Let’s imagine you’re asked to review a website and provide either a technical audit or a content audit. If you’re doing it for a business, you’re surely expected to understand a bit about the competition and what they’re doing correctly. How can you provide this information? How can you leverage this information? So, as an SEO, you have two choices. Run in unarmed and guess like hell, or arm yourself with the right tools.
Granted, it’s a big SEO world out there. Finding the right SEO tools is a little daunting. I personally discover new tools all the time and abandon old tools just as often. If I can find a tool that helps me with SEO and with paid search, I’m even happier. For me, finding new SEO tools can be as addicting as finding new iPhone apps, bootlegs of Beatles shows, and a better cheesesteak. I don’t know what it is about it. I think it’s because each discovery helps me think a little differently about SEO, and provides a little visibility into potentially successful strategies. It’s just a matter of keeping your eyes open and thinking outside the box.
So one SEO tool that I find really useful is from SEOquake (homepage). I learned about them about 2 years ago because of their sweet Firefox plugin. If you’re a Firefox user (and you should be for SEO… so many great plugins that you can’t get anywhere else), installing this plugin allows you to get instant snapshots on a site. It’s the kind of data that helps see who you’re up against, and see if they’re worth studying for insight. But I digress. The SEOquake tool that really hooked me is SEMrush . I used to use SEOdigger, which was a great tool for understanding what competitors are doing with AdWords, but SEMrush (which uses their technology) took it even further.
It’s not a free tool, BUT you get freebies with it. I found that I liked what I was getting so much from just using the freebies that I upgraded. Even if I’m not using it for paid search, I like to have paid search data. It helps me decide the value of keywords for organic purposes. SEMrush actually does the work ahead of time on their backend crawls, and pretty much store wait for you to ask for it. Most services I’ve worked with would have to make you wait while they went and did the work. SEMrush is unique because it’s on demand with no waiting.
Try it… I took this from their site. If you want to see how your site ranks up (or your competitors), just go to SEMrush or change the domain in the URL string to your domain of choice.
Earn using your competitors’ experience
Even with these results, there’s a ton of insight you can find. This opens up doors to a million keyword opportunities (if you think about it, that initial burst of ideas can be the most frustrating part sometimes). I use this tool all the time in proposals or reporting, where I go to show a potential client missed opportunities.
Another tool I just found out about is SEOpivot . Like SEMrush, it provides some free data and provides it on demand. By having this data captured, it’s able to provide more information about where you rank now, potential traffic you’re missing, and what that traffic could look like if you go after (or optimize) other terms. For a company that’s trying to forecast and understand what SEO can bring them, this is amazing insight. This is on my radar to buy shortly. I think the two tools can be used in tandem. It’s good, good stuff.
Last week I had a great chat with a few SEO peers about communicating. SEOs, like other niche professionals, usually speak a unique language. Where some developers (for example) usually have a client facing filter, SEOs often have to speak to business folk directly. That means an SEO needs to practice communication. Yes, practice!
A good, ethical SEO knows that nothing in this space is an absolute guarantee – no more than a lawyer can guarantee a win in court. But a good business person is bred to get as close to a "sure thing" as possible. For this reason, SEO can still be a hard sell despite articles being published every day about its importance. It’s vital that the ethical SEO go into a first meeting (or pitch) with this knowledge and an open mind. Time to listen, learn, and ultimately educate.
Sometimes taking it to the kindergarten level helps in learning a new language. It doesn’t matter how smart someone is as a business man – Spanish or French should still be taught first as a 101. So should SEO! So when broaching this, I find the analogies help a lot.
Think of SEO like racing. To win a race, not only does the car need to consistently be upgraded (aka optimized), but many factors need to be analyzed routinely like track builds, track conditions, talent of driver and pit crew, talent of competitors.
So let’s imagine you are a team owner. You implement an expensive, cutting edge exhaust system on your best car. You notice in your trials that the car clocked better, but you still didn’t win that week’s race. OK, can’t win them all! Next week you install a new suspension, but again lost the race. Worse, your competition still beat you soundly without the two optimizations you have. Uh oh. Some of your team starts to get frustrated and confused. Theories and options are flying. Chaos level rising!
But you do the right thing. You keep buying, trying, testing, and removing optimizations. You watch your competitors and study their moves for inspiration, but you don’t worry. You stay on target. Suddenly, towards the middle of the season something happens. You start placing in the top 5. The points and rewards (money) you’re receiving is slowly starting to add up. Chaos level lowering!
Eventually you start winning. Your wins offset all your losses with a healthy margin of revenue leftover to enjoy. But it’s important you think about next season, and your next level of racing. New technology will arise. New track conditions, new team members for both you and your competitors, and a hundred other factors will need your monitoring. Don’t sit still just because you’re winning – if you don’t stick with it, you’re going to fall behind again. You can’t afford to do that after all your investments.
Behold. Bing is alive. Bing is Microsoft’s newest search engine (codename Kumo), replacing Live Search (Live.com redirects, and the search box at msn.com is now a Bing box). Microsoft is putting a big $80 million into branding this; probably a reaction to some of their previous branding/rebranding failures. But if this is more of the same, it’s not going to beat Google despite all of the branding. Sure it can raise market share and improve ad revenue, but this needs to be a special search engine targeting a big “type” of searcher.
So is it? Not really.
First off, the results seem about the same as before. I don’t think they did much with the algorithm – if anything. My rankings all stayed the same. I still feel like I’m getting the same mainstream to junk site results ratio (my big complaint about Live were that the results were either really safe, or really useless – very little in the way of fringe, valuable hidden sites). I assume that if this takes off, more time and money will be poured into the algorithm.
I do like the Web Groups. For certain queries, a left navigation is generated with different related categories. These categories also appear in the body of the results. Useful when the engine can’t determine a searcher’s intent. This is their attempt at giving you wider results (and actually giving you more listings per page). Google does this too on occasion, but not this well in my opinion.
I also like other components of the interface. I’m still surprised that Google is still so plain and dull. Bing gives you more color, and uses the search engine result page real estate more efficiently. To the right of each result is a dynamic button (when you hover over a listing). This gives a summary of content by pulling HTML text from the site. I think this is useful once you get used to it. It’s also easy to ignore if you’re not interested.
A lot of the other stuff is very Google like. Same old related searches, same vertical results, and pretty much the same Live image results. Dig in and try it.
Google loves to test new features on small segments of users without announcement. In the past we’ve seen favicons show up in natural results, we’ve seen AJAX serving results to make listings a little more dynamic, and we’ve seen a social search component that lets users customize their search engine results page. Sometimes these experiments make it into production (for example, the latter became Search Wiki), and sometimes they fall off the Google grid.
A few months ago some lucky searchers found longer snippets being returned. On 3/24, Google announced that the longer snippets was now a reality. This is great news for businesses owners.
The snippet is the little chunk of text that shows up under a listing in the search engine result pages. It’s not much bigger than a Twitter post, but is very valuable to searchers who are looking intently for answers, entertainment, or products. If the title of the webpage catches the searchers’ attention, they will often scan the snippet to validate whether the listing is worth clicking or not. When the keywords the user searched for are present in the snippet, they get bolded – this is an added bonus and a great attention grabber. Something about the bold text just lures searchers in – often semi-consciously!
Google documentation wants this snippet to be a summary of the content on the page. They say, “We frequently prefer to display meta descriptions of pages (when available) because it gives users a clear idea of the URL’s content. This directs them to good results faster and reduces the click-and-backtrack behavior that frustrates visitors and inflates web traffic metrics.” For all of these reasons, SEOs choose to write the meta descriptions carefully, embedding the keywords and messaging searchers are looking for in 155 characters or less.
So what happens if the meta description is deemed irrelevant or unworthy by Google’s algorithm? Or, if there’s simply no meta description found? Then Google will try to post content from the web page that it deems the best summary for the search query. Once in a while they’ll even reach out to the Open Directory Project for a description. Sometimes Google succeeds, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they overlook a great existing meta description for a terrible, algorithm determined alternative. Unfortunately in those cases, there’s nothing anyone can do put wait and pray that Google changes its mind down the line (though rewriting the meta description tag can sometimes influence Google). In the end, this is entirely at Google’s discretion.
The mighty powers that be at Google have decided for longer keyword searches, the user will benefit from additional lines of text in the snippet. This makes perfect sense. If the query is “Best Athletic Shoe Store For Women”, a longer snippet flushed with more detail could really help a searcher find what their looking for – not to mention improve the click-through rate and conversions. When the searcher is ultimately looking to buy a pair of shoes, our job as SEOs is to make sure our pages are recognized as the most relevant match – not just by Google, but by the user as well – and ultimately satisfy the searchers needs the first time. That’s where the magic happens. That’s where the sales are made. And that’s why a longer snippet is another great tool in our arsenal.
Read more about the longer snippet on Google’s Blog.
I provided an article on YouMoz, over at the great SEOmoz -
SEO Marketing is Even More Important in Today’s Climate.
Hoping for some good comments.
Google defines a good link as an “editorial” link; that is, a link a webmaster naturally posts to share a value with his/her readers, or to provide a recommendation. With all the new shorthand messaging services around, smaller viewing screens in smartphones, smarter analytics technologies, and the fleets of new savvy web users communicating in a whole new web-language, shortened URLs are becoming incredibly popular. You’ve seen them all over Twitter. This is a perfect example of an arena where editorial links are extremely abundant. Google should love them!
So why is it that so many don’t pass link value? Granted, many are technically built with 302 redirects, but engines have the discretion to treat a 302 redirect as a 301 redirect. Still, most SEOs would agree that they’re not seeing much – if any – SEO boost from the shortened URLs as a whole. I can’t say I’ve definitely noticed any link love myself. But until I did my homework, and realized there were more 301 redirect shortening services than there used to be, I may not have been using the right service anyway. So let me show my work a little bit…
Before you pick a shortening service willy-nilly, maybe think about whether you’re looking for link value or not. This doesn’t guarantee Google will follow the 301 redirect that is built into some of these shortening services, but it’s the best chance you have. The following are 10 of many. This list was pulled out of TweetDeck, currently my favorite Twitter messaging tool.
|TinyURL||Maybe – it’s a 301 but does not appear to pass link value (see update below)|
The shortening services usually don’t let you add keywords to the URL (though some do – TinyURL lets you add a custom alias). And yes, shortened URLs can be used for SPAMMING too, but what is natively built into Google’s SPAM filtering algorithms would surely be able to evaluate these shortened links too. One cool thing is that many of these services give you basic tracking of a shortened link via a free account registration (some of which let you kill the link to control timely promotions or temporary pages). Definitely useful and valuable in some applications I suppose.
*** Update: 3/18/09
Oggie mentioned this link in the comments:
So after some testing, Shark SEO says TinyURL does not pass link juice despite the 301. At least anchor text relevance. Is this due to something in Google, or something triggered by the TinyURL service? I’m going to try to test this out myself, but I think I’ll stop using TinyURL as my link shortening service of choice.
Related: Small Business SEO Services
Frank Zappa wrote a song called “Cheepness” (released in 1974 on Roxy & Elsewhere… so good! Great songs, great guitar effects, humor, but I digress). It’s about old, outdated monster movies that are done so poorly that you can see the zippers on the monster costumes. Once upon a time these monster movies scared people. Now in 2009 audiences are mature, and it usually takes CGI to be effectively scary today (visually speaking).
I’m going to make a stretch comparison here…
Cheap SEOs are outdated too. What’s a cheap SEO? Well, they charge very little and, well, offer very little. They’re tactic of choice is often SPAM. Sometimes the cheap SEOs are those who are new to the industry (maybe they just haven’t matured yet), or know a little about SEO but are convinced they can consult on it. Typically cheap SEOs use old tactics on shoestring budgets. They haven’t grasped the concept of actionable reporting, analytics, or had enough experience yet to understand what strategies are feasible in the modern day. The truth is their zippers aren’t hard to find if you’re looking in the right places. The problem lies when potential clients don’t have enough insight to look for the zipper.
Valid SEOs compete against cheap SEOs, either with ego and attitude, or concern (personally I’m in the concern camp). The SEO space is ever-changing, but there still seems to be this monster lurking in our space. This cheap-suited, space helmet wearing, fur ridden creature from beyond, eager to devour our world.
It’s fine that SEOs charge a wide range of prices for their services. The more established, experienced, or ‘rock star’ the SEO, the more they charge an hour. I’ve seen rates of $200 to $300/hr. A wide gamut is normal in any service. In my case, I typically work with big brand clients. But there’s a part of me that really enjoys focusing on the smaller companies who need to compete with the big dogs. That’s a great challenge! That’s also where I started my SEO career, and I’ve always have a soft spot for the little guy. When potentially pitching a small client I might charge 80-90% less. Not quite to the aforementioned “cheepness” line, but balancing integrity, value and money on that line. My own war against cheapness maybe? In part.
This post was inspired by a company I was speaking with recently. They were looking for SEO on a dynamically driven site targeting domestic regions. The site was pretty thin and though it did rank for some good head terms, really could use some SEO for the long-tail. In most cases that’s where the magic happens. There was a long road ahead of this site.
The proposal I sent was the same I’d send a large client, but at a tenth of my usual price. Like any proposal, it’s a starting point, and I offered flexibility. The final response to the proposal was ‘not interested’. No problem – as a consultant you factor in more declines than acceptances. However, the reply went on to say “unless (I) could offer something substantial at a reasonable price” he wasn’t interested. In reading that line, I quickly decided this would not work for me, and was thankful it didn’t get any further. A consultant/client relationship really needs to be tight and focused on the same goals with the same belief in the SEO strategies and tactics. If there’s already a disconnect on the value of the offering (both monetarily and in terms of effectiveness), it really isn’t worth pursuing when it’s already at a blowout price. In sales you balance trust and desire, but pushing for the wrong accounts has burned me before. Eventually a consultant grows a sixth sense about such things. You really need to weigh the value of educating the potential client vs. the amount of work involved vs. the portfolio you already have vs. the net income.
Though any reputable agency wouldn’t touch this small fish, there are plenty of independent SEOs out there that will take this work. Unfortunately, it seems that many SEOs on this level have mastered the sales and not the skills (my opinion). Clearly there are SEO services that hit and run, and have really ruined the landscape not just for the SEOs, but more so for the clients. I feel bad for any client that is going to leave a noble, valiant offering for a cheap trap. But where is that line? How much time does a real SEO spend defending this space against the imperfects? Is it really an SEOs battle to defend marketing – let alone SEO marketing – to a business’ “bottom line”? If you’re ethical, how much of your world is fixing the zippers showing in the monster suits, exposing those zippers, or promoting over them? It’s a tough call, but it is the SEO landscape today.