Blog covering a variety of Search Engine Optimization topics.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Grow Up Google

Where we sit, here in late 2006, I'd say we're all in a relationship with a search engine that is somewhere around the 3rd grade level in its development. Overall, I love Google and all the improvements and progressions that have taken place with its search algorithm over the past 5 years. But there are things that I read about everyday on all these SElebrity blogs and on the forums that I can easily see going on in my verticals that should change.

Domain age and its association with the "trust" Google has in a site is one. I understand the intentions behind wanting to limit the ranking capabilities of a brand new domain and all the good implications of trusting more established websites. What bothers me about the exectuion, though, is twofold. One, it has allowed some older, trusted domains that I compete with to get away with things that would make your mother blush - without repercussion. When a company can host the exact same website on 5 domain names and not see a penalty that is fucked up.

Second, a great number of the websites that are currently "trusted" by the almighty were created in 1997 and have yet to see a redesign. Sweet clip art logo buddy, have #2 in the SERPs. We've been asked to create a better user experience, a more accessible website, and Google apparently believes that a design some nerd created the night he saw Titanic in the theater for the 4th time is the answer. That's impossible. Every day of every year, web design is improving. Time to consider this big boy. I mean honestly, there have to be at most 8-10 well designed websites in any SERP, but you choose to spread them out over the top 100. I know you've got a bunch of kids hanging around in the Googleplex out there stocking the place with Nakeds and wiping down the roller rink - get those people in front of a SERP and have them look at some websites. If they look like they were made in Microsoft Paint and no one has touched them in 5 years, send them on down the results.

Text / link location has been cited a lot this year with respect to how it is done on page and also with external linking. Link location on a page has come to matter a great deal for me in my optimization efforts because of it. Links in sidebars, links pushed down towards the bottom of the page - these are no good anymore (well, supposedly). I don't know how much this is being put into practice by G's algorithm so I'm reluctant to commment, but I struggle to believe that the majority of site owners out there have any clue about where they should stick a link to ensure that it truly is seen as an editiorial vote. The only people that know about the importance of link location are SEO's. If they know what location to get links in, they will get them there. It's not solving anything by discounting links in certain locations. If someone has 100 links in a blogroll or similar, that is easily taken care of algorithmically (is that a word?). I just hope they aren't pulling the juice out of well-intentioned links because of a user's layout or choice of where to put them.

Now, text location with respect to how you yourself lay out your site is the other thing. If you look at any big, successful website you see a sleek look with a logo / name in the top left and then a graphical navi bar. If you are looking to optimize your site, however, it seems that placing relevant, keyword-laden text as far up in the page as possible is the way to go. It's also a good idea to make your main navigation from straight text so the bots can see it. Which begs the question, what would look like if they had 4 sentences above their logo and navigation about books and DVDs and free shipping? There are toolsheds in my industries that (along with their 1997 clip art logo mind you) have some keyword stuffing prose awkwardly sitting above what I guess you can call a website. Where must the line be drawn? You can't create a user-friendly, accessible website with a big block of text at the top. It looks terrible.

I could go on but we'll leave it with those complaints for now. Grow up Google . . . or on your next trip to the monkey bars you'll be met by an aluminum bat wielding Donkey complements of SEOThursday.

**Additional: If any of you readers out there are also into that voodoo called "PPC", check out my compatriot's new blog Life in the Blue. There aren't many PPC-oriented blogs out there and this kid knows what's up as much as anyone. Peep it.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Halo SEO - Checklist for Following the Rules

Over time a set of (more or less) agreed upon rules for optimizing a website the "right" way has emerged, and it would generally fall under the moniker of White Hat SEO. I think you can go even a step further and call it "Halo SEO", like there's a big halo hanging over your head as you do it. I began work on a new site some 5 months ago with my team of superheroes and I was incredibly paranoid about how well and how quickly we could get it to rank in Google (no MSN I do not care about you). Moreso than ever, we followed down the checklist for what a good little SEO boy should do to ensure that Google grants you admission into their fruitful SERPs. It went something like this:

1. Established domain (been around 2+ years).
2. User-friendly look and feel to the site. Simple, uncluttered.
3. Accessible, logical navigation.
4. Submit to good directories.
5. Build unique, relevant content slowly and consistently.
6. Blog.
7. Optimize internal linking structure.
8. Unique meta descriptions.
9. Relevant outgoing links.
10. A few newschool, trendy features.
11. Slow, relevant link building.

All those down-home-cookin rules that everyone knows about. No underhanded tactics, no auto-generated pages or link farms, buying links on pages just for link popularity or the like. We kept it real and needless to say it has paid off. Our site is already better looking than the rest of the industry and it's ranking better than all but a few. And the quickness with which we've been able to attain this position has me pondering what aspects of Halo SEO really paid off for us. We always have worked on building sites with good navigation, a high # of IBLs, good internal linking and unique content. So what really made the difference?

I think the most important aspects that we introduced into our strategy were the blog and the consistency with which we have added content / pages / relevant links. Many folks talk about the importance of having a blog on your money-making site and I never bought into it until now. If nothing else it creates a forum for you to try link bait, while also giving you more and more unique pages that are relevant. Win win, you just have to keep up with it. Most people are lazy - don't be. As far as adding pages goes, take it slow. Give all of your pages unique URLs and make sure your navigation flows from the home page to the internal pages freely. At one point, Google wasn't indexing 75% of our pages, but we refreshed the meta, improved our internal links, and continued to take the time to add more and more unique content and we pushed through. Note: If you're ever in this position yourself, experiencing lack of indexing and/or supplemental results, also be sure to buy some good directory links (, Yahoo, BOTW, and try for DMOZ for good measure).

With a new domain (or one that is undergoing major changes cause some toolshed had it parked for 3 years before you got it), it's obviously all about building trust. Halo SEO builds trust. So often you hear the experts in the SEO industry talk about building quality and crap, but I'm with them now more than ever. As search engines continue to evolve it's going to get harder to game your way to the top. This is a good thing. With Halo SEO, you have to adjust your time and resources to focus more on making smart additions / improvements to your website, earning links through merit not $. There will always be room for a little link buying but your time will more wisely be spent on establishing quality. Survival of the fittest I guess.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Good/Bad Brand Association - A Major Concern for Links and Ads

I've been reading a lot the past week about the emerging video ad industry with respect to Google (and a possible "Video AdSense" - duh, why else would they by YouTube). A major concern / problem right now is that there is no easy way short of human review to discern the content and context of a video file. Many companies are hard at work at solving this and judging by all the stuff I'm reading we should have a solution for it in not too long. But how good will that "solution" be? That's a long discussion, but I'm more interested in how that same problem can apply to all forms of online advertising and all corners of the web.

Advertisers, whether they are online or on TV or in print, are concerned with brand association, target markets, and conversions. The video ad industry faces a huge obstacle in being able to decipher what a video contains using a search engine-like tool. For example, say the word "bud" is said in a video 5 times. The technoology first must recognize that through audio recognition or lip reading, maybe some tagging. Then it has to determine the context (is it about some friends, beer, drugs, or just mentioned off hand?). Advertisers are going to want to know. Not only that, even if it is about Bud beer, is it reflecting it in a positive light? Why would they want to place an ad in a video that is making fun of Bud? They wouldn't.

Brand association. Quality. Relevance. That's what it's about. And it's not just video ads and all their glory, it applies to old school SEO stuff too. AdSense, AdWords, link building and link popularity. Look at the Sandbox/Trustbox and the progression of search over the past 7 years. All the things you hear are about getting links in the right "neighborhoods", getting links on truly relevant pages, in the best locations, links that people actually would click on, etc. Provide a site and a service that is valuable and over time your site will emerge, i.e. you will become an authority. Provide something useful for people and they will link to it (a caveat of link bait).

You have to know almost as much about your link partners as you do yourself to ensure that your dollars are being spent wisely, and in my mind it's getting harder and harder to do that. You can't just check backlinks like you used to. PageRank is in the history books. Man, it used to be so easy . . .

There's a bunch of markets out there for developing a network or a directory of "trusted" sites. Ones that people can feel safe spending their advertising dollar on and they will know will garner some traffic and some link popularity. The whole video thing is just a piece of it. Content, spam (crawl sites, domain parks, AdSense whores), marketing techniques, keyword/search strength, privacy, business practices, site purpose. All that stuff should be easily available for a visitor to see. The web would be a better place in my mind.

I'd love to solve this problem and I think I have an idea for it. I know this has been somewhat vague but what I'm trying to do is expose a problem with the ease at which an outside visitor can determine the legitimacy, authoritativeness, and intention of a given website. I know a helluva lot about the web and look at websites all day and I still have to run many different "tests" to figure this out. What about the average surfer?

There are things like VeriSign that show you that a site is secure. Truste does privacy. I think there could be so much more.

Search Engine Optimization