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Is the Long Tail Dying on Google?

The long tail, in the search engine optimization (SEO) world, refers to an internet marketing strategy that looks to rank for many niche keywords, rather than for a few common, competetive keywords (referred to as the big head). The marketer hopes that the sum of the traffic generated by hundreds, if not thousands of niche searches will add up to something significant. If properly implemented, this strategy can work well because of two factors:

  1. Natural Search: Google’s algorithm is different for competetive searches than it is for other searches. And by different, I mean easier to optimize small, low authority sites for.
  2. Pay Per Click: When using Adwords, the more competition there is for a keyword, the more expensive the cost per click (CPC) is.

The problem is that Adwords is Google’s golden goose. Google would much rather searchers hit “popular” search engine results pages (SERPs), because those are the ones that contain the expensive ads. Some of the changes that may have been implemented by Google to drive traffic towards the popular SERPS are:

  1. Automatically mixing results for “related keywords” (which happen to always be popular keywords) into the SERPS without asking. This sometimes leads to irrelevant search results.
  2. Adding the “Searches Related To:” links at the bottom of the page.
  3. On occasion omitting a term typed into the search box (usually a third or fourth term), displaying results for remaining terms, and adding a link at the bottom of the page explaining that the results displayed do not include one of the terms you typed in, but you can add it back in by clicking a link.
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  4. In Adwords: Not displaying ads for keywords that don’t have sufficient traffic.

I received the following message recently when diagosing a number of keywords in an Adwords adgroup:

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All but one of the factors mentioned above is a setback for the long tail search engine marketer. These changes were presumably implemented to push searches to expensive Adwords clicks, but they also have the effect of making searching for niche keywords more difficult for the Google users. People don’t want to have their keywords messed around with. And when the driver is Google’s bottom line rather than the searcher’s experience, it can only lead to more and more dissatisfied searchers.

Google Algorithm Update - June 2009

Starting in June Google rankings started going crazy. We used to call this an Update or “Google Dance.” It was the period when Google updated it’s algorithm and rolled it out to all of it’s Data Centers, so for a week or so it would appear that your site was bouncing back in forth in the rankings, when really you were just at the new position or old postion, depending on which data center you hit, and whether or not it was updated with the new algorithm yet. Google updates are more incremental nowadays, and every change seems to be implemented a little differently than the last. That, of course, is pure speculation, because what Google is actually doing at any given time is a closely held secret.

Back in March, Google rolled out a tweak to their algorithm and called it Vince. This update gave big brands a boost in the relevant searches. So if Company X was the biggest thing in blue widgets, but were lame at the search engine optimization (SEO) of their website, Google started giving them a pass, so they could rank highly in a seach for "blue widgets," and remain lame at SEO.

As I mentioned, back in June the (search engine resultes pages) SERPS starting going wild. This continued for most of the month, and well into July. Now, a month later there still appears to be some movement, but they may finally be settling down.

What are some possible factors that could have caused your site to rise or plunge in the rankings?

  • On June 19th Google began indexing Flash sites that use ActionScript 3. Even if your site doesn’t use flash, perhaps other sites that do have started to enter the SERPS, or maybe backlinks are being counted that weren’t counted before.
  • It has been postulated that low-quality, irrelevant backlinks are getting more of a negative hit. So if you were ranking highly, but had a lot of backlinks from forums, social networking sites, blogs, or link directories, your link authority may have taken a big hit on this update.
  • Another possible change, that I have noticed myself, is that Google seems to be taking a closer look at the backlinking page for overall releveance, not just the anchor text, title tag and text immediately before and after. Pages that I would consider being keyword stuffed appear to be making some progress.

The sad part about all of this is, the results do not look any more relevant after this update. Google results have been getting more irrelevant over the past couple of years, and whatever they are doing to adjust their algorithm doesn’t seem to be geared toward fixing that problem. Personally, I have been using Yahoo and Bing more than ever recently, out of sheer necessity.

Blogging Tips From Google

Matt Cutts, Google's Ambassador at large recently gave a talk about SEO (search engine optimization) for bloggers: http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/seo-for-bloggers/

Blogging can be a great way to keep your website content fresh, build credibility and authority for your business, and get targeted traffic coming in. These are great tips, straight from the horse's mouth, about getting your blog at the top of Google.

Use Wordpress. WordPress takes care of 80-90% of(the mechanics of)Search Engine Optimization (SEO)


My plugins (used by Matt Cutts)

  • Akismet
  • Cookies for Comments
  • Enforce www. preference
  • Feedburner Feedsmith
  • WP Super Cache


How does Google crawl?

We crawl roughly in decreasing order of PageRank


What's PageRank?

The number and importance of links pointing to you.


How does Google rank pages?
You want to be relevant and reputable


SEO tips: keywords

  • Think about the keywords that users will type. Include them naturally in your posts
  • ALT attribute are handy (3-4 relevant words)
  • Don't forget image search, videos, etc.
  • What will your visitors type?
  • Keyword tool - brainstorm!
  • Url structure
  • Tweaking titles, urls, content
  • Use categories that are also good keywords


Keywords in url paths: example.com/my-keywords

  • Dashes are best
  • Next best is underscores
  • No spaces is worst


General Blogging Tips

  • Update often
  • Provide a useful service
  • Do original research or reporting
  • Give great information
  • Find a creative niche
  • Make lists ("11 reasons why WordCamp ruled")
  • Create controversy
  • Meet folks on Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed
  • Make a video
  • Google tools can help. Webmaster console at google.com/webmasters/
  • Avoid paid posts
  • Keep your WordPress and web server updated!!


Security

  • Automatic updates
  • Protect the /wp-content/ directory


And finally:

rel=canonical . Built into wordpress.com. Download 2.8!

User Friendly Web Site Information Design

Before starting the information design of a business Web site it is important to consider the way a user is most likely to use it. The first instinct of a business owner or sales and marketing professional is to construct a compelling argument to convince the user to buy the product or service. This can be several paragraphs of prose. 

The typical web user is going to see 5 or 6 paragraphs of block text and think "I'm not going to read all that." It's a big time commitment in web terms. So they will read the first paragraph and think "that's just what I'm looking for." They may scan the headings for other chunks of information they seek. Then they will look at navigation or at other areas that are visually set off from the main text.

Web users visit business websites for a reason. If they want to purchase something, they will usually be looking for a specific product. Subconsciously they will be taking in the clues that will tell them whether or not they trust the business behind the website. If the web user is looking for a service, they will be looking for a concise description of services offered, pricing, credentials and contact information.

The secret to creating a user-friendly information design is figuring out what the user wants to do, and making that as easy as possible. To do this you should chunk the information into "bite size" pieces and arrange them so that the user will naturally follow them to your goal, be that a contact form submission, phone call or "complete transaction" button.  That's not to say you shouldn't have depth of information on your site, but in the design you want to create that obvious scanning path to the call to action, and make sure any critical information is included in that path.

Web Design Deliverables

ImageA good number of documents are created during the web design process. There is certainly a lot for the competent web designer to document throughout the discovery, planning, design, integration and delivery stages of a complex web project. Not all of these documents are of interest to the client, and over the years I've learned only to present the minimum number of documents needed to ensure a successful project. The following are the standard deliverables I ask my clients to sign off on.

Creative Brief
I use the creative brief as an overall project definition document. It includes all the requirements and specifications of the project, including scope, audience, objective, call to action, and technical specification for the website we will be creating.

Download Creative Brief Worksheet

Content Outline
The content outline defines every piece of content that will appear on the website. If it isn't on the content outline, it isn't going to appear on the website. The content outline is part of the information architecure, and as such should be organized in a hierarchy that represents the structure of the website rather than a hierarchy based on arbitrary categorization of content.

View Sample Content Outline

Site Map
The site map represents the structure and navigation of the website and should closely coincide with the content outline. There should be a common numbering system in place. Pages are represented by boxes and links by arrows.

View Sample Sitemap

Wireframes
Wireframes are schematic versions of the pages on a website and should similate the final navigation, although the page layout at this point in the process is rough. Wireframes can be made into clickable web pages, allowing the client to preview the navigation of the site in action. Each wireframe should include all pieces of content that the final web page will display.

View Sample Wireframe

Graphic Design
Mockups/Comps The graphic design mockup is a composite image of how the final web page will look. Color, layout, typography, and images are all worked out at this stage for each significantly different page type on the website. I should make clear that even though the composite (mockup or comp for short) looks like a web page, it is still only a single image. It is not a web page, and include no code at this point in the process.

View Sample Mockup

Development Site/Prototype
During the integration/programming step of the web design process, the graphic design comps are converted into code (HTML, DHTML, CSS, scripting, database tables, etc). The site is built and tested on a domain or subdomain of a development server that has the same technical specs as the live server will have. When the site is fully functional on the development server, it is migrated to the live server. This is the final deliverable of the web design project.

Do Not Make These Web Design Mistakes

1.    Believing the hype. “Anyone can be making thousands of dollars with their own website in minutes just by ordering this free CD!”

A good Web design is crucial to a successful Internet business, but it is not the only requirement. The Internet can be a very competetive marketplace. Stories about making easy money by owning a Website are always connected to scams. The problem is that by hearing these marketing hooks over and over again, and hearing antecdotes about how this guy, or that gal started an Internet business from their bedroom when they were 12 and are now millionaires, some people get the impression that “easy” is somehow associated with an Internet business. Nothing could be further from the truth. Like any business you start you need a good business plan. Not a business plan written off the top of your head, but a business plan based on research and knowledge of the market you will be entering. Internet professionals are a valuable source of this information.

2.    Purchasing your domain name and hosting account first, and then looking for a web designer to build your Website.

Not all domain name registrars or web hosting companies are created equal! In fact, either can range from out-and-out scam artists to quality, reputable companies. Your web design professional has years of experience and knowledge of dealing with web hosting companies and domain name registrars, and can save you money and headaches by choosing the right provider the first time. Do you need ASP or PHP? Do you need a database or not? Does your project require a dedicated server? Do you have multiple domains to point to your Website? Your web design professional can help you answer these questions.

3.    Not taking the Web design process seriously. “Why all these questions? Just design my homepage and I’ll give you all the information to put in later.”


If you were building a house, you wouldn’t tell the contractor to start building and give him the plans at a later date. Websites are complex software and informational systems. If a web designer does not have all of the information he/she needs upfront during the planning stages there is a 100% probability that significant design or production work will need to be redone before the site is launched, costing both time and money.  Hastily put together, or incomplete information will undoubtedly lead to a Website that doesn’t meet your needs, or those of your visitors.

4.    Telling the web designer to match a competitor’s website. “Give me a website like ABC.com.”


Copying another Internet business' Website is like dressing up like Donald Trump, and expecting the money to start pouring in. It can be helpful to show a web designer the kind of Website you are looking for, but it is by no means a substitute for doing your homework, knowing your industry and coming up with your own quality business plan. The Website is the client-facing portion of your competitor’s Internet business. Only a limited knowledge of their business model, operations and back-end can be gained by you or your web designer from studying their Website. Your web designer can assist you in building the business plan for your Internet business from the ground up. From that foundation they can build a quality Website that is an exact fit for your quality business.

5. Doing it on the cheap for yourself, just to start out.


This includes:
  • Putting up a quick website yourself and then looking for a web designer to improve it.
  • Having your son’s friend set up a quick website and looking for a web designer to make it look professional.
  • Buying a cheap canned script, and then looking for a web designer to improve it.  

An experiened web designer knows that touching any of these projects is going to be a waste of time and money. He will be able to deliver a higher quality Website quicker and cheaper by starting from scratch.

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