In previous posts, I’ve put a lot of heat on Vivek Wadhwa, who – while he’s clearly knowledgeable – has also released a lot of fairly… let’s say “extreme” ideas for where search should go from here. One of his big ideas was integrating highly filtered social results into the search engine results page. Shoving aside the maelstrom of privacy issues and the technical impracticality of his ideas, let’s settle to one very clear conclusion: Wadhwa is right that search is, and needs to become, more social.

Both Bing and Google are currently in a race for obtaining the most effective social search features. One of the great advantages Bing has had over Google thus far has been its partnership with both Twitter and Facebook, the two largest social networking platforms. Bing was the first to introduce social search concepts, “lifting” search results that friends had “liked” on Facebook. Google, seeing the competition getting this jump start, levied their own creative capabilities for a Twitter integration that was more specific and visually rich.

The problem is that Google doesn’t have Bing’s social reach; that is to say, Google and Facebook aren’t friends. Google standing toe-to-toe with Bing was very possible temporarily thanks to adding their own clever ideas to Bing’s social concepts, but it only lasted a couple weeks. Bing has already released an algorithm change that uses a similar visual element to tell users who, specifically, liked the promoted web page.

Bing describes this “exciting new development” as something that they hope will be a “delightful experience” whenever it’s triggered. Certainly, Bing and its employees should be delighted by their ability to so clearly one-up Google in the field of social. Until Google manages to partner effectively with Facebook, they will lag far behind in the social search race.

[via the Bing Blog]

Check out the SEO Tools guide at Search Engine Journal.

Bing and Google: Mutually Stealing Social Search Concepts


In the midst of a Gmail disaster (more on that later today), Gmail is adding a set of new features for users. These two options began in the ever-popular “Gmail Labs,” and as with most of the Gmail labs, these two new additions allow users to change the way their inbox looks and behaves. Specifically, Google is allowing users to determine which labels should be displayed at which point.

If you’re like me, you have 27 labels (give or take), and it can be a pain to sort through all of them all of the time. To help make this easier, the recently graduated Google features allow users to choose when a label should be displayed. The first of the two features, previously titled “Hide Read Labels,” will allow users to only have their left column populated with labels that have unread messages. For those productivity mongers who use labels as an organizational “to-do list” tactic, this extra is ideal. Additionally, users will be able to show selected labels permanently and some only when they require attention.

The second feature is designed for netbook users, and previously went under the name “Hide Labels from Subjects.” This feature allows users to disable labels in the inbox view, allowing those shimmering subject lines to shine through even on your ten inch netbook screen.

Both of these features can be found in the newly created “labels” tab in the standard Gmail settings. The graduation of these two features continues a longstanding trend of beginning pet project features, which often began during the “20 percent time” of Googlers, in labs and then graduating them to full-fledged default settings. Which lab do you think should hit the mainstream next?

[via the Gmail Blog]

Check out the SEO Tools guide at Search Engine Journal.

Google Graduates Label Labs


We all know that Google will be releasing an operating system sometime later this year with Chrome OS. However, what many people haven’t recognized is that the plain old Chrome browser is attaching the same bells and whistles as the operating system. Through a variety of past, present, and upcoming features, Chrome the browser is becoming Chrome, your next operating system.

If we want to trace the origin of “browser-like capabilities,” we can look all the way back to the extensions of the browser. These powerful add-ons increase browser functionality dramatically; however, we wouldn’t say Firefox is a browser, so when did Chrome go beyond this initial stage of bonus features?

The next big leap was with the Chrome Web Store, and its integration into the default “new tab” window for your browser. Having access to a plethora of new apps (yes, El Guopo, a plethora) created an organizational front-end that would support the growing back-end of native app development, HTML, and the cloud. This means users can utilize their web browser to access applications that range from ludicrously absorbing time-wasters to genuinely useful productivity “software.” These applications gave users an opportunity to see what was available, but also provided developers with a financial incentive and distribution medium for their projects.

The Chrome Web Store had a slow start, but it’s now seeing tens of thousands of downloads for its popular applications. Meanwhile, Google has expanded the functionality of its own cloud-based applications. Google Docs has recently added support in its viewer for a wide array of new doc types, not to mention a far better organization system for the user’s files. All apps, both from Google and others, are also getting a boost with the “persistent background app” feature we mentioned last week; users don’t need to have Chrome open to get notifications or data from their apps.

Let’s not stop at the present tense, however. Upcoming versions of Chrome will also be featuring a “sync” that allows users to share their themes, apps, passwords, and bookmarks across all computers that access the same Google account. This is one of the core features of the Chrome OS, and its presence in the Chrome browser shows quite clearly how similar the two platforms are becoming.

[via Tech Crunch]

Check out the SEO Tools guide at Search Engine Journal.

The Transformation of Chrome into an OS


There are always dozens of excuses not to cook your own food, but the biggest one tends to be simply not knowing what to cook. After all, despite having well-stocked pantries, most of us don’t have the know-how to toss the ingredients together into something edible – let alone tasty. Well, Google is coming to the rescue once again, acting as your sous chef by providing you with incredibly advanced recipe searching.

While the collected data will be integrated into the standard SERP, the more advanced features will only be visible to those who navigate to the newly introduced “Recipes” section of the advanced search panel. That search panel, found in the left-hand column, probably won’t display “Recipes” in your default view, so just click the “More” option below Images, Videos, News, and Shopping (the four options that will be here by default).

Once you’re in the recipes section, you can conduct any search you see fit, ranging from the obscenely vague (“salad”) to the insanely specific (“vegan curry with potatoes, peas, and coconut”). You can even type in the ingredients you have available (“oatmeal, peanut butter, applesauce, vanilla, splenda”) and see what recipes you’re already set for. Or do you have a specific dietary need, such as restriction to low-carb, gluten-free, or vegetarian cuisine? You can simply type in the appropriate term and search through a broad range of recipes. Once the search is conducted, you can narrow down your results by the calorie count, time to cook, and necessary ingredients, all located in the newly expanded left-hand column.

These recipes, as well as the reviews for them, are all aggregated from other major sites, including the Food Network, Food.com, AllRecipes.com, and iFood. As the actual recipes aren’t displayed on the Google page, the search engine isn’t in direct competition with these sites, evading the controversy that occurred with the introduction of Hotpot (perceived by many of the travel search sites, which Google aggregated data from, as being a direct competitor).

This degree of detail in recipe search is a spearhead innovation for Google, but to some degree mimics the popular “/recipes” tag from Blekko. In any case, the highly specific search demonstrates the capabilities and trend toward developing task-specific data aggregation for search; it’s likely we’ll see a similar evolution in other areas and in competing search engines. Which “tag” do you think Google and Bingahoo should develop next?

[via the Google Blog]

Check out the SEO Tools guide at Search Engine Journal.

Google Becomes Your Sous Chef with Recipe Search


Posted by Miranda.Rensch

Hello you Mozzy bunch! My name is Miranda. I’m a Program Manager here at SEOmoz. I work on defining new features and improvements to the SEOmoz PRO Web App, SEO Tools, and our website. You may have seen me commenting and participating in pie-eating contests here and there, but I’m excited to say that this is my very first SEO Blog post!

Since I started at SEOmoz five months ago, I’ve been working on a Questions and Answers forum for our PRO members. Today I am very excited to announce the launch of PRO Q&A!

try the pro questions and answers system

seo questions forum

Previously, PRO members have used our Expert Q&A feature to ask SEO questions to our staff and associates. As our community has grown into an incredible network of SEO and online marketing experts, we decided it was time to create a more interactive forum that would allow PRO members to become resources for one another and contribute to a growing database of quality information.

PROs can still ask the same number of private, staff-only questions per month in this new system, but now we’ve added the opportunity to utilize the knowledge of other PRO members. (If you have open questions in the old Q&A system, you can still visit them at the same URL.)

many responses seo questions forum

Asking Questions

In the new PRO Q&A, you can ask unlimited questions to the PRO community. We’ve done a few weeks of beta testing (thanks to our beta testers for the wonderful feedback!), and received very positive feedback about the timing and quality of responses. So jump in and ask a question!

ask seo questions

PRO members can thumb Q&A responses up and down the same way they can on our blog, earning the author MozPoints. You can view all the questions you’ve asked or answered under My Questions in the gray sub-nav bar. You’ll receive an email when there’s a new response to a question you’ve asked. After you have a few responses, you can select up to three as "Helpful Responses".

my seo questions

choose helpful response seo forum

We think you’ll get some great responses from the community, but you can still ask one private question per month to SEOmoz staff and associates (three for PRO Elite and four for PRO Premier members).

Answering Questions

Answering questions is even more fun than asking them!  Why?  Because you earn MozPoints for excellent answers!  Each time your response gets a thumbs up, you get 1 MozPoint, and if your response gets flagged as a "Helpful Answer", you earn 3 MozPoints.  If you feel the need for speed, respond to a new Q&A post within four hours of being posted and earn 3 MozPoints.  If your response is SEOmoz Endorsed, meaning “We couldn’t have said it better ourselves!”, you earn 10 MozPoints!

Looking for questions to answer? You can click Open Questions to see all the questions with no responses or that have no responses marked as helpful or SEOmoz Endorsed. If you’re an expert on a certain topic, you can choose that category on the left and use the filters to show only open questions or ones with no responses.

answer seo questions

open seo questions

If you see a response or reply that is incorrect, misleading, inappropriate, or just particularly hilarious, feel free to flag it as such. Our moderators always appreciate a little help. Thanks for helping us keep our PRO Q&A friendly and helpful!

flag questions

We get to play too!

You’ll see SEOmoz staff and associates are still actively involved in answering and endorsing questions. We may even ask a few of our own now and then!

staff endorsed seo question

Free members: don’t feel left out!

There’s something here for you, too! While free members can’t ask or answer questions, you can see question threads that are older than two weeks. Also, if a free member gains over 500 MozPoints, they are considered for full access to the PRO Q&A where they can ask and answer questions, gain points for great responses, and see all the latest content. Time to get working on that killer YOUmoz post!

We Love Feedback

While our beta testers did an excellent job of letting us know of ways to improve the new PRO Q&A system, we can always use more comments and ideas on how to make it better. Please feel free to send in feedback using the feedback tab on the left side of page.

PS – You’ll see that the new Q&A has a different navigation than the navigation on the rest of the site. For a few days, you will only see this when accessing the new Q&A. Do not be alarmed. Consider it a sneak peek of what’s to come!

Go to the PRO Q&A

Do you like this post? Yes No

Is there such a thing as over optimized? Can there be too much of a good thing in link building? Well just like eating 100 of the worlds best canolis will make you nauseous, having too much of any good keyword can make your site sick.

What is it?

On- Site:

There are plenty of ways to over optimize on-site for a specific set of keywords.  Spammy keyword stuffed title tags, content with obscene levels of keyword density and hidden text or links, all fall into this category. As Matt Cutts himself says, there’s no real “penalty” for this sort of thing, but it isn’t exactly user-friendly either. And it may make your competitors laugh at you.

Off-Site

There are a few different ways links can be over optimized. It can happen from unnatural link spikes or unwarranted links to unworthy content. But a lot of the time, over optimization is primarily an over-saturation of one particular phrase in a back link profile.  If 75% of your back links use the same anchor-text, to the same page you might be over optimized. And I mean “might” in the same way Jeff Foxworthy means you “might” be a redneck.

When it’s a Problem

When a site’s back links are “natural” they are comprised of a number of different anchor texts. Sure there may be some keywords in there, but there are also brand names, long-tails, random text and URLs. So when a site’s back links all have the same keyword phrase or even slight deviation on a root phrase, that’s just not normal. A solid back link analysis will tell you when you’ve got a problem, and a moratorium on links with the offending anchor text will help. But it may not fix the underlying problem.

I think this kind of thing happens most often because a site wants so badly to rank for one particular phrase that they believe hammering it repeatedly will make it happen. It seems logical, I suppose. But even though the shortest distance between point A and point B is usually a straight line, with search engines it’s not always that simple. It would be nice to think that everybody is aware enough of what’s “normal” to take care to mix it up now and then. But if that were true the terms SEO and link building wouldn’t have such a bad rap. Of course, even with the best of intentions, plenty of variation and complete cognizance of our patterns; we spend so much time trying to create reasonable facsimiles of what “looks” natural we miss out on cultivating conditions that will actually result in natural links.

Creating Diversity

In a conversation about over-optimization not too long ago, someone asked me, “So how often should a link builder use non-keyword anchor text to avoid over-optimization?”

Well, my short answer is; you shouldn’t have to.

Ok, I know that sounds weird. But let me explain. See I operate on the theory that active link building, the kind where you actually do affect the anchor text on the link or the deep page being linked to should focus on major keywords. A broad and relevant set of keywords, but target phrases nonetheless. But that is only one part of the over-all link building equation.

I also believe that link building, involves creating valuable content, building networks and participating in communities, social media, blogs and even real physical communities. These are all, in their own ways, passive forms of link building. Because site promotion, and building awareness may not result in immediate links but they create circumstances in which your content might be linked to freely in the future.

When you take the time to make your site an educational authority, or a unique destination within your niche you can and will attract links that you don’t have to ask for. And that notion brings us full circle back to over-optimization. The point is, you shouldn’t HAVE to worry about asking someone to use the words “click here” as anchor text because if you’ve put the time and effort into the value aspects of your site then someone already should be doing that without you HAVING to ask.

Avoiding over-optimization is really a matter of creating a site that will gather links on its own momentum and using a balanced hand with the links you do actively obtain. It doesn’t need to be yet another thing that link builders have to be afraid of, as long as they aren’t being lazy and cutting corners. But if you’re more concerned with speed and quantity with a lack of attention to detail, ok, then maybe you should worry.

Check out the SEO Tools guide at Search Engine Journal.

Don’t Underestimate Over-Optimization


Obviously, you want your online business to succeed instead of flop. Like most business efforts, you have to learn what to do – very few people succeed by jumping in with both feet. What usually happens is they jump in, find out the water is over their heads and they’ve forgotten how to swim.

Instead, learn how to swim before you jump; the waters of online marketing and online business are really deep. Here are a few swimming lessons, in no particular order:

  1. Link from your site to your blog. If you have a blog and a site, make sure your content is easily accessible to visitors. Don’t make them hunt for your updated content.
  2. Set up social networking. Make your social networks easy to see and follow – don’t hide the buttons somewhere. While most people include social network buttons on their blog, consider putting them in your contact page as well.
  3. Set up social bookmarking. If you don’t already have a way for people to share your content, get some! If you use WordPress, there are tons of social bookmarking plugins available. You can also use something like ShareThis, for regular sites.
  4. Provide a place on your main site for white papers or in depth articles. Blogs are… well, blogs. If you use article marketing as a tool, use your site as one of the article submission areas. Call it “White Papers” or “Long, In-Depth Industry Articles” or “Where We Put Our 2000+ Word Books”. Call it whatever you want, but providing a place like this will help turn your site into an information hub for your industry.
  5. Make sure you have a sitemap. You can pretty it up and have it convenient for visitors to read, or you can just have a plain old XML sitemap. However, sitemaps help search engines crawl your site, so don’t forget to build it and link to it.
  6. Use your keyword analysis and track your usage. We use an Excel sheet, but a Word document works just as well. For each main site page, record what key terms you used, your title and meta description. If you change something, record that as well. This way, you have a steady record of changes and can more easily track how those changes affected your site ranking and traffic.
  7. If you use javascript, create an actual file and link to it in the header of your site. Many people use the header of the site (the part in between <head> and </head>) to put their javascripts. This is the equivalent of stuffing your closet full of crap. Since you don’t want the search engines to open your website closet and have a whole bunch of script fall on them, use files instead!
  8. Don’t ignore content audits. Set a period of time (say, every six months) to do a content audit. A content audit can help you find non-performing pages, identify topics your readers really like and what pages you can get rid of, among other things.
  9. Create a content strategy. You could write up whatever comes to mind, send it out into the waiting black hole of the Internet and wait to see if something comes back. Or, you could create a comprehensive strategy for:
    • what type of content you’ll send out (images, blogs, white papers, videos, etc.)
    • where you’ll put your content (your site, your blog, guest post, YouTube)
    • how you’ll track your efforts (a content tracking program, manual search, etc.)
    • the main (and sub) goals of your content strategy (conversions, more traffic, better engagement)
  10. Share the link love. If you have 15 social networking accounts and each allows you to link to the others, do so. If you’re writing a blog about XYZ and you come across a relevant, supporting article, link to it. If ABC company has a good white paper about your industry, share it with your readers. In other words, don’t keep the links to yourself out of fear for your competition. The confidence you have in your company’s product/services will show.

As a final tip, understand that online and offline business is not the same. You may be trying to reach the same target market, clients, customers, whatever you call them, but the methods you use are often quite different. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can take offline lessons and apply them online without taking additional measures.

How has your online business experience worked for you? Did you find it easy to jump in, or, like most, did you need swimming lessons? Share your number one lesson with others in the comments!

Check out the SEO Tools guide at Search Engine Journal.

10 Tips for Building Your Online Business and Keeping It Alive


One of the most important initial steps in any search engine optimization endeavor is keyword research.  Without the right keyword research, you can pretty much count out any success in an SEO project.  Keyword research can mean the difference between sub standard and exceptional performance of a marketing campaign.  So, I would like to go through the steps that I utilize and factors that I consider while performing comprehensive keyword research for a website.

1.  First, brainstorm and determine the keywords that you will target based on industry information.

It sounds more simple than it really is.  If you’re targeting travel, which keywords do you want to focus on?  What competition level are you prepared to go after?  How many conversions can you reasonably handle?  How much link building can you reasonably handle?  Well, one might surmise that the travel industry, for example can include travel related keywords.  To target a group such keywords and find out search data behind them, you could try brainstorming a list like so:

Travel
Airplanes
Bus
Train
Car
Travel by airplane
Travel by Bus
Travel by Train
Travel by Airplane
Travel by Plane
Resort
Hotel

2.  From here, we can plug these keywords into the Google Adwords Traffic Estimator to determine Global Monthly Search Volume, among other stats, to help us determine the best keywords to target for our purposes:

Keyword: travel
Global Monthy Searches: 37,200,000

Keyword:  airplanes
GMS:  2,740,000

Keyword: bus
GMS:  30,400,000

Keyword: train
GMS: 30,400,000

Keyword: travel by airplane
GMS: 12,100

Keyword: travel by bus
GMS: 135,000

Keyword:  travel by train
GMS: 165,000

Description: GoogleKeywordTool-small.jpg

Now that we know our Global Monthly Search Volume, we can look at other factors to choose the best keywords to target.  The keywords travel, airplane, and bus are all way too general.  Are we looking for information on how to travel, or airplane tickets?  Are we looking for information on buses and airplanes, or the best priced tickets for these methods of travel?

Depending on the exact focus of your website, you will want to narrow down your keyword list even further.  These could be keywords like bus travel tickets, bus tickets, or train travel tickets, or train tickets.  But, the keyword research process doesn’t stop there at the brainstorming level.  Other factors influence how long it will take to see results, and how much effort you or your marketing specialist needs to put into the campaign.

Searching Google, we can find that the keyword “travel by bus” is heavily saturated.  You have about 179,000,000 (million) search results to compete against.  THAT is A LOT!!  Before I go further, no legit white hat online marketing techniques are going to get you quick results.  The whole point of the game is to develop a website and establish yourself as a long term player in the marketplace, and if you get caught using black hat techniques, your site can most likely get penalized or banned, depending on the level of offensive techniques involved, which will destroy all of your efforts up to this point.  So, having said this, let’s go back to our 179,000,000 search results.  How does this factor into our determination on which keywords to use?

Well, saturation is rather important.  The more saturated a market is, the more effort that you will require in order to compete against those that already have a following, and so that you can reach the clients who will plunk down money for your travel services.  A market that’s not so saturated means that you have much less competition and therefore even better chances at developing a market following and making some money.  That’s what SEO is all about – making sure that once you get the right keywords based on a group of market factors, that you can then go after those keywords with all the knowledge in the world what your efforts will bring to the table.

Let’s take a look at some better keyword factors that can help increase your odds of success.

travel by plane – GMS 14,800

Saturation Level: 69,400,000 results

Description: Google-Small.jpg

Obviously we have a lower search volume and lower market saturation, so this can be a better choice to target.  But wait, what’s another factor we should consider when we are analyzing our competition and market budget?  Links.  The first site that comes up in the organic results is travel.yahoo.com/flights.  Preliminary backlink analysis reveals 38,089 backlinks.  Can you compete against this?  Yes.  Do you have the budget and manpower to obtain even more valuable links and develop a site that will dominate Yahoo Travel in the SERPs?  Do you have the moxie required to go after such a market with such wide-reaching competition?  If not, then it’s time to consider less competitive keywords.

Keywords with a competition level of less than 1,000,000 and around 5-10,000 Global Monthly Search volumes are good places to start.  I AM generalizing here, so this may be rather different depending on your industry, but those are good competition levels to aim for in the beginning.  If, however, you decide that it’s time to go after the ultimate keywords with the best traffic and overall conversion opportunities, be my guest.  And, if you want to be rather ambitious and take on Yahoo Travel, well, feel free to do so – I’d love to be the inspiration for you to get going on a large undertaking such as this.

You may say “But Brian, I have no time for exhaustive keyword research and determining these factors that will influence my success.  I want to get to the top of the SERPs quickly and easily by just picking and choosing randomly.  What do I do?”  Well, sir, you drive a hard bargain.  You can pick and choose randomly.  But, when you discover that your keywords have no search volume and you’ve been building links and doing on site optimization based on random words with no traffic, what then?  Wouldn’t you rather have maximized your keyword research efforts from the beginning with traffic-laden options like in the above examples?  No online marketing campaign should be embarked upon without at least ensuring that the keywords you’re targeting will deliver some substantial conversion opportunities.

Keyword research is so important, both from a strategic advantage and developing a course of action.  You wouldn’t want to set out on starting a business without a business plan in place would you?  The same can be said for any website that you start as well.  Do the right keyword research in the beginning with the factors that are important, and you’ll see your results soar.

Check out the SEO Tools guide at Search Engine Journal.

Keyword Research: Analyzing the Important Factors that Contribute to Online Marketing Success


Posted by MikeCP

Choosing an eCommerce platform can be a terribly frustrating experience because of the options and packages available, the misinformation, the pushy sales reps, the time and money investment, and so on. I want to talk about this decision because of this experience, but I don’t plan on making any platform recommendations. No, no. That’s really up to you and the resources available to you. But I’m happy to give you a rundown of the SEO elements you’ll want to consider in your decision making process.

If you’re not in the market for a new eCommerce platform, maybe some of these common platform missteps will convince you that it may be time to consider.

Proper Product Image Handling

Your product imagery can provide awesome conversion benefits and make a strong differentiator in your niche. Unfortunately, a lot of eCommerce platforms don’t provide the necessary control and commit a lot of SEO missteps (like generating a new URL when the product images are cycled).

proper image handling
Images that create new URLs is a big no-no. Vat19.com’s Giant Gummy bear page passes this test as the URL doesn’t change when the delicious image is changed.

Page-Level Control of Head and Meta content

Sure, it makes sense for your title tag, H1, and image alt attribute to default to the product name, but if you don’t have the option to create custom meta information you could be in for some frustration. One should be able to edit titles, H1s, image alt attributes, meta descriptions, etc. from every product page in the admin.

Additionally, it’s important that the content in the HEAD section of each page is editable. If I want to drop a Google Website Optimizer script onto one product page, it shouldn’t be impossible. The same goes for adding a rel=canonical, meta robots, or a page-specific JavaScript snippet.

Product Reviews

Product reviews are awesome for conversion, and it seems like many eCommerce platforms today offer some sort of built-in review system. Reviews can also have a positive impact on your product pages’ rankings with the naturally keyword-rich UGC it generates. Unfortunately, tons of product reviews systems utilize JavaScript to call the reviews after the page loads, providing no SEO benefit.

Search engine readable product reviews
Fortunately for Amazon, this review is seen by the Googlebot because it’s rendered in HTML

To make sure your product reviews are search engine readable, view source on a page with reviews and be sure the text appears in the code.

Robust Sitemap and Product Feed Control

Most modern eCommerce platforms submit Sitemaps to the search engines, but there’s so much more that can be done. For instance, segmented Sitemaps is an awesome way to monitor indexation of different sections of your website. If your platform doesn’t allow you to adjust your Sitemaps, you’d be missing out.

Additionally, product feeds allow you to submit your products to comparison shopping engines like Google Merchant Center, NexTag, Shopping.com, and many more. Google Merchant Center is the big one; an eComm platform that auto submits to GMC opens up more possibilities to appear for queries that trigger products in blended search, as well as product extensions for PPC advertisements.

blended search and ppc product extensions
You want this. Your eComm platform should allow it.

301 Redirects, True 404 pages, and Other Rewrite Control

Some of the hosted eComm platforms allow no control over 301 redirects and URL rewriting, and this is a big problem. Similarly, many platforms don’t send a proper 404 status for a dead page, opting instead to 302 redirect to a (status 200) 404.html, or worse, the homepage. As products are removed from your catalog, you should be able to 301 redirect that old URL to a related product, or send a proper 404 status message. Anything else will cause confusion for the search engines AND users. Lastly, and most obviously, URLs should be rewritable to allow for keywords-richness.

improper 404
Contrary to the friendly message, everything is not ok. This "404" page is seen just like any other resolving URL by the search engines. Header checker courtesy of Andy Stratton’s checkmyheaders.com.

Filtered Navigation that Doesn’t Suck

An example of faceted navigationFaceted or filtered navigation is a contentious point amongst eCommerce platforms as very few platforms do it exactly the same.

First and foremost, a filtered navigation that relies on parameters and session IDs can be very difficult, if not impossible to build in an search engine friendly manner. In many cases, the Googlebot could waste a ton of your crawl bandwidth crawling in and out of navigational filters. Additionally, it can become a information architecture nightmare, with the Googlebot crawling deeper and further from the homepage to reach product pages.

A more modern approach to faceted navigation is through using AJAX to filter products. Just make sure that there’s an HTML crawl path to your products, and you’re not hiding any really good organic landing pages within your AJAX navigation.

There’s a lot of ways to approach this issue, and its worthy of its own discussion. See Rand’s Whiteboard Friday on the matter. The general rules for a search friendly faceted navigation:

  • Keep the crawlers from crawling endlessly through filters. Remember, rel=nofollow and canonical don’t preserve crawl bandwidth.
  • Don’t hide great organic landing pages from the crawlers by using AJAX. AJAX is ok, as long as there’s an alternate path to pages you’d like to rank.
  • Robots.txt can be used as a solution but must be done carefully (for example, creating a rule to disallow access to URLs with 2 or more parameters/filters).

Site Speed

At this point I’m really more concerned with site speed from a conversion standpoint, rather than as a ranking factor, but there’s reason to believe site speed will see increased importance in the algorithms’ future. An advanced cacheing ability is a must for the modern eCommerce platform.

A few more SEO elements

  • Automatically generated but manually editable HTML sitemap.
  • Simple breadcrumbs. Preferably generated in a way that triggers Google’s enhanced snippet:
    enhanced breadcrumb snippet from Google
  • Navigation that non-JavaScript users (and crawlers) can navigate. Image-based navigation should use alt attributes or css image replacement. See Amazon’s approach with css, images, and JavaScript disabled visible on the right:
    amazon.com's search friendly navigation
  • DNS control to allow CNAMEs, content delivery network integration, subdomain usage, etc.
  • Customizable (or no) file extensions in URLs. domain.com/product/ rather than domain.com/product.php.
  • Blog integration on a subfolder. If this isn’t possible and your blog has to go on a subdomain (or worse, another domain entirely), that could be a sign of even more frustrating control issues.

Some Non-SEO elements

There’s obviously TONS of non-SEO related features that should be included in a good eCommerce platform. Here are just a few.

  • Strength in Numbers and Extendability – At some point your eCommerce platform will frustrate you for one reason or another, and you’ll feel a lot better if there’s a vibrant community and developers building extensions behind it to help.
  • Data Portability – Can you export and import all of your data from the admin? If one of your manufacturers makes a change to all of their products that requires a small edit to all of their descriptions, can this be done simply? And what about a few years later when you’re ready to move to a new platform?
  • Internal Site Search – Your platform should definitely have a strong internal site search functionality, or at least allow for full integration of a third party’s search solution.
  • Updated, but Not Too Often! – When was the last time your platform updated? 3 years ago? Well, a lot has changed since then, I’m not sure I’d trust that. At the same time, updates every other week can be extremely frustrating.
  • Great Checkout Process – We’ll leave what "great" actually means to the conversion rate experts. Needless to say, this is a HUGE differentiator for eComm platforms. I’ll also lump advanced control of shipping rules, gift cards, and coupon codes in here as well.

That’s Everything! </sarcasm>

I don’t envy the engineers behind today’s eCommerce platforms. They’re tasked with building a system that’s both simple yet robust, ‘just gets out of the way’ yet ‘all-in-one’, user friendly yet secure, and so on. No fun. I don’t expect that I’ve covered every bit of must-have functionality either, but I hope I’ve got most of it. If you’ve got any particularly frustrating stories from dealing with your eCommerce platform, follow me on Twitter and let me know, or sound off in the comments.

Obligatory “You Forgot Feature X” Updates:

  • From @yoast: support for rich snippets. Google recently added eCommerce sites to the list of sites that can utilize rich snippets. Fortunately, if your GMC feed is properly set up, you may not have to do anything to take advantage.
  • From @dergal: Analytics. I left built-in web analytics out originally because I’m a die-hard Google Analytics junkie, but if done well it can be a nice feature to have.

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The Academy Awards, more frequently dubbed the Oscars, are more than an event – they’re a nationwide phenomenon. It’s little surprise, then, that as technology advances, so does the number of ways viewers can take in the entire thing. From the red carpet to interviews to the award show itself, the Web has become an invaluable resource for any true Oscars fans. Here are some of the best ways you can view the Academy Awards online.

  • The Official Oscars Site will offer live streaming, but it also goes well beyond that. You can check out “special cameras” that go backstage for exclusive interviews, or simply explore the site to get all the information you need on the nominees and awards.
  • YouTube’s Oscar Channel features a huge lineup of video only content of several exclusive interviews, outtakes, and other clips.
  • Livestream has a page devoted to the event. Visiting it now will allow users to revisit broadcasts of earlier related events, such as the Nominee Lunch.
  • While AP Live is made up primarily of content embedded from Livestream, the site organizes it all effectively and compiles a lot of other useful data, links, news, and more.
  • ABC, the channel you would normally visit on one of those antique picture viewing boxes if you wanted to catch the show, has also compiled videos and will be showing the event. Their “get to know the nominees” section of videos is especially impressive.
  • TV Guide’s sub-site is perfect for those who want to focus on the fashion of the event. In addition to providing some exclusive commentary during the “red carpet” phase of things, the site has videos from prior years that will help prep fashionistas on what to expect.
  • The Yahoo Movie’s page for the Oscars continues Yahoo’s grand tradition of devoting itself to entertainment before all else. A list of nominees, useful links, and polls fleshes out this page nicely.

While there are several others sites which allow live streaming of the event, the links listed above are both free and provide additional content for real fans of this entertainment mega-event. Several of the sites listed above even provide full versions of the event from previous years, allowing for the perfect “recap show” leading up to your Oscar Party this year.

The 2011 Academy Awards will be the 83rd of its kind, and will be hosted by James Franco (127 Hours, Eat Pray Love, Spiderman) and Anne Hathaway (The Devil Wears Prada, Alice in Wonderland, Get Smart). Other presenters include Nicole Kidman, Jeff Bridges, Mandy Moore, Hugh Jackman, Sandra Bullock, Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, and Oprah Winfrey. with performances from Gwyneth Paltrow, Zachary Levi, and Florence Welch. The coveted “best picture” nominees include The Fighter, Toy Story 3, Black Swan, True Grit, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, 127 Hours, The King’s Speech, The Social Network, and Winter’s Bone. Those interested in exploring the other nominees will want to check out the official sites linked above.

Check out the SEO Tools guide at Search Engine Journal.

Academy Awards : Watch the 2011 Oscars Online