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Archive for December, 2008

My Top SEO Blog Posts of 2008

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

Just for fun, I went back through 2008 to see if I could narrow down the top 10 best blog posts I published during the year. It’s amazing how much writing a person can do in one year. I looked for those posts that are the most substantial and useful, and hopefully will stand the test of time.

It was not easy to choose just ten, but the following are my top 10 picks, in reverse order by date:

1. Bounce Rate SEO Fallacies
Regular readers might be getting tired of hearing from me on this topic by now, so I will simply say that this story already continues in two posts I have made in the past 24 hours, and this post spurred a debate at Sphinn

2. Website Optimization for Telephone Leads
This post is one that fills a pretty unique niche. In fact, I don’t think I have seen a handful of blog posts or articles in my life linking SEO and telephone leads. This is a very practical how-to post.

3. You Need Sucky Links
I get tired of all the emphasis on PageRank and how some website owners try to avoid getting sucky links. I don’t mean links from really bad neighborhoods, just low quality links that don’t count for much. But these are pretty important, nonetheless. Read the post to find out why.

4. Offline Links Count, Too
Folks in the online world tend to forget that there is a real world out there, and “links” in the real world can do wonders for one’s business.

5. Earlybird Link-building
File this one under “advanced SEO tactics”. Why wait until your website is completely developed and launched to start building your links? Give the search engines a taste of what will be on your site before it actually is. This is another how-to post, which drew a pretty good discussion.

6. How to get More Value from Your SEO Consultant
This is the one “SEO business” post I selected for the top 10 of 2008. It is important not to lose site of the client-consultant relationship.

7. New Google Rank-check Tool Is Released
Call the title a spoof or a prank, but topic is some seriously good advice for the search engines.

8. Why Blogs Are Good for SEO
Prospective clients almost always get this piece of free advice: “Get a blog.” This is one post that I expect to be just as valid in 2012 as it is today … and that’s an eternity in SEO.

9. Yahoo Violating Nofollow Attribute
I chose this post because it seems even truer today than it did back then. In fact, just prior to Christmas, I found several new batches of “nofollow” backlinks showing up in Yahoo. It might be that PageRank is not passed along through “nofollow” links, but I am pretty sure they count for quite a bit. Although best practice is to make sure I get nofollow-free links for my clients, I jump at good nofollow links, too.

10. Link Exchanges: It’s Not the Size of the PR but How You Use It
If you love that pesky little green bar on the Google Toolbar, don’t read this post; it will only irritate you. For newbies, a welcome to a sneak peak at how this SEO specialist evaluates possible link exchanges.

So that’s it. A whole year of SEO advice condensed into a single post. If you like any of these posts, please Sphinn them or Digg them of Mixx them or Stumble them so that others might enjoy them, too.

Happy 2009!

 


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What PageRank Can Tell Us About SEO and Bounce Rates

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

Last night I posted about what Google has to say on SEO and bounce rates.   You can  view the post here. A great question was posted by Wilson: “David, I was wondering, why Google want to have two different answer for the bounce rates…? ”

Even broken down into four parts, my response was longer than allowed for comments on this blog, so I decided to make it a post on its own.  Here is my answer to Wilson’s question:

Great question. I will get to that, but let us look at another misunderstood part of the Google algorithm.

We have been wondering for years why Google has three different measures for PageRank. The real PageRank calculation used in their algorithm is a complex logarithmic calculation. All other things being equal, a link from a PR4.12964 page is probably worth many links from a PR3.45294 page, for instance (We have no idea to how many decimal spaces the real PageRank is calculated, not whether this has remained steady over the years or whether it fluctuates over time).

Then there is the PageRank in the Google Directory, which supposedly is on a scale of 8. I can’t find any reference to the 8-point scale in the Directory, but the Wikipedia article on PageRank is a good reference on this point. Interestingly, the Google Directory states that…

 ”The green ratings bars are Google’s assessment of the importance of a web page, as determined by Google’s patented PageRank technology and other factors. These PageRank bars tell you at a glance whether Google considers a page to be a high-quality site worth checking out.”

Note the “and other factors” wording.

Finally we have the famous Toolbar PageRank, a green bar on a scale from one to ten. This is what most webmasters mistakenly refer to as Google’s PageRank calculation. However, it is just an estimation that makes a PageRank of 4.0001 look the same as a PageRank of 4.9999, even though the latter might be worth many times the former. Meanwhile, it makes a PageRank of 4.9999 look much less valuable than a PageRank of 5.0001, even though the two are almost the same. Furthermore, everyone involved in SEO can recount numerous instances where a page “should” have a much higher or much lower PageRank than another page, based on the number and value of incoming links, but the Toolbar PageRank does not reflect that. (For instance, I have noted on many sites that a “links” page with identical link juice to a PR3 content page might nevertheless have a PageRank value of zero.)

What does this tell us about bounce rates?

Just like PageRank, bounce rates is a metric Google shares with its users. PageRank is viewable to everybody; bounce rates are viewable only to the website owner. In both cases, Google is showing a very simple calculation … a number people can use to quickly make comparisons between pages, between websites, between last month and this month, etc.

As I wrote above, “It would be a ridiculously simplistic algorithm that calculates bounces using such simple calculations.” Any serious calculation of bounces applied to a search engine ranking algorithm would have to be such a complex multidimensional equation that it would be useless to you or I as humans viewing it with our eyes (unless you happen to be a mathematical genius – and I mean genius – which I am not by a long shot.

Except to the extent that a search engine chooses to reveal how it treats bounces and other actions in its algorithm, we will never know for certain what plays a role and what does not, nor how big a role each factor plays. This is par for the course with ranking algorithms.

It is also totally possible that Google and the other search engines do not include bounce rates and related user actions yet in their algorithms.  Adam Lasnik’s comments quoted in my previous post are good hints, but they are hardly official.     Google engineer Knut Magne Risvik speaking in Norwegian at Digi.no and saying that  Google can measure how many seconds it takes from when a user clicks on a link to click back to Google, and if it is a short time that visit was a failure, is not quite an official Google statement either.  The only search engine that has released anything official is MSN through its BrowseRank paper … and that is not a statement current practice but of future intentions.

As this very young field matures, Google might also change its Google Analytics definition of “bounce rate”. SEO aside, the raging debate over whether a high bounce rate could sometimes be a good thing (depending on the nature of a website) makes a good case for changing the Google Analytics definition, too.

The summary to all this is that I have to answer Wilson with a simple “I don’t know”.  But, just like defining “bounce rate” and “PageRank”, such simple answers are really a lot more complex than they look.

 


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Google Leaves Questions About Bounce Rates

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

Regular readers will know that I have been in a somewhat involved debate on this blog and over at Sphinn on the issue of bounce rates as they might now or later on apply to SEO.  I maintain that is a matter of business necessity that search engines would try to more precisely measure user satisfaction with each result of each search phrase, and that bounce rates would be one metric they could use.  Frequent readers will also know that I do not view “bounce rates” as a simple number or as a static pass-fail type of calculation.  It would be a ridiculously simplistic algorithm that calculates bounces using such simple calculations, in my humble opinion. 

Recently, Web Pro News  reported that Google answers bounce rates questions.  In fact, two separate answers were provided, one that relates to SEO and the other that relates to Google Analytics.  Many webmasters will confuse the two and we all know that’s how false rumors get started — the kind of false rumors that years from now will be reported as fact by many people calling themselves “SEO expert”. 

It is possible that Google Analytics and SEO are related or will be related, but don’t bank on it.  Here is what Adam Lasnik of Google has to say specifically about bounce rates and SEO.

If you’re talking about bounce rates in the context of Google Analytics, I’m afraid you probably know as much as I do. I love the product, but don’t know the ins-and-outs of it very thoroughly.

If you’re talking about bounce rates in the context of Google web search and webmaster-y issues, then we really don’t have specific guidance on bounces per se; rather, the key for webmasters is to make users happy so they find your site useful, bookmark your site, return to your site, recommend your site, link to your site, etc. Pretty much everything we write algorithmically re: web search is designed to maximize user happiness, so anything webmasters do to increase that is likely to improve their site’s presence in Google.

The bottom line is that you want to do all the things that we talk about in Sticky SEO to keep people on your website, to engage them in your website, to send Google and other search engines signals that they found your website to be useful.  And, of course, you want to reduce the number of visitors who send the search engines signals that your website is useless.

Just for information, here is my post on objections to ranking based partially on bounce rates.

 


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Christmas Tweet

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

My Christmas Tweet for you:-)

 


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Bounce Rate SEO Fallacies

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

Of late there has been a lot of discussion about bounce rates and whether or not the search engines count these in their algorithms.  A few days ago I posted some pros and cons on this issue.  Today I would like to share with you 9 common objections I have seen to using bounce rates as part of the search engine algorithms, and refute 8 of those.

 

As far back as late 2007, there were reports that webmasters were seeing a difference in their rankings for major keywords within a few weeks of drastically changing their bounce rates.  However, none of the tests and reports seem to be complete enough or repeatable enough to constitute “proof”. 

 

As a result, there are plenty of naysayers who believe that such things as bounce rates are not now and probably never will be part of the search engine algorithms. 

 

I am of the opposite view; bounce rates will certainly be a major part of search engine algorithms and probably already are to some degree.  That is in large part – but not completely – the premise behind Sticky SEO.  Let us not forget that Microsoft has been spending a fair amount of energy on what has been called BrowseRank, which is in part based on bounce rates.

 

Objection 1, there is no definition of “bounce rate”. 

 

Response. This is the flimsiest of arguments.  A bounce is when someone leaves a website, going back where they came from.

 

Objection 2, I don’t like how Google Analytics defines a bounce.

 

Response.  Sadly, Google doesn’t ask me for advice, either.  But cheer up, the bounce rate in Google Analytics might not be the same as they use in their algorithm, just as the little green bar is not necessarily the PageRank they use in their algorithm.

 

 

Objection 3, many sites don’t have Google Analytics turned on, so Google would have very incomplete data.

 

Response (scratching my head in confusion).  What does Google Analytics have to do with anything?  This is about Google (or Yahoo, or MSN, or Ask, or some other) tracking their own traffic and how their own users move about and – most importantly – how their users return to their website.

 

Objection 4, what is the threshold for a bounce?  After 5 seconds?  After 10 second?  After 15 seconds? This is a mess!  (This is often part of the how-do-we-define-a-bounce debate.)

 

Response.   A bounce is a bounce, whether it takes a person one second or one hour to bounce back, it is a bounce.  How the search engines choose to treat bounces with varying lag times is another matter.  Let’s be clear; they won’t tell you, just as they won’t tell you how many links on a page they index, how many they follow and how many they count in their ranking algorithms.  Furthermore, it is a moving target.  Just like every other algorithm input, bounce rates and bounce lag times will not be treated in the exact same way one day to the next.

 

Objection 5, what if people quickly click on an external link and leave my site?  They found the site useful because they found a useful link on it, but they bounced.

 

Response.  That is not a bounce, that’s a referral.  A bounce is when someone hits the back button.

 

Objection 6, what if the user quickly closes the window?

 

Response.  That could be any number of things, but it is not a bounce.  Who can guess how the search engines might treat that, or even if they treat it at all?  However, it need not be considered a bounce unless the search engines believe it should be.

 

Objection 7, doesnt a bounce mean the person has found what they want?  Cant a bounce sometimes be good?

 

Response.  Sometimes, perhaps, but rarely.  After 5 seconds, a person has no time to read a page.  After 30 seconds, they might have found something useful.  So lag times matter.  More importantly, the search engines can determine what a person does next.  If a person returns to the search results and clicks on another link, that is a sign they did not find what they want.  If they return to the search results and conduct a similar search, that might also be a sign they did not find what they want.  If they return to the search results and conduct an unrelated search, that might be a sign that they found what they want.  Search engines can weigh various bounces in light of the user’s next action.

 

Objection 8, for some searches, people look for multiple sources, such as comparing prices, comparing products, seeking varying opinions, etc.  Too many sites would be penalized if all those bounces were to be counted in the rankings.

 

Response.  This is an example of false logic.  If someone clicks on one website, then bounces, clicks on another website, then bounces, clicks on another website then bounces…all the high-ranking websites for that particular search query would be equally affected.  Nobody would suffer a ranking disadvantage because rankings are relative.  On the other hand, if one site typically bounces and the others don’t, the bouncy site clearly is less useful than the others and should be demoted.

 

Objection 9.  Cant I just set up a bot to visit all my top competitors and leave their site after varying numbers of seconds to make it appear that their sites are all bouncy?

 

Response.  Yes, you can.  And you can get very creative.  I have even heard of couriers in China travelling from one Internet café to another to click on a particular site as a means of increasing its rankings.  I have no answer for this, other than that the search engines will have to control for this, just as they have found ways to control for automated link-building.

 

So have no fear.  Good websites that provide what their visitors want or who help them find what they want will prosper.  Sticky SEO looks at conversions and stickiness as integral elements to SEO.

 

Cheap sites that do a lot of link-building – bouncy SEO – counting on large volumes of traffic to offset poor conversion rates, will suffer – because the search engines will stop sending them that traffic. 

 

It’s just a matter of time.  Or perhaps it has already started.

 

 

 


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Sticky SEO on Webmaster Radio

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

Earlier today I was on Webmaster Radio talking about Sticky SEO. You can listen here:

Show: SEO 101



 

 


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Do Bounce Rates Really Count?

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

Do Google and Yahoo include bounce rates in their algorithms?  Ever since I released Sticky SEO, it seems there has been a growing debate on whether bounce rates factor into search engine algorithms, or even whether they should in the future.  I think you know where I stand; they probably already do to some degree and they surely will count for much more in the future.  And not just bounce rates, but various other user activities.

I seems that my view is not universally held, but there is a robust debate on this topic.

Some people feel that there really is not a definition of what a bounce is, so that makes it difficult to determine bounce rates.  That just means the search engines have to define what a bounce is, and I gave them some tips here.

Some people feel that a high bounce rate is a good thing –  the person found quickly what he wants and returns to search for something else.  To quote one observer on Sphinn: “If the page is highly relevant to what the searcher is specifically looking for, they can get their info and leave without going to any further pages – fully satisfied. A Big vote for relevance.”

On the other hand, some people feel that if Google is now using bounce rates to rank its PPC ads, why would it not use that same information in its organic listings?

Others have argued that it would be too easy to send robots to the competitions’ websites and create a lot of fake bounces.

This issue is certainly not over, but I simply cannot see the search engines ignoring what I believe is the ultimate measurement of customer satisfaction.  There is no way that a quick return to the search engine is a good thing.  At best it is neutral, if someone is doing research and visiting numerous websites.  But in that case all top-ranking sites would have their bounce rates affected equally, so there would be no disadvantage resulting for any of them – those bounces would not affect rankings.  One way or the other user activity has to be an important measurement the search engines cannot afford to ignore.

 


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Is an SEO’s Place in the Kitchen?

Friday, December 12th, 2008

I wrote this post as a comment on Barry Welford’s blog, and it got so long and involved that I realized it would make a great blog post right here…especailly since it really is the foundion on which I wrote the Sticky SEO ebook.

Bounce rate is a great measurement of performance, of the usefulness of a website.  It is not the only one, as has already been discussed, and on its own would be a poor measurement.  Leaving a site through an affiliate link (or any other link) should not be considered a bounce.  It should be considered an external referral. 

Whenever anybody clicks on a result in Google, there are four potential next actions. 

  1. Bouncing back to Google, especially after only 3 – 5 seconds, is a sign that Google had served up a less-than-useful result.  Not good news for ranking well.
  2. Referring to a deeper link in the site (an interior page) is as Barry says “normally a confirmation that they are finding something of interest”.  Good, job Google; keep ranking that page for the search that was just performed.
  3. Referring to an external link is also a sign that the searcher found something useful on that page, which is why for SEO the New York Times is making a wise decision.  Searcher happy, Google happy.  Keep on ranking.
  4. Closing the browser window.  Yes, that is the fourth option, which means simply that the searcher’s wife just called, “Honey, dinner is ready.”  (Hopefully that won’t affect rankings one way or the other, or else we’ll need a kitchen-centric SEO strategy in the future.

 

 

 

 

 


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Intense Debate Plugin

Friday, December 12th, 2008

Regular readers might notice something different on this blog. If you are the first to read this post, you will have to go to an older post to view it. It’s called the Intense Debate Plugin for WordPress. It offers some really cool features that this blog did not have before:

Sadly, when I first installed it, the plugin nixed my WYSWYG editor, until we could load the new WordPress 2.7.  It looks like any comments posted in those few days between initial installation and making it work have been lost.  I am still trying to recoup them, but it doesn’t look good.

 


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Website optimization for telephone leads

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

Some businesses rely on telephone leads, either as the main source of revenue or as an important means of acquiring customers.   This includes anyone from pizza and other delivery restaurants to tradesmen like home inspectors or home improvement contractors.  This includes most service sectors, too.  Are there ways to get a leg up on the competition?

Yes, and here are a few ways to do just that.  Strictly speaking, these are not SEO techniques (more like TEO – telephone optimization), but if we broaden our definition just a bit, let’s file them under SEO.

1. TITLE TAGS…  Place the phone number at the beginning of the title tag.  So if your home inspection business is targeting “Chicago home inspections” and “Chicago home inspector” as the main keywords, try this title tag:

<title>312-555-5555 Chicago home inspections by inspector Rob Penfield</title>

Why is this such a clever strategy?  Well, you should know that typically 40% of people click on the first search result…even after gazing down at lower results.  Those people who click on another search result usually do so because:

  • They are looking for multiple quotes.
  • They are doing research.
  • They tried the first result…and it sucked.
  • The first result is clearly not right (They searched for “pursuit of happiness” and they want the band, not the movie or the constitution).
  • A lower result is obviously better.

Read that last point again.  Suppose I am looking for a home inspector in Chicago, and I notice that the third result has the phone number right in the headline.  Wow!  I don’t even have to click.  I just pick up the phone and call.  I might be lazy, in a hurry, multi-tasking or just typically modern…but you have just snatched a top-spot lead without ranking #1.  Amazing.

2. DESCRIPTION TAGS…  This is a variation on the title tag.  Place the phone number in the description tag, right next to the main keywords.  The description tag is often used as the explanatory text beneath the headline for search results.  Although not as powerful as the title tag, this should help you secure some extra leads.

3. DOMAIN NAME…  I know this sounds crazy, but if telephone leads really are your bread and butter, make your telephone number your domain name.  Too crazy?  Not for 1800flowers.com.

4. PROMINENCE… Websites typically place their phone number on a “Contact us” page, or if the website is really exciting, perhaps in the footer template in small letters.  This is all fine and dandy if your market will hunt down your phone number.  But if you are trying to urge people to pick up the phone and call, try something a little bolder.  At http://www.serviceblocks.ca/ , a home renovations company, we placed the phone number in the upper right margin, with a big picture of a telephone so that it can’t be missed.  At http://www.paramount-roll.com/ we placed the phone number right in the content box, so that it would be even more obvious.  We also noticed that the most-clicked item on the home page was the “samples of our work” link (upper right), so we added the phone number to the funky slide show that visitors view at that link.  Depending upon the nature of the product, you might even want to make your telephone number flash.

5. SOCIAL MEDIA AVATAR…  Why show your face at Digg or FaceBook or Zoomit Canada, when you can be just a number.

6. USER NAME… A variation on the avatar them, if telephone leads are your bread and butter, make your telephone number your user name on social media sites and forums.

7. BACKGROUND…  Both Twitter and MySpace allow you to create custom backgrounds.  You know what to do.

8. FORUM SIGNATURES… OK, this one is obvious, but I am sure it would be even more obvious by its omission from the list.

Got some other ideas to optimize your website for telephone leads?  Please share them with us in the comments field below.

 


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