I’ve been asked a couple of times about this recently, so thought I’d share it here.
The two most common times I have to use 301 redirects are in the prevention of potential duplicate content issues. The first is the old non-www to www (or vice versa) chestnut and the second is to prevent parked domains from looking like seperate sites.
There’s a nice little bit of code that can handle both of these, without filling up your .htaccess file:
Basically we’re checking to see that URIs begin with www.pixelpunk.co.uk – if it does, all fine and dandy, our work here is done. If they don’t, we redirect to www.pixelpunk.co.uk/whatever_else_they_might_have_entered.
As you can see this handles both a request to pixelpunk.co.uk, which is missing the www, and any parked domains, say puxelpink.co.uk.
As always with mod_rewrite – your particular needs may mean you need to handle the two bits seperately, but I find this a good one-size-fits-all for around 70% of the sites I work with.
So, you made it through the basics in Part the First, tackled the optimisation tasks in Part the Second and you’re back for more. You have come far, my young padawan, and now it is time to reveal all the secret tricks that comprise the Jedi art of link building! Actually, it’s not that big a secret…sorry.
Put simply, you get people to link to you by offering something that they want to link to. Yeah I know, it’s a pat answer, but it’s true. There are a number of things you can do to make your site linkworthy:
Offer something for free – knowledge, basic level accounts, a weekly comic…the list is almost endless and will depend on what you do and what you have.
Create a conversation – every industry has it’s hot topics, create a discussion about the issues that affect your market and engage your customers and suppliers.
Ask satisfied customers to write about their experience on their own site – it doesn’t hurt to ask and can be the start of establishing brand evangelists.
Create an affiliate scheme to encourage new customers, reward the referrer and the referee with a discount or other incentive
Sponsor an event, support a charity, get involved with your communitiy – helping others will encourage them to help you.
You can also look at partnering with companies and organisations that are in parallel sectors to yours – if you’re a commercial printing company, for instance, look to partner with local graphic designers. This is a great way of getting more business, as well as links.
There are other things that you can do, especially when you are starting out with a new site, the most sucessful of which (in my experience) is spending time ensuring your site is in good quality directories. Now don’t run off and buy that “we’ll submit your site to 10000 directories for £1.20″ package that you found on the web, keep your £1.20 and keep reading!
There are hundreds of millions of web directories out there and a huge proportion of them are rubbish, but there are some good ones. Directories I’d consider submitting to are:
Some of these are paid inclusion, some are free, but the common denominator for all of them is that they are carefully moderated. This means that a site has to meet specific quality criteria before it is listed and means that the search engines consider an inclusion in these directories to have some value. Because these directories are popular, you can also get some great referral traffic from them.
There may also be quality directories that are specific to your niche, lookout for quality sites being listed in them and see if they are properly moderated before you submit your site.
Needless to say, this is just the tip of the iceberg of possibilities, spend some time thinking about your market and try to think outside the box. In otherwords…use the force.
I’ll be back with analytics, judging your competitors’ link strength and how to keep tweaking your site for further improvements in Part the Fourth!
Yesterday in Part the First, we covered crawling, finding your niche and a little bit about how to approach SEO. Today we’ll cover the basics of on page optimisation
Optimisation: The Bit You’ve Been Waiting For
Now you’re armed with your niche search terms (e.g. Fiat Car Spares London) you can make sure your site is optimised for them. There are a few places that we need to look at – this does require a little bit of HTML coding knowledge, or access to someone who has such knowledge (these people can often be bribed with beer/cider/wine/chocolate delete as appropriate.)
You can find more about title tags in general here, we’re going to focus on the SEO specifics.
Each page on your site should have a unique title tag, with the homepage having the most important of your search terms. Keeping with our car spares example, the title tag of the homepage could look something like this: <title>Fiat Car Spares for Sale in London - Made Up Car Co Ltd</title>
If you have product pages, then the title tag for one of them might look something like this: <title>Front Fog Light for Fiat Panda - Made Up Car Co, London</title>
It’s pretty simple, don’t you think?
Heading tags are an important way of telling visitors and search engines what a page is about, generally the heading tag will be similar to the title tag, though shorter.
For our product pages, the heading tag would be the product name: <h1>Front Fog Light: Fiat Panda</h1>
If you’ve got a lot to say about the front fog light for the Fiat Panda you might need to split the page with subheadings (much like I’ve done on this monstrously long post), so you might have: <h2>Fitting Instructions</h2>
Only use sub-headings if you need them, they’re there to make it easier for people to read the page and filling it with unnecessary heading tags won’t help that.
If you’ve spent some time looking into SEO you’ll doubtless have heard the phrase “content is king”, and it is. If your content isn’t actually readable, useful and related to your chosen topic, then there’s no point in optimising anything else.
As a general rule your search terms are going to appear somewhere within the first 100 – 200 words on the page. Don’t force them in there though (this is where a lot of issues have arisen in my experience) human visitors, who are the ones that will actually buy your products, have a natural sense of “spammy” text. If you try to force in multiple references to your search term, it will stick out like a sore thumb and will negatively impact on their likelyhood to buy. If visitors feel you are being spammy in your website, they’ll anticipate your business practices to be the same. In essence you’ll be perceived as less trustworthy.
Going back to our old pal the front fog light, here’s an example of spammy text: The front fog light for the Fiat Panda is designed to replace the current front fog light in your existing Fiat Panda. Buy your new front fog light for the Fiat Panda now.
Instead focus on getting valuable information about the product to your potential customer: This is a new, original Fiat part comprising the outer front fog light casing and fixings for all models of the Fiat Panda from 2000 onwards. Prices include VAT and exclude delivery, we have replacement, used, front fog lights for older models here.
When you link to another site on the web the search engines view that as an endorsement by you for that site and judge you by your recommendation. Be careful who you link to. If you link to questionable sites, very irrelevant sites or just plain pornographic sites, the search engines will hold that against you. When your site becomes popular and sucessful (which or course it will) you’ll get loads of requests from people and companies for you to link to their site. Some will offer you a link back in exchange, some will offer you money. Whatever the incentive, think very, very carefully about accepting. If you do accept, ensure that you make it clear that the link is an advertisement or other paid endorsement as you could fall foul of both the search engines and trading regulations.
I know, I know…You’ve read a hundred of these posts and haven’t got anywhere right? Well hold back your cynicism for just a moment because this might be the post you’re looking for.
Over the years as both a full-time SEO and as a freelance developer I’ve worked with a lot of site owners and webmasters who have endeavoured to optimise and promote their own sites. Some have had great sucess, others…not so much. Their various sucesses and failures have built up quite a library of useful tips and tools, and those are what I’ll be sharing in this series of posts.
Today we’ll cover the background work, including crawling and finding your niche, but first a little chat about the best mental approach to SEO.
Many SEOs view their relationship with the search engines, and particularly Google, as being in a digital arms race where the SEOs are constantly battling to get one up on the mysterious algorithm. Perhaps in some sense that’s a fair viewpoint from the pro’s perspective, but it isn’t a helpful mentality for the site owner or webmaster who is trying to “go it alone”.
The search engines are not trying to prevent your site from doing well, they are utilising all the data available to them in order to return what their systems consider to be the best sites for a given query. If your site isn’t being returned for that query, it’s because the search engines don’t have enough data saying that your site is relevant. So, in order to make your site return you need to supply the engines with more accurate data. Keep this in mind and you’ll find the process of optimisation a lot easier.
Crawling: Is Your Site Visible?
In order for the engines to have accurate data about your site, they need to know it exists. If your site is new then you’ll find it helpful to tell the engines about it. They make it easy for you to do this by each providing a suite of tools for webmasters, you can find them with the following links.
You’ll need a login for each of the engines, but it’s worth the effort to do so. Once you’re in you’ll be able to submit information about your site and ensure that the engines can sucessfully access (or “crawl”) your site. Your webmaster dashboards will also be the place the respective search engines notify you of any problems with your site. If you only do one thing from this post, do this, the wealth of information that Google in particular provides is invaluable.
Positioning: Find Your Niche
SEO is just like business in general, you are in competition with other similar businesses to get the attention of potential customers. Finding your niche, the thing(s) that make you stand out from your competitors, will help you to grab that attention for yourself. The more competitive your market is, the more important finding that niche will be. Time for an example? Yes, I thought so too:
Let’s say that you have a site that sells spare parts for cars, if you search Google for car parts you’ll see somewhere in the region of 107 million sites that Google considers to be relevant to that query. That’s an awful lot of competition.
If your business is based in London, that narrows the field a bit bringing the competition down to around 15 million.
If you specialise in Fiat parts (Italian electrics, meh!), then we’re getting somewhere just about 300 thousand competing sites.
And…for the sake of sillyness, if you particularly specialised in Fiat Panda spares you’re in luck as there’s only about 14 thousand results. I think you get the idea.
The great thing about targeting niche terms is you’ve reduced your competition and, more importantly, you’ve “qualified” your audience. If you only sell Fiat spares then getting visits from people who need a part for their Audi won’t help either of you, by filtering your potential audience down to people who want exactly what you have to sell you’ll dramatically increase the ratio of visitors to sales (aka your “conversion rate”). This ability to pre-qualify your audience is pretty much unique to search and it’s fantastic!
We’re now booked solid until the start of May, but as always give us a shout with your requirements and we’ll fit you in if we can. Replies may be a bit slow until May due to a combination of office move and workload – sorry about this!
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