Friday, September 24, 2004
There once was a time when people used meta tags, creative and overlong headlines, multiple dashes in file names, and a lot of other magic. These were the innocent days of optimizing your pages for a search engine, using quite innocent methodology. This used to work. It still does, for some engines. Not so for Google. The major search engine must prevent itself from being tricked.
These days, what counts for Google is not on-page, but off-page optimization. And the only thing that matters on other sites are links with relevant anchor texts, pointing to your site. In other words, it’s more a social (word-of-mouth) issue than a technical one.
As you can see I’m #1 in the current Seraphim Proudleduck competition without any specific SEO (Search Engine Optimization) – all I did was post backlinks using the phrase “Seraphim Proudleduck”, and ask others to do the same (and give them motivation to do so – they might like my content, or like the prize I pass on if I win).
So do you have a product, or web service? Do you want to find ways to Search Engine Optimize your site? If you didn’t already, I suggest you do the following (or hire someone who you trust to do it for you):
- Write to active blog authors. Tell them about your product, in a personal manner – to do so, you must spent around 5 minutes per blogmaster to compose a standard, personalized email. Do not spam people, as this will backfire.
- Look into newsgroups and answer questions in an area where your product can help. Do not simply advertise your product in a new thread, but re-use existing ones to solve problems. Does someone ask “How can I see where my visitors come from?” and you offer statistic software, answer.
- On the web site (the landing page) be straight-forward and honest about your product. Be upfront about the pricing, unless you offer your service for free. Use the inverted pyramid style of writing: most important things first, details later. Prepare a page where one can read for 30 seconds, or 30 minutes, depending on which level of detail one is looking for. Links which lead into a deeper structure are helpful. But make sure you restrict your main navigation to 10 or so important items. (Have you ever been to a product site and clicked on more than a few links?) If necessary, cluster links and break them up into two or three individual sections.
- To get the most out of Google, be verbose in what you offer. Write detailed help files – this, naturally, provides a great set of keyphrases people might be looking for. If you have the time, start a blog, and offer RSS feeds of it for others to subscribe to. Do not believe you’ll get instant Googlelove by opening a Blogspot account or similar! Blogging does take a lot of your energy.
- If you do not have an affiliate program already, you might think of creating one. This means actively rewarding people for promoting your product. But don’t forget that most webmasters won’t promote your product or service if it’s not a good one. If you don’t offer a great product yet, you should first build it.
- The Open Directory Project lost in importance over the years, but it’s still useful to go to the most relevant section for your service, and suggest your site. Read the instructions carefully, and after submitting, wait – it takes anything from months to a year for your site to show up. Once it does, this means there will be a lot of additional backlinks from sites which use the DMOZ.org data.
- While on-page optimization doesn’t matter much to Google (it does, to some extent, to Yahoo! and others), you can still optimize your site structure. Use meaningful link texts for things you offer. This won’t boost your rankings for highly competitive phrases, but it’s one more step to successful SEO. As all other aspects, this one makes just as much sense to your human visitors than it does to the Googlebot.
- Do you offer content in more than just English?
Even though English is a nearly universal language, many people search in their mother tongue. Which isn’t always English. If you can afford it, let important parts of your site (including verbose help files covering many phrases) be translated by professionals. You may also be fluent in a foreign language yourself. Extending your business in this area must not necessarily mean you need to offer your product in these languages as well! (By the way, you should not use HTTP content negotiation to offer different languages – not if you want Google to index all of them.)
- Ask for feedback, and listen! This is as true for your web site as it is for your main product. What’s the clickstream? What are people looking for to find your site? What could they be looking for as well, which you don’t rank good for? If you offer contact possibilities, and create a forum for your site, you make it easy for people to ask their questions which your site doesn’t offer yet.
- Create an extensive FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions). A large portion of people looking for answers actually ask a question right in the search box. So if you offer phrases like “How do I” or “When can I” or “Should I” or “Where do I find” you get extra-points. (E.g. if you offer a statistic software, you may want to include phrases like “How do I know where a visitor came from?”) Is the FAQ good for Google only? You guessed it; it’s not. It will potentially help everyone. Yes, content is still king.
- Every page must offer ways to be continued. Do not stop at the end, but offer one or several additional links providing ways for the visitor to continue. If you have a software to offer, go and put a small download link on the bottom of nearly every page.
- Find related search terms via Google AdWords (you need to open an account and create a dummy campaign – this won’t cost you anything).
- Create microcontent (information atoms). Every page on your web site must be meaningful on its own, with no prior knowledge. Even if it’s part 14 of 20 in your product tutorial, how can you know a visitor read any page from 1 to 13? Fact is, you can’t – the visitor might be coming straight from Google. Always assume a stranger, and provide at least one “help” or “back to step 1” link.
- Think about ways to expand your product or service (or web site) into closely related niche markets. Of course these need to be meaningful. But maybe your product needs to be extended by 1% to get a potential new user base of 20%.
- If someone is putting your service or site down, listen and learn. Even though you think you know better, there might be some truth in it. Swallow your pride, and in the end you might find that those people who have the sharpest criticism are those most concerned about your product getting better. And once you follow their advice or fix bugs they found, they might start to promote your product or let others know about it. This is what support is all about.
- There are some highly popular news announcement sites, like Slashdot.org. If your service is worth it, try to get your news posted there. Be brief, honest, and relevant.
(Paul Graham in his book Hackers & Painters describes how in the mid-90s he introduced version numbers for his web-based service not because it was needed – web applications tend to be updated in a small-steps, permanent fashion – but because it would give the press something to talk about.)
- Several social services and meeting groups (like Google’s Orkut, Yahoo! Groups) are frequented by people who might be interested in what you are doing. Get involved.
- There are some high-profile newsletters which can drive a lot of new visitors (and customers) towards your place. Try to get yourself covered in some of them.
- Know your enemy. So which sites do rank better for the terms you are targeting? Maybe there’s a reason they do? Don’t forget, to get your site rank best, it should also be the best. If it’s only second-best, don’t be unhappy about being second in Google, either.
Now you might come to the conclusion that in 2004, SEO is dead. In certain ways, it is. But you can still see a scheme, and these days it’s: take your time, listen, help others, and you will be rewarded.
From where I’m searching, this blog is now number one (and two) for Seraphim Proudleduck. If we can keep this position – which possibly will be harder than getting there – I will pass on the full prize money to one of those who linked to here.
Also see the previous explanation on the competition rules, and how you can create a link.
The Google Images result for Seraphim Proudleduck still shows nothing.
Google scanned quite a lot of magazines and books. To search them you can use the following query:
keyword site:google.com (inurl:isbn | inurl:articleid)
(Replace “keyword” with whatever you are looking for. “Isbn” finds books, “articleid” finds magazines, so you can also use just one of the two.)
Even easier, I provided a new search option in FindForward called “Print” which performs above search for you.
I believe it was Paul Graham who said you can learn most about a company by looking at its job offers. Here are Yahoo’s.
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