Archive for September, 2010

QR Codes – Few Direct SEO Implications, But Still Important To Watch

September 24th, 2010 by Patrick Hare

If you’ve been reading any print media lately, you may have noticed some unusual looking square barcodes embedded within ads. Known as QR codes, they are essentially paper-based hyperlinks that can be translated by smartphones, and lead to websites. Many newspaper advertisers, like restaurants, use them to offer special deals that are not available to the average reader.

 The great thing about QR codes is that you don’t have to be an engineer to build them if you want to put them in ads. There are several QR code generators out there online, and there are QR code makers in the form of software. Because the QR code is built through a third party, it works equally well with Android and iPhone apps. For the user, it may be necessary to download a specific QR code reading application. There are even some alternative versions of the QR code, so it may be necessary to have more than one scanning app if you are the one doing the reading.

Can QR codes be used in link building? Right now, the jury is out, but this may be something to consider if you have content that can be accessed on mobile devices. If you generate QR codes by way of websites or software, the search engines may be looking through lists of these links to discover pages they haven’t found before. Therefore, the links themselves may not pass the same type of value as a text link, but they would still be useful in getting pages noticed. As always, there can be secondary natural link building if you use a WR code to get someone to look at your product pages, and then they use your actual link in blogs or other postings.

Until the use of QR codes becomes a bit more ubiquitous, the SEO and SEM implications for using them are going to be up in the air. Nonetheless, it is still a good idea to keep an eye on this segment of technology, since the way people use the internet on smartphones is going to create a new emphasis on features that were impossible to offer users who were tethered to a computer. The game-changing reality of the mobile internet is going to have a radical impact on how sites make money in the future, and QR codes may very well be the bridge between print and digital that keeps your brand in the viewer’s mind.

Low Budget Link Building – Getting Scraped By Feeds and Content Aggregators

September 15th, 2010 by Patrick Hare

If you publish a blog on Wordpress, Blogger, or other platforms, then it probably didn’t take long to discover that your content can end up on all kinds of websites. Luckily, search engines are pretty good at crediting the content to your own site, so you enjoy the benefits of improved search engine traffic in addition to the improved credibility (and exposure) that your blog creates. From an SEO standpoint, there are some minor advantages to this wholesale duplication.

Most content scraping is done by offshore sites and content aggregators, which essentially copy everything that gets published through blog platforms. These sites simply add your blog entry to millions of other pages on various sites, and then automatically place advertising next to the content. They get paid every time someone clicks on an ad, and the payment is anywhere from a penny to a few dollars. (Most of the time it is a few cents.)  The scale of this content scraping is quite large, so these sites can make a profit even if a very small percentage of their pages are visited. Even though search engines prefer original content, and give it greater prominence, there is obviously enough traffic generated from large-scale copying to pay for hosting and overhead.

What can you do to prevent copying? Not much. Since the site owners are offshore, and the ownership of servers and hosting is pretty murky, you (the blogger) are probably not in a position to challenge someone operating anonymously under some foreign country’s lenient copyright laws. However, you can improve your link popularity, albeit from lower-end sites, by making sure that you embed links into your content that point back to your own site. Despite the fact that these sites have minimal quality, they are at least indexed by Google, and therefore the link popularity coming back from these sites has a certain amount of value. As site content and links age in search engines, you might as well reclaim some of the credibility that comes from getting your content scraped without permission.

Naturally, not every site that copies or quotes your content is on the dark side of SEO, and in this case peppering your links into content can be beneficial. If your blog is topical, offers value to an average person, or answers common questions, it can get referenced by people who are using your work as an authoritative argument. If you get quoted by these users, and your link remains intact, you are getting even more link value. Therefore, it pays to put at least one link in your blog that either references your homepage or a related topic. Although there is no substitute for good high-powered link building, there can be an aggregate benefit to getting picked up by the otherwise spammy world of content scraping and aggregation.

Hyphenated Domain Name – Good For SEO, Bad For Branding?

September 15th, 2010 by Patrick Hare

Should you buy a hyphenated domain name? In many cases, people are unable to buy an exact match domain name but the hyphenated one is available. Depending on your long term goals, a hyphenated domain (such as example-domain.com instead of exampledomain.com) can do a lot for your business, but severely limit your potential in other instances.

One of the key advantages of a hyphenated domain name is that it is nearly as good as an exact match domain name for SEO purposes. If your only goal is to rank on search engines, hyphenated domains can be a good buy and a good SEO strategy. However, if you plan on doing any branding, or you plan on marketing your website through channels like radio, print, or TV, then the hyphen can work against you. Even if people remember the name of the website, they might not remember the hyphen between words. Therefore, the owner of the hyphen-free domain name is going to be siphoning off a share of your traffic.

Copyright issues can also arise with hyphenated domain names. If someone has been selling a service under an original domain name for a period of time, he or she may be able to claim that your domain name is creating confusion, and may be able to claim ownership of your domain name. Normally this is not a problem if you are going after a name that is descriptive and does not carry any brand equity.

Getting back to the SEO advantages of hyphenated domain names, there are a couple of things to consider. It still takes time to rank for competitive keyword phrases, but you can get a bit of a lift from the domain name’s match to inbound anchor text pointing at the site. It may even be possible to push the envelope on linking by using more anchors that exactly match the keyword phrase in your domain name. We have also seen several cases in non-hyphenated domains where links to the domain name itself manage to get a site to rank for terms that are parsed out as keywords.

Therefore, if SEO is the only goal you have for your website, a hyphenated domain name can work wonders. In fact, you can get by with a .net, .org, and maybe even a .info if you want to be accessed only through search engine results or in PPC campaigns. If you ever plan on taking your click and mortar site into the brick and mortar world, you should then consider the acquisition of a site that has no hyphens in the domain name. There are some other considerations at this point in the game, but if you are just starting out, have limited funds, and plan to get a foothold with SEO traffic, then a hyphen is not always a bad thing.

Where’s Your Traffic Coming From?

September 10th, 2010 by Patrick Hare

At Web.com Search Agency, we usually help new SEO customers get signed up with Google Analytics or other programs that can help them monitor web traffic. For our purposes, it allows for a clear indication of how well the work we do translates into site traffic from Google, Yahoo, and Bing. Clients who already have an analytics program also generally gravitate toward search engine traffic measurement, since it represents one of the least expensive channels for new business. When the engagement comes up for renewal, we can invariably show increased traffic and keyword growth that would otherwise be hard to pin down.

However, search engine traffic by itself is a small part of the story. Understanding traffic from other sites can sometimes be more indicative of a website’s overall success in its field, and can provide valuable information about a site’s total footprint on the World Wide Web. An oft-repeated piece of advice from Google is to design a site as if search engines did not exist. If you consider that sites once relied on reference traffic from each other, you can understand the potential for developing traffic between sites. Secondarily, you can improve your link popularity by cultivating relationships with other popular sites in your industry.

Monitoring other sources of web traffic can help you uncover positive and negative references to your business. With the rise of social media, it is easier than ever for people to comment on your store and your services, and even an unhappy reference will often link to your site. Tracing the link back to its source lets you do some low cost reputation management, where you can either refute the person’s point of view or thank them for their kind words.

You can also develop relationships with sites that are sending you good traffic and leads. We have seen a couple of cases where sites are referenced in a list of resources, and that list is used by interested shoppers. Not surprisingly, some of these sites will move your name to the top of their lists for a certain amount of money, but even then you can be the “top” site in your field, which is akin to the old phone book trick of adding “AAAA” to your name to make it to the front of the business listings.

Another aspect of checking referring sites relates to click fraud and misuse of your website. To detect click fraud, you can usually see pages on your site that are getting referenced from shady looking sites, and the fraud is easy to spot because you will have a bounce rate that is close to 100%, or a visit time averaging one second. Basically, a site is misusing content match or search match in combination with automated clicking tools. If you detect this type of behavior, and you are the one buying the PPC, then you may want to alert your search engine directly and/or shut off the portion of the campaign that resulted in phony clicks.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but referencing (and getting traffic from) a competitor can be a win-win situation online. As long as you aren’t selling identical products, some cross-linking between sites can improve the user experience and may even give window shoppers an opportunity to choose your site. From our own standpoint, we have noticed competitor traffic coming to our website, and if someone else in the field has an interesting tool or article then we aren’t afraid to make a reference to it on our own site. Search engines prefer a collaborative internet; a certain amount of professional courtesy puts you on the high road, even when you’re going after the same customers.

If you’re seeing a lot of “direct” traffic coming to your site, you are either experiencing brand loyalty, lots of return customers, or there are a lot of people who keep your site bookmarked. Some of the bigger “dot com” companies will see direct traffic because people just type the site name into the browser bar. As a side note, a heavy amount of “direct” traffic can also indicate that Analytics code is not loaded on every page of the site, so if your direct traffic numbers don’t seem credible you should ensure that you have tracking code placed on every page.

Knowing where your non-search clicks come from can provide you with a wealth of information about how people get to your site, how they use it, and which demographics are the most profitable. You can even model user behavior by each referring source, which may offer you a chance to improve certain site features that would drive up your conversion rate. The ability to spot traffic trends from outside sites also provides you with opportunities to expand your web traffic beyond SEO and PPC, which is a stealthy path toward increased profitability that your competitors may not even be trying. No matter how you use the information about outside click sources, a better picture of your audience is always beneficial in the dynamic world of websites and the internet.

Google Instant Search – What It Means For Site Owners

September 9th, 2010 by Patrick Hare

Yesterday, Google unveiled its instant search feature which essentially shows immediate results when you start typing. It will take a couple of weeks to understand the impact of this delivery system on web site traffic. No matter whether you get most of your Google visitors from natural search results or paid advertising, the nature of the instant search feature means that users are going to behave somewhat differently. While instant results don’t qualify as an algorithm change, the fact that Google serves up around 75% of US search results is going to mean that Instant Search is going to make a splash.

The first thing you might notice about instant search is that results shuffle themselves around as you add words and phrases to your search query.  (To learn more, we have a visual example below that you can click on to see the full-sized image.) You get suggestions for your search, which occupy a part of the visual real estate which would normally have shown more search results. You will also notice that the ads are changing as you either start to type a word or complete your search phrase. For people who buy PPC ads, we would assume that the brief appearance of an ad would count as one “impression.” (It has been noted that the ad has to be visible for a certain number of seconds to count as an impression, but some people will read results less slowly than others before modifying a search.) For people who monitor clickthrough rates (CTR) in Google, this may be a good time to mark your calendar since you might see the same number of clicks, but more ad impressions. If you buy a lot of broad-match ads, then you may even see more impressions and clicks, but this is not always a good thing if you haven’t tightened up your campaign sufficiently to avoid low-quality clicks.

On the natural side, the impact of universal search may be more up in the air. For one thing, people may not move on to the second page of results if they see a limited number of matches above the fold while they’re typing. People may hit the backspace button to modify a search in real time. Since it takes a while to understand user behavior when a new feature is released, this either means that people will be more likely to jump on to “short tail” (1-2 word) results, or alternatively they may add “long tail” words to their searches until the right result magically floats to the top of the list. If this is the case, people who have invested in relevant, resourceful content should be getting a boost. Under either circumstance, people will probably revisit their SEO investment to make sure they can occupy a smaller field of results in order to satisfy the impatient user.

It should also be noted that Google does not always show its instant results, and we had to sign into our Google accounts in order to activate the feature. Therefore, some of your customers may be experiencing standard results, while others get to play around with Google’s latest offering. Like any other Google feature, instant search results can be significantly modified or pulled back if it isn’t viewed as popular or easy to use. From an SEO and PPC standpoint, people who have been working to make their sites relevant and user-friendly will hopefully see a benefit from instant results, though once again we would caution people to carefully watch their analytics and PPC reporting platforms to understand how their own individual sites are affected by this significant change in results delivery.