Thursday, June 20, 2013

How long does it take for Google to recognize 301s?

Or Better Yet - 

It's been over a year and Google still doesn't have the new URLs in the Index


Just over a year ago, I started working on this website that had over 900k top level domain files. We changed the structure of the URLs to a more organized hierarchy. The pages content changed slightly, but most importantly instead of all of the site's pages residing directly under the main domain (Let's use a computer broad to longtail term structure for example - like domain.com/computer.html and domain.com/laptop-computer.html and domain.com/500gb-laptop-computer.html) we changed them to a more representative hierarchy directory to file structure (example - domain.com/computer/ to domain.com/computer/laptop-computer/ then domain.com/computer/laptop-computer/500gb.html).

Why the URL Hierarchy?


The quick and simple explanation as to why we did this is that while URLs are fairly dynamic these days,  the bots like to see and understand how a website is organized on a server. Remember your old school folder and file structure back when sites were in html were built?  The URLs you have today should represent that organize file structure as much as possible. I cover this in my SEO Workshop  (slide 23)- but I also found a pretty good article that explains the hierarchy relatively simply and quickly.

The process in setting the 301


The Since the entire 27+ million pages on the site were mostly files located directly under the main domain, it was difficult to understand what pages fit under what category so that we could organize them. I went to our keyword analysis and bucketed each focus term out and then organized the correlating URLs to fit within that bucket. Once that was done, I worked with the Developers to pull the naming from the database (dynamically) into the directory and file structure that fit the buckets. Some of the keywords I knew I eventually wanted to build out with supporting pages, so those got directory levels instead of page levels for future optimization (and limit more 301 redirecting later on).

I mention a bit about breaking the site up into sections for analytics purposes in my previous post "SEO Issues - is it Penguin? Is it Panda? or is it me?" under "Figuring out what was hit by Penguin". The "video" to the left is a quick (and very raw) animation to help explain exactly what we did. Now that the site was organized it not only helps the bots understand the structure, but helps us understand what sections bring in what SEO traffic in Google Analytics.

How Long Does it Take Google to See New URL via 301 Redirect?


This whole undertaking was completed over a course of 2-3 months starting in June 2012 (last year) and finished up with the last of the redesigns and URL changes in August with one last directory change (no redesigned pages) in January of this year (2013). The most important ones are still are showing 550,000 pages in Google's Index (11 months later):
As I Google to see if others have a solution for speeding up the indexing of these old URLs, or if even if anyone has had the same problem I found a lot of questions in various forums (both reliable and unreliable) but no real articles, blog posts, or anything from reputable SEO's. The most common answer in the forums is to just "wait". It's, of course, what I tell others when they ask me "Be patient, Google will eventually hit those pages again and recognize that they have changed then correct the index then." But after nearly a year and so many pages, this is getting ridiculous.

I spoke with my friend (and SEO mentor) Bruce Clay who came back with the suggestion to add an .xml sitemap and submit it to Google with the old URLs we want removed.

It was kinda making sense that because those old URLs are no longer linked to, and there are so many, that Google wasn't crawling them as much anymore. They are just sitting there in the index - and not getting "updated"

Unfortunately getting a sitemap added is not an easy feat. I would have to define the strategy, present it to the powers that be with data to backup the success metrics in order to get the project prioritized. With so many other initiatives needed for SEO, all of which were more important and affect the business in a positive way, it was in my best interest to keep pushing those and not deal with the sitemap.

My work around, though, was about as black hat as I would get (Matt Cutts if you are reading this, I apologize and throw myself at your mercy, but it had to be done). One weekend over a month ago, I grabbed one of my many impulsive purchased domains and quickly set up hosting and an old school html site that consisted of one page. I then exported all of the links on the Google "site:" search through a Firefox plugin called SEOquake that exports the results into a csv file. It's not the prettiest, and there was a lot of work still needed to get to just the URLs, but it was the best solution I could find (note: if any SEO reading this knows of an easier way to do this - please add to the comments for prosperity). I then parsed out the parameters in the URLs in a separate document and used those as the anchor text for each URL. Finally, using excel I then concatenated the URLs and parameters (that were now anchor text) into an html href string.
Then copying and pasting the "string" column into the html code, the page looked like:
The page wasn't the prettiest, and it had thousands of links (the above is just an example) so it was bad all around, but the point was to get those links crawled by Google.

Of course every SEO knows that you can't just build a website and expect it to immediately get crawled - right? 

So I set it up in Google Webmaster Tools and submitted the page to the the index:
I even got more fancy to ensure Google would see the page and crawl all of those old URLs and +1'd it on Google. 

Did it work?


I checked the URLs this evening to see how many Google is seeing and the number has dropped from 550,000 to now only 175.

I took the domain off of the server, and now have it parked elsewhere (back where it belongs) and removed the webmaster tools account. All traces of it ever existing are now gone, and the small moment of my attempt to get those URLs removed has passed.

Thank For the Advice Jenn - Now I'm Going to Try This!


If you have come across this post and you need to do something similar - I'm going to put the same disclaimer they do when a very dangerous stunt is performed in commercials. 
Do not attempt this at home - this stunt was performed by a trained professional on a closed course.

So, don't go adding a bunch of links to a random domain thinking that your attempt just weeks ago to 301 pages isn't working. The links on the external domain were too many for the domain and page, and were extremely spammy. In addition, all those links pointing to pages that were redirecting and were supposed to pass value to the new URLs, now had many spammy links pointing to them from a very spammy domain. If left up too long, or not done correctly, it could actually cause more damage than ever helping.

If you have any questions, or feel you need to try this same strategy, please don't hesitate to contact me. I'm here to help, and want to ensure that your website has considered all possible options before attempting any such trickery.

Some Helpful Links on the Very Subject:



Friday, January 18, 2013

SEO Issues - is it Penguin? Is it Panda? or is it me?

The following story is one that has been several months in the making. It's one that I have lived through one too many times as an SEO, and it is one that I am sure other SEO's have faced. I fought with the thought of writing this for fear that someone from the company might read it and get angry that the story is told. But, it's something I think that not only people out there could learn from, but speaks to so many others in this industry to show them that they are not alone.

It's long, it's a bit technical (I tried to keep it simple), and it has some personal frustrations laid out in words. My only hope is that you get value out of reading this as much as living it has made me a better person (or well, a better SEO).

It Begins


I started working on this website's SEO in May 2012 at which time I was told the site's traffic was declining due to Panda updates. In February of 2012 the traffic from SEO was the best they had ever seen, but soon after that there was a steady decline.
Traffic from February 2012 - May 2012
Before digging into any possible SEO issues, I first checked the Google Trends to ensure that the decline isn't searcher related. Often times a drop in traffic could just mean that users aren't searching for the terms the website is ranking for as they were in the past.

Top Key Terms in Google Trends
Looking at the same time frame as the traffic data, I noticed an increase in searches for the top 3 terms the website ranked for, and there appeared to be a decline around the same time from March to April that the traffic was reflecting. But there was a drop in the website's traffic in April from the 23rd to the 24th and then significantly on the 25th. The website I was working on had two SEO's already working on it: an agency and a consultant. Both had already done a numerous amount of research and some work to get the website on track. Both were stressing that the drop in traffic was due to the Panda updates by Google. I looked at SEOmoz's Google Algorithm Change History and found an update to Google's Panda on April 19th and an update to Penguin on April 24th. Given that the traffic significantly dropped on the 24th my best guess is that it was possibly Penguin related, but still needed further exploration.

Figuring Out What Was Hit by Penguin.


The site is/was broken up into sections by keyword focus. At one point, I could tell that someone really had a good head on their shoulders for SEO, but the strategy that was used was outdated. Perhaps the site was originally optimized several years before, and it just needs some cleanup now to bring it up to 2012's optimization standards. So, understanding Penguin and identifying which part of the site was driving the bulk of the organic traffic was going to be my next step in solving this mystery. Once I understood why, and where, then I could start to establish a what to do to solve the problem.

I broke the site traffic report by sections as best I could in Google Analytics. There was a bit of a struggle as all of the pages of the site resided on the main domain. Without a hierarchy in place, breaking out the sections had to be accomplished with a custom report and a head matching for landing pages. I hadn't had to do this before, so the agency that was working with the site already helped build the first report, and I began building out the other reports from there.
Click to View Larger
Section 1 over 72% of traffic

Just focusing on April and May I created a Dashboard in Google Analytics focusing on organic Traffic and identifying the sections of the site. Looking at the different sections - Section 1 was the bulk of the traffic with over 72% and Section 2 coming in second with just over 15%. Subs of Section 3 and other one-off pages make up the difference.

Both Section 1 and Section 2 dropped off after the April 24th date, so clearly they were the bulk of what was pulling the overall traffic numbers down. Since Section 1 was the majority of the traffic, I presented to the executive responsible for the site that we address any issues with that page first.

Actual screenshot of Section 1 presented
I took all of the research from the agency and consultant and we quickly reworked the pages to represent a hierarchy in the URL structure, and cleaned up any issues from the outdated optimization that was done.

Soon after Section 1 was addressed, we did the same with Section 2, and then worked on Section 3 (and sub pages, rolling them up into a solid section) and then added a few pages to grab any new opportunity.

Not Quite As  Easy as it Looks


The projects were launched in increments - first URL hierarchy fix to Section 1 and then the page redesign. Next was a full launch of URL fixes and page redesign to Section 2, and then lastly Section 3 and the new Section 4.
Section 1 - Section 2- Section 3 Launch Dates and Organic Traffic
Soon after Section 1 was launched traffic started declining rapidly. I was asked several times why traffic was getting worse, and I started digging some more. Every time I looked at the Impressions of the new URLs from Section 1 they weren't getting any traction, but the previous URLs were still.  I began looking at the history of the website, trying to find out why it was doing so well at one point, but was not doing well at that time. One of the things I noticed was that there was a lack of priority linking to these pages, but at some point there were links to some of them individually from the homepage. Google matches a hierarchy of pages to a directory structure that links are presented on a site. This site had every page on the first level, and linking to those pages from the homepage, which was telling Google that every page was the most important page. It worked at one time, but as Google has been rolling out their 2012 updates these pages were getting hit, and those links on the homepage weren't there anymore. Before the launch of Section 2, I had them put links to the main directory for each section on the homepage. The links would tell the search engines that these are important pages of the website, but not be so obnoxious with a dozen or more links on the homepage to discourage users (avoiding the appearance of spamminess).

But - even after adding the links to the homepage, the traffic to those pages was still declining. Pressure was put on me to figure out what was wrong. In addition, accusations were flying that I single-handedly ruined the SEO for the site, I spent every waking hour looking at reports, and trying to figure out what was going on. I consulted friends in the industry, and read every article I could find to figure out what Panda or Penguin updates were affecting these pages.

Then it hit me - just as the links to these sections would help them get recognized as important pages, so were the other pages that were being linked to from the homepage. In fact a set of them linked to the website's search results with queries attached to them mimicking pages, but showing search results. On those search results pages, there were over 200 links with multiple (we're talking hundreds - possibly thousands) combinations of parameters. The bots were coming to the homepage, going to the links to the search results pages, and then getting stuck in this vortex of links and combinations of parameter generating URLs - not allowing any crawl time for the pages that once were getting rankings. This also explains why the new URLs weren't showing very many impressions in the Webmaster Tools Data - those pages just weren't getting crawled.

There was a project underway that would solve the many links on the search pages, and there was also talk of using ajax to show the results. When this project would launch, the bots would go to the URL from the homepage, but would then essential not go much further. With this project a few months out, I made the case to add the search page to robots.txt to allow the bots to then recognize the Sections as important pages. After several weeks of attempting to convince the powers that be, the URL was eventually added to the robots.txt file.

Immediately after the search page was added to the robots.txt Google Webmaster tools presented me with a warning:
Warning in Webmaster Tools
In most cases, a warning from Google should never be taken lightly, but in this case it was exactly what I wanted. In fact it proved to me that my theory was correct, and that the site was hopefully headed down the right path.


Panic, Questioning, and a Third Party


As with every up in the SEO world, there must be a down. Soon after the search result page was added to the robots.txt the organic traffic to the site dropped, and continued to drop. Throughout those grueling three months there were several Google Panda and Penguin updates. I documented each and every one of them in Google Analytics, and continued to answer questions, gathering data, and dealing with being under close scrutiny that the work I was doing was complete BS.
Organic Traffic from September 2012 - November 2012
I sat in numerous meetings, some of which I walked out crying (I'm not afraid to admit it), being questioned about the road I had taken and why we weren't seeing results. There were people within the company recommending that they roll the pages back to where they were before, and even changing the URLs. I fought hard that they don't touch a thing. I sent an article posted on Search Engine Land by Barry Schwartz citing Google's patent that "tricks" search spammers.

The patent states:

When a spammer tries to positively influence a document’s rank through rank-modifying spamming, the spammer may be perplexed by the rank assigned by a rank transition function consistent with the principles of the invention, such as the ones described above. For example, the initial response to the spammer’s changes may cause the document’s rank to be negatively influenced rather than positively influenced. Unexpected results are bound to elicit a response from a spammer, particularly if their client is upset with the results. In response to negative results, the spammer may remove the changes and, thereby render the long-term impact on the document’s rank zero. Alternatively or additionally, it may take an unknown (possibly variable) amount of time to see positive (or expected) results in response to the spammer’s changes. In response to delayed results, the spammer may perform additional changes in an attempt to positively (or more positively) influence the document’s rank. In either event, these further spammer-initiated changes may assist in identifying signs of rank-modifying spamming.
 But the article and my please fell on deaf ears...

It had gotten so heated and there was fear that nothing was being done while traffic was significantly declining that the company brought in yet another SEO consultant to look at the site objectively.

Just as the consultant was starting his audit, and the traffic hit the lowest I ever thought it could possibly go, the next day traffic went up. The last week in November (roughly 3 months after we blocked the search result page) I saw an increase in traffic in Google Analytics to Section 1:
Section 1 Organic Traffic
I quickly pulled up my report to check the Section's impressions from the Webmaster Tools data, and there was a significant increase as well:
Section 1 Impressions from Webmaster Tools Data
On December 3, 2012 I logged into Webmaster Tools and saw that the warning had gone away:
It was the "halleluiah" moment that every SEO dreams of, and very few get. All the work I had done, the fighting for what I believed in, it all finally paid off.

To this day traffic continues to increase - we can now focus on some of the cleanup still left to do, and then onto projects that will attract new opportunity.
Organic Traffic from November 2012 - January 17, 2013 (day before this post is written)
Quick Note: 
I forgot to mention a post I wrote months ago while going through all of this - SEO - Panda and the Penguins. It helps to give a bit of perspective of some of the linking stuff I didn't get into in this post. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

SEO Buzzwords - don't get sucked into the hype

I am asked often by people wanting to get into the SEO business where to get training. There are a lot of online resources available; articles, blog posts, videos, and even downloadable presentations. It's difficult to know what to believe, who to pay attention to, and what will work for any particular website. Most experienced SEO's will tell you to learn as much as you can and then simply start optimizing and learning from trial and error. But who has the time? Let alone wanting to risk a website losing rankings or, even worse, getting banned for using the wrong techniques? This industry is very fickle and is always changing - what may work for one website, may not work for another, and what that big company that dictates how we should be doing our job changes it's mind often.

I have sat back and watched how the industry began, has grown, and developed throughout the years. On one hand it's been fun to be a part of something big that started from one company's idea and development that turned out an entire industry as a result.  On the other had, because it is still a very young industry, and that industry is dictated by the company that sparked it, we are all still developing standards, strategies, and learning every day.  In fact, just the other day I saw a post on Facebook for a workshop on how to use the Google Disavow Tool. It scares me to see SEO's already taking advantage of a strategy that is to not be taken lightly and making money off of "teaching" people on how to do it themselves. It's like a surgeon trying to teach a child how to patch up a kidney. Any seriously wrong move and the patient could die, and any slightly overlooked part of the process then the kidney could fail over time not knowing if it was the surgery or that the patient drinks vodka all day long.

In trying to learn and keep up with the latest in this capricious industry we often find ourselves having to look-up and research what the "experts" are talking about - those SEO buzzwords - coming across contradicting opinions, and quite frequently second guessing ourselves (even the highly experienced SEO experts second guess themselves). I have too often seen people trying to do what they think is right, and completely messing up their own site, and even client's websites because of all of the hype and misinformation out there.

The truth is that it is all viable, it's all in how you approach it. Of course, hearing that probably doesn't help, so the following are some of the most common strategies and some SEO buzzwords and hopefully clear up any confusion you might have. 

Link Building


Yeah, I started with the most common, yet most controversial buzzword of all. The term "Link Building" began with the birth of the almighty Google itself. What was a very simple and quick way to get rankings for a website for the most popular search engine, is slowly becoming an art-form within itself. The basic idea is that a link from one site pointing to another site is counted as a "vote". The more links pointing from other sites to one site the more votes, and thus higher rankings. With such an easy strategy to implement, and the growing popularity of the search engine that uses the algorithm, more and more spammers began to take advantage. By offering website owners to pay money fro a link pointing to a website (a.k.a. purchasing links), asking a website to link to a site in exchange for a link back (a.k.a.link exchanging), submitting a website to directories (a.k.a. directory submissions), commenting on blog posts (a.k.a. commenting), and even submitting articles with links in them to article distribution sites - all of these means of obtaining links tricked the search engines into ranking websites that might not have otherwise deserved the positions they were given.  In December of 2007 Google began cracking down on such strategies not only with increasingly new algorithms that catch sites that might be purchasing links, but by allowing webmasters to report one another manually. In the years since, we have seen a dramatic increase in the quality of the websites appearing in search results as a result.


SEO Buzzwords from Link Building:

Text Links
Links that point a page that contain a descriptive keyword or phrase. Many SEO's have used this strategy in the past because they give a context and a relevance to a link. This means that the search engines can read and index a page with all the text links and assign a ranking based on the quality if the content, the links and the destination of the links.

With Google's latest updates, the search engine no longer looks at the text within the link itself, but rather the words and relevance around the link. By recognizing that a page on a dog breed website with a link to a pet related website contains terms like "puppy", "hound", "paws", and other pet related terms that the dog site pointing to the pet site is, in fact, related. What I have seen in the past is a automotive website with an article on candy that contains one text link for "chocolate bon bons" and points to a chocolate website just isn't going to count (believe me, I've seen it). In fact, it will hurt the website's rankings.

Link Bait
The idea behind ‘link bait’ is to encourage people to bookmark or link to your website from theirs. Personal blogs, social media sites, and other communities will usually link to a site if the site offers something useful. Because of this, the search engines place a high value on the link.The best way to obtain these types of links is to write articles or white papers, a very valuable blog posting, or any sort of information your audience will find relevant. The more they share, the better the website ranks. The trick is to not force it - don't go out hiring people to share your posts, just let them happen naturally.

Link Juice
The ‘search equity’ that is passed to one page from another is called "link juice". The more relevant a page is, how often it has been shared, and how many times it is visited places a high value from the search engines. From that page (or website) the pages that link from it will also gain extra value because the original content is deemed useful to users.

Internal Linking
Almost self explanatory, most individuals tend to overlook the importance of linking within their own website. In fact, in most cases, the link to a page from a homepage can be just as valuable, if not more, than an external link. This, of course, does not mean that you should go adding a link to every page of your website from your homepage; nor does it mean you should link to a few pages, then rotate them, so that every page gets a chance at a high vote. What it means is that the pages that are most relevant to your users and make the most sense to continue from the homepage to, are the ones you should link to, and are the second most valuable pages (next to your homepage) that the search engines will rank.

Taxonomy
Categorizing a website with a hierarchy and linking to one another internally is one of the best ways to show the search engines which pages are most important, and where they should rank. If a website is about cupcakes and selling supplies, the site should be organized by types of cupcakes (perhaps flavors) and then categories of supplies. Then place pages within that category that make sense. From there, pages should link to one another where relevant to show the search engines that this is X category and a set of pages, and this is Y category with a set of pages.

Internal Optimization


Often overlooked by agencies simply due to the fact that so many clients will hire an agency to "optimize" their site only to tell them in the end that they don't have the resources to make the suggested changes, or that they simply just can't make changes (whether it be because of design, usability, business reasons, etc).  Unfortunately this leaves agencies in the predicament that they have to please the client and do what they were hired to do (which is to get the website rankings and increase traffic) but left with no other choice but to start link building. But a good SEO knows that internal optimization is really the heart and soul into obtaining legitimate rankings that will stick throughout all of the spam algorithm updates like Panda and Penguin. Below is a quick list and brief explanations for internal optimization.

Metatags


Title Tag - This often shows up as the title in your search engine result. The title tag should never be more than 70 characters, and should only contain your most broad term that describes your website.

Description Tag - The description tag will often appear in the search result as the description text if the key term searched is within the tag. If not, then the search engine will pull from the content on the page itself where the key term is located. If a page on your site is specific to a certain term, then this is a good time to get that term within the description.

Keyword Tag - The keyword meta tag was once the main source of how search engines determined what site would show up for what search. Now it isn't as relevant, but is still used by some meta crawler search engines (not Google - but Excite, and often Bing). List out a few of your target terms for the page you are optimizing to help you focus on what you want the page to rank for, and just in case a search engine is paying attention.

Content


Keyword density in document text - simply put, search engines look at how often a term shows up within the content of a page. If a word is mentioned 10 times within 300 words on a page, then the page won't get very good rankings. If a word is mentioned 10 times within 1200 words and spread out once or perhaps twice in a paragraph or two, then that page is more likely to rank better. A quick way to check densities is to put the content of a page within Microsoft Word, do a search within the document (Find), type in the word, and click "Highlight All". it's a great visual to see where a term is placed.

Content around the anchor text - As mentioned earlier, the words and context around an internal link is representative of the relevance of that page. The more a page will have of terms similar in context to the term you are optimizing for, the better.

Unique content - Any content borrowed, rented, or just stolen is considered a felony in the SEO world. There are algorithms in place that look for not only content within a site that exists elsewhere on a site, but content that exists on other sites as well. A quick way to check to see if your site has unique content is by searching on copyscape.com. Content that you have on yoru site that exists on other pages (or every page) will simply just not get counted (sort of just overlooked by the search engine), so any key terms within duplicate content on your site won't count. Duplicate content outside of your website is another story. If a website has content that you have copied (in other words, they had it first) then your site will get penalized. If your site had content first, and then someone copied you, then they would get penalized.

Frequency of content change - Search engines don't know the difference between a blog, a new publication, or a brochure-ware site that remains static. The best way they have developed to recognize a cutting edge news site and a static site, is how often new content is generated. The more often a new page is created with a robust amount of text, the more the search engine will come back and index, and therefore the higher the priority those new pages will get. If your site is something that is updated often, and is generating new content regularly, then the search engines will adjust accordingly. If your site is static, then don't worry, let it be, and the age of the pages will determine where they belong in the world of rankings (mentioned later).

Anchor text has key term(s) in links - What was a solid strategy of obtaining rankings for key terms in the past, is now less relevant, and even considered bad SEO. It's more about keyword "essence" and the relevance of the terms around the anchor text, than the anchor text itself (as mentioned above). Some of the more experienced SEO's are even finding that linking the word "more" or "click here" are helping their rankings more so than putting the key term within the anchor text.


Duplicating content - As mentioned before in the "Unique Content" bullet item, duplicating content on a site, or from another site is a very bad technique.

Invisible text - Nope, don't use white text on a white background with a bunch of keywords in it that only the search engine can see. Even 1 pixel high div's with the overflow hidden set in the stylesheet is a bad thing. Not only will you not get rankings, but your site will get penalized for it.

Overall Website


Age of website - the older a domain (or website) is, the higher a priority it will get within search rankings. A typical spam strategy is to buy a new domain and optimize it as much as possible to obtain quick rankings. Because of this, search engines will tend to ignore a website until it has been around for a few weeks, sometimes even months or years. If you have an older domain, then don't go thinking you should change it because it's "stale", it's actually a good thing.

Poor coding and design - Search engines can't tell what good design is, but they can tell from the popularity of the website. Social sharing, articles, blog posts, and all of the buzz about a website will only happen when a website is easy for the visitor to use, and gives all of the value a user is looking for. So, make sure your website is easy on the eyes, gives a clear and concise value proposition with a call to action, and is easy to navigate.

Exact Match Domain - Many spammers create website with a descriptive key term in the domain in attempts to get rankings. Google announced in October of 2012 that they were updating with an algorithm that will weed out any exact match domains. For example: http://www.compareinterestrates.com/ or http://www.best-interest-mortgage-rates.com/

Keyword-rich URLs and filenames - Just as the exact match domain is taking a hit in the recent updates, the keyword rich URL and filename strategy is as well. SEO's used to put their keyword within the URL with dashed between words in order to obtain ranking for long tail terms.
Site Accessibility - it's not talked about often, but can be potentially beneficial when your website is designed with accessibility in mind. Someone that has poor vision, hard of hearing, or may have trouble clicking links and buttons, is going to have trouble with most websites. If your website audience contains users that might need some extra help, keep this in consideration. Search engines know, and it could help you rank over your competition that hasn't.

Website size - Big or small, size doesn't matter. Some SEO's stress that a website needs to have millions upon millions of pages, but I have often personally witnessed websites that get penalized for having too many pages. Don't let this happen to your site, keep the pages down to a manageable and reasonable number. If your site is a publication with thousands or even hundreds of thousands of pages with unique content, then you should be fine. Just watch your webmaster tools notifications. Most of the websites that trigger the warnings are ecommerce websites with masses of pages for each product. If you find your site is showing this kind of error, it's best to seek out an experienced professional to help you get your pages under control and managed properly.

Domains versus subdomains - A subdomain is a subset of a main domain. Often used as a place to store images, or for other purposes, a subdomain looks something like images.mysite.com. Too often websites will put their highly valuable unique content of their blog on a subdomain. Unfortunately search engines don't know the difference between a main domain and the subdomain. Because of this, they treat each one as a separate entity. In the past SEO's have taken advantage of this and tried to get multiple rankings on one page with multiple subdomains. Just this year (2012) Matt Cutts has announced that they no longer treat them separately for separate rankings, but rather as an extension of the main domain. Because of this, subdomains not only won't see rankings, but the content is still not counted as part of the main domain. When setting up a blog, or any section of your website, it's best to simply just add a new directory (ex: www.mysite.som/blog) so that any of the content within that directory supports the domain as a whole.

Hyphens in URLs - When creating URLs for your website, it's still considered best practice to separate each word with a hyphen rather than a space, or an underscore. For example, if you write a blog post or article titled "The ten best puppies everyone should own" the URL should be "www.mysite.com/the-ten-best-puppies-everyone-should-own.html" or to avoid getting pegged for keyword rich URLs and a set hierarchy, it should be "www.mysite.com/puppies/ten-best.html".

URL length - A URL that is too long is a red flag for a keyword rich URL. try to keep your URL simple, and keep that site hierarchy.

IP address - The IP address is the unique identifying number (like a phone number) of where the server that hosts your website is located. If you are targeting a local audience, or maybe even just focusing on one country, be aware of where your website is hosted. A website that targets users searching in Canada, and is hosted in the U.S. will have an IP that resides within the U.S. In this case, search engines will only rank the site for U.S. searchers, and not for their Canadian searchers. If you aren't' worried about focusing your SEO by location, then don't worry about your IP.

robots.txt - The robots.txt file is a very simple text file (like Notepad) that resides on the main server. The only case in which you need a robots.txt is when you want to block certain sections of your website. Some search engines will allow you to put links to your xml sitemap for better indexing. For more information on setting up your robots.txt you can visit robotstxt.org.

XML Sitemap - Sitemaps are an easy way to let search engines know about all of the pages within your website that you would like to see indexed.

Redirects (301 and 302) or Status Codes - 404, 301, 302... Each one of these numbers has a different meaning to a search engine. The most common is a 404 or "page not found" it basically means that the UIRL existed, and now it doesn't. In the SEO world, the 301 is another code that is mentioned often. A 301 one lets the search engine know that the URL existed and has been moved, so we let the search engine know by redirecting the old URL to the new URL. My favorite explanation of these codes is from a dear friend of mine Lindsay Wassell at SEOmoz in which she uses pictures to best explain the different codes, and what they mean.

Some basic SEO buzzwords


Long Tail - A long tail is what most SEO refer to when talking about a 3-5 or more word term. When a user is looking to buy a computer and begins their search with the word "computers", they will often start to get specific as they search focusing on the specifics like "500 GB laptop computer". This is what a long tail key terms is - the more specific you can target your audience, the more likely they will be to convert as they find what they are looking for.

Indexed - Indexing is a term SEO's use when a search engine has crawled a website and it's pages, and then starts to display them within the search results. This doesn't effect rankings, but merely expresses that a page is within the database, and recognized by the search engine. A quick and easy way to see if your website is indexed is to search with site: before your domain. For example: search for "site:oceansofpets.com".

SERP - Simply meaning the "search engine results page" and rolled off of the tongue of SEO's quite often. Pronounced just as it looks (serp) the search engine results page is the page that the user sees after completing the search.

Snippet - A search snippet is what SEO's use to describe the title and description a search engine displays on the search results page.


I think that should just about do it to get you started. With SEO there is no standard way of doing things. There is no true right and no true wrong, there is only what we try, fail or succeed, and try again.

Please feel free to add anything I might have missed in the comments below. I'm hoping this will become a pretty comprehensive list that newbie SEO's can get started with.