5 Common SEO Questions Answered by Google’s Matt Cutts

In my experience as an SEO, there are several questions that pop up quite often. Matt Cutts has answered these questions, so I thought I would post his answers on this awesome SEO blog of mine.

  1. Should I use pipes or dashes in my title tags?
    “I think they’re both viewed as separators, so I think either one should be fine. Dashes are a lot more common…We definitely handle dashes well. I would expect that we handle pipes well as well.” – Matt Cutts
  2. Should I use underscores or hyphens in URLs?
    “It does make a difference. I would go with dashes or hyphens if you can. If you have underscores and things are working fine for you, I wouldn’t worry about changing your architecture.” – Matt Cutts
  3. Can the geographic location of a web server affect SEO?
    “Yes it does because we look at the IP address of your web server. So if your web server is based in Germany, we’re more likely to think that it’s useful for German users…We also look at TLD…If you want to experiment, you can certainly try switching the geographic location of your web server [in Google Webmaster Central], which is essentially changing your IP address…” – Matt Cutts
  4. Is excessive whitespace in the HTML source bad?
    “Um. We really don’t care that much…Any time we see white space, we’ll separate stuff. And we can ignore white space, so it doesn’t really cause us a lot of harm either way…As long as you’re doing normal, reasonable stuff, I wouldn’t worry about it that much.” – Matt Cutts
  5. Does the position of keywords in the URL affect ranking?
    “It does help a little bit to have keywords in the URL. It doesn’t help so much that you should go stuffing a ton of keywords into your URL.” – Matt Cutts

There. I hope you enjoyed that. Thanks to Matt Cutts for answering these questions for us all. I’m just going to send any and all clients to this blog post from now on.

Nerding Out on Expired Domains, Link Equity and SEO

On Monday, Danny Sullivan published a great post on expired domains (link). More specifically, his post discusses the link equity benefits from acquiring expired domains. For example, I have a website about topic X. I noticed that another website about topic X recently went offline. It’s down. It won’t load. Oh look, the domain is available for purchase. Wow! Really? That domain has 12,000+ inbound links, and it’s a PR4. Could I purchase that domain and redirect all of its URLs to my site? Would that help boost my PR and my rankings? Or would it set off an alarm at Google? I mean, all of the sudden a domain expires, is subsequently purchased and then redirected to another domain – that’s gotta trip some sort of wire in Google’s algorithm, right?

Danny goes through several scenarios, and he even quotes Matt Cutts a few times. The article is very informative, and I’m glad he wrote it. No one has posted about this practice for a long time, so it was great to see something on the topics of expired domain acquisition and link equity. You should read the post, but the quick summary is that there are certain instances where the link credit would remain or pass to new domains. But for the most part, if you are buying expired domains and then 301 redirecting them, don’t expect any significant boost in link credit.

As I was reading this article, I could not help but remember my recent experiences and how they do not really align with some of the points in this article. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not disagreeing with Matt Cutts and Danny Sullivan. They are like the Moses and King David of SEO (I mean, they were there in the beginning, and they are probably the two most trusted sources in the SEO industry). I’m only saying that my observations don’t exactly line up with what they said in the post. I believe there are times when purchasing expired domains can be extremely useful, and there are times when I have noticed that link credit does pass from an expired domain. Here’s some of the strategies I have used in the (recent) past with good results:

  • Launching a new website? Wanna get indexed quickly? I wanted to get one of my websites indexed quickly. I found one expired domain with a DMOZ entry, and I found another expired domain with a Yahoo Directory entry. These domains were related to the topic of my new domain. I redirected them at the same time. Whether or not DMOZ or the Yahoo Directory are important or relevant any longer, my new site was indexed within a few days.  Simple and sweet. I can’t argue with science.
  • Building PR and Link Equity for New/Existing Sites. There I was. I had that site for a while, and I wasn’t really paying attention to it. I decided to see if I could increase its traffic and PR from redirecting a few more expired domains. I found a page on the web that had a list of links to sites that were relevant to my site. Wouldn’t you know it? Some of those links were to domains that had expired. After a little bit of research into those dead links and some speedy domain purchases, I had 15 domains at my disposal. I redirected them over time, not all at once. After a couple of PR updates in 2008, I noticed that my site had increased its PR. And believe me, it wasn’t because a ton of other people had linked to my site. The only thing that changed was the fact that I had redirected 15 domains. I saw an increase in traffic from referring domains because the domains that I purchased had links all over the place. And I noticed an upswing in search engine rankings, which lead to increased traffic from organic search.
  • Driving More Traffic from other Google TLDs. Guess what? I bought an expired .es domain and redirected it to a .com site hosted in the USA. I really just wanted the link juice, but I got something more than that: top rankings on Google.es for some important keywords. I guess it makes sense. Have you ever noticed that some of Google’s European properties give you more search options? For example, on google.es you will definitely notice that under the search bar there are options to search the web, search only pages in spanish, or search only pages in Spain. Crazy, huh? I have worked on a few European-based sites, so I have seen these before. I just never thought about them in the context of redirecting expired domains. I guess we learn something every day.
  • Driving More Traffic from Local Search. One of the domains I redirected was the expired domain of a company based in a certain city in America (yeah, I have to be ambiguous about that one 🙂 ). A couple weeks after I redirected the domain, I noticed that I was ranking for long-tail search terms that contained the city where that company was located. It turns out that the company had several listings in local search databases, online phonebooks and directories, etc… If you want exposure in new cities or if you just want more exposure in the city that you’re in, check into an expired domain for a local company that no longer exists. The economy sucks right now. Lots of people are going out of business. Contact some companies and see if you can buy their domain. Don’t be stupid about it. Don’t redirect a bunch of domains all at once. Just try one and see what happens. Maybe it will work for you like it did for me. Then again, maybe it won’t.
  • Don’t Alter the Whois Data! Domain Privacy? Shah, right. Google is a domain registrar and an accreditted member of ICANN (proof). You think your domains are private because you paid some extra money for domain privacy. Well guess what. Google knows it’s you! Don’t pretend that you are getting away with anything here. If at all possible, purchase domains through Escrow and leave the Whois data unaltered. Updating the Whois data is a dead give-away that the domain changed hands. When domains change hands, you can count on the existing link juice to be crushed. Mostly. As Danny points out, Google admits to having systems that do stuff. I assume these systems must do stuff like keep track of businesses acquiring other businesses, businesses merging, and any other instance where a domain might change hands. Hell, Google probably has systems monitoring other Google systems. They’ve thought of everything, haven’t they? If not, people like Dave Naylor, Jeremy Shoemaker and Greg Boser are forcing them to.
  • Servers, DNS, IPs, Oh My. You know how you just bought 50 domains because of this post? Well, before you point them all to the same server, using the same DNS numbers, you need to think about something else: how odd will it look to Google if you buy 50 domains and then point them all to the same server and then have them all redirect to the same site? It’s a dead giveaway. Some registrars are offering a 301 redirect from the registrar, so it’s not as easy to catch the fact that one person just bought and redirected 50 domains to their own site. Or you may look into virtual IPs, so that not all of your domains are sitting on the same IP address. Or you may try to grab a few hosting accounts from various hosts and split up your domains. This makes it seem like there is a true game of cat-and-mouse going on, but there really isn’t. No matter what, Google will catch you. It’s only a matter of time. Just be smart about it. Or at least as smart as possible.
  • Just Buy an Existing Website. Is there a website for sale in your vertical? Why not just buy it and add links to the site (where appropriate)? I mean, buying domains and purchasing links will cost as much money in the long run. Why not buy a website that is already trusted by the search engines and actually getting traffic from organic search? Maybe you could optimize it and add some links. Maybe both of your sites will rank high. And then you’ll have 2 sites in the SERPs. It’s not a bad approach to take, and it’s certainly more white hat than redirecting expired domains.
  • You must remember: The key is to do your research on old domains. Make sure they weren’t up to no good. Make sure they were not blacklisted. Make sure they’ve got a healthy number of inbound links. Only redirect domains that previously contained content related to your site. Also, even though everyone says that toolbar PR is outdated and not important, look for domains that have a PR of 1 or higher. It can’t hurt to have a PR (no matter how worthless/overrated/outdated many SEOs will tell you PR is these days).

There. I hope that helps you in your gray hat endeavours. Now, go forth and prosper. I mean, uh, go forth and find expired domains and then redirect them. Jeez. SEOs are nerdy.

A Realist’s Guide to Setting Expectations for SEO

Setting expectations. We have all heard this term at some point, and a few weeks ago I happened to see an entire blog post about how to set expectations effectively for SEO. Yuck. I mean, it was a great post, and I get the point of why it’s important to set expectations. We all have to set expectations, but the whole topic just makes me want to throw up because there is something fishy about the term setting expectations. Personally, I despise this term because it wreaks of a typical cover-your-ass business attitude. It’s in the same vein as making sure every correspondence is emailed, so that there is a record of everything. Documenting every last message is utterly ridiculous and ultimately pointless. It’s like you’re going into a relationship with the mentality that you have to gather and organize data for the purpose of one day using it as evidence. If you have that mindset, you need to examine your life.

If you have ever been in a situation where an email could actually prove something, you probably already know that those emails are rarely used as evidence in situations where both sides are so astoundingly pissed off (in those situations, it’s best for both parties to just part ways). In fact, the only reason those emails exist is so that both parties can read them and feel like they were in the right (i.e. “See that? Right there? I told that b-hole that I wanted to rank for 2 specific terms.” Or… “That guy’s a nightmare. Did you see his email? He asked me why his site is not ranking in the top 3 results for a couple of impossible terms after only 6 months of SEO. Then he told me that I had not done anything for their business! What a jerk.”). Gosh. It makes me cringe to think of those experiences.

Maybe we could avoid those stressful events if we do a better job at setting expectations. Or maybe not. Have you ever noticed that ‘setting expecatations‘ only raises its ugly head when a client is unhappy or dissatisfied? Whose fault is that? As an SEO,  it’s your responsibility to keep your client happy. If you can’t manage a client relationship, being a badass SEO won’t really matter because you’ll lose all your clients. In fact, you may need to find a new line of work. More than half the game is managing relationships. Maybe even more than half. Sorry, I’m not a statistician.

Let’s face it. There are a lot of times when the SEO/client relationship is not optimal. Let’s just call these bad relationships. Many factors can lead to bad business relationships, and they rarely have to do with SEO recommendations, work or methodology. In the end, everything comes down to results, but quite often there are external factors, such as the current economic climate or the client’s company culture. These factors can play a huge role in creating a bad business relationship, and sometimes these external factors can actually outweigh your SEO campaign results.

If you’re a good SEO, results are not the culprit. Results will keep your clients happy for the most part, and your results are always there to change the client’s mood from “WTF is going on with our SEO?! You suck at SEO!” to “Yeah, you’re right. Your results speak volumes for how awesome you are at SEO. I’m not pissed off at you. It’s just that my boss is on my ass about everything. Wanna get a beer?” We’ve all been there. People are taking it out on you when you actually did a great job. It’s like that scene from Three Amigos when El Guapo is taking out his frustration on Jefe:

Classic scene. Now where were we? Oh yeah – If you’re not a good SEO, you’ll be up against the fact that you suck at SEO and you’ll be up against the many external factors that are producing pissed-off clients.

If you have any sort of social skills, you can probably discern the nature of a business relationship within a few minutes of talking with your client about your SEO recommendations. Some people are happy, easy-going and good-natured, and these people would never insult you or get in your face about anything. These people don’t work in marketing (and for the most part, they also don’t work in e-commerce). However, this is not to say that all marketing people are sadistic jerks. Most people in the search industry are awesome people who have a nerdy undertone about them. However, you must understand that there is a lot on the line when you take the reins of company’s SEO campaign. Livelihoods, families, that super sweet Cable TV package – directly or indirectly, your clients are placing their job and all their most beloved possessions in your hands when you take over an SEO account. You’ve gotta respect it. So don’t F*&$ it up.

As an SEO, you’ll need to be able to communicate your thoughts and prove your methods with solid results. If you ever find yourself discussing ‘setting expectations’ then you can be assured that you failed at creating a good relationship with your client and/or getting awesome SEO results. Hopefully you can own up to that. And then you can move onto the next client with a new, wiser perspective. Well, hopefully you can. Hopefully. [If you can’t, go find those emails you saved. They will make you feel better. Either way, no matter what happens, at the end of the day both you and your (ex)client will be sitting at a bar with a beer in hand, and all of life’s problems will disappear. At least for a while.]

Toys “R” Us Redirects Toys.com to Toysrus.com

Toys "R" Us Store Front (circa 1970)
Toys "R" Us Store Front (circa 1970)

The other day I saw a DomainNameWire post about Toys “R” Us redirecting its newly acquired domain, toys.com, and that toys.com had been “de-indexed” by Google. For those of you who have not heard the story, Toys “R” Us bought the Parent Company (eToys.com, BabyUniverse.com, ePregnancy.com) for ~$2 million. Then a couple of weeks later, Toys “R” Us paid $5.1 million for the toys.com domain, and now they are redirecting the entire toys.com domain and all of its URLs to the toysrus.com homepage. That’s right. Every toys.com URL is now pointing to the toysrus.com homepage. Was this a good move? Why did Toys “R” Us take this path with the toys.com domain? What are the SEO impacts of redirecting an entire site? Depending on your perspective, the answers to those questions can vary significantly. Let’s investigate some of the possible reasons behind this move (and maybe even some of the opportunities they missed by taking that route).

Obviously, the main goal was brand association.
Toys “R” Us wants to be the brand most associated with toys. For many of us, they have always been the top dog in the toys industry. Toys “R” Us has always been the first company I think of when I think of toys. FAO Schwarz is also up there, but let’s be honest: they are no Toys “R” Us. I mean, Toys “R” Us has like 600 stores in the US and 97,000 employees (thanks Wikipedia). Also making my unofficial best toy stores list is KB Toys. Oops. I have to remove them from the list because they got bought and liquidated in December 2008. With the demise of KB Toys, a giant void opened up in the brick-and-mortar store vertical. In terms of massive stores that have nothing but toys, Toys “R” Us and FAO Schwarz are the only big toy retailers left (well at least on my toy store list). In the end, Toys “R” Us rules the brick-and-mortar toy store roost. [Note: My apologies if I’m leaving out any other toy stores.]

Another goal of the domain acquisition: “free” direct navigation traffic.
Now that brick-and-mortar toy stores are going the way of the buffalo (not the dodo), toy companies must focus a lot of attention to the interwebs and intranets advertising. I imagine that the Toys “R” Us execs were drooling at the possibility of getting the highly-coveted, 4-letter domain toys.com. This would enable them to capitalize on all the direct traffic navigation to toys.com. I don’t know how many people are directly navigating to toys.com every day, but obviously Toys “R” Us wanted to route that traffic to toysrus.com. For those of you who may not know, the direct navigation industry is nothing to sneeze at. I applaud Toys “R” Us for outbidding everyone else for the toys.com domain. It’s a very aggressive move from an industry leader. Toys “R” Us is the  most identifiable toy store brand and they own the generic keyword domain that is most associated with their brand. There are tons of companies who wish they could say the same. Now, what should they do with the toys.com domain? [Note: I’m still waiting to see who buys toy.com. It’s just being parked right now. What a shame.]

Toys “R” Us is obviously not a newcomer to the e-commerce game. The toysrus.com domain was registered in 1995, and they have had an online store since at least 1998. Furthermore, they have been running successful search marketing campaigns for years. As with any other company that’s been around for more than 50 years, Toys “R” Us has found out that the online world is full of aggressive, online-only e-commerce stores that know everything about utilizing all available channels and surviving online. Toys “R” Us is one of the few industry leaders that started early in the race to e-commerce websites, and they are a company that has succeeded in maintaining an online reputation that equals their top reputation in the brick-and-mortar world.

Awesome. But what about the redirects?
For the search term toys, Toys “R” Us is battling several well-knows toy brands and sites for the top spots in the organic rankings. Here are some of the other top 10 toy brands in the Google SERPs:

  • toysrus.com
  • etoys.com (owned by Toys “R” Us)
  • toys.com (owned by Toys “R” Us, no longer ranking)
  • lego.com
  • walmart.com
  • fisher-price.com
  • amazon.com
  • hasbro.com

There are certain times when the acquisition of a highly-coveted domain names like toys.com could really come in handy from the standpoint of expanding your exposure in the Google SERPs. Before the sale of toys.com to Toys “R” Us, toys.com was ranking #3 for the term toys in Google. Apparently, Toys “R” Us was not really concerned with (or maybe aware of) toys.com’s natural search rankings. After the purchase of eToys.com and Toys.com, Toys “R” Us owned 3 of the top 5 sites in the Google SERPs for the search term toys. For a generic search term like toys, having 3 of the top 5 sites is miraculous. But this scenario would not last long. At some point Toys “R” Us decided that it only needed to have 2 of the top 5 results.

Why did they redirect toys.com to toysrus.com?
Obviously I wasn’t in the room when Toys “R” Us decided to redirect the toys.com site to toysrus.com, but I would have loved to be a fly on the wall in that boardroom. I’m sure that a major point in the discussion was the increase in traffic and revenue to toysrus.com. If you redirect and entire site to toysrus.com, traffic and revenue will increase, and that will make everyone happy in the short run. The investment in a $5.1 million domain will have immediate returns. No questions about it. It’s a move that quickly impacts the bottom line. In today’s economy, who would argue against quick returns on a major investment?

On the other hand, I sincerely hope that someone brought up the nature of redirects to the upper management. I hope an SEO told them that Google, Yahoo, MSN and the other major search engines would follow the redirects, and then toys.com would no longer rank in the SERPs. Major search engines would begin to drop the pages that have been redirected via a 310 permanent redirect. The toys.com URLs would not be de-listed/de-indexed because of some sort of unethical SEO practices. Rather, the URLs would be dropped because of the standard definition of a 301 permanent redirect: 301 redirects tell the search engines that the page no longer exists and has been moved. Knowing that the URL has permanently moved to another active URL, the search engines will only keep the destination URL in their respective indices. The search engines are just following the directions that the webmaster set up with the 301 redirects. I hope someone told them all of that because it seems important to know that the 301 redirect solution would cause your brand to lose an awesome piece of real estate in the Google SERPs. That is a lot of free traffic to turn down.

Maybe one of the most influential arguments for redirecting the toys.com domain centered around the increase in domain authority that comes from redirecting one domain to another with the use of 301 redirects. We all know that link juice is the most important factor for today’s search engine algorithms. Imagine if we could take a domain like toys.com and redirect all of its URLs (and all of their inbound links) to toysrus.com. That would definitely have a major impact on the link authority of toysrus.com. That would be awesome. It would be a great move that would reinforce and solidify the toysrus.com domain to insure top rankings in the future. In a world where links are only getting more expensive, another major benefit of buying a domain is that you can capitalize on its link juice.

A linkdomain: check on Yahoo reveals that the toys.com domain only has 713 inbound links. Uh oh. That’s not very many links. Consider that toysrus.com has 357,260 inbound links. Yeah. The link juice from toys.com is measured in drops rather than in gallons. Anyways, given the nature of this new information, I’m not necessarily on board with the decision to redirect toys.com to toysrus.com.

Did they have to choose that option?
I am not completely disagreeing with the decision because I do know that there are other factors involved. Because the toys.com/etoys.com acquisition was very public knowledge, Google knows that Toys “R” Us owns all three websites. How likely is it that Google would list 3 sites from the same company in the top 5 results for a highly competitive search term? It’s not very likely at all. Well, unless you have a badass SEO. And unless the 3 sites are unique and have relatively-unique content. Toysrus.com and eToys.com have managed to maintain a unique focus. How could they then build out toys.com to be another toy-based site that can distinguish itself from the other 2 sites? Sounds impossible. Not really.

Maybe money became an issue. It’s a rough economy. Site development, marketing, advertising, hiring people, building a new site, asking for bailout money – all of these things cost money. With so much focus on the bottom line and with so many companies cutting budgets in 2009, perhaps this entire decision came down to money. At least I hope that’s what happened because I know of several SEOs that could have come up with a solid idea that could turn toys.com a site that drives a ton of traffic and money while offering a unique focus and maintaining a top 5 result in the Google SERPs. I mean, seriously. A shopping engine. A blog. A review site. Something. Anything is better than redirecting an entire site to one URL! I’m glad they mainly used 301 redirects (I have seen a lot of pages with 302 redirects still in Google’s index), but at least they could have matched up related product and category URLs from toys.com to toysrus.com. There are likely several achievable business models for the toys.com domain that could provide more visibility and profit for Toys “R” Us, but it’s obviously not in the cards right now.

What Now?
In the end, Toys “R” Us made an aggressive move that will drive brand recognition and brand association. They made a move that will deliver a lot of direct navigation traffic. They made a decision that will result in some link juice and link authority being transferred to toysrus.com. There’s probably some other stuff that they’ll get out of it, but this blog post is already too long. I don’t think it was a terrible decision. It’s not going to bankrupt the company. However, there are some huge opportunity costs. A top organic ranking is one. Organic search traffic is another. Revenue is another. Oh well. Good luck, Toys “R” Us. I wish you the best in 2009.

With SEO Walter Sobchak, You’re Entering a World of Pain

Walter Sobchak: Shomer F'ing Shabbos
"Shomer F'ing Shabbos!" - Walter Sobchak

I’m a big fan of Walter Sobchak. I’ve watched The Big Lebowski about 100 times in the past year. There are just so many aspects of this movie that make me think and laugh. And then laugh again. And then think some more. In a movie with several well-developed characters, there are certain personality traits that direct more of my attention to Walter Sobchak. For example, I enjoy watching him play dumb when part of the fault is his. Like when they walk out of the bowling alley and the car has obviously been stolen, Walter issues this line: “It was parked in a handicapped zone, perhaps they towed it.” The way he says that line really makes me laugh out loud.

The trait I most envy is Walter’s ability to speak his mind. Let’s face it – we all have opinions, no matter how well-informed or uninformed they are. While most of us are eager to keep our opinions to ourselves, Walter has no problem letting his opinions out for the world to hear. And he often does it with a persistent tunnel vision, as he relates nearly everything to Vietnam. In fact, Walter Sobchak will reference Vietnam in an improvised eulogy, in an argument about a stolen rug, in an explanation of league bowling rules, etc… It’s a defining characteristic of Walter Sobchak, and I love it.

The Dude, Donny and Walter
"Eight-year-olds, Dude." - Walter Sobchak

Why exactly is Walter appearing on an SEM/SEO blog? I dunno. He just is. So let’s just run with it. What if Walter Sobchak was an SEO for a massive retail brand? Maybe even a Fortune 500 company? Imagine if he ran the show. Do you think things would get done faster or more efficiently? Or would he be arrested and lose his job? I think Walter Sobchak would be a fantastic SEO. Let’s take a look at some of his well-known quotes, and I’ll explain why he’d be the perfect SEO for your website.

“This is what happens when you f— a stranger in the ass!”
Remember the time when your IT guy launched a new home page on Friday night at 9:00pm? And no one was there to make sure it worked correctly? And no one was there to make sure the tracking code was added to the new page? And also, he really does not like you because the hot office girl is nice to you and mean to him. So he decided to take out that optimized text-based navigation and replace it with uncrawlable javascript navigation because he hates your guts. Yeah, I think Walter would put on a vintage suit, head over to that guy’s house, and bust that guy’s windshield with a crowbar. And that IT guy would totally deserve it because he just caused a lot of problems for a lot of people. He usually gets away with such passive aggressive behaviors, but not when Walter Sobchak is your SEO.

"New 'Vette? Hardly, Dude. I'd say he's still got about $960 - $970,000 left, depending on the options." - Walter Sobchak
"New 'Vette? Hardly, Dude. I'd say he's still got about $960 - $970,000 left, depending on the options." - Walter Sobchak

“Life does not stop and start at your convenience, you miserable piece of s—.”
This line is issued when Donny decides to listen at his personal convenience. Walter does not like that. He wants people to adjust to life and use some friggin’ context clues. Knowing this, I think Walter Sobchak would really get tired of IT/Dev project lists and calendars. Not because they have not been listening to the conversation. Not because the Dev team fails at context clues. Rather, Walter knows they are only using that project calendar as a work shield. That stupid calendar shields them from having to do work. It’s a really convenient tool. Don’t wanna tell the boss you’re just not gonna do that proposed project? Don’t have the guts to actually say that a co-worker is being too demanding? Wanting to keep it politically safe? Well, you’re in luck because you can use the new-and-improved Project Calendar.  But I warn you: Walter’s not going to take it any longer. When the Q2 project calendar is mentioned, Walter’s going to issue this line. He’ll most likely berate you until there are tears streaming down your face. And from that point on, he’s going to issue this line at every meeting because he knows you have a natural allergic reaction to working. Plus, he knows that you are being very passive aggressive. And even though Walter likes aggression, he considers pacifism an emotional problem.

“The beauty of this is its simplicity. If a plan gets too complex something always goes wrong.”
When Walter and the Dude are heading out to the drop-off point with the million bucks, Walter informs the Dude of his plan to keep the money. The plan is so simple, it’s practically a swiss f’ng watch. This quote gives us a real insight into Walter’s outlook on life, and there is no doubt that this ideal permeates Walter’s SEO approach. Keep it simple. A good SEO should always be able to keep things simple. After all, SEO is simple in theory. Develop good/compelling content. Get links. Open yourself up to the search engines. Those are pretty much the main tenets of SEO. Walter adheres to these SEO tenets. He explains things so easily that even the most senior-level executives can understand every last item on the SEO list, no matter how complicated. When a colleague offers up the idea to turn the website into a flash animation with all sorts of bells and whistles, you can be certain that Walter will have something to say about that.

“That’s right, Dude. 100% certain. ”
Walter is good at solving mysteries. Just give him a few pieces of unrelated evidence, and he’ll determine a cynical prognosis for your website. Furthermore, Walter Sobchak is the most confident SEO you’ll ever meet, so you’ll believe every word he tells you. He’s the right guy for any SEO job. As an SEO, you can’t be meek about ideas and recommendations. You’ve got to kick down the door and let people know that you’ve got it all figured out. While you may not have anything really figured out, people will believe everything you say about SEO if you believe you have everything figured out. I’ve listened to really good SEO’s complain about SEO items not getting done, and I’ve seen really bad SEO’s get a lot of bad SEO done on a site. The difference really is confidence. And probably some other stuff, too, but let’s not worry about that. In conclusion, if you’re recommending a complete site makeover to correct for a low conversion rate, you’d better be sold on your own recommendations. That’s the only way it will get done. Walter Sobchak knows this. He didn’t have to learn it. It’s just always been part of his skill set.

"You think I'm f'ing around here? Mark it zero!" - Walter Sobchak
"You think I'm f'ing around here? Mark it zero!" - Walter Sobchak

“Has the whole world gone crazy? Am I the only one around here who gives a s— about the rules?”
Walter Sobchak likes rules. He enjoys structure. In fact, one time he was sitting in a planning meeting, and he had to listen to some marketing VP talk about synergizing department learnings and strategies. Walter, who gets easily pissed off when people simply create new words out of thin air and then use them in strange contexts, did not like where the meeting was going. The VP talked about diverting search marketing budgets to the Dev side of things, so they could build some useless and unneeded functionality into the website. Walter knows that the goal of every business is to make money. It’s very clear cut and simple. It’s the #1 rule of business, and here is some dude trying to use a decreasing ROI as leverage to build some video player into a retail website. Well, turns out that Walter re-inacted the scene where Smokey is over the line. Walter advised the VP about the detrimental effects of a smaller budget for paid search and SEO. When the VP talked back, Walter reinforced his position. A world of pain was about to be entered. Not wanting to enter a world of pain, the VP withdrew his suggestion. And everyone lived happily ever after.

“I’m perfectly calm, Dude. Calmer than you are.”
Even though Walter might pull a gun on a fellow bowler, he relishes a calm lifestyle. He can yell and scream, but he’s going to finish his cup of coffee. Some people might think that Walter is high-strung like a walking time bomb. In reality, however, he is very laid back. The only time he gets amped up is when people try to take what is his or break the rules. “What’s mine is mine.” Walter is simple. What you see is what you get. He likes to bowl. He’ll watch his ex-wife’s dog while she is on vacation. He likes a good cup of coffee. He likes to stay home on Shabbos. His approach to SEO is just as calm. Walter likes to sit down and investigate websites. He will take the same calm approach with your site. It might surprise you because you have seen him pull a weapon in public place, bite a man’s ear off, and throw a paralyzed man onto the ground. But in the end Walter stands up for what he believes, even when he is wrong. That’s the kind of SEO you want for your job. If he’s going to fail at something or get something completely wrong, he’s going to do it going 100mph. I like that consistent attitude.

“So you have no frame of reference here, Donny. You’re like a child who wanders into the middle of a movie and wants to know…”
As mentioned earlier in this post, Walter Sobchak gets really pissed when people wander into a conversation at their convenience and subsequently forget how to use context clues. He holds a higher level of disdain for people who wander into a conversation and then start making final decisions about items being discussed. I’m sure you have been there when people do this in your Tuesday afternoon meetings. It’s especially aggravating when SEO idiots decide to pay attention to the 10-minute SEO part of the meeting and then speak up as if they’ve even been listening to anything you have been saying for the past 5 minutes. Then they start telling you how to do your job. Then they start telling you what SEO strategy makes the most sense. Fear no more because Walter Sobchak will not stand for any of that. He’ll remain calm, but he will make sure those SEO idiots know exactly where they overstepped their boundaries. Over the line!

I honestly hope you find an SEO like Walter Sobchak. And if you are currently an SEO, please don’t bounce from this post without taking some of his traits to heart. Keep it simple. Keep it calm. Follow the rules of business. Be confident. Let people know where the line is. Don’t be afraid to stand up for your beliefs. You’ll be a better SEO for it. And probably a better person, too.

Goodnight, sweet prince.

Dinobot SEO: Grimlock’s Insight Into Search Marketing

Dinobots: Swoop, Snarl, Sludge, Slag, Grimlock
Dinobots: Swoop, Snarl, Sludge, Slag, Grimlock

The Dinobots were always my favorite characters on the Transformers cartoon. I don’t know if it was because they were huge, dumb, and always breaking stuff, or if it was just because like every 5-year-old boy, I had a love of dinosaurs. No matter the reason, I could not get enough of the episodes that focused on the Dinobots. I always liked Swoop best because he could fly. Plus, the pteranodon is easily one of the best orders of dinosaurs.

Even as a little boy, I could see some things that didn’t make sense regarding the Dinobots. Here are a few:

1. There are 5 Dinobots: Grimlock, Slag, Sludge, Snarl and Swoop. However, there are many times that we only see 4 of them together. Most of the time, Swoop is missing. It’s weird.

2. When they were first created, the Dinobots ran amok and almost destroyed Teletraan I (the Autobots’ computer). The Dinobots were basically turned off and stowed away. When the Autobots really needed their help, the Dinobots were given cerebral upgrades, but even with the upgrades, they still thought and talked like cavemen. My question is: If you’re some super-sophisticated race of robots, why create robots that are dumb? Was processing power limited? Did Intel not create enough chips that year?

3. In some episodes, the Dinobots are massive, robotic beasts that are as big as actual dinosaurs. Yet when they transform back to robot form, they are smaller than some of the other Autobots. I don’t get that. Does the transformation cause their various parts to change sizes? It just doesn’t make sense when they are 30 feet tall in dinosaur form, but then they are 7 feet tall in robot form.

There. I have spoken my peace about miscellaneous plotholes regarding the Dinobots. I’m pretty much all over the place tonight, so I’ve decided to post a blog about the Dinobots and SEO/SEM. It’s easily a reach. A friend of mine would say that this is such a reach that I might even stretch a muscle by reaching so far. Oh well. Here it goes.

Grimlock is the mostly brainless leader of the Dinobots. He was always dumb, but after the animated movie was released in 1986, his brainlessness increased dramatically – to the point where he was relatively limited to a comic relief role. He did save the Universe in one episode, so don’t think that he’s only good for a laugh. Even though he said some dumb stuff and even though most of it was in caveman talk, I thought there was always some underlying wisdom in Grimlock’s words. This post will examine how Grimlock’s apparently witless logic can actually apply to the SEO/SEM world. As I said before, it’s a total reach on my part, so good luck in following any of it.

Grimlock: Dinobot Commander
Grimlock: Dinobot Commander

On analyzing options:
“Grimlock see 1, 2, 3, a zillion tunnels here! How we know which one to take?”

Optimizing your search marketing campaigns can be a real hassle. It seems like there are a zillion options available. When budgets are being cut and when it seems like all executive-level eyes are focusing on all of your search marketing channels, life can really suck. Given the nature of our new economy, it’s very important that we consider all the options. Do we turn off all campaigns? Do we reduce spend on one of them and increase it on another? If so, what increase/decrease combinations are best? And for which campaigns? My answer: follow the short-term and long-term ROI trail. You know what a customer means to you now. It’s money that will keep your ROI up for the next company meeting and marketing review. But do you know what the long-term ROI is for all site visitors? And what about the lifetime value of a new customer? That is a metric you should always consider. It’s one of the main reasons that all aspects of your search marketing campaigns are important. Tracking the long-term ROI for new customer acquisition is often tough to do. And depending on goals, short-term ROI for a certain campaign may not be the best indicator of long-term success. I wish I could say follow your heart on this one, but that’s likely to get you demoted or something. On the other hand, you should follow your instinct. Keep your paid search, paid inclusion and SEO campaign active. Even if you have to reduce the spend on one or two of those channels, find a logical, happy equilibrium where you are still finding new customers who are purchasing now. Once the economy corrects itself and we are out of this tailspin, resume an aggressive approach for all campaigns.

Me Grimlock here to save universe.
Me Grimlock here to save universe.

On repeating stuff to people who cannot comprehend:
“Ohh, with some Autobots you have to explain everything.”

Most e-commerce marketing managers and directors are SEO idiots. However, it’s not really their fault. They’ve got their hands tied up in a lot of other stuff. However, they want to be involved in the SEO, so that’s when things get fun. Most of my time is spent emailing, creating documents, repeating ideas and strategies, and explaining SEO for the Nth time. The thing that I have to remember is that these e-commerce people are the good guys, and they are not all-around idiots. I need them to dedicate their IT/Dev teams to my SEO strategies. Call it love/hate. Call it a real beating, but these people are my friends. We are all on the same side. We’re all Autobots. While it might seem like my H tag strategy is the most important thing they’ll ever need to do, I know there are actually 100 high priority items on the project list. I should be happy to even have mine considered for completion in 2009. Or at least that is what I keep telling myself.

On needing the latest in digital tools and devices to get stuff done:
“Guide? No need guide. Have Grimlock!”

After the Transformers movie in 1986, Grimlock became even dumber. They turned him into a full-time comic relief character. Throughout the series, Grimlock had a certain affinity for situational irony. In the episode where Grimlock becomes an intellectual genius, while still in his ignoramus state, he issues this line: “Guide? No need guide. Have Grimlock!” And then he breaks a futuristic GPS/compass that is helping them navigate through a series of underground tunnels. The other Autobots were angry that he broke the compass, so Grimlock throws a tantrum and storms off, determined to find the power core himself. Grimlock wanted to lead the way, and he thought he could without the use of a tool. Grimlock did indeed find the power core without the use of a futuristic, digital device – proving that we don’t always need the most accurate data, coolest new automated tools or smartest people telling us what to do on our search marketing campaigns. Just follow your gut instinct. Do what makes sense. Most of my job is implementing ideas that just make sense. It’s not rocket science. I’m not even sure why it’s worth so much money. It’s actually very simple. But please don’t tell anyone, or else I’ll be out of a job.

On failed attack strategies:
“Me Grimlock need new strategy.”

During the animated Tranformers movie, the Dinobots attempt to defeat Unicron, the most gigantic and terrifying Transformer in the universe. Unicron is a planet. He is the 800-pound gorilla in the industry (if you will). He is the biggest obstacle they will ever face. Now that I think about it more, Unicron actually lends himself very well to an analogy about search marketing. After 4 of the Dinobots attack various parts of Unicron’s body, it is immediately clear that they need a new strategy. Rather than keep trying the same attack strategy, Grimlock leads them away to find a new strategy. We should all follow Grimlock’s guidance on this one. We must be able to find ideas and campaigns with considerable potential, but we also have to quickly adjust when ideas and campaigns are simply not working. Grimlock was quick to analyze the situation and accept the massive obstacle in front of him. He knew after a few attempts that another strategy and another angle would be needed to overcome the obstacle. Now that lends itself even more to a search marketing analogy! In fact, I’m pretty sure that the entire movie is some sort of allegory for the search marketing industry, but I digress. (So does that mean that Google is Optimus Prime or Megatron?)

Me Grimlock demonstrating finesse. Whatever that means.
Me Grimlock demonstrating finesse. Whatever that means.

On humans who take life too seriously:
“Me Grimlock laugh at small creature who make big problems.”

As an SEO, I know that the online search world is constantly changing. Google updates their algorithm every week, and the cat/mouse game continues. I also know that shit happens. Most often it is something that was unintentional. Maybe a fire burned down the building where your servers are stored. Maybe someone put a “noindex,nofollow” meta tag on your entire site in pre-production and then forgot to remove it when the site was launched. And then no one told you about it for 2 weeks. There are unfathomable things that happen to our websites. As humans, we have the unique ability to create massive headaches for ourselves, and then life becomes too serious to bear. Though life may seem very severe at times, it’s okay to laugh at it. Well, I mean once everything is fixed. And all 301 redirects are in place. And pageload time is acceptable. And the server transition from IIS to Apache is complete. And the sitemap is updated. Etc, etc…

Well, that’s pretty much it. Maybe you got it. Maybe you didn’t. Either way, we both lose. I leave you with a video of the Quintessons. They have a messed up justice system. One might call it an Injustice System.

A Caveman’s Approach to 301 Redirects for SEO

301 Redirects
By definition, a permanent redirect. Use these to redirect users and search engines from old URLs to new URLs.

302 Redirects
By definition, a temporary redirect. Use these when temporarily deactivating a URL or moving a URL to a new location.

If you don’t understand any of that, just remember this quote I heard from Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer: “301 good. 302 bad.”

An Exhaustive Explanation of 301 Redirects for SEO

Redirects. This is the one topic that continues to evade e-commerce dev teams and online marketers. The concept is actually very simple. A redirect is a piece of code that directs traffic from one URL to another. Here is a list of the most common redirects and when you should use them:

  • 301 Redirect: By definition, this redirect is permanent. It’s also called a 301 permanent redirect. It means the URL has been permanently moved to another URL. You should use this type of redirect whenever you are changing URL structures on your site.
  • 302 Redirect: By definition, this redirect is temporary. It’s also called a 302 temporary redirect. It means the URL has been temporarily moved to another URL. You should use this type of redirect if you anticipate a URL going inactive and then coming back at some point in the future.

Just this week, I noticed a major online retailer launching a new version of their site. They’ve got about 8,000 products on their site, and they have about 20,000 active URLs on their site. Google, Yahoo, MSN and other engines had indexed their site very well. The search engines had a clear picture of the site’s list of URLs. (Having seen some sites that are not indexed by the major engines, I know how much money you can lose when Google does not have your entire site indexed). This site, however, was sitting very pretty in terms of indexing. So why am I even discussing them? Here’s the reason: They re-launched an entire site, and in the process of doing so, they created new URLs for all pages on the site. And they did it without redirecting the old site’s URLs to the new site’s URLs. To make matters worse, they left all the old site URLs active. The search engines are crawling all the new URLs, but the search engines are still able to see the old site URLs, too. This is not good. Let’s find out why. And get ready because I’m about to take you down a long path of SEO learnings.

Search Engine Spam
First of all, let’s start with search engine spam. You must understand spam to understand why redirects are important. Search engines are always on the lookout for search engine spam. Search engine spam is kinda like email spam in a sense. You know how email spam is simply a lot of junk that clutters up your inbox? Search engine spam is essentially millions and millions of junk URLs that are cluttering up the internet. Google’s goal is to index the world’s information, and they have a giant fleet of servers that store a snapshot of the internet at any given moment. It’s constantly updating as their bots are finding new URLs and removing dead URLs. You can imagine that Google and the other major search engines do not need anything cluttering up their indices. In fact, search engines are on a mission to purge all of these junk URLs. What is a junk URL? Just to be clear, I made up that term (junk URL) for the purpose of this lesson. It basically refers to any URL that is cluttering up search engine indices at Google, Yahoo, MSN, etc…

Why does search spam exist? Money. People are making millions of dollars all over the world every day with search engine spam. How do they do it? One way is to launch sites with scraped content. Spammers will scrape your site to get all the content. Then they will use it to build a site that competes with your site for all of your products. They are way smarter than you, and they will use all sorts of advanced SEO skills to outrank you for your own products. Even if they can’t outrank your site, they can still make it into the top 10 results for many of your products. Then they add affiliate links, Google Adsense, and other forms of online advertising to their site. In most cases, they generate revenue simply from pageviews. Every visitor to their site causes Adsense to fire, which earns money for the spammer. Some spammers also take steps to disable the Back button, so the user can’t escape the site without clicking on a bunch of internal site links, and those pageviews also make the Adsense load – making them even more money. And that is just one technique. They have an arsenal of spamming methods at their fingertips. How tough is it to do this? Not very. These blackhat SEOs and spammers can launch a million-page website in less than 24 hours, using content that has been stolen from sites like yours.

Matt Cutts and the Google team have really done a great job at cracking down on spam sites. The average spam site has less than 90 days before it is de-listed. I just made that up, too. Regardless, overt spam sites do not have a long shelf life. Spammers are always trying to stay one step ahead of the spam cops at the search engines, so the concepts and methods of spamming are constantly evolving and morphing. It’s the classic cat/mouse game. One of the easiest indicators of someone trying to spam the search engines is using duplicate/stolen content. And that brings us back to the example I used above. You know, the one with the online retailer that launched a new site. Yeah, it’s up there. You just have to scroll for a while. Sorry about that.

The Risks of Duplicate Content
In the online world, there are Whitehat SEOs and Blackhat SEOs (the guys/bad guys cliché). And there is also this area in the middle where some Grayhat SEOs do their work. Some grayhats are grayhats by virtue of ignorance. For example: When a Fortune 500 company re-launches their website with all new URLs, they don’t typically worry about the old URLs. What they don’t consider is that the search engines still see these old URLs. And guess what? They have the same content as the new site URLs. Effectively, there are two sites on the same domain with the same content. Having two pages for every product and category gives you two chances to rank for those products and categories. Sound familiar? Yeah, this is called duplicate content, and search engines do not like duplicate content. In fact, search engines will punish your site for this practice. When you have two identical sites, even if they are technically on one domain, you are at risk to being de-listed in the search engines. If you’re not indexed, your natural search traffic will drop to zero visits a day. No natural search traffic means no natural search revenue. And don’t think that you can plead ignorance on this one. Despite your ignorance and despite the fact that gaming the system was not your intention, you still have a duplicate site that is sitting on the same domain. The best way to eliminate the risk of being de-listed for this practice is to use 301 redirects (when necessary) when you re-launch a new version of your site.

How to Build 301 Redirects
Old – http://www.yourdomain.com/PID21554.aspx
New – http://www.yourdomain.com/Sports/Golf-Umbrella-21554.html

Let’s say you are re-launching your site, and you decided to go from basic URLs with productIDs to awesome, SEO-friendly, keyword-rich semantic URLs. You can clearly see that the new URL gives you a better chance at ranking for that golf umbrella. You must have your dev team create a server-side 301 redirect from that old URL to the new URL. Do not use on-page redirects, such as meta refresh and javascript. Create redirects at the server level, so that the old URLs will never be loaded – not even for a split second. This will create the most seamless transition from the old pages to the new pages. Search engines will drop the old page from their indices, and your site will not be at risk of being de-listed. Furthermore, the user experience will also be seamless. If they happen to click on an old URL in the search engine results page, they will be automatically taken to the new version of that URL. (Note: Be patient with the search engines. If you have a site that is ten’s of thousands of pages, it will take time to see the effects of 301 redirects in the search results, as it can take up to 3 months to get all the old URLs switched out). The proper use of 301 redirects is a win-win for everyone. The user gets the new site, and the search engines are clear about the fact that a new site with new URLs has been launched. Everybody wins. Cubs win! Cubs win!

Getting It Done On Time
You might be thinking, how the hell am I supposed to write 301 redirects for 25,000 product pages on my site? The good news is that badass developers and server managers can write formulas and codes that will do all of this for every URL on the site. It’s fairly easy on Apache servers, and it can be somewhat difficult on IIS and SunOne servers. But don’t let anyone tell you that it cannot be accomplished. It’s done all the time, every day. The #1 thing to remember when re-launching a site with new URLs: Get all of your 301 redirects written and tested before the re-launch. The site transition needs to be seamless for users and for search engines on Day 1. Get all of this stuff tested and ready before site re-launch. Launch the redirects when the new site launches.

But wait. What if you can’t get your 301 redirects created and launched on Day 1? Are you at risk? The simple answer is, “Yes, you are at risk.” However, from what I have seen, search engines are very slow to punish big websites from top brands. Sometimes, big brands don’t get punished at all. (There is something I like to call Search Engine Politics, and I’ll post about that in a separate post). However, do you want to be the a-hole who gets blamed for the site being de-listed in Google? I think not. Take care of your site. Do you best to implement 301 redirects on time, but know that you’re not in immediate danger if they can’t go live on Day 1. The search engines want you to get things right the first time, but they understand that there are some people out there who don’t know the first thing about duplicate content issues, 301 redirects and/or SEO. The point is: don’t panic. Just get your ducks in a row, so you can get 301 redirects launched very quickly. I’ve had clients who changed their URL structure every few months. While they would not stop that practice, they did understand what needed to be done from a SEO strategy standpoint. They built an internal system that made it very easy for them to create 301 redirects for batches of URLs. I cannot tell you how happy that made me. It was truly awesome. Somewhere in heaven I know an angel cried.

PageRank & Authority
Now that spam has been somewhat explained, let’s take a look at PageRank and authority. These are concepts that are very important in the SEO world, and it’s the kind of stuff that will definitely make you look like you know what the hell you are talking about. It might not get you a date with the hot office guy or girl, but it will make you seem legit to your peers in the search marketing world. The fact of the matter is that Google has a ranking system for pages, and it’s called PageRank. PageRank is on a scale of 0-10, and the higher the PR, the better. Google uses an algorithm to rank URLs based on PageRank and hundreds of other factors. For any given search on any given topic, some URLs have authority over other URLs. How do they do that? What makes some pages more relevant than others? That is another conversation altogether. For now let’s just focus on the topic of links.

Links are the easily the most important factor in today’s search engine algorithms. For the most part, the more links you have to your site, the higher your site will rank in search results. It has been said millions of time that “a link is a vote for a site’s popularity.” Ranking is a popularity contest. The more links you have from other sites to your site, the more authority and trust your site will have. More authority and trust leads to higher rankings. It’s that simple. Websites like Amazon, eBay and Wikipedia will continually outrank your for any given keyword because those sites have a ton of inbound links, authority and trust. These sites have been active for a while, and they have proven that they are sites with a ton of authoritative content on millions of subjects, products, categories, etc… The key point: The number of links to your site is very important for ranking purposes.

Link Quantity vs. Link Quality
Is it better to have 10 links from my friends’ blogs or 1 link from a huge site like CNN.com? The simple answer is: you want both! There are many ways to game the system via link acquisition, so you want your links to look natural. Keep the quality and quantity diversified. Make it look organic, natural. Get all the links you can and maintain ways to keep building your links over time. Even though you need to get all the links you can, keep in mind that quality links are a big win. If you can score a link from a very trusted source, get it! Now already!

The quality approach is a lot like the 1987 movie Can’t Buy Me Love, starring Patrick Dempsey as Ronald Miller. Before McDreamy was wooing medical school interns, he was paying this really hot 80’s girl $1000 to be his girlfriend. His goal was to become “cool.” He wanted into that exclusive club known as the popular crowd in high school, so he paid a popular girl to befriend him. (Note: One of the coolest things about this movie is that Ronnie’s younger brother, Chuckie, is played by Seth Green, creator of Robot Chicken.) Anyways, Ronnie was onto something. If he was linked to the popular kids, he would become popular, too. See how I tied that back to SEO? Clever, huh?

The point is: While it is great to build several hundred links from smaller sites over the next several months, you can really jumpstart your site’s trust and authority by getting links from other sites with a lot of trust and authority. Typically, you can’t just go out there and get a link from a popular site, but make sure you continue to create good content. And do it often. In time, the links will come.

Bringing It Back to the Importance of 301 Redirects
Goodness. This post is entirely too long. But the next part is very important. Let’s assume your site is continuously picking up links from other websites, and your authority is growing. You have started seeing increased rankings, and the revenue is really starting to grow. Your products are selling very well, and now you want to launch a new version of the site. This new version of the site will be a lot more attractive, and it will have all sorts of cool, interactive elements. You’re even considering changing platforms and getting a better CMS. Your users will love it, and it’s very exciting for everyone involved. Before you get too far in the planning, do not forget to include 301 redirects on your project list.

Remember all that work you did to increase your site’s authority? You came up with clever ways to attract links. You started a blog and posted every other day for a year. You even followed up with every lead on acquiring any and every link you could possibly acquire. That was hard work, and you need to make sure you do not see your hard work go down the drain. One of the easiest ways say goodbye to your site’s authority is to launch a new site with new URLs. Launching a new version of the site really has the potential to mess with your website’s authority. I have seen it a hundred times. It typically happens because no one even knows about the fact that you need to create 301 redirects when re-launching a site. Or it happens because, even though you had that item of the project list, the launch date is getting closer and several items are having to be reprioritized to the point where your 301 redirect item is crossed off the list completely.

No matter why it happens, redirects are often forgotten about or ignored when sites re-launch with new URLs. It’s important because every URL on your site has an associated amount of authority. Most of your inbound links point to your homepage at www.yoursite.com. And there are probably a few links that point to some deeper category and product pages. But overall, these pages have picked up authority based on the amount of work you have done to get any and every link to the site. Furthermore, all URLs pick up authority based on the amount of time they have been live. If a URL has been active for 3 years, there is a good chance that it has a Google PageRank greater than 0, and it might even rank for some keywords and phrases. When re-designing a site with new URLs, you need a way to transfer all that authority to the new URLs. And that goes for every URL on the site. The way to do this is with 301 redirects. 301 redirects transfer authority from the old URLs the new URLs. 301 Redirects allow the transfer of link juice from old URLs to new URLs. By the way, link juice is SEO vernacular for your site’s link power or number of backlinks to your site.

The Worst Thing You Could Do
I have referenced a website that did a re-design and launched with brand new URLs for the whole site, all the while leaving all the old URLs live. There were no redirects used to direct users or search engines from the old site to the new site. Most likely, the site will continue to drive natural traffic through the old URLs. Certainly everyone involved will not be happy that users are still landing on old URLs, as those URLs are from the previous site template, but at least natural traffic and revenue will not drastically drop. This is not the optimal situation, but this is not the worst place to be.

Imagine that you re-design your site and you launch the site with all new URLs. But instead of leaving the old URLs active, you simply take them down with no redirection. To a user and a search engine, these pages no longer exist. Even worse, if you go to one of these old URLs, you land on a crappy 404 page. When searches land on this page, they will most likely bounce out of your site and go the next listing in Google. This will cause your natural search traffic and revenue to evaporate before your very eyes. And it will happen immediately. The point is: If you can’t build redirects for the new site launch, leave your old pages up. At least buy yourself some time. Under no circumstance should you take them down if the redirects are not in place. And if you must take them down, at least build an advanced 404 page that lets them know that the page is no longer there. Maybe even give them a direct route to the new site.

302 Redirects
These are temporary redirects. For all intents and purposes, do not use 302 Redirects. But you must be careful. From what I can tell, most servers default to 302 redirects. If your dev team redirected the page, it’s probably a 302 redirect. I’m not sure why, but most servers use 302 redirects as their default redirect. Go figure. I guess it makes life more fun that way.

Get yourself some 301 redirects! This has turned into a very long post. I hope it helps you out in your SEO journey.

How Zeno’s Paradox Relates to SEO

Today I got word that one of my clients does not want to continue with SEO for their site. Now, I don’t need the money. I’m not starving. Business is good. I’m doing fine. I would not be upset if the client just chose to go another direction (i.e. get a new SEO expert). But that is not what’s happening. This client is simply dropping SEO completely. “In this economy budgets are getting cut all across the board.” I’m sure you’ve also heard that statement at least once in the recent months. Like any other project where I invested time, effort and emotion, I am completely crushed that they are going to let their natural search gains slip away.

I told them what will happen. They will not see much drop off for several months. However, their natural search traffic will stop accelerating (increasing month over month), and then their natural search traffic will begin to stall out. After the growth has stopped, they will start to notice their competitors beginning to outrank them for many search keywords and phrases. The reversal may not happen over night, but it will happen. It actually reminds me of weight loss. I was watching a story about previous winners of the TV show America’s Biggest Loser. A few of them have kept the weight off over the years. They are able to keep the weight off because they continue to work at it. They bike, run, walk – pretty much any exercise that will keep them active and healthy, they are doing it for the goal of keeping the weight off. Then there are a few winners of that show who have actually put the weight back on. For some of them, they gained 100+ lbs after winning the show. The reason they gained the weight back? They dropped their good habits. They dropped exercising. They ignored their healthy diets. Essentially, they quit working at it.

As a person who is responsible for an e-commerce retail site, you must be aware that the work never ends. It’s marketing. It’s advertising. It’s promotion. The work never ends! You cannot simply cut a budget, halt a campaign, and continue to expect the same amount of return from that marketing channel. Here’s the real message in (online) marketing: You’re never gonna get there. There is a finish line, a point where everything is running smoothly, ROI is consistently increasing, and the retail, e-commerce life hands you no surprises. However, you’ll never reach that point. You must keep working as if you can reach that point, but you also have to realize that the attempt is futile. Do not give up. Keep on fighting for every last visitor. With every new build, your site should be getting closer and closer to being 100% optimized. Again, you will never reach the finish line, but you must keep all cannons firing to hit your traffic and revenue goals right now. It’s a never-ending struggle, a lifelong journey. You can’t just arbitrarily drop a marketing channel and expect that long terms gains will continue.

Being a person who enjoys a good math analogy, I can’t help but give you Zeno’s Dichotomy Paradox:

“That which is in locomotion must arrive at the half-way stage before it arrives at the goal.”
—Aristotle, Physics VI:9

Suppose you want to reach a finish line. Before you can get to the finish line, you must get halfway to the finish line. Before you can get halfway there, you have to get a quarter of the way there. Before traveling a fourth, he must travel one-eighth; before an eighth, one-sixteenth; and so on. This description requires you to complete an infinite number of tasks, which Zeno maintains is an impossibility. It turns out that Zeno also knows that you’ll never get to the finish line. But the excitement in life comes when we try. Wait. But Yoda said, “Do or do not. There is no try.” So maybe I’m wrong about that try stuff. At any rate, this is getting very long-winded.

Bottom line: keep investing in SEO. It’s the only way to insure optimal long term growth, and it is also a great way to avoid huge drops in traffic and revenue when a new build launches where some IT guy did something that you didn’t know about and you miss out on a massive amount of traffic and revenue. Believe me. That happens. IT guys are smart, but sometimes it’s us SEO guys who catch technical problems that affect your site’s revenue. Good day to you.