which involved everything you can do to your own website to increase it’s visibility to search engines. Now we need to cover Off Page SEO. There is really only one thing to do when we talk about Off Page SEO and that is link building. It sounds simple and it is simple, but there is a lot more to it than simply amassing a load of incoming links.
Quantity versus Quality
Quantity is of course good. You need a large number of incoming links in order to rank higher. However, links carry authority and because of this, a single link from a respected site with a high authority will provide considerably more benefit than a hundred links from new sites with little authority. At this point things might be sounding a little abstract but fear not, we will discuss this in more detail.
How is quality measured?
As Google is by far the largest search engine at this point, we will focus on them. Google gives each page a rating between 0 and 10 where 10 is the highest value. The higher the value the more authority your site has. This value is known as the PageRank. Your PageRank is different for every page in your website. For all intents and purposes when you link to someone it is seen as you giving a vote of confidence to that page. PageRank is calculated by looking at the number and quality of the incoming links to a page. Google does not disclose the exact mechanism used in order to avoid people cheating the system. The algorithm changes constantly too, in order to keep up to date with any changes.
The system is more complex than this though. It also looks at the anchor text used in links and the relevance of the two websites. If a website in a specific niche links to a website in the same niche, it is worth more than a recommendation from a totally different niche. Google provide only hints and guidelines on how the system works, no actual details.
Your PageRank is important because it dictates your ranking on search engine results pages. We all know that when we search for anything, we tend to only visit the top few sites because they are in theory the most relevant to our search terms. As a rule Google is pretty good at getting this right, hence it has just a huge market share. As people using the Google search engine, we trust their judgment.
Not all links pass authority
As awareness of how to improve search rankings becomes more popular, and the search engines results pages become more competitive, link spam became a problem. A popular example would be where someone posts a comment on your blog with a link to their’s. They are doing this merely to improve their own rankings as opposed to adding value to your discussion. In order to combat this type of issue Google introduced the NoFollow tag. To use it you simply put rel=”nofollow” inside your hyperlink tags. This then tells the search engines not to pass on any authority. Google says this is not a negative vote, just a way to combat spam.
A common practice to rapidly build up a large number of links is to buy them. The morals of this are discussed endlessly but the bottom line is that Google finds it unacceptable and penalises any website found to be buying links or selling paid links. They are pretty good at detecting who is buying links too. Many SEO firms will use the link buying technique to get results for their customers. Is this short sighted though? SEO firms need results now that they can show their customers in order to validate the bill they are about to give them.
As far as I am concerned it is a much better use of your time to develop good long term links than taking any risk buy buying links. The problem is that so many people still do buy links, and with competition in many industries being so fierce, if you do not, the chances are your page will be nowhere to be seen on the search engine results pages. Gyutae Park over at Winning the Web had an interesting discussion about whether buying links is worth it or not after he posted about the pros and cons of link buying . It seems to me the buy your way to the top mentality is very much rooted in the old school way of doing business. The problem is that online we are heading towards a more community and collaborative based approach.
For a good while now selling text ads has been a good money maker online. Many bloggers make good money each month from selling ads. The problem however was that those buying the ads were buying them for the SEO reasons as opposed to for the actual advertising benefit in many instances. This is no longer permitted by Google and those found selling links get punished. The solution has been to add the NoFollow tag to all paid adverts. For those buying the links for the advertising purposes, this is a minor downside, but for those buying the links for SEO purposes, it has pretty much made text ads redundant. The market for text ads has been hurt badly by this change, as has many webmasters income. If your website is big enough, you may choose to ignore Google, and live without them. Whilst possible, this is not advisable.
Building links organically and Linkbaiting
Building links organically is a fairly passive process. You create your content and develop your readership in the hope that people will find it of interest and link to it. Discussion does happen between websites, and people frequently post lists of links to items they recommend reading. It is a slow process to build links naturally and because of this marketers have developed techniques to speed it up. Linkbait is content created with the purpose of attracting a large number of incoming links. People who master the technique can really benefit with great search engine rankings, and ultimately traffic which is the key to making money online.
Linkbait is designed to gain many backlinks. To do this it needs to be something that people will find useful or interesting, and want to share. Typically most linkbait involves creating resource lists, data, breaking news, an application or tool, something funny or quirky, something controversial, or simply an amazing piece of writing. Lets examine these in more detail.
These are very popular nowadays as they are a great way of doing well in search engines. In order to impress you will need to create something special and it will unfortunately take a lot of hard work and effort. A year ago a top ten list might have worked, but now people create resource lists with hundreds of items on them. The reason they do well is that people can see the value and bookmark them for future reference, then recommend their readers do so too.
Tests and experiments with detailed write ups and data can perform well. It is key that it is unique and new research which covers a topic many people are interested in. The generic example is testing a number of spam protection systems a number of times and providing detailed reviews and data.
If you are the first to break some news then you will be referenced by everyone else. The bigger the story the more links you will receive. This technique works especially well for time sensitive subject matters so performs well with political and celebrity blogs and news sites where breaking a scandal before anyone else can result in thousands of backlinks and overnight success.
An application or tool
Create a new tool that thousands or better yet millions of people will find useful and you will get a lot of traffic. We all love tools which make our life easier and are willing to give anyone who creates one a massive shout out. This type of linkbait can be the defining feature of your blog and bring a constant stream of traffic everyday for a long time to come.
Something quirky or funny
This type of thing is hard to create. You never know what will do well and go viral or what will be a total non event. Think of the star wars kid, or any other of the hundreds of emails you get with funny pictures in. If you start one of these trends that go viral you can gain an enormous amount of backlinks and traffic. Like I said though, this is a very hit and miss technique.
The web is laced with controversy so you are going to have to pull something special out of the bag here. The right subject matter, marketed in the right way can be very beneficial to your website. Controversy has a unique way of bringing people out of silence to put forth their opinion. There will be people both attacking and defending the subject feeding off each other. The chances are in most cases people will just dismiss it as yet another person just trying to be controversial.
An amazing piece of writing
Probably by far the hardest type of linkbait. Writing something that most people will find to be amazing takes some talent. I do not believe that this is something that you can really just do. Instead you should try to always aim to make your work amazing and valuable then one day you might just nail it.
Enough for now
I think that is enough to get you started and thinking about what you need to do. Let me know how you get on and if you feel something needs adding or editing – do not hesitate, just drop me an email or comment here. If you feel this is of value, then help me out by giving it at stumble, digg, tweet, or whatever social network you use. The share this option below has links to all the main ones.
The first time round I explained the basics including:
- what SEO stands for
- what SEO companies do
- why you need SEO
- the difference between white hat and black hat
- some sources of confusion
- SEO is an ongoing process
- can you do SEO
Now we have covered these important basics I am going to discuss the techniques involved in SEO. These take up two categories: “On page” and “Off page”. The titles are pretty self explanatory and as you probably figured out yourself, on page refers to things you can change on your own website where as off page regards techniques that do not involve your own site, primarily link building. Today we will focus on “On page” SEO.
On Page SEO
Much has been written about SEO. Not a day goes by without a dozen new blog posts about the ultimate SEO techniques or a new tweak which will change your search engine results. One of the most popular resources is Aaron Wall’s SEO book. You will see this advertised on almost every blog. For beginners this is all too complicated and goes into too much detail to the point where it is overwhelming. For beginners there are a number of simple techniques, which are often no more than best practice which are key to any SEO strategy.
1. The title tags
These title tags appear at the top of every page before any content. As they are the first thing the search engine reads, and the title of the page, they should convey what will be found on the page. Some SEO experts such as Josh Spaulding regard this to be the most important on page SEO factor.
Choosing a catchy title to attract readers vs a keyword filled descriptive title is a tricky decision sometimes. It depends on your goals. In the short term the catchy title might do better, but this traffic does not last. A descriptive title including relevant keywords will rank well in search engines providing a long term constant stream of organic traffic.
2. Meta description
These no longer hold the value they once did. In the past search engines used this information to know what was on your page. If we could manually tell the search engines what was on the page then the system would be very easy to game. This is not the case so much now search algorithms are considerably more advanced and complex. Meta description has practically no influence on your rankings.
The important thing to do is write a good description of your page. This text is often displayed on the search engine results pages, and is what a user will read after your title, but before deciding to click. A well written meta description could be what convinces someone to visit your site.
3. Internal linking and navigation
Sitemaps come in two forms. XML sitemaps which you can register in Google’s webmaster tools (Familiarise yourself with these, you will keep coming back to them), and regular sitemaps to help users. The XML sitemap is a must have. It helps search engines navigate your website more easily and find new content. A regular sitemap can help your regular users navigate. These are particularly useful when the sites navigation is complicated or hard to see. If you go down the Flash site route, definitely add a sitemap.
Each page has a certain authority which can be passed on via linking, because of this it is important you link to and reference your own content. Remember to do this naturally and not just linking for the sake of SEO. This has the added benefit of showing off your other content to readers, increasing the sites overall page views and reducing the bounce rate.
4. Search Engine Friendly URLs
Originally almost all URLs were simple and easily understood as we created and named them manually. Now we tend to use database driven sites, powered by PHP. The pages are generated dynamically and have URLs which are long, do not consist of words, and are near impossible to remember.
Search engine friendly URLs are simple and clean. WordPress and many other content management systems will do this automatically for you if you set it up. These clean URLs can take the format of your choice though most opt for a simple mydomain/article-title or mydomain/category/article-title. As we use the article title as the URL, we have relevant keywords in our URL which helps rank our page. The key is to keep them as short and simple as possible, but remember that you cannot have the same URL for two different pages.
5. Anchor text
This is used to determine keywords which are relevant to the linked page. It is important you put a little thought into this. If you want a page to rank well for the keyword “green widget” then use that keyword in the anchor text for any links to that page. The ultimate misuse of the anchor text is to use text such as “click here”, as this provides no information.
6. Accessibility and best practice
We should aim to make our websites as accessible as possible. Alt tags are important for every image. Broken links and forms should be fixed. The loading time of your page is another factor to take into account as it seems Google may start taking this into account.
Things NOT to do
As mentioned already, this is very important as it is weighted and ranked by search engines. Using “click here” as your anchor text gives no indication of what you are linking to.
This involves making links the same colour as your background, or in a div pushed off screen, or hidden in any other way. If you are found out the search engines will penalise you.
This involves making text the same colour as the background and filling it with your keywords, or using your keywords over and over again in your title and a variety of other methods. As already mentioned, search engines do not take well to people who try to game the system.
Have you ever read an article that barely made sense because of the repetition of certain key words and phrases? This is the result of people attempting to write for search engines as opposed to for their readers. You will do much better in the long run if your content is actually useful to users.
Next week I shall be looking into off page SEO techniques.
Did I explain this clearly? Could anything be explained differently? Do you have any techniques I should add?
The world has gone SEO crazy. SEO consultants are popping up everywhere. Web design companies are re branding as SEO companies and marketing companies are offering SEO services too. This is much more than a fad though, it is common sense mixed in with a load of jargon and hype. It is the latest in marketing strategy.
What does SEO stand for?
In short, SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation (the process) or Search Engine Optimisers (those who carry out the process). It does pretty much what it says on the can. They work to optimise your web presence for search engines. This is achieved by understanding the algorithms search engines use in order to index websites and display them as search results. A SEO specialist will work on your site in order to achieve good rankings for the search terms you want your business to show up under. For example, if you are a wetsuit retailer, you would like your site to come top of the list when someone searches for “wetsuits”. The value of this is obvious – increased traffic, leading to increased sales.
What does a SEO company do?
They may do a variety of things, from re coding sites and fixing problems related to the search engines ability to crawl/spider the site to changing the structure. A big part of effort goes into the content. Search engines value relevant, regularly updated content. A SEO will make sure there is relevant content, containing relevant keywords that the company wants to rank well for, and that new content is regularly added.
Why do I need a SEO?
These consultants or companies specialise in this field, and are therefore able to offer expert advise. Unfortunately many web designers are not up to date with the latest industry standards and produce websites which are not totally search engine friendly. Here an SEO can help. SEOs are also generally more aware of marketing strategy than web designers.
What are White hat and Black hat?
White hat quite simply refers to SEO techniques recommended by search engines. There is no deception. Wikipedia sums it up as “creating content for users, not for search engines, and then making that content easily accessible to the spiders, rather than attempting to trick the algorithm from its intended purpose”.
Black hat techniques try to game the search engines algorithms and if discovered using these techniques, your website will be penalised. There are many techniques that can be used but Google is pretty good at catching people out. This approach does not offer the long term results of White hat SEO.
Sources of confusion
As the search engines do not publish guidelines but often hint towards things there are many grey areas. The search engines algorithms are top secret. SEOs therefore have to test and make assumptions. For example, it is commonly agreed that search engines read from top to bottom and left to right. Therefore it would be beneficial to have as little as possible between the top of your source code, and your content. Mark from 45n5.com made a report on this recently.
There is no formal recognised industry body or qualification for SEO. This pretty much allows anyone to call themselves a SEO expert so when it comes to picking one to work for you it is important to do your homework. Ask for references and contact them. Any good company should have no problem supplying references. This problem is highlighted by Jeremy Schoemaker who says:
This is why SEO’s are like used car salesman…
- They can always sell you something.
- They can never guarantee results.
- They can not be held accountable.
- They have a answer for everything.
- All the magic happens behind the curtains – they cant tell you what they are actual doing because that would be getting to much into the secret sauce.
- Anyone can be a SEO.
SEO is an ongoing process. It is not a one off thing. In order to rank well new content has to be created regularly. This is the reason that company blogs are increasingly popular. Blogs rank very well with search engines and typically produce new content on a regular basis.
Can I do SEO?
UPDATE: I have just found out about this free ebook showing you some easy SEO techniques. If you are ready to take the next step and find out more about SEO this is ideal. Download The Easy SEO Report.
Have you hired a SEO expert? What criteria did you use for selecting them? Does your business have a blog? Is it for SEO purposes?