Archive for July, 2009

Meta Title SEO Tips

July 31st, 2009 by Patrick Hare

People in the field of Search Engine Optimization are known for varying opinions about most SEO practices, but there isn’t much debate about the title tag, because a properly written web page title can literally change your rankings overnight. Several other factors have to be in play, such as having an established and trustworthy site with sufficient links from other web pages, but we have gotten surprising results for several clients with the right title tag.

Also known as the “meta title” by some, titles often have to be explained to novices and new SEO clients. For people using Microsoft Windows, we usually direct people to look at the wording in the browser window to the left of the button that minimizes the page. In many cases the original designer may have used such descriptive titles as “Home,” or “index.html” or the company name in all caps. Since search engines use titles to classify your on-page content, “home” will lump your site in with 208 million sites that use the same word.

How Many Characters?

Normally the first 60 characters in a meta title are important, since search engines like Google truncate the remainder of the title. Note that spaces, dashes, pipes, and ampersands count as characters. You can write longer titles, but should try not to go beyond 120 characters. Remember that the web page title defines the subject, and should be concise.

How to Arrange Keywords in Your Title

The arrangement of keywords in your page title is going to have an influence on search engine positioning. Whether you are doing optimization on a shoestring or a full budget, the homepage title should be about the most general subject matter relative to the site, and the most high volume keyword should be used. You can find high volume relevant keywords using the Google Keyword Tool, or you can use your biggest traffic terms in your sponsored search platform. Normally you can repeat a word or phrase once in the title. If you have a site that sells comic books, you might arrange your best keywords in a format like:

Comic Books Marvel & DC Comics For Sale Graphic Novels

Separating keywords with commas is not recommended, since it may look like you accidentally inserted your keyword list into the title, and you may incur a spamming penalty. On some sites the company name is inserted before the keywords in the title. While there may be a small positive impact by moving the company name to the end of the title, every little bit helps in the world of SEO.

Preventing Keyword Blurring

A full scale SEO project will involve unique meta titles on as many pages as possible. This actually involves careful planning, since similar or identical title information will keep search engines from selecting the best page. If Google sees several pages with the same category information, it will either try to pick the best one or it will give them all a lower placement than any single page would have gotten. For the comic book example, you would have more specific information on category level pages (“Spider Man Comic Books”) and detail pages (“Amazing Spider Man #37 – Spidey Tangles With a Robot.”) This type of detail helps a search engine create a hierarchy, and increases the number of site pages that match up with specific customer searches.

Another cause of keyword blurring in titles involves default titles that are defined in shopping carts and content management systems. If you are unable to create unique titles for multiple pages, making the default title into something generic (like your company name) can prevent blurring.

Dynamic Title Insertion

Have you got several thousand pages on your site, or multiple products for sale? If people are searching for items by part number, dynamic keyword insertion into your title can dramatically improve your exposure and sales volume. This requires some programming, since you are effectively inserting a variable (most likely your short product description) into the title tag. Most often, you will want some static text to go along with the dynamic text, so the code would look like:

[part number] Printer Ink Refills – Inkjet Replacement Cartridges

Depending on whether your page code is PHP, ASP, or Cold Fusion, this would be an “echo” command or a similar method of writing the code and rendering it as HTML. You may also want to see if your CMS or shopping cart has a plugin that does this for you.

Agreement with Page Content and Links

Anything that goes in your title should be reflected on the actual page. Search engines want to match up titles with content, which still has a high value to most search algorithms. One warning is that your header (h1) tags should not match the title exactly, or the page may get filtered for over-optimization. Similarly, links to your page should contain anchor texts that match up with title elements, but naturally the link texts themselves should be carefully mixed to prevent problems. If you have an entire batch of anchors that match up with the first phrase in the title, then you may encounter problems. As always, an experienced SEO company can advise you on page optimization.

Conclusion

The value of web page titles cannot be underestimated in the world of SEO. A well known survey of search engine optimization experts showed that the title is still the most important consideration in on-page optimization. Although the title should not be the only thing you do for your website’s SEO profile, it is one factor that will prevent your site from ranking if all other best practices are already in place. We have seen multimillion dollar companies with atrocious page titles, and they were getting beaten by mom-and-pop shops with better optimization. Anyone trying to grow a website’s online presence should consider the status of all the web page titles on their site, and how much traffic that good titles can bring.

Note: We have a meta tag generator that turns text tags into HTML code that can be pasted onto a site. To use this as a title generator, the other fields can be left blank.

More on the Yahoo and MSN Deal

July 30th, 2009 by Patrick Hare

Many of our customers have been contacting us today regarding the news of Yahoo and Microsoft’s search deal. From a Search Engine Optimization standpoint, here are the main takeaways:

  • The “search merger” is going to take some time, and involve some technology integration, so people should follow web design and optimization best practices in the meantime. All search engines (Google, Yahoo, and Bing) follow the same general set of rules.
  • Bing will be handling advertising and search results. Therefore, the MSN Adcenter platform will likely be the default way of buying PPC ads.
  • Bing prefers fresh content and a slightly higher keyword density, so people who want to skew toward Bing results may consider these factors. Normally we try to keep keyword density in line with Google standards.
  • As we mentioned in our previous post, items like Yahoo paid inclusion are still up in the air.
  • The deal has to be approved (or scrutinized) by regulators, so it may be altered in one way or another.

In the meantime, we are advising all of our SEO customers to continue with their current site optimization processes, which are standard for all search algorithm types. Part of the search deal involves technology sharing, so hopefully the finished search product will have the best aspects of Yahoo and MSN/Bing’s engines.

How Will the Microsoft-Yahoo Deal Affect Your SEO and PPC?

July 30th, 2009 by Patrick Hare

The recent search deal between Microsoft and Yahoo! is going to have an impact on search engine rankings, but unfortunately that impact won’t be fully seen until Bing and Yahoo results get merged over the course of the next year. Yahoo is going to be displaying Bing results, which are powered by what was once known as MSN Live Search.

People who monitor their search engine results on a monthly basis can attest to the high level of volatility in search engine positions on the former MSN, so there will be some curiosity as to whether Yahoo results will be as volatile. Bing also will have access to Yahoo’s search technology, so integration of best practices will hopefully have a positive impact on the churn seen by the average customer.

Both Yahoo and MSN have sponsored result platforms. Yahoo’s platform has been known as GoTo, then Overture, and is now called Yahoo Search Marketing. MSN/Bing’s platform is known as Adcenter. The latest terms of the deal indicate that Bing (Adcenter) will be the preferred platform for ad serving. People who have been in Pay-Per-Click for a few years know that Yahoo served up ads on MSN Search until early 2006. There is probably even an advantage for Bing, since cash-strapped marketers have been cutting back on lesser known ad serving platforms while trying to get maximum exposure on Google. Now, there will once again be a single ad serving platform. This favors Bing since there are even some cases where people didn’t bother to sign on to Adcenter, but now people will need to transition to the platform for Yahoo placement.

How does this impact paid inclusion? Yahoo has a program called Search Submit, which allows people to buy their way into the natural search results. It was previously sold through Inktomi and AltaVista, which Yahoo acquired and rebranded as Search Submit Express and Search Submit Pro. For some search engine purists, paid inclusion leads to less trust in Yahoo results since they are effectively populated with sponsored results. On the other side of the coin, there are sites that count on Search Submit Pro for a substantial revenue stream. At the time of this writing, there is no comment on paid inclusion, but its addition into Bing might give Google leverage from a trust perspective. Google does not allow paid inclusions in its natural results, so it could argue that it has “clean” results that aren’t bought and paid for.

Since Bing is going to be the default for search results, customers who want to be seen on Yahoo and Bing should consider adding fresh content on a regular basis, periodically getting more links to their website, and ensuring that the site is not presenting any obstacles to search engine spiders. Incidentally, this is the exact advice we would give to people who want better Google rankings, but our experience does show that Bing shows fresh pages faster, and is not necessarily as dependent on link popularity. Bing also appears to give preference to domain names that match keyword searches (just like Google) and is often the first search engine to rank new websites.

Until all the details are worked out, and various government agencies bless the whole transaction, SEO customers should concentrate on ranking factors that are universal to all search engines. In almost every case, optimization is based around the Google algorithm, since Google still controls the greatest market share. Over the past several years, there has been little demand for “better Yahoo results” from SEO clients, since a site’s success or failure in search results is generally determined by Google. Similarly, people weren’t clamoring for MSN placement, but the marketing push for Bing has led to a lot more inquiries about being visible in that engine. As always, the keys to good SEO results involve having a resource rich site, trustworthy links, and a structure that search engines can read. No matter how Bing and Yahoo blend their results, these factors are still going to be important, so anyone with a well optimized site is going to have a big advantage when the dust finally settles.

301 Redirect for Windows Server

July 29th, 2009 by Patrick Hare

Note: These instructions are for Microsoft Windows Servers. Linux or Apache 301 Redirect Instructions can be found here.

Redirecting pages on a Windows Server can be complex, but it is still highly recommended to solve duplicate content, canonicalization, and link popularity issues. It is very imporant that a 301 (permanent) redirect be used for the redirection of old pages, or whole domains, since search engines do not pass value for 302 (temporary) redirects, meta refreshes, or domain forwarding. Ideally, redirects should be done by someone who is very familiar with the Windows Server Environment. Whenever possible, original configurations should either be noted or backed up, should any difficulties arise.

Overview

301 redirects for sites hosted on Windows servers are generally created within IIS, which is the administrative management system for Windows servers. Most sites on shared hosting accounts will not come with access to IIS, so 301 redirects for these sites will generally need to be set up by the hosting company or administrator.

If this is the case, simply send a request to the hosting company’s support department and ask them to set up a permanent redirect from http://domain.com to http://www.domain.com or from www.olddomain.com to www.newdomain.com, etc.

Creating a 301 Redirect from One Internal Page to Another

  1. Login to the Windows 2000 (or higher) server and access the desktop.
  2. Select Start > Programs > Administrative Tools > Internet Services Manager.
  3. Select the server with the site whose page you want to redirect.
  4. Select the site with the page you want to redirect.
  5. Right click on the page you want to redirect FROM and choose Properties. The Properties box will now appear. (See below this list for an example.)
  6. Change the redirect option to “A redirection to a URL” and type in the new URL in the box provided.
  7. Be sure to check the box marked “A permanent redirection for this resource”. If you leave this box unchecked, you will create a 302 (temporary) redirect, which is not permanent or beneficial from an SEO standpoint in this situation.

Creating a 301 Redirect from an Old Domain to a New One

  1. Login to the Windows 2000 (or higher) server and access the desktop.
  2. Select Start > Programs > Administrative Tools > Internet Services Manager.
  3. Select the server with the site whose page you want to redirect.
  4. Right click on the site you want to redirect FROM and choose Properties > Home Directory. The Default Web Site Properties box will now appear as shown in the image below this list.
  5. Change the redirect option to “A redirection to a URL” and type in the new URL in the box provided.
  6. Be sure to check the box marked “A permanent redirection for this resource”. If you leave this box unchecked, you will create a 302 (temporary) redirect, which is not permanent or beneficial from an SEO standpoint in this situation.

Creating a 301 Redirect to Solve Canonicalization Duplicate Content

When setting up a site in IIS, the normal process is to create one account for the site and add both www and non-www versions of the domain name to the host headers for the account. This creates a canonicalization issue, however, as the site will then be available at both www and non-www URLs.

The duplicate content issues associated with this setup can be eliminated by creating 2 accounts for the site within IIS: one with the www version of the domain in the host header and one with the non-www version of the domain. All of the site files can be placed in the preferred version and a single page in the other. The single page can then be redirected to the preferred version as if it was redirecting to a separate domain (using the process in the previous section).

Special note: As stated above, try to backup or note every change, in case you need to revert to your old code or setup. Make sure to test your site after the redirect is finished to ensure that all of your elements are working correctly.

301 Redirects for Apache Servers – Linux 301 Redirect Advice

July 29th, 2009 by Patrick Hare

Note: Windows Servers use different instructions, which can be found in this posting

Our blog posting on verifying 301 redirects led to several questions about the technical details of redirects. Therefore, we are posting some information which you may find useful.

Below you will find out how to do canonical 301 redirects, redirect individual pages, and redirect whole domains.

301 redirects for Linux/Apache servers are created using a special file called .htaccess. Once the redirects have been specified in this file, it is simply uploaded to the root of the hosting account and the server handles it from there. 301 redirects can be easily created in this way for both shared and dedicated hosting accounts.

Very special note: This information is by no means comprehensive. Creating .htaccess files should be done carefully. If you already have an HTACESS file, you should back it up, so if anything goes wrong, you can revert to the old code!

Creating a 301 Redirect to Solve Canonicalization Duplicate Content

Canonicalization duplicate content is created when a site shows content at http://www.domain.com and http://domain.com. Search engines consider this 2 separate sets of content (even though they’re both exactly the same), and this can sometimes negatively impact the site’s rankings.

A 301 redirect can be set up to force all non-www URLs to the corresponding www URLs, or vice versa. In addition to eliminating any potential duplicate content issues, this will also combine the strength of all links pointing to both non-www and www pages on the site, allowing the site to maximize the impact of any link to its pages.

REQUIREMENT: The following 301 redirect instructions will NOT work unless the Apache ModRewrite module is enabled on the hosting server. This is a standard Apache module that is normally enabled by default, so if the redirects don’t work within 24 hours of uploading the .htaccess file you will need to contact the hosting company or administrator to check if ModRewrite is enabled.

From non-www to www:

  1. FTP into the site’s hosting account and check to see if there’s an existing .htaccess file.
  2. If there’s not, create a file in Notepad or any text editor called .htaccess (technically, this file is just an extension with no name).
    Note: Some programs may not let you create a file with no name and just an extension, and if you need to email this file to a webmaster for implementation many email clients such as Outlook may refuse to send it. To get around this, create the file with a regular name like “test.htaccess”, and then rename it in an FTP client right before uploading
  3. Paste the code below this list into the site’s .htaccess file:
  4. Upload the file into the root directory of the site’s hosting account.
    Once the .htaccess file has been uploaded, it should take effect within 24 hours or less. If it does not, check with the hosting company or administrator to make sure that the ModRewrite module is enabled for the site’s hosting account.

Code:

RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^yoursite.com
RewriteRule (.*) http://www.yoursite.com/$1 [R=301,L]

From www to non-www:

  1. FTP into the site’s hosting account and check to see if there’s an existing .htaccess file.
  2. If there’s not, create a file in Notepad or any text editor called .htaccess (technically, this file is just an extension with no name).
    Note: Some programs may not let you create a file with no name and just an extension, and if you need to email this file to a webmaster for implementation many email clients such as Outlook may refuse to send it. To get around this, create the file with a regular name like “test.htaccess”, and then rename it in an FTP client right before uploading
  3. Paste the code below this list into the site’s .htaccess file:
  4. Upload the file into the root directory of the site’s hosting account.

Code:

RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^www.yoursite.com
RewriteRule (.*) http://yoursite.com/$1 [R=301,L]

Once the .htaccess file has been uploaded, it should take effect within 24 hours or less. If it does not, check with the hosting company or administrator to make sure that the ModRewrite module is enabled for the site’s hosting account.

Creating a 301 Redirect from One Internal Page to Another

  1. FTP into the site’s hosting account and check to see if there’s an existing .htaccess file.
  2. If there’s not, create a file in Notepad or any text editor called .htaccess (technically, this file is just an extension with no name).
    Note: Some programs may not let you create a file with no name and just an extension, and if you need to email this file to a webmaster for implementation many email clients such as Outlook may refuse to send it. To get around this, create the file with a regular name like “test.htaccess”, and then rename it in an FTP client right before uploading
  3. Paste the following code into the site’s .htaccess file:
    Redirect 301 /oldpagename http://domain.com/newpagename
    Note: If you need to redirect multiple pages, simply add a new line to the .htaccess file for each page you’d like to redirect.
  4. Upload the file into the root directory of the site’s hosting account.
    Once the .htaccess file has been uploaded, it should take effect within 24 hours or less. If it does not, check with the hosting company or administrator to make sure that the ModRewrite module is enabled for the site’s hosting account.

Creating a 301 Redirect from an Old Domain to a New One

  1. FTP into the site’s hosting account and check to see if there’s an existing .htaccess file.
  2. If there’s not, create a file in Notepad or any text editor called .htaccess (technically, this file is just an extension with no name).
    Note: Some programs may not let you create a file with no name and just an extension, and if you need to email this file to a webmaster for implementation many email clients such as Outlook may refuse to send it. To get around this, create the file with a regular name like “test.htaccess”, and then rename it in an FTP client right before uploading
  3. Paste the following code into the site’s .htaccess file:
    Redirect 301 / http://www.newdomain.com/
  4. Upload the file into the root directory of the site’s hosting account.
    Once the .htaccess file has been uploaded, it should take effect within 24 hours or less. If it does not, check with the hosting company or administrator to make sure that the ModRewrite module is enabled for the site’s hosting account.

For special cases and other server configurations, there are multiple sites online which are server specific and give more instructions about how to do 301 redirects. As we stated above, 301 redirects should be done carefully, and if the site fails to operate after an HTACESS file is uploaded or change, you should revert back to the old code until a fix can be made.

How to verify a 301 redirect

July 29th, 2009 by Patrick Hare

An important aspect of search engine optimization involves redirecting old domain names and page addresses to new locations. This may be because your company re-branded, your law firm changed partners, or because the new domain name has more value. You may also be doing a “canonical redirect” which ensures that the www or the non-www version of the domain is the only permanent address for the site, which prevents confusion in the search engines. Whatever the reason, improperly redirected traffic can prevent you from holding on to the “link equity” that comes from old domains or older pages.

How do you verify a proper redirect? You use a header checker, which reveals information that is normally only useful to servers. Two sites with free header checkers are:

http://www.seoconsultants.com/tools/headers.asp

http://www.webconfs.com/http-header-check.php

To use these tools, just put your domain name or page (including the http://www.) into the checker and press the button. You should get quite a bit of information, but the result you are looking for should be the number “301” and the phrase “moved permanently.” For the search engine “301” is the important factor.

If you see anything other than a 301, you should find out why. For instance, “302” means that the site is being temporarily redirected, so your new site or page location does not get the value of all the links that have been pointing at it. Some hosting companies offer “permanent redirects” but an examination of the code in a header checker tells a different story. 302 redirects do not pass link value, so they need to be addressed. If you see the number 200, you are probably getting redirected via a meta refresh, which is not ideal and can create search engine issues. The number 200 can also indicate that the domain is not going anywhere at all, so you should look at it to see what comes up. Numbers like 404 and 410 indicate bigger problems, like missing site pages.

It is also important to follow the rest of the information returned with the 301, like the address that the redirect goes to. Ideally, it should be a single landing page. If you see that the redirect is going to another redirect (which does happen) then it is usually best to ensure that you change your redirect rules so you end up at your destination. Currently, the prevailing wisdom in the SEO industry is that around 10% of a domain’s link popularity is lost in the process of a redirect, so subsequent redirects compound the loss of link value.

For canonical redirects, each non-www (or opposite) page should resolve to its counterpart. A well executed canonical redirect can improve search engine rankings for sites that have a variety of links to www and non-www pages.

As soon as your redirect is in place, it is very important to check the site and header immediately, since a small error in setting up a redirect can make a site unreadable to humans and search engines. Properly executed redirects can preserve and channel valuable link popularity, and streamline the acceptance of a new site design in the eyes of Google, Yahoo, Bing, and other engines. While there are several different methods for redirecting pages, depending on your server configuration, checking the final result with a third-party header checker ensures that the world of the internet is seeing your site the way you want it to be seen.

Has my site been penalized in Google?

July 28th, 2009 by Patrick Hare

(Special note: if your site has been filtered or penalized, we would recommend professional SEO consulting to discover all of the underlying causes.)

In the world of search engine optimization (SEO), there are 2 definitions for the sanctions that can be placed on your site by a search engine. The first is a penalty, and the second is a filter. Each one has different causes and remedies, but if you’ve dropped out of the first few pages of results then there are SEO issues that need to be addressed.

What is a penalty?

Generally speaking, a penalty is one of the worst sanctions you can get from a search engine. It can involve losing all of your page rank and essentially having your site “de-listed” from the search results. Penalties are caused by violations of search engine guidelines including cloaking, keyword stuffing, spamming, and using prohibited or “black hat” optimization methods. A penalty is more difficult to fix than simple filtering.

What is a filter?

A filter is considered any factor applied by the search engine that moves your actual ranking below the position it should occupy. For instance, if you normally had a #1 ranking but a search engine wanted to penalize you for over optimization, you could end up in the #30, #95, or #950 position on the search engine. Normally when the filtering factor is changed or removed, your search engine ranking will go back to its proper position within a few weeks.

When a site or page is filtered, you are still getting indexed and cached by the search engine.

What Causes Filters to Get Applied by Search Engines?

  • Duplicate Content – Pages on your site, another site owned by you, or a competitor’s site have substantially similar or identical content. Even if your site had the original content, a search engine may consider it to be duplicated if it was found on another website first.
  • Over Optimization – Obvious optimization tactics can trip up a search engine filter, sometimes even unintentionally. If you have too many keywords, too many links pointing to a page with the same anchor text, too many instances where site content elements (Title tag, Header text, and regular text) match up with anchor text, or keyword stuffed internal site linking, then you can be tripping up an over optimization filter.
  • New Site – Also known as a “sandbox” filter, new sites are generally filtered by search engines. This filter has been put in place to keep people from spamming search engines with multiple new URLs containing questionable content. Essentially, your site will need to earn the trust of the search engine, and time is a factor in trust. In some cases a new site can avoid this type of filtering, but usually the factors involved are beyond even advanced optimization.

What kinds of filters can get applied to my site?

There are 3 Major Filter Types:

  • Keyword filters – If you find yourself filtered for only a few key phrases, and especially the ones for which you are using heavy anchor text linking practices, then a keyword filter may be to blame.
  • Site wide filters – If your whole site has been impacted, than there is a factor that is causing your whole site to lose rankings. If your site is new, it is likely filtered.
  • Link filtering – Links to your site may have lost popularity. Search engines continually reevaluate all sites on the internet, and link popularity involves hundreds of factors. If a powerful site linking to yours lost its trust for any reason, the link to your site would lose its value and you would see a rankings drop. Therefore, it is always best to diversify your inbound link popularity.

What are the different levels of filtering?

Some of the observed filter types include a “minus 30” filter that moves your ranking back by 3 pages, or 30 places, and a “minus 950” filter (also called the “950 penalty) which places you back 950 spots, or on the 95th page of search results. There also appear to be “custom” filters which may be based on a variety of factors but will cause your rankings to go below where you would expect them.

Where should I expect to see my ranking if I am not filtered?

For a well optimized site, the test in Google would be to type in allinanchor: with your top search phrase. Therefore, if your phrase was “cat food” and you typed “allinanchor:cat food” into Google, you should find your site ranked based on link popularity for that term. If your normal rankings for “cat food” fall significantly below that spot, you are either filtered or your on-page optimization is not acceptable.

How do I check for a penalty?

To check for a penalty, search for your URL, or do a site: command for the site. If you can’t find your site, and it was there before, you may be getting penalized. Make sure to check for other non-penalty factors such as robots exclusions or crawl failures.

  • Is the site removed completely from the index?
  • Does the site rank for its own URL?
  • Does Google Webmaster Tools indicate a quality issue?


How do I check for a filter?

Do an allinanchor search. Using Google, type allinanchor: followed by your preferred keyword phrase. If you are looking for multiple phrases, the search has to be repeated for each phrase. If you site shows up in a substantially higher place for allinanchor: then it may be filtered.

How to fix a penalty:

  • Using Google webmaster tools, check to see if you have any notices from Google indicating spamming, bad links, hidden text passing viruses, etc.
  • Remove any hidden text, hidden content, cloaking, duplicate content, viruses, or spyware from your site.
  • Check the latest version of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines to make sure you haven’t missed anything.
  • File a reinclusion request. This can be done through Google Webmaster tools. Alternatively, you can wait up to a year for the penalty to be lifted.

How to Fix a Filter:

  • Identify the cause of the filtering.
  • Make the necessary changes using SEO best practices.
  • Wait for the search engine to recache the site and any site from which a bad link was pointing to yours.
  • Wait for reindexing. There is a delay between recaching (where a search engine spiders a site and reads all the content) and reindexing (where the cached data is applied to your rankings).

Some of the newer information to come out of search engine circles indicates that there may be a permanent probation for sites that get reincluded into the Google index. This would make sense, given that a site that is likely to have broken spamming or quality rules may do the same thing in the future. Depending on the severity of your site’s infractions, whether you committed them yourself or whether you got them from a website you purchased, it may make more sense to start from scratch. Whenever you are buying an existing website, checking for penalties and filters should be pa
rt of the due diligence in the purchasing process. Even though search engines may reset some of their ranking factors when sites change hands, a penalized site may have other factors that are impossible to remediate.

Why Can’t I Find Myself in DMOZ?

July 28th, 2009 by Patrick Hare

One of the top questions asked by our clients is “Why Can’t I find my site in DMOZ?” Also known as the “Open Directory,” DMOZ is one of the web’s oldest directories and a link from it conveys a good value in the eyes of search engines like Google. Unfortunately, the DMOZ directory is infrequently updated and some people have not seen a submission approved after years of waiting.

Several factors are at work in DMOZ listings. First, a person needs to submit the listing to the proper category. Each category has its own editor and there may be a more relevant category unknown to the submitter. If an editor gets a submission for what is perceived to be the wrong category, the submission will get forwarded to the “right” category. The submission, even though it is from another editor, ends up at the back of the queue.

Second, not all editors update their listing categories, and some editors may have a financial stake in not allowing new listings. For instance, you may be selling fishing rods and your competitor may secretly be the editor of the fishing accessories category. DMOZ tries to prevent this from happening, but there is no easy way of establishing for whom an editor may work. Furthermore, editors may not be diligent in reviewing all of the listings requests they get, or there may be a backlog of requests ahead of yours, all of which need to be reviewed by hand. Because questionable sites have been submitting themselves to DMOZ, much of this backlog could consist of “junk” submissions.

Finally, there is some indication that a resubmission request for a website actually cancels out the original submission. Therefore, a request that was 1 year in process will end up at the back of the line when a new submission request is made. Assuming that an editor is reviewing the category, the request is now at the back of the line.

With DMOZ, we have found that inclusion has become the exception and not the rule. Normally we recommend submitting only the most basic information about your site, without any superlatives or “sales oriented” language. When choosing the category, first look for any other relevant categories. One way to do this is to search for your competition on DMOZ, and see if they come up in a category that is similar to yours. In the absence of a DMOZ listing, Web.com Search Agency highly recommends other directory link building which is more immediate. Submission to the Yahoo directory is good for SEO, costs $299 per year, and even brings some physical visitors. While we believe that DMOZ listings can have a good positive impact on web rankings, the 2+ year wait for approval is beyond the SEO expectations of our clients.

Special note: some companies claim to have “guaranteed DMOZ placement” for a price. This would appear to violate DMOZ terms and conditions by giving priority in exchange for monetary compensation. If you decide to go with such a service, be sure your method of payment is waiting in escrow or can be charged back if you don’t get the results you are looking for.

H1 Tag Recommendations

July 27th, 2009 by Patrick Hare

The H1 tag has been a component of SEO for some time, and we are still finding it useful as a factor in on-page optimization. Search engines use this piece of code to better classify the topic of the entire page, and recent testing (or retesting, since it has been tested in the past) shows that the H1 is still worth including, even if it means paying for extra coding or programming.

For those of us who are unfamiliar with the H1 tag, it is a piece of HTML code that is used on the “header” of a web page, and it defines a phrase which ideally should describe page content. If you are looking at a page written in basic HTML with an H1 tag, the first thing you will notice is the remarkably large font size. Font size and style can be controlled with CSS on the page code or in a CSS file, so your H1 can conceivably be the same size and font as your other text.

Here are some more tips about dealing in H1 tags:

  1. Don’t match up the H1 tag and the title tag. Both tags are very important, but if they are identical you risk an over optimization filter. Similarly, your inbound link anchor texts should also not match the H1 tag precisely.
  2. Only use one H1 tag per page. There are H2, H3, H4, and other tags that can be used, but each page should only have one main topic. Too many H1s on a page will just water down the page’s search engine value.
  3. As the code implies, H1 goes first. Don’t put an H2 before an H1, and whenever possible your H1 should go above the other text on the page.
  4. The H1 tag should include the page’s keywords in a way that helps the user. Search engines are getting more and more intelligent, and user experience helps define a page’s value.
  5. Every page should have a unique H1 tag. Some software platforms will automatically put a company name in the H1 spot, but this does nothing to describe each page’s unique content. If you have a shopping cart system with thousands of pages, you can put the short product description in the H1, but then you should try to make sure it doesn’t precisely match the title. This may require some creative programming. Identical or substantially similar H1 tags on different pages can cause “keyword blurring” which is also not good for search engine rankings.

People with older sites may have avoided H1 tags in the past because browsers like Netscape 3 or 4 would display H1s in their classic large font style. Hopefully your site has been maintained more frequently over the past several years, but in many cases the look and feel may have gotten fixed while header tags were still omitted. As a housecleaning measure, it is usually a good idea to do a mini SEO audit to see if your site is using the proper tag structure.

Making recommendations on H1 tags may seem like old advice to seasoned SEO professionals, but we have seen several cases where the addition of an H1 tag improved search engine rankings. In some cases (like in shopping carts or sites built with content management systems) the H1 was removed or deliberately omitted because it would have matched the title tag. If you have built your site with a CMS, you may want to check with your vendor to see if a plug-in or update has fixed this problem.

Given that SEO involves making a lot of small changes to improve your website’s value in the search engines, the H1 tag can definitely have a positive impact for sites that may be lingering in the search engine rankings. By ensuring that your site has proper H1 formatting on as many pages as possible, you may notice a positive impact in a very short amount of time, especially if your other SEO initiatives are already in process.

An Internet Marketing Strategy that Works

July 24th, 2009 by Patrick Hare

Since the early days of the world wide web, there have been advertising. At first, horizontal “banner ads” were all the rage, and were sold by the “impression” which meant that the advertiser could spend as much as $10,000 for a quarter million impressions. By the year 2000, it was generally apparent that people had conditioned themselves to ignore banner content, and the collapse of banner advertising contributed to the “dot com bust” in the same year.

The internet marketing model that replaced banner ads, and turned search engines like Google into economic titans, is Pay-Per-Click, or PPC. The reason that it became successful is that most PPC ads are triggered by online searches or relevant context. Ads that show up near online searches can have a conversion rate that beats similar spending on radio, newspapers, and television. Contextual ads (also known as content match) that show up near online articles, blog entries, or social media posts also can grab the visitor’s attention in a more cost effective way. An intelligent contextual campaign can be targeted for demographics like age, income, interests, and hobbies. For example, if you sell used video games online, there are settings in Google and other PPC services that can show your ads on a particular website about gaming, or even specific topic fields on that site. In a similar fashion, you can show ads on Myspace and Facebook in specific sections that are relevant to you target audience.

As an internet marketing tactic, PPC also functions as a form of audience response, since different messages can be tested at no extra charge. An online marketing campaign can rotate several different text advertisements or image-based ads, and quickly see which one gets the most clicks. Secondarily, conversion tracking tools can indicate how many of those clicks turn into sales. One of the reasons for the recent failure of large newspapers has been the shift from newspaper ads to online advertising. This is because effective internet marketing campaigns make it possible to generate revenue from actual demand, as opposed to buying a print publication presence that may or may not achieve results. Secondarily, the ability to gauge customer reactions in a real-time environment allows advertisers to modify their messages and campaigns until the most profitable model is achieved, and this could take years with traditional advertising.

Any discussion of PPC marketing should include natural search engine optimization. The search results presented in engines like Yahoo and Google tend to be more trusted by users, specifically because they are perceived as not needing a bidding system for positioning. In reality, it is possible to buy your way into Yahoo’s “natural” results with Yahoo Search Submit . In Google, search engine optimization is not used to buy your way into the top rankings, but it can be used to position your website as the best resource for a given search. By using advanced internet marketing tactics, you can create a website that becomes an accepted source for specific products and services, which will lead to revenue growth and brand equity.

No matter what your internet marketing initiative, you should be sure to nail down the tactics that are going to be used and the expected cost. One of the pitfalls of paid online marketing is that a badly run campaign can cost thousands (or even millions) of dollars in wasted clicks. PPC campaigns and other techniques require continuous real-time monitoring and adjustment. Any agency that manages your internet marketing should have experience and be able to show transparent results on a regular basis. A well run campaign will filter out the high volume of traffic that is unlikely to convert, while funneling qualified search engine traffic into your website. Simultaneously, you should be getting conversion advice regarding your website, so interested potential prospects can be turned into enthusiastic paying customers. Online and internet promotion strategies are helping many companies become profitable, even in a down economy, so now can be a great time to move your advertising dollars into a space that offers lower costs and a higher ROI.