Replay of Search Engine Optimization 101: Understanding SEO with Jeff Carr

Our latest webinar, “Search Engine Optimization 101: Understanding SEO” was a discussion between Scott Abel and Jeff Carr, Senior Information Architect & Search Consultant at Earley & Associates, about the importance of having a solid SEO strategy. Attendees learned the basics of search engine optimization, how it works, when it doesn’t, what to watch out for, and what you can do to ensure your content doesn’t get lost in a digital haystack. Real world examples were also highlighted.

During the webinar Jeff mentioned an article that compared the difference between internal and external search. Access the article in full here. In addition, Jeff has provided us with an excellent visualization which looks like a Periodic Table of SEO Ranking Factors. It’s pretty cool – Check it out!

The webinar was recorded in full (60 minutes) and is available below. In addition to the recording, there were a handful of questions asked by the live audience that were unable to be answered during the webinar. I enlisted Jeff to help answer them. You can find them below. Thank you again to Jeff and Scott for an insightful webinar.

Live Audience Questions:

Q: What are some reliable sources for statistics about keyword rankings and page rankings (overall and by industry)? Conversion rates?

A: There aren’t industry standard sites that track and publish rankings for specific keywords as the scope and challenge for doing so would be enormous. Some companies have developed software that helps determine where a domain/page will rank for selected keywords but this process of automated querying is frowned upon by the search engines and goes against their terms of service. A page may rank for multiple keywords and in fact your SEO strategy should take this into consideration.

You should try to develop content that provides for flexibility in targeting not only specific keywords but closely related long tail terms as well. What you’ll find is that tens, hundreds or even thousands of keyword combinations will then be used to drive traffic to a page. Rankings themselves fluctuate consistently so trying to determine an exact placement in the search engine result pages (SERPS) is difficult – it may be better to consider an average.

There’s a lot of information out there on conversion rates and I suggest you check out the WAA to understand the variables that go into calculating them. I’d then take a look at Shop.org, Coremetrics.com, Forrester.com and the Fireclick Index as a starting point.

Q: In web development, you are often taught to use relative URLs. Can using absolute URLs increase your ranking?

A: As with many aspects of SEO there may not be a “right” answer and there has and continues to be much discussion over this. The consensus however seems to lean toward absolute as being the better choice, not strictly for the purpose of SEO but for other reasons as well, such as security.

Google has stated in the past that “we also suggest you link to other pages of your site using absolute, rather than relative, links with the version of the domain you want to be indexed under. For instance, from your home page, rather than link to products.html, link to http://www.example.com/products.html. And whenever possible, make sure that other sites are linking to you using the version of the domain name that you prefer.”

(Source: http://sitemaps.blogspot.com/2006/05/few-questions-from-our-google-group.html)

Q: Can you summarize the PS3 example? For example the process from ‘start’ searching to potential revenue?

A: This scenario provides an analysis of lost opportunity using the following data based on research around the search term PS3 Games to calculate potential loss in terms of annual revenue.

  • Search frequency on Google (1.5 million searches per month)
  • Average click through rate based on rank or position (1 – 42%, 2 – 12%, 3 – 8% etc.)
  • For a #2 ranking, Expected traffic = Search Frequency * Ranking (1.5M * 12% = 180,000)
  • Using a conversion rate of 1% estimate that 1,800 (1% * 180,000) visitors are likely to make a purchase
  • With an Average Order Value (AOV) of a PS3 Game of $55, calculate revenue of $99,000 ($55 * 1,800)

Q: Simple question: Are there recommended character limits when developing content? Specifically, what are the character limits for titles and meta descriptions?

A: Different search engines display a different number of characters in the search results for Titles. Google is usually somewhere around 60-64, sometimes as high as 66 whereas Bing may go up to 70 or so. My suggestion would be to stay around the 64 character range and for the Description around 150 or so. Keep in mind however that usability and readability should be the #1 priority as both the Title and Description are your opportunity to speak directly to searchers.

Q: A question about using text clouds for analysis: Is there a tool for envisioning text in “cloud form?”

A: Both Wordle.net and Tagcrowd.com can be used for visualizing content on a page. There are also many search engine simulators out there that will provide you with what a search crawler will see for any particular page but the result will still likely need to be put through the cloud generator to create the visualization.

Q: I work for a large e-commerce company. Our Help requires a login. In this case, how can SEO work?

A: Unfortunately search engines do not have the capacity to fill out a login form to access the content. If you want them to index it you will need to provide links for them to consume which is often done using the sitemaps.org protocol. It certainly depends on the situation, you may want to publish short abstracts of the content and then require an account to see more detail. But, if it’s secure content then you will not want to take this approach.

Remember that the search engine takes a copy of what it finds and that content can be accessed directly without going to your site (use the advanced operator cache:url to see what it looks like in Google’s index). Also keep in mind that searchers often get frustrated after clicking on a result and being forced to create an account to view the content.

See the article 12 Useful Tips That Can Improve Your Ability To Google for a list of useful query construction tips and tricks.

Q: I saw the term “bread crumbs” on your slides. What exactly does this mean, and can you give an example?

A: A breadcrumb is a form of navigation that is used to provide site users with context relating to their location within the site hierarchy. It provides an ability to re-trace steps taken, or move vertically back up the structure.

You see it on many websites in the format:
Home > Category > Sub-Category > Page

Q: Is there any value to the placement of the NAV bar relative to SEO? Top, left, right?

A: In terms of SEO not really. When the search crawler consumes content it does so from top to bottom. Viewing the page source will show the order in which the information is accessed. The code for generating the Nav bar on the left is often displayed before it would be if on the right. The only issue that may take place is if the crawler has difficulty in accessing the content due to significant amounts of code that might exist (essentially forcing it to work its way through to find indexable content). Extraneous JavaScript and CSS should be removed and placed into external files to help streamline the indexation process. Again, the focus here should be on the user experience – what would make the most sense for your visitors?

Q: What are your thoughts on long-tail keyword searches?

A: Personally, I am a big fan of optimizing for long tail searches. The amount of organic traffic that can be captured is often significant and can eclipse what you might get from targeting a single keyword. Long tail searches are also often more detailed meaning that the searchers themselves are pre-qualifying their relevance. Successful long tail strategies however do require more effort in terms of keyword research, prep and content authoring but are well worth it in the end.

Q: What’s the difference or connection between Bing and Google?

A: This is a big question – each search engine has its own approach to indexation and ranking. Many of the same factors are used but there are certainly differences. The advice would be to focus less on the search technology and more on the quality and effectiveness of the content that is published. Including SEO as part of operational processes will certainly improve the ability to increase visibility in both search engines but the user experience itself should be the driver.

Q: The example for PS3 and Costco, would the reason the Costco not rank higher be because Costco is a membership franchise?

A: No, their approach to business does not affect their ability to rank in the search results. The reason for their lack of ranking is site and content structure. While a well-known and popular organization, they have not taken the appropriate steps to design and implement an SEO strategy.

Q: Which title tags are most important to Google SEO: Page titles (H1), html browser titles, or navigation titles? And do subheads matter, too? If so, down to what level (H2, H3, H4)?

A: HTML browser titles are the most important, followed by paragraph headings (H1 down through H5 respectively).

Interested in attending our next webinar?

Tune in with Scott Abel and technical communication expert, Tom Johnson this Friday, June 10, 2011, in “Organizing Help Content: The Problem of Findability”. Sign up Now!

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