SEO 101: When Bad Title Tags Happen to Good Websites

Some search engine optimization techniques are difficult. Others are not. It’s easy to find otherwise well-built, engaging websites with really bad SEO. By “really bad”, I just mean completely neglected or overlooked. HTML title tags are a frequently neglected aspect of SEO that, when fixed, can have an immediate impact on search rankings. On most sites built with content management systems like WordPress, fixing a bad title tag takes 2 minutes and a little keyword research.

Smashing Ideas sitelinks in Google search resultsHere’s an example. Smashing Ideas is a cutting edge digital media agency that makes smartphone apps and other cool stuff. Their website looks great. It’s well built, easy to use. Information is easy to find. One way to check the health of a website – its ease of use and visibility in search engines – is to see if it shows up with sitelinks in Google search results. It does. Click the image at right to see what sitelinks for SmashingIdeas.com looks like. (Read more…) [ read more ]

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What is Universal Search? How Do I Optimize for Universal Search?

Several readers have asked, What is Universal Search and how do I optimize for it?


Click to enlarge

Universal Search, also called “Blended Search”, refers to the search results offered today by Google and others on their search engine results pages (SERPs) – pages like the one at right. Rather than simply listing links to web pages as they did four or five years ago, SERPs now display results for other media. These can include Image results, News results and Video results.

Optimizing for Universal Search means doing things (ethical things) to get your links to rank highly for a particular keyword.

Let Universal Search guide the way you do search engine optimization:

  • In order to be competitive in Universal Search, you need to have content on multiple web sites, not just your own website, but also YouTube (and other video sites), product sites like Google Base, News sites and others.
  • You need to better optimize the images on all your web properties if you want them to show up in Universal Search results.
  • If you optimize well, you can get more than one result – sometimes 3 or 4 – showing up on page one of Google SERPs.

Upload PDF WordPress - Google Serp
Click to enlarge

In the SERP at left, you can see mcbuzz.wordpress.com in positions 1 and 2 for a search on “upload pdf wordpress”, and you can also see an image from a McBuzz video tutorial (bottom right) on the same page. The listing in position 2 and the video image are the essentially the same content. One link is to a blog post with the video embedded in it. The other is to the video itself on YouTube. And, although the video is not at the top of the page, people are more likely to click on the graphical video image than they are on a plain text listing.

This is the beauty of Universal Search: the potential for more listings, and listings with images. Add to this the fact that your competitors are probably not optimizing very well for Universal Search – not yet, anyway – and you see why it’s important to know about it, and to turn that knowledge into action.

In the next post, I’ll talk about how to optimize for Universal Search.

Click here to learn about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Services offered by McBuzz.

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SEO Snake Oil

Internet pundit John Dvorak recently called Search Engine Optimization “the modern version of snake oil”. Unfortunately, people will listen to what Dvorak says about SEO because he has tons of visibility – notoriety? – on the Web.  Search Engine Watch’s Mark Jackson writes a good rebuttal of Dvorak’s article here: “SEO Snake Oil“.

I (sometimes) find Dvorak’s views refreshing. He is not afraid to speak his mind. But with that kind of authority he should act more responsibly and show some forethought. How about asking for some input from the SEO community?

Among other things, I notice that Dvorak does not understand the difference between “tags” and “metatags”. Tags are a relatively new way of classifying information on the Web. Metatags (or “meta tags”) are part of the HTML <head> section of code in a Web page. Some meta tags are used for search engine optimization. Clearly, Dvorak does not know what he is talking about when it comes to SEO.

Had he talked to a professional like Mark Jackson or Vanessa Fox before spouting off, they would have easily cleared up any misunderstanding.

SEO has a reputation as a kind of dark, mystical art. It’s not that well understood, and there are those who prey on business owner’s ignorance by selling them shoddy SEO services without having to be accountable for poor results. But search optimization is not rocket science. It is mostly common sense stuff that any good SEO practicitioner can explain clearly and understandably – and implement with measurable results.

If you are thinking of hiring an SEO professional, ask them for references and ask to see case studies or records of results they have produced for their clients. And don’t call SEO “snake oil” until you have read a book like “Search Engine Optimization for Dummies” or talked to a professional and looked into it a bit.

To learn about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Services offered by McBuzz, click here.

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How to See If a Page or Document on Your Website Has Been Indexed by Google

If you would like to find out if a page or document on your website has been indexed by Google, use the query modifier “site:url” like you would to see how many pages on your site have been indexed (and which ones), but instead of using “site:mcbuzz.com”, for example, use “site:mcbuzz.com/wordpress/what-is-wordpress” or whatever the entire URL or file name is that you want to check.

Click here » to learn about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Services offered by McBuzz.

In other words, say I have a PDF on my site called “mcbuzz-wordpress-tutorials.pdf” (which I don’t – this is just an example). I can do a search using Google for “site:mcbuzz.com/pdf/mcbuzz-wordpress-tutorials.pdf” and Google will tell me whether is has this file in its index or not. Remember to use the entire path or URL for the page or document. If you keep your PDFs in a directory on your site called “pdf”, then you need to include that in the URL as shown in this example. (If you have quesitons about this, send me a comment.)

This post follows along the same lines as an earlier one called “Are PDF Files Indexed by Google?” But I also wanted to talk about this topic for a couple of reasons related to Search Engine Optimization and WordPress.

1. In WordPress, it is possible to specify the URL of a page or post — independent of the title you give the page or post — using the “Page Slug” / “Post Slug” feature. If you don’t specify a slug, WordPress will make one automatically using “Permalinks“. I told WordPress to give this post the URL “mcbuzz.com/2008/document-webpage-indexed-by-google”. If I hadn’t done so, WordPress would have called it “mcbuzz.com/2008/how-to-see-if-a-page-or-document-on-your-website-has-been-indexed-by-google”. Shorter is better as long as the relevant keywords are included in a URL, so I made it shorter by tweaking it a bit and removing words I don’t think are as relevant for SEO as the ones I kept.

2. Google is indexing pages and posts very quickly these days, sometimes in under an hour. The post you are reading right now was indexed in less than 7 minutes. If you have a URL indexed by Google, you may not want to change it because if you change it, the link to the page that’s in Google’s index will be broken. Someone might find your page or post by doing a Google search, but when they click on the listing, they will get a “Page not found” error from your site.

So, if you want to use the Page Slug / Post Slug feature in WordPress to customize your URLs, do so before or shortly after you publish a page or post. If you are thinking of changing a URL, you can check to see if your page has already been indexed before you change it.

If it has been indexed, you need to weigh the possible long-term SEO benefit of changing the URL so that it is more likely to show up on page 1 or 2 of Google for your target keywords — because Google will eventually re-index it. But if it has been indexed already and you want people to find it for some searches right away (in the next week or two, say) then you are probably better off leaving well enough alone.

Here’s an update to this post. News flash: That last paragraph applies only to WordPress.com-hosted websites and blogs. If your site is hosted by a third party rather than WordPress.com, and you are comfortable enough with WordPress to be able to download, install and activate a WordPress plugin (or you know someone who can help you do so), then you don’t need to worry about whether a post or page has already been indexed by Google or not. You can use a WordPress plugin called “Redirection” to redirect someone to the new URL when they request your page or post using the old URL.

In other words, say you create a post called My New Post with the URL http://www.example.com/my-new-post/. It gets indexed by Google in 30 minutes or whatever. Then you realize, Oops!, I should have named that post My New Post About WordPress, because it’s about WordPress! And you really should include “wordpress” in the URL to make the URL more search engine friendly, i.e., to let search engines know that the post really is about WordPress. One of the absolute best ways to do that is to put your keyword — in this case “wordpress” — in the URL. So go ahead, rename your post and either create a new post slug yourself or let WordPress do it for you.

Now your new URL can be http://www.example.com/my-new-post-about-wordpress/ (or whatever you want to make it using the Page Slug /Post Slug feature in the editing window). If someone finds your post using Google, and Google is still using the old URL, that person will click on the link and when their web browser asks your host’s server for the page at http://www.example.com/my-new-post/ , the server will know that they really want the page at the new URL http://www.example.com/my-new-post-about-wordpress/ and it will redirect them there. The fact that you changed the post title and the URL will not keep people from being able to find the page. Pretty cool.

Now for this to work, you have to know how to install the Redirection plugin, and how to set it so that it does what you want. And you also have to be using permalinks. (Read more about WordPress permalinks here.) I just installed the plugin on mcbuzz.com, at it’s one of the easier plugins to use. Just follow the directions in the readme.txt file that comes with the plugin. You can set it to create redirections automatically when a post slug changes, or you can do it yourself manually when a post or page slug changes.

Confused? Just send me a comment using the form below.

Comments: 3

Are PDF Files Indexed by Google?

Yes. PDF files are indexed by Google and other search engines.

Following up on a question from a reader (Optimize PDF Files For Websites and Search Engines), as I note there, one way to see if a PDF on your website has been indexed by Google is to copy a long line of text from the PDF, and then put it into the Google search box — with double quotes on either end. You can do this to find any particular document or page available on the Web — as long as it has been indexed (scanned or “spidered” and catalogued) by Google.

For example, if you Google “Enter an estimate of your 2008 nonwage income (such as dividends or interest)” with the double quotes on either end, Google offers you a link to a PDF of IRS Form W-4 for 2008. This shows that the 2008 W-4 PDF document has been indexed. (Incidentally, Google also offers you a link to the mcbuzz.com page you are reading right now since it contains the same string of text.)

Another way to see if a PDF has been indexed by Google is to use the “site:url” query modifier. This is a handy trick when you want to narrow your search to one domain. If I Google [site:mcbuzz.com] – without the brackets, Google lists every page in my site that has been indexed. If I Google [site:mcbuzz.com web] – without the brackets, Google lists every page in my site that contains the word “web”. And, as a helpful reader points out below, you can Google [site:mcbuzz.com filetype:pdf] – without the brackets, to see if there are any PDF files on the mcbuzz.com website that have been indexed by Google. (Be sure not to put a space between “filetype:” and “pdf”.)

I don’t have any PDFs on my site. Try it with another domain to see an actual positive result. To see if a particular PDF on my website has been indexed, I can Google [site:mcbuzz.com “some word or phrase in the PDF”] – without the brackets. Of course, you can also Google [site:mcbuzz.com myfilename.pdf] to do the same.

Returning to the Form W-4 example, Google [site:irs.gov “Enter an estimate of your 2008 nonwage income (such as dividends or interest)”] and Google lists one and only one result: the PDF on the IRS website.

Something fairly amazing: Google knows every phrase in that PDF and in any other document or web page it has indexed. That’s a lot of information.

The other question in the mcbuzz.com post mentioned above was whether a PDF would be indexed if it were encrypted or had other security settings applied to it. If you have Adobe Acrobat 8 Professional, you can answer this question yourself.

Open a PDF and then open the Document Properties dialog box (File > Properties…). Click on the Security tab, and you see the various security options. There are different security options depending on which version of Acrobat Reader you want your PDF to be compatible with. The dialog box tells you if search engines will be able to read all or only some parts of the PDF (e.g. metatags or attachments) when you select the various options. If the PDF can’t be read by search engines, it won’t be indexed.

For those interested, here is more information about Google query modifiers like “site:url”.

Click here » if you would like to find out about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Services offered by McBuzz.

Comments: 8

Natural Search Results vs. Paid Search Results – What's the Difference?

Here are examples of “natural” or “organic” search results vs. “paid” search results on Google:

Natural versus paid search results - McBuzz can help you do well in both

The orange boxes indicate paid search results. Google marks these as Sponsored Links. Sponsored Links always appear at the top or on the right side of search results pages. Businesses pay Google to be listed here. These are also called text advertisements, “paid placement” ads or “pay per click” ads.

The green box indicates a natural (also called “organic”) search results listing. Businesses do not pay Google to appear in this spot.

Search for  “adwords consultant seattle” and you’ll find McBuzz Communications at the top of the natural results. This is free advertising. Listings in the top position on the page get many more clicks than the majority of paid placement results, and they certainly get more clicks than the natural listings that are further down on the page.

Yahoo! and MSN.com search results pages have a similar format — with both paid and natural search listings.

Google Indexes Pages Much More Frequently Than Before
Here’s an interesting sidebar. I created the post you are reading right now at 10:16 AM today, October 23. Looking at the Google search results page just now (at 10:30 PM the same day), I see that this post has already been indexed by Google, meaning that it shows up on page one (in the number 10 spot at the bottom of the page) for the same keyword.

Why is this important? Because it shows just how quickly new content on your website can affect its performance in search results.

Natural vs Paid SERP Postion and Frequent Indexing by Google

The post you are reading right now was indexed by Google and listed on page one of serch results for “seattle marketing communications” the same day it was created! What does this tell us? When you apply basic search engine optimization techniques — including making frequent updates to your site with keyword-rich headlines, bullet points and text — you can see immediate results and bring in more customers.

You may recall the days when you had to wait three to four weeks, sometimes longer, for updates to your website to show up in search engine results pages. If you optimized your site, it might take at least that long to find out if what you did worked or not.

As this example shows, those days are long gone — provided you are doing the right things with your website. And that’s a significant qualification. What are the right things? Exactly what we talk about on mcbuzz.com, like following our Web Marketing Tips — and the fact that you should use content managment or “blogging” software like WordPress to build and maintain your site rather than old-fashioned, “static” format HTML. (The latter includes sites created with do-it-yourself, “site builder” tools you find on GoDaddy.com, Network Solutions and Yahoo! web hosting.)

Let me know what you think!

McBuzz Web Marketing Tips
#1: Use “site:url” to Find Out If Your Website Is Indexed by Google

#2: Use XML Sitemap Generator to Get All Your Website’s Pages Indexed by Google

#3: Submit an XML Sitemap to Google

#4: Use Keywords in Web Page Titles

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Google and John Chow: Rewarding Useful Content, Punishing Link Buying

Google is working hard to deter webmasters and bloggers who use underhanded tactics to improve their site’s rank in Google search results pages. There is an interesting discussion about this on the Pronet Advertising blog: Why We Rank #1 for ‘John Chow’ and Why You Shouldn’t Mess With Google.

Here’s the bottom line, a great quote from Amrit Hallan:

People spend so much time trying to outsmart the search engines. If they spent the same time, and energy, on actually building the quality of their websites or blogs, it’d be a lot more beneficial to them, and to their readers.

This is true because Google is doing a good job determining what “underhanded” means in the context of search engine optimization. John Chow is a successful blogger who has been paying others to create links (“paid links”) from their sites to his blog in order to improve his ranking in Google and other search engines.

Part of the debate hinges on whether Google is right to say that buying links — instead of encouraging other sites to link to a site by creating useful content, fostering relationships with other bloggers & webmasters, etc. — is underhanded or “black hat”.

Google offers a fair amount of explanation for its practices. Read more here: My site’s ranking in Google

And, in particular, check out Why should I report paid links to Google?

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