Ever see those adsense ads promising Adsense ready websites with plenty of content? I hate Adsense spam scams too, so I'm flaming out an Adsense spam website that looks to me it was founded on the idea that a sucker is born every day! This is a photo editorial.
The irony of this all is that these Adsense spam professionals advertise through Adwords, Adsense's twin where people buy Ads that display on the Adsense network! Of course, Google doesn't reward these websites with rankings, so they don't mind letting the ads continue, but I think it would be great if they just stopped these ads in the first place, since they only exist to exploit the uninformed.
I came to the Adsense spam kings through Gmail. Here's the ad in my gmail account, and again on Google:
So, of course, I don't hesitate to have the Adsense scammers pay Google for my click, and I look into the scam. Here's what I find after clicking through the Adwords display to understand what's being sold:
The value pack links to a broken internal link, which helps indicate this is a sketchy site. Look at where it was supposed to direct me to (highlighted).
When I clicked the value pack (read: duplicate content) spam link, I found this lovely, rather familiar page:
Any website can have a broken link, you'll tell me, even reputable ones. That's true. But broken links are an indicator of a "bad neighbourhood," (look at the quality guidelines) as Google likes to call them.
Here's the kicker though, which tells you that what you're buying isn't unique content, but rather duplicate content that Google and other search engines will ignore. Duplicate content, you'll recall doesn't get indexed and may even lead to having your site penalized. It's counter-productive to SEO. The SEO would really suffer if the site is entirely composed of duplicate content, as with this Adsense spam scam. This is the equivalent of splogging, which Google (and other search engines) hate. I think some people reading this might enjoy clicking these losers' ads to make their Adwords bill go up (you pay per click). I'm not advocating it per say, but it might be fun for people with a little free time to show these kids who the real suckers are...
Home, about, and click here are the three most difficult keywords / keyphrases to optimize for. I've started an experiment in an attempt to optimize for them. I've registered homeaboutclickhere.blogspot.com and am attempting to get the sites listed on the search engines first page.
To help build backlinks for City SEO, I'm offering prominent business blogs free site SEO reviews, and one lucky beneficiary is James Martin's Work Boxers. Take 30 seconds to subscribe to my free newsletter to follow more site SEO review case studies and learn how to perform SEO reviews, or better yet, consider fellow specialist Danny Wall's SEO seminar.
Last week, I posted about how to conduct a site SEO review. Now, following those principles, I'm going to conduct an SEO review of Work Boxers. There are five areas that any basic SEO review will cover, and they are:
backlinks and inbound links,
external links and link structure,
current SEO effectiveness.
Backlinks and Inbound links
Backlink Quantity Like I mentioned in explaining how to conduct a site review, Work Boxers (WB) has 449 incoming links, 133 of which Google counts (the others are repetition it doesn't give much weight to). Backlink Quality The first site I click on is a page 404. The next is a subdomain of some sort with PageRank of 0. I find WB in the code, but the external link doesn't show up to human eyes. The third site is a Dutch-language business blog's page with PageRank 2. It discusses WB's move from its Big Money Tips original home. #4 seems to also have changed since Google last indexed it, because it no longer has a link to Work Boxers but is rather a 9 rules network page saying "it's probably here," and mentioning that you've arrived at the equivalent of a 404 not found page. Google thought it was taking me to a page saying "Odeo" is pretty, whatever that is. #5 is James' Jamsi website/blog. Ironically, it contains links to other websites but not his own. #6 is a PageRank three website, Marlene Jaeckel, who... actually has a functioning link to WB! Hurray! #7 is a Problogger page! We're really getting somewhere here! Unfortunately, this is mitigated by the fact the link is one of 60 to Underblogs, or business blogs that deserve a wider readership than they have. The large number of links dilutes each one's value (as is also the case with #6). The next few pages are low PageRank sites with blogroll and similar links that are good for search engines but don't really get much human attention.
So generally, my assessment is that while there are a few decent links to Work Boxers, many of those that existed in the past have moved and are gone. Contacting the sites in question might help. In addition, the backlinks generally aren't prominent (except for #3) and/or are buried below the fold. The anchor text isn't great either, mainly because the site is linked to by name, and the name isn't so focused for SE keywords. On the other hand, the branding benefits of this are likely good, but as I'm a search engine specialist and not a branding specialist, I'll leave that to someone else to comment in depth.
Note: reinforcing what I've said in the past, buying links is not an effective SEO tool. The link James bought from Steve Pavlina's business related PageRank 6 website didn't come up in the first page of Google's link query results. If Google were counting it, surely it would have turned up ahead of the PageRank 2 websites!
James keyword selection isn't really apparent, other than perhaps the term "work." From this I would imagine that he can target phrases such as "work from home." When I look at the page source, however, I am proven wrong. The site's keywords, according to the meta tag, are: "SEO, web 2.0, web chat, web news, making money online, blog tips, Affiliate Marketing, [and] Affiliate Programs."
Now, given that the blog only gives some SEO advice and isn't exclusively dedicated to the topic, and that the same situation exists for web 2.0, web chat and web news, my personal recommendation on keyword selection would be to drop these. The other keywords are more focused, though their competitive nature and WB's weak backlink network suggests it might be better to target related but more specific keywords.
That said, what's keyword density like, here? Keyword Density Making money online (without meta): barely on the radar. With meta: 4 times, for 0.22% density. Either way, this is well below what SEs allow. Dense two word keyword phrases without metas (occurrence and percentage): june th 10 0.58% it s 9 0.52% home base 8 0.46% i m 8 0.46% i had 7 0.40% don t 6 0.35% personal thoughts 6 0.35% i have 6 0.35% http feeds 5 0.29% is a 5 0.29% feedburner com 5 0.29% feeds feedburner 5 0.29% i ve 5 0.29% money online 5 0.29% have a 4 0.23% adsense case 4 0.23% work boxers 4 0.23% me time 4 0.23% thoughts comments 4 0.23% ul links 4 0.23%
Obviously, keyword density is not what it's supposed to be.
Keyword Visual Presentation This is much better, because Work Boxers has its topical categories (with keywords in them) prominently displayed above the fold, and has the word advertise in its top level navigation. Having some top posts links to the right of the ads recent comments would allow for some more prominent displays.
On the other hand, the categories aren't bolded or italicized. Furthermore, they're just in internal links. Linking out to sites who have keywords in their names might be helpful too. Additionally, keywords in post titles would be a good idea to prominently display what the site's about. I get the feeling it's not about Duncan, cowboys, or generic "lessons to be learnt."
Keyword Placement Keywords were absent from introduction and conclusion paragraphs. As mentioned previously, the keyword strategy is really poor on Work Boxers meaning that there is no focus in title, heading and alt tags, or in other places.
Unfortunately, Work Boxers keyword strategy gets a failing grade. While it does have a few good points, notably the prominent keyword rich categories box, there is much more to be done. The meta tags just don't cut it as a keyword strategy nowadays, especially when a third of them aren't even relevant!
External Links and Link Strategy
The fact of the matter is, there aren't that many external links on Work Boxers, though there are a fair number of internal links (categories etc.).
External Link Functionality The first thing to test about external links is whether they are functional. This wouldn't necessarily improve a site's rankings, but it would definitely make it look unreliable and drop rankings if they were broken. So I went around WB, clicking links at random and found that James' external links are in good working order.
Anchor Text WB's anchor text is descriptive for the most part, though it could use some improvements. For example, James links to "David Krug," and Paul Scrivens, who might both better be linked to with keyword related text, such as Paul Scrivens, 9Rules Blog Network. In a recent post on a blogging dispute between Yaro Starak and Duncan Riley, James wrote: Yaro (link:)"launches a post" entitled 'How to make money with blogs + Adsense + free ebook." Uh, how about having the link's anchor text be "how to make money with blogs?"
The point here is that links are considered in the same way as bold and italicized text, that is, spiders weigh their importance to a page more heavily. Using keyword rich anchor text can improve SEO, and it's something James needs to work on for WB.
Another important point to understand here is that the anchor text needs to be descriptive. That's why click here anchor text is total nonsense, since it doesn't tell the reader what they're going to find. This also relates to spammers who might intentionally use inaccurate descriptions in anchor text to send people to view porn or to send them to casinos.
Internal Link Structure In terms of internal linking, James' categories box function well, and his category tags at the end of his blog posts also serve to enhance keyword density and provide proper internal link structure. A way to improve this area of his SEO would be for James to link - using descriptive anchor text - to related posts within the main body of his text. For instance, when I wrote about how to conduct a site SEO review, I linked to my analysis of why external links and link structure are important. Problogger Darren Rowse uses this technique very well.
Note: renaming the "online money" category "money online" might be helpful, as SEs consider the order of words, and for searches on how to make money online, well...
Here, James helps me out very much via the coding of his website, which shows how many posts he's written on any particular topic. I notice that James' "personal thoughts" posts total more than all he's written on "webmaster tools," "web tips," "web news," and "SEO" combined - yet those are all keywords of his while personal thoughts is not! Clearly, focus is a major problem here.
Content Update Frequency Work Boxers is updated regularly, though not on a fixed schedule. Generally, James averages two or three posts a week. This is good, though naturally it could be better.
Content Quality While the content isn't as focused/categorized as well as it could be, for the most part, the content is informative and helpful. Some how to guides and pillar articles would be well appreciated too, though, as it appears the site's content is mostly in the reporting, 3-5 paragraph range. Perhaps James could write some tips on writing copy for affiliate marketing would be of use, or how to evaluate an advertising program or agency that will sell your adspace inventory.
Breadth of Appeal & Link Magnetism It's obvious by his comments that James has an established readership on WB. The content is interesting, even when it's off-topic, and many business bloggers can learn a thing or two from James' site. In addition, the topic is sufficiently broad, popular, and well-covered at WB that the content scores well.
However, in order to get backlinks coming in, he'll really need to write more in-depth articles that offer some particular value to readers that can't be had elsewhere. James' article on anchor text was good, for instance, but nothing that couldn't be found elsewhere.
Overall current SEO effectiveness
On Backlinks, James' WB gets a C+. He has some good links from relevant sites, and obviously a fair number of them, but many are also gone, moved, or from sites where the link quality isn't great. On Keywords, James gets a juicy red F! Keyword density is terrible, the images and code aren't optimized, keyword prominence and placement are poor. On External links and link structure, WB earns a B. They're all functional, but much of the anchor text could be rewritten in a more descriptive way. On Content Analysis, I grade Work Boxers a C+. The frequency is decent, the content is average to slightly above average, and it's got reasonable appeal. The challenge is now to optimize it with keywords in the right places, write pillar articles, and exploit his writing skills to earn backlinks. On PageRank, James gets a resounding A- for his 6. The trick is for him to exploit that ranking now in order to rank for keywords he'll select.
Now, it's time to consider if James ranks for any of his keywords or phrases. It's possible that his PageRank, decent content and good link structure get him ranking in spite of his non-existent keyword strategy.
For 'Adsense case studies', Workboxers ranks number 9 on Google, out of a million sites. That's a start. He gets another 9, out of 10 million sites, for 'fine fools'. However, for the terms James is really competing for, such as affiliate marketing, affiliate programs and so on, WB is nowhere to be seen.
Thus overall, I give WB a D on SEO. The main problem, as I see it, is the keyword issue, and the dissapearing backlinks. Working with other affiliate marketing blogs and promoting his content will get James' WB to have much better SEO.
Like I mentioned in my first post on how to conduct a site SEO review, it's important to know just how many of those links Google considers important, though. The number suddenly becomes less impressive: 313 links are taken into account by Google. This is still great however, indicating a highly developed backlink and inbound link network.
The next thing I did in reviewing B-O.biz was to look at the first page's results for the link:domain query. Here's a sampling of what I found, which should help explain how Dane has a PageRank 7.
The first page that shows up linking to Dane's blog is an About.com PageRank 6 page! It only links to a handful of related blogs, including his, which is important to search engine optimization.
The second page is a blog in Dane's network of PageRank 5. Unfortunately, it isn't clear if Google values the sidebar link, or the link from the comments... The third page is the ever-weighty Yahoo directory presenting a PageRank 5 link to Dane's website (though here the numerous links on the page suggest each link isn't valued for standing out as in the About case where only a few other blogs had links to their websites). The fourth and fifth page have PageRanks of 3 and 5, respectively. This may be surprising at first glance, but this can be quickly explained when one looks at other attenuating factors (which I'll leave up to Dane to disclose if he wants to; he's getting a more detailed version of this review).
Keyword Density was not great at first glance on the Biz Ops blog. The most common two-word keyword phrase was 'June Comments'. 'Business Opportunities' was second best, but topped out under 1% density, well below what search engines tolerate. On the other hand, 'business' was at 3.52% density, which is great. Also, 'business' was part of two other common phrases on the site. Keyword density looks good.
Note also that this assesment of Dane's keywords ignores meta tags, because I want to consider how Google sees the site. MSN still considers meta tags, but they're likely on the way out there too.
Keyword visual presentation was pretty solid. Business opportunities is in the title (the words that display in the blue band at the top of the window), the words "business opportunities" are dead center in the site (it's an image, but the image's alt tag reads "Business Opportunities"), and link to the homepage, reinforcing their importance. Business and related words are elsewhere above the fold (the line below which content can only be seen by scrolling down) too.
I noticed business and bizops bolded in sidebar header text. The words business opportunities are part of the anchor text of a link above the fold that goes to Dane's archives. Strong marks overall in the keyword presentation department.
Keyword placement could have been a bit better. For instance, Dane mainly quotes stories for his blog content (a practice he should rely on much less, but more on that later), and his lead sentences aren't all that great, as they mainly consist of saying "John X, of YZ magazine, wrote: '...'" On the plus side of things, Dane's quotations cut off at the right time, with the effect that his concluding paragraphs frequently have the words 'entrepreneur' and 'business' in them.
Another issue I had with keyword placement was the navigation. It's a lot of code, highly placed in the page... but none of the navigation has "business opportunities" in it, nor any related keywords (entrepreneur(ship), small business, etc.)!
External Links and Link Structure
The functionality of the Business Opportunities blog's links is excellent. External links I clicked on were all working, as are the internal links.
External links' anchor text aptly described where you were being taken, but could have been better. For example, many personal names were used for blog authors, when in fact linking to their blogs by their names would have been better. This may have been intentional, though, to avoid having an excessively high keyword density (many of the external links go to business blogs).
As mentioned above, the navigation is a questionable use of valuable real estate. Better use might be made by the blog's well-optimized content. So internal Link Structure was okay, with room for improvement.
As mentioned above, Dane's content is mainly quoting sources, and mentioning press release type stuff. I understand that's what gives the blog focus, but a little extra time writing would be time well spent. Consider:
Post Titles rarely have keywords in them. That's a HUGE missed opportunity. Covering more business to business opportunities might help with this. Besides, they're listed in the sidebar, so it's a double opportunity for keyword optimization that's being missed.
The introductions aren't much to speak of. They don't grab you, and that would likely be an easy way to get people reading quoted stories more, besides getting comments and links back. Even the original content I saw (about Dane's children watching "educational" tv for toddlers) wasn't so strong in the grab-my-interest-and-do-seo department.
The relative shortage of original content means Dane isn't getting as many backlinks as he could. Ideas for content might include favourite biz-ops, what makes a good franchise op, how to market franchises, and so on.
However, the sidebar (yes, this is content too) has massive amounts of external links to relevant sources, which is probably a huge help for SEO. Additionally, Dane updaes the blog several times a day, which is great. There may be some duplicate content penalties risk, though, because of the excessively high percentage of quoted content.
Content updates several times daily. Excellent. Content quality: variable from below average (quoted) to above average (original posts) to ordinary (biz-ops). It's helpful though, overall, so it's a passing grade for content quality. Breadth of appeal/link magnetism is hard to establish. Dane's traffic is huge, but I doubt he has much link magnetism. Rather, many of the links he's built up seem to come from link exchanges, though I do see some people frequently mentioning the opportunities. Anyways, there's potential to broaden the appeal and get more links, especially considering the wide audience which means huge potential for link love. Current SEO Effectiveness
The site SEO review I've conducted has led me to grade Dane's SEO strategy as follows: Backlinks: A-: They're plentiful, and come from great sites. However, a little more diversity would be nice, as many of the links are similar and thus ignored. 500 counted backlinks is probably achievable by year's end. Keywords: B+: Business is plentiful, but opportunities could be more so. The blogroll needs work, as do intro paragraphs, post titles and navigation. External Links: B: Functional, but text isn't as descriptive as it could be in the blogroll. Dane gets it right within posts, though. They're all relevant, too. Content Analysis: C-: Too often unoriginal, too often from USA Today, too often with a so-so leader that doesn't grab readers or spiders. SEO effectiveness: B+: Dane's obviously got a lock on his top keyphrase, but he could do much better and move to dominate other phrases. Look up 'Small Business Opportunities' on Google, and B-O.biz isn't even top 10! Home business opportunities: Neither, though he is #12 for both (I doubt #12 gets much traffic in such a competitive market, though). That said, Dane is number one on Google for Business Opportunities. He's number 2 on Yahoo behnd the Small Business Administration and some sponsored links. Overall, the strategy is very strong, but the content could really be improved, and certain coding concerns (which I'm emailing Dane about privately) are a problem.
Tomorrow I'll be posting the results of the site SEO review I conducted on Work Boxers.
In search engine news, Google has released a new product, and it isn't targeting search! Presenting Google SketchUp.
Actually, the product doesn't seem to have been Google's own development, but rather a purchase of a pre-existing product (and the company that built it). The product is entitled SketchUp.
Google SketchUp is a 3d modeling program. You can design houses, buildings, video game graphics and more. It also works with lighting effects, so you can see where shadows are going and such. It's also got a nice little demo of two models created with, namely a city, and a playground set; when you hover the mouse over them, the image zooms and moves around.
My deep thoughts on this development in the search engine industry: 1) It would be funny if someone called themselves Tomato and made some Tomato' Sketchup forums... Google already has forums, but it's still pretty cool. 2) The forums have a weekly challenge which is going to be a massive marketing success, because the challenge lets people get really interactive with the product and build a community around SketchUp. I already see 43 replies to the first weekly challenge, which is to design a chess board. If I participated, my King would be a tomato, and the other pieces would be other vegetables/fruit. The pawns would be sliced olives like those on a pizza. The queen would be one of those plants that eat insects, though. 3) Google is looking to diversify its revenue beyond the world of search. A "pro" version of the software is being sold, as are hard copies of the freely available PDF guide. 4) This is going to help Google index new formats of information and stay ahead of its competitors. They'll have access to the product's coding and to its file format in particular, so... 5) This is bad news for companies already in the graphical modeling business!
SEO Review of Business Opportunities Blog, Posting Schedule for the Week
The SEO review of the Business Opportunities blog is nearly done and will be posted tomorrow, for those of you who were wondering. Tuesday I'll be posting the SEO review of the Work Boxers business blog. On a related note, Ben Bleikamp has agreed to have his site's SEO reviewed, so hopefully I'll have a site SEO review of his College Startup published Wednesday or Thursday.
Besides that, I've had ideas for some terrific SEO experiments, and my aim is to present them later this week, around Thursday or Friday.
I'm continuing my explanation of how to conduct a site SEO review. Yesterday's post considered how to review a website's SEO strategy concerning backlinks and keywords, and today your favourite SEO specialist will be looking at
The importance of external links and link structure is twofold. Firstly, for your human audience, external links and link structure are a key way to establish your site's focus. For instance, if you look at Dane Carlson's Business Opportunities Blog, you'll find that Dane's got plenty of links to various business opportunities and small business turnkey operations. Additionally, his blogroll links to plenty of other small business consultants and mavericks:
"- Business 2.0 Blog - Business Blog Consulting - Business Opportunity Classifieds - Buying & Selling A Small Business Blog - Carnival of the Capitalists - Chris Pund - Chuck Huckaby - College Startup."
Secondly, for your search engine spider audience, having lots of links to related websites and within your website on a particular theme (such as archival links and site navigation links) expresses the same thing: relevance to a particular niche. This makes sense when you consider that search engines work to approximate human behaviour, which, in the case of website surfing, starts by determining relevance.
That having been said, we're ready to consider the methods involved in reviewing a site's external links and link structure. Luckily for us, this part of a site's SEO review can mostly be conducted without resorting to outside resources.
Link Text First and foremost, to review a site's external links and link structure, one has to be literate. That is, simply read from top to bottom every link that is posted on the page, taking note of the words used to link to other websites. Making an Excel spreadsheet or Google spreadsheet to keep track of this would be useful, as with compiling yesterday's review data.
In Dane's case, the external link review quickly shows he could do a better job. As the section of his blogroll cited above shows, Dane mostly links to other business writers by name.
Considering most of them have websites titled with keywords relevant to Dane's Business Opportunities site, Dane's own SEO would likely benefit from linking to them using more appropriate, keyword sensitive text. For example, Des Walsh's link currently reads "Des Walsh." It could be more beneficial to have it read, "Thinking Home Business," which is the name of Walsh's site.
When I review Dane's link structure (the difference between this and external links is that it also considers design, and not just keywords), I find that he has clean, concise navigation links across the top of his blog, as well as links to his most recent "biz ops" in the sidebar. While the presentation is nice, there are a few missed opportunities here too to increase the keyword density (see part one of how to conduct a site SEO review). For example, I would write "Archived Opportunities," rather than "Archives." Link Destination While the text of a link is very important, there's another important aspect to links and that is their destination. There are two things to consider when reviewing a site's external and internal links' destination.
Firstly, does the link accurately describe the site it'll bring you to? For instance, trying to get entrepreneurs to see your poker site by linking to "Dane Carlson" but in fact having the link destination go to some poker website would be bad for SEO as the link description does not match the destination.
Secondly, are the links' destination functional? Imagine going trekking around the rain forest and seeing your trail come to a dead end. Not only would you be miffed with the person who suggested the trail, but you'd have to go back. Obviously, this hurts the suggester's reputation. Websites move, so if you're linking people to a dead end, you could be hurting your SEO - and your reputation in human eyes. (The link goes to my analysis of Google's partnership with librarians in the new Google Librarian Center; a librarian wrote that her group's index of sites checks websites' external links for functionality.)
The importance of content analysis to a site's SEO strategy can be summarize thus: frequency of content updates are a factor in ranking websites, the quality of the content is a factor in ranking the site (think keyword density but also how helpful the content is), and the quality of the content acts as a link magnet because it has broad appeal. If you want to master the techniques of site SEO review, this area of an SEO review should be familiar to you like the back of your hand. Frequency of Content Updates That having been said, daily content updates are the best you can do, unless you want to post more than once on a daily basis. For review purposes, most blogs post, if note the time, at least the date something was uploaded. If you see that people are posting in the morning in time for people to read at work on their coffee break (which starts when they get to work at 9 am, statistics show), you're reviewing an even better site.
Content Quality The next issue to consider in your review of a website's SEO strategy is just how good the content is. Take a good half hour to an hour to go through some of the front page material, then bounce around the archives and see if in fact the quality of the content has been consistent. By this I mean the general characteristics of the writing, including of course grammar, which is paramount (and which Google is developing algorithms to evaluate).
In terms of quality, there are a few genres that you want to look for when conducting the review. During your content analysis, Tips, guides, "how to"s, breaking stories are all examples of useful material. Material on topics with high-paying Adsense, Chitika, affiliate or other revenue ads is another thing to watch out for. This is personal though, so what you look for is really dependant on your goals for the site. Perhaps the content generates lots of newsletter subscribptions. If your goal is to build up a direct marketing database, this is good. If that's irrelevant (though that would be pretty strange), well, you wouldn't value the content as highly in your site SEO review.
Breadth of Appeal or Link Magnetism Generally speaking, there's an easy test of how broad the appeal of some content is. Ask yourself if there's a particular demographic being targeted who would enjoy this. The first rule of content is to know your audience, and if you're trying to sell hair gel to marketing professionals, well, you're not going to get very far.
Another way to research this is to use Technorati.com to find out what topics (by keywords/tags) people are talking about. A third method is to go blogroll-hopping and just read the titles (possibly the intros) to posts.
If you're talking about something hot, chances are it will help draw links. As mentioned above, useful content is a perennial favourite, and if you can find posts that people can use as a reference (such as tips, guides, and other materials), then you should know that the site whose SEO you're reviewing has quality content. Current SEO Effectiveness
It's fun to save the easiest for last. Current SEO effectiveness review is composed of two, easy to conduct bits of research. The first is to compile the analysis you've made so far in your review and grade the site's SEO strategy. Try and include comments and rational justifications, just as teachers do when grading assignments in school.
The second element is to make a shortlist of perhaps 3-10 keywords/phrases the site is/should be optimizing for, and see how well they're actually ranking in the search engines. You just plug in the phrases and see if the site is in the first page or two of results. If not, use SEOChat's ranking tool to find if the site places in the first 100 results. Grade this. In Dane Carlson's case, the grade is 100%, because he's number one for Business Opportunities.
Combine the two grades and you've just finished conducting a site SEO review.
That having been said, I hope it's clear how to conduct a basic site SEO review, and what methods I'll be using to review Dane Carlson's Business Opportunities Blog and James Martin's Work Boxers blog.
I'm going to explain how to conduct a Search Engine Optimization review (SEO) in today and tomorrow's posts.
To build a name for myself as an SEO specialist, I'll be reviewing the SEO strategy of James' Martin's blog on making money online, Work Boxers as part of a series of reviews of important business blogs. The five areas of search engine optimization I'll be covering in these basic reviews are Backlinks, Keywords, External Links and Link Structure, Content Analysis, and Current SEO Effectiveness. The following is a description of the methods used to evaluate the websites' search engine optimization strategies. After having read today's post, covering backlinks and keywords, and tomorrow's post, covering external links and link structure; content analysis; and current SEO effectiveness, you should understand how to conduct an SEO site review. The five factors being considered are the meat and potatoes of SEO, which explains their being selected for these basic reviews.
Backlink and Inbound Link Review
Backlink definition Strictly speaking, backlinks are one-way links to a website. Search engines figure that if one website links to another, inviting its visitors to go to that site, then the link can be considered as a voucher for the site receiving the link. That said, we're going to consider all inbound links. The only condition is that they aren't tagged as "nofollow" (this tells a search engine that in fact, the link is not a voucher and should not be counted as such), and are not preceded by words such as "sponsored links", which also tell search engines not to consider the link as a voucher for the site.
Backlink assessment There are several ways to evaluate backlinks when performing a website review. Of course, links are important to SEO only if the search engines take them into account, so to find that out, we'll be using the "Link:" query with Google. This allows you to search Google and find how many links there are to a specific page. Other search engines such as Yahoo offer this services, but the Google search results are most effective for this. Google doesn't display all the links to a website when a "link:" search is done. A "link:" query on Google shows the principal links that Google gives weight to, ignoring repetitive/similar links. On the other end of the spectrum, Yahoo shows all incoming links to a page (and sometimes more, as their tool doesn't appear to be as refined as Google's).
For James' Work Boxers website, a "link:" query would look like this: "link:workboxers.com" (without quotation marks).
Backlink Quantity Once the search has been performed, the next step in reviewing a site's SEO strategy is to determine just how many of the inbound links Google actually considers important. (That's my theory on it; I can't certify if this is accurate 100% of the time. It has been in my experience, however.) To figure this out, you would then keep clicking as deep into the results as possible until Google returned a page not completely filled by results. This would tell you how many of the inbound links Google considers worthwhile, and how many of them are similar and unworthy of consideration. Let me give an example to demonstrate how this part of the review works.
In reviewing James' WB case, I click on page 10 of the results and find that a full page of results is listed (i.e. there are 10 results on the page). I only need to click on page 19 of the results to go as deep as I can, which is to the 132nd link to WB. I now know that Google considers 132/456 links to WB to be important, and the remainder to be more of the same, and thus less important. Click the image below to see what I mean.
Backlink Quality This having been done, the review continues by assessing the quality of the first 2-3 results pages of inbound links to assess their quality. It doesn't help your SEO if your backlink and inbound link network is composed of poor quality links. To review link quality, three principle notions must be kept in mind: the PageRank (PR) of the site giving the link, the anchor text of the link (the text of the link), and the prominence of the link.
PageRank can be determined by looking at the PageRank meter in the Google toolbar that goes in your browser. The link can be found on the page using a browser's find/search feature, and then simply needs to be read.
Finally, the prominence of a link is considered in light of many factors. The very rude, spammy, and annoying people at Blog Explosion (I won't link to them as I'd prefer search engines don't think I'm vouching for them, nor will I use a nofollow tag and still send them traffic) are leaders in poor design given that they have so many links on a page it's quite impossible to find what you're looking for. As this example demonstrates, a link's prominence needs to be considered relative to how many other outbound links there are on a site.
Additionally, the position of the link itself above or below the "fold" (the line below which content is only viewable if one scrolls down the screen), is important. Further factors to consider are the link's size, differentiation from other links, and surrounding content (i.e. links to other website, paragraph of related text, ugly design that encourages eyes to avoid the link, etc.).
I'll be giving the data I compile in conducting the backlink and inbound link part of the SEO review to James in spreadsheet format.
The area of keywords in search engine optimization is so broad that there should be a separate post explaining how to conduct a review of the keyword aspect of a site's SEO. For the purposes of a basic review, I'll limit myself to considering keyword density, keyword position and placement, and the visual presentation of keywords.
Keyword Density To asses a site's keyword density, SEOChat offers SEOs everywhere a nifty little tool, aptly named the Keyword Density Tool. The tool reads ("parses" in technical terms) a website's code and text and finds keywords/phrases that have been repeated. You can modify what it will parse, choosing to drop meta tags for example. The tool is also flexible enough to offer you one, two or three keyword/phrase results.
For WB's site review, given that it's a midlevel site that isn't a Google powerhouse yet, I'm going to limit my research to two and three word phrases. It's extremely unlikely WB could top Google for any single keyword, so those aren't important (at least until James' SEO strategy improves). In addition, since Google doesn't consider meta tags in its ranking of websites (too easy to spam the tags and fill them with keywords), I'm going to exclude meta tags from the keyword density evaluation. To the best of my knowledge, MSN is the only search engine of the big three engines that still considers meta tags, and they're probably on the way out there too. Visual Presentation of Keywords Keyword presentation works much the same as backlink prominence. In conducting your site review, you should be looking for keywords above the fold. Ask yourself if the keywords are contrasting with the rest of the page (bold, italics, underlined)? Are they in both internal and external link text, in headers, and in the title? The rule of thumb here is that the greater the visibility of the keyword(s), the better is the search engine optimization. Keyword Placement A related topic to keyword presentation is keyword placement. Besides the tips mentioned above, introductory and concluding paragraphs are good places to position keywords too. Prominence is obviously the order of the day, as is human behaviour. Therefore, think of how an essayist is going to present his man ideas and where. For example, the use of topic sentences at the start of a paragraph is a common writing technique, so keywords are probably best placed in a topic sentence.
In evaluating keyword placement, priority is given to human-visible keywords before keywords embedded in code. The reason for this is simple: search engines are a mathematical approximation of human behaviour, and since humans are firstly going to read what's on your site before (if ever) looking at your code, it is only logical that search engines will weigh human-visible keyword text more heavily than keywords only present in the site's code.
However, as opposed to keyword presentation, keyword placement also includes tags and code. During your SEO site review, conduct a code review by right clicking anywhere on a page and select view source. Alternately, you can see the page's code by clicking View > Page Source. Look for keywords in a site's title tags, in its header tags, and in its alt tags (image description tags). Other important places are in the site's navigation links and in its urls.
Finally, as a precaution, try highlighting everything on the page, especially towards the bottom. This would reveal "hidden" text written in the same colour as the background of the website so that they would only be visible to search engines. People have used this trick to stuff keywords into their websites to improve keyword density, or have done this accidentally, as was recently the case with a Sierra Club of Canada webpage. Luckily, this is not an issue on Work Boxers.
The second part of my guide on how to conduct a review of a site's Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, will be posted tomorrow.
That's what many in the SEO world argue when they complain of Google's dominance over other search engines, but the unfair competition I have in mind is something entirely different. I'm talking about Google advertising through its own Adsense networks. Strange as it may sound, Google's Portuguese (Spanish? I see some Spanish I'm familiar with, but other words look Portuguese to me) BlogSearch is advertising on Adsense for the phrase "Business Blog" (without quotation marks; for some reason, including the quotation marks drops the ad out of the results entirely).
Now, you may be thinking, "So what if Google advertises through Adsense?" There are two main problems with this that I can discern, namely that such advertising places Google in a position of conflict of interest, and Google's ownership of the ad system means it can unfairly "buy" top rankings.
Unfair Competition Dilemma 1 First, Google advertising through Adsense puts it in a position of conflict of interest. Google needs to serve advertisers and allow for the market to determine which ads climb to the top of Adsense, yet Google itself is competing for that same top spot. This might encourage questionable practices, such as tampering with the Adsense ranking algorithms to place its own ads above others.
The fact that Google's ad is indeed in the top spot compounds the issue and creates an extension to the problem. This ranking indicates that Google's advertising strategy is indeed to compete for prime advertising position (and no, that isn't the only strategy around). While it might have been possible for Google to dismiss the notion of a conflict of interest with regards to high ranking if its ad were ranking last, the top ranking eliminates this defence. Unfair Competition Dilemma 2 Second, Google's Adsense system ranks ads from top to bottom partly according to a bidding system. The more you're willing to pay per click, the higher your ad will rank. Thus advertisers set a bid ceiling for what they're willing to pay, and Google's system ends up having them pay only five cents more than their next competitor.
Now, since Google obviously need not pay for the advertising on its network – this would be akin to taking money out of one pocket and putting it in another – it can get top ranking for any term or phrase it wants. The current most expensive keyword on Google (keywords actually: mesothelioma lawyer) costs $50. Google could bid $1000 on its own system.
In a more sinister use of this advantage, Google could use its knowledge of competitors' bids to get them to pay their ceiling bid. For example, if Google knows A has a bid ceiling of $5.00, Google could bid $4.95 to ensure A pays $5.00 every time his ad is clicked. This isn't what is currently taking place, with Google at the top, but it's a possibility. Indeed, while there is a conflict of interest with Google ranking at the top of its ad display, ranking lower would simply create another conflict of interest.
The conclusion is that regardless of where its ads rank, Google is in a position of conflict of interest when it places ads for its own products on Adsense.
So where does Google go from here? First and foremost, Google needs to immediately cease advertising on its own network. Even if none of the issues named above were actually an ethical problem, the fact that there could be perceived problems hurts Google’s reputation just as much. This in turn puts its future revenues in doubt as advertisers think twice about using Adsense, and obviously would make shareholders, employees and others nervous about dealing with Google.
Once the ads have stopped running, Google needs to identify what caused them to display in the first place. If it was a machine error, the software/hardware needs to be repaired or replaced. If the error was human, the employees in question should be dealt with according to whatever system Google has in place for dealing with disciplinary questions. If such a system shouldn’t exist, Google will need to give the employees responsible a stern warning, some continuing education in ethical guidelines, and of course establish a system and explain it to all employees.
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Search Engine Optimization Incorporated, or SEO Inc., is offering a brilliant new spin on an old service. They're offering an SEO copywriting service... for press releases. Imagine: you're a business making sound systems for cars, and you've just designed and produced the first model of a revolutionary new sound system. Instead of just having your Press Release through normal PR channels, this will also help the press release get around through search engine optimization. In fact, Search Engine Optimization Inc. issued a Press Release for the new service.
Nod goes to SEO Bill Hartzer for the "SEO Inc. Offers Press Release Copywriting Service" tip.
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Google's latest strategic move in search engine development is a new program that they've had the good sense to keep out of the media. This has kept it relatively under wraps and given Google a head start on their competitors in this new field. Read on to learn about Google’s new program, and how you'll need to adapt your SEO to the trends that are emerging from it.
This isn't any ordinary program. In fact, it's not even a computer program. No, when I say program, I mean a little production of Google's that is involving people who have traditionally searched for information through the use of vast indexes and systems: librarians.
I had long wondered why the apparent parallel existence of search engines and librarians wasn't being put to productive use. To understand what I mean by parallel existence, consider what a search engine does: it indexes information and retrieves it when someone comes looking for it. Consider what a librarian does: they index information and retrieve it when a person asks for it. It would only make sense to exploit the overlapping competencies between the two.
It appears that someone at Google had the same thought as I did, and so the behemoth of search has moved.
Weak jokes aside, here's how Google describes the Center:
"Librarians and Google share a similar mission: to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. We support librarians who work each day to further that mission. This site is a first step toward improving and expanding that support."
Now think for just a moment: what's the quid pro quo for Google expanding its support for librarians? What do basic social and business principles tell us about doing something for others? We are told that others will reciprocate. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the brilliance of the Google Librarian Center: through it, Google is aiming to become the friend to librarians and thus to corner the librarian demographic. If librarians have ideas for indexing and retrieving information, who do you think they will come to? Their friend Google, of course.
I see further proof of my theory [on Google's interest in supporting librarians] in another little-known social reciprocation experiment of Google's: the Google Pizza Program. It is common knowledge that Google is looking to hire engineers. Who do you think engineers will consider working for after college, given that Google sponsored their college pizza breaks? I think you can answer that one yourselves.
In fact, the Librarian Center is publishing a newsletter - which I encourage any self-respecting SEO to sign up for - that is already showing signs of productivity for Google's relationship with librarians. A beautiful little essay in the newsletter, written by Karen G. Schneider, Director of the Librarians' Internet Index (LII), is entitled: "Beyond Algorithms: A Librarian's Guide to Finding Web Sites You Can Trust." Not coincidentally, a newsletter piece written by Google engineer Matt Cutts explaining PageRank to librarians is entitled: "Followup: How does Google Determine Which Websites Are the Most 'Trusted?'"
I don't think anyone who has read to this point can be in doubt any longer as to the purpose of the Google Librarian Center from Google's point of view (to have librarians help them improve their search techniques). The social reciprocation idea seems likely to catch on. Consider this library-blog post: "Way to go... I was hoping for something like this from Google, a sign of their support to work together with librarians... they like us." Now, I'll get on with what most of you who are reading this likely came here for: the 4 SEO trends you can apply in your own search engine optimization affairs. In fact, the title of this post is a lie: there are actually 5 trends that are developing from this partnership. I just wanted to happily surprise those of you who actually had the patience to read this far and not click out.
The SEO trends that I have been able to discern come from the newsletter. They are based on the piece from the Librarians' Internet Index head. In her article, the LII's director mentions how her staff make judgements for the LII about what sites are authoritative and trustworthy. They are guided by 5 points. "We rely primarily on what we call the 'big five show-stoppers': availability, credibility, authorship, external links and legality."
From here on in, I'm going to quote and explain what Schneider has written about each of the 5 elements. More interestingly, I will then comment on how I think SEOs should adapt, given the developments Google will naturally make in their algorithms from the LII's insight. Of course, developing your SEO strategy means you believe the premises of my argument, namely, that Google is working with librarians to improve its own searching. If you don't think I've proven that point sufficiently though, then by all means, stop reading right now.
1) Availability – "Is the site up and running? Is the information freely available?"
Schneider is referring to the level of accessibility of the information on a site. Considering that spammy sites often try to make a buck by offering access to their content for a "subscription fee" that "automatically renews" the charge on your credit card if you don't cancel, this is a policy partly aimed at fighting spammy sites. It takes a characteristic of theirs and uses it to block them.
The catch is that some sites with limited access to content that aren't spammy might get hurt if this becomes too black and white in Google's algorithms. The LII's director herself recognizes that not all sites with limited content are spam: "Of course, this isn't a hard-and-fast rule. We don't reject a site just because it has some information behind a wall." I trust Google's engineers will be able to figure out the programming.
I just want to digress for a moment here. As is common knowledge, the Internet's oldest industry - the porn industry - commonly offers content for sale. So in the LII's opposition to content-for-sale websites, I see a bit of a Victorian undercurrent, an undercurrent that disdains pornography and treats it accordingly. While I'm not taking a position on pornography, I think it's a caveat worth noting that part of this policy may be motivated by non-objective factors.
That's just my interpretation of things, though; Schneider writes that "we [the LII] pass along only freely available sites because our working assumption is that when you're hunting for information, either for yourself or for a library patron, free access is good." Incidentally, Schneider's comment is further evidence of the quid pro quo I mentioned above, in that a librarian is endorsing Google's mission statement. Recall that Google's mission is to make the world's information freely available.
Anyways, getting back on topic, "availability"'s importance for SEO purposes translates to a few concrete practices.
Make sure SE spiders can easily crawl your entire web site without hindrances. That includes avoiding
problematic robots.txt files,
and anything else that might conceivably cause problems in what Google founder Larry Page describes as linear surfing: someone navigating the web from one link to another. While this may previously have been an issue in SEO, with librarians reaffirming it, you can be sure Google will give this issue more weight in the future, if they aren't already.
Sitemaps are another good idea. (I'm currently working on one for City SEO/M, if you're wondering where mine is.)
The easy rule of thumb here is to make content freely available, easily accessible (i.e. not buried in some forgotten sub-sub-sub-sub-subsection), and equally legible by humans and spiders. More on this later.
2) Credibility - "Does the web site contribute current, accurate information? Is the site author(s) qualified to present the content provided?"
There are two issues in Schneider's view that establish credibility: quality of content and author credentials.
The applications for SEO are as follows.
Review your content to make sure it is accurate and on the mark. Statistics should be cited properly, and context must be given. If you don’t feel you have the time for this, have someone proofread it for you.
Make sure you have an About page. Include professional certifications and whatever else qualifies you to write about your topic. Furthermore, if you are affiliated with any organizations in your industry, display a badge or link of some nature that shows this, while making sure they link to you.
Give notice as to how current the information is. Note that Google's Blogger includes timestamps that indicate when a post was published (and also serve as permalinks).
You need to show that you are, if not an expert, at least someone who is knowledgeable about the field. Someone that can be trusted both because of their expertise, and because their information is accurate and up-to-date. Currently, Google assesses authoritativeness via PageRank and backlinks from other authoritative websites.
Larry Page and Sergey Brin, in their "Anatomy of a large-scale Hypertext Search Engine," noted that human maintained directories were generally reliable. (Anatomy is another recommended read for my fellow SEOs.) For Google to devise and implement algorithms to integrate human generated assessments of authority therefore makes sense to be consistent with what its founders have written in the past, besides being necessary to keep up with the competition (i.e. Yahoo's Del.icio.us). Based on past experience with PageRank, we can expect Google to take into account authority, likely based on a credentials approach.
3) Authorship: "At LII we're very skeptical of web sites with more than a couple of typographical or grammatical errors."
Grammatical verification is the logical extension of trend number 2. If you're someone with any expertise, you should have acquired some basic communication skills along the way to becoming an expert. Those skills ought to include grammar skills. If you don't have the skills or the time for this, I again recommend you hire a proofreader to edit your text.
For more technically minded SEOs, this is the human equivalent of not having sloppy code. You wouldn't talk gibberish to a spider, so why talk gibberish to humans? After all, humans are your target audience. They're the reason you're optimizing to begin with. What good would it do to rank high on Google only to have SERP referrals quit your site in an instant when they see an unprofessional page loaded with grammatical errors. Note also that "bad neighbourhoods" are notorious for their poor grammar. For instance, experts say that spam email is easily identifiable by typos and poor grammar.
Are you trustworthy?
Here are a couple of proofreaders who might help you out: proofreaders and editors Better-Edit (owned by one of the first people to teach me about SEO, web entrepreneur Yaro Starak), Hyperlife.net, http://www.wordsru.com/, and whatever else you might find on Google for editing services. (Note the varied ways of obtaining backlinks and their quality, as determined by order listed and nofollow tag usage: relationships (first, nofollow not used), topping SERPs (second, nofollow used) and topping Adwords (third, nofollow used).)
Schneider's concern here is to find out about the care that is put into a site, which she considers to be a good indication of its quality. To help assess this, he LII investigates whether a web site's external links are functioning properly. She also mentions something that seasoned SEOs will already know: "Beware of student project web sites and personal web pages with many, many links!" Links from poor quality website and websites with hundreds of links in which your own gets lost aren’t all that valuable.
Luckily for SEOs, this particular trend in Google's development is not a major one, meaning that little additional work will be required to adapt to it. (Unless you're doing SEO on contract for others, in which case this small augmentation in workload is a dissapointment.)
The reason is that some of this is already integrated within Google. For instance, Google engineer Matt Cutts' blog, in discussing Google's recent Big Daddy update, considers the cases of some websites that suddenly found much fewer of their websites indexed. He suggests that the cause of their woes was external linking to unrelated websites. This is a quality issue, but it reflects the idea that Google's on-site considerations include external links.
The trend in SEO is therefore, in the main, a continuation of previous trends. As Schneider said, the care that is put into a website is important.
Proper coding in link structures (and of course linking to what the anchor text actually describes) should be paid specific attention to.
Check your links on a regular (once every two weeks feels sufficient to me) basis in case sites have moved, and if they have, update your links.
As always, avoid sneaky redirects.
When building a network of backlinks, aim to gain them from pages with few outgoing links, and find out if their current external links are in good condition (and if not, let them know – you'll both win).
The LII considers legality in the framework of copyrights, trademarks, and intellectual property law. As Schneider writes: "The author of a legitimate web site will ensure that she is legally entitled to publish the content on her site, working within copyright and fair use guidelines."
She also considers the topic of fair-use, which is a legal defence that argues that the reproduction of a work is legitimate because of extenuating circumstances. Schneider cites critiquing a work as an example of this, and encourages readers to check out a website busting 10 popular copyright myths. Schneider recommends avoiding reproducing something that would mean using the fair-use argument in court. It's a hassle and highly subjective, so why bother? It only takes a moment more to attribute something properly.
SEOs can use Creative Commons copyright licenses to indicate to readers that their site is operating within a legitimate legal framework. Placing the CC marker in an easily visible place would reinforce arguments of due diligence in court, and so locations above the fold (i.e. the portion of a website immediately visible upon loading with no scrolling) might be considered. It might even reassure someone providing a link that their own external link is going to a quality website.
Additionally, it's an easy way of showing that you're credible and trustworthy, which is what this all comes down to. For example, Marketing Sherpa (another great newsletter that each of you should subscribe to) recently published the results of a marketing experiment by Petco.com showing that prominent display of a security certificate boosted sales. It is therefore likely that prominently displaying a badge that reflects trustworthiness on you would have similar effects.
There are a few other questions Schneider posts afterwards that hint at other trustworthiness points. I'm not going to quote them, though, because I want you to absolutely go and check out the Google Librarian Center and sign up for the Google Librarian Center's Newsletter right now.
Here are a few quick steps to immediately implement what has been discussed in this article.
1. SEOs will have noticed that sloppy code has been mentioned a few times. Check that your code is valid. This is known in technical jargon as "validating" code. Try W3C’s free html validator: W3 Validator. 2. Go and edit your template file. Make sure your site's content is available and trustworthy, as determined by the criteria of credibility, authorship, quality of external links and legality. Refer back to each section of this article as necessary. 3. Contact your professional association and get their website to link to yours. 4. If it does not already exist, create an About page. 5. Join a site review forum community like www.Sitepoint.com to get outside opinions on your availability, credibility, authorship, external links and legality. 6. Finally, and probably most importantly (again something for those of you patient and perseverent enough to read through to the end), go submit your site to the Librarians' Internet Index (the link is on the upper right). Something tells me that Google respects librarians.
I get the impression that this tool isn't just around for kicks, the way Google Earth is. This spreadsheet program is going to be integrated with Google's core business, search.
Here's the comment I had at Gadzooki on the issue, which will help you understand what I mean when I say Google is developing this for search.
"Google's latest development in indexing information. I think they expect this can help refine search the way Yahoo is using Del.icio.us, namely social networking. If the sheets are in the public domain, well... [it is reasonable to assume they can be indexed and used to help make numeric-related searches more accurate].
I think Google's motivation for doing this is also as a counterattack on Microsoft. They want to force Microsoft to devote time and energy to maintaining its spreadsheet software market share and developing its product, so that it can't focus as much on search."
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