Monthly Archives: December 2016

Reuse URLs to Preserve Authority

As a final note on the topic of on-site authority, whenever possible you want to re-use existing URLs that already have links to them, rather than building new versions.

For example, if you have an article on the best vacation spots of 2013 that got some links and attention — reuse that page when you do the 2014 article! Rather than making a whole new page and starting over from scratch, just replace the contents with the 2014 content. Then your new article is already starting out with a bunch of links pointing to it and a history of good user metrics, making it more likely to rank.

If you really want to preserve the old content, make a new article for the old stuff and backdate it!

Obviously this technique only works if the old content is no longer attracting visits and links. This is commonly used in the ecommerce industry for Black Friday sales: sites like Amazon.com and Target.com don’t make a brand new URL every year — they use the exact same Black Friday URL year after year so that it can continue to accumulate more and more and more links (which makes it increasingly difficult for anyone just entering the game to compete for rankings).

You should think ahead when using this technique and make sure that your URL does not include date info. Amazon surely doesn’t want its Black Friday page to live at amazon.com/black-friday-2008, for example.

Nofollow Links & When to Use Them

We’ve mentioned nofollow links before in the authority overview, and it’s about time to explain them in more detail. Nofollow is just an attribute you can give to any link you create to prevent that link from passing any authority or ranking factors. The html for a normal link looks like this:

<a href=”http://www.domain.com/awesome.html”>Click Here</a>

That is the standard, simple, default link format that will pass authority and help the target page rank better. The text “Click Here” will be the highlighted link. A nofollow link looks like this:

<a href=”http://www.domain.com/awesome.html” rel=”nofollow”>Click Here</a>

The nofollow link will not pass any authority signals and will not directly help the target page rank better. Despite the name, however, Google will follow nofollow links — Googlebot often crawls these links, but makes a note that they don’t count for ranking purposes.

Many webmasters and SEOs use this attribute incorrectly. As we learned in PageRank, the PageRank that flows out from a page is divided by the number of links. Some SEOs still use nofollow to try to concentrate more PageRank into the other links: this does not work. Some SEOs think that Google won’t follow a nofollow link: this is not true. Google does follow them.

There are basically only three kinds of links you will want to make nofollow:

  1. Any kind of paid link, or link you were compensated for in any way, should be nofollowed. It’s against Google rules to pay for a link that passes PageRank, and a site that buys or sells links can get severely penalized by Google. Thus all ads should be nofollowed.
  2. User Generated Content (UGC) links should be nofollowed. This means anyplace where a user can write something on your page — like forums, comments, reviews — any link they include should automatically be nofollowed. You have no control over where they might link and you want to distance your site from those links, particularly if they link to spammy sites. Further, keeping them nofollow will somewhat reduce the amount of spam you get (from all the SEOs trying to use your forums/comments to build links to their own sites).
  3. Any links to sites you really, really don’t want to help. If for some reason you are linking out to a site that you are competing with for rankings (perhaps you sell information on Black Mold and want to link to the Wikipedia page but don’t want to help it outrank you) you will want to nofollow that link.

For the most case, other than ads and UGC, none of your links should be nofollow. Links to your privacy terms or to your social media account do not need to be nofollow, and it doesn’t help you if they are.

The Key to Understanding Nofollow Links

The core principle to remember with nofollow links is that making a link nofollow does not help your site in any way. All it does is prevent that link from helping another site. But your site will flow the same amount of PageRank and be crawled just the same regardless of what you do with nofollow.

Pagination

Most sites have some form of pagination in them. Blogs show the most recent articles, then you can click through pagination for lists of older articles. The product listing pages of ecommerce stores have pagination to go through the entire list of products in any category.

Google used to have problems with pagination and sometimes it would rank, for example, page 3 instead of the first page. This is bad because you usually have the first page of the series optimized to be the best user experience.

Google created rel=prev and rel=next tags to better understand pagination. With these tags Google understands when its seeing a paginated series and it knows what the first page of the series is.

For very large sites, pagination can be somewhat important: for small sites it’s usually not important at all unless you know Google is ranking the wrong page of a paginated series.

Here’s how you can implement pagination:

In the <head> section of the page code, include the following for each paginated page:

<link rel=”next” href=”http://www.yourdomain.com/the-next-url.html” />
<link rel=”prev” href=”http://www.yourdomain.com/the-previous-url.html” />

The “next” URL should be the next page in the series: so if you’re currently on page 2, the “next” will be the URL for page 3. Similarly the “prev” URL should be the previous page in the series: so if you’re currently on page 2, the “prev” will be the URL for page 1.

If you’re on the first page, you don’t need to include the “prev” line, and if you’re on the last page you don’t need to include the “next” line.

There is alternate markup that you can use if you have a View All page in addition to your Pagination. I generally don’t recommend using this, because if you have a View All page, that is the one that Google will want to return in search results, and the View All page is usually not the best user experience (if it was, you’d just use that and not have any paginated results, after all).

If you really want to have both pagination and a View All and serve the View All in the search results, instructions for that can be found here.

Duplicate Content & Rel=Canonical

Another way to control the authority flow within your site that is specific to duplicate content is rel=canonical. This code is used when your site has multiple pages that are nearly identical. This happens in almost every site of any size and isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some site features that create duplicate content include:

  • On ecommerce sites anything that lets you change the order in which products are displayed usually creates duplicate content. If you let the user sort by best-selling, or by price (and you should) that will usually create a variant URL, but the content of the page is identical — just in a different order
  • On blogs your archive pages usually create duplicate content. For example when you look under categories, or tags, you’re getting a list of the same blog posts that exist elsewhere.
  • Ecommerce sites that use the category structure in the URL create duplicate product pages when there are different paths to navigate to a product. You might access a product both at site.com/blue-shoes/awesome-sneakers and site.com/mens-shoes/awesome-sneakers for example

Having internal duplicate content isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Google has even said that 25% of all the pages on the internet are duplicate pages; it’s a part of site design that makes navigation better for users and Google has learned how to deal with it.

The problem for SEOs is controlling which page ranks, and the greater issue of dilution of authority.

When Google sees two or more pages on your site that are mostly duplicates of each other (they can be slightly different and still be duplicate content) Google will choose just one of those pages to rank, and that might not be the page you want it to be.

Furthermore, perhaps some people link to one URL of your content and other people link to the other URL. Maybe you have 20 links to this great page you’ve created, but there are only 10 links to each version. Now that page only has half the links it should and isn’t ranking nearly as highly.

Enter Rel=Canonical

This is where rel=canonical comes in. This tag sits in the <head> portion of your site code and tells Google which version of a page is the canonical version — which is the official version that Google should rank. Every version should have the rel=canonical tag and they should all point to the same official URL. Then any links to any version of the page counts as if it was going to the canonical version (technically you still lose 15% of the link juice, so 85% of the authority passes).

Here’s what rel=canonical should look like, somewhere between the <head> and </head> tags:

<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://www.domain.com/canonical-url.html” />

As a best practice, every page of your site that you let Google index should have the rel=canonical tag pointing to the official version. The reason is there are a lot of ways for people to link to you that changes the URL: you could get links with a refid or UTM code (which are parameters that are used for tracking purposes) and most large sites have multiple ways to render a URL and even the engineers who work on the site code aren’t familiar with all of them.

What you have to be careful to avoid, however, is having duplicate content that each canonical to different sources. This won’t hurt you or penalize you, just Google will then decide it needs to ignore the canonical and once again makes its own decision about what to rank.

You can also point the canonical tag to an entirely different site (or subdomain). If you have two different websites, but have certain content that is identical on both sites (duplicate articles, guides, products, etc.) you can choose which site should be the canonical version.

In most cases, canonical implementation is something that you’ll need to talk to your webmaster about. They can either code them to dynamically generate based on internal logic, or they can code them so that you can set the canonical version on each page of your CMS yourself. If you have a WordPress site, you don’t need to worry about canonical tags, because WordPress takes care of that for you.

Rel=canonical is a very useful tool for making sure the correct page is ranking, and ensuring that it ranks as best as it can and it’s an important SEO best practice that should be put in place when your site is created — and as soon as possible if your site was built without it.

Testing SEO

Any good SEO will inevitably spend a decent amount of time conducting SEO tests. Some of these tests are pretty much universal: does Google count internal anchor text (no), do you need text on your page (yes).

You might conduct a test with something silly like this:

But others are very site specific: do title tags actually matter for your site in your implementation (sometimes no, usually yes). And of course sometimes we’re not trying to measure how Google works, but rather just trying to measure how much lift we see from a particular implementation — which lets us accurately estimate the ROI for putting in the work; or alternatively accurately measuring the impact that our work had.

When it comes to measuring how Google treats links, we often do it by linking to random sites with ridiculous anchor text, like stynkeetootsaplop or something similarly strange. The idea is that since nothing ranks for the word, if the target site starts ranking for it, we know Google counted the link and passed anchor text.

Other possible crazy phrases could include any of the following:

The easiest way to generate gibberish phrases for testing is to combine random strings of numbers and letter, preferably pretty long ones — 15 to 20 characters. But I much prefer trying to come up with strange phrases that almost sound like a real thing.

Because in the world of SEO, you’re gonna do a lot of testing, so you might as well have some fun with it!

SEO Hero

Most SEOs by now are aware of the SEO Hero challenge from Wix. In an effort to promote their web platform and prove that it’s good for search engine optimization, they are offering a fifty thousand dollar prize if anyone can rank #1 in Google for the phrase SEO Hero — but they will be competing too. In Doctor McAwesome fashion, I’ve built a site to compete in a slightly different way.

Basically instead of using search engine optimization for my own gain, I’m committing to donating the entire prize money to charity.

The idea here is to see if I can get the SEO community to come together around a good cause — set aside individual pursuits of profit to do some good. The basic strategy of the site is to assume goodwill on the part of SEO consultants and agencies: that they will be willing to link to the project to try to send that prize money to a good cause.

The Real Challenge

Honestly, I don’t think the real challenge is outranking all the other SEO Hero sites that are competing (part of the rules of the contest is you have to start with a brand new site, without any registration history, and thus no link history). The real challenge is going to be outranking the sites that aren’t competing, that have ranked for SEO Hero for years.

Some of these are agency sites, and currently one of the top results is SEO Round Table’s article reporting the Wix contest. Sites that have had years to build up not only their domain authority, but also their user metrics and their topical relevance to SEO are going to be tough to outrank.

In addition to a swarm of links, success is going to require driving meaningful traffic to the site (which hopefully a swarm of links will help with) as well as good searcher behavior. i have some ideas to help with user metrics — but for now my main focus is just going to be to build up a stable of links and establish some authority.

If the site gains any traction at all for SEO Hero searches, and makes it in striking distance, it will be very interesting to see how a brand new site with a few months of authority and user signals can compete in Google against sites with years of history.

if nothing else, the competition will provide a very interesting testing ground!