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SEO Basics, Part 2 of 3: 6 Tips & 2 Mistakes in International SEO … Plus Some Jokes

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This piece is the second part of a three-part series on search engine optimization (SEO). The first part of this series was on local SEO (a.k.a. “search”), and the next and final part will focus on content marketing – which, alongside conversational marketing (which is really built into good content development anyway), is a major part of any search efforts.

SEO of various types is one of a number of different solutions we offer for website owners and administrators at Superb Internet – alongside hosting, co-location, etc. We offer it because often the people that run websites need help either attaining or sustaining high rankings on Google, Bing, Yandex, et al.

Furthermore, since search and “social” (a.k.a. social media optimization or SMO) are being integrated by Google – via incorporation of its social platform Google+ – businesses will no longer be able to rely simply on one or the other of those elements. Instead, Internet presence will rise or fall based on the success of both of them.

Simply put, the Web is evolving. There is much debate online about what phase of the Internet we are currently operating within. As social sharing became a more prominent aspect of the Internet, the notion of Web 2.0 took hold. There is a good argument that as we transition into stronger interconnection between search and social, and as page rank starts to slip away in favor of author rank (led by Google Author tags identifying individual people responsible for online content), Web 3.0 will be born.

Let’s talk a little bit about how to handle international SEO efforts, taking a look at the other end of the spectrum from the local approach. Many of the same principles apply of course, but different strategies will be helpful if you’re looking for more of a worldwide presence. Keep in mind: English only represents 25% of the Web, and users in non-English countries have higher degrees of trust for content written in their own languages.

In addition to discussing our main topic, I will also continue (from Part 1 of this series) to provide valuable non-traditional ways in which you can pull in the attention of visitors when they first arrive at your site. Here is the third of those Attention Grabbers; then we will get into the international strategies:

Outside-the-Box Attention Grabber #3: Shoplifting Videos

One thing I’ve found that people always like to see on a website, right when they first arrive, is a six-hour video of top executives of the website pocketing small objects from various convenience stores, pharmacies, and historical museum gift shops. Here are a few important things to include when creating this type of video:

  • It’s good to have an “apprentice” in the video – a small child who is learning the valuable life skill of petty theft from a seasoned shoplifting guru
  • Make sure it’s clear in the video that the star doesn’t need any of what s/he’s taking, and that there is no Robin Hood attitude or high-minded philosophy behind what s/he’s doing; instead, the individual should say repeatedly, “Everyone should do this: it’s exciting, and they have air conditioning in jail”
  • Close with footage of the perpetrator selling the shoplifted merchandise at a pawn shop, then spending the $17 that s/he made on a misguided bet at a greyhound racing track.

6 Tips to Building International SEO

Below are a number of techniques you can use to develop and refine the way that you target international markets. In some ways this is no more complicated than efforts to gain prominence for local searches; however, there are more and less intelligent ways to go about it.

  1. Understanding the Competition: First of all, be thoughtful about what you are trying to do – because the international space is a different sort of competition. You’re going up against established companies in the nation of your focus. Those companies understand the tone of their own culture and the particular needs of its people. It’s a tall order to overcome: not impossible, but familiarity is your primary challenge.
  2. Creation of Country-Specific Websites: A basic question is whether building additional sites is a good idea or not. Now, it could greatly increase your odds to create a new website for each country where you want to increase your business. This will both allow you to choose a country-code TLD (ccTLD) for the nation – such as .uk or .de – and to generate content tailored for that particular audience. You can also then tie those new sites to specific social media. However, managing and maintaining all of these sites is, obviously, a huge project. Typically you want to use the power of one site rather than spreading yourself too thin.
  3. Country-Specific Domains & Backlinks: Google will give you higher relevance for a nation if you tie to a ccTLD and get links from companies and people who use that country as their principal place of business. In essence, you want – as an example – Japanese links to the Japan subdomain or subfolder of your site. If you buy the .jp domain for your site, you can forward it to the Japanese section of your site as well. You can try tools such as Majestic SEO for automated filtering; but developing real strength will require targeted marketing for Japan.
  4. The Dangers of Broken Japanese: We all know how annoying it is to read an article that is difficult to understand because it is written in mangled English. The same is true anywhere. Be sure you have a copywriter who is either an expert native speaker or is extremely well-trained in it as a second language. Before you start to translate, conduct new keyword analysis. People in different countries (including other English-speaking ones) arrange words differently in their searches. Also be sure to add a meta-tag specific to the language being used on each page. Don’t worry too much about English-to-English (such as different usage between US/UK), but do make changes for currency and other usability concerns.
  5. Choose the Right Search Engines: You want to gear your efforts not just toward the correct languages and keywords, but toward the search engines that are most widely used by members of the target nation. Here are the top five worldwide search engines as of February 2013: 1. Google (US); 2. Baidu (China); 3. Yahoo! (US); 4. Yandex (Russia); and, 5. Bing (US). Also, keep in mind that these are general numbers. The top search engine in the Czech Republic is Seznam. The top in South Korea is Naver. Don’t obsess over Google when you’re trying to get customers in countries where Google is not as relevant as another search engine.
  6. Marketing Integration: Create synergy between what you’re already doing in your company and the international marketing campaign you are initiating. What you are essentially getting is leads. Make sure you are as ready as possible to handle those leads as wisely and carefully as possible. You need to think through the entire conversion process rather than just trying to get links and implementing other data-focused efforts: attraction is only the first step.

Outside-the-Box Attention Grabber #4: Timer Counting Down to “Internet Armageddon”

It is always good to let visitors to your site know that they can always come back for valuable information, such as exactly how much time is left on the Web before Internet Armageddon (IA or Y3K) arrives (in the year 3000) and decimates all websites on the planet. Here are several factors to consider when creating and implementing your timer:

  • It should be at the top of your page: certainly what is currently at the top of your page is not more important than the end of the digital age
  • When visitors click on the timer, they should enter into a video tour of your website’s “Y3K e-bomb shelter”; the shelter should be a virtual reality that is vast, deep, and poorly lit – completely prepared 987 years in advance of IA
  • Include PDFs of pages removed from a post-Internet tract you discovered during your illegal wanderings through the sub-basements of the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, provided you took such a journey (no fibbing).

2 Mistakes in Building International SEO

Finally, here are 2 pieces of advice on what NOT to do so you’re less likely to repeat mistakes other businesses have made when attempting to gain international traction.

  1. Nativity Does Not Translate to Skill: Make sure you do not make the mistake of hiring or designating a person to be in charge of an international campaign just because they are from a certain country or are familiar with its culture. Remember that SEO is an expertise in and of itself; excellence in the field generates salaries well into six figures. Don’t expect great results without a reasonable investment in a service such as ours at Superb Internet.
  2. Focus on the Dominant National Language: When you enter a new market, you need to consider which speakers of a language within that country or region are most likely to become your customers. You may also find cases where a nation’s official language is not what’s used most often in the search engines – at least by certain subgroups. Even in the United States, as of 2007, 24 million people speak Spanish “well” or “very well.” India is an international example that’s linguistically complicated. Over 300 languages are still alive throughout the nation, with only 22 of them officially recognized. English is typically used as a language for SEO in India. However, there’ll be less competition targeting to a specific language; just make sure it represents a reasonable target demographic for your business.

Conclusion

In review, there are a number of tested and dependable tactics that can help you succeed in international SEO campaigns. First, understand your competition, and consider the culture and language you are targeting. Build a system of domains and backlinks that are specific to each nation or geographic area you are entering. Speak the language well, use the most popular search engines for the specific country, and build your worldwide marketing efforts into your business as a whole.

Finally, don’t make errors in judgment that could be costly and frustrating. Make sure you don’t hire someone just based on their cultural familiarity or language skills; rather, focus on search engine expertise. Also, don’t oversimplify your approach to countries where multiple languages are spoken.

This piece is the follow-up to my discussion of Local Marketing (Part 1). Next up: A general discussion of Content Marketing (Part 3).

by Kent Roberts and Richard Norwood

5 SEO Mistakes You Might Be Making

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Search engine optimization is not just about doing the right things. It’s also about not doing the wrong things. Having a good sense of common SEO mistakes will make it easier for you to make an impact with your efforts.

For this article, I researched Higher Visibility (an enterprise focused article), Search Engine Watch, and Quick Sprout.

1. Thinking Quantity over Quality

Many times when we do functional activity, we get obsessive with the quantitative component. Excessive focus on the numbers and the results tends to inhibit creative and innovative approaches, which are essential to quality SEO.

To solve this challenge, consider setting goals that are not at least immediately based on numbers and ideally aren’t solely based on numbers. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to quantify the results of SEO because, like marketing, it changes user perception of your company. Metrics will show part of the effects of the SEO, but you will also see results show up over time – not necessarily in direct response to a particular piece.

Now, one way you DO want to focus on quantity is sheer number of words on each page. Google prefers pages that have at least 2000 words of content.

(If you run out of things to say, try talking about what you’re writing, such as what I’m about to do right here – just a filler bonanza to hit a certain word count. And … wait for it, everyone. We are almost there, and … ahhh … there we go.)

2. Duplicate Content

You don’t want to have the same content on multiple pages, even if it makes sense from the user’s perspective. The search engine spiders are machines, not animals, and they don’t understand that it might make sense. Since you can’t rewrite the spider or talk to it, better to understand and not enrage it. If you have “print” pages on your site or give the same page multiple URLs, the spider sees that as duplication.

Additionally, you need to implement a 301 Redirect from the non-www version of your site to the www version (aka a canonical redirect). You don’t want them both to exist without the redirect. Similarly, if you have a security certificate, you can wind up with a problem where you have the secured homepage and the unsecured homepage coexisting. So for examples of both, http://Ihatetheinternet.com must redirect to http://www.Ihatetheinternet.com, and http://www.Ihatetheinternet.com should redirect to https://www.Ihatetheinternet.com (the latter applying if you have a security certificate installed).

Another typical scenario that’s worthy of its own mention is when you have a catalog with the same stuff on it in different sizes, colors, etc. If the main text is the same, the spider, again, will become enraged and may even devour your children. Calm the spider by placing all this content on one page. If you must create multiple pages for different sizes and colors of products, you will need new copy for each page.

(Spiders universally hate plagiarism, which is why Charlotte sucked out all of Wilbur’s blood when he claimed to have written a Mark Twain poem.)

3. Excessive Focus on Links

This is similar in spirit to #1. You don’t just want to splatter-paint links all over the place. Google is about numbers, yes, and it quantifies, but it’s becoming more misguided all the time to think purely in terms of number of links, because what you really need is sites with reputability linking to you. Plus, linking is being surpassed by social response, individual writer credibility, and time.

  • Become more socially active: Google and Bing both use social sharing to define your site’s relevance. Work on getting more social engagement, with special focus on Google+.
  • Be aware of Author Rank: Google is now tracking the quality of content, on a case-by-case basis, through authors who sign up for Author Rank and place its code on any sites where they write. Get a writer with a high rank to write for your site (and that writer’s Rank will be determined in large part by social media success of their pieces), and you will benefit from their general Web credibility.
  • Grow old: Although this is irritating to newer sites, the older sites have an eaiser time ranking highly on the search engines. It doesn’t matter nearly as much how many backlinks are feeding into their site. They are old, and therefore they are wise. Congratulations, grandma. Use your current page if it’s a few years old, if you can – even if starting a new business (the magic number is five years).

(If you force your website to smoke three packs of cigarettes a day, you can age it a lot faster. Also give it lots of booze, and have it go through some horrible emotional experiences. An innocent website is too pure for capitalistic success.)

4. Too Much Focus on Optimization

Optimization really is in some ways becoming more of an art than a science. What is “quality,” anyway? It’s a little difficult to put a finger on it. SEO will suffer if there’s an obsession with keywords – and in fact, this type of effort will hurt rankings because it’s seen as poor content when a site is just a keyword-fiesta without any interesting ideas and perspectives. Think about UX, the user experience, when creating your site. Investing in the UX and making the site enjoyable will help your SEO much more than thinking in terms of collecting a huge number of keywords and links.

A buzzword in the Web world that used to be used much more often but has gone out of style is “SEO copywriting.” No one wants to think on those terms anymore, because it’s now seen as an indicator of an unwise quality-blindness.  The search engines will now respond on behalf of the users in ways that were not possible in the past – so don’t direct your efforts toward the search engines but toward the people. Gear yourself toward quality. Pay attention to the title and subtitles. That content, since it’s emphasized, should have your keywords in them in some form.

(A good thing to discuss on a first date is your struggle with quality-blindness. Explain to your date that you suffer from a disorder in which everything is just another notch on your bedpost. Everything gets its own notch, though. Never reuse notches.)

5. Linking Exclusively to your Homepage

Many sites link too much to their homepage. Instead, place more of your focus on your internal pages.  Wikipedia is a great example regarding linking to all the pages of one’s site (who cares about the homepage, anyway?).

Only 1% of Wikipedia’s links go to its homepage. The other 99% of them lead to pages all over its site. It makes sense that this suggests to the search engines a much broader and more complexly relevant, content-rich site. Follow their lead: Don’t just link to the front page of your site, but to all that great, gooey, chocolaty (or is it nougat-y?) goodness that’s in the middle.

(Generally speaking, you should treat your site like a candy bar. Remove its wrapping, eat half of it, and let it oxidate on your coffee table until ants start to eat it. Then brush the ants away and finish it off before Cindy comes over and tells you you’re disgusting.)

Summary

To review, think quality over quantity (or strike a balance at least), beware of duplication, start trying a broader approach than link-building, don’t optimize excessively with keywords (that’s not how it’s done anymore), and link to all pages of your site.

Finally, thanks again to Higher Visibility, Search Engine Watch, and Quick Sprout for those sites’ contributions to this piece.

(The world is changing, and you should too. Start with your T-shirt. Then we’ll begin working on your political opinions.)

by Kent Roberts and Richard Norwood