Archive for the ‘Search Engine Optimization’ Category

Holy Hyphens! Mastering the Domain (Name)

Thursday, January 31st, 2008 |

I’m sure there are worse offenders but while researching competitors for a potential client I found this “gem” of a URL that is abusing the use of hyphens in a domain name. Unbelievable.

Hmmm….I wonder what they are trying to rank for? Sadly, it is working somewhat. When searching for the term ‘house painter Alexandria’ they show up as the #3 result in Google (1/31/08).

I thought posting this was appropriate considering Will’s post about keyword stuffing domain names. So until Google quits ranking spammed domain names I guess it will be a viable option for ranking, although I’m doubtful the conversions are very high. I personally think this is a SEO mistake.

Anyone have anything to share concerning conversion with these types of domain names?

Flickr is Turning into Spam Central

Thursday, January 24th, 2008 |

I suppose I should preface this post by saying that spam is in the eye of the beholder. The people who add giant, bulky graphics as comments on certainly don’t view their contribution as spam, even if the graphic has no relevance to the picture. But these days, Flickr seems harder and harder to differentiate from MySpace. Take, for instance, this page:

A very attractive site

Some of the gargantuan comment graphics in that URL take up nearly half the page, but other Flickr users don’t seem to mind. In fact, they seem to be embracing it. This is good news for owners of these link-laundering websites from an SEO standpoint, provided that Flickr doesn’t add no-follow tags or disable external live links in comments altogether. They can seek out high PageRank Flickr pages and drop comments, and of course, the Flickr community builds their links for them. Indeed, Flickr is a link-launderers paradise.

But at what point will the users step back and say, “Where am I? MySpace or Flickr?”

SEO with a Star Wars Perspective

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008 |

I believed the world could be divided into two camps, “Star Wars People” and “Indiana Jones People”. Well, after the Lord of the Rings, I have now included “LOTR People”. Just about everyone has a favorite they rank over the other and so I have made classifications. I say this because I’m going to recommend a very clever blog post about SEO and Star Wars that I thought was humorous and educational. I’m recommending it even though I’m a “Indiana Jones Person”. ;-)

The author mention Darth Sidious and Darth Vader as Blackhat masters and even classifies Luke Skywalker as a Greyhat proponent. All the other major characters are there as well, although Leia is missing. Real Star Wars’ fans will be chagrined to find Jar Jar Binks is also included. Take a moment and read the post, you’ll get a chuckle.

Images Provide SEO Trafficseo

Sunday, November 11th, 2007 |

SEO TipsAny good SEO campaign will put the emphasis on ranking your website for based on the content of the site. But overlooking images on the site can be a big mistake, especially if your site is selling products which use imagery as part of the sales pitch. So why not use those image to draw visitors through organic image search?

Your first step should be to set up a Google Account where you can use Webmaster Tools. In Webmaster tools you will find an option under Tools named “Enable enhanced image search”. When this option is enabled Google will cataloging your images for placement in the search results which can increase traffic, especially if you can show in the search results that show images above the organic search results. (See example of Google search with images above organic results for the search term ‘oak tree’)

After you have instructed Google to look for your images, you want to be sure your images are telling Google and the other search engines exactly what the images are showing. How do you do this? Here are some things to pay attention to and think about when using images. I’ve listed them in order of “my importance”.

  1. Image Size Does Matter – Larger images tend to rank better. Most image results that are ranked are over 280 pixels in both directions. Bigger images make sense to show first, all other things being equal. I would shoot for 300 x 300 to be safe. If you can’t display your images that large, a link to a larger version of the image will help. In some cases, scaling your image in the HTML code through the height and width tags can work to show a large image in a smaller area. Just be sure the image quality isn’t degraded through this method. Resizing images with HTML can cause ugly pixelation.
  2. Image Close to Relevant Text – Keywords should be above or below the image in the same DIV tag -or- keywords should be in the same paragraph as the image. Remember you want the keywords and image close. The keyword should be in the same <td> (table cell) as the image if you are using tables.
  3. Page Title & Page Theme - The title, content and image should all be connected.
  4. File Name – It can be difficult to add the name of the image to the file name, especially if the shopping cart software doesn’t allow it, but when you can, be descriptive.
  5. Alt Tags – Alt tags are designed to provide alternative text when the images cannot be displayed. They should be descriptive of the image. Example: <img src=”oak-tree.jpg” width=”200″ height=”350″ alt=”Oak Tree”>
  6. Image Title Tags – This text shows up when you rollover the image in a popup window. It should describe image. Example: <img src=”oak-tree.jpg” width=”200″ height=”350″ alt=”Oak Tree” title=”Oak Tree”>
  7. Image Sitemap – Okay, this is an idea which may or may not be of any help, but it certainly can’t hurt and if you feel your images are important enough to help your rankings then creating a sitemap with descriptive links to your important images might be the extra boost to get your images to the top of the search engine results.

If we put it all together your HTML code should look something like this. I added teh <h5> tag for a little boost but it isn’t crucial, you can use a DIV tag instead. Notice the link (titled) to the larger image. We’ll stay with the oak tree theme.

<h5><a href="/images/oak-tree-large.jpg" title="Oak Tree"><img src="/images/2007/08/oak-tree.jpg" alt="Oak Tree" title="Oak Tree" /></a><br />A beautiful oak tree in a meadow.</h5>

Please share any successes you may have had with image search or ideas you have tried. I’m especially interested in anyone who has tried an image sitemap or what you think of this idea.

Avoid Blinding the Search Engine Spiders – SEO Tip Week 42

Monday, October 22nd, 2007 |

SEO TipsLast week I was asked to consult with a design firm. One of our new clients was using a design firm to build their new site. I was asked to provide some advice when designing for search engine optimization. At Big Oak we are not SEO Nazis who insist everything must be HTML text and the site must be visually lifeless. Far from it. I was a web designer not to many years ago so I am very sensitive to outside influences giving direction to your design, especially when your artistic integrity is being put at risk. After all, most design shops are trying to build a impressive portfolio and “search engine people” appear to be the enemy of design to some.

With this in mind I submitted some things to be wary of, but didn’t need to be avoided. I explained that the idea is to let the search engines know what your page is about and you have to have some text for the spiders to read in order to do that. So these items can be added, with moderation and strategically, but remember to think like a spider when you do.

Graphical text: Spiders can’t read graphic text and and I would prefer to use HTML text for all text, but headlines can be enhanced through graphics so using graphic text is okay, but be sure you are using the title and alt tags with these images. Wrap it in a H1 tag if that is warranted for a heading.

Read more about this on my previous post: Graphic Headlines Can Work for SEO.

Images: Obviously spiders can’t read images whether they are text images or otherwise. Our main concern is an all image page. All images means no text, which means no traffic. Images are okay, even for navigation as long as you are using a sitemap and text navigation in the footer. Of course all images should have alt tags and title tags as referenced above in an earlier post.

Flash Animation: This may be news to some of you, but the spiders don’t read Flash and although you can add some context to your Flash through programming, I would never rely on that entirely. Instead use Flash as an enhancer and let the site speak through body text on the page.

If you do decide to create an entirely Flash site (may the SEO gods be with you) then be sure to create an alternate HTML version for the spiders and for those of us who prefer good ol’ HTML sites.

Read more about this in my earlier post: SEO and Flash

SEO Toolkit: Everyday SEO Tools – SEO Tip Week 36

Sunday, September 9th, 2007 |

SEO TipsSEO consultants always have their favorite tools and a few months ago we hired a new employee which necessitated showing what SEO tools I like to use. That led me to come up with this list of my favorite tools for SEO. I wanted to list the tools I use most frequetly rather than a list of sites with large collections of SEO tools. Maybe that will be a future post.

My SEO Toolkit:

I use this dozens of times everyday for client and competitor sites. Provides some basic tools to help with search engine optimization. Including google backlinks, yahoo backlinks, PageRank check, http header viewer, and more. All features are available by right-clicking on an open area of a web page, or by using the included toolbar. I wouldn’t leave home without it. You will need Firefox, but that shouldn’t be a problem. I can’t imagine an SEO consultant or SEO company not recommending Firefox over every other browser.

Keyword Discovery
KeywordDiscovery compiles keyword search statistics from over 180 search engines world wide, to create a very powerful research tool. It has a free trial, but it is well worth the money to get full access.

WebPosition Gold
Web Position Gold offers a nice set of tools that we use for monitoring search results. I know it does much more than this, but we do most things manually around here. I like the way it displays the search results online for our clients to see anytime they like.

WordPress Blogging Software
All of our clients, and this blog, run WordPress. It is the BEST software for blogging in my opinion. The ablibity to add funtionality through plugins will always be the deciding factor, especially with so many plugins being created to support our SEO efforts.

SEO for Firefox
Want to know why Google or Yahoo! ranks pages? SEO for Firefox pulls in many useful marketing data points to make it easy get a more holistic view of the competitive landscape of a market right from the search results. You can turn it off and on easily.

Google Toolbar for Firefox
Do I really need to explain this one? Google search in your browser with lots of helpful toos, especially for on-page optimization.

Add-on for Firefox that displays the Google PageRank, Alexa rank and Compete ranking anywhere in your browser, along with fast keyword density analyzer, keyword/nofollow highlighting, backward/related links, Alexa info and other SEO tools.

Google Webmaster Central
Be sure you have signed up all the sites you manage SEO for. This is very helpful for understanding how Google sees your website.

Yahoo! Site Explorer
I mentioned Site Explorer in an earlier post, Research Your Competition with Yahoo Site Explorer but it bears repeating, this tool is indispensable in my daily routine. Fortunately, SEOpen (see above) access most of the features for Site Explorer from its menu.

If you have any tools you use, please take time to comment and let me know.

When to Use a 301 vs. 302 Redirect – SEO Tip Week 35

Sunday, September 2nd, 2007 |

SEO TipsThere are two types of redirects you can use, a 301 and a 302. These numbers refer to the HTTP Status Code returned by the server for a given URL. A 301 redirect tells the search engine that the page has moved permanently to the new URL. A 302 redirect tells the search engine that the move is only temporary, and you may decide to show content at the original location in the future without a redirect.

301 Redirects
All three major search engines handle 301 redirects the same, that is to say they ignore the original URL and instead index the destination URL. For example, uses a 301 redirect to and Google, MSN and Yahoo all return the result when searching for “beeker furniture”. The word beeker doesn’t appear anywhere on the site, and a site search in Google shows that only the home page has any relevance for the word. Clicking on the Cached link in the site search results further shows that the word only exists in links pointing to the site, “These terms only appear in links pointing to this page: beeker.” Those links Google is referring to are actually pointing to and the 301 redirect is passing along the relevance of the word beeker to

301 redirects can be very powerful when you redesign your site and the URLs change, move to a different domain, acquire a new domain, or implement a URL rewrite. In most cases, this is the type of redirect you want to use because you know exactly how the search engines will respond.

302 Redirects
The three major engines handle 302 redirects very differently, and because of this 302s are typically not recommended.

Google treats 302 redirects differently depending if they are on-domain or off-domain. An example of an on-domain redirect is which uses a 302 redirect to If you search for “oakland a’s” in Google you will see that is displayed in the results because links point to that URL, which in turn uses a 302 redirect to the destination page. This is a great example where 302 redirects can be used effectively, since the shorter URL looks much more enticing in the results pages.

Off-domain 302 redirects would be ripe for hijacking situations if treated the same way. Because of this, in most cases, Google will treat off-domain 302 redirects like 301s, where they will ignore the original URL and instead index the destination URL. I say most cases because Google will sometimes determine that the 302 is legitimate & index the original URL instead. An example of an off-domain redirect is which uses a 302 redirect to a third-party site In this case, Google determined that this was a legitimate use of a 302 redirect and displays when searching for “pets roanoke”.

Pets Roanoke Google Search

MSN treats 302 redirects exactly how it treats 301 redirects, it will always ignore the original URL and instead index the destination URL. A search for “oakland a’s” in MSN shows the URL in its results. And a search for “pets roanoke” shows in its results.

Yahoo takes the same stance that MSN takes, except that they reserve the right to make exceptions in handling redirects. A search for “oakland a’s” in Yahoo shows the URL in its results. ( also uses a 302 redirect to But a search for “pets roanoke” shows in its results.

Pets Roanoke Yahoo Search

There are very few times where you actually want a 302 redirect, although they are used more often than 301s merely because most people don’t know the difference. 302 redirects are often the default redirect in website control panels, and JavaScript or Meta redirects will produce a 302 status as well. In certain situations however, 302 redirects work wonders.

As with all our tips, please use them responsibly. When in doubt, use a 301 redirct.

Flat Site Architecture is SEO-Friendly – SEO Tip 27

Friday, July 6th, 2007 |

Why you should use a flat site architecture rather than a deep, or nested, site architecture if SEO is important to your site?

52 SEO TipsIn my previous life as a website designer and HTML developer I loved to have a folder/directory for everything. While I’m not a organized person (ask my wife) I did like keeping my files structured in clearly labeled directories. So nesting directories 4 or 5 levels deep was common practice. When I transitioned to an SEO specialist my ideas on structuring files and site architecture began to change and here is why.

A flat site offers quick access to all the pages within the site. A minimal number of clicks are needed to find all the pages within your site, usually no more than three clicks is ideal. According to the views of the search engines (SEs), less clicks mean higher importance. The view of the SEs are that more important information will be easier to reach. Home page information is the most important, one click from the home page is secondary information and two clicks is tertiary information and so forth.

Think of it like bodies of water. Your home page is the ocean and off of the home page are large rivers and then smaller rivers, then streams, then creeks and brooks and finally the smallest trickle of water is all that is left. Don’t let you products, services or information be at the end of the trickle, drying up eventually. Closer to the ocean is always better and that is how the search engines will rank your pages too.

I’ve seen some site place everything in the root folder and this isn’t good practice either. Structure your sites as to what makes sense, but be aware that more clicks can mean less viewers, both for search engine traffic and visitors on your site.

SEO Titles, Using the Title Tag – SEO Tip Week 25

Friday, June 22nd, 2007 |

52 SEO TipsPage titles are one of the most important parts of any web page, especially when performing search engine optimization. A page title is located at the very top of your browser’s window. It can bring traffic in abundance or completely isolate your site. Knowing how to properly word a page title is critical to your site’s SEO success. Let’s look at how page titles can be used to increase your site’s traffic.

Snowflakes and Titles
It is said no two snowflakes look exactly the same. Well, the same should be said for page titles on your site.

Every page on your site should have a different focus from the other pages on your site, or you are repeating yourself and duplicating content. So if all your pages are telling a different story, shouldn’t they all have a different title? And that title should effectively reflect the content of the page.

Missing an Opportunity
In my daily web searches, I see many missed opportunities with poorly titled web pages. Pages simply named “Untitled” or “Untitled Document” can be found in the millions (79 million were found in a Google search). Search engines depend on titles to gather information about your web pages. And a page title without a unique description does not help the search engines – in fact, a generic page title makes the page nearly impossible to find…

Putting Your Company Name in the Title Tag
I’m not against putting your company name in your page title – after all, it will help build brand awareness. But, I am against putting only your company name in the title and until you become a household name, I would suggest putting your company name at the end of your title. The focus of your web pages should be on what people would search for to find your company. In other words you want targeted keyword phrases in the title. Let me give an example:

If your company name is “Miller & Sons” and you sell fishing equipment near Whitefish, Montana you should not limit your title to “Miller & Sons”. Instead try “Fishing Rods & Reels in Whitefish, Montana – Miller & Sons“. With this you are netting traffic searching for your product, your location and your company name. Keeping the location in the name is very important if you are serving only a regional or local market.

Let Your Copy Be Your Guide
When deciding on your page titles, read the page first and let that guide your decision. If you can’t confine the theme of your page copy into a concise page title, you may need to break the copy into more than one page.

If you sell toys on your site, your page copy should have the keyword “toys” and so should your page title. Even better it should include what type of toys. Do you sell dog toys? Cat toys? Children’s toys? Your title should convey this. Adding in other possible search terms is also a good idea. An example of a toy site home page title could be “Children’s toys and games – toys for boys and girls of all ages” You have your most important keyword, “toys,” listed twice and have added some other important keywords such as “games,” “boy” and “girl.”

Suppose one of the sub pages of your toy site showcases Leap Frog’s Discovery Ball. What type of toy is this? It’s an educational toy and you should use that in your title along with the actual toy name. This gives you an opportunity to be found in the search results for the toy name, the popular toy company and the heavily searched key phrase “educational toy.” A title catering towards SEO for this example would be: “Leap Frog Discovery Ball – Educational Toys“. Since the more targeted term is the name of the toy you put that first. Educational Toys would be shown first on a category page.

Now that you have integrated your keyword phrases from your page copy into your title, you’ll find that getting found in the search engines is a much easier task.

Underscores vs. Dashes – SEO Tip

Friday, June 15th, 2007 |

Update 6/10/09 – Video from Matt Cutts about the underscore vs. Dashes issue.

Spaces should never be used in a URL or file names because the space character gets translated to “%20″ by the browser, and this can wreak havoc with both readability and statistics or analytics programs. The question then remains, which is better to use instead of spaces, underscores “_” or dashes “-”.

As far as Google is concerned Big_Oak consists of one word, “Big_Oak”, and Big-Oak consists of two words, “Big” and “Oak”.

The reason Google does not treat the underscore as a word separator is because Google was created by programmers who knew that programmers often wanted to search about programming. Many computer programming languages use the underscore character in such ways that CLASS is different from _CLASS.

Because of this, I always recommend using dashes instead of underscores in your filenames and URLs. Be careful not to use too many dashes in your domain name, as that could get your site flagged for other reasons. I prefer to have a domain name with no dashes, and to use dashes where appropriate in the directory and file structure.

Example URL:

Other things about Google to keep in mind when choosing filenames and URL structure.

  • There is no difference between lower-case and upper-case:
    big oak, Big Oak, BIG OAK, and biG Oak are all the same.
  • The ampersand “&” is a word seperator:
    Big&Oak is treated as two words.
  • Singular words are not the same as plural words:
    oak and oaks are treated as different words.
  • Google cannot read words that are within other words:
    bubble will not be seen inside of bubblegum.

As with any tip, keep in mind that it’s a combination of many factors which will ultimately decide your placement in the search engine rankings and quite often every little bit counts.

Update: A Test

I created a test page to illustrate how Google reads words.


A search for Test_travveran shows the sample page.

A search for Flibstopper Test shows the sample page. The two words are even highlighted in the URL. The word “test” appears in the page title.

A search for travveran shows no results in Google. Google did not read my made-up word from the URL or content because it only appeared in phrases with underscores.

A site search for choosing colors shows all the pages in our Out on a Limb section because those two words appear in the navigation on all pages.

A site search for “choosing colors” (in quotes) shows no pages because those two words do not appear together in our site, choosing_colors on the test page is treated as a single word.

A site search for “the blue pill” (in quotes) shows our test page since dashes are treated as word separators.

A site search for “bush seo” (in quotes) shows our test page since the ampersand “&” also acts as a word separator.

Similarly Google can find the page with reality tv and bubblegum, but it cannot find the page with bubble or 1971.

Even though many of the stranger examples have little relevance to SEO, it’s a good idea to understand how Google reads and understands words.

Keep Current on SEO Techniques – SEO Tip Week 23

Saturday, June 9th, 2007 |

Obviously one of the most important parts of an SEO Company’s success is keeping up with the new trends, latest techniques and search engine news. The best way to do that is to read the best SEO blogs out there. I have listed some in my blogroll to the right. I hold them all in high esteem, and of course, I would recommend reading my own SEO blog.

SEO Forums
Keeping up to date with SEO forum browsing is also a good idea. Here are some of my favorites:


Search Marketing Standard MagazineSearch Marketing Standard Magazine
I have recently discovered something almost unheard of in the Internet world, a printed magazine that still has relevance. It is Search Marketing Standard. I read my first issue this month and was impressed with the wealth of information and the breadth of subjects covered.

As an avid researcher and online reader it is refreshing to sit away from my desk, or outside, or at my home, or anyplace other than my office, and read a printed document. There is something comforting even in the this digital age about holding a glossy magazine and flipping casually through the pages. I even looked at the advertisements, something we have trained our eyes to avoid online.

Looking at a colorful magazine is one thing, finding it useful and informative is quite another. Search Marketing Standard did a nice job in both areas.

Search Marketing Standard (SMS)

The issue of Search Engine Marketing Standard that I read (picture to the right) covered many topics in the search engine marketing arena. Of course they had articles about search engine optimization and search engine marketing, but they also gave commentary about social media marketing, SEO certification and a few other gems, including blogging and linkbaiting.

One of the most useful items in this issue was a very informative listing of SEM training courses and certification. I would have like to have seen a review of each course, but that could be very subjective, time-consuming and costly so I can understand the omission.

I also felt a nice job was done bridging the sometimes enormous gap between beginners and professionals in the SEO industry. It is something I try to do on this blog so I was pleased seeing SMS attempt this as well.

SMS also realizes a magazine without a website is a missed opportunity, so they have built a companion site. While you can’t read the published articles (why would you subscribe if you could?) they certainly don’t withhold information about the SEO tips and advice. The site is a useful tool for research with helpful blog posts.

Yearly subscription to the magazine starts at just $15 for 1 year/4 issues for US-based readers and $20 for international subscribers (shipping included). Click Here to subscribe today, I recommend it.

Big Oak SEO Blog

This SEO blog is provided by Big Oak SEO, a SEO Company. Most blog posts are related to search engine optimization, short reviews, SEO tips and increasing site conversions. Email us at or give us a call 804-741-6776 to see how we can help your company. More

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