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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Wikipedia SEO: Don't Spam - Contribute

Because Wikipedia entries routinely show up in the top 5 search engine results at Google, some black hat SEO's (and a few clueless beginners) realized the value of a link from the online encyclopedia and began link spamming blatantly. So recently Wikipedia posted the "nofollow" tag to all outbound links, purportedly to stop SEO Spam by reducing the value of those outbound links.

SEO's weren't the only ones to notice the value of Wikipedia entries. Microsoft became the focus of Wikipedia editors wrath when someone at Microsoft attempted to buy some edits to entries unfavorable to Microsoft. That gaff was a PR nightmare for Microsoft and encourages others to attempt underhanded methods of editing articles to favorable from negative or controversial.

Because reputation management is so critical for companies, and because Wikipedia entries can follow right on the tail of company web sites in the search results pages, it has become routine for PR departments, marketing departments and product managers to monitor what is said about their company in Wikipedia. The problem comes when they learn that they can edit entries and just jump in there and do that before becoming valued members of the community - and don't even engage those who are respected community members in conversation through accepted forums and public discussions.

Against this background, Search Engine Strategies offered a session in New York on day 3 of the conference titled, "Wikipedia & SEO" where the decscription was:

This session looks at appropriate ways to interact with the service. It also examines if there's more that can be done to make Wikipedia editors more accepting of marketers and to make marketers more understanding of the Wikipedia community goals.
The key lines there are "appropriate ways to interact" and "understanding ... community goals" because, unlike press releases, marketing campaigns, sales sheets and testimonials, Wikipedia is FACT based and neutral.

So the SES NY session opened with Niel Patel of Advantage Consulting Services, giving examples of how he had tested the limits of spamming at Wikipedia by attempting to link spam under multiple accounts. He said with a grin that his entries were very quickly deleted and he was banned from the community. He continued on that track by explaining to the audience what NOT to do, including:

  • Link building
  • Add biased or sales info
  • Delete accurate info.
Reversing from the negative, Patel then suggested those items that bring value to the community:
  • Don't be a dick
  • Develop a reputation as an editor
  • Add information first, links second
  • Follow the notability rule.
  • Wikis are everywhere - find them and contribute, edit.
Jonathan Hochman of JE Hochman & Associates followed with a stern warning that if you make the Wikipedia "Spam Blacklist" that you are extremely unlikely to ever get off that list, which is universally applied to all wiki's using the system - not just Wikipedia. Hochman also claimed to have many examples of those with Wikipedia links getting more traffic from Wikipedia than from Google searches for their primary keyword phrase and that those clicks convert at a higher rate than searches do.

Don Steele, Director of Digital & Enterprise Marketing, Comedy Central took the mic next and explained how Wikipedia was a top ten referrer for the company, which gets a total of eight million pageviews monthly. Surprisingly, he claimed that Comedy Central was an aggressive SEO and SEM player and that they proactively communicate with the editors and community of Wikipedia because great entries referencing their TV shows could save them $20,000 monthly in PPC costs.

Not surprisingly he briefly mentioned the Colbert Report and South Park as major drivers of traffic through Wikipedia entries, pointing out that often after a show airs, multiple new entries are posted about each of the shows within the hour following broadcasts.

Stephen Spencer of NetConcepts was last and spent the most time proposing that anyone wanting to make edits or contribute articles spend time becoming a valued member of the Wikipedia community by:

  • Developing a profile that proves that you are an upstanding member of the community.
  • Incorporate content edits when adding a link. It makes it harder to revert your edit.
  • Communicate with the main editor of he article before adding an external link that you think is valuable but could be looked at with suspicion and removed.
  • Add substantiation with references.
  • Adding value, rather than just editing a link.
  • Create a new entry by getting social via the talk page, not directly editing the article itself.
  • Maintain activity on your profile at all times to be a contributing member of community.
So we actually end up with the panel saying, Don't Spam, Contribute.
Mike Valentine is an SEO Specialist offering occassional commentary on Search Engine Developments through his Reality SEO Blog and developed WebSite101 Small Business Ecommerce Tutorial in 1999 to help educate the little guy to the intricacies of online business.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Internal Linking Strategy: SEO Self Reflection

SEO articles abound on social media linking strategies. SEO blog posts are legion on the topic of link and widget bait. SEO forums buzz endlessly about reciprocal versus one-way linking. There is no doubt that all of those various types of external, inbound links matter. But how often do we discuss internal linking strategies?

I had a long conversation with an apprentice level SEO this week. When she was questioned about her grasp of internal linking strategy, she gave that interesting "Did-I-hear-you-correctly?" type of puzzled stare that says very plainly "Are you pulling my leg, or was that a serious comment?"

This made me reflect on the less strenuously debated SEO strategies that are crucial to ranking well for specific keyword phrases. Since internal linking is so important to SEO, but rarely discussed, I often wonder how many SEO's truly comprehend the importance of internal interlinking of pages and how critical outbound links are to ranking well in the search engines.

Let's try to remedy that and raise the level of internal linking strategy discussions to at least a whisper, because the level of discussion on the topic now is barely audible.

I'm going to step out on a limb here and suggest that internal linking matters more than reciprocal links, possibly more than social media links such as Digg and links matter and maybe even as much as (javascript and flash) widget links and in some cases, more than (wimpy) link bait (as practiced by most) matters.

How sites link to their own content internally tells the search engines more about what matters most on a site than almost any other cue (save title tags). I'm going to step further out on that limb and attempt to rank the importance of various internal links to SEO. So here's the top 6 list:

  1. Navigation TEXT Links

    No image links, No Javascript Links, NO Image Map Links - Only keyword focused embedded text links to menu items. Use CSS, Use graphic Background images and text links using keywords. It's not that hard to do.

  2. Breadcrumb Links (category - subcategory)

    This type of link can vary by type of site. Ecommerce sites would use one type of structure, while informational sites would use a different hierarchy. These high level link structures define what you think is important and point visitors (and search engine robots) to an overall structure. Your opinion of what matters to your site informs the search engines. If your site is loosely organized by randomly linking internally, you may be randomly ranked.

  3. Subject & Topic Group Links (related pages)

    This is where many lose focus and fail to map internal structure for either search engines or visitors. Newspapers and large informational sites that rank very well will always use "Related Stories" pages. There are at least a couple of good reasons for this. The first is usability and the second is topical relevance of the page.

    Many sites lose focus and use "Most Popular" links to pages unrelated to those they are on. This dilutes the relevance and topicality of the page by looking at the site as do tag clouds on broad ranging topical sites with many areas of interest.

  4. Single Item Focus Page Links

    This link probably ranks in imporance at the top of the list here, but without those elements above them, single item links lack structure that search engines crave and don't help as much as they do when that larger structure supports them.

    So now is when I point to the site we all love to hate, WikiPedia. I'll argue that this single factor, added to the supporting heirarchical structure of WikiPedia is what makes it rank so extremely well for nearly every topic you can think of.

    WikiPedia links internally to every page, every time a word or phrase with it's own page is mentioned. Every page, every time, site-wide. If any topic has a page, anywhere on WikiPedia, it links from ANY use of that word or phrase back to that page ABOUT that word or phrase. This is the magic bullet, but is only important within the overall structure.

  5. Sitemap Links

    OK, this is the internal link we all agree on and rarely question. It's accepted and necessary, again, from both a usability standpoint and relevance. The site index list of links to every page (or to subindexes of pages). Since nobody questions that sitemaps matter, I'll stop there.

  6. Outbound Links

    Now comes the controversy, the raised blood pressure, the nofollow tags and the standard "company policy" against outbound links. This is where I simply have to point at blogs. Search engines like them in many cases because they reference external sources, they quote multiple viewpoints and link out to them. In some cases bloggers are paid to link out to external sources.

    I'll baldly state my opinion here and leave it to your own experience and "company policy" to decide your own outbound linking strategy. Outbound links increase relevance of the pages they are on when they link to supporting information externally. I'll put it differently for those with the puzzled look on their faces. Outbound links increase your search engine ranking.

So now I'll hope that at least my fellow SEO's will begin discussing this, offer case studies, offer anecdotal evidence, point to random examples, try to prove me wrong - but let's TALK about internal linking and raise it's importance. Talk enough that apprentice level SEO's know that it matters how we link internally and how we link OUT. Do a little SEO self-reflection and reassess your internal linking strategy.
Mike Valentine is an SEO Specialist offering occassional commentary on Search Engine Developments through his Reality SEO Blog and developed WebSite101 Small Business Ecommerce Tutorial in 1999 to help educate the little guy to the intricacies of online business.

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