SEO 101: Need an SEO Friendly Site? Think Blog!

By Richard V. Burckhardt

Make WordPress your site's home baseWhen I started out in web development way back in the dark ages (1998), I was doing web design for an in-house agency. Primarily, we did sites for the publications that the parent publishing company produced, but we also took on local Palm Springs area clients and built web sites for them.

It went something like this. For a certain amount of money, like $500, we’d build a ten page static web site. We’d do the design work, but the client provided images and text. We’d do the SEO as it existed in those days (title, meta tags, submit to the search engines/directories) and then there would be a monthly hosting/maintenance fee (about $50). Quarterly changes (pictures and text) were part of the fee, anything else cost extra.

Of course, the client was sort of at our mercy as they had no way to make changes themselves. They had to go through us. This could get frustrating for clients who needed frequent changes to their sites, like real estate agents or those with products that needed changing constantly.

Fast forward to today. Yes, if you really need a complicated site with a web designer, programmer and so forth, that option is definitely available more than ever. But, if what you want is a smaller site that you have complete control over and won’t cost a fortune, it can be had quickly and inexpensively. Continue reading

User Generated Content: What It Is, Why You Want It, How To Get It

User generated content for SEO
Good user generated content can be optimized to boost your search engine rankings.

User generated content is simply the comments, reviews and feedback left by visitors to your site.

So, why is it so important?

First, it’s free content for your site or blog. You didn’t have to write it or take the time to come up with the ideas.

Second, those impassioned contributors are actually free marketers for your site (so you want to nurture them and cultivate them!).

Third, it generates credibility and demonstrates the usefulness for your site. As SEOs tend to preach, content is king and the more good user generated content the search engines find, the better they consider the quality of your site.

Fourth, the search engines love it because it feeds them rather than competes with them. In other words, more content equals more crawling.

Fifth, it provides a longtail solution for keywords. No more keyword stuffing to try to catch the longtail!

Sixth, quality user generated content makes it easier to get link love.

Finally, did I mention it’s FREE?!

So, now that you’ve got an idea as to why you should be adding user generated content to your SEO toolkit (If you haven’t, you’re going to fall behind the pack fast, so get with it!), how do you go about optimizing your site to make the most of it? Continue reading

SEO 101: Local Search Optimization

Getting found in local search results.
Getting found for local search queries takes more than having a web site with your address on it.

If there is any part of SEO that is currently ripe with opportunity it’s Local Search. A huge portion of search is for information local to the searcher (Palm Springs movies, Houston pizza, etc.), but a ton of local mom & pop businesses simply don’t know that there is such a thing as “local” search. Many folks think that search is, well, search!

So, now is the time to take advantage of this lack of understanding about local search and get your business in there! It takes more than just a web site targeted to a local audience. Rather, you need to know about about how local search works.

For instance, searchers are basically lazy and tend to search for a city name rather than narrowing down to a neighborhood or zip code, so instead of “pizza 92262″ they’ll start their search with the city as in “palm springs pizza” as the query.

Also, take a look at what you get in a local search result:

Google local search example
Notice that Google now provides ten results (with web site URLs and phone numbers) and a map with locations of the listings. You’ll also see the number of reviews that each business has received. Other search engines will give similar results, though, as of this writing, with a varying number of results mapped and listed. Also notice that the organic results show up below the local results – another reason to be in there if you can.

So, let’s jump into some tips to help you with your local search optimization.

1. Include your physical address. Make sure it is on every page on your web site. if you think slapping a postal address into the HTML address meta tag will help you get found in local search, think again.

2. Be central. Unfortunately, the search engines tend to focus on the city center, meaning that the first results that come up for a search like Boston bars will be those in center city. If you’re lucky enough to be centrally located, you’ve got a leg up on the competition. If not, you could try getting a mailing address that is centrally located, but the search engines will definitely frown on that. All it takes is one disgruntled person going to that location and finding a mailbox to report you. And, businesses without street addresses can’t get listed in Google local listings.

3. Optimize your web site. Regular SEO can have an influence. Be sure to use the name of your city in your content (our Palm Springs office, not just our office). Use your city name in your image ALT attributes and anchor text. See my S E O 101 series for general optimization tips. Make sure your classic SEO is location specific.

4. Optimize your local listing. In Google, go to Local Business Center. For Yahoo!, go to Yahoo! Local. For MSN (or Live or whatever they call themselves today), go to Windows Live Local Listing Center. Fill out the forms with all relevant information. Provide links, web pages, photos and coupons if available.

5. Get reviews. Reviews can have an effect on how you rank in the results. Lots of good reviews can only help you. Enlist friends, customers, relatives, business partners or whoever you can to write good reviews to get you started, but don’t spam. You’ll get caught.

6. Get listed in trusted sources. The search engines pull some reviews and listings from what they consider trusted sources like Superpages, Yellow Pages, Info USA, Localeze and Yelp. Some are free, some are for a fee, but listings in these can help. In Yahoo, del.icio.us rankings might also have some influence.

7. Make sure your data and category are accurate in #4 & #6 above.

8. A keyword-rich domain name can’t hurt.

9. Do local videos. These tend to have great click-through rates and can come up in Google blended results.

10. Cross link with maps on a trusted site like Mapquest.

11. Create a local listing for all locations. If you have more than one, don’t just create a local listing for the main one. Get them all in there!

As always, this barely scratches the surface of local SEO and is intended to get you started in the right direction. I go into more detail in my SEO workshop, offered to web site owners and small businesses. Check my blog at http://www.weboptimist.com for more information or contact me to set up a custom workshop for your business group of five or more people in the Palm Springs area of Southern California. Travel is possible for large groups.

This article will be updated periodically.

See my related S E O 101 posts .

Yahoo! Open Search Platform

For the first time in front of a public group, Yahoo! presented its new Open Search Platform at a special presentation at SMX West 2008 in Santa Clara. Basically a way for users and site owners to customize search results, the Open Search Platform will allow use of plugins for personalization.

For instance, a site owner can create a plugin with information relevant to the site including images, phone numbers, links and other data such as reviews. A user can load the plugin from a gallery so that when the site comes up in a search result, the link will not just be a link to the site, but sort of a blended result with an image and additional links similar to what Google now serves up as One Box results.

Sort of personalized universal search results.

Yahoo! Open Search Platform will focus on “completing tasks” rather than dishing out results. Users can share results with others, add or remove enhancements or even report sites as abusers of trust.

According to Yahoo!, it’s “All about users choice.”

Site owners can add buttons, galleries and marketing info to create a richer experience for visitors. The new service, which is free, will be open to all sites by way of an API or feed upload.

More information, including example images can be found at http://tools.search.yahoo.com/open . Also see the Yahoo blog for updates.

Yahoo and Javascript Drop Downs

Yahoo informed us a while back that they had problems with our navigation at FramesDirect.com. Apparently, on the bottom of some of our catalog pages we had links to “More designer eyeglasses” where we would list other brands. Say for instance someone is looking at Ray Ban eyeglasses on our Ray Ban catalog page. At the bottom, we’d have a section for “Other designer eyeglasses” and list Rodenstock and others that came close alphabetically. We figured it was handy for the user and is pretty standard. Heck, even Amazon.com does it.

Yahoo, however, considered the practice to be spammy and redundant. Of course, when you try to ask what they mean, they basically just repeat themselves (look at our guidelines, etc.) and won’t give you any information.

We couldn’t figure out why they felt this way. Our competition is doing the same thing (and a lot worse) and Yahoo wasn’t giving them any grief.

Continue reading

Evoca releases new voice comment plugins

I just got an e-mail from Evoca.com, a voice publishing site, announcing new plugins for WordPress, TypePad and eBlogger. It’s really neat. You can either download the plugin for your blog or place some javascript on your page to use a nifty recorder that people can use to leave comments, suggestions, etc. on your blog or site. See the bottom of any page on this blog to check it out. I opted for the javascript because the recorder is just too wide for my sidebar and it pushed everything out of place.

Once you retrieve your recorded comments, Evoca gives you HTML code that you can use to put the recording in your blog if you think it’s worthy of blogspace. I’m still playing with that function. So far, unless I paste the code in a separate comment, my header, footer and sidebar disappear. I’ll keep working on that.

One thing I’d like to see them implement – the ability to resize the recorder. I also think that it’s a bit awkward to have to hit the “Send” button after the recording is made. The way the box is organized, it looks like the “Send” is for sending a note by e-mail. The first time I tried recording, I didn’t know I had to “Send” it. Minor things. You do have to open a free account with Evoca, but hey, it’s free.

So, got comments on SEO or my balding head? Jump down to the bottom of this page and give it a shot.

Subdomains and SEO

The widely held belief among the SEO community that subdomains are great for boosting optimization could be changing. I work for FramesDirect.com, an online retailer selling eyeglasses, sunglasses, contact lenses and goggles online. Like most, we were rolling merrily along with many of our various brands set up in subdomains (rayban.framesdirect.com) and so forth. About six months ago, our pages started falling out of Yahoo. As usual, Yahoo provided a canned response that gave a list of their guidelines in general. We didn’t have a clue what it was they objected to, so we started going through our 40,000+ page site trying to clean up anything and everything that might be a problem.

After weeks of doing away with old pages that had long been forgotten, many old sitemaps, duplicates and doing 301 redirects left and right, we requested reinclusion and got the same canned response that we weren’t in compliance with Yahoo guidelines.

As we continued to search for the reason, we finally managed to get in touch with a couple of Yahoo search engineers. One responded with a cryptic, terse “why are you playing games?” e-mail that didn’t help at all. We didn’t have a clue WHAT they wanted and they refused to tell us what the problem was. There are two SEO analysts on our team and neither one of us could have guessed what the problem eventually turned out to be.

The other Yahoo engineer, bless his heart, actually gave us some guidance. Big on his list – getting rid of the subdomains.

That floored us. As far as we were concerned as SEOs, there was absolutely nothing wrong with our use of subdomains. But, when the Yahoo Gods talk, you pretty much have to listen. We converted the subdomains to subdirectories and did 301 redirects to the subdirectories. While we were at it, we created some new content for all of the pages involved so that there would be no questions regarding any duplicate content.

Yahoo started respidering us in January and our pages are beginning to show up in the index again. Whew!

I write this in response to an article by Rob Sullivan, suggesting a combination of subdomains and subdirectories make for good SEO ( http://www.textlinkbrokers.com/blogs/comments/330_0_1_0_C/ ).

I’d be VERY careful about using subdomains these days. In addition to the Yahoo problems we had, I heard Matt Cutts comment recently that subdomains are among his next spam targets over at Google.