WordPress Rocks

Just moved my blog from an old server to a new one and was really impressed at how easy WordPress makes it to migrate a blog, and all it’s contents, from one site to another. The Import/Export to an XML file works like a charm, even if you are moving from an older version to a newer one.

WordPress isn’t the solution for everything, but it’s pretty darn good at what it does.

Kudos to them for making a little bit of the internet easy.

I’m no longer the smartest person in the world (and why I’m OK with that)

For a long, long time, until last Tuesday, I was #1 on Google for the search query, “the smartest person in the world”. I suppose all good things must come to an end but I’m OK with the fact that Google, much to their credit, has figure out that I, Mic Tienken, am most certainly NOT “the smartest person in the world”, and here’s why…

Almost 6 years ago I put up a web page solely to convince my son that I was the smartest person in the world. It was done on a goof and not meant as any form of conceit; if your interested you can read the whole story on the page, that’s not what this post is about. This post is about the past, current, and future state of SEO and about Google’s most recent algorithm update which they deployed on or about Tuesday 4/24/12.

Low Competion
Since there was virtually no competition for the keyword “the smartest person in the world” at the time, it was really easy to get a number 1 ranking in the Google SERPs for the term. It was not much of an SEO feat and really wasn’t meant to be. But 6 years ago organic search optimization was much easier for just about anything. There were fewer guys like me out there optimizing websites and even many great big corporations were basically clueless when it came to SEO. If you had a few skills and a basic understanding of SEO, you were way ahead of the curve.

Oops, It Went Viral
Soon after my page went to number one, it started to get a lot of traffic, and I mean A LOT. Seems like for whatever reason, thousands of people every day all over the world search for “the smartest person in the world” and most of them found their way to my site. On top of that, whenever there was a news story about some 11 year old graduating from college with a degree in astrophysics, or about Stephen Hawking or Albert Einstein, the news services like Yahoo! and MSN would kindly put a “related searches” link that would perform a search for “the smartest person in the world” or something similar. I would invariably come up as the number one result for that search and end up getting tens of thousands of visits in one day. Because of that, I actually got banned from MSN’s search results. Oddly, I’m back to #1 now that they have switched over to Bing. Go figure.

This “cewebrity” status soon led to many businesses seeking my services for help with marketing and SEO, and over the past 6 years I’ve built up a very successful web development and SEO business. Thank you very much, intertubes.

Why Google Sucks (or at least sucked)
I have long told my clients that the fact that I was able to be the smartest person in the world was more an indictment of Google than proof of my SEO prowess. After all, not only am I not the smartest person in the world, I clearly stated that fact on the web site. If you search for something on a search engine, shouldn’t the search engine return you that thing, and not a page that explicitly tells you it isn’t that thing? With all the information out on the internet about really smart people like Stephen Hawking, or the 11 year old college graduate, or people with super high IQs, why is Google telling you that the smartest person in the world is some random bonehead living in a cul de sac in Apple Valley, MN?

So Now What?
It is being surmised that this latest update by Google was meant to further screen out pages using so called “black hat tactics” but I can assure you, everything I have ever done in my career as an SEO guy has been 100% white hat. I have read and re-read Google’s guidelines on this subject to make sure to stay on their good side. I have also always tried to follow their advice to try and think like a search engine, to try and help users to find what they are looking for by including relevant content, properly organized and presented, in web site copy.

I think this latest update has more to do with Google’s continuing shift to rely more on “authority” than “relevance”. The first step Google ever made on that road was when they de-valued the keyword metatag. After all, clever SEO guys (and gals) can easily manipulate on-site content to make a web page super relevant to any subject, that’s the easy part and that’s what got me to the top of the pile of smart people; which leads me to…

It’s Not What You Say About Yourself, It’s About What The World Says About You
With the advent of social media and the flood of “user generated content” out on the internet, search engines now have access to what the world is saying about all kinds of subjects, and brands, and items, and websites, and people. I’ve known the day was coming when my “smartest person in the world” web page would fall away as search engines got better at what they are supposed to do. It’s easy to manipulate content on a web page, it’s even relatively easy to build up quality inbound links from a good number of quality sites. What’s not so easy is controlling what the world says about you (or isn’t saying, in my case).

Apparently the consensus of the world is that there are many other people who are way smarter than Mic Tienken. Although I still come up #32, which out of 4 billion people on the planet, isn’t too bad I guess.

Your Takeaway
Two words… Buzz and Brand. More and more the social space is controlling search results. And more and more people will not even use traditional search engines. They will see recommendations from their friends. Their search results, when they do search, will be skewed to show them web pages their friends have “liked” or “G+ed” or maybe even just visited. Case in point, if you are my friend on Facebook, or if you are in my Google circles and you perform a search for the smartest person in the world, I am still most likely your #1 result. And that’s not because I said I was so smart, it’s because someone else did!

 

 

Über Web wins Great Plains AP award

We are very proud that a website we built for Prairie Public Broadcasting has won first place in the 2012 Great Plains News and Photo Contest. The website is called High Risk High and it is a multi-media project about youth drinking in North Dakota.

The site is a customized WordPress site and it really shows some of the versatility of WordPress. We built the site under the direction of Meg Lindholm and the site was really her vision, we just executed it. The site also demonstrates that you can build a pretty robust multi-media website with a very small budget!

Congratulations to Meg and Prairie Public Broadcasting for this win and for the good work they have done to raise awareness of youth drinking in North Dakota.

 

 

5 Twitter Buzz-Kills

Just decided to jump back in the Twitter river after not being super active for a while. Now I remember why! That’s not to say I’m not going to use it, I’m going to use it more than ever. I’m just going to use it better. Here are a few tips…

  1. Do not follow everybody! I look at someone’s Twitter stream and see if they are posting things that I like or are useful to me. I don’t follow people just to follow people. I only follow real influencers, people I want to keep up with, and people who are funny. If you follow everyone, your Twitter stream just becomes a bunch of noise and you reduce the chances of actually catching a useful tweet.
  2. If every single one of your updates starts with the word “I”, I will not follow you.
  3. If every one of your tweets contains a link, or is trying to sell something, I will not follow you.
  4. Put some information in your profile to tell me who you are. A link to a website is also helpful. If I can’t get an idea of who you are just by the blurb that appears with your picture, I probably won’t look any further.
  5. This has been said over and over but if I do follow you, and your auto-reply says something to the effect of “Thanks for the follow – go read my blog, or buy my product (link here), I will probably un-follow you. You are trying too hard!

Happy New Year!

Busy Little Web Development Company!

We’ve been very busy lately as witnessed by the lack of new articles in the blog. At least we have some brand new sites to show for it. Please check them out, we’re pretty proud of them!

Odyssey Aviation - http://odysseyfsp.com/

S&N Debt Solutions - http://debtsettlementnegotiations.com/

Quality Career Services - http://www.qualitycareerservices.org/

And of course, our very own brand new site - http://www.uberwebservices.com/

So what’s with this Google+ and Plus 1 thing?

I’ve had a lot of folks ask me about Google+ (Google Plus) and the related Google +1 (plus one) button you will be seeing on webpages and Google search results.

First off, Google+

Never to be outdone, Google is launching it’s very own Social Networking service, which appears to me to be a hybrid of Facebook and Twitter. Here is my Google+ profile. Right now it’s in a “limited field trial” and you can only join if you have an invite but I suspect it will be open to the public very soon. Since it is in a limited trial, there’s not too many people on it and chances are you won’t find many of your “friends” there.

In Google+, instead of “friends” you have circles, the default circles are Friends, Family, Acquaintances, and a circle called Following. The “Following” circle is for people you don’t know personally but who’s post you find interesting. This is where the similarity to Twitter comes in. You can “follow” people like Twitter, even though you don’t know them. I think this is a pretty cool feature, especially if Facebook and Twitter go the way of MySpace and everyone ends up migrating to Google+. After all, I really don’t need another social network, I already have multiple Twitter accounts and various Facebook pages to maintain!

The cool thing about circles is you can segregate all your peeps into different groups. This is nifty because you can make your posts visible to only the circles you want to post to. You can even create your own circles, like your book club, or your co-workers, or your band and all it’s fans. You can also place your peeps in multiple groups. People will not know what groups you have them placed in, they will only know that they are connected to you. I really like the ability to only post things to certain groups as there are things you might share with your friends and family, that you wouldn’t share with your business contacts, for example. You can also easily select which “stream” of posts you want to view, so if you only want to see posts from your friends, just select that stream.

There is also a feature called “Sparks” which is sort of the equivalent of listing your interests in Facebook. Only this is way cooler because once you’ve selected your “Sparks” you can click on any Spark in your list and it basically gives you a news feed of recent articles, blog posts and web sites related to that Spark. This is very similar to Google Alerts where you can set up a news feed based on a keyword.

I think Facebook should be worried. Facebook was the pioneer and with the insane growth of the popularity of the site, they’ve been kind of building it like you would build a car while it’s barreling down the highway at 100mph, not a great way to do it. Google had the time and the resources to sit back and study the whole Social Media phenomenon and take the best parts of everything and combine it all into one very streamline, Google-like package.

Now, how does this all relate to the Google +1 button?

Google Plus 1

It’s kind of like “liking” in Facebook. The idea is that if you have a Google+ profile, and you “plus 1″ something, it’s your own little recommendation or “thumbs up” for that site, or blog post, or news article, or even an individual web page. There is a little bubble next to the plus one button showing how many people recommend the site, and if anyone in your circles have “+1′d” it, you could see who. So if you were searching for a restaurant and you ran across one you were interested in, if it has a +1 button, and someone in your circles whose opinion you trust had +1′d it, you might be more inclined to check out that restaurant. As far as the similarity to the Facebook “like” button, it kind of ends at the web site level. The real power of this is since it’s Google, it shows the +1 button right in the search results so you can see how many people recommend it and if anybody you know has recommended it. This is something Facebook can’t offer. Google doesn’t say this (at least I haven’t seen it) but I would suspect that if you perform searches while logged into your Google account, the results you get would favor sites that people in your circles have +1′d.

 

So, if Google was the 800lb gorilla on the internet, it’s about to become the 1,600lb gorilla.

Keywords – Speak the customer’s language

Editors Note: I originally posted this on my friend Joel Gaslin’s blog, ConnectedRep and I am reposting it here.

One of my first experiences with a client who was attempting to sell more products via increased visibility in search results was with a company that manufactures and erects metal buildings. I attended meetings with their marketing staff, including their VP of marketing, who were all convinced that they needed to be on top of the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) for the term “pre-manufactured post frame buildings.” I learned through further exploration that their biggest market was the agriculture industry, farmers specifically. In fact, their buildings dot the landscape of most of the Midwest.

This is where keyword research comes in. You do not want to focus on “inside-baseball” type terms. You are not trying to impress your competitors, or satisfy the VP of marketing, or the CEO, with your high rankings in the SERPs for esoteric keywords that only industry insiders use. That might be great for the corporate ego, and bragging rights at trade shows, but not so good if you actually want to sell something. You need to find out how your customers search for your products, not what you call them.

At a follow up meeting with the metal buildings company, I came back and announced to them that they needed to get on page one of Google and the other search engines for the term “pole barns.” After the color returned to their faces, they proceeded to tell me that they didn’t sell pole barns and that the term was archaic. Their buildings they said, were much more sophisticated than pole barns. I told them that irregardless of what they thought they were selling, when their customers wanted to buy, they searched the internet for “pole barns.”

I am happy to report that even though I no longer work for the company that manages their web site, they are still on page one of Google for the term “pole barns” and they even have a page dedicated precisely to that term.

So, how do you find out what your potential clients are searching for? Easy. The most commonly used free tool to do this kind of research is the Google Keyword Tool. Just enter a couple of generic terms related to your product and the tool will spit out literally hundreds of related terms that users actually search for. Not only that, it will tell you how competitive those terms are and give you an estimate of how many users search for those terms every month, both globally and locally (local meaning in the US). By familiarizing yourself with this type of information you will be much more able to speak your customer’s language and not hope that they know how to speak yours.

Is Google killing your business?

Many of you may have seen this headline or similar over the past few days:

Websites to Google: ‘You’re killing our business!’

When you hire an SEO company to optimize your web site, build links, etc. make sure they are doing it right. The only way to build links is to do it by seeking out quality sites to link to and by developing quality content that other sites, blogs, etc. WANT to link to.

I often tell my clients that we could get better results if we used tactics that, while they might not be black hat, they are somewhere in that “gray area”. These tactics may work in the short run but sooner or later Google tweaks their algorithm in order to deliver higher quality results and when they do, sites benefiting from those tactics drop off the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) like flies. One of these questionable tactics is utilizing links farms to build incoming links to sites. This is the kind of link building service you often see advertised in spam emails from offshore vendors who offer hundreds of links from high PR (Page Rank) sites for a very low cost. As I said, it may have worked for a while but now the party’s over.

We strive to follow Google’s guidelines to a tee and we use common sense. It’s Google’s job to deliver the most relevant results for a users search query. We try to think like a search engine when we optimize web sites. We ask ourselves what would  search engines look for to deliver a highly relevant site to a user. This approach has served us well over the long run. Many companies are reporting a drop of up to 40% in their site traffic which can devastate an ecommerce web site.  I am happy to report that the recent change in Google’s algorithm has not affected any of Über Web’s clients in the least. In fact, we benefit because when the cheater’s sites fall off the SERPs it allows our clients to move up.

It always pays to do things right in the long run.

A Basic SEO Checklist – The Foundation

Here’s a checklist of the basic things you should have in place for your web site from an organic SEO perspective.

  1. In order to create the specific “webmaster tools” type accounts mentioned below, you will need to set up accounts at Google, Yahoo, and Windows Live (for MSN/Bing) if you don’t already have them. These webmaster tools accounts are separate services and you will first need to have the master accounts at these 3 major search engines.
  2. Make sure your site has Google Analytics installed
    1. Use the new Google Asynchronous Snippet.
    2. Create a filter in the Analytics Settings to exclude all traffic from any IP addresses you want to exclude from your site stats. This would include internal traffic from your corporate locations, the IP address of your web development/seo company, etc. You don’t want to inflate your stats with visits from people working on the site, or your own employees visiting the site. Also, if you have goals set up that are measured by analytics, you don’t want to artificially inflate those numbers when you are doing any testing.
  3. Make sure site has an XML sitemap
    1. If not, and the site is a small, uncomplicated site, there is a good, free XML Sitemap Generator.
      1. Select “weekly” as Change Frequency (unless you change your content more or less frequently)
      2. Choose “Use server’s response” for Last modification
      3. Select “Automatic Priority” for Priority
    2. If not, and it’s a large and/or complicated site (such as a shopping cart or other application) there are 2 other tools that Über Web recommends to create site maps. We have the paid, unlimited version of the XML Sitemap Generator which runs as an application on the web site. There is an installation process to deploy this and you will need some technical prowess to make it work. The other tool we use is another paid tool called Inspyder Sitemap Creator. It runs on a local machine and spiders the site. I actually prefer this tool because it is easier to use and it does not require a complicated installation process in the web hosting directory.
    3. If there is an XML sitemap present. try to determine if it is recent and if it is updated frequently. If it is, great, if it’s not, go to step 2a or 2b above.
  4. Create a Google Webmaster Tools account if you don’t already have one and add your site to it.
    1. Verify “ownership” of the site, just follow the directions. You will need to have access to the web hosting directory via ftp and a little HTML knowledge to do this.
    2. Submit the XML sitemap if there is not one submitted (or resubmit if you’ve updated an old one). You’ll find the link where you add your sitemap under the Site Configuration menu in the Webmaster Tools.
  5. Create a Yahoo! Site Explorer account if you don’t already have one and add your site to it.
    1. Verify “ownership” of the site, just follow the directions.
    2. Submit the XML sitemap if there is not one submitted (or resubmit if you’ve updated an old one)
    3. The procedures for a & b above are very similar to the procedure described for the Google Webmaster Tools)
  6. Create a Bing Webmaster Toolbox account if you don’t already have one and add your site to it.
    1. Verify “ownership” of the site, just follow the directions.
    2. Submit the XML sitemap if there is not one submitted (or resubmit if you’ve updated an old one)
  7. Submit your site to the Open Directory Project if it is not already included. Make sure to read their guidelines on how to go about submitting your site. It takes forever for them to list sites so it’s a good idea to check back every few weeks to see if your site has been included. If you can get listed, this is just a good, free, backlink to your site.

If you follow all of these steps, your site will be more search engine compliant than probably 90% of all web sites! This will NOT be enough to get you page 1 rankings for competitive keywords but you need to have this stuff in place to start working on getting there. This is just the foundation.

Of course, if you need help, please don’t hesitate to contact Über Web, we’ll be glad to help you out!