SEO Series Part 2: Link Building

Improving your website’s SEO can be thought of as a popularity contest. The more popular you are, the more search engines, especially Google, will like you. Just like in real life, popularity is measured by the amount of people talking about you and referring other people to you. This means that the more websites that link to your website, talk about your website, and direct people to your website, the more popular your website will be on Google.

The heart of SEO lies in link building. Link building is the process of linking other websites to your website. Links on the internet that lead to your website are called inbound links. The more inbound links you have, the more popular you will be.

One of the easiest ways to get links to your site is to publish yourself on live web directories. Live web directories are large, topical, searchable directories that differ from traditional relevancy search engines in that their content is maintained by actual humans rather than by ‘robot spiders’ that scan the worldwide web. Live directories personally review your site and decide whether to include your website in their index. There are lots of live directories, some of them are free and some of them are paid. Some directories are much better than others, but the overall strategy here should be to register your website with as many live directories as possible. Search Google for a list of free and paid live web directories online.

Blogging is another effective way to build inbound links. Set up a blogging account on the major platforms (WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr) and become an active blogger in your target market. This means that you leave relevant comments on as many posts as possible that are in your industry/target market. If you have a profile on the blogging sites, you should be able to have your website underneath or in the signature of every post you comment on. You can also imbed your website into the text of your actual post. Just make sure that your site is relevant to your comment, or it will be seen as spam and your comment will not be approved. When you begin to have an active voice in your blogging community, you will not only build inbound links, but you will also create relationships and trust within your industry.

There are all kinds of Web 2.0 sites that will help you create and share content online. Social bookmarking sites like StumbleUpon, Digg, Delicious, etc. are good places to bookmark/share your content with the rest of the world. Sites like YouTube, Flixtime, Animoto, Squidoo, WikiHow, etc. will allow you to create online content (videos and articles) that contain links and lead to building trust and awareness around your site. Basically, the goal is to create as much quality content as you can on the internet that points back to your site. For Google, it’s about quantity, variety, and quality. The more content, links, and media you have that link back to your site, the better. Google is also getting smarter, though, meaning that you must now have quality stuff on the internet to be considered a contender on the first page of the search engine.

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SEO Series Part 1: Copy, Meta, Page Titles and Consistency

In this first of three parts, I’ll talk about SEO practices that you can implement on your own website. These include specific things you can do on your site that will help you get an edge over your competitors in search engine ranking.

First of all, you need to know the proper keywords that relate to every page of your website. Keywords directly relate to your search engine rankings are CRUCIAL for SEO success. One handy tool you can use to try and figure out the top 5 keywords for your site is Google’s Keyword Tool. Using the Keyword Tool allows you to see the number of global and local monthly searches for specific keyword(s) and keyword phrases. It also shows you the level of competition on Google for those keywords and other keyword ideas that are similar. If you aren’t familiar with this, get familiar.

The goal here is to find 5 keywords that relate to each page on your site that have high global monthly searches (>1000). If you’re lucky, some of your keywords or keyword phrases might have low or medium competition ratings too, which is great but somewhat rare. After you have found the five keywords or, keyword phrases more likely, that you will use for your page, write them down because you’re going to use them in more than one place. 

Copy, or text on your site is very important. It is recommended that each page on your site have 300-500 words of text. For some sites this is easy, for others, especially ecommerce site, this may be much more challenging. So why is it important to have that much text on each page? Well, the short answer is that’s how Google likes it, which is really all that matter because in this SEO driven world that we live in, Google is God. On a more realistic level, though, what really matters is the keyword density of the text on your page. This means the ratio of keywords to total words on the page. You want your keyword phrases to equal about 2-3% of your text. Textalyser.net is a great site that will show you your keyword density. Use your keyword phrases more than once to get a good 2-3% density, but use them in a way that makes sense for the context and doesn’t sound weird.

Next is meta. Most websites allow you to customize the meta for each page of your website. Again, use the same 5 keyword phrases in your meta field. Next is custom URL’s. You should customize the last part of each page’s URL to match the best keyword for that specific page. Lastly, page titles are also very important. This means the title of the page that shows up on the top tab of your browser window. One thing you can do to optimize the page title is to separate it into three sections, separated by two pipes. For example, say I was optimizing a page title for a page selling popular men’s running shoes. The page title might be something like, “Men’s Running Shoes | Athletic Footwear | Running Footwear” In this way you have three of your most popular keyword phrases (whatever they may be) right in the title of your page, which Google likes. Just make sure they make sense!

So to wrap up, consistency is king! Make sure that each page of your site is properly optimized with a select few keywords or keyword phrases that are used in your text, meta, URL, and page title. This is just one of the first steps to optimizing your website, but it’s probably the easiest thing you can do starting out.

What is Google Panda?

Google Panda is an update to Google’s search algorithm that fundamentally changed the way search engine optimization works on Google. Introduced in February 2011, Google Panda (named after Google engineer Navneet Panda) increases the quality of search results provided from a Google search. Before Panda, PageRank (named after Larry Page) was the main methodology that Google used to determine who showed up in what position on Google searches.

PageRank ranks pages by a number of attributes, but the biggest is the number of inbound links a website has, and the quality of those links. So for instance, say you own a men’s fitness website. The more links you have that lead to your website, the higher up on Google you will rank with search terms like “men’s fitness.” The more links the better, but the links have to relate to your website. So a link from a fitness blog or an exercise machine company is way better than a link from some random website that has nothing to do with men’s fitness. Moreover, the higher the PageRank the site that links to you has, the better. So even better than a fitness blog linking to you would be MensHealth.com linking to you, because it has a nice PageRank of 7 (out of 10).

With Panda, Google makes its algorithm even more complicated, because sites were beginning to focus only on generating the most inbound links, without regard to the actual content of their site. Now sites can get penalized for having content deemed “too thin” or low quality. In addition to looking at a site’s PageRank, quality of content, and a number of other attributes, Panda now looks at a site’s “usage metrics” to determine what actual visitors think of the site. Panda looks at the average time users spend on a site, the site’s bounce rate, page views per visit, how the site is being shared socially through social networks and +1’s, and how people are navigating through the site.

With Panda, Google is trying to find unique, popular, and high quality content that matches your search terms. Even though the first version of Panda was released in February 2011, new versions of Panda are released periodically. The newest update, Panda 3.3, was released last month. It was only a minor update with no major changes (read the official blog post about the update here). The thing about Google, though, is that they won’t tell you specifically how Panda works. No one but Google knows exactly what a perfect, Panda-friendly website should have and not have. If they did, everyone’s site would be the first result on a Google search.

Even though Panda is only 1 of 200 factors Google uses to rank pages, SEO experts have to keep up with the latest Panda updates if they want to keep up with the industry. There are many studies, theories, books, etc. on how exactly to beat Google at its own game and get the top search result without paying for it as an advertisement. Those who have a really good idea of how Panda and its algorithm work have become multimillionaires just because their site pops up as the first search result for a given search term. Anyone with a website that is concerned with SEO should be aware of Google Panda and keep up with its frequent updates. Take a look at this infographic to learn even more about Panda.

Feel free to leave any questions or comments below!

If Online Marketing Were to Pick The Next Republican Presidential Candidate…

One of the reasons why President Obama won the 2008 election was because of his campaigns mastery of social media and online marketing. The Obama campaign embraced these two forms of marketing, creating a winning online strategy that appealed to Millennials especially. Four years later, have Republicans caught up in terms of marketing their campaigns effectively online? The top two candidates on the Republican side right now are former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. Which campaign has the best online marketing strategy? Let’s put the two campaigns head to head and find out.

Let’s analyze Romney and Santorum’s brands in terms of their online marketing efforts. We’ll focus on three categories: social media impact, website engagement, and website SEO and inbound links.

Social Media Impact
Facebook: Romney’s Facebook page has a whopping 1,509,746 “likes,” versus Santorum’s meager 164,906. This is a HUGE difference!  Also, Romney has almost 80,000 people talking about him on Facebook whereas Santorum has just over 41,000 people talking about him. Also, Romney’s page, powered by digital media company Thismoment, just looks a lot better than Santorum’s

Twitter: Again Romney has more followers, with 360,155 versus Santorum’s 153,375. Surprisingly, though, Santorum has actually tweeted about twice as much as Romney in total. Santorum has been tweeting an average of 5.4 times a day for the past week, which is impressive compared to Romney’s 1.4 average tweets per pay during the same period. Tweeting more often allows Santorum to be more engaged with his audience as well as more informative. He often retweets posts by his followers and keeps them up to date on the latest happenings with his campaign. Romney does the same thing, just much less frequently, which loses him points. Over the past eight weeks, however, Romney has been gaining both Facebook “likes” and Twitter followers at a much faster pace than Santorum

YouTube: Again, Romney has more subscribers than Santorum with 5,008 versus 2,914. Romney also has more channel views and more total upload views.

Overall, it’s possible that Santorum might have slightly more social media engagement with his followers, but there’s no denying that Romney has more followers in every category and is therefore the clear winner in terms of social media impact. Romney also has a higher Klout score (77) than Santorum (66).

Winner: Mitt Romney

Website Engagement
Website engagement measures how users interact with a website. Website owners want users to be able to easily navigate a site and find information they are looking for. In terms of our two contestants, I would assume they would also want users to stay on their site for as long as possible, researching the candidate’s platform, clicking multiple pages, and donating to the campaign. They also need a site that effectively communicates their political message to visitors.

When visiting Romney’s website, visitors are asked to provide their email address and zip code before even entering the actual website. Obviously this is to grow Romney’s database, but it doesn’t fall in line with the permission marketing concept that businesses are beginning to follow. Upon entering both the sites, they look very similar. Both sites make it easy for visitors to find each candidate’s bio and the issues they stand for, as well as donate money.

From a design standpoint, Romney’s website definitely looks better than Santorum’s, though. Santorum’s site does the job, but it doesn’t look like he’s put as much money into it as Romney has.

Winner: Mitt Romney

Website SEO & Inbound Links
SEO and inbound links are very important to a website because they determine how high up on a Google search the site will appear. It will be hard for a website to be on the first page of a Google search without many inbound links to the site. It also tells us how popular the website is in the vast sea of the World Wide Web. While SEO is probably not a major concern for these presidential candidates, whoever runs their website is probably very concerned with SEO.

A Google search for “Santorum,” for example, provides links to many anti-Santorum sites on the first page of Google. Santorum’s actual website isn’t even the first website on the page, it’s third! The fourth website is called “Spreading Santorum,” and has the quote, “The frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the by-product of anal sex” visible right underneath the link to the website. I’m sure Team Santorum is not very pleased about this; they obviously need to work on their SEO.

According to HubSpot’s Marketing Grader tool, Romney beats Santorum 91 to 66. Marketing Grader is an assessment tool that analyzes a site’s entire marketing funnel and compares it to another site. When looking at inbound links to their websites, Romney wins with 3,828 inbound links versus Santorum’s 1,566. Romney also has 10,800 pages indexed by search engines while Santorum only has 1,460.

Romney’s site has a blog that publishes new posts every three hours on average. These blog posts are being shared an average of 75 times on Facebook and 38 times on Twitter. Santorum also has a blog but new posts are created much less frequently.

Winner: Mitt Romney

If the next Republican presidential candidate were to be picked strictly on the basis of online marketing, Romney would be the clear winner. He beats Santorum in all three categories; Team Santorum needs to step up their efforts if they want to pull ahead on Super Tuesday.

Reminder: Why I still love Alaska

When I was 18 and just getting ready to leave Alaska for college, I could NOT wait to get out of the secluded state and its famously cold weather. I was born and raised in Alaska and it was pretty much all I knew. Our family went on vacations relatively frequently, but I had still endured 18 brutal Alaskan winters that last about nine months each. I was so ready to leave and I could not ever imagine missing the place I had called home for so many years.

View of downtown Anchorage on a clear winter day, Cook Inlet in foreground and Chugach Mountains in background

Now that I’ve been in college for almost four years and have had a taste of the “lower 48” for more than just a vacation, I have a different perception of Alaska that has developed only recently since my visit for Christmas ended last week. I have lived in Reno for the past four years and I have been LOVING the hot summers here. I also like the relatively mild winters because we still get snow but it’s not too cold. This year has been different, however. It’s now January 3rd, and there hasn’t been a flake of snow in Reno, and there isn’t any snow on the forecast. This sucks; the winter weather in Reno has been really lame. There’s no snow, everything is dead and ugly outside, the skiing in Tahoe is terrible, there hasn’t been any snow days at school, no shoveling, no turning on the rear defroster, no snowball fights, nothing! All of this combined actually made me miss Alaska weather for the first time, and I actually couldn’t wait to go back for Christmas this year. I hadn’t seen snow since last spring, and I wanted a WHITE CHRISTMAS!

View from the top of Alyeska Ski Resort, a few miles out of Anchorage

On my arrival in Anchorage the week before Christmas, I was ecstatic to be landing on a snowy tarmac in a white wonderland! There was snow everywhere, just what I needed. I didn’t mind the cold temperatures, because the flurry of snow coming from the sky and the soft white layer that covered absolutely everything outside was more stunning than I remembered it ever being. And sure enough, I woke up Christmas morning to more falling snow, fulfilling my wish for an amazingly surreal white Christmas.

The snowy streets of Anchorage, normal winter day. Average annaul snowfall for Anchorage is 70.6 inches (National Climate Data Center)

Although I admittedly wouldn’t want to bear the winter Alaska weather for a full nine months, being in it for a week was awesome. I loved every minute of being outside, whether it was jaywalking the icy streets downtown to get to the next bar, brushing a pile of snow off the car from the night before, or just staring up at the night sky as the snow fell. So overall, I have a new found appreciation for Alaska. Next year, I will not only be excited to see friends and family for the holidays, but I’ll also be excited to enjoy a beautiful white Christmas, one thing that Alaska can always guarantee me.

Visit my little brother’s website for more amazing photos of Alaska here

Feel free to leave any comments or questions below!