Tag Archives: SEO

linkation, location, libation

Is it possible to agree with Dustin Luther, while taking Greg Swann’s advice? Would it be less two faced to dispute Mary McKnight’s theory on blog roles, and then decide to follow her advice? You could say I’m on every side of the blog roll debate, I’ll even argue that I helped establish the RE.net phenomenon of linkation in the first place.

In the beginning, there was Hugh Hewitt.

lenderama became a full fledged blog in January of 2005. Yep, three years ago. There weren’t many RE blogs to look for guidance from. So I took my queues from political blogs. It was the whole RatherGate/Pajamahadeen fiasco in the fall of 2004 that convinced me of power of blogging in the first place. I’m a libertarian who usually holds his nose to vote for Republicans. For me, it’s the least worst choice. I read political blogs on both sides, but the one I enjoy most is from Hugh Hewitt. Hugh wrote a book about blogs that influenced me heavily in forging my lenderama. I was not alone. Very quickly, a list of “Hugh Hewitt inspired Bloggers” sprouted up, and I joined the list. Most members put the list on their own blogs. It became a serious Google juicer, before I even understood what Google juice was. Just a week or so went by, and I started ranking better in the search engines. My first conclusion… Blog rolls are good.

Then along came Hanan.

So blogrolls are good, but I really didn’t think a bunch of political blogs belonged on an industry blog about mortgages. I decided to actively seek out real estate and mortgage blogs to trade links with. This was a problem because there were like three mortgage blogs, and the real estate blogs I found didn’t seem all that interested in linking to a site about mortgages. At the same time, I found grow-a-brain. Hanan was making a monthly post about the real estate blogs he found. this gave me the idea to make a blog about realty blogs. I billed it as a directory, but really it was just a blogroll. Every post was a description of a real estate blog I found. Most descriptions were cut & pastes of the blogs themselves. I linked to it from lenderama. Hanan liked the idea and linked to it from grow-a-brain. By the summer of 2005, it had a Google PR of 4, and that was just in time for all sorts of new bloggers who understood what page rank was to come along and beg to be listed. All I asked for in return was a link back. Now my opinion was, blogrolls are freaking awesome.

Google likes blogrolls, but what about my readers?

Before long, I had well over 150 real estate and mortgage blogs in my blogroll. I have an industry blog, so exposing my readers to these blogs seamed like a reasonable endeavor. The only problem was that my web statistics software was showing that nobody ever really clicked on those links. Further more, very few inbound links came form all of those blogrolls that were linking to me. Ok, so Google likes blogrolls, but I think blog readers are mostly ambivalent to them.

Behold, the “insanely great idea

When the Google custom search engine came along, I knew it was a far better idea than a blog roll. At least from the perspective of a reader. If they can’t find what they were looking for on one RE blog, this was a widget that would let them search other trusted real estate blogs throughout RE.net. Kind of makes the idea of trudging through a blogroll seem entirely ridiculous. Despite whatever Google had in store for me, I decided to let my blogrolls die on the vine. I stopped adding to them, and cropped off names as those blogs went dark, or stopped linking to me.

I think Mary’s fundamentally wrong, but I took her advice anyway.

Mary McKnight and the staff at RSS Pieces wrote a some controversial posts about how blogrolls were the bane of their existence. I think at some level, they’re probably right. A brand new blog with 2000 links on it would make me wonder. I could see why Google might sandbox it. My own experience however, told me that a reasonable number of like minded links was a good thing in Google’s eyes. Still, I was off the blogroll bandwagon when I started this Blog Fiesta last summer. I decided to experiment with linking to other blogs in the posts themselves, just as Mary suggested. It’s not a coincidence that every blogger interviewed has been asked, “what are your favorite blogs?”. I also never once bothered to ask anyone to link back to me. Four months later, I had a PR 4. Mary’s way of doing things seemed to work just fine.

Fake Greg Swan threw me a curve.

If you missed out on The Secret Diary of Greg Swann (FGS), well I guess your holiday guests were more interesting than mine. My attempt at an anonymous blog failed, but the lesson I learned was a complete revelation to me. I already knew that all bloggers are at best, curious, and more likely, vain. With tools like Technorati, and Google blog search, it doesn’t take much to get a blogger’s attention. Just link to them. I learned it here on the Fiesta. When I built FGS, I decided that the best way to get a lot of attention early was to link to lot’s of blogs at once. Even though I didn’t think much of blogrolls, it was the most obvious way to do so. I launched FGS on the morning of Dec 24th. By new years day, I had generated 2000 page views. My top referrer was the WordPress Dashboard. If you don’t use WordPress, that my not make sense. But the dashboard is the back end home page for a wordpress blog. It’s also where bloggers can see who is linking to them, and click through to that site.

The epiphany

Blogrolls are viral. They aren’t primarily about SEO. They aren’t for the benefit or detriment of readers. Blogrolls are blogosphere equivalent of throwing sheep.

I think Greg Swann is wrong. Linking to Bloodhound or 4Realz has virtually zero downside because blogrolls are ignored by most blog readers. I think Dustin is wrong because Mary and I have proven that you certainly don’t need a big list of links taking up space on your sidebar to create favorable page rank. I think Mary is wrong, because that big “popularity contest” that her staff finds useless is disproved by my results on FGS. I’ve obviously proven myself wrong in this evolution. Of course they are all right as well. I don’t think there’s a completely proper answer.

Moving Forward – Linkation, location, libation

My latest endeavor is Denver Modern. I’m creating a hyper-focused, local blog. It has a blogroll. All the links are local. All have been chosen for a specific reason that has nothing to do with Google, my readers, or RE.net. My advice is Linkation, location, libation. Link to other local bloggers as though you were offering to buy them a drink. Link to anyone you want to be friends with. That probably means you should link to bloggers in your locality, but if you want to link to lenderama, hey, I’m not going to pursued you otherwise.

What if Google craps out on Active Rain?

Active Rain is a top notch social networking platform. But as an SEO engine, I think it’s a bit of a gamble.

There’s no shortage of bloggers who have commented on how Active Rain has helped them rank better. For those who consider this icing on the cake, I agree. But for those on AR who are their primarily for SEO, I think you’re talking a huge risk. As competition for AR’s Google juice rises, the number of bad actors will rise with it. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to conceive that they could find a way to play the system that eventually garners Google’s attention.

It doesn’t even have to be the bad guys. How many bloggers post duplicate content on AR? Google apparently doesn’t have a problem with duplicate content today. But what if they change their mind? Just something to think about.

Key word SEO is at best, a hedged bet.

“It’s all about the meta tags”. That was a favorite saying of one of the salesmen I sat next to, selling websites for Myers Internet. Keep in mind that this was eight years ago. Yahoo was the king search engine, and only nerds like me used Google. This catch phrase was part of his sales pitch as to how Myers was going to make this Loan Officer’s web site rank high in the search engines. I’m not sure if he knew what it meant, but meta tags were little bits of code to tell a search engine what a web site is all about.

Search Engines weren’t all that powerful at the time. For Yahoo to know the focus of your web site, you needed to give them these digital Cliff Notes to help them sort it out. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but competition to rank highly in these engines led web masters to manipulate “optimize” meta tags until their site ranked best, even if it wasn’t. By 1999-2000 search engines like Yahoo, Alta Vista, and Lycos were becoming less and less effective as more people learned how to game the system.

The first time I used Google was simply astounding. I actually emailed everyone I knew to tell them to try it. By comparison, Google was leap-years ahead of it’s competition. The secret to Google’s success is that they concentrated more on the content published than the site publishing it. They layered that with a trust system that gave pages additional clout based on how many other sources linked to it. All of the SEO wizards had two new challenges. One, was to get as many people as possible to link to their pages. But more importantly, the second challenge was to figure out how to manipulate content to deliver the best possible search results. Most of this is done in a very white hat manner, allowing Google to continue to reign supreme in the search engine wars.

But Keyword SEO is beginning to create the same diluted results that Meta Tags manipulation did at the turn of the century. The premise behind Keyword SEO is to write content that is rich in certain terms of value. For instance, if your blog about Brittany Spears, and you mention her in the title of every post, then three or more times in the content of the post, making the effort to type out her name each time instead of simply saying “she”, then presumably, Google will come along and see that you are mentioning her quite a bit, and rank you higher when somebody queries about her. For the most part, this actually works. If your key words are focused on something less competitive than “Brittany Spears” you might have a decent chance of showing up well in search results.

There’s a downside though. You may want to garner lots of traffic from a particular key word, but those visiting may have no use for your site. There’s still value in planting you virtual business card in front of as many eyes as possible, but the work it takes to own a keyword can sometimes not be worth the trouble. On top of that, writers who become to aggressive in stuffing keywords into their posts become harder to read. Still, key word SEO is an effective online strategy today.

But what about tomorrow? Folks, my reason for writing this post is that I’ve seen the future today. Just as Google toppled Yahoo, I’ve seen the technology that can do the same to the current champ. I was just invited to contribute to Powerset Labs. This is a beta site to help develop Powerset’s new Natural Language Search Engine. It’s not a finished product yet, but from what I can tell, Powerset will make key words no more relevant than meta tags. When a query is performed, Powerset looks at what’s being queried, then thinks of all the other ways a human might make the same query, then searches it’s data base. The key words that were entered into that little search box are now mixed in with a thesaurus of synonyms and related content. All the time spent by a webmaster writing the same key word over and over will have a largely diminished effect. In fact, it might even hurt. Now, if the competition who wrote about the same subject, using a bevy of synonyms to your keywords, they might actually rank better.

I can’t tell you that Powerset will replace Google. Who knows, maybe Google will buy them, or maybe they will come out with an even more effective algorithm of their own. However, what’s obvious to me is that SEO has once again grown to powerful, and a dithering of key word relevance is sure to come.