Easy Mass Back Link Evaluation for the Non-SEO

Bad Links

Some of those links are gettin’ a little rusty.

Have you seen traffic dip in the wake of Penguin 2.0? Are your rankings for converting key terms slipping from where they used to be? Even worse, have you received the dreaded Google Webmaster Tools notice about unnatural links? Do you suddenly have a reason to review each and every one of the thousands or tens of thousands of links pointing to your site? Are you perhaps vetting a new linking vendor who’s providing you with a large inventory? How do you ensure that you’re getting what you’re paying for, and that your vendor isn’t simply giving you links from a site with a bad design hosted in a nasty neighborhood, or a site that just started last month whose PR has been inflated well beyond what the site’s actually worth? With this post I will give you some insight into how to evaluate a large number of back links, quickly.

Get it? GET IT?!?!

First, you will need a tool that will show you the PageRank of a site in your browser. I use SEO Book’s SEO Toolbar. I’m not going to go on at length here about the general uselessness of PageRank, but in this case it can be useful. (Even tools that don’t give an exactly accurate measurement can be useful for comparative analyses, sort of like what we’re doing here. Google Analytics, for example, once your site gets big enough, just shows extrapolated data based on a percentage of visits. That doesn’t make the data it provides meaningless.) Along with PageRank, you will need a tool to measure the approximate amount of traffic to the site over the last two years, encompassing the time frame when Penguin 1 and Penguin 2 hit. I use SEM Rush.

So how do you know what’s a good link and what’s a bad link? It’s a mixture of common sense, intuition, and experience. My general procedure is this:

1. Open a browser with two tabs, one with SEM Rush, one blank. Copy the root domain of the URL you are evaluating into the blank tab, and into the SEM Rush search field also. While SEM Rush churns the data, watch the site load. Is it really slow? Is there an intrusive popup ad, or autoplay video, or anything else that would indicate shoddy quality to a person and consequently a search engine spider? Then disqualify the page. Are there too many ads above the fold (meaning, do you have to hunt for the content?), are there ads to poker/pill/porn sites, is the site very generic, is it just a list of links- there are too many reasons to list to disqualify a link here, so I will use Google’s language for “what to look for”:

Cheap spam links, paid links that pass PageRank, link exchanges, links hidden in CSS or   Javascript, homogenous anchor text, excessive links in too short a period of time, links from sites in other languages, links from blog networks, links that appear sitewide in side bars or footers, links to and from “bad neighborhood” sites, broken internal links, over-optimization of the site itself, excessive website downtime, duplicate or scraped content, low value or spun content, too many ads, meta keyword tag stuffing, cloaked pages, doorway pages, multiple H1 tags per page, hidden content, using automated query tools (rank checkers), being hacked, or promoting black hat techniques. (I know, this looks like a lot to look for but you won’t have to get this granular with every site. These very specific critiques are meant to tip the scales in the frequent occurrence of an “edge case”.

2. Check out the site’s traffic profile in SEM Rush, and compare that to the site’s PageRank. You may have a different standard than I do that you will develop after much practice, but my personal standard is that if the site is anything more than a PR 2, it needs to have some traffic to support it. I figure that Google could conceivably give an ungamed site with good content but no traffic up to a PR 2, but I think once you hit PR 3 range, the site was gamed to that PR unless it has traffic to support it. So if SEM Rush says the site has only seen 5 visitors a month for the last 3 years yet the SEO Book toolbar shows them at a PR 5, I would not use that site.

3. Again, looking at the traffic profile in SEM Rush- are there any huge craters where the site lost a great percentage of its’ traffic over the course of one or two months? That site was severely penalized! Don’t use it!


4. Do the words “seo”, “link”, or “rank” appear anywhere in the URL? Don’t use it!

The thing to keep in mind when doing these reviews is to remain highly skeptical. You want to look at every link with a critical eye and assume they are no good. Assuming they are fine will get you in trouble. Penguin-proof yourself- only accept legitimate links moving forward! Your rankings, traffic, conversions and clients will thank you.

photo credits: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gregoryjordan/,  http://reverendmommy.blogspot.com/2009_03_01_archive.html

I’m Back, but Moz and Raven’s Ranking Tools Won’t Be

Hi! Nice to see you! It’s been a minute!

I shuttered the blog back in July after I decided to publish the first year of my rantings as a Kindle e-book on Amazon. They have a program for Publishers that lets you make royalties if you make your book available to Prime members for borrowing, but you have to give them exclusive access to the digital format for 90 days, so I looked on it as a good opportunity to take a break. I was actually stretching to have things to write about, but now, like Kramer said to Jerry, “my brain, is mossy!” A Very Big Deal happened this past week in the world of search engine marketing, as such, I was inspired to write again!

(Oh, I also received a promotion at work, to Director of Retail SEO, so I haven’t even been able to catch my breath. Feel free to congratulate me in the comments J )

So the Very Big Deal that happened was that popular SEO tools SEOMoz and Raven Tools both were forced to discontinue the aspects of their products that check rankings, for violating Google’s TOS. From said TOS:

“Except as expressly permitted by Google under a Google product or service feature, you shall not use any automated means (for example scraping or robots) other than the AdWords API to access, query or otherwise collect Google-related information from Google, the AdWords Program or any website owned or operated by Google or a Google partner site that displays Google advertising (collectively “Google Scraping”).”

What it comes down to, is that Google doesn’t want people scraping the SERP to figure out exactly what their rankings are for exactly what keywords at any given time, for two reasons (at least):

  1. It would make it way too easy to reverse engineer the algorithm, if you could have accurate, instant rankings for too many keywords.
  2. It’s a lot of work for their servers to keep up with automated requests for thousands of database calls, and a lot of wear and tear on the hardware as a result.

Frankly, I’m surprised that Raven and Moz were able to get away with this as long as they have, and I expect many of the other tool makers to disable the parts of their software that “scrape” or face extinction.  The writing is on the wall, here- between this change and the ever-expanding percentage of (not provided) keyword data in the Analytics, SEO’s are getting less and less data all the time. Of course, if you pay for PPC ads, some of that data comes back. Yes, Google has a profit motive. Shocking, right? I mean, who the hell are they to protect their business interests?

Anyway, the writing is on the wall. Stop focusing on the number of keywords you’ll work on, and stop focusing on rankings. Search Engine Optimization isn’t about either one of those things- it’s about effectively going after missed opportunities so that the client doesn’t leave money on the table. Optimize the clients’ entire online marketing, not just their site! Focus on traffic and conversions, not rankings! Think ahead! Plan and strategize, if you always do what you’ve always done you won’t necessarily get what you’ve always got- in the SEO world, at least.

This is an opportunity for we marketers, a bulletproof reason not to ever send another ranking report. Let’s use it, shall we?

SEO 2.0- What’s a Traditional SEO To Do?

Have you ever heard the expression “if you always do what you’ve always done, then you’ll always get what you’ve always got? Usually, I find that to be very much true. However, when we look at the process of SEO after the earth shattering Penguin and Panda algorithm updates from Google, it’s pretty clear that SEOs are going to have to change to adapt.

SEO to this point has been a pretty straightforward process of onsite optimization, content syndication, and back link acquisition. Many agencies and SEO professionals even have a routine down for doing this kind of formulaic SEO, however, it’s simply not going to work any more- at least for Google. In fact, it’s almost as if Google looked at those tactics and specifically decided to smack them down as part of these latest “P” updates (is Pirahna next? OH NO!). Many of the SEOs that I know are really struggling, as the way they’ve done SEO has always worked, basically, if you were doing SEO and your competitors weren’t, you’d have the upper hand on the SERP. Not so any more; so, what do you offer clients in place of those “old school” services? It’s time to change the model, and I have some suggestions here that I think can replace “traditional” SEO services.

Before I get into the list, I definitely want to point out that I do think there is still a place for on site optimization; that will never change, but it’s really a commodity now, nearly everyone does the same type of onsite optimization of meta tags, navigation, internal linking, and the like. The only real opportunity for creativity there is the keyword research, after that part is done the rest of an SEO campaign generally plays out the same way in most cases. Content production and distribution also have a place but the way we do that has changed, as well- Ezine Articles doesn’t work any more, folks! Linkbuilding, which I, in white hat SEO snob mode, have never really considered to be SEO, is (thankfully) going the way of the dodo- at least the old way of getting hundreds of crappy directory and comment links every month is.

The biggest piece of advice I have for SEOs in the Post-Penguanda era is STOP TRYING TO BEAT THE ALGORITHM. Let me repeat that- STOP TRYING TO GAME GOOGLE’S ALGORITHM. You are a marketer now, you always have been, but you are going to need some new techniques to fill the gaps of all the old crap you used to sell that worked only because Google hadn’t caught up to it. Here are some services you can offer to keep the value of your services in your clients’ minds.

Back link audits and removal of poor quality inbound links- I really feel that all SEO campaigns should be taking a month off right now, to audit all the inbound links to the site and spend some time getting any shady ones removed. You need to start fresh with a clean link profile. This can be a long and arduous process, and it might not show much fruit as it can be very difficult to get bad links removed (when you can find them) but especially if your client has received a notice from Google in the form of a Webmaster Tools message or even a letter, you must scrub that profile. This could take months but it is totally worth it moving forward. In fact, I would take the drastic step of halting all SEO work to solely commit to the backlink audit, until it’s clean.

Social marketing integration- Social signals are being used in the major search engines’ algorithms and most clients are clueless about how to use Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and YouTube to send the proper signals. Using an application like Buffer, a client’s social media campaign can be largely automated, and it is about an hour’s work to write 20 Tweets, 2 G+ posts and 2 Facebook posts to then trickle out over the course of the week. You can’t make them participate but you can give them a voice, if nothing else. Showing clients how to connect with a social media audience using appropriately hash tagged and linked content is a very valuable service, and it’s not separate from SEO. In fact, I’d like to get that out there right now- social media and SEO can’t be placed in separate buckets any more. They are one and the same.

Blogger Outreach- this is the new linkbuilding. Spending time building an inventory of bloggers that are willing to write (and disclose) sponsored posts, with inline links back to your site, is the new linkbuilding. Stop thinking of how to get 100 links in a day and instead focus on getting 2 really good ones, if you insist on retaining the “linkbuilding” title for your job. Some of the old techniques still work here, as well, such as contacting webmasters with dead links on their pages and asking them to replace those links with links to your site, but in the future “linkbuilding” is really going to be about relationship building.

Conversion rate optimization- what good is it bringing a horse to water if you can’t make them drink? By using advanced techniques such as geotargeting or behavioral segmentation, you can make the traffic that does come to the site more valuable. A/B testing and multivariate testing are also very valuable, and can provide insights into the client’s customer base that they’d never be able to get anywhere else but online.

Business analysis- a good SEO makes themselves a partner with their client. It’s not about squeezing another month of fees out of them with a song and dance about the latest update and how valuable your knowledge is, it’s about partnering with them to learn their industry, learn their customers, and learn their demographic. Again, this requires a lot of work, and you might have to get outside your comfort zone. I’m always surprised at how many SEOs claim to be able to help their clients make more money and do better business, yet lack any basic business training themselves.  This sort of business analysis also requires regular phone calls with the client, but don’t go too crazy- anything more often than a biweekly call is probably pushing it and is going to strain the relationship. Nothing drives me crazier as a marketer than having meetings just to have them, it wastes everyone’s time as both sides scramble to have something to talk about. Every two weeks is plenty; and regular meetings should be counted as a very valuable deliverable.

Multi-channel attribution- Google has made this even easier for us to do with their new multi-touch reporting, which is able to give insight on what the purchase/conversion funnel looks like. From “the percentage of visitors who touched the site first via PPC, but then purchased via organic search” to “how to drive traffic to the site using social media”, SEOs can provide business owners great insight about how their clients behave online. For example, if you have a product that skews young, there’s a good chance that people are first discovering your brand on Social Media- how can you capitalize on that? How can you optimize for the right channel and purchase path? How can you keep that sales funnel full? Multi channel attribution and the resultant optimization can answer all of these questions and many more. This is a newer area of SEO/marketing- unless you have an analytics solution that does these things already- and it’s a great first step towards selling an integrated campaign, as well.

Content Creation and Marketing- Wait a minute, didn’t I say that wasn’t going to work any more? Well yeah, but not the way you’ve traditionally done it, which is likely to pay someone in Asia or India $2 an hour to put out some terrible content that barely makes sense with a few exact match anchor text links back to your site, then put the content somewhere like eZine Articles or Article Alley. Content marketing now is about the same thing I’ve always personally advocated- give people some value! Give them a reason to come to your site, give them a reason to click that inline link. Infographic link bait, guest posts, and at the heart of it- good, original, valuable useful content- are the future of content marketing. Google needs good quality content to wrap its ads around, and the best way to get to the top of the SERP isn’t a secret to be figure out- it’s to be the most valuable resource. Part of our job as SEOs is to inform clients when they simply don’t deserve to rank higher for a given term, and then propose solutions such as going after longer tail keywords to make up the shortfall. Content marketing also includes SEO optimizing Press Releases when the client actually has something interesting or valuable to say. Optimzation or re-optimization of existing content can also be quite a valuable service, especially if the client has “old” content that hasn’t been updated in a while.

Adaptive/Responsive design recommendations- It’s important that client sites are flexible, as web content is being consumed on a dizzying and ever-increasing array of devices from phones to tablets to desktops. Architectural recommendations about how to build a site to scale properly so that all visitors see  all the clients’ content, in the best possible presentation, is part of both SEO and the previously mentioned conversion rate optimization. Schema.org markup is also very important, as Google builds its semantic web sites that feed the beast are going to get better SERP placements. This is also important as different devices proliferate- who knows what a browser will look like 5 years from now? Semantic markup is what the web was meant to be, if we’re only getting around to it 40 years later, so be it. Be on the cutting edge! Use the schema.org markup data to ensure maximum visibility.

Mobile website recommendations-  It doesn’t make sense for every brand to have its own mobile site, but it does make sense to build the site in a way that maximizes visibility across a lot of different devices. There’s a whole separate mobile algorithm that takes things like scalability and site speed into account; so it’s important to optimize for that algorithm. Some clients would be better served by building an App for their customers- it’s an SEO’s job to make that consideration/recommendation as well.

Site speed optimization- Regardless of what you sell or to whom you sell it, the Internet is getting faster, connected devices are getting faster, and mobile website access is becoming more common. Site speed is an important part of the algorithm and an especially important part of the mobile algorithm. Any recommendations to make sites load and parse faster are very valuable, and while most SEOs aren’t programmers, there are lots of resources out there that can tell you in plain English what’s causing a site to be slow.

Have you noticed a theme to these recommendations? They all require actual work :) SEO has always appealed to people because hey, it’s on a computer, that means you can automate and replicate and duplicate and not really have to do ACTUAL work, right? Wrong. SEO has never been about that, and now,  those SEO chickens are coming home to roost. Get on it! Improve yourself, improve your knowledge, improve your techniques, and improve the service you give your clients to be an SEO 2.0 superstar.

Author Rank and Reputation Management- 2 Birds, 1 Stone

If you missed this post from Google search guy Matt Cutts last July; please take a moment to peruse before you continue reading.

Now that Google+ is open to everybody and every brand, it should be pretty clear that social is going to be a big part of how search engines are going to evolve, unless people wholesale reject it and move towards some entirely different model of getting information out of the Internet- but I doubt that’s going to happen. I’ve heard a lot of criticism leveled at Google+; it’s a joke, it’s a ghost town, it’s D.O.A.; no one uses it, blah blah blah. All the people out there that are deriding Google+ as some sort of failed Facebook competitor are missing the boat by a long shot- Google doesn’t care if you use it like you use Facebook because that’s not the point. It’s a social “overlay” for the algorithm; like Steam and Origin are to video games. I don’t want to spend too much time on this topic but I do want to make a point so bear with me for a second and look at this screenshot from a client’s Google+ page:



I did a little white hat e-stalking and checked out 5 of the people following that brand at random; they all had at least one other social media account connected to their Google account, and some people had as many as 8 accounts connected. I have 17 connected because I am a huge nerd but the point is this- all of those other connected networks mean that as those Users +1 content- and they likely are, if they’ve connected an account to their G+ profile- they are influencing all of their friends/followers on all of those other networks. It literally does not matter if that person ever comes back to Google+ even one time because the connection is already made. The implications for reputation management in organic search through optimization of Google+ profiles should be fairly obvious.

Okay, now that I have scratched that particular itch, on to the meat of the post- Author Rank. Before too long, Google is going to have built a pretty good index of your digital persona based on what you post/share/write/like and where, and who you are connected to. As you post content, Google is going to attempt to assign a value to links within that content based on your Author Rank. I know people have some weird built-in hatred of Klout because THEY DIDN’T OPT IN (whatever, stop crying and definitely don’t waste time “working on your Klout score”) but it’s a pretty good approximation of how I think Google is eventually going to try to assign more value to a link than just “what’s the PageRank of the page this link is posted on and what’s the anchor text they linked it with”.

This will likely be calculated in a similar fashion to the Klout score; what networks do you use, how frequently do you put up content, how often is that content liked/+1’ed/retweeted/shared/commented on/viewed/what the hell ever, who are the people interacting with your content, how authoritative are THEY and about what topics, etc., etc., etc.- there will probably end up being as many factors in the Author Rank algorithm as there are in the main search algorithm when all is said and done. So, there is a real opportunity here to kill both the reputation management and Author Rank birds with one stone. Be forewarned, though, it’s going to take some work. Here’s  my easy bullet-point-program- if you are able to do even some of this stuff, you will build your Author Rank and credibility with the search engines while also dominating the results for “branded searches” on your name.

1. Decide what to call yourself. Are you a Francis, or a Fran, a James or a Jim, a Denise or a Denyse? It matters. What’s your last name? Ladies in particular, I know you love those Facebook profiles with your unmarried AND married names but it confuses the poor algorithm. Pick a name and go with it. For SEO, I mean. :)

2. Buy your domain if you can; I was fairly lucky and was able to get franirwin.com as a domain. I know, I know, exact match domain has been devalued but I don’t think that means it has NO value. Besides, there’s a pride/vanity issue too- this is REPUTATION management, after all.

3. Get a WordPress blog up on that domain and start writing. This is that whole “work” part I was talking about. Aim for once a week in the beginning, you want to give the search engine spiders a reason to come back and sniff out fresh content. Get some text to speech software, spend 15 minutes on your commute or walk or break or smoke or whatever and just dictate some thoughts you are having. Put it out of your head, sit down later and edit it. This is easy, cheap in terms of time and resources, and will allow you to refine your thought process over time.

4. Set up a public Facebook page using your real name or your professional name. Fill it out to completion. Every. Single. Field.

5. Set up a Twitter account using a handle as close to your real name as possible. Set up a custom avatar and background, and link to your blog or Google+ page in your bio.

6. Set up a LinkedIn account using your real name or your professional name. Fill it out to completion. Every. Single. Field.

6. Set up a Google Plus profile using your real name. Connect as many possible accounts as you can to it and fill out as much of your profile as you possibly can. Fill it out to completion. Every. Single. Field. Write it like you’re being announced to a crowded room, and make it public so people can find you. You can always set up a separate, unconnected profile account with a different handle and content on any social media platform for whatever else; this is purely for rep management.

7. Post to Twitter at least 1 time per day, during the week, not necessarily on weekends. Post about things you find on RSS feeds or something interesting or whatever. Spend a half hour a day filling up your Buffer and then it do the work.

8. Post to Google+ twice a week, not just someone else’s link but add some commentary or stimulate some discussion.

9. Same thing on Facebook.


Remember when I said it was going to be some work? It is. Don’t post just to post; for example, if anyone actually reads this blAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

anyway if you do read the blog regularly you probably noticed that I went from a very aggressive twice a week schedule to now about once every two weeks. It’s a lot of work coming up with something interesting and worth reading that isn’t just rehashed or warmed-over garbage or second thoughts about someone else’s original thoughts. Don’t dive into this strategy if you aren’t prepared to work for it but if you do you will enjoy the (for now invisible) benefits of Author Rank, and a sweet, sweet SERP.


Learning SEO- Who to Read

SEOs get asked questions that we don’t know the answers to all the time. Some obscure code reference will come up, or someone will have a question about a specific Google update, or want to know how to do something that feels like it should be the responsibility of an SEO but it’s just outside our knowledgebase. So what do we do? We read! I, for one, block out an hour to an hour and a half every day. What I do, anyway, is go to the web, to look for informed opinions from others in the same business I’m in (RSS feeds are my favorite tool for this, with the kinda ugly but still functional Google Reader). Over time, I’ve developed a portfolio of SEOs whose advice I trust- and some I don’t. Why do I spend time reading people I seldom agree with or even adamantly disagree with? For the same reason I listen to Rush Limbaugh AND NPR- I have to know what kind of disinformation I might be up against when trying to explain something to a client. Here is a (very) short list of 5 people you should definitely be reading on at least a weekly basis.


Matt Cutts http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/

When Matt Cutts speaks, SEOs listen- although to me, it seems weird that the most prominent Googler in the SEO field is the head of the web spam team- it sends a very negative message that SEO is spam, and sometimes I wonder why we all listen to this guy so much- we’re not out there doing spammy SEO stuff, right? Cutts keeps a personal blog where he writes about working at Google and his life, and produces many videos on basic SEO questions for the community. Here’s one of the most famous, where he explains that Google doesn’t actually think that SEO is spam:

Matt is a good guy to pay attention to but if you are doing 100% white hat SEO you probably don’t have to worry about most of what he talks about.


Danny Sullivan http://searchengineland.com/author/danny-sullivan

Danny heads up Search Engine Land and has been covering search engines for more than 15 years. He tends to tackle the big, overarching meta-issues in SEO and has a very even tone and perspective- though he doesn’t always agree with Google. When a major news source like The Wall Street Journal or Forbes needs an opinion about Search, Spam or Google- Danny is typically who they call. He does a lot of live blogging at big conferences and also writes a personal blog called “Daggle” when he’s not producing the Search Marketing Expo series of conferences. I like reading Danny because he’s often able to provide an historical perspective that others can’t.


Michael Gray http://www.wolf-howl.com/

Michael is actually someone that I have had to recently stop following on Google+ and Twitter as his attitude towards Google is really full of vitriol sometimes, when they change something that has been making him money. Michael tends to be very abrasive when he doesn’t like something Google does, calling out by name Google engineers and posting profanity-laden updates from time to time. Michael’s main area of expertise (from what I can tell) is leveraging the Internet to make money doing affiliate marketing. I read his stuff (when I can stomach it) to find out what the grey and black hats of the world may be doing and thinking- Michael’s audience is definitely those who think that Google has an obligation to help them make money, as such, it’s worth paying attention to as it’s outside of the white hat echo chamber some of can live in. His techniques are valuable and over time he’s gotten better about providing the User value- but some of his stuff definitely skews to the dark side. (Note: no personal attack intended, I actually Tweeted back and forth a few times with Michael about cupcakes and Disneyland and I found him to be perfectly pleasant!)


Michael Martinez http://www.seo-theory.com/

Michael is a very, very smart guy who does a lot deeper thinking than most of us have the luxury for. His site features articles that are several thousand words long and generally go contrary to mainstream SEO advice- in other words, SEO advice that tends to try to sell you something. He really does spend a lot of time doing research, thinking and writing- you’ll want to read Michael once you already have several successful campaigns under your belt as some of his advice is truly “out of the box” and requires a lot of context to apply to a regular old SEO campaign. Don’t expect to hear platitudes from Michael- he’s not afraid to call a technique a bad technique, or call out another “SEO guru” on their bad advice. One last time, though, remember- this is advanced stuff. You could easily spend an hour reading and digesting a single article.


Jill Whalen http://www.highrankings.com/jill-whalen

I haven’t been reading Jill long, which is a shame, since she’s been doing this longer than almost anyone; having founded her SEO company, High Rankings, in 1995. Jill is another no-nonsense author who’s not afraid to go against the grain when someone asks for her advice. Her focus is on things that work- not on theory- as such, she’s frequently at odds with the rest of the SEO community; take for example her position on H1 tags as an important piece of SEO real estate. If you want no-nonsense advice from someone without something to sell you- at least implicitly-read Jill. She basically invented the industry!


Who do you read? Who should I read? Leave a comment and let me know. Thanks!

SEO Basics- How to Write Content to Support On- Page Optimization

Copywriters can have a strong influence on increasing the relevance of a website for specific terms by utilizing those keywords in the meta-tags and body content of web pages. Creating sufficient, naturally-written and strategic content can improve a site’s relevance and rankings, increasing the amount of traffic that arrives at the website from the search engines. In this post I’ll provide some very basic advice on what areas of the page can be utilized to improve a page’s relevance for specific terms, and describe things that copywriters should keep in mind when creating or editing web pages. Remember, it’s not just for the User- you have to learn to write for the bots too, which can be a challenge. You’re a professional writer, right? Make those nouns and verbs dance, buddy!

The Impact of Well-Optimized Content

Adding well- written content that’s been optimized for relevant keyword phrases will help your website rank higher for relevant keyword phrases and increase visibility and traffic for other related terms while improving metrics like time on site, bounce rate, and pages per visit.

Meta Title

A page Title not only displays at the top of the browser window, but also appears as the linked text in search results. All major search engines index the Title Tag. In terms of SEO, the Title Tag is considered extremely important in helping the search engines determine the primary topic of the page. Since it is also visible to searchers, the Title tag should also encourage the person to click through to the website. Be succinct; create a page Title that concisely and accurately describes what the page is about. Utilize keywords in the Title that people would use when searching for a page like the one you’re creating. Google displays up to the first 70 characters or less of the page Title, so it’s recommended to keep the Title to 70 characters or less. If the client has a strong brand, consider including their brand name or domain name in the Title tag if there is room left over. The page Title should grab attention, create curiosity, and even evoke emotion to get the customer to click on the Title and visit the site.

Important Note: Having duplicate or near duplicate page Titles across a site has been shown to have the same effect as duplicate content, and can harm a site’s ranking power.

Description Meta Tag

The Description works with the Title to attract prospects. When a prospect performs a search, the results displayed on the SERP are often the Title Tag and the Description Tag. You should spend the same amount of time writing your Title and Description as you would spend on an important ad attracting people to the page. If you don’t include a Description meta-tag, by default most search engines will use the first 30-40 words on the page, which could look very unprofessional and include heading content and/or links- not a good first contact for the User to have with your site.

Be sure to include your focused keyword phrases, but don’t “stuff” or overuse keywords. If the Description meta tag contains the keyword phrase being searched Google will usually display it. If it doesn’t, it will use a snippet from elsewhere on the page. The best Description tags are in the format of a brief paragraph… 2-3 short sentences describing the page, engaging the searcher, and if possible, utilizing important keywords. Try to keep this tag to 155 characters or less to increase the chances that the entire meta-tag will be displayed in the search results.


DO NOT USE THE KEYWORDS META TAG. It has no SEO value to the algorithms that matter, and at worst, you will be letting your competitors know exactly what keywords a page is supposed to represent.

Sufficient Content

The first rule for creating content for the search engines is to create sufficient textual content on the page. Google and the other search engines cannot interpret or understand words contained with graphics. The search engines cannot play or understand words within videos. Even the majority of content contained within Flash files- though they are getting better- is useless to help a page rank for certain keywords.

The goal should be to include at least a few paragraphs of naturally-written text that imparts information to the visitor and includes keyword phrases that we want the page to rank for. It would help to identify a unique set of keyword phrases for each page before content is created. Creating and developing content and then plugging in selected keywords may not be the highest and best use of content developing resources.

High-ranking pages in Google, MSN and Yahoo! Search average over 400 words of content. This does not include content within the top header, footer or navigation links; it is the unique content within the main body of the page. To help ensure that an individual page has a reasonable chance of ranking for competitive phrases, a minimum of 400-450 words of content should be written.

Content Structure and Layout

The way content is presented on your pages may or may not help visitors read and absorb the information presented to them. This all depends on how your content is structured and tied together. If your content is clustered together as one whole piece instead of it being separated into smaller paragraphs it may pose a problem with those visitors who scan pages as oppose to reading everything that it says. Scanning pages has been noted to be the preferred method for online readers.

A good approach to writing content on categories and subcategory pages is in the form of bulleted points. If category is linking to subcategories then each bullet point could link into the respected subcategory page with a short description explaining the topic of a page it is linking to. If this is a subcategory page then bullet points can link to some top products listed under that specific subcategory. Sometimes a bullet- point approach can be implemented on the homepage as well where bullet points link to category pages and sometimes even most popular topics or products within a site.

Writing body content in a form of short paragraphs with heading names linking to internal category, subcategory, and product pages is another writing method that also provides SEO value since a page with content is better than a page without it.

Keyword Use within Content

Using variations and permutations of targeted keywords on your pages will help achieve authority for most targeted keyword phrases. To choose keywords for writing purpose you may use Google Wonder Wheel or Google Keyword Tool to research keywords you are interested in ranking for. Other tools are also available online, but sometimes using common sense is the best tool of them all. As long as keywords are used in moderation and your pages make sense to readers an old fashion keyword density approach can also be implemented.

Keyword density describes how often a keyword or phrase is used within the body of the page. For example, a keyword density of 5% means that a keyword is used an average of 5 times for every 100 words on the page. Naturally-written text about a topic tends to have a keyword density for a main topic keyword of approximately 2% to 4%. Stuffing keywords into the content to increase relevance is seen as “spam” and usually hurts rankings. Pages with keyword densities above 10% are almost always removed by Google before too long. Incorporate a keyword phrase into your content naturally, so the text flows.


What SEO KPI Do You Track To Show Value To Clients?

Please, for the love of god, if your first instinct was to say to yourself “What is this guy, crazy? Rankings, of course! What else is there?” please, please stick around and read the rest of this post. I’m going to make your life easier! We’ll talk about some more eclectic Key Performance Indicators (KPI) here- everyone already knows about Visits, Visitors, Pages per Visit, Time on Site and Bounce Rate. Wow, just typing that sentence made me yawn! We’ll examine some other ways to show clients wins here.

Rankings- Rankings, to me, are a super problematic KPI. It starts during the sales process- most clients seek out an SEO firm because they want better rankings, and traditionally, the one-sentence answer to “what the hell do SEO’s do” is “we make sites rank higher on Google’s and the other SERPs”. However, rankings are super problematic nowadays- the advent of personalized search means that there really is no such thing as “rankings” any more”. I am really, really downplaying the importance of rankings as anything but a barometer of site health with all of my clients and I recommend you do, too. Also, try to get your sales guys on board with this! Selling “high rankings” is selling about 5% of the value of what SEO’s actually do.

Indexation- How many of the site’s pages are in Google’s index? There’s a concept that my friend, SEO extraordinaire Chris Hart introduced me to, called a site’s “contextual footprint”, and what it means is basically what kind of presence does your brand and its site have on the Web? A big part of this is the number of pages you have indexed, all other things being equal the site with more pages indexed is the site that’s going to “win” the rankings. Interestingly, I was exposed to another indexation phenomenon this week- I have a client that has maybe a few hundred pages on their site, however, if you do a site: search Google has 150,000 URLs in their index. If you’d like to answer this in the comments I’d appreciate it but here’s the question: is it better to let Google think there are 150,000 URLs on the site? Or is it better to re-run a sitemap, and condense all the authority to the pages that actually exist and are authoritative? I’ll give my answer if anyone comments ;)

Site Speed- increasingly important in Google’s algorithm is how fast your site loads- especially on mobile devices. Have you seen the Black Friday numbers yet? Percentages of those shopping on smart phones and tablets is higher than ever- you can bet that the speed of your site is going to continue to be an important factor to marketing moving forward, and providing your clients with recommendations to speed up the site and crawls of the site is an excellent value proposition.

Number of KW sending traffic to the site- I have clients that are 14th for one vanity term and blindly instruct me to solely work on the #1 ranking for that term because it’s a vanity term that their sales guys use- “you should buy from us because we’re #1! Even Google thinks so!” However, they are ignoring the fact that the sites ranking highly for that one vanity term are only getting traffic from a handful of terms while their site is pulling visitors from 35,000 different keywords. If you can show over time that the site is attracting traffic from a more diverse set of search queries, that should be an easy and obvious win!

Traffic vs. Industry Trend- If your client sells “blue widgets” and search volume for “blue widgets” is down 50% over last year, but your client’s organic traffic is only down 25% that is definitely a win. It might take some convincing, but a smart client will realize that! You can check industry trend data with an expensive tool like Hitwise or an inexpensive (meaning free) one like Google Trends.

There are more, but that’s for another post!

What Do You Do After the Onsite Optimization Phase of an SEO Initiative is done?

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone in the US!

It’s kind of a weird animal, working at a marketing agency and focusing on organic search. You never get to 100% focus on optimizing the site because you’ll usually have the responsibility of maintaining the client relationship, as well. That leads to a situation where SEOs are usually on the phone with clients more often than they’d care to be. Listen, agency clients, it isn’t that we don’t like you, or we don’t want to talk to you, or we’re antisocial social-media denizens- it’s that every time we agree to a meeting, you want to change the strategy, or question the strategy, or add something in to the strategy or in some way just throw rocks at our head while we try to work. Don’t you remember that analysis we prepared, when we outlined the scope of at least the first 3 months’ work? Didn’t you agree that it was a solid plan? Don’t you trust us? Then why do you want to change or question the strategy?!?!

Generally, the first couple of months of an SEO campaign are a flurry of activity, with a lot of analysis, reporting, and paperwork in general frantically flying back and forth as your noble SEO tries to fix programming errors, add social media sharing options, and tune the site’s content and metadata to start accepting incoming link equity throughout the rest of the campaign.

Just because that avalanche of paper stops after the first month or three doesn’t mean the SEO’s work is over. On Page optimization is simply one piece of the puzzle, and the most labor intensive and VISIBLE piece of the puzzle. You might not think the Tweets we write every week are important, but we agonized over them, taking into account your brand’s presence on the web, upcoming marketing initiatves and best practices for increasing Twiiter click through rates, as well as the best time of day to post them to have the maximum impact on your account. Yes, it looks like I just tweaked the title of your article and added a few inline links- that’s what SEO is, that’s what you’re paying for! Just because whatever you sent me to review isn’t marked up with a quart of red ink (or red pixels, digitally) doesn’t mean I didn’t carefully review it! We are working, it’s just not as visible.

After the Onsite Optimization phase is finished, SEO campaigns need to start moving into maintenance mode. This should include:

  • Writing content for Social Media channels
  • Monitoring competition to see what they are doing and if it’s working or if it isn’t
  • Monitoring the site’s Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to make sure there’s nothing technically wrong with the site on a daily basis
  • Advising on Social Media contests on Twitter and Facebook
  • Providing ongoing management of Social Media presences
  • Ongoing outreach to influential bloggers for back link acquisition
  • Ongoing bulk directory submissions for back link acquisition

Surely you can see the value in all of that above and beyond a weekly phone call (which is never a good idea for an SEO campaign, by the way- things just don’t move that fast, something I wish my PPC brethren would try to understand better)!

Let your SEO work. Trust me, they are working!


Getting Your Business On Google+

There’s been a lot of hubbub around Google+ since they opened the service to Businesses and Brands on November 7th. There have also been a lot of people claiming to have the secret sauce to making an amazing Google+ business page- after a week? However, the information I am about to present here- a companion piece to my “Google Plus for Publishers” post- is straight from the horse’s (Android’s?) mouth.

First, a brief update on the status of the service. Google+ so far has 40 million Users, about 100 days after launch. The “+” button is being shown over 5 billion times a day to Users on over 1 million sites. There’s still quite a ways to go to catch up to Facebook, but clearly the reports of Google+ being D.O.A. are just opportunistic rants from people with something to gain. The way that + ties in with search is absolutely crucial to successful marketing on the Internet moving forward. Google has made the statement that social is a “core human behavior and not a destination”- that’s a pretty clear signal as to the importance of social.

Google states that Google+ allows you to get closer to customers by having conversations with the right people, inspiring existing customers to recommend new customers, and improving ad performance (through the addition of +1 annotations on the SERP) across all initiatives, not just social initiatives. The annotations are the biggest reason I see right now to adopt +1 on all pages on your site as well as Google+, as the personalized annotations have already shown to increase click through rates on both organic and paid listings.

Top global brands that have already jumped on the G+ bandwagon include:

Toyota                  ABC News           Kia                          Dell

Orange                 Piaget                   Macy’s                  Pepsi

Burberry              DC Comics           T Mobile              L’Oreal

NBC News           Amazon               The New York Times

… and the lists goes on. Clearly, big brands, which already enjoy some special treatment on Google, are eager to jump on this one.

Basics- Creating your Page

Create your Page

  1. Log into your Gmail account (your personal GMAIL account!) You must opt in to/join Google+ personally before you can create a page for your business.
  2. Go to the Stream page and click on “Create a Google+ page” on the lower right hand side
  3. Start by picking a category:
    • Local business or place- this is the most specific differentiator of the 5, with options to display a local phone number right on the front of the profile.
    • Product or Brand
    • Company institution or organization
    • Arts entertainment or sports
    • Other
  4.  Fill out and then share the page (if it’s ready for consumption)- then you get the “Congratulations” page.
  5. Start to think creatively first, about how to spice up your page- then use the “Edit Profile” button to get cracking! (check out what Red Bull did with their G+ page for inspiration!)
  6. Add photos, write an introduction and add your organization’s contact info and website info. This is basic identity information your customers will see when they visit the page.
  7. CONNECT YOUR WEBSITE using the “widget configurator”- Google will help you make a badge that will connect your G+ account to your website. The configurator generates code that you copy/paste into your site so that Users see the badge. This is also very important to Google identifying your page as the “official” page! Another added benefit is that Users will be able to add you to their circles using the badge- without needing to click through to the G+ page to do so.
  8. Toggle between you and your businesses’ identity using the pick list that appears under your avatar at the top left hand side of the page to post as either yourself, or the owner of the page. Be careful who you are posting “as”!

Sharing: Build Connections

You can’t add people who haven’t opted in to follow your brand (by adding you to one or more of their Circles) until they add you first. This is a key differentiator between G+ pages for individuals and G+ pages for brands. Once they have added you, ask them what circle they should be in! From there, you can segment them by demographic into circles that you can then produce custom content for. Want a promotion to go out, but only to women? That’s your “Female customers” circle! Want to have a hangout just with guys who ride mountain bikes? Make a circle for that demographic! G+ makes it really easy to get targeted content in front of a highly differentiated audience.


If you haven’t used a Hangout yet, it’s pretty neat. Basically, it’s a video chat room for up to ten people who have webcams and mics, whereby whoever is talking gets focus in the main window. This allows you to have Hangouts to build a more personal relationship with your customers. You can even limit a particular hangout to a particular circle, to keep the marketing message segmented and targeted to the highest degree.

Promotion: Grow your Audience

  1. “Spread the word”- on the right hand side of the screen that lets you create a message to say hello to the world! Don’t worry about launching with too little content, the content will come.
  2. Add the badge and button to your site so that people are directly connected to G+ through your site and vice versa.
  3. Direct Connect- Use Direct Connect to verify ownership of the official page and improve discoverability by making yours the “official” profile when Users use the + operator. This will allow Users using Search to bypass the search results entirely and be landed right on your site.
  4. ADD THE PLUS ONE BUTTON TO YOUR SITE! +1 annotations are public and drastically increase CTRs. Please see my other post on how to leverage Google +1 on your site for more information.

Google is aiming to make Google Plus the central identity for your brand, with all the social signals (Plus ones) from connected properties ensuring that all the social collateral you’ve built is served to the User when it’s most valuable- on the SERP. For that reason, it’s important to cross-promote and get the word out to fellow employees and friends about the existence of the page.

Tracking: Using the Data

Google Analytics will add segmentation data in the future that will allow you to see data on content that has +1 annotations from associated Users, content that has the generic +1 annotation, and content that has no annotation. Coming soon! Google Ripples will also allow you to see how your content spreads, who the key influencers are, and who they influence. It’s a whole new layer of social data to incorporate and we’ll all have to learn how to best do so.

Common G+ Questions

Can there be multiple administrators on a Google+ page? Multi-admin capability is coming by the end of the year, “transfer ownership” functionality will come with it.

If I choose the wrong category which happens? It’s no big deal…except for “Local”. Only choose that if the focus of your business is a specific service area.

What if you have a franchise with many locations? Start small, fewer pages are better for now- it’s no big deal to set up different pages for different SBUs…eventually Google wants you to have one global identity and use Circles to reach customers in different locales. Err on the side of global creation, but Google might not ever be able to stitch thousands of them into one unique identity.

What’s the relationship between Plus and Places pages? Places and Plus pages are completely different products for now, but should be cross linked.

Can we put messages out to people who haven’t Circled us? You can’t push a message to someone who hasn’t circled you yet but once they have that’s essentially an opt-in to their message so that’s why they do it.

Can hangouts ever go bigger, like crowdcasting? They are limited to just 10 people for now but eventually an “on air” tool might become available.

How do I get my page verified?

  1. Add a badge to your site
  2. Have the rel=publisher code on the pages.

The “verify” checkmark is only in place for spam/abuse reasons. Google is reaching out to brands that are being impersonated or abused (not just one-off satire pages, but widespread abuse) to get them verified. Google decides who gets verified.

Circle limits are 5,000 today but someday it will be bigger.

Pages go live immediately but are not very discoverable at the outset as they don’t have much content.

Can you screen share with hangouts? Only with 3rd party technology, it’s not native to G+ right now

Can you have more than one G+ page with your account? Yes, the current limit is about 20 right now, but it will grow with the advent of multi user support.

+1’s do not affect quality score at the time being but +1’s on domains will affect +1’s on ads in terms of CTR and performance.

Can I restrict a hangout to a certain circle?  Yes, you can have a hangout with just that circle; it’s an option when you Start the hangout.

Google+ Pro Tips

  • LINK YOUR G+ Page to your AdWords Campaign and site!
  • Rich posts work best- include media in the form of images or video.
  • Sign your posts! Put a face on your brand.
  • Ask your community what Circle they want to be in.
  • Make sure to disable comments and re-sharing before you post sensitive topics.
  • Cross promote on other channels; email, social and offline.
  • Share your page! Encourage co-workers to do the same.
  • Use Google+ search to find out what people are saying about your brand.
  • Encourage customers to use branded and non branded hashtags.
  • Make sure you track how +1’s are affecting your AdWords performance.
  • Be flexible and adapt!

Rankings Are Deader Than Disco

What do rankings have in common with Disco? They’re both dead! Sorry, that’s in bad taste, but at least I got your attention!  If you still pimp getting page 1 rankings as your only skill, and that’s the only reporting you provide to clients on SEO campaigns, your day in the sun is past. The advent of personalized rankings means that rankings are only useful as a barometer of your site’s health- just like PageRank, they aren’t something to be completely ignored but they aren’t something you should be focusing on either. I don’t even know if there is such a thing as “rankings” any more- they are different for every User, on every machine, in every geographical location, dependent on history and browser- using rankings to track an SEO campaign’s success is a poor man’s measure. Incidentally, salespeople, if the only way you have to sell SEO is “we’ll get you front page rankings” you need to educate yourself. That type of SEO is so 10 years ago!

Unless you’ve got a good reason to want to be page 1 for a vanity keyword, there’s no reason to focus on just one keyword or keyword phrase for your site, in fact, you’ll be leaving a ton of mid and long-tail money on the table if you do. I had a client tell me, “We don’t care if we are making two or three times as much money being on page 2 for (insert keyword here). We want to page 1, for bragging rights, so that our salespeople can say we’re on page 1 for (insert keyword here).” That makes zero sense to me; why would you want to be page 1 for 1 word or phrase when you could take that same budget and go after mid tail keywords to show much, much higher ROI? In addition, you might suffer an over optimization penalty. If I didn’t work at an agency, and this was a personal client, now would be the time for a serious re-education- and if they still insisted on slavishly working on one keyword, I’d be looking to fire them as clients.

Let’s be reasonable about this- let’s say you sell a small selection of groceries on your site and the site is named “healthygroceries.com”. Well, you sell more pears than any other industry leader- how come you aren’t ranking first for the word “pears”? It’s because the other sites, the Ralph’s and Albertson’s and Farmer Jack’s and Krogers and Piggly Wigglys of the world have a larger contextual footprint, and because your URL doesn’t speak to your big seller. It’s because they have hundreds of thousands of backlinks that you will never catch up to. If you wanted to rank for “pears” because you have a high margin on pears or sell more pears than everyone else or whatever, you should have chosen “pears.com” or a more relevant keyword for your primary domain- you’re going to rank well for mid and long tail “healthy groceries” keywords in general, and trying to put all the link juice and focus on “pears” is a bad idea because that ain’t what your site is about. SEO is not there to fix your bad decisions (well we sort of are); we are there to tell you what the best possible case is for solving your problems so that you can decide where to spend your budget. Some decisions have to be lived with-  maybe you chose your URL to reflect your brand name and it’s a terrible keyword match- you have to decide to fix it, or not- your SEO is there to tell you how to do it right and what it should cost. They are not there to string you along, promising rankings- because here’s the dirty secret about SEO- there are no guarantees. People in the industry talk a big game and have a lot of swagger, but it’s all ultimately up to Google.

There are so much more important things to focus on- is the site getting more traffic? Is that traffic converting better? Which keywords lead to high conversions? What type of demographic spends the most on your site, and how can we keep them there longer? Are branded keywords working better than non-branded keywords? How can we increase time on site and decrease bounce rate, to signal the robots that our site is engaging and Users are finding what they need? How can we make pages load faster? How can we engage customers socially? Can we run a contest on Twitter or Facebook to drum up interest before the busy season? Is it worth the money to run a Klout perk?

See? There’s so much more than rankings to worry about!