Wrong Page Ranking at the Top of Google's Search Results

Aug 7th

Question: I have recently launched a new site and got it a few authoritative links. For my search queries related to my brand Google is ranking an internal page instead of the home page. Why?

Answer: When a site is new and has few inbound links the PageRank computations tend to be rough estimations. It is common for a page linked to sitewide, like an about us page, to outrank the homepage until they better understand the internal site structure and PageRank flow.

What if My Site is Older?

Filtered Page

Some pages get filtered out of the search results for being too focused on a keyword or keyword phrase. Make sure you mix up your inbound anchor text, page title, meta description, page headings, and page content. If you see a women's volleyball page outranking your core volleyball page and your core volleyball page used to rank really well but is now nowhere to be found then likely it got filtered out.

Poor Internal Site Link Structure

If the wrong page style ranks and gets linked to then that advantage sorta builds on itself and the wrong pages continue to rank. If you have printer friendly pages or other duplicate content pages ranking you may want to look into demoting their role in your internal link structure.

Information & Sales Pages

Informational pages tend to outrank most sales / conversion oriented pages because typically they have more relevant on page content and deliver greater value to common web users, which makes people more likely to link to them. If you have an informational page ranking where you would like your sales page to rank you have numerous options.

Advertise your product or service aggressively on the information page. This allows you to maintain rankings, maintain forward link momentum, and increase conversion rates. This is a low risk approach. If the idea of advertising too overtly scares you then you may want to consider using smaller ads and working the advertisement into the content with a text link.

Switch the contents of the two URLs. This carries some risks, as some people who linked to the information page may remove their link if they see the advertisement page, though most old links stick. The other big risk is that competitors may eventually catch up because your ranking page may not gain links as quickly as their informational pages do, so the day you switch to an ad page you help them catch up.

Change internal link weights. If you are placing a lot of link weight on the informational page but little on the sales page you can try to increase your internal link weight to the sales page while lowering the link weight to the informational page.

Market both pages aggressively. It is typically better to have two listings in the search result than one. If one of your documents is a self reinforcing authority and your other document is within striking range of the top results you can market both of them. Ensure you make the descriptions and titles for each of them appealing to the right searchers. For example, the listing for the sales page can use commercial words like buy and best, whereas the informational page can use words like free, tips, reviews, etc.

How to Know if a 301 Redirect Counts

Aug 6th

Question: You recently mentioned 301 redirecting one of your sites. How do you tell if 301 redirects count?

Answer: This is very similar to testing if a link pointing at your website is passing link juice. Before 301 redirecting your site, find at least one navigational type search query that can be created out of the inbound anchor text of the site you are redirecting, which you would still expect to rank for even if you had no page content.

When the new site ranks well for that query you know the search engine is following your 301 redirect, though it might take a bit longer for the trust to propagate through the new website and get your contents fully indexed. As time passes you will see the new site replace the old site for more and more search queries. If it ever stops ranking you know there is a technical error with the redirect (such as accidentally writing over your .htaccess file) or they are no longer trusting or following the redirect.

If you are a large corporation or large Google advertiser then Google will go out of their way to work with you to ensure the redirect counts and the transfer is smooth. Here is an example post Matt Cutts made about helping migrate Microsoft Live Spaces:

By the way, it looks like the primary issue with the Windows Live Writer blog was the large-scale migration from spaces.msn.com to spaces.live.com about a month ago. We saw so many urls suddenly showing up on spaces.live.com that it triggered a flag in our system which requires more trust in individual urls in order for them to rank (this is despite the crawl guys trying to increase our hostload thresholds and taking similar measures to make the migration go smoothly for Spaces). We cleared that flag, and things look much better now.

If you are an SEO working on a smaller mom and pop type website and rank better than search engines feel you deserve to they may manually penalize your site. Some search engineers might decide to kill the redirect because they generally think of SEOs as being manipulative scum (even if they are unwilling to admit that publicly).

Having seen friends move many sites, the only 301 redirect penalties I have come across have been manual ones. From my experimentation Google is not very good at algorithmically detecting search relevancy manipulation based on 301 redirects, but they may flag and review some of the higher authority cross site 301 redirects.

If the site you are redirecting has anything shady going on with it, or if you are a well known SEO, make sure you do not discuss the redirect publicly or register your sites with Google Webmaster Central, otherwise Google might kill the redirect out of their distaste and hatred for the field of SEO. A better way to use the old trusted site might be just to try to make it look legitimate and use it as a link source for your more profitable websites.

If you are a smaller webmaster and still want to risk redirecting your site you want to have press pages, an about us page, and give lots of other signals that you are larger than you are, in order to help minimize the chances that a Google engineer will try to destroy your rankings.

How to Estimate the Length & Value of the Long Tail for Your Target Market's Keywords

Aug 3rd
posted in

Question: How do you determine how much value there is in the head of a keyword space compared to the tail of the same marketplace?

Answer: The best way to know is to have an authoritative site that ranks across a wide swath of related keywords in your marketplace and track conversions. Of course, it is expensive to create a lot of high quality content, so there are are shortcuts you can take to understanding the depth and breadth of a keyword market.

Search Auto-Completion &amp: Related Searches

Many of the major search engines show related searches and try to auto-complete your search queries. This should give you a list of additional popular search phrases that are a bit deeper than the core head keywords.

Competitive Research Tools

Some keyword tools, like KeyCompete, allow you to buy a list of keywords that competitors are bidding on.

  • If a site is focused on your vertical you can grab all the words from their KeyCompete bid campaign.

  • If the site is broad you can search KeyCompete for TheirDomain.com?keyword

You can also use competitive research tools like Compete.com Search Analytics to see what terms a competitor ranks for in the organic search results, and what percent of their site traffic comes from each keyword. Some keyword research tools like WordZe also allow you to download up to 10,000 keywords at a time.

Use Google to Filter Keywords by Value

After grabbing a list of competitive keywords you can upload them to the Google Traffic Estimator tool to see which terms are the most valuable. Also, you can submit the words to the traffic estimator tool using broad, phrase, and exact match. Comparing the ratios of the values of the different match types should give you a good idea as to the depth of each keyword.

Use Google to Organize Your Keywords

Some keyword tools end up generating more keywords than you can easily organize. You can use the Google AdWords Editor's Keyword Grouper to help organize keywords into more manageable and targeted groups.

Track Your Google AdWords Results & Refine Your Keyword Strategy

As you bid on keywords, if you leave them broad match, your ad will be displayed for many related keywords. You can see what additional terms triggered your ads using the Google AdWords Search Query Performance Report.

Reinvesting in the Tail of Search

If you create content for your most valuable phrases and use the profits to create more content for related ideas your content will rank for keywords you never even thought to target.

When you create a new page of content in a valuable space make sure you optimize it for a basket of related keywords, by posting your URL to Google's keyword suggestion tool to see what they think the page is about. If they suggest terms that are not on your page, either insert those keywords in your content or create addition pages targeting those keyword phrases.

Track Your Organic Search Results

Use your server logs to discover high value phrases that are not too competitive and do not show up in the paid keyword research tools. If you find yourself ranking #7 for a page that does not target a specific term, perhaps you can rank #1 or #2 for it and for related phrases if you make pages that are focused on a tighter niche and are more tailored to those specific queries.

If you monetize via AdSense set custom channels for different parts of your site, and if you are monetizing via other techniques make sure you track your conversions.

9 Reasons Why Your Google Search Rankings May Tank

Jul 25th

Question: I have a client that frequently ranks at the top of the search results then sharply drops. His website's Google rankings keep bouncing back and forth. Why do they fluctuate so much?

Answer: Via using spammy links, leveraging the internal link structure of a high authority site, or cross site scripting exploits just about anyone can rank for a day, but it is harder to stay there day in and day out until you build massive domain authority.

Google and other major search engines have many filters, editors, algorithms, and barriers which are used to prevent spamming or minimize the profitability of overt spam. I believe that Google has moved away from banning sites as much and instead moved to using filters more, because that makes it harder to know when / why / where something went wrong. Was your host down, did you screw up your robots.txt file or is that a penalty? The more they can obfuscate their algorithms the harder it is to do SEO and the more people will opt into Google's webmaster tools authentication system.

Here are a few of the most common reasons pages stop ranking / get filtered out of Google for their target phrases (ie: go from ranking in the top 5 results to many pages deep or near the end of the results).

Too Much Similar Anchor Text

If a link profile is natural many of the inbound links will use alternate phrases in the anchor text. If almost all of your anchor text is focused on your core phrase that may preclude your site for being able to rank for that phrase. This actually hit SeoBook.com about 2 years ago. Mixing anchor text is important, especially for a new site in a competitive marketplace.

Page Too Well Aligned with a Term

If your internal anchor text, inbound anchor text, page title, meta description, page headings, and page copy all target the same phrase too closely then the page might get filtered out of the search results.

This problem can occur due to being too aggressive, or due to scrapper sites that keep linking to you over and over again with your page title as the link anchor text.

You know you have achieved this filter when one of your former top ranking pages no longer appears in the top few hundred results, but a subpage of less importance and lower relevancy outranks it (perhaps even somewhere beyond #100).

The easiest way to fix this problem is to change the page title to target an alternate version. If that does not work you may also want to change your internal anchor text and try to get a few more inbound links that are not keyword rich.

Scrape You Very Much

If you have a new site with few trusted links a web proxy or scraper site may get credit for your content. The easiest ways around this are to ensure you have some absolute (not relative) links in your site's navigational structure, and to build some authoritative links to make it harder to knock your site down.

Site Too Aligned With a Term

Somewhat like the above filter, if it is obvious that your site is targeting a keyword it may not rank well for that phrase or derivatives of it. For example, it is probably not a good idea to start every page title on your site with your core keyword at the beginning of the page title. Google has a lot of patents in this phrase based IR area.

You know you have achieved this filter when you rank for alternate nearby phrases but few or none of the pages on your site rank well for shorter search phrases containing your core keyword.

Too Many Reciprocal Links

My wife's main website only ranked for one 5 word phrase until after we dumped the reciprocal link directory her SEO provider put on her site. After removing that page her rankings quickly improved. It is not that reciprocal links are bad (as some forms of reciprocation are a natural part of the web), but if an abnormally large percentage of your links are reciprocal then it is easy to get hit. You can also accidentally walk into this sort of penalty by launching an effective site rating / review awards program that gets a new site too many reciprocal links.

Getting Banned & Manual or Automated Penalties

Some sites that are penalized automated or manually are not completely banned from the search engines, but are stuck ranking somewhere beyond the top 30 results for everything. You know your site stands a good chance of having this penalty if your don't even rank for a unique string of text on your site wrapped in quotes.

Manual penalties and bans are not too common for quality sites, but they do happen. If you feel you are banned or penalized and your site is above board you can plead your case to Google inside their webmaster console.

Duplicate Content & Wasted PageRank

If you have an internal architectural problem and your PageRank is spread across thousands of pages of duplicate content then some of your good content will end up in Google's supplemental results, and won't rank for much. The remaining pages in Google's regular index may also rank worse because they will not have as much link equity as they once did.

You know you have messed this up if you keep track of your page count in Google and see it drastically balloon. This increased page count will also be accompanied by lower rankings, especially for long tail keywords that matched up with deep content.

Are You in Your Community?

Google may re-rank results based on local inter-connectivity. Large authority sites like Amazon.com and Wikipedia slip through based on their site's clout, but if you are a new and small player in a marketplace it helps to get some on topic / in community links. Re-ranking is more likely to occur for shorter queries where there is a significant community around the topic. Longer queries likely place more weight on on the page content.

Operator Error

If you have a problem with your .htaccess file or accidentally block a large portion of your site with robots.txt or robots noindex meta tags then your traffic will go down. Make sure that if you change your site architecture that you test to ensure your URL redirects and rewrites work properly. If you sign up for the Google Webmaster Central tools they will display any crawling errors or 404 messages they come across.

Minor Changes in Ranking

Sites with few links may also see their rankings bounce around quite a bit, and their crawl depth limited, until they acquire some high trust links or Google can figure out other ways to determine if the site deserves to be trusted.

If your rankings fluctuate a bit but are always near the top you may just need a few more links with target anchor text, or a few more authoritative links. Algorithms change all the time, and your strongest competitors are actively building their brands every day, so your site either grows with the web or fades in relevancy.

Microsoft likes fresh links a lot. Google may also place weight on fresh links, but they also look at link quality and rate of growth. If your link growth is too spiky or beyond what is normal they may filter or ban your site, like they did to their AdSense blog 2 years ago.

How to Determine if a Link Passes Reputation / Authority / Equity / Juice / etc...

Jul 21st

Question: I have been buying many links but it is hard to know which ones count and which ones do not. Is there any way to test if a link is clean and passes link authority?

Answer: If you are in a small market you can build links slowly and check your rankings as you build links, but there are two big problems with this:

  • testing is slow, search algorithms frequently change, and ranking changes may occur outside of the effect of any individual link

  • any market worth being in typically requires many links or at least a few high quality links that are hard to obtain

Here are a couple ways to test a link source to see if it passes trust.

Check the Pages it Links to

If all the pages that the page links to rank well for their target terms then that is a sign of trust, though it may help to analyze the link profile of those pages to see if those pages are also trusted from other links and anchor text.

If a page is a high authority page and has linked to other pages for over 6 months it should be passing PageRank. You can use the Wayback Machine to see what a page looked like in the past. If you see a PR8 page linking out to a dozen pages and one of the target pages has been linked to for 6 months, yet remains only a PR2, then odds are that page is not passing authority.

You can also look at advertiser turnover as a sign of not passing authority. You may also want to ask current advertisers if the page helped them at all. And, as a general rule of thumb, the more off topic the link ads are, the more that are sold on each page, and the more tightly they are grouped, the more likely it is that the page does not pass PageRank.

Bogus Anchor Text

You can add a word to your link anchor text and see if your target page ends up ranking for a phrase it already ranks for + that additional word.

For example, I could put info in a link pointing to www.SeoBook.com and see if this site starts ranking for things like seo book info or seo info. I could also point a bogus link at a mainstream media site using the same technique to see how the site's rankings react.

Link to an Orphan Page

Point your link at a page that is not indexed and see if search engines index that page. If that link passes trust you can 301 redirect the target page to the page you want to rank. If the link source hurts your rankings you can 301 redirect that link equity to a competitor's site (if you wanted to be dirty).

Speeding Up Your Tests

It helps to have a network of your own sites so you can point links at the link sources to help them get indexed quickly. Be aware though that if the link source's archived pages typically are not indexed in Google then it is not likely that the page will continue to pass link equity unless you help keep that page indexed by pointing a decent link or two at it.

Warnings

Each search engine evaluates links differently. Some sites that are banned in Google do well in Yahoo while other pages that are banned in Yahoo do well in Google.

Some links that may help in moderation may hurt your site if you are too aggressive with them (i.e. building too many links too quickly from low trust sources). Also, links that help a high authority site may not help a smaller and newer site as much as they helped the older and more trusted site. As a site ages its link profile can get a bit dirtier without as much potential risk.

Why Do My Google Rankings Stick After Losing Inbound Links?

Jul 21st
posted in

Question: About a year ago I bought a bunch of links to help build my link popularity and get my site more exposure. Many of these links expired a few months back and yet my Google rankings did not drop. Why?

Answer: I accidentally blocked a search engine from indexing some of my pages with many in-links and the entire site quickly suffered, so odds are the links that you lost were not your most authoritative inbound links, or your site has built other signs of trust and quality.

Search engines look for many signals of quality. As your site ages, it is trusted more. Just aging another year means that helps your site out in terms of trust related to site age. I have some old PageRank 2 sites that outrank far more authoritative sites (like About.com).

They can also look at other things like searcher feedback, domain name, traffic trends, inbound and outbound links, etc. but as your site aged and got more exposure some of these other signals of quality might help make your rankings more stable, even if you lose some of the links that helped get your site noticed. I ranked in the top 10 for search engine history with a site that had no inbound links.

If the links you bought were obvious bought links they may not have counted toward building your link reputation when you bought them. Another option is that they once counted but were slowly phased out in their ability to boost your search engine rankings.

How to: Move a Website...Should You Fear 301 Redirects Hurting Your Rankings?

Jul 11th

SEO Question: I am considering moving my site to another domain name. Do I have anything to fear in moving it? What is the proper way to move a website to a new URL?

Answer: The best way to permanently move a site is to 301 redirect it. If you have a small site you will likely see few small changes with your rankings. The bigger your site is the longer it takes to move and the more drastically the shakeup will be.

301 Redirecting a Small Site Versus a Large Site

When I redirected my article about Search Engine History the pickup was almost immediate because it was only moving one page to another one page site. My friend Daniel recently 301 redirected the old scholarship site to College Scholarships.org. It was a good test to see how the various search engines would react to moving a 1,000+ page website. The site move started on May 30th. By June 3rd Google indexed 385 pages, and on June 6th Google indexed 509 pages. The old URLs ranked until the associated new ones took their place in the index.

When moving a large site make sure to use a find and replace feature to change internal links to point at the new site location. You can do so inside of HTML editing software like Dreamweaver or using freeware like ReplaceEm. Rebranding a site is also a good time to fix broken links. You can find broken links using Xenu.

Why Our Search Traffic is Still Down

Traffic volumes are still noticeably down from their all time highs, but that is largely a function of 4 factors

  • The site had not been actively marketed for month and we were busy creating other sites so we didn't add much content to the site for months. We were busy building out other high growth potential properties.

  • Right around when we moved the site I believe the traffic volume for that keyword universe dropped (people out of school are not looking for scholarships or grants as much, and people use the Internet less in early summer).
  • Before the site moved we had ads on the blog portion of the site. We removed those ads because we want our blog to be a more organic part of the web than it would otherwise be if it were cluttered with ads. Our page-view traffic stats below are for pages that had ads on them. The blog currently represents a small minority of our traffic, but we hope to change that ASAP.
  • MSN search sucks at 301 redirects!!!!!

Traffic Trends

The site was moved on the 29th of May, and you can see how the traffic was at its all time high in May (the red is the old site and the blue is the new site). In addition to a nice third party trend graph, here are some traffic numbers by date

Date Page impressions
Thursday, March 1, 2007 8,082
Friday, March 2, 2007 5,853
Saturday, March 3, 2007 4,321
Sunday, March 4, 2007 5,424
Monday, March 5, 2007 8,244
Tuesday, March 6, 2007 7,844
Wednesday, March 7, 2007 8,061
Thursday, March 8, 2007 7,594
Friday, March 9, 2007 6,387
Saturday, March 10, 2007 4,579
Sunday, March 11, 2007 4,936
Monday, March 12, 2007 7,877
Tuesday, March 13, 2007 7,898
Wednesday, March 14, 2007 7,739
Thursday, March 15, 2007 7,707
Friday, March 16, 2007 6,344
Saturday, March 17, 2007 5,090
Sunday, March 18, 2007 6,112
Monday, March 19, 2007 9,259
Tuesday, March 20, 2007 9,359
Wednesday, March 21, 2007 8,708
Thursday, March 22, 2007 8,924
Friday, March 23, 2007 7,102
Saturday, March 24, 2007 5,304
Sunday, March 25, 2007 5,169
Monday, March 26, 2007 9,061
Tuesday, March 27, 2007 8,955
Wednesday, March 28, 2007 9,068
Thursday, March 29, 2007 8,565
Friday, March 30, 2007 6,770
Saturday, March 31, 2007 4,760
Sunday, April 1, 2007 5,360
Monday, April 2, 2007 8,483
Tuesday, April 3, 2007 8,671
Wednesday, April 4, 2007 8,552
Thursday, April 5, 2007 7,882
Friday, April 6, 2007 6,390
Saturday, April 7, 2007 5,052
Sunday, April 8, 2007 5,100
Monday, April 9, 2007 9,579
Tuesday, April 10, 2007 9,863
Wednesday, April 11, 2007 9,768
Thursday, April 12, 2007 9,180
Friday, April 13, 2007 7,734
Saturday, April 14, 2007 5,874
Sunday, April 15, 2007 6,533
Monday, April 16, 2007 15,370
Tuesday, April 17, 2007 11,534
Wednesday, April 18, 2007 10,605
Thursday, April 19, 2007 9,895
Friday, April 20, 2007 7,375
Saturday, April 21, 2007 5,201
Sunday, April 22, 2007 5,597
Monday, April 23, 2007 9,955
Tuesday, April 24, 2007 10,064
Wednesday, April 25, 2007 10,461
Thursday, April 26, 2007 9,942
Friday, April 27, 2007 7,689
Saturday, April 28, 2007 5,129
Sunday, April 29, 2007 6,097
Monday, April 30, 2007 10,442
Tuesday, May 1, 2007 11,262
Wednesday, May 2, 2007 10,005
Thursday, May 3, 2007 9,262
Friday, May 4, 2007 7,486
Saturday, May 5, 2007 4,627
Sunday, May 6, 2007 5,744
Monday, May 7, 2007 9,642
Tuesday, May 8, 2007 9,968
Wednesday, May 9, 2007 9,686
Thursday, May 10, 2007 8,865
Friday, May 11, 2007 7,248
Saturday, May 12, 2007 4,858
Sunday, May 13, 2007 5,407
Monday, May 14, 2007 10,878
Tuesday, May 15, 2007 10,478
Wednesday, May 16, 2007 9,974
Thursday, May 17, 2007 9,568
Friday, May 18, 2007 7,724
Saturday, May 19, 2007 5,015
Sunday, May 20, 2007 5,579
Monday, May 21, 2007 10,053
Tuesday, May 22, 2007 10,725
Wednesday, May 23, 2007 10,085
Thursday, May 24, 2007 8,650
Friday, May 25, 2007 7,383
Saturday, May 26, 2007 4,997
Sunday, May 27, 2007 5,328
Monday, May 28, 2007 6,113
Tuesday, May 29, 2007 9,977
Wednesday, May 30, 2007 10,039
Thursday, May 31, 2007 9,650
Friday, June 1, 2007 7,424
Saturday, June 2, 2007 5,111
Sunday, June 3, 2007 6,016
Monday, June 4, 2007 8,876
Tuesday, June 5, 2007 7,378
Wednesday, June 6, 2007 6,599
Thursday, June 7, 2007 5,354
Friday, June 8, 2007 4,019
Saturday, June 9, 2007 2,809
Sunday, June 10, 2007 2,953
Monday, June 11, 2007 4,550
Tuesday, June 12, 2007 4,124
Wednesday, June 13, 2007 3,903
Thursday, June 14, 2007 3,824
Friday, June 15, 2007 3,231
Saturday, June 16, 2007 2,158
Sunday, June 17, 2007 2,459
Monday, June 18, 2007 4,441
Tuesday, June 19, 2007 5,154
Wednesday, June 20, 2007 4,978
Thursday, June 21, 2007 4,468
Friday, June 22, 2007 4,057
Saturday, June 23, 2007 3,086
Sunday, June 24, 2007 3,675
Monday, June 25, 2007 5,853
Tuesday, June 26, 2007 5,666
Wednesday, June 27, 2007 5,684
Thursday, June 28, 2007 5,214
Friday, June 29, 2007 4,032
Saturday, June 30, 2007 2,852
Sunday, July 1, 2007 3,501
Monday, July 2, 2007 5,461
Tuesday, July 3, 2007 4,925
Wednesday, July 4, 2007 3,402
Thursday, July 5, 2007 6,016
Friday, July 6, 2007 4,769
Saturday, July 7, 2007 3,351
Sunday, July 8, 2007 4,022
Monday, July 9, 2007 6,780
Tuesday, July 10, 2007 7,047
Wednesday, July 11, 2007 90
Totals 916,061
Averages 6,887

How Google Reacted to the Redirects

Google picked up on the 301 redirects for the core pages almost immediately. For core terms, that were heavily emphasized on-site and off-site, the rankings dropped slightly then rose back to their typical positions within about a month. Some of them dropped for as little as a week, while others stayed at #1, but for athletic scholarships the rankings are still a bit lower than they were before, with 4 sites still outranking the site, but then again I doubt we should have beat the NCAA for that term. ;)

At the low point, search traffic was about 50% of its high point, and now it is back up to about 70%.

For some portions of the site, Google took quite a while to pick up the 301 redirect. The sections of the site about state scholarship and grants programs, state student loans, and study abroad scholarship programs were slow to move because they each contained many pages, and were numerous few links from the homepage, requiring a bot to go from the homepage, to a category page, to the subcategory page, to each of the 50 or so pages in each of those sections. To help speed along that movement links to some of the deeper sections were added to the homepage.

Helping Deeper Content Get Re-indexed Quickly

We got about a half dozen average quality links after the site moved and changed the URLs in a few of our directory listings like Business.com to help show the transition of the site. The exact match domain name helped improve rankings for the core matching term, and changing the site architecture to place more emphasis on the deeper pages not only got them crawled again quickly, but also helped those pages rank better as well.

In addition to placing more emphasis on lower nodes in the site structure we also blocked some of the duplicate blog content in the robots.txt file and lowered the number of site-wide outbound links from about a half dozen to a couple. These helped focus more of the PageRank on lower pages to get them indexed quicker.

How Did the Engines Do?

Yahoo! Search

1 month later Yahoo traffic is about the same as what it was before the site moved, which likely represents a slight increase in traffic, given the seasonal trend.

Google

Google traffic is down slightly, but I think that is partly due to seasonality factors, as the site ranks where it used to for most of its competitive search terms.

Microsoft's Live Search

The big shocker is that MSN is so bad at following 301 redirects that they now send the site 0 traffic. The old site is listed URL only, while the new site is not listed.

MSN's failure to follow redirects can also be appreciated by seeing how they indexed 10,000 more pages on the SEO Book site than Yahoo! or Google do. Most of those additional pages are affiliate redirects. As of writing this, MSN also failed to index SearchEngineHistory.com.

I filed a re-inclusion request with MSN about a week and a half ago, but have got no reply so far. If it is still hosed near the end of this month I will ping a few people I know who work there.

What Should I Do Before & While Moving My Site?

  • If you have a seasonal site you can mitigate risk by moving your site early in the off season.

  • Buy ads for any brand related queries or other keywords that you feel your site must rank for.
  • Look for low information pages, and eliminate their ability to waste PageRank by blocking them from being indexed.
  • Take inventory of your most profitable sections of your site (from a search standpoint) and ensure your current internal link structure places emphasis on them. If you have a large site and some of your most profitable sections of your site are many clicks from your homepage consider raising their prominence in the site's navigational scheme to help them get re-indexed quickly. Heavily cross link toward the valuable sections whenever and wherever it makes sense.
  • If you are afraid of risking your rankings, you can try 301 redirecting one piece of your site to see how well the engines receive that, then push the rest of your site a month later if the results are good.
  • If your new site launch is a big deal ensure you submit a press release, and come up with a few good marketing / promotional ideas you can do when you launch your new site to help you build link authority and make the transition as smooth as possible. Also changing some of your better directory listings, your internal links, and any other links under your direct control to point at the new location is ideal.
  • I like to buy a bit of StumbleUpon traffic and ads on topical traffic source sites when the site moves.

How Do I Write About & Market Important News When Legal Has to Review All Our Content?

Jul 10th
posted in

Question: We have a multi-week turnaround on our content which makes it hard for us to write about fresh news. Is there an easy way to get past compliance, legal, and information only formatting requirements?

Answer: This is in no way legal advice, but here are a few ideas that might work...

If you have this limitation so do most of your competitors, so in that regard it probably does not hurt you much when competing with other large players. If your business model is solid you should still have a similar or higher visitor value. Where it might hurt is competing with smaller players, but since they are smaller they are typically easier to influence.

You can still attract the traffic streams of the smaller players by using affiliate programs, hiring them as consultants, buying ads on their site, sponsoring special reports they create, creating things they would want to talk about (free tools, widgets, etc.).

I am not sure of the legalities of it, but you may also want to turn some of your star content producers into people you are buying ads off of, or spin the content portion of your business off into its own business then work to cross promote, or publish a few independent blogs with legal disclaimers. Look to see what competitors are doing, and if it is legal try to do it better than they do.

Create and sponsor an independent non-profit organization that speaks for your industry. At least one of the non-profit organizations in the search marketing space is a complete joke, but it still helps its leaders gain brand recognition because they are affiliated with it. I bet more than one car donation charity was created by an auction house.

Synergy Between Domain Names & Keyword Based Search Engine Optimization Strategies

Jun 29th

SEO Question: Do domain names play a role in SEO? Do search engines understand that the words are in the URL even if they are ran together without hyphens in between them? What techniques are best for registering a domain name that search engines like Google will like?

Answer: Over time the role of the domain name as an SEO tool has changed, but currently I think they carry a lot of weight for the associated exact match search. Depending on how they are leveraged going forward they may or may not continue to be a strong signal of quality to search engines.

Domain Names & Link Anchor Text

When I first got in the SEO game a good domain name was valuable because if you got the exact keywords you wanted to rank for in your name it made it easier to get anchor text related to what you wanted to rank for. For example, being seobook.com made it easier for me to rank for seo book and seo.

That link still exists, but nowhere near as strongly or broadly as it once did.

The Fall of Anchor Text & the Rise of Filters

Anchor text as an SEO technique is no secret. To make up for the long ongoing abuse of it, Google started placing less weight on anchor text AND creating more aggressive filters that would filter out sites that have a link profile that looked too spammy with too many inbound links containing the exact same anchor text. If everyone who links to me uses seo book as the anchor text it is much harder to consistently rank for that term than it would be if there was a more natural mixture to it. A natural mix would have some of the following

  • Aaron Wall

  • Aaron Wall's blog
  • SEO Book blog
  • book about SEO
  • the SEO Book
  • seobook.com
  • www.seobook.com
  • Aaron Wall's Seo Book
  • etc

Natural link profiles also contain deep links to internal pages, whereas spammy sites tend to point almost all of their links at their home page.

Domain Names in Action

As Google started getting more aggressive at filtering anchor text, they started placing more weight on the domain name if the domain name exactly matched the keyword search query. They had to do this because they were filtering out too many brands for the search query attached to their brand. Some examples of how this works:

  • At one point, about 2 years back, SeoBook.com stopped ranking for seo book due to a wonky filter that also prevented Paypal for ranking for their own name for a little bit.

  • A friend recently 301 redirected an education site on a bad URL to a stronger domain name. The site's ranking for the exact phrase went from 100+ to top 20 in Google. But, it still is a long way from #1, and it still is at 100+ for the singular version. In competitive industries you need a lot of links to compete, and the redirect also caused the site to slip a bit for some of the other target keyword phrases that the site used to rank for.
  • When you launch a new site on a domain name like mykeywordphrase.com and get it a few trusted links it should almost immediately rank for mykeywordphrase. A friend launched a 3-word education site about a week ago. That site ranks #1 in Google right now for those keywords ran together. That site also just ranked #118 in Google for the phrase with the words spread apart. As the site ages and gets more links it should be easier to rank for that exact phrase (but that domain probably wouldn't help its rankings much for stuff like the root sub-phrase).
  • My domain name Search Engine History.com ranked better than it should have for the query search engine history when its only real signs of trust were age and domain name. It was nowhere in the rankings for just about any other query.

Things Will Change Over Time

A few other caveats worth noting

  • From my experience this exact match domain bonus works with all domain extensions (even .info), but that could change over time. And if the content isn't any good it is still going to be hard to get traction in any market worth developing content for. This exact match domain bonus also works well in local markets for regional domains like .ca.

  • This post is about the current market, and is highly focused on Google's relevancy algorithms (rather than other search engines). I expect the weight on domain names to be lowered significantly (especially for competitive queries) as Google moves toward incorporation more usage data into their relevancy algorithms. This is especially true if many domainers put up low quality to average quality websites on premium domain names. Moves like creating 100,000 keyword laden sites in one massive push (as Marchex recently did) don't bode well for the future of domain names as a signal of quality.
  • The search traffic trends are moving toward consolidating traffic onto the largest high authority sites, so it probably is not a good idea to have 100 deep niche domain names like OnlineHealthcareDegrees.org, OnlineNurseDegrees.net, OnlineNursingSchools.com, OnlineLawDegrees.com, OnlineParalegalDegrees.net etc when you can cover a lot of those topics with a singular broad domain like Online Degrees.org.
  • Any advantage exact match domains seem to have for ranking is much smaller for related phrases that do not exactly match the keyword string or phrases within the anchor text of most of the inbound links.
  • For local businesses a keyword matching domain might be a way around paying to list in all the regional directories and other related arbitrage plays.
  • Domains that use familiar language and sound credible also have a resonance that helps build trust, make the information seem more credible, easier to link at, easier to syndicate, and easier to do business with. It is hard to estimate the value of that since much of it is indirect, and few have measured the affect of domain name on linkability or clickability of a listing outside of paid search arbitrage.

Do Article Submissions Work for SEO?

Jun 28th

Michael Gray recently asked what people thought of using article syndication as an SEO technique. While it may have some upside if the articles get picked up and syndicated outside the article databases, the article databases themselves carry little weight. Patrick Altoft noted that after tracking the results for about 500 clients he discontinued his automated submission service because he thought it didn't offer any value anymore.

A better way to syndicate content to sites outside article databases is typically to create something they would want to link at, or to start building social relationships. As Jeremy Luebke posted in Graywolf's comments, those links work. Google is getting better at determing what parts of the web are active and worth trusting.

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