SEO Question: I have traded hundreds (maybe thousands) of links. I am ranking great on MSN, but am nowhere on Google. What gives?
SEO Answer: Your site is associated with sites of similar link profiles. If most of your inbound links and/or outbound links are of low quality that may preclude your ability to rank. As your reinforce the identity of your site as being associated with low quality sites you are digging a bigger and bigger hole.
Your site may stay in the search index but just have it's rankings suppressed for your targeted keywords. The reasons search engines may want to leave sites in the index that are using ineffective search spamming methods are:
maybe they will keep focusing on the outdated methods
anything that blurs the line to what is effective outside of what Google really wants you to do is a plus for their relevancy
Sometimes you will see an older site that heavily relied upon reciprocal linking ranking well and think that you can just duplicate their link profiles, but typically it is not that easy. Largely because:
when search was less sophisticated and there was less content on the web it was much easier to get quality links
they probably have a few decent quality links you will not be able to get
they likely built their link profiles over time, during a time when search was less sophisticated
their domain might be trusted more (and thus given higher authority and more leniency for algorithmic infractions) because of its age
Recently I pulled the reciprocal links page off a friend's domain and got them about a half dozen average to decent quality links. Their site went from nowhere in Google's search results to the top 30 for their core term in a month. And I still haven't even built any linkage from sites I would consider core trusted seed sites or sites that are extreme topical authorities (in other words, in a few months they are probably going to be doing far better).
Algorithms will continue to advance, and what happened at one point in time, in one engine, with one site, is probably not enough to call it a representative sample. But if you think of search from the eyes of a search engineer, how hard could it be to detect mass reciprocal linking? What website content quality is typically associated with sites sharing that footprint?
Consider the math as well. Time is worth money. And my friend was paying $500 a month for a large scale reciprocal linking campaign. All they needed to do was stop doing that and get about a dozen reasonable links and they were suddenly a market player.
I often get asked about optimizing reciprocal linking methods, but unless they are associated with real social relationships that pull you into your topical clique I generally think they are not worth the effort and have a poor risk to reward ratio, at least if you are intent on building a long-term brand, and want to rank well in Google.
SEO Question: I was thinking about buying Google AdWords and AdSense ads or placing AdSense on my site. Will doing any of these increase my link count, Google rankings, or rankings in other search engines?
Answer: PPC ads go through redirects, so they do not count toward your link popularity, but there are other ways to tie together PPC ads and organic search placement. Search engines claim there is no direct linkage between buying ads and ranking, but they only talk in ideals because it helps reinforce their worldview and help them make more money.
Buying AdWords Ads
What They Won't Tell You:
Highly commercial keywords may have the associated editorial results go through more relevancy filters and/or be editorially reviewed for relevancy more frequently. Also, because they want people to click on the AdWords ads there is a heavy informational bias on the oranic search results.
I know some people who have large ad spends that get notifications of new ad system changes ahead of time, and others who get to give direct feedback to allow them to participate in cleaning up search results and minimizing unfair competing actions in the ad systems. So that is one type of cross-over / feedback that exists, but I think that tends to be more rare, and the more important cross over / feedback that exists is an indirect one.
Just by Being Real
You can't really explain why and how everyone does what they do. Some people who find your product and enjoy it enough to leave glowing testimonials will even tell you that they don't know how they found it.
In the same way that targeted ads can lead to purchases, they can also lead to an increase in mindshare, brand, reach, usage data, and linkage data. Just by being real and being seen you are going to pick up quality signals. If you try to factor all of those into your ad buys most markets are still under-priced.
Cross Over Due to Buying AdWords:
A well thought out pay per click campaign can feed into your SEO campaign more ways than I can count. Here are a few examples.
Integrating Offline & Online:
In a TV commercial Pontiac told people to search Google, and got a ton of press.
Many companies also have strong ties between the legal and marketing departments. If buying or selling an ad gets you sued and gets you in the news the value of the news coverage can far exceed the cost of the ads and legal fees.
Small Controversial Ads:
When I was newer to the field one friend called me the original link spammer. He meant it as a compliment, and I still take it as one. In much the same way I was an aggressive link builder, I was also quite aggressive at ad buying.
I caused controversy by buying names of other people in the industry as AdWords ads. I was prettymuch a total unknown when I did that, but some of the top names in the industry elevated my status by placing my name in heated discussion about what was fair and reasonable or not.
You can always consider placing controversial / risky ideas or ads against your brand or competing brands as a way to generate discussion (but of course consider legal ahead of time).
Drafting Off New Words & Industry News:
When the nigritude ultramarine SEO contest started I bid on AdWords. Some people discussing the contest mentioned that I bid on that word. If an event bubbles up to gain mainstream coverage and you make it easy to identify your name as being associated with it then you might pick up some press coverage.
Industry buzz words that are discussed often have significant mindshare, get searched for frequently, and larger / bureaucratic competitors are going to struggle to be as plugged into the market as you are or react as quickly to the changing language.
Snagging a Market Position Early:
When a friend recommended I read the TrustRank research paper in February of last year I knew it was going to become an important idea (especially because that same friend is brilliant, helped me more ways and times than I can count, and was the guy who came up with the idea of naming the Google Dances).
I read it and posted a TrustRank synopsis. In addition to trying to build a bit of linkage for that idea I also ensured that I bought that keyword on AdWords. Today I rank #1 in Google for TrustRank, and I still think I am the only person buying that keyword, which I find fascinating given how many people use that word and how saturated this market is.
Buying AdSense Ads
Buying Ads Creates Content:
If your ads are seen on forums people may ask about your product or brands. I know I have seen a number of threads on SEO forums that were started with something like I saw this SEO Book ad and I was wondering what everyone thought of it. Some people who start talking about you might not even click your ads.
Each month my brand gets millions and millions of ad impressions at an exceptionally reasonable price, especially when you factor in the indirect values.
Appealing to an Important Individual:
I have seen many people advertise on AdSense targeting one site at a time, placing the webmaster's name in the ad copy. It may seem a bit curt for some, but it is probably more likely to get the attention of and a response from a person than if you request a link from them.
Ads are another type / means of communication.
Appealing to a Group of People:
I get a ton of email relating to blogs and blogging. And in Gmail I keep seeing Pew Internet ads over and over and over again. Their ads range from Portrait of a Blogger to Who are Bloggers?
Going forward they will have added mindshare, link equity, and a report branded with that group of people. When people report on blogging or do research about blogging in the future the Pew report is likely to be referenced many times.
Selling AdSense Ads
Don't Sell Yourself Short:
Given the self reinforcing nature of links (see Filthy Linking Rich) anything that undermines your authority will cause you to get less free exposure going forward. So you really have to be careful with monetization. If you do it for maximal clickthough rate that will end up costing you a lot of trust and link equity.
Don't Monetize Too Early:
Given the lack of monetization ability of a new site with few visitors and the importance of repeat visits in building trust and mindshare you don't want to monetize a new site too aggressively unless it is an ecommerce type site. It is hard to build authority if people view your site as just enough content to wrap around the AdSense.
Spam, Footprints, & Smart Pricing:
In the past search engines may have discounted pages that had poison words on them. Search is all about math / communication / patterns.
Graywolf recently noted that landing page slippage may be an input into landing page and site quality scores for AdWords ad buyers. Google could also use AdSense account earnings or AdSense CTR data to flag sites for editorial reviews, organic search demotion, ad payout reduction, or smart pricing.
Question: I wanted to link to your book from my site using an affiliate link, but will not be able to put affiliate links on my site, how do I link to pages on my site and have them jump to affiliate links?
Answer: Many affiliates link to theirdomain.com/recommended/product-name/ and then redirect that location either using .htaccess or a PHP jump script. Some affiliates also block the directory of affiliate links using a robots.txt file.
The advantages of doing this are:
getting around publishing requirements that prevent you from posting affiliate links to your site
potentially shield some of your affiliate footprints from some information retrieval systems (although likely many of them will be able to understand your link relationships to some level based on surfing habits of your visitors). Some affiliates may also cloak their links to show engines links to well trusted sites, but that could be considered shady by some search engines
easily change what merchant or what merchant offer is associated with affiliate links throughout a site by changing the one .htaccess or php redirect file
A while ago NotSleepy guest posted about using .htaccess and redirects. You may want to use 302 instead of 301 redirects if you are using .htaccess for your redirects. Here is an easy to use PHP jump script if you would prefer to use that over .htaccess.
SEO Question: Many people tell me to get authoritative links. How do I find authoritative links?
SEO Answer: It helps to get links directly from sources that would be considered trusted seed sites in algorithms like TrustRank or topical hub and authority sites in Topic Sensitive PageRank. As TrustRank, Topic Sensitive PageRank [PDF], and other similar trust / topical trust related algorithms flow around the web it also helps to get links from sites that are linked to from seed sites.
Sites like DMOZ, the Yahoo! Directory, and Wikipedia might be considered obvious authorities and trust seed sites, and there are numerous other ways you could find potential trusted seed sites.
One example of a way to find general high authority / high trust domain might be to look for sites that link to multiple trusted related resources in one field that also link to multiple trusted related resources in other fields. For example, you could do something like Yahoo! Search (linkdomain: a couple sites in field 1) AND (linkdomain: a couple sites in field 2).
Sites that you know the brand of even if they are outside your industry, or see ranking across a wide range of queries are also well trusted authoritative domains.
Some algorithms may take the top x% of sites from each category of trusted seed sites and consider those as trusted sites as well. The Yahoo! Directory lists sites roughly in terms of authority, so viewing the top sites in a specific category is a good way to find the most authoritative sites in that category.
Yahoo! also paginates results in each category. If you are in need of co-citation in the Yahoo! Directory and your domain lacks adequate authority to be listed on the first page of your category you can buy a category sponsorship for about $100 a month without worrying about Google calling you a link buying spammer or removing your site from the results (even though you are buying an ad for distribution, link equity, and co-citation - typically with more indirect value than direct value).
Another way to get authoritative links is to see what social sites and people outside of your industry are talking about and linking to that is related to your industry or related industries. Think of ways to create related ideas and industry standards.
Yahoo! tends to sort backlinks roughly in terms of authority. In addition, Yahoo! allows you to search for .edu, .gov, .mil, .ac.uk or things with .k12 in the URL. Combine those types of ideas with a specific topic or a link search function to find a targeted link opportunity.
And, if you are into looking at competitive linkage data right in the search results SEO for Firefox is the extension for you.
SEO Question: I have the same content as a top ranked competing site. Are they outranking me because of their domain age? What can I do to outrank them?
SEO Answer: Competing requires more than just replicating what a competing site has done. Back when search was less sophisticated people had to follow links to get where they wanted to go. Thus directories were more relevant and many sites listed any halfway decent sites in their vertical based on the fact that they were even in the same vertical. With search replacing links as the default navigational scheme you have to do more to be linkworthy.
A site like SeoToday would not get to the top of the search results if it were launched today, but because it was launched many years back and was easy to link at back then it has many authoritative industry related links that help keep it ranked well in Google.
Also think of the search business model as though you are a search engine. To them, being the first person to do something is a sign of quality because to be the first person in a market requires some market timing / knowledge / investment / luck. The people who bet on new markets are in essence rewarded if/when their market takes off, both by self-reinforcing market effects (people being more likely to find / experience / link to top ranked results) and by algorithmic weighting on domain age.
The biggest issue facing search engines is the quality of their results. By relying on old / stale results they require new content producers to do better things than old websites did to steal marketshare. Thus you have to be innovative / offer a better customer experience / be more remarkable to rise to the top of a marketplace.
If you want to outrank established websites you can't just replicate what they have done, you also have to do unique and linkworthy things that will help you overcome their early market lead and the self-reinforcing effects of search.
SEO Question: I have a 100,000+ page website. Is there any easy way to ensure all major search engines completely index my website?
SEO Answer: Search engines are constantly changing their crawl priorities. Crawl too deeply and get many low quality pages while increasing indexing time and costs. Crawl too shallow and you don't get down to the relevant pages. Crawl depth is a balancing act.
There is no way to ensure all pages get and stay indexed...they change their crawl priorities constantly. Having said that, you can set your site up to make it as crawler friendly as possible.
Five big things to look at are
content duplication - are your page titles or meta description tags nearly duplicate (for example thin content pages that are cross referenced by topic and location)? or do other sites publish the same content (for example an affiliate feed or a wikipedia article)? are search engines indexing many pages with similar content (for example different model color or splitting feedback for one item across many pages)?
link authority - does your site have real high quality links? how does your link profile compare with leading competing sites? what features or interactive elements are on your site that would make people desire to link to you instead of an older and more established competing site?
site growth rate - does your site grow at a rate consistent with its own history? how does your growth rate compare with the growth rate of competing sites in the same vertical?
internal link structure - is every valuable page on your site linked to from other pages on your site? do you force search engines to go through long loops rather than providing parallel navigation to similar priority pages? do you link to low value noisy pages (sometimes a search engine indexing less pages is better than more)?
technical issues - don't feed the search engines cookies or session IDs, and try to use clean descriptive URLs
Some signs of health are
you don't have pages you don't want getting indexed - wasting link equity on low quality pages means you have less authority to spread across your higher quality pages
most the pages you want indexed are getting indexed, actively crawled, and are not stuck in Google's supplemental index - supplemental problems and / or reduced indexing or crawl priority are common on sites with heavy content duplication, wonky link profiles, or many dead URLs
your site is building natural link equity over time and people are actively talking about your brand - if you have to request every link you get then you are losing market share to competitors who get free high quality editorial links
you see a growing traffic trend from search engines for relevant search queries - this is really what matters. this includes getting more traffic, higher quality traffic, and searchers landing on the appropriate page for their query.
things you can do if conditions are less than ideal
focus internal link equity at important high value pages (for example, on your internal sitemap consider featuring new product categories, new and seasonal items, or link to your most important categories sitewide)
trim the site depth (by placing multiple options on a single page instead of offering many near duplicate pages) or come up with ways to make the page level content more unique (such as user feedback)
cut out the fat - if many low value pages are getting indexed block their indexing by doing something like nuking them / not linking to them / integrating their information into other higher value pages
use descriptive page relevant URLs / page titles / meta descriptions - this helps ensure the right page ranks for the right query and that search engines will be more inclined to deeply crawl and index your site
restructure site to be more top / mid / bottom heavy - if a certain section of your site is overrepresented in the search results consider changing your internal link structure to place more weight on other sections. in addition you can add features or ideas which make the under-represented pages more attractive to link at
use Sitemaps - while you should link to all quality pages of your site from your site and use internal link structure to help them understand what pages are important you can also help search engines understand page relationships using the open sitemap standard
SEO Question: Where would you begin with a client that markets exceptionally niche products? Or would you simply pass on the opportunity and just work with clients with more mainstream products/services?
SEO Answer: Certain markets, like insurance, are brutal to jump into, no matter how much you are willing to spend. Other markets are easy to dominate with little effort. Traditionally niche markets are less competitive than established competitive markets, and thus it is easier for a small amount of SEO to go a long way.
There are a few major considerations when deciding if it is worth it to do SEO on a niche site:
Is there market demand? Is their trending demand? It is hard to get people to change the way they use language or create demand where none exists unless the marketing goes beyond SEO. If the customer ranks #1 for their core keywords, but there is no traffic then SEO is a moot point. Do keyword research before considering SEO. You may also want to search to see if people are talking about similar ideas. Don't forget to use something like Google Trends if the market is seasonal. If possible set up an AdWords campaign. If they are in a deep niche there probably is not going to be much competition for their core target keywords, and they may even do well by spending $100 a month on AdWords.
Is there an overshadowing important market? Another thing to consider is how established and authoritative are the sites currently ranking for your target keywords. In some cases they may be prohibitively authoritative and not worth the expenses required to outrank.
How relevant are the organic search results? If the organic search results are irrelevant and AdWords has no competition then it might be hard to justify an expensive SEO campaign if AdWords, Overture, and AdCenter are working well enough.
Does the site have any trust? If the site has no trust at all it may be easier to rank pages on other sites. For example, you could put up a Squidoo lense (or similar), point a link or two at that, and try to rank it.
Are people talking about the site? If the site has been mentioned in the past by people without much of a push marketing campaign then odds are it is remarkable enough to really citation worthy, especially if you are working with a Purple Cow. If the site is interesting or you can relate it to something of great interest then viral marketing as SEO is great stuff.
Budget & Fun: The other things to consider are how fun would the client be to work with, how bad do you need work, and are they willing to give you enough budget to adequately value your time and provide long-term value. In some niches there might be huge upside potential. If they are starting from scratch (or nearly from scratch) it might make sense to gain an equity position in the website. You also have to evaluate how scalible your model is. Ongoing quality SEO services require a low client to service provider ratio since each client has exceptionally unique needs and SEO service business models are hard to scale.
I am using Overture, Wordtracker, and KeywordDiscovery to do keyword research, but I want to know why the search volume numbers vary so much, and which numbers I should trust. How do I do keyword research?
Each keyword data source has flaws inherent to its model. Rather than looking at keyword suggestion tools as something which offers an exact quantitative measure of traffic look for them to be more qualitative (ie: rather than looking for exact numbers look for them to be more of a yes no tool).
Also look at keyword depth, related words, and reasonable modifiers. Depth and related words matter far more than just the sheer volume for a generic term because the longer queries are more targeted and thus easier to monetize, and longer search phrases are typically easier to rank for than shorter keywords.
Overture is owned by Yahoo!. Since Yahoo! is a major search provider and has a fairly open ad inventory system they have a ton of automated search queries from things like
search result scrapers
people doing competitive research
When I searched for "seo book" as a keyword Overture returned 1,579 monthly queries. This number is low because those people searching for my brand (or seo products in general) are typically more likely to search on Google.
When I searched for "seo book" as a keyword Overture returned 33 monthly queries for book engine optimization search seo seo seo software. Notice how they returned the words in alphabetical order, the words in the search queries most likely were in a vastly different order. Also note that is an absurd search phrase. Like who would search for something like seo book seo search engine optimization seo software? Probably nobody, so it is most likely an automated query. You can also back up the lack of legitimacy of that keyword phrase by the fact that Overture did not show any search volume for other similar but shorter and more reasonable queries.
Another problem worth noting with Overture data is that they run singular and plural search words together. Some queries have far different meanings and/or far different search volumes between the singular and plural versions.
Although I mentioned this above, it is worth noting again: keyword depth matters far more than the sheer volume for a generic term. Longer queries are more targeted and thus easier to monetize. Plus those queries are easier to rank for. Since seo book only had 3 returned queries, with one of them being brand related and another being likely a fake query, it probably would not be a great keyword to target for traffic (but the lack of competition and limited market depth might make it an easy term to brand...which was part of the thought process when I created this site).
To test keyword depth and find related keywords you can use a variety of tools, like Overture, Google Suggest, the AdWords Keyword Tool, and Google Sets.
I also have ownership in one of the top ranked Forex websites. Because of the highly commercial nature of the search term (forex means foreign exchange, which is typically searched for by people trading money) Yahoo!'s search estimates (93,240 searches a month) are absurdly overblown for that core term.
But on a positive note, that market has amazing depth. People are looking for courses, books, news, tips, and strategies on the topic. Forex also has synergistic related keywords like currency trading, forex trading, currency exchange, and modifiers galore including types of trades, country names, and currencies. While the market is exceptionally competitive the depth still makes it somewhat appealing.
Wordtracker has a much smaller data set than Overture (Yahoo!), Google, or even MSN, so Wordtracker numbers are going to be more easily skewed by the small sample size. If I use one of Wordtracker's partner search engines and search for an uncommon query it is going to make that query seem far more important than it is.
I view Keyword Discovery as being somewhat similar to Wordtracker. Keyword Discovery may have a larger keyword index than Wordtracker, but don't expect either of them to offer precise quantitative data.
If you want to test the quantity of traffic for a specific keyword, set up a search targeted campaign on Google AdWords, and ensure you bid enough to show up somewhere on the lower half of the ads on the first page. Also ensure that you target your ads to the appropriate regions, and use a large enough budget that your ad shows up on almost all of the searches for that particular keyword.
SEO Question: What's the best way to determine whether Google has history of a domain - and considers it an old domain?
SEO Answer: Andy Hagans once posted that a site which is getting crawled fairly regularly has at least some trust greater than nothing. The Google Toolbar gives you and outdated exceptionally rough estimate of authority, but beyond just having many pages indexed and cralwed regularly it is a bit more abstract to determine how well a domain is trusted, especially if you do not yet own it and are not able to manipulate its contents to perform testing.
What you can do is back solve for some clues of trust. For example, a domain that does not rank #1 (or near the top of the search results) for the keywords "mydomain" is probably not as well trusted as one that does.
If a domain name ranks for its core unique string then you can see if it ranks well for the keyword phrase "my domain". If it does then you can assume that it would have more trust than one that does not.
Beyond that you can see how well the domain ranks for unique text phrases on its pages or more general keywords. Essentially as you modify your searches (testing shorter or longer word phrase sets and/or wrapping them in quotes or dropping the quotes) you are just testing what chance the domain may have of ranking for various different phrases (and thus its potential ability to rank for other phrases).
Another way to look at a domain is to see how old the domain is in Archive.org. Google crawls the web more efficiently (and likely more aggressively) than smaller search services that are not based on running / being supported by such a large ad network. Thus if a domain has been indexed for a while in Archive.org then it most likely has also been indexed in Google for a while.
Another thing you want to look at in Archive.org is to see if the domain has had a period of inactivity, or if porn webmaster or a pay per click domainer owned the domain for a while. If the domain was inactive for a while, or spent a period of time being abused then it may have had some of its authority stripped at some time.
You can also query Yahoo! for linkdomain: or link: to see what some of the most important backlinks are for a domain. See if those links point at documents that still exist. See if those links point at documents for the same purpose that they originally did. See if the site still serves the same purpose it originally did.
In one of his SEO videos Matt Cutts stated that it was legitimate to redirect a site to a new location so long as the purpose of the site is the same as the original site was. If redirecting a site's authority is legitimate then one could assume that buying or selling a site to use it for its same original purpose is also legitimate as well. If you are going to leverage a site for off topic purposes though you increase the risk that many of the people linking at the site may pull some of their links, and you also increase your risk profile such that a competitor may out you or a search editor may want to remove your site from the search results.
When looking at the backlinks of a site you can see how long some of those links have been in place by looking through the Archive.org history of the page linking into your site. Links that have developed naturally over time or that have been in place for a long time may carry greater weight than brand new links.
One of the nice features of SEO for Firefox is that it can give you a quick glimpse of the link profile of a page or domain. While some people discount extra weight being placed on .edu and .gov links than other links I would not be so quick to discount that theory. Generally links that are harder to influence are going to be sources that search engines would want to trust more. Either through directly trusting them more on a per link basis, or by creating a version of the web graph which starts near (and places more emphasis on) some of the core trusted authority sites. Since the web started largely in .edu and .gov type environments and those types of pages are often fairly pure in nature and easy to link at it makes sense that their link voting power would be highly represented in the search results.
When valuing a domain you have to look beyond just the link and age related equity it already has built up. How self reinforcing are its key attributes? Would it be easy for someone else to steamroll over your key widget by throwing a bit of ajax on a similar tool? Does a newer competitor have a richer community driven environment that is picking up steam? Are your links next to impossible for others to get? How official or legitimate does the name sound? Will you be able to build it into something that can continue to gain traction and authority? Or is it going to be a site surviving on past popularity until it withers away?
There are lots of things to consider when valuing a domain. Small changes in ad positioning or monetization method can lead to doubling or tripling earnings. And you can also drastically increase the earnings and traffic potential of any site owned by a person who is not savvy to marketing, SEO, or business. Earnings is one important factor, but do not forget to consider the value you can add to a site when trying to determine what you can afford to pay for it.