David Leonhardt’s SEO and Social Media Marketing

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

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BrowseRank Strategies – Quality Web Site Design

Sep 03, 2008 - filed under browserank, Microsoft, pagerank, rankings, SEO, web design, website conversion 22 Comments
 

A few days ago I reported on how BrowseRank goes beyond PageRank to rank websites according to user behavior.  Modern search engines tend to rank websites by relevancy and importance, and of course their algorithms can be gamed.  The concept of BrowseRank, which I have been mentioning to clients already for two years, would add a third and almost more important measurement – usefulness.  This, too, can be gamed.  However, most of the gaming would also work to your visitor’s advantage, so the Web will be a better place for it. 

In preparation for BrowseRank and perhaps other search engine measures of website usefulness, this is the first in a series of posts that will help you make your website appear useful in the eyes of the search engines.  You will probably find that these are things you should be doing anyway to increase conversions and profits, but that is not my area of expertise, so here we will look at them from an SEO perspective.

STRATEGY #1 – Design a website that says “Quality” the minute a visitor lands there.

This might seem soooooo obvious, but it needs to be said.  As obvious as it might seem, I come daily across dozens of websites that say “Amateur” or “Crap”.  Here are a few tips to make your website look like a professional website that can be trusted.

  1. Get a professional design that looks at least somewhat modern and in a style that suits your products and target audience.
  2. Lose the square corners.  Some corners are OK, but if your design is based on boxes, it looks like a basement job.
  3. No Adsense-type ads.  Yuck! Honestly, that is the biggest sign of a low-quality website.  A run of Adsense across the bottom is not bad, but the more prominent the PPC ads the cheaper the site appears.  By the way, ads are OK.  The more they look like content or part of the website, the better.  Adsense style ads just look cheap.
  4. Keep it clean.  Clutter looks as bad on a website as it looks here on my desk.  (But I don’t have a webcam to display this disaster to the world, so don’t display a mess on your website!)
  5. Make sure your web pages look good in various browsers and in various screen resolutions.  If 70% of people see a superb website and the other 30% see garbled images and text, they will bounce back to the search engine … which tells the engine that your website is not very useful (and it isn’t if it can’t easily be read by 30% of searchers).
  6. Make sure your website is available, which means good hosting.  I am never shy about recommending Phastnet web hosting.  This blog is hosted there and I have been migrating my sites to them over the years because of the five-star service I get when I need it.
  7. Make sure your code is working properly.  Seeing a PHP error makes the site look broken.  I don’t buy from someone who might be selling me broken goods.
  8. Avoid overly flashy design.  If your visuals call attention to themselves and distract from your message, you will lose people.
  9. Avoid automatic audio playing.  I can guarantee you that 99% of people browsing from a cubicle, as well as others in shared space, will zip back to the search engine in no time flat.  That sends a pretty bad signal to the search engines.
  10. Nix the cover page, especially one that shows a slide show on start-up.  And if you think people can easily scroll to the bottom to click the “skip intro”, it’s easier still to click the “back” button and choose a new website that does not place a barrier to its visitors.

Those are my top 10 web design tips for helping visitors see quality in your website.  Please feel free to add to this list in the comments below. Following these tips is not enough to make them stay on your website, but at least they won’t leave because the design scares them away.  In future “episodes”, I will share with you some additional strategies to help the search engines view your website as “useful”.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that we have some top quality SEO web designers on our team.  :-) 

SEO Secret – how to get more value from your SEO consultant

Aug 29, 2008 - filed under clients, SEO 12 Comments
 

One of our SEO clients is getting more than her money’s worth.  In fact, I should be charging her gobs more money than I am, but she is getting a whole lot extra work for free. 

How does she do it?  Am I a sucker?  Maybe I am, but there is a method to her madness, even if she does not know it.

You see, the biggest complaint from professional SEO consultants is that clients do not follow up on their recommendations.  A company might pay anywhere form $1000 to $50,000 for an SEO consultant to review their website and make recommendations, ready to follow up with additional action, but… but… but…nothing happens.  In one survey of SEOs, 60% were frustrated by lack of follow-up by the client.  This not only wastes the company’s consulting dollars, but it often prevents the SEO consultant from doing anything further to advance the company’s rankings.

My client, the one I mentioned above, is just the opposite.  She eagerly seeks out information and I swear she passes what we call in French “nuits blanches” (look it up) following through and coming back with more questions, ideas and follow-through.  It makes her project exciting and, yes, she gets more out of me than she is paying for.

You know that old adage “You get out of life what you put in”?  It works for SEO consultants, too…at least those who get passionate about what they are doing.  So my question for anyone reading this who plans to hire an SEO consultant, are you passionate about your website?  Will you get your SEO consultant to be just as passionate about it?

New Google RankCheck Tool is Released!

Aug 27, 2008 - filed under Google, rankings 7 Comments
 

Just kidding.  There is no new Google RankCheck tool.  But there should be.  A couple days ago, I reported on how Google has finally blocked automated searches by software such as WebPosition.  This creates a vacuum in the marketplace – a vacuum best filled by…Google!

Yes, I think Google should announce a new GoogleCheck tool, and here is why. 

Google says that automated rank-checking tools should be avoided because it taxes Google’s servers.  OK, let’s take this argument at face value.  Automated checking does add a tremendous volume to the number of searches.  I gave an example the other day of how one website adds 1200 searches.  If that is done responsibly once every 4 – 6 weeks, ad there are a mere 1000 websites searching, the burden is not too big, especially if most of the searches are happening at off-hours when Google’s servers are underused.  However, if 100,000 websites are doing automated searches every day during peak usage hours, perhaps digging deeper into the SERPs, that could start taxing Google’s servers.

Let’s further assume that Google has a hidden agenda.  Let’s assume it does not like automated rank checking because people are getting a free ride from Google – conducting billions of searches without ever visiting Google and being exposed to paid search advertising.  Let’s face it, why should Google give away huge volumes of free search to webmasters without requiring them to view the PPC ads that bring in Google’s revenues?

So how would Google RankCheck help Google?

First, Google could control when and how automated searches occurred.  It could, for instance queue the automated searches for the next available down turn in bandwidth usage, or it could simply schedule it at an appropriate hour.  Problem solved.

Second, it could make money, which is what a corporation like Google is supposed to do.  Instead of giving away tons of free search to webmasters who don’t even visit Google to make the searches, Google could sell the software.  An official Google RankCheck tool would sell much, much better than Web Position.  Google could make a beautiful case, too:

“We are in search.  Manual search of one phrase at a time is free to everyone, including webmasters checking how they rank.  However, if you want to conduct bulk searches, you can purchase Google RankCheck for a modest fee.”

There would be advantages for webmasters, too.  Google could give people the option of viewing rankings in various locales.  For instance, if I want to see how my website is ranking in San Francisco, Chicago and Miami, I could specify that (you know how Google results differ from place to place).

Perhaps there are other advantages for Google or for webmasters.  Why not share your thoughts on that with readers by posting your comment below.

Google Blocks Automated Rank Checking

Aug 25, 2008 - filed under clients, Google, rankings 4 Comments
 

Google has been threatening…er, promising to block rank-checking software such as WebPosition for years, and even mentions them by name in their webmaster guidelines.  It seems like Google has finally decided to honor its promise and block the software.

I was last able to check rankings on August 22.  Since then, nada.  A quick survey around the Web and it sounds like a lot of other people found their automated ranking checks were blocked on August 1, August 5 or August 7.

What does this mean for SEO?  Quite a lot…and amazingly little.

 It means that we cannot check dozens of keywords quickly and painlessly.  Manually checking 50 search phrases for, let’s say, a dozen clients, often going onto the second or third page of Google means…let’s see…1200 manual searches.  Suppose there are two dozen clients.  Suppose there are 100 search terms.  You can do the math and see how time consuming this would be.

However, let us for a moment suppose that we don’t do 1200 manual searches every month.  Suppose instead we do occasional searches to see where a client stands for a few major search phrases?  Or we check different searches on different months as we focus the campaign on different sub-niches?  What if we invest more effort in building rankings than in measuring them?

Yes, we do need to measure.  We need to know if we are moving forward.  We need to be able to show clients roughly the magnitude of the progress.  But perhaps we will be using a smaller basket of keywords and letting the long tail take care of itself.

For me, the main use of rank-checking across a broad range of search phrases was to determine which search phrases or family of search phrases need more focus as we ride the surf of algorithm changes, renewed competition and other happenings.

Of course, clients also require reporting…which we will no longer be able to do to the same level as we had been doing.  So the immediate effect is that over the next month or so, I need to budget a few hours to explain to clients why lists of ranking positions can no longer be the way to measure progress.

BrowseRank Goes Beyond PageRank

Aug 18, 2008 - filed under browserank, Google, Microsoft, pagerank 10 Comments
 

I am just back from vacation and wading through three weeks of emails, but while I was gone a story broke that I just can’t let pass.  You might have heard me say it before, but sooner or later the search engines will shift their algorithms from focusing just on relevance and importance to include a third pillar: usefulness. 

This story entitled Microsoft Talks about BrowseRank Beyond PageRank shows that Microsoft is well on it’s way to developing just such an algorithm.  The article mentions a few ways a search engine can determine how useful searchers find a result, but there are more that are not mentioned in the article.

  1. Click-thru rates.
  2. Number of people who bounce back to the search page.
  3. Time before a person bounces back.
  4. Number of pages a user visits before bouncing back.
  5. Time spent on the specific page clicked.
  6. Whether the person bothered to scroll down on the page.

Of course, people like me would totally mess up the algorithm; I leave my windows open forever.  And if you think that user behavior is hard to manipulate, think again.  Usability will be now more important for SEO, but also will be coaxing users to spend more time on the website and go deeper in.

But the biggest change we will see is that website owners will have to focus on not letting their visitors bounce back to Google.  Suddenly having links to other useful sites will be a good thing, to the dismay of so many website owners who are terrified of placing a link to anybody else, for fear they might bleed customers, PageRank or both.

As all user search engines move into measuring user behavior, new strategies will be required.  I will report on some of those shortly.

Stay tuned… 

Google Cache Gets Style

Jul 25, 2008 - filed under Google, indexing 6 Comments
 

OK, so it’s not much style, but it’s certainly a cleaner look than the previous mess.  Much easier on the eyes.  For those who don’t know what this is, the Google Toolbar has a handy quicklink to the cached view of any page.  Simply go to the little downward arrow next to the PageRank bar and from the drop-down menu, click cache.  This shows you what Google has on file about the page currently in your browser window.

 

No changes to the look when Google has not cached the page; just a regular search window. 

 

 

 

 

 

Making Your Blog a Destination in Your Niche

Jul 18, 2008 - filed under blogging, bookmarking, MyBlogLog 6 Comments
 

One of my clients wants to create a blog that will really stand out in her niche and become a destination.  She asked for a few tips, so here is what I suggested: 

1. Unique topic – anything that people have not heard before, surprises or even shocks, cuts through the clutter and gives practical advice (where people usually find a 20  minute speech), or is edgy or controversial. 

2. Participation via comments – invite participation and get people returning. Although my blog is almost a hobby (when pressed for time, client work comes first, so sometimes I go as much as a month between posts), I have done three things technically that have increased participation: 1) I made it a do-follow blog, so more people come to comment on it, making it a more happening place.  2) I am trying to respond to comments with follow-up comments, for the same result. 3) My WordPress sends me two notices, one when a comment is posted for me to moderate, and a second when the comment goes live.  To this second email, I respond with a note like this:

I approved your comment, so please don’t forget to social bookmark the post.  Because mine is a DoFollow blog, your website will benefit from the SEO-friendly link.  It is therefore to your advantage to give this page some link juice by social bookmarking it.  You will see at the bottom of the post some icons for one-click social bookmarking:
http://www.seo-writer.com/blog/2008/05/05/why-blogs-are-good-for-seo
 
Or it would be even better if you could share some of my ramblings with your readers by blogging about them and linking back to the original posts.  :-)

This has gotten me some social bookmarks and also has lead to a few other link exchanges. 

3. Social bookmarking – I have a free script for that at http://www.seo-writer.com/tools/bookmarker.php 

4. Building big communities at MyBlogLog.com, BlogCatalog.com, SpicyPage.com, and probably a few others.  There probably is a good way to promote it also through article directory communities such as EzineArticles.com .

5. Guest post exchanges can be good, bringing new perspectives to your blog and reaching out to the audiences of other blogs.

6. Posting really insightful comments on well-read blogs can also lead to others following your link — but you have to get there early, before the crowds have come and gone.

7. I have found that just visiting blogs listed at MyBlogLog has resulted in the bloggers visiting my blogs.  A lot of bloggers watch for a new face to show up on their widget, and they visit the blogs in return.  If you have great content, they’ll be back.

How not to sell SEO

Jul 16, 2008 - filed under SEO scams 7 Comments
 

I just have to share this email with you as an example of how not to sell SEO.

Hello and Good Day! OK, so it’s not a bad start.
 
I am [name withheld], SEO Manager

I was surfing through your website and realized that despite having a good design; it was not ranking on any of the search engines for most of the keywords pertaining to your domain. Let’s get one thing straight: the site in question was designed to practce HTML several years ago and certainly does not have a good design. On the other hand, despite a certain amount of neglect over the past couple years, it does retain good rankings for major search terms.
 
I was wondering if you would be interested in getting the SEO done for your website. Did he do any research on me?  Come on!
 
There is a simple equation that is applicable to the online world.
 
Ethical SEO -> Better Traffic -> Higher Sales. Ethical SEO? Spam is ethical? Hopefully that is a big enough clue for the newbiest of newbie website owners to delete this email.
 
We are an ISO Certified, SEMPO registered Online Marketing firm and have over 5 years of working experience. All the techniques used are ethical and proprietary. If this is true, ISO and SEMPO have some explaining to do.
 
In case you require any additional information, it shall be our pleasure to furnish the same.
 
I look forward to your mail.

Basically, this was a bulk mail sent to a mailing list scraped somewhere on the Web. Given that SEO is more like a sport than a science, every website needs its own custom approach. A cookie-cutter email will not make the sale, because it will never address the particulars of my website.

Well, maybe it will make the sale in some cases, where the website owner falls for such a pitch. Such is the law of the jungle, I suppose, where the lions pick off the weakest members of the herd and enjoy a tasty dinner. Just make sure you are not the one they pick off.

Who you link to matters

Jul 03, 2008 - filed under linking, nofollow, reputation 13 Comments
 

Some people might wonder why I do not approve their blog comments. There are a few reasons.

1. The comment is pure spam. Sorry, that does not contribute to this blog so the comment gets nuked. Kaboom!

2. The comment is pretty useless, not contributing much and it’s pretty spammy and I am not in the mood to give a free keyword rich link to someone who is not really contributing. Sorry, but that’s my prerogative.

3. The link is to a website that is either in itself distasteful (my personal, subjective opinion) or is in a category that I don’t want to link to, either because of personal views or because of the message it sends the search engines (such as gambling, for instance).

Point #3 should be noted. From an SEO perspective, who you link to matters. A lot of people comment on this blog because they know I use the Do Follow plugin or because they found me on the list of Do Follow blogs.

On another note, if you do come here to comment because you know the link is good for SEO, please do me the courtesy of either linking back to my site or at least social bookmarking the post. When you social bookmark the post, you are also helping yourself, because it increases the authority of the page that is linking back to your site. And it is sooooo easy to social bookmark each post. See the icons across the bottom of this post? Just click those icons at the bottom of any post and you can bookmark at dozens of popular sites. If you want to make it easy for your visitors to bookmark your blog posts or web pages, you can get this social bookmaking cut-and-paste script at http://www.seo-writer.com/tools/bookmarker.php.

Google Indexes Flash

Jul 01, 2008 - filed under Google, indexing, web design 5 Comments
 

OK, so before all you Flash-crazed developers get too excited, what Google specifically will index is two things:

1. The text content in .SWF files.
2. URLs can now be followed.

This means that Flash websites can indeed be made SEO-friendly, although I am uncertain how much Flash designers would want text content in their files – specifically enough text content to really make a page SEO-friendly.

In any case, you can read more about this development at the Google blog post on Flash indexing

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