David Leonhardt’s SEO and Social Media Marketing

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Archive for March, 2009

SEO Strategies for government websites

Friday, March 27th, 2009

In times like these, when companies are cutting costs, not many are hiring SEO services.  But governments aren’t cutting back (quite the contrary, but that’s a rant for another time).  I am just putting to bed a major SEO audit of a government website, so I thought I would share with you some of my observations.

 “What?” you ask.  “Why would a government website need SEO?  They don’t compete for business.  They’re an information website, like Wikipedia.”  In fact, government websites do compete in a number of ways and SEO can be a very powerful tool in reaching the right audience. 

This post recommends SEO strategies to address issues that are particularly relevant for government websites – and in some cases any major information portals, such as university or newspaper websites.  I cannot reveal who our client is, but you should know that it is a government agency that operates bilingually with both domestic and foreign audiences.

Governments have certain natural advantages – the search engines like government TLDs (top level domains, such as .gov or .gc.ca), the sites are huge, they are link magnets because they carry so much official information (they are the authority on so many things) and they typically have a high PageRank.  Just to give you an idea, here are a few key stats for the website I have been working on (I wish this blog had stats 10% as good!:


But government websites also have some unique challenges.  Here are a two of those challenges, along with strategies to address them:

SEO against the scammers

Any government agency that has the authority to approve or reject something, is a potential target for scammers.  This might apply to:

  • Licenses
  • Permits
  • Grants
  • Jobs
  • Contracts
  • Status (tax status, citizenship status, business category, etc.)
  • Appeals

Scammers will optimize their websites using words like “free” and “guaranteed” and “easy” and other qualifiers that sound like you can somehow get past due process.  Obviously, a government website does not offer “guaranteed grants” or “free mortgages” or “guaranteed immigration” or “easy access”.  But to protect the integrity of its services, the agency must rank above the scammers for those searches.

We found a few instances where there were several scammers ranking for several such searches better than our government client, so recommendations were made to out-SEO the scammers.  In such cases, the government website must rank well not just for things it wants the public to hear, but for things it would just as soon noit discuss.

SEO for proper direction

Given the size of most government websites, there are usually many levels of information.  People might do searches based on very specific or broad criteria.  For instance:

  • There might be a department with several branches. 
  • One of those branches might be in charge of several areas interest. 
  • Within one of those areas of interest there might be a number of programs. 
  • And one of those programs might include local delivery through offices in various locations. 

The bread crumb trail to get to one of these delivery points would look like this:

Home > branch > interest > program > locations > specific location

So information might go five or more levels deep, with multiple branches to each level.  This means that there are many pages with similar wording that could rank for a specific search.  Here are some of the possibilities.

A person seeking a specific item, such as “health card Bottomsville office” would ideally land at the “Bottomsville” office page.  He might also land on the page listing all the locations, including the link to the Bottomsville page.  Or he might land on the health card program page, where he can follow the link to “health card office locations” and with a couple clicks he gets where he wants.  These are all good scenarios.

On the other hand, someone doing a general search – let’s say a person in Sometown searching for “health card information” would ideally land on the program page, where she might find links to “health card fees”, “health card eligibility”,  “health card office locations”, etc.  However, if she lands on the page for the at the “Bottomsville” office page, she might be confused (because she is from Sometown).  If she is clever, she will notice the breadcrumbs and follow them up…but don’t count on her to notice them, nor necessarily to understand their utility.

If the wrong pages are showing up for certain searches (and we found a number of those), the pages need to somehow be unSEOed, and the correct pages need to be better optimized.

Other SEO challenges

There were other SEO challenges that are not unique to government websites.  In this case, we had to track not just domestic searches, but the rankings across a variety of country-specific search engines.  And, given the bilingual nature of the website we had challenges when certain searches were the same in both languages and the English pages were the only ones that were showing up.

And don’t get me started about the restrictions one has working within the prescribed regulations of a government website.

Beyond all these issues, SEO is SEO, and we provided a report based on best practices, competitive intelligence and working within the constraints of what changes this government agency would be able to make.  Doing SEO on a government website is a complex but rewarding project.


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Furl Removed From TheBookmarketer

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

The BookMarketer<br /> Free bookmarketing power tool

The popular social bookmarking website Furl, one of the originals, has been removed from TheBookmarketer.

Why have we taken such a harsh step? Because Furl has folded; it no longer exists.

Why have you not heard about it from other social bookmarking services? Because TheBookmarketer keeps its database updated better than most other social bookmarking aggregators.

Last month we removed Magnolia, when it also folded.  Not all social bookmarking aggregators are keeping up on the comings and goings of social bookmarking services.  In fact, some still feature Spurl, a service that discontinued a year ago.  And very few have added Tipd or Zoomit or Plime, three up-and-coming social bookmarking websites.


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The Bookmarketer adds Tipd, Plugim, Plime

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

Financial bloggers finally have a social bookmarking tool that includes Tipd.com, the niche social bookmarking website for financial news. Now there are five excellent reasons to add The Bookmarketer to your blog:

The BookMarketerFree bookmarketing power tool

1. It is the most up-to-date social bookmarking service, including emerging social bookmarking websites such as Tipd, Plime, Plugim, Shoutwire, Stumpedia, Socialogs, PostOnFire and Jamespot. (I am user “amabaie” at all of these; come be my friend.)

2. It is the least out-of-date social bookmarking service. Many others still have Spurl, which discontinued public services a year ago, and Magnolia, which folded earlier this year.

3. It displays more popular social bookmarking icons on your blog post, increasing the likelihood your readers will use it and bookmark your posts.

4. Finacial bloggers finally have a social bookmarking tool that included Tipd.

5. Canadian bloggers finally have a tool that includes Zoomit Canada.

The Bookmarketer is a free social bookmarking service to help increase the readership of your blog or website, and increase the links you attract from other websites. Just cut-and-paste the code, and off you go. Toy can see The Bookmarketer in action at the bottom of this post.


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Nine Reasons to Ignore Three-Way Link Requests

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

“So if I understand correctly,
you want to offer me a minor league bench-warmer
in exchange for one of my star players?”

Like you, we are inundated with link requests. Some are worthwhile; some are not. Obviously if the topics are way off base, we don’t pay any further attention. If the topic is on-base, we give the site a quick eyeball test.

But what do you do when a three-way link is requested? Just to understand correctly, a three way link is when a webmaster or hired gun requests a link from your site to their site, and offer in exchange a link from another website altogether.

Here are nine solid reasons to ignore such emails…

There is more work up front, because there are two websites to evaluate for one linking opportunity. Given the relatively few worthwhile requests, it really is not worth having to work twice as hard to decide whether to pay further attention, when you can work many times less hard by just deleting.

As a general rule, three-way linking requests are on average of a lower quality than straight two-way swaps. So there is even more incentive to delete the message rather than work twice as hard to review it.

Most three-way link requests want you to give a link from your high-quality website (your star player), but offer you a link from their low-quality website (their bench-warmer). If they are not interested in linking back from their quality site, why should you even bother?

The website they are promoting is the one they want a link to, naturally. Over time, as they build ever more links, a link from that site will become valuable. They offer a link from a site they are not promoting, which through attrition will become less valuable. Yet they are asking you to link to them from the site you are promoting and making more valuable. Fair? I think not.

Very often the website they want to link to you from is not even theirs. Very often, it belongs to a linking specialist they have hired. The linking website in most of those cases exists solely to provide reciprocal links, making is not only poor quality, but also expendable; when the linking campaign is over, the hired guns have no interest in keeping your link, poor quality as it is, live.

With alarming regularity, three-way link requests come in offering return links from the same website, often a directory. Link to Site A and get a link back from PainInTheButtDirctory.com. The next day, link to Site B and get a link back from PainInTheButtDirctory.com. The next day, link to Site C and get a link back from PainInTheButtDirctory.com. The next day, link to Site D and get a link back from PainInTheButtDirctory.com. It’s actually kind of amusing in an annoying, make-them-stop sort of way.

Contrary to popular opinion, a three-way link does not fool Google and Yahoo, at least not if it is done on any measurable scale. If a website has a high percentage of inbound links from websites that are all linked to from the same website or family of websites…well, let’s just say that the one thing huge data processors are expert at is recognizing patterns. ‘nough said.

Do the search engines value three-way links more than two way links? Some people swear by it. I have no data to back up the assumption I am about to share with you, and I could be very wrong. However, I suspect that the search engines see two-way link swaps as both a means of boosting link popularity sometimes and as a means of partnership marketing sometimes. What percentage probability they attribute to which characteristic is likely based on features of the linking pages. However, when there is a three-way linking pattern detected, I am pretty sure the search engines would attribute close to 100% probability that the links are solely to manipulate their ranking of your website. When else do you ever hear of three-way linking? I suspect that these links are seen as fairly dark gray-hat SEO, if not black hat.

The very last place you want to be found in is in a link directory that is solely used for three-way links. It’s like waving a big red flag and calling out, “Hey there, Google. Yoohoo, Yahoo. Lookit me. I’m messing with your rankings.” Is that the message you want to send the search engines about your website.

blackhat1 whitehat2

Are there legitimate three-way link requests? I have to add this footnote, because there is nothing black and white, not even SEO hats. There are some rare situations where a brand new website approaches us with a link request. They know that their links page carries no weight and might not even be indexed or cached by the search engines. In other words, they know they have nothing of value to offer in return. So they offer a link from another website. This happens rarely, but when it is specified that this is the reason, I usually take the time to look at their website and consider their offer. And, assuming the site seems worthwhile, I sometimes ask for a link back from their “worthless” page, knowing that over time it will be worthwhile…and in many cases more so than the third-party link page that seems more worthwhile in the short term.


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