Writing URLs the right way

When it comes to URL structure, the name of the game is clarity. Search engines (as well as users) appreciate being able to grasp what a page is about just by looking at the URL. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

Trim the fat

Keep URLs as precise as possible. Blog post titles can often make this difficult to achieve, but if the URL is made up of a string of words like /things-to-do-in-chicago-for-new-years-eve, people and search bots will at least be able to grasp the contents of the page. Plus, that particular URL contains keywords that will boost its ability to rank.

Be descriptive

Keywords, as briefly mentioned above, belong in URLs. If the content you create is directly related to the terms for which you’re attempting to rank, it only makes sense that a particular page’s URL summarizes the contents. It’s pretty common to incorporate the page’s title into the address. For example, our SEO Audit Checklist page has a URL ending with /seo-audit-checklist. Simple, direct, and descriptive. Everyone wins.

Nix the subdomains

Since writing this post, Matt Cutts (Head of webspam at Google) has announced that Google no longer perceives subdomains (blog.example.com/) and subdirectories (example.com/blog/). Which route you choose to organize your site structure can be based on personal preference and convenience. Here’s a video:

 

Hyphens vs. Underscores

Should we use hyphens or underscores? This was once a topic worth discussing, but today it’s pretty clear that hyphens are the preferred method for separating words in a URL. Matt Cutts explains in the video below why Google, in particular, favors the hyphen strategy. While this isn’t a huge factor when it comes to ranking, it is still worth keeping in mind as you create new pages.

Case sensitivity

Most sites opt for lowercase letters in URLs because the address is case sensitive; having lowercase letters across the board keeps things simple. On the flip side, creating URLs that are mixes of both upper and lowercase can potentially cause navigational difficulties or duplicate content. We recommend adding 301-redirects to uppercase-infused URLs, thus guiding users to the address you want them to visit. Facebook, for example, redirects users to www.facebook.com if someone should happen to type Facebook.com. Try it. While they may not carry as much authoritative weight as title tags, proper URL practices can certainly aid a site’s ability to rank. Sites that are built with SEO in mind are at a major advantage because their URLs are easy to crawl and understand from the start a not to mention they avoid the hassle of having to correct chaotic, confusing URLs later.

Get on the Map with Geotargeting

Buy local! Support local shops! Boost the economy; shop locally! Not so long ago, it became trendy to give business to local brands, and it’s a progression that we should be proud of. Even the search engines start pulling for the “little guys.” Okay, so maybe their intentions aren’t necessarily to boost business for the mom-and-pop shops, but at least Google makes it easier for them to rank on the first page. It requires some effort, yes,  but with a little on-site proactivity known as geotargeting, you can be owning the map in no time. This blog post covers the importance of geotargeting, as well as the actionable steps you can take to dominate the local search field for your industry. Yeah, we said dominate.

1. Include tons of location-rich content Location-rich content, as you might have guessed, relates to physical location. This includes maps, images, driving directions, reviews, etc. Not only do these elements provide tons of useful information at a glance, they also make a web page more aesthetically pleasing and trustworthy, and send a statement to search engines that reads, “Look at me, I’m local.” Although some of these elements might be image files, and therefore not crawlable, this can be accounted for by using relevant alt tags that include local terms. Alt tags are the text that appears when an image cannot be seen. They give the search engines a pretty good clue about what images are about, when they are keyword relevant of course. 2. Own long-tail keywords Geotargeting is all about just owning relevant long-tail keywords in the SERPs. Locational modifiers put any keyword phrase into the long-tail category, meaning that they are more specific phrases with generally less traffic than their generic counterparts. Owning the results for these phrases isn’t as hard as you might think because keyword difficulty and competition is generally much lower. This is a good thing, as it helps businesses quickly dominate the local atmosphere and bring in more qualified traffic.  Think about it: the more specific a term is that brings traffic to your site, the further down the conversion tunnel they are when they get there. We like that. How long tail you want to get depends on a few different factors. One example is how crowded your industry’s market is at your location. If ranking for your industry in your city is too difficult, either make your location more specific (like to your neighborhood), or be more descriptive about your products/services (e.g. instead of “seo company” try “local seo company”). So here’s how to rank. Use these long-tail keywords throughout your site’s content, especially in important areas like title tags, URLs, and Meta Descriptions. Keep reading friend; we’ll get there. 3. Localize Title Tags Title tags are one of the most important tools that the engines use to determine content relevancy.  Be sure to include the location name in title tags, and put it as close to the first 4 words as possible, because this is where Google puts the most weight. Include product/service keywords next, so that Google ties together your location and your expertise. For example, Evolve’s title tag for our homepage could be something like this: St. Louis - SEO Experts | Evolve Digital Labs. For specific service pages, title tags should be something like: St. Louis a Search Services | Evolve Digital Labs.  Or if we want to get more specific to our area, we could have something like: Downtown St. Louis a Search Services | Evolve Digital Labs. Keep in mind that your primary keyword should be first, so if your company is found more frequently through service queries, switch the keyword phrases around. 4. Localize URLs Search engines also use URL names to determine relevancy. Be sure to include your location somewhere within the URLs of the pages that you are optimizing for local search. As a side note, best practice is to separate words using dashes (-) so that search engines can pull out these useful keywords. This will be demonstrated in the examples below. If you have multiple locations that you are promoting, start with the most general terms for the locations homepage and get more specific to each neighborhood as you go to each location page. For example, let’s say Evolve had multiple locations in St. Louis. The locations homepage URL might be: evolvedigitallabs.com/st-louis-locations. Then for the downtown location, the URL would be: evolvedigitallabs.com/st-louis-locations/downtown-st-louis. For this, it is important to do some keyword research and figure out what people are searching for. You might be surprised what your neighborhood is being called in search queries. 5. Include Local Terms in Meta Descriptions Meta Descriptions might not directly influence rankings, but they definitely have an impact on click-throughs. The words used in the Meta Description that match the words used in search queries are bolded. So, if someone searched “St. Louis SEO” and Evolve used this phrase in our Meta tag, it would stand out and most likely increase clicks.  6. Have a Local Address and Phone Number on Every Page Make sure that every single location page has a local address, city, state, zip code, and phone number, and make sure that this information is crawlable. This effectively shows search engines that any keywords on that page should also be associated with your physical location.  So not only would Evolve likely rank for SEO in St. Louis, but also for reputation management terms, etc. In other words, this is a quick way to improve local rankings for every page.  7. Create, Claim and Optimize Google+ Local Listings In case you haven’t heard, Google Places pages are no more; they have been replaced by Google+ Local pages.  This is a change for sure, but it gives businesses more room to optimize pages (and also more room for failure). If your business had a Google Places page, all the information has just been transferred over.  If you didn’t have a Google Places page, get with it and go make your Google+ Local page! In either case, be sure that you have actually claimed the page so that only you have access and you can make sure all the information is correct. The next step is optimization.  Do this by making sure that your name, address, and phone number are exact copies of how they are listed on your website.  Make sure that relevant keywords are included in your descriptions. Most importantly, make sure that your reviews and Zagat rating on your Google+ page are up to par. If not, get cracking on getting customers to give your positive reviews and rankings. We’ll talk about this a bit later.  8. Add “+1″ Buttons If you haven’t added a Google+ “+1” button to your social media buttons collection, be sure that you do. Obviously, this will help with your social media interaction. But what does this have to do with local search? One reason is that when people conduct searches while logged on to their Google+ accounts, Google ranks pages that have been +1ed by people in their circles at the top. So let’s say you are a St. Louis resident searching arestaurants in St. Louis. If someone in your Google+ network has +1ed a St. Louis restaurant, this will show up at the top of your results. From a company standpoint, you want to be that business that is +1ed by the most local customers. 9. Take Advantage of Local Business Directories Business directories such as Yelp and CitySearch are great resources for bringing in local traffic.  These sites automatically sort results by the searcher’s physical location, another important reason to make sure that your location is readily established. If you are not listed in a business directory and you would like to be, reach out to them and ask; most directories will get back to you because they want to have a thorough list. Be sure to also alert these directories if you are moving locations, or if their information is incorrect. 10. Encourage User Reviews User reviews really do have a big impact not only on brand reputation. More recently, they have started to influence search rankings. In fact, Google+ Local pages give a Zagat rating with each result, which gives you a clue that yes, Google does care what people have to say. Search
engines do not want a badly reviewed site coming up at the top of results. Sure, bad reviews happen, but try to balance them out by requesting reviews from happy customers too. There are lots of ways to do this, whether this is through email, direct mail, or something you personally hand to people when they are leaving your office or location. Give specific directions on which sites you would like them to put their review, which will generally be the ones that could use the most improvement. 11. Be Aware of IP Location, Hosting Location and Top-Level Domain The website’s IP address, hosting location and top-level domain are other areas that give clues to search engines about where a business is located. Make sure that your top-level domain and your hosting locations are both set to the United States. Most always this will already be the case, but if not, you could be ranking in Germany and not the U.S. and you would have no idea. Also, if possible, make sure the site’s IP location matches with the city and state where you are located or where you get the most business. Search engines can see your IP address, and they generally put this into consideration when placing your business in local search. Whew! Did you catch all of that? Geotargeting your website sounds daunting, but by following these steps, you’ll be that much closer to showing up on the map. Try them out and you might be surprised at how easy it can be.

MozCon. For three days, Derek, Kristy, and Locke will strap on their thinking caps, don their listening ears, and absorb as much knowledge as humanly possible. Derek is no newbie to the dense schedules and networking frenzy, but it's the first MozCon for Kristy and Locke. This is not to say they're at any disadvantage; regardless of how many MozCon lanyards proudly hang from your rearview mirror, your mind will still be blown to mush. There's no way to prepare for that.

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MozCon 2012: Hopes and Wishes

 

This month we’re sending three Evolve-ites to the Northwest region of the States to experience the notoriously innovative, SEO-saturated conference, MozCon. For three days, Derek, Kristy, and Locke will strap on their thinking caps, don their listening ears, and absorb as much knowledge as humanly possible. Derek is no newbie to the dense schedules and networking frenzy, but it’s the first MozCon for Kristy and Locke. This is not to say they’re at any disadvantage; regardless of how many MozCon lanyards proudly hang from your rearview mirror, your mind will still be blown to mush. There’s no way to prepare for that. Team Evolve decided to compile a little wish list for this year’s conference. Expectations are high, as always a and we’re sure the speakers will deliver more than we can possibly digest over the course of three days. Below we’ve hashed out a list of the things we want to learn or accomplish while in Seattle for MozCon:

1. Upgrade Announcement

We want SEOmoz to make a badass announcement about an awesome new upgrade. Last year was the improvement in Open Site Explorer excel docs; this year, we’re hoping for iPhone and iPad apps. Another swanky feature we’d love to have is client access to SEOmoz accounts, similar to Raven Tools’ ability to give read-only access to clients.

2. Keyword Difficulty Tool Upgrades

We’d appreciate the means to add keywords to a campaign directly through the Keyword Difficulty Tool. Additionally, we’d appreciate a version of the Keyword Difficulty Tool that only gives the difficulty percentage a not all the fancy graphs a and doesn’t cap the report limit.

3. Data Insight

We want to digest new ways of looking at data. MozCon is going to be swarming with data nerds, and we want the 411 from these experts. So guys, be prepared to spill it.

4. Needle

We’re not too proud to admit that we’d love to visit the Space Needle. Come on, it’s what makes Seattle’s skyline one of the most distinctive in the country. Touristy or not, we’re doing it.

5. New Recruits

We want to find some ballin’ talent to add to our growing team. Are we above stealing someone from another agency? Psh. Not in the least.

6. Seeing friends

This industry has a unique community. Because we tend to be more socially engaged than other professionals, SEOs are able to retain friendships and even form new ones via the digital waves. That said, we’re definitely looking forward to sharing stories, ideas, and beers with some of the cool cats we’ve met along the way, such as Papa Slingshot and the founding fathers of Distilled.

7. Network like fools

MozCon will be the perfect opportunity to make something of all the friend crushes we’ve accumulated on Twitter in the past year. The ultimate goal, of course, is for Derek to secure a spot presenting at MozCon 2013. We’re also going to try to get Emily a few guest posting gigs.

8. Outdrink a Fishkin

Do we need to elaborate here? Team Evolve knows how to throw back an IPA or two; we can only imagine how dynamite it would be to snag some brews with a Fishkin (any Fishkin) whilst dominating some fresh seafood. Being from the Midwest, we’re sorely deprived of fresh seafood. And Fishkins.

9. Document a group hug from Roger mozBot

Who can resist this guy? Not us. Everyone knows that your MozCon ticket essentially guarantees you some love from every SEO’s favorite robot. Beep! Evolve enjoys traveling to conferences as much as we love running them because this industry is perpetually changing. Soaking up the newest trends and tactics helps us implement relevant techniques into our own work as well as transfer this knowledge to clients. We simply can’t wait to meet some new faces, swap insight and business cards, and represent Evolve from 1700 miles away. If you’ve got a ticket to this sold-out event, what are you hoping to experience?