN post instead of the original.

I almost put this in the “sleazy” category, but I guess it’s sort of borderline.  It seems to me if the topic is Digg-worthy, it should be the original article or post that gets Digged.  Unfortunately, that’s often not the case.

7. Sleazy: People who don’t ask to republish but do it anyway, and don’t even link back!

When they don’t even put the original author’s name on it, I believe it’s copyright infringement.  If they do mention the author’s name, but never link back to them in some manner, it’s pretty sleazy in my book.

8. Sleazy: Scrapers who link or don’t link, but add contextual link ads and other crap to the content.

Unfortunately, this is extremely prevalent these days.  I would guess that a good portion of those 93,000 results in Google fall into this category.  I can’t imagine those pages actually get any traffic, so I’m not sure what the point is.

The next 2 don’t quite fit into the good, bad, or sleazy categories, but were additional types I noted:

9. Strange: People who blog but somehow get their facts wrong.

One post got the name of the organization (SEMNE) wrong and called it SEMPO.  I’m not sure why or how, as it was right there in black and white. I don’t believe there was any malicious intent going on, but it was strange nonetheless.  (It was corrected immediately upon notification, so that was good!)

10. Dumbasses: People who just blog it cuz everyone else is.

Good blog posts are good for a reason.  Simply writing about something because everyone else has is not a good blog post.  ‘Nuff said!

And on that note, I implore you to look at your own blogging practices to see if you fit in any of the categories above.  If so, here’s hoping it’s one of the good ones!

Revisited: The Art of SEO – Jill Whalen

March 22, 2008
As much as Google *pretends* to like SEOs by inviting us to parties at the Googleplex and posting on SEO forums, the bottom line is that they don’t like us — or rather, they don’t like what we do. Google wants to find the best, most relevant sites for the search query at hand all by themselves. Perhaps someday they will actually be able to do that, but for now, they still need our help, whether they like it or not.

Unfortunately, unscrupulous SEOs have given Google good reasons not to like us. Because of search engine spammers, Google is constantly changing their ranking criteria and is always on the lookout for the telltale signs of SEO on any given site. It’s not a huge stretch to say that they may even downgrade the sites that they believe have been SEO’d.

If you think that having your keyword phrases “in all the right places for
SEO” is a good thing, think again! You’re essentially telling Google, “Hey
look…my site has been SEO’d!” To which they reply, “Thanks so much for
letting us know… ZAP … see ya later!” Doesn’t matter if your site is
the most relevant (in your mind) to the search query. Doesn’t matter that
you’ve placed your keyword phrases strategically throughout the site.

Stuff that worked like a charm for many people in the early years of SEO may actually hurt rather than help now. As to what might trigger an SEO “red flag,” my guess is that it’s a combination of things. Like, if you have a certain number of traditional SEO factors on any given page, those may set off some Google warning bells (otherwise known as a spam filter).

Some of the traditional SEO formulaic elements that you may have been taught to use include putting the keyword phrase:

  • in the domain name
  • in the file name
  • in the Title tag
  • in the Meta description tag
  • in the Meta keyword tag o in the image alt attributes
  • in an H1 (or any H) tag
  • as the first words on the page
  • in bold and/or italics or a different color
  • multiple times in the first paragraph or twice on the page
  • in the copy in every single spot on the page where it might possibly make sense to use it, and
  • in all the hyperlinks pointing to a page.

If you put the same keyword phrase in many of those spots, you might very well trigger a spam filter. Since it’s difficult to determine how many and which combinations of those things might trigger the filter, the best advice I can give you is to do your SEO without any particular formula in mind.
That’s how I’ve always done it and it’s always worked because every site is
unique and has different SEO needs.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to describe this type of SEO to others, as
people are always looking for the magic formula. For as long as I’ve been
doing SEO (over 12 years now), I’ve had it in the back of my mind that I
wouldn’t want to tip off the engines that my sites were SEO’d. This is one
of the reasons I’ve never used keyword-rich domain names or file names.
That’s probably the most obvious SEO thing you can do.

The most important aspect to being a good SEO is creativity. You shouldn’t
worry too much about the specifics of putting keyword phrases here and
there, and again over there. Not every page needs an H1 heading with
keyword phrases in it. If your page isn’t designed to use H1 headings, you
don’t need to change it to use one just for SEO purposes. And many images don’t really and truly make sense with a keyword phrase in their alt attribute (alt tag). Don’t force one to be there just for the search engines.

Most importantly for Google (and for your users), when it comes to your page copy and how you use your visible keyword phrases, less is definitely more. Please don’t read my Nitty-gritty report and then put the same keyword phrase in every single available spot on your page that you can find. My report is supposed to help you think about a few places you may have missed because you weren’t thinking about being descriptive when you originally wrote the copy. You can definitely have too much of a good thing.

A first paragraph on a page that has, say, 4 sentences, should not have 10
instances of your keyword phrase. It will look and sound dumb. I know that I have stressed this in my conference presentations and in our High Rankings seminars, but no matter how many times I say this, people don’t quite grasp the importance of working this way. If your copy reads poorly to a human, and does not come across as natural professional copywriting, the search engines won’t like it either.

When you do SEO, you don’t follow a guidebook. Think like a search engineer and consider all the possible things they might have to combat both now and in the future. Always optimize for 3 or 4 or even up to 5 phrases, and spread them out throughout the entire page. Never, ever, ever think that it’s the first paragraph that matters and stuff ‘em all in there. There should be an equal distribution throughout the entire page, and you should never use the phrases so much that you hear them constantly when you read it.

If you’ve done it right, an everyday user should not have any idea that a page has been SEO’d. A trained SEO should be able to spot what your keyword phrases are, but it shouldn’t be glaringly obvious. Last, but not least, hire a professional copywriter to work on the important pages of your site. This is the best investment you can make for your site and your business. Even if you don’t want to hire an SEO, you absolutely MUST hire a
professional copywriter. You need someone who really and truly understands target audiences and how to speak to them about the benefits of what you offer. You can easily teach someone like that the SEO writing part.

Hope this helps to give you some ideas on how you might get out of formula-SEO mode and start doing more creative SEO. More than ever, SEO is much more of an art than a science. The science is only a small portion of it.