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Getting Un-Panda-lized: One Blog’s Response to Google’s Panda Update

This guest post is by Ethan of OneProjectCloser.com

When Google rolled out the first Panda update on 23 February 2011, we saw our site traffic plummet by 40%. I learned about this four hours after quitting my day job to become a full-time blogger. I don’t regret the decision for a second, but it presented some unique challenges for the days ahead.

Since then, we’ve employed several different strategies to reclaim our former glory. Research and site analysis led us to remove potentially low quality content. We’ve experimented with modifying and removing ads, all the while trying to better the user experience. It’s important to know that we haven’t seen a recovery … yet. None of what I’m about to share has made a significant improvement, but hopefully this article will provide insight for other publishers.

When Panda struck

Site analysis

“This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites”—Amit Singhal, Google Fellow

Google has mentioned time and again that the new Panda document classifier impacts the entire site. Before, you could have a handful of really good posts and the onus was on Google to find them. Now, webmasters shoulder the responsibility to carefully curate every shred of content.

Since the term low-quality is subject to some interpretation, we began our site analysis to identify the high-quality content. The goal was to improve our link profile and eliminate everything but our best content. Using data from Google Analytics, Webmaster Tools, and backlink analysis tools, we rated every single post. Specifically, we looked at top landing pages, content by number of links, content by number of linking domains and domain authority. Many of these factors correlate with AdSense earning so we also took that into account.

Removing low-quality content

“…is blocked from crawling and indexing, so that search engines can focus on what makes your site unique and valuable…” – John Mu, Google Employee

We decided which articles needed to go and which would stay. It was painful to think about deleting about 75% of our archives, so it was a relief to find alternative ways of “removing” content. By blocking crawling, we would be able to keep informative posts that didn’t make the cut, and preserve link juice.

In another forum, John Mu stated that you should use a 404 or 410 error code for pages that are not worth salvaging, 301 redirect items that can be merged, and a “noindex” meta tag for content that you plan to rewrite. Matt Cutts did a live webcast on May 25 in which he verified that noindexing is a good solution for removing low-quality content. Blocking content in robots.txt prevents Googlebots from crawling whereas noindexing allows crawling and following links.

Ads and affiliate links

“While it’s exciting to maximize your ad performance with AdSense, it’s also important to consider the user experience…” – Best Practices Guidelines, Google AdSense

It seemed very telling that the AdSense team released new guidelines for ad placement about two months after Panda hit. A lot of publishers felt slighted because AdSense optimization specialists have always pushed for more ad blocks and more aggressive placements. Now it seemed there was a threshold for ads that pushed content below the fold. This isn’t a stretch, as Google already renders each page for the preview they provide alongside search results. They know where the ad blocks fall.

I’ll admit we were being aggressive with our ad placement. We took the plunge and removed AdSense for over a month, through the Panda 2.2 update, but saw no improvement. Since, we’ve only replaced AdSense on a handful of articles.

We suspect that Google views affiliate links much like ads, especially as it may bias the publisher toward a specific product. Eliminating the majority of our affiliate links was easy as only a few ever converted. But needless to say, overall these changes have really hit us where it hurts.

Duplicate content

“The Panda Technology appears to have helped some scraper sites” – Michael Martinez, SEO Theory

Michael shares that he had a hard time finding examples of scrapers outranking the original authors, but he hits the nail on the head in the last line of the section. If Panda isn’t demoting your site, you’ll still outrank the scrapers. Our site doesn’t.

I’ve submitted a lot of takedown notices since Panda hit, but that isn’t the only duplicate content we’ve been reviewing. A lot of our articles overlap because of similar (but distinct) topics. We began working to make sure each article could stand on its own merit with unique ideas and fresh perspective. This was no easy task, and is still a work in progress.

The end-user experience

“The +1 button is shorthand for ‘this is pretty cool’ or ‘you should check this out.’ Click +1 to publicly give something your stamp of approval.” – Google +1

Bloggers have known that social marketing (a good metric for user experience) is an important part of your online identity and a great way to build readership. With moves like the +1 button, Google shifts some of the power from site owners to the everyday web surfer. Before, we would build relationships and advocate for links from webmasters, but that system was easily gamed. Now, the end user experience and how they interact on your site matters more than ever.

We’ve made a lot of improvements, and in some ways I’m glad Panda has had such a dramatic impact. Nothing else would have spurred on many of the changes we’ve made. Our site will be refined by fire with the end result that will be much better than before. Sometimes webmasters are too close to their own products.

If you have ideas about overcoming the Panda demotion, or suggestions for how we can improve, I’d love to hear them.

Ethan is 28 years old, and loves construction and home improvement. He co-founded OneProjectCloser.com in 2008 where he shares how-to projects, tool reviews and more. To stay connected, follow One Project Closer on Twitter and their new Facebook page.

How to Use SEO Wisely for Long-term Profits

This guest post is by Moon Hussain of Experiments in Passive Income.

By now, we have all read about the basics of search engine optimization.  But despite knowing all the best practices, only a very few of us practice them.  I know this because shamefully, it was only recently I realized that most of my content isn’t search engine optimized.

This doesn’t make sense: you work hard using social media to get the word out about your glorious new post and are dying to see your Twitter stream blow up with your content.  That’s great and all, but why not optimize your work for the search engines and receive consistent, targeted traffic every day?

See, it’s the year 2011 and having grown up in an age where the Internet has morphed into a powerful tool, we use it for far more than stalking people on Facebook; I personally use the Internet for online shopping, restaurant reviews, dentist reviews (not kidding!), product reviews, checking out bands, downloading music… I could go on forever.  Whoever has their sites ranking in the top few related results is (potentially) raking in a lot of targeted traffic and money. This could be you.

If you have a blog online, the bottom line is you need to reach targeted audience.  You need to draw in new visitors on a constant basis to expand your online domain.

Shucks, Pa! How can I reach my target audience?!

With a few more simple but smart moves, you can really get a nice amount of new visitors on a monthly basis.

Hopefully, you know what type of audience you are trying to reach.  To reach your audience, a big part of what we, SEO practitioners, do is called keyword research.  You can use a free tool like the Google Keyword Tool to decide what keywords are worth your time.

For a solid year, I have been relying a little bit on keyword research and more so on social media (thanks to Twitter and my fellow network) to drive traffic to my site.

The main keyword that I have been trying to rank my blog for receives a nice 9000-10,000 hits a month.  Nice big fish, right?  Only problem is, it can take a while to rank for competitive keyphrases.  However, something pretty cool happened in the process of trying to aim for the main keyphrase: I now rank for another keyphrase that receives about 2000 searches a month globally.

Thanks to ranking for this “smallish” keyphrase, I get new visitors consistently every day.  Without having to do any extra work!

What does an extra 50-100 visitors a day mean for you?  Could this result in extra subscribers to your email list, affiliate sales down the line, new loyal readers?

Start with your blog posts

Even though you have a main keyword you want your blog to rank for, you should take a look at your past posts. Do you have any posts that review a product or shed light on a sub-topic?

For product keywords, you can easily optimize your post to rank for “product name”, “product review” type of keywords.  Even if these terms receive a low number of searches a month, you can earn a few affiliate sales because these are known as buyer keywords. People use such keywords to make up their minds about purchasing the products by looking up reviews; if everything checks out, they are ready to buy the product or service.  You want your link to be the one they click through to make that product or service purchase!

Move onto sub-topics

As for a sub-topic, again conduct some research using the Google Keyword Tool.  Just because you want your blog to rank for “vegetable gardening” [5400 searches globally] doesn’t mean you can’t have a post that ranks for “grow tomatoes” [1300 searches globally].  You can surely see that people who are interested in growing their own tomatoes would most likely also be interested in vegetable gardening.

Better yet, if you do proper keyword research, you can end up with a keyword pyramid which can help you dominate your competitive keyphrases a lot easier.

Since my blog is well over the year mark, I have made a list of five posts (and keyphrases) that I’d like to rank.  This may take me a couple of months but it ensures the survival of my blog.  I have already begun my SEO efforts on this post: Why Blog Blueprint Rocks For Your Backlinking Campaign—The Most Important Words You’ll Read Today.

About a month ago, this blog post didn’t rank in the top 1000 search results in Google.  Thanks to an awesome gig on Fiverr, it ranks #23 in Google now and I will keep up my backlinking efforts until I see it ranking in top three in Google search results.

If we take a look at my keyword research, you may think that ranking for this post isn’t even worth my efforts:

But that’s where you’re wrong! Not only is the competition for these keywords low but ranking this post in conjunction with a few other posts for the appropriate keywords will result in new, steady traffic.

Take action NOW

Which two or three posts can you rank with some on-page and off-page optimization?  Doing keyword research for these posts and hiring someone on Fiverr should take less than an hour.  The purpose here is to leverage your existing content using search engine optimization to get new visitors.

Ranking your post or website can take a nice amount of work and time.  It takes patience and endurance, kind of like a ninja. Seriously!

The first step in getting your site to rank is to conduct search engine optimization on the post.  If you are using WordPress for your blog, then hopefully you are using the All-In-One-SEO Pack for on-page optimization.  If you’re not, then you have some work to do.  This plug-in makes it super easy to fill in tags, description and title of your post (as in filling in the meta tags specifically for the post) for the search engines:

Next, you need your post to receive some backlinks.  If you have a powerful network, you can ask your friends to link to you (yeah right!)  For blogs with a small readership, this won’t come so easily.

If not, you can take matters into your own hands.  You can create social bookmarking links, article links, web 2.0 links or a nice link wheel.  You can take it a step further and use Fiverr to get your backlinking done.

However, don’t expect results overnight.  Rarely does this happen.

By ranking three of your posts for search terms that receive 1000 searches each, you have potentially added 1500-2500 new visitors every month.  For small blogs, this number of visitors a month is a lifeline.  Once the work is done, you will reap the benefits for months and years to come.  Even Darren dedicates time to search engine optimizing his posts once a month, only on a much bigger scale.  But you can start small and build your way up.

Why SEO is your friend

Most people new to search engine optimization give up before they see any results which is a shame because it can sustain your blog and your business.

Advertising takes money.  Search engine rankings can take time.  However, I’m a fan of SEO and ranking your website because it’s a low cost solution as long as you don’t mind putting in consistent effort and have time.

Within one month’s time, I’d love to share with you how my blog post is faring in the search engines.  Why not throw in the gauntlet?  What post(s) will you be working on ranking in Google?  Please let me know in the comments section.

Moon Hussain loves utilizing search engine optimization to fuel her so-called passive income experiments blog.  Check out her free report, To the Moon & Back: Honest Guide to Building Successful Passive Income Businesses Online in which she discusses all that she’s learned in a year.

Guest Posting and The Panda Update: Is Guest Posting the Problem?

This guest post is by Philip Rudy of www.inetzeal.com.

The recent Panda update has affected many websites, and not only the “content mills” of the Internet. Many bloggers are scrambling and wondering what they can do get their rankings back to where they were.

Side note: If you feel you have been wrongly effected by the recent update, let Google know about it here.

Many bloggers have even gone as far as to delete each and every one of their guest posts until their rankings bounce back, thinking that the guest posts they have allowed on their sites are what is affecting their rank.

However, guest posting is not a problem if it’s done right. If accepting guest posts is what’s keeping your web site at the bottom of the SERPs, then it’s time to start taking a better look at the guest posts your web site is accepting.

Let’s take a close look at the similarities between your sub-par guest post and the type of pages that were affected by the Panda Update:

Original content makes up a low % of content, either at the page level or throughout a whole site

Unfortunately, many guest post topics are rehashed over and over on the Internet. Is it always the guest poster’s fault? No, but when people are trying to build links rather than provide value through their writing, then topics become rehashed over and over again. If you have many guest posts like this then your web site starts to look like a duplicate content monster—and sometimes you wouldn’t even know it.

Solution: Research proposed guest posting topics and see what’s already out there. Let guest bloggers know that if they want to write on topic, then it has to be something completely different from what comes up in the SERPs.

Ads that don’t coincide with the content

Many times when you accept guest posts they may be a little off topic from what you are usually writing about. When you accept many off-topic guest posts, your site begins to look like a content mill—more like an article directory than a blog.

If you have advertisement on your site that’s the same on each page, you begin to have totally irrelevant ads on many of your pages. This is a sign of a poor-quality website—and one that is now measurable in Google’s algorithm.

Solution: Make sure when you are accepting guest posts that the topic is at least somewhat related to the ads that you run on your website. If you run a blog that covers a few or many different topics then make sure you place the appropriate ads to place on the pages that are guest posts.

High bounce rate and low time spent on the page

Low-quality guest posts ensure that the visitor will leave the site as soon as they land on it. Since many guest posts do not have the in-depth analysis on the topics that the visitor is searching for, and are usually just cover a broad generalization of the topic, a visitor will automatically assume that the rest of your website will be just as low quality.

Solution: At first glance the solution to this problem might be to require lengthier articles—but that of course is not a solution. It may in fact just add to the problem. There is no magic word count that will keep your visitors on your site longer—only good content can do that. A good solution to the problem is to require some type of study case or detailed analysis with each article—something to capture the readers’ eyes and keep them there.

Guest posting is not the problem

Guest posting should not be a link-building exercise first and foremost. It is a valuable tool, but one that can definitely be taken advantage of, and doing so will definitely leave your site susceptible to algorithm updates like Panda and others that will be similar in the future.

If you think submitted guest posts will increase the value of your blog, accept them. If they’re just filler, then you are probably better off without the unneeded content.

This article was written by Philip Rudy. Philip helps to run www.inetzeal.com, which is an Internet marketing company that provides a white label link building service.

A Comprehensive Post on SEO

This guest posst is by Kole McRae of Office Buddha.

I’m a blogger now but in a former life I did SEO professionally. As a part of the industry I’ve seen first hand the insane amount of misleading information available. Even so-called “professionals” have been known to give out absolutely terrible advice.

That’s why I’m writing this article. I want to finally teach you bloggers the truth behind SEO and how to rank well in Google. Some of the following information might be obvious and some of it might seem strange, but stick with me. If you follow my advice you’ll be ranking number one in no time.

The information I’m going to give is specific to Google, but the same tips will also help you rank in Bing and all other search engines.

Meta tags

Meta tags are a part of the HTML of your page that appear in the header. There are hundreds to choose from but only two matter when it comes to HTML: the Title tag and the Description tag.

Some people talk about the Keywords meta tag but Google has made it clear that they completely ignore it. It doesn’t hurt to have a keywords tag, but don’t assume it will help you rank in Google.

The Description tag

This is what Google (sometimes) uses to describe your site in the search results. It’s shown in the screenshot below.

This does not effect your rankings, but it can be used to help entice people to click on your link in the search results. Make sure it is relevant to your site, and describes what people will find when they click your link.

As you can see in the screenshot, the term that was searched for will show up in bold in the results. You can use this to help get more clicks—but don’t abuse it.

The Title tag

The Title tag is (sometimes) used by Google as the main text of your link within the search results, as seen in the screenshot below:

The words used here have been proven to help with rankings. Basically, the closer the keywords are to the left edge of the link, the better the result will rank for those keywords. For example, Geek Juice: Canadian Tech News won’t rank as well as Canadian Tech News by Geek Juice for the term “Canadian Tech News.”

“Sometimes”?

In both instances I said that Google sometimes uses these tags. This is because they sometimes use other sources. Google may display content from your site instead of your chosen description or title tag if Google’s algorithm believes it is more relevant. Google may also use content from DMOZ (the open directory project.)

Keywords

The tips I’ve seen online for on page SEO range from ill-conceived to downright frightening. People tout keyword densities and other strange points of data as the be-all and end-all of SEO. In reality Google hasn’t used keyword density in years. Stuffing a million keywords at the bottom of your page won’t help; some believe Google actually penalizes sites for this.

As long as you mention a chosen keyword once or twice within a blog post, you’ll be fine. The important thing is that the rest of the post is about that keyword. Google has figured out a lot of very complex ways to make sure your post is about the keyword you’ve chosen. For example if you’re talking about the keyword “Toronto Raptors” you’ll probably mention basketball and scores and various other basketball related information.

The best thing you can do when it comes to keywords is simply talk about the things you love.

Building links

Google first built its search engine on the idea of page rank: a page was probably relevant if a lot of people linked to that page. The more links to that page, the better. Early in Google’s life this approach was easily spammed, and to this day people continue to try and gain PageRank.

You’ve probably heard advice such as putting your link into blog comments and forums, and within your profile on social networking sites. The problem is that these days these links are all marked as “no follow” links. “No follow” tells Google not to use this link within its determination of the site’s ranking. So in the end, these links count for very little.

The only real way to build links is to create great content that sites want to naturally link to. The issue is that if you are a new blogger, your chances of getting a link are slim to none. There are ways to build them though…

Guest posts

Guest posts (such as this one) will almost always produce a really high-quality link to your site. Don’t guest post just anywhere, though. Google likes it when sites that are similar to yours links to you. So guest post on blogs that have similar themes.

Contests

Running a contest where you give something away is a great way to naturally product lots of links.

Viral content

If a single post or image of yours somehow gets to the first page of Reddit or Digg, you are guaranteed to get tons of links pointing to your site.

Social signals

Both Google and Bing have admitted to using social signals within search results. This is getting more and more prevalent.

However, it’s still a brand new part of SEO, and it hasn’t been thoroughly studied yet. What I can suggest, though, is that you make sure you have a Twitter and Facebook account and that you interact with your followers regularly.

Ultimately, all this advice amounts to one tip for achieving good search rank: create great, high-quality posts and interact with your readers regularly.

Are you doing this already? How’s your search rank looking?

Kole McRae started Office Buddha, a resource for those working 9-5 jobs that want to reduce stress, get more done, find more time for the things they love, and all around become happier.

Is Traffic Potential a Good Proxy for Link Quality?

This guest post is by Mark of GiftedSEO.com.

Since Google’s recent Panda Update, the world of SEO and blogging has been buzzing, and while there have been some innocent sites caught in the crossfire, the one thing most people will agree on is that Google has once and for all let the world know that poor quality, spammy content is not okay.

A side-effect of the update is that if you have a lot of links to your site from poor-quality sources, those links probably just lost most of their value, too.

statistics

Copyright Frank Gärtner - Fotolia.com

Basically, as far as SEO link building is concerned, quality is more important than ever right now. But after years of directories and article submissions, some people seem to have forgotten what a quality link actually is!

What does “good quality” even mean?

SEO has always been about trying to second-guess Google and create links and content that check all the right boxes. But sometimes, this can be taken a bit too far.

Chasing an algorithm is like chasing a carrot on a stick: every time you get close, the stick moves, and the carrot moves a step further from your grasp. Why not just aim for wherever the carrot is headed and meet it when it gets there?

If you aim for the same goal that Google is already moving towards, every future algorithm change is only going to make your blog stronger.

A world without SEO

Let’s just pretend for a minute that we don’t care about SEO or search engines at all. Before SEO existed, back when links were just links, what exactly made a link “good”?

Put another way, if you were trying to make money blogging, and SEO wasn’t in the picture, what links would you care about getting?

As I see it, the amount of relevant traffic generated by a link is the purest possible indicator of whether it’s a worthwhile link or not.

A quick analogy for the Internet

There is an actual, actionable point here: whenever you gain a new link, rather than trying to guess what the almighty Google is thinking, why not just check your own analytics and see whether you are actually getting any traffic from it?

Links are essentially the bridges of the Internet. And for some reason, people have started to worry more about making them look nice for the big guy in the sky, than about getting people safely across the water. (In this metaphor, the water is the parts of the Internet that are full of nasty spam sharks.)

This is the equivalent of a small high street business caring more about their advertisement getting some industry award than whether or not the ad actually generates any sales. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Action plan

If you don’t have it already, install Google analytics (or something similar) and start looking at where your traffic is actually coming from. You should be able see which specific sites and pages are sending you traffic. If you visit those pages, you can see the links that are sending you traffic.

By doing this, you’ll get an unparalleled insight into which links are providing you with real traffic, and which areas of your site are the most popular.

Next, look at the pages on your site that are popular, and try to figure out what you did to make them so. Also look for unpopular pages and try to improve them.

If you can learn what makes good content for your site, you can start building more of it. Any time you get a lot of links from a page, try to build on that success and repeat it.

You can also start to spend more time looking for and connecting with the sorts of people who own the types of sites that are linking to you. Ask for links if you like, but you might soon find you don’t even need to!

A final thought

SEO and link building have a bad reputation because there are a lot of ways to do it, and let’s face it, some of them are pretty scuzzy, as Mr. Cutts would say. But in my opinion SEO can and should be a positive thing.

In the last few paragraphs, I discussed what I think is a powerful new way to think about SEO. It’s not so much about pleasing the algorithm as it is about finding new ways to build real links and at the same time improve the quality of what you are offering to the Web.

What do you think about this approach? Are you already using it? How’s it going for you?

This post was written by Mark from GiftedSEO.com, a new kind of SEO company for a new Internet. We get by by helping good sites be better sites and in doing so earn the rankings they deserve.

Leverage the Long Tail of Search on Your Blog

This guest post is by Eric Enge of Stone Temple Consulting.

Not getting all the search traffic you would like to get to your blog? One way to improve your results is to tap into long tail search terms to use in your posts. This is not always that easy to do, so today I will explore some ideas of ways to tap into that data.

One reason why this is such an attractive thing to do is that the long tail actually has more traffic in it than the major “head” terms which are the first thing we all think of for a particular topic. The popular theory is that the long tail represents about 70% of all search traffic. These are the search terms that we don’t normally think of. Here is the four-step process I usually use to explain it to people:

  1. Take your executive staff (or your writing/editorial team) into a conference room. Tell them to list search queries people might enter in at Google or Bing which might indicate that they are interested in your product, service, or content.
  2. In the first five minutes, they will write the most popular terms (these are “head” terms and represent about 10% of all search volume). These terms will generally be one word or two word phrases. An example phrase in the e-commerce world might be “digital cameras.”
  3. In the next ten minutes they will record the next group (“chunky middle” terms that represent 20% of search queries). These terms are a bit longer, two to three words. An example here would be “canon digital cameras.”
  4. After that they will get tired and start checking their emails, texts, go to the next meeting, or whatever. What did they leave behind? The long tail! This is the remaining 70% of search queries. These are longer phrases, using three or more keywords. Examples include: “canon powershot sx230,” “buy digital camera seattle,” or “I want to buy a digital camera now.”

Since this long tail has so much volume in it, let’s figure out how to tap into it.

Develop the right mindset

First and foremost, let’s define the way we should be thinking about the problem. We are discussing how to leverage the long tail within your blog. Blog posts are natural gold mines for long tail search, simply because they contain lots of unique original text that is presumably related to the topic of the post.

The search engines are naturally going to process all of that text to figure out what user search queries your post may be relevant to. They do an excellent job of matching you up with a variety of potential searches already. Our task is to make their job easier and help them match your post up with more relevant queries.

In addition, you probably don’t want to spend several hours doing keyword research for each post. This post is going to focus on the strategy for accessing the long tail, but how to do it with about 15 minutes of keyword research.

Makeup of the long tail

How can I quickly get a sense as to what will be in the long tail for my topic? It turns out that this is pretty easy to figure out. For example, if you are writing a blog post about the deficit in the USA, and you do some keyword research using the Google Adwords keyword tool, you will find that the phrase “balanced budget” has more search volume on it than “deficit reduction.” Let’s look at the numbers for “balanced budget:”

Next, here is the output from the Adwords Keyword Tool for “deficit reduction:”

Notice the correlation. “Balanced budget” has 1,600 total searches, and the largest variant of “deficit reduction” has 880 searches. In addition, all the variants of “balanced budget” had 7,256 searches and all the variants of “deficit reduction” had 3,341 searches.

This is our first important conclusion: the most long tail terms are associated with the biggest head term. So the first step in leveraging the long tail of search is picking the right head term. You should use this head term in the title of your web page in which the post appears, as well as the post title itself.

An important note on using the Adwords Keyword Tool

I really like this tool because it does give us a crude window into the real data from Google. However, to get the right data from it, you need to configure it properly. To see how to do that, reference my screen shot below:

First, notice that I checked the box up top marked “Only show ideas closely related to my search terms”. For purposes of this analysis, I don’t want to have terms which are not closely related in my list.

Also, over on the left, notice that I have picked the “Exact” match type, and unchecked the other boxes. The tool will default to “Broad” match when you first run it, and you can’t even configure this option until you run the tool the first time. So to do the query on “balanced” budget I had to run the tool once, it gave me broad match results, then I was able to scroll down and set the results to exact match.

The reason for doing this is that the broad match setting means that the total query volumes shown for each keyword will include all the derivatives. I tested this and the phrase “deficit reduction” showed a volume of 12,100 instead of 880. The result is that the broad match setting tends to obscure the real data, from my perspective as an SEO.

Implement major synonyms and similar terms

We have already given a good example of this. If we have titled our article using “balanced budget,” we should also find a way to include “deficit reduction” in the title, or if that is not possible, include a discussion of that in the post in a prominent way. That’s a good start, and that was one I was able to think of off the top of my head. How can I find more?

Go back to the keyword tool and uncheck the “Only show ideas closely related to my search terms” box, and repeat your search. Here is what you get for “balanced budget:”

Note the two items I circled. Two strong additional terms have emerged. Can I work a reference to a budget surplus or fiscal responsibility into my article? Once again, as we showed with the head terms, strong synonyms will feed a solid long tail.

Understand the chunky middle

The rationale here is the same: a solid chunky middle will feed a fat tail. Looking back at our “deficit reduction” screen shot we can some examples of chunky middle terms:

These are three great phrases that you might want to include in the article.

Leverage the long tail

The best way to leverage the long tail of search in your post writing can be summarized as follows:

  1. Pick the right head term.
  2. Find major synonyms and closely related terms.
  3. Selectively leverage the chunky middle.

But, the most important thing is not to lose sight of the main task, which is to create great engaging content. Don’t let keyword research be the “tail that wags the dog.” Do some selective keyword research as outlined above, write a great article, and you will surely leverage the long tail effectively, and not had to spend three extra hours doing it.

Also, if you use contract writers, make sure you keep them focused on writing high quality content as well. One of the dangers with providing keyword instructions to a writer before they begin writing an article is that it can bend their mind, and they start writing low quality articles no human wants to read. If you are using writers that can’t maintain that focus then consider replacing them. Another alternative is to not give them the keyword info and have that added in during editing the article after the first draft is written.

Are you leveraging the long tail of search on your blog?

Eric Enge is the President of Stone Temple Consulting, a 20 person SEO and PPC consulting firm with offices in Boston and Northern California. Eric is a crusty old veteran with 30 years working experience in technology and the Internet. STC provides Strategic SEO and PPC services to companies ranging from startups to Fortune 100 companies.

Blogosphere Trends + Readability Scoring

Do you know your blog’s readability score? If not, there are several ways to find out. But before you go calculating, let’s talk about why you should even care.

For starters, the average American adult reads at a level between eighth and ninth grade, according to the National Adult Literacy Survey. Other nations’ results vary but many are in the same neighborhood. So if you’re writing on a twelfth-grade level, you are not reaching some segments of the population (which is why many government-regulated documents must have readability scores that indicate they can be read and understood by most people).

That’s not necessarily a bad thing and, depending on your target readership, might even be a good thing, but there are some advantages to simplifying: increased sharing, a bigger audience, and possibly better SEO.

Blogger and “social media scientist” Dan Zarrella’s research found that posts written for lower grade levels were shared more often on Facebook—with those written on a second-grade level being shared about 40% more often than those written on a twelfth-grade level. (Look, I’m not saying this isn’t a little depressing, I’m just stating facts. We all know that one of the Internet’s most popular sites is called “I Can Has Cheezburger?”)

Way back in 1954, a fascinating (seriously) book called Know Your Reader: The Scientific Approach to Readability cited multiple studies and experiments in which changing the reading level of published material increased readership by as much as 50%.

The fact is, the more readable your text, the more people you can reach.

Ever since Google implemented its reading level feature late last year, there have been rumors that your site’s categorization (basic, intermediate, or advanced) may be impacting your search engine rankings. I’m not an expert on SEO but what I can tell you for sure is that, at the very least, Google users now have the option of limiting their search results to a specific reading level and filtering out the rest.

Those are the arguments for keeping your reading level basic, but ultimately, you ought to be writing for your readers, not for some formula. Take your readers’ ages, backgrounds, and interests into account. At the last magazine I worked for, there was a woman on staff who personified our publication’s demographic, so when I finished a story, I’d ask myself, “What would Betsy think?” You can do the same by imagining your ideal or average reader while you write, and using readability scores occasionally to see if you’re hitting the mark.

When you decide you do want to see where your blog is sitting, there are a few tools you can use.

  • To use Google’s reading level feature, do an advanced search for site:thenameofyoursite.com (that’s the word “site”, then a colon with no spaces, then your blog’s URL without the “http://www.” part), and be sure you have selected “Annotate results with reading levels” under the “Need more tools?” heading. A couple of words of caution about Google’s tool: It doesn’t give you a grade level, just categorizes your site by basic, intermediate, or advanced. ProBlogger.net, for example, is 44% basic, 55% intermediate, 0% advanced. Also, be aware that it may take the text of your comments into account when evaluating your site.
  • If you use Microsoft Word to write posts, you can check readability easily. Go to “Preferences,” then “Spelling and Grammar,” and you’ll see a checkbox under “Grammar” that says “Show readability statistics.” I use this often. The advantage over Google is the handiness of it and the ability to evaluate a single post. Plus, it gives you the average number of sentences per paragraph, words per sentence, characters per word, and percentage of passive sentences.
  • The first readability formulas were written back in the 1920s. Now, according to Wikipedia, there are literally hundreds, each taking different factors into account and, thus giving you different scores. My favorite, at least by name, is McLaughlin’s SMOG formula, where SMOG stands for Simple Measure of Gobbledygook. (If you really want to geek out and learn about the most popular ones, Wikipedia’s Readability page is a great start.) That’s why I like sites that provide multiple scores at once. AddedBytes has a great readability calculator as does online-utility.org. Both allow you to analyze specific text rather than a whole site.

To get a sense of what different grade levels look like and the results you’ll get, let’s take a quick look at the scores of posts about the month’s most-blogged-about topics, according to Regator: (they are, in order, Osama bin Laden, Royal Wedding, Birth Certificate, Easter, Donald Trump, PlayStation Network, Lady Gaga, Tornadoes, Libya, and Japan).

The Daily Beast’s “Osama Bin Laden’s Death Exposes the Price of Torture
Google site info:
19% basic, 80% intermediate, <1% advanced
Flesch Reading Ease (according to Microsoft Word): 47.3 (scale of 1-100, where 100 is easiest)
Grade level
(the AddedBytes calculator, which averages five types of scoring, was used): 11.36

PopEater’s “Celebrities Tweet Like Crazy About the Royal Wedding
Google site info: 88% basic, 11% intermediate, <1% advanced
Flesch Reading Ease:
62.2 Grade level: 6.92

Fast Company
’s “How To Make Skeptics Believe Obama’s Birth Certificate Is Authentic
Google site info:
19% basic, 79% intermediate, 1% advanced
Flesch Reading Ease:
30.8 Grade level: 14.62

Makes and Takes
’s “A Wee Enchanted Garden and Easter Bunny Napkin Holders
Google:
No data
Flesch Reading Ease:
74.8 Grade level: 7.1

The Gothamist
’s “Is Trump’s “Campaign” Over Before It Even Officially Began?
Google site info:
59% basic, 40% intermediate, <1% advanced
Flesch Reading Ease:
56.0 Grade level: 10.46

L.A. Times Technology Blog
’s “Sony’s websites may be next target for hackers, report says
Google site info:
15% basic, 84% intermediate, <1% advanced
Flesch Reading Ease:
45.8 Grade level: 11.32

Perez Hilton
’s “GaGa’s Monster Ball Breaks Record For Debut Headlining Artist!
Google site info:
94% basic, 4% intermediate, <1% advanced
Flesch Reading Ease:
62.9 Grade level: 6.38

Daily
Intel’s “Death Toll From Tornado Outbreak Reaches 300
Google site info:
17% basic, 82% intermediate, <1% advanced
Flesch Reading Ease:
56.6 Grade level: 9.92

Econbrowser
’s “Saudi oil production and the Libyan conflict
Google site info:
1% basic, 78% intermediate, 19% advanced
Flesch Reading Ease:
55.9 Grade level: 9.68

ScienceDaily
’s “NASA technology looks inside Japan’s nuclear reactor
Google site info:
<1% basic, 29% intermediate, 70% advanced
Flesch Reading Ease:
24.5 Grade level: 12.06

Now that you get a sense of what these scores can tell you, will you be testing your blog? Let us know in the comments!

Kimberly Turner is a cofounder of Regator, a site that curates the best of the blogosphere, as well as an award-winning print journalist. Reach her on Twitter @kimber_regator and get free widgets for your blog from Regator.

How to Select Good SEO Keywords

This guest post is by Jeremy Myers of TillHeComes.org.

The problem with good keywords is that they are usually not words at all. Good SEO keywords are usually phrases, that is, two or more words strung together in a saying or idea. When you enter keywords into your meta keywords section, don’t use words, use phrases.

Why? I’ll give you two reasons.

1. There are too many single keywords

While you can use single-word keywords, you will be vying for position with the millions of other websites that also use the same keyword.

Let’s say, for example, you are writing a post about how to prepare a manuscript for ebook publishing. While you could use the keyword “ebook,” you will be up against the millions of other blog posts about ebooks, even if they are about ebook readers, ebook sales, or ebook marketing.

By lengthening your keyword into a keyword phrase, such as “ebook publishing,” or maybe even “prepare manuscript for ebook publishing,” you significantly narrow the field of competitive websites, which allows your page to rise higher in Google Search results for that phrase.

Reason 2. Nobody searches for single keywords

When was the last time you searched for something on Google using only one word? That’s right: never.

If you are searching for ebook publishing tips, you don’t search for “ebook” or for “publishing.” Both are too broad. Instead, you search for the complete phrase, “ebook publishing tips.” If that is how you search for relevant sites, then that is also how you should write and prepare your own pages and posts so others can find your sites.

Boost relevance using Google Insights for Search

One helpful site I use to search for relevant keyword phrases to use in my blog posts is Google Insights for Search.

At the top of the page, you enter the single keyword or keyword phrase that you’d like to write a post about. You can choose options including a geographical area of the world you want to focus on, or which timeframe you are interested in, and then hit Search.

Google Insights

Here is a brief video from Google about what Google Insights can do.

Let’s look a little deeper into how you can use Google Insights for Search to write blog posts around a central keyword or phrase. Let us say, for example, you wanted to write a post on the “top blogs.” If you entered “top blogs” as a search term, and did not change anything else, you would discover that since 2004, the interest in searches related to “top blogs” has been steadily increasing.

This is good news! You have hit on a rising trend which might make a good blog post or, better yet, blog series.

Interest over time

But Google Insights also provides you with a list of related keywords and key phrases that people have been searching for on Google, as well as keyword trends:

Top searches

The phrase you originally searched for, “top blogs,” does not appear to be the best choice of keywords. Better and more popular phrases appear on the left, with breakout trends on the right. As indicated, the word “breakout” means that over the timespan chosen, this keyword has trended by 5000% or more.

Choose a few of the phrases or words that are most popular or are trending upward, and write your post focusing on those terms. As the picture below shows, you might be better off focusing on terms like “top blog,” “the top blogs,” “best blogs 2010,” or “best design blogs.”

However—and this is crucial—this search, while helpful, does not show recent trending. Remember, it is using the default search criteria, which go all the way back to 2004. You want more recent trends to understand current searches. So one thing you could do is adjust the timeframe filter, maybe to just the last 12 months, as shown in the picture below:

Reseraching "best blogs"

By adjusting the timeframe filter, you can get a bitter picture of what people are searching for more recently. As the following image shows, not much has changed except the top search phrase on the right. People want to know what the best blogs of 2011 were. Maybe you could write a blog post on that instead of the more generic idea of “best blogs.”

Refining the keyphrase

Let me give one final example.

Let’s say you are launching a blog about men’s health. Naturally, you want lots of visitors as soon as possible. So what sorts of posts would be best to start with? Let Google Insights for Search tell you. You would begin by leaving the keyword search field blank, and then change the filters to reflect a recent timeframe and the “Men’s Health” category.

Google Insights on "Men's health"

By doing this, you discover the most popular and upward trending search phrases on Google.

Google Insights search results

Men's Health top search results

It would appear that if you were launching a blog post on men’s health, you would be wise to do a series on vasectomies, androgen insensitivity, circumcision, and uncircumcision.

Hmm, I wonder why those search terms are popular? I’ll let you research that on your own … but not on your work computer—your boss may not understand!

Using Google Insights for Search to help select better keyword phrases will not automatically rocket your website to the top of Google Search results, but such a practice will help you write more targeted and focused articles, which over time will provide you with more readers.

Have you used Google Insights for Search yet? Share your experience in the comments below.

Jeremy Myers writes at www.tillhecomes.org. You can also follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

What is Google +1 … and What Does it Mean for Your Blog?

This guest post is by Jacob of BlogRevolter.com.

On March 30th, Google announced the release of its latest addition to the search engine, a small button called the +1. As with any Google announcement, there are always going to be implications—both great and not so great—for the average and professional blogger. Understanding the potential effect of Google’s new +1 feature can better help you prepare for the next six to twelve months of your blog.

What is Google’s +1?

In essence, Google’s +1 is a way for people to vote up the results in Google without making it appear like a Digg setup.

In other words, if someone likes the result that they found on Google, they hit the +1 button, then go on with their lives. When someone makes the same search that person made, they’ll see that there’s a +1 attached to the particular search result, and that, at least in Google’s eyes, will encourage them to click on that result.

Should you decide to allow your name to appear, people within your network will see that you, specifically, liked this result. But this last aspect is voluntary.

Why is Google’s +1 important?

For some time now, Google has been talking about how social media and social networking is going to directly tie in with search engine optimization. It used to be that we just built a bunch of links to rank for keywords. But, what I’ve noticed as a SEO is that other aspects are becoming increasingly important, including how a site deals with social media.

We can tie this increased reliance on social media to Google’s quest to provide the absolute best results possible. Here’s an example.

Darren Rowse runs this site about how to make money blogging. He’s got 173,000 readers via RSS, 128,000 Twitter followers, and nearly 23,000 people who like his Facebook group. In other words, he has a ton of readers.

Now, you’re Google and you’re trying to figure out who to position as the top results for the keyword “Professional Blogger.” Sure, someone might have a ton of backlinks, all containing that anchor text, to back up the claim that they deserve the number one result.

But how does Google know that those backlinks are genuine and not, say, purchased? It doesn’t.

The only way for them to truly know if that website is considered an “authority” is to see what people believe. And what better way to do that than track how Darren is doing in the social media and networking world?

The implications of Google’s +1 for bloggers

I look at this update as a powerful move for bloggers. Because we are taught that we shouldn’t put all of our eggs in one basket, we’ve all been focusing on social media, search engine optimization, and other aspects to bring traffic to our blogs.

Now that social media is, in part, connecting to search engine optimization, the amount of work that we do now doubles for both social media growth and search engine growth. But, there is still more to it than that.

Google will be releasing a button similar to the Facebook Like button. And if you click the +1 button, you’ll have automatically given your vote to that search result. You are saying to Google, “Yes, I like this.” And the search engine will remember that.

What this means, as a blogger, is that you need to produce the highest level of quality that you can. If others are getting that +1 and you’re not, are you going to be missing out on potential search rank? I’d say that you are.

If Google believes that it is important enough to create a new button and include it on their SERPs, they are definitely going to take it into consideration when trying to decide which site to put as number one. And, if it’s a difference of +1s that determine who should be first, I’d wager everything that the person with more +1 votes will get the number one ranking.

Since 34% of people click the first result first, and the second to fourth results get less than 34% of the clicks, total, it’s very important to get that number one rank.

How to get ready

Since it was just announced on the 30th, this is obviously a component that will take some time to roll out. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be getting ready for its complete implementation. Here are a few steps to getting prepared.

  1. First, ensure that you are publishing content that is high quality. No longer can you get away writing garbage content, or ripping content from other sites. Google’s Panda Update slammed people with this kind of content and no one will give you a +1 for it.
  2. Second, play around with it yourself when you start seeing it pop up. If you head over to Google’s experimental page, you can join the experiment and be put into the program to start working with it.
  3. Third, don’t start abusing it. One of the things that I think will play a major role in the success of +1 is who’s voting with it. If it’s the same few people, Google might not give those votes as much credit as other pages that get votes from random people. So, don’t start searching for every article you wrote to give it a +1.

Google’s +1 is not a social network, per se. However, it is a voting system that will give Google a better idea of what content people like and don’t like. And, when they release the button for inclusion on your web pages, you’ll have the chance to encourage your readers to +1 your site.

With Google’s love for social media growing, this is definitely an important step in your blog’s growth. How do you see +1 affecting your blog?

Jacob is a 22 year old SEO who works in Manhattan. When not managing SEO for a company, he works on his own network including BlogRevolter.com. He discusses topics such as link building and blog monetization. He is giving away a free ebook on how to get people to your website as well as how to keep them there. Be sure to follow him on Facbook.