Web Site Migration Guide – 2012 Top Tips For SEOs

Site migrations occur now and again for a various reasons but arguably are one of those areas many SEOs and site owners alike do not feel very comfortable with. Typically, site owners want to know in advance what the impact would be, often asking for information like potential traffic loss, or even revenue loss. On the other hand, SEOs need to make sure they follow best practice and avoid common pitfalls in order to make sure traffic loss will be kept to a minimum.

Disclaimer: The suggested site migration process isn’t exhaustive and certainly there are several alternative or complimentary activities, depending on the size of the web site as well as the nature of the undertaken migration. I hope that despite its length, the post will be useful to SEOs and web masters alike.

Phase 1: Establishing Objectives, Effort & Process

This is where the whole migration plan will be established taking into account the main objectives, time constrains, effort, and available resources. This phase is fundamental because if essential business objectives or required resources fail to get appropriately defined, problems may arise in the following phases. Therefore, a considerable amount of time and effort needs to be allocated in this stage.

1.1 Agree on the objectives

This is necessary because it will allow for success to be measured at a later stage on the agreed objectives. Typical objectives include:

  • Minimum traffic loss
  • Minimum ranking drops
  • Key rankings maintenance
  • Head traffic maintenance
  • All the above

1.2 Estimate time and effort

It is really important to have enough time in your hands, otherwise you may have to work day and night to recover those great rankings that have plummeted. Therefore, it is important to make sure that the site owners understand the challenges and the risks. Once they understand that they, it is more likely they will happily allocate the necessary time for a thorough migration.

1.3 Be honest (…and confident)

Every site migration is different. Hence previous success does not guarantee that the forthcoming migration will also be successful. It is important to make your client aware that search engines do not provide any detailed or step-by-step documentation on this topic, as otherwise they would expose their algorithms. Therefore, best practice is followed based on own and other people’s experiences. Being confident is important because clients tend to respect more an expert’s authoritative opinion. This is also important because it can impact on how much the client will trust and follow the SEO’s suggestions and recommendations. Be careful not to overdo it though, because if things later go wrong there will be no excuses.

1.4 Devise a thorough migration process

Although there are some general guidelines, the cornerstone is to devise a flawless process. That needs to take into consideration:

  • Legacy site architecture
  • New Site architecture
  • Technical limitations of both platforms

1.5 Communicate the migration plan

Once the migration process has been established it needs to be communicated to the site owner as well as to those that will implement the recommendations, usually a web development team. Each part needs to understand what they are expected to do as there is no space for mistakes, and misunderstandings could be catastrophic.

Most development agencies tend to underestimate site migrations simpl because they focus almost exclusively on getting the new site up and running. Often, they do not allocate the necessary resources required to implement and test the URL redirects from the old to the new site. It is the SEO’s responsibility to make them realise the amount of work involved, as well as strongly request the new site to move first on a test server (staging environment) so implementation can be tested in advance. No matter how well you may have planned the migration steps, some extra allocated time would always be useful as things do not always go as planned.

In order for a website migration to be successful, all involved parts need to collaborate in a timely manner merely because certain actions need to be taken at certain times. If things do not seem to go the desired way, just explain the risks ranging from ranking drops to potential revenue loss. This is certainly something no site owner wants to hear about, therefore play it as your last card and things are very likely to turn around.

1.6 Find the ideal time

No matter how proactive and organised you are, things can always go wrong. Therefore, the migration shouldn’t take place during busy times for the business or when time or resources are too tight. If you’re migrating a retail site, you shouldn’t be taking any risks a couple of months before Christmas. Wait until January when things get really quiet. If the site falls into the travel sector, you should avoid the spring and summer months as this is when most traffic and revenue is being generated. All that needs to be communicated to the client so they make an ideal business decision. A rushed migration is not a good idea, thus if there isn’t enough time to fit everything in, better (try to) postpone it for a later time.

Phase 2: Actions On The Legacy Site

There are several types of site migrations depending on what exactly changes, which usually falls under one or more of the following elements:

  • Hosting / IP Address
  • Domain name
  • URL structure
  • Site Architecture
  • Content
  • Design

The most challenging site migrations involve changes in most (or all) the above elements. However, for the purposes of this post we will only look at one of the most common and complicated cases, where a web site has undergone a radical redesign resulting in URL, site architecture and content changes. In case the hosting environment is going to change the new hosting location needs to be checked for potential issues.Whoishostingthis and Spy On Web can provide some really useful information. Attention needs to be paid also on the geographic location of the host. If that is going to change, you may need to assess the advantages/disadvantages and decide whether there is a real need for that. Moving a .co.uk web site from a UK-based server to a US one wouldn’t make much sense from a performance point of view.

In case the domain name is changing you may need to consider:

  • Does the previous/new domain contain more/less keywords?
  • Are both domains on the same ccTLD? Would changing that affect rankings?

2.1: Crawl the legacy site

Using a crawler application (e.g. Xenu Link SleuthScreaming FrogIntegrity for Mac) crawl the legacy site making sure that redirects are being identified and reported. This is important in order to avoid redirect chains later. My favourite crawling app is Xenu Link Sleuth because it is very simple to set up and does a seamless job. All crawled URLs need to be exported because they will be processed in Excel later. The following Xenu configuration is recommended because:

  • The number of parallel threads is very low to avoid time outs
  • The high maximum depth value allows for a deep crawl of the site
  • Existing redirections will be captured and reported

Custom settings for site crawling with Xenu Link Sleuth

2.2 Export top pages

Exporting all URLs that have received inbound links is more than vital. This is where the largest part of the site’s link juice is to be found, or in other words, the site’s ability to rank well in the SERPs. What you do with the link juice is another question, but you certainly need to keep it into one place (file).

Open site explorer

Open Site Explorer offers a great deal of information about a site’s top pages such as:

  • Page Authority (PA)
  • Linking Root Domains
  • Social Signals (Facebook likes, Tweets etc.)

In the following screenshot, a few, powerful 404 pages have been detected which ideally should be 301 redirected to a relevant page on the site.

Majestic SEO

Because Open Site Explorer may haven’t crawled/discovered some recent pages, it is always worth carrying out the same exercise using Majestic SEO, either on the whole domain or the www subdomain, depending on what exactly is being migrated. Pay attention to ACRank values, pages with higher ACRank values are the most juiciest ones. Downloading a CSV file with all that data is strongly recommended.

Webmaster tools

In case you don’t have a subscription to Open Site Explorer or Majestic SEO you could use Google’s Web Master Tools. Under Your Site on the Web -> Links to your site you will find Your Most Linked Content. Click on ‘More’ and Download the whole table into a CSV file. In terms of volume, WMT data aren’t anywhere near OSE or Majestic SEO but it is better than nothing. There are several other paid or free backlinks information services that could be used to add more depth into this activity.

Google analytics

Exporting all URLs that received at least one visit over the last 12 months through Google Analytics is an alternative way to pick up a big set of valuable indexed pages. If not 100% sure about how to do that, readthis post Rand wrote a while ago.

Indexed pages in Google

Scrapping the top 500 or top 1000 indexed pages in Google for the legacy site may seem like an odd task but it does have its benefits. Using Scrapebox or the scraper extension for Chrome perform a Google search for site:www.yoursite.com and scrape the top indexed URLs. This step may seem odd but it can identify:

  • 404 pages that are still indexed by Google
  • URLs that weren’t harvested in the previous steps

Again, save all these URLs in another spreadsheet.

2.3 Export 404 pages

Site migrations are great opportunities to tide things up and do some good housekeeping work. Especially with big sites, there is enormous potential to put things in order again; otherwise hundreds or even thousands of 404 pages will be reported again once the new site goes live. Some of those 404 pages may have quality links pointing to them.

These can be exported directly from Webmaster Tools under Diagnostics->Crawl Errors. Simply download the entire table as a CSV file. OSE also reports 404 pages, so exporting them may also be worthwhile. Using the SEO Moz Free API with Excel, we can figure out which of those 404 pages are worth redirecting based on metrics such as high PA, DA, mozRank and number of external links/root domains. Figuring out where to redirect each of these 404 pages can be tricky, as ideally each URL should be redirected to the most relevant page. Sometimes, this is can be “guessed” by looking for keywords in the URL. In cases that it is not possible, it is worth sending an email to the development team or the web master of the site, as they may be able to assist further.

2.4 Measure site performance

This step is necessary when there is an environment or platform change. It is often the case, that a new CMS although does a great job in terms of managing the site’s content, it does affect site performance in a negative way. Therefore, it is crucial to make some measurements before the legacy site gets switched off. If site performance deteriorates, crawling may get affected which could then affect indexation. With some evidence in place, it will be much easier building up a case later, if necessary. Although there are several tools, Pingdom seems to be a reliable one.

The most interesting stuff appears on the summary info box as well as on the Page Analysis Tab. Exporting the data, or even just getting a screenshot of the page could be valuable later. It would be worth running a performance test on some of the most typical pages e.g. a category page, a product page as well as the homepage.

Pingdom Tools Summary

Keep a record of typical loading times as well as the page size. If loading times increase whilst the size of the page remains is the same, something must have gone wrong.

Pingdom Page Analysis Tab

Running a Web Page Test would also be wise so site performance data are cross-referenced across two services just to make sure the results are consistent.

The same exercises should be repeated once the new site is on the test server as well as when it finally goes live. Any serious performance issues need to be reported back to the client so they get resolved.

2.5 Measure rankings

This step should ideally take place just before the new site goes live. Saving a detailed rankings report, which contains as many keywords as possible, is very important so it can be used as a benchmark for later comparisons. Apart from current positions it would be wise to keep a record of the ranking URLs too. Measuring rankings can be tricky though, and a reliable method needs to be followed. Chrome’s Google Global extension and SEO SERP are two handy extensions for checking a few core keywords. With the former, you can see how rankings appear in different countries and cities, whilst the latter is quicker and does keep historical records. For a large number of keywords, proprietary or paid automated services should be used in order to save time. Some of the most popular commercial rank checkers include Advanced Web RankingWeb CEO and SEO Powersuite to name a few.

With Google Global extension for Chrome you can monitor how results appear in different countries, regions and cities.

Phase 3: URL Redirect Mapping

During this phase, pages (URLs) of the legacy site need to be mapped to pages (URLs) on the new site. For those pages where the URL remains the same there is nothing to worry about, provided that the amount of content on the new page hasn’t been significantly changed or reduced. This activity requires a great deal of attention, otherwise things can go terribly wrong. Depending on the size of the site, the URL mapping process can be done manually, which can be very time consuming, or automation can often be introduced to speed things up. However, saving up on time should not affect the quality of the work.

Even though there isn’t any magic recipe, the main principle is that ALL unique, useful or authoritative pages (URLs) of the legacy site should redirect to pages with the same or very relevant content on the new site, using 301 redirects. Always make sure that redirects are implemented using 301 redirects (permanent ) that pass most link equity from the old to the new page (site). The use of 302 (temporary) redirects IS NOT recommended because search engines treat them inconsistently and in most cases do not pass link equity, often resulting in drastic ranking drops.

It’s worth stressing that pages with high traffic need extra attention but the bottom line is that every URL matters. By redirecting only a percentage of the URLs of the legacy site you may jeopardise the new domain’s authority as a whole, because it may appear to search engines as a weaker domain in terms of link equity.

URL Mapping Process (Step-by-step)

  1. Drop all legacy URLs, which were identified and saved in the CSV files earlier (during phase 2), into a new spreadsheet (let’s call it SpreadSheet1).
  2. Remove all duplicate URLs using Excel.
  3. Populate the page titles using the SEO for excel tool.
  4. Using SEO for Excel, check the server response headers. All 404 pages should be kept into a different tab so all remaining URLs are those with a 200 server response.
  5. In a new Excel spreadsheet (let’s call it SpreadSheet2) drop all URLs of the new site (using a crawler application).
  6. Pull in the page titles for all these URLs as in step 3.
  7. Using the VLOOKUP Excel function, match URLs between the two spreadsheets
  8. Matched URLs (if any) should be removed from SpreadSheet1 as they already exist on the new site and do not need to be redirected.
  9. The 404 pages which were moved into a separate worksheet in step 4, need to be evaluated for potential link juice. There are several ways to make this assessment but the most reliable ones are:
    • SEO Moz API (e.g. using the handy Excel extension SEO Moz Free API)
    • Majestic SEO API
  10. Depending on how many “juicy” URLs were identified in the previous step, a reasonable part of them needs to be added into Spreadsheet1.
  11. Ideally, all remaining URLs in SpreadSheet1 need to be 301 redirected. A new column (e.g. Destination URLs) needs to be added in SpreadSheet 1 and populated with URLs from the new site. Depending on the number of URLs to be mapped this can be done:
    • Manually – By looking at the content of the old URL, the equivalent page on the new site needs to be found so the URL gets added in the Destination URLs column.
      1. If no identical page can be found, just chose the most relevant one (e.g. similar product page, parent page etc.)
      2. If the page has no content pay attention to its page title (if known or still cached by Google) or/and URL for keywords which should give you a clue about its previous content. Then, try to find a relevant page on the new site; that would be the mapping URL.
      3. If there is no content, no keywords in the URL and no descriptive page title, try to find out from the site owners what those URLs used to be about.
    • Automatically – By writing a script that maps URLs based on page titles, meta description or URL patterns matching.
  12. Search for duplicate entries again in the ‘old URLs’ row and remove the entire row.
  13. Where patterns can be identified, pattern matching rules using regular expressions are always more preferable because that would reduce the web server’s load. Ending up with thousands one-to-one redirects is not ideal and should be avoided, especially if there is a better solution.

Phase 4: New Site On Test Server

Because human errors do occur, testing that everything has gone as planned is extremely important. Unfortunately, because the migration responsibility falls mainly on the shoulders of the SEO, several checks need to be carried out.

4.1 Block crawler access

The first and foremost thing to do is to make sure that the test environment is not accessible to any search engine crawler. There are several ways to achieve that but some are better than others.

  • Block access in robots.txt (not recommended)

This is not recommended because Google would still crawl the site and possibly index the URLs (but not the content). This implementation also runs the risk of going live if all files on the test server are going to be mirrored on the live one. The following two lines of code will restrict search engines access to the website:

User-Agent: *
Disallow: /

  • Add a meta robots noindex to all pages (not recommended)

This is recommended by Google as a way to entirely prevent a page’s contents from being indexed.

<html>
<head>
<title>…</title>
<meta name=”robots” content=”noindex”>
</head>

The main reason this is not recommended is because it runs the risk to be pushed to the live environment and remove all pages out of the search engines’ index. Unfortunately, web developers’ focus is on other things when a new site goes live and by the time you notice such a mistake, it may be a bit late. In many cases, removing the noindex after the site has gone live can take several days, or even weeks depending on how quickly technical issues are being resolved within an organisation. Usually, the bigger the business, the longer it takes as several people would be involved.
  • Password-protect the test environment (recommended)

This is a very efficient solution but it may cause some issues. Trying to crawl a password protected website is a challenge and not many crawler applications have the ability to achieve this. Xenu Links Sleuth can crawl password-protected sites.

  • Allow access to certain IP addresses (recommended)

This way, the web server allows access to specific external IP addresses e.g. that of the SEO agency. Access to search engine crawlers is restricted and there are no indexation risks.

4.2 Prepare a Robots.txt file

That could be a fairly basic one, allowing access to all crawlers and indicating the path to the XML sitemap such as:

User-agent: *
Allow: /
Sitemap: http://www.yoursite.com/sitemap.xml

However, certain parts of the site could be excluded, particularly if the legacy site has duplicate content issues. For instance, internal search, pagination, or faceted navigation are often generating multiple URLs with the same content. This is a great opportunity to deal with legacy issues, so search engine crawling of the website can become more efficient. Saving up on crawl bandwidth will allow search engine to crawl only those URLs which are worthy of being indexed. That means that deep pages would stand a better chance to be found and rank quicker.

4.3 Prepare XML sitemap(s)

Using your favourite tool, generate an XML sitemap, ideally containing HTML pages only. Xenu again does a great job because it easily generate XML sitemaps containing only HTML pages. For large web sites, generating multiple XML sitemaps for the different parts of the site would be a much better option so indexation issues could be easier identified later. The XML sitemap(s) should then be tested again for broken links before the site goes live.

Source: blogstorm.co.uk

Google Webmaster Tools allow users to test XML sitemaps before they get submitted. This is something worth doing in order to identify errors.

4.4 Prepare HTML sitemap

Even though the XML sitemap alone should be enough to let search engines know about the URLs on the new site, implementing an HTML sitemap could help search engine spiders make a deep crawl of the site. The sooner the new URLs get crawled, the better. Again, check the HTML sitemap for broken links usingCheck My Links (Chrome) or Simple Links Counter (Firefox).

4.5 Fix broken links

Run the crawler application again as more internal/external broken links, (never trust a) 302 redirects, or other issues may get detected.

4.6 Check 301 redirects

This is the most important step of this phase and it may need to be repeated more than once. All URLs to be redirected should be checked. If you do not have direct access to the server one way to check the 301 redirects is by using Xenu’s Check URL List feature. Alternatively, Screaming Frog’s list view can be used in a similar manner. These applications will report whether 301s are in place or not, but not if the destination URL is the correct one. That could only be done in Excel using the VLOOKUP function.

4.7 Optimise redirects

If time allows, the list of redirects needs to be optimised for optimal performance. Because the redirects are loaded into the web server’s memory when the server starts, a high number of redirects can have a negative impact on performance. Similarly, each time a page request is being made, the web server will compare that against the redirects list. Thus, the shorter the list, the quicker the web server will respond. Even though such performance issues can be compensated by increasing the web server’s resources, it is always best practice to work out pattern matching rules using regular expressions, which can cover hundreds or even thousands of possible requests.

4.8 Resolve duplicate content issues

Duplicate content issues should be identified and resolved as early as possible. A few common cases of duplicate content may occur, regardless of what was happening previously on the legacy web site. URL normalisation at this stage will allow for optimal site crawling, as search engines will come across as many unique pages as possible. Such cases include:

  • Directories with and without a trailing slash (e.g. this URL should redirect to that).
  • Default directory indexes (e.g. this URL should redirect to that).
  • Http and https URLs.
  • Case in URLs. (e.g. this URL should redirect to that, or just return the 404 error page like this as opposed to that, which is the canonical one).
  • URLs on different host domains e.g. http://www.examplesite.com and examplesite.com (e.g. this URL should redirect to that).
  • Internal search generating duplicate pages under different URLs.
  • URLs with added parameters after the ? character.

In all the above examples, poor URL normalisation results in duplicate pages that will have a negative impact on:

  • Crawl bandwidth (search engine crawlers will be crawling redundant pages).
  • Indexation (as search engines try to remove duplicate pages from their indexes).
  • Link equity (as it will be diluted amongst the duplicate pages).

4.9 Site & Robots.txt monitoring

Make sure the URL of the new site is monitored using a service like Uptime Robot. Each time the site is down for whatever reason, Uptime Robot will be notified by email, Twitter DM, or even SMS. Another useful service to set up a robots.txt monitoring service such as Robotto. Each time the robots.txt file gets updated you get notified, which is really handy.

Uptime Robot logs all server up/down time events

Phase 5: New Site Goes Live

Finally the new site has gone live. Depending on the authority, link equity and size of the site Google should start crawling the site fairly quickly. However, do not expect the SERPs to be updated instantly. The new pages and URLs will be updated in the SERPs over a period of time, which typically can take from two to four weeks. For pages that seem to take ages to get indexed it may be worth using a ping service like Pingler.

5.1 Notify Google via Webmaster Tools

If the domain name changes, you need to notify Google via the Webmaster Tools account of the old site, as soon as the new site goes live. In order to do that, the new domain needs to be added and verified. If the domain name remains the same, Google will find its way to the new URLs sooner or later. That mainly depends on the domain authority of the site and how frequently Google visits it. It would also be a very good idea to upload the XML sitemap via Webmaster Tools so the indexation process can be monitored (see phase 6).

5.2 Manual checks

No matter how well everything appeared on the test server, several checks need to be carried out and running the crawler application again is the first thing to do. Pay attention for:

  • Anomalies in the robots.txt file
  • Meta robots noindex tags in the <head> section of the HTML source code
  • Meta robots nofollow tags in the source code
  • 302 redirects. 301 redirects should be used instead as 302s are treated inconsistently by search engines and do not pass link equity
  • Check Webmaster Tools for errors messages
  • Check XML sitemap for errors (e.g. broken links, internal 301s)
  • Check HTML sitemap for similar errors (e.g. using Simple Links Counter or Check My Links)
  • Missing or not properly migrated page titles
  • Missing or not properly migrated meta descriptions
  • Make sure that the 404 page returns a 404 server response
  • Make sure the analytics tracking code is present on all pages and is tracking correctly
  • Measure new site performance and compare it with that of the previous site

Using Httpfox, a 302 redirect has been detected

5.3 Monitor crawl errors

Google Webmaster tools, Bing Webmaster Tools and Yandex Webmaster all report crawl errors and is certainly worth checking often during the first days or even weeks. Pay attention to reported errors and dates and always try figure out what has been caused by the new site or the legacy one.

5.4 Update most valuable inbound links

From the CSV files created in step 3.2, figure out which are the most valuable inbound links (using Majestic or OSE data) and then try to contact the web masters of those sites, requesting a URL update. Direct links pass more value than 301 redirects and this time-consuming task will eventually pay back. On the new site, check the inbound links and top pages tabs of OSE and try to identify new opportunities such as:

  1. Links from high authority sites which are being redirected.
  2. High authority 404 pages which should be redirected so the link juice flows to the site.

In the following example, followed and 301 external links have been downloaded in a CSV file.

Pay attention to the ‘301’ columns for cells with the Yes value. Trying to update as many of these URLs as possible so the point directly to the site would pass more link equity to the site:

Identify the most authoritative links and contact website owners to update them so they point to the new URL

5.5 Build fresh links

Generating new, fresh links to the homepage, category and sub-category pages is a good idea because:

  1. With 301 redirects some link juice may get lost, thus new links can compensate for that.
  2. They can act as extra paths for search engine spiders to crawl the site.

5.6 Eliminate internal 301 redirects

Although Web masters are quite keen on implementing 301 redirects, they often do not show the same interest updating the onsite URLs so internal redirects do not occur. Depending on the volume and frequency of internal 301 redirects, some link juice may evaporate, whilst the redirects will unnecessarily add an extra load to the web server. Again, in order to detect internal 301 redirects, crawling the site would be handy.

Phase 6: Measure Impact/Success

Once the new site gas finally gone live, the impact of all the previous hard work needs to be monitored. It may be a good idea monitoring rankings and indexation on a weekly basis but in general no conclusions should be made earlier than 3-4 weeks. No matter how good or bad rankings and traffic appear to be, you need to be patient. A deep crawl can take time, depending on the site’s size, architecture and internal linking. Things to be looking at:

  • Indexation. Submitted and indexed number of URLs reported by Webmaster Tools (see below)
  • Rankings. They usually fluxuate for 1-3 weeks and initially they may drop. Eventually, they should recover around the same positions they were previously (or just about).
  • Open site explorer metrics. Although they do not get updated daily, it is worth keeping an eye on reported figures for Domain Authority, Page Authority and MozRank on a monthly basis. Ideally, the figures should be as close as possible to those of the old site within a couple of months. If not, that is not a very good indication and you may have lost some link equity along the way.
  • Google cache. Check the timestamps of cached pages for different page types e.g. homepage, category pages, product pages.
  • Site performance in Webmaster Tools. This one may take a few weeks until it gets updated but it is very useful to know how Google perceives site performance before and after the migration. Any spikes that stand out need should alarm the web master and several suggestions can be made e.g. using Yslow and Page Speed in Firefox or Page Speed and Speed Tracer in Chrome.

Check site performance in Webmaster Tools for unusual post migration anomalies

Indexation of web pages, images and videos can be monitored in Google Webmaster Tools

Appendix: Site Migration & SEO Useful Tools

Some of the following tools would be very handy during the migration process, for different reasons.

Crawler applications

Xenu Link Sleuth (free)
Analog X Link Examiner (free)
Screaming Frog (paid)
Integrity (For MAC – free)

Scraper applications

Scraper Extension for Chrome
Scrapebox (paid)

Link Intelligence software

Open Site Explorer (free & paid)
Majestic SEO (free & paid)

HTTP Analysers

HTTP Fox (Firefox)
Live HTTP Headers (Firefox)

IP checkers

Show IP (Firefox)
WorldIP (Firefox)
Website IP (Chrome)

Link checkers

Simple Links Counter (Firefox)
Check My Links (Chrome)

Monitoring tools

Uptime Robot (monitors domains for downtime)
Robotto (monitors robots.txt)

Rank checkers

Google Global (Chrome)
SEO SERP (Chrome)
SEO Book Rank Checker (Firefox)

Site performance analysis

Yslow (Firefox)
Page Speed (for Firefox)
Page Speed (for Chrome)
|Speed Tracer (Chrome)

About the author

Modesto Siotos (@macmodi) works a Senior Natural Search Analyst for iCrossing UK, where he focuses on technical SEO issues, link tactics and content strategy. His move from web development into SEO was a trip with no return, and he is grateful to have worked with some SEO legends. Modesto is happy to share his experiences with others and writes regularly for a digital marketing blog.

Source: seomoz blog

Search Engine Optimization for Beginners

 

You’ve finished your web design, uploaded your files, and set up your blog, but you’re still not getting as many visitors as you hoped for. What gives? Chances are you haven’t started working on one of the most important ways to market your site, Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

What SEO is?

Search Engine Optimization refers to the collection of techniques and practices that allow a site to get more traffic from search engines (Google, Yahoo, Microsoft). SEO can be divided into two main areas: off-page SEO (work that takes place separate from the website) and on-page SEO (website changes to make your website rank better). This tutorial will cover both areas in detail! Remember, a website is not fully optimized for search engines unless it employs both on and off-page SEO.

What SEO is Not?

SEO is not purchasing the number #1 sponsored link through Google Adwords and proclaiming that you have a #1 ranking on Google. Purchasing paid placements on search engines is a type of Search Engine Marketing (SEM), and is not covered in this tutorial.

SEO is not ranking #1 for your company’s name. If you’re reading this tutorial, you probably already know that ranking for popular terms is darn near impossible, but specific terms, such as a company name, is a freebie. The search engines usually are smart enough to award you that rank by default (unless you are being penalized).

Who Uses SEO?

If a website is currently ranked #10 on Google for the search phrase, “how to make egg rolls,” but wants to rise to #1, this websites needs to consider SEO. Because search engines have become more and more popular on the web, nearly anyone trying to get seen on the web can benefit from a little SEO loving. 🙂

Do Not Forget Social Media Marketing

I must say that social media marketing has a great impact on your online marketing campaign. It’s ‘word of mouth’ marketing where you have the opportunity to promote your website to millions of users. It greatly helps in branding your product. In fact, It helps you in making successful in current fast competition.

Wake Up SEOs, the New Google is Here

I must admit that lately Google is the cause of my headaches.

No, not just because it decided I was not going to be not provided with useful information about my sites. And neither because it is changing practically every tool I got used since my first days as an SEO (Google Analytics, Webmaster Tools, Gmail…). And, honestly, not only because it released a ravenous Panda.

No, the real question that is causing my headaches is: What the hell does Google want to go with all these changes?

Let me start quoting the definition of SEO Google gives in its Guidelines:

Search engine optimization is about putting your site’s best foot forward when it comes to visibility in search engines, but your ultimate consumers are your users, not search engines.

Technical SEO still matters, a lot!

If you want to put your site’s best foot forward and make it the most visible possible in search engines, then you have to be a master in technical SEO.

We all know that if we do not pay attention to the navigation architecture of our site, if we don’t care about the on-page optimization, if we mess up with the rel=”canonical” tag, the pagination and the faceted navigation of our web, and if we don’t pay attention to the internal content duplication, etc. etc., well, we are not going to go that far with Search.

Is all this obvious? Yes, it is. But people in our circle tend to pay attention just to the last bright shining object and forget what one of the basic pillars of our discipline is: make a site optimized to be visible in the search engines.

The next time you hear someone saying “Content is King” or “Social is the new link building”, snap her face and ask her when it was the last time she logged in Google Webmaster Tools.

Go fix your site, make it indexable and solve all the technical problems it may have. Just after done that, you can start doing all the rest.

User is king

Technical SEO still matters, but that does not mean that it is synonym of SEO. So, if you hear someone affirming it, please snap her face too.

No... content is not the only King. User is the King! Image by Jeff Gregory

User and useful have the same root: use. And a user finds useful a website when it offers an answer to her needs, and if its use is easy and fast..

From the point of view that Google has of User, that means that a site to rank:

  1. must be fast;
  2. must have useful content and related to what it pretends to be about;
  3. must be presented to Google so that it can understand the best it can what it is about.

The first point explains the emphasis Google gives to site speed, because it is really highly correlated to a better user experience.

The second is related to the quality of the content of a site, and it is substantially what Panda is all about. Panda, if we want to reduce it at its minimal terms, is the attempt by Google of cleaning its SERPs of any content it does not consider useful for the end users.

The third explains the Schema.org adoption and why Google (and the other Search Engines) are definitely moving to the Semantic Web: because it helps search engines organize the bazillion contents they index every second. And the most they understand really what is your content about, the better they will deliver it in the SERPs.

The link graph mapped

The decline of Link graph

We all know that just with on-site optimization we cannot win the SERPs war, and that we need links to our site to make it authoritative. But we all know how much the link graph can be gamed.

Even though we still have tons of reasons to complain with Google about the quality of SERPs, especially due to sites that ranks thanks to manipulative link building tactics, it is hard for me to believe that Google is doing nothing in order to counteract this situation. What I believe is that Google has decided to solve the problem not with patches but with a totally new kind of graph.

That does not mean that links are not needed anymore, not at all, as links related factors still represent (and will represent) a great portion of all the ranking factors, but other factors are now cooked in the ranking pot.

Be Social and become a trusted seed

In a Social-Caffeinated era, the faster way to understand if a content is popular is to check its “relative” popularity in the social media environment. I say “relative”, because not all contents are the same and if a meme needs many tweets, +1 and likes/share to be considered more popular than others, it is not so for more niche kind of contents. Combining social signals with the traditional link graph, Google can understand the real popularity of a page.

The problem, as many are saying since almost one year, is that it is quite easy to spam in Social Media.

The Facebook Social Graph from Silicon Angle

For this reason Google introduced the concepts of Author and Publisher and, even more important, Google linked them to the Google Profiles and is pushing Google Plus, which is not just another Social Media, but what Google aims to be in the future: a social search engine.

Rel=”author” and Rel=”publisher” are the solution Google is adopting in order to better control, within other things, the spam pollution of the SERPs.

If you are a blogger, you will be incentivized in marking your content with Author and link it to your G+ Profile, and as a Site, you are incentivized to create your G+ Business page and to promote it with a badge on you site that has the rel=”publisher” in its code.

Trusted seeds are not anymore only sites, but can be also persons (i.e.: Rand or Danny Sullivan) or social facets of an entity… so, the closer I am in the Social Graph to those persons//entity the more trusted I am to Google eyes.

The new Google graph

As we can see, Google is not trying to rely only on the link graph, as it is quite easy to game, but it is not simply adding the social signals to the link graph, because they too can be gamed. What Google is doing is creating and refining a new graph that see cooperating Link graph, Social graph and Trust graphand which is possibly harder to game. Because it can be gamed still, but – hopefully – needing so many efforts that it may become not-viable as a practice.

Wake up SEOs, the new Google is here

As a conclusion, let me borrow what Larry Page wrote on Google+ (bold is mine):

Our ultimate ambition is to transform the overall Google experience […] because we understand what you want and can deliver it instantly.

This means baking identity and sharing into all of our products so that we build a real relationship with our users. Sharing on the web will be like sharing in real life across all your stuff. You’ll have better, more relevant search results and ads.

Think about it this way … last quarter, we’ve shipped the +, and now we’re going to ship the Google part.

I think that it says it all and what we have lived a year now is explained clearly by the Larry Page words.

What can we do as SEOs? Evolve, because SEO is not dieing, but SEOs can if they don’t assume that winter – oops – the change of Google is coming.

The New SEO graph

 

How to Speed up Search Engine Indexing

It’s a common knowledge that nowadays users don’t only search for trusted sources of information but also for fresh content. That’s why the last couple of years, the Search engines have been working on how to speed up their indexing process. Few months ago, Google has announced the completion of their new indexing system called Caffeine which promises fresher results and faster indexation.

The truth is that comparing to the past, the indexing process has became much faster. Nevertheless lots of webmasters still face indexing problems either when they launch a new website or when they add new pages. In this article we will discuss 5 simple SEO techniques that can help you speed up the indexation of your website.

1. Add links on high traffic websites

The best thing you can do in such situations is to increase the number of links that point to your homepage or to the page that you want to index. The number of incoming links and the PageRank of the domain, affect directly both the total number of indexed pages of the website and the speed of indexation.

As a result by adding links from high traffic websites you can reduce the indexing time. This is because the more links a page receives, the greater the probabilities are to be indexed. So if you face indexing problems make sure you add your link in your blog, post a thread in a relevant forum, write press releases or articles that contain the link and submit them to several websites. Additionally social media can be handy tools in such situation, despite the fact that in most of the cases their links are nofollowed. Have in mind that even if the major search engines claim that they do not follow the nofollowed links, experiments have shown that not only they do follow them but also that they index the pages faster (Note that the fact that they follow them does not mean that they pass any link juice to them).

2. Use XML and HTML sitemaps

Theoretically Search Engines are able to extract the links of a page and follow them without needing your help. Nevertheless it is highly recommended to use XML or HTML sitemaps since it is proven that they can help the indexation process. After creating the XML sitemaps make sure you submit them to the Webmaster Consoles of the various search engines and include them in robots.txt. So make sure you keep your sitemaps up-to-date and resubmit them when you have major changes in your website.

3. Work on your Link Structure

As we saw in previous articles, link structure is extremely important for SEO because it can affect your rankings, the PageRank distribution and the indexation. Thus if you face indexing problems check your link structure and ensure that the not-indexed pages are linked properly from webpages that are as close as possible to the root (homepage). Also make sure that your site does not have duplicate content problems that could affect both the number of pages that get indexed and the average crawl period.

A good method to achieve the faster indexation of a new page is to add a link directly from your homepage. Finally if you want to increase the number of indexed pages, make sure you have a tree-like link structure in your website and that your important pages are no more than 3 clicks away from the home page (Three-click rule).

4. Change the crawl rate

Another way to decrease the indexing time in Google is to change the crawl rate from the Google Webmaster Tools Console. Setting the crawl rate to “faster” will allow Googlebot to crawl more pages but unfortunately it will also increase the generated traffic on your server. Of course since the maximum allowed crawl rate that you can set is roughly 1 request every 3-4 seconds (actually 0.5 requests per second + 2 seconds pause between requests), this should not cause serious problems for your server.

crawl-rate

5. Use the available tools

The major search engines provide various tools that can help you manage your website. Bing provides you with the Bing Toolbox, Google supports the Google Webmaster Tools and Yahoo offers the Yahoo Site Explorer. In all the above consoles you can manage the indexation settings of your website and your submitted sitemaps. Make sure that you use all of them and that you regularly monitor your websites for warnings and errors. Also resubmit or ping search engine sitemap services when you make a significant amount of changes on your website. A good tool that can help you speed up this pinging process is the Site Submitter, nevertheless it is highly recommended that you use also the official tools of every search engine.

If you follow all the above tips and you still face indexing problems then you should check whether your website isbanned from the search engines, if it is developed with search engine friendly techniques, whether you have enough domain authority to index the particular amount of pages or if you have made a serious SEO mistake (for example block the search engines by using robots.txt or meta-robots etc). A good way to detect such mistakes is to use the Web SEO Analysis tool which provides detailed diagnostics.  Finally most of the major search engines have special groups and forums where you can seek for help, so make sure you visit them and post your questions.

source: webseoanalytics.com

Search Engine Algorithm Basics

A good search engine does not attempt to return the pages that best match the input query. A good search engine tries to answer the underlying question. If you become aware of this you’ll understand why Google (and other search engines), use a complex algorithm to determine what results they should return. The factors in the algorithm consist of “hard factors” as the number of backlinks to a page and perhaps some social recommendations through likes and +1′ s. These are usually external influences. You also have the factors on the page itself. For this the way a page is build and various page elements play a role in the algorithm. But only by analyzing the on-site and off-site factors is it possible for Google to determine which pages will answer is the question behind the query. For this Google will have to analyze the text on a page.

In this article I will elaborate on the problems of a search engine and optional solutions. At the end of this article we haven’t revealed Google’s algorithm (unfortunately), but we’ll be one step closer to understand some advice we often give as an SEO. There will be some formulas, but do not panic. This article isn’t just about those formulas. The article contains a excel file. Oh and the best thing: I will use some Dutch delights to illustrate the problems.

Croquets and Bitterballen
Behold: Croquets are the elongated and bitterballen are the round ones 😉

True OR False
Search engines have evolved tremendously in recent years, but at first they could only deal with Boolean operators. In simple terms, a term was included in a document or not. Something was true or false, 1 or 0. Additionally you could use the operators as AND, OR and NOT to search documents that contain multiple terms or to exclude terms. This sounds fairly simple, but it does have some problems with it. Suppose we have two documents, which consist of the following texts:

Doc1:
“And our restaurant in New York serves croquets and bitterballen.”

Doc2:
“In the Netherlands you retrieve croquets and frikandellen from the wall.”
Frikandellen
Oops, almost forgot to show you the frikandellen 😉

If we were to build a search engine, the first step is tokenization of the text. We want to be able to quickly determine which documents contain a term. This is easier if we all put tokens in a database. A token is any single term in a text, so how many tokens does Doc1 contain?

At the moment you started to answer this question for yourself, you probably thought about the definition of a “term”. Actually, in the example “New York” should be recognized as one term. How we can determine that the two individual words are actually one word is outside the scope of this article, so at the moment we threat each separate word as a separate token. So we have 10 tokens in Doc1 and 11 tokens in Doc2. To avoid duplication of information in our database, we will store types and not the tokens.

Types are the unique tokens in a text. In the example Doc1 contains twice the token “and”. In this example I ignore the fact that “and” appears once with and once without being capitalized. As with the determination of a term, there are techniques to determine whether something actually needs to be capitalized. In this case, we assume that we can store it without a capital and that “And” & “and” are the same type.

By storing all the types in the database with the documents where we can find them, we’re able to search within the database with the help of Booleans. The search “croquets” will result in both Doc1 and Doc2. The search for “croquets AND bitterballen” will only return Doc1 as a result. The problem with this method is that you are likely to get too much or too little results. In addition, it lacks the ability to organize the results. If we want to improve our method we have to determine what we can use other then the presence / absence of a term in a document. Which on-page factors would you use to organize the results if you were Google?

Zone Indexes
A relatively simple method is to use zone indexes. A web page can be divided into different zones. Think of a title, description, author and body. By adding a weight to each zone in a document, we’re able to calculate a simple score for each document. This is one of the first on page methods search engines used to determine the subject of a page. The operation of scores by zone indexes is as follows:

Suppose we add the following weights ​​to each zone:

Zone Weight
title 0.4
description 0.1
content 0.5

We perform the following search query:
“croquets AND bitterballen”

And we have a document with the following zones:

Zone Content Boolean Score
title New York Café 0 0
description Café with delicious croquets and bitterballen 1 0.1
content Our restaurant in New York serves croquets andbitterballen 1 0.5
Total 0.6

Because at some point everyone started abusing the weights assigned to for example the description, it became more important for Google to split the body in different zones and assign a different weight to each individual zone in the body.

This is quite difficult because the web contains a variety of documents with different structures. The interpretation of an XML document by such a machine is quite simple. When interpreting an HTML document it becomes harder for a machine. The structure and tags are much more limited, which makes the analysis more difficult. Of course there will be HTML5 in the near future and Google supports microformats, but it still has its limitations. For example if you know that Google assigns more weight to content within the <content> tag and less to content in the <footer> tag, you’ll never use the <footer> tag.

To determine the context of a page, Google will have to divide a web page into blocks. This way Google can judge which blocks on a page are important and which are not. One of the methods that can be used is the text / code ratio. A block on a page that contains much more text than HTML code contains probably the main content on the page. A block that contains many links / HTML code and little content is probably the menu. This is why choosing the right WYSIWYG editor is very important. Some of these editors use a a lot of unnecessary HTML code.

The use of text / code ratio is just one of the methods which a search engine can use to divide a page into blocks. Bill Slawski talked about identifying blocks earlier this year.

The advantage of the zone indexes method is that you can calculate quite simple a score for each document. A disadvantage of course is that many documents can get the same score.

Term frequency
When I asked you to think of on-page factors you would use to determine relevance of a document, you probably thought about the frequency of the query terms. It is a logical step to increase weight to each document using the search terms more often.

Some SEO agencies stick to the story of using the keywords on a certain percentage in the text. We all know that isn’t true, but let me show you why. I’ll try to explain it on the basis of the following examples. Here are some formulas to emerge, but as I said it is the outline of the story that matters.

The numbers in the table below are the number of occurrences of a word in the document (also called term frequency or tf). So which document has a better score for the query: croquets and bitterballen ?

croquets and café bitterballen Amsterdam
Doc1 8 10 3 2 0
Doc2 1 20 3 9 2
DocN
Query 1 1 0 1 0

The score for both documents would be as follows:
score(“croquets and bitterballen”, Doc1) = 8 + 10 + 2 = 20
score(“croquets and bitterballen”, Doc2) = 1 + 20 + 9 = 30

Document 2 is in this case closer related to the query. In this example the term “and” gains the most weight, but is this fair? It is a stop word, and we like to give it only a little value. We can achieve this by using inverse document frequency (tf-idf), which is the opposite of document frequency (df). Document frequency is the number of documents where a term occurs. Inverse document frequency is, well, the opposite. As the number of documents in which a term grows, idf will shrink.

You can calculate idf by dividing the total number of documents you have in your corpus by the number of documents containing the term and then take the logarithm of that quotient.

Suppose that the IDF of our query terms are as follows:
Idf(croquets)            = 5
Idf(and)                   = 0.01
Idf(bitterballen)         = 2

Then you get the following scores:
score(“croquets and bitterballen”, Doc1) = 8*5  + 10*0.01 + 2*2 = 44.1
score(“croquets and bitterballen”, Doc2) = 1*5 + 20*0.01 + 9*2 = 23.2

Now Doc1 has a better score. But now we don’t take the length into account. One document can contain much more content then another document, without being more relevant. A long document gains a higher score quite easy with this method.

Vector model
We can solve this by looking at the cosine similarity of a document. An exact explanation of the theory behind this method is outside the scope of this article, but you can think about it as an kind of harmonic mean between the query terms in the document. I made an excel file, so you can play with it yourself. There is an explanation in the file itself. You need the following metrics:

  • Query terms – each separate term in the query.
  • Document frequency – how many documents does Google know containing that term?
  • Term frequency – the frequency for each separate query term in the document (add this Focus Keyword widget made by Sander Tamaëla to your bookmarks, very helpful for this part)

Here’s an example where I actually used the model. The website had a page that was designed to rank for “fiets kopen” which is Dutch for “buying bikes”. The problem was that the wrong page (the homepage) was ranking for the query.

For the formula, we include the previously mentioned inverse document frequency (idf). For this we need the total number of documents in the index of Google. For this we assume N = 10.4 billion.

An explanation of the table below:

  • tf = term frequency
  • df = document frequency
  • idf = inverse document frequency
  • Wt,q = weight for term in query
  • Wt,d = weight for term in document
  • Product = Wt,q * Wt,d
  • Score = Sum of the products

The main page, which was ranking: http://www.fietsentoko.nl/

term Query Document Product
tf df idf Wt,q tf Wf Wt,d
Fiets 1 25.500.000 3.610493159 3.610493159 21 441 0.70711 2.55302
Kopen 1 118.000.000 2.945151332 2.9452 21 441 0.70711 2.08258
Score: 4.6356

The page I wanted to rank: http://www.fietsentoko.nl/fietsen/

term Query Document Product
tf df idf Wt,q tf Wf Wt,d
Fiets 1 25.500.000 3.610493159 3.610493159 22 484 0.61782 2.23063
Kopen 1 118.000.000 2.945151332 2.945151332 28 784 0.78631 2.31584
Score: 4.54647

Although the second document contains the query terms more often, the score of the document for the query was lower (higher is better). This was because the lack of balance between the query terms. Following this calculation, I changed the text on the page, and increased the use of the term “fietsen” and decreased the use of “kopen” which is a more generic term in the search engine and has less weight. This changed the score as follows:

term Query Document Product
tf df idf Wt,q tf Wf Wt,d
Fiets 1 25.500.000 3.610493159 3.610493159 28 784 0.78631 2.83897
Kopen 1 118.000.000 2.945151332 2.945151332 22 484 0.61782 1.81960
Score: 4.6586

After a few days, Google crawled the page and the document I changed started to rank for the term. We can conclude that the number of times you use a term is not necessarily important. It is important to find the right balance for the terms you want to rank.

Speed up the process
To perform this calculation for each document that meets the search query, cost a lot of processing power. You can fix this by adding some static values ​​to determine for which documents you want to calculate the score. For example PageRank is a good static value. When you first calculate the score for the pages matching the query and having an high PageRank, you have a good change to find some documents which would end up in the top 10 of the results anyway.

Another possibility is the use of champion lists. For each term take only the top N documents with the best score for that term. If you then have a multi term query, you can intersect those lists to find documents containing all query terms and probably have a high score. Only if there are too few documents containing all terms, you can search in all documents. So you’re not going to rank by only finding the best vector score, you have the have your statics scores right as well.

Relevance feedback
Relevance feedback is assigning more or less value to a term in a query, based on the relevance of a document. Using relevance feedback, a search engine can change the user query without telling the user.

The first step here is to determine whether a document is relevant or not. Although there are search engines where you can specify if a result or a document is relevant or not, Google hasn’t had such a function for a long time. Their first attempt was by adding the favorite star at the search results. Now they are trying it with the Google+ button. If enough people start pushing the button at a certain result, Google will start considering the document relevant for that query.

Another method is to look at the current pages that rank well. These will be considered relevant. The danger of this method is topic drift. If you’re looking for bitterballen and croquettes, and the best ranking pages are all snack bars in Amsterdam, the danger is that you will assign value to Amsterdam and end up with just snack bars in Amsterdam in the results.

Another way for Google is to use is by simply using data mining. They can also look at the CTR of different pages. Pages where the CTR is higher and have a lower bounce rate then average can be considered relevant. Pages with a very high bounce rate will just be irrelevant.

An example of how we can use this data for adjusting the query term weights is Rochio’s feedback formula. It comes down to adjusting the value of each term in the query and possibly adding additional query terms. The formula for this is as follows:
Rochhio feedback formula

The table below is a visual representation of this formula. Suppose we apply the following values ​​:
Query terms: +1 (alpha)
Relevant terms: +1 (beta)
Irrelevant terms: -0.5 (gamma)

We have the following query:
“croquets and bitterballen”

The relevance of the following documents is as follows:
Doc1   : relevant
Doc2   : relevant
Doc3   : not relevant

Terms Q Doc1 Doc2 Doc3 Weight new query
croquets 1 1 1 0 1 + 1 – 0        = 2
and 1 1 0 1 1 + 0.5 – 0.5  = 1
bitterballen 1 0 0 0 1 + 0 – 0         = 1
café 0 0 1 0 0 + 0.5 – 0     = 0.5
Amsterdam 0 0 0 1 0 + 0 – 0.5     = -0.5  = 0

The new query is as follows:
croquets(2) and(1) bitterballen(1) cafe(0.5)

The value for each term is the weight that it gets in your query. We can use those weights in our vector calculations. Although the term Amsterdam was given a score of -0.5, the adjust negative values back to 0. In this way we do not exclude terms from the search results. And although café did not appear in the original query, it was added and was given a weight in the new query.

Suppose Google uses this way of relevance feedback, then you could look at pages that already rank for a particular query. By using the same vocabulary, you can ensure that you get the most out of this way of relevance feedback.

Takeaways
In short, we’ve considered one of the options for assigning a value to a document based on the content of the page. Although the vector method is fairly accurate, it is certainly not the only method to calculate relevance. There are many adjustments to the model and it also remains only a part of the complete algorithm of search engines like Google. We have taken a look into relevance feedback as well. *cough* panda *cough*. I hope I’ve given you some insights in the methods search engine can use other then external factors. Now it’s time to discuss this and to go play with the excel file 🙂

Have a good day!!!

source: http://www.seomoz.org

The 4 Critically Essential Off-The-Page Search Engine Optimization Factors

In our last lesson we talked about the things you can do on your website to help it rank well in the search engines — in other words, the “on the page” factors. In this lesson we’re going to talk about the external factors that can influence your rankings — the “off the page” factors.

Your Google PageRank

Before we get into the “hows”, it’s important that you understand a little bit about Google’s PageRank. PageRank is Google’s way of indexing all content and websites based on importance in the internet community. It’s an important factor in Google’s ranking algorithm, and by understanding a little of how it works, you’ll have a better idea about how to boost your rankings in the world’s most popular search engine.

To establish the “importance” of your page, Google looks at how many other websites are linking to your page. These links are like “votes”, and the more “votes” you have, the greater your online “importance” and the higher your PageRank.

And higher PageRank is an important contributor to higher search engine rankings.

It’s not as democratic as it sounds, however: Not every page that links to you is given equal “voting power”. Pages that have a high PageRank have more voting power than pages with low PageRank. This means that the “boost” a link gives to your own PageRank is closely related to the PageRank of the site that’s linking to you.

For instance… receiving just ONE link from a PR5 page might well give you more benefit than receiving 20 links from PR0 pages. It’s quality not quantity that’s important.

The equation for working out how much PR value you’ll get from a link looks something like this:

  • PR = 0.15 + 0.85 x (your share of the link PR)
  • By “your share of the link PR” I mean that every site only has a certain amount of PR “juice” to give out. Let’s say a page has 100 votes. Lets say it has 20 outgoing links on that page. Then each link is sending 5 votes to the other site. (100 / 20 = 5) That is a simple way of looking at the share of the PR of the link. In reality the higher-placed links get higher voting power, (e.g. 10 votes each) while the lower-placed ones will get less, (e.g. 2 votes each).

There are many other factors at play that determine the PageRank of a page:

  1. The amount of PageRank flowing in to your page. PageRank can come from other sites linking to your page, but also from other pages on your website linking to your page.
  2. Your internal linking: As I just mentioned, PageRank can also come from other pages on your website, trickling from one page to another through your internal linking, menus and such. The trick is to “sculpt” the flow of your PageRank so that it “pools” in your most important pages. (In other words, don’t waste your PageRank by linking to your “contact us” page and site-map all over the show… add rel=”nofollow” to those links to stop the PageRank leaking through to them.)
  3. The number of pages in your website: the more pages your website has, the higher your PageRank will be.
  4. The number of external sites you link to. Again, think of PageRank as being something that “flows”. By linking to lots of other websites you’re letting your PageRank flow out of your page, rather than allowing it to pool. Try to have reciprocal links wherever possible, so that the PageRank flows back to you.

The best piece of advice is to keep these points in mind when building your site and try to avoid any on-page factors which might be detrimental to the “flow” of your PageRank through your site. Once you’ve done that, work on getting quality links from quality websites. The easiest way to do this is to fill your website with useful, relevant information that makes people want to link to you!

And remember: PageRank is just part of Google’s ranking algorithm. You’ll often see pages with high PageRank being outranked by pages with lower PageRank, which shows that there’s much more at play here!

#1: Build lots of 1-way incoming links

Do this through article submissions, directory submissions, submitting articles to blog networks (such as the PLRPro blog network), buying links (e.g. from digital point forums), and so on.

But be careful…

Purchased links can sometimes be more powerful than links you get by more natural methods… but Google will penalize you if they know that you are buying links. One way they’ll nab you is if you buy a link on a monthly lease and then end up canceling it. One link might not be enough to send up the red flags, but some people buy and cancel hundreds of links in this manner.

A better idea is to buy lifetime links from places like forums.digitalpoint.com, and to try to find links from websites that are on topics relevant to your own.

#2: Get some links from good sites

By “good sites” I mean websites that have a high PageRank, or sites with a high “trust” factor (such as Yahoo, Dmoz or sites with a .edu suffix). If you can get good links to the pages on your site that generate the most income for you, even better — if you can improve the ranking of these pages you’ll get more traffic, more conversions, and more money!

#3: Make sure that pages you gain links from are, in fact, indexed.

A link to your site won’t count for anything if the page that is linking to you hasn’t actually been indexed by the search engines. The search engines won’t see the link, and they won’t give you any credit for it. I see a lot of people submitting their sites to article directories and search directories, and then ending up on a page that the search engines don’t visit. This is pointless!

The good news is that it’s pretty simple to get all these pages indexed. All you have to do is let the search engines know about the page yourself. To do this you need to set up a webpage outside of your main site, such as a free blog or a Twitter.com profile. Make sure that the search engines are indexing this page, of course, and then every time you get a new link to your main site, write about it in your blog or Twitter profile! The search engines will see this and visit the other site — hey presto! The page is now indexed, and you’ll get credit for your link.

Important: Don’t link to this blog or Twitter profile from your main money website. Doing this will create a reciprocal link loop…

#4: Don’t loop your links

Reciprocal links aren’t as powerful as one-way links. This is why you want to receive one-way links from other websites wherever possible.

But there are also things called “reciprocal link loops” which are like bigger versions of this. I mentioned one in the last tip… A links to B, B links to C and C links to A. That’s a loop… it eventually comes full circle back to the first site. A “link loop” can get pretty large, but if it eventually ends up back at the start, it’s still a loop, and all links within the loop become less powerful. Small loops are the worst, but try to avoid loops wherever possible.

That brings us to the end of our critical off-page factors for search engine optimization. In part three of this five-part mini-course I’ll talk link building strategies: Keep an eye out for it!

How Google’s Panda Update Changed SEO Best Practices Forever

It’s here! Google has released Panda update 2.2, just as Matt Cutts said they would at SMX Advanced here in Seattle a couple of weeks ago. This time around, Google has – among other things – improved their ability to detect scraper sites and banish them from the SERPs. Of course, the Panda updates are changes to Google’s algorithm and are not merely manual reviews of sites in the index, so there is room for error (causing devastation for many legitimate webmasters and SEOs).

A lot of people ask what parts of their existing SEO practice they can modify and emphasize to recover from the blow, but alas, it’s not that simple. In this week’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand discusses how the Panda updates work and, more importantly, how Panda has fundamentally changed the best practices for SEO. Have you been Panda-abused? Do you have any tips for recuperating? Let us know in the comments!

Panda, also known as Farmer, was this update that Google came out with in March of this year, of 2011, that rejiggered a bunch of search results and pushed a lot of websites down in the rankings, pushed some websites up in the rankings, and people have been concerned about it ever since. It has actually had several updates and new versions of that implementation and algorithm come out. A lot of people have all these questions like, “Ah, what’s going on around Panda?” There have been some great blog posts on SEOmoz talking about some of the technical aspects. But I want to discuss in this Whiteboard Friday some of the philosophical and theoretical aspects and how Google Panda really changes the way a lot of us need to approach SEO.

So let’s start with a little bit of Panda history. Google employs an engineer named Navneet Panda. The guy has done some awesome work. In fact, he was part of a patent application that Bill Slawski looked into where he found a great way to scale some machine learning algorithms. Now, machine learning algorithms, as you might be aware, are very computationally expensive and they take a long time to run, particularly if you have extremely large data sets, both of inputs and of outputs. If you want, you can research machine learning. It is an interesting fun tactic that computer scientists use and programmers use to find solutions to problems. But basically before Panda, machine learning scalability at Google was at level X, and after it was at the much higher level Y. So that was quite nice. Thanks to Navneet, right now they can scale up this machine learning.

What Google can do based on that is take a bunch of sites that people like more and a bunch of sites that people like less, and when I say like, what I mean is essentially what the quality raters, Google’s quality raters, tell them this site is very enjoyable. This is a good site. I’d like to see this high in the search results. Versus things where the quality raters say, “I don’t like to see this.” Google can say, “Hey, you know what? We can take the intelligence of this quality rating panel and scale it using this machine learning process.”

Here’s how it works. Basically, the idea is that the quality raters tell Googlers what they like. They answer all these questions, and you can see Amit Singhal and Matt Cutts were interviewed by Wired Magazine. They talked about some of the things that were asked of these quality raters, like, “Would you trust this site with your credit card? Would you trust the medical information that this site gives you with your children? Do you think the design of this site is good?” All sorts of questions around the site’s trustworthiness, credibility, quality, how much they would like to see it in the search results. Then they compare the difference.

The sites that people like more, they put in one group. The sites that people like less, they put in another group. Then they look at tons of metrics. All these different metrics, numbers, signals, all sorts of search signals that many SEOs suspect come from user and usage data metrics, which Google has not historically used as heavily. But they think that they use those in a machine learning process to essentially separate the wheat from the chaff. Find the ones that people like more and the ones that people like less. Downgrade the ones they like less. Upgrade the ones they like more. Bingo, you have the Panda update.

So, Panda kind of means something new and different for SEO. As SEOs, for a long time you’ve been doing the same kind of classic things. You’ve been building good content, making it accessible to search engines, doing good keyword research, putting those keywords in there, and then trying to get some links to it. But you have not, as SEOs, we never really had to think as much or as broadly about, “What is the experience of this website? Is it creating a brand that people are going to love and share and reward and trust?” Now we kind of have to think about that.

It is almost like the job of SEO has been upgraded from SEO to web strategist. Virtually everything you do on the Internet with your website can impact SEO today. That is especially true following Panda. The things that they are measuring is not, oh, these sites have better links than these sites. Some of these sites, in fact, have much better links than these sites. Some of these sites have what you and I might regard, as SEOs, as better content, more unique, robust, quality content, and yet, people, quality raters in particular, like them less or the things, the signals that predict that quality raters like those sites less are present in those types of sites.

Let’s talk about a few of the specific things that we can be doing as SEOs to help with this new sort of SEO, this broader web content/web strategy portion of SEO.

First off, design and user experience. I know, good SEOs have been preaching design user experience for years because it tends to generate more links, people contribute more content to it, it gets more social signal shares and tweets and all this other sort of good second order effect. Now, it has a first order effect impact, a primary impact. If you can make your design absolutely beautiful, versus something like this where content is buffeted by advertising and you have to click next, next, next a lot. The content isn’t all in one page. You cannot view it in that single page format. Boy, the content blocks themselves aren’t that fun to read, even if it is not advertising that’s surrounding them, even if it is just internal messaging or the graphics don’t look very good. The site design feels like it was way back in the 1990s. All that stuff will impact the ability of this page, this site to perform. And don’t forget, Google has actually said publicly that even if you have a great site, if you have a bunch of pages that are low quality on that site, they can drag down the rankings of the rest of the site. So you should try and block those for us or take them down. Wow. Crazy, right? That’s what a machine learning algorithm, like Panda, will do. It will predicatively say, “Hey, you know what? We’re seeing these features here, these elements, push this guy down.”

Content quality matters a lot. So a lot of time, in the SEO world, people will say, “Well, you have to have good, unique, useful content.” Not enough. Sorry. It’s just not enough. There are too many people making too much amazing stuff on the Internet for good and unique and grammatically correct and spelled properly and describes the topic adequately to be enough when it comes to content. If you say, “Oh, I have 50,000 pages about 50,000 different motorcycle parts and I am just going to go to Mechanical Turk or I am going to go outsource, and I want a 100 word, two paragraphs about each one of them, just describe what this part is.” You think to yourself, “Hey, I have good unique content.” No, you have content that is going to be penalized by Panda. That is exactly what Panda is designed to do. It is designed to say this is content that someone wrote for SEO purposes just to have good unique content on the page, not content that makes everyone who sees it want to share it and say wow. Right?

If I get to a page about a motorcycle part and I am like, “God, not only is this well written, it’s kind of funny. It’s humorous. It includes some anecdotes. It’s got some history of this part. It has great photos. Man, I don’t care at all about motorcycle parts, and yet, this is just a darn good page. What a great page. If I were interested, I’d be tweeting about this, I’d share it. I’d send it to my uncle who buys motorcycles. I would love this page.” That’s what you have to optimize for. It is a totally different thing than optimizing for did I use the keyword at least three times? Did I put it in the title tag? Is it included in there? Is the rest of the content relevant to the keywords? Panda changes this. Changes it quite a bit. 😉

Finally, you are going to be optimizing around user and usage metrics. Things like, when people come to your site, generally speaking compared to other sites in your niche or ranking for your keywords, do they spend a good amount of time on your site, or do they go away immediately? Do they spend a good amount of time? Are they bouncing or are they browsing? If you have a good browse rate, people are browsing 2, 3, 4 pages on average on a content site, that’s decent. That’s pretty good. If they’re browsing 1.5 pages on some sites, like maybe specific kinds of news sites, that might actually be pretty good. That might be better than average. But if they are browsing like 1.001 pages, like virtually no one clicks on a second page, that might be weird. That might hurt you. Your click-through rate from the search results. When people see your title and your snippet and your domain name, and they go, “Ew, I don’t know if I want to get myself involved in that. They’ve got like three hyphens in their domain name, and it looks totally spammy. I’m not going to get involved.” Then that click-through rate is probably going to suffer and so are your rankings.

They are going to be looking at things like the diversity and quantity of traffic that comes to your site. Do lots of people from all around the world or all around your local region, your country, visit your website directly? They can measure this through Chrome. They can measure it through Android. They can measure it through the Google toolbar. They have all this user and usage metrics. They know where people are going on the Internet, where they spend time, how much time they spend, and what they do on those pages. They know about what happens from the search results too. Do people click from a result and then go right back to the search results and perform another search? Clearly, they were unhappy with that. They can take all these metrics and put them into the machine learning algorithm and then have Panda essentially recalculate. This why you see essentially Google doesn’t issue updates every day or every week. It is about every 30 or 40 days that a new Panda update will come out because they are rejiggering all this stuff. 🙂

One of the things that people who get hit by Panda come up to me and say, “God, how are we ever going to get out of Panda? We’ve made all these changes. We haven’t gotten out yet.” I’m like, “Well, first off, you’re not going to get out of it until they rejigger the results, and then there is no way that you are going to get out of it unless you change the metrics around your site.” So if you go into your Analytics and you see that people are not spending longer on your pages, they are not enjoying them more, they are not sharing them more, they are not naturally linking to them more, your branded search traffic is not up, your direct type in traffic is not up, you see that none of these metrics are going up and yet you think you have somehow fixed the problems that Panda tries to solve for, you probably haven’t.

I know this is frustrating. I know it’s a tough issue. In fact, I think that there are sites that have been really unfairly hit. That sucks and they shouldn’t be and Google needs to work on this. But I also know that I don’t think Google is going to be making many changes. I think they are very happy with the way that Panda has gone from a search quality perspective and from a user happiness perspective. Their searchers are happier, and they are not seeing as much junk in the results. Google likes the way this is going. I think we are going to see more and more of this over time. It could even get more aggressive. I would urge you to work on this stuff, to optimize around these things, and to be ready for this new form of SEO. 🙂

Google Panda 3.1 Update : 11/18

Friday afternoon, sometime after 4pm I believe, Google tweeted that they pushed out a “minor” Panda update effecting less than one-percent of all searches.

The last time Google said a Panda update was minor, it turned out to be pretty significant.

That being said, we should have named it 3.0 – in fact, I spoke to someone at Google who felt the same. So I am going to name this one 3.1, although it does make it easier to reference these updates by dates.

Panda Updates:

 

For more on Panda, see our Google Panda category.

Forum discussion at WebmasterWorld.