Tag Archives: seo

The SEO Prayer

Our Google, who art in Mountain View,
hallowed be your Matt Cutts.
Your Googleplex come,
your search results be done,
online, as it is in heaven.
Give us this SEO, and deliver our traffic,
and forgive us our keyword spam,
as we forgive those who spam against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from Bing.
For thine is the internets,
and the links, and the glory,
for ever and ever.
Amen.

How Chris Brogan Got Me a Link Without Knowing It

Mark Cahill is someone I’ve always known of and respected, so I was delighted to find (albeit a bit late) that he’s mentioned (and linked to) me in one of his posts.

I wanted to share it with you because it goes to show just how much more valuable Social Media is than SEO.

In the comments, Ari Herzog (another person I have plenty of time for) says, “If Google died tomorrow, you and I would continue blogging as if nothing changed.” Ari says that we shouldn’t be thinking about Google, and I agree. I don’t even think anyone should be doing SEO any more (that’s another – very long – conversation, though)!

In the post, Mark acknowledges Ari’s and my view that we shouldn’t focus too much of our attention on search engines. In his comment back to Ari, Mark agrees but offers the view that Google knows which links are relevant. In a more e-commerce setting, search engines would also be much more important.

It’s a very worthwhile comment, we can’t just ignore search engines completely. I, for one, still look at my stats – my visitors, subscribers and in part, rankings – because that tells me whether what I am doing is working. What search engines should not be used as is a indicator of performance (or KPI).

If I show up in Google Blog Search for a topic I’ve blogged about, great! But that doesn’t mean I’m successful in my goals. That doesn’t necessarily mean that my work is having an impact.

Mark’s post has been the KPI in this case. The very fact that Mark has mentioned me and linked to me has shown that my methods are working. I’m aiming to become part of the community that I follow, listen to and respect, and Mark is part of that community.

That community also includes people like Chris Brogan and it’s Chris who’s inadvertently led to my mention on Mark’s blog. I had commented on Mark’s post about blog readership after Chris mentioned the post himself. Subsequently, Mark felt the need to mention my comments when talking about link relevance.

Purely by engaging with Mark and contributing to the relevant discussion, I have gained a very valuable mention and a great link. We’ve also got the beginnings of a dialogue. One that I expect will continue to blossom and benefit both of us, not just in terms of links but also with knowledge.

Sure I could go to an SEO or link builder and say “get me 100 links by this time next week” but I’d take this one link from Mr Cahill over that any day!

And that, ladies and germs is the power of social media (and Chris Brogan)!

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On reciprocal links and why you shouldn’t use link pages

Via Search Roundtable, a WebmasterWorld forum post this week asks the question, “should I get rid of my reciprocal links pages?” My short answer: Absolutely!

In fact, links pages themselves are a particularly bad idea, unless they are in context (a corporate partners page, for example).

In the thread, a few posters encourage editing the links directory, leaving only those links that are relevant. Ensuring the links are relevant to your visitors is kind of obvious, but what nobody seems to have touched upon is whether they are actually useful.

If you have a site about widgets then a links page listing other sites that focus on widgets would seem like a logical move, but would it be useful to your visitors? Lists of links is a very blind way of exploring the web, hence why the search engines stole market share from the directories so well.

Much better is to have links to relevant sites in a contextual way, where it makes sense. For example, on a page about custom widgets, links to custom widget manufacturers or examples of custom widgets can be included within the normal flow of content. The links are likely to be much more helpful to the visitors when presented this way.

A couple of posters in the thread talk about a quota for reciprocal links versus one-way links. Using such a system is also a bad idea. The only way links can be completely natural (and therefore arouse no suspicion from the search engines) is to be measured entirely qualitiatively. Using a quota is an attempt at using a single quantative target to match an algorithm that looks at numerous qualitiative and quantitative factors.

If you have a links page, think about whether those links serve the needs of your visitors. If they do, think about how they could be incorporated into the content throughout the site to better serve those needs. Then do what makes the most sense and forget about search engines!

404s, 301s and a smidgen of common sense

My guess is that the reason so many SEOs ask the wrong questions is because they don’t have a technical background. I’m not sure how good Barry Schwartz’ technical knowledge is, but today he’s asked, “404 or 301 Your Old Pages? Which is Best For SEO?

There are two questions here and there’s a fundamental problem with each. I’ll start with the latter for reasons you’ll discover later on.

Asking which option is best for SEO shows the typical SEO mind set; “will it affect my search engine rankings?” It’s a valid concern for any web site when you consider the huge percentage of traffic driven by search engines everyday, but it neglects the most important consideration for any web site owner: the visitors.

I guess I could be sparking a chicken-before-egg debate here but, it’s no good having great rankings that deliver lots of good traffic if the site doesn’t adequately serve the needs of those visitors, because too much emphasis has been placed on optimisation rather than usability. All that effort optimising the site will be wasted because the visitors just won’t convert.

So rather than asking, “what is best for SEO?”, ask “what is best for my visitors?”

This leads us nicely to the first question, “404 or 301 your old pages?” The issue here is that there are old pages that no longer exist and need a replacement.

First, though, what does a 301 and a 404 actually mean? The HTTP/1.1 Status Code Definitions define these as;

301
Moved Permanently. The requested resource has been assigned a new permanent URI.

This effectively means that the page still exists but can be found somewhere else.

404
Not Found. The server has not found anything matching the Request-URI. No indication is given of whether the condition is temporary or permanent.

This tells us that the page that we’ve asked for isn’t available, but not the reason why.

If the page in question is still in existence but has just moved to a different web address (such as a new domain name) then a 301 should be used. If the page no longer exists, though, a 404 status should not be used. This is because we do know the reason why the page isn’t available and so we should use a status code that reflects that.

The status code that should be used is a 410.

410
Gone. The requested resource is no longer available at the server and no forwarding address is known. This condition is expected to be considered permanent.

Now we know that the page definitely doesn’t exist anymore and that we should stop our search for that page. It’s mainly common sense, but you need that technical knowledge of the different status codes, too.

In conclusion then; If you’re going to do business on the web effectively, you need to follow some basic rules.

I have nothing to be worried about

Tamar Weinberg of Search Roundtable today asked, “do search penalty discussions worry you?” Well, Tamar, I’d have to having something to worry about in order to be worried.

The way I see it, unless you’ve been employing optimisation techniques aimed specifically at improving rankings, there’s nothing to worry about. In fact, no web master/marketer/business owner should be employing techniques other than those which improve the quality of one’s web site for the benefit of the target audience.

Tamar brings up the subject of which hat SEOs wear. Some would say I’m whiter than white for my views on optimisation. I say I’m neither black nor white hat* but simply ethical in doing business on line, just as I’m ethical in conducting business off line.

* If you have to lump me in either camp, I guess you’d go with white, but I’m not just white hat – I’m more like the white wizard!

Another reason to get on line

Through WebProNews today I learn that on line advertising spend in the UK is now greater than television advertising.

On line advertising spend reached £2.8 billion in 2007, an increase of 40%, with TV advertising registering £2.4 billion. The figures, from the latest annual Ofcom report into the communications industry, show just how important the internet now is to UK commerce.

Interestingly, the report only looks at paid advertising so what the figures don’t show is how much of the marketing budget is devoted to on line marketing. The £2.8 billion only includes paid search, display and classified ads. This means we miss out affiliate marketing, SEO campaigns, blogging and forum marketing and the rest of the on line marketing mix.

It should be obvious, then, that making the internet a significant part of the overall marketing plan is imperative for British enterprises.

Block the rank monitoring tools!

Via Search Roundtable I learn that a number of WebPosition Gold customers are finding the software is being blocked by Google. It’s got many worried especially as it seems to be affecting other rank checking tools. Has Google finally shut these tools down?

If that is the case, so what? I can’t remember the last time I used a rank checker, and that’s because I really don’t care too much about search engine rankings. Rankings do not mean results, good traffic and conversions means results and that’s all that a good marketer should be focusing on.

So, actually, I’ll be quite pleased if it turns out Google are blocking these programs. Maybe it will force marketers and business owners to look at more meaningful metrics than whether or not they’re on page one, and if they should tweak their keyword frequency to move up a place or two.

How SEO will eventually die off

I really enjoyed reading Ian Lurie’s take on the death of SEO. He gives us a few ideas as to how SEO will finally meet it’s demise. (Note I’m not questioning whether SEO will die or not!)

I’m going to give you my own take on each of the three theories;

The Slow Meltdown

While it is true that many companies are taking SEO in-house, most SMBs just don’t have the resources to do the same. SEO is a very labour-intensive excercise and smaller enterprises will have to get outside help.

Additionally, even though many larger organisations are moving to in-house SEOs, more and more full service marketing agencies are including SEO in their service offering. Larger businesses are taking advantage of this and are likely to continue doing so for a while yet.

The Sudden Extinction

Ian makes the good point that plenty of industries have survived economic downturn, so why not SEO? In fact, my view is that SEO (or rather, on line marketing) could well be the marketing method of choice in a depression thanks to the ease of measuring performance against other forms of marketing. Not to mention the much better returns that can be gained from the internet.

A Tough Adolescence

I have to agree with Ian on this one, I think he’s got it pretty spot on. On line marketing in general is still very young. SEO is just a small part of that and will eventually be sidelined in favour of a more rounded approach to internet marketing. Businesses are getting wiser to the cowboys and marketing consultants are beginning to embrace and understand the power of the internet.

I believe only the best SEO consultants will remain in a few years, and even they will have to smarten up their approach a little. They’ll become one part of the on line marketing machine, instead of being at the forefront of an entire sub-industry.

The Future

I’m excited. I’ve seen the industry evolve so much over the last few years and it’s only going to get better. My vision of the ethical web is coming closer.

Algo chasing and SEOs generalisation

One of the biggest things that annoys me about SEOs is how so many of them make generalisations. For example, a recent poll conducted by Search Roundtable asked SEOs and webmasters, “do you like blog links?” The poll was sparked off by suggestions by some SEOs that Google had started to de-value links from blogs.

My bug bear with this is that a link, whether from a blog or not, has value based on it’s relevance, not on whether the site it appears on is a blog. In fact, a link from a blog is more likely to be relevant because of the nature of blogging. You’re more likely to get a good quality, contextual link from a blog (or a social site) than a normal information or commercial site.

This is a typical example of how SEO can adversely affect your on line marketing. Those SEOs (not all SEOs!) who generalise like this are often chasing the algorithm all the time, making big changes and doing u-turns because of the latest ‘filter’ or penalty. The result is a compromise between quality and the pursuit of rankings (which may not prove fruitful).

The truth is, if you build a quality site in an ethical and common sense way you hardly even need to think about search engines. Your time will be focused almost entirely on achieving your business goals and meeting those all important targets.

Yahoo is encouraging unethical practices in web development

A big part of my ethical web philosophy is that site owners should build their sites with the visitors best interests at the forefront.

For years it has been shown that surfers use the address bar to get their bearings and so clean, simple URLs are a must.

Search engines have always had difficulty with long, complicated, dynamic URLs and have encouraged site owners to keep them to an absolute minimum. With the technology available now it is entirely feasible to completely rid any site of these ugly URLs, improving the usability and search engine effectiveness.

So, in my mind, it’s irresponsible of Yahoo to provide web masters with an excuse to NOT clean up their URLs. This is what they did with ‘Dynamic URL Rewriting’.

They gave web masters a way to tell Yahoo to ignore certain query string parameters in their URLs. This is very useful for webmasters – especially where their sites use session IDs and the like.

However, it helps them to be lazy. To disregard the need for clean, usable URLs and opt for the ‘easy option’ which translates to a lower quality of user experience.

In the case of session IDs, Yahoo should be making their algorithm clever enough to cope with such a common feature of the web, if not more so. Google certainly doesn’t provide such a feature, but that in no way puts Yahoo ahead. In fact, it puts them behind because Google already understands and accepts that sites use parameters, some of which are common and have no bearing on page content so they ignore them automatically.

So come on, Yahoo, stop encouraging bad behaviour and smarten yourselves up!

Yahoo! Search Blog: Be Dynamic, Be Confident — Yahoo! Search Supports You.

Yahoo SHOULD be promoting friendly URLs, not creating bodges like this.