Thursday, June 23, 2011

Dupliate Test

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If there's one issue that causes more contention, heartache and consulting time than any other (at least, recently), it's duplicate content. This scourge of the modern search engine has origins in the fairly benign realm of standard licensing and the occasional act of plagiarism. Over the last five years, however, spammers in desperate need of content began the now much-reviled process of scraping content from legitimate sources, scrambling the words (through many complex processes) and re-purposing the text to appear on their own pages in the hopes of attracting long tail searches and serving contextual ads (and other, various, nefarious purposes).

Thus, today, we're faced with a world of "duplicate content issues" and "duplicate content penalties." Luckily, my trusty illustrated Googlebot and I are here to help eliminate some of the confusion. But, before we get to the pretty pictures, we need some definitions:

  • Unique Content - written by humans, completely different from any other combination of letters, symbols or words on the web and clearly not manipulated through computer text-processing algorithms (like those crazy Markov-chain-employing spam tools).
  • Snippets - small chunks of content like quotes that are copied and re-used; these are almost never problematic for search engines, especially when included in a larger document with plenty of unique content.
  • Duplicate Content Issues - I typically use this when referring to duplicate content that is not in danger of getting a website penalized, but rather, is simply a copy of an existing page that forces the search engines to choose which version to display in the index.
  • Duplicate Content Penalty - When I refer to "penalties," I'm specifically talking about things the search engines do that is worse than simply removing a page from its index.

Now, let's look at the process for Google as it finds duplicate content on the web. In the examples below, I'm making a few assumptions:

  1. The page with text is assumed to be a page containing duplicate content (not just a snippet, despite the illustration).
  2. Each page of duplicate content is presumed to be on a separate domain.
  3. The steps below have been simplified to make the process as simple and clear as possible. This is almost certainly not the exact way in which Google performs (but it conveys the effect quite nicely).

Friday, November 5, 2010

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Why You Need Links

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If your site has no incoming links from other websites, your site will not be included in the Google index. You MUST have at least one incoming link from another website if you are going to show up in Google at all!

Obtaining links from other websites is a time-consuming process. However, without other sites that link to your site, you will likely not rank well on Google for your keywords. More businesses fail to achieve satisfactory rankings in Google because of an insufficient number of quality links than any other reason. Your objective is to obtain the highest number of “high-quality” links as possible from other sites.

Having lots of links is also important for “diversifying” where your traffic comes from – it is not wise to place all your traffic eggs in one Google basket. By growing and maintaining an active link exchange effort, your traffic risk can be decreased.

Link-building also makes you immune to tweaks in search engine algorithms. Links are forever. Each link individually won't drive much traffic to your site, but hundreds of links in the aggregate will over time. Traffic you receive from links on many different sites may eclipse traffic you obtain from Google in the long term.


Off-Page Link Factors Used in the Algorithm

Off-page link factors include that portion of the Google algorithm that determines page importance, which in turn is primarily dependent on PageRank (PR), which is about the quantity and strength of links that point to your site.

The concept of link quality is also an important factor, and is not part of the PageRank calculation. Link quality is determined by keyword factors.



PageRank Factor

When one page links to another, it “casts a vote” for that page in the form of a PageRank value. The more links you have that point to your site the better, as this increases the PageRank of the page being linked to. The number of links that point to a site is also called it’s link popularity.

Link Quality Factor

Google returns the most relevant results for a given search query. One way Google does so is by analyzing keywords on pages of other websites that link to your site. What other sites “say” about your site on their page is important. This means that the quality of links may be as important as the quantity of links to your site.

You may have hundreds of pages linking to your site, but if the text of those links doesn’t match your keywords, or if the linking page content is not related to your site, those links by themselves may not add any appreciable PageRank boost.
If only the quantity of links to a site were important, every site on the Web would link indiscriminately with every other site and the site with the largest number of incoming links would be #1 for any word. This clearly is not the case.

Specifically, the quality of a link that points to your site is determined by the following:

1. Text of the link – does it contain your keywords? (This very important)

2. Text of other links on the same page – do they also contain, or are similar to, your keywords?

3. Is the link contained in a paragraph on the page, surrounded by related text. Such “inline” links are weighted more than links that are listed on a page without any other text, such as in the footer of a page or a Sponsored Links section.

4. Title of the linking page – does it contain, or is it related to, your keywords?


Linking-Building is About Visitors

The primary value of obtaining incoming links should be to diversify and increase your qualified traffic sources. The secondary value should be to increase PageRank to boost site ranking.

By implementing an effective linking strategy you attract more qualified visitors, you learn more about your industry, you build business relationships, and you become a valued member of the online community. These benefits can bring much long-term reward. As such, link building should be thought more as “business building”.


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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Optimizing Your Web Pages

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Keyword Factors Used in the Algorithm


The following factors play a part in the portion of the Google algorithm that determines page relevancy. Google looks at the following keyword factors and assigns a relevancy score for each page of your site. The factors are listed in approximate order of importance, however, like all factors in the Google algorithm, this is subject to change.

Keyword Proximity

Google looks at individual words that make up phrases. Keyword proximity is a measure of word order and closeness. The closer all words in a keyword phrase are together, and in the correct order, the better.

Obviously, exact matches score the best. As an example, say someone does a search on “country house plans”. Google will assign a higher score if your page contains “country house plans” than if it contains “country and farm house plans”. For the latter, all three words are contained on the page, so the page would receive some score, but since this is an inexact match (there are words in between “country and “house”), the page score would be lower than for the exact match of country house plans.

Keyword Placement

This measures where on the page keywords are located. Google looks for keywords in the page title, in headings, in body text, in links, in image ALT text and in drop-down boxes.

Keyword Prominence

A measure of how early or high up on a page the keywords are found. Having keywords in the first heading and in the first paragraph (first 20 words or so) on a page are best.

Keyword Density

Also known as keyword weight, the number of times a keyword is used on a page divided by the total number of words on the page. There is some confusion over keyword density. Part of this stems from the fact that different software programs look at different parts of the page and calculate this differently.

There doesn’t seem to be an ideal density value for Google. Just don’t spam. In other words, don’t fill your pages up needlessly with your keywords - not only will customers think your site is amateurish, but Google may penalize you

Keyword density used to be more important in the past for search engines, and you may still find books that stress the importance of this factor. For Google, it is not important so don't get hung up on it.

Keyword Format

A measure of whether keywords are bolded or italicized on the page. The best place to do this is in the first paragraph of the page. This isn’t a real important factor, but every little bit helps.


How and Where to Use Keywords

Don't try to use all of your keywords on the home page - rather focus only on your Primary Keyword Phrase and your best Secondary Keyword. Use your product or service pages to focus on the more specific keyword.

You will likely want to use the plural form of your keywords. However, you need to verify this using KeywordDiscovery or WordTracker as sometimes the singular form of a word is searched on more often.

Google treats hyphenated words as two words: “house-plans” is the same as “house plans” on Google. However, words connected by an underscore or slash, such as “house_plans” and “house/plans” are treated as a single word “houseplans” currently.

Google is not case-sensitive, so HOUSE PLANS, House Plans, house plans, and HoUsE pLaNs are all treated the same.

The Importance of Title Text

There is one place on a web page where your keywords MUST be present, and that is in the page title, which is everything between the tags in the section of a page. The page title (not to be confused with the heading for a page) is what is displayed in the title bar of your browser, and is also what is displayed when you bookmark a page or add it to your browser Favorites.

Correct use of keywords in the title of every page of your website is important to Google – particularly for the home page. If you do nothing else to optimize your site, do this!

The "Keywords" META tag is ignored by Google. Concentrate your efforts on the title for each page, making sure they contain the best keywords for the content of each page.

The title shouldn’t consist of much more than about 9 words or 60 characters, with your keywords used toward the beginning of the title. Since Google is looking for relevant keywords in the title, this means you should NOT include your company name in the title unless your company name is so well known as to be a keyword in it’s own right with instant name recognition – like Disney, Nike, or Yahoo. If you must include your company name in the title, put it at the end. In addition, each page title should be unique – don’t duplicate titles on pages.


Improper or nonexistent use of titles in web pages keep more websites out of top rankings on Google than any other factor except for a lack of quality links from other websites that point to your site.

The following table shows both the improper and proper use of titles for a website that sells house plans. You undoubtedly have seen numerous websites that use “Home” as the title of their home page. Google may think these sites are about homes!

As you can see, you should use relevant keywords in every title of every page of your site. Most people get this wrong. Do a search for “Welcome to”, “Home”, “Home page”, “Untitled Document”, or “index.html” and you’ll see what I mean about incorrect use of TITLE text.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Website Optimization

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This section deals with those aspects and elements of your website that should be optimized for Google in order to increase relevancy. You want to maximize how relevant your site and pages are to a given search query for a given search phrase.

In addition to optimizing your site for Google, you should also strive to incorporate some best practices into your website design and structure.

Before we begin, make sure you don’t overlook the obvious:

Your website must contain high-quality, useful, timely content that people will actually want to read and take a next-step action on.

It is amazing how often this statement is ignored. You should spend more time creating useful and relevant content, and less time on fancy graphics, gratuitous animations, or Flash – especially on your home page. Remember that Google uses automated software to analyze the text on your site. It will ignore graphics and other multimedia elements on your site - and often your customers will too.

Think of SEO as a long-term investment in your site “infrastructure”. Once your site is optimized, it stays optimized and keeps its ranking over time (but not forever – you still need to update your site on a regular basis). This means free traffic over time. Compare that with paid advertising such as Google AdWords or Yahoo Search Marketing (formerly known as Overture) where the minute you stop paying for your ads, your traffic goes away – it is a recurring expense.

As this section builds on the previous chapter, it is highly recommended that you complete the tasks described in the last section.

Structure by Theme and Topic

The general subject or category of your website dictates it’s theme. Loosely stated, the theme of your website is generally your Primary Keyword Phrase.

Ideally, your site is only about one major subject or category. If you have more than one major subject for your site, say, for example, you sell baby diapers AND garage door openers, you should strongly consider creating multiple sites, one per subject.

The main idea is to separate content onto different pages by topic (keyword phrase) within your site. Suppose that a site sells house plans online and that is the theme of the site (it’s Primary Keyword Phrase). This site also sells country house plans, garage plans, and duplex plans, and let’s say for this example that each page of the site mentions all three plan types.
However, what is each page's specific topic? The different plan types have been mentioned on multiple pages, so each page contains the keywords country house plans, garage plans, and duplex plans. None of the three plan types would be strongly relevant on any of these pages for Google.

The correct way to structure this site is to have one page that discusses only country house plans, another page that discusses only garage plans, and a third page that discusses only duplex plans. Each page is now strongly relevant for one keyword phrase. No “dilution” occurs in any of the pages, and each page should subsequently fair better in the rankings for its particular keyword phrase. This is important.

Next, you would add links on each page so that garage plan pages link only to other garage plan pages, duplex plan pages link only to duplex plan pages, and so forth. By using the applicable keyword phrase in the link text (the clickable part of the link), you can also help strengthen the importance of each page. We’ll discuss in greater detail later how to link pages correctly between pages. To properly structure a site that offers different products, services, or content categories, you should split the content onto different pages. You ideally want a single topic, or keyword phrase, applied per page.


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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Writing Compelling Title Text

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You have undoubtedly seen any number of spammy-looking titles that are “optimized” in the hopes of getting better rankings. Keyword after keyword stuffed in the TITLE, separated (or not) by commas.

Realize that your page title acts like a billboard and is what people click on in a search results page. So you should differentiate your title from that of your competitors by writing “smarter” page titles.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

Ho-hum title: House plans, home plans, home floor plans, home design plans, plans

Compelling title:Unique home & house plans: dream homes start with great floor plans

Notice that both contain multiple keywords but which one would you rather click on?
Come up with a set of different titles for each of your important pages and rotate among them to see what ranks better over time.

Best Practices for Creating Titles

Here are some best practices you should follow for creating titles on pages:

• Each page should have a unique title.

• Try to include your Primary Keyword Phrase in every title of every page.

• Begin the title of your home page with your Primary Keyword Phrase, followed by your best Secondary Keyword Phrases.

• Use more specific variations to your Primary Keyword Phrase on your specific product, service, or content pages.

• If you must include your company name, put

• Use the best form, plural or singular, for your keywords based on what KeywordDiscovery or WordTracker says is searched on more often.

• Don’t overdo it – don’t repeat your keywords more than two times in the title.

• Make sure the tag is the first element in the section of your page – this makes it easier to find by Google.

META "Description" Tag Text

Google doesn't factor in META tag text in ranking a page, but you should still strive to fill in this META tag on your web pages:



Google uses the first 160 characters or so (about 25 words) of your META "Description" tag to populate what is displayed under your listing on a search results page.


If no META Description tag content is found, Google uses the description from the DMOZ directory. If you don't have a DMOZ directory listing, it uses semi-random snippets from your page that contains the search term queried for. This can lead to some really awful-sounding descriptions, as rarely does anyone write anything compelling in the META Description tag.

So take your best shot and come up with your best sales pitch in 25 words or less to put in your META Description tag. Something that would actually compel someone to click on YOUR listing. Descriptions that do well include a call to action ("visit us today"), phone number ("call xxx-xxxx for more information"), geographic term if applicable ("located in Seattle"), discounts, specials, prices, anything that will draw the eye and make them click. Basic direct marketing 101 pitch.

Note: If you want your META Description text to be used, it must include the exact phrase that was queried.

About Word Stemming

Google uses word stemming. Word stemming allows all forms of the word – singular, plural, verb form as well as similar words and synonyms to be returned for a given search query. This can work both for and against a site depending on which form of a word a page is primarily optimized for. So if someone types in "house plans", not only will pages that are optimized for that phrase be returned, but so will pages that contain all variations of that phrase, for example:

house plan
house planning
house planner

Conversely, a page that optimized for “house plans” will also be returned whenever a searcher types in any variation of that phrase. Using the same example, typing in any of the phrases below would also return a page optimized for “house plans”:

house plan
house planning
house planner

Word stemming is a helpful feature for searchers, since it saves them from having to think of many variations of a word. Word stemming can help as well as hurt your ranking for a given page as not only does it increases the number of words that you can rank well for (even if you do not include a given form of the word anywhere on a page) but it can also increase the amount of sites (competition) returned for a given search query.

When you enter a search query in google, put a plus “+” sign in front of the word for which you want to disable stemming for. For example:

house +plans

Would disable stemming on “plans” and thus only return pages for “house plans” and pages that contain variations on the “plan” word.

Pay attention to stemming for your keywords – particularly to what the “root” word is and what Google considers to be a match for that word when optimizing pages over time.

Monday, September 6, 2010

All About Page Rank

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This chapter deals largely with theory. However, because of the misunderstanding of Google PageRank (PR), it is important that you understand how PR works under the hood and what role it plays in influencing rankings.

Many people obsess and over-hype the importance PageRank and therefore introduce worry and confusion that is not warranted.

There are PR = 8 sites that you cannot find in Google unless you search for them by company name, while there are PR = 4 sites that are in the top 2 or 3 search results for relevant keyword phrases.


PageRank vs. Search Result Ranking


People tend to confuse PageRank with their page’s ranking for a certain search result for a certain keyword. PR is just one factor that is used to determine your page’s actual rank on a search results page for a given search query.

It is not uncommon to see a page with a lower PageRank that is positioned higher on a search results page than a page with a higher PageRank. This shows that PageRank is not the most important factor in Google’s ranking algorithm. A properly keyword-optimized page with a lower PageRank can outrank a non-optimized page with a higher PageRank.

This is a common scenario for large corporate sites. The corporate site may have a high PageRank as a result of the large number of other business partner sites that link to it, but they may end up being outranked due to their lack of keyword optimization for their pages.


Toolbar PageRank vs. Actual PageRank


The Google Toolbar allows you to see a crude approximation of PageRank value for any page in its index. Download and install the Google Toolbar at http://toolbar.google.com/.

Most people don’t realize that the PageRank values shown in the Google Toolbar are not the actual PageRank values that Google uses to rank web pages. The Google Toolbar is divided up into 10 equal linear ranges from 0 - 10. These linear divisions correspond to a logarithmic scale that Google uses. The actual scale is estimated to be between log base 5 and log base 10. The public Toolbar PR value is however what people talk and agonize about.

The Toolbar PageRank value only indicates that a page is in a certain range of the overall scale. One PR=5 page could be just above the PR=5 division and another PR=5 page could be just below the PR=6 division, which is a vast gulf.

Although the exact logarithmic base used for PageRank is a secret, the following table should give you an idea of how different Toolbar PR is from actual PR.


This means that moving a page from a PR = 6 to a PR = 7 is much harder than moving from a PR = 4 to a PR = 5.

Although PageRank is assigned per page, your site is a collection of web pages under a domain that you control and hence your site has a total PR value too.

PR as viewed using the Toolbar can be pretty inaccurate. Sometimes home pages for sites will suddenly show a PR = 0 (no green bar) when indeed the page does have a PR value. Appending /index.html to the URL (or whatever the filename is for the home page) in your browser restores the proper value displayed in the Toolbar.

Also, new web pages that the Toolbar displays a PR value for may not have any “real” PageRank of their own yet. Rather, the new page is “assigned” a PR value 1 point below an indexed page on the site, but this is an “estimate” PageRank that exists only in the Toolbar.

My suggestion is to simply ignore that little green bar. It never was that accurate to begin with and it’s just gotten worse over time. It really doesn’t have much bearing on how well you are ranking.

Increasing PageRank

Each page of your website has a PR value, and as such you can simply add up the individual PR values of each page to arrive at the total PR that your site has (bear in mind however that when someone speaks of PR, it applies to a page). How you structure your internal links can influence what the PR value of a page will be, as will links pointing to a page on your site. Although page PR value is important, you should really be trying to increase your total site PR value.

The actual PR value of each page indexed by Google is in constant flux. On the Web new pages are added, old pages are removed, more links are created – all of which over time slowly degrade the “value” of your links.

As the number of web pages in the Google index increases, so does the total PageRank value of the entire Web, and so does the high end of the overall scale used. This is kind of like the top student setting the “curve” for an exam. The top-ranking site (or handful of sites in actuality) gets the maximum, perfect PageRank score of 10 in the Google Toolbar) and everyone else is scaled down accordingly. As a result, some web pages may drop in PageRank value for no apparent reason. If a page's actual PR value was just above a division on the scale, the addition of new pages to the Web may cause the dividing line to move up the scale slightly and the page would end up just below the new division.

As such, you should always strive to obtain more links that point to your site, otherwise your site can naturally start slipping in rankings due to this “raising of the bar” of PageRank across the Web.


Decreasing PageRank

The amount of PageRank value a link forward on to your site is diluted by the presence of other links on the same page. This is where link strength comes into play.

The greater the number of other links on a page, the weaker the strength of each individual link. The strength of that “vote” is divided equally among all other links on the page.
Which means, all other things being equal, if someone has a link to your site on their page with 100 other links, you may not get any appreciable value from that link in the overall calculation, unless the page has a very high PageRank.


The PageRank Equation

Here is the official PageRank equation. It is calculated by solving an equation that includes each of the billions of web pages in the Google index:

PR(your page) = 0.15 + 0.85 [(PR(page A) / total links (page A) ) + (PR(page B) / total links (page B) ) + …]

A couple of observations to note about the PR equation:

• PR is based on individual web pages – not on a website as a whole.

• The PR of each page that links to your site in turn is dependent on the PR of the pages that link to it, and so on iteratively.

• A link’s value (amount of PageRank or “voting power” forwarded to the linked-to page) is at most only 85% of the linking page’s PageRank value, and this value is diluted (decreased) by the number of other links on that page.

• PR has nothing to do with keywords or text in links - it is purely dependent on link quantity and link strength, as discussed previously.

Some may incorrectly conclude that a link from a page with a PR = 4 and with only a few outgoing links is worth a more than a link from a page with a PR = 6 with 100 outgoing links because for the latter, the “voting power” or value is divided up among 99 other links.

However, you must remember the logarithmic nature of actual PageRank. A link from a PR = 6 page with lots of outbound links may indeed be worth more than a link from a PR = 4 page that has only a few outbound links.

The Evolution of PageRank

Pagerank used to be a simple weighting factor for all links regardless of the topic of the page that contained the link. This led to a small industry that focused around buying and selling high-PageRank links. However, when anyone can achieve high rankings by simply buying enough links from any website, or trading links with any unrelated website, Pagerank loses its value as a factor in ranking websites accurately.

As such, Google has done some tweaking of how it analyzes the value of links. Links are now scored differently and some links may not count as much as they used to. PageRank as the defining metric for links is becoming less important and the other variations listed below are becoming more important.


Topic-Sensitive PageRank

Topic-sensitive PageRank computes link value based only on incoming links from pages that are returned from a given search result set that matches the search query (whether the result set is 100 or 10,000 pages is not known).

This means that a flower site only gets links counted from other sites that are related to flowers and gardening - not from sites that are about mortgage loans for example.
By using Topic-sensitive PageRank, Google hopes to filter out irrelevant links that have skewed the value of PageRank in the past.


Local Rank

A variation of PageRank whereby links from sites that share the same Class C blocks are worth less than links from a variety of different IP addresses, which are generally different servers owned by different businesses.

As you may recall, a Class C block is that number shown in the third position of an IP address. For example, for 255.137.xxx.255, xxx represents the Class C block.
This attempts to deal with the problem of different sites owned by the same company that cross-link to each other. Put another way, Google wants to see incoming links that are from different business entities, not different sites owned by the same person.


TrustRank and the Sandbox

A variation of PageRank whereby links from site that are “trusted” by Google carry more weight than other links. This also related to the Google Sandbox. As you recall, the Google Sandbox is a series of filters applied to new sites that cause them not to rank well or rank at all for anything but very niche, unique keyword phrases, such as their company name.

TrustRank says that new websites either have to reach a certain age (say 6 - 18 months) OR obtain relevant, quality links from authoritative "highly-trusted" sites to escape the Sandbox. However, links from highly-trusted sites can be very difficult for new sites to get. For this reason, most new sites must be of sufficient age AND the links that point to new sites need also to be of sufficient age and at least “moderately trusted" before a new site can rank well.
The TrustRank threshold that new sites need to overcome to escape the Sandbox varies by keyword and industry. Gambling and pill sites have a much harder time breaking free from the Sandbox filters than say baby blanket sites.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

About Froogle

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Froogle is a separate index in Google that lists commercial merchant sites that provide products for sale. Listing your products on Froogle is a free way to extend the reach of your marketing efforts. Froogle only lists products with set prices - it excludes services and affiliate products for now.

Each one of your products needs a separate listing in Froogle.
Similar to Google Search, relevancy to the search query will be important to good Froogle ranking. For more info, see http://froogle.google.com/froogle/about.html

A Froogle product listing has the following minimum components:

Product Title. Write a title using the techniques you would use for a Web page on Google. Keep it concise and include the most important keywords earliest in the title. Since the foundation of Froogle is specific product search, include a specific product make and model number in the title if applicable. Consumers that are price comparison-shopping are likely to include this information in their search query

Product Description. Create a compelling keyword-rich description of about 25 words. This improves the chances of Froogle using your supplied description rather than “scraping” one from a different location.

Product Photo. Froogle has a place to the left of a listing for a product photo. A user is less likely to click on a listing that does not include a photo as it looks unprofessional and sloppy compared to other listings that do. You may need to create specific product images on your server just for Froogle as they need to be a specific size.

Product Price. A product price must be included. If you have multiple prices for a product (regular, special, after rebate) place the current price you want displayed. Froogle will not display multiple prices. You can update your product information daily, weekly or monthly.

Product URL.
Like Google, product Web pages that are closest to the root folder of the server are believed to score better with Froogle.


Using a Data Feed
When your product Web pages are indexed by Google, your products should automatically be included in the Froogle index if they meet Froogle guidelines. However this is not the ideal way for your products to be listed on Froogle.

Instead, you should create submit a Froogle data feed, which is a tab-delimited text file. A data feed file can be submitted to Froogle daily, weekly or monthly as best fits your product updates and price changes. The data feed file is uploaded via FTP to hedwig.google.com.

Submitting a data feed is by far the most efficient method of listing your products in Froogle. For specific information on creating a Froogle data feed, see
http://froogle.google.com/froogle/merchants.html

Here is the actual data feed I use for the Google SEO Secrets book on Froogle. Note that an actual data feed can have more fields than this (product ID, color, size, etc):
product_url name description price image_url
http://www.google-secrets.com/ Google SEO Secrets - How to Get a Top Ranking The complete guide to search engine optimization and linking strategies for the Google search engine. A must-have ebook for Webmasters and Internet marketers alike. Order now. 97.00 http://www.google-secrets.com/froogle1.jpg

Although hard to tell, my feed is comprised of 5 tabbed columns - URL, title, description, price, and URL to product photo.

Submission of data feeds gives you time-sensitive control over product changes and accuracy rather than waiting for regular Google updates. Data feeds must be submitted at least once a month to avoid automatic expiration in the Froogle index. I have had this happen to me so make sure you submit once a month.
Submitting data feeds can be a time-consuming. There is a great tool available, Froogle Feeder, that helps automate product additions, deletions, and product conversions to data feed format and will submit your feed to your Froogle account.

For more information on Froogle Feeder, see http://www.siteall.com/. This site also contains a wealth of information about Froogle.

About Google Adwords

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Note: This is an excerpt from my book AdWords Edge: How to Get More Clicks With Less Money available at http://www.adswordedge.com.

Google AdWords are those small boxed ads that appear on the right-hand side of a Google search results page. Google AdWords is a pay-per-click (PPC) program.





Setting up a low-cost AdWords campaign is a great way to test your business idea and your keyword selections. It is a fast and cheap predictor of how successful your site can be before you spend a lot of time creating content, building a web site, optimizing your pages, and acquiring links.

Studies have shown that the best sales results are obtained by those that do a combination of both SEO and PPC. If you are listed in more places on a search results page, you stand a greater chance of being clicked on. Another reason is that if you are listed on the both the free (organic) side of the page AND on the paid side of the page with an AdWord ad, you may be seen as a more important player.

What makes Google AdWords great is that it can also be used as a relatively low-cost way to quickly validate the results of your keyword research. Unlike other PPC programs, AdWords can be setup for $5 with no monthly minimums and your ads run almost immediately.

One problem with site optimization is that it can take awhile to see the results of your efforts. With Google AdWords, you can place a number of different ads simultaneously and start seeing your results within a matter of minutes. As such, it is a great keyword research.

The name of the game with Google AdWords is to avoid a costly bidding war with your competitors, get your clicks as cheaply as possible, and to run you ads against keywords that have the least competition. This is best accomplished by finding as many unique keyword phrase variations as you can. Many advertisers using AdWords simply copy each other and hence drive up the cost of everyone’s clicks on keywords they feel they must compete on.


Ongoing Keyword Research and Testing

Although it is a good start, don’t assume that you can simply use the results of your KeywordDiscovery or WordTracker keyword research for your AdWords campaign..

Keyword phrase research for a successful AdWords campaign should be ongoing and you should strive to come up with at least a couple hundred different keyword phrases at the beginning. This means having a list of possible permutations of different phrases that use different action verbs, singular and plural, single and double words, hyphenation, etc.

Find those keyphrases that nobody else is bidding on and therefore that you can get very cheaply. You may not get a lot of clicks on each one, but if you have enough of these, collectively they can account for a substantial portion of your click traffic from your AdWords campaign.

Make it a habit to think of at least three new keyphrases every day for a month. If you follow no other recommendations here, make sure you do this – because chances are your competition won’t.

Use Keyword Matching Options

Google allows three different forms of keyphrase matching:

1. Broad matching. Phrase words can be in any order, and can be part of larger phrase. For example, google search engine optimization. With broad matching, these words can appear in any order such as “search engine optimization for google” and as part of a larger phrase.

2. Phrase matching. Enclose those words you want to appear in exact order in parentheses. For example, use “search engine optimization” if you want to allow only phrases with the words “search engine optimization” in that order. With phrase matching, there can be other words included in the phrase, such as google search engine optimization best practices.

3. Exact matching. Enclose the entire phrase in square brackets. For example, [google search engine optimization]. With exact matching, the phrase must be in the exact order shown and cannot include any other words.

Set up Multiple Ad Groups
You should have a number of different keyword phrase variations that are centered around common, similar keywords. Each “cluster” of related phrases should be placed in their own Ad Group.

Create Multiple Ads per Ad Group
Because you don’t know in advance which ads will have the highest click-through rate (CTR), you should create several ads per Ad Group. These ads then be constantly tweaked and refined to determine which ads are the best for pulling in clicks. I cannot stress how much difference it can make by simply changing one word in the title or in the description, or changing the order.


Writing Great Ads

Writing compelling ads in a Google AdWords campaign is both an art and an science. It is all about writing good sales copy, in a very limited space, for the Web.

Google has the following limitations:

Ad title: 25 characters maximum
Ad description: 70 characters maximum (2 lines at 35 characters per line maximum)
This isn’t a lot of space, so make every word count. Some tips for writing good ads:
1. Use keywords from your particular Ad Group in the ad title or description. Your click-through rate may double if you include the keywords in the ad.

2. Consider stating the problem or the solution in the ad. For example: “No traffic to your site?” or “Learn SEO tips for your site”.

3. Use of the following can have particularly good results:
• Use of “action words” (get, buy, order)
• Use of “sales” words (new, leading, top, discount)
• Use of region, geography (Seattle services)


Setting Up Tracking URLs

Although you can see at a glance in the AdWords program which ads are pulling the most clicks, you should nevertheless set up tracking URLs for each ad or each Ad Group for ease of analyzing all of your site traffic using your stats program. With tracking URLs, you can look at your site traffic reports and see exactly how much traffic your pay-per-click (PPC) campaign(s) did in relation to your “free” clicks obtained through traditional SEO methods and from your incoming reciprocal links.

Tracking URLs for Google ads are extremely simple to set up. Here is a representative tracking URL: www.your-web-site.com/?gg&grp1&ad1

Use whatever format works best for you to track your Google AdWords traffic. At a minimum, you should at least be tracking at the Ad Group level to determine which “keyphrase clusters” are doing the best and ideally down to the ad level so you know which specific ads are doing the best in each Ad Group.


Setting Your Daily Budget Limit

Whatever daily budget you decide to place on your Google AdWords campaign is totally up to you. The only recommendations I can give here are as follows:

• Set your daily budget higher than is comfortable for you in the first month. Much good testing data can come out of the first month, but only if you don’t stifle your efforts by setting your daily budget too low. Google states that your daily budget can be exceeded, but not your daily limit x 30 (for a monthly budget). Pump up the budget initially to see quickly which ads and groups to dump or revise.

• Don’t fret about trying to appear in the #1 AdWords spot for a given keyword. There is no real difference in click-through rate between positions 1 thru 3.

This just covers a few of the tips and best practices for using Google AdWords.

Note: This is an excerpt from AdWords Edge: How to Get More Clicks With Less Money, available at http://www.adwordsedge.com.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Competitive Strategies

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Low-Competitive vs. High-Competitive Sites


Your chosen keyword space directly impacts the scope and what kind of SEO strategy you will need to implement for success. Websites that sell to a national or global market in a competitive industry need a different SEO strategy (and overall marketing strategy) than a site that caters to a local or regional market, or for a product in a niche category.

For highly-competitive sites that target keyword phrases that are shorter, more generic, and that command higher PPC bid, Google gives much more weight to off-page link factors. For local and niche sites, on-page SEO factors like keyword phrases used on relevant content, can be weighed as much or even more than off-page link factors.

I have seen sites that cater to a local audience rank very well on a number of different keyword phrases having only a handful of incoming links. Conversely, I have seen giant, content-rich, well-optimized sites that sell nationally rank nowhere for ANY search terms until they have a ton of incoming links.

With this said, every site needs to do both on-page optimization as well as have an active link-building campaign. However, if you are going after short, generic or competitive keyword phrases, I strongly suggest you do the following:

1. Start optimizing your site for as many different more-specialized permutations of your best keyword phrases as possible and build content pages around each one.

2. Start getting very serious and persistent about your link-building campaign. Your competitors know this and that's why they are busy getting hundreds if not thousands of links to their site over time. Just don’t obtain your links too quickly.

To clarify the differences between a "low-competitive" and "high-competitive" sites and to further illustrate the type and amount of resources that may be involved to obtain satisfactory ranking results, here are representative examples. Note that these are generalizations for comparative purposes only:


Low-Competitive Site

Keyword phrase: “Redmond Reflexology Services”
On-site factors keyword contribute heavily to rankings. Often all that is needed is a handful of links and solid SEO methods used on the site. Most competitors won't even know what SEO is. Good rankings can be achieved with relatively little effort within 3 months.

Medium-Competitive Site

An equal combination of on-site factors and off-site factors contribute to good ranking. For such sites, 100 or so quality links are needed (this is a generalization). About half of your competitors will know what SEO is and of those that do, a fair percentage will be doing a good job at it. Good rankings can be achieved with moderate efforts within 6 months to a year.

Medium-to-High-Competitive Site
Keyword Phrase: “House Plans” or “Limo Service”

On-site factors contribute little toward ranking, unless you have a large site, in which case they count for some. Such sites need an aggressive link-building campaign and typically have hundreds or thousands of incoming links that use effective anchor-text strategies. Most if not all of your competitors will be using SEO tactics, some quite aggressively and spending a fair budget on it. Good rankings can be achieved only with steady, continual, focused efforts after 12 to 18 months, and assigning (and paying) a dedicated SEO person for it. Most if not all will use PPC advertising like Google AdWords to augment traffic, especially in the near-term.

Keyword phrase: “Seattle Plastic Surgery” or “Seattle Dentist”


Very-High-Competitive Site
Keyword Phrase: “Used Cars” or “Discount Travel” or “Home Mortgages”


Such markets are ripe with spammy, black-hat techniques and on-site factors count for extremely little. For such sites, a very aggressive link-buying, link-building strategy is needed, along with analyzing exactly what the competition is doing and copying their methods. Such sites have many thousands of incoming links. Tactics used need to be monitored and changed in case of penalties applied. All of your competitors will be throwing lots of money on every trick in the book because so much money is at stake. Good rankings may never be achieved unless you are ready to spend the time and money for it, are dogged, and be willing to take risks. All will use PPC advertising like Google AdWords to augment traffic and spend a lot of money (like $100K or more a month) doing it.


How To Reverse-Engineer Your Competition


Do you have a site in a competitive market and want to determine how your top-ranked competitors are doing so well. This involves reverse-engineering the linking structure of the top 3-5 sites in your keyword space and emulating what they are doing right. Here is how to go about doing it:

1. Use Yahoo's backlink command, or software such as SEO Elite (http://www.seoelite.com) find every site that is linking to the top 3 sites in your chosen keyword in Google.

2. Obtain links from those exact sites that your competitors are getting links from. This takes time so be patient.

3. Use the same anchor text that is pointing to the competition’s sites for your own incoming links. Try to duplicate the percentage of different anchor text variations used – this is important.

4. Look at the page titles of the #1 site and duplicate them for your site. You don't need to do this for all your pages, just your most important ones - home page, important category/product/service pages.

Why reinvent the wheel? Your competition has already figured out how to rank well, so you should emulate their strategies.

Bear in mind that site age and link age is a factor, so even if you duplicate your competitor's link-building strategies 100%, it is going to take time for you to rank well as the new links to your site won't be as good as the old links that your competitors have.


How Much Competition Do You Really Have?


Some people are confused about the true number of online competitors for a given keyword phrase, particular when using keyword research tools or looking at the number of returned pages in Google. Many such "competing pages" are what are called "accidental competitors" - they aren't necessarily trying to beat you in search engine ranking, they just happen to use the term somewhere on a page.

If you want to get an accurate number of other sites that are optimizing their pages for a given search term, follow these steps. Open Google and follow these steps using your keyword phrase:

1. Type in allintitle:"your keyword phrase"
and see how many pages are displayed in the search results. These are pages that use the exact phrase in the tags of their pages - the first important step to optimizing a site.

2. Next, type in allinanchor:"your keyword phrase " and count the results. These are sites that have incoming links that contain these keywords - the next important step to boosting one's ranking.

3. Next, type in allinurl:
"your keyword phrase "

and count the results. These are sites that use the keywords either in their domain name or in a file name. Although by itself not an important factor, Google does give slight weight to keywords used in domain names and file names.

4. Now combine everything by typing:
intitle:"keyword" inanchor:"keyword" inurl:"keyword"

to see how many sites do all three things together. The resulting number is an accurate indication of how many true competitors you have that are doing SEO for their site for your given keyword phrase.


Using Pay-Per-Click to Augment SEO traffic

Every year it is getting harder to rank well in Google, as well as Yahoo and MSN. This is due to the following factors:

1. More new sites are coming online all the time.

2. More sites are incorporating SEO tactics.

3. The search engines are devaluing tactics that used to work fine in the past.

4. The search engines are more aggressive at penalizing sites that use black-hat and spammy tactics, and often unfairly penalize legitimate sites as well.


All the more reason you may need to implement a PPC strategy like Google AdWords. A targeted Google AdWords campaign is an ideal way to supplement your website traffic anyway, and is crucial for new sites in the Sandbox. For more information, see my book The AdWords Edge at http://www.adwordsedge.com.

After all, you are in business to make a profit. I use AdWords all the time because the advertising much more than pays for itself and the traffic is immediate.


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SEO Monitoring and Tracking

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Monitoring Your Site Traffic


This is a must-do activity. If you are not viewing and analyzing your site traffic and visitor statistics over time, you are essentially flying blind. This would be akin to a retail store not tracking how many customers come into their store, what they buy, and on which days.

You should first take advantage of the free statistics or “stats” program that most Web hosting companies offer in their packages. These work by reading the contents of the server log file for your site. Such programs are also called log file analyzers. More often than not, such programs don’t provide the information you need or they present it in poorly-organized, hard-to decipher reports. As such, I highly recommend you use a third-party program or service to obtain the information you need to track your site. You can often customize the of reports you want to view and download them into Excel.

You have two choices – use a different log analyzer program, which runs either on the server or on your desktop computer, or sign up for a monthly service that monitors real-time traffic for you. There are pros and cons to each as follows:

Using a Log-file Analyzer


Log-file analyzers can be installed on the server or on your desktop computer. Unless your log files are really large, I recommend the latter. However, getting your Web host to install and configure a different log-file analyzer than the default one they offer can be a frustrating experience. Regardless, make sure the referrer option is enabled for your site (it is usually disabled by default), otherwise you’ll be reading IP addresses instead of domain names to figure out where your traffic is coming.

One issue with log-file analyzers is the information isn’t shown in real time – the data is a day old. This usually isn’t a problem. One of the more popular analyzers is Urchin, which Google now owns. Two free log-file analyzers that are worthwhile include Funnel Web Analyzer (http://www.quest.com/funnel_web/analyzer/) and AWStats (http://awstats.sourceforge.net/).


Using a Tracking Service


Real-time tracking, also called browser-based tracking, is sold as a monthly service. Instead of reading a log file, you include JavaScript tracking code on each page of your site. Each time a visitor comes to your site, the JavaScript code sends information to the service provider where it is stored. Information can be accessed in near real-time and usually the quality of information is better (more accurate visitor and page view counts) than with a log-file analyzer. However you are paying a monthly recurring expense and you are charged by how much traffic you receive on your site – this can be very expensive for high-traffic sites.

More popular service providers include WebTrends Live and HitBox, which start at around $30/mo for low-traffic sites. There are also a couple of even lower-cost vendors that I recommend – Webstat.com (http://www.webstat.com) and IndexTools (http://www.indextools.com). Both are excellent choices for the value.

What to Monitor?


At a minimum you should check your traffic stats weekly as they are a goldmine of information. Of particular importance is tracking the following for your web site:

Keywords: This lists the actual keywords people typed into search engines to find your site. Also listed is the percentage of the total traffic each keyword brought in. There will probably be an entry called “other”, “no keyword” or something similar. This represents people that either directly typed your site into their browser or that have bookmarked your site in their Favorites list.

Spend time determining which search terms visitors used to find your site. You may uncover some new keyword combinations that you didn’t think of using. If this is the case, tweak your site or create a new page around this phrase accordingly.

Search Engines: This lists the search engines that visitors used to find your site. Also listed is the percentage of the total traffic each search engine brought to your site. Usually Google is at the top of the list.

Referrals: This lists the websites that brought traffic to your site and what percentage of the total traffic each “referral” site brought in. Over time, you should start seeing referral traffic from websites you've exchanged links with. There will probably be an entry called “direct”, “no referral” or something similar. This represents people that either directly typed your site into their browser or that have bookmarked your site.

Tip: Create a favicon.ico file. A favicon is a small 16 x 16 pixel icon that is displayed when you bookmark a page and add it your Favorites. Place this file in the root directory of your server and you can track how many referrals are coming from people that have bookmarked your site. Favicons are created with special software that creates the correct file format. They are also great for branding purposes. For more information, see http://www.favicon.com/.

Page Views: This represents the most viewed (or popular) pages on your site. This is useful for determining where visitors are spending their time on your site.

Click Path or Visitor Path: This shows the actual path that a visitor took while browsing through your site. This is great for determining what visitors are looking for.

Exit Pages: These represent the last pages that a visitor views before leaving your site. Hopefully it is your sales page and not your home page!

Length of Session: This shows how long visitors spend on each page and on your site in general. Are people leaving your site too fast? Try to find out why.


Monitoring Your Ranking

Although the focus of this book is on how to get top rankings on Google, what you are really after is lots of traffic to your site that you can turn into sales. Google is one way (albeit an important way) of getting traffic. Don’t get too hung up on your rankings - if you are in the top 10, you will do fine. Some people obsess over getting a #1 ranking to the exclusion of all else, when what is really important in the end are conversions and sales. Keep this in mind.

There are two ways to check your ranking on Google for a particular keyword phrase – check it manually by simply counting your position in a search results pages (this works OK if you are in the top 20 or so), or by using software.

The premiere software program for checking ranking is WebPosition. This is a powerful, full-featured tool designed for the professional. It contains several modules, but only one is really recommended for use – the Reporter module.

Some of WebPosition’s features have gotten people in trouble with search engines in the past. Before you use this tool, make sure your read the online manual and understand how it works. For more information, go to http://www.webposition.com.

WebPosition (and other programs like it) should be used during off-peak hours and only when really needed. Google, along with other search engines, have a dislike for the chronic use of such tools as they impact the performance of their servers. Google has been known to block access to their site from computers that carelessly and frequently run such tools.

Google changes their ranking algorithm all the time, and ranking changes you may see on your site are more likely due to algorithm changes and not because of small changes you may have recently made to your pages. With that said, you should wait a few months after initial optimization before changing anything.

Even though your server logs may indicate that GoogleBot visited your site recently, it takes time before Google indexes the information and synchronizes it across all its datacenters, and can months after that for a stable ranking of your pages to stop bouncing around.

If your site is kicked out of the index for a spam penalty it will usually come back after 60 days if the factor(s) that triggered the spam penalty have been removed. To be proactive, send an email to help@google.com after you have cleaned up your website, explaining in detail what you did to fix the issue and promising not to do it again. If you are still having problems after emailing them, give them a call at 650-330-0100.

However, before assuming that Google has penalized your site, make sure your Web host hasn't implemented a process to block search engine spiders from visiting their hosted sites in order to save bandwidth. This has been documented to happen with some of the lower-end hosting companies.

Important: If you have a new site, or an existing site that has been redesigned to the extent that page filenames have changed, your site will likely be placed in the “Google Sandbox”. In this case, it can take 12-18 months to get a decent ranking for your most important keywords, especially for competitive terms.


Monitoring Your PageRank


You can see an approximation of the actual PageRank that Google uses by downloading and installing the Google Toolbar at http://toolbar.google.com.

Some people have turned the monitoring of PageRank (PR) into an obsession. Don’t waste your time being one of them. PR is but a single factor that influences ranking. PR displayed in the Toolbar can also be inaccurate, but it is better than nothing.

The Toolbar PageRank (PR) scale goes from 0 to 10. Bear in mind that there are vast gulfs between ranges at the upper end, due to the logarithmic nature of actual PageRank. Also bear in mind that sometimes the PR value shown for a new page may not be real and is only a guess.


Checking Number of Pages Indexed


If you have a new site or if you have added new pages to your site, check to see if those pages have been added to the Google index. The easiest way to check is to go to http://www.google.com and in the Google Search box, type:
site:www.YourDomain www.YourDomain replacing YourDomain with your domain (such as www.xyz.com).


Checking Number of Incoming Links


Managing an active linking campaign involves seeing who links to you and to your competitors. The most accurate way to see the total number of incoming links to your site is by using Yahoo. Go to http://www.yahoo.com and type the following in the Search the Web box:
linkdomain:www.YourDomain -site:www.YourDomain
replacing YourDomain with your domain (such as www.xyz.com).

Using the link command in Yahoo gives the most accurate number of incoming links today, but it is not 100% accurate.

Don’t use the Google Toolbar to count incoming links for a page, this method is totally inaccurate. This feature is on the Toolbar by clicking Page Info, then by clicking Backward Links.

For an comparison of how many links each major search engine has on record to your site, use MarketLeap’s Link Popularity Check tool at
http://www.marketleap.com/publinkpop/default.htm. MarketLeap also has a great tool for checking the number of pages indexed on the major search engines.


Measuring Sales Conversion and ROI


At the end of the day, what matters are your sales and your bottom line. After all your hard work, are you converting your visitors to customers? Do you know what percentage of visitors turn into customers? Do you know what your return on investment (ROI) is when you have added up your web site development costs, web hosting costs, consultants, books and all other expenses related to driving traffic to your web site? Do you know what that cost per customer is? Few people do.

The subject of sales conversion and ROI (and how to measure and increase them) is complex and is really beyond the scope of this book. Nevertheless, this is an important topic that should be introduced for you to think about. For more information on calculating sales conversion and ROI, as well as improving copywriting, improving website usability, and in general creating a high-performing website, see my other book Desperate Websites at http://www.desperatewebsites.com.

Quite a number of business owners don’t make their money back on their web sites. Commonly this is because they got carried away with the look for their site (We just have to have Flash and all those gorgeous graphics!), bells and whistles on their site (We have to have that interactive, self-updating, daily survey!), or what the site should say (We just have to use those paradigm-speak, marketing buzzwords – that is what our company is all about!). As a result, you have a case of “Corporate Egos Gone Wild”. Well guess what? The customer does not care about any of this. The customer wants to find a solution to their problem, they want to find it fast, at a value, and they don’t want to be patronized.

You need a method to track visitors from beginning to end and “close the loop”. This means tracking a single visitor from which keyword they typed into Google to find your listing, to which page they landed on your site, to the “sales” page where they took an action. The “sales” page can be an actual product purchase page, form or request for information page, or any other page that represents the next desired action you want visitors to take on your site before.

The easiest way to track visitors in this way is to use a service like Conversion Ruler at http://www.conversionruler.com. For a monthly fee, they will set this up for you.
Alternatively, you can also place custom JavaScript code on each page of your site that obtains the referral URL of the page that a visitor came from before landing on your site, and then storing a cookie that tracks the visitor through the site. The code then emails this information to you when a “sale” takes place (product confirmation email, form submission, etc).