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After writing my first two PubCon South 2011 posts (#1, #2), I still had a lot of notes left over. There was a considerable amount of good info that didn’t make it into the first 2 posts because it didn’t fit the “theme” of either. I’m going to do my best to put all of that information into some sort of digestable form here.

Keyword Research

Sometimes it’s good to go back to basics and see what core tools/methods other people are using. The same core elements are always revisited, but seeing as how this stuff is at the core of what we do as SEOs, it’s important to revisit and re-evaluate day-to-day strategies. Let’s start off with keyword research. This is (or should be) one of the first steps in any new SEO campaign, so it’s probably a good starting point.

Michael Black reminds us that every optimization effort should still begin with keyword research. What does your keyword research routine look like? Perhaps you’ve overlooked one of the following:

  • Client Input – This is a great place to start. Clients may not always be right but its important to get their opinion.
  • Analytics – Find out which keywords are currently sending traffic. Even though they might not be the best keywords to optimize for, they can still provide some insight.
  • Google Webmaster Tools – Some of the data provided by GWT is similar to what can be found in Analytics, but you can also look at things like rising keywords/searches. Watch this list of keywords evolve as Google attempts to determine what your site is about and what it should list for.
  • Google Adwords Keyword Tool – While this tool isn’t nearly as useful as it used to be (read more about that here), it still shouldn’t be overlooked. Use this tool to get search volume for keywords and get a feel for how competitive they are.
  • Google Search Suggest – Type one of your keywords into Google search and see what type of queries they suggest.
  • Onsite Search Data – Are you monitoring your site’s internal search? This is something that shouldn’t be overlooked. When people use your internal site search functionality, they’re telling you what they’d like to find on your site. Lots of valuable information can be pulled from here – and this can go beyond the realm of SEO.
  • Competitors – If you’re still struggling for keyword ideas, why not take a look at what the competition is up to? Take a look at their title tags and other areas that people tend to target for onsite SEO (URLs, navigation, etc). If you want to take it a step further, take a look at the anchor text that’s being used to link to your competitors. If you’re seeing some of the same terms pop up repeatedly, they’re most likely building links for these terms.

Keyword Competition Ratio

“Competition ratio” comes in handy when you’re trying to prioritize keywords. You can calculate the competition ratio by searching for a term, and then dividing the number of results by the monthly search volume (from the Google AdWords Tool) for that term. If there are 25,000,000 results for a term, and that term is searched for 5,200 times per month, the competition ratio is 4,808:1.

You can use competition ratio to help set expectations. Showing a client a keyword list with competition ratios will help them to understand how difficult it will be to list for specific terms.

Don’t Put All Of Your Keywords In One Basket

Carolyn Shelby reminded us that a homepage cannot rank #1 for every single keyword phrase in the universe. If you want to list for a wide variety of keywords, you need to create landing pages for them. If your homepage is about the common cold, and you want to list for terms like “cold symptoms”, “cold remedies” and “avoiding a cold”, your best bet is to create landing pages for each one of them.

Want to know which of your pages Google thinks are the most important for a specific topic/term? Do a domain search (query “site:yourdomain.com [keyword]”). The results are in the order that Google thinks are most important for that keyword. When searching for “SEO” on the Wpromote domain, Google (correctly) feels that our SEO page is the most relevant page on our domain for that query. If your results are not in the correct order, change your internal link structure to compensate.

Carolyn also recommended building as much on-page optimization into your templates as possible. This minimizes human error and ensures consistency and standardization. It also makes changes down the line that much more efficient – they’ll be much easier to implement. I can say from experience that this is good advice. Having an SEO “template” for product pages on an ecommerce site, for example, with “slots” for keyword variations in the page title, H1 tag, breadcrumb, product image alt title, etc made the optimization of new products a breeze.

Internal Anchor Text Distribution

Internal anchor text is still a valuable tool in your arsenal. Place links to other sections of your site inside product body text! To find opportunities for this:

  • Go to uk.yahoo.com, search for site:yourdomain.com + your keyword phrase. This will show all of the (indexed) pages on your site that contain that particular keyword phrase.
  • Then do a search for site:yourdomain.com + “your keyword phrase” -link:http://yourdomain.com/landing-page-for-kw-phrase (this being the URL that you’d like to list for that keyword phrase). This query will show all of the pages on your site that contain that keyword phrase, but don’t link to the landing page.
  • Each one of these is an opportunity for a link to that URL using that keyword. Take advantage of these opportunities!

    Browser Testing

    Check your analytics data to see which browsers are most commonly used when visiting your site – you’d be surprised at how this data differs from one industry to the next. Once you’ve determined which browsers are most commonly used on your site, use a tool like BrowserShots to see how your site loads in those browsers. If you want to take it a step further, you can also use BrowserShots see how the site loads in different browser/operating system configurations.

    Is it worth your time? Use traffic data and conversion rate to justify the expense of making a site load properly in a particular browser. Carolyn Shelby added that you should be sure to exclude internal (company) IPs in Analytics before doing this. If you work at a large company and aren’t exlcuding internal IPs, frequent visits from your employees may be skewing the data.

    Does it pay off to have a compatible site? Michael Black presented the following 2 case studies, and the proof is in the pudding.

    Case Study #1:

    • 3% (4,365) of the site traffic visited from an iPhone. There were zero conversions within that segment because the site didnt load properly on the phone.
    • After a mobile version was developed, 1.5% of iPhone users converted, resulting in $27,500 in yearly revenue.
    • Other mobile devices added an additional $15,750 in yearly revenue.

    Case Study #2:

    • IE6 users converted at a rate of 2.1% because the site didnt work well in the browser.
    • After modifying the site to work in IE6, conversion rate rose to 3.95%.
    • The higher conversion rate added $165,000 in yearly revenue to the client’s bottom line.

    Title & Alt Tags

    This is very basic SEO stuff, and I hesitate to even include it here, but it’s very important to use descriptive title tags on links, as well as alt tags on images. An image may be worth a thousand words to a person, but it’s not worth much to a search engine if it doesn’t know what the image is about. Help the search engines figure out what your image files contain by using descriptive alt tags (as well as keyword-rich filenames). If you’ve already done this, try using the Lynx browser to view the site and get a feel for how web spiders see it.

    Use Valid HTML

    Valid HTML code is important for proper indexing and ranking. Does your HTML pass the W3C validator? Web browsers can correct code on the fly, but search engine robots aren’t very good at it. One of Michael Black’s clients had 9 pages indexed when he started to work with them. After getting their HTML code to pass W3C validation, the client had over 12,000 pages indexed. This is a somewhat extreme example, but it’s definitely important to have clean code.

    Use Flash Effectively

    I still tend to shy away from flash because it’s just not as SEO friendly as an old fashioned “text and images” site. If you’re going to use flash, make sure you do it right. Here are some pointers:

    • Call Flash From Its Own CNAME
    • Flash video? Be sure to offer transcripts to your video for the search engines. As long as the transcripts presented reflect the spoken word in the video, you’ll be fine.
    • Provide HTML friendly content in lieu of Flash by using the SWFObject call. It’s important that you do this so that spiders and older browsers can still properly view the site. The SWFObject 2 HTML and JavaScript generator can help with this.

    More On Page Speed

    I covered some page speed stuff in my previous PubCon 2011 post, but here are a few more tips to improve your page load time:

    • Use multiple CNAMEs to reduce overall page load time.
    • Use the DNSQueries tool to see how many sites are sharing your server. If the server isn’t configured properly, one site could be hogging all of the resources, causing your site to suffer.
    • Call external resources at the top of your code and position them using CSS.

    SEO For Ecommerce Sites

    Obviously, SEO tactics are going to vary depending on what type of site you’re working with. Rob Snell had some great tips for optimizing SEO sites. Most of these don’t warrant a full paragraph, so I’m gonna keep this list thing going:

    • Create a revenue-based navigation. Don’t build your navigation by category (A-Z), build it based on your highest revenue pages.
    • It’s important to have a good third party review account setup for your ecommerce store. Google Products scrapes these sites for reviews.
    • Because of blended search, if you’re an ecommerce site, you now need to be in the top 5 results. Otherwise, you’ll be pushed “below the fold.”
    • Never underestimate the value of content. Rob stated that visitors entering on buyer’s guides have a 50% higher conversion rate.
    • From your homepage, link to your top 40 pages using your 40 best keywords.
    • Create a best sellers page. Put your top 100 products on this page and link to it from your homepage.

    This tip was presented in the context of ecommerce sites, but could be tweaked to work well with other types of sites as well: Try adding “buy modifiers” to the pages of your store. Buy modifiers are words like “buy”, “cheap”, “best”, “reviews”, etc. Add them to your existing product image ALT tags, and add them wherever else it makes sense. Perhaps you can even build them into the product page template?

    Analytics

    What should you be looking for in your analytics program? It all depends on what your goals are. Carolyn Shelby recommended starting off by looking at:

    • Patterns: short term, monthly, seasonal, annual, etc
    • Deviations from patterns: spikes, dips, abnormal behavior
    • Bounce rates
    • Keywords driving traffic
    • Top entrance and exit pages
    • Traffic sources (engines, direct, referral)

    As far as analytics software goes, Carolyn recommended AXS Visitor Tracking. It’s very old school (the last version was released in 2004) and granular, and is good for understanding user behavior.

    Writing Copy

    When writing content for your site, try to use your target keyword in the first sentence or so. It’s important that you don’t overdo it with the keyword – if it doesn’t sound natural, you’re probably forcing the keyword too much. Write content that your searchers are looking for. Check your internal site search and your Google Analytics data to get an idea of what this might be.

    If you’re taking the time to produce quality content, you most likely don’t want other sites stealing it. You can protect your content by using a bot trap.

    “Content spinners” are programs that take an article/blog post and change certain words in order to make the content “unique”. Spun content often reads awkwardly and is easy to spot. Carolyn stressed that if your content can be “made unique” by an automatic process, Google has a process that can identify it. If you’re going to use a content spinner, be sure you know what you’re doing, and don’t think that you’re fooling Google, because they most likely know what you’re up to.

    Content – Check Yo Self!

    Dawn Wentzell said that good content is the key to SEO. She presented several questions that you should ask yourself when working with a new client on content.

    • Start by assessing client resources. Which properties are available to you?
      • Blog
      • Company news
      • Resources/downloads section
      • FAQs
      • Email list
      • Social media profiles
    • Are they optimized? Do they need onsite help and development work before you can begin?
    • Do you have to move the company blog from blogger or wordpress to the domain first?
    • Can you add new content areas? Are they (the client) willing?
      • Can they develop them in house?
        • How long will it take?
    • Do you have to do it yourself, or hire it out?
    • What if they say no? It’s not ideal, but still workable – you can create content elsewhere by:
      • Guest blogging
      • Press releases
      • Interviews
    • Who will create the content? Do they have someone who can:
      • Blog?
      • Write industry/technical reports?
      • Create videos?
      • Update social media?
    • If not, can you train them? Or do you have to do it yourself or hire it out? (Not necessarily a bad thing)

    Create A Content Calendar

    Create an editorial calendar that contains what you want to publish and when. Plan around events like client activities, industry events (trade shows, award shows), holidays, seasons, etc. Having your content planned well ahead of time can make things much easier.

    If you made it this far, congratulations. I’ll be wrapping up my PubCon summary posts this week with some information on local search and “hyperlocal”. Stay tuned!

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