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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October 10th, 2006 by john andrews

Steady as she goes… don’t rock the boat (?)

This blog is about online marketing and SEO. It’s my opinions and that’s all. I marvel every day at the wackiness of the online world, but try and limit my blogging to SEO and online marketing. God knows I could go on and on otherwise.

I have spent a good deal of time in the past year reading SEO websites and blogs. Many years ago I got involved in SEO from a performance position. That was all about traffic. Then I got into it from a search engine rankings perspective.

Sailing Away SEO

That was all about targeted traffic. A few years ago I got into it from a content perspective. That was partly an extension of the search engine ranking aspect of SEO, and partly a commitment to quality for purposes of real estate development, branding, and community development. Nowadays it’s everything combined, plus some. Yet all I see are old-fashioned web sites and blogs in the SEO / search marketing world. Why is that?

One of the big SEO secrets is that many so-called “SEO” people are clinging to perseverance. They have properties from 199X, and are using those to generate the search engine “good will” they need for today’s web sites. They cling to those past properties like a child clings to mommy’s leg on the first day of pre school. They seem afraid to make changes or update their sites, even when it gets embarassing, for fear of losing the search rankings. Don’t rock the boat, because this boat may not be rightable. Is that SEO? Nah. But it does seem to be driving some of the web SEO efforts out there.

A recurring theme on SEO web sites is “why SEO for clients if you can just SEO for your own sites and make the same money, without the hassles?” It’s a decent question. But after looking at yet another hand-coded html website with photos from a conference, I have to accept that some of these people are really afraid of change. Flickr? Gallery? Lighbox? Photobucket? The seven others I won’t mention for competitive reasons? The advances in the presentation of images on the web have been incredible in the past 5 years. Can’t you work with them on an SEO basis yet?

I know, why give content to Flickr when you can hoard it for yourself. But really? At some point that selfishness comes back to bite you. Flickr and the other image serving databases really do add value these days. It’s not just about displaying images. It’s slideshows, commentary, navigation, and visual appeal. I was unwilling to spend even 5 minutes inside this one, because the navigation didn’t help me at all and I was not interested enough to invest my own efforts in browsing the images. That’s a fundamental of ecommerce, isn’t it? Adding sufficient value such that the user acts when otherwise they are not so inclined?

Yes, that section is labeled “raw photos” but heh, isn’t that further testiment to the fact that this is ancillary content and exactly what would benefit the most from something like Flickr? Flickr auto processes raw photos to thumbnails and presentation-quality images, doesn’t it?

Call me unique as an old hand at SEO if you like, but the fact is I used to go to those conferences and was looking to the images in consideration of going again in November. Instead, I’m writing this blog post. What do you think… was I encouraged to register by that website?

The particulars are really not the point. I’m sure there are excuses arguments for why that particular page is the way it is. But that is just an example…of which there are too many. The SEO world has crumbled in my opinion, and is in a new, temporary insanity phase. Danny Sullivan at pubCon with people like Eric Ward and ShoeMoney. The paparazzi in me says “go! this will be a spectacle!” but without a press pass and camera mask I doubt it will be more fun that drudgery. I also doubt it will be innovative while trying to appeal to the Colgate-Palmolives of the world.

Why do SEO’s work for clients? Perhaps it’s because a client brings me a Flash site with embedded galleries that are beautiful and elegant and truly fun to navigate, yet the site has no search engine presence. No, I won’t tell them to build an HTML version of the site for “accessibility” so I can SEO that. I will SEO their beautiful site. Yes, it’s harder. But that’s what they pay me for. And guess what? It gets me wet, where otherwise I may have grown old, afraid to rock the boat for fear of getting wet.

If you are an SEO ask yourself, when is the last time you paid for training for yourself? If it was more than a year ago, I suspect you have a problem.

This summer I watched my ten year old son sail out from the dock in his Opti, tacking and jibing his way out through the harbor to the open bay. He had to get to the race Committee boat a mile out, in order to enter the race. As his former sailing instructor told me when I questioned the wisdom of sending a ten year old out to sea alone, “if he can’t sail out to the race, he’s not exactly fit for racing, is he?” I let him go. It was hard to do. It was awesome to watch. I will never forget it. Neither will he. Did I mention he took first place in his boat class?

And as my son reminded me later, the first thing they taught him in sailing class was how to right the boat when it capsized. On day one they took the young wannabe sailors out into the harbor and capsized them, again and again. By day two they were old salts at righting Optis. And the game they played at lunch time all season long? Pirates… where one kid, at the secret command of his Captain, would dive overboard and quickly “surprise attack” his “enemy” by capsizing his boat, righting it for himself, and sailing it away. Sounds too much like the way SEO should be, if you ask me.

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October 4th, 2006 by john andrews

Thanks for the Game: It’s Been Fun Beating You

I compete in many different markets on the web, and many of those are less-than serious. Much of the Internet is like real estate - you take a domain name and either develop it or hold it. I liken the non-serious web sites that I have on valuable domain names to what are called “tax payers” in the real estate market. A “tax payer” is a business or building that is put up to cover the property taxes associated with the property while you hold on to it for investment value. You don’t care to make it a big successful enterprise, but you need it to at least cover proerty taxes which tend to rise as a property’s value increases. Common “tax payers” are inexpensive strip malls, Self-Storage facilities, and pay parking lots. (For the record, I am not in the “parked domain” business).

DoH!

I use my “tax payers” as tests of various SEO methods as well. Often that involves writing, because let’s face it Google has been quite the consumer of pop literature / pulpless fiction these past few years. Oddly, I find myself competiting is some Asian-oriented markets, where not surprisingly English is a second language. That means I find myself competitng for the top spots in markets where my primary competitors are non-English speaking, Asian webmasters.

I get to see the worst of the SEO world on these sites. I check them every few days for the entertainment value. SPAM taken to new heights. Image spam, then keyword spam, then both, combined. Link spam, more link spam, and then 20 or 30 pages of 302 redirects to my site (WTF?). One day I found 5 web pages full of live links to my site’s pages, all direct and with good anchor text. What was that, exactly? Thanks for the link love.

Often the methods are good ones, and they work for a day or two before the competing page disappears. I saw an image last week sliced into 40 pieces, each with prime alt and title attributes. Shot right to #1. For a day. I see plenty of pictures of pretty women on industrial products pages, just like those calendars Dad brought home from the construction sites back in the seventies. I see my own images hotlinked, which of course I play with to further the entertainment. At one point it got so funny I created an “about dot com” page to talk about it, and took the second spot away with that. It has to hurt, no?

Today I placed a large half-page banner ad on one of my site’s home page, saying “Thanks for playing. Try again sometime. And if you need a real SEO, call me” with a URL for my contact page. Why not? If they are working so hard to be #1 and I am the only thing in the way, I can make it easier. I really can.

The reality is not that content is king, per se, but that the knobs are tuned way high for semantics right now. If you don’t have a strong *American* English content tweaker involved in your site, you will not rank in a competitive SERP or in almost any local SERP, except perhaps by chance.

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October 2nd, 2006 by john andrews

Reading the SERPs: The Art of Competitive Webmastering

Another inquiry, another proposal, another SEO client. And in between those three lies 15 hours of studying the search engine results pages (SERPs).

SEO is one large part of the competitive Internet, but not all of it. The SEO toolset, however, supports most of what we do when we get competitive. SEO tools are not just for SEO. They are for searching, gathering competitive intelligence, teaching and training. SEO’s drive the development of tools. They provide the knowledge base for understanding what the tools do. What they show. How they can be interpreted. We owe a lot to a small handful of really good SEOs for the tools we use every day.
But I think the number one activity of competitive development is studying the SERPs. Sadly, that is also one area where many clients have spent very little time. They spend more time in analytics reports than in the SERPs. Why? Because Analytics companies are marketers. They make their reports look like meaningful data. Did you ever spend an hour clicking around inside of Webtrends Enterprise? What a waste of time, yet we all do it on occasion. Why? There’s an excellent SEO lesson in there…one that Markus Frind would be all to happy to tell you.

SERPs look like what they are : results sets. Clients feel inept at search. And why not? They can’t find anything, so naturally they will feel they are not expert searchers. But the real issue is what you get, not what you wanted to get when you entered a query. Because what you get is what everyone else gets, too. That’s reality.

Is that clear? Go ahead and search for your company name. What comes up? I don’t care if you don’t come up, or you come up third, or whatever. I care about what comes up first. Who is it? Why did they come up first? That is where the gold lies. And I spend my time looking at that, not your web pages. And so should you. Only after you understand the market can you compete.

I do recognize that many people don’t know what to look for in the SERPs, or how to examine them. Recognition of that means progress. Should I help with that? You tell me.

I am thinking it might be good for me to present here, in this blog, specific steps for understanding the SERPs. Simple yet effective ways to look closely at what matters when you run a query against Google or Yahoo!. Basic but important stuff that should be checked each and every time, for specific clues. What do you think? Let me know if that is a good idea and I will consider it. I have plenty to say on the topic.

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John Andrews is a mobile web professional and competitive search engine optimzer (SEO). He's been quietly earning top rank for websites since 1997. About John

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Recent Posts: ★ Cloud Storage ★ Identity Poetry for Marketers ★ PR is where the Money Is ★ Google is an Addict ★ When there are no Jobs ★ Google Stifles Innovation, starts Strangling Itself ★ Flying the SEO Helicopter ★ Penguin 2.0 Forewarning Propaganda? ★ Dedicated Class “C” IP addresses for SEO ★ New Domain Extensions (gTLDs) Could Change Everything ★ Kapost Review ★ Aaron Von Frankenstein ★ 2013 is The Year of the Proxy ★ Preparing for the Google Apocalypse ★ Rank #1 in Google for Your Name (for a fee) ★ Pseudo-Random Thoughts on Search ★ Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, or a Blog ★ The BlueGlass Conference Opportunity ★ Google Execs Take a Break from Marissa Mayer, Lend Her to Yahoo! ★ Google SEO Guidelines ★ Reasons your Post-Penguin Link Building Sucks ★ Painful Example of Google’s Capricious Do Not Care Attitude ★ Seeing the Trees, but Missing the Forest ★ Search is a Task; Discovery is Fun ★ Why “dot everything” is a Good Idea (and ahead of its time) 

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