Archive for the ‘Search Engine Optimization’ Category

How to Write Meta Tags

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

If you asked me “What is the #1 thing I can do to improve my website’s rankings?” I’d tell you to make sure it has meta tags that use the key phrases you want to rank for AND are compelling to potential customers.  In my last post I explained what meta tags are and how they work. In this post, I’m going to show you how to write them so they help your rankings and get visitors to your website.

Some Things You Need to Know Before You Start Writing

First things first. You’ve done your research, right?
Just because you think you know what key phrases your customers use to find you doesn’t mean you do. Time and again I’ve seen clients who think they know what they want to rank for realize they had missed a whole segment of key phrases or realize people search on one variation much more often than another. Unfortunately, it takes several months to realize the problem is poorly targeted key phrases. Don’t guess. KNOW.


Serving 2 Masters
Ranking well in search engines gets you website visitors. Humans pay your bills. That’s why you have 2 masters: search engines and real live people. Unfortunately how you write for each is different. If search engines were your customer, you would just jam your key phrases in wherever you could fit them. That’s called “key word stuffing” and it annoys people. You might get your website to show up higher in the search results but if your listing is just a list of words, people won’t click over to your website.

I often say that search engine optimization is an art and a science. The science is key phrase research. The art is writing meta tags and page copy that appeals to both masters. You need to strive for a balance between using your key phrases and writing in a way that makes sense to humans. Who trumps who? When in doubt write for humans first.


Map Key Phrases to Pages
A common mistake made by people new to search engine optimization is to try to get every web page to rank for a whole bunch of key phrases. Realistically, one web page can only rank for 2 – 4 key phrases. So, in order to cover a decent range of key phrases, you need to map key phrases to web pages.

Let’s assume you have 12 web pages and a list of 24 key phrases you want to rank for. Don’t just assign 2 to each page. Assign each key phrase a relevance ranking; I use a scale of 1 – 5 with 5 being the most relevant. Then map your key phrases to pages using the most relevant ones more often than the less relevant ones.


Write Unique Tags for Each Page
It might be really important to you to rank #1 for “business coach in Boston, MA” but you’re not going to get there by using that in the title tag for every page of your website. You might think it helps your site overall but keep in mind, search engines rank web pages not websites.  And search engines want to know what this page is about.


Tips for Writing Title Tags

How long should a title tag be?
Common wisdom is that a title tag should be 70 – 75 characters with spaces. However, while humans may not see it, search engines will index far past 75 characters.

Should we use our company name in the title tag?
There is debate about whether or not you should start you title tag with your company name. The beginning of a title tag is prime real estate and since the only people searching on your business name already know who you are, I start with key phrases likely to be used by people who don’t know you yet. (Plus, if your website doesn’t rank for your business name, you’ve got bigger problems than meta tags.)

What key phrases should go in the title tag?
My advice for which key phrases to use, falls into 2 categories:

  1. Competition –Since search engines give the words in the title tag a lot of weight, I say put your most competitive key phrases in your title tag. But then there’s…
  2. Relevance – Since the purpose of all this work is to get customers, it’s more important that your web pages rank for key phrases that actually describe what you are selling.


Tips for Writing Description Tags

How long should a description tag be?
Because different search engines display different numbers of characters, common wisdom is that a description tag should be between 160 and 175 characters long. However, Jill Whelan of High Rankings Advisor says “Description tags can be as long or as short as you want, because Google will display just the relevant part of it. So even if your meta description is hundreds of words, Google will pull a snippet from it that uses the keyword phrase that the searcher used.”

What goes in the description tag?
I think of the description meta tag as “making the sale” for why the searcher should click on your link as opposed to the other 9 search results. In order to make the sale, you need to know who you’re talking to and what they want. Instead of talking about what you do, talk the problem they are trying to solve or the solution they are looking for.

Do a few searches and you’ll see that most description tags are written like “We provide the best, most reliable baloney at the lowest prices. Blah, blah, blah.” If you can turn it around to say, “All our customer service reps are licensed and bonded and have at least 5 years experience in the field. We also give a money back guarantee.” Your listing WILL get more clicks.


Write Meta Tags at the Design Stage

Putting up a website is a huge job and one of the things that tends to get put off is writing meta tags. Usually the web designer puts up place holder meta tags like “XYZ Company Home Page” with the intention of coming back and adding real meta tags later. Later doesn’t come until you start looking into why the website isn’t generating any business.

I know in the rush to finish a website, meta tags is one more thing to add to the To Do list. But! If you do it while writing copy and coding the site it will take a lot less time and get your website working for you sooner than if you do it several months down the road.


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What Are Meta Tags and How Do They Work?

Monday, September 26th, 2011

Search engines are in the business of giving searchers what they are looking for, so they are always looking for information that describes what every page on your website is about. You can help the search engines by using meta tags.

Meta tags are snippets of code in the source code of a web page that give the search engines information about that web page. While a person viewing the web page doesn’t see them, the search engines do. There are about a dozen different meta tags but two are most important for our purposes: the Title tag and the Description tag. Their names pretty much tell you what they do. The Title tag is the title of the page and the Description tag is a brief description of what that page is about.


How Meta Tags Help

The search engines will rank your web pages for the words in your Title tag. How high the search engines place your web pages in the search results depends on whether you’re doing other things right and how many other sites are competing for those same key phrases. While the search engines don’t use the Description tag as a factor in your rankings, the Description tag is still very important. The Description tag should “make the sale by enticing the searcher to click on your listing in the search results as opposed to your competitors.

You might have heard that you should use the Keyword meta tag too, but don’t bother. In the early days of the internet the Keyword meta tag was a list of words to help the search engines understand what the web page was about. But search engines don’t give any importance to the keyword meta tag any more. Frankly, all it does is tell your competitors what you’re trying to rank for and possibly give them ideas for key phrases they should try to rank for too.

Meta tags are REALLY important! In fact, I’ve had more than one client’s site get on the first page of the search results just by adding or changing meta tags. Even sites programmed in search engine un-friendly languages like Flash can see rankings improve by adding meta tags.


Meta Tags at Work

Meta Tags in the Search Results

You can see the Title and Description tags at work by doing a simple web search. Here is the first search result when I type “growing dahlias” into Google.

Meta tags in the search engines.


The Title tag of the page is the first line of text that is blue and underlined. In this case, the title tag is “Planting, Growing and Caring for Dahlias.” The words “growing” and “dahlias” are bold because they were words used in the search. If the search term had been “caring for dahlias,” those words would have been in bold instead.

The next 2 lines of text are the Description tag. In this case the description is “A guide to the care and cultivation of Dahlia plants, with tips on planting, digging and winter storing.”


Meta Tags on Your Website

The following is the source code of the webpage. The Title tag is outlined in red and the Description tag is outlined in blue.

Meta tags in the source code.


Besides helping your website rank better for your key phrases, well written meta tags ideally make the searcher click on your listing instead of your competitor’s. If your web page doesn’t have meta tags, the search engines pull a snippet of text from the page and display that instead. There’s no guarantee they will use text that works to your advantage. So, I strongly recommend you check your meta tags and make sure each page has a unique title and description tag. If not, write them and have your programmer add them. It shouldn’t cost very much to add them and they’re definitely worth the return on investment.

Click here for a PDF version of “What Are Meta Tags and How Do They Work?

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Even the Big Guys Screw Up SEO

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

When I first saw the title of this Sunday’s cover story in the Business section of New York Times, my first thought was “Really? This is news?” But I quickly realized that if you don’t spend your life immersed in the world of search, the fact that a major retailer was using black hat techniques to improve their rankings in Google, would be news. I wasn’t surprised because I think it happens way more often than Google lets on.

The article, The Dirty Little Secrets of Search, by David Segal tells the story of how J.C. Penney’s website was coming up #1 for a whole bunch of search terms (aka key phrases). They even outranked manufacturer’s websites for their own product names. I’m not sure how this came to the attention of the  New York Times, but they hired a search engine marketer to figure out why J.C. Penney’s site ranked so well. He was able to reverse engineer the process and discovered that J.C. Penney was up to some pretty shady SEO practices or what we call in the industry “black hat SEO.”

Before I explain what they were doing and why it was a problem, it helps to understand a bit about how rankings work. There are 2 types of search engine optimization; there is onsite optimization and offsite optimization. Onsite SEO is when you do everything you can to make your website appeal to the search engines. Offsite SEO is when you do things around the web to improve your rankings. The majority of offsite SEO consists of getting other websites, blog, etc. to link to your website. This is because Google considers a link to your site as a vote of popularity and in general, the site with the most links to it wins the rankings war.

What was going on in this situation is that J.C. Penney’s SEO company improved their rankings by paying for links to the site. This is a big no-no in Google’s book and when they catch you doing it, your site disappears from the search results.

Although they don’t say so directly in the article, I’m willing to bet J.C. Penney had no idea what their SEO company was doing to improve their rankings. Often, the marketing executives in charge of hiring the SEO company have no idea what it takes to improve rankings so they don’t know the difference between white hat techniques and black hat techniques. All they cared about was the fact that their rankings were going up which drove more traffic to their site and presumably made more sales.

I’m even willing to bet that SearchDex, who J.C. Penney fired when this story came to light, wasn’t even doing the link building themselves. Link building is an incredibly time intensive process and frankly, it’s insanely boring. There are companies that specialize in it and most of them use methods that won’t get you in trouble with Google. What this company did wrong was pay for them and use link farms.

I think it’s important for any business owner to read the full article because it’s a cautionary tale. If it can happen to a major retailer like J.C. Penney, it can happen to you. That’s why it’s important to have a basic understanding of how SEO works and know what your SEO company is doing in your name.  It’s kind of like bookkeeping. If your company fails to pay payroll taxes, the IRS won’t go after your bookkeeper, they’ll come after you. Google is a lot like the IRS in that respect; they don’t have any sympathy for the “I didn’t know” excuse.


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How Much Is a Link Worth?

Friday, March 13th, 2009

A link can be worth £100 ($139) or it can be worth 1p (1¢).

I came across the following question on LinkedIn today and thought it perfectly illustrated the question “What is a link worth?”

Here’s the question:

I’m doing some work with a client who has used a linkbuilding service to help with their SEO in the past but at £100 per month it wasn’t exactly cheap! Can anyone recommend someone they’ve used for this service who delivers results but doesn’t charge silly fees?

Here’s My Answer:

Depending on the types of links this service gets, £100 can be a great deal or a waste of money.

One link can be worth £100 if your most desirable key phrase is in the anchor text and the link is on a blog or website your target market reads with a page rank of 4 or more. This kind of link can both help your rankings for the key phrase in the anchor text AND get real live human visitors interested in your product to your website. Win! Win!

On the other hand, 100 links to the URL in totally obscure directories is a waste of money because they won’t help rankings at all and won’t get in front of anyone. Lose! Lose! (Except if you own the directory.)

So, The question should be “What links did they get you?”

If this service gets even one high quality link a month, it’s worth it. Links on websites and blogs with a high page rank that include your anchor text and can be expected to drive traffic require a lot of research and leg work to get. They don’t happen on accident.

If the link service gives you a list of 10 directories you’ve never heard of that they submitted the site to this month, you might as well use those pound notes to wipe your arse!

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6 Internet Marketing Articles You Really Ought to Read

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

These are all article I wish I’d written but definitely don’t have the hundreds of hours necessary to do it. Take the time to read them and you will know a lot about internet marketing.

12 Different Types of Links and How To Get Them
by Todd Malicoat
“What is a backlink?” is one of the top five most frequently asked questions I get from clients and colleagues. My short answer is that a backlink is a link from another website or blog to your website. It’s like a vote of popularity for your website and backlinks are a crucial but often ignored aspect of improving your website’s rankings. There are many types of backlinks and although this article is a few years old, it’s still a great explanation of the types of links you can get to your website. Hopefully it will help “backlinks” go from something that seems beyond your control to something you can put on your To Do List.

Comprehensive Guide to Key word Research, Selection & Organization
by Stony DeGeter
I firmly believe that key phrase research and selection is the foundation of – not just an SEO campaign – an effective overall internet marketing campaign. Fail to target phrases or target the wrong ones and you will wind up wasting many hours and lots of dollars. While I don’t agree with everything Stony says, if you read all 12 of these articles, you will know just about everything you need to know about finding, selecting and prioritizing the right key phrases.

The First Three Questions
by Joe Hage
The most challenging part of my job is getting clients to dig deep and go beyond describing “What I Do” and getting them to describe “These are the results I provide and the benefits of hiring me.” Joe’s article helps me help my clients start thinking about their business in a new way. I suggest you read it, write about it and incorporate your thoughts into you website copy. It will definitely help improve the conversion rate of your website.

What Makes a Good Blog?
by Merlin Mann
Most of the time when I see yet another “What Makes a Good Blog (Post)” article, I want to gouge out my eyeballs. This version actually has important stuff you should know by a guy who’s in a position to know.

50 Resources for Getting the Most Out of Google Analytics
This list of Google Analytics resources includes everything you ever wanted to know about Google Analytics from tutorials for beginners, to tips and tricks and tools and hacks for advanced users.

Blogger Outreach
by Matt Dickman
Contacting bloggers who might be willing to write about your product or service is a great low cost way to attract clients and build your expert-factor online. If you’ve ever read The Bad Pitch Blog, you know even seasoned PR people make stupid mistakes when it comes to pitching to bloggers. If you follow the advice in this blog post, you will go along way to preventing any accidental foot-in-mouth learning experiences.

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Posted in Fun Stuff, Search Engine Optimization | 2 Comments »

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