Just How Fast Can Google Index? Very Fast

I just happened to be on Facebook when word struck at about 5:10pm (PST) that Whitney Houston had passed away. I immediately Googled news for Whitney Houston, trying to figure out whether or not this was a hoax. After all, many still-living celebrities have had their time in the online obit column (Jon Bon Jovi being the most recent.)

Google was showing that the Associated Press had posted about it. The only other news was from Perez Hilton, who had posted a photo of her leaving a club the night before. No other mention of her passing appeared.

Two minutes later, another blog post was indexed. The ABC post was next. I was amazed to be witnessing how quickly Google was indexing such an “of the moment” event. Within 15 minutes, most of the major media outlet posts were listed.

When my friend arrived at 5:30pm to pick me up for dinner, the internet was a buzz and confirmation and a few details of her death had been received from her publicist.

The moral of the story? Google indexing just books it, trucking along at lightening speed. If people are searching for it, Google’s going to make sure it’s available.

What does this mean for business? Make sure your blog articles are topical, of the moment, and using keywords for which people are actually searching.

Impact of Google’s Search Engine Algorithm on Your Website Traffic

By Guest Blogger Kris Bovay

In February of this year, Google changed its search engine ranking algorithm. The change, called the Farmers Update by most search engine optimization (SEO) professionals (in reference to what’s called in the industry as ‘content farms’*), affected many websites in a negative way. The initial impact has been on sites with a large audience in the United States (US); this is because the changes have been implemented on US searches first. It is expected that other countries will be affected throughout the year. Google has indicated that this algorithm change has affected about 12 percent of US searches: with hundreds of millions of searches each day that impact is in the tens of millions daily.

To-date four primary types of sites have been seriously impacted:

  1. Directory sites (little content other than links), Article sites, Product Review sites – particularly those that provided short, light-weight, duplicated, and poor quality articles or content;
  2. Sites with a high percentage of images and a lower percentage of content;
  3. Sites with shallow, low-quality, of little use, and/or with duplicate content;
  4. Sites with a high proportion of ads to content.

Additionally, a number of SEO specialists believe that a professional design is also a factor in the new algorithm, however perhaps not weighted as significantly as the top four issues above.

Why is Google’s approval of your site important? Because about 72% of all search engine activity happens through their search engine; and that means if your site is de-indexed or its page rank drops, then your site will be hard to find on the Internet and your traffic will drop.

Has Your Traffic Dropped? Will it?

If you have Google Analytics, Statcounter, or another statistical analytics tool on your site to track traffic data, look at your traffic stats for before February 23, 2011 and then compare to your traffic today. If you have a high number of US based visitors on your site and your traffic has been severely impacted, it is likely that Google is trying to tell you something (fix your content!).

If most of your traffic comes from Canada and countries other than the US, then you will likely not see much of a difference in the statistics, however if your site has a high proportion of images (to content), low-quality content, duplicated or similar content to other sites, is an article or directory site, has a high proportion of advertising compared to content – than take this time to make some significant fixes or changes before Google rolls-out the algorithm to other countries.

Improve Your Site’s Content – Action Items:

  1. Review all pages on your site – write original content or hire a website content provider to write original content for you (make sure you purchase the content as original with copyright – you don’t want the author to re-sell the content to other site owners)
    1. improve the quality of your content
    2. add more words to ‘light’ content pages but make sure that the words add value for the site visitors – the new minimum word count per page is about 750 words and a number of website builders are suggesting pages with more than 1000 words
    3. try to limit images to about three per page OR add more relevant, quality content to balance out the use of more images
  2. Keep site visitors on your site for longer visits. Google (and other search engines) track bounce rates and time-on-site statistics. If a visitor lands on your site and ‘bounces’ off to another site or back to the search engine, Google sees that the visitor didn’t find what they were looking for. If you have Google Analytics on your site (a free tool) you will be able to see your bounce rate and time on site (by day, week, month, year)
  3. A professional looking site counts – Google doesn’t actually give ranking based on the site’s look and feel however once a visitor lands on a page the look and feel matters to the visitor and a good looking, professional design will likely keep a visitor on-site longer (however look and feel is not more important than content to search engines, and to visitors)
  4. Understand the value of linking – this is still an important element of search engine ranking (and a whole topic on its own). Your site needs back links from well regarded sites: links from social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter; links from high page-rank sites; link from sites considered authorities in your industry; etc.

*Note: What is a content farm? A site that publishes content that is poor quality, not useful, could be duplicated or similar to other content on the Internet, and that have a high proportion of ads embedded in the content or beside it.

Kris Bovay,
Voice Marketing Inc.,
Helping you build website content that search engines love, and site visitors love to read

SEO: Compiling Your Keywords

So, it’s finally time to compile your list of keywords. This is where we begin the actual work of SEO. I see how excited you are — it’s not that bad. Really.

Why are you looking at me like that?

Keywords — I’m sure at least one of you is wondering — are what we use to focus a site or a page’s content around one or two ideas. Remember how the search engine reads each page and does its best to pick out what that page is all about? By picking one or two topics (keywords) for each page, we actually improve the search engine’s chances of getting it right. If Google gets it right, it will be indexed correctly in its “library”.

Compile Your Keyword List

The first piece of the keyword puzzle is compiling your list. Get out a large piece of paper. Heck, pull out a pad of paper. You just might need it. As you’re going through the three steps, write down every word and phrase that comes up. Don’t edit. Don’t think they’re dumb (some will be but we will make those decisions later).

  1. Brainstorm: Sit down with a cup of whatever you love, say to yourself, “Think of every word associated with my business”, and just start writing. Jot down whatever pops into your mind: “baby clothes”, “ghost writing”, “farm fresh eggs”, “life photos”. Remember, they may not make sense. It’s okay. Just write.
  2. Ask clients: Call up or email a couple of really good clients (or ask a few friendly ones at the till if you’re in retail) and ask them what they would type into Google to find your business. You may be shocked at what words and phrases they use to describe you. Again, just write down the words. No judgement. No editing. Why ask clients? They are a great indicator of what descriptors a potential client or customer will use to search for you.
  3. Feel out the competition: Do you have a few really strong competitors? Go onto their sites and take a look at the buzz words they use in their content. Are there any phrases or words that come up over and over to describe what they do? Write them down. Do they have a catch phrase? Write that down too but add an asterisk (star) beside it so you know not to use that idea verbatim.

Now keep this list handy for the next few days. You may come up with several additions as you go through your activities. Write them down.

In the next SEO post, I’ll talk about how to whittle down the list to one or two topics per page.

Which Pages Should Be SEO’d?

Last week we chatted about what SEO actually is and what some of the ways to boost your site. But, remember my complaint about how the site I’d visited had an SEO’d privacy page? I know — if I make fun of companies who SEO their privacy page, then which pages should be given some extra love?

I’ve compiled a handy list of when you should go through the time and trouble to research keywords, write keyword phrases, write the phrases into your copy, and design meta tags that will — hopefully — bump you up in the index. This list is not exhaustive but should give you a better idea of when — and when not — to spend the time and effort on SEO.

  • Home pages: These are usually where we explain the overall picture of our company — what we do, who we are, our philosophy. People should be able to find our home pages.
  • Services and/or product pages: Yes, if I’m looking for the Super 7 Mighty Cabbage Chopper, I want to go right to that product’s web page. I need information that will help me decide whether or not to purchase this product — stat! Please make sure Google knows it can send me to this page in my moment of need.
  • About me (us) pages: Sometimes, people only remember our names, not our companies. This happens a lot with networking…several months later we just remember that Nelly was teaching aromatherapy courses. It would be great if I could just ask Google for “Nelly + aromatherapy courses + Vancouver” and find her.
  • Blogs: Google indexes blog posts as individual pages. Yipee! Make sure you’ve chosen intelligent categories and Google generally does the rest.
    Hint — if you have a lot of news in your company or organization, consider using a blog format for the news section. That way, the search engines will index each piece of news you send out separately.

Are you shocked? Did you think there would be more? Well, there may be pages that are important to your company and need to be SEO’d. For example, a public company may want to SEO their stockholders’ information pages. The privacy page, however, can probably be left alone (did I mention?).

Have questions? Feel free to leave a comment and I will respond.

What Exactly IS SEO?

I was browsing through a website this week when I realized that the company had SEO’d their Privacy page. I know, what kind of funky browsing was I doing? I think it’s safe to say that I look at things most other visitors don’t when perusing sites.

But back to my shock. Yes, they had paid an SEO company to write meta tags for their Privacy page — title tag, description, and keyword phrases. What does this mean? It means that the general website owning, updating, using public actually has no idea what SEO is and when it should be used. Furthermore, they’re probably paying someone to SEO things that don’t need it.

So, over the next few weeks, I will be posting SEO-related information on my blog — when SEO is important, when to ignore it, how to go about it, when it should be revisited (sorry, it’s not a one-time thing). Part 1 of my mission to clear up SEO-related confusion? What exactly IS SEO?

What is SEO?

SEO is short-hand for Search Engine Optimization.

Search Engine = Virtual Library
As you may or may not realize, search engines such as Google keep a huge virtual library of web pages indexed and ready for when someone requests a search. Think of it as if you walked into a library and handed the librarian your topic list. He or she is going to review your topic list (i.e. your search terms), disappear into the stacks of books and papers, and reappear with some material.

How do you know the material he or she brings back is on-topic and the best available information for your list? You don’t. You trust that the librarian knows how to locate the right information. You trust that the person who read the book in the first place and assigned it a place in the stacks deciphered the book’s information correctly. It’s the same thing with a search engine.

Google Loves to Read
Google is actually constantly visiting sites, reading through the pages and trying to decipher what information that site provides. It does its darnedest to pick out words from the copy that best describe the content. It then assigns that page a space in the “virtual stacks”. Optimization is done to increase the chances that Google indexes your site’s information correctly and likes the information enough to pull it out whenever your topic is requested.

You should optimize pages, then, that contain information that someone might search on. Have you ever thought, “I wonder what a photographer’s privacy policy might be?” Unless you’re writing your own privacy policy, I’m betting “no”. Should privacy pages be optimized? Heck no.

A Brief Introduction to the Art of SEO
How do you optimize? Well, SEO is an art, not a science but the following seem to work the best:

  • Write clear, on-topic content: Make sure that each page’s content carefully reflects what you want to say. If your page is all about your product, the Super 7 Cabbage Chopper, then stay on topic.
  • Include your keywords in your content: For our Chopper page, be sure to use the name of the product a bunch of times plus include a few generic terms for the product — anything a potential customer might use to describe it.
  • Use bullets & bolded words: Don’t write your entire page in bullets and bolded words. Don’t. Google is smart enough to see you’ve done this and will penalize you for it. However, the search engines do give higher importance to words that are highlighted. Make sure your keywords are highlighted — in proper context — somehow.
  • Add keywords to headings: This is another way of highlighting your keywords. The search engines, apparently, think that words in a title (heading) are important and, so, they rely on those words more when deciphering the meaning of your content.
  • Use meta tags: Traditionally, these were the ways website owners told the search engines what their pages were all about. Many website designers still think that meta tags will do all the heavy lifting, SEO-wise, with the search engines. That is just not true anymore. Too many sneaky people abused the search engines’ trust (e.g. tagging the page with “grow your business” when the site actually referred to growing body parts) and now many engines actually read through every page to avoid being duped.That being said, the description and title tags are still used by many search engines. Title tags tell your site what to write in the blue bar at the top of your browser while the description tag is hidden in the code. Google uses the title tag as the heading for your page in the search results (it’s what is underlined at the top of each blurb). So, those are still important and should be a elegantly written string of your keywords (not a bunch of words stuck together).

Do you feel like an SEO expert now? No? Well, it takes time and practice. Keep your eye open for more blog posts on the “how to” of SEO over the coming weeks. There’s lots more to chat about and it will eventually become more clear!

What Are Inbound Links?

There are lots of beautiful, lonely websites out there. It always makes me sad when a business owner invests time, energy, and money into setting up a web presence and then — nothing. Aside from those contacts that have been directly sent to it, nobody visits these sites because they can’t find the darn things!

The “study” of getting websites found and read is called Search Engine Optimization (SEO) or, a slightly newer term is Search Marketing Optimization. It simply means that you’ve made every effort to attract the search engines (e.g. Google is the BIG one in Canada) and give them the information they need to decide how to file away your web pages. That’s it.

What is less simple is figuring out what information they are looking for. That key is a carefully guarded secret and is slightly different for each engine, thus giving each of them a sliver of competitive advantage over each other. Debates rage on in the SEO and marketing community as to what each engine is looking for and how best to offer it. One thing that is quite well agreed on is the value of inbound links, which are sometimes referred to as backlinks.

Inbound links are connections that other sites make to yours. That is, someone else has added a link on their site which directs to yours. The basic premise for the value of these is that if other people like your pages and site enough to link to them, there must be some valuable information there. Makes sense, right?

Okay, so how do we build up the inbound links to our site? Good question! I’ll give you three ideas to start with this week.

  1. Referral Partners: Do you know other business owners that love your products or services and continuously refer your business? Ask them if there is space on their site for either a small banner ad, a mention in their blog, or a link on a partner page. Offer the same to them if you love their services just as much.
  2. Comment on a Blog: When you leave a comment on a blog you’re doing two things — telling the web world you exist and linking back to your site. Yay! There is a bit of debate as to how heavily weighted these types of links are by the engines but one thing is for sure — they are WAY better than no links. Besides, anything that directs people back to your site is a win.
  3. Directories: Are you a member of an organization such as a chamber of commerce or a networking group? Check your online listing and make sure that your website address is there and is correct. Build a few more by joining LinkedIn, Facebook, or Hot Frog (all free).

SEO is a big topic, of course, but if you spend a bit of time tackling it in pieces, you’ll begin to see results pretty quick. Start with inbound links and I’ll talk about other techniques in upcoming weeks.

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Who Are Your Competitors?

This seems like a simple question. You may be thinking, “Well, there’s Bob over on Main Street and HandySew in the Hubbard Building,” but, in today’s global and online marketplace, there are more than just the traditional competitors to think about.

Traditional Competitors
These are the businesses that offer similar products or services. They may or may not be geographically close to you, depending on your product or service.

Examples of traditional competitors would be Pepsi and Coke or two beauty spas from the same area.

Online Competitors
This is where it gets a little more tricky. Online competitors could be in competition with and for:

  • Your product or service
  • Your URL (which usually relates to your business name)
  • Your search engine keywords
  • Your AdWord keywords
  • Your potential customers’ blog-reading time (if you have a blog)

Overwhelmed? You don’t have to be. It’s not necessary to become insane over the details of who your competitors are; it is necessary to be at least aware that competition exists on many different business playing fields.

What’s an Entrepreneur to Do?
Spend some time looking at where your greatest competition lies.

Is your product competing against a wide range of similar products? Be sure to carefully articulate why it’s so special.

Can’t get your business name in a dot com URL? Think of a phrase that describes your product in a memorable way and use that as your URL.

Keywords seem saturated? Don’t despair; this is very common. Ask friends, family, and clients what words they would use if they were searching for you on Google. You may be surprised at what they offer; these keywords may be exactly how your customers will search for you but be very different from how you or your competitors would describe the product or service. For instance, a colleague wrote keywords such as “non-communicating toddlers” for a client’s speech therapy business but found that people actually search with terms such as “baby won’t talk”, which has very low online competition.

And lastly, nobody has unlimited time to review newsletters, blogs, and online news sites. Make the content interesting, relevant, and even entertaining.

Take a look at where a competitor might be hiding. Once you uncover them, they’re much easier to take on.