What’s in a name? In SEO, potentially a lot

In the world of online business, you can live and die by your name, which for small business owners usually translates into your site’s domain name URL. If you’re a spammer, you likely don’t care about your business name’s URL. Spammers buy domain names by the hundreds (or even thousands) and use each one as a disposable commodity for their nefarious activities. Once a domain name becomes associated with web spam activities, it faces punitive measures from the engines, often rendering it valueless. The spammers simply ditch that domain name and move on to the next, and the spam wars go on and on.

Most legitimate companies, however, value their domain name, and don’t want to do anything to damage it. In fact, these companies invest time, energy, and money to build their online business identities around these domain names.

The domain names of smaller businesses are often the names of the founder/sole proprietor. As such, the names of people often become business names. That’s cool. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. Unless…

How do you spell that?

If the spelling of the words in the personal name are outside of the norm, then it becomes tricky. Worse yet is when the words of the name are pronounced in a familiar way but are spelled differently. If such a business advertises in audio media such as radio, this can be really problematic. And with the Internet, just like with your English teacher in school, spelling counts. Big time.

I’ve recently worked with a couple of such businesses who faced this exact scenario. Both of these businesses recognized early on that the preferred spelling of the business domain names were not what people would naturally type in a browser bar upon hearing the name. So both wisely bought additional domain names as secondary spelling variations of the primary domain. This was a very wise and important step, but neither business finished the job of optimizing the setup so that it would benefit their site for search.

Double Trouble

To main business confidentiality, for business example No. 1, let’s use the fictitious name of Jayne Smythe as the small business proprietor. Let’s say Jayne bought the following variations of her name as domain names (remember, these are fictitious examples!):

  1. jaynesmythe.com
  2. jaynesmith.com
  3. janesmythe.com
  4. janesmith.com

The first domain name in the above list was the intended primary domain name, but it was obvious that any of the four domain names might be used by web users for directly browsing to the site or for search engine navigation queries, with the fourth domain name in the list being the most likely used variation.

To capture all of the potential misspelled web traffic, Jayne set up a full site for each of the four domain names, each completely independent of one another, but each one containing the same content. Worst of all, that site content was heavily updated on a daily basis, so there was quite a bit of logistical work to do to create and update all of the fresh content between the four variations of the same site. I’m not sure who suggested this setup, but I can imagine it must have cost Jayne a good deal of money to maintain this needlessly complex configuration.

Aside from potential maintenance costs, the additional search engine optimization (SEO) problems were multifold. For starters, each site’s domain name was competing for search engine rank against the three other variations for the same keywords, thus diluting the rank potential for the given content. In addition to that, the consequences of having all four site hosting duplicate content meant that when search engines discovered and purged the dupe content in the index, Jayne had no control over which site’s version was maintained. This splintered the source of all that great content between the four sites, making the whole thing a search engine mess.

Before I began my work with this business, I ran a Google search on the No. 4 variation, the most common spelling of the business name, intentionally knowing it was not the intended primary spelling. I found the business listed twice in the top 10! Competition is good, but not when it is against yourself!

I recommended that Jayne immediately stop providing new content to URL variations 2, 3, and 4 of the above list. Instead, she needed to shut down those duplicate sites, and then set up permanent (301) redirects for all URLs within those alternative domains to the primary domain URL. This would stop the costly maintenance work, prevent existing backlinks from breaking, yet also enable the primary URL to earn search engine credit for those misspelled links. I also recommended some significant changes in page metadata (keyword optimizing the <title> tags and adding descriptive text to previously blank <meta> description tags).

Within one month of publishing those changes, the targeted primary domain saw an 11% rise in traffic, consolidated its rankings, and enjoyed a 17% increase in new users. And now when Jayne does a Google search for her misspelled name (no matter which variation), her primary domain earns the #1, #2, and #3 spots out of the top 10. That’s how it’s supposed to be!

Finishing the redirect job right

Business No. 2 was in a similar spot. Using the slightly different fictitious name of Jayne Smith for this example, she wanted web visitors to go to her namesake domain, jaynesmith.com. But realizing that janesmith.com was the more likely spelling web users would type upon hearing the name spoken, she wisely bought that second domain name as well.

Unfortunately, the second domain was set up incorrectly in terms of SEO. For starters, while it did use an HTTP redirect, it erroneously employed a temporary (302) redirect instead of the important-for-SEO 301 redirect.

This detail is important because search engines interpret a temporary 302 redirect as just that – temporary. If a business temporarily sold out of their top-selling XYZ widget, they could set up a 302 for the widget’s sales page URL to point to a “Sorry, temporarily sold out” page URL until new inventory arrives. The use of the 302 maintains the original URL’s search engine rank, so when the temporary redirect is removed, the original URL still has its original rank. But web servers often employ 302 redirects as their default redirect type, and many webmasters unknowingly use this by mistake for all redirects. In the above example, a permanent 301 redirect is in order. A 301 causes search engines to transfer all previously earned ranking value earned by the old URL over to the new URL. A long term use of a 302 does nothing to help the redirect’s target page to consolidate search engine rank value.

The second issue was that the 302 redirected the user to a deep link within the primary domain. Given that the user was attempting to reach the site’s home page, albeit at the secondary domain, this must have led to visitor confusion, bounces, and lost opportunities for conversions.

Again, I recommended the use of a 301 redirect from the second domain to the first, and then target the redirect to point to the home page at the root of the primary domain. Within one month after updating the redirect, Jayne noted a 16% increase in the number of search engine referrals, which then grew to 25% during the next month. She was very pleased with the results.

Canonicalization

The common theme here is domain canonicalization – the process of determining which version of multiple domain names is the primary (or canonical) version. Once identified, webmasters need to drive all of their traffic to the canonical domain name.

Since you can’t control what your users search for or how others link to you, set up your site’s entry points to act as a giant funnel, which gathers many more potential visitors and use redirects to guide them to the site of your choice. When this happens with search bots, you get the added benefit of having the search index content funneled to the one, canonical domain. And given that search engines index content by URLs, you can consolidate all potential ranking dilutions to the canonical URL, maximizing its rank value.

Your business name is your identity. While a unique name can be memorable and thus be very positive, if the words in the name are unfamiliar to your target audience or the words use atypical spellings, it can also be a source of frustration for potential customers who want to find you but cannot. Anticipate their needs, know what they are likely to do, and set up your site’s name so it can be easily found (even if the easy way to spell it is not the intended business name). Once you acquire the various domain names you need, use 301 redirects for all of the alternative names back to the canonical one to ensure that any web searches and erroneously typed URLs in backlinks to your site will still work, thereby benefitting both your customers and you.

There’s even more to canonicalization considerations. We’ll get into those details soon. Until then! red diamond logo

Posted in canonicalization, SEO | Leave a comment

How to write good

Long ago, when I was first starting out in writing, I came across a ridiculous list of writing tips and advice that used ironic humor (which I adore!) to define how to be a better writer. Over the years, I kept building up that list with new finds and added a few of my own pet peeve contributions. To this day I still keep a copy of this page posted in my workspace, as sometimes a small laugh will help melt away temporary stress.

As this blog is also supposed to cover writing web content, I thought I’d have a little fun and share my list of advices on how to write good.

Here are several very important but often forgotten rules of English:

  1. Always avoid annoying alliteration.
  2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
  3. And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction.
  4. Avoid clichés like the plague. (They’re old hat.)
  5. Comparisons are as bad as clichés.
  6. Employ the vernacular.
  7. Keep tabs on the use of idioms.
  8. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
  9. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (usually) unnecessary.
  10. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
  11. Contractions aren’t necessary and shouldn’t be used.
  12. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
  13. Only idiots make generalizations.
  14. Also too, never, ever, use repetitive redundancies.
  15. A writer must not shift your point of view.
  16. Eliminate quotations. As Emerson once said: “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”
  17. Profanity sucks.
  18. Corect speling is esential.
  19. Be more or less specific.
  20. Understatement is always best.
  21. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
  22. One-word sentences? Eliminate.
  23. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
  24. Jims grammar book’s say you shouldnt use apostrophe’s with plural’s, but theyre proper with possessive’s and contraction’s.
  25. Never use a big word when a diminutive one would suffice.
  26. Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of ten or more words, to their antecedents.
  27. Just between you and I, case is important.
  28. Kill all exclamation points!!!
  29. Don’t use no double negatives.
  30. If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: Resist hyperbole; not one writer in a million can use it correctly.
  31. Eliminate commas, that are, not necessary. Parenthetical words however should be enclosed in commas.
  32. Use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.
  33. Puns are for children, not for groan-ups.
  34. The adverb always follows the verb.
  35. The passive voice is to be avoided.
  36. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
  37. Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
  38. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.
  39. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
  40. Who needs rhetorical questions?
  41. Don’t be redundant; don’t more use words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.
  42. A subject should always agree with their predicate.
  43. Do not add emphasis UNLESS it is really, really necessary!
  44. Their are too many people who mix up they’re adjectives and pronouns with there contractions.
  45. Avoid run-on sentences, these are sentences that are strung together, they should be separated by periods.
  46. While sentence fragments are also bad.
  47. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
  48. Try not two confuse the numeral too with its preposition and adverb homonyms to many times.
  49. Use an apostrophe with “it” in it’s proper place (as a contraction) and omit it when its not needed (as a possessive).
  50. Eschew obfuscation.
  51. To loose track of proper word usage will make people think you have a screw lose.
  52. Only use question marks with questions? How will anyone otherwise know you are asking a question.
  53. Sentences without verbs nonsense.
  54. Should have subject, too.

I’ll be back soon with more interesting, helpful, and fun thoughts! red diamond logo

Posted in humor, miscellaneous, writing | 4 Responses

Instant gratification vs. SEO

In my previous post, , I started my baker’s dozen list with a critically important insight: “SEO isn’t an overnight success story or a one-time effort.” It’s page rank at #1 was not coincidental.

This is a very important statement for SEOs to convey to their clients and for webmasters to understand. You need to set expectations. The trouble is that all of us today live in a world of instant gratification. We are used to getting into a car when we want to go somewhere rather than waiting for a ride on the bus. We are used to buying songs from the Internet and listening to them immediately rather than going to the store and buying a record album. We are used to ordering pre-made food (or a poor, approximate facsimile thereof) wrapped in paper (or plastic!) and eating within seconds of paying for it rather than cooking a meal from scratch. Our Internet connections are super-fast (remember 4800 bps modems?), our TVs controlled by wireless remotes (who needs to get off the couch?), we use speed dial on our phones (who memorizes phone numbers anymore?), and we send text messages from those phones from anywhere at any time (why bother to talk?). Who has the time or patience to wait for anything?

So when a client hires a search engine optimization consultant (or when a webmaster performs his or her own SEO work on a site), isn’t it natural to expect instant results? After all, search engines crawl the whole damn web, index all of its contents, and then provide us with the best, most relevant results to our random search queries as fast as our broadband connections can show the page. Results are instantaneous with search engines, right?

Reality check

Well, not so fast, Bucko. Let’s consider what a search engine has to do to be able to serve those results. While serving up query results may be fast, little else is (for most sites, anyway. Active news content sites move faster than most others due to the nature of their content).

Note to my readers: As in much of life if not more so, the SEO world is littered with caveats. I’ll try to provide them as necessary and relevant in my posts.

When an optimized set of pages are published, they have to wait to be crawled. That takes time (sometimes a fair amount of time). Once the crawler comes, it may not crawl the whole site. Of the URLs crawled, it may not index all of them. Of those that are indexed, the content has to be parsed for keywords to create query relevance. Once done, the quality of the content affects how the relevance to those keywords is assessed. Then that content is compared to other, existing indexed content with the same relevance and the rankings are updated. This cycle happens continuously. Your competition is continuously changing their content, perhaps even undergoing their own SEO campaign. And then search engines continuously change their algorithms, which affects the rankings, which URLs are indexed, even if some URLs are crawled.

If you run CNN, your site is constantly crawled for new content. If your site is Amazon, you get a lot of search crawler time and attention across your whole site. Those sites (and similar, high-authority sites) get that degree of attention because searchers actively seek their content. The rest of us, however, have to work hard just to be noticed. Luckily, if you implement your SEO campaign wisely, such as identifying relevant keywords, filling out keyword-rich metadata fields in pages, offering plenty of unique and high-quality content, and building a good set of high-quality backlinks, you’ll create a virtuous circle that runs like this:

Good content –> crawler attention –> searcher interest –> higher rank –> crawler attention –> searcher interest –> higher rank –> … and so on.

If you keep feeding that cycle with new, good content, it’ll thrive like my Italian Sweet Basil plants in my AeroGarden! (Who knew they’d grow to be nearly 3’ tall?) Just understand this cycle ascends more like the path of a coil spring, not a rocket ship. You won’t earn the full benefit overnight. You need time to demonstrate a consistent workflow that the crawlers see, improvements that are reliably there, and earn a resulting strong traffic flow before you earn the full confidence of the search engines they need to have trust in your site.

The 4th dimension of SEO

When talking to clients, I like to use the metaphor of wealth building. Everyone in management understands this. If you are a 25-year-old and invest your first $100 into your first 401(k) plan, you don’t have $2,000,000 overnight (even Bernie Madoff’s scam Ponzi scheme wasn’t that absurdly overhyped). You need time to build your wealth. Investing in SEO is very much like that. If you invest only once, your potential for growth is limited compared to those who invest regularly. Same goes if you invest too little. If you invest in SEO way too aggressively (or worse, illegitimately), you can lose everything and be left with nothing of value. Invest wisely and allow time for the investment to work.

Now if you have a client who just insists that they must be at the top of the first page of a search engine results page (SERP) with little effort, there is only one sure-fire and legitimate way to do that – you need to buy search ads! But don’t misunderstand me here. Buying search ads in Google and/or Bing won’t elevate your “natural” or “organic” search ranking with them one iota. But if you bid well, you’ll be the top listing in the sponsored links section for a relevant query SERP! But, of course, that goes away the moment you stop your search engine marketing campaign.

So, in your attempt to earn the #1 rank in the organic SERP list, you either need to optimize for the long tail of search (where there is much less competition – and business opportunity – on a per-keyword basis) or you must do everything better than every one of your competitors for head search terms (aka the most popular – and competitive – keywords for a topic). Even if that was possible, nothing is guaranteed. And because nothing is guaranteed, the best bet is to resign yourself to the reality that legitimate SEO takes time to earn full benefits. Remember: Wealth-building. AeroGarden basil. Yeah, you get it.

So my friends, do the hard work, be consistent in your efforts, stay legitimate, monitor your site’s traffic and/or conversions over time (and then plan to revisit your SEO efforts on a regular basis to further improve upon your last effort). It’s all good.

But there’s really no silver bullet with SEO. However, there are a lot of ways to shoot yourself in the foot by trying over-aggressively (I’ll cover that later on). Time and good work are your best bets for sustained success. Pass on the word.

More thoughts on my soon. See you again shortly. red diamond logo

Posted in management, SEO | 1 Response

Hello World? Really?

A woman sitting on a road cries amid the ruins of the city of Natori, Japan.

Reprinted from MSNBC, photographer Asahi Shimbun of Reuters

This was supposed to be the first post of my new, professional blog concerning my interests in search engine optimization and web content development strategies. I have so many stories to tell, advice to share, and, quite frankly, still so many things to learn about all this that I was eager to get the ball rolling. I somehow found a rare, unclaimed .COM domain name that contained the term “SEO” that was not 57 characters long. I bought the domain, set up the blog platform, found a suitable, plain, unobtrusive blog theme to play with, and got it all set up to go. Then out of the blue, the world shook like hell, and right now all of this seems pretty damn unimportant.

Instead of mulling over what the ancient (at least in terms of the computer industry) and silly concept of “Hello World” means to me, I am in shock. I am horrified, humbled, and devastated by the events taking place right now in Japan as I write this first post. So rather than using this inaugural post to talk about me and my work, I am going to keep this short and to the point.

If you can do so, please join me in helping the people in Japan affected by the enormous Sendai earthquake, subsequent tsunami, and possible nuclear reactor disaster(s). These folks need our help right now. Please visit one or more of the following charitable sites:

There are many other worthy charities that are working hard to come to the aid of the Japanese people – sorry I could not list them all. Sadly, there are also a few sleazeballs on the Internet who are using this catastrophe as a means to scam well-meaning people out of their money. Please watch out for these lowlifes. Please go directly to the charity site of your choice to donate rather than responding to possible email spam.

We’ll soon get back to our regularly scheduled programming, but I just had to acknowledge these tragic world events. Be back at you soon. red diamond logo

Posted in miscellaneous | Leave a comment
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