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

Lyndsay Walker’s Winter Speaking Schedule

It’s been a busy past week or so as I’ve been scheduled for more speaking opportunities. It will be a nice busy winter as I get to do some traveling and meeting new people. What could be better?

If you’re interested in hearing me speak, come attend any of the fabulous conferences/seminars below.

PubCon Las Vegas – November 10-13, 2009
Las Vegas Convention Center, Las Vegas, Nevada
www.pubcon.com
SEO Design & Organic Site Structure – November 11, 2009

Affiliate Summit West – January 17-19, 2010
Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada
www.affiliatesummit.com
Site Clinic by the Women of SEO – January 19, 2010

Advertising Association of Winnipeg – February 11, 2010
TBA, Winnipeg, Manitoba
www.aaw.org
Topic TBA

Hope to see you there!

Social Segregation Online

Social Segregation OnlineI think I’m becoming a social media snob.

Thanks to the power of Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites, I feel pretty confident that I’m hearing about the latest world news and pop culture.

Take yesterday for example. From the moment I started watching the live stream of #balloonboy. I watched the live stream, I watched people talking on Twitter about it, I looked into the links talking about the “science-obsessed family” who had recently appeared on the TV show Wife Swap. I didn’t watch Larry King, but I was on Twitter to watch thousands of people start tweeting “OMG did you hear balloon boy say it was all for the show”. This morning I watched the discussion and videos of #balloonboy vomiting twice during live interviews.

So by time lunchtime rolled around and someone said “did you hear about the kid and the balloon yesterday” I wanted to roll my eyes because, not even 24 hours after the incident started, I’m already sick to death of hearing about it.

The world moves fast, and the online world even more so. The ability to have a “small talk” conversation with anyone is changing because of the availability of real-time information. What is new news to one person is old news to another.

This may result in a whole new type of social segregation. Not based on race or gender – it’ll come down to who is socially aware online and who is not.

Poor Online Reputation Management

If you read my earlier post about the implications of not having done search engine optimization, you’re familiar with my anecdote about looking for an auto body shop to fix my car.

I did want to look into the franchise shop I mentioned, Boyd Autobody. So, I did a search in Google and here’s what came up.

Body Autobody Search Results

Wait, what?

Boyd AutobodyYikes!!

Well it is obvious to me that the people behind Boyd Autobody and Glass Sucks have a much better handle on search engine optimization and online reputation management than the real Boyd Group does. I mean, wow, look at the domain they have!! That’s the domain I would expect the real Boyd Group to be using primarily, given the lovely keywords within it. In fact, when I first did the search, I actually looked at the URL before the title or description. I almost clicked on that link when I noticed the word “sucks”.

So, a few points.

  1. Boyd Group, how can you let a domain like boydautobody.com go? Flex your trademark rights and go get it.
  2. What is the likelihood that the Boyd Group even knows this site exists? Probably pretty good. However, they either don’t care or don’t know what to do to fix it.
  3. The date in the title tag? Really? What a waste (okay that isn’t really on topic but it bugs me)

A little online reputation management goes a long way. Boyd has a ton of options if they want to remedy this situation. They can get the domain from these people or they can hire a company to handle their online reputation management and work their SEO to get that site pushed down.

Either way, acknowledge what’s happening. It reflects very poorly, with an air of “I don’t care.”

Implications of No Search Engine Optimization

Warning: I’m about to ramble which means this could turn into a rant.

Sometimes I think that being a search engine optimization specialist works against me. Sometimes I wish I was ignorant about how indexing and ranking happens.

Let’s take an example.

IMG_0891I hurt my car (pause for tears – anyone who knows me knows how much I love my car). It’s going to require some body work. Now, I know a few places in the city from driving around and seeing them. Especially the franchise shops like Boyd Autobody (who, by the way, could stand a new web site and some marketing and online reputation management help – but I’ll save that for another post).

I’m sure Boyd does a great job. But I’m also sure that there are LOTS of other great autobody shops that could do the work for a fraction of the cost.

How does one find them?

Most people would go to the search engines and enter a query like “autobody winnipeg”. They’ll probably look at the first few results, make a few calls, get a few quotes and make their decisions.

Me? I get frustrated. I *know* that the people who are ranking are the shops that are probably a little more well off, which means they’re the bigger shops and maybe don’t have the personal touch of the smaller shop. (Total generalization here by the way.)

In my experience, tradesmen who are also business owners do what they do because they love it and they want to genuinely help the customer. They keep their prices low and aren’t necessarily web or marketing savvy. These are the family-type shops and many times, the exact kind of person you want working on your car. Unfortunately, they’re not spending a lot of time thinking about web sites, online marketing and search engine optimization.

So, going back to my original point, when I do a search for “autobody winnipeg” I realize that I am likely missing out on many, many fabulous autobody experts who would probably do a fabulous, detail-oriented job fixing my car for probably a good price. Unfortunately, because I’m also an online snob who tends to not look at other advertising places (ie. yellow pages) I’m not likely to find these people at all.

Moral of my story? Well, first of all woe is me for knowing SEO (haha, okay I’m kidding). Really, my advice for all businesses, big and small, is to have a web site (even if it is very basic with just a couple pages) and do some simple SEO on it. It is an extremely important and vital marketing tool for your business.

Okay I’ll spell it out. In my not-so-humble and completely biased opinion it is by far and away THE most important marketing tool for your business.

Bottom line: GET ONLINE.

Make Your Site the Backbone of Your Marketing Campaign

kings-head-billboard-winnipegAs I drove home from work the other day, I noticed a new billboard advertising one of my favourite pubs here in the city. There really aren’t that many great places to go here in Winnipeg so I was thrilled to see them putting some dollars into a marketing campaign.

The billboard is eye catching, as it certainly caught my eye. Immediately I noticed that aside from a general “King Street of course!” (I guess people are to assume this is the street the pub is located) they’re advertising their web site. Awesome, I love it.

The next day, I decided to check out the new site. I wasn’t 100% sure I’d remembered the domain, so I did a Google search for “King’s Head Winnipeg”. The only results I got were directory listings. After four pages, I still hadn’t found this new site.

On a whim, I decided to try kingshead.ca and I was right. I was shocked to be greeted by this:

King's Head Pub in Winnipeg Manitoba

A temporary site? You’re launching an expensive marketing campaign (obviously, since they’re utilizing billboards which is not cheap) but you don’t have your web site online yet?

Wow. Okay first of all, it is aesthetically pleasing. I often cringe when I go to view local sites (unless of course it’s one of our own!) because you never know what level of quality you’re going to see in the design. So that’s great. But then the marketing side of me (definitely the dominant side) starts picking things apart.

  1. So Close, Yet So Far. What? What does this mean? Is site is close to launch or far from launching? As a user and customer, I’m very confused about the meaning of this statement. The fact that “yet so far” is a heavier font confuses me further.
  2. Give Me a Heads Up Much better play on words here. And cool that they’re starting an email newsletter list. But there’s no further information about what else might get sent via email and with no privacy policy available to read, savvy web users will be hesitant to give their name AND email.
  3. Where did that billboard say they’re located? Hey notice anything missing? Something that might be really important? OH! There’s no contact information on this temporary splash page. NO ADDRESS. No cross street, no nothing. So unless you already know where the King’s Head is, you’re probably going to bail and forget about.

I cannot fathom the loss in money and potential clientele with this massive fail. Yes it’s true, there may have been extenuating circumstances that lead for the web site to fall behind schedule. At that point, I would look at a couple options. You could either hold off with the rest of your marketing campaign or at least make sure some basic information is included on this temporary splash page. For instance, most obviously, a physical address. Another thing that would be awesome to add is an estimated date for launch. At least this encourages people to come back and check. As I mentioned earlier, some people may not wish to be put on a mailing list and could leave and never come back. What a missed opportunity.

In 2009 when almost all marketing campaigns include advertising a web site, it’s even more important that the web site is:

  • Online
  • Working correctly
  • Accurate
  • Including at least the very basic information clients are looking for

I know that for me, I often won’t give a company my business unless there’s been at least an attempt at a web site. If I see an ad for something and there’s no web site given, I automatically assume that the company doesn’t understand the importance of online marketing and I automatically lose respect for them and am much less likely to follow the call to action (which, without a web site, is usually a phone number or address. Sorry, I hate the phone and I like shopping from my couch).

So whenever you’re planning a marketing campaign, consider your web site to be the backbone, the foundation, the absolutely essential part of that campaign. If your site isn’t ready then your campaign isn’t either. And do FULL testing on your site before thrusting it out into the public spotlight. Did you check every page to make sure there are no typos (psssst… it’s “aisle” not “isle”)? Are all your forms and links working correctly? Do you have a QA process in place?

Don’t launch a marketing campaign guessing. Be sure and be confidence with your site. Give users the experience they’re looking for.

The Search Engines Remember 9/11

On major days in history, and even many not-so-major, the search engine often commemorate by changing their logos or backgrounds.

Today, on the eighth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Bing and Ask have changed their home pages.

20090911-bing
20090911-ask

Yahoo! is without any significant remembrance. The top stories include President Obama’s first 9/11 anniversary and some other anniversary stories, but that’s about it. G

Google has also not changed its look for today. However, Google typically reserves logo changes for happier and lighthearted occasions.

There are lots of sites around the web doing their part to remember September 11, 2001. A quick browse around the net and you’re sure to find many.

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

Nice to meet you Microsoft Bing. BING!

bing-logoAbout six weeks ago, Microsoft launched their new search engine – Bing. Well, okay, I don’t know if I can really say NEW. It’s actually Microsoft’s third attempt at a search engine.

Bing will be replacing Live search, and that process is almost complete. So far the reviews have been very positive. Less spam, more targeted results, great universal search options.

If you haven’t had a chance to try Bing, I highly suggest you do so. It will definitely be interesting to watch how Bing’s market share will inevitably grow.

In the meantime, check out my interview from SMX Advanced in June.