David Leonhardt’s SEO and Social Media Marketing

Tips for better SEO (search engine optimization) and website marketing …



Archive for September, 2008

Earlybird Link Building

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

POP QUIZ:  How do you build links to a website that is not yet live?

Those who are new to the Web might wonder why you would want to do that.  Let’s suppose your website takes 4 months to develop.  If you build some links to your domain, then SEO-wise you can hit the ground running when you are ready to go live.  Imagine going live and already having 100 links indexed by Google.  You have a head start.

But who wants to link to a non-website?  Nobody, of course, except…

Let me tell the story of a shy little girl named Melanie.  Her parents moved to a new town, and let’s just say that the kids at her new school were a little less than welcoming.  What’s a girl to do when nobody wants to be your friend?

Be your own friend, of course.

Eventually, anybody who is a good friend to herself will radiate confidence and self-esteem and will emit an aura of worthiness.  Soon, Melanie had plenty of friends, just because she was a good friend to herself.

So, too, with link-building.  If you are not yet ready to seek links from other people, set up links to yourself.  Here are a few ideas how to do this:

Set up pages at Social bookmarking and social networking sites.  Most of them allow links in your profile, and the more friends you have and the more items you vote on, the more link juice your profile will have.  LinkedIn is great for SEO .  FaceBook is good.  Squidoo is ideal (Set up lots of topical pages and network, network, network).  MySpace is useless from an SEO perspective.

Submit articles to general article directories and how-to/expert websites.  In the resource box, you can place a link.  These links are hardly ever checked by the website administrators, unless something looks fishy.  Make yours an exquisitly useful, quality article and most places will accept it.

Submit comments on DoFollow blogs.  Some blogs automatically add all comments. Some bloggers will read your comment and approve it if it adds value, without looking at your website.  Some bloggers will follow your link and nuke your comment.  (I did just that a few minutes ago, which is what inspired me to write this post.)  Ah…but if the commenter had posted a lengthy comment that really added to the discussion, I might have approved it, and I think most bloggers would … although some might remove the active link to a non-functioning domain.  Keep in mind that who you link to matters.

Set up blogs on other domains.  You can set up blogs on Blogspot and WordPress and on hundreds of smaller websites that allow users to set up blogs.  many of these overlap with the advice above to set up profiles at social networking sites.

Buy blog posts.  There are plenty of paid blog review websites, such as Blogsvertise.  And there are self-serve paid blogging sites like LinkVana

In fact, you can build hundreds of links before you even have a website.  All you need is to harness the power of user-generated content on other websites.  However, there are a few caveats.

1.  It still requires work.  You might not yet have content on your own site, but you have to put quality content on the other sites, and the better the quality the more links you can build.

2.  It helps if your site is live.  It might take 4 months to develop, but in 24 hours you can have a nicely designed on-topic interim home page live on your domain.  I suggest you do this.

3. This is not hoity toity SEO.  This is guerilla SEO.  There is nothing wrong.  There is nothing shady.  It leaves a bad taste because it should not be like this, but given that the longevity of links and the gradual accumulation of links does count to your success, it would be foolish not to take advantage of these opportunities to quickly position your new website to compete with the established players.


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Where the Candidates Stand on SEO

Friday, September 19th, 2008

Today, I would like to share with you the candidates’ positions on SEO.  In both the USA and Canada, national elections are in process, so it is only appropriate that the major political figures have stakes out pivotal positions on issues critical to SEO.

Unfortunately – and amazingly – no candidate in either country has yet announced the party platform on SEO-related issues, so here are a few questions I would like to pose to the candidates: 

  1. The Internet has expanded immensely over the past decade.  As a result, demand for top-10 rankings has far outstripped supply for almost every search term imaginable.  How does each candidate plan to increase the number of websites in the top-10?
  2. Will the candidates agree to support the proposed “Truth in Google Backlinks” bill?
  3. How do the candidates plan to convert the oversaturation of city traffic (a bad thing) into increased website traffic (a good thing).
  4. There are far too many shady characters hanging their shingles and calling themselves SEOs, offering false guarantees, taking advance payments to enjoy the beach, and giving the honest SEO professionals a bad name.  Would each candidate please explain which method they prefer to rectify this: public flogging, overdosing on anchovy paste, locking in a room with an endless stream of Teletubbies reruns?
  5. How does each candidate plan to address the pending disaster occurring in India and Pakistan, namely the overabundance of cut-rate link-builders who are putting Americans and Canadians on the street?
  6. Could any of the exciting candidates please shout “Yahoo!” at the next campaign rally?
  7. Are any of the vice-presidential candidates willing to pray for my clients to rank #1 for all their search terms?
  8. Where does each candidate stand on drilling in the Arctic, and what has that got to do with SEO, anyway?
  9. Canada the USA and Mexico have signed a North American Free Trade Agreement that some politicians have suggested needs to be renegotiated.  Will the candidates also commit to negotiating a North American Free Internet  Agreement?
  10. What keywords does each candidate plan to target when in office?
  11. PPC prices have suffered unprecedented inflation, keeping pace with inflation of Zimbabwe.  Do the candidates favor a price cap on PPC when they climb to the average price of housing?
  12. Do the candidates favor a price floor on housing when they dip to the price of PPC?
  13. Do the candidates prefer Google Maps or MapQuest for coordinating future military campaigns?
  14. Will the candidates commit to placing a recently updated Google PageRank bar over the entrances to all government offices, so that visitors know the true value of each office?
  15. Do the candidates plan to appoint blog secretaries to organize blog conferences?
  16. And finally, what role does each candidate see for spam in relations with Iran?

 I am sure there are other SEO-related questions we should be asking.  Perhaps you can suggest some in the comments field below…


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Ethical SEO and the non-client testimonial

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

Sigh.  This SEO client won’t make me any money.

But first, a story.  Our fancy vacuum cleaner was slowly seeming to get weaker and weaker, until it really would just not suck anything up anymore.  This would have precipitated immediate action, except that we have a ShopVac, which at least can pick up most of the dust from out carpets. 

So “repair the vacuum cleaner” went onto our to-do list.  Which is a lovely place for something that doesn’t seem too urgent.  And as long as the ShopVac did 90% of the job, repairing the vacuum cleaner never really became as urgent as dozens of other things that would pop up.

If you have ever had items remain on the to-do list in perpetual procrastination, you will understand how over time they psychologically grow to epic proportions, to the extent where they become jobs that just seem too burdensome to want to tackle.

But one day, not all that long ago, I picked up the phone and called the vacuum repair guy.  OK, it actually took several days, because these guys don’t just hang out at the foot of my driveway, and over the years the Canadian rights to the vacuum brand had been sold to another company.

The repair guy asked me a couple questions and gave me a homework assignment.  Before charging me a whopping repair bill, he suggested that I check out the *****.  Which I did.  And the vacuum began sucking immediately.  I won’t tell you what ***** was, because I don’t want you to know just exactly how foolish I was and how little this epic repair challenge actually was, but suffice to say that I felt silly.  I called him back and thanked him for being so kind and so ethical.

Which brings me to the “testimonial” I received yesterday from a non-client.  The gentleman wanted some link-building for both SEO and targeted traffic.  After a bit of back-and-forth, it was clear that he had a few specific websites of the Fortune-500 variety in mind.  He also had good reason to believe he had a shot at getting those links, based on what he was offering related to their sector.  I had to tell him much what the vacuum repair guy ended up telling me:

It sounds like you are seeking somebody to pitch these very specific websites on the value of linking to yours.  Unless these are paid links, in which case money talks, you really are the best person to make that pitch.  While this is a superb idea, both for direct traffic and for some pretty strong SEO benefits, it is not something you need or should hire an SEO consultant for. 

The “testimonial” he provided was a short email back to me:

The advice you have just rendered indicates clearly you are the epitome of your firm’s motto “ethical seo services”. It is nice to know.

So those conversations made approximately $0.00 richer than I was before they began (plus interest!), proving that great non-customer service is just like my “refurbished” vacuum cleaner — it really sucks. But in a sector where so many fly-by-night charlatans look for ways to suck website owners into their own little vaccuums, I believe it pays to be honest in the long run (that’s the “plus interest” part).

Here is our ethical SEO consultant page.


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BrowseRank Strategies – Quality Content

Saturday, September 6th, 2008

Last week, I reported on how BrowseRank goes beyond PageRank to rank websites according to user behavior.  I won’t repeat all that here, but the bottom line is that increasingly you will need to reduce bouncebacks from your website to the search engines.  A fe days ago I offered the first in a series of strategies to employ.  I am generally moving from most obvious to least obvious, so last week I offered tips on how web site design can keep more visitors on your site.

Today, we look at an almost as obvious strategy…

STRATEGY #2 – Write website content that keeps the reader reading.

Nothing in this post is revolutionary, but all of it is necessary.

  1. Make sure the content is relevant.  Stay on theme.
  2. Check and double-check your grammar and spelling.  Do as I say, not as I do!  This is crucial, because if people see a spelling mistake, they will wonder, even subconsciously, if your product also has flaws.  And they might leave to conduct a new search.
  3. Make sure the content is useful.  We run a freelance writer’s service, and you would be amazed (or maybe not) at how many website owners come looking for optimized website content.  Quality?  Well, the writing has to be good (see tip #1 above), but it really doesn’t matter what we write, what message we offer, what information we include.  More important is that it is cheap.  I usually send those people over to GetAFreelancer.com.  They are missing the point.  Useless optimized content offers a very small benefit.  Useful optimized content offers so much more.
  4. Answer all the questions.  This is something that takes a little more thought.  What questions do your visitors have?  Does your content answer them?  Questions could be about you, about your policies, pricing and shipping, and about what you offer.  Those are obvious.  But what about how to use your products?  Where they can be found?  Can they be used in cold Canada or hot Mexico?  What if a person is older, younger, thinner, wider, a newbie, a pro…what about all the possible questions that every niche or subniche of your customers might have.
  5. Expanding on #4, can people easily find shipping info?  For instance, do you ship to Canada?  If I can’t find that out quickly, I won’t stick around.  Is pricing easy to find.  If I am already at the stage where I might be ready to buy, I look for pricing almost immediately.  If I can’t find it, I’ll search somewhere else.  In short, any content that your audience is likely to be searching for needs to be obvious and easy to find.
  6. If your website is an ecommerce site, do you have plenty of descriptions and suggestions of how to use each product?
  7. New and unique non-commercial content is also ideal, because that also engages a visitor.  Just make sure to read tip #1 above before creating an entertaining video or interactive game or photo gallery or top-ten list.  We recently redesigned the website of a steel-bending client, and tracked the click locations.  An amazing number of clicks were on a “samples of our work” link that is just a souped-up, funky slide show we created for them.  Yes, even an industrial website can be cool!
  8. Remember to use small paragraphs.  Huge chunks of text make people’s eyes gloss over and they subconsciously reach for the “back” button.

From a site usefulness perspective, your content needs to first an foremost include the information visitors are searching for, so that they do not bounce right back to the search engine.  Secondly, it needs to engage readers so that they stay on and make a purchase…and at least if they do bounce back to the search engine, it’s after a long visit on your site (signaling that the site was useful for them).


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BrowseRank Strategies – Quality Web Site Design

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

A few days ago I reported on how BrowseRank goes beyond PageRank to rank websites according to user behavior.  Modern search engines tend to rank websites by relevancy and importance, and of course their algorithms can be gamed.  The concept of BrowseRank, which I have been mentioning to clients already for two years, would add a third and almost more important measurement – usefulness.  This, too, can be gamed.  However, most of the gaming would also work to your visitor’s advantage, so the Web will be a better place for it. 

In preparation for BrowseRank and perhaps other search engine measures of website usefulness, this is the first in a series of posts that will help you make your website appear useful in the eyes of the search engines.  You will probably find that these are things you should be doing anyway to increase conversions and profits, but that is not my area of expertise, so here we will look at them from an SEO perspective.

STRATEGY #1 – Design a website that says “Quality” the minute a visitor lands there.

This might seem soooooo obvious, but it needs to be said.  As obvious as it might seem, I come daily across dozens of websites that say “Amateur” or “Crap”.  Here are a few tips to make your website look like a professional website that can be trusted.

  1. Get a professional design that looks at least somewhat modern and in a style that suits your products and target audience.
  2. Lose the square corners.  Some corners are OK, but if your design is based on boxes, it looks like a basement job.
  3. No Adsense-type ads.  Yuck! Honestly, that is the biggest sign of a low-quality website.  A run of Adsense across the bottom is not bad, but the more prominent the PPC ads the cheaper the site appears.  By the way, ads are OK.  The more they look like content or part of the website, the better.  Adsense style ads just look cheap.
  4. Keep it clean.  Clutter looks as bad on a website as it looks here on my desk.  (But I don’t have a webcam to display this disaster to the world, so don’t display a mess on your website!)
  5. Make sure your web pages look good in various browsers and in various screen resolutions.  If 70% of people see a superb website and the other 30% see garbled images and text, they will bounce back to the search engine … which tells the engine that your website is not very useful (and it isn’t if it can’t easily be read by 30% of searchers).
  6. Make sure your website is available, which means good hosting.  I am never shy about recommending Phastnet web hosting.  This blog is hosted there and I have been migrating my sites to them over the years because of the five-star service I get when I need it.
  7. Make sure your code is working properly.  Seeing a PHP error makes the site look broken.  I don’t buy from someone who might be selling me broken goods.
  8. Avoid overly flashy design.  If your visuals call attention to themselves and distract from your message, you will lose people.
  9. Avoid automatic audio playing.  I can guarantee you that 99% of people browsing from a cubicle, as well as others in shared space, will zip back to the search engine in no time flat.  That sends a pretty bad signal to the search engines.
  10. Nix the cover page, especially one that shows a slide show on start-up.  And if you think people can easily scroll to the bottom to click the “skip intro”, it’s easier still to click the “back” button and choose a new website that does not place a barrier to its visitors.

Those are my top 10 web design tips for helping visitors see quality in your website.  Please feel free to add to this list in the comments below. Following these tips is not enough to make them stay on your website, but at least they won’t leave because the design scares them away.  In future “episodes”, I will share with you some additional strategies to help the search engines view your website as “useful”.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that we have some top quality SEO web designers on our team.  :-) 


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