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Link-building Tips and Tools for Bloggers in a Post-Panda and Penguin World

This guest post is by Corey Northcutt of Northcutt.

There have been several great link building posts so far this year on ProBlogger, including 10 No-Nonsense Ways to Build Links, How to Systematically Build a Mountain of Links, and A New Linking Strategy. And of course, Darren wrote earlier today advocating a more level-headed approach to backlinks.

So you might be asking what more can be written about link building for bloggers? The answer is, a lot. Bloggers have an advantage that static and retail websites don’t. There are tons of great link-building strategies that can be utilized to increase backlinks.

Link building post-Panda and Penguin

Before we get started, I just thought I would mention a few Google algorithm changes that you should know about when thinking about link building in 2012.

Google’s Panda update

In February of 2011, Google released the Panda update that took rankings away from websites with low-quality content and sites with more advertising than content.

This affected anyone who used article marketing as a way to build links and drive traffic to their websites, since article networks were hit the hardest, though some—like HubPages—regained their rankings in subsequent updates.

Later, social networks like Digg, Last.fm, and others were affected as well.

Digg's search engine rankings

Not sure if your favorite website, link source, or network was hit by Panda? Check by going to the following URL, and replace domain.com with the website’s domain.

http://www.semrush.com/info/history/index.html?domains[]=domain.com

You will then see a graph showing the website’s estimated number of keywords in search. If you see the graph going up, that means they are gaining more visibility in search. If it’s going down, then they are losing visibility.

You can even use the Google Algorithm Change History chart to match a spike in search rankings with a specific Google update.

Google’s Penguin update

If that wasn’t enough, along came Penguin. Penguin, announced in April 2012, decreased search visibility of websites that participated in black-hat SEO, keyword stuffing, cloaking, link schemes, duplicate content, and other activities that violated Google Webmaster Guidelines. This affected anyone who built links through link exchanges, reciprocal linking, paid links, spammy links, and any links that Google interpreted as “intended to manipulate PageRank.”

Hence, if you want to avoid being penalized, avoid the following:

  • over-use of keyword-based anchor text (aka, hundreds or thousands of links built to the same keyword phrases)
  • lots of sitewide sidebar and footer links
  • paid links (with the exception of those from directories)
  • always linking to your homepage (as a blog, you should have lots of links built to your blog posts too).

The goal to any and all link building is to make your link profile look natural. Links from a variety of different types of websites with an extremely varied usage of anchor text make for a great, natural profile.

Link-building strategies for bloggers

Now that you know some things to avoid, here are some things you can actually do to build links to your blog. You have probably heard of some of these strategies before, but hopefully those will at least include an extra tip or two that you might not have tried yet.

Remember that link building should not just be solely for increasing search engine rankings or building up PageRank. The point to building links, in the eyes of Google, is to increase your traffic and build useful relationships.  This should be your immediate goal as well. Links can do this regardless of whether or not they contain the “nofollow” attribute, contain redirects, come from a site with a high PageRank, and so on.

With this in mind, it’s a mistake to focus on any one type of link as if it were the most valuable trick in the bunch—the web does not work this way.

1. Submit your blog to blog directories

One advantage blogs have over other websites is the ability to submit to tons of various blog and RSS aggregators. These directories will either list just your blog, or your blog’s latest posts, or both. Although it has been several months since the list has been updated, there is a huge compilation of blog and RSS directories listed at TopRank.

Don’t have time to submit to them all? Then you will want to at least submit to quality ones like Alltop (free), Best of the Web Blogs (fee required), and Technorati (free).

2. Complete your social network and forum profiles

If you participate on any social media network, social bookmarking site, community, or forum, you will want to make sure that you have a link to your blog on that website in your profile.

If you are an active member of the community and contribute valuable information, chances are people will want to get to know you better by visiting your blog. Don’t leave them without a link to click on! And when it comes to forums, if the forum allows a link in your signature for each post you submit, be sure to include one as those will get more clicks than the ones in your profile.

links on social profiles

3. Become a guest author

Guest blogging is really the best way bloggers can build links to their website that will not only count for search rankings (99% of the time) but will also lead to increased traffic generation. So how do you find blogs to submit guest posts to? There are a few good ways.

  • Search Google using queries with the keyword of your niche plus “submit guest post,” “guest post guidelines,” “guest author guidelines,” “guest post by,” and so on.
  • Check out lists like the 202+ High Quality Internet Marketing PR3 – PR8 Blogs That Accept Guest Posts.
  • Join communities like My Blog Guest.
  • Use Google Authorship. If you know a blogger who writes a lot of guest posts, search for their name and Google+ on Google. For me, you would search Corey Northcutt Google Plus. Then, under the link to my Google+ profile is a link to More by Corey Northcutt. Click on that link to see what blogs I and other prolific guest bloggers have contributed content to.

Of course, finding opportunities to guest post is only a quarter of the battle. If you want have a high rate of guest post acceptance, you will likely need to meet these criteria:

  • Be a recognized name to the blog owner by commenting on the blog (with valuable comments) as often as possible.
  • Follow the blog for a little while to get a feel for the topics, length of posts, writing style, and formatting. If the blog has guest post guidelines, be sure to follow those in your submission.
  • Research the topic you are about to propose to see if someone else has already covered. The easiest way is to use the search box on the blog itself or go to Google and search site:domain.com topic keywords and change domain.com to the domain of the blog.
  • Submit only original content. No one wants a post that you’ve already published elsewhere.
  • Make sure your post content includes links to the blog’s other posts. See the first paragraph of this post as an example.
  • Format your author bio similarly to other guest authors. For example, if they generally have no more than two sentences, a link to their blog, and a link to their Twitter, then yours should not be five sentences with three links to different websites.

4. Contribute unique content to quality article networks

Article directories get a lot of legitimate scrutiny by professional SEOs, but I’m going to mention this anyway.  I’m not talking about hiring someone in India to write you a $2 article.  I’m referring to legitimate, high-quality editorial contributions to only the sites with the highest standards.

While guest blogging has many more benefits than article networks, some bloggers may find it difficult to score guest posting opportunities if they are new which makes article networks the next best thing. When I say unique content, I mean content that hasn’t been “spun” or published elsewhere. And when I say quality article networks, I mean ones that:

  • have some sort of moderation: they shouldn’t just let anyone post anything they want
  • fit your niche, like Self Growth for the self-improvement and personal development niche
  • have a built-in community that actually wants to read articles, like HubPages and Squidoo (You can typically tell this from the number of followers authors have and quality comments their articles receive. Note that the comments also need to be recent.)
  • feature authors on their homepage, newsletters, etc.
  • don’t have too many ads on article content or the site as a whole. This is because A) Google tends to penalize sites that do (see Google Panda update information above) and B) the more ads on your content, the less likelihood that anyone will click on your link.
  • allow you to add more than just text to your content—include images and video.

5. Get your content on weekly roundups

A trend in the blogging world is to create a weekly or monthly roundup of the latest posts on particular topics. For example…

These are only a few examples, and mostly in the online marketing niche, but chances are there are others in other niches. Your goal, if you want to be included in these roundups, is to get on the radar of the people who create them. Ways to do this include interacting with them on Twitter (I included their Twitter handles for this purpose) and commenting on their blog (especially recap posts) with your blog link.

6. Comment on blogs

Blog commenting is powerful for a variety of reasons beyond just link building.  Again, this is not to be abused for anchor text links and generic comments, but if you leave valuable engagement, you will likely get the attention of the blog owner and authors of the blog plus other members of the blog’s commenting community. This will inevitably drive traffic back to your website.

The key is to comment on active blogs. In days of yore, link builders would search only for dofollow blogs (blogs that removed the nofollow attribute from comment author’s links) and seek out posts that were months or even years old simply because those posts have gained some PageRank over time. Doing this is pretty much worthless in terms of getting attention from people in your niche or driving traffic to your website. Instead, aim for new blog posts, and aim to be the first comment on the post.

When it comes to leaving links, leave behind our blog’s URL in the website field. And use your real name—preferably first and last name because John Johansen will stick more in someone’s mind that simply John.

To get an extra link to your blog in your comment, look for blogs using the CommentLuv plugin (do a Google search for your niche keywords + CommentLuv enabled to find them). They allow you to add a link to your latest blog post to your comment.

commentluv-enabled blogs

Also, if you use the Livefyre comment system on your blog, look for other blogs using Livefyre. Some have a feature called My Latest Conversations enabled which will automatically link to your latest blog post at the end of your comment. These links back to your latest post are even more powerful than the link to your main blog since people can easily see your latest and greatest headline and click through to it.

7. Use your blog’s design

Looks can get you far when it comes to building links. If you have a unique design, there are galleries that exist purely to showcase blog designs. If you use WordPress, there are galleries that are all for WordPress designs (like We Love WordPress) or at least have a category for them (like Best CSS Gallery and CMS Designs). Some theme designers even have a showcase of blogs using their designs, like Organic Themes, WooThemes, DIYthemes, Templatic, and StudioPress (to name a few).

So search for galleries for your blog’s platform and theme, then see if your design has what it takes to get listed in their showcase.

Link-building tools

Of course, a link building guide wouldn’t be complete without some helpful tools. Here are some inexpensive (and even free) tools you can use to research link opportunities, keep track of your links, and measure the fruits of your link-building labor.

  • Spreadsheets: If you need a place to organize your top links, spreadsheets can be an inexpensive (if your use Microsoft Office) or free solution (if you use Open Office or Google Docs). Be sure to enter the URL your link will be placed upon, the URL of your website that you are submitting, the anchor text you use, and whether the link is live or pending. Marking pending links will help you be able to go back and follow up on them later.
  • Webmaster Tools: If you want to take inventory of the links you already have, you can find them by visiting either (or both) Google and Bing Webmaster Tools. Both are free to set up and can give you lots of valuable information about your website.
  • Open Site Explorer: Open Site Explorer is part of the SEOmoz toolset. You can use it to get limited information about any website’s backlinks by signing up for a free account, or get full information by signing up for a Pro account. It’s pricey at $99 per month, but if you are planning on doing lots of link building, it’s a useful tool set to have access to. If you just need it for a short amount of time, you can get full access to all of the pro tools for 30 days with a free trial.
  • Authority Labs: Authority Labs allows you to see your website’s rankings in Google, Yahoo, and Bing for keywords you specify. Once you have completed the free trial, you will be asked to either enter your billing information of stay on with a  free account that will monitor the rankings of ten keywords for one domain. Additional keywords and domains start at $9 per month.
  • Google Alerts: This counts as a tool and a strategy. Chances are, there will be people who mention your name or your blog on their website but don’t actually link out to you. Set up a Google Alert for your name or blog name, and Google will email you any mentions it finds. Then all you have to do check out the mentions (which is good for reputation management anyway) and kindly ask that someone who mentions you links to you too!

There are lots of other link building tools out there (almost too many to mention), so shop around.  Often, the best tools are simple hacks that are almost too obvious to cross your mind. You can learn about more of these little tricks and reviews of the larger titles in these posts by Point Blank SEO, Search Engine Journal, and SEOmoz.

I hope that the information, strategies, tips, and tools help you in your quest to attaining more links to your blog to help increase your visibility in search and overall traffic. Any questions? Let me know in the comments!

This is a guest post by Corey Northcutt , CEO of Northcutt, an inbound marketing agency.

Traffic Technique 6: Backlinks

Backlinks have become a topic of much discussion since Google’s Penguin update set back the ranks of websites whose backlink profiles seemed “unnatural.”

Links in a chain

Image courtesy stock.xchng user jingvillar

But before we get into that, let’s stop and take a step back to look at the backlink “bigger picture.”

Links are the glue that holds the web together. Without links between sites, the web would be a lot less of a “web”—it would probably be a strange collection of isolated pages. That wouldn’t be much help, because we’d have no way of moving between those pages—either on our sites, or between sites.

So links are an integral part of the web. They’re a bit like the roadways that web traffic drives on. Search engines link to the sites they list, advertising links to sales pages, and other tools that aren’t part of the web, but are still online—like RSS and email—help us generate traffic through links.

Links and search

The search engines have always given attention to links between sites, as those links are seen as an indication of the authority or value of the linked sites. Originally they gave value to links, the link text, and the metadata associated with links, such as link titles and follow attributes.

But things have changed. The idea that links between sites were bad news originated with the idea that PageRank could be reduced if you “shared” it among too many external links form a page. And now the Penguin update has people scrambling to remove their backlinks from sites that link to them. What a turnaround!

Organic search is, for most of us, a major traffic generator. But by trying to shape their backlinks—and their “backlink profiles,” the aggregate of all the backlinks to their sites—many bloggers worked to construct links that best suited the search algorithms.

As we’ve seen, that’s a risky thing to do, because as soon as the algorithm changes (as with Penguin), your site loses rank.

The far better option is to construct all links—the ones you include on your site, the ones you publish in off-site content and promotions, and so on—for users, the same as you do (I hope!) your content.

Links for readers

It makes perfect sense that the links that generate the greatest traffic will be those that make the most sense to users, and are the most attractive to them.

What that means is that link context, and link text, are really important. They’re important in attracting readers’ attention and encouraging them to click. But context and text are also critical in qualifying the readers who do click.

To put that another way, there’s no point misleading readers with the text of your link, and the place where you include it, because they’ll only be disappointed when they get to the linked page. Oh, and the search engines will penalise those sites, too.

Of course that reality can also work for us: we can use honest, reader-focused linking to ensure that the people we want to reach the content we’ve prepared specifically for them, do! Not only will the readers love us, but the search engines like it, too.

A good link

So, what makes a good link?

The text that’s used in links to your site should describe the content that’s being linked to.

That means that the links to your blog won’t all read the same way, they won’t all talk about the same product or promotion you’re running, and they won’t all be crammed with keywords.

They won’t all link to the homepage, either—over time it’s only to be expected that different people will link to different pages on your blog, in discussions about those different topics and posts.

This is natural linking at its best—and it’s how users make sense of the information that’s available on the web.

Don’t forget, either, the menu, sitemap, and footer links on your blog. Does it really help users on your fishing blog to include the keyword “fishing” into each main menu item, page title, or footer link? Hopefully they’ll be able to tell from the context provided by your blog’s design and content that the various sections are about fishing.

Ultimately, I feel that good links are like good SEO—if you do it as a matter of course, and a matter of providing great content to your readers, the backlink issues will all take care of themselves. What do you think?

Streamline Your SEO Efforts With Expired Domains

This guest post is by Matt Green of Evergreen Internet Marketers.

Have you ever thought or heard about buying aged domains to boost your SEO efforts? Well the results can be staggering. A lot of the top marketers in the industry have been doing this for years and have been dominating their markets! In fact, a recent post here on Problogger.net explained how this technique was used to reposition a business.

Not sure what an aged domain name is? Well it’s an expired domain name that typically has authority, age, page rank, back links, and various other components that make expired domain names very powerful. You should be purchasing expired domain names because most of the work is already done for you.

Instead of working hard building backlinks and doing a ton of off-page SEO, you can find great expired domain names for which these tedious tasks are already done. The advantage of buying expired domains is that these domains can help you boost your rankings in the markets you are already in to drive more leads and subscribers to your blog.

The benefits of expired domains

Buying expired domains has numerous benefits, but these are the main advantages.

Benefit #1. Drive traffic through sub-niches

You can find exact-match domain names so you can target sub-niches that are relevant to the market you’re currently targeting, to help you drive more targeted traffic to your websites. The huge opportunity in finding these domain names is that they’re usually not very competitive and you can take over the sub-niches in as little as a couple weeks. The potential traffic you could be reaching can vary, but this can be a very profitable way to grow your business.

Benefit #2. Cut your workload in half with established backlinks

The second benefit to buying aged domain names is that they already have authority and backlinks. This can really help you out tremendously. It’s very time-consuming to create high quality, relevant back links—exactly what Google and the rest of the search engines require.

Backlinks are a necessity to online success. With expired domain names, someone else has put in all the hard work—and you can pick up right where that person left off. Once you get the domain, you can build more backlinks to rank in the search engines much faster than if you were to buy a brand-new domain where you have to start from scratch.

Benefit #3. Get instant page rank

Another huge benefit to buying expired domain names is that you can find domains that have page rank. This is a huge added benefit because, again, it takes time to establish a domain name and build up its page rank. When you’re buying an aged domain name you can literally buy domains with page rank overnight. This really streamlines the process, so you can build authority and traffic extremely fast!

Benefit #4. Expired domains for the masses

With 100,000 domain names expiring every single day, there is a huge opportunity for you. It’s physically impossible to look at all these domains every day, so the competition isn’t particularly fierce. Typically, you can find a great domain name and buy it for as little as $12. Who else besides me would love to buy an established domain name with lots of backlinks and page rank for just $12? This brings a huge opportunity to website owners.

Benefit #5. Directory listings done for you

Have you ever wanted to get into DMOZ, Yahoo, but thought it’d take ages? Well another huge benefit to buying expired domain names is that you can find domains that are already listed in these directories. This way, you don’t have to spend days and weeks trying to get your website submitted into powerful directories that have a lot of influence for your domain name.

The DMOZ directory can be very hard to get into. You submit your website and wait weeks to have someone review it to see if it is of high enough quality to be included in their index. But you can forget about this task if the expired domain name you buy is already listed in the DMOZ directory.

The Yahoo directory needs to approve your website and on top of that you have to pay Yahoo $299 to join. Why spend the money when you can buy an expired domain name that’s already in the directory for $12?

Expired domain pitfalls

Of course, there are some pitfalls you’ll want to avoid if you’re looking to buy expired domains. Let’s look at them now.

Pitfall #1. Buying domains that lack value

Beginners tend to buy domain names that have no value. You need to do your due diligence and make sure you’re picking the right expired domain names that will enable you to drive consistent, reliable traffic to your website over time.

Pitfall #2. Bidding too soon

When they find a great domain name, sometimes people will bid on it when there’s still more than a day left until the domain auction ends. This can really hurt you, because you’re sure to draw attention to the auction, which can inflate the domain’s price. The best time to bid on a domain auction is within the auction’s last ten minutes.

So many people make this mistake. If they’d just waited for the last ten minutes to place their bid, they’d have won the auction at cost! Bidding too early can drive competitors to the auction listing, which can cause you to pay more than you need to for your target domains.

Pitfall #3. Keep away from the competition

Another pitfall to watch out for is to assess the competition the domain name has. If you pick a domain name that has a keyword that’s very competitive you may want to move on and find a different domain. You want to be picking domains up to rank fast, so you don’t want to find out later that you can’t rank for the keyword because it’s too competitive.

You need to make sure you do some research on the domain name to make sure that the keyword that the domain will be ranking for doesn’t have too much competition. If the domain name has too much competition, it could take you a long time to reach a decent rank with that domain.

Seeking expired domains

Keen to dip your toes in the expired domain waters? The main sources of expired domains are places like GoDaddy, NameJet, Sedo, Snapnames, and Flippa. There are over 100,000 domain names expiring every day so I would recommend using an expired domain name service to help you sift through them all.

There is a ton of potential and opportunity for you to grow your business right away with these expired domains. Have you ever bought an expired domain? Let me know how it went in the comments.

This guest post is by Matt Green of Evergreen Internet Marketers.

SEO in the Fast Lane: Your Legit Shortcut to Readers, Sales, and Search Rank

This guest post is by Mark Cenicola of BannerView.com.

Search engine optimization, in its most basic form, is simply a matter of combining relevant content on a web page with back links to that content. 

If you want to rank high for a particular keyword phrase, that phrase needs to be the focal point of a web page and credible websites (in the eyes of the search engines) need to link to that content.

Developing relevant content is usually the easiest and least time-consuming part of the equation. Good writers can bang out great content like nobody’s business and throw it up on a web page quickly for search engines to see.

The more difficult and time-consuming part is getting other people to link to that content, which is a requirement to make the SEO magic happen. When Google sees quality websites linking to your content for particular keyword phrases, you start moving up the ranks of the search results. The higher the quality of the links you have to your pages, the better you’ll do compared to competitors with similar content, who don’t have as much credibility in the eyes of the search engines.

Convincing others to link to you can take a variety of forms.  If your content is very compelling people will naturally want to link to it, but sometimes it takes a lot of writing to get the right formula for your content to be shared. What else can you do?

  • You can do like I’m doing and try to convince quality publications to run your guest posts, but it takes time to build relationships, write quality content and get it published.
  • You can list your website in directories and submit articles to article banks.  This takes research to find the best websites that rank well and aren’t looked at as spam by the search engines.
  • You can engage in conversation on forums where you have the chance to talk about your business and actively link back to your website with the hope that not all of those forums have “no follow” rules.

If you’re like me and somewhat lazy (though I prefer to use the excuse that my time is valuable and that I’m extremely busy), you could hire someone to do SEO. However, that can get expensive, and requires time to move up through the ranks since someone has to do the work of convincing others to link to your content. Even still, there’s no guarantee of success—especially if you’re playing in a crowded field with many competitors vying for the same keywords.

It would seem that only patience, time, and money will get you to rank well. However, there is another option…

My shortcut to SEO success

Yes, there is actually a shortcut to ranking well for a particular set of keywords and isn’t just theoretical, nor does it require black-hat techniques, or bribing a Google employee.

First, I’ll give you a little background. I run a web development firm called BannerView.com, located in Las Vegas, NV. 

From the beginning, however, we never wanted to be seen as a Las Vegas based company, but a firm servicing clients nationally. Therefore, we didn’t overly promote that we were based in Las Vegas or make that fact prominent in our title tags, keyword phrases, domain name and other onsite content.  We thought that would be seen as a turnoff to clients outside of our locale.

That strategy worked well for us in picking up business outside of Las Vegas and since we had a local sales force, we didn’t see the need to target customers geographically.

However, this strategy didn’t work as well for generating leads from our website for those companies that did see it as an advantage to work with a local firm.  Of course, we still wanted to do well in our market, and the opportunity to work within our community has other benefits.

So we had a dilemma. How could we not sacrifice our brand’s integrity for SEO purposes, but still benefit from local search traffic? 

To complicate things further, the competition for top keyword phrases related to “Las Vegas Web Design” was fierce.  Hundreds of competitors were vying for these keywords and many have spent a lot of time positioning their websites to rank well for them.  They also had the advantage of using this keyphrase at the bottom of websites that they built for clients which linked back to their home pages.

We pretty much neglected our local market in terms of search engine rankings due to these challenges until we made the decision to go for it. Thankfully, we had some luck and good timing on our side. 

I decided that maybe we should just purchase a local competitor that already ranked well, and redirect their domain to a landing page off of the main BannerView.com website. This would allows us to immediately pick up a number of quality backlinks related to Las Vegas Web Design, without forcing us to change the focus of our national brand positioning.

A local competitor that owned a keyword rich domain, LasVegasWebDesign.com, as a matter of fact, had closed their operations. They were ranked high while in business, but one challenge was that they had already shuttered their website. Therefore, they no longer were ranked within the top ten results, as the site wasn’t in operation.

After doing some research, we saw that the domain still had a number of high quality backlinks that were relevant to the search terms we wanted to target. But we had to act fast—that domain could lose these valuable backlinks if the linking websites saw that the site’s owners weren’t in business anymore.

The main question was, how would the major search engines view this website after it was taken offline?  Did the domain still hold credibility, or was all lost due to the site being taken offline?

Fortunately, we were able to get in touch with the person who controlled the domain name and after negotiating an offer, we took the chance and made the purchase. 

Of course, going into the purchase, we had a plan to leverage its previous ranking and high-quality backlinks. We set up a landing page that was highly targeted toward our local geographic area. The messaging was specific to Las Vegas and the content made it obvious. This served two purposes:

  1. to attract the search engines for related keywords
  2. to serve as a lead generation tool for companies looking for a local service provider.

The results blew us away.  After acquiring the domain, setting up the landing page, and 301-redirecting the domain, it took less than two weeks to reach page one of Google, and we were actually the number one result on both Bing and Yahoo! for “Las Vegas Web Design.” 

We couldn’t have been happier and I’m sure we surprised a few of our competitors, because our page-one ranking didn’t even require that the listing be for our home page.

The blogger’s advantage

The strategy we used to jump the ranks for our local geographic search listings can be applied to any subject or geographic location. 

As a blogger, you probably have even greater opportunities, especially if you cover several topics (or even a single topic), since your focus is probably less geographically specific. Your advantage is the ability to purchase a wide range of different domains that may rank high for specific keywords related to your blogging niche.

Ranking high for even one keyword phrase can give your blog an immediate boost in traffic, increase your ad revenue, and give you exposure to a larger audience.

If you want to rank well for a particular keyword phrase or set of keywords, look to your competition.  Fortunately for you, not everyone is able to successfully monetize their website or blog, and that gives you the opportunity to purchase their domains and immediately get a SEO boost.

Just make sure to do your research (quality backlinks still matter) and have a plan in place prior to acquiring the domain to quickly leverage its positioning. For us, purchasing the domain, while not cheap, was worth the cost in both time and opportunity for the return on investment we gained.

Mark Cenicola is the president and CEO of BannerView.com, a full service website development company focusing on helping small to mid-size businesses better use the Internet as a portal for generating business. Mark is also the author of the book “The Banner Brand – Small Business Success Comes from a Banner Brand – Build it on a Budget.”

Build Better Blog SEO with Rich Snippets

This guest post is by Matt Beswick.

Bloggers and webmasters are always looking for an edge when it comes to ranking highly against the giants in their field. It’s a classic David and Goliath story, really.

What made the early web so appealing was the idea that some lone geek in a basement could compete with the media heavyweights and gain a large following. But in an age where “content” outfits like Demand Media are given an unfair advantage over smaller and more worthy adversaries, it’s tough for the underdog to win.

However, a little technology called Rich Snippets has the potential to turn the tables.

Introducing Rich Snippets

If you’re unfamiliar with Rich Snippets, it’s worth your time to take a moment to familiarize yourself with the concept. Essentially, Rich Snippets are the content summaries that accompany Google search results for your webpages when they pop up in the main listings.

Rich Snippets are incredibly important when it comes to ranking your content well in the new era that’s been wrought by Google’s Penguin update. The idea behind Rich Snippets is quite simple. However, implementing them in the real world can be a little trickier unless you know what you’re doing.

If you really want to wrap your head around Rich Snippets and dive in with both feet, Schema.org is the best place to get started. Ultimately, Rich Snippets are based on microdata, microformats, RDFa, and similar standards. All of these schemas are included within the HTML5 specification, which makes them easy to integrate into your websites. Both Google and Bing take these microformats and behind-the-scenes data structures into account when deciding how they’ll rank content.

How Rich Snippets factor in search

All geek talk aside, the entire point of Rich Snippets is to make your content easier to index for the major search engines. In that sense, it’s the same old story as before.

Microdata, microformats and Rich Snippets are roughly analogous to meta tags from the past decade. The reason why they’re becoming such a big deal is that search engines are looking to implement a more semantic approach to delivering web results. Keyword matching isn’t really the name of the game any more. Nowadays, actual meaning is far more important and software has evolved to reflect that.

If you’re a webmaster or site owner, you should relish the opportunities and challenges of Rich Snippets because they can actually favour the little guy in a number of ways. Due to their emphasis on actual content relevance, they can elevate your pages above those that are more reliant on deft niche keyword optimisation. Benefits include increased click-through rates, overall traffic, and conversions.

Let’s cut this Rich Snippet promotional tour short and get to the heart of the matter: implementing techniques that will give your blogs and websites a leg up on the competition.

Using Rich Snippets to stand apart

To make your web properties more appealing to the search engines, the first thing you should do is head over to the Google-sponsored Rich Snippets Testing Tool to do some research. Simply enter the URL of the page you’re focusing on and see the results roll in. The RSTT will analyse your content and suggest ways in which you can improve your pages to rank better using RDFa and microformat techniques.

Once you’ve gotten some feedback, you can start to modify back-end markup to address the problems you find. Tweaking markup is critical, because Google will look at how you semantically structure your layouts when deciding how to present a summation of your website in its results.

The cool thing about Rich Snippets is that they’ll allow Google to throw reviews, overall rankings of your website and more into the quick blurb that appears alongside your results in the SERPs. When people search for any given good or service online, something that has a 4- or 5-star ranking in the SERPs stands out more than a plain text description.

Implementing Snippets in the blog formula

The first thing you’ll probably want to do is get your author markup ready to go. This requires a Google+ account, some patience, and a little bit of coding knowledge (depending on the platform that you’re using).

It actually used to be much more difficult to get this up and running but Google now allows you to push this through a header tag. Instead of going into too much detail here I’ll just point you in the direction of Yoast who, for any WordPress junkies, will be making this nice and easy in the next release of his fantastic SEO plugin.

Real-world examples

As for practical advice when it comes to making Rich Snippets a part of your blogs, there’s no shortage of tutorials and examples online.

Google’s own Rich Snippets FAQ-style page should give you a good idea of how to get started. To begin with, you’ll need to pick a specific markup format for your snippets. Microdata is recommended, but RDFa will also work just fine. Once you’re ready to roll, you can leverage your knowledge of the latest HTML5 markup to get going.

Let’s say your website is heavily dependent on reviews—either from customers or data feeds. Well, Rich Snippets allow you to pull either individual or aggregate reviews into your search results listing. They can also be used to compile information about organisations, events, and products related to your website, to make your search result entries far more full-featured and descriptive.

If you’ve got quality content and a good information product, Rich Snippets can only help in pushing traffic in your direction. The primary consequence of the more highly-targeted traffic achievable via Rich Snippets will generally be a far higher conversion rate regardless of the type of website you happen to be running.

The last word

At the end of the day, Google’s focus on Rich Snippets is comparable to Facebook’s efforts with Open Graph, the relationship mapping tool that allows for better analysis of the connections between people and their interests.

For Google, the end result of Rich Snippet usage is that users waste less time sifting through irrelevant search results to find what they need. For Facebook, the end result of Open Graph usage is that people are better paired with both potential friends and ads.

In any event, both technologies underscore the growing importance of semantics in search. Expect to see more intelligent, AI-like search strategies in the coming years as companies like Google and Facebook learn to better model the relationships between information and meaning.

Matt Beswick is a digital consultant based in the UK, specialising in SEO, and also runs Pet365. Find him on Twitter @mattbeswick.

Traffic Technique 1: Search Engine Optimization

If you’re one of the thousands of bloggers out there who’s trying to generate the right kind of blog traffic, you’ve probably felt a bit bewildered at some point.

I know I have. Some days I’ve sat down at my computer and literally haven’t known where to start in building more traffic to my blogs. It’s easy, too, to fall into the habit of using the same old techniques over and over—not because they’re the best ones for you, but because they’re the ones you know and are comfortable with.

So, starting today, I’d like to take you on a little tour of some of the main traffic generation techniques.

Through the tour I plan to explain a bit about each technique so that if you’ve never really encountered it before, you’ll have a basic grounding in it. Then I’ll get into some of the more specific quirks of that traffic method you may want to take on board as you consider using each technique.

I’m aiming to cover seven topics in this series, which will run once a week, starting today, with the grand-daddy of all traffic sources: search.

Types of search traffic

Searching

Image courtesy stock.xchng user Leonardini

Search is the grand-daddy of traffic—and for good reason.

Firstly, it’s the primary way for bloggers to reach readers who have never heard of us, let alone visited our sites. Search engines “qualify” the traffic they send you, since they’re based on keyword and keyphrase searches that reflect individual users’ specific needs.

Search—and search advertising—can also be a good way to build a perception of authority around your brand: if readers searching at various times for topics within your niche keep seeing your site in the search results, they’re likely to get the idea that your site has a lot of information on that topic. This can make search a good way to stay top-of-mind with visitors who have been to your site a few times, but aren’t loyal readers yet.

Search can also alert existing readers to new material on your site—and to sub-topics that they didn’t already know you covered.

The right kind of search traffic

To attract the right kinds of search traffic, most of us follow a few golden rules:

  1. We avoid black-hat search techniques: we don’t try to scam or trick the search engines.
  2. We get to know the user we’re trying to target through search: by looking at the comments these readers leave on our blog or others, through our analytics, and by using the Google Keyword Tool—among other methods.
  3. We create content around the topics our target users have an interest in: and we incorporate the keywords they’re searching on.
  4. We do what we can to boost our online profiles: through a combination of guest posting, social media, encouraging backlinks to our blogs from other sites, and facilitating sharing and recommendations from others.

So while it seems like search is a technical topic—and I know that makes a lot of bloggers shut down before they even get a chance to look into it more deeply—in a lot of ways, I think on-site search optimization is, in large part, about relationships. The more people who talk about you and link to your blog, share links to your posts, and engage with you in various ways, the more authority you’ll have—and the search engines love authority.

The other thing I feel with search is that it’s all too easy to go overboard trying to optimize your site in a zillion different ways to attract the “perfect” searcher (or search), and to boost your search rankings.

Sites that use these kinds of focused tactics are exactly what Google updates like Panda and Penguin try to push out of the search results. Every update tries to remove “over-optimized” sites, since the search engine obviously wants to present results that legitimately, inherently comply with its algorithms—not those that are manicured and preened to match the algorithms.

The message from those recent Google updates is: don’t try too hard. I honestly believe that if you choose some good keywords and focus your content on those—following the golden rules above—the rest really will pretty much take care of itself.

Choosing keywords

Given the apparently infinite range of keywords searchers use, it’s often at keyword research that bloggers get overwhelmed, throw up their hands, and give in.

The best way to avoid falling into this trap is to focus your efforts on identifying keywords that you can adopt and build content around for the long term.

If you’re prepared to put in the time and energy to ride the cresting wave of a new fad or trend—and take the hit when that wave breaks, or a new trend catches everyone’s attention—that’s fine.

But if you’re simply out to build a strong, lasting brand as an authority in a less time-sensitive niche, look for keywords with:

  • longevity
  • a reasonable number of searches (when compared to similar keywords for your niche)
  • not too much strong competition from others in your space.

While every industry changes and your niche will inevitably evolve, the secret to ranking well in search is, as I mentioned, authority. Authority isn’t just about peer and reader respect. The search engines, of course, also look at the amount of quality content you have around particular keywords. They prefer to see that that content has been built up over time.

The upshot is that you need to be able to commit to some basic niche- and reader-relevant keywords that you can weave through your content, as well as other digital assets like navigation labels, link text, image captions and meta data.

Use your analytics and the Google Keyword Tool to find the keywords people are using to discover the kind of information you want to cover, and that they’re currently using to get to your site. Choose three or four keywords you want to rank well for and can commit to, and go from there.

As your blog’s authority rises in the eyes of search engines, you’ll be able to rank better for topical, less lasting keywords as well. That’s where your trending of fad keywords come into play.

On dPS, we have a strong ranking for basic keywords that relate to amateur photography, and we’ve established some strong authority (in the eyes of the search engines) around those keywords, and within our niche generally. So when a new lens comes out and we review it, we might rank well for the lens’s name as a keyword, because we’re already ranking strongly for the more basic, or generic niche keywords.

Finally, a strong keyword focus can help you more easily—and intelligently—select keywords for advertising, if that’s a route you decide to go down.

Satisfying searchers

The other side of the freelancing coin is, of course, what happens when those searchers click through form the search engine to your site.

If you’ve done your target audience research well, you should be able to produce content that truly does meet their needs. That’s great—but after they’ve read it, will they simply hit the Back button, or close the tab?

Landing page quality is very important for these searchers, and it’s an ongoing challenge for bloggers. The “landing page” will in many cases be an internal page of your blog, not the home page. We need to optimize our content page layouts so that they keep reader attention, drawing people through to more content that relates to their expressed need.

There’s a basic philosophy that says that the more a reader is compelled to do on your blog—the more they engage with it—the more likely they’ll be to come back. So there’s a common suite of tactics that blog owners use to prompt readers to action, which includes:

  • invitations to make comments, or rate the content
  • calls to action to share the content via social media or email
  • encouragement to comment on the content
  • suggested further reading on the same blog
  • links to more information about the blog
  • invitations to subscribe the blog via email or RSS

Of particular note is social search integration. The more shares you can encourage on individual pieces of content, the better your blog’s search rank will likely be in the long term, and the more visitors it will draw overall—both through search and social media.

What’s your SEO strategy?

As you can see, my approach to social media is pretty straightforward: it’s based on building authority through content and community, not the more common, technical SEO tactics.

But what about you? How would you describe your SEO strategy? What’s given the biggest boost to your search traffic? Share your stories with us in the comments. And look out for next week’s post, when we’ll look at content marketing in detail.

Is Your Blog Over-optimized?

This guest post is by AJ Kumar of Single Grain.

The current hot topic in the search engine optimization world is Google’s recent Penguin update—a move the search giant claims is intended to help reduce the presence of over-optimized web pages in the natural search results.

In fact, the possibility of a forthcoming over-optimization penalty was alluded to as early as this year’s SXSW festival in March, where Google spokesperson Matt Cutts made the comment:

“[T]he idea is basically to try and level the playing ground a little bit. So all those people who have sort of been doing, for lack of a better word, “over optimization” or “overly” doing their SEO, compared to the people who are just making great content and trying to make a fantastic site, we want to sort of make that playing field a little bit more level.”

Well, that “level playing ground” is here with the April 24th release of the Penguin algorithm update, which has affected an estimated 3% of all search queries. If you saw your blog traffic dip unexpectedly on this date, it’s possible you’ve been “pecked” by the Google Penguin—an indication that your blog is considered to be over-optimized in the eyes of the search giant.

Of course, knowing that you’ve been affected and taking remedial actions to recover from a Penguin penalty are two different things. Because of Google’s natural reticence when it comes to revealing the exact parameters that cause a site to be flagged for over-optimization, it’s impossible to know exactly which factors led to your site’s penalty.

The key to determining how to move forward following a Penguin attack lies in identifying potential over-optimization flags that can be quantified and measured by the search engines.  Remember, the Googlebot can’t manually assess the quality of every website online. Instead, it must rely on measurable signals that can be used to infer objective value.

Based on these criteria, there are a few possible areas that every post-Penguin recovery plan should address:

On-site over-optimization

The first potential avenue through which Google could quantify metrics and assess over-optimization penalties is through the abuse of well-known on-page SEO best practices.  The following are a few of the specific indicators you’ll want to pay attention to:

  • Title tags: Because your pages’ title tags play a big role in your on-site SEO, this keyword stuffing opportunity has long been abused by web spammers.  If you’ve ever seen a title tag that reads something like, “Lose weight, fast weight loss, lose weight now with these tips,” you’ve seen an example of on-site over-optimization that could easily be detected and penalized by the search engines.

    Instead, a far better solution is to structure your title tags as follows:

    • Incorporate your target keyword only once, in a way that sounds natural and accurately describes the content of your page.
    • Add your brand’s name to your title tags, as there’s some indication that Google is giving increased weight to websites with established brands.
    • Limit your title tags to 60-70 characters for maximum search engine consideration.
  • Internal links: Another on-site website element that’s easily manipulated from an SEO standpoint is its internal link structure. “PageRank sculpting” or “link sculpting” devotees claim that by manipulating the anchor text distribution and flow of Google PageRank from one blog post to another, they can control how each page on their site is valued by the search engines.

    Well, guess what?  Because the search engine spiders navigate the web using links, they’ve gotten pretty good at understanding what natural internal link distribution looks like—as well as what it looks like when bloggers and other webmasters build internal links in an intentionally manipulative fashion!

    For best results, link to other pages using internal links only when it makes sense for your readers.  Build your site’s navigation structure and architecture in a way that helps visitors access different areas of your site effectively, and add links between blog posts only when the information is relevant and provides value for your readers.

  • Footer links: This on-site over-optimization element is so obviously detectable by the search engines that it’s not even funny! I’ll keep this one brief: don’t pack the footer section of your blog full of unnecessary links for the sole purpose of manipulating anchor text, link relevance or internal PageRank flow.  Seriously, just don’t do it!
  • Scraped or stuffed content: Again, manipulated content is an over-optimization red flag that should be an obvious “no go,” yet it’s amazing how many websites still make use of content that’s either copied and pasted from other sites or so packed full of keywords that it’s nearly illegible to human readers.

    If you have either of these two types of content on your blog, get them off as soon as possible!  While scraped and stuffed content may have helped your site to rank well in the natural search results pages in the past, it’s an obvious red flag to a search engine that’s indicated its desire to go after web spammers.  Even if your site survived the Penguin update unscathed, chances are you won’t be so safe in the future!

Off-site over-optimization

In addition to the specific optimization activities you undertake on your website, your off-site actions can be treated as red flags by the Penguin penalty and future updates as well.  Here are a few of the specific elements you’ll want to pay attention to:

  • Link velocity: Although having external links pointing back at your site is an important part of optimizing your website effectively for the search engines, the rate at which you acquire these links (a.k.a. your “link velocity”) should be treated with the utmost caution.

    Ideally, your blog’s backlink profile should look as natural as possible—even if you’re following SEO backlinking best practices. If your blog is well-established and well-regarded within your industry, it may be able to handle receiving dozens of new backlinks a day.  On the other hand, if your site is new, you can bet the search engines realize that it doesn’t look natural to have a young site earning handfuls of new links every day!

    Although there’s no hard and fast rule about how many links are too many links, it’s best to focus on obtaining a few high-value backlinks than to spam your site with dozens or hundreds of low quality links.  Be especially cautious in the few six months of your site’s life, and hold off on any major link building campaigns until your site is indexed appropriately by the search engines.

  • Anchor text distribution: As you undertake your link building campaigns, steer clear of the dated advice to incorporate only your target keyword and a few closely related variations as anchor text within your new links.  Google Penguin has changed the way anchor text is valued, so having too high of a concentration of exact match anchor text backlinks could set your site up for future penalties.

    In addition, if you’ve used targeted anchor text links in the past, it might be worthwhile to remove as many as possible or to dilute their strength with untargeted links.  For more information on how to evaluate your existing link building profile for anchor text distribution, check out SEOMoz’s article titled, How to Survive Google’s Unnatural Links Warnings & Avoid Over-Optimisation.

  • Sitewide links: One final indicator of over-optimization you’ll want to be aware of is a high density of “sitewide links.”

    Sitewide links are those that appear in areas of a website that are displayed on every single page of that site—for example, in the sidebar or footer area of a blog.  Because these types of links can be used to quickly increase the number of backlinks pointing at a blog for the sole purpose of manipulating the search results, they’re an easy target for Google Penguin and similar future updates.

    To find instances of sitewide links, use the “Links to your site” feature found in Google’s Webmaster Tools or other paid link research programs like Ahrefs or the Open Site Explorer.  Then, as you encounter instances of sitewide links, you can either request their removal from the offending sites or increase your other link building activities in order to diminish their impact on your site.

Were you pecked by the Penguin?

Did you see a decrease in traffic following the Google Penguin update?  Are you concerned about future over-optimization penalties and how they’ll be assessed?  Share any other specific actions you’ve taken to improve your site’s optimization in the comments below.

AJ Kumar is co-founder of Single Grain, a digital marketing agency< based in San Francisco. Single Grain specializes in helping startups and larger companies with search engine optimization, pay-per-click, social media, and various other marketing strategies.

SEO Your YouTube Videos in 10 Steps

This guest post is by Deepak of VideoMarketing.net.

In this article we are going to have a look at the various strategies and tactics that will help you rank your YouTube videos inside the YouTube video search engine.

YouTube is the second-largest search engine in the world, according to Alexa.com. A lot of people are looking for information online in the form of videos and they will come to YouTube directly to search for “infomovies.”

Just like infographics, infomovies are articles in the form of a video. An infomovie can be defined as the audio visual representation of information (while an infographic is a visual representation of information). Infomovies usually include slides accompanied by text and images, and a voiceover too.

Right now there is not as much competition for video rankings in YouTube as there is for article rankings in Google’s index, but as more and more people convert their articles to infomovies, it will become harder to rank your videos in the first page of YouTube search results.

And that brings us to the purpose of this article: the process for optimizing your YouTube videos for search.

1. Use a suitable video filename

The name of your video file should reflect the topic of the video itself.

So, if you’re uploading an infomovie about dog training, your video’s file name should be something like “dog-training.avi.”

This sounds obvious, but many people upload video files with names such as “untitled.mov” or “MOV123.MP4.” Although this file name is not visible to the YouTube user, YouTube will give search preference to video files whose names include topic keywords.

2. Put your keywords first

Put your main keyword first in the video’s title, description, and tags. Your brand name or website’s name can be included at the end of the title, but put your topic keywords up front.

The title should, of course, be compelling and entice users to click on it. The rules of copywriting which you apply to blog titles and sales pages also apply to YouTube video titles. If you have an effective title, you will have a better clickthrough rate, and the YouTube search algorithm will take that into account in ranking your video.

Some videos that you upload will not get a lot of viewers in the beginning, but will gain traction and traffic in the long term—so there are long-tail possibilities with YouTube search!

3. Include keywords in your video voiceover

When you’re creating an infomovie, you’ll likely include a script from which the video’s voiceover was made.

This script is nothing but an article with small modifications to make is suitable as a voiceover for a video. And, just like a search-optmized text article, your video script should include the main keywords for your topic.

Here’s an example of a video with a voiceover.

Google has developed speech-to-text conversion technology which will try to convert your infomovie’s voiceover into captions—you can see the captioning in the video above by clicking the “CC” button at the video’s bottom-right corner.

Voice conversion

“CC” Stands for closed captions. Although YouTube cannot always transcribe your voiceover accurately, the technology is good enough to get an idea of the keywords you’ve used in the voiceover. And Google is improving it every day.

Accessing video captioning

This technology was originally developed for the free-411 service—a technology whereby users can call 800-GOOG-411 to get free, automated directory assistance. But Google has further developed this system to understand what videos mean and to improve video search technology, as Google’s Marissa Mayer explained back in 2007:

Whether or not free-411 is a profitable business unto itself is yet to be seen. The reason we really did it is because we need to build a great speech-to-text model that we can use for all kinds of different things, including video search.

Google—through YouTube, which it owns—is constantly trying to deliver the most relevant results for customers and users. This is particularly useful for those of us who create infomovies packed with content.

If we include keywords in our voiceover scripts, Google’s voice-to-tect technology will pick them up and use them, along with the other factors mentioned here, to rank your video in the youTube search results.

4. Upload a transcript file for video captioning

YouTube also gives us the option to upload transcript files for our videos. It has been confirmed through experiments that YouTube indexes the captions file of a YouTube video, and uses this information to help determine the video’s keyword relevancy.

In the experiment, a unique text string was included in the captions file. After a day a search for that string in Google returned that video. It couldn’t have been possible unless Google indexed the text in the captions file that was uploaded.

Uploading your own caption transcript is a better option than letting YouTube transcribe the audio itself, as you get total control over what appears in your video captions.

The original caption uploading feature required us to include the timing for each sentence or line in the video. This was a tedious process. It would take hours to create a captions or subtitle file if you included the start and stop timing for every single line.

But recently YouTube has refined its speech-to-text technology so that if you simply upload the transcript file without timings, it will automatically set the timings. This feature is still in beta testing, but I have never seen it make a mistake.

Google describes the difference between captions and transcripts like this:

A caption file contains both the text and information about when each line of text should be displayed.

A transcript file, on the other hand, just contains the text of what was said in the video. If the video’s in English, YouTube can use speech processing algorithms to determine when the words in a transcript should be displayed.

To upload a transcript file, click on Edit for the video in your YouTube video manager. Click on the Captions tab. Under the Add New Captions or Transcript header, select Transcript File as the Type, and upload your script file—the article from which we created the audio file for the infomovie.

Within a minute, YouTube will do its magic. You can see it work by watching your video. Click the CC button on the video and YouTube will display the words in exact sync with the audio. And your keyword-rich transcript file will be used by the YouTube search engine to rank your video appropriately in user searches for those terms.

5. Build an authoritative YouTube channel

If you are uploading your video to a brand new channel, your videos may not have a good ranking to start with. However if you have an established channel with lots of videos and subscribers, your videos will rank more highly in the search results as competition grows.

So try to create a channel for each niche you’re serving through YouTube.

6. Upload videos regularly

If you upload a bunch of videos to a channel and never touch it for years, then those videos may not have as much SEO power as the videos in the channel which are updated regularly.

This is just like blogging—if a blog is not updated for a long time then it will lose its rankings in Google. Freshness is seen to indicate relevance, at least to some degree. So keep your channel fresh with recently uploaded videos.

7. Respond to comments on your videos

YouTube tells us to “Respond to comments in the first few hours after you publish a video. These first viewers are your core audience and building comments early helps increase the video’s ranking in search.”

8. Create and use playlists

YouTube has a feature called Playlists that allows users to group videos spread across YouTube into a single list or collection. If your video is added to a Playlist, it can increase the SEO power of your video. We can see Playlists as social signals about videos that are popular or valuable to YouTube users, and well all know that Google’s working hard to integrate social signals into its search algorithms.

The playlist

9. Encourage other social signals

In a similar vein, your video’s search rank will benefit the more comments, favorites, likes, and video responses it receives. To attract these social signals, you’ll need to create a high-quality video and ask people to take those actions on it.

However, be careful not to incentivize users to like or comment on your video. For example, if you offer to give away a random prize for the commenters on your video, your channel may be terminated. YouTube does not like playing games with their algorithm and this kind of activity is against their terms and conditions.

10. Encourage off-site backlinks to your videos

Just like any web page, backlinks from other sites will help your videos to rank better in YouTube search.

Submit your video URL to social bookmarking sites, blog about it, and share it on your Twitter and Facebook profiles. The more backlinks you can get for your videos, the better.

Are you optimizing your videos for search?

With these ten tips, you’ll be on your way to much better YouTube search rankings for your videos. Have you created an infomovie yet? And are you using any of these techniques on your videos? Let us know how your videos are ranking in the comments.

Deepak blogs about video marketing for bloggers at VideoMarketing.net. He has 5 years of experience in using web videos to drive traffic. You can grab his 14 day free video training program on video marketing from this page.

Introducing Blekko, the Self-curated Search Engine

This guest post is by Philip Rudy of ImageWorks Studio.

Have you used Blekko yet? It’s the search engine that prides itself on human curation. You as the user can actually tailor your own personal search results, which begs the question: does Blekko have some type of insight into blending “search & social?”

Potential is an ugly word, and I hate to use it here, but Blekko really has so much potential. Only time will tell if the team is able to get the combination of social and search perfectly right and stay in the game. After all, “human curation” sounds kind of hard.

Maybe not, though. Human curation has already helped Blekko completely block out the top 20 sites voted as spam by human users— these are all mainly content farms (sorry eHow). Anyone can join this cause by setting up a user site on Blekko and marking a site as spam.

The power behind slashtags

Blekko separates itself from other search engines by making use of the “/” tag—the slashtag as a search tool.

You can either create your own slashtag or used a built-in one like the /date slashtag (which also happens to be an extremely helpful slashtag).

All you have to do is type in a search query, like “sports /date” and your query results will automatically be sorted by date, from the most recent results.

Other slashtags do different things. One that’s extremely useful (especially now that Yahoo Site Explorer is down) is the “/seo” slashtag. This allows you to see your sites duplicate content, all of your inbound and outbound links, and much, much more. Try it right now. Enter your site domain name, add a space and “/seo” and you will get something like this:

Creating your own slashtags

All this being said, Google still beats Blekko—even with its awesome concept of human curation of the web and slashtag operators —mainly because, well, slashtags are kind of exhausting. First of all you have to familiarize yourself with all of them, then you have to remember them, and then you have to type them in, and so on. A simple Google search seems to be a better option at this point in time.

But creating your own personal slashtag is a whole other story. Using slashtags, you can basically create your own search engine for any topic you like.

For example, I recently created a “/guestpost” slashtag that returns all the websites I have ever written for. It’s very cool, and very useful. If you use the search field below, you will find websites’ “write for us” pages, which is very useful for guest posters and people looking to build their brand and audience.

The point is that this type of interface usability leaves the door open for a lot of innovation. Used wisely, creating slashtags (which can be done with the help of co-editors) could prove to be a valuable SEO and blogging tool. The ability to tailor and customize your own search engine results packs a lot of power, and if you spend a little time browsing your whole site and coming up with ideas, you can find yourself becoming very, very creative. Just ask the community over at stackoverflow.com, which helps Blekko tailor many of its “programming” slashtags.

Another cool thing about Blekko is that it provides the ability to create your profile, which will list any slashtags that you have created. You are also able to include your Twitter profile, your website, a little information about yourself, and a few other things. It’s the absolute bare minimum of the social package, but it is sort of intriguing. Here’s why.

The ability to basically sculpt your own search engines by creating slash tags, and the ability to post on the walls of the slashtags of other users, opens up some interesting social avenues that aren’t quite built up the “appropriate” way yet. I put the word “appropriate” in quotation marks because I am not quite sure that “social plus search” is the route that Blekko seems to want to take yet—or ever. Right now, their main focus seems to be human curation and the elimination of low-quality content from their SERPs, which is definitely a great cause, but I think there is room there to figure out how to do it socially.

Right now, on Blekko, there is a small, yet highly intriguing ability to search through users and the different slashtags that they’re editing. I’m guessing that not all the users that are on Blekko are listed there, but all you have to do to browse through different Blekko users is type “/users” into the search bar (there are multiple shortcut slashtags that you can check out).

What if Blekko were to leverage their slashtags in a way that connects users that were creating their own slashtags? A step toward this scenario is the creation of the “/likes” slashtag, which shows all of your Facebook likes and all of your friends’ Facebook likes (if you log in with Facebook).

By the same token, isn’t curating your slashtags pretty much almost doing the same thing, except compartmentalizing the different aspects of your life? For instance a slashtag could be created for work references, for going out, or for finding out about the world.

Blekko’s next big step could very well be figuring out the key to combining search with social. However that is also everyone else’s goal, and living in a world of what if’s is never a good idea. Right now, Blekko stands as a very unique search engine with a very bright future. Give it a try and let us know what you think of it—and whether you’ll keep using it—in the comments.

This article was written by Philip Rudy of ImageWorks Studio – a Custom Web Design company based in the Washington DC area founded in 1995.