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7 Tips to Save Money on Pay-Per-Click Campaign

save_money_ppcA friend of mine recently asked me to help him with his PPC campaign. He has been using Adwords & Yahoo Search Marketing for over two months now and spent a little over $4,800 already. It may not be a huge figure for many of you, but for a tiny little business that he runs, it was quite a big deal. He told me: “PPC doesn’t work” and when I asked him why, his answer was plain and simple – “I lost all my money and didn’t get enough return”. Now that I’m helping him to clean up his ‘mess’ and also seeing all the campaigns he created and the keywords he was bidding on, it was clear to me that people who are ‘just’ starting PPC doesn’t actually understand the PPC game well enough. So I thought of sharing a simple set of tips that any average Joe can implement on their PPC campaign today and see some success straightaway. Since Christmas is right around the corner, you might want to look at these tips quickly and make necessary changes to your campaign.

7 Tips to Save Money on your PPC Campaign

  1. Stop using Broad Match – A lot of folks doesn’t know or probably doesn’t bother to use the different keyword match types that are available in Adwords. By default if you type in a keyword in your adwords campaign it is set as a “broad match”. The problem with a broad match is that your ad is often displayed in other different variations of your keywords, even if these terms aren’t in your keyword lists. Even though Google says that the broad match always uses relevant keywords, but we (‘advertisers’) know that its not often best for your business. For example, if Jeremy Schoemaker of Shoemoney.com wants to bid on the keyword “Shoe Money” on a broad match, Google will probably find a lot of shoe related queries as relevant. (Which certainly isn’t the case here).

    So if you have done some work on your keyword research and you are confident with a couple of 2-3 words and long tail keywords, use the “Phrase” or [Exact Match] instead of a Broad Match.

  2. Use Negative Keywords Effectively – I have seen a lot of PPC campaigns that doesn’t implement this sweet Keyword matching feature – Negative Keywords. Suppose you run a web hosting business and you are bidding on the keyword “web hosting” on broad or phrase match. So now suppose If someone performs a search for “free web hosting”, its basically going to trigger your ad. But do you sell web hosting for Free? No! Then do you want to pay for that extra click and have those unwanted impressions which is probably lowering your CTR (Click-Through-Rate)?You can use Negative Keyword match feature to filter out keywords for which you don’t want your ads to show. So words like “free”, “cheap” are common Negative keywords. But its not limited to that. Its absolutely essential to have negative keywords if you have a lot of broad/phrase match keywords in your campaign.

    If you are confused about your negative keywords, Go to Adwords Keyword Tool enter your keyword and choose the “Negative” in the drop-down under Match Type. This will show you a whole bunch of negative keywords that may suit your primary keyword.

  3. Smart Bidding – If you have played with some auction sites like Ebay you probably know this secret already. A smart way of bidding for anything is to do the unnatural. Don’t bid like any other Joe, always try to bid in odds (I personally prefers to bid in 1s, 3s and 7s). Now the question is why? Well the main reason is doing odd things gives you an advantage over others who are always playing by their ‘predictabe’ rules. Thus it sort of gives you a higher chance of winning the bid war.

    So instead of bidding $0.10, I’d bid $0.13, and for $0.15 I’d prefer to bid $0.17. So for someone who is bidding in 5s (like 5, 10, 15, 20…), would need to place 4 bids to outbid my ($0.17). Moreover lets say if the highest bidder was $0.10, you can outbid him by only 1 cent ($0.11) rather than paying $0.15!

  4. Create Separate Ad Group, Ads and Landing Pages – If your PPC account looks like my friend’s (1 Campaign, 1 Adgroup, 1 Ad, 1 Landing Page, 20 Keywords) then you are doing the whole thing wrong. Try to group similar keywords in Individual ad groups and create Individual Ads for those and point them to their designated Landing pages. This will not only improve your CTR but also improve your conversion.

    Lets say you are running a web hosting business, and you offer different types of hosting (e.g. Shared, Reseller, Dedicated etc). So for best result, you may want to split your whole keyword list into 3 logical segments related to the 3 different types of hosting you offer. And then use those keywords to create 3 different adgroups & Specific ads for the specific services. Point all those ads to your relevant landing pages (e.g. www.host.com/shared-hosting.html). This will definitely help you to get a better quality score as your ads & landing pages will become more relevant to the term the user is searching for. It is likely to increase your CTR & and will eventually lead to higher sales. So at the end of the day because of your good quality score you will be paying less and getting highly targeted audience to the highly targeted offer pages – All this just for a little bit of initial hard work from your side.

  5. Geographic Target – If you are just a bakery at queens, why would you want to pay for clicks that are outside your business zone? Use the GEO target facility to target your audience well, this will substantially help you to lower your ad impression, higher CTR, higher quality score and a better ROI.
  6. Time your Ads, Show your Ads When They Matter – If you are a local Pizza Store, would you want to show your ads when people at 3 AM search for Pizzas? (Assuming you don’t. have a 24 Hour Delivery). It would be ridicules and a big waste of money if you actually pay for clicks after your business hours where none of the searchers can actually order your pizza during that period of time.

    So What would you do? Use Ad Scheduling to time your ads to match your requirements. Ad scheduling lets you control the days and times your AdWords campaigns appear. So if you are running “Special offers” for Fridays, you can use Ad Scheduling to only show ads (a specific one) on Fridays. Try to think of a time when your ad would actually matter to your customer. By default, your ads will run for 24 hours in a day by trial and error you might be able to find out that running ads on a specific time of the day gives you more conversion! (e.g. People would search for “morning headache” usually in the morning after getting up from bed..)

  7. Don’t bid on Content Network – I know some might disagree with me here but this is purely based on my own experience & what works best for me and my clients. I feel that even though bidding at content network is often cheaper, but in terms of conversion the performance of content network is very poor. Again, I’d say that this may be different for your case as some niches do really well in content networks. But if you are really starting out fresh with PPC & adwords, I’d urge you to remove content network from your campaign. This setting is set in the campaign level, so once you turn this off all the other ad groups that are in that particular campaign will be affected.

    What if you want the content network, but you dont want to harm your quality score by having too many impression and low CTR? Easy solution is to create a completely separate campaign only for content network and test the results! Note: You should ALWAYS modify your content network bid as its much lower than the search network bids.

Wait…You just got lucky, Here is a bonus tip for you.

Track Your Results: Google offers a Search Query Performance report that can basically show you the exact term that a user typed into Google that triggered your ad, the match type between your keyword, and the search query alongside all of the standard AdWords reporting metrics like click through rate, conversion rate, cost per conversion, etc.

Google has also done AdWords Integration in their Google Analytics — its an awesome tool that provides in-depth reporting on all aspects of your campaign’s performance.

So what other simple strategies you use in your campaign? Share in Comments!

Update: Here are some more bonus tips from the readers:

  • Test Everything – Test everything. Split test, multivariate test, PAMVAR test… Test until the cows come home, and then test some more. (Shared by: Pete Wailes)

    Pay-Per-Click is not like flying on a plane (Once you get up, you can’t just get out unless the plane lands). In PPC everything is very flexible. So test your campaigns over and over again and tweak it according to the results that you are getting.


5 Useful Google Analytics Features You Probably Don’t Use

google-analytics-tracking

Google Analytics is free and powerful web analytics tool that gives webmasters all sorts of statistics about their website. Over the years Google analytics has really evolved with amazing new features and become a strong product for any small-medium business or even an enterprise.

Recently during a session with one of my client (who runs an online t-shirts store), I went over some of the analytics feature that he wasn’t using. In fact he was totally clueless that many of those even existed. Even though these features have existed inside Google Analytics for quite some time now, but an average webmasters never bothers to check beyond their total number of hits on a day, traffic sources and so on.

So I decided to do a quick post highlighting some of the ‘less-used’ features of Google Analytics and why you should start using them.

1. Google Analytics Alerts (Intelligence): Google Analytics intelligence comes with a set of default alerts that will show you interesting trends in your analytics data, 24/7. When something happens out of ordinary, it is important that you get access to that information fast and focus on making strategic decisions, instead of sifting through an endless pile of data. The Automatic Alerts stores historical data as well so you can go back in time and look at some of the automatic alerts which has been triggered by Google Analytics. This can really help you discover insights that might otherwise go unnoticed. For instance, if your site’s bounce rate suddenly increases or say Search Traffic suddenly decreases, Google Analytics should be able to catch that and alert you to dig down further. Google Analytics also gives you the flexibility of adding custom alerts with your own variables & rules. Watch the following video to learn more:

2. Comparing Stats with your Past Data: Everyone loves the calendar feature that lets you see all your stats for a specific time frame (e.g. 22nd July 2010 – 29th July 2010). But sometimes raw figures doesn’t really make much sense if you don’t have anything to compare those with. Fortunately Google Analytics gives a easy way for anyone to compare their stats with a past timeline. The best part is it also calculates the difference in numbers for you and give you a quick overview of the comparison. To access this feature, simply check “Compare to past” in the calendar and it will let you select the time period of your past stats.

google analytics stat comparison

3. Customize your Google Analytics Dashboard: By default the Google Analytics Dashboard shows some basic widgets like Site usage, visitor overview, goal overview, content overview, traffic sources overview etc. But lets say if you are running an eCommerce website, you may also want to look at some other widgets on your dashboard like – Adwords overview, Top Landing Pages, Search Keywords etc. So if you like to see any particular widget on the dashboard, simply go to that specific page and press “Add to Dashboard” button on top. Now if you go back to your Dashboard you will see that widget at the bottom of the page. You are also free to drag-and-move all the dashboard widgets in any order you like. If you don’t find a particular widget useful and think that its taking up your dashboard space, simply press the cross (‘x’) on the corner to remove it from your default dashboard view.

customize google anlaytics dashboard

4. Segment your Traffic using Advanced Segmentation: Analyzing your data in aggregate is not very useful, as it doesn’t give you the right insights of the many individual factors that builds up the overall stats. Google analytics comes with a very powerful segmentation tool that you can use to identify which segments of your traffic are performing and which are not. This leads to more analysis on the under performing segments and eventually an increased overall site performance. There are a bunch of default segments available, that makes it very easy for you to segment out your paid and organic search data or just perform some analysis on the visits with conversion and so on. Once you are comfortable with the basics, you can also make up your own custom segments and save them for later user. Watch the video below that briefly goes through the GA Advanced Segmentation feature.

5. Setting up Goals: Every website has some business objectives that it wants to achieve. For an eCommerce store it may be the number of raw sales, for a consulting business it may be the number of leads thats comes from the site’s contact page. Google analytics makes it very easy to define and track the business goals of your website. This comes very handy to justify the amount of money/resources that you are spending in order to achieve some of your business goals. For instance, you may have heard that twitter/facebook brings in a lot of traffic to a website and lets say so you have started spending 8 hours day on those sites trying to promote your products. Maybe you have gotten a couple of hundred visitors but without proper tracking it would be very hard for you to know whether it was worth all the effort? Because any typical analytics stats would only tell you that you have received “X” number of visits from Facebook or Twitter. But what it doesn’t tell you is, how many of those visitors has also made a purchase fro your store or has performed a positive action that helped your business in any way. With Google Analytics Goals tracking, you will be able to know exactly that. If you are spending money on PPC (Pay Per Click Advertising), Goals are a must have. You can learn more about setting up Goals in Google Analyics here.

Bonus:

Make it a habit to check your Analytics Data: Many website owners set up Google Analytics on Day 1 and never log back in to check what is actually happening. Having Google Analytics on your website doesn’t help you if you are not making good use of the data and insight it provides. So it is very important that you make it a habit to look at your stats regularly based on which you can further tweak your web strategy and (hopefully) improve your site’s overall performance. You can make Google analytics send you a daily/weekly/monthly report via email, so that you get access to all the stats right from your inbox.

So what is your favorite Google Analytics feature? Share in comments!


Use of Twitter in an Information Retrieval System

Firstly, A Happy New Year to all my readers! I have been a bit slow with blogging lately because of the tremendous pressure with work & my postgraduate research. But anyway, since Xmas & New Year is over I’m back in my serious business – Blogging!

twitter for on demand information query I’m sure most of you are already using twitter as a communication medium to communicate with your friends, family, your colleagues, your online pals and it doesn’t stop there. You are also using twitter to keep track of your industry, the key people involved in the industry and companies that are important to you etc.

Nowadays every company seems to have a twitter profile with a real operator (human being) behind the scene who is communicating with customers, taking complaints, resolving existing issues and doing everything to save their online reputation. Companies are monitoring the twitter cloud for occurrences of certain keywords – company name, product name etc. and before you know it, you get a tweet from them – showing you that they exist & they care!

How thoughtful! Isn’t it? Well, that’s just the ‘social’ side of it. When a customer is talking about your company, you should be there! But is being there just enough? Let’s take a look at some of the corporate twitter accounts like dell, comcast, jetblue etc. (Courtesy of Search Engine Journal).

Below are some of the similarities I have found. If you run a business and you have a business twitter profile, than I’m sure you fall under one or more of the points below:

  • You simply broadcast whatever new happens with your company. It’s like a TV advertisement– You tweet, tweet and hope that your customer sees it.
  • You try to be interactive with your prospective customers. Whenever people talks about something that you
    sell or do – you jump right into the conversation and try to pitch your product/service.
  • You use Twitter as one of the dedicated Customer Support channel for your business. So when your customer is having a bad experience and they have shared it via twitter, you try to comfort the customer and help to resolve the issue.
  • You use twitter as a Reputation Monitoring tool. When someone talks about a bad experience with your company/product or service. You try to jump right in, showing that you care and show him a light of hope.
  • You just heard of twitter and you have opened up a profile with your company name to save it from those stupid name squatters. You are yet to think of a proper strategy to run your twitter account.
  • You are using twitter as you normally would, but you are just using your Business name and logo in the profile.

Now whichever point you business falls under, it’s really not my focus today. I’m not here to argue on which ‘strategy’ works and which doesn’t. In fact I’m not even going to touch on the ‘social’ factor that twitter possesses. Twitter is an excellent social tool on the web and this is just a fact so there is no point in talking about it over and over again, because it has already shown its significance in that area.

Can Twitter be a Medium of an Information Retrieval System?

Twitter is yet to be tested as a strong medium of an Information Retrieval System. SMS (Short Message Service) has been very popular & successful in delivering On-Demand information to customers. So for instance, if you want the latest headlines of the news, want to track your order, or want to know the exchange rate of a currency – What you usually do is simply send an SMS to a specific number (provided by the mobile operator) and you get the details instantaneously on your mobile inbox. The service is not necessarily offered by the mobile operator, in most cases it’s created & maintained by the 3rd party providers. They simply lease a pretty number (e.g. 1111, 2000, 3232 etc.) from the operator and share the profit with them as per their agreement.

Now SMS is becoming history, people are sending less ‘text’ messages and relaying more on twitter. So I am very surprised why no one is looking at the possibility that twitter can actually replace SMS in terms of On-Demand Information Retrieval & Marketing.

Here are some scenarios:

Amazon & Dell can start allowing users to track their orders via Twitter – It can be fairly simple. Customers will simply follow a specific twitter account for tracking purpose (i.e. @AmazonTrack, @DellTrack) and they can send a DM to the account with a keyword followed by their tracking number/order number etc. So something like:

DM @DellTrack Track 1033910

Then within seconds DellTrack will query a database containing the order number and DM back the customer with the details:

Order Status: 1033910 – Dispatched 19:09 – 02/01/09 (Details: http://dell.com/tracking/twitter/?o=1033910/)

Some third party service is already doing this for Postal Mail/Parcel Tracking for Fedex, UPS, USPS, and DHL etc. But why aren’t those companies doing these themselves?

Airlines can give away Flight information via Twitter – I found a few airlines on twitter – (e.g. SouthEast, American Airlines, Delta etc.) But most of them are just sticking to the social aspect of twitter. But from a customer point of view I think it would be really useful if a person could just send a tweet and know what time his flight is or from which gate its boarding etc.

So all you need is to follow their twitter account and send a “DM” which will automatically make the ‘bot’ to query the Database and send you a direct message with the details requested.

Service Industry can use Twitter for Customer Support – Whether you are a mobile operator, an ISP or a Web Hosting company, you can provide your customer with an extra channel of support via twitter.

For example, customer can be allowed to assign one twitter account with the service that they are subscribed to with your company. Let’s assume for now that it’s a hosting industry. And for those quick support queries (e.g. My Site is down, How Can I do XyZ), a customer can simply send a DM to the Support’s Twitter account (Without having to make that call or write an email). The system will automatically generate a ticket for that support request and let the user know the ticket number via DM.

Since this will be integrated with the host’s support system, so all those ‘tweets’ will actually be received by the support team via Email. They will simply respond to the email and its cut-down version will be automatically DMed to the user with a link to the full response.

Schools / Colleges can give away their Results via Twitter – A student can DM @StanfordResults with their ID & DOB and get the result of the current term.

Love Sports? Get the latest updates via Twitter – A sports freak can get the latest score of his favorite sport by simply sending a tweet.

Make a Doctor’s Appointment with Twitter – No need to make that call, just tweet and you automatically know whether your doctor is available on your chosen time-slot and then you can register yourself for an appointment – everything just using your twitter account.

Pay for your coffee via Twitter – It would be cool if you could send a DM “Pay @Starbucks48 $9.99” to @PaypalTwitter and automatically @Starbucks48’s TwitterPaypal account will be credited with that amount. This can also work for ordering pizza!

Random Ideas of some Twitter Based Information Retrieval Apps

World Time – You send a tweet to @worldtime – “time London” and the world time bot automatically returns a message to you with the current date/time in London.

Exchange Rate / Conversion – Similar to the one above – “193 USD =? AUD”.

Stock Updates – There are many people who needs to keep a sharp eye on the stock market. So if this app is developed users can just write @StockUpdate GOOG and get the latest Google stock price via twitter. They can sign-up for a auto-notification service where every hour or every day, the system can send a DM to you with the latest stock price of your preferred businesses.

Tweet Poll – I love polls and I have seen a lot of people who take polls via twitter. But I can’t imagine the trouble the host needs to go through by manually counting the ‘votes’. Why not have real tweet polls that can be automated? So you sign up with this service and create a poll, your poll question can be a True-false type (e.g. “yes/no”) type of a MCQ type (e.g. “1,2,3,4”). Users will be asked to simply tweet the poll id and the answer to the service provider, say – @Polldady. (e.g. @polldaddy QS93384 3).

The possibilities are endless. Anything that exists for Mobile devices (via SMS) can actually be upgraded and made for twitter. Since more users are going for mobile internet, and getting wifi access almost anywhere – sooner or later SMS will become a history and Twitter will be the next alternative for SMS.

What Needs to be done from here onwards?

Someone needs to build a platform that will be able to ‘host’ some of these things mentioned above in a simple manner. Since Evan Williams (CEO, Twitter) is yet to find a proper business model, I believe this is something that they should look into. Rather than charging people money for their service, they should build a platform that businesses can subscribe to facilitate these services. Because it will be impossible to do something in a large scale with their current API limit. They are in the best position to host these services on the cloud. They can even formally open up a team, to develop the ‘systems’ and integrate it with the company’s existing system so that a smooth operation can take place.

For small businesses (those who doesn’t require much customization), Twitter can have sort of an ‘Easy Wizard’ that can allow the businesses to make a basic application on the fly and pay for it as they go.

Have any ideas? Share them in comments!

Follow me (@saadkamal) on Twitter!


How to Build Authority Links (including .edu .gov .mil)

How to Build Authority LinksAfter I wrote a comprehensive Link Building Tutorial, I got few emails from my readers and I noticed a common trend in their questions. Majority of them wanted to know How to Build authority Links without buying them?

So I thought rather than replying to each of them individually, I’d just put it up a short answer here in my blog so that everyone else gets value out of the information that I’m about to share.

If you have been in this industry for some time, some of these techniques may not be anything new for you but then again I welcome you to go along with me as I talk about Authoritative Link building.

What are Authority Links?

As the name implies it basically refers to links that have high authority. Some time back a link coming from a High Page Rank site was considered Authoritative. Now that is still not 100% discounted as PageRank still is a good indication of how search engines like Google look and value a website. But obviously when I’m saying PageRank I’m not saying the small green bar that you see in your Google Toolbar. Toolbar PR is very different than what your actual PR is. Toolbar PR is just a small representation of your actual PageRank value.

Years passed and search became more complex. The demands of the users increased substantially and so did the spamming in the search results. So Google came up with another ranking system called TrustRank (Actually the research paper was released by Yahoo first I’m not sure how Google got hold of the patent). Anyway so TrustRank is basically built upon the concept of PageRank but it takes the concept further by taking a set of Absolute Quality Sites and then following their link patterns to find out other quality sites. [Read the Initial Research Paper (PDF) of TrustRank].

So basically educational institution & universities, government sites, military websites, News sites are of high authority. So if Google looks at their Outbound links then they are likely to find another set of quality websites and then can go another step down and look at the outbound links of the second set of quality sites and that will reveal a 3rd set of quality sites and this will continue on until the search engine dies. So the assumption with this concept is – Good sites will always link to good sites. And when there is an exception and a Manual reviewer at Google finds out – they penalizes that “Good site”.

Anyway back to the original topic, Authority Links are those links that helped create the 2nd, 3rd level of quality sites. So if you can get such links, your website will supposedly be treated well by the engines (Its like the President telling his Chief of Staff to give you a Job).

How Do I Find Authority Links?

Ok for those who just jumped to this section without reading the first section – I totally understand. You want to jump right to the nuggets without grasping anything unnecessary. Well I’ll just go right to the point –

  • Spy On your Competitors: Yes, that obvious! If your competitor is doing really good in the search engine, its possible that he has a powerful link profile. So you can easily spy on him by diving into his incoming links and as you do so, give particular attention to the links that you think are authoritative. Tools that I recommend you to use – Yahoo Site Explorer, BackLinkWatch.Once you find some quality sites that are linking to them, go to those respective pages and try to figure out why they are linking to them. If that seems like a natural link you might imitate the strategy that your competitor used to get the link. In most of the times quality sites links to other sites just as a citation or as “related resources”. So if you have any resource that you think can fit that article/research well, you can send an email and ask the webmaster to consider adding your resource in the list. If your resource is top notch its very likely that they will add it to make their resource page more rich.
  • Find out which .edu/.gov/.mil are linking to your competitor: I am often surprised to see how many people doesn’t know about this simple Yahoo Site Search command –

    linkdomain:www.google.com site:edu

    If you go to Yahoo Search and type the following, you will get all the EDU sites that are linking to google.com. So simply put your competitors URL in place of Google and you can change edu to gov, mil and other extensions that you like. Example: See how many EDU backlinks twitter has.

    Find out why those sites are linking to your competitor and then you will automatically know how to get links from them. E.g. Imagine that a university professor is doing research about semantic web and he referenced my blog post where I wrote about some advanced semantic web algorithm. Now if you are my competitor you can probably try to produce a 3 times better piece on semantic web and pitch that processor to include your work in his article. In many cases he will, if your writing is good and relevant to his area of research.

  • Get Links from .Edu/.Gov/.Mil blogs on your Niche: There is another simple search command in Google, that can help you to find .edu, .gov, .mil blogs on your niche. Go to google and type the following:

    Keyword+inurl:blog site:.edu

    Just replace “keyword” with your own keyword. So for example If I’m looking for edu blogs that talk about SEO, i can search for SEO+inurl:blog site:.edu. And it gives me a nice list of blogs that has talked about SEO and has linked to many SEO resources. So If I have something that is absolute quality, I may be able to pitch the author of the blogs to link to my resources as they are relevant to what they are writing about. But you need to be creative with the “keyword” when using that query in Google, because sometimes it may return irrelevant junk results.

Obviously there are plenty of other ways to find authoritative sites, but I guess the ones i mentioned here are probably the most easiest ways.

Read Some Other Resources Related to Authoritative Link building

The 4 Different Types of Authority Links – Wiep.net

The Wisdom & Folly of Directory Link Building – SEOmoz.org

TrustRank Algorithm – SEObook.com

Getting Links From Known, Quality Linkers – Search Engine Land

The Quest for Authority Links – Search Engine Guide

Beyond Link Building Tools – Search Engine Land

How to Get Links – Wikipedia – David Naylor

Some Link Spying Tools You May Like

Hub Finder: Simply Enter Two domains and you will find out which website (hub) Is linking to both of them.

SEOBook Link Tools – a variety of different types of Link tools

SEOMoz LinkScape – Gets you access to link information on more than 30+ billion web pages across 200+ million domains. [Its not Free]


Link Building : A Complete Walkthrough

Link Building Tutorial

External Links (Links coming from other sites) was (*and still probably is) one of the major contributor of any Search Engine Optimization effort. Obviously links alone can’t help you to rank well in the Search Engines, but they do play a “major” role to push your ranking up to the top.

What is Link Building?

Link Building is basically the process of getting quality Web sites to link to your Web site, in order to improve search engine rankings.

Why is Link Building Important?

Link building is absolutely essential for your SEO campaigns because currently majority of the search engines (e.g. Google, Yahoo etc.) uses link popularity as a metric to judge the quality of your website. An incoming link from a 3rd Party site works like a “vote” or “recommendation” towards your site. So say if 500 people are linking to you from their websites, you can look at it as — 500 people has recommended your site.

Are All Links Treated Equally?

This is a very common question among the Webmasters. Well, The answer is “No”. Each website has their own “reputation profile” that enables them recommend other websites. Now when a high profile website links to you, their link value is much higher compared to a low profile website who is probably new in the market and doesn’t have any reputation to spare for you. A perfect example of this would be, Suppose if CNN links to your website, that particular link would be more trusted and will be more valued by the search engines due to the fact that CNN is a authoritative website and their news/stories are trusted by everyone. So if CNN links to you it gives an indication to the Search Engine that your website is also of high quality and value.

Which Sites are Worth Getting a Link From?

CNN is not the only authoritative site on the Internet, the above was just an example. There are thousands of other quality sites that have high authority. Now you may ask – “How do I determine the quality of the site”. Well below are some of the easy metrics that you can use to determine a site’s quality:

  • Age of the Website: The older it is, the better. Old sites are likely to be more Trusted by the Engines.
  • Page Rank: Even though I pay very little attention to this myself, But it is some what a good metric to determine the quality of the site. The only Page Rank that is visible to public is the Google Toolbar PR. Its a number between 0 to 10 where 10 denotes the highest quality and 0 denotes the lowest. The Toolbar Page Rank is updated every 3-4 months and its just a partial representation of the Actual Page Rank (an proprietary algorithm of Google to determine a site’s quality & rank them accordingly).
  • No. of Pages Indexed : This is another metric that I like to use to determine whether the site has a good search engine presence. If a site has thousands of pages indexed in Google, its an indication that the site has been in business for a long time and it some what trusted by Google. To find out how many pages are indexed, simply go to Google Search and type the following command – site:www.domain.com. This should show you all the pages of domain.com indexed in Google.
  • No. of Incoming Links : Since “authority” & “trust” flows from one domain to another via links, its important to see who is linking to the domain that you are testing for authority. There are many tools out there that can help you to check the link profile of any domain. e.g. Yahoo Site Explorer, Backlink Watch etc. The easiest way would be to type link:http://www.domainname.com in Google or Yahoo and it will show you a list of websites that are linking to that domain. Do note that Google often shows a lot less links compared to Yahoo. So if the site has a lot of good quality incoming links, then its likely that a link from that site will give your website a lot value.
  • Traffic: Traffic is often a good determinant of a quality website. To check how much traffic a site gets, you can use tools such as: Google Trends for Websites, Compete, Quancast, Alexa and so on. Remember, these tools are not 100% accurate and may not display the traffic information of all domains. (Websites below a certain traffic threshold is not being monitored by these services.)
  • Others: There are many automated applications out there that can help you to determine a site’s quality/authority on the web. E.g- SEOmoz Trifecta Tool.

How Do I Get These Links?

There are basically two types of link building, the first type is Organic (a.k.a Natural Linkbuilding) & the other type is “Artificial Linkbuilding”.

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Keyword Research – A Complete Walkthrough

Firstly, If you are new to the world of SEO & Search Marketing, I’d strongly advice you to read my Newbie Guide to SEO. It has all the basic elements that you may need to get your blog/website to rank in the search engines.

In that article I briefly touched on “finding a niche” and “…using keywords in Title” and someone emailed me last week to ask – “How to Find the Right Keyword(s) for a Blog?“. Well I basically gave her a brief answer already, but as promised I’m covering the whole “Keyword Research” topic in more detail here in the blog. If the post gets too lengthy please bear with me – I promise that by the end of the article you will become a Master of the Basics of Keyword Research & Optimization.

Before I continue, I advice you all to Subscribe to this blog (Free) by using the Email Subscription or RSS Subscription (..Located on the top right hand corner of this page…). The reason I want you to subscribe is, I’ll be covering some great topics here and I don’t really want you to miss anything!

What is Keyword Research?

In regards to Organic/Natural/Paid Search, Keyword research basically means researching for words that are supposedly going to be used by your customers/readers/visitors to find your website/blog/business/product.

Why Is Keyword Research Important?

Well, If you can know what your customer is looking for, its easy for you to sell them the right product. If a person is looking for a Dish washer but ends up in an online tire store, he is less likely to make a purchase.

So if you are selling tires online you need to know what ‘keywords’ or ‘search terms’ searchers use to search for your product online. For example are they searching for ‘tires’ or ‘wheels’?

– Car Tires <> Automobile Tiers ?
– Snow Tire <> Winter Tire ?
– Bridgestone Tire <> Firestone Tire ?

How would you know? How can you differentiate between all these keywords? How can you tell which one is more “important” or better (in terms of search volume).

Well all these questions can be answered when you will do a proper Keyword Research. Now since my target audience is Bloggers & Small Business owners, I’d like to give an example of how Keyword Research can actually help a blog to become successful. Lets say you have a technology blog and you write about all sorts of technology news, tutorials, how-tos, tips & hacks. You only get about 100 visitors a day and most of them are from your own community of friends. You don’t get any significant amount of traffic from search engines because most of the things that you write about are either “too general or common” (there are thousands, if not millions of pages on the same topic), or you just don’t know what people are interested in the technology arena. You only write about things that ‘you feel’ is important, but not necessarily the whole blogosphere thinks the same.

So after you did some basic keyword research, you noticed that people in your area of expertise/interest are searching for the following – (The amount of searches shown are from Google Alone! The figure will be even bigger if you consider the other engines on the market)

facebook group – 18,000+ searches/mo
Vista Theme for Xp – 33,100+ searches/mo
best free antivirus – 22,200+ searches/mo
backup iphone – 22,000+ searches/mo

And all these search phrases has “minimal” amount of competition in Paid + Organic search. (I’ll write about how to determine competition later in the article).

Now with the above data you created few ‘top-notch’ blog posts (I just made up some example titles)-

Target Keyword: “Facebook Group”

– How to Join a Facebook Group?
– How to Create a Facebook Group?
– How to Make a Facebook Group Popular?

Target Keyword: “Vista Theme for Xp”

– Top 20 Windows Vista Theme For Xp
– Beautiful Windows Vista Theme for Windows XP
– Collection of Windows Vista Theme for XP

Target Keyword: “Best Free Antivirus”

– Best Free Antivirus for Windows Vista
– Best Free Antivirus for Windows Xp
– The world’s Best Free Antivirus Review

Target Keyword: “backup iphone”

– How to Backup My Iphone?
– How to Backup your Iphone using Itunes?
– How to Backup Iphone Data?
– Iphone Backup Tutorial
– Free Iphone Backup Software

After writing the posts, you promoted them among your community and also via the social media and soon after they got indexed by google and some other major search engines, you got some decent ranking for some of those terms. As a result you to get an additional 10-20 thousand visitors / per month from the search engines. So from only an average of 100 visitors per day, you straight away jumped to 600 visitors per day! Now just think what you can accomplish, if you are always doing keyword research when thinking about writing your next blog post.

How to do Keyword Research?

Now that I have convinced you (I hope~) that keyword research is very important, let me go straight to the steps that you need to perform in order to do some basic keyword research.

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How to Rank Your Blog High in Search Engines

Every blogger dreams of getting a lot of targeted traffic from search engines. Because first of all – organic search traffic is absolutely FREE and secondly it gives the blogger a wider reach of audience. For instance, I’m from Malaysia but I believe a lot of you who are reading this are from different parts of the world. So a blogger doesn’t necessarily have to be limited to his own locality but with the help of Search engines his blog can reach out to the whole world.

Search Engine Optimization For Blogs

So Today I have decided to share some of the simple tips that anyone can implement in order to “Optimize” their blog and get good ranking in the search engines. Please note that this tutorial is not only limited to ‘blogs’ but any website that exists on the web. However the article has been written for bloggers in mind so some of the things may be a bit different for other types of sites.

Step 1: Know Your Self – Select a Niche – Set a Goal

The first step is to know yourself and your blog, so that you know exactly what you are writing about. Many bloggers just blog about their daily ramblings (like a personal diary). So if you are a blogger who only keeps your journal for your daily ramblings you are probably witting about – what you had for lunch, how much did your kitty ~poo~ today (jking) etc….

Is there anything wrong with that? Well absolutely not! Its your blog and you can write about anything you want. However the problem raises (especially among the asian bloggers) when it comes to “earning money from blog” or “getting international traffic”.

Unless you have a selected a “niche” (or many niches) that you are comfortable talking about, its very hard to attract traffic just by writing about ‘random’ stuffs.

For example – if you are a female blogger and you are particularly interested in fashion, your posts can be targeted for the fashion world. Your daily ramblings that you put up in your blog will then be more “fashion” related. E.g. new cloths you bought, picture of the latest shoe you saw in the mall etc. Similarly, if you are a car freak, your blog posts can be slightly partial about cars, racing, modifications, sound system and so on. A blogger can choose as many niches he/she wants like- politics, food, cooking, fashion, pets, lifestyle, dining, travel, technology etc.

So you should ask yourself, what are the topics that you are more comfortable to talk about? Whats Interests you? Once you have gotten that answer, slowly sail your blog to that direction.

No, You don’t need a new blog or a domain to do that. You can start writing ‘on your niche’ in your existing blog. And I’m not staying that because you choose fashion, you can’t write about “politics”. Remember, Its your blog so you are the Boss. You can write about absolutely anything you want. However if your writing has a particular focus, it would be easier for your readers to categorize your blog as a part of your respective niche. Even fashion and politics can be blended together if you are creative! (Think about it…)

So once you have selected your comfort zone, set a target for yourself. For example, how are you going to measure your success? It can be in terms of No. of visitors, No of RSS subscribers, Earnings from Blog etc.

Step 2: Optimize the Title of Your Blog Home Page

This is probably the most important “on-page optimization” factor that is the most easy to do. The title of your blog is what everyone sees on the top of their browser when they visit your blog. For search engines its the most important determining factor of what your blog is all about. So for instance, If your name is “John Doe” and you want everyone to find your blog when they search for your name in Google, you MUST put your name “John Doe” in your blog’s Title Tag. So You can perhaps format your title tag like – “John Doe’s Blog” or “John Doe – Recipe Blog” etc.

Bad Title Examples:

“My Daily Ramblings”
“My Blog”
“My Blah Blah”

Why are the above bad Titles? Because no one is actually going to search for “My Blog” in google. You should put something in your title that you think people will search for. Try to get some of the important keywords in your title, such as – your name, your blog’s name, keywords from your niche etc. So If my niche is digital cameras & photography, My title can be:

“John Doe: Digital Camera Review Blog”
“John Doe Digital Camera Blog”
“Digital Photography blog by John Doe”

……and other combinations that makes sense.

Step 3: Meta Tags Optimization

Even though not all meta tags are not as important as before, Meta Description tags are still very useful and a determining factor for increasing your chance of ranking in the search engines. So sometimes Title tags can’t do it alone, if you also optimize your Meta Descriptions tag, you have a higher chance of succeeeding.

A blog’s Meta description should contain a brief description of your blog focusing on the areas and niches that you often write about. This small piece of text can be considered as a selling snippet, if a reader finds it appealing he is likely to click and go inside your blog to find out more information. But if your Meta Description is too generic and isn’t written too well then there is a good chance that your blog will simply be ignored even though its probably ranking well in the search engine. Check out an example of a good meta description:

Example of a Good Meta Description

Now Why do I call the above a Good Example? Because:

  • The meta description is descriptive enough for a reader to know what to expect from the blog.
  • It contains important keywords – For instance, the name of the photographer is specified (e.g. Laura Novak), The type of photography is also described (e.g. Wedding & Portrait) and her locality is also specified (e.g. Wilmington, Delaware).
  • The meta description automatically appeals to someone who is looking for a wedding photographer in Wilmington. So If the searcher sees this result in the search engine.

Of course this description can be improved and further tweaked, but I guess you already got the general idea of having a good meta description.

Important things to include in your Meta Description:

  • Include your Selling Point– Tell your readers what they want to hear through your site’s Meta Description, and you will definitely get some advantage over others in the SERP (Search Engine Results Page). For instance – if you blog about digital camera and photography then including a phrase like “Digital Camera Review & Advanced Photography tips” may result in more clicks and visitors because your description will exactly match the flavor of search performed by the user.
  • Keywords – Including some of your keywords (E.g. Wedding Photography, Photography Tips, Camera Review) will give you some advantage in Google’s relevancy algorithm.

Step 4: Structuring Your Content

Another important thing is to structure your content so that its becomes more readable. Important text should go in top and less important text should go in the bottom. Usage of Bold, Italic, Heading (h1 tags) is a must. If you properly structure your content, it will be more readable for your readers and it will also help the search engines to determine what is more important. For example, when you write a new post, always choose the Post title carefully. Whatever you choose as the title becomes the Header of the particular page and it appears in “big letters”.

So if your post heading reads “I am Bored…” and inside the post only the first two line is about ‘why you are bored’ and after that the whole post is about How to cook cheese macaroni…Its just not going to work! Ask yourself, How do you usually read a newspaper? Do you start reading from the left and read every single word? No – we usually “skim” a newspaper and we look at the heading and if the heading interests us, we read the news beneath the heading.

Blog kind of works in the same way, if you have a poor heading you can’t expect people to read the whole entry. Similarly a Search engine will not consider your Post very related to “cheese macaroni” unless your heading has the words inside. So a Post title “How to Cook Cheese Macaroni” is better compared to “I am Bored….”.

Things to Remember:

  • Always use short Post Titles. Think of something that people may use to search for that particular post and use it as your title.
  • Always Use Header Tags (h1, h2, h3) effectively. If you have a big article, break it down into different sections and give each section a sub-heading.
  • Use Bold, Italic where necessary. Its often good to highlight important words so that they are easily noticeable to your readers as well as to the search engines

Step 5: Image Optimization

No matter what type of blog you are running, You must use a lot of images! Human eyes love images and its often said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Its actually true! If your blog has a lot of images, it would be a lot easier for you to engage your users. Moreover You can get additional traffic from Image search engines like (Google Images). When You are putting an image in your blog, you must optimize it for the search engines so that the search engine knows what the image says… (Search engines are dumb and so they can’t see inside images…yet).

Some Important Image Optimization Elements:

  • Alt text : ALT text or Alternate Text is the text to describe your image when your mouse moves over an image on your web page. The text should be meaningful but short. You can use your relevant keywords as ALT text. If your browser can’t display the image for some reason, the alt text is used in place of that particular image.
  • File name : always use meaningful file name for your images, use names like “apple-iphone-cover.jpg” instead of meaningless “DSC24045.jpg”. Keep image file name same or similar to the ALT text.
    Image Title : always use the title tag in images which will show the title as tool tip when a user moves his mouse over the image. Example of an image with title tag: [img src=”http://imagelocation.jpg” alt=”Image description” title=”Title of the Image”]
  • Image Linking : Whenever you want to link to your image, use the image keywords in your link text. Example: use “view an Apple iPhone”, instead of “Click here to view” as the anchor text.

Step 6: Keep your blog Up-to-Date

Search engines loves fresh, new content, so always feed them! Not only your blog will grow automatically if you always add something to it; search engines tend to come and spider your website more often if they always find something new. So you will have a higher chance of ranking high in the search engine if you keep on adding fresh, quality and unique content.

If you follow the 6 steps that I mentioned above, you blog will already be considered as one of the Search Engine Aware blogs. You will definitely see some improvements in your ranking as well as traffic.

Those of you who are using Blogger, Xanga, WordPress, Typepad and other blogging platforms and doesn’t know how to change “title” or meta description, I’ll definitely try to put up separate instruction guide for all of you. But there are hundreds of good resources already available on the internet, and you can simply do a Google search to find them =)

This guide is no way complete and its very basic as I have particularly wrote it for Newbie bloggers (especially those who have absolutely no idea about SEO). So if you run into any problem you are free to put your questions in the comments or you can always email me at – me[at]saadkamal.com.