Monday 5 May 2014

SEO in 2014: How to Prepare for Google's 2014 Algorithm Updates

It has been an incredibly eventful year in terms of updates from Google. Major 2013 changes included further releases of Penguin and Panda, Hummingbird taking flight, and the shift away from providing keyword data thanks to encrypted search.

Many have gone so far as to ask whether SEO as a profession is dead: for one interesting perspective, see my recent Forbes interview with Sam Roberts of VUDU Marketing. My own take is less alarmist: Google has taken major spam-fighting steps that have shifted the playing field for SEO professionals and anyone trying to get their site on the map in the year ahead.

At the same time, the need for an online presence has never been stronger, while the landscape has never been more competitive. The potential to make a real ROI impact with your company's online marketing initiative is greater than ever. But defaulting to so-called "gray hat" tactics no longer works. Instead, SEO professionals need to step up and embrace a more robust vision of our area of expertise.

You might call it a move from tactician to strategist: the best and most successful players in our space will work to anticipate Google's next moves and respond to them with laser focus. In a sense, the infinite digital game of chess that is SEO will continue, but the rules of the game have become more complex.

Through a mix of what I'm observing and reading and what I'm seeing working out in the field today for my clients, here are some suggestions for companies and SEO professionals that are thinking ahead to 2014 for their digital strategies.

Everything You Learned in 2013 is Still Relevant, Just Amplified

When you look closely at the targets of the 2013 updates (ie, websites that cheat their way to the top of the rankings or provide no value to visitors), I anticipate seeing these carried forward throughout 2014. We can continue to expect micro adjustments to Panda and Penguin that continue to target both link quality and content quality.

Smart marketers will benefit from keeping a close eye on their link profiles, and performing periodic audits to identify and remove inbound links built unnaturally. High quality content investments will remain critical.
A solid SEO performance in 2014 is going to be built on a foundation of really understanding what happened in 2013, and what these changes mean both strategically and tactically for SEO. SEO really has changed in critical ways.

Content Marketing is Bigger than Ever

Content marketing will move from buzzword to mature marketing movement in 2014. From an SEO perspective, Google will be looking at companies that have robust content marketing efforts as a sign that they're the kind of business Google wants to support.
Think of all the advantages of a good content strategy:
  • Regular, helpful content targeted at your audience.
  • Social signals from regular sharing and engagement.
  • Freshness or signs that your site is alive and growing.
  • Increasing authority connected to your body of work.
Sound familiar? It's the very approach to SEO that all of Google's recent updates have been designed to shape.

What changes you need to make in 2014 depends largely on where your company stands now in relation to an active content marketing strategy. Companies with existing content strategies will need to assess the role of mobile, specifically.

If you've just begun to move in the direction of content marketing, it's time to really commit and diversify. If you haven't started yet, it's time to take the plunge.

Social Media Plays an Increasingly Visible Role

Social media has been a major player in the digital marketing landscape for the last few years. First we saw the rise of mega platforms like Facebook and Twitter. In the last couple of years, visual content from networks like Pinterest, Instagram, and various micro-video services haa swept through.

Today, diversification is a major trend: depending on who you're targeting, it's no longer enough to be active on a single network. In fact, The Content Marketing Institute recently released a study that the most successful B2B marketers are active on an average of seven networks. Companies and SEO professionals will need to be asking the following questions in the year ahead:
  • Are we taking our social media seriously? Are we employing the pillars of strong profiles, good content, reciprocity, and engagement?
  • Is easy social sharing enabled for all of our content?
  • Does our content strategy include a dissemination phase that includes maximizing its potential for distribution through social networks?
  • Are we active on the social networks that matter in our industry?
  • Are we active on the social networks that matter to our customers?
  • Are we active on the social networks that matter to the search engines? (See below for more thoughts on making that strategic investment).
  • Does our social media marketing strategy stimulate the level of social signals required to achieve our goals?
Google's updates are likely to increasingly rely on social signals as active human curation of good content.

Invest in Google+

In addition to strengthening your overall social media marketing position, it's going to be absolutely critical that you are investing in your Google+ presence.
Moz's most recent study of ranking factors confirms that Google+ is playing an increasingly significant role in a solid SEO ranking. The immediate areas to focus on include:
  • Establishing Google Authorship of your content, and tying it to your Google+ account. Authorship, which brings your body of content together, will play an important role in the SERPs as well as strengthening your Author Rank.
  • Those +1's add up. It isn't clear exactly how much Google +1's directly contribute, but it's fair to say that it's a major factor in the "social signals" component of Google's algorithm. I expect this to increase in the year ahead.

Hummingbird Was Just the Tip of the Mobile Iceberg

2014 will be the year of mobile SEO. Hummingbird was just the very small visible tip of a very large iceberg as Google struggles to respond to the rapidly shifting landscape where half of all Americans own smartphones and at least one-third own tablets. Those statistics will probably shift upward, maybe dramatically, after the 2013 holiday season.

As a result, your site's mobile performance matters to your SEO rankings. Properties that you're trying to rank need to be designed first for mobile and then scaled up for the big screen. If you don't have a mobile-optimized website, this needs to be your top priority in terms of SEO and design investments for 2014.
Some underlying changes that happened with Hummingbird, including the increasing importance of both semantic search and Knowledge Graph, will continue to grow in influence. Practically speaking, this is to help prepare the search engine for the rise of voice search associated with mobile. But it also has direct implications (which we're still learning about) for broader SEO. This is one area that you should pay close attention to, from how you structure your content to what content you choose to put out.

The Long Versus Short Debate

Which is better, long content or short content? The answer depends on who is creating the content, who is reading it, what it's about, in what context it's being consumed, and how you define "better."
For the purposes of this argument, which form of content will help you best prepare to rank well in 2014? Frustratingly for some, the answer is more "both/and" than "or."

Vocus recently cited a study that showed that the top 10 results for a specific keyword search tended to be more than 2,000 words in length. The validity of that study has been debated, but it's probably fair to say that length is a proxy for depth of expertise and value delivered to the reader.

Google values both expertise and value. As a result, we've seen a trend where the "minimum desirable length" for text-based content has shifted from something in the range of 550 words to articles in the range of 1000-plus words.

Yet we're also confronted with the reality of the mobile device: if I'm reading about something I'm only moderately interested in, there's a high probability that I won't want to scroll through 2,000 words on my iPhone. That leaves content marketers faced with the challenge of producing mobile-friendly content, which tends to be (in a sweeping generality) much, much shorter.

Proposed solutions have run the gamut from content mixes to site architectures that allow you to point readers to specific versions of content based on their devices. This is great for the user experience, but where it all comes out on the SEO algorithm front remains to be seen. For now, I'll just acknowledge that it's an area of concern that will continue to evolve and that it's something you should keep your eye on.

Advertising and PPC has a Shifted Relationship with SEO

Since Google made the decision to encrypt the vast majority of its searches, our ability to access keyword data for research purposes has been restricted. However, there's a loophole. Keyword data is still available for advertisers using PPC on Google's platform.

More SEO budgets may be driven toward PPC simply because access to the data may otherwise be restricted. It's also possible that we'll see the release of a premium Google product to give us access to that data through another channel from Google in the year ahead.

Guest Blogging Remains One of the Most Effective Tactics, With a Caveat

Guest blogging has exploded in the past year, and it's going to remain one of the most effective means of building quality inbound links, traffic, and branding exposure in 2014. However, it's absolutely critical that you're creating high quality content, and using extremely stringent criteria when selecting your target sites.
In other words, you need to apply the same high ethos approach to guest blogging that you do to the rest of your SEO efforts. If you dip a toe into spammy waters where guest blogging is essentially scattershot article marketing with a 2014 update, you're likely to be penalized in a future Penguin update.


This has been a year of significant change in the SEO industry. Even contemplating strategies for 2014 can feel staggering.

The good news is that looking back, it's easy to see which direction the trends are heading in terms of the years ahead. Staying the course on solid white hat tactics and paying attention to a few priority areas that are shifting rapidly should give you the insights needed to improve your organic search visibility in 2014 and beyond.

Wednesday 1 January 2014

keyword stuffing

Keyword stuffing is the practice of inserting a large number of keywords into Web content and meta tags in the attempt to artificially increase a page's ranking in search results and drive more traffic to the site. A keyword is a significant term that is relevant to the content in question.

Keyword stuffing is considered an unethical SEO (search engine optimization) technique at best and an attack technique at worst. The practice is often used to drive traffic to fraudulent or malicious websites.
Keyword stuffing in content is known as spamdexing. Keywords may be hidden in content through a number of methods, such as matching font color to the background, setting font size to zero or putting it behind an image. Words and phrases used for keyword stuffing are typically relevant when visible to the reader but when keywords are hidden they are often just a list of common search phrases, such as sexual terms and celebrity names.

According to Google, keyword stuffing is not only unethical -- it's also ineffective. Meta tags are no longer used to rank websites, so keywords placed in that field are ignored. Increasingly sophisticated algorithms help Google identify not just when terms are irrelevant but also when they are out of context or overused. Furthermore, if hidden text is detected in content, Google may remove a site from its index so that it doesn't appear in search results at all.

Google offers some advice: "Filling pages with keywords results in a negative user experience, and can harm your site's ranking. Focus on creating useful, information-rich content that uses keywords appropriately and in context."

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Friday 29 November 2013

Your SEO Reporting Automate by Exporting Your Leads into Excel

For any SEO who collects email leads from web forms, the dreaded part of their existence tends to be the end of the month, when it comes to reporting conversion results to clients—verifying, re-verifying, downloading, and exporting them to generate the all-important month-end reports. It can take hours and can be very tedious, but the information gleaned from this process is well worth it. There are, however, ways to optimize your workflow to the point that it almost feels like cheating your way through the process.
By using standalone programs or macros (mini scripts within a program), a project that would normally take hours turns into minutes, and I want to take this opportunity to teach you how to do this on your own. I will use a standalone program and a macro that I found through my research to demonstrate the process so you can get a better idea of what is involved.

How to scrape leads from your Gmail (or almost any other email client)

There are a wide variety of ways to scrape leads from Gmail. You can spend the money to get a program like UBot that will help you automate the task without much effort. You can get a program like iMacros, and spend the time learning how to build proper macros that will scrape from your email box. You can spend the time to learn how to program scripts using Grease Monkey, or you can program your own stand-alone scripts. Whatever you do, you will want a solution that is as quick and easy as possible and helps to automate the task without adding much effort. I found a program on Black Hat World that is made to work on Windows, so you Mac users will need to install Windows to use it. You can download the program here.
While I am aware of the hesitation involved in downloading anything from black-hat websites, my own tests of this tool have worked out well. There are comments and reviews about this tool around the web, and it seems to work well for many users. My own research has not found an instance of this tool doing anything nefarious behind the scenes, and I would not hesitate to use it in my own email scraping.

How it works

This program works by accessing the Gmail account that is added to it and exporting the To:, From:, Body:, and Date: fields from each email. Here is how to use it:
  1. Select the email settings you wish to use to download your emails. You can select To:, From:, Subject, and Date. The “Body” export is disabled; according to the tool’s creator it would end up scraping all of the HTML.

  2. Enter your username. This is your full email address (
  3. Enter your password.
  4. Enter the server and port number you wish to use. By default, it’s set to and port # 995.
  5. Select whether or not you wish to use a secure connection. This will allow the program to access Gmail whether or not a secure connection is available. If your email does not actually require a secure connection, be sure to uncheck the box.
  6. Once these settings are selected, it will save a file in the email extractor folder with a name that looks like this: 10-1-2013-1-00
This program is quite useful for those who either do not have or just don’t use Microsoft Outlook. If you have Outlook but are not comfortable with downloading and using this program, you can set Gmail to send your messages to Outlook, and then set up Outlook macros to to export all messages to Excel (covered later in this article).

Be sure you don’t violate your host’s terms of service

This program can also work for other email hosts. Try it! Be sure to put in your applicable login details, and you should be able to scrape your emails without any trouble. However, be sure that you are actually allowed to scrape email from your host. Not all hosts will allow you to do so. Before using egregious scraping on your email account, just double check your terms of service (ToS) so that you don’t accidentally get yourself banned from your email service. Why would an email service not allow scraping? Well, it can cause bandwidth issues if you have hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of emails to export. If this becomes an issue, you may raise an eyebrow or two at your email provider. So, be sure that you really want to do this if you want to place such a large load of use on the email services. The author of this article is not responsible for things that may happen if you do not follow specific terms of service regulations. For your reference, here are the terms of service from several common providers:
Gmail ToS: Gmail does not have any terms that specifically prohibit scraping emails. While Gmail does state you may not access it using a method other than the interface, this is a very gray area that does not provide examples. If someone is collecting lead information for a valid reason like monthly reporting for their own use, there shouldn’t be an issue. If, however, someone is using access via another method in order to take down the Gmail service, then I would imagine this is where the Terms of Service here comes into play. And this is why I mentioned the large bandwidth usage that downloading thousands of emails can cause to a server, for example. Be sure you really want to proceed before doing so and make sure you won’t be somehow banned from your email service as a result. We are not responsible for egregious misuse of a service with intentions to cause interference of the service through significant bandwidth use.
MSN ToS: Does not have any terms that ban exporting emails using any of these methods to export emails. (Be sure to read your own ToS).
Yahoo! ToS: Does not seem to have any terms that prohibit exporting emails. (Be sure to read your own TOS).
Hostgator email limits: While ToS doesn’t specifically seem to limit scraping or exporting of emails, there are policies and limits in place. According to Hostgator’s mail policy and limits page, “Each connecting IP is limited to 30 POP checks per hour.” Possible interference issues with Hostgator services and this software can occur if you are using the software 100s of times per hour, for example. However, because it uses at least one pop check in order to download your emails, you shouldn’t have too many issues unless you continue multiple downloads of emails from your account per hour. In which case, you will “likely get a password error indicating that the login is incorrect.” Such an issue corrects itself within an hour and the email checking will automatically unlock.
Also according to their mail policy and limits page, their VPS plan and Dedicated do not have the same restrictions as their shared accounts do, so you will probably have more success with high-volume scraping on your own private servers.
A fair warning, however: I haven’t specifically tested this with Hostgator, so be sure to use caution when exporting too many times.

Importing your scraped file into Excel

Once you have scraped your email and it saves it as a text file, it shows up all garbled. What we want to do now is import it into Excel so it displays all of the tab-delimited items as columns, so that we don’t have to manually copy and paste every single one. To do this, let’s open up our file in Excel by clicking on File > Import.

It will ask you: What type of file do you want to import? By default it has selected the CSV format but let’s select the text file format since our program saved this to a text file.
Now, click the file that you want to open and click on “Get Data.” The text import wizard will pop up showing you settings to choose from. Select the “Delimited” option unless it is already checked by default. Then click on Next.

In this step you can set the delimiters that your data contains. Remember when we selected the semicolon back while importing our file? Select the semicolon option here. Then, let’s click on next.

Here, we can set up our columns and set the data format. For our purposes, however, let’s just go with the default options.
Now, it will ask you where you want to put the data. You have a choice of Existing Sheet (which starts at =$A$1), new sheet, and pivot table. For the purposes of this article, let’s just go with the default and click on OK.

Here, you see we have perfectly aligned columns and data without much work. Now you can move forward with formatting these columns and data in whatever orientations or pivot tables you like.

How to download leads from Outlook to Excel

For those who use Outlook, depending on your version, it can be cumbersome to get the data out of the program and can take longer than in just about every other program. Thankfully, Outlook features macros which can be used to export all of your data in the span of just a few seconds!

Step 1: Find or create the macro script you want to use

There are a ton of options and configurations available for this task. For our purposes, we will use modified versions of the scripts located here.
Before we get started, we will need to get the basic code from the very first code snippet, shown below. This code only exports the Subject, Received Time, and Sender of the email message. Our goal is to modify this script so that our new code will extract the entire body of the message and output it to the spreadsheet as well. Don’t worry! I am going over each line of code that we modify in this tutorial! This way, you will understand exactly what we are doing and why.

Sub ExportMessagesToExcel()
  Dim olkMsg As Object, _
     excApp As Object, _
     excWkb As Object, _
     excWks As Object, _
     intRow As Integer, _
     intVersion As Integer, _
     strFilename As String
  strFilename = InputBox("Enter a filename (including path) to save the exported messages to.", "Export Messages to Excel")
  If strFilename <> "" Then
     intVersion = GetOutlookVersion()
     Set excApp = CreateObject("Excel.Application")
     Set excWkb = excApp.Workbooks.Add()<br>  Set excWks = excWkb.ActiveSheet
     'Write Excel Column Headers
     With excWks
        .Cells(1, 1) = "Subject"
        .Cells(1, 2) = "Received"
        .Cells(1, 3) = "Sender"
  End With
  intRow = 2
  'Write messages to spreadsheet
  For Each olkMsg In Application.ActiveExplorer.CurrentFolder.Items
     'Only export messages, not receipts or appointment requests, etc.
     If olkMsg.Class = olMail Then
        'Add a row for each field in the message you want to export
        excWks.Cells(intRow, 1) = olkMsg.Subject
        excWks.Cells(intRow, 2) = olkMsg.ReceivedTime
        excWks.Cells(intRow, 3) = GetSMTPAddress(olkMsg, intVersion)
        intRow = intRow + 1
     End If
     Set olkMsg = Nothing
     excWkb.SaveAs strFilename
  End If
  Set excWks = Nothing
  Set excWkb = Nothing
  Set excApp = Nothing
  MsgBox "Process complete.  A total of " & intRow - 2 & " messages were exported.", vbInformation + vbOKOnly, "Export messages to Excel"
End Sub
Private Function GetSMTPAddress(Item As Outlook.MailItem, intOutlookVersion As Integer) As String
  Dim olkSnd As Outlook.AddressEntry, olkEnt As Object
  On Error Resume Next
  Select Case intOutlookVersion
     Case Is < 14
        If Item.SenderEmailType = "EX" Then
           GetSMTPAddress = SMTP2007(Item)
           GetSMTPAddress = Item.SenderEmailAddress
        End If
     Case Else
        Set olkSnd = Item.Sender
        If olkSnd.AddressEntryUserType = olExchangeUserAddressEntry Then
           Set olkEnt = olkSnd.GetExchangeUser
           GetSMTPAddress = olkEnt.PrimarySmtpAddress
           GetSMTPAddress = Item.SenderEmailAddress
        End If
  End Select
  On Error GoTo 0
  Set olkPrp = Nothing
  Set olkSnd = Nothing
  Set olkEnt = Nothing
End Function

In order to get started, fire up your version of Outlook. I’m using a relatively old dinosaur version (Outlook 2003), but the steps can easily be found online for all versions. Most Windows versions should allow you to use Alt+11 to open the Visual Basic code editor, which we are going to fire up next. To do this, follow these steps:
Step 1: Click on Tools.
Step 2: Click on Macro.
Step 3: Click on Visual Basic Editor.

Next, we are going to copy and paste our code here into the editor window. Now, I used the revision 1 script and modified the original version to extract text from the body by coding the following lines. One after line 19, and one after line 29:
.Cells(1, 4) = “Message” <— This line tells the macro program to add another column to the first row that is labeled “Message”. This will add a new column that displays the text extracted from the email. This one was added after line 19.
.excWks.Cells(intRow, 4) = olkMsg.Body <— This line tells the macro program to extract the message text from the Body of the email. This way, we have an extremely easy and fast method of verifying all of our important conversion emails that we are going to be using in our reporting.
Now that we have our script ready, let’s go to the Visual Basic macro editor.
In the project window underneath the project, right-click within the window, click on insert, and then click on module. This will bring up a VbaProject.OTM file that you can add your code into, as shown in the following screenshot:

Once you have made your desired modifications (or if you desire to use the original script and copied and pasted it, just click on the floppy disk in the upper left hand corner and save the file. Or you can use Ctrl+S to save it. Then, close the Visual Basic editor.
Next, we’re going to run our newly modified macro! First, make sure the folder that you want is selected and all the leads you want to export to an excel spreadsheet are in that folder. Then, let’s click on Tools > Macro > Macros.

Next, you will see a Macros window pop up. We need to click on the macro we want to run, and then click on run.

True to the nature of the script, you will be prompted with a dialog box that asks you what you want to name your file. Let’s call it “ExcelExportTest”. It will save it into your My Documents folder. Fire up Excel, and open your brand new spreadsheet. Here is the final version of our example, complete with all extracted elements of that folder:


By using these methods, it is possible to greatly reduce the time that you spend on manually verifying and copying/pasting leads from your email box. It will be completely automated! Once you get the hang of using these methods, most of your time will be spent in the formatting phase that comes next. So, it will be necessary to spend this time adding some proper formatting that will help make your reports beautiful and impactful.
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Friday 11 October 2013

5 Dos and Don'ts of International SEO

Many companies that wish to market to international audiences make the mistake of simply translating their content and redirecting users, not realizing that their standard messages won't always resonate with other cultures. In today's Whiteboard Friday, Aleyda Solis guides us through five things we all need to keep in mind as we think about how to establish an international SEO process.

For reference, here's a still of this weeks' whiteboard!

Video Transcription

Hello Moz fans. It's a pleasure to be here today. I am here to talk a little about international SEO, five dos and don'ts that I see happening all the time. I would like to share them with you as an extension of my MozCon presentation about this topic.
 The first one is to identify all the resources for your international SEO process from the beginning. This is very, very important that you advise your client, even if it's not a pure SEO type of thing to do, or maybe some of the aspects that they need to take into consideration, not necessarily from an SEO perspective, it is important that you are a consultant for him. You say, "Hey, please be aware that in order to go international, at some point you will need native support. You will need to reply to your clients in the appropriate language. You will also need to be mindful about international deliveries if these are tangible products to be sent; the pricing, the currency, language, cultural factors, regionality factors. If it is language targeting, country targeting... all of these aspects are very, very important. Make sure that these are aligned with the website goal, and if at some point growth is needed, how this is going to grow.

 All of these alternative and additional aspects that are not necessarily purely SEO, it's very, very important that you advise your client so he is aware, because at the end, these can also be factors that might affect your work. You want this to be successful of course.

 The second one is to plan the growth of your international web presence from the start. Again, it is very important that you identify where your profitable markets would be at the beginning, and where it's better to start from a profit perspective. If you are going to target a specific country because there is enough search volume going on there about your services or products, or if there are not enough, then you will first target all of the language, which is specific landing pages maybe for some countries to test a little bit the market, but not with a full international website version for each one of the countries.

 It is very important that you set this very well from the beginning and you are also aware of how you are going to evolve and migrate from one to another. Take into consideration also the pros and cons and the different alternatives from international web structure that I shared through my MozCon presentation. You can check on my slides, and I have also written about them before. You can see I have international SEO checklist that I published in the Moz Blog. You can also check out also in the SEER blog I have already written about international SEO strategy.

 You can check the pros and cons of these different alternatives, like ccTLDs, subdirectories, subdomains. Verify if it is not possible, for example, to start with a ccTLD for a specific country, you need to start with a subdirectory, and then see how you are going to evolve from one to the other and how we are going to treat each language or each country so that they can coexist very well, if at some point you are country targeting and language targeting at the same time. These types of things are little things, but they are things that will keep your international web structure clean, consistent, and you will not face issues to growth in the future.
 The third one is do not assume the behavior and preferences of your international markets and audience in general. Seasons can be different, the seasonality, the behavior of the users. Do not assume that the top products that you have for your current markets are going to be the top products necessarily for these other markets. Do full keyword research and behavior research. Research your competitors. Research how your audience behaves and what are the types of content that they most like, the formats they consume, the top media. All of these different aspects are going to affect, at the end, your operations and how you are going to promote and publish your content there and connect with this audience. At the end this is what you want. The final goal is to connect, to convert, to get benefits of course. Please be mindful of this. Do not assume anything. Never assume, even if it is an audience that speaks your same language, we wrongly assume that they will behave the same. No, no. Please verify this with all the trends, seasonality specifically, pricing models. All of this very important.

 Also, avoid automatic content translations and redirects. If someone comes from Spain, do not automatically redirect the user to your Spanish version, for example. It is better to suggest. Suggest and tell them, "Hey, we have a version that might be more suitable for you." Do not do it in an interstitial or an intrusive way, but in a friendly way. Take a look at how Amazon does it. I also shared an example in my MozCon presentation. In a very friendly way you can alert your user that there might be a better suited version for them. You are friendly with your users and friendly with search engines. You also promote your international versions, because at the end you also want to make the most out of them if you have them, of course.

 The same with content. I have seen too many websites where they have just gone to Google and translated, copied and pasted the content and published it on their website. This needs to be done by a real person, a translator, a native person. You can say, "Okay, this costs too much. I am not able to do this." If you start little by little and if you focus on the markets and the products, the most important ones and prioritize them, you do not need to go with an international web version that is a million pages at the beginning. You want to start little by little. It is better that you start and prioritize your international web version little by little, not with a huge amount of content, but good quality, localized content that really connects with the right audience.The fifth one is measure each international web presence independently, but understand the interaction of each one of them. This is very, very important because you want to set an independent profile from Google Webmaster Tools or the other tools, the search engine that you are targeting and you are working with for the country that you are targeting. So from Webmaster Tools presence, each version should have their own profile there. Also with Google Analytics or your analytical software, each presence needs to have their own profile, again if you are tracking rankings of course.

 So it is good that you segment a lot so you are able to verify and validate what the behavior of your international users is per presence and to be able to make the appropriate decisions and validate much better. But at the same time it is good if you can keep also web analytics an overall profile. You can also set the multi-domain tracking so that you can see what the behavior is from one presence to another. If at some point, one user arrived to another and ended up in another version, you can also see this and you can understand these are not two independent visits, but really one visitor going from one site to another.
 All of this information I am pretty sure will be valuable. If there's any other type of question that you have about international SEO, please let me know. Please leave a comment. I would love to be able to help. Also, take a look at the website that I published from my MozCon presentation. Take a look at the slides and please let me know if you have any questions. Muchas gracias.

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Friday 9 August 2013

Search Engine Optimization Process

Before beginning a search engine optimization (SEO) project, it is important to understand the process involved in an effective SEO campaign. To that end, we break the process down into the six steps shown below and describe the activities involved in each of these steps.
seo-processOne word on search engine optimization in general first, though. SEO does not start and finish with these steps and the initial work that we do. In order to have ongoing success, it is important to continually monitor results and build meaningful content into the site. I read recently this idea perfectly described by John Tawadros in a newsletter dated May 3, 2007, “it [search engine optimization] is inherently iterative. In short, it is a process, not a project.”
  1. Research
  2. Reporting & Goal Setting
  3. Content Building
  4. Page Optimization
  5. Social & Link Building
  6. Follow Up Reporting & Analysis


Keyword Research

Keyword phrase research involves identifying a group of keyword phrases that will be used in optimization. This step is critical and requires a considerable amount of time to find a good set of phrases that offer a balanced combination of two important factors: high usage by searchers and relatively low competition within the search engines.

Determining the most used phrase that contains your targeted keyword(s) is relatively easy. Online tools allow you to enter a particular keyword or words and will return all the ways in which that word(s) was used by searchers in the last month and in what volume. However, the most used phrase(s) is also likely the one with the greatest competition within the search results and may, therefore, not be where you would want to devote your optimization efforts. A more effective approach is to find a set of phrases (10 is a nice round number) that are heavily used by searchers but somewhat less competitive in terms of the total number of search results.

For example, assume you own a business that leases apartments in a particular metropolitan area, “Big City.” Your apartments are only located in one metro area, so you are not going to select general terms such as “apartments;” you are only interested in those searchers seeking an apartment in your city. The logical place to start is with the name of your city and the word “apartments.” You may find that the most used phrase is “big city apartments.” However, when you do sample searches in Google and Yahoo for that phrase you realize that the competition for that phrase is steep. If you go back to your findings from the keyword tool, you might find that a phrase such as “apartments in big city” is still heavily used by searchers but is far less competitive. Those phrases are the ones you will then target in the next step, site optimization.

Competitive Research

Once armed with the target keyword phrases, we do a thorough competitive analysis of the subject site against its 7 – 10 biggest competitors (using both offline and online competitors).  We use a series of SEO metrics, including indexed content, Alexa rating, inbound links, domain age, and social media following among others.  Through this process, we are able to gauge the client site’s starting position against its competition and identify areas requiring priority in the subsequent work.  For example, if we see that relative to the competition, the client’s site has 50% less indexed content, then content building would be a priority in the goal setting that happens in the next phase.

Reporting & Goal Setting

After establishing your targeted keyword phrases and starting position relative to the site’s competitive set, it is important to understand what the subject site’s starting position is within the search engines. Doing so ensures that you know the specific areas that need work and provides a baseline against which to gauge the subsequent campaign’s success.

Access to site traffic information is very important. These statistics show how searchers are finding and interacting with the subject site, e.g., which search engines, what keyword phrases are being used, bounce rates, most popular content, etc. Understanding the site’s traffic level and the source of its referrals can also be a critical tool in making other online marketing decisions.

After developing a complete picture of the site’s starting position, goals are set for the SEO plan.  These goals are measureable (one big advantage of SEO over other advertising options) and tied to the specific business objectives of the site.  In the ongoing progress of reporting and follow up, progress towards the plan’s goals are analyzed and reported.  Adjustments to the SEO plan can be made according to the findings of these progress reports.

Content Building

Content is king in search engine optimization. The search engines love text; high volume, high-quality content related to your business will serve you in a couple of important ways.

First, a site loaded with high-quality content of interest to site users will give them a reason to stay and a reason to come back. After all, the reason they came to your site was to find information. Second, you will receive the added benefit of serving up exactly what the search engines want – content. Search engines will have more information to store about your business and products; that information will translate directly into the ranking they give your site for related keyword phrases. For more information on content development and specific ideas about ways to expand your site’s content, read our, Content is Still King.

We often find in the Competitive Research phase that the client’s site is falling behind its competitors in the amount of indexed content.  In those cases, this phase of the process takes on additional importance.

Page Optimization

Following the addition of new, high quality content, we tackle on-page optimization.  See our piece on Page Optimization Basics for more information on this topic.
  • Page Titles – Make sure that your site’s page titles say something other than just your company name or “welcome.” Ideally, they need to lead off with your targeted phrase for that page and then follow with your company name.
  • Text-Based Navigation – Search engines cannot read images. If your site’s navigation system is done with images (lots are), you will need a text-based navigation system that the search engines can follow to ensure that all the important service and product-related sub-pages of your site are indexed by the search engines.
  • Prominence of Targeted Keyword Phrases – It is not enough to have your keyword phrase(s) somewhere on the web page, the placement and prominence given to them also affects your search engine placement. For example, leading off the site’s first paragraph with your keyword phrase gives it more weight than burying it half way down the page in the middle of a paragraph. Also, using larger font sizes and bolding the text can emphasize its importance and positively affect the page’s ranking for that phrase.
  • Site Map – Developing a site map that includes a well-organized list of links to all the important pages of your site and includes a text link to the site map on your home page is the ideal way to make sure that all the site’s pages are indexed by the search engines when they visit the subject site.  Google’s Webmaster Tools is ideal for this purpose.
  • ALT and META data – These are tags not seen by the site’s users; they are embedded in the site’s code. ALT tags refer to the text that describes an image — words that you see pop up as you mouse over some images. In optimizing your company’s name, an ALT tag placed behind the image of your company’s logo is ideal. Meta tags are lines of code included in the uppermost section of your site’s code. They communicate the page’s subject matter and relevancy to the search engines. Further, the short description of your site included in some search results is pulled from the meta description tag of the home page and should, therefore, be used to the site’s advantage.
  • Clean up the Code – Navigation rollover scripts, other JavaScript-based code, and all CSS scripts should be taken out of the code of each page and put into external files to which each page of the site is referenced. Doing this has several advantages, but one of the most compelling is that your site’s keywords and content all move up, up, up in the code, communicating their importance to the search engines and boosting your site’s relevancy ratings. In other words, this can boost your search engine rankings by improving the code to text ratio of the page. This is a simple and relatively inexpensive thing to do, depending on the total number of pages in your site.

Social & Link Building

Social Media

In marketing, you fish where the fish are.  And, the fish are using social media in increasing numbers.  The power of online sharing through social media provides tremendous opportunities for companies willing to commit the time to using it.  During this phase of the process, we help clients establish a social media presence and consult with the client on how best to use those social media profiles to share site content and connect with customers and potential customers.

Building In-Bound Links

Each new, quality link to your site increases the likelihood of both the search engines’ spiders running across your site as well as searchers looking for services or products like yours. Google views links to your site (as long as they are links from high quality sites) as votes for your site and rewards the site accordingly.  You can check your link popularity with a variety of free online tools. In addition, Google’s Webmaster Tools provides information regarding the inbound links to your site. A word of caution: free for all links sites and other low quality sites of that nature are of no use and, in fact, detract from your progress with penalties from the search engines. This became even more important with Google’s release of the Penguin algorithm update.  We consult with our clients on ways to build their online reach and influence with new inbound links.

Follow Up Reporting and Analysis

The same reporting done in the initial phase of the campaign is done again at regular intervals, post-optimization. Rankings, site traffic and other key metrics can then be compared to pre-optimization levels, giving measurable results to the SEO campaign.  The specific metrics used in an SEO plan will depend on the goals of that site.


Time Frame

It can take a while for the search engines to index a site and the rankings to change for that site. For some search engines, the lag time between the work and seeing results can be as long as six months. Clients need to be patient and have realistic expectations regarding the time frame involved with organic (the natural, non-paid results) search engine rankings. If the business need for increased search engine prominence is greater than can be met with optimization alone, I recommend adding a pay-per-click (PPC) campaign to the marketing mix to bridge the time. PPC campaigns such as Google’s AdWords can be set up in a matter of days, allowing for immediate results.

Rankings Guarantees

We cannot guarantee any specific rankings for specific phrases.  There is no way to guarantee a particular placement within the organic search results of any search engine. DES would optimize the site so that it is as appealing as possible to the search engines, using only white hat tactics.  Specifically, DES’s recommendations would ensure that the site is easily spiderable, loaded with keyword-rich content, enjoys quality inbound links, provides a great user experience, and is analyzed and refined based on its performance against our stated goals.  These are methods that have proven over time to be effective SEO tactics for our clients.

Content Development

The SEO work we perform includes minor non-substantive changes to the site’s existing content/text, emphasizing the targeted keyword phrases. We make recommendations on new content; the writing of any new substantive content is the responsibility of the client. We are happy to connect you with great copywriters if writing the new content is not easily done within your organization.  We then take your words and make our non-substantive changes to it, in order to maximize its effectiveness. If you do not want us to make these minor changes to the site’s text, please let us know.

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Saturday 20 July 2013

5 Quick Tips for Better Bootstrapping From SXSW

If you’ve ever clicked on a link to see a picture posted on a site like reddit, Twitter or Facebook, more than likely it was hosted on imgur (pronounced "image-er"), one of the most popular image-hosting services on the web. At SXSW Interactive, founder and CEO Alan Schaaf and COO Matt Strader presented the San Francisco-based company as a case study for how to successfully bootstrap a startup.

Here are Schaaf and Strader's five tips for launching a tech company without seeking outside investors:


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1. Leverage a community you’re already involved in.
Schaaf created imgur in 2009 out of his college dorm room because he was active on reddit and thought there wasn’t a good way to share pictures. He decided to create an image host that "didn’t suck," he said -- one where a user could anonymously and simply upload an image, and be able to share a link to any web platform. It publicly launched as a post on reddit, and for the first six months imgur was able to operate on user donations alone.

Related: Insider's Guide to How to Fund Your Startup

2. Develop multiple revenue streams as early as possible.
Strader said he knew the initial donations were going to dry up, so from the beginning he thought about ways imgur could make money. The solution: online advertising in the form of banner ads -- one per gallery page. Schaaf and Strader partnered with online advertising firm Rubicon Project, which they said has brought in dozens of new ad channels and makes up the largest percentage of their overall revenue.

But Schaaf and Strader didn't want to rely on just one revenue stream. So, in 2010, they created imgur Pro, a paid yearly subscription that gives members more hosting space, higher quality image uploads and no ads. The site has also started implementing commercial hosting for larger websites, most notably for sections of Yahoo! Sports. Additionally, Schaaf and Strader launched an imgur store, with branded items such as shirts.

3. Learn rapidly and improve.
A disadvantage to not having professional investors is that every problem that arises has to be solved by the founders, or outsourced at cost. In the beginning, Schaaf admitted he didn’t know everything about image hosting but discovered he was was able to diagnose and fix bugs or technical glitches by scouring Google until he found a solution.

4. Build a team with a balanced skillset.
Schaaf, the engineer, and Strader, the marketer, attribute the success of imgur to their complimentary skills, despite having different types of personalities. In too many cases, a startup can be technologically sound but incapable of selling itself to users, or vice versa, they said.

5. Stay lean.
With 10 full-time employees, imgur is still a lean company. Schaaf and Strader describe their headquarters as modest, and they hire only when it financially makes sense. When it doesn’t, imgur will bring on part-time workers to help with workflow.

Schaaf and Strader said that staying lean and not having outside investors has enabled them to do what they want, be less formal (there’s no board of directors to report to) and move at their own pace. "Not slow," Strader said, "just deliberate."

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Saturday 13 July 2013

Scaling Your SEO Business in 2013 and Beyond

Is "it" over? No.
For SEO practitioners, it's been quite a bumpy ride over the past few years. Costs have gone up, the broader economy has continued to go south, and margins may have gotten a bit tighter.
Algorithms have gotten more wild, more complex, and Google has continue to trend towards less transparency while increasing their consumption of the SERPs.
The evolution of SEO as a business model is summed up nicely by this quote from Walter Elliot:
Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after another.
To me, that quote speaks to the vision and willingness to change with the times needed by people not just in the SEO industry but the broader industry as well.
From a high-level overview perspective, if you practice SEO, you have 2 ways of doing it with respect to revenue generation:
  • Self-Publishing
  • Client Work
The self-publishing side of the house has certainly taken a much harder beating than the client work side of the house but opportunities continue to exist (and will continue) for those folks going forward.
It's more difficult for a self-publisher to prudently spread financial risk across multiple sites given the collateral damage caused by some of the more recent, bigger updates that Google has launched in the last few years.

In the world of make believe (i.e. people who dispense advice without really having any idea what's going on because they are not in the actual game) it's fine to say that a self-publisher should just concentrate on a couple sites, or even just one, and make them "the best site(s) ever!!!"
Well, for those of you that pay attention you understand that the harsher, longer penalties of the last few years apply to those sites as well. I would say it's more risky to have that kind of model than a more diverse portfolio of sites and/or a combo of sites and client work.

Is it Too Risky Now?

Also in the world of make believe are people who will want to chastise you for "relying on Google traffic". It certainly makes sense to develop sites and products that are not solely reliant on organic traffic but to scold folks for having a part of their business reliant on search engine traffic, for an "online" business no less, just doesn't make sense.
It's a risk, of course it is, but that's what business ventures are. The key question is whether it's an unnecessary risk or not, the answer to that is clearly no.
As with most things the correct answer lies in the middle. You shouldn't consider your business a bad one if part of it relies on organic traffic but if *all* of it does then yes, you should be very concerned about the long term viability of your business model.
So to scale your business in the face of all of this where should you start (or perhaps revisit)?

Productize and Diversify

If you have had success in the SEO industry (assuming it's more than the point, link, rank stuff of years ago :D ) then you should be able to add other services to your product mix that complement SEO quite nicely. Here are just a few areas you could expand into:
  • PPC
  • Conversion Optimization
  • App Development (iOS, Android, etc)
  • Social Media
  • Email Marketing
If you don't do any of these things currently I would suggest adding in a couple that make the most sense for what you do and learn from resources that are available to you online and in print.
The one area that's difficult to "productize" is organic SEO. Some people price by keyword, some have a general retainer, and some just do custom quotes only. I don't see how you could fairly price by keyword given the radical differences in competition, ROI for the client, the actual client, and so on. My suggestion here would be to at least set some kind of floor pricing (Campaigns starting at $999) or whatever.
If you are just doing consulting on organic SEO that's a bit easier, you can just set an hourly rate. However, given how everything is intertwining these days I think you'll find that, for client work, sustainability will be found in doing the actual work for the client to some extent.

Determining Costs Upfront

Once you start adding in hard costs like staff allocated to link building, copy, and so on the ability to package SEO services into a set price becomes exponentially more difficult.
Most of the other items can be packaged, sold, and advertised at fixed prices. You'll want to take into account what your overall overhead is (staff, tools, office space, and so on) to determine what part of the cost is for each "product" and develop pricing from there.
You'll also take into account your time if you are involved in the process and if you're not really involved in the process post sale you'll want to make a determination on your cut of the profit (or piece of your salary) from each product and factor that in.

Establishing Proper Margins

In addition to setting up your margins, or reviewing them, being a really good idea for your own management purposes another benefit is that someday you might want to sell your business to another company or person.
One of the first questions that will likely get asked will be "What are your margins?"

The importance of productizing your business shows up here in this discussion. Without having some element of set pricing and budgets it's going to be harder than necessary for you to scale the sales pipeline. The 3 types of profit margins to look at are:
  • Gross Margin
  • Operating Margin
  • Net Margin

Gross Margins

Your gross margin is going to be your sales revenue minus direct costs divided by sales. In the non-online world direct costs, or Cost of Goods Sold, generally refers to things like materials and labor costs.
So in the online world I generally equate labor costs as staff (freelance or otherwise) and materials as things like tool subscriptions. These are generally fixed costs.
Generally excluded from this are marketing expenses, R&D, and the variable costs not associated with the production of a product.

Operating Margin

Once you start adding in administrative costs, marketing costs, research and development, and so on you get operating margin, which essentially is earnings before interest and taxes divided by sales.

Net Profit Margin

Simply put, this is the money left after the costs above and taxes divided by sales.

Adapting Margins for Our Industry

You might have a team of 2, 4, 43, or just 1 so the above definitions need not be rigidly followed. For example, you might decide to role in sales costs (sales staff, commissions, etc) into your COGS, which might be perfectly legitimate given that your sales person might also be a link builder, or designer, or yourself.
I have a small team, but each has a specific role, so it's relatively easy for me to deal with these figures.

Managing Debt and Expenses

Frugality is a trait that can help you outlast your competitors even in the worst of times. It's easy to think that way starting out but I could show you roughly 5 agencies that are multi-million dollar agencies that do things *drastically* different.
Your gross margin should be a good indicator of whether you are pricing things correctly to start; your operating margin should be looked at with an eagle eye towards efficiency and cost-control. Your net margin will determine if the other 2 might need adjusting if, post-tax, you aren't making the kind of money that you want or need to make.
Stay as lean as possible for as long as possible and you are more likely to survive the ups and downs we all inevitably face.
Also, when looking at your pricing and profit keep in mind that as expenses continue to creep up (along with your pricing) you'll have to continue to manage expectations properly.
The client is paying you 10k a month as an example, but if your net margin is 25% then you see them (maybe subconsciously) as a 2,500 per month client. They see themselves as 10k a month and sometimes that can make client relations and results difficult if your margins are too low.

Tracking by Project

If you do any business of scale you probably use Quickbooks or something similar. I like to assign expenses to each job being done or each product being sold. So, for one client you might have multiple products. It's nice to be able to assign costs specifically to each project or product (even under 1 client) to make sure margins are being maintained and can easily be reported on.

Resources and Books

Some books that have helped me grow stuff:
For me, SEO remains the foundation for the company and the natural progression into some of these other areas was not as difficult as I thought it might be. Most of the principles are extensions of the fundamentals we've learned by running our own web properties or working on client sites and such.
We are certainly far beyond just ordering links and handing off ranking reports, have been for awhile (but even that could have made you and your clients a lot of money over the years). This goes back to the quote mentioned at the top, it's a series of short races and twists with some turns.
Pay less attention to "what I wish the world was" theories and attention-mongering posts about how things "should be" and instead focus on what's working for you and make educated guesses, on the back of your data and experiences, on where the puck is going to be rather than where it is or where others in the industry want it to be.
If you look at things that way you'll see that there's a lot of life left for quality SEO's and quality SEO work.

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