Tuesday, December 22, 2009

This Years Hottest Ranking Factors

Search Engine Optimization For Dummies (For Dummies (Computer/Tech))-Or-

Not Exactly the Billboard Charts

Every two years, SEOMoz.com polls some of the top search engine optimization practitioners and gurus and asks them, "What can you do to get ranked?"  They come back with all of the various factors that they have found to be most and least impactful on search engine ranking.  That data is all compiled and sorted, and presented to you at their site, as a guide to overall value in search engine optimization.

Now, this is absolutely incredibly vital information!  This tells us what to put our best efforts into, what to merely pay attention to, and what we can pretty much ignore altogether.

Keep in mind that these are the opinions of those professionals that are out on the field playing the game, but not pronouncements from those that are making the rules.  Google, Bing, and Yahoo don't come out and reveal their ranking algorithms.  They give guidelines, and leave it up to the rest of us to figure out what the details are.

Still, when a lot of really smart people with a lot of experience put their heads together and give their opinions, I'm gonna recommend that we all shut up and listen!

I looked over the various factors in several categories, and I noticed that many of them overlapped.  For quick simplicity, I merged the categories, and created a list of the most critical overall ranking factors.

  • External link popularity - The best links to boost your ranking are:
    • Inbound links
    • From diverse domains (many other unique websites)
    • From websites with authority in your area
    • From other relevant websites
    • Using keywords in the text they use to link to you.
  • Keyword use anywhere in the title tag - Many of the responses added that having a keyword match as the first word of a title tag was also very significant.
  • Having a valuable website - This is determined based on a lot of factors, including:
    • Unique, substantial content on the page
    • A high Google Page Rank
    • A high "TrustRank"
  • Keyword use in the URL - Especially in the root domain name (eg. "keyword.com").
  • Having internal links (from other pages in your site) that contain keywords.
  • Having a steady growth in your inbound links, rather than a sudden influx of many links.
  • How recently the page was created or updated.
  • Keyword use anywhere in the H1 headline tag.
  • Keyword use in internal link text on the page.

There are some surprises.  For example, for many years, people have talked about the possibility of the "Age Rank", that is, Google giving preference to domains that have existed longer.  That didn't appear in the list this time.  In fact, it appears that some preference is being given to the freshest content.

Also, some gurus have long dismissed the Google Page Rank as a factor, but it's still in the list, so many others still believe it has value.

Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter didn't appear to have that strong of an impact on search engine ranking.  However, most gurus seem to think their value is in more direct promotions and immediate clicks, rather than any search engine boost.

The META tags are pretty much ignored, however, the META description is still often used as the descriptive snippet in the Search Engine Results Page (SERP).  So, having a good strong and attractive description can still help convince browsers to click on your link, instead of one that even ranks a step or two higher.

I'd encourage you to study the survey in detail, and begin to understand each unique element that combines to give your website the best possible chance for success!

Mark is currently in the curriculum Department of an internet and SEO training company. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including Mark's Black Pot - Dutch Oven Recipes, MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Optimizing eCommerce Shopping Sites

I read a blog post the other day about some of the challenges faced by webmasters of traditional e-commerce sites.  Basic shopping sites are in between a rock and a hard place.  They're a web 1.0 concept in a web 2.0 world.  Why do they survive?  Well, many don't.  But still many do!  The ones that survive do so because they are selling things that people want, and the webmasters know how to get the products in front of those that want them.

eBoot Camp: Proven Internet Marketing Techniques to Grow Your BusinessA big part of the problem is in differentiation.  What makes one herbal diet supplement site unique from another?  Should I buy the same remote-controlled car from this site or that one?  And, if they're all the same, that makes it very difficult for any one of them to rank well.

Here are some suggestions that will help you not only be unique, but also to rank higher, and draw more buying customers.

  • Optimize individual products

This is a biggie.  A lot of web browsers are just checking things out and doing research.  Others have done the study, made the decision, and now they're ready to buy.  They just need to find a site, and put down their credit card.  Optimize the individual product pages, and when someone searches for that specific product, it will be found.  Then the customer will buy from you instead of thousands of other sites that weren't as savvy as you.

To optimize your product pages, make sure, first of all, that your products are spiderable.  Check with your webmaster or the tech team of your website.  Then, make sure that the product name, brand, and model are in the page's title, and a few times in the product description.

  • Content pages

A good way to set yourself apart from EVERY OTHER WEBSITE selling the same stuff as you is to provide good useful information.  Not only does that make you unique, but it will build the customer's confidence in you.  You become an expert, not just a shop keeper.  They'll buy from you because you can help them better after the sale. 

If those content pages are optimized, too, then you'll draw in visitors while they're still doing the research I mentioned before.  Maybe they'll buy right away, maybe they'll come back.

  • Article links and blog posts

Offsite content is another great way to establish yourself as an authority in your field.  Plus, the inbound links will boost your ranking.  When you set these up, link to your main page, but also link to your product pages.  That will draw shopping traffic, and will also improve that product's search ranking.

  • Social Networking

Even if your website is still web 1.0, there's no reason you should be.  Get on Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks and talk with your audience.  Share your website with them.  Engage in the conversation. 

All of these strategies can work well to increase the value of your e-Commerce website!

Mark is currently in the curriculum Department of an internet and SEO training company. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including Mark's Black Pot - Dutch Oven Recipes, MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Do's and Do Not's of Social Networking

We can tell you to click here and click there, fill out this form and make a post over at that other website, but it's often not easy to truly understand what's going on in Social Networking.  It's true that a lot of the flavor of a meal is discovered while you're eating it.  In other words, you'll learn a lot about using social networks simply by being on them.  Still, here are some general guidelines of how to approach them so that you'll do better right from the start.

Do These Things:

  1. Find your audience - Using your keywords to search through profiles helps filter out a lot of people who have no interest in your business or your products.  Spend your time and efforts on people who are more likely to buy.
  2. Actively participate - Find your audience, and interact with them.  Before you know it, they'll be checking out your website and making you money.  But first, just join the party.  If you sit quietly in the corner and watch, nothing will happen.
  3. Share good content, not just your own - If you're at a party, and someone is monopolizing the conversation, talking only about themselves and their own accomplishments, it gets pretty old pretty fast, doesn't it?  Share some links and info about other, still relevant, sites you've found, and people will like following you.
  4. Be a source of value - Along the same lines, if they can count on you for the good stuff, the useful info, and the exciting news, then they'll be excited to see something you've posted.
  5. Use the same avatar - From one social network to another, it's a good idea to use the same avatar or profile image.  This is a part of your branding efforts.  Use your company logo, if it works as a small image.  People will begin to recognize you.  (One time at church someone came up to me and said, "Hey, I saw you out on the 'net the other day.  Man, you are EVERYwhere!")
  6. Update your site and blog, so you have something to talk about on the 'network.

Don't Do These Things:

  1. Don't just plug your products - It's OK to mention your own products and your own blogs every once in a while, but if your twitter feed or your facebook page is nothing but ads, I'm going to unfollow you fast.  Visit with me, don't just sell to me.
  2. Don't use tools to add millions of friends/followers - I recently tried a tool that got me thousands of twitter followers overnight.  Most of them were clogging my twitter feed with ads for diet pills and cheap mortgages.  When I posted about new blog entry, I got a couple of dozen hits from twitter.  Pretty lame percentage out of thousands of followers.  I've seen other things like this happen all the time.  Quantity is great, as long as it's a high quantity of good quality friends and followers.  Remember: find your audience!
  3. Don't spew out flow - Some people want to post every detail of their personal existence.  I don't care if you're in a Starbucks having a mocha venti grande.  I also don't care to read about how long it took you to get to work this morning.  Unless you make it relevant to your topic, leave it out.  I don't mind if a part of your social networking posts are personal.  That's what shows you're human.  But don't just share the mind-numbing dullness of your dreary life.
  4. Don't friend everyone - Not everyone is your audience, and not everyone is interested in your products.  Don't waste your time on people that won't buy.  If someone friends you and you can tell they're just looking for a bigger list, you don't have to friend them back.
  5. Don't use the same accounts for personal networking and business networking - The more I work this, the more I realize it's much more effective to split them into separate accounts. 
  6. Don't post too much - There's a guy on my Facebook friends list that shares good, informative content.  That's great, right?  Except he posts every 10 to 20 minutes.  I don't have time to read all that, and it clutters up my profile.  Even good content, 5-10 times a day, can get annoying.
  7. Don't post too little - You're easy to forget, and if you wait too many days in between blog posts, or Twitter tweets, it's tough to build up an audience of readers.

Like I said before, as you use the social networks, you'll learn more and more how to make it effective for you.  There are many more tips and tricks that you'll pick up along the way.  Many of the tips that I learned were shared with me by other users!  Keep learning and you'll do well!

Mark is currently in the curriculum Department of an internet and SEO training company. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including Mark's Black Pot - Dutch Oven Recipes, MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Google Personalized SERPs: Convenient or Creepy?

As of December 4th, Google has begun giving you personalized results on your searches.  they've been doing that for a long time, for those that chose to "opt in" to the service, but now all SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) will be personalized automatically.

What that means is that when you do a search at Google, and click on a result at that SERP, Google will keep track of that click for 180 days, along with all of the other clicks you do after a google search.  From that data, it will get an idea of the kids of sites you like, and those sites will get preferential ranking in your results.  Over time, the kinds of sites you look for often will drift to the top of your results. 

If you happen to run the Google toolbar, or are logged into google docs or gmail or something else Google, they're actually able to track all your web-goings.

The convenient part of that is that you're more likely to find what you're most interested in when you do searches.  The searching part of your internet experiences is more likely to become less "search-y" and more "find-y".  The 'net becomes more useful and friendly.

The creepy part is thinking that Google is going all "Big Brother" on you, watching your every move.  What about privacy?  What about freedom?  Who's watching my SERPs?

I don't mean to stir up conspiracy theories or frighten the already-alarmed alarmists, but really, this kind of thing has been going on for a long time.  A lot of the websites we use keep track of our activity.  That's good business for them.  That way they can know what their customers want, and can better deliver it to them.  In my own personal case:

  • Amazon knows that I like cookbooks, games, and religious commentary
  • Facebook knows who my friends are
  • Pandora knows that I like hard rock and classical music
  • Netflix knows that I like comedies, but am willing to watch a chick flick with my wife
  • Those that follow my blog know I love to cook outdoors
  • YouTube knows that I like music videos and parodies

So, this is really nothing terribly new, and certainly not anything to get too alarmed about.  It does, however, raise the question, "If search results and SERPs are going to be tailored to the preferences of the user, how do I make sure that my site ranks high?"

It does mean that getting a #1 slot, or even a page 1 slot is no longer going to be a constant.  It does, however, mean that if you all of the things that made you rank well before, you're still going to rank well, and you're going to rank even higher if someone is clearly interested in what you've got.

Keep in mind that personalization is only one aspect of a very complicated ranking algorithm that includes many other factors, like keyword matching, keyword placement, number of inbound links, the age of the site, and other elements.  There are all kinds of factors that all add up to the SERP you see.

It also means that "niche-ing" is going to be even more important.  That means that you'll want to make sure that your website is focused, and that you're well interlinked among other sites and blogs within that niche.  Showing that you're clearly "about" something will help you to rank when someone wants to know about that thing.  Trying to sell everything to everyone will end up with your site ranking for no-one.

Mark is currently in the curriculum Department of an internet and SEO training company. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including Mark's Black Pot - Dutch Oven Recipes, MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Listening to an FTC Lawyer: Clear as Mud, But it Covers the Ground

I recently sat in on a webinar given by the site "Blog with Integrity", with speaker Mary Engle.  Mary is the FTC's Associate Director of Consumer Protection.  I learned a lot about the new FTC guidelines, especially as it relates to blogging.  This is particularly timely, as the guidelines go into effect as of today, the day of this writing!

I came away from the webinar with a slightly more clear understanding of the concepts behind the new FTC guidelines, but I'm still a bit confused about how they want them to be implemented.  As I listened, I got the sense that they, too, haven't fully defined the details, and that they're still in the process of interpreting them.

FTC Guidelines for Existing Laws

The impetus behind the new guides is that a lot has changed and adapted since the '80s, when the laws were put into place.  The advent of blogging, social networking, and a vast landscape of interconnectedness has come along since then, and now they're trying to apply those existing laws and regulations to new circumstances.

That's OK.  A well-written law should be able to be applied fairly to new situations.  It does, however, make for some generalities that can be difficult to detail.  One thing that Engle mentioned is that these new FTC guidelines, by themselves, don't have the weight of law.  They are designed to show the application of the current laws.

Disclosure, Not Deception

The idea is that whenever someone writes or talks about a product or a company, the reader or viewer should be able to know if there's any connection between the writer/speaker, and the product or company being discussed. 

So, if I post to my Facebook page that I'm gonna hit McDonald's for lunch, do I have to add a disclosure statement?  Well, probably not, but it depends:  Did McD's pay me to say that?  Am I getting my meal for free in return for mentioning it on Facebook?  If so, I need to say so.  If nobody paid me anything, or gave me anything for free, I can say whatever I want.

What if I blog about my family life, and I put affiliate ads on the site?  Do I have to tell people that the affiliate links make me money?  Again, that depends.  If it's a big graphic ad off to one side of the blog, it's a pretty safe bet that everyone "gets it" that it's an ad, and that I'm getting compensated for it in some way.

On the other hand, what if I blog about a book, and put a link to that book over at Amazon?  In that case, it's a little less obvious and should probably be disclosed.

The overall focus, according to Engle, is to eliminate the deception.  If a blogger writes about something, the readers should be able to judge his/her fairness.  Did they get the product for free?  Were they paid to write?  Are they getting commissions for recommending a particular book?  The audience needs to know.

Linking to a Website.

Let's say that you blog primarily as an effort to promote an ecommerce website.  Let's say that you sell products at the site, and you want to blog about them.  You'd definitely want to disclose that, to be in compliance with these FTC guidelines.  Fortunately, that's not too hard.  "Come check out these products at our website! (link, link, link)"


Having testimonials on your website is a great way to build customer confidence.  If you get a spontaneous email about how good your product is, or how quickly you delivered it, then you've got gold, and you should post it on your website.  However, if you offer discounts or other premiums in return for testimonials, that has to be disclosed.

My Own Disclaimer!

The things I've said here are the things that I gathered as I was listening to the FTC presentation mentioned above.  I don't really know how the FTC is going to enforce these.  Frankly, I'm not convinced that they're too sure, either.  My best recommendation is to take some time and listen to the webinar and learn for yourself.  They can also be contacted via email with questions: endorsement@ftc.gov

Mark is currently in the curriculum Department of an internet and SEO training company. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including Mark's Black Pot - Dutch Oven Recipes, MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.