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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.

Essential SEO Settings for Every New WordPress Blog

This guest post is by Karol K of ThemeFuse.

Some bloggers, designers, and WordPress developers have a kind of love-hate relationship with SEO. I know—some people tend to be overly focused on everything SEO-related, and they just keep blasting us with the next “crucial” SEO advice every day.

On the other hand, some people tend to completely overlook it, and act like there’s no such thing as SEO. The truth is that neither of these approaches is the right one.

Many SEO-centered people don’t put a strong focus on the content quality they’re creating. It’s an easy trap to fall into. There are only so many hours in a day, and if you spend most of them on, for example, link building then there’s not much time left to do some honest writing.

If you’re in the other camp then I’m sorry, but this isn’t good either. No matter if you’re a blogger managing your own site, or a developer creating sites for others, SEO is always an important element, though it may not be the most important one.

Let me agree with the SEO guys for a minute, and admit that SEO is the best way of getting a constant stream of new visitors every day. Of course, there are other methods too, but nothing is as predictable as SEO.

When you do some kind of promotion on social media, for example, and get 1,000 visitors in a day, then that’s great, but the next day you’re likely to see no one. If you work on your SEO, however, and get 1,000 visitors one day, 1,000 the next day, and 1,000 the next day, then there are good chances the fourth day will bring similar results.

Furthermore, everybody is affected by SEO. If you’re a blogger, then getting new visitors is in your best interests, obviously. But if you’re a developer and a scenario occurs in which your client is not able to attract any new visitors to their site on a consistent basis, then it’s probably your last gig with that client.

Now, there are only so many things we can do in terms of SEO when getting a WordPress blog ready to be launched. Of course, the most important factors are what gets done after the launch—the various SEO activities the webmaster takes—and Sophie Lee explained a number of them recently. But in order to provide you with some solid groundwork, the blog needs to be made SEO-friendly from day one. Here’s how.

Setting the site title and tagline

Where I usually start is by deciding on a good site title and tagline. And I’m talking only in terms of SEO.

A good title and tagline contain the main keywords for the site. Some proper research needs to be done first, and I’m not going to cover this here, but after that’s been done, one of the most important things you can do is include your keywords of choice in the title and the tagline of the site.

This is the first point at which the theme you’re using (or designing) might interfere with these settings. Different themes do different things with the site’s title and its tagline. Some simply display it in a visible place; others ignore it entirely.

A completely different approach is to choose not to use the site title or the tagline anywhere on the blog. I don’t see it as a wise choice, though. You can choose not to use the tagline—not every blog needs a tagline. But the title is a crucial element for many more reasons than just SEO. Make sure you choose one and use it.

Creating permalinks

In plan English, permalinks represent the structure of every URL on a blog. A single blog post can have one of many URL structures. Some of the more popular ones are:

  • domain.com/?p=POSTID
  • domain.com/2011/12/03/post-name/
  • domain.com/category/post-name/
  • domain.com/post-name/

These are not the only possibilities. WordPress provides you with a lot of tags, so you’re able to create literally tens of different URL structures. Only few, however, have any point to them.

Let me just quickly summarize the whole issue here (for more info feel free to visit my other post, Getting the Permalink Settings for WordPress Just Right). My favorite permalink structure is the last one presented on the list above, which is: domain.com/post-name/.

Why? It provides the webmaster with a possibility to include keywords into each post’s or page’s URL, which is one of the main on-page SEO factors for Google. Due to the limited space in a URL, Google knows that the most descriptive keywords are most likely to appear there.

I’m not saying that you have to use this exact structure, but if you set the permalinks to a setting that doesn’t enable including keywords then you’re shutting the door for whoever is going to be managing the site later on.

Building a sitemap

The definition I’m using for sitemap is: a file that provides a map of all the URLs that are a part of a website.

Search engines always look for such a file because it’s the easiest way for them to index all pages that need to be indexed. As a blogger, you have to make it possible for such sitemaps to be created automatically whenever a new page or post gets created.

Luckily, there are many plugins that can make it happen. Two of the more popular ones, which I’ve been using successfully(of course, don’t use both of them at the same time) are:

The plugin by Yoast actually offers a lot more than just sitemaps, and it’s the one I’m using right now on my blog.

These sitemap plugins can be a little tough to deal with at some times. I mean, they work just fine, but the amount of possible settings can be frightening. Thankfully, the default settings seem to be optimal.

Using an SEO-friendly theme

This is a big deal—the most important thing, in my opinion. No matter what settings you choose for your blog, your theme needs to support them.

First things first. Free themes are evil.

Theme frameworks or custom-made themes are great. The only problem is that you need to spend a lot of time working on tweaking the theme to fit your requirements perfectly. But the work often pays off, especially for those somewhat WordPress-savvy people who are not afraid to get their hands dirty. What I actually advise is to invest in a premium theme.

Now, let’s talk some SEO characteristics of a good theme. First of all, and this goes for everyone, no matter if you’re shopping for a theme or creating one from the ground up: a good theme needs to provide the possibility for assigning custom SEO titles and descriptions to individual posts, pages, categories, and tags.

By default, WordPress creates those automatically. What happens is the post’s or page’s title becomes the SEO title as well, and the excerpt becomes the SEO description.

This isn’t a perfect solution. Some post titles will inevitably be longer than SEO tells you is optimal (which is about 65 characters). Another thing is that post titles are always more conversational in nature and less SEO-optimized. A proper SEO title should therefore be a kind of a summary of the post title.

Anyway, I’m sure you see the value. Being able to set SEO titles and descriptions is a must. Period.

The HTML structure of a theme has much SEO weight to it too. For instance, HTML errors (you can discover them by installing a plugin for your browser; many of those are available for Firefox, for example). If your blog has a lot of HTML errors, then you’re making it significantly more difficult for a search engine to visit it and read the content.

HTML is not a complicated language, but truly mastering it to the point where you’re not making any structural errors takes a while. This is a skill developers learn over time.

Proper <H> heading usage is another point. Search engines look at every page in a search for fragments of text that have any kind of emphasis placed on them. For example, if you decide to bold something within a sentence, then it’s probably something important—something you want to attract additional attention to.

Google and other search engines see those phrases, too. For this matter, headings are some of the most important elements. A good theme needs to use them for post titles, page titles, and also provide a well formatted style for different headings when used within the content of the post or page itself.

We’re not done with the structure yet. Google doesn’t see every page the same way. For example, you can go to seo-browser.com and do a quick test on whatever site you want. What you’ll notice is that no matter what address you input, the site looks nothing like you’re used to seeing it. Put in a few page URLs and get a feel for how differently Google sees them.

Now, some hints! A well designed theme rearranges the HTML structure of the site. It does it in a way so the main content of the site is always close to the top of the HTML structure. This is a challenge that requires some CSS knowledge to implement, and can be difficult is some cases.

For example, if a site is using one sidebar on the left, one on the right, and the main content block is in the center, then the easiest way of creating such a structure is to first create the code for the left sidebar, then the content block, and then the right sidebar. Unfortunately, this is not the optimal solution. The main content block always needs to appear first in the HTML structure. This is something beginner CSS enthusiasts often find difficult to implement.

And that’s why you need a premium theme: to ensure that the structure of your site is as seo-friendly as possible.

Understanding indexation

No matter what site you’re working on, not every page deserves to be indexed by search engines.

WordPress as a platform creates a lot of duplicate content—category pages, tag pages, date archives, author archives—and for the most part they are all duplicates.

A blog that’s SEO-friendly should define what gets indexed and what doesn’t. One solution of doing this is to use the WordPress SEO plugin by Yoast mentioned earlier.

Some areas you might consider not indexing:

  • category archives or tag archives
  • date-based archives
  • author archives.

Choosing what to index, and what not to index, is a way of speaking to the search engines. What you’re doing is simply helping them to identify what the most important areas of your blog are, by excluding some of the less-important ones.

Now, the first area on the list is “category or tag archives.” It’s for you to decide upon the best approach for your blog. The general rule, as Sophie explained the other day, is not to let duplicate content pages get indexed. If you’re using the same categories or tags for many posts then your category or tag archives are becoming just that: duplicate content. Setting everything up to prevent this from the get-go is a good practice.

Since we’re talking indexation it’s worth to mention nofollow settings. As many of you know, nofollow is an attribute you can give to a link so it remains unfollowed by the search engines. Some of the links that are good to be no-followed are comment links (whatever people commenting on the blog link to).

Your first steps

The topic of SEO for WordPress blogs is a really big one, and it always takes some time before one can get a good grasp on the whole issue. This post presents only the essential, initial steps you’ll want to take care of, and some of the most basic facts.

When you’re searching for additional information keep in mind to read only the latest posts and tutorials. The rules have a tendency to change quite often in the SEO world! For now, feel free to comment and tell me what your initial SEO settings for your new blog are. I’m curious to know.

Karol K. is a 20-something year old web 2.0 entrepreneur from Poland and a writer at ThemeFuse.com, where he shares various WordPress advice. Currently, he’s working on a new e-book titled “WordPress Startup Guide – little known things worth doing when creating a WordPress site.” The e-book launches soon, and now the best part … it’s free. Also, don’t forget to visit ThemeFuse to get your hands on some premium WordPress themes.

Weekend Project: Correct Content Mistakes that are Damaging Your SEO

This guest post is by Sophie Lee of IBS Tales.

In February 2011 my website lost 50% of its traffic overnight, and a further 20% disappeared two months later. I was a victim of Google’s infamous Panda update, and like many other webmasters, my first reaction was to assume that Google had messed up—my site contains nothing but high quality, deathless prose, and I’m sure yours does too.

As time went on, though, I began to realize that my site had been penalized because it deserved to be. I hadn’t deliberately set out to produce thin content, or put duplicate URLs in the index, or make other amateur SEO mistakes, but that’s what I had been doing, regardless of my good intentions.

I set about fixing aspects of my site that should never have been broken in the first place, and one year on, I believe that my site has markedly improved. I need to be honest and say that I haven’t recovered from Panda, and so I can’t promise that this article will help you recover your rankings if you’re a fellow Panda victim.

However, I can tell you that Panda has been a massive wake-up call for me, and opened my eyes to some horrible mistakes that I was making as a webmaster. Are you making the same mistakes? Are you sure?

Mistake 1: Thin or shallow content

Panda quickly became known as the update that targeted thin or shallow content. I checked my site and found that around 10% of my pages had less than 100 words on them. Now, word count alone may not mean a huge amount, but what, exactly, can you say in less than 100 words? I had intended to develop these pages as I went along, but I’d never got round to it. They had to go, so I removed them completely and left them to 404.

I also looked at pages that might be useful to my visitors or to me, but could easily be flagged as thin content by an algorithm. For example, I had a page named blank.htm that I used as a template page. It was, of course, blank, and it shouldn’t have been on the server. I had an entire page that showed my search box and nothing else. Another page showed my mailing list sign-up box and nothing else. If I worked at Google, I’d have penalized these pages too.

Mistake 2: Duplicate URLs and pesky parameters

One issue that I had neglected almost completely was the way in which Google was indexing my content. Panda woke me up. A search for my site on Google came up with over 800 URLs. I had roughly 400 pages of content on my site, so what was going on?

Firstly, for reasons lost in the mists of time, I had used dropdown lists in some of my navigation links. These links were being indexed by Google with [?menu] parameters in the urls, resulting in duplicate urls for a whole bunch of pages. I replaced the dropdowns with simple [a href] links and put canonical tags on all of my pages to indicate that I wanted the plain URLs with no [menu] parameter to be the “correct” URLs.

I also realized that I had the syntax [Disallow: /*?] in my robots.txt file, put there because it’s part of the robots.txt file that WordPress recommend in its codex. This command meant that Google couldn’t see the content on any page with a question mark in the URL, and that meant that it couldn’t see the new canonical settings in any of the duplicate URLs. I removed that line from my robots.txt file, and a couple of months later, the duplicate URLs had disappeared from the index.

Secondly, my WordPress blog was producing duplicate content on category, tag, and monthly archive pages. Previously, I had believed the Google guidelines that said you shouldn’t worry about duplicate content that is legitimate: “If your site suffers from duplicate content issues … we do a good job of choosing a version of the content to show in our search results.”

However, the prevailing view of the SEO blogs I read was that noindexing these duplicate pages was the best way forward, because that would leave no room for doubt as to which URLs should be returned in searches.

I found that the Meta Robots plugin from Yoast enabled me to easily noindex all of the dupes, and they were gone from the index in a month or so. I did find that some URLs tended to get stuck in the index, presumably because they were simply crawled less often, and in those cases I used Webmaster Tools to get the URLs crawled more quickly.

If I found a URL that just wasn’t shifting, I used “fetch as googlebot” to fetch the URL, and then, once it was found, clicked on “submit to index.” This tells Google that the page has changed and needs crawling again, and this got the URLs crawled and then noindexed within a few days, on average.

Mistake 3: Not using breadcrumb navigation

Almost every site I visit these days uses breadcrumbs—those links at the top of the page that say “Home > Cameras > Nikon cameras” or similar, to let you know at a glance where you are on the site.

They stop your site visitors from getting lost, they help pagerank to flow, and they look good. I should have added them years ago.

Mistake 4: Not displaying social buttons

I know, I know—you can’t believe I didn’t have social buttons coming out of my ears already. I just don’t like the fact that I have to register with Twitter and Facebook and Google+ to run my own website. But I do. So I have.

Mistake 5: Ignoring blog speed and server location

I got a shock when a search at whois.domaintools.com told me that my server was in Canada. I checked with my host and they said that all their servers were in Canada, which I had been completely unaware of—I had blindly assumed that they were all in the USA.

I won’t make that mistake again. It may not make a huge different to rankings, but Matt Cutts has confirmed that server location is used as a signal by Google so it seems crazy to host your site anywhere other than the main country you’re targeting.

I switched from the dirt cheap host I had been with to a Hostgator business package. I stuck with a shared server, although I did ask for a dedicated IP address to isolate my site from any potentially spammy neighbors.

I also took a look at the speed of my site using tools like webpagetest.org. The tests showed that although my site was fairly quick, I was missing some easy gains, the most obvious being that some of my images were 40kb or 50kb when they could easily be compressed to 10kb. I also turned on mod_deflate/mod_gzip in Apache, which sounds impressively technical but involved checking one box under the Optimize Website section in the Hostgator cpanel. That setting meant that all my content would be compressed before it was sent to a browser.

Finally, I made sure I was using asynchronous code for those dastardly social media buttons, making them load in the background rather than holding up the display of my main content.

Mistake 6: Misusing h1 headings

I found that, for some inexplicable reason, I had set up many of my pages with two h1 tags—one in the main content, and one in the left-hand navigation bar. I got rid of the left-side h1s so that the main heading for each page reflected the main subject for that page.

Conversely, I realized that my blog theme put the overall title of my blog into h1 tags rather than the titles of the individual blog posts themselves, so every single page on my blog had the same h1 title. I switched to a different blog theme (Coraline) and the problem was solved.

Mistake 7: Ignoring Google authorship

I had been seeing little headshots in my Google results for months, often clicking on them because they stood out without asking myself why they were there and whether I could get them for my content too.

What I know now is that they’re called rich snippets, they’re part of Google’s authorship program, and you need to link your site to a Google+ profile with special markup code to get one. I found the Google instructions for this process confusing, but this post from Yoast was much clearer.

I then used the Google rich snippets tool to check that I had set things up correctly, and filled in this form to let Google know that I was interested in using rich snippets for my site.

Once I had submitted the form, it took around a week for my photo to start showing up in the SERPs.

Mistake 8: Running sister sites

I was actually running two websites on the same topic when Panda hit, and the update crushed them both. The main reason that I had chosen to run two websites was to protect myself against a drop in search rankings. That obviously worked out great.

I began to wonder whether Google frowned upon two domains on the same topic. Obviously, ten domains on the same topic, all targeting the same keywords, would be spam … so could two domains be spam too, or at the very least ill-advised?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that splitting my website into two had been a mistake. Surely one brandable, strong website was better than two weaker sites? One site with 1000 backlinks was going to be more powerful than two sites with 500 each. The consensus within the SEO world was that multiple domains on the same topic was simply a bad idea, Panda or no Panda.

I decided to merge the two sites together, and so I had to choose which domain to keep. One domain was much newer than the other, contained a couple of dashes separating exact match keywords, and had a really, really, really silly extension. The other domain was at least two years older, had more backlinks, was a dotcom, had no dashes, and was brandable. It didn’t take a genius to figure out which domain I should be using.

I 301-redirected the newer domain to the old one on a page-by-page basis, so www.newsite.com/thispage.htm redirected to www.oldsite.com/thispage.htm. This is the code I used for this, placed in the .htaccess file of the new site:

RewriteEngine on
RewriteRule (.*) <a href=”http://www.newsite.com/$1″ target=”_blank”>http://www.newsite.com/$1</a> [R=301,L]

I checked that the redirects were working using the Webmaster Tools “fetch as googlebot” feature. It took around a month for all of the main pages of the old site to be removed from Google’s index, and about another month for the entire site to go. I then went on a hunt for anyone who’d linked to my newer domain, finding backlinks through the link: <a href="http://mysite.com" target="_blank">mysite.com</a> operator at Blekko and opensiteexplorer.org, and asked them to link to the older domain instead.

Now what?

If these changes haven’t returned my blog to its old position in the SERPs after a year, what’s the point? Why don’t I just give up?

The point is that I’m proud of my website. It’s suffering right now, but I believe in it. And that’s the greatest advantage that a webmaster can ever have. If you believe in your website, you should fight for it. Sooner or later, it will get what it deserves.

Sophie Lee runs the irritable bowel syndrome support site IBS Tales and is the author of Sophie’s Story: My 20-Year Battle with Irritable Bowel Syndrome.