Mondays follow weekends and a lot can happen over 48-hours. That makes a Monday morning a bit of a mash-up. As I scan article ideas from first to last, my mind keeps wandering to the middle. There must be a common thread uniting ideas found in the four pieces outlined below. The most obvious connection is that each relates to search marketing but perhaps if read collectively there is something a bit deeper, a signal of where the SEM industry is going. Read more…

The StepForth SEO Blog been nominated for an award from Search Engine Journal. That’s a nice way to start a Friday morning after a long and busy week. Huge thanks from StepForth to those who nominated us. That was the easy part. Now, anyone interested in voting for their favourite blogs has a much harder task ahead of them.

A quick scan of the nominees shows a number of well written and highly informative blogs readers can cast their ballot in support of, separated into five categories. Participants are asked to rank each nominee on a scale of 1 – 5 with 5 being the highest score.

Best Search Engine News Blog

Pandia | MarketingPilgrim | | Search Engine Lowdown | Search Views | John Battelle Search Blog | Search Engine Watch Blog | Threadwatch | Google Blogoscoped | Search Engine Roundtable | Research Buzz | Top Rank Blog

Best SEO Blogs

StuntDubl | FishSEO | SEOMoz | SEO SpeedWagon | TextLinkBlog | SEO Black Hat | SEO by the SEA | Jim Boykin’s Blog | Link Building Blog | Stepforth SEO Blog | Matt Cutts Blog | Greg Boser’s WebGuerrilla | SEO Book

Best Search Engine Owned Blogs

Yahoo Search Blog | Ask Jeeves Blog | MSN Search Weblog | Google Blogs (All of them)

Best Search Engine Marketing and Contextual Advertising Blogs:

AdRants | Did-It Frog Blog | Got Ads? | JenSense | Google AdWords and Adsense Blogs (in general) | Marketing Vox | ProBlogger | Traffick.Com

Best Blog Search Engine Blogs Blog | IceRocket Blog | Daypop Weblog | Feedster Blog | BlogDigger Development Blog | blogpulse Newswire | Blog Search Engine | Technorati Weblog

As you can see, there is some stiff competition in the SEO Blog category. If you are interested in voting, please visit the Search Engine Journal’s 2005 Best of Search Blogs Awards at To anyone who participates, thanks for voting. And to other nominees, thanks for writing and sharing your information with others in the industry. Hopefully we can all teach each other another thing or two in 2006.

The greased pig of the search world is about to get caught. Apparently the pig is a prized ham after all.

Have you ever been to a greased pig catching contest? Almost twenty years ago, while hitchhiking my way across the vast Canadian prairies one youthful summer, I saw one and let me tell ya, it was better than watching donkey baseball. (another bizarre Canadian pastime. It’s best not to ask too many questions at this point eh?). Ok, here’s what happens. Read more…

It is twenty days shy of Christmas and Bill Stroll, our sales and marketing manager just spent ten minutes on the phone talking about Valentines Day. It’s not really a strange subject to come up in conversation at this time of the year. Valentines Day is the next major commercial marketing event. The nature of search marketing leads us to plan months into the future as seasonal and event specific content needs to be developed, posted, spidered in order to achieve eventual top10 placements.

As recently as three years ago, we would caution clients to expect a three to sixteen week turn-around time between posting optimized content and positive results. For some, that would mean the development of commercial content for Valentines Day might begin in late October and early November in order to have it ready for a post-Christmas shift in target audience. Now, content posted to established (long-term) websites on a Monday could appear in the Top10 before the following Friday, sometimes hours after it was posted.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that content creators and webmasters targeting a mid-February audience should wait until the end of January or early February to begin to develop Valentine’s related content though. As the years have gone on, a lot more information gets added to the web and much of that information is more professional, better written and far better optimized for search placement. For smaller businesses, this can mean long hours of writing, researching and designing in order to have a series of seasonal pages ready for posting in order to compete with larger websites.

Successful marketing is a process of long-term planning and execution of those plans in an ordered campaign. When designing a sales-orientated website, planning for annual special events is a good way to capture interest and increase sales. Search engine users are fairly predictable. Being the general public, they are interested in whatever is interesting at any given time. As search marketers, we know when search traffic will spike for specific holidays and events with a far greater degree of accuracy than the television and print media can offer.

Search marketers also know that seasonally topical information can be posted at any time of the year. Think of the search engines as a reference guide to a massive filing cabinet. There might be files about any number of subjects amongst the vast amount of information stored in that cabinet but its specific items are only accessed when needed. A Top10 placement can be achieved for products or services relating to Valentine’s Day in September and remain in place months after February 14th, provided the page is actively updated and not left static and stagnant.

Long term content is often much easier to get placements for than new content is. Documents that exist for longer periods of time tend to have more incoming links and are viewed as more “trusted” by search engines. As mentioned above, that content should change from time to time as a static page is not seen as favorably as an active one.

In previous years, search engines tended to put more emphasis on the Home, or index page of a website. That would necessitate seasonally topical content being inserted on the first page of the site six to twelve weeks before placements were expected, or the development of seasonal sub-domains. Now that search engines tend to treat all documents within a domain as equals, event or seasonal information can be an ongoing part of a much larger website. This again allows search marketers to view the web as a filing cabinet. It is a good thing to have information easily accessible at any time of the year and it is always a good time to promote seasonally topical information, even if the season or event is six months away.

There is a natural rush towards the date of the seasonal holiday or event that should be accounted for in search marketing planning. During the 2004 US elections, real estate in Maryland and Virginia was reaching a peak that tends to follow US election cycles. In the weeks leading up to the election, a massive rush from Maryland and Virginia based realtors flooded many SEO shops, even those of us a continent away on the west coast. Realtors who first approached SEO or SEM shops naturally tended to fare better than those who waited until mid-rush. (Many SEO and SEM shops offer exclusivity on keyword targets to clients and tend to not represent more than one client per keyword or keyword phrase).

A point Bill made in our discussion stood out. We should be telling our clients to try to envision their websites months or even a year in advance and asking questions about long-term marketing planning. What are our clients doing at various points in the year? Is there information on their websites that would be searched for with greater frequency one month over another? Are there products or services that have a seasonal tie-in?

In previous years, spiders drove the search marketing sales cycle. To get a strong Valentines Day placement, we would be working on optimizing content starting this week. Today, the search marketing sales cycle is much more similar to that of the brick-and-mortar world. For smaller clients and those with new websites, today is the time to starting to plan for next year’s Halloween to Christmas season, along with the dozen or so other consumer events of the calendar year.

Wednesday, November 30th, 2005

Changing Faces of Search Marketing

A year of unprecedented change in the search engine landscape and online business environment has forced many SEOs and SEMs to alter and, in some cases, drastically rethink the services they offer and the techniques they use. For some SEOs, the changes represent a world of opportunities to expand their services and experiment with emerging techniques. For others, the changes in the search world have hit with the repetition and intensity of a series of destructive environmental disasters. Before getting into the changes to services and techniques, a quick look at how the search marketing sector has changed is in order. Read more…

Lots of entrepreneurs have started businesses online but few have offered a day-by-day, play-by-play narrative outlining their experiences. For the past few weeks, Search Engine Guide editor Jennifer Laycock has treated her readers to an insiders view of her new social-business, the Lactivist. Read more…

Usability is already a critical component of successful online ventures but with the advent of Google Analytics and the implementation of the Jagger algo update, user-activities and behaviours are going to play an influencing role in search engine rankings. How people act when they visit a website or document is being measured and accounted for, even for sites without Google Analytics tracking codes in the [head] section of the document source-code.

Google is concerned with how people find information and what they do when they access a document found in the Google index. Which document in a site they tend to land on, how long users spend on that document and how much, if any, time does a user spend exploring information in a domain, are all pertinent to how Google perceives the relevance of documents listed in the index. As long-term online marketers know, this is where usability comes into the picture.

Usability, as defined by Kim Kraus Berg is, “… the ability to successfully, comfortably and confidently learn or complete a task. For the web site designer or application developer, it’s the mechanics of designing and building a web site or Internet-based application so that it can be understood and easy to accomplish any task.”

According to local (Victoria-based) website marketing expert, Michael Linehan, a focus on site usability is simply common sense marketing. Leading visitors towards goal-orientated outcomes makes as much sense for a functioning website as it does for a functional building and, to follow through on the analogy, it all starts with a smart architect.

Michael knows his stuff, so much so StepForth considers him to be one of our marketing and site usability gurus. If our assumptions about user-behaviours and the post-Jagger Google SERPs are correct, Michael’s talents will play an important role in our overall SEO techniques.

“It’s all about marketing,” Michael explains (exclaims is probably a better word, ML is pretty passionate about this stuff), “and marketing is all about envisioning an effective strategy.” While most people involved in business understand the concept, surprisingly few actually take the time to implement and follow a marketing strategy in relation to their websites.

“Website owners have to prioritize their messages and make their websites easier to use. It’s a matter of measuring the importance of different parts of their marketing strategy and their websites.”

Michael suggests that over 95% of companies he has worked with use opportunistic marketing tactics with separate strategies being employed out of sync with each other. A simple example would be the Yellow Pages ad that does not mention the website URL or a printed brochure that does not include an email address in the contact information. A more complex example can be found by looking at most business websites.

“When a business owner gets a website for their business, they often expect the designer to know how to market their new website.” said Michael. “That’s just ludicrous. Website designers already have a difficult and mentally demanding job. Expecting them to be proficient marketers is like expecting your architect to act as your real estate agent.”

Michael deconstructs websites, pulling them apart to find or add the little things specific to a business website designers often can’t customize for. His work could be described as user-outcome optimization.

He has a good point. Search engine marketing is becoming much more complicated. The web is rapidly adopting a more professional attitude as it grows into the global mainstream marketplace. As this maturing takes place, two factors should drive website owners and webmasters towards a more professional view of their online marketing strategies.

The first factor is the increased analytic abilities of the major search engines. As previously mentioned, Google is taking stock of a number of user-sensitive factors surrounding documents in its index. In March 2005, Google filed a patent titled, “Information retrieval based on historical data“. The patent application outlines the historic record Google keeps on every document and file in its index. One of the items mentioned covers user behaviours touching on the following points:

  • how much time an average user spends examining a document,
  • the entry and exit paths of users,
  • if users store reference to the document in bookmarks,
  • how users access the document (via search engine, typing URL, link from other document, or bookmarks),
  • an evaluation of search traffic driven by Google and related keywords the document was found under

Each of those points should lead webmasters to think about how visitors use their site. Website marketing is not necessarily about search engine placements. It is about using your website as a marketing tool. In the context of website marketing, usability is about moving visitors from the entry point to the goal line and off again to another compellingly relevant website experience.

The second factor is the evolving needs of website users and their increased analytic abilities. The Web is almost second nature to most of its users. People are experienced in the environment and, at least in the case of work-related web use, know what they want. As it stands today, there are a lot of websites that no longer live up to user expectations because those expectations have moved beyond the design of those websites.

Usability is a component in smart and informed website marketing simply because it implies making the website experience simpler and clearer for visitors. Strategically moving a site visitor from the entry point to the information or sales point (goal lines) is common sense. It is also providing the visitors exactly what they want.

Google placing more weight on user behaviours makes sense. User behaviour is a logical extension of the democratic concept of PageRank in that the users’ collective judgment is incorporated into that of the webmasters who coded incoming links. Webmasters of sites supporting AdWords advertising are already super-charged, stoked about Google providing detailed data that can help drive traffic.

All good marketing strategies are goal orientated and center around a clear vision. As time goes on, it can get pretty complicated, especially when clarity and ease of use are the ultimate design goal. Objective planning might involve rethinking the design of your website but moving into the near future, rethinking the design of your website might just become essential.

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2005

Dirk Johnson on Post-Jagger Recip. Links

Dirk Johnson from provides link-building services. Over the past year, Dirk’s firm has helped a number of our clients acquire the relevant incoming links necessary to achieve strong Google placements. These are not purchased links though clients do pay for the time it takes to find and get them. Read more…

An interesting phenomenon is coming to a monitor near you, perhaps the one you are looking at right now. The days of convergence are upon us. The trend towards the merging of media via the Internet is already causing significant cultural shifts as witnessed by the power bloggers have exercised in relation to TV and print journalism. What a difference an era makes. A decade ago, the traditional media set the pace by telling our stories and provided practical means of mass-communications. Today, the Internet provides a globally stable transmission line and the Web serves as both production studio and broadcast medium. The Internet’s growth and more importantly, the ease of access for anyone with a computer, a connection and a bit of talent, has pushed the majority of traditional media outlets into a period of survival strategy and planning. Read more…

The holiday season is well underway with Lycos reporting significant spikes in search traffic for toy and gift related items over the past week. Traditionally merchants expect the shopping spree to begin the week after the US Thanksgiving holiday however electronic shoppers tend to start earlier. Read more…