"Borrowing" Content: How The Little Guy Can Fight Back

Feb 2nd
posted in

The problem: big publishers "borrowing" stories from smaller publishers, redrafting them, and republishing them. Because the bigger publisher has greater domain authority, "their" story achieves higher rank.

Can you pick "who made who" in the following examples?

Of course, the publishers of these specific examples may not of been aware of each others existence. Great minds can think alike. But there are so many examples of coincidence out there, one suspects it isn't all purely a matter of chance.

Whilst borrowing of ideas is nothing new, if you're a publisher, content borrowing can wreak havoc with your seo strategies. The big and powerful sites dominate, and the little guy often gets relegated. Google's linking algorithms reward the already rich, and make them richer.

The sad reality is that whilst the web started out with the intention of being a democracy of information, it now closely resembles the power structures of the offline world. By the time you read this article, it has very likely been reproduced without attribution.

Here are a few ideas on how the little guy can fight back.

1. The Power Of Relationships/Distribution

It is said that business can be boiled down to two essential elements: to sell something for more than it costs to produce, and the ability to nurture relationships.

If you're a publisher, you can leverage the relationship you have with your readers in order to protect you from "the borrowers". Once you readers, and indirect competitors, are aware of your work, it becomes harder for your competitors to talk to that same market, using your ideas.

Think about what you can do for your readers to instill a sense of loyalty. Give them something of value. Make them feel indebted to you. Give people a stake in your success.

Consider allowing people to republish your content under certain conditions. i.e. when you have sufficient page rank, allow others to copy parts of your work, so long as they link back to the original. Such a policy might turn those who would ordinarily steal from you into allies who supply free link juice.

2. Branding

Try to make your content an identifiable part of your brand.

For example, part of your brand might be your a stylistic approach to writing. It would be very difficult to directly rip off Dave Barry, because he writes himself into his articles.

Typically, the more generic a piece is, the easier it is to borrow, so try to weave something unique to you, or your site, into the article. Perhaps use arguments and points that rely on a link to one of your previous articles, in order that they make sense.

3. Launch Hard

When you create a new site, or a new piece of content, shout loud about it.

Use all the channels. Twitter about it. Email your subscribers. Submit your article to aggregation networks. Pitch your article to other publishers with whom you've built a strong relationship, and who you know will link back and credit you.

In tight communities, like the SEO world, it will be harder to rip you off if you've made yourself visible in all the channels the community uses.

4. Create A Publicity Storm

If you're very sure of your ground i.e. someone has blatantly copied and republished your content without permission, you could create a lot of media mileage by outing them. If they won't acknowledge you, then their direct competitors might be very open to highlighting the borrowers contemptible practices. Use the same approach you do when you launch hard.

Say it often, and spread the (negative) message wide. Done correctly, a publicity storm might generate more back-links links than the original article. In any case, they'll certainly think twice about taking your stuff in future.

5. Fire Fight

Another approach is the cavalry charge.

Contact the publisher, contact the people linking to them, have your friends write about the culprit. Do it each and every time someone steals your work. Do it on Twitter. Do it on their site. You could even hire an army of cheap Mechanical Turks to do the job for you.

You can find links using Yahoo's Site Explorer, duplicate posts using Google Blog Search, and Technorati.

6. Become Big

The problem with the above approaches is that they can take a lot of your time.

Where you really want to be is so big that your direct competitors wouldn't dare take your stuff. The smaller upstarts who take your stuff won't be able to rank against you anyway.

This last point is where I'd put most of my efforts. As frustrating as it is, the web is a very difficult environment in which to enforce copyright. Spending a lot of time fighting that fact won't make the interweb leopard change it's spots.

It's like the spam reporting approach. Do you spend all your time dobbing in spammers above you in the vain hope they'll all disappear, or do you beat them by building an authoritative, trusted domain?

Nurture those relationships to help you get there :)

Should You Have Multiple Websites?

Jan 28th
posted in

Or just one?

Let's take look at a web strategy that has a number of SEO and benefits: the hub and spoke strategy. A hub and spoke strategy is when you create one authoritative domain (the hub), and then hang various related websites off that domain (the spokes).

If you don't yet have an authority site, it's probably best to focus on that one site. However, once you've built an authority hub, it can be a good idea to specialize in a number of niches using multiple, smaller sites.

Let's look at a few reasons why, in the context of dominating a niche.

Economics

Economic theory holds that division of labor increases profitability.

During the early days of the web, it was easy to make money by being a generalist. However, as the web got deeper and richer, it became difficult to maintain a generalist position unless you had significant resources.

Specialization, by way of niches, allows for greater targeting, and this targeting can increase value. Leads and advertising become more valuable, because the target audience can be reached more efficiently.

The hub and spoke approach is this theory in microcosm. The hub is the generalist authority, whilst the spokes allow for niche specialization.

We'll see how this dove-tails with SEO shortly.

Domain Knowledge

If you were to create a series of sites on different topics, it might take a significant period of time to know each area well. However, if you create niche topics within your own area of expertise, you should be able to create new sites very quickly.

Why would you create new sites? Why not just stick with one?

Let's say your main site is fairly broad in it's appeal. However, you've discovered some lucrative niche keyword areas within that broad topic area. By creating spoke sites, you can focus on these keyword areas, and dig deeper, without compromising the general appeal of your main site.

An example might be a hub site that is aimed at community education, whilst spoke sites might cover private tuition, corporate learning materials, and education facility hire.

This segmentation can be done in a number of ways. You could aggressively target one search engines algorithm and/or audience (MSN) with one spoke, whilst targeting another search engine on another spoke. One site might be aimed at do-it-yourself people, whilst another site is aimed at a person looking to hire a professional. Both sites cover the same topic, but require a different approach in terms of language, structure, offer and tone.

Likewise, you may use spoke sites for brand reasons. When Google bought YouTube they wisely kept the YouTube name, as the brand appealed to users. Google Video - not so much. There is a general perception that YouTube does video, and Google is a search company, and never the twain shall meet.

Google knew better than to force the issue.

Legitimate Links

A hub site on education that links out to pharmaceutical affiliates could easily get hit by Google. The relationship between the two areas is questionable. However, if you link out to your spoke sites, that cover related niches, your link pattern will be much more acceptable.

From an SEO standpoint, it can be difficult to get links to purely commercial sites. If you have a hub site that already has link authority - or is created specifically to attract links - then you can pass this authority to your more specialized spokes. Once the spokes become more popular, you can either pass that authority along to yet more specialized sites (one way), or even promote your hub site (reciprocal). Either way, the link graph makes sense.

Each site doesn't need to be directly profitable. You can use one site to attract links, and pass this authority on to your monetarized domains. One can subsidize the production of the other.

Fame

If you've already built up name recognition in your niche, you'll find it easier to get links and press attention for your new projects.

Status is important because if no one knows who you are, they probably don't care about the content so much. Let's say Danny Sullivan or Matt Cutts writes something, it will instantly get attention because of who they are and the trust relationship they have with their audience. If you're new to the SEO space, no matter how profound your content is, it could easily get over-looked.

This is why it can be more difficult building multiple areas across unrelated niches. You may need to establish yourself in each new area, which can be a lot more difficult than leveraging your name recognition in your existing niche, then going granular.

Enhanced Monetarization Opportunities

We've looked at how you can target the most profitable areas aggressively using a hub and spoke strategy, without affecting the main brand.

Other advantages include economies of scale. As your network grows, you have more ad inventory to sell people. The inventory can be segmented, as opposed to the advertiser having to accept a one-size-fits-all approach of a generalist site. Similarly, you may be able to demand higher affiliate payouts, because you can precisely target offers.

Aaron covers this toipic in greater depth in the video "Why You Should Dominate A Niche".

Where Do New SEOs Go Wrong When They Set Learning Priorities?

Jan 28th
posted in

Another question we received recently from the SEOBook.com community was:

What qualities are common in Aaron Wall, DaveN, Bob Massa, Jason Duke, SugarRae, et al, that new SEOs can adopt, to come closer to people like these in expertise. Where do most new SEOs go wrong when they set learning priorities?

I've asked these people to provide their views, which I'll get to shortly.

It's a great question, because the avalanche of SEO information that confronts the beginner can be overwhelming. How do you know what information is important? What aspects do you really need to spend you time on, and what information do you need to reject? What are the qualities that make for a good SEO?

Let's take a look...

Learning SEO

Most people stumble into being an SEO.

An awareness of SEO usually comes about when a person launches a site, only to find that the site doesn't magically appear #1.

Soon after, the webmaster will likely find themselves knee deep in SEO forums and blogs, where everyone has a viewpoint, and often those viewpoints contradict each other. Contradiction is rife in SEO. To understand why, we need to understand the history of search engines.

The first step in setting learning priorities for SEO is to.....

1. Understand The History & Context Of SEO

My own foray into SEO began with Infoseek.

Infoseek was one of the early search engines. Infoseek introduced a feature around 1996 , whereby they would crawl a site and update their index immediately. This feature made it easy for webmasters to game the algorithm.

I had just launched a small, commercial site. I thought all I had to do was publish a site, and the search engine would do it's job, and put me at number one! Unsurprisingly, that didn't happen.

So, I tried to figure out why Infoseek didn't think my site was great. I could see that there were sites ranking above mine, so there was clearly something about those sites that Infoseek did like. I looked at the code of the high ranking sites. Did that have something to do with it? To test that idea, I cut and pasted it their code into my own code and republished my site. Viola, I was at number 2!

So far, so good.

But why wasn't I number one? The sites that were ranking highly tended to have long pages on the same topic, so I added more text to my pages. Soon enough, with a little trial and error, I was number one. Predictably, Infoseek soon pulled this feature when they saw what was happening.

I was clearly not alone in my underhanded trickery.

At the time, I thought my cut n paste trick was an amusing hack, but I wasn't earning my bread and butter from the internet. I was working in the computer industry, and unaware of "SEO". I soon forgot about it.

A few years later, a whole cottage industry had sprung up around SEO. The search technology had become a lot more sophisticated. My dubious copy n' paste hack no longer worked, and the search engines were locked in a war against webmasters who were trying to game their ranking criteria.

There is an inherent conflict between the business model of the search engine, and that of the SEO. The SEO wants their site to rank, the search engine wants to rank a page a searcher will find useful.

That isn't necessarily the same thing.

Therefore, the search engines are notoriously secret about their ranking formulas. SEOs try and reverse engineer the formulas, or just guess the factors involved, which is why you'll see so many contradictory viewpoints.

So who do you listen to? What information is relevant?

2. Technical Know-How

Dave Naylor had this to say about doing too much at once:

Common qualities that's simple we notice the little things and understand the larger impact that they will have in long term,

And where do you most new SEOs go wrong when they set learning priorities?

From the new SEO's on the block that I chat too, they seem to run at a million miles an hour trying 100 different things at once, they need to slow get a decent data set of information and slowly pick though it and test small things at a time, and work out thing like why is it when I search for The FT in Google it returns Grand Theft Auto ?

Most people new to SEO place a lot of emphasis on the technical aspects. It's natural to seek out the secret recipe of high rankings. Whilst most forums obsess over these issues, much of what you'll read is irrelevant fluff. These days, SEO is more about a holistic process, rather than an end unto itself.

Start with a solid, credible source - like SEOBook's course for example ;) The cost of a well researched course is nothing compared to the time you may spend heading in the wrong direction.

Most people will benefit by applying the 80/20 rule. To rank in Google, you need to be on-topic, you need to be crawlable, and you need to have inbound links.

You could spend a lifetime trying to figure out the other 20%. Unfortunately, the formula is in Google's hands, and even then, only known to a few. It is reasonable to assume Google tweaks the dials often, especially once a common exploit makes the rounds. Take Dave's advice and take it one step at a time. Focus on the key aspects first - relevance, crawlability and linking - then methodically test and evaluate in order to expand your knowledge.

Bob Massa on not sweating the small stuff:

I honestly think the only way anyone can go wrong, new to online promotion or a seasoned veteran, is to not look too hard for tricks and magic beans from those who make their names posting those so-called tricks, in forums.

I believe anyone can be successful at online marketing or even traffic generation and search engine placement specifically, if they just stop looking for ways to trick machines and instead look for ways to connect with humans.

search engines are just computer programs and algorithms written by humans. The engine is only a tool intended to aide humans do things faster and easier that are important to their lives. I think machines can help with connecting humans BUT the humans are the target, the goal, the end that machines can provide the means to.

I think one thing that is common among the list of people you mentioned is that they all realize, understand and accept that concept.

3. Strategy & Goals

The opportunity in SEO lies in the fact that Google must have content, around which it places advertising. If you rank high, you get "free" clicks.

Of course, nothing in this world is free, and SEO is no exception. There is significant time cost involved in getting lucrative rankings. And that cost comes with a reasonable degree of risk. Google has no obligation to show you at position x, and your competitors will always try and eat your lunch.

Strategy is the most important aspect, and one you should spend a lot of your time on. Why are you trying to rank? Are there better things you could be doing i.e. building up a community? Do you have an on-going publishing model? How is your brochure-web site ever going to attract links? Are you building enough link juice to ensure your entire 500K page affiliate site gets indexed?

Check out my post on strategy and goal setting. The key is to take a holistic approach.

I think some of the general principals that apply to most of them are that they are: smart, curious, hard working, blunt, honest, and sharing. They also view SEO as a tool to help them achieve other goals, rather than having SEO be the end goal.

Where a lot of people go wrong with SEO is that they try to think in concrete numbers based on a limited perspective built off a limited set of data. Some things may happen sometimes, but there are very few universal truths to the shifting field of SEO beyond preparing for change. And the certain lasting truths do not provide much competitive advantage...that is built through curiosity, testing, hard work, and creativity - Aaron Wall.

4. Measurement

It's surprising how little time is spent talking about measurement, because without it, SEOs are flying blind.

One common metric is rank. It's not a very good metric, because it doesn't tell you very much, other than you've won the ranking game.

But so what?

What if that rank doesn't help you achieve your goals? What if every person who clicks on your link ends up buying from the guy who is advertising on Adwords instead?

This is why measurement, aligned with your goals, is important. If you track SEO efforts through to a goal, and most of those goals tend to involve making money, then you'll be head and shoulders above most of the forum hacks and pretenders. It doesn't matter what tracking software you use. Become an expert and tracking and metrics.

Summary

  • 1. Understand the history and context of SEO
  • 2. Learn your chops from a reputable source
  • 3. Clearly define your strategy and goals
  • 4. Become a metrics and measurement guru
  • Over 100 training modules, covering topics like: keyword research, link building, site architecture, website monetization, pay per click ads, tracking results, and more.
  • An exclusive interactive community forum
  • Members only videos and tools
  • Additional bonuses - like data spreadsheets, and money saving tips
We love our customers, but more importantly

Our customers love us!

How Your Competitors Can Help You

Jan 27th
posted in

Are you thinking of building a new site?

Before you do, it pays to take a look at your competitors. By choosing the right sites to compete against, you can gain significant advantage.

Firstly, you need to position your offering relative to your competitors.

1. What Problem Do you Solve?

Making money is mostly about solving problems. Write down the problem you're going to solve. Be specific.

For example:

  • Provide auto repair training to amateurs
  • Sell bomb detectors to airlines
  • Sell ice to Eskimos

For this article, we'll use the idea "sell ice to Eskimos". No doubt you've already spotted the problem with this rather lousy business model, but let's have a look at what a bad idea looks like within this evaluation process.

2. Who Is Your Audience?

You may have noticed I included the prospective audience in my examples above. Know what you're selling, and to whom.

Demographics, in other words.

Who are you customers? What do they want? What type of language do they use? Build up a profile.

In our example, our customers are Eskimos. Eskimos live around the North Pole region, mainly in Siberia, Alaska, Canada, and Greenland. Internet access is obviously going to be an issue, not to mention language barriers, which is about the point the idea should die.

Yet, surprisingly, many prospective web businesses never address this simple question. Various Web 2.0 businesses clearly didn't ask questions 1 & 2. Presumably they jumped straight to the "how can we get a few million dollars in VC?" question instead.

3. Where Are Your Customers Hiding?

You need to get in front of your audience.

SEOs know a lot about keyword research, so have a huge advantage over others when it comes to finding out who their competitors are, and where the opportunity lies.

You're probably familiar with keyword research tools and competitive research tools such as:

Find out the keyword terms your potential audience use, conduct searches, and make a note of the big players under those keyword terms. Keep in mind that language people use on search engines is always changing. There are more queries that are longer and more specific. These give you valuable insights into how to position your offering.

What questions are people asking? What problems are they trying to solve? What are the many different ways they describe that problem? What keyword areas are your competitors missing? What value can you provide that they do not? Have your competitors missed lucrative keyword areas?

4. What Is The Nature Of The Market?

You should look for rapidly growing markets. You want to avoid established, declining markets, unless you can provide a new layer of value that is difficult for competitors to emulate.

Take a look at the type of sites you intend to compete against. Are they big companies? Are they hobby blogs and thin affiliate sites? It's going to be much easier for your new site to compete against the thin affiliates and hobby projects than it is to compete against the establishment.

One of the common stumbling blocks at this point is solving a non-problem. The "ice to Eskimos" market is not dominated by established players, or hobby blogs for that matter, but there's a good reason for that - Eskimos don't have a "lack of ice" problem. Beware of the Web 2.0 trap - solving the non-problem.

5. What Related Markets Exist?

If the market you were thinking of entering is competitive, are there any closely related markets you can enter? You can find these areas by looking for patterns in the keyword research results.

Let's try "fitness". Notice any patterns here?

You might notice there are numerous searches for fitness locations i.e. a gym, a center, a club. So, instead of targeting fitness in terms of health, which would see you up against established health organizations and generalist publications, you might want to target the fitness center section of the market e.g. a comparison of gyms and centers. Such a niche could possibly be more lucrative, as there is a clear money making opportunity as people need to pay to join these facilities.

Which brings us onto...

6. Is there Potential To Make Money?

Just because a lot of people are doing something, doesn't mean it is worth doing.

Some areas are difficult to monetarize. Science, for example. And social discussions. Some area's are saturated, making it very difficult to find a new value layer to add. SEO, for example.

How easy would it be for one of the major players to copy your value proposition? Look for areas that have a clear path to monetarization and that aren't dominated by major players, or saturated by sites with little to distinguish them.

Good luck in your hunt for a lucrative niche :)

If you want to see a video presentation on how to evaluate competitors, Aaron has more in the members section.

Five Dreaded SEO Topics We Hope We Never See Again

Jan 26th
posted in

1. Search Engine Spamming Should Be Outlawed

Out in the wild west, moral confusion abounds.

There have been SEOs who have argued - with a straight face - that whilst it's ok for them to game search engine algorithms, it's not ok for others to do so. This is usually because the other guy isn't following "the rules".

What are the rules?

The rules are decided - and vaguely defined - by the search engines, and then interpreted to mean whatever an SEO decides they mean. Far be it for a search engine to create rules that serve their own business interests, which may not align with the interests of the webmaster.

SEO is built on shifting sands. What do you do when what you were doing was "within the guidelines" and no longer is because the rules change? Do you willfully decide to rank lower?

Conclusion: Spam is what the other guy does. Also an acronym for "Sites Positioned Above Mine".

2. How To Create Meta Tags

Hard to believe now, but forum wars were fought over how many times a webmaster could repeat a keyword in a meta keyword tag. Twice was often deemed ok, but any more than that and you were almost certainly an "evil spammer" (see #1).

Meta tag manipulation doesn't count for anything these days. The tags are mainly used to describe the content of pages, that the search engines may display as snippet text.

Conclusion: Deader than AltaVista

3. Is SEO Ethical?

A curious framing of SEO in terms of ethics and morality.

Is it good and proper to try to get a higher rank than the search engine would bestow otherwise? The point of SEO is, of course, to get a higher rank than the search engines would bestow otherwise.

These people were usually in the wrong game. Many went on to join Seminaries.

Conclusion: Welcome to the jungle

4. Should I Buy Links?

Yes.

No.

Depends.

Paranoia runs rampant in SEO, especially when search engines make a example of someone. Like SearchKing.

Almost all SEOs once advocated buying links in, say, Yahoo, as a listing in Yahoo would lead to better rankings in Google. However, Matt Cutts put the cat amongst the pigeons back in 2005 when he declared that "Google does consider buying text links for PageRank purposes to be outside our quality guidelines".

The argument quickly descended into a semantic war i.e. define "paid". Money changing hands? Favors? Nepotism? Erm...Yahoo Directory? One of the more interesting conclusions often got buried: "Hey, perhaps if Google dislike them so much, paid links really do work!"

Conclusion: Yeah, they work

5. Should There Be SEO Standards?

A natural progression of the ethical debate. It was proposed that SEOs should all conform to a common code of practice, as other professions often do.

The problem was that the relationship between search engines and SEOs has always been grey. Only the search engine can really define what the search engine wants, and what the search engine wants might not align with what the SEO, or their client, wants. In any case, the search engine isn't going to publicly define exactly what they want, as they are worried that people, like SEOs, will game their systems.

So, you got a few self-appointed search police officers, who would suggest that everyone followed their particular code of practice, based on their interpretation of the search engines guidelines. The self-appointed cops usually out-numbered those who followed them, and invariably disagreed amongst themselves anyway.

Conclusion: Impossible to get buy-in

The 100+ Ranking Variables Google Uses, And Why You Shouldn't Care

Jan 23rd
posted in

Continuing on with our community questions, here are a few requests for specific ranking information:

"What are the 100+ variables Google considers in their ranking algorithm?"

Cheeky :)

Easy to say, hard to do. Take a job at Google, work your way up the ranks and join the inner circle.

Another question we received is along the same lines:

How do you outrank a super established website in your niche, one where Google is giving site links and their domain is older

Again, easy to say, hard to do. Either forget outranking the domain and buy it, or spend time doing exactly what they have done, and hope they also stop their SEO efforts in order to let you catch up.

These types of questions arise often. "If I could just learn a few quick-fix insider secrets, I can outrank everyone!"

If there was a quick n easy secret formula that would guarantee high rank, why would those who know it, reveal it?

The reality is that quick-fix secret formulas don't exist.

Sure, there are quirks in the algorithms that can be exploited, but they are often trumped by historical factors, like authority metrics, that are difficult to fake. One common blackhat technique is to hack an established domain, and place "money" pages on that domain. That's an admission, if ever there was, that technical trickery on your own domain is either too time consuming, or doesn't work so well.

I know some of the worlds top SEOs, and I can't recall them spending much time talking about secret sauce. What they do talk about is making money and growing empires. They're more focused on the business strategy of SEO.

The effectiveness of many SEO techniques will be dead soon, anyway.

What you need to think about for the future is user interaction.

The Future Of SEO

Have a read of this document, by my good friend and Merlot drinker, Mike Grehan. Mike outlines his view on the future of search, and he makes a number of important points:

  • The web crawler model is nearing the end of its useful life
  • Signals from users, not content creators, will become more important
  • Universal Search changed the ranking game forever
  • Forget rank, think engagement

If you want to future proof your SEO strategy, take heed of Mike's words.

The crawler model is failing because the crawler was designed for structured text, not multimedia. The crawler can't see behind pay-walls. It has trouble navigating databases in which the data isn't interlinked or marked-up. The search engines will need to look for other ways of finding and making sense of data.

Social networks, blogs, Twitter etc indicate a move away from the webmaster as signaler of importance i.e. who you choose to link out to. The search engines will need to mine the social signals form those networks. The user will signal where their attention is focused by their interaction and paths.

Universal search, in may cases, has pushed results listings down below the fold. For example, to get a client seen high up on the results page may involve making sure making sure they are featured on Google Maps. Similarly, if they have video content, it should be placed on YouTube. Google have shown they are increasingly looking to the aggregators for results and featuring their content in prominent positions.

That list of search results is becoming more and more personalized, and this will continue. Who knows, we may not have a list before too long. More and more "search" data - meaning "answers to questions" - might be pushed to us, rather than us having to go hunt for it.

The future of SEO, therefore, will be increasingly about engaging people. The search engines will be measuring the signals users send. In the past, it's all been about the signals webmasters send i.e. links and marked up content.

For now, you still need to cover the obvious bases - create crawlable, on-topic content, backed by quality linking. But you'll also need to think about the users - and the signals they send - in order to future proof your site. Google has long placed the user at the center of the web. Their algorithms are surely heading towards measuring them, too.

What are these signals? Ah, now there's a question.....

Will SEO Be Dead Within The Next Two Years?

Jan 21st
posted in

Another question we received recently was:

"SEO as we know it will be dead within the next 2 years – true or false? With the wealth of info at their fingertips combined with localized, customized search to name but a few Google will no longer need to do what it does now to determine rankings?"

I'd say "false".

People have been predicting the death of SEO since, well, the beginning of SEO. Here's a debate from 2004, and another from 2006. These arguments probably started around 1995.

So long as search engines display a list of sites, for which payment is not required, SEO will exist.

How SEO is done will change. It has always changed. In the bad old days, SEO was all about getting listed in the Yahoo Directory. If you didn't, you were pretty much invisible. There was a time that listing with Looksmart got you decent rankings in MSN. These days, few of those new to SEO have even heard of Looksmart.

Google will certainly adapt and change, and use a variety of metrics in order to determine relevance. SEOs will adapt and change, trying to work out what these metrics are.

Recently, Eric Schmidt made the following comment:

The internet is fast becoming a "cesspool" where false information thrives, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said yesterday. Speaking with an audience of magazine executives visiting the Google campus here as part of their annual industry conference, he said their brands were increasingly important signals that content can be trusted"

So, having a brand might be a signal of quality, which may, in turn, lead to a higher rank. Or perhaps Schmidt was just playing to the audience of newspaper owners. Difficult to tell ;)

Google collects a wealth of usage data from toolbars, analytics, and their ad systems, so it is conceivable they might fold these metrics into their ranking systems. Marissa Mayer recently suggested that SearchWiki data might be used ranking calculations.

Will the bar get raised? Will SEO become more difficult? Of course. But a raised bar works two ways. If you can reach it, there's a new barrier between you and those who follow you. That gives you some level of defensibility.

So how do you do SEO going forward?

I've written a lot about the importance of holistic strategy. Your aim should be to sell something to people - be it an opinion, a product, a service. All your endeavors should support this goal, and most of the time, that means doing the basics well - make your site crawlable, well linked, and solve a genuine problem for people. If your SEO efforts are not resulting in an improvement in the bottom line , then there is little point doing SEO.

Bob Massa put it well:

"I believe anyone can be successful at online marketing or even traffic generation and search engine placement specifically, if they just stop looking for ways to trick machines and instead look for ways to connect with humans".

What Aspect Of SEO Should You Be Spending Most Of Your Time On?

Jan 19th
posted in

There are so many SEO tasks demanding your attention. How do you prioritize them?

Seems to be a common issue, as when we asked for questions a while back, we received this one:

"What aspect of SEO should you be spending most of your time on? Optimizing the title tag, getting links, creating quality content? "

So which area of SEO will give you the most bang for your buck? Link building? On-page? Social media? Ask ten different SEOs, and you'll likely get ten different answers.

Let's take a step back and start with strategy.

1. Define Your Goals

Without clear goals, it's difficult to know how to spend your time. Start by listing your goals.

Do you want to sell services or product? Do you want to increase traffic levels? Do you want to increase brand awareness? Knowing which SEO dial to twist depends very much on what goal you're trying to achieve.

Once you have your list, create a set of KPIs. KPI stands for Key Performance Indicator. KPIs will give you a set of metrics to help you decide if you're meeting, or missing, your goals.

Here are a few examples:

  • Rank top ten for keyword term x in Google
  • Increase traffic from search engines by *x* percent by *date*
  • Get 1,000 new sign ups from search visitors in March
  • Sell ten widgets per day to search visitors by next week

The most useful KPIs are specific. You either hit the target or you miss.

Your strategy will be defined by your goals. For example, if your goal is to sell ten widgets by next week using a new site, then your strategy might be to forget SEO for the meantime, and focus on PPC instead. If your goal is to get 1000 new subscribers by the end of the year, then you might spend a lot of time analyzing your demographic, determining where they hang out, and getting your name and content in front of them at every available opportunity. If your goal is to get #1 for term X, then you'll be focusing a lot on link building, using keyword term X in the link.

And so on. Your goals define your tactics.

Once you have a list of clear objectives, and a clear list of KPIs, the next step is to consider the age of your site.

2. What Type Of Site Do You Have?

New Site

One of the most important task for new sites is link building. The sites with the highest quality linkage tend to trump sites with lower quality linkage when it comes to rank.

Until you build links, then tweaking on-page aspects of SEO on a new site won't make a lot of difference in terms of rank. Get the basics right - keywords in the title tags, keyword focused content, strong internal linking, a shallow structure and good crawlability - but focus your efforts on attaining links. If that means establishing a large body of quality content first, then so be it. Others may choose to buy their way up the chain, or aggressively pursue social media opportunities.

Established Site

The opposite is true for an established site. Whilst links are always important, an established site can leverage on-page factors to a greater degree.

Once your site has built up sufficient link authority, then you may only need add a new page of content, and link it internally, in order to rank well. People running established sites may wish to focus more on producing quality, focused content, and let the linking look after itself.

3. The Five Most Important Areas Of SEO On Which To Spend Your Time

These are highly debatable, but here's my ranking:

1. Produce Remarkable, Attention Grabbing Content

Everything starts with remarkable content i.e. content worth remarking on and linking to. Do you have unique, timely content? Does you content solve a problem? Does you content provide a new insight? Does you content spark controversy? Does you content start - or contribute to - a conversation?

2. Crawlability

If your content can't be crawled, you won't rank. Ensure your site is easily accessible to both humans and search engine spiders.

3. Build Links

Google's algorithm is heavily weighted towards links. Beg, buy, or earn links, and rankings follow. Get your keywords into the link text. Building links also means building relationships with people. Spend a lot of time doing this, especially in the early stages.

4. Title Tag

It is debatable how much ranking value the title tag has, both it definitely has click-thru value. Your listing fights for attention with all the other links on page. What will make people click your link?
Learn the lessons of Adwords. Match your title tag to the keyword query. Solve a users problem. Arouse curiosity.

5. On-Page Content

Forget endless on-page tweaking. Largely a waste of time. Instead, keep a few keyword phrases in mind when writing. Use semantic variations of your terms in order to help catch long tail terms. Link your page to related pages, using keyword terms in the link.

Bonus: Watch Your Competition. Do What They Do

Download the toolbar. And keep a very close eye on your competition. Whatever they do, you need to do more of it :)

Summary

SEO used to be a technical exercise involving the isolation of specific factors that, when tweaked, lead to higher rank. It still is, to a certain extent, but much less so than it used to be. Therefore, there is little point looking at each factor in isolation.

SEO has become a lot more holistic and strategic, so by far the most important aspect is clearly outlining your goals, and defining a strategy to achieve those goals.

Good luck out there :)

Fresh Start For A New Year: Reduce Clutter

Jan 19th

“Practice not-doing and everything will fall into place.” - Lao Tzu

Did you take a vacation?

If you took a break, I hope you had a good one! I've just returned from a relaxing holiday - it is summer where I am, the weather is great, and life is lazy and fine.

Holidays provide a great opportunity to reflect and take a new perspective, so one thing I tried to do was to step away from the internet. I didn't take a laptop with me on holiday. Needless to say, I really missed it. After all these years, I suspect I may as well be hard-wired into the interweb.

However, out there amongst the isolated dunes, I was reminded that....

Most Stuff Doesn't Matter

Most blog posts don't matter. Most news doesn't matter. Most Tweets don't matter. Social networks don't matter. These things can quickly become a meaningless distraction.

What's worse, is that we often miss the important things going on, because there is too much irrelevant clutter fighting for our attention. When I returned, there was so much stuff l hadn't read.

But was I any worse off?

Not really. I quickly came up to speed again by selecting a few important sources, and reading those.

It didn't take me long.

With this in mind, it was time to do some weeding and make a fresh start. My feed reader had become ridiculously cluttered.

Hard To See The Wood For The Trees

How many feeds to you subscribe to? Do you have a lot of unread items?

I certainly did.

Using my RSS reader had become a chore, mainly because I'd subscribed to so many feeds over the years that I was never, in reality, going to read. All those unread items were just made me feel guilty. I needed to reduce the clutter.

So I took a chainsaw to it.

I asked myself - what are the one or two sites in any given vertical that provide me with genuine value? Could I name them without looking at them?

It was actually surprising easy, especially given the rather useful historical usage data. Once I answered this question, I kept the truly useful feeds, and deleted everything else.

My feed collection now feels very Zen. No more news re-writers or trivia about who is doing what to whom. It's simple, elegant and best of all, a lot more useful than it was before.

What Is Your Desert Island List?

Your list will probably differ significantly from mine, but I thought I'd share a few sites, and try to see if there was any pattern to my choices.

One pattern was a fondness of good aggregation. By subscribing to one good aggregation site, I pretty much know what is going on in the generalist tech world, but without the need to subscribe to numerous individual blogs. One such site is Techmeme. Techmeme does a good job of harnessing the wisdom of crowds, by being selective about who is a member of that crowd.

The other thing I noticed was that I chose blogs with a distinctive personality behind them, coupled with an established reputation. For example, I read pretty much everything Danny Sullivan writes, because what he writes about is important.

Finally, there are the "official" blogs from the big companies in search - those blogs that form the horses mouth. Most of Google's blogs appear in this folder.

Do you notice any patterns to your RSS selections?

Getting Noticed In Crowded Markets

One problem with my approach is that it tends to be elitist. I'm concerned I'm going to miss upcoming writers who don't yet appear on the establishment radar.

Were you planning to start a blog this year? Have you done so, but are having problems getting noticed?

This article is a good reminder on the essential factors you need when you plan to enter a crowded market:

You can choose to sell to different people, such as small businesses; you can find new distribution channels; you can stratify the industry's price points by introducing a luxury class; or, you can redefine your selling proposition," he says, noting how Starbucks (SBUX) revolutionized the coffee shop by selling an experience rather than just a beverage.....However you choose to be different, you must be great at the basics and exceptional at your defining factor

That last part is killer. If I look at my RSS choices, they all have those defining features.

Recommended Search Reading

By no means conclusive, but I guess that's the point :)

Please share your killer sources with the SEOBook community in the comments.

  • Search Engine Land - Great editorial. Also features some of the top search writers as columnists and feature contributors
  • SEOBook - How could this not be on anyone's list! ;) Aaron writes some of the most useful SEO instruction in this vertical.
  • Google Blogoscoped - Keeping an eye on Google, so you don't have to!
  • Matt Cutts - Google's resident (Anti) Spam Engineer. Be sure to read between the lines.
  • Official Google Blog - All Google's announcements come through here.
  • Sphinn - One good way to spot new search writers, although it can tend towards industry navel gazing. Numerous gems, especially under the Greatest Hits section
  • SEO By The Sea - Bill digs out obscure search patent filings and analyzes them. Don't let the tight niche fool you - this site can provide valuable insights into the future direction of search.
  • Search Engine Journal - Always on top of all things search.
  • Top Rank Big List - When you've just gotta have it all! Top Rank Online Marketing Blog is also a great read.

Credibility Experience Audit

Dec 19th
posted in

Do you search visitors bounce?

As we approach the end of the year, and people start to wind down, it might be a good time to take stock of our web strategy beyond SEO. How can we make more of that traffic we're already getting?

Here are some things you can do to optimize your sites credibility.

1. Reduce Wait Time

Streamline your visitors experience.

We all know server response time is important, but so is any wait time you impose on the user. Do you make visitors fill out forms? Do your competitors? If you do, but your competitors don't, you might find your visitors go elsewhere.

Are your processes more cumbersome than they need to be? Is it difficult for a visitor to find things on your site? Could you organize your structure in a better way? Can you think of sites that were a pleasure to use? Compare these sites with your own.

2. Unique Brand

Brand is more than a logo or identity.

Brand is the entire experience, from the moment someone sees your listing in the search engine, until the time they recall your site from memory a few weeks later. If you had one message you wanted to leave your visitors with, what would it be? Do all your pages reinforce this message? Does your design? Your copy? Your layout? Look at ways in which you can empathize with people and the problems they are having. People need to believe you feel and understand their problems in order to read and take your advice.

In the good old days, brand wasn't much of a consideration in SEO. Relevance to the keyword query was all that mattered. However, Google has pretty much solved the relevance problem.

These days, Google wants to find the one right answer.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt said:

"Brands are the solution, not the problem... Brands are how you sort out the cesspool."

Google's challenge is to weed out false information. Schmidt sees brands as a way to do this.

Brand is going to become increasingly important in terms of rank. What do brands have that unbranded sites do not have?

For starters, brand names are typed into search boxes as a keyword term in their own right. Brand names are readily associated with a product or service. When Aaron started SEOBook.com, nobody searched on "SEO Book". Now, plenty of people do, and Aaron "owns" that keyword term in organic search.

Think about ways you can own a keyword term so the association between it and your brand becomes synonymous.

3. Copy Writing

Aim for clarity.

Are there opportunities to edit your copy writing in order to make the purpose of your site clearer? Are the benefits you provide crystal clear? Sometimes, when we spend a lot of our time focusing on search engines and incorporating keyword terms, we can lose sight of the people who actually read the copy.

On-page SEO and writing for search engines has never been less important. It's mostly about links and, going forward, the level of visitor engagement.

For each page on your site, ask yourself what you want the visitor to do next. Does your copy make this next action clear? Provide external citations and recommendations from third parties.

4. Site Design And Usability

Keep it simple.

Can you reduce complexity and clutter? It's not that your visitors are stupid, it's that people won't invest time learning your interface unless there is clear benefit in doing so.

What is the message conveyed by your site? Does you design support that message? If your site is difficult to use, what does that say to your visitor? People quickly evaluate a site by visual design alone. Your visual design should match the sites purpose.

5. Human-ness

One of the reasons social sites are popular because information is linked to a personality. The same goes for blogs. People like to get a sense of the people who produced the information.

It helps build trust.

Do you include signals of human involvement? It can be as subtle as the way your write e.g personal viewpoint, or as overt as using a photo. People like to see contact details, personal details and other markers of the human presence. Highlight your expertise. Update your content often.

Pages






    Email Address
    Pick a Username
    Yes, please send me "7 Days to SEO Success" mini-course (a $57 value) for free.

    Learn More

    We value your privacy. We will not rent or sell your email address.