Monday, January 16, 2012

How important are heading elements to the rankings of webpages by search engines?


I’ve seen arguments by people who write about and study search engines and SEO very closely, which often appear written up in “SEO Expert Ranking Lists,” that HTML heading elements (<h1>, <h2>, etc.) are very important, arguments that heading elements were once important and are no longer, and arguments that heading elements were never important. Sadly, all of those arguments are likely wrong. Not so much about the importance or lack of, but rather about the reasons for that importance.
It’s possible that a search engine might notice when a word or term or phrase appears near the top of a page, or above a wall of text. It’s also possible that a search engine pays attention when those are shown in larger font sizes, or bolder than the rest of the page text, or in a different font than the remainder of the words on the page. But that prominence and that display isn’t really what a heading element is about. HTML has a font size large attribute and property. There’s also a bold property. Any words on a page near the top of that page might be said to be more prominent than others.
You can use many HTML element attributes and values and/or cascading style sheet properties to make words within different HTML elements bolder and larger, and to transform them to all capitals or a different font or color, or all of those if you want. You can purposefully place certain text at the top of a page to make it appear that the rest of the page is described by those words.

A search engine might see that only a few words are bold on a page, or are italicized, or in a different font or color or larger size and take some kind of meaning from that, perhaps even giving the use of that word or set of terms or phrase a little more weight on that page. And those words could be in a heading element, but they don’t have to be.

Semantic Relationships

When you use a heading element, whether <h1>, or <h2>, or so on down the line, you aren’t just impacting the look and feel of the text within that element, but you are also defining a semantic relationship between those words and the words that follow them. You’re telling visitors, and search engines that the utterings on the page that follow are related to the terms in your heading in a meaningful way, even if you don’t quite understand that, and don’t quite do that right. And many people don’t.
When you use a top level heading, or an <h1>, you’re setting up a semantic relationship between that heading and the remainder of the content on a page, describing what it is about. If you then use a second <h1> on the same page, you’re creating some potential confusion, because someone, or a search engine might see that as the ending of the semantic relationship between the content after the first <h1> and the start of this new <h1>. If instead you use a second level heading element, or an <h2>, you’re continuing the semantic relationship between the top level heading above with that content, but defining an included semantic relationship with the content headed by the second level heading.
Words within heading elements might help a page rank in search engines because they are displayed larger, or bolder, or in different colors than the text they head. I’ve seen the argument that a search engine might give weight to words contained in an HTML heading element because they might presume that the content in that page is being defined by that heading.

Weight of Headings Defined by How Well They Describe a Semantic Relationship?

Heading elements can help a search engine understand the semantics of words on a page a little better. Search engines can go out on the Web and index pages and explore the relationships between terms within headings, and the content they describe within that index. They can look for similar relationships on all the documents within their body of web pages that use the same terms within headings, and see if there might tend to be some kind of co-occurrence of words and phrases and concepts within those matches of headings and content using those headings.
So for instance, you may have a page that uses a top level heading (<h1>) of “Cities in New York,” and the page contains information such as the names of a number of cities in New York State, and information about those cities, and there may be a good number of other pages on the Web that use the same heading, and contain many of the same city names and information and concepts. You may also have another page that uses the top level heading (<h1>) of “Cities in New York” while providing information about New Jersey Cities.
The New York Cities heading with the New Jersey Cities information might not carry as much weight with the search engines as New York headings on other pages that head content about New York Cities.
Are search engines using the semantic relationships between heading elements and the content they head as a ranking signal?
They might be, or they might not be, and that might depend upon how well headings tend to describe the content they head.

Other HTML Elements and Semantic Relationships

There are many other semantic relationships from certain types of HTML elements that search engines are looking at more closely, and have been for a number of years, and a number of those signals seem to be pretty useful. There are patents and papers and even actual services from the search engines that describe and take advantage of those semantic relationships. More on that in my next post.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

SEO 2012 – What The Future Holds for Social and Search Optimization by MJTAYLOR on JANUARY 2, 2012

Before I share my prediction for SEO trends in 2012, it seems reasonable to review myTop 5 SEO Predictions for 2011 – a thread I wrote for v7N – and see if I made the mark for the past year.
Mobile Search SEO will become as important as standard web site search optimization. If the prediction of CNN/Fortune’s Seth Weintraub is correct — that ½ billion smartphones will be sold this coming year –  smartphones will surpass computers as a way to access the Internet in 2011.
Smartphones have apparently not yet surpassed PCs as the preferred way to access the Internet, but the trend continues in that direction and the use of mobile for social networking strengthens that momentum. Mobile access is predicted to outpace desktop access by 2014:
2. Social Networking to Explode. Since Google and Bing confirmed that Twitter and Facebook have an impact on rankings, social media activity is set to increase exponentially.
Not only did the use of social media grow, but social networking held the International stage  as a central player in the Arab Spring.  Google also made a creditable entry (at last) into the social market with Google+. The introduction of Business Pages on Google+ added SEO value to the mix.
3. Google Places and Reviews will continue to grow in importance. Google 
 Places will continue to find their way into SERPs and savvy webmasters and SEOs will go beyond optimizing their Google Places for client sites. ..  the search-smartest of webmasters will have their site marked up with rdfa “rich snippets” to make sure Google displays reviews in the SERPs where applicable.
In July, 2011, the landscape of Google Places changed significantly when the search giant stopped publishing 3rd party reviews. At the same time, reviews took a more prominent position – with a second button inviting visitors to create a Review.
4. Duplicate Content - this year’s Mayday algorithm update and the roll out of Caffeine – an update to Google’s infrastructure to make it more flexible – set the stage for more frequent updates to the algorithm. Google will continue to take aim on less valuable content. Expect more intense duplicate content filtering, and expect “self service” links to decrease in value. Focus on unique content of true value.
5. Content & Link Bait to Continue to Reign. Google will continue to get smarter and discern between legitimate link popularity and the sort that is faked by link wheels, 3 way linking and article spinning, to name a few. The ability to create and publish content (King) that attracts links (Queen) will grow in importance. Unsolicited links to fresh, unique content will continue to be the Royal Flush.

 Places will continue to find their way into SERPs and savvy webmasters and SEOs will go beyond optimizing their Google Places for client sites. ..  the search-smartest of webmasters will have their site marked up with rdfa “rich snippets” to make sure Google displays reviews in the SERPs where applicable.

The Panda updates certainly took aim at what Google called “content farms” and late in the year Freshness got a boost in the algorithm. Content Rules.
My score: four out five isn’t too bad.

SEO Trends for 2012

SEO 2012
So what’s on the SEO Plate as 2012 unfolds?
Google+ - which reached a top ten market share position in social networks in November just months after its introduction – will continue to play an increasing role in Social SEO.  The search giant’s social platform seems to have combined the best features of Twitter and Facebook and in some cases gone one better.Some Google+ innovations, such as privacy controls at the time of posting, were quickly adopted by Facebook. True social networking remains the province of Facebook, but professionals – especially in the technology fields and many of the arts, such as photography will continue to find Google+ a more robust alternative to Twitter.
The introduction of Google+ “brand”  pages coincided with the new platform’s entrance into the top ten of social sites; some SEOs believe that Google+ will continue to grow – if only slightly – as long as site owners find  SEO and traffic value from  those pages. Vanity URLs (expec ted this year) should support the trend.  Brand pages have also found their way onto Google Results – a “controversial occupation” of search geography.
Google+ shares will continue to be part of Google’s track toward personalized 
  1. search. If you are logged in, you are more and more likely to see links and comments from your network contacts.
  2. Away From Keywords – toward traffic and conversion. When Google Analytics dropped the keyword referral data from view; it underscored an increasing trend away from tracking “ranking” for query strings. Clients still want it, but personalized search makes it an increasing less important metric. Traffic and conversion becomes more important.
  3. Quality Content Continues to Reign  -  The Freshness Factor and Panda’s assault on poor content sites means webmasters must continue to update their sites to reflect the latest trends and news in their industry.
  4. Bing will continue to grow in importance. Google lost 5% of its market share to MSN’s revamped search engine this year – and MSN’s ties with Yahoo and Facebook will continue to make the Bing presence larger in desktop search. Google’s increasing mobile presence (more than half of smartphones sold in 2011 were Androids) may mitigate some of that growth, though.
  5. Move over Rich Snippets: Rich Snippets will share the Semantic Web Stage with Schema, a Microdata markup for web pages that is recognized by Google, Bing and Yahoo.  Google continues to support Rich Snippets, but the trend is toward the more standardized Schema.
  6. SeoMoz post on Schema with examples and discussion of mixing the languages and vocabulary of the diverse types of markup available:
  7. A full list of the document types:
  8. Google Help for Schema:
  9. Resources for Rich Snippets:
  10. Anchor text decreases in value?  More than one SEO observed recently  that the anchor text of new links  seemed to immediately push down the rankings for the same query strings. Certainly it makes sense that Google, which has trouble identifying paid links and similar link spam, would see devaluing the anchor text as an easy way to undermine attempts to directly manipulate SERPs.  And it goes hand in hand with the this past year’s devaluation of keyword rich 
  11. Speech Recognition.  This 7th prediction is not mine, but one I found here: 
    Speech recognition – Siri, the speech recognition ”assistant” on the latest iPhone, makes people talk with their phones and it’s extremely popular already. In 2012 we will see Apple’s competitors come up with similar tools so that we don’t need to talk to people or type in search queries anymore. Is this the end of SEO as some journalists assume (just like some suggest after every other major change in the search industry)?
    No, it just means different kinds of queries, maybe more colloquial or clumsy ones. Maybe more dialogue with your search engine, for example ”I want something to eat”. I can’t imagine people just saying one, two or three word queries in public without looking silly. So they will talk as they do with other people.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

How to Take Your SEO to the Next Level by Nick Stamoulis

So you’ve conducted keyword research, optimized every page of your website, and done some basic link building like setting up business profiles and local profiles and submitted your site to directories. While this is all important you know that that’s just not going to cut it. No matter what industry you are in, the web is a competitive place. Only so many websites can get onto that coveted first search engine results page. So what can you do to really take your SEO up a notch and improve your chances of getting there? Below are 3 tactics to implement right now:
1. Ramp up Your Content Marketing
Content is a huge part of SEO. After all, without content what is there to optimize? Obviously it takes time and resources to create quality content on a regular basis and that’s why many businesses falter in this area. They either don’t have the manpower, the time, or even the skills to do it right. In order to really be effective it’s important to create a blog and submit content to it daily, submit guest blog posts and articles to industry websites, create videos and upload them to video sharing sites, and create other “link bait” materials such as infographics and free whitepapers, guides, or E-books. Content needs to be taken seriously and content writers should be hired or the work should be outsourced to a trusted writer in order to really give your SEO campaign the boost that it needs.
2. Get Active in Social Media
Social media is no longer just a brand building tool. Social media activity is now a search engine algorithm ranking factor. The search engines rank web pages and web content based on trust and social media signals such as Likes, shares, tweets, +1’s and more establish that trust amongst social media users. If content is shared frequently, the search engines take note. Of course, in order to achieve these social signals it’s important to create social media accounts and keep them active. There’s no use in setting up a brand page and then not using it. Use social media to have a conversation with followers and promote content that they will find useful and that they will be willing to share. While the social media “Big 4” (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+) are important, there are numerous niche social networks that shouldn’t be ignored. In addition, social bookmarking sites can also drive traffic to your website and build your brand visibility.
3. Make Connections
A robust link building campaign aims to create links on related web properties across the web. These links can be created by submitting quality content to industry sites and other industry blogs. Of course, in order to be granted access to these sites it’s necessary to build a positive reputation and form relationships with others in the industry or in related industries over time. Take the first step by introducing yourself via social media or initiate a conversation by commenting on one of their blog posts. These relationships are extremely valuable and can lead to new linking and business opportunities over time.
Nick Stamoulis is the President of Brick Marketing, and he writes a weekly SEO column for Daily Blog Tips. Visit the company website to find more about its services, or call             781-999-1222       to get more information.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

7 Strategies To Make Facebook SEO Friendly

Facebook represents a fantastic marketing opportunity for any business via shares & referrals, however, just like Wordpress and other platform based user sites, it’s critical to incorporate SEO strategies into your Facebook pages in order to get exposure out of them. Here are 7 Facebook SEO strategies to make sure your Face is getting the amount of Book it deserves!
Whether you are setting Facebook up for yourself or for a client it’s important to keep SEO strategies in mind. According to Google, they aren’t actually looking at Facebook “shares” as a separate part of their ranking algorithm, but traffic is traffic.
The number one thing to remember with Facebook shares: Their marketing value resides in the fact that they are coming from a reputable source; from someone known to, and respected by, the person on the other end. This invests the shares with clout and makes them very valuable. Make no mistake, Facebook is a marketing tool but nothing a business puts on their Facebook Wall should ever break that kind of trust. Period.
For businesses, Facebook is a delicate dance between, “be my friend” and “pay me money.” Always difficult, in the Facebook world it is critical to fall on the side of plushy slushy soft sell. This is why SEO strategies for Facebook are important. SEO by its nature lies behind the scenes and therefore customers can’t possibly interpret it as marketing.

1. Choose a Great Facebook Page Name

Back up; choose a great business name. Not too spammy, not too generic. Something descriptive and easy to remember. If it’s too generic Facebook might blacklist the name. Once you have a name, don’t change your page name. Once established, keep it and brand it. Renaming isn’t ever a good idea from an SEO perspective.

2. Facebook URL Names Are Also Important

Facebook now allows vanity names so make sure to add one if you can. The URL won’t exactly be yours but is a lot better than DavesGarden is interesting, theirs is: As long as the user name incorporates one of the terms related to your business you now have a URL that is searchable. It’s important to know that Facebook requires 100 fans before you can pick a username, of which you can then do by going to

3. Use Keyword Rich Text to fill out the “About” and “Info” Sections of Your Facebook Page

This will place searchable terms near the top of the Facebook page in the CSS. These are small areas so refine the elevator speech! In addition, make sure to include address information so that the page will pop up on local searches- a favorite of Google’s. In the info section also add links to your website.

4. Make Facebook Picture Descriptions Count

Facebook is a visual medium. Facebook will change titles on photos but descriptions live on. Use keywords as often as possible. Read each description from two angles- once for your customers and once from a computer’s angle. “Jack and Jamie enjoying the Keys on their 40th” could as easily be: “Luxury Florida Keys Bash by Private Jets Charter for Jack and Jamie’s 40th.” Both descriptions are better than “Jack and Jamie at their 40th Party.”
As a side note, give your clients an extra reason to stick with you as a designer by showing them how they can get lots of free advertising if they structure online promotional campaigns properly. For example, Private Jets Charter could offer a Groupon for birthday parties/events, get the event for the couple, encourage them to advertise the party through Private Jets Charter’s website and Facebook page (where everyone can easily get directions to the plane) and then provide/post pics of the party (with permission) afterwards using keyword descriptions. These photos will be strongly shared and each time they are, the words in the photo description, “Private Jets Charter, luxury, Florida Keys” are racking up ranking points.
Moreover, as the designer, you will likely get extra design work out of the process. Great designers always need to show ways in which their creativity in invaluable to their clients. With better and better templates and platforms around it’s critical that designers venture not only into SEO but also into marketing. These are two things that a customer can’t buy ready made or download for free.
Above is an example of descriptive text and URL slipped into Facebook code.

5. Use Keywords in Your Facebook Status Updates

Updates provide a great place to include your keywords and increase visibility. This is also the place to drive traffic to your own website. Never forget that one of your primary objectives for having a Facebook page is to drive traffic back to your website where you and not Facebook can take advantage of the traffic.
When you “attach link” FB gives you the opportunity to edit the text by clicking on the box. Include keyword-enriched text as early as possible. (Be aware that FB will channel this link through their own menu bar so this isn’t going to get you a direct link.) Next, include the URL of your website. Third, don’t put everything on Facebook. Instead provide an interesting enticing bit that will make people want to read more and make it clear that they can do this on your website.

6. Use Notes and Discussion Boards On Facebook

The content on both of these is indexable. Notes and the Discussion Boards are indexable and therefore they can make for great SEO. In addition, some people just use Facebook and do almost nothing else online. Using a discussion board gives you a way to reach this group of people. It’s important to note that automatic pull in of blog posts are now being phased out of Facebook.

7. Include Shares & Likes on your websites

Although not directly SEO,  you should include Facepage shares and likes into all of your websites. Also, take some time to stay on top of the Facebook Developers news. The developers page is also a great place to come up with new ideas about how to monetize the platform and get the most out of Facebook.
In summary, use Facebook as effectively as you can by paying attention to SEO. Take the time to use the above suggestions and then compare and track the changes in your FB code (Available to anyone for any page by viewing “source code” in your browser). Over time, graph long term changes in your traffic to see if the extra time and energy is really paying off.

Friday, December 2, 2011

How to implement an advanced video SEO strategy

Online video is now a virtual requirement and one of the best practices for businesses to gain an advantage competitively. Video boosts search engine results, increases stickiness, and improves conversion rates. Smart online video lets businesses reach consumers in real time with what they need to know in the most engaging, informative, and entertaining way possible.
In order to understand the best search engine optimization (SEO) practices, you need to first know the value of video SEO.
The value of video SEO Many of today's online businesses find that gaining market share has more to do with winning a competitor's customers than with expanding the size of the industry. One of the most effective and widely used tools to increase market share is employing comprehensive SEO strategies.
According to an internet-retailer survey conducted in August 2011, 53 percent of e-retailer respondents claimed they would continue to increase their search engine marketing (SEM) spending this year. According to the survey, more than half of the respondents claim that up to 26 percent of the traffic to their sites comes from natural search, and nearly 50 percent claim this percentage has increased during 2010 and 2011. 
Video continues to be the fastest-growing format, and by implementing a thorough video SEO strategy, companies can complement their SEM investments, if not decrease them significantly. Simply put, video helps businesses get found online. Companies can increase the value of their videos further by following basic video SEO guidelines, making them more accessible to site visitors, scaling videos to reach long-tail keywords, and automating production to have video available as soon as new products are introduced.
Best practices for implementing video SEOIn a 2009 report, following the introduction of Google's universal search, Forrester Research concluded that video results on Google have a 50 percent better chance of appearing first on result lists than on text-based sites. Video results are more appealing because they include thumbnails that grant more search page real estate. The thumbnail attracts eyes to the results, regardless of the ranking order. In a traditional search of textual results, there was a common tendency to view the results by their organic order -- scanning the page from the upper-left corner, down vertically, and then across -- when a title catches the viewer's attention. Effective video SEO requires a range of guidelines and activities. The goal of these guidelines is to provide as much information about the videos and embed them in a way that provides search bots and crawlers with an understanding of what the video is about. Unlike on textual pages, bots cannot automatically gather this information.
Video for every product: Add as many videos as possible to increase the chances of being discovered. There is a common misperception among businesses that the top 20 percent of the products account for 80 percent of site traffic. However, that's not the case, as seen with a few industry avant-gardes (led by Overstock, Zappos, and HSN Stores) that have video-enabled tens of thousands of their products. Scaling the video repository enables targeting long-tail keywords, which generates significantly more traffic and a more targeted audience.
Keep videos updated: To maximize SEO potential, the content of all videos should keep up with any changes made to the product page content. The challenge with content on business sites is that it's constantly changing -- prices fluctuate, seasonal deals are launched or expire, last-minute offers are added, etc. Automated video solutions can help maintain video-content pace.
On-site video: Many e-commerce businesses are posting videos on their YouTube channels. By neglecting to implement videos on the company's website, they miss out on significant SEO potential. Videos with a unique URL maximize SEO benefits; therefore, we recommend placing each video on its own landing page.
SEO-friendly video URLs: Similar to general web page SEO guidelines, videos embedded on the site should have SEO-friendly or "clean" URLs. Specifically, for video SEO, it is important to include the video format file extension relevant to the video, such as .FLV, .WMV and .AVI.
Video sitemaps: Google rarely indexes videos on its own. It is therefore important to create a complete video sitemap to help Google discover and index each video. Video sitemaps should describe the entire repository of videos embedded in the website.
Properly embed videos: Search bots have short attention spans. They need to identify the video on the page they're scanning within the context it appears.
  • Avoid browser pop-ups: Embed the video so that it plays on the web page itself and doesn't appear in a browser pop-up. This is important because the embedded video object needs to be available for search engine bots when they crawl the page.
  • Avoid browser pop-ups: Embed the video so that it plays on the web page itself and doesn't appear in a browser pop-up. This is important because the embedded video object needs to be available for search engine bots when they crawl the page.                                                                                                 
  • Add video metadata: In addition to explicit contextual information, search bots look for metadata that can help them further understand the content of the video and optimize the way the results look on the search results page. The key elements in this metadata are video length, video dimensions, video thumbnail, and video transcript (a written version of the video).
Synchronize video content: To enhance the SEO effect of online videos, it is important that the content of the video matches the content of the page in which it is embedded. Therefore, when embedding a video on a product page, ensure the following:
  • Provide the video with a descriptive title in accordance
  • Add keywords to the video in correspondence to the keywords of the web page with the H1 title of that web page.
Some of the best practices prescribed above are quite challenging to maintain with manually produced videos. However, they are possible with automated solutions. The automation of video production today can support best practices by creating videos at scale with quicker-than-ever time to market and dynamic data that is kept current when sites get updated. With relatively little human intervention, online video production can increase a business's competitive advantage, while creating a better shopping experience for the user.
Yaniv Axen is the co-founder and CTO of SundaySky.

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