SEO – The 10 Golden Lists

So here goes… my first entry to the 10 Golden Lists and it’s on Search Engine Optimisation or SEO. As a disclaimer, I’m no guru and could easily just copy and paste a dozen articles that are bound to be more credible and interesting than this, but the point of creating these lists is to have a single point of reference (my blog) or a ‘checklist’ for our own online businesses to follow.

SEO is, as Ed Dale would cringe to read, a symphony of four parts. Think of everything below as “rule-of-thumb” advice and remember, only Google (& Bing) really know exactly what works. In true marketer-turned-nerd fashion, I’m going to give tech talk a cool acronym; I introduce to you:

C.U.L.T
Content
Up-to-date
Links
Tricks

The lists below will never be complete. Some things will be added and others will go as SEO evolves. Feel free to comment and leave your own additions.

Content
This is all about letting the search engines know what your site is about. Things to consider include:

  1. KEYWORDS (o.k. this one should be its own letter up above, but it would spoil my whole CULT thing). Spend time researching your keywords. For this I use Market Samurai but there are loads of tools out there. Remember three things when doing this:
    • Competition – some keywords or phrases will have more sites competing for them than others, making it harder to get to page one (e.g. “hotels” will be harder than “Manchester hotel” which is harder than “Manchester city centre hotels”)
    • Traffic – while making sure your competition is low don’t forget that if the competition is too low it’s probably because no one is searching for these terms. A balance between the two is needed, considering your budget and the market you’re in.
    • Secondary keywords are important too – for more about these, read this post on semantics.
  2. Be unique and only use original content. Even if you want to put some content from your site on Scribd or Ezine articles, tweak each one a bit to make it unique.
  3. Use an appropriate length. I use a minimum of 250 words for articles/posts.
  4. Density – For every 100 words of content, include your primary keyword once.

Up-to-date
SEO changes all the time. It is impossible to keep up-to-date with all the ins and outs unless you are a large enough company to have dedicated SEO peeps. Try your best by following key influencers on Twitter and getting top SEO blog posts onto your RSS reader.

Only the other day I read that Google can now/will very soon be able to read the content on sites made in flash. Then a few days later I had a developer tell me that he wouldn’t recommend using flash on my site because of SEO and I had to break the news to him.

Links
I definitely think this is the most important element of SEO as without Links we only have CUT, which is what Google will do to you if you neglect link building.

Its all about influence, relevance and politics!

So when trying to get people to link to you, remember to look for sites with:

  1. a high PageRank (PR)
  2. an old domain age
  3. relevance to your site
  4. many links pointing to them.

What’s also good to remember:

  1. DMOZ, the Yahoo Directory or any other relevant directory listing is a really good link to your site.
  2. Links from government or educational organisations are valuable (although difficult to get). Examples include any site that ends in .edu & .gov in the US, or .ac.uk & gov.uk.
  3. When blogging or writing content, link your SEO keywords even if its just to another part of your site. Expedia.com does this really well to cover a huge set of travel related keywords (look near the bottom of their site. This is called “internal linking” and it guides Google to content within your site.
  4. Social Media could help with SEO and is worth testing for your site (the jury is still out though). For example, Richard Branson who has a really high PR, could retweet a link I have tweeted – go figure out the benefit of having 10 influential people who retweet you or post your link (especially since Google has started using that content when indexing). I also got a lot of help from one of my pages on Facebook with 35,000+ fans – it had a PR of 5 and all my sites get a link from it.
  5. Social Bookmarking works really well as well.
  6. Grow your links slowly, not all in one go.
  7. Reciprocal links (where two sites link to each other) are NOT as valuable as when a site links to you without the return link. If you have to return a link, consider masking it (e.g. using a “no follow” tag).

A big thank you to the E-word, a Search Engine Consultancy in Manchester, for some of these tips.

Tricks
By tricks I am NOT referring to black-hat SEO

Some structure/formatting tricks include:

  1. Use headings, descriptions, meta-tags (not so important anymore) and page titles that tell the engines what you are optimising for.
  2. Use heading tags like h1, h2 etc. to tell the engines where the headings are.
  3. Use Alt tags and name your images appropriately.
  4. Make SEO keywords bold and use bullet points. Google likes content that is well layed out.

Other ideas:

  1. Youtube is sometimes called the second largest search engine after Google – food for thought in terms of what you define as content. Or to spell it out for you, video SEO could be where you decide to optimise if it fits your business model.
  2. Use Google Analytics and Google Webmasters to monitor traffic and possible site problems.
  3. Speed matters – use Google’s Page Speed to check if your site downloads fast enough.
  4. Submit a sitemap to the search engines and make sure you have RSS.
  5. There must be hundreds more, will add as I remember or come across them.

Already synergies are appearing at its only the first post in the series. The connection between social media and SEO is predicted to increase significantly over the next few years.

And now, it’s Friday and writing this has drained me of my very last ounce of weekday energy. I am now officially in weekend mode so apologies to anyone that has somehow managed to read this far. Thank you and have a good weekend.

Amsterdam Never Gets Boring

I’ve now been to Amsterdam four times. Each one quite different from the other.

The first time was with my parents. We watched Bulgaria play against Holland, did loads of tourist-type stuff and discovered the amazing, world-famous dutch fries with sauce.

The second time was insane. Fourteen hour coach trip from Manchester through Dover, on the ferry, loads of drinking, singing on the coach and the kind of experiences some people hope to never forget (for their youth depends on these memories).

The third time was with a group of experienced Amsterdammers. We knew what we wanted to do, did it, stayed in a fully-equipped apartment (rather than a hostel) and Teddy and I decided to rent some bikes (best decision ever).

In keeping with the tradition of going to Amsterdam every year I am a student, this year I was very lucky to manage to convince Tom, my housemate, to come with me (this is after I had already booked my tickets).

So having had three very different experiences, I wasn’t sure how this one would turn out. As it turned out, pretty awesome actually.

On the Friday we met up with Dani, a friend who studies in Holland. Bar-crawling, exploring and catching up. On Saturday we made a brave decision to rent out bikes; bikes which had old-fashioned pedal breaks and no gears. Because it was puring down we took them back to our city centre boat. Yeah, that’s right, Amsterdam no.4 will forever remain as the time when we stayed on a Botel. Our host was an awesome dude who took care of us with a couple of beers and some nuts until the rain stopped – then the adventure began: Van Gogh, some coffee shops, and those amazing Argentinian ribs (those of you who have been with me before will know how tasty they are). No Amsterdam experience is complete without a tour of the red-light district, but this time we decided to combine it with a bar-crawl.

On our last day, in true holiday style, we cycled to the Heineken brewery to enjoy a fantastic tour and a couple of drinks before lunchtime. We bought some gifts for our lovely ladies and off we were to start our new placement on the very next day. Not enough time to recover, for sure, but ‘Amsterdam 4’ goes down as another unforgettable experience.

photos to follow (Tom if you read this, please send me some…)

Macdonald Townhouse Manchester

Working for Expotel has its perks, including staying at fantastic hotels like the Macdonald Townhouse in Manchester.

“Familiarity trips” are one of those win-win business relationships which just makes complete sense. Hotels find it is in their interest to invite the booking agencies or travel agents to their hotel, show them all the facilities and let them stay the night, all inclusive. We love it because it is a night out, free food, free drinks, no cleaning up and in my case, I was just curious to experience it.

Because I don’t do bookings at Expotel, I thought the least I could do was to repay my lovely hosts at the hotel with a short-&-sweet review.

My first experience at a boutique hotel was in Seattle during the case study competition. The MacDonald Townhouse had a similar appeal, with a perfect blend of old and new, technology and life. Each room and all the corridors had enormous Aloe Vera plants and all the signs were uniquely wooden; attention to detail was clearly in the designer’s brief. The rooms were large, well decorated and the bed was so enormous, I spent half the night sleeping side-ways. But being a foodie, the restaurant and bar impressed me most. We were welcomed with cocktails, and while I usually avoid mojitos on a night out (knowing that more often than not, the barman will dissapoint), this time the mojito had a perfect consistency and richness of flavour.

The bar also had, even more surprisingly, two of my favourite Dutch beers on tap. I couldn’t resist and decided to endulge in a pint of Amstel with dinner (which was also incredible).

I spent the night out with some friends, and going home (to my room) took me all of a two minute walk. It was a fantastic night out and I am now looking forward to the three other FAM trips I’ve put myself down for.