David Leonhardt’s SEO and Social Media Marketing

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

THE HAPPY GUY MARKETING

 

How much HTML does an SEO need to know?

Feb 09, 2010 - filed under SEO, web design 33 Comments
 

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. 

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

Jan 28, 2010 - filed under algorithms, content, keywords, rankings, SEO, writing 2 Comments
 

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.

Ethical SEO across the search engines

Oct 28, 2009 - filed under marketing 36 Comments
 

 

You’ll never guess what I found when I recently searched for “ethical SEO” at one of the major search engines. 

The organic listings, of course, are open to tampering to match the algorithms, so even an unethical spammy SEO company could rank well for “ethical SEO” with enough effort.  What caught me by surprise was what I saw in the sponsored listings – the paid ads.

Just for the record, any unethical SEO could easily post an ad for ethical SEO; how would the search engines know, without investing a major effort in checking out the methodologies of each company – which they are not about to do.  But, you would think they would at least check the ad copy.  You would think that a paid ad on a search engine that announces “ethical SEO” would at least not have an unethical message, such as “guaranteed ranking”.  You would think there might be a filter to red flag such ads.

Nope.

(For those new to SEO, guaranteed ranking is one of the cheapest lies an SEO company can make…and far too common.  Rankings are relative.  You get to be top 10 only by ranking higher than all the other websites.  Nobody can guarantee a ranking without having control of all those other websites, as well as having control of the search engine’s algorithm.)

I present to you below the results of a search for “ethical SEO across the five major search engines: Google, Yahoo, Bing , AOL and Ask. 

“Ethical SEO” at Google

ethicalseoatgoogle1

ethicalseoatgoogle

“Ethical SEO” at Yahoo

ethicalseoatyahoo

“Ethical SEO” at Bing

ethicalseoatbing1

ethicalseoatbing2

“Ethical SEO” at AOL

ethicalseoataol

“Ethical SEO” at Ask

ethicalseoatask

So which search engine supports the most ethical SEO when showing ads to the public?  I’ll let you decide, and I welcome your comments on this.

Look who follows NoFollow links!

Aug 31, 2009 - filed under Google, linking, nofollow, Yahoo 122 Comments
 

Earlier this year, I speculated on how the search engines treat NoFollow links.  For those who might be a little green, NoFollow links are not totally ignored by the search engines.  For those who really, really green, NoFollow links are believed to be totally ignored by the search engines (because they have the rel=”nofollow” attribute in the link code).

So we ran a little experiment. 

A client of ours had a fully developed website that has never been used.  Not a single link points to this website, so in the eyes of the search engines, it should not exist. 

It was not indexed at Yahoo. It should go without saying that Yahoo displayed no backlinks.

The site was indexed at Google.  (How, why and whether Google should index orphan sites that have not been released to the public is a topic for another post.) Google showed no backlinks, but the site did rank #8 at Google for one very important search, based primarily on the name of the domain. It did not show up in the top 100 for a few other key searches. All searches are for local terms specific to a certain city, so they are moderately low competition.

For three weeks, we posted comments on NoFollow blogs (yes, intelligent comments reflecting the specific content of the blog posts) to create a steady stream of NoFollow links, without creating any DoFollow or “normal” hyperlinks.

Were the NoFollow links followed?

At the end of week 4, we found Yahoo had indexed the website and showed 51 backlinks.  All of these are NoFollow links. The more important searches were all showing in the top 20, one as high as position #6. Remember that these are moderately low-competition, local searches, but this is all on the strength of a few weeks of exclusively NoFollow links.

Google showed no backlinks after 4 weeks.  No surprise there; Google is very sporadic with if, when, how and which sampling of backlinks it chooses to display. The ranking at position #8 had not changed, but a couple other search terms were now ranking at Google, one of them as high as position #11. Again, this is exclusively on the strength of NoFollow blog comments.

What can we conclude about NoFollow links?

NoFollow links still obviously count at Yahoo.  Do they count as much as DoFollow links?  A more complicated experiment might help answer that question.  Anyone feel like taking up the challenge?

NoFollow links also appear to count at Google.  Or perhaps some do and others don’t, depending on other factors Google might use to rate links from specific domains. However, we can be sure that Google does follow at least some NoFollow links.

The conclusion I would draw from this is that people really should not focus on the NoFollow/DoFollow issue. Build links that are officially followable when you can, but don’t let a NoFollow attribute in a page’s links dissuade you from creating a link you would otherwise pursue.

Want a link on a throw-away domain?

Jun 24, 2009 - filed under domain, linking, SEO scams 48 Comments
 

A while back, I wrote about why to ignore three-way link requests.  Many of the reasons I listed had to do with the quality of the site linking back to you.  But what if it’s a PR3 home page.  Sounds like a juicy link to score, doesn’t it?  Well, maybe not.  I don’t want to pick on one domain or another, but I need an example, so the one that came in today will do.  In the words of the link-exchanger:

Mate its PR 3 schoolsprepared.org
 
Check it again..not throwaway… :-(

There are so many domains like this, and while a link from that page might not carry zero value, it’s caveat emptor.  Here are seven reasons why this is not a ” Wow! A PR3 home-page link!”

The domain will get dumped.Like so many others, this domain used to be a real website, but no longer. One glance at it with naked eyes shows that it was nicely set up and had a purpose. It accumulated a PageRank of 3, which means it was somewhat active on the Internet. And like so many others, the owners bailed out and sold the domain to someone who thought a PR3 website would be great for three-way link exchanges. So what happens once the site is “used up”? Once it is so stuffed with links that it is no longer useful for attracting link-exchanges, what do you think will happen to that website (and your link on it)? Come on, be honest, do you really trust that they will continue to maintain the website?

The page will fail to keep up. Let’s suppose they do maintain the website, honestly remaining committed to protecting the link they posted to your website, as promised. How long will the page remain PR3. Remember, PageRank is relative; as the total number of web pages and the total number of links on the Internet increase, so too does the link juice required to maintain a given PageRank. But the owners are not building links to this site; they are building links to another site.

The page will not attract new links. The eyeball test tells you this is a link farm. Even if it isn’t technically a link farm, it looks like one on first glance. Nobody will want to link to it. No bloggers. No industry sites. Nobody. The owner could be less careless and format the links nicely. But, as with most such situations, the owners did not.

The page will suffer link attrition. OK, let’s take this one step further. Over time, all websites suffer from link-attrition. That is to say, links die every day (websites close down, links pages are cleaned up, links get pushed deeper and deeper on directory pages, etc.), and links pointing to the page your link is on will die. In the case of a website that looks cheap like this, it stand to suffer accelerated attrition, as some websites linking to it will remove their links when they realize what they are now linking to.

No targeted traffic. As Yura Filimonov pointed out to me, sites like this won’t deliver targeted traffic.  Anyone who lands on such a page will quickly see that it is useless and back out the door.  Of course many links don’t deliver much traffic, but one of the benefits expected from a home page link is some targeted traffic.

PageRank will be diluted. Eventually there will be dozens, maybe hundreds of links on the page. The PR from PR3 (what’s left of it) will be diluted before the domain gets recycled, is dumped or simply disappears.

You are not fooling the search engines. If I can see with a glance that this is a flipped website turned link farm, do you really believe that Google and Yahoo are being fooled? Please, don’t flatter me; I know they are smarter than I am.

“So, OK, David…would my link on a page like this place my website at risk?” you ask.

I doubt it.  If you have 100 inbound links and 80 of them are from home page link farms, that might throw up a pretty big red flag.  But if you have a dozen links on silly pages like this amongst 500 links of various quality, I can’t imagine it harming your rankings.  Just don’t go jumping for joy thinking you’ve struck gold.  You’ve just found a penny.

Related reading on a humerous note: a spammer link exchange note.

Who owns your Twitter account?

May 27, 2009 - filed under Digg, FaceBook, social media, Twitter 67 Comments
 

So here is a legal conundrum.  You’ve been active on a number of social media websites, such as Twitter, FaceBook or Digg.  You have amassed a number of friends and followers and built a certain amount of credibility.  You leave your job – take a better position elsewhere, move to another city, get laid off or fired – doesn’t matter the reason.

Who owns your Twitter account?  Your FaceBook account?  Etc.

I thought it was a very straightforward question, too.  If it’s in your name, it’s yours.  If it’s in the company’s name, it’s the company’s.  Period. Or maybe not period.  Maybe question mark.

A legal viewpoint has been sought and diligently reported on by Glenn Gabe.  The comments, which are not to be taken as legal advice, came from lawyer Mike Pisauro.  He covered five scenarios, which I’ll list here but you can go to the original post to read the details.

  1. Grandfathered Twitter Accounts
  2. Twitter Account Already Established, But Employee Has Agreed That Twitter Will Be Part Of His Job
  3. Twitter Accounts Set Up While An Employee Is Working At A Company
  4. The Employee Is The Official Social Media Marketer For The Company
  5. The Employee Is The Official Social Media Marketer And Has Set Up The Account As Part Of The Marketing Effort

For what it’s worth, I think a key point is missing.  In whose name is the account set up?  Let’s take a scenario where Mary Wilkins is hired to do communications for ACME . and she is told that she needs to tweet nice things about the company, but to set it up in her name, not in the company’s name.  There are a number of reasons ACME might want her to tweet in her own name, rather than the company’s.

  • They might be trying to avoid liability for what an employee might publicly say.
  • They might want her comments to have an air of objectivity.
  • They might not want to be held to anything she tweets.
  • Thjey might want people to connect with a real human being, not an impersonal company.

All these reasons have one common element – they all imply that the company does not want to be associated with the account.  They all are purposeful actions to refuse ownership of the account.  I have a very hard time believing, legal genius that I am not, that any court would be able to ignore that fact if the real owner — the employee — articulated that argument well.

On the other hand, if the account was set up in the company’s name by the employee, overtly being the ACME account, I cannot imagine for a moment that a court would award ownership of the account to the employee.

The only place I see as being murky is if the account is personal in the person’s name and that person is the official spokesperson for the company and promoted as such.  For isnstance if a Twitter account is @MaryWilkins and the ACME logo is used as the background.  Situations 4 and 5 above could fall into that class.

Of course, my legal opinion and a dime will buy you a drink at the public water fountain, so if you are a) hiring someone who will be running social media accounts on your behalf or b) being hired by a company wanting you to run its social media accounts, get the prenuptials down in writing ahead of time.

So now, the real burning legal issue:

Q: Who owns the Twitter account?
A: Twitter.

El Marcadorado updated

May 15, 2009 - filed under bookmarking, marketing, Spanish, website updates 4 Comments
 

  

We have just made a major update to El Marcadorado for those of you  who have Spanish-language blogs and websites you want publicized.  El Marcadorado is the Spanish-language version of TheBookmarketer …a simple script that you add to your pages to encourage your visitors to social bookmark them.  In fact, we are pretty sure this is the only service of its kind for the Hispanic world.

Acabamos de hacer una actualización mayor a El Marcadorado para los que tienen blogs y sitios web en español. El Marcadorado es una herramienta sencilla que usted añade a sus páginas para favorecer a sus visitantes a marcar sus páginas en sitios “marcadores sociales”. De verdad, estamos bastante seguros que esto es el único servicio de su clase para el mundo latino.

This time we have added / Acabamos de añadir :

We have also removed a number of old social bookmarking websites which have gone the way of Furl and Magnolia in English.

SEO Strategies for Financial Websites

May 07, 2009 - filed under bookmarking, local seo, SEO, website conversion 33 Comments
 

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.

The Bugs Bunny Guide to Linkbuilding

Apr 16, 2009 - filed under marketing 42 Comments
 

Have you ever been hard at work, doing what you do, and suddenly got struck by the immortal question – “What would Bugs Bunny do?” Me too. All the time. Well, if you are doing link-building, you are in luck, because here is what Bugs Bunny would do:

“What’s up, Doc?”

Bugs Bunny always introduces himself in way that leaves an opening for the other party to offer something useful. Such as a reciprocal link. Be friendly. Be informal. Be in the situation. Nobody pays attention to cut-and-paste link-exchange emails any more. Find a way to make yours both unique and personal.

Carrots are maaaa-gic

“Carrots are divine… You get a dozen for a dime, It’s maaaa-gic!”
 

Link exchanges might be long, hard, boring work, but carrots are a totally different matter. For starters, they are orange. SEO carrots are often called “link bait” or “viral content”. If you have fun putting together useful, cool, different information, you have carrots – and carrots are maaaa-gic.

“I know this defies the law of gravity, but I never studied law!”

You will hear many people tell you how SEO is “supposed” to work and how link-building is supposed to work. But there is no diploma for SEO; like politics, SEO is “the art of the possible”. SEO doesn’t always make sense. But if defying the law of gravity works, run with it (or float with it).

“I knew I shoulda taken that left turn at Albuquerque!”

On the other hand, if your tactics are not working, go back and do things another way. With link-building, a shortcut is not always a shortcut. And any automation – or anything that bears a pattern that could appear to be like automation – means that you definitely turned the wrong way at Albuquerque.

“The rabbit is considered a kind and intelligent creature in Cambodian culture.”

Know your audience. If you are seeking links from real estate agents, you might need different tactics than if you are seeking links from home renovators. If you are seeking links from local websites, foreign websites, national websites…each website owner has a different motivation for possibly giving you a link. Your success rate will be highest if you understand your audience.

This means war!

“Of course you realize, this means war!”

You may have noticed that Bugs doesn’t pussyfoot around. Link-building is an arms race of sorts. The good news is that you don’t have to be the one with the most weapons. You can win the war with the smartest weapons. Thank carrots (see carrots reference above).

“Oh well, maybe I can shine it up and use it for an ashtray.”

That’s right, everything has a use. So you got a low-quality link. Perhaps the page is PR0. Perhaps there are 150 links on the page. Perhaps your link is at the end, or has no anchor text, or goes to your “contact us” page. A low-quality link is better than none. Shine it up and use it for an ashtray.

“I don’t ask questions. I just have fun!”

If you are having fun, that alone is good. Job satisfaction is so important. Link-building can be frustrating and tiring and stressful. Find ways to make it fun and you’ll win part of the battle just there. Bugs advises that all emails asking for a link begin with “What’s up Doc?” Sounds good to me.

So get back into your rabbit hole and put to use all the fine advice that the world’s most famous rabbit can offer you to make link-building more fun and more successful.

Ethical SEO or SEO Spam

Apr 07, 2009 - filed under bookmarking, ethics, reputation, SEO scams, social media 32 Comments
 

You cannot always believe what you read, and in SEO you have to be very careful.  Take for instance the good folks at OutsourcingforSEO.com .  They repeatedly spam Zoomit Canada with non-Canadian submissions.  I have deleted several dozen accounts, but they keep creating new ones.  They don’t seem to get the message or they are gluttons for fruitless work.  They also seem to have figured out a hack to add many more tags per submission than the form allows.  One day last month they even created accounts with names like danysulivan8 and leeoden4 and johnbatele4, mimicking the names of high-profile SEO consultants (I know these colleagues to be reputable, but imagine what can happen to their reputations if such accounts are being created elsewhere!).  I suppose they thought I might let their submissions pass if I thought somebody respectable was doing the submitting.

seo-spammer

Of course, this all must be part of their “Ethical SEO Website Traffic Services”, as seen in the screen capture below that I took just before deleting another of their spam posts.

SEO spam to the extreme

I think this is the first time I have ever called out another SEO company. It’s not that I haven’t seen plenty of pure spam and plenty of questionable stuff, too. But it’s a slippery slope and I’m not big on rating other SEO consultants. But these guys are so determined to keep spamming Zoomit Canada, over and over and over and over, that I’ll make an exception. If anybody knows of a spammer award, I would love to have this company submitted.  After that, committed.

The moral of the story is to be very careful who you hire for SEO services.  This company is submitting its client websites, too, exposing them to potential sanctions from the search engines and being banned by other social bookmarking websites, too.  You don’t want a purposeful spammer representing your website.

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