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Picking a Domain Name


FOR NEW SITES: Ponder your domain name choice. Depending on your brand strategy, it should either be highly brandable or have your primary keywords in it. Consider buying different domain names for each targeted language or niche in your market.


Domain Registration & Hosting


Choose an ICANN accredited registrar. Register a .com as soon as possible. Register a country’s top-level domain if your primary market is local in nature. Choose a host that supports the technology you will be using (ASP or PHP, etc.).


Keyword Selection


Use keyword tools and customer feedback to find the most targeted keyword phrases for your site. Develop grouped themes of keywords that reflect the different sections of your site. Keeping within a grouped theme, choose different keywords to target each page.


Page Optimization


Put your chosen words for each page in your page title tags. Make sure your page title tag text is unique to each page. Write a description for the meta description tag. Make sure your description is unique to each page. Use only one H1 header per page, and target similar keyword phrases as the ones you targeted when writing the page title. Use subheaders H2 and H3 on your page when necessary. Use bulleted lists and bolding to make content easier to read. Make sure your text is written for human consumption—not bots.


Home Page Optimization


Make sure your home page builds credibility and directs consumers to the most important parts of your site. Target your most competitive keyword on your home page or a page that is well integrated into your site. Link to major theme pages from your home page. Link to your home page from every sub page.


Site Optimization


Use text-based navigation. If you already have, or insist on using, graphic navigation, use descriptive alt text on the images, and link to every primary page from your sub pages in the footer of the sub pages. Use descriptive keyword breadcrumb navigation. Make a site map. Check the text that links pages of your site to make sure it’s descriptive whenever possible. Link to resources outside your own site that improve each user's experience. Deep link to related articles and content from your page copy. Rely as little as possible on the site navigation. Instead, guide your visitor through your site with links in the active content portion of the site. Link to, and use, a cascading style sheet from every page. Avoid duplicate content issues. Ensure that each page has significantly unique content that does not exist on other pages on your site or other sites.


Link Building


Make sure your site has something that other webmasters in your niche would be interested in linking to. Create content that people will be willing to link at even if it is not directly easy to monetize. These linkworthy pages will lift the authority and rankings of all pages on your site. When possible, get your keywords in the link text pointing to your site. Register with, participate in, or trade links with topical hubs and related sites. Be in the discussion or at least be near the discussion. Look for places to get high-quality free links from (like local libraries or chambers of commerce). Produce articles and get them syndicated to more authoritative sites. Participate in forums to learn about what your potential consumers think is important. Issue press releases with links to your site. Leave glowing testimonials for people and products you really like. Start an interesting and unique blog and write about your topics, products, news, and other sites in your community. Comment on other sites with useful relevant and valuable comments. Sponsor charities, blogs, or websites related to your site. Consider renting links if you are in an extremely competitive industry. Mix your link text up, if you can. Survey your vertical and related verticals. What ideas/tools/articles have become industry standard tools or well-cited information? What ideas are missing?


The Goal of Search Engines & How They Work


Search Engine Relevancy


Many people think search engines have a hidden agenda. This simply is not true. The goal of the search engine is to provide high-quality content to people searching the Internet. Search engines with the broadest distribution network sell the most advertising space. As I write this, Google is considered the search engine with the best relevancy. Their technologies power the bulk of web searches.


The Problem Listing a New Site


The biggest problem new websites have is that search engines have no idea they exist. Even when a search engine finds a new document, it has a hard time determining its quality. Search engines rely on links to help determine the quality of a document. Some engines, such as Google, also trust websites more as they age. The following bits may contain a few advanced search topics. It is fine if you do not necessarily understand them right away; the average webmaster does not need to know search technology in depth. Some might be interested in it, so I have written a bit about it with those people in mind. (If you are new to the web and uninterested in algorithms, you may want to skip past this to the search result image on page 35.) I will cover some of the parts of the search engine in the next few pages while trying to keep it somewhat basic. It is not important that you fully understand all of it (in fact, I think it is better for most webmasters if they do not worry about things like Inverse Document Frequency, as I ranked well for competitive SEO- related terms without knowing anything about the technical bits of search); however, I would not feel right leaving the information out


Parts of a Search Engine


While there are different ways to organize web content, every crawling search engine has the same basic parts:


• a crawler •


an index (or catalog) •


a search interface Crawler (or Spider)


The crawler does just what its name implies. It scours the web following links, updating pages, and adding new pages when it comes across them. Each search engine has periods of deep crawling and periods of shallow crawling. There is also a scheduler mechanism to prevent a spider from overloading servers and to tell the spider what documents to crawl next and how frequently to crawl them. Rapidly changing or highly important documents are more likely to get crawled frequently. The frequency of crawl should typically have little effect on search relevancy; it simply helps the search engines keep fresh content in their index. The home page of CNN.com might get crawled once every ten minutes. A popular, rapidly growing forum might get crawled a few dozen times each day. A static site with little link popularity and rarely changing content might only get crawled once or twice a month. The best benefit of having a frequently crawled page is that you can get your new sites, pages, or projects crawled quickly by linking to them from a powerful or frequently changing page.


The Index


The index is where the spider-collected data are stored. When you perform a search on a major search engine, you are not searching the web, but the cache of the web provided by that search engine’s index.


Reverse Index


Search engines organize their content in what is called a reverse index. A reverse index sorts web documents by words. When you search Google and it displays 1- 10 out of 143,000 websites, it means that there are approximately 143,000 web pages that either have the words from your search on them or have inbound links containing them. Also, note that search engines do not store punctuation, just words. The following is an example of a reverse index and how a typical search engine might classify content. While this is an oversimplified version of the real thing, it does illustrate the point. Imagine each of the following sentences is the content of a unique page:


Keyword Density, Term Frequency & Term Weight Term Frequency (TF)


is a weighted measure of how often a term appears in a document. Terms that occur frequently within a document are thought to be some of the more important terms of that document. If a word appears in every (or almost every) document, then it tells you little about how to discern value between documents. Words that appear frequently will have little to no discrimination value, which is why many search engines ignore common stop words (like the, and, and or). Rare terms, which only appear in a few or limited number of documents, have a much higher signal-to-noise ratio. They are much more likely to tell you what a document is about. Inverse Document Frequency (IDF) can be used to further discriminate the value of term frequency to account for how common terms are across a corpus of documents. Terms that are in a limited number of documents will likely tell you more about those documents than terms that are scattered throughout many documents. When people measure keyword density, they are generally missing some other important factors in information retrieval such as IDF, index normalization, word proximity, and how search engines account for the various element types. (Is the term bolded, in a header, or in a link?) Search engines may also use technologies like latent semantic indexing to mathematically model the concepts of related pages. Google is scanning millions of books from university libraries. As much as that process is about helping people find information, it is also used to help Google understand linguistic patterns. If you artificially write a page stuffed with one keyword or keyword phrase without adding many of the phrases that occur in similar natural documents you may not


show up for many of the related searches, and some algorithms may see your document as being less relevant. The key is to write naturally, using various related terms, and to structure the page well.


Multiple Reverse Indexes


Search engines may use multiple reverse indexes for different content. Most current search algorithms tend to give more weight to page title and link text than page copy. For common broad queries, search engines may be able to find enough quality matching documents using link text and page title without needing to spend the additional time searching through the larger index of page content. Anything that saves computer cycles without sacrificing much relevancy is something you can count on search engines doing. After the most relevant documents are collected, they may be re-sorted based on interconnectivity or other factors. Around 50% of search queries are unique, and with longer unique queries, there is greater need for search engines to also use page copy to find enough relevant matching documents (since there may be inadequate anchor text to display enough matching documents).


Meta Tags


Meta tags were used to help search engines organize the Web. Documents listed keywords and descriptions that were used to match user queries. Initially these tags were somewhat effective, but over time, marketers exploited them and they lost their relevancy. People began to stuff incredibly large amounts of data (which was frequently off topic) into these tags to achieve high search engine rankings. Porn and other high- margin websites published meta tags like “free, free, free, free, Disney, free.” Getting a better ranking simply meant you repeated your keywords a few more times in the meta tags. Banners


What is Search Engine Spam?


Search engines make billions of dollars each year selling ads. Most search engine traffic goes to the free, organically listed sites. The ratio of traffic distribution is going to be keyword dependent and search engine dependent, but I believe about 85% of Google’s traffic clicks on the organic listings. Most other search engines display ads a bit more aggressively than Google does. In many of those search engines, organic listings get around 70% of the traffic. Some sites rank well on merit, while others are there due exclusively to ranking manipulation.


In many situations, a proper SEO campaign can provide a much greater ROI than paid ads do. This means that while search engine optimizers—known in the industry as SEOs—and search engines have business models that may overlap, they may also compete with one another for ad dollars. Sometimes SEOs and search engines are friends with each other, and, unfortunately, sometimes they are enemies.


When search engines return relevant results, they get to deliver more ads. When their results are not relevant, they lose market share. Beyond relevancy, some search engines also try to bias the search results to informational sites such that commercial sites are forced into buying ads. I have had a single page that I have not actively promoted randomly send me commission checks for over $1,000. There is a huge sum of money in manipulating search results. There are ways to improve search engine placement that go with the goals of the search engines, and there are also ways that go against them. Quality SEOs aim to be relevant, whether or not they follow search guidelines.


Many effective SEO techniques may be considered somewhat spammy. Like anything in life, you should make an informed decision about which SEO techniques you want to use and which ones you do not (and the odds are, you care about learning the difference, or you wouldn’t be reading this). You may choose to use highly aggressive, “crash and burn” techniques, or slower, more predictable, less risky techniques. Most industries will not require extremely aggressive promotional techniques. Later on I will try to point out which techniques are which.


Keywords


What are Keywords?


Keywords are phrases under which you would want your website to be found in search engines. Keywords are typically two-to-five-word phrases you expect people to search for to find your website. Oftentimes, corporate climates force people to refer to things using special phrases. Keywords are not about what you call your stuff. Keywords are what Joe average surfer (or your prospective site visitors) may type in a search box. How do You Learn Best? Some people learn better from video than from reading text. If you like video, you may prefer to look at the Dan Thies keyword research video he mentions near the end of his post on this page:


Focusing a Keyword


When people tell you to target the word free, they are out of their minds. That single word is too general and has too much competition. I just did a search on Yahoo! for free and it returned 749,000,000 results. That is over 10% of the web trying to use free as a sales pitch. I am not saying that free should not be on your page; it is a compelling offer on many of mine. I am saying that keywords should define the product or idea. Free alone just does not get this done.


Keyword Phrases


If free isn’t a keyword, then what is? Keywords are typically two-to-five-word phrases you expect people to search for to find your website. What would you Single word keywords are usually not well-targeted and are hard to rank for. Longer keywords are easier to rank well for and typically have better conversion rates. expect people to type in the browser to find your site? If you were looking for your product, what would you type? What types of problems does your product or service solve? Those answers are likely good keyword phrases.


Keyword Length

A longer search phrase is typically associated with better targeting and increased consumer desire. Some people say shorter keyword searchers are shoppers and longer keyword searchers are buyers. As you add various relevant descriptive copy to pages, you are more likely to appear in search results similar to your keywords that do not exactly match your more generic root-term keywords. Most good keyword phrases are generally two to five words.


Keyword Value Pyramid

One of the most fatal flaws of many SEO campaigns is that people think they need to rank well for one term or a few generic terms. Generic terms may occasionally convert, but most strong-converting search terms are specific.


If you read SEO forums you often hear many posts about something like a San Diego real estate agent no longer ranking for a generic term such as real estate. Since the term is too generic for most of his target market (and his service would not be fitting for most people searching for that term), it makes sense that search engines would not want to show his site in those search results. As search continues to evolve, it will get better at filtering out untargeted or inappropriate sites.


Targeting generic terms outside of your area means that you need to use aggressive techniques to try to rank. There are several problems that can go along with being too aggressive:


• Targeting exceptionally generic terms may not add much value, since the leads are not strongly qualified. Paying extra to rank for more generic terms may not be a cost that is justified unless you can resell those leads at a profit. • Being exceptionally aggressive raises your risk profile and makes your site more likely to fluctuate in rankings when new search algorithms are rolled out. • Some of the best value is at the bottom of the keyword pyramid. If you spend too much time focused too broadly on the top you may miss some of the exceptional value on the bottom.


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