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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Top Ten List of Silly SEO Mistakes, Stumbles & Blunders

Copyright © June 29, 2006 Mike Banks Valentine

Web business owners commit some SEO & ranking gaffes, sometimes without even knowing what they've done. In the manner of a Letterman top ten list, I'd like to offer the worst in the hope that I can prevent you making the same mistakes. The laughtrack is provided by SEO's who understand the humor in these mistakes and see slapstick silliness in similar client mistakes every day.

Silly SEO Mistake #10)
Removing a page from your site which gets 20,000 search engine referred visitors a day because, "It's time to change focus and concentrate on our core specialty." < laughtrack >

Capture those visitors with a "301 permanently moved" redirect and SEND them to your core specialty pages. Answer their questions about that missing page and sell them on a better solution. Removing any, even moderately trafficked page, is bad practice. You do KNOW that page gets 20,000 visitors a day because you saw it in your WebTrends report, right?

Silly SEO Mistake #9)
Not paying attention to web traffic analytics data because, "I forgot my login and password" < laughtrack >

Worse, you don't have an analytics program or service because traffic data takes too long to analyze or isn't easy to understand. If you are a one man band - LEARN and USE a web traffic analytics program, as it is essential to web business success. If you have employees, make it the job of one person to study that data and understand where traffic is coming from and how it converts to business. Analytics software price is not an issue - Google Analytics is free and it integrates and tracks all PPC conversion and ROI data.

Silly SEO Mistake #8)
Never searching for your own stuff in search engines for the most important generic keyword phrases representing your product or services because "We're number one in the pay-per-click-ads." <laughtrack >

We have the top position in PPC - so there's no reason to rank in organic listings. Your searches are intended to find out how you are ranking against your competitors in organic listings - which are FREE after you've paid an SEO to gain top positions. The PPC ads stop sending traffic as soon as you stop paying. Once the SEO specialist has gained top ranking for your site, you needn't pay them ongoing high fees - you are done and the traffic is now FREE. PPC can continue in areas you can't gain organic listings in or to supplement those top ranking phrases.

Silly SEO Mistake #7)
Using embedded text links that read, "Click Here" and link to your most important products information or sales pages because you think people won't understand that those underlined product names are links to the products. < laughtrack >

If your site commits this silly mistake, invest the time to correct it immediately site-wide because that internal linking structure can have a significant impact on ranking for your most profitable products or services. Keywords in embedded hyperlinks are a crucial factor for ranking for your targeted keyword phrases. The same is true of external links from partners, press releases, articles and shared content linking to your site. Get those hyperlinks fixed. You aren't trying to rank well for "Click Here." Resist the temptation to use cutesy trademarked names like "x-pense trakker" instead of proper spellings unless you've committed millions to major media branding campaigns.

Silly SEO Mistake #6)
Using gorgeous stylized text on image gif links as your site navigation. Heck, even ugly stylized image based text as site navigation. < laughtrack >

Gif images, especially javascript image swap navigation or flash navigation is one of the worst things you can do for your site ranking over the long term. Taking a hint from SEO stumble #7 above, use text based hyperlinks for your site navigation. The words appear on every page of your site and the embedded links lead to your most important pages, telling the search engines precisely what is on those pages you link to. Try to be more creative with text descriptions than "Products" or "Solutions" and use product descriptions or service names.

Silly SEO Mistake #5)
Tweaking your site to rank well on MSN search (between 1% to 15% of referred search traffic) or Yahoo search (between 5% & 20% of referred search traffic) without regard to Google referred traffic numbers (between 50% & 80% of referred search traffic) because "MSN is my favorite search engine." < laughtrack >

If you are in business to make money, you shouldn't be making business decisions based on your preferences over what your largest customer base chooses. Right now Google gets about 60% of all searches performed and if you are checking that web traffic analytics software from SEO blunder #9 above, you are very likely to see the pie chart for referral traffic at about 50% (most sites see 70% or higher) from Google searches.

Silly SEO Mistake #4)
Having the secretary (who hates her job) provide headlines through the content management system because, "That's why I paid so much for the CMS software - so it would be dimwit-secretary-easy to manage the content." < laughtrack >

You are the dimwit if you don't have an important employee, trained in SEO basics, input new articles, white papers and product descriptions. That task will determine your search engine ranking for the life of your web site on every topic that Sally (I-hate-this-company) Secretary adds to the site. Train your content manager in SEO basics of keyword density, position on page, headline writing, internal linking structure and word order issues.

Silly SEO Mistake #3)
Not having a sitemap because, "it's too much trouble to add every new page manually" or because Sally (I-Hate-My-Job) Secretary fails to tick the little "Sitemap" box in the CMS software as she adds the page with a bad title to the site. < laughtrack >

Sitemaps are not often used by visitors to most web sites, but are critical to indexing crawlers and search engine ranking of new pages. Is it possible to make a sitemap visitor friendly? Take a look at:

Silly SEO Mistake #2)
Using the same title and description meta tags for every one of your 50,000 pages, because your company name and tag line "ACME Products are the Best of the Rest" is snazzy and you like seeing that across the top of the browser window from every page. < laughtrack >

Title and description meta tags are the most valuable real estate on any web page and should address the content of specifically what is on THAT single page. Web sites are NOT about branding, but about selling or gathering leads after someone has come to your site. Your tag line will not bring search engine traffic looking for product or service details.

Silly SEO Mistake #1)
The number one SEO stumble and blunder is ... Having your website redesigned by a top web development company for a "fresh new professional look," (that slick web development sales person), changing all the filenames and site directory structure! < uproarious laughtrack > < wild applause >

Either keep old filenames and site directory folder structure in place or use "301 permanently moved" redirects to new pages from all previous pages. I did this for a small client who quickly went from reasonably well placed in the search results - to the very top of the charts for all his important search phrases. Of course, we consulted on file and directory naming conventions and SEO friendly page design options during the redesign process. One smart client.

Mike Banks Valentine operates SEOptimism, Offering SEO training of in-house content managers as well as contract SEO for advertising agencies, web development companies and
marketing firms
. Content aggregation, article and press release optimization & distribution for linking campaigns.

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Monday, June 26, 2006

Ad Agencies Battle Search Engine Optimization

Advertising Agency SEO Flash! Clueless Ad Agencies Battle Search Engine Optimization With Branding Argument
Copyright © June 23, 2006 by Mike Banks Valentine

There's a new blog called Tribble Ad Agency, spoofing ad agency (lack of) knowledge of search engine optimization that has SEO community chuckling and traditional advertising types fuming. The spoof site takes on ad execs by suggesting they are wasteful of client money with the tag line, "We look cute, but boy do we consume resources!"

The reference, for non-trekkies, is to a classic Star Trek episode about furry little adorable aliens that reproduce at an unbelievable rate and threaten to destroy the crew of the Starship Enterprise. More here.

The Tribble Agency site takes a jab at traditional advertising by suggesting that the industry is clueless when it comes to the web and especially organic search engine visibility and ranking. The following quote comes from the main page of the new site:

"Our Business Model is simple, never build something that could really help your company without our billable fees ... Tribble Ad Agency got the rug swept out from under us and we never realized it until it was too late.  The entire planet moved to Google, Yahoo and MSN organic results and we were making print ads for magazines and our online marketing efforts yielded 100% unspiderable Flash websites that generated no traffic."

A traditional advertising and branding apologist has posted a rant on the comment section of the Tribble Ad Agency blog. The post featured two jabs from the advertising supporter showing precisely the lack of understanding of SEO the spoof site is poking fun at when he says, "The only thing you SEO/SEM clowns know is how to add text to web documents." Which is true at the end of the day. This is clear proof he doesn't understand the value of text. He downplays the importance of search with the comment, "Search engines are pretty much a big generic network hub that focus on keywords, not branding."

Showing no understanding of the value of text in web pages, nor any clue about the importance of search engines, er "generic network hubs", (which do billions in business each) he amplifies the schism between advertising and search oriented minds. He clearly doesn't understand the value of ranking well at search engines for generic keywords, which can't be achieved by traditional print or broadcast advertising. People search for keywords online, and if a business web site ranks well for generic keywords which describe the brand, they'll sell more products, both online and offline.

Danny Sullivan, of Search Engine Watch, created a blog post on June 16 discussing the branding vs. search tug-of-war.

Sullivan points out that he believes that branding DOES occur due to search when a particular brand shows up time and again for any particular generic search phrase. Sullivan gives a couple of examples in his comments to another blog where Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 has taken an anti-branding approach for search. (Sullivan comments are partially quoted below and the Karp post is linked from Sullivans post above.)

"What do you think made Zappos a brand name when it comes to buying shoes online? Those magazine ads you saw for them? That TV spot? Wait — I don't think they do that stuff. What they do is a lot of spending to show up in search engines when you search for “shoes” and related terms. You did a generic search, you keep seeing a particular provider, and you learn about that brand."

I heartily agree that excellent search positions for generic searches can lead to one sort of branding for savvy online businesses. With the billions of searches done at the top search engines in a typical month, if one brand comes up in results for generic phrases more often for your product, you have achieved the type of branding that Sullivan refers to - at least among web savvy searchers.

While the advertising spoof site is fun and causes a lot of chatter in the forums and blogs, it points to a real issue and a glaring shortcoming in online work by many advertising agencies. That issue is that most ad agencies lack SEO capability and often downplay the importance of SEO to their clients rather than hiring an in-house agency SEO or SEO consultant. It is about looking good, rather BEING good. A good website performs on both branding and on search levels.

Many SEO firms offer to subcontract SEO to Ad Agency clients, but there appear to be few SEO's that specialize in advertising work. The problem is that ad agencies love flash and produce extensive numbers of flash sites for their clients. Put simply - there is currently no way to optimize a flash site to outrank text based competitors online. So until advertising agencies fall out of love with flash sites, there will be little SEO work to do on those flash sites built by ad agencies. There is the additional problem of lack of tracking or measuring return on investment with flash based sites.

Marketing and web design firms, on the other hand DO clearly understand the need for their client projects to rank well in search engine results pages. Usually those design or marketing companies subcontract their SEO work to search engine optimization firms. Most SEO firms have regular marketing or design clients who consistently send SEO's their important website projects for optimization work.

The SEO process for ad agencies, marketing firms and web development companies often runs into a twofold difficulty. 1) Visually oriented designers often insist on image-laden (or flash) sites with little or no text on the web pages. 2) Database programmers (php, cgi, asp gurus) rebel at any process that can NOT be automated - like SEO. The image heavy (or flash) site has almost no hope of gaining good search positioning without text, while the dynamic, automated site actually holds out some hope. Page titles and important page elements can be automated if original data entry into content management systems is done by someone with basic SEO understanding.

Content management systems don't, by themselves, offer any obvious automated method of intelligently titling and tagging new pages of content - especially if those routinely adding content via those systems are not trained in basic SEO techniques. There are clear and simple methods of properly titling pages effectively for best search engine visibility that can be taught to those charged with adding web site content. The In-House New York Times' SEO, Marshall Simmonds, recently offered guidelines to reporters and editors for headline writing using keywords in place of being cleverly obtuse as they have been taught for print versions of their headlines. That headline SEO effort is discussed in a SearchDay article by Danny Sullivan & Chris Sherman.

Marshall Simmonds' NYT in-house SEO advice was taken to mean boring to one particularly uncreative reporter at the New York Times when he penned a piece titled "This Boring Headline is Written for Google." I wrote a piece at Pandia Search Engine News about that story, but titled a bit more creatively, "Google SEO Sleeping Pill: Yawning at Dull News Headlines"

Branding does occur through search. Organic search ranking for generic search phrases is critical to online success. Web page titles can include important keywords and still be creative and interesting. The same is true of titling company web site news, product web site information, web site press releases, or even everyday web site product descriptions on ecommerce sites selling widgets. The problem is that keyword titling requires more knowledge than guessing at important keywords and using them in the titles. Keyword density, page placement of keywords, word order, along with some structural details of HTML are all part of a basic formula for determining best titles.

Content management systems post those titles to the page when new pages are created. Ad agencies need to train their web development arms in the above-mentioned basics of SEO. In-house content managers should be trained in SEO basics for major national brands. Content creators and managers will determine the future of branding in search. Ad agency branding stars who refuse to use actual text in non-image based words on client web sites are robbing those clients of search visibility and search branding.

Mike Banks Valentine operates SEOptimism, Offering SEO training of in-house content managers as well as contract SEO for advertising agencies, web development companies and marketing firms.

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

New York Times -Search Engine Friendly

Getting The New York Times More Search Engine Friendly The linked report from Search Engine Watch by Danny Sullivan and Chris Sherman discusses in depth the work of in-house SEO Marshall Simmonds at the New York Times.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Google CEO, Eric Schmidt on Net Neutrality

Dear AdWords Advertiser:

There's a debate heating up in Washington, DC on something called "net neutrality" – and the outcome of this debate may very well impact your business. Therefore, we are taking the unprecedented steps of calling your attention to this looming crisis and asking you to get involved.

Sometime in the next few days, the House of Representatives is going to vote on a bill that would fundamentally alter the Internet. That bill would give the big phone and cable companies the power to choose what you will be able to see and do on the Internet.

Today the Internet is an information highway where anybody – no matter how large or small, how traditional or unconventional – has equal access to everyone else. On the Internet, a business doesn't need the network's permission to communicate with a customer or deploy an innovative new service. But the phone and cable monopolies, who control almost all broadband Internet access, want the power to choose who gets onto the high-speed lanes and whose content gets seen first and fastest. They want to build tollbooths to block the on-ramps for those whom they don't want to compete with and who can't pay this new Internet tax. Money and monopoly, not ideas and independence, will be the currency of their Internet.

Under the proposed "pay-to-play" system, small- and medium-sized businesses will be placed at an automatic disadvantage to their larger competitors. Those who cannot afford the new Internet tax – or who want to compete directly with the phone and cable companies – will be marginalized by slower Internet access that will inevitably make their sites less accessible, and therefore less appealing.

Creativity, innovation and a free and open marketplace are all at stake in this fight. Imagine an Internet in which your access to customers is constrained by your ability to cut a deal with the carriers. Please call your representative in Congress at 202-224-3121. For more information on the issue, and more ways to make your voice be heard, visit

Thank you for your time, your concern and your support.

Eric Schmidt
CEO of Google, Inc.