David Leonhardt’s SEO and Social Media Marketing

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

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Archive for the ‘SEO’ Category

SEO Competitor Analysis – common sense that’s not so common

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

What does SEO competitor analysis look like? Here is a run-down, along with screenshots – literally what it looks like.

When people who know a little about SEO mention competitor analysis, they usually want to take a peak at the source code of competing websites and copy their keyword meta tags.

When people who know nothing about SEO mention competitor analysis, they usually refer to companies that compete for customers in the real world, even if they have no search presence.

One’s head could get quite sore from banging it against the wall.  Not because I know all that much about competitor analysis, but I do know:

1. Copying someone else’s keyword meta tag is just duplicating somebody else’s mistakes.

2. If a website is not ranked highly for coveted search terms, it is not a competitor for SEO.

Copying someone else’s keyword meta tag is just duplicating somebody else’s mistakes.

But competitor analysis can still be very valuable, and I know that I have rarely done enough (OK, probably never).  An SEO colleague has recently decided to zero in on this specific function, which is not a bad idea – it does tend to be overlooked.  Arvid Linde, is a UK-based SEO consultant, originally from a journalistic background, and this is a link to his competitive analysis service that he just launchedPlease see full disclosure and my special offer at the end of this post.

Arvid tells a story that I think illustrates pretty well the folly of not doing a competitive analysis:

I recently had a website owner boasting to me how his site’s got PageRank 5 and Alexa 100K-something and how he’s attracting more traffic than his competitors put together. However, when we looked at his conversions, it was clear that he’s been targeting the browsing traffic, while his competitors were picking the buying traffic. No wonder he was barely breaking even. It is going to take time to restructure his website, but it’s great to see him moving into the right direction.

Having oodles of traffic and having customers who are ready to spend money is not the same thing.  Watching what competitors are doing is a great way to discover what you might be missing.

The package he put together is interesting, and I’ll show some screenshots to give you an idea of what is possible, whether you choose to take this on yourself – there are some DIY competitive research tools available – or whether you hire someone like Arvid.  First, here is what his package contains:

  • Part1 – SEO Competitor Report
  • Part2 – Content and Social Media Strategy
  • Prospective Twitter followers
  • Extra support

The SEO Competitor Report is what so much of the work goes into.  The first job is to identify the most relevant competitors – those that are ranking the best in the same space as your website.  The next step is to gather some basic metrics of those competitors.  Here is a clip from one of Arvid’s reports.

SEO Competitor Report

Then you gather some basic metrics about competitor backlinks.

SEO Competitor ReportWhile no single metric or any combination of metrics will guarantee a specific position in the search results at Google and Bing for any specific search phrase, these give you a pretty good sense of what you need to strive for.

Next, do a complete overview of your website.  This is definitely NOT something you should do yourself.  You really want an objective review (by someone who is qualified, of course).

SEO Competitor ReportAnd then do the same thing for the competition.

SEO Competitor Report

It helps to look at a couple other important areas.  Just how important social media and page load times are, is hard to tell.  But Google has said that page load times can be a ranking signal, and we all know that social media is the most important way to spread the word about your website, garnering trust, authority and totally organic links.

SEO Competitor ReportHere comes an interesting part.  Competitor analysis can reveal some very interesting link opportunities.  Inbound links to a site can come for a number of reasons.  Competitors get links from sites with related ownership.  Or because they are clients, sup[piers or partners.  They might get links from companies involved in a community project together or who are geographically related.  Links might come in from organizations they are memberships or, magazines they advertise in or trade shows where they buy a booth.

All of these are links that cannot be duplicated for you.  But there are some links that can be duplicated.  If three out of ten of your top competitors all have links from the same domain, there’s a good chance that it not because of related ownership or geographic proximity.  These are the common links worth pursuing…

SEO Competitor ReportThe same principle goes for keywords, by the way…

SEO Competitor ReportOn the other hand, some competitive keyword research can also reveal some hidden opportunities.

SEO Competitor Report

Content Strategy

What flows from this is the content strategy.  Again, this is something you can do yourself.  It is less detailed than the competitive research, but it is a lot of work and just as important.  You content strategy will determine to a large degree how to make use of the competitive intelligence to your advantage.  That’s one reason that a complete content and social media strategy is part of this package, along with the list of 3,000 active Twitter users relevant to your niche.

Here is a snapshot of what is covered in the report.

SEO content strategy

If you are tempted to cut corners and try old fashioned link-building, you will not only be wasting your money, but most likely you will be setting yourself up for a very costly penalty, which Google seems to gleefully slapping on almost anybody who does almost anything that looks like SEO.  This strategy takes the approach that publicity can be harnessed to build your brand, your reputation and… well… that seems to be the safest and surest road to SEO success these days (it probably always was, as a long term strategy – the only difference now is how costly short term strategies have become).

One of the reasons this report is so crucial, whether you end up doing it yourself or hiring someone like me to implement it, is that you have a roadmap.  If you follow it, you should be able to keep all wheels out of the ditch.  The report even looks at the biggest social networks and what effort your business should be making on each of them.  For instance, there might be very little value for a specific business to be on Pinterest, but if there is a total absence of all competitors, it might be a small but easy audience to capture and engage in your content.

One of the reasons I am so comfortable with Arvid’s service, is because I agree with his approach to SEO.  He doesn’t think the basic methods have changed much over the years, notwithstanding the noise and the antics that get talked about the most.

“The formula is very simple – you determine your target audience, add value by offering content that can’t be found elsewhere and then attempt to earn mentions from sources that are frequented by your target audience. It worked in 2004, it works now and I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t work ten years from now. The only thing that changes are the channels used to deliver and amplify your content.”

He also scoffs ay keyword density, which I always thought to be a joke that SEO scammers used to have something to sell clients.  “Scoff!”  Yes, I do that, too.  And in your content strategy, he will almost surely talk about the importance of establishing authority.  Bingo!

Before you rush out to start working on SEO competitive intelligence or paying Arvid or anybody else to do it for you, I do need to add a caveat.  This type of competitor analysis is not for everyone.   This really works well when you have a very specific niche.  General blogs, news websites, many membership websites and others that target a number of niches really won’t benefit from this kind of competitor research.

So, if you’re writing a blog that doesn’t have a laser-targeted niche and doesn’t have a sales-based business model, I’ll say – don’t order my report.

A few extras that Arvid throws in.

I grilled Arvid (and I must appologize that I am not using everything he told me, because this post would get way out of control). Here are a few extras he tells me he offers along with the competitor analysis reports:

If I notice that a significant portion of competitor traffic is PPC-based, I’ll also do a PPC report looking at the best-performing paid keywords, optimal landing page layouts and even actual ads that generate sales.

Once we’re happy with the way the new content strategy is being implemented, we can look at the link acquisition opportunities in the 2nd part. I’ve shortlisted the links that work for the competitors.

During the Skype sessions (that come free with the report) I help the client with the content ideas, show them how they can find more high-quality link sources or clarify any technical questions they might have.

From then on it’s establishing a routine of monitoring your competitors and making sure you don’t repeat their mistakes.

If I have been too long-winded, here is a pretty concise explanation of competitive analysis.  And here are some free tools you can use if you want to go the DIY route.

DISCLOSURE: The link to Arvid’s services is an affiliate link.  That means that if you buy his service now, I will get a referral fee.  For that, I thank you – in fact, I will thank you tangibly.  I will give you $100 worth of social media coverage as a thank you gift – Free!  I would not recommend Arvid’s services if I did not believe it to hold great value.  For most businesses, the ROI should be substantial.

 


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Cartoonify your blog for top SEO results

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

Cartoons give a blog – or any website – an unfair advantage in the search engines. Cartoons can turn an unremarkable blog post into prime link-bate, and a web page into SEO rock star status.

In the crowded world of blogging, the path to success is always to distinguish yourself. There are many ways to do this; here are just a few of the more common ways to distinguish your blog within its niche:

  • the length of the posts
  • the approach you take to a topic, perhaps playing Devil’s advocate or assembling multiple opinions
  • a unique writing style
  • incredibly thorough research
  • presentation

By way of example, Mike at Sugar Piner Realty Blog makes a big deal of how each post is a “lightning fast read”, which makes it easy for people to click through without feeling they will be stuck reading for hours (low risk).

On the other hand Neil Patel of Quicksprout Blog prides himself on long, detailed, highly useful posts. His is one of my favourite blogs; I don’t mind being stuck reading his long text because I almost always walk away something useful and actionable (high value).

Yes. Short is awesome. Long is amazing. Both these bloggers distinguish their posts by taking exact opposite approaches. But what they share in common is that they distinguish.

Whether a post is long or short, provocative or bland, informative or opinionated, presentation also counts. These days, the value of having an image on your blog posts is indisputable.

  • Pinterest is huge. No image, no Pinterest.
  • FaceBook adds images from links automatically. Your link is lost on FaceBook without an image.
  • Twitter is growing increasingly visual.
  • Google Plus is at least as visual as FaceBook…and I don’t even know if you can post there without an image.
  • Snapzu. GentleMint. Scoop.it. Manteresting. Sulia. Rockzi. Dudepins. DartItUp. Etc.  Those are just the ones where I have profiles; you might know of others.

What does this have to do with SEO? I’m getting to that.

Stock photography has bloomed (not literally, except for floral photography) over the past few years, as the number of blogs continues to rise, compounded by the realization that a blog post needs an image.

Infographics have also exploded (not literally) as everybody and their pet Chihuahua’s grandmother tries to cram “everything ever known in the universe since before the beginning of time” into one handy reference image.

People love funny pictures. #cartoons #SEO #blog posts

But Mark Anderson of Andertoons makes a strong case that cartoons are more effective than stock photos and Infographics.

It could be argued that stock photography (boring!) and Infographics (seriously?) are just being done wrong. And I might well make that case in another blog post (or two). But even done right, stock photography and Infographics would have a hard time competing with cartoons.

Is this where you get to the SEO part? Shhh. Stop interrupting.

A cartoon holds a dual promise that no other medium does. It offers the likelihood that any time invested in it will bring laughter, or at least a smile … or at least some form of amusement. Chances are pretty good that you will feel good after reading a cartoon.

In a good mood, the reader might be more amenable to continuing to read the post. Enjoying the cartoon, the post might be shared just for the cartoon’s sake. Who would do that for stock photography, or even for an Infographic?

Even if the cartoon sucks, you know that it won’t take more than a moment of your time, so this is a lower-rick activity than clicking through to yet another blog post on the levels of mercury found in southeast Pacific tuna. Who won’t read the cartoon?

If you have not yet heard, SEO these days is all about engagement. The more people you can get top view your content, and the more they engage with it, the better you will rank in the search engines. Lots of engaged people send lots of tweets, post lots of FaceBook comments and link back from their blogs. The natural links, just because your content is so awesome, are the Holy Grail of SEO.

eyeballs x engagement = SEO

SEO tips for cartoons (lightening fast read!)

  • Make sure your cartoon is on-topic with the post.
  • The cartoon does not have to re-enforce a specific point from the post, but bonus points if it does.
  • Make sure the cartoon can stand on its own, out of context. It will stand a much better chance of being shared in social media.
  • The cartoon does not need to have keywords in the text, but bonus points if it does.
  • Make sure the image file name and alt text have keywords, unless it would look really silly.
  • Make sure your URL is on the cartoon, in case it gets shared beyond your ability to track it.
  • Welcome reprints (you can even give link code, the way Infographics marketers often do).

Why my cartoonfographic rocks

The most shared post on this blog is actually an Infographic. It will never win any design awards, unless someone is giving out a what-do-you-call-that-awkward-thing award. But it does do four things very well:

  • It is short and sweet (lightening fast read).
  • It addresses a much-talked about topic (newsworthy)
  • It gives a useful, actionable framework for evaluating links (useful)
  • It looks almost more like a cartoon than like an Infographic (What DO you call that awkward thing?)

Cartoons are not cheap. They are labour-intensive, so you will pay a price. If you have deep pockets, they are a great investment every day. If your pockets are shallower, you might want to be strategic in how you use cartoons.

For instance, a lot of personal finance bloggers have a mix of content on their blogs:

  • useful tips and tricks for saving money, making money and keeping sane through it all
  • financial product reviews

Guess which of the two types of posts is income-producing? And guest which type of post people actually like to share? One way to make the income-producing posts more shareable is with a cartoon. The result is more inbound links and more social signals to the pages that actually need to rank well in the search engines.

Another strategy would be to have a weekly or monthly cartoon, and draw people into other posts through that cartoon. To be more clear, the cartoon would be a post on its own, perhaps with a round-up of the week’s or the month’s posts to get people moving deeper into your website.

Cartoons are particularly useful for dull topics, like grain elevators or concrete mixing. Even the world’s biggest grain elevator groupie, or the world’s biggest cement curing fan would be hard-pressed to read through 800 words on those topics without yawning.  Imagine, however,the fun you could have with a cartoon of a grain elevator sinking into improperly mixed cement. Ah, but now I mix my metaphors…

Cartoons are not your only option for effective and engaging images. Infographics work, too. Stock photography works, too. But cartoons do have a natural advantage, and are well worth your consideration. It could be the unfair SEO advantage that propels your blog.

DEAR READERS: What do you think makes the ideal image for a web page or blog post?

 


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Monitor Backlinks – 7 juicy inside- and outside-the-box strategies

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

I love new tools that make online marketing easier, and I have always been a fan of SEO.  So when Monitor Backlinks was released, of course I had to review it.

CAVEAT: I am not a fan of automation for content creation or for link-building, as I have often said.  But I am a great fan of automation for form filling and for research.  And this is all about putting research on Steroids.

This review will not be a step-by-step walk-through of the interface, nor a pros-and-cons type of review, for three reasons:

Monitor Backlinks Logo

  1. This tool is mostly self-evident and easy to use – I love it when that happens!
  2. There are already several reviews of this kind, such as here and  here and here - and I am sure many more will appear.
  3. These guys bend over backwards to help you figure it out (Hello Big Brands who don’t want to keep getting bashed on Twitter - are you paying attention?).  Here is a message I got from founder Razvan Girmacea when I signed up:

“Got any questions about our software? Want to get a second opinion on your SEO tactics? Just reply to this email.

“I like helping people to get the most out of Monitor Backlinks and I like talking to people interested in SEO in general.”

Instead of walking through the interface, let me run through seven juicy ways I have discovered this tool can be harnessed to boost your business, some of which you will find “du-uh” obvious, others of which you’ll find “Hey, that’s refreshing!”  (like cantaloupe with vanilla ice cream – go ahead and try it)

KEEPING LINK PARTNERS HONEST

This is not the most original or the most exciting way to use Monitor Backlinks, but it is the most obvious and the most traditional – plus it allows me to easily introduce how Monitor Backlinks works at the most basic level, so let’s start with it.

Monitor Backlinks 'SEO Auto Discover' feature

The “SEO Auto Discover” function tracks all your backlinks, which new ones you get and which old ones disappear.  So if a linking partner removes your link, you will be alerted in the change log.  Or if you choose to be alerted by email on your account page, you will receive an email alert.

Receive email notification of change of status

To be frank, keeping reciprocal linkers honest has never been a priority of mine, and I will not use it this way.  Most link partners are honest anyway, and a natural backlink profile does not include a high degree of reciprocation in backlinks…or in the timing of backlink removal.  But I know that some readers will want to keep track of this.

But it’s not just link partners you might want to monitor, as Razvan Girmacea pointed out when I interviewed him:

“Think how hard is to get a baklink and then think how easy is to inform a webmaster about a link with a problem (nofollow, 302 redirect, robots.txt blocked, removed because changed theme, meta noindex/nofolllow, server errors …). This is exactly why I’ve built Monitor Backlinks, to make sure you keep your current links when it’s possible.

“About 10 to 20% of the links that have problems can be recovered with a simple notice to the website owner.”

PENGUIN CLEAN-UP

I have been helping websites clean up their backlinks for a couple years, ever since Google’s bloodthirsty Penguin has been ravishing the Internet.  When a website gets the infamous “unnatural backlinks” letter from Google, it means not hours, but days of tedious work:

  • Tracking down backlinks
  • Deciding which ones to try to eliminate
  • Seeking webmaster contact info
  • Requesting link removal
  • Keeping track of which links are being removed
  • Re-contacting the webmaster
  • Disavowing links that do not get removed

Sorry, but Monitor Backlinks won’t do all this work for you.  But it will help you keep track, which can save you days of work.  To put this to use, you need to first create a list of all the backlinks you want removed, and load it up…

Import backlinks to monitor

I know that a Penguin Penalty and an “unnatural backlinks” letter are not the same thing, but there is a very strong correlation, probably in the vicinity of 95 percent.  And if you have been hit by Penguin and not “yet” received the dreaded letter, best to start cleaning up your backlinks quickly to avoid getting the letter.  It is my observation that this is a situation where an ounce of prevention can save you a pounding headache of cure.

RELATED ARTICLE: How Google interprets your backlinks

LOCAL SEO

Another innovative way to use Monitor Backlinks is to keep track of competitors.  I know I have always said to ignore what the competition is doing and just focus on being the best you can be, but there are some useful reasons to monitor competitor backlinks.

When a competitor wins a new backlink, it just might be from a website that you can also approach for a backlink.

When a competitor wins a new backlink, the linking website might not be one that will link to two competitors, but you might be able to look for a similar link from one of that website’s competitors.  For instance, a local bar might make a taxi company its “preferred supplier” and link to it.  Oh yeah?  Well, you can go out and get other bars to link to your taxi company website.

When a competitor gets a spammy link, you can see it right away.  And perhaps you will want to report it to somebody. I will warn you to be very careful about this.  Once you start a food fight on the Internet, it can get out of control.

This approach can be useful for any website, not just local SEO.  But it especially useful for local SEO where linking opportunities might be more limited and truly useful links should mostly come from local sources.

I contacted Gerald Weber, a friend who I knew was using this tool (see the “here” links above), and he told me: “My wife has recently launched a new phone screen repair business (www.houstoniphonescreenrepair.com) and with all of the craziness that has been going on in Google these days we want to know immediately if we get some weird or spammy looking links. It’s also extremely cool that we can always see when we are getting new and powerful links as well.”

A little bird told me that Monitor Backlinks might soon be adding a “local citation” feature, so you will know not only what sites link to your site, but what sites mention your company (and your competitors).  Here is a good post on the importance of citations to local SEO.  I am not sure how far advanced this is, as I have yet to come across any studies on local citation (please feel free to identify any in the comments below), but it appears to be something that has begun.  And, I might add, it is a good reason why your local website should be well optimized for your company name and area code.

NEGATIVE SEO

You might have heard a lot about negative SEO, especially now that Google will penguin-slap you for too many unnatural backlinks.

Many webmasters are afraid that a competitor will pay an offshore “link building” service to create 1000 forum backlinks and 1000 spammy, keyword-specific-anchor-text blog comments to their sites and get them in trouble.  The scary thing is that there is precious little that you can do about this.

But if you see them coming, which is where Monitor Backlinks comes in handy, you might be able to throw them all into a Disavow file with a note about being bombarded by negative SEO, and upload it to Google’s Disavow tool.  Will that protect you?  I don’t know.  But you will have a MUCH better case to make if you report the links proactively as soon as they appear than if you respond only after Google finds them.

For those who don’t think negative SEO is possible, I was a victim.  In my case, it was not a competitor who hit me, just some black hat SEO “genius” using my blog to try to boost rankings.  They posted spam comments here.  Those comments were never approved, but they still had specific URLs.  The spammer was linking from garbage websites using random images and anchor text to the exact URL of their comments, hoping to boost the SEO value of their comment links.  Although the comment-specific URLs never went live, the spam links still pointed to this domain.  Had I been monitoring those backlinks, I might have taken pre-emptive action to avoid the mess of a full-fledged backlinks clean-up.

JUICE UP YOUR CURRENT BACKLINKS

Monitor Backlinks gives some great analytics about each link.  Here is a partial slice from a few of my backlinks…

Monitor Backlinks data

What you see is the domain for each link, to and from.  You have to move your cursor over the domains to see the exact URL and click on that to open the link in a new window.  Then comes the MozRank of the domain.  Move your cursor over it and see the Page Authority.  Next comes the social sharing tally.  Move your cursor over that and view specific counts for Twitter, FaceBook, Google+, LinkedIn and Delicious.

What I cut off to keep the image manageable on this narrow blog space are:

Number of external links on each linking page, the tag representing the source of the data (in this case, all from the “autodiscover from Google Analytics” function), the button to edit the data, the current status of the link and the date the link was added to the Monitor Backlinks database.

So, how does this help me leverage my backlinks.  Well, in this example you see that I have some nice links from some authoritative websites.  That is good. But the pages themselves lack much authority, and no wonder when you look at the social sharing numbers.  So that tells me that I should social share some of those pages, where appropriate, and perhaps ask some friends to do so, too.

Or there might be opportunities to build in some links to those pages.  For instance, one is a company profile.  There might be a way to work that into a blog post or a forum post at some point. Or there might be a blog post mentioning your site that you were unaware of.  After reading the post, you might find that there is a follow-up that you can do to cement a relationship and maybe get mentioned in another way.  Or write a guest post for them…

NEW GUEST POSTING IDEAS

An even better way to find guest post opportunities is to keep an eye on where competitors are guest posting.  If a blog is keen to accept a guest post from one of your pet supply competitors, chances are good that they will be interested in a post from your pet supply website, too.

A quick check at the MozRank of the site and the amount of shares that your competitor’s guest post garners will give you ample data to decide if you want to approach the blogmaster to also contribute a guest post.

AS SEEN IN…

Oh, looky here…

As seen in Forbes

Maybe you will be so lucky as to see a link come in from Forbes or Inc. or CNN.  These are valuable for much more than SEO and a short burst of traffic.  Set up an “As seen on” graphic for your website to create amazing social proof that will impress visitors and help you increase sales.  Here is an example from my friends over at Client Attraction:

As Seen In logos

MORE IDEAS?

I am getting hungry (why did I have to mention cantaloupe and ice cream?), so that’s enough writing for now.  Feel free to suggest in the comments below other ideas for using Monitor Backlinks, or other features they could include so that it could be used in even more innovative ways.

 


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Free SEO advice (for what it’s worth)

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

They save that advice is free, but they also say that advice is worth only what you pay for it.  I suppose both statements are true, and if you add on an even more famous saying – caveat emptor – you should be free to listen even to free advice without needless panic.

I put together this little poster…

The main purpose of the poster was to rectify some serious violations of the telephone pole nudity prohibition bylaws in my town.  (If you see any nude telephone poles in your town, feel free to post this poster on them, too.)

 Must Read: Top SEO Tips

But since we have the poster now, let’s look at what free SEO advice it offers.

If you’re doing it just for the search engines…stop!

Basically, build your site for your target market.  Build links for your target market.  Social share for your target market.  It’s OK to give a thought to the search engines, but your main focus should be on your target market: your readers, your customers, your brand advocates, your early adaptors, your co-conspirators, etc.

Lately Google has been telling people to add and remove links based on what its algorithm wants to see.  This will ultimately make the Web a worse place.  Try to ignore the search engines as much as you can afford to.  It might put the headache medicine manufacturers out of business, but all good things come with collateral damage, right?

Variety is the spice of life and of search engine rankings.

OK, if you must pay attention to the search engines, here is a pretty good rule of thumb.  If you have several sitewide links on huge sites, that is not a lot of variety.  If all your inbound links say “steampunk pajamas”, that’s not much variety (and possibly not very comfortable, either!).  If all your inbound links come from press release sites, that’s not much variety. If all your inbound links come from a few identical articles or press releases syndicated to hundreds of domains, that’s not much variety.

Don’t ask me how much variety you need.  The answer is simply “more.”

You can’t orchestrate a natural link profile.

So don’t try.  The one thing that computers do infinitely better than us humans, is they find patterns quickly.  Try to orchestrate an organic link profile, and the search engines will discover the pattern of an orchestrated organic link profile – which is probably more incriminating than just an orchestrated link profile.  Do you prefer Google to call you a cheat, or a cheat and a liar both?

Think about the words your audience responds to.  That is what keywords are.  Use them.

People search with the words they use. If you use those words as makes sense to do on the pages of your website, the search engines will know to serve up your pages to searchers.  There, now – I have just saved you the expense of subscribing to a keyword research tool.

Google isn’t half as dumb as you think it is.

Please re-read “You can’t orchestrate a natural link profile.”

Do something worthy  of mention in the New York Times.

Want coverage in the New York Times?  And in other newspapers and their websites?  And radio stations?  And blogs?  Then do something worthy of it.  Make some news!

Don’t believe half  of what you read  on the Internet.   

I read this line on the Internet. It was attributed to Abe Lincoln.  ‘nough said.*

There is no such thing  as the Tooth Fairy or keyword density.

Please re-read “Think about the words your audience responds to.  That is what keywords are.  Use them.”  Yes, if you use those words in your text so that it makes sense… OK, why not also re-read “If you’re doing it just for the search engines…stop!” while you’re at it.

The Internet is a cocktail reception. Act accordingly.     

Forget that you are sitting in front of a PC or an iPad.  You are in a large room, filled with millions of people.  Some are possibly even customers, but most are other business folks and media folks and would-be-celebrity-expert folks.  They all have followings, communications channels, etc.  You want them talking about your brand, your website, your products, your services, whatever.

What’s the first thing you do?

You start pitching your company and handing out business cards and…  Hey, where did everybody go?

I guess you’ve never been to a cocktail reception.  The first thing you do is size up the room, see how people are dressed, listen to how people speak, get a sense of what is considered acceptable(which will vary from blog to blog, from social site to social site, from Skype group to Skype group – so pay attention) and what kind of talk might be considered overly self-promotional or even “spam”.

Then, start to give.  Offer to help.  Suggest getting in touch later.  You get the idea.  Do that on Twitter and FaceBook and in blog comments and before long people will also be giving.  To you.

Link to this poster.   It will bring you good karma.

Yup.  When you read something really good (Oops, I guess I am being presumptuous.), share it.  That’s what this cocktail reception is all about, isn’t it?

So that’s my free advice for the day.  Free SEO advice.  Free business advice.  Take from it what you can use and leave the rest for next person foolish enough to follow free advice.

*  I told you advice is worth only what you pay for it.

 


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Do as Google says and get penalized

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

Over the years, Google has been telling webmasters to avoid manipulating their content and links to try to gain higher rankings. The advice has usually been along the lines of, “Do what is good for your readers.” In other words, we should ask ourselves, “Would I do this if Google did not exist?”

Of course, spamming has worked, at least in the short term. That is why people have continued to do it. And Google has waged a guerrilla warfare with spammers over the years.

But people could always get ahead as long as they made it look like they were doing things just for their readers. In other words, as long as it looked natural, and not automated.

  • If they were careful to vary the link text.
  • If they were careful not to have a thousand identical articles with the same resource box.
  • If they avoided link-exchange scripts.
  • If their content was “technically” unique (not the same content with just a couple words changed or synonyms substituted).

All that changed in what I call Google’s “Zoo Period“. Google unleashed pandas and penguins on the world, two black and white animals we usually associate with the words “cute” and “cuddly”.  But Google’s penguins and pandas are anything but cute and cuddly.

These two algorithms are delivering a hard strike at spammers.  The problem that everybody notices, however, is so much collateral damage of innocent websites and in particular that the small guy seems to be hit more than the big brands.

The problem that few people are talking about openly  is…

Webmasters are doing stupid things to please Google

Google’s advice that we should be creating web content for our readers, not for Google, is wise – at least in theory.

The problem is, that Google is now penalizing those very activities that we should be doing to make great websites for our readers.  Here are a few examples that I have noticed.

Content stuffing

Once upon a time, keyword stuffing was a big problem.  This was when people would just cram their keywords into their pages at an unnatural rate in order to gain an advantage in the search engines.  It made for hard-to-read pages.  People don’t do this too much any more; it no longer is considered effective.

Instead, they do content stuffing.

It seems that early results show that “thin content” (not many words on a page) can get a page into trouble with Google.  Worse still, several pages of “thin content” have been shown to drag down an entire domain. So webmasters and bloggers are rushing out in droves to beef up thin content pages, which typically would be any image-heavy page or blog posts with fewer than 100 or 200 words.  On one of my blogs, I have deleted a lot of old posts that were incredibly small.  Those posts were small for a reason, but they are gone now.  Others I have beefed up.

The problem that any writer worth her salt will immediately recognize, is that you cannot equate quality with word count.  In fact, a good writer seeks to streamline her content and use only those words that are absolutely necessary to convey the message.

“Brevity is the soul of wit.” So says William Shakespeare.

“It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book.” So says Friedrich Nietzsche

“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” So says Thomas Jefferson

“Stuff it!” So says Google?

 

So the Internet is being again polluted by low-quality content, just to keep it all above Google’s word-count penalty threshhold.  Will this finally be the end of all those Wordless Wednesday blog posts?  Will I have to add a whole lot of extra verbiage to posts like this, where the video pretty much says it all?  Or to posts like this where a picture is worth a thousand words (if only Google could read pictures)?

Retired shotguns

In any marketing campaign, you have three choices.

1. You can use the rifle or sniper approach, narrowly defining your target audience and delivering a message directly to them, for their eyes only.  If your market is very small and very well-defined, such as if you manufacture street signs or oxygen dispensers for hospitals, this is usually the best choice.

2. You can use the shotgun approach, spreading your message as far and wide as possible hoping to reach the largest possible market.  This is ideal if you are selling a consumer product that appeals to a wide section of the population, particularly if it has appeal across all ages, genders and income levels.

3. You can use some combination of the rifle and the shotgun.

Once upon a time, before Google was a household name, people used to do article marketing that encouraged syndication.  The idea was the more websites published your article, the more people would see it and the more potential visitors you would get.

If you could blast your article to 1000 websites for the same amount of effort as to one or two websites, who cares if nobody saw the article on half the websites.  What counted is that some people saw it on some of the websites some of the time.  If the article was rubbish, it was just web pollution.  If the article was riveting, the shotgun would pull in traffic.

If you’ve been around long enough, you might recall ads to “post your ad on 1000 websites”.  Again, the shotgun approach.  You have no idea which of those websites are actually worth posting on.  Maybe 10 of them will bring you traffic.  But if the cost is $25 and you end up making more than that from just one of the sites, already you have positive ROI.  This has nothing to do with search engines, by the way.  And this would never have made you rich.  But it is/was a legitimate part of a shotgun approach to marketing.

You can’t do that anymore.

No more syndication

Even before the Penguin, people were panicking over “duplicate” content and “spinning” their articles so that each instance of the article would be “unique”, at least in the sequence of words it would use.

But now, the matter of spinning versus duplicate content is a moot point.  Now the Penguin will bite you for all the low-quality websites linking back to your website.

Google has plugged the shotgun, so that now it backfires and injures webmasters!

What a mess!

The problem is that if you have an amazing article, it makes perfect sense to get it syndicated as widely as possible.  If posting it to one article directory brings in five great leads and posting it to another brings in three great leads, good business sense dictates that you should syndicate it as far and wide as possible.  You want to include instructions on your site saying, “Please copy my articles, with attribution and a link.”

The problem is that Google will get you for the duplicate content.

Then the Penguin will stomp all over you for the poor quality links.

Verbose blog comments

What’s next?  Already I am hearing the chatter about blog comments.  People are asking whether we have to make sure our comments are long enough?  I know that a lot of spam comments are short: “Nice site”.  But other spam comments are long-winded, such as this drivel I just pulled from the moderation queue:

“I actually wanted to type a brief word so as to express gratitude to you for some of the pleasant guidelines you are writing at this website. My extended internet look up has finally been rewarded with wonderful tips to go over with my guests. I ‘d assume that most of us visitors are unequivocally blessed to dwell in a very good place with so many perfect individuals with helpful secrets. I feel very much privileged to have encountered your entire web site and look forward to some more cool times reading here. Thanks once more for everything.”

When I leave comments, sometimes I am long-winded.  And sometimes I am short-winded.  Here are three examples I left on three different posts of the same blog, over time.

 

 

 

How long a comment depends on how complex a remark one wants to leave.  It is not a sign of quality but of complexity.  Hopefully this will never be a concern, but if current trends continue, it won’t be long before the next black and white animal comes charging out of the Googleplex to cause mayhem on the Internet.

 

 


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“There can be only one” Highlander and SEO

Friday, April 5th, 2013

I’ve written about how content marketing is cooperative. I’ve written about blogger collaboration and why it’s important to partner with fellow web marketers.

But there is one part of web marketing that is pure bloodsport: SEO. Ranking is search engines is a cut-throat fight to the death. So draw your sword and prepare for battle.

It’s just like the 1986 classic movie, Highlander. Just like immortal swordsmen, walking the earth, we all meet at the Gathering of the search results page. Hundreds of millions of times each day, Google is showing top 10 lists. And there’s only one spot at the top of Google for a given phrase. There can be only one…

Ranking high matters. A lot…

There’s more to life than marketing and more to marketing than search, but ranking high makes a big difference. just ask anyone who has ranked low and climbed or ranked high and fallen.

The top ranked site gets a lot more traffic than number two, and number two gets a lot more than number three. The correlation between rank and clicks is logarithmic. In other words, high ranking pages get exponentially more traffic than lower ranking pages.

Yes, before you decapitate me in the comments, I’ll agree that there are many other factors in clickthrough rates on search results pages, such as branding, relevance, rich snippets and Google Authorship. But generally speaking, higher rank means more clicks.

Source: Optify

Here are some tips that Ramirez might have taught Conner McCleod had they been search marketers:

  • Pick your battles. Don’t rush out and pick a fight with the Kurgen right away. Work your way up through smaller battles and less competitive keyphrases. It would be wonderful to rank for that high volume phrase, but the competition would skewer you.
  • Don’t get too attached. She might be pretty, but you shouldn’t get too hooked on one phrase, one social network, one tracking tool, one writer, one partner site. Someday you’ll have to say goodbye.
  • Never give up. Even if you’re not immortal, you need to be patient. Ranking high for a good phrase can be the work of years. But keep fighting. Trust, with search engines and humans, takes time to build.

Finally, here’s a top-rank tip that everyone can use:

Make sure you rank #1 for something…
Even if it’s a low-volume keyphrase that doesn’t drive much traffic, even if it’s a four-word phrase that people rarely search for, it’s good to rank first for something. It builds credibility off-line when you tell people you rank first in Google for “samurai sword identification expert.”

This is about thought leadership and personal branding. To make it work, focus efforts on one page with a highly relevant (but low search volume) phrase. Pay close attention to keyword researchand on-page SEO. If the phrase isn’t competitive, you’ll soon see yourself at the top of search results. If you add the two links that make Google Authorship possible, you’ll see your face right there in search results.

Now, when you talk about your business, use the phrase, smile and suggest that the listener search for it.

Ramirez: Patience, Highlander. You have done well. But it’ll take time. You are generations being born and dying. You are at one with all living things. Each man’s thoughts and dreams are yours to know. You have power beyond imagination. Use it well, my friend.

See you at the Gathering…

This post is the third in series of movie-themed web marketing posts. Check out Die Hard SEO and Coffee is for Bloggers.


 

Guest blogger Andy Crestodina is the Strategic Director of Orbit Media, a web design company in Chicago. He’s also the author of Content Chemistry, An Illustrated Guide to Content Marketing You can find Andy on and Twitter.

 


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Does Google think it’s God?

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

Something occurred to me as I sat in church the other day.  For those readers who worship in synagogues or mosques or some other temple, I suspect you will relate to this just as well.

I was watching people enter and file into their pews.  I was noticing how well they were dressed.  Most people dress up to go to church.

They will tend to wear better clothes than for a day around the house or even to go shopping.

They will make sure their hair is just right, almost as if preparing for a date.

They tend to shave just before the service.

Looks are important.  Outward appearance is important.  This might be to honor God, but of course it is not for God’s sake that we do this.  We do this for each other and for ourselves.  People dress well for people.

When God looks at us, it is not through ocular vision.  If God notes our color coordination, it is not on that basis that we are judged. (at least, I hope not, or I am in deep, deep trouble!).

If God notes our hair to be clean or greasy, it is not on that basis that we are judged.

If God notes that we have shaved or failed to do so, it is not on that basis that we are judged.

Nice people can look scruffy.  Evil villains can look sharp.  God looks past the external looks. He ignores the hair, the clothes, the cologne.  He sees what we are really made of.

What does this have to do with Google?

What does all this have to do with Google?  Well, many people do grumble that Google has a God complex, that it is so powerful that one wave of its hand can smote a business.  And to a great degree, that is true.

Is Google God?

But sitting in church, it occurred to me that Google plays God in another way, too.  Google looks at your website on the Internet that same way as God looks at you in church (or anywhere else, for that matter).

Google might note that your website has a flash presentation, but no matter how fancy it is, it is not on that basis that your website is judged.

Google might note that your website has several images, but no matter how elaborate they are, it is not on that basis that your website is judged.

Great websites can look boring, even amateurish.  Trashy splogs can be dressed up fancy.  Google looks past the visual. Google ignores images and layout for the most part.  Google sees what our websites are really made of – the code, the content, the information.

The Google Sermon

You don’t need me to tell you that you should be a good person – patient, generous, forgiving, nice to other people, to animals and to the planet.  I don’t need to repeat the Sermon on the Mount

It is fine to dress up nicely.  Nothing wrong with that, so long as we make sure our inside is nice, that what really counts is attended to.

It is equally fine to dress up our websites nicely.  Pay attention to white space, to fonts, to images, to layout.  Make the site look pretty, professional, inviting.

Nothing wrong with that, so long as we make sure what is behind the external image is nice.  That the code is clean.  That the structure makes sense to Google and other search engines.  That the information is all there, easy to find, easy to understand.  That there is plenty of content, on-topic, not playing with hidden text or keyword stuffing or any of those unforgivable sins of SEO.

Of course, Google is not God.  But clearly Google is trying to emulate God.  So make sure that your website is emulating the faithful worshipper.

Now let us take a moment to pray for those websites that have fallen from grace…

 

 


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How long does SEO take to get results?

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

From the SEO mailbag…

QUESTION: “I’m looking for SEO, how long does SEO take effect and get results?”

MY ANSWER:

Your question is a lot like how deep is a hole? How high is up? SEO is like a sport, and you are competing for various positions with others. Results could be a top 10 ranking for one search term. It could be a #1 ranking for three search terms. It could mean hundreds of things for any given site.

Even if you determine exactly what you mean by results, so much depends on exactly what the search terms are, how much money, time, effort and cleverness you put into the campaign and exactly what the search terms are, how much money, time, effort and cleverness each of your competitors put into the campaign.

Even if you can define all these things, the answer still would be a combination of “it depends” and “I don’t know”.

For certain, don’t expect to see any significant results before six months in a tourism niche. Your competition are already way ahead of you, and they are probably not just sitting on their duffs waiting for you to catch up.

(Related post: SEO FAQ)

YOUR ANSWER?

Would you have answered differently? Would you have answered the same? What are your thoughts. Please comment below. And please share on Twitter and FaceBook so we can get more perspectives.

 


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Link Variety or Link Relevance?

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

Over at WebProWorld this question caught my attention:

One of my ways of getting links for my sites is posting articles on blogs. I submit these articles to a site and they publish them on blogs relevant to these articles. So if I write an article about guitar playing, this article is published on blogs dealing with guitars/guitar lessons/ etc.

I have written a good amount of articles for my guitar site, and they are published on guitar blogs, I get a good few links that way, but they are coming from the same blogs. I was wondering, if I keep on doing this, would it be better, seo wise, to write less relevant articles, say about jazz music or something like that. That way I would be getting links from different blogs.

So my question is:
What is better, getting 50 links from 10 different blogs that are very relevant to my site, or getting 50 links from 50 different blogs that are less relevant to my site?

Here is my response, in a little more detail than I answered in the forum post itself:

I would take a 3-step approach. First, get good coverage in those blogs (and other websites) that are highly keyword relevant. Relevance is perhaps the most important factor for SEO. In this case, his main keyword was “guitars”.  He had submitted articles to all those blogs that were specifically about guitars.  In so doing, he had built up a strong message for the search engines that his guitar site is one that is respected by other sites in the niche.  That is a strong ranking signal.  He now has links at a number of “guitar” websites:

G G G G G G

 

Endorsed by guitarists.

 

But he has not sent a signal that his site is respected by others beyond his niche, but related enough that they really ought to know.

So step two is to submit his articles to websites that cover related topics, such as music in general, musical instruments in general, various forms of music, etc.  He could easily write articles about rock or country or some other types of music that involve guitars, for instance.  The search engines value keyword relevance, but they also value topical relevance (and don’t forget that many of these music sites will have the word “guitar” mentioned here and there.).

Plus, they value a wide variety of linking domains.  Getting a link on many music websites broadens the variety in his link profile, while solidifying the authority in his niche (because music, rock and country are still in his niche).  His link profile now looks more like:

G G G G G G

M M R M R M C M R M C C M M M C C M R C M C M M R M M M C

 

 

Now you’re endorsed by the whole band.

 

Now, on to step three.  Since one of the ranking signals the search engines look for is how widely popular a website is, find ways of writing about other topics that a more diverse blogging community will be interested in.  First define our target.  If you use the Free Traffic System, as I do (see my Free Traffic System review), you can search for blogs by keyword, and easily see which words bring up the most number of blogs, and even what types of topics they cover (some “music” blogs might only cover very specific niches, whereas others might cover anything music-related.) You can also use a Google or Bing search or search one of the larger blog directories. Let’s take a common example – there are a lot of MMO  (make money online) blogs out there.  OK.  How can you write an article about guitars that an MMO blog would want to publish?

Easy.  Prepare a video about guitars to post on YouTube in order to draw traffic to your site.  Next write an article about how you posted a video on YouTube to draw traffic to your guitar site.  Make sure to explain how you portrayed the guitars or how video is a great medium for showing off guitars – just to make sure your article about making money online is also an article about guitars.

So he should identify each target set of blogs and figure out what he can write about that will be about guitars (or whatever your main keyword is) but also about their niche.  All of a sudden, the link profile starts to look more like this:

G G G G G G

M M R M R M C M R M C C M M M C C M R C M C M M R M M M C

n y e d c g y o p s j q c x j d b i m l j e d s a r t h y u v q l o j y z h u y l p a s r c b v e q j h y t f v x s a k f d h u j m n r s w a g c e w b g k l u q i o v r s

 

Now the whole crowd is cheering for you!

 

Wow!  Let’s review what the search engines see when you follow this approach to link-building:

  1. Websites just like yours link to you.  That is an expert endorsement.
  2. Websites related to yours link to you.  Lot’s of them.  That is quite an impressive endorsement, too.
  3. Lots and lots of websites of all kinds link to you.  Your website is profoundly popular.  It must be good.

Now go out and show everybody what an amazing website you run.

 

 


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Fame Trumps SEO in Battle of David Leonhardt Rankings

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

All those of you with common first and last names like John Smith or Jessica Jones or Bob Johnson will appreciate how hard it is to rank for your personal brand – your name. There must be hundreds of people active on the Internet who share your name.

And any reader with a name like Drew Barrymore or Larry Page… well, you know the chances you’ll ever rank well for your name.

But perhaps the worst off are those with common first and last names who also share their name with a huge celebrity. Think Dan Brown or George Harrison or Megan Fox.

David Leonhardt Posers

Well, this is a personal story. If you search “David Leonhardt” right now, you will see there are three of us with the exact same name with a presence on the Internet. (Guess who the two imposters are.)

When I first started on the Internet, the guy with the domain name ranked #1 – DavidLeonhardt.com ranked at the top for “David Leonhardt”. In fact, the David Leonhardt Jazz Group held several top-10 rankings, as he was in fact the original David Leonhardt active on the Internet.

As I grew increasingly active, some pages related to me started to rank in Google’s top ten for my name. Yay!

But another dude who writes for the New York Times was also getting active, so he also was breaking into the top 10 in a big way.

This New York Times David Leonhardt was in fact causing problems for me offline, too. A friend saw his by-line in the Toronto Star (I think it was) and the topic was even related to my happiness book, and a friend thought it was my article.

Even worse, my brother saw one of his articles in the Globe and Mail (I think it was) and again the topic was related to my happiness book. This time my brother thought it was my article.

And just over a month ago, this New York Times guy who shares my name (never asked my permission, mind you) goes and wins himself the Pulitzer Prize for “Commentary”. Thanks a lot!

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I am all over on the Internet, commenting on blogs, active in social media, building links, networking – you don’t get more active than me.

And the winner is…

So let’s take a look at what Google thinks of all of us David Leonhardts. This is a snapshot at the time of writing…

1. New York Times writer
2. New York Times writer
3. New York Times writer
4. New York Times writer
5. New York Times writer
6. Me
7. Me
8. Jazz Group
9. Me
10. New York Times writer

What can we conclude by this case study?

We know that the domain name is important, as is anchor text – and surely the David Leonhardt Jazz Group has plenty of inbound links with “David Leonhardt” in the link text. (I did not check, but I do know he owns a number of other name-related domains specifically for wedding performances, etc.)

We also know that activity, inbound links, social media signals – all the stuff that I am doing just naturally every day (with a bit of SEO-savvy thrown in) are also important.

But it appears fame trumps SEO. New York Times David has six out of ten positions, including the top five. I am holding my own, sort of, perhaps down just a bit from my peak a couple years ago (I think I had as many as five spots at one point, including the third place ranking). And the once dominant Jazz Group David risks being pushed off the top 10 completely.

The lesson: If you want top rankings, get famous. Do things that win you real acclaim out in the real world, and Google will reward you on the Internet for your renown.

 


This post was featured in Book Marketing Blog Carnival – May 25, 2011.

 


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