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Where content meets technology

Mar 06, 2013

Growing Importance of Citations in SEO

Here is a short and interesting video about the growing importance of citations to SEO. It is cool to see how Google's relevance algorithms are getting more sophisticated at understanding the meaning in content and identifying authority. Of course, the pessimist in me sees SEO bottom feeders interpreting this trend as justification for anti-social behavior like comment spam.

In the arms race between Google and the people who try to manipulate it, always side with Google. If you create great content and build an audience of influencers, you are Google's ally. Take short cuts and play tricks and you are one algorithm change away from total obscurity.

Sep 10, 2012

More Granular Terms for SEO

Search Engine Optimization is one of the primary services we offer at Lionbridge Global Marketing Operations. Localization is more than just translation, it is adapting the content to be more effective in local markets; and local SEO is a big part of that. When talking with customers about SEO, I find that I need better language to describe what is involved. The term "SEO" is so vague and (at least with me) carries so many negative connotations. I have taken to use the following terms. You might find them helpful too.

  • Search Engine Compatibility

    Search engine compatibility is making your site easy for search engines to crawl through and parse. Think of a search engine crawler as an honored guest to your site. You don't want to piss it off by being a bad host with issues like broken links, slow page load times, site outages, broken HTML, flash-based navigation, text in images, unstable urls, a poorly configured robots.txt… Googlebot is a busy little guy with a big web to crawl. Make his life easier.

    I also put title tags and meta description in this category of search engine compatibility because when the search engine tries to display your page in its results, it wants to show a title and description. If those don't exist, then the search engine just has to make it up.

    There are great tools like Google Web Master Tools, BrightEdge, and SiteBeam to help you with search engine compatibility. Use them!

  • Keyword Standardization

    If you want a page to rank highly on a search result, you need to use language that people are likely to search for. Theresa Regli (@TheresaRegli) has a great story from her taxonomy work at Yankee Candle. Apparently, internally Yankee Candle calls those jar candles "Housewarmers;" but the rest of the world calls them "jar candles." Nobody but an employee (or the most loyal customer) would search for a "housewarmer." It looks like Yankee followed Theresa's advice and both terms are used on the site. I think that it is a good idea to have both because some people will see a candle (which is labeled housewarmer) and type housewarmer into a search to buy one.  If you are Yankee Candle, you want your housewarmer/jar candle category landing page to be the top result.

    All this keyword standardization sounds obvious. Of course you want to communicate with words that your audience thinks in.  It is a little less obvious when you are dealing with a global site because you need to know what terms people in different markets are going to search for.

  • Search Engine Exploitation

    Search Engine Exploitation encompasses the dark art of trying to understand how the search algorithms work and then gaming them to your advantage. We don't do this and don't recommend that you do it either. Any advantage you gain will be short-lived and possibly followed by penalties. It is much better to develop good content that a reader would like and work with the search engines to connect their users with it. That makes it a win-win. You should stay away from SEO experts that brag about their intimate knowledge of how the algorithms work and their ability to trick them.

More precise language is always better when communicating. Hopefully, these terms will help you have more productive conversations about increasing traffic from search engines. Start with search engine compatibility and look for the worst offenses. If your site goes down all of the time, fix that as soon as possible. Outages hurt more than SEO. Then verify that the robots can walk through your site. I have had a couple of clients with a robots.txt that denied all access to the site. In both cases, those directives were put in place before the site was launched and never removed. Good navigation also critical. Every page you want indexed needs to be navigable (linked to from somewhere). Once you have made your site accessible to the crawler, then focus on keyword standardization to tune how you communicate with how your audience thinks. This may change over time as you adjust your strategy and also as language evolves so you need to keep on top of that.

Feb 02, 2012

Jan 11, 2010

Writing Titles for SEO

SEO Unfriendly Pithy Titles

Originally uploaded by sggottlieb

Normally I don't worry too much about search engine optimization when I write blog posts. My writing is as much for organizing my own thoughts as it is to drive site traffic. My philosophy on search engine optimization is to produce good content and avoid hindering search engines indexing my site. Good content is clear, well organized, and useful. Not hindering search indexes means being text-rich, minimizing broken links, returning the appropriate status codes, and keeping HTML simple. I am not going to trick anyone to come to www.contenthere.net but if I have something that would useful to someone, I want it to be found.

After reading the title of a recent blog post ("The biggest thing since wood pulp"), I realized that I was breaking my own very lax rules. My attempt at a pithy title was effectively hiding what the article was about: a possible consequence of the Internet's disruption of the newspaper business. I looked at my recent posts (see screenshot) and realized that I do this quite a lot. One of my worst offenses is "Doubt," which offers an alternative to to matrix-based decision-making. Most people probably assume that I am talking about the movie of the same title. Another example is "Another Flower War", which is about a dispute between Magnolia the CMS and Magnolia the social bookmarking site. I know this title was misleading because I was getting comment spam for garden supply retailers.

Pithy titles may be effective in print media when the reader has already made the investment to browse through the publication and is looking for things that spark his interest. They may be marginally effective by causing a curious RSS subscriber to click through. But they are totally counter productive in a search result. Even if the search engine thinks that your article might be relevant to the query, the searcher is likely to assume that your article was listed in error as he scans the results. You have just done the searcher a disservice because you have hidden the answer to his problem.

To some extent, some open source projects share in this problem. Sometimes open source project names are taken from an obscure (nerdy) cultural reference or something to do with the history of the project. Sometimes project names are just intended to be fun. I remember an Optaros colleague telling me how silly he felt when he was talking to a CIO and suggested that they use Wackamole for network monitoring. A lot of insiders have to try and recommend a project with a silly name for it to get credibility in the mainstream.

Overly clever titles are an inside joke that excludes potential new readers. It's a little like giving a tourist directions that reference where a Dunkin' Donuts shop used to be. These names are useful in getting the attention from the old guard but they exclude the newbies. This may be an intentional community dynamic where new members need to demonstrate their commitment in order to get accepted and longstanding members feel bonded by their shared knowledge. But, if the goal is to bring outsiders in, the name of the project or an article should be clear and not overly silly and obscure.

Oct 15, 2009

Shortened URLs and spam filters

One of the more frustrating things about email these days is spam filtering. It stinks to miss important messages that your spam filter thought you shouldn't see. It is even worse when your message gets caught by someone else's spam filter. The latter case makes you paranoid whenever someone doesn't get back to you. You start thinking "did he get my message? Should I send it again?"

Just this morning, a spam filter rejected and sent back one of my emails with the following text:

Heuristic analysis has classified your e-Mail as spam and delivery has been refused. We apologize if your message was misinterpreted. Please check your entire message for any restricted content and then attempt a resend. You may also request addition to our list of pre-approved senders.
"Heuristic analysis" was probably an overstatement. It was probably just looking for keywords. But what could I have written in my email about scheduling a business meeting that would have triggered the rejection? Well, I am relatively certain that the issue is this.... In my email signature (and, in this case, the body too) I have a shortened link (is.gd) to my Google calendar so that the recipient can see when I am free. Personally, I thought this was a great idea because I work with clients who use Exchange or other groupware to schedule meetings when everyone is free. This technique allows the meeting organizer visibility into my calendar without my needing to join their calendaring system. I used a shortener because the link is really long. I use plain text emails so the length of the URL matters to me.

I still think exposing my calendar is a good idea so I figured out a work around. Google allows you to embed a calendar in another page so I just embedded it in page on http://www.contenthere.net that can easily be linked in an email. I am hoping this will lead to a drastic reduction in spam accusations.