Archive for September, 2010

Beginner’s Verse for Search Engine Marketing

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This is Part I of ROBOT’s “Search Engine Folklore: Two Tales of Fact and Fiction”.

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Myths, legends and lies abound in the Land of Search Engine Marketing. Some of these stories are true (FACTs), but many are false (FICTION). We’ve compiled the most common tales to help set the record straight.

Designed for the apprentice seeking basic information on search engine optimization (SEO) and pay per click advertising, “Beginner’s Verse” is a collection of short stories will enlighten readers with answers to frequently asked questions. Read “Master’s Manual” for more advanced topics.

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Fiction: There is a formula to getting ranked on search engines.

There is no set formula to SEO that everyone knows about. Every search engine competes to be the best search engine for users, so each has a unique method for ranking – and they don’t publish it. Just remember that if a method was published everyone would do it. Marketing companies are always trying to figure out what search engines are up to, and there are some widely accepted best practices. But don’t buy into any tales involving the ONE RIGHT WAY unless it’s published by search engines directly.

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Fiction: Hiring an SEO company will guarantee a #1 ranking.

For organic searches, no legitimate company is going to guarantee placement for a competitive keyword. If your name or product name is unique, you can probably expect to rank for those. For general and competitive search terms, however, you are going to be up against a lot of competitors who are making many of the same efforts. Make sure the company you work with has the right keyword goals in mind. Shooting to rank for slightly less competitive keywords can be a great way to get results. For paid search results, it’s an open market, so if you are willing to pay for it, you can get in the top position for any keyword.

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Fiction: SEO is all about putting the right keywords in your site.

While you should certainly consider the keywords and search phrases for which you would like to be found, search engines don’t put much trust in keywords alone anymore. They want to see that you are providing the information for which users are searching. Your site’s navigation, headlines, internal links and other factors help search engines determine the hierarchy of the information on your site and to understand what your site is about. If your information is clear, addressing what users are looking for, keywords will naturally be included in prominent places.

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Fact: Website changes are necessary to improve your rankings.

Search Engine Optimization is, at its core, “optimizing” your website to make it search engine-friendly. While there are a number of off-site factors that can affect your search engine rankings (such as incoming links and competition), most websites require changes. These can be as simple as increasing keyword concentration in content or as extensive as restructuring navigation and rewriting content.

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Fiction: Results are immediate.

While this statement is true for pay per click campaigns (once you setup your account, your ad will show up almost immediately), the statement is NOT true for organic search engine results. Search engines regularly crawl through the web, indexing sites as they go. It may take as long as 30-60 days before search engines find and update your rankings, and your positions may fluctuate drastically for a few more months before they level off.

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Fact: Search Engine Marketing requires regular, ongoing maintenance.

Organic search engine optimization and pay per click search advertising campaigns both require ongoing attention in order to get continued results. On the organic side, search engines are finding new sites everyday, and they are also regularly improving their methods for ranking websites. With sponsored search or pay per click campaigns, your competitors are constantly adjusting their bids to improve their ad positions. A sustained effort by someone who follows the latest trends, monitors your progress and makes necessary recommendations and adjustments can keep you ahead of the curve.

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Fact: You will need to hand off access to your accounts if you work with an outside marketing company.

Every search engine marketing company works differently. Some are setup to give you full access and full transparency, charging you separately for their services. Others use their own proprietary systems and/or mark up the cost of the clicks, and these companies generally provide less transparency. Each is a valid way of doing business, but make sure you know what you are getting into and whether you will retain any setup or access if you decide to end your contract.

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Fiction: Submitting your site to search engines will help you get ranked.

In the early days of SEO, submitting your site with your primary keywords to search engines was a critical step in the process. Search engines are now less inclined to believe the information you provide in your submission. They crawl the Internet and rank websites based on their own methods. They look closely at your content and what sites are linking to you to decide how your site will be ranked. While it still isn’t a bad idea to let search engines know you are there, you should focus on submitting your sitemap (see “Master’s Manual”).

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Fiction: Paying to be ranked high in directories will help you rank better in search engines.

Links to your website from relevant directories can be beneficial for your site because they confirm for search engines that your content is valuable for the item or service in that directory. However, your position on the page in that directory likely has no impact on your position in organic search results. Rather than spending your entire budget on one directory listing, your best bet is to develop an overall link strategy (see “Getting links to my site…” below)

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Fact: Getting links to your site from other sites will help your ranking.

Links to your site from a website related to your business work as referrals and legitimize the content on your website to search engines. Not just any link will do! Develop a link strategy that includes paid and free directory listings, links from partner or affiliate websites and any other relevant incoming links you can arrange. Look for links from websites that rank high in search results themselves, and beware of link farms that contain hundreds of links to irrelevant websites. These sites are often blacklisted by search engines, and links from these sites can actually hurt your rankings! Also, the text in the link (known as anchor text) should contain keywords if possible, rather than just your website URL.

Looking for more thrilling tales that will test your skills as a master of SEO? See the “Master’s Manual for Search Engine Marketing”, which addresses more advanced topics, from programming considerations to social media.

Master’s Manual for Search Engine Marketing

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This is Part II of “Search Engine Folklore: Two Tales of Fact and Fiction”.

manual
Myths, legends and lies abound in the Land of Search Engine Marketing.
Some of these stories are true (FACTs), but many are false (FICTION). We’ve compiled the most common tales to help set the record straight.

With thrilling tales that will test your skills and knowledge, Master’s Manual addresses the advanced topics of Search Engine Marketing, from programming considerations to social media. For more basic topics, read “Beginner’s Verse”.

fiction
Using social media outlets (such as YouTube for videos and Flickr for photos) will improve your rankings.

From a link networking perspective, videos or photos that are linked back to your website from high-ranking sites like YouTube and Flickr can benefit your rankings on search engines. However, unless your video or photo is really popular on these sites and ranks high for your keywords within the site search directories, your search engine rankings likely don’t get more benefit than the link itself provides. Focus on developing excellent content on your website and securing incoming links from relevant, high-ranking websites. If YouTube and Flickr help you develop and publish your content, that’s great. Don’t just use them for ranking in search engines, though!

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Your web host can affect your ranking results.

If your site loads very slowly, doesn’t load at all or experiences down time, search engines will catch on and will not be likely to recommend your site to searchers. Consider this before hosting your site yourself, and look for a quality hosting solution that meets your technical requirements, including bandwidth, traffic, multimedia, server requests, etc.

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Other websites’ bad practices can affect your site ranking.

Hosting companies often host many websites on the same IP address – known as shared hosting package. If you share an IP address with a website that has been blacklisted by search engines, your site ranking could also be negatively affected. If you would like to keep control in your hands, consider asking your hosting company for a dedicated IP address.

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How your site is programmed can affect your ranking results.

Different programming languages may or may not be search engine-friendly. For example, Flash content is generally heavy on images, and search engines rely heavily on text to understand the content on a web page. An alternative way to achieve movement and interest on a site is to use jQuery, which is a much more search engine-friendly language. This is just one example of how programming can affect how search engines view your site. Consider the goals of your site, and then look for alternative ways you can achieve those goals with the features and functionality.

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Your content management system can affect your ranking.

Content management systems (CMS) come in many forms and levels of sophistication. They usually make it very easy for anyone to edit copy and change photos, but they may not provide the necessary accessibility to the code of your site to apply metatags (title, description and keywords) or they may not organize pages in your site so that search engines can easily understand the overall site structure. Page generators often create URLS that aren’t search engine-friendly (see below). Consider whether you really need CMS, and if you do, choose one that has been recognized in the industry as SEO-friendly.

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Your site will rank the same in San Antonio, Texas as it does in San Francisco, California.

Over the last couple of years, search engines have adjusted their ranking methods to account for the geographic location of the person searching (based on IP address) relative to the companies listed in the results. After all, it doesn’t make sense for someone living in Seattle to search for a plumber and get results that include companies from Chicago. This helps local businesses, but can be a challenge to those doing business nationally and internationally. Your SEO company should consider different strategies to help your rankings depending on whether you are trying to rank locally, regionally, nationally or internationally. And keep an eye on your statistics to see where your traffic is coming from!

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A new website or updated website can only improve your rankings.

If you are modifying your website, moving it to a new domain or building a new one, don’t just forget about the old URLs. Search engines don’t like things to move or change without explanation. If a search engine crawls a page and can’t find it, this reflects poorly on the rest of the website because it tells the search engine that the site is poorly maintained and that other pages might likely be broken as well. If pages are removed or moved, use server-side 301 redirects to ensure that users and search engines are redirected to the right page.

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Your site URL matters.

A site or page URL provides a short summary of the content on that page, so the more descriptive (and intelligible) it is, the better. So URLs such as www.sanantoniodrycleaning.com will naturally rank better than www.mcgibbinscleaning.com.

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Submitting a sitemap to search engines can help your interior/secondary pages get indexed faster.

Search engines find your site by crawling the web, following links to your site from other websites and looking at site submissions that are sent in. Most Incoming links will be directed at the homepage of the site and don’t provide a detailed picture of all the other pages on it. To index interior pages of a website, and to understand the hierarchy of information on a website, search engines rely on the navigation and/or other links within your site to point them there. To speed up the process, you can create and submit search-engine friendly sitemaps.

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Creating duplicate versions of your site increases your odds of being found by search engines.

Search engines consider it to be shady or dishonest behavior to have duplicate content, known as “mirrored” or “cloned” content, in several places. Such behavior, intentional or not, can lead to your site being blacklisted by search engines. If you use several different domain names to promote your site, make sure you designate one as the primary and redirect the others to it using server-side 301 redirects, or create unique content on each site.

Seeking more basic information on search engine optimization (SEO) and pay per click advertising? See the “Beginner’s Verse for Search Engine Marketing” for a collection of stories that will enlighten you with answers to frequently asked questions.