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Unknown Search Results Make SEO Harder

October 6, 2014 1 comment

unknownresultsGoogle has been encrypting keyword searches for several years now. That makes web searching more private for users, but a lot more complicated for web marketers. In a blog post from 2011, Google claimed,

Over the next few weeks, many of you will find yourselves redirected to https://www.google.com (note the extra “s”) when you’re signed in to your Google Account. This change encrypts your search queries and Google’s results page. This is especially important when you’re using an unsecured Internet connection, such as a WiFi hotspot in an Internet cafe.

Some controversy developed at the time, but as secured browsing has grown, I hardly see search keywords in my reports any more. Part of the controversy has to do with the fact Google continues to display specific keyword searches for its ad program; AdWords. It makes sense to use secured browsing when surfing on a public connection. I’m just not sure I can buy into allowing paid advertisers access when website operators typically keep their organic search reports private.

Unfortunately for small businesses, it’s changes like this where having a professional working for you can be of benefit. There are some pretty complicated solutions detailed here that I won’t go into in this article.

What I will go into are two straightforward workarounds that can still provide the information you’re looking for.

The first is to examine user behavior on your site’s pages. Pages that get traffic are typically ranked. Digging a little will tell you which keywords are on that page and you can have a general idea of which keywords are bringing visitors to your site.

But what if you have a campaign or publicized link out there? Could that skew your results? Yes it could! Which leads me to step two…

ALWAYS use a tracking code for links you promote. What’s a tracking code? It’s a simple bit of php you put on the end of a URL. For example this is the link to the Guide I’m promoting:

http://www.swabymedia.com/downloads/ZTGuide.pdf

This is the same link with tracking code:

http://www.swabymedia.com/downloads/ZTGuide.pdf?src=test

It’s the “?” that initiates the code. You can put whatever you want after that. I use src to indicate a source and test can be anything you want. If I posted this to Facebook I could use -

http://www.swabymedia.com/downloads/ZTGuide.pdf?src=fb

For Twitter -

http://www.swabymedia.com/downloads/ZTGuide.pdf?src=tw

If you use multiple posts to the same source you can track them in more detail by adding a numeric code or date like this -

http://www.swabymedia.com/downloads/ZTGuide.pdf?src=fb1

http://www.swabymedia.com/downloads/ZTGuide.pdf?src=fb100614

BEFORE you publish the tracking code be sure to test it! You don’t want to spend time or money publicizing a link for it to go to your 404 not found page.

I have been an advocate of tracking codes for a very long time. Google’s encryption of keywords is going to force smart marketers to have to use them 100% of the time. Or you can just buy ads…

Social Media for Real Estate – Ranking Test

October 3, 2014 2 comments

The recent announcement of the merger between Zillow and Trulia has a lot of real estate agents concerned. So I did a little research to see if real estate agents could compete post merger. The short answer is they can. You can find the long answer and ways how here.

While I was researching the guide, I decided to do a little test. Could I make a real estate listing post on a Facebook business page and have it show up in a Google search result? My hypothesis was it would get ranked. A few days ago I checked Google to find out. Here’s what I found.

fbserp

I was a little surprised this site showed up. I have feeds set so when I publish something to Facebook, it also goes to Twitter. My Twitter feed shows up here on my right sidebar.

real estate marketing

The entire Twitter post showed up as well. So did another page from this site. That one post on Facebook got three search results on Google.

fbserp2

But I haven’t found the Facebook post itself to be ranked…and it was the source for the content.

My takeaways from this experiment follow-

1. My hypothesis was the Facebook post would get ranked. It didn’t…yet. (I’ll provide an update if that changes.)

2. Social media posts do get ranked. Even if I had no followers on Twitter, a thoughtfully written tweet would get ranked.

3. There is so much power in syndication. I made one post that went multiple places and got ranked at least three times. Every serious online business should be doing this! It’s one of the reasons I said in my guide that every real estate agent should be using an IDX feed.

 

 

 

Images for SEO – 2014 Edition

July 14, 2014 Leave a comment

Images for SEODespite Google’s never ending algorithm changes…think Hummingbird and Panda…there are still search engine optimization tactics that continue to work. One of these is image optimization through tagging. Taking the small step of naming your images with your keywords used to have enormous benefit.

It still does. If you click on the image in this post, you’ll notice several things. First of all, I found this in reviewing my web stats. The photo is sending me traffic from Pinterest. Pinterest links to my article that contains the photo and it even shows other photos that are found on this blog.

Secondly, the photo was found on Google image search and then posted to Pinterest. What was the reason it was found on Google? I renamed the image with the keyword I was using for the article! So parts of the article title were repeated in the image and even four years later, the image is still ranked in the top five of Google images.

Now this is the part I find really interesting. The searched image was then pinned to Pinterest so it can be found using social media channels as well. I’m entirely convinced social media will decrease the influence search marketing has. However, examples like this show how complementary social and SEO can be. Social is impacting search in a major way. It’s up to online marketers to survey the landscape and make adjustments as necessary.

It seems to me image tagging is still an effective tactic for search and social.

Black Hat SEO Will Cost You

February 25, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s not often that SEO makes the news. However, in the last two weeks, SEO has been a big topic in several mainstream media publications.

Two weeks ago the New York Times wrote how JC Penney used scammy link building to craft a successful online holiday shopping season. When the reporter contacted Google about the tactic, the top rankings disappeared.

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal wrote how Overstock.com paid college students for inbound links to their site in another questionable SEO campaign.

Finally, today Google announced it was changing the way its search algorithm works in an attempt to delist “content farms.”

What is important about this recent news about SEO? It’s a clear message to the spammers and scammers of the online world black hat SEO tactics won’t be tolerated. The fact the SEO industry even has a recognized “black hat” category is quite telling. There are rogue operators in any industry, but they keep a low profile and operate in the shadows to avoid detection. Black hat SEOs like to brag.

If you hire a black hat SEO, you may benefit for a while, but eventually you will pay…maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your domain’s life. It worked for JC Penney during a crucial time -

Kate Coultas, a company spokeswoman, wrote to a reporter in January, “Internet sales through jcp.com posted strong growth in December, with significant increases in traffic and orders for the key holiday shopping periods of the week after Thanksgiving and the week before Christmas.”

Today Penney’s has lost significant position on its ill-gotten rankings.

The situation with Overstock.com wasn’t as blatant as JC Penney’s. Rather than buying links from the dregs of the online world, they offered a discount to people who would link to them. These were namely tech savvy college students who blogged from high authority .edu domains. The end result was the same…a significant drop in search rankings for top keywords.

Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon…

These high-profile cases beg the question, “Are paid links legal in the search algorithms?” The answer is no. Google’s search algorithm won’t consider paid links. The only legal paid links are those that have a “nofollow” tag or those that go to an interstitial page that has the robots.txt file blocked.

Penneys and Overstock haven’t been banned, they’ve simply had the “link juice” or Page Rank removed from their links. The results have been devastating.

Content farms are another concept altogether. They involve low quality articles written purely to attract the attention of search engines and gain rankings. Human visitors to these sites are typically bombarded with an array of ads and the site owners hope to gain advertising income. The largest organized creator of such content recently had an IPO worth millions of dollars. Google has decided to change how these sites are ranked.

The aftermath for these companies is up in the air. JC Penney fired its SEO consulting company and blamed the entire fiasco on them. The Overstock situation is still playing out and Demand Media claims their rankings haven’t been affected.

Perhaps the better question relies on strategy. Was JC Penney duped by an SEO company? They’re in a tough position; either admit they went black hat on purpose (it was effective after all) or claim ignorance (something a multi-billion dollar company should never do.

Overstock obviously adopted a grayer hat approach, but still knew their tactic was wrong and could have consequences. Paid links that pass Page Rank are never legal. NEVER.  Demand Media and its ilk also chose the path they went down. The search engines allowed it. Now they don’t. Adapt or become extinct.

My policy has always been white hat. Over the years I’ve been passed by temporarily by black hat tactics or black hat SEOs only to find out later their results didn’t work long-term. I don’t worry about algorithm changes, because I produce good content. I’m not in business to test the gray/black line. I’m here to create good content and get good, lasting rankings for myself and my clients.

How do you choose a good SEO?

Ask them. Ask their clients. Ask their former clients. Find out what their link building strategy is. While certain tactics may be proprietary, it’s easy enough to find out where inbound links are coming from by searching for an inbound link checker.

Online marketing is now about transparency. Anything underhanded, shady or gray will be found out. There is no shortcut to creating good content. Outsourcing your content generation to countries where English isn’t their first language is not an effective strategy. The same applies if you’re creating content for a non-English website.

Bottom line: Black hat SEO isn’t good strategy. Your site’s search results will pay and pay dearly.

Custom Search is Changing SEO

March 12, 2010 1 comment

I’m not sure it was a premonition, or a lucky guess, but I’ve shifted my business model to move from search engine optimization.  That seems like a strange statement from an avowed SEO guy, but the truth is, the rules of search are changing faster than anyone can keep track.

One day I’m doing a search for a keyword relevant to my business and my competition that I follow on Twitter shows up on the results.

Recently, tweets related to my keyword showed up in search results on Google.

If I perform the same search on Explorer, Firefox and my mobile phone’s browser, I get three different sets of search results.

Search has become personal and that creates a headache for SEO guys that think SEO is all about meta tags and inbound links.

Internet marketing is about findability and more than ever it means more than search.  It means local search through Google Maps and Yelp and Foursquare and social search through Twitter and Facebook and relationship search through LinkedIn and Facebook and every other tool we use to find what we want and need online.

At the beginning of this month Google introduced “stars,” a function that places your favorite search results at the top of what shows up for relevant search terms.  This should scare the crap out of any old school SEO.  SEO experts don’t control search results any more, people do.

For businesses and SEOs willing to adapt, the strategy needs to change from SERPs to influence or “findability.”  I can’t promise, suggest or command a front page listing from Google for my desired result, because somebody may use a filter to exclude it.

What I need to do as a web marketer is use every tool in my arsenal including Twitter, Facebook and other industry relevant social media platforms to create a profile that can be found.  More importantly, I need to be searching for the connectors in my target industry that will talk about me or my client’s business.

With social media, search has literally been turned on its head.

I really don’t mean to criticize my competition, but I’ve recently seen first hand how Yellow page turned web marketing businesses are using the old models of Internet search to pursue business.  I don’t blame them.  They really don’t know any better.  I really think tools like SEO and PPC are losing influence in the wake of social media.

Pay per click or PPC is a tool I’ve seen get drained in effectiveness.  Ten years ago, I could make a business using PPC.  Today, I can see businesses be broken by the same tool in the wrong hands.

As much as we’d all like to be able to apply the same solution to every marketing problem, to be successful, we have to be creative and be unique.  For example, I was recently presented with a client opportunity that I realized couldn’t be solved with social media.

The potential client’s target audience simply doesn’t use it.  Regardless, I can still use social media effectively by identifying who talks about the potential client’s services and connecting with them.  The effective “social” method may indeed be face to face.

In the last three months, I have literally seen a transformation in the online marketing space.  SEO and PPC have become questionable methods of increasing quality traffic and conversions.  A revolution in search marketing is underway.  Findability is more important than search engine results.

The Evolution of SEO

January 9, 2010 4 comments

A few weeks ago, technology blogger Robert Scoble asked if 2010 would usher in the death of SEO.  He has some good points on why it might, but ultimately I think he’s not asking the right question.  The better question is whether 2010 will bring about the death of gimmick driven SEO, the type of “black hat” chicanery that gives SEO a bad name.  The short answer is “no” because scammers and cheaters will always exist.

The better question Scoble raises is why more SEO companies don’t expand their service offerings to encompass more than just SEO.

No longer is it about optimizing search engine results and the new breed is going beyond just search engines to provide holistic systems that find and track customers not only on search engines like Google and Bing, but on social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

It is this holistic approach I’ve offered to clients since I started this business.  When I talk to a potential client, I ask questions about tracking, design, navigation, contact forms and marketing expectations long before the phrase “search engine optimization” passes through my lips.  Once I do mention SEO, I talk about Facebook, Twitter and blogging as other ways to engage visitors and further the marketing cycle.

As I finalized forming this business into a legal entity at the end of last year, the thought weighed heavily on my mind that SEO by Swaby wasn’t really an accurate description of what I do.  Neither is Web Design by Swaby or Social Media by Swaby, though I can perform all those services.  Hence a LLC was formed called Swaby Online Media.  I’m still keeping the SEO by Swaby as a DBA, but you’ll begin to hear Swaby Online Media more often.

Further, my mission and value proposition has evolved.  I make websites successful and I do it through design, navigation and marketing.  Do I still do SEO?  Absolutely, but it’s not the only thing I do.

Let me give you an example of just one way I’m different from any other Utah SEO company.  I provide tangible results within 30 days of being hired because I use press releases.  I use them for my company and my clients.  Worst case scenario I get the press release ranked on the search engines and it serves as effective social proof for my client.  In a best case scenario the release gets picked up by the news media, an interview is scheduled and a story gets published.  That’s what happened this week for my client Personal Family Physicians.

No other Utah SEO company can do this.  There’s only two that even try.

Returning to Scoble’s thesis whether SEO is no longer needed, I must disagree.  The components he says are replacing search, namely Twitter and Facebook, still help with search.  I do believe we need to move beyond the concept of search and develop the concept of being found.  As SEO becomes more competitive, it’s natural businesses will need to be found on other sites besides Google.  Thus the concept I’ll be using is findability. 

The concept of findability was introduced in 2005 by Peter Morville and references the ability for a user to find the information they are seeking within a particular website.  I’ve discovered a movement exists in the Internet marketing community that is advancing the concept of findabilty as the next evolution of SEO.  As social media becomes more prominent, I think we’ll see it included as part of this movement.

Is SEO dead as Robert Scoble suggests?  No.  Is it evolving?  Definitely yes.  If your online marketing strategy consists only of SEO or paid search, you’re definitely missing something.  Take a step back and figure out all the steps that transform a curious searcher into a valued customer.  Once you have that plan in place you’ll see better results, more sales and higher customer loyalty.

WordPress SEO – Don’t Make This Fatal Mistake

December 18, 2009 Leave a comment

The other day I wrote about a challenge I was facing with a client of mine who was using a WordPress site

Their web designer had possibly nefariously tagged the entire site to be invisible to the search engines…like a vampire unable to see its own reflection.

While I worked for a while on unravelling this mystery by looking into the deepest, darkest corners of the code and then the web that encased it, I found no solutions.  I tried a work around that failed, even though sucking the blood out of other methods succeeded.  Ultimately, getting my hands dirty in the cobwebs of WordPress found success.

As I suspected, the culprit was a simple checkbox with a universal application.  Unfortunately I didn’t know where to look.  The WordPress gurus I consulted had no idea.  To be fair, I fired off questions.  Channa is awesome.  I was looking for answers, not explorations.   

While setting up a new WordPress site last night, I discovered the answer to my question.  I’ll save the screenshot for another time.

Settings-Privacy-I would like my blog to be visible to everyone, including search engines (like Google, Sphere, Technorati) and archivers.

If you have this checked, your website is golden.  If not, your website is dying an anonymous death.  Like a rare disease, nobody but the experts knows why your site is dying from a dearth of traffic.  I do.  Let’s fix it.

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