A few weeks back MSN instituted a new Meta Tag that would allow website owners to force MSN to ignore their Open Directory Project (ODP) directory title and description when creating their search engine listing. For many this was a huge boon because their rankings were tied to the out of date, poorly edited or even false directory listings at the ODP. Read more…
A few weeks ago, StepForth’s sales manager, Bill Stroll, took a well deserved holiday. That gave me the opportunity to sit in his chair for a few days, monitoring emails from clients and queries from potential clients. My primary focus was to answer client questions and respond to information requests that simply couldn’t wait until Bill was back at his desk.
Sitting in front of his computer gave me a chance to take another look a random sampling of websites interested in SEO. From time to time, I tabbed over to see some of the site-review questionnaire responses our system had recently handled.
Search engine optimization is obviously becoming more popular. We’re handling a lot more review requests. Many of the sites processed by our review system were already well-designed sites ready for optimization. Many others however, were simply not up to a standard of design or topical clarity in which our SEO services would help. It’s a hard thing to tell someone but someone has to do it, the website needs to be redesigned.
Online competition has increased dramatically year after year. Today there are more websites doing business in every commercial sector than there were yesterday. Though the search engines are better able to sort information and rank relevant sites against keyword queries, achieving search engine placements for smaller sites has gotten more difficult as the environment evolves.
Recent changes to the ranking algorithms at Google and Yahoo place increased importance on site user experience, making people-friendly web design an important component in SEO. Because the search engines want to gauge the usefulness of any given document or link, they track the movement of visitors from one web document to another. When larger numbers of visitors travel to a site and spend more time gathering information and following its links, the search engines tend to think favorably about that site. Similarly, when visitors click in and quickly click out, their leaving is noted and the action is somewhat scored against the site. It’s nothing personal, its just technology judging technology.
When a website is somehow unprepared to meet the standards we believe search spiders or human visitors are looking for, we call it not-ready-for-primetime. It’s a much gentler term to use than others we’ve tossed about. Not-ready-for-primetime sites come in all shapes, sizes and represent all sorts of businesses. The one thing they have in common is that, in their current condition, their chances of achieving strong search rankings are dim. They are often constructed as if they were afterthoughts, as brochures by people focused squarely on doing business in the real world.
When we come across sites that are not quite ready for primetime, we tend to recommend site redesign. The problem with recommending redesign as a pre-requisite of SEO work is that it needs to be factored into a preset marketing budget. Often, site owners are unable or unwilling to invest in site redesign and either go seeking help or affirmation from other search marketing shops, or give up altogether.
The easiest way to avoid presenting an unfriendly face to search engine spiders is to start from the basics and work your way up. Here are a few quick tips on spotting elements of your website that might not be as search engine friendly as they could or should be.
Every website, good or bad begins with a site structure. Some structures are better for search spiders than others. There are two areas to consider when thinking about site structure, regardless of the eventual size of the site. The first how the overall site file and directory tree will look. The second is how the first few levels of that tree will be laid out.
The overall site should be structured to allow for long-term growth. As more files or documents are added to the site, the designer will want to ensure that search spiders will find those files without too much trouble. That means limiting the number of directory levels as much as practically possible.
The first few levels of a site are extremely important for strong search rankings. Documents or files found on the first few pages of any site tend to contain the most unique, descriptive content. These documents are most likely to receive incoming links from other sites and are most likely to be entrance points to specific product or services offered on pages found deeper in the site. Establishing easily followed paths for search spiders and for live-visitors is important.
The next thing that makes a site not-ready-for-primetime is topical focus and clarity of message. In a competitive search engine environment, choosing a theme and sticking to it is generally good advice.
We often see sites that try to sell hundreds of unrelated consumer items or travel services. These types of sites pose two problems. First, there is no overall theme to think about when determining keywords to target. Secondly, much of the content on sites like this is lifted from other online sources, likely already existing in Google’s index.
If these sites were to segment their sites into niches or facets of the industries they are trying to represent and build a number of sites dedicated to those facets, chances are their sites would perform much better on the search engines.
Another series of elements that can make a site not-ready-for-primetime is found in previous attempts at search engine or network marketing. A reality of web-based business is that a little information can be extremely dangerous if applied incorrectly. We often come across sites that have joined web-rings or link-exchanges, or have remnants of spammy SEO techniques left over from a previous run-in with less ethical SEOs. We tend to see these sites just after they have been delisted or have seen their rankings degrade over time.
A site redesign is a serious commitment. Once it is undertaken, a whole range of planning, copywriting and meetings are in order. This process is often good for an online business as it forces the business to focus on how it conducts business online, and how to make that business better.
Perhaps the truest measure of the need to redesign a website comes not from the needs of website marketers but from the experience of the website owners themselves. Is the site producing revenues or attracting business of some form or another? Is it capable of returning some if not all of the money invested in it? If not, the best search engine placements on the Internet are not going to be much use.
The need for search friendly design is obvious, the demand is real.
One of the most frequently asked questions readers and clients email StepForth Placement’s SEO staff, revolves around how websites can be best optimized to meet the algorithmic needs of each of the major 4 search engines, Google, Yahoo, MSN and Ask.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Though there have been wide sweeping changes in the organic search engine landscape over the past six months, the fundamental ways search engines operate remains the same. Read more…
I am a SEO. As a search engine optimization specialist, I have spent the better part of the last decade studying search engines to get a better understanding of how they work in order act as a guiding consultant for paying clients. My clients, or more appropriately, my firm’s clients, are interested in having their web documents found on the first page of search results across all the major search engines. After spending years traveling trenches full of fiber, my colleagues and I have gotten very, very good at getting those first page placements. If only SEO was really so simple. Read more…
A couple of days ago, I received a call from a west coast reader who works as a corporate recruiter. She had been asked to find an in-house SEO for one of her clients, a medium sized corporation. After recommending a number of SEO/SEM related forums and Ed Lewis’ SEO Consultants Directory, we started to talk about the cost/benefit of hiring an in-house SEO and outsourcing the work to a consultant. As our conversation moved from point to point, a number of issues surrounding hiring in-house SEO talent emerged.
Today the trend leans towards hiring in-house. A quick glance at employment websites such as Monster.com or Workopolis.ca shows a growing list of positions for SEOs who have two or more years of experience. The demand for experienced search marketers far outstrips the supply of really good practitioners, a situation evidenced by SEO salaries ranging from 30K at the low end to over 100K at the top. Read more…
Some sites are built using “cutting edge advanced design techniques” that draw from several sources. Some have poorly structured databases. Some look as if they were slapped together seven years ago and have since existed as an afterthought. The one thing they all have in common is that they offer search engine spiders far too little information to grab onto. Having to negotiate between the needs of technically unfocused clients and the highly focused technical needs of the SEO staff, a SEO good salesperson can spot problem issues a mile away.
A few weeks ago, our sales manger and I scrolled through a number of potential client sites he had moved to his “problem-issue” file, compiling a dossier of examples of SEO-unfriendly sites that have come our way over the past six months. It’s amazing how much you can learn from the mistakes of others. It is equally amazing to see these basic mistakes repeated time and time again.
There are any numbers of basic, simple SEO mistakes, most of which are inconsequential, that find their way across ou Read more…
The word “change” has over a dozen definitions, at least according to my electronic source at Princeton University. Aside from the various nouns describing what is literally cold and hard cash, my preferred use of the word is as a verb. The following definition caught my eye this morning. It applies itself quite well to a situation facing most, if not all, established SEO shops.
Spam, in almost any form, is somehow bad for your health. The vast majority of web users would agree with that statement and nobody would even think of the finely processed luncheon meat-product made by Hormel. Even the word itself is infectious in all the worst ways, being used to describe the dark-side and often deceptive side of everything from Email marketing to abusive forum behaviour. In the search engine optimization field, Spam is used to describe techniques and tactics thought to be banned by search engines or to be unethical business practices. Read more…
Advanced SEO 2006
Waves of change have cascaded over the search marketing sector in the past year prompting changes in the methods, business and practice of search engine optimization. Though many things have been altered, expanded or otherwise modified, the general search engine market share has not. Google remains the most popular search engine and continues to drive more traffic than the other search engines combined. Another thing that has not changed is the greater volume of site traffic generated by organic search placement over any other form on online advertising. 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.