Archive | SEO

Google Search Updates: Good or bad?

Read a great post this morning from InfoCommerce, a consulting group that focuses on business information content and database publishing. Here’s a snippet, but I think you should head over to their blog for the whole post on Google’s recent spam-prevention search updates.

…let’s think a little more about this new filtering capability offered by Google. What if it were to truly catch on? The basic concept is that you can now easily and permanently take out any domain from your Google search results. Consider what this means: suddenly, nobody is seeing the same search results. What is the implication for search engine optimization programs and providers? What happens to search engine marketing?

more at the InfoCommerce blog

Of course, the clear message from Google, Bing and other major search engines is that already, no one gets the same search results. [Despite that, some SEO firms are still trying to sell you rankings. Snake oil alert!] But the greater ability to customize your own results on the fly means that not only will you not see what I see, but that we may accidentally be giving ourselves poorer results.

Personally, I’m not sorry to see Google act on the content farm spam problem. I’ve noticed it a lot in my personal searching, as I have tried to teach my 5-year-old and my 11-year-old how you judge a quality website to use in research for school projects. To an untrained researcher, lots of content farm posts look really useful — but they usually just give you half an answer or even the wrong information.

But the implications of fiddling with the mechanism, and of allowing us to fiddle with it, also concern me. Will we start to see campaigns to have people “vote down” certain sites out of malice, hoping to get Google to dump them? I suspect that Google will figure out when humans need to intervene in those kind of cases, but Google’s got a track record in other areas of letting the machines act first and then let the humans correct when necessary — with no regard to the downstream consequences. So I hope that Google is treading very, very carefully here.

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The Misplaced SEO-Content Strategy Fight

I’ve been working on content strategy and management for a good long time, so I’ve had my rounds with disreputable SEO practitioners. In the early 2000s, there were a LOT of snake oil salesmen out there. I could tell you some crazy stories, but we all love to sit around and grouse about the other guy.

To be clear: I think reputable SEO practitioners today contribute significantly to the web.

For some reason, the past few days have been the content strategy vs. SEO throwdown of the century. There are posts popping up all over. I’ve got my favorites, but there are some for all sides….whether you fall on the SEO or content strategy side of the fence.

But I’d argue we all ought to spend more time worrying about the problems created by spam content by Demand Media and similar companies. That’s a much bigger problem for legitimate SEO and content strategy practitioners. When the internet is overflowing with junk, that makes it far more difficult to share real knowledge, no matter which side of the fence you’re sitting on.

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Beyond Algorithms: Search and the Semantic Web

Wow. There are a lot of speakers here, and they aren’t all listed in the program….and there’s no way I’ll get them all straight. I’ll see what I can do.

Gil Elbaz, founder/CEO of Factual. They simplify access to clean, reliable data for publishers. Structure and clean data.

Danny Sullivan, Searchengineland

Carla Thompson, Guidewire Group. Search and semantic analyst.

Dag Kittlaus, Siri

Barak Berkowitz, has been at Wolfram Alpha for 10 days.

Will Hunsinger, CEO of Evri and Twine

Nova Spivack, founder of Twine, now at LiveMatrix.

Barney Pell, Microsoft Bing team.

Haha, first real question is, what does semantics mean? We’re going to discuss the semantics of semantics.

Someone [Pell, I think] says, it’s about meaning, figuring out which words match with other words. Also about the abstractions that tie words together. It’s a middle layer that connects the underlying layer to the higher intent.

So Google and Bing are already semantic search engines? Yes.

Thompson says, no that doesn’t clear it up. You lost the consumer after the word abstraction. I think we should get rid of the term.

Pell: I think it’s not a consumer term. It’s a technology term.

Kittlaus says, I’ve been in the Valley less than 3 years and I’m amazed at how little creativity is there in the search field. People argue about who has the biggest database and not about how to solve user’s problems.

Panel is arguing about whether or not today’s search results are adequate or should be replaced with something yet-to-be-conceived. Total geek amusement is all you can say about this.

Good point: Panelist says we have a scalability issue. There’s so much accessible data today, that a solution that could handle a million pieces of data isn’t the best solution for a trillion pieces of data.

Right now, search is good at answering single question. When you need to handle a complex task, you may have to make several searches. Need to better understand the user to better handle complexity.

Spivack: OK are we all just debating Google’s next feature? Or is there room for others?

Pell contends that many search engines [albeit not Google and Bing] are already working together.

Some discussion about the importance/desirability of including social and context info in search results — no discussion of privacy. All about how much better it will make search results.

Spivack comments on WA using expert curation, instead of community curation. Would love to hear more discussion on that point.

Now discussion on how does the engine know if they’ve answered you. And point made that many searches are refined over time…you search for info on getting a mortgage, you ask different things over time, and two months later you buy a house. At what point was your question “answered”?

The backchannel on this panel is pretty negative. I think it’s because there are too many people on the panel. And perhaps could have used a little more planning.

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What to do with your SEO keywords

Recently, I wrote about finding the right SEO (search engine optimization) keywords to use on your website. Step 2 may be just as big a mystery: Using them appropriately.

First, let’s clear up a couple of things. Here’s what you DON’T do with them — nor should you let any sort of vendor do these things for you:

  • Re-write all the copy on your website so that it’s got a terrifically high “keyword density” but doesn’t actually make a lot of sense when you read it.
  • Add “invisible text” full of keywords to your site.
  • Write a bunch of “SEO articles” that don’t offer any value to you or your customers.
  • Spend a lot of time creating extra pages and sites that link back and forth to yours.

Some of those things are just annoying, and some will actually drop your rankings when Google and other search engines notice you doing them, but all of them are bad.

I’m going to list several things you can do with your keywords, but keep in mind that your overriding goal should be: Create a really helpful website for customers. If you do that, you will most likely be using keywords well in the process.

Use keywords in your URLs. If you’ll check the address bar in your browser, you’ll see I’m doing this, with the keywords “SEO” and “keywords” in this URL. If SEO were my primary business, I’d do a bit of research to determine exactly what are the best words to use on a post like this. But, I concentrate on other things, so that’s not worth my time on this post. To get keywords in your URLs, you can do one of two things:

  • Use a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, that I’m using here, that lets you edit your URLs
  • Bug your IT people until they figure out how to let you edit your URLs

I find the first option is a better choice for almost everyone, though for many people, it will also involve the IT staff to get an SEO-friendly CMS. It’s worth your effort.

Write keyword-rich headlines. Some CMS let you have separate wording in the title bar of your browser and as the headline on the page, and some don’t. Either can work, because both your page headlines and your title bars should be using keywords. More flexibility is often nice, but sometimes, more is just more complexity, instead of more better. This may be one of those places.

Speak your customers’ language when you write your site copy. This one is hardest for many organizations, in my experience. We all like to have our insider language and acronyms (like, SEO or CMS, for instance!) and we convince ourselves that our customers are searching for the XTVC 337 Widget because in our catalog, that’s what we call it. Your customers want their problems solved. They couldn’t care less what you call the solution. So be sure you’re using the right keywords in your descriptive copy.

Forget about keyword density, but don’t write too long, either. If you’ve been working on the web as long as I have, you’ve undoubtedly run across a few companies that are still obsessed with a term called “keyword density,” meaning, how often does a given keyword appear in your copy. It’s unclear how much this ever really mattered to Google et al, but it’s certainly not a valid measurement now. Make your copy informative and useful to your customers, and use the right keywords when called for. And remember, on the web, shorter is usually better.

Link to other people you find useful. You may have a great website, but if you’re not linking back and forth with other great websites, chances are, no one knows you’re there. The best thing to do is to use links in context, so, don’t just create a page on your site listing a bunch of links. Instead, use links throughout your site, whenever they make sense. This post on Search Engine Journal talks more about using links effectively.

Next time: What should you pay for, SEO-wise?

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Search engine optimization isn't mysterious: Finding your keywords

I recently had a business owner ask me about the money she’d been spending on search engine optimization. She’s a small, local business owner with one part-time employee, and she was spending $50 a month with a company that promised to ensure her business would display on “the first page of Google results.”

This business owner happened to have TWO listings on the front page of Google anyway — free listings. One in the Google Local map section, and one in organic search. I thought, well, then she must have a keyword ad, and that’s what this company was managing.

Nope.

Here’s my basic thought on search engine optimization — also known as SEO: If it sounds like a scam, it is.

No one can promise to get you on the first page of Google for your desired keyword. However, there are several easy things you can do to improve your own search engine rankings, or that you can work with a reputable SEO firm to do.

So I’ll make a few posts in the coming days to tell you about things that anyone can do to improve their search engine rankings. First up: Using keywords.

Keywords sound mysterious to many people when they first begin to learn about SEO, but they aren’t. Keywords are what people type into the search box on Google, Yahoo! or any other search engine. If you’re using the same keywords on your website that people type into the search box when they’re looking for your kind of company, you’re more likely to show up in their search results.

When you’re picking keywords, you’re trying to get into your potential customer’s brain and ask, Now, if I wanted a business that does X, how would I search for it online? There are no rules about “keywords” and no magic way to identify the best ones. But there are some tricks you can try to hone your keywords.

We often make assumptions about ourselves that our customers don’t make. We use industry slang to identify ourselves or talk inside baseball. Our customers don’t.

  • So, ask your customers: How would you search for me on Google if you didn’t know the name of my company?
  • Check your website’s incoming search results to see what keywords DO bring people to you.
  • And search yourself to find your competitors online — with a description of what they do, not their company names — to see what keywords are most successful.

These three tips will get you a long way down the road to the right keywords for your organization. If you’re ready to take another step, you can also check out some free tools from Google: the Search-Based Keyword Tool, and the AdWords Keyword Tool. Primarily designed to help you run a Google AdWords campaign, these tools can also help you find keywords you can use on your site.

Next time, I’ll share some ideas about what you should be doing with those keywords.

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