SEO From Beginner to Boffin

SEO – From Beginner to Boffin Brian Bentley BSc (Hons) Brian Bentley BSc (Hons) SEO – From Beginner to Boffin (and everything in between) Download...
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SEO – From Beginner to Boffin Brian Bentley BSc (Hons)

Brian Bentley BSc (Hons)

SEO – From Beginner to Boffin (and everything in between)

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SEO – From Beginner to Boffin (and everything in between) 1st edition © 2013 Brian Bentley BSc (Hons) & bookboon.com ISBN 978-87-403-0498-5

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SEO – From Beginner to Boffin: (and everything in between)

Contents

Contents 1 Introduction

6

1.1

Search Engine Optimisation IS a Science.

6

1.2

About the Author

7

1.3

Google isn’t that Bright

7

2

SEO Theories and Practice

10

2.1

Keyword and Competitor Research

10

2.2

Content Remains King

10

2.2

Tagging Up

12

2.3

Site Maps

12

2.4 Linking

13

2.5

Split-testing and Measuring

14

2.6

Best Practice

15

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SEO – From Beginner to Boffin: (and everything in between)

Contents

3

16

Technical SEO and Workflow

3.1 Content

16

3.2

Page Titles and Metas

18

3.3

Title Tags

21

3.4

Site Maps

22

3.5 Links

25

3.6

29

Coding Validation

3.7 Alt-tags

31

3.8 Conversions

33

3.9

Dynamic Websites

34

4

Platform Specific

38

4.1 Joomla

360° thinking

4.2 Wordpress

.

4.3 Drupal 4.4 Magento 4.5 Others

360° thinking

.

39 39 39 40 40

360° thinking

.

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Dis

SEO – From Beginner to Boffin: (and everything in between)

Introduction

1 Introduction 1.1

Search Engine Optimisation IS a Science.

Far too many well meaning Search Engine bods get too philosophical about their work, reading strange things into the latest Google algorithm changes or how Yahoo ranks its site indexes. There is simply no need to think laterally about search engine optimisation, that’s akin to trying to find hidden meanings in Beatles’ lyrics. ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ has no hidden meanings. Search Engine Optimisation is, to put it into rational words, a systematic series of processes that will result in the website moving up the search engines until it can move no more. According to me, and I’m a scientist by blood, SEO can only be defined as a science. The dictionary definition of science is: sci·ence (s1'ǝns) n. 1. The observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena. 2. Such activities restricted to explaining a limited class of natural phenomena. 3. Such activities applied to an object of inquiry or study. 4. Knowledge, especially that gained through experience. The good thing about science is that, once the theory bit is out of the way, the performance of a series of controlled experiments should, if the theory has any founding whatsoever, turn theory into fact. So, if we practice the findings of the research and do not deviate then the results will always be the same – that’s a fact about science as long as there are no external forces present. Unfortunately, the external force, in this case, is the ever-changing environment that is the worldwide web and the resultant search engine criteria. Clients often bug me when their site seems to drop in the rankings, but leave me alone when its on the way up. If a site is done properly, it will not go down, its just that other sites may literally leap frog yours. That’s hardly a problem, it’s a signal to do some more work. It would have been all too easy to write three volumes of this SEO book; beginner, intermediary and advanced but, having been in the industry for over 15 years, I’ve seen so-called experts completely miss the basics. Most sites I get given these days have had some sort of SEO performed on them yet so much has been missed. I can spot these errors almost immediately, blowing the incumbent company out of the water, taking over the contract and, by putting in place what wasn’t there, get almost immediate results. What you currently know about SEO is most likely wrong and almost definitely flawed and, therefore, I would urge you to start at the very beginning (again). Download free eBooks at bookboon.com

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SEO – From Beginner to Boffin: (and everything in between)

Introduction

I will begin with an overview and probe into exactly why Google keeps on changing, throw in a few contentious arguments that the search engine giant actually favours certain CMS platforms, feed you with industry ‘insider tips’ into how to get a site moving up the rankings quickly and back it all up with technical worksheets. Whichever way you want to approach SEO, I hope to cover it all. Brian Bentley BSc (hons)

1.2

About the Author

Armed with a Physics degree and experience in coding in Fortran, Pascal, Qbasic, Cobol and C++, Brian Bentley saw the bottom blown out of his world when Windows 95 was released. The need for a freelance computer programmer who was more than capable of writing bespoke coding in order to ensure that the works’ computer would connect to the works’ printer had gone – and so had Brian’s source of income. Blagging his way into a job with a premium rate sports news company, Brian was soon on his was to adding html and php to his coding skills as his employers embarked on setting up a massive web presence. Being both logical and mathematical, getting this website top of Yahoo, Webcrawler and Alta Vista wasn’t a problem (Google was just a blip on the horizon at this time) and a career in SEO was born. That was around 1996 and there aren’t that many folk who can say they’ve been in the industry that long. Never ever outsourcing his work, Brian continues to have his head stuck in website coding on a daily basis, only breaking off to perform Dad Taxi duties, take the Labradoodles to the park or indulge in his favourite pastime of drinking beer in Sprotbrough Country Club. Now, having worked on literally thousands of sites, Brian helps hundreds of businesses, large and small, to financial success through healthy rankings across all the major search engines. Whilst his company, Creativebox Ltd. has its own website, all the spade work is done through GoogleGeeks.co.uk. Whilst this book will concentrate on Google, it should be noted that the processes detailed below work just as well, and sometimes even better, in the likes of Bing and Yahoo.

1.3

Google isn’t that Bright

Before we get into the technicalities of the SEO process, we should delve further into, and rip apart, some of the nonsense that is spouted by so-called SEO experts on website forums across the planet on an almost daily basis.

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SEO – From Beginner to Boffin: (and everything in between)

Introduction

Experience of working with thousands of different sites, coded in as many different ways as possible has lead us to some rather contentious conclusions. We doubt that anyone in Google, or the other companies mentioned below, will ever respond as they love to keep an ‘air of mystery’ about themselves. Why that secrecy exists I do not know. Firstly, Google is a piece of software and, as such, cannot read actual words in a literal sense. It works in binary; on or off, black or white, 0 or 1 – so while ‘engaging and original’ website content is a must as far as the user is concerning, Google has no idea what we are writing about. Secondly:- How often do we hear about Google updates – Panda, Penguin and the soon to come Platypus (I made the last one up) and algorithm changes? Most of this webchat is total nonsense. All Google is doing, as the self-proclaimed ‘keeper of all things good’, is trying to make life easier for itself. Every day, some 14000 new sites are added to Google’s cache – this can’t go on so it is simply flagging up those that have ‘no worth to the world wide web community’. I would love to be a fly on the wall when the ponytailed, Nirvana t-shirt wearing bods at Google discuss the easiest ways to do this. Probably laughing to themselves, they then disperse to dark corners of the Google labs to press a button that has the label ‘SEO Panic’. I have no doubt that the following have been discussed, and actioned over the past five years:a) Dump affiliate sites that all have the same product with the same images with the same content at the same price i.e. duplicate content. b) Penalise sites that have obviously bought inbound links. c) Dump sites whose coding is so bad that its own spiders have difficulty getting through them. d) Actively promote sites that are built using platforms that Google has a (written or unwritten) agreement with. Now ‘d’ is the most contentious here and its only through years of experience that we have noticed that – build a site in Drupal, Wordpress or OSCommerce and it will rank almost immediately, without the web owner even having to submit the site to Google. That doesn’t happen with Joomla, Magento, Zen Cart or ‘bespoke’ back end systems from your overpaid web designer. Why’s that? It’s probably because Google reckons that these ‘DIY’ jobs fit in to their mantra of supporting the good guys and ousting the baddies with the black hats.

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SEO – From Beginner to Boffin: (and everything in between)

Introduction

It’s just something I picked up in a conversation with a Google employee once. He reckoned that all Google wanted to see was a level playing field where a one man band, working from home and holding his stock in the garage, could easily compete with multi-nationals. If the site was built using Open Source software, the content was written by the man himself and the SEO was done on a fortnightly basis then the guy should be rewarded with first page rankings. Quite bizarrely, it is my job, as the SEO practitioner for larger companies, is to make Google think its a cottage industry. After all, Google knows as much about the warehousing, lorry fleets, HR and Marketing Departments and turnover as it does what size shoes I wear. Google updates then – what are they? There have been instances when, like any other piece of software, on any machine, something goes wrong. It’s not often that Google breaks but when it does it is hilarious. We’ve had maps over Adwords, results from local searches hundreds of miles appearing and all manner of strange behaviour causing an upsurge in coffee sales across the world. Google backs itself off on a Friday, the guys play with their servers and maybe have a fool around with the algorithms on a Saturday, they look what mayhem they’ve caused on a Sunday and, if its all gone tits-up, restore from the back-up on Monday. Never ever check your rankings at the weekend. If you do, you’ll only see last month’s results. In June 2013, we had another update when it was someone else’s turn to speak at the Google meeting. ‘Let’s concentrate on local listings’ – he said. And pressed a button. That was a mistake and they spent the next month trying to work out what button was pressed and how to unpress it. The best sites will float to the top, sometimes with absolutely no work on my part. I will give an example but won’t name names. One particular client of mine, who had been top five for a majorly competitive search term for over four years, decided to have his site rebuilt and redesigned (without first consulting me). The rankings plummeted when the new site went live. Harbouring a grudge, I did nothing with the new site, hoping that the client would simply go away. Three weeks later and the site was not just top five but top. I got a phone call from an ecstatic MD, a cheque for ££££££ and a huge testimonial to boot. In fact, while I am thinking about that case, it should be remembered that, whilst doing nothing can be good, the opposite i.e. gung-ho SEO can have totally the opposite effect. I have seen sites, whose SEO has been outsourced to India, disappear off the face of the Earth as they rip through the coding and placed 100s of links in a week. Always ask what your SEO guy has been doing, it should be a simple five line report every two weeks (or even a shared doc on Google Drive that he updates whenever he’s been on your site).

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SEO – From Beginner to Boffin: (and everything in between)

SEO Theories and Practice

2 SEO Theories and Practice 2.1

Keyword and Competitor Research

Again, let’s give money away shall we? There are tools and there are companies, both of which prove very expensive to use, which will do all your keyword research and competitor analysis for you. You may have bought this book, you may have got it for free – now I am going to give you all the keyword research and competitor analysis you will ever need. You have set up a website because you want to sell something; products or services or both. Ask your best mate what they would search for should they be wanting what you have on your website. There’s part one of your keyword research done. Part two is expand the list to include variations and, perhaps, locations. Put all these on a spreadsheet and check where your site is. If it appears nowhere in the first five pages, then its nowhere. Who are your main competitors? Are they above you in Google? For what search terms are they above you in Google? There’s part three of your keyword research done and your competitor analysis done at the same time. Don’t get me wrong, I have been contracted to companies who (wrongly) believed that a 200 page document outlining key search terms and what the competitors where doing would be of benefit. I don’t think that they were ever opened let alone read and utilised. SEO is an ongoing and ever repeating process. Once a fortnight for a couple of hours. That process also included seeing what search terms are performing and working on the pages harbouring those that aren’t. Poking round Google Analytics to see where folk are coming from, what pages they are landing on and what they do thereafter should lead your SEO process for the day. Oh, another reason to do the fortnightly thing is that, when it comes to checking rankings again (two weeks after your last session), Google will have been to have a look.

2.2

Content Remains King

Algorithms may well have changed, and changed back again, but the one key aspect of any website that Google has always put right at the top of its lists is content.

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SEO – From Beginner to Boffin: (and everything in between)

SEO Theories and Practice

I know that I have already said that Google can’t actually read the words themselves but it can measure a whole heap of other criteria that will determine, in part, whether your site gets ranked well or not. Those criteria involve how long a user stays on a page i.e. reading the content. Good content will have the user on there for longer. Really good content will push the user towards the next page, relevant to the one before but (hopefully) the buy it now page. Statistics state that we have just seven second to capture the users’ attention and keep him on the site. Those seven seconds are taken up with reading the first three lines of copy, not looking at the banner image nor checking out pictures of staff. ‘Content is King’ – both for search engine ranking and for the user. Thankfully, the major search engines now realise that good websites have content that has been written with the user in mind and copy crammed full of keywords just doesn’t read well at all. Buried deep in the search engine algorithms is a measure of how good each page’s content is. By measuring the time that a user spends on each page, the search engine can judge the suitability of the content. Search engine gurus have now come to understand that properly written content will contain keywords in a density of some 5% and, bearing in mind that web users scan – they don’t read – it is hard to justify reams and reams of content. After all, 5% of a lot is the same as 5% of a little.

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SEO – From Beginner to Boffin: (and everything in between)

SEO Theories and Practice

Also, whilst on the subject – please ensure that, if you want to rank for a certain search term, it at least gets a mention on the site, better still have a page to itself. That may sound daft but I’ve lost count of the amount of clients who ‘want to be top’ for searchtermxyz when there is no sign of searchtermxyz anywhere in the content on their site.

2.2

Tagging Up

I don’t believe that there should be any such thing as search engine optimisation !!! The industry, which has spawned so many cowboys, shouldn’t really exist. After all, no-one would publish a website without its content so why publish a website that isn’t already ‘optimised’? Going into the back end of almost all off-the-shelf CMS platforms and the option of adding content is right there alongside boxes for page title, meta-description, alt-tags, menus, xml and html site maps. If only web designers knew what they were doing. After content, the page title and meta-description are the most important aspects of SEO. How to get them right is a different matter but that will be covered in the work modules below. The same goes for any website, coded in whatever code. My job is SEO and it is intrinsically dull, especially when some numpty has set up 1000 products in 50 categories and ‘forgot to do the meta-description’ when he was in there. I have been known to cheat, and the taxonomy part of wordpress is a good guide to populating what you need to populate in one foul swoop. In PHP, for example, you can simple ‘echo’ bits and bobs i.e. page title, category, town, postcode – whatever is a field in the database, into the meta-description and its all done in a matter of minutes. Some sites, however, I need to wade through and sort them out. Point is; while you are in the page putting content and images in, please do the page title and other SEO stuff. I think now that the whole point of this book is to actually stop people looking for an SEO expert and just doing it themselves. It’s not hard but companies charge a fortune, cloak themselves in mystery, remain strangely unaccountable for anything they do and get away with it all. The only clients I have left are ones that don’t even know how to send an email.

2.3

Site Maps

So easy to get right and, from what I’ve seen over the years, so easy for a web designer to omit. There are two distinct types of site map:a) The xml site map is, quite simply, a route for the google robots to take, rather than wading through the whole site, to see which pages are on the site, when each was updated and which ones to look at first. Most systems now generate their own xml site maps automatically and will tell you where they can be found. A simple declaration in the robots. txt file and now the search engine spiders know where to go as well. It is also the xml site map that can be submitted through Google Webmasters in order to get the whole site spidered quickly.

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SEO – From Beginner to Boffin: (and everything in between)

SEO Theories and Practice

b) The html sitemap may look user friendly but is never designed to be seen by the user – the site’s navigation should be good enough to guide the user to where he wants to be. Instead, the html site map provides links to every page in the site with anchor text that is relevant to the page title and the content of the destination page. A simple link to the html sitemap in the footer of every page and the robots go round and round and round the site picking up search terms galore as they go.

2.4 Linking Probably the biggest problem facing a website owner and his rankings is inbound links. Thankfully, Google’s changes in algorithms are mostly designed to seek out and penalise bought links and spam links. Given the way that Google is going, the prudent way to link build is not do any at all. One bad link can wreck years of ethical SEO but we are of the mind that, if Google penalises sites that have spam or bought in links pointing to them, then we could all attack our competition’s rankings with a gung-ho link building approach. If a website is good enough, it will obtain natural, good links over time anyway. In early summer 2013, I spent the dullest of weeks (thankfully lifted by live coverage of The Tour de France) trawling through new clients webmasters tools accounts using Google’s disavow tool. In brief, this allows you to see who is linking and, more importantly, how they are linking to your site. You can then ‘tell’ Google to ignore some links by uploading a text document. Getting a new client to admit he has used terrible SEO practice in the past isn’t easy but it is made easier when you can show them links from a Romanian directory, an Indian blog and a Polish pharmaceutical website. Link building specialists should not exist – link building companies should not exist but how else can Google measure how good a site really is? This is a problem that has faced the search engine giant over the past 15 years. In the early days, before analytics, perhaps measuring the amount (and quality) of inbound links really did reflect on the overall quality of the website but the ‘Google Bomb’ of 2004 is still having repercussions. For those of you that don’t know, the Google Bomb came about following a link-building campaign across the US when website owners where asked to link to the official White House website using the anchor text ‘Miserable Failure’. True enough, days later, a search for this phrase brought the site out at #1. Google needed a rethink and is still rethinking.

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SEO – From Beginner to Boffin: (and everything in between)

SEO Theories and Practice

Forum post links (in signatures) worked for a while (until Google cottoned on), directory submissions worked for a while (until Google realised that directories had no content), link exchanges worked for a while (until Google deemed them as paid links). It gets worse. Google themselves say that they are looking for links from relevant website pages but, seeing as though Google can’t read (as discussed above), it doesn’t know what a relevant website page is. Below, in the worksheets, we will look at what works today but, be warned, it may not work tomorrow. Just a brief note to say that in the weeks it has taken to write this book, we have rewritten the links worksheets four times. Google doesn’t know what to do. I know what it should do and that is ignore all links except those that are actually followed by a user with a pulse.

2.5

Split-testing and Measuring

If you have a website that contains two or more similar products, it is advisable to ‘tweak’ one of the pages and then observe what happens to its rankings. For example, the mercedes leasing page will be very similar to the bmw leasing page on your car leasing website. Change the page title, or the metadescription of one, using the other as a control. Whichever works best, do likewise to all car leasing pages. We all learnt this in secondary school biology buy putting plants in the dark yet its a wonder why few seem to put simple teenage science techniques into place whilst cracking on through SEO.

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SEO Theories and Practice

As for measuring rankings, there is no better way than typing your search term into Google and seeing where you are as compared to last week. There is no software that can be so accurate so don’t waste your money. The other simple (and free) way of measuring search engine success is to look at your rising traffic graph on Google Analytics and then checking your bank balance (the two go hand in hand). Analytics is a brilliant tool but can get very complicated. Rising traffic and which search terms are proving successful should be your first ports of call. The rest is up to you. This process also falls in to the ‘do an hour or two every two weeks’ remit, focused on in a bit more depth below. By the time you get to sit down and see how your mercedes page is getting on, the Google spiders should have been and you are bang on schedule for the next wave of updates.

2.6

Best Practice

As someone who performs SEO all day every day and currently looks after over 200 websites, it is quite easy for me to state what works and what doesn’t. Google wants you to do your won SEO but it also wants you to run your business and have a life. Quite simply, and there’s no need to complicate matters, spend two hours every fortnight, working on your site – whether that be updating content, changing meta tags or whatever (site maps should be automated and look after themselves). If you can’t think of anything to do, take a full stop out of the home page and put it back. The dates will change on the server and Google will come again. I know this works, Google comes back to my sites every fortnight (without me including daft meta-tags to tell it to) and the sites move up the rankings. Whilst on the subject, there is such a load of tosh talked about fresh and engaging content. You are wasting time and money writing blogs that no-one will read (and that includes the search engines). Much like the financial services industry which shouldn’t really exist, bloggers and content writers are keeping themselves in work by spouting drivel. Again, I can give an example:- much like a painter and decorators house is a mess, busy SEOs will have a site that hardly gets looked at. My own website, GoogleGeeks.co.uk was totally left alone for at least six months whilst I was buried in a load of rather large projects. During those months, it steadily climbed the rankings for all sorts of phrases and generated a whole heap of leads for my overweight sales people. The fact is that I had done everything right on my website right from the start and the less hassle it gave Google the better (and definitely no inbound links).

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SEO – From Beginner to Boffin: (and everything in between)

Technical SEO and Workflow

3 Technical SEO and Workflow 3.1 Content Way back in 1996 the adage ‘Content is King’ was borne. In the days before backlinks and Google Page Rank, optimisation of a website was a simple process and everyone could do it. The only thing that would make any website stand above the others was content. We have come full circle. As Google, in particular, strives to find that all-conquering algorithm by which to judge a site’s relevance to the worldwide internet community, so it now places a massive scale of importance on each and every page’s content. Don’t get too flustered, website copywriters don’t know what they are doing any more than the next man, it’s just that they have the tools by which to measure their content. – Now you have the tools too!! When writing, or editing, the content of your website, or simply one individual page, remember the Golden Rule: “Write for the User and NOT the search engines”. It will not be Google that phones you up or clicks the “Buy Now’’ button so we need to make our page’s content so utterly readable, so simplistic and so concise that we draw the reader right into what we want him to do. If we state that the optimum keyword density is 3.5% then it doesn’t take a literary or maths buff to notice that 3.5% of loads is exactly the same as 3.5% of some – so don’t write too much (you can always add another web page that holds the rest of what you need to add; product specs, further details etc. which can always be reached by a ‘Read More’ link. If we also presume that our web visitor is both thick and pushed for time then here’s an example of perfect content. Our Product This company supplies our product which gives you, when you buy it, benefit 1, benefit 2 and benefit 3. Read More or Contact Us for more information about this product. Yes, this may look a trifle humorous but a vast percentage of websites that simply fail in the search engine rankings haven’t got proper content.

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SEO – From Beginner to Boffin: (and everything in between)

Technical SEO and Workflow

Point Number 2:- You cannot optimise a website for a search term is that search term doesn’t appear in the website’s content. That may sound obvious but it happens. If in doubt, create a new page, write some decent content and link it to the rest of the site either through the navigation, a ‘read more’ link on a related page or through an site map (we’ll do site maps next). Now some researched statistics:We have seven seconds to capture the visitor:- Maybe the web user’s subliminal takes in the prettiness of the website design but I would define anyone to land on any web page and spend the first seven seconds doing anything but reading the first two lines of content of that page. So, that content should say: “We do what you’ve just searched for and we are good at it and our prices are excellent too.” That’s half the job done then – all the user needs to do then is find the phone number on the site (which should be alarmingly obvious) and we’ll leave it to you to make the sale.

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SEO – From Beginner to Boffin: (and everything in between)

Technical SEO and Workflow

As mentioned above, there is a mass call for fresh and engaging content. This call comes from content writers who need to keep themselves in a job. If you have nothing to add, add nothing. Please make changes as part of your split testing regime and ensure that each and every page has different content. We know that this later point may well be difficult to manage but please try. If you have a website selling car tyres, it would be very hard to describe a black, rubber round thing differently apart from listing manufacturer, size etc. but please do try. This is were Google insists on the rel canonical meta in the header of the page. I have never ever used these snippets of code as I have always managed to avoid having two pages that are too similar on the same website. Basically the code says to Google ‘don’t look at this page, look at another one’. What’s the point? If you don’t want a page to feature in Google’s rankings, don’t put it in the site. Adding more and more code into you headers is only (eventually) going to cause problems. There is a hugely confusing and self contradicting article on Google webmasters about using the rel canonical tag. Quite bizarrely, whoever wrote the MOZ* crawl programme had been suckered into this and every large site I work on, that has been put through a Moz crawl shows errors based on the lack of canonical references. Quite right too, I have removed duplicated pages. (Moz.org is useful in showing new clients how bad their previous SEO company are by highlighting all ‘errors’ in a third-party fashion. Most of the errors aren’t errors at all).

3.2

Page Titles and Metas

Making the best use of the relationship between page titles, link anchor text, header tags and content. Introduction Now we have the right content in place on your website, as covered in module 1, we can start to look at the optimisation of the code on the pages themselves. Each and every page on the website has to be different. This may sound obvious but they have to be different in content, different in page titles and different in meta-tags (module 7). Setting up a cordial relationship between page titles, link anchor text, header tags and content will work wonders as regards site rankings. Workshop Let us now presume that your home page content is all about ‘what we do and where’ (who we are can be set aside for the about us page) and the content of the home page has been measured using keyword density tools as described in Module 1.

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Technical SEO and Workflow

What comes next applies to every single page on your site, right through to products and services and even the contact us page:The page title (that bit that shows in the blue bar of your browser and also the main link on the Google search pages) should be quite simply, and we’ll do this in html so you can see where it fits on the code itself. What we do and where – Company Name and the which is all well and good if you think that by being top of the search engines for just your company name is going to do any good. The same applies for using ‘Home’ as your anchor text – what is the point of that. So, all across the website, each and every page will have a page title that is unique to its content i.e. Product 1 from the what we do and where company name With all links pointing to that page being Product 1 The Meta-Description Google doesn’t read meta-tags is the biggest pile of cack ever flung round the internet. Of course it does. As discussed before, Google deems one page in a site to be different from another page if the page titles AND the meta-descriptions are different. Our experience, and the fact that we have changed meta-descriptions to herald higher rankings, tells us that Google places a massive bearing on those two lines of code in between and

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We’ve talked about optimising meta-descriptions but the double whammy comes when you understand that they are a massive marketing tool too. In Google’s SERPs (search engine results pages) the meta-description is, nine times out of ten’, listed just below the page title. If your meta-description says ‘click the link above as the page that you will go to is the best page of it’s kind for what you’ve searched for’ (you know what we mean) and you’ll get better traffic than one that just says ‘product from company’. So, by now, you should be merrily whizzing through your site changing page titles and anchor text but wait, there’s one more thing… header tags i.e. Product 1 and Where These sit just above the content on your pages and not only act as a Google magnet and reinforce what Google already believes to be the theme of that page, as given by the anchor text of links pointing to it and the page title, but says to the website visitor ‘you searched for it – we do it – read on’.

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Here’s a tip:- Go to any decent website and view the source code (either view+code or right-click and view code) and there you can see the resultant html. Header tags can be h1 or h2 and should be styled through the style sheet, which you can find by a link in between and as something like: We will look at stylesheets when we attack valid coding below In brief:- the content backs up the header tag which backs up the page title which backs up the anchor text which backs up the content.

3.3

Title Tags

The delicious ‘title tag’ and how one minutes work can produce massive results. Introduction Now we have the right content in place and the page titles and meta-descriptions are all tailored to their specific page, we can introduce the title tag. The Title Tag Considered as part of the page content but not included in the keyword density algorithm, the title tag could well be used to add keywords to pages that are otherwise lacking. This, however, is not what makes such a simple piece of coding so undeniably unique in SEO coding. The simplest example, and one which should impel the reader to get straight onto his own site and make changes is as follows:1. How many pages has your site got ? (Let’s say 300 as an example) 2. Each page has a link to both the site map (covered in module 4) and the home page (at least) 3. That’s 300 links back to your main page with the totally useless anchor text of ‘home’. 4. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if you could replace this anchor text, without changing the visible text or main navigation, to the theme of your site? 5. Welcome to the title tag. Home

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The anchor text ‘site theme’ now over-rides the previous anchor text of ‘home’ and we have 300 more themed links to the home page. Performing one simply site-wide amendment will, guaranteed, raise the site ranking on whatever is inserted into the title tag. That’s not all, if the title tag is placed within every single internal link in the site, with the anchor text being the main page title of the target page then each and every page will be promoted in its own right.

3.4

Site Maps

Introduction If your website doesn’t have an integrated html site map, you may as well tell the world that you are not bothered about search engine rankings. An xml site map, is a different matter. XML Site Maps We will get xml site maps out if the way first as this is a very simple concept to grasp. Insert the following declaration, which has been allowed since mid-2008, into your robots.txt file:Sitemap: http://www.yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml Now, all visiting search engine spiders will immediately go to sitemap.xml and spider all the pages contained within that document. Make a change to your website, add a page, remove a page, whatever, and alter the sitemap.xml accordingly and there’s no need to wait for months before the search engines cache your new site. How to create an xml site map:Are you ready for something really complicated? Go to www.xml-sitemaps.com and follow the instructions. In our opinion, it is a futile exercise to then go to google webmasters, my yahoo sites etc. and submit your xml site map, their robots will probably have picked it up by the time you’ve uploaded it anyway.

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It is useful, however, to go to webmasters tools and see how many URLs are in your xml site map and, alongside it, how many urls Google has actually spidered. The difference is usually down to certain page URLs being far too long and dynamic and/or some pages being too similar as regards what Google sees first i.e. page title and meta-description HTML Site Maps Anyone who is past the beginner stage in SEO will know the value of an html site map but even so-called experts miss out on one glaringly obvious addition that will have tumultuous bearings on search engine rankings. We will start at the basics. 1. Copy and existing page, remove all it’s content and place a ‘links to follow’ bit of copy at the top. 2. Do not save this page as site-map.html or anything similar. Instead save it as your-mainkeyword.html. 3. Upload to your site and place a link on every single page to the site-map (usually in the footer, as follows:   Site Map

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Why have we done that? Google reckons that a link from a relevant page to another is worth a damn sight more than simply a link so, therefore, we make our site map a relevant page. According to our experience, Google gauges relevance by looking in both the page title and the metadescription so make the title of your html site map something like Keyword Site Map and include the keyword in the meta-description. Why people insist on wasting a valuable page by calling it site-map.html simply defies belief. Meanwhile, please insist and argue the toss with your website coder that you do not want your new site map to be populated automatically, please do it yourself. There is no way an automated generator can do the job better than the manual approach. If you have 5 million pages in your website then split the html site maps up into categories and give each of them a name (like category1.html) and simply include these page into your-main-keyword.html. Do the main site map yourself. The best way to construct an html site map is to open your newly created xml site map in note pad or word and do a search end replace with keyword
Then delete all the erroneous coding etc. and you will have a full html list of pages in your site ready to insert into the html site map. Then comes the really boring bit. Change the >keyword on every link to the h1 tag from its target page (the main keyphrase). There’s just a couple of things to remember:10. Search engines (especially MSN) may well take a fancy to your site map above other pages in your site. Therefore, using the style sheet, try to make the html site map as user friendly as possible. 11. Use link titles to override some links (i.e. that to the home page). 12. Change this site map whenever you add pages (and change the xml). A well formed and well coded site map will provide valuable internal deep links to all pages within the site, all relevant to your main site theme. It is designed for search engine robots but bear in mind that some unfortunate web users may well stumble across it.

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3.5 Links Introduction The past few years has been turbulent for Google’s linking system with webmasters worldwide totally baffled by the changes in listings when link: www.yourdomain.com has been searched for. The January 2009 update dismissed 27 million directory links yet included so previously unseen blogs. A month later and an update over-ruled the blogs and brought back some directories. Its been going on that that ever since. So, what is to be gained from inbound links? Open Directories There can be no doubt that submissions to the likes of dmoz.org, the most stable of Open Directories, is a necessity when developing an inbound link structure. Google, for one, takes the Dmoz description and replaces your site’s meta-description in its listings. The problem is that Dmoz is edited by humans and is very, very slow at getting updated. Anyway, when Dmoz does eventually click-in, you should have a link, either from it or directory.google. com. Other Directories One look at the likes of osdir.net, sonicsyn.com and a whole heap of similar websites will bring anyone to the conclusion that they are all run from the same software, are all very similar and, in Google’s own profound statement of ‘do they add value to the internet community’, are totally valueless. There are companies out there that offer 1000 submissions to such directories for pennies. There is software available that will do that for you (and them). The result is that your site will be listed on directories that no-one visits and Google ignores. Forum Links Some believe (not us – see below) that links are only valid if they originate from sites with a similar theme. Therefore, a link from (say) a gardening website to (say) a seo website will not be given any credence. We know that this isn’t the case. Anyway, the common view is that, as you can find a forum relating to just about any topic then a link from a related posting to your site will be a good one.

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Yes and No. It can be a right royal pain in the bum to get registered on a forum, contribute enough postings in order to qualify for a text link and then even get one on there without the administrator deleting it. Larger forums are now known to Google as being ‘link machines’ and are consequently binned from the linking algorithms. However, and as with most scenarios when it comes to linking – if you look at what links your competitors have gleaned and one or more is from a forum, join that forum yourself – it saves time. Blogging Oh dear, oh dear and how Google has lost sight of blogs within the past 12 months. It’s not really Google’s fault as it is now the easiest and cheapest way of setting up personal and even corporate web space. Simply set up a blog and point a domain at it and, hey presto, one site (that could even be spidered an hour after conception). Google has its own blog – blogger.com – and, as it is now too big to marshal and contributes nothing to our world, is worthless when it comes to links. Don’t even bother. Excellent Economics and Business programmes at:

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Social Websites As with blogs, the upsurge in social websites link Facebook, Bebo, MySpace etc. means that Google doesn’t even recognise these as valid sites, let alone the links that comes from them. However, and this is a big ‘however’ – if such sites ever got their act together (and they will) then there could well be an upsurge of traffic derived from social media. For example, if Facebook could ever include a web search, that isn’t powered by Google, into its pages then Google would be in trouble. The vast amount of mobile phones sold with free access to Facebook, Twitter etc. means that more people will be using them on the move. At the time of writing (Summer 2013) this is moving and there are links coming in from Facebook postings. We have access to webstats from some massive high-traffic sites and the percentage of referral sites that are social media is negligible (0.02%) but a link is a link. The current trend for people setting themselves up as Social Media Consultants will come to an end when clients realise the cost per acquisition is totally inhibitive. What happens now is that Google will take one link from one Facebook page news feed and that’s it – no more. Search Engine Submissions Why would Google think that your site being listed on another search engine is good? Why do some folk succumb to the ‘we will submit your site to 10,000 search engines every month’ malarkey? Do they tell the postman their address every time he comes to the house? By all means get listed on as many search engines as you can but :1. Don’t pay for it and 2. Only do it once Paid Links Google reckons that it has put paid to paid links. It hasn’t. It can’t. It isn’t that clever (and that’s a phrase that we may be using time and time again). The problem is with paying for links is administration of those links. A paid link from a PR5 page is worth 1000 free links from PR0 pages.

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Another thing to notice before you get your cheque book out is that some sites, sitting at the top of Google, will have fewer inbound links that those on page 10. Why is that? How does that work? A good site will have quality links coming in from other quality sites, not 10000 garbage ones. Quality, from our end, can only be measured in Google Page Rank. Linking Websites There are websites around that allow you to enter your site details for free and receive emails from other webmaster who want to link with you. Guess what? Google knows about these sites and every single link gained from them is as much worth as a Zimbabwe one dollar bill. Reciprocal Linking Done properly, this is an easy way to get links. There are a few dos and don’t though:1. Don’t link to and from each other’s site from your target pages. i.e. if your cohort places a link on his site from his index to yours, don’t link from your index to his – choose another page with a similar page rank. 2. Don’t place more than five outbound links on any one page of your website unless you aren’t bothered about the page ranking at all. (Outbound links sap Page Rank) 3. Ensure that your preferred anchor text is in the link and not your company name. Always assume that the other chap doesn’t know anything about coding, linking or anything remotely technical. 4. We may still reserve judgement on reciprocal linking but Google will have no idea as it spiders millions of sites a day and sure isn’t going to remember one little link that was on one site and its twin on another. Three Way Linking This works and proves that Google isn’t clever at all. A link from site A to site B, a link from site B to site C and link from site C to site A will never be caught out by the search engine spiders. They are a bummer to set up but damn useful. Software There are things link Adblaster and Blogblaster available – supposedly sending your sites links to millions of sites with just one click. Avoid, they don’t do anything.

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Conclusion Google is all over the place when it comes to links so, in order to cover all events, get links from everywhere and let it decide which ones are worth filing in their system. The only thing that we can be sure of is that 10000 links from PR0 sites will totally wreck your site’s rankings.

3.6

Coding Validation

Introduction There are more than 17,000 new websites registered every single day and, no doubt, a vast percentage of these will be submitted to Google. Our feelings are that the mother of all search engines is going to draw the line somewhere. What Makes your Site Special? We have to believe that Google will look favourably on sites that are ‘unique’. The main way it determine this, of course, is through content but, with millions of affiliate websites pushing the same gear from the same suppliers through data feeds, Google seems to have given up the ghost when it comes to unique content.

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After all, given the vast array of dynamic websites, with content that changes daily (and quicker) the Google robots have no chance in determining which site has the same content as the next. One thing that Google has got in its armoury is the so-called Sandbox. A new site is presumed to be spam, porn or both until proven innocent and Google salts these sites away in its ‘sandbox’ until such a time as it deems fit. The timescale can vary but, given that spammers move their sites once a year, 12 months is the accepted gestation period where a site cannot be found even under the most specific of searches. Getting out of the sandbox is easy – get a link from a website of note (usually Page Rank 3 or above). What’s Coding Got to do with It? You would have thought that every web designer in the world would find it physically impossible to put a site on the internet which contained invalid code. After all, poor coding in (say) the workings of an ATM machine could results in money being spat out so how can a website exist that contains shoddy coding practise? The answer is, Google has got to draw the line somewhere and the mutterings are that the line is going to come down firmly below properly coded sites. Here’s the scenario:- Google has two new, nearly identical sites to spider, cache and rank. One of the sites passes all coding validation whilst the other proves to be a nightmare for the search engine robots to battle through. Which one would be cached and ranked first? Half the battle in SEO is providing the spiders with a clear run through of the whole site, that’s why we don’t have image navigation, flash intros and javascript and its why we do have xml and html site maps. Helping the spiders cache every single page of the website and not allowing them the opportunity to jump ship is vitally important. Example 1. In html, health & safety, would see the search engine spiders leave the site with very little intention of coming back. Why? Because & is an invalid character. Simply replacing health & safety with health & safety has seen many a site rise in the rankings.

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The same goes for the following invalid characters; “,£,$,%,: etc. etc. Just think, there is a reason why www.w3.org exists. Check your coding, amend your coding and check it again until there are no errors. A Google insider tells us that ignoring all poorly coded websites will relieve the Google servers of some 85% of their workload, leaving them to concentrate on ranking sites ‘properly’.

3.7 Alt-tags Introduction According to professors of the internet, the much ignored alt-tag (alternative text) is vital for web users who are visually impaired as they describe their associated image. In a perfect world, the alt-tag for an image of a can of coke zero on a web page should be:Alt=“picture of a can of coke zero” We can turn this to our advantage Also the massively under-rated and seldom optimised meta-description and how good ones can turn your website from an also ran to a champion hurdler. The alt-tag As described above, the alt-tag is ‘supposed’ to help visually impaired users to navigate the website. They already have text readers but, much like Google itself, cannot see an image so the alt-tag is used as a description. Not only will the alt-tag make peace with those who still try to enforce the DDA but, if coded correctly, can help in web rankings too. You should, of course, know that the search engines will not navigate through images unless they have an alt-tag anyway and that should have given everyone a massive clue as to its importance. Google has to include alt-tags in its overall ranking algorithm and it is through split-testing (a posh way of saying ‘trial and error’) that we discovered some really useful tricks. Okay, so that alt-tag could still say ‘a picture of a can of coke zero’ but we’ve wasted a couple of words here as the user would still understand, though their text reader, alt=“coke zero can”.

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Google now considers what is inside the alt-tag as part of the page’s content but doesn’t count it in the keyword density. Now, that’s a bonus. Just think…. Let’s say we have a website for an Accountant in Cheltenham, he loves his website and doesn’t want the look, feel or words altering in anyway, shape or form. The easiest (and most valid) way of getting his key search term into his home page is by tagging three or four of his home page images as ‘accountants in cheltenham’. That’s it but there are a couple of words of warning. Don’t go mad as the Google alt-tag spider, if there is such a thing’ may well tell his boss that there’s something spammy going in. Don’t ever, ever put any punctuation or, indeed, anything that isn’t a number or a letter in the alt-tag – you’ll find out why when you come to validated the code.

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3.8 Conversions Introduction A website that gets fifty visitors a day and has a conversion rate of 100% is better than one which gets 5,000 visitors a day with a conversion rate of 1%. Discuss. Conversion rates Of course, in the above example, both sites will deliver the same results but the second one, as it’s getting decent traffic and Google measures ‘everything’, would be the better one to own. Just going away on a quick tangent, Google measures ‘everything’ is quite a sweeping statement but here’s some facts which may prove useful. 1. Spammers change URLs regularly so Google prefers established domain names to new ones – if you can then use an older domain. 2. Spammers change hosting servers regularly. Even if you think that your hosting company is rubbish, it can do more harm than good to switch. 3. Google measures how users move through your site. Make the navigation as idiot proof as possible i.e. you are on this page, which page do you want to go to now? 4. Do you think that Google provide analytics for free because they like giving things away or because you have to include their trackers on your site? 5. Do you think that Google webmasters is there to help you perform your SEO better of for Google to put a marker on your site saying ‘Watch this one as they have a professional on board’? Back to conversion rates and there are three things we have to remember above anything else:a) You have seven seconds to capture the visitor – if your first line of content is either rubbish or hard to find then you user will leave the page, maybe the site. b) The visitor is as thick as swine poo. c) The visitor has to reach his target page in three clicks or he’ll leave the site. This is achieved by clear navigation and content that helps the thick visitor get to where he needs to be. If you achieve all of the three above then conversion rates with increase. It goes without saying that if your webpage takes 20 seconds to load then you’ll lose the visitor anyway, that’s what style-sheets are for.

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Website owners are, more often than not, too close to their products and services to be allowed to write the content on the website. One fantastic example comes from 2008 when a PR Agency, who shall remain anonymous for now (but they know who they are) asked us to optmise their site. We did our research before meeting them in London. One of the first questions they asked was: “Have you looked through our website.” Our reply being: “Yes and can you just tell us what it is you do?” “We’re a PR Agency of course, I thought you’d looked at our website.” “It doesn’t say the words ‘PR Agency’ anywhere on your site.” They’d overlooked this small fact and had started their website content with something like –‘through a top-down resurgent philosophy, we deliver bespoke media solutions to our clients’. Don’t write high-faluting nonsense that you thick visitor will not understand. By the way, we changed their content to – ‘We are a top London PR Agency’ and put a big phone number on the site – conversion rates increased dramatically.

3.9

Dynamic Websites

Introduction Dynamic websites, those that allow the webmaster to simply ‘fill in the boxes’ using a back-end content management system (CMS) are, in the main, totally incompatible for search engines. We can, however, make the best of a bad lot. Get FTP Access With even the most search engine friendly CMS, the website owner will find himself in all sorts of trouble when in comes to on-page optimisation. Page titles should be editable, meta-descriptions should be part of the CMS, h1 and h2 tags, alt-tags, link-titles and html site maps should not be generated automatically. What if they are? Download free eBooks at bookboon.com

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Get FTP access. Now, the chances are that your web designers may well have conned you into believing that they build your ‘bespoke site’ through a back-end system that they developed themselves and are hosting your site on its own chunk of web space. If they won’t give you FTP access, this is nailed on to be the case. It’s not the web developers fault – it’s yours for being ignorant and not asking the right questions during the development and design process but we are past that now and there’s not much you can do about it. The web developer has no need to start thinking about a bespoke CMS when there are so many off-theshelf solutions available. Whatever you wanted your website to do, someone, somewhere has already written a bolt-on module that will do it. All the web developer has to do, therefore, is search the web for such a module and, if he’s using Drupal (look it up) then it costs him nothing. There are thousands of CMS systems available and, if the web designer is going down the php route, most of them are either free or very cheap indeed. You can check if your site is written in php, asp or aspx by simply checking the URLs (web addresses) of some of your product pages or, if your web team have adopted a MOD-REWRITE (again, look it up) – you’ll have to ask.

.

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If in doubt, php is cheaper to code and host that the Microsoft licensed asp. As the website owner your web developer has a legal right to grant you FTP access. If he doesn’t, don’t pay him ever. Before we go into what you can do through FTP, let’s just remind ourselves what you should be able to achieve through the basic CMS as regards SEO. 1. Content is King – as per module 1 2. Alt-tags and meta-descriptions as per module 7 and title-tags as per module 3 (there may be an option to view and the html source of your content and this will give you the ability to add these). 3. Page titles No doubt, the CMS will contain a ‘configuration file’ which will hold your default settings for things like page titles and, maybe meta-descriptions but, if all these then remain the same across all pages in the site then FTP is the only way forward. The one main advantage of getting FTP into CMS sites is that there is very little work to be done as there aren’t that many pages to edit. For example, although your site may look as though it has thousands of pages, it may be driven by just a handful i.e. index.php, category.php, product.php etc. and these, in turn, could well be split up into .tpl files and may even hold ‘includes’ such as header.php, navigation.php and footer.php. We recommend that you back-up your website first unless you totally know what you are doing. What comes below is a generalisation of what you may be able to achieve through FTP as all CMS systems are different and, if you are unlucky enough to have yours coding via Joomla, simply finding the files you need to edit is a nightmare. Firstly, look for the template or themes folder – this contains the main ‘look’ of your website. If the web developer has simply picked a theme from those freely available, you may have to check out your source code through a web browser to find out which theme has been used (look for the stylesheet link in the header). Through the FTP, navigate your way into the main template and there you should see some familiar code i.e. , etc. (Unless there is an includes/header.php which contains what we need to get at).

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Technical SEO and Workflow

If you then look at that code you should be able to see what variables (text wise) the page title and metatags are calling in and echoing. In the template, you should also be able to either edit the footer or at least find footer.php. Change the associated stylesheet if you need to in order to get h1 tags into your page. You should also be able to now get link titles, proper alt-tags etc. into your pages. Perhaps, most importantly, you can include your own bespoke html site-map. As we covered in module 4, a hand coded site map is far better than any of the self-generated muck that these CMS chuck out. Easiest way is to copy the source code of a typical page into notepad, remove all the content but leave the banners, navigation etc. intact. Save that on your hard-drive as (sitetheme.html) and upload it through FTP. Create a link in the footer of your website to ../sitetheme.html and check it’s live (but with no links). Now, on your PC, start building the html site map with proper anchor text, the link to the home page with a link title embedded etc. and upload. This can be very tedious and extremely time consuming but well worth the effort. A quick way to get every page into your site map is use the URLs that the xml site map has generated, remove all xml syntax by replacing (for example) with >Titles & Metas. In pages, for the title, try %%title%% %%page%% %%sep%% %%sitename%% and for meta-description – %%title%% %%page%%%%category%% | %%sitename%% (that will make sense when you try it. OK, so I’ve years of experience but, when I go into a Wordpress site, I still put test1 in post template page title, test2 into the meta and so on, update and then open the site itself in a new window. Two minutes later and all page titles and meta-descriptions are done on the whole site. This then gives you a perfect html site map too and plenty of time to go through individually categories, products, posts etc.

4.3 Drupal I love drupal and, should misinformed client to be asks me to build a site, it will be in drupal – no question about that at all. Install the meta tag module, install the site map module and let the whole thing rip. Don’t bother with the URL rewrite, it doesn’t work properly and doesn’t make any difference as regards rankings.

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SEO – From Beginner to Boffin: (and everything in between)

Platform Specific

That’s it – any problems and do a search for it – Drupal developers are very proud of being part of a growing community and any problem I have had has been answered already on a forum or the like.

4.4 Magento You definitely need FTP when working in Magento – adding link titles and sitemap links in the footer can only really be done in FTP. As a whole, getting everything in place in Magento is dead easy. Just remember to actually generate the xml site map in catalog >> Google site maps. The html site map is found at yourdomain.com/catalog/seo_sitemap/product/ and that will also have a link to the category site map (which should all be in your navigation anyway). Magento needs to be kept simpleas in the good old days where naming files and folders was an art. Adding static blocks to pages to bring in pieces of content is damn useful but call these blocks something glaringly obvious as they can be a right royal pain to find at a later date if, for example, you have called them block1 or abz_003. Nope, a simple ‘front page torches ad’ tells both you and anyone else that works on the site that the advertisement for the solar powered torch that appears on the home page is right here.

4.5 Others OSCommerce, ZenCart, CubeCart etc. – they are all fine, if somewhat cumbersome when it comes to SEO. Each has a bolt-on to do what needs to be done. Why they aren’t in the standard package defeats me. Again, like drupal, everything you need and any question you can ask is already answered on the web.

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