Friday, September 28th, 2007

How to Optimize for MSN

Last week I discussed the best tactics for achieving rankings in Yahoo, the web’s number 2 most popular search engine. Now it is time to pick on the third most used search property – MSN, which has 6.6% of the search market (src: Hitwise) and is currently found at MSN’s ranking algorithm has its own nuances which will be noted in this article but in many cases the rules of optimization may be the same as Yahoo’s in which case I will occasionally duplicate information from my “How to Optimize for Yahoo” article or source it for more information. Read more…

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

Keyword Research for PPC

Back in July I wrote about keyword research for SEO. Although researching keywords for SEO is similar to that for PPC there still are many core differences.

In many cases using the generic targets with high searches can be very costly in the world of PPC. While they can offer a good return, often long tailed, very specific phrases can offer more qualified traffic at a lower price. Read more…

Saturday, September 15th, 2007

How to Optimize for Yahoo!

With a reported 22.1% of search traffic Yahoo is second only to Google’s 64.4% (src: Hitwise) for search user volume so it is extremely important not to forget that attaining a top ranking in Yahoo can be a big boon to the bottom line. As a result, I decided to write this update on how to attain superior rankings in Yahoo using today’s useful tools and tactics.

OVERVIEW: Optimizing for Yahoo!
Algorithmically Yahoo is Google’s much younger sibling. I say this because many of the requirements for a successful ranking mirror Google’s requirement about 4 years ago and they sum up to one distinct fact; optimize your content boldly on Yahoo and you will be rewarded. When I say “boldly” I do not mean use SPAM; by nature SPAM and optimization do not mix… they are two entirely separate concepts (black and white in fact).

The following are the current generalized specifications for achieving solid rankings in Yahoo.

SEO tactics have not changed a great deal over the past 10 years I have been an SEO. In general terms the only effect time has had on SEO is to vary the intensity of the optimization for particular page elements. That is the rub of course; some search engines appreciate the optimization of particular page elements over others. In the case of Yahoo, this old property with a relatively young algorithm tends to favour the following elements:

Title Tag: Keep your title tag as short as 5 small-medium sized words and include one complete incidence of your keyphrase. Yahoo! blatantly favours sites that include the keyphrase in the title tag. For an example check out “car sales” or for that matter any phrase. Within the top 10 results you will notice that the majority of sites listed will include at least one incidence of the keyphrase or a crucial portion of it (i.e. “cars”). The ones that do not include the keyphrase tend to be sites that have are extremely popular so even basic title tag optimization is not required to attain a top ranking.

Meta Description Tag: Start this tag with an incidence of your keyphrase and then produce a short 15 – 18 small-medium sized word sentence clearly describing your site. Include one more incidence of your keyphrase in the sentence. Keep in mind that the description tag is often utilized as the description for any rankings you achieve so it is best to make it alluring.

Meta Keyword Tag: Keyword tags have long been considered ineffective and no longer have any importance on Google; however Yahoo does still consider the keyword tag so it cannot hurt to include it. The keyword tag should start with the keyphrase and then all following words or phrases should be ordered according to their relevance to your website; place the most important ones up front. The max size of a keyword tag should be 250 characters – comma-delimited. Do not over repeat words; no more than 3 repetitions of a single word within the tag.

Keywords in URL: Create keyword-based filenames that closely represent the content within the file. Yahoo rewards keyword-based filenames a small amount – perhaps enough to push past your competition.

Headings: Heading 1 and 2 tags should be applied on every page where appropriate to embolden the relevance of the page. In other words, use the page’s keyphrase within a Heading 1 tag to further enhance the visibility of the keyphrase on the page.

Alt text for images: Don’t forget to provide appropriate ALT text for each image on your website. The ALT text must not provide information that is already written on the website. ALT text is supposed to provide a clear and concise description of what the image is. Fortunately this means that adding an incidence of the keyphrase or a portion of the keyphrase is totally appropriate which can add slightly more credibility to your page score when Yahoo’s crawler (Slurp) indexes the page.

Inline Links: In the midst of your page it is beneficial to include links to related pages from related content. These links will apply relevance to the linked page; which is optimized for the same keyphrase you linked from.

Site Structure: Site structure is a vital component to ranking success on Yahoo; especially in competitive marketplaces where every advantage is required to reach the top. One method that would be successful at Yahoo (and happens to work as well on the other major search engines) is a tried and true technique that revolves around the linear progression of related content throughout the website; it is commonly known as Themeing. The following example should shed some light on this subject:

Your site is a car sales site focused on Audi. In order to create a linear site structure you would focus each section of the site on an individual relevancy. Say you pick “Audi A5” as the relevant topic (see Figure 1.0). As you move deeper into the Audi A5 section you only see A5 relevant content. The search engine spider and your users will not be distracted by links to other vehicles – only information on the A5. This progresses as you proceed deeper into this arm of the website and because this section of the site is utterly focused on the subject “Audi A5” the odds of achieving a ranking for that term increase considerably.

When building links for Yahoo concentrate on quality not quantity. Quality links would be one way links from sites that specialize in content directly relevant to the content on your own website. Building these links can be done by creating content and syndicating it to your own industry for link love and to build credibility. In addition, if your website is a worthwhile resource it is entirely reasonable to tell the world about your site in order to build links; hopefully they will link to you because they like your site so much.

Finally, there is another tactic that has mixed results; send out press releases once a month using PRWeb or an associated press release agency. A good press release can easily build the links you need in no time at all. Unfortunately the mixed results I noted occur when press releases inevitably become archived, at which point the link relevance will fade. As a result, link building with press releases is only useful as an ongoing practice and should be considered a small facet of a robust link building campaign.

Yahoo’s Site Explorer is a fantastic tool for monitoring your website(s) and running basic link reports. If you have not already done so you should create an account at Site Explorer and then validate your website (prove you own it) so that you can manage the information Yahoo has for your website. Once you have validated your website I have noted some Site Explorer functionality that may help your website perform on Yahoo:

  • Make certain to create a sitemap and submit it to Yahoo:
    If you haven’t already done so use a XML sitemap generator to create a sitemap for your website and then submit it to Yahoo using the “Add Feed” form within your website’s Site Explorer profile.
  • Removing unnecessary dynamic content from your URLs with new add-on within Site Explorer:
    Does your URLs content session ID’s or other dynamic content that is unnecessary within the URL? If so, this information can be indexed by the search engines and ultimately can cause havoc with your rankings. Thankfully Yahoo has implemented a new tool within the Site Explorer domain management section called “Dynamic URLs Beta”. Here are the instructions to use the Dynamic URLs tool.

After reviewing our notes from current and previous Yahoo promotions and taking a look at a variety of top 10 results the following points appeared noteworthy:

  • Ensure open indexing by using Robots.txt wisely
  • A lot of our client’s older content appears to be sticking to top rankings with little or no monthly tweaking. As a result, I think it is fair to assume that fresh content is not currently gaining much weight in the Yahoo algorithm.
  • In many cases top ranking sites have pushed the envelope and their sites border on SPAM. Considering the top ranking these sites have it appears Yahoo’s SPAM filters are far less sensitive than Google’s. I expect Yahoo will change this in the near future but then again I have been surprised how long this has been the status quo.
  • One common claim throughout forums is that achieving a placement in the Yahoo Directory provides an instant boost to Yahoo rankings. Unfortunately we have not seen conclusive evidence that the annual $299 fee will increase rankings dramatically in the short term. That said, I strongly believe that a Yahoo Directory placement is a very reputable incoming link that does pay dividends in the long run at any search engine that weighs incoming links (the ones that count).
  • Yahoo Search Submit was re-introduced back in February 2007 to significant criticism due to the potential favouritism to those who pay to get into the Yahoo index. Despite the negative feedback there appears to be some potential benefits to paying for submission. For one, in July I noted an interesting story where a website was banned from Yahoo and the webmaster got the site back into Yahoo’s index by paying for inclusion (“Banned from Yahoo?”). A second reason Search Submit may be worthwhile is the guarantee that your site will be indexed. Furthermore, the Yahoo’s Search Submit Pro service allows you to recommend your own title and description tags for each page submitted and to submit pages that may not normally be indexed by Slurp.
by Ross Dunn, CEO, StepForth Web Marketing Inc.
Celebrating 10 Years of Web Marketing Excellence
Thursday, September 13th, 2007

Google on Duplicate Content

It is now a widely known fact that duplicate content is bad (with some exceptions such as BLOGS where it is expected). Yesterday on the Google Webmaster Central Blog, Maile Ohye posted some important notes on duplicate content directed at those who use multiple URL parameters on their site.

Essentially, variables placed in a URL for the purposes of tracking will result in duplicate content. This tracking can be in the form of affiliate ID’s, session ID’s, or any other form of tracking you may be implementing.

While the article does not address if there are possible penalties due to these duplicate URL’s it does point out that these longer URL’s can offset branding efforts and decrease the chance of your listing being selected by the searcher.

So how can you help search engines to understand your site? By removing any unnecessary URL parameters and submitting an XML sitemap with the clean version of each of URL will help, but your best bet is to permanently clean it up through the use of cookies. By 301 redirecting any inbound affiliate ID or tracking encoded links to the short clean URL and storing those affiliate and tracking variables in a cookie you can ensure that only one version of each URL is accessible on your site.

Duplicate content can come in many forms. Ross Dunn has published some articles which cover other aspects of duplicate content:

Most Common Reason for Dropped Rankings
What Determines Duplicate Content SPAM?
Does Article Syndication Amount to a Duplicate Content Penalty

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

Tips for Optimizing Blogs and Feeds

I caught an interesting seminar today called “SEO Through Blogs and Feeds” with Stephen Spencer, Rick Klau, Doug Hay and Greg Jarboe on the panel. The following are my point by point notes that stood out as noteworthy. Some of these tips are mirrored in my 3 part tutorial on blogging called Blogs 101 but as always some great new tips popped up. Read more…

Thursday, August 16th, 2007

SEO is More Important Than Ever

I do my fair share of web marketing reading on a daily basis and lately I have noticed more and more writers stating that search engine optimization (SEO) is no longer as important for online success. This spin may make sense to those writers (and their financial goals) as they try to push industry cash flow away from SEO but I disagree wholeheartedly and throughout this posting I will explain why. And I assure you that despite my own inherent bias it will all be very logical and undeniable. Read more…

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

Keyword Research for Organic SEO

So you have decided to venture out into the world of SEO. The first thing you will need to do is determine the direction of your campaign in relation to the key phrases you are choosing to target. This article will focus on how to find keywords for your organic campaign, as the process is slightly different for PPC.

Many site owners know immediately what phrases they want. If you feel like you know what you want, before you start take a brief step back and assess if this really is the best phrase for your site. Yes, it just may very well be the perfect phrase, but if it isn’t, you could wind up spending a lot of time and money pursuing a ranking that either will never happen, or will provide very little value to your site. Read more…

This morning I came across a great article by Sujan Patel at Search Engine Journal called “5 Quick Ways to Optimize for Local Search“. I highly recommend reading this article! Read more…

A June 28th article by Forbes magazine called “The Saboteurs of Search” discusses “negative SEO” which is best described as purposely disrupting competitor rankings. The article has caused waves in the SEO industry as marketers debate the effectiveness of the noted tactics.

From my point of view and experience these tactics are employed and I know there is a serious market for negative SEO because I have personally been asked to offer the service many times in the past. StepForth, however, does not offer negative SEO services with the exception of Google Insulation noted below; which we have previously use to help clients defend themselves against negative publicity appearing in rankings.

What are the Tactics of Negative SEO?
There were several tactics mentioned: Google Bowling, Tattling, Google Insulation, Copyright Takedown Notices, Copied Content, Denial of Service, and Click Fraud.

  • Google Bowling: XYZ is dropped off the search engines because their competitor framed them for breaking Google’s guidelines in an extreme manner. An example would be to create, overnight, a 1000% more links for a competitor (than they already have). The key would be to produce so many links at once that Google’s spam trigger would have no choice but to catch it. There are various ways to increase the chances of this happening but I would rather not describe them – after all this is not a tutorial.
  • Tattling: Is XYZ (the competitor) doing well because they purchased links? If so, and it is something you can prove, then it is entirely within your right to tell Google using their spam report form.But will this work? It is touch and go whether your complaint will actually do anything in the short term because Google often collects these complaints and then upgrades its algorithm (if possible) to clean out other offenders using the same techniques; a more efficient process. That said, as Matt Cutts said in this video about link buying Google is not above occasionally using manual methods to clean out spam so you might get lucky and see an immediate result.
  • Google Insulation: Is there negative press in the top 10 about your service? Perhaps you have a competitor that just won’t budge out of a top position? In either case a Google Insulation strategy is designed to raise the rankings of other websites that positively discuss your company/services/products in order to oust competitors out of the top 10 rankings. In its raw concept I believe this tactic is ethical because it is smart competitive marketing and a great tactic for reputation management (a hot topic these days).
  • Copyright Takedown Notices: If a person desperately needed to drop a competitor out of a top position it could engage in a legal action that requires Google to drop the ranking for a period of time based on copyright infringement. The problem here, of course, is that this tactic exposes the perpetrator so that they can be sued by the offended company if the accusation is baseless. Here is where you can submit a copyright infringement notice to Google.
  • Copied Content: Due to the fallible nature of Google’s algorithm it is possible to ‘steal’ away the traffic to a competitor’s particular content (say an article just published) by publishing it on your own site IF your site is more entrenched than the competitor’s.You see if Google is presented with two websites which have the same content it will be forced to choose which site is the original creator. The website with the longer history and/or the highest reputation will often win out and the loser will often find their content ranks lower (if at all).
  • Denial of Service: This is the most evil and clearly illegal tactic for removing a competitor. Denial of service attacks (DoS) are conducted by sending a large number requests to a competitor’s web server at one time. The result is the competitor’s server will either be too jammed with requests to function properly or it will simply crash from the burden of so many requests – effectively taking the competitor’s website offline. Evil indeed.
  • Click Fraud: Click fraud is no different than stealing money from a competitor. This is how it works: people maliciously click on ads to purposely eat away at a competitor’s ad budget; even on a small scale this can be damaging to a competitor. The most aggressive click fraud is when a network of computers with specially created software is used to maliciously click on a competitor’s pay per click advertisements in order to waste their money and destroy their advertising campaign.

Should You Be Worried this is Happening to You?
It is highly unlikely that the negative SEO techniques above have been or ever will be used against you. If, however, it does appear to be happening to you then contact us or another reputable web marketing company. At StepForth we will see what we can do about reversing the effects by contacting the proper people or conducting a negating clean-up campaign.

Additional Notes on Click Fraud
The one issue that you could very likely suffer from is click fraud but not in the way you might imagine. You see click fraud appears to happen indiscriminately so just about anyone can have it happen to them; in my experience it is not often a targeted action. As a result, you should be keeping an eye out for it you are actively using pay per click marketing.

So how can you detect click fraud? The best way for me to answer this is to tell you what we use to monitor campaigns and detect click fraud: ClickTracks Professional. ClickTracks Professional is a website analytics program that (among other amazing things) compares the data it collects from visitors on your website with the data you get from your pay per click campaign and does a pretty good job of identifying suspicious click-through behavior.

If ClickTracks Professional determines there is a high probability of click fraud in your campaign you will be presented with a detailed report you can take to your agent at the search engine you are marketing with. If your search engine agent determines there is validity to the evidence it is likely you will get a refund or credit to your account.

Now for a little plug, I liked ClickTracks Professional so much that in 2003 StepForth purchased our own copy and we offer website accounts for as little as $150 per month which is 50% cheaper than the service that provides. If you are interested just check out where we provide more detail and a service comparison chart.

NOTE: I had to think long and hard before publishing this post because I find many of the methods of damaging a competitor’s rankings horrifically unethical. That said, I believe that understanding these tactics is important in order to identify their use if they are applied against you.

by Ross Dunn, CEO, StepForth Placement Inc.
Celebrating 10 Years of Web Marketing Excellence
Wednesday, July 4th, 2007

How to Properly Redirect Domains

I just finished adding a new tutorial to StepForth’s web marketing knowledgebase based on redirecting domains in two different ways that are both search engine friendly and completely ethical:

  1. THE NEW ONE: Redirecting to is not very difficult you just need to know how. I explain this in the free tutorial I just put online today: how to properly redirect an old domain to a new domain.
  2. Redirecting to is a great way to capture link popularity that you have already earned but never properly benefited from. This might be confusing but consider that many people mistakenly link to your website forgetting the “www” in the URL. This mistake seems somewhat anticlimactic to them since they get you to your site either way. Unfortunately for you, however, Google and the other search engines consider these two versions of your domain as entirely different websites. As a result, that valuable link popularity you received is being sent nowhere very useful. By redirecting non-www traffic to the www version of your domain you can actually turn this all around and benefit from that link popularity!

Read more…