Monday, November 13, 2006

From the AdTech Blog: Linking and Optimization for Better Rankings and More Traffic

Linking and Optimization for Better Rankings and More Traffic

An intense session on how search engines work. Mike Grehan, "Global Search Marketing Nomad," wrote the first book on SEM and started with a series of bad joke. Bad jokes aside, it was a great dissection of how things work.

The most frequent question Grehan is asked is, "Can you help me get into top 10 of major search engines?" Why should you be? The answer is difficult, but he tried to cover the major points of SEM. He covered a lot of ground in this session. Here's what he talked about (sort of like the notes I took in class).

1. The 4 Ps of Online Marketing
Positioning: Using paid and organic search to drive traffic
Permission: Opening a dialogue with potential new customers. CRM. Get an e-mail address.
Partnership: Affiliate marketing, co-promotion, sponsorship and joint venture.
Performance: Measuring the success of your web site and online marketing strategies.
2. The Search Marketing Mix
Ask yourself the following questions. Who are we? What do we do? What are we known for a? What's your message? Then list the top ten phrases which cover the content of your website. Each phrase (or search term) should be two words or more. Talk to people OUTSIDE the organization! Grehan once had a discussion with a bank client who said "we lend more money than anybody else in America", so "Lend money" should be the keywords. Wrong. The keywords should be "borrow money". Put yourself in the mind of the searcher. Talk to telemarketing people to get a handle on this.
3. Preparing a Campaign
Be sure you have a unique page of good quality content for each search term you want to be found under. Remember: Search engines return web pages - not websites! You need to optimize every page for search
4. How Search Engines Work
There are six ways search engines work:
Pay per click
Cost per click
Pay for consideration (like Yahoo, one of our editors will visit your site within 7 days)
Pay for inclusion (Yahoo, Inktomi)
Trusted feed (XML feed for e-commerce sites)

It's a good idea to use a norobots.txt file to exclude landing pages for campaigns, for example. Search engines will penalize you for duplicate content.

Getting to the top 4 listings is even more imperative. A lot of times with Google where there were 2 paid listings now there are 3, which push organic listings down "below the fold". According to a recent study consumer behavior. People would prefer to reformulate a query rather than scroll down.

Organic results are a bit like doing PR. Pay per click is like buying targeted classified ads.

Where do people look? Upper left side of search results pages dominate--and in fact, more than 70% of clicks take place in organic results.

How do search engines work? Andrew Broder was at Altavista and has formulated a "taxonomy of search":
Navigational: when a surfer really wants to reach a particular website. This goes directly to the website.
Informational: really looking for factual information on the web. Looking for specific info, very close to classical information retrieval. Like the purchase cycle: start with something ambiguous, then refine. User intent is key.
Transactional: the surfer wants to do something on the web, through the web. Shop, download files, find a service like yellow pages.

Grehan recommended that we stop obsessing over crawler activity. Crawlers follow links and collect text, period. They have only the tiniest influence over ranking (an off page factor). It's possible to rank at a search engine without ever having a page crawled.

Most search engines use a "vector space model": term frequency in the document, how many times does it appear on this page? When writing copy for web pages, be as focused as you can. Keyword position and proximity are key. Use:
Keywords in title
Keywords in headline
Keywords in body copy
Keywords in alt tags
Text links and/or link to site map

Remember, you're writing for a "man and a machine." The best analogy is to think that a search engine is like a blind person reading a newspaper: straight to the title, then the headline, then the body copy. Here are some more tips:
Metatags: Fine for controlled homogenous corpus/collection e.g. a digital library. Very poor for heterogeneous corpus/collection with no standard/control
Don't worry about Page Rank - He calls this "GAS - Google Anxiety Syndrome". Pagerank is green fairy dust.

Links. However, are important. Hyperlink analysis algorithms make these eassumptions
1. a hyperlink from a to b is a recommendation of b by a
2. if page a and b are connected by a link, they might be on the same topic
3. if c links to to two pages, a and be are co-cited and related
You need to get links from cyber communities--one great link from inside your community is worth a thousand lesser links. You have total control over who you link to . Reciprocal linking works.

Grehan concluded with his "10 essentials about linkage":
1. Remember, it's quality material which other content sites want to link to. When they link to you, their reputation goes with it. Content is king. Go to your website and write 10 reasons why people should link to your site. If you can only find, 5, you should rethink your website.
2. Search engines look at anchor text in links and text close to the links to give them a clue as to what the existing page is about, and also what the target page is about. "Click here" is the most used and abused anchor text. Don't just say "click here". Say "click here for everything you wanted to know about blue widgets". The target page should have these words as well. Go to Google and search for "click here." The #1 result is the Adobe Acrobat download page, yet click here doesn't appear on this page--everybody's links say "Click here to download Adobe Acrobat." Googling "miserable failure" will take you to George Bush's home page (which has no mention of "miserable failure"). Do it within reason.
3. Search Engines have already decided who they think is important. So use search engines to find linking partners. Use this syntax: But it's better to use a keyword/phrase search. It's a good idea to look at your competitors this way.
4. Don't dilute your quality content by trying to spread it out over the whole site if it's not necessary. Create one good, comprehensive page that others will feel compelled to link to or which you can suggest as the most authoritative page on the subject matter to which to link.
5. A well-run affiliate program can bring you plenty of traffic and deliver plenty of sales. But an affiliate program could also cause havoc with your linking strategy. A redirected link via commission junction or clickbank can deplete the power of any direct links you may have already had
6. Do be choosy about who you link to and who links back to you.
7. Don't try and fake your linkage doata. Don't create spam islands ready to be blown out of the water. SEs can see if links grow too quickly and kill you.
8. How do you ask for a link? Provide a value proposition
9. The links business is very time consuming. Should I get someone else to do it? Maybe even buy a robot to do it. Weigh this carefully.
10. Unless you want to be a business directory don't waste time building a link directory--build your content and your business.

At the end of a whirlwind session, Grehan gave this last piece of advice. Keep track of your backlink data. Keep a spreadsheet of your rankings. If you drop down, check links. One of his clients dropped from a top position to somewhere in the low thousandth position. A link on a news site can break if the site changes content management systems, and broken links plummet in rankings. According to Grehan, all it took was a call to the publisher to fix the link, and after a few days the position was restored.

I guess it works well if you've done your homework as he recommends.

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