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Tuesday, December 20th, 2005

Matt Cutts Gives a Google Lesson

Matt Cutts has given librarians and school teachers an early Christmas present. In an article published in Google’s Newsletter for Librarians, Cutts gives a basic explanation of how Google ranks and sorts documents found in its index. Along the way, he offers search engine marketers a bit of advice on what Google is examining when looking at specific websites. 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 Some sites look years out of date while others continue to carry links to sites that no longer exist.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…

Wednesday, October 12th, 2005

SEO Business – The Joys of Reselling

As a facet of the Internet economy, search engine optimization is a specialized service that shares several characteristics with other web-based businesses. While the objects of our labours might be seen and used by millions of unique people in millions of unique places, our workspace consists of a 17″ – 24″ monitor, a miniature window on an exponentially expanding world. A 24″ portal might seem small by modern building standards but as both Yahoo and Google will tell you, size is not the issue, depth is. That 24 inches represents the largest window of opportunity anyone could ever open. Read more…

Wednesday, May 18th, 2005

SEM Growing More Complex

Working out a marketing plan for new and evolving websites is a bit more complicated than it used to be. There are a few new things to be considered before embarking on a search marketing campaign than in previous years. Search marketing has become more important and is thus becoming more professional. With growing acceptance of online communication tools, and a number of alterations to the faces of search engines themselves, the marketing arena has been upgraded from a three-ring circus venue to a Super Bowl sized stadium. Read more…

Much has changed since last year in the world of search engine marketing. These changes have widened the knowledge gaps between the SEM sector, our clients and the general public. A knowledge gap separating professional experience and general interest is natural in any industry as a quick peak under any newer model car hood will demonstrate.

In a field as user-dependent and re-evolutionary as the search industry, knowledge gaps can lead to expensive chaos for consumers, advertisers and webmasters. Many common assumptions about search engine marketing have been made obsolete or require a different way of thinking. Many erroneous assumptions continue to be proliferated in hundreds of forum posts, emails and marketing articles. Read more…

What would you do if you were tasked with designing a new search engine?

You have all the resources the world can offer and the certain knowledge that your project is so important to your employer that mountains, molehills, companies, code and really comfy office chairs will be moved, built or acquired to meet your needs, no questions asked. Your boss demands a product that is better than best and, having failed to notice how overwhelmingly essential search would become back when he came to dominate everything else, appears ready to back your project with missionary zeal and Machiavellian maneuvering. The cold hard truth is, the future of one of the largest corporations in the world, owned incidentally by the world’s wealthiest man, may well rest on your shoulders. In this scenario, there are no obstacles, only the challenge of beating Google at Google’s best game. Whoa…. Read more…

The Internet is the most widely used business tool in the world. In theory, it is the least expensive and most pervasive medium for global communications. At one time, the Internet was the exclusive playground of the technical minded, otherwise known as the “nerds” and the “geeks”. It’s not nearly as cool to be a geek as it was five or six years ago. The Internet is not our exclusive playground any longer. As proven by last week’s Google IPO, the sandbox in which we shared ideas and inspiration is now the largest commercial community in the world. Everyone who is anyone in business uses it and therefore, everyone who is associated with anyone in business needs to be able to use it quickly and easily. As acceptance and usage of the Internet has grown so rapidly, every business, NGO, governmental department, school, church, and even favorite great-aunt has developed a website to communicate their message to the greater world. In order to meet a growing demand, programmers and designers have had to develop products that are easy to use for employees all businesses, regardless of those employee’s technical ability. The world of basic HTML has, for the most part, gone the way of the dinosaur. Read more…

Last week I wrote about how we plan out our search engine placement campaigns. The past few months have been an interesting time in the world of search engine marketing but now the dust seems to be settling. Google has appeared relativity stable for the past month and the SEM world now has a better handle on the submission fees introduced by Yahoo two weeks ago. Now that we have survived the changes and absorbed an extraordinary amount of information we need to adapt to the new basic steps required to achieve the Top Placements on Google and Yahoo, the two most important places to place. There are a few new basic rules webmasters and search engine optimizers need to know and a number of old-rules that remain important. There are a few new techniques that may cost client’s money if you choose to pursue them. There are also a number of new loopholes worth looking at, some of which might save you or your clients a great deal of money. Read more…

So you have just opened the doors to your new online business. You website is still too new to generate any traffic from the search engines. So while you are waiting for your site to be spidered and indexed, what can you do to start driving customers through the doors? Read more…