Keep your eyes OFF the search engine rankings

There’s been an interesting debate on WebmasterWorld, Search Engine Roundtable, Sphinn, SitePoint and Search Engine Watch about Google’s recent block of popular rank-checking tools like WebPosition Gold and WebCEO. It appears that clients are very used to tracking their SEO consultants’ efforts and gauging their success by looking at the regular rankings report. But querying search engines is not the only way you can use to check rankings. Let me tell you a better way…

A better way to check search rankings

I definitely feel the pain of those that need to rely on tools that are constantly getting blocked by Google. But there is no need to get Google mad at you and block your IP. I learned early in life that there are always many different ways to achieve the same goals. You can get far more information about your rankings, for instance, directly from your traffic log files. You can determine all the keywords that you are ranking for, their relative positions, the number of visits each keyword is sending, and, with the IP address, you can also determine the physical locations where searchers are coming from. We’ve had this functionality built in to RankSense since we started developing it four years ago! Plus, you don’t need to query Google to get this information. (BTW, the new 2.0 version of RankSense is coming out, and the Discover Rankings tool can now detect conversions as well. That way, you’ll be ranking first for the keywords that actually bring in the money!)

The problem with fixation on ranking reports

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Link Mass: How to determine how much effort it takes to rank for any particular keyword phrase

Based on the emails and response I received for my contribution to the “Link Building Secrets” project, I know that I am not the only one that loves to use metrics to measure how close I am to my goals. Thanks to everyone for your emails and encouraging comments. In this post I want to reveal another useful metric I use for our internal and client projects.

When you check the backlinks of sites ranking for competitive keywords (terms with many search results) you see that those sites have a large number of links pointing to them. But if you count the links of the top ten (using Yahoo Site Explorer, as the rest of the backlink checkers are not very useful), you notice that the results at the top don’t necessarily have more links than the ones at the bottom. This is the case because each link carries a unique rank-boosting weight (real PageRank and other link-value factors in the case of Google) that contributes to the ranking of the page for that particular term. In order to simplify things, I like to refer to the combinations of positive and negative link value factors of a page as its Link Mass. Read more

The Unsuspecting Recruit: Why every SEO MUST learn Internet security

Internet security is a big problem, and it isn’t just for the IT staff anymore. It affects us as SEOs. Don’t believe me? Consider the incident reported at the end of last year by security research firm Sunbelt Software.

…criminals are now combining SEO tactics and booby-trapped Web pages, and doing it systematically. By posting tens of thousands of Web sites simultaneously, criminals can take over all the top spots on a search results page, casting a wide net that’s more likely to catch Web users. Eckelberry described these criminals as “SEO Gods,” saying they can “take any site and get it on the first page of Google results.”

Instead of wasting energy defacing sites and showing them off as trophies to their peers on IRC, hackers are now modifying the code of hacked sites to include (invisible) links to their web properties or link farms. The article talks about virus writers creating tens of thousands of websites and cross-linking them using all sorts of queries as anchor text. They then spam blog comments around the Web to improve the overall PageRank of the link farm.

Hackers already know how to break into sites. Now that they see the profit that can be made from top-ten search rankings, they have adapted their techniques to break to take advantage. Currently, search engines’ quality reviewers can detect most sites utilizing these black-hat techniques because they show up pretty obviously as SPAM. However, this is just the beginning, and I’m willing to predict that this is going to scale with cleverer hacks that are harder to detect. Most break-ins will be highly sophisticated and highly automated. They will “recruit” thousands of computers into their link-farm. If your site is one of those “recruited” without your knowledge, your site will most likely be penalized by the search engine along with the whole group.

How can somebody break into my server if they don’t know my password? Read more

PageRank: Caught in the paid-link crossfire

Last week the blogosphere was abuzz when Google decided to ‘update’ the PageRank numbers they display on the toolbar. It seems Google has made real on its threat to demote sites engaged in buying and selling links for search rankings. The problem is that they caught some innocent ones in the crossfire. A couple of days later, they corrected their mistake, and those sites are now back to where they were supposed to be.

The incident reveals that there is a lot of misunderstanding about PageRank, both inside and outside the SEO community. For example, Forbes reporter Andy Greenberg writes:

On Thursday, Web site administrators for major sites including the Washingtonpost.com, Techcrunch, and Engadget (as well as Forbes.com) found that their “pagerank”–a number that typically reflects the ranking of a site in Google

He also quotes Barry Schwartz saying:

But Schwartz says he knows better. “Typically what Google shows in the toolbar is not what they use behind the scenes,” he says. “For about two and a half years now this number has had very little to do with search results.”

There are two mistakes in these assertions:

  • The toolbar PageRank does not reflect the ranking of a site in Google. It reflects Google’s perceived ‘importance’ of the site.

  • The toolbar PageRank is an approximation of the real PageRank Google uses behind the scenes. Google doesn’t update the toolbar PageRank as often as they update the real thing, but saying that it has little to do with search results is a little farfetched.

Several sites lost PageRank, but they did not experience a drop in search referrals. Link buyers and sellers use toolbar PageRank as a measure of the value of a site’s links. By reducing this perceived value, Google is clearly sending a message about paid links. The drop is clearly intended to discourage such deals.

Some ask why Google doesn’t simply remove the toolbar PageRank altogether so that buyers and sellers won’t have a currency to trade with. At first glance it seems like a good idea, but here is the catch—the toolbar PageRank is just a means of enticing users to activate the surveillance component that Google uses to study online behavior. Google probably has several reasons for doing so, but at minimum it helps measure the quality of search results and improve its algorithms. If Google were to remove the toolbar PageRank users would have no incentive to let Google ‘spy’ on their online activities. Read more

Advanced Keyword Research — The power of understanding your visitors

As search marketers, I think sometimes we underestimate the power of understanding our visitors. One way we can do this most effectively is through keyword research. Essential keyword research not only helps determine the success or failure of your whole search marketing campaign, but it can also provide a way of understanding your visitors and their intentions. Together, these points help define a winning SEO strategy.

If you have read about traditional keyword research, you are already familiar with the basics: keyword suggestions, search counts, level of competition, misspellings, and so on. The focus of traditional KR is to find relevant keywords that are also good opportunities (i.e. have low competition and enough search demand).

In this post, as has been my practice on this blog, I am going to dive deeper and push the limits of current keyword research. Carefully tailoring your content to your target visitors will provide you an edge most search marketers are currently missing. Read more

Giving it away – Advanced Link-Building Strategies through Viral Marketing

trophy.jpgAs the Web keeps growing, search phrases become more competitive, and the demand for links increases, the art of link building becomes far more difficult. It’s that much more difficult if you only know traditional link-building tactics. As we move forward, it’s going to be increasingly important to think outside the box and use our creativity to come up with new link-building ideas. Fortunately, as a regular reader of my blog, you won’t have such a problem. ;-)

David Hopkins, a loyal reader, asked me last week if I had some advanced link-building strategies up my sleeve. As a matter of fact I do and, as you know by now, when a loyal reader asks I deliver. I have been overwhelmed lately, but luckily Paul sent me an e-mail yesterday unwittingly reminding me about this topic. Here is what he wrote:

Hi Hamlet,
I was reading about mingle2.com on SEOMoz and I was wondering how did Mike [Matt] managed to have so many visitors in such a short period? High position on ‘free dating online’? What do you think?

Regards
Paul

The post he is referring to is the one in which Matt says he is leaving SEOmoz. I had read the post too and found the numbers truly amazing. I also read an interview that provides more background information about Matt’s phenomenal success, but instead of explaining how he did it (Matt explains this in the interview) I think it would be more useful to generalize the concept and provide a solid framework so that you can build off of the idea.

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Tracing their Steps: How to track feed subscriber referrals with Google Analytics

people_walking.jpgOne of the most important measures of success for a blog is the number of RSS subscribers. There are many blog posts out there about how to increase your number of subscribers. They range from the use of bigger, more prominent and attention-grabbing RSS buttons, to offering bonuses for signing up. While you can use all sorts of tricks, at the end of the day it is really about the value you give to your visitors on an ongoing, consistent basis. Personally, I subscribe to any blog that sparks my interest, but as soon as I see the quality drop I unsubscribe just as quickly. So many blogs, so little time!

Let me introduce another way you can increase your RSS subscribers that I have not seen covered anywhere. It works by identifying your best RSS referral sources and focusing your marketing and networking efforts on those.

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What do Search Marketing and Going to the Doctor have in Common? Learn my Best Kept Secret: How to find profitable keywords

doctor.jpgPicture this scenario:

Laura Martin has a mild headache. She knows she suffers from migraines, so she goes to her pharmacist. The pharmacist calls her doctor to get approval for a new refill of Imitrex, a migraine treatment medicine.

Paul Stevenson feels extremely tired. He is aware he suffers from type 1 diabetes. His body doesn’t make enough insulin. He only needs another insulin shot to help the food he has eaten turn into energy and get his body back to work.

These patients know exactly what they need. They have health problems and they already know the solution.

Now consider this:

Ralph Fortin was hit on the head by a baseball. He’s been having strong headaches. He doesn’t suffer from anything, as far as he knows. He doesn’t have a clue as to what might be wrong with his system. He goes to the doctor, explains what happened. The doctors gives him a check up and prescribes a pain killer.

Helen Willis was taking her usual morning walk. She’s a very healthy person with no medical history. She gets dizzy,  everything begins to spin, and she falls to the floor. She wakes up in an ambulance. The emergency doctor starts asking questions, but she doesn’t have a clue how to respond, so he needs to perform further tests. It turns out that she forgot to eat breakfast.

These patients didn’t have a clue as to what their problems were. They needed a solution to their problem.

What does this have to do with search? Good question. Read more