Monday, June 26, 2006

Marketing: Go Get An Action Plan

Found a great website this morning, via a post by Chris Allen in the LED Digest. Robert Middleton's Action Plan Marketing is primarily focused at service professionals, but a lot of the information in his free samples would be useful for anyone.

I'm looking forward to receiving Robert's newsletter, and the fact that I didn't get an issue as soon as I subscribed reminds me of yet another item that's on my own "to do" list.

Chris Allen's website, BTW, is www.gentlemansemporium.com. A little link love is due.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

SEO: A Solution For Handling Flash Better

Most readers are probably well aware that there are some issues with Flash and SEO... but many folks actually believe that there is some sort of ranking penalty or other major drama that ensues for those who use Flash.

The problem with Flash as "content" for search engines isn't that search engines can't read them. The major search engines can all read Flash files.

The problem is pretty simple: it's all about trust. With Flash, it's not possible for the search engine to easily determine what content is visible to humans and what isn't. As a result, search engines can't rely on (trust) what they find in a Flash movie file, and an "all Flash" web site (no HTML content) will be a problem.

When it comes to SEO on a site that uses Flash, you have a couple of choices:
  1. Use HTML for static elements, and Flash for cool interactive ads, games, and everything else that Flash is good for. In this case, Flash is simply used as an embedded object, much like an animated GIF or PNG image. Users who don't have the Flash plug-in installed will just see a weird looking box.
  2. Provide alternative HTML content for the Flash elements. So for example, if you have a really cool drop-down menu that uses Flash, you also provide an HTML menu so that users without Flash (like search engine spiders and many humans) can still use the site.
Jonathan Hochman has written up a nice summary of seo-friendly Flash design and the reasons why you would want to follow door #2, and the tools that are available. Much of the approach he describes relies on a Javascript toolkit called SWFObject.

If you do have to replace a Flash menu with HTML, you might want to head over to A List Apart, and take a look at some of the cool, groovy, and utterly bitchin' stuff that J. David Eisenberg has to share about CSS, DHTML, and DOM Design Tricks. How cool? How about an explorer-style navigation menu based on HTML lists, that will degrade perfectly in older browsers, and allow spiders to see the entire menu. Sweeeet. There's plenty more to see on that site, and any web designer who isn't aware of it yet is missing a great resource.

Several folks have emailed to ask where the newsletter has been... unfortunately, with a staff of one (1) (me) the newsletter doesn't always go on schedule. Maybe I need a ghost writer. :p

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Link Building: Are Bloggers A Bunch of Morons?

In the first week of my link building class (Flash video), I go over a spectrum of "link types," based on the idea that search engines really want to see natural links of pure love, those that are created by web authors who really like the web resource (site, page) they're linking to.

There's another type of link, though, that probably counts for just as much in boosting the authority of a web site, natural links of pure hate. It's just possible that these are actually easier to get.

When a blogger cleverly links to Microsoft's web site with words like "evil empire" in the text of the link, they think they're sticking it to the man, but they're actually passing link love to the man. Which makes it easier for Microsoft to put more pages into search results... and still hasn't made Microsoft the #1 result for 'evil empire.'

When right-wing loons link to Michael Moore's web site with "miserable failure" in the link, they're actually helping Mr. Moore's cause by passing PageRank to his web site. Which makes it easier for him to spread the word about just how nasty US elections actually are and how the greatest losses in the Iraq war are felt by ordinary Iraqi civilians.

But I digress... these are just a couple examples of bloggers helping their enemies in search engine rankings. I could go on for days. Link condoms, anyone? Or are all bloggers just a bunch of morons? Is the blogosphere full of idiots? It's possible...

Thursday, June 01, 2006

SEO: What's Up, Big Daddy?

Posted (and updated) from last week's SEO Coach newsletter:

What's Up, Big Daddy? How Google's latest move affects you, me, and them

With all the talk (and occasional hysteria) about Google's "Bigdaddy" update, I thought readers could use a little help understanding it. There's been a lot of crazy speculation, and the real story is both simpler and more complex than what you've probably heard.

So let me start with what Bigdaddy isn't about:
  • Bigdaddy is not a new data center, people got this idea because it was rolled out in a single data center first and Matt posted a picture
  • Bigdaddy is not a new ranking algorithm, people got this idea because some rankings have changed, I suspect the ranking/retrieval algorithm is not changing much if at all
  • Bigdaddy is not completely finished, because nothing at Google is ever finished
  • Bigdaddy is not Matt Cutts' baby, it belongs to another team at Google, but Matt is sharing a lot of helpful information about it.
So what is Bigdaddy? The answer, straight from Matt Cutts' blog - Bigdaddy is "a software upgrade of our crawling and parts of our indexing." What this means is that Google's crawl/index team has made some changes in how they crawl the web. Mostly, the changes that affect us involve Google's new methods of deciding which pages they will crawl and index.

Because today's search engines rely heavily on the linking relationships between web pages and web sites to determine their search results (rankings), the search engine's picture of the web (what they index) has a huge bearing on who wins and losings in the rankings.

Google's new indexing policies are changing the shape of the web.

When I say that, I mean it literally. When Google's view of the web changes, that affects what pages and sites people find, which in turn affects what they link to. Google's influence on the web is huge, and outside of the SEO world, very much underestimated.

To those of us in the SEO world, Google's changes can have a dramatic impact, positive or negative, for our rankings and long term success. When a page that links to you is dropped from Google's index, or moved from the main index to their "supplemental" index, you lose the benefit of that link.

Beyond this, Google is clearly moving toward a system based on trust. Google has different levels of trust for different sites, and for different links. Although we can't change Google's opinion of the sites that link to us, we can definitely influence Google's trust for our own sites.

If you want to improve your site's reputation with Google, you can do something about it. There are two sides to this coin - the sites that link to you, and the sites you link to. I'll talk about building links in a future article, for now let's focus on your outgoing links.

When you link to untrusted sites, your site loses trust. You should periodically review your outbound links - if you link to a less trustworthy site, your site will lose trust. In particular, be mindful of irrelevant or indiscriminate link exchanges, both on your site and those you link to.

If you sell advertising on your site, in particular if you sell advertising as text links, you can lose trust if you don't add the "rel=nofollow" attribute to those links. Google has zero trust for paid links - whether this can affect your own trust and rankings isn't certain, but I don't know why it wouldn't. To be safe, use nofollow on untrusted or paid links.

Please don't overthink this. If you are linking to 100 web sites, and a couple of them aren't trusted by Google, the impact is likely to be negligible. The biggest mistakes I see people make are:
  • focusing on link exchanges (reciprocal links) - these are worth next to nothing to your rankings and can be harmful
  • automated linking programs - these can actually get you penalized and have long term consequences
  • lack of natural link building and promotion - it's not always easy, but the right strategy can be very profitable even without higher rankings
In the next issue (June 2), we'll talk about better ways to build links and how to keep your pages in the main Google index (assuming they should be there!). Your feedback (as always) is welcome.

Thought for the day: Doing well in SEO isn't about reverse engineering the ranking algorithm any more - that game ended a long time ago.