David Leonhardt’s SEO and Social Media Marketing

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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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SEO Shotgun or SEO Rifle?

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

Or both?

For a huge website (ecommerce, directory, etc.) with many variations of the same product or service, whether by location or by brand, the effort to work individually on each one would be monumental.  For that reason, we often focus on:

a)   The home page, which is naturally where a fair number of links will have to go.

b)   A selection of the most important interior pages (such as those cities which might yield the best ROI) with a purposeful effort to help them rank better for relevant searches.

Some of the activities we do will help just those pages; some will help the entire site.  To understand this better, it helps to understand what types of ranking signals the search engines look for.  They include hundreds of specific signals, but most of them can be grouped as follows:

On-page relevance to a specific search query.

The changes we will make to the template(s) will bring benefits across the site to every page they apply.  In other words, even if we identify 10 city-specific pages on which to focus, every city-specific page will benefit.  If we add text or other elements on a page-by page basis, only the pages we work on will benefit.

Off-page relevance to a specific query.

Links that we obtain to 10 city-specific pages will often (but not always) confer relevancy.  The extent to which this occurs will depend on the content of the page that is linking, the anchor text of the link itself, and a number of other factors.  This relevancy is specific only to the page being linked to.  For instance, a link to the Chicago page of the website confers no relevancy to the London page.

Off-page importance/popularity.

Inbound links to a page also convey “importance” or “popularity”.  They represent a “vote” for the page in the eyes of the search engines.  That importance or that vote is specific to the page that is being linked to.  But, Google’s PageRank algorithm also spread the link-love to other pages that are directly linked. 

For instance, let us assume the Chicago page links directly to other Illinois city-specific pages, such as Rock Island, but not to any Florida city-specific pages.  If we obtain 20 links to the Chicago page, that will greatly boost the popularity of the Chicago page.  It will also boost the popularity of the Rock Island page, but not the Miami page (at least, not noticeably). 

This is why internal linking patterns for a big site like this are so important.

Domain credibility/authority/popularity

This is the exciting part.  Every quality link we build into the domain, strengthens the credibility/authority/popularity of the entire domain.  Every day the domain ages, strengthens the entire domain.  Every time a high-authority site links into the domain, every time there is a social media mention, every time the domain is renewed for a longer period of time…the entire domain – every page – benefits.

So the efforts we make for a few specific pages can benefit them all to some degree.  For a highly competitive sub-niche, that might not be enough.  For a smaller, less-competitive niche, the page might rank well without any direct attention to it.

 


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SEO FAQ – Answers to your SEO questions

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

I don’t usually participate in memes, but this SEO FAQ meme interests me… and I hope it will interest you.  By way of introduction this SEO FAQ: 30+ SEO questions you always wanted an answer to was started by Berlin-based SEO specialist, Tad Chef.  He has challenged at least 10 other SEO specialists to create FAQs that will outrank “fake” SEO FAQs for the search term SEO FAQ.

 

So without further ado, here are the 31 questions he proposed, with my answers inserted:

 

  1. What does SEO stand for? Usually it stands for Search Engine Optimization, but it is often used also for Search Engine Optimizer.  This can get somewhat confusing – an SEO who practices SEO – so I prefer to call SEOs “SEO specialists”.  (Not “SEO experts”, but that’s another rant for another day.)
  2.  

  3. What is SEO? I define SEO as the combination of steps that lead to improved (higher) rankings in the search engines’ organic (non-paid) listings.
  4.  

  5. Is SEO spam, bullshit, dead etc.? No, but if you expect it to be science, you will likely think it is all of the above.  SEO is much more sport than science – multiple players competing for specific, limited rankings for each keyword.  Think about all the goes into a sports champion – drive, training, strength, agility, equipment, discipline, player size, nutrition, coaching, funding, concentration, massage therapy…  Neither the team that wins the Stanley Cup nor the athlete who brings home the gold medal for diving is tops for all these factors.  The champion is the one that assembles the best combination.  No matter how well you and your competitors do SEO, there will always be ten websites in the top ten.  No matter how poorly  you and your competitors do SEO, there will always be ten websites in the top ten.   Somebody will always be tops – in tennis, in boxing, in bowling and in SEO; you just have to be better than each of your opponents.  
  6.  bikebowling

    SEO is a sport.  Just like bowling, only less dangerous.

  7. Why aren’t we #1 or on page 1 at Google? Because somebody else is.  Read the answer to Question #3 above.
  8.  

  9. Why am I on #1 all the time but when my wife searches for me she doesn’t find me? Often people searching from different computers are sending different geographic data to the search engines (such as a different location for a person’s home and workplace ISP).  Or there are elements of personal search enabled.  Or your wife lives in a different time zone.
  10.  

  11. When will we see results? You start a new softball team with all rookies, no equipment, no training, no funding, no discipline, no muscles and no massage therapist.  Then you hire an experienced coach (an SEO specialist).  How long does it take to win the championship?  I have found many clients want to know exactly when they will achieve a certain position, and then they will own it.  Just as the team that stops playing baseball will fall in the standings, so too the website that stops doing SEO will fall in the rankings.
  12.  

  13. Can we rank for iPhones? Yes.  You can rank at least 2,112,888 for iphones at most search engines with very little effort.  If you want to rank #1 for iphones, you will need:
  14.  

    - lots of money

    - lots of time

    - lots of strategy

     

    Why?  Please read the answer to Question #3 again.

     

  15. Can we rank for everything (huge list of keywords)? Yes, some countries take home Olympic medals in a wide variety of sports.  But most countries take home medals in just a few sports where they have chosen to concentrate.  In the land of Internet, deciding how big a country you are – or can realistically be – is an important strategic decision.  Indeed, if you hire an SEO specialist, he should be able to help you make that call.  Just remember, the more searches you want to rank for, and the more competitive those searches are, the deeper pockets you will need.
  16.  

  17. How much does SEO cost?  How much does a baseball coach cost?  The little league team down by the park pays their coach with a big High Five after every game.  Rumor has it the New York Mets pay theirs slightly more.  It all depends on what you are competing against, how determined or entrenched your competitors are, and how good an SEO specialist you wish to hire.
  18.  

  19. Why is SEO so expensive? It’s not.  SEO is an investment that earns you money.  But if you plan to invest just $200/month in SEO, don’t expect to see any ROI during your lifetime.
  20.  

  21. How long does it take to get indexed by Google? Just a few minutes, but really the practical answer is that it doesn’t matter.
  22.  

  23. How to submit my new site to Google/Bing/Yahoo etc.?  I can’t answer any better than Tad did in the original meme post: “You don’t submit sites to search engines these days. You link to them from already indexed sites, you ping them via blog posts and or you submit an XML sitemap.”
  24.  

  25. How do I submit to 1000 search engines? By allowing yourself to get sucked in by a scammer.  It’s actually quite easy, and really quite painless because they only fleece you for a small amount and you learn such a valuable lesson.
  26.  

  27. Do I need an XML sitemap? Most sites do not.  Generally, only sites with thousands of pages spread multiple levels deep really need them.
  28.  

  29. Do I need meta tags for SEO? Meta tags have nothing to do with SEO, unless you need to instruct the search engines not to index or to follow a certain page (which is better done via a robots.txt file). Meta tags are still a good idea  (to increase click-through rates, to get listed in some directories, etc.), but they are not a requirement for SEO.
  30.  

  31. Do I need a high PageRank for SEO? The tighter the competition for your searches, the more important every factor is, including a high PageRank and the size of your site (I added site size for the benefit of visitors from Question 27).  Please reread the answer to Question #3. PageRank is one factor, probably a fairly important one, but there are many others that are extremely important, too.  (Related post on why PR0 links are sometimes worthwhile)
  32.  

  33. What is linkbait? It is any content you put on your site in the hopes that some other websites will link to it.  Interesting history about this.  The proper name for it is “magnetic content”, a name I gave to it before someone more famous than me started calling it link-bait and now I won’t get the movie rights.
  34.  

  35. Can’t my niece who is a graphic designer do the SEO? Absolutely.  Why just last week I asked my brother-in-law, the plumber, to flush out my arteries.
  36.  

  37. Can’t my nephew who is a web developer do the SEO? Absolutely.  Why just last week I asked my brother-in-law, the plumber, to flush out my arteries.
  38.  

  39. Can my son-in-law who is a Perl, Java and C programmer do my SEO? You really are not getting this, right?  SEO is a specialty that requires both planning in advance and judgment calls on the fly.  I have seen situations where any of these people have made unfortunate judgment calls that have gotten websites banned from Google or Yahoo because they thought they knew SEO (In fact, they did know SEO, or at least 20% or 30% of it, and a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.).
  40.  

  41. Why should I outsource my SEO? It’s pretty much a full-time job to keep up on the changing landscape of the web.  Outsourcing or having a dedicated in-house team are your best two options.
  42.  

  43. Can’t I just use WordPress plus plugins for SEO? Can’t I just buy good hockey equipment for my team?  Please, please reread Question #3..
  44.  

  45. Does Google hate SEO?  I like Tad’s answer in the original meme post, so this is what he said: “No, Google even offers SEO advice and a plethora of SEO tools itself. It’s an ages old myth that Google fight SEOs. In fact the Google employees and SEO practitioners speak at the same conferences and work together as business partners. Most SEO companies are big clients of Google as they also buy PPC ads from Google.”
  46.  

  47. Does SEO mean optimization for search engines spiders not humans? First, what Tad said: “Some people still assume that SEO is used to please search bots only. Most reputable SEO experts advocate search engine optimization for users.” Next, let me add that an important part of SEO these days is drumming up interest in your content so that you get talked about on blogs and in social media (and in offline media).  While speaking to the search engines’ algorithms is crucial, you ignore human beings at your peril.  You might also want to refer to my SEO thesaurus post.
  48.  

  49. Is buying links, hidden text, IP delivery etc. black hat SEO? I consider them all black hat, except buying links.  I very rarely recommend purchasing a link, partly because the “purchase” is in fact a rental.  And partly because the search engines frown on it, which is a bone I have to pick with the search engines (but that’s another rant for another day).
  50.  

  51. Is black hat SEO legal? Yes.  So are evil-looking smiles and teensy-weensy fine print.  I don’t practice black hat SEO because I value my clients’ long-term welfare, but it’s not illegal.
  52.  

  53. Does site size matter? Yes.  See the answer to Question 16 for elaboration.
  54.  

  55. Do domain extensions (top level domains  like .com, co.uk) matter? For the most part, I do not believe TLDs make a difference.  But if your business targets the clientele of a certain country, they do.  I have a number of Canadian clients, and having a .ca TLD makes a big difference ranking at Google.ca .  TLD matters even more for increasing your click-through rate. If you plan to serve Hungarians, you had better have a .hu TLD, or you won’t get anyone to even click on your site.  In Latin America, .com often says “impressive and credible International website”; in Europe .com often says ‘Yuck, an American site.”
  56.  

  57. Do nofollow links count? Yes, they count less than DoFollow links because they don’t pass on PageRank.  PageRank is something, but it is not everything.  Please refer to the answer to Question 16 and also to this NoFollow/DoFollow post.
  58.  

  59. Do you offer PageRank optimization, search engine submission, meta tag optimization? No.  Why not re-read the answer to Question 13?
  60.  

  61. Is blog commenting for SEO spam? This has been debated widely and bloggers are all over the map on this.  On my blog, I look almost exclusively at the quality of the comment and what it adds to the conversation.  Only if the comment is borderline will I consider whether the name makes the comment spammyish or not (So John Block has a better chance of having his comment approved than John the Florida Villas Guy, but if he makes a really great contribution to the discussion, John the Florida Villas Guy is welcome here) .

 

One final note…if others in this meme wish to link to this page, please do so and let me know, so I can also link back to your answers and connect the meme participants.  SEO is not a science, so there are certainly many items where different specialists will offer different strategies and therefore different answers to a number of these questions.

 


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How much HTML does an SEO need to know?

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Today’s post is based on this great question from an SEO beginner…

Would you agree with the notion that you must know how to build websites before knowing how to implement SEO techniques? I’m currently able to edit title, meta, and link tags, but only through a WYSYWYG editor. I’d like to move away from that in time. I know SEO’s know some programming or a strong grasp of it, so how much should one know? Does having the knowledge of a programmer help you down the road? What’s your opinion?

It’s a good question.  With so many web designers and web programmers offering SEO services to their clients, it does make you wonder what the relationship is between SEO and HTML (and other aspects of programming).  Here is what I responded, quickly on the fly…

Some knowledge is absolutely necessary – enough to give instructions to the webmaster.  For instance, not to change the <h1> tag to <h3> to reduce the font size, but to control font size via CSS, for example.  But I don’t think an SEO needs to be a programmer.  The more you know, the more helpful, of course.  I taught myself HTML before I knew about SEO, but I am certainly not a programmer.  This is what I used to learn (I can’t believe it’s still there!)

Of course, many clients don’t have a webmaster.  Many times they want to just hand the website over to you and make it rank well.  Those times, you better know your HTML, at least well enough to make changes to the site code. Other times you are working in a CMS that doesn’t even let you get to the HTML.  Grrr.

I put the question to a few SEO colleagues I respect and converse with on Twitter.  Here are some of the views they hold on this topic…

Dean Cruddace ( @seobegin ) says…

My short answer is yes, an seo with a working knowledge of html and a basic understanding of other coding languages will dissect problematic sites quicker.

My reasoning: SEO’s of varying levels will work with a variety of CMS’s from basic coding in notepad through to enterprise level content management systems, understanding exactly, or at least to a good level what each one delivers is in my opinion an important factor. Over time you become accustomed to reading html and in time you can get straight to nuisance code or you can amend by hand those individual tags, classes or calls so much quicker when you have a working knowledge of html.

Grosen Friis ( @GrosenFriis ) says…

Yes I think SEOs need to know HTML, SEOs cannot just know a bit about titles and linkbuilding.

SEO’s that do not know HTML cannot:

- detect all types of indexing barriers
- detect duplicate content properly
- do PageRank sculpting

Most importantly, SEOs that do not know HTML may find different technical SEO problems on a website, but they will seldom be able to come up with technical solutions to fix them.

It’s like going to a garage with your car for service and the mechanic says “Your car needs more than service, it has problem A, B and C, but sorry, I do not know how to repair them”

Emory Rowland ( @clickfire ) says…

Yes! If you’re afraid to look under the hood, you’ll have to depend on Roadside Service when your engine stalls.

Sean Everett ( @seanmeverett ) says…

Yes, the better you are in the language of the web,the  more efficient & organized the code will be, which Google gives you credit for (maybe!)

Martin Bowling ( @martinbowling ) says…

I think an SEO must at least have a basic understanding of SEO; but I think being able to put together a site from scratch or modify existing HTML is a major plus. Ensuring that a site is coded in the proper way can really help with the sites indexing and ultimately it’s rankings. It’s not a must; but it’s a great weapon to have.

Melanie Nathan ( @melanienathan ) says… 

I believe a SEO needs to understand HTML, but not speak it fluently. They should be familiar with all parts of a website & know enough… in order to instruct a developer/designer on what to do/not do. Besides that, many SEOs deal with CMSs which often don’t…. let you alter any HTML. As a SEO, I only know enough HTML to get by and it hasn’t hindered my abilities – in any way – thus far.

Donna Fontenot ( @donnafontenot ) says…  

Only if the SEO wants to do the job properly! Indexing problems? Look at the code! Optimizing images? ALT attributes are HTML code. etc etc. 

Patricia Skinner ( @ISpeakSEO ) says…  

I have observed that there are some SEOs around who don’t know HTML. In my opinion they can’t possibly perform all the tasks included in a comprehensive SEO campaign without at least a smattering of HTML.
 
I am aware that there has been hot debate about the subject.  My view comes somewhere between the two extremes of opinion expressed here.
 
I’m not saying that you need to be a developer, but you do need to know enough to find your way around the back end of a web page.
 
You need to be able to optimize <title> tags, <alt> tags and more. If you can’t read HTML how can you look at the source code to identify potential or real problems?
 
How can you check, install or remove redirects? How can you check, add to or even remove links that could be damaging?
 
If I were a potential SEO client I would not be at all attracted to hiring an SEO who admitted they couldn’t read the ‘language’ that the Web is built on, basically.

Todd Mintz ( @toddmintz ) says…  

Absolutely…troubleshooting code is a major part of SEO and if you can’t do this, you aren’t offering full value to your clients.

Lee Odden ( @leeodden ) says…  

SEO and HTML is like a Surgeon and a scalpel. HTML is one of many, essential tools SEOs need to know to gain a competitive advantage.

Dan Patterson ( @dan_patterson ) says…  

Between all the tags and elements like canonical, h tags, nofollow, etc. you need to know enough HTML to make the right changes to a site.  I don’t think you have to be an expert HTML coder, but you need to know HTML.

Geral Weber ( @the_gman ) says…   

Simple answer: Yes SEO’s need to know at the very least basic html. There are some aspects of SEO that cannot be done without basic html skills.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Newest Oldest SEO Tool

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

The latest SEO tool is not an automated submission device or some web page analyzing script.  It’s the thesaurus on your desktop.  No thesaurus?  Better get one soon.  Google has just announced that it has made great advancements in reading synonyms.

While even a small child can identify synonyms like pictures/photos, getting a computer program to understand synonyms is enormously difficult, and we’re very proud of the system we’ve developed at Google.

What does this mean for you?

Thesaurus

If you are optimizing for “real estate Kentucky”, you had better not leave off related search words like “homes”, “property”, etc.  These words will be treated as synonyms of “real estate”, and “real estate” will be treated as synonyms of them.  More variations – in other words, more synonyms – looks a lot more like natural language than the forced language of always using the same word just for SEO purposes.

It also means that one website can easier dominate a niche across several searches.  For instance, a page with a great link profile that was ranking very high for “real estate Kentucky” due to an astounding backlink profile, but was ranking at 100 for “Kentucky property”, might suddenly become competitive for “Kentucky property”.  This is just an uneducated hunch, but I suspect that the strength of your backlink profile could help you greatly with searches for synonyms of the terms you are actually optimizing for.

In any case, this is good news for searchers, since their true intent is more likely to be satisfied.  As web marketers, we also want to satisfy them, so make sure you use natural language with a generous use of that thesaurus – both on-page and in the text of your backlinks.

 


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SEO Strategies for Financial Websites

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

Here are a few SEO tips specific to financial websites. 

First, understand that people are very sensitive and possessive about their money.  Your website has to ooze credibility if you want to convert traffic to customers.  You probably know this already, but keep it in mind when you hire an SEO consultant.  He or she needs to make sure that SEO changes do not reduce the credibility of the website.

Are you selling services locally or nationally/globally?  If you are selling locally, there is no point fighting for national rankings.  People will search for “bookkeeping southern California” if they need somebody local, and you have a fighting chance to rank for that search term.  But the investment required to compete with all the other sites and outrank them for “bookkeeping” just isn’t worth it.

Design your website around the services you offer.  Don’t place a link in the main navigation menu that says just “services”.  Have a page for accounting, a page for bookkeeping, a page for tax filing, a page for each individual service you offer.  Why?  Two reasons:

  1. A page centered around bookkeeping has a better chance ranking well for “bookkeeping southern California” than a page centered around services.  The focus on one topic makes it clearer to the search engines what the page is about.
  2. People searching for a specific service, such as bookkeeping, should land on a page specifically about what they search for.  You will convert more visitors that way.  And nobody searches for financial services; they search for the specific service they need, whether it be insurance, or accounting, or investment advice, etc.

Make sure you are participating on Tipd.com and PFbuzz.com.  These are great places to get ideas for link-bait viral content.  It’s a great place to submit your own content (search-engine-friendly links) and get the attention of financial bloggers who might be interested in linking to your content.

Most SEO strategies and tactics can be applied across almost any sector, so don’t forget to do all the good things you would for any other website.  What I mention in this post are a few items that are specific to financial websites.

 


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Cow Tipping SEO

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Yes, well, about that title…I’ll explain shortly how that relates to a raging SEO debate, which I will also get to later.  But first, a quiz.  How many of the following coding elements would you have known if you had not seen them here:

  • The “abbr” tag
  • The “acronym” tag
  • The “address” tag
  • The “base” tag
  • The “bdo” tag

Exactly.  These are all HTML 4 Elements that any good coder should know.  Well, maybe.  I wonder how many coders have ever run into some of these, and we are just at the Bs.  However, a very respected SEO consultant, Edward Lewis, states:

Below is a listing of all HTML 4 Elements that you as an SEO Consultant will be involved with at some point during your tenure. You should be familiar with the various HTML Elements and HTML Attributes that are available to you for on page SEO techniques.

You should also know when to use what Elements and/or Attributes (also referred to as Best Practices for HTML Authoring) in any given circumstances.

Given that in my six years in SEO so far I have never even come across these tags, I must disagree with that statement.  But the list is a handy one, just in case, so here is the link.

The Great SEO Debate

This touched off a very heated debate yesterday over at Sphinn, when Harith (another respected SEO consultant who resembles Fred Flintstone in at least one way) submitted the story under the title You’re not an SEO if you don’t know these by heart!

My comment there was as follows:

Perhaps someone can explain to all us fake SEOs who thought we were real SEOs how exactly we might ever even want to use abbr, never mind have to (considering I have never seen this before, I have a hard time believing that even a developer needs to know what that is).

The simple fact is that technical stuff is at the foundation of SEO just as it is at the foundation of baseball.  So many factors go into the exact placement, velocity, spin, etc. of a pitch, but don’t expect the pitcher to waste his time learning the physics when he should be practicing his delivery.

(Yes, I’ll get to the cow tipping soon.)

This debate reveals a basic divide in the philosophy of SEO.  Is SEO primarily a technical skill or a strategic skill?  Given that SEO really is a sport, where the only way to get a berth in the rankings is to knock someone else off, and the only way to maintain one’s rankings is to keep other websites from knocking yours off, I maintain that it is primarily a strategic skill.  A reasonably small amount of coding knowledge will get an SEO consultant a long way (and much better honing one’s strategic skills than becoming a champion coder).

Cow Tipping SEO

Which brings us to cow tipping, a sport I probably should know more about, given that I have cows for neighbors.  Imagine two SEO consultants.  The first thinks strategically, noting  that it is indeed a cow, not a bull.  He sees that there is nobody on the other side of the cow.  He tips it. 

The second SEO consultant thinks technically.  He sees the cow and gets out his cow tipping diagram, and reviews it.

Cow Tipping for the Techically-minded SEO Consultant

 


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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!:

government-seo-stats

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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Don’t Trust SEOs Bearing Pretty Packages

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

gift-boxesMany SEO companies advertise specific packages, such as a gold, silver and bronze SEO package costing so much per month and including so many links of so much PageRank and focusing on so many search terms.

We don’t.

SEO is not a science, it is a sport. It involves strategy. It involves balancing various aspects. It involves flexibility and responding to what others do. It involves competing against others….and each game is different.  One size does not fit all, and the size and shape has to be able to change sometimes on a dime.

Good SEO does not come in pretty packages.

Here are some of the limitations that packages create:

  1. Building so-many links each month. Come the end of the month, there would need to be a counting of links, and if the links have fallen short, a flurry of activity to create links, even if the quality of those links is poor. Don’t get me wrong, you need sucky links. But the fact is that those links might actually be negative for your site .
  2. Building links based on PageRank. Plenty of good links of low quality would be rejected. Why create links you are not being paid for?
  3. Monitoring the number or PageRank of link-building. What should be monitored is the ranking for those search phrases that are being pursued. Over time, changes in strategy are required .
  4. Client knows what to purchase. How is the client to know what package to buy? Even the SEO consultant can only guess at what is required, a sin any sport. As the SEO moves down the field, he is constantly re-evaluating the game and what is needed .
  5. Automation. Let’s face it, if your website attracts the exact same number of links every month, that’s a red flag sign of automation, even if the links were built manually .
  6. Best links will be missed. The best links are those that can’t be predicted, the ones using link-bait and social networking. Anyone offering a package cannot afford to invest the time in these high-quality links .
  7. Limiting the number of search terms. I see the search phrases my clients have to target change all the time. Sometimes they change their product offering or target a new demographic. Sometimes the language that searchers use changes. Sometimes we see that we are getting a surprising amount of traffic from a keyword we were not targeting…and we go after it .
  8. A package is a product. Do you want to sell a product, or do you want to be part of the team. If I was to hire an SEO consultant, I would want him to be part of the team .

Whether in basketball, baseball, hockey or any other competitive sport, a custom package that is flexible and responsive to changes is the only way to go. SEO is no different. Hire an SEO consultant that can outline a custom program and who is not shy to make changes on the run. Make sure your SEO is as flexible as you are; your market is dynamic and the search engines are even more so.

 


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You might be a redneck SEO if…

Monday, January 5th, 2009

I’ve always enjoyed Jeff Foxworthy and his “you might be a redneck” jokes, so…

Most SEO specialists seem to live in big metropolitan cities like Boston or London or Toronto. Not me. I live out here in the sticks. Which I guess makes me a bit of a redneck SEO, so…

If you think you might be a redneck SEO, I have devised this handy little test, with 50 signs that you might be a redneck SEO. Please feel free to share this with your friends colleagues and even friendly city-folk you might know. And don’t be shy to add to this list if there are important signs I missed.

By the way, it helps to imagine Jeff Foxworthy’s voice when you read these. Here is a video of Jeff Foxworthy doing his you-might-be-a-redneck routine to get you in the mood (Sorry, they turned off embedding on this, but the link is good.)…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7sKtkdDJe5s&NR=1

Top 50 signs that you might be a redneck SEO

  1. If Yahoo! Is something you holler when your horseshoe rings the post, you might be a redneck SEO.
  2. If you’ve ever tried to change the transmission in your computer, you might be a redneck SEO.
  3. If you don’t Digg because digging sounds too hippyish, you might be a redneck SEO.
  4. If your idea of link-building is getting a longer chain for your wallet, you might be a redneck SEO.
  5. If you have to put on boots to go out to your home office, you might be a redneck SEO.
  6. If you look for scraper sites to clean the bottom of your boots, you might be a redneck SEO.
  7. If you find on-page optimization a challenge because you can’t write on your computer screen, you might be a redneck SEO.
  8. If you think GrayWolf, theGypsy and Neoblog are race horses, you might be a redneck SEO.
  9. If you spit for good luck before you click “submit website”, you might be a redneck SEO.
  10. If you re-use your spit … never mind. Next!
  11. If you don’t like title tags ‘cause titles are for uppity city folk, you might be a redneck SEO.
  12. If you like to Sphinn your partner at the local barn dance, you might be a redneck SEO.
  13. If you refuse to take on a client with a pink website, you might be a redneck SEO.
  14. If your other Mac is a truck, you might be a redneck SEO.
  15. If you prefer black hat SEO because real men don’t wear white, you might be a redneck SEO.
  16. If you have a Dukes of Hazard screensaver , you might be a redneck SEO.
  17. If wonder just what blade Matt cutts with, you might be a redneck SEO.
  18. If you agree that bounce rates are becoming a big SEO issue because gopher holes are damaging your ATV, you might be a redneck SEO.
  19. If every time a client mentions conversions you shout “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!”, you might be a redneck SEO.
  20. If the words “viral content” send you running to the barn ‘cause you lost some 30 chickens to a flu bug last spring, you might be a redneck SEO.
  21. If you don’t care for link bait but you sure would love to help your client with his trout bait, you might be a redneck SEO.
  22. If you place the “home” button on your website between the “barn” button and the “outhouse” button, you might be a redneck SEO.
  23. If the word “blog” sounds just messy to you, you might be a redneck SEO.
  24. If you think Twitter is where they send all the twits, you might be a redneck SEO (but you can follow this SEO at @amabaie.)
  25. If a “search engine” means the 4 x 4 you take to chase away the foxes, you might be a redneck SEO.
  26. If you say you work from a mobile device and mean that you work from your home, you might be a redneck SEO.
  27. If you try to trap your mouse with cheese or peanut butter, you might be a redneck SEO.
  28. If you bill clients not by the hour, not by the links, not by the rankings, but by the six-packs consumed, you might be a redneck SEO.
  29. If your home page is set to Auto Trader or Monster Auto, you might be a redneck SEO.
  30. If adding video to your computer means buying an eight-track player, you might be a redneck SEO.
  31. If you think Sticky SEO is when you drop your keyboard in the pig pen, you might be a redneck SEO.
  32. If your office wall is decorated in very tasteful velvet Elvis, you might be a redneck SEO.
  33. If you bring your laptop to the family reunion hoping an eligible cousin will sit on it, you might be a redneck SEO.
  34. If your favorite ringtone goes ma-aa-aa-aa, you might be a redneck SEO.
  35. If your personal assistant also goes ma-aa-aa-aa, you might be a redneck SEO.
  36. If your car sports a worn bumper sticker reading “SEO or bust”, you might be a redneck SEO.
  37. If you wear jeans and a toothpick to a client presentation, you might be a redneck SEO.
  38. If your computer desk demonstrates that you are an environmentally aware operation because it is built from a used outhouse, you might be a redneck SEO.
  39. If you have more than one tattoo on your butt reading “SEO”, you might be a redneck SEO.
  40. If you sing in the shower “Thank God I’m an SEO Boy”, you might be a redneck SEO.
  41. If you own one computer that runs and five cars that don’t, you might be a redneck SEO.
  42. If you try to buy used links at the local flea market, you might be a redneck SEO.
  43. If your Avatar at Zoomit Canada is a picture of your belt buckle, you might be a redneck SEO.
  44. If organic search is what you do when you lose a rifle in the corn field, you might be a redneck SEO.
  45. If don’t do SEO contests, but would rather like to try an SEO drag race, you might be a redneck SEO.
  46. If you think sites rank well because they have “#1” in the title tag, you might be a redneck SEO.
  47. If you ask your clients to pay with ammunition or fireworks, you might be a redneck SEO.
  48. If you respect motherhood, apple pie and meta tags, you might be a redneck SEO.
  49. If your idea of social media is a telephone – the kind with a dial that turns, you might be a redneck SEO.
  50. If you think a cell phone is what you do when you don’t need a telephone with a dial that turns anymore … you might be right!

I hope you enjoyed this little test to see if you are a redneck SEO. Did you pass? Really? Great, welcome to the club. And if you come up with any other signs that I have missed, please add them to the comments below.

TWEET this.

 

 


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