Archive for March, 2011


10 Step SEO # 6: External links (part b)

Search engines today still value the right kind of backlinks very highly. A backlink to your site from the front page of the New York Times using “Eugene SEO” as link text will almost certainly give your site a BIG boost for searches on “Eugene SEO,” “SEO Eugene,” and maybe even “Eugene.” A few links from that kind site will put you on top for those queries.

A whole bunch of links from mid-level sites can do the same thing. A billion links from low-end sites will work, also—but it will be damn hard to not get the majority of them devalued to the point of worthlessness.

Last week, I told you everything I know about backlinks: what, why, and where. Today, I’ll conclude SEO Step #6 with a more practical discussion: how?

So we all know by now what not to do, right?

  • Don’t buy or sell links,
  • Don’t link to (or get links from) bad neighborhoods,
  • Don’t get all your links by trading,
  • Don’t get too many links at once,
  • Don’t get all your links from low quality sites,
  • Don’t waste all your time submitting to directories,
  • Don’t let all your backlinks use the same link text,
  • Don’t let your link portfolio be dominated by links from irrelevant sites,
  • Don’t count on lots and lots of backlinks from the same IP address.

Okay then. Doesn’t leave much to work with. So what, then, shall we do?

Here are the main ways I get links.

  • Off-site content publication. Press releases, articles, guest posts in blogs, customized content in aggregators (like Squidoo)
  • Online community participation. Forums, wikis, news groups, blog comments, social networking
  • Link bait.  YouTube videos, free downloads, games, any attractive content that is even remotely relevant to your site. (See March 29th post, Link Bait Ideas)

You may notice that “Link exchange requests,” “Directory submissions,” and “Link packages” did not make the list.

The main thing to remember is, backlink acquisition is a way of life. No, really. It’s not something the Marketing Department puts in the section of their plan titled “Other, Web-related.” Link building is long-term. Link building is on-going. Link building is a philosophy. Link building is for everyone.

All that means is this. If you want to be a successful link-acquirer, you have to make sure that everything you do (and everyone working for you does) concerning your website is aware of link potential, link strategy, and link execution.

  • Press release about the new store opening? Seed the text with a couple (and only a couple) of relevant links, and make sure the attribution paragraph contains a single link to the website.
  • Does your purchasing team have conversations with vendors and suppliers? Try to get them to work a backlink into the next agreement. And dictate the link text.
  • Creative team looking for new content ideas? Think link bait!
  • Email blast to 20,000 customers? Put in a few well-targeted text links.
  • Do you mandate a company-wide email signature? Make sure every employee from CEO to stock clerk has a link to the website, but also encourage them to have a text link in that signature also—just not all the same text link.
  • Does anybody in your company have a blog? Or a Facebook Fanpage? Or use Twitter? LINK OPPORTUNITIES!
  • White pagers? Think links.
  • Articles? Think Links.
  • Craigslist ads? THINK LINKS.

Every time you or someone in your company logs into an industry-related forum, or chat group, or professional organization, or leaves a comment on some relevant blog it is a link opportunity.

All of this is not to suggest you obsess about links. Because even if you get the company culture to consider the link potential of everyday communication, a lot of those links will not end up counting. Some will end up on “nofollow” pages. Some will have the hyperlink stripped before publication. Many will never make to an HTML page at all. The point is that if everybody knows about links and everybody knows about keywords over time links will accrue.

And yes, I know, in the rush to jump all over the whole linky linky thing,  I skipped right over 10 Step SEO, #4.  Next week.


Big Damn List of SEO Factors

Okay, here it is. A Big Damn List of Things that Probably Influence Search Ranking (mostly in Google). It is culled from many sources around the web. Many of these factors have lost credibility over the years (e.g. keyword meta tag)  while others not listed here are probably on the rise. The lists are in no particular order. In all instances, the word “keyword” should be read as “the keyword or keyword phrase that was queried at the search engine.”

Checklist for Search Ranking Factors

Positive Ranking Factors, On Page
Keyword in URL
Keyword in domain name
Keyword in title tag
Keyword in meta description tag
Keyword in meta keyword tag
Keyword in H1, H2 and H3 tags
Keyword in emphatic tags (bold or strong, em, CSS spans, etc)
Use of keyword in content
Use of keyword synonyms and variations
Prominence of keywords in webpage code
Keyword in Alt text for images
Use of keyword in anchor text
Clear and text-readable navigation structure
Links pointing outward to authoritative sites
Traffic history to page
Source traffic patterns
Sitemap link on page
W3 validated code
Short page load time
Clear HTML code
Page content prominent in source code
Large script blocks called as includes (off-page)
Valid CSS
Short URLs
Content freshness
Age & history of domain

Positive Ranking Factors, Off Page
XML Sitemap
Valid robots.txt file
Backlinks from authoritative web pages
Backlinks from relevant sites
Backlinks with keyword in anchor text
Backlinks from varied IP addresses
Backlinks from large sites
Variation in anchor text from various backlinks
Traffic popularity of referring page
Page position of backlink
Age of backlink
Backlinks from
Backlinks from Wikipedia
Backlinks from social networking sites
Backlinks from article directories
Backlinks from press release publishers
Backlinks from newspaper archives
Visits trending upward
Click-through to impression ratio of backlinks
Bounce rate
Percent of visits remaining on site
Geographic distribution of visits

Negative Ranking Factors, On Page
Over optimization
Page cloaking
Title tag length
H1 tags in excess of one
Keyword stuffing in meta tags
Keyword stuffing in content
Keyword stuffing in Alt tags
Broken links
Links or content unreadable by spiders
Improper redirects
Excessive interlinking
Lack of domain age
Lack of page content
Poor navigation structure
Repeated links
Overuse of emphatic text
Slow page load
Excessively high keyword density
Site updates in unnatural patterns
Dynamic URL’s
Excessive Java Script in page code
Unreadable page content
Use of frames
Hidden text
Hidden links
Deceptive links
Use of “gateway” pages
Duplicate content
Poor quality content
Large number of ads
Scraped or stolen content
Invalid Robots.txt file

Negative Ranking Factors, Off Page
Link trafficking
Link farming
Linking to “bad neighborhoods”
Link acquisition in unnatural patterns
High percentage of links from irrelevant sites
High percentage of links from directories
High percentage of reciprocal links
High percentage of links from single IP address
High percentage of links using the same anchor text
High percentage of links using irrelevant anchor text

Know or suspect other factors not in these lists? Feel free to suggest them in a comment.


10 Link Bait Ideas

What is link bait?

Link bait is content you create specifically in the hope that it will become so popular that thousands of people will link to it, and in so doing, link to your site. Think “viral.”

In theory, this should improve the search posture of the page the content is on. If you then link the bait page to a high-value page (say your home page), some of that golden goodness will rub off. In theory.

In practice, this strategy has been seen to pay off big. It is also much more likely to fail. The keys to success with link bait content are:

  • It must be attractive to a significant number of web users
  • It must be released into the web in some way that promotes its viral possibilities
  • If it becomes associated with your brand name, it must not degrade or debase that brand
  • It should ideally be connected in some way (even marginally) with your product, service, or industry
  • It must be very, very lucky

Note: in all cases, the content you release really must belong to you. Do not attempt to build link bait out of stolen material. In case you think that anything you find on the web is free to use, be advised it is not. Copyrights apply to almost everything. Including stuff you make yourself, only in that case, you own it. So, for all the ideas below, you absolutely must create it, commission it, buy it, or secure the rights. Seriously.

10 Ideas for Link Bait Content

  1. Develop a free online game
  2. Write a controversial article
  3. Produce a video of a silly song
  4. Do a video how-to on something currently trendy
  5. Write a step-by-step instruction on something difficult
  6. Post a clever review of something that is really popular
  7. Explain something complex in simple, graphical terms
  8. Put together a series of magnificent photos of interesting locales
  9. Video or photograph cute animals doing adorable things
  10. Draw an edgy comic strip

Oh, and I better add one more, perhaps the grandest idea of them all:

Put together a top 10 list

A Few Places to Promote Link Bait Content

YouTube (video)

Flickr (photography)

4chan (edgy–WARNING 4chan may contain offensive content NSFW)

Delicious (anything interesting)

StumbleUpon (anything entertaining)

Digg (whatever)

Any social networking site.


Futuristic SEO

Imagine, if you will, the Search Marketing industry of 2025. Okay, it probably won’t even exist. Instead, you’ll have your own personal digital assistant (ne “iSlave”) to run about the web looking for stuff you didn’t even know you wanted, but can’t really live without. But if SEO was still a useful endeavor, what might it look like?

Advanced Social Networking
Companies begin to develop into their own social networks, creating happy little puddles of customer base just aching to be marketed to. This is an outgrowth of the Facebook Fan page, but much much more. Genuinely attractive content rules. For instance, a JC Penny’s might well develop a network around, say, professional soccer. They would perhaps even buy a pro soccer team, just to give them a social nucleus.  Building content around that nucleus then gives fans a reason to participate. JC Penney’s then markets sports-related brands unmercifully, and all other products through more subtle means.

Media Penetration
There have always been program sponsors for television, radio, and other entertainment media. What will be different, perhaps, is the level to which industries might take on the actual development of entertainment content, expressly for the purpose of search posture. One might envision a sitcom created by Zappos around the premise of Sex in the Spacestation, where our cute but brain-damaged nymphettes endlessly prattle on about their love lives and their shoes. Which are, incidentally, all available at Zappos. The series is delivered solely through the internet, and everybody who tunes in (surfs in?) to watch adds to Zappos authority status for the keywords “shoes,” “stilettos,” and “bimbos.”

Search Warfare
Are your competitors kicking your butt for high-value search terms? In 2025 you might hire a team of Search Assassins to undo the competition’s expensive SEO efforts. Through devious content publication techniques, the assassins can manipulate search ranks connecting (and in the process associating) an enemy with icky keywords, or place them in undesirable neighborhoods, or make them appear to be following the Path of Le Chapeau Noir.

Topic Leeches
Certain unscrupulous vendors will perfect the technique of manipulated individual search. By placing tracking cookies (and through other even more nefarious means) on web users, the SEOs will compile topic dossiers that link user to search queries, and then direct all further searches from those users to results that are targeted directly at them. Have you been searching S&M sites in the wee hours of night? You might find that your perfectly innocent daylight searches for “tire chains” now include a few “bonus” results…..

The real scary thing? All that stuff is either happening now, or is in late-stage development. Change the date above from 2025 to 2012.  And you better hurry up and order your new iSlave. The wait list is getting pretty long.


Friday’s SEO Site of the Week

This week’s site is Webmasterworld, a humble forum that can be described as probably the richest source of information about the web anywhere on the web. Online since 1996, Webmasterworld has been a kind of class secretary of the internet, accumulating facts, conjectures, theories, plans, strategies, issues, bugs, ideas, rumors, flame wars, warnings, hacks, ego trips, how-tos, quick fixes, panic attacks, knowledge, inferences, fear mongering, analyses, mea culpas, martyr complexes, innuendos, information, personalities, apocrypha, and the tattered souls of webheads from every corner of the world wide webs.

A Google search for “” just got me over 2,000,000 pages of content. The true scope is probably much, much grander.

That’s a pretty big dawg.

Not all of this awesomeness is devoted to search marketing, of course. The topics covered here  are as endless as cyberspace. Still, just to keep this blog on some sort of track, it must be noted that the sections devoted to SEO are numerous, diverse, and beyond all, exceeding useful.

Want to know the latest Google update scuttlebutt? Webmasterworld has a Google section that contains over a million posts. Robust marketing section. Bunch of Yahoo stuff. Much ado about everything. Over 38,000 posts on link building, for crying out loud.

So there it is.  Big old pile of forum posts, some useful, some information, some amusing, some not-so-much. Most of this can be accessed for free, by anyone. They do have a subscription paywall that provides some additional benefit and helps support the site. For $150 a year, you get:

  • Access to the private supporters forum. It is made up of some of the best professionals in the business in a more relaxed atmosphere.
  • An ad free environment if we should add advertising.
  • A special discounted Supporters Only rate to all WebmasterWorld hosted conferences.
  • Access to WebmasterWorld ToolSet including: Keyword Density Analyzer, robots.txt Validator, Spider Simulator, Browser Header Checker, and the Server Header Checker.

I cannot recommend (or commend) Webmasterworld enough. I give it One Click, times 2 million.


10 Step SEO # 6: External links

Time for everybody’s favorite SEO topic! That’s right, Number 6! External links! W00t!

Link acquisition is such an important topic that I’m going to spend two weeks on it. Today we’ll talk about the history of backlinks. Next Thursday we’ll get into the mechanics and mysteries of the arcane art of link building.

First, you should know (or be reminded) that Google’s claim to fame, their reason to be, and the key to their success as a search engine is the concept of backlinks.  Google founders invented the system of ranking search results based on the notion that the more links pointed to a site, the more authoritative it was likely to be, and thence the more relevant, and thence the more likely to be what you were searching for. The theory was brilliant. Worked like a charm and made those two guys rich beyond your wildest imagination. But(and you know there’s always a “but”)—the system could be gamed.

Long ago, back in the dark ages of the early Naughty Aughties, back when search engines could be played like a cheap fiddle, back when anybody with the will and knowledge could get #1 ranks for any keyword they wanted without breaking a sweat, the very first thing an SEO would do for any site was submit it to every directory they could find. Well, every free directory, anyway. And the first directory to move on was always a modest little web catalog called DMOZ.

DMOZ was a noble project. They aimed to categorize the entire internet, weeding through all the crap with an army of volunteer editors who took to their responsibilities with an almost religious zeal. Each editor had control over a topic space. Every submission that came to them was reviewed, approved or denied, and posted in the DMOZ index, usually within a few days. And for several years, getting a link from a DMOZ listing was absolute, unbelievably effective, search rank GOLD.

All the other directories tried to emulate them, only many with a “value-add” like fast-track indexing, or bolded listings, or whatever which was really only about wrestling a revenue stream out of what DMOZ was giving away for free.

At one point, there were thousands of directories, all offering you a backlink and pretending to be a useful source of visits. Of course, with the possible exception of Yahoo and DMOZ, almost none of them ever actually sent any traffic at all. Have you ever used, say, CrazyMoTheDirectoryMonkey to find a decent dentist? Why would you when any search engine does the job better? The answer is the directories never really thought of themselves as traffic generators. They were just big old piles of backlinks.

All of which made backlink acquisition easy-peasy lemon-squeezy.  First, you’d submit your site to DMOZ, then to as many other directories as you could find.

The only other tactic most people used was the much more time-consuming process of identifying prospective link buddies and then sending them emails requesting a link exchange. This was (and still is, no doubt) absolutely mind-bogglingly tiresome and inefficient. But it was what we did. And after a fashion, the two strategies together worked pretty well.

Until everybody started using them, of course.

That’s when Google and some of the other engines decided that maybe the whole backlink thing was a bit too easy to game. So they tweaked.

  • Devalued reciprocal links (links exchanged between two or more sites)
  • Devalued links from pages that were deemed irrelevant
  • Devalued links from known “link farms” (which is what almost all the directories turned out to be)
  • Devalued links from pages that were dominated by out-bound links
  • Devalued links from “bad neighborhoods” or sites that were known to be sketchy in some way—like selling porn, or selling weapons of mass destruction, or selling links
  • Introduced the “no-follow” tag which allowed webmasters to link to you in a way that gave you no link benefit (or “link juice” as the kids say today)
  • And etc., etc., etc.

In essence, they took all the fun out link building. And made it really really really hard to do effectively.  Bringing us around to these modern times. Where the rules of backlinking are as easy-to-understand as they are cruel.

  1. Link acquisition is not easy
  2. If it’s easy, you’re doing it wrong
  3. Link building is not fast
  4. If it’s fast, you’re doing it wrong

And so, gentle reader, we conclude the first half of Step 6. Stay tuned. Next week we’ll figure out what the hell are we supposed to do now?


Content Isn’t Everything….

….it’s the only thing.

I mean, really. With the launch of Google’s newest update (codename: “Panda”), that’s what all the SEOs are talking about. Content, they say, is now the most important site element!

Newsflash. Content has always been the most important site element. And always will be. What’s more, everybody has always known this. Remember “Content Is King”?

Then why all the buzz now? Simple. Almighty Google has declared that content is the new backlink. You gots to have it, if you wants to play. And not just any old content, either. According to the Goog, it’s got to be

  • Original
  • Useful
  • Substantial

Which all just another way of saying, “C’mon people, if you’re not making the internet better, you’re making it worse.”

Your content must be unique to your site. No more copy and paste, no more sitescraper bots, no more one article published to 500 different domains. There are some important exceptions (like using manufacturer’s descriptions in your product copy), but for the most part, if you didn’t write it or commission it exclusively, it ain’t original.

And why not? If you go to the trouble of putting information out there on the web for all the world to see, why shouldn’t it be in some way—any small way—worth somebody’s time. This doesn’t mean every word on every site has to be deeply significant. Just in some way useful. Informative. Provocative. Funny. Cute. Entertaining. Nasty. Instructional. SOMETHING.

All of this useful, original stuff also needs to be something more than twelve words and a pass-through. For text content, there really isn’t any sort of word target (despite what you hear from a few SEOs) but there should always be enough to make a complete point, or thought, or at least a full paragraph. Images can be substantial all by themselves, but the criteria is very subjective. Does an image standing alone in the center of a page accomplish anything? If not, well, maybe you should consider filling up the space around it with some meaningful commentary. Or something.

I guess the true upshot of all this is:

Nobody really knows what Google means by “original, useful, and substantial.” But they’ll damn sure know when it’s not there.


An SEO Quiz

Which of the following is clearly NOT a violation of Google’s Terms of Use:

  1. DNS cloaking
  2. Buying and selling links
  3. Keyword targeted landing pages
  4. Hiding keywords & links
  5. Automated rank checking

If Google believes that you have violated their Terms of Use, they might:

  1. Remove your website and its pages from the Google index
  2. File an injunction against you
  3. Push all of your site’s pages farther down in rank
  4. Send a “cease and desist”
  5. Numbers 1 and 3
  6. Numbers 2 and 4

If you believe your competitors are in violation of Google’s Terms of Use, Google suggests you:

  1. Report them to your state’s Attorney General
  2. Try to duplicate their tactics
  3. Notify Google through their Webmaster Tools interface
  4. Repeatedly click on the competitor’s AdWord ads

If you have a database driven site that might use multiple different URL strings for the same page, you should:

  1. Place a <meta content=”duplicates”> tag in the head of your home page
  2. Place a <link rel=”canonical” href=”preferred URL” /> tag in  the head of duplicated pages
  3. Stop it immediately
  4. Post a “sitemap” with links to all the pages


  1. Reciprocal linking is a violation of Google’s rules. (true/false)
  2. Achieving higher search engine ranks by breaking search engine rules is illegal. (true/false)
  3. Google prohibits the use of 301 redirects (true/false)
  4. Buying links is considered the same crime as fraud. (true/false)
  5. Using a competitor’s brand names as keywords can get you fined. (true/false)

For extra credit, name three ways of gaining backlinks that are actively discouraged by Google. HINT:  There are more than three.

3, 5, 3,
T/F: false, false, false, false, false

10 correct: you are an SEO Star
7-9 correct: you’re doing all right, but could learn a bit more
4-6 correct: maybe you should consider hiring somebody to do your SEO
1-3 correct: give up on SEO and open an AdWords account


What Every Content Writer Should Know About Keywords

Many web content writers working today wish they had never heard of “keywords.” To them, an SEO placing keywords in a writer’s finely crafted content is like a waiter tossing garlic tofu croutons on top of the chef’s special blackened ahi and braised arugula salad. Maybe some added nutritional value there. Maybe even kind of tasty on its own. But for crying out loud, not on the salad!

This particular aversion is not without its reasons. For about a decade now, the content writer wrote the most appealing possible prose designed to attract and keep an audience of human eyes, some maybe with wallets. And then the search optimizer figured out which words will convert to search engine traffic, and slathered them all over the page. Titles, headlines, subheads, even in the body. A writer might proudly point to a sentence like:

“These priceless ergonomic desk chairs were designed by our team of NASA engineers—using the latest technologies and algorithms—in a cooperative dance with our trés eleganté French designer from The Institut Francais de la Mode. Feel the magic envelop your spine from the moment your derrière descends.”

Only to discover that an SEO professional had changed it ever so slightly for search marketing purposes.

Cheap ergonomic desk chairs. These ergonomic desk chairs were designed by NASA desk chair engineers–with all the best desk chair technology and ergonomics algorithms—with help from the best ergonomic desk chair designer from France. Feel our magic ergonomic desk chair up your spine.”

Search engine optimized content was more often than not, “optimized” enough to break a content writer’s spirit. And the war raged on. Of course, both sides had a valid point. No matter how pretty the language of a web page is, it is all for nothing if nobody ever reads it. On the other hand, even if a well-optimized page draws millions of visits, what’s the point if almost all of them sprain an index finger trying to simultaneously hit the back button and gouge out their own eyes.

You see, it all needs to work together. In an harmonic internet dance, loved by search spiders and customers alike. Driving lots of traffic and convincing them to buy stuff. Marketing and content, together.

Well then. What’s a writer to do? If you just carry on writing your best, filled with anger and despair every time your work is optimized for search, you’ll die young and unhappy. If you start writing crap content assuming it will be hosed by an SEO, you won’t win many return engagements. How about trying the third path?

Learn to use keywords and make them part of your toolkit.

It isn’t sacrilege. It isn’t even that difficult. And in the end, if you manage to pull it all together, you can begin to sell yourself as an SEO Content Specialist (a title like that has got to be worth a couple of bucks an hour, at least). Why not? You probably already have most of the skills you need.

Know Your Audience
That’s the first thing every writer learns. Know your audience and craft your message to them. The MBA-bearing executive who hires you will call it something like “utilize your mission-critical demographic base to leverage a scalable ROI” but really, same thing. Before you begin an assignment, you ask yourself (and your probably your client) “Who is this content targeted to?” Maybe the answer is stay-at-home dads, 30-45, $35-50k/yr. Start writing your exceptional ergonomic desk chair pitch.

But Wait: there’s one more thing. Your demographic base also always includes “search engine spider, middle aged, not too bright, extremely impatient, but worth $$$.” Always. If you are writing for the web, that spider is in your demographic pool. Now start writing.

See the first of our !0 Step SEO articles, Keywords for more on the delicate art.


Friday’s SEO Site of the Week

Ready for it? The Site of the Week this week goes to SEO Quake. Remember a couple of week ago I told you about a Firefox plugin called the SEO Book Fabulous Extension for Firefox? And I said

I used this extension this a lot back when I was first getting my feet wet in the SEO swamp. I’ve moved on to some more sophisticated tools, but still recommend the SEO Book extension for Firefox heartily.

Well, SEO Quake is one of the things I moved on to.

This sucker rocks. When installed and running, it gives you an SEO run-down on every site you visit, in an easy to digest data row at the top of the usable browser window.  At a glance, you get current PageRank™, number of pages indexed by Google, Yahoo, and Bing, number of backlinks, Alexa rank, domain age, and links to more, more, more.  Click the “Info” link and you get keywords and keyword phrases in use, along with their density.

Even better! When you do a search for something, it gives you quick running breakdown of stats on every site in the search results!!!! Now that’s an awesome power.

Not only do you get all that, but this extension can be modded to show Google trend data. I find it all quite useful.

If you’re past the “title & meta tags” stage of SEO, you def want this. Let’s give it one of everything, twice.

A Click, Gary the Bat, a Wizard’s Hat