SEO for Charity Websites: an Interview of Dominic Mapstone

This is an interview of my friend Dominic Mapstone, who uses SEO to help influence the media and make social change.

What is the hardest part about marketing a non-profit website online?

  1. Having the client’s permission to divulge confidential information or even a photo of them in non-profit marketing is a big roadblock for all non-profits.

Most have to hire actors or dress a staff member up to pose for a staged photo, and they use hypothetical situations or characters in their advertising – nothing from a real case file.
On our website about homeless people all our stories are real and often include photos of the person and even the place they sleep at night.

At the end of each story you can click through to a forum thread and talk with the person in the story. Except for a homeless man Andrew, he was murdered so can’t really come to the forums right now.

I get client’s permission, give them an alias and am very well respected on the street so they know I will protect their interests. Far and away though, getting content and connections like this is the most difficult factor for non-profit marketing.

If you have permission to use content and record the stories and photos:

  1. Knowing what stories to tell or picture to paint, from a marketing perspective is the next hardest thing. One story on our site is about a homeless girl who killed someone when she was robbing a store to fuel a drug binge.

On face value you wouldn’t imagine a story like that painting a flattering story of the homeless. But get into the context and follow her story as it unravels and it’s an educational and engaging story.

By the end of the page:

  • you are cheering her on
  • you understand homelessness more
  • you have an idea of what I’m about
  • and even know the name of my dog

A lot of people non-profits help aren’t that marketable. So picking the right story to present and knowing what facts to include and what to leave out is difficult. We have 100 stories we can’t use for every one that has potential.

  1. If your topic area is exclusively non-profit, competing with powerful government websites which are usually PR8 or PR7 is to be expected and more recently Wikipedia always ranks well in non-profit topic areas.

Our websites tick a lot of the right SEO boxes, but the one factor we really outperform in is one not widely held as important in SEO circles.

When people visit our sites, they usually have found what they are looking for and don’t quickly click away. A number of people have emailed me reporting they have spent five hours or more reading our content.

With any website, researching what people are searching for in the long tail and in the popular keyword phrases and SEOing for it is important. But delivering on quality content once they find your website, from my experience has paid off.

Maybe there isn’t a ‘time spent on site’ gland that gets tickled at Google, maybe it’s just the old school SEO I’ve done all along.

Maybe the Google ‘time spent on site’ gland works the other way round – if people usually navigate away from your site promptly and revisit search results it’s telling Google a thing or two about the value of your place in their search results.

Either way:

Delivering on what your place in the search results promises for people clicking through to your site is food for thought for all website owners.

  1. The other big challenge is chasing keywords in a for profit market with a non-profit educational website. SEO smarts are really helpful when your competition has a large marketing budget.

In Australia when teenagers graduate high school they head to the nearest beach for a week of partying. It’s a tradition known as Schoolies.
Tens of millions of dollars are spent at tourist destinations around the country so our competitors have a lot of motivation and strong marketing budgets.

Gold Coast Schoolies attracts over 50,000 people and destinations along the Great Barrier Reef such as Whitsundays Schoolies books out entirely.

Our Social Work interest in Schoolies as the most significant youth event in the national social calendar is protecting the interests of the young people and providing a peer education program for them (Schoolies Survival Guide).

Problems such a sexual assault, street violence, alcohol poisoning, drug overdose, and suicide are significant. There are also consumer rights and fair trading issues we get involved in to protect young people.

Maintaining a prominent position in search results has enabled us to engage young people via the Schoolies Forums and give them a voice and place to explore issues they will face at Schoolies.

When did you know that the web was going to be a key part of your strategy?

Back in 2003, I used SEO techniques, and applied marketing principals… to a few websites and then had more unique visitors than I had anticipated and some cash flowing into our non-profit from online sources.

  • Being able to reach a wide audience attracted me.

Unique visitors per month for the websites: 55,000 and 30,000.

  • Being able to earn a passive income really caught my attention.

As an example of online passive income: I wrote a page detailing my experience catching and cooking mud crab. Checking our website stats I was surprised that it got attention online so I put some Adsense ads on it and the page brings in some funds for us every month.

It’s unrelated to our work and on a side website we own, but the concept of providing quality content people want to read and earning some bank from it, while I’m off doing what I really want to do on the streets is great.

  • On a personal note the internet as a creative outlet and SEO as a competitive outlet have been great. Winding down after a difficult day by reading some blogs, getting into forums and updating sites is great for lowering stress.

How many people have you helped over the years? 

I started volunteering with the homeless when I was 17, in 1994. I graduated my Social Work Degree in 1999, and founded a non-profit organization in 2003.

A central philosophy of Social Work is to understand an individual’s situation in the broader context of society; and change society and social policy for the better, not just the individual’s situation.

So while I’d say it’s quite a number of individuals, the real business of it all is to change society and social policy for the better.

My SEO experience behind our websites has significantly increased the number of people I’ve been able to engage with and enlist in community development and social change.

I believe you run a forum to help homeless people. How do you lift up the spirits and give hope to a person who may be sleeping in an unknown location that night? How do you keep the tone positive when many people are struggling to survive?

Unknown location? They are all staying at the Million Star Hotel!

The tone doesn’t have to remain positive. Sure we try and keep a glass half full thing going on, but the fact that people are sharing and exploring their own brokenness with people as open about their own brokenness tends to make it a genuine comfortable place for everyone, even on a bad day.

Our greatest asset in the Homeless Forums is an excellent team of moderators / forum leaders who in the main are current or formerly homeless people themselves so have great familiarity with the problems faced by other members.

Every now and again someone throws a chair, but people understand in that community space, and moderators are expressly trained to be patient (to a degree) and engage members supportively.

A big deal with homelessness is the disconnection from family and the community. So the Homeless Forums enable people with similar life experiences to connect with each other in a supportive way.

A student recently asked in a thread why people visit the forums, here is one reply:

“When I got off the street I cut most of my connections with old friends on the street as I didn't want to slip back into many bad habits i.e. drugs.
I have trouble relating to most mainstream people so for me this is a place I can talk to people who not only understand a lot of my experiences but empathise and don't criticize.
When I'm here I can be myself rather than hiding my past or hiding from it.
Where else could I say hi I'm an ex-prostitute and recovering alcoholic and druggie now turned university student.”

I can take credit for the idea to promote a forum for homeless people, but the 3,000+ members especially the moderators are the ones who have developed it into such an effective gathering place.

Two notable threads include the personal journal of a homeless girl over the course of four years moving out of street life. The thread has had over 50,000 page views helping to educate people about homelessness.

In another thread, a homeless man in London is exposing a disgusting practice of wetting down foot paths where homeless people sleep to move them on. His efforts to confront this degrading policy of the Corporation of London via the forums have been covered by the BBC and other news outlets.

I receive a number of emails from people saying they have spent some time reading the forum threads and that they learnt more about homelessness then they could imagine from a book or university course. So it’s great to hear those interested in learning about homelessness are finding educational reading in the forums.

Shout out to Chicago Homeless, Los Angeles Homeless and San Francisco Homeless we haven’t heard much from you yet.

How do people find your site? What do you do to encourage them to register and contribute?

I’ve optimized the site to return in a number of homeless related searches and invite visitors to the website into the forums.

One of the most effective ways has been to share five stories of homeless people on our website and at the end of each story, invite readers into the forums to a designated thread where they can leave a message of support for the homeless person they just read about and read replies to their message directly from the person in the story.

We also encourage homeless members to print out a flyer promoting the forums and post it at homeless service providers they frequent.

Service providers who provide internet access to homeless people can use a start page I designed for them to set as their default homepage, with search boxes for the major search engines and links to popular email services along with links to sections of the forums: Homeless Homepage.

Do you see SEO growing as a strategy for you? Do you have to have other exposure to do well in search? What core SEO principals should be applied to non-profit websites?

Certainly, SEO has served us well so I continue to follow developments in the industry and invest time in our websites.

Links from newspaper articles are another great source of exposure and bring exceptional SEO benefit. Radio and television interviews are great exposure also. Regardless of if the site is for-profit or non-profit.

The media’s daily hunger for content is so significant as it needs just as much more content tomorrow and the next day as it published today. So there are some great opportunities for exposure via the media.

The most underutilized SEO technique in the non-profit sector is deep linking and the most common mistake is simply trying to elevate their brand, rather than chasing topical keywords or geographical distinctions.

How does your online presence influence life offline? How do you get the media involved in issues?

We get a lot of phone calls as a result of prominence in search results, so I feel like a switch board sometimes, directing people to the appropriate service.

One of the upsides is that the media also call looking for the best person to talk to about the latest news angle they want to cover, so I get first lick of the ice cream and can take media opportunities I’m interested in.

For anyone wanting media coverage:

  1. The best starting point is to read the recent coverage of your topic on Google News and get a good understanding of the kind of news that gets covered.
  2. Then pick out a journalist from these stories. Write a good press release and send it to the journalist.
  3. Note the easiest stories to get in on are industry or other people’s news. You don’t have to be newsworthy, just be able to supply a timely comment about what is newsworthy.
  4. Having a media contacts page listed on your website is a good practice also.

We also get weird and wonderful requests from people who find us online. One lady gave us a whole lamb from her butcher as some kind of offering in memory of her father who died recently.

I had to call a priest to check if it was some weird religious thing I should avoid getting involved with, but he said it was fine, just her way of celebrating her father’s life. So the homeless staying at our shelter ate every kind of lamb cut there is for the next few weeks.

As a non-profit, every keyword topic area we are involved in and dominate online strengthens our Social Work position offline – impacting people’s lives.

Should non-profits buy links? How do they get exposure online when the network is already so saturated?

Rather than buy links I’d encourage non-profits to hire a Masters student or PHD student in to do some writing for them (just call your local university and ask the faculty to recommend a student), or allocate some staff time if you have in-house experts.

Workshop in-house your topic area and ask what’s missing in terms of information online? Have a really quality position paper or article written on that topic, publish it on your website and update the Wikipedia to reference the article.

Consider the reference worthy content you could create for a few thousand dollars and you would now own highly link worthy content.

The document would also be great for long tail searches and the writing style and substance would no doubt register on Google’s semantics quality score.

Quality substantive content needs a lot less link juice to attract search traffic.

Here are some potential link sources free for non-profits:

Non-profit organizations are also forever in contact with each other so use your existing real life networks to make some online linking connections. They are the best contacts to ask for deep links with descriptive anchor text – to programs or events you profile on internal pages, reports or even just your contact us page.


  • Google really hasn’t got a handle on YouTube yet; the search function is crap and doesn’t help with misspellings like Google organic search does.
  • At any rate, Google is heavily promoting YouTube videos in organic search results. The potential for SEO’s from all backgrounds to take advantage of this is wide open.

Have you used any for profit sites to help fund non-profit sites? Should non-profit sites consider adding for profit sections to their site to help subsidize the costs of running their website and organization?

I do some work as a Life Coach and feed the funds into our non-profit work. I also do some Search Engine Optimization and increasingly funds are flowing in from this work. In the future I’d like to get more involved in Reputation Management as I know the media and public relations side of it and think there is a growing market for it from a dual public relations and SEO perspective.

It’s not likely that a lot of non-profits are in a position to operate a for profit website on the side as a means of raising funds. But where it is possible it can be a productive source of income.

How to Know if a Link (or Redirect) Passes PageRank/Reputation/Authority

Due to the rough scale of PageRank, outdated toolbar PageRank scores, hand editing of toolbar PageRank, and a variety of other factors, it is somewhat hard to get confirmation from Google if a link source passes PageRank. The slow way to test is to make 1 link be the only link you point at a site and then let it age for a few months. Then, if a toolbar PageRank score appears it probably passed PageRank.

If you are competing on the competitive parts of the web, building only one link and waiting around for a few months is likely an ineffective SEO strategy. So then what else can be done? How can we speed things up and get the show on the road?

If you control the linking source it is quite easy to tell if that site passes reputation. Simply link to another site with slightly misspelled anchor text, and if the target shows up you know that the link is passing some reputation and authority. For example, someone could link to this site using seoq book, and then if this site started ranking for that then I would assume that the link is passing some amount of reputation and authority. Then you could later go back and fix that spelling error.

If you *do not* control the linking source, then it gets a bit harder to test it. What you could do is add a modifier to the anchor text. For example, if this site did not yet rank in Google for best SEO book you could use that as the anchor text, and see if it shows up in the search results after the linking source is indexed.

You can also use this sort of technique to test 301 redirects & see if they pass link authority. Please note that when using redirects it is best to keep the topic fairly well aligned to minimize the risk that the PageRank might go away.

How Much is a Link Worth (to YOUR Business)?

Pricing a Link

When trying to understand the value of a link a variety of factors can be considered, including:

  • PageRank / link equity
  • anchor text (if you can influence it to align with your keywords that increases the value significantly)
  • link location (inline links are more likely to be trusted than links in the footer of a page near a bunch of other obvious paid links)
  • direct traffic the link sends
  • site quality & brand exposure
  • endorsement value (if any is given)

Risk Tolerance

Some links (bought links on SEO blogs, paid links near pharmacy/porn/gambling links) are almost certain to get your site noticed in the wrong way.

Large brands can get away with being far more aggressive than thin affiliate sites can.

Many people who heavily rent links still have not exhausted other cheap and easy link building strategies they could be using.

The Bottom Line

In some markets you need to own a billion dollar brand, have an old site, or rent links to compete. In other markets link renting may pose an unnecessary risk.

The most important aspect of link renting is the one people rarely talk about - the actual value to your business. To determine that you need to analyze not only the quality of the link, but also

  • where you are
  • where the competition is
  • what is needed to bridge that gap
  • any potential risks associated with the link buying

Along those lines, I thought it would be good to compare a couple sites to each other, to demonstrate how widely the value of links can spread.

Rich, Average, Poor

$17,000 Per Link

BankRate recently bought for $34M and it had about 2,000 inbound links on the day of purchase. BankRate may have overpaid for that site, but Rafael David made at least $17,000 per link to his website!

Think about all the crazy public relations stunts you could pull and make money if you got paid $17,000 per link! You could pay an entire town to tattoo your brand on their foreheads...or maybe do something a bit more tasteful than that. Where links are hard to get and lead value is high you can afford to pay a lot for links.

But BankRate was not just buying links, they were buying traffic and rankings...a set of links that fit the criteria needed to get a lot of organic Google search traffic. If Mr. David would have acquired half as many links he might only have 10% the traffic and his site may have sold at a much smaller multiple. When selling a site your base and your growth rate both feed into the multiple you can sell a site for.

In media stories about buying the site, Thomas R. Evans, BankRate CEO, said they bought the site largely because of its Google rankings:

"As an affiliate of Nationwide Card Services, which we acquired this past December, we have worked with CreditCardGuide and have been able to watch their growth and momentum firsthand," stated Thomas R. Evans, President and CEO of Bankrate. "CCG has done a great job of developing its organic traffic and ranks highly in a number of important credit card search terms. Adding more direct, high-quality traffic to our credit card business will grow our revenue and improve the margins in this important category," Mr. Evans added.

Affiliate Rankings: Strong Cashflow or Break Even

Some of my friends have affiliate sites that do anywhere from 0 to 10 leads a day at ~ $30/lead. They rank well enough to get good traffic, then their rankings slip. And they keep bouncing back and forth. Buying just a couple strong links could take a $150/day average earnings and boost it to $300...thus yielding a monthly return of $4,500.

If you are an affiliate selling the same crap that all the other affiliates sells, you will see that most the search traffic goes to the top couple ranked sites. As an example, one of my friends saw their Google ranking go from #3 to #2 for a huge phrase that is most of the site's traffic...and their overall site traffic (and profits) went up 50%. If a company is primarily search driven and is in a high value niche they can see huge returns from just a couple quality links.

When you think about the opportunity cost a site making $150 a day might not be worth running. But every dollar it makes over its baseline is profit that can either be used to reinvest into quicker growth or fund other projects.

$1 Per Link

Some SEO and technology blogs have hundreds of thousands or millions of inbound links. For such authoritative sites the average value of each link might be less than $1.

If the competition has 1 million links and you only have 50,000 you might not get enough traffic for the site to be worth maintaining, especially if it is in a saturated market with limited traffic value.

Example Charts

Across Industries

These values are a bit arbitrary, but this chart does a good job of helping conceptualize how the value of links can change based on your vertical, your business model, and the associated lifetime customer value.

Example Link Values for Various Verticals
  Tech Blogs Credit Cards
(high traffic value)
(few clean link sources)
PageRank 0 0.03 8 10
PageRank 1 .1 25 30
PageRank 2 .3 40 50
PageRank 3 .75 75 100
PageRank 4 3 125 200
PageRank 5 9 250 300
PageRank 6 12 400 risky?
PageRank 7 20 600 risky?
PageRank 8 50 risky? risky?
PageRank 9 100 risky? risky?
PageRank 10 300 risky? risky?

Within Industries

The value of links not only depends on what vertical you are in, but also on how you monetize your website. For instance, a ticket broker can earn more per link than a sports blog can.

Example Link Values for Various Business Models
  Sports Blogs Fantasy Sports
(high traffic value)
Ticket Broker
(few clean link sources)
PageRank 0 0.25 4 10
PageRank 1 .5 12 30
PageRank 2 1 20 50
PageRank 3 3 40 100
PageRank 4 6 75 200
PageRank 5 15 150 300
PageRank 6 25 200 500
PageRank 7 40 300 800
PageRank 8 100 500 1,200
PageRank 9 250 risky? risky?
PageRank 10 500 risky? risky?

Disclaimer: keep in mind that the above charts were more for showing examples of relative values than to offer a formula for specific link prices...every situation, every site, and every link is unique.

Link Marketing Strategy

Survey Your Position (and the Competitive Landscape)

If you don't have any organic links then it is going to be hard to buy your way to the top in competitive markets, especially if competing sites have strong advertising and brand budgets.

The key to understanding link buying is understanding the upside potential and how many links are needed to get there. If you are in a saturated market with limited cashflow and are ranking on page 37 at #362 then should you rent links? Probably not. You would be better off investing into awareness, branding, publicity, and developing organic links first.

If you are in the top couple pages and are in the game then renting a few links could help you achieve an explosive return on investment.

All Advertising Has Some Fat on It

Many links that you buy or rent will be filtered algorithmically and have little to no SEO value. But if they help you achieve a positive return on average within an acceptable risk profile then the purchase is worth it. That is how I always viewed directory links. Before Google whacked them I used to submit to about 100 of them. Maybe only 40 or 50 counted, but in aggregate the ROI was still there. Now I may only submit to a half dozen or dozen directories, but in aggregate the ROI is there.

URL Canonicalization: The Missing Manual

Canonicalization can be a confusing area for webmasters, so let's take a look at what it is, and ways to avoid it causing problems.

What Is Canonicalization?

Canonicalization is the process by which URLs are standardized. For example, and are treated as the same page, even though the syntax of the URL is different.

Why Is Canonicalization An Issue For SEO?

Problems can occur when the search engine doesn't normalize URLs properly.

For example, a search engine might see and as different pages. In this instance, the search engine has the host names confused.

Why Is This a Problem?

If the search engines sees a page as being published at many separate URLs, the search engine may rank your pages lower than they would otherwise, or not rank them at all.

Canonicalization issues can split link juice between pages if people link to variants of the URL. Not only does this affect rank (less PageRank = lower rank), but it can also affect crawl depth (if PageRank is spent on duplicate content it is not being spent getting other unique content indexed).

To appreciate what a dramatic effect canonicalization issues can have on search traffic look at the following example, and notice that for the given example proper canonicalization increased traffic for that keyword by 300%

  Link Equity Google Ranking Position % of Search Traffic Daily Traffic Volume Traffic Increase
split 1 60% 8 3% 50 -
split 2 40% 15, filtered = 0 0% 0 -
canonical 100% 2 12% 200 300%

What Conditions Can Cause This Problem?

There are various conditions, but the following are amongst the most common:

  • Different host names i.e. vs
  • Redirects pointing to different URLs i.e. 302 used inappropriately
  • Forwarding multiple URLs to the same content, and/or publishing the same content on multiple domains
  • Improperly configured dynamic URLs i.e. any url rewriting based on changing conditions
  • Two index pages appearing in the same location i.e. Index.htm vs Index.html
  • Different protocols i.e. https://www vs http://www
  • Multiple slashes in the filepath i.e. vs
  • Scripts that generate alternate URLs for the same content i.e. some blogging and forum software, ecommerce software that adds tracking URLs
  • Port numbers in the domain name i.e. : can sometimes be seen in virtual hosting environments.
  • Capitalization - i.e. vs
  • URLs "built" from the path you take to reach a page i.e. tracking software may incorporate the click path in the URL for statistical purposes.
  • Trailing questions marks, with or without parameters i.e. or (a common tagging strategy amongst ad buys)

How Can I Tell If Canonicalization Issues Are Affecting My Site?

Besides working through the checklist performing a manual check, you can also use Google's cache date.

Previously, you would have been able to use Google's supplemental index marker, although Google have recently done away with this feature.

The supplemental index is a secondary index, seperate from Google's main index. It is a graveyard, of sorts, containing outdated pages, pages with low trust scores, duplicate content, and other erroneous pages. As duplicate pages often reside in the supplemental index, appearing in the supplemental index can be an indicator you may have canonicalization issues, all else being equal.

Before Google removed the supplemental index label, many SEOs noticed that supplemental pages had an old cache date and that cache date is a good proxy for trust. If your page is not indexed frequently, and you think it should be, chances are the page is residing in the supplemental index.

Michael Gray at Wolf-Howl" outlines a method to easily check for this data. In summary, you add a date and unique field to each page, wait a couple of months, then search on this term.

How Can I Avoid Canonicalization Issues?

Good Site Planning

Using good site planning and architecture, from the start, can save you a lot of problems later on. Pick a convention for linking, and stick with it.

Maintain Consistent Linking Conventions

It's an important point, so I'll repeat it ;) Always link to, rather than sometimes linking to, and sometimes linking to

301 Redirect Non-www to www , Or Vice Versa

You can force resolution to one URL only. To do this, you create a 301 redirect.

Here's a typical 301 redirect script:

RewriteEngine On RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^ [NC] RewriteRule ^(.*)$$1 [L,R=301]

For a more detailed analysis on how to use redirects, see .htaccess, 301 Redirects & SEO.

Use The Website Health Check Tool

This tool, and accompanying video, shows you how to spot a number of site architecture problems, including canonicalization issues.

Download the tool, check the www vs non-www option box, and hit the Analyze button.

If you have a large site you may not be able to surface all the canonicalization issues using the default tool settings. You may need to use the date based filter options to get a deep view of recently indexed pages...many canonicalization issues occur sitewide, so looking deeply at new pages should help you detect problems.

Another free, but far more time consuming option, is to use the date based filters on Google's advanced search page.

Workaround For Https://

Sometimes Google will index both the http:// and the https:// versions of a site.

One way around this is to tell the bots not to index the https:// version.

Tony Spencer outlines two ways to do this in .htaccess, 301 Redirects & SEO. One is to cloak the robots.txt file, the other is to create a conditional php script.

Use Absolute, As Opposed To Relative Links

An absolute link specifies the exact location of a file on a webserver. For example,

A relative link is, as the name suggests, relative to a pages' location on the server.

A relative link looks like this:

There are various issues to consider, not related to canonicalization issues, when deciding to using either format. These issues include page download speed, server access times, and design conventions. The point to remember is to remain consistent. Absolute links tend to make doing so easier, as there is only ever one URL format for a file, regardless of context.

Don't Link To Multiple Versions Of The Page

In some cases, you may intend to have duplicate content on your site.

For example, some software, such as blog and forum software, aggregates posts into archives. Always link to the original version of the post, as opposed to the archive, or any other, location i.e. , not

If your software program links to a duplicate version of the content (like an individual post from a forum thread) consider adding rel=nofollow to those links.

Use 301s, not 302s On Internal Affiliate Redirects

A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect, which indicates a page has been moved permanently. 301s typically pass PageRank, and do not cause canonicalization issues.

A 302 redirect is a temporary redirect. If you use 302s the wrong page may rank. Google's Matt Cutts claims they are trying to fix the problem:

we’ve changed our heuristics to make showing the source url for 302 redirects much more rare. We are moving to a framework for handling redirects in which we will almost always show the destination url. Yahoo handles 302 redirects by usually showing the destination url, and we are in the middle of transitioning to a similar set of heuristics. Note that Yahoo reserves the right to have exceptions on redirect handling, and Google does too. Based on our analysis, we will show the source url for a 302 redirect less than half a percent of the time (basically, when we have strong reason to think the source url is correct)

but if you use 302s on affiliate links the affiliate page may rank in the search results, as shown in the below SnapNames search. This, in turn, would credit the affiliate with a commission anytime someone buys through that link in the search results...effectively cutting the margins of the end merchant.

Specify preferred urls in Google Webmaster Tools

Google Webmaster Tools provides an area where you can specify which version of URL i.e. http://www.acme or http//acme Google should use.

Note: It is important not to use the remove URL tool to try and fix these domain issues. Doing so may result in your entire domain, as opposed to one page, being removed from the index.

Further Reading

Social Interaction & Advertising Are The Modern Day Search Engine Submission & Link Building

Years ago (well before I was an SEO, or knew what SEO was) search engine submission was a huge phrase. Only recently has search engine marketing replaced search engine submission in popularity.

Search engine submission was big part of the optimization game when search relevancy algorithms were heavily reliant on meta tags and on the page content. As search got polluted with on the page spam you needed to more than submit to compete for coveted valuable phrases, you had to build signals of trust from other sites. Link building was a requirement.

Many of the links that you could easily "build" have effectively disappeared from the web, through the use of nofollow and Google editing the PageRank of many (perhaps most) web directories. Recently Google removed their recommendations for directory submission and link building when these 2 points disappeared from their guidelines

  • Have other relevant sites link to yours.
  • Submit your site to relevant directories such as the Open Directory Project and Yahoo!, as well as to other industry-specific expert sites.

Might their reliance on directories be waning?


Each additional link created and each additional web page published make Google smarter.

The web is a social network and search engines follow people. Once you think of the web from that perspective you have a HUGE advantage over competitors who are "building" one link at a time.

Google wants those who are well connected (and those who can afford to advertise) to succeed. Thus the evolution of SEO looks like...

  • search engine submission
  • on page optimization
  • link "building"
  • advertising, branding, viral marketing, public relations, & social interaction

Getting the basics right (keyword research, site structure, on page optimization) help make everything else you do more effective. But each day that passes you need a bit more (economic and/or social) capital to compete. What social interactions are built into your site? Why should bloggers write about your business?

Align Your SEO Strategy With Site Structure

I'd like to take a look at an area often overlooked in SEO.

Site architecture.

Site architecture is important for SEO for three main reasons:

  • To focus on the most important keyword terms
  • Control the flow of link equity around the site
  • Ensure spiders can crawl the site

Simple, eh. Yet many webmasters get it wrong.

Let's take a look at how to do it properly.

Evaluate The Competition

One you've decided on your message, and your plan, the next step is to layout your site structure.

Start by evaluating your competition. Grab your list of keyword terms, and search for the most popular sites listed under those terms. Take a look at their navigation. What topic areas do they use for their main navigation scheme? Do they use secondary navigation? Are there similarities in topic areas across competitor sites?

Open a spreadsheet, and list their categories, and title tags, and look for keyword patterns. You'll soon see similarities. By evaluating the navigation used by your competition, you'll get a good feel for the tried-n-true "money" topics.

You can then run these sites through metrics sites like

Use the most common, heavily trafficked areas as your core navigation sections.

The Home Page Advantage

Those who know how Page Rank functions can skip this section.

Your home page will almost certainly have the highest level of authority.

While there are a lot of debates about the merits of PageRank when it comes to ranking, it is fair to say that PageRank is rough indicator of a pages' level of authority. Pages with more authority are spidered more frequently and enjoy higher ranking than pages with lower authority. The home page is often the page with the most links pointing to it, so the home page typically has the highest level of authority. Authority passes from one page to the next.

For each link off a page, the authority level will be split.

For example - and I'm simplifying* greatly for the purposes of illustration - if you have a home page with a ten units of link juice, two links to two sub-pages would see each sub-page receive 5 points of link juice. If the sub-page has two links, each sub-sub would receive two units of link juice, and so on.

The important point to understand is that the further your pages are away from the home page, generally the less link juice those pages will have, unless they are linked from external pages. This is why you need to think carefully about site structure.

For SEO purposes, try to keep your money areas close to the home page.

*Note: Those who know how Page Rank functions will realise my explaination above is not technically correct. The way Page Rank splits is more sophisticated than that given in my illustration. For those who want a more technical breakdown of the Page Rank calculations, check out Phils post at WebWorkshop.

How Deep Do I Go?

Keeping your site structure shallow is a good rule of thumb. So long as you main page is linked well, all your internal pages will have sufficient authority to be crawled regularly. You also achieve clarity and focus.

A shallow site structure is not just about facilitating crawling. After all, you could just create a Google Site Map and achieve the same goal. Site structure is also about selectively passing authority to your money pages, and not wasting it on pages less deserving. This is straightforward with a small site, but the problem gets more challenging as you site grows.

One way to mange scale is by grouping your keyword terms into primary and secondary navigation.

Main & Secondary Navigation

Main navigation is where you place your core topics i.e. the most common, highly trafficked topics you found when you performed your competitive analysis. Typically, people use tabs across the top, or a list down the left hand side of the screen. Main navigation appears on all other pages.

Secondary navigation consists of all other links, such as latest post, related articles, etc. Secondary navigation does not appear on every page, but is related to the core page upon which it appears.

One way to split navigation is to organize your core areas into the main navigation tabs across the top, and provide secondary navigation down the side.

For example, let's say you main navigation layout looked like this:

Each time I click a main navigation term, the secondary navigation down the left hand side changes. The secondary navigation are keywords related to the core area.

For those of you who are members, Aaron has an indepth video demonstration on Site Architecture And Internal Linking, as well as instruction on how to integrate and mange keywords.

Make Navigation Usable

Various studies indicate that humans are easily confused when presented with more than seven choices. Keep this in mind when creating your core navigation areas.

If you offer more than seven choices, find ways to break things down further. For example, by year, manufacturer, model, classification, etc.

You can also break these areas down with an "eye break" between each. Here's a good example of this technique on

Search spiders, on the other hand, aren't confused by multiple choices. Secondary navigation, which includes links within the body copy, provides plenty of opportunity to place keywords in links. Good for usability, too.

As your site grows, new content is linked to by secondary navigation. The key is to continually monitor what content produces the most money/visitor response. Elevate successful topics higher up you navigation tree, and relegate loss-making topics.

Use your analytics package to do this. In most packages, you can get breakdowns of the most popular, and least popular, pages. Organise this list by "most popular". Your most popular pages should be at the top of your navigation tree. You also need to consider your business objectives. Your money pages might not be the same pages as your most popular pages, so it's also a good idea to set up funnel tracking to ensure the pages you're elevating also align with your business goals.

If a page is ranking well for a term, and that page is getting good results, you might want to consider adding a second page targeting the same term. Google may then group the pages together, effectively giving you listings #1 and #2.

Subject Themeing

A variant on Main & Secondary Navigation is subject themeing.

Themeing is a controversial topic in SEO. The assumption is that the search engines will try and determine the general theme of your site, therefore you should keep all your pages based around a central theme.

The theory goes that you can find out what words Google places in the same "theme" by using the tilde ~ command in Google. For example, if you search on ~ cars, you'll see "automobile", "auto", "bmw" and other related terms highlighted in the SERP results. You use these terms as headings for pages in your site.

However, many people feel that themes do not work, because search engines return individual pages, not sites. Therefore, it follows that the topic of other pages on the site aren't directly attributable to the ranking of an individual page.

Without getting into a debate about the the existence or non-existence of theme evaluation in the algorithm, themeing is a great way to conceptually organize your site and research keywords.

Establish a central theme, then create a list of sub-topics made up of related (~) terms. Make sub-topics of sub-topics. Eventually, your site resembles a pyramid structure. Each sub-topic is organized into a directory folder, which naturally "loads" keywords into URL strings, breadcrumb trails, etc. The entire site is made up of of keywords related to the main theme.

Bruce Clay provides a good overview of Subject Themeing.

Bleeding Page Rank?

You might also wish to balance the number of outgoing links with the number of internal links. Some people are concerned about this aspect, i.e. so-called "bleeding page rank". A page doesn't lose page rank because you link out, but linking does effect the level of page rank available to pass to other pages. This is also known as link equity.

It is good to be aware of this, but not let it dictate your course of action too much. Remember, outbound linking is a potential advertisement for your site, in the form of referral data in someone else logs. A good rule of thumb is to balance the number of internal links with the the number of external links. Personally, I ignore this aspect of SEO site construction and instead focus on providing visitor value.

Link Equity & No Follow

Another way to control the link equity that flows around your site is to use the no-follow tag. For example, check out the navigational links at the bottom of the page:

As these target pages aren't important in terms of ranking, you could no-follow these pages ensure your main links have more link equity to pass to other pages.

Re-Focus On The Most Important Content

This might sound like sacrilege, but it can often pay not to let search engines display all the pages in your site.

Let's say you have twenty pages, all titled "Acme". Links containing the keyword term "Acme" point to various pages. What does the algorithm do when faced with these pages? It doesn't display all of them for the keyword term "Acme". It choses the one page it considers most worthy, and displays that.

Rather than leave it all to the algorithm, it often pays to pick the single most relevant page you want to rank, and 301 all the other similarly-themed pages to point to it. Here's some instructions on how to 301 pages.

By doing this, you focus link equity on the most important page, rather than splitting it across multiple pages.

Create Cross Referenced Navigational Structures

Aaron has a good tip regarding cross-referencing within the secondary page body text. I'll repeat it here for good measure:

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 d7, or b9, that cross referencing page will be relevant for it, and if it is done well it does not look too 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.

Related Reading:

Search Engine Optimization - Evolution or Extinction?

The following is a guest blog post by Jeremy L. Knauff from Wildfire Marketing Group, highlighting many of the recent changes to the field of SEO.

Marketing is constantly evolving and no form of marketing has evolved more over the last ten years than search engine optimization. That fact isn’t going to change anytime soon. In fact, the entire search engine optimization industry is headed for a major paradigm shift over the next twelve months. Like many of the major algorithm updates in the past, some people will be prepared while some will sit teary-eyed amongst their devastation wondering what happened and scrambling to pick up the pieces. Unlike the major algorithm updates of the past, you won’t be able to simply fix the flaws in your search engine optimization and jump back to the top of the SERPs.

Why is this change going to be so different? In the past, the search engines have incrementally updated certain aspects of their algorithms to improve the quality of their SERPs, for example, eliminating the positive effect of Meta tag keyword stuffing which was being abused by spammers. Anyone who has been in the SEO industry for more than a few years probably remembers the chaos and panic when the major search engines stopped ranking websites based on this approach. This time around though, we’re looking at something much more significant than simply updating an algorithm to favor particular factors or discount others. We are looking at not only a completely new way for search engines to assign value to web pages, but more importantly, a new way for search engines to function.

Local search

A number one ranking for a particular keyword phrase was once the end-all, be-all goal but now many searches are regionalized to show the most relevant web pages that are located in the area that you are searching from. While this will probably reduce your traffic, the traffic that you now receive will be more targeted in many cases. Additionally, it give smaller websites a more equal chance to compete.

Google suggest

This August, Google Suggest was moved from Google Labs to the homepage, offering real-time suggestions based on the letters you’ve typed into the search box so far. This can be an incredibly helpful feature for users. At the same time, it can be potentially devastating to websites that rely of long-tail traffic because once a user sees a keyword phrase that seems like at least a mediocre choice they will usually click on it rather than continuing to type a more specific keyword phrase.

Devaluation of paid links

Google’s recent attempt to eliminate paid links has scared a lot of people on both sides of the link buying equation into implementing the “nofollow” tag. In the midst of this hypocritical nonsense, Google has also been taking great measures to devalue links based on quantifiable criteria, such as the “C” class of the originating IP, similarities in anchor text and/or surrounding text, location of the link on the page and the authority of the domain the link is from to name a few. Regardless of the effectiveness of any search engines ability to evaluate and subsequently devalue paid links, the fear of getting caught and possibly penalized is more than enough to deter a lot of people from buying or selling links.

Visitor usage data

Again, Google is leading the charge on this one. Between their analytics, toolbar and web browser, they are collecting an enormous amount of data on visitor usage. When a visitor arrives at a website, Google knows how long they stayed there, how many pages they accessed, which links they followed and much more. With this data, a search engine can determine the quality of a website, which is beginning to carry more weight in regards to ranking than some of the more manipulatable factors such as keyword density or inbound links. This puts the focus on content quality instead of content quantity and over time, will begin to knock many of the “me too” websites further down the SERPs pages, or out of the picture all together. The websites that will prosper will be those that produce relevant, original content that their visitors find useful.


Simply pointing a vast number of links with a particular keyword phrase in the anchor text to a website was once a quick and easy way to assure top ranking. The effectiveness of this approach is diminishing and will continue in that direction as a result of TrustRank. In a nutshell, a particular set of websites are chosen (by Google) based on their editorial quality and prominence on the Internet. Then Google analyzes the outbound links from these sites, the outbound links from the sites linked to by these site, and so on down the chain. The sites that are further up the chain carry more trust and those further down the chain, less trust. Links from sites with more TrustRank, those further up the chain, have a greater impact on ranking than links from websites further down the chain. On one hand, this makes it difficult for new websites to improve their position in the SERPs compared to established website; one the other hand, it helps to eliminate many of the redundant websites out there that are just repeating what everyone else is saying.

Google Chrome

Utilizing a combination of visitor usage data and a not so gentle nudge in Google’s direction, Google Chrome is set to change the way search engines gather data and present it to users. For example, when a user begins typing in the address bar of the browser, they are presented with a dropdown list of suggestions containing choices consisting of the #1 result in Google’s SERPs, related search terms and other pages you’ve recently visited. This gives a serious advantage to the websites that hold top ranking in Google and at the same time, gives a serious advantage to Google by giving their Internet real estate even more exposure than ever before.
So the question remains, is search engine optimization facing evolution or extinction? Certainly not extinction, not by a long shot, but in a short period of time it is going to be drastically different than it is today. The focus will soon be on producing a valuable and enjoyable user experience rather than just achieving top ranking, which is what it should have been all along.

Is Your Search Result Sexy?

Title Tags As Ads

Do your tags scream "Click Me"?

Following on from my post yesterday, How To Craft Kick-Ass Title Tags & Headlines, lets look at meta tags as an advertisement, and why you need to think carefully about your offer, and the offers of your competition, when you craft your tags.

Why Are Title Tags Important?

Ranking debates aside, the main reason Title tags are important is because they are displayed, in bold, in the SERPs.

A SERP is a list of 20+ links, all clamoring for the visitors click. It is therefore important to entice visitors to click on your listing, rather than everyone else's. Sometimes you achieve this by rank placement alone, but with well-crafted tags, you stand a better chance of receiving that click.

What Is The Optimal Length For A Title Tag?

The W3C recommends the title tag should be less than 64 characters long.

Some SEOs think that long, keyword-loaded tags are the best approach. Some SEOs think short punchy tags are best, as long tags may dilute the weight of the keyword phrase, and there is less risk of Google cutting off you message midstream.

Because other factors play a more significant role in terms of rank, I ignore prescriptive tag lengths. Instead, I look to optimize the message in line with the business goals of a site.

Know Your Enemy

This is a proven Adwords strategy which also dovetails nicely into SEO.

The first step is to evaluate your surrounding competition.

Look at the wording of the most successful adwords ad for your chosen keyword term. Your aim is replicate success. Run an adwords campaign and experiment with the wording to find out the wording combination that receives the most clicks and subsequent desired action. You then craft your title tags and description tags to match. What works for Adwords works in the main SERPs, too.

Another way to approach title tags is to constantly rotate the tags using a script, and monitor the results. The is a split-run approach known as Keyword Spinning. You keep with the winners and cut the losers. This approach is describe in my post "Tested Advertising Strategies Respun For SEO"

What Are The Ideal Lengths For Meta Description Tags?

Common SEO wisdom dictates the description tag should be around 160 characters long.

Again, my approach is take prescriptive lengths with a grain of salt. Instead, focus on marketing and business goals.

The description tag doesn't have any ranking benefit, but it can be used to encourage people to click on your listing. Evaluate the surrounding competition, run tests using phrase variations, and make your description tag enticing. Also keep in mind that Google may match up a page description if the exact search query exists in the description tag.

Examples Of Title And Description Tags

This is how it should be done:

The title and description are clear and descriptive. There is a call to action and an appeal to self-interest.

This is a jumble:

The title and descriptions are confused. It is not clear what the benefit is to the visitor.

Google's Quirks

One problem is that Google sometimes uses a snippet Google may also use a DMOZ description.

Google will use the snippet when it finds no description tag, or determines the description tag that your provided is inappropriate. To improve the chances your meta description tag will be used, see Google's guide: "Improve Snippets With A Meta Description Make Over". Essentially, you need to make you meta description tag descriptive, as opposed to a series of keywords.

You can prevent search engines from using the DMOZ description using the following meta tag:


See Googles Webmaster Guideline: "Changing your site's title and description in search results".

Get Into The Mind Of The Searcher

An important part of positioning an offer is to know what's on the searchers mind.

In some cases, the keyword query will contain this information. For example "Buy X Online Overnight Delivery" is self-evident, however the majority of searches are not transactional.

According to a Penn State research study, the breakdown of searches is as follows:

  • 80% Of Searches Are Informational
  • 10% Of Searches Are Navigational
  • 10% Of Searches Are Transactional


  • Informational queries are meant to obtain data or information in order to address an informational need, desire, or curiosity.
  • Navigational queries are looking for a specific URL.
  • Transactional queries are looking for resources that require another step to be useful.

Query classifications can be broken down further into the following sub-categories:

  • Directed: Specific question. i.e "Registering a domain name".
  • Undirected: Tell me everything about a topic. i.e. "Singers in the 80s".
  • List Of Candidates: List Of Candidates i.e. "Things to do in Hollywood".
  • Find: Locate where some real world service or productcan be obtained i.e."PVC suit"
  • Advice: Advice, ideas, suggestions, instructions. i.e. "What to serve with roast pork tenderloin".
  • Navigation to transactional: The URL the user wants is a transactional site i.e ""
  • Navigation to informational: The URL the user wants is information i.e. ""
  • Obtain: Obtain a specific resource or object i.e. "Music lyrics"
  • Download: Find a file to download ie. "mp3 downloads"
  • Results page: Obtain a resource that one can printed,save, or read from the search engine results page i.e. (The user enters a query with the expectation that 'answer' willbe on the search engine results page and not require browsing toanother Website)
  • Interact: Interact with program/resource on another Website. i.e "buy table clock"

And further by sub-category type:

  • Closed: Deals with one topic; question with one, unam-biguous answer. i.e "Nine supreme court justices ".
  • Open: Deals with two or more topics . i.e. "excretory system of arachnids".
  • Online: The resource will be obtained online i.e. "Things to do in Hollywood".
  • Off-line: The resource will be obtained off-line and may require additional actions by the user i.e."Airline seat map"
  • Free: The downloadable file is free i.e. "Full metal alchemist wallpapers Free".
  • Not free: The downloadable file is not necessarily free i.e. "family guy episode"
  • Links: The resources appears in the title, summary, or URL of one or more of the results on the search engine results pages
  • Other: The resources does not appear one of theresults but somewhere else on the search engine results page

Source: "Determining the informational, navigational,and transactional intent of Web queries" Bernard J. Jansen, Danielle L. Booth, Amanda Spink; Pennsylvania State University

Google have teams devoted to this very function, and this type of classification will feed through into their algorithms.

When crafting your tags, think about what classification of query the searcher is undertaking. How would they structure it? What terms would they use? Would they phrase their query as a question? What words would they include? What words would they omit? Dig deep into your keyword research tools and web logs to find this data.

Think about their mindset. Using words like research and compare help you tap into people in the research mode, whereas words like buy, save, coupons, and free shipping attract people ready to buy.

A Call To Action

The title tag and description provides opportunities to include calls to action. A call to action is a phrase that provides the opportunity for a visitor to take a step along the sales process.

The keyword term you've selected might give you a clue as to what point of the sales process the visitor is at. Obviously, "Buy X Online Overnight Delivery" tends to indicate a visitor is about to hand over the cash, so you draft your title tag and description accordingly in order to help close the deal.

However, most keyword terms aren't this overt. This is where you need to think about the type of offer you present.

How To Decide Between A Hard Offer And A Soft Offer

Some of the most effective offers are seldom "reasons to buy", but rather "reasons to respond." This is the difference between a hard and soft offer.

The vast majority of searchers are not ready to buy, so by using a soft offer, you stand to capture a greater number of leads than you would if you just made a hard "buy right now!" offer. If all you've got is a hard offer, then visitors who aren't ready to buy will click back, or won't select your SERP result at all.

Opportunity lost.

Instead, encourage the visitor to take a relatively painless action, such as joining a mailing list, or downloading a free case study.

You can take this a step further my using the case study title to find out more about your visitors. For example, a case study entitled "Real Estate" won't tell you much about the problem your visitor is trying to solve, but a descriptive title, such as "Seven Ways To Sell Your Own Home" will. If they download the latter, and your service solves this problem for people, you're one step closer to making the sale.

Benefits Of The Soft Offer

  • You'll generate more leads
  • You have the opportunity to enter a dialogue with the visitor, thus moving them through the process

Only you'll know if a hard offer or a soft offer is most appropriate. But think carefully about the nature of your offer when crafting your titles and descriptions. Is your offer exactly the same as every other offer in the SERP? Or could you tweak you offer to make it stand out from the rest? Your offer should be more enticing than every other offer on the page. Try to get this across in your title and description.

Related Reading & Tools

How To Craft Kick-Ass Title Tags & Headlines


One old-skool marketing technique that will always hold true is the value of the catchy headline.

The headline, given its power to convey meaning quickly, is more important than ever. Attention spans are limited. Media messages flood the channels. We're busy. The function of the headline is to grab our attention and pull us deeper into the message.

Many books have been written on how to craft great headlines. I'm going to quote from the advertisers bible on the topic, Tested Adverting Methods by John Caples. Caples identifies three main classes of successful headlines.

The Three Main Classes Of Successful Headlines

  • Self-Interest: The best headlines are those that appeal to self interest. They offer the reader benefits that they want, and they can get from you. For example, RETIRE AT 30
  • News - Humans are pre-disposed to seek out what is new and different in their environment. For example, NEW, CHEAPER IPHONE CALL PLANS RELEASED
  • Curiosity Appeal to our curious nature. LOST: $1 BILLION DOLLARS

Of the three, by far the most effective headline in advertising is the self interest headline. Our self interest usually trumps our curiosity, and news, especially when time is short.

Compare these two headlines:



The first says nothing that appeals to our self interest. We don't even know what it is about. But you'd be hard pressed not to click on the second headline. The self-interest is just too strong. This is why the second form is used so often in link-baiting and social media. It screams for attention, and then makes a strong appeal to self-interest.

There is a downside to such headlines, however. Modern audiences have become jaded and cynical, especially where marketing messages are concerned. Overplay the benefit, and you'll come off as a shark. Link-baiting, a useful SEO tactic, has developed a bad reputation through overuse of this approach.

Eventually, people tune out.

Get Your Tone Right

We can twist the overused appeal-to-self interest headline strategy slightly to make it work for us. The key to getting the appeal to self-interest right is to get the tone right. Understand both the audiences' desires and the tone of "voice" they respond to.

For example, look at Digg. A cynic might argue that a surefire way to get top page on Digg is to write a headline that includes the following subject matter, and do so using an irreverent tone:

  • Criticism of Bush
  • Anything about Digg itself
  • Pumping Linux
  • Dumping DRM
  • Some crazy-weird activity from a country no-one has ever heard of :)

By the way, if anyone can come up with a headline that includes one of those elements, feel free to add it to the comments :)

The headline needs to be crafted in such a way as to appeal to Diggs demographic, which is mostly young, tech-savvy males. This demographic tends to respond to a tone that is cynical, flippant and irreverent. Get that tone wrong - i.e. play it too straight, or too advertorial - and it doesn't matter how strong the self-interest angle, it's unlikely to work.

How To Use Headline Strategy In SEO.

SEO has an additional challenge.

For SEO to work well, the headline, which is often also used as the title tag, should include a keyword term. Many studies have shown that a SERP or Adword that includes the keyword term results in more clicks. In order to get the headline strategy to work for SEO, try amalgamating the keyword term with one of the three formats.

For example, where the keyword term is "high speed routers", try:

  • High Speed Routers- How To Get Routers At Half Price (appeal to self interest)
  • High Speed Routers- Latest Features To Insist On (news, with a hint of self interest)
  • High Speed Routers- How We Blew Our Budget (Curiosity)

Even if you're not #1 in the serps for that term, you're more likely to attract a click than the guy who simply uses "High Speed Routers", by itself.

Your headline (i.e. the title tag) competes with at least ten other SERPs on the page, along with a various Adwords listings along the top and down the side. The top three SERP poitions are gold, but if you can add a touch of appeal-to-self-interest, or news, or curiosity, you'll up your chances of getting the click.

If you want to go one step further with this tactic, use it as a way to segment visitors. The first example I gave is likely to attract those people who are ready to buy, and who are buying on price.

You then need to include your title as a heading on the page, which confirms to they visitor their click has got them where they wanted to be. They're now far more likely to read beyond the headline.

Further Reading:

Black Hole SEO

Black Hole SEO

There is a black hole forming.

A few of them, actually.

These black holes aren't the result of the CERN Hadron Collider. They are forming for two reasons: the desire to keep people on site longer; and to hoard link juice, in order to dominate the SERPs.

Increasingly, top-tier sites are becoming cagey about linking out. They are more than happy to be linked to, of course, but often the favor is not reciprocated. Check out this post by SEOBlackhat.

What Does A Black Hole Look Like?

  • Uber-black hole, The New York Times, seems reluctant to link to anyone but themselves. This is especially annoying when they write about websites.
  • Wikipedia no-followed their links some time ago, thus forming a PageRank variant of the black hole.
  • The mini-me black hole, as practiced by TechCrunch. Rather than directing you to a site mentioned in an article, TechCrunch would direct you to their own CrunchBase entry instead, thereby keeping you on-site longer, and passing link authority to their own web pages. As a result, a search on Google for a sites' name may well bring up the CrunchBase entry. To be fair, TechCrunch does also link out, and there is an explanation as to why TechCrunch aren't as bad as the New York Times here.

The result is a link-love black hole. Sites using such a strategy can dominate the rankings, if they are big enough.

So if you wanted to create a blackhole, what would you do?

  • Don't link to anyone
  • If you must link out, then No-Follow the links, or wrap them in scripts
  • Direct page rank around your own site, especially to pages featuring your competitors names
  • Buy a motherlode of links
  • Become a newspaper magnate :)

Now, if you're an SEO, you might be feeling a tad conflicted about now. Why wouldn't every SEO do this? What if you owned a black hole? Isn't that the ultimate SEO end game?

In the long term, I doubt it.

If this problem becomes too widespread, Google will move to counter it. If Google's results aren't sufficiently diversified, then their index will look stale. If you search for a site, and get third party information about that site, rather than the site itself, then this will annoy users. Once confidence is lost in the search results, then users will start to migrate to Google's competitors.

I'm not certain such a move will be entirely altruistic, however. After all, what is the point of Knol? No, really - what is the point of Knol? ;)

The Advantages Of Sharing The Love

Consider what you gain by linking out.

  • Webmasters look at their referalls, and may follow the link back to check out your site
  • Outbounds may count for more in future, if they don't already
  • Your users expect it. Don't fight against their expectations else you'll devalue your brand equity
  • Any site that looks "too-SEO'd" risks standing out on a link graph
  • There is social value in doing so. Black hole sites start to look like bad actors, can receive bad press, and risk damaging their relationships with partners, suppliers, and communities.

Create More Value Than You Capture

Tim O'Reilly put it well:

"..... The web is a great example of a system that works because most sites create more value than they capture. Maybe the tragedy of the commons in its future can be averted. Maybe not. It's up to each of us".

The phrase Black Hole SEO was used by Eli on over a year ago to describe various aggressive SEO techniques.


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