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Five Do-It-Yourself SEO Improvements

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Keyword Density, Prominence, and Proximity Explained

Written by search engine optimization consultant Blake J. Discher.

keywordWhen writing body copy for your website’s home page, it’s important to keep three things in mind. By now most anyone who is working on optimizing their website for Google and the other search engines knows that excessive placement of the keyword phrases for which they are optimizing can hurt their ranking in the search engine result pages (SERPs).

That’s known as keyword stuffing or keyword spamming.

Keyword Density

Put simply, keyword density is the ratio (or percentage) of the number of times your keyword appears on the page of your article, versus the number of words on the page. For example, if your home page has 500 words of body copy and your keyword phrase appears 5 times, your keyword density is one-percent. No one knows for sure what the search engines consider ideal — the number changes with every algorithm update — but conservatively, two to four-percent is probably in the correct range. I wouldn’t exceed six or seven-percent under any circumstances.

Keyword Prominence

Keyword prominence refers to how prominent your keywords are within key elements of your web page. Specifically, how close to the beginning of the page’s TITLE tag, heading tags (H1, H2, H3, etc.), and meta DESCRIPTION, your keyword phrase is placed. You should always put your most important keyword phrase at the very beginning of your TITLE, DESCRIPTION, and H1 and H2 tags. Also try to begin your first and last sentences of body copy with the important keyword phrases.

Effective Achor Text for SEO

Written by search engine optimization consultant Blake J. Discher.

anchor

Anchor text is the actual human readable text of any link on a web page. We’ve all seen the worst example of effective anchor text, the clickable Click Here. A link that simply reads “Click Here” tells the reader (and more importantly, a search engine) nothing about what that link is about.

Instead, you should attempt to have any link to your website “read” what that specific page is about. This is referred to as “relevant anchor text”. In other words, if you are a wedding photographer in Houston, perhaps you should strive to have any incoming links to your site read, Houston Wedding Photographer. This tells the search engine that the destination of that link will contain information about a Houston Wedding Photographer.

When you undertake a link exchange campaign, your incoming link’s anchor text ideally should be the keyword phrase for which you are optimizing your home page or another page on your site.

      Your keyword phrase is the phrase that you suspect buyers would enter into a search engine to find a photographer that offers the type of photography you provide. According to my research, the most common syntax used by a searcher seeking a photographer is in the form:

[location] [specialty] [“photographer” or “photographers”]

    (With the plural generally having more occurrences.)

If I’ve negotiated a credit line for any of my images appearing on my client’s website, I always specify the credit read Detroit Photographer Blake Discher with that text being the link back to my site. In fact, I just made that example a link to my homepage.

Detroit headshot photographer Mary DuPrie (I did it again, the words Detroit headshot photographer are a link to Mary’s site) helps out her makeup artist Tammy Pore from time to time with a link in her blog to Tammy’s webpage. Because Tammy’s site is entirely made with Flash, incoming links play a critical role in Tammy’s SEO efforts. A screen grab of Mary’s blog post is below.

Exaple of anchor text in a blog post

(Tammy optimizes her site for the phrase “Michigan Makeup Artist” and Mary’s link will help Tammy in her SEO rankings.)

Photo by Svadilfari licensed under a Creative Commons license.

Crucial for SEO: A Good Title Tag

One of the basics in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the content of a website’s TITLE tag which end up being displayed in the top-most bar of a browser window when someone is looking at your site. The tag is given significant weight by search engines in their effort to figure out exactly what a site is about.

Sounds super simple and you might think everyone already knows this, but as I speak to photographers around the country about SEO, I notice quite a lot of studio names (such as “XYZ Studio”) or the photographer’s own name (such as “John Smith”) in the tag.

Unless your name is nationally recognized by photo buyers, you’d be better off thinking about what keyword phrase potential clients would use to find a photographer that produces work such as you create. So for example, your TITLE tag might better consist of “Seattle Editorial Photographer John Smith.” Place the most important keywords toward the left of the sentence. About eight to ten words is good.

It is important to make certain your TITLE matches your page content, the “Description” META tag actually describes what on the page, and is unique for that specific page.

Good luck!

Page Load Speed a Metric in Search

While most everyone knows by now that Google is (in 99-percent of cases) no longer penalizing duplicate content on web pages, on April 9th Google announced it would begin measuring page load speed and use it as one factor in its search algorithm. Google’s studies have shown that when a site responds (or loads) slowly, visitors spend less time there.

I recall creative consultant Leslie Burns telling an audience at ASMP’s Strictly Business 2, “That loading bar or circular graphic on a website’s home page is the art buyer’s blood pressure gauge.” In other words, the longer the site takes to show the first bit of information, the more likely the art buyer is to skip your site altogether.

If you are a site owner, webmaster or a web author, here are some free tools that you can use to evaluate the speed of your site:

  • Page Speed, an open source Firefox/Firebug add-on that evaluates the performance of web pages and gives suggestions for improvement.
  • YSlow, a free tool from Yahoo! that suggests ways to improve website speed.
  • WebPagetest shows a waterfall view of your pages’ load performance plus an optimization checklist.

I did a test on my own site’s home page (Firefly Studios) using the Firefox/Firebug plug-in “Page Speed” and this is the result:

Page Speed plug-in for Forefox/Firebug

As you can see, the overall score for the page is 86/100, not bad. The plug-in placed a green check mark next to items (and there are many, many more items it checked beyond what’s shown in the screen grab) that are OK. But what’s best about the plug-in is that it shows you with either a yellow caution icon or a red exclamation point icon what needs to be improved. And, if you click on the arrow to the left of the icons, it gives you detailed information on what specifically needs to be improved.

If I expand the first item: “Leverage Browser Caching”, I see the following information.

According to Google: “… site speed is a new signal, [but] it doesn’t carry as much weight as the relevance of a page. Currently, fewer than 1% of search queries are affected by the site speed signal in our implementation and the signal for site speed only applies for visitors searching in English on Google.com at this point.”

So what does all of this mean to a photographer?  It means that it probably pays to (at least on your home page) keep image size (in kilobytes) in mind as you’re selecting what JPG quality to save them at, and to be mindful the overall size (again, in kilobytes) of any Flash elements on the page.  I didn’t want to single out anyone’s Flash-based template or non-template site, but if that loading bar is visible for any amount of time, you’ll likely have page load speed issues in the eyes of Google.  And if Google is using this metric, Yahoo! Search and Bing will likely follow suit.

By the way, the page you are reading had a Page Speed score of 71/100 and when I clicked on the red exclamation point icon at the top of the report it read: “Significant improvements can be made to this page.”  Ugh!

Good luck!

Photo by: Robbert van der Steeg, licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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Can Google Dance?

Because the search engines are continuously tweaking their ranking algorithms, any SEO work done on a website, be it on-page or off-page, can never be be deemed final. I always make a point to let my audiences and my SEO clients know that the “correct” adjustments to a web page today won’t be the same ones needed six months from now. SEO is a moving target.

Recently I received a call from an SEO client letting me know that her page had dropped in the search engine result pages (SERPs) and asking what might have happened. She’d changed nothing on her page and, as far as she could tell, nothing had changed on her competitor’s page, yet she had dropped below the competitor for her search phrase. She asked, “Could it be the Google dance?” Let me elaborate about this dance…

In the past, the “Google dance” generally referred to the time period when Google would rebuild its rankings and back then it lasted from three to seven days and took place about ten times a year. Things have changed though. Now, those who pay attention to such things speculate that Google now performs index updates about every week, with the most movement occurring on Mondays. These are usually small adjustments to their algorithm and index. Major dances still occur, but with much, much less frequency.

Google’s data crunching occurs at its data centers located throughout the world. Google won’t disclose where they are, or even how many there are, and the Google fanatics try constantly to figure out where they are and how to access the separate indexes each generates. In 2008, Eric Scholfeld created a lot of buzz by blogging:

There are 36 data centers in all—19 in the U.S., 12 in Europe, 3 in Asia, and one each in Russia and South America. Future data center sites may include Taiwan, Malaysia, Lithuania, and Blythewood, South Carolina, where Google has reportedly bought 466 acres of land. (Read the entire post.)

Because Google has multiple data centers, sharing upwards of 12,000 servers, the updates to their index have to be transferred throughout and these ongoing, incremental updates only affect part of the index at any one time. So the SERPs put out be any data center might differ from that put out by another.

Yesterday morning, just to see what might be happening, I searched for “Knoxville Photographer” at two different data centers and two different SERPS were presented:

Search one

Search number one

Search number two

Search number two

There are two giveaways that the data centers are indeed out of sync. (You can click on each to enlarge if you’d like.) First, the total number of pages indexed for “Knoxville Photographer” in search one is 308,000. In the second search it’s 319,000. And, even more telling is the top result: in the first, “Knoxville Photographer Dave Carroll…”, and in the second, “Seaton Shoots”.

Of course, there is no way to know when the “Major Major Dance” is taking place, but when it does, ranking do go awry, some pages are temporarily in limbo and don’t show up at all. Then they reappear, sometimes in a better position than they were in before the dance, and things settle down. It’s a non-ending cycle; one that can definitely put companies for whom search is critical in their marketing into a frenzy and drive SEO consultants such as myself crazy.

If your site has indeed dropped and stays there after things settle down, you’ll probably need to get back to optimizing your site to “satisfy” the new algorithm. Take a look at what the sites that are ranking above you have in the way of critical page elements for SEO and adjust accordingly.

Repeat after me: “I won’t let this SEO nonsense ruin my day. I won’t let this SEO nonsense ruin my day.”

SEO Friendly Blog Post Titles

There was a recent post in one of the professional-photographer-type forums by Nashville shooter David Bean about “behind the scenes video” that a lot of photographers are starting to feature on their websites. He provided a link, http://blog.visualreserve.com/?p=256, which from an SEO standpoint is not very useful. That’s the default URL structure for WordPress permalinks, which is what the permanent URL for your bog posts are called.

(In case you’re wondering, yes, I called David to ask if I could use his post as an example and he said “absolutely.”)

The part of the URL “?p=256″ contains no keywords and therefore can cause indexing problems for search engines. In fact, even WordPress refers to these as “Ugly Links!” The easiest way to correct this problem in WordPress is to go into “Settings”, then “Permalinks”, and select “Day and Name” which would give you something like:

http://yoursite.com/2010/02/19/sample-post-title/

That gives you the date of the post, then a “/”, then a hyphenated version of the title of your post. This is much more SEO-friendly than the default permalink. WordPress refers to these types of links as “Almost Pretty.”

But the best solution is to have WordPress generate what it refers to as “Pretty Links.” Do this by selecting “Custom Structure” under the “Common Settings” choices. WordPress utilizes pre-defined references to various post data so that you can construct your URLs any way that suits you. I’d suggest a structure that give you links that include the category name followed by the post title. So your URL might look like:

http://yoursite.com/negotiating/learning-to-say-no/

This structure contains relevant keywords for a blog discussing “negotiating” such as the one you are reading, and could help to improve search engine placement for the post. To change you structure to produce links like that I’ve described, add the following code in the “Custom Structure” box:

/%category%/%postname%/

To see a complete list of the post data reference codes and read a bit more about this, visit the official WordPress information page covering this topic.

Good luck!