SEOThursday

Blog covering a variety of Search Engine Optimization topics.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Dear Link, How Do I Value Thee?


Taking a brief respite from my ongoing "How-To" guide for building a super-duper website today . . . thought I'd talk a bit about link valuation. I personally feel like there are many, many helpful blogs posts and forum discussions out there that help shape our understanding of what links to get, what they should say, and most of all, how to get them (hello linkbait). What I feel I don't see enough of is explicit examples of how much value a given website should place on a given link, both monetarily and relative to their body of links.

I've been working on some internal tools for this, taking into consideration all the indicators of "value" of your link on another site/page - inbound links/outgoing links (# and uniqueness), relevancy, age of domain, SERP presence, age of link, location of link, and so on. I don't claim to be the first one to talk about this or to bring up these ideas, but it's a good topic that needs an ongoing discussion.

First things first, these things I've mentioned are on the short list of things any SEO / link builder should be taking into consideration when evaluating a link's worth. Do them. Older domains with good search presence for their own keywords, good relevancy to your page, unique IBL's are all good things. Is the link in the main body (not on the sidebars)? Above the fold? Both good. Jim Boykin talked briefly about this this week, and mentioned that his crew usually only goes for links on powerful subpages as opposed to the home page. Add that to your list of + qualities.

Ho hum? Old news? Let's go beyond that a little. A link's value goes well beyond all the primary optimization characteristics you have to consider. How far along are you in your SEM campaign? High quality links, which usually mean highly expensive links, are key when you are just launching a new website campaign or you need a big push to crack the top spots in the SERPs. If you find yourself in one of those positions you should be a little more open to reaching into your pockets.

Before you chastise me for saying high quality links are highly expensive, I must acknowledge that this isn't always true. Yes, even you can create unique, original, viral business ideas that catapult you to the top for highly competitive keywords! However true that may be, it either takes smart people's time or less time and more money to get a good link. You or your team may think of a killer tool or guide or idea that a lot of people willingly link to, but it's not going to happen in an hour. Time, money, talent . . . it's going to take something to get them.

Another key thing that can come into play, typically when you have a paid agreement for a link, is the age factor of the link and how that relates to value. When you're in this more traditional advertising relationship, links come up for renewal and you have to consider changes in the algorithms, your business goals, costs, and other miscellaneous things that may have happend over the course of the "deal". In cases like these, I always look to see how we're doing for the keyword(s) in the link first. Then I check if it's showing up in our backlinks. Then I see if I can improve the link in any way based on supposed changes in the algorithms - can I move it to the middle of the page? Can we add more content? Can we get on an another page as well?

A lot times people are going to want to bump up their rates because they saw a jump in their PageRank (which they still believe is the end all be all of a page's worth). If you've got your link in a good spot and it's a relevant page, it's hard to say no. Losing links always feels like a step backward, and it can be a risky practice if you are on the top page of the SERPs and you're losing one of your oldest backlinks.

In that light, the discussion of "value" is much larger in scope than the basic optimization checklist. You have to know your site's links like you know the words to Billie Jean, and always err on the side of the safe play. SEO - better safe than sorry. Hell yeah.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

1.3 - Buying a Domain - Conjuring Up the Best Name

Finding the right domain name is never an easy task. Many a night I have stayed up for hours just searching for the right combination of words that both correctly represent what my site will contain and "sound good" together. Domain names should be short (I'd say 3 words at most), and memorable. As this is a guide for search engine marketing, when thinking of a domain name you should also consider the factors listed in section 1.2 for garnering search engine rankings/traffic.

A great majority of domains are centered on their main keywords, the products or services that drive their business. Try doing a search on Google for "mortgages" or "tickets" - the top results are filled with domains with those exact words in them. Not that search engines are totally to blame - after all, if you have a mortgage company, typically you're going to put "mortgage" in the company name.

Which brings up a good point in that many people will be somewhat limited in their choices for a domain name because they already have a company name (forcing myself to think that some businesses just don't begin and end with the web). If that is the case for you, simply skip ahead a bit and just head over to one of the domain registars and see what's available. If you find that the domain you want is already taken, try contacting the current owner through the WHOIS information and working out a deal. All this you already know.

The reason I wanted to add this section, though, is twofold. One being to shed some light on some of the brainstorming possibilities for coming up with a domain name, and the other to mention some domain vendors. Truly, finding a domain name isn't just as easy as looking around at some websites or throwing your business name into GoDaddy with a .com on the end of it. It is good practice to first brainstorm a basic list of terms or phrases that are associated with your idea for the new site, and then to try exponential combinations of them to see which ones flow the best. A few tricks I use when coming up with related words and phrases for a domain name:

1. Look up synonymns for your main words at Thesaurus.com. Doing this can widen your list of possibilities.
2. Use the Google Language Tool to look up what your key phrases are in another language, particularly Spanish. Doing this can lead to some unique, brandable ideas (think Zappos or Arma Shirts). Sometimes English is just too boring.
3. Use Rhymer.com to see if you can come up with any catchy combinations. Doing this can also lead you to knew, related words and also help you jam words together (IntelliPoint). Don't ask me why, just give it a try.

When you're competing in search, SEO aside, there needs to be something that catches people's eye a bit about your site to make them click on it. Of course if you're #1 and your title/description matches the keyword someone typed in they will look to you as an authority, but search marketing is becoming more and more intertwined with old school marketing, and "JoeMortgage.com" lacks something that Zappos has.

It's a painstaking process to put yourself through, especially if you are not clear on what you want your domain to be from the get go. You'll come up with a good one and it will be taken. Some guy in Asia will be holding it ransom for $200,000. Then you'll think you like one and the next day it sounds terrible. My advice is to just step back, throw a dart at your screen and whatever one you hit on the list make a run at it. But seriously, eventually the "one" will just appear and you can move on to the more exciting aspects of creating a website and marketing it.

As for domain vendors, try BuyDomains.com, I like them the best. GoDaddy is in the reselling game now too and probably will make it easier to transfer/purchase domains within their system as they figure out how make more money off of domain transfers. Your best bet is still likely to be simply searching through and finding an existing domain, contacting the owner, and working it out from there. And if you need a 3rd party service to hold the money while the transfer goes through, I have used Escrow.com in the past and been pleased with the experience.

Monday, January 08, 2007

1.2 - Buying a Domain - What is it Worth?

As Section 1 alluded to, it gets more and more likely that the domain name you most covet for your budding webspace has already been registered by another party. First and foremost - that doesn't mean you can't still get it. For most people it simply comes down to cost/benefit and finding a common ground with the current registrar. Whether the domain name is simply "parked" or it is a registered business that has been operating the domain for 7 years, there can always be room for negotiation.

**For good measure, I'd like to point out the way to find out who is the current registrar of a domain name as that information would be pertinent to anyone trying to contact a site owner about a possible purchase. While contacting them through the standard contact forms or "info@" email addresses listed on the site is always the simplest option, the most surefire way of getting ahold of a domain owner is through the email and/or phone number listed on their WHOIS information.

Registrar's like GoDaddy and NetworkSolutions provide links to looking up WHOIS info when you search for availability (i.e. SEOTHURSDAY.COM is already taken - click here for info). Simply go there or hit up WHOIS.net and you can find this information pretty quickly.

So, what is a domain really worth? There are many factors to consider (besides your budget and intention for your future site of course), and here they are in pretty list format:

1. Domain Age - Check the registration date of the domain. If it was within the last year then it may not be worth as much as something that's been around since 1998.

2. Domain History - Tied in with domain age (but much more important), by "history" I mean what has been hosted on the domain since it was registered? A domain that has been hosting a functional, developed website for over a year is much more appetizing than one that has been simply parked and running AdSense. Do a few quick checkups by going to Archive.org and also by running "site:www.domain.com" queries in Google and Yahoo to see the # of pages each is indexing. The more that is there the better.

3. Search Presence / Relevance - The above 2 checkpoints are ultimately working towards determining the value that can be added SEO-wise by an established domain. Older domains with many pages indexed in Google can be a jumpstart towards top rankings and hopefully success for your website however you may define it. One other key thing to consider is how well the current website relates to what you intend to do with it. Hopefully, in purchasing a domain you are targeting something that is already highly relevant. In turn, check and see if a site is popping up in the top 300 in the SERPs for keywords relevant to your vision of the site. Check how the site is ranking for the words in it's page title and it's main themes. If it looks like Google is showing some love to the domain already - big points! In purchasing a domain with SEO in mind, this is the most important thing you should consider (and all the other checkpoints are related).

You have to consider that dollars spent on acquiring a certain domain will pay themselves back to you by decreasing your online marketing costs in the future. If a domain is already showing up in the SERPs for your keywords, then you will have to expend much less effort attracting and/or acquiring links just to get it there. You are bypassing a few steps and taking the fast-track to visitors.

4. Value-Added Benefits - Is the domain catchy? Will it be brandable, or possibly catch some type-in traffic? Again, hopefully that is the kind of domain you are targetting if you are wasting time trying to purchase an existing one. With these 4 factors under consideration, it simply becomes a cost/benefit game. Buying established domains is about gaining instantaneous market position and authority in the search engines. There can be a lot value in that, as well as a lot money. Domain names are also assets - that is, what you're buying is an investment. Even if your plans don't come into fruition, there will always be a market for selling it in the future.

If you're an expert in your industry and can project out what corners can be cut and time can be saved by buying a domain, this may be all the advice you need. For those that may not know, read on.

Friday, January 05, 2007

1.1 - Choosing a Domain Name

So you've got an idea for creating a website, maybe it's for your up-and-coming lawn business, your real estate agency, or your men's league softball team. No matter the idea or the purpose for the site, first and foremost you must register a domain. And domain names can be very key to how your experience of creating and growing your website goes. Your domain name should be simple, yet also indicative of the kind of site you have. It also should be easiliy prounouncable and have a certain "flow" to it, and typically, the shorter the domain name the better.

Unfortunately, you are not getting into this whole "internet" thing in its early stages (relatively speaking). Meaning, most domains that are common English words or are 1-2 words in length have already been snatched up. You will find that some of them are hosting real websites that are being updated, while others are being "parked" either for future use or more likely by nefarious characters looking to earn a profit.

There are a few options when running into the problem that a domain you want has already been registered. For one, you can attempt to contact the owner of the domain and try to purchase it. In this situation it's all about cost/benefit. If you are planning on generating a lot of money from the web then maybe it's worth $50,000 to secure that ideal domain name. (Later on in the guide, I will provide a rubric for better determining the monetary value of a given domain name.) If, on the other hand, it's going to be used simply for recreational use, then you probably won't be willing to sink much into it. Either way, it depends on how badly you want the ideal domain. If you feel like you can accomplish the same things with the website by choosing a name that is still available, go that route.

Another quick thing of note when going after registered domains is that if you are a company and you have a trademark on a name you should be able to legally obtain the domain from its current registrar. For most of us, though, you just have to bit the bullet and try and work with what you can get.

Domain registrars such as GoDaddy and Network Solutions are popular choices for registering your domain. Simply head over to one of those sites and enter in your desired domain name to check on its availability. You can save money by registering for 2 years or more - I generally do 2 years at first and then if I stick with a site I go and extend it. Search engines are able to see the length of time a domain in registered for, so it can't hurt to register your domain for 4 years (if you think you'll use it for that long). It may or may not help with your "reputation" as a trusted site with Google, but it can do nothing but help your chances of getting indexed.

The importance of a certain domain name cannot be understated, though. Aside from the benefit of having something short, relevant, and memorable (like a Cameras.com), there is another benefit worth mentioning - search power. Search engines have evolved to the point where domain names that have been registered and hosted for a year or longer are most likely "trusted" domains that have had time to establish a rapport with a Google or Yahoo.

Generally, Google is the industry giant and the one where the majority of online businesses generate visits and income. It is also the search engine with the most stringent domain age and trust factors. That's where the importance of securing an established domain can come in. If you have aspirations of showing up in the search engine results pages (SERPs) within 9 months, you have a lot better chance of doing so if you obtain a domain name that's been around for a few years and already is hosting pages of content relevant to your business or site purpose.

So, what if you have a spankin' new domain name and no search love? There are a few things you can try. First of all, you could possibly bypass the wait by taking / purchasing an established site related to your site and 301 redirecting it to your new domain. Another option is to break through with some exciting new product, news story, or tool that gets picked up by so many other websites that the search engines automatically index and "trust" your site. Granted, most people are not lucky enough to have an innovative idea or anything at all viral about their new website that would cause thousands to begin visiting and/or linking to it, but the more creative and compelling a given site is the better the chance it has to be referenced or linked to by others.

If all you have is a common idea for a website - fear not, as this guide continues, I will shed light on other ways to generate traffic as well as all the steps to follow to ensure that your new domain does in fact begin to show up near the top of the SERPs with time. But first things first, head over to GoDaddy and get your site registered. You'll be the proud papa of your own webspace in no time.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

A How-To Guide for Creating a Profitable Website

I've decided to embark on a long-term project which essentially is going to be an ongoing feature on the blog, entitled "A How-To Guide for Creating a Profitable Website". Not too catchy of a name, but it gets the point across. I've developed a preliminary outline for it (shown below), and I think I will be able to build it up into a very useful resource for anyone who is involved in creating and/or growing a web property.

If anyone has some ideas about what I could add to this outline let me know. Hopefully I will be able to start on the posts tomorrow and we'll take it from there. One of my hopes is that people will be able to suggest additions to it as we go along and it can become something that is incredibly valuable to someone who may just need a few tips or is completely clueless about how to introduce their business or their passion on the web. Go team!

1.1 Choosing a Domain
  1.2 Buying a Domain - What is it Worth?
  1.3 Buying a Domain - Conjuring Up the Best Name
2. Keyword Research
3. Evaluating Competition
4. Positioning Your Business
  a. Your Services
  b. Web Design
5. Pay-Per-Click Campaigns
  a. Creating a PPC Campaign
  b. Creating Compelling Ads, Improving CTR
  c. Landing Page Optimization
  d. Split Testing / Day-Parting / MVT
6. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  a. Page Titles and Meta Description
  b. Navigation / Site Structure
  c. Content Management
  d. Link Building
    i. Directories
    ii. Press Releases
    iii. Link Bait
    iv. Link Buying (2-3 Parts)Competitors
    v. SERP Monitoring
    vi. Record Keeping
    vii. Reciprocal Links* / Trading Services
7. Long-Term Growth / Selling Out

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Of Course I Do SEO, It's the Coolest

Want to know why? Check out the list produced by isedb.com on Jobs in Search Marketing. It made me and the crew smile.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Arise Fair SEO, Arise

I wanted to let everyone know that I'm still here . . . been boarding in Colorado the last week or so and celebrating the holidays (Xmas and B-day) - didn't mean to neglect my growing blog, but you know how it is. I've been keeping my ear to the SEO grindstone the whole time I assure you.

Who's pumped for 2007? Who needs some inspiration? Who's not sitting down? There have been mucho posts regarding the year that was and the year that will be, SEO or otherwise, and people have some lofty goals. ('Um, I like want to work out more and stop taking on bad clients'). My main goal is to turn this blog (which I might rename) into a highly-trafficked and well-respected source on SEO and SEM in general. I plan on being very active on the big boys blogs and to hopefully do some things that draw as much attention as the PubCon Drinking Game did. Maybe even get to speak at SES or WMW.

Forget me, though, you're here because you care about bettering your situation by maybe getting some kind of insight about SEO/SEM. This life is all about "I", and I'm not gonna waste your "I's" time. You want to improve on your organic rankings in 2007, so here's 7 things you should do everyday to make sure on 1/2/08 you're sittin' fat with some cash:

1. Add content more frequently to your site. Content is so cliche, but in general, if you were to add twice as much content in '07 as you did in '06, your organic rankings are going to benefit from it. Whether it's through the long tail keywords or your $ keywords, keeping things fresh is key to search engine health and also forces you to think about new features that may differentiate you from others in your vertical.

2. Know your competition. If you're in the top 10 in a given SERP, you better well know not only the other 9 sites up there, but also keep an eye on the next 90 below you. You want your site to be better than everyone else's, and to do that you first must know your competition. Like when Iceland crushed the Ducks in the opening round of the Junior Goodwill Games. Coach Bombay didn't know anything about Gunner Staal's affinity for the glove side heading into that game. But seriously, knowing your competition can help you to add a feature that no one in your industry has - foresight is essential in this industry, and it is fed by "monitoring".

3. Refresh your titles and meta to be more "ad" like. Our financially-strapped friend over at SEOmoz beat me to the punch on this one, but going through your pages maybe 1 per day and considering if the titles and meta (whatever part Google is showing in your result that is) are worthy of bringing in visitors is something you should do. There is a fine line to toe with optimizing your page for both organic ranking and CTR, but 90% of sites could improve in this area. If your PPC ad is killing it, see if your organic result is as strong. Like Rand says, a top ranking site should worry as much about organic CTR and conversions as the PPC team does.

4. Brainstorm link bait ideas. It's only going to get more and more important as time goes on to create link bait. Break free from mindless link acquistion circa 2003 and be compelling. Tools, contests, pictures with drinks and hats - those have been done, but they also seem to work. Try a few. Go beyond that and really be bait worthy. I rank really well for "pubcon" and never proactively tried to. It's the power of the link bait baby.

5. Regain focus on your core $ maker. Chances are you have a site that you've been pounding away at for years and is doing well. "Old faithful" you may call her. Just because she's boring and you like you're new site better, don't forget who was there in the early days. Introduce a new feature, generate a new type of lead, give that old hag a face lift . . . focusing too much on newer ventures can have you missing out on what you already have established.

6. Keep up with the industry. Read blogs like SEOmoz, SEOBook, Stuntdubl, Jim Boykin and all the others. WebmasterWorld. There is an amazing "community" of SEO/SEM people that have blogs. You may not learn something every day, but just reading other SEO's posts can get your mind going and can help you progress with your sites and your skills.

7. Read SEOThursday. You're goddamn right this is key to success in 2007. I'll keep it fresh for ya, I promise. You just make a stop by here everyday to see what's up. And if I end up 301ing to a prettier site with a prettier name, you can say you knew that kid back in the day when the site was a shitty blue blogger template and it had some goofy premise of only posting on Thursdays, a day when most people are planning out how to avoid Lumbergh on Friday.

Let's Go Blues.