6 EASIEST Ways To Increase Blog Views With Minor SEO

So you want to know how to be the next XiaXue or Dawn Yang?

I mean, they’ve racked up millions of views on their blogs to become Singapore’s top bloggers. It’s like, come on lah, it looks so easy!

Step 1, look presentable. Step 2, blog about your lifestyle. Step 3, bathe in views. And then you tried it yourself. I think it’s not that easy in those beauty niches if you aren’t the most attractive person.

hk actor picking nose
Step 1: Look presentable… Okay I need SEO.

If you haven’t noticed, this article is mainly aimed at bloggers who do not belong to a specific industrial niche. Some know you as lifestyle or personal bloggers. Others call you the bunch of girls (and a few guys) who blog about their everyday life – which includes shopping, beauty, food, travels, and bitching.

We both know you want more views.

Traditionally, this group of bloggers tend to neglect search traffic. Without a doubt, the rise of social media in recent years has helped bloggers like us increase readership. It has made getting traffic to our blog that much easier through shared content. However, what happens if you aren’t exactly a social butterfly, with plenty of fans to count on? (or see picture above)

That is where I come in. We will build up your site’s visits by grabbing traffic from search engines.

Example of increased blog views
My client’s site. Minor SEO, drastic improvement.

 

These are 6 very easy SEO tweaks you can make in your blog to improve the number of views. No need for advanced Search Engine Optimization knowledge, no need for a wide social media circle, and very certainly, no need for hacker-like programming skills. I also included the benefits towards search engine optimization, if you are so inclined to be that nerdy.

SEO Tweak #1: Write descriptive titles – not forgetting keywords!

Increase Views: When you write a post, be sure to always include a descriptive Title.

“OMG, Guess What I Ate Today”, or “Love My New Facial Foam!!” just isn’t very descriptive nor helpful for internet searchers. True, it is your blog, and when it comes to personal posts, you have every right to name it the way you want. Your readers might also identify with that personality of yours.

On the other hand, when your post contains information of value to other readers, you want it to be easily found by them. “Review of XYZ at ABC Restaurant” or “My Thoughts On XYZ Foam” would make much better Post Titles. They describe the main content at a glance, and the keywords in the Title are what people naturally search for.

*Tip: Place the more important keywords to the front of the Title.

SEO Benefit: Search engines generally place a lot of importance in the appearance of keywords in the Title tags. Relevant keywords in the title will help you rank better for people searching for those keyword terms.

Say you want to find out more about the new “Laneige Water Sleeping Pack”, and proceed to Google the terms: “laneige water sleeping pack review“. The results page will show plenty of local bloggers giving their thoughts about the product. These bloggers are by no means “celebrity”, but they will get your clicks. On the other hand, a certain celebrity blogger who also had an article about the very product, fails to land on any of the first few pages of results.

laneige water sleeping pack review   Google Search
My results may differ from yours.

 

You should have noticed the difference in Titles between the above bloggers, and the “bad example”. See, even average bloggers can compete with “celebrity bloggers” if we use little SEO tweaks.

SEO Tweak #2: Write Descriptive Headings – Again, Keywords!

The heading above is an example of a heading. I feel stupid typing that.

Increase Views: These <H1> to <h#> elements help to separate blocks of text, which makes reading easier on the eyes for long posts. They also help to describe the ensuing paragraph, so that there is a neat structure to your blog entries. Similar to your Title, placing your important keywords within the Headings will help your visitors locate main ideas within your post, and will also tell search engines what are the key points of the content. Ease for readers + ease for search engines = MOAR VIEWS!

SEO Benefit:  Compared to blocks of HTML text, search engines usually give more importance to words in Headings when trying to decipher the key points of an article. When your keywords are in headings, search engines can get a clearer “big picture” of your content.

Here’s a great example of proper use of Headings, found in an article talking about the proper use of Headings, within my paragraph of writing descriptive headings. Headingception!

SEO Tweak #3: Optimize Categories and Tags

Increase Views: I’m sure most of you probably already use Categories and Tags to separate your content into various themes. If you aren’t, you should!

Categories are like the broad descriptions of the theme of the content. Tags are less broad than Categories, and act similarly to Indexes in books. They are essentially keywords that describe key topics in the article. For example, if you write a recipe for Chicken Soup, “Recipes” could be the Category, while “Chicken” and “Soup”, could be the Tags.

With proper Categories and Tags, your readers are able to look at all the articles you have written that is relevant to a topic he/she is already interested in. If a visitor stumbles on the archive page for your Category/Tag pages, there are greater chances for the user to read more related articles. Yay more views!

SEO Benefit: The important thing is to use terms that your readers would find useful. Think of them as keywords that could potentially be searched for. Not only will assigning keywords as your Categories/Tags be great for classification, it helps search engines crawl your site efficiently too. Categories/Tags are great for internal site linking. It gives more ways for visitors to reach other parts of your website. Link juice is able to flow easier – so that if one page is deemed important to search engines, internal pages that are linked to that page can benefit too.

Very bad example of tagging
You have to zoom in to see the bad example of tags usage. No offence to the blog owner.

As you can see, you should never spam tags! A post should not be under more than 2 categories in most cases, and tags should be relevant to the topics discussed in the post. Context and relevancy, people!

SEO Tweak #4: Link To Yourself a.k.a Internal Linking

Increase Views: When writing a post, you can link to yourself whenever a group of text has relevance to another page on your own site. You only need to highlight the keywords that you want to act as the link to another page, insert the hyperlink, and point it in the direction of the other page’s URL.

One obvious advantage to this is that readers can follow the link to another page in your site, nabbing you more views. The anchor text (the text used as the link), must be relevant of course. People who want to know the truth about SEO would click that link, expecting a page related to SEO. You can increase views to your lesser viewed articles by linking to them relevantly from newer posts.

SEO Benefit: Internal linking with keyword rich and relevant anchor texts is a great way to improve SEO within the site. It creates more links between pages, which facilitates the passing of link juice around. More relevant internal links tend to lead to greater click through rates within the blog, which helps to reduce bounce rates. Lower bounce rates is mostly always a good thing.

SEO Tweak #5: Link To Others a.k.a External Linking

Increase Views: Yes, linking to others can increase views to yourself. Indirectly so.

The step to take is just the exact opposite of internal linking. You just link out to another website, with an anchor text or URL. Whether talking about a restaurant, something you saw somewhere else, or an article that you read elsewhere, it’s always good to link to the original source. Not only is it good manners to quote from the source directly, it provides better user experience.

*Tip: Remember to use the HTML line target=”_blank” on your links so that they open under a new tab. You do not want your readers to drift away from your site.

SEO Benefit: Linking to informative, high quality sites makes you more credible. Not only that, there is evidence that linking to relevant, authority sites also helps boost your own site’s rankings. Here’s another lesser known secret I will share. When you link to someone else in a positive manner, there is a chance that the other person will notice as well. You might get unexpected benefits, such as a shout-out on Twitter, a link back to you, or even a free promotion.

Would you tell your followers if someone else just complimented you on their blog? I know I would. I hope you get the hint here.

SEO Tweak #6: Use Related Posts

Increase Views: After your reader has finished reading your post, why not offer more related stories to keep the user on your site? You will get more views by offering articles that are related to the article the reader just read.

For Blogger users, you can try LinkWithin. For WordPress.org users, try WordPress Related Posts.

good example of related post seo
A good example of related post being used.

SEO Benefit: Related posts are great for internal linking. It creates a broader link structure that search engines love. When more people click through to another page on your site, it helps to reduce bounce rates. Research also show that as you satisfy the reader’s hunger for information with your own depth of knowledge, conversion rates also improve. That means the reader is more likely to become a subscriber, follower, or consumer.

Last Important Tips

In all honesty, you can go without these tips if you blog consistently and have genuinely interesting topics. There are many bloggers who became successful before the age of Facebook and social media, and certainly without too much SEO know-how.

With these easy tweaks, you can definitely get a leg up on bloggers who do not practice them.

I wish you the very best on your blogging journey, and I hope the next big Singaporean blogger finds her/his roots here. 🙂

If you want more advanced tips on how to get more views on your blog, do comment below to request them. If I get the chance, I will squeeze out some time to write Part 2: Advanced Tips.

Penguin 2.0 – Good News or Bad News?

Penguin 2.0 will be rolled out in the coming weeks.

Good news for us!

Say whaaat??

Yup, you heard me.

I had that sentiment after I watched the latest Google Webmaster Video titled “What should we expect in the next few months in terms of SEO from Google?” This is Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Web Spam team.

http://youtu.be/xQmQeKU25zg&w=480

To provide you with some context and background, you need to first know more about Penguin.

cute penguin not google penguin
Google Penguin is no where this cute.

Penguin is a set of algorithmic updates by Google that happens occasionally throughout the year. These updates help Google the search engine weed out sites that have engaged black hat methods in order to game the search engines. A lot of these black hat techniques involve spamming, and so you can say Penguin is Google’s attempt to address web spam. This brings me to the bad news.

Why Penguin might be bad news.

Normally, people wouldn’t pay attention to such updates because nothing on the Google search engine shows this change – UNLESS you are a site owner who has been negatively hit. One day you are gloating over your first page results, the second, you find your site missing from the first 10 pages.

Once Penguin strikes, a small percentage (around 1%) of sites will be affected negatively. Sites that employ black hat methods of link building who are unfortunately found, will be slapped with a heavy ranking penalty. Business owners are the ones on the losing end when their site gets penalized because so many website owners hire external SEO companies to increase their ranking, and more often than not, cheap SEO companies use spam tactics.

That is why many SEO companies and business owners are fearful of Penguin updates. They are afraid that their site would be punished. So why do I think it is good news?

Why it is good news for the Good Guys.

“as long as you are working hard for users, we’re working hard to try to show your high quality content to users as well”

That quote by Matt Cutts means a lot to us white hat SEO good guys. This is exactly what we have been trying to work on. As white hat practitioners, we implement SEO in a way that provides a quality experience for users. Black hat practitioners implement SEO to trick spiders. We often find sites ranking ahead of us that are clearly breaking Google’s quality guidelines. The following points made by Matt show us why white hat is the way to go.

“be a little stronger on our enforcement of advertorials that violate our quality guidelines”

What it means – Paid links, sponsored reviews and paid advertorials should clearly labeled as being paid for, and these links should not pass link juice. Google does not want webmasters to pay others to link back to them, and users must know when a review is sponsored and not organic.

Why it’s good news – Paid links are kind of like bribing someone else to place your links on their site. By penalizing sites that buy links, Google will make things a little more fair. Great products and great content get links organically, based on merit.

Uh Oh – If you have paid for links, STOP. If you have links on your site that others have paid you to place them there, make an honest disclosure. Label them as “Sponsored”, and add a “rel=nofollow” tag to that link.

UPDATE. Actually, Matt Cutts just tweeted:

“deny the value of link spammers”

What it means – Links obtained by spamming will be devalued. The most common link spam are: blog comment spamming and site-wide footer links.

Why it’s good news – Blog commenting is a legitimate way of building  relationships with influencers in your industry, but comment spamming has spoiled things. If your competitors heavily employ blog comment spamming to get backlinks, Google might catch them and devalue these links.

Uh Oh – If you have been link spamming, STOP. Start to build up good karma by getting quality links. High quality guest posting is one way to get highly relevant, quality links. You might want to do a link detox to clean up your bad links.

“…try to make those rank more highly if you are some sort of an authority…”

What it means – If Google’s algorithm determines that your site is an authority at a certain subject, you will get a bonus boost in search engine rankings.

Why it’s good news – If you have built up your authority online by writing lots of great articles related to your niche, and have gathered up a good number of followers on social networks (especially Google+), the next time you publish content under your name, Google will help bring up the visibility of that content.

Uh Oh – So you haven’t been creating articles to let your customers know you are an expert in your area of expertise? Or, have you only been mass generating low quality articles that are only submitted to article directories? Time to buckle down, write some high quality, unique, and informative articles that your customers will love and share. Become THE subject matter expert in your niche.

What you should do now.

Matt also mentioned other improvements that Penguin 2.0 would bring. These include: better detection of hacked sites, better Google Webmaster help for people who have been manually penalized, and reduce clustering of results from the same domain. The reason I did not elaborate on these because they aren’t exactly actionable by you to improve your site now.

What you can, and should do now is

  • Stop buying or paying for links.
  • Stop spamming links. Build good quality content that attract natural links.
  • Become the authority in your niche. Show off your knowledge that sets yourself apart from competitors.

His final words.

“I’m really excited about a lot of these changes because we do see really good improvements in terms of people who are link spamming or doing various black hat spam would be less likely to show up I think by the end of the summer. And at the same time we’ve got a lot of nice changes queued up that hopefully will help small/medium businesses and regular webmasters as well.”

And that is just fine by us, Matt. At SeoGoodGuys, we try to uphold Google’s quality guidelines, and we mostly help small businesses. Isn’t it nice when Google is on our side too?

Penguin 2.0 – Good news or bad news? Share your thoughts below.

6 Singapore Web Designers Share Their Top Trends for 2013

SeoGoodGuys recently got in touch with a few local web designers and developers. Some are friends, some are people I have worked with, and some are people I admire for their work. We had a conversation about the upcoming trends in web design and internet marketing, and I felt it was my duty to share with you some of the knowledge they shared with me.

They are all masters in their own field. They have seen first hand, the changes in client demands and rising trends in web design and development. What they know, would be highly beneficial to you guys – people who are interested in knowing what they can do to improve their online businesses.

These are not only food for thought. These are precious tips from the people who are constantly in touch with latest trends, so it is high valuable information for you to digest.

My question to them was:

“What do you think are the top trends in 2013? What do you think my readers should know, if they want to enjoy success in their online businesses in 2013? “

These were their answers. In no particular order.


Back to basics

When you Google for Web/SEO trends of 20xx, the differences between the years would be credited to advances in software infrastructure and programming, but also not to forget new creative innovations that get adopted on a wide scale which eventually becomes a “so last year kinda thing”. Saturation, which is trend, forces innovations, which in turns become trends again. It’s a never-ending cycle. We should be looking at basics.

Copywriting should be on the list of top concerns, be it crafted by a subject matter expert or an apt writer, words play an equal role in the general aesthetics and experience of any website. Not to forget, words are essentially the key to effective SEO.

To put a long idea short, a viewer’s experience through a website is not only credited to visual aesthetics, but also what he reads and feels from journeying through the content.

benson susejBenson Chong, Founder of Studio SUSEJ
benson@susej.sg
www.susej.sg

 


Responsive design

We’ll see people more broadly understanding mobile devices – computers we can hold in our hands as opposed to having to sit at a desk to use – as the web, not just an “on-the-go”, abridged version of the web.

As touch-enabled devices are becoming more ubiquitous, I think we’ll see a lot of experimentation around touch interactions.

I think this will be the year of the mobile website; no more desktop redirects or bare-bones landing pages. It’s time to think of the mobile website as every bit as “real” as the desktop website.

You don’t get to decide which device people use to visit your website. They do. If you’re sitting around debating whether “people will want to do that on mobile,” you’re too late. People are already trying to do it.

Khairul lead designerKhairul Anwar Hassim, Lead Designer of Khairul and Associates.
khairulanwar@me.com

www.khairulanwar.me

 


Think ‘lite’

Smartphones and tablets are the booming mobile devices of the recent years and these gadgets are what most consumers are going to be dependent upon for their daily surfing needs. Making one’s site responsive to both the large and small form factor is all but the first step into thinking lite.

Mobile gadgets are often used on-the-go and with cellular connection not being as reliable and speedy as a home wired connection, modern websites designed with simplicity (think vector / typography) and easy navigation leads the pack with faster loading times and less time spent by their visitors to seek out what they were here for.

With tons of attention grabbing digital entertainment and services on smartphones and tablets today, every second spent by your visitors on stuff other than valuable information from your site is a second less they have for you.

nicholas limNicholas Lim Wen Kai, Graphic Designer
design@itsnicholaslim.com

www.itsnicholaslim.com

 


Creative and fresh ideas

I think what is more pressing in today’s society, other than having an online presence is how you can combine social media along with your websites to engage users and to draw the crowd.

Very much like what Oreo in the above article did (http://www.wired.com/underwire/2013/02/oreo-twitter-super-bowl/), they drew the attention of the crowd by relating their product to current events and issues. I think that there’s a fine line between posting about a current issue and posting about a current issue in a clever way. Those that emerge champions of online marketing efforts will be those that can combine their product/service with the going-ons in the world.

In a generation that is swamped with information, the challenge to be creative and consistently come up with good work that captures the attention of audiences is increasingly difficult. There are undoubtedly many players in the space of website design and online marketing at this current point in time.

I predict however, that in time to come, a few years from now, only the most creative will emerge as dominant market players. It is no longer sufficient to use the same standard themes for websites or to spam customers with advertisements through the same old marketing channels. I think the call for creative and fresh ideas has never been greater in this space.

chloe intent designChloe Sng, Owner of Intent Design
enquiries@intentdesign.com.sg

www.intentdesign.com.sg

 


More weapons, less frustrations for web developers

Over the years, we have seen a growing variety in tools available for web construction. Today, we have:

  • Sophiscated Content Management Systems like Joomla, Drupal, WordPress which experienced web developers often employ as seeds for their craft.
  • The recent Twitter Bootstrap is growing with developers for front-end web building as a result of its ever wonderful modular design standards.
  • A complete drag-drop interface on Wix.com for non-technical, and I mean non-technical, users to design, construct and host their online presence.
  • Even tools for processes outside of the actual coding are available, wireframing (Balsamiq) for design layouts etc.

Now, before we frustrate over the tedious and repetitive work, take a walk in the cyber world and we may run into a messiah for our problems!

Cheong Wei Hsien, Project Consultant at Zylone IT Pte Ltd
wei.hsien@zylone.com

www.zylone.com


Authenticity and contextual mobile design

I see two major trends occurring in web design for 2013 and beyond.

The first is the culture and medium of authenticity and transparency. The new internet generation of consumers are very well-informed, and increasingly wary of advertising and media. We can no longer simply create stories, but instead find and tell compelling truths that draw consumers irresistibly. Even better, help consumers tell stories about our products through earned and owned media strategies. Let them be part of our brand.

A second key trend is the continued move towards mobile. More then just mobile-friendly or responsive sites, consumers are continuing to experience more brands first on mobile phones and tablets rather then traditional desktops. We should not design and strategize for the screen, but the context. The mobile device with its assortment of sensors and mobility gives us new ways of interacting that were never possible on the desktop. We cannot just adapt sites and content to the smaller screen. We need to take advantage and design specifically for mobile – what is possible there and nowhere else.

stanley lai Stanley Lai, Interaction Designer at StanleyLai.sg
stanleylai.sg@gmail.com

www.stanleylai.sg

 


My own thoughts

One recurring theme I saw was the rise of mobile web design. Many saw the need for not only responsive web design, but design specifically with mobile in mind.

Do a check for you own website with a mobile device. Does it load very slowly? Do you have trouble navigating to the important pages? Are your call-to-action buttons functioning correctly? Can you read your content properly?

Another theme I noticed was the need for original and unique content. Both Benson and Chloe highlighted the need for content and marketing ideas to be captivating. This is also in line with the essence of Search Engine Optimization in 2013. There is a stronger need than ever to have unique content and fresh ideas in order to capture the attention of internet users.

Your take away

1) It is easier than ever to start an online business with all the tools available on the internet. Anyone can build a website and start selling stuff.

2) If you have a website, make sure it is designed to be compatible for mobile devices. Contact any of those guys (and gal) if you need to make your website mobile friendly.

3) No matter how well you design your website, it still needs original and fresh content. Content is king.


Special thanks to Benson, Khairul, Nicholas, Chloe, Wei Hsien and Stanley for taking time out to contribute to this article, even though everyone was busy throughout the CNY period. It was a pleasure working with y’all. P.s. I had to edit your work a little in order to keep everything neat. (Also thanks to Benson for contributing the Featured Image, which I used because I had no idea what to set. If you were wondering what is the  link between a penguin-rocketing-through-the-air, and this article… there is no link. It’s just awesome. )

Do You Need SEO? The Truth.

seo truth and lies

Easy answer: YES you need SEO.

Many of us have questioned whether we really need to “SEO our websites“. The simple and undisputed answer is YES! Till today, I cannot find a legitimate reason why a site should not be optimized for search engines.

As long as you run a legitimate website in hopes of getting leads, selling products or services, gaining exposure for a cause, having an online presence, sharing information or even just ranting about life on a blog, you WILL benefit from increased traffic from search engines. Sweee lah hire the Seo Good Guys now?

But that is just the EASY answer.

What do I mean?

Search Engine Optimization as you should know by now, consists of on page optimization and off page optimization.

On page optimization is basically making sure that Search Engines can read the content on your site properly, and display the information to searchers in the most relevant way possible. Almost ALL sites should make sure that their sites can be crawled by search engine spiders.

There is absolutely no reason why a website should not provide the viewer with a good surfing experience. And that is why anyone can easily say that all sites need SEO – to make sure that the basic site is user friendly and search engine friendly. Haven’t we come to the age where we expect search engines to deliver all the answers we need? Your site has to be able to live up to that expectation too.

Hard answer: Mmmmyeaahh you probably need SEO.

The hard answer comes when you involve off page optimization.

Off page optimization is mainly link building and other efforts to market your website to external sites on the internet. Most services that SEO consultants offer involve off page optimization. Various studies done by leaders in the search industry point to the relationship between off page ranking factors and search engine rankings. (Examples: SEOmoz’s 2011 Search Engine Ranking Factors and SearchEngineLand’s Guide to SEO)

Since off page SEO activities make a more significant difference to search engine ranking, most people automatically assume that “SEO = off page.” Sure, link building and outreach efforts can help you get more traffic, and improve your search engine rankings.

BUT. Not every type of website needs to heavily invest in off page link building activites.

This makes the answer to “Do I need SEO” less clear cut.

The better question is: Do I need to hire an external SEO agency?

In my humble opinion, this is the better question; and this is the question that most startups would likely want to ask. There are certain scenarios where no, you might not need to hire someone else to do SEO for you.

#1 You do not have a website.

Stupidly obvious. Let’s move on.

#2 Free labour

I’m not referring to the code name for naive university interns. I’m talking about your partners or employees who actually have time on their hands to do some SEO related activities. If you have some free time, why not invest some of that time to learn more about the basics of search engine optimization?

There are plenty of things you can do yourself. Do a little keyword research to make sure your content matches to what people are searching for. Do some outreach and relationship building with bloggers in your industry. Write quality content so that people want to share and link back to you!

#3 You already have an in-house marketing team

Sometimes it’s better to rely on your in-house marketing team. They know the direction the business is heading. They know the kind of branding your company is trying to achieve. They are SUPPOSED to evolve to include digital marketing in their marketing strategies.

[Reasons for investing in digital marketing: Digital Advertising Spend in Singapore exceeds S$100m mark (seems like they removed the source)]

If you already have a marketing team, allow them to create the content and do outreach. Well, unfortunately not all in-house marketing teams are educated in digital marketing and Search Engine Optimization.

 #4 You know you don’t need outside traffic

There are just some kinds of sites that do not require search engine traffic or any outside traffic at all! The purpose of the site might not even be for business.

Some private websites do not want to be found on Search Engines. It could be a private blog, or a private online shop for distinguished guests only. It could be a school’s website, or a company site where only people with special access can enter.

#5 You are operating an extremely abstract and niche business

Do you have a business selling Life Sized Solid Chocolate Baby Heads?  or Are you thinking of selling Five-Pound Fat Replicas?

evil baby head cakes
Oh. God. Why.

 

I can almost guarantee you that there is so little search volume for them (meaning no one searches for such terms), that it makes no sense to invest heavily in an SEO campaign. You are better off selling on third party sites or through social media. It doesn’t mean if you sell handmade crafts, SEO is totally not an option. You just have to understand your market, and what people might be searching for.

 So who needs to hire an external SEO consultant?

Of course I cannot just end the article without addressing this. I am NOT trying to be self promotional here. In the following situations, you just might need to hire an external SEO consultant.

  • Your in-house marketing team has been under-performing, or they do not practice digital marketing. They know very little about SEO, or they have not enough time to do SEO related activities.
  •  You have not been getting traffic from organic search, despite being in an industry where there is a lot of search volume
  • You are in an industry where Pay Per Click costs are extremely high – like Insurance, Loans, Mortgage industries (Source: Wordstream)
  • You are just starting out in a highly competitive market dominated by big names, and you do not have the big budget for marketing
  • Your traffic had suddenly plummeted and you are not ranking for your important keywords (possible Google penalty)
  • You have no idea why no one visits your awesome site

I assure you, the list can go on. Now I am not promising that SEO can be sole reason for your site’s success. You still need factors like an excellent web design, useful content, and good products. It just does not hurt that when people are searching for something that your website provides, your site is ranked high enough on the search engines to fulfill that need.

I personally want to believe that when you create good content, sell wonderful products or provide an excellent service, people will come. It just doesn’t always work so ideally, and so I provide SEO services for people who might need my help getting found.

Do you think content is enough, and that SEO is not needed? Sound off in the comments below!

4 Black Hat Techniques I learned from Local SEOs

black hat guy

It has been a while since I last did a blog post. I had been working on a few client’s sites as an independent SEO consultant, and was seriously bogged down by them. It was fun though, but now at least I have some time to reflect on things I’ve seen the past few days.

The search industry is evolving very quickly. Methods of doing link building that were once thought to be effective were suddenly becoming less so. This made me wonder whether any of the top ranked local SEOs were using dubious optimization techniques.

Grey/Black Hat

Grey or Black hat SEO techniques are methods in which a website might try to trick Google’s algorithm into giving them a higher rank than they deserve. These grey/black hat techniques violate Google’s Quality Guidelines, and so are frowned upon >:(

I did a very simple research. I searched for 2 extremely competitive, 2-word, SEO-related terms that people will search for when looking for SEO agencies in Singapore (I’d rather not reveal). Both yielded different results, but many of the sites that appeared were similar, only in different positions. I added “&pws=0” into the search result’s URL so as to remove any chances of my personalized search settings affecting with the results.

Disclaimer alert!

1. I will not disclose the names of the companies that I will researching on. I do not wish to publicly harm the reputation of any other companies, and I am afraid of hired SEO ninja assassins.

2. This research is to look into some techniques that I personally deem grey/black. They are NOT illegal, and thus these companies are not breaking any laws.

3. The methods they used for themselves might not reflect the actual methods they employ for their own clients. (though I’m sure what works for them would be used for their clients as well)

4. I am seriously afraid of SEO ninjas so I hope this article does not stir up too much animosity.[hr]

Tools That I used:

Open Site Explorer (OSE)

One of my favourite free SEO tools out there, it enables you to look at the links that point to a site. Getting the paid version will give you more detailed data, but for a simple check, the free version more than does the job. With this, we can look at the backlink profile of most websites.

SEOquake Chrome Extension

Also another free tool (beginning to see the cheapo pattern here?). This is an extension I use for Google’s Chrome browser. I use it to look at some background information regarding the website. With that, I can find out a site’s Google PageRank, site age, use of meta tags and a whole wealth of info.

Before I start, I want to be share an interesting observation. My first page of results showed 10 sites. 5 of them had “#1 SEO” in their title or description. Who to trust?

Grey/Black Hat Technique #1

Blog Comment Spamming

This one is especially hard for me to take. I can safely say that this was the most frequently committed sin. Using Open Site Explorer (OSE), I was able to take a look at the external links that were pointing back at each of the sites. The number of external links ranged from the hundreds to the tens of thousands.

What surprised me was the number of links that came from blog comments. Now, blog commenting isn’t a grey hat technique per se. However, many of them spammed comments on pages from highly irrelevant, heavily spammed and low quality sites. With an automated software, generic comments are left on blogs; a link and an anchor text that points back to the company’s site.

Here is an extreme example.

porn site blog comment spam

 

This comment was posted on an adult site no less. The URL of the site is www… you seriously thought I was going to post it? The other comments on the thread are hilarious considering the “content”.

Obviously, the content on the site has nothing to with Search Engine Optimization. Second, the site had 12,000 spam comments with links pointing out. Such a blog comment link gives extremely little value to your site’s ranking – but when multiplied by thousands of such low value links, it will generate *some* use.

I sure hope the company that employs this method does not use it for their clients.

Grey/Black Hat Technique #2

 Using Microsites/ Blog Networks

This one I found out after looking at one company’s backlink.  This company rose very quickly up the ranks, and it caught my attention. I used OSE to look at the top backlinking domains, and I found something very suspicious when I delved deeper.

microsite black hat

 

When you first look at these domains, they seem fine because they are high authority domains. Not much so for the pages that are actually linking back to the company site. When I opened the pages in the weebly.com domain, and some other domains further down the list, I found examples of microsites.

A microsite is a site that has very little pages, and are mainly focused on one keyword. Many free web builders like Weebly allow microsites to be built in a matter of minutes. In the example, the microsite had only one page, with about 500 words. It had one outbound link, which you guessed it, pointed back at the company site.

This is my theory of how such a method works. A microsite has been abandoned for years, and its age tricks Google into thinking it has some authority. A company takes over the site at a very low cost, adds some text to the single page, and links back to the company’s site with an anchor text. The company then does aggressive link building for the microsite, and because of its age, it can be made to look like a popular page.

Main company site benefits because Google now thinks an authority site is linking back to it. Illegal? No. But it’s definitely screaming all 50 shades of grey because of how it is trying to trick the search engines.

Grey/Black Hat Technique #3

Article Spinning

This one is also common. It’s a pretty known fact that submitting articles to high quality article directories can help get good backlinks. You can write high quality articles related to your niche, and this information can be very useful to people who are looking for relevant info. It is a great way to brand yourself as a subject matter expert too.

A good thing can become horribly wrong when taken a step in a direction too far. There are agencies that absolutely spammed the hell out of article directories. One way to have enough content to submit to hundreds of different directories is to use an automated article spinner.

Such programs “digest” a text document, jumbles, rephrase and paraphrase the text. The program is able to churn out plenty of offsprings that look like the original, but are poorly phrased with grammatical errors.

The following excerpt was taken from an article posted on a low quality, low PageRank article directory.

black hat method article spinning

 

You can tell just by reading. The article was made to be filled with some keywords, and the actual flow of the text is secondary. Such articles are not meant for human consumption, and I don’t mean this as an insult. It literally was meant for crawlers only, so as to fool the bots into thinking it is an actual informative piece. How will this help anyone, or improve your branding?

Grey/Black Hat Technique #4

Mass Directory Submission

A web directory is an online directory where businesses and websites get listed and reviewed. Directories provide a way for websites of similar natures to be categorized together, and allow visitors to find such sites easily.

Directory submissions have generally gotten a bad rep, mostly because a lot of angencies claim they help increase your search rank significantly, so you  need to submit to hundreds of directories.

Directories do help, but only if they are authoritative, and have other authoritative businesses listed on them (DMOZ). These web directories need to be human run, and the directory owners have to vet each and every site that gets submitted to make sure they pass quality guidelines.

black hat directory submission example

 

In the above example, one of the companies had submitted to a very low quality directory. A simple search would go on to show that the directory itself had been penalized by Google. The directory was filled will low quality sites, and that SEO listing was surrounded by non-SEO related websites.

Miscellaneous Greys

There are in fact a few more problems I found, but they are comparatively minor.

  • Over optimized, keyword stuffed Title Tags
  • Meta Keyword Tags still in use
  • Exact match, keyword anchor texts
  • False “Guarantee” claims

Last Words

This might actually be my last words if I face any backlash, though outing those companies was not my main intention. I had just become rather disappointed at the state of the search industry in Singapore. I am still relatively new in this business, and I have been hopeful for a mentor, or an example that I can follow.

One thing to consider is that the companies above might have hired an external search “expert” to optimize their website. They may not even know of the mistakes their websites are committing. There is even a chance they are under negative SEO attacks.

A few lessons that we can take away from this is :

  1. Top ranked sites in Google does not mean quality sites
  2. If you hire an external SEO consultant, make sure you demand to know every step of the optimization process
  3. You need to know about Grey/Black Hat methods in order to avoid making those mistakes
  4. It is a very thin line between optimization, and OVER optimization

Was this an eye opener for you? What other suspicious activities have I missed? Share your thoughts below.