Sunday, October 30, 2011

Over-Optimization Penalties

Many webmasters think that the engines can penalize some sites which "try too hard". The theory is that if you've got your money phrase all over the place -- in the <TITLE>, <H1>, <H2>, <H3>, <B>, and <I> tags, ALT and TITLE parameters, domain, subdomain, directory name, and filename, and it's repeated several times throughout the page, and it's the only link text that other sites use in their links to you, then the engine figures you're making a blatant attempt to cheat and they wind up pushing your site further down, rather than further up. And while the engines rank pages, not sites, it's believed that some penalties apply to a whole domain, not just to a specific naughty page. Whether over-optimization penalties really exist has been hotly debated in online forums with a lot of convincing arguments and evidence each way. My feeling is that such penalties do exist, but that they're not applied consistently and that it's difficult to tell what triggers them. But to me there is little doubt that they get applied sometimes.
Here's an example: In a Google search for "cheapest airfare", only one of the ten results contains that exact phrase in the title! This is a competitive term and there are obviously many sites vying to rank well for it, so it's inconceivable that only one high-PR site is using the term "cheapest airfare" in its title. That means that sites which use the search term in their title are out there but not ranking well. This is strong evidence that Google has penalized them.
When I first noticed this particular case my first reaction was to assume that Google was penalizing pages for no other reason than that their titles contained the exact search phrases. But remember that this violates one of the primary points mentioned in the Myths section earlier: It is nearly impossible to discern cause and effect, especially at first glance. Stepping back a bit, it's easy to come up with another plausible explanation for this phenomenon: Google might not be penalizing pages because their titles were too specific, but rather because their titles were too specific and that same search phrase was repeated throughout the page in an SEO-like manner. It could be that Google doesn't care if a title has the exact search phrase, as long as that same search phrase hasn't been stuffed everywhere else on the same page (and in file and directory names, and in link text, etc.).
How can we tell which is the case? Or if it's something completely different? We can't -- not easily, anyway; not without a great deal of research.
So how to deal with this? Here are my recommendations. For the title tag it's simple. Search for the phrase you want to rank on. If the results use that phrase in the title, then you use it too. If the top results don't use that phrase (and you know it's a competitive enough phrase that there are sites using it in their title who aren't ranking well), then do like they do and use a variation of your preferred phrase rather than the exact phrase itself. Just be careful and don't automatically assume that a lack of pages showing the exact search phrase in their titles means that the engines are discounting them; it could mean that you got lucky and found a search term that doesn't yet have a lot of competition, and that there aren't many other pages yet using that search term in their titles, or it could mean that the penalty is not for an exact match in the title alone, but an exact match in the title combined with more matches in other places on the page.
For other factors, I suggest using the on-page factors as you normally would, just don't use the same exact phrase in every single place. Once your PR is similar to the sites you're competing with you should be near them in the SERPs. If you're not, then it could be time to consider modest de-optimizing at that point. But in general, I don't worry about de-optimizing unless there's a page I can't get ranked well normally after several months.
Incidentally, my site is one of the top ten on that search for "cheapest airfare", but without using the exact search phrase in the title. I changed my title to include the exact search phrase, and a couple of weeks later I went from #3 to #8. Of course, I couldn't be certain that it's a result of my title change, though. Still, I changed my title back to the original to see if I'd move back up, and I bounced back up to #4 pretty quick. While we can't draw any definitive conclusions from this, it suggests that having the exact search phrase in the title tag might have hurt my ranking in this particular case. For most pages it's probably still a good idea to have the exact phrase in the title, changing it only if good rankings can't be achieved, and if the pages that are beating yours don't use the exact search phrase in their title tags, either.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Ten SEO Mistakes Small Bussiness Make

People often get so carried away with the idea starting an SEO program that they fail to do their research properly and succumb to common SEO mistakes which often undermine your efforts.
Here are 10 of the most common SEO mistakes to avoid and why:
  • 1. Targeting the Wrong Keywords
At the most fundamental level, SEO is about keywords. Select the wrong keywords and you could waste months optimizing for search terms no body uses. Keyword research is always worth the investment.
  • 2. Focusing on Flash and Rich Media
Even though Flash and Rich Media is getting better at being indexed by the search engines, where possible provide HTML alternatives for your rich media. There’s no point looking good, if no one can find you.
  • 3. Ignoring Site Structure
The issue here is that SEO is often an after thought when designing a new website. At a minimum, your keyword research should be done beforehand and used to help guide URL structure, navigational links etc.
  • 4. Fresh Original Content
Content still plays a vital role in your SEO efforts. Most site owners don’t appreciate the importance of updating content and expanding content. If you have content that interests people, they’ll do your off-page SEO for you!
  • 5. It’s About Humans – Not Spiders!
When you active start an optimization program, remember that you’re optimizing for humans – not search engines. Your website needs to make sense to the visitor or your SEO efforts are pointless.
  • 6. Images in Place of Text
When starting a website, aesthetics often get in the way of good practice. There will always be times when using an image is unavoidable, but remember – search engines can’t view images – so is possible use text over images.
  • 7. Ignoring the importance of internal links
Beyond making it easy for visitors to navigate through your website, internal linking is also an important SEO strategy. Every link is an opportunity to add SEO value – so you can’t ignore the chance to use strong link text, and ensure your important content is easy to access.
  • 8. Duplicating Content
Duplicate content is a well known SEO taboo. While content is king, multiple versions of the same content is the devil in disguise. This is a case where less content is definitely more.
  • 9. Keyword Stuffing
It’s a common misgiving – but SEO isn’t about having the same keyword term repeated 10,000 times on your web pages. If you’re serious about sustainable SEO – then scratch this archaic black hat practice from your strategy.
  • 10. Forgetting about conversion
Your website’s primary goal to encourage action from visitors, be that buying a product, downloading a guide etc. Remember that your web pages need to combine SEO with Marketing or you’ll struggle to justify your SEO efforts on the traffic alone.
There’s plenty more mistakes that people make when embarking on their SEO journey, but more often than not, these can be avoided by taking the time to do your research properly. This post should just be a part of the process.
Have you encountered or seen any other SEO mistakes worth noting? Share them with our readers below:

How To Rank On Bing

While the jury is still out on definitive strategies for top ranking success in Bing, there seems to be a growing chorus of support for certain tactics, which I have detailed below:

  • Backlinks While backlinks are still used in the bing algorithm, it seems not to the same level as Google. Backlink counts for top 10 sites in Bing are much lower than Google, suggesting less importance.
  • Anchor Text It seems that Bing focuses more heavily on links with relevant anchor text, so that should influence your linking strategy – get your text anchor text right.
  • Onpage Optimization One of the more contensious factors, but many SEO experts believe Bing is weighting more heavily towards on-page optimization. Not sure this will remain the case, if in fact it is the case.
    • Keywords in URLs add significant ranking benefits
    • Title Tags are as important as always
    • Internal link anchor text seems to add significant weight to content relevance
  • Age & Authority It appears that Bing places a higher weighting on site/domain age and authority than Google. Again a factor that is surely not sustainable given the importance of social media and blogs in terms of relevant results.
Below is a chart that SEOwizz produced based Bn some analysis they conducted. They compared the top 2 results for the search “SEO Services” in Bing and Google to determine what factors matter most for the two respective websites.
As you can see from the general consensus and SEOwizz’s experiment, the top ranking factors for Google and Bing do differ.
The important thing to note is that none of them compete, so to get Top 10 rankings in Bing and Google wont compromise each other. Smart site owners should be covering off the factors of each search engine to maximize their website traffic.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

How Search Engine Algorithm Changes Effect SEO

Here's a quick question for you: Is what you do to optimize your website going to be considered search engine spam one day because of a change in the search engines' magic formula?

I strongly contend that it shouldn't. If you're not using spammy SEO tactics, that is.

When I posed this question to my Twitter followers, I was shocked to see how many people felt that yes, today's SEO techniques could definitely become tomorrow's search engine spam if the search engines decided to change their ranking algorithm.

The Real Story

Good, professional SEO that puts users first while keeping search engines in mind will never be considered spam by any stretch of a search engineer's imagination. Search engine spam takes a concerted effort and is done in an attempt to make low-quality websites or content show higher in the search results than they should.

Search engine spam can be visible on a website, such as with keyword stuffing, or it can take the form of hidden text, cloaking or link spamming. Generally, search engine spam makes a website *less* valuable for real users rather than better.

Make no mistake about it, keyword stuffing in all its forms – be it the copy, the title tags, within image alt attributes, or in anchor text – is search engine spam – there's no purpose other than to try to increase rankings. And the same thing can be said of useless off-page SEO through link farms, low-quality directories that nobody visits, useless article submission sites and the like.

I see all of the above often discussed as SEO tactics. But they're not. They are search engine spam.

Search Engine Spam Does Not Equal SEO

One of the largest problems plaguing the SEO industry is that the general public thinks that SEO = SPAM. This is why, every year, numerous articles are written saying that SEO is dead. What they mean to say is that search engine *spamming* is dead. Because they equate search engine spam with SEO, it's easier to just say that SEO is dead.

Now you might be thinking, "Hey, wait a minute there, Jill. I've used some SEO techniques in the past that don't seem to work anymore, particularly after a major update by Google. They used to work great until Google decided they didn't like it anymore." In reply, I would ask you to revisit whether the technique was in truly making the website better (or worse) for the people who come to the site. Chances are that, if you're honest with yourself, you'll agree that you probably went overboard with things.

Just because your "spam" increased your rankings for a while doesn't mean that it was a true SEO tactic – it was always spam whether you thought about it that way or not. And that's what confuses people.

Before you tell me to get off my high horse and stop calling you a spammer, let me tell you a story about me. Just like you, I was once a search engine spammer!

Why Search Engine Spam Is Bad

It is my strong feeling that search engine spam is never a good idea. Not because you might get caught, penalized or banned. You probably won't, at least not until you've made quite a lot of money off your technique. It's wrong because it makes your site worse, not better overall. And more than that, it makes for a bad searcher experience. We all have to use search engines, and there's nothing more frustrating than having low-quality garbage show up at the top of the results.

Let’s face it, the search engineers don't change their algorithms all the time because they're bored. Nor do they change them to stick it to innocent website owners. They tweak them so that they can preserve the integrity of their search results. If search engine spammers weren't out there vying for positions at all costs, there would be fewer algo tweaks being made.

Unfortunately, the world is composed of many people who will take any system and exploit it for their own gain. It's a sad fact of life that creates a constant battle between search engines and those who are happy to spam them.

Which brings us back to my original question of whether today's SEO tactic might be tomorrow's search engine spam. There's only one answer to this – NO! No legitimate SEO technique will ever be considered search engine spam because real SEO enhances a website as well as the search engine results. Good SEO makes it easier for the search engines to show the best stuff to their searchers.

If you suddenly lose substantial search engine traffic, be sure to revisit the techniques you were using. Were they really and truly good ones? Did they enhance your website for all its target audiences? Did they make the search results more relevant or less? Or did you make them just because they were easy and it seemed like a good idea at the time?

Eight stages of Evolution of a Search Marketer

In this post we will talk about how a jurney you take when you learn about SEO and stages that you usually have to go through and common questions you will ask yourself.

As with anything you set out to learn in life, you don't get from point A to point Z without touching upon all those letters in between. This is why every day for the past 7 or 8 years I see the same search engine optimization questions asked over and over again by people in the various stages of learning. The search engines may change through the years, but people just finding out about SEO all tend to go through a similar growth process.

The Submittal Stage

Generally you get interested in search engine marketing after you have a Website created; you've got something looking good and open for business. You pay your designer, and suddenly it hits what? How do I get people to actually find and use my site? So you turn to your designer who directs you to your server control panel, which comes with an automated search engine submit button.

The Meta Tag Stage

The next day <grin> you wake up and still have no visitors. So you do some research and find out that you need to add keywords to something called Meta tags. You find some automated Meta tag generator online, add its output to your site, and then crank up the automated submissions.

Then you wait, and wait, and wait some more. still have no hits to the ole hit counter (except the daily one from your checking it, and the one from when you sent your old college roommate to see what a great site you have), let alone any sales. So you email your designer again with more questions.

The "It's Impossible" Stage

Now the designer starts to get all defensive and says, " wanted high rankings in the search engines? Well sorry, that's just impossible, and out of the scope of my services."

You are nearly ready to give up at that point, but you're no quitter. You decide it can't really be impossible since somebody's gotta rank highly in the engines; so you begin your quest for more information. You look up "meta tags" and "submitting to search engines" at Google (because you figured you probably just did yours wrong), and find all kinds of articles that talk about something called "search engine optimization," aka SEO.

The Confusion Stage

Problem is, you have no idea what these articles are telling you. One of them says you need to make sure you use Meta tags, and another one says that Meta tags are dead. You read that you need high-quality links to your site, but you don't even know what that means or how you can get them. One article says you need keyword-rich content, but that means about as much to you as the linking thing. Some advice says you absolutely have to pay to be found in the engines, other stuff says it doesn't cost a thing.

The Trick-the-search-engines Stage

The more you read, the more you start to think that there must be some sort of trick to this whole SEO thing. Somehow you have to force the search engines into pulling your site up. You have learned that you need to think about keyword phrases as opposed to keywords, but you're still not clear about what to do with these phrases.

You remember reading about "keyword-rich content" and suddenly it clicks that you need to actually put your phrases on the page somewhere. But you have found so many phrases that you want to rank highly for, and can't quite figure out how you can get them all on your home page. You wonder if you should just list them somewhere. At the top? At the bottom? In a tiny font size, perhaps? Maybe you should make them blend in with the background of the site, because you really don't like the way it looks with all those phrases listed like that.

At this point, you're starting to think you're pretty smart for figuring that little trick out, and decide to tell some people you met on an SEO forum. Ouch! Apparently, you were not the first to think of this trick, and you got called all sorts of names, like "spammer"! You didn't even know there was such a thing as search engine spam, but you know that spamming anything can't be a very good thing to do!

So you start thinking that maybe tricking the search engines isn't the best way to attack things.

The Learning Stage

You decide to brave the forum again, to see if you can learn what other people do if they're not tricking the engines. By now, you've become intimately familiar with many of the terms people use, and some of the stuff they tell you is beginning to actually make some sense.

What you learn at this point is that you don't need to put all 50 phrases on the home page, just two or three! Now that seems doable. You also learn that you should use your phrases "naturally" when writing about what you do on every page of your site. Slowly but surely, things start making more sense, and each new tidbit you learn builds on the last one. You learn that the Title tag is also a good place for keyword phrases, and are embarrassed when you look at yours and see that it says, "Welcome to Our Home Page."

The Quick-fix Stage

You also learn that the search engines prefer to rank the most "popular" sites before the least popular ones, and you learn that they figure out which sites are the most popular by how many sites are linking to them. It makes perfect sense.

You really have no idea how you will get other sites to want to link to yours in order for it to be popular, but you know you're going to have to come up with some sort of a plan for this. You're a bit disheartened to think about how much time and effort it's going to take to become a popular site, so you ask your forum friends if there's a way to speed things along a maybe you can all link to each other's sites?

Ackk...they yell at you again and call you a link farmer.

The Hard-work Phase

Eventually, you reconcile with the fact that you're gonna have to work hard, just like you did when you first built your business offline. So off you go to make your site the best it can be for the search engines as well as your visitors, and a mature search engine marketer is born!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Freelance SEO vs SEO company

 Today in Search Engine Optimization market a website owner has two choices of SEO specialists: freelance SEO specialists and SEO companies. So if you’re a website owner looking for someone to optimize your website, you either seek the help of an SEO freelancer or an SEO company but who do you choose who? Thats a question that we will explore in todays blog. 
If you’re looking for cheap SEO services, you may want to hire a freelancer to do the job. Usually, the rates of these freelancers are lower than that of established SEO companies. But as they say, what you pay is what you get so be careful. Hiring a freelancer to do SEO work for you is really risky especially if you don’t know their work ethics and knowledge in optimizing websites. To be sure, ask for references and feedback from past clients. Ask his or her previous projects, ask if the campaigns were successful or not. From there you will know more or less if the person is capable to do the job. Also make sure that you have a written contract that states what the SEO specialist will do for they money you paying him. Most SEO freelance specialist or companies cant promise 100% guarantee or specific time frame in which the result will be achieved, because different keywords will differ with amount competition it will take and googles is not always predictable specially when it comes to  local SEO work and positioning your business on the google maps. So just try to mark up a plan of progress for your website have them show you that your PageRank is increasing and so on.
SEO companies on the other hand are already established in this line of work. They know what to do and they do it well. There is a connotation that SEO companies charge very high for their services. Well, yes it is true for some, but there are actually a lot of SEO companies that offer affordable SEO services. Hiring an SEO company is less risky than hiring a freelancer. These people are already tried and tested so you’re sure that they will really deliver results. With a company it is less likely that you be scammed because a company has a reputation to hold up wheres a freelancers don't.
Choosing an SEO specialist all boils down to your budget. In my own personal opinion, if you have sufficient budget, I suggest you hire an SEO company to do the work for you. This way you are really assured that the work will be done well. You don’t have to worry if the work is done properly or not. You just sit back and watch your site ranking go up the search engines.
What’s the difference between freelance SEO consultants and agencies?
The main difference is obvious, freelancers work as independent consultants. They’re usually self-employed and their client base is often localised, although in theory freelance SEO’s can work from anywhere with clients from anywhere.
SEO agencies offer similar consultancy services but they have a large team. The size of an SEO agency will range from anything from a couple of people to hundreds. SEO agencies often offer other internet marketing services like web design, pay per click advertising or display advertising as well as SEO.
As with other service based industries typically freelance SEO’s are cheaper than SEO agencies. Agencies have higher overheads like offices and sales teams, finance departments and account managers. Most freelancers work independently from home offices making their overheads significantly lower.
Most agencies an freelance SEO’s price their work hourly or on a day rate.
The actual SEO process which agencies and freelance consultants follow is usually quite similar. There’s a fairly well developed best practice process for optimising a website which usually looks something like:
1. Keyword research
2. Technical optimisation
3. On site optimisation
4. Link building
5. Reporting
Terminology and the details of each part of the process will vary from agency to agency and consultant to consultant but most will follow this formula by and large. Some freelancers may focus on a particular part of the SEO process like link building but most are all rounders who can complete all parts of the process.
The biggest difference with an agency is probably the level of account management involvement which can be useful for larger campaigns with big brands.
The quality of SEO work delivered by agencies and freelancers varies greatly so no real comparison can be drawn and as a business considering working with either a consultant or a consultancy it is your responsibility to seek assurances about the reliability, credibility and performance of who you hire to do your SEO.
Seek references from other customers about the experience of working with the agency or the freelancer and check their clients results in Google search results.
Agency’s often sell themselves on the benefit of having a multi-disciplinary team at their disposal made up of departmental specialists like link builders and copywriters. This can certainly be an advantage but just as often freelancers can offer a better quality of service and results by having more personal experience on your project.
Having a team may give agencies an advantage in this respect but often freelancers are ex-agency employees who have been in the SEO business longer and are at the top of their game. When working with an agency be sure to seek assurances about the experience of the team members working on your project. Sloppy SEO work conducted by under qualified consultants can in some cases damage your websites search rankings more than it helps.
Sector specialists
Managing an SEO campaign has different challenges in different industries and often specialist experience working in a certain sector can be a big advantage. Some freelance SEO consultants will specialise in a sector like travel, retail or finance or in a certain geographical area like local businesses in London. Most SEO agencies don’t specialise in a sector because they would soon run out of potential clients (as an agency should only work with one site in a particular niche to avoid conflict between clients) this means they may be more generalists however they will often be able to draw on knowledge from other campaigns in the same niche.
Some larger SEO agencies have developed bespoke tools to manage their clients campaigns and generate reports. Technology is certainly an important part of SEO however for the most part the best SEO tools are available to everyone (at a price). Most agency tools are designed to create reports and streamline parts of their SEO process. They can certainly help but be aware that there’s no secret tool or piece of technology that will deliver you higher search rankings- only good solid SEO work will do that and it always involves the human touch.
 In conclusion there’s certainly no one size fits all answer for whether a freelancer or agency will be a better fit for your SEO project. I’d recommend talking to both, doing some background research on a agency, comparing the advantages and disadvantages of each and ultimately choose based on the quality of their proposed solution and quality  of their pervious projects and integrity of their references.