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Archive for the ‘SEO’ Category

SEO Results Are Not Predictable

Friday, April 4th, 2008

How long does it take to see results from SEO efforts?  This, roughly, is a question that almost every potential client asks.  Similar questions have been asked: 

  • How long does it take for grass to grow?
  • How far is “over there”?
  • How big is big?

As soon as you make an SEO-related improvement to a page, you have results…well, at least as soon as Google finds the change, indexes it and feeds it into the calculations that go into ordering web pages for the search term in question.  But moving form #1,893,027 to #1,783,446 at Google is not “results” in terms of what we usually think of.  In fact, moving to #31 is not even results if you check the top-30 rankings for your web page, although it is a sign that your SEO campaign is working and should continue to work if you keep plugging away.

A better question, would be how long it takes to get into the top 10, or the top 5 or the #1 spot for a particular search term.

Unfortunately, this is also hard to predict, especially as one gets closer to the top.  I try not to even provide an estimate past top-10, because it is hard to honestly do this.  There are just so many factors to consider, even if we assume the search engine algorithms, which we can only guess at, don’t change in the meantime:

  • How well optimized the top 10, 20 or 30 web pages already are.
  • How much effort the top 10,20 or 30 web page owners are putting in
  • How successful you will be at attracting links

There is also this little matter of how the search engines like to mess with our minds.  Like one client who has been for the past several days bouncing back and forth between position #2 and position #13, and at this moment is at #1 for its top search phrase.  I suspect it will settle around #8 to #10 in a few days, but who knows?

Predicting success is a tricky think in SEO as in any other sport.  We have a strong team, but at what point in the year do we know we will make the playoffs and how far will we get this season?  That is a question one can answer only with hindsight.

 


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Official Google Blog: Making search better in Catalonia, Estonia, and everywhere else

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

I was reading the official Google blog about how they are making searching more user friendly in Catalonia and Estonia…but really, these were just examples, and what they are doing is just us applicable to New York or Melbourne.  Using an Estonian example, they show how someone looking for a barber would be also considered to be looking for a barbershop.  In other words, Google is working more and more on understanding the meaning of what we search for, not just the words.

For those of us who are searching, this reduces the guesswork of which words the website owners have chosen to use.  For those of us who want Google to recognize the meaning of our wbe pages, it means we have to be more holistic in our explanations.  The text welcoming visitors to the barber’s website should also include words like barbershop, shave, cut, hair, stylist, etc.  It means to worry a little less about keywords and a little more about all-the-possible-keywords your visitors might be using when they think about your products, servicess or topics.

Those of us in the business have known this was coming, and some of us have suspected for a while that Google has been slowly getting better at understanding meaning, alternate spellings and alternative searches (Try searching for metal bending to see what I mean.)  But this talk from Google sends a pretty clear message that they are serious about it and moving forward at a good clip.  And can Yahoo and the rest be far behind? 

Read more about Google’s meaning-based search results

More on multilingual SEO services

 


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Link Exchanges: It’s not the size of the PR, but how you use it

Friday, February 8th, 2008

If you plan to haggle over PageRank with me…goodbye.

That’s right, I have kicked the habit.  The size of your PageRank doesn’t impress me any more.  PageRank surely is still real, but an individual page’s PR can often shrink or grow so that neither you nor I can really know its real size.

  • The Toolbar PageRank has always been at best an approximation. 
  • Pages that show with PR3 or PR4 in the Google Directory are now often showing PR0 (PR Shrinkage)
  • Whole sites are now showing PR0, even while they continue to rank as well as when their pages showed PR3 – PR4.
  • Increasingly link-pages or directory-style pages are showing PR0, sometimes after showing PR3 or PR4 just a week earlier.
  • The gray bar used to mean a page was not cached in Google – a sure sign of a penalty or a brand new page.  No longer.  Many pages with PR are now displaying the gray bar.
  • Toolbar PageRank is dead!

Until very recently, I was assuming that the Toolbar was only showing false negatives – that if a page showed PR4 it was a pretty good bet that the PR of that page is at least PR4.  But recent observations have lead me to question this assumption, and perhaps I am jumping the gun, but I believe the toolbar is now showing false positives, too.

What I look for in a link exchange

Rather than PageRank, I look for a few other key items on the page where my client’s link will appear:

  • Most importantly, I want to know the page is cached by Google.  Not only is that absolutely vital for the link counting with Planet Earth’s most important search engine, but it is a fairly good indicator of whether other search engines and real human beings will find the page, too.  Not cached?  I won’t even look at any other factors.  This is the show-stopper
  • Is the page relevant to my topic?  If not, it had better be superb in every other area.
  • Is the page relevant (optimized) to my search phrases?  Again, if not, it had better be superb in every other area.
  • Is this page optimized for words like “link exchange” or “reciprocal links”?  Why not just type “SLEAZE” in big bold letters across the top of the page?  And don’t think the search engines can’t read words like “link exchange” or “reciprocal links”.  This is another factor that comes pretty close to being a show-stopper, too.
  • Is the page part of some automated link machine script?  Let’s face it, you don’t want to send the search engines a message that, “Hey, I can’t get real links from real people who just love my site, so instead I found an automated script to keep me warm at night.”  This is usually a show-stopper, too.
  • Once I see that a page is cached and passes the four eyeball tests above, it’s time to get critical.  The first thing I look for is a page that can easily be found.  If the page is one of 50 categories in a directory whose main page is linked only from the home page, that’s not a very good sign. Two clicks deep, and sharing link-juice with 50 categories?  I don’t think so.
  • I also check that the page is not the last in a series of pages that link one from the other…that’s how many clicks deep from the home page?  Never go to dance with someone if she’ll make you stand in line to dance.
  • I like a page that is either directly linked to from the home page or is linked to from a page that is in the sitewide template.  From an internal linking perspective, this tells the search engines that the page actually counts.  And you want your link to count.
  • Of course, I also look at the quality of the website overall.  Is this a website that likely carries a lot of trust value?  Does it rank well for similar search terms to the ones I am targeting?  Is the link directory full of all sorts of totally unrelated categories, perhaps some of them even unsavory?  If this website sleeps around too much, be careful what you might catch.
  • Is the page a content page?  I can forgive a number of other items for a genuine link in the midst of a page of text.
  • Is my link last on a page with 500 links?  I really prefer pages with 50 or fewer links, but if there are more, I am fine with having our link added near the top of the list, but not at the bottom.

Tell me you have a high-trust website and a linking page that is well linked internally, relevant to my search phrases and clean from the flotsam that shouts out “sleaze”.  But don’t tell me your page has bigger PageRank than mine.  It’s not the size that counts; it’s how you use it.

 


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Title Tag Clinic for Training Websites

Friday, February 1st, 2008

If you run training sessions, courses or classes in various cities at various times, let me give you a secret weapon that will help you fill your seats.  This secret weapon is also great for how-to-authors or anyone else who tours.

I just got off the phone with a client who runs training sessions in various cities.  We were looking at how her website ranked for various local searches related to her type of training in a couple cities where she will be over the next couple months.  In one case, we searched on Google for:

topicname training cityname

Her website came in at #6, with a title tag of:

topicname cityname

Of course, the first recommendation I gave was to add the word “training” to the middle of the title tag, which would probably vault the page to at least #3 in Google’s rankings.  So the title tag would read as follows:

topicname training cityname

OK, so far this is all common sense.  But my second recommendation is not something any SEO class will teach you.  It was to add something to her page’s title tag that would most likely ensure she got more targeted click-throughs than Google’s #1 or #2 listing above hers, without having to grab the top spot. 

Studies have shown that typically 40% of searchers click on the #1 listing in the search engine results.  This is true across all engines and to some degree or more across various types of searches.  And yes, it is true equally for people who look at other listings, even for those who scroll down and look at listings #9 and #10; they tend to return to the top and click on the #1 listing, perhaps because there is a subconscious sense of authority that comes from being Google’s top pick.

But who are the 60% of people who do not click on the #1 result?  Here are a few suggestions (maybe you can add to this list):

  • People who see that the #1 result is not at all what they are looking for.  For example, some people searching for “pursuit of happiness” might be looking for the band, some for the constitution, some for a self-help website.  So many searchers will scroll to find the top ;listing related to their topic.
  • People who have already been to the #1 listing and did not find what they wanted there.
  • People doing research or price comparisons and want to visit many websites for more information.
  • People who feel the #1 listing looks spammy from the outset.
  • People who see something so totally laser-targeted to them, that they skip over the top few results and click directly on that link.

The recommendation I gave my client was to add something to her title tag that would convert the majority of searchers into this last group.  Before I tell you what it is, you must understand the thought process of someone looking for a training session.  They are looking for a local session; they don’t want to travel to Chicago or London or Toronto.  They are looking for something now; their contemplating time is over and now they are searching because now they want to sign up.

So here is how I recommended my client set up her title tag for pages announcing upcoming, scheduled courses:

topicname training cityname month year

Even if very few people search by date, imagine that you are searching Google, Yahoo or whatever engine by location and up pops the results with a bunch of typical generic listing titles and you notice in the title of the fourth listing that there is a class or training session not only in your city but coming up next month.  Bang – you have just diverted a lot of traffic from the #1 listing that is vaguely about training to a listing that offers specifically what the searcher is looking for.  More importantly, you have just diverted the traffic that is holding money in its hand, ready to buy.

Like I said….secret weapon! 

 


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SEO tetsimonial – Woo Hoo!

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

When you get accolades from your clients, it’s worth sharing…and it’s not every day that an SEO company gets the kind of accolades that we have received this morning: 

Il y a aussi le fait que nous sommes, tout simplement, les premier sur Google, c’est tout un exploit qui mérite d’être félicité. Bravo à notre notre companie de référencement!. Il faut que vous sachiez que c’est d’une importance capitale”

If you don’t read French, trust me that these are mighty fine words to put spring in our step.  Or, you might try using one of those (ugh!) free translation websites.  The English would probably say something about how we roast warthogs in the bathtub, but you get what you pay for..

 


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Google is Tops

Tuesday, January 8th, 2008

It’s official…at least according to the New York Times.  Google’s market share is at 65.1%, just shy of the 66.6% that would be two-thirds of the market.  That leaves precious little room for Ask and MSN to expand their market share, which must be making them very frustrated.  As long as Google keeps paying attention to what people want when they are searching, I don’t see this changing.  If Google gets cocky, of course, we will see a whole new ball game.

What this all means in practical terms is that the most important source of traffic for most businesses is Google.  It is certainly not the only source.  One could make a very tidy profit driving traffic in many other ways, both online and offline, but it would be stupid to ignore Google.  All the more reason to be very careful not to do anything to your website that would run you afoul of both the letter and the spirit of Google’s webmaster guidelines.

 


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Link Building by the Specs? No Thank You!

Friday, November 30th, 2007

So somebody needs to build links to help his search engine rankings, and has come up with a very precise list of exactly what he wants.  It includes 19 exact specifications, which perhaps he pulled from a handy article somewhere on the Web.  Here is the list he presented, but this post could be abut any such list… 

1. One way non-reciprocal links only, no link exchanges.
2. THREE WAY Links where all links are in the same theme is OK
3. All links must be permanent.
4. Only 10% can be in directories.
5. No blogs
6. ONLY OUR THEME , (our theme is quite common so you will not have problems).
7. NO hidden links or any site that has hidden links.
8. No directories. No link farms, link-exchange programs, forums, Google banned site, black hat website. No guestbooks, links within forums, links within newsgroups or links from link exchanges etc. and never participate in any commercial web rings.
9. No sites banned by Google.
10. Link page must have a recent Google & Yahoo cache.
11. Must be manually submitted.
12. No Automated software (e.g., Zeus, Arelis or others)
13. All links must be from a different domain and IP address (geographically diverse, different class-c IP address block).
14. Only 10 to 15 links per week per language per site
15. Link pages must be static urls (no variables or parameters in the url)
16. No blacklisted or spam sites.
17. No more than 40 outbound links per page.
18. The link text must be from our keyword list and point to that keywords target page
19. All links must be static and without “nofollow” tags, no redirects, or javascript
20. Links must be on a PAGE with a Google PR of at least 2
21. All links must be on a page of the same language
22. Links must be on domains where we have no link

This post is about why I refuse to build links according to lists like this.  First, I must note that some of the items such as #9 and #7 and #15, for example, all make perfect sense.  These are deal-breakers that make a link useless. 

However, other elements are judgment calls: stipulating how many links per page, the PageRank, that a three-way link is acceptable but not a two-way link, among other factors.  What people hire me is to exercise that judgement.  To decode when a page might be PR1 but incredible on-topic and worth going after.  Or when a page might have 200 links, but with PR4 and lots of real human traffic it is worth its weight in gold.  Honestly, the client can just have his secretary or an offshore link-builder do the manual job of seeking out the links.  He does not need me for that.  What he needs me and my trained staff for is to exercise judgment – judgment that he is overriding with a pre-fab list. 

Does the client really think we have control over how many links are built in a week?  That depends on the response rate and the amount of back-and-forth with various webmasters.

And how much does he want to pay me to track down IP addresses to make sure they are all different?  Or check that the client does not already have a link on the domain?

That’s why I turn down offers to try to fit a strategic process into so comprehensive a list of technical specifications.

 


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How to chose a link partner

Monday, November 19th, 2007

Most webmasters are at a total loss when they try to decide whether to do a link exchange.  In fact, they are so lost that they rely on how much green is showing on the notoriously inaccurate Google Toolbar.

Here is my top-5 list of how to decide if a link exchange is worthwhile.

1. The page is cached by Google.  That is the drop-dead bottom line.  If it is not cached, Google can’t find it.  And Google is the biggest search engine by far.  If Google can’t find it, chances are that Yahoo, Ask and MSN can’t either.  And chances are that real people won’t land on the page or navigate to it.

2. Relevance. The page should not be optimized for “links”. “link exchange” or “resources”, unless are searches you are targeting in your SEO efforts.

3. Relevance.  The page should be relevant for the specific words you are targeting.  In other words, the title tag and the heading should include at least one of the main words of the search you are targeting.

4. Relevance. The page should be on topic, regardless of specific words.  If it is full of totally unrelated websites, the search engines can see that it is just a collection of random links.

5. If you can get a link on a content page, or where yours is the only external link on the page, you have struck gold!

 


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Reciprocal link heresy

Friday, October 26th, 2007

Let’s go hunt us a sacred cow today, OK?  Specifically, the sacred cow that all links must be reciprocated. 

There are a number of software programs you can purchase that can periodically make sure that all your link partners retain their links to your website so that you can notify them, warn them, threaten them and remove their links if they have removed yours.

Others spend time double-checking by hand.

Is this money well spent?  Is this time well spent?

No.

First, you have gained nothing by removing the links of those few who have reneged on their end of the bargain.  You have not increased your link popularity.  You have not gained additional PageRank.  You have not increased your website’s trust, relevance, content, number of pages or any other indicator that will lead to higher rankings.

Second, you have just spent money buying software that could have been spent elsewhere.  Or you have spent time checking backlinks that could have been spent creating them.

Third, you might even be doing yourself a disservice by making every outbound link on your resources page a reciprocated one.  The search engines are pretty clever.  They can detect when 100% of your outbound links are reciprocated.  They can detect when 100% of your links are part of a triangular linking pattern.  Do you think they are impressed with that?  My logic is that it is to your advantage if over time some of your link partners reneg and you have less of a pattern (remember that when it comes to linking, patterns should be avoided, for they indicate to the search engines that the links are contrived).

So, with apologies to everyone hocking link-checking software, my recommendation is to not waste another minute of the precious few God gave you checking up on your link partners.  A nice hike in the mountains would be a much better investment for your business…and of course for you!

 


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Hidden Text Trick

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

Every wonder how that image-only home page can outrank you for some pretty important search terms.  The typical advice you will get on forums and in articles is that it is all in the links – that the high-ranking page has more, better and more relevant links pointing from other web pages. 

But there might be something more sneaky and nefarious going on.  Check the source code.  Are there hundreds of words of text that do not appear on the page?  If so, go back to the page.  Where can they be, you can’t see them and there is no scrollbar to scroll any farther.  You highlight the page to see if any hidden text shows up and all of a sudden the page starts scrolling.  You see plenty of text.  And technically it’s not hidden, but it is tucked away where nobody would think to view, because the webmaster has deactivated the scrollbar.  Pretty sneaky.  But is this hidden text?

Technically, the text is very clearly visible, so it is not technically hidden.  On the other hand, a manual review of this site would reveal that there is spiderable text placed where most visitors would not know how to find.  I am willing to bet that a hidden text penalty would be issued to such a page.   

My advice is to report your competitor to Google, Yahoo, MSN and Ask right away.  And don’t even think about doing the same thing…because someone else might report you both! 

 


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