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.

(v) change , alter, modify (cause to change; make different; cause a transformation) “The advent of the automobile may have altered the growth pattern of the city”” Read more…

Tuesday, January 17th, 2006

15 Shades of SEO Spam

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…

Wednesday, January 11th, 2006

SEO Tips In a Sea of Change

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.

The searchable universe has expanded enormously over the past year. From the doubling or tripling of the size of search engine indexes to the evolution of several engines with unique focuses, the amount of data accessible by search engine users has grown faster this year than any other since the dawn of the public, commercial Internet. Read more…

Following on the six site design sins from last week, here is the completion of the list of thirteen SEO Website / Search Issues from Y2K.

7) Sites designed entirely in Flash

Flash is an incredibly cool design medium that enables animations, sound, video and user interaction with websites. As the web and the designers who work on it become more sophisticated, Flash is being used more often. Unfortunately, Flash files are often used without search engine spiders in mind. While Micromedia did distribute a Search Development Kit to help search engines decode information phrased in Flash files, it is still very difficult to perform SEO services on a site designed primarily in Flash.

Sites designed in a coding language search spiders can easily read and understand tend to fare much better in organic listings. The best advice for using Flash files is to embed them in a page designed in a more standard format.

8) Use of MS Word HTML generator

Did you know that a MSWord document can be saved as an HTML document? If you didn’t, I am sorry to report it is possible. The problem is, MSWord documents saved as HTML documents have a bazillion or so lines of extraneous code and tend to perform quite poorly in search engine results. They are hard to work with from an SEO perspective as well. Removing extraneous code from a MSWord document can be difficult, even when using Dreamweaver.

9) Poor site maintenance, updates

Every town has a storefront that never changes and that store never seems to be very prosperous. Websites need to be updated and maintained, they are sort of like a storefront that way. There are actually two issues being addressed under this heading.

Maintenance: Many website owners do not properly maintain their websites. Some sites look years out of date while others continue to carry links to sites that no longer exist. We’ve even come across some sites with product information for items the business no longer carries. While operating a business in the real world can take a lot of time, the Internet is an active place of business. Spiders and live-visitors need to see a well maintained website to take the business seriously.

Updates: We have been preaching the values of regular site updates to clients for years. Adding fresh content to a site is important on so many levels. Google, for example, uses the rate at which new content is added to a site as a guideline when judging the relative importance of that site. Fresh content also increases the on-site inventory of documents that might achieve search engine placements.

Live-users also appreciate new content as it adds value to their experience at your site. As many online business owners understand, Internet users are a lot like regular shoppers. They follow patterns and purchase from places they are comfortable. Giving visitors a reason to revisit your site is always good for business.

10) Ignoring emerging technologies or pre-existing payment programs

This point follows the maintenance and update point for a good reason. For some website owners, the Internet is their primary place of business. Unlike brick and mortar operations, there is no physical location to purchase items, all sales are made online. That means the website is the store. Like their brink and mortar equivalents, online stores need to use a variety of tools to attract customers.

XML based sitemaps that feed information to the search engines via RSS is an example of a beneficial emerging technology that is being ignored by the majority of webmasters out there. Blogs, podcasting, social or industrial networking and the purchase of PPC advertising are others. By ignoring emerging technologies, business owners can miss vast groups of potential clients.

Online business is dependent on the electronic transfer of funds. For most that means using a credit card. Some people don’t use credit cards and others use them only for specific purposes. There are several types of online payment systems that are not dependent on credit cards, the most well known being PayPal. Surprisingly, relatively few online businesses accept PayPal as a payment option. How many brick and mortar businesses still use an abacus and a cigar box as the cash till? Aside from a few quaint grocers and herbalists in the older part of my town, I don’t know anyone else who even knows how to use an abacus. That’s the power of technology. There are still a few brick and mortar stores who refuse to honour bank debit cards or credit cards. By refusing to use newer technologies, their businesses either stagnate in a previous century (which in some cases is a welcome respite from the 21st century), or lose customers like myself who rarely use coin or cash.

The last three frightening things for SEOs are not on-site related but have an enormous sway on how our industry evolves and the practices we employ.

11) Over-reliance on Google Results

Google remains the most important search engine in the world. A strong placement on Google can make the difference between success and failure for many online businesses. Over time, Google has come to dominate the search sphere but as businesses affected by the series of Jagger Updates this month are learning, Google listings can be a very volatile place to do business in.

That shouldn’t be an issue for webmasters and online businesses as there are literally dozens of other marketplaces aside from Google. eBay is an example. There are other search engines as well. Yahoo, MSN and ASK all offer excellent search results and can collectively drive similar levels of traffic as Google. At the end of the day however, it must be noted that Google offers a heck of a lot of bang for the marketing buck and search users continue to love using Google.

It is strongly recommended that webmasters concentrate on getting strong organic and PPC placements at the other search engines and work to cultivate that business. Learning about and taking part in the Yahoo Publishing Network is a good alternative for webmasters and bloggers who want to diversify the advertising that appears on their documents. MSN is about to introduce a series of webmaster and business development features in their soon to be released paid advertising program.

12) Google’s use of DMOZ information

Google is again reverting to DMOZ descriptions on some sites in its listings. This means that Google is querying DMOZ for sites to include in its general listings. This can be a potentially damaging thing for a host of reasons.

First of all, it is not very easy to get a site listed in the DMOZ directory. The backlog is huge and editors at DMOZ seem to find reasons to not include sites they feel are designed for marketing purposes only. Some website owners and SEOs have waited for years without word on the status of their submission to DMOZ.

DMOZ editors are better known for following the DMOZ system than they are for accuracy or marketing acumen. If a mistake is made in your description, it is often quite difficult to get it corrected.

13) Misunderstanding the role of the SEO sector

SEOs are not miracle workers. SEO, as a profession is a combination of good website designers and good online marketers. We do not control or even directly manipulate search engine rankings. For the most part, we don’t even reverse engineer algorithms any more. We are simply online marketers who have learned a great deal about how search engines work and how they rank websites. Our technical job is to make client sites as friendly as possible for search engines. Our marketing job is to make the site as friendly as possible for live-visitors, to advise our clients about changes in the search sphere that might affect them for good or for ill, and to take action on items that might not be beneficial for clients.

We cannot make a site jump from number eight to number three, at least not with any guarantee of success. What we can do is make a website or document available to as many search engine spiders and search engine users as possible. We can help select keyword phrases and arrange them properly on the page. We can help with site design and structure, and leave trails for spiders to complete the submission phase. We can’t however tell Yahoo, Google, MSN, ASK or any other search engine to promote our client’s sites higher in the organic listings. If we could, we would charge a heck of a lot more.

Everyone loves Top10 lists. In the SEO industry, where search engine results form the ultimate Top10 lists for clients and practitioners, the sheer number of ways a website, document or other spiderable object can be designed makes it very difficult to produce a general Top10 list for best practices. There are however, a number of basic mistakes made by webmasters, site designers and new online-entrepreneurs that inadvertently create obstacles to search placement success. Read more…

Online advertising is entering a fourth phase of innovation. Each of the previous waves of online marketing innovation has directly influenced or informed the development of successive waves. Starting with banner ads ten years ago, the online economy has revolved around advertising. While subscriber fees, government grants and private investment capital paid for the development of the backbone, advertisers paid for the development and sustentation of commercial websites. The same is true today but, just over a decade into the evolution of the public/commercial Internet, advertising has become much more precise, targeted and universally pervasive. Read more…

Monday, October 24th, 2005

Google's Jagger Update Contines

We’ve had quite the week over the past seven days, eh?

Whenever Google implements an algorithm update, the search engine optimization sector gets inundated with phone calls from clients questioning why their site placements took a sudden dive. Read more…