Category Archives for Search Engine Optimization

The rel nofollow tag and page rank sculpting

Updated: May 25, 2012
I see a lot of outdated information about the rel nofollow tag. Particularly a lot of advice to use it in page rank sculpting. That might have been useful at one point, but it hasn’t been for over a year now.

What is the nofollow tag?

The nofollow tag is a tag you can add to a href link to tell Google not to pass page rank to the link. It is typically used for comments on a blog (to discourage comment spam) and for sponsored links. By adding this tag to your href HTML code you are telling Google, I’m not sure I trust this site and I don’t want to pass my link juice over to it.

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Check Backlinks with Google link Command?

One of the things you often need to do as a SEO is look at the backlink profile of websites. This can be useful to see how your competitors have acquired backlinks – which, as we all know, quality backlinks are important for your website to rank well. Yahoo search explorer’s linkdomain command has been a way to do this in the past, but it has grown unreliable and misleading. Alternatives are available, for example SEOMoz provides opensiteexplorer.org and there is also Majestic SEO, but you need a paid account to get the full benefits.

So I was excited to hear Matt Cutts mention on a recent video, that although Google had historically limited the number of backlinks the link: returned due to storage issues that now it was possible to get the full set of backlinks.

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A organized directory of records

16 Blog Directories – The Good, Bad and the Ugly

I’ve seen several “top blog directories to submit your blog to” articles, however these lists are often light on details or out of date. Here are 16 blog directories that I went to take a look at. Like regular web directories, some blog directories will only list you for a fee, and yet still more request a reciprocal link before they will list you. Some are rather sneaky about it, you don’t figure out you have to reciprocate or pay until you are a step or two into the submission process.

That being said, just like web directories, it might be worth paying for a listing in some of these blog directories, however that analysis (choosing which one to pay for) is for another day.

For some of these you should be prepared to create an account and choose a category that your blog belongs to. Some ask for a full profile. Some have validation/ownership verification processes. It WILL take more time than you expect. Many of these will have a human review the submission before publishing it. That’s ok, in fact it is good, as google looks more favorably on directories that have editorial review.
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Use Excerpts to Avoid Duplicate Content Problems

WordPress is an extremely flexible platform. One aspect of it’s flexibility is that it provides many different sorts of aggregate pages, you can choose to show your posts chronologically, grouped by your tags and/or grouped by category. And of course the home page shows a list of your posts unless you have chosen to show a static page instead. However having all these different ways to show the same content can be seen as duplicate content by the search engines.

Unfortunately duplicate content in wordpress is a rather complex topic, but in this post I want to focus on just one aspect that has a relatively straightforward solution to it. But first let’s understand the problem better. When I talk about duplicate content, I am talking about content that is the same across multiple pages of your site. This is beyond having duplicate pages. Google and the other search engines essentially don’t want to see the same block of content on multiple page. Which is precisely what you have when you have category, tag, home and archive pages showing your posts in their entirety.

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Why You Need Web Directory Listings

Directory NewSEOs routinely recommend that you should list your site with a web directory such as the yahoo directory. This is different than submitting your site to the search engines (which is usually unnecessary). Submitting your website to a web directory is a great way to jump start your link building.

Free vs. Paid Web Directories

I would love to be able to tell you that there are some great free web directories out there, unfortunately in this case, at least in the general web directories, it is a case that you get what you paid for. For certain niches you might be able to find a good free directory that is industry specific, but for a general web directory, all the free ones are not of high quality.

Criteria to look at

  • The easiest thing to look at is the PR (page rank) of the directory site. Yahoo and Business.com are not cheap ($299 a year) but they are PR 8 and 7 respectively. If this is out of your budget, there are some good second tier directories that are much cheaper.
  • It is important too, to determine the page your website is likely to be listed on. What is it’s PR? The PR of the parent page? Getting listed in some of the lower quality directories often means your listing gets buried on a page that is unranked and rarely crawled.
  • Google and the other search engines tend to devalue links that didn’t involve a human making a decision to create that link. So look for a editorial policy that does not guarantee a listing. Yes, you take a risk that your listing won’t be approved or will get listed on a page you didn’t choose, but this editorial oversight is what gives that link its juice.

Next: A list of web directories

Search Engine Meta Tags – no index

When we first build a website, the thought of actually telling Google and the other search engines to not spider a given web page seems counter-intuitive, why would anyone want Google to not spider their website? (Well except when you are Rue La La).

Here’s one reason. A more sophisticated website might have a login page or registration page. Often these pages shouldn’t be indexed as they don’t add value for ranking for keywords. Compounding the issue, in one case I looked at, the registration page was manifesting as many registration pages, because the site was tacking on a return url in the parameter (so that after the registration the user would be returned to the calling page), creating duplicate content.

If you have many URLs that all point to the same page, that is known as duplicate content (this is different than duplicate content across many websites … and worse) and definitely to be avoided. Each site gets limited link juice and a limited spider crawl budget, you don’t want to waste either on yet another version of a page the spider has seen before.

So to tell the spiders you don’t want a page to be indexed, you put the no index meta tag into the HTML source code (between the open and closing <HEAD> tags) for that page.

<META NAME=”ROBOTS” CONTENT=”NOINDEX, FOLLOW”>

Why the follow? So that the link juice from external incoming links and internal links can pass through to the links on the page you are noindexing. Otherwise you are creating a dead end that stops the link juice from passing through. The registration page might not be important, but it might have links to articles that are.

I wanted to explicitly point this out, because if you search on “meta tag no index” you will find lots of examples of “no index, no follow”. Lindsay Wassell makes a compelling case for the right use of this tag in her seomoz.org article and explains why using robots.txt instead is not a viable alternative.

More on the noindex meta tag.

Google’s shaking things up

Have you noticed that Google has introduced some major changes this year? I used to think that if you did the right things: 1) have a well optimized site and 2) build quality links to that site, that was all you needed to care about. While that is still true, the Google landscape is rapidly evolving and we need to pay attention.

First we saw the May Day update (appropriately this update occurred around May 1st, 2010). While Google is constantly tweaking it’s algorithm, periodically there are major algorithmic changes that many noticed. In this case, the major impact was to the long tail search. It used to be that you could rank pretty easily for a long tail search by just slapping a website up optimized for it. Long tail searches are those searches with many words (ie. four, five, six words). With May Day, that’s not as easy to do, as Google now pays more attention to a site’s authority and quality even in the less competitive long tail arena.

About the same time we also had Google Caffeine. This was an infrastructure change for Google that allowed its search spiders to work faster, so “fresher” results could be provided to the searcher. Webmasters noticed that more pages of their sites were being crawled by Google. As Google had warned it would in the previous year, it started paying a lot of attention to page load speed. If you have Google Webmasters Tools set up for your site, check out the page load speed report (under the “Labs” menu) … is your page speed faster than at least 50% of the other sites on the web?

Have you noticed that Google is now providing results as you type into the search box? This is called Google instant. The question then becomes whether this will impact searching behavior. I’ve noticed it impacting my searching in certain cases, especially if I’m not clear on what I’m looking for. If I see that there is a particular subtopic that I hadn’t thought about but is relevant to what I’m looking for, yes I would be likely to chose the search Google is suggesting.

Local business should take note of the more recent change. Google Places (previously named Google Local Business Center) has just had a major update. The most obvious change is no more “7 pack” (those results that look like a list of map locations). The map and the little balloons are still there but the “local” results now look more like the rest of the results. This does mean that the “local” results take up more of the page, signifying Google’s increasing commitment to local business. If you are a bricks and mortar business and haven’t paid attention to Google Places before, you need to know. And those of you that are a local business but not a bricks and mortar, you can still list in Google Places with its new concept of “Service Area”.

So what are the takeaways from all this? Here are mine:

  • Google is committed to local business, if you don’t have a website or even just a web presence, it’s time to fix that
  • Quality and Authority are important, Google continues to wage war on those that would try to game the system with spammy sites. Sites that have unique and fresh content and that demonstrate authority (by having other high quality and relevant sites link to it) are favored by Google.

I think the other thing I would like to point out here, is I think Google’s philosophy has shifted here. It used to be about the sites that were the most popular, now Google is recognizing that many searches have commercial intent and catering to those searches.

Additionally it is providing different types of results mixed in on the results pages. There is the listings for local businesses as we discussed above. But have you noticed as well “Google Shopping Results” and “News for …”?

Search results for Digital Cameras

In the results above for “digital cameras” note the “Brands”, “Stores” and “Types” links. I’m not sure when these links crept in, but interesting eh? Particularly for those selling into a niche market, the “types” links would be worthy of further investigation.

Customizing Your WordPress URLs

With any new blog I work on, one of the first things I do is change the permalink structure. WordPress permalinks will determine the URL that your post will appear under. Just go to any blog, click on a post title and then look at the URL shown for it. If the blog is using the default permalink structure, you will see a question mark and some numbers. Since keyword rich URLs is one way to optimize your blog for the search engines, why not change your permalink structure to a more search engine friendly one?

In most cases I use the custom structure of /%postname%/ (see below caveats on when you might want to use a different one). You can set this up for yourself under Permalinks in the Settings Menu.

Type in "/%postname%/" for your custom permalink structure

This means (as a default) my post title will also comprise my URL (with dashes in between the words). You do also have the ability to customize your permalink to be different than your title. I often do this because I want my blog posts to have catchy titles, which doesn’t always mean that they are optimized for keywords.

Now here are the two caveats you need to keep in mind:

  1. If your blog has been around for a while, proceed with caution with changing your permalink structure. Your existing blog posts may have already been indexed by Google with the old URLs, and other sites may have linked to them. In this case both Google and those sites would get broken links. There is a way around this, but the one avenue I’ve looked at (mod rewrite code in the web server) is non trivial and not available to many. More research needed. Update: there are plugins that will set up the 301 redirects for you
  2. If you think you are going to have a lot of pages & posts (more than 50), read through this forum discussion, you may want to consider /%year%/%postname%/ instead. My blog has a lot of posts, so I may need to consider a change, however point 1 will apply so I will need to proceed with caution.

Letting the Search Engines Know About Your Site

Forget those “search engine submission” services (what do they do anyway?) Here’s how to notify Yahoo and Google about your site and, even better, give them a roadmap to all your pages. I recently had to do this for three websites, so I captured the process of submitting a sitemap for both Google using Google Webmasters Tools and Yahoo using Site Explorer.

I’m assuming you have already built a XML sitemap of your site. If you haven’t and you have a wordpress site, see my 4 essential plugins post, if you have some other type of site, check into gsitecrawler..

Before you can submit your sitemap to Yahoo and Google, you have to “verify” that you own the site. You’ll need an account (ie. a gmail account for Google Webmaster Tools) and a way to modify / create files on your site. Note that there is multiple ways to verify your site (4 for google / 2 for yahoo), so I am just going to cover the uploading HTML file for verification method.

Step 1: Add Your Site Create an Account or Login into each with your Google/Yahoo accounts:

For both the first part of adding a site is straightforward and intuitive. For Yahoo it is under “My Sites”.

Adding Website in Google Webmaster Tools

Adding Website in Google Webmaster Tools

Step 2: Download / Upload the verification file

Step 2 is more complex. When you add your site you will be prompted to go through a validation process. There will be several steps to this:

Google

Google Verification Steps

Google Verification

    Just follow the steps as outlined:

  • First download the file – it will be a long filename that starts with “google”
  • Then upload to your web server’s root directory using a FTP program. Note that you will need to know your hosting account details (which is likely not the same as your wordpress login details)
  • Check that the file is there by clicking on the link, you should see something like “google verification” in your browser
  • Now click on the verify button

For Yahoo the process is very similar:

  • Download
  • Upload
  • Confirm link in browser
  • Click Authenticate
Yahoo SiteExplorer Authentication

Yahoo SiteExplorer Authentication

Note that with yahoo the filename starts with “y_key”. With yahoo I had failures with the authenticate step. It might have been because my blog has a redirect in .htaccess to redirect traffic to my blog directory (although I added the files to both the root and the /blog directory) . It might have been because I first added the site as webenso.com rather than www.webenso.com. In any case, persistence was the key, I deleted the site, readded the site as www.webenso.com and tried the authentication twice, the second time it seemed to go through. Note that with yahoo, it sometimes just sends you back to the initial rendering of the authentication page, without telling what happened.

Step 4: Add your sitemap

To add your sitemap you will need to know it’s filename. Google XML Sitemaps plugin usually defaults to calling your sitemap: sitemap.xml.

In Webmaster tools, the sitemap options are on the lower right hand side for your site. SiteExplorer calls sitemaps “feeds”.

Site Explorer Feeds Menu Item to add Sitemap

Click on Site Explorer Feeds Menu Item to add Sitemap

A note about Bing:

Even though Bing and Yahoo are merging due to the Microsoft / Yahoo search engine deal, it might not be a bad idea to submit your sitemap to Bing, fortunately it’s easy:

Substitute your Sitemap URL into the string below (eg. http://webenso.com/sitemap.xml) and run it in your browser URL box.


http://www.bing.com/webmaster/ping.aspx?siteMap=put URL of your sitemap here

You’ll get a “Thanks for submitting your sitemap.” message in your browser window.

SEO Chat Keyword Difficulty Tool

If you want to get a sense of how difficult it would be to rank for a particular keyword, the tool below from SEO Chat will help you out:

Keyword Difficulty Check Tool © SEO Chat™

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