Ask the SEOs

February 12, 2009
By Lisa Barone in Internet Marketing Conferences

Well, this should be fun.  Five of the most well known SEOs on the planet and no PowerPoint. Which means everyone’s going to start fighting and talking over one another.  Or talk really fast just on spite so I can’t liveblog.

Yey! [Here’s looking at you, Hoffman.]

Getting to it, speaking we have Greg Boser, Bruce Clay, Todd Friesen, Rae Hoffman and Jill Whalen.

After a significant site update to layout change [aka a redesign], is it normal to see a drop in rankings while the site’s reviewed? Can you assume there’s something wrong with the site if traffic drops?

Jill: You probably didn’t do your 301 redirects right. There’s so much stuff you need to do when you redesign a Web site. Her heart sinks when she gets these calls from people. That’s a lie. Jill doesn’t have a heart. She’s a robot. Anyway.

Rae: If you redesigned your site, that means you changed the look of your site. If you restructured your site, that means you changed the URLs. If you just redesigned it and you lost your rankings, something else happened. If you restructured, you need to fix your URLs.

Todd: If you’re using Flash where you used to use text or that kind of stuff, you need to be careful.

Greg: It’s usually a case of you not doing your due diligence ahead of time. Calling an SEO after your rankings tank, isn’t smart. You need to call before you design and we’ll tell you how to do it. How you rank is probably determined by your own internal architecture. If you play with that, you could be in trouble.

Bruce: You want to submit your old sitemap to the search engines so they’ll discover the 301s quicker.  The biggest failure really is that you messed up your linking. That’s something you should plan in beforehand.

Rae: It’s much cheaper to prevent than to cure.

If I decide to go to descriptive URLs, should I be separating them with underscores or dashes?

Danny says dashes. Everyone agrees.

What should you use as separators in titles?

Greg: It’s about readability. Look at your titles, if they look like a wish list for every keyword you wished you rank for, you’re doing it wrong. You want them to read like they weren’t written by a four year old.

Todd: They never go beyond category name.

Brand names in title tags? Do it or not?

Jill: It depends. There are many places where people are searching to find the brand. It’s worth putting on your home page. It depends how long it is, as well. You don’t want to waste too many words, either. You don’t need every page on your site to show up for your name.

Rae: If you want to put the brand name in, it should be at the end of the title tag.

WordPress continues its launch towards world domination. Any ways to pimp it? Plugins? How do you set it up for SEO purposes?

Greg: Brew a big pot of coffee and pray. WordPress is a pretty good platform out of the box but it does need a lot of customization to do a lot of stuff.

Todd: Out of the gate, you want to set your permalink structure to not be the dynamic variable structure. Use the All in One SEO Plug In. Get a decent Redirect plugin. Use SuperCache.

Rae:  She’s a huge Thesis evangelist. It does a lot of the SEO stuff for you. Before she was using it she had 20 plugins, now she only has to use 7.

Todd: Turn off the nofollow option. Let the Internet work how it’s supposed to. Werd,

Is there a limit to how much you can 301 redirect something? [like daily chain 301s…]

Greg: Google no longer passes anchor text when you 301 to a home page.   If it’s real content that’s actually moved and what they’re reindexing is the real thing, you can have multiple hops and it’ll still rank. There’s no smart reason to have 3 or 4.

Rae: If you believe that you lose a tiny bit of link popularity when you redirect, it makes zero sense to be doing 4 redirects.  You can redirect them separately to save some link juice.

Bruce: When you redirect, it passes link juice, but it also passes the penality. Greg says that may not be true.

Greg shares a story of a site that bought some links and then disappeared for the terms they bought the links for. Greg says to try and 301 those and Matt Cutts immediately pulls out his little notebook to write it down. Hee. Greg says sometimes those sites will come back. Todd says that won’t work in a week now that Matt has written it down. [giggle]

Rae: Your SEO is like your attorney. You have to tell them the truth or they’re not going to be able to help you. [Rae is rocking the one liners]

Bruce, you talked about how 301s pass on penalties.  You can take a penalized site and pass it on to a competitor, right? Could that happen?

Greg: It depends on how bad you were. There’s banned and then there’s super banned.  Greg says competitor sabotage definitely exists.  If you’re going to play that game, you have to make sure it’s conditional. What can get you banned with Google, will make you number one in Yahoo. You don’t want to make them money. Otherwise there’s better things to spend your time on.

Rae: If you do 301 a domain and it carries the penalty, removing the 301 takes the penality away.

It takes longer to rank in Google than the other engines, what SEO factors contribute to my success in Microsoft and Yahoo alone?

Rae: You’re probably developing lower quality links that have the anchor text to rank you in M or Y, but don’t give you the authority to rank in Google.  Matt Cutts nods along to Rae’s answer.

Greg: It’s more like probation. If you keep checking in, over time you’ll get off probation and be treated like a person.

Rae: The quicker you get those authority links, the quicker you’re going to rank.  If you’ve been in Google for 6-9 months and aren’t ranking, you’re getting the wrong links.

Greg: In the early days of a new site, you want to gain authority links, not anchor text links. You can brute force content to get it to rank, but you don’t ever get to the point where you benefit from authority. When your domain has authority, it’ll rank just because you published it.

Jill: When people put out a new site, sometimes it does rank quickly but just temporarily. That’s normal. You haven’t been banned.

Todd: The theory on that is it’s like a tasting period. Google gives you a boost and then watches you. What’s the bounce rate? Are people using the site? Does the traffic support it? Does it deserve the authority?

Bruce: In a normal world, you’re going to have a lot of people link with your company  name, URL, etc. What if you ran a link program and everyone linked to you with the text you wanted. If everyone links with the same keyword, it’s a little spammy. If it looks unnatural, it probably is. On the other side, if somebody create a Web site and they published the cure for cancer, in a few days they’d have a million inbound links.

Do H1’s get the same weight if you use them in a word not in the title area?  Do the engines care about H1 tags?

Todd: He’s not a fan of putting a whole article or paragraph in an H1. You want to dial in. Segregate your content out by sections and subsections and title them appropriately.  Don’t put H3 tags on everything that’s left just because you think you need it.

Jill: She doesn’t think it has to be an H tag. If your CMS isn’t using H tags, they don’t have to. You can use bold.

Greg: Back in the day, it was awesome. You could cloak a paragraph in a whole heading tag and it was [BAM] number one. That doesn’t work anymore. Now you have to follow rules.

Todd: They’ve done a lot of SEO on big ecommerce sites.  A lot of times they don’t have stuff like the H1. Then if they put it on the product names, longtail traffic goes up by 10x. He disagrees with Jill.

Bruce: The search engines are blind, deaf and dumb. If we were to buy a newspaper and the headlines weren’t bolded, how much would be understand of that paper?  Use them appropriately. 4-6 words max.

Rae: They use H1s. Their articles are meant for users. They’ll put the most important keyword in an H1 and then put a more interesting article title in an H2.

What if you didn’t change the page content in the URL, but you just changed the title?

Todd: Depends what you’re changing it to. If you change it from wishlist title tags to descriptive title tags, you’re gonna do great.

Jill: If your terms aren’t competitive, sometimes changing a Title tag can help but not for competitive stuff.

Greg: Baseline data is hugely important.  They break their sites up into chunks, make changes, and see how they do. It’s a net/gain thing.

Do tools help you with SEO?

Rae: We know what Bruce will say…

Jill: I hate SEO tools. A lot of it is so much crap. It’s just created for search engines, not users.

Todd: There are two kinds of tools. One is the tools where they give you your SEO score. That’s garbage.  The tools that are useful are the ones focused around data gathering and then you interpret that data yourself. Any tools that give blanket recommendations are not going to be useful for you.

Bruce: Tools gather data and present it to you in a way that you get to provide wisdom. Many times there are gaps where you can look at a page all day long and it looks totally natural to you.  You can’t run a tool to give you the right answer.

Rae: She uses the search engines as her tools. If you’ve got a doctor and a nurse, it doesn’t matter how good the nurse is at gathering your data if you have a crapy doctor who can’t do anything with it.

Bruce: I believe the best tool for SEO is training.   Todd then asks Bruce if he has a training course. Ouch. Behave, gentlemen!

And on that fine note, we’re done.  It’s time for lunch, then the last two sessions of SMX West. Back in a bit folks.

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