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Search Engine Optimization

Google Buys FeedBurner & What this Means for SEOs

By hagrin - Posted on 02 June 2007

Today, Google officially announced the purchasing of FeedBurner, the RSS analytical company providing statistics for RSS feeds such as subscriber counts, clickthroughs and other web metrics. This is an extremely wise purchase by Google because this closes a gap that their other analytical offering, Urchin (and its free web based version for webmasters), didn't provide RSS metrics. Prior to the FeedBurner purchase, Google could only provide RSS metrics through Google Reader subscriber counts for a specific feed - highly inaccurate due to the fact that Google only had access to only a slice of the RSS-using population.

What does this mean for webmasters? Well, I would think that the SEO implications are pretty obvious - either take advantage of the FeedBurner service or sacrifice the RSS metric potentially effecting your site's ranking. Sure, Google could still get some of the information from the user side (i.e. Google Reader subscribers to your feed), but webmasters would lose the metrics race to those optting-in to the Google services. Since Google currently drives a large portion of traffic to all sites, webmasters really do need to make a decision on linking all of their site's information into Google related services and what that means to their search position on other engines.

While most of all the other Google analytic initiatives still allowed webmasters to not sacrifice their position with other search engines, redirecting your RSS feeds through FeedBurner directly is a dangerous move long-term. Instead, I would suggest webmasters redirect their original feed URL to FeedBurner and display the original feed to site users. This will allow webmasters to relinquish control in some manner, but still does not solve the problem of having to potentially muticast the feed to other RSS analytic services.

Drupal 5, META tags and SEO

By hagrin - Posted on 29 May 2007

After a long overdue hiatus from writing in my Search Engine Optimization Guide, I have finally added a new entry in a series of hopefully many new articles covering SEO issues raised on today's Internet. Today, I added an entry concerning Drupal 5 and assigning unique META tags to help differentiate your content. Check back for more SEO articles as I can crank them out (hopefully one a day for a while).

SEO: Drupal 5 - Adding Unique META Tags

By hagrin - Posted on 29 May 2007

SEO: Drupal 5 - Adding Unique META Tags

Posted By: hagrin
Date: 30 May 2007

Overview:
While pre-packaged software can save a lot of time in development costs, if not properly configured, a webmaster could potentially cripple their site's search engine rankings if certain search optimization techniques and guidelines are not followed. Drupal is a content management system that is extremely feature rich through it's module system and community support; however, search engine optimization isn't an extreme focal point for their developers. Therefore, out of the box, Drupal does fail at being 100% SEO friendly. Fortunately, due to Drupal's strong community, SEO friendly modules have been developed. One such module, META Tags (also known as nodewords), closes a major SEO deficiency extremely well and provides Drupal site owners the flexibility to create high ranking sites.

Aren't META tags Outdated?
Now, I know what you're all about to say - META tags don't work anymore and are so "1990s". While it's true that they aren't as influential as they once were, META tags still help identify content to search engines, especially the minor search engines. In addition, unique META description tags help prevent your pages from being put into "supplemental hell" and help users get a better idea of what your content actually contains. Even if the benefits aren't immediately realized through search engines weighting META tags heavily, including unique keyword and description information can only serve to help users find your content and differentiate the content across your site.

How Does it Work?
Installing the META tags module is extremely easy and works exactly like every other module installation. Once installed site admins can go to the Content Management section and click on the newly created Meta tags link. Here, you can set all the options you need including a global copyright, a GeoURL, global keywords, robots values and other settings. In addition, if you are utilizing categories or taxonomy, you can set keywords based on the tags you select which provides you flexibility at every level. I would suggest using some standard keywords that apply based on the tags you select and then add content specific keywords at the page/story level for the best performance.

If you plan on using Drupal to power your site, installing the Meta tags module is a search engine optimization must.

Resources

  1. Drupal META Tags/nodewords Module

Version Control

  1. Version 1.0 - 30 May 2007 - Original Article

Search Engine Ranking Factors

By hagrin - Posted on 08 May 2007

Although this article is already a month old, I have to applaud everyone involved at SEOmoz who created an extremely comprehensive list of Search Engine Ranking Factors. They provide you a great checklist of search engine optimzation factors to keep in mind and rank them according to what some of the more respected voices in the SEO industry deem as "important".

There isn't much "new" content here as much of what is covered should be pretty basic to the seasoned SEO, but it does provide a prioritized checklist for SEOs to follow and use to review client sites. Keywords in TITLE tags, inbound links, domain age and other factors are noted (obviously) as major factors contributing to SEO success. This SEO checklist provided me a valuable tool for performing site evaluations.

Using Unique META Description Tags

By hagrin - Posted on 28 February 2007

SEO Roundtable posted an article recently about why a webmaster should use unique META description tags. Their informative post describes how the dreaded "In order to show you the most relevant results, we have omitted some entries very similar to the 1 already displayed. If you like, you can repeat the search with the omitted results included" Google message is a clear warning sign that your site doesn't use unique META tags. META description tags are used to give search engine users a clearer description of what your page is really about past the title and some text from your root site page.

Interestingly enough, this site doesn't use unique META description tags and that is something I hope to rectify after a little research as to whether or not Drupal 5 has an option for turning them on. Hopefully, these descriptions will help search engine users find my content easier and more frequently. Once I do find a Drupal 5 modification, I will relay it to the community through this site.

View Your Supplemental Index Results

By hagrin - Posted on 27 February 2007

Aaron Wall, from SEO Book (one of my favorite SEO blogs on the Internet currently), recently posted a guide on how to view your site's pages stuck in Google's supplemental index. Aaron's article really is spot on as he talks about what causes your pages to be thrown into Google's supplemental index, how to calculate your Supplemental Index Ratio and exactly what that ratio number means to your site.

To determine what pages are in Google's supplemental index, perform the following Google search:

site:www.yoursite.com *** -sljktf

This is definitely a good query to add to your SEO tools so you can see exactly how many of your pages are hitting the supplemental index and whether or not your supplemental index ratio is increasing or decreasing.

Google Inbound Links Tool

By hagrin - Posted on 05 February 2007

The Official Google Blog announced a new tool that shows webmasters their inbound links through Google Webmaster Central. This tool replaces the broken link: operator and is thoroughly explained on the Google Webmaster Blog here.

The tool provides links differentiated by external and internal links. External links are links that direct to your site that are located outside of your domain. Internal links are links that direct to pages on your site and are located on your domain. A new "Links" tab was added within the Webmaster Central tool which allows you to see external and internal as well as links to specific pages on your site. This data can also be downloaded through the Webmaster interface.

Thank you Google for providing us with a valuable tool to evaluate link information.

SEO Guide: Canonical Domains, Apache & HTTP 301 Redirects

By hagrin - Posted on 05 January 2007

Posted By: hagrin
Create Date: 14 December 2005
Last Updated: 4 January 2006

Overview:
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) remains the ultimate goal of the webmaster, blog publisher, e-commerce seller, AdSense user and pageview junkie. By tweaking and modifying your website's layout, design and content, a domain owner can increase his listing rank when terms are searched on the major search engines (for the purpose of these articles, the major search engines are Google, Yahoo! and MSN). One SEO hint/tip/issue that website owners need to deal with is duplicate content penalties resulting from a canonical domain issue. This article will talk about what exactly this problem is and how to resolve it.

What Exactly is a Canonical Domain Name?:
Webopedia defines a canonical name (CNAME) as:

Short for canonical name, also referred to as a CNAME record, a record in a DNS database that indicates the true, or canonical, host name of a computer that its aliases are associated with. A computer hosting a Web site must have an IP address in order to be connected to the World Wide Web. The DNS resolves the computer’s domain name to its IP address, but sometimes more than one domain name resolves to the same IP address, and this is where the CNAME is useful. A machine can have an unlimited number of CNAME aliases, but a separate CNAME record must be in the database for each alias.

I'm sure many of you are saying "English (or your first language) please!". Basically, when you purchased your domain name (for instance, I bought hagrin.com), you have also purchased the ability to add a CNAME (sometimes called "parking a subdomain"). By default, the "www" CNAME is automatically created for your domain usually upon your purchasing of the domain. Therefore, right away, users will have two ways of navigating to your site - through http://www.hagrin.com (with the "www") and http://hagrin.com (just the domain name). Giving users the ability to get to your site in two ways seems to be beneficial without any drawbacks. However, if users can get to your site by 2 different URLs, search engine crawlers can also crawl your content by both URLs. If this does occur (and you have no preventive measures in place), then search engines may collect two copies of the same data, but at two different links potentially causing a "duplicate content" penalty for your site.

How do I know if I have a problem? Well, you can use the Search Engine Friendly Redirect Checker to diagnose any potential problems your site may have. As a note, don't only test the home page, try testing some pages that are not in the root directory to make sure all of your URLs redirect in a search engine friendly manner. So how can you avoid this from happening or fix it once you have diagnosed a problem?

The Fix:
I encountered this problem recently and wanted to make sure that I wasn't having my site split into two or having my content duplicated causing me to drop in the search rankings. Therefore, I started looking around for a way to redirect my users from the plain hagrin.com to www.hagrin.com for all documents on my server. Hagrin.com runs on a Linux machine using Apache as its web server software so the fix below is specific to Apache's web server. After browsing the web for a few hours, I came to the conclusion that I needed to perform a HTTP 301 Redirect for my hagrin.com pages to www.hagrin.com links. Knowing that I was using Apache, I was able to create a .htaccess file in the web root directory (/www) of my web server and added the following lines of code:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^hagrin\.com$ [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.hagrin.com/$1 [R=301,L]

So what exactly does this code do? Well, if a user were to request http://hagrin.com/rss/hagrin_atom.xml, the user would be redirected to http://www.hagrin.com/rss/hagrin_atom.xml instead. This allows for both requests, hagrin.com and www.hagrin.com, to lead to the same URL and prevent any duplicate content penalties. If you aren't using Apache, the fix for this issue may be very different and I would suggest doing a Google search on HTTP 301 redirects to resolve any canonical domain name issues you may be having.

Resources:

  1. Webopedia CName Definition
  2. Search Engine Friendly Redirect Checker
  3. SocialSocial Patterns - "Cleaning Up Canonical URLs With Redirects"
  4. Matt Cutts on Canonical Domain Issues

Version Control:

  1. Version 1.1 - 4 January 2006 - Updated Resources to include Matt Cutts' Canonical Domain Issues post
  2. Version 1.0 - 14 December 2005 - Original Article

SEO: Using "Nofollow" for External Links & Preserving Page Rank

By hagrin - Posted on 05 January 2007

SEO Guide: Using "Nofollow" for External Links & Preserving Page Rank

Posted By: hagrin
Date: 20 December 2005

Overview:
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) remains the ultimate goal of the webmaster, blog publisher, e-commerce seller, AdSense user and pageview junkie. By tweaking and modifying your website's layout, design and content, a domain owner can increase his listing rank when terms are searched on the major search engines (for the purpose of these articles, the major search engines are Google, Yahoo! and MSN). One SEO hint/tip/issue that website owners should adhere to is preserving page rank through careful selection of external links. This article will define a lot of the terms used such as page rank, external links, etc., explain how the rel="nofollow" attribute works in preserving page rank, the possible drawbacks and an implementation plan.

What are External Links & How Does it Affect my Page Rank?
A major concern for website owners trying to optimize their sites deals with page rank within search engine result pages. Page rank is defined by Google as:

PageRank relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page's value. In essence, Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B. But, Google looks at more than the sheer volume of votes, or links a page receives; it also analyzes the page that casts the vote. Votes cast by pages that are themselves "important" weigh more heavily and help to make other pages "important."

Important, high-quality sites receive a higher PageRank, which Google remembers each time it conducts a search. Of course, important pages mean nothing to you if they don't match your query. So, Google combines PageRank with sophisticated text-matching techniques to find pages that are both important and relevant to your search. Google goes far beyond the number of times a term appears on a page and examines all aspects of the page's content (and the content of the pages linking to it) to determine if it's a good match for your query.

If you thought that was a mouthful, you can read the explanation of page rank offered by Iprcom (this resource is for the math lovers only. Another good resource for explaining page rank can be found here at Web Workshop). So with Google's definition and a formula for calculating page rank, what does page rank have to do with how we post links to other websites on our site or blog? Web Workshop describes the potential harm that outbound links cause to our page rank as the following:

Outbound links are a drain on a site's total PageRank. They leak PageRank. To counter the drain, try to ensure that the links are reciprocated. Because of the PageRank of the pages at each end of an external link, and the number of links out from those pages, reciprocal links can gain or lose PageRank. You need to take care when choosing where to exchange links.

So, we see that we want to maximize our incoming links from other sites while limiting the amount of outbound links to otehr sites. This may prove difficult for some sites that report news since most of the content will come from outside sources. In addition, even original content writers use resources and it's generally good practice to list your references. Well, seems that we are between a rock and a hard place. However, in 2005, the major search engines adopted a new attribute for the anchor tag - rel=nofollow.

Using the "rel=nofollow" Attribute
What exactly does the rel=nofollow attribute do and how do we use it? Well, if you choose to make a link to another website and add the rel=nofollow attribute to the anchor tag, then search engines (when crawling your page) will not counts these links as an outbound link. They will act as functional text links to users, but no more than text to the search engine. Obviously, the benefit of this comes from being able to build highly informative web pages without enduring the page rank leakage from including external links. How do you actually use nofollow? Well, let's look at the example code below:

<a href="http://www.hagrin.com" rel="nofollow">Hagrin.com</a>

As you can see, it's very simple. Just make a link as you would normally do and then just add the rel="nofollow" attribute. It's really that easy.

Potential Drawbacks:
With most SEO tricks and tips, there are portential drawbacks for sure. Although no site directly talks about penalties directly associated to overuse of the nofollow tag, the blogging industry frown heavily upon using nofollow even in cases of trying to combat comment spamming. In addition, many people have come up with CSS snippets that allow them to browse a page and have nofollow links highlighted in a manner that makes it clealry visibile that nofollow is being used. The CSS used by some would look something like this:

a[rel~=”nofollow”] {
border: thin dashed firebrick ! important;
background-color: rgb(255, 200, 200) ! important;
}

This will alert readers to your use of nofollow and potentially cause "bad karma" for your site. Therefore, you may want to consider how heavily you use nofollow and for what sites you will use it for. Hopefully, with extremely directed usage and a little thought, you will be able to maximize your page rank by controlling the external links offf of your site.

Resources:

  1. Official Google Technology
  2. Iprcom Page Rank Explanation
  3. Web Workshop Page Rank Explanation
  4. Matt Cutts' Nofollow CSS

Version Control:

  1. Version 1.0 - 20 December 2005 - Original Article

SEO: Using Descriptive, Creative & Efficient Titles

By hagrin - Posted on 25 December 2006

SEO: Using Descriptive, Creative & Efficient Titles

Posted By: hagrin
Create Date: 27 December 2005
Last Updated: 1 July 2010

Overview:
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) remains the ultimate goal of the webmaster, blog publisher, e-commerce seller, AdSense user and pageview junkie. By tweaking and modifying your website's layout, design and content, a domain owner can increase his listing rank when terms are searched on the major search engines (for the purpose of these articles, the major search engines are Google, Yahoo! and MSN). A major SEO tip that should be adhered to by everyone is using descriptive, yet creative and efficient titles for all your pages. This article breaks down what title we are actually talking about, tips for writing efficient titles and how to use available tools for figuring out title keywords.

Title? ... Which Title?
For many, the term "title" is so vague that they don't know exactly where to focus their SEO efforts. For the purpose of this discussion, we're talking about the phrase displayed in the browser's title bar. The title bar is located at the very top of the browser window and would look something like this (Figure 1):

Now that we have identified what title we're talking about, let's examing the image. The title bar's value is comprised of two parts - the actual title of the page and the browser's "branding" which appears at the top of every page. Search engine crawlers are only concerned with the first part - in this instance "Google News". I chose this title for my Google News archive page for a few reasons which are discussed below.

Choosing Your Words Carefully
A title really can make or break your SEO ranking and page traffic. As you can see from the Figure below (Figure 2), search engines use your title as the "headline" for your stories.

So, after seeing the importance of your title, what rules should you follow when creating your headlines? Try following these simple guidelines:

  • Concise Word Choice / Eliminating Unnecessary Words - Probably the most important rule to follow. To maximize your keyword density, don't clutter your titles with unnecessary words. For instance, there was no reason for me to label my page "Hagrin's Google News" since my domain name will catch all queries using the term hagrin. If I did include the word Hagrin, I would no longer directly match user requests for the search query "Google News" and my ranking would most likely drop even further for this highly competitive term. Go through your entire site and check all your titles to see if there are any unproductive words that you could remove to improve your page's title.

  • Keywords to the Front - In addition to choosing concise words, there appears to be some weight being applied to the order of the words in the title. Therefore, you want your keywords closer to the beginning of the title than the end.

  • Remain Creative / Use Proper Grammar - Almost contradictory to the previous point. With so many web pages out there all competing for users, you also need to make your title stand out from the rest on the page. Therefore, make sure to use proper grammar to make your titles easy to read and just don't put random words in your title that will match a lot of user search requests. In addition, some creativity while maintaining your keyword density could help improve your page view numbers as users are drawn to your site when presented with 9 other similar looking options. However, title creativity can be detrimental to your SEO efforts so choose your approach wisely.

  • Watch for Duplicates - Although not entirely proven, the general concept is sound. To differentiate all your pages and not have them grouped (and then your pages removed from initial viewable search results) should be considered a good practice which will identify all of your content as unique. Using unique titles also help with certain blogging software applications like Wordpress which will use the title as part of the path. Since Wordpress uses the title as part of the path, Wordpress also has to ammend the date to the file name - a practice that is unnecessary and again lowers density.

Following these three simple rules will definitely improve your rankings and help drive higher traffic to your site.

Title Tools
Everyone gets writer's block at some point in time. Therefore, tools exist that help you determine keyword saturation and search frequency. You can then use this information to best pick the title you want to use for your content. The Yahoo! Overture Keyword Selector Tool is one such tool. Just plug in a generic term for your content and have Yahoo! spit some suggestions back to you. You do not have to be an advertiser currently with Yahoo! to use this tool and seems to be free for everyone. Another tool, limited to Google AdWords customers only, is the Google AdWords Keyword Tool which is only available to AdWords users (however, all you have to do is pay the $5 signup fee and then you have access to all the AdWords tools). Using the above information is a first, major step in search engine optimization. Making sure that you have concise, efficient, creative and unique titles should be the first step in ensuring your success on the web.

Resources

  1. Google AdWords Keyword Tool
  2. Yahoo! Overture Keyword Selector Tool

Version Control

  1. Version 1.0 - 27 December 2005 - Original Article