Tag Archives: SEO

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!



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!

SEO should be original equipment, not aftermarket!

When Über Web is hired to build a web site, be it a brand-spanking new site or a rebuild of an existing site, my client is often surprised that the very first thing I want to do is keyword research. I explain to them that before I make a site map, or build a wireframe, I need to know what keywords the site should be optimized for. Why is that? Because search keywords should be the building blocks of any well optimized web site and those keywords need to be “built-in” to the site from the ground up.

It appears to me that most companies will first hire a web design/development company to build them a shiny new web site that looks and works fantastically and then they engage a SEO comapny only after the site is built and is ready to launch or worse yet, has already launched. This is actually a bass-ackwards way to go about site development! You should hire the SEO/marketing company first before you ever hire a developer. And better yet, hire a web development company that specializes in SEO like Über Web! ;-)

Now why is this?

Well, I don’t want to give away the store but here are few good reasons to start….

  • You need to find out what real people are searching for to find companies that offer products or services such as yours.
  • Those keywords need to be built into several aspects of your site such as navigation points, image names, descriptions, & content.
  • You need to do it the right way, simply knowing the keywords is not enough. Experienced SEOs know how to do this.

And finally, just like a brand new car, it’s always cheaper do get something as original equipment than to get it after market. Why hire an SEO firm AFTER a site is built to retrofit SEO best practices? You’re going to pay more in the long run and it’s going to take longer for your site to get those top rankings you desire!

They’re coming, lets build it for them

I’m going to share a little something with you that I tell clients at every first meeting…

The internet is the opposite of the field of dreams.

What do I mean by that?

I’ve been building web sites pretty much since the dawn of the commercial internet back in 1995. Back in the day, everyone thought the internet was the field of dreams. They thought, if we build it they will come. Remember that Kevin Costner movie? It took me about 2 web sites to realize that “if we build it, it will probably just sit there in obscurity.”

So how does this relate to SEO and what do I mean by “they’re coming, lets build it for them”? It’s all about keywords. Every day millions of people search the internet for millions of keywords (or more accurately, key phrases). They’re already coming! Build it for them! This is why keyword research is so critical. Before you open Photoshop to start designing a site, before you launch Dreamweaver or Visual Studio, before you write one line of code, you better know what key phrases people are searching the internet for to find the products or services offered by your client. And once you know that, you better build that site around those keywords. It’s my feeling that if you don’t do that as a web developer or designer, you’re committing internet malpractice.

More later on how to find those key phrases and some advice on how to pick which key phrases out of the hundreds you will discover to focus on.

General Guidelines for On Page SEO Best Practices

Since this is a brand new blog, I’m going to start off by getting back to basics. I’ve seen all kinds of information about very specific tactics out there, and some of what I see is even to esoteric for me. I thought I would put together a very basic list of what I call “On Page SEO Best Practices.” This is as opposed to “off-page” or “external” tactics such as link building or blogging. This article is focused on things you should be doing directly on the page you are tring to optimize.

Before I get started on my “bullet list,” I want to make a note about keyword frequency…

Search engines that support partial matching, like Google, figure keyword frequency as:

total number of any word in keyword phrase   ÷   number of words in keyword phrase

So a page title that reads “Minneapolis Hotels, Twin Cities Hotels” would have a keyword frequency of 1.5 for the keyword “Minneapolis Hotels” because there are 3 total appearances of any word in the phrase (Minneapolis once and Hotels twice) and the keyword phrase contains 2 words total, so 3 ÷ 2 = 1.5.

Also, you will notice that I mention in my list below things like “a keyword should appear several times” and you may ask yourself “how many times is ‘several?’” The answer is those numbers can vary depending on the competitiveness of a keyword and what the competing pages are doing. I would recommend using a tool like Web Position’s “Page Critic” or something similar to analize pages for you. It’s alot quicker and less mind-numbing than trying to count these things manually!

So here we go, nothing below is earth shattering or a magic bullet for good rankings, but these are the basics and you should make sure you have them covered!

Best Practices Bullet Points

  • Each keyword should be in the page title tag <title></title>  exactly 1 time and it should be as near to the beginning of the title as possible. This is why I try to convince clients to not put the name of their company first in every title tag of every page. The title tag should be limited to 7 – 9 total words.  If a keyword does not appear in a page title, you have practically no chance for top rankings.
  • The keyword should be contained within a header tag (preferably <h1>) exactly one time.
  • Keywords contained in header tags should be as close to the top of the page as possible.
  • There should not be an excessive amount of words contained within header tags on the page as a whole. Eliminate header tags (<h1>, <h2>, <h3> ) where they do not contain keywords or where they contain keywords that appear in the page previously within header tags. Using CSS, you can format a <p> tag or a <span> tag to dispaly text any way you like, you don’t need to use header tags.
  • The keyword should be linked to additional content at least several times times and those links should be as close to the top of the page as possible.
  • There should several links on the page that go to another page on your site where the URL contains the keyword (e.g. www.yourdomain.com/keyword.html). It is best to separate words within URLs with a hyphen, for example your-keyword.html is better than yourkeyword.html or your_keyword.html.
  • The keyword should appear within the text of the page at least several times and they should be as close to the top of the page as possible.
  • More text on a page is better than less. Try to have at least 600 or so words of copy on a page.
  • The keyword should appear several times throughout the page as a whole (this means linked text, hyperlinked URL, body text, headers, and title all added together).
  • All CSS and Javacripts should be linked to the page via source files and not placed inline on the page itself.

Hope this helps!

Your Friendly Neighborhood Minneapolis SEO Specialist ;-)

Do you know just enough about SEO to be dangerous?

SEO is a pretty vast topic. There’s not really any one thing that is going to get your site top rankings. It’s a combination of many, many elements both internally (within your site) and externally (separate from your site).

When I meet with a client for the first time I’ll generally touch on a few key points about SEO but I warn them not to latch onto any single tactic I mention. Despite this warning, I’ll find that the client has run back to their office and had their web guy turn every page title on their site to one  keyword across the entire site, or they’ve linked every instance of a keyword on their home page to a Wikipedia entry,  and then wonder why they don’t have top rankings three days later. You can have too much of a good thing and that is especially true in the world of SEO.

This is where the saying “I know just enough to be dangerous” comes into play.  Keywords in your page titles are a really good thing, put the keyword in the page titles too many times and it’s bad thing.  Linking keywords is a good thing, linking them too much is a bad thing. And even if you’ve got your page titles just right and you link text optimized, there are dozens of other factors that figure into high placements in the SERPs. This is especially true when you get into highly competitive keywords. If you are optimizing for a keyword with no competition, a good page title will usually get you on page one. If you are optimizing for a keyword that has tons of competition, your going to need much, much more than a good page title and optimum keyword density.

This is why you need a lot of knowledge and experience to be a good SEO-er. If you don’t have that knowledge and experience, hire an expert. If you “know just enough to be dangerous,” you might be doing yourself more harm than good.