Bruce Clay: Wizard Of Mill ValleyFirst time I met Bruce Clay he was standing in a booth at the Search Engine Watch conference in New York. Clay is one of those tall men who is always hunching down a little looking out at a SEO horizon that never seems to get any closer.
At the first conference, must have been around 2004, the SEO world was moments after the big bang. Clay and a handful of pioneers were forming a new industry. Several years later I went on walk about to Clay's teaching institute (rooms in a Mill Valley hotel) to hear from the Wizard of Mill Valley.
The wizard looked sad that first day like someone just shot his dog (turns out this is how Bruce just looks). He started to tell us a wonderful tale of alchemy, sitting on the ground talking the death of kings and having just one more boilermaker. That first morning was a useful repeat of SEO basics. The next day introduced several fascinating concepts, concepts I believe have just returned to SEO importance post Google's Panda and Penguin algorithm changes:
- Bleeding PageRank
- Content Silos (Siloing)
Bleeding PageRank (PR)When Google's founders were pounding beer at local Palo Alto eateries they wrestled with a fundamental problem - how to value websites? Valuing a site is like the Oscars you may HATE movies someone else loves. Movies are a highly individual things. Google had the same problem with websites. What you and I like may not be the same.
The Googlers solved this problem by NOT solving it. Instead of trying to tease out who should win based on impossibly subjective metrics they walked on over to the wisdom of crowds window and opened it wide. "We won't 'value' anything," Google decided, "we will gather wisdom of crowds in the form a 1 to 10 ordered rank where 10 is US and 0 is someone who doesn't have any links valuing their content (more or less)". Beers slammed to the table and the meeting was adjourned to write the math.
Google's algorithm is a cool idea with one big problem - fraud and black hatters. Fraud happens when some competitor sets up a autobot to bleed your site's currency (traffic, PageRank, keywords). Black Hat SEOs attempt to find crevices in Google's math and then slide in like water, frozen into ice and forcing the crack apart.
Your site has a rank you can check with a tool like Mikes. Put in your URL and Mikes will ask Google for your homepage's (or whatever page's) PR. You bleed rank when you include a lot of links out to non-siloed content you own or, and this kind of link is much worse since Google-juice gallops away, to external sites and pages.
PR is divided by all the links on a page, so each link is valuable. If you have to link out beyond say the most important 5 links on the page, use a "no follow" link. Add a piece of code that tells the spider not to follow the link, not to count pages it would have found. Look up "rel no follow" for how to do this if you are DIYing, but be CAREFUL as you are playing with live ammunition and someone else (Google) holds the gun and will decide when and if to fire.
Use Rel No Follows to stop bleeding rank over pages you never want in the engines such as your password controlled B2B site and all those legalese terms and conditions pages (I might unhook T&C pages and internal search out from the spider). If I could meet legal requirements by simply having the page up on a server somewhere WITHOUT LINKS that is what I would do. Only allow Google to see the GREAT CONTENT you want to be judged on.
Remember Google thinks of your website like this: GREAT CONTENT / total spidered content.
Lowering the denominator can help your GREAT CONTENT shine.
Pareto's Internet Marketing FractalEvery site lives by a Pareto distribution also known as the 80/20 rule where 80% of sales (or clicks) get done by 20%(or less) of the products. I did extensive testing on this idea in a past life and found there was a Pareto distribution in every segment NO MATTER HOW SMALL "SEGMENTS" were cut. If we selected a random 19 products we would, with slight differences be able to see the most amazing repeating fractal in Internet marketing (read Anderson's Long Tail for more on this concept).
When you pass rank to someone who doesn't pass it back you bleed and they become vampires. Don't send links out from a homepage to any unknown, unheard of page or page cluster EVER!. When you create social content resist creating a bunch of new links OUT or you bleed content from YOU to THEM. Apply this same rule to your internal links. More links = more bleed, so require giving up 2 links for every one new one you add and you will stop your bleed.
BottlingBottling is evaluating every link on a page and deciding if you will pass Google-Juice. Where to pass and when to pass is covered in Siloing, but even if you never get as sophisticated as developing content silos you can make a decision if you want to pass juice to your site's terms, your order form, your return policy (may want to on your return policy if it is great and buzzed about, if it is standard then keep the spider out). You bottle PR when you evaluate page-by-page whether you will pass it or not.
Content SilosNow we enter the organic chemistry of content marketing. One thing every Internet marketer learns early is there is always a curtain and more stuff going on back there than we will ever know. One curtain is in front of your IT department. They are in there doing stuff and, trust me, you don't know the half of it (lol and said with love guys). The other curtain is Google and they would tell you what is going on behind that iron curtain but then they would have to kill you so better if they don't.
What we can infer after all of this Zoo Roil (Panda and Penguin) is CONTENT IS KING and more king than ever before. If you aren't watching your site's heuristic measures such as Time On Site, Pages Viewed and Bounce Rate like a hawk on a wire looking for field mice.....well good luck with that.
You may not have gotten the full HOW GOOGLE HAS CHANGED THE WORLD AGAIN message, so I am here to share it with you in three words:
- Site Experience (Spiders and People)
Content silos are a process of stacking related and supportive keyword content together. I think in physical terms but programmers, at least good advanced ones, know how to "stack" like this in the abstract. The spider sees a defined world that really only exists the moment the spider is looking at it but all of that is for another post. The key concept of content silos is to figure out the MASTER and SLAVE components.
There is only one MASTER page in a content silo. Master pages RECEIVE but don't SEND Google-juice. Master's receive juice from SLAVE pages inside the tower. Slave pages can only EVER send juice to the master. Slaves can't share juice with each other no matter how thirsty.
This is not to say two slave pages don't link to each other, they do, but they don't pass juice. Links between slaves are always "rel no followed" bottling the juice in the slave page except when a link goes to the master page. You can see what this does right? This tactic bottles the rank in a series of pages and sends it to a single source creating a clear and unambiguous signal. The spider can't mistake what is important.
This tactic fell out of favor just before the UGC (user generated content) explosion created by Facebook et al. Now that we create as much content every two days as from the dawn of man right up to 2003, we must cut through noise or we bleed rank. Bleed rank and your search engine listings are less, traffic is less and so money is less. Even if you have great, well constructed content silos there are other things that will kill your SEO. Here are just a few of things to make sure you do TOO (lol).
Lack Of Speed Kills SEOLack of speed will kill your SEO, traffic and conversions now. If you were x fast before Panda and Penguin you should be X * 10 now. If gaining speed requires you upgrade your hosting then UPGRADE YOUR HOSTING. If gaining speed means redoing your graphics then REDO YOUR GRAPHICS. Lacks of speed makes every other SEO thing MOOT.
Site Experience (Spiders and People)At a conference a few weeks ago the presenter said there was never an audience for more than 100 words on a web page. If you just read that last sentence you are at word 1200 so clearly, for some topics and particular audiences such a statement is wrong on its face. The other goofystupid piece of the speaker's statement is there is one very important audience for every word on your site - Google's crawler, their spider, the code they use to index the impossible infinity of the World Wide Web.
I understand what the speaker was attempting to say - that no one reads anymore and less than that read online. She outlined a key core issue to Internet marketing. As soon as you make a declarative statement you are wrong (period full stop). The web is alive and must be treated as such. Here is the only declarative statement I'm comfortable with - When Something Appears To Be X It Isn't. Live by that rule and you will be fine, crazy but fine (lol).
You must seesaw user experience with spider needs. The answer to both is tell great stories and the only way to know the right answer for your website is to test, test and test more. When you test you must, and I mean MUST, tie engagement metrics to engagement and behavior. If Bounce goes up greater than 2 points then the traffic you just brought in may be hurting more than helping. If your time on site quadruples then your site is crashing since those kinds of leaps don't happen with real people and in real time (never, you just can't write or campaign that good). Natural metric changes are usually within 5 standard deviation points. See something greater than 5 SD points positive or negative then you need to know why and NOW.
MoneyLeast you wonder what all this Google roil is about MONEY is at the core of it (surprise, surprise right lol). Google makes money and keeps competitors like Facebook and Garage Startup X at bay by their ability to LEAD in search. Leading in search requires a forced partnership with millions of sites. The only way Google has to FORCE their partners to do the right thing is to share RULES, GUIDELINES and PENALTIES.
Actually Google doesn't usually share penalty information. The fact they recently sent about a million webmasters notes about over optimization is unheard of and testimony to huge changes at a resurgent Google. I wouldn't want to be an uncooperative Zuckerberians right about now as I suspect they are about to be CRUSHED like a June bug on a summer night.
When your site takes too long to load, produces high bounce rates or generally SUCKS you cost Google money. If they move traffic to your site, and with as random as Google's new social algorithm is every site gets some traffic, then you will be punished (period full stop). I wrote a piece over Memorial Day about learning to think like Google (The New SEO - What Is Up With Google) to fully understand SEO. No one is going to fully understand or think like Google since that is like having Coke's formula, but we can model appropriate behaviors (fast sites, people love with an advocacy bordering on cult status with clear paths for spiders). Make Google money and they may allow you to make some :).
Confused yet? Sorry there is almost no way to get the spaghetti in my head out on paper in a way you can understand it. There are so many layers on layers now just knowing the outlines is getting to be hard. This is why you shouldn't try. If your website is critical to your business HIRE SOMEONE. Doesn't have to be me or my great employers Atlantic BT. Could be my friend Eric, Phil or Red, but HIRE SOMEONE. Back in the day I created Internet marketing for FoundObjects.com (RIP) with $100, a prayer and five good friends. I wouldn't attempt to create the same footprint now without many multiples of the money, advice from my 500 closest Internet marketing friends and more math than I ever learned at Choate (lol).
If you are a die hard DIYer then I say thanks for reading this far and good luck to you (you are going to need it). Focus on Google as everyone else does and don't forget G+ as it is about to be a comer. Anyone tells you they can get you listed #1 is a crook and should be avoided since you will be left to clean up their mess. Anyone tells you Internet marketing will be anything other than the hardest thing you've ever done is trying to sell you something. Anyone tells you Internet marketing isn't the most fun you can have is too cynical and passionless to trust.