Archive for April, 2011

29
Apr
11

Friday’s SEO Site of the Week

Today’s SEO Site of the Week goes to a content publisher named Squidoo.  As content publishers go, this one is a little different. You sign up for an account, and are then able to create and publish any number of single page micro-sites you wish. Curious place, Squidoo, all full of stuff of every kind, shape, and purpose.  Some folks use this place to try and make money—they create pages they think will draw visits from Google (or other sources) and hope the visitors will click on ads. Every ad click turns into a little bit of revenue. Enough pages, enough traffic, enough luck, and it’s theoretically possible to make some change.

That’s not why I put them here, however. As far as a channel for hand-crafted, topic-relevant backlink building, well, Squidoo kind of rules.  Need a few backlinks for a site about pet supplies? Build yourself 25 pages on Squidoo and you can have 50 or so backlinks with the link text of your dreams. (And coming from a different IP from your site is a good thing, also.)

What the heck would you build 25 pages about? How about every cute pet you ever owned. Every dog show, every cat show, every reptiles/rodents/owls make great pets thing you can think of. The pages don’t have to be superb content. They just have to be decent content. Toss in a few pictures and you’re golden.

And if you’re really into it, participate in their forum and every comment you make contains a couple of links too!

I’ll give it a few clicks.

28
Apr
11

10 Step SEO # 9: Navigation

Okay, now that I spent the last three posts explaining navigation’s uses for SEO, today’s post should be kind of short….  Here is a summary of all you need to know about how navigation affects your search marketing, for good or ill.

If search engine spiders

  • can’t follow your navigation—that’s bad.
  • can’t read the link text in your navigation—that’s bad.
  • can’t make sense of your URLs—that’s bad.
  • can’t find a readable sitemap—that’s bad.
  • find useful keywords in your navigation link text—that’s good.
  • can easily get to every page of your site—that’s good.
  • discover any broken navigation links—that’s bad.
  • index gobs of internal search generated pages—that’s bad.
  • can tell exactly where in your site organization they are by reading your URLs and breadcrumbs—that’s good.

And Bob’s yer uncle. Let site navigation be your friend and it will also be your visitors’ friend. And even more importantly, it will be your search engine spider’s friend, too.

27
Apr
11

SEO Site Architecture, Fini

Today, we’ll finish the mini-series on site architecture’s relationship to SEO with a little treatise on everybody’s favorite web development topic, navigation! Yay!

Site Navigation: The system of links within a website that  connect the various pages and parts of the site together and facilitate movement between them.

If the internet is the world, and every website is a town, site navigation is the road system. Anybody who visits your site uses your navigation to get around the site, hopefully find what they’re looking for, and—if your town is all about retail—buy something. Navigation can make or break a website. And not only does navigation play a huge role in the way visitors interact with the site, they also make a HUGE difference in the way search engine spiders get around it.

Site navigation is made of up of several important elements, all of which add together to make a visitor’s experience easy, useful, and fun.

  • Main site navigation is the primary method for gaining entry inside. Usually across the top and down the left side.
  • Secondary site navigation points to particular pages within the site that have special significance.
  • Footer navigation lives at the bottom of pages and is a handy place to reiterate your most important internal links.
  • Sitemaps play a marginally useful role for site visitors (some of whom are known to depend on them) but are critically useful to search spiders—a well designed and implemented sitemap can definitely help get your pages indexed.
  • Breadcrumbs appear on internal pages and let visitors know just where they are (might look like: home > category page > sub-category page > product list > product). They are usually made of links to help folks return to where they’ve just been. To search engines, they also count as links.
  • Internal search can be helpful as a navigation aid of last resort, but also is used as a primary method of navigation by a small percentage of internet users. Search navigation is not particularly useful to spiders, BUT it can create an indexing hazard:  search navigation creates a unique dynamic page to display search results. This can lead to over indexing, which some engines might interpret as deliberate spam And spank you for it. You should remove all search results pages from indexing through a line in your robots.txt file.

Here are 5 characteristics of good main site navigation:

  1. Links look like links. If your internal links are all cute bunnies and frogs and no one can tell they’re suppose to click on ’em, nobody will.
  2. Links are easy to find. People are used to the web, now, and expect to find certain things in certain places. They expect navigation to be in banner across the top, under the header, in a column down the left side of the page body, or in a column at the right side of the body. This doesn’t mean you can’t bend the rules with an innovative, eye-catching design—but if you do, make sure the navigation is obvious.
  3. Links are made from text. This is something a lot of sites used to do wrong, though more and more are coming around. Links can be made of anything. Some great site designs use images as links, or JavaScript, or widgets or whatever. Might look great, but the problem is search spiders cannot read images. Not even if the image has words in it. They cannot read JavaScript very well, either. What they excel at is reading text. So if you want a spider to be able to navigation and index your content, you must provide text link navigation. Complex navigation schemes such as pulldowns, flyouts, buttons, roll-overs and the like can now be done using nothing but text links modified by CSS. Do that.
  4. Link text uses valuable keywords. Not every link needs to be a “money” keyword, but any navigation link that points to an important section of your site should definitely use keywords that are known to have search potential, are within your grasp competitively, and are likely to lead your visitors to a positive action. The reason for this is that search engines count any link pointing to a page as vote in favor of the page’s importance. Outside links count more than inside links, sure, but inside links still count. And if you have a 10,000 page site with the same text navigation link on every page, well, let’s  just say the page that link points to should do pretty well for the keyword you used.
  5. Every link works. Seems simple enough—make sure all your main navigation links go to real, live, functioning pages. You’d be surprised at how often webmasters make changes to content and forget to update the navigation links. Don’t be one of them. Oh, and while you’re at it, make sure that every nav link points to the page it describes.

That’s all I’ve got on SEO navigation…. Enjoy!

26
Apr
11

SEO Site Architecture, continued

Yesterday’s intro to site architecture and it’s association with SEO began with a discussion of organization. And that’s a great place to start. You’ve got all your content planned with a lovely little flow chart. You’ve got boxes and circles and lots of connector lines. Cool! Now you all you have to do is figure out how you’re going to get it onto web pages.

Web publication strategies are many and various. They can, however, be broken into two main groups: static and dynamic.

In static web publishing, every page is created individually, typically by hand. First, a design is created, either for the page itself (often for home pages) or as a template (for inside pages). Then a developer starts putting in the content. Every image is set in place. Every page element is laid down according to the design; every link, every word of text. And that’s the way the page stays, until somebody deliberately steps in to change it. This strategy can be very time-consuming to manage in large websites, and sites built like this tend to stay, well, static. The plus side will be discussed a little further down.

Dynamic pages are all sorts of different. Dynamic pages are designed as templates, with some, most, or all of the content broken into discrete “areas.” Each area then has code placed that will fill those areas with whatever content is indicated. All of that content lives at the server in a database. The content data can be updated manually or automatically. Some content areas might have different content rotated in and out on a schedule (daily, hourly, whatever) while other areas might update every time the browser is refreshed. Or not updated at all. Today, most large sites are dynamic, and virtually ever retail site is done that way. That’s because if you have 10,000 products that are always in a state of change you simply cannot keep up with a static site. Dynamic sites can be managed by a database administrator (DBA), or more often, by lower-paid staff using a content management system (CMS). Whether you use a CMS, or pay a DBA, dynamic content can be wonderful. It can take most of the suffering out of content maintenance.  But there is a dark side.

The problem with dynamic website content—and the advantage of using a static page strategy—lies with an artifact of the resulting site architecture. Cue the scary music (duh duh duuuuuuuh): the Gobblety-gook URL.

When a browser renders a page for a person (or spider) to view, the file and folder structure leaves its imprint in the URL. Suppose you’re looking for a page selling Hyram’s 8 oz. Unflavored Spruce Oil. You go to HyrumsOils.com and in the URL bar you may see http://www.hyrumsoils.com/index.html.

In a static web page, any file that lives right in the root folder will show up right after the .com (slash). Index.html is a file, of course. Next you click on the link to Spruce Oils. Now, the URL looks like http://www.hyrumsoils.com/spruceoils/spruce.html. You still have your root folder, and now you also have another folder, “spruceoils,” and another file, “spruce.html.” Click on “Unflavored Oils” and of course what you’ll see is

(example 1)
http://www.hyrumsoils.com/spruceoil/unflavored/unflavspruce.html

http://www.hyrumsoils.com/oakoil/flavored/mintyoak.html

And etcetera.

And that’s how every website ever built would look if simplicity ruled the world. It doesn’t. Instead, you have complicated dynamic database-driven sites (that you also don’t need to understand). These sites speak their own language as they communicate back and forth with the database, the CMS, and the browser. This language is most decidedly NOT English.

They instead throw out URLs that might make the address of the above page look more like:
(example 2)
http://www.hyrumsoils.com?sort=asdfdk&stuffID=129854&crap=oilfarmlks093898&none

http://www.hyrumsoils.com?sort=asdfdk&stuffID=832938&crap=oilfarmlks093899&some

That IS something you should care about. Because in example 1, a spider can look at the URL and see that your page is about something that is spruce oil and unflavored. Which will give the destination page  a unique presence, a clear place int he universe, and a boost for search terms like “unflavored spruce oil.” In example 2, nobody can tell wtf is going on.

But it’s worse than that. Because spiders don’t read the stuff that comes after a “?” In both examples, the URLs point the same two pages. So if your URLs look like example 2, and spiders don’t read after the “?,” to a spider those two page addresses look like:

http://www.hyrumsoils.com
http://www.hyrumsoils.com

And that’s going to present some problems when it comes to indexing them.

Now, you don’t really need to reduce every website to super-simple root/folder/file constructions. That would be boring, time consuming, expensive, and probably impossible for any site over 100 or so pages.

What you should do is insist that your website, however it works, resolves URLs to something that makes sense and uses useful keywords. The most useful CMSs have features built in that make it easy to convert the gobblety-gook of example 2 to the simple joy of example 1. If you’re not using a CMS, the server software you use probably still has a method to fix the problem (Apache Server uses the dreaded “Mod Re-write”). Your web development team will either know what you mean and make it happen, or they won’t. If they don’t you might reconsider hiring them.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at the final SEO-relevant architectural element, navigation.

25
Apr
11

Site Architecture, SEO, and You

Let’s talk about something most people don’t know about, care about, or want to know or care about: website architecture. I mean, you’re in business selling stuff, right? Flow charts, and data frameworks, SQL queries and content management systems—ACK!

That’s why you paid Justin and Chelsea at Web World Design and Donuts $300 US to build this thing. All that techie crap makes your head hurt. And truth is, that’s what web design and development specialists get paid to worry about, so you don’t have to.

Still, you should know enough about web architecture to keep the web dev team on track. There are lots of websites that get built in ways that look great, even work great, but fail utterly when it comes to search engine presence. And all because of architecture.

First, a definition.

Website architecture
The design and planning of a website’s structure: the way content is arranged at the server (organization), the way it is retrieved from data storage and deployed to the page (publication), and the way all the content pieces relate and connect to each other (navigation).

In terms of SEO, things can go wrong at any of those three stages that will pretty much bust a cap in your search performance.

Today, we’ll look a little closer at organization.

Organization. When it comes right down to it, websites are organized just like your home computer—files and folders. On the server, a typical website looks just like MyDocuments. There is a main folder (called the “root”) that contains the entire site. Inside that folder there are more folders and some assortment of files.  Any file that ends in .html, or .php, or .asp (or any other standard browser extension) will be an actual webpage, although it may include many other files (such as images, scripts, audio, whatever).  A few other types of files are not actually part of the visible website; they give instructions in how browsers should render the page, stuff like .css, and .js among others. The home page usually lives inside the root folder and is usually called “index.html.” No reason, just accept it.  Any folder inside the root folder just organizes more files. For instance, there might be one called “images” that holds—you guessed it—images.

Web developers really should design sites with an easy-to-understand file and folder structure. One, so that other webmasters will be able to work with the site later, and two, so search engines will be able to figure it out.  (Other than that, there’s no compelling reason to use more than one folder, in which you stuff 10,000 files of all sorts. )

Web designers and developers usually begin to build a site by creating a diagram of how they’ll arrange your content. Frequently, this is a flow chart. You may have seen one. Whole bunch of boxes, circles, triangles all held together by arrows and lines. The box at the top represents the root directory, every series of boxes below that are folders within folders, until you finally get down to the files. Don’t worry, you don’t need to care about that.  But you should be able to read the flowcharts your web dev team provides well enough to tell whether there is a sensible organization. By sensible, I mean this.

A site should have a basic theme. If you’re selling “shoes,” that’s your theme. If you’re Amazon and selling everything, your theme is a more general “retail.” If you sell shoes and boats, you probably should have two sites. With me so far?

Your website has a theme. That means that the basic concept behind the whole site, is also the concept represented by the root folder. Any folder inside the root should have it’s own theme, that is related to the one directly above, but a little more specific. Each folder corresponds to a category level of the website, with the bottom level consisting of nothing but files.

Very simple website flowchart

When you develop your website along the lines of themes that focus logically step by step, link by link, you are giving your visitors a clear sense of where they are and where they’re going. And you are also inviting search engine spiders to have a clear understanding of what you and your site are all about.

Tomorrow, we’ll have a chat about Publication.

22
Apr
11

Friday’s SEO Site of the Week

This week, we spotlight another SEO forum, SEO.com Forums, to be rather slightly redundant. This forum has been flying under the radar for just over three years now, steadily accumulating threads and posts, commentary and crackpots, good advice and weird advice, and all in a free-for-all, spelling-challenged environment that kind of rocks. I really wouldn’t stake my clients’ success on the information in here, but I’ve gleaned some pretty interesting insights. Thing is, this forum seems to be inhabited by a cross-section of the search marketing community you see much of elsewhere—oddballs, newbies, eccentric professionals, misguided souls, and some black and white polka dot hat wearing SEO folk that aren’t too concerned about what the “big boys” think.

All in all, SEO.com Forums is worth a half-hour a week or so of my time. Maybe yours too.

I’ll give it a gaggle of bats named Gary.

21
Apr
11

10 Step SEO # 8: Content (Again?)

Cast your memory back—ah the flush fresh weeks of April, that one beautiful day when March lambed out, all the way back to that first Thursday of March, and our second installment of 10 Step SEO. Remember? Sure you do. It’s the one headlined 10 Step SEO # 2: Content.

Well guess what. Now we’re all the way up to #8. And the topic is—wait for it—CONTENT AGAIN!

What?

Yup. Content again. That’s because either content is so important it’s worth doing twice; or because there are multiple places in the SEO timeline where you should address it; or because I’m kind of psycho and like to mess with people. All three are correct!

On March 3rd,  I told you all about content as a concept, as a tool, a vehicle for expression, and an SEO necessity. Today, I’m talking about content in slightly different context:

Content as a way of life.

When I consult with a new online business with a great idea and a lot of energy, it’s always tough to sell them on content. Most business-minded folks don’t have much time for writing, and many of them don’t do it well and don’t like to it regardless. So what they want to do is find a bunch of words somewhere—like the descriptions their wholesale vendors supply—and call it good. Well it ain’t good for SEO and it ain’t good for conversion-to-sale. What I try to sell them on is the notion that content is how your business talks to the world and to your customers.

I mean, think about it.

Would you instruct sales people working the floor to restrict what they say about your products to only what they can read off the package?

Nah, probably not. And you should think about your web content the same way. Should you use the descriptive stuff that came with the products? Sure: weights, colors, tech specs, and stuff like that are great and why not take it straight off the product database for free? But if you also use the product description text from the manufacturer, you’re missing a great opportunity to distinguish yourself from the competition and to sculpt the page’s search profile in ways that will increase traffic and sales. Create unique content on every page with carefully chosen keywords in mind. It will pay off.

The next thing is, once you’ve done that, you’re not done. You will need to create fresh content whenever you add product. Fresh content whenever you launch a marketing campaign or event. Fresh content when the seasons change. Fresh content around holidays. Fresh content when sales are up, and fresh content when sales go slack. You need your website to be alive with content. You want there to be something new whenever a returning customer visits. And whenever a search spider visits.

Not everything new, of course. That would be confusing and expensive and just plain weird. Here’s a rule of thumb. On the home page, at least 20% of your content should be newer than one month old. 5% should be newer than one week old. For category pages, 10% change per month. Product pages can actually stay pretty static, but if you use some dynamic feature to display “other products you might like” or “current specials” you can get those pages to show 5 or 10% fresh content also.

Which brings up the topic of using dynamic content to simulate freshness. That is to say, if you have a widget on your page that cycles through a database field’s content weekly, or daily, or on page refresh, that can help keep a page looking fresh. But don’t let it be the only thing you do. Because crafting fresh messaging that is on-target, on time, and on track can keep your best keywords on top.