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Link Echoes (a.k.a. Link Ghosts): Why Rankings Remain Even After Links Disappear – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

One of the more interesting phenomena illustrated by Rand’s IMEC Lab project is that of “link echoes,” sometimes referred to as “link ghosts.” The idea is that if we move a page up in rankings by pointing links to it, and then remove those links, the bump in rankings often remains.

In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand explains what’s going on.

One quick note: Rand mentions a bit.ly link in this video that isn’t quite accurate; here’s the correct one. =)

For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard!

Video Transcription

Howdy Moz fans and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week I’m going to talk a little bit about link echoes. This is the reverberation of the effect of a link across Google’s link graph and across the rankings, that has an impact even after a link has been removed. In the past, we have also referred to these as link ghosts, but I think link echoes is actually a much better name. I appreciate some folks pointing that out for me.

Let me show you exactly what I’m talking about. So, as you might know, I’ve been running a number of tests, and those tests have been happening through a project I call IMEC Lab. If you go to http://bit.ly/imeclab, you will find this project ongoing.

We’ve been performing a number of tests over the last six months. I started with a smaller group. The group has gotten bigger. So we’ve been able to test some really fascinating things. A number of those have been around tests related to links. I’m going to share one of those tests, because it helps really highlight what’s going on with link echoes.

So we had a page point ranking number 31 for a key phrase, a not very competitive keyword search phrase, and the only reason I’m not transparently sharing these, at least not yet, is because we prefer that Google didn’t know all of the websites and pages that we’re pointing links from. Otherwise, they could potentially mess with the test. We like to keep the test results as clean as possible, and so we’re not disclosing these for right now.

Another page, page B ranking number 11 for the same query. So page ranking for query A, that’s page A ranking number 31, page B ranking number 11. Of course, our first step . . . well, this was one of the steps in our test was we pointed 22 links from 22 different websites, all the same pages of those sites to both A and B. We were actually trying to test anchor text. So we pointed anchor text exact match links at A, non-match at B. We wanted to see which one would boost it up. Some of the links we put first, some of the links we put second. We tried to control a bunch of variables.

We ran tests like these many times. I think this particular one we repeated four or five different times. In this case, we saw A, the one that was ranking number 31, it moved up to position one. Just 22 links were able to move it, bam. Anchor text links able to move it up to position one. Anchor text links obviously still pretty darn powerful. We could see that in each of our tests.

B we pointed those same 22 links at, that moved up 6 positions. Remember it didn’t have the exact match anchor text, so it moved up to position five, still quite impressive.

Then we did something else. We took those links away. We removed all the links, and this is pretty natural. We want to run more tests. We’re going to use some of these same sites and pages, so we removed all the links, no longer exist. The next week, they’d all been indexed. What happened?

Well, gosh, page A, that was ranking number 31 and moved up to 1, even after all those pages that were linking to it had been indexed with no link there anymore by Google, didn’t move. It stayed in position number one. That’s pretty weird. Almost the same thing happened with result B. It moved down one position. It’s ranking number six.

Even weirder, this happened over four and a half months ago. We’re now in the middle end of July. This was in mid-April, early April. That’s a very long time, right? Google’s indexed these pages that we’re linking many times, never seen the links to them. As far as we can tell, there are no new links pointing to either of those pages. At least we haven’t seen them, and none of the link tools out there have seen them. So it’s possible, maybe some new links.

Here’s where it gets weird. This effect of these link tests, remaining in place long after the link had been removed, happened in every single link test we ran, of which I counted eight where I feel highly confident that there were no confounding variables, feeling really good that we followed a process kind of just like this. The links pointed, the ranking rose. The links disappeared, the ranking stayed high. Eight different consecutive tests every single time. In fact, there wasn’t one test where, when we removed the links, the rankings fell back to their original position. Some of them like this one fell a position or two. Almost everything that we moved from page two or three stayed on page one after we linked to it, even after removing the links.

This argues strongly in favor of a phenomenon that some SEOs have speculated about for a good amount of time. I believe one of them is Martin Panayotov — I might not be pronouncing his name correctly — and, of course, Moz contributor Michael King, iPullRank. Both of them had commented on a post years ago saying link ghosts, aka link echoes, are real. You guys should look into them. Sorry it took us so long to look into this, but this is fascinating.

Now, there could be a number of explanations behind this link echo phenomenon, the continuing reverberation of a link’s effect on a ranking. It could be that maybe that page ends up performing well in Google’s analysis of its user and usage data. It ranks well for this relatively unpopular query. It’s ranking number one. And you know what? Google’s finding that the click-throughs are still pretty high. There’s not a lot of pogo sticking back to the results. Maybe they’re going, “Hey, this page looks legit. Let’s leave it here,” even after the links disappear.

It could be that the site or page was bolstered by other factors, other ranking factors that we may not know about. It could be that every one of these eight times when we moved it up, maybe by moving it up through links we inadvertently did something else to it. Maybe that helped it rank higher for other pages, and those other pages generated links each of these times. That’s fairly unlikely when you repeat the test this many times, but not impossible.

Or it could be that Google actually has something in their algorithm around link echoes, where they say, “Hey, you know what? After a link has disappeared, that doesn’t necessarily mean we should take away the value of that link as a vote forever and ever.” In fact, maybe we should, for a long time, perhaps depending on how many links the page has or how uncompetitive the search results are, or something that they say, “You know what? Let’s leave some remnant, some echo, a ghost of that link’s value in the ranking equation for the site or page.” These things are all possible.

What’s fascinating about practice to me is that it means that, for a lot of us who worry tremendously about link reclamation, about losing links on sites or pages that may produce things freshly, but then remove them on blogs that don’t always stay consistent across time, that we may be getting more value than we think from a link that disappears in the future. Of course, learning more about how Google works, about their operations is just fascinating to me. Google says their mission is to organize the world’s information and to make it universally accessible and useful. Well, I think part of Moz’s mission and my mission is to organize information about how Google works and make it universally accessible and useful. That’s what I hope we’re doing with some of these tests, particularly around link ghosts.

So I’m looking forward to some great comments. I’m sure many of you are going to have things that you’ve observed as well. If you’d like to follow along with this and other tests, I’d suggest checking out . . . you can go to bit.ly/mozmadscience and see the full presentation from my MozCon talk, in which I talk about link ghosts and a number of other tests we’ve been performing. I’ll be sharing a few of those individually here on Whiteboard Friday as well. But link echoes is such a fascinating one, I thought we should bring that out right away.

Thanks everyone. Take care. We’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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I See Content Everywhere – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by MarkTraphagen

Most of us who work in content marketing have felt the strain that scaling puts on our efforts. How on Earth are we supposed to keep coming up with great ideas for new pieces of content? The answer is, in some sense, all around us. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, MozCon community speaker Mark Traphagen shows us how to see the world in a different way—a way that’s chock full of content ideas.

Heads-up! We’re publishing a one-two punch of Whiteboard Fridays from our friends at Stone Temple Consulting today. Be sure to check out “Content Syndication” by Eric Enge, as well!

For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard!

Video transcription

Hey, hello. I’m Mark Traphagen from Stone Temple Consulting, and welcome to this week’s Whiteboard Friday. I want to talk to you today, starting out, about a movie that I hope you’ve all seen by now, because this should not be a spoiler alert. I’m not even going to spoil the movie, but it’s “The Sixth Sense.”

Most of you know that movie. You’ve seen it and remember it. The little kid who says that creepy thing: “I see dead people.”

What I want to give to you today, what I want to try to teach you to do and bring to you is that you see, not dead people, but content and see it everywhere. Most of us realize that these days we’ve got to be producing content to be effective on the Web, not only for SEO, but to be effective in our marketing, in our branding and building the reputation and trust authority that we need around our brand. That’s going to be happening by content.

We’re all topically challenged

But if you’re the one tasked with coming up with that content and you’ve got to create it, it’s a tough job. Why? Most of us are topically challenged. We come to that moment, “What do I write about? What do I do that video about? What do I make that podcast about? What’s the next thing I’m going to write about?” That’s going to be the hardest thing.

When I talk to people about this, people who do this, like I do every day for a living, producing, inventing content, they’re almost invariably going to put that in the top three and usually number one. What do I do? Where do I get this from?

It’s more important now than ever before. It used to be just most companies that did content at all, websites, would hire an SEO copywriter. They’d actually use that term. We need an SEO copywriter. That usually meant that we’re looking for somebody who’s going to know where to put the keywords in enough times, and we don’t really care what else goes on with the content, what they write or how they say it or how good a writer they are as long as they can know the ways to manipulate the search engines.

Well, I think most of us now, if you watch these Whiteboard Friday videos, you know it, that that just doesn’t work anymore. That’s not going to cut it. Not only does that not really work with the search engines so well anymore, but it’s not really using your content effectively. It’s not using it to build, again, that reputation, that trust, that authority that you need around your brand and that content can be so powerful to do.

Get yourself some cyborg content eyes

So what I’m going to challenge you to do today is to get content eyes. You’ve got to get content eyes. You’ve got to get eyes that see content everywhere. This is what I train myself to do. It’s why I’m never out of ideas for that next blog post or that next video. You start to see it everywhere. You’ve got to get those eyes for it.

You’ve got to be like that professional photographer. Professional photographers are like this. This is what they have. Some of them, maybe they are born with it, but I think a lot of them have just developed it. They train themselves that everywhere they walk, when they’re going down the city street, when they’re out in the country, or wherever they are, they see photographs. The rest of us will walk right by it and say, “That’s just stuff happening.” But they see that old man on the street that has a face that tells a story of long ages. They see the way that shadow falls across the street at that moment, that right time of day. They see that’s a photograph. That’s a photograph. That’s a photograph.

You’ve got to start looking for that with content. You’ve got to be like Michelangelo. According to legend anyway, he said that he could look at a block of granite and see the sculpture that was inside it, waiting for him to chisel it out. That’s what you’ve got to train yourself to do.

So what I want to do today with the rest of this time is to give you some ways of doing that, some ways that you can look at the other content that you’re reading online, or videos you’re watching, conversations that you get into, listening to a conference speaker, wherever you are to start to look for that and get those content eyes. So let’s break into what those are.

Like the bumper sticker says, question everything

By questioning everything here, I mean develop a questioning mind. This is a good thing to do anyway when you’re reading, especially when you’re reading non-fiction content or you’re looking at and evaluating things. But for the content producer, this is a great tool.

When I’m looking at a piece of content, when I’m watching one of Rand’s Whiteboard Friday videos, I don’t just say, “Oh, it’s Rand Fishkin. I’ve got to take everything that he says.” I formulate questions in my mind. Why is that true? He just went past that fact there, but how does he know that?

Wait, I’d like to know this, but I’m looking at a Whiteboard video. I could yell at it all day, and Rand’s not going to answer me. But maybe instead of just putting that question in the comments, maybe that becomes my next piece of content.

Install a question antenna

So question everything. Get those questions. Related to that — get a question antenna up. Now what I mean by that is look for questions that are already there, but aren’t getting answered. You see a great blog post on something, and then you look in the comments and see somebody has asked this great question, and neither the author of the blog post nor anybody else is really answering it adequately. Chances are, if that’s a really great question, that person doesn’t have it alone. There are a lot of other people out there with that same question.

So that’s an opportunity for you to take that and make a piece of content out of it. We’re talking here about something that’s relevant to the audience that you’re after, obviously. So that’s another thing is looking for those questions, and not just on other pieces of content, but obviously you should be listening to your customers. What are the questions they’re asking? If you don’t have direct access to that, talk to your sales staff. Talk to your customer service people. Whoever interfaces with the customers, collect their questions. Those are great sources of content.

Finally, here, not finally. Second to finally, penultimate, do the mash-up. I love mash-ups. I’m totally obsessed with them. It’s where somebody, an artist goes and takes two or three or sometimes more pieces of pop music —

they could be from different eras — and puts them together in a very creative way. It’s not just playing one after the other, but finds ways that they sonically match up and they can blend over each other. It might be a Beatles song over Gangster’s Paradise. A whole new thing happens when they do that.

Juxtapose this! By which I mean do a mash-up.

Well, you can do mash-ups. When you’re reading content or watching videos or wherever you’re getting your stimulation, look for things that juxtapose in some way, that you could bring that in, in some way that nobody’s done before.

Quickly, there are four kinds of things you should be looking for to do your mash-up. Sometimes you could be writing about things that intersect in some way. You might see two different pieces of content and, because you’ve got your content eyes out there, you say, “Ah, there’s an overlap here that nobody is talking about.” So you talk about it. You write about that.

It might be a total contrast. It might be like over here people are saying this, and over here people are saying that. Why is there such a difference?

Maybe you can either resolve that or even just talk about why that difference is there.

It can be just an actual contradiction. There’s contradiction in this thing. Why is that contradiction there? Or maybe just where they complement each other. That’s supposed to be a bridge between there. Not a very good bridge. The two things, how do they complement each other? The mash-up idea is taking two or more ideas that are out there floating around, that you’ve been thinking about, and bringing them together in a way that nobody else has.

Before I go on to the last one here, I just want to say “Do you see what we’re doing?” We’re synthesizing out of other stimulus that’s out there to produce something that is unique, but birthed out of other ideas. That’s where the best ideas come from. That’s a way that you can be getting those ideas.

Let’s brand-name-acne-treatment this topic up

Let’s go to the last one here. I call it Clearasil because it’s clearing things up. This is one I use a lot. Maybe it’s because I have a background as a teacher years ago. I’ve got to make this clear. I’ve got to explain this. When you see something out there that is interesting or new, somebody presents some new facts, a test result, whatever it is, but they just kind of presented the facts, you could go, if you understand it, and say, “I think I know what that’s happening. I think I know the implications of that.” You could go and explain that. Now you have cleared that up, and you’ve created a great new piece of useful content.

A quick example of that kind of thing is I had a chat with Jay Baer recently, of Convince & Convert. Something he said just pinged in my mind and I said, “Yes, that’s why some of my content works.” He has this thing that he calls “and therefore” content. He says that he’s trained his staff and himself that when they go out and they see something where somebody has said like, “This happened out there,” kind of reporting of the news, they say, “Let’s write about or do a video about or an audio or whatever, and therefore what this means to you, and therefore the next steps you need to take because of that, and therefore what might happen in the future.” You see the power of that?

So the whole thing here is getting content eyes. Learning to see content everywhere. Train yourself. Begin to ask those questions. Begin to look at the stimulus that comes in around you. Listen, look, and find out what you can put together in a way that nobody else has before, and you’ll never run out of those content ideas. Thanks a lot for joining me today.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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