This post is now hosted at go-seo.tips. Clicking the headline will take you to the my new SEO-only new blog.
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:
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.”
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:
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:
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:
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.
Written by search engine optimization consultant Blake J. Discher.
Generally speaking, it’s difficult to optimize a website for multiple search engines. This is because each engine utilizes its own, top-secret, proprietary search algorithm. Almost everyone knows that Google is the number one search engine followed by Yahoo! Search, and then Bing. (72 percent, 15 percent and 9 percent respectively for the four weeks ended January 2, 2010. Source: Hitwise) So naturally most decide they should be optimizing their sites for Google, but this may not always be the correct decision. Just as in life, there is no one single “silver bullet” solution to web marketing. You really need to consider what search engine your potential customers are likely using.
Think about it. Google has a clean user interface, this morning it’s just a text entry field, and two buttons: “Google Search” and “I’m Feeling Lucky”, the latter takes you immediately to the website of the first organic (non-paid) listing. Yahoo! Search on the other hand, is a “portal” in that their home page is loaded with information.
If you’ve heard me speak about web marketing at a convention, you know I like to use my dad as good example of why you might want to optimize for Yahoo! When his high-speed DSL was installed, the company had some sort of deal with Yahoo! which made my dad’s browser’s start-up page the Yahoo! homepage. It will remain that way forever. Why? Because he has no idea how to change it! And because he likes it that way. It’s his “ticket” to internet and from the Yahoo! homepage he can do a lot… check on his stocks, get the latest news, weather, and so on.
But what does this mean for you? Most web usability experts say that corporate America utilizes Google for search because of its “strictly business” interface and individuals use Yahoo! because of the multitude of options at its homepage. Because I do a lot of SEO work for photographers, I’ll use that industry as an example.
If you are a photographer who specializes in corporate or editorial photography, it’s very likely your potential clients will use Google to find you and you should be optimizing for that search engine. If on the other hand you photograph weddings, it’s possible the mother of the bride will use Yahoo! Search on her home computer to help her daughter find a photographer and you should optimize for it. (My dad uses Yahoo! Search for virtually everything!)
Every time a potential client calls you, be sure to ask them how they found you. If they say “on the internet” follow up by asking which search engine they used. Next, I blame my “web guy” for wanting to know what search phrase they used. Something like, “You know, I’m in the midst of a website design and my web guy was asking what search phrase people use to find me. If you don’t mind, would you tell me what phrase you used?” So far, no one has refused. Over time you’ll have gathered valuable information: which search engine most of your customers use most and what search phrase they’re using. (BTW, I ask everyone that calls how they found me and even if it wasn’t via search, I still ask what search engine they use most.)
Armed with that info, you can tweak your SEO strategy so that you are hitting the largest pool of potential customers. Good luck!