Archive for May, 2011


Referrer Spam’s Hidden Value?

Okay,  we HATE referrer spam. And comment spam. And email spam. And Spam, that weird meat-like stuff in a can. Unless you fry it really crispy. But we digress.

Our least favorite things right now are referrer and comment  spam. Referrer spam’s when some douche bag sends robotic traffic to your site hoping that their URL will then appear in your referrer logs, which, if they are public, then counts as a backlink. They usually do this in a shotgun manner, plastering giant segments of the web with fake traffic that skews our visit data and makes it hard to see just how many real people might be using our sites. Comment spam is where some douche bag attaches automated, pretend-sy relevant comments on other people’s blogs hoping that they will get published and generate a backlink.

As a rule, we have been discounting any traffic that seems artificial and also adding any known traffic spam domains to our ever-growing list of filters. As for comment spam, we just flat delete ’em.

Only, wait a minute. What if there were some benefit to us deriving from these spam attacks? Could there be?

Well, we do strongly suspect that Google’s algo at least touches on average traffic as a ranking factor, so just maybe all that fake traffic makes our sites look more popular and maybe that’s at least a small boost to our ranking.

And with the new Panda update thing, the Goog seems to be prioritizing flags like “like” and “favorite” as well as comments and replies to comments. They even announced that they were going to start looking more seriously at “popularity” as a ranking factor.

So, at for now, we’re going to just the spam traffic come, making us look more frequently visited. Also, we going to start publishing spam comments! At least the ones that don’t look too skanky. Of course, we’ll remove any link back from any comment that is not a legitimate bit of conversation. Which means, if you want to leave a real comment on this blog—and you want to get link credit for it—you should probably say something more pithy than

Wow! What a great site! I favorite you! Can you help with a blog traffic problem? Your themes are just great! Can you show me some good blog themes?

Because if you do leave a real, actual, conversational, interesting, or useful comment, we’ll be more than happy to give you a “dofollow” link.

Will this work? Who knows. It’s an experiment. We’ll keep you posted.

That is all.


Very Cool SEO Infographic

Hey, check it out. A London digital ad agency name DataDial put together this very nicely conceived and rendered graphic representation of what search marketing is and does. This is so awesome we wish we’d done it.

SEO InfoGraphic (click the image for one huge damn file)


Friday’s SEO Site of the Week

Ah, yes, Friday’s SEO Site of Week. And the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, no less. Which makes it really awesome. So, in honor of the awesomeness that is the first 3-day weekend of America’s summer, we give this week’s award to:



What? Craigslist? SEO Site of the Week? What?

Yup. Hear us out. With the Google Panda update, emphasis is now placed squarely on Quality Content. Sites can no longer expect to get away with page after page of barely literate crap, regardless of how many keywords are stuffed into it. And quality content means writers.

You remember writers. They’re those geeks who do what everybody else thinks they could do, if only they had the time. Only they can’t. Writing is a real skill, honed by years of hard work. Writing for the web is an even more specialized skill set, one possessed by only a small fraction of professional writers. And writing SEO-friendly, high quality, interesting, sales-oriented, web content—well, let’s just say that people who that well aren’t hanging out in front of the hardware store looking for work.

Which begs the question: Where then can you find good SEO content writers, especially now that they are “back in demand?”

Freelance writers congregate in several places, college English Departments, State Unemployment Services, freelancer websites like “” and “” But I always look on first.

Why? Because we like to hire local talent whenever possible. And because we want to pay a fair but reasonable fee. And because we just like the whole idea of Craigslist.

You can pay a very modest sum to place ads in the Help Wanted section, under # web / info design, or # writing / editing. Or you can browse the Services section under write/ed/tr8, or, place an ad under Gigs, writing. Why not all of the above?

Some of the advantages are:

  • You’re hiring local talent, which is easier to manage and the community-responsible thing to do
  • People who find and offer placements through Craigslist tend to be more technologically savvy, and for web writing, that’s a good thing
  • Pay scales for services contracted through CL tend to be much more loosely organized, which means you can possibly negotiate a better deal

Let’s give 3 clicks and a surprise in honor of the Memorial Day weekend.



Search Optimization: A Metaphor

As mentioned yesterday, this is the second odd idea that came to me the other day, and it is just a sort of weird way to think about this SEO stuff.

A Search Optimization Metaphor

Once there was a world that was just full of stuff. They had interesting stuff, boring stuff, odd stuff, funny stuff, stupid stuff, smutty stuff, pretty stuff, gory stuff, ugly stuff, cutsey stuff, mean stuff, girly stuff, macho stuff, and lots more. Every kind of stuff you can imagine, they had.

Problem was, the stuff was scattered all over the world. Some places had lots of interesting stuff, but no pretty stuff. Other places might have had some macho stuff and some stupid stuff, but very little funny stuff and no cute stuff at all.

So the very smartest of them came up with an idea. Let’s put all the stuff in one place, so everybody can share equally. Sounded great on paper. So they took all of the stuff in the world and spread it more-or-less evenly over a one great flat island. To make it fair, they made travel to the island accessible to pretty much everyone pretty much everywhere (okay, in truth some people never got the word and some people couldn’t really travel and some people just couldn’t make the connecting flights, but that’s a different parable altogether).

So then, there was a great huge island, covered with all the stuff in the world, available to almost everyone. What a marvelous idea! Except that it soon became apparent that even though all the stuff was technically available to anyone, it was really kind of hard to find anything useful. Someone would go the island looking for a recipe for a certain kind of potato soup their granny use to make, and find themselves knee deep in cute cats, population statistics, and unspeakable acts involving tennis balls. And even if a recipe did turn up here and there, it was almost always for something other than potato soup.

All the stuff was labeled—more or less—usually with little signs that sometimes clearly indicated what the stuff was, and sometimes didn’t make any sense at all. But if you were standing right in front of some stuff with a decent label, you could tell what it was, but the labels were not used universally, nor were they a standard size, or font, or language, or color, or placed in a standard location. Labels or no, the stuff you were looking for was almost impossible to find.

Until some people started making notes. When they went to the island in search of something, they’d right down everything they saw and note where they found it. And after a while, the people with notes started talking among themselves and sharing the things they’d found. Soon, these catalogs of stuff and where to find it started getting big enough to be quite helpful to people who were looking for certain kinds of stuff.

And then, somebody smart put a bunch of the catalogs together, and made a map. The map person started giving them away and made a lot of friends. So others started making maps. If your map became popular, you could even sell ad space on them and make a bit of money. Making maps of stuff became a sort of industry.

This was better than before. Every map maker had gathered their own sources of information, though, so every map was a little different. But still, even if you had an okay map with the locations of lots of stuff, there might be 10,000 bits of, say, cute cat stuff scattered all over the island.  It was still really really hard to find just the right cute cat stuff. So map makers started highlighting the stuff they thought was the best stuff in every category of stuff.

Which was also better than before. Except now it started to become obvious that if some bit of stuff happened to be a commercial bit of stuff, they could get a lot more visitors if they could get the map makers to highlight them. Some map makers started taking money for the highlights. But many did not, which left commercial stuff operators with only one strategy: they needed to make their stuff look like it was the best stuff.

Meanwhile, the stuff itself had begun to self-organize along thematic lines. Anywhere there was a big pile of a particular sort of stuff, other stuff of a similar nature would gather. Piles of stuff got bigger and began to spread out.

Commercial stuff operators noticed, and one of the first things they did to get map makers’ attention was to accumulate more and more stuff to try and make their piles bigger than the other nearby piles. That worked. The bigger piles were often seen as better piles by the map makers.

Then, the biggest piles started trying to out-compete each other. They made bigger signs and put them on higher poles. They tried writing things on the signs that they hoped would get people and map makers to take notice. Some of them started to write the location of their stuff on little sticky notes that they would then leave on other stuff piles, so that someone looking in a pile about baseball might find a note about another pile where sports equipment was sold.

And this is where the whole thing came together, and then fell apart.

A couple of really smart map makers figured out a new way to tell the good piles from the less-good piles. They would count the notes. Stuff piles with the most sticky notes planted elsewhere would be considered better than the others. Well, okay, they would still take into consideration the stuff pile signs, and maybe even take a quick look at the stuff in the pile, but by and large, the stuff piles with the most sticky notes got the brightest highlights.

And this worked best of all. People using the new maps could find the best stuff easier than ever! Soon the smart map makers had cornered the map market. They found they could sell lots of ads on their maps. They got rich and since everybody wanted their maps, all the stuff operators started clamoring for their attention. And getting a highlight on the smart peoples’ map got to be worth a bundle.

So the commercial stuff piles started to think of new ways to compete. Some of them stuffed their piles with fake stuff, just to look bigger. Some wrote misleading information on their signs. Some sprinkled shiny stuff on their piles. Some sneaked about planting sticky notes all over. Some used camouflage nets designed to look appealing to map makers even though the pile below was mostly crap.

This went on until the smart map makers maps were no longer as reliable as they had been. Most of the other map makers had given up, though, and of the remaining few, the smart makers’ maps were still the best. And it just kept getting worse.  The smart map makers tried to put things right. They declared that if they caught a stuff pile operator using tricks their map highlights might get dulled or erased—or in the worst cases—even deleted from the map entirely.

This threat did make some operators behave better, but not all. More and more, they would even hire Stuff Pile Highlight experts—people trained to understand what the smart map makers were looking for and adjust stuff accordingly.

And that’s me. I’m a Stuff Pile Highlight expert. For a fee, I will look at your stuff pile, and come up with ways to make it stand out more, make it look better, get other piles to add your sticky notes. To get the smart map makers to like you better than they like the other stuff piles.

But here’s the thing. I don’t really want the maps to only highlight the stuff piles who hired the best experts. What I want is for all the stuff piles to get better. I want them to be full of useful stuff. I want their signs to be accurate and legible. I want their sticky notes to be in other piles that are related to them. I want everybody who is looking for some particular stuff to find it.  Find the right stuff. Quickly and painlessly.

That is all.


The Ethical Aspects of Black Hat SEO

Yesterday, as guest lecturer, I spoke to a class full of college seniors on the road to careers as business owners and corporate executives. It was my usual “Introduction to Search Engine Optimization” spiel, starting with a crude explanation of what a search engine does and ending with a brief discussion of that weird conundrum about the color of your hat. While I was speaking, I chanced upon two thoughts that—though not directly related—seemed interesting enough to be worth further exploration.

One: an Ethical Conundrum

The question of Black Hat SEO vs White Hat SEO is not a question of ethics. Not really.  Google and the other search engines are businesses. They make money by indexing a lot of other people’s information. Using a proprietary device that they actually do own (the search algorithm), they make all this information available to others who may or may not find it useful. They never ask anyone whether or not they would like to be in that index. They then attempt to enforce a set of “rules” that are designed to make their algorithm work better. They claim that everyone in the index—whether they are there voluntarily or not—are subject to these rules and must abide by them.

That’s all well and good, because if you are in the index—and the index likes you—it can be quite profitable.  But here’s the thing. By not following the “rules,” you can get the index to like you faster and more than if you do follow them.

Because it is not a crime to attempt to exploit an algorithm’s weaknesses, can it even be considered wrong to do so? Isn’t it cheating? And isn’t cheating ethically wrong?

Well, it might be ethically wrong to cheat—if you’re playing a game that you joined deliberately, with full knowledge and acceptance of the rules.

You’re walking down the sidewalk on an errand of your own purpose. You notice that there are pigeons wandering all around you. Then you notice that some few of the pigeons are carrying hundred dollar bills in their beaks. It occurs to you that you could chase them and maybe catch a buck or two. Then it occurs to you that you could buy a bag of popcorn and attract a lot of pigeons, who in order to eat it, would have to drop whatever they were carrying at your feet. Cool! So you buy popcorn and it works great and you soon have a small but growing pile of hundred dollar bills.

Until some guy comes out of nowhere and tells you: “This is my game and you’re cheating. The rules are you have to make the pigeons want to give you their dollar bills, but you can’t feed them. Or touch them. Or scare them. Or promise them anything.”

Then he gives you a list of fairly vague things you can do, and goes back in the building. So, is it unethical to keep feeding the pigeons? Is it unethical to keep the money you’ve already gained?

My thinking is that it’s obviously not unethical to game a search engine’s system and gain whatever you can from it. It is not even wrong to practice black hat SEO. But here’s the catch: Since the search engine has control over who is in its index and how well they perform there, they do have some significant power. The guy with the pigeons can stand next you and wave his arms and make them all fly away to another street where his game will continue without you.

So for me, the answer is Black Hat SEO is not wrong, but it is risky. I don’t do it because I don’t like the potential consequences. But if I ever think up a way to game Google’s algo without getting caught…..

Tomorrow, thought number Two: a Metaphor.


SEO Comics: CEO View of SEO, part 5

SEO Comics


Keyword Awareness: An SEO Lifestyle Choice

Keyword Awareness has been our hobby-horse for over 10 years now. Pretty much any conversation we have on the topic of SEO will contain that magic phrase at least once, and possibly more than twice. Why?

Because keyword awareness is the key to long-term search engine success, that’s why.

A lot of search marketeers approach keywording in a mechanical, goal-oriented, habitualized pattern:

  1. Take content written by marketing department
  2. Select 3 or 4 phrases that seem to reflect the main theme
  3. Plug them into Google AdWords Keyword Tool
  4. Pull out the 5 variations with the most potential traffic
  5. Jam them into the original content’s title tag, <h1> tag, and 3 times into the text, once with bold tags around it.

Which is fine, and usually works pretty well when combined with a link strategy. But it’s really not the right way.

Thinking of keywords as little magic incantations that you sprinkle across the surface of content will cause you trouble. One, your content will read like it’s been edited by monkey (and nobody wants that). Two, it’s a total waste of time and resources to write something once, then go back and try to fit square keywords into round content holes.

When you could work with keywords and content in more natural, synergistic way. You could simply be aware of the damn things from the beginning.

  • When a website is first planned, whoever writes the functional specifications should have at least one keyword (preferably with a high-traffic potential) in mind. What is this business really about? Is it about the share price and how it relates to the CEO’s bonus? Or is it about custom cowboy boots? That will be your business’s primary keyword.
  • When the business is named—and the domain name is purchased—the person responsible should have that keyword firmly in mind.
  • Before MarCom begins writing the first paragraph of promotional material, whether it be business plan, investment prospectus, or staffing ads on Craigslist, the should run that primary keyword through the AdWords Keyword Tool, and pull from that a list of all the keyword phrases that actually fit the business model and mission. Then they should sort that list by the phrases’ potential traffic. Then they should tape a that list to the side of their monitors, and refer to it every now and then as they write. All the while, they must remember: they are not writing about the keywords, they are simply being aware of them.
  • When the web development team starts building a website architecture—the list.
  • When the web design team gets the site diagram and starts to work—the list.
  • When the site is all laid out and the content creation begins—yeah, you got it. THE FREAKIN’ LIST.
  • And link development, and future content development, and PR, and advertising, and HR, and Annual Corporate Reports, and marketing plans, and product launches, and on an on ad infinitum.

If everybody on the team is fully keyword aware, every step of the way, you will never need to hire me. Because a business based on keywords from the start will rule.


Friday’s SEO Site of the Week

We’re always looking for ways to make this business easier. And of all the things that need to be easier, link acquisition would have to be right up there at the top. Face it. Link acquisition sucks. Particularly if you are determined to get good quality, white hat, traffic-driving, useful, and interesting links—not to even mention links that pass SEO juice.

So when I tell you that the SEO site of the week this week is YouTube, you have to think about it this way:

Where else can you post a 2 minute video of a cat chasing its shadow that can potentially turn into 1,000s of links overnight?

Seriously. This is some mighty mojo. Of course, it’s not that easy. You have to do things just right to get any link value out of YouTube. You have to

  • produce video clips that are relevant to your website (tutorials, reviews, interviews, etc)
  • make videos that are high enough quality to suit the intended audience (doesn’t mean you need Spielberg, just that you need to think through a script, use fairly decent equipment, and edit the thing)
  • upload videos that are in some way attractive (funny is good, but useful, interesting, odd, or even seductive can be good)
  • make sure it’s embeddable (because when somebody embeds your vid, that’s what makes it a link)

If you’re lucky enough or good enough, your vid might even go viral. And that’s a good way to gather lots and lots of links. Let’s give ’em a matched trio of wizard hats.


5 Ways Google Analytics Can Help You with SEO

Pop Quiz:

What’s the most important, totally free thing you can (and should) do before starting an SEO campaign? Give up?

Analyze your traffic data.

And that means either sifting through densely packed visit logs until your brain explodes, or turning to one of the many available log data analysis packages. Some are easy to use, some are more difficult, some are sophisticated and deep, some barely scratch the surface. Some are very, very expensive. Some are free.

The best of the lot—for easy-of-use, depth of data, flexible reporting, customize-ability, conversion tracking, and more—also happens to be one of the free ones. Google Analytics (GA). If you haven’t already installed GA on your website, you should right now. Today. Because every day without GA is a day lost to the mists of information purgatory.

Here are 5 things you can learn from GA that will definitely boost your chances of search marketing success.

  1. Traffic patterns.  This is basic. The number of people visiting your site from day to day (even hour to hour) is crucial information. How else will you know when something works? Or doesn’t? Any serious SEO manager should always have a clear idea of how many people visit their sites and how that number changes over time.
  2. Visitor identification. Knowing just who these visitors are is pure gold. GA can tell you where they come from, refined to the country, region, and city they’re coming from; whether or not this is the first time they’ve visited; how many pages they looked at; how long they stayed;  which browser they used; even what language they speak. Understanding visitor demographics puts you in control of your marketing messages.
  3. Traffic sources. How did your visitors find you? GA can tell you if they clicked a link from another site, or used a search engine, or came from a paid placement ad, or typed your domain straight into the address box. You’d be surprised at how many SEO pros can’t tell you the percentage of visits that come through, say, Bing. You, however, should know this.
  4. Pages visited. When people visit your site, you probably want them to do more than scan your home page and split. You want them to go inside. You want them to find something they care about. You want them to perform some act that benefits them, and hopefully, you. So, you need to know which pages they hit, how often they hit them, and how long they stay there.
  5. Keywords used. And here is the real treasure. Before you optimize a webpage around particular keywords and key phrases, you must make yourself aware of the keywords that are already drawing traffic. Why? Because if they are the wrong keywords—keywords that are less-than-relevant, keywords that not conducive to sales conversion, or even keywords that place your business in a negative light—you can use your SEO mojo to fix it. If the keywords driving traffic to your site are perfect, but you want more out of them, well, you can’t grow it if you don’t know it.

But that’s not all! There’s more! If you act now, you will also receive the ability to set and track specific goals! AND filter out visits that might be unduly inflating your numbers! And more, much more!

And the best part is, of course, that it’s free. Google Analytics can be installed on almost any website, usually in a matter of minutes. All you need is a Google Account—and if you have Gmail, you already have one.


Keyword Density: Does It Matter?

If you’ve ever looked into SEO as a possible solution to your website traffic shortage, you’ve probably come across the concept of “Keyword density.” This is usually expressed in a statement something like:

Is your keyword density optimal? Get your keyword density to the magic number xx% and riches will rain down on you!

Run a Google search on “keyword density” and you’ll return about 1.7 million results, many of them tools designed to analyze your density so you can optimize it and become like an SEO God.

Okay. Keyword density refers to the ratio of a particular keyword to the rest of the indexable words on a given page. So, in the sentence:

Try Seafood Charlies deluxe seafood package–just right for Mom!

The density of the keyword “seafood” would be 2 out of 10 keywords, or 2/10, or 20%.  Supposedly, this tells Google, Bing, et al that the page is about “seafood” and convinces them to rank it higher than a similar page with only a 10% density for that particular keyword.

Only the story goes that too high a keyword density means you are “over optimized” and that counts against you. The gurus tell you that there is a sweet spot of keyword density. I’ve heard anywhere from 2% to 9% pretty often.

So, is it true? Do search engines really care about the ratio of keyword to text in any given page?

Um, well, maybe not so much. At least not in the simple way usually implied. Sure, Google’s famous 200+ element algorithm probably figures in density somewhere, in some fashion, to some particular end. But let’s be clear here:

There is no “optimum” keyword density percentage.

What there probably is:  a red flag that arises if the density is high enough to raise suspicions of manipulation. And the keyword density number that triggers that red flag will not be predictable at all because:

  • it will be a different value for different keywords
  • it will be a different value for different industries
  • it will be a different value for different page text word counts
  • it will be a different value for different contextual situations
  • it will depend on whether there is other evidence of manipulation on the same page

Which brings up the real reason keyword density is a bit of a straw man in a stuffed shirt chasing a red herring.

Google (and Bing too unless they’re really behind the curve) has grown smart enough to parse context. And not by counting words. The modern algorithm understands context in much the same way you do. They scan headlines and subheads, they note emphasized text, they determine what a paragraph is actually about by reading the sentence subjects and relating them to the words surrounding them. They pick out the key concepts and relate them to synonyms appearing in the immediate vicinity. Relate them to images. Relate them to the text in links pointing to that page.

But mostly, they DON’T GIVE A DAMN if the keyword density of a page is 2% or 10% or 35%, just as long as the page content makes sense and isn’t full of deceitful practices.

Proof? The number 1 page in Google for the search term “SEO” is: with a keyword density of 0.77%. That’s pretty low by any standard.

The good news? It turns out that if you write reasonably well, with your subject matter firmly in mind, with a keyword or two on a sticky note at the bottom of your monitor, you should naturally come up with a lovely keyword density. No really., with a density of 2.88% was not tweaked in any way to enhance the density. (I know because I wrote it, and I DO NOT CARE about keyword density, not one little bit.)

Write naturally. Write for a human audience. Know what you’re talking about. And it doesn’t hurt to understand what the humans are most likely to type into Google when they want to read what you’ve written.