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Search Engine Optimization :: Lyndsay Walker :: Toronto, Ontario

Leveraging Local Search

The Great City of WinnipegOne of the common misconceptions about search engine optimization is that it cannot be geotargeted. While it’s not as simple as paid search, where you can go into your AdWords settings and say “I want my ads to appear only for people in these geographical areas”, it is still very possible to narrow down your organic market.

Think of your own search behaviours. If you’re looking for a locksmith and you live in Winnipeg, you’re probably going to going to type “locksmith winnipeg” to ensure that the results you get are in fact located in Winnipeg.

Take a look at the following example. I am located in Winnipeg, but all I’ve typed into Google is the word locksmith.

Google Search Results for locksmith

Results one and three (on the organic side) are for locksmith services in Toronto. The second result is the locksmith Wikipedia article. Only after these results does Google offer local business results for locksmiths in Winnipeg. Now, it’s guessing based on your IP address that you’re looking for something in Winnipeg. However, if you’re outside of the Winnipeg area, it is unlikely you’re going to see those business results at all. Continue looking at the rest of the listings on the page and you’ll notice that no organic listings are from Winnipeg.

Let’s take a look at the next search, using the term “locksmiths winnipeg” (only without quotes):

Google Search Results for locksmith winnipeg

Immediately Google gives you what you’re looking for – a list of locksmiths in Winnipeg. As well, following the local business results, all the organic results are for locksmiths in Winnipeg.

There are two major takeaways from this comparison:

1. Make sure you’re included and verified in Google Local Business.
A lot of times, especially if you’ve got your business address somewhere on your web site, your business may already be listed in Google Maps. In this case, you should verify your listing. To do this, you’ll claim it and be given an option to verify that you are in fact the correct business owner.

2. Make sure you’ve included the city and province/state in which you do business, especially if your business is local only!
The SEO in me hopes that you’ve already incorporated some search engine optimization techniques into your site but this is a great change to make sure that your geographic location is included. Unless you say on your site that you’re in Winnipeg Manitoba, it’s not automatically assumed that that is where you are.

There are several other local business resources as well. Google is the top priority, given its integration with organic search results and large market share. Start here and keep working forward on your local search efforts.

The Big List of Search Engine Optimization DON’TS – Part 2

Continued from Part 1 last week.

Don’t try to get hundreds or thousands of links at once (especially paid or automated)
Nothing says “I’m a brand new site trying to rank really fast” by gathering a ton of links at once. The important thing to note here is intent. If you’ve got something that’s got viral and are getting tons of links in a natural state, you’re not going to have a problem. But if you’ve gone after a bunch of links from “easy” places, chances are the search engines know about them and aren’t going to assign any value anyway.

Don’t engage in non-relevant link exchanges
This one could also be named “don’t waste your time”. The value of link exchanges is debatable but we do know they don’t carry as much weight as they used to. Even less influential are link exchanges with sites that have nothing to do with your site. If it’s not relevant to your site, don’t worry about it. Just move on.

Don’t participate in link farms
Have you ever seen one of those pages that’s just crammed full of links of all sorts of topics? That’s a link farm. You don’t want your link there. Talk about bad neighbourhoods!

Don’t focus all your links on landing on the home page
Your home page is likely a gateway to all sorts of great information or products elsewhere on your site. Why not target the incoming links to the page or category that is most relevant? For instance, if you’ve got a department store site and a blog about shoes wants to link to you, ask them to link to your shoe page, not the home page.

Don’t register lots of domains using fake names and addresses
You may think you’re the sneakiest and most creative person by using fake names and addresses to register multiple domains with multiple hosting providers. However, I promise you, it’s been done before. You may see an early payoff, but it won’t last. It’s sneaky and deceptive and not the answer to long-term success.

Don’t get green pixel envy
Ahh, Google Toolbar PageRank. It’s so easy to get caught up in how many pixels of green you see on a given page, but I really wouldn’t give this more than a passing glance. PR is still important – maybe not as important as it was a few years ago, but it is definitely still a factor. However, Google Toolbar PR is only updated a few times a year. Very rarely will it give you an accurate representation of a page’s real PageRank. You’ll also want to consider if you’re on a cached version of a page, a duplicate page (caused by being logged into an account for example). If you’re a good SEO, you should be able to judge a page based on it’s quality and not need Toolbar BR

Don’t guess how to use robots.txt
Robots.txt can be a very very powerful tool. It is the best way to guide the search engines to what areas should and shouldn’t be visited. However, it is really really easy to mess up. Do not fool around with robots.txt unless you know what you’re doing. You can also use Google Webmaster Tools to check your robots.txt file to make sure it is correct.

Don’t have multiple URL variations pointing to the home page
How many URLs could there possibly be pointing at a web site? Well…

  • www.site.com
  • site.com
  • www.site.com/
  • site.com/
  • www.site.com/index.html
  • site.com/index.html

I could go on, but I don’t think I need to. The best thing to do is set up proper 301 redirects to make sure any requests for site.com are forwarded to www.site.com (or vice versa). Then, be consistent with how you refer to your home page. The last element is to place a canonical tag on the page alerting the search engines to the main (canonical) page. See here for more info: Duplicate Content No More.

Conclusion
It’s really easy to get caught up in these methods. Some are as harmless as just being ignored and others are harmful enough to result in penalties or exclusion. Generally, if you use good judgment and intent, and do things for the user first, you’ll be in good shape.

The Big List of Search Engine Optimization DON’TS – Part 1

Search Engine Optimization is still one of the most under-appreciated elements of web development. Time and time again I see sites that either have only bits and pieces of SEO effort implemented, none at all or worse – SEO that has been done all wrong.

At Search Engine Strategies Toronto in 2007 and 2008 I spoke on the topic of SEO Don’ts Myths and Scams. I covered the “don’ts” part of the panel and that’s what I’m going to share with you now.

Some of these may seem very obvious, some not so much and some you may not even agree with. This list comes from my experience working in a variety of industries and observations I’ve made over that time.

Don’t use the same title tag on every page
In fact, don’t use the same title tag on any page. It will work against you. There’s really no reason why you can’t come up with different titles for each page. Surely you don’t have the exact same page over and over?

Don’t overuse META tags
I see this happen so much. You really don’t need more than a few meta tags. Be picky about which ones to include. Example: META NAME=”GOOGLEBOT” CONTENT=”INDEX, FOLLOW”. This code tells Googlebot to index the page and follow the links. But guess what – that’s the default behaviour for Googlebot anyway. Do you like being told how to do your job? No? Don’t tell Googlebot how to do its job. Get rid of this meta tag, you only need it if the values are different.

Don’t stuff keywords in the META tags
Probably the oldest method of black hat SEO, it’s also the reason META keyword tags become completely irrelevant – at least in Google. There is some thought that Yahoo! might give some weight to this tag, but not much.

Don’t use hidden text
This might seem obvious, but I still see it far too often. Usually in one of two methods – either the white text/white background method (any color really – but if you’re using any color but a shade of grey, hire yourself a designer please) or the hidden div tag. Not only are these methods ignored by search engines (and yes, they know) but you could even face a penalty.

Don’t use doorway pages
Doorway pages are keyword filled pages for the benefit of search engines only – users bypass this page all together. Anytime you’re offering different content for users than you are for search engines is considered spam.

Don’t duplicate your content
Duplicate content is one of those items that I believe people panic at a little to easily. However, it is something to keep in mind. There’s no need to repeat the same content on other pages or other sites. Syndication is likely to happen in many cases, but not usually a problem since the other site is typically not cookie-cutter to your own.

Don’t publish before you’re ready
This is a highly overlooked issue. A lot of people test pages they’re working on in a live environment, with live links pointing to other live pages. The problem – if you have Google Toolbar or a site that gets crawled regularly – the spiders are going to find that test page you’re working on, whether you’re ready or not. Better to test it in an environment that’s not crawlable (by robots.txt).

Don’t use too many parameters on your URLs
The more parameters in a URL, the harder it is for spiders to crawl and index the page. Keep it to as few parameters as possible or, even better, use your .htaccess file to rewrite the URLs to something much more search engine friendly.

Don’t keyword stuff ALT tags
Similar to stuffing the META keywords tag, people often do the same for image ALT attributes. The problem with this, however, is this IS a ranking factor. If people continue to stuff and span it though, I’m sure we’ll see it devalued as well.

Don’t use images when CSS will do
There are almost endless things you can do with stylesheets. There are not many good reasons why important copy has to be buried in an image. Try to use as little images as possible.

Don’t use inline CSS
Have a LOT of code (compared to content) on a page isn’t a good thing. One way to trim down is to ditch your inline CSS and put it all in an external file. Once you’ve done it, you’ll wonder why you ever did it another way.

Don’t use Flash
Over the past few years, the engines (especially Google) have made huge inroads with crawling Flash. But it’s still not perfect and isn’t standard across the board. There is no reason why the guts of your site – the body and the navigation – should be Flash. Unless you’re using Flash for an animation that cannot be another way (see using CSS whenever possible), you shouldn’t be using Flash at all.

Continued – The Big List of Search Engine Optimization DON’TS – Part 2