I Wish I Weren’t Writing This Article- a SimCity Review from a Marketing Viewpoint

I didn’t sit down at my PC today planning to write this article, I actually had some pure leisure time in mind. However, I haven’t been able to do what I planned to do quite a bit this week as much as I’d hoped- play the latest version of SimCity, released Tuesday, March 5th. I’ve been able to play the game some, but as I’m going to get into, there’ve been some technical hiccups to say the least. In between bouts of trying to play and weeping softly at all the wasted time I’ve had a chance to monitor a lot of different channels of sentiment and also watch EA’s response with an involved but sort of dispassionate perspective. See, I buy games like these expecting to get screwed. It’s a lot like going to the casino- if you plan to lose you’ll probably have a pretty good time.

Roulette is FUN, who cares?

Before I get into what I’ve seen other people saying, and then into what EA’s response has been (pretty good, actually, considering) I want to explain what my personal experience has been. In a nutshell, the SimCity servers are lying whores:

 

lies

 

…but I still love them so, so much.

I preordered after applying to and playing in the second of two one-hour betas; I literally went to the page and ordered the deluxe digital download directly after playing it. D. Then, I played in the 4-hour “stress test” beta and realized the potential the whole game had- and that’s when I started getting really excited. I got the game early, Monday night because I live on the West Coast. I started stabbing the button at 9 PM and started downloading the unlocked game at 10:01. It took about 40 minutes to download and unpack, and I managed to get a good 2 hours in with the game before forcing myself to go to bed as I had work in the morning. It was only enough time to set up a region, claim a city, and noodle a little.

I went to work on Tuesday, then watched RAW from Monday night, then sat down at about 9 PM to play SimCity. A ha ha ha. I sat there for the next three hours Alt-tabbing between servers that were melting and several forums that were exploding. I didn’t get to play. I did manage to play Wednesday for about 3 hours, and Thursday for the same. I was completely locked out last night and as I write this on Saturday afternoon, I am also currently locked out.

Here’s what I know about SimCity in easy to digest bullet points:

1. This is not the SimCity you are used to. It’s much more dynamic, there are things to do beyond just “grow your city and make Simoleans until everything is   arcologies”, as fun as that was:

The disasters can’t be turned off (unless you want to disqualify yourself from leaderboards)- but there is a sandbox mode that I haven’t tried as it just seems very unsatisfying to consider.

 2. YES THE GOD DAMN CITIES ARE GOD DAMN SMALLER,WE KNOW, STOP POSTING IT. It’s a very deliberate decision EA made so that your dad’s laptop can also run SimCity, and not just your mechagodzilla of a gaming rig.

The thing is, it doesn’t matter. Cities are all part of a larger region now- and if you want to, you can set up a 16-city region and run ‘em all yourself, go nuts. I think          however, that would be missing the point because…

3. SimCity ’13 or whatever we end up calling it is essentially a multiplayer game at heart. Amidst the cries of “I can’t wait until they hack in offline single player” (impossible, the games are saved server-side) or “I’ll play it when someone cracks the DRM” (not going to happen, Diablo III for example is  almost a year old and hasn’t been cracked and won’t be cracked until the server code is leaked, same as SimCity) what’s being lost is that people are pissed that it’s not the                 same game. Wanting the game to be single player only, wanting to be able to save games, wreck your city, and go back again and start from before the disaster are things this game simply is not about.   It’s a reboot, and it’s going to leave a bad taste in some people’s mouths. The good news is, there are  still plenty of alternatives, including the last SimCity game which no one played until modders got their hands on it and made it not suck so bad. I, for one, can’t wait to unleash hordes of pollution and villainy on my neighbors in the region, then bulldoze, start again,  launch a rocket,build an arcology- and so on, and so forth.

4. They almost assuredly have teams that started working on DLC and/or expansion packs- I really hope it’s the latter- in parallel to the team working on the main game release. It’s going to be expensive to buy everything that comes with this game, as proven by the first DLC, which already represents an extra $30 to spend to “have everything”, if you didn’t get it for the discounted $20 by spending $80 on the deluxe version. This is not the whole game.

          5. This is a beautiful game. There’s no way around that one, I love to watch this game. These pictures don’t even do it justice, it is so pretty in motion.

 

 

6. The long term “endgame” of SimCity is the leaderboards.  The “Simulation” aspect of things isn’t something I am interested in particularly, min-maxing traffic through gaming the system by building huge cities with only one road, for example, doesn’t interest me. I’m more interested in building up huge regions with other friends and working together to take on the leaderboards.

7. This is a very fun game that’s not ready for prime time yet. Hold off a week on buying it. I’m really enjoying it;  I’m just tired of having to wait and roll the dice for 45 minutes to see if I get to play it or not. This is in spite of them supposedly doubling server capacity already- I haven’t noticed an appreciable difference in my ability to connect and now that it’s the weekend things are getting even worse.

So what are people so Angry about?

1. Always on DRM- you have to connect to EA’s servers to play the game. You can’t boot it up on a laptop on a Navy submarine, and you can’t use it to relax on a plane without paying for wifi. Does this suck? I’m not really bothered by it, I have a fast and consistent connection to play on, but that’s ignoring a lot of other people that don’t have one. It seems greedy and stupid but a retailer wouldn’t let thieves walk out the door without paying for merchandise, EA is not going to willingly let people pirate their games if they can help it by any means. I know it’s a  controversial opinion but DRM is something gamers brought upon themselves.

2. The servers are melting- the game is pretty much unplayable for a large portion of the people  that bought it. This is clearly the biggest issue, people paid anywhere from $45 to $80 for the game and can’t play it. The most common conclusion being drawn is that if the game simply had a one player offline mode- which is what a lot of people identify SimCity with, none of this nonsense would have happened. I’ve been around for some pretty big launches and it is getting irritating that companies are all “We didn’t know so many people wanted our product” when they know damn well how many people are going to play based on preorders. It’s hard not to think they aren’t just being greedy or stupid by not scaling up at first to meet demand.

Whaddya mean, people want to buy this thing we marketed and hyped the shit out of?

3. EA has flatly stated, “no refunds for Origin downloads”. This really pisses people off too because no one, anywhere, anytime said WE NEED ANOTHER DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION SERVICE  and the service has frankly sucked like a Hoover since it was launched. It’s seen as another money grab by EA, an inefficient, buggy system when they easily could have adopted Steam, a system that has had time to mature and already does work.

4. There’s no single player, offline mode- this is less a reasonable consumer complaint, and more a “waah, my game changed” complaint. I’m not saying it’s not legit. I’m saying I have no sympathy for you if you bought a game unresearched and didn’t know what it was going to be in advance. There are 105 million results in Google’s index for “simcity review”- there’s something in there about the game, probably, somewere. Just a hunch.

The SimCity launch has been the perfect poop blizzard of poorly estimating consumer demand, a beloved franchise that changed a lot, and a seemingly soulless corporation greedily and clumsily implementing DRM ostensibly to help gamers, but ultimately perceived as “to fatten those margins”.

The other side of this coin is that as a marketer, it’s interesting for me to study a trainwreck like this from a PR/marketing/crisis management perspective. EA has done a lot of things right but I don’t know if A) there’s going to be any lasting damage or B) what the scale of said damage might be. At the time of this writing EA’s stock has not moved since the game’s release on Tuesday. I think what we’re seeing is digital Funzo trampling

If you get this reference you are as big a dork as I am.

I don’t think it bothers EA at all that there is so much demand for their game that it’s breaking their infrastructure- to your average stockholder, who doesn’t play games or give a crap about a server queue, that looks like you have a product that the consumer really really really wants to buy. And they’re right to think so, in spite of this fiasco the game remains the top selling PC game on Amazon. However, they have to respond. Here’s a brief summary of their response so far.

The company and its reps have been active on Twitter, as has Ocean Quigley, the Creative and Art Director for the title. Senior Producer Kip Katsarelis also posted on the official blog:

” You, the fans, are important to us. It’s why we got into games and it’s because of you that we  here at Maxis were able to complete our dream of making another SimCity. This has been an exciting week for us, but as you know there have been some bumps along the way. We want to shed light on one of the most significant issues that we are facing right now, as well as the steps we’re taking to resolve them so that we can provide you with an enjoyable experience.

 Server capacity is our biggest obstacle. We launched in North America on Tuesday and our servers filled up within a matter of hours. What we saw was that players were having such a good time they didn’t want to leave the game, which kept our servers packed and made it difficult for new players to join. We added more servers to accommodate the launch in Australia and Japan, and then more yesterday to accommodate the launch in Europe. As of right now, we are adding even more servers which will be going live over the next three days. And, our plan is to continue to bring more servers online until we have enough to meet the demand, increase player capacity and let more people through the gates and into the game.

Earlier today, we released a patch that temporarily cut off some features including leaderboards, achievements and Cheetah Speed to reduce data stress on the servers and effectively free up space so that we can let more people into the game. These are great features that we’re proud of and we’ll turn them back on soon, but our number one priority is to bring stability to our servers. This update also resolved some of the bugs and issues that have been frustrating players. You can read all about it at http://forum.ea.com/eaforum/posts/list/9341807.page

We will be posting regularly to keep you up to speed on developments, so please check back for updates. We are committed to doing everything we can to deliver a stable and enjoyable experience and we thank you for your continued patience and support.”

EA has also added 8 additional servers and patched the game- but they aslo removed the fastest gameplay speed, cheetah, which messes with the way a lot of people play, and they removed features such as sorting on the Join Game screen as well.

In addition to getting on a sort of filtered Reddit-style AMA on Twitter today, Maxis SVP Lucy Bradshaw has also posted the following on the SimCity blog:

“Here’s a quick update on the problems we were experiencing with SimCity – and a little something extra for people who bought the game. The server issues which began at launch have improved significantly as we added more capacity. But some people are still experiencing response and stability problems that we’re working fast to address.

So what went wrong? The short answer is: a lot more people logged on than we expected. More people played and played in ways we never saw in the beta. OK, we agree, that was dumb, but we are committed to fixing it. In the last 48 hours we increased server capacity by 120 percent. It’s working – the number of people who have gotten in and built cities has improved dramatically. The number of disrupted experiences has dropped by roughly 80 percent. So we’re close to fixed, but not quite there. I’m hoping to post another update this weekend to let everyone know that the launch issues are behind us.

Something Special for Your Trouble

The good news is that SimCity is a solid hit in all major markets. The consensus among critics and players is that this is fundamentally a great game. But this SimCity is made to be played online, and if you can’t get a stable connection, you’re NOT having a good experience. So we’re not going to rest until we’ve fixed the remaining server issues.  And to get us back in your good graces, we’re going to offer you a free PC download game from the EA portfolio. On March 18, SimCity players who have activated their game will receive an email telling them how to redeem their free game.

I know that’s a little contrived – kind of like buying a present for a friend after you did something crummy. But we feel bad about what happened. We’re hoping you won’t stay mad and that we’ll be friends again when SimCity is running at 100 percent. SimCity is a GREAT game and the people who made it are incredibly proud. Hang in there – we’ll be providing more updates throughout the weekend.”

So in summary, they have apologized, made changes to the product that will instantly help with sentiment towards the game and brand, are being responsive on social media, letting customers vent on their Facebook page, and ultimately will be offering a free product in the future.

EA is doing many things right, but they should have avoided this disaster in the first place. Companies have to start anticipating this demand, and leasing servers for overflow, or they will have complex PR issues such as these to deal with when similar titles are launched. EA was already voted the worst company in America, and SimCity is a game that everyone, not just gamers, knows and loves. This was a bad miscalculation but ultimately, I don’t think it will hurt EA at all. Until people stop buying these games en masse- and the marketing is just so good that it’s not going to happen- we’re all at their mercy.

I’m gonna go try to play again…*crosses fingers*…damn.

I hate you EA

Now what am I supposed to do- go outside?

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?

How To Handle Blog Comments- Once You Start Getting Them

It’s tough to get a blog going! From a technical standpoint, getting everything set up the way you like it, making sure all your social media accounts and RSS feeders are hooked up, and installing all the right plugins and scripts for analytics and social sharing you’re looking at a good 8 hour day, unless it’s heavily templated or you’re just ripping off an existing design (nothing wrong with either of those, for the record!) Then, after that, comes the really difficult part, which is actually writing something! Anyone who’s written a blog for any amount of time knows that eventually you run out of topics, or out of time or steam, and the really hard part is that you have to keep going, even when you don’t have any ideas or just plain don’t feel like writing anything.

Congratulations, you’ve gotten over those hurdles and now your blog is starting to pick up a readership! Your articles are getting retweeted or shared on Facebook or Google+ and people are actually engaging you through those channels. You’ve got people commenting on your blog now- after a while in the desert, finally, you’ve reached an oasis! So, what are the different types of blog comments you see, and what should you do with them?

1. Spam

2. Criticism

3. Legitimate discussion

4. Pingbacks

5. Gushing praise

1. Should be deleted, it’s a poor quality signal to the search engines. Having comments on the blog just to have them is no good, and beware of 2 especially tricky types of spammers, both of which have hit this blog at some point. The first is the one who writes a comment effusively praising your blog or comment or topic, but then he’s named ‘viagraforuxxx420’ and links to some shady site. The second is someone who will write something seemingly helpful like “I can’t get the RSS feed to work, mind helping me out?” Beware of these seemingly beneficial comments; neither is real and therefore neither is valuable. Lots of spam tends to pop up on blog posts that have a good response as the spammers think they can piggyback off of your hard work.

2. Any product with a large volume of sales is going to have some criticisms. This can be countered with excellent customer service as well as- this is tricky- handling the issue publicly, responding to comments. If the overwhelming majority of comments are negative or even hateful, consider turning comments off altogether- hiding negative comments won’t help you seem authentic, but having 300 vitriolic posts about how your product is a scam or your service sucks is clearly pretty detrimental to the success of the site as well.

3. This is very helpful for SEO but these types of comments tend to be few and far between, at least on a small scale blog with maybe 100 visitors, such as this one. Make sure to let these through and respond with a thank you, or address the commenters’ point- healthy debate and discussion will beget more healthy debate and discussion, and since the search engines want to see engagement, what better way to show it than to actually, you know, engage your readers?!?

4. This is a search engine bot posting a comment to validate that the blog is real. This can be deleted.

5. Be wary of gushing praise, some is clearly fine as it’s an endorsement of your product or brand, but if there’s too many comments outright praising you, with nothing negative to balance it, it looks bad. Also remember, Google is a domain registrant- they know if you are commenting on your own properties to make yourself look better. Don’t do this!

Encourage commenting when you post what you write to Facebook, or Google+, or whatever forums you inhabit- there’s nothing wrong with encouraging a little feedback from your regular readers! The key is sincerity.

Tout and the WWE Universe- a Match Made in Heaven

The WWE began promoting Tout like crazy last night on the broadcast of Monday Night Raw (make sure to watch RAW # 1000 next week, at the very least we’re getting a title match between John Cena and CM Punk) with various interstitial commercials and numerous references from the commentators encouraging the WWE Universe to use the new service, which is, in a nutshell, “Twitter for video”. Tout, which was born at the Stanford Research Institute, is a new social media channel using both web based and mobile applications to allow users to make real-time status updates designed for instant sharing through other social media platforms. Users record short 15 second videos using their PC, tablet or smartphone, and then “Tout” them to other users a la Twitter. Right now, Tout has about 25 million users, and the CEO claims that 6 million of those joined after the WWE began promoting the service. The WWE is all in on this one, with a dedicated page showing users all about the new service.

Tout recently closed a round of funding for over $13 million, and the WWE contributed a big piece of that pie, which explains their heavy promotion of the site/service. Zack Ryder (the WWE Superstar best known for “getting over” using Twitter and social media (check out 1:15, since I can’t seem to get the embedding to work, grrr):

…is featured heavily on Tout’s home page:

…and when I signed up (I’ll likely never use it, but what the hell, better to have and not need than need and not have) all of my recommended followers were WWE personalities, likely because of the search history on this machine while writing this article:

The WWE is purportedly going to let the WWE Universe determine some of the creative direction of the show and help steer programming- by Touting to the WWE, of course! Touts will be added to both live and pre-recorded broadcasts.

Personally, I think this is a smart move by the WWE. Consumption of online video is only growing; a study in 2011 showed that people watching Netflix were accounting for as much as 30% of all Internet traffic during primetime:

 

 

Not only is Netflix 30% of primetime traffic, but look at what else is up there, with YouTube at 11% and Flash video at 5%. That means that nearly 50% of all traffic during prime time for March 2011 was essentially “people watching videos”.

More and more phones are being released with front-facing cameras, more and more tablet devices include similar cameras, and the price of webcams has dropped to the point where an HD webcam can be had for as little as $35. The speed at which video can be uploaded and downloaded on mobile devices is increasing all the time as faster, cheaper better phones come out and the major carriers upgrade their networks. The Kindle Fire 2 and Google Nexus 7, the summer’s splashiest entrants into the small-form tablet fray, both have front-facing cameras- the only practical application of which is really video chat, as taking pictures with a front facing camera is sort of a ridiculous proposition.

People love to consume video because it’s easier than reading, and you can be a lot more creative with video than you can with text. We are moving towards a web primarily composed of video, and getting in on the ground floor allows the WWE to remain in its position of relative dominance of social media, when compared to other entertainment brands. The WWE is especially good at using social media to maintain intimacy with the fans even when they aren’t watching the show or interacting with the various digital properties, and since pro wrestling is such a visual medium, Tout seems like a perfect fit for their strategy of continuing storylines and fan outreach and promotion through social media. A service like Tout is also right in the WWE’s wheelhouse demographically. Let’s look at some data about video sharing:

 The age of users engaged in social networking:

 

and finally, the WWE’s audience demographic, straight from the WWE Ad Sales page (the data is from 2009, so take it with a grain of salt):

Demographics

61% are male

15% are ages 12-17

67% are ages 18-49

41% are males 18-34

33% are non-white

29% have a HHI of 75K or higher

15% have a HHI of 100K or higher

Internet Activity

63% played games online

52% listened to music

51% watched streaming video

Mobile

87% of our visitors own a cell phone

32% downloaded something to their cell phone within the past 30 days

15% downloaded a ringtone to their cell phone within the past 30 days

 

The service, the brand and the demographic all intersect nicely, making this practically a no-brainer. I’d be willing to bet that they see a better return on their Tout investment than they do for the WWE films division in 2013- especially if the site takes off.

As an avid WWE fan, the constant references to social media during broadcasts have become tiresome- maybe because I work in marketing also- and adding Tout is only going to irritate media-savvy viewers even more; though it’s not likely many will even realize the WWE’s financial interest in Tout. For the company and stockholders though, this is a very smart move.

Tout and the WWE Universe are a perfect fit!

 

 

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.

Publish or Perish- Internet Marketing in the Post-Penguin; Post-Panda Era

Ever heard the phrase “the attention economy“? Here’s a little primer, a hand-picked part of the definition from Wikipedia, as it relates to advertising:

“Attention economics” today is primarily concerned with the problem of getting consumers to consume advertising. Traditional media advertisers followed a model that suggested consumers went through a linear process they called AIDA – Attention, Interest, Desire and Action. Attention is therefore a major and the first stage in the process of converting non-consumers. Since the cost to transmit advertising to consumers is now sufficiently low that more ads can be transmitted to a consumer than the consumer can process, the consumer’s attention becomes the scarce resource to be allocated.”

When you advertise on the Internet, you’re not competing for billboard space, or bidding against competitors on TV airtime, or trying to get a good ROI on a radio spot or newspaper ad. The means of transmitting your marketing message has become inexpensive almost to the point of triviality and for about $30 a year- a dime a day- anyone can buy a domain with hosting and start putting out any message they want. What we are all really competing for is the User’s attention. The world of information and entertainment has become increasingly fractured into multiple streams, channels and verticals. Users consume all kinds of content on all kinds of devices, which are no longer bound to a specific geolocation.

What this all comes down to is that Google and the other search engines are having to change the way they grant authority to pages. I’ve written many times on this blog in the past about how linking used to be an extremely effective strategy; at the end of the day if you’d tried all the white hat techniques and explained to the client that these things take time but they are going to leave if you don’t do something RIGHT NOW, well, you could always as a last resort head over to TLA or TLB and buy some nice, exact-match anchor text from a somewhat relevant blog, and you would almost certainly see a bump in rankings. It was a sure thing. However, the search engine algorithms are more than ever accounting for the fact that links can be really easily gamed, and as a consequence, we are seeing social signals factor more and more into search results; with Google even having taken the bold step of laying the social strata right over top of the SERP with Google+. It doesn’t matter how resistant we are to these changes- we have to accept that the “old way” of doing SEO is simply not going to cut it any more.

If we’re competing for User’s attention, it follows logically that it’s not enough to put up a static website and throw links at it. YOU HAVE TO PARTICIPATE IN THE ATTENTION ECONOMY. That means getting on Google+ (why are people so resistant to it anyway? You can maintain an active presence there in about 10 minutes a day). That means having a section of your blog where you update frequently with stuff that YOU write. It means Tweeting. It means getting the social signals that are supplanting links in the algorithm coming in to the site, and I hate to say it but the dirty secret here is that takes work. It takes a lot more work than linking did, but we can’t all just throw up our collective hands or worse- stubbornly stick to the way we’ve always done things- we have to move forward. Moving forward means being a publisher.

So how the hell do you do that?

1. Write regularly. Write high-quality content, that comes from your background in whatever it is you are writing about. Conversely, if you are writing about something that you don’t have any expertise in, do your research and credit your sources with outbound links- this is a great way to build community. Quality is more important than quantity; as a personal example I have been writing less and less frequently on this blog as I run out of things to say- but I’m branching out to write about other things to maintain the momentum I’ve built over the last year. Don’t write just to write- write because you have something to say and want people to listen.

2. Audit your old content and see if it can be refreshed, reshared, repurposed or somehow made more relevant for the User. I have stuff on this blog about The Old Republic MMO, for example, that is incorrect information. If I want to be considered authoritative about the game, shouldn’t I have all relevant, proper and correct information here? Of course! Otherwise, why would anyone read me- they’d just go to Darth Hater, as they’ve built a reputation for high quality relevant content.

3. Build a community by hosting guest posts and really engage your community; that’s how you command attention. Give away one of your best secrets, take the opposite side of an issue, create a little controversy! Give people a reason to pay attention.

It pains me to say it, but throwing links at a site doesn’t work any more. We are fully in the thick of socially-influenced search, and on the way to “semantic search”, whatever that turns out to be. The bottom line is that if you want to participate, you’ve got to publish or perish.

Pinterest- a Guide for Johnny Come Lately

What Pinterest Is

Pinterest is essentially an online, visual scrapbook. Users Pin images and videos from all over the Web to Boards, which are organized collections of categorized Pins. Users can browse categories, follow other Users or their Boards, and socially share Pins and Boards via Facebook, Twitter and RSS.

Use Case: A bride-to-be is making all of the decisions that need to be made leading up to the wedding. So that she can collect everything in one place, she sets up a Board called “Wedding Dresses”. As she surfs the Web, she can Pin images or videos of wedding dresses that she likes to her Board, giving her an easy place to go back and reference later, and also a centralized place for sharing. If she wants the bridesmaids’ opinion on their dresses, she can pin several to a Board and then direct her bridesmaids to check out the board and leave comments. She can also Follow other Pinterest users or Boards that have a similar focus, for suggestions.
Ultimately, Pinterest is a site about curation and discovery, both important activities as we move into the next iteration of the Internet- the social Internet.

 

Why it matters

Pinterest is appealing for 3 primary reasons- there’s no urgency or information overload, it’s less personal and more fun than other services, and it’s extremely easy to use.
Pinterest Users skew heavily female, and most are in the 18-44 demographic, with household incomes between $25,000 and $75,000, generally. About 60% of Pinterest Users have “some college” under their belt. If you have a visually appealing brand, especially one that appeals to Females, you must optimize your site for Pins, or you will be missing out on what is a rapidly expanding source of referral traffic. Nearly 1.5 million unique Visitors a day hit the site and spend almost 14 minutes there. Recent studies have shown that Pinterest is a better source of referral traffic than Google+, LinkedIn, Reddit or YouTube. This is in spite of registration for the site being by invitation only. The number of unique Visitors to the site increased by 329%- to 7.21 million- between September and December of 2011.

 

Get Started Now!

Start using Pinterest now, while the User base is still rapidly growing and buzz around the service is at a fever pitch. The same rules for other social media services apply to Pinterest- say something meaningful, interesting and honest with your Followers, and try to represent your brand’s personality.

 

Specific Use Cases for Pinterest Integration into your Marketing Strategy

Brand Engagement- show the customer who you are, rather than telling them. Use images and video to convey your brands’ personality and drive engagement.
SEO-  looking at referral data can be a great way to identify brand influencers.
Market Research- Pinterest provides an opportunity for companies to engage their customers with Boards about fashion trends, for example, allowing Users to post to their Boards as well- merchandisers can than look at what is posted there to make decisions about buying, sales and special offers.
Trend Watching- Pinterest makes it easy for companies to search and understand what type of content Pinterest Users post- not just about their brand, but about competitors, seasonality, current events as well- trend watching on Pinterest makes all marketing decisions easier.

 

How to use Pinterest

A “Pin” is an image or video that links to the original content that is assigned to one of the User’s Boards. The User is able to write a short description of the item, and the pin can be from another User’s profile on Pinterest, from any website, or uploaded directly by the user.
A Board is simply a collection of pins that the User has grouped under one category- think “recipes”, “favorite books”, “shoes I’d like to buy”, “bathroom remodel ideas”, etc.
Users have the ability to Like, Repin, or Comment on Pins.
“Liking” the Pin adds it to your “Like” section, rather than to a Board.
Repinning a Pin lets you add someone else’s pin to one of your Boards- the original source link is kept intact and this action is marked as a Repin for the original Pinner.
Users can comment on their own or other’s pins.
Mentions allow you to shout out to specific Pinners- if you put @Mom on a Pin, Mom will get a notification that you Pinned something she may want to look at
Much like many established social networks, you can follow other Users, or even individual
“Pin this” button- allows Users to pin a product photo or video to a board for future reference.
The Pinterest Bookmarklet allows users to Pin to Boards directly from their browser.
Things to Remember
Pinterest lets Users follow topics and concepts in addition to as individuals. Compared to Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin, there’s no pressure to stay on top of a constant barrage of comments and status updates if the User doesn’t want to.
Pinterest lets Users participate without having to create, removing a barrier to interaction
Pinterest allows Users to explore their options earlier in the purchase cycle.
Pinterest’s non-linear view of the web makes it feel “easier” than other sharing platforms.
Pinterest is a visually appealing, simple alternative to storing browser bookmarks.

 

How your Brand can Leverage Pinterest

1. Promote a lifestyle that your brand or products contributes to. Give people ideas and provide inspiration to promote sharing!
2. Use Pinterest to run a contest where people pin your images or take pictures of themselves using your products.
3. Share content from others that you wouldn’t want on your site, then direct your site’s Users to your Pinterest page to share.
4. Think of Pins as a “Visual Tweet”- instead of Tweeting an image out, Pin it, and then Tweet the Pin.
5. If you add a $ or £ sign to your description when you pin something, Pinterest will auto- generate a price tag on the pin.
6. Make sure content is pinnable! When you use the bookmarklet Pinterest will try to ascertain which is the largest image on the page- if you have a bunch of products on the same page it will be harder for the program to figure out which image you meant to pin. All products and product variations should have their own pages.
7. Add the “Pin It” button to your other Social Media sharing icons.
8. Add a “follow me on Pinterest” button to your site with your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and G+ buttons.
9. DO NOT JUST PIN YOUR OWN CONTENT. Provide value to customers by allowing them to discover new things.

 

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!

Watch Out, Those SEO Chickens are Coming Home to Roost!

Roosting Chickens

I never started out in the working world with the intention of working in marketing, and certainly not in SEO. In fact, I went to college for a very nonspecific degree that would help me a lot in my personal and professional life but wouldn’t necessarily be a ticket to a job like say…an MBA would be. Communications, if you’re wondering, and go ahead and laugh it up- I was in study groups and spent a lot of time with people who were (and still are) pretty famous athletes, while learning how to speak in front of a crowd and clearly formulate and communicate ideas. I didn’t know it then, but a Communications degree mixed with some business classes is I think, an ideal mix for someone looking to get started in digital marketing, but I digress.

After a 5 year stint as a middle school teacher, I decided that I definitely wasn’t altruistic enough to put myself through that torture for another year, I landed back in the private sector, first as a trainer, then as a computer lab and summer camp coordinator for a kids’ science museum, then operations manager for a small website (where I got my start in SEO) and now the last 5 years I’ve been doing SEO specifically trying hard to learn more about digital marketing in general. When the concept of SEO was first brought to my attention by my then boss, I reacted with a lot of cynicism- it seemed like a scam. In fact, I still know several SEOs today that feel that even white hat SEO is somehow amoral. However, if one steps off of one’s high horse for a moment, one realizes that Google needs SEOs. Google is in the business of selling ads, right? What do they wrap all those ads around? Search results, not exclusively, but mostly. Where do those search results lead? Hopefully for everyone, to a high quality site where the User is able to find what they are looking for with a minimum of time and friction. Google needs people to keep creating great content, and they need it to be formatted in a way that their algorithm can better learn what quality content is and what it isn’t.

My definition of SEO? Give Google what it wants.

There was a huge uproar in the SEO community during the end of last week and the beginning of this week over something Matt Cutts (the head of Google’s spam team- why is he someone SEO’s listen to? Are they in the business of spamming the engines? ANYway…….) said at a panel during SXSW; here’s the transcript:

“What about the people optimizing really hard and doing a lot of SEO. We don’t normally pre-announce changes but there is something we are working in the last few months and hope to release it in the next months or few weeks. We are trying to level the playing field a bit. All those people doing, for lack of a better word, over optimization or overly SEO – versus those making great content and great site. We are trying to make GoogleBot smarter, make our relevance better, and we are also looking for those who abuse it, like too many keywords on a page, or exchange way too many links or go well beyond what you normally expect. We have several engineers on my team working on this right now.”

There are a lot of people really freaking out about that announcement, but this is something I have seen coming for a long time and it ties back into my theory of “give Google what it wants”. Another part of that theory is that Google doesn’t want sites in its index that make their owners money solely because Google exists. The most famous example I can think of is a site that had twenty different URLs with spun content built around 20 variations of the same keyword phrase: “how to drink a glass of water”. None of those pages provides any value to the User and certainly not 20 of them- everyone already knows how to drink a glass of water, and those pages were clearly created in bulk, to help build a large contextual footprint, and sit there, marinating, earning passive income when less savvy Users click on parts of the site after landing on it accidentally, not realizing they are AdSense ads or affiliate links. How much money could a site like that make, you ask? Well….

According to Google there are ~15,000 searches globally, a month, for the phrase “how to drink a glass of water”. There are 823,000 searches for “how to drink water”. Let’s assume that that site focuses on broader phrases that average a very conservative 5k searches a month. That’s still a potential 100k searches that will land on that page, and even if you get .001 of Users that make a mistake and click an ad that’s still 100 people * however much an Adsense click is (let’s assume a VERY stingy $.05 per); you’re talking about $5 a month. So what, right?

Well, many sites exist that have automated the process I describe above for hundreds and even thousands, tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of subjects. Those sites produce very little value for the User and are just cluttering the index, crowding out what Google wants to focus on, which is getting information in front of people who request it (with targeted ads wrapped around, embedded in, hovering over and maybe even phasing in and out of said information, I’m not naive)- they DON’T want to help Joe Shortcut keep milking the gold mine of serendipity, human error and chance to make a buck.

As I always say, if SEO is your sole marketing channel and you put all of your eggs in that basket, it is going to eventually bite you. I think those chickens are coming home to roost for quite a few people- but if you’re not solely in the business of SEO, I think you’re okay. You know if you need to be worried about this or not.

 

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.

Keywords

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.