Negative SEO Is It Possible?

SEO training has evolved over the past 4 years, the fundamentals are still the same, but with vastly different ancillary objectives. As Summit Online Marketing, we go into businesses offering our tailored SEO packages. Generally, we discuss actions, provide robust strategic marketing plans and discuss relevant activities. Sometimes, a sheepish employee will asked this question “can we affect our competitors SEO efforts”?

Let me explain, a few years ago, we looked at the impacts, if any, of negative SEO on websites, and a discussion arose from an article on search sabotage.

A year later, we’re still discussing the consequences and seeing if negative SEO is still possible. In various threads we’ve read, the SEO community have indicated there are still ways to sabotage websites and rankings, from hijacking competitor’s DNS to doing it to yourself by killing your URL structure.

Now, though, there’s potentially more with the impact of new technologies. New concerns about sabotage may take the form of cloaked sabotage or reputation sabotage. This isn’t to say the impact of traditional techniques such as parasite hosting and embedding hidden links has been diminished.

We’d recommend that you need to be the one who protects your site, because Google isn’t necessarily reliable in that regard. (After all, Google is tracking billions of pages.) However, not many people know how to protect their own websites.

We believe that a lot of SEO sabotage attempts involve trying to trick Google into thinking that a site should be penalised and does not meet guidelines. That can be by directly modifying the site (through legitimate mechanisms to do so, or by finding vulnerabilities and exploiting them) and by modifying or setting up external references to a site.

Food for thought

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More On Press Releases And SEO

We’ve been discussing in our previous post about search engine optimization training. Specifically that SEO training as should include press release optimisation and submissions.

Part 2 will give readers an idea of possible distribution networks, and how to optimise on your digital assets for PR submissions.

Step 2: Distribution

Many companies offer varying levels of service for distribution. I’ll outline a few:

1) Business Wire.

The leading source for press releases, photos, multimedia, and regulatory filings from companies and groups throughout the world, and suited for businesses of all sizes. Pricing for their optimised releases is currently $225 per release with a Business Wire circuit, and $295 if ordered standalone (a free membership to Business Wire is required). These releases via EON (Enhanced Online News) offer the use of anchor text and links, trackbacks, Web site preview, and customisation of the permanent URL. This is also great for targeting long tail terms.

2) PRNewswire.

More than just an online network, they’ll distribute through the traditional and interactive outlets. Hyperlinks are often removed from online releases, although the releases can rank well in the organic results. The newsline you select and the length of your news release determine the distribution cost. Each newsline covers a specific geographical area: local, regional, national, and international. Their optimised releases are included in US1 releases for $680 or can be added to any other release for an additional $255. Membership is $195 annually and releases start at $180 depending on the location you’re targeting.

3) PRWeb.

Great for small to medium-sized businesses, PRWeb is a leader in online news and press release distribution:

Standard Visibility: Basic submission, inclusion on Google and Yahoo News, two-day distribution, $80.

Social Media: Basic plus social bookmarking links for increased Web 2.0 distribution (tagging, etc), $140.

SEO Visibility: Allows for controlling anchor text of links in the release, next day distribution, and advanced SEO statistics (keywords referring traffic to the release, etc.), $200.

Media Visibility: Guaranteed distribution through the AP and top U.S. newspapers, addition of embedded video, $360.

4) PRLeap.

This is one of the newest and least expensive outlet. Has the fewest press releases being submitted on a daily basis, and is great for smaller businesses. My company has successfully distributed press releases through this channel into Google’s universal results.

Basic: Google and Ask News inclusion, text links, inclusion in PRLeap RSS feed (600 word limit), $49.

Plus: Basic plus AP and UPI distribution, social media tagging/bookmarking, allows for one media attachment, and next day service (1,000 word limit), $99.

Premium: Plus benefits and allows for five media attachments (2,000 word limit), $149.

The amount of press release sites are vast. I’ve given you guys a little taster but obviously budget plays its part.

Step 3: Publish Press Releases on Your own Web Site

While you’re going through the trouble of creating and submitting all of these press releases for distribution, don’t forget to publish all of your press releases on your own Web site to aid your SEO efforts. The search engines love sites that add keyword-rich pages on a regular basis. The more pages, the better. And, if you can organise your press releases by category (similar to how you might organise blog posts), all the better.

One other note: if your press releases are posted correctly (i.e., a unique title tag, header, and other content), this will avoid duplicate content issues with the release that exists on the distribution partner’s Web site. There can be issues with other syndicators of this content (they may not go through the trouble of creating unique title tags, headers, etc.), but the good ones will rank.

Let me know your thoughts

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Igniting your Viral Campaigns

Online marketing strategy will usually involve Viral marketing.

What is viral marketing and social media? Which methods work, and what typically goes viral?

Viral marketing: A top SEO will tell you it’s to spread information quickly. At it’s essence, word of mouth marketing online. Supercharged. The web allows things to move quickly.

What is social media? In short – a giant conversation online. So many different avenues, networks – places for people to talk online.

Who has a company blog, who has a personal blog?

Blogs and microblogs: Check out Technorati directory. Blogs are highly consumable. Easy for people to read and they get it. People are used to it. Good place to put message. Allows comments, discussion, linking. On the other side, you want bloggers to link to you and talk about your stuff. You have to look at it from both ways.

Social networking: Ask most people – they will say Facebook and Twitter, once upon a time it was Myspace. Just one component. These are the big ones. There are more niche ones – like myartspace.com which is for artists that share a common interests. Look and see beyond the big ones – look at the ones in your niche – the ones you should build a presence on.

Online video: More than uploading and telling friends. A place where people can comment and respond. A quick way to spread message. A good video like ‘will it blend’ spreads easily. Youtube makes it easy for people to link directly.

Forums and groups: Often most overlooked. Forums are most powerful for expert advice and groups. Strong and passionate communities. One key take away regarding forums is a site called Bigboards.com which ranks forum sizes. The biggest ones are niche – Paintball, Volkswagens, Bodybuilding. Look at the forums in your niche and build a presence. Get involved. Talk to people. Look at logs of a viral campaign to see the forum activity.

Social news and bookmarking: The big guys are Digg, StumbleUpon, and Delicious (although some on this list may close soon). They’re more than just bookmarking. It’s about allowing people to see what your interested in. With Digg there is a large barrier to entry because its competitive. In any niche, there’s a social news site for you.

Our SEO training If your content gets to the top of Mount Digg, it will result in millions of viewers. The traffic is good. But most important is how it influences other sites. Bloggers need Digg and social network to find content and information. Gets popular and people bookmark it, IM, email it. Reporters also use these sites to find content. It’s a way to get people who know nothing about you to find out about your company. Lots of eyeballs and info spread.

What is good content that goes viral?

* Lists – Lists work. Shows 10 commandments which started the trend.
* How To’s – People love how to’s. “how to tip like a gentlemen”, etc.
* Surveys – “top 25 best nights out “. Don’t have to interview thousands of people to get this content.
* Comprehensive – Something that’s comprehensive, that will be a strong resource – that a .gov will want to link to.
* Strong opinions – It can backfire – if it’s controversial it can go viral bot not in the best way.
* Best of lists – People love best ofs. Best of the Beatles. They love it.
* Calculators, tools, anything that helps people do something better. Great ways to get people excited about your stuff.
* Video: Must be interesting and makes people go “wow”. Will it blend is the classic example of a boring product made interesting in a video.
* Widgets – great for people to put things on their site and builds links.
* Quizzes, badges – makes people put them on their site or pages, and spreads.

Ending tips:

Have clear goals and objectives. Lots of people come to Summit Online Marketing asking to do something on Facebook – but why? What’s the goal? Promote great content. Don’t do something half-baked. Do something great – take extra time. Contribute to communities. Find the right communities that make sense to you. Build relationships on these sites. Give back. Make the sites work better.

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Can long URLs hurt you?

At SEO Liverpool we’ve been having a discussion about long URLs, in the past they have been spammy. I’m sure I’ve read a thread that actually commented on some URLs being a bit too long for comfort (SEO SEM agencies take note!)

Look at my example URL:

www.thisoldsite.co.uk/some-item-like-this-and-another-keyword-like-this-and-sometimes-even-more.42html

I’m all for having descriptive URLs, but …. but on occasion this seems to be taking it a bit too far and most of the time you’ll have trouble identifying anything that matches in the content of the page. Too far? Does that mean a search engine will penalise really long URLs? Or in this case, it does it just looks spammy to a manual review?

Sometimes if you dig deeper, you’ll noticed that you can find the same page as long as you include 42 at the end of the URL. Now, this is a common CMS issue with many sites. We’d deal with this with a 301 redirect from the broken URL to the true URL.

In this illustration, the CMS identifies the page by having the ID (i.e. 42) in the URL and then returns the dynamic content. The CMS should contain a real URL and then 301 redirect any other URLs that have id 42 in them to the real URL.

So, when building a CMS or SEO training staff, you might want to do a couple things in terms of URLs:

(1) Restrict the length of the URL to something normal

(2) 301 Redirect any duplicate URLs to the real URL

Thoughts?

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How Consumers Search For A Perfect Meal

Mark Sprague wrote this fantastic post for Search Engine Land Oct 15, 2010

Personally i feel every small business SEO should read this post.

How do consumers find the perfect restaurant? Word of mouth plays a role, but there are other elements at play. How important is your brand? Is value more important than quality? What role does content play in this quest? Here I take a look at the term “restaurant” to show what consumers value when searching for a good place to eat.

In this data set there are eleven distinct high-level categories of behaviour. The categories are sorted by volume (the first number reflects the number of keyword phrases in that group).

* 22 Informational – 65,650,450 searches
* 308 Location based – 13,577,700 searches
* 76 Type of restaurant – 4,261,540 searches
* 51 Quality of restaurant – 1,835,520 searches
* 36 Restaurant business – 1,299,270 searches
* 150 Restaurant by brand – 1,236,530 searches
* 81 Request for content – 850,020 searches
* 42 Value (cost reduction) – 500,660 searches
* 12 Industry events – 376,600 searches
* 4 Restaurant directory – 218,000 searches
* 1 Software tools – 2,400 searches

When you examine these categories you are struck by the specificity of intent here. Generally, there are large numbers of vague informational keyword phrases being used. In this case, there are just 22 of them, but they account for 65M searches a month. The second important item to note are the top three themes that dominate restaurant search behaviour: location, quality and type. From an information architecture perspective these three concepts, which represent almost 30 percent of consumer traffic, should be infused into website copy. The probability that a consumer will construct a [quality] [location] [type] query is very high.

Several of these high-level categories have sub-categories that provide useful information about consumer intent. This expands the unique categories to twenty seven. There are, for example, three categories of behaviour for content, and five categories for the Type of restaurant.

* Information – 65,602,880
* Location – 13,538,000
* Type by nationality – 2,380,480
* Quality using Best – 1,251,600
* Brand – 1,211,340
* Business products – 1,043,370
* Type by food – 901,190
* Type by style – 733,390
* Industry events – 376,600
* Content (reviews) – 352,120
* Quality using Top – 345,720
* Content (guides) – 277,180
* Value (coupons) – 266,790
* Business – 255,900
* Quality – 238,200
* Website directory – 218,000
* Content (menus) – 168,020
* Type – 136,480
* Value (vouchers) – 126,080
* Type for delivery – 110,000
* Value – 107,790
* Content – 52,700
* Information (names) – 44,200
* Location by country – 39,700
* Brand by location – 25,190
* Information by zip codes – 3,370
* Software tools – 2,400

When you look at consumer intent by category, you can make assumptions when developing your website architecture. For example, many more consumers are interested in reviews rather than looking at menus by a two to one margin. Both content types are important, but from a volume perspective restaurant reviews should get top-billing.

Let’s take a look at the categories in a little more detail.

Brand: There are 1,211,340 searches a month for restaurants by brand name alone (no location was specified). Interestingly, the search for a brand by location comes in on the low side at 25,190 searches a month.

Business: As a restaurant business owner these searches are of no value to you. The majority of the traffic is for products and services (1,043,370 searches), while the rest (255,900 searches) are about franchises and for sale opportunities. The majority of the traffic for business products is searched for with just a handful of secondary terms. This makes it straightforward to manage where your ads should not be displayed. These terms in order of importance are:

1. Supply
2. Supplies
3. Equipment
4. Tables
5. Chairs
6. Furniture

Content: These are, for the most part, three very specific content requests. Reviews are the top-dog in terms of volume, but this volume is clustered in just 10 keyword phrases. Guides show up in 53 different queries, most of them city-based. Most of the request for menus is by national cuisine (Chinese, Italian and Mexican). There is very little traffic for menus from brand name restaurants.

* Content – reviews (352,120 searches)
* Content – guides (277,180 searches)
* Content – menus (168,020 searches)
* Content – non specific (52,700 searches)

Events: There are 376,600 searches a month for restaurant week. Coming in at four million searches a year, this looks like a microsite opportunity worth exploring when this event occurs in your city.

Information: Not surprising, the majority of this traffic is on a single term: restaurant(s). It’s hard to divine user intent in this traffic. It could be businesses looking for services, or a mom looking for a birthday party restaurant. There are a number of queries looking for a list of restaurant names by nationality. Are these queries coming from someone looking to start a new restaurant, or is this an unusual way to search for a place to eat? I suppose you could target this traffic to see how it converts.

* Information – vague intent (65,602,880 searches)
* Information – request for list of names (44,200 searches)
* Information – request restaurants by zip code (3,370 searches)

Location: With 13,538,000 monthly searches, these location-based searches are the second largest behaviour category. This group is looking for a restaurant in a city without mentioning any other attributes, such as food type, content or quality.

Quality: Consumers are certainly interested in a quality eating experience, and they use relatively few adjectives to describe the restaurant they are looking for.

* Quality using the term best – (1,251,600 searches)
* Quality using the term top – (345,720 searches)
* Quality, various terms e.g., good, famous, 5 star – (238,200 searches)

Tools: There are just 2,400 searches a month in this data-set for calorie counters. At this level you can’t really be bothered with such a tool. Perhaps if you are offering fast foods this becomes a more useful option.

Type: There is a lot going on in this group, and it provides a restaurant owner the option to construct landing pages with ad copy that reflects the probability that consumers are searching for your restaurant in five different ways. The probability that consumers will search by national cuisine is very high – the probability that they will search by delivery is almost twenty times lower.

* Type by nationality e.g. Chinese, Mexican – 2,380,480 searches
* Type by food e.g. seafood, burger, pizza – 901,190 searches
* Type by style e.g., family, romantic, buffet – 733,390 searches
* Type, various one-off terms e.g., gluten free, waterfront – 136,480 searches
* Type, for delivery – 110,000 searches

Value: Cost is important in this category. The majority of consumers focus on just two terms: coupons and vouchers. When consumers search for coupons, you do see some request for coupons by brand name. When they search for vouchers, none of the consumers specify a brand.

* Value – coupons 266,790 searches
* Value – vouchers 126,080 searches
* Value, various terms – e.g., cheap, kids eat free 107,790 searches

Website directory: 218,000 consumers a month search for directories of restaurants. There is certainly enough traffic here to justify registering your restaurant with every local and hyperlocal directory you can find.

Secondary terms

It’s always useful to look at term density in the dataset, as it provides more insight into what customers value. In this case the top term is best. This would suggest a great landing page opportunity e.g., “the best seafood restaurant in Boston.” In this label you have captured the three main themes identified earlier: location, quality and type.

Stop Words: If you have been around search for a while, you know that stop words (a, in, the, of, for, be) are supposed to be of little value in search relevancy. However, if you look at the list of secondary terms below, you see that the term “in” has the fifth highest density. In this case, it is very valuable because it is a geo-indicator. You see a lot of traffic using the following two forms:

* Best in [your city]
* Restaurants in [your city]

Since the best search result is an exact match with a consumers query, the term “in” becomes important because:

1. It’s used often
2. It’s a geo-indicator
3. It’s important in an exact (word-for-word) query match

By the way, the term “near” plays this roll as well, as in restaurants near Kendal Square.

When you examine the rest of the top 25 secondary terms you see several themes reflected in the list. These are listed roughly in order of value. The first six provide insight into what is valued by consumers, and should govern how you develop your website architecture and page copy.

1. Looking for a quality dinning experience
2. Looking for restaurants by national cuisine
3. Looking for content (reviews and guides)
4. Looking for a restaurant by food type (seafood and vegetarian)
5. Looking for a restaurant by style (family and romantic)
6. Looking for value (coupons and vouchers)
7. Looking for directories (city cheat and table-table)

Some secondary terms are off-topic, and are of no use to you. In fact, if you talk about the state-of-the-art restaurant equipment you have installed in your restaurant, you may well attract traffic looking to buy stoves and chairs.

Summary

So, what does this analysis do for you as a restaurant owner? Let’s list some of the more important items to think about.

* At the highest level, consumers are interested in location, quality and type. These themes should underpin your website copy.

* Consumers are much more interested in quality than value by a three to one margin. The terminology they use (best and top) and the most requested content type i.e., Reviews supports this observation.

* When consumers search by brand, they already know about you. If they have never visited your restaurant before you should support this group with reviews and location information.

* Many consumers are cost-conscious, and search for discount coupons. What was a bit of a surprise in the data was how often the term voucher was used. I think this reflects the relationship that hotels have with the local restaurant community. I don’t think I’ve ever received a coupon from the concierge, vouchers yes, coupons no.

* Last but not least, you have the option to provide potential customers with three distinct ways to find your restaurant. Statistically large numbers of consumers search by nationality, by food type and by the style of the restaurant. This behaviour suggests a multiple landing page strategy.

The last point about the style of restaurant is important. What if you are “family restaurant?” Does search behavior differ when searching for a restaurant when children are factored in? It does and it doesn’t. Many of the categories of behavior are the same, but with dramatically different volume. For example, there is also almost no interest in reading reviews in this group, and brand searches tops the list. Next month I will develop a family restaurant search behavior model, and contrast it to this model to show that behavior can be different depending upon the type of restaurant consumers are looking for.
Advice

This analysis is high-level, and it is very useful to understand what is going on at the industry level—the dominant themes and so on. However, most restaurants are not one-dimensional. They have multiple characteristics such as in this tag line: “Brazilian steakhouse specializing in romantic dining.” My advice here is to go the extra mile to understand the behavior associated with consumers searching for a romantic restaurant. No doubt, the behavior will differ from this analysis.

As in politics, all restaurants are local. If you have not claimed your business in Google’s, Yahoo’s and Bing’s local search services, you should do so. You will not automatically get added to these local search indexes. There are local search requirements for being included. Make sure you understand what they are.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

My Thoughts

So SEO training can only help you to get so far. This article borders on persona training. Which is the complex understanding of user and searcher behaviour around a webpage or places search result .

Sensible online marketing strategies dictate that knowing your audience, alongside searcher decision making and keyword research are absolutely key to any strategic decision

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How to Create a Social Media Storm

At Summit Online Marketing we’re frequently asked as part of our Search Engine Optimization Training the same question. It usually starts with… “we’ve really good content that we want to get thousands of visitors to, how do we do it”?

This short guide should come in useful.

With social media optimisation (SMO), it helps an awful lot if you either know the right people or are active in the places where you are looking to target. Once you do or are it is fairly easy. Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your good content and your SMO campaign, for once you find your feet:

Forget Digg: I know it has been said many times, but it is even more true then ever now. For nine out of ten sites Digg is a big waste of time and getting any kind of e-commerce site on the homepage is virtually impossible. The only people who look in the upcoming section are the digg staff and fellow marketers. Spend 30 seconds getting your free link and then move on.

Planning is Everything: Make a list of all of the social media websites you are going to submit your content to and then work out roughly how long you think it is going to take for your content to go popular on each site. For example with Reddit you can be fairly sure that if your content is going to go popular, it will do within and hour or two. With Mixx it will normally take a good 6 hours and with Stumbleupon you just can’t tell, so you leave that out of the equation.

Once you have done this you need to choose a time for when you are going to plan to have all of your submissions go popular. You might say to yourself, I want all of my submissions to be going popular 7 hours from now at 11.00pm. Then you add the time you need to submit next to each social media site on your list.

Go to work and do everything as planned. If you have submitted to all of the major social sites and if all of the elements are in the equation, then when the time comes you should be able to make it into the top 10 on popurls and you should be getting a load of traffic from JimmyR.com. I have had over 3,000 uniques from popurls.com and I have had over 2,500 uniques from JimmyR.com. If you make it into the top 10 on popurls you have won and you will generally receive over 50,000 unique visitors in a short space of time and lots of trackbacks.

Once you have started to go popular on some of the social media sites our SEO training has shown us that you can make your content go a lot further by dealing with negative comments. There are lots of different ways to do this and trying to talk to the negative commenter(s) isn’t always the best one, here are a few ideas:

* Have all of your friends down vote the negative comments heavily
* Take the mick out of the negative commenter(s) or their comments
* If they have a good point, you might want to think about possibly changing your content

With good SEO SEM planning you can consistently get content to go popular on the social media sites, generate buzz and generate trackbacks.

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