Simple SEO: explaining and understanding SEO in the simplest way possible

It’s been a while since I’ve had time to post here as I am extremely busy with RankSense. In selling an SEO software suite I answer a lot of technical questions, but, oddly enough, I feel I have become much better at explaining what SEO actually is. As SEO has become more mainstream, and more people are curious about what exactly it means, I think it’s important to find ways to explain SEO in simple terms. That’s exactly what I want to do in this post: simple SEO in terms of goals, strategies, and tactics. Read more

Writing for People (and Search Engines): How to improve click-through rates for organic listings

Another new year has come and many of us are still analyzing the balance of successes and failures of the previous one. It is definitely a useful chore. I am happy to count this blog as one of my successes. It was humbling to see it included in SearchEngineLand’s blogroll and nominated for Best SEO Research blog—I voted for Bill’s and I am glad he won the title :-)—among other accomplishments. Thanks to everyone for the recognition!

On the other hand, last year I had more goals that I didn’t quite reach than ones that I did, although I suppose that puts me in the big crowd. :-) I like to start each year by revisiting the unachieved goals, the uncompleted projects, the planned-but-not-executed things I call my missed opportunities. One common one (and I am sure many of my peers experienced the same) is maximizing the number of clicks I get from organic listings. The problem, as many might be asking themselves, is how to measure the organic click-through rate in the first place! Read on to learn how…. Read more

Game Plan: What marketers can learn from strategy games

I was recently interviewed by the nice guys at Distilled— if you are a regular reader of this blog and you haven’t read it yet, Tom asked some really interesting questions — and one of the things I briefly mentioned was that one of my hobbies is playing chess. I’ve been playing the game for about 2 years, and what I enjoy most about it is that it teaches me a lot about competition and strategy.

Checkmate

One of the reasons why I recommend doing competitive intelligence for SEO is that when you truly understand what makes others successful, you can find a shorter path to your own success. I only make great progress, both in SEO and in chess, when I am able to beat stronger players consistently.

Most intermediate chess books suggest that for every move you make, you develop a list in your head of candidate moves. Those are moves that you should explore by playing as many moves ahead in your mind as you can and evaluating the potential outcomes. Unfortunately, when you are starting out this is very difficult and time consuming. Chess experts do this instinctively and do it very fast, so it is usually easier and more interesting to study professional games and try to understand the reasoning behind each move. The idea is not to memorize the tactics, like many do, but to appreciate the strategies and the logical reasoning that led to them.

Again, there are far more ways to failure than there are to success. It is far more efficient to learn from the moves of proven winners than to try to experiment every possible move for yourself. Read more

SEO can be automated!

rs_scsmall.jpg … partially

Loren Baker has asked a thought-provoking question: “Can SEO be automated?” Coincidentally he asks the question just a day after we released a product at TechCrunch40 with just such a goal.

It seems that the folks at Commerce360 are working to build a product similar to our RankSense. There is a fundamental difference in approach, however. We are not trying to replace the human element; we are trying to make humans work far easier and simpler. Truthfully, I don’t even think their goal of fully-automated SEO is possible. In many ways search engine optimization is plain old marketing—and marketing is driven by creativity. No machine can quite claim to be creative just yet. Read more

Why you should target the most competitive keywords

competition.jpgEverybody writing about SEO will tell you that it is not a good idea to optimize your site for the most popular keywords in your niche. What are your chances of success if you tried to rank for “internet marketing, where there are about half a million websites ranking for that term and most likely many savvy competitors?” I want to tell you why I chose to ignore such advice years ago, and how I was able to reach heights I couldn't have dream of by doing so. Of course it is also clear why the guys at the top are so eager to give such advice—nobody likes to face more competition. ;-)

I remember reading such advice five years ago when Sumantra Roy's KEI was a key ratio to identify keyword opportunities. I similarly recall an earlier period when I was still working on salary and planning to branch out on my own. I used to ask my friends and colleagues, mostly engineers, whether they thought that starting a business was a good idea. Their answer was always that they didn't think so. “Why leave the security and comfort of a paycheck every two weeks?” “Why take unnecessary risks?” After a while I realized that I was asking advice from the wrong people. How could they provide advice for something they didn't have any experience with? I decided to trust my instincts instead, and put my confidence in taking calculated risks. Read more

Long tail vs fat head optimization strategies – Part 2

bigheadsnake1.pngIn my previous post, I explored how to assess the competitive level of your keywords and I shared my strategy for optimizing non-competitive keywords. As promised, here is my strategy for optimizing highly competitive ones.

As this is a rather dense topic I will split it in two. This post will explain how to use link analysis to understand your competitor’s rank, and the following post will explain how to leverage that information in your own link-building efforts.

Not all links are created equal

At the moment, we need lots of links to our sites. My strategy is to study the link structure of my chosen web authority carefully, as well as their incoming link text in order to build a similar relevance profile for my site. If I can get similar links and anchor texts, chances are that I will be ranking right next to my competitor.

Unfortunately just getting links to your site is not enough; you need to look for the right links. No link is measured exactly the same. As I explained before, the more pages that match for a targeted query, the more the search engine needs to know about those pages to rank them properly. It is very important to understand this concept. It is the single most important reason why on-page optimization is not enough to compete for very popular keywords.

Just like on-page metrics, there are several metrics search engines use to evaluate links. Before you set out to perform link analysis and build links, there are some basic principles you need to learn. Read more

Long tail vs fat head optimization strategies – Part 1

snakes.jpgOptimizing for highly competitive keywords requires a completely different strategy than optimizing for non-competitive ones. First, let’s clarify a few points. When I talk about long tail or fat head keywords, I am talking in relation to the search demand for those particular keywords. I am not talking about the offer (the number of sites competing for those keywords). Although demand and competition are generally in direct proportion, there are cases where this is not the case, such as unexploited niches.

In this post, let’s just explore the simple case where you are targeting non-competitive keywords. They have decent demand but not a lot of competition. You may be asking yourself how you can tell the competitive and non-competitive keywords apart. Read more

Adolescent Search Engines: They are growing up so fast!

teens.jpgSearch engines are just like teenagers. Don’t believe me? Consider this analogy.

Let's say you have a teenage kid with a handful of friends. He knows them very well and even remembers their phone numbers by heart. He’s bright and it doesn’t take him long to become very popular at school. Now, he has dozens of friends. While extremely intelligent, he doesn’t have the memory to recall all his new friends’ contact info. Now he uses a paper address book to keep track of them, looking them up by their initials.

Later, he discovers social media sites on the Internet and gets addicted. He gains hundreds of friends all around the world. He genuinely wants to stay in touch with them but his paper address book is no good and he upgrades to a web-based electronic one. Now he can find any friend by simply typing in the first or last name. After joining several social networks and starting his own blog, he has several thousand friends. Suddenly he is faced with another unforeseen challenge: many friends have the same name! He needs to use a differentiating piece of information, their country or city for example, to tell them apart. But in several cases even this fails; he has three friends in Korea named John Kim, and two of them in Seoul! He has to tell them apart by age.

Now imagine that this kid is a search engine and his friends are our web pages. Instead of a few thousand listings, search engines have to sort through billions to find what is being searched for. This is when things get really interesting. :-) Read more

The Truth About Sitelinks: Site structure is splendid, it seems

There has been a heated debate on Sphinn about a controversial post by Rand Fishkin of Seomoz. There is a lot to learn from that discussion, but instead of focusing on the debate, I want to talk about something that keeps coming up: Google's Sitelinks.

yahoo1.png

Google doesn't provide a lot of information, but this is what they say about the matter:

  1. Sitelinks are presented if they are found to be somehow useful.

  2. A site’s structure allows Google to find good Sitelinks.

  3. The process of selection, creation and presentation of Sitelinks is fully automated.

Let's forget the technical details for the moment and focus on what Google's purpose is here: they want to save users some clicks by pointing them to the right page directly in the search results. Sitelinks appear only for the first result, and only for sites with meaningful traffic. (Google uses the toolbar data of visitor frequency to make this determination.)

I decided to dig deeper and study the sources, try some examples of my own and make my own conclusions. I'd definitely like to have Sitelinks when people search for my blog, and I'm sure many of my readers here would like the same. Here’s what I learned… Read more

Checkmate: Strategic vs Tactical SEO

robotchess.jpgIs SEO just a game?

Consider two chess players, Mike and Tom. Mike has never been able to win against Tom. Mike knows all the rules of the game: how to move every piece, when to capture, when to castle; he even knows all the tactical ideas like forks, pins, skewers and discovered attacks.

Mike's problem is that while he knows all the rules and has read a lot of chess books, he still looks only one or two moves in advance. It is very hard to prepare a winning plan looking so short-term. Tom on the other hand thinks at least five moves ahead and moves all his pieces so that they complete his master plan. Tom anticipates all of Mike's moves and prepares for them with a strong counterattack.

The world of search engine optimization is no different than this. As SEOs we need to think ahead of our competitors and, more importantly, we need to be on top of search engine advances. The world of search is moving so fast that any slacker will be left behind, with no time or opportunity to catch up. Check and mate. Read more