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Month: October 2011

SEO Friendly URLs

Here are some of the cases when you might want to consider changing your URLs slightly:

1.                  Keywords

We all have seen URLs like this one:

https://example.com/product.php?id=49357&color=2&size=2&session=88694

If yours look like the one above, that doesn’t mean Google can’t read it. The problem with this type of dynamic URLs is that there are no relevant keywords present, they are usually longer and not very user-friendly. This type of URLs need changing in terms of SEO.

Let’s say your URL looks like this:

https://example.com/blog.php?topic=teeth-whitening

But then you see this URL structure:

https://example.com/blog/teeth-whitening

So which one is the best one? Well, from my point of view, it all depends on one thing – the website’s status. If your site is still under construction, then I would advise you to make your URL structure like the second one. If your blog has been up and running for quite some time – leave everything as it is. The difference is not huge after all.

2.                  Structure

The URL structure is also not that important as some people think. They believe that the URL structure should represent the site structure but this is not the case at all.

For example this URL:

https://example.com/health/dental-care/teeth-whitening

is not really better than this one:

https://example.com/teeth-whitening

The amount of internal link juice depends on how many steps from the home page a certain page of the website is. Let’s also explore the other case where the first URL is better than the second one. Let’s say the first URL is 2 steps from the home page and the second one is 7 steps from the home page. In that case the longer version is better in terms of getting internal link juice. If you are concerned about user experience, you might want to go with the first URL since visitors will be able to understand where they are on your website. However, this URL is longer and the most important keywords are located at the end.

3.                  Length

How do you know that your URL is too long and can the length actually cause any problems? Well, it is true that some browsers have limits (like IE for example). The maximum URL length allowed when using IE is 2,083 characters which is more than enough and you will probably never reach that limit so there is nothing to worry about. However URLs that are too long have their disadvantages:

–                    Some social media applications might cut off the URL.
–                    There is a chance the URL will get cut off when people copy and paste it.
–                    These URLs are hard to remember.
–                    Long URLs hurt click-through rates and usability

So what can you do in order to shorten your URL?

Let’s say it looks like this:

https://example.com/blog/posts/all-posts/post-looking-for-auto-insurance

As you can see there are some repetitions here which can be avoided. Try to lose the parts that don’t add any meaning at all to the URLs. For example, a better URL would look like this:

https://example.com/blog/posts/all/looking-for-auto-insurance

This is much better not only for SEO purposes but also for the viewing pleasure of the users.

4.                  Stuffing Keywords

Covering more than one phrase or keyword in the URL more than once is just wrong. Here is an example:

https://example.com/teeth/teeth-whitening/whitening-teeth-white-teeth

If your URL looks like that, you’re doing it wrong. As you can see this looks spammy from the moment you look at it. You might get away with it as far as Google is concerned but even if you don’t get a penalty, take a look at your URL and ask yourself if you like it. You might be covering more than one keyphrase but that also means the amount of attention those keyphrases get is also less. Try to focus on the important things and not just stuff keywords in an attempt to get more attention quckly.

5.                  Tips And Advice

As I said, changing every URL of an established website is risky but if you want to do it after all, make sure you do it properly. Here are some of the things that are really important when changing your URLs:

–                    301 redirects
–                    On page links update
–                    New XML sitemap
–                    Old XML sitemap

First of all, updating all of your on page links is crucial if you have proper 301 redirects. These links are most important to the search engine spiders and as hard as this seems you need to update them all.

Having a new XML sitemap is logical but why keep the old one? Well, you only need to keep it for 2-3 weeks, then you can remove it. The reason is that it might take longer for the crawlers to process the new URLs you are using if you remove the old ones. However, leaving the old sitemap on your website, lets crawlers go through the old URLs and get redirected to the new ones. If your 301 redirects are working correctly you have no reason at all to worry about duplicate content. Removing the old sitemap is still okay but it might take some time for the spider to process your website’s new URL structure.

Whatever you decide, keep in mind that this is a risky operation and make sure it is totally worth it before doing it.

By Atanas Valchev

Google’s Secrets Leaked to the Public

This week, a classified Google document was leaked to the public after a marketer found it online. The 125 page document was titled, 2011 Google Quality Raters Handbook.

What is it exactly?

Google employs human raters to determine the quality of sites, whether or not they are spam, their relevance, or to determine what is their commercial intent so the algorithms can continue to improve. This document was the training guide given to these raters to help them classify sites based on how relevant they were to specific keyword searches.

Why does Google employ human reviewers if it already uses an algorithm?

According to Google, “every day we answer more than one billion questions from people around the globe in 181 countries and 146 languages. Fifteen percent of the searches we see everyday we’ve never seen before.”

Google cannot possibly take on the load of reviewing each and every site so it partners with companies that hire reviewers to test the utility of search engine results. Raters are provided with query results which include before and after sample changes to the algorithm. If the reviewers like the “after” changes and see a higher quality of sites according to Google’s guidelines (the Quality Raters Handbook), the algorithm will be updated to reflect these changes.

How would you like to get your hands on this handbook? You can’t. Google has asked those who publicized it (Pot Pie Girl and Search engine land) to remove the link. The handbook is already eliminated from the index.

Some of the information in the handbook seemed unimportant but a good portion of it was helpful and offered an idea of how Google defines a high-quality or “non-spammy” site.

Much of it is already known…hidden text, keyword stuffing, doorway pages, etc., but some of it I found enlightening.

Here are some of my thoughts about the document:

I am not at liberty to divulge the specifics but there is a section that describes “spam” websites and what they often look like. According to the handbook, pages should not be assigned as spam if they provide information to users. If pages exist only to make money and not to help users, they are to be flagged.

Most of the “spam” information is related to affiliate sites or those containing PPC ads (Adsense).

There is a designation labeled as “thin affiliates” which describes those websites that are created with the sole purpose of making money.

Isn’t that what we are all trying to do with affiliate sites? Yes, but Google likes to see helpful information on these sites which shows that the webmaster has intended to help users and not just sell to them.

Here are a few tips based on what I read in the handbook which reaffirmed what most of us already know:

    • Be careful with your content – If there is no content on your site, it could be flagged. If your content is copied from another site, of course it will be “spam” as well.
    • Original content – Even if your content is original, a reviewer can designate it as “spam” if it is poor or unreadable. This decision is left up to the person reviewing the website.
    • Contact information – If you can list your contact information on your website it will add credibility. Nathan Anderson, the search guru who runs algorithm possibilities on thousands of websites, has been touted as saying that Google slightly downgrades private registrations. Apparently, Google does not like it when people hide.
    • Ads – If you are creating a website strictly for Adsense revenue it will be obvious to a human reviewer. What is the first thing a visitor sees on the page? Ads or valuable content?

Google, in this article, describes how it views a high-quality site. This article is not top-secret information.

Here are the questions the article states you should ask to determine if a site is high quality:

    • Would you trust the information presented in this article?
    • Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
    • Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
    • Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
    • Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
    • Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
    • Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
    • Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
    • How much quality control is done on content?
    • Does the article describe both sides of a story?
    • Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
    • Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
    • Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
    • For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?
    • Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
    • Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
    • Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?

    • Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
    • Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
    • Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
    • Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
    • Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?

    • Would users complain when they see pages from this site?

So, if you do find yourself on page 1 for your keyword, you are not out of the water just yet.  You may just find your site under human review. Will you pass?

Basically, put out great content and hope that you will maintain or increase your rankings and not be taken out by something beyond your control. Such is the life of a website in the Google index.

Thanks to Pot Pie Girl for the great information posted on her site.

By Jenna Scaglione

6 Key Trends in Digital Advertising

The six most transformative in online marketing;

A vast array of technologies and trends are transforming online marketing. Because it’s hard to wade through the changes, we’ve whittled them down to six that are significant.

The death of the click through—maybe for real this time. Advertisers and publishers have been predicting—and hoping for—the death of the click-through rate for years, complaining it’s a highly inefficient way to measure an ad’s success, especially for brand advertising. Click throughs aren’t dead yet, but efforts like startup Moat’s “Kill the Click” campaign, which focuses on time spent mousing over an ad rather than clicking, should help dig its grave.

The merging of mobile and desktop. The dividing line between mobile devices (especially tablets) and desktop/laptop computers seems to be blurring. Apple, for example, has been incorporating features from its smartphones into its desktop operating system, and Jefferies & Co. predicted recently that Apple’s two systems—OSX and iOS—will merge completely. Meanwhile, ad servers like Google’s DoubleClick are trying to integrate their desktop and mobile offerings.

The persistence of supercookies. Researchers have found that major websites—specifically Hulu and MSN.com—have been following visitors with a file called a “supercookie,” which continues its tracking even after users delete it in their Web browsers. Not surprisingly, this doesn’t go over well with consumers. When called out, Microsoft and Hulu apologized and claimed to stop the practice. Don’t look for them to disappear completely, though—supercookies are legal.

The beginnings of ad-tech consolidation. Earlier this year, Andrew Bloom, vice president of business development at MediaMind, said, “The notion of consolidation is a wet dream for people in the industry.” And the dream may have started, sparked in part by Google’s acquisition in June of AdMeld. The latest deal came in September, when ContextWeb and Datran Media merged to create PulsePoint, which promises an easier way to create cross-channel campaigns.

The rise of HTML5. Once a dominant format on the Web, Adobe’s Flash has struggled to stay relevant, especially after Apple declined to support the format on the iPhone and iPad. Publishers and advertisers have shifted their attention to the newer, more mobile-compatible technology, HTML5. Even Adobe, which continues to defend Flash’s usefulness for games and other applications, has announced a separate product to help designers build ads in HTML5.

The value of specialized content. According to ad intelligence company SQAD, the CPMs paid for display ads held relatively steady over the past year, but things get more complicated when you compare different categories. Entertainment and finance sites saw their average CPMs increase by 50 cents or more, while automotive, lifestyle, and home/fashion sites went down by at least the same margin. SQAD’s conclusion? Specialized content still makes money.

By Anthony Ha

Apple talks with Hollywood about movie streaming

Apple is negotiating with Hollywood studios for deals that would let people watch streaming versions of movies on Apple devices such as iPads or iPhones without manually transferring them. Ethan Smith reports on Digits.

Apple is negotiating with Hollywood studios for deals that would let people watch streaming versions of movies on Apple devices such as iPads or iPhones without manually transferring them. Ethan Smith reports on Digits.

Apple Inc is negotiating with Hollywood studios for deals that would let people who buy movies from the iTunes Store watch streaming versions of those movies on Apple devices such as iPads or iPhones without manually transferring them, according to people familiar with the matter.

The talks, reported earlier Wednesday by the Los Angeles Times, come the same week Apple started iCloud, a service that offers similar remote storage for music, photos and documents. It’s not clear when Apple would add movies to those other media.

Also this week, a consortium of Hollywood studios and tech companies unveiled a similar remote-storage and viewing service for movies, known as UltraViolet. Apple hasn’t been part of the consortium behind UltraViolet. Neither has Walt Disney Co., which has been working on yet another cloud-based system that it calls KeyChest.

Apple Spokeswoman Trudy Muller declined to comment.

Hollywood executives have pushed for such initiatives in recent months, hoping they will boost sales by making it more convenient to watch movies once they are purchased. UltraViolet, for instance, lets people who buy a movie on DVD or Blu-ray disc watch the same movie online.

Sales of DVDs have plummeted in recent years, and online sales growth hasn’t kept pace. Apple sells more movies online than any other retailer, with nearly 66% market share, according to IHS Screen Digest.

Movies that work with the UltraViolet system can be played back using apps for the iPhone and iPad, according to a briefing on the service from Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Bros. studio. But movies purchased from the iTunes Store aren’t currently compatible with the UltraViolet system.

By Ethan Smith

Ian Sherr contributed to this story.

Our Top 10 Picks for WordPress Plugins

WordPress is one of the most popular web publishing platforms due to its ease of setup, low cost and customization potential. Since its inception in 2003, it has been downloaded over 25 million times and because of its mass appeal, developers have created a whole host of plugins that add increased functionality and flexibility to the already robust platform.

As of the time of this article, over 16,500 plugins are available with over 222,386,280 downloads and counting. Which plugins are top rated? Which ones will help your website perform optimally?

Though your specific type of website will outline the various plugins you will need, there are some top picks we feel you should consider.

If you have a favorite plugin that isn’t mentioned, please let us know in the comments!

1. WordPress SEO by Yoast

With over 540,000 downloads and a near perfect rating, WordPress SEO by Yoast is one of our top picks for SEO plugins. Here are some of its features:

    • Post Titles & Meta Descriptions -You will also see snippet previews of what your description will look like in the search engines
    • Robots Meta Configuration – You can adjust nofollow options on a per post basis.
    • Breadcrumb menus
    • Robots.txt and .htaccess  – You can edit your .htaccess and robots.txt files using the built-in file editor.
    • 301 Redirects
    • RSS Feed Options
    • Many more features…

Here is a snapshot of one of the admin screens:

2. Jetpack

JetPack is a plugin bundle that includes visitor stats, social media sharing tools and short codes. More features are planned for the future as well. See the screenshot below of what it looks like after first installation:

3. Disqus

Disqus is a comment system which allows for a more interactive blog commenting experience. The system promotes online communities with ease of sharing and interaction.

Some of Disqus’ features:

    • Threaded comments and replies
    • Twitter mentions
    • Approval or rejection of comments via email
    • Aggregated comments
    • Subscribe and RSS options
    • SEO friendly comments
    • Increased exposure and readership

4. WPTouch

With the newest technologies taking the mobile world by storm, this plugin can’t come at a better time. I have not downloaded this plugin personally but with over 2.5 million downloads and rave reviews, it is worth a mention.

WPTouch transforms your WordPress site into a mobile-friendly version when viewed from iPhone, iPod touch, Android, Palm Pre, Samsung Touch and Blackberry devices. You can customize your website’s appearance and give your visitors the option to switch back and forth from WPTouch view and your regular theme.

5. WP Greet Box

This plugin promotes a more welcoming user experience for visitors by displaying messages for them when they land on your site. You have the ability to customize these messages based on the the website from which your visitors came. For example, if a user visits your site from Twitter, you can customize a message for them to tweet your post. You can also create default messages for new visitors who are not referred by another site.

Here are some of the default messages that come with the plugin. You can edit and customize as needed as well as remove the function from individual posts:

6. W3 Total Cache

Recommended by some of the top minds in the industry, this plugin improves the user experience of your site by enhancing your blog’s performance, reducing download times and protecting your blog from unexpected high traffic surges.

Some of the benefits as listed on the plugin page:

    • At least 10x improvement in overall site performance (Grade A in YSlow or significant Google Page Speed improvements) when fully configured
    • Improved conversion rates and “site performance” which affect your site’s rank on Google.com
    • “Instant” subsequent page views: browser caching
    • Optimized progressive render: pages start rendering quickly
    • Reduced page load time: increased visitor time on site; visitors view more pages
    • Improved web server performance; sustain high traffic periods
    • Up to 80% bandwidth savings via minify and HTTP compression of HTML, CSS, JavaScript and feeds

7. Limit Login Attempts

If you are a current WordPress user, you most likely have experienced at least one hacking attempt. To combat this heinous activity, this plugin limits login attempts once a specified number of times has been reached. You can customize the number of login attempts as seen in this screenshot of the admin panel.

Without this plugin, WordPress allows unlimited login entries, which makes it easier for hackers to discover passwords.

8. Akismet

Akismet is the most popular plugin to protect your blog from comment and trackback spam. You can review each comment and approve/disapprove them before they are published. The plugin comes default with every WordPress download. You will simply need to activate it and follow the instructions to retrieve and save your API key.

9. Contact Form 7

This plugin is simple and effective and gives users the opportunity to display a contact page without messing with any code. The forms are customizable and support CAPTCHA and Akismet spam filtering.

10. Sharebar

Sharebar adds a customizable share box to the left side of a blog post. I like this box because it moves with you when you scroll down the post and it is easily recognizable. You can also remove the sharebar from individual posts as well. When Auto mode is set to ON, the Sharebars are added automatically.

A Few More…

There are a few more plugins I must add to the mix. Every marketer needs to track visitors and stats to improve and grow. Here are my two top picks for analytics and visitor tracking:

Google Analytics for WordPress
WP-Click-Tracker

Like or Dislike? What are your opinions of these popular WordPress plugins?

 

By Jenna Scaglione

Making Your Website More Valuable

 

Most of us do not start up a website with the thought of selling it one day – we usually start up a website with the thought of making that site popular, useful, and/or profitable.  But inevitably, for anyone who has been in the online business world for any significant period of time, the thought enters our heads about whether or not we should sell our business.

There are a lot of articles on the Internet that concern how much a web business is worth.  It is a topic that we may address some day in the future, but for the purposes of this article, I want to focus on factors that can help increase the value of your web based business.

As the owner of Quiet Light Brokerage, a group of internet business brokers, I have the opportunity to see quite a few businesses and have my pulse on the marketplace on any given day.  I run across quite a few small online businesses that could make significant improvements to their marketplace value with just a few tweaks and changes.

One important note before we start: these tips are geared towards businesses whose value would be more than a few thousand dollars.  This is not geared toward the “Flippa” crowd, but rather to more established online businesses.

With that, below are a few tips on increasing the value of your website.

Financial Records

The lifeblood of any online business acquisition is a business’s financials.  If any experienced buyer approaches you, or if you solicit your site for sale to an experienced buyer, one of the very first things that a buyer will request are financial statements.

The reason for this is simple: buyers want to know how much they can reasonably invest in acquiring your business.  Whether you are selling Youtube.com or MaAndPopShop.com, a buyer is constantly gauging the relative risk of their investment.  Financial statements are simply the easiest way to get a starting point as to where a business can be financially.

Many people will read the above statements and think “but my business is much more than just the financials”.  This is most likely true – every business has a host of intangibles that are mixed together to create an appealing business that works well.  These intangibles do work together to build value in your business, but in the end, buyers are looking to gauge the riskiness of their investments, and financial statements help them do so.

But it goes a step further – whereas financial statements help a buyer gauge the riskiness of a particular acquisition, detailed and accurate financial statements that are easily verifiable help a buyer put to rest certain perceptions of risk.  The point here is often lost on many people considering selling their businesses: detailed, verifiable, and clean financials can help you sell your online business faster and for more money.

Recommendations – If you think you may be selling your business in the near future do what you can to get your finances in order.  This would include either hiring a book keeper or buying a version of Quickbooks and learning how to use it.  Be sure to separate your business activities from personal expenses and income as well as other business activities. If you are able to, setup a dedicated business entity for the business you wish to sell – businesses that can be verified with tax returns are absolute gold to prospective buyers as it opens up the possibility for them to get a loan to buy your business.

Paint Yourself Out of the Picture

Nobody wants to buy themselves a job.  Buying an Internet business comes with a set of risks that buyer’s are very familiar with.  In essence, an Internet based business is an assetless business – the only asset tends to be “goodwill” and possibly some inventory (goodwill is a general accounting term used to describe a business’s reputation, relationships, and other intangibles).  The problem with goodwill acquisitions is that they can quickly lose their value.  If one were buying a restaurant instead of an Internet business, and the restaurant had to close, that person would still have the value of furniture, fixtures, equipment, and real estate to fall back upon.

In light of these risks, buyers find Internet businesses appealing for the same reasons you and I find them appealing: you can run a very profitable operation without having to manage a full store.  Often times, you can run a great operation and work just part time.

Keep this in mind when preparing your business to sell: the more you paint yourself out of the picture and allow the business to be run without the owner being an “owner/operator”, the more buyers you will ultimately be able to appeal to.

Recommendations: Write out a current “day and week in the life of” describing your daily, weekly, and monthly tasks with the business.  What can be done by someone else?  What needs to be done by yourself?  Try to get your hourly workload to no more than 10-15 hours per week and outsource what you can outsource.  In addition, don’t wrap up your business in a special talent that you personally have (e.g. web design, seo, special writing style, etc).

Look for Single Points of Failure

Keeping in mind the previous section’s discussion on buyers looking to assess risk and the nature of how quickly an Internet business can lose value, it is important to identify single points of failure for your business.  A single point of failure is any part of your business that you rely on that cannot be replaced by something else.  Below are a few examples:

    • You currently rely on just one vendor for all of your products
    • You are a web design agency who has one very talented web designer that does most of your work
    • You have a handful of clients who make up a disproportionate amount of your revenue base
    • Your only source of traffic is from your top Google rankings

That last point is one that may surprise some website owners.  It used to be the case that a top Google ranking was something that would add significant value.  However, with the impact of the Panda updates and previously the Florida updates, buyers simply don’t trust rankings to be permanent.  It is far better to show that the business is well balanced in all regards.  Should one key aspect of the business falter, you need to demonstrate that while it may affect the business, even significantly, it would not kill the business because there is a backup plan.

Recommendation: Identify single points of failure and build a backup plan.  If you currently rely too heavily on one or two vendors, reach out to other vendors and find out what it would take to start up with them.  If you only have Google rankings driving traffic, startup a PPC campaign so you know what the cost structure would be.  Startup a newsletter, build your social media presence, and the like.

Selling an online business can be a fun, yet intimidating process.  By planning properly, sellers can often add thousands or tens of thousands of dollars to their overall value.

By Mark Daoust (owner of Quiet Light Brokerage, Inc)