In Mike Grehan's New Signals to Search Engines he highlights how personalization, social media, and universal search may help move search beyond text and links.
Mike also contended that ranking reports are dead. While clients should see the end effect of optimization in their analytics and sales data, ranking reports still have good value to professional SEOs. Below are a couple examples of why and how ranking reports are still important, even as Google crowds the organic search results with universal search stuff.
Track Your Growth
When you build a new site from scratch you get to see how effective your link building strategies are as the site's rankings improve. You have to get in the game before you compete...ranking improvements give you an idea of how your site's trust is growing even before you rank well enough to receive much stable traffic.
This early feedback data can be used to guide further investment in link building efforts, and prioritize which websites get the most effort and investment.
Show Clients Baseline Rankings & Growth
If you sell services to clients and they have a brand new site with limited traction then a ranking report shows baseline rankings and proof of growth, even before top rankings yield lots of traffic. This helps customers have confidence in their SEO provider, even if their SEO investment loses money before making it back.
Page 2/3 Rankings
If you rank on page 2 or 3 for some high value keywords you might not see much traffic from them. But if your keyword rankings let you know that you are close to the top you can consider working on link building and altering your site structure to improve the rankings of those pages.
Services like SEMRush also help give insights into such ranking improvement opportunities.
Algorithm Changes & Penalties
How Are Search Algorithms Shifting?
Is Google putting more weight on authority sites? How much does the domain name count (if at all)? Is anchor text becoming more important or less important? How aggressive should you be with anchor text?
When major algorithm updates happen, tracking a wide array of sites and keywords can help you hypothesize what might be gaining importance and what might be losing importance.
What Happened to My Google Traffic?
Sometimes sites get filtered out of the search results due to manual penalties, automated penalties, automated filters, algorithm changes, or getting hacked. Sometimes the issues are related to particular pages, particular folders, whole sites, or keywords closely related to (or containing) another word.
Seeing a traffic drop gives you some clues that something may be wrong, but one of the easiest ways to isolate the issue and further investigate is to look at ranking reports to see what keywords and what pages were affected...then you can start thinking about if it was a glitch, something you can fix, or something you can't.
Such lists should be taken with a grain of salt, but at free one can't complain about the price. As time passes free and good enough is going to force those selling tools and information to offer something that has a sustainable advantage over free.
At the same time...
the sea of information will become increasingly hard to navigate, increasing the value of filters (particularly those built around a shared perspective or bias)
hyped up salesmen will be able to build many business models out of selling such recycled information to the uninitiated, forcing others who sell information to add even more differentiators between themselves and the competition
The US (and global) economies are in sharp decline after a period of growth that was largely fueled by speculative (and fraudulent) loans that increased money supply way too quickly. While carnage is wide reaching offline, it is simply a phenomena that has not really touched our publishing business.
The Illusion of Safety
There is an illusion that if something is physical that it has a sense of permanence to it, but this year the US government has had to bail out banks, automakers, insurance companies, and credit cards. Residential real estate has dropped hard and commercial real estate is also in the hurt locker (if retail is off 10% in some areas then many businesses operating on a 5% margin will go bankrupt - leading to vacancies and lower prices).
Much of the residential real estate decline is simply due to excessive capacity and various flavors of mortgage fraud (appraisal fraud, loan application fraud, principal-agent problems, malfeasant regulation, etc.), but the commercial real estate slowdown is due to the residential slowdown, global economic slowdown, and the existence of better and cheaper alternatives - namely onlineretail.
Investing in Growth
The Tribune Company recently filed for bankruptcy and the New York Times is reporting dropping ad revenues. Amongst the carnage Amazon.com reported record numbers. In a lot of ways some of the offline decay is just a shift toward more efficient online business models.
I had breakfast last week with a person who has been in retailing for more than 30 years and has been operating at the highest levels of the industry. He said that he expects every category to be winnowed down to one dominant retailer with all the others going by the wayside. This too has the internet as an underlying cause. comScore says that online holiday shopping this year has been flat with the year before and I've seen reports that offline retail is down 6-10pcnt. The fact is that consumers have finally come to the realization that shopping online is easier, cheaper, and often a better experience. Physical retail will survive, but it will be a smaller industry in the next decade and those that do survive will need to give consumers a very strong rationale to get in the car and come to their store.
Not only is the web growing during the downturn, but much of the online growth is driven by marketing and search. SEO exist as the intersection of those two points, and SEOs that approach the topic from a holistic marketing standpoint have a significant advantage at building distribution and growing capital. Give me an average passionate player, add SEO, and I can help them rank #1 in most markets.
When you back out inflation and opportunity cost, professional investors are lucky to gain 5% a year. With smart market research and effective SEO implementation many businesses can outpace that by a factor of over 400! Being in SEO today would be like being in coal, oil, or railroads in years past...you help connect supply and demand.
Trimming Profit Margins
Outperforming the market by hundreds or thousands of percent presents an opportunity that will draw lots of competition - and one that will not last long if not evolved. Scraping raw data is getting easier. Why should people chose to work with you (and vote for you)?
If you get a #1 ranking which provides amazing profit margins it is best to look for ways to thicken out the site even if those strategies lower short-term profit margins. Search algorithms will change, and the thicker and more interactive your site is the more sustainable your rankings will be.
Additional expenses can be offset by refining conversion process to increase visitor value and lifetime customer value, and lower forward marketing costs as you leverage the additional earned exposure.
Another thing to consider is the use of advertising to build other quality signals. Awareness leads to conversion. And if you can get advertising to pay for itself and gain other signals of quality as a side effect of user interaction with your site then you will end out ahead in the long run. I love recycling dollars because it costs nothing, builds free credit card points, and builds up a website's online footprint in a Google friendly way.
Making Online Businesses More Sustainable than Offline Businesses
If much of your online revenues revolve around a thin SEO centric approach then it helps to create at least 1 or 2 aggressively branded sites that hedge against the risks algorithm shifts present. The net effect of building a brand is that you are not overly-reliant on any search engine or any physical market. If people talk about you and recommend you then you win. This site has members from dozens of countries all over the world, so even if the US Dollar collapsed we would still have a diverse income stream.
Once you are doing really well you can give back in a variety of ways - donate money to charities, donate services to charities, and/or give income-producing websites to family members. You can give away featured content and tools that help others knowing that in the end it will also come back to help build your business. You can also pour thousands of dollars into building non-profit sites that may also be able to pay you back in exposure, credibility, and link equity.
Recently one of our AdSense sites had a lot of poor ads on it that we filtered out, but it is hard to keep up with all the new ones. Some of them are so bad that you know they are junk just by looking at the URL.
Danny recently highlighted how Ask.com is becoming a big arbitrage play, but I am seeing lots of arbitrage ads from smaller advertisers as well...ones that would have been filtered out of Google a year or two ago (unbranded sites, cheesy universal subdomains, subdomains of subdomains, .info thin content sites, sites which act as a portal that link to domain lander pages that use a 0 for the o in the domain name, Overture feed sites, adsense sites with robotic content, etc etc etc) are now showing up for many Google searches. Google has begun running their own arbitrage ads for things like credit cards and car insurance. Some people have even noticed graphical ads selling people and sites distributing spyware.
To appreciate how bad this is here are a couple examples...
On one major keyword I saw all but one ad being from an unbranded thin arbitrage site.
On one search I clicked from Google into an arbitrage site that lists links to niche domains with domain holder pages. On those domains there were Overture advertiser links. I clicked one of those and ended up on a site that was a thin crappy AdSense arbitrage site. That AdSense ad I clicked on landed me on another domain lander page powered by Overture. That domain lander page had ads on it for the domain name I just came from...and then I fully appreciated the absurdity of it all!
I could make a video showing examples, but did not want to out people. I just find it lame that Google polices organic results so aggressively and then let their ad network devolve this far this fast. They were pretty strong 6 months ago.
I suspect that Google is trying to goose revenues for this quarter (or is trying to use the downturn to be aggressive with experimentation). I can't think of any other reasons why they would have done such a major retracement on their quality score algorithm and click arbitrage front. Essentially they are paying people to generate garbage AND eat up a lot of their revenue while providing zero value in the transactions.
Invesp referenced me on a top marketers list. Classic ego-bait that worked great. I got so many Twitter followers this past week that I thought someone released a Twitter spam software program or something...and then I remembered the top 100 marketers list and knew it went well. ;) It was popular enough that even follow-uppost about it got lots of exposure. If you don't understand egobait, then this is a great resource to study and emulate. People love awards and anything that strokes their ego or gives them a sense of purpose or sense of community and belonging.
Simplicity as a marketing strategy...it works! I am trying to create a few new features on this site (and off it) that should support simplicity and make SEO more accessible to the average webmaster.
One experiment Digg is working on, says one source close to the company, is a self service advertising product that will be somewhat similar to Google Adwords, but with a twist. The product would insert advertisements into the Digg news stream (presumably clearly marked). Where those ads end up, and how much an advertiser pays per click, would be based on user feedback.
So users would have the ability to vote on advertisements in the same way they vote on stories. The better ads, as determined by Digg users, will get more prominent placement and a lower cost-per-click.
That takes public relations and social media to the next level...allowing Digg to make revenue from their attention stream, and allowing advertisers to promote content that is well aligned with user interest...rather than having advertisers set up fake accounts to do guerilla marketing.
Alan Rimm-Kaufman explains click volume vs profitability "to generate more total profit dollars by moving higher on the page, clicks have to rise faster than per-click profit falls." He also shared this 2004 Atlas image on Google click potential by rank:
Frank Watson highlights a start up gone bankrupt due to a botched deal with Google, and presumes that the Google/Yahoo! search deal was simply to stop Microsoft's advances in the search space. Most market makers actively manipulate the markets they manage...doing so is too profitable to ignore.
One of the biggest problems with this site from a business model perspective is how much free content (including tools) that we give away...as the site was started out of passion with intent to help people, rather than to maximize short term revenues. That lead to me helping people for free way more than I should have, and not earning as much as I could have from paying customers (because I spent too much time helping people who had no intent of becoming customers). Shifting the business model to charging a recurring fee fixed part of that problem...using economics to add a layer to filter out real customers from freeloaders.
Another large problem is that I have asked forum members not to mention specific forum threads without getting permission from other members who contributed this to the thread. People love the forums and leave unsolicited testimonials virtually every day, but rarely do people write publicly about the forums due that restriction.
Many top SEO professionals no longer spend time on forums. That is not the case with the SEO book community forum. The caliber and quantity of top seo experts who are ready to answer any question sets the forum apart. Let alone the personal effort Aaron invests ensuring that no question goes unanswered.
But such public mentions are rare due to the above restriction.
The combination of limited public discussion of the paid content with so much discussion of the freebies creates a website that is easy to mention to attract pageviews, but does not convert anywhere near as well as it should because the conversion process is nowhere near as refined as it could be.
This site gets a ton of traffic...but we have enough to where it makes sense to put more effort into sales.
Building the Perception of Value
It is hard for people to accurately value information they do not have access to...which is why many hyped up marketers have systems built around duping newbies with fake testimonials, affiliate schemes, and "launches" promoted through email list spamming. (Everyone is talking about it, so it MUST be good!)
I hate asking people for money, but if I simply do not then this site will only perform at a fraction of its full potential. My wife is a much more aggressive sales person than I am (she did high tech marketing in the past and was responsible for landing a huge deal that ended up getting her company acquired by their biggest competitor for big money). She is always pushing me to be more aggressive. I have been naively reluctant on some fronts, but am slowly coming around bit by bit. ;)
Value systems are built through marketing and publicity. This site makes way more than what it needs to for me to consider it successful, but there is a lot of money left on the table. I bet the upside potential from conversion improvements is at least 200%...maybe way more.
How Much Are Your Internal Search Results Worth?
If a site has conversion issues, the easiest way to fix them is to break down the conversion process into steps and processes. I thought I would take a step in that direction by advertising our community forums and training program on our internal search results.
Generally there is no better place to advertise than on your own site.
Each day hundreds of people use our public facing site search, and they have done over 100,000 searches in the past year or so. My average cost per click on Google's search results is over $1 per click, and yet I have never advertised on my own search results. Think about that number...over 100,000 times people have found the brand then done a specific search on this site with 0 of them seeing an advertisement. As a marketer that is an embarrassing failure.
Advertising on Your Internal Site Search Results
Here is what I did to fix the above issue...
Signed up for the Google custom search engine to allow us to include their technology into the site. Labeled and feature content from key portions of the site to promote them within those search results.
Created a custom CSS file for the search page, which allowed me to make the search results skinnier and the related advertising column wider (when compared to other pages on the site).
Included mini-logos, search boxes, and testimonials from the training section and user forums on the search page.
Used a PHP page such that I could pull the search variable from the URL string and add the query in the page content (in various places - including headings and search boxes).
Here is how to pull a variable from the URL string
Was the above worth the effort? I am not certain yet, but I have to imagine so. If it helps convert 1 person a day that is worth over $100,000 a year for the one hour of effort it took to implement. There are aesthetic improvements that can still be made, but at least now that page has potential to build revenue rather than just being a sunk cost.
As we approach the end of the year, and people start to wind down, it might be a good time to take stock of our web strategy beyond SEO. How can we make more of that traffic we're already getting?
Here are some things you can do to optimize your sites credibility.
1. Reduce Wait Time
Streamline your visitors experience.
We all know server response time is important, but so is any wait time you impose on the user. Do you make visitors fill out forms? Do your competitors? If you do, but your competitors don't, you might find your visitors go elsewhere.
Are your processes more cumbersome than they need to be? Is it difficult for a visitor to find things on your site? Could you organize your structure in a better way? Can you think of sites that were a pleasure to use? Compare these sites with your own.
Brand is the entire experience, from the moment someone sees your listing in the search engine, until the time they recall your site from memory a few weeks later. If you had one message you wanted to leave your visitors with, what would it be? Do all your pages reinforce this message? Does your design? Your copy? Your layout? Look at ways in which you can empathize with people and the problems they are having. People need to believe you feel and understand their problems in order to read and take your advice.
In the good old days, brand wasn't much of a consideration in SEO. Relevance to the keyword query was all that mattered. However, Google has pretty much solved the relevance problem.
These days, Google wants to find the one right answer.
Google CEO Eric Schmidt said:
"Brands are the solution, not the problem... Brands are how you sort out the cesspool."
Google's challenge is to weed out false information. Schmidt sees brands as a way to do this.
Brand is going to become increasingly important in terms of rank. What do brands have that unbranded sites do not have?
For starters, brand names are typed into search boxes as a keyword term in their own right. Brand names are readily associated with a product or service. When Aaron started SEOBook.com, nobody searched on "SEO Book". Now, plenty of people do, and Aaron "owns" that keyword term in organic search.
Think about ways you can own a keyword term so the association between it and your brand becomes synonymous.
Are there opportunities to edit your copy writing in order to make the purpose of your site clearer? Are the benefits you provide crystal clear? Sometimes, when we spend a lot of our time focusing on search engines and incorporating keyword terms, we can lose sight of the people who actually read the copy.
On-page SEO and writing for search engines has never been less important. It's mostly about links and, going forward, the level of visitor engagement.
For each page on your site, ask yourself what you want the visitor to do next. Does your copy make this next action clear? Provide external citations and recommendations from third parties.
Can you reduce complexity and clutter? It's not that your visitors are stupid, it's that people won't invest time learning your interface unless there is clear benefit in doing so.
What is the message conveyed by your site? Does you design support that message? If your site is difficult to use, what does that say to your visitor? People quickly evaluate a site by visual design alone. Your visual design should match the sites purpose.
One of the reasons social sites are popular because information is linked to a personality. The same goes for blogs. People like to get a sense of the people who produced the information.
It helps build trust.
Do you include signals of human involvement? It can be as subtle as the way your write e.g personal viewpoint, or as overt as using a photo. People like to see contact details, personal details and other markers of the human presence. Highlight your expertise. Update your content often.
Everyone says that the secret to achieving great search rankings is to produce great content. People link to great content. So you sit down to write some great content.
....but the screen remains blank.....
.....the cursor blinks.....
Typing is easy. Rewriting news is easy. But putting together a unique killer post that attracts attention - that's difficult!
How do you get past writers block? How do you give your ideas form? How do write with a unique voice so your articles stand out from the crowd?
Here are a few ideas.
1. Write Often
There is only one way to learn how to write well and that is to write often.
People often talk about the traffic benefits of writing a blog, but they often overlook the personal benefits. A blog gives you the opportunity to write for an audience of one. Yourself. A blog gives you the opportunity to practice the craft of writing.
Start a blog on a topic you're interested in, and set a goal of writing one post a day for the next three months. At the end of three months, you'll be a lot better writer than when you started.
2. Write Like Crazy
The obvious way of getting around the blank page problem is to simply start writing.
Write as fast as you can, even if it's gibberish. Get your half formed thoughts down on the page. Write questions. Then write the answers to those questions. Make lists. Once you start, don't stop writing for five minutes. You aim is to shut off your internal editor, because your internal editor isn't the guy who gets writing onto the page.
At the end of five minutes, you don't have a blank page anymore.
You can then flesh out the good ideas, eliminate the bad ideas, and re-order your content. This is much easier than trying to write (invent) and edit (analyze) at the same time.
3. Use Software
The Google Toolbar and many content management systems have spell checkers built into them.
Paid software programs like StyleWriter take it to the next level - offering tips on tense usage/unity (which is discussed further in #6).
Using keyword research tools and looking at other related content (like Wikipedia pages and for Dummies books) can help you figure out how to best structure your content, and help you find some important keyword modifiers to add to your copy.
4. Keep It Simple
Ever read an insurance brochure? Or a police incident report? They are cluttered with unnecessary verbiage, because the writer uses ten words when one will do.
"The feather covered creature is currently proceeding in a westerly direction ambulating at a regular pace to the arforementioned side of the concourse"
The chicken crossed the road, in other words.
Good writing conveys meaning. Great writing does the same, but uses fewer words.
There's a great Mark Twain quote about simplicity: "I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead".
Anyone can be verbose.
Great writing is also about about rewriting. It's about honing down to the essentials. Use short words. Use short sentences. Use active verbs.
5. The Hook
If you've read this far, you've already passed the most important sentence in this article.
The most important sentence is the first sentence. If you don't hook people in the first sentence, then they won't read the second. The second most important sentence is the second sentence. That sentence gets people to the third sentence. And so on.
How long does the hook need to be?
Sometimes, it can be one sentence. Sometimes a paragraph. Sometimes the entire first page. Entice the reader. Make the first sentence a bit mysterious. Invoke an emotion. Appeal to their curiosity. Pose a question. Give the reader a concrete reason to keep reading. What benefit is there to the reader in reading through to the end?
6. Maintain Unity
Lack of unity can confuse readers. Decide on one unity, and stick to it.
For example, you might choose to write in the past tense. "We went to the beach last week". Or you might choose to wrote in the present. "I'm sitting in the car looking out over the bay". But don't mix the two tenses.
The type of unity you use will depend on the type of article you're writing. You've probably seen those long sales letters that convey a personal story about how the writer overcame some problem, and you can too if you buy their e-book? Those sales letters wouldn't work nearly as well if the writer switches mode, from the personal to the impersonal, half way through.
7. The Audience
In "On Writing Well", William Zinsser advises:
"....a question will occur to you: "Who am I writing for?" It's a fundamental question, and it has a fundamental answer: You are writing for yourself. Don't try to visualize the great mass audience. There is no such audience. Every reader is a different person".
This is not to say that you shouldn't consider the audience. In terms of the craft of writing, you need to provide structure and be interesting enough so people keep reading. But don't worry about whether your readers agree with you, or like what you say, or like how you're saying it.
Each reader is an individual, and they're going to respond to different things. Don't compromise your writing for the imagined, singular "audience".
8. Your Written Voice
Only you sound like you. No one writes like you. That is your in-built, unique point of difference.
One way to find your voice is to read your writing aloud. What bits sound wrong? What bits sound pretentious or condescending? What bits just don't sound like you. Eliminate them. Readers want to "hear" a distinctive voice that rings true.
A lot of blogs are starting to sound like mainstream media reporting, and that is a shame. The writers have forgotten what made blogs an attractive alternative in the first place - the use of the personalized voice.
9. Make One Point
Your article should have one overall point. Not two points, or five points, but one point. What do you want to convince people of? What is the one thing you want them to take away?
You don't need to have the last word on a given topic. It's not possible. You've probably seen examples of link bait entitled "The Ultimate Guide To...."
But they never are the ultimate. It isn't possible.
Instead, decide on the one point you want people to take away, and write towards that point. Once you've made that point, stop writing.
The point of this article is to encourage people to get writing :)
They have big advertising budgets. They have brand awareness. Every time they twitch, some business journalist will be writing up a story.
But what if you operate a small business? You have a limited budget, you've got a pile of other things that need doing, and very little time to devote to any one aspect of your marketing strategy. How do you build links without breaking the bank?
Let's take a look at how the small business can generate quality links, and do so without a great deal of time and money.
1. Use Your Agility
The small business has one huge advantage over the big business when it comes to SEO: agility.
The small business, on the other hand, can move very quickly.
Chances are, there are only one or two people making decisions, so use this to your advantage. Are there aspects of your industry where speed is essential? Can you react to fast breaking news before the big guys can? Can you spot fast emerging consumer trends, and publish information on them before anyone else does? To help you monitor breaking news and trends in your area of interest, sign up to trend sites, such as Google Trends, and monitor news feeds using Google Alerts.
Big business finds it very difficult to be controversial, yet controversy can be a great marketing tool. The Sex Pistols built a career, not by copying the establishment, but by butting heads with it. Everyone knows about "Will it blend?". That viral campaign was edgy, risky and out-there. If Blendtech hadn't taken that risk, they wouldn't have been worth remarking on. A blender is not a new invention, and there are a lot of big competitors making blenders, but Blentech made their name by being a bit wild and crazy.
Are there opportunities for you to go against the grain and stand out? If you do, you'll be link worthy. Can you borrow controversial ideas form other market sectors and apply them to your own?
2. Publishing Strategy
It is becoming increasingly difficult to get people to voluntarily link to purely commercial sites.
Consider adopting a publishing strategy that has a non-commercial angle. If need be, create a second site. It is much easier to get links for sites that have utility beyond selling a product or service. Create glossaries, unbiased buyer information, review sites, blogs, wikis, or industry news sites. Once the site has built up some link equity, and is ranking well, you can add your own advertising, or link it to your commercial site.
Try to create niche information sites that cover areas no one else is covering. Think small. If you're one of the few sources for a particular type of information, you stand to get more links than sites that compete in saturated areas. Try not to compete directly with the bigger operators. Redefine your niche until you can make your offering unique.
Take a step back from your site. Is it remarkable? Would you link to it? Be honest. Think about what it takes for you to link out. Why would someone link to you? Can you make the people linking to you look good? Consider writing favorable reviews about indirect competitors. Does your site provide genuine utility when compared to your competitors? Think about what problems you can solve for people that no-one else is solving. PlentyOfFish.com made millions by providing a free dating service when every other dating site was using a paid subscriber model. Provide information that solves a problem.
Get listed in relevant directories, local business organizations, and industry verticals. To find these sites, search on industry name + add url
Issue press releases whenever you have relevant information to share. Make a list of the top sites in your industry sector, and try to get a link from them. Can you offer to do something for them, like writing an article, in return for a link? Look at who links to your competitors. Use tools, such as Yahoo Site Explorer, to find these links
Make a list of those sites and see what your competitors did to get these links. Copy what they did. Put most of your efforts into getting quality links, rather than getting low quantity junk. It's surprising how few links you need in order to rank well, especially in niche areas.
4. Give Something Valuable Away
Web designers often give away templates. They create a template, and place their link in the footer.
Think about what you can create and give away. Compare the cost of developing these widgets and freebies with the cost of buying or chasing links. If you're providing something genuinely valuable for nothing, people are certain to remark on it, especially if your competitors charge for the same thing. You can also submit your offering to sites that feature freebies, such as TheFreeSite.com. While every other guy is "giving" the opportunity for a link trade - which isn't of much value - you're going one step further.
Offer coupons. Simply by offering coupons, you can get included in coupon and bargain hunting sites.
5. Local News Interest
Local newspapers and news sites are always on the lookout for local content. Unlike major newspapers, the barrier to entry is often low, but the link equity can be just as valuable.
Is there a local aspect to your business? Are there ways you can get involved in the community that would lead to reporters writing a story about you? Issue press releases with a local angle, and try and build up a relationship with local reporters. Offer to be a spokesperson for your topic of interest if they have future stories for which they need an expert opinion.
6. Sponsor Charities
Charity sites are often amenable to linking out to those who support them. The cost of the donation might be nothing compared to the value of a lifetime link from a well-placed charities.
Offer to do work of genuine value for the charity. Could you help them market their website? Design a new website for them? Can you write an article for them, or find a way of featuring in their news stories? These links are pure gold,and because it takes some effort, it is difficult for your lazy competitors to follow.
Search on terms such as donor, sponsors, and donations to find these sites.
7. Request A Link In All Communications
Whenever you mail someone, include a link request in the footer. The communication could be an order confirmation, an email newsletter, or an invoice. Here's an example on SEOmoz.
Highlight featured content in your email footer. Update the links in your email footer regularly, so people are more likely to look at them. Think of your communications as a call to action. How can you get people to engage further with you?
Start a Twitter account and post your articles. Do the same with Facebook and any other social media channels you use.
Go where your audience are.
It's not just about getting links that pass PR. It's about creating meaningful relationships. If your potential audience hangs out on forums, then post to those forums. Become a trusted member and advisor. People link to SEOBook.com not just because of the great information ;) but because of the quality of the relationship has been established in the past.
This approach will serve you well for the future. Google will be placing more and more emphasis on engagement metrics in order to determine rank. Why?
The problem Google was created to solve - finding relevant information - is morphing into a problem of locating quality information. There might be a lot of crawlable information on a given topic, so finding it isn't an issue any more. Finding the information people find most useful is the new challenge.
How people engage with your site is going to become increasingly important.Look to establish meaningful relationships, wherever possible.
There is no universal right or wrong to the overall SEO process and strategy. There are many ways to get to the end destination of ranking. This flowchart aims to show some of the stages new sites go through, and to help visualize the process of ranking.
Falko Luedtke has been a member of our online training program and community forums since the day we opened up nearly a year ago. He has done in house SEO for some fortune 500 clients and recently branched out to start his own consultancy. As a Search Engine Strategies media partner I figured it would be more beneficial to many readers of the blog to see what Falko thought of going to his first SEO related conference, rather than hearing my take on it. Without further ado, here is his review...
My First SEO Conference
My first SES, way to cold and bad coffee but the greatest working week I ever had.
6 days in Chicago, the first time for me being in the windy city, the first time that I went to a big SEO conference, the first time that I freeze my butt off anywhere I go.
I love to go to conversions and conferences, when I was younger I spend almost every second weekend on the road to attended eSport events. So even so it was my first time to go to a SES it was nothing new for me.
Overall I need to say that I enjoyed the week in Chicago a lot and I can’t wait to go to the next conference. Everybody interested in SEO should at least attend to one in his life. It is the second best way to meet other SEO experts and exchange knowledge with them, best way is signing up for the SEO Book Community. I don’t know who came up with the idea to put the December SES to Chicago but I guess it is the same person who decided to put it into the Chicago Hilton Hotel. I talked to so many people on this conference and everybody was saying the same 5 things:
I’m freezing my B’s off.
Godverdomme my phone is not working.
Does anybody have a steady internet connection? I don’t.
Where is the coffee? No I’m not talking about that weird black water over there.
The music is so loud I can’t hear what you say. What did you say?
When I arrived on Sunday evening from Vancouver I already had meet one other SEO and as soon we said down in the shuttle bus we realized we are not alone. 7 out 10 people in the shuttle where on their way to the conference. I thought, good start as more people around as more possibilities to talk. After settling down in my room and get myself organized I went to Kitty O'Sheas in the Hilton. I didn’t stay in the Hilton by the way, I said right next door in the Essex Inn, paid a third of the price and had less to complain about my room than anybody else I meet on the conference. Kitty is an Irish bar not a bad one but they really need to learn to turn down the music. I meet more people in the first night then I could have expected. And at 5 am I went happily to bed thinking about what to attend to on Monday.
Monday morning the black water that the Hilton called Coffee didn’t really help, the breakfast was average low and way to overpriced so I could really enjoy me being hang over on this morning :) That didn’t stop me to go to the panels. I could spend a 100 blog posts talking about the panels and all the great things that I learned but I don’t want to make this post to long. I think there are some panels I would like to urge you to try to get your hands on the presentations, if you can.
Orion Panel: The State of Integration – Yes we are SEO’s, yes we are great but yes there are others. Use traditional marketing to funnel your branding efforts into high converting search. Instead of fighting your traditional marketing colleges work with them.
Search & Packaged Goods Moderated by Mark Jackson – One of the best panels I attended on the conference. You could have really learnt something about were large consumer-packaged-goods companies work and think. More and more Shopper Moms are going online to research their products online or looking for coupons. Also how a crisis in a industry can a good way to created brand trust. I just say large number of searches, big marketing budgets but old companies with no sense for new technology. Huge opportunities for every marketer who stops and thinks for a moment about it.
Why Does Search get all the Credit? – Pretty simple, search converts better and is much easier to click then to walk somewhere. But how do you get people to search for your brand terms? There is a life beyond the internet and we all living in it.
Take away from the first day was clearly, look outside the search box, with the prices for traditional marketing down there are huge opportunities to drive more searches. Don’t forget to optimize your site for conversions first :) A very good book to read about this topic is “Landing Page Optimization” from Tim Ash.
Tuesday morning the breakfast was not much better in the Hilton and coffee in the press area was the same as the day before. I spend quite a bit of time at the Expo and talk to a lot of Marketers and Product Managers. Some of the products are just amazing. Everybody who works with content should take a look at the new version of WordVision, very cool.
The panel for Tuesday that I thought was most interesting, since most people don’t get it right, was Duplicate Content & Multiple Site Issues moderated by Eric Enge. Even so I didn’t agree with all the presentation the insides that Sharad Verma from Y! Search provided were gold worth. Hint different language can’t be duplicated content. Use Aarons Duplicated Content Checker to make sure you don’t have any problems with it on your site.
The evening was even better then the day before. A little tip for you, just stick around till the Gurus are drunk and then ask all your questions you will get the best answers.
This time I left the Breakfast out in Hilton, just not worth it. For this day I would like you to look at Social Media Optimization as a panel. Even so Web 2.0 was yesterday and we are not quite at Web 3.0 yet Social Media is a constant in the internet that you can’t forget about anymore if you want to run a successful online business. A lot of old school companies are still hesitant to invest in such a market but they could find solutions for their biggest problems here. Interacting with a community can created not only brand awareness but it can also help you to created new content for your company. If you have a great product and created value for your clients it will help your online efforts even more. Pauline Ores at IBM mention that if they get a bad feedback in the community it takes sometimes too long for them to react on it but the community on its own does it instantly. And often more human then IBM could.
At this point I need to thank Mike Grehan and all the great people for the great dinner this evening. And after talking to Mike about his new book I can’t wait to get my hands on it. I hope after reading the book people stop riding the “Rank matters most” trip.
Since I went to bed at 6.30 am on Thursday morning it took me a bit longer to come back on track. At least I can say I enjoyed the most awesome Jazz club in Chicago and I now know what company I would invest money in if I would have any :) You want to know? Send me a mail.
There are two panels I want to mention for this day, first is “How to speak Geek: Working Collaboratively with your IT department to get stuff done” Chris Boggs is a great guy and he is so right, we are living in the 21th century, nerds rule the world and they will do that more and more, Management language does not help you anymore. The world changed people want to cut the BS and come to the point. So start speaking Geek it will help you at work, with your friends and maybe even you can finally connect to your kids again.
The highlight of the conference was “Black Hat, Whit Hat & the Best kept secrets to Search” With Todd Friesen, Eric Enge, Doug Heil and David Naylor in the panel. Some people expected that somebody would start a bar fight but David Naylor just stole the show. If somebody did a video of the D..k head parody please send me the link over. We didn’t have the changes to see a bar fight but it was almost an hour long discussion about all the nice things what you can do to make yourself disappear in the search results.
Not only was this the funniest panel of the conference, but it also had a ton of information in it like how Google will not allow tons of results in there SERP that are leading all to the same upstream end point. You can mask a lot of things but you can’t mask the upstream end point. If all the search results send their traffic to the same end point Google will eliminate the ranking of your affiliates to created more diversity in their results. With creating multiple end points for your affiliates you are able to create this diversity.
But I need to repeat the warning from Todd and Doug from last night, be aware of the risks and only do things that are relevant. To quote David Naylor on this "If a user clicks on a link that says 'Buy Viagra', they're going to land on a page that's selling Viagra." If the user clicks on ‘Buy Viagra’ and lands on the page of Al Gore the user is properly not very happy. With staying relevant you can’t do much wrong. I really hope somebody did a video of this panel. If not too bad you were not here.
Before I bore you guys to death, I guess I already did here are some recommendations if you ever plan to attend a SEO conference.
If you come for just one day, save the money for the conference get a Expo only ticked, take the money that you saved and go to the bar.
Look for the Geek with the most people around him and by him drinks till he can’t stand anymore. You learn more in the bar and with being social then you could ever learn from the panels.
To summarise the conference, it was a great week, thank you so much for the opportunity Aaron. I had so much fun and even so that I would say SES should move this event ether to a different city for December or to a different hotel all the complains are gone as soon you get in the Bar and be social. I can’t wait to attend the next conference even if it is in the cold again, the information and knowledge you gain in one night is worth a lot more than the cost of coming to the conference. I almost wish that the conference would have not ended but my lever hurts, I’m tiered and I had the most fun week working ever. I hope to see you around on the next events maybe the SEO Community conference?
In time web users may become blind of most text ads the same way they became banner blind. And then publishers will have to fight harder to make a living. Free buys distribution, but it doesn't put food on the table. Our other sites (which take much less time and effort than this site) earn way more money. If this site didn't have a revenue engine on it, do you think I would have worked 70 hours a week on it for over 5 years? I don't.
My point is not that ad networks are bad, but if bloggers and independent webmasters want to make a living online we are going to need to get better at mixing ads and editorial...and one of the lowest risk and highest value ways to do that is to promote the things we really believe in - either create your own product or promote affiliate offers for products that save you time and money.
Don’t get sucked into the hype. It isn’t real. I was there and I walked out after 40 minutes because the material was very basic. I even talked to many people (other solid CPA marketers) who stayed for the entire presentation and they said there wasn’t anything new, it was all recycled material from past systems.
People promoting hyped up junk should be rightfully flamed, but we shouldn't consider it a crime to share good relevant offers. What would be a crime is if many of the best sites went offline because they didn't pay for themselves.
Chrome recently came out of beta, so Google can begin buying marketshare from OEMs. With the product only a few months removed from its announcement they are adding advertising to it, as highlighted by Danny Sullivan:
If Google can buy significant browser marketshare then such ad positions might add a lot of curiosity clicks for the top ranked advertiser, lower the ROI for the top advertiser.
If this gains traction most brand advertisers should not bid on their brand (unless perhaps they do so using an embedded match - which allows them to block advertising on the exact match but show up for other brand searches). Bidding on your brand's exact match and appearing in such ad positions for brand related search queries would be paying Google for adding zero value to the process.
Remember seeing all those ads about making easy money with AdSense? Pretty soon those hucksters will be displaying ads on how to make easy money on YouTube, based in part on this NYT article about how a couple YouTube video creators are making $20,000 a month. As Cory Williams said "I didn’t start it to make money, but what a lovely surprise."
When evaluating such "opportunities" one must remember that there are mathematical outliers on every large social network. Generally it is a fools game to chase such a position, because many who are at the top accidentally ended up in the position (see above quote), and your odds of being 1 in 1,000,000 are precisely 1 in 1,000,000.
Many more people chasing that "opportunity" will only pollute the medium and force their relevancy algorithms to show less diversity, making it even harder to get noticed in a noisy market. Google encourages cut throat competition to create diversity, and then filters out the bottom 95% to 99% to maintain quality. Pet rocks may be fun (for a while), but nobody wants to be a pet rock ;)
The NYT article mentions that one of the two people they profiled openly admitted to using product placement in his videos to generate half of his income. Google believes that buying/renting links that get your site placed well in the search results is evil, but it also believes that selling links by the click and unmarked product placements in videos are fine business strategies.
As both an SEO and a Google shareholder, I have a love hate relationship with the company. More recently I have been feeling love when buying up shares of their stock, especially seeing how they are still buying marketshare while competitors are downsizing.
Google paid click volume was also up, year over year, in categories like Department Stores (39%), Books & Magazines (28%), Comparison shopping (25%) and Sports & Fitness (24%). Even categories like Apparel (9%) and Home Furnishings (14%) were up.
Google is buying marketshare for their browser, which is soon to leave beta (so Google can start doing bundling deals). I recently saw this ad on the New York Times
How many more Chrome ads will we see across the AdSense network in the coming months, especially when considering that the Google brand is still cherished AND most brand ad rates have dropped sharply over the past couple months.
And some Google computers have the OS stripped off their user agent string, leading to some speculation that they might be working on creating an operating system or a more advanced infrastructure to build network applications on. The also released their native client, aiming to allow web browsers to interact with client computer resources.
It is unacceptable that the United States ranks 15th in the world in broadband adoption,” Mr. Obama said. “Here, in the country that invented the Internet, every child should have the chance to get online.
But many of the leading media companies may not be around to see that growth.
one day cosmetics companies will perhaps start beefing up their own Web sites — with makeup videos and click-to-buy options — just as kraftfoods.com has done with its hugely trafficked recipe site and walmart.com has done with its popular blogs by mothers. When advertisers become content providers, magazines lose ads and finally drop off newsstands.
That currency is the hyperlink, a pointer to somewhere on the internet that holds some information that someone else might find useful. Like any currency, it can be debased, and lose its value. You've heard of the dollar/yen/pound/euro exchange rate, of course (and watched in amazement as they gyrate, and yet the price of American hardware and software never alters from a $1 = £1 translation). But in the link economy, when everyone's passing around links, every person is their own central bank, determining the value of their own currency.
In an attempt to increase revenues some media sites (like CNN Money) are blending ads so aggressively that they look editorial. To me this ad looks more like editorial than an advertisement.
Many of the mainstream media sites will need to become much more like eHow.com, Mahalo.com, and About.com if they want to weather the storm...use the brand to attract readers, but have a lot of cheap backfill content monetized by affiliate ads and contextual ads to subsidize the editorial that builds the brand.
Recent Media Successes
Not all media based business models are in the hurt locker.
As many traditional media companies head toward bankruptcy they will have their staffs cut, making it easier to influence them through public relations.
Andy Hagans explained how they grew Tip'd by hiring a well known star to run the brand, partnering with leading independent editorial sites, and pushing most of the value out to the editorially featured sites. As a result of those actions it looks like Kiplinger's might syndicate the Tip'd widget, which will offer Andy's site a lot of great brand exposure. Start small and keep building momentum...using each point of growth and each partnership as validation to reach the next level.
Years ago JupiterMedia owned Search Engine Watch and Search Engine Strategies, but sold them off (along with ClickZ) for $43 million to raise funds to binge on buying stock image companies. Why? According to Alan Meckler, JupiterMedia's CEO:
Why the sale? The simple reason is that Jupitermedia has evolved from being a media company with images into an Image company with media. A good part of the evolution came from the acquisition of 7 image companies since June 2003. Over a 25 month period we have spent close to $200 million making the above referenced acquisitions along with dozens of photo library collections. Most of these deals were done with cash. The cash came from our treasury and from bank borrowings. We plan to make more acquisitions and we plan to continue using cash. So how do we get more cash? Simple, we either go to the public market and offer our stock for cash or we sell assets such as the Search Engine trade shows and ClickZ network in order to raise more funds for acquisitions.
Recently I would have been prone to go to the public market and sell equity to raise cash. But even with our stock closing price yesterday of $22.80, I think Jupitermedia was undervalued based on what I believe the company will be worth over the coming years. So I chose asset sales and additional borrowing based on the fact that I think Jupitermedia should be more valuable tomorrow.
Will they start selling themselves off in chunks? Will a private equity investor try to take them private? Or will they go to $0?
* As a disclaimer, I bought a few thousand shares recently...though it was a bet more than an investment with conviction.
A couple years ago I helped a friend set up a website, and tried to teach them SEO, but they never really took it to heart. Their page titles are not that descriptive, and their writing typically aims to be clever rather than direct. They have published just over 100 pages of content. I built a few links for them to help get them going, but their site has failed to achieve a critical mass. Over the last year their traffic has been precisely flat with about 20 unique visitors a day. It is hard to monetize a traffic stream that small.
About 2 months ago another friend set up a website in the exact same vertical. They published a small website and got it a few links to get the age clock going. About 2 weeks ago they expanded the site out to about 70 pages, which have since been indexed by Google. Rather than writing winding and non-descriptive content, each article on this site is on target and direct.
If anything the link profile for this site is inferior to the link profile for the older site, but this site is already getting 50 unique visitors per day. Many of these visitors come from page 2 of the search results, in international versions of Google, and/or for misspelled queries that this site ranks for (though the site does not have misspelled content on it). These rankings can be seen as signs of progress, and hint to future rankings the site will have for more competitive keywords.
The audience is still too small to monetize, but as this site ages and gains search engine trust, it will likely develop into a site with ~2,000 unique visitors a day.
One site was mapped out against the search traffic, has targeted descriptive page titles, and uses well structured categories. The other does not. And inside of a year the site that employs SEO will out-perform the other site 100 to 1. With similar backlinks, similar quantity and quality of content, similar domain names, and similar site designs the sites have 2 different outcomes. One is at best a hobby, whereas the other can (and will) grow to become a flourishing business.
Give me an average market participant who has a passion for a topic and I can help them dominate the search results. Whereas the person that knows 10x as much but ignores SEO advice will get stuck in the mud, failing to build a critical mass, not getting the exposure their knowledge and content deserve.
In a previous article, Baking SEO Into The Workflow, we took a look at the problems faced by in-house SEOs. Most of those problems occur because SEO forces a change in work process. Change - any change - is often met with resistance.
We received a lot of great feedback on that post, so we thought we'd delve a little deeper into this topic.
"Any significant transformation creates “people issues.” New leaders will be asked to step up, jobs will be changed, new skills and capabilities must be developed, and employees will be uncertain and resistant. Dealing with these issues on a reactive, case-by-case basis puts speed, morale, and results at risk. A formal approach for managing change — beginning with the leadership team and then engaging key stakeholders and leaders — should be developed early, and adapted often as change moves through the organization. This demands as much data collection and analysis, planning, and implementation discipline as does a redesign of strategy, systems, or processes.".
Let's take these ideas and apply them to the world of professional SEO.
Start at the top.
Management buy in is also the most crucial element. Without their support, it's unlikely you'll get anything else done at the lower levels. That's why change processes start at the top. So, how specifically does one approach getting management on-side?
First, do a complete audit of the existing website and web strategy, and make a list of the problem areas that need changing. Order this list in terms of importance. i.e. crucial changes, nice to have, phase one, phase two, etc. Also make a note of how easy, or how difficult, each item is to implement. Think of it as a proposal, which is really what it is. This type of analysis will show that you're serious, organized and thorough.
Management are going to be looking for you to deliver more benefit than it costs to provide that benefit. If you can show you'll achieve this, you're half way there.
Use factors such as competitive advantage and disadvantage. Show them where their competitors - specifically their SEO savvy competitors - rank. Estimate the level of search engine traffic their competitors receive.
Create value propositions. Try to get management to place a value on each visitor. What is the opportunity to get in-front of a customer worth to them? How much does it cost to get that same attention via existing channels, such as direct marketing, print, radio or television advertising? Compare this with the cost of implementing your strategy. Show them how they can both save money, and get more return.
Managers also want to get some idea of the following factors:
What is the cost?
What is the time to delivery?
What should your performance metrics/kpi be?
Be prepared to answer such questions.
Use case studies. Show before and after situations where seo has made a remarkable difference. Something that has been tried and proven carries less risk than the new and different. Remember, SEO is probably going to sound new and different to all but the most web savvy organizations.
Get management to commit to your strategy on a point by point basis. Insist that you'll only be able to deliver outcomes if this strategy is followed. Outline the risks of removing any element.
This achieves two things: it gets them to commit to your course of action. They'll back you if you receive push back from designers, developers and writers. Secondly, it provides a get out of jail free card. If you miss KPIs because you couldn't achieve all of the strategy i.e. the other areas pushed back, you can show them why you couldn't deliver.
The Human Side
You go into a meeting.
There is one of you, there is a small team of designers, and there's a manager who thinks he needs SEO, but doesn't have an understanding of what is actually involved. So how do you tell them that their strategy is all wrong, to stop building everything in Flash, and start designing to your exact specifications?
You could use the direct approach: "Listen up! Your strategy is all wrong, stop building everything in Flash, and start designing to my exact specifications!" A tough road, but if your daddy owns the company - certainly worth a shot :)
More likely, however, the design team has more authority than the SEO, especially if you're new to the job.
Softly Softly, Catchee Monkey
There's an apt British phrase: "Softly Softly, Catchee Monkey".
It means play it gently and carefully in order to achieve the outcome you seek.
If you lack sufficient authority to get your way on all decisions, as is the case with most SEOs who work within large organizations, then the softly, softly approach might be more likely to produce results than the my-way-or-the-highway approach.
Consider how people react to change. How did you feel when you were forced to adapt to change? Empathy goes a long way.
For example, try putting yourself in the designers shoes.
She may have graduated from a graphic design course. During her years of study, SEO wasn't mentioned once. She has been working as a web designer for a few years, and she's acutely aware that web design is a very poor second cousin to print design. In print, the designer has free reign, and can specify everything to their exact requirements. The colors, the size, the fonts, the look and feel.
On the web, however, she has to think about how her design is going to display on different screen sizes, how the colors are going to look on various monitors, and how different browsers are going to render the layout. She has to incorporate widgets and forms from the developers. She's got to present to management in a few weeks time. The top manager, who controls her bonus, likes to be wowed by cool, cutting edge designs. She jumping through all these crazy hoops that get in the way of her graphic vision.
Then in walks this new SEO guy and demands she retool the site so a search engine spider can see it.
If there's a fan in the office, it will soon be covered in something unpleasant.
How To Make SEO Fit In
One way is to not do anything.
Not every battle is worth winning. For example, lets say you're working in house at an agency, and the work is for an external client. The client wants a spectacular site, because he wants to impress his colleges and boss. The designer is happy to design it, because she might win an award. The client hasn't specified seo as a delivery requirement, as the clients customers usually find them by word of mouth, not via search engines. Is SEO really important here?
No, it's not.
The best approach, when SEO comes late in the piece, might be to inform the manager in charge of delivery that this site is unlikely to receive much in the way of traffic from search engines in it's existing form. You could specify changes, but is that really in the best interests of everyone? Does the cost/benefit stack up at this late stage?
Insist the person with the authority makes that call. If the client comes back latter and wants to know why their site isn't showing up in search engines, you can refer back to the meeting. Most intelligent people will come to their own conclusions that their process needs to change.
But lets say SEO is something the client wants, but is not knowledgeable enough to know that their web strategy won't deliver it.
If you're experiencing a lot of resistance, try splitting the work into phases. Make phase one low impact. If it's a Flash site, or some other major SEO headache, how about suggesting they add a print -friendly version of the site, with a link from the home page?
The designer will probably go for it, because in her head, the only people likely to see a print version are those who have already seen her flash version. They are simply choosing to print it out. You know better, of course. This is the version search visitors will see. Once these pages start drawing traffic, you then have some leverage for Phase Two. You've demonstrated the power of SEO, and if only they did more of what you request, then they'll get more search visitors.
Once you can demonstrate proof of concept, you're on track to winning the war.
In my earlier article, I recommended that you keep a look out for natural synergies. Thankfully, not all designers are flash loving design heads. Web design trends have, thankfully, moved away from graphic-heavy approaches, and have moved towards providing ease of use and utility.
Suggest incorporating SEO-friendly elements that are also design elements. Examples include breadcrumb navigation, site organization and hierarchy, most important pages closest to the front, duplicate navigation schemes if the main navigation scheme is uncrawlable, and using Google site maps. None of these elements interfere with look and feel too much.
Attend the meetings where they map out site structure. If the structure is designed with SEO in mind, a lot of other elements fall naturally into place. Emphasize the fact you need to be brought in early, not late, on site design decisions.
In the web industry, content writers are most likely to slot into one of two schools of thought.
One is journalism. Journalism often consists of a top down approach, or inverted pyramid.
"The "pyramid" can also be drawn as a triangle. The triangle's broad base at the top of the figure represents the most substantial, interesting, and important information the writer means to convey. The triangle's orientation is meant to illustrate that this kind of material should head the article, while the tapered lower portion illustrates that other material should follow in order of diminishing importance"
The second is copy writing. Copy writing differs from journalistic styles in that the writing is crafted to elicit a specific response from the reader, rather than to simply inform. There is often a specific objective the copywriter needs to fulfill, and every word is likely to be carefully deliberated over.
A side complication is legal. Lawyers, as a profession, tend to be risk adverse. Their job, in this context, is to prevent libelous, defamatory, or untruthful copy from being published, which could expose the the company to financial risk.
There's no simple advice I can give on how to get around legal. They carry a lot of weight. Just be aware of the legal requirement, and keep in mind that the "aggressive link baiting technique" you had planned might not be an appropriate strategy for this particular company ;)
Will It Blend?
The easiest road is with the journalists. They are trying to answer the questions Who,' 'when', 'where', 'what' and 'how' . Try to frame your SEO requests in this language.
For example., say if your keyword term is "buy house in San Francisco". A reporter could work this into his copy by asking the "what" question, s in "what is happening?" e.g. "Recently, people looking to buy a house in San Francisco have had to contend with...." etc etc.
This is very much an on-going education process, but it helps if you're already talking their language. Provide them a list of keywords, and specific examples of how they can be incorporated into the article formats they already use. Writers might actually like you feeding them article and story topics. It makes their task a little easier. Try to think of ways you can frame your keyword research as article topic suggestions, or article research.
In terms of structure, try and devise templates that encourage SEO friendly formats i.e. short paragraphs with big headings to break up the copy. You could also argue this increases readability and usability.
Have designers and developers code the templates so related articles are suggested automatically. Include a related articles section. Build the SEO right into the article structure, so that a lot of the SEO happens without the writer having to think about it.
Guidelines For Developers
Developers are used to working to guidelines and specifications, so try and work SEO requirements into these documents.
Here's a sample guideline. There is some overlap here with design, so split them up accordingly:
Use descriptive file names. i.e. dog.jpg, as opposed to image568765.jpg.
Include title and meta description tag in all templates. Auto - populate fields from teh templates i.e. document title - where no over-ride exists.
Use CSS to control font sizes, particularly header tags.
Links should, wherever possible, include keywords
Titles should use text, as opposed to graphics.
Specify an alt tag for images
Create a Google Site Map
Use the following URL format: domain/page-title-name
Avoid frames. If using frames, use the the noframes tag
Create a custom 404 page that links to the site's main pages, or sitemap.
I'm sure there are plenty of other rules you can think of, and depending on how co-operative the developer is, there is a lot more detail you could go into. I find that the shorter the checklist, the more likely developers are to incorporate the changes required. Long lists just create headaches, so often go ignored.
Make sure they do the important things, and don't sweat the small stuff. At least, not in your first week!
In real life, things are never this simple.
Humans are messy and complicated creatures, so there are few hard and fast rules, nor is there a prescription you can follow. Be flexible. Be aware. Communicate. A lot. Hopefully, the ideas above will help you formulate your own approach.
You're not alone. Most professional SEOs know exactly what you're going through :)
About a month ago I was chatting with Rand via email. He explained that he thought that the perception that SEO is manipulative was harming the industry, in part to justify his outing strategy. I explained that I thought the goal of most media was manipulation (with attention sold to the highest bidder) and promised him that I would write a post along those lines.
It is not going to be an easy post to write. It will eat thousands of dollars of my time. And I most likely will not make any sales from it, but it is a nice introduction to how media works for anyone who has not yet seen or read Noam Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent.
Self-survival is the First Goal of Any Organization
Parking meters are needed to add cost to a finite good (parking places) to decrease demand. Recently in Oakland they went from $1.25/hr to $1.50/hr. The meter man explained inflation to me, right before I read a bunch of news about the potential horrors of pending deflation. Why was I talking to the parking meter guy? I talked to the parking meter guy long enough that the person he was going to write a ticket for got away. I had done my good deed for the day. :)
The payment gateway for that particular area was broken. I pointed that out to him and he said "oh yeah I will call it in" with a matter-of-fact tone. So he knew the meters were broke, but didn't get them fixed because he knew he would be able to write more parking tickets that way.
About a week later, parking in a nearby area, I put a quarter in a regular pay meter and went in to pick up food that I had ordered. When I came back to the car the meter showed a minute left, but there was already a parking ticket on my window. Probably the same corner cutting public servant hooked me up on that deal.
Fraud can happen at the individual level, but as an organization grows bigger it...
requires more capital to be sustained
has more stakeholders (employees, partners, investors, & customers - each having unique goals and interests)
finds additional incremental growth opportunities are harder to come by
Bob Massa mentioned being at a business meeting where the CEO was told all our KPIs point south...to which the CEO replied "sounds like we need some new KPIs."
Which leads us to the inverse law of business ethics: the larger a business grows the more hypocritical it must be to sustain its growth and please its stakeholders.
The Media Sells What is Hot
Best. Bubble. Ever.
The US society is largely based on instant gratification, consumption, and debt. To keep growing we need to build bubbles (and promote them via the media), hoping to make each bubble larger than the last. Mortgage fraud replaced the tech bubble. And the next bubble will likely be related to green energy.
The media lemmings, the same ones that encouraged you to get a second mortgage, buy a McMansion and spend, spend, spend are now falling all over themselves to out-mourn the others. They are telling everyone to batten down, to cut back, to freeze and panic. They're looking for stories about this, advice about this, hooks about this.
Or as a commenter named Mike, on one of my favorite investing blogs, wrote:
Some idiot on Bloomberg is talking about how irrational consumers had been and how they are now getting rational. Judging someone's rationality depends on what they knew at the time. And, Joe the Plumber was bombarded for years with propaganda about how your house was your best investment, stocks always go up, we are the kings of the world, etc. They did what you would expect.
Now, if those of us who look behind the curtain had bought into the hype, that would be irrational.
Media is usually selling you up the river to some advertiser interest.
Currently, the predominant business model for commercial search engines is advertising. The goals of the advertising business model do not always correspond to providing quality search to users. For example, in our prototype search engine one of the top results for cellular phone is "The Effect of Cellular Phone Use Upon Driver Attention", a study which explains in great detail the distractions and risk associated with conversing on a cell phone while driving. This search result came up first because of its high importance as judged by the PageRank algorithm, an approximation of citation importance on the web [Page, 98]. It is clear that a search engine which was taking money for showing cellular phone ads would have difficulty justifying the page that our system returned to its paying advertisers. For this type of reason and historical experience with other media [Bagdikian 83], we expect that advertising funded search engines will be inherently biased towards the advertisers and away from the needs of the consumers.
Years later, after Google became the world's largest ad network by scraping that content and wrapping it in ads, how did their view of that same web change? Eric Schmidt explained:
The internet is fast becoming a "cesspool" where false information thrives, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said yesterday. Speaking with an audience of magazine executives visiting the Google campus here as part of their annual industry conference, he said their brands were increasingly important signals that content can be trusted.
"Brands are the solution, not the problem," Mr. Schmidt said. "Brands are how you sort out the cesspool."
"Brand affinity is clearly hard wired," he said. "It is so fundamental to human existence that it's not going away. It must have a genetic component."
But Google has obscene profit margins and market leverage and does try hard to strike some level of balance. No other large media company has similar profit margins or market leverage, and thus they tend to be more controlled by advertiser interest.
Consider Fox News, which fired some of its reporters for wanting to report the potential link between rBGH and cancer. Why were the reporters fired? They refused to be silent about the research they had done, and as an advertiser pushing rBGH onto ignorant consumers, Monsanto was going to cut their ad spend if the truth about their product came out. Killing people with cancer for a dollar...that is how low some media standards are.
Many companies live by telling multiple stories simultaneously. When Google was promoting PageRank they talked about how it leveraged the "unique democratic structure" of the web. But when the Department of Justice sued Google for search data, Google's response stated that "Google only attempts to crawl the "best of the Web" to create a useful repository of Web pages." And when they feared GoogleBombing potentially causing negative blowback during the 2008 election cycle, Google tried to defuse the practice.
Sensationalism works. Write something that is factual and nobody cares. Twist is just a bit and it is press worthy. That is why guys like Jason Calacanas are so fond of writing lines like "What you do in the next 30 days will probably make or break your company."
Just about everyone knows that magazine cover and billboard photos are edited.
But did you know that when Fox News producers are angry at someone they will edit their photo to yellow their teeth and make their nose larger?
Alan Greenspan was known to speak in "Fedspeak" in an attempt to guide markets without causing panic. But in some cases he was crystal clear with his messaging. When asked of the Bush tax cut plan, Alan said that if US economic surpluses remain, then a tax cut at some point might make sense. And the next day the newspapers flooded the stands with the message "Greenspan endorses Bush tax cut" (ignoring the if surpluses remain part). Alan Greenspan discussed this reductionism in detail in his The Age of Turbulence.
If your budget is large enough and your sample data pool large enough it is not hard to lie with statistics. Some business models are based on pushing through biased research and hoping that their solution is so ingrained in society that by the time the truth comes out nothing changes.
In almost any area where Google talks about their being "spam" there are brands built off of sleight of hand marketing.
The bogus consumer bankruptcy bill was pushed using biased stats highlighting a subset of people that filed for bankruptcy because they did not pay their credit card debts. But the real leading cause for personal bankruptcies in the United States is medical issues. The same bankers that pushed that garbage are now at the trough begging for handouts amounting to $7,400,000,000,000 ($24,000+ for every man, woman, and child in the US).
Want to know what that taxpayer money is being spent on? They are not sharing that information! Bloomberg is suing the government in an attempt to find out. Gerald O’Driscoll, a former vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, had this to say: "Nontransparency in government programs is always associated with corruption in other countries, so I don’t see why it wouldn’t be here."
The examples are so abundant it is hard to pick one. But as an example, here are pre-election stories blaming high oil prices AND low stock prices on the market pricing in the likelihood of an Obama presidential victory. Such analysis is usually thin on research.
Greed and Fraud Are Fundamental Parts of Capitalism
I could list dozens more categories here if I took the time to do the research. Kickbacks and misinformation are everywhere because capitalism promotes short term gain at the expense of future generations. When a company goes public so much is driven by making the numbers and getting your bonus. Some media companies even carry fake video clips created by public relations companies.
Even the US Government Actively Manipulates the Media
The US government actively manipulates the media to mislead and misinform consumers. If you watch Robert S. McNamara's Fog of War you will see him talk about how they timed Vietnam War related releases to play them down and minimize blowback.
30 years later the media is still being used to propagandize war. What ever happened to those weapons of mass destruction that were central to the lies that started the Iraq war? George Bush thinks their absence is funny. So does the press corps
As one Youtube commenter puts it:
As repulsive as Bush is, we shouldn't forget some of the people laughing at his "humor," notably the press corps who helped him sell his phony war and who derided, as naive or unpatriotic, those who raised doubts about the WMD issue before it started. But hey, war makes for great great TV and big profits for the military-industrial-media complex. They're a big part of the reason why America is so frequently at war.
Back when we were pushing to go to war there was nothing but cheer leading from the media, and now the same media reports how the Pentagon used (and still uses) TV analysts that have equity stakes in defense contractors to sell the Iraq war to the US public:
Collectively, the men on the plane and several dozen other military analysts represent more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants. The companies include defense heavyweights, but also scores of smaller companies, all part of a vast assemblage of contractors scrambling for hundreds of billions in military business generated by the administration’s war on terror.
Analysts have been wooed in hundreds of private briefings with senior military leaders, including officials with significant influence over contracting and budget matters, records show. They have been taken on tours of Iraq and given access to classified intelligence.
Members of this group have echoed administration talking points, sometimes even when they suspected the information was false or inflated. Some analysts acknowledge they suppressed doubts because they feared jeopardizing their access.
There are laws against inside trading, and yet somehow it is legal for the government to give defense contractors classified information so long as they are willing to lie to the US public in exchange for it. Mind blowing!
"Something extraordinary has happened to American TV since September 11," says Curtis. "A head of the leading networks who had better remain nameless said to me that there was no way they could show it. He said, 'Who are you to say this?' and then he added, 'We would get slaughtered if we put this out.'" Surely a relatively enlightened broadcaster like HBO would show it? "When I was in New York I took a DVD to the head of documentaries at HBO. I still haven't heard from him."
I think humans tend to be somewhat dismissive of or scared of technologies they do not understand. That is why Lori Drew was tried on 3 counts of accessing computers without authorization, rather than being tried for psychologically abusing a child.
Reporters should be skeptical because in some cases people are willfully feeding reporters inside details that are false to try to push a stock (or some other business interest). The sheer level of detail in The London Times's report on the false Microsoft Yahoo deal last weekend is mind-boggling. Those sorts of lies are embarassing and make reporters cautious.
Some reporters know their stuff and do in depth research, but some go into writing their pieces with an end goal in mind, looking to misquote you to drive home their point...asking leading questions and making you the focus of them. For example, I was asked about how I could use Google Knol for spamming. I responded with something like "I don't consider myself nefarious, but for sake of argument lets say you or I were the nefarious type..." and that got quoted as "lets say I am the nefarious type."
Why do People Buy SEO?
SEO is Worth a Lot of Money
I gave a presentation at an investor conference and ended up charging somewhere around $1,000 a minute for the presentation.
I recently charged a CEO $300 for a 30 minute speech and hung up feeling guilty that I under-charged him. I taught them all sorts of advanced topics like conditional site structure alterations based on crawl information and traffic levels all other sorts of goodies. I estimate that call will add at least $1,000,000 of search traffic to his business if he executes on 50% of what I taught him.
Nobody Wants Average Rankings
While I have had well over 10,000 paying customers, not a single one of them has ever paid me with the goal of "rank them where they deserve to."
Everyone who has paid me a large sum of money (say 5 figures or more) wanted to rank better than they were, and in most cases (all but 1 so far) better than they would deserve to from an objective view of the web. And those who were already clear category leaders wanted to know how to create a second or third white labeled high ranking site.
Search Can be a Cheap Distribution Channel
If you are already paying for the cost structure of running a brick and mortar business, there is little incremental cost to gaining more organic search traffic...the medium is still exceptionally under-priced.
Search Exposure Builds Real Value
If you are one of 400 insurance brokers or real estate agents selling the same recycled stuff, then you don't want to rank where you deserve...even if you are number 12 out of 400 you are probably getting less than 1% of the potential traffic. That is pretty crappy relative to how well you would do with just a bit more effort.
A thin affiliate site with little to no editorial content was recently bought for $34 million. That site was not bought out because it was above average, but because it had above average rankings. The CEO even stated that they bought the site based largely on its search engine rankings.
Isn't SEO Manipulative?
As referenced above, most of the entire media ecosystem is heavily manipulated. Why? The intersection of 2 key points. ;)
Many people who claim to be against manipulative SEO practices have no problem with being manipulative and lying with their public relations. Both have the same end goal of profit, but renting a link to try to rank one spot higher is nowhere near as toxic as lying is.
Almost every public facing person in media is a salesman, electioneering for their own self-interests.
Even Search Engines Hire SEOs
Large media organizations like the NYT employ SEO tactics. Even search engines have internal SEO teams. Laura Lippay is the SEO program manager for Yahoo!. I know Microsoft has an SEO team because a couple years ago a headhunter contacted me wanting to hire me to work on that team.
If search engines employ SEO then you should too. Why not help your company rank the best it can?
Why Outing is Bad
For many webmasters profitability comes from leveraging new platforms along with creativity and innovation...often within the gray area where marketing strategies are not yet abused. But when a well known SEO outs something they are intentionally trying to make the search engine look stupid, forcing the search engineer's hands into banning something or making something 'not count'.
As an industry will we fare better building each other up or advocating knocking each other down?
Want to Help Google Clean Up the Web?
Google Sells Ads to Spammers
Google sells ads that promote virtually anything. All a person needs to do to get exposure through their ad network is open up their wallet.
Eric Schmidt said that the internet is fast becoming a "cesspool" where false information thrives. Here is how you can make the web a better place! Anytime you see a Google AdWords/AdSense advertisement that does any of the following...
makes a false claim
engage in cookie pushing, reverse billing fraud, or push spyware
promotes something that is illegal or immoral
is published on a copy of stolen copyright work
make sure you file a Google spam report AND out it on your blog. Google needs more help cleaning up their ads than the organic search results (as the paid search algorithm is much less complex and is directly influenced by payment). That is, of course, unless Google likes promoting infidelity while cleaning up the web.
Part of planning a SEO campaign, especially for anyone involved in B2C retail, is to optimize with holiday events in mind. Obviously, gift giving is a tradition that no retailer can miss out on, so SEO campaigns for the holiday season are often planned and executed well in advance.
Let's take a look at some of the keywords and trends associated with the upcoming holiday season, and look at a few strategies you can adopt in order to cash in.
1. Historical Research
It is fascinating to look at keyword trends, especially around this time of year. Go to Google Trends, and flip the date back to December last year.
Notice any patterns?
For starters, a lot of people are looking for recipes. If you have a food oriented site, include a section focused on preparing common Christmas meals.
People are also looking for stores and restaurants open on Christmas Day. Think about other holiday specific information you can include to capture this type of search traffic.
The other interesting thing to note is that people are still in the mood for shopping on Christmas day. Either they're looking forward to the after Christmas sales, they're looking for something to do, or they're looking for tunes to put on their shiny new Ipod. Think about how the nature of shopping changes on Christmas day, and the few days following, which should help you earn a bit more revenue than your competitors.
Notice how these types of pages pretty much optimize themselves. You can create all sorts of gift lists. Gifts for him, gifts for her, gifts for mothers, budget gift ideas, etc, etc. It is a good idea to personalize the list. Add a human touch, such as a photo, or commentary, or both.
gift ideas for guys
gift ideas for geeks
christmas gift basket ideas
gift ideas for christmas
gift ideas for dad
cheap christmas gifts
corporate christmas gifts
romantic christmas gift
unusual christmas gift
unique christmas presents
Often, people don't know exactly what to buy. They're hunting around for ideas. Organized gift lists solve a genuine problem, and they're a great addition to your SEO campaign. They can convert very well, because the buyer intent is closely aligned with the sales process. Think about the sales funnel and incorporate the hunting stage - not just the buying stage - into your site.
Use sales data to help you decide on your list. What are the most popular and/or high margin products? Can you group these together into the type of list people search for? Link to these lists from prominent pages, like your home page, and try to get links from other sites. This will help drive sales, increase Page Rank, and rankings. And not just for this year - hopefully for many years to come. Can you come up with the definitive Christmas list for "gift ideas for *insert term here*"? You can swap out the products each year.
3. Start Early
If you're only just thinking about SEO for this holiday season, you're probably left your run a little too late. In fact, anyone who didn't have their campaign good to go by July probably left it a little late.
Year after year, people start as early as July on their Christmas shopping! They really start to go for it in October and November.
Start planning early for next year :)
4. It Isn't About Brand, It's About The Offer
Because Christmas has a set deadline, and a lot of people leave things until the last minute, brand is the last thing on people's mind. They're focused on solving a problem.
At times such as these, the offer is the most important thing. Your copy should reflect this. This may mean rewriting some pages, or adding new pages that specifically target this time of year.
Be sure to include delivery times, and assure people that their gifts will arrive in time, else they'll be going to your competitors who do emphasize this point.
5. Coupon Codes & Discounts
There was a time when retailers didn't offer sales and discounts during their most profitable time of year, but there's too much competition these days. People will respond to discounts and coupons, same as they do at other times, so try to work them in. Given we're in a recession, and people are likely to be feeling the pinch, discounts and incentives will be especially important this year.
Check out keywords relating to:
bargain christmas gifts
cheap christmas gifts
cheap christmas gift ideas
Speaking of which, and since Aarons clearly already in the holiday mood, we are offering all SEOBook readers $25 off their first month's subscription fees by subscribing to SEO Book through this link.
First in, best dressed. :)
6. Seasonal Imagery & Details
Stores are awash with Christmas imagery, and with good reason. It compels people to spend. If you're selling gifts direct to the public, you should do likewise.
Test pages, using PPC, as early as July. Does the Christmas imagery increase conversion rates? What wording and topics produce better conversion rates at this time of year, compared to other times? Feed this data through into your SEO campaign.
The advantage you have over PPC is that PPC bid prices are going to go higher and higher as Christmas day approaches, whilst your bid price remains the same. Zero.
When I was about 1 year into the field of SEO my friend brought me over to his parent's house for a winter break for a few days. His dad is a genius (in about every way possible) and worked at the time as an archivist that digitized old content collections for media companies. I told him of what I did (SEO) and he told that I should learn XSLT, and that Google would soon kill the field of SEO.
I believed just the opposite...that SEO was an extension of marketing (which will only increase in demand as the web grows older), and that as Google's profits grew, they would use them to forge partnerships with content creators and build their own mini-web to supplement the greater web and give themselves a second bite at monetizing searchers. In the past few years Google added news results to their organic search results, bought YouTube, digitized a ton of books, settled a publisher and author lawsuit with books, created a books API, created Google Maps (and local), created Google Earth, created Google Maps, created Google Local, and Google just purchased 20 million digitized historical newspaper pages from PaperofRedord.com.
So far I am winning that bet, but only because I view SEO as an extension of marketing and have aggressively re-invested profits toward growth...which got me to thinking of publishing trends that will grow in the years to come.
Publishing truths for the digital age
Many forms of scams and spam will look so much like real information that most people will not be able to distinguish between them.
The web has a deep and rich memory. But most people's use of it will remain shallow.
As the world gets more complex, we will increasingly question authority and seek out experts to turn to for alternative view points and advice.
We will subscribe to niche channels that largely match our biases and worldview. Information retrieval tools (search engines), information consumption tools (feed readers), and the social structure of the web (links, comments, how we use language) will further create a self-fulfilling prophecy on this front.
Curiosity and the ease of publishing will turn a half billion people into experts connected to a passionate audience.
Amongst that competition, there will always be an unquenchable demand for marketing, branding, and public relations.
If you sell information, accessibility and marketing will matter much more than being deep and/or factually correct.
It is easier to build a large profitable revenue stream selling what is new rather than selling what is old.
Information without personalization and context will increasingly become commoditized. The average web page will be worth less than a cent unless there is a strong editorial voice associated with it and/or there are explicit votes for it.
What do you see changing as the web ages and grows?
While it focuses on non-profits, much of the advice could apply to just about any website. We would love to get your feedback on it. If you find it useful or know some charities that might like it, please share. Thanks to Dominic Mapstone for early feedback and advice. :)