Forbes.com - Home to The Best Press Releases in the World!

Sep 27th
posted in

Forbes AdVoice, a new Forbes editorial strategy that does away with the traditional barriers between advertising and editorial content:

The pitch is this: We'll sell you a blog, and your content will live alongside that of Forbes' journalists and bloggers. This isn't the "sponsored post" of yore; rather, it is giving advocacy groups or corporations such as Ford or Pfizer the same voice and same distribution tools as Forbes staffers, not to mention the Forbes brand.

"In this case the marketer or advertiser is part of the Forbes environment, the news environment," Mr. DVorkin said.

If that stuff has legs & spreads across most the major media sites then Google's "authority first" relevancy algorithm strategy is dead.

Google has always considered paid links bad (as Forbes certainly knows) but as paid content spreads how will Google fight it? And if that content contains links then is it still a paid link? Will Google once more end up purging the payola?

The other question is ... when media has tons of press releases alongside the articles, what value add is there for consumers to pay attention to the media? And if the media teaches advertisers to create their own media, won't many of those advertisers do so on their own websites & cut the mainstream media out of the loop?

It is Time to Regulate Ignorant Anonymous Guest Posts on TechCrunch

Jul 13th

TechCrunch published an anonymous attack piece on search engines...both the organic and paid side. Lets deconstruct some of it, shall we?
techcrunch.com/2009/07/13/the-time-has-come-to-regulate-search-engine-marketing-and-seo/

"It’s now conventional wisdom that search engine optimization, representing the organic result sets on any search query, is more voodoo than science."

And it was conventional wisdom that you needed to own tech stocks because "this time it is different". And it was conventional wisdom that housing goes up forever. We didn't care when fraud was looting trillions of dollars, but now you need to be compensated for your own intellectual sloth & laziness? Please.

Most of the market is willfully ignorant and mislead. Just like in most big money markets. Nothing new there.

What about public relations and branding and other forms of marketing? Most people are ignorant of the influence, so should we just ban marketing? Without marketing do consumers get more or less choice in the marketplace?

If strong search rankings are an unfair advantage then are good domain names and memorable 800 phone numbers also worth regulating out of the marketplace?

To most people rocket science and evolutionary biology and even basic economic literacy are more voodoo than science...does that mean we should shut them down? Shall we run society based on the will of the handicapper general?

"In addition, consumer behavior dictates the top three results on any search page are all that matter. "

They may be most important, but you can still build a real business by ranking a bit lower on the search results. Also people search for billions of unique search queries each month, so its not hard to rank in the top 3 for something.

Keep a lean business if you want to use search as your primary distribution channel. Invest in slow sustainable growth as opportunities present themselves.

The line "all of your eggs in 1 basket" also comes to mind. If search bounces around then try to offset that risk by building other distribution channels including offline, word of mouth marketing, repeat customer sales, affiliate marketing, building a strong brand, etc.

"And at any one time, the controller of these borders (that is, the search engine itself) can change and manipulate those rules – and that can substantially decrease or destroy all organic traffic coming to your website, without notice and without your knowledge."

Use analytics to track your search traffic. If your site has its rankings destroyed and you do not notice then you either didn't have much of a business, or are not investing properly in knowing your market. Either way you would deserve failure if you were reliant on a traffic stream and were not actively measuring it.

"Because the rules of organic and paid search change frequently – and remain undefined — agencies and other traffic brokers can win big; through their experience, they’re capable of reverse-engineering these rules. This means that, as this market matures, individual businesses have a diminishing chance to actually compete and gain search market share. That, in turn, puts them in a position of not only needing to hire an agency in order to find any traffic, but also making it more expensive overall to build businesses on the web."

The same analogy could be stated for businesses buying up key real estate locations and building efficiencies into their supply chain model - like a Wal Mart or a McDonalds. The same analogy can be made for huge online networks that cross promote new sites. The same can be said for banks that are too big to fail while smaller ones are slaughtered off and sold to the big ones.

If business owners are too lazy or cheap or ignorant to invest in one of the highest ROI business functions of the last 100 years then how can anyone have sympathy for them? There are millions of dollars worth of tips on this site shared freely. And people can get direct help with their site for as low as $100. If they can't afford that, then they should not be on the COMMERCIAL web.

"The only real solution is disclosure. Transparency. Those traffic generators that use rule-based algorithms to determine result sets must publicly disclose their methodologies. That is the means by which all businesses can compete freely in the organic and paid search marketplaces."

Except this is not true. For numerous reasons

  • as the algorithms grow more complex, the transparency of them would still only benefit a few key players while setting a high barrier to entry for small businesses. all this would actually do is drive small businesses out of the marketplace faster. we outrank corporations worth $10s of billions of dollars for keywords that are important enough that they target them on their homepage titles. make the algorithm transparent and there is no way we could compete at that level.
  • if algorithms were transparent automation and testing would be abused by larger established trusted websites. some news companies already use robots to write content. give them a high PageRank, offline distribution, algorithmic immunity, and the source code to the algorithm and I can't imagine how I would be able to compete against them.
  • media and marketing are rarely if ever transparent. and when they are it often backfires because people feel they were influenced and/or used. manipulation in the traditional media world goes on all the time. I suppose it is time to write another post about media transparency

Bloggers as Influencers

Jan 12th
posted in

Since blogging about a toy flower I bought my wife I got multiple emails from guys who said they bought them for their wives. And one member went so far as paying Mahalo answers $10 to find the exact flower in the video. Think of how irrelevant a toy flower is for the audience on this site, and yet that casual mentioned likely caused over $100 of commerce to happen. What more if the offer was relevant to this site's audience?

If people want media free then I think it makes a lot of sense for publishers to use affiliate links to get a cut of the action. I reviewed SEM Rush before they had an affiliate program, and that likely added thousands of dollars in business for them. They have since added an affiliate program, and I have since went back to that old post and added affiliate links. Their affiliate payout is 40%, but I still have not earned that much because their price point is too low for what their tool does. They could increase their price 400% and it would still be a good value.

A lot of high payout affiliate marketing is sleazy (diet scams, hyped network marketing, reverse billing fraud, cookie pushing, etc.) but if you have a real site with decent reach you can profit significantly from giving people discounts and recommending high value offers that you are proud to endorse. I shared some affiliate program integration tips in the forums, highlighting a couple of our blog posts that made 4 figures and 5 figures each.

New Wordpress Hacking Strategy Using Cloaking to Target Google IP Addresses

Oct 23rd

Stay Protected

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

If you want to prevent any of your Wordpress blogs from getting hacked make sure you keep your software up to date, and follow other basic Wordpress protection strategies, like - securing your admin folder, removing the Wordpress version number from your theme's header.php file, creating an index.html file in your plug-ins directory, and removing other common Wordpress oriented footprints like a "powered by Wordpress" signature in the page footer.

Get an Early Warning

Another thing you can do to protect yourself is to get an early warning if/when your blog does get hacked. You can subscribe to a Google Alert for site:yoursite.com viagra OR cialis OR levitra, and so on...as Patrick explains on Blogstorm.

If one of your blogs gets hacked fix the others before it is too late. Some plug ins make it easy to update/re-install Wordpress.

Stopping Comment Spam

Not quite as bad as full hacking, but comment spam is still annoying. There are a couple good plug ins to help prevent comment spam as well, including Akismet and Spam Karma.

Other easy suggestions on this front are to require a captcha and force first time comments to be moderated before appearing on the site.

Google IP Address Targeted Hacking + Cloaked Spam

One of my blogs was recently targeted by a blog hacker that inserted links into the site that could *only be viewed by GoogleBot*. You typically would not notice such a hack unless you subscribed to a Google Alert for your site, saw yourself ranking for some of the spam terms, and/or when your Google Search Traffic started to fall.

The issue with such a hack is that it is hard to know if you wiped it out, even if you update everything. When you use Firefox's User Agent Switcher you still will not see the links because you are not surfing from one of GoogleBot's IP addresses.

In fact, for this particular hack you can't even see the links on Google's cached version of a page unless you view the text cache version of the page.

Once you click the text only cache link tons of pharmacy links appear in the page footer. This screenshot was taken from a Texas Instruments blog post on security and safety

Google currently has indexed over 20,000 pages with this particular hack.

How This Type of Hack Influences Google Traffic

Earlier this week one of my writers who loves blogging complained that search traffic was dropping slightly, and then after a few days of minor decay the search traffic was cut in half. Keep in mind this site gets much of it's traffic from organic links.

Our Google traffic started to fall off slowly, and as more of the pages with spam in them got indexed the fall off became sharper. After a week or so traffic may be a small % of what it was...or if they just spam a couple pages the change in traffic may be so minor that you never notice it. The traffic decay rate depends on...

  • the crawl priority of your site (how frequently it gets crawled)
  • the number of pages you have on your site
  • how bad your site gets spammed (number of spammy links and pages, etc.

You can see what portion of your site got hit by searching Google for "spammy footprint" site:example.com and comparing that count to the total number of pages Google shows indexed for site:example.com.

How to Clean Up Your Wordpress Blog

Regular updates are a plus to make it easy to revert to a prior version if needed. And if you find yourself upgrading software after a hack make sure your server is clean (save old files elsewhere) and install fresh. You probably want to change your database and Wordpress passwords after upgrading, and if you are not sure where the hack was you may also want to change your theme.

There are a lot of different ways people can hack into a Wordpress blog. Some spam hunting ideas include...

Using SSH to look for recently modified files and/or weird new files that were added to your site. Some hackers may also add files to the root of your site, or above it hidden somewhere on your web server.

Some hacks may be via a Wordpress plug-in. If you have inessential plug-ins installed see if others have complained about them getting hacked, and see if you can remove them. I think some hackers that get into Wordpress go so far as adding plug-ins that position spam throughout the blog.

If your database contains spam in it then you can run the following MySQL query (from Michael VanDeMar) to find many of the most common types of Wordpress link hacks.

If you can't find any spam in your Wordpress database, then...

  • look for files that have been added or modified
  • back up your files and database
  • disable plug ins
  • delete all files (except for maybe your config file and .htaccess file - and verify those have not been edited as well)
  • update your blog to the newest version of Wordpress
  • change your MySQL password and your Wordpress password
  • install a new theme
  • download necessary plug-ins from their original sources if you want to keep using them
  • make sure you performed all the steps at the top of this article to try to keep your blog safe.
  • if your problem was a shoddy host that got compromised then its a good idea to shift to a better Wordpress hosting solution

If The Hacker Was Using IP Cloaking...

If the hacker was using IP cloaking you can't be 100% certain that the spam is gone until Google tries to index new pages on your site and/or re-indexes old pages that were hacked.

You can find files that have been indexed in the last day or last week by using Google's date based filters.

If you updated your blog a few hours ago you can also do a regular site:www.example.com search on Google and set the results to 100 per page to find any pages that have been re-indexed in the last few hours. Once the search results come up you can search the search results page for hours ago.

One note of caution is to check the actual page's cache date at the top of the page. Sometimes when a cache is really new clicking on the link will show you the new page, but sometimes it will show you a cached page from a few days back. When you see a new cached page without the spam links hopefully your spam problems are almost over and your site is on the road to recovery, with rankings improving as Google caches more pages from your site.

Remember to set up a Google Alert for your site so you can track if any spam links magically re-appear.

Your Turn

I have only had a couple blogs hacked in my many years of blogging. Did I miss any obvious tips and/or wisdom you can add to the above post?

Interesting Blog Posts

Oct 18th
posted in

Brian Ussery tested how Google is indexing Flash.

David Naylor saw Google's bad advice on "no need to rewrite your URLs" in action, when a competing site reverted their URLs to uglier versions and promptly saw their rankings tank.

Kentucky seized a bunch of online gambling domains.

“”"”The court recognizes that as to any of the 141 defendants domain names that identify websites as informational only, the seizure order must be rescinded.”"

However the court found that “Internet gambling operators and their domain names are present in Kentucky.” So if you have a parking page the Commonwealth has no jurisdiction but if your operating a site, then your doing business in the state and your subject to its jurisdiction.

While on the topic of gambling domains, Google is allowing gaming ads in the UK.

Neil Patel is looking to help fund some start ups.

Google blocked the use of their Chrome browser in Syria and Iran.

Why Bloggers Need To Think About Marketing Strategy

Oct 9th

I started a blog on search engines in 2002.

In those days, the idea of blogging about anything other than politics, or blogging, or what your cat had for breakfast, was new. In fact, the idea of blogs was new. Most people's reaction to the word blog was "huh"?

I quickly built up an audience, and links, mostly because I had first mover advantage, and I threw in a few social media basics. It certainly wasn't rocket science. But, at the time, I was doing something unique and "remarkable", in the Seth Godin sense of the word.

Fast forward to today, and the landscape is very different.

There are thousands - perhaps tens of thousands - of blogs on search, and most of those go unread. A blog on search is no longer remarkable.

Unless you have first-class insider information, and can produce it on a regular basis, I wouldn't advise anyone start a generalist search engine blog these days. The low hanging fruit is gone, but there are still easy pickings in other areas, it's simply a matter of finding them, identifying your strengths, and exploiting them.

How Many Blogs Are Out There?

This years "State Of The Blogsphere" report indicates there are around 133 million blogs, and they are only the blogs indexed by Technorati since 2002.

Even if we assume that half of those are spam blogs, or cobweb blogs, that's still a lot of "personal journals". Are there 133 million readers?

ComScore MediaMetrix (August 2008)
Blogs: 77.7 million unique visitors in the US
Facebook: 41.0 million | MySpace 75.1 million
Total internet audience 188.9 million
eMarketer (May 2008)
94.1 million US blog readers in 2007 (50% of Internet users)
22.6 million US bloggers in 2007 (12%)
Universal McCann (March 2008)
184 million WW have started a blog | 26.4 US
346 million WW read blogs | 60.3 US
77% of active Internet users read blogs

Would a generalist blog do well in such a market? It could, but it's highly unlikely. Such deep markets tend to favor a niche approach.

So, instead of a blog on search, one strategy might be simply to go deep on one aspect of that market. How about a blog on the mathematics of search engine algorithms? Or search marketing for a specific region? Or search marketing in one industry vertical, such as travel?

How To Find And Test A Niche

First up, read these posts:

Once you've decided on a niche, you can further test the validity of your idea, and your approach, by asking questions.

One formalized way of doing this is called a SWOT analysis. It's a high-brow marketing term, but the idea is simple in practice. Swot stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

Make a list:

  • Strengths - why do I do well?
  • Weaknesses - What do I do poorly?
  • Opportunities - What upcoming trends fit with my strengths? What am I doing now that could be leveraged?
  • Threats - What internal problems do I face? What external problems do I face?

You then detail how you can use each strength, how you can improve each weakness, how you exploit each opportunity, and how you mitigate each risk.

Simply going through such exercises can open a world of possibilities. It is important to write it down. I find the simple act of writing something down seems to make an idea less abstract and more concrete.

One of the big threats in the blog world is the low barrier to entry. Anyone can start a blog within minutes.

Ask yourself how will you stay ahead of the person who starts in the next hour? The ten people who have started by tomorrow? The hundreds of people who have started by next week, not to mention the big, established names who already have a dedicated share of an audience that isn't really growing.

Tough call. There are no easy answers to such a question, as it really depends on your individual strengths and weaknesses, which is why asking questions like these can provide valuable insight.

Philip Kotler, a renowned marketing guru, suggests asking the following questions of any new business plan or idea:

  • Does this strategy contain exciting new opportunities?
  • Is the plan clear at defining a target market?
  • Will the customer in each target market see our offering as superior?
  • Do the strategies see, coherent? Are the right tools being used?
  • What is the probability that the plan will achieve its stated objectives?
  • What would you eliminate from the plan if you only had 80% of your budget?
  • What would you add to the plan if you only had 120% of your budget?

Those last two might seem a little odd in this context, but they certainly are applicable. What would you do if you had more of a budget to promote your blog? Would you spend it on advertising? If so, where, specifically, would you spend it?

Asking these questions can suggest all manner of options. By pretending you have more of a budget, you might identify great advertising partners, but because, in reality, you might not have this budget, you could instead suggest you write guest articles for them, and thus achieve much the same result.

SEO For Blogs

The latest shift in SEO, as Aaron details in Social Interaction & Advertising Are The Modern Day Search Engine Submission & Link Building, is towards relationship marketing, which is why SEOs are increasingly adopting marketing and PR strategies in order to operate more effectively.

Let's face it - SEO for blogs is a cakewalk. Blog software, such as Wordpress, is already search friendly, right out of the box. If you want to tweak it further, there are a wealth of available tools and instruction. Anyone can do it, and that's a problem.

But it's not really about the tools. It's how you use them. The key part to success in doing SEO on blogs is the way you interact.

Specific Strategies To Consider

Quote And Link To Popular Bloggers

Apart from the obvious potential that a blogger will follow inbound links back to their source (you!), meme aggregators, such as Techmeme and Google Blog News, are becoming more prevalent.

These sites aggregate similar conversations together. Simply by talking about what others are talking about, and adding to the conversation, you might get a link and/or attention.

Leave Valuable Useful Comments On Popular Related Blogs

Go where the crowd already is.

For example, I follow most comments in these blog posts back to the authors, and if they have left a site name, I check it out.

Most are then added to my RSS feed reader.

Write Articles For Other Popular Blogs

Think of this as advertising. Advertising costs, and in this case, that cost is your time. The benefits of contributing editorial can be fantastic, however, as you can reach a large, established market quickly.

Create Community Based Ideas, Ask For Feedback Before Launching

This is cheap and cheerful market research. You also give your audience an opportunity for buy-in on the outcome. If the audience feels they are part of the process, they are more likely to accept it, and even promote it.

Add Value To Ideas So People Reference You When Talking About Them

Besides the obvious link benefit involved, it is also great for your brand. Your name becomes your brand, and the more people mention your name, the further your brand spreads. Seth Godin is a master at this, and if you aren't reading his blog already, you should be.

See! It just happened. Twice, in this post, in fact.

Actively Solicit Comments And Reply To Them

One over-looked value of comments is that people are providing crawlable, unique content. Usually I find the more contentious the post, the more comments you receive. So don't be afraid to stir the hornets nest every one in a while ;)

Encouraging Contribution From Others And Highlighting Their Contribution Builds Community

The best situation is win-win. Are you giving your readers and community members a chance to do so?

This is one of the reasons I think black hole SEO is short-sighted, especially for community sites and blogs. It doesn't allow others to win, too.

Network Offline At Industry Trade Shows

I once worked with a guy who had been a very successful investment banker on Wall Street. He says he ignores the University qualifications and information in the public domain, as the real business world works on inside information and who you know. There's no doubt that the best place to get insider search information, and great contacts, is in the bars between conferences.

Every community has an epicenter - a group of people who most others take a lead from - and that epicenter might be as small as three or four highly influential people. Those are the people you need to talk to.

Don’t Be Afraid Of Controversy

If you gain mindshare and authority, some people will hate you for it.

This is related to my "stir-the-hornets-nest" point above. Once you start getting attention, you also become a target. You have little choice but to go with the flow, and keep in mind you cannot please all the people, all the time. Sometimes, it even pays not to please them. People are more likely to engage if they feel passionate, and especially if they passionately believe you are wrong!

Reminds me of a great quote by Oscar Wilde: "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about!"

Further Reading

Peter Da Vanzo: New SEO Book Author

Sep 7th

When I first started blogging I tried to learn from and emulate 3 of my favorite bloggers: Seth Godin, Peter Da Vanzo, and Steven Berlin Johnson. A large part of the success of this site was learning from those guys. Recently I was lucky enough to hire on Peter Da Vanzo to help do some of the writing on this site. He has been blogging about search since 2002 on Search Engine Blog, which officially makes old school.

Please give Peter a warm welcome to the site!

Taking Your Beginning Blog To The Next Level Of Traffic - by Michael Natkin

Jul 27th
posted in

Like so many pursuits in life, it is easy for blogs to get stuck in an intermediate rut. I know, because I've been there. My site, Herbivoracious.com, has hit several plateaus in its first year of life. Each time the visits started to level out, I debated whether it was worth the effort to keep writing if only a few people were going to read it.

Naturally I wondered what it would take to get more exposure for my site. So I began to research all of the great information out there on promoting your blog. And there is no shortage of advice. I know, because I've spent countless hours reading articles, with more tips than you could ever follow - some of them contradictory.

Aaron & Giovanna's Blogger's Guide to Search Engine Optimization provided the most straightforward and usable techniques that I found, and since I've put them into play, my search hits have gone up dramatically, as you can see:

In this article I'll share with you some of their ideas that I found especially easy and effective to implement, along with a few practical suggestions of my own.

Allocate Your Time Wisely

When I lived in Milwaukee, I used to pass a corner grocery whose hand-painted sign said "Where Cash Is King". If the Internet could paint a sign for itself, it would say "Where Content Is King".

Far and away the most important thing you can do on your blog is write great posts and include great pictures and video. Even if you manage to draw visitors to a site with relatively few, crappy articles, they won't come back. The search engines are actually pretty smart, and they aren't going to send traffic to you if there isn't value there, and other quality sites aren't going to link to you either. Besides, how happy are you going to be if you aren't proud of your material? You won't be blogging for long.

So bottom line, you should be spending at least 80% of your time developing content, and only 20% improving the site. Naturally it will be sporadic. I've had brief periods, such as when I recently added this Visual Index, where I spent a ton of time on site design. But most weeks I don't mess with the blog at all, I just write my posts. Remember that your design is a work in progress, don't feel as if you have to perfect it out of the gate.

Get Off The Beaten Path

It is a lot easier to be a big fish in a small pond than a minnow in the ocean. If your posts are all on extremely popular topics, it will be hard for them to get to the front page of a search engine no matter how good they are. That is where the long tail of the curve comes in. This post I wrote about making fluffy couscous is number 5 on Google for "how to make couscous", and generates traffic every day. Imagine how much more effective that is than a post about chocolate chip cookies, which everyone and their grandmother has written about. The same is true in any subject area. Your thoughts about what a fine orator Barack Obama is are no doubt incisive, but probably not going to send you a lot of hits.

Get To Know Your Blogging Platform

When I first started blogging, I was happy enough to use a basic template. Before long I'd graduated to the pro level of TypePad, where I could tweak my own CSS. Then when I was ready to do more sophisticated design and SEO, I moved to their top-of-the-line Advanced Templates system so I can implement just about any feature I want.

Whichever blog platform you use, there is a lot of power under the hood. Don't expect to absorb it all at once, but learn about the pieces that are relevant to your current goals, and build an arsenal over time. Even the simplest things, like knowing how to schedule posts for future delivery so you can keep content flowing during a vacation, can make a huge difference.

Besides reading the documentation for your platform, learn which external websites are considered the experts and hang out there. For example, John T. Unger's TypePad Hacks is a legendary resource for TypePad users. Many of the concepts I learned from SEOBook were then implemented using code I found there.

Get To Know An Analytics Tool

Your blogging platform or host probably let's you do a basic review of your referrer logs. You should look at them regularly to get a sense of how your traffic is doing and where it is coming from. Before long you are going to want to dig deeper. I recommend Google Analytics because it is free, easy to set up and use, and let's you drill down deep to figure out what is and isn't working on your site.

Likewise, you should immediately move your RSS feed over to FeedBurner. It is also free, they will give you good stats on people that are reading your content without going to the site, and lots of useful features too. Their FeedFlare service let's you trivially add links so that users can socially share your post via digg/stumble/facebook/email and so forth.

Don't Waste My Time, Man

There are a ton of sites out there that offer badges and widgets which promise to network traffic too and from your site. I won't name names, but for the most part I think this is a waste of time. At least in my niche, I just never saw any significant hits coming in from them, and they make your blog look like a tacky MySpace page, which will cause visitors to click away in horror.

Also, until you are getting at least 1,000 page views a day, don't waste a lot of time on monetization. (Unless of course the point of your blog is to review products). On Herbivoracious I have Google AdSense between posts, adsdaq ads, and a featured publisher deal with a food blog aggregator. I also include Amazon affiliate links whenever I mention a food, utensil, or book that my readers might like. I've screwed around a fair amount with the types of ads, positioning, and style. My total earnings from all of that is negligible, maybe $50/month. I probably shouldn't tell you that, but I want to be honest to spare you the pain of thinking you are doing it wrong. If I were doing it over, I'd skip it for the first year and just focus on building content and credibility.

Along those lines, you need to be realistic about your niche. Herbivoracious is sort of triply niched: food > vegetarian > fine dining, which means that my readers are loyal but not necessarily legion. I don't have any illusion that it can have the same readership as Gizmodo! It might someday lead to a book deal, or a job offer or some other amazing thing, but it is unrealistic to think it can ever be my day job.

Finally, please don't bother trying to do so-called Black Hat SEO. Google is smarter than you. Trust me. No link farms. No hidden text on your pages. Don't try to spam StumbleUpon or digg. All you are going to do is get yourself blackballed.

Optimize Your Design

There are a few basic things you should do in your design to make sure that both users and search engines can find your best content.

  • Write good page titles with specific keywords, preferably near the beginning. For example, imagine I started with a hypothetical post title of "Recipe: Tofu Grilled With Lemongrass And Thai Chilis". "Recipe" is generic and though useful, is going to appear on millions of pages, so let's move it to the end to get "Tofu Grilled With Lemongrass and Thai Chilis - Recipe". I thought I was done at this point, but when Aaron reviewed this article, he pointed out that using keyword suggestion tools we can see that people search for "grilled tofu" rather than "tofu grilled", so let's make our final title "Grilled Tofu With Lemongrass and Thai Chilis - Recipe". The other descriptors (lemongrass, Thai chilis) will help people envision the dish, and will generate search results as well, because of the long tail we discussed above.
  • Be sure your meta description tag for each post is clear, as it can appears in search results. Well written descriptions increase the odds that a user will actually click to your page.
  • The meta keywords tag, on the other hand, is pretty useless. Search engines mostly ignore them because they are so easily manipulated. So set them if it is easy for you but don't worry about it.
  • Put a caption on every image you use, so that image search engines will find them. Set the alt attribute on the img tag as well.
  • Include a navigation bar that encourages new users to find your best content. For example, I have a "Most Popular Recipes" link. People who look at your best stuff are more likely to subscribe and visit often.
  • Prominently feature links for readers to subscribe via RSS or email.
  • If you feel comfortable, include a picture of yourself - people relate to faces.
  • Include a "recent comments" section in your sidebar, and then be sure and respond to most or all comments. When other users see that you, the author, are responding they will be more likely to join in.
  • Include a "recent posts" (or "related posts") list after each post. When the user reaches that decision point after an article, they will be encouraged to remain on your site longer.
  • Simplify, and then simplify some more. Make sure that everything on your site is there for a reason, especially the stuff "above the fold" on the front page. If you've got something useless on there, those are pixels that could be left pleasingly blank, or could be put to work driving traffic. For example, I replaced my list of Archives By Date which was filling a few hundred pixels of sidebar space, with a popup that serves the same function. The date archives are pretty obligatory, but really how many of my readers are looking for what I wrote in November, 2007 specifically? The popup fills the need but saves the pixels.

Don't Forget, SEO is Only Part of the Traffic Story

Besides creating great content and optimizing for search engines, there are a lot of other things you can do to build traffic. Here's are some of the keys, each of which is worth of a whole article:

  • Build relationships with other bloggers, especially those in your niche and in your geographic area. You can start this by commenting respectfully on their blogs, or dropping them an email. Don't ask for favors until you know someone a little. Instead, do small favors for them like linking to their blog, commenting with valuable info, suggesting related story ideas, participating in contests or surveys they are running and so forth.
  • While you are reading other blogs, don't just skim to find stuff you can comment on. Go deep, and learn from what is working for each author. Don't try to copy their style. Be yourself but accumulate good ideas that you can incorporate.
  • Learn about non-blog websites in your niche. For example, TasteSpotting, FoodGawker, and PhotoGrazing are invaluable for food blogs with good photography. They send hundreds of hits to each of my posts that they accept, and those are well targeted visitors that love food and have the potential to visit Herbivoracious regularly. Urbanspoon not only links all my restaurant reviews, they provide me with a way for users to automatically see the location, phone number and hours of each business, and simple social ranking. What are the equivalents in your neck of the net?
  • The web is a huge place and you can't know everything that is happening on it, but you can use Google Alerts to keep track of new web pages that refer to you or your site, and to keywords that are relevant to your niche. If someone writes about you, be sure and say thanks and go comment on that page. When a topic you care about comes up, strike while the iron is hot and write a post too. Watching your logs and analytics data pays off here too. If you see a burst of hits coming in from a site you didn't know about, go check it out right away and see what you can do to to help that trend continue!

Wrap It Up, I'll Take It

Blogging can be great fun, whether it is primarily an outlet for your thoughts, a way to showcase your talents or build your credibility as an asset to your profession or business, or even as a way to directly make money. If monetization really is your primary goal, you should definitely dive deep into the business side and do Aaron's SEO Training Course. If your goals are more modest (at least for now), the tips above should help you get your hits growing in an encouraging direction.

How to Migrate Blogger Powered Blogs to Wordpress

Jul 26th

I gave my mom my old weight loss blog a few years back. In spite of publishing it on its own domain (smart) I was still using Blogger (dumb) when I gave it to her. It is not that Blogger is bad, but that Wordpress offers so many customization options that allow you to effectively rank for a wider array of keywords, and thus earn more per word.

These are the steps I did to help move her blog over from Blogger to Wordpress.

Step 1: Download and install Wordpress (also requires setting up a MySQL database).

Step 2: Make Wordpress URL configurations.

  • set the category base to /c and set the tag base to /t
  • set the post slug to /%postname%/

Step 3: Cloned my mom's old blogger theme design using Themepress (cost $10), and then had to hack the CSS by hand for about 10 minutes.

After verifying the layout was fairly decent I deleted the blogroll links and the opening post.

Step 4: publish my mom's old blog onto blogspot.com so I could import it to Wordpress using the one click import located at domainname.com/wp-admin/import.php

After importing it I used Blogger to republish the blog back to her domain instead of leaving a copy on Blogspot, such that she does not have a stray cloned version of her site floating around.

Once import was complete I looked it over and verified it generally looked good. If you still have your old site up you can view the Wordpress blog version by going to yoursite.com/index.php (presuming you installed Wordpress in the root of your site).

Step 5: rewrite the .htaccess file to include both the Wordpress specific functions and rewrite rules needed to lose the dates from the URLs. The exact .htaccess file you need to write depends on your old URL structure and file extensions (the below one redirects html and shtml files). Our .htaccess file looked like this (note there were a few dozen lines like the first line, but I limited it to one in this example for brevity)

redirect 301 /2008_07_01_archive.html http://www.fattyweightloss.com/2008/07/

<IfModule mod_rewrite.c>
RewriteEngine On
RewriteBase /
RewriteRule (\d{4})/(\d+)/(.*)\.shtml$ $3/ [L,R=301]
RewriteRule (\d{4})/(\d+)/(.*)\.html$ $3/ [L,R=301]
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-d
RewriteRule . /index.php [L]
</IfModule>

Please note that when Wordpress imports your blog some of the stop words are removed from the URLs, which can end up creating some mean 404 errors until you line up the new URLs with the old ones (which we deal with in step 7). Also, if you used Blogger tag pages then you might need to make your .htaccess file a bit more complex than the above one, adding entries to redirect the tag pages.

Step 6: Delete my mom's old static file archives.

If you are afraid that something might get hosed up with the move you can rename the old archive files and folders. For example:

  • Name the root index.html to something like index5.html
  • If you have a /2004/ folder make it something like /12004/

After these are renamed or deleted click around the site and verify it generally works.

Step 7: Installed a couple SEO related plug ins.

Akismet - comment anti-spam tool installed by default, but I had to get an API key and enable it.

SEO Title Tag - allows you to make the page title and H1 post heading different...great for on page optimization.

Redirection plug in - keeps track of 404 errors and allows you to redirect URLs.

What I did, rather than redirecting URLs, was find the URL slugs that did not align with the old URLs and rewrite the URL slugs to add the stop words into it (I believe the most common ones were and and the).

I monitored 404 errors logged by the redirection plug in for ~ 4 days and fixed everything I came across. I figure all the important, well linked to, and/or high traffic posts should have got traffic within the first 4 days.

After 8 weeks I will flush the 404 error log and look for any stray link equity that I am not capturing, and redirect those URLs to their new location.

WASABI Related Entries - this plug in automatically creates a list of related entries wherever you like in your theme (you can install it in the sidebar or possibly after your comments). The beauty of such a plug in is that it allows you to keep more of your PageRank flowing internally, and it allows you to put a bunch more keyword rich content within a page without it looking spammy. For instance, given the following image you know what the related post is about without even seeing it.

Lorell reviewed a variety of other related post plug ins.

Step 8: While I was fixing up my mom's URLs I helped offset the revenue shortfall from the short term traffic decline by using IE conditional comments to place an extra AdSense block on her 404 page when Internet Explorer viewers accessed the error page.

Step 9: Final window dressings :)

Use Xenu Link Sleuth to crawl the site to look for any broken links you need to fix. Please note that you may need to change the number of threads running or Xenu might get blocked by your server. I had no luck with 30 threads, but 4 worked ok.

Set up your robots.txt file to prevent Googlebot from trying to create search pages (?s=). Also prevent them from trying to index admin pages, feeds, trackback URLs, and the p= post URLs (presuming you are using post slugs as mentioned above).

User-agent: *
Disallow: /page/
Disallow: /*p=
Disallow: /?q=
Disallow: /?s=
Disallow: /*trackback
Disallow: /*feed
Disallow: /*wp-login
Disallow: /*wp-admin
Disallow: /*xmlrpc.php

Matt Cutts offers some tips to protect your Wordpress blog from getting hacked. Patrick Altoft offers tips on how to use a Google Alert to check if your blog gets hacked.

Map out keyword strategy and assign old posts to related categories. Set your default category to something that is useful rather than leaving it as uncategorized. While editing particularly high traffic posts it might make sense to see if the page title or page contents could be further improved to make the post even more successful. In some cases a post can rank for a wide array of related keywords.

While ensuring that are category pages are linked to sitewide, I used conditional PHP statements in the sidebar.php file for monthly archives such that they were linked to from the homepage, but not from the individual post pages. This drives more link equity toward the category level pages, while driving less to the date based archives (as we would rather rank for low fat recipes than for August 2007).

<?php if ( is_home() || is_page() ) { ?>
<li><p class="sidebar-title">Archives</p>
<ul>
<?php wp_get_archives('type=monthly'); ?>
</ul>
</li>
<?php } ?>

As a bonus, one could also add a plug in for editing default category pages, but we have not done that yet as we still have a long way to go with categorizing the current contents first. Anyone know of a good plug-in to edit category pages?

Step 10: (Only if Your Old Blog Was Published on Blogspot) redirect Blogspot address.

If you were hosting your blog at Blogspot and have some good inbound link equity coming into it you can redirect those links to your website by using this code in your Blogger template, which was an upgrade of the code orignally published here.

Blogging - No Longer a Unique Business Strategy

May 25th

I was surfing around quite a bit today and came across many great blog posts that seem like they were meant to be more than blog posts. But there is too much content and not enough attention, so nobody cared. A marketer who has studied online marketing for nearly a decade got 0 comments and 0 inbound links for writing an 8 page blog post of quality content. Worse yet, the blog is about using content to build links, and the post shared link building tips.

If you are one off linkbaiting or publish nothing but hyped up linkbait garbage then blog posts are a good format for promotion because blogs make it easy to show social proof of value (via trackbacks and comments). But if your site is real and you aim to create a real brand your best content needs a permanent home, and should be set apart from your average blog post.

Blog posts are great for getting quick ideas out to the marketplace, but when you create something in depth it is usually better if you place it on another part of your site rather than making it a blog post. And if you find yourself spending 10 hours creating a piece of featured content then why not...

  • focus the idea around a topic you feel you should be able to own
  • give it a title that shows ownership of an idea
  • spend a couple hours getting feedback
  • create a logo for it and put graphics in it to make it look different than text heavy blog posts
  • spend a couple hours marketing it by mentioning it to friends in the industry
  • feature it aggressively on your site

Average content with an aggressive launch and great marketing outperforms great content with no marketing.

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