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Monday, October 31, 2005

Does the sandbox effect hurt relevancy?

A short while ago I wrote a short piece in the Search Engine Watch Forum titled “Does the sandbox effect hurt relevancy?”. Since that time the thread has been quite busy with various members of the SEO community offering their thoughts on the topic. Below, I have reprinted the original posting that I entered into the forum but if you are interested in the topic you should go to the Search Engine Watch forum to read the responses and get in on the topic.

Does the sandbox effect hurt relevancy?
Recently I read an article on the quality of organic search results comparing the top 3 search engines. If memory serves it was by Danny Sullivan. The article spoke of the index war between Yahoo.com and Google.com. Again, if memory serves, the conclusion was not so much on who had the bigger index but the quality of the returns. Sound about right?

Anyway, the thought I want to bring up is this… If the search engines are all saying that their main goal is to return relevant results for search queries, how can Google’s alleged age delaying sandbox be considered helpful when the application of the filter may be keeping searchers from important information when that information is contained within a new site? Seems to me that this policy is defeating the potential quality of the results returned.

I suppose that I should be writing an article on this subject and flying it out to the various article feeder sites in an effort to try to bring more traffic to my site but frankly, I just don’t have the time. If one of you out there in the SEO land wants to champion this question please feel free, just let me know if you do so I can read the article.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Google Bowling – Spare one for the team!

There seems to be some discussion on the SEO forums about a new hole in the Google search engine algorithms. Before you get excited about a potential new way to skew the results in a favorable manner for your website, I have to tell you that this alleged loophole is more about sabotaging a competitor’s position in the Google search engine. While I personally haven’t seen any reliable reports on Google Bowling, that’s what people are calling it, I have read about the theory behind it.

Google Bowling is where website “A” goes out and buys a bunch of site wide text links using website “B’s” information. In theory the purchasing of site wide links is no longer an acceptable practice for developing link popularity. Not too long ago the acquisition of many inbound links could instantaneously boost a website’s popularity so that said website would rank well within Google. This practice gained the attention of the Google engineers and soon after, a filter was put in place to eliminate this form of manipulation.

Google had an opportunity to solve this problem by nullifying the benefit of this style of linking. Instead, as the theory goes, Google made it so that any site practicing site wide text link purchasing, would get a time out in the sandbox. (As someone who has a site suffering long term in the sandbox, I just wanted to let you all know that I have dibs on the yellow dump truck and backhoe in the corner of the sandbox.)

If Google Bowling is in fact a reality then the websites who do get attacked in this manner by their competitors, will also be receiving a lot of free traffic from all of these text links. Not to mention better placement in Yahoo and MSN searches. I will keep you all posted on this topic as I learn more about it.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Site Architecture and SEO

When getting ready to build a new site or redesign a site one of the most important tings you can do is plan out the website architecture. How many folders do you need and what should you call them? How many files are you going to keep in the root folder? Once you know the answers to these the rest should come quite easily.

You see when you have applied this thought process to designing your site it becomes much easier to plan the rest of your SEO for the pages that make up your site. Take a piece of paper or open a text editor and actually lay out your site prior to building it, be sure to use the file names you want for each page as well as the names for your folders. When done, sit back and take a look at the structure and fine tune it if needs be.

Start with your main index file and work your way down from there. For instance your document might look like this;

index.html
site-map.html
contact-us.html
/casino/index.html
/casino/where-to-begin.html
/casino/games.html
/sportsbook/index.html
/sportsbook/lines.html
/sportsbook/members/index.html
/banking/index.html
/banking/deposits.html
/banking/withdrawal.html
/poker/index.html
/poker/texas-holdem.html

It does take a bit of time and effort to create a site tree but once it is finished I am sure you will be referring to it regularly when developing your search engine optimization campaign.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Google and New Sites

OK – so you got an idea for a new business venture that would be perfect for an online web business. You have researched it, came up with a great design and the perfect domain name is available. Next you go out and hire a firm to apply some search engine optimization so your site will place highly in the search engines. Again, being a thorough person you do some research on the search engines themselves and discover that Google is used by about 85% of people who do searches on the Internet. You definitely want to be in that search engine! During your research you discover that Google automatically applies a penalty to new websites, what do you do?

The first thing you should do is don’t worry about it. Although Google does apply this penalty to new websites, you should just keep moving forward with your plan and let Google come along when Google is good and ready to decide to include themselves in your plans. What you should be more concerned about is optimizing your site so that it ranks well in the other search engines.

You see there are certain things you can do to your site that will work better in MSN and others for better placement in Yahoo. Any decent search engine optimization firm will already know these techniques and can easily guide you down the right path.

Way too much emphasis is placed on the importance of Google placement. While it is true that they are the number one search engine for finding sites and information but, how long can this trend last? Historically, people tend to try and bring down the mega successful. I am not sure if it is a jealousy thing but it has been going on for a very long time.

Think about it, the most recent evidence of this tendency is actually still going on today. Microsoft is a mega successful business that people have been trying to bring down for a very long time now. Not only have competitive businesses been trying to bring it down but so have governments. Why do you suppose that is?

In the beginning everybody loved Microsoft as their software products made our businesses more efficient, our Internet communications faster and our personal computing more entertaining. If these things are true in any way, why should we be trying to bring down a company that has for all intents and purposes, made our lives easier? In my opinion it is because of their success. That level of success separates us from the potential inscrutable power they wield.

Google is quickly falling into that category as well. Google now sits in a very powerful position whereas they can directly affect businesses simply by including or excluding them in their databases. If it were just businesses that Google could affect, well, that would be one thing but it is also informational sites and more that Google affects. When Google applies their algorithms to filter out certain criteria wouldn’t that filtering be considered to be a form of censorship? If the American government tried to apply that level of censorship the American populace would undoubtedly mount a protest quite quickly.

It is only a matter of time before businesses and people start to tire of Google’s successes and start questioning their policies on censorship among other things. So don’t worry when Google sticks your new site into their sandbox because when they do this, all they are really doing is further alienating the medium they developed their system to serve. Besides, you have optimized your site for better placement in MSN and Yahoo while you wait for Google to get over itself and once again serve its original purpose.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Google Updates and Tigers and Bears - Oh MY!

During or immediately after Google has updated their systems, a quick visit to most of the search engine discussion forums one can not help but feel the sheer desperation and panic contained within some of posts. Websites that were prominently ranking in the search engines for their particular business’s keywords, sometimes find themselves dropping rapidly after or during these Google updates or Google dances as they are sometimes called.

Generally the complaints are all very similar; I have done nothing to my site but now I am no longer in the positions I used to be. Oddly enough the forlorn webmasters all offer the same solution to their woes; we should all get together and boycott Google. But really what has Google done?

Google and their engineers update their system in an effort to try to thwart the attempts of dishonest marketers to manipulate the search engine to give their sites an unfair advantage. I have gone in and looked at the code for a few of the sites who post their woes on the message boards and a surprising number of them didn’t appear to be doing anything wrong within the code.

When I see that I have to wonder about the problems that could arise within the stuff one can not easily see. Perhaps they have mistakenly linked to a site or two that is not looked favorably by Google. Another clue as to this being a linking issue comes from Matt Cutts (a Google Engineer) himself. In his Blog he writes that sites shouldn’t be part of any type of linking scheme but fails to identify what Google considers a linking scheme to be.

As the days and weeks go by I am sure that the SEO community will gain insights into the latest Google update. Naturally, the SEO community will be offering up their valuable insights to those who visit the search engine discussion forums so visit them often for the latest developments.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Quality sites – What are the criteria?

Performing searches these days seems to be producing a lot of questionable results. Yes the search engines are getting better at returning great sites for our search queries but nestled amongst the sites returned are those pesky scraped sites.

For those of you who do not know what a scraped site is, scraped sites are web sites that exist by stealing the content off of other websites and reposting it to the scraped site. Why is it a bad thing? Well these sites are bad for several reasons that include copyright infringement for starters. These types of sites often displace the content originator’s site from their rightful spot in search returns.

So you may be asking right about now how this is hurtful to the person who entered the search query? Seeing as the material is appearing for a targeted search what is the problem? The scraped site does offer the information requested but is it complete or do they just contain enough material to get them to list in the search engines. My guess is that they only offer enough info to get the results in the search engines so that when the visitors discover that they didn’t find all the info they were looking for, they click on the adsense links targeted for that copy in hopes of finding more information.

When this happens the searcher who originated the search loses their time, the search engine who recommended that site loses a little credibility, and the person/company who originally created the content loses out on a potential member/client/sale. Seems like a lot of loses to take just so some unscrupulous webmaster can make a few pennies.

So what is the answer while we wait for this seemingly victimless crime to get sorted out by the search engines? Well according to Matt Cutts, a Google engineer who is the search engine’s point man on quality assurance, he wants searchers to contact Google. The following is an excerpt taken from his blog.

You see a low-quality site that is running AdSenseIf you run across a site that you consider spammy and it has AdSense on it, click on the “Ads by Goooooogle” link and click “Send Google your thoughts on the ads you just saw”. Enter the words spamreport and jagger1 in the comments field.

The choice is yours to make, do you want the search engines to return quality sites for your search queries? If the answer is yes then follow Matt’s advice and report scraped sites that exist solely to run Adsense campaigns to Google and help the engines figure out the way to prevent this type of fraud.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Meta Tag Keywords – Do they matter?

Back in the day, the Meta Tag for keywords was a great way to help get your site noticed by the search engines. It didn’t take too long before the Meta Tag was ruined by keyword stuffing. I recall a time when unscrupulous webmasters would add words like Barbie Doll into their keywords in an effort to attract new visitors to their porn site. Problem was children looking for Barbie dolls in the search engines were often finding themselves looking at porn sites when they were looking for hard plastic dolls. Now I have known some women in porn named Barbie and they certainly were dolls but that doesn’t mean I wanted my children to discover them in a search engine.

In an effort to prevent this kind of keyword stuffing the search engines decided to discount the importance of the keyword Meta tag. Shame really as this once powerful bit of code should have been filtered in a more efficient manner.

The same thing happened to the ALT image tag. You would place your cursor over a graphic and a nice description of what the image was would pop up. Well before you knew it, placing your cursor over a graphic would result in a complete novella of keywords popping up. It didn’t take to long before the ALT image tag was discounted as well. Again, throwing out the whole package rather than coming up with a filter seems to be the norm.

Just because the search engines took the easy way out does that mean that we should stop using these tags? Absolutely not, just use them properly. Only put words into the keyword Meta tag that actually appear on the web page. For ALT image tags, actually describe in as few words as possible, what the graphic is about. Doing these things may not actually help you in every search engine but it will in some engines. You never know when a search engine may reintroduce the importance of these two wonderful tags.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Jagger Update

Oh boy is the panic on. It seems that Google is once again updating their system in the continuing effort to improve their product. Every time Google updates it brings forth a great panic among those who loose their site’s SERP. The speculations go on and on in the SEO forums as the self proclaimed experts offer many reasons as to why this site or that site dropped in position.

Granted it can be pretty scary to watch your web site drop from page 1 in any search engine but, nobody can expect their web site to remain firmly fixed in any organic search engine result. So what do you do when you find you have lost SERP? That’s easy, roll up your sleeves and get back to work trying to regain your position. After all, like websites, your SEO work is never really finished. It is an on going process that only ends when you decide it needs to.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Back Link Verification

Yes I know… beating a dead horse here. Sorry about making another entry in the blog on linking. I am still working my way through the first site (4 days so far) and I am still averaging about 30% in honored back links.

Now I understand that over a period of time some of those back links are going to become dead or in active due to changes to site, the site going down etc. but really – 70%! A high percentage of these sites are doing this by design or purpose. Trading links with sites whose sole purpose is to promote something; you have to go into it knowing that it isn’t a quality trade and expect these links to go dead in a short period of time. These ones are not the problem.

The ones that bother me the most are the sites by supposedly reputable Search Engine Optimization companies. I am not going to list any names or URLs here but these people should know better. Not only is it a problem trading links with some of the SEO sites but it is also a problem that they pass on to their client sites. Now whenever I get a link trading request I am going to be looking to see which company is providing the service and if that SEO Company is on my list I will NOT be responding.

The bottom line here folks is this – verify your back links and do it frequently!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Search Engine Submissions

A common question I am asked is, “How do I get sites into the search engines so quickly?” My answer is always the same… “Pay me and I will show you!” Well that’s not true but my answer is always the same anyways.

The way to get your website indexed by the search engines really quickly is to place a link for the new site on the main page to a site that you know the search engines have already indexed. Before placing that link you need to know when the last time the site you are placing your link on was indexed by the search engines. Find the page where you’re going to place this link in Google and then look for the cached link. Click on that link and look for the date that it was last crawled. Keep in mind that Google crawls pages at about a 3 week interval. Time the inclusion of the link to the new site for a few days before the previously crawled site is due to be crawled once again. After the site has been spidered again your new site will have been flagged for a crawling of its own and the new site is now in Google.

The same method can be applied to MSN search as well although MSN spiders are on a much slower rotation which is to say, MSN spiders indexes sites every 3 to 4 months. Yahoo on the other hand does not display date stamps on caching so it is a little more hit and miss as to when they will be back to cache a site again.

To be on the safe side plan to have the link to the new site on the previously indexed site for about 3 months just to make sure your new site gets picked up by the engines.

Let’s say that you do not have a site that has been previously crawled, what do you do then? That’s easy, do a search in any engine for sites that sell links on their home page. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on this as you don’t need to have a site with a very high PR (page rank). All you need to be sure of is that the site has been indexed by the engines prior to buying that link. Prepare to purchase a 3 month link placement for about $10.00 per month for a grand total of about $30.00.

Of course you could just use the “submit a site” system that some of the engines offer for free but, these methods can take a very long time, depending upon the engine. Good luck with your new site.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Link Trading Problem

Alright I promise this will be the last posting I do on the topic of linking for a while.

Over the weekend I decided to finally stop putting off the chore of verifying all the back links allegedly coming to my site. A quick search in the search engines found a nice little program free that made the verification as painless as possible. Given the fact that I have approximately 60 pages of links, the automation process really came in handy even though after two days I only had about half of the pages of links verified.

To be honest I was completely shocked at what I found when reading the reports on the completed pages. It seems on the average only about 30% of the completed link exchanges where honored. Now to be fair, the 60% who appeared to not be honoring the link trading agreement, probably more than half of those came back as uncompleted link searches. The reason being that the sites being spidered were too large and were taking a lot of time, faster to just send emails requesting the location of my link.

Now, if we take that 60% and split that in half we are still talking about another 30%. When we combine this to the 30% honored link exchanges, we have approximately 60% of my traded links still intact. Slightly better than half, not too bad eh? Absolutely not! This means I have been giving away hundreds of one way links for far too long.

When dealing with reciprocated link exchanges it is always a good idea to regularly verify that these links are maintained. Myself I have been so busy that I let this chore slide for too long but you can bet that I am not going to let that happen again. Some webmasters bank on the fact that people wont verify their links, don’t become one of those webmasters like I did. As a webmaster I have to remember that I am a webmaster first and an Internet marketing consultant second.

Friday, October 14, 2005

SEO Basics

As you can imagine once you have sites showing up in top positions for highly competitive keywords your efforts tend to get a lot of attention. Not only for the page or site that is getting displayed in the search engines, but from people who want to know what you did to get it there.

Some webmasters place some script on their pages to prevent people from viewing the source code in an effort to hide their SEO work. In my experience the sites I have come across that do that are generally doing something underhanded to achieve their results. There really isn’t much point in hiding our source code as it only keeps the people out who don’t know how to work around that little trick.

Myself, I say let them look because generally it is the basics that will get you the best, long term results in organic searches. Sure you could get to the top of the search engines by employing some simple tricks but, how long will the site remain at the top before it gets caught and removed from the search engines? Then what, buy another throw away domain and start all over again? Knock yourself out, waste your time and resources by repeating this process again and again.

What are some of the SEO basics then you may be asking? That’s easy and not something I would ever hide from anybody.

Research your own page and figure out what is the best title, is it something that people might actually use in a search query?

Write a meaningful description for your site and keep the focus of that description centered on what the page is actually about.

Only add keywords that are actually on your page, don’t add words that are not on the topic of your page.

Use some of your most important keywords as headings in your copy. Don’t go overboard; use them in a natural fashion.

Use fewer graphics and more text as links in your menu.

For the graphics that you do use, only use ALT tags to accurately describe what the graphic is about. If you can add some of your keywords into the ALT tag in a natural way. If you can’t then don’t bother adding them.

Take the time to make a site map for your site. Doing this will allow the search engine to find all of the pages that make up your site.

That’s it for now. I will write a more detailed entry on some of the more advanced SEO techniques in the near future so come back and look for it later. Have a great weekend.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Link Building Scams

When getting started in a reciprocal link building campaign there are a few things you need to watch out for. Some webmasters who participate in link trading are new to the concept and consequently make some innocent mistakes. When you point these mistakes out they generally are willing to fix them in an effort to improve their site. However, a good percentage of link building campaigns are administered by seasoned veterans who perpetuate these mistakes by purpose.

The mistakes I am referring to are; not having a link from their main page to their link trading section. If there is no way for a human to find the link trading section how would a search engine?

Placing the link building section in a sub domain. While this isn’t too horrible for link trading, it is kind of like getting involved in a 3 way link exchange which is good as long as you knew about it and agreed to it before hand.

Having link pages with more than 20 links on them. You see search engines will just stop processing the links after a certain amount and if the search engines stop looking for links before it gets to your link, why bother trading links with that site?

Those are just a few of the common mistakes some link traders make. Whether the webmaster trading links does these things by purpose or not, you still need to watch out for them.

Yesterday I had one bad faith link trader send me an email accusing me of being a link cheat. What did I do to deserve his ire? I removed his link because I saw that his site had no clear way of navigating to my link from his home page and the page containing my link was on a page with far too many links. I removed his link and he didn’t like it so he sent me an email with a virus attached to it. This person clearly knew that he was being a bad faith link trader and didn’t like being called on it. Oh well what can you do – there are assholes in this world!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Reciprocal Linking

There seems to be a lot of talk these days on the value of reciprocal linking. Does it hurt your site or does it help your site? Just like everything else there are several opinions on the subject. Some search engine marketers feel that reciprocal linking is a sure way to get traffic and ranking while others feel that it is the scourge of the Internet. Whether you believe that reciprocal linking is good or bad, the one thing that all search engine marketers should agree on is the simple fact that search engines wouldn’t exist without linking. If you, as a SEM agree with this simple truth then how could you think that reciprocal linking is a bad thing?

Reciprocal linking, like most things in life, when abused can definitely cause some problems. The way to avoid potential problems with reciprocal linking is to apply a little common sense. Don’t develop too many links too quickly and be very selective on which sites you exchange links with. Is the site you want to trade links with a site that you would actually spend time visiting? If the answer is no then why would you want to recommend that site to your members/visitors? Think about it this way, every link you place on your site is like a personal recommendation for that site. If you haphazardly toss out a lot of recommendations for garbage sites and search engines passed on your recommendations, how long do you think it would take to kill the reputation and credibility of your site? Not too long according to Google. Don’t believe me, go ahead and link to any and everything and find out for yourself.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Link Building

Link building has become an important element in many search engine marketing campaigns. In what now seems like the old days of SEM, link building was the fastest way to build link popularity. A new website could simply go out and buy hundreds of links to their new site and boom… instant results. These days it isn’t so simple. New sites need to slowly build links over time. Too many links too quickly and before you know it Google applies an aging delay penalty to your website and your website must wait for those links to mature.

So what is the answer? That’s easy… don’t build too many links too quickly. I would recommend no more than 5 completed links a day. This may take a little while longer but what the heck, better safe than sorry. Given enough time, any site can achieve top ranking for any keywords. Don’t believe me, try it for yourself. Take a year and devote a little time everyday to establishing links to your site and before you know it, your site will be ranking for your targeted keywords.