Monday, September 16th, 2019

Posted by Kate Morris
"One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself."

The Golden Rule is the perfect thing to apply to your entire outreach process. From your writers and the people you are outreaching to, all the way …

Posted by Kate Morris

Kate's Distilled One Year

It’s been a year, one calendar year since I joined Distilled. My first task was to write a post for SEOmoz as the rest of the Distilled office (all in London then) was going to be out on holiday (the Brits and their bank holidays … geez). So I geared up to write my first blog post on SEOmoz, as my others were always YOUmoz posts.

In light of the fact that I have the honor of posting one year later, I wanted to review what has changed in SEO. We always talk back and forth about how things change so much and yet stay the same. The basics are still the basics, good architecture, content and links are the name of the game. Some take that as the industry never really changes — maybe we all make it up how things "change", but I disagree. And this has been a rather tumultuous year for SEO. 

Now most of what I mention will be Google based. We do have a tendency to be very Google focused in SEO as most sites see a majority of their search traffic come from Google. If you know of any other changes in SEO I might have missed, please let me know in the comments and I’ll credit you. 

Please note that these are in no particular order … not by date, not by importance, just my rambling.

Panda/Farmer/Scraper

The most recent of the Google updates, there has been much written on this on DistilledSEOmoz, Search Engine Land, SERoundtable and many more. I am not going to babble on, but in short this update went after low quality sites using major advertising and little original content. We called it the Farmer update, Google called it the Panda Update, and soon after came the Scraper update … targeting scraper sites. 

Mayday

Mayday Fremont Arts Council

The Mayday update was the first after I started, it was the beginning of this wonderful mess (I said wonderful … ) of an SEO year. If you think back, this update is very similar to the most recent update (Panda) in that it went for thin content sites … only this time it went after those that were ranking for long tail terms. This sent many sites into panic and reset so many marketing campaigns and site designs. The spotlight was shifted to not only creating good content, but creating the right amount of content at the highest quality that will gain links.

Caffeine

Around the same time as Mayday, Google released the Caffeine Index. This provided Google a way of offering fresher content, faster. The update helped get content found and indexed faster and lead to the future of SERPs pages that included social and integrated local results (which we will discuss later). 

Google Instant

Google Instant is an area of pride for Distilled. Rob Ousbey first posted about it before Google announced it (sorry guys!) and then just this last week, Justin Briggs noted the addition of the term "scam" to the blacklist of Instant results. We know that pornographic terms and many others do not show Google Instant results, but now scam doesn’t either.

(But "scams" does *shrugs*)

site speedSite Speed

Those were the major changes to the algorithm and updates, but one other thing that has occurred in the last 12 months was the announcement that site speed was a factor in ranking. A minor factor, but something that Google wanted us to pay attention to. 

Loss of US Market Share for Google

All Google, all the time. I know what you all are thinking right now. But this year did bring a bit of bad news to the Googlers in California. We have seen smaller drops over the last few years, but we have really started to see Google lose market share over the last year. The next 12 months should be interesting with Bing’s push to close that gap.  

Bing/Yahoo Final Change

Speaking of Bing, one major change was of course the completion of the Yahoo/Bing merger … well search merging. All the paid accounts completed their merges and Yahoo’s results became Bing’s results. Sad day, but it’s not like Yahoo was always its own search engine anyway. *kicks dirt*

Multi-lingual Site Changes

2010 was the year for many companies to start thinking about taking their online strategy global. International SEO is one of the more advanced topics and something I personally have talked much about this year. But there was one big change to how international multi-lingual sites might operate. We all know that translating content is necessary to target certain users, but the same content just translated can pose problems for ranking and indexing. Google is trying to help with the rel alternate tag allowing sites to denote the same content in a different languages. This is not however the saviour to all of your international issues. This just helps with templetized content being translated on the same site … getting into targeting different countries, now that is still somewhat challenging. 

SERPs Changes

Once Caffeine took effect, it swung open the doors for a wide variety of changes to what content was shown on SERPs pages and how … on Google that is. We have gone from 10 blue links and descriptions to Products, Maps, Integrated Local, Brand Refinements, Faceted Search, and user input. The most recent user input is of course the +1 button, in addition to the ability to flag and hide sites from your search results. 

But the biggest change has been in preferred results from your social circle. This has been tested in many forms the "posts from your friends" at the end of results to avatars showing below search results noting which of your friends recommended the page. Things are getting real and it’s getting harder to game results that are totally dependent on a user’s actions and social circle. 

Others of Note

There have been many other changes including those from players in the SEO world, many movers and shakers, and much news from the other sides of online marketing like social and paid. But I would be talking forever if I included all of those.

However, there were a few more that impact SEO directly and I thought they were worth mentioning. 

  • Keyword Tool Change – Google updated their Keyword Tool, making it more relevant (or less in other’s eyes) by numbers but still not fully accurate. 
  • New Analytics Interface – Brand new and still in beta (sign up here), but will definitely impact how SEOs do some of their work. 
  • Weighted Sort – A personal favorite, but there was the release of weighted sort within Google Analytics. Just awesome. 

Year in Review Takeaways

This wasn’t an earth shattering post for most, and I hate to leave you just reminiscing about what happened in the last year. We are all about teaching and learning at Distilled/SEOmoz (I’m sure some of you will school me with big things I missed on this list), so here is what I think we can all learn and take back to projects after this last year. 

  1. Put Users First - plain and simple, if you keep them in focus you won’t go wrong by Google or Bing.
  2. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff – Small changes in ranking, site speed, or any future algo changes should be taken with a grain of salt. Follow the first lesson and these changes should have little effect on you. 
  3. Keep Your Ear to the Ground – But after that last note, I do recommend always knowing what is going on in the industry and with your own site. You should know at all times how your site is performing so that when the boss comes calling about not ranking for a keyword (personalized results FTW!), you can back things up with hard data and related industry trends. 
  4. Create Good Sites, Good Content, and Get People Talking – Marketing. It’s all about marketing. Do it right the first time and don’t cut corners. Integrate your whole marketing plan and you will have many opportunities to get "real estate" on a SERPs page. 

 

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Posted by Kate Morris

It’s the New Year and I can guarantee there will be a ton of new people at my gym this week ready to work on their resolutions (and generally getting in the way </grumbling>). In SEO, some resolutions might include working on personal sites (I might have a few abandoned sites…) or writing more blog posts. Resolutions have never really worked for me though. So instead of giving you SEO resolutions for 2011, I’d like to inspire some exploration in the New Year when it comes to your search marketing campaigns.

The following five areas are either up and coming, or becoming major cornerstones to every search marketing campaign. The first is my personal “to-do,” and the others are always on the “I need to look into that” list for most search marketers I know. Each has a clear impact on optimization, traffic and conversions. After all, the end goal still is and always will be the conversion, whatever it is for you.

I’d love to hear what it is that you want to work on in 2011. Maybe you’ll inspire some YOUmozzers or SEOmozzers to write some posts to help you out. Or just maybe … you will be the one writing a post. 

Exploratory Tactic #1: HTML5

This new way of coding is cleaner and allows designers to do things that HTML 4 and CSS (which are preferred by most SEOs) could not do before. HTML5 is changing the way sites are designed, crawled, and used by consumers. Long gone are the days of Flash, Tables, and other code hogs.

Here are a few sites that are utilizing HTML5 elements to enhance the user experience and increase search engine understanding of the site. Not saying learning and using HTML5 will rank your site better or increase your indexation rate, but depending on what you were using before it just might.

aquatica yacht services

And our very own RIchard Baxter’s SEOGadget and he has a great post on HTML5 as well.

SEO Gadget

As are most SEOs I know, I am a self-taught coder and very dangerous. I am sure with some fun nights of coding (some yelling will be involved), studying sites using HTML5 and begging the members of WebmasterWorld for help, I can get this new stuff down pat. And so can you.

Exploratory Tactic #2: A/B Testing

My good friend Joe Hall brought this one up on Twitter. As a frequent panelist on the Landing Page Optimization panel at PubCon, I know there are many people that always want to try A/B testing but never find the time to do it. So much can be learned with testing and many more conversions made.

This year if you are still finding a lack of time to test landing pages, here are some things that might help.

1. Hire an intern
Interns are plentiful if you work near a university. I got my start in search marketing in college and that gave me a nice lead on most other marketing graduates. An intern can be hired at a small cost ($10/hour) for 5 hours a week to put together tests and collect the data. That’s a mere $200 per month! Think about contacting the local university and look into the computer science, advertising, and business school for possible candidates.

2. Use Google Website Optimizer
It’s hard to take the time to come up with ideas, build the pages, and track everything. In comes Google Website Optimizer, which automates the much of the work for you. And best of all it’s free!

3. Use a service like Ion Interactive
These systems are easy to use testing grounds for landing pages but specifically for marketers, not developers. You can change things about a landing page using their WYSIWYG editor and test the changes immediately without the need to involve developers or your IT department. How you ask? These pages are hosted on the service’s servers (sent to your chosen subdomain) so there is no need to involve your IT department until you’re sure you have the version you want. 

Exploratory Tactic #3: Microformats

Local search marketing is all the rage because the global community is looking more to their local area than ever before. The search engines are responding by changing the way search results are displayed. If they see that users’ intent for a search is to find a local provider, they are showing integrated local results. These results are outranking and being mixed in with natural search results. The result are natural looking listing that have more items like location markers and stars from review ratings that draw the users’ eye to those listings.

For local businesses, coding your website with microformatted data will allow for better information updating in the search results. For businesses that provide reviews of local businesses, microformats of those reviews can provide another way to gain traffic from local searchers looking for the lowdown on local businesses.

Red and blue lit neon sign

Google has helped by providing a guide to microformats and a handy code-checking tool that can tell you if you have implemented microformats correctly.

Exploratory Tactic #4: Guest Posting

We all hate link building, and yes it has gotten harder to do. The best way to gain backlinks is still good old fashioned marketing, but guest posting (done right, not spammy) is another good way of gaining some links. If you take a look at my own personal site’s backlinks (on OSE), you see that most of my links come from guest posting and being a part of other people’s postings.

Guest posting allows you to not only link back to your own site, but also give others the attention they deserve. That is the key here, linking to others. Link karma is real, if you send out the links, they will come back to you. That link to your own site is usually at the bottom and could be discounted someday (if bad guest posts get out of hand). My coworker at Distilled, Justin Briggs brought this up recently in another SEOmoz post. 

But links are not all guest posting is good for. It also allows you to display your knowledge on a specific topic. Becoming an authority on your chosen topic can not only give you more links down the road, it would further your own career. In addition, the sites you guest post for get the content needed to rank well. The better you write for them, the more popular the page will be, and the stronger that link will be for you and everyone else. Guest posting is the best win-win-win around. 

Have I mentioned YOUmoz? *wink*

Exploratory Tactic #5: CRO

In the end are conversions. We all are online for a reason, to get conversions of any and all kinds. Your conversion can be a lead, sale, click to advertising, awareness, or retweets for just a few examples. There are so many kinds of conversions, the one thing you need to think about is “what do I want out of creating this website.” Once you have that, all of your future decisions should be based on that goal.

Conversion Rate Optimization is the idea that everything you do in your marketing should increase good conversions. From your PPC landing pages to your unused and unloved thank you pages, conversion rate optimization is utilizing your entire site and marketing offers to increase your bottom line. If something like ranking #1 for your favorite keyword isn’t converting visitors, then that time and effort needs to go into something new.

The pinnacle of CRO is tracking conversions on every marketing effort. Know what your conversions are and how much you want to be spending for those conversions. After that is set, start testing away. Be sure to test for a good time period and keep the rash decisions at bay. All CRO decisions should be made with a valid set of data. Making a decision after a week is probably not statically significant.

2011 new year against a skyscape

This new year, test new things, push new boundaries, and don’t worry about what the engines think (to a degree). They care about the end users and so should you. Once your site is set up with the right SEO foundation of good code and structure, focus on getting good traffic and converting that traffic. Y’all have a great new year!

2011 and Open sign images compliments of Shutterstock

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Posted by Kate Morris

Most respected SEOs will tell you there is no such thing as cheap SEO. You get what you pay for in respect to hiring an SEO consultant. And that remains true. Whether you are hiring an agency, independent consultant, or hiring in-house, the best SEOs are going to know the value of their skills and its impact on your business. Going for the lowest cost option (bad SEOs, scam artists) is what gives good SEOs a bad name. Please, don’t be one of those (read SEOmoz!), and don’t hire one of those. 

On the other side of the coin, I was also a small business owner at one time (independent consultant), and I know that you can’t always afford the best in the beginning. There are a number of options available to small business owners on a budget. You don’t have to forego quality to get good, cheaper SEO advice. Just remember that the less you pay with these suggestions, the more you might have to contribute your own time and learning. You are going to have to think about each of these in terms not just of cost, but also cost of your time. Doing cheaper SEO options means more time on your part learning. But … with the right time and dedication, you can get the same results those bigger competitors are getting. 

Remember the Marketing

From Distilled’s Co-Founder Duncan Morris: If you are not an SEO, running your own business and looking to do this on your own, remember that the best SEO you can do is build your business right. You should network and find contacts, grow a mailing list, deliver awesome customer service, and maybe acquire another company. Do remarkable stuff, write interesting stuff on a blog, and tell people about it.

In the end, it’s about getting people interested in your business. SEO is not the answer, it’s yet another tool in your marketing arsenal.

Local Conferences

Matt Cutts Vanessa Fox Site Review
Matt Cutts and Vanessa Fox on a Site Review Panel at PubCon
Photo Courtesy of RentVine

If you want to get the most bang for your buck and good suggestions for your site in real time, attend a local regional conference and submit to a site review panel. The key here is to find one in your area to reduce the costs as much as possible.

There are many you can choose from, a few from the past year include PubCon South, SearchExchange (no new one has been scheduled), SEMPDX SearchFest, and SXSW Interactive. There are many conferences in larger metropolitan areas, but they tend to be pricey. Look at the agenda ahead of time and make sure they have site reviews. On the day of the conference, get there before the session starts and give the moderator your card with the site address, and sit up front. I can’t say that Matt Cutts will be the one reviewing your site, but regardless, these shows offer some of the best and brightest in the business.

Cost: Varies Wildly. About $200-750 for the conference (plus any travel costs)
Time: At least an hour for the session, but plan staying the whole conference, about 2-3 days

PodCamp, BarCamp, WordCamp

These are much like a local conference and meetup, but they are unconferences. They are usually free, day or two day long, with the key being that the content is user generated. Topics are about anything from new media (PodCamp) to WordPress (WordCamp), or really anything (BarCamp). There are many local experts you can meet here and ask about anything you need help on. These are the definition of community. 

Cost: Free – usually
Time: A day or two for the Camp, and then applying what you learned of course. 

Exchange Services

Exchanging services is one of the best ways to get services that you might not be able to afford right now. For instance, I got some awesome shirts "for free" in exchange for some PPC help for the company that printed the shirts. At the time there was no way I could afford the $500 for the shirts, but in exchange for my time? That was easy. If your company offers a service or product, talk to an SEO about an exchange of services. 

It is also possible to offer good links for pro bono work. And on that thought, you could exchange your products and services as a link building tactic. Think about donating your time and services and getting links in return. This is a gray area (hat wise), but if you let them decide what to do … it’s cool. It’s all about the intent and if the new link is useful to the users of the other site. Keep that in mind. 

Cost: No money changes hands.
Time: It’s going to cost in time however much you make the deal for your own time. 

Visit Local Meetups

Check for local search marketing meetups via Meetups.com or contact your local chamber of commerce for any possible training that might be upcoming. The other option is to Google SEO group in your location – there might be some that aren’t formal groups. Local professionals speak and attend sessions and are usually more than happy to answer questions and give advice to other attendees.

My pointer is to look for those meetups and groups that offer training for small business owners. For instance, in Austin, there is the Austin SEO/SEM Meetup through Meetups.com and that is a more training based group, however the AustinSEM.org group is for professionals only. Just be sure you are in the right group.

Second and biggest piece of advice: Don’t go there for advice, hound the speaker, and then leave. They are people too. Be a friend, get to know before launching into your issues. Never expect free advice. Go there to learn and maybe you might get some good free advice as a bonus. 

seo meetups

Cost: $0-$25 typically
Time: Substantial. An hour for the meetup generally, but there will be many of these over the year, you’ll want to attend most of them you can find. And then you have to apply the knowledge.

Twitter (Read: Social Media)

Put simply: Get onto Twitter and make friends. Join in the conversation, don’t be creepy, and be genuinely interested and interesting. There are many intelligent SEOs on Twitter that are happy to help friends. But you can’t just get on there and ask. Building the relationships is what takes the most time and why this is one of the free options. You have to spend the time conversing and learning from what is being tweeted in addition to building the relationship. This cannot be automated, but once you are friends with an SEO, they are more likely to take time out of their day to help you out. 

Cost: Free
Time: This one is all about your time. Hours, months, years is what I am talking here. 

Simplest: Read

Read SEOmoz, SEOBook, Google Webmaster Blog, Search Engine Land, Search Engine Journal, BlueGlass, Distilled, and so many more. For the most part (at Distilled this is true but I can’t talk for everyone), we don’t hold much back. If there is something new and cool that can help others with their campaigns, we share it via blogs. You just have to take the time to read them and apply the knowledge to your situation. This isn’t easy as examples are not usually just like your situation, but with the right time and dedication you can learn much just reading. 

Cost: Free
Time: Less than building relationships, but still high in personal time involvement.

Join a Community

Become a member of a forum or other Q&A type community like Webmaster World, SEOmoz Q&A, SEOBook, SEODojo, StackOverflow (more technical), and ExpertsExchange.

Webmaster World is free to use and the community responds to the questions. Each section has a few moderators, but your question isn’t guaranteed to be answered. So there are pluses and minuses to that setup. I learned a lot there when I started, and the community is fantastic. They even have Google and Bing employees drop by to answer sometimes.

SEOmoz Q&A on the other hand comes with your membership to SEOmoz at all paid levels. Your level determines how many questions you can ask per month. At the PRO level, you get two questions a month. These questions are answered by SEO/PPC/Local/Mobile specialists at SEOmoz, Distilled, and across the globe by associates hand picked by the SEOmoz team. All the people answering are true professional experts and your question is guaranteed to be answered by an associate. 

While I don’t know much about SEOBook and SEODojo, I can tell you that there are many friends of mine that love these communities. They provide an area where you can ask questions and get answers from some of the best minds in search. I hear that Aaron Wall responds to many of the questions himself on SEOBook.

Check out all your options before committing but a community is very helpful at every stage of business or your career. 

Cost: From Free to $300 a month at the lowest levels
Time: Good amount. You get direct answers in communities like these to questions about your specific situation, but you still have to learn and apply the advice you are given. 

Adopt an SEO

If you have family and friends that are SEOs the chance is that you can get SEO services for free or at a highly discounted rate. So why not adopt? I kid. I kid. This isn’t a suggestion for everyone, but if you do have a friend or family member in the business, you can make it their Christmas present to you for life if they will help you out. Most will be more than willing to help, unless this is your 17th "great money making opportunity." 

Cost: A Lifetime – no really, you can’t buy this one, sorry.
Time: Nurturing for an estranged SEO takes a lifetime, this is a big dedication on your part. 

Look to your Family/Friends

Happy funny people stock photo
Stock Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock

So if you have family and friends that are willing to help out but they aren’t search marketing professionals, fret not. Enlist family/friends for help in content generation and link building. Everyone has a talent, and your family and friends can research and write about a number of topics. They can help you contact local businesses for linking opportunities. If any of them are interested in search marketing, you might even get them to read and join the communities we spoke of earlier. It’s a win-win for anyone looking for a new career (maybe hire a student!) and your business that needs help getting the word out. 

Cost: Minor
Time: Minor. It’s your family and friends that are learning, so they get a benefit as well as the satisfaction of helping you. 

 

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Posted by Kate Morris

meta tags css code

Meta tags are the beginning of most SEO training, for better and worse. I contemplated on how to introduce this topic because we always hear the bad part of meta tags, namely the keywords meta tag. One of the first things dissected in any site review is the misuse of meta tags, mainly because they are at the top of every page in the header, therefore the first thing seen. But we don’t want to get too negative, meta tags are some of the best tools in a search marketer’s repertoire.

There are more meta tags than just description and keywords, though those two are picked on the most. I’ve broken down the most used (in my experience) by the good, the bad and the indifferent. You’ll notice that the list gets longer as we get to the bad ones. I didn’t get to cover all of the meta tags possible to add, but there is a great Meta Tag resource you should check out if you’re interested in what is out there.

My main piece of advice is to stick to the core minimum, don’t add meta tags you don’t need as they just take up code space. The less code you have the better. Think about it like this, your page code is like a set of step by step directions to get somewhere, but for a browser. Extraneous meta tags are the annoying 200 feet line items in directions that tell you to stay on the same road you were on!  

The Good Meta Tags

These are the meta tags that should be on every page, no matter what. Notice that this is a small list, these are the only two that are required, so if you can work with just these two, please do. 

  • Meta Content Type – This tag is necessary to declare your character set for the page and should be present on every page. Leaving this out could impact how your page renders in the browser. A few options are listed below, but your web designer should know what is best for your site.
    <meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8" />
    <meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=ISO-8859-1"> 
  • Meta Description – The infamous meta description tag is used for one major purpose, to describe the page to searchers as they read through SERPs. This tag does not influence ranking, but is very important regardless. It is your ad copy that will determine if the user clicks on your result. Keep it within 160 characters, and write it to get the user’s attention. Sell the page, get them to click on the result. Rand wrote a great article in 2007 on meta descriptions that goes more in detail.

Edited In: I left out the title tag as it doesn’t "start" with meta, but it is still technically a meta tag. You should always have a unique title tag on every page that describes the page. Check out this post for more information on title tags

The Indifferent

Different sites will need to use these in specific circumstances, but if you can go without, please do.

  • Robots – One of the largest misconceptions is that you have to have a robots meta tag. Let’s make this clear: In terms of indexing and link following, if you don’t specify a meta robots tag, they read that as index,follow. It is only if you want to change one of those two commands that you need to add meta robots. Therefore, if you want to noindex but follow the links on the page, you would add the following tag with only the noindex, as the follow is implied. Only change what you want different than the norm.
    <meta name="robots" content="noindex" />
  • Specific Bots (Googlebot) – These tags are used to give a specific bot instructions like noodp (forcing them not to use your DMOZ listing information) and noydir (same, instead the Yahoo Directory listing information). Generally the search engines are really good at this kind of thing, but if you think you need it, feel free. There have been some cases I’ve seen where it’s necessary, but if you must consider using the overall robots tag listed above.
  • Language – The only reason to use this tag is if you are moving internationally and need to declare the main language used on the page. Check out this meta languages resource for a full list of languages you can declare.
  • Geo – These meta tags, last I heard, are supported by Bing, but not Google (you can target to country inside Webmaster Tools). [Updated: Matt Cutts speaks of the tag here, they don't really look at it still] There are three kinds: placename, position (latitude and longitude) and region
    <META NAME="geo.position" CONTENT="latitude; longitude">
    <META NAME="geo.placename" CONTENT="Place Name">
    <META NAME="geo.region" CONTENT="Country Subdivision Code">
  • Source – The new kid on the block, this is a tag (really two tags) that Google is testing out (thanks to the tip from my coworker Justin Briggs). It’s mainly for news providers so that they can help the search engines understand who the original news source is and which ones are syndicates. The news world and search world are trying so very hard to get along, glad to see this one pop up. 
  • Keywords – Yes, I put this on the indifferent because while no good SEO is going to recommend spending time on this tag, there is the small possibility it could help you somewhere. So please leave it out if you’re building a site, but if it’s automated there is no reason to take it out.
  • Refresh – This is the poor man’s redirect and really should not be used if at all possible. You should always use a server side 301 redirect. But I know that sometimes things need to happen now. But Google is NOT a fan
  • Site Verification – Your site is verified with Google and Bing right? Who has the verification meta tags on their homepage? These are sometimes necessary because you can’t get the other forms of site verification loaded, but if at all possible try to verify another way. Google allows you to verify by DNS, external file, or by linking your Google Analytics account. Bing still only allows by XML file or meta tag, so go with the file if you can. 

The Bad Meta Tags

There is nothing that will happen to your site if you use these, let me just make that clear. They are a waste of space though, even Google says so (and that was 5-6 years ago!). If you’re ready and willing, it might be time for some spring cleaning of your <head> area. 

  • Author/Web Author – This tag is used to name the author of the page. It’s just not necessary on the page.
  • Revisit After – This meta tag is a command to the robots to return to a page after a specific period of time. It’s not followed by any major search engine
  • Rating – This tag is used to denote the maturity rating of content. I wrote a post about how to tag a page with adult images using a very confusing system that has since been updated (See the comments). It seems as if the best way to note bad images is to place them on a separate directory from other images on your site and alert Google.
  • Expiration/Date – Expiration is used to note when the page expires, and date is the date the page was made. Are any of your pages going to expire? Just remove them if they are (but please don’t, keep updating content, even contests, make it an annual contest!). And for date, make an XML sitemap and keep it up to date, that is so much more useful!
  • Copyright - That Google article debates with me here, but look at the footer of your site. I would guess it says "Copyright 20xx" in some form. Why say it twice?
  • Abstract - This tag is sometimes used to place an abstract of the content and used mainly by educational pursuits. 
  • Distribution – The distribution value is supposedly used to control who can access the document, typically set to global. It’s inherent that if the page is open (not password protected like on an intranet) that it is for the world. Go with it, and leave the tag off the page.
  • Generator – This is used to note what program created the page. Like author, useless. 
  • Cache Control - This tag is set in hopes of controlling when and how often a page is cached in the browser. It’s best to do this in the HTTP Header
  • Resource Type – This is used to name the type of resource the page is, like "document." Save yourself time, as the DTD declaration does it for you. 

Stock Photo by Shutterstock

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Posted by Kate Morris

As a consultant, I work with many In-House SEO teams with strategy and other issues that arise throughout the course of the year. One trend we are seeing is that these In-House teams are having a hard time coming up with accurate traffic-centered goals. Traffic is the base for many metrics measurements, so being able to semi-accurately predict that number in the coming year is important for every business. 

I can hear you all now, "Well there is the Google Keyword Tool … use that." Typically, that is my answer too, but there have been major questions about the accuracy of Google’s keyword tools and others available to webmasters, marketers, and search engine optimization teams.

(If you will comment with your favorite keyword tool other than those I mention, I’ll happily test and add it here!)

The Google Keyword Tools (yes, plural)

There was a shift recently with the Google Keyword Tool. The Legacy/API version is showing different numbers than the newest Beta interface. David Whitehouse and Richard Baxter both noticed this shift as well and did a few tests on accuracy. The jury is still out as to which version is more accurate, the legacy or the new keyword tool. But I believe like Mr. Whitehouse that the newer tool is the updated one, but that does not make it more accurate. 

To be clear, when I speak of the Legacy, API, and Beta tools, I do mean different versions of the Google Keyword Tool. First, from what I can see using the SEOmoz Keyword Difficulty tool, the Google API pulls from the Legacy tool, so they are one and the same. The Legacy tool is the prior interface for the current Beta version of the Keyword Tool. We had previously assumed that these pulled the same numbers, but my research and that of others proves otherwise.

But wait! *infomercial voice* There is more!

There is also the Search-based Keyword Tool that aids AdWords advertiser’s in choosing relevant keywords based on search behavior and a specified website. This tool is explained by Google here and gives more in depth information on account organization and cost.  

But even this tool is not on par with the other two when it comes to impressions. A random query in the Search-based tool returned a suggestion for the keyword "maragogi." The Search-Based tool says there should be 12,000 monthly searches. The Legacy tool returns 110 Local Exact match searches, 33,100 Global Exact match, and 201,000 Global Broad match. The new tool returns information only for a global setting (all countries, all languages). That returns 74,000 searches broad and phrase match, and 12,100 for exact match. It seems like the Search-based tool is more like the exact global match in this one instance. But what is a business supposed to do with all of these numbers?!?!?

(hint: always use exact match)

Back to Strategy

If these tools are possibly inaccurate, how do our clients go about setting their yearly strategy goals?

Put simply, in search, you never want to rely on one set of results or one ranking report. Data over time and from many sources is best. But with the lack of tools out there and Google bringing in at least 65% of traffic organically for most sites, how do you get the best numbers? 

Impressions

First, you need to start out by figuring out how many impressions a keyword or set of keywords can bring in on average for a specific month. If you are in a cyclical industry, this will have to be done per month of the calendar year. 

1. Pull from both Google Tools and other Keyword Tools

Below is a look at some information I pulled using the tools mentioned for the key phrase "curtain fabric."

The idea here is that if you take into account all of the numbers out there, you might see a trend that you can use for estimating future traffic. If there is no trend, then a median of the numbers can be used as your metric. A few other tools that you might look into include Word Tracker and Keyword Spy. You can see that the numbers are all over the place, but looking at these figures, I’d guess that the keyword might bring in around 6,500 impressions a month in the UK. 

The downside is that WordTracker and KeywordSpy don’t allow you to look at exact match information versus broad match. When performing keyword research, you always want to look at the local (target to your country) exact match information. Too many people pull keyword information use broad match and get inflated numbers for all phrases related to that key phrase. 

2. Run a PPC campaign if possible.

The absolute best way to get accurate numbers about traffic over time is to run a PPC campaign. I pulled some numbers from a few campaigns (for our client’s sake we have masked a number of the actual key phrases) in attempts to see if the new keyword tool is accurate to actual trafffic in August. The keywords pulled were all exact match in the campaign and the information pulled from the keyword tool was Local Exact and set to the country that the campaign was targeting. 

As you can see, some of these are higher and some lower. What I found that there really is no definitive answer of if the Google Keyword Tool is accurate. Take a look at the results for the example I used before, curtain fabric. The campaign saw 11,389 impressions, much higher than the new keyword tool, and lower than some other keyword tools. This is why a well run PPC campaign is important if you want to get a more accurate look at impression numbers. 

Please note that I didn’t get a chance to ensure that these accounts were all showing at all times during the month, but they were all accurately geo-targeted and all showed on the top of the first page on average. 

Finding Traffic Based on Rank

After getting a good idea of the number of impressions, you then need to take into account where you are showing for that keyword on average organically (aka your rank). While we cannot know specific click through numbers for every search done on the web, there have been some studies done on how much of those impressions the top organic result gets, the second and so on. The one I used the most often is from Chitika. Using the percent of the traffic below and the impression numbers, you should be able to get a good idea of the visitors you can expect per month organically for a specific key phrase.

 

So using the "curtain fabric" example, assuming that the site I am working on has maintained an average ranking over the last few months of #3 organically, I could expect about 1300 visits from Google for the keyword in a month (11.42% of 11,389 impressions).

Past Metrics

Once you get everything figured out, keep in mind that your past metrics are another good way of seeing how close you are to getting the traffic about right. Assuming that no major changes have occurred (like lack of metrics data in the last year), a look back is the most accurate way to understand traffic flow and trending on your site. Pull the unique visitors for every month of the last year and do some analysis on percent increase month over month. This can be done on any level in most analytics programs - overall traffic trends all the way down to the keyword level. 

A look at overall traffic per month in Google Analytics for organic searches from Google:

A look at traffic for a specific keyword over the last year per month from Google organic:

Educated Guesses

In the end though, making predictions are just that, educated guesses. Pulling data from all available sources and using your own historical data can assist in making an educated prediction for the next year. Keep in mind though that things never stay the same. Google Instant just proved that with one of the biggest changes we have seen in a while. 

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Posted by Kate Morris

We have all been there once or twice, maybe a few more than that even. You just launched a site or a project,  and a few days pass, you login to analytics and webmaster tools to see how things are going. Nothing is there. 

WAIT. What?!?!?! 

Scenarios start running through your mind, and you check to make sure everything is working right. How could this be?

It doesn’t even have to be a new project. I’ve realized things on clients’ sites that needed fixing: XML sitemaps, link building efforts, title tag duplication, or even 404 redirection. The right changes are made, and a week later, nothing has changed in rankings or in webmaster consoles across the board. You are left thinking "what did I do wrong?"

funny pictures of dogs with captions

A few client sites, major sites mind you, have had issues recently like 404 redirection and toolbar PageRank drops. One even had to change a misplaced setting in Google Webmaster Tools pointing to the wrong version of their site (www vs non-www). We fixed it, and there was a drop in their homepage for their name.

That looks bad. Real bad. Especially to the higher ups. They want answers and the issue fixed now … yesterday really.

Most of these things are being measured for performance and some can even have a major impact on the bottom line. And it is so hard to tell them this, even harder to do, but the changes just take …

Patience

That homepage drop? They called on Friday, as of Saturday night things are back to normal. The drop happened for 2-3 days most likely, but this is a large site. Another client, smaller, had redesigned their entire site. We put all the correct 301 redirects for the old pages and launched the site. It took Google almost 4 weeks to completely remove the old pages from the index. There were edits to URLs that caused 404 errors, fixed within a day, took over a week to reflect in Google Webmaster Tools. 

These are just a few examples where changes were made immediately, but the actions had no immediate return. We live in a society that thrives on the present, immediate return. As search marketers, we make c-level executives happy with our ability to show immediate returns on our campaigns. But like the returns on SEO, the reflection of changes in SEO take time. 

The recent Mayday and Caffeine updates are sending many sites to the bottom of rankings because of the lack of original content. Many of them are doing everything "right" in terms of onsite SEO, but now that isn’t enough. The can change their site all they want to, but until there is relevant and good content plus traffic, those rankings are not going to return for long tail terms. 

There has also been a recent crack down on over optimized local search listings. I have seen a number of accounts suspended or just not ranking well because they are in effect trying too hard. There is a such thing as over optimizing a site, and too many changes at once can raise a flag with the search engines. 

One Month Rule

funny pictures of cats with captions

Here is my rule: Make a change, leave it, go do social media/link building, and come back  to the issue a month later. It may not take a month, but for smaller sites, 2 weeks is a good time to check on the status of a few things. A month is when things should start returning to normal if there have been no other large changes to the site. 

We say this all the time with PPC accounts. It’s like in statistical analysis, you have to have enough data to work with to see results. And when you are waiting for a massive search engine to make some changes, once they do take effect in the system, you then have to give it time to work. 

So remember the next time something seems to be not working in Webmaster Tools or SERPs:

  1. If you must, double check the code (although you’ve probably already done this 15 times) to ensure it’s set up correctly. But then,
  2. Stop. Breathe. There is always a logical explanation. (And yes, Google being slow is a logical one)
  3. When did you last change something to do with the issue?
  4. If it’s less than 2 weeks ago, give it some more time.
  5. Major changes, give it a month. (Think major site redesigns and URL restructuring)

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Posted by Kate Morris

civil war n. A state of hostility or conflict between elements within an organization.

Alright, so search marketing isn’t really an "organization" but there is a certain hostility within its ranks. It’s the war of the acronyms and funding. For years there have been articles, studies, and conference panels surrounding the debate of paid search versus organic search. That rivalry is rather ancient now considering the new kids on the block: CRO, SMO, and LPO. Who will win the war? Simple. If any one side wins the war in your organization, you are the loser. 

What is CRO?

conversion rate optimization

Did you recognize that term? It’s the newest kid on the block. Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) is simply focusing on the conversion as the core metric when optimizing any particular page. I personally see this as an offshoot of Landing Page Optimization (LPO) and is sometimes seen as just another way of saying LPO. Most people see LPO/CRO as just for PPC campaigns, but anyone that assumes that is missing some great information they could be using in their SEO efforts.

There is a CRO Chat once a week on Twitter, run by Ion Interactive. Ion is a tool provider and their main product, LiveBall, is a system to allow marketers within your organization to develop and test landing pages without involving IT. It is a nice system set up and Ion’s team members are champions for CRO. They invited me to participate this week, and the topic was SEO and CRO.

Some of questions posed were:

  • In what ways do #CRO and #SEO help and/or hurt each other?
  • When #CRO and #SEO hinder each other, how do you prioritize?
  • Who should drive your #CRO and #SEO strategy? One person, or multiple people working together?

Conversion Rate Optimization and SEO

My own answers seemed to center around one thing: CRO and SEO should never hurt or hinder each other.

SEOs focus is typically ranking for targeted queries in search engines. In the big battle of PPC vs SEO, remember that what is learned in PPC about what queries are most searched for and highest converting can be applied to SEO efforts. Just like PPC, the information gleaned from CRO testing should be applied to SEO optimization. This would ensure that the page the user lands on is focused on giving them the right information for conversion. Comparing these any two parts of online marketing and optimization is (forgive me) like comparing apple and oranges.

SEO is a long term, slow moving process based on rules that are constantly changing. SEO should always be a priority because it is the foundation of your website. Without an SEO optimized site, you will be constantly paying for traffic through offline marketing or paid online sources. You can’t benefit from a site that no one can find!

Onsite SEO has two basic parts: code optimization, which has little to do with what the user sees, and internal structure which can only be aided by CRO. Internal structure is optimized for the search engines (SEs), but the SEs are looking for simple structure that users will respond to (read: what makes them convert). Search engines are becoming increasingly about the user experience on your site and therefore so should you.

Now, SEO (onsite and general link building) alone is not going to produce immediate results in most cases. It takes time, and much of the work in SEO is very backend code based. While a good SEO knows to balance focus on search engines and users, there are still plenty of sites out there that are missing the point that if the site isn’t converting, the site/page optimization was a waste. Which led to this statement during CROchat:

Blanket statement I know, sorry. Please note that this is said for most businesses that see a conversion as a form, a sale, or a link. The conversion can be anything, as long as it’s your business’s goal. There are businesses in which traffic is their "conversion" because they make money off of impression based advertising (as pointed out to me by Sandra Niehaus).

I would assume then that their conversion would be time on site or bounce rate. There is always a metric to focus on when testing that can be used as the conversion. In fact, if you are using Google Analytics, there is an option to use Time on Site as a goal.

alternate goals google analytics

Links can even be a conversion. One topic that was discussed was Linkbait vs Conversion-bait content. If you are doing link bait, the conversion is to get a link, so these two are one and the same. A piece of link bait that drives traffic, but no links is a failed campaign. Links are an integral part of SEO, and the more organic the better. Traditional methods of linking are slowing becoming more discounted as they are exploited. This is why social media (SMO) and CRO are so important to SEO efforts. SEO can no longer stand on its own, and neither can any other part of online marketing. Everyone has to work together on a combined strategy for the best results.

Applying CRO to SEO

"Great" you say, "but how do I use CRO for SEO?"

Talking about holistic marketing is one thing, performing it is another. Not every searcher is created equal and the searcher that clicks on an ad is not always in the same frame of mind as the searcher that clicks on an ad. In the same breath, I will also say that not every user is created equal in terms of demographics and internet usage. Everything we do is based on what the metrics tell us on the whole.

So I’ll give you a few examples that I hope will spur ideas for your own campaigns.

Scenario 1: Day Care and Education

You are running a test of landing pages in your PPC campaign. Testing has identified that users are searching for "day care" but want to see information about "early childhood education" because they want to give their child the best education possible while they are at daycare. How do you change your day care page on the site that is ranking #1 for "day care" in your area to include information about early childhood education without hurting your ranking?

CRO Solution for SEO: First remember that there are a few key parts of a page when it comes to onsite SEO. Title tag, content, and internal links. There is also the issue of inbound link anchor text. If you users are searching for "day care" – focus your link building efforts on that term as well as the title tag. Give them what they are looking for initially.

As for internal links, test it with your paid traffic. Do visitors click on a link called "day care" more than "early childhood education." I’d guess the former, but only your visitors can tell you. I’d keep those focused on "day care" since testing showed that searchers look for day cares that are focused on early childhood education.

The main change will be to the text. Change the text to focus on early childhood education but keep the balance with "day care." Give the page a headline based on education, but the title tag and internal links should stay focused on day care.

Example SEO Elements
Slug: /day-care.php
Title: Day Care | Susan’s Child Care Center
Headline: Education Centered Day Care
Starting Text: Day care should be more than just after school play time. At Susan’s, we focus our time with your little one on early childhood education. While you are at work, your child will be working on a number of fun and interesting early childhood education objectives. Our trained and certified staff uses proven education curriculum targeted to your child’s age group.
Internal Link Anchor: "Day Care"
External Link Anchor: "Day Care" and related

Scenario 2: Flash vs SEO

The Marketing team has done some testing on their own and has gotten approval from the executives to change the site into flash due to a higher conversion rate in paid search testing. As the company’s SEO, you don’t want them to ruin your work in the search engines. After doing a presentation that explains the issues with search engines and flash, and how much traffic comes in from the search engines, the VP of Marketing has tasked you with keeping your rankings and implementing the new design changes.

CRO Solution for SEO: First, breathe. Think this doesn’t happen? It does all the time. This can work and make both sides happy.

Step 1: Ensure that all the pages on your site stay static. CRO may have proven that a flash splash element may convert better, but it’s not a reason to have the site be one big flash file. Read more tips over at 10e20.

Step 2: Place the flash portion up top and integrate text below that. Flash can be used on a well SEO’d page, it just can’t be the only element. Get a team of designers and coders together to balance the use of flash and static HTML. The users like the flash, so keep that above the fold. It can totally be the visual focus of the page.

Step 3: Utilize what you know about ranking factors to keep the page optimized. Keep the title tag the same as before, the slug should stay the same, and the text under the flash should be as good or better than it was before. Remember that some people won’t be able to see flash, so the static HTML needs to be there for them.

Step 4: Keep link building as if there was no change. The addition of flash won’t hurt what you’ve done here, and this is still the strongest component.

Step 5: Watch the load time on your page. Adding a flash element can hinder page size and load time.

Pieces of a Puzzle

Nothing in this line of work is easy. Understanding the complexities of paid search, the different platforms, and all the levers you can pull is tough, not to mention expensive if you get it wrong. SEO is tough because we are not mind readers, understanding what users and search engines want is not easy. Getting it right on one page and getting it to rank is even harder. CRO/LPO is a big guessing game with huge rewards if you have the patience and know what to test. And social? There are scores of people that still don’t know what to do over there.

My point is, the next time you rant about PPC getting a bigger budget, or the SEO person changing everything around on you, take a step back. Remember that you all have a different focus. But in the end you are on the same team. Take your online marketing partner out to lunch and see what it is they can do for you with their knowledge, and what you can share with them.

You can split the big bonus check later.

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