Category Archives: SEO

The 4 Cs of integrating SEO into a company

The Four Cs of Integrating SEO Into Your Business

One of the most difficult problems SEO professionals can face is convincing companies that search engine optimization is a worthwhile investment. We spend a great deal of time dealing with industry specific lingo: algorithms, Panda, Penguin, link building, PageRank, nofollow, canonical tags. These words are completely meaningless to most people in most companies. In our favor are New York Times articles that reference how a big brand name may have had a tough time with link building. Unfortunately, that’s also a double-edged sword because some people will walk away from those stories thinking that SEO is spam, regardless of what Google publishes.

Misconceptions

I had an interesting email discussion with a very prominent blogger in the field of photography who had completely written off SEO as being a bag of card tricks that scammers and spammers use. In fact, his online marketing knowledge was so far off base that his yardstick for measuring success revolved around tracking the number of unique IP addresses visiting his website. You see, this is also part of the problem that some people exhibit–it’s not just about their perception of SEO, it’s about the online space as a whole. Metrics, to the uninformed, can be extremely deceiving, so before we get to the part where we sell the idea of SEO and what it can do for your business, we have to educate, reset expectations, and often explain the fundamentals of the online space.

Many times, it is as basic as explaining the difference between SEO and PPC, but more often it’s the nuances and the gray lines between them. The use of social media and its affects on SEO also play a role in causing confusion. This space is definitely getting more and more complicated, without a doubt. It wasn’t all that long ago that the online space was just SEO, certainly within the lifespan of my teenage daughter–it’s all relative. The online space is accelerating quickly in its sophistication, driven by impatient and fickle consumers and the need for marketers to find ways to quantify and measure segments of gray.

Watching the online space is not a business owner’s center of attention; they’re busy running their business, so it’s easy to miss the subtle changes that occur in the SEO world. However, this knowledge gap from the business owner’s point of view still does not excuse the attitude and dismissal of a practice that has greatly contributed towards the success of so many businesses. That shift in mindset requires us to optimize the brain, rather than a website, and typically SEO people overlook this.

OK, let’s regroup. Imagine that we’re now dealing with someone who is at least willing to listen and talk about it–someone who is curious and has the influence in the organization to make it happen. This is the person who we’re interested in talking to.

I describe the process of integrating SEO into your business using four Cs.

  1. Culture
  2. Curiosity
  3. Code
  4. Content

Culture

When we talk about culture within organizations, usually the first things that spring to mind are the more social aspects: dress code, working hours, ping pong, videos games, and free snacks. These are all good things, but corporate culture is what really counts here. That is how an organization operates and, most importantly, how it communicates. What are the chains of command? Who are the influencers and blockers? Who are, or have the potential to be, your greatest allies and informers?

This working knowledge of the corporate culture is important to understand because you need to know who needs more of your attention, what drives them, and which buttons to avoid pushing. The corporate culture also shares metrics and key performance indicators. If SEO doesn’t have much exposure here, you have work to do. In most businesses, SEO needs to have a top down approach. We need leadership to understand the importance as they’re the key decision makers and can quickly change company policies and bring focus to important issues.

Within Google, performance is a driving force behind a lot of what they do. Steven Levy wrote in his book In The Plex about how Sergey and Larry think about performance all the time and integrate it into everything they do. This top down approach and integration into the corporate culture ensures that everything they do will incorporate performance planning and measurement. I believe SEO needs to have the same approach within an organization to ensure that products and features are built with SEO baked in. Without this approach, SEO simply becomes the spit and polish on the final product.

So often SEO professionals find out about site changes when they’re live and perhaps only happen upon them by chance. This is extremely wasteful, especially if the changes cause problems. The frantic scramble to start testing and analyzing the changes causes scheduling problems and impacts other projects. In the extreme case, keeping an SEO professional out of the loop has even happened with a complete site redesign!

Here’s one really telling way to know if you’ve successfully conveyed the importance of SEO–when launching some new content, do you have managers and non-SEO people asking if you launched the XML sitemaps? Or whether a link needs to be nofollowed? If so, you’re on the right track. It doesn’t matter that they don’t understand where to submit them, what they are, or how they’re used. The point is, they know it’s an important item from an SEO point of view, which means they value it. So rather than scoff at them, embrace the fact that they’re trying to keep you in the loop and thank them with a big smile on your face.

Curiosity

People need to be curious about SEO, they need to have a hunger for knowledge and a playful sense of intrigue. If people are already in this state, you’re golden and can start the process of educating and bringing the right people up to speed. But too many times, this is not the case. What you may find is that it’s a blend of attitudes and mixed feelings. This is your chance to recognize the curious Georges and get them on your side. Don’t fight the battle alone; get allies on board and attack from multiple angles. Outflanking is also completely acceptable, as long as you don’t jeopardize your own position in the process. While this sounds like a battle strategy, my preferred method is more akin to psychological warfare.

To continue fostering curiosity, act upon the wisps of info that might come your way. Chase down each piece of info about a site problem, a new feature, or a conversation, and ensure that when you have to take action, your results are communicated back to the informer. Let them know that because of the info they provided, you were able to find the issue, put corrective measures in place, and make/save the company money. Also be sure to communicate this to their manager in their presence. What you’re doing is creating a cycle of behavior and reward. With enough repetitions you’ll soon have lots of people curious about how they can help you.

Code

This is where a lot of the magic happens and where small mistakes can cause big problems. Some of the best people to foster curiosity are the developers. Often they don’t get a lot of say in the requirements and are just expected to code to the specs. That typically leaves them feeling very anxious because if something breaks, developers are then expected to fix it and clean up the mess.

One of the really fantastic things about developers is that they’re always learning. As new technologies emerge, they’re just expected to keep up and many put in extra hours at home working on personal projects or reading to maintain their proficiency and knowledge.

When working with developers, the best ways to get them on your side (apart from beer), is to write requirements with helpful explanations of what the code does, why it works and even cite 3rd party resources. Big hint: They tend to specifically like it when you cite Google’s help pages.

Once the project launches, make sure you give them a shout out and follow up with the success story. People like to be rewarded for their work, and a little recognition will go a long way, especially when that next project is just around the corner. Below is a 20 minute TED talk about the work/reward relationship that describes this very well.

Content

Yes, people say “Content is King”. I’m not sure I 100% agree with that, but generating good quality, authentic, trustworthy content will go a long way into improving traffic, business and the company’s reputation or credibility. My friend Alan did a good job explaining this with his QUART concept. Unfortunately, this is usually one of the hardest nuts to crack because when companies bring on an SEO company, they usually don’t understand they also need to make internal changes to fully realize the SEO investment. SEO is not about waving a magic wand, it needs to be a true partnership.

When companies start working with an SEO agency, they often don’t realize that they may need to hire writers and leverage other resources to generate content. They typically rely on existing staff and tack on content creation as a secondary job function. Be careful with this approach as it can easily lead to frustration and failure. Depending on the size of the commitment and investment in SEO, the company is going to need help hiring writers, or outsource it. SEO companies and agencies will often be very willing partners to do the heavy lifting but will still need to lean heavily on the company to provide them with the necessary stats and facts.

The client will need to work very closely with the agency to ensure that the right content is being produced, published and marketed. Establishing a content strategy is the fundamental first step. This is not just “oh, we’ll create a blog.” There are many ways to create a content strategy. A good start might be to answer these four basic questions:

  1. Who is your audience?
  2. What are they looking for?
  3. What content do you have right now?
  4. What content does the competition have?

sales-funnel
Once you’ve answered these, you can start to delve into more details around what messages you need to produce, how the audience breaks down, and building a content/funnel matrix. This is a way to map existing content into the phases of the sales funnel. It’s a really useful tool to help understand strengths and gaps.

OK, so once you’ve gotten to that point, you will also need to think about the content delivery. In that stage, you will start to think about issues such as content format, life-cycle, media types, voice, and measurement. Ultimately, we’re doing this to generate business, but it’s not realistic to paint a broad brush stroke and measure all content equally. Top of the funnel content is not going to generate immediate conversions, so comparing it to lower funnel content, such as technical specifications or demos will tend to skew perceptions. This is an important concept for the company to understand, because similarly we just as we don’t judge all vehicles the same–each have different load capacities, fuel efficiencies, capabilities, and designs for specific audiences to fit specific needs–the same should be true of the content that’s produced.

Conclusion

The four Cs framework is one way to boil down how integrating SEO into an organization can take place. I recognize this is not the only way and obviously each company and SEO agency or consultant works differently. However, having done SEO over the last 15 years for various companies, from Fortune 100s to mom and pop businesses, these four Cs represent the most common areas that need to be addressed.

You may have picked up on one thing about these – a lot of the work needed to be successful is not actually traditional SEO. For example, you can’t meet with leadership and start talking about canonical tags. You have to adapt your language and help them appreciate the why and what it means to them in dollars and cents. There are a few simple techniques that can be used to foster and maintain curiosity – this is one of the key Cs, because getting, and keeping, people curious will grease the wheel when it comes to getting the important, but tricky little things implemented. Very often, the asks we have fall outside of our contact’s immediate line of power.

The code part is relatively simple. There’s documentation about how to do SEO all over the web, and as time goes by, the search engines are providing more tools, information and better algorithms. The search engine that is the 6yr old child is now perhaps 8 or 9 :)

Content strategies and content marketing have been written about a lot over the last 3-5 years, and rightly so. Once you have the first three Cs locked into place, you have to get that content out there for search engines and users to find. Doing it properly is not just a matter of firing up your favorite keyword research tool; there’s a lot of planning and preparation that needs to take place before you start putting pen to paper.

I hope you enjoyed this rather lengthy post, I haven’t written much on my blog in a long while, but hopefully this is going to be the start of a comeback for me–although I promise not every post will be quite as long :) If you enjoyed this, or have a difference of opinion, please leave a comment below.

Hacking the algorithm

When I try to explain the work I do to non technical people, their eyes glaze over very quickly. It’s totally understandable, there’s a lot of jargon and things get complicated very quickly.

However, here’s a really great video by Amy Webb, talking about how she hacked the algorithm for a dating site. It has a lot of parallels with what I do, and I’m sure my fellow SEO people will also enjoy it :)

Redirects in the Real World

Photo Credit: TheCullinaryGeek

A couple of weeks ago I decided to go out for a meal with my wife, we dropped the kids off and headed out to one of our favorite Italian restaurants. As we pulled into the parking lot we immediately knew something was wrong. The lot was empty! This is a well known, family owned, independent restaurant which is always buzzing. I walked up to the front door and peered in. All dark. I scanned the door and windows for an indication of what was going on. Nothing, just the standard postings of the menu and list of business hours.

I trudged back to the car and discussed it with my wife. We made a quick decision and ate at a different place a couple of miles down the road.

The next day, my wife was researching the restaurant and told me that they’d moved a block down the road. My mind was racing: “Why didn’t they post a permanent redirect to the new location?” It seemed like such an obvious solution.

People forget to post redirects to new locations even in real life. In this case, it would have only taken a few minutes to post the new address on a piece of office paper and tape it to the door. They lost my business, reluctantly to another restaurant that day, but we’ll be visiting them again at their new location, at which point I will adjust my mental bookmark.

Optimize for Search Engines or Users?

Over the years a lot of SEOs have gone back and forth over this legendary question:

“Do you optimize for search engines or users?”

From my SEO point of view, it’s a ridiculous question.

We like to ask leading questions, and this either or type question is extremely prevalent in our daily lives:

  • Do you take the red pill or the blue pill?
  • Do you cut the red or green wire?
  • Do we go left or right?
  • Nikon or Canon?
  • Chevy or Ford?
  • Pepsi or Coke?

From an SEO point of view, can you see what’s wrong with all of these questions? They’re written to suggest that you only have two choices, when in fact a creative SEO will be able to come up with a lot more than two answers. SEO is usually not constrained by physical limitations of the real world, as in the questions above.

The most obvious answer to the question is that you optimize for both. The two choices given in the question are not necessarily mutually exclusive, that assumption is inferred by the question. Challenge your assumptions!

Other answers could be:
1) Test and see which wins
2) Take sections of your site and focus each section on either engines or users.
3) Create a similar site and write it the other way, then refer to #1.

You see, even with a question that started off with what appeared to be only two possible answers, within a few seconds, we’ve expanded to many more possibilities. With some more creativity, you can probably come up with a larger selection.

So next time you’re asked a leading question, take a moment, challenge your assumptions, then deliver your creative SEO answer.

Free SEO Review

Manta.com is starting to build some community tools to help Manta members connect with each other. Since I’m part of this project I’m trying to get some new people involved to give me feedback on the site’s features.

So to show my appreciation, I’d like to offer one hour of my SEO consulting services to anyone who signs up on Manta.com and adds me as a business contact, between now and August 31st. Once we’ve connected, just send me a private message on Manta with some feedback and your website address and you’ll be entered into a drawing to receive one hour of free SEO consulting by me.

Register on Manta, then visit my profile page to add me as a contact.

The winner will be drawn and announced here on Tuesday September 1st 2009.

The SEO review will be a multipage document pointing out major problem areas and recommendations to correct/enhance them.

Below is a graph showing organic traffic from Google:

The red arrow shows when I started working on Manta.com.

Google TrustRank Myth Busted!

[Update]
Well since this post was written, it seems that Google has decided to release something else which it’s calling TrustRank. The original TrustRank confusion was related to detecting and filtering spam, while the latest iteration is to do with calculating the “trust” of users bnased on the quality of annotations, reviews and tags they provide. These signals may be used to reorder the ranks of pages in the results.

Bill Slawski, as usual, has a great rundown of what it is from the Google Trust Rank patent filings

Original Post:
If you search Google for TrustRank you will find many blogs and forums talking about it and giving advice and theories about what you can do to alter it, but the fact of the matter is that it just simply does not exist.

At pubcon 2007 Suresh Babu interviewed Matt Cutts and asked him specifically to define TrustRank. Below is the video of that interview.

For those of you not able to watch the video, here’s a transcript where Matt Cutts talks about its origins and confusion between a Yahoo intern’s project and an antiphishing filter Google was developing.

What is trustrank? everybody’s curious about that. It’s kinda nice you asked because it’s good to have a chance to debunk this a little bit. So it turns out there was a summer intern who was at Yahoo and Jan Pedersen and some other people at Yahoo, and they wrote a paper about something called TrustRank; and what it does is it tries to treat reputation like it’s physical mass and see how it flows around on the web and what physical properties does trust have; and it’s really interesting stuff. But it’s completely separate from Google. So a couple of years ago at like the exact same time, Google was working on an antiphishing filter, and as part of that we needed to come up with a name for it and so they filed for a trademark, and I think they used the name TrustRank, so it was a really weird coincidence. Yahoo had a TrustRank project and we had this TrustRank trademark, and so everybody talks about TrustRank, TrustRank, TrustRank and yet if you go and ask five different SEOs you’ll have five different opinions and definitions about exactly what TrustRank is.

If you go to the US Patent and Trademark website and do a trademark search you’ll find this result:

Word Mark TRUSTRANK
Goods and Services (ABANDONED) IC 042. US 100 101. G & S: Computer services, namely organizing information, sites and other resources available on computer networks
Standard Characters Claimed
Mark Drawing Code (4) STANDARD CHARACTER MARK
Serial Number 78588592
Filing Date March 16, 2005
Current Filing Basis 1B
Original Filing Basis 1B
Published for Opposition December 6, 2005
Owner (APPLICANT) Google Inc. CORPORATION DELAWARE 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway Mountain View CALIFORNIA 94043
Type of Mark SERVICE MARK
Register PRINCIPAL
Live/Dead Indicator DEAD
Abandonment Date February 29, 2008

If you go to the advanced published applications search page on US Patent and Trademark website and search for Trustrank you will find these results. Notice that none of them are filed by or Assigned to Google, although there are references to Yahoo’s link-based spam detection patent application.

IDENTIFYING SOURCES OF MEDIA CONTENT HAVING A HIGH LIKELIHOOD OF PRODUCING ON-TOPIC CONTENT
Inventors: Wolters; Timothy J.; (Superior, CO) ; Setayesh; Mehrshad; (Lafayette, CO)
Assignee Name and Adress: COLLECTIVE INTELLECT, INC. Boulder CO
Serial No.: 938691
Series Code: 11
Filed: November 12, 2007


SYSTEM AND METHOD FOR SECURE, ANONYMOUS, AND PERTINENT REPOSTING OF PRIVATE BLOG POSTING, ETC.

Inventors: Drayer; Jay A.; (Houston, TX) ; Howe; Grant M.; (Cypress, TX)
Serial No.: 923366
Series Code: 11
Filed: October 24, 2007

Enhanced Detection of Search Engine Spam
Inventors: Caldwell; Larry Thomas; (Annandale, VA)
Assignee Name and Adress: Idalis Software, Inc. Annandale VA
Serial No.: 871539
Series Code: 11
Filed: October 12, 2007

System and method for characterizing a web page using multiple anchor sets of web pages
Inventors: Joshi; Amruta Sadanand; (Palo Alto, CA) ; Ravikumar; Shanmugasundaram; (Cupertino, CA) ; Reed; Benjamin Clay; (Morgan Hill, CA) ; Tomkins; Andrew; (San Jose, CA)
Assignee Name and Adress: Yahoo! Inc. Sunnyvale CA
Serial No.: 542079
Series Code: 11
Filed: October 3, 2006

Dynamic updating of display and ranking for search results

Inventors: Ferrenq; Isabelle; (Saint Lattier, FR) ; Chevalier; Pierre-Yves; (Biviers, FR)
Assignee Name and Adress: EMC Corporation
Serial No.: 522498
Series Code: 11
Filed: September 15, 2006

User-sensitive pagerank
Inventors: Berkhin; Pavel; (Sunnyvale, CA) ; Fayyad; Usama M.; (Sunnyvale, CA) ; Raghavan; Prabhakar; (Saratoga, CA) ; Tomkins; Andrew; (San Jose, CA)
Assignee Name and Adress: YAHOO! INC.
Serial No.: 474195
Series Code: 11
Filed: June 22, 2006

Providing a rating for a web site based on weighted user feedback

Inventors: Repasi; Rolf; (Sunrise Beach, AU) ; Clausen; Simon; (New South Wales, AU)
Serial No.: 803922
Series Code: 11
Filed: May 16, 2007

Search engine with augmented relevance ranking by community participation
Inventors: Xu; Zhichen; (San Jose, CA) ; Berkhin; Pavel; (Sunnyvale, CA) ; Rose; Daniel E.; (Cupertino, CA) ; Mao; Jianchang; (San Jose, CA) ; Ku; David; (Palo Alto, CA) ; Lu; Qi; (Saratoga, CA) ; Walther; Eckart; (Palo Alto, CA) ; Tam; Chung-Man; (San Francisco, CA)
Serial No.: 478291
Series Code: 11
Filed: June 28, 2006

Trust propagation through both explicit and implicit social networks
Inventors: Berkhim; Pavel; (Sunnyvale, CA) ; Xu; Zhichen; (San Jose, CA) ; Mao; Jianchang; (San Jose, CA) ; Rose; Daniel E.; (Cupertino, CA) ; Taha; Abe; (Sunnyvale, CA) ; Maghoul; Farzin; (Hayward, CA)
Assignee Name and Adress: Yahoo! Inc. Sunnyvale CA
Serial No.: 498637
Series Code: 11
Filed: August 2, 2006

Realtime indexing and search in large, rapidly changing document collections
Inventors: Rose; Daniel E.; (Cupertino, CA) ; Mao; Jianchang; (San Jose, CA) ; Walters; Chad; (San Francisco, CA)
Assignee Name and Adress: Yahoo! Inc. Sunnyvale CA
Serial No.: 498706
Series Code: 11
Filed: August 2, 2006

Using community annotations as anchortext
Inventors: Rose; Daniel E.; (Cupertino, CA) ; Mao; Jianchang; (San Jose, CA) ; Xu; Zhichen; (San Jose, CA) ; Ku; David; (Palo Alto, CA) ; Lu; Qi; (Saratoga, CA) ; Walther; Eckart; (Palo Alto, CA) ; Tam; Chung-Man; (San Francisco, CA)
Serial No.: 498682
Series Code: 11
Filed: August 2, 2006

Link-based spam detection
Inventors: Barkhin; Pavel; (Sunnyvale, CA) ; Gyongyi; Zoltan Istvan; (Stanford, CA) ; Pedersen; Jan; (Los Altos Hills, CA)
Assignee Name and Adress: Yahoo! Inc. Sunnyvale CA
Serial No.: 198471
Series Code: 11
Filed: August 4, 2005

So since Google has dropped the trademark, does not have any patent applications for it and Matt Cutts explained the confusion, I think I’d call this myth busted!

SEO Client Story

I used to work for an SEO agency in Pittsburgh and dealt with a number of interesting clients in a variety of industries, with large and small sites. There were a number of funny incidents that I encountered, which I’d like to recount here, although names will be withheld.

No Google Traffic
After taking on this client I gained access to their webtrends reports and it showed an astounding lack of Google organic traffic. I looked over the meta tags and page content and all seemed to be targeting the right set of keywords to some degree, although onpage could still use some improvement.

I knew they weren’t doing anything advanced like IP delivery so I used Firefox with the useragent switcher extension and confirmed that with my useragent set to googlebot, slurp or msnbot I could browse the site without any problems. After checking the robots.txt I found that googlebot had been disallowed! After asking the client’s developer why they decided to ban googlebot their response was: It was crawling the site too often and there were errors on some of the pages that were leading to open database connections and locking up the server.

Needless to say the developers got a quick lesson in why banning googlebot to mask their programming errors is not good business practice.

Want to hear more stories? Do you have any of your own you’d like to share?

Optimizing PDFs for Search Engines

At pubcon I listened to a session by George Aspland about various techniques to optimize PDF files for search engines. Part of his ongoing research is to see whether links within a PDF file pass link juice. To test this, he asked if session members would download and republish one of his PDF files. So here it is. Good luck, it will be interesting to see the results of this test.

Optimizing PDFs for Search Engines (1.8MB PDF file)

Meeting People At Pubcon

While I met a bunch of great people, there were a great deal of people I didn’t get to meet. Some were just rude or didn’t have any time for me (the man with the golden shoes and the offwhite hound dog), but apart from them, most others were polite enough to exchange pleasantries.

For those I didn’t get to meet, feel free to leave a comment, or you can catch up with me (my username is Pittbug) on the SEO refugee forums.

Thanks to Brett Tabke for the free beers, I shall return again next year.