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The Dark Art Of Search Engine Optimization
The title of this article is designed to illustrate the point of this article. Today we won't be taking a look at black-hat search engine optimization tactics. Admittedly, I've toyed with them in a "know your enemy" kind of way but I'm no expert on advanced cloaking techniques nor effective link sp@mming tactics. What we're going to cover here are the hidden (i.e. dark) areas of effective optimization strategy.
I've written numerous times in past articles and blog posts that using tricks to rank your site highly is, in the end, ineffective as tricks imply a manipulation of the ranking formula and will eventually become obsolete as the search engines work to advance their algorithms and shut down such possible abuses. But here I'm going to illustrate some of the tricks we use to drive traffic to our site. Is this a conflict? Not really; these "tricks" aren't so much directed at search engines as they are website owners and visitors. These are marketing tricks, not SEO tricks - they just happen to help you with your rankings.
Before we begin let's review an important point about Google. When most people think of Google they think of the dominant search engine (and in that they would be right) HOWEVER if Google was primarily a search engine they would be much smaller than they are now. No, they are an advertising company and the world's largest at that. To this end they need traffic, market share, and clicks. They need you to love Google.com, visit it often, visit their other properties and offerings such as Gmail. If you do this, the odds of you clicking on one of the paid ads increases and their primary function is fulfilled. It is driven by this purpose that Google has developed the most complex search algorithm that has ever existed. Their search is their primary source of traffic. The better their results, the more you will return, the greater the likelihood you will click an ad, the more revenue they generate (thus leading to their continued increases in reported revenue quarter-after-quarter). Why is this important? Because this is the driving force of their current algorithm and will be for the foreseeable future we can assume that any action that increases relevant traffic to your site, increases the stickiness of your site and/or increases the number of links from relevant sites to yours will help your rankings and it will help Google keep their visitors loyal.
Let's also recall the purpose of this article. This is NOT an article about black-hat search engine optimization tactics, it's about the hidden aspects of SEO that are often overlooked. And so, without further ado, let's get down to the meat - what are the dark tactics that you can use to boost your website rankings.
Building A Sticky Site
A point I've made in past articles that I will reinforce here as opposed to "contradicting" will be that of the importance of a sticky site. Of course, monitoring your statistics to assess your visitors' behavior is an important practice for the conversions on your site however it's importance from a search engine optimization perspective is often overlooked. I've mentioned before and I'll mention again, the search engines have the ability to monitor the length of time a visitor spends between visits to that engine. If you are on Google, enter "seo services" into it and visit the Beanstalk site but only spend 5 seconds there before hitting the back button Google can infer that the site was not what you were looking for. If it was 5 or 10 minutes before you returned back to Google they could thus infer that you found content you found useful to your query.
So let's put that more obviously, having a site on which visitors find what they're looking for quickly, easily, and in a visually pleasing way will increase their time on your site which will thus increase the assumption by the search engines that you are relevant for the phrase the searcher has queried. This will reinforce that your site does indeed belong among the top site. As a disclaimer: this works on a mass scale so don't go running off and clicking through to you competitors and quickly hitting the back button. First, it's unethical (like clicking their paid links) and second, it doesn't work like that (how big a hole would THAT be in the algorithm) so it would only be a waste of your time.
The how to of building a sticky site I will leave to designers (being an SEO - my skills lie more in understanding mathematical formula).
The engines know when your site appears in a set of search results and they further know how often your site was click on when it appeared. The more often your site is selected when presented in a set of results the more relevant it is assumed to be and thus, the more entrenched it becomes in that set of results (assuming your stickiness issues are dealt with).
What this means is that your title and description matter, not just as part of the classical search engine optimization tactics we've used them for since the 90's but also to draw visitors to your site. Fortunately the end goal of the engines closely matches what your own end goal should be for your site - maximizing traffic. Let's take a look at two example titles that the Beanstalk site could have:
An old-school over-optimized title: Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Services Company | Beanstalk Search Engine Optimization | SEO Services, Internet Marketing, Link Building, Consulting, Training & Copywriting
Our current title: Expert SEO Services by Beanstalk
Can you see the different? While our title changes periodically as we test new titles for clickthroughs we always keep it short, easily read, and always such that the whole title will appear in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). Our clickthroughs are much higher with shorter titles than longer and we have seen the same results with client sites.
The same applies to your description tag but the rules are a bit different. With your description tag you want to make sure to include your targeted keywords and make the copy compelling to a searcher. The reason for this is that when searched keywords are including in your description, is is typically the description that appears in the SERPs. This give you an opportunity to determine how your ad to the world appears. You write your title, you write your description - write both well and your clickthroughs will increase. And when your clickthroughs go up, the implied relevancy the engines will assume your site has to that phrase will increase with it and thus, so too will your rankings for that phrase.
Getting People To Link To You
We're not going to bother discussing reciprocal link building, directory submissions or the other usual suspects. There are countless articles out there on those topics; what we're going to focus on here are the tactics for getting articles picked up widely the resources you want to get them onto (and if you're reading this - you know it works) as well as ways to get the links that both you and the search engines will love the most - the ones you don't ask for or work for outside of creating a great site with useful content. The best part of these links is that they not only work to boost your link popularity but they also tend to drive great traffic to your site. Let's begin with articles.
When you're working to publish an article there are two main audience members: the readers and, more importantly, the editors (I say more importantly as they're the ones that determine if you have any readers at all). There are some tactics for increasing both:
- Write a compelling title. This gets back to the point I was making in the first paragraph. Everyone is interested in black hat search engine optimization, even those of us who don't practice it. Readers will be drawn to it as it receives relatively low coverage and editors like to publishing something that they feel may draw some controversy. While this article doesn't get into black hat tactics as some editors may have hoped, it will draw them in and get their attention.
- Find quality related resources and get the article published there. I generally use a tool like PR Prowler to find good, quality resources to submit articles to. You can do it manually through a search engine, PR Prowler just speeds up the process so much that after its first use it's paid for itself. You want the places you submit to, to be related to your industry and you want them to provide a link back. If you can setup that link as anchor text instead of your URL - all the better.
- Keep a list and add to it. If you're going to publish multiple articles don't start from scratch every time. Keep a list and try to add a few sites to it with each submission. This will keep your list growing and get you more exposure/links as time goes on.
- Keep a good relationship with the editors. They are the end-all-be-all of whether this tactic will work or not as a link and traffic building tactic. Make sure you're polite and don't write nasty emails if you get declined. Read what they say and make sure to take it into account with future articles.
But what if you don't want to build links with articles, what if you want to get links the old fashioned way (and I'm talking about the old old old way - you know, before there was any SEO value to it). What if you would like to get people to link to you simply because they like your content (I know, shocking but it actually happens !!!) There are a few different factors that you need to take into account to accomplish this. Here are a few important rules to follow:
- You'll need to create content that others will want to link to. This is an art in-and-of-itself. I wrote about some of the basic rules involved with this in a past article "Building Link Bait" and so I won't repeat it here.
- Get the bait into social bookmarking sites. This will get people interested in your topic aware of it. If it's good, they may link to it. Don't just focus on Digg and the other majors, look around for some industry-specific bookmarking sites. For example, when this article is complete I'll work to get it into Sphinn, an SEO bookmarking site.
- Get the bait into forums and/or blogs. I'm not talking about blog sp@mming here, I'm talking about finding blogs and forums that are RELATED to your topic and who's visitors could be genuinely helped by the tool, information, etc. that you're providing. Don't worry if the blog has rel="nofollow" on the links. The purpose is webmaster awareness, not getting links from the blogs (I'll leave that to a different article).
- Promote the bait on your site. Use banners, links, your blog, etc. to build awareness.
- Provide the code to link to your bait. The easier you make it for people to link to you, the more of them will. Provide the code with a text and banner option and you'll increase the number of people who will link to you.
- Put out a press release. If it's big enough news, put out a press release. If the media grabs it you've won the lottery both in publicity and in high valued links.
- If the topic of your bait is searched on the engines, rank it. :)
So these are the darker arts we're talking about. Not black-hat, just overlooked more often than not. Add these to your repertoire of thoughts as you optimize and link building for your site and you've given yourself a one-up over most if not all of your competition.
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