West Midlands SEO: the Top 10

In my 2009 post, ‘Get Adam Arnold to the top of Google‘, I documented the impact of different SEO techniques on the performance of my blog in the search engine results pages.

With particular reference to the search term ‘Adam Arnold’, this blog moved from a lowly spot on the 6th page of the Google SERPs to the top of the first page in a little over two months. It is fair to say I was over the moon with this result, given I knew next to nothing about search engine optimisation at the time.

Prior to running this experiment, I had no idea there were so many Adam Arnolds out there. If you glaze past ceo.smartergroup.biz in the search results you’ll find an actor, Sky News reporter, comic book artist and fashion designer amongst others.

On the one hand it seems impressive that I managed to top the Google SERPs so quickly, however it must be noted that none of the competing sites (on ‘Adam Arnold’ searches) have anything to do with SEO. Sadly the same cannot be said in my latest quest, to top the pile for ‘West Midlands SEO’ Google searches.

‘West Midlands SEO’ as at 26th July 2011

A quick scout of the top 10 shows some familiar faces. Coffeeblack SEO and SEOitRIGHT are two very well established companies offering search engine optimisation and related services. It’s fair to say it would be a monumental achievement to take their position, so I better get cracking.

The Smarter SEO website files are being uploaded at the moment and I’ll be adding content over the coming week. I’ll update this post again once SmarterSEO.biz has been indexed and appears somewhere on the Google SERPs.

In passing, I was quite surprised to see my previous post on Builders in Hagley (West Midlands) shows up on page 4! This gives me some hope that I may be able to jump straight into the first 5 pages of results.

‘West Midlands SEO’ as at 26th July 2011 (part 2)

This seems like a promising start:

West Midlands SEO results - 26 07 11
West Midlands SEO results – 26 07 11

 

‘West Midlands SEO’ as at 26th July 2011 (part 3 & a warning!)

I know that Google has a tendency to pick up on changes to my blog very quickly indeed, so I thought I’d run another search after posting the previous update.

At the time, I was logged into my Google+ account and here is the result:

West Midlands SEO results - 26 07 11 (2)
West Midlands SEO results – 26 07 11 (2)

Remember, if you’re trying to test the impact of content changes on your SERP performance, make sure you clear your cookies and cache (which will log you out of any Google accounts), or the results can be misleading!

‘West Midlands SEO’ as at 28th July 2011

West Midlands SEO
West Midlands SEO

This post has moved to the top of page 3 of Google searches for ‘West Midlands SEO’, although this is more of an observation than a result.

Ultimately, the goal is to place SmarterSEO.biz on the first page of Google for searches on ‘West Midlands SEO’. With that in mind, it’s time to build the website!

I’ve uploaded WordPress to the SmarterSEO.biz hosting and have created a holding page while I work on the main content. In the meantime, site visitors will see a copy of our Google Places listing.

A brief service interruption

From time to time, web hosting companies need to perform security or performance updates to their servers. When this happens, there’s always a chance that customers using those servers will face some website downtime.

In many cases, web hosting companies will do this without any prior announcement which can be hugely frustrating for consumers.

We are currently working to improve the facilities that we provide for you in our London data centre, where some (or all) of your hosting services with us are currently located.

As part of the improvements, a number of the network switches that we use to provide connectivity to servers within our network are in-need of upgrades to their firmware. In many cases these switches have not been rebooted since they were first installed (a number of years ago) and there is now a long list of fixes & features that need to be applied.


We intend to conduct this maintenance during the following period:

Start: 2nd of August at 23:15
Finish: 3rd of August at 00:45

While it isn’t ideal my site(s) face the prospect of being down for a couple of hours, it is really nice to know this in advance.

Since my last post on 34SP.com, I am still thoroughly impressed with their level of service and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them. If, like me, you have numerous websites and do the odd bit of hosting, I you need to check out their Reseller Hosting package. It isn’t the cheapest hosting on offer but in terms of limits (traffic, domains etc), reliability and support you really can’t beat it.

Google Panda: opportunities and appeals

Last month I had the opportunity to present to participants of SPEED West Midlands and provide a quick introduction to search engine optimisation.

The slides are available on this post about Prezi.com & Smarter SEO. Amongst other topics, I touched upon Google Panda – the latest revision to the Google search algorithm which went live in the UK on Monday 11th April.

Google Panda: an opportunity for the Smarter Card?

A number of websites have been substantial drops in traffic following the Panda update (check out Google Panda losers for a list) and many of these are in the money off / discount code / voucher code / cash back industry.

Any update to the Google search algorythm is a ‘zero sum’ game. Offsetting the losers, a number of websites have seen huge increases in traffic and here are ten examples:

ebay.co.uk (+42.06 percent)
techcrunch.com (+40.72 percent)
national-lottery.co.uk (+39.50 percent)
econsultancy.com (+37.09 percent)
thisismoney.co.uk (+30.13 percent)
siteslike.com (+25.37 percent)
mirror.co.uk (+24.87 percent)
blogspot.com (+22.80 percent)
mashable.com (+22.61 percent)
itv.com (+22.38 percent)

This is of particular interest to me as some of the biggest losers in the Panda update are in direct competition with the Smarter Card, which is being relaunched in September. I will be a very happy Panda if I can snare some of the traffic lost by (huge) sites such as myvouchercodes.com and voucherstar.co.uk.

Google Panda: an appeal process

If you think you were unfairly punished by the Google Panda update, all is not lost. Through a form on Google Webmaster Tools, you can ask Google to reconsider your website using a simple form:

Tell us more about what happened: what actions might have led to any penalties and what corrective actions have been taken. If you used a search engine optimisation (SEO) company, please note that: Describing the SEO firm and their actions is a helpful indication of good faith that may assist in the evaluation of reconsideration requests. If you recently acquired this domain and think that it may have violated the guidelines before you owned it, inform us about it below. In general, sites that directly profit from traffic (e.g. search engine optimisers, affiliate programmes, etc.) may need to provide more evidence of good faith before a site will be reconsidered.

There is no guarantee your rank will be reinstated but it’s certainly worth a try!

Domain aliases and duplicate content

For the month of August, I will be working on a range of affiliate websites covering performance knee pads, gardening mats, gaming headsets and cheap performance parts (url’s to follow). The additional income will be more than welcome, however my primary rationale is to provide additional ‘testing facilities’ for Smarter SEO.

It should go without saying that I hope to develop the company into a leading provider of search engine optimisation in the West Midlands. However, there are already many successful businesses providing SEO services in Birmingham, Coventry, Leamington Spa, Walsall, Wolverhampton and the rest of the region, so to make my job a little easier I am trying to differentiate from the competition.

Scouring a list of SEO companies within 50 miles, I don’t see many promoting affiliate websites. It is entirely possible these companies are engaged in affiliate activities and wish to keep them off the (tax man’s) radar, however I think this provides an opportunity: I can conduct real time SEO experiments, see how Google deals with them and then filter the best strategies into client websites. Even if the live testing environment doesn’t translate to a USP, it gives me some additional case studies to throw on the Smarter SEO website!

Question: Are domain aliases good or bad for SEO?
Answer: unknown.
Solution: test it out!

I have snapped up gaming-headsets.co.uk, xbox-headsets.co.uk and ps3-headsets.co.uk. Unfortunately, I spent the best part of the morning trying to work out whether I should use these as domain aliases or place a different site on each url.

A domain alias would mean that, for example, the following addresses would all show the same content:

gaming-headsets.co.uk/surround-sound/
xbox-headsets.co.uk/surround-sound/
ps3-headsets.co.uk/surround-sound/

Scouring Google Webmaster Tools I found a variety of opinions on the subject. In many cases, people seem to think that the use of multiple domains will result in penalties for duplicate content. Some cite the use of 301 redirects or canonical urls.

What are 301 redirects?

If we assume ‘gaming-headsets’ is set as the main domain, 301 redirects would appear as follows:

gaming-headsets.co.uk/surround-sound/ -> “gaming-headsets.co.uk/surround-sound/”
xbox-headsets.co.uk/surround-sound/ -> “gaming-headsets.co.uk/surround-sound/”
ps3-headsets.co.uk/surround-sound/ -> “gaming-headsets.co.uk/surround-sound/”

Clicking on the first url would display the second url in your browser’s address bar. From a user’s perspective, the content on their screen is identical to the domain alias example except for the domain displayed when a user enters the site via the ps3 or xbox url variants.

For assistance on how to set-up a 301 redirect, check out this page on Google Webmaster Tools.

What are Canonical URLs?

Matt Cutts is currently the head of the Google Webspam team. The following is quoted from this entry on his blog:

Q: What is a canonical url? Do you have to use such a weird word, anyway?

A: Sorry that it’s a strange word; that’s what we call it around Google. Canonicalization is the process of picking the best url when there are several choices, and it usually refers to home pages. For example, most people would consider these the same urls:

www.example.com
example.com/
www.example.com/index.html
example.com/home.asp

Applying 301 redirects or canonical URLs

Reading up on each topic in more detail, it seems as though 301 redirects are most beneficial when moving from one domain to another. For example, say company A is taken over by company B, and the latter wishes to integrate all products onto a single website.

Setting up a 301 redirect on Company-A.com/[url] to Company-B.com/Company-A/[url] would be a nice way to maintain any SEO brownie points without risking a duplication of content. However in this instance I am creating new domains, not moving content from one existing url to another.

Canonical URLs are clearly important and I already use them on all of my sites. For example, this post can be found as a direct entry on ceo.smartergroup.biz/[post name] as well as indirectly, via ceo.smartergroup.biz/[category name]/[post name] or ceo.smartergroup.biz/[tag name]/[post name]. I’m currently experimenting with canonical URLs to see which of the above routes is most beneficial to my blog.

The case for the domain alias

Amongst the guidance published on Google Webmaster Tools, country specific domain names are mentioned:

Use top-level domains: To help us serve the most appropriate version of a document, use top-level domains whenever possible to handle country-specific content. We’re more likely to know that www.example.de contains Germany-focused content, for instance, than www.example.com/de or de.example.com.

It could be argued that if a .co.uk and .eu domains would be beneficial for searches taking place in the UK or Europe, then keyword specific domains might have some benefit. The key point to note is that Google will only penalise sites for duplicate content if their algorithm perceives it to be an attempt to deceive the end user. Therefore, I suspect domain aliases – if disclosed and correctly set up in Google Webmaster tools, will provide SEO benefits.

Once I have investigated stand alone domains vs domain aliases vs 301 redirects (in each case paying attention to canonicalisation) on my own websites I will post a follow up to this entry.

Jensen Interceptor For Sale (!)

On tonight’s Top Gear Jeremy Clarkson took a look at a modern remake of the Jensen Interceptor. Using a GM 6.2L V8 the new Interceptor generates over 400 bhp, does 0-60 in 4.5 seconds and will go on to a top speed of 160 mph.

There can be no doubt performance is massively improved, although I wasn’t convinced on the sound. The video below shows an original Jensen Interceptor, complete with 7.2L V8. Even at tick-over, you could easily mistake an Interceptor for God clearing his throat (probably a Jeremy Clarkson quote):

Buy the Jenson Interceptor 6.2L V8 or 7.2L V8

If you’re looking to buy a Jenson Interceptor, you can find the original on eBay from under £6,000. Yes, a Fiat Panda is going to be more efficient on the daily school run but… didn’t you watch the video?

Alternatively, Jensen Cars will sell you the remake for £110,000. Whilst it might not sound quite as brutal, it more than makes up for that in the looks department….

The all new Jensen Interceptor. Available 2014.
The all new Jensen Interceptor. Available 2014.

I’m sure you will agree that the new Jensen Interceptor is absolutely astonishing to look at. The car is due to be revealed to the public late in 2012 with deliveries commencing early in 2014.

Saving videos from an e-mail in iOS4 (esp iPhone & iPad)

It’s been almost four months since my iPhone last forced me to Google something. On that occasion I ended up posting how to move iPhone / iPad contacts from one address book to another, in which I talked about Speed Names – a 59p 69p app that solved my problem.

At the time, the developers of Speed Name hadn’t mentioned the fact you could use it to move contacts between different address books and exchange servers.  However, I’ve just checked their iTunes listing (UK / US) and it seems the description was revised when the latest patch was posted.

Managing e-mail attachments in iOS4

Today’s puzzle surrounds the way attachments, particularly images and video, are handled by the iOS4 e-mail client. If you’re viewing an e-mail which contains photos, you can bring up a prompt to save one or all of them to the Camera Roll by holding one finger on any image. However, doing the same thing with a video attachment brought me to this prompt:

Saving videos attachments in iOS4
Saving videos attachments in iOS4

Obviously, I didn’t fancy removing the Dropbox app so I tried a few other screen strokes to see if there was another way.

Turning to Google, I could find numerous people asking how to save video attachments in iOS4 but none of the threads had been resolved.  Moving my search to the App Store, I found Downloads – Download Manager (UK / US) which boasts a function to save video files to the iPhone’s Camera Roll.

From what I could gather, Downloads – Download Manager would have required me to use webmail as opposed to the native iOS e-mail client. For reasons I cannot quite fathom, I then went to forward the e-mail (this is completely unnecessary as my webmail would be viewing the same mail as the iOS4 client) and inadvertently stumbled upon the solution.

Saving video attachments in iOS4 native e-mail client

Nestled alongside ‘reply’ and ‘forward’ was the option to save the video attachment. So it turns out saving videos from your iPhone or iPad e-mail is relatively simple – although I do wonder why Apple felt the need to make the process different from that of saving image attachments.

The Evolution of the Computer Virus by Mikko Hypponen

In what is possibly the most entertaining Ted Talk I have seen this year, Mikko Hypponen begins by introducing the first known computer virus – now 25 years old. Using a simulator, Mikko shows that that ‘Brain A’ was nothing more than a mild inconvenience.

Exploring the code behind Brain A, Mikko extracts a name and address for the two creators and goes on to relay his story of tracing them to Bangalore – the “Silicon Valley of India”(Wikipedia).

Sadly, computer virri have evolved to the point where they can pose a real threat to national security and infrastructure. Mikko covers the problems faced by international security firms and, after spelling out the doom and gloom, manages to end on a light note with an example of how he would cope if we were to lose the use of the internet.

Mikko Hypponen is the Chief Research Officer at F-Secure, a global leader in the provision of ‘security via operators’.  Full contact details for Mikko are available on his personal website.