March 11, 2008

Pagerank and its (un) Importance

When I first started this some years ago. I use to think that PR or pagerank was the do all and end all of SEO. The first thing I would look at when deciding to link to a website was PR. After years of trial and error, I have personally experience just how much and how little PR really means.

Firstly, PR was named after some guy in google who created it. Larry Page. He decided to give websites a rank based on how many website are linking to it. Think of a incoming link to your website as a vote for your website. But again, its not that simple. These "votes" need to come from relevant and trusted sources.

If a gardening website linked to a sports supply shop - even if both websites already have high position in the SERPs. It would not be counted. You have to be smart with your links. I read on a blog some time back about job openings for Link Ninjas. I think that is a cool way of calling the job. Think of all the ohhs and ahhs when introducing yourself in a bar.

Girl: "So, what do you do?"

Boy: "I'm a link Ninja"

Girl smiles shyly.

Boy, modestly, "Well, yeah I have a samurai sword in my backpack next to my laptop."

Anyway.

Links essentially make up your page rank. But, you don't have to have a high page rank to have a high position in the SERPs.

SERPs = Search Engine Results Page

I am managing an accommodations website with a PR of 3 and its on the first page of around 6 major keywords. It also has the correct semantic structure and complies with almost every SEO parameter. Its a great site but its PR is only 3/10. Would I still pursue a link from it? A resounding YES from a Link Ninja!

PR is just one of the factors to consider when linking. Other factors include counting how many external links are leaving the page, making sure that its has content relating to yours (title, headers, text), considering where your link is actually going to come from, etc.

If your website is showing up in the first page of your major keyword, would it still be worth it to pursue links to increase your page rank?

Yes. Always. You need PR because Google uses it to determine the importance of your website in the food chain. And if Google uses it, you HAVE to use it. Also as more and more websites are getting optimized, its always good to stay ahead of the pack.

March 10, 2008

PPC vs SEO

I was in the middle of engaging in a PPC campaign when I had to jump into a conference call about SEO. Now, even though it might seem easy to switch hats, I found myself fumbling. PPC and SEO are synonymous to SEM and are like brother and sister. Most companies who know enough about the power of the Internet, engage in both programs. But still, they are as different as well, brother is to sister.

PPC or Pay-Per-Click is the when you pay the Search Engines a certain amount for every click that your website receives in the sponsored results. Of course its a little more technical than that - choosing the proper keywords, creating proper landing pages, bid management, stat tracking. If you are a newbie, I suggest you read up.

SEO or Seach Engine Optimization is when you develop your website to appear in the natural results of your industry keywords. Again this has many dimension to it and if you are a newbie, please go here.

What I like about PPC is that I worry more about conversions than I do about traffic. In natural results, I like worrying about traffic.

Traffic = no. of hits
Conversions = no. of clicks (in this case, when they submit an email)

Its much easier to get more traffic than it is to get a conversion for the simple reason that people will click on anything but will not just give their emails away without a good argument.

What is more effective? Depending on your industry and market competition, I have to say that working together, both PPC and SEO are more effective than just one - either PPC or SEO. I see this on all websites that I work on. As a result more and more companies are engaging in both lucrative online schemes.

If you had a limited budget, the way to go would be SEO. Its far cheaper and you will be able to maintain your position given that no one else starts optimizing their websites for your industry.

So I guess the title of today's blog should not be PPC vs SEO but instead be PPC & SEO.

March 9, 2008

What is SEO and why is it important?

SEO is a term that has evolved through the recent years of online marketing. It refers specifically to new-media or online marketing. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It is the process of developing your website so that it becomes Search Engine Friendly. Of course there are many facets to doing this but before I get into any of them please note that the objective of SEO is to increase your website's position in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) for relevant keyword searches.

Why is it important? Easy - do you ever go online to search for something whether on Google, Yahoo, MSN or some other search engine? Well, you aren't the only person because every single individual with a computer and internet connection does the same thing. They search for what they need, want and are curious about.

Since the internet is relatively a newer medium than TV, Print or Radio, it is more cost effective for a number of reasons. Of course cost is relative to the SEO company and scope of service but generally that would be the case.

Why should you engage in SEO? Well, it depends... I think companies located in Cities should have some form of organic or even PPC campaign. Everyone in the city lives vicariously online and some form of presence would reaffirm your company's existence.

Being in the Cayman Islands is a different story. I will not recommend SEO for some business in the Cayman Islands and only because we are such a small island and everyone that lives here already knows what to do, where to go and what is happening at any given time of the day. But I strongly recommend SEO for the following industries:

1. Real Estate and property management
2. Tourism-Related (Scuba diving, accommodation, attractions, restaurants, hotels, activities, shopping, water sports, etc)
3. Banking and financial services

Everyday, GoCayman.ky receives an average of about 300 emails requesting for recommendations on the above industries and as much as we want to assist each and every inquiry, it is just impossible for us to get to all of them. We simply do not have the manpower or resources to do that. The reason for this is because we want to keep our costs down so that we can provide our services at a reasonable rate.

So, why should you engage in SEO? Well for one thing the internet is not a passing trend. The internet is here to stay and it has already changed the way we are living our lives. Instead of going shopping in stores, more and more people are shopping online. It doesnt end there.

You should engage in SEO because it is a proven method of increasing your bottom line. As more and more people are using the internet to find services, it is imperative that your website is visible to attract NEW customers. Aside from attracting new customers, having a great website that is user friendly is also a great way to maintain customer services quality and ensure that you are reaching your customer base with minimal expenses.

Increasing Online HITS through extensive Keyword Research

On the title line, I mentioned HITS instead of conversions and there is a reason for that. I'm not altogether certain that conversions will increase just because the number of HITS for any given website increases.

Definitions:
SEO - Search€ Engine Optimization
SEM - Search Engine Marketing
SERP - Search Engine Results Page
HITS - number of times your webpage is clicked
Conversion - depends on the type of industry. For ecommerce this would be the number of time you sell something and users enter their credit card numbers. For industries other than ecommerce, this could (but not necessarily) be the number of times users request for more information. Its always good to define conversions.

SEO is an interesting aspect of SEM because alot of it has no real information. The search algorithms haven't exactly been revealed to anyone in particular and most of the available information are experienced when you create your online marketing strategy and begin implementing through trial and error and by reading extensively into other experiences of other SEO websites. Some of the better SEO Guru's will provide better information than others. This include Aaron Wall's SEO Book, which I have, btw. I also read through Searh Engine Watch almost on a daily basis. I enjoy reading blogs from all over and sometimes wish I had more time to do so. On the other hand, I wish I had more time to write this blog.

One very important subject that I learned through the course of this journey is that you never really know what people are searching for until you start looking for it.

During the course of optimizing my real estate website, I did an extensive keyword search. Initially my job was only to optimize them for the real estate industry in the Cayman Islands and that is almost done. I just need to get them some relevant links to increase their SERP position. But during the course of my keyword search, I stumbled upon keyword after keyword all relating to real estate and because of this I suggested that they also optimize for these relevant keywords.

Choosing and targeting keywords



Again I am going to mention that I cannot say, with 100% certainty that their conversion rates will increase just because their SERP position for their keyword, or additional keywords will increase. Until they reach first page position for these multiple keywords and I see for myself that their conversion rates actually increase, that will be the only time that I will be able to say, Yes, it does works.

Targeting a keyword is tedious work because if you don't already have the landing page available specifically for that keyword, then creating it, from scratch will be alot of work. Thankfully I have content writers who can deliver. I just pretty much email them my requirements for keywords and how I want the content to be delivered and after about 3 days, they usually come through for me.

From the content, I ensure that the landing page is also technically relevant to the keyword search. I ensure that that landing page is similar to the other landing pages already present in the first page of the SERPs for those keywords. I also create short-list of relevant links that is easily visible to the user. Of course I insert rel=nofollow tags to external links and ensure that my semantic structure is correct.

So lesson of the day is to know and understand your keyword/s. Chances are that you will find alot more than the obvious and that when you do it is your decision to pursue or reject them. Currently I am going to pursue my newly discovered keywords and I will probably get more hits as an effect. Will I get more conversions? Probably, yes but I won't be jumping the gun here because personally, its much easier to get a hit than to get a conversion. Creating a website that enables those conversions should be a priority but that is another topic altogether.

I am a firm believer that websites should be able to draw the fine line between optimizing for the search engines and creating one for its users.

March 7, 2008

SEO for the Real Estate Industry in the Cayman Islands

For about 4 months now I have been working on a website for our client in the Real Estate industry in the Cayman Islands. The top keyword for that industry is, "cayman islands real estate" - they now appear on the second page of Google SERPs after only 4 months and I haven't done any extensive linking yet.

When I signed up for the webmaster tools on google, I was pleasantly surprised that they were also getting alot of traffic from the keyword, "luxury property". I was surprised because I was not targeting that keyword. Nor did I anticipate the additional traffic source. But it was all good. The only time, "luxury property" is mentioned in their site is on the domain name and title already they are no. 5 of that keyword.

Note: Most SEO Specialists say that domain name is not important, well, after this experience, I have to say that it does count for something. Having a similar domain name and title name for a keyword does help in achieving ranking for the SERPs. This project proves that.

Signing up for the Google Webmaster tools is about the best decision anyone can do - whether you are an expert or site owner. Knowing where your traffic is coming from, understanding your entry and exit pages, bounce rates and knowing how long they stay is imperative in SEO.

For me, SEO isn't just about increasing traffic - SEO should be part and partial of a holistic strategy that includes:

1. Ease of Site Navigation (user experience)
2. Understanding the online user's needs and being able to address it in the least possible amount of clicks
3. Should be part of a bigger marketing strategy that incorporates other mediums and marketing efforts
4. Defining strategies that work and don't work
5. Creating a website that has room to grow. Meaning your website should be able to accomodate the ever changing needs of your users without having to re-develop everything from scratch.
6. SEO as Sales Effectivity Optimization - who cares about all that traffic when your sales hasn't even increased. The two should go hand in hand.

I have tried to incorporate all these strategies in the real estate website that I am currrently optimizing but the best thing about this project (aside from the SERP the position) is how the owners of the website are working with us and supporting us in all our recommendations.

I am the lucky one.