Search Engine Optimization

How to SEO in 2013

The updates made by Google over the past few years, referred to as Panda and Penguin, and the many many minor updates, have dramatically changeHow to SEO in 2013d the world of SEO. Gone are the easy days of SEO when stuffing a bunch of keywords in the right places was almost guaranteed to get you better search results. The ranking signals Google uses have changed. Some have all but disappeared in the weighting of the search results and others have been introduced and taken a prominent role in determining what web pages make the top of Google searches. The focus has shifted to content, fresh content, quality content, social exposure, and well performing site architecture and technology.

Low Quality Content

Not that quality has been ignored in the past, but now it is crucially important.  Quality content follows the rules that you would need to pass to get high marks in your writing classes.  Proper spelling, proper punctuation, good grammar, and everything else you should have learned but maybe didn’t think was important.  If you can’t get good marks in a university level English class, then Google won’t think much of your content either.  Be mindful of whom is writing the content for your site.  Ensure their writing skills are high quality.  If necessary, review past content and bring the quality up to the new requirements.

Freshness Counts

When did you last post content on your site?  How often do you provide your audience with more reasons to read about what you have to offer?  Old content is stale content and if your website visitors would not spend the time to go over old stuff, why would Google.  Build into your marketing process a regular dose of content creation.

Originality Counts, Too

What do you say that sounds like everyone else?  If you can slap a competitor logo on your site and no body will know the difference?  Then not only is your value proposition too bland, so is your marketing.  Make your writing unique.  Make it personal.  Make it stand out from the mindless dribble that so many people try to pass off as content.  Consider setting up your content writers with Google + accounts and tagging the content so Google knows who wrote it.  This will become increasingly powerful in the later half of 2013 and beyond.

Social Impact

Your social media marketing must be active.  This means more than copying and pasting your website content onto your Facebook or Google + page.  If your social marketing plan it to simply re-tweet mentions of your brand, then stop right now.  You are wasting time and resources.  An active social media strategy needs something useful to talk about.  Share more than blog posts, more than your company picnic photos, more than your promotional offers.  Social media is not free, it is a resource time requirement.  Do it right, and results will come.

Technically Sound Architecture

How old it the technology of your site?  Do you rely on code that is outdated such as tables, frames, or Flash?  You may be seeing a ratings downgrade by being built to old standards.  Does your site produce error messages?  These pages are worse than bad content, they get your ratings penalized.  Consider also the performance of your website across the various browsing platforms and devices.  Mobile counts, as do the wide variety of operating systems.  Keep refining your site until your pages work, without errors or omissions, using current web standards.

SEO: Search Volume vs Competition

When doing your SEO keyword research, you should be paying close attention to both Search Volume and Search  Competition.  Search Volume is simply the amount or quantity of searches that occur for a particular keyword or term, often expressed as searches per month..  Search Competition is how many pages on the internet include that term, thus, the number of pages you will be competing against.  The ideal combination is a term with high search volume and low search competition.  These terms are hard to find.  Often the popular search terms already have a significant amount of competition, making them very difficult to achieve top position search engine rankings.  The competition is already there and has been there a while.  Given a choice between optimizing for search terms with high volume or low search competition, I will almost always choose low search competition.  The rest of this article will help explain why.

Long Tail Search Terms

To overcome the challenge of strongly entrenched competition, we can turn to a strategy known as Long Tail Keywords or Long Tail Search Terms.  The concept of long tail sealong tail keywordsrch terms is simple, take a popular keyword and lengthen it by adding additional words to make is more unique and reducing the competition.  These additional words are the tail, the more words you add, the longer the tail of the search term.   As the illustration shows, popular keywords have high search volume and the longer that tail (the more specific the term), the less search volume and the less competition.

Long Tail Keyword Example

A quick example will explain the magnitude of adding a long tail to keywords.  If we search for the keyword “watches” on Google, there are 830,000,000 possible search results.  That’s almost a billion pages with the word watches.  Begin the long tail process by adding the word “mens”, making the search term “mens watches” and the number of results is now 42,500,000.  Still extremely high but only 5% the size of the original search.  Adding a single word has reduced the competitive factor by 95%.  Let’s add “sports” to the search term and we are now competing against 21,500,000, knocking the competition in half again.  The more you increase the length of the tail of the search term, the more you lessen the competition.  The search term “mens sports watches waterproof” has 5,530,000 results.

Overcoming Low Search Volume

In the example above, each time we increase the length of the search term, we reduce the competition, but we also end up with a search term that has a lower search volume.  The more specific and unique your search terms, the fewer people are searching for them.  So after going through the process to reduce the competition, we now need to go through the process adding search volume.  This is done by adding more long tail search terms and adding suitably optimized content to your site to support these keywords.  By adding together the search volume of several terms, you will be able to draw in more traffic, with less competition.  In our example above, we could build and optimize content for “mens sports watches waterproof”, “mens sports watches compass”, “mens sports watches gps”, and other related terms.

Free Keyword Ranking Report

Do you know how your website ranks for keywords in search engines?  Should you be deploying a Long Tail Search Term strategy?  We will send you a free keyword ranking report, just visit our Free Keyword Rank Report page.

Too Much SEO

How Much SEO is Too Much?

Can you be over-optimized for SEO?  The answer is a simple yes.  Maybe a year and half ago that answer would have been no.  But, with Panda and Penguin algorithm updates by Google, the practice of cramming keywords into every inch of available space on your website no longer brings the Google response you want.  In old practices, using every available opportunity to insert your keyword, often cramming in keywords with mind-numbing density, in such a way that the actual readability suffers, has produced good rankings.  But at what cost.  Imagine high volumes of traffic to your website with high abandonment rates, and no one converting?  have you done your as a digital marketer?  I would argue no, conversions and leads are a better measure, and pure traffic volume is just one of the indicators of activity.

Most Important SEO Elements

Content, content, content.  Like in real estate, where it’s location, location, location.  SEO has it’s own top three.  But there are other important elements.  Content is the most important, but it’s not all there is.  There are a number of “SEO assets” on your web pages that help Google and Bing and other search engines gain valuable information about the content on your pages, and to properly index and rank your pages.  Two of the most important assets are the page URL and the page title.  Ensure these match with the main topic of your page, and make sure your primary keyword appears in these elements.  Next are your H1 and H2 headings,  These should guide the user to the main topic headings and provide guidance to search engines regarding your content.  Lastly, where possible, name your main page images using keyword matching and also include them in the image alt and title tags.

Too Much SEO

You will know when you are focusing too much on SEO when you start to make decisions exclusively about keywords, changing words in your text and altering sentence structure, at the expense of the meaning and value of the content.  When you reach that point, stop, go back and re-write with the audience in mind.  Search engines are now tuned to work better with natural language copy than with an attempt to key a magic keyword density.

To get a free report on how your SEO efforts are working, Netnotic Marketing will provide you a free keyword ranking report.

Content or Keywords

Content or Keywords, who are you writing for?

The easy answer is Content.  When you are developing content for your website, the SEO aspect of producing content that search engines will treat favorably is important.  But guess what, as search engines have evolved, they have become increasingly in tune with natural language writing.  That is, they like content that is written for people, not content that attempts to over-target keywords.

Content for SEO

Not that using your keywords is a bad idea, just do it within your natural flow of writing.  Don’t try to hit any magic keyword density target.  Instead, make your content useful and meaningful to your audience as your primary objective.  The goal of content development and SEO is to bring relevant traffic to your website which then finds value in the content of your site and proceeds to take action, such as contacting you, requesting further information, visiting your physical location, calling you on the phone, etc.  Therefore, if you load your content by stuffing keywords and attract traffic with low relevance, you will have disappointing conversion rates and the efforts you have put into the content development (and all content development costs you money in some way) will see little or no return on your marketing investment.

Content Review Process

Always approach content development as a draft-review-adjust-post process.  Once you have drafted your content, identify a resource to review it, preferably someone without bias towards the content or the subject matter.  In some cases, you have no option except for a self review.  In the review, hopefully an un-biased and objective review, keep two things in mind.

  1. Is your content useful to the target audience?
  2. Does your content encourage the reader to take more action on your site?

The first test is important to the reader, it ensures that your content development is aligned with your marketing plan, which should be developed around your target market.  That is, does it address the goals, needs, problems, or wants of your customers?  The second test is relevant to your goals, does it help your company grow by increasing the contacts, prospects, leads, and customers?

Where Do My Keywords Go?

In a recent Matt Cutts article (Google spokesman) says Google is now better at finding your search term, even if the words are spread out. An example: Jim likes to hunt with a bow in the forest for deer may match to bow hunt deer.  It is not critical to try and jam all your long-tail search terms into your content in a way that is overly repetitive and awkward for the reader.  With that said, it is important to find a way to include your keywords within your content.  This is the Adjust portion of the review cycle.  Go back one last time to your content and re-read it, with the 2 or 3 keywords you want to target within the content, on a scratch piece of paper.  Then, without altering the flow or meaning of the text, ensure that your keywords are included.  Do not write any additional sentences or change your copy from well written to junk by trying to force keywords into the content.  The SEO value that you think you may receive by stuffing keywords will be overshadowed by a high abandonment rate due to weak content.

 

Who Links to You?

Who Links to Your Website?

Do you know who is linking to your website?  Do you know if the link is helping or hurting your website?  What pages on your website have the most links and what anchor text is used in the link?  These are all very important questions that you should know if you want to have a website optimized for search engine results.  All search engines use the links that point to your website as some indication of:

  • the popularity of your website
  • the value of your website
  • the authority of your website

Knowing detailed information about your websites links.  My favorite link analysis tool is the Open Site Explorer which can be found at http://www.opensiteexplorer.org.   There is a free reporting tool which you can use simply by entering the URL of your site or of a specific page.  I recommend you pay for the PRO version which gives you far greater insights into the link structures pointing to your website.

Getting Rid of Bad Links

If your site has seen a rankings decrease, possibly due to bad links pointing to your site, you can now tell Google about these through the use of the Google Webmaster Tools Disavow tool.  Read more about the Google Disavow Tool in one of our previous posts.  This will help get the most out of the good links you do have and remove the penalty effect of the bad links.

The Value of Links

Why bother with links at all?  Search Engines treat links as a vote for your site.  More votes, generally, means more sites “recommend” your site.  This was previously referred to as PageRank, a value out of 10 that Google gave to your site.  Google still uses PageRank, but it is now one of over 200 ranking signals they use.  As a vote for your site, it is important, but so it the source.  Good links are from high quality site that have content related to yours.

Google Link Disavow Tool

Since the roll outs of Panda and Penguin algorithms by Google, many website owners have been scrambling to figure out how to get their ranking positions back. If your website was hit hard by these updates, chances are you where penalized for poor content, stale content, non-original content, bad links, or a combination of these. Many webmasters tried to improve the Page Rank of their pages by gaining links from anyone who would link to their site, and by purchasing links from “SEO Companies” that specialized in selling links from other sites. Sometimes these webmasters participated in link exchange programs, such as 3-way links, 5 for 2 links, and other link building schemes. For the most part, these are all schemes. The intent was to trick Google (see my article How to Trick Google) into believing your website was very popular.  Eventually Google catches on to most schemes out there and algorithm updates penalize these “black hat SEO” tactics.

So, what if you have a bunch of links now pointing to your site that you believe are low value or may be hurting you?  Google has rolled out a new tool in Google Webmaster called the Google Link Disavow Tool.

Do you need to use this tool?  Here’s a statement pulled directly from the Google Webmaster Tools Blog

Today we’re introducing a tool that enables you to disavow links to your site. If you’ve been notified of a manual spam action based on “unnatural links” pointing to your site, this tool can help you address the issue. If you haven’t gotten this notification, this tool generally isn’t something you need to worry about.

You can rad more about it at: http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.ca/2012/10/a-new-tool-to-disavow-links.html

Use this tool with caution.  Make sure you take the time to read Google’s documentation so that you don’t end up removing links that are relevant and beneficial to your site.

Image alt text and image title attributes

Image alt text and image title attributes

What is the purpose and what’s the difference of the image alt attribute and the image title attribute? As browsers rapidly release new versions, the distinction and the treatment if alt and title attributes (tags) is getting harder to determine. Some people refer to the alt attribute as the alt tag and the title attribute as the title tag. As both of these are truly attributes within an image tag, we will stick with the attribute label, and also avoid confusion with the actual title tag, which is a meta tag. To go back in history, the purpose of the two was quite clear. The alt attribute is intended as “alternative text”, to be displayed when the browser does not display an image, or when a screen reader, such as for visually impaired, reads the content of the screen. The image title attribute may be used to provide additional information about the image. For the purposes of SEO, Google uses the alt attribute to help understand the image content and relevance to the page. How browsers treat the two attributes varies. Internet Explorer will display the alt tag as pop-up information while Firefox and Safari use the title attribute. In cases where both an alt attribute and a title attribute as present, IE will select the title attribute. Recommended use, treat the alt attribute as an opportunity to tell a web crawler from search engine what the image is about and use the title attribute to provide user relevant information, and/or action oriented information. For example (your site is about blue race cars), if you have a logo on your site linked to your home page, your alt attribute may be alt=”blue race cars home” and your title attribute may be title=”See Our Blue Race Cars Home Page”. This provides useful information to both without simply copying and repeating one attribute for the other.

Google Penguin – Panic Time

Google Penguin – Panic Time

If your website was hit hard by Google Penguin, you probably believe it is time to panic.  A little panic is understandable, after all, your online presence is likely one of your most important marketing channels.  Here is a quick example of why not to panic.

Google is always tweaking their algorithms, including major updates like Penguin this year and Panda last year.  In between major updates are more subtle changes, but frequent changes, that don’t get big headlines, but cumulatively can have just as much effect as the major updates.

On one of the sites I manage, the Penguin update seemed to hit it hard, and unreasonably hard.  I panicked a bit, I researched a number of blogs and read postings by Google on what Penguin was intended to do then I compared the site, the content strategy, the inbound and outbound links, etc, to the best information available and I could not determine anything for which the site should be penalized.  Yet the rankings and traffic had dropped.  On this site I monitor a number of keywords and some of them had dropped off the first page of Google search results.  Generally that means no search traffic from those terms.

I kept a close eye on the rankings, running reports on a weekly basis and over the course of several months now, without drastic or dramatic changes to the site, 16 of the 18 search terms I am tracking have all recovered back to or above their pre-Penguin rankings.  Not only that but this week a significant number of them shifted up again.

It is my belief that Google has “undone” some of the Penguin factors which they realize have damaged the search results of good quality sites.  This has not been a highly publicized event as I don’t believe Google ever apologizes, they just keep working to deliver what they believe are the best rankings for quality sites.

Off-Page Optimization

Off-Page Optimization

Off-Page Optimization is what your search marketing efforts consist of away from your website domain. Generally this involves obtaining links to your website from other websites, and can be done in a number of different ways, some more effectively than others.

Like most things in business, nothing good is free. There is always a cost in link-building. Sometimes it is a monetary cost and sometimes it is a resource cost, like your time. Here is a quick overview of some of the common linking practices and which are useful and which may be otherwise avoided. 1. Manual link building. This is high value activity, and difficult, and time consuming. In it’s simplest form, this is seeking out websites with complimentary content to yours and asking them to link to you. 2. Link exchanges. Some companies offer a link exchange program where you submit your URL and description and they place on one or several of their client sites in exchange for you linking to their clients. This can be problematic, if you end up with link to your site, and links from your site, that are not well related to your site content. Always insist on knowing what sites you will be required to link to and who will be linking to you. 3. Link farms. In summary, this is a bad practice. Link farms are sites set up primarily for the purpose of linking to other sites. They have little if any original content. In the past days of SEO, these were questionable practices as the links had little value to human users of the Internet. With Google’s Penguin update, sites connected to link farms have been heavily penalized. Best advice, just don’t get involved. 4. Article directories, can be a good marketing tool, if they have editorial standards that are enforced and original content is involved. Like many thing, some are good, some are bad. Article submissions also are highly labor intensive, but the results can be very rewarding. 5. Blogs. Blogs are no longer the linking powerhouse they once were, but are still a good place to get your name spread farther and wider. Best practice for this is to monitor some blogs in your industry and submit posts and comments, with a tag line or a byline, linking back to your website. Stick to your industry. Don’t look at the entire blogosphere as your linking playground. 6. Social media is the new buzz of the link building community, ever since Matt Cutts of Google “admitted” that Google does use links in social media as ranking signals. Follow the same guidelines here as blogs, which really are a form of social media, and comment where you have some value to add. Get involved in conversations for the purpose of the conversation, and, if appropriate, offer up a link to your pages. When pursuing an inbound link objective, link to relevant pages within your website. Don’t assume that people will find the related content your home page. Links to pages deeper in your site help those pages rank better on search engines. Try to follow this simple guideline, ask yourself, “would you click this link if you found it here?”. If the link to your site link seems out of place, then you should not post/ask for a link.

Google Penguin Update

What is Google Penguin?

In April Google launched their “Penguin” update to their search ranking algorithm.  For some sites, it was a day of reckoning.  Their search rankings tumbled and their steady stream of traffic suddenly went dry.  Like the “Panda” update a year ago, the purpose of these major changes is to “deliver the best possible search results, delivering the most up-to-date and original content”.  At least that’s what Google spokesman Matt Cutts has stated. Google is on a quest for quality.  Sites that have original, good quality content, that deploy good SEO practices.

I have a few “experimental” sites that I have used to test out some linking programs that I believed were on the edge of white hat vs black hat SEO.  Turns out these got hammered by Penguin.  They are not client sites, just experiments.

How Should I Respond to Penguin?

If your site got hammered by Penguin, then you likely have a quality issue.  Either bad quality links or bad quality content.  You are in trouble.  If you have been buying links or participating in link schemes, it’s time to get out of them.  Contact the owners of the sites and ask them to remove the link to your site.  Use a backlink checker tool to produce a list of who links to you.  Don’t use the “link:www.yourwebsiteurl.com” feature on Google.  As with the Penguin update, links that they feel are bad links or spammy link are ignored and you wont find the bad ones.  Next, take a look at your site content and do a major overhaul.

If all these actions fail to return your site to good rankings, then you are left with two alternatives.  1. Hire a professional SEO consultant.  2. Purchase a new website domain and start all over.  Perhaps both.

Downgraded by Penguin but not Lost?

If you merely lost some ranking positions in Google, such as moving from the #5 position to the #12 (second page), or similar results, now is not the time to panic.  Certainly if your site got hammered (see section above) then it’s time to panic.  If you are simply a little lower than you were before, then a steady approach to SEO should help you recover.  Begin by checking out the pages/sites that have moved above you and do some reverse engineering.  Find out who links to them, check their keyword strategy, look at their content, and compare to your site/pages.  What are they doing better than you?  Now, put together a plan to leap frog them by doing the same thing, but better.  Adjust your content or develop new content.  Manually request links from authority sites, focus your keyword strategy and monitor the changes in search results.

Google Penguin and Panda are major updates to the search algorithm, but they are not the end.  In between Panda and Penguin have been many small updates and post-Penguin will be many more small updates.  Keep an eye on your search results and keep tweaking to find that sweet spot where Google loves you again.