Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Why We Do What We Do in SEO

Guest article by Jill Whalen

I hear from many people who want to be told exactly what they need to do to get high rankings and bring more targeted search engine traffic to their websites. I wish I could provide them with a straight answer, but every site has its own needs when it comes to SEO. Which means there's no exact rule that will work each and every time for any website.

One thing, however, that can help you figure out how to SEO your site is to learn the whys behind the specific techniques you always hear about. But to understand the whys, you first need to get the gist of how search engines work. Sounds scary, I know, but I'm going to make it as simple and painless as possible – so stick with me!

In very simplistic terms, there are 2 main components to the search engines: the crawler and the algorithm.

The crawler, which is sometimes referred to as a spider, a robot, or simply a bot, is what goes out on the web and fetches all the pages of information that it can get its virtual spidey legs on.

The algorithm (or algo) is basically the ranking formula that each search engine uses to determine the relevancy of any page that the crawler finds.

The search engines use this formula to decide – out of the pages that were previously fetched – which pages they should show for which keyword phrases that any searcher might type into the search box. Those keyword phrases are also sometimes referred to as a person's "search query."

While the algo is a formula, it's so complicated that it's not something you can simply reverse-engineer. The engines look at hundreds of factors and weigh them all differently. This is why you'll find that automated SEO software doesn't work well to increase your rankings.

Here's an interesting point – those hundreds of factors that go into the relevancy algorithm boil down to two major things:

What you say about yourself, and what others say about you.

Really. It's as simple (and as hard) as that!

"What you say about yourself" means the information you provide on your website, or the words that you write on your pages. The Internet is mostly a word-based medium. Every single web page has its own story to tell. Each page should be relevant to one or more search keywords or phrases. And each page's story helps the search engines understand which search queries the page is relevant to.

Make sense?

So now let's look at what others say about you. This aspect of how the search engines determine relevancy is known as the "off-page" criteria, and it's typically done through links.

That is, another site owner likes what you say or offer on your site, and wants to tell their own site visitors about it. The way they do this is by linking to your site – or a specific page of your site. Search engines take these links into account because what others say about you provides an additional layer of trust beyond what you say about yourself.

Still with me?

These two major factors – how search engines work and what they're looking for – help clarify what you need to do SEO-wise to keep them happy.

First, you need to steer clear of any technical issues that can impede the crawler from finding, reading and indexing the pages of your website. The easier you make it for them to do their job, the better chance your pages will have of showing up for relevant searches.

Which means you need to start on the SEO of your website from the very beginning. You're going to need lots of up-front research on keywords and other elements. You'll also need to make sure your content is written to appeal to both your users and to the search engines. While all of this *can* be done later, you'll save yourself tons of time if you plan your SEO before you ever start developing your website.

Then, once you've got a crawler-friendly website, you'll need to create pages that conform to the search engines' algorithms by making sure they are not only relevant to what people are looking for, but interesting and unique enough for others to want to link to them. You've also got to spend time getting the word out about your website, because even the greatest content in the world won't market itself!

I hope I've simplified the search engine process and SEO enough that you understand why you need to use the specific tactics that are involved. If you always keep the two major factors that search engines are looking for in mind – what you say about yourself and what others say about you – you'll always be able to make the right decisions for your website.

It's those two factors that drive the SEO process and fulfill its goal of helping your target audience find your website when they're seeking out exactly what you offer.

Jill Whalen of High Rankings is an internationally recognized search engine optimization consultant and host of the free weekly High Rankings Advisor
search engine marketing newsletter. She specializes in search engine optimization, SEO consultations and seminars. Jill's handbook, "The Nitty-gritty of Writing for the Search Engines" teaches business owners how and where to place relevant keyword phrases on their Web sites so that they make sense to users and gain high rankings in the major search engines.

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Sunday, February 7, 2010

Top 30 reasons you're not selling

Etsy forum thread from Knot Work Shop

I figured I'd list 30 so we'd almost always have one to blame for each new day of the month. If there are 31 days in any given month, just cycle back to number 1.

How to use this list:
Print it out. Cut each number up onto its own little slip of paper. Put them in a jar. Each day when you're wondering why you haven't sold anything, pull a slip of paper out and get your answer.

1) George W. Bush. Yup. Everything's his fault.

2) Barack Obama. Freaking socialist. Screwing up all this wonderful capitalism on Etsy.

3) The economy. Seriously people. Look around. Nobody has a job. Nobody has money. Why do they want your stuff when you have the nerve to charge them money for it in these tough times?

4) Relevancy- need I say more?

5) Recency- need I say more?

6) Resellers. Why would people buy my stuff on Etsy when they can buy Target's products here too? I mean seriously, what do I have that can compete with stuff from Target? It's so much easier for people to buy those things on Etsy than it is to just drive to their local Target.

7) Undercutters. Yes undercutters. I mean you. Everyone has their own reasons for naming a price. But I haven't seen William Shatner here so I'm pretty fricking sure this ain't Priceline. If you want to sell something that took you 22 hours to make for $10, you and I are going to have a problem. I'll meet you outside after school after the bell rings. Alone.

8) The weather. If it's hot, they don't want your stuff. If it's cold, they don't want it either. So strap yourselves in because whatever the season people ain't buyin what you're sellin.

9) Your prices are too high. You think folks want to pay $50 for some yarn tied in a bunch of knots? I don't care if it looks like a hat. It's a bunch of yarn. In knots.

10) Your prices are too low. Hmm. That item looks like a lot of work. Why are you only charging me $5 for it? Oh, probably because you live in a crack house and have swine flu. Yeah, I don't trust it. I'm going to go buy it from someone who will charge me $20 for the same exact thing.

11) People are stupid.

12) The internet is broken. Yes. The whole internet. Call Al Gore. I heard he can fix it.

13) You're never on the front page.

14) You're never in gift guides.

15) You're never a featured seller.

16) You're never in Etsy finds.

17) No one liked you in high school.

18) They don't like you here either.

19) People need to see your items in person to appreciate them. Okay, maybe not that underwear made out of cream corn, but you know what I'm saying.

20) You have your items on a gasp, real person, in your listing photos. I mean, come on. That necklace was completely sterile and free of all bacteria until you let it touch that ugh, HUMAN! Now it's no good. Sorry. Game over.

21) You are not showing your items on a human. How can I tell if those panties will look good on me when the mannequin doesn't have a spotty arse like mine? It's false advertising.

22) Your photos are too dark. Yes, yes, I know you're selling a lamp that glows in the dark. But still, your photos are just way too dark dude.

23) You need more items in your shop. Would you keep going back to Home Depot if they only had six flashlights and a pile of shingles in stock? I thought not.

24) You have too many items in your shop. I mean really, those huge stores like Walmart with tons and tons of items in tons and tons of different categories are never going to be successful. Nobody looks past the first five aisles. Oh, uh, wait...

25) Your items are aimed at too narrow of a market. I'm sure if there were more professional football players from Tasmania shopping on Etsy your tasmanian football helmets would be doing much, much better. Honest.

26) You have to go find your target market. No, I'm not going to tell you who they are or how you'll recognize them, but trust me, you have to find them. And fast.

27) Don't rely on Etsy to make your shop successful. I mean, I know we're on Etsy, and we pay money to Etsy and are here because it's well, Etsy. But yeah, don't count on them for a thing. If anything, pretend like they're working against you. You'll be better off.

28) It's a slow time of year. Maybe not for everyone else, but for you, that's the time of year it is.

29) You haven't built up enough momentum. So take all your inventory in your arms, put it in a shopping cart and send it down a hill to get some momentum going. Report back in the forums after the sales start rolling in.

30) You're not in the US. Just because people in your own country wouldn't buy it, doesn't mean that Americans are dumb enough to (hard to believe, I know).

The above thread was posted in Etsy Forums on 2/5/10 by Knot Work Shop and received "rave reviews." It might still be going.

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