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The Secret of Professional Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

I will call a potential client this afternoon who’s looking for help showing up in Google search results.  I started an outline of the conversation we’ll have,  and I am posting these secrets of the SEO trade so you — or your web designer — can also use them for your business.

First, Everything is Incremental. I am going to suggest a bunch of things you should do.  Each of them has some value.  But, there’s no one thing you can do to show up top in Google.  The good news is that if there is any step which you don’t want to do — or cannot do — don’t sweat it.  There’s no one thing that will keep you out of the top page of Google either.

Second, Search Engine Optimization is about marketing your business on the Internet. This means showing up on Google maps, video listings, and other top-of-the-heap results. Old-style SEO was designed to get your business’ web page on top of web page listings. But, nowadays maps, product prices, and YouTube links can show up above web page results. You want your business high on these new lists, too.

The main focus of most SEO professionals is the optimization of your web site pages to match the rules Google uses for page ranking. This is the most important action you can take to let Google know what your site is about, and we’ll talk about it.  However, tuning individual pages is probably only 50% of the battle.  So keep reading to find out what most amateurs leave out of their hit-and-run approach to SEO.

Tuning Your Web Page(s)

Editing your web pages so that Google knows what you’re selling is the first thing you should do.  It’s the action that will give you the biggest boost in results.

Your initial task is to identify the keyword phrases which people will search for when you want to pop up in Google.  You can effectively tune one web page for one phrase, so choosing the right words is important.  The selection of keywords is an art itself which I will talk about another time.

Once you have identified the keywords you want to compete for in Google, then you tune your home page for the most important phrase and tune other service/product pages for the other phrases you have identified.

What’s tuning? It’s simply placing the keyword phrase in various visible and invisible (HTML code) places on your page.  The keyword should lead the page title, top header, and initial text paragraphs.  The keyword should lead the descriptive tags for photographs. It should also start off the <meta> description that Google uses to describe the page in summary in its results lists.

Many people think that SEO is done when the pages are tuned for the keywords.  In fact, for many keyword phrases, proper tuning is all you need to do to show up high in Google’s results.  But, for competitive phrases — and to stay on top — there’s more work to be done.

What Google Likes

Google doesn’t share its ranking algorithm, but it does publish tips for webmasters.  The guidelines boil down to “have a well-structured and regularly maintained site with original, high-quality content”, in the wording Google uses in one of its tips.

There are some metrics which seem to please Google, resulting in higher placement for your pages and site.  Google likes sites that:

  • have at least 5 pages
    A couple products, “about us”, and “contact” page is the bare minimum
  • frequently update their pages
    Google rewards pages that are refreshed with new content.  They figure that updated pages are more useful to visitors.
  • slowly add content
    Adding a page or two every month shows Google that the site is active and of increasing value to web surfers

So, when planning a SEO campaign, we need to schedule updates and other actions which will show Google over time that your business is a serious player with valuable information for Google’s users.

Incoming Links

Google is impressed when your pages are pointed to by other sites.  The more quality sites point to you, the higher you’ll get in search results.  So, get links:

  • from authoritative sites like professional organizations, alumni associations, government licensing agencies, and other formal places.  Links to your site from sites that end in “.edu” or “.gov” are especially valuable.
  • from business associates
  • family sites, family blog, friends, anyone and everyone

Social Media

Making your site popular also means showing up in Facebook, Twitter, Buzz, and other social media spots.  Not only will people discover your business on these sites, Google will see the links on these sites that go to your main site.  This will tell Google that there’s buzz about you, too.


Blogs like this Dangerous Common Sense blog serve two purposes:  they spread your name on the Internet as an expert, and your links from your blog to your main site add to your main site’s perceived popularity in Google.  Regular blogging will boost your visibility and perceived value!

Maps and Other Media

Search Engine result pages for businesses now show maps and information from videos and other non-text media when you search for some phrases. When we searched for “San Francisco CPA” here’s what we got back this afternoon:

Google Results for "San Francisco CPA"

Google Results for "San Francisco CPA"

The lesson is that when you optimize your site for search traffic, also grab your business location listing in Google and Bing. Be sure to enter your telephone number so that it’s clickable on smart phones.

No Voodoo Needed!

I have fielded calls for my clients from a lot of fast-talking Search Engine Optimization marketers who lace their spiels with confusing techo-babble.  I think they’re trying to use shock and awe on traditional business people.  Don’t fall for it.

Follow the steps I’ve listed above, and you’ll do as well as any professional SEO service.  Of course, you may not have the time or energy to do these things yourself, and hiring a professional is a good idea.  I think you should hire me!

Whomever you engage, make sure that they are ready to do all of the actions I’ve talked about. Tuning, in-coming link gathering, on-going page changes, web site additions, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and business center listings are all important, incremental actions you can take to gain business from the Internet.

By |2010-06-30T12:48:19-07:00June 30th, 2010|Search Engine Optimization|1 Comment

How Many Number 1 Pages Do You Have in Google?

A friend said he was recommending me to one of his contacts for Search Engine Optimization. The contact asked, “How many #1 positions does Ozdachs get in Google?”

I was stumped. I produce reports for clients saying where they show up in various search engines for different phrases. But, I have never thought to aggregate the #1 positions for all clients and come up with a number of #1’s for bragging.

Frankly, I don’t think the gross number of top positions is a good metric. I work with my clients to track:

  • Referral sources for prospects who contact them.
  • Hits to their web site, including the search phrases used by the visitors.
  • Search engine result positions for selected phrases in the major search engines.

Tracking the number of #1 positions in Google for a site may be a good marker for success. Or, it that number could be a useless statistic that can be gamed by a Search Engine Optimization company.

I can get almost anyone the #1 position in Google results for a lot of commercially meaningless searches. The easiest example is your company’s name. Your web site is probably already #1 in Google for your business’ name. Search Google for “Ozdachs Consulting” and my site comes back on the top of the list… and I have not done SEO on my own site. My client “Sterck Kulik O’Neill accounting group” shows us #1 when you search for “Sterck Kulik O’Neill”.

These #1 positions aren’t important. If someone knows your business’ name and searches for it, they are already your clients or at least know about you and are considering buying from you.

Search Engine Optimization is most valuable when marketing your site to people who are looking for what you sell but don’t know that your business exists. Those are the prospects who find you when they search Google for terms such as “San Francisco CPA”. Sterck Kulik O’Neill comes up #1 in Google for this search, and that’s a #1 that means business!

How many of those type of #1’s do I have? Not that many. The reason is simple. It takes time and money to earn number one rankings for terms.

For instance, you can optimize each web page for only one search phrase. So, if you want to score well for several phrases, you need to have separate pages tuned for each phrase. “San Francisco CPA” is not the same as “San Francisco accountant”. To have both phrases show up #1 in Google, you will have one page tuned for each phrase and unique content for each page. Then you have to find authoritative sites to point to each of these keyword pages so that Google knows to take each and every one of them seriously.

Most of my clients decide that it’s cost effective to try for one or two top rankings in Google. We identify the most important money-making phrase and tune the home page for it. Tuning more pages for other phrases isn’t too much work, but to get them to rise to the top of the search results requires promoting them and having other sites link to them. To do it right, we really should set up separate web sites — or at least unique sub-domains — for each money term.

I’m up for the task, if my clients want me to spend the time. But, in my space most clients are very happy with having one page show up near the top of Google. When other tuned pages in the site show up reasonably well, they’re ecstatic.

So, how many number 1 pages do my clients have in Google? Enough to keep them happy with my services!

By |2010-04-07T16:56:03-07:00April 7th, 2010|Google, Search Engine Optimization|0 Comments

Double Trouble

One new client  bought two domain names, one for their business and one for their family and personal life.  Let’s say one domain is (for business) and the other is (for personal).

He started his business web site and took advantage of the offer of the hosting company to point the address of his future family web to the business site.  That is, you see the same pages whether you go to or .  “Great!” he thought. His business will get double listings in Google and other search engines until he’s ready to put up family photos and whatever on his personal site.

Unfortunately, Google doesn’t give double listings to content it finds at different addresses on the Internet.

In fact, if Google notices the duplication of content, it will take one of these three bad actions:

1. In the worse case, Google will suspect that the two sites are both sleazy cheats.  Google will see the duplicated material as the work of lazy webmasters up to no good.  Google hates copied pages, and it may ban both sites completely from its result pages.  That means neither site will show up in any search results.

2. Google will decide that one of the duplicated sites is real and the other is a cheat.  How Google picks the “real” one is not known.  Google will then ban the one they identified as a cheat.  There’s a 50-50 chance that Google will ban the business site and decide that the placeholder family site is the one that should show up in search results.

3. In the best bad case, Google will DIVIDE the ranking of each duplicated page.  If the home page would normally show up as #1 for a search of “blue widgets”, Google would adjust the importance of both sites’ home pages and will display them in position #30 or worse.  In addition, in the search results for SOME phrases, the business’ site page will show up higher than the duplicated content on the personal site.  For other phrases, the personal site’s pages will show up above the exact same business page. It’s a genuine mash-up.

Basically, this “free” pointing of the home site to the business site is a serious problem for someone interested in getting traffic from Google.

Apparently the hosting service thinks it’s doing my client a service by letting people access the one set of web pages by using either site address.  In reality, they’re hurting the client’s chance of showing up in a good position in Google.

I have no fancy workarounds to talk about or options to suggest.  Simply, if you’re offered the chance to point two domains to the same content, just don’t do it!

By |2009-11-30T16:31:07-08:00November 30th, 2009|Google, Search Engine Optimization|3 Comments

Web Design, Search Engine Optimization, Data Backups, and Other Topics. Huh?

A non-web designer colleague asked this afternoon which topics a group of us techies would like to speak on:

• Computer security
• Backups
• Computer maintenance
• Web site development
• Search engine optimization

The grouping of ideas illustrates exactly how too many web designers approach a new site. Web design is one topic and optimizing the site for visibility on search engines is another subject all together.

Of course, one of the purposes of most business web sites is to attract new clients who stumble across the web site by searching Google or Yahoo or Bing or somewhere.

But, designers and their clients too often create a web site without focusing on the site’s purpose, getting new clients. The new site is structured without thought to showing up in search engine result pages. In fact, the new site may be difficult to modify to add search engine friendly text, graphics, or tagged information.

The problem is more broad: in today’s world of hyper-specialization, the creation of web sites has been deconstructed into too many discrete tasks, each lorded over by a guru who is quick to say that this or that aspect of a web site simply isn’t in their field.

There are the designers for the look of the site. There are usability experts. There are functionality designers who are distinct from coders that implement the functionality designed. And, different from all these experts is the search engine optimization analyst.

All of this specialization might be reasonable in a design project team for a major corporation. For 90% of small- and medium-sized businesses, the tunnel-vision specialization is detrimental.

Most businesses want to sit down with their web person and have the one expert create an Internet presence that will meet the commercial needs of the business. The business owner doesn’t expect to talk to one person about the site’s look, another about its friendliness to users, and still another person about placement in search engine results. The owner wants a general contractor who will build the site.

At best, separating the topics of web design and search engine optimization is another sign that the Internet is coming of age. It now supports a bureaucracy, or at least a Curia. It won’t be long before there are Search Engine Optimization college classes and technical certifications — if there aren’t already.

But, I question the awkward division of the unified task of web site development.

Most businesses cannot afford a web site project staffed with specialists and, I suppose, coordinated by a project manager. The businesses need a single web designer who takes into account visual appeal, usability, search engine optimization, and all other aspects of the site.

I enjoy seeing a business owner look over a new site that we created together. One where I may have even taken some of the photographs while designing the pages and tuning them for showing up in Google.

My customers cannot afford an army of Internet technicians working on their site. And, they don’t need one so long as we remember the business goals of the business web site.

So, I suggested to my colleague that I would be happy to give a presentation on web design that would include tips on search engine optimization. We’ll see what he says.

By |2009-09-30T18:56:52-07:00September 30th, 2009|Search Engine Optimization, Web Design|2 Comments

Postcards from the Edge

I am currently working on two web sites which were originally created by graphic designers. They are very pretty. Pretty enough to be postcards. But, they also are inflexible and difficult to work with. To me, they are postcards from the edge of web design purgatory.

If you’re about to hire a web designer, make sure that they are not proposing to take a postcard-perfect graphic and make it the template for your new site design without agreeing that the site will be flexible and will comply with industry standards.

The postcard web page designs I am working with were originally created in Photoshop or GoLive. Unfortunately, taking the great look from a design package like Photoshop and making it into an HTML/XHMTL web page is not something that these programs do well. Even though the software brags about its ability to output an HTML page from the graphics, it does it poorly.

These programs make their pages with tables and slices of images to construct the backgrounds and borders for the web page. Although the pages they produce claim to be standards compliant, they are not. For example, one design I am editing specifies that it is compliant with the XTML 1 Transitional standard, but it uses a non-compliant “height” attribute on table cells to achieve the spacing between its various page components.

Yeah, that’s pretty technical and the value of valid XHTML code is a subject for another post. But, here’s something that I can show visually.

These postcard web pages were designed to be a specific height. The graphic designers each dislike scrolling down web pages so they oriented them horizontally and limited the space on each page for text. If there is more text or graphics on the page than initially conceived by the designer, the page falls apart.

Here’s how one of the pages looks when only a small amount of text is typed on the page. It looks great:
Web page with limited text

But here is how that same page looks when “too much” text is added to the page, “too much” being more than fits in the fixed-size gray block:
Web page with limited text
Rather than making a template ready for expanding text, this box design disintegrates apart when additional lines of information is added to the page.

Web pages must be able to expand downward. You cannot guarantee that all the information on a topic will fit into a set number of words. In fact, top-ranking pages in Google generally have over 400 words on it, and that much information won’t fit on most postcards.

In addition, you can see that the photograph of the adorable boy is created in three slices. This means if the site owner wants to create new pages using a different photograph or change this photograph, a web designer would have to slice the new photograph into three slices of the exact same size. That’s at least three times as much work and it’s also a mess to track.

The situation was very limiting for the site owner who contacted me. He couldn’t add more pages or information to his website, and he wanted to tell web visitors about his expanding business.

He liked the colors and looks of the site created by the graphic designer, but he wanted his web site to attract and inform potential clients.

Standards compliance validatedI was able to re-create the look of the page while using standards-compliant XTHML code. The column with the picture no longer breaks apart if the text on the right side shrinks or grows. New pages with new photos can be added easily.

As I write this, the new design is just live and the site owner and I am considering what information we want to add first. He has sample cost and cost-recovery spreadsheets to share, photos of his installation and equipment options, more information on options for residents and businesses. Look at this San Francisco solar power installation site, and see how the one-static postcard design now will support growth.

Graphic designers can create excellent looking web designs. If you engage a graphics person, I recommend one of two options. First, ask your graphics designer to agree to creating an expandable, XHTML, css standard-compliant site. If they don’t understand your request or say that they don’t be bothered with standards, ask that they create just the design. Then take the layout to a web designer for a XHTML, Cascading Style Sheet (css) web template.

The prettiest postcard sites will disappoint you if they don’t attract new clients and tell people about your business. Don’t be afraid to be as opinionated about the web site’s functionality as you are about its visual appearance!

By |2009-09-13T07:21:34-07:00September 13th, 2009|Search Engine Optimization, Web Design|1 Comment
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