Category Archives: Getting Position in Organic Search

tune images for site SEO

SEO for Your Images

We all know that our writing is a lot more interesting if it’s illustrated by images. In addition, an image provides an instant “table of contents” to a blog post. So there are lots of reasons for including images with your site.

However, just including images isn’t all that you can do! You can optimize your images for SEO, so that the image itself will help your search engine positions. No, Google still doesn’t understand images, so it can’t extract the meaning from the image and use it to index your site; but because Google doesn’t understand the image itself, the steps you can take to tell Google about the image are especially important. This post is about some steps you can take so that your images can help your site’s position in search results.


Both human and search engine spider visitors care about performance. No one likes waiting for Web pages to load! A delay of just a second in image loading can cause some visitors to leave your site, and longer delays have worse effects. Akamai published a study on this effect, and although it’s dated (2009), one would expect that the abandonment rates today would be even greater because of the overall expectation of good performance. Here are some of their findings:

  • 47% of visitors expect a page to load in 2 seconds or less
  • 40% of visitors will leave a page if it takes 3 seconds to load

On WordPress, there’s a way to compress your images so that they take up less storage space, and consequently there’s less information to download to display an image. You don’t have to do a huge study of the technology; just choose an image compression plugin such as EWW and it’ll store compressed versions of your images and automatically use the compressed versions for downloads, that will improve load time for the pages of your site.

It’s a good idea to test your site for performance, before and after image compression. Pingdom has one of the best free performance test facilities.

Image File Names

File names are used by search engines as a clue to content, so name your image files with meaningful and descriptive words. When you use multiple words, separate them with hyphens so that search engines can easily find the individual words. Don’t use underscores, because search engines don’t treat underscores as word separators.

Use The Alt Tag

The alt tag was originally intended to help sightless visitors, giving them a way to access a summary of the image. Search engines themselves can’t look at and understand an image, so they use the alt tag the same way. Provide a short description of the image, again with descriptive terms. Five to ten words is a good length.

Include An Image Title

The image title is also used by search engines, although it’s less important than the alt tag. So choose descriptive terms for the title that are relevant for search.

Align Your Text with Images

Your text that’s close to an image on the page should use the same terms that you’ve used in the image name and the alt tag, so that the image and text appear to be related.

Add Image Structured Data

Google Images presently supports structured data for product images, videos and recipes. So today you’ll benefit from using structured data to call out such images. Use of structured data will help your site get displayed as rich results by Google.

Use A Site Map

A site map is an XML file that tells the search engine where all the pages and images of a site are located. A search engine can crawl your site much faster using a site map than they can by following every link on the site–and if they use your site map, they’ll be sure to visit all of the pages and images. They repay the favor you do of providing the site map by indexing your site, and changes you make, more quickly.

There’s quite a bit of information to provide about an image in the site map, including the title, caption, URL and more. If you’re using WordPress, you can save yourself the work of building the site map manually by using an SEO plugin. Yoast SEO is a plugin that will automatically put all your image information into the site map that it maintains automatically.

The Bottom Line

Pay attention to your images! They can help you succeed with search engines. Alternatively, you can use my service and all this work will be done for you.

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What not to do for SEO

What Not To Do for SEO

The work of SEO has changed a lot since I started doing it in 1998.  In those days, the task was to use tricks to portray the content of the site as being more narrowly focused on certain terms than it actually was, in order to rank high on those terms.  Since those days, search engines have become a lot more sophisticated, so the old methods to trick them aren’t as useful anymore.  However, I’m surprised that I still see some of these techniques being used, so it’s useful to lay out methods that you shouldn’t try (anymore) because they’re more likely to give you low rankings in search results than high rankings!

To understand the whole business of SEO, it’s best to think of search engines as businesses.  Their customers are the people who are searching; they want to satisfy those customers so that they’ll come back and search again, so that the search engines can offer them ads to read.  How do they satisfy their customers?  They want their customers to get good results from search!  They want to give high ranking to sites that have lots of up-to-date, in-depth content that’s relevant to the search being conducted.

Keyword Stuffing

The ultimate method for keyword stuffing used to be putting lists of desirable keywords at the bottom of each page, with the text in the same color as the background.  Site visitors couldn’t see it, but the search engines could, and potentially give high ranking because of the presence of these important keywords.  That particular technique was especially easy for search engines to detect and ignore.  Or, having detected this egregious form of keyword stuffing, the search engine might even reduce the site’s ranking below where it would be without any keyword stuffing, on the principle that a deceptive practice is being used, and other, undetected deceptions may also have been used.

You also see lists of keywords at the top of a page or at the bottom of a page.  Understand that this is the oldest trick in the SEO book, one that search engines learned about long ago.  It won’t help, and may actually hurt.

Writing for the Googlebot

The old idea was to settle on a single keyword for a Web page, and use it at the start, again and again through the text, and once more at the end.  In addition, be sure to provide all the variations such as singular and plural, so that the search engines, and Google in particular, will see all the words.

This is not only no longer necessary, but unnecessarily stilted writing for the bots will be detected and may actually hurt your ranking in search results.

Article Directories

About five years ago, article directories were popular for SEO.  The idea was that you’d write articles for directories, including your URL, and the posted article would give you a link from a site with a lot of content.  A lot of people did this, because it worked.  However, these days this technique simply doesn’t work and may even harm your ranking in search results.

The first problem with article directories is duplication.  Google wants to present a searcher with different content in the different sites that it summarizes in search results, so it abhors duplicate content.  This means that placement of the same article in many directories won’t be helpful.  There is “spinning” software available to substitute words in articles so that they look different, but these days Google can detect spinning as well, so even spun articles can get you into trouble.

Another problem with article directories is that they are often repositories of poor quality content.  They’ll have articles that are full of spelling and grammatical errors, that are also easy for Google to detect as poor quality.  Some sites using article directories may hire writers to produce low-cost, “unique” articles, often getting very poor quality results that get posted in article directories.

If you’re writing articles in your field, the best place for them is on your own site!  Start a blog and write for it regularly.  That’ll provide a steady flow of relevant, fresh content, just what Google loves to deliver to their customers, the searchers, those people we want to have as our customers too.  In addition, you can be a guest blogger in other influential sites, and link back to your own site.

Article directories just don’t have a place in your SEO strategy today.  

Article Spinning

Occasionally you’ll see ads for software to spin articles.  They will exclaim that a new level of AI is being used to produce really intelligent spins, new articles from old that don’t look like the old ones at all but read beautifully.

Now you can have it all, they’ll say.  Copy content from authoritative sites, spin it and put it onto your own site–it’ll never be detected as a copy, and you’ll have new, quality content.  Or take your own content spin it and put it on other sites that you build that link to your site.  Now your site will be seen as authoritative!

Don’t believe it.  Computer programs do not write as well as people do–you’re most likely to have just a jumble of barely readable copy.  And given Google’s growing ability to detect spinning, you’re just getting yourself into trouble, either now or down the road.

Stay away from article spinners.  This will save you a lot of time because they are usually considerably more work to set up and get working than the advertising tells you.

Buying Links

Google’s big innovation was to measure the importance of a site by the importance and number of links to it from other sites, and the importance of those sites.  A logical way to be seen as more important, then, is to get links from important sites.

Clever entrepreneurs noticed this also, and launched various schemes for selling links from high-authority sites.  You pay your money, and you get a link to your site.  As you can guess, this directly undermines Google’s most basic method for measuring the importance of a site, so they have been very concerned about link buying for a long time.  They’ve put great effort into detecting sites that sell links, so if you deal with them you’re at risk.

Google is always interested in learning about sites that are selling links.  They don’t tell us, but I’d guess that one of their important methods for detecting link selling is through voluntary reporting.  If I’m offered links for sale, I’ll be sure to check my clients’ competitors’ incoming links for any signs of these purchased links, so that I can report them to Google!  I’m not the only SEO professional who does this, I’m sure.

Don’t buy links!  It’s a waste of your money.

Multiple Redirected URLs 

Yes, we know that Google tends to give a site high ranking on the words that make up the URL.  I’m reading in search engine blogs that this is less important than it once was.  However, in the domain of small business where I work, your site will tend to rank better on the terms in your URL.  Yes, for large businesses brands are important; but for a business that’s too small to build a huge brand, those terms in the domain name are still helpful.

But there’s another practice I still see that’s not helpful:  the purchase of multiple domain names, redirecting them to the principal domain name.  The idea is that Google will be so stupid that you’ll get ranked better on terms in those alternate domain names.  You won’t; all you’ll do is waste the money that you’ve spent on those domain names.  And, similarly, don’t consider building a site full of low-quality content on those domain names and including lots of links to your primary site; that won’t help either.  Instead of building junk sites, build one really good site with a lot of high-quality content.

One domain name is all you need.

The Bottom Line

Instead of trying to trick Google, give them what they want–a steady stream of fresh, quality content that’s relevant to the main topic of your site.  And you may want to get help–like me–to be sure that Google will recognize the good quality content that you’re providing.

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AMP? What is it? Do I have to do it now?

Accelerated Mobile Pages

Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is a Google and Twitter project that’s intended to provide website pages that load fast in mobile devices.  It’s an open source project, intended as a response to various efforts from Apple and Facebook.

What Makes AMP Fast?

AMP pages are HTML pages, but there are certain HTML tags that you aren’t allowed to use.  There’s also a streamlined version of CSS that you need to use.  Finally, JavaScript is not allowed at all.  They provide an off-the-shelf JavaScript library you can use, that supports functions such as lazy loading.

The whole thing is designed around readability and speed.  Images don’t load until they are scrolled into view; that’s provided by the JavaScript library.  And the design is intended to allow pages to be cached, so that Google can host those pages and download it fast to mobile devices.

What About Position in Search Results?

The first use of AMP has been by news providers.  They use it to make news pages that read very fast on mobile devices.  Google has cooperated by showing these early in search results.

Google has told us that the position in search results is determined by the desktop version of the page, not the AMP version.  There is a boost in position in search results for pages that are mobile-friendly, and that applies to AMP pages as well, but there’s no position incentive for AMP.

However, if your site has AMP pages, they may be displayed in Google search results, once AMP is fully implemented.  Since a growing number of searches are now conducted using mobile devices, it’s time that your site offered AMP pages if you’re serious about getting search traffic.

How Do I Implement AMP?

If your site is built with WordPress, you’re in luck.  Download the AMP plugin, and for most sites, the job is done.  If you have a custom site, then you’ll have to custom-build AMP as well.

If you’re not using WordPress, note what’s happening here.  Google supports a new feature that provides their customers better service.  So they tell everyone to implement it–but since so many sites use WordPress, a plugin is provided.  Don’t be surprised to see this scenario play out again with other new developments.

The Bottom Line

Implement AMP now.  And if your site isn’t built on WordPress, it’s time that it was.






Changes to Google’s algorithm! Should you care?

Search Engine Results Position (SERP) Matters

If your Web site brings an important amount of business to you, or if you want it to, then you’re concerned about where you rank in search engine results.  You know that many searchers don’t go beyond page one, and if you’re not even on page two, you’re out of it.  What should you do to your site to get and keep high rankings in search engine results?

Changes in Google’s Algorithm!

You’ve probably seen warnings sent out by newsletters and other services warning that Google has changed their ranking algorithm, and your site may drop in ranking because of it.  Often these warnings are presented in dire terms–act now or else!  What should you do about these warnings?  And what should you do to your site to keep your search engine ranking?

You’ve probably also seen ads and received emails from companies who claim that they can get your site onto page one, guaranteed.  Or who offer some product that will put your site onto page one.  Just send the money, and you’ll be there.

Google is a Business

Why does Google keep changing how they rank sites in their results?  What are their goals in making all these changes?  Do they simply want to inflict pain on small businesses who are trying to promote their offerings?

To understand what Google is doing, consider Google as a business.  They want to provide effective search service, so that the service will be widely used by people who will see the ads that Google gets paid to display.  So Google has a strong interest in providing search results that are relevant to queries that are entered, that take the visitor to a quality site that offers authoritative information on the topics the searcher is looking for.

When I started in Web marketing in 1998, SEO was about how to trick search engines.  Measures that were popular then would get you thrown out of the indexes in a minute today.  As search engines have become more sophisticated, they are better able to determine what a page is about, and to make more measures of quality.  Today, trying to fool search engines is a bad strategy–even if you succeed in fooling them for now, as they get more and more sophisticated, when your deception is discovered your SERPs will suffer.

A Strategy for Search Engine Results

The strategy of fooling search engines treats the search engines as opponents to be manipulated and deceived.  That strategy pits you against these organizations, requiring constant vigilance toward the next step taken in the battle by your opponent.  You have to watch carefully for every change in search engine algorithms!

What are your odds in this competition?  Suppose you’re a small business, working hard to succeed while providing your product or service, with the limited resources that you have.  You’re focused on your customers and their needs, and your own product or service.  You have limited attention to give to search engines.  And limited funds to hire experts.  On the other side of the competition is huge organizations like Google, who hire the brightest Stanford graduates to put all of their considerable talent and lots of other Google resources into the job that’s critical for their company–providing truly relevant search results.  The odds are not in your favor!

On the other hand, instead of trying to compete with an organization that has practically unlimited resources of talent and money, why not make Google your business partner instead?  Instead of trying to fight this behemoth, put them on your side and leverage all that they offer.  Do this by providing high quality content on your site and providing the best possible visitor experience.  Then, as search engines get better and better at measuring the real visitor experience, your SERPs will just improve.  And you won’t worry about every little change in Google algorithms.

Do I Need an SEO Specialist?

If you decide to put Google on your side, do you still need an expert in search engines to help you?  Putting this another way, having given you this advice, should I just close up shop?

Happily for me, there is still room for experts, although their proper role has changed.  The experts should advise you on how to provide a high-quality visitor experience so that it’s recognized by the search engines and given the credit that it deserves.  The search engines aren’t people who give opinions–they’re using software to estimate the quality of visitor experience. Because of the number of pages they have to scan, that software has to be fairly simple.  So there’s still a role for the person who understands how search engines do this, who knows what they value most, who can direct your efforts into the most productive areas.

In addition, there are a variety of technical cues that search engines use to estimate the quality of visitor experience, and your expert consultant can make sure that you’ve provided all these cues, so that you won’t provide a great visitor experience but have the search engines not recognize–and reward you–for what you’ve done.

The Bottom Line

Put Google on your side by putting your visitors first–provide a high quality visitor experience.

Google’s New Requirement–You MUST Be “Mobile-Friendly”

Google and Mobile-Friendly

Google has announced that, starting April 17, they will include whether a site is “mobile-friendly” as a criteria for position in search results.  This means that starting on that date, if they don’t think your site is mobile-friendly, expect your position in search rankings to change.  Significantly.

Why are they doing this?  To meet the demands of their own customers, searchers.  An increasing number of searches are performed from cellphones, and Google wants to deliver search results that these customers can use easily.  In that sense, this change is in your interest as well–your customers, increasingly, use cellphones to search, so you need to have a site that’s easy for them to use from a cellphone.

What is Mobile-Friendly?

Happily, Google doesn’t leave any doubt what they mean by mobile-friendly.  They’ve provided us a test tool that we can use, for free, to see whether a site is mobile-friendly.   Just give the link a click, insert your URL, and Google will tell you–yes or no–and even show you a picture of what your site looks like on a cell phone.

Here’s a sample of the sort of result you can expect, for a test of this site:

Heading cell

How Can I Make My Site Mobile-Friendly?

You don’t want to be out in the cold on April 17, although you can expect Google to phase in the penalty over time–which is to say, if you can’t make it by the 17th, you can avoid the worst of the damage by acting as quickly as you can.

If you’ve used WordPress for your site, you’re in better shape.  If you site uses one of the popular themes, most of them are already mobile-friendly, so when you used the Google’s mobile-friendly tool you received the happy news that your site is already mobile-friendly.  If you have a WordPress site that doesn’t use a mobile-friendly theme, you could add mobile-friendly code to your theme, potentially at some cost and taking some time, or you could have your site changed to use a mobile-friendly theme.  The latter approach is likely to be the best approach for most small businesses.

If you’re using one of the older site generators such as Joomla, you’re not out of luck.  Check with the developers of your tools.  Joomla, in particular, has some plugins that can help you achieve responsive design with a Joomla site.  There’s a free ebook about getting a Joomla site to be responsive.

If you have a static HTML site, or an  HTML site with a lot of code, you’ll need to add code to the site to sense the type of device that’s being used to view it, and adapt the display to the size of the device.  That’s a significant amount of work, and of course you’ll need to be ready to change that code as the devices used evolve over time.  But if you have your own Web programming staff, this may be a practical approach for you.  You might also decide that perhaps it’s time to get away from the HTML approach and join the WordPress bandwagon.  I took that step a while ago with my own site, so I’ll be relaxed on April 17.

The Bottom Line

Become mobile-friendly.  Now.  Or lose much of your Google search traffic.




Google+ Shares Don’t Help Google Search Rankings

Google+ Shares and Search Rankings

There is fairly wide-spread belief in the SEO community, buttressed by a couple of studies that looked at correlation of rank in Google results vs. number of (incoming) Google+ shares, that getting Google+ shares is an important tool you can use to improve your ranking in search results.  Now Eric Engle of Stone Temple Consulting has conducted a high-quality causation study, where shares were introduced and the consequences measured, that shows much more conclusively than before that Google+ shares do not influence search results position.  Eric was motivated to do this study by Matt Cutts of Google, who also claims that, despite the common belief, Google does not use Google+ shares to influence search ranking.

Correlation vs. Causation

Just because two items tend to occur together doesn’t mean that one causes the other.  It’s possible that Google+ shares correlate with higher search engine ranking because people are finding the content interesting and are creating links to it.  So Google+ shares could be correlated with position in search engine results because both are driven by quality content.  A good example of a correlation that doesn’t go with causation is eating ice cream and drowning deaths–both of which tend to happen when it’s hot.

Why Wouldn’t Google Use Their Own Social Network?

An obvious question is why Google would not use their own social network for clues to importance of pages, for ranking in search engine results.  My own opinion is that use of Google+ isn’t yet widespread enough, so that Google+ shares don’t provide enough data.  Which says that we could see this information used in the future, but we do have good information that it’s not used now.

Are Google+ Shares Important?

The study also shows that Google+ shares to appear to increase discovery by Google–that is, if a page isn’t in Google’s index, a Google+ share will put it there.  But we don’t need Google+ for this–any good SEO effort regularly makes new Google site maps and informs Google of them, so that indexing of new and changed pages takes place.  This can be done automatically and doesn’t even need someone to manually establish a Google+ share.

The Bottom Line

Shares on Google+ should not be the main focus of your Web marketing effort at this time.  Given that Google is Google, expect that time to come, but don’t worry about it today.

What Google Says is Coming from Google for SEO

What’s Coming from Google

Google’s Matt Cutts made a video for Webmasters, talking about forthcoming changes from Google.  Of course, it’s less than totally specific, as usual.  Here I provide a summary of it and an assessment of what it means to Webmasters.

Google’s Direction, According to Matt

He points out what Google is working on tends to change–but their goal is that what Webmasters are working on to do well with Google should not be changing.  You should be striving to have a great site with interesting content that visitors like and want to share,and want to come back to.  Google’s goal is to give such sites high position in search, to support you if that’s what you are trying to do.

Penguin 2.0

Matt says that an update to the Penguin changes is coming that will make Google better at detecting various times of web-spamming techniques.  They are particularly concerned with link quality.  Matt points out that if you pay to be mentioned on a site, then that site should not flow pagerank to you.  They are concerned that there be a clear demarcation between what’s paid for and what’s an editorial comment.  What’s coming is more sophisticated analysis of links to separate what are “genuine” links from spam links.

There is also an effort at Google to do a better job of identifying high-quality sites by developing their ability to detect real authority in sites.  This should help small to medium-scale sites that have good authority on a subject.


Panda has penalized a number of sites that Google’s algorithms categorized as poor quality, including some that their Webmasters did not think were poor quality. Matt says that they are rolling out additional signals of quality that they can use to avoid penalizing some of these sites.  In addition, they are sensitive to complaints that in a page after the first, if you’ve seen a domain on the first page, you can see that domain show up again and again on later pages.  They are working to not show the same domain again and again on subsequent pages.  In another video Matt points out a complaint from a blind Web searcher about being presented many results from a single domain, that brings home the importance of this issue.

The Bottom Line

You’ve heard this message from me before.  It’s even more valid now.  Provide good quality, interesting content on your site.  Understand how Google likes to find cues to content and to quality, and give them what they want, as you would deal with any business partner.  Then they will give you what you want from them.  If you try to trick them you may get away with it for a while–but their resources, compared to yours, are unlimited and this is their main concern.  Do you think you can beat them?  It’s not a fair fight, if you make it into a fight.

Writing for Search Engines

Writing for Search Engines

The good news is that to rank well in search engines you don’t have to write in an odd way. You do not face the question of whether to write for search engines or people; you can (and should) do both! In this issue I describe just how to go about it.

Write for People

The first goal is to have content that’s of interest to your prospects who visit your site. Think hard about how to appeal to them. It’s good for each page of your site to be focused on a single topic, and to have at least 250 words on the page. If you’re focused on a single topic, it’s easier to give Google a lot of cues about what that topic is, and it’s also easier for Google to realize that, hey, this page is super-about this topic, so it needs to rank high in search results.

…But Let Google Know

There are particular ways we can let Google know what the topic is, and it’s important to do so. First, be sure to have that topic in the page title–at the start of the title. Don’t start with the name of your company,start with the topic. Make sure the topic appears in the URL to reach the page. Be sure it’s also in the meta description. Because search engines often show the meta description in search results, this could cause the topic to be shown to searchers who have been searching for just that topic. Be sure the topic is mentioned in the file name and alt tags of any images on the page. And, finally, include it in the body of the text and the headings.

Keyword Density

Just how should the topic appear in the text? First, choose a central topic term, and a few related terms. Be sure that the central term (which may be a phrase) appears in the first and last paragraph, and then in most other paragraphs. In addition, use a few of the related terms as well. Google knows about related terms.


Finally, you should have a heading a the top of the page that has an H1 tag, and subheadings on other paragraphs with H2 tags. These tags are important, because Google knows that they’re headings–indications of what the content is about.

The Bottom Line

It’s possible to write so that you persuade human readers and still be sure that Google knows what your content is about. It’s important to do both.

Submitting Your Site to Directories

Directory Submission

As you know, Google performs most of the Internet searches in the world.  However, even after the large number that Google does, there are many that don’t use Google.  And some of these use various directories of all sort that proliferate on the Internet.  None of them deserves much attention, but it can be worth a few moments of your time to submit your site to a large number of them at once.  Especially for free.

WebHead’s SubmitterBot

The good folks at WebHead Tools have a number of free Web marketing tools.  My favorite is their directory submission tool, called SubmitterBot.  You give it the basic information about your site, just a few categories, a description (which it will try to get by itself from your site) and a few keywords, and it will do the rest.  They will presently submit your site to 505 directories, so providing the basic information to them one time and having them hand it to all these directories is a great time-saver.


Is this the magic bullet that will bring thousands of visitors to your site and make you rich overnight?  No, it’s not.  But in my opinion it’s worth doing one time as part of your Web marketing campaign.

The Bottom Line

Just do it!

How is the Web Remaking YOUR Industry?

Change or Be Left Behind!

The Web is bringing fundamental change to how many businesses operate.  If you have a small business, you need to understand those changes and how they will impact you–and leverage them to build your business.  Here are some of these changes and their impacts. 

Retail Sales

In the past year, Macy’s on-line sales rose 41%, to account for most of the store’s growth year to year.  Nordstrom had year-to-year growth of 7.1% for their stores, but 37% growth in their on-line sales.  These companies realize what’s happening and they are staking out their territory.  On the other hand, J.C. Penney’s on-line sales declined by 32%.  The company’s explanation?  That people on-line shop for price and delivery, and “that makes it hard.”

Inbound vs. Interruption Marketing

With traditional marketing, we pay to interrupt something our prospect wants to do with our message.  They are reading the paper and we put our message alongside the news copy.  Or they are watching TV and we pay to interrupt the program they want to watch with our commercial.  All the while, we hope they will pay attention to this totally unsolicited message that may not be of any interest to them.

On the Internet, we work so that our site will be found by prospects who are looking for what we offer.  We organize our sites so that they provide these people with the information they need in order to engage with us.  We are not interrupting them, and we are not printing hundreds of thousands of copies of our information and hoping that a real prospect will see it.  That’s why this approach is called “inbound” marketing.

On the Internet, if we rely on old-fashioned outbound techniques, we may miss the real prospect who is actually looking for what we have to offer!  We have to find ways to ensure that this person will find us.


Remember when every block in the city had at least one travel agent?  And you went to one to buy your airline tickets?  Most of them are gone now, with only a few who serve specialized niches remaining.  The airlines realized they could make flight information available directly to their customers; this process is called disintermediation, and it’s happening everywhere. 

How can you deal with this?  Expedia realized that they could consolidate flight information from many airlines so that flyers wouldn’t have to visit multiple sites, and they’ve built a thriving business.  They did it by looking at the trends and adding value, not by bucking the trend. 

Remember, in your business, if prospects don’t find you while they are doing their own research, they’ll never come to your store or read your ads because they’ll make up their minds without your input.

Print Advertising

We’re all sympathetic with the newspapers that we love and the financial problems they face.  But the trends are clear.  Their circulation is declining and the cost of print advertising in newspapers and other periodicals keeps increasing.  Paying for millions of pieces of paper and then paying to put ink on the paper and then paying to distribute that paper to people who mostly won’t read your ad costs a lot more than preparing your Web site to be found by prospects who want what you have.

If you have relied on print advertising for years, you’ll need to continue it, but at the same time increase your Web presence and the use of social media that are appropriate for your business.

The Bottom Line

It’s time–now–to make the change from interruption to inbound marketing!  Use the Web and social networks to get your message in front of prospects who are interested.  Begin your transition away from interruption advertising.

Google on Reviews

Google Cracks Down on Spam Reviews

Google has announced that they have made “improvements” to their spam detection for local Google+ pages.  As they say, they are determined to provide reviews that are :useful, honest and written by real people!”  Google has established review guidelines, summarized here, that, if you follow them, can prevent your reviews from being removed from Google+.

What Not to Do

Google doesn’t allow you to give customers free gifts or discounts in return for reviewing you–they want reviews to be uncompensated opinions.  They tell you not to set up a tablet or PC in your business for customers to use for reviews–they want reviews to be done on the customer’s own time in their own location.  They also advise you to be wary of any third-party service that offers to get negative reviews removed from Google+–they say that they won’t remove reviews because they are negative, and encourage you to engage with the reviewer.

What To Do

With all these cautions, is there anything you can do to help get reviews?  Yes, there is.  Google says it’s perfectly OK with them if you ask customers to write reviews.  It is also OK even to provide them a link to click so that the review just takes a click and a little writing.  As long as there’s no quid pro quo for the review!  You could even put a link into a routine email such as a newsletter or a thank-you email that you send out.

The Bottom Line

This notice deals just with Google Places.  But it illustrates the direction of the industry.  It’s wise, right now, to be asking your customers for reviews, and to avoid anything that might call the objectivity of reviews on Google+ or anywhere else into question.

The 3S Approach for Web Content

Succeeding with Content

There are many slogans for how to produce content.  None of them is the ultimate answer, but on the other hand each has something to offer and learn from.  So here I offer Skyword’s 3S approach:  searchable, snackable and shareable. 


Content must capture the motivating issues for prospects–the pleasure and pain points–but, importantly, it must be described in terms that use currently popular search terms.  Google does over 1 billion searches per month, so it’s essential for business success to be found in those searches.

The best way to find out the most relevant words to use in your content is to do a couple of Google searches and observe the prompts that appear below the terms you enter into the search box.  For example, for “Maryland crab” the terms are “Maryland crab restaurant,” ” Maryland crab soup,” and “Maryland crab cake recipe.” For position in search engine results, including all these terms in your article would be a good idea.  If they’re relevant, of course!


We’re all busy and don’t have the time we’d like for in-depth research.  We’re hungry for information that we can consume quickly.  The quantity of information may leave us hungry for more–which brings us back.  Today, people see an average of 3,000 brand impressions, and the average attention span of an adult on-line is just 8 seconds.  So our content indeed has to be in bite-sized pieces.

A good way to put your content into bite-size pieces is to be sure your paragraphs are wider than they are high–think about the golden ratio which essentially says that a rectangle has more pleasant appearance if its short side is about 2/3 as long as its long side.  Paragraphs with this proportion are more pleasing in appearance and more likely to be read.

Be sure to put subheadings throughout your text.  Keep in mind that busy people will be skimming your Web pages–so give them lots of markers to help find information that’s of interest to them.  Good news for all of us is that Google also likes subheadings, and uses them as cues to the meaning of the text that’s under a heading.


Conversations across social channels cause buzz around products and services, that brings visitors to Web sites.  So our content needs to be compelling enough that it’ll be shared.  Facebook carries 2.7 billion LIKEs and COMMENTs every day; it’s important to be part of that.

Of course, be sure to provide plenty of sharing buttons, on each page of your site and on your newsletter, too.  Those shares introduce you to new people, which is great for business.  They can also lead to additional quality incoming links, which Google uses to gauge the importance of your site, and where it should rank you in its results.  Good all around.

The Bottom Line

Think about the 3S approach when you’re writing or reviewing content.

Where to Invest: SEO or Pay Per CLick?


Search engine optimization comprises all of the things that get your site a high ranking in what’s called organic search–the results that Google shows on the left side of the screen, below the couple of listings at the top that may be ads.  Pay per click is the small listings that appear on the right side of the search engine results and a couple at the top of the page.  They are paid-for ads, that you pay for if someone clicks on your ad.  In this issue I provide my advice on the proper role of both.


Google’s PPC, called AdWords, starts displaying your ad as soon as you set up the campaign, choose the terms you want to trigger display of your ads and give them a credit card number.  You pay every time someone clicks on your ad to visit your site.  The good news is that you’re paying per visitor–it’s not like advertising in the newspaper, where you pay whether someone is interested in your ad or not.  And, of course, the quick display of your ad as soon as you’ve made a payment arrangement is also good news.  What’s not such good news is that it’s possible for PPC charges to mount up fast, and a campaign that’s not well run can be very expensive.

Noted in Passing

Just a note–one thing you can do with PPC that you can’t do well with organic search is to advertise on your competitor’s name!  Google will let you advertise on your competitor’s trade name.  You shouldn’t pretend you’re them–but you can show an ad saying “Compare Smith to Jones” and take them to a page of comparison when they click the ad.  Or you can be even more aggressive and say “Smith is better than Jones, see why” and take them to a comparison page.


A search engine optimization campaign takes time and has a lot of ingredients.  The most important issue today is site content, so attention is given to what you’re saying on your site, and keeping that fresh.  In addition, there are technical aspects to your site, particularly meta tags, that Google uses to find out about content.  They need to be set up to make things eager for Google.  And it’s important to get links from other sites.  There are several ways to do this, but it’s essential that at least one of them be pursued.  The good news is that there’s no cost per click.  The less good news is that it’s real work to conduct an SEO campaign, and if you’re hiring someone to do it it costs real money.

How They Fit Together

The approach I recommend is to use both approaches.  Start PPC right away–that gets you ads on Google and traffic to the site–but with a small spend.  Measure the traffic that your ads bring, and find out which terms bring you quality traffic.  Once you know which terms bring traffic that’s good for your business goals, then you can increase the spend, and you also know which terms to emphasize in your SEO campaign.  But don’t spend a lot–the goal here is not site visitors, but business.  It’s easy to spend a lot on traffic that doesn’t do any business.

The Bottom Line

Which to use?  Start both campaigns at once, but use PPC at first, along with site measurements, to find out which query terms work for you.  Then use them in your full-throated PPC and SEO campaigns.

How to Be Banned by Google

Banned by Google!

Being removed from Google’s index is one of the worst things that can happen to a business.  Especially if you’re dependent on search traffic as a major source of business, when Google suddenly stops showing your site in search results–anywhere–that part of your business just disappears.  Google has published Webmaster Guidelines that are good to read and follow so that you can avoid this disaster.  Here I summarize some of the major mistakes that Web site owners make.

Link Hanky-Panky

Be sure that incoming links come from legitimate sites that have some relevance in topic to your site.  A good test for relevance is the question “Is this site useful to my visitors?”  There’s a famous story about an article in the New York Times that JC Penney had links to its site from sites on all sorts of topics–with JC Penney’s site ranking high in Google.  There was a subsequent action by Google to remove them from the Google index.  In about three months JC Penney regained their rankings.

Buy Incoming Links

Google is pretty clear that they regard the purchase of incoming links to be deceptive, that they will seek to detect it, and they will penalize those who do it.  So the purchase of incoming links, and paying people to buy links, is a very bad idea.  Remember that this issue is important to Google, and they have the best brains in the industry.  So don’t count on not getting caught!


Cloaking is the presentation of one selection of content to search engines and another to human visitors.  The idea is to present the search engine content that will cause it to rank the page high on certain terms, but not show that artificial content to human visitors.  There is a continuing stream of cloaking products that are promoted, each claiming to work and not get penalized.  Evaluate the odds of continuing success with such a technique, even if it works today.  How many programmers does the company selling the cloaking tool have?  And how many does Google have, how talented are they, and how important is this to Google?

Sell Links

Google’s Webmaster Guidelines state that selling links that pass pagerank is regarded as hurting the quality of Google’s search result.  There is a way to buy or sell links if you want to get traffic through the link, but not fool the search engine:  use rel=”nofollow” so that pagerank is not passed.  Of course, this means that no benefit in search engine results is passed by this link.

The Bottom Line

This is not an issue of morality–there’s nothing inherently evil or immoral about these techniques.  The problem is simply that our very important business partner, Google, has told us that they view these techniques as not helpful to their business interest.  So be smart, don’t put yourself in Google’s way!

What’s Your Business Relationship with Google?

A Business Relationship with Google?

Last week I had an interesting conversation with a potential client.  They had been pitched by someone doing search engine optimization who had described Google as a huge, very powerful company that would be indifferent to doing harm to their business.  He said that he could “trick” Google and get high position in search engine results.  This would be fine as long as he didn’t get caught.  This got me thinking about the relationship between a business that depends on Google for search engine traffic and the search engine giant themselves.

Like It or Not, You’re a Business Partner with Google

A good way to look at the relationship is as a business partnership.  No money changes hands; but both sides seek certain benefits from the relationship.  The relationship can succeed for a long time, without controversy or difficulty, if each side recognizes what the other side wants, and seeks to provide it.  Then the relationship can be a “win-win” with both sides benefiting.

What Does Google Want?

Google is a business.  They want to deliver search results that are relevant to queries that searchers enter, so that searchers will make use of their service again and see the advertising that brings Google its revenue.  What they don’t want is for several listings of their results to take the searcher to the same information, or for some of their listings to take the searcher to sites that are not relevant to the query.  Another way to look at it is this:  if your site is highly relevant to some query terms, and Google can discover that relevance, then they want to give you a high position in search results for those query terms.

The Partnership

So here’s how the partnership works.  Google wants sites that are relevant to queries, so that they can discover that relevance.  They don’t want to be fooled.  You want a high position in search engine results.  So your part of the partnership is to be sure that your site has high-quality, interesting content that’s relevant to topics of interest to searchers.  And you should be aware how Google makes these decisions (actually that’s where I come in!), and be sure your site is structured so that Google can discern this relevance.  Then Google will happily carry out their part of the partnership, which is to give you a high position in relevant search results.

The Alternative

But, you might say, getting high position in organic results can take months or longer.  If there’s a trick that works and can get me a good position faster, why not use it?  What’s the harm?  The harm comes if Google discovers your “tricks” and penalizes you for them.  A severe penalty, that I’ve seen, is to simply remove you site from their index.  Searchers won’t find you listed for any terms.  And they can take their time relisting you.  Think about the revenue loss if you’re simply taken out of Google and stay out for a month or two.  And then have to rebuild your traffic from zero.

What’s the chance that Google will catch you?  Remember that providing relevant search results is Google’s main business–so they put a lot of resources into catching tricksters.  And remember, too, that they hire all of the Stanford PhDs that they want to apply to these problems!  If you want to try to trick hoards of Stanford PhDs with your Web site, and you think they’ll never catch you, good luck!  I’d prefer to give them what they want, so that these hoards of the brightest people in our business are working to put my sites and my clients’ sites at the top of their listings.

The Bottom Line

Provide useful, interesting content, in the form that Google wants to see it.  That’s the way to make your Web marketing campaign a success with Google–and with other search engines, too.

Don’t Do This Either

Don’t do this Either

There are some shortcuts to achieving high search engine ranking. These are all methods to make your site appear to have content that’s different from what’s actually on the site. If you follow the approach of the previous newsletter, you won’t even consider any of these tactics. And if someone suggests you try them, don’t let that person anywhere near your site! The search engines either have discovered these methods are they are learning about them.

The Basics

A previous issue explained what search engines are trying to do–to show relevant results in response to a query. If you missed that issue, click here to read it.

There was a time when the search engines were not very sophisticated about identifying techniques for fooling them about content. There were a number of simple and not so simple methods that, when employed, would get you top ranking in the search engines.

Today many of these techniques are well known. However, I still have clients who are taken by people who promise quick results with the search engines–and they deliver! But when the “spamming” is detected, then the site may even be deleted from the search engine index, and receive no traffic for some time! If your business is dependent on the Internet for much of its volume, such a problem can have tragic consequences.

In this issue I list a number of techniques to watch for. But as you evaluate people who offer to help with search engine position, keep in mind that it takes time for the search engines to decide that your site is important and give it high rank. Anyone who promises quick results, or promises a quick specific position, is probably not honest and should be avoided.

Here are some of the more popular techniques:

Keyword Stuffing

Keyword stuffing takes many forms. An early form of it was text in the same color as the background of the page, so that a human reader wouldn’t see it but the search engine would. The page would be “stuffed” with repetions of the most important search terms. Needless to say this wasn’t very hard for the search engines to discover and check for. One of my clients lost most of their traffic for about six months because a “friend” told them about this technique and implemented it–for free–as a favor!

More subtle keyword stuffing would be the overuse of a popular term in the text of a page of the site. Today, search engines do more than count how many times one term appears; they also want other, related terms to appear, and they don’t want the important term to appear more than about a half dozen or so times per page–depending, of course, on the length of the page. The guideline to use is how many times you would use the word in writng for another person, if you wanted to emphasize that word. Don’t do more than that.

Images on your site can have what are called “alt tags” that are displayed when the visitor’s mouse hovers over the image. Don’t stuff the alt tags with keywords. If the image portrays a subject that contains the important term, then use it; but don’t make all of the alt tags the same, and don’t stuff them with keywords.

Most of the quick dirty tricks that are used are one or another form of keyword stuffing. It’s called “stuffing” because extra occurrences of keywords are used, in excess of what you would use to write for another human being. Make sure that you never never never allow anyone to use keyword stuffing of any kind on your site.

Separate Content for Spiders and People

Doorway pages and cloaking are used to provide one set of content to spiders and another to human readers. Technically they use different methods, but the effect is the same: great risk for your site.

Yes, there may be some sneaky way to use these techniques that might give you a good ranking for a short time. You might even try it and find that you get results–for while.

Again, what this does is put you in a position opposing what the search engines have as their basic objective–delivering pages that are genuinely related to search terms the visitor has entered. So remember how many smart people are working for Google, remember that many of them are trying to defeat these “content swapping” measures, and don’t try to compete with them on this issue that’s very important to them. You won’t win.

Duplicate Sites, Duplicate Content

Recall, again, what the search engines are trying to deliver to their customers–and it’ll be obvious to you why you don’t want to have duplicate sites! They don’t want to have the content listed twice in their results, so that someone clicking on a series of listinges sees the same thing again and again.

It’s perfectly OK to have a second site. Think of the many businesses that will have more than one store, stores with different brands and different merchandise for differeng clientele. But make sure that the second site is really different and is not just a mirror of the first site. Make it really different.

And be sure that the material you put on your own site is original. Don’t fall into that same trap by copying material from another site. It’s not going to help you.

The Bottom Line

Keep in mind what the search engines are trying to do–show their visitors relevant content–and help them do that with your site. Stay far away from anyone who recommends a short-cut. There are short-cuts, but they are very dangerous. Don’t even think about using them!

What Not to Do

How to Have Google Trouble: An Example

If you’re a regular reader of this publication, you know that the approach I advocate for ranking high in search results is to work with search engines, not against them. They want to deliver a list of relevant results, and working with them means understanding how they gauge relevance and giving them a site that’s truly relevant that they will judge to be relevant. I believe there’s real danger in attempting to fool the people at Google, who keep hiring the best Stanford computer science grad students to help them identify sites that are trying to fool their search engine. The odds I want for my clients is to be working with all those bright people, not trying to fool them!
OK, that’s the general argument. You might buy that, but still wonder, just what do I mean? How does this fine idea translate into action? I subscribe to a lot of free and paid publications about Web marketing, and recently got a solicitation for some search engine optimization software that promises to rocket your site to first place on Google. So I checked it out, and in my opinion it’s the perfect example of what not to do!

Rank Builder

The software I’m talking about is a commercial product called Rank Builder. It offers a number of features, all of them intended to fool search engines into concluding that your site is important to get higher position in search engine rankings.
Here’s one example. There are lots of social networking sites of all sorts where you can create a profile of yourself and then offer comments on various topics, Web sites in particular. One of the functions that Rank Builder will do for you is automatically create hundreds of fake profiles, so it can then post entries that include links to your site. This has the effect of getting your site links from all of these different forums, to give Google the impression that your site is of great importance.
The people who run these social networking sites are not likely to appreciate these automated profiles, created just to push the search engine ranking of some site. You’ll see these profiles deleted and other actions taken. Google, too, is not likely to appreciate this approach, since it distorts their measurement of importance of a site and hurts the quality of product they deliver. Remember they, too, hear about this product, and certainly by now someone at Google has licensed the product and is working with it. So if this product becomes very popular, you could see a countermeasure from Google, and use of this product could cause your position in search results to get worse–or disappear–instead of improving.

The Bottom Line

Search engines are businesses. They want to deliver relevant searches to their customers, who are searchers, so that they will return again and again to see the ads that are paid for. To succeed with search engines, work with them, giving your site quality content, focused on a major topic.

Meta Tags


Your Web pages have HTML tags that tell the browser how to display the page. Many of these tags control things like color, size and emphasis of text. A few of them, though, don’t display directly, but are cues to programs that process the page about its content.

Search engines use these meta tags in their effort to discern the meaning of your pages. This issue deals with meta tags, and how they can be used to your advantage. Setting meta tags is the business of your Webmaster, but it’s useful for you to understand what’s good to do and what’s not good to do.

Title Tag

The most important tag for search result position is the title tag. It’s displayed in the extreme upper left-hand corner of the page. Site visitors may or may not notice it, but the search engines absolutely do, including Google. Choose an important term that’s central to the narrative on the page, and make that the first word of the title tag. Then, if you can work that term into the title tag again, that’s a good idea.
You’ll see that many sites waste the value of the title tag by using it for their domain name. You’ll already get a very high ranking for your domain name. As an example, if your page is about canvas shoes, then a title tag of “Canvas Shoes:–The Finest Canvas Shoes” is a way to work the term into the title tag twice.
Note that this needs to be a term that’s central to the narrative that’s on the page.

Description Tag

There’s also a description meta tag. This provides a summary of the page, that may be used for the summary that the search engine presents to a searcher. Here it’s good to have a summary of the content of the page, again using that important search term that you used in the title.
Each important page on your site should have a unique description tag, so that the search engines are given cues to the differences in content between your pages. Google will notice if your descriptions are all the same, and then your descriptions will be given less weight as indicating content of the page.

Keyword Tag

The final meta tag of interest is the keyword tag. This provides a list of important keywords that describe the page. The most common mistake here is to list every word that’s possible relevant to the topic of the site. Don’t do that; instead, list just three or four important terms that appear in the narrative on the page.

The Bottom Line

Meta tags are another tool you can use to help your site get good position in search engine results. The approach to use is based on understanding how search engines use meta tags to assess the meaning of each page, and helping them find the actual topic of the page.

Unnatural Links

Huh? Unnatural Links?

There have been some recent changes to Google’s ranking methods, that have resulted in big changes for some Websites. Some with page one rankings have nearly disappeared from search engine rankings. This can be devastating to a business that depends on Google for leads, so it’s a matter of concern. These changes are said to involve “unnatural links”. What in the world does that mean, and what should you do about it?

How Google Decides Site Importance

Google’s big innovation is its method of deciding which Web sites are authoritative on a given subject, and deserve to be at the top of their list of search results. They decided that a site with lots of other sites linking to it is likely to be more important than a site with no other sites linking to it. And if those links have words dealing with the key topic of the site, then it must be even more important.
So how can you become important in Google’s ideas for the topic of most interest in your site? Have important things to say on your site so that other sites link to yours. In other words, become important and be recognized on the Web as important, and then Google will recognize you too.

Gaming Google

But that’s the hard way. Surely there’s a way for me to get to page one without all this work, isn’t there, site owners asked? So the people who game Google for a living found ways to get links other than from site authors who believed that the other site had important content. Such as paying sites to link to them, for example.
As a search engine, Google wants to provide its customers a list of sites that are actually relevant to the query that’s been entered, sites that are actually authoritative. Not the sites that have gamed their links the best. The big innovation that Google brought to search.

Google’s Response

Google’s latest changes involve detecting links that have been “arranged” rather than placed because of interesting content. For quite some time they’ve been after purchased links, and a lot of sites that have purchased links have been penalized for that behavior. But now Google’s new method look at such things as a site suddenly acquiring a large number of relevant links. That won’t happen if they are “natural”, but if they are “arranged,” then that’s possible. So the latest thrust is toward links that are apparently “arranged”..

The Bottom Line

Be careful about acquiring incoming links from sites that aren’t relevant to yours. Also be careful about creating any patterns in your incoming links that might cause Google’s computer programs to decide that you are “arranging” links. Usually I don’t make this recommendation, but given the rate of change in this area, you’re better off to leave the link-seeking to someone who spends time tracking exactly what Google does and doesn’t like.

New Google Search Algorithm

New Google Search Algorithm

Google has announced that they have introduced a new search algorithm within the past week. That’s not news; but what is news is that they estimate that his algorithm changes impacts nearly 12% of the sites they index! If your site is in that 12% and you move down a page or two in their rankings, the consequences could be dire for your business. What’s the best way to deal with this and other changes that we might see from Google in the future?

The Change

Google says that this change is intended to respond to complaints that they receive about the quantity of “webspam” that’s included in Google search results. “Webspam” refers to low-quality sites that are designed to appear important to search engines by incorporating large amounts of low-quality content. Examples of such sites are the sites that are used for articles that are used only for Web site promotion, and other sites that might link to them or receive links from them.
Google’s goal is to satisfy their customers so that they’ll continue to use the search engine, increasing the value of the various kinds of advertising that Google conveys to make its money. They satisfy their customers by presenting them with search results that don’t duplicate each other, that contain relevant content that’s of value to Google’s customers. An earlier newsletter in this series talks about this at greater length.
The best way to deal with this change, and with other changes that Google can be expected to make as they seek to satisfy their customers, is to help Google help their customers by insuring that your site has a significant quantity of relevant information about your company, its services and products. Yes, it does make sense to understand how Google determines what is relevant so that you can give them just what they’re looking for; but the point is to work with them, not try to fool them. If you deliver relevant content that’s of high quality, then as Google gets better and better at separating good content from spam, you’ll do better and better in search engine position.

The Bottom Line

Understand that Google wants to deliver a high-quality experience to searchers, who are their customers. With your own site, help them do their job, by providing lots of content of high quality, well tagged and organized. If you work with Google instead of against them, you will have little to fear from future algorithm changes.

Importance of Search Engine Results Position

Page One of Google: Important?

We give a lot of attention to position in search engine results. When a searcher enters a query and Google tells them of the thousands of results found, how far into that list do they typically go looking for a site to visit? Is it just the first page? Or do they typically go through several pages searching for the desired result? There is a recent quality study by Optify based on a lot of data that gives answers to some of these questions, and tells us how much importance we should give to position in search engine results.

The Study

The study used 250 randomly chosen sites and 10,000 keywords. Using their software to gather data, they were able to identify the average clickthrough ratios for URLs that appeared at various positions in Google organic (free) search results. This chart, from the study, shows that position #1 has a CTR exceeding 35%, while position #2 is only 12%. In fact, being shown in position #1, on the average, will give your site more visitors than are received by the sites in positions #2 and #3 combined.

Organic Position and Clickthrough Rate

There’s a small drop between #10 and #11, because that’s the end of page one. It’s easy to see from the chart that appearing on page 2 is not nearly as good as appearing on page 1. The authors of the study provided another graph that highlights the advantage of appearing on page 1:

Organic Clickthrough Rate and Conversion

This chart dramatically illustrates the importance of appearing on page 1. The average page 1 entry has a CTR of 8.9%, while the average page 2 entry has a CTR of 1.5%. Page 1 on the average gives CTRs that are nearly 4 times as high as page 2.
In my experience, it’s often difficult for small businesses to hold the #1 spot on Google results (depending on lots of factors), but it’s useful for them to make the effort to appear on page 1, and this is a practical goal for small businesses, over time.

The Bottom Line

Your position in search engine results has huge impact on the effectiveness of your Web marketing efforts. There’s a lot more to do turning visitors into customers, but you need good position in search engine results to bring them to the site in the first place. Make the investment in time and money to get onto page 1.

Build a Content Network

Build Your Own Content Network

I tell you that “content is king” in Internet marketing. So now you have a site that’s rich in content. The pages have been carefully written around keyword density and the meta tags have been tuned by an expert. You’ve added a lot of new content to your site, and you continue to add and freshen content on a regular basis. As Judy Collins might say, “Is that all there is?”

There’s more! Since Google assesses the authoritativeness of your site based on incoming links from other sites, and their own authoritativeness, you can build a network of sites containing relevant content and set them up to link to your main site. Now, completely under your control, you have highly relevant sites linking to your site! This Newsletter tells you how to do it.

Network Map

This diagram shows a typical content network of eight sites supporting a main site. The “main site” is what you use now for your business. The other sites are constructed to support it; of course, they are each attractively designed sites that are coherent to read on their own. Most important, every one of these sites has original content–there’s no duplication. If there’s duplication, then Google has to decide which site to show to their users, and the other isn’t taken seriously.

Content Network Diagram

The supporting sites link to one another in an irregular pattern, providing a natural appearance. They all link to the main site, since the purpose of the content network is to give added authority to the main site. The supporting sites also link to one another in many cases. Many of these links can be embedded within text and be presented in a very natural way.

It’s appropriate to include a page of reciprocal links on each of these sites, and to conduct a linking campaign to seek reciprocal links with independent sites. That campaign can increase the authority of the supporting sites, further helping the authority of the main site.

Step by Step

Here’s a stepwise guide on how to build a content network. First, you should cover all the basics of getting your site well-positioned for good search engine ranking as laid out on my site. Step one of that method also provides the ingredients that you need for step one of this approach.
1. Understand the query terms that real searchers on the Internet are using to search for information in your discipline. This should be based on collections of real queries that are available, rather than on your own suppositions, because you may be subject to the “inside-outside” problem.
2. Group these terms into topics, and write collections of essays around these topics. Have the essays edited by Web content specialists for properties such as keyword density so that they can be Web pages that will help in marketing. Be careful to avoid duplicate content in your collections of essays.
3. Build Web sites with the collections of essays, each site dealing with a topic. Link these sites together using links within the text to form a content network like the one diagrammed above. The good news is that these sites don’t have to be elaborate designs and can be constructed using tools that simplify site construction. You don’t need professional design for these sites.
4. Conduct a reciprocal linking campaign for each of the sites in the content network, to improve its authoritativeness, that will further help the authoritativeness of the main site.
5. Keep the content of all the sites fresh by adding new content from time to time.

The Bottom Line

A content network can improve your search engine results. Be aware that it’s a significant effort and it’s very important to avoid shortcuts such as duplicate content or it can easily be of no benefit or even negative benefit.

Ranking Well in Google Results–from Google

Ranking Well in Google Results

Google recently changed their ranking algorithm, and a lot of sites changed ranking in search engine results. Some moved upward, some downward, even disastrously so. In response to many questions, Google recently posted on their official Webmaster blog their own guidance about what we need to do to obtain high ranking in Google search results. They didn’t tell us their algorithm changes–so that we can’t game them–but they did tell us what they seek to measure, so that we can establish goals for our own sites and follow them to give our positions in their results some degree of immunity from future algorithm changes. So this guidance, plus some understanding of how Google can make their measurements, can give us important direction.

What They Said

Usually I don’t put direct quotations in these Newsletters, and I don’t include this much material. But I think that this particular information is so important that you should see how it was presented by the source themselves, so this is all a direct quotation from the Google blog that’s cited above:

  • Would you trust the information presented in this article?
  • Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
  • Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
  • Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
  • Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
  • Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
  • Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
  • Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
  • How much quality control is done on content?
  • Does the article describe both sides of a story?
  • Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
  • Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
  • Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
  • For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?
  • Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
  • Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
  • Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
  • Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
  • Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
  • Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
  • Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
  • Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?
  • Would users complain when they see pages from this site?

The Bottom Line

The blog entry really presents the bottom line effectively, which is of course to follow these guidelines and don’t expect this or that trick to help you over the long run. Here’s what they said, exactly:
We’re continuing to work on additional algorithmic iterations to help webmasters operating high-quality sites get more traffic from search. As you continue to improve your sites, rather than focusing on one particular algorithmic tweak, we encourage you to ask yourself the same sorts of questions we ask when looking at the big picture. This way your site will be more likely to rank well for the long-term.

Content, Content, Content!

Content, Content, Content

A client told me that in her area of business, a newcomer was blowing away all the established sites in their business niche, and she asked me how this was happening and what we should do about it. What I learned from my study of this site is revealing. It speaks to the differences in how search engines rank sites today from how they did it in the past.

And it provides an important lesson for all of us who want our Web sites to attract the sort of traffic that we seek.

The Site

I studied the site, and had trouble understanding how it was dominating the search engines. This site was not doing many of the things that I recommend! It had a moderate number of incoming links, not enough to dominate. The meta tags were stuffed with keywords. The title tags, though, were well done, reflecting the organization of the site in a systematic way. But that was not enough for this new site to dominate its niche.

The heading of each page had a lot of keyword stuffing, and then I checked and found that it was all an image! So even this very risky practice couldn’t help–hurt!–because of a beginner’s mistake.

Then I saw it–the site has 164 pages, compared to fewer than ten pages for most of the competitive sites! And those pages are long, each of them as long as several pages on competitive sites. Where did all that content come from? 88 offsite domains contain duplicate content, so we can just imagine how all these pages came to be written in a short time by a newcomer.

Google shows just pagerank 3 for this site, so it’s not burning up pagerank, perhaps because of the large amount of duplicate content. However, it’s doing a grand job of getting high ranking in search engine results. Clearly, Google is overlooking the obvious duplication and giving high position in results primarily because of this huge quantity of content.


What’s the strategy for competing with this site for search engine rankings? Sun Tzu tells us not to take the obvious approach and attack the enemy’s strength by creating pages upon pages of content. Instead, we should attack our opponent’s weaknesses, by doing all the things he isn’t doing well. Stay away from keyword stuffing. Build meta tags that are unique to each page and thoughtfully reflect the content of each page. And build the content of each page around important keywords, with appropriate keyword density.

A serious linking campaign, at first seeking relevant links that may be low in rank and high-ranking links that may be less relevant, is critical, because it’s possible to have a near-term win in this area.

Thorough log analysis to understand visitor behavior and identify important keywords will allow us to respond dynamically to the marketplace while our competition employs a static approach.

We will have to engage our competitor with content, and we will be expanding our content. But our content will be original, not just material copied from others. With quality content, and everything else done right, we should be able to compete effectively.

The Bottom Line

If your Web site just gives the basics about your message, and does it compactly in a handful of pages, don’t expect good search engine position. Think about pages of 300 or more words, and think about telling your story more completely, in 20 to 50 pages. Note that the pages on your own site don’t have to be completely unique–no visitor ever reads the whole site, so every fact needs to be present in several places on the site.

Getting Good Position in Search Engine Results

Search Engine Position

Search engines can bring visitors to your site who are actively looking for information that’s on your site–what a marketing opportunity that is! Not only that, the search engines will bring you these visitors for free. How do you go about getting a good position in search engine results? How can you get that elusive position on the first page of search engine results for the terms that are most relevant to your offering?

This issue doesn’t provide hints or tricks on how to get onto page one–instead, the goal here is to provide a foundation for techniques that will come in later issues. Here we talk about what search engines try to do as businesses, and which sites the search engines want to put onto page one–the foundation, in my view, for the soundest methods for getting that coveted position.

This approach has worked for my clients, time after time, and they can work for you too.  The best way to get the search engines to reward you with a page one position is for you to help them achieve their business goals, a win-win deal.

Search Engines Are Businesses

Let’s look at what a search engine tries to do, as a business. The company wants as many people as possible to use the search engine, so that they’ll see and react to revenue-generating advertising that’s on the site. So the search engine wants to deliver content that’s highly relevant in the listings on page one. All of the other discussion about what search engines do and don’t do has its origins in that one, simple goal–delivering relevant content.

This observation leads to an approach for getting good position in search engine results. Treat your relationship with search engines as a business relationship. The best way to succeed in a business relationships is for each party to meet its own business objectives. And the best way to succeed with search engines is for your site to help the search engines meet their objectives of delivering relevant content–that is, have a lot of current, relevant content!

What This Means

How can we use this approach? The best way to get good search engiine position is to provide a site that the search engine would love to see on page one. A site that’s highly relevant to the topic being searched, a site that presents a lot of fresh content, a site that’s referenced by many other sites, especially authoritative sites. Just provide such a site and you’re on your way to page one! Fundamentally, if you want good search engine position, do this:
  1. Put at least 200 words of relevant content on each page of your site;
  2. Provide each page with a title that’s relevant to its content
  3. Regularly add new content to your site
Without considering any technical issues, if you follow these three guidelines, your site will rank high in search engine results. Whether that alone will get you all the way to page one depends on the competitiveness of the particular topic of interest. In a very competitive topic, you’ll need to deal with technical issues as well.

Can Technology Help?

Of course, a search engine doesn’t have a human being to read and judge the relevance of your site’s relevance to every query–it uses computer programs for that assessment. Those programs use measurements that can be automated and used for hundreds of millions of pages; the goal is to approximate human relevance judgments. If we’re clever, we’ll understand how these programs make their measurements, and we’ll use those measurements as our guide to developing our site.
Now the complexity arrives! Unfortunately, the search engine companies don’t tell us how their programs work, so we have to figure them out, largely by trail and error, but also be reading everything the companies tell us, including even their patent applications. Google has a blog that’s useful, and they have Webmaster guidelines that are helpful as well.
We can also learn from a wide array of paid and free publications and newsletters. In my experience, a lot of the iinformaton that’s circulated in these forums is not helpful or correct and needs to be viewed through the lens of experience. Someone who does this work over time gradually learns what works and what doesn’t work.
Technical measures that are taken to improve search engine position are often labelled white hat and black hat. White hat techniques attempt to align the site with the search engine’s goals, and seek to produce a site that will be judged by search engine software to be what it is. Black hat methods seek to make the site look more relevant than it is. These methods involve risk, because the search engines keep refining their methods to discover black hat techniques, because those techniques interfere with the search engines’ business objectives, so sites discoveed using these techniques can be seriously penalized.
On more than one occasion, my clients have received advice from some friend or “expert” who employed black hat techniques that were discovered by the search engines, resulting in significant losses of traffic for an extended period. Their financial penalities were significant. In my opinion, trying to fool the search engines is just not worth the risk. Yes, the methods may work for a while and appear to be a great way to gain business; but getting zero traffic from a major search engine for months is a heavy price to pay.

The Bottom Line

Improve your search engine position by providing your site with lots of high-quality, relevant content and add more content often. And don’t try to fool the search engines.