Search engine optimization for small and very small businesses.

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How to Protect Your SEO During a Website Redesign

Protect Your SEO

Google rankings drop after a website redesign.Your website search rankings have been earned through time and a significant amount of effort. There are a number of situations where a change to your website runs the risk of jeopardizing those rankings.

  • A redesign of your website
  • Changing your website to be responsive and mobile-friendly
  • Changing your domain (e.g. BobAndJohnsPlumbing.com becomes BobsPlumbing.com)
  • Changing your top level domain (e.g. from .net to .com)
  • Switching to a secure HTTPS website from an insecure HTTP website

Any of these changes involve a very real risk of losing your hard-earned search rankings. When the URL (the website address) of any of your pages changes, all of the links that pointed to that page still point to the old URL. That means the new URL suddenly has no external links pointing to it, and link authority (domain authority, page authority) drops to zero. That link authority is a critical part of your search rankings. When it drops to zero, so does your Google ranking.

When you begin any website maintenance that’s going to change your URLs, you need to pay special attention to protecting your SEO by protecting your inbound link profile.

How to Protect Your Link Authority

301 permanent redirects are used to protect link authority during a website redesign.A 301 permanent redirect is something your web designer should be well familiar with. It tells anyone looking for an old URL where to go to see that information in its new URL. Unlike other ways to redirect people, the 301 redirect also allows the new URL to inherit the link authority that had been earned by the old page.

So the first step is to compile a list of the URLs of all the pages on your site before you switch over to the redesigned version. Next to each one, annotate the URL of the new version of that page. If any of your old pages are disappearing, annotate the URL of the closest matching page in your redesigned website. If there really isn’t a matching page in your new website, then use the URL of your home page.

Each of those pairs of URLs represents a unique 301 permanent redirect which your web designer needs to create. Those need to go into effect at the same time as your redesigned website goes live. If you want to test any of your 301 redirects to make sure they’re working properly, there’s a redirect testing tool here.

The inheritance of link authority isn’t instantaneous, so expect a loss of rankings for a few weeks. But there are some things you can do to combat that.

For any of your inbound links with whom you have a personal or professional relationship, contact them and ask them if they would change the target of their links to point directly to the new URLs. that can work to speed up how quickly your rankings will return. And as always, link building should be an ongoing activity. New links to your new URLs are very important after a website redesign.

More information:

This is an update to our original post from 2007.

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8 Small Business SEO Essentials You Need to Understand

How You Can Compete With the Big Boys

Learning about SEO is an investment in your business.Large companies and national franchises have an obvious edge in search visibility over your small business.

  • They have thousands of inbound links giving them authority or importance on the web.
  • They have a budget for SEO that probably far exceeds your own.
  • Their websites have more pages and deeper content than you can afford to create.
  • At least some of them are bound to have been around longer than your company has.

But that doesn’t have to stop you.

SEO is no longer just about who’s been on the web longer, who has more pages on their website, or even who has the most links. It’s about which web page has the most relevance to what was searched and who has the best answer for the searcher’s question.

You can do this.

Here are eight things for you to understand and put in place on your site.

1) Focus on Quality Content

If you sell products, you need to go beyond the manufacturer’s stock product description that everyone has on their website. Add valuable information about how to choose the right product or what extra value you offer that makes your company the smart choice to buy from.

If you sell a service, explain your Unique Selling Proposition: what sets you apart from your run-of-the-mill competitor? What questions should a customer ask to tell if the company they’re considering is the best?

Provide extra value to the searcher in your content and you’ll be rewarded with higher rankings.

2) Backlinks are Essential

Link Popularity — the number and quality of other sites that link to yours — is an essential tie-breaker for search rankings. Google doesn’t want to show lousy web sites on the first page, and the more other web sites think you’re good enough to link to, the better search engines assume you must be.

Backlinks are essential to good search rankings.Quality is more important than quantity here; sites with a good authority or importance themselves bequeath more value to you via their links. The more important sites that link to yours, the higher is your Domain Authority or importance on the web.

Relevance is also a factor: a site that’s related to you is a more valuable link than one that’s not. Links from sites in similar businesses or in the same Chamber of Commerce or professional association tend to count more than sites that aren’t.

If two web pages address a given search equally well, the one with a higher level of importance on the web will almost always outrank the other one.

[Update 1/4/2020:] The folks at T-Ranks have published a thorough article on How To Get Backlinks.

3) Don’t Try to Fool Google

So-called Black Hat SEOs have tried for years to fool Google into ranking websites higher than they deserve. And sometimes their tricks work — for a little while. But when Google catches them their clients suffer.

Don’t do it. It’s as simple as that.

4) Take Advantage of the Long Tail

Long tail distributionThe term long tail refers to the ends of a normal distribution bell curve.

The head portion represents the more generic searches people use: shoes, plumber, lawyer, restaurant.

The long tail portion represents more specific searches that aren’t searched nearly as often: women’s Muk Luk boots, plumber in Morristown NJ, criminal defense lawyer in San Diego, Mexican restaurant in Fargo.

Competition is much less for long tail keywords and your chance of ranking well is vastly improved.

5) Leverage Local SEO

If you’re a local business that interacts with your customers on a face-to-face basis, you need to take advantage of Local SEO opportunities. Google recently explained how to improve your rankings for local search. The three main factors for local search rankings are:

Increase your local visibility on Google.

  1. Relevance — how closely your content matches the searcher’s intent
  2. Distance — how local you are to the search being conducted
  3. Prominence — how widely known you are based on SEO rankings and information Google has on you from reviews, links, and listings in local directories, maps and apps.

You handle relevance through your normal SEO process of keyword selection and keyword-focused content. Distance requires that your pages include your address. Prominence is a bit more challenging in that there are dozens of directories and other locally-focused websites you need to be listed on. That brings us to the next item:

6) You Need Widespread and Consistent Citations

Some of the sites in PowerListingsIf you show up in lots of local sites with a consistent NAP (name, address, phone), search engines have a higher degree of trust about who you are and where you’re located. If you don’t show up, there’s less trust and that translates into lower rankings. Also, if you’re listed inconsistently with previous addresses on some sites, variations of your company name,  or bad/old phone numbers there’s less trust as well.

You need to make sure you’re listed correctly on as many of these sites as possible. We have a product called PowerListings that automates that for you and locks in your information. You can learn more about PowerListings here.

7) Achieve Freshness on Your Blog

There are lots of ways a blog helps you rank well in search engines.Having fresh content on your site encourages the search engines to visit more often and helps with your rankings. But beware of people who tell you to change or freshen up the content on your optimized pages. In our experience that’s likely to de-optimize your pages and hurt your rankings.

Instead, host a blog on your site and write informative content for your target market at least monthly, Weekly may be better if you can manage it. That’s all the fresh content you need, and it provides you with an opportunity to share your blog posts on social media and an email newsletter.

8) The Value of Google+ and +1 Signals

Google's G logoYou probably know that you need a Facebook page and perhaps a Twitter account. But lots of small businesses ignore Google+ and that’s a mistake. If you have a strong, active Google+ presence you’re likely to earn +1s. They’re similar to Facebook Likes. The folks at Moz noted that next to your web authority, the number of Google +1s is most highly correlated with great search rankings.

In addition, links back to your web pages from Google+ carry more weight than links from Facebook and Twitter because they’re the only ones that convey actual PageRank value.

Update May 2019: Sad to say, Google+ never lived up to its potential and is being discontinued as of October, 2019.

Rank Magic can help!

We’re the small business SEO experts.

We focus on what I call “small and very small businesses” and we address all eight of these factors and much more for our clients. We recognize that as a small business owner you have your hands full with running your business and have little time to spend paying attention to all of your marketing efforts.

Please give us a call to discuss your website. I’ll be happy to personally look at your site with you and evaluate its strengths and weaknesses so you can determine if we’re a good match for what you need.

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How Many Incoming Links Do I Really Have?

Your Link Profile Is an Important Ranking FactorWe rely on Moz for link count data because they have the most comprehensive coverage of the Internet.

Your website’s link profile is an essential ranking factor at Google. It’s a reflection of how important or authoritative information on your website is. Your link profile is based on the number and sources of inbound links to your site. I estimate it counts for 40-50% of where you rank on Google. And while link quality outweighs link counts, many of our clients still like to know how their link counts are doing.

Where do we get your link counts?

In the past we’ve tracked inbound link counts from a number of sources, including Moz, SEMrush, Majestic, and ahrefs.

We track the number of inbound links you have grapohically and report it to you regularly. Link count him him him him hims is one of the factors that goes into your Domain Authority.

We track the growth of inbound link counts and report it to our clients regularly.

We now collect our link counts from Moz for simplicity and because they have the most comprehensive scan of the web from which they gather that information.

Link age may be a consideration: older links may count less than fresher links. Link weight is also important: the weight of a link is related to the authority of the linking page so that links from more authoritative pages count significantly more heavily in your favor than links from lesser sources. Link relevance is a factor too, with links from websites related to your business helping more than links from completely unrelated sources.

We periodically report to clients about their inbound link counts well as counts of how many other websites are linking. Some websites (domains) may link to you from multiple pages, resulting in a difference between total links and linking domains. Sometimes that difference is considerable.

Domain Authority

We track our clients' Home Page Authority and overall Domain Authority.

We track our clients’ Home Page Authority and overall Domain Authority.

Domain Authority and Page Authority are other metrics from the folks at Moz to measure the strength of a website or an individual page in terms of its likelihood to rank prominently in web search results. On a logarithmic 0-100 scale, it’s based on a number of more elementary metrics including link counts, linking domains, link quality, and more. It’s being continuously tweaked via machine learning against actual Google search results

[Updated on January 29, 2021.]

If you’d like to know more or have us track your own link  profile, just reach out anytime.

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Why Did Your Nice, New Website Destroy Your Search Rankings?

Loss of RankingsIt’s sad to say, but we see this all too often. An old website gets a facelift, and the new site looks great. But it’s not long before the website owner notices that they’re no longer getting any business from people finding them on the web. What happened?

We’ve written before about why good SEO consultants make lousy web designers, and vice versa, and there are just some SEO techniques that great web designers don’t really think much about.

The two mistakes that kill your online visibility

There are two main factors that govern where you rank in the search engines: Relevance and Reputation. A significant problem with either one of them will cost you rankings in the search engines.

Keyword relevanceRelevance

During the website redesign, the text copy on your pages may be updated. Certainly the HTML code behind the pages is changed. It’s not at all uncommon for the new copy to fail to use some of your essential keyword phrases or for them not to be included appropriately in the code. This makes it difficult for search engines to recognize that your page is an appropriate match for those keyword phrases.

The solution to this is to go back to your original optimization recommendations and re-apply them to your webpages.  (You do have optimization recommendations to reapply, don’t you?)

Reputation

This accounts for 40-50% of where you rank in Google. It’s important in other search engines as well, but Google weighs it more heavily than the rest of them. Your reputation (sometimes called  “authority”) is measured by your link popularity:” the number and quality of other websites that link to yours. Over time, the pages on your website have earned significant link popularity, helping them to rank well in the search engines.

URL changes can hurt your rankings

Unfortunately, most website redesign projects result in new URLs for the pages on your website. Without explicit action, all the link popularity earned by you or previous page URLs is simply lost. This is related to the issue of canonicalization we discuss in the SEO portion of our website, as well as in our blog.

The solution is to do the proper kind of “redirect” from the old URL to the new URL so that the new URL can inherit the link popularity and reputation earned by your previous version of the page. There are multiple kinds of redirects that will ensure that anyone who tries to go to your old page will be sent to the new one. But only one kind, the 301 permanent redirect, will also redirect the link popularity value from the old URL to the new one.

Don’t Panic

Don't Panic!

Obviously, if this happens to you you need to jump on it as quickly as possible and get things fixed. Better still would be to anticipate this potential disaster and deal with it before your redesigned website even goes live.

If this has happened to you and you need help recovering from the loss of search rankings, Rank Magic can help.

Has this happened to you? Share your experience in the Comments below.

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Are Social Media Links Devalued?

social mediaThis is a frequently asked question.

We’re often asked if links from social media sites like Facebook and Twitter count less than other kinds of links. We’ve found an interview conducted awhile back by Stephan Spencer of Netconcepts with Matt Cutts (widely known as “The Google Guy”) where that question was pointedly asked.

Here’s Google’s response

Typically, our policy is: a link is a link, is a link; wherever that link’s worth is, that is the worth that we give it. Some people ask about links from DMOZ, links from .edu or links from .gov, and they say: “Isn’t there some sort of boost? Isn’t a link better if it comes from a .edu?” The short answer is: no, it is not. It is just .edu links tend to have higher PageRank, because more people link to .edu’s or .gov’s.

To the best of my knowledge, I do not think we have anything that says social bookmark links are given less weight. Certainly, some sites like del.icio.us (now delicious.com) and other people, may choose to put individual “nofollows” in and they may choose to take actions to try to prevent spam, but we do not typically say anything like: social bookmarking by itself – give less weight.

For a more thorough look at nofollow links, check out this ultimate guide.

So there you have it. If this emboldens you to become more active on social sites, go for it. And if you need help with that or other SEO issues, just give us a call.

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