Saturday, May 10, 2008

Appearing Natural

A recent theme in SEO is finding ways to appear natural. Search engines do not want the most optimized sites at the top of the search results. They want the best pages and best sites.

There are only so many things search engines can look at to determine the quality of a website. You can emulate many of them, but as search algorithms advance, it will continue to get more difficult. Inevitably, influencing people directly (instead of going after the algorithms) is going to have a higher ROI for many webmasters.

How do you create a natural linkage profile? Create something that lots of people link to without you needing to ask them. Build a real brand that will get people’s attention.

How do you write optimized content? Make the page title clear and then write content remarkable enough that people will want to reference it.

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Friday, May 9, 2008

Common SEO Abuse Techniques

There is no such thing as a perfectly optimized page. Search engines do not want to return the most optimized page, but the page that best satisfies the searcher’s goals.

If you have a page title and H1 header that are exactly the same, and all of your internal links and all of your inbound links from other sites pointing to that page use that same text, then that looks suspicious (like attempted ranking manipulation). As a result, the search engines may de-weight that or filter that out of the search results.

How do you minimize your risks and make your site more stable? It’s best to mix things up a bit and create something that markets itself. Or, try looking at things like a search engine engineer would.

There is a concept called poison words, where if you have things like link exchange, add URL, or link partners on a page, there stands a good chance a search engines may place less weight on that page or its outbound links. In the past, some common poison words were things like forum and guestbook. The more likely the content is to be of low quality or related to spam, the more likely search engines want to de-weight it.

Search engines may want to penalize the use of “spammy” sites using an H1 header, so instead people use an H2 header for the highest level header tag on the spammy sites. Maybe they look to de-weight site-wide links to the home page near the end of the page code using the exact same link text as the home page’s page title, so instead you link to the home page from earlier in the page code and/or use slightly different anchor text than your page title and most of your link profile.

Keep in mind that some of the search relevancy algorithms are genetic algorithms that train themselves to test the relevancy of new result sets, but humans still program them. Google wants to have a bias toward informational resources. Yahoo! will be more biased toward commerce. These biases can affect optimization, as well.

In addition, some guys like DaveN mention lots of subtle tips like the ones I just discussed. If you think like a search engineer, those techniques that are common in SEO and not so common on regular websites are the most likely to be de-weighted or penalized. Remember that optimizing content is about matching quality signs, but if you match too many too closely, it could send a negative signal.

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When Algorithm Changes Occur

Your rankings will improve. They will also get worse. Many people rush off to change things right away when the algorithms change. Sometimes the search engines roll in new algorithms aggressively, and then later roll them back. They cannot fight off new forms of spam and determine how aggressive to be with new algorithms unless they sometimes go too far with them.

If you are unsure of what just happened, then you may not want to start changing things until you figure it out. Sometimes when algorithms are rolled back or made less aggressive, many sites still do not rank well because their webmasters changed things that were helping them. Nobody is owed a good rank, and just because a ranking temporarily changes does not mean that a site has been penalized. It is far more likely that the ranking criteria shifted and the site may not match the new ranking criteria as well as it matched the old ranking criteria.

One of the greatest SEO techniques is knowing when to do nothing at all. I had one client with whom I shared profit, but for whom I did not do much work after the first few months. Why? After I built his site up, he had a strong market position. I could have kept building many links, but it would not help him reach much more of the market. It would have added nothing but cost and risk. If you are too aggressive, it adds to the risk profile without adding much on the reward side.

Tim Mayer, a well-known Yahoo! search engineer, once mentioned that it did not make sense to bring a knife to a gun fight (when referring to how to compete for terms like Viagra). The opposite also holds true -- if you are using a shotgun, and the competing sites are using slingshots, then you stand a greater chance of being penalized.

All SEO techniques are just a balance of risk versus reward, and while you want to rank at or near the top of the search results, you probably do not want to use techniques that are exceptionally aggressive as compared to the other top-ranking sites if you intend to build a site for long-term profits.

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Link Building

In the area of link building, there are many important factors to remember. After all, link building is the single most important part of achieving a high-ranking website in modern search engines. As such, there are many things that can significantly impact the growth and spread of links to your site:

• Make sure your site has something that other webmasters in your niche would be interested in linking to.

• Create content that people will be willing to link to, even if it is not directly easy to monetize. These linkworthy pages will lift the authority and rankings of all pages on your site.

• Create something that legitimate webmasters interested in your topic would be interested in linking to.

• When possible, try to get your keywords in many of the links pointing to your pages.

• Register with, participate in, or trade links with topical hubs and related sites. Be in the discussion or at least be near the discussion.

• Look for places from which you can get high-quality free links (like local libraries or chambers of commerce).

• If you have some good internal content, try to get direct links to your inner pages.

• Produce articles and get them syndicated to more authoritative sites.

• Start an interesting and unique blog and write about your topics, products, news, and other sites in your community.

• Comment on other sites with useful relevant and valuable comments.

• Participate in forums to learn about what your potential consumers think is important. What questions do they frequently have? How do you solve those problems?

• Issue press releases with links to your site.

• Leave glowing testimonials for people and products you really like. Oftentimes when the product owner or person posts the testimonials, they will include a link back to your site.

• Sponsor charities, blogs, or websites related to your site.

• Consider renting links if you are in an extremely competitive industry. Adult, gaming, credit, and pharmacy categories will likely require link rentals and/or building topical link networks.

• Mix your link text up. Adding words like buy or store to the keywords in your some of your link text can make it look like more natural linkage data and help you rank well for many targeted secondary phrases.

• Survey your vertical and related verticals. What ideas/tools/articles have become industry standard tools or well-cited information? What ideas are missing from the current market space that could also fill that niche?

• If you have a large site, make sure you create legitimate reasons for people to want to reference more than just your home page.

• If you are looking to hire an SEO, you may want to look at or feel free to ask me to recommend you to someone.

• Brett Tabke (owner of WebmasterWorld) wrote a quick guide worth looking at before building your site:

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Thursday, May 8, 2008

Registering With Directories

Register your site with the major directories and second-tier general directories. Try to register with about a half-dozen to a dozen of the better general directories if you are targeting Google. If you are targeting the other engines first and can wait on Google, you may want to register with about twenty to fifty general directories.

Register with at least a couple local or niche-specific directories. Niche-specific directories are findable via search engines and some are listed at, but you should check to ensure they provide static links before spending money registering your sites, although directories that rank well may deliver quality traffic even if they do not provide direct links.

Search for things like “<my keywords> + <add URL>” to find other niche directories.

Oftentimes I do not mind spending hundreds of dollars getting links from different sites (or directories) across many different IP ranges. Many of the second-tier directories charge a one-time fee for listing, and some of them allow you to add your sites free if you become an editor.

In my directory of directories, I have 50-100 general directories listed in the general directory categories. Most top ranking sites in mildly competitive fields do not have text links from fifty different sites pointing to them, so if you can afford it, doing this offers a huge advantage to you for your Yahoo! and MSN rankings, but you need to choose directories carefully when considering how TrustRank (explained in the Google section of this e-book) may effect Google.

If you are in more competitive fields and rent some powerful links, these listings in various directories can help stabilize your rankings when search engine algorithms shift.

Some directories I highly recommend are Yahoo!, DMOZ,, JoeAnt, Best of the Web, and Gimpsy.

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Site Optimization

Your home page is just the starting point for what will probably be a very multi-layered and multifaceted website. As such, it is important to look at every page your site contains to ensure a cohesive, streamlined design that works well with search engines as well as customers. Keep the following in mind:

• Use text-based navigation.

• If you use graphic navigation, use descriptive alt text for your image links, and link to your primary pages from every page of your site using footer text links.

• Use descriptive/keyword-rich breadcrumb navigation to help search engines understand the structure of your site. e.g., home page link(use keywords in it) > level 1 > level 2 > page I am on

• Use a site map to help search engines spider through your site.

• Whenever possible, use descriptive text when linking between pages of your site.

• Link to other resources that improve your user’s experience. If you reference research and trusted sources within your content, readers will think of your content as information, rather than simply being sales-oriented.

• Deep link to related articles and content from within the active content section of your page copy.

• If you want your site to convert, assume many site visitors will ignore the global navigation. Actively guide people toward conversion from within the active content area of your website. This website,, does an excellent job of this.

• Use CSS to improve the look and feel of your pages. Put it in an external file.

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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Home Page Optimization

In addition to page optimization for search engines, it is also important to optimize your site's home page for customers in order to make sure it functions efficiently.

• Make sure your home page builds credibility and directs consumers to the most important parts of your site.

• Target your most competitive keyword phrase with the home page or with a page that is directly linked to from the home page.

• Link to the major theme pages from your home page.

• Link to your home page from every page of your site. Include your site name and/or the home page’s primary keyword phrase in the text links pointing to it.

• If you think your site is being filtered out of the search results for being too focused on a word or phrase, you may want to make the link to your home page just say something like “home”.

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Page Optimization

Page optimization is the process of making sure that your website functions in the most effective way possible in relation to search engines. The following are steps you can take to optimize your page:

Use your keywords in your page title. Place the most important keyword phrase close to the beginning of the page title. Do not put your site title on every page of your site unless you are really trying to brand that name. In that scenario, it still is usually best to place the site name at the end of the page titles.

Shorter site titles are usually better than really long ones.

• Sometimes I overlap related keyword phrases in the page title. Overlapping keyword phrases in the page title can help you pick up multiple search phrases. For example, professional search engine marketing services helps me obtain good rankings for (1) search engine marketing, (2) professional search engine marketing, (3) search engine marketing services, and (4) professional search engine marketing services.

Meta tags are not extremely important, but they can help some. The meta description should be a sentence to a paragraph describing the page contents. The meta description tag can be seen in some search results, so you want to write it for human eyes and for it be compelling.
The meta keywords tag is probably not worth the time to make, but if you do make one, it should contain your primary keyword and its common misspellings and synonyms. Each keyword phrase in the keywords tag should be comma separated.

• Use a single, descriptive H1 header on your page containing the keyword phrases similar to those you targeted in the page title. This helps reinforce the page title.

• Use descriptive subheaders (H2 or H3) before every paragraph or every few paragraphs. This improves usability and helps define what the page is about to search engines without making the page look like it was written for a search engine.

• Use bulleted lists and bolding to break up content and make it easier to read.

• Write your content for human consumption. If you write exclusively for search engines, the pages will read poorly and nobody will want to look at them.

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Keyword Selection

Keywords are what help your site get recognized by Internet search engines, and as a result, help would-be customers find your Internet presence. There are many strategies that can be employed to ensure the likelihood of your website coming up in keyword searches:

Use a keyword tool to help you find the most targeted keywords for your site. The tool at is free and cross-references just about every useful keyword research tool on the market.

Pick themes or keyword baskets around which you can optimize the various sections of your site.

Targeting keyword phrases is a much better idea than trying to target individual words. Keyword phrases tend to be easier to rank well for AND they typically convert far better than individual words.

Target different keyword phrases on each page.

• Target no more than one or two primary and two or three secondary keyword phrases per page.

• If you generate hundreds (or even thousands) of pages of content, make sure they read well and have unique content. Over time, if people cite your content, your page will start to rank for many different terms as long as it is unique and targeted around a theme.

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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Domain Registration & Hosting

Once you have selected a domain name, you must make sure that it is available, and then register it. After your domain name has been registered, you must find a reliable host for your website.

Register your domain with an ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) accredited registrar. I use GoDaddy.

• Register as a .com if possible, if you have a global market. If you cannot get a .com, but a great .net or .org is still available, it might be worth it to register one of those instead of registering a longer (and less memorable) .com domain.

• If you are targeting a specific country or language, register a domain name in that country’s top-level domain designation (e.g., buy a website for a U.K.-targeted site). Also buy the .com version of your domain name and point it at your country-specific location.

• Oftentimes certain directories and search engines will either be biased toward local sites will or only let local sites in the index. “Local” may mean ending with a local domain and/or being hosted on a server in that country.

Host your site with a reliable host. I recommend DreamHost or

For dynamic sites, make sure your host supports the technology you will be using (such as ASP or PHP) before spending money.

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Picking a Domain Name

Finding the right domain name can be a tricky business, and indeed, can mean the difference between success and failure in the online marketplace. As such, it is important to consider the following before choosing a domain name:

• FOR NEW SITES: Depending on your branding angle, pick a domain name that is either highly brandable (meaning that it can be easily and positively associated with your product or service) or has your primary keywords in it. Use a short and memorable domain name. It is fine if it does not have your keywords in it if it is memorable. For serious, long-term websites, a memorable domain name will be one of the key ingredients to success.

• If you are going to be working in competitive fields, or if you will have large sites, you may want to use a different domain for each different language you are targeting.

Examples of domain names I own:,,, and

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Picking a Product

You may read this title and think that you have already accomplished this step, and that your product (or your vision for your product) is already refined, wrapped, and ready for purchase. However, there are many key questions that should be considered before bringing your wares or service to customers:

• Are you interested in the product you are trying to sell? If not, why not choose a different product?
The Internet makes marketing anything a possibility. You are far more likely to succeed if you are interested in what you are trying to sell. Also, it is far easier to sell people what they want than to get them to want your product. Create something the market wants.

• Is the marketplace for your product oversaturated?
Examples: Posters, credit cards, prescription drugs, hosting, generic site design, and ink refills are all oversaturated markets. Breaking into these markets can be exceptionally difficult, so think carefully about what would make your product different and needed.

• Is the product something people would want to order over the web?

• Is there something you can do to make yourself different than everyone else on the market? (Please note: “cheaper” usually is not a legitimate branding/business model for most websites in a hyper-competitive market.)
Example: No other e-book covering SEO was supported by a blog that keeps up with the SEO industry every day (at least, not when I first wrote this one).

Another example: In 2002, I created a SEO “worst practices” directory. To this day, nobody else has made a site like it. It earned me thousands in the first year with a marketing budget well under $100.
In the end, ask yourself -- Would people want to link to your site without you asking them to? If not, what creative or original ideas can you add to your site to make people want to link to it?

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