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Ray Raps…20 Questions with Rebecca Lieb

Posted on: June 26th, 2009 by Joe Giordano 1 Comment

Learn the Latest Info You Need to Know About Search Engine Optimization with Econsultancy Vice President, Rebecca Lieb.

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RSS Ray talks search engine optimization, link building, keyword optimization, and superheros with Rebecca Lieb, Vice President of Econsultancy.

1. What are the three most important things a business must do to have high organic search engine rankings?

1. Have fresh, relevant and continually updated site content.

2. Use the keywords visitors use to find your site. Don’t know what they are? Conduct keyword research, starting with your analytics package.

3. Participate in social media. What and where depends on what kind of Web presence you aspire to have. Channels to consider include city and vertical business guides, review site, social networks and, of course, blogs and Twitter.

2. What are some of the best tools to help a business select the keywords they use to optimize their site?

The best place to start is with your own Web analytics package. With it you can see the words and phrases people are already using to find your site. I’d also recommend setting up a paid search advertising account with the Big Three search engines. Even if you don’t do PPC search, you can then use their free tools for additional keyword research and analysis. And there are plenty of other free keyword research tools out there, such as Wordtracker (http://freekeywords.wordtracker.com).

3. What can a business owner do right now to understand their effectiveness with search terms important to their business?

Think of the language your customers use to talk about your goods and services, not the words you use internally. You don’t want to use jargon, you want to reflect the terms people will use when they’re looking for you. If you’re a bank, for example, you ‘lend’ money. But that’s not what searchers are looking for. They want to ‘borrow’.

4. Explain content management systems and why they are important.

More than anything else, search engines look at the text on Web pages. How that text is architected, what pages are named, what articles and blog entries are called, whether or not there’s metadata and tags — all these elements make a search engine spider’s job really, really easy or really, really hard. If SEO is important to you, you need to make life easy for the spiders. A solid, search-optimized CMS is a critical tool that goes far to make your content findable by search engines.

5. What are some of the criteria a small business can use to evaluate a prospective content management system?

One of the first things I look at is URL structure. Consider these two URLs – both are articles on climate change:

http://www.sitename.com/article.php3?id_article=10084

http://sitename.com.ph/world/11377-climate-bill-to-cut-us-deficit.html

The second URL isn’t just telling search engines what the page is about, it’s telling searchers, too. Search engine friendly and user friendly are never far apart.

A good CMS should also offer option for tagging and metadata. If you want to know what to look for, I recommend taking a look at blog platforms. All are content management systems, and they’re some of the most SEO-friendly CMS systems out there.

6. Most SME’s don’t know what a meta tag is. Please tell us what they are and how they are used by search engines.

Meta data are short pieces of descriptive text that supplies information about what something is. Web page meta data contain keywords, as well as a short description of what’s on that page – you see it turn up in search results under the page title. This information helps search engines “understand” what a page is about, and it helps users, too. Similarly, you can add metadata to images, video, and any other type of media file that might appear on a Web page. Remember – a search engine doesn’t know that picture portrays an apple, nor does it know whether it’s a Granny Smith apple, or an Apple iPod. So use meta data to help search engines and users alike figure this out.

7. What’s the best way to build links?

They don’t call it link love for nothing. Linking is in large part about reciprocity. Link out, and others will link back to you. Often, it helps to ask nicely. But you don’t want just any links. You want links from reputable and relevant sites.

8. What should we understand before paying for a link?

Do you have to pay for it – and is it worth it? You can get plenty of free links just from being listed in relevant directories and guides, for a start. Search engines frown on paying for links just for the sake of having them, and will penalize sites that do this too flagrantly or too much, so those paid links can cost a lot more at the end of the day when you’re banned from Google (the worst-case scenario). That said, online ads are, in a sense, paid links. Exercise common sense and do what’s right for you, not what you think is right for a search engine.

9. Are all links created equal?

Heavens no! Remember, you’re looking for Reputable and Relevant. So a link from a long-established, heavily-trafficked site like The New York Times is worth way more than a link from The Podunk Journal. Similarly, if you sell screwdrivers, a link to or from a reputable hardware store or home-repair site is worth more than one from a site that sells something like toe shoes or ladies lingerie.

10. How can we tell if a link building company can really help us get higher search rankings?

I’d prefer to make linking part of an overall SEO strategy rather than outsource just that piece of an SEO campaign, unless it’s a very, very big campaign. If you do go outside, make sure they’re keeping things relevant and reputable – not connecting you to “link farms.”

11. How does social media help us get higher organic search rankings?

Social media is, in effect, about media begetting more media. It encourages relevance, context and discussion. It provides links, and offers the opportunity for everyone to participate – which enables frequently updated content. All these factors go far in SEO.

12. Tell us about universal search and why it’s important to marketers?

The game is changing. With local, news, video, book and other results appear on search engine results pages, you have to optimize more stuff to stay in the game. Moreover, all those elements on the SERPs mean less space for old fashioned Web pages results – a real game changer.

13. With the trend by search engines to personalize results, what can we do to ensure we have top rankings for all searchers?

Do you want top rankings for ALL searchers? Are you sure? Maybe you do if you’re Coca Cola, or sell toothpaste, or some other universally used CPG product. Personalized results help put the right results in front of the right people. If you sell cars, why get your Jaguar results in front of a third grader who’s writing a term paper on big cats in Africa?

14. Search engines have trouble seeing and indexing audio and video. What can we do if we have lots of video or audio on our site to get top rankings?

Use lots and lots of descriptive meta data! Put it not only in the meta data fields of the files themselves, but also in the Web page copy around and nearby those files. Use the title, the what (the name of the band, or people you’ll see/hear in the file, topics covered, etc). And if you have the time and resources, a transcript of the spoken word text is a great optimization technique.

15. In your book, “The Truth About Search Engine Optimization“, you state that “Being #1 Ain’t What It Used To Be.” What do you mean by that?

As search evolves into ever-higher levels of technical sophistication, Number One becomes a slippery topic. What’s #1 on a page, anyway? The top news result? The top Web page? Local result? Universal search (see above) is one of many game changers in this area. Personalized search, results influenced by behavioral data, and soon, by social media use, will all contribute to making your top search result for a given query very different from the one I get. The more search evolves, the less it’s a one-size-fits-all solution insofar as the search results you see are.

16. Is optimizing your website for search engines a one-time process?

Search engine optimization has a beginning, but it doesn’t have an end. Web sites change, search algorithms change, your priorities, products and services shift over time. Search never sleeps. So neither can SEO tactics or strategies.

17. What needs to be done on an on-going basis?

You can get all the many parts of SEO right. But that doesn’t mean they’ll stay right. Are you adding a blog? Video? A microsite? Language shifts – are your keywords changing too? What are your competitors up to? Is there a new social media platform that needs your attention? All this, and more, has SEO implications — with more to come, I promise!

18. Describe what type situations merit outsourcing your search engine optimization efforts?

SEOs are highly in demand these days and can be difficult to retain. If you’re a smaller company without the in-house expertise, it’s likely better to outsource. And don’t forget that SEO spans two very different disciplines: IT and marketing. Ideally, whoever’s handling your SEO should be very well versed in the right- and left-brain skills needed in each of this very different disciplines.

19. How do you know who to hire?

As with any other hire, get references and speak with former clients and/or employers. And for heaven’s sake, never hire anyone who promises you’ll be “#1 on Google.” Only Google controls Google.

20. Who is your favorite superhero and why?

Catwoman is my favorite superhero because her threads just rock!

Rebecca oversees Econsultancy’s operations in the United States. An expert in interactive marketing and advertising, she is also an an editorial consultant and contributor to The ClickZ Network, after serving as its editor-in-chief for over seven years. For a portion of that time, Rebecca ran Search Engine Watch. Her book, The Truth About Search Engine Optimization, was published in early 2009 by FT Press.

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One Response

  1. Sue Massey says:

    You know, I have to tell you, I really enjoy this blog and the insight from everyone who participates. I find it to be refreshing and very informative. I wish there were more blogs like it. Anyway, I felt it was about time I posted, I’ve spent most of my time here just lurking and reading, but today for some reason I just felt compelled to say this.

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