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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

MSN Live Banning Reciprocal Link Exchange Spam

MSN Live Banning Reciprocal Link Exchange SpamThe headline above may be a bit premature as the claimed email received from MSN search team by a SearchEngineWatch forums member has not been acknowledged as coming from Microsoft. A quote:
Your site is acquiring links through posting to or exchanging links with sites unrelated to your site content. Techniques which attempt to acquire unrelated spam links in order to increase ranking are considered spam and your site has been excluded from our index as results. Please contact us once you've removed these links and we will reevaluate.
Live Search
Although that member posted a legitimate looking email header when asked about it, there is nearly no limit to spammers creativity when it comes to spoofing.

But if that SEW forum member is indeed banned from the MSN Live Search results, it would appear to be legitimate. I've said for years that Link Exchanges and Reciprocal Links are crap and a waste of time and energy - it is nice to see that my unpopular opinion may be vindicated by this move from MSN Live Search.

Here are a few of my previous rants against Reciprocal Links:

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Open Sitemaps Protocol Adopted: Whither urllist.txt?

With the announcement by Google and Yahoo that they have launched to promote a open standard of XML sitemaps this week, several clients are asking me about it. But since many of my clients are smaller businesses with less than 100 page web sites, I'm emphasizing to those smaller clients that there is another common standard - that is the plain text sitemap - which was already supported by both Google and Yahoo. What follows is an example of a communication with a client after the announcement on Wednesday.

To my understanding Google offers a new feature of uploading the sitemap to their search engine, is this correct?  Should we be doing this too?
Yes, Google does offer a sitemaps program (it's different than you think) and yes, I do recommend that you do it, and as a matter of fact, was just about to start this discussion as I do with all clients in early stages of an optimization campaign.

Sitemaps is a program which allows you to tell Google about all of your URL's in two different ways. One is for larger sites with thousands of pages and involves an XML document with a half dozen attributes (freshness, importance, last changed, etc.). This should be constantly updated as new pages are added, and others dropped - and is best for ecommerce sites with dynamic content that is always changing.

The other method is for smaller sites with a few hundred static pages or less. That involves a plain text document which is simply a list of URL's.

The Google Webmaster Central program has a list of other benefits, including stats on your top ranking keywords, pages with best PageRank, and you can benefit even with a plain text sitemap - which I'd written about in August when that program was announced by Google at Search Engine Strategies in San Jose.

There is another benefit in that Yahoo uses these plain text sitemap documents as well and we can submit to both big boys by using the same document posted on your server. Yahoo suggests the name "urllist.txt" for submission through SiteExplorer so I've used that as the document name for a few clients. But Yahoo has also accepted other names, so you can name that sitemap text file whatever you like and post it to your server - then submit to both.

Long story short, get started by developing a list of all public URL's you want the search engines to know about in a plain text document. You can create that same list for each separate domain - every site has it's own separate sitemap document.

But WAIT There's More!

The other aspect to this is that your site should have a robots.txt document - which is an exclusion protocol which tells all search engine spiders the pages you DON'T want them to crawl and index. So you can list areas of the site you want the crawlers to stay out of.

In the announcement by Vanessa Fox of Google and Tim Mayer of Yahoo (hmmm MSN missing again) in the video by Chris Richardson of WebProNews recorded at PubCon Las Vegas, Mayer mentions that the engines would like to begin working together on a robots.txt open protocol as well.

Typically you want them to stay out of your cgi-bin and images directory (simply because those files shouldn't be publicly indexed) and any directories intended for internal use only. Again, here is a sample robots.txt to visit and review as an example for reference:

You can view this file on any site by simply appending robots.txt to any domain name. If they have it, you can view it. SO, it has some security implications. If you have a directory folder named "PASSWDS" for example - you don't want to list it on that robots text unless it is extremely secure and you believe you can thwart all hackers who want in.

So - start with the robots.txt and then get a list of URL's for the sitemap.

Google, Yahoo and MSN search blogs announced and commented on their support for this new open standard yesterday. Virtually ALL SEO Gurus are commenting the open source Sitemaps protocol announcement this week.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Link Buying from PageRank Pushers for Short Term High

I've been opposed to link buying for a couple of years, ever since I contacted a well known broker and asked a few questions. They had to do with IP ranges and variety in placement sources, as well as result tracking of customer ranking improvements. I was blown off with "I don't have time for that! Everyone knows this works to increase PageRank!"

The providers simply don't care how your links look to the Algorithms. They are providing a service which is in demand and consequences be damned. My personal take on it is don't risk your reputation or your rankings on a short term high sold by PageRank pushers. You'll become addicted and the rankings crash can be nasty with serious withdrawal symptoms.

The question about buying links has been addressed in dozens of SEO blogs, forums and at Search Engine Strategies (SES) conferences. I have created a Google Custom Search Engine which includes 150 SEO blogs, and 14 SEO related forums, plus my own blog for that one extra opinion. ;-)

The results it produces, especially if you are good with your queries and qualifiers, is nothing short of precise. So any comment you have seen somewhere can be rooted out if you recall a specific phrase to search for as that phrase will no doubt be repeated by SEO bloggers or SEO forum members commenting on what you're looking for. I've provided a starting place so you can just click the "Search SEO Experts" button and see quick results. You'll note the two distinctly different camps of (1) "avoiding detection" or (2) "Don't do it" comments.

Let me know how the "Search Engine Commentary from SEO Gurus & Search Optimization Experts" custom search engine works for you in answering any "link buying" questions. Here's a Mike Grehan interview with Google's Matt Cutts on link buying

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Friday, November 10, 2006

Search Insider - Troubled Times For SEO Firms

Just ran across this Joshua Palau blog post/article at MediaPost and think the reasoning is flawed based on a bad original assumption. Palau references a DMnews article "Troubled Times for SEO FIrms" by Dave Pasternak of in which Pasternak comments on the Marketing Sherpa Search Marketing 2007 Benchmark Guide ($247)

The Guide apparently shows a flattening of revenue growth at search marketing firms in extensive graphs and charts on the industry. Here’s my take on why revenue growth for SEO firms may be flattening - because corporate America is realizing the value of SEO and bringing it in-house - therefore outsourcing less and flattening the rise in growth of SEO consultancies.

The dedicated SEO firms, as well as smaller freelancers will see less work as businesses hire full-time SEO’s and SEM’s. Do a search for “SEO Job Search” and you’ll consistently see substantial numbers of dedicated SEO Job Boards advertising corporate SEO/SEM employment offers. Ultimately SEO firms will find that the size of businesses they consult for will be shrinking as bigger companies hire search marketers for full time positions. The result is the same (less work for SEO firms), but the reason is different - search engine optimization is moving in-house.

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Keep Current SEO or Take It In-house?

The following Q&A is from Jill Whalen's excellent High Rankings Advisor Newsletter She agreed to have it reproduced here as a part of our series on SEO Job Search

++Keep Current SEO or Take It In-house?++

Hi Jill,

My CEO has been forwarding me your newsletters for some time now. I am in need of advice, and I am hoping you might be able to help me out. We offer online services and have been online since 1997with our websites. I know a little about SEO because I was once a junior SEO rep for my former SEO manager but my primary skill set is not doing SEO but more managing those who do it.

Anyhow, I am currently working with an SEO consultant who is talented when it comes to SEO but my biggest issues I am having with this person are:

  1. They do not have a staff so the turnaround time takes a while.
  2. Their skill set appears to be non-detail-oriented so I find myself repeating things constantly or having to do the organizational work for them.
  3. Their pricing structure is inconsistent.
  4. They do not have a documented path to ROI so I have no way of managing the performance or my money.

Now this person has a strategy model that I agree with which seems to be in sync with current SEO practices. However, many times the work that I get back I think I can do myself for a hell of a lot less than what I am paying this person. Then I say, well, that is not a good use of my time but maybe I should hire someone on staff to do this.

There are many things about online marketing that I do not have experience in personally such as PPC, social networking, growing links, blogs, podcasts, press release, and article publication strategies, etc. I am certainly not in the trenches on learning the changes in the SEO world. I pretty much know the basics for optimized content, keywords, page titles, and meta tags, site submissions, and indexing.

In a nutshell I am trying to strike the right balance for my company. There is no doubt in my mind that the company needs someone skilled in web marketing to help us grow in positioning, traffic, and conversion but I do not know if I need A) a team of people or B) 1 person on staff who is like a junior SEO person while the strategist SEO person is working behind the scenes. Maybe the current person we have is the right person but we are just impatient.

I can tell you this, all the rank and placement we have currently is credited to us and not an SEO person. We have longevity on the net with our websites and after 1 year with the current SEO person the only thing I have is a keyword list and title and meta tags.

I am sure you get this from a lot of companies and I really need sound advice.



++Jill's Response++

Hi Danielle,

Your situation is becoming more common as companies seek a cost-effective solution to their search marketing needs. Although it might take away some of my business, I strongly believe that companies should start taking *some* of their SEO in-house. Certainly any company that has a very large, dynamic site should have one or more people in-house dedicated to keeping it optimized for the search engines (and the users of course!). This doesn't mean that they shouldn't outsource some aspects of their SEO -- just not all of it.

Since you already have experience managing SEOs who do the work, you're in a great position to head up your company's new in-house SEO division! The issues you're having with your current SEO consultant are common, but they should not be accepted. If you are paying this consultant good money, and if you are providing them with all the info and sign-offs that they need in a timely manner, then it doesn't make any sense that after one year of working with them you have only a list of keywords, titles, and meta tags.

That said, I have had SEO clients who were not able to use the services I wanted to provide them with, because they did not do their part. When working with an outside SEO vendor, it's critical that you have someone dedicated to providing them with exactly what they need so that they can make progress on your SEO campaign. This is one of the major stumbling blocks we see in this industry.

On the other hand, you are paying for a service and shouldn't have to do the organizational work for your SEO. Nor should turnaround time be long if you're doing your part quickly. You shouldn't have to plan the strategy, only get the buy-in and possibly be in charge of the actual implementation. Of course, you should have spelled this stuff out in advance in your agreement with your SEO consultant. That way, if they are not doing their part, you can cancel your contract. (Obviously, you should consult with your attorney before doing so!)

In your situation, I'd recommend that you outsource to a knowledgeable SEO consultant to help you form your strategy aspect of your campaign. That is, to make sure your current keyword research is useful, help you plan your site's architecture based on those keyword phrases, provide you with recommendations for Title tags (or at least a strategy for writing them), offer text recommendations, and if necessary, map out a link-building strategy.

I’d also highly recommend that you outsource your PPC campaign to an experienced PPC company (which may or may not be the same as your SEO company). Good PPC companies are well worth the cost as they will always make you more money than you would otherwise make.

In-house you will need a developer who can create the site's new architecture, a marketing copywriter who can pick up on the ins and outs of SEO copywriting, perhaps someone who is familiar with keyword research tools, and someone to interface with your consultant (which might be you). Your copywriter and keyword researcher may very well be the same person, or even your developer may have dual roles, but you'll probably need at least 2 people to keep your SEO campaign moving in the right direction, even with an outside SEO consultant on board. Of course, if your consultant has their own team in place, you can certainly pay them accordingly and have them implement all the changes. But even then, you’ll need someone to oversee everything and review it all for accuracy.

Regardless of which way you decide to go, you’ll need to make sure your brand is accurately represented, and that your SEO company is not sacrificing usability and/or readability because they *think* that's what the search engines want. Unfortunately, that seems to be all too common.

Hope this helps!


Share your comments and thoughts here


Jill Whalen of High Rankings® is an internationally recognized search engine optimization consultant and host of the free weekly High Rankings® Advisor search engine marketing newsletter. Jill's handbook, "The Nitty-gritty of Writing for the Search Engines" teaches business owners how and where to place relevant keyword phrases on their Web sites so that they make sense to users and gain high rankings in the major search engines. Jill specializes in search engine optimization, SEO consultations, site analysis reports, SEM seminars.

Below are our series of articles on SEO Job Searches

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Monday, November 06, 2006

SEO Salaries Video by Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz

Rand Fishkin of SEOMOZ Video on SEO Salaries