SEO Do's and Don't's
(a beginner’s guide)
SEO has undergone a staggering amount of change in the
past five years. Formerly, keyword density, meta-tags and PageRank were
the prime factors that determined how search engines ranked pages.
Unfortunately, the algorithms had loopholes that allowed manipulation
and this resulted in the rise of so called 'black-hat' SEO artists who
gamed the system.
Keyword stuffing led to incomprehensible garbage spread across the net. It got the search engines to rank the sites higher, but it was far from user friendly – clicks were high, but conversions were nearly nonexistent. Seriously, imagine clicking on a search result while looking for information on baby beds and being greeted with the following:
Wow. That was, like, totally not helpful.
This means it is now possible to mention a keyword phrase only a few times in the text, and still rank highly as long as you have quality back-links pointing to your page. Each link is like a thumbs up, vouching for the usefulness of your content.
PageRank is another factor – not only do links count as a vote toward the value of your page, they increase the overall value of your site by passing along 'PageRank' – which is a fraction of the value the page they are on holds from the links that point to it. However, it is easy to get caught up in PageRank and lose site of the goal – the number of votes and the quality of those votes have to be balanced.
In other words, PageRank is like a well endowed man. He's still just a man, and only gets one vote. Does this mean his package doesn't count for anything? Of course not, but if the guy is a poker playing scumbag and you are focusing on baby beds, then he doesn't do you a lot of good. However, a good looking guy who knows how to put a crib together and also features a sizable package is pretty cool.
Relevancy is still the key. Don't be conned by SEO gurus who promise you links from a bunch of high PageRank websites – if they aren't relevant to your niche, they don't do you any more good than a link from an obscure mom's blog.
Meta-tags are more relevant to some search engine's algorithms than others. Yahoo still likes them; Google not so much – and Bing has yet to weigh in on the matter. Best practice? Go ahead and tag, but make an even greater effort to invite folksonomy (tagging by visitors) to increase trust in your site.
SEO vs UO – back to SEO for a minute. You want to optimize for search engines, but not at the expense of users, Make sure everything you do is user optimized first, and SEOd second.
Article marketing was almost ruined by black-hatters who spammed every article site with the exact same article, until Google realized that the searches were turning up identical results for nearly all of the top results for certain topics. At that point, the search engine instituted a duplicate content policy, only showing the highest ranking version of identical articles.
The spammers got around that by using automated software to 'spin' articles by jumbling the paragraphs and substituting synonyms throughout each article. The result was badly garbled and nearly incomprehensible. Now the best approach to article marketing is to spend the time to create original articles for each article site, and carefully interlink them for higher traffic power and link juice.
Blogging has almost replaced article marketing in some markets. Running an authoritative business blog and getting organic (natural) links back to it from readers is a way to increase your chances of a viral post. No, that doesn't mean anything bad – in search engine land, viral is good!
Viral simply means people read your post, create buzz about it and link to it from their own blogs, social networks and bookmarking sites, creating a flood of back-links and traffic to your site! You can also ping the BlogSearch, triggering the search engines to instantly index your fresh content. Just remember to link your blog to your website.
Search Engine Submission vs Sitemaps: Some SEOs still insist on offering search engine submissions, despite repeated proof that it is faster to submit an XML sitemap ad fast still to ping. If there is a regularly crawled section of your blog or website, a prominent link to your new content will generally result in fast indexing and increased traffic. Don't waste money on search engine submission!
Linking out is not the death knell it used to be – in PageRank's heyday, every outbound link from your site was presumed to make you bleed link juice, and this turned linking into a game of 'how can I get others to link to me without linking to them?' This followed the era of reciprocal 'You link to me, I'll link to you' and three-way 'You link to Dave, Dave will link to me, I'll link to you' schemes that resulted in loads of irrelevant links.
Just look for parties to link out to that you feel will benefit your visitors, and reach out to others who will perceive you as worthy of their own customers' attention. (The key to that last is being an incredible resource with top notch content.)
Paid Links are good for traffic, bad for rankings. Google slaps a penalty on if they think you are trying to stuff the ballot boxes with votes for your site, so make sure you keep paid links separate. They can drive traffic if placed strategically, but shouldn't be counted in your linking efforts for SEO.
One type of link you can sometimes acquire would be links from related charities or business groups in your area of expertise – a site selling pocket breathalyzers might canvass M.A.D.D. for a link from their official website, for example – and make a small donation to sweeten the deal.
Signatures and profiles on forums are another great way to get incoming links – you have to be careful and be a real contributing member of the community, however, or most forums will boot your for spam. Just don't overdo it, or Google will also look on you as a spammer.
On-page links such as footer links have fallen out of favor – many web-masters stuffed their footers with dozens of links after obligating themselves to reciprocal or three way link schemes. Better to stick with anchor text links in the body of the content itself – this lets people know where to get more information on a particular subject, and is definitely more relevant.
Trackbacks, or comments on your blog can boost your link appeal – simply look for ways to encourage commentary, and trackback to their blogs. They might surprise you with a few link-backs from their own site.
Anchor text is still relevant to an extent, but only if not abused – too many people used the anchor text in their links to plug their keywords over and over, causing Google to finally discount them almost completely, using the text around the links to determine how relevant they were.
Flash and Ajax coded websites presented a double problem to search engines for years – the inability to determine exactly what the site was about, and the tendency of the unscrupulous to stick invisible links all over the place. This has fortunately fallen out of practice since the early days, but Flash still poses problems for some users, so have a Flash and/or Ajax screen available for them.
Hidden links, and links in widgets or gadgets garner mixed reviews. Sneaky sites like to hide links inside free tools such as counters, not revealing that the links were there. However, there is a legitimate way to get some links out there – create a widget or gadget, and be completely transparent about the requirement of a link. '
WordPress themes were abused in 2007 by web designers who figured out how to artificially inflate PageRank. That has been worked through, now, and footer links saying 'designed by' no longer will pass whopping PageRank. FireFox extensions are still a good bet for link authority, however – design a good plug-in and you are in like Flynn.
Creating buzz via mass directory submission or even mass press release is outdated and considered spamming by purists. Better to go for a social media campaign featuring a blog post, and link some video or photos in the hope of going viral and getting those sweet organic back-links.
Upgrading code on your site from HTML to XHTML keeps your site extremely simple for search engines to index and update without presenting an outdated experience. It's a simple process for a good coder, or you can hire this process out and have your site validated.
SEO 'guarantees' should be dissected and probed for their true value – a guru who promises you '#1 ranking in Google' should be asked '#1 for what keyword phrase?' In general, go with an SEO who is willing to guarantee results that are quantifiable in terms of how effective they are for your success- a ROI (return on investment) of 200% within 6 months, for example, or a 10% conversion rate within 2 months.
PageRank Sculpting went out with PageRank. Sure, Page rank matters to an extent, but seriously – agonizing on whether or not a link should pass a fraction of a point of PageRank to some deep page is not worth the time. Some web-masters no-followed so many links in their effort to direct link juice to a specific page that 90% of their site ended up being locked behind a wall and inaccessible to search engines - remember, search engines use links as bridges from old content to new!
Forums can lead to spammers taking over, disputes, and unwanted aggression that can reflect badly on you. Communities, on the other hand, are a great way to get the public involved in your site. When you allow users to add their own content but only let it be visible with a certain degree of popularity attached to it, people will submit good content hoping for votes and visibility. Sphinn, Digg and Reddit are fair examples of a 'thumbs up, thumbs down' community, despite an underlying faction of users at each site who insist on being aggressive towards newcomers. You can monitor a small community of your own and probably avoid any such problems.
Your home page should be spectacular – but not at the expense of you other landing pages and your checkout system. Don't dazzle your customers when they walk in and then ask them to use a confusing checkout process.
Clutter vs white space: there are two rookie mistakes many web-masters make – they either overwhelm their 'portal' with so much information and glitz that visitors clap their hands over their eyes and ears and run, or they go for an overly minimalist effect, creating a ‘blah’ response. Balance is key!
DMOZ used to be the premier place to go for authority links, but sadly the once strictly controlled directory has fallen into favoritism and disarray. Del.icio.us is now a better bet, as is concentrating on social media to build your brand and establish yourself as an expert.
Not al the above methods will apply in every situation, and there are always exceptions to every rule – but follow Google's guideline of 'Don't be evil' and your site should flourish and prosper. Keep away from SEO 'gurus', educate yourself, and keep an open mind – the internet changes so rapidly that in another five years all the above information will be obsolete, and yet another era will have begun!