There is no magic formula for fixing your SEO problems. But most optimization problems arise from two widespread human characteristics: laziness and tunnel vision.
Lax Web site optimization costs most Web sites (and that includes most so-called SEO’d Web sites) a lot of value in the search engines.
Tunnel vision causes many so-called SEOs to ignore the fundamental principles of search engine optimization and jump right into link building.
Link building is the last thing you do before you start evaluating and adjusting.
The first thing you need to do is understand the functional design of your Web site. Most SEOs don’t look at Web sites the way I do. I want to know why a page is included on a site. What is its purpose? If a page is just there to draw traffic, then it needs to provide some real value to the visitors. Your opinion of what provides value may differ from the search engine’s opinion. Differences of opinion happen.
Most SEOs understand the value of embedding links consistently across a site: either use all relative links or use all absolute links but don’t mix them up.
Most SEOs understand the value of including an HTML sitemap for sites with more than 10 pages: your navigation may confuse visitors who often just want to get where they are going without admiring all your gizmos. But HTML sitemaps also act as crawl pages for search engines (and they should be designed with that function in mind).
Most SEOs also see the value of inserting keywords into title tags, image ALT= text, and on-page copy.
But I still see a lot of SEOs fumbling around with useless internal link anchor text. Just today I came across a thread in a popular forum where someone asked if it would be okay to use “home” as ALT= text for an image that was anchoring a link back to a root URL. Some well-meaning SEO said that would be okay.
Um, NO, that won’t be okay. Why on Earth would you want to optimize your root URL for the word “home”? Is your site relevant to the word “home”? Even a “home builder” site should optimize for “home builder”. Do you really think you can grab a top 10 slot for ‘home’ on Google? How about Yahoo!? Think you can rank for ‘home’ there?
Thanks to a great deal of nonsense that is posted at various SEO forums and blogs, as well as shared at SEO conferences, nearly everyone now believes you have to dedicate vast resources to obtaining links. The whole Google Supplemental Pages issue, for example, has now been boiled down to the holey mantra of “get more quality links” (can you really define a quality link?).
I do tell people to get more value-passing links to offset their Supplemental Page problems, but where do you get value-passing links? How about right on your own Web site? I have found that every new site I create this year has a high chance of getting into Google’s main Web index without any inbound links. While I could whine and cry about all the pages that end up Supplemental for one site or another, Google is being pretty fair about letting new content show up in the main Web index before passing judgement on it.
This is so not 2004 that people need to stop and reassess what they are in a panic about. The most vocal group of Web site operators whom I have seen complaining about Supplemental Pages are people with existing sites. They have been depending for years on cheap, cheesy links despite a LOT of warnings from some major names in the search engine optimization community and Google has finally implemented a filter that has indeed hurt many innocent sites.
The sites are innocent in that they don’t intentionally mislead their visitors about anything. They are innocent in that they resort to massive content spamming in order to obtain artificial visibility. But they bought into the nonsene about “get more links! get more links!” and the links they got weren’t very trustworthy in Google’s opinion.
You can still see people asking if it’s a good idea to use rel=’nofollow’ on internal links. Why? Why would you want to shoot yourself in the foot like that? I’ve seen people propose this kind of naive link strategy for very useful, very important and valuable pages, like their “About Us” pages, their HTML sitemaps, and their product category pages. Just because a page doesn’t have an order form on it doesn’t mean it’s less important than your shopping cart.
Here’s a clue: your order forms and shopping carts are among the least valuable content on your sites. Nobody cares about them until they’ve made the decision to buy. And you know what? They’ll never make that decision to buy from you if they can’t find you, if they can’t learn more about you, and if they have no idea of how much you can be trusted.
It’s not all about ecommerce. It’s all about being part of a community. Your ecommerce site has to give value in order to receive value and if you don’t give value to your own pages you’re not likely in anyone’s eyes to give value to anyone else.
Internal navigation controls what the visitor sees. Make sure your visitors see as much of your site as possible.
Internal navigation is usually the first point of definition, the first attempt to explain to a visitor what a page contains. Make sure your navigation is informative and helpful.
Internal navigation is one of the determining factors that makes or breaks a Web site visit’s duration. Make sure your navigation doesn’t send people for the BACK or CLOSE button.
Internal navigation is the first indication of what can be trusted. If someone feels comfortable enough on your site to click on one of your navigation links, you’ve earned their trust. Reward that trust by taking people to where they need to go as fast as possible. There are business owners who adamantly refuse to change their bad page designs. If you’re optimizing for someone like that, the best thing you can do is cut the dead wood out of the visitors’ path: bring the visitors to the right page in the first place.
Which brings me to another aspect of “internal linkage”. You can (and should) extend internal linkage off site. People focus so much on getting keywords into external anchor text they don’t think about calls to action. You can download Internet Explorer here without going through Microsoft’s main page. That’s all the link anchor text Microsoft needs from me to help them get someone to download their browser.
External links have far more value than just the anchor text (or PageRank) they may pass. I’ll take a call-to-action link any day of the week. Give me more calls-to-action. You don’t have to link to me with competitive keywords. If you link to my site at all you’re probably telling people what you like about my site. You’re doing my SEO for me. By earning your trust and your reference to my call-to-action, I’m multiplying my efforts through others (through you). That’s marketing.
PageRank is all the rage because most SEOs don’t understand it. If you’re looking at a number between 0 and 10, you’re not looking at PageRank. You cannot see the PageRank that determines whether your pages are included in the main Web index or the Supplemental Results index. Every time you talk about “PR this” or “PR that” you pull the wool down over your eyes.
The Toolbar PageRank offers absolutely no insight into the value of a page, the value of the links it has obtained, or the value of the links it passes. The Toolbar PR value is a beauty assessor, it’s a sexiness assessor. Do you rate most guys or girls as no better than a 5 or 6? Guess what Google rates most Web sites no better than.
Your internal links cannot leak PageRank. It is mathematically impossible to leak PageRank because you do not get to “keep” your PageRank. Once Google has figured out how much PageRank your pages have it moves on and that PageRank is passed on to other pages, one way or another.
Matt Cutts did indeed speak about flowing PageRank through a Web site. That is exactly how you should think about it. Your Web site is a box of clay and PageRank passes through that clay, cutting some channels here and there. It doesn’t stay. It just passes through. You can mold and shape the clay to direct the PageRank in certain ways but eventually the PageRank moves on and your clay stays behind.
You need to stop thinking in terms of PageRank. You need to stop thinking in terms of quality. You need to think of your site as if it’s the clothes in your closet. Which clothes do you want to wear when you have very important guests visiting your home? Are you going to put on your ratty old jeans or are you going to wear your best dress, you best suit and tie?
Putting your best, most important, most informative pages first shows people what you care about. Whichever pages share your passion the most are the pages most likely to capture whatever actions you are seeking. Even a huge site like Amazon or JC Penney or Wal-Mart emphasizes some content — these huge corporate ecommerce sites use passion. Their enthusiastic referrals to sales, special discounts, new products, and more help you decide to look at whatever they want you to see.
Given 100 pages of content, you should be able to determine which 10 pages are the most important. Given 10 pages of content, you should be able to decide which 2 pages are most important. There’s your hierarchy. That’s what drives your internal link design.
Can you get a 60,000 page out of the Supplemental Index? How much passion do you have? How much are you willing to share with your visitors? How informative will your 60,000 pages be?