Don’t buy links to boost your SEO

It’s always been one of those things that has made me uncomfortable in the past. Google says very clearly that it doesn’t like bought links (that’s paying for a link from somebody’s site instead of earning it) and so we advise people against it – yet I see loads of sites doing very well through such tactics in practice. The threat was always that eventually Google might catch you out and those links will all be disregarded (or if you’ve been caught – possibly unknowingly – being part of a link farm or link ring then you will be dropped from the index). But Google’s threats never seemed to amount to much – sure I’ve heard stories at second hand of the occasional site being de-listed, but only very very rarely. Cynicism had set in over Google’s mantra of ‘do no evil’ when it comes to Search Engine Optimisation.

At PubCon (big US internet conference) recently, Google has signalled more strongly than ever that it intends to do more to eliminate the effects of paid links: If you buy links from link directories you will probably find that Google WILL automatically ignore them, so you are just wasting your money, and if you form part of a link ring (you link to me, I link to Fred, Fred links to John etc. eventually back to me), an effective and difficult to spot tactic used in the past by some unscrupulous SEO companies, then you WILL be removed from the Google index.

Thanks Google, I now feel much better in saying what I’ve always said:

Don’t buy links to try to manipulate the Google Search Results*

* Terms & conditions apply, it might be worth in some cases paying to be listed in directories that have genuine significant traffic where people find sites and link through to them (few and far between).

Help and advice on SEO in CambridgeHuntingdon or Peterborough from WebSanity Internet Marketing.

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Microsites for Search Engine Optimisation

A microsite is a small set of web pages under their own domain name dedicated to very specific subject. For example, you may have a microsite focused on a new product, bringing together a lot of material that can’t quite get the right focus within your website (a lot of car manufacturers use this to support new car launches for example).

Microsites have also become more popular as keyword rich domain names stopped working when all pointed to the same website – Google spots the fact that all domain names point to the same content (in theory) and will favour one in the results. Google hates duplicate content.

Some people got around this by putting together a quick page for each of their keyword rich domain names. However, as these are now effectively real websites (albeit it with just one page), you now have the additional job of getting these visible to Google – through good old fashioned SEO: link building etc. Whatsmore, if you create single page sites for each of your keyword rich domain names that all share the same content then you run smack back into the original problem that Google hates duplicate content, and only one of your microsites will stand much chance of being displayed.

So, people now have to make sure that each microsite page for each keyword rich domain name has unique content (text and photos). However, now we run into one of the ‘fundamentals’ of the search universe, which is that search engines don’t take one page sites very seriously (unless you are looking at very niche terms). Technically they assign a higher initial page rank to larger sites on a diminishing returns basis.

To produce a good microsite you need to add supporting pages, t&cs, privacy policy, contact details etc. and all of a sudden our simple microsite to support a keyword rich search term has become a fully fledged website.

In conclusion, if you think you have a niche search term that you want to try to capture using a keyword rich domain name and specific content then think very carefully about how much effort it will take to deliver effective results. Use Google’s external keyword analysis tool to confirm the search volumes for this term are sufficient to warrant the work and think from a user point of view (the acid SEO test). If you can deliver content genuinely MORE useful for people searching for the keywords you are targeting than from your website, then that’s a green light – if you’re just putting out non-specific content copied from your existing website then that’s probably a red light.

Good example of a microsite:
You are a funeral director operating in the Cambridgeshire area, and you have offices in Huntingdon, Cambridge, Peterborough. You produce separate microsites for each town you operate in with location of offices, details of the nearest cemeteries & crematoria, details of local staff and their experience, photos of the office, testimonials from locals, details of local charity work you do.

Bad example of a microsite:
You are a hotel in Huntingdon and you want to attract searches for “hotels near Cambridge”. You produce a microsite for the hotel which contains details about the hotel but uses the words ‘near Cambridge’ a few more times than in the main website.

Help and advice on SEO in CambridgeHuntingdon or Peterborough from WebSanity Internet Marketing.

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Not SEO – just a beautiful little utility for all Windows users…

OK, a non-SEO post this week but one I couldn’t resist because some of you might find it very handy!

How many of you out there use the mouse wheel? Personally I use it a lot. But, after however many versions of Windows, Microsoft STILL haven’t figured out how to make it work. They believe it should scroll the window that has the current focus. But what if you’re using Windows Explorer and are hovering over the directory window but the file window has focus – my intent is to always scroll the window I’m looking at, which is the one with the mouse IN IT.

Any of you who use Firefox will see that they have done the decent thing and the mouse wheel always scrolls the window the mouse is actually hovering over. What a shame Microsoft couldn’t make such a simple change to their flagship product: Windows.

Step forward a Kiwi developer, Antibody Software, to fill the gap. Download their handy little utility here (http://antibody-software.com/web/software/software/wizmouse-makes-your-mouse-wheel-work-on-the-window-under-the-mouse/ – look at that for an SEO friendly URL!) and the mouse wheel will now scroll the window your mouse is hovering over.

Hurrah – suddenly the mouse wheel is properly useful!

If you don’t understand my concern over the mouse wheel it’s very possibly because you have never found it useful because Microsoft didn’t make it usable. Give it a go (especially with this little utility), you’ll wonder how you coped without it.

Usually help and advice on SEO in CambridgeHuntingdon or Peterborough from WebSanity Internet Marketing.

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Search Engine Optimisation for headings

Google uses over a hundred different factors to help determine the RELEVANCY of a page to a given query (the more relevant a page is to a query the more likely it is to show up, presuming that page has good AUTHORITY). One of the most important relevancy factors (besides the ‘page title tag’) is the heading that appears on a given page.

Just like you or I would read a page in the newspaper and use the headings to determine what each article is about, so Google can use the headings on a web page in a similar fashion. So how come so many people either don’t use headings or use poorly focused headings? Normally for design aesthetics (it looks prettier without headings) or they are so close to the website they can’t see how clear headings are important for a new visitor.

So, why not have a quick review of the headings (and don’t forget sub-headings) on your website pages and make sure they are prominent, relevant and keyword rich? You’ll improve your SEO rankings AND do your visitors a big favour.

TECHNICAL NOTE: Google is intelligent enough to interpret a heading as being the big bit of bold text at the top of a block of text – it doesn’t HAVE to be in HTML <h1> tags.

Help and advice on SEO in CambridgeHuntingdon or Peterborough from WebSanity Internet Marketing.

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Google Instant – search results in an instant

I personally haven’t noticed much hype in the UK press about the latest change to be made by Google to its searching system, probably because it still seems very patchy in its roll out into the UK at the moment.

For those of you who haven’t heard, Google have made a potentially massive change to the way their search works… note: NOT to the results themselves, but to the way it displays them. Here’s some more information straight from the horses mouth: www.google.com/instant.

In a nutshell, they have started to deliver results as you type. Using some dynamic technology they start serving results that match the search that you enter as you type it in letter by letter – changing the results as your search phrase builds up. The concept is that users read quicker than they write – so, as they type in their search phrase, as soon as the result they want pops up on screen they can click on it, saving them time – and giving Google a USP over its competitors.

At first thought this seems to me to be slightly naive and could be a negative step for Google. Why? How many of you out there actually touch type? What’s the point of displaying results changing on the screen whilst you’re staring at the keyboard? If you ARE touch typing then you normally have a search phrase in mind that you’re typing in – so I watch in amazement as Google starts trying to guess my intention after just the first few key strokes – and without fail gets it completely wrong until I have finished typing in the phrase I had in mind! Google should look at their own data – search strings are getting longer and longer as people get more savy about their searching and enter longer searches to get search results more appropriate to their needs. Showing search results based on just a few key strokes goes completely against this – and will give huge amounts of visibility to companies that happen to rank well for short phrases (which will probably all be big brands, due to the nature of the search algorithm).

To be fair it might well benefit one of the largest categories of searches made on the web: ‘navigational searches’ – this is where people don’t know, or can’t be bothered to type in, the url of the website they want. e.g. ‘www.websanity.co.uk‘, but instead just search for the company name e.g. ‘websanity’ and click on the first result in the list. I have read claims that these kind of searches account for up to a third of all web searches, and I’d say it was possibly over half judging by the typical Google Analytics results that I see for many clients – which often comes as a shock to many of them.

So, maybe with this change Google is recognising the volume of navigation searches and this will help more people than it hinders; either way Google Instant is going to make waves, but from an SEO point of view it just re-emphasises the importance of keeping plugging away at it and engaging with your clients through every possible channel.

Maybe they should give Google Instant a catchy strapline: “Search results – quicker, not necessarily better”?

Help and advice on SEO in CambridgeHuntingdon or Peterborough from WebSanity Internet Marketing.

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