Archive for April, 2011


Five Reason SEO Doesn’t Matter

I know, I know. It’s what I do for a living. It’s been a hot topic marketing strategy for over a decade. It seems to work for a lot of businesses. It shows up in the mainstream news now and then. Your mom probably has heard of it. It keeps a measurable percentage of the economy afloat. JC Penny’s is doing it successfully for crissakes. SEO is, like, pizza nasty.

Still, as a separate discipline that requires project management and a separate line in the budget, SEO just doesn’t matter very much anymore. Here are five reasons:

  1. Search engines are smart enough now to know when you’re trying to impress them, and they don’t fall for it so much. Before very long, every cherished SEO tactic will be obsolete by the time it gets put into play.
  2. Any web developer who doesn’t build sites with an eye to spider access is so far behind the curve they probably work out of nursing homes.
  3. Quality content is the new deal—the whole deal, pretty much. It’s the only good way to get links, get ranks, get customers, and get them to buy stuff.
  4. Once every site is optimized, the game will evolve into who has the best content.
  5. Search optimization is already a bullet point in every web-related business’ marketing copy. Stand-alone SEO just ain’t as sexy as it used to be.

And what does all that mean? It means that SEO is being assimilated into everything, and at the same time it’s being reduced to two keyword phrases:

  • best-practices web design
  • targeted content development

Maybe I ought to be looking into Law School….


Friday’s SEO Site of the Week

All righty then! Happy Friday everybody! Today’s SEO site of the Week award goes to a veritable treasure trove of useful and interesting search marketing information, Search Engine Land, more specifically, Search Engine Land’s SEO section, which is way relevant to our mission and we all know how important relevance is.

Search Engine Land has collected a great huge pile of SEO-related stories, advice articles, how-tos, and explanations-of.  As the producers of SMX, Search Marketing’s premier international conference, they have access to some of the best thinking available on the subject. Check it out. And if you’re serious about SEO and can get the scratch together, I’d suggest also checking out SMX.

SMX—Search Marketing Expo

Seattle, Washington
June 7&8, 2011

All-in-all, Search Engine Land receives five clicks, one bat, one hat, and that’s that.


10 Step SEO # 4: Headline Tags

Okay, okay. I know that this one is out of order. I mean, normally, 4 follows 3, not 6b.  Sigh. Oh well. You do what you can.

First, a definition for those of you a  little bit newbie at HTML, page design, and SEO. In the source code, headline tags (also called headings) look like this: <h1>Text</h1>. They come in sizes from <h1> to <h6>, with <h1> being the largest. In basic default HTML, when you wrap a headline tag around a bit of text, that text is set apart from the content above and below with a line break and the font size is changed to reflect the importance value assigned to the tag in use.

Headline tags organize text. That’s all they were designed for and that’s what they do best. Think of it as wrapping an outline around your content to make it easier to scan.  The <h1> tag tells what the page is about at a quick glance. The <h2> breaks that content down into major sections. The <h3> subdivides further. And so on.

The <h1> tag is the second most important on-page place to fit a keyword.  Only the title tag holds more importance. Because it is supposed to identify the entire page’s content, there should normally only be one <h1> per page. You can use as many of the others as you need, but it pays to use them correctly. That is <h1> comes first, then an <h2> to divide that content then an <h3> to divide each <h2> content further.

The reason this strategy pays is a ridiculously complicated-sounding concept with an over-inflated opinion of itself:

Latent Semantic Indexing

(Notice my clever use of a headline tag.) You don’t need to know what that means. Trust me, there’s a butt-load of nasty math involved. What you should know is that to a sophisticated search engine, LSI is a method of identifying the meaning of content based on the proper use (among other things) of headline tags. So when the spider comes to call, it will try to decide how important your page content is based to a significant degree on the headlines: what they say, how they relate to each other, and whether or not the key phrases inside them add up to meaningful, relevant content. Which, we suspect, is how Google decides whether a page is of sufficient value to deserve a high search result rank.

So, then. The proper use of headlines can make a big difference. Here’s one way to use them properly. Identify your page content’s keyword phrases. Make sure that they are related to each other thematically, and that they are truly relevant to the content on the page. Use Google’s AdWords Keyword Tool (or something like it) to find out how much traffic potential each one has. Pull out the top 4 or 6 traffic-producing phrases. (Use some common sense to eliminate any that are too competitive.) Rank them from highest traffic to lowest. Make the highest traffic term your <h1> (and this one should also be prominent in your page title). The next two down the list earn an <h2>. If you still a couple of good ones left, work them into <h3> tags. You will probably never need to use any of the others, but they are sometimes employed to set apart some

special concept that just needs to jump off the page.

The trick to all of this is that you need to work these headlines into your content in a way that makes sense. It has to make sense to human readers, and it has  to make sense to search engine spiders.

Here’s a page that uses headlines effectively:

Now after all that, here’s the practical truth, in a few easy bullet points:

  • Always use your best keyword in an <h1> tag
  • Make sure your <h1> relates directly to the <title> tag and to the link text leading to the page
  • Use <h2> tags with relevant keywords to break up large blocks of text
  • Use <h3> tags only if you have HUGE blocks of text that need further refining
  • Leave the <h4>, <h5>, and <h6> tags to the pros

And don’t think you’re stuck with the default HTML formatting for your headline tags. It’s a pretty simple matter to use the magic of CSS to format them any way you like.

More Articles about Headline Tags

Structure Documents with Header Tags
W3 Schools H1 to H6 tags
Penn State Web Accessibility Standards


What Gives SEO Its Bad Smell?

No question about it. If you ask 100 randomly selected web business owners what they think of SEO and you’ll get something like

Isn’t that some sort of scam?

They never deliver what they promise.

Big rip off.

What’s an SEO?

Why such a negative perception? Well, it could be because for every legitimate, principled, realistic, and effective search engine optimization provider out there, there seems to be 15 fly-by-night, promise the moon, sleeeeeezy telemarketer-spam email-jumping monkey banner ad Super Duper Guaranteed Wealth Generator Miracle SEO Hero. This situation comes as no real surprise. SEO is an arcane, difficult to grasp concept that erupted onto the scene so recently that nobody‘s got much of a track record. All anybody knows for sure is that if they want to rank #1 in Google for some Pot of Gold Keyword, they better themselves some of that SEO stuff. And that sort of environment breeds quick-buck con artists.

So how do you know if the SEO guru you’re talking to is legit? How to do you know whether or not you can trust them to help improve your search posture instead of creating a huge freaking nightmare of search engine penalties, sunk costs, and hard feelings?

The strategies that work for all the other contractor businesses are valid here too, of course: get references, educate yourself on best practices, stay involved in the project, and so on. Still, there are some pretty clear red flags to watch for.

Before you sign a contract, does the SEO

  • offer to submit your site to 1000s of search engines (Ridiculous—there are only three or four worth worrying about and none of them are likely to need a submission.)
  • offer to submit your site to 1000s of directories (Outdated tactic—unless you have some very industry-specific directories in mind, it’s a more or less useless exercise.)
  • promise unreasonably fast results (Good SEO takes time—months usually.)
  • promise specific ranks (Nobody can guarantee a rank on a competitive keyword.)
  • choose non-competitive keywords as performance metrics (Anybody can get a good rank for keywords nobody ever uses.)
  • claim some unprovable “association” with Google or other engine (Google doesn’t like SEO, let alone get in bed with them.)
  • claim high-profile past clients without verification (Well, I did once do some SEO work for Best Buy…. no really.)
  • offer nebulous “case studies” (Four out of five clients retired to the Bahamas within a month of cutting our check!)

Once the project begins, does the SEO risk search engine penalties by

  • placing hidden links to themselves or other clients on your site
  • acquiring backlinks from bad neighborhoods
  • producing spam in your company’s name
  • stuffing keywords into meta tags, titles, or content
  • creating new SEO pages that have no useful purpose otherwise

And one last thing. Before you hire anybody to do your SEO, you should really try to understand just what is realistically possible. Which keywords you can really expect to be competitive with. How much traffic volume you can legitimately expect. What impact that traffic might truly have on sales. And most importantly, just how long it actually takes to see beneficial results.


5 Things You Need to Know about Page Titles

Page titles (also known as “title tags”) are one of your very best shots at search success. Page title is what shows up as the link to your site in the search results. It sits right up at the top left of your web browser, above everything else. The title tag is the window to your page’s soul. That one little tag tells search engines, potential customers, and any random monkey who stumbles by just what it is you think this webpage is about. And that carries a lot of weight.

So why, then, do so many websites get it so wrong?

Here are some common page title issues.

  1. Branding first. The marketing department and the CEO insist that the company brand name be as the first element of every page title on the site. “For branding!” they say. Well, think about it. Since the page title is your best on-page shot at search engine ranking, do you really want to squander that shot on the one search term you already should rank really well for? If you don’t rank at the top for your brand name, then it might make sense to use it as page title on the home page…. but even then, there’s probably a search term with a lot more traffic (and sales) potential than your brand.
  2. Repetition. This is usually seen in combination with the branding issue above.  The CEO says, “Brand name first on every page!” and no matter what the search marketing consultant says, that’s the way it will be. It’s a mistake. A HUGE mistake. It’s an epic freaking huge mondo mistake to use the same page title on more than one page. It’s only a marginally smaller mistake to begin more than one page title with the same keywords. So, if you’re company is Acme Zoologic Solutions, Inc., Makers of ACME Brand Monkey Repellent, and every page title reads Acme Zoologic Solutions, Inc, it will look to the search engine spider like your entire site is made up of 128 repetitions of the same page.
  3. Low Prominence. Search engines are smart, but aren’t that smart. If an engine sees a list of words, they almost always believe that they are in order of importance.  And if your titles all look like a variation on Acme Zoologic Solutions, Inc |  Aerosol 12 Packs, it will look to the engines like your brand name is the most important keyword on every single page. Every page title should at least begin with the best keyword phrase for that page.
  4. Length? . This one is a bit more debatable. Debatable ad infinitum, actually. SEOs have been arguing the relative merits of title length for about a decade now. And there really is no definitive answer. Google only displays 65 or so characters in search results. But they do read at least 128 characters, and probably index the whole string.  There are numerous examples of page titles with hunormously long titles. The number 2 result for the high-value search term “women’s shoes”:  Shop Women’s Shoes Online at DSW: Sandals, Flats, Spring Shoes, Flip Flops, Summer Shoes 92 characters. But the number one spot is Women’s Shoes | which comes in at a very trim 26 characters.  The advantage to the longer string is that DSW may be getting a boost for the keywords at the end: sandals, flats, spring shoes….  although a quick search for “women’s shoes flats” does put DSW in number 1, it is for their Flats page—which happens to have a very short crisp title:  Shop Women’s Shoes Flats — DSW. My personal instinct is to always make the page title as short as you can without sacrificing your best keyword phrase.  AND NOTICE, if you will, that in all the examples, the keyword “women’s shoes” is placed right at the front of the title string, even before the brand. Related to length—but with a different spin—is keyword stuffing, the number of keywords and/or phrases you can jam into one title tag. As in the above example for length, there are successful sites with 6, 7, 10 and more keyword phrases in their titles. Do enough testing, though, and you’ll start to see a pattern. Successful sites with stuffed titles tend to be most successful for the first keyword in the string. My recommendation is always to keep it simple. Lead with your best keyword and if you must use more, keep it to 2 or 3. Including brand name. There is another hazard here. Google is rumored to enforce an “over-optimization” penalty. Title tags stuffed to bursting with keywords are great big neon “over-optimized” signs.
  5. Poor targeting. The title tag should be aimed at the type of page it refers to. This is kind of hard for some web folk to grasp, but it shouldn’t be. Your most general keyword live at the top, home page level. Category level pages should have product type titles. Product pages should almost always use the product name in the title. Home page:  Monkey Repellent | ACME Zoologic Solutions. Top category page:  Aerosol Monkey Repellent. Middle category page: Safari Dave Aerosol Monkey Repellent. Product page: Safari Dave’s Original Aerosol Monkey Repellent, 12 count

So let’s wrap it up with a big old bow. Title tags should be:

  • Best keyword first, brand second (or no brand at all),

  • unique on every page,

  • short, and

  • to-the-point


The Perfect Backlink

What constitutes a perfect backlink? I mean, if you got to pick one link to your site from any page on the web, what would it be? What page would it be on, and what would it look like? If you don’t already know the answer, I’m here to help. Just consult this very short list of ideal backlink characteristics.

An ideal backlink should

  • come from a highly authoritative page
  • come from a highly relevant page
  • not have a “nofollow” meta tag
  • be one of only a very few links pointing out from the page
  • consist of text composed of a highly useful keyword phrase
  • be emphasized in some non-distracting way
  • be buried in highly relevant context.

In short, the very best search optimization backlink should be the only link out from the home page of the number one site in the same industry you’re in, using a great keyword phrase, bold, and inside a paragraph that talks about your exact sort of product or service.

For instance, imagine that this page was really really important in the world of search marketing, with a Google PageRank of 8/10. Now imagine that this paragraph is about how the Eugene search optimization industry was really taking off, revitalizing downtown, bringing big tax bucks to the local schools, and hiring 20 new high-pay staffers a month. Can you spot the ideal backlink?


Friday’s SEO Site of the Week

If you have any interest in SEO at all, you should either be or get familiar with the name Rand Fishkin. Rand got into SEO around 2002 (one year after I did, in case anyone’s keeping track) and quickly developed into one of SEO’s most authoritative voices.  Conference speaker, book author, world traveler, and founder of SEOMoz, one of the industry’s most enduring and recognizable brands.

SEOMoz hawks a tiered set of  pay-to-play SEO “intelligence” software packages. I’ve never tried the subscription stuff, and don’t think I ever will. I am, it seems, fundamentally opposed to paying for subscription SEO services. Unless it’s YOU paying ME. Still, the data their software collects and reports on does look useful—I just don’t see how even the low-end package justifies the spend. So just to be clear, I am not recommending any of the SEOMoz products although I’m sure they work well for a lot of people. Actually, I’m not NOT recommending them either. If SEOMoz wants to give me a free trial, I’ll be happy to do a review.

What I do recommend—and heartily—is Friday’s SEO Site of the Week: the SEOMoz Blog. This blog has been running continuously for at least 7 years now. At first, it was Rand at the helm, delivering search marketing insights with flair and insight. He still posts pretty regularly, but now the blog has expanded to include other staffers and the occasional guest poster. Always a good read, and frequently the leading voice on topics of immense importance to SEOers, SEOMoz Blog is definitely worth a bookmark.

I’ll give it a few clicks and a bat or two.