The Google dance

Google in 1998, showing the original logo

Google in 1998, showing the original logo

Last month, a client called to say he still hadn’t seen his web site appear in Google‘s listings. The web site had been up one week.

This goes to show you how much we all expect instantaneous results from anything Internet-related. But that’s not the way it is, and it won’t be for quite some time.

Now, it’s possible that my client’s web site could have made it into Google within a week. I’ve had it happen, but ONLY with web sites that have a longstanding domain name (in 2008 I redesigned my sister’s web site, Colonial Photography, now Helen’s Place Photography, and she was sitting pretty on page 1 the next day (where she’s remained) — she’d owned her URL for 12 years even though there was not one word of text on it.) Google respects longevity.

Here are some important things to remember about your new web site being found on Google:

1. URL age is still a factor, albeit a lesser one. That doesn’t mean you should buy an old URL. Rather, it means that Google respects age as an SEO factor, especially if that URL has been linked to in the past. In the case of my sister’s web site,, likely she had next-day results in 2008 because her web site, even though it had no words on it, was frequently linked to. It held a single link for her clients to view their photos.

2. Google spiders don’t “crawl” every web site every day, or every week for that matter. Google performs “fresh” crawls periodically looking for brand new stuff. But Google only performs a “deep” crawl every month, on some undetermined date (but one you can make an educated guess about if you watch closely). And, depending on a lot of factors, you may not see the results of even a deep crawl for weeks. Also, Google is under no obligation to deep crawl your site at all. If your site remains unimproved for long periods of time, it’s likely that it will take some energy to get Google’s attention again.

Here are some comments by Matt Cutts, the popular Google software engineer:

There is also not a hard limit on our crawl. The best way to think about it is that the number of pages that we crawl is roughly proportional to your PageRank. So if you have a lot of incoming links on your root page, we’ll definitely crawl that. Then your root page may link to other pages, and those will get PageRank and we’ll crawl those as well. As you get deeper and deeper in your site, however, PageRank tends to decline.

Another way to think about it is that the low PageRank pages on your site are competing against a much larger pool of pages with the same or higher PageRank. There are a large number of pages on the web that have very little or close to zero PageRank. The pages that get linked to a lot tend to get discovered and crawled quite quickly. The lower PageRank pages are likely to be crawled not quite as often. (Matt Cutts interviewed by Eric Enge, 3/14/2010)

Even though Page Rank is not supposed to be a factor any longer, there is a lot of truth to these words still.

So, here are some tips for getting found by Google faster:

1. Keep an “old” URL (but not the web site) even if you’re changing your business name. Ask your webmaster to redirect the old URL to the new. It could pay off.

2. Revise your file names. Make sure they use your keywords, and aren’t too long. Google will overlook file names that appear to be similar. I’ll give you an example. Before I knew any better, I used to add the business name to the keywords for a file name — both so the business name could be better branded and the web file names could be better organized (e.g., businessname_web_site_design.xxxx and businessname_copywriting.xxxx) (“xxxx” being the file extension for the kind of pages you use, such as .html). You may find that Google will bypass any page other than your home (index) page if you do this. Keep your most important key words near the front of the file name, and make sure they’re also used in your body text.

3. Increase the volume of your inbound and outbound links. Two otherwise identical sites will rank differently in Google based on their popularity with the world at large — particularly their peers. You can’t do any better than being linked to by people in your own business. So — make sure you’re listed in online trade directories, blog directories (you do have a blog, don’t you?), and the like. The more the merrier. Just don’t pay a “link farm” to generate random links to your web site. When Google sees that these links are bogus, you’ll be penalized. As for outbound links, these are just as important to Google.

4. Drive traffic to your web site. Blog, answer questions on LinkedIn, even advertise on Google or Facebook. Just get people to your web site. This is harder than it may sound — people want interesting and useful information. Can you provide it?

5. As often as possible, freshen your web site’s content. Particularly the index page. Add new files. Add downloadables. Add a new blog entry.

6. Give your audience incentives to move to another page. Keeping your bounce rate low is much more important than you may think.

7. Lather, rinse, repeat. It sometimes takes perseverance and consistent nurturing to gain a higher ranking on Google, but you can make great strides if you’re persistent and patient.

After about a month, my client’s web site appeared on Google, on page 1 for both of his top key words, and his was a brand-new domain. It will take him longer to reach page 1 for a much more competitive key word, but I have confidence that in his market area we will demonstrate more perseverance than his competition. I’ll let you know how we do.

Oh, what is the Google dance? If you watch search engine results pages (SERPs) rankings daily, as I do, you’ll see that your web pages’ rankings will jockey around quite a bit — up by three points here, and down by one there. That’s the dance to pay attention to.

Other reading:

Timing Google’s crawl

How Google works

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The wave of the web future

Columbia Journalism School building; photo by ...

Columbia Journalism School

I shared a Facebook link this morning to a PBS story about a new degree program at Columbia University, Medill School of Journalism that will create journalist/programmers. To me it made perfect sense, and I said so. I immediately heard back from an old friend.

“Geeks instead of journalists?” he wrote.

“Not instead,” I said. I told him that in my opinion individuals are demanding more control over content than ever before — no longer (if ever) the realm of a programmer.

I also said that, IMHO, writers and designers have historically been separated at birth as far as the web goes. Not for all companies, of course — there are many fine examples of well-designed web sites. I’d say they’re few and far between.

But for the masses? A company generally calls a web design company, who offers a design but no copy — the web design company considers web copy the responsibility of the company. So, as in so many media tragedies, the company calls up its PR person and asks that she or he produce copy for the web site.

Why is this happening when there’s a long history of tight relationships between writers and designers as far as advertising and print collateral? Hard to say exactly, but I think part of it has to do with money and speed. The web has grown so quickly that an infrastructure to support its proper execution has never solidified. Geeks went out and got the jobs that writers and content people didn’t know how to execute themselves. And content went begging.

Not only that, but web designers aren’t always the best people to judge usability. Every time you go to a web site and can’t find the thing you came to find — someone was asleep (or missing) at the wheel.

This scenario is changing, thank goodness. WYSIWYG design programs are getting easier to use even if their users don’t fully understand HTML. Blogging software, incredibly easy for anyone to set up and use, is now fair game for designing full web sites. There are many, many templates available for non-designers and programmers to use. In other words, it’s possible for a content person to “come over to the other side.” Cost, among other factors, has made it so.

Also, web consumers are becoming savvier about what works and what doesn’t. We don’t have that much patience for web sites that don’t work as we need them to. So it makes sense that those who are better at organization, usability, and writing are taking back their birthright.

And, as time goes by, we’ll see the gap narrow even more, as software and e-learning each accelerate. Certainly there will always be a market for technicians, but there will be a larger market for content people who can create anything from an electronic newsletter to an interactive web site at a much lower cost than is now possible.

My friend wrote back, “I hope you’re right. I’m just an old newspaper guy suspicious of technocrats and J-schools on principle.”

I say he and I will both be satisfied with the outcome. The medium will always be the message, and the message needs to be controlled by the many.

Is corporate video dead?

Italian Cooking by Basecamp Productions

Italian cooking by Basecamp Productions

Is corporate video dead? Gosh, no.

Since the first electrons burbled from a black-and-white studio camera seemingly right into our home television sets, we’ve been fascinated with seeing ourselves on the screen. I don’t mean that literally, of course. (more…)

Why can’t I do my own SEO?

Architecture of a Web crawler.

Architecture of a Web crawler. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Why can’t I do my own SEO?”

You can, of course, do your own search engine optimization (SEO). That’s the beautiful, democratic thing about the web.

Anyone can rank high for his or her chosen keywords, with a little elbow grease.

You just need to: (more…)

How can I blog if I can't write well?

Zemanta

Zemanta (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How can I blog if I can’t write?

I hear this a lot, especially from people who run their own businesses. They might be plumbers, doctors, or geeks — no matter. They’re usually successful at their work, but don’t feel confident in their writing.

I give these folks a lot of credit. They already recognize the importance of blogging. They know that if they blog, they’ll be adding rich content to their web sites, and that Google “spiders” will like that and increase their ranking in search engine results pages (SERPs). Google flat-out likes web sites that continually add new content — in most cases, Google figures you’re  helping people understand your product or service better, and that’s a good thing. Stagnant sites rank low by comparison.

You can still blog if you can’t write. And by doing so, you’ll still add rich content to your web site, and you can do it every single day if you like.

Here are some suggestions:

1. Reblog. A service called Zemanta lets you take someone else’s content and “stick” it to your web site. You’re not violating copyright, either — you are simply creating a link to the story or article or blog. You can write a few words of introduction — or not. This little plug-in also helps you add helpful links and photos to any blog — Zemanta is a free plug-in for browsers such as Firefox and Safari.

2. Link to news or trade content. You can simply link to a website that offers news that you think your audience might find helpful. For instance, if you’re a landscaper, you could link to stories that get customers interested in their yards. You might offer stories from your local cooperative extension service, or a gardening club, or someone who blogs about lawns and gardens. It’s helpful if you add an introductory sentence or two, but not absolutely necessary.

3. Pay or barter with someone to blog for you. You’d be surprised at how well this will work for you — sit down with a writer and tell him or her what kinds of things you think your audience will be interested in, and perhaps your writer will have some ideas as well. What will sell your products or services? Consider a long-term arrangement, which will probably make more financial sense to you both.

4. Make lists and publish them. Making lists isn’t so scary, is it? If you’re a plumber, you can make a list of 10 things homeowners should check every year — or have checked (hint, hint), or 10 tools every homeowner should have on hand in case of a drip, or a flood. The important thing is to be useful. If people see that you’re concerned about houses and your community, and not just $65 an hour, they’ll respond. You’ve become human to them, and people would rather deal with humans than with web sites.

5. Be sure to set up tracking for your web site. This is the only way you’ll be able to measure the results of your blogging. If you’ve never used a web analytics program before, now’s the time to begin. You can measure the success of your key words, links, and other marketing efforts. The web makes ROI not only possible, but fairly accurate.

The important thing is to get started. Your business world is only going to become more competitive. It would be nice to start understanding now how to make progress in it, yes?

Let me know how you do!

Write how your (web) audience writes

a chart to describe the search engine market

Image via Wikipedia

No, I don’t mean sloppily or with bad grammar. For pity’s sake.

I do mean that you want to infuse your web site with the kind of verbiage your potential customers use when they look for your services. If you think they enter “great motel within walking distance of downtown,” then that’s the copy you need to put on your web page(s). “Near downtown” or “close to the mall” won’t do it if that’s not what your audience is searching for.

This news always seems to come as a surprise to my clients. I tell them, if you want to be found, write how your audience writes.

A couple of months ago one of my clients sent me a heated email. “You don’t write a headline as a sentence!” he snipped. Well, maybe not. But maybe you do if it helps you get customers. And in Google‘s (the 600-pound gorilla) world, writing the sentence “I need help with my taxes” in a headline counts for more than the same exact phrase in body copy.

And, note that this copy is written in the first person. People don’t search for phrases such as “Do you need help with your taxes?” Their searches are about THEM. So if you want to come up high in the search engine results pages (SERPs), pay some attention to THEM and their concerns.

In the copy I’d written for my client, I had said something like:

*****

“I need help with my taxes.” (headline)

Is this something you say every year around April 15?

*****

You get the idea.

But don’t overdo it.

You wouldn’t want to write something like this: “Every year, people say to themselves, “I need help with my taxes.” If I needed help with my taxes, I’d call a professional. Because when I need help with my taxes … (etc.).

Your copy has to sound natural, or you’ll lose your audience.

How do you determine your best search phrases? A good place to start is with your (successful) competition. If you have software that checks on key word placement, use it. The results may surprise you, and in a good way.

Happy keywording!

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