Saturday, December 16, 2006

The 80/20 Of Search Engine Marketing - Part 2

In The 80/20 Of Search Engine Marketing - Part 1 I covered the first four of the Top 8 Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Techniques as explained by Brad Fallon. The first four methods were applicable to On-Page SEO, techniques you can manually apply to your website internally. The remaining four that I am about to discuss cover Off-Page SEO, which in my mind is a lot more difficult to control since you are dealing with external variables.

As I mentioned in part one, these techniques come from a special seminar recording that I received as part of my welcome package for joining Perry Marshall’s Renaissance Club.

Off Page SEO
If you are at all familiar with search engine optimization you are probably more interested in Off-Page techniques. With a bit of study and practice you can quickly grasp the most important On-Page variables to play with on your website. There is always more you can do of course, but as long as we are talking 80/20 rules there are only a handful of really important On-Page things and most of them were covered in part one of this article series.

Off-Page SEO in my mind is more important than On-Page. You can get your On-Page content perfectly optimized but without any good Off-Page SEO your On-Page efforts are wasted. No website can be a success in natural search engine results unless there are links flowing into it. This is what Off-Page SEO is all about, getting good quality links coming through.

Quite frankly I don’t believe there are any consistent, easy and affordable ways to conduct Off-Page SEO, and that is why I was so interested to hear what Brad was going to cover in his presentation. To be honest I wasn’t blown away by his comments. It didn’t cover anything new to me but I have been reading about SEO for a number of years, including some of Brad’s other materials, but it did reaffirm what I currently practice in my own Off-Page SEO activities and it’s always good to be reminded of what is smart practice.

Let’s go through the final four of the Top 8 Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Techniques so you can also do a mental check list and be certain you are following what the experts do.

5. Links and PageRank
Brad mumbled this first point out but later it was clarified that he said links. Really his Off-Page SEO technique discussion was more of a gradual break down than a top 4 list, with each point flowing into the next (which you will see is mimicked in this article) so the first place to logically start is links.

Links to your site is the most important Off-Page SEO technique. Simple but true. Incoming links are what determines your natural search engine placement. Yes all the On-Page SEO techniques will influence the variables but the links will determine the strength of your web pages to compete for the top places in search engine results pages. The more strength, the higher in the search engines your web pages will be. Nuff said.

PageRank
If you read my blog you should be well and truly familiar with PageRank. Most of my SEO posts are laden with the term but just in case you don’t know about PageRank head over and read this article to get yourself introduced to the topic - PageRank Explained - Keeping SEO Simple - this is one of my most popular articles and it should answer your basic questions.

Brad Fallon did not do anything more than a basic introduction to PageRank but he did make one interesting comment that I think is worth repeating. He gave a typical scenario of a person conducting search engine marketing for a website (or a company hired to do so), which usually starts with submitting to directories and hunting around for link exchange partners. Not exactly the most effective means of SEO because you tend to get low quality and low PageRank incoming links.

Brad went on to note the perils of over optimizing, which often happens when techniques like low quality link exchanges and free directories are over used, generating thousands duplicate anchor text incoming links from sites with low PageRank. He stated that the search engines don’t reward these techniques well, but strangely enough these are often considered the foundations of SEO campaigning but don’t lead to great results.

What Is A Good SEO Plan?
A more sound search engine marketing strategy is all about quality over quantity. Get your site listed in the best directories - DMOZ (the open directory project) and Yahoo! - and then slowly, but consistently build incoming links from good relevant sites. This pattern is considered more natural and hence is rewarded with better organic search engine results. Yes it takes longer and you better be a patient bunny, but it will lead to better results in the long term. It’s all about spending your time finding the 20% of links that will give you the 80% of results.

Brad pointed out that 1000 low quality and low PageRank backlinks generated in a short period of time will not be nearly as good as a handful of high PageRank incoming links added over many months. The emphasis is on oh-na-tur-al. Don’t follow the crowd and exchange links with anybody and everyone that comes asking for a link (perhaps I should drop my link exchange practices for this blog?) and don’t spend all your time asking for links from any site you can find that is remotely relevant to yours.

How To Get High Quality Links
It can be especially difficult for a commercial site with no interesting content (for example, nothing but sales pages) to get quality incoming links. No self-respecting, high PageRank site will have a good reason (besides money) to link to a site that is just selling something. Okay yes Apple will probably have no problems getting quality links to its iPod pages but that’s obviously not a position most businesses enjoy.

Unfortunately I don’t have a full-proof method for gaining quality links other than what I have already written about before and what is repeated over and over again all over the Internet - Content is King. The better the content the better the backlinks. Of course you can’t expect quality backlinks to come immediately unless you are willing to buy them. You need to slowly build up an audience that will eventually lead you to enjoy some exposure in the eyes of the quality sites and quality backlinks will come. The best thing is that links from one popular site tends to give you exposure to the owners of other popular sites and momentum will build.

If you need a practical example of how to get high quality backlinks using content read the second part of this article - Smarter Online Marketing. This article explains how one of my blog articles enjoyed some major exposure around the web resulting in lots of links.

In the case of commercial sites the same rules hold true, content will bring in links and visitors. With a commercial site the secret sauce is great content that is tightly aligned with your target market. Whitepapers, articles, free reports, resources, anything and everything you can come up with that will bring your market to your site. If you have just launched a new site put together a whiz-bang whitepaper, it doesn’t have to be too long, just a few pages of really really good stuff and make it available on your site for free.

Once you have the resources on your site you just need to get out there and tell everyone. At the moment one of the best ways is to comment on blogs and forums where your target market congregate. As I mentioned above, if one popular site owner reads your whitepaper, thinks it’s great and tells her audience, your job may be done already. This alone may bring in hundreds of backlinks and definitely lots of real visitors. It’s not easy but good content will lead to good results - it’s almost guaranteed!

6. Page Reputation
Back to the wisdom of Brad Fallon. Page Reputation is a relatively new concept in the eyes of the web public and has been gaining more and more credence as an important SEO consideration. In a nutshell reputation refers to the value of the sites linking to your site and the value of the links linking to the sites linking to your site. Confusing isn’t it!

Every website has a reputation value and incoming links determine that reputation, however it’s not about the number of incoming links but the quality and reputation of the sites that link. The reputation of a mainstream news site, for example CNN, is quite high and will have incoming links from other high reputation sites. If you get a link from CNN then your reputation will rise. Basically it’s measure of a site’s value based on the network of sites linking to that site going back multiple levels of the network.

That’s about as far as my understanding of the concept goes and in my mind ties right back in with the quality over quantity theory.

7. Anchor Text
Number three in the Off-Page SEO technique list is anchor text. Anchor text is the text used to link to your site and like your internal linking structure, your external link text is very important but often harder to manipulate. You don’t decide how people link to your site, all you can do is encourage people to link in a certain way.

This issue is all about your keywords. First you have to know what keywords you want people to use to link to your pages and then you need to figure out ways to make sure people use those keywords. For the basic link exchanges you usually communicate with the person providing you with a link and stipulate what anchor text to use. However most of the valuable links will come in response to you writing some good content and it will be quite random, the linking person won’t approach you to ask how they should link to you, they will just slap up a link as they feel appropriate.

In most cases people linking to your pages will use the title of your article, or part of the title, as the anchor text and as such you need to be extra careful when deciding how to name your articles. Yes usability and marketing comes first - you want to grab the attention of human beings with a tempting title, but if you can get some good keywords in there too you will be killing two birds with one stone. Other areas to consider are your name (now don’t go changing your name just for SEO!) and your website’s title as these are often used as anchor text.

I wouldn’t stress about external anchor text too much otherwise you can become bogged down in little details. Often the people linking to you will use completely random text that means absolutely nothing (for example - visit Entrepreneur’s Journey - click here - “click here” is not good anchor text) but at least will bring in human visitors. Just stay consciously aware of the importance of keywords in anchor text whenever you produce new content.

8. Link Popularity
Lastly Brad noted link popularity as the final point in his top 8 SEO technique list. Link popularity is all about the numbers, not the quality. This is purely how many incoming links there are to your website.

The one interesting point Brad mentioned in this section of his presentation was the difference between Google and Yahoo! regarding the top variables in their algorithms.

Google - 1.Title Tags, 2.PageRank and 3.PageRep
Yahoo! - 1.Title Tags, 2.Keyword Density and 3.Link Popularity

Now I can’t verify that in any manner but it does make for some interesting discussion. This shows that Google cares more about quality and Yahoo! cares more about quantity, but I’m sure there is a lot more to it than that. I’ll leave it up to you to test this theory on your sites.

Link Relevancy and ‘Do Keywords In Domain Names Matter?’
Before I wrap this article up I want to make one comment regarding how relevant backlinks have to be and whether keywords in domain names matter. Brad made some interesting comments about these topics.

My assumption was that relevancy meant that the pages your incoming links come from should be relevant to a pretty high degree, for example, Entrepreneur’s Journey would appreciate links from business, marketing, SEO and entrepreneurship sites but universities, sports clubs and cooking sites would not be relevant. Brad stated that Google’s relevancy scope is quite wide, as wide as the top categories in the DMOZ directory. A site that on first inspection may not be relevant may actually in fact offer some relevancy even if the connection is obscure or drilled down (is every link from a blog relevant to a blog simply because they all belong in the “blog” category? I think not). It’s a hard thing to judge given that determining whether a result (say a search engine ranking increase) has a direct correlation to a single backlink is next to impossible.

What was really interesting and actually makes total sense is what Brad said about domain names. One of the age old questions in SEO is whether keywords in your domain name are important. Brad straight out said that the Google algorithms do not consider keywords in the domain name, however when people link to you they often use your domain name and if your keywords are in your domain name then the anchor text people use to link to you will contain your keywords. In a round about way, yes, keywords in domain names matter.

Conclusion
There you have it, the top 8 search engine optimization techniques as presented by Brad Fallon, one of the web’s most respected search engine marketers, along with lots of additional commentary thrown in from yours truly. For some people there won’t have been much new material but what these two articles do provide is a solid list of the 80/20 variables that you should work on if your organic search engine results are business critical. For solopreneurs with little time on you hands knowing what the key two-to-three things you need to worry about makes for efficient business.

A few people have emailed me questioning the validity of Brad Fallon and I can say one thing only - Jay Abraham would not have selected him as the presenter on search engine optimization if he wasn’t the real deal. If you don’t have any confidence in Jay Abraham then perhaps you need to start studying business and marketing.

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