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Posts Tagged ‘Search Engine Optimization (SEO)’

Speed Optimized Websites Rank Higher with Search Engines

July 16th, 2009
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Website performance should not be taken lightly. Now, when I say website performance optimization in general I mean the time that it takes a webpage to fully render in the browser. Many different factors can influence that including the number of files that make your page, the size of the files, whether it renders in standard XHTML or quirks mode, etc. But, for search engines all that matters is the raw HTML output of your site. One of the ways that search engines measure a site’s validity is by measuring the speed it takes it to serve the HTML portion. Yes, raw web server power. Why?

Search engines try to guess which websites out there should gain more respect than others, one characteristics is speed. If you think of it, the speed it takes to serve a page reflects how much the owner invested in it and hence reflects on the ranking that it should get in a backwards way. In other words, a site that is served on a dedicated server with serious horse power should get higher rankings than a site that is served on the cheapest shared hosting plan. Another fact is that major search engines researched user return rate and have found that the return is higher for faster sites and even microseconds count. That is why the best search engines focus on speedier results and favor results from faster websites. Really?

google_webmaster_tools_crawl_stats2

Look at the graph above, you will see a direct correlation between the website’s speed and the number of indexed pages. There might be a delay and it is not 100% accurate because the speed is not the only factor here, but over time it seems to have an effect. These graphs are from Google Webmaster Tools, under the crawler stats. Ok, how should I increase the performance of my site?

Here are a few things to consider:

  • Invest in a good hosting package. If you are serious, get at least a VPS with your own IP address (dedicated IP is also a measure). A VPS or a dedicated server will always trump the performance of shared hosting over time. Notice that some shared hosting environments reach 500+ websites on the same piece of hardware.
  • If you use PHP make sure to use APC: Alternative PHP Caching.
  • Always turn on caching at all levels: Apache, PHP, and your application. All levels usually have some sort of a caching mechanism – use it!
  • Research your biggest bottleneck and tackle it, always repeat over time. Just like you do with SEO – it is always work in progress.
  • Look in the logs: every time that your server experiences an error or a warning it has to trigger the error handling mechanism which in most environments require additional resources. Especially unhandled exceptions in ASP.NET/IIS7 environments.

The list is really long and can get very technical but in general you always want to keep website performance optimization in the back of your head. It is well worth it!

What is your experience with speed optimized websites? how did it affect your SEO results?

Performance Optimization, Web Application Hosting, Web Development ,

How to Use Mod_Rewrite to Set a Canonical URL

October 31st, 2008
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The importance of the Canonical URL is well known in the SEO world. However, for most web developers and website owners is something that is often overlooked. The theory in short explains that search engines rank each page individually and typically penalize multiple pages with duplicate content. So, if a site does not have a mechanism that identifies a Canonical URL, (in other words, a unique URL for the main page), search engines may evaluate multiple links that result in the home page separately. As a result, your site may get penalized altogether or simply suffer from lower pagerank due to the fact that the pagerank is now shared among multiple pages. An example:

The home page of a site can be displayed with any one of the following URLs:

http://domainname.com

http://domainname.com/index.html

http://www.domainname.com

http://www.domainname.com/

etc.

To avoid the above, simply use apache’s mod_rewrite and include the following code in an .htaccess file that should be located at the root folder of the web server (replace the domain name text with your real one):
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} !^www.domainname.com$ [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.
domainname.com/$1 [R=permanent,L]

Now, you’ll need to make sure that all your links that directs traffic to the home page use the chosen canonical url.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Web Development , , , , , ,

How to Use the Footer to Improve SEO and Increase Traffic

October 25th, 2008

The Footer is often overlooked by web designers and web developers alike. But it can be the hidden gem of any well thought website; delivering SEO optimization advantage and bringing additional traffic. Lately, it seems, the footer is showing a new trend in web design altogether. Let’s look at how we can combine beauty and brains in the innocent footer.

Can the Footer improve my SEO?

Yes. The footer is one of the elements of any good website that can boost the overall amount of traffic coming to your site. This is where you work on boosting the ranking of the collection of your pages and even the collection of your sites. The top of every page is SEO optimized for a specific subject which is supported by the page itself. The bottom of all your pages is SEO optimized for a wide range of subjects that is covered by your entire site.

In the recent past, the footer was where you placed the copyright statement and perhaps the link to the site map and the privacy policy. Later, websites started showing links to other important web pages or categories within the same site following the all pages should link to all pages within a site thinking. Today, the footer is used as a basket with all the important keywords and key-phrases.

All you got to do to use the footer for your site’s SEO is add a bunch of lists (<ul> , <li>) with relevant keywords. Ideally you have a page for each keyword and the list is actually a list of links to these pages. This optimized footer shows up on every page of your site – and vualla! you are keeping web crawlers happy.

Can the Footer be Pretty?

Of-course. While this is not a new concept, lately I see a trend in footers where they seem to receive more and more love from their designers and webmasters. Here are some screenshots from footers I thought looked good while delivering a nice SEO optimization advantage:

Footer on Cnet.com

Cnet.com's footer

Footer: New York Times

nytimes.com's footer

Footer Daily SEO

dailyseoblog.com's footer

The footer has, and is, evolving all tFooters In Modern Web Design: Creative Examples and Ideashe time. The latest trend seems to show that the footer is gaining brains and beauty. Most importantly, the footer is often overlooked but in fact, it is a great SEO tool!

Additional SEO and Design in Footers Resources:

Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Web Development , , , , ,

5 Peculiar SEO Tips You Should Know About

October 13th, 2008

The following are tips we have learned to address with any SEO Project in addition to the usual tasks:

1. Investment: the Length of your Domain Registration

Google will always value quality website and quality content. The length of registration that a domain is registered for is one more indicator for Google that a site is here to stay and that its owners have put some efforts into it. This fact is mentioned in the Google patent for its PageRank. In simple words: register your domain for at least 3-5 years for an improved recognition from Google.

See more: Does the Length of a Domain Registration Affect Your Rank?

2. Performance: Fast Sites Rank Higher

Again, if you are serious about your site you will make sure that your users can read your site fast. In some cases it takes some effort to improve a site’s performance, in particular with dynamic content such as a CMS or a Shopping Cart. Make sure to use the right software, apply updates (usually contain performance improvements), and consider tightening up the server’s configuration. A good rule of thumb for serving pages is an average of one second per page or less, with a half a second or less and you are a head of the pack.

See more: Landing page load time now affects keywords’ Quality Scores

3. History: the Age of Sites Linking to Yours Matter

Having incoming links to your sites is what you want. However, it will take time before you will see any significant result. This is because Google measure the age of incoming links to your site and ranks older links with a higher ranking. There is not much here that can be done except make sure that links to your main site remain indefinitely and avoid short term incoming links. Also, if you were considering disposing of an old site that somehow links to your main site – reconsider leaving it as is and letting the links mature like wine.

Many factors are at play here: the age of the domains from which links are pointing to pages on your site, The age of the links themselves, and the age of your own domain. In short, the older the links and domains, the higher the ranking or the rank influence overall.

See more: The Age of a Domain Name

4. Uniqueness: Canonical URL

Every site can decide what is the full URL that it will use. Most sites add the ‘www’ in front of the actual registered domain and some ommit. The dangerous teritory is when sites are dynamically generated, like a DB backed CMS, and links are relative. Hence if a third party linked to your site with the ‘www’ and another third party linked to your site without – it will produce identical content pages with different URLs. From Google’s perspective ‘www.yoursite.com’ and ‘yoursite.com’ are two different URLs. To solve this issue, setup a redirect to your preferred URL – your preferred URL is what is known as Canonical URL.

See more: SEO Advice: URL CanonicalizationCleaning Up Canonical URLs With Redirects

5. Relevance: Google Uses Geolocation to Serve Local Sites

Once more Google is simply trying to do its job: serve pages that are most relevant to you – the search user. Hence, it will retrieve the geolocation for a site and will rank higher local sites to local users. The geolocation data is derived from the IP address. Hence, to get more traffic from Canadian users for example, host your site in Canada.

Peculiar but simple, isn’t it?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Web Development , , ,

5 Important Zen Cart Modules

September 28th, 2008
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While Zen Cart is one of the most feature rich open source shopping carts out there, almost every developer ends up using a handful of modules from the free software add-ons of the official Zen Cart site. Here I include a short review of the 5 Zen Cart Modules that I find most useful in our implementations of client’s shopping carts:

1. Ultimate SEO

One of the must-haves for every Zen Cart shopping cart. The Ultimate SEO for Zen Cart module modifies the default clunky URLs to a more Search Engine Friendly (SEF) URLs. This means that instead of certain parameters in the URL, such as product id, category id, easy page id, etc, the actual name of the article is used.

What is nice about this SEF URLs module is that uses a technique that makes use of regular expressions and identifies the type of the page to display by a letter: ‘p’ for product page, ‘c’ for category page, etc. and it adds the specific id number at the end of the URL. While some claim that this may lower the relevance of the page for the more important keywords I have never seen a proof. On the flip side, due to the same reason, it is possible to display the same page with multiple URLs: great little feature that can be used in certain SEO strategies. Please be careful as it may also result in de-listing from Google.

2. Easy Populate

For store managers that wish to manage their entire catalog of products, categories, images, prices, etc. from a single excel spreadsheet. The Easy Populate Zen Cart Plugin was migrated from a similar plugin that wa originally designed for osCommerce. The Zen Cart Module has been adjusted for the tweaks in the DB architecture and some features were added in more recent versions of the module.

Once installed, this module offers downloading a tab delimited file with all the information laid out in a single big table for your entire catalog. This is key if one needs to manage a large number of products on a regular basis. Some tips to remember when using this module:

  • Before uploading any new products, download the latest spreadsheet and use it as a template for uploading new products or for updating existing products information.
  • The product model number is your anchor: this is the only value that does not change, anything else can be edited in this method. If you need to change the product model number, you will need to erase the old one and create a new one.
  • To delete a product change the action code to 7 and make sure the product model matches.
  • Never touch the last column – it serves as a control for the parsing function.
  • Always review the logs once you upload – this way you will reveal any anomalies like unusual characters in the product description that may throw off the rest of the table and hence introduce random irrelevant products or may even damage your DB.

3. Simple Google Analytics

Unless you are using a different analytics tool, the Simple Google Analytics Zen Cart Module makes it effortless to include the necessary code in all your pages. Once installed, copy and paste your Google analytics code.

While it is not important which specific tool you use for analytics (some are better than others, and some cost more than others, while Google Analytics is free up to a point), it is important that you track entry pages, exit pages, referring sites, etc. to your shopping cart. This is like the dashboard for any site that takes SEO seriously.

4. Time Zone Offset

Ever wondered why when you place an order at 9am you receive an email with the order information which confirms that your order was placed at 10am or 11am? the difference rises from differences in time zones between the business time zone and the server actual time zone. Some servers are physically hosted somewhere in the east cost while the business that owns and operates the store resides somewhere on the west cost. Hence the time difference. The Time Zone Offset Zen Cart Module comes to remedy this issue. Simple to install, and simple to use.

5. Backup MySQL Plugin

How can you backup your current state of Zen Cart? well, you need both the full set of files (which you most likely have) and a copy of the DB – which contains any recent live orders, customers info, modules settings, etc. The Backup MySQL Plugin makes it easy to extract a copy of the DB. Once installed, it takes backing up the currect DB is a matter of clicking a link.

While there are hundreds of modules all available for free for you to download and use on your Zen Cart, we have found that only a few are actually useful and will cause no headaches. The above list is a shortlist of Zen Cart modules that we have found useful in our implementations.

What modules do you find useful? What’s in your Zen Cart?

eCommerce, Web Development, ZenCart , , , , , , , ,

3 Steps to Increase Your Website’s Traffic with Popular Keywords

September 21st, 2008
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These days it is all about SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and SEM (Search Engine Marketing). Especially now with the financial and real estate markets in turmoil, businesses seek to conserve resources and perhaps try the alternative to online advertising; seo with keyword targeting.

Keywords from A Tweeter User (Tweeterstats.com)

The following three steps will help you refine content based on a list of selected keywords:

1. List Targeted Keywords

Make a small list (5-15 keywords) of keywords that relate to your industry. Only you will actually know what keywords relate best to your business and services. What you want to remember is to list keywords that you assume your target audience will search for not necessarily keywords that describe your services directly. Notice that keywords can also be key phrases, meaning 2 or 3 keywords that are joined together into a phrase.

2. Refine the List of Targeted Keywords to Targeted and Popular Keywords

Use one of the following free services (or all of them) to refine your list:

These free tools give you a list of related keywords and key phrases with the relevant popularity and lots of other statistics. For example, we provide services for clients who power their ecommerce sites with ZenCart. I typed ‘zencart’ into Google Adwords Keyword Tool and it shows that some of the most popular key phrases are ‘zencart hosting’ and ‘zencart templates’. As a result, pages that relate to ZenCart should have these key phrases in the text. Perhaps I will separate the zencart list of keywords from the rest of the keywords, etc.

3. Develop Content Based on Targeted Keywords

Now that we have a list of refined keywords, it is time to do something about it. Develop or refine your content around these keywords.

Of-course in each website there will be a hit or a miss. Keep exploring for new keywords on a regular basis and make sure to keep tracking the results or any changes that occur as a result of your refined content.

Do you want to share your methods of achieving high levels of targeted traffic?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Web Development, ZenCart , , ,

SEO vs PPC: is SEO the preference these days?

September 7th, 2008

Since the days that Overture mastered PPC, even before AdWords was born, I advocated for SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and overall SEM (Search Engine Marketing) over PPC (Pay Per Click advertisement). Recently, blogs, news, client requests, and Google Trends show an ever increasing attention toward SEO at the expense of attention to PPC. Site owners are starting to realize that PPC is not the only solution and certainly not the best.

There are many reasons which will lead businesses and individuals to shift their resources and efforts from online advertisement, PPC in particular, to SEO. Some of the reasons that come to mind are: slowing economy, advertisement saturation, lack of ROI, and perhaps realization that SEO has superior value. The facts are obvious: more businesses look for SEO than ever before. Here is a recent comparison of SEO and PPC in Google Trends (from today 9/7/08):

It is true that with paid online marketing such as AdWords or Panama, it is fairly easy to see results fast. However, once you analyze the ROI in almost any business and on almost any product now a days, the data will tell you that you did OK, and nothing more than OK. In other words, you will get results but a simple glance at all your options will reveil similar or, in some cases, better ROI with other venues like Press Releases, Public Relations, Good old fashion marketing, or even … SEO. In fact, you might discover that if you try using a newsletter to promote your products you may get better ROI. This occured more than once with our clients, where their customers enjoyed the personal attention and the on going discounts that we saw a continuous boost of 30-50% in sales the day of the newsletter compared to the entire month. The bottom line: you must try other venues not only PPC advertisement!

As for the negative part of PPC, I will cover it very briefly just because I do not enjoy discussing the negatives. Watch for click fraud! Avoid paying for syndicated advertisement – it almost never shows results! Ok, I am done.

So why SEO? I have managed websites where the owner consistently spent north of $100K on paid advertisement per month with a single PPC vendor. While it worked and the results were there – the ROI compared to other solutions were never great. In comparison, take one month pay away from PPC and put it toward SEO at least once a year and you shall see greater results over time. The upside to PPC is that it is immediate, once you turn it on you see hits. With SEO you got to give it time and nurish the process. Typical results are showing within 3-6 months and nothing is guaranteed. These are the main reasons that businesses shy away from it, but they shouldn’t. Remember, once you gain momentum in SEO it is very difficult to take it away.

Never forget that SEO is only one of many tools or aproaches that you need for any website. Marketing a website requires a mix of efforts, one of them is SEO. Efficient website marketing includes SEM (Search Engine Marketing), Press Releases (with links), Working on raising the number of links into the site, etc.

Conclusion

The fact is out: a trend of increased attention to SEO over PPC is on. The reason for this trend is not fully understood but it can be attributed to the slowing economy, lack of ROI, or better awareness of SEO value. Regardless, many SEO projects have shown that SEO can deliver better ROI than PPC over time. Do you prefer SEO over PPC?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Web Development , ,

Joomla vs Ektron

September 5th, 2008

We have been receiving a lot of comparison inquiries lately and I wanted to put this simple Joomla vs Ektron content management systems comparison table out there. Have in mind that much of the decision of which CMS to choose for your company or organization is usually made way before this comparison since the two systems are different in such a fundamental level. However, this is a comparison of those fundamentals plus some of the ‘interesting’ features.

Joomla vs Ektron

Joomla vs Ektron

Feature/Item Joomla Ektron
License Model Open Source Closed Source, Compiled
Price Free Starts at $15,000
Web Platform PHP ASP.NET 2.0
Database MySQL MS SQL (Express version OK)
Extendability Options Plugins, Components, Mambots. Joomla 1.5 went through significant development that now offers many hook-ups for plugins without hacking any core files. Plugins (Observer Method), Ektron API (via ASP.NET code behind), Extensive Web Services API
SEO Options Search Engine Friendly URLs (Joomla 1.5)
Meta tags controls
Full template overrides, clean HTML
Search Engine Friendly URLs (CMS400 7.6)
Meta tags controls and consolidation
Content Tagging
Full template overrides, HTML is often not so clean (part issue with .NET as well)
Social Networking None, unless using a third party component or a plugin. Many features built in: Personal profile, personal area, connections between profiles, forums, blogging.

Thoughts?

Content Management Systems, Ektron, Joomla , , , , , , ,

Flash and Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

July 5th, 2008
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Those of you who worked with Activo on SEO projects know that we have always opposed Flash. At Activo we always valued traffic over look & feel which translated into avoiding Flash technology altogether. Well, no more! If it is true that Flash sites can now receive ‘equal’ treatment, then we will give Flash its place in our Web Development practices.

In recent days, both Adobe and Google issued press releases and blog articles how Google’s crawler will be able to read into Shockwave (.swf) files. This means that all text, menus, and content that is embedded in a Flash object file will now be readable by search engines. Adobe published the Showkwave standards so search engines will be able to read it and Google was one of the first to respond and announce that it knows how to read Shokwave contents. What a welcomed change!

What this means is that we will now have additional parameters to take into account, especially in websites that have decided not to work with flash as their main platform but instead offer a small portion of their home page in flash (such as a banner or a rotating main message). Additionally, if this holds true and Google will be able to read into Shokwave (flash) files than we will start seeing more flash based sites coming up in the Organic search results from Google and search engines.

Sources:

Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Web Development , , , , ,

5 points for assessing link exchange requests

June 8th, 2008
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Out of no where you receive a friendly email from a webmaster that claims that they added a link to your website on theirs and requests that you do the same on your website. They even include a link in the email showing the page with your website name, description, and the link to your website. This is great! now, we are only being asked to add the same link to their website somewhere, should I do it?

Graph representing a network of links

The art of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is understanding how it works and what raises your site’s ranking in the various search engines. Links that point to your site from other sites is a big area of SEO and is very important to raise the traffic levels of your sites. However, sometimes links can also hurt your positioning, especially if your site is already established and has a certain level of traffic that you do not want to sacrifice.

let’s explore five ways to asses the value of the link that is now pointing to your site and whether you should or should not add a link back on your own website:

1. Website Relevancy

An incoming link from a related (content wise) website is of higher value than a link from a non related website. So, according to this principle, go ahead and visit the website from which the link is pointing to your and asses the relativity to your content and to what makes your site jazz. Notice that in some cases industry proximity will not be enough but only the specific sub-industry within the industry is what you are looking for. For example: your site focuses on gourmet coffee and the linking website is about coffee in general – while it is more relevant than a website about teas a link from this site might hurt your existing gourmet coffee traffic and in order to keep the momentum and grow your traffic you would want additional links from ony gourmet coffee related website. This is also due to the fact that coffee related websites are a dime a dozen and it is important to stay away from the crowed and onto your little search engine optimized sub-industry.

The reason this is the first rule is because this one makes it really easy to dump the idea of a link excange. Once you realize it is not in your industry or related content you do not need to proceed. Save your time!

2. Website Ranking

Following our Search Engine Optimization logic, a link from a site with a general low ranking might hurt your site more than a link from a medium or high ranking. This principle follows the logic that search engines, in particular Google, will rank your site higher if the links pointing to your site are from established and higher ranked sites. Hence, the beasic question that you want to answer is does the site linking to my site has higher PageRank value at its home page than my site’s home page? Notice that PageRank is aranking system offered by Google, if you do not wish to rely on Google alone you can simply run some relevant keyword searches in all three major search engines and see if your site shows up before the linking website or not.

Once you know which one is higher the action should be obvious, if the site linking to your is of lower ranking you should not proceed with the link exchange. It will never hurt you if you have incoming link from the lower ranked website but it may lower your ranking if you link back. Next.

3. Location and the position of the link

Ok. Now we passed the first two tests and we want to look at the specifics. Where is the link located? is it on every page – that would be the best! Is it on an easy to find page (great!)? is it on a hidden page (bad!)? Unless it is on a hidden page, you may want to proceed – but in most cases it will be located on a links page with a whole lot more links on it and you wonder if this is of any good to you. This is where you need to investigate further:

If the links page has over 100 links and seems like something put together very abruptly and with no real way for a user to find your site in the list of sites easily, you might want to abandon the link exchange. If the page is of about 10-40 links and the sites are clearly labeled and given a description and your site can easily be identified or is located near the top of the list – it might not be a bad idea to work with this website/webmaster.

4. Automated or manual link exchange request?

Some sites pay a third party to enhance their SEO and the third party develops a little utility to bombard every email they came accross to send the link request. This can be seen if the links page is full of unrelated links and is overpopulated or if the email is coming from a third party and you have a feeling it may be automated. It is tru, there is no real way to identify sometimes but here is where you can add some human element to it: call or email the person back with questions or perhaps just ask: ‘where is your business located?’

In general, you should value with a lot more respect the manual requests that come in. Perhaps even be ready to tke it to the next level outside of the boundaries of the web. Automatic requests obviously need not waist any more of your time. Next.

5. Intuition

I had to add this since I have seen a lot of link exchange requests. Always have your site’s best interest at the back of your mind. The bottom line is will this link exchange program bring more business through my site yes or no. You should always regard your site’s business interests and your site’s user experience top before you approach it with SEO tweaks. Remember that search engines work for the same users that you want to serve, so their algorithm will favor better UI in most cases. What it means to youis that if you feel that this link exchange addressed all the above items but you still feel uncomfortable with it – don’t do it! go and work on something else that will bring additional hits to your sites.

Summary

As search engine optimization gets analyzed more and more and the value of an incoming link gets higher you will receive many link exchange requests. Stay on top of the game and work with the link exchanges that bes fit your website while avoid the ones that benefit the other side only. Remember, linking is only one tool of a set of tools in your SEO arsenal.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) , , , , , , , , ,