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February 28, 2008

Search Engine Optimization Q&A

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Lunch is over and it’s back to blogging. Or dancing in the aisle if you’re Danny Sullivan. Hee. This time it’s a search engine optimization Q&A which means I’ll be typing and sweating like a crazy person while the panelists speak in circles. Sigh.

Danny Sullivan will moderate the panel of speakers that includes Greg Boser (3 Dog Media), Bruce Clay (Bruce Clay Inc.), Todd Friesen (Visible Technologies), Stephan Spencer (NetConcepts) and Jill Whalen (High Rankings). Stephan is a late addition so he’s stuck at the end of the table on a sucky chair. Poor guy.

Danny wants to jump right to it.

What are the most important factors to consider when trying to rank well in Yahoo? Are there any differences between the engines>

Greg: Crappy links work really well for Yahoo. There’s a difference in the amount of time and quality stuff. A lot of times we have separate strategies for Yahoo. New sites will get traction in Yahoo long before Google. Strong on anchor text. High volume, low PR pages still rank.

Stephan: Paid inclusion works really well (giggle). And of course there’s no ranking benefit (scoff).

Todd: The nice thing about paid inclusion on Yahoo is that it’s a 1/3 of the click price of PPC.
Suggest 3 or 4 primary things you should be doing when designing a Web site to be successful in search engine optimization?

Greg: RSS, RSS, RSS. Search engines love feeds. It helps you get your site crawled quicker and more often. Don’t do the static HTML thing.

Jill: Do your keyword research first and then build the site architecture off of that. Don’t build the site and then try to SEO it. Get the keyword research in. Good CMS is important.

Bruce: He agrees with Jill. Start with keyword research and then organize the site on themes. The biggest ranking problem is not being able to get spidered. We’re seeing less than 10 percent of pages getting spidered for a lot of large sites.

Todd: Use a platform that is fairly flexible. You don’t want things hard coded. You want to be able to manipulate elements.

Stephan: He’s fan of keyword-rich text links. You can make them specific to the page. Have some sort of way to measure key performance indicators like comparing how many unique URLs are getting spidered versus how many are in the index. Monitor that over time. Look at long tail metrics. What are you measuring – page yield, keyword yield, etc?

[Check out our How To: SEO Design blog post too – Lisa]

Advice for sites using iframes or AJAX?

Greg: Cloak. AJAX is great for cleaning the toilet but not for search engine optimization. You want to make sure you have workarounds. The biggest thing about IT and development is that they don’t think of search engines as another user that they have to accommodate. AJAX is great but if you have multiple pages of content being served with AJAX it’s not getting spidered and indexed. There are a lot of different ways to work around that, but you have to do it.

Todd: The other problem with AJAX is that you lose a lot of your metrics. You don’t get page views because you have nothing passing through the URLs. It looks great, but at the end of the day you’ve had a million visitors to your home page and that’s it. You can do workarounds but it’s expensive.

Bruce: AJAX isn’t as rewarding for an end user as you think it is. When users go through your site, they lose the functionality of their back button. It presents a usability issue.

What’s your favorite publicly available SEO tool

Jill: Keyword Discovery, Firefox, Google’s Webmaster tools. Realize that tools aren’t going to do your SEO for you. They just help. There’s no tool out there that you can just push a button and have your site SEO’d

Bruce: Bruce likes his tools. There are plenty of tools out there. Some of the tools from SEO Book are really good. He thinks tools should be appropriate to the mission. If you’re looking for info use Site Explorer. Analytics is going to become one of the most important SEO tools out there. Pretty soon ranking isn’t going to mean much, especially as behavioral search and personalization kicks in.

Greg: Bruce likes Bruce’s chart. He uses his own internal tools. He likes Keyword Discovery too. Pay attention to the ratio between keywords.

Todd: Firefox Web Developer Toolbar and search status. That’s for the really quick analysis. HTTP Live Headers tracks redirects.

Stephan: There are tons of great tools out there. He likes the wow factor of TouchGraph. He likes the Thumbshots ranking tool. You can compare search results between search engines. It shows a visual circle for each search result for the first 100 results across the two comparisons and connects a line between the common results.

What tools do you use to measure rankings?

Jill: You can’t use rankings as a measurement anymore. I would encourage you to get away from that.

Todd: We’ve always tried to move away from rank reporting. Clients want to see some form of it, but at the end of the day you end up on a call with a client and they’re going off because you’re not number one for the big money term.

Stephan: Enquisite is pretty cool.

Greg: The thing with automated reporting is that Google bans him ten times a day. And he runs stuff really slow but they’re really sensitive to the automated thing.

Aside from WordTrack and Keyword Discovery, are there any other keyword research tools you like?

Todd: Enquisite exposes a lot of long tail stuff that you wouldn’t normally see yourself getting traffic from. You can slice and dice the data. A client found out they were getting 25 percent of their traffic the UK and optimized their site around that. Able to really increase revenue.

Stephan: You can see by city what your rankings are, which is really cool. A lot of people don’t realize it’s not just the data center that results can vary by, but by city.

Jill: Using your site search to see what people are searching for on your site.

Bruce: He optimizes his site for about 20 keywords. He’s not doing much more than trending over time. He looks for things where all of a sudden it’s broken and that triggers him to go deeper. At the end of every day, he gets about 800 different combinations of words that people used to find him. If you add up all the keywords that are being used a few times a day, it actually exceeds your top keywords.

Bruce offers up the SEOToolSet for 60 days.

Danny: He likes Compete’s tools, which will show you your competitors’ top terms. Hitwise can do that for you, also comScore.

Todd calls Bruce the industry’s version of a crack dealer. No comment. ;)

How many words should you put in your Title ta? Is changing the h1 tag better or bad for rankings?

Greg: Put as many words in there as you can possible fit. (he’s kidding) Having proper structure to your site is important. It’s not the holy grail to SEO, but if you follow W3C you’re going to perform better because it’s easier for the engines to spider. You want to reduce the chances that Googlebot will make a mistake.

Stephan: H1s are useful. It’s a synergistic effect of everything working together to get out the theme of your page. You want a consistent keyword theme to come through. If the H1 tag helps drive that home for Googlebot, great.

Jill: For title tags, there’s no specific number of characters. She goes for about 11 or 12 words. You can get 3 keyword phrases in there and it still looks good.

Greg: Don’t put commas in your titles. And don’t stuff too many keywords in there. You don’t want to dilute your keywords. Think about clickability. Create a listing that will make people want to click through to your site. Your description can’t read like you’re a five year old.

Stephan: Keep the H1 tags relatively short.

Bruce: We’ve gone though and have analyzed groupings of pages that rank for certain terms and found that there are entire groups where the best ranking pages have 7 words in the title. It isn’t clear that there’s a magic number for title tags, we think it’ s more important to act in a natural way and be compelling in a way that people want to click on it. If it’s not important enough to be in your title, it’s not important to rank for it.

Seeing anything change in how you’re doing SEO now that the paid links war is happening?

Jill: I’ve never bought or sold a link so it hasn’t changed anything for me. If you do it, do it underground.

Bruce: We don’t buy links for PR at all. If you’re going to buy an ad it should be for traffic.

Todd: He goes first and says yes, I do buy links for rankings. You have to be very careful and very judicious. Yes, there are risks associated with it. It’s all about disclosure to your client. If you tell your client what you’re doing and what Google’s stance on it is and they’re okay with it, that’s fine. There are still places you can go to do that.

Greg: If you want to torture a competitor, come to one of these sites and claim your site is there site and have Matt look at it. Hee. You need to look at your space. There are some areas on the Web where to compete you have to buy links. Until Google finds a way to enforce their policies evenly across the Web, you’re really in a situation. Every link on the Web is paid for in some way or another.

Stephan: Think creatively. A paid link could actually be PR if you’re thinking in terms of there are non profits that I could get involved in and volunteer with. It’s like karma, stuff comes back to you. Think in terms of organizations that fit your mission and are compatible with you.
Matt’s not real keen on sponsored blog posts, but if you get involved and have interesting things to say and meet up with people, you’re going to be on their radar.

Jill: You do have to have something worth linking to though. It’s easier to get links when you have something of value on your site.

Bruce: If you’re doing something on your Web site, think what you would do if Matt Cutts suddenly looked over your shoulder. If your first thought is to shut the computer, you’re probably a spammer. If you cannot say "this is why I have the link", you’re spamming.

If you had to link building or onpage SEO, which would you do??

Jill: Onpage

Greg: It depends on the age and history of the site. Onpage factors from a trusted site will trump anchor text on a nontrusted site every time.

Todd: If you’ve got the right CMS, you can do all your onpage stuff in an hour. You don’t have to choose. You have to do both.

Bruce: In any circumstance you have to do both. Even if it’s a new site, in five years from now it won’t be. If it’s only going to take a few hours to do onpage stuff, why not just do it now? Get your house in order.

Can you talk about using keywords in URLs and domain names. Should I separate them with dashes?

Greg: Don’t use underscores, use dashes. Google does recognize keywords in domains that don’t have dashes. Having your name in the domain name is great. Don’t go out and spam.

Stephan: Putting keywords in the domain definitely helps. Don’t have hyphens in the domain name because it looks better to humans. In the rest of the URL, hyphens over underscores.

Todd: Using keywords in the URL is one of those things if you can do it, do it. It’s a resource issue. The reality is if you’re trying to rank for plasma television, there really are more than ten sites that are perfectly relevant for plasma televisions. Get your house in order. That might be the one little thing that gives you that tip over the edge. You want to prioritize things. Getting keywords in the URL is pretty far down the list.

Jill: If you already have a site that’s not using the keywords in the URL and it’s ranking well, don’t go changing the site just for that one thing.

Bruce: Understand that content is not just text. It’s also images. We’ve found images ranking with 14 hyphens. Those things are showing up. If you’re dealing with other forms of media that are also content, I think you’ll find that sometimes hyphens are okay. We agree that keywords will help, we’re not saying it will cause you to be number one.

If you’re already ranking well with underscores, should you go to hypens?

Danny: No.

Stephan disagrees.

To what extent can the engines detect duplicate content?

Greg: They’re pretty good at it. It’s a big issue now with mashup sites. Helping companies interject unique UGC and add it to that mashed up thing where we can convince an algorithm that it is relevant content.

How important is domain age to SEO?

All: Very important.

Any top search engine optimization tips to share?

Jill: Sign up for her newsletter

Bruce: All the reports and all the things you’re going to be doing is going to based on data that you observe from analytics or rankings. The best thing you can do is get properly trained.

Greg: Prioritize. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with data.

Stephan: Consider sculpting your PageRank. Pass PR to important pages.

Todd: The reason SEO doesn’t get done is because there are resource issues and the IT dept is never in the loop. The tip out of that is you go visit your clients. Include IT. Bring them with you. Take them out to dinner.

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One response to “Search Engine Optimization Q&A”

  1. Helen writes:

    Great article! Lots of helpful information



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