There are a lot of tips out there online about search engine optimization and the methods you can put to use to rank higher in the Google/Bing/Yahoo SERPs. You can find some of the same type of posts on our blog here as well. You’ll find discussion of white hat techniques, black hat techniques, the common steps known as well as some of the not so obvious ones.
What you don’t find very often however, are posts about what not to do, or what to look out for when you’re looking at contracting a company to perform SEO on your website. While the search engines are somewhat flexible in what you’re allowed to do, there are most definately some tricks which can get you black marked, all the way to completely kicked from the SERPs.
So, when you’re looking for a company to perform optimization on your site, keep your ears open for any of the below terms. If there is mention of using any of these practices, it’s time to run for the hills.
Using Cloaked content
This is one of the most common, and most likely to get your company banned, practices out there. For the most part, when you create content for your site you’re telling the search engines what your site is for. Google/Bing/Yahoo then lists the website under the titles and keywords that is found in that content. Cloaking content is when a company shows Google content, and then shows viewers different content such as ads or links to malware infected sites. This is what is cloaking and will get a site removed from Google in very short order.
A lot of blogs talk about how the meta data for keywords and description are defunct, but Google often looks to these as indicators of keywords that make up a site. For example a site about water softeners will often contain content relevant to that industry. Some companies, however, try to gain new content by what is known as “keyword stuffing”. Mainly this involves hiding keywords with single pixel sized font or camouflaging text the same as the background color to try and get listed more often, for more terms. It may seem to work short term, but it will get a site removed from the SERPs.
Duplicate content Websites
Some novice SEOs and SEO companies try to increase rankings by putting the exact same content on different pages on multiple sites. Typically they also use a scraper tool to gather quality content from websites for their own. Search engines have gotten adept at catching this and will happily penalize, a website that has too much duplicate content.
Auto Generating Content
Another poor technique is to use a program to write content for your website. This is exactly as it sounds, taking one article and then having a program rewrite the article by changing a few sentences and keywords over and over again.
Those are only a few of the terms you need to be aware of when speaking with an SEO company. Absolutely stressing the point that if any of the above techniques are mentioned as a tool they use, avoid them at all costs. There is no shortcut to success in online marketing, real SEO takes time and the more time and effort you can put into it, the bigger return on investment you can expect.
There are a long list of dos and do nots to be found online. A well coded website, decent content well written and relevant to your visitors needs and maybe a picture or two to liven the look of your website up.
An unexpected issue however, pops its head up from time to time when working on our clients sites. Even though everyone who knows everything talks about how keywords and description don’t mean anything in your SEO campaign, think of them instead as a gauge to begin your efforts. Your description is the snippet of information displayed in the SERPs when you show up as a result. As an example, a very popular content management system out there is Joomla! and more often than not when we have a client needing an overhaul, their keywords and description tags are full of joomla, joomla, joomla.
You might be saying to yourself now “So what, that SEO blog I read says description and keywords don’t matter”. Would you visit a website when their snippet for their website consists of “Joomla! – the dynamic portal engine”? It’s sloppy coding, poor diligence on the part of the designer and owner of the site and is reflective of their quality as a service vendor.
So to recap, as much as your description and keywords don’t matter to SEO, they matter as an impression to those who may be searching for your services. You need to bear in mind both as a website/business owner and as an SEO with a list of clients, that neglecting even the smallest detail can have a large impact on your visibility and marketability. One last small tidbit of information to help you along, don’t try and be too clever when creating your description and keywords. That’s all I’ll say about that point.. for now.
With how compact, powerful and convenient todays smartphones are becoming. The rise of the netbook and tablet pc, it’s not a surprise at all that mobile search, search using the aforementioned techonologies, is growing in leaps and bounds. A very general breakdown of Googles numbers were posted in their blog this past week:
Over the past two years, Google’s mobile searches have grown by more than five times. Furthermore, in the third quarter of 2010, Google mobile searches jumped 130% year over year.
Percentages are amazing to look at and all, but they should also be taken with a some thought; they can make the actual results seem much larger than they are. But onto mobile search! Google, like Bing and other search companies, have their own keyword search tool. They have however, recently added the ability to check which terms are being used in mobile searches.
The Keyword Tool now helps you build a better keyword list to target mobile users. Under “Advanced options,” you can now search for keywords for devices with mobile WAP browsers, mobile devices with full Internet browsers (think iPhone and Android phones), or all mobile devices.
So your site, which by now is hopefully mobile friendly (it is 2011 after all), can be optimized with the mobile market in mind. With the billions of dollars in revenue this past holiday season which were made via mobile techonology, it’s well worth the investment.
Content is an incredibly powerful optimization metric on your website. It’s your effective communication to the search engines of the value of your website. Stuffing your page full of pictures, and not describing them in any way is almost a guaranteed way to get yourself lost online with little to no viewers via search. Now the flip side is also true, you can’t cram a thousand lines of text on a page and expect to rank on page 1 for your niche without using a degree of care.
The simplest way to describe it, you want to sculpt the language on your site, to appeal not only to the search engines, but to your visitors; current, and future of course. No one knows your business like you do, but a key point you need to be aware of as a business owner, is that your clients don’t know your business like you do. So don’t clutter your text with technical terms, or vague descriptions around products or processes. Making the assumption that your customers and clients know you as well as you or your salesmen do, can be a detrimental step in the structure of your content.
The number one rule when it comes to content generation?
On the social front of your site or experience, there’s been a mashup of the trendiest, retweetable terms determined. It seems that while there’s no sure fire way to have your news or posts immediately rebroadcasted, there are ways to help increase your chances. The most popular terms for titles would have to be “How to”, “Increase”, and “Social Media”. In theory, a surefire way to have your post picked up and passed around would be to use that text as your title, and craft an article around it. Apparently however, “Trust”, “Talk” and “Sentiment” seem to be very undesireable text tweets. Food for thought.
If SEO copywriting isn’t about the percentage of keywords within the copy, then what is it about? Balance. You have two audiences with SEO copywriting: the search engines and your site visitors. But surprisingly, the balance doesn’t come with serving both masters well. The balance comes in how much you cater to the engines. You see, your site visitors always come first.
However, if you write with too little focus on the engines, you won’t see good rankings. If you put too much focus on the engines, you’ll start to lose your target audience. Balance… always balance.
One of the discussions that new content writers like to engage in is the keyword density discussion.
Somewhere along the line someone told them to make sure their keyword density was at least 1% and not more than 7%, or something like that. Is there any truth to it?
Not really. What’s really important to getting rankings in the search engines is not how many times you use a keyword in your content, but where you use your keyword and how you use your keyword.
In terms of search engine optimization, one keyword placed in the title of your content – an h1 tag at the top of the page – is worth about half a dozen of the same keyword filtered throughout your content. That’s pretty powerful. By the same token, one keyword placed inside an anchor text link is equal in value to about three or four of the same keyword repeated in your content.
Again, that’s fairly significant.
Keyword density may have been important at one time, but it’s not important today. You’d be much better off learning what the search engines are looking for overall and forgetting about keyword density.
One of the greatest advantages of the Internet and search engines like Google is that you can find almost anything about almost anything or anyone. This is particularly true following the advent of web 2.0 technologies and increasingly sophisticated websites indexing everything from video to audio – we’ve come a long way from text rich sites with just an image or two to mix things up.
Of course, this information superhighway is also incredibly bad news if you’re unfortunate enough to find yourself or your company on the wrong end of some bad press. Unlike the newspapers of yesteryear that were discarded after reading, online publications are indexed indefinitely, giving bad press an infinite shelf life
If your company is poorly represented on a site with a good PageRank, a respectable number of links and good rankings, chances are it will turn up near the top of the SERPs for searches on that company name. Not only does this mean the story will live on long after the facts may have changed, it’s also galling to discover that the old mantra of bad news selling translates equally aptly online. Say the bad press takes the form of a harsh critique of your restaurant. Upon seeing the piece, you take action and work solidly for six months to turn your eatery around. You change the menu, source new suppliers, opt for a complete revamp of the décor and hire a new head chef and sous chef. After all your hard work, you log back on and discover the bad review is still prominently positioned in a search for your business name. All because the review ran in an influential food mag or national newspaper.
How do you fight this and regain credibility? Most bad press relates to a particular service area or product, rather than attacking the entire business model. This, while unfortunate for the product being bad mouthed, is actually good news when it comes to rectifying the situation as it gives you a very specific plan of attack.
Even in SEO, the best defense is a good offense and there are several options available to you to replace the negative with the positive. The most effective way, is to focus on how the changes have been brought about and drown out the bad with good. That means developing a groundswell of support for the keyword or keywords being black balled. When attempting this, you must apply the fundamental rules of organic optimization while embracing the usefulness and grassroots potency of social media activity and multi-media content.
Research is always the first stage so ascertain which keywords trigger the bad press. Create a list so the whole set of phrases can be included in the image overhaul. This is also a good opportunity to re-assess any existing organic activity. Ask yourself if variations of these keywords such as location specific versions are now appropriate to your optimization. If you’ve grown as a company while making some fundamental changes to the business offering, chances are you will be able to add more words to the list.
The second stage is to understand why the negative press is gaining such prominent positions. Obviously if the site is well established and a respected resource, your situation isn’t helped. However, you can take advantage of their stronghold by running link reports and then sifting through the returned results. Pick out referrers with a good PageRank, domains that are particularly relevant to your own site and make a note of any social networking sites that you haven’t yet heard of or haven’t yet had the opportunity to use. This will form a fundamental part of your positivity drive.
Having developed an initial list of sites to target for linkbacks in order to negate the advantage of the bad publicity, you need to approach each of those sites and barter for a link. The most effective way to do this is to provide unique content. For newspaper sites, specialist portals and the like, why not create a press release announcing your re-launch, outlining all of the positive differences that have been made? Consider a launch party or opening night in order to get local press involved and then send out the PR to all of those sites on the original link back list. If you’re feeling brave, you can even send the piece to the author of the bad press you’re trying to sink. Invite them to come and review your product offering again, suggest a formal meeting or collaborate on a competition, pushing any newly gained sales tools such as client testimonials. The creation of new jobs if you’ve taken on new members of staff as part of the restructuring or even a great offer on the original product can pique the interest of the newshound who first slammed your offering.
With your PR campaign launched, you need to find other ways to build links and positive opinion about your brand or company. To do this, remember that the results pages of major engines like Google or no longer simply about text based content. Video, audio and images all play their part. Creating interesting and useful multi-media content makes a great addition to any traditional SEO campaign and is a useful part of the armor when driving out bad press. Create video content that is going to be of interest to others and make sure that it is easily shared. Video sharing typically takes place around sites like YouTube so incorporate this facility to get others to link back to it.
Social media sites like YouTube, Twitter, Squidoo, Sphin and Digg are all powerful tools and an extension of the content diversity you’ll need to push unfavorable listings off the front page. Any social media campaign activity should be thought of as a chance to communicate with the consumer, not sell to them. Create content specifically for this purpose, invite their feedback and provide a space for conversation and the links and client goodwill you seek will follow. This same approach can also be used for forum activity. Rather than jumping in with any excuse to link back to your site, watch first, participate second. Take time to understand the forum profile and then introduce relevant content and responses. Ask probing questions and give answers that inform and watch the links flood in. Content creation managed this way often grows organically, being picked up by blogs or industry commentators to create yet more links and more goodwill.
As with a full-on SEO campaign, attempt to turn around a poor online reputation need to be sustained if they are to succeed. If you don’t have time to dedicate yourself, consider hiring an SEO company or external consultant on a short term basis to carry out your brief
It should be friendly not only to the human eye, but also to search-engine spiders—programs that crawl the Web looking for up-to-date information.
A site’s structure can make a big difference in how easily a spider can crawl it. Web addresses that use keywords related to the content of the page generally help a search engine better correlate them with the site. For example: www.yourwebsite.com/keyword/filename.html. The closer the keyword is to your homepage in the Web address, the more relevant a search engine will consider the page to be for that keyword, and the more likely the search engine will be to give your site a better ranking.
Another consideration is where content is placed on the page. Spiders read pages starting at the top left corner of a page, so pages, keyword links to content that’s especially important for search engines to see should be moved there.
The keyword or keyword phrase you choose for a page should directly reflect the page’s content. Headlines, subheads and formatting, such as bold and italics, also should be related directly to this central subject. These indicators will signal to search-engine spiders that the keyword or keyword phrase is more prominent or prevalent than other words on the page, increasing the likelihood of a higher search ranking.
In this article I will discuss page redirection techniques, what works and what to avoid.
In this article I will discuss page redirection techniques, what works and what to avoid.
What is page redirection and why would you want to use it?
Let’s say you rename a page on your website, for whatever reason. Perhaps you decided to revamp your entire naming convention, perhaps you decided to restructure your site and need to move pages into different folders, or you just realized that you are missing valuable keywords.
Let’s elaborate a bit on the keywords issue, since it is part of your search engine ranking success.
Let’s say the page in question is about customized USB drives and you named it page1.htm. Then you read some SEO (Search Engine Optimization) articles and you found out that some search engines use words in the actual file name as search keywords. Next time you do a Google search, take a look at the results, most will have words in the actual file name (in the URL section) bolded, denoting a keyword match. Your USB drives page will definitely benefit if named something like custom_usb_drives.htm instead.
Now that you renamed your page, you just created a symphony of issues for yourself, for your users and for your position in search engine results.
You will have to point every link on your site to the new page name. If your site is small, it should not be a big deal, but if your site is large, you will inevitably make mistakes, mainly forgetting a link or two. This will result in visitors getting the dreaded “404 page not found” error when clicking on your links, robots (also know as crawlers or spiders) avoiding you, etc. Also, if you are heavily relying on visitors from search engines, then again, people will get a “404 page not found error”.
Let’s use the previous example, for a long time your page1.htm was indexed by major search engines. If someone types “custom usb drives” in a search engine box, your page shows up on the first search results screen. That is fantastic, only if someone clicks on the link, they will be pointed to page1.htm, not to custom_usb_drives.htm, because the first page is the one in the search engine’s index. It will take time, sometimes months, before the search engines update their indexes with your new page name.
Lost Page Rank (PR) issues:
Google developed a proprietary algorithm that assigns a Page Rank (PR) to every page on the web. PR is a number from 1 to 10 (10 being the ideal) and is intended to be a representation of how useful and popular a given page is. PR is influenced by many factors, one of the crucial ones being Link Popularity. Link Popularity is a representation of how many “quality” or “relevant” sites link to your page. Without getting into too much detail, it is increasingly difficult and time consuming to achieve a high PR for your pages, especially if you don’t have a really unique website with exceptional and highly sought after content. If you are merely operating a commercial site, in a competitive market (such as selling custom branded USB drives, as in our example), then it takes a lot of time and hard work to build a good page PR.
When you rename a page and discard the old page, you also discard the PR of the page. Your renamed page will be seen as a totally new page, with 0 PR.
What is the solution?
I will start by enumerating some of the methods used by the non-initiated.
Not recommended solution 1: Duplicate content.
First thing that probably comes in you mind is: well, why can’t you just duplicate the page and let nature take its course. In other words, you will have two identical pages, one named page1.htm and one custom_usb_drives.htm. This gives you time to update all links and the search engines will eventually index the new page.
This solution is not viable because search engines will penalize you quite badly, ‘thinking’ that you are trying to scam them by using the ‘duplicate content’ technique.
Not recommended solution 2: Custom error message.
You could create a custom error page. However, you will lose rankings on the next search engine update as the file will appear to be non-existent. As discussed above, it could be some time before the page with the new name will be indexed and will appear in people’s searches. Also, your web site visitors will be frustrated by the fact that they now have to dig through your site to find the desired information.
Not recommended solution 3: An HTML Meta redirect.
You could implement a so called Meta refresh in a blank or customized page that has the name of the old page (in our example, page1.htm) that points to the new page. The redirect can be instant, or delayed by a predetermine amount of time. The delayed redirect has the advantage that you can place an extra message, such as “please be aware that the page you are looking for changed location….. etc., etc…. you will be redirected automatically to the new location”
In the past, this was probably the most used technique.
Without getting into the mechanics of the Meta redirect, which is basically a META tag statement you ad to your HEADER section, know that there are also Java Script techniques that achieve similar results.
What is bad about this is that this is a technique often used by spammers to trick search engines and it should be avoided, unless the page is in a section of your site that isn’t indexed (also known as spidered or crawled). Search engine spammers create a page that is optimized for certain keywords and phrases – it usually has no real content. The page is then picked up by some search engines, but when a visitor clicks on the search engine entry, they are redirected to another site, often unrelated. Most search engines have filters to detect this. Using this form of search engine deception will see a site eventually banned or penalized by major players such as Google.
The recommended redirect strategy – 301 Redirect
A 301 redirect is the most efficient, visitor friendly, robot (spider, crawler) friendly and search engine friendly solution around for web sites that are hosted on servers running Apache. If you are not sure, check with your hosting provider.
A 301 redirect is just a set of commands you type into your .htaccess file.
When a visitor (whether human or robotic) requests a web page via any means, your web server checks for a .htaccess file. The .htaccess file contains specific instructions for certain requests, including security, redirection issues and how to handle certain errors.
The code “301″ is interpreted as “moved permanently”. After the code, the URL of the missing or renamed page is noted, followed by a space, then followed by the new location or file name.
First of all, you’ll need to find the .htaccess file in the root directory of where all your web pages are stored. If there is no .htaccess file there, you can create one with Notepad or a similar application. Make sure when you name the file that you remember to put the “.” at the beginning of the file name. This file has no tail extension.
Some hosting providers offer redirect services through their “control panels”, so you don’t have to perform low level changes on the .htaccess file itself. Instead, they provide a user friendly interface for this. Check with your hosting provider to see what the optimal way to perform a 301 redirect is in your case. I will continue the article with the barebones solution.
If there is a .htaccess file already in existence with lines of code present, be very careful not to change any existing line unless you are familiar with the functions of the file.
Scroll down past all the existing code, leave a line space, th
en create a new line that follows this example:
redirect 301 /folder/page1.htm http://www.you.com/folder/custom_usb_drives.htm
It’s as easy as that. Save the file, upload it back into your web and test it out by typing in the old address to the page you’ve changed. You should be instantly and seamlessly transported to the new location.
Notes: Be sure not to add “http://www” to the first part of the statement – just put the path from the top level of your site to the page. Also ensure that you leave a single space between these elements:
redirect 301 (the instruction that the page has moved)
/folder/page1.htm (the original folder path and file name)
http://www.you.com/folder/custom_usb_drives.htm (new path and file name)
The same format applies not only to renamed files, but also to files moved to a different location.
The 301 redirect is the safest way to preserve your rankings. On the next indexing (crawling, spidering), the search engine robot will obey the rule indicated in your .htaccess file and index the new page name every time a link or its internal database tries to access the old page. In the next update (again, this could take months), the old file name and path will be dropped and replaced with the new one. Sometimes you may see alternating old/new file names during the transition period, along with some possible fluctuations in rankings as things settle. Don’t panic, this is normal.
What if your site is hosted on a Microsoft IIS server instead?
If you have access to the server, do this: In internet services manager, right click on the file or folder you wish to redirect. Select the radio titled “a redirection to a URL”. Enter the redirection page, check “The exact url entered above” and the “A permanent redirection for this resource”. Click “Apply”.
If you do not have access to the server, ask your host to point you into the right direction.
In conclusion, the best and the most transparent way (to both human and robotic users) to rename and move files on your web site, while preserving your search engine ranks is the 301 redirect.