Posts Tagged ‘about seo

17
Feb
12

Dilbert Is God

Oh, Scott Adams, you brilliant, sick, insightful, geeky, trippy, edgy, mofo, arty, philosophic, GENIUS.

Did we mention brilliant?

Not only are you funny as hell, but you say in three panels what we’ve been trying to get across for 10 years and a half million or so words.

Yes, we do SEO for a living. Yes, we’re good at it. Yes, it works.

And YES, SEO is a negative force in the world. It weakens the integrity of the world’s knowledge depository. It makes it difficult for valuable content to find its way into the brains of those who need it most.

White hat, black hat, pantless weasel. The whole SEO industry is up to no good. Luckily, the end is near. (See our previous post for a hint.)

27
Sep
11

What Page Deserves #1 Ranking?

One of these things is not like the others

One of these things is not like the others

This has been one of our hobby horses for a long, long time. Does a page deserve to rank number 1 in a search engine for a particular keyword search because it has more links pointing to it? Or because it uses the exact keyword phrase in the title and <h1> tags? Or because the site it belongs to is big and old? Or because a horde of pixies has conspired together to deluge the page with +1s? (We’ll avoid the obvious conclusion that the most deserving page is the one we did the SEO on.)

Or does a page deserve to rank #1 for any given keyword phrase because it is a better answer to the query?

That’s the answer we desperately want to believe. That’s the answer that promotes quality content over all else. And makes the internet (and thus, the world) a better, happier, more useful, and more interesting place.

So, then, what happens when someone searches for some very specific topic—let’s say a product called WOMENS HARLEY DAVIDSON JERRI STILETTO SANDALS—and every one of 50 pages in the search result is the exact same catalog page: product photo, manufacturer’s description, price & shipping info, and a big fat glowing “buy now” button? Which one of those do you rank #1? What if every one of them has the same number of ++++++ (zero) and the same number of links (zero) and the same number of Facebook friends (zero)?

To the searcher, it probably doesn’t matter who’s on first. If they’re looking to buy WOMENS HARLEY DAVIDSON JERRI STILETTO SANDALS and they don’t look at a whole bunch of those pages, they’re very poor internet shoppers. And if they’re just doing research, well, it doesn’t matter which page they hit if the content is all the same.

To the merchant, though, it does matter—matters a lot. Because whoever’s on top gets more visits, first impressions, and better opportunity to close a sale.

What’s a search engine to do?

If you’re Google, you’ll rely heavily on domain size, domain age, and number of inbound links, +1s, likes, and whatever that  point to the domain as a whole, even if none point to the page in question. If you’re Yahoo, you look to domain links and maybe Alexis traffic data. If you’re Bing, you pull out your 20-sided fuzzy dice.

If you’re us, you’d treat merchant sites differently from all the other kinds of sites. You’d use a less-focused algorithm that says “On merchant sites, if the content is virtually the same, the page ranks are equal, despite any other of the usual ranking criteria.” And then we’d let all the identical product-description pages rotate through the ranks, randomly, evenly, equally.

And let the consumers sort ’em out.

26
Sep
11

Anatomy of a Local SEO Campaign

A local services business goes online. After a couple of months with no traffic of any sort, they start a Google AdWords campaign and this  brings in a little business right away.  So they increase the budget and their keywords and test drive all of the Adwords vehicles. Another month goes by. Still some AdWords traffic, but nothing whatever from natural search.

They’ve gotten off to a pretty good start, they feel, and are serious about making it work.

They tweak the AdWords and tweak it some more but it’s beginning to feel like they’re leaking money.

Surely there’s a better way.

So they hire an SEO. Here’s what happens next.

  1. SEO analyzes web presence and notes:
    • Site design and content is okay for this stage and market
    • On-page optimization is virtually non-existent
    • Domain is not indexed by Google
    • Client’s AdWords campaign is reasonably well-developed
    • Client has existing Google Places account
  2. SEO analyzes traffic from paid campaign
  3. SEO submits domain by hand to Google through Webmaster Central
  4. SEO places a handful of links to site’s home page from pages known to be regularly spidered
  5. SEO begins keyword research
  6. SEO optimizes Google Places account with images, keywords, other content
  7. SEO delivers keyword recommendations to client for review and/or approval
  8. Client returns keyword list with additions/changes and approval
  9. SEO begins on-page optimization with:
    • Title tags
    • Semantic indexing tags (H1, H2, bold, ital, etc)
    • Renaming images and adding appropriate alt, title
    • Reworked text content
    • Recommended content additions
  10. SEO begins off-page campaign, develops link strategy
  11. SEO develops +!, Likes, Reviews, and other social network strategies
  12. SEO supplies client with long-term strategic plan document
  13. SEO suggests an “optimized for handhelds” project and offers to assist

The results are expected to go something like this:

  • Site gets indexed by Google, natural search traffic increases 10%
  • Places account gains traction, search traffic up another 7%
  • Google indexing matures, site traffic increasing 3-5% per month over 3 months
  • Off-page campaign effects take hold, traffic rate increases to 8-10% per month
  • Social networking takes off, rate of increase now 10-12%
  • Traffic levels off at +300% of original AdWords-only
  • Business increases at about half the rate of web traffic—increased profit pays for SEO campaign at month 8
  • Everyone lives happily ever after

This scenario describes our newest client, a pet sitting services company in our area. At the moment, they are at Step 2.  We’ll keep you posted on their progress.

14
Sep
11

Rel = “author” = Whaaaaat?

William Shakespreare's Google Profile

Shakespeare's Google Profile--Will the rel="Author" tag help him with his keyword ranks?

Attention all content creators! Google has recently launched an initiative designed to give you “credit” for all the things you write. Which is cool enough, we suppose, not even counting the probability that the resulting “credit” may well be used by Google as a measure of “authority” which, of course, means “keyword ranks.”

With us so far? No? Okay, again only slower. The idea is this: people who write content for the web typically end up published all over—in articles, in blogs, in interviews, and reviews, and stories, and reports, and on ad infinitum. To a spider, all these bits of content have no connection. They are all just disparate bits of content. Yet, they may have all been written by somebody with some specialized knowledge, skill, or connections who might actually be more credible than other writers tackling the same subjects. Connecting all these pieces of writing under a single author could be used to determine that author’s authority, her publication history, her general appeal, and even her topics of expertise. Which could then be used to help Google determine the content’s value. Quality content (or so we have heard) is just what Google loves best.

Does that make sense? Good.

Here’s how it works, hands-on. Every time you write content for the web, you include a link somewhere (anywhere) on the page. It can be an image or a phrase, in the by-line or the body or the bio. This link points to your Google Profile page. (You do have Google Profile, don’t you?) Inside the link, you add this attribute: rel=”author”. Then, on your Profile page, you put a link pointing back to the page that contains your author tag.

And the content is now credited to you.

On the article’s published page, it would look like this:

A Content Writer’s Guide to Content

by <a href=”https://profiles.google.com/farley-mac&#8221; rel=”author”>Farley McFinklestien</a>

On the author’s Profile Page, under the About tab (note that the links point to the actual article page):

Farley’s published works include:

How to Fry a Rat (Gourmet Rodent Monthly)
A Scenic Guide to Payson, Utah (The Places to Avoid Blog)
A Content Writer’s Guide to Content (Unemployed Writer Wiki)

That’s all there is to it. Of course, this may well turn out to be another one of Google’s “Nice Try but No Cigar” initiatives. (Remember Google Wave?)

Then again, we think it’s about time the poor, under-appreciated content professionals got their props.

08
Sep
11

The Long Tail of Search Optimization

A few years ago, SEOs were introduced to a new concept that shook a lot of trees. Wired magazine published an article by Chris Anderson in October 2004 that popularized the idea that instead of targeting high-traffic, high-competition keywords, there was money to be made by targeting a host of keywords that have little traffic potential. There is a lovely graphic everyone shows to prove the theory.

Long tail keyword graphic

Pretty compelling, huh?

SEOs loved the idea. Mostly because long tail keywords are doable. We might never be able to break page 1 for “mp3 player,” but we sure as hell can get you on top for “big frickin pink sony walkman mp3 player loaded with stolen music.” Number 1, baby. And if we promise to do that for, like, 8 million similarly impressive long tail terms, you’ll do really really well!

No, really!

Actually, no, and we mean “no.”

Yes, lower competition keywords are desirable. Yes, 100 one-visit a day keywords are equal to one 100 visits a day keyword. But no, because the vast majority of long tail keywords are zero visits per day keywords. So what we’re really looking for is the “green zone” keyword.

Let’s talk about that mythical beast. The “green zone” keyword is the one in the sweet spot. It is far enough inside the tail that you might be able to get some traction, but yet, still is capable of driving some traffic.

So the next somebody tries to tell you that the long tail is where it’s at, you can ask ’em “which vertebrae?”

06
Sep
11

The Perfect Search Engine

Oh Great Oracle! Who has the cheapest airfare?

Do you feel lucky? Well do you, punk?

Over the years, we’ve definitely done our share of bitching about the quality of results returned by search engines. Anybody get teary-eyed reminiscing about the usefulness of Infoseek, Lycos, or Looksmart? Seriously, there was a time when AltaVista created a gigantic buzz by returning a few relevant links to any given query. Still buried in tons of poop, of course. Yet comparatively awesome! Yahoo, Overture, and Inktomi were all  kings, once, even though they deliberately polluted their results with paid-for results. Until Google came along, almost everybody was pretty happy to be disgruntled by web search as a practical way to find stuff on the internet.  (Ask Jeeves? Are you kidding?)

In fact, until Google came along in 1998, the surging size of the web was making the job of indexing and identifying its parts almost comical. Google’s algorithm was so much better that it conquered the search space like Genghis took China, rising from nothing to 80%+ in just a handful of years. Yet even as the best available search engine—the best ever search engine—Google’s search results are somewhat lacking. Full of spam, fake content, and artificially boosted inferior sites. Oops. Our bad.

As SEOs, it seems a bit weird for us to complain about search result quality. After all, we’re part of the reason they suck. We spend a lot of time, money, and resources trying our damnedest to push inferior content into superior positions, crowding out whatever might actually be useful to any given web searcher. It’s a living.

You’re aware, no doubt, that beggars can’t be choosers and parts of the problem aren’t parts of the solution and whiners shouldn’t throw glass stones. Meh. Worst sentence ever.

Anyway, in an attempt to add something useful to the dialogue, here are some attributes that we think would make up an ideal search engine.

  • Ability to rank content by usefulness.
  • Ability to determine contents’ original point of publication.
  • Ability to parse phrases for meaning, instead of treating them as clumps of words.
  • Sophisticated filters and sorts allowing users to choose results by recency, geographic location, commercialty, price, size of site, type of media, and whatever else.
  • Unobtrusive and clearly marked paid placements (if any).
  • Fast.
  • Comprehensive.
  • Current.
  • and SEO proof.

Ouch. That last one hurt. But we think it’s true. Search results would be better—more accurate, more relevant, more reliable—if only the search optimization industry were obsolete.

‘Course, SEO isn’t obsolete, and probably won’t be for some time to come. Until then, we’ll be here, gaming the systems, skewing search results, and helping websites prosper. Whether they deserve to or not.

05
Sep
11

Happy Labor Day, Optimizers!

In honor of the U.S. holiday Labor Day, we’re going to present a list of the most labor-intensive SEO tasks that might make a difference to your keyword ranks, traffic, and/or bottom line.

  • Content creation. Writing quality content is not easy, simple, or quick. But it is absolutely worth the effort.
  • Link building. Nobody likes doing it. Link building is a total time-suck of epic proportions. But still, even with the new Panda-ized Google, link building done right is gold.
  • Authority building. Even trickier than link building, authority building is an occult art. At its simplest, it’s an alchemy of links, content, authorship, and age. At its most complex it might even entail human sacrifice. Still, you gotta try.
  • Blogging. Every day, about 6 trillion new blogs come online. Check on ’em one month later, and there’s about 12 left. That’s because writing a blog sucks. Trying to come up with fresh topics, trying to say something useful, trying not to sound like a self-obsessed teenager.  Like we do.
  • Updating.  Can’t ever rest. Must update site. Must check links. Must add content. Must tweak. Must…. keep…… moving…………………

So get yerselves a beer and a hot dog and enjoy the day. Tomorrow, back to work.

18
Aug
11

The SEO Value of Social Media

Doe you like me? Do you really, really like me?

Okay, then, where were we? Oh, yeah. We’re talking about SEO. Today, let’s devote a few pixels to the question at the front of every online marketeer’s overworked brain:

Does social media have an SEO value?

This question is important for two reasons: 1) The trendy popularity of social media means scarce marketing resources are being diverted from traditional SEO; and 2) The ROI for social media advertising has been very difficult to quantify. (Is there measurable ROI from social media campaigns? That, friends, is a posting for another day.)

The answer makes a difference. If a company’s social media efforts adds value to the SEO campaign as well as deliver at least some direct revenue generation, well, maybe that’s enough to justify transferring the budget.

So does it?

Meh. Depends on who you ask. Whenever something new-ish comes along to capture the hearts of MarCom execs everywhere, a circus-ful of promoters and cheerleaders quickly develops. Happened with banner advertising, happened with pay-for-placement, happened with rich media, and now it’s happening with social media. Google “SEO value of social media” and you’ll get a hella lot of “yes” votes, mostly from companies and consultants trying to get you to buy their social media package.

But there are also some “not-so-sure” votes and even some “noes.” What are the facts and what are the spins?

FACTS

  • All the major social media venues (re Facebook, Twitter, Digg, et al) only publish links with “no-follow” tags. Meaning links you post in FB, Twitter, etc, do not directly count as links for page authority.
  • At least two of the majors, FB and Twitter, suggest that they do count social popularity indicators when they figure page authority. (See this SEOMoz post for specifics.) Although whether or not these ranking elements count as high as, say, link authority is very much up for speculation.
  • Return on investment from social media advertising has been roughly on a par with banner advertising. Which is to say “decent for branding campaigns, but iffy for sales and leads generation.” Which is also why it is in social media titans’ interests to claim an SEO benefit to offset the underwhelming ad performance. (ClickZ take on it all.)
  • Social media titans desperately want your advertising dollars. Facebook, for instance, is flirting with an IPO early next year—and if they rake a billion dollars profit from advertising this year (Business Week), it will surely have an “upward influence” on their valuation. Meaning that they (and the other social media venues) have a serious vested interest in convincing folks that their products add value.

SPINS

  • Because the actual ranking value of tweets, retweets, twits, and twattle is complete speculation, declaring that “there is an SEO value to social media” at this point is a lot more like a mantra ( I do believe in ghosts, I do, I do, I do) than a solid reason to throw the weight of marketing budget into it.
  • Because advertising firms are competitive and always trying to come up with new ways to attract advertising dollars, they will always jump on any hype-wagon that rolls into town. Social media happens to be a big ‘un. So believe all the “well, even if there isn’t any measurable ROI, at least it’s good for SEO” chatter you want. Just make sure you’re carrying a very large hunk of salt.

So. The ultimate answer to our original question then is clear.

Yes, there is probably at least some SEO value to social media marketing.

And

No, it’s probably not enough value to justify short-changing your SEO budget.

04
Aug
11

SEO Success Metrics–Get Some

It's raining money!So yesterday we poked around the edges of success metric identification and came up with a few possibilities. Okay, says you, so I figured out which one is right for me, now what?

We’ll tell you what. The success metric you choose will be the goal for your SEO campaign.  And of course, that means you should design the campaign to maximize your potential in that direction. Here are some thoughts:

More sales. If you want people to buy stuff from your website, first you’ll need to choose keywords that used by people looking to buy. There are two very important aspects to consider. The first is the “Purchase Cycle.” These are the five steps most consumers follow through the process of buying stuff, whether online or at the store.

  1. Awareness. Consumer learns of a product, becomes interested.
  2. Research. Consumer investigates product type, variations, uses etc.
  3. Comparison. Consumer checks differences in brand, cost, availability.
  4. Decision. Consumer picks one and buys it.
  5. Relationship. Consumer builds post-purchase opinion of the process which will color any future potential interactions with the seller.

If your only concern is shopping cart completions, then you need to enter the cycle at #3, the point where consumers are comparing the product in order to decide whether or not to buy.

And what that means for SEO is choice of keywords. Keywords designed to attract comparison shoppers are different from ones designed to attract product researchers. “Best widget” is a better keyword for this end than say “About widgets” or “the use of widgets.” Choose keywords that appeal to consumers who already know what they want, they are now ready to buy and looking for the right specific product, the best price, free shipping, or the like.

The second thing you need to worry about is your “Purchase Path.” This is a linear representation of the steps required of a potential customer in order to

  1. Find the product they’re looking for
  2. Gather the information they need to make a decision
  3. Enter the shopping cart environment
  4. Navigate the shopping cart environment
  5. Successful conclude a purchase

A failure at any point in this path makes even the best SEO campaign irrelevant. You can drive 100,000 visits a day on the keyword “buy little black dress” but you won’t make a single sale if arriving visitors can’t find the dress, can’t figure out what sizes it comes in, can’t find the “add to cart” button, can’t figure out an eight page order process, and can’t get the form to accept their credit card.

Purchase paths absolutely need to be simple, transparent, and rigorously tested. That is, if you want your SEO to result in sales.

More sign-ups. If all you’re looking for is a list of people who might someday be interested in your products or services, you’ll need to start at an earlier place in the cycle,  at #1 or #2.  Here, you’re going to try to identify the keywords that might be used by people who don’t quite know what they’re looking for. Maybe they’re trying to solve a problem. Maybe they just found themselves interested in something new to them. Keywords like “what is a widget” and “how to fix fraggits” are more appropriate here. Once you’ve got those keywords, to succeed you need to do two things: 1) serve information that directly answers the keyword queries in an interesting and understandable way; and 2) make it so easy to sign up for a mailing list that even your 90 year-old grandma could do it stoned. Put another way, drive keyword requests for specific information right to that information, make it easy to digest, and even easier to sign up for more of the same.

Higher ranks for vanity keywords. Vanity keywords are defined as particular keywords that are chosen for rank improvement based on criteria other than successfully driving qualified visitors. Maybe somebody high in the food chain always wanted to be number 1 in Google for his mother’s maiden name. Or for something generic like “summer.” There may or may not be increases in  likely visits or sales or anything measurable except search results page rank. Sometimes, this is an impossible task. If the boss wants to win for the keyword “MP3” well, there ain’t enough money to make that happen, unless your name is Trump. Usually, though, vanity keywords are less competitive and can be reached by basic SEO tactics. Heard of Google bombing? That’s when you decide to force high rank from a keyword by placing a multitude of backlinks using that keyword as link text on a wide spread of sites. Ask Rick Santorum whether or not that works.

More magic pixie dust. ‘K. Maybe you’ve identified something else entirely that you need from your SEO campaign. Doesn’t matter what your chosen success metric, you just need to pay attention to these things:

  • Know whose searches you’re trying to capture
  • Learn to think like they do when they’re looking
  • Give them what they’re looking for
  • Make it easy for them to do what you want them to

Easy peasy.

03
Aug
11

SEO Success Metrics–What’s Yours?

Why are you doing all this SEO stuff? What do hope to gain from the expense of time, money, and irritation that goes into a serious search marketing effort? You really should know the answer to this question before you embark on an SEO campaign. Otherwise, you’ll never know when you get where you’re headed and you’ll know if the trip was worth the effort.

Is it more visits? For some web endeavors, just getting people to the site is victory enough. Perhaps you have funding contingent on putting eyeballs on pages, or if your model involves selling space ads, the more visits, the higher the rate you can charge.

Is it more leads? Those businesses that rely heavily on sales professionals to close the deal, getting the contact info of qualified potential customers can be worth a whole lot of trouble. Of course, your sales staff still needs to be capable of closing.

Is it more sales? Well, there’s the obvious winner, right? Ecommerce sites with online purchase capacity can pretty easily connect the dots between search visits and completed transactions. Cha-ching!

Is it more sign-ups? What if all you’re looking for is a list of people who might someday be interested in your whatever. A list you can email newsletters, special offers, and the like, or a list you can sell to some filthy spammer somewhere. Nah, you wouldn’t do that.

Is it higher ranks for vanity keywords? Here’s every SEO pro’s favorite success metric. The Marketing Manager comes to you with a blank check and says “All my CEO wants is to get number 1 rank in Google for ‘arglebargle.’ Cost is no object.” This used to happen more, but still does. Maybe makes sense for branding campaigns, but who cares? This kind of campaign i’s an SEO’s wet dream.

Is it more magic pixie dust? Hmm? Is it? Well? Do you even know what you want from the SEO? You better find out. Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at how these different metrics call for differences in SEO campaigns.