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Posted by randfish
Last week at Pubcon Las Vegas, I presented on How to Buy Links with Maximum Juice and Minimum Effort with fellow panelists Roger Montti (Martinibuster), Aaron Wall (SEOBook) and Todd Malicoat (Stuntdubl). I was a bit of an odd choice for this discussion, as I’d only recently announced SEOmoz’s Stance on Paid Links & Link Ads, but Pubcon’s organizers decided it would be interesting to have a divergent point-of-view.
Below is my presentation, which covers the perspective I come from and why I’m so risk-averse as well as strategies I recommend to capture value from investing in link acquisition campaigns:
Not surprisingly I had a lot of people talk to me (and email me) after the presentation and express some really valuable opinions and questions. The presentations started late due to a misfunctioning projector, meaning there was no time for formal Q+A. I thought I’d take the opportunity in this post to address some of those missed questions.
Do you ever recommend link buying for any site? What about hyper-competitive industries?
Because of my distaste for risk of any kind when it comes to Google’s webspam team, my answer is consistent – no. I don’t ever suggest that businesses buy links from brokers or in the form of link ads that carry the primary intent of boosting a site’s ranking. To be fair, many of my colleagues who practice SEO in competitive industries (dating, gaming, pharmaceutical, real estate, e-commerce, etc.) don’t agree and do engage in buying links to boost their rank. I even know folks at Fortune 500s who use link brokers successfully for specific pages and targeted keywords (this group is probably in the lowest risk category).
Despite these examples and my respect for my colleagues, whenever I’m asked, I’m going to give the same reply – it’s my belief that in the long run, your money will be better spent on link acquisition that runs no risk of being flagged as manipulative by Google. The penalties and problems of link buying simply outweigh the benefits in my mind, so while I have no problem with paid links from a moral, ethical or legal standpoint (nofollow is most definitely not a way to disclose advertising to consumers as per the FTC’s guidelines), the pragmatist in me says link buying isn’t the way to success at Google.
What about directories that require a payment?
The short answer is – it depends. I’d wager a lot of money that some directories which do require payments pass great link equity. These include sites like:
- The Yahoo! Directory
- The Better Business Bureau Directory
- SEMPO’s Member Directory
- Apple’s Web Apps Directory
Then there’s the opposite end of the spectrum of directories that exist primarily for the purpose of selling PageRank. Google took action against many of these a couple years back and I suspect they continue to identify and discount their links as new ones crop up. In 2007, I wrote a lengthy post on What Makes a Good Directory and I’d still stand by nearly all of that today.
The message here is that just because a site requires payment to get a link doesn’t make it a “paid link” that Google will penalize or discount. As with many things in life, SEO and the web, there are shades of gray and nuances that require paying attention. If stuff like this were simple, SEO would be, too, and we know that’s not the case.
If I see my competitors engaging in link buying, how can I compete if I don’t do it, too?
I think a big misnomer with link analysis comes up when people scroll through a list of their competition’s links via something like Yahoo! Site Explorer. There’s no metrics indicating whether the link is passing juice, no metric for trustworthiness or quality, just a notation that a link exists on the page. Even if you’re using something more advanced like Linkscape, there’s nothing to say which links Google counts and which they don’t. You can easily get pulled into the idea that paid links are what’s propping up the competition’s rankings, when in fact, it’s a few great natural links that are doing all the heavy lifting.
I remember a site clinic several years back featuring a Google’s webspam chief, Matt Cutts. He was reviewing a site’s link profile on stage using an internal tool and commented that while Google saw several hundred links to the site, only three (yes 3 out of hundreds!) were passing link equity. Cearly, the search giant does a tremendous amount of filtering on the web’s link graph, so don’t presume to be sure which links are passing value.
Even if you feel very confident that paid links are winning the battle for your archnemesis, I recommend taking the low-risk road. In the long run, they’re likely to get penalized/devalued and you’re likely to overtake them with a link profile that’s clean and continually increasing in value.
Where do you draw the line between money that’s spent to acquire a link indirectly (as with event sponsorship, ads that turn into links, etc.)
This gets at the crux of the issue, but I think I’ve got a reasonably good methodology for determining which links requiring funds fit with Google’s guidelines and which violate them. I like these three questions:
- Does the organization offering the link tout SEO, PageRank, customizable anchor text or Google rankings as either a portion or the whole of the benefit you’ll receive by paying this money?
- Does the money go towards little else besides the link itself?
- Does the organization/website provide links via this acquisition methodology (whether that’s an event sponsorship, a charitable donation, an advertising relationship, etc.) to the more aggressive side of the SEO/web marketing field (niches like porn, pills, casino, legal, real estate, etc.) often with anchor text heavy links?
If the answer to any of these is a definite “yes,” the source is likely to fit into Google’s “suspicious” pile and possibly will lose the ability to pass link equity in the future (or already has).
How can you be sure that linkbait and viral content won’t be treated the same as paid links by Google in the future?
Just a couple months back, I wrote about Why Linkbait is a Tactic the Search Engines Will Always Value, so it’s probably not worth re-hashing here. Certainly, there are ways to be manipulative about virtually anything in the link acquisition world, and Google may well take action against some forms of these, but I believe natural links acquired through great content are going to stand the test of time (and are likely to benefit from future ranking signals, whatever they may be).
This is just Google FUD – we shouldn’t let them dictate how to do our jobs!
But we already do! The only reason we try to build these links, research the right keywords, create and submit XML sitemaps, etc. is because Google is dictating the way their crawling, processing and ranking systems work. In their ecosystem – the one that drives 85%+ of all search traffic on the web – there are guidelines, best practices, rules and regulations. If you want to play on their court, you’ve got to abide by those rules or be ready to face the consequences. I’m not ready for those consequences and thus, have low risk tolerance and the attitude you’re reading about.
None of this is to say that a more risk-heavy appetite and more gray-black hat methodologies for link acquisition aren’t worth trying; just make sure you do it on sites you’re willing to get tossed out of the playground.
As always, I’m looking forward to the conversation in the comments.
Posted by jennita
Have you been thinking about submitting to YOUmoz lately, but you’re not sure what the benefits are? Or perhaps you have a killer post in your head but are afraid to take the next step. Whatever the reason is that you’ve been holding back, I have 10 reasons why you should get yourself in gear and get that post written and submitted!
- Reach tens of thousands of SEOs
Our subscribers for both the main blog and YOUmoz continue to climb. Every month the numbers grow, just think about how many people will see your work. This is a great way to make yourself known in the industry.
- Get great feedback
People will leave comments and help/suggestions about your issue, or even ideas you hadn’t considered before.
- Good posts get page views
If you write a successful post, it can generate lots of traffic. For example, the great post that Aaron Hunter wrote comparing Joomla and WordPress is still getting over 1,000 page views a month and he wrote the post over a year ago.
- 6,959 page views from January through July.
- 11,468 page views since date of post (January 2008)
- Get smart SEOs visiting your links
SEOmoz visitors clickthrough rate is tremendously high compared to other blogs and sites in the field. When we link, people click, so if you want eyeballs, make something compelling. Check out how many members we have on our site, that’s a lot of people looking at your work!
- Badge of Honor
Our bar is set high – just to make it to YOUmoz is tough; getting on the main blog is a real challenge. Our readers’ expectations are high and we reject 10 submissions for every 1 we accept. It’s a badge of honor and, in many cases, resume-worthy, particularly in the search world.
As an example, check out chenry‘s post on CAPTCHAs’ Effect on Conversion Rates. It was so popular, it was moved to the main blog, and ended up with 58 thumbs up, 0 thumbs down (a feat I never manage myself!) and 73 total comments.
His entry isn’t super long, but it is to the point, he shows graphics and pulls the reader into the post quickly.
- Get a job!
Yes, people come to SEOmoz looking for SEOs to hire (see the marketplace, for example). If you can show your knowledge through written word, you are likely to get some calls/emails.
When you reach 100 mozPoints, the nofollow is removed from your profile and if you reach 150+ within one month you could get a free SEOmoz PRO membership for a month!
YOUmoz is the best way to earn those points because content gets more thumbs than comments (most of the time). Plus every time your YOUmoz entry gets posted on the site, you get 10 mozPoints, plus whatever thumbs up that post receives. AND if your post gets promoted to the main blog, you’ll get an additional 15 mozPoints.
- Beat Rand!
Many of the best YOUmoz writers have authored posts with more thumbs than Rand’s posts – just think how you can flaunt it in his sad, bearded face!
If you want to get top rankings in the engines with a piece of your content, but don’t have the appropriate domain for it, SEOmoz has a lot of juice and ability to compete. While we don’t allow parasite hosting, we do have YOUmoz
- Umm… you get a frickin’ live link!
We have some serious sweet link juice floating around these pages, why not take advantage. All submissions are subject to our editorial approval of course (more on this below).
What we’re looking for when reviewing YOUmoz entries
The fact is, if you submit a post that is clear, concise, well written and thought out, your entry will more than likely be approved. We are happy to post beginner articles along with more seasoned posts. Often times if a post is good, but needs some extra help to make it great, we’ll work with you to get the post just right.
Photos and images break up the content and help make it more readable. They give your post more “oomph” and can help you make your point more clear. Plus, great posts with graphics do really well.
For example, just look what feedthebot did back in 2007: How to put Google custom site search into your current website design. He wrote a post about integrating Google custom site search with your current web design and included some great visuals, which made the post engaging. As a result, since the post was published in May 2007, he has gotten over 38,486 page views.
Come up with some sort of unique and relevant image that goes with your post. If the post is short, then one image will do, but if it’s a big longer, break it up with multiple images. Some examples:
- Screenshots with areas highlighted
- Charts or graphs
Here are a couple recent examples of good use of images/graphics in a post:
We search for duplicate content and if we see the same post on another site, your entry will be automatically rejected. So it’s more beneficial for you to only submit unique content.
Spell check and Grammar check
We read through every entry and will make changes as needed. However if the post is filled with misspellings and grammar changes that would take us a long time to fix, then your post probably won’t get approved. Depending on how good it is we may send it back to you and ask you to redo it, but only if it’s “knock your socks off” good.
When it comes down to it, have fun with your post and don’t hold back. It’s great to have posts that cover a mix of subjects, just keep them relevant. They don’t have to be specifically about SEO, but the general topic of search marketing usually hits the mark! If you have questions feel free to email or send me a private message. I’m happy to help get your entry posted! And don’t forget…
Posted by Danny Dover
It is a typical Tuesday afternoon in suburbia California. Jenny, a sixteen year old girl is taking a sick day from school. With a runny nose, she sits idly on her bed surfing Facebook. At the same time, 2,000 miles away in Seattle, a twenty-two year old ambitious college drop-out named Kevin is on Twitter complaining about his sore throat. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, a 40 year old single mother in London searches Google on her phone for the location of the nearest Boots drug store so she can buy cold medicine.
Photo Credit: aldo
If a human from 200 years ago were to look at our planet today, it would appear completely alien. Culture shifts and technology improvements have drastically changed our perceived landscape. One tiny part of this is the use of social media and search engines. More than ever, teenagers are complaining about their parents joining Facebook and parents are complaining about their children interfering with their online social lives. Together they are sharing small events like sore throats, runny noses and big events like floods and hurricanes. Communicating online has become intertwined with our lives and has now become deeply integrated with our work, education and entertainment.
But how did this happen? While I don’t know for sure, I do recognize the patterns. For companies like Twitter, Google, Digg and Facebook, it started with a small group of entrepreneurs in California whose great ideas eventually went viral and spread around the globe. This word ‘viral’ describes a pattern and has become a buzzword. It is usually used to describe the virus like spread of ideas and technologies. The amazing idea behind a virus like spread is it expands exponentially. Once it starts, it multiples and multiples until nothing can stop it.
Photo Credit: will-lion
It is the great irony I see in this buzzward that prompted this post. I believe the viral nature of social media and popular technology companies is what will paradoxically allow us to prevent the viral spread of real viruses and pandemics. This is not a new idea. Many vaccines are in essence inert viruses fighting would-be viruses.
In 2006, a man by the name of Dr. Larry Brilliant won the TED prize for calling for a new global system that could identify pandemics before they spread. Dr. Brilliant (you can’t make this stuff up) is world renowned for his efforts in successfully eradicating smallpox from the planet. Before winning the TED prize, he had been inspired by the potential of a Canadian system called GPHIN. GPHIN is a system of web crawlers and analyzers that scour web based content looking for trends in keywords like ‘fever’, ‘cough’, ‘tired’, ‘sick’ and ‘flu’. Using this methodology, GPHIN was able to detect a would-be SARS outbreak six weeks before any other system (including the systems used by the World Health Organization). Quick responding officials were able to isolate the outbreak and prevent a global pandemic. Dr. Brilliant later said that this possible for two reasons.
- Early Detection
- Rapid Response
Shortly after his major call for action, Dr. Brilliant was hired as Executive Director of the then newly formed Google.org. This new philanthropic arm of Google was funded by 1% of all Google profits. Dr. Brilliant eventually used these resources to build an early detection system that is used today to help predict flu trends. He built the system he called for and the world has been better off because of it.
Unfortunately, this is not where the story ends. Larry Brilliant has since left Google for other endeavors. GPHIN and Google Flu Trends continue to save lives but they are only the tip of the iceberg. Google is now falling behind new competitors that dominate the ever growing real-time web. Status updates from Twitter and Facebook are being produced and becoming obsolete so quickly that Google’s index can’t keep up. We saw this with Michael Jackson’s death and we will see it again in the future.
Social media has the potential to become the greatest early detection system that the world has ever seen. It is faster, nimbler and has more access to user data than any traditional search engine. Not only does Facebook have the data necessary to see who is suffering from an illness, it has the data necessary to predict who these ill people will most likely come in contact with. Twitter has the data to make similar predictions (although less accurately because people don’t physically spend time with Twitter friends like they do with Facebook friends) but enjoys the added benefit of being accessed and updated from any place with mobile phone or WIFI service. (90% of Twitter requests are made to it’s API, whereas only 12% of Facebook users access Facebook through it’s mobile apps).
These two social media platforms by themselves have the ability to enable ordinary people to report their symptoms in real-time. Specialists like epidemiologists and statisticians could then identify threats (early detection) and use these same communication channels to direct aid workers (rapid response) on how best to isolate viruses before they become pandemics. If the features of other social media platforms and modern search engines were added to this theoretical system, specialists could for the first time ever educate the global community in real time. (Think about how many people read stories on Digg or about the much larger amount of people who read Google Adsense ads every day.)
Theory and predictions are helpful but just like verbal contracts, they are only worth the paper they are written on. Luckily for us, this theoretical system is already becoming reality today. People are already reporting their symptoms on Twitter and on Facebook. Likewise, disease experts and aid workers are already using social media to organize relief efforts. Although a unified, non-government controlled system for monitoring these platforms doesn’t currently exist, all of the pieces are in place. Dr. Brilliant said that there are two steps necessary for preventing pandemics. Social media is completing the first step (early detection) to a degree that even he couldn’t imagine. Better still, this is not costing the public a dime.
The world is changing in parallel with the internet. Next time you hear someone complain about “pointless” status updates, take the time to explain it to them. Social media is powered by all of us individually. Because of this, you have the ability to make a positive difference.
What about false alarms? Clearly, social media will have a lot of noise mixed in with legitimate concerns. Just like good ideas, bad ideas can spread virally as well. Paranoia and misinformation run rampant in the media and online.
So how do medical professionals use a system that will likely have a lot of misinformation and noise? The key is acknowledging that limitation and designing the system to account for it. The reason that GPHIN was so successful, was not that it sent an e-mail directly to health authorities every time someone mentioned “cough”, instead it was so powerful because it used aggregate information to identify real trends. Real people, including doctors, look over the information and decide if it is worth pursuing or not. It is natural to assume the front end of a system like this might look something Twitter search with has every relevant Tweet visible. This is not how it works. Instead I think a more accurate representation would be that of Google Flu Trends (aggregate information) with trends that can be broken down by location and with the help of social media, broken down into social groups.
I am not and do not claim to be a medical or disease expert. If you are, I invite you to help me make this post better. As always, feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below. If you would rather not do that, feel free to e-mail me. All of my contact information is available on my profile: Danny Thanks!
Other Similar Discussions:
Twitter: Growing Virally But Can It Stop Viruses? – Chris Thorman writes a very compelling post that adds the use of Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) to the discussion. From the article “The combination of social media and EMRs, in some form or another, will undoubtedly be part of the future of tracking disease outbreaks. The how and when of that process remains complicated, dependent on health agencies, governments and the doctors themselves to implement the appropriate systems.”
Posted by RobOusbey
Link building for small ecommerce sites can be amongst the toughest SEO challenges – but also the most common. I’d like to share a few bits of advice for anyone rising to the challenge – whether you’re working in-house or as an agency.
These are targetted at small companies, probably with limited internal resource or a small SEO agency contract, and who don’t have a PR firm able to get them into newspapers or an advertising budget that will put them in magazines, on radio, etc.
Tip 1: Reviews
If you sell huge ticket items this doesn’t work so well, but for sites where a typical item or purchase is in the right ballpark (e.g.: £10 – £40ish, depending on how much you’d value a link) then asking people in the right niche to review your products can be very valuable.
Specifically, I’ve found the following to work well:
- Find sites / blogs roughly in the niche of your product (I’ve mentioned Blogged.com and dir.Blogflux.com but there are others)
- Check that each site is indexed (and not penalised, etc) and based in a particular geographic region, if that’s important to you
- Grab their contact details off the site and fire them an email (see the example below)
- Do email from an email address at the site; if you’re working as an agency, ask the client to set up an email account in your name
- Find out what they’d like, and send it to them
- They write a review on their site and link to you
- You email to thank them for the review, and ask them to update the anchor text to something with a keywords in it.
When writing the request in stage 3, keep it short and to the point. Explain why they were relevant – the reason you chose to write to them – and what you’d like them to do. An example might look like this:
I’m Rob from Widgets R Us.
You might have come across us before; our online shop has a variety of widgets and whatnots.
I’m doing some work at the moment to try and promote our ranges. I had a read through your blog, and wondered if you’d like me to send you some of our products to have a look at? A little review would be most appreciated, and I hope your readers would enjoy the opportunity to see our widgets being given a real world test.
I saw you bought a new Thingamy last week, so perhaps I could send you a couple of widgets that would fit with that?
Tip 2: Non Commercial Content
Without substantial SEO resources, you may be put off from the idea of linkbait, given that you can put a bunch of work in, and it’s not guaranteed to result in loads of links.
Instead, consider creating link-worth resource-type content (it doesn’t even need to be anything as organised as a regular blog) and then manually spreading this to appropriate places. Aim for content that doesn’t have a great resource at the moment. Example might be:
- how to install a blue widget in a Thingamy X-1000
- the history of blue widget production
- 10 point checklist for setting up your own blue widget society
- how to use a blue widget to help you through university
- how to get a graduate job in the widget business.
The places to try and share this content might include:
- any of those niche bloggers you found earlier but you haven’t talked to you
- university & college student with their .edu / .ac.uk sites
- people in very similar but non-overlapping industries
- sites which aggregate and link to useful content from a particular niche or topic
- customers who’ve indicated they have a website / blog / social media account (you do ask this in your customer satisfaction surveys, right?)
I don’t beleive that there’s a single eCommerce site which couldn’t produce some useful content like this, and get links out of it by spending some time talking to people and explaining what they’re making available.
Tip 3: Business / Industry Friends
I love how many small sites there are out there which have heard of SEO, let alone tried to do any, so they have really old domains names, with a bit of good content, and have only really strong, genuine links pointing to them.
There’s a fair chance that some of your suppliers, clients, partners, etc have great sites like this. There’s every chance that if you ask them for the favour in the right way, they’ll stick a link on their site to you. Alternatively, you could offer to write a testimonial to stick on their site, which will then link to you.
For small companies that don’t cover a whole country, you could try asking businesses that are similar to yours but elsewhere in the country. (eg: On the Glasgow Widget Shop’s website, you could get: “If you want widget repair in Lancashire, we recommend our friends at The Bolton Widget Shop“) – I’m pretty sure that even if you want to send them a bottle of whisky to say thank you, Matt Cutts won’t really give two hoots.
If anyone has tried the ‘reviews’ tip mentioned above (or is inspired by this post to go out and try it) please do drop a comment below, and let us know how it goes.
Posted by jennita
This past week at SES San Jose 2009 gave me the most mixed emotions of any conference I’ve attended yet. There were parts I loved and parts I was disappointed in. Add that with trying to complete regular work plus cover the conference for SEOmoz, believe me it was a bit crazy. Some of you may have also heard about the rough start I had to the conference… I booked the wrong flight home, had to find a hotel last minute, wasn’t on the list for a press pass (which they fixed right away), the list goes on and on really. Still, I didn’t let this stop me from learning new things, meeting new people and on the last day (after 2 full days of stalking), I nabbed an interview with Matt Cutts.
As with anything in life really, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. This is true for search marketing conferences and for SES San Jose, it was no different. Whenever I attend a large conference or even small meet-ups, I’m in awe of the people who organize the event. It can’t be easy to coordinate everyone from speakers to attendees, from booth setup to making sure everyone is fed (more on that below). You would have to know that as you’re working your butt off to get everything done, that there will be people who love and others who hate certain aspects of the event. For me, that is the beauty of it, I mean how boring would it be if we all loved everything all the time? So please, follow along, as I bring you the good, the bad and the downright funny from the conference.
The types of speakers you have in any given session can either make or break it. The topic could be something as exciting as Black Hat vs. White Hat but if the speaker is as dull as dishwater then the entire session comes to a screeching halt (and people fall asleep in the first row). However on the flip side, when a speaker is so dynamic that he or she can keep a crowd of several hundred people interested in analytics right after lunch, then you have a winner in my book!
If you’ve ever seen Avinash Kaushik from Google speak, then you’ll know what I’m talking about. Right after lunch on the first day, Avinash spoke at the session “How to Turn Your Web Analytics into a Money Making Machine.” This is one of those sessions where you know you’ll probably learn some good information but only if you can keep yourself awake long enough. Not in this instance. Avinash started with great one liners like “Life is not a one night stand” and one of his slides was labeled: “Sexy: Search + Display.” He knew exactly how to keep the audience interested and laughing the entire time. The biggest take-away by the audience seemed to be when he was asked what tool he used to find all his data, and he said he used Google Ad Planner. I’m pretty sure Google saw a spike in usage soon after!
I went to the “SEO Tools of the Trade: What’s in your Toolbox?” session a little miffed that SEOmoz wasn’t represented and was ready to ask the speakers about it. With six speakers plus the moderator there wasn’t time to ask any questions (see “the bad”) but I made sure I made myself known by sitting right up front with my SEOmoz T-Shirt on. Although not one of the speakers mentioned SEOmoz (boooooo) I actually walked away with a few additional tools in my toolbelt because of it. It was interesting because many of the speakers had tools of their own, and most pitched them. What I liked though was that Bruce Clay spoke about what to look for in a tool and what kinds of tools to look for. He didn’t preach about how awesome his tools were, but gave excellent, useful information about finding the right tool (it would have been even better had had the chance to explain how we have a tool for every one of the points he made.
In the “Search: Where to Next?” session, I loved that Chris Boggs mentioned SEOmoz as one of his favorite blogs. Woot!
Although the speakers can make the sessions, there were a few other gems that made my “thumbs up” list. As usual, the exhibitors had great schwag. I loved that the first two rows in each section were reserved for the press. This allowed all the live bloggers and others to have a place to sit and type their hearts out. I’ve seen many people trying to live blog with their laptops in their lap. And speaking of live bloggers I have to give a shout out to my roommate Keri Morgret who I coined the name “best roommate ever” for bringing chocolate muffins, coffee and other yummies to the room.
I can’t forget to mention the great networking and evening events that took place. For me, networking was one of the most valuable aspects of the conference. Searchbash that was put on by WebmasterRadio.fm and the IM Charity Party were great fun and I loved meeting new people and spending time with friends.
Every conference has its issues, and let’s be honest here, you can never please everyone. SES San Jose had a few “thumbs down” in my opinion. There were the poor people at the superpages.com booth who had to wear bright yellow capes (as torture of manning a booth for two days). Or the very nice lady at AOL who stood alone while most of the other booths were packed with people. I hate to even mention the food since really I’ve seen many blogs already talk about this… but sheesh! They served us the SAME FOOD for 3 days in a row. It was also strange that around 11am every day, the coffee seemed to disappear. Uhm, hello! We need coffee to keep us going through the full days (and some to get over that hangover).
Then there are the speakers. Often times in a tech oriented industry you’ll get a speaker who knows her business but come on, she really has no right speaking to large audiences. Other times you may find someone who knows his information so well he seems to get lost in the speech and forgets he is supposed to be talking to the audience and not just within his own head. Or what about the moderator who feels she has to ask each speaker a question after their presentation to ensure everyone knows she paid attention? This conference also seemed to have more speakers than most sessions could handle and several times there was no time for Q & A, which in my opinion is usually the most valuable aspect.
There were a few who seemed a bit nervous and others who read straight from the Powerpoint presentation (this is when the afternoon coffee would have come in handy). I can definitely understand being nervous; speaking in front of hundreds of people is quite nerve racking, even if you know the topic inside and out. But one thing I had a hard time with was hearing a speaker give outright bad (or at least, incomplete) information.
Now, I’m far from perfect, and I’m positive I’ve lead people down the wrong track before so I’ll give Stoney deGeyter from Pole Position Marketing the benefit of the doubt that perhaps I misinterpreted him. However in the “Search on a Dime” session he told the audience that the meta description was not valuable, and that if they didn’t have time to do it to just let the search engines find the content of the page and determine what to put there. EEK!
This was said to a group of small business owners who were looking for ways to rank well without spending a ton of money. They should have been told how the meta description is unimportant for ranking factors but that it is UBER important for the ever-important click-through! Small business owners should know that having unique meta descriptions is essential and making sure that they’re created to entice users to click that link in the SERP and pull people into their site. The idea that leaving anything up to a search engine seems rather ridiculous. (It also didn’t help matters that when asked how he suggested getting developers to make the necessary changes on the site his answer was “Tell them to make the change and if they say no, fire them.” As a former full-time developer this really left a bad taste in my mouth.)
By the way, the entire session wasn’t bad, in fact David Mihm’s presentation was spot on. He gave us excellent information about local search without so much as pimping out his ridiculously awesome site GetListed.org. Even Matt Van Wagner showed us step by step how he put together a local search campaign, although I wasn’t too sure how that related to search marketing on a budget, but it was still good information.
There was one particular quote that seriously made me laugh out loud. It really tickled my funny bone when Pavan Li from Microsoft was trying to get something to work on her computer while she was taking questions and she said “We’re used to making simple things complicated.” The room lit up with laughter after that one!
Later that same day, after Avinash had explained how rich old men search for Paris Hilton more often than other groups, Mike Grehan the moderator, took the mic to announce the next speaker and said “I’m just an average guy looking for pictures of Paris Hilton.”
The highlight on the last day, was the “Extreme Makeover: Live Site Clinic.” With Matt Cutts, Greg Boser, Elisabeth Osmeloski, Tiffany Lane and Vanessa Fox reviewing websites, it could have been pretty straightforward and down to business. However the session started with a review of mypleasure.com and ended with hookah-shisha.com. Let’s just say there were many blushing faces throughout the entire session and at one point Vanessa said, “and I would listen to what Matt says because he started in porn” to which Matt responded (after a few seconds of the audience laughing), “What Vanessa means by that is the first thing I did at Google was that I worked in safe search…” Hah!
I’m sure there were many more funny moments but as a one woman show I couldn’t be in all places at one time. With that, I’ll end with my favorite quote which came from Chris Boggs on the first day, “SEO is alive, long live SEO!”
Posted by randfish
How Do I Build the Perfectly Optimized Page?
If you’re in SEO, you probably hear this question a lot. Sadly, there’s no cut and dry answer, but there are sets of best practices we can draw from and sharpen to help get close. In this blog post, I’m going to share our top recommendations for achieving on-page, keyword-targeting “perfection,” or, at least, close to it. Some of these are backed by data points, correlation studies and extensive testing while others are simply gut-feelings based on experience. As with all things SEO, we recommend constant testing and refinement, though this knowledge can help you kick-start the process.
HTML Head Tags
Title - the most important of on-page keyword elements, the page title should preferably employ the keyword term/phrase as the first word(s). In our correlation data studies, the following graph emerged:
Clearly, using the keyword term/phrase as the very first words in the page title has the highest correlation with high rankings, and subsequent positions correlate nearly flawlessly to lower rankings.
- Meta Description – although not used for “rankings” by any of the major engines, the meta description is an important place to use the target term/phrase due to the “bolding” that occurs in the visual snippet of the search results. Usage has also been shown to help boost click-through rate, thus increasing the traffic derived from any ranking position.
- Meta Keywords – Yahoo! is unique among the search engines in recording and utilizing the meta keyword tag for discovery, though not technically for rankings. However, with Microsoft’s Bing set to take over Yahoo! Search, the last remaining reason to employ the tag is now gone. That, combined with the danger of using keywords there for competitive research means that at SEOmoz, we never recommend employing the tag.
- Meta Robots – although not necessary, this tag should be sure NOT to contain any directives that could potentially disallow access by the engines.
- Rel=”Canonical” – the larger and more complex a site (and the larger/more complex the organization working on it), the more we advise employing the canonical URL tag to prevent any potential duplicates or unintentional, appended URL strings from creating a problem for the engines and splitting up potential link juice.
- Other Meta Tags – meta tags like those offered by the DCMI or FGDC seem compelling, but currently provide no benefit for SEO with the major engines and thus, add unnecessary complexity and download time.
- Length – Shorter URLs appear to perform better in the search results and are more likely to be copied/pasted by other sites, shared and linked-to.
- Keyword Location – The closer the targeted keyword(s) are to the domain name, the better. Thus, site.com/keyword outperforms site.com/folder/subfolder/keyword and is the most recommended method of optimization (though this is certainly not a massive rankings benefit)
- Subdomains vs. Pages – As we’ve talked about previously on the blog, despite the slight URL benefit that subdomains keyword usage has over subfolders or pages, the engines’ link popularity assignment algorithms tilt the balance in favor of subfolders/pages rather than subdomains.
- Word Separators – Hyphens are still the king of keyword separators in URLs, and despite promises that underscores will be given equal credit, the inconsistency with other methods make the hyphen a clear choice.
- Number of Keyword Repetitions – It’s impossible to pinpoint the exact, optimal number of times to employ a keyword term/phrase on the page, but this simple rule has served us well for a long time – “2-3X on short pages, 4-6X on longer ones and never more than makes sense in the context of the copy.” The added benefit of another instance of a term is so miniscule that it seems unwise to ever be aggressive with this metric.
- Keyword Density – A complete myth as an algorithmic component, keyword density nonetheless pervades even very sharp SEO minds. While it’s true that more usage of a keyword term/phrase can potentially improve targeting/ranking, there’s no doubt that keyword density has never been the formula by which this relevance was measured.
- Keyword Usage Variations – Long suspected to influence search engine rankings (though never studied in a depth of detail that’s convincing to me), the theory that varied keyword usage throughout a page can help with content optimization and optimization nevertheless is worth a small amount of effort. We recommend employing at least one or two variations of a term and potentially splitting up keyword phrases and using them in body copy as well or instead.
- H1 Headline - The H1 tag has long been thought to have great importance in on-page optimization. Recent correlation data from our studies, however, has shown that it has a very low correlation with high rankings (close to zero, in fact). While this is compelling evidence, correlation is not causation and for semantic and SEO reasons, we still advise proper use of the H1 tag as the headline of the page and, preferrably, employment of the targeted keyword term/phrase.
- H2/H3/H4/Hx – Even lower in importance than the H1, our recommendation is to apply only if required. These tags appears to carry little to no SEO value.
- Alt Attribute – Surprisingly, the alt attribute, long thought to carry little SEO weight, was shown to have quite a robust correlation with high rankings in our studies. Thus, we strongly advise the use of a graphic image/photo/illustration on important keyword-targeted pages with the term/phrase employed in the alt attribute of the img tag.
- Image Filename – Since image traffic can be a substantive source of visits and image filenames appear to be valuable for this as well as natural web search, we suggest using the keyword term/phrase as the name of the image file employed on the page.
- Bold/Strong – Using a keyword in bold/strong appears to carry a very, very tiny amount of SEO weight, and thus it’s suggested as a best practice to use the targeted term/phrase at least once in bold, though a very minor one.
- Italtic/Emphasized – Surprisingly, italic/emphasized text appears to have a similar to slightly higher correlation with high rankings than bold/strong and thus, we suggest its use on the targeted keyword term/phrase in the text.
- Internal Link Anchors – No testing has yet found that internal anchors are picked up/counted by the engines.
- HTML Comments – As above, it appears the engines ignore text in comments.
Internal Links & Location in Site Architecture
- Click-Depth – Our general recommendation is that the more competitive and challenging a keyword term/phrase is to rank for, the higher it should be in a site’s internal architecture (and thus, the fewer clicks from the home page it should take to reach that URL).
- Number/Percentage of Internal Links – More linked-to pages tend to higher rankings and thus, for competitive terms, it may help to link to these pages from a greater number/percentage of pages on a site.
- Links in Content vs. Permanent Navigation – It appears that Google and the other engines are doing more to recognize location on the page as an element of link consideration. Thus, employing links to pages in the Wikipedia-style (in the body content of a piece) rather than in permanent navigation may potentially provide some benefit. Don’t forget, however, that Google only counts the first link to a page that they see in the HTML
- Link Location in Sidebars & Footers – Recent patent applications, search papers and experience from inside SEOmoz and many practitioners externally suggests that Google may be strongly discounting links placed in the footer, and, to a lesser degree, in the sidebar(s) of pages. Thus, if you’re employing a link in permanent navigation, it may pay to use the top navigation (above the content) for SEO purposes.
- Keyword Location – We advise that important keywords should, preferably, be featured in the first few words (50-100, but hopefully even sooner) of a page’s text content. The engines do appear to have some preference for pages that employ keywords sooner, rather than later, in the text.
- Content Structure – Some practitioners swear by the use of particular content formats (introduction, body, examples, conclusion OR the journalistic style of narrative, data, conclusion, parable) for SEO, but we haven’t seen any formal data suggesting these are valuable for higher rankings and thus feel that whatever works best for the content and the visitors is likely ideal.
Why Don’t We Always Obey These Rules?
That answer is relatively easy. The truth is that in the process of producing great web content, we sometimes forget, sometimes ignore and sometimes intentionally disobey the best practices laid out above. On-page optimization, while certainly important, is only one piece of a larger rankings puzzle:
(FYI – The new ranking factors survey data is set to release very, very soon)
It most certainly pays to get the on-page, keyword-targeting pieces right, but on-page SEO, in my opinion, follows the 80/20 rule very closely. If you get the top 20% of the most important pieces (titles, URLs, internal links) from the list above right, you’ll get 80% (maybe more) of the value possible in the on-page equation.
Best Practices for Ranking #1
Curiously, though perhaps not entirely surprisingly to experienced SEOs, the truth is that on-page optimization doesn’t necessarily rank first in the quest for top rankings. In fact, a list that walks through the process of actually getting that first position would look something more like:
- Accessibility – content engines can’t see or access cannot even be indexed; thus crawl-ability is foremost on this list.
- Content – you need to have compelling, high quality material that not only attracts interest, but compels visitors to share the information. Virality of content is possibly the most important/valuable factor in the ranking equation because it will produce the highest link conversion rate (the ratio of those who visit to those who link after viewing).
- Basic On-Page Elements – getting the keyword targeting right in the most important elements (titles, URLs, internal links) provides a big boost in the potential ability of a page to perform well.
- User Experience – the usability, user interface and overall experience provided by a website strongly influences the links and citations it earns as well as the conversion rate and browse rate of the traffic that visits.
- Marketing – I like to say that “great content is no substitute for great marketing.” A terrific marketing machine or powerful campaign has the power to attract far more links than content may “deserve,” and though this might seem unfair, it’s a principle on which all of capitalism has functioned for the last few hundred years. Spreading the word is often just as important (or more so) than being right, being honest or being valuable (just look at the political spectrum).
- Advanced/Thorough On-Page Optimization – applying all of the above with careful attention to detail certainly isn’t useless, but it is, for better or worse, at the bottom of this list for a reason; in our experience, it doesn’t add as much value as the other techniques described.
As always, I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts and experiences about the specific recommendations above and the general concept of the “perfectly” optimized page.
Posted by Sam Niccolls
‘This week in Search’ is a compilation of some of the most interesting, newsworthy, and useful stories in and around the world of search over the last 1-2 weeks. If you have articles on your own blog or think something is worth mentioning in next week’s post, send me a direct message to me on Twitter (@samniccolls) or tweet it and include @seomoz #thisweek in your tweet.
- Humble Startup Beginnings: In a post that shows pictures of the offices where Google, Facebook, eBay and other web giants started, Income Diary reminds entrepreneurs (and aspiring entrepreneurs) that every business has to start somewhere.
- Is your site used every day? LinkedIn does not incentivize daily visits from members, but they aren’t not alone. Many companies who do not have applications which are used daily have business models dependent on every day usage. Sadly, paraphrased versions of the closing remarks can be applied to many companies, not just LinkedIn — "Until they can make their users better at what they do, it won’t be an every day app."
- Email vs. Social Media: According to Forrester, over three times more US adults use e-mail each month than use social media sites (165 million to 66 million). So there’s no debating that e-mail remains a cornerstone of one-to-one marketing, but brands are increasingly turning from e-mail to sites like Twitter and Facebook for customer acquisition and retention. Similarly, forward-to-a-friend (FTAF) still remains four times more used among online retailers than share-with-your-network (SWYN).
- Google Website Optimizer Case Study: David Booth of WebShare shares a case study on split testing. Specifically, he delves into Google Website Optimizer results that show a split test they ran for the Gyminee homepage, which resulted in a 20% conversion rate increase. For those looking to run tests themselves, Booth includes several actionable takeaways in the post.
- This Business of SEO by Todd Friesen: The business of SEO consulting may have changed, but the art of SEO is not lost. Todd Friesen sheds light on these issues with a brief introspection and an apt analogy. And even though I agree with Todd’s sentiment, I like to think that good SEOs will have more longevity than their printing press technician brethren.
- Evolution of the Pepsi Logo: Though Rand tweeted about the funniest Pepsi logo, Zac Johnson’s also wrote a post giving a snapshot of the Pepsi logo’s progression over the years. For a deeper dive into the evolution of other corporate logos, check out Instant Shift’s more detailed post.
- Associated Press Tries to Catch up with Wikipedia in the SERPs: In an attempt to make up some ground with Wikipedia, the Associated Press is doing something the New York Times did last year: aggregate content around subject areas in order to make topical roll up pages more competitive on higher volume search terms.
- Kids Search for Porn: Based on a data set of 3.5 million searches made by kids over a six month time period, OnlineFamily.Norton recently reported that kids exhibit two search trends. The first trend is that they tend to bypass the URL field and type URLs into the search field . And the second, more disconcerting trend is that they search for porn at a rate that’s on par with adults. Both ‘sex’ and ‘porn’ were among the top 6 search terms made by kids.
- Attribution Modeling: Piggybacking on a recent Forrester study about the tracking and value of display advertising, Michelle Stern dives into how you should look at more than just the last click to track conversion rate and cost per acquisition in your marketing channel reports.
- Where Did the Money Go?: Based off of Department of Labor survey data, Visual Economics created a great visual diagram of how people in the US spend their money. In addition to being a great linkbait image, the diagram provides a detailed breakdown of annual consumer expenditures.
- How Much Crack is in a Crackberry?: Well, perhaps none, actually, but recent research shows that there are physiological factors that make you addicted to your smartphone or laptop. In fact, the effect digital stimulus has on your brain’s dopamine circuits is shown to be similar to that of cocaine.
- Microsoft Patent Issues: On Tuesday, in a patent verdict that will likely be overturned, a Texas judge ruled that due to a patent infringement Microsoft would have to pay $290 million in damages to Toronto-based i4i Inc and that they are not allowed to sell Word. Microsoft will no doubt appeal the verdict.
- 20 SEO Tips That Every Developer Should Follow: Though Theme Forest’s list is not devoid of good advice, they set a good example of how not to create a top ten or a top twenty list. If you are going to provide actionable industry specific takeaways, in a topic other than the one you specialize in, you should verify that the information you include in your list is accurate. As shown by Theme Forest’s unordered list of 20 SEO tips that prominently features W3C validation atop their list of SEO tips, they clearly did not do all their homework and follow up with folks in the industry.
Posted by great scott!
This week we’ve got a special treat! Live from the halls of SES San Jose, our own Jen Lopez sits down with the one-and-only Matt Cutts to discuss NoFollow.
As we all know, there was some controversy about Google’s shifting views on nofollow earlier this year. So now that some time has passed and Big G has refined their position, what would Matt recommend to sites that have lots of nofollow tags already in place? Watch this exclusive interview to find out.
This has been a great week at SES San Jose 2009. There were lots of great sessions, informative tweets, fun swag and I’ve personally met many of our Pro members! My favorite session of the week was "Extreme Makeover: Live Site Clinic" where Matt Cutts, Greg Boser, Elisabeth Osmeloski, Tiffany Lane and Vanessa Fox (unofficially :)) reviewed several websites in front of hundreds of people. The use of the rel=nofollow for PR sculpting came up in the review (imagine that). Matt Cutts recommended to a site owner that he remove all the nofollows from his site, even to non-necessary pages.
This is a subject that comes up time and time again on the SEOmoz site whether it’s in the Q & A section, or in the blog and comments. So I wanted to find out directly from Matt, what he would recommend to our users moving forward. This afternoon I sat with Matt and got his take on the conference in general as well as the use of rel=nofollow and PR sculpting. (Oh yea! And if you haven’t seen the tweets and read the posts yet, Matt got a new haircut.
Posted by great scott!
Straight from the Seattle Lunch 2.0 meetup at SEOmoz on August 14th comes this light-hearted look at raising venture capital. SEOmoz CEO, Rand Fishkin, shares his experiences with raising capital with an amusing (but strangely appropriate) comparison to the dating scene.
SEOmoz emerged from our first round of VC funding with a profitable and growing business. Now seeking a B round, we get to see how things change with company size, shifting market dynamics, and a different pool of interested investors.
If you’ve ever wondered what the VC process is like for a small business, this presentation will give you a good idea of what to expect should you ever go on the hunt for capital.
Postscript From Rand: This presentation is much longer than our typical Whiteboard Friday (about 22 minutes), but is fun if you’re interested in the VC world. I also wanted to note that if you’re interested in exactly what SEOmoz is up to on the VC front, this blog post is helpful to read. Once we wrap up the process (and, as noted, we may not end up taking capital if we don’t like the deal terms), I’ll be sure to give lots more insight into our experience. As I note in the video, it’s a rollercoaster ride, it takes up incredibly amounts of time and it’s massively stressful, but hopefully, at the end of the day, worthwhile.
For some additional good reading on the topic, see Paul Graham’s "Ramen Profitable" as well as Fred Wilson’s post on why the VC world is due for some potential shrinkage.