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.