Archive for April, 2011


Bad SEO Providers: 5 Red Flags

Search Engine Submissions

If you hear the words “We’ll submit your website to thousands of search engines,” run away, very fast. This is a marketing hook that’s been employed by unscrupulous “SEO” snake-oil salesmen since the turn of the millennium. For one thing, there are only 3 or 4 search engines that you should give a crap about. And none of them need to be submitted to—if they can’t find your site on their own, you didn’t build it right. Now, submitting an XML sitemap is another matter entirely, and something a legitimate SEO might offer.

Link Exchanges

Here’s what the SEO scam artist might say: “We can get you into 3, 4 and even 5-way link exchanges!” What they mean is “We link all of our clients to each other (even though there is no relevancy there) and then we link everybody to us, which helps us sell this crappy scheme to more people like you.” A legitimate link exchange between sites in a related topic space is fine. Convoluted tactics intended to fool search engines into thinking links are not reciprocated is not. Google, at least, is not that dumb.

Context Links

Some SEOs will offer you “thousands of context links in blogs.” What they mean is, “we’ll troll the internet leaving stupid and overtly spammy comments (like “Loved your post! Check out the great deals on Viagra at!) on blogs of every kind, on topics from dog bathing, to politics, to fashion, sports, and whatever else. This, to me, is very nasty. They are happy to drop these turds anywhere at all and the result is starting to stink up the whole net. Unfortunately, this kind of works—it’s what JC Penny’s SEO was doing to great success. Of course, they got caught, and spanked pretty hard. (On the positive side, most blogging platforms now have a spam detection service built in. This particular plague will be past us soon.)

Landing Pages

A landing page is a page designed specifically to attract search, or to convert a sale that originated in search or an online ad. As a marketing tactic, here is a legitimate search marketing role for landing pages—as long as they contain useful information and serve a purpose other than amusing every wandering search spider that stumbles in. Rotten SEOs will sometimes offer a plan to create hundreds—or even thousands—of pages that are designed to appeal to no one but spiders. These are usually seriously lacking in content other than keywords, and often pretty much all the same with just variations of the keywords. Having a bunch of these pages does nothing for the internet user, nothing for your website, and nothing for your business. And Google really really hates it. And will really really catch you and hurt you.

Telemarketing or Email Solicitation

Ever get one of those calls “Hi, my name is Aaron, and I can get you top ranks for great keywords!” Or how about that email “Re.: Get Rich with Free Search Engine Customers!” A quality SEO provider will not need to resort to mass marketing and/or spam to find clients. If they’re good at what they do, and they’ve been at it a while, word of mouth will get them plenty of work. Otherwise, a reputable SEO will identify prospective clients, analyze their needs, and then contact them personally.  It really doesn’t do me any good to sell you a service you don’t need. It doesn’t do you any good and it doesn’t do the internet marketing industry any good. If your website could use some search marketing help, I’m happy to provide it.


5 Questions to Ask SEOs before You Hire Them

Maybe you’ve known for a while that your site needs to be optimized for search. Maybe you’ve heard SEO mentioned a million times, but figured they were mostly scams and frauds. Maybe you’ve gotten spam email every other day touting the “guaranteed rankings” of some SEO company or another. Maybe you’re new to all this and you just want to talk to an SEO provider to see what it’s all about.

Whatever. Truth is, if you’re thinking about even thinking about hiring an SEO consultant, provider, company, or guru, you’d be wise to keep this list handy. Because some of them are going to be scammers or frauds.  Some of them are going to be using risky techniques. Some of them are charging you for stuff that you don’t need and doesn’t really help. Some of them mean well, but really don’t know what they’re doing. And some of them can help your develop and implement a long-range search marketing strategy for your website that will reap traffic and sales dividends years into the future.

5 Questions to Ask a Potential SEO Provider

  1. What search marketing concerns will you address?
    A good SEO should be looking at your current search position profile; the search environment in which your company operates;  the spider-friendliness of your architecture and navigation; the selection and use of keywords throughout the site; the quality of your content; and the diversity and quality of your backlinks. A lot of industry folks tend to group these into sitewide, on page, and off site elements. Some SEOs will specialize in one or the other element. Good ones will at least evaluate all of them. The best ones will evaluate all of them, and then develop a comprehensive plan to fix problems, shore up weak spots, and pursue positive improvements.
  2. What is your rate structure?
    This is important. How will they charge you? Is it hourly? A flat fee? Piece rate per sub-project? Monthly? Any of these fee structures can be done in a fair and accountable manner. But you need to make sure you understand how it works. Ask them how much this is going to cost. Ask them how much the average is for clients similar to you. Unless there is a flat rate in writing for specific services, make sure that will allow you to set a cap. What you really want to know is, what will I pay and what will I get for the money. Some SEOs can be pretty evasive about this. Nail it down.
  3. How long will the project take to complete?
    You want a ballpark. Is this a month’s project or a year’s? Bear in mind that some SEO work will take a fairly long time to complete and some won’t. Keyword research can be often be done in a week or two. On page recommendations and/or implementations will take longer.  A robust backlink strategy, for instance might take longer than a year. Just get an idea of what you can expect.
  4. What kind of result can I expect?
    Beware of “too good to be true” types of answers. No SEO can make the clouds rain champagne. An honest SEO will tell you that a) any significant result will take time to realize, months at least; b) most traffic gains will tend to ramp up in a stutter-step pattern—periods of growth followed by plateaus followed by growth; and c) the winds of search change and you consider pursuing SEO as a regular marketing effort with a search performance audit at least once every other year.
  5. Do you have references and can you show examples of successful campaigns?
    These are not as easy to get as you might think, but if available can tell you lots about how reliable, effective, and easy to work with an SEO is. They might not be available because many SEOs sign strict non-disclosures with clients as they may wish to keep their marketing efforts from competitors.  Still, an SEO should be able to point to at least a few search phrases they’ve boosted for their own use, if not for a client.

So ask before you sign. Do note, however, that there really aren’t any magic answers and that any response can be untruthful. These questions will really just help you gain a sense of what the SEO does, and how they do it, and whether you feel you can work with them.

Stay tuned! Tomorrow I’ll tell where the land mines are…..


SEO Comics: CEO View of SEO

SEO Comics


Friday’s SEO Site of the Week

All right then. Here’s one for the big dogs. Google’s Webmaster Central is a favorite stop for almost all the SEOs I know. Coming straight from the mouth of the Almighty Goog, these tools, how-tos, reports, and Official Google policy information will make anybody who works with websites look good.

Of particular interest to Search Optimizers:

  • Webmaster Guidelines
  • Search results, explained
  • About sitemaps
  • And access to the whole giant panoply of Google services and tools, much of which you’ve never heard, but still rocks the shite none-the-less

The only cost of accessing this resource is a Google Account. Which is free. Which you already have, if you’ve got Gmail, or Google Docs, or any of the neato-keeno Google things that they’ve been bestowing on us mortals for the last ten years or so.

There’s an even better Google Webmaster secret superhero lair, the Webmaster Toolkit. That’s where the SEO gold lives.  But it’s also another site, for another Friday.

Let’s give Webmaster Central a matched set of seven clicks.


10 Step SEO # 7: Labels

Today, we’re back in sequential order with a pretty interesting topic: Labels. What, you may ask, the hell are labels? And you wouldn’t be alone. Few people—even SEO professionals—know what the term means in a web page context, fewer know how labels might be used to enhance a page’s search posture, and even fewer still know how to do it right. Arcane though this technique might be, I’m going to share it with you. It’s pretty simple, really.

Definition of Labels
First used in blogs, labels are the keyword links that appear above or below most posts. They are, essentially, a search function that aids in navigation. Click on a label and you will be sent to what is really just a search results page containing all the posts that include the same label. Used in a blog, labels are really important to enhance user experience, but they do nothing for SEO. Why? Because all the major blogging platforms deliberately exclude these search-style pages from the spiders’ view. Why? Because if you have the same content showing up in multiple pages that are simply arranged in a different manner, what you’ve really got is duplicated content. Which is bad. That’s why.

How to Use Labels in an HTML Page
In an HTML context, “label” (or sometimes “tag”) can be the same thing as in blogs, but sometimes refers to a word or set of words that are placed prominently on a page as a hook for internal search, but are not links to search result pages. So, if you have a 10,000 page website with 250 pages concerning turtle food, you might place a label group on each of those pages that looks something like: turtle food, turtle treats, turtle snacks. Then, when someone uses your site’s internal search engine, it will hopefully find all the turtle food pages. Used as search links, labels on HTML pages can lead to duplicated trouble. Used as search hooks, they are probably okay, unless done to such an extreme they qualify as keyword stuffing.

How to Use Labels in an HTML Page for SEO, Correctly
Ah yes! Now we’re getting somewhere. The right way to use labels on a webpage for SEO value is….. wait. Am I really going to tell you this? Labels are my secret weapon! I get big bucks from all sorts of businesses for this kind of thing! If this gets out, Google will probably figure out a way to squash it! I’ll be ruined! Nah. I’m not worried. Nobody reads this blog anyway. So here you have it.

How to Use Labels in an HTML Page for SEO, Correctly
The trick to using labels is to hybridize the two strategies, in a careful and circumspect manner. Use labels on your pages as a search hook. Always use closely-related keywords as labels. Never use more than 2 or 3. Make one of these keyword labels a link. Point it to an appropriate, highly relevant category page that contains short descriptions and links to all your topically similar pages. So it maps kind of like this:

Home page:  2 labels, your best 2 keywords, off to the side of the page under a bold tag labels. Neither of them are links.

Top category page: 2 or 3 labels, keywords describing contents of category. None of them links.

Secondary category page: 2 or 3 labels fine-tuning your topic. The most relevant of them is a link pointing up to the category above.

Product pages: 1-3 highly relevant labels. One is a link to the category page directly above. Do not make this keyword link the exact same as any navigation links. Do not use more than one label link per page. Do not pass Go. Etc.

What you are really trying to do here is create a network of internal links using great link text to promote the category level pages. So, using the turtle food example, you now have 250 extra text links using the keyword “turtle food” pointing to your Turtle Food category page. Feel free to revisit 10 Step SEO #5: Internal Links for a refresher.

And Bob’s yer uncle. Use this knowledge wisely, but not to excess. And please don’t tell anybody else. I know I can trust you.


5 Important SEO Ranking Factors that You Can’t Do Much About

If you’re one of the three people who’ve ever read this blog, you may have seen the March 30 post, The Big Damn List of SEO Factors. The worst thing about that list, of course, is that not only is it a big damn list, it’s a big damn list that’s changing all the damn time. For instance, since that post went live, there are at least two new ranking factors for Google that should be included. On the positive side, Google’s +1 flags and on the negative side, Google domain block flags.

Give up now. You’ll never be able to stay completely on top of this stuff. All you can really do is deliver the highest quality content you can manage, and promote it in sensible ways. And hope for the best.

If you insist on fighting against the tide, you still should make an effort to pick your battles. Some things are easily done (and worth it or not), some less easy (and worth it or not), some hard as hell (and worth it! or not).  It’s always seemed to me that the most effective and efficient strategy is to:

  • Do all the easy stuff, regardless of its relative merit
  • Do any of the more difficult stuff that might be worth it
  • Do whatever hard stuff you can manage that is definitely worth it

Which leads to today’s sermon, er, topic. Five ranking factors that you really can’t do much about anyway. Which for most websites mean you can pretty much forget about them.

  1. Domain age. We know that domain age can be a fairly significant factor to ranking, at least in Google. Unless you started your business 10 years ago, or can afford to buy an antique domain, there just isn’t much you can do about it.
  2. Traffic history of backlink sources. True, can try to acquire your links from high-traffic sites, but you really don’t have much (any) control over how much traffic your link sources get, let alone how much traffic they used to get.
  3. Backlink accumulation patterns. This one’s kind of  a gray area. You can influence how many backlinks you get over time by the pattern in which you seek them, but still, you have little control over the timing of backlinks. This is most particularly true in the case of one or another of your content (link bait or other) going viral.
  4. Backlink anchor text. Yes, you can request and/or suggest particular link text. Yes, you can make sure your collateral always has varied link text. You cannot control the link text used by unsolicited backlinks.
  5. Clickthrough-to-impression ration of backlink visits. This one is hard enough to say, let alone exert influence over. Getting backlinks really isn’t the whole story. Getting them from highly authorative sites isn’t enough, either. It also matters how many people see that link, and how many of them click it. Unless you’re really good at mind control, there’s not much you can do about  that.

So, if you insist on trying to succeed in the very complex, frustrating, and occasionally rewarding arena of SEO, at least you uncheck a few items from your to-do list.


Google Algorithm Panda Update [like/unlike]

So it’s official! The Google update known as Panda, aka the “High Quality Sites Update,” has adopted user feedback as one of its ranking elements. User feedback is nothing new to Google, of course. For years, they’ve routinely used click-through rates and bounce rates to score AdWord campaigns, and they’ve also been thought to include a page’s overall traffic history when deciding where it should rank for a given keyword. The difference is, now the Almighty Goog has introduced two new features that operate through proprietary interfaces to collect specific data on how users feel about websites. Information they will then use in the calculation of search results rank.

Users of Google Chrome have at their disposal a new feature, domain block and those folks who have signed up for a Google profile can lay down a +1.

Essentially, domain block lets users unhappy that a particular domain shows up for specific searches can apply a filter that removes the offending domain from all future similar searches. (Just for searches done on that same installation of Chrome, of course. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could block every instance of a domain from showing up for anybody? Which just a click? Awesome!)

Google Profile’s new +1, on the other hand, is sort of a clone of Facebook’s “like” button. If you are signed into your Profile account—and it’s set to “public”—you have the option of tagging a search result as one you are particularly fond of. All of your +1s are stored in a separate tab in your account, where you can share or hoard them to your heart’s content.  Which is all seems like a weird attempt to turn search into social. You’ll get little messages in your Gmail saying “Your GPal Betty +1’d the Hamburglar Fan Page! Do you +1 too?” and you will then feel compelled to dash over there and register your opinion which will then be broadcast to all your friends who will feel compelled….

Ah, but  of course there is another shoe. What is Google really after? One very likely point to this exercise involves the collection of data. Every domain block casts a black mark, every +1 gives you a gold star. Which, when added into the algo, provides a clear, voluntary user-provided vote on the quality of a site. (Which will go into the algo mix along with the other 200 or so elements, but I’m sure it will improve search results in some mysterious fashion.)

I like Google. I’ve been +1ing them since the day they sifted their first result. But this Panda/social/user-contributed stuff really falls flat. First, you’d think they were the first to try it, based on all the hoopla. You’d be wrong. A company named Alexa has been providing search results and data sets based on user feedback for many years.

Second, Google’s strategy severely limits participation. Problem with Alexa is, nobody gives a damn. Alexa results come from a toolbar that some folks get installed into their browser. It’s really a kind of sucky toolbar, and a fair percentage of the people who have it got it installed deceptively by some other program they downloaded and just aren’t clever enough to remove it. This limits their data to people who really aren’t very aware of their surroundings. Google limits participation to 1. people who use Chrome, and 2. people who use Profiles. As of now, that’s a pretty small slice of internet demographics.

The new Google domain block schema improves the Alexa model in that half of the Google user votes come from people who’ve installed the Chrome browser—and use it. Which, because Chrome is actually a pretty sweet browser, makes the user base a lot stronger and thus their opinions  more valuable. The vote cast is also completely voluntary. The +1 feature, however, has much less going for it. Because Facebook already rules that space, and because nobody wants to have their “favorites,” “likes,” “iHearts,” and “+1s” scattered all over the freakin’ web.

And last but definitely not least, this model is just as open to manipulation as all the others. As your SEO, I will now include a guaranteed 250 +1s with every contract. And if you sign today, I’ll throw in 200 competitor domain blocks, absolutely free!

Google Chrome

Google Profiles