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I see a lot of outdated information about the rel nofollow tag.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 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seen several “top blog directories to submit your blog to” articles, however these lists are often light on details or out of date.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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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.


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 article and explains why using robots.txt instead is not a viable alternative.

More on the noindex meta tag.

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 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 rather than In any case, persistence was the key, I deleted the site, readded the site as 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. and run it in your browser URL box. URL of your sitemap here

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

Google Local Business Center for Home Businesses

Adding a listing to Google Local Business Center helps your local bricks and mortar business get found by web searchers. Google Local Business Center is integrated with Google local search – that list of results that show up as a map with locations. If you type in a search term plus a geographic term such as “Thai food Fremont” you will often get these “map” results.

Google Map Results

Google Map Results

The problem has been that you needed a business address for this to really work for you. Many home based businesses don’t want to publish their home addresses and their service area may be different than where they live. Some home based businesses have gotten PO Boxes just to get a better listing in local search. But a pin on a map that points to a PO Box isn’t necessarily that useful.

Well a fix from google now available. In an indepth interview with Eric Enge, Carter Maslan shares the concept of service areas that google is introducing. If you are a dog walker that serves an area differently than where you live, this update is for you. You can now specify what area you want to appear in for a local search. Check out the service area help page for more info.

How do search engines use meta tags?

Part 2 of What are Meta Tags?

We now know what are meta tags (previous post) and that they are really only two that we care about (well most of us, there are some additional ones that should be in a webmasters tool kit). So how do search engines use meta tags?

Keywords meta tag:

It used to be that you could put the keywords you wanted to rank for into the keyword meta tag, and the more the better right? Then you could sit back and consider yourself done with your SEO efforts. This has not been true for a while. Google completely ignores this tag and has for years, and while yahoo and bing probably look at the tag, it is not clear that they give it much weight in determining how to rank your site. Regardless, do not put 30+ keywords into this tag, this is known as keyword stuffing and will only harm your page. Keep it to 10 at most. If you do use adsense or other context driven ads on your site, there is evidence that they use the tag to determine what ads to show.

Description meta tag:

Technically this meta tag doesn’t help your web page rank any better, but it is still important. Why? Because if this tag is set, google will often show it as the snippet underneath the title in the SERPs (search engine results pages) rather than grabbing some random chunk of text off your page. I’ve seen some funny snippets over the years, usually from sites that have no text, so you get a snippet that says “you need flash version xxx to view this site”. Is that going to entice you to click? You can think of your description meta tag as the “welcome” mat to your site. Put together a catchy description (no more than 160 characters as that is all that will show) that will invite your reader to click through to find out more.

What are meta tags?

I belong to a mastermind group that is following a Joel Comm video series. We get together every week and discuss the particular session we watched during that week. Some of his videos do assume a certain amount of knowledge especially when they veer off the prepared materials.

The discussion was concerning meta tags and how important (or unimportant) they are for SEO. I was glad I watched because I picked up one interesting tidbit about meta tags that I hadn’t known before .. but I’ll get to that in another post.

So what are meta tags?

First off, it’s useful to understand that what you see on a web page isn’t the whole story, there are certain HTML code elements that are not visible on the rendered page but still read by search engines. Meta tags fall into this category. Meta tags are metadata, essentially data about data (if that is confusing, I’m afraid the wikipedia entry won’t be much help). However in this specific example, the concept is a little easier to grasp, since on an HTML web page, meta tags help describe what the web page is about.

What can you say about a web page? Well a number of things, but you need to only pay attention to two tags “description” and “keywords”.

  • Keywords is just that, a list of keywords that you think describe your page the best
  • Description is a few sentences that describes what your page is about

Many website building tools and CMS (content management systems) will have some way for you to fill these tags in, without having to learn how to code them into HTML. If they don’t, consider moving on to one that does.

Next – how search engines use meta tags