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On the subject of SEO

Martina Martina

August 24th, 2011.

Why your website isn’t as fast as it should be…

Heavy wheelbarrow

400 Error!

Image source


…a wheelbarrow in an open field that you drag along every day filling it with this and that – each thing you add to it has some significance and some use.

Now imagine you never empty the wheelbarrow. Each day, not only do the things you found the week before now lie at the bottom covered by the newest additions, but the device also becomes increasingly heavy to pull until eventually, it becomes almost impossible.

Now think of the wheelbarrow as your website, and think of its contents as the factors affecting its speed – Let’s explore these factors…


Bad HTML example

Erm...does "b" stand for "big" or "bold"?


  • Empty spaces between code (This only adds to processing time)
  • Missing tags (Causing internal errors & bugs in the site)
  • Bulky HTML (such as using unnecessary tags where something more CSS compatible would work better e.g. using the tag “font-size” rather than just “small”)
  • Background colour being the same as text colour (making all text unreadable)
  • Hyperlinks that fail (Devaluing your site in terms of credibility, and possibly increasing bounce rates)
  • Missing images

An overload of HTTP requests:

An example of too many HTTP requests


Image source


Whenever your web browser fetches a file from a web server, for example when it loads a picture, it does this by using HTTP which stands for “HyperText Transfer Protocol”.

HTTP is an action whereby you’re computer requests for a particular file. One example is a request for ‘home.html‘ (the homepage of a particular website). The web server then sends a response to the computer that says something like: “Here’s the file you asked for” which is followed by the actual file itself.
Understandably, if your server is receiving a very high volume of requests for a range of different things, such as pictures, graphics, photographs, music players and video rendering, it can take its toll and end up really slowing your website down.

JavaScript/Flash overuse:

Glowing computer

Dude, too much flash!

Image source


JavaScript helps make things look nice. Lines of code enable things such as widgets, adverts, and analytics services to work successfully. The issue is that both kinds of software can be “heavyweight”. JavaScript performs ‘sequentially’ rather than ‘concurrently’ – this means that nothing else loads before JavaScript loads. Of course, this becomes an issue when you have tonnes of JavaScript code, each one longer than the last, preventing anything else from happening.

Too many cookies:

The Cookie Monster

Nom Nom Nom!

Image source


HTTP Cookies are used mainly for personalization and authentication purposes. A series of saved information is exchanged between the web server and the browser in order to remember things about how you are using the internet. For example if you are shopping online and exit the website returning at a later date, a cookie will enable the site to remember what you had in your shopping cart so you don’t have to spend time finding the same items again.

However, because saved information is being kept on the server, a build up of this can add to the process time on a website. In some cases, hackers even use cookies as an opportunity to track browsing activity; this is called spyware…so beware!

Bad hosting:

 Image of Robert-Kilroy-Silk


Image source


Web hosting is the business of providing storage space and access for websites. Bad web hosting happens when said storage space is overloaded with many websites, yours is added to the list and so runs slow. Other issues caused by a bad web host include:

  • Search engines being unable to crawl your site resulting in a fall in Search Rank
  • Your website being “down” (not working, sending out 404-errors)
  •  Not being able to contact your web host to fix the issue (since the service is so bad the system has probably crashed)

Excess of external media:

Multiple Satellite Dishes

No signal...

Image source

Embedded YouTube videos, actually embedded anything that is coming from another website can potentially slow yours down. When you embed something from another site, you are relying on that sites web server, that sites speed, and that sites ability to ensure the embedded item is working properly there, so that it works properly on yours site. Often, even when it works just fine, it might add an extra few seconds to a certain page loading…a few seconds a potential customer may be unwilling to wait!


A Can of Spam

Ew, gross!

Image source

Spam is so much more than just a bunch of annoying emails. It slows down the Internet and it increases consumer fees.

The internet is a network where spamming effects everyone that uses it. To push spam around the internet relies on a process; it begins with global networks that pass the spam along to their destination, and ends with the message being received by the recipient.

Simultaneously, time, money and resources are used trying to catch and prevent spammers from infiltrating mail servers resulting in higher costs to the consumer because providers are forced to add more security to their servers and hire more staff to manage and prevent the problem.

Be sure to spam proof all web forms by adding “captchas” or similar.

Favicon neglect:

Image Illustrating a Favicon

You need one of these!


A ‘favicon’ is an image (as shown above) that stays in the root of your server. It’s definitely needed because even if you don’t care about them, the browser still requests one. If there isn’t one, it will respond with a 404 error (meaning not found). Any error message, such as a 404 or 301, is an extra message sent that adds time to the processing of a site.

This image or lack thereof, interferes with the processing sequence by requesting extra components in the load, and since the favicon is the first thing that is downloaded before these extra components, if there isn’t one, the first thing downloaded will be an error.

Too many advertisements:

Too many Ads

Hmm...where to start?

Image source

Any time a site uses advertisements, you are adding to other processes a site goes through in order to function correctly. Programmes like Google Adsense and Microsoft adcenter are external, and reputable, however it is logical to practice the same rules as with external media; everything in moderation – besides, sites with too many ads look un”site”ly! :-P


If any of these apply to you, take active steps to protect your website against sloth! Speed be with you!

Martina Martina

August 11th, 2011.

[Infographic] – Which search engine holds the most weight?

Google, Google, Google…it’s all we talk about, it’s (possibly) all we care about in terms of SEO ranking and PPC ads, and some might say they even live in fear of it (you know, since the big bad Panda updates).

One thing we can’t argue with however, is its resourcefulness; it has “everything” one could need, making it so much more than just a search engine. It’s a machine.

Now that isn’t to say that Google can’t be annoying sometimes (infact an earlier post of mine focuses on just that *shakes fist* :x ) and familiarity breeds contempt after all, right?

Perhaps it’s because of its ‘one size fits all’ approach or perhaps it’s because of it’s dominance of the entire internet that causes people to look elsewhere for a search engine that fits their particular needs and that feels slightly more personal…in any case, I came up with this helpful infographic to help you decide:

Click image for the full HQ infographic

Use the following code to post the full infographic to your blog:
<a href=”″><img src=”” border=”0″ alt=”Image Hosted by PicturePush – Photo Sharing” /></a>

Martina Martina

July 25th, 2011.

How to create the perfect return-customer!

If you take a look at what you eat, where you shop or even what you wear, you’ll discover that the most effective brands and businesses in your life are successful because of their ability to keep you trapped in their rotating doors. You’ll buy that same beverage maybe twice a week, and go to that same supermarket at the end of each month- all because you’ve convinced yourself you like the design on the plastic bags, and the staff are friendly. Actually, there’s more to it and I’m about to tell you exactly what that is…

Brand evolution…

You frequent a brand because it grows with you and becomes something that understands you. For example, after McDonalds understood the issue the population began to have with societal obesity, they reduced portion size (although I blame inflation) and boosted the nutritional value of the food through the choice of ingredients used. This became acceptable to parents, who then were more inclined eat there with their families.

An example of an industry that arguably did not readily embrace evolution and suffered greatly as a result, is the music industry. After the birth of the digital age of music, illegal downloading and iTunes, the archaic business model of selling CD’s showed a huge decline in sales. Failing to catch on quickly enough meant that some artists suffered (and the customary private jet was downsized to a regular limousine).

Whatever your line of business, you need to understand the importance of evolving with the customer, if you sell tube-socks and make a great profit in winter, introducing a pop-sock range for the warmer months would mean that you have something to offer customers all year round. Alternatively, if your business is to provide SEO services (and you are doing this well) – then perhaps you could suggest Pay Per Click (PPC) services too.

Integrating, and actually wanting customers’ opinions…

When listening to a friend or colleague talk about something they care about, you always feel that little bit of gratification when they ask you your view on the subject and genuinely care about your answer. Imagine this never happened – if people talked at you, telling you their views and never asking about yours…you would get tired of listening to them, and they would eventually emigrate to a world of bias where only their opinion matters.

Feedback is a wonderful thing, and to guarantee any kind of success you need to be engaging the people whom that success relies upon. There are many ways this can be done such as market research, comments sections and incentives.

Personally, I dislike the emails I receive asking me to ‘spend 2 minutes’ of my time filling out a feedback form, but interestingly, when shopping online – the reviews section about the product I am interested in, is the first place I look before pressing the ‘checkout’ button. If you struggle to get feedback, try using incentives in exchange for it, offering a discount or a token for free software after a few important questions are answered, is a ‘quid-pro-quo’ way to dig out helpful information that could help you better your business.

Offering alternatives…

Nestle’s chocolaty awesomeness is far from limited. Nestle offer a range of sweets and treats making them one of the most popular and wealthy brands in the world. If Nestle was limited to just one chocolate bar, sure that bar of chocolate would taste good to those that enjoy it, but after years of just a milk chocolate bar, people would stray – they’d try praline, white chocolate, plain chocolate – and so on. If Nestle weren’t the ones to provide these different types, they’d be losing out on possible revenue and brand awareness.

The power of a brand comes from its ability to churn out good ideas and give people choice. This isn’t limited to types of product or service offered, your business alternatives should extend to forms of payment, methods of contact and more. Yes this is 2011, but believe it or not, some people prefer to send a postal-order or a cheque rather than use their credit or debit card online. Similarly, some people like to mail a letter to you rather than send you an email – and some people like to call you on the phone, instead of using Skype.

Being savvy is important, but it is important to remember that you could alienate a whole market simply by not catering for it. If you sell online, offer WorldPay, PayPal and the ability to pay by card – by doing so, shows customer consideration which is exactly what you need to do!

Avoiding over-saturation…

An unexpected text message from an old friend, is often the perfect segue for reconnecting, because sometimes it’s the subtleties in life that we enjoy the most. However ‘broadcast-message’ after Facebook invite from that annoying person you’d probably cross the street to avoid, will never get the attention they want. This is because there is an important difference between the two – in the first example, you feel as though that person put thought and care into the message and in the second, you feel undervalued, someone just making up the numbers.

Your business works the exact same way, its quality over quantity. Flooding prospective customers with emails about what their missing might cause them to report you as spam, and maybe even tell others to do the same. However, providing them with worthwhile information they may not already have gathered, might prompt them to subscribe to your blog, or enquire about your business.

Acknowledging loyalty…

Many businesses have cottoned onto the positive effects of personalisation, sending out post with only your first name as the title as if they’re your buddy, addressing you with “hi” rather than the traditional “Dear” and sending out seasonal gifts and confectionary. Even if it’s slightly corny and obviously not based on some fantastic rapport you have with them, they do it in hopes that you’ll feel appreciated causing them to stand out.

Even if a thousand others receive the exact same gift, unlike the Facebook invite example above and more like the Google+ invite in its beta stages – it makes you feel all special.  Using this method is an added charm, especially if the customer is new to you; it works almost as a reminder to them of their importance to you. Consistent use of this technique might eventually convince that customer that you are important to them, because you obviously ‘care’ about them enough to remember them personally.

Customers will keep coming back if they are fully catered to. Whilst I am not suggesting that if you are not doing all of the above perfectly, you will fail – including these tips into your already operating mode of business, will help boost ROI and customer satisfaction. A ‘win-win’ outcome! :-)


July 19th, 2011.

Ecommerce website content for SEO – what is it and are you wasting your time?

A phrase that you often hear being thrown about by SEOs is “content is king”, Although this is (arguably) true, I think that in many cases this just leads to commercial webmasters blindly adding low-quality content to their websites for the sake of it without really considering if it is beneficial to them in any way.

It is incredibly important to understand that different kinds of content act in different ways and using different types of content in different areas of your website can drastically influence traffic, sales and conversion rates.

The table below outlines the typical types of content that commercial websites may use and the likely impact on rankings, conversions and links.

Filler Blog Posts


What I would term as ‘filler’ blog posts are often the first thing many people produce when asked to provide ‘SEO content’.   Frequently outsourced they often ask their writers to write low-quality bulk copy based around their range of products and services and then dump it all onto a blog attached to their domain.

While this kind of content by virtue of its sheer volume can sometimes produce visitors, it really is the SEO equivalent of a numbers’ game, and webmasters have recently seen Google move to reduce the effectiveness of this kind of mass produced content with the Panda updates.

This type of filler content almost always converts very poorly, it is of low quality and therefore generally results in a high bounce rate, also because visitors end up on an article page rather than a  product or category page you are relying on them to navigate quite a few pages before they reach your products.

That’s not to say that keeping and writing a company blog or news pages is going to harm your site in any way, but there is a large distinction to be made between in-house staff adding knowledgeable and informed content and an external agency using it as a dumping ground for keyword stuffed articles.


Rather than picking out and linking to any sites in particular I found the example below on a paydays loans site. As you can see, it’s not particularly compelling to visitors, fairly keyword heavy along with a lack of images and calls to action. I would expect a page like this to suffer from a very high bounce rate and a minuscule sales conversion rate.

Resources, FAQs And How To Guides


Resource guides, cheat sheets and how to articles are brilliant sources of great quality content if you are an expert on a topic. Even if you’re not a  fountain of knowledge you can easily research topics well enough to write an influential guide for others.

The great thing about this type of content is that it tends to attract topical links from closely related sites over a longer period of time, and because of it’s text heavy nature and the number of links that it attracts you will find that these type of articles frequently rank very well for a wide range of generic and long-tail key phrases.

However this type of content isn’t often going to convert into sales directly, but the branding a link benefits often result in secondary traffic from SEO, brand recognition or word of mouth.


Yoast – WordPress SEO

Yoast is a very well-known SEO who specialises in WordPress, he wrote the definitive guide to WordPress SEO which attracted hundreds of topical links and social shares.

The Mashable Twitter Guide Book

Social media website Mashable launched a Twitter guide book in both an online and downloadable pdf versions.With an impressive 16k Tweets and over 5,000 links to date.



Linkbait covers a wide rage of content types, and really encompasses anything that is specifically designed to elicit a link from other websites or more recently, sharing on social media websites. Linkbait can range from anything from a funny image or video, controversial views or interesting top 10 type lists.

Again SEO behaviour is very similar to resources and how-to guides, linkbait won’t often result in direct sales, but will often attract links far better than other types of content.


Will It Blend? iPad

A really clever viral video linkbait from Blendtec piggybacking onto aspirational nature of the Apple iPad, while using the shock of destroying one to send it viral.

Berocca – Blogger Relief

Berocca used a free giveaway in conjunction with a blogger outreach programme in order to directly target the linkerati themselves. Using social media to promote the campaign and the the bloggers themselves to spread the word.




Strictly speaking inforgraphics would probably fall within the linkbait category, but I think their usage is now so widespread that they deserve a mention on their own.

Infographics are an attractive, visual presentation of statistics and data, however they are often criticised for over-simplifying data and not indicating facts are clearly as possible.

Scientific they are not, but they do tend to be viral magnets, people seem to be far more willing to link to or share data presented as an infographic that other forms of information.


Profile Of A Twitter User

Taking inspiration from a Guy Kawasaki tweet NG Online News put together this quirky infographic that spread like wildfire on Twitter.

The Spread Of Starbucks

Princeton University in conjunction with Flaming Toast Productions created a really interesting infographic detailing the spread of Starbucks coffee shops worldwide.

Optimised Product Copy


I think that well optimised product copy is one area where many eCommerce websites are really missing a trick. You see so many with short inadequate product and category descriptions, or sometimes missing altogether. It’s all very well adding 2-3 keywords to your title tags, meta descriptions and H1 titles, but given the opportunity there is a wealth of long-tail keywords that you could also have the opportunity of getting traffic from.

Of course there are often design and branding implications that often limit the copy available on a page, but it really is worth trying to work through these issues in order to try to offer more extensive page copy. Being able to answer sales queries before they arise will also improve conversion rates and reduce the time your staff spend answering telephone or email queries.

Taking a fictitious example of a website with a category page selling toasters. You may expect to have optimised the page for key phrases such as Toaster, Sandwich Toaster etc. But if you did a little keyword research around the topic you could probably pull in  a few hundred other phrases that were used in conjunction with “toaster” each month. In this example the full list is over 400 phrases long.

Passing this list onto your copywriter and asking them to include these secondary phrases in the body text on product and category pages will have a huge impact on relevant long-tail traffic and sales to the site.

In terms of a financial impact, for example a website that has a modest 200 products, even adding 5 extra visitors per day to each product page will result in an extra £164,250 in increased revenue assuming a £30 average sale and a 1.5% conversion rate.


Simply one of the best product pages that I have ever seen is at Firebox. Product pages are immensely detailed, well written and optimised so each one should receive a large amount of long-tail keyphrase traffic. They have also incorporated social media voting, comments, videos and user reviews and FAQs. This is almost perfect in terms of creating a huge amount of content on normally difficult to optimise product pages.

Breaking News


Being first to breaking news is a great way of going viral without too much effort. Of course it’s not easy to be first to the punch, but if you have inside knowledge and the ability to publish before others you will often find that you get cited and referenced on other websites that write subsequent articles.


One of the best examples of the power of breaking news is Gizmodo managing to break details of the next Apple iPhone when a prototype was lost in a bar. The story received a massive 245,000 Facebook likes and almost 10,000 links.

UGC And Reviews


UGC content for eCommerce sites is really a no brainer for most sites these days. Being relatively easy to implement on most eCommerce platforms and easy to promote using reminder and follow-up emails to recent customers.

Where UGC really comes into it’s own is in competing for long-tail search phrases. Often your customers may use non-industry terms and phrases that you haven’t included in your original page optimisation.


Argos along with most large online retailers have been encouraging user product reviews on their websites for some time. Users as well as being able to leave star ratings for products are encouraged to leave more detailed text descriptions and reviews.

Widgets and Badges


Although widgets and badges tend to fall far more into the off-site SEO remit I think they’re an important enough part of a promotion stratgey that they can fall into both on and off page strategies.
Often these can be used in conjunction with other content strategies such as generating top 100 lists of industry sites and asking those in the list to link back, or producing infographics with easy embed codes.


AdAge Digital produce a “Power 150″ of the top 150 worldwide marketing blogs. Members of the list can of course download versions of the badge to use on their blogs and Facebook pages.

Link Acquisition Rates

The graph below shows the typical link acquisition rates that you would expect to see over time from different types of content. The vertical axis represents the level of activity (links and social shares) and the horizontal axis the phase in the content cycle.

Content types such as infographics tend to attract a lot of links very quickly as they usually perform well on social bookmarking sites and get embedded on related blogs. This activity usually tails-off over time.

Compare this to content such as resources and how-to articles, which if well written then often sharing activity increases over time, and in the long-term can be a stable source of good quality links.


The main takeaways are that although content is vital to eCommerce websites, it has to be the right kind of content used in the right way. The best content strategy is one that is diverse and encompasses many of the above methods rather than focusing on one particualar one.

Martina Martina

July 8th, 2011.

5 reasons to blame yourself for a bad SEO experience…

1. You didn’t explain exactly what it was that you wanted…

Did the SEO agency you chose actually understand what it is you do? Did you assume they would? I bet you did! Well that was a rookie error – just because they know SEO, it doesn’t mean that automatically they’ll know all of your business goals and aspirations. It certainly doesn’t mean that through SEO, all of your dreams will come-true overnight. Covering things such as budget and goals are essential in order for us to devise the appropriate strategy for you.


2. The SEO’s weren’t told what already worked (or didn’t work) for you…

Were you clear about what the best features of your online endeavours are so far? Did you talk about what proved successful, or things you  tried and that were unsuccessful?
All conversions can be tracked which shows any progress SEO’s have (or haven’t) made. However, if you don’t inform the SEO’s of what already works or doesn’t then you can’t argue if there are repeat mistakes.


3. You didn’t indicate the importance of having one main person oversee the account…

Because any reputable SEO agency isn’t made up of just one person behind a desk and computer handling every enquiry made, but is rather formed of a team of people ranging in size (the team not the people, although this applies to both :-) ) that help manage your account – it is likely that,  much like a ‘Chinese-whisper’, your goals, aims and dreams are somewhat diluted to anyone that didn’t speak to you directly.
For example, when person 1, explained the information to person 2, who made brief notes and handed those to person 3, person 3 wasn’t following your direct instructions. They might not have fully understood the notes…however, you don’t have to accept this. If you only feel comfortable with one person in particular handling your account, request that only that person have access to it. This way, any changes made by you won’t come as a surprise to the SEO.


4. You didn’t understand the amount of work needed and so were surprised when costs were higher than expected…

Good Search Engine Optimization will get your site discovered in online search results. There is however, more to it than that. Many people in an SEO agency work to get your site to its optimum, and you need to be aware of just how much work goes into this.

This team will mainly be in charge of making sure that SEO is being carried out for all your online needs
Online Marketing:

This team works alongside the SEOs to help get you publicity online.
Usability & Design:

This team will have the job of creating a smooth user experience for all users that come across your website.
Web Developers:

This team will develop, build and ensure things work – such as buttons on your site, conversion tracking and more.
Providers of Content:

This team will ensure that good content is maintained, and optimised so that people can find it.


5. You didn’t maintain a good relationship with the agency…

Chances are, you started off all guns blazing, before slowly falling into a pattern of laziness, assuming the agency would take care of everything the way you wanted – meaning you wouldn’t have to worry about it.
Further, you were unavailable for meetings, you didn’t specify what kinds of reports you wanted, and changes were (or were not) made that you caused dissaproval.  When (on your say-so) these changes were reversed, rankings and conversions fell and this caused (even more) tension between you and the agency.

Remember, rankings and conversion rates can see-saw and any changes made to your site can take time to show the positive affect they are having. You should try not to ignore advice about possible re-designs or new pages that should be added to your site. Other things to consider are using services to monitor your online reputation and  testing better versions of your website to get the best results.

Good luck! ;-)


Martina Martina

April 15th, 2011.

Fantastic ways to fail miserably in your Adwords PPC campaigns!

PPC is a complex system of bidding on low cost, undiscovered but really high traffic keywords in attempt to rank as high up in Google’s SERP’s for your brand as possible.

Often underestimated, users create campaigns which run okay. Maybe they break even, perhaps their site is getting more exposure and if they are lucky, they might even get some conversions. One quick search, and the internet overflows with hints, tips and tricks on how to effectively create PPC campaigns to maximise your ROI, and everyone lives happily ever after…

Unfortunately this isn’t the reality for everyone. Sometimes campaigns can take an awful turn for the worst and instead of those fluffy guides that explain how to be a PPC mastermind, I often wonder if those company owners and PPC newbie’s who suffer have done so because they read a different, slightly darker guide that mislead them. This is how I imagine such a guide would read:


Spend wisely and try to set a reasonable budget that you will be able to pay.

Invest copious amounts of money into every campaign almost breaking the bank. It doesn’t matter if you have other bills to pay or budgets to keep to, now that you’ve read a little here and there, it’s guaranteed that this will pay off – the more money invested the better!


Avoid the main keywords for your brand, there is likely to be high competetion for these which will result in high CPC rates!

Try your very best to beat-out the competition by going head to head for the most competitive keywords for your brand. Be generic and avoid specific. For example, if you’re selling sportswear, bid on “shoe”, “trainer” and “clothing” so that when somebody searches for those terms, your ad will appear somewhere in the results as long as you followed that first rule about money!

Try to use long-tail keyword prhases that have lower search volumes but also lower CPC rates. Using a variety of broad and “phrase” match terms can help with this too.

Be extremely precise by using [exact match] for everything. Long keywords are for suckers, get to the point with one word terms, be honest who has the time to think up long-tail keywords anyway? Instead, spend the time you have saved and go shopping or catch up with an old friend!

Carry out keyword research so you can get an idea of the kinds of things people are searching for. This might also help you to think of alternate keyword variations that people might not have thought up, but will get the desired result.

Do everything as quickly as possible! You don’t have the time to hang around when people are selling the same product as you! Use your intuition and instinct, the first words that pop into your head when you think of your product are the ones you should go for. Get them in and bid ASAP!

Monitor your ads throughout the day, this will help you to discover what is getting clicks and impressions and what isn’t. If something isn’t working, change it.

Time is money. Once you have quickly set up one campaign leave it to simmer and create the next one. If you have followed this guide so far then everything should be a-okay!

Don’t worry if you aren’t getting a good enough ROI to begin with. Use whatever results you have as a learning curve and improve what you need to. Use helpful features like the opportunities tab, or the many reporting tools to make a difference.

Money is everything. If you check and your campaigns aren’t doing well, you’re doomed and should probably give up. Shame on you!

Follow this guide and be a professional failure now!

Good luck!  :-D


April 13th, 2011.

Special characters In meta descriptions – the beboisation Of Google?

Using non-standard characters in the page title and meta description tag seems to be a growing trend in many industries. The idea is that by using eye-catching non-standard characters readers attention is drawn to their result first, even in preference to results that may be above them.

The practice of optimising search results to maximise click-through-rate is not a new one and has been used in PPC advertising to good effect for years, but where PPC ads have to go through an approval process (where many techniques are outlawed) meta descriptions and organic results do not, so boundaries can be pushed much further.

Who Is Doing It?

Thanks to @SEO_Doctor @tomsmith1984 @KevStrong @martokus for examples


How Do I Use Special Characters In My Title And Description?

Use of many characters seem to be by trial and error. John Campbell is a man with far more patience than I, and he has tested the indexing of many special characters.

Special characters can be created using Unicode such as,

© is created with:&#0169;

® is created with:&#0174;

™ is created with:&#0153;

A full list of Unicode characters can be found on Wikipedia

What Are The Effects?

Currently there is largely anecdotal evidence for the benefits of an increase in click through rate. It would be difficult to test definitively as there are several other variables to factor-in.

Shaun Anderson at Hobo is well respected within the industry for running extensive tests on theories rather than relying on guesswork, he is running one the tests shown above,

It’s incredibly hard to test the impact of this on SERPS in an accurate manner. I am currently running some tests on pages on my site. You need a page with stable rankings, and a stable flow of traffic to get exact results, and that’s kind of difficult with the ever-fluctuation of Google SERPS and how changes to the UI (based on query or geo-location – for instance) impact your rankings and clicks on a daily basis – over time – in a natural way. Special characters in snippets certainly get noticed and commented upon, that’s for sure. Once you rank, GETTING CLICKED is what it is all about – every little thing that might help, should be tested on for size. You can get a way with a lot in terms of getting special characters in your snippet DESCRIPTION – but not so much in your TITLE link description (Google strips out some special characters from this element if you try it).

I was also lucky enough to hear from Craig Parker at who has conducted some tests of his own.

In a short test I ran on a UK based e-commerce site I found implementing special characters in title tags had a small positive effect on click-through but this was not statistically significant, after around a week it caused a small negative change in [Google] rankings.

Implementing special characters in the meta was difficult to get indexed/displayed on the SERPs and provided a very minimal increase, again not statically significant.


The Bigger Picture…

The largest problem with this technique is that the more people use it the less effective it becomes.  how long until our search results pages look like this and nobody derives any benefit from it?

The new and improved version

What are your thoughts on this?

Martina Martina

March 25th, 2011.

What colour hat matches your shoes?

Ok, this isn’t a post about fashion.

If you are familiar with the various SEO techniques that exist, then you might already be familiar with the infamous ‘hats’ and what they all stand for. If you have no idea what I am talking about – you should definitely read on.

White Hat SEO

White hat SEO is the nice clean cut, ethical and moral way to practice SEO. This hat represents by-the-book SEO that doesn’t cause harm or upset to anyone because every success is the result of hard work and quick thinking.

Black Hat SEO

This is known as SEO from the dark-side. Bending search engine rules, adopting various naughty techniques and deceiving Google to achieve a quick result in a short space of time. Techniques include things like putting invisible hidden text on web-pages, cloaking – whereby a web user is redirected to a different webpage than they initially searched for, keyword flooding – using hundreds of paragraphs on any one page including every keyword you are bidding for…the list goes on…

Grey Hat SEO

In a palette, black mixed with white = grey, well the same thing counts here.
Tactics used that cannot be clearly described either as ethical or unethical but sit in the middle of the two, are ‘grey hat’. While grey hat SEO is often frowned upon, it is unlikely to cause a site to be banned or shut down…take from that what you will…

Green Hat SEO

New to the collection of hats, green hat SEO represents a less tactical approach and a more procedural one with the main aim of increasing the amount of visitors to a website. Focus is placed on creating brand awareness, becoming trustworthy and gaining customer loyalty as opposed to targeting keywords that will increase impressions and click-through rates only for the user to find that the pages on your website are not relevant to them anyway. It seems the ‘green’ element relates to being friendly (think eco)…the customer is the focus, and the aim is to make them happy.

Blue Hat SEO

This one isn’t “official” just yet and many SEO’s may refuse to accept it. Others however, will understand this hat as one that relates to what is essentially advanced white hat practices. In plain terms, these are advanced internet marketing and SEO techniques that get the results you want in the best way possible without annoying or upsetting anyone. This is not to say that blue hatters are not aware of black hat practices, in-fact it is quite the opposite, blue hatters have an advanced knowledge of both hats, and use this knowledge in a creative way enabling them to manipulate search engines in a way that benefits their site.

So choose your hats wisely and happy SEO-ing :-)

Adam Adam

March 11th, 2011.

Is this the future of linkbait?

I’ve just come across The Print Effect by Cartridge Save. If you haven’t already seen it go take a look (then come right back… I’ll wait).

What is it? It’s a Twitter app that creates an infographic-like page for each Twitter user you enter. There have been similar things in the past, and this particular one I think is genius:

Barrack Obama twitter timeline

Why is this one a little different to the others? It appears the output content changes for different users (take a look at mine and Matt’s- I’ve got badgers, Matt has cows!)


Why Do I Think This is Such a Cool Idea? (Aside from the cows, obviously)…

Linkbait is getting harder and harder- people are getting bored with infographics and the sharing element to infographics is somewhat limited (I’ll happily forward on and link to good content but I’d do it even more if it’s about me, the selfish human that I am). This takes on a new twist- linkbait via dynamic infographics!

What I like about this is it’s a little different for every user, and people want to share (and link to) interesting things that are about themselves!

As an SEO I would’ve implemented a different URL structure to prevent creating hundreds of pages for each user, however judging by the shares this has already received I’d be surprised if it doesn’t pick up a decent amount of links too.

Perhaps it’s time to get a web developer involved as well as the designer or content writer when crafting your next linkbait campaign?

Martina Martina

March 11th, 2011.

Slightly immoral and unethical ways companies might use Google Adwords to generate business…

In July 2010, ‘Goldtrail holidays‘ a British tour operator, collapsed leaving thousands of holidaymakers abroad when it went into administration.

It took no time at all for fellow tour operators to see this as a great way to generate business. ‘EasyJet’, ‘Fly Thomas Cook’ and ‘Sunwings’ were but some of a few who cottoned onto this and broke a fundamental rule – bidding on a brand-name term that isn’t your own.

Nevertheless, a search query using the term “Goldtrail” or “Goldtrail holidays” returned adverts for cheap holidays abroad and the like. Of course Google would have had to allow this, and probably didn’t act on it because at that point, technically, Goldtrail was no longer an actual legal entity.

The recent Earthquake disaster in Japan, hitting 8.9 on the Richter-scale and sparking off several Tsunamis’, is all over the news and the internet today. It isn’t a brand name, but could this idea be adapted and used as a possible gateway for business? For example, charities pushing sponsorship in the third-world for instance, might post adverts asking for financial help in countries where natural disasters are common by using the words “Japan disaster” “Japan” “Tsunami” “Japan earthquake” “Japan Tsunami” etc, as a broad match – or any keywords that are relevant to this recent tragic disaster.

Click the thumbnails below to see some search terms that are fairly popular at the moment due to current events, and have little competition:

If ads are tactically written so that technically they are not breaching any rules or regulations – like the Goldtrail example above – and instead are tugging at peoples heart strings, this might work.

It seems fine until you consider how this could be misused, for example by charities who take most of what is donated to them and use it to pay “administration fees” and “business costs” before any of it makes it overseas to those in actual need.

You never know…

Martina Martina

March 10th, 2011.

A few things companies should know about their website… ‘meta-speak’

The Meta Description Tag

The Meta-description tag is a excerpt of HTML code that belongs inside the ‘ <meta name=”Description” content=” description goes here /> section of a web page.

This tag can definitely come in handy in your overall SEO campaign but the keywords and phrases you use in your Meta description tag actually have no effect on your page’s ranking in search engine results.

What does this mean?

Well you might have thought that these tags help your pages rank highly for the words you use within them, or spruce up the description a little bit in terms of what is shown in the search engines when they are typed – well if you did – you were wrong. In actual fact, similar to the Meta keywords tag, the information you place in this tag really isn’t given any weight in Google’s ranking algorithms.

In other words, whether or not you use your most important keywords in your Meta description tag, it simply won’t affect the position of your page in the results. So essentially, you could leave a description out altogether!

It almost sounds like you don’t need these tags at all, should you bother with them then?

Well, if you’re already happy with the excerpts of text that the search engines post from your page in any given search query, then there’s no reason to have a Meta description tag on your page(s). You might want to remember though, that the excerpt the engines use varies depending on what the searcher types into the engine.

Okay, so…?

In Google, if you search for a site by URL, the excerpts you see in the lists results returned are the first instance of text on that page. However on some pages an ‘image-alt’ tag that looks like this: <img> (the code that embeds an image in an HTML page), is the first instance of words on a page. In these cases, that is what would show up as part of the “excerpt” for your search.

For the most part the people searching with URLs are site owners checking whether or not their pages are indexed. So generally, you don’t need to worry about this.

What does this mean in layman’s terms?

Okay so a normal search wouldn’t usually involve a full URL. You would probably put in 3 or 4 (or 5 or 6) keywords describing what it is you were looking for (known as a long-tail keyword) – In this example let’s say you searched for “pink ballet shoes” – however if none of these keywords are used in the Meta description tags on any site that is returned in the search results or/and they aren’t on the landing page as a complete phrase in that order, then Google will simply gather a list of pages that contain any of the words ‘pink + ballet + shoes’ near each other and it will use any words surrounding these ones as the excerpts for those pages.

If “pink ballet shoes” were a product you were selling, then a great idea would be to adjust the page to include these words in the Meta description tags and also somewhere in the body of text on your page(s). Remember however, this isn’t in attempt to rank any higher but would simply be a way to make your site more search friendly when the user types these keywords into a search engine.

The Meta Title Tag

Completely unlike the description tag, the title tag will is and always will be one of the most important factors in achieving high search engine rankings.

Put simply – ensuring you have strong title tags on each of your pages can generate significant differences to your rankings. This is because the words in the title tag are what appear in the links on the results pages returned after a query is put in (the bold, blue underlined text on Google when you put in a query and press ‘enter’) – therefore these are this is your first chance to impress the user.
They can’t be THAT important, can they?

Yes they can! Title tags are one of the main elements given algorithmic weight by search engines – in fact, if not more so, they are equally as important as the visible text highlighting your pages.
So what information should go in the title tag?

The name of your business should be the main thing here. Whatever else you add is entirely up to you, this can range from taglines, to descriptions of what your business does, to location details (so using the example from before you might add something like “Smiths’ Ballet Retailers – Middlesbrough”).

So the main thing was…?

This is the first thing users will see! Don’t miss out on a huge opportunity by not including the name of your business here.

To Surmise…

  • Meta keyword tags/description tags are not related to how you are ranked in a search engine, but it would be silly to leave them out.
  • The Meta description tag summarises what’s on your page and the keyword tag supplies a summary list of the important words on your page. Both types of tag make the page more search engine friendly.

Good luck!


February 24th, 2011.

How does a paywall change your link acquisition rate?

The current trend of Newspaper sites to publish their content behind paywalls seems to be gathering speed. The recent Google announcement of its OnePass payment system can only increase the process by making payment technology available to a wider audience.

I thought it would be interesting to look to see how the move to paywalls has affected the news sites backlink acquisition rates.

So far the main newspapers that have added Paywalls have been,

  • The Financial Times – 2002
  • Moneyweek – 2005
  • The Times and The Sunday Times – April 2010
  • The News Of The World – November 2010
  • The Telegraph is set to add a paywall in September 2011

Taking the two most recent examples of The Time and The News Of The World, and using the excellent Majestic SEO graph functionality we are able to see changes on their backlink acquisition rates.

We can see clearly from the graph above that following the addition of the paywall in November 2010 over the next two months inbound links to The News Of The World fell by more than 50%

Similar, but less dramatic results for The Times. This is slightly more confusing as the paywall coincided with a domain change from to We can see clearly that link gains to the old URL start to decline without the new domain ever really gaining links as a comparative rate.

Where I see some really interesting data is in the rate of acquisition for competitors sites who chose not to implement a paywall. A close online and offline competitor to both The Times and NOTW is The Daily Mail.

Their acquisition rate starts to climb sharply from the date The Times paywall goes live, and their highest ever month coincides with the NOTW adding their paywall. It’ll be interesting to see if the following two low months, December and January are a result of incomplete link data or some other trend.

It’s an interesting theory to see of the final few content producers within a market start to perform far better in terms of finance and popularity than those that eventually choose to follow the paywall route.

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