Keywords or Key Words: Search Query Modification

Sep 3rd

I have been noticing with Google recently that if you search for something like seobook video that Google pulls in results for SEO Book video as well. They may have been doing this for a while, but if so it seems like it recently got more aggressive. If you are banking on targeting an unpopular version of a keyword you may actually end up having to compete with some of the most authoritative pages ranking for the alternate more authoritative version.

This feature, spell correction, and toolbar search suggestions eat away at some of the easiest portions of the organic SEO arbitrage market by helping search engines consolidate language usage patterns as best they can.

Free Search Traffic: Add Keyword Rich Content to Authoritative Pages

Sep 1st

Many authoritative tool pages have gobs of link equity, but rank for few keywords beyond their official name because they offer little background information. Providing no background information not only wastes ranking opportunities, but also makes it hard for some people to use the tool. In some cases it makes sense to keep documentation separated from the conversion process, especially if the tool is a for sale item, and especially if you are selling to people looking for an instant autopilot wealth generation system. But if your offering is of value and free, there is no need for the mystery card. You can make the download and/or usage instructions clear at the top of the landing page, and then get deeper into features and benefits as you go further down the page.

Since placing mint code on my tools page about a week ago hundreds of unique search queries landed about a thousand searchers on my keyword suggestion tool. About 10% of that traffic was from core terms, while the rest was long tail.

I could have paid Google $500 for that traffic, but I am fine with getting it for free. :)

Paid Links are Not SPAM if They Pay Per Click

Aug 23rd

In an SES panel yesterday Matt Cutts claims paid links pollute the web ,while he advocates off topic link bait as a useful search marketing strategy. Michael Gray and Greg Boser are a bit more honest:

Link Baiting, what Google’s suggest as link building strategy, is as egregious if not worse for relevancy than paid links - viral content of such an off-topic nature should not help your rankings and is more “polluting” than relevant paid links.

Linkbaiting is Expensive, Time Consuming, and Unpredictable

The reasons search engineers advocate link baiting are:

  • it is expensive

  • it is time consuming
  • the results are hard to predict
  • it requires social connections
  • it provides off topic low value traffic
  • it typically creates content of limited commercial value (other than the ability to pull in links to rank other pages for stuff they did not have enough relevancy or authority to merit ranking for)
  • the valuable results can take a while to show
  • it often undermines the credibility of the source doing it (by allowing people to think of information from certain sources as link bait, which is a derogatory classification term)
  • many companies have restrictions that prevent them from doing it

Because of the above reasons, the technique of link baiting is outside the reach of most webmasters. Since few people can do it, it is highly unpredictable, time consuming, and expensive OF COURSE that is the only way search engineers recommend you build links. They might even like you to believe that almost all links are acquired that way. The more brutally tough it is to build your SEO strategy the more appealing AdWords ads look.

Shopping Search? Try AdWords!!!

If you can't buy links to rank, then some irrelevant old sites and marginably relevant articles on authoritative domains (that typically gained their link based authority before Google polluted the link graph with AdSense and NoFollow) gets to clog up the organic search results, and the only way people can find commercially relevant results is if they look at Google's AdWords ads.

May I Lend You a Hand?

It gets worse when you think about the uneven policing of the search results, where engineers hand edit small webmaster sites out of the search results (even ones that get free unrequested links from the US Coast Guard and US embassy), and look the other way while large corporations (which have large AdWords budgets) OWN the entire Google search result page for some keywords.

The Death of Organic Links

A mainstream media magazine did a spread on one of my friend's websites, where my friend gave them virtually all the content for the article, and they refused to link to my friend's site in the article because they felt it would be too promotional. Sorry, you already sent out 100,000 magazines with the article in it. You already were too promotional. Sadly, that is just one more example of the death of organic links caused by Google's fearmongering.

Optimize Your Account: Pay Us More

I tried Google's AdWords Campaign Optimizer yesterday. It kept telling me to increase my budget for link buying.

If I have a blind bid that is too high would it tell me to lower that bid? Nope. A search marketing campaign is only properly optimized if it sends more money to Google, which is the problem with the field of SEO. Google doesn't get a cut of the action. The organic results have yet to be properly optimized.

Why Waste a Breathe Scaring People Unless the Intent is to Lie or Deceive?

From Rand's blog post about the links SES session:

Matt also says that it's very difficult to buy paid links effectively as a business or as a search marketer because Google does such a good job detecting and eliminating the value of those links.

How often do you hear Matt Cutts droning on about duplicate page titles or stuffing your meta keywords tag? You don't, because they are no longer effective.

Google would not be trying to brainwash webmasters about links so often if paid links didn't work. The problem with paid links is they work too well.

Who is Getting Paid?

To properly understand search marketing you have to understand that the fight over search spam has NOTHING to do with result relevancy. The label of spam is only applied if the wrong company gets paid.

If it is Google getting paid, feel free to sell high yield investment scams, or preteen sex ads. They have no problem syndicating those messages all over the web, as long as they are getting paid.

Google even recommends you go out and buy text links. As an SEO, I trust the SERP more than the engineer. When Google engineers lie publicly to push their business model it doesn't bode well for the future of that company or the future of the web.

Internal Navigation vs Spamvigation

Aug 21st

Wikipedia can cross link just about everything and look legitimate with it because they are non profit. Independent webmasters have to be more focused if they are trying to create profitable websites. Navigation can be nearly useless and spammy looking, or with a few minor tweaks it can look legitimate and well categorized. Compare the following two examples:

navigation 1

Seen On a Farm
cows
milk
pickup trucks
etc
etc
etc

vs

navigation 2

farm animals
cows
chickens
pigs
etc

dairy products
milk
cheese
yogurt
etc

farm equipment
tractors
pickup trucks
etc

The first navigational scheme is something you might see on the common AdSense website. Each page is not connected to any of the others by any trait other than carrying AdSense ads.

The second navigational structure looks less spammy and more useful. In addition to looking more credible and being easier to use, it also has headings focused on relevant keywords, which can link to related category pages. This allows the site to focus link weight on core topical phrases and pick up on mid tier keywords not covered by a more haphazard navigational scheme that uses generic words unrelated to the way searchers search.

If you think ahead when planning out your navigation it also makes site expansion a breeze. For example, if you later add turkeys to the farm animals category it can be grouped with chicken under a poultry category.

Good internal navigation should be logical, easy to follow, and reflect your keyword theme.

How to: Buy Links Without Being Called a Spammer

Aug 17th

The types of link buys that Google has a distaste for are the links that are exchanged directly for cash. Modify your way of thinking just a little and there are a wide array of easy to buy high value links awaiting your purchase. The key to having a low risk profile is to make the link appear indirect.

Most links occur because of a value exchange of some sort. People link because

  • they find a resource to be valuable
  • they get paid directly for linking
  • they get paid indirectly for linking

Here are 18 indirect ways to buy links without looking like you are on a link buying binge.

Guest Blogging: Have a lot to share but little budget for exposure? Consider saving some of your best content for other websites that have the attention of your target market & offer to guest post for them. If you are looking for more general exposure and can't get onto the A list websites start by submitting to some of the B & C list sites that accept guest posts and work your way up. Services like MyBlogGuest make it easy to find relevant opportunities.

Featured Content:

Testimonials: Best thing ever. Buy now! ;)

Testimonials help increase sales because they are a sign of social trust. Many content management systems, web designers, programmers, and web hosts offer links to featured clients. Some keep full directories of sites using their services, while other sites, such as Pligg, also allow people using their software to buy an ad on the official software site.

Conferences: By paying to attend a conference and being social there some people may reference you on their blogs. Some conferences also list speakers, post an official list of attendees, and highlight sponsors with direct links. Giving away t shirts or coming up with viral games (such as drinkbait) will get you links.

Association Memberships: Trade organizations tend to have significant global authority and topical authority. In order to push the agenda of the organization many of these list members to show proof of social value. These links are often priced far below their value, and contributing directly to associations is a way to also get significant exposure in front of the type of people who are likely to buy from you and/or link at your site.

Contests: People are competitive animals. Contests like the Mahalo Follow refer a friend program also move the spamming activity away from the source and onto other people, thus allowing the central sites to profit from spamming without being called spammers.

Awards: Even if winning an award has absolutely no value people still like recognition. Winners like to talk about what they have won. In some cases you can even give award winners your product to get them to talk about it.

Donations: Support causes you believe in. Money is the fuel upon which charities can fund themselves and spread their messages. It is hard to call you a spammer for donating money to a good cause. If you get a bit of link equity out of it as a bonus why not enjoy the benefits of good karma? Better yet, you might be able to donate software or services to charities at little to no expense to you. How much is an SEO services by link on a PR8 charity site worth in branding and distribution?

Free Samples: This acts similar to donations, except it is easier to spread to a wider audience without appearing spammy, and if people like what you offer they may review it on their sites.

Widgets: Many embeddable tools (like analytics products, what is my PageRank tools, etc) provide static links back to the original source site. Some companies also provide emblems that their site is hosted on a green host or that they support some other cause.

Sponsorships: Many email newsletters are archived online. If you target a compelling offer to the right audience this may lead to additional links. Services like ReviewMe also allow you to put targeted offers in front of audiences who may help spread the word.

Web Directory Submission: An oldie, but an easy one to do. Here is a list of some of the better ones. The editorial guidelines are not as stringent as we are led to believe, and here are tips for getting the most out of your Yahoo! Directory submission. If you like video content here is a video about submitting your sites to directories.

Affiliate Programs: Even if affiliate links do not provide direct link juice, good affiliates still send a relevant stream of traffic to your site. Some affiliate programs also 301 redirect the affiliate links to the end merchant site. Affiliate programs allow clean companies to profit from the dirty parts of the web (think AdSense or Mahalo Follow).

Social Media: Partner with someone who enjoys writing junk for sites like Digg. If you are too lazy for that, StumbleUpon ads allow you to target ads to specific groups on StumbleUpon, and there are a number of Digg spamming services on the market. Here are some tips for link baiting.

Google AdWords or Other Ad Buys: You can buy ads and send targeted traffic streams to your linkworthy content. You can do it one keyword at a time, or target ads to specific websites. In some cases businesses get organic links just because people are talking about how often they see their ads, plus top of mind awareness leads to more usage and more links.

Link Out to Egomaniac Bloggers: This is a way of buying links by paying with your attention and distribution. People like getting mentioned, and are more likely to link to people who agree with them. Seth Godin linked to my blog again a few weeks ago and when I saw he mentioned my site (even if only in passing) for some reason that made me happy. Insightful blog comments are also likely to make a blogger want to talk about you.

Blog Carnivals: Blog carnivals are where a group of bloggers all talk about a topic and mention everyone else in the ring. These amount to a big circlejerk. If your site is legit and a market leader there is no need for this sort of stuff, but if your site is new in a saturated field doing this might be helpful. Plus others in the blog carnival may end up adding your site to their blogroll or talking about you again on their blog.

Press Releases: Do it too often and it looks cheesy, but some mainstream media outlets like CNN syndicate press releases, while others may choose to interview you based on your press release.

Hire Them / Buy Their Brand & Site: If someone already has a large following but is not monetizing it to the full potential consider hiring them and letting them help you build a more profitable business. You can also look for under-performing sites to buy. If someone is outside of your financial reach you may still be able to leverage their brand by interviewing them.

Defending Your Site Against a Google Proxy Hack

Aug 17th

Dan Thies published a post about how people have been hacking Google's search results using proxies to get the original sites nuked as duplicate content. He also explained how to defend sites against the problem using free PHP scripts developed by Jaimie Sirovich. Dan Thies stated he thought many of the proxy hijack accidents were not accidents at all:

Of course, not all proxies are being run by innocent people for innocent reasons. Some of them are actually designed to hijack content - to deliver ads, etc. Some people want to steal your content, and they want the search engines to index it. In fact, I would not be surprised if a large part of the overall problem isn't caused by such people firing links at their own proxies.

I have seen numerous sites die to proxy hacking, and this is an issue Google has known about for over a year.

Yet another reason hand edits at Google coupled with Google paying AdSense scrapers to steal your content makes Google a pretty dirty company, especially when you consider their unofficial stance on copyright:

Your name can not be stripped and no one else can claim credit for it. That is credit, reputation is a non renewable resource. It can not be replicated. It can not be copied. To the degree that someone takes credit for your stuff, that's the degree to which you lose credit. It is always proportional.

When Google goes so far as trying to police link exchange and link buying why don't they do a better job policing AdSense? If they want to clean up their search index the easiest, most scalable, and most robust way to do so would be for them to worry about their own network, and stop paying content thieves via AdSense.

How to Turn Content Into a Valuable Keyword List

Jul 31st

One of the comments on the article I wrote for Wordtracker mentioned WordsFinder, which allows you to create a list of keywords from a piece of content. Their tool uses the Yahoo! Term Extraction Tool, and also provides a few additional keywords next to the results. Three other easy ways to get similar information are

If you find some of the leading keywords for a competing site via tools like Compete.com (or SpyFu, SeoDigger, etc.), or via site targeted AdSense ads you can see what keywords and pages are most worth emulating. If your keyword list is too long to make sense out of consider running it through Google's Traffic Estimator tool to find which keywords are the most valuable.

If you have more authority and target more valuable keywords and traffic streams you win. :)

Using Junk Mail to Find New Keywords

Jul 26th

I recently was asked to write an article for Wordtracker about finding sources of keyword inspiration. I tried making it fun. Let me know what you think of it.

The $10,000 Robots.txt File...Ouch!

Jul 20th

I recently changed one of my robots.txt files pruning duplicate content pages to help more of the internal PageRank flow to the higher quality and better earning pages. In the process of doing that, I forgot that one of the most well linked to pages on the site had a similar URL as the noisy pages. About a week ago the site's search traffic halved (right after Google was unable to crawl and index the powerful URL). I fixed the error pretty quickly, but the site now has hundreds of pages stuck in Google's supplemental index, and I am out about $10,000 in profit for that one line of code! Both Google and Yahoo support wildcards, but you really have to be careful when changing a robots.txt file because a line like this
Disallow: /*page
also blocks a file like this from being indexed in Google
beauty-pageants.php

Unless you are thinking of that in advance it is easy to make a mistake.

If you are trying to prune duplicate content for Google and are fine with it ranking in other search engines, you may want to make those directives specific for GoogleBot. If you make a directive for a specific robot, that bot will ignore your general robots directives in favor of following the more specific directives you created for it.

Google's webmaster guidelines and Yahoo!'s Search Blog both offer tips on how to format your robots.txt file.

Google also offers a free robots.txt test tool, which allows you to see how robots will respond to your robots.txt file, notifying you of any files that are blocked.

You can use Xenu link sleuth to generate a list of URLs from your site. Upload that URL list to the Google robots.txt test tool (currently in 5,000 character chunks...an arbitrary limit I am sure they will eventually lift).

Inside the webmaster console Google will also show you what pages are currently blocked by your robots.txt file, and let you view when Google tried to crawl the page and noticed it was blocked. Google also shows you what pages are 404 errors, which might be a good way to see if you have any internal broken links or external links pointing at pages that no longer exist.

Internal Link Architecture Made Easy

Jul 5th

Jim Boykin recently offered tips to help webmasters understand how to audit a site to see what pages are the most link rich, how internal link equity flows around websites, and how to optimize your internal link architecture. In addition to Jim's tips, you can also improve your internal link structure by using some of the following tips.

Create Promotional Content Sections

The following ideas display social acceptance (which helps improve conversion) while also funneling PageRank at important pages without looking spammy.

  • heavily promote seasonal stuff in advance (internally and externally)

  • use sales data or other metrics to create a what's hot in this category and what's hot on our site section to flow more link equity to best sellers (these can be called anything like what's hot, top rated, etc)
  • create pages high in the site structure to support high value keywords that were only tangentially covered on lower level nodes
  • over-represent new content in your link structure to help it get indexed quickly, see how well it will rank, and learn how profitable it is

Internal to External Link Ratio

Doing theses sorts of things will still give you all the good karma and benefit that linking out does, while minimizing any downside caused by funneling a significant portion of your PageRank out of your site.

  • if you have a blog cross reference old posts where and when it makes sense

  • if you link out heavily on a page ensure you also place numerous internal links on the page
  • use breadcrumb navigation or other navigational schemes to help structure the site and improve the internal to external link ratio
  • if you have a ton of outbound site-wide links change some of them to only list them on a single page or section of your site

Keep the Noise Out of the Index

  • demoting an entire section of the site in the link structure if it has a lower ROI than other sections

  • use robots.txt and meta robots exclusion tags to prevent duplicate content and other low information or noisy pages from getting indexed
  • instead of using pagination try to display more content on each page
  • check your server logs for 404 errors. fix any broken links and redirect old linked to pages to their new locations

Bonus Idea: Create Cross Referencing Navigational Structures

This idea may sound a bit complex until you visualize it as a keyword chart with an x and y axis.

  • Imagine that a, b, c, ... z are all good keywords.

  • Imagine that 1, 2, 3, ... 10 are all good keywords.
  • If you have a page on each subject consider placing the navigation for a through z in the sidebar while using links and brief descriptions for 1 through 10 as the content of the page. If people search for a 7 or b 9 that cross referencing page will be relevant for it, and if it is done well it does not look to spammy.

Since these types of pages can spread link equity across so many pages of different categories make sure they are linked to well high up in the site's structure. These pages works especially well for categorized content cross referenced by locations.

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