February 17, 2011

Google Knol Collection

Businesses New Secret Weapon – SEO – Search Engine Optimization

It has been a well kept secret for years but more small and medium sized businesses are finding out the truth

megaman-seoSearch engine optimization (SEO) has really taken corporate Canada by surprise or a better way of putting it would be bewilderment.   Most decision makers in this country know that SEO is important but are not sure exactly what it is and how it can ultimately effect the bottom line of their companies.  Because of this uncertainty Canada still lags behind the USA and the UK in terms of utilizing SEO to drive quality visitors to their websites and grow their business.

The secret that many large companies in the UK and the USA already know and that the more progressive Canadian companies are now just starting to find out is that having a ‘real’ professional SEO in-house is like having a “secret weapon” – and just to clarify, I am not exaggerating, blowing my own horn or using a poor analogy.  This is the cold-hard truth and up until now a very well kept secret.

Here is an example in support of my above statement:

In my last in-house position the basic numbers supported the true power of SEO as the ultimate ROI (return on investment) and secret weapon.  When the company made conversions through more traditional marketing methods both online and off with banner ads, radio commercials, TV spots and print advertising the cost per acquisition was $49.00   When they made acquisitions through SEO the cost was $9.50 – considering SEO brought in almost 20 million dollars in revenue in 2008 I would say that not only was this an amazing ROI but it is really what kept this company afloat.

Having an in-house SEO allows a company to be very ‘light’ on their feet and take advantage of opportunities that would otherwise not be found or leveraged to their full potential.  When you have an edge on your competition by using SEO to increase your website traffic, brand awareness and ultimately your companies profits it can open many doors for partnerships because everyone in your industry or complimentary industries wants to be part of a successful company.

When the boss/board of directors/owners/CEO or president wants to test market a new product or service they can jump in with both feet knowing the in-house SEO will support and find ways to promote and analyze the potential of the new endeavor.  When someone comes knocking to sell them advertising or the newest greatest profitability scheme they can have the SEO sit in on these meetings and offer ‘real’ advice based on hard data.  For example, we had the Yellow Pages folks in for a meeting last month and they were telling us of their newest and greatest ‘improvement’ coming down-the-pipes in which we would be able to bid on top placement in their online directory.  The section they were recommending for us was one our SEO (me) knew only garnered us a few dozen hits a month even in spot 4 on Google – so it gave us the heads-up on what type of bid would be worthwhile (a low one) where-as another company in our market might get sucked into bidding very high for the same keyword because they did not know the actual value of it.

When a partner in the industry was refocusing their mission thereby leaving a website up for grabs the in-house SEO was able to see the value in this site and the company was able to acquire it before it went to public auction where it would have fetched 4 or 5 times the value we paid.

Really, I could go on and on….leveraging current market share, taking advantage of hot news trends, driving long-tail traffic to inner pages, raising the value of current affiliate and membership programs, developing good will with suppliers and friends, spotting red flags on the horizon and avoiding penalties.  I can’t count the times I have sat in on a call with my boss and x supplier, x salesperson, x investor, x affiliate, x business proposal and had valuable input into what the offer might mean to us.  Simply because as the in-house SEO you live and breathe the business and industry you work in – knowing the data and pitfalls from the inside out give you tremendous knowledge and insight.

Having an in-house SEO really is a secret weapons, sort of like having in-house council but it costs a lot less, for now!  With that said SEO salaries seem to be on the rise, I get calls on a regular basis from many employment agencies and they all say the crop of SEO professionals are thin.  Most offer juicy cash incentives to me if I can recommend someone qualified and they take the position.  The problem with that is, of the dozen or so good SEO’s I know, all are employed.


Why Owning a Web Directory Sucks

From dream to nightmare, owning a web directory can be a stressful experience.

Yahoo! started out as an online web directory, Google pulls results from the open directory project DMOZ.  Joe Ant Directory has a really cool name – I have been through the gambit of directory ownership myself and have many a gray hair to prove it!

building-blocksI first wrote this list back in 2007 but it seems web directories are still a very relevant part of the Internet landscape and an important part of an aggressive search engine optimization strategy.  If you have ever had a hankering to own your very own web directory then this article is for you.  I would also love to hear of your personal ‘stages’ in the comment section.

Here is my experience building directories and watching others build them.  A bit tongue-in-cheek but true to the heart.

Stage 1 – You dream of claiming your piece of the Internet boom pie and possible fame from owning the next BIG directory.  The desire to help your fellow forum members and maybe earn some cash along the way is the driving force behind your decision to build your first web directory.

Stage 2 – Building your free directory, getting the free script installed and putting up a free template.  No pre-structure categories for you.  You start from scratch and add in all 300 categories manually, you will do it right, not like those lazy folks.

Stage 3 – The excitement and pride when you announce your new directory and the traffic and submissions begin flowing in.  Wow if I knew I could get 100+ uniques a day this easily I would not have bothered with all those other crappy arcade sites and blogs.

Stage 4 – Becoming a little annoyed at folks that submit MFA (made-for-adsense) sites, spam sites and wrongly submitted sites.  Surely these people could at least read my terms and conditions, after all I am offering them free backlinks.

Stage 5 – Realizing you are spending 2 hours a day on this new venture and you sure hope some of these folks decide to buy a featured review listing so you can at least pay for your hosting and buy a burger or something.

Stage 6 – Facing the reality that 90% of your time spent on your directory is checking out MFA sites, spam sites and fixing other peoples spelling and submission errors.  This whole ‘directory’ thing ain’t so great after all?

Stage 7 – You consider changing over to a paid directory because you are getting frustrated with all the crappy submissions that you are spending half your day looking at.  You start to curse the folks that sell 100 MFA sites for $5 and wonder if you can report them to the FBI or your priest, may they burn-in-hell.  You take a break from approvals for a few days to collect your thoughts and figure out your future in the directory business.

Stage 8 – You log into your admin section to see 600 sites pending approval and dread the fact that 599 of them will be MFA (made-for-adsense) and spam, the decision is made.

Stage 9 – Deciding that a paid directory would solve most of your problems, with a little embarrassment you announce your directory is going paid but you will keep the prices low, at $1 a submission to keep out the shady webmasters, auto submitters and spam.  Maybe this higher class of visitor will even be literate enough to read the terms and conditions thereby making approvals a lot quicker.  Now you can start to make some money too.

Stage 10 – Your traffic drops off by 99.9% and you finally get a paid submission and realize that your payment processor took half of it.  You contemplate going out of business, but there is still hope because the page rank update is only 5 weeks away and then some of your hard work will start to pay off when you see that little green bar with a little juice in it.  When people realize how BIG Google thinks you are the real submissions should roll in.

Stage 11 – The page rank update comes and even though you spent over $9 on word cloud sites and did free directory submissions till all hours of the morning every weekend you only got a page rank of 1 and there are still quite a few free PR2 and 3 directories out there especially with all the folks buying dropped domains.  So why would someone pay a whole dollar to list on your directory when they can list for free elsewhere?

Stage 12 – You start to read the directory forums looking for an answer to your problems.  Get a custom template, buy links to raise your page rank, buy signature space and do other types of promotion to get your directories name out there.  But that costs serious cash and you are already in the hole by a few bucks and a few hundred hours.  You start to figure out that if you got part-time job at the local fast food joint you would have earned 1000 times more than you have being a directory owner.

Stage 13 – You are angry that you wasted so much time on this stupid project.  You are disillusioned because all you wanted to do was help folks out and they were thankless goons, so you come out of lurk mode on the forums and start posting topics like, “Directories Are Useless” and “Matt Cutts Gunning for Directory Owners” and “Submitters Suck” and so on…..

Stage 14 – Time to give up and close the doors on this baby.  You held out for almost 4 months which isn’t bad….I guess.  Time to find the next BIG thing, hey you…is that an auto blog you are selling for $4?  I bet I can make a killing on those!

Disclaimer: I have been involved with online business, marketing and search engine optimization for the past ten years and I am always keeping an eye out for the ‘next big thing’ and so should you!   My first directory URL still lives on the web (but I don’t own it anymore) www.2ListNow.com


Top 10 – Ten SEO Tips

Beginner Tips for Search Engine Optimization

I am an SEO/SEM specialist from Toronto, Ontartio, Canada. Here is a list of 10 search engine optimization tips for those just starting out.

Whether you are thinking of hiring an SEO firm or going the DIY (do-it-yourself) route it is best to learn as much as possible before you commit resources to search engine optimization and marketing.

1. Pay attention to meta tags, the title tag is the most important but make sure it is not stuffed with keywords.  It should contain your primary and secondary keywords (some circles say it should/could contain  your URL as well but I have found it dilutes the keywords too much).  Search engines nowadays, especially Google are becoming very good at detecting spam and if you stuff your title tags with too many keywords you may get penalized.

2. Large images and fancy flash websites may look pretty but they can be a big turn-off for search engine spiders, and humans with anything but the fastest internet connection.  Everyone likes their website to be attractive but the price you pay in slow load times can make SEO and long-term growth impossible.  Clean, simple, attractive websites fair best when it comes to search engines and casual visitors.  Google has recently stated they are working with Adobe and will be able to read flash.  That is great news but I would still recommend going light on flash elements on your site.

3.  Don’t always focus on major keywords, the most important keywords for your industry will be highly competitive and very difficult to rank highly for.  When you start off try to rank for some less competitive keywords and longer phrases.  As you get more comfortable with SEO you can then optimize for some of the more sought after keywords.  The current lingo for this type of longer keyword is ‘long-tail key phrases’.

4. Don’t, I repeat….don’t use black hat SEO techniques or linking/spamming schemes.  When you are struggling for traffic it can be tempting to take a short-cut and use some of the more unscrupulous SEO strategies available but even if you get some positive short-term results you will be at a high risk of being penalized or banned from the search engines index.  Just like the fable of the turtle and the hare, you want to be the SEO turtle….slow and steady will win this race.

5. Do read forums and ask others for advice.  Forums are a great way to learn about what is new and useful in search engine optimization and marketing.  As a professional SEO I spend around 2 hours a day reading and writing on webmaster related forums.  Some of the more popular are DigitalPoint Forums and HighRanking Advisor.  There are lots of great SEO blogs too but you might want to get a little knowledge under your belt before tackling those.

6. Don’t be too thrifty to hire a professional.  There are only so many hours in each day and good business owners know when it is a better value and use of their time to delegate and hire outside professional help.  Nobody can be expected to know (and do it) all, optimizing your website for the search engines is a very important part of your chance at long-term success.

7. Don’t hire an SEO if their first language is not the language you are optimizing for.  Outsourcing is the current hot buzzword of business and I myself do a fair share of my business dealing with folks from many countries and many different native languages, but when it comes to keyword research, content writing and tweaking it is important that the person/firm you hire speaks the native language you are optimizing, marketing and analyzing for as a first language.

8. You might have heard this one before but it is worth repeating, content was, is and always will be KING.  Interesting, well presented content will make your website a winner and make any SEO and SEM much easier to accomplish.  Sometimes you need to go back to the basics and re-build your site from the ground-up.

9. This one should probably be higher up the list and I know it causes many sleepless nights for those new to the field, Google page rank.  Don’t sweat it, visual page rank is not very important.  If you build good content and get lots of quality links your page rank will rise naturally over time.  Google has recently used page rank as a weapon against 1000’s of sites that it feels is selling paid links.  Many large, authority sites have had their page rank cut in half or taken away completely.  Since it really means nothing I would advise you to not worry about that little green bar.

10. Don’t put-off SEO and SEM any longer.  You might be thinking that your website is just costing you a few hundred dollars a year for hosting so no big deal if I don’t work on building it up.  The real cost is in business opportunities lost and money wasted on more expensive forms of promotion and advertising.  SEO and SEM do not offer instant traffic or profits but if you have a little patience the payoff down-the-road can be substantial, don’t procrastinate any longer, learn SEO or hire an SEO firm today.
This content was also provided to: Toronto SEO FirmTop 10 SEO Tips

SEO Lies and Myths Revealed

Like life there are many lies and myths floating around the SEO industry

In every industry there are those that sell ‘snake oil’ – the cure-all for everything that ails you. And the search engine optimization industry has some of those unsavory types too! Stay current on what the most recent myths are and you can protect yourself from getting scammed.

snake oilLately I have had the subject of lying on my mind and not only for the fact that I have five kids ages 7, 9, 10, 11 and 13 at home and lying seems to  have become one of their favorite pastimes.  In the world of SEO (like many industries) there are a slew of lies floating around the web and some individuals benefit by them, some big companies encourage them, but mostly the entire industry suffers for them.

Lying is a big part of everyone life, from the little tiny white ones; “do I look fat in these pants”? to “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”! – My kids and I love the movie The Truman Show and my then 6 year old daughter wondered for weeks whether she was in the “Jessica Show” (and I encouraged it by looking at the mirror every once-in-a-while and saying a few halted lines about a product).  One of my all-time favorite movies, The Matrix was about a really big lie and the recent movie, The Invention of Lying was about a world were no one even knew what a lie was because one had never been told.  I think I have a permanent fascination with ‘lying’ since reading the book, The Truth Machine because it was so amazingly interesting.  I even heard there is a professor in Cambridge teaching an ethics course and every class he tells one lie and it is part of the grading system for the students to find out what lie was perpetrated each class.

Some of the popular lies running the gambit in SEO are:

-SEO companies that offer search engine submissions, some even charge as much as $99 for this useless service.  All you need is one backlink out there for the search engines to follow and they will naturally index your site, no need to pay for this as a ’service’ and in my opinion any SEO company that offers it is on the shady side.

-You need thousands and thousands of links to rank for competitive terms – completely untrue, you can rank for competitive terms with half or a quarter of competitors backlinks depending on the quality of those links.  One good link can easily be better than 100 spammy links.

-Getting a high page rank will help you rank better in the search rankings.  No way, no how!  These days visual page rank means very little and I have seen many low page rank and even zero page rank sites place very well in the organic listings.  Not only is page rank almost worthless, chasing it (by purchasing incoming links from high page rank sites) can actually get your site penalized.

-Guaranteed results scams – This one is big these days and I have had numerous potential clients ask about what guarantee I offer and I tell them the same thing each time.  I guarantee I will work very hard to get you ranked as high as possible in the shortest time while balancing out risk.   It is about then, they launch into a speech about an email they got promising them number one position in Google or your money back.  I try my best to explain that no one can guarantee that and there is always a catch.  Whether it is by them using paid placement, ranking for obscure, low competition key phrases or plain old ‘hit-and-run’ tactics (meaning the business won’t even be around when you try and collect your money back).  Please have a look at the SEO scams section here for more info on these types of offers.  I end each of these conversations with a statement like this, “If nothing else, do you really think that a company is going to work on a website for months and then because of something beyond their control – get paid absolutely nothing for it?”

-SEO can be done by anyone, including yourself.  Now I am not saying it is not possible for a website owner to learn the basics of SEO and in fact I encourage it, because if and when you eventually hire a professional you will at least have a rudimentary understanding of what needs to be done.  But just like plumbing, you may be able to tighten up a washer or unclog your own drain but when it comes to doing any complicated work you better be prepared to hire a professional or devote some serious time to learning the plumbing trade.  Same with SEO – you can write better content and buy a site design with a better structure but when it comes down to serious SEO you will need to hire a professional or spend 100’s of hours learning a new part-time career.  And just like trying to fix your own broken water pipe problems you might end up making things worse and then paying twice as much to fix the damage you have done.  If your business depends on you to provide a function, be it sales, support, planning or other expertise – your time is much better spent doing those things and paying out profits to a professional SEO that can perform those specialized services faster and at a much higher level than you could.

-Here is another myth/lie that I can vouch for personally.  It seems many people think that if you go to Matt Cutts blog and write down complementary comments (read: kissing his butt) to his posts you will receive a higher page rank and up to 400% more Google traffic.  This is false.

Lying is part of human nature but it is always a good idea to stay up-to-date on what lies are floating around a particular industry so you don’t fall for them.  So as those emails roll in with amazing offers of ‘number one ranking’ in Google guaranteed and ‘don’t pay a penny till you are number one’ – just remember the age-old adage about ‘getting what you pay for’.


OMG do you Want to Rank Better?

Welcome to Acronym Hell

I designed this page to be a hub for all the acronyms you might encounter while optimizing your website to rank well in the search engines.

One topic that never seems to be covered when discussing or introducing folks to search engine marketing and optimization is the insane number of acronyms you need to endure in order to “get with the program”.  I designed this page to be a hub for all the acronyms you might encounter while optimizing your website to rank well in the search engines.
kissI will kick-off this article with the very first business related acronym I learned back in College – K.I.S.S, (keep it simple stupid) I was told that all marketing strategy should begin with this acronym in mind but it seems times have changed; Internet and technology in general have raised the bar on people entering the marketing world or perhaps this principal does not apply to anything but a traditional style of marketing.  The Apple/PC commercials are a good example of this because they are low budget with a simple message.

Enough preamble let’s talk ‘acronyms and search engines’.SEO and SEM seem to be the hottest buzzwords on the web right now, you also should be aware of SNM and SBO or you will be left in the dust because they are all part of SMM.If you are really concerned about your ROI, CPA or the other CPA as they relate to CRO then you better get your SERP up because we all need more VPM on our websites.And don’t even bother to worry about your PR.You could also give PPC or CPM a try but they tend to cost more long-term.  Also be warned to stay away from RLE and FFA sites because Google does not like them, it is rumored they are also cracking down on MFA sites.  And watch out for the amount of BPV used because it can get quite expensive especially if you are using a VPS that has additional charges.  Btw if you tell me your CTR I will tell you mine.

Here is the same paragraph in plain English without the lovely acronyms.

Search engine optimization and search engine marketing are the hottest buzzwords on the web right now, you should also be aware of social network marketing and social bookmarking optimization or you will be left in the dust because they are all part of social media marketing.If you are really concerned about your return on investment, cost per action or the other – cost per acquisition as they related to conversion rate optimization then you better get your search engine rank position up because we all need more visitors per month to our websites.And don’t even bother to worry about your page rank at this point.You could also give pay-per-click or cost per million a try but they tend to cost more long-term.  Also be warned and stay away from reciprocal link exchanges and free for all sites because Google does not like them, it is rumored they are also cracking down on Made For Adsense sites.  And watch out for the amount of bandwidth per visitor used because it can get quite expensive, especially if you are using a virtual private server that has additional charges.  By-the-way if you tell me your click through rate I will tell you mine.

Don’t worry I won’t ROTFLMAO (roll on the floor laughing my ass off) at you if you don’t remember them all and please feel free to add your own in the comments.  Please take the time to rate this Knol and I will be your BFF (best friend forever).


Website Analytic Tips for SEO

Data is your friend and I don’t mean the guy from Star Trek

Ask any SEO and they will probably tell you that data from your log files are very important to the success of your online venture but did you know that there are many people that are afraid of data?

knol oneFear of Data or FoD is an affliction that can strike anyone, regardless of how intelligent they are and the symptoms include; a look of confusion, a marked state of panic or an uncontrollable shaking of the head while uttering the words “what they heck do all these numbers even mean”.  These symptoms are universal and can begin anytime you need to look under the hood of a website and figure out where the traffic is coming from and what these guests are doing during their visits.In order to understand website analytics we need to first know what to look for and how it can help us.  The following are the top ten most important analytics and what they mean to your success as a website owner or SEO.

1. Keyword Search Referrals is probably the biggest.  Mining this for the long-tail and other nuggets of insight is invaluable.  I have had websites where 80% of my traffic strategy was gleaned from studying this data.  Remember, data does not lie.  Even if you see something unexpected in these logs make sure to follow up.

2. Top Referrals is another high value SEO/SEM guiding analytic.  This tells you what search engines are referring you the most visitors and it even breaks it down further so you can see what number is coming from say, Google Images and Google Search.

3. Top Viewed URL’s is a virtual goldmine of information because it allows you to see what content on your site is the most popular and it can help identify important SEO opportunities.  I have seen client websites that garner a majority of traffic directly to categories on their blogs, even more so than to the main page and because of the relevance they convert extremely well.

4. Visit Duration is a tidbit of information that has a ton of value as it relays to you how happy your visitors are with the site.  If you notice a high instance of low duration, like 95% staying for 30 seconds or less then you have what is called a bounce rate problem and you need to work on the look, feel and/or content of your site.  Sometimes a quick stay is all that is needed for a visitor to view a picture they searched for and click on a money earning advertisement but typically speaking the longer your visitors linger on your site, the better!

5. Total Visits is a useful statistic for judging the overall general popularity of you website and will give you information on the number of visitors that visit your website.  Generally, we like to look more closely at actual unique visitors because those are the ‘bread and butter’ of any growing site.

6. Visits per Host can help tell you a little more about the demographics of your traffic.  You might notice a high instance of visitors from certain hosting addresses and this can mean many things.  Once time I had a slew of visitors one month from a certain ip address of the local telephone company and it turned out that one of my posts went viral via inter-office email and that was the reason.

7. File Type give you information on how much bandwidth is being used by each file type that is loading up and can again help you target potential problems with high bandwidth cost and even poor user experience if you notice certain memory intensive graphics slowing down the website.

8. Visitors/Country is a good way to track where on the planet your visitors are coming from, this can be useful when planning content because if you see a high majority of your visitors are from a certain geographical area then you can leverage that knowledge and write more topical content to spread your websites appeal even further.

9. Total Data Transferred can be helpful when you have hosting problems and need a quick idea of how traffic heavy your content is.  The most common issue being high bandwidth usage.  Perhaps a majority of your visitors are watching bandwidth heavy movies or flash files.

10. Total Pages Viewed is handy in determining if your site has some stickiness (meaning visitors stick around and look at more than one page of your site), the more pages each visitor looks at the better it is for you because they obviously found your site compelling enough to spend some time reading the content.

So if you have FoD, like so many webmasters do – you should just remember how much value the data contains because once you realize how valuable it is and experience how much it can help you and your clients you will be like me and move on to a new addiction….LoD (Love of Data).