Archive for May, 2010

Scam SEO Invoices

May 28th, 2010 by Patrick Hare

scam seo mailYesterday I got an “invoice” in the mail for a domain I own that doesn’t even have a website on it. In actuality, this is not an invoice for services rendered but an offer for “domain name submission” to search engines, but the formatting of the letter would make the average person look twice. If you’re a small business owner, you might remember getting “Yellow Page” solicitations in the past that looked like bills for services rendered, and an unscrupulous website submission company appears to be following the same pattern. 

What is laughable about this letter is that the submission to “20 established search engines” is such an outdated tactic that is not worth your time. Search engines can already find your site, and they’re probably using the same WHOIS information that the scammer used to send you the letter. It is in a search engine’s best interest to “ping” new domain names every once in a while to see if content shows up. In one of my own personal tests, I have gotten a site cached within 3 days of buying a domain name, with no attempts at submission or linking of any kind.

 If you go to the website listed on the phony invoice, the list of “20” search engines is not even up to date. In reality, if you want to submit your content to Google, Bing, and Yahoo, there are easy ways to do it. You can submit to Google Here Yahoo Here, and Bing Here. If you want to submit your other URLs to marginal third-tier search engines, you can look them up online and save yourself the submission fee. As always, you should check the terms and conditions for submission to some of the smaller engines, since they might make their money reselling your contact information to SEO companies looking for lists of new submissions.

Finally, if you respond to a deceptive SEO invoice in the mail, you are almost certain to get continuous pitches for other services which may have limited value. A true SEO campaign costs more because it involves time, education, and money. However, you can still learn enough about SEO for free to get far better results than you would from giving somebody $60+ to throw your site into a piece of software that cost him $500, assuming he didn’t find a free version somewhere that does the same thing.

Intent Based Search – An Exercise In Mind Reading

May 28th, 2010 by Patrick Hare

If you knew what you wanted, you probably wouldn’t be using a search engine. Paradoxically, search engines such as Bing and Yahoo are trying to figure out what you want when you type in a phrase that could be incredibly vague. The search engine wants to maintain its reputation by delivering the most relevant results possible, so it is going to use a variety of tools to turn your query into an answer that you are going to like.

Intent Based Search Matching is the search engine’s solution. First, an engine looks to see if you want to find a specific website, learn more about a topic, or buy something. It uses rules based on past user experiences, click patterns, and information that you may be providing without your own knowledge. For example, if you are looking for travel-related terms, your subsequent search engine queries for cities may include information on flights and hotels. Also known as “personalized” results, your response from the search engine is going to differ significantly from what a “first time” user is going to get when he/she types in the exact same query.

If you are trying to get your site to rank for certain phrases, intent based search can be a friend and an enemy. As a friend, it is going to present results in certain situations when your website would not otherwise rank, thanks to the individual user’s previous queries. As an enemy, your top keyword rankings may get buried on personalized searches because the engine thinks that there are better matches based on user data. Therefore, it is a lot harder to estimate the traffic you can get based on search demand.

How can you react to such a dynamic delivery of search results? For starters, you can put more content on your site, and make sure that you are a leader in your industry for information. You can explore common synonyms for your main keywords and go into depth on topics. If you’re a vacation site, you can delve deeper into a destination’s attractions, right down to a detailed synopsis of each individual tour or feature. Aside from increasing your potential long-tail traffic, your keywords are working to create a semantic presence in the search engines that makes you a better result for all kinds of search intent.

Conversely, you can structure your site to a specific intent. Normally it does not pay to attempt to show up in results when people are looking for a specific website. If you think that a sizable portion of people looking for information may also be buyers, then you can make your site appear to be an informational resource. For a pure sales site, you can create relevance with original content on pages for products people are likely to buy. You can also make sure that your ecommerce pages are in line with common standards for getting discovered by search engines, so you have a fighting chance against massive sites that put manufacturer-written content on their product pages.

As always, keyword research and an understanding of your market can go a long way to driving search engine success. If you can match up your site with the same type of phrases used by someone with an “intention” to buy, you are helping the search engines find the best possible result. Most standard SEO techniques like keyword research, content creation, and link building already are working to match high-converting, high traffic queries with web pages, so you may have set yourself up for “intent based search” without knowing it. However, it always pays to understand what the search engines are trying to do, so if you can match up your pages with a user’s intent, then you have a better chance of making good sales instead of just getting traffic.

Web Page Content Theming

May 24th, 2010 by Lisa Rosenkrantz

It’s important for your online business to keep customers engaged – so why would you confuse them with website content that’s all over the place? Would you want to shop in a store with ladies’ undergarments on the same shelf as work boots and bubble gum? It wouldn’t make sense. So it’s important to optimize your Web content, and to organize it into neatly packaged webpage themes that not only the search engines will love, REAL PEOPLE will, too! And really, who are you trying to impress anyway? People who’ll start off as visitors and become your customers, that’s who.

Think back to one of those college research papers. Remember when part of your grade depended on your outline? Well, webpage theming is no different, really, except it doesn’t have to be as detailed or have any precise formatting. It’s just so much easier to work from a well-structured outline, even if it’s informal.

Some benefits of theming out your pages:

  • Streamlines your content
  • Keeps related keywords on each page
  • Makes pages distinguishable and focused
  • Keeps continuity between title, content, keyword density, internal links
  • Is favorably viewed by search engines and human visitors

So just because you have a website, you shouldn’t assume that search engines will be able to identify each and every segment of the site in a structured and logical way. That’s for you to work out. For many sites, it’s probably reasonably clear what your breakout themes should be, but you’ll need to support your intuition by solid keyword research using the Google Keyword Tool.

To give a super simple example, let’s say you’re a taxidermist and you have a small website. Your outline might look something like this (or it might be in your head):

With just this basic framework at your fingertips, it’ll be easy to work out the structure of your web page themes and write effective content, titles and tags. Having distinct pages and strong themes can help your site be viewed as an authority, and will be regarded more favorably by Google and other search engines than other, more haphazard sites. It’s worth it to do the work to make your site relevant and dominant – Google loves structure and so do your visitors.

The Call-To-Action

May 24th, 2010 by Lisa Rosenkrantz

If people are coming to your website, they need a purpose. Perhaps you want them to buy, register, bookmark, donate, make an appointment, fill out a form, subscribe or sell something. Whatever you want them to do, you need to make it abundantly clear in a tactful, legit way that they’re not going anywhere until they comply with your wishes. Your call-to-action is the element you use to compel visitors to do something specific that enables you to measure whether or not your website is doing its intended job.

The website call to action, then, is small but mighty. Everything you do with it is important and there are many considerations and ways you can handle it. From placement to wording to the actual color you use for the button, you really need to think about it methodically. Make sure the message clear, encouraging, trustworthy and not overwhelming so you can enjoy a healthy conversion rate.

From a Web design perspective, there are the elements to keep in mind when planning out your advertising call-to-action that can lead to increased conversions:

Placement: Make sure your call-to-action message is noticeable to visitors. It should be above the fold and in a prominent place, somewhere next to or within the content. Put a button on the homepage for sure and don’t hesitate to place buttons on other pages throughout your website. Also, make sure there’s direction for each step of the process, so no page is ever a dead end.

Text: What should your call-to-action say? Definitely NOT just Click Here, which isn’t cluing your visitors in on the real action you want them to take. Be clear; use wording such as Try It for Free! or Buy Now! or even Click Here to Subscribe to Our Newsletter! That’s some solid direction.

Color: The call to action button should be noticeable and perhaps contrasts with your main colors. Also, according a recent blog post, the colors you choose for your Web call-to-action make a difference, and should be chosen carefully according to the action. For example, red is popular but might be associated with debt, while white might be lost in the crowd and overlooked.

Size: A larger button will make it more prominent on a page and will have a positive impact on conversion, but don’t make it so big or flamboyant that it’s obnoxious and takes away from the tactful message.

Icons: Images and buttons catch people’s eyes and stand out against the text. The fact that they’re a contrast to the rest of the page inherently implies a request to take action.

To determine the best advertising call-to-action for your particular website, it’s important to do some testing to find out what’s working. Experiment with different colors, sizes, shapes, locations, etc. and check which are leading to a better conversion rate. Use the free Google Website Optimizer tool to help you do this.

Don’t take the call to action for granted on your small business website and forget why you have a website in the first place. You’ve got a potential customer visiting your well-designed website and reading your excellent content… now you’ve got to ask for a conversion.

Have Your SEO Rankings Hit A Wall?

May 21st, 2010 by Patrick Hare

In lots of cases, SEO projects work very well…up to a point. You can choose a favorite keyword, optimize your site, and get great links, and see your site move up in the rankings over the space of several months. Unfortunately, you can also watch your site stop moving, or sit in the #11 position while the top 10 rankings shuffle themselves around as if they were having a square dance. Similarly, you may crack the top 10 but never break into the top 5 positions because the sites ahead of you just won’t get out of the way.

There are plenty of explanations for why a site gets stuck in a certain spot. Among them are: 

  • Incredible Link Popularity. Your quest to be #1 might be a multimillion dollar proposition if you want to compete with Adobe for PDF keywords.
  • High Trust Factors. Wikipedia sometimes holds a top ranking and does not budge. A certain sector may have multiple “high trust” sites, in which case you need to think of how to make your site more trustworthy.
  • Age. There is a common misconception that having an “older” site guarantees great rankings. In reality, the older site probably has been getting SEO value and trust for a long time, and its links have better age than yours. You may have to overcome the age disparity by getting more trusted links.
  • Resource Value. This factor can’t be overestimated. Genuine link popularity is hard to fake, and a site that is endorsed by the masses can rule the rankings. (Once again, think Wikipedia.) If you have tools, sticky content, a killer app, or a rare value proposition, you can go a lot further than you could with artificial PageRank generation.
  • User Experience & Code. A site with a high bounce rate may be getting held back, and bad code (or long load times) can be pushing you back.
  • A Dynamic Environment. Guess What? Those other guys are probably investing in SEO too, and they have a head start.
  • Cheating. Those other guys might just be employing some black hat tactics that work. They may not work forever. Every once in awhile, it pays to peek “behind the curtain” on competitor sites to see if something is afoot.

 Even a savvy SEO professional can become perplexed when a site gets stuck. Sometimes it pays to take a step back and consult with other SEOs to see if there is a solution you might have missed. In other cases, you may want to start looking at alternative keyword strategies while you wait for your favorite phrase to move. Given enough time, rankings should start to move when your site’s content and links become more relevant and trustworthy. Usually, the toughest part about hitting a “rankings wall” comes with knowing that your efforts are “spot on” compared to the millions of sites beneath you, but not quite good enough to break into the top spaces. While it may be hard to counsel patience when dollars are being spent on an optimization campaign, you can at least rest assured that you’re starting to make the established sites nervous.

Stuck SEO Rankings

Alternate Search Engines

May 19th, 2010 by Lisa Rosenkrantz

I’m pretty happy with conducting any and all searches on Google – it provides the tools, data and resources I need to do my job and find what I need for real life. It’s pretty much automatic to reach for Google first thing in the morning and last thing at night; however, it doesn’t hurt to check out alternative search engines once in a while to see if there’s possibly anything else of value out there. To that end, I searched (on Google) for new/unique/unfamiliar-to-me search engines and made some first impression observations.

Blackle (www.blackle.com):
This is basically Google wearing black – while being green. The premise is that it saves energy over a white background by reducing color settings and desktop graphics. It’s sleek and all, but if you click on a link, you’re no longer in Blackle, so what’s the big deal? Are the three seconds you spent doing a search going to make that much of a difference? B

Cuil (www.cuil.com):
I would say this one is really pleasant on the eyes and delivers some streamlined results. This is great for people who want to cut to the chase and find their information without repetition, sponsored links and clutter. You can just feel the editing that goes into generating the results. B+

Dipity (www.dipity.com):
This search engine, like TagGalaxy (below), is one where I can see getting caught up in the features and functions. It delivers your results in the form of a timeline and incorporates results from YouTube, Flickr and Digg. You also have the options of having your results appear in List, Flip Book and Map forms. While this is a great tool for anyone, I could see high school and college students really lapping it up. A

GooBingHoo (www.goobinghoo.com):
After you type in your keywords, the results from Google, Bing and Yahoo! appear together. The top third of each results page shows up and you can customize it to show them vertically or horizontally, making it a convenient way to see the difference in rankings. Visually, it’s annoying to me because when you scroll through one set of results, they all scroll. C

Instafound (www.instafound.com):
Their motto is “type a term and get taken to a site.” Well, they deliver on that, but if you’re impatient at all or are a visual learner, this won’t work. You have to wait for their choice of sites to load, and if it doesn’t work for you, you have to scroll to the next one and wait again. Plus, you’re inside frames, which I don’t like. There’s no picking and choosing, so you might as well use Google’s I’m Feeling Lucky feature which is faster and frameless. D

Quintura (www.quintura.com):
At first I found this one difficult to maneuver, but once I got the hang of it, I found it helpful for generating ideas and keywords. I still like Google’s Wonder Wheel better for this purpose, but it was fun to play around with keyword variations, which are prompted by a cloud of search topics that appear to the left of the results. B-

Soovle (www.soovle.com):
You type in your keyword and suggestions from Google, Bing, Amazon, Wikipedia, YouTube, Yahoo! and Anwers.com appear in a web around the search box. It’s a helpful tool for generating ideas as well as for search, but the layout could be a bit more polished. C

Sputtr (www.sputtr.com):
This one is very simple and meant for mobile devices. You type in your keywords and select from a drop-down menu the search engine you wish to use. It’s basically what you may already have on your browser’s toolbar, with the addition of YouTube, Flickr, Amazon, Ebay and Wikipedia. B

TagGalaxy (www.taggalaxy.com):
Two thumps up! This is a picture search engine that has an amazing and fascinating design interface. Put in your keyword and it will quickly deliver whatever it has scraped from the Web on animated, orbiting, 3-D planets. The additional ideas it generates are quite impressive. I heartily recommend this one – try searching with “Spain” and see all the possibilities! A

Viewzi (www.viewzi.com)
When it comes to explaining how much I love this unique search engine, I’m speechless. It has every format for results at your fingertips – timelines, web snapshots, tag clouds, photo clouds, news articles, power grid…you just select your preference from a view menu. The results are from Google, so you’re guaranteed relevance and everything comes up lightning fast. This is the only alternate search engine I’ve added to my browser’s toolbar. A+

Yoowalk (www.yoowalk.com):
This one is like a video game, actually. You search the web in the form of a customizable avatar that strolls through and among 3D representations of websites and categories. There’s a social component, as you can interact with other users and submit favorite sites. It’s interesting, but you probably won’t get much accomplished. Plus, it crashed my browser almost immediately. B-

Zhift (www.zhift.com):
This search engine concentrates on the forum niche. You can also elect to search for PDF docs and Forum DoFollows. I don’t think I’ll get much use out of this engine, though. I tried two separate and unrelated searches and the results for both were far from relevant. Despite having launched and re-launched a bunch of times, maybe they haven’t quite gotten it right. C-

There are scores of other alternative search engines to explore, but I think I’ll stick with Google for my basic daily requirements and play around with some of these new discoveries when I’m looking for visual or cerebral inspiration. What do you think of these sites? Have you found any other interesting ones?

Integrated Marketing Solutions

May 14th, 2010 by Jessica Runberg

In today’s world of interactive marketing services, marketing your business is about more than just online or offline marketing; it’s about how the two avenues work together to increase the bottom line. Print ads must include online Web addresses and social media profile information, while online advertising campaigns must reference all of the different ways people can interact with your business online.

While it may seem complicated at first, the key to a successful integrated marketing campaign is actually quite simple and boils down to one essential element: branding. However you market your business, the key is to keep your branding consistent across all of your marketing channels – both online and offline.

By delivering a consistent message to your customers, no matter how they interact with your business – you’ll build a strong brand and advertising presence. Using the same taglines and color schemes are just a couple of ways that you can maintain this consistency across all of your channels. And the more places you include your branded message – on websites, in traditional media outlets, on website banner advertisements, in paid-search results, on social media sites and other venues – the more likely you are to reach a wider audience.

By telling the same story in different places, it may be easier to connect with customers that you weren’t able to connect with before. For example, you may find that the customer who never opens your e-mail marketing messages may actually prefer interacting with your business on Facebook or Twitter. Or, perhaps someone who heard about your business on the radio would prefer to visit your website rather than call your toll-free telephone number. By delivering your branded message across a variety of marketing channels, and being clear about the different ways people can find your business, you can interact with more potential customers overall.

We’re seeing these types of integrated marketing services work especially well when it comes to online visibility in the search engines, as well as with remarketing. How has integrated marketing worked for your business? Leave us a comment to share your experience!

Remove a URL From Google – How To

May 12th, 2010 by Patrick Hare

Google URL RemovalSometimes you just want to take pages out of the Google index, or out of any search engine’s listings. You may have pages on a site that reveal personal or private information, like social security numbers, and you want them taken out of a search engine’s cache or index. You may be displaying duplicate or copyrighted content and need to take it off the site in response to a legal request or court order. As always, it is much easier to remove URLs from sites that you own, since removing information (defamatory or duplicate content) on other sites is a more complex process.

The first step in URL removal usually involves taking down the physical page, or moving it to a location where a search engine can’t read it. You can also use a robots.txt file exclusion to tell the search engine not to read the page or the directory that the page is stored in. Note that taking the page down does not instantly take it out of the search engines, since they tend to crawl each page every couple of weeks under most circumstances. The search engine will still have a cached version of your page available until it determines the page is no longer there. Sometimes, you may even take a page down and see it cached for months in search engine results, so it is best to 301 redirect the old page address to the homepage if you are not using a robots.txt exclusion.

 If you have gotten someone else to remove sensitive content, but it is still cached in Google, you can use the Public URL Removal Tool to request that Google take that information out of its index.

Google has a four part series (see parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 ) on URL removal, and it is important to note that Google’s standard for removing a URL is based on very important reasons for taking a URL out of Google’s index. Normally this is done as a last resort or as due diligence when you have also done as much as you can on your own end to take content down. For example, if there is a page that has sensitive/personal content on it that may breach privacy rules, and you have taken the file off your site but it is still cached in Google, then you would put in a request. Google’s articles also make it abundantly clear that there are situations where you do not want to remove URLs if you want your site to get found.

What if someone is copying your content, and you want the search engines to remove their pages? Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, you can compel Google to remove pages from its index if they contain your content. There are forms to fill out, and the other site may appeal your request. As a side note, Google also forwards takedown requests to third party websites  so you should not put anything in a DMCA request that is not 100% true and that you wouldn’t mind seeing in a newspaper.

Removing pages from search engines should only be done when it is absolutely necessary. Aside from the reasons mentioned above, page removal can poke holes in your site’s on-page link profile, and make your site appear incomplete to search engines. Unless people are likely to look at the cached version of a page you’ve taken down, redirecting the offending page (if you can’t just get rid of the content) may be a better solution. Even if you do make a request to remove a page or pages, the search engine may choose not to comply.

How to SEO E-Commerce Websites

May 12th, 2010 by Patrick Hare

Search engine optimization for e-commerce websites can be a lot trickier than standard optimization for most other website types. Online stores with shopping carts may have hundreds (or thousands) of individual pages, so it may be impossible to manually optimize each one. Additionally, many shopping cart platforms use URL structures and parameters that make it harder for search engines to read the pages, and the sheer number of pages may lead an engine to decide that the bulk of them are not worth indexing.

How do you optimize ecommerce page? Usually it is best to start by finding a shopping cart that is “search engine friendly.” Basically, this means that the cart software can substitute a readable directory structure for parameters that include characters like the ampersand (&) and percentage sign (%), which can give search engines headaches. Many carts have built in URL rewriting features, but other open-source e-commerce platforms may require a third-party plug-in to make URLs readable.

The next item to check off your list involves getting product pages indexed. There are a couple of important approaches to take. First, each individual page should have a clear connection back to upper level categories in the form of breadcrumbs and links back to the homepage. Secondarily, your HTML structure should be creating links to your shopping cart pages so a search engine could theoretically start at the homepage, progress through categories, and find links to each product in your shopping cart. This is not always easy if you are using a search function (such as dropdowns) to locate products, so you may need to be creative. Last, an XML sitemap should be used to tell the search engines where the products are. Some people in the SEO community are against XML sitemaps because they make it harder to prove that a search engine found your page the “right” way, but if you are relying on your product pages to make money as quickly as possible, you probably have a different opinion.

For most individual pages, you will want to create a protocol that populates part of the title and description tags automatically. Normally, the short product description is a great way to start your title, and you can create a static portion of the title that always has the same messaging or branding. For instance, if you sell “square blue widgets” on one page, the title would have a variable field for that section of the title that may look like “{short product description} | WidgetWorld Exotic Products Company.” If all your short product descriptions are unique, then you will have a unique description for each one. If you sell products with item numbers that people search for, such as inkjet refills and batteries, then you will want to put that item number in the title as well. At the same time, you should be filling in the meta description with a snippet of your product description to make each description unique.

Some of the top e-commerce stores on the internet also use content to improve search engine rankings. Some approaches for adding content to multiple pages involve either writing good content for high volume/high margin items, allowing customers to post product reviews, or soliciting the services of professional writers to add content to your top product pages. Usually it does not help to just go with the manufacturer’s content because that is likely to be used on other sites, so your shopping cart pages could be pegged as duplicate content. Having unique, relevant, and keyword rich content on your pages gives you an advantage over everyone using the “copy and paste” philosophy.

Once you have your pages optimized, and your product pages have permanent SEO friendly URLs, it is time to start deep linking to popular products. To determine your most prominent products, you may only have to use Pay-Per-Click data to see which items get the most searches, or which ones get the most conversions. By getting external links from other sites, and linking to select featured items from your homepage, you can improve the prominence of specific products in the eyes of the search engines and move up your rankings.

As stated above, SEO for ecommerce stores can be very tricky, expensive, and time consuming. Depending on your shopping cart, it may even necessitate the services of a programmer. Nonetheless, a well planned dynamic optimization setup is a great way to get incremental traffic for specific searches, especially higher converting long-tail product queries. If you can get customers who know exactly what they want, they have a much higher chance of making a purchase from your site, so the “volume” game is the key advantage in the world of shopping cart SEO.  As your site becomes more successful, you can either revisit the optimization on underperforming pages or add related products. As you fine tune your e-commerce optimization campaign, you should also notice an appreciable impact on your bottom line, which can more than justify the expense of a well optimized shopping cart system.

optimize ecommerce sites

See an incremental sales increase from better e-commerce SEO.

Site Audit Checklist

May 12th, 2010 by Jessica Runberg

If your site isn’t getting the traffic you desire, you may be in need of a website audit. An SEO site audit will uncover areas where your website may be lacking and could use a bit of TLC.

At Web.com Search Agency, the start of any new SEO campaign begins with an in-depth audit to understand what type of SEO is going to work best for a client. Below are just a few things we look at prior to making our client recommendations (and we encourage you to try them, too):

Competitors’ Keywords. Knowing who the competition is and what keywords they’re using will give you an idea of what you’re up against. A lot of information can be gleaned simply by studying the meta title tags of your competitors.

Link Popularity. By analyzing which and how many websites point to your site, you can learn a lot about a website and its performance in the SERPs. Links that point to your site are considered a “vote” for your site and they’re imperative to achieving top rankings.

Site Age. The older your site, the more power it’s going to carry in the SEO world. If your site’s been around for a while, the search engines know that you’re not a fly-by-night operation and they’ll consider your site to be more reputable. But don’t worry, if you have a new site there are steps you can take to ensure that your site becomes trusted more quickly.

Domain Name. If you have one of your top keywords in your domain name, consider yourself lucky – and clever. Search engines love it when a domain name tells exactly what a site is about!

Social Media Links. Social media links serve as a barometer for what people are saying about a company’s products and services. This is becoming a big part of the online marketing equation and can help your site fast-track its way to the top of the search results.

Server Speed Issues. If your website is slow, your search engine rankings can suffer. An analysis of your site’s speed can reveal potential ranking problems.

These are just a few of the metrics that our search specialists use to develop a comprehensive SEO strategy for our clients. There are, of course, many more! We invite you to call us at 1-877-Rank-321 if you’d like us to prepare a website audit for your business.