SEO Commentary by freshpromo

January 4, 2010

New Year’s Resolutions for Search Engine Optimizers

Filed under: SEO — Tags: , , — admin @ 7:07 pm

Happy New Year to all our blog readers! Apologies for the delay in updates but the holidays did what they normally do and push several things on my agenda back a bit. I think the best way to ring in the new year here is to put together a list of recommended resolutions for people in the SEO community.  After all, there are thousands out there who will be trying to get a leg up on the competition in 2010. Google continues to update its algorithm and incorporate new features into its search functionality. The Bing/Yahoo marriage has given notice that we cannot just pay attention to one search engine. It’s as important as ever to stay up to date with what’s going on.

1. Learn Google Analytics’ advanced features

Analytics is more than just a hit counter… but you already knew that. Its referral data and site navigation mapping tools are probably what most webmasters use. And handy they are indeed. But there are more advanced features that can further educate you on visitor behaviour. My recommendation is to go to Conversion University. Sounds nerdy, doesn’t it. Well, it is. But it’s well worth your time if you want to become an expert in Google Analytics. Follow this link to learn how to prepare for the Analytics IQ Test.

2. Attend a Search Engine Marketing seminar

Yes, some can be pricey. But find one with reputable speakers and good opportunities to network within the industry and it can easily pay for itself in new business. My own personal goal in 2010 is to attend the Search Engine Strategies conference in Toronto in June or San Francisco in August. These regularly attract representatives from major search engines as well as experts in the search marketing field.

3. Cut and run from old, outdated SEO methods

The evolution of search has been slow in many respects. The fact that we still see spam content when making search queries on major search engines like Google and Bing tells us that there is still a long way to go. It’s a sad fact of the SEO landscape that some black hat methods still do result in high rankings and traffic every now and then. The good news is that a) these gains are very much temporary and b) black hat SEO is hardly a good strategy for a legit business model.

I think we will continue to see relevancy count for more when it comes to link building tactics. The days of purchasing text links in large packages where value is determined by PageRank are over. I’ll even go as far as to say that PR is 100% useless as a measure of a link’s value. Article submission networks are also a thing of the past. Distributing your content is still recommended, but ask yourself this: are you submitting your article to a site that has actual readers interested in your topic? If the answer’s no, pass on it. And if you haven’t hopped on the social media bandwagon yet and are a small business owner, do it! Tweet, Stumble, blog and be merry.

4. Make the 301 redirect your bff

I was amazed at how many links I clicked on in 2009 that returned a 404 Not Found error page. And not just on mom & pop sites. I’m talking Fortune 500 companies, media giants (Rogers, I’m looking in your direction) and tech communities. When your web development budget is six or seven figures, there’s no excuse to strand users on pages that are of no value to them. Yes, human error will always be a fact of life when coding, but a site redesign changes the entire page and directory structure; make sure the old content is not deleted. Not only will users continue to hit on old pages, you’re orphaning valuable link popularity gained through long-term exposure of those URLs.

If you need some insight into 301 redirect basics, just follow the link.

5. Hop on the mobile web design bandwagon

You can likely count out National Hockey League employees as being on the list of Blackberry users, but Jim Balsillie’s vision for mobile connectivity still has millions on board. With that, comes more web surfing on tiny screens than ever before. Offering mobile design and optimization services might really take off in 2010. Is your content such that a widget or “app” might be useful for users? How about streaming video in mobile quality? Or even creating some marketing information on your site that would be easily readable using an iPhone in a board meeting.

As a web developer, cross-platform analysis should not just focus on the popular Windows and Mac web browsers but also look at the functionality of a web site on smart phones. Of course it’s up to you to decide how to best display your info. But if your web statistics show those iPod or iPhone referrals on the rise, chances are there’s an opportunity to take the next step with your web content.

And there you have it. Five New Year’s resolutions for the SEO. Now it’s up to you to see them through.

November 11, 2009

How To Control Your Listing Text in Google’s Search Results

Filed under: Copy writing — Tags: , , , — admin @ 7:04 pm

A Google Webmaster Help video from Matt Cutts released on Nov. 10, 2009 got me thinking how the listing text in Google’s search results can easily be overlooked by some webmasters in their SEO efforts.

SEO is all about extending the reach of your web site content to your target market using online search platforms. You can tell when this has been achieved, and to what degree, by using web analytics software to monitor referral and visitor data. But what that data won’t tell you is how your site appears to users in a SERP (Search Engine Results Page). Sure, you’re getting traffic but perhaps you’re missing out on a lot more because your listing text is weak. You wouldn’t take out a newspaper advertisement without looking at the final proof first. So don’t be in the dark over how your site appears to people who use Google.

Poor page titles, visible copy, and description meta data can result in a weak listing. Webmasters have a lot of control over what text is displayed in a SERP, but in the end, Google reserves the right to modify result snippets if it feels the original isn’t up to par.

It’s important to remember that this decision by Google is based on a highly refined algorithm and is ultimately for the benefit of people searching for your content. That said, I’m willing to bet most webmasters still prefer to retain control over how their web site is shown in Google.

By ensuring your on-page content is the best it can be, you’re greatly increasing the chances Google doesn’t step in and tweak your listing.

Let’s look at the different elements of an organic Google search result and how we can control what is shown.

Page Title

The large blue link at the top of the snippet. As Matt points out in his video, most people know Google can modify the description snippet in the listings but not everyone is aware that Google may also change the title. In this case, it is usually due to a shortcoming with your web page’s title attribute. If the title is missing, too long or irrelevant, Google may show something more on-topic to the search query made.

Here are some tips to ensure Google displays the best possible title text to a user:

  • Always ensure that page titles are unique and not just copied page to page across the site
  • The page title isn’t something you stuff with keywords. Yes, always include your most important key phrases but don’t offer a long list of everything your web site is about. It should be a concise headline that describes the content on the specific page – personally, I try to use no more than three different keywords or phrases.
  • Page titles over 60 characters in length are likely to get cut down and manipulated by Google. If the search term(s) appears in a lengthy title tag, it’s likely that a snippet of it will be used where the term appears.

Listing Description

Using the same logic as for the title, the description displayed in a SERP comes from the most relevant area of your web page. IE. The area of your text containing the word(s) used in the Google search query.

The listing snippet is typically generated from your visible copy on the page or the description meta tag. This is a good reason to optimize the description meta tag as part of your SEO campaign. While Google’s algorithm ignores it for purposes of determining rankings, it can still pull the tag’s content and display it to its users. A good description meta tag uses proper grammar and explains the page content in under two or three sentences. Remember, don’t stuff the description tag with a list of keywords. That isn’t helpful for users or the search engines.

If you write focused, quality on-page content for your target audience and create a helpful description tag, you should have your Google listing snippet covered.

Cache Version of the Page

Next to the green URL in your Google listing is usually a “Cached” link. Clicking this will display the version of your web page that was indexed by the Googlebot when it last crawled your site. Also included is the crawl date.

Why is this important? Well, if you’ve recently updated your page title or visible copy and the changes are not reflected in Google results, it probably means Google hasn’t returned to check your site’s content for updates.

Common reasons for this include few inbound links or existing inbound links of poor quality. If Google doesn’t crawl the pages that link to your site, it stands to reason they won’t visit your site frequently.

If you find your site isn’t getting crawled enough by Googlebot or other search engine robots, consider submitting your site to local business directories or swapping links with other good quality, relevant web sites. The benefits of inbound links also go much farther than just increasing crawl frequency – they will also play a significant part in how well your site ranks.

Now that we know the elements of a typical Google listing and the factors that determine what is shown, all that’s left is for you to monitor your site listing for various keyword searches and make changes when necessary.

Remember: a top Google ranking doesn’t mean anything unless people actually click on it. Have a look at your competitors’ listings in Google and see how yours compares – which one would you click on if you did a search for that topic? In my experience, there is often room for improvement when it comes to copy writing and content relevancy. In the end, your users and the search engines will like you more for it.

August 20, 2009

The Truth About Acquiring .edu Links

Filed under: link building — Tags: , , — admin @ 6:40 pm

In most markets, link building is a crucial element of an SEO campaign. If you have experience in this realm then you likely know how valuable a link from a .edu site is. You’ll also understand just how difficult they are to obtain.

If you’re not aware of the hoopla surrounding .edu links, they’re known by many as the holy grail of link building. The understanding is that in the very rare instance that an inbound link from a .edu page is acquired, the site’s link popularity will significantly rise. This boost to link popularity usually results in tangible increases in search engine rankings and traffic.

You would think that with the immense benefit to rankings a .edu incoming link generates, that everyone and their dog would be trying their hardest to grab them, right? The truth is that those who manage .edu web sites do not blindly hand out links to other sites with commercial interest. A university’s reputation is at stake, as well as the relevance of educational content contained on their web site. Because of that, most webmasters and SEOs don’t aggressively go after .edu links when other more accessible linking opportunities are available.

But what makes .edu’s so much better than other sites? To say that certain TLDs (top-level domains) carry more weight than others is false. There is nothing about the .edu TLD in itself that is superior to a .com, .info, or country TLD such as .co.uk, .ca, or .com.au. The key difference lies in the trust that search engines have for most university sites.

To register a .edu, you must be a post-secondary institution on the list of recognized schools by the U.S. Department of Education. Alternatively, registrations for .com’s are open to any individual with $10 to spend.

Furthermore, U.S. schools are not in the habit of exchanging and generating links en masse like the business world is. Those who manage .edu pages will not actively pursue inbound links. They usually only link to another site if it can provide exceptional information to students or is a significant resource related to their department. Information they will link to is mostly limited to studies, research data, and other academic facts or resources.

A school’s law or medical program, for instance, may get linked to from government web sites, international organizations, major media or other high profile sites. That is why .edu’s are so highly regarded by search engines: they don’t actively seek out links like sites in the business world do – their links are naturally generated out of interest from others and quite often those links are from high quality pages.

The quality of a site has nothing to do with .edu trailing the domain name – the quality lies in the content and trust factor the web site has achieved over time.

In short, if your main goal is to get results for a link building campaign, it’s probably not wise to waste your time attempting to coerce links out of .edu webmasters. Some will operate blogs (and a few even without the ‘nofollow’ attribute on links) and it may seem like a good opportunity to leave a comment with a link to your web site. But remember — links without the nofollow attribute may be temporary. If the blog administrator finds a lot of spam comments being made, he or she will apply the nofollow attribute to all outbound links, thus weakening the value of blog comments as part of an SEO scheme.

If you truly have valuable information, webmasters who run high quality sites will naturally want to link to you (.edu, .com, whatever). By all means, if you have content related to .edu web sites, give the webmaster a shout and suggest your site. But don’t waste your time attempting to make them a big part of your link building campaign.

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