Web Design and SEO

Category: SEO

Over-Optimization Penalties.

I told you so I told you so.

I don’t really like to rub it in when I’m right but this one is just begging for it.  I’ve been preaching this for the last 5 years.  My first rule of SEO is to “Keep It Real”. Keeping it real means building your links and content so that REAL users will be able to find the information that they really want. It means providing value. Make it worthwhile for the user to come to your site.

Recently Google announced that they will soon be penalizing sites that appear to have been over-optimized.  What does this mean? It means that if you have done things to make your site appear higher than it should in search results you are in for some changes.

Rand Fishkin discusses what SEO’s need to do to prepare for Google’s big over-optimization penalties that are coming up in his weekly Whiteboard Friday.  He’s dead on here. (Just as he usually is)  The word Rand likes to use to describe the right way to optimize your site is to keep it “natural”. This means doing things for the benefit of your users and not solely for the Google Bot.  Eventually the Google Bot will be smart enough to tell, and it looks like it’s not too far off.

For ethical SEO’s out there things are getting better.  You should see some good improvements over the coming weeks.

For the unethical spammy lot out there that are just about to lose all their rankings I just have one thing to say; I told you so.

An SEO Experiment – What Is Mesothelioma?

Someone asked me not long ago what would be a really good strategy for building an MFA site.  Personally I have never liked them. I think they make the Internet a NOT-better place.  But I knew this was someone who wasn’t planning on launching thousands of lame sites so I indulged.

Me: What is your domain that you want to do adsense on?

Them: Oh, I don’t have one yet. I was wondering what domain I should go get.

Me: Ok, do you care what subject your site is on?

Them: No, not really. I mean as long as it’s not porn or illegal or something like that.

Me: Ok, I would start out by researching the value of the ads that your site will be placing.  You need your site to naturally rank for the keywords that your advertisers will be targeting.  Let’s do a quick search.  (searching…) Ok, here’s a good list.  Number 1 keyword: Mesothelioma.  Do you know what mesothelioma is?

Them: No idea.

Me: Mesothelioma is a cancer that is caused by asbestos.  There was a few big class action lawsuits a while back and basically if you come down with mesothelioma you can get a big chunk of this money.  Lawyers are dying to get in front of you if you have mesothelioma so they are paying big bucks to get that keyword.  See, look at this. Keyword number 3 “What is Mesothelioma” They’re spending $50 a click to get that keyword.  Now keep in mind, they are probably not paying for non-Google domain searches.  That means that your won’t be getting the $50 clicks on your site. But that’s still a pretty good indicator.

Them: So let’s say I want to have my site be about mesothelioma.

Me: Ok, so next thing you want is to see if you can get a domain with one of these keywords in the domain.  So let’s see what’s available… wow, look at that! is available.  A .biz is no .com but still, that’s a pretty good domain.

Them: Ok register it right now before someone steals it.

Me: Oh you must have done this before on GoDaddy and come back the next day to get the domain that you wanted just to see that someone else had registered it hours after you had looked it up.

Them: Yeah. How did you know?

Me: I’ve heard that story many times.  That’s why I don’t use GoDaddy. (typing and clicking…)  Ok, so now it’s registered.  You have two choices at this point.  You can either develop your own unique content (which is better) or you can just put up a page with links and some easy copied mesothelioma stuff and not worry about it any more.

Them: I think I’ll develop my own content.  How do I do that?

Me: First, go research Mesothelioma.  Make a list of sites you want to link to.  Make your own notes and write some unique content about it.  I’ll setup a WordPress blog and you can just come add content when ever you want.

So the story doesn’t end there.  The site cleared the sandbox in less than 2 weeks.  It got its first real visitor about 3 weeks later.  And finally 2 months later it’s ranking for the keyword “What is Mesothelioma”.  Granted, it’s on page 31 but it’s still ranking.  With less than a total of 5 hours of work on it.  And it’s getting clicks.  It’s best click so far has been $2.94. That’s not too bad but you can’t make a living on it without traffic.  Now we’ll just see how much it really gets.

**Note: I also recommend going through the process of measuring potential traffic. We just didn’t happen to do it on this experement.

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Push Marketing is on Its Way Out, Welcome to Pull Marketing

Push marketing is where a company pushes it’s products to it’s consumers.  Since the beginning of marketing, push marketing has been the vehicle that has dominated the marketing landscape. With push marketing, you don’t know who exactly who your customers are so you have to shotgun your advertising, TV, magazines, billboards.

With social networking sites, that is starting to change.  The companies that understand will not be the only ones to survive but I dare say that they will be the ones that will thrive.

Yesterday I passed a house in a newer neighborhood where someone understands pull marketing.  In front of their newly prepared landscaping was a big piece of plywood with a sign painted in bright orange “Need Sprinklers”.  Using pull marketing to make the sprinkler providers/contracters come to them.  I would wager that they are also using social networking sites to find things get found online.

My wife and I decided that we need a new family doctor that is closer to home.  Immediately my wife turned to Facebook.  In less than a day we not only had a lot of referrals to choose from, we had a competition going on.  It’s basically down to 2 family practices and we’re letting our Facebook friends fight out which one  is the better choice.  If one of those practices were to join the conversation they would no doubt win my vote.

I’ve seen the same thing on Twitter, someone looking for a cloud based PBX system for personal use, someone looking for a flexible enterprise CMS, someone looking for the best WordPress plugin for this or that.

Only once have I seen a company that is capitalizing on the new mentality.  Someone complained about the speed of an internet service she uses on twitter and within an hour she had a response back from a support person at said company saying that he was addressing her issue.  It wasn’t a big enough issue for her to talk to tech support but it was enough of an issue to tell her friends.  And now we all know about this cool new service with awesome customer service.

That’s what pull marketing is all about.

This company is monitoring the networks for mentions of their brand and products and when something pops up that could do damage, or when an opportunity arises they jump on it,  turning negative press into positive press.  Right there, that is enough reason for me to check these guys out. I probably never would have paid enough attention to them but now I have and now I know that they would be a perfect thing for us to use.  In fact, they could solve one of our biggest problems in online reputation management for a specific client.

Effective marketing? Yes.  Expensive advertising? No.  Am I already sold? Yes. And have they ever talked to me? No.

Tell me what marketing or sales department wouldn’t like to experience that.

Old Technologies

I predict that by 2020 we won’t have printed phone books. Or newspapers for that matter but this post isn’t about newspapers. It’s about phone books.

We had a new phone book delivered to the house yesterday.  My 10-year-old son who loves books and has read over 1000 pages in a single weekend picked it up and gaped at it huge size. “What’s this? he asked with eyes big as saucers. I know he has seen them before.  I think so anyway. Pretty sure…

Then I started thinking about it, when is the last time I picked up a phone book with the intention of finding a phone number?  I honestly can’t remember but I’m sure it was years ago.  And then I got to thinking about how digital technology is killing many aspects of the print industry.  Newspaper, magazines, and phone books… the list goes on. Phone book companies for the most part have done a good job transitioning to the digital age.  I can’t wait until you only see phone books in museums and movies.

Having once managed the Internet department for Phone Directories Company, I know a little more about phone books than most people.  And it’s interesting to watch a company whose medium is passing try to figure out how to convert their old model to a new model. Some make it, some don’t.

And of course this just ties in with SEO.  It’s just not enough to call up your phone book company and buy a $3000 listing and expect to see some traffic to your business from it.  Now you have to optimize, localize, fine tune, design, redesign, maintain, and regularly update your digital presence.  And it’s funny, you find a company who used to spend anywhere from $5000-$15000 every year for their half page ad and they can’t justify spending the same for someone to manage their digital presence.  Then at the same time, they still pump that budget into the old dying medium knowing that it’s dying and not expecting but somehow hoping that they’ll continue to see an ROI like they would have 10 years ago.  It just doesn’t happen.

There are a few that get it.  They’re exploring new media and trying new things.  These will be the companies that grow and dominate the local markets over the next 10 years.  I went to a social networking event called a swarm last week organized by a little Hawaiian BBQ place that I never would have heard of.  If you’re on foursquare you probably know what a swarm is.  We tried for it but fell short of the required 50 attendees to get our badge. But it was a great experience for me as an internet professional.  It was an even better experience for Pounders Hawaiin Grill.  The place was packed.  I don’t think they could have handled the 50 people we were hoping for.

Now how much did they spend on this marketing? Nothing. Except for the time of one employee to get on Foursquare and do a little networking.  Now it might be a little more complicated than a traditional phone book ad. But not much.  And then let’s talk about the ROI.  How could the phone book ever compete?

Why Should I Hire an SEO Firm?

Even though everyone knows that Google has some big secrets when it comes to search ranking formulas they have been surprisingly open about a number of things.  In fact, most of what is considered common knowledge in the SEO world is just information that Google has chosen to give away.  Matt Cutts, one of Google’s many official bloggers, has just released a post responding to EU claims that Google isn’t transparent enough.  In a relatively short post, he provides links to a wealth of information that is critical to website owners.  I would start with reading the formula and background for the pagerank algorithm.

This information is the foundation of SEO.  And it’s all there for free.  Wait, free? If it’s free, why should I pay an SEO firm to do stuff that I can learn how to do for free?

Good question. Why pay someone to do something that you can do for free?

Here’s another question for you: how much time do you have?  Do you have the time it would take to really understand all the ins and outs of SEO?  How about the time to keep up with trends and changes in all the search engines.  OK, maybe not ALL of them but at least the big 3.  Do you have the time and freedom to try out experiments on a number of sites at the same time? Do you have the time to attend 3 or 4 search conferences each year?  I have that kind of time.  But then, this is what I do for a living.  What do you do?

I also recently discovered that just about all the information needed to become a lawyer is freely available on the Internet.  I still pay an attorney.  And I pay him a lot more per hour than I pay myself.  Why? because I want to make sure my legal affairs are done right and I don’t have that much time to spend on legal stuff.  That’s not what I do. I do SEO.

I’m willing to bet that you have a pretty full schedule. And I’m also willing to bet that it’s taking care of your core business.  So I guess the question here is if your would like to increase your search ranking and web traffic.  If so, let’s talk.  That’s what I do all day long.

The Page Footer – an Indespensible Tool for SEO and/or Conversion Rate

There’s some fantastic information in a recent article on WebDesignerDepot.  I was just discussing this concept with a  client the other day.  The subject at hand was “How do you get the most mileage out of your footer?”

The footer of your site is one of the most critical and overlooked parts of the site.  The article at WebDesignerDepot offers many good points from a design perspective but I prefer a good combination of SEO and user-centric features.  Examples like the White House and Apple are what most SEO firms will recommend.  They’ll tell you to make sure you have links there to all your important pages and make sure you load your keywords into them.  That’s all good for the search engines but don’t forget about the user.  Mail Chimp takes the space in the footer and uses it to repeat its sales pitch. Chances are, if someone has read all the way to the bottom of a page, they are predictably going to be more interested in what you are doing/selling on your website than people that never make it to the footer.  But Mail Chimp also loses some SEO value.  So which is the right strategy?

At this point I would say take a step back and look at your analytics.  What are your users doing with your current footer.  Maybe it’s time to try some A-B testing with your footer and see if adding the sales pitch without the links makes a difference in your conversion rate.  I’m betting it will.  But every website is different.  It could be that you lose a couple spots in your rankings and the difference in traffic isn’t worth the gain in conversion rate. But then again, maybe it will be.

There’s also pretty good odds that you are using social media in your marketing.  You are right? You should be.  Social media icons and links could fit very well into your footer strategy.  But again, consult your analytics and do some testing.

Above all, remember the first rule of SEO.  If it’s useful for real users, the search engines have figured it out or will figure it out. Eventually

The First Rule of SEO: Keep it Real

SEO is half art half science.  If Google would tell us their algorithm, it would just be science but they don’t.  So we’ll continue with the art.

It seems to me that when people get into SEO, they realize how much data is readily available out there that can help you tune your site and some people tend to get a little carried away.  Many try to game the system but tricking Google into thinking they deserve a higher rank than they do.  We call that black-hat.  There’s also a lot of fuzzy gray area that I like to call gray-hat.

For everyone on either side of the white-hat/black-hat debate it’s really easy to get sucked into the science  and over analyze things.  There’s one thing that I always tell clients that they need to keep in mind.

“What is Google’s goal? To provide the best results for a visitor when they search on any given keyword.”  Their algorithm is far from perfect and constantly changing because they are trying to reach that pinnacle of search intelligence.  They are trying to find the results that are going to be the best match for a REAL person.  That means, the site that has been able to design things perfectly for REAL visitors will win. Theoretically of course.  When considering your search engine optimization goals, remember this simple philosophy, “Keep it Real”

When you design your site for real visitors, keeping in mind how a computer with limited intelligence is going to interpret your site, you have a much greater chance of attracting the visitors that you really want.

Do Flash and SEO Mix?

This has been on ongoing issue since the late 90s. Traditional graphic designers love to push Flash because it allows them more creative flexibility. Flash doesn’t have the same technical limits as HTML.

Sites that are built in all flash can still rank well in search engines but not as well as a similar page built in HTML. The reason? Google has over 250 parameters they take into account when indexing and ranking websites. Flash can still accommodate some of these parameters but not most of them. Even with the Google/Adobe announcement that Google would begin indexing flash files, they don’t behave the same way that HTML files do and are still treated differently.

Industry Leader Rand Fishkin (who loves flash) has come up with a great list of 7 reasons why you shouldn’t have a site created in ALL flash. (

  1. Different content is NOT on different URLs
  2. The breakdown of text (not formatted by importance like HTML)
  3. Flash gets embedded
  4. Lack of testability for flash optimization
  5. Flash doesn’t earn external links like HTML pages do
  6. SEO basics are missing
  7. A lot of flash still isn’t crawlable

Vanessa Fox of Nine By Blue has given the following reasons to be cautious when considering Flash:

  1. Search engines are still based on text, not Flash
  2. Even using XML to populate your Flash, you miss most of the SEO benefits of HTML
  3. Google can’t index javascript called from Flash (a common practice)

There are also many opinions about the correct way to use flash. Some say not at all, some say Search Engines don’t really matter. The general consensus is that flash is best used as a page element in an HTML based site. Even if you will have the bulk of the content be Flash. This is the best way to accommodate the edgy designers and the search engine sceintsts.

The big issue here is what really matters to companies concerned with reputation management.

To these companies, Search Engines do matter but not for the same reasons that one might expect. The main SEO push at these companies is to get good positive content on the 1st page of Google. They probably already have the top position, but also want the big detractors to not appear on page one. That will be accomplished by building SEO value in other web properties. Building the new company site(s) all in Flash will not help that endeavor, it will hinder it. Here’s why.

Links are widely accepted as the most heavily weighted factors in search rankings. Google doesn’t do well finding links from flash to other sites. The company needs to get its secondary properties to rank on the 1st page of Google for the main keyword (the company name). For example if had a flash link to, it wouldn’t get picked up by Google and MonaVie would be losing one of the most valuable links for that secondary domain. By putting the content and links in HTML, they gain those ever important links from to their other properties AND they also gain latent semantic keyword value by having the page text associated with the links on the page. Both of those benefits are lost in the use of an all Flash website.

How companies should use flash

Companies definitely need to keep flash, but done right. Flash isn’t the only way to accomplish the premium look and feel that they need on the website but it is very effective from a design perspective. What needs to be done is to use flash as a page element that is embedded into HTML. They also need to make sure to incorporate content into the design. Every page – especially the homepage needs to have textual content.