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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Search Engine Optimization Basics

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Google Updates Visible Toolbar PageRank

Google just updated their Toolbar PageRank, also known as the little green bar. Once again I am seeing a lot of web sites losing PageRank, so I want to re-share what I have counseled people in the past.

If your rankings and traffic have not recently fallen, do not worry about your diminished PageRank.

Visible Toolbar PageRank is only a snapshot that Google updates every four to eight months. The real PageRank, the one you never see, is continuously calculated. Google uses real PageRank in its ranking algorithm.

As the Internet gets bigger it becomes more difficult to achieve a high PageRank. In layperson’s terms, PageRank measures the likelihood that someone will arrive on a web page by only following links from other web pages. This means that as the number of web pages on the Internet grows in number it becomes less likely most specific pages will be found by solely clicking on links on other pages. This does not change the quality of pages or their ability to rank in Google.

PageRank is only a portion of Google’s ranking algorithm. If you look at the ranking results for most queries you will see that low PageRank pages frequently outrank their higher PageRank competitors.

If a lower PageRank makes you want to create more quality content and link-worthy content, then I say, “Go for it.” I am not saying that this will increase your PageRank when the next update comes around, but good SEO fundamentals coupled with a drive to build out your web site content will almost assuredly result in higher rankings, rankings for more search queries and increased traffic.

In Search Engine Optimization, There Are No Guarantees!

"Do you guarantee a top ranking?"

I hear this a lot.

The answer is "If I did, I'd be lying to you."

Google today published revised guidelines for hiring a search engine optimization firm.

I think the single most valuable quote is:

No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google.

Beware of SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings, allege a 'special relationship' with Google, or advertise a 'priority submit' to Google. There is no priority submit for Google. In fact, the only way to submit a site to Google directly is through our Add URL page or by submitting a Sitemap and you can do this yourself at no cost whatsoever.

We can't guarantee you a ranking. A good SEO consultant can guarantee ethical practices, effort, experience and the ability to build measurable traffic over time.

Keep that in mind as you search for your next SEO firm...

[ Get many search engine optimization books here ]

Successful Search Engine Optimization

As I've always said, you must include search engine optimization in your internet marketing process from day 1. "Day 1" means "the first day you think about building a new web site".

And that's not some kind of weird Seattle thing, either. Your web site is part of your campaign. So the planning that goes into it is critical to your marketing goals.

Here's how and when you should involve the search engine optimization team:

Planning the Project

Ideally, get your SEO vendor involved during project planning. Have them sit down with your design and development folks to figure out when SEO input will help.

Creating the Architecture

Ask your search engine optimization guru to work with the information architect. She'll have tools to measure keyword competitiveness and relevance, and help the architect figure out what should go where.

Keyword data gives the SEO rare insight into just how your visitors use your site. Capitalize on that.

Then, when the architect is selecting the right tools (shopping cart, content management system, etc.) for your site, the SEO can help weed out the technologies that will bury you in the rankings.

Putting it All Together

As your writers, designers and developers pull the site together, your search engine optimization specialist can help:

  • Structure content for the best visitor and SEO impact;
  • Design pages that will look good and be search-friendly;
  • Program the site so it presents a big ‘come on in!' sign to search engines.

Ensuring All Is Well

The search engine optimization consultant can check your site for potential problems before you launch. They'll find broken links, duplicate content and any other unexpected problems.

She can also map out which pages on the old site need to be redirected. Smart redirection will ensure that your site keeps the link authority as you switch over.


Once the site launches, the SEO consultant will help you with link building, ongoing optimization and content strategy. What they won't have to do is backtrack and fix things that you already paid for.

Isn't that a good thing?

[ Get many search engine optimization books here ]

Basic SEO Copywriting in a Nut Shell

Jade asked me to write some SEO copywriting pointers that I just finished. Since these sound so proprietary-like, I just had to sneak them past Ian to share with you. So enjoy and *shhhh* Don't tell the boss.

Select one to four keywords.

Writing friendly copy for organic search is all about targeting specific search engine queries. Select one to four search queries that will fit within a 65 characters. Selecting more than four queries will dilute your page content and make it difficult to rank for your target queries.

Write the Title Element/Tag

Your title element, also called the title tag, should state the overall them of the page. If you are creating a common theme on your web site you should include the target theme query too.

Google only shows up to 65 characters. Your home page and primary topic pages should keep within this limit. Deeper pages may be given longer title elements.

If you have space, include an adjective that will make the title element more appealing. For example Surf Boards are great, but Wicked Surf Boards is click-worthy.

Write the Meta Description Element/Tag

The meta description is a 155 excerpt or summary of the web page. Unique meta descriptions will not help a web page rank well, but duplicate meta descriptions can hurt search engine rankings. Therefore, it is important for every page to have a unique meta description tag.

Search engines use the meta description as their content in search engine result pages (SERPs). This create an opportunity to capture visitors by making the most compelling and clickable description possible.

Remember to include a call to action. Visit Tori Richards for the coolest authentic Hawaiian style shirts in the Universe. Limited edition Santa drag racing sleigh designs are here!

If the page is to be used in a link building campaign

Write five alternate title tags and five alternate descriptions for the link builder to use. Unlike the HTML title tag, these do not have to have every keyword in every title and description. When all five versions are placed together, though, all of the target keywords must be represented.

Craft the HTML Skeleton

SEO friendly web pages are built using HTML outlines to support paragraph text. Think of the outline as the skeleton and the paragraph text as all of the meat, muscle, and sinew that hangs clings to the skeleton. They are also like outlines for English term papers.

seo skeleton

H# tags are important signals for telling search engines what is important on an HTML page. Because they are standard tags the search engines can recognize them and accord them influence.

Do not use h# elements in navigation or for in templates. These should be styles by using CSS.

The h1 element

The h1 element is much like a web site’s title tag. It should state the overall purpose of the page and include all of the target keywords. There should be only one h1 element on a HTML page.

The h2 element

The h2 element may be used either as a sub headline directly beneath the h1 or to denote a section of content within the page.

As a sub headline the h2 should appear directly after the h1 tag and include the most important of the target keywords.

To denote content the h2 should be used in the same way that English term paper outlines use I. II. III. Etc. Each should denote a major section of the web page. Each h2 should include the target search query or queries for its section.

The h3 element

The h3 element may be used either as a sub headline directly beneath the h2 or to denote sections of content between h2 elements.

As a sub headline the h3 should appear directly after each h2 tag and include the most important of the target keywords.

To denote content the h3 should be used in the same way that English term paper outlines use A. B. C. Etc. Each should denote a major section of the web page. Each h3 should include the target search query or queries for its section.

The h4, h5 and h6 elements

I am sure you recognized the similarity between the h2 and the h3 elements. The h4, h5, h6 are used in the same manner and continue the hierarchy.

Most web pages will not use h4, h5, and h6 as it is rare to break down a HTML page so precisely.

Paragraph text and span text

In paragraph text employ liberal use of the target keywords, especially the ones that correspond to the h# section you are in.

Use different forms of the keywords including adverbs, present tense, past tense, singulars, plurals and others.

Use related words that one might naturally expect to encounter. For example, if you are writing about baseball include words like bat, ball, glove, strike, and home run.

Keyword density

When reading about SEO you may see the term keyword density. This is the percentage of keyword text compared to all text on the page.

In earlier days, getting the correct keyword density was an important part of search engine optimization. Expert recommendations ranged from 4% to 7% and even higher. Today, no one correct keyword density exists. If you look at the keyword density for any search engine results page, you will find that the density fluctuates wildly from listing to listing.

Instead, we recommend packing pages as tightly as possible with target keywords and their variations and related words…that is, as tightly as possible while still sounding normal. Once you begin to sound robotic it is time to pull it back a bit.

Usability for people, not SEO

While this article is about writing copy for SEO, do not forget that most pages are for people too.

On the Internet people like to scan more than read. They prefer short, easy to view navigation. They like white space. They like brief paragraphs and short stories. Readers particularly enjoy bulleted and numbers lists, italics, bolding, indentations, and anything else that makes a story easier to parse visually and absorb.

No one will read a 1,000-word article unless they drilled down to and found exactly the content they sought.

Competitive Rubber Chicken Research for Search Engine Optimization

Know Your Search Engine Optimization Competition
When it comes to Search Engine Optimization, your competitors may not be whom you think.

One of the first things I ask for from new SEO clients is a list of competitors. This usually arrives from their marketing office and includes other companies that provide the same product or service as our client.

This in-sector competitor list contains useful information, especially for researching keywords and phrases. But, while there will be overlap, this is not their List of Internet Competitors.

Internet Competitors are companies that occupy the same marketing space that your company occupies or the places where you want your business or your products or your services seen.

Seattle, Search Engine Optimization and a Rubber Chicken

Archie McPhee Rubber Chicken

Say you want to SEO the web site of a major rubber chicken seller from Seattle. FYI: Archie McPhee’s is not a client. We just love to shop there.

If you asked the person at the counter, he or she might tell you that one of their competitors is a rubber chicken seller three blocks east and to the right. However, that rubber chicken shop has no presence on the web. It is not an Online Competitor.

Perhaps you know about another rubber chicken web site? Yes, they are online, but they don't possess high enough rankings to be visible. This web site does not belong on your competitor list.

Your competitors are

  • The top 10 to 30 listings for Rubber Chicken, Rubber Animal, and other top organic search terms.
  • The paid listing also present on these organic search pages.
    • Paid listing are there by virtue on their financial investment. You cannot push them out with an organic listing.
    • You can make sure that your organic listing is better designed and offers a more compelling message than the paid listings.
    • Sites that use paid listings are affected by Google’s quality score. Even if they do not rank organically they can offer insight.

This is where the eyeballs are! They are the ones you must squabble with for consumer mouse clicks.

Google Search Results

  • The organic results include various rubber chicken sellers. They also contain a motorcycle service center, a university literary journal, a paper arts supply shop and Wikipedia.
  • The paid results on the right side consist mostly of novelty shops.
  • On the top, the One Box contains Google Shopping (product search) results, two novelty stores and a big box pet supplies retailer.

Not all your competitors sell rubber chickens!

The Power of High Search Engine Rankings

In search engine optimization we used to say the key to success was being found within the first three pages or 30 listings of popular search queries. Time changes all things. Today search engines produce much better results. That means a first page or top 10 ranking is more often the requisite for triumph.

In 2006 AOL released a database filled with search data. From this we learned quite a bit about which listings get clicked on. Here are the click frequencies based on search engine rank, 1 to 10 and beyond.

  1. 42.10%
  2. 11.90%
  3. 8.50%
  4. 6.10%
  5. 4.90%
  6. 4.10%
  7. 3.40%
  8. 3.00%
  9. 2.80%
  10. 3.00%

Listings with a rank greater than 10 received a combined 11.30% of all clicks or visits. Analyst aggregated these figures from all of the AOL data. Results for individual search queries will vary.

This AOL data demonstrates the importance of high organic search engine rankings and getting onto the first page for popular queries, particularly in Google which receives 59.8% of searches. Yahoo! comes in second with 21.3% of searches.

Competitive SEO Knowledge

Anyone who vies for success should know:

  1. What are the top ten websites for each major search query?
  2. What are the competitive search ranking factors of each of these sites (page count, external links, keywords in titles, etc.)?
  3. Are their ranking factor anomalies, like a high ranking from a small site with few links?
  4. Which web sites rank for multiple major organic search queries?

Look for trends and outliers.

  • Trends tell you the norm, what you need to accomplish to earn a top rank.
  • Outliers offer-up insight into search engine behavior, at least for that particular search query. They can also reveal possible shortcuts to that top 10 ranking.

The adage is true. The more you know… Ultimately, search engine optimization comes down to three things: knowledge about SEO, knowledge about specific query results and knowing how to combine them successfully. That plus the will and determination will earn you your high search engine rankings.

Search Engine Optimization Pre-flight - Analytics

The SEO Preflight
Before diving into a new SEO project I want to understand what challenges the web site faces and, of course, the opportunities. Call it my SEO Pre-flight for Fitness Program.

To design a custom fitness program a personal trainer will begin by testing your strength and stamina. How would you feel if that trainer asked you to bench press 300 pounds during your first visit? Unless you are an advanced or elite class weightlifter 300 pounds is not a realistic expectation. The trainer determines your abilities first then uses that knowledge to create appropriate goals.

Search Engine Optimization works the same way. A web site cannot rank #1 for an industry's most competitive search query without the right content or without earning adequate trust from the search engines. A Search Engine Optimization Review will find you web site's baseline and help you select the best goals to:

  1. Achieve higher rankings.
  2. Get listed for more queries.
  3. Prepare to rank, in the future, for keywords that are more competitive.

Start With Web Analytics

I begin my Search Engine Optimization Preflights by studying web analytics and crawl data.

Use tools like Google's Webmaster Tools and your web analytics package to look for trends and insights. Here are some of the questions I try to answer.

  1. What search queries or keywords does the web site rank for?
  2. How high are the rankings for those keywords?
  3. Do the search engine listings match the web site's objectives?
  4. Do people click on the search engine links?
  5. Which search engines drive the most traffic?
  6. How much traffic do search engines bring?
  7. After they arrive from a search engine do people explore or abandon the web site?

Which Web Analytics Package for SEO?

To make sound decisions concerning anything you need good information. To make good SEO decisions your web site needs analytics software. It's not an option.

Personally, I find Google Analytics more than serviceable for Search Engine Optimization. The price is right too, free. (Portent Interactive just happens to be an Authorized Google Analytics Consultant so if you need help you can call us.)

Some Portent Interactive clients use premium analytics packages like Omniture HBX SiteCatalyst. If you think you might require premium web analytics I suggest you

  1. List exactly what data you want to get that you cannot get from Google Analytics.
  2. Make sure that the premium web analytics packages you consider can produce the data you desire.
  3. Talk to people that use the software and ask them to share their tips and tricks.

From Seattle - Search Engine Optimization Explained

Search Engine Optimization Pre-flight - Analytics

All SEO professionals face a difficult task when explaining their work in ways that are :

  1. Understandable

  2. Meaningful

  3. Actionable

I enjoy talking about Search Engine Optimization at Seattle area events and discussing SEO in everyday terms with our clients from around the USA—it's a highlight of my work. So I decided that a fun challenge will be to explain, from my desk in Seattle, Search Engine Optimization and how it works in simple usable terms.

SEO Definition

I'll start with my own definition of SEO. I wrote this awhile ago for the Search Engine Optimization Group on Facebook:

Search Engine Optimization endows web sites with the traits and authority required to achieve high rankings on Internet search engines. Part science and part art, the search engine optimizer's craft requires intellect, discipline and sound judgment.

I should have added persistence and patience to my SEO definition.

SEO requires:

  1. Knowing how search engines work
  2. Understanding the search engine ranking factors
  3. The ability to implement or strengthen different ranking factors

SEO is Not Connecting Dots

Search Engine Optimization is not a simple formula one blindly follows. You'll find numerous forks in the road and hills in your path. SEO requires experience to understand the challenges ahead and sound judgement to make good choices.

Future Search Engine Optimization Stories

Going forward I plan to discuss each aspect of SEO, a beginning to end SEO Guide, except that SEO never really ends. I'll include as much everyday vocabulary as I can muster too. We'll start with a pre-SEO checklist.

So here we go. From my desk in Seattle, search engine optimization, for you.

The SEO Matrix is Calling You

SEO can be confusing, especially for managers and others who must keep track of optimization efforts but do not do the actual work themselves. The SEO Matrix is a simple way to think about search engine optimization.

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B2B Marketing | Expanding Your Web site Content

B2B Marketing

If your business to business web site is like most companies’ its focused is on:

  • Generating leads
  • Trying to get as much information into as small a space as possible.

Too bad. Compacting your Internet marketing strategy and your online content are huge errors. The desire is understandable. Time is precious. People are busy. No one enjoys adding to their work load or increasing the company’s overhead.

Have you considered this?

  • Most people find most web sites by using search engines.  Search engines, like Google, have huge appetites for original content. Every page of original text adds to your web site’s ranking strength and increases that likelihood that your web site will be found.
  • The best practices for attracting B2B leads online are the same the same as they are offline. You have to gain their attention and trust first and often before they need your product or services.

Instead of asking how you can get more message into less space on your B2B web site, ask how you can expand your content to make it worthwhile to more people and earn greater respect from the search engines at the same time.

Here are some ideas:

  • To sell your products and services online
    How many different ways can you break this down?
  • By product or service
  • By each industry you serve
  • Do you include video or other types of demos?
  • To publicize trade shows, conference appearances and events
  • To build your company’s brand and reputation
  • To position your company as an industry and peer leader?
  • White papers
  • Webcasts
  • Educational content
  • Industry news, patents and regulatory information
  • As a client support center.
  • Manuals
  • FAQs
  • Forums
  • As launching pad for new marketing ideas or new products and services
  • To ask for client, industry and target market feedback
  • As an information center for stakeholders who are not leads or clients
  • Your B2B customers’ customers
  • Your Suppliers
  • Your Investors
  • The media and press

How does your company use its web site?