Training

SEO 101: Grabbing the Longtail

For many beginner SEOs, the idea of catching the longtail for keyword phrases is one of those mysteries of life that eludes them. After all, you target your pages for specific keywords and phrases. What’s all of this longtail stuff?

The answer is simply that when you catch the longtail, it can be more beneficial to your site. You can get traffic for keywords and phrases you never thought of, rank higher for those longer keyword phrases (three, four or more keywords), get cheaper PPC traffic and increase your site visits without a lot of work. And, because these phrases are more targeted, longtail traffic tends to have higher conversion and lower bounce rates. Compare that to a single keyword, which is way more difficult to rank for and will have much higher abandonment rates.

What is an example of catching the longtail? A perfect way to get longtail traffic is through a blog. The Eye Zone, the blog of FramesDirect.com, gets a lot of comments and questions through their blog posts, perfect spider food for catching the longtail. For instance, FramesDirect.com does not sell replacement parts for their frames and eyewear, but a lot of customers post questions related to replacement parts. So, someone searching for something like ray ban replacement parts in Google will, as I write this, find the Spotlight on Ray Ban Sunglasses post on the blog in the number one position.

Example of longtail SEO result for FramesDirect.com

This is definitely not something the company would normally target for their site since they don’t sell these parts, but the questions and answers on the page gives them a number one ranking for that longtail search phrase and exposes searchers to the site along with providing information to them that they will find of use. Some site visitors might even decide to buy new sunglasses instead of trying to repair their old ones!

How are these longtails caught? Play close attention, because I’m going to give you a list of things to do to help you get a rope around those longtail benefits.

1. Localize – For many brick & mortar sites, all relevant search is local. Think of all of the ways a search can be done for your business. For instance, if you are a plumber in my local area, come up with all of the phrases local to you. Not just “plumber” but “palm springs plumber” and go even deeper with “palm springs broken pipe plumber” and longer phrases like that. Weave these keywords into your site text in a logical, non-spammy way.

2. Ride the tail – Creating a new page for a longtail phrase? Link to it from a related ranking page to give it an immediate boost.

3. Break ’em up – When creating pages, optimize them into segments like services, products and brands. Examples: Create a page for plumbing services like pipe repair, faucet installation, fixing leaks, etc. Create a product page featuring individual products like sinks, valves, etc. Break it down further with a page featuring brands like Kohler, Moen, etc.

4. Blog, blog, blog! – As mentioned above, blogs are easy, spidered quickly and a natural for catching the longtail phrases. User comments, questions and reviews provide free content and enhance your chances of being found for longtail searches. Basically, view your site visitors as co-authors. See my post User Content Generation.

5. Enhance your image – Make sure your local business listing in Google Maps is chock full of accurate and useful information, including images, pages, videos, coupons, etc. Folks can leave reviews there, too, so do whatever you can to make them good. Read more suggestions in Local Search Optimization.

6. Opportunity knocks – Look at small and medium sites for advertising opportunities for longtail phrases. Combined, these smaller sites can offer a larger volume of traffic at a fraction of the price of the large, Tier 1 sites (you know, like Google).

7. Check crawler stats – Find the pages that aren’t getting traffic and jump on them. Optimize them for longtail keyword phrases. These pages are there to sell something, so put them to work.

8. Shorten the URL – The best case scenario is to have short URLs. They are not only friendlier to both spiders and humans, they tend to get more clicks. And, use the product name in the URL.

9. Make it unique – Put a tag cloud on each page of your site and make each one unique.

10. Utilize the space – Put as many products on a page within a 150k limit.

11. Tag it – Tagging is very powerful. Check your internal search log for hints about phrases you might be missing in external searches.

12. Check your affiliates – Got an affiliate program? Check to see what your most successful affiliates are doing. You know, the sincerest form of flattery and all that?

The nice thing about the longtail is that once you rank for phrases, you can generally leave them alone because there’s not nearly as much competition for them as for a single keyword or two word phrase.

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Training

SEO 101: User Content Generation

User generated content for SEOIf you’ve read previous chapters of my S E O 101 series (download the free search engine optimization ebook), you’ve probably noticed that I keep drilling the idea of good content into your head as the backbone of top rankings (The old content is king idea).

Believe it or not, your users can be a top source for that content. Comments, testimonials, reviews and the like can be great information that catches long tail search phrases that you might never think of when deciding on keywords and phrases you target. And, since you really shouldn’t try to target a page to more than a couple anyway, user generated content can fill the void.

In addition, statistically more web site customers (for you ecommerce sites) read reviews than not. Something like 3/4 of online shoppers read reviews before they buy. That’s a lot!

Credibility is extremely important, so those reviews and testimonials not only help with your long tail optimization, but can help position your site as trusted and an authority site.

So, here are a few thoughts to help you get started with your own user generated content strategy.

1. Add Reviews, Testimonials or Comments – If you don’t have any of these on your site or blog now, get them. In particular, retail sites with reviews have a higher conversion rate and order size than sites without.

2. Make it easy – The easier it is for users to read and post, the more feedback you will receive, thus more content and long tail spider bait.

3. Put it above the fold – Reviews should be high enough on the page to be seen, preferably next to the product and with ratings, as in stars. Ratings go hand in hand with reviews, so provide a star rating as a quick look graphic. Want proof? Just take a look at what Amazon.com does with theirs:

Amazon.com puts their reviews and ratings right at the top of the page.

Amazon.com puts their reviews and ratings right at the top of the page and follows up with individual review ratings on the user review pages, which you can see at my review of Who Killed the Electric Car?

4. Give them incentives – The best thing you can do for your customers or visitors is to provide them with service, but to encourage participation and provide some good vibes, give them something special like the opportunity to win a prize, to get a “Top Contributor” badge for their web site or whatever feel good promotion you can come up with.

5. Provide suggestions – Instead of 301 redirecting the page of a defunct product to your home page (so annoying!), provide a page with alternative suggestions. Not only is this useful to the customer, but you might get some feedback, comments, testimonials, etc. out of it. More content and link bait!

6. Extend the tail – Did you know that reviews extend the long tail more than you could probably do on your own (without getting real spammy)? This is because search terms for reviews tend to be much longer. In addition to “keyword1 keyword2 keyword3” your page might be found for “keyword1 keyword2 keyword3 keyword4” or “keyword1 keyword2 keyword3 keyword4 keyword5” for instance.

7. Moderate – Yep, it’s time consuming, but it just has to be done on your own site (You have less control over reviews and comments about you on third party sites). You’ve got to watch out for inappropriate comments or attempts to game you for back links. You’re acting as editor to make sure your content remains good, quality information.

8. Require registration – Some folks will click away when they have to register, but having registered users gives you some control over who posts what. Spammers and trouble makers can better be controlled and registration provides a level of credibility to the users.

9. Make them happy – People are inherently happier when they are allowed to contribute and interact. Your site and your visitors will be better for all of the comments, testimonials, suggestions and reviews you let them post.

10. Videos and images – Up until now, I’ve discussed textual content, but allowing customers and visitors to upload images and videos can be super effective and a powerful motivator for them. Just ask YouTube and Flickr! And, again, Amazon.com has jumped on the video bandwagon. I did a video review of the Linksys WRT350N router a while back and as I write this, my video review is the top listed review.

Amazon.com allows user video reviews.

The video review can also be viewed on Linksys WRT350N Customer Review page. Free content for Amazon.com!

There you go. User generated content basically turns your customers and site visitors into SEOs for you while generating fresh keyword rich content for the spiders to devour.

Also remember that customer/user feedback and interaction on your site or blog can help you with branding, stickiness and reputation management.

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Training

Advanced Tips for Optimizing Your Blog

Advanced blog optimization tipsI introduced you to blog optimization in S E O 101 – Blogs and Feed Optimization Tips.

Hopefully, you’ve got your blog up and running and chock full of great content by now. If you’re just getting started, read the post above first, then come back to this one.

In addition to providing a platform for terrific information (for humans and search engines), a blog is a natural pathway to the world of social media. Blogs are interactive, encouraging posts and information from visitors, and syndicated through RSS feeds, spreading your content (and links) across the web to be found in search engines, dedicated blog searches, news feeds, you name it.

So, here are some advanced tips to help get your blog on the road to good rankings.

1. Socialize. Interact with your visitors. Don’t just publish your posts and sit back. Answer questions, link out to their sites when they offer good content, respond to their comments in a timely, informative manner, etc.

2. Own a niche. It’s a lot easier to dominate a space if you start out with a smaller, less competitive, narrowly focused subject area. For example, you’re more likely to become a dominant player with a blog about “rechargeable outdoor power tools” than you are for simply “tools’ which is way too broad a term with a lot more competition.

3. Work your titles for both audiences – readers and searchers. Be sure you start out with the title of your post to attract readers. After the post has some history and has fallen into the archive section of your blog, go back and optimize the title for SEO.

4. Keep the post slug the same. Write this yourself, don’t let WordPress generate it. Don’t go back and change it at a later date because this is what determines how your post link is formed. Writing your own post slug allows you to create an easy to read, optimized URL.

5. Optimize for the Google indent. We’ve all seen Google search results where a page from a domain ranks with another page from the same domain just under it, but indented. Focus on getting a post ranking well using standard SEO, anchor text links, etc. Then find another, similar post to optimize. Link the ranking post to the second post to try to pull it up.

6. Re-purpose posts and pages. Let’s say you did a post on social media way back in 2005 and you want to do a similar, updated post. If the 2005 post is just way out of date and not of particular use these days, write over it with your new content. The old post has history and back links that can give you an immediate bump.

7. Use a single category. I know it’s tempting sometimes to place your posts in multiple categories, but get over it. You risk duplicate content issues with multiple categories, so make it easy for Google and concentrate on one.

8. Use a folder. Unless there is a very good reason to put your blog on a separate domain or subdomain (like your site is just a blog or you really believe a separate domain will give you more credibility), put it on your main site as a folder. This keeps link juice targeted to your main domain.

9. Got a Flash site that won’t rank? Start a blog on the domain to create the related content and links to the Flash pages. Chances are your blog pages will be what rank, but they’ll link back to and guide your visitors to your Flash pages.

10. Create your own custom footer. If you’re using WordPress, try the Feed Footer Plugin. With it you can create your own custom footer content, complete with HTML, for your posts that will show up in your RSS feed. This is great for plugging favorite posts and monetizing your feed.

One final thought to consider. Blogs are all about sharing, so if a visitor shares something really good, promote it to the front page of your blog. Do a post all about it and thank them for the great content. Your visitors will love it and come back for more.

Remember, you can turn active users into free SEOs who write content for you.

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Training

SEO 101 – Google Personalized Search

Personalized search
Whether we want it or not, personalized search is being rolled out by the big search engines. Here are some updated tips for site owners.

Another way that Google has changed the playing field as far as search engine optimization is through Personalized Search. With Personalized Search, Google reads your search history, measures your length of stay and clicks on sites and dishes out search results based on what it thinks you want to see, which can be totally different from what others see. For Google to show these personalized results, you have to be signed into a Google account (Gmail, Google Analytics, Google Reader, etc). The problem is that most people will forget that they are signed in and won’t know that the results they are seeing are personalized and different from what others might see.

Why is Google personalizing search? In a nutshell, because Google thinks it’s what we want. Many of us in that big “we” category aren’t convinced that’s so. Regardless, it looks like it’s here to stay.

One advantage Google sees is that by studying your personal search habits, the engine might be able to better distinguish the meaning of your query. For instance, if you have been searching for a new truck lately, the search engine might be able to figure out that you’re current query is for a Tacoma truck and not the city of Tacoma. Narrowing the search down like this can benefit conversion rates.

Of course, the other big engines will follow suit with their own versions of personalized search results (whether we really want them or not). So, in order to optimize your sites for more personalized search friendliness (stickiness and more clicks), here are a few tips.

Continue reading

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Training

SEO 101: Local Search Optimization

Getting found in local search results.
Getting found for local search queries takes more than having a web site with your address on it.

If there is any part of SEO that is currently ripe with opportunity it’s Local Search. A huge portion of search is for information local to the searcher (Palm Springs movies, Houston pizza, etc.), but a ton of local mom & pop businesses simply don’t know that there is such a thing as “local” search. Many folks think that search is, well, search!

So, now is the time to take advantage of this lack of understanding about local search and get your business in there! It takes more than just a web site targeted to a local audience. Rather, you need to know about about how local search works.

For instance, searchers are basically lazy and tend to search for a city name rather than narrowing down to a neighborhood or zip code, so instead of “pizza 92262” they’ll start their search with the city as in “palm springs pizza” as the query.

Also, take a look at what you get in a local search result:

Google local search exampleNotice that Google now provides ten results (with web site URLs and phone numbers) and a map with locations of the listings. You’ll also see the number of reviews that each business has received. Other search engines will give similar results, though, as of this writing, with a varying number of results mapped and listed. Also notice that the organic results show up below the local results – another reason to be in there if you can.

So, let’s jump into some tips to help you with your local search optimization.

1. Include your physical address. Make sure it is on every page on your web site. if you think slapping a postal address into the HTML address meta tag will help you get found in local search, think again.

2. Be central. Unfortunately, the search engines tend to focus on the city center, meaning that the first results that come up for a search like Boston bars will be those in center city. If you’re lucky enough to be centrally located, you’ve got a leg up on the competition. If not, you could try getting a mailing address that is centrally located, but the search engines will definitely frown on that. All it takes is one disgruntled person going to that location and finding a mailbox to report you. And, businesses without street addresses can’t get listed in Google local listings.

3. Optimize your web site. Regular SEO can have an influence. Be sure to use the name of your city in your content (our Palm Springs office, not just our office). Use your city name in your image ALT attributes and anchor text. See my S E O 101 series for general optimization tips. Make sure your classic SEO is location specific.

4. Optimize your local listing. In Google, go to Local Business Center. For Yahoo!, go to Yahoo! Local. For MSN (or Live or whatever they call themselves today), go to Windows Live Local Listing Center. Fill out the forms with all relevant information. Provide links, web pages, photos and coupons if available.

5. Get reviews. Reviews can have an effect on how you rank in the results. Lots of good reviews can only help you. Enlist friends, customers, relatives, business partners or whoever you can to write good reviews to get you started, but don’t spam. You’ll get caught.

6. Get listed in trusted sources. The search engines pull some reviews and listings from what they consider trusted sources like Superpages, Yellow Pages, Info USA, Localeze and Yelp. Some are free, some are for a fee, but listings in these can help. In Yahoo, del.icio.us rankings might also have some influence.

7. Make sure your data and category are accurate in #4 & #6 above.

8. A keyword-rich domain name can’t hurt.

9. Do local videos. These tend to have great click-through rates and can come up in Google blended results.

10. Cross link with maps on a trusted site like Mapquest.

11. Create a local listing for all locations. If you have more than one, don’t just create a local listing for the main one. Get them all in there!

As always, this barely scratches the surface of local SEO and is intended to get you started in the right direction. I go into more detail in my SEO workshop, offered to web site owners and small businesses. Check my blog at http://www.weboptimist.com for more information or contact me to set up a custom workshop for your business group of five or more people in the Palm Springs area of Southern California. Travel is possible for large groups.

This article will be updated periodically.

See my related S E O 101 posts .

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Training

SEO 101 – The Basics

Search engine optimization, or SEO, is not rocket science, but it is complex and it is an ongoing process that changes almost daily. There is no such thing as a permanent fix to magically send you to the top of the rankings for good. But here are some of the basics to look for when optimizing your site for the first time.

On-Page Factors

1. Title Tag
This one is very important. Among the first things the spiders will crawl on your page is the Title Tag at the very top of your HTML code. This is what you see in the blue bar at the top of your browser when you land on a page. Using unique text in this tag on each page is absolutely essential. I have seen huge sites with thousands of pages all using the same content in the Title Tag of each page, frequently the name of the company as the only text. Not only will you NOT rank for anything but what is in that tag for your entire site (Do you want every page on your site to rank for nothing but your company name? I don’t think so.), but you run the risk of most of your pages not appearing in search results at all. You must have a unique Title Tag related to the unique subject matter of each page throughout your website (10 to 15 words, 80 characters maximum).

2. Internal Navigation
There was a time when the search engine crawlers choked on javascript links and database driven web pages that looked something like http://www.widgets.com/product.php?categoryid=1&productid=10, but they are better at reading them these days. However, you still need to make your links as digestible to the spiders as you can. As much as possible, you should make your links through plain text and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). Javascript and image map links should be avoided as well as session IDs and variables in dynamic pages. Avoid using frames like the plague! These can all still give spiders a fit. Also, use an HTML page sitemap (a page with a list of your page links, not a Sitemap – see below) with text links to not only help visitors find what they are looking for, but to direct the spiders to all of your internal pages.

You’re better off letting your pages be found naturally by the spiders. Good global navigation and linking will serve you much better than relying on an XML Sitemap, which is a file that is uploaded to a search engine with a list of your page URLs.

3. Make Your Site Unique
They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery, but that’s a big no-no on the web. Do not copy someone else. Make your site as unique as possible with information that no one else has. In other words, don’t steal content off of someone else’s site. Not only can that be copyright infringement, but it can put you and the site you copied from in hot water with the search engines for duplicate content (see Duplicate Content below). Creating a buzz about something unique is great link bait. Which leads us to:

4. Content
Content is King. Content is spider food. The search engines are looking for the foremost authority on a keyword or phrase. Do your keyword research and make sure your site has plenty of keyword rich content high on the page that is useful to the visitor as well as digestible to the spiders. Make use of H1, H2 and H3 headlines that contain your keywords. Make sure your prose is natural and easy to read.

Don’t go overboard and make every other word on the page the keyword you want to rank the page for. Stuffing the page with keywords is considered a form of spam.

Focus on search phrases, not single keywords, and put your location in your text (“our Palm Springs showroom” not “our showroom”) to help you get found in local searches.

Having terrific content will not only be great for your visitors and spiders, but it’s wonderful link bait, too (see Links below). A blog is a great way to create fresh, new content (for the spiders and for visitors) and attract inbound links. The more good content you put on a blog, the bigger the blog gets. The bigger the blog, the more relevant it will become to the search engines. For some, a blog can completely take the place of a standard web site.

Also, use Flash animation and images sparingly. Spiders can read text, not Flash nor pictures. A sure way to kill any chance of ranking well is to create a site that is all Flash or mostly images.

5. Duplicate Content
Let’s say you have a site that sells a thousand different types of widgets and the pages are all built from the same template with the same text and the only difference is the model of widget on the page. What could happen is that the search engines will not see enough difference in the pages to consider them unique and will rank what it considers the best single page and dump the rest.

To avoid duplicate content issues, make sure all of your pages have unique Title Tags, Meta Tags (see below) and text, in this case probably in the form of product description text.

And, if you are writing articles for distribution to the various article sites for mass distribution (a great way to get back links), be sure to publish the article on your own site first and give the spiders a chance to crawl it. That identifies you as the originator of the content. Then push the article out for distribution across the web, making sure you have a link back to your site in the article content.

6. Code Bloat
Between you, your web designer and web programmer, it’s real easy to wind up with a page that is full of internal code that not only impedes spiders, but causes your pages to load at a snail’s pace. Be very careful with this. Too much code will send both the spiders and the visitors away and can knock the meat of your pages down to the bottom. It’s best to have your spider-friendly content as high in your code as possible, so when you can, place javascript (if you absolutely MUST use it) and CSS in external files that can be called with a single line of code from each page.

For instance, one site I worked with had so much javascript going on that the first 200 lines of code after the Title and Meta Tags were javascript, knocking the rest of the content down and making the page load size huge. I was able to move the javascript into external files, each simply called by a single line of code. This made every page on the site smaller in size and brought the spider-friendly content up higher in the code by 199 lines.

For example, you could put your all 100 lines of your CSS on each and every one of your 300 site pages or you could call your CSS from an external file called style.css with one single line of code on each page like:

External CSS code

Having a single file for your CSS or javascript also means you only need to edit one file when changes need to be made, too. 🙂

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’ll need to ask your web developer or learn a bit about HTML.

7. Tweak and Test
Make one change at a time and evaluate. Changing too many things at once can confuse things to the point where you don’t know which change you made did what. For instance, let’s say you changed your content on a page as well as the linking structure and Meta Tags at the same time and the page dropped in the rankings a few days later. How would you know which to point to as the problem?

Try one tweak at a time and give the search engines time to digest it before moving on to the next.

8. Meta Tags
The only Meta Tag that carries any weight at all as far as SEO is the description, and it doesn’t have the influence it once had. It basically has no effect on rankings these days. Still, it’s a good idea to make it keyword rich and include what you want to show up in the SERPs (search engine result pages) as your description. Yes, this is what frequently comes up describing your site in the results, so be sure it says what you want it to say. A good description can definitely have influence on clickthrough traffic. What makes a good meta description?

a. Target the description to the individual page using the keyword focus for the page.
b. Describe the page in human-readable text.
c. A list of keywords just won’t cut it. Use a snippet of text that accurately describes the page.

The keyword tag has very little influence on rankings anymore, practically none, but it can’t hurt to include it. Just don’t stuff if with a thousand words. Ten or so should be enough for any page. As of this writing, Yahoo appears to be the only major search engine to actually find words included in the keyword meta tag.

Off-Page Factors

9. Links
If Content is King, then Links are Queen. Search engines look at links pointing to your site as verification that you are an important authority site. It’s not just the quantity of links but the quality that counts. You can have thousands of links pointing to you, but if they are all from link farms or spammy sites, they won’t do you any good. Try to get back links from quality sites. If you have good content, a lot of links will come your way naturally, but if you want to speed things up, you’ll need to actively pursue those links. One way is to contact theme related, non-competitive authority sites and request a link. The acid test for a potential link is if there is a natural, logical reason for that site to link to you. If not, then you don’t want the link.

And, you want the links back to your site to use your keyword text in them. This is extremely important. If the keyword you are targeting is “widget” then you want the link back to your widget page to use that text and not “click here” or something like that.

Another way to use your content to get back links is by submitting articles to other sites for publication (A blog and RSS feed are great for this). Just be sure the content includes links to your site. Press releases are also great for generating interest and backlinks, but take care and only submit press releases to sites like PRWeb when you really have news.

Having a blog and RSS feed have an added advantage – an open door to the various social search sites. If you place easy link buttons or links (click here to Digg this article, etc.) on your blog articles and posts, visitors will save them to the various social bookmarking sites, creating instant backlinks and the potential of being found by other visitors to those social sites.

Submitting to trusted directories is also a good place to start. Most of the best require a fee for a listing, but they can be a great first step in your link building campaign.

There’s no simple, easy one-step way to build links. It’s really about networking and relationships and your useful content is the key.

10. Competition
Keep track of your competition by searching for your primary keywords and study what they are doing. Don’t copy them, but you can analyze what they are doing right and you are doing wrong. See who is linking to them and investigate getting your own link. If you are a new site, you’ll be playing catch up for a while, but have faith. That guy in the #1 spot had to start from scratch at some point, too.

11. Training & Support
If you are on a shoestring budget and don’t have money to hire an SEO, you’ll have to do it all yourself. SEO changes daily and if you think all you have to do is tweak Meta Tags, you’re several years behind and have a LOT of catching up to do. You’ll be learning as you go. You’ll probably want to invest in some SEO training. I give search engine optimization workshops and do site critiques, so check my blog, The Web Optimist, for information.

You can get ideas, updates and recommendations from my blog and from S E O forums and blogs online. Don’t rely on the forums as a solution for all of your website problems, but as a place to go for advice from S E Os and others who are also asking questions.

12. Analysis & Statistics
Sounds boring, but all of your hard work is worthless if you don’t know how you are doing. Chances are your hosting company will have some sort of web statistics feature where you can check basics such as unique visitors, where your traffic is coming from (referrals), page not found errors, etc. One mistake newbies make is to consider “hits” as the number of visitors they are getting. In actuality, “hits” are useless information. Hits are simply server pulls. As an example, if you have ten images on a page each time the page is loaded each image results in a server pull or “hit”What you really want to look at is the number of “unique visitors” to your site, not hits, as an indication of your traffic.

If you are an e-commerce site, you’ll also want a way to track conversions, which will require something more than your basic hosting stats. Google offers free web analytics that could be adequate for many site owners, but there are also commercial applications available that offer greater functionality.

Whatever you do, don’t leave the site on autopilot. Check your stats frequently. You’d be surprised at the little things you’ll see that will help you bring in more traffic.

13. History
There is evidence that the search engines actually look at your domain history in their ranking algorithms (How long the domain has been up, how many years you’ve renewed for, if you’ve changed IP addresses frequently, etc.). The more stable you are the more they consider you a trusted site.

If you’re in it for the long haul, renew your domain for several years at a time (not just annually) and get a dedicated IP address and keep it. The best situation is to have a dedicated web server, but not all of us can afford that. The next best thing is to pay for a dedicated IP address with your host so that you are no longer sharing the hosted IP block. It usually doesn’t cost that much. Not only will the search engines see you as stable, you don’t run the risk of the IP being banned if one of your shared hosting neighbors is naughty. Although Google claims that a shared address is fine, if you are serious about your business, why take chances?

Don’t bounce from host to host because that screams SPAMMER to the search engines. Find a good hosting company and stay there. Also, be aware that by using services that block domain ownership information when you register a domain, Google might see you as a potential spammer.

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This barely scratches the surface of beginning SEO and is intended to get you started in the right direction. I go into more detail in my SEO 101 workshop, offered to web site owners and small businesses. Check my blog at http://www.weboptimist.com for more information or contact me to set up a custom workshop for your business group of five or more people in the Palm Springs area of Southern California. Travel is possible for large groups.

This article will be updated periodically.

See my related S E O 101 posts .

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Training

SEO 101 – Updated

Search engine optimization, or SEO, is not rocket science, but it is complex and it is an ongoing process that changes almost daily. There is no such thing as a permanent “fix” to magically send you to the top of the rankings for good. But here are some of the basics to look for when optimizing your site for the first time.

On-Page Factors

1. Title Tag
This one is very important. Among the first things the spiders will crawl on your page is the Title Tag at the very top of your HTML code. This is what you see in the blue bar at the top of your browser when you land on a page. Using unique text in this tag on each page is absolutely essential. I have seen huge sites with thousands of pages all using the same content in the Title Tag of each page, frequently the name of the company as the only text. Not only will you NOT rank for anything but what is in that tag for your entire site (Do you want every page on your site to rank for nothing but your company name? I don’t think so.), but you run the risk of most of your pages not appearing in search results at all. You must have a unique Title Tag related to the unique subject matter of each page throughout your website (10 to 15 words, 80 characters maximum).

2. Internal Navigation
There was a time when the search engine crawlers choked on javascript links and database driven web pages that looked something like http://www.widgets.com/product.php?categoryid=1&productid=10, but they are better at reading them these days. However, you still need to make your links as digestible to the spiders as you can. As much as possible, you should make your links through plain text and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). Javascript and image map links should be avoided as well as session IDs and variables in dynamic pages. Avoid using frames like the plague! These can all still give spiders a fit. Also, use an HTML page sitemap (a page with a list of your page links, not a Sitemap – see below) with text links to not only help visitors find what they are looking for, but to direct the spiders to all of your internal pages.

You’re better off letting your pages be found naturally by the spiders. Good global navigation and linking will serve you much better than relying on an XML Sitemap, which is a file that is uploaded to a search engine with a list of your page URLs.

3. Make Your Site Unique
They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery, but that’s a big no-no on the web. Do not copy someone else. Make your site as unique as possible with information that no one else has. In other words, don’t steal content off of someone else’s site. Not only can that be copyright infringement, but it can put you and the site you copied from in hot water with the search engines for duplicate content (see Duplicate Content below). Creating a buzz about something unique is great link bait. Which leads us to:

4. Content
Content is King. Content is spider food. The search engines are looking for the foremost authority on a keyword or phrase. Do your keyword research and make sure your site has plenty of keyword rich content high on the page that is useful to the visitor as well as digestible to the spiders. Make use of H1, H2 and H3 headlines that contain your keywords. Make sure your prose is natural and easy to read.

Don’t go overboard and make every other word on the page the keyword you want to rank the page for. Stuffing the page with keywords is considered a form of spam.

Focus on search phrases, not single keywords, and put your location in your text (“our Palm Springs showroom” not “our showroom”) to help you get found in local searches.

Having terrific content will not only be great for your visitors and spiders, but it’s wonderful link bait, too (see Links below). A blog is a great way to create fresh, new content (for the spiders and for visitors) and attract inbound links. The more good content you put on a blog, the bigger the blog gets. The bigger the blog, the more relevant it will become to the search engines. For some, a blog can completely take the place of a standard web site.

Also, use Flash animation and images sparingly. Spiders can read text, not Flash nor pictures. A sure way to kill any chance of ranking well is to create a site that is all Flash or mostly images.

5. Duplicate Content
Let’s say you have a site that sells a thousand different types of widgets and the pages are all built from the same template with the same text and the only difference is the model of widget on the page. What could happen is that the search engines will not see enough difference in the pages to consider them unique and will rank what it considers the best single page and dump the rest.

To avoid duplicate content issues, make sure all of your pages have unique Title Tags, Meta Tags (see below) and text, in this case probably in the form of product description text.

And, if you are writing articles for distribution to the various article sites for mass distribution (a great way to get back links), be sure to publish the article on your own site first and give the spiders a chance to crawl it. That identifies you as the originator of the content. Then push the article out for distribution across the web, making sure you have a link back to your site in the article content.

6. Code Bloat
Between you, your web designer and web programmer, it’s real easy to wind up with a page that is full of internal code that not only impedes spiders, but causes your pages to load at a snail’s pace. Be very careful with this. Too much code will send both the spiders and the visitors away and can knock the meat of your pages down to the bottom. It’s best to have your spider-friendly content as high in your code as possible, so when you can, place javascript (if you absolutely MUST use it) and CSS in external files that can be called with a single line of code from each page.

For instance, one site I worked with had so much javascript going on that the first 200 lines of code after the Title and Meta Tags were javascript, knocking the rest of the content down and making the page load size huge. I was able to move the javascript into external files, each simply called by a single line of code. This made every page on the site smaller in size and brought the spider-friendly content up higher in the code by 199 lines.

For example, you could put your all 100 lines of your CSS on each and every one of your 300 site pages or you could call your CSS from an external file called style.css with one single line of code on each page like:

External CSS code

Having a single file for your CSS or javascript also means you only need to edit one file when changes need to be made, too. 🙂

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’ll need to ask your web developer or learn a bit about HTML.

7. Tweak and Test
Make one change at a time and evaluate. Changing too many things at once can confuse things to the point where you don’t know which change you made did what. For instance, let’s say you changed your content on a page as well as the linking structure and Meta Tags at the same time and the page dropped in the rankings a few days later. How would you know which to point to as the problem?

Try one tweak at a time and give the search engines time to digest it before moving on to the next.

8. Meta Tags
The only Meta Tag that carries any weight at all as far as SEO is the description, and it doesn’t have the influence it once had. It basically has no effect on rankings these days. Still, it’s a good idea to make it keyword rich and include what you want to show up in the SERPs (search engine result pages) as your description. Yes, this is what frequently comes up describing your site in the results, so be sure it says what you want it to say. A good description can definitely have influence on clickthrough traffic. What makes a good meta description?

a. Target the description to the individual page using the keyword focus for the page.
b. Describe the page in human-readable text.
c. A list of keywords just won’t cut it. Use a snippet of text that accurately describes the page.

The keyword tag has very little influence on rankings anymore, practically none, but it can’t hurt to include it. Just don’t stuff if with a thousand words. Ten or so should be enough for any page. As of this writing, Yahoo appears to be the only major search engine to actually find words included in the keyword meta tag.

Off-Page Factors

9. Links
If Content is King, then Links are Queen. Search engines look at links pointing to your site as verification that you are an important authority site. It’s not just the quantity of links but the quality that counts. You can have thousands of links pointing to you, but if they are all from link farms or spammy sites, they won’t do you any good. Try to get back links from quality sites. If you have good content, a lot of links will come your way naturally, but if you want to speed things up, you’ll need to actively pursue those links. One way is to contact theme related, non-competitive authority sites and request a link. The acid test for a potential link is if there is a natural, logical reason for that site to link to you. If not, then you don’t want the link.

And, you want the links back to your site to use your keyword text in them. This is extremely important. If the keyword you are targeting is “widget” then you want the link back to your widget page to use that text and not “click here” or something like that.

Another way to use your content to get back links is by submitting articles to other sites for publication (A blog and RSS feed are great for this). Just be sure the content includes links to your site. Press releases are also great for generating interest and backlinks, but take care and only submit press releases to sites like PRWeb when you really have news.

Having a blog and RSS feed have an added advantage – an open door to the various social search sites. If you place easy link buttons or links (click here to Digg this article, etc.) on your blog articles and posts, visitors will save them to the various social bookmarking sites, creating instant backlinks and the potential of being found by other visitors to those social sites.

Submitting to trusted directories is also a good place to start. Most of the best require a fee for a listing, but they can be a great first step in your link building campaign.

There’s no simple, easy one-step way to build links. It’s really about networking and relationships and your useful content is the key.

10. Competition
Keep track of your competition by searching for your primary keywords and study what they are doing. Don’t copy them, but you can analyze what they are doing right and you are doing wrong. See who is linking to them and investigate getting your own link. If you are a new site, you’ll be playing catch up for a while, but have faith. That guy in the #1 spot had to start from scratch at some point, too.

11. Training & Support
If you are on a shoestring budget and don’t have money to hire an SEO, you’ll have to do it all yourself. SEO changes daily and if you think all you have to do is tweak Meta Tags, you’re several years behind and have a LOT of catching up to do. You’ll be learning as you go. You’ll probably want to invest in some SEO training. I give search engine optimization workshops and do site critiques, so check my blog, The Web Optimist, for information.

You can get ideas, updates and recommendations from my blog and from S E O forums and blogs online. Don’t rely on the forums as a solution for all of your website problems, but as a place to go for advice from S E Os and others who are also asking questions.

12. Analysis & Statistics
Sounds boring, but all of your hard work is worthless if you don’t know how you are doing. Chances are your hosting company will have some sort of web statistics feature where you can check basics such as unique visitors, where your traffic is coming from (referrals), page not found errors, etc. One mistake newbies make is to consider “hits” as the number of visitors they are getting. In actuality, “hits” are useless information. Hits are simply server pulls. As an example, if you have ten images on a page each time the page is loaded each image results in a server pull or “hit.” What you really want to look at is the number of “unique visitors” to your site, not hits, as an indication of your traffic.

If you are an e-commerce site, you’ll also want a way to track conversions, which will require something more than your basic hosting stats. Google offers free web analytics that could be adequate for many site owners, but there are also commercial applications available that offer greater functionality.

Whatever you do, don’t leave the site on autopilot. Check your stats frequently. You’d be surprised at the little things you’ll see that will help you bring in more traffic.

13. History
There is evidence that the search engines actually look at your domain history in their ranking algorithms (How long the domain has been up, how many years you’ve renewed for, if you’ve changed IP addresses frequently, etc.). The more stable you are the more they consider you a trusted site.

If you’re in it for the long haul, renew your domain for several years at a time (not just annually) and get a dedicated IP address and keep it. The best situation is to have a dedicated web server, but not all of us can afford that. The next best thing is to pay for a dedicated IP address with your host so that you are no longer sharing the hosted IP block. It usually doesn’t cost that much. Not only will the search engines see you as stable, you don’t run the risk of the IP being banned if one of your shared hosting neighbors is naughty. Although Google claims that a shared address is fine, if you are serious about your business, why take chances?

Don’t bounce from host to host because that screams SPAMMER to the search engines. Find a good hosting company and stay there. Also, be aware that by using services that block domain ownership information when you register a domain, Google might see you as a potential spammer.

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This barely scratches the surface of beginning SEO and is intended to get you started in the right direction. I go into more detail in my SEO 101 workshop, offered to web site owners and small businesses. Check my blog at http://www.weboptimist.com for more information or contact me to set up a custom workshop for your business group of five or more people in the Palm Springs area of Southern California. Travel is possible for large groups.

This article will be updated periodically.

See my related S E O 101 posts .

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