On Episode 65 of The Edge of Innovation, we’re talking with Ed Alexander of fanfoundry.com about how to optimize your website for SEO.

Show Notes

Ed Alexander’s fanfoundry.com
Find Ed Alexander on Twitter
Contact Ed Alexander
Find Ed Alexander on LinkedIn
Find Ed Alexander on Facebook
Search Engine Optimization: Getting on Page One
Google Trends
Link SaviorLabs Cybersecurity Assessment

Sections

Introduction
SEO: Search Engine Optimization
What You Can Do About SEO?
What is Google Trends?
Optimizing Your Website
Location Based Optimization
Creating an Authoritative Voice: Blogging Relevant Content
How to Get Your Blog Post To Be Found
Systematic Indexing – Using the Right Words
Blog Articles Should Be Recent and Relevant – Keep It Fresh
Become An Authority on Your Topic
Using In-Bound Links
Link to Authoritative Sources in Your Blog Articles

Optimizing Your Website for SEO with Ed Alexander

Introduction

Paul: Hello, everyone. This is Paul Parisi with the Edge of Innovation. I’m here with Ed Alexander of FanFoundry.com. Hello, Ed.

Ed: Hey, Paul. It’s nice to be back again. Thanks for inviting me. Things must have gone well last time.

Paul: Well, yes. Exactly. Yes. We’ve had billions and billions of listens just of our episode, so… I don’t exaggerate — ever. So, I thought we had a great, great discussion. We had a great discussion on all things sort of marketing and the digital age. And today we have a couple of topics we’d like to touch on.

SEO: Search Engine Optimization

So, today we’re going to focus on SEO, which is the acronym for Search Engine Optimization. What is search engine? What is optimization? What is all that? So let’s get into that. So when you hear the word SEO, what do you think of?

Ed: That’s a great start for a question, Paul. When I think hear the word SEO, it’s often out of the mouths of the babes — right? — a client or a prospect saying, “What do you know about SEO, Ed?” or “Paul,” or whoever you happen to be that day. I typically answer that question with a question. And my question is this: When you think of SEO, what are you thinking… What are you trying to do? You’re trying to get visitors to your website? You’re trying to game the Google search engine? What do you think that involves and what’s your positioning about that?

And I get responses along the lines of, “Yeah, affirmative. That’s all they’re interested in. But we really don’t know enough about it. All we know is it works for some people, and we really haven’t explored it enough to really know what we’re doing. So can you help us there?”

Paul: I always hear SEO, and I sort of hear people saying, “I need SEO,” like a bucket of SEO or a jar of peanut butter. They want to just buy it.

Ed: That’s right. “I’ll take a side of SEO, please.”

Paul: Well is it a side, or is it a main course? I think that really gets into your point there. What do you want to accomplish with it? So it’s not the main course. It promotes the main course. Right?

Ed: Right. So I think of SEO as having three main definitions, no matter who’s approaching it or what they’re talking about. The first one of them is they want good, quality visitors to their website. Notice I said good quality, not quantity, because I don’t think any one of you wants to be inundated with interruptions from people who will never buy. So you want quality traffic. You want the right people to be knocking on your door. And the second one, closely following that is quantity of quality visitors. A large number of quality visitors. So splitting hairs, but you get their I’m going with this. And the more people hear about that, the most they shake their heads and say, “Yeah, yeah. That’s more like it. I want quality visitors, and I want lots of them.” Not just lots of visitors.

Paul: Sounds good.

Ed: And then, of course, I also want that just to happen on its own. It has to be organic and whatever effort I do, whatever levers I pull, I’d like to have some kind of a multiplier effect because we all have the same 24-hour clock. I can’t scale my attention and time and have a balanced life. So how do we scale it? How do we multiply the benefits and the effects of it? So, when I hear those things… That’s sort of my series of definitions of what SEO could possibly mean.

Now there’s another one we haven’t talked about and that has to do with the history, kind of the DNA, or the genesis, of the whole SEO discipline, if you want to call it that. Meaning, there was a time most, many people can remember where, if you did certain things on your webpage, you could cleverly, technically cause a landslide of attention to come to your website. You can be on page one of name-the-search-engine’s search results for some time. Or perhaps, you could even purchase that position if you spent enough money, which is… If you’re in the airline business, and you’re American Lines, you can afford to do that. Right? If you’re into banking, and you’re Bank of America, you can afford to do that. So money can talk.

But even so, most of that has…I won’t say it’s vanished so much as it’s become rarified. And so that’s business. If you’re selling SEO services, it’s probably not a game you want to be in because your feet will be held to the fire, and it’s a bottomless pit. You’re always going to have to spend more money next week once this week’s budget is worn out. So you’re really just spending a lot of your marketing dollars on gaming the ads to show up on a position of the search engines, or you’re really trying to attract the right quality audience, period. So, which game would you rather play? What one is more evergreen, frankly? Certainly not the budget buster where you’re buying an ad. So I don’t really include in SEO the notion of buying advertising.

Paul: It’s sort of a manipulation technique.

Ed: Exactly. It’s a related but separate topic.

What You Can Do About SEO?

Ed: So what are the things you can do if you don’t have a budget, a billion-dollar budget, that will at least generate quality leads? And over time, with tenacity and persistence, quality flow of leads into your business?

Well, there are some things you can do, and they’re basics.

Paul: Sure. What are those?

What is Google Trends?

Ed: When I think basics, I think of starting by researching your topic well enough to get an idea of how it’s regarded. There are pretty easy tools if you’re in business and you don’t have a big budget. You can do things for free. You could use Google Trends. I love Google Trends because I can research the right approximate title to use for a blog article.

Paul: Okay. You mentioned Google Trends.

Ed: Yes, thank you.

Paul: What is Google Trends?

Ed: It’s a free tool that’s available from Google. You can just search on trends.google.com, or just use Google’s search engine or Bing or whatever and search on the key phrase “Google trends” and it will pop up. It’s a website. It’s a free website.

Paul: But what do I do? What do I do with it?

Ed: Think of it as another search engine that gives you an additional layer of intelligence.

Paul: So if I’m selling shoes, I can go into Google Trends and type in “shoes”?

Ed: You can start by typing in “shoes,” but you and I know that a single word like “shoes” is a bit broad. Think long tail.

Paul: Well, let’s say snowshoes.

Ed: Yeah. Think long tail. Think phrase, and think multiple words. So let’s use shoes for an example. Maybe it’s snowshoes, and you want to look at the trends and people searching on the word snowshoes over time. For example, you can ask yourself and pause the, pose the question, “Has snowshoeing become a more or less popular pastime in the winter?” Were more people searching on snowshoes last winter than the winter before?

Paul: So it’s search traffic, you’re saying.

Ed: Sure.

Paul: So it allows me to say, “Okay, there were a thousand last year, and there’s 50 in June.”

Ed: Almost. If we look at Google Trends right now, if you close your eyelids and the graph on the back of my eyelids shows me a trend graph, not numerical, but simply a trend line that shows me, on a seasonal or calendar-wise, date-by-date, slice-in-time basis where the ebbs and flows and peaks and trend lines are.

Paul: Does it have any magnitude?

Ed: It typically uses a 100% factor, saying, “At some point in time, this was the highest amount of search that ever occurred.” Maybe it was last year, this time—

Paul: Right. But you can’t tell—

Ed: That becomes your 100% point.

Paul: And now we’re at 50% or 25%.

Ed: Exactly right. Exactly right.

Paul: But it doesn’t tell us that there was one search or a thousand searches.

Ed: Correct. It never tells you the count of searches. It tells you the trend over time, based on a base of 100, which is the highest or low of whatever it is you’re trying to search on and measure. So if you see a trend line that says, geez, two years ago, only 50% as many people were looking for snowshoes as are looking for it today during this winter season buying snowshoes. That tells me that maybe, if I’m a retailer, and I’m in the outdoor apparel business, I may want to think about stocking more snowshoes this time around than last year, and making sure people know that I have that product so that I can sell more of what people are looking to buy. You’re meeting the market based on what it’s telling you its trend is.

Likewise, on converse, if you find out that the trends in snowshoes has sort of gone down a bit, you may want to hedge the bet and say, “I’m not going to pre-order too many snowshoes this year only because that’s inventory not paying its rent on the shelves that I could rather fill with a more popular item.”

So a retailer can make some judgments about their inventory and their forecast sales based on what they see happening in the snowshoe world.

Paul: And does it go back more than a year?

Ed: You can slice it by a year, two, or up to five years.

Paul: Okay. So I could look at periodic events. So every December, snowshoe searches goes up. So now I’d say, okay. So we’re talking about search engine optimization.

Ed: Yeah, and specifically about Google Trends as a tool.

Optimizing Your Website

Paul: Right. But here’s the thing. This is where I think it gets fuzzy for people, is we’re not really optimizing the search engine. We’re optimizing our website so the search engine likes it.

Ed: Exactly right. You’re not gaming the search engine.

Paul: Well, you’re trying to.

Ed: Sure. Well, what you’re doing is making some reasonable assumptions based on historical data that you have access to—

Paul: Okay. So this is good. So let’s break this down. I have a website. I’m an attorney in a community. And I want everybody that’s going to have a personal injury lawsuit, I want them to come to my website. Now maybe it’s personal injury, not a motor vehicle, something strange. You know, so maybe it was electrocution. You specialize in electrocution cases. That’s a lot easier to, I would imagine, manipulate the search engine on than it is on personal injury.

Ed: Of course, because electrocution, along with personal injury as a pair, just might give you a greater level of intelligence. And you’ve played right in to the segue of the next thing that’s available on Google Trends, which is, if you haven’t seen it, folks, ever, is a series of similar searches performed by people looking on the same topic. You can learn approximate, fuzzy matches of other kinds of similar searches that have been done that are in the same realm of topic that you searched on. And you might even discover there are some clever or more likely suspect ways of searching that to yield either better results than you’ve got in using your search or different results that are worth knowing about because they pertain.

Paul: So let’s, for now, as one of our, sort of, proxy examples, use a law firm. For whatever you think about lawyers, let’s just figure out how they would market themselves with search engine optimization. So you have an attorney that has three attorneys in it. They all have good degrees from good colleges. They have some good referrals on there or testimonials, I guess, would be a good thing. They have a picture of their office, and their phone number, and a contact form. What’s next? What do I do? If I come to you and I’m that attorney, and I say, “Gee, I want to optimize so that I come up in the town I work in.”

Location Based Optimization

Ed: Two parts to that answer. One has to do with location base, because you can say personal injury lawyer, Beverly, Massachusetts. And if you’re address is on your website and, say, the footer, so it’s stamped on every page, it increases the likelihood that a person looking for a personal injury lawyer in Beverly will find you. So location is certainly part of it.

Creating an Authoritative Voice: Blogging Relevant Content

Your example earlier, Paul, having to do with a specialty, electrocution personal injury, that means that your content on your website can be made more relevant if you write and speak authoritatively about your expertise in handling electrocution cases. If you’ve got that kind of casework, and it’s the example you gave, the proxy example, says, I’ve had a few of those cases, and I’m gathering a body of knowledge about that, that makes me a de facto expert, something above rank amateur and approaching expert designation in that subject. So why not create that authoritative voice? And so helping people find you means having relevant content.

So guess what? We’re talking about blogging. We’re talking about case studies. We’re talking about getting content that’s relevant to that discusses that topic on your website. It could be a PDF of a case example. It could be a blog article surveying industry trends. It could be anything that’s useful for a person who’s searching for information about that, to get the impression that you know your stuff in this topic.

Paul: So is that SEO?

Ed: Sure it is. It’s organic. Yeah.

Paul: So I go and write a blog post.

Ed: It establishes domain authority. It establishes you’re an authority, and your website’s domain’s authority on that topic.

Paul: Which the search engines like.

Ed: Exactly.

How to Get Your Blog Post To Be Found

Paul: Okay. So let’s talk about the next sort of step in that. I publish, I write a blog that says, you know, “We just helped this family who their son got electrocuted doing” this and this and this. And it’s a compelling blog. If I put that up, is it just going to be magically found by everybody?

Ed: Magically, no. However, over time… And this takes, can take weeks or months because the bots or the algorithms have to crawl and so search engines are quite busy with the billions of pages that available. It will take some time for that domain authority to establish itself. You can promote it, but at least be aware that over time, people searching on that topic will begin to discover you.

How can you help matters? You can help matters by making sure your content is rich enough. I would recommend a minimum 500 to 1000 words. 30-word blurbs, they’re ads. It’s not enough to establish authority, really. So give, write long articles. Write them authoritatively, and that gives the bots a reason to live. It gives them a reason to crawl and something to feed on when they’re crawling.

Systematic Indexing – Using the Right Words

Paul: But how does the bot determine whether I am relevant or fictional?

Ed: Great question. How can you take the word “personal injury” and “electrocution” and help enrich that as an authoritative link to good content of yours? There’s a concept that’s not all that difficult to understand, but it’s got kind of a geeky phrase. It’s called latent semantic indexing. Or LSI as they say in the biz. Right? Think of latent semantic indexing as something that’s simple as metaphors or alliterative, or approximately analogous terms that refer to electrocution, like words like “zap” or “injured,” “electric socket.” Mention the words or the equipment involved in some of the cases that you’ve covered and argued so that all the approximate context of the information enriches your authority on the subject because someone could be searching on “electric socket electrocution personal injury.” All that’s valid. All that’s relevant.

So, latent semantic indexing, in summary, is nothing more than approximating this same subject matter without sounding like a robot when you type. Write in natural prose so it’s conversational and accessible for readers and enrich it in such a way so that analogous information can also bring them to you.

A simple example is if I use the word “tree.” If I’m a botanist, and I’m searching on the word “tree,” I’m going to find information about trees. And if I have interestingly, Bing or a Google search engine, also, frankly, tracks your behavior online, for better or worse. Let’s just say now it’s for the better, and here’s why. If I’m a botanist, I’m also searching about seeds. I’m also searching about plants. Use the word “tree” to do a search, my search engine, if it’s been at all tracking my progress, knows I’m searching for plant-based results.

If I’m a logistics person, and I’m thinking about data trees, and I use the word “tree” in a search, it’s probably not going to feed me information about trees and seeds and plants. Based on your search history, it’s going to say, “Tree — oh, this is a logistics person.” And they’ve used searches on logic trees and on forced ranking and other kinds of statistical methods. It’s going to start, interpret the words “tree” saying, you want more like this. Or this kind of a tree result, not a plant.

So we help ourselves along simply by making use of search engines, and they, in return, repay the favor by approximating our intentions based on what limited information we give them. So that’s latent semantic indexing.

Paul: Is that specifically when I’m preparing the blog post? Is latent semantic indexing taking into account what I’m writing in the blog post, or I do that myself?

Ed: It’s a duality sort of thing. It’s a closed-loop sort of conversation. I, the author, am having a conversation with the reader saying “I’m talking about, as the lawyer, the electrocution, personal injury case, and I’m going to use a number of things to describe the circumstances in which it happened. And those are all relevant to the electrocution and personal injury case.

If I’m a person on the other side of the looking glass who’s searching on that information, I can think of a number of different approximate but not quite the same terms to do a search. It will still bring me back to that content that you wrote because…

Paul: And that’s a function of the search engine.

Ed: Yeah. It’s a function of the search engine bot. So this is a great conversation to have because it goes back to my earlier statement about gaming the search engines. It used to be you could figure out how to use, frankly, gray or black-hat tactics to key load and stuff words onto your website to improve its search engine ranking. And that’s, of course, has been debunked and, frankly, circumvented by sophistication of search engines. So you can’t game it that way anymore. I’d like to say that we’re no longer algo-slaves. We’re no longer slaves to the algorithm. And frankly, there’s no more algo-terrorism either because you can’t terrorize people with your algorithm if rich content is the intention. And so those revisions to the way search is performed or search is executed on a search engine have improved so that we really get good quality results, because that’s, after all, what a Google or a Bing or a Yahoo really wants, is for you to be happy with the results you get.

Paul: Let me think about that. What if I put a story, a fictional story about electrocution on there? How would the search engine see that? And how would it not know… Or it may not know, and it may be to my benefit to do that. Or it may be to my detriment. So, in other words, does it… I’m wondering, because we’ve got to write good, rich content. So if I took an Edgar Allan Poe story and changed a few words to electrocution and put that on the website, let’s assume that there wasn’t duplicate content, but it was a rich story. Would that enter to my benefit or to my deficit? It would be an interesting test, I think.

Ed: I suppose it would. I don’t know that I know of anybody who’s ever performed that kind of a test.

Blog Articles Should Be Recent and Relevant – Keep It Fresh

Paul: My question is okay, so you go and you’re my SEO expert. I’ve hired you. And you say, “Paul, you’re an attorney. You do this. Write a blog post about your three main cases that you won last year.” So I write three articles. And we then post that. One this month, one next month, one the month after. And what you’re saying is, in the physics of the situation, the search engines will consume that data, see words that are similar to electrocution and etc., etc. And correlate that and say there is something relevant here when somebody searches for that. And so I think, to put it simply, that’s search engine optimization, is we have given the search engines something they can consume and then hand back to people within a certain scope of ideas. Is that fair?

Ed: That’s completely fair. Interestingly, you’ve added a dimension, Paul, which is time. You mentioned doing an article this month, an article next month, and an article the following month. So let’s say you’re that personal injury lawyer, and those are the three cases. That’s it. I’ve used up my caseload bucket. Let’s beg the next question. A year from now, I have no new personal injury law cases. I did those three two years ago. I really want to do more of this kind of business.

What’s going to happen when a person searches on my content, and they find 2012 or 2013 information, and that’s the most recent. If it’s relevant, they might still indulge someone’s curiosity enough to say, “Okay. I’m in. I’m clicking through.”

What about the skeptical person who’s looking for current information. Maybe something new has happened in the law practice or in the electrician business or anything at all new in society that might make that information, frankly, dated or irrelevant? It’s helpful in a case like that, if you’re the author, you’re the lawyer, you’ve written those articles, to refresh it from time to time, to keep it evergreen. If, in fact, it is evergreen, don’t let a date reference ding you from the outset based on someone’s superstition about that date.

Paul: Good point.

Ed: So you can refresh the content, maybe republish the same blog article and label it as an update. “By the way, I have new information that’s changed in the face of this subject, and I’m going to republish this article because…even though it was originally published in 2012.” Make all those transparent references so people know that you’re republishing. I think that’s a favor to the reader.

But that improves the evergreen-ness of your content by keeping it fresh. Once again, it gets indexed, it gets crawled, the searcher searches, they find the result. It’s a current result now, and it helps with your authority from the viewpoint of a person who is concerned about the currency of your knowledge.

Paul: Alright. I think to summarize that is you’re saying you need to have some regular cadence of output so that the search engines keep consuming it. But I don’t think you’re saying that on month four you put up a cake recipe. That’s not as valid as saying, “emerging trends in personal injury.” That would be better than putting up a cake recipe.

Ed: Of course. Relevant content. Going back to the example I mentioned earlier at the outset about the three things that really come to mind when you think about what SEO is, it is quality referrals to my website. And for following along that is the volume of quality referrals. Right? So you’re absolutely right. That plays into the first two aspects.

Paul: Okay. Well, it sounds like we’ve solved search engine optimization.

Ed: Solved?

Paul: I don’t mean to be facetious, but is that really simply what is it?

Become An Authority on Your Topic

Ed: Well, sure we’ve covered doing research. You’ve got to research your topic, find out how people are searching for that topic you’re interested in publishing about and being found as an authority on that subject. The second part is becoming an authority — not in a genuine sense, publishing authoritative content because you deserve and you have that expertise. Right? And then making it searchable by enriching it with analogous information and not write for search engine as opposed — oh, excuse me — writing for humans as opposed to search engines. So it’s authentic, it’s authoritative, and it’s human and accessible.

Over time, that helps your search engine results. Will that necessarily land you a page one Google search engine result? We talked about that a year ago when we last met, and we talked about the same subject. And my answer then is the same answer now, which is, I’m not sure page one search result is necessarily the answer for one other reason that we didn’t talk about last time, and that has more to do with a temporary situation, but it’s an anomaly. And that is, we see an awful lot of other kinds of information appearing on our search engine results.

What’s at the top of page one of a Google search now? Ads. What’s on the left side bar? Ads. What’s in the footer below the search engine results? Ads. You’re lucky to see up to five organic results that match what you’re searching on. So I hate to love search engines, and I love to hate them, 20 years ago, it was great because an Infoseek or an Excite or an AOL or a Ask Jeeves search engine, they were have dozen of them that have all been weeded out since then. But you did a search. You’re searching on a, frankly, a brute-force indexing method, where any business would have to list itself in the directory, like a Yellow Pages online, frankly. Before, the notion that a Google and Bing came along which they us an algorithm to sort the data as opposed to individuals like you and me creating an entry in a directory on our own behalf.

The algorithms changes haven’t been as great in terms of their change, in the amount of change that they’ve forced on the way we behave. What has happened is our own search engine results are getting cluttered by for-profit.

Paul: Right. Okay.

Ed: That’s the game people are competing in now. Frankly, I call it zombie search because their search engine results aren’t always going to land you on page one if you’re not one of the top three. I’m not too worried about it. Most of us now have to click through to page two or three to get a sufficient result to actually see the link we’re really looking for, the content we really want to get to.

What else plays to it?

Paul: Well, continuing on this attorney example. So they post something in November, in December, and January — three months. Is there an effective use of other blogs or getting people to reference you? That was always the Holy Grail is to get in-bound links. So, first, is that a good thing? I can’t see how it’s a bad thing, but is it the best thing? Is that what you should be investing in?

Ed: Great question. Link exchanges or in-bound links is something that can happen organically if someone discovers you and decides to link back to you because you’re their authority. Buying them or manipulating or investing a lot of effort and hoping that some other authority will link back to you can be its own full-time job. At the end of the day, you still have to make a buck running your business, applying your trade. So it’s, to me, is like having an ad budget. You’ll always spend more because of what you spent to keep up the pace, you have to spend more.

It’s a balance you need to decide to reconcile for yourself as a professional. Some amount of link exchange could happen over time just based on you being the authority as long as you have.

Link to Authoritative Sources in Your Blog Articles

I’ve give you an example. I’ll use my own business. But I’ll make it an analogy for the lawyer as well. When I write a blog article, I make a habit if… Since I’m no genius, and I’m usually referring other authoritative sources to help support whatever position I’m taking in my blog article or the advice I’m getting, I’m going to refer back to either a customer example or a white paper or a think tank, or some other kind of authoritative source or, frankly, another piece of media publication that has been fodder or food or input for the blog article I’m writing to you today. Well, I like my readers to have access to the authoritative source just…not because I don’t believe I’m worthwhile but only because if a person wants to read more about it, why not make my blog article be the jumping off spot to go find more depth on that particular topic? And I live-link to it.

But I also put the directory at the bottom of my blog, and I link outwards to the source I’m referring. So I do more outbound linking than inbound. The cool thing about that is anybody who’s worth their salt, doing SEO, does a search on who’s linked to their website. Then people discover that the FanFoundry blog has an article that’s referring to them because of the context in which it appears. So my ethical goal is, of course, to make sure that what I’m linking, whoever I’m linking back to is worth their while. I’m not milking their URL as a link to me or a way to get attention. I’m doing it because I’m helping the reader. My intention is for people to help find good information.

Paul: Sure. That’s the top level reason. But is there any hope for a quid pro quo?

Ed: There is hope because it’s happened. It’s happened for me.

Paul: And that is a legitimate hope?

Ed: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Paul: So these links might engender backlinks.

Ed: They might engender backlinks, but I’ll make you no promises. What I can say, though, however, is that I’ve been discovered, frankly, from some of my writings, by other authoritative sources who have said, “Hey, geez, wouldn’t you like to do a podcast with us?” What are the chances right now? “Maybe you would like to speak at our convention.” Or, “We have a client need that we can’t solve, but you apparently can.” It’s paid off for me in all three of those ways.

Paul: Oh, cool.

Ed: So it’s not necessarily the link building which is the end goal. The end result is are you providing a benefit and some value to people that they’ll, in turn, either compensate or recognize you for doing that. That’s the fondest hope I can have for anybody as they’re being beneficial to others. You know, it’s the old Boy Scout in me, rising to the service. I was in Boy Scouts.

Paul: Well thank you for coming. We’ve been talking with Ed Alexander of fanfoundry.com and you’ll be able to find out more information about Ed and his company in our shownotes as well as links to some of the resources we’ve talked about.

Thank you very much and we look forward to next time on the Edge Of Innovation.

You’ve been listening to part 1 of our interview with Ed Alexander. Be sure to listen to Part 2 here.