Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Stealing Your Competitor's Links

Yahoo offers an interesting free service called Yahoo Site Explorer. Enter a domain and Site Explorer will list all the pages from that domain that are included in the Yahoo index. You can see whether Yahoo has indexed your complete site, and if not, there is a handy link for submitting missing pages.

But that’s not where you’ll get the greatest value from Yahoo Site Explorer.

Yahoo Site Explorer can also show all the pages linking to any web page you specify. For example, you can find everyone who is linking to your home page. A filter allows you to eliminate the links coming from your own web site, so you’ll see just the inbound links (ILBs).

But that’s not where you’ll get the greatest value from Yahoo Site Explorer.

You can enter your competitor’s domain, or even specific pages, into Site Explorer, filter it to show ILBs and get a list of web sites that are good prospects for you to exchange links with. Web sites that have linked to your competitors should also be interested in linking to your site. And if you’ve done a good job of building a web site with lots of unique, useful content, you might even be able to get links that go to pages other than your home page or link exchange page. These deep links are of greater value because they increase your web site’s recognition as an authority.

So get going and start using Yahoo Site Explorer to mine your competitor’s links.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

This Will Save You $500

My normal fee to do a quick evaluation of a web site and provide recommendations to improve search engine rankings and visitor response is $500. I find that I'm making the same recommendations over and over. So I'm going to give you those recommendations here, for FREE. All you need to do is implement them on your web site and you've just saved $500.

By the way, if you read this blog, and you don't make these changes, and then you hire me to evaluate your web site, PLEASE don't complain about paying $500 to get the same recommendations you've read here.

If you find that any of these recommendations apply to your web site, and you'd like to express your gratitude, please go to and make a donation to help Russian orphans. (Thank you!)

#1 - Company name in the home page title tag. I find this problem on almost every web site I look at. The title I'm talking about is the title contained within the code in the HEAD section of your home page. It will be located between TITLE tags like these:

You won't see this title on your web site. However, it is a major factor used by the search engines in categorizing the page and it is commonly the source for the text that is displayed as the link text for your home page.

Instead of your company name, use a title that describes the content of the page or web site. If your home page is about engine maintenance for blue cars, then use the title: Engine Maintenance For Blue Cars. It will look like this in your HTML code:

#2 - Using the company name as the title for every page. Not only do most web sites I look at use their company name for the page title, they use the company name as the title for every page. This tells search engines that EVERY page on your web site is about your company name. If I were a search engine spider I'd think I was getting a lot of pages all about the same thing--that's not good spider food. (Spiders like variety.)

Do #1 above for every page on your web site. Each page should have a unique title that specifically describes the content of that page.

#3 - Flash menus. This isn't as common as the two items above, but it is a growing problem. If you are using Flash to create your menus, provide an alternative means of navigation using text links. More and more web sites are using Flash. Yes, you can do some cool things with Flash, but in many cases it's a dead end for search engines. They can't read the information in Flash files, which means they can't follow your menus. They'll get to your home page... and won't go any further.

You can keep your Flash animations and menus, but at the bottom of EVERY page provide text links that duplicate the links within the Flash file for that page. Spiders love text links and will follow them wherever they lead.

#4 - Frames. Frames should have died out years ago, but web designers continue to use them. A common use of frames is to make a page with the menus, and then frame the content. As you go through the menus it looks like the menu remains stationary and the content changes. Some web designers think it looks cool, but it's a dead end for search spiders.

The result most often is that the search spiders index the content within the frame as individual web pages. Visitors may end up at these pages, instead of the framed version, getting stuck on a plain looking page, with no navigation and usually no way out. It's a quick way to lose customers.

#5 - Database driven web sites. I've talked with web site owners who don't know what this means, and didn't know they had a database driven web site. A database driven web site is one in which information displayed on your web site comes from a database, and the web pages are created on the fly. They don't exist until someone wants to look at them. If you see a question mark in the URL for some of your pages (for example, then it is probably a database drive web site.

Search spiders have gotten a lot better at indexing pages that come from a database, but there are still many problems. There are a few things you can do to make it easier for them to spider your database pages:

-- Keep the URLs short and with two or fewer parameters.

-- Remove the "?" from the URL and replace it with another character. For example, you can reconfigure Cold Fusion to use a "\" instead of a "?".

-- A must-do is to create a Google Site Map ( that lists all the URLs from your web site. Yahoo also accepts site maps. Information about submiting a site map to Yahoo is available at:

-- Plus a good solid way to ensure your most important pages are indexed by search engines is to create static pages.

A static page is one that is not created by the database software, it exists all the time. One approach is to pick your key products and create static "featured product" pages. Link to these pages from your home page, site map and other relevant static pages on your web site. Link from these pages to the associated dynamic pages so your customers have direct access to the features of your database-driven pages such as online ordering.

These are just the top five SEO problems I've been finding on web sites. Fix these and then contact me for a quick evaluation of your web site. There are usually plenty of other things that need fixing. And please don't forget, if you found the above useful, please make a small donation to help Russian orphans. Thanks!!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

PPC and SEM - Working Together

I recently received an email that asked me to discuss the possible synergism between PPC and SEM. A couple of days later I decided to survey the web to see what others had to say on this topic. I wasn’t able to find anything. Almost all the articles I found were addressed the question: PPC vs. SEM, which is better?

It’s not a question of which is better. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. The question is, how can both work together to maximize profits. (Or to best achieve marketing goals.) I see PPC and SEM working together holistically in a relationship in which each fills in where the other is weak. They can also be used such that each builds on the knowledge gained from the other.

A key advantage of PPC is the speed with which your message can be online, and the flexibility it offers in allowing you to change your ad copy and keyword targeting. For example, if you are overstocked on certain items and plan to run a sale, PPC allows you to get your message out the day the sale starts. You can control the specific text of your message, and the position at which it appears on search result pages. With SEM a new page about the sale may show up in the SERPS (search engine results pages) within 24 hours, 24 days or never—and you have little control over the descriptive text or position in the SERPS. In addition, when the sale is over you can immediately remove the PPC ad, while the organic listing may continue to show up for many months.

A key advantage of organic SEM is that once your page is appearing in the SERPS, it can require little effort to keep it there. While you continue to pay for each click on your PPC ad, your pages that show up in organic SERPS will bring a steady stream of qualified leads at no cost to you.

This points out how PPC and organic SEM work together. Let’s say you are releasing a new product. Your web designer has created some fantastic new pages that feature the new product, but it will be awhile before they start showing up in search results. You can use PCC to immediately drive traffic to pages about your new product until the new pages start showing up in organic search results.

If you already have a page showing up in a top spot in organic SERPS for a targeted keyword, do you need to have a PPC ad for the same keyword? Research has shown that having a PPC ad on an organic SERP that includes a link to your web site, can significantly increase results. In this case you need to write the copy for the PPC ad so that it targets a portion of the market not targeted by the description the search engine has chosen to use. That way you pick up people who saw your organic listing, but who were not motivated to click on it by the associated description.

For example, if you sell widgets, the organic description may say that you offer three types of widgets. In your PPC ad you can say that customers get a free widget with the purchase of $100 in widget supplies.

You can also use information gained from your organic SEM to help target and optimize your PPC campaigns. For example, your web log files are one of the best places to find out what keywords are being used to find your web site. You can use this information in putting together your keyword list for your PPC ads.

On the other hand, PPC ads provide immediate feedback on what keywords are working and which are not. You can see how much traffic each keyword gets, and what percentage of that traffic clicks on your ad. You can change your ad copy and measure the effectiveness of different copy, and various offers and calls to action. All of this information can also be used to help you target your SEM efforts.

For example, you may test three variations of ad copy and find that one in particular gets a good response. You can then modify a page your web site to incorporate similar copy. Keep in mind, however, that in PCC the interaction between the ad copy and landing page is very important. However, a PPC landing page may not be well written from an SEM view. Don’t blindly use what works in PPC and expect to get good SEM results.

Looking at this from the other side, you may find that a certain web page is drawing an excellent organic response, possibly even from a market you did not know existed. You can take your organic experience and use it to target PPC ads at new keywords and market segments.

Using information gained from PPC to aid your SEM efforts requires information. That means you need to be tracking activity on your PPC landing pages and beyond. I’ll discuss how to do that in a future article.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Unwanted Web Pages

As web sites change and grow, there will be times when some pages are no longer needed. If you just delete the page, however, search engines may still be sending traffic to it. This will result in visitors getting an error message that will probably cause them to move on to another web site. You lose the visitor and the potential sale.

I’ve previously discussed using a 301 redirect to send visitors to a different page. But, there are other options.

Let’s say a product has been discontinued and you no longer need the page describing that product. But, that page is still getting a significant amount of traffic from search engines. If you put a 301 redirect to the replacement product you might confuse people—they won’t understand why they clicked on a link for one product and they are on a page discussing another product.

What I like to do is replace the old page with a new one at the same URL. The new page explains what has happened. It features the old product in such a way that visitors immediately see they have found what they are looking for. But, it also explains the old product is discontinued and it offers recommendations for alternatives. Never give visitors the unexpected. Meet their expectations and then direct them along the course you’d like them to take.

Another alternative, that is a technique you can use in conjunction with the above, is to use the robots.txt file. It allows you to tell Google, Yahoo and the other search engines that you’d like a page (or entire folder) removed from their index.

To remove a page from Google include the following in your robots.txt file:

User-agent: Googlebot
Disallow: /foldername/page.html

To remove all files of a specific file type (for example, .gif) from Google, put the following in your robots.txt file:

User-agent: Googlebot
Disallow: /*.gif$

For Yahoo replace “Googlebot” with “Slurp”.

If you’d like to tell all search engines to remove a page from their index, replace “Googlebot” with an asterick (*). For example:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /foldername/filename.html

Or to have them ignore a folder

User-agent: *
Disallow: /foldername/

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Web Sites - First Impressions Count

First impressions count, and with a web site you only have 1/20 of a second to make a good first impression. The latest issue of the Behavior and Information Technology journal reports that's all the time your web site has to make a good impression. And that first impression will last and effect future decisions about returning to your web site.

Read the news story at: Internet users judge Web sites in less than a blink

"It really is just a physiological response," Gitte Lindgaard told Reuters on Tuesday. "So Web designers have to make sure they're not offending users visually."

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Using Misspellings

Misspelled words on your web site do not leave your visitors with a good impression. They can even drive away potential customers. However, misspelled words can be an untapped source of leads/sales as searchers enter typos and misspellings in search engines. So how can you take advantage of searches based on misspellings?

Taking advantage of misspellings is particularly attractive because there is typically little competition for the misspelled terms. It is relatively easy to create a web site featuring misspelled terms, that appears at the the top of the search results.

What I've done for one client is to set up a web site that is dedicated to misspelled brand names. Products are identified and described throughout the website using common misspellings of their names. In addition, the content is all unique, not a cut and paste of the content from this client's main web site. The result has been a web site usually shows up in the #1 position in search results, and it is the client's fourth best source of leads.

Why don't visitors get a negative impression from all the misspelled words?

Because there is a big disclaimer at the top of each page that says (paraphrased), "This web site features misspellings of some of the top brand names. We've created this web site in case you should make a typo when doing search, so that you can still find the brand name product you are looking for."

I just tell the visitor what is going on, so they know they've arrived at a web site on which the brand names have been deliberately misspelled... for their benefit. It works great!