Archive for the 'White Hat' Category

Adding more content to an image-focused site

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008

My current project — smartlivecasino.com — is meant to be visually attractive. It’s an entertainment experience, after all.

Unfortunately, the people who originally designed the site saw it more as a work of art than a sales tool. As a result, there are loads of pretty pictures, most of which don’t even have alt-tags, and little actual text.

To the human eye it looks fine, but to any ONE — or any THING — not relying on vision there’s a problem. Strip away the imagery and there’s very little for a search engine spider to index except for a few links and disconnected phrases: not exactly what you’d call good content. No doubt we’ve all seen worse: sites where even the text is displayed as a GIF image, and an un-tagged one at that.

For good SEO any site needs words, and sentences made up from these words, and paragraphs made from these sentences. The bottom line is that only by increasing the number of words on a page can one hope to improve keyword densities to that sweet spot of between 5% and 15% of the total.

Indeed, the current version of smartlivecasino.com comes close to running the risk of agitating the search engines because the density of certain keywords is greater than 20%: to a search engine that could look like “blackhat” SEO.

But before undertaking a major redesign, can anything else can be done to improve matters?

Well, remember the bit about any ONE? If you consider the page from a disability access standpoint, there are plenty of things that could be done to make it more useful to someone with a visual impairment, or a search engine.

A good first step would be to alt-tag all the images using clear keyword-rich phrases. A stage further would be to add keyword-rich TITLE tags to images, links and any other media. Neither of these measures would disturb the look of the page in any way but they would give more content for the search engines to spider.

However, the line NEVER to cross is to include hidden text in your page, artificially increasing the keyword density by peppering it with white text on a white background or commented out phrases which bear no relation to the code. That sort of thing WILL get you in Google’s bad books.

I say “never” but it depends on what you mean by hidden; however, that’s another post …

Content and SEO with a twist

Friday, June 20th, 2008

So my latest challenge is a website that some people my find uncomfortable. Smart Live Casino is one of the world’s growing numbers of gambling websites.

Smart Live’s “twist” is just that: it’s live roulette, streamed via webcam or broadcast on UK digital television (SKY 851 and Freeview 22) from early evening to the wee small hours, presented by attractive croupiers, in a relaxed style.

I’ve never been much of a gambler myself, although I’ve always enjoyed the spectacle of gambling events like casinos or horseracing. And the vast numbers of people who flock to the great gambling meccas like Las Vega or the Aintree Grand National show just how popular it is. For most, it’s just a hobby: a way to release tension at the end of a busy day. And for most, it’s completely harmless. Sure they may lose occasionally, but don’t we all take risks every day and aren’t we okay if things don’t go quite as we’d planned.

Still, there is an understandable air of uneasiness when it comes to the subject, especially when people don’t want to be seen to publicly endorse a lifestyle which others object to.

This has proved to be a problem in relation to our attempts to launch a Pay Per Click campaign with the world’s biggest search engine company, Google.

Google (motto: do no harm) has a strict policy when in comes to online gambling advertising — they don’t do it! Geographical casinos are allowed, as are non-profit casino games such as those used by charities at social events. And if you make poker chips or roulette wheels, or have a surefire system to beat the house, you can advertise those too. So you will see PPC ads for gambling on Google properties when you search for relevant keywords.

However, you soon learn that some of these ads are not what they seem. The URL from a recent ad for “freegamblepackage.com” was

http://www.google.co.uk/aclk?sa=l&ai=BvJfi2WVWSImMB6HmQru-5ZgKscj_ Qb3ooq8FpbeaBfCzpQEIABABGAEoAzABOAFQn4rcigJgu76ug9AKoAHH teL5A8gBAYACAdkDLsK5FNgVhxjgAwg&sig=AGiWqty1Q9aMG-bEIwSlo_el85zW6e P2EQ&q=http://www.freegamblepackage.com/%3Faff%3D52123%26c%3D1.

However, after the inevitable blank screen where the background referral script worked out where it was being linked from, the page was redirected to http://www.primecasino.com/?aff=52123, which is a rival online casino and therefore not allowed under Google rules.

What’s going on here is an affiliate scheme; not of itself illegal (even Smart Live Casino is dipping a toe into the partnership model) but in the way campaigns like the one above currently operate, it’s just downright sneaky. In the above example, simply typing freegamblepackage.com into a browser produces a lame page for another surefire system to beat the roulette wheel, but in itself it is almost certainly a satellite website run by the affiliate marketeers.

Google say they are investigating and offenders will be removed. Another campaign run by online casino giants 888.com is (at the time of writing) now pointing to a geographical casino and not their online one.

Sadly, the reality is that as soon as these scams are stopped a new one pops up to take its place.

Another SEO manager told me recently that he didn’t believe in “ethical” SEO, and he is right … to an extent. Today’s “tweak” inevitably becomes tomorrow’s “White Hat technique” and next week’s “Black Hat swindle“. I would still err on the side of Google’s “Do No Harm”, although I might add “unless you know you won’t get caught”.

Me, I’m no gambler. I always believe I’ll get caught.

The Mystery of Google’s Page Rank Punishment

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

So, you know I wrote about the cuts in Google’s page rank and how it was hitting people who’d bought in links and were feeling the pain of Google’s ethical stance? Well now I’m not so sure.

Yesterday, Barablu — my latest SEO project — felt the sting of demotion too. Its page rank fell one point, from 5 to 4.

Yet (as far as I can see) Barablu has NEVER in the past operated any dodgy practices, especially link buying: I wish the same could be said for the competition. No, the loss of a PR point in this case at least must be more than a Google moral backlash.

As usual, Google are keeping tight-lipped about the reasons behind the recent PR massacre and to be sure there are many sites around who’ve suffered more than Barablu. Yet, what makes this whole adjustment even more puzzling for me is that I know for a fact that sites which don’t exist are maintaining their page rank!

Now I’m not talking about some dodgy blackhat technique: the site in question — which I shouldn’t name for confidentiality reasons — ceased operations back in July because the owner couldn’t afford (or couldn’t be bothered) to pay his site dues. It was duly decommissioned and all the pages deleted; if you go there now you get the usual 404 errors.

However, if you search Google for the site right now you’ll be told that it has 41 pages and a PR of 4, albeit with no backlinks! As they say, go figure!

Go Tell The Marines!

In truth, Barablu’s real problem is years of unwitting, benign neglect. It was first in its field — making free calls using a mobile phone — and it still out-features the competition but it languishes in the lower reaches of the search engine rankings on almost all of its keyword phrases because, until now, no-one ever said anything. A recent comment on an Italian blog summed it up: “Even if Barablu is not very visible — not advertised properly — the software offers some interesting services you should try.”

As I write, I’m waiting to unleash a new Barablu website on an unsuspecting world, but for now all I can practically do is to encourage everyone here that I can to blog their socks off about Barablu and its associated technological fields via the Barablu Blog (catchy name, don’t cha think!).

For you see, as I think I’ve been saying for a while now, Content is King! And even with the meagre resources at hand right now, Barablu’s SEO is actually improving. See you at the top … .

Google Reinforces the Content Route

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

Google has just dropped a bombshell on many sites who obviously thought they’d got SERPS licked. They’ve cut huge swathes off the PageRank scores of many big name sites including engadget.com, forbes.com and problogger.net.

In some cases the figure has dropped by as many as THREE places (remember PR is not a linear scale: a PR of 2 is not just TWICE as good as a PR of 1; it’s something like SEVEN TIMES better!)

Which begs two questions …

  • Why have Google done this, and
  • What does it mean for the affected sites?

Taking the second first, the answer is not entirely clear. PageRank has been a controversial issue for some while now; some even argue it’s meaningless. It’s usually summed up as “the number of good sites pointing to yours”, and although the precise PR algorithm has changed since the original Google patent, it’s still largely based upon “backlinks”.

Put very simply, the better the PageRank of sites which link to yours, the better your PageRank will be. Conversely, lots of links from poor sites can actually harm your page rank; that’s one reason why link-swapping campaigns are such poor value if your site is already doing well.

Incidentally, the PR you see in the Google Toolbar or other SEO tool may be misleading: Google calculates PageRank on a regular basis, but the figure it displays to the world is “out of date” by several months.

What’s behind Google’s recent PR raid seems to be a question over the validity of these backlinks. Of late, one of the tools of the professional SEO has been to sidestep the problem of gathering backlinks by natural, organic means — which usually takes a very long time — by running “backlink campaigns”. These exercises can often run into many thousands of dollars and consist of “buying” stories on well-placed blogs, and links from directories, forums and other sites. Sites like PayPerPost.com exist solely to put willing bloggers in touch with SEOs looking for another backlink.

Recently, however, Google announced a crackdown on websites and search agencies that were buying links in order to artificially ramp-up search position (you can see a fuller list of the sites affected here). This chimes in with the search giant’s stated aim of attempting to make web searches honest — if you search for something, they argue, what you should get is a list of the most appropriate sites, not those with the biggest SEO budget. Content, once more, is king!

This leaves me in a quandary. My day job is get the free mobile phone calls site Barablu.com back on the top of the heap where it belongs, and my weapon of choice is to improve the content of the site by writing more, getting more people to contribute and making the site itself more accessible, more usable and simply more fun!

However, one thing that Barablu lacks — mainly because, unlike the competition, it’s never bothered with SEO before — is backlinks. Barablu’s current PR is 5 and that’s lower than its rivals but (these days) suddenly higher than searchengineguide.com and seo-scoop.com. Suddenly, the attractiveness of a backlinks campaign is less than it was.

Besides, these days PageRank is just one of a hundred or so metrics used by Google to order web sites. Does that make it irrelevant? At the time of writing, this very site has a PR of ZERO, yet it still tops Google searches for some terms.

Yet on reflection, I still think PR is relevant. It still seems to have some bearing over just how often your site gets indexed and how deeply and there are many other differences you notice when your Google PR increases.

So I reckon backlink campaigns will continue, only probably much more carefully, and much less visibly.

Statistical Nightmares

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007

Just finished my first week at barablu.com and we’re all expecting that the results should be coming through soon.

Actually, it looks like the results are coming through sooner than we expected and in surprisingly good shape. Hopefully it’s not all a case of lies, damned lies and statistics.

There are a lot of things going on in the background at barablu right now which it would be wrong to discuss here at the present; however, my raison d’etre being content, I had to make some early moves to give the web site a taste of things to come and that seemed to be the Barablu Blog!

I didn’t start the blog, it’s been around since the beginning of the year but the postings have been sparse and sporadic. Indeed, the decision had been taken to remove the link to the blog because its age made it an embarrassment. This is a key factor in content; unless you are dealing with some sort of historical event, old copy is just plain bad. Even if you have no plans to add new stuff, you should give what you have the once-over now and again. One site I recently bumped into was talking about presidential visits which seemed fine until it became clear they were talking about Clinton. (And I know Mr Clinton is STILL President Clinton, this wasn’t talking about some book tour in support of the spousal Senator for New York’s electorial ambitions).

Anyway, every day since I arrived I’ve been regularly posting to the Barablu Blog about getting my old PDA to work with the software, the latest Nokia phone — the gorgeous N95 8GB and my quest for a new telephonic gadget and it looks like it is having some effect in the daily rankings. There is new movement in an upwards direction.

In fact, there’s been quite a bit of movement; more than might normally be expected.

Whether it will continue at quite such a breakneck pace is unlikely. The statistical nightmare is that the people who have taken me on may well expect the numbers to continue in leaps and bounds; that’s the danger of any statistical calculation based on a very small set of results.

Yet, all in all, it does show that even the smallest efforts can — and do — have some effect on SERPS and, if the first results from the blog are confirmed by continuous improvement, it also shows the power of content with the new search algorithms.

News from The Front

Sunday, September 2nd, 2007

I’m still amazed at the number of people who ask for a “splash page” on their site: preferably something with lots of animated gifs “because they look nice”.

It’s become almost a mantra with me that home pages must provide a reason for the visitor to come back. (Actually, all pages should give the visitor a reason to come back because it’s just as likely that they’ll parachute in as a result of a link from StumbleUpon or Facebook or some search engine.) So your homepage should feature fresh content, perhaps even some random call to action, to keep it interesting.

This was all confirmed by a reread of Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think. And then it dawned on me as I looked over the homepage of this very site, it too was a splash page. One visit was enough to know everything it said and there was precious little novelty: no reason to come back.

Needless to say, I’ve begun a rewrite of the JWC home page. There’s still some way to go — I will be adding some live updated content in the form of RSS too — but there’s certainly lessons to be learned.

They include:

  • Never be afraid to re-examine your content
  • Never be complacent about your site, and
  • Take your own good advice

Good Lessons

Don’t Make Me Think was first published in 2000, but almost all of it is still relevant. I’ll be regurgitating much of it in the coming weeks, with some more up to date insights of my own.

But usability is a vital part of good SEO and you neglect it at your peril. It’s not just a question of hard-to-use web sites not being “sticky” (actually, studies show that people will persevere with an inaccessible website because they fear the alternative won’t be much better), a usable site makes for better SEO because it is attractive to humans and robots.

Five ways to damage your SEO with content

Monday, August 27th, 2007

1. Write Rubbish

If your content makes no sense, if it’s dull and irrelevant, if not even your mother would make it all the way through, then you can be sure it will be bad for SEO. Make content interesting, make content readable, make content fun!

2. Duplicate It

There’s nothing quite so annoying as content repeated again and again. I mean, there is NOTHING so annoying as content which is repeated time after time. Really, repeating content again and again and again is really, REALLY, really annoying. The search engines don’t like it either, you might even describe it as SEO’s worst nightmare. Don’t use content which is duplicated (or even just summarized) elsewhere on the internet — even if it’s your own copyright, especially if it’s duplicated on the same site. Check for originality on copyscape.com if you’re not certain, and even if you are. Even if the content is your copyright and has been copied by someone else, it can hit your SEO if the copying site has a higher Page Rank than yours.

3. Make It Invisible

For search engines, invisible text equals SEO scam. Technically, making content invisible to the naked eye — for example, making it the same colour as the background or making it transparent or putting it in comment tags — comes under the heading of “Black Hat SEO”, or cheating. It’s a way of artificially loading content with keywords [SEO, content, search engine, timeshare, cialys, pre5cription5] to bump up the density, and the search engines got wise to it years ago. It will hurt your SEO.

4. Use JavaScript To Present It

Search engines just won’t index content which is provided by JavaScript. There have been too many SEO scams using scripts in the past and Google and the rest aren’t taking chances any more. If all you can see in the content source code is a ton of JavaScript, then you can be sure that the search engines won’t be seeing it either.

5. Make It Chaotic

Content should make sense. Part of that is how it is organised. One of the best ways to ruin your SEO is to order content in an illogical, inconsistent fashion so that the reader doesn’t know whether they are at the beginning, middle or end. This extends to your <h> tags: use them in the order <h1>, <h2>, <h3> … <h6>. Keeping content organised means the search engine spiders can crawl it, index it and rank it to the best effect.