John Andrews is a Competitive Webmaster and Search Engine Optimization Consultant in Seattle, Washington. This is John Andrews blog on issues of interest to the SEO community and competitive webmasters. Want to know more?

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July 27th, 2006 by john andrews

SEO Audits. Are they any good?

SEO Audits. I wonder, are they any good?

I am sometimes asked to do audits, but I have declined. Something about the idea bothers me. I can certainly see how SEO Audits could be good for the SEO, but are they good for the typical seo audit requesting customer? Who asks for audits, anyway?

When I start a new project I do an “analysis” that might be considered similar to an audit, but it is not. I don’t go over an exhaustive checklist of standards, and I don’t have a template report. I do just what I say I do ( I as in me, John Andrews, the SEO himself. Not an assistant. Not a traineee. Not an overseas SEO service clerk).

One may wonder, is that efficient? Hell yes. I know what the current trends are, where the gotcha’s are, and I really don’t have much time for petty details so I will not waste your dollars checking your keyword density. If it’s spammy, it’s spammy.

I’ll cut right to the meat of the issue, review your site as if it were something I had just purchased and want to SEO. And then I will write it up with lower-cost clerical assistance.

To do analysis I have to check the SERPs where you expect to compete, and no trainee can do that as fast nor as well as an experienced SEO. I doubt very much an SEO firm can produce a meaningful or powerful “standard research form” for a trainee to fill out and an “SEO” to review. Things change too fast. No doubt they can produce volumes of checklists, of course.

I call my report an SEO Opinion. Not an SEO Audit, but an SEO Opinion. Not an “expert opinion” either. That’s another one of those things that rub me the wrong way…loose use of the expert moniker. You’re an expert if someone *else* says you are, not if you say you are or someone you pay says you are.

I conduct SEO analyses and I produce a deliverable called an SEO Opinion. And I get paid for that. So what do you think? Which is better, and SEO Opinion or an SEO Audit? Do you do SEO Audits? Are they good? For what? What about those free ones (free as in still-requires-a-backlink, LOL). Any good?

If you are an SEO and you offer audits, put your link into a comment right here and I’ll add it to the list. And if you look closely, you’ll notice that Ben has posted some good comments to this blog:

*** edited for quality

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July 27th, 2006 by john andrews

HitTail: it’s not SEO, it’s PR. Really.

A PR guy says “this is not SEO. Really. It’s not SEO. Nope.” What does that tell you?

I have been interested in the cross roads of PR (public relations) and SEO for some time, but I have not seen a decent move from the PR guys lately so I wondered if they were capable. I mean, the Ad guys failed at “getting” the web. Oh sure SEO-PR got it long ago (and even got the domain name), but they are really PR guys. Whenever I heard Greg Jarboe speak he was like SEO is really PR…SEO is PR..if you are an SEO, you need to understand PR because SEO is PR. Personally, I’m more thinking that PR today has to include a lot of SEO.

So now I see promotional campaigns from Connors Communications (a PR firm) about a new service called HITTail. Since my audience is mostly SEO folk, I can simply say that Connors has decided to take one piece of SEO and hit the less sophisticated clients over the head with it, over and over and over again until sign up. That piece of SEO is referrer mining.

The more interesting facet of this is how a PR firm is staking a claim in the SEO world. As I have mentioned before, the PR folks seem to have a problem with commitment. On the web site, Connors first goes to great lengths to try and distance itself from SEO. I quote from the web site (and I am not quoting everything.. just enough to make my point):

“HitTailing is Not SEO”
“HitTailing is like search engine optimization without the trouble.”
“HitTailing is NOT Tweaked Out Super-SEO”
“HitTailing Co-Exists Happily with Professional SEO”
“HitTailing is no threat to that special brand of hyper-competitive, popular keyword SEO that thrives on tweaking densities and HTML tags.”

Umm, clue to the HitTail guys: SEO is not really concerned much with densities this millennium.

A little further down the page, they say:

“We are definitely positioning it as SEO for the masses of mainstream marketing departments who have yet to venture into the natural search arena.”

which leaves me more than a bit conflicted. But then, I was not part of the “beta”, which apparently went out to “professional SEO firms”. I suspect that the Professional SEOs that worked with HittTail were more of the boiler room type than the independent metrics-driven consultant type. I guess because of the way Connors dances around the edges of the clear overlap of HitTail and SEO:

“Yet, we are completely disclosing that HitTailing doesn’t solve the greater SEO problems that may plague your site. It only defers the discussion while you get some of the benefit in the short term through blogging, which you should be doing anyway. In short, we are attempting to precondition the marketing departments of the world to be receptive to the greater SEO “fix”, because they will be in a better position to see the value.”

So I guess the message is HitTail is *not* a threat to the SEO industry, but actual helps it by priming the pump! I see. Now for PR guys this “SEO Page” on the HitTail web site is really getting conversational the further down the page I read…more like a blog than a web page. And it ends with further evidence that these PR guys may not be too comfortable stepping into the wild and wacky world of SEO:

“Our original intent was to disclose everything we know about SEO, and have dubbed the “Connors Magic Bullet,” so that the mechanical best practices aspect of the discussion becomes assumed and fades into the background. But we have since thought better of this, because this is the role of the Professional SEO Industry. These factors are in constant, slow “continental drift” and it is not a wise use of our resources to keep the documentation up to date. We’d rather improve the HitTailing process, and let the SEO profession and search-savvy blog software deal with SEO drift.”

Wow. It almost sounds as if they are intimidated. Ooh… did the Black Hats threaten to bomb the HitTrack client sites out of the SERPs? Oh I’m just kidding. They would never do that! But I do suspect they were intimidated by the speed with which the real SEO world adapts. I do suspect that they got solid, factual, and specific advice from those large SEO firms, only to discover that there was sounder, more factual, and conflicting advice from other SEO firms a day later. I know, it makes my head spin sometimes, too.

After watching the demo and reading the web pages I see HitTrack as a user-friendly introduction to referrer mining, with instructions on how to use that with your blogging efforts to get more traffic volume right now. It’s a decent message, and it will increase traffic, but I think it is in over it’s head here. Just as do-it-yourself SEO almost always leads to trouble, this, too can lead a marketer down the wrong path in search of traffic. More traffic does not mean better results.

The key to good SEO is the quality and reliability of the traffic, coupled with organic search penetration and related momentum that can come from carefully-managed organic SEO efforts (including referrer mining). Unless HitTrack can add some serious intelligence to it’s algorithms for highlighting the keywords culled from referrer logs, following their advice may hinder the SEO momentum, and may broaden the traffic such that ROI suffers. I’m not sure the PR guys understand the importance of characterizing traffic. It’s one of the harder concepts to clear with most SEO clients. I guess people are just comfortable with percentages, and playing the odds. Too bad real SEO is not usually about playing the odds (in my opinion, it hasn’t been since the AltaVista days).

HitTail bills itself as “A Practical Alternative to Paying for Search Hits“. It claims to be able to help reduce the costs of buying traffic through PPC, and emphasizes the value of “natural” search engine referral traffic. HitTrack sells itself on the popularity of SEO. Plain and Simple, HitTrack is a PR firm’s initial shot at SEO, covered with layer after layer of disclaimer that appears to me to be classic “PR” intended to defer critique from real SEOs and avoid comparisons to SEO, while capitalizing on the negative image SEO has in certain circles (like skittish corporate marketing departments that hire PR firms). Guys, this is an SEO page. Really. And it needs to be corrected.

I can’t help but want to critique Connor’s “Magic Bullet” SEO when given the chance. Like when they say:

We’ve never measured a keyword density in developing the app, yet regularly score top-10 positions on important keywords that convert. But HitTailing is no threat to that special brand of hyper-competitive, popular keyword SEO that thrives on tweaking densities and HTML tags. HitTailing works best where tweaks matter least.

But I won’t. Instead, I welcome the PR guys to SEO. Watch out for the shovels, and bring your hip boots. It’s gonna get pretty deep in here.

Note: I started this with a link to Mike Levin’s Bio on Connors. He’s an SEO, hired on in 2004 to bring SEO to Connor’s PR business. His bio includes:

Mike Levin has been involved with Search Engine Optimization since the late 90s. Inspired by the notion that Search Engine Optimization and Public Relations are founded on the same underlying principles, Mike joined Connors Communications, a New York based PR firm, in 2004. Since that time he has continuously promoted the merger of traditional public relations with organic SEO, bringing ideas, original tools and industry experience to Connors’ SEO team. By combining his grasp of SEO tactics and his unique blend of information design with Connors Communications’ 20 years of PR experience, Mike has helped build Connors into a leader in joining the two distinct, but inter-related fields.

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July 26th, 2006 by john andrews

Suicide Girls get MySpace

I was asked for an example of a non-MySpace person doing a good job using MySpace for marketing. I looked around. I saw plenty of bad MySpace pages. They sort of look like Web1.0 pages in a Web2.0 world…stiff, stodgy, unstyled. And then I found someone had a Suicide Girl as her MySpace friend. Wow. Cool. I wonder if they loaded each one of the Suicide Girls onto separate MySpace pages, cross-linked them all, plastering the pages with ads for the Suicide Girls membership site? That’s what I would have done. Let’s face it, these girls look exactly like prototypical MySpacers (+15 years).

Well, they did one anyway. Not a bad job at all. 9,218 “friends” including a handful of promotional ones like “Subscribe to Suicide Girls Videos” and “Become a Suicide Girls photographer“. I’m sure it’s doing a fab job or raising awareness of the SG perversion amongst the MySpace teens, and I have little doubt those SG ads convert. Of course the subject matter fits into MySpace fairly naturally, but we know SG is actually old so this qualifies as an effective use of MySpace.

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