Multiple Domains: Make it stop.

Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of brands that have multiple domains, particularly local companies. I get it. Well, sort of. These guys figure more separate websites will equal a greater web presence, so they have a different domain for different locations and even services. What they don’t realize is that spreading out across multiple domains actually works against them for several reasons.

Duplicate Content

I’ve written about duplicate content once or twice. It’s a pretty interesting sh*t show, especially because so many webmasters don’t even realize that their pages are duplicated at times. When one brand has multiple websites, each featuring a specific location or service, there’s likely going to be duplication. Brands usually don’t want to write unique content for each domain (after all, content creation is expensive), so they often have the same company description, philosophy, and paragraph for similar or even identical products. This means you’re making the Google bots do the same job twice. And that’s not cool. They will lash back by making the sites really difficult to find online. It will hurt. If you insist on keeping your many domains, at least fix the du-co.

Diluted Link Juice

The way websites are perceived to be valuable by search engines is through the number of links they receive from outside sources. A link is essentially a thumbs up, so naturally, more referrals signify a quality website. Google strongly takes well-liked sites into consideration when dishing out results for users. We call the power of these links “link juice.” The problem with having multiple domains, though, is that outside sources don’t necessarily know which of the many dot-coms of your brand to link to. So rather than reaping the full benefits of inbound links, the “link juice” is divvied up among however many domains exist.

Utter confusion

It’s confusing for users to search a brand in Google and be served a full page (or more) of different domains to choose from. More than anything, it’s annoying. Stop confusing your visitors. Give them one site to love.

Pain to maintain

As SEOs, we’re constantly barking at our clients to create helpful, fresh content. Write blog posts! Assemble case studies! Update your pages! Why? Visitors love it, and the search engines view such sites as authoritative, proactive domains. But you can imagine how difficult it must be to publish new, unique content across multiple domains. It’s pretty much impossible when they are all for the same brand. You’ll quickly grow exhausted fixing errors, updating metadata, and cranking out new content strategies. More than likely, you’ll give up altogether because you’re not a magician. And that’s okay. (The not-being-a-magician part. Not the giving up part.)

So in conclusion…

I’m sure there are times when having more than one domain for your brand can work in your favor. Companies have been successful in this effort, and for that I shrug my shoulders. The problem arises when you start scooping up domain names just to squeeze in location-based or service-specific keywords. If you can’t look your grandmother in the eyes and swear that each domain serves a unique, specific purpose, you should seriously consider clustering your digital real estate. A few redirects here and there, maybe some updated content creation, and you’ll be good to go. It’s hard enough to manage one site (for us, at least); you, customers, and those search bots will appreciate being able to find your brand at one stop. If you’re starting to worry about the state of your site, you might want to check out our SEO Audit or consultation services. We’re awesome at what we do, which is just one of many reasons why you will enjoy working with us. Check out our SEO Resources!

Best SEO Audit Tools (in our humble opinion)

There are many experts out there who can look at a website and become aware of its most glaring SEO issues within about 15 minutes simply by using their intuition and trained eye. But let’s face it: even the most experienced SEOs need the help of tools when getting into the nitty-gritty of an SEO audit. Here is a list of SEO tools that Evolve Digital Labs uses when conducting a site audit. We would be lost without them.

1. Web Developer Toolbar

If you don’t have the Web Developer Toolbar for Google Chrome, get it. It provides tons of insight into the backend of the site with just a click or two. Here are some of my favorite features of this toolbar:

Replace Image With Alt Attributes

This is a quick and easy way to see a page like a search engine bot does, without changing your browser preferences or using a third-party site. By selecting this option, you can quickly take away the distraction of images and replace them with the text that the crawlers see.

Screenshot of Developer Toolbar

Validate HTML

One click of this link directs the page in question to the W3C’s validation service. In an instant, you can see the errors in a page’s HTML. Thirteen mishaps on our latest blog post? Ouch. No wonder they say ignorance is bliss!

Validate Links

This is the quickest way I know to check for broken or embedded links from a web page. Like the previous feature, the aValidate Linksa option takes you to the W3C page where you receive a summary of the links on that particular page.

2. SEOmoz Toolbar

External/Internal Link Marker

Get a better understanding of a page’s links by highlighting all internal, external, follow, or no follow links. This is a great way to find if a site is switching domains in its internal navigation. It’s also a good way to find any no follow links quickly and easily.

Page Attributes

From H1 Tags to Meta Descriptions, this tool shows it all, or the lack thereof. It displays the Rel=acanonicala link (which is usually the URL of the page, unless there is duplicate content). It also displays the number of inbound and external links (followed and unfollowed).

Screenshot of SEOmoz toolbar Link Data

This view is incredibly useful for quickly checking the authority of a website or page; the top displays the Domain Authority and Page Authority (also nice for link building). Another super helpful part about the Link Data section on the SEOmoz Toolbar is the option to plug that URL into Open Site Explorer to see the full metrics. As an agency that relies on efficiency, weall take any shortcut we can get.

3. Google Site Search and Branded Search

Searching site:www.example.com is a quick and easy way to find the approximate number of pages within your domain have been indexed. It is also a great way to find pages that aren’t meant to be indexed so you can add a “no index” attribute to the page. Pages that shouldn’t be indexed include any backend versions of pages that are meant solely for site developers; you wouldn’t want visitors stumbling upon your WordPress login page.

A branded search is as simple as it sounds; just google the brand. Typing “Evolve Digital Labs” in the Google search bar, for example, reveals a page that is dedicated solely to our brand and no one else. Of course, we’re lucky to have a unique name, but we’ve also worked hard to establish a solid rapport on other websites (like 5 stars on Yelp!). A quick brand search will show you which brands rank where you should be ranking, and it also shows what your potential visitors see when searching for you. It may or may not be pretty.

4.Google Webmaster Crawl Errors

SEO boils down to making a website easier to find and making the content useful for visitors. This can be achieved through greater connectivity (links) or more exposure (ranking). Google’s ability to crawl a website relies heavily on the website’s foundation. Any site errors or flaws in the sitemap will deter the “bots” from crawling the website and assessing its worth. That said, we make sure to check into Webmaster tools daily in order to check out the crawl errors. Google hands out these tips for free; it’s best to take advantage of them.

Screenshot of Google Webmaster Tools crawl errors

5. SEOmoz Errors/Warnings

This tool isn’t free (not past the first 30 days, at least), but it’s still a staple in most SEOs’ directory of favorite tools and services. The Errors/Warning tool, in particular, is similar to Google Webmaster Crawl Errors in that it dishes out lists of problem pages on the site, but it organizes them in a very helpful way. For example, we’re able to find out right away how many pages are in need of attention. This is useful for daily review, but particularly for sites that are new or have recently experienced redesigns.

Screenshot of errors and warnings

6. Open Site Explorer

Another one of SEOmoz’s fabulous inventions, Open Site Explorer is a top-notch source for examining the links to a particular Web page. As an expanded view of the “Link Data” view in the SEOmoz Toolbar, Open Site Explorer allows you to see the exact URLs that link to a particular page. The filtering options are extremely useful for condensing the results to be grouped by domain. What can you do with this information? Well, we use it to gauge how successful a content strategy is for a competitor; if links point primarily to the homepage, it’s likely that the brand is only reaping links for its reputation, not for the content within the domain. It also illuminates link building opportunities.

Screenshot of Open Site Explorer

This list is far from exclusive, but it features most of the tools we use on a daily basis, particularly when auditing a website for SEO. Did we forget about any? We’re always trying to refine the way we present our insights to clients, so feel free to share!

hosting resources for our visitors. Finally, we moved shop from Downtown St. Louis to beautiful, eclectic, sometimes weird Maplewood. Our neighbors, The Rampant (who work literally across the street), have been welcoming and hilarious. They introduced us to the Chamber of Commerce here in Maplewood and now we're proud members. Reasons to be thankful'>

Reasons to be thankful in 2012

This has been a huge year for Evolve Digital Labs, and we have a lot to be thankful for. We’ve added some stellar talent to the team and have worked with wonderful clients. We upgraded our website to be more aesthetically pleasing, easier to navigate, and more capable of hosting resources for our visitors. Finally, we moved shop from Downtown St. Louis to beautiful, eclectic, sometimes weird Maplewood. Our neighbors, The Rampant (who work literally across the street), have been welcoming and hilarious. They introduced us to the Chamber of Commerce here in Maplewood and now we’re proud members.

Reasons to be thankful Read more

404 Errors: What do they mean for SEO?

A 404 Not Found error can be a terrible disruption to user experience, particularly when it is not customized to reflect the brand of the website you are trying to navigate. Because visitors are forced to backtrack and reassess which page to visit next. Often, users simply leave.

At Evolve, we always start with an SEO audit. Audits are fan-freaking-tastic, but utterly pointless if the end goal isnat ROI. We put together a checklist that walks you through the most important parts of an SEO audit. (We might have mentioned it once or twice before.)

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SEO Audits: more than just data

Yesterday at the State of Search conference in Dallas, Derek gave a fantastic presentation about SEO Audits and how their main purpose should be to increase return on investment. What good is a 20-page report without direction for implementation? SEO has been changing since its inception, but one main difference between SEO today and SEO 15 years ago is awareness. Now, Derek pointed out, even the boss believes in SEO. Transparency is imperative as a result; you can’t manipulate clients into buying your BS (not that you would anyway, right?). Additionally, the margins of error are shrinking; there’s not an excuse to not supply the right data and supplement it with a plan of action. If you don’t do it, another SEO will. Derek at State of Search At Evolve, we always start with an SEO audit. Audits are fan-freaking-tastic, but utterly pointless if the end goal isn’t ROI. We put together a checklist that walks you through the most important parts of an SEO audit. (We might have mentioned it once or twice before.) The Onsite Analysis, Derek mentioned, is vital for identifying errors that trip up bots that try to crawl your site. Fixing them is always a good idea, as it can boost traffic, but it’s not an inclusive solution. You also have to check out the competition to figure out why they’re kicking ass and your not. Where do their links come from? What kind of content strategy are they rocking? This lets you know how much you’re slacking and what it will take to catch up (and hopefully inch ahead). Keyword research, the final portion of our audit, presents opportunity when performed correctly. A solid SEO will be smart about how keywords are listed and what data is used to find them. Derek says it’s simple: be relevant. Find keywords that present value and aren’t impossible to chase. State of Search conference What’s more awesome than checking things off our list? Solving problems. A strategic audit can accomplish both, but not without a realistic mindset that success in the SERPs requires an investment in substantial content. It’s clear that SEO is about transferring brand authority and trust to the digital realm. That’s why our ultimate goal as an agency is to empower brands through Search; we want our clients to understand that applying our recommendations will in turn boost their ability to provide solutions online.

Google Tag Manager – What is it?

Google has recently rolled out a free tool called “Google Tag Manager” for Webmasters and IT professionals as well as digital marketers and SEOs alike. Its purpose is to allow for easy management of website tags in one location, known as a container tag. Learn more about the basics of container tags here. Container tags are designed to make our job easier by combining all website tags into one location, known as a container. This one container file is then the end-all for updating, adding, and deleting tags. In other words, it eliminates the need to go through Analytics, AdWords, etc., to update website tags. Instead, any changes can be implemented through this one container tag, just by updating changes directly to a Google Tag Manager account and then clicking “publish” (an important step). For SEOs and digital marketing agencies, this means a few important things.

  1. Allows users who do not have direct access to the backend of the site to add tags and event tracking, simply through access to the Google Tag Manager account. This means that, for example, if the SEO on the client account wants to add event tracking to the site, they do not have to directly access the html to add this to the analytics tracking code. They can simply create an event tag in Google Tag Manager and it will almost immediately begin tracking.
  2. Can be a big time-saver for agencies with multiple clients, each with multiple accounts used for tracking.
  3. Is a way for webmasters and marketers to work together to track important business goals on the site from one user-friendly platform.

 

How Does It Work?

Google Tag Manager uses an asynchronous tracking code. Once you have created your account and container, a JavaScript tracking code will be generated for each container (see example below). Add this code in the header section immediately following the first <body> tag on every page. Container snippet

Then you can add tags to the account and hit “publish” to update the tracking. To add tags, you can select a template (discussed later) or create a custom JavaScript tag. These should include all of the current tags on the site that are compatible with Google Tag Manager. After creating tags, delete the current corresponding tags on your site.

Basics

  • Tags: Tags are strings that can be added to the JavaScript container code in order to track specific events. Tags can follow a template or can be custom-made. Tag templates will be discussed in more depth in the “Noteworthy Features” section below. In addition to these templates, there are two built-in custom tag types: “custom image tags” and “custom html tags.”
  • Rules: Rules dictate on which pages tags will be fired. There is a pre-defined rule in Tag Manager with a regular expression of “/.*” for “All Pages.” This means that any tag with this rule will be applied to all pages on the site. Using regular expressions, you can tell Tag Manager which page(s) to apply each tag to.
  • Macros: Macros pass values to tags during runtime. For example, there are three pre-defined macros: “url,” “referrer,” and “event.” These tell Tag Manager the dynamic value of the tag. So, the “url” macro tells Tag Manager that the value of the tag is the current page URL. Macros can be built and then referenced by multiple tags and rules.

Noteworthy Features

Multiple Accounts and Containers: This is great for SEOs and digital agencies because it allows for easy management of multiple accounts for different clients. Google recommends that each account should correspond with a company (client) and each container should correspond with a website. Each container can also have multiple users, and each user can be allowed different permissions, from just viewing permission to managing permission.

screenshot of tag manager

Tag Templates: Tag Manager has built in templates for:

  • AdWords Conversion Tracking
  • GDN Remarketing
  • Google Analytics
  • Doubleclick Floodlight Counter
  • Doubleclick Floodlight Sales

These templates minimize the possibility for error and simplify the process of integration from these external platforms.

Data Layer: This is an optional addition of data that allows communication between the site and the Tag Manager container code. The purpose is to provide additional data about the page that will not change with a site re-design or any other site changes. To create a data layer, add a JavaScript object named “dataLayer” and add it to the page before the Tag Manager script. This data layer should include information about page attributes as well as conversion data.

Previewing/Debugging: This feature allows you to test a tag before publishing it to the site. This is another way that Tag Manager reduces the chance of user error. By selecting the “Preview & Debug” option seen below, you can be sure that the tags execute properly and do not break the site before publishing.

screenshot of google tag manager preview feature

Review: The Bad

Timely Set Up: Initial set up is timely. It involves finding all of the current tags on the site, adding them to Tag Manager, and then deleting the originals. Especially for an agency that manages multiple sites each with multiple tags and platforms, this can become a time-consuming process. In my opinion, it would be optimal if there were a way for Tag Manager to automatically pull all existing tags on the site and add it to the container, but this is currently not the case. Limited Discussion: There are surprisingly few blog posts/discussions out there about this tool. I’m curious as to why. Are people finding it simple to use or are they simply not using it? Either way, it makes it difficult to gauge how much success other agencies are having with this tool and what common problems might be occurring.

Review: The Good

Quicker Site Loading: Combining all tags into one container will allow a faster site load time. One of the downsides of so much tagging is the possibility of slowing down a site. This virtually eliminates the problem by allowing all tags to be fired through one asynchronous tracking code snippet. Long Run Time Save: With the ability to add, delete, and manage all tags in one location, this will save time in the long run, especially for larger agencies handling multiple accounts. Other Articles: Here are some additional articles out there about Tag Manager that we found interesting:

Beware the $300 SEO Audit

Free seo auditIf you’re part of a brand that searches for “quick seo audit” or “free seo audit,” Evolve Digital Labs is probably not a good fit. Similarly, anyone seeking a 24-hour turnaround has unrealistic expectations because SEO is a process that requires strategy and commitment. An SEO Audit sets the stage for success in the search engines. We compare it to a diagnosis; doctors don’t prescribe medication or prep for surgery without first figuring out what’s wrong and what steps are required to fix the issue. Because it is such a critical prerequisite, we think it’s fair to describe what you can expect from an audit that is simply not worth your time or money:

1. Amateur Analysis

There’s a saying you’ve probably heard: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. This reality applies to nearly all wakes of life, with the exception of $1.50 PBR nights at dive bars. That shiz is real. Listen, people: an SEO audit won’t help you get anywhere if it doesn’t dig deep enough and provide insights that resonate. If you’re shopping for a solution that will cost you less than an iPad, you’re doing it wrong. It won’t take you long to find the websites that offer these services, but I can guarantee that it takes you longer to fill out your credit card information than it does for them to plug your information and pump out the stale report.

“We’ll diagnose 10 pages”

Why this doesn’t cut it: Websites need to be approached holistically. Does that mean poring over each paragraph in a 5,000-page website? Of course not. Still, there’s no set-in-stone number of pages that need to be analyzed in an audit a but it’s definitely more than 10, 20, or even 50 in most cases.

“We’ll provide a list of errors and warnings”

Why this doesn’t cut it: While this information is incredibly useful, it requires minimal effort on the SEO’s part. Google Webmaster Tools, a free service to owners of websites, does this work for you, along with SEOmoz (which requires a subscription, but offers a 30-day free trial). The benefit to utilizing the services of an SEO company like Evolve Digital Labs is that we provide more than a stale report.

  1. We express the severity of each error and warning (how bad is it?)
  2. We explain how it affects you (what does this mean for me?)
  3. We provide next steps for each issue (where do I go from here?)

 

“Guaranteed #1 Ranking!”

Why this doesn’t cut it: Please. Any SEO who blindly promises number one results in the search engines is a fool… unless you’re okay with paying someone to help you rank #1 for a ridiculously long-tail keyword (e.g., “cincinnati automotive insurance broker for mobile petting zoo businesses”). It’s not easy for websites to obtain impressive rankings for terms relevant to their business; that’s why this claim sounds too good to be true.

2. Shady Solutions

More than likely, a cheap SEO audit won’t include any sort of remedy for your website a it will just point out what’s wrong. But I’m sure that the same SEO will do what he can to upsell you. If you come across any of these solutions, run in the other way.

Buy some links

Why this doesn’t cut it: I’ll admit a some of these websites can be pretty convincing, offering .gov and .edu links; I can only imagine how killer these solutions must sound to brands that donat know any better. But it all circles back to the if-then cliché I keep referencing; buying links is a shortcut with dire consequences. With Google’s Penguin update still on the loose, we recommend steering clear of SEOs that sell links.

Shady SEO Screenshot

Keyword-stuffed Content

Why this doesn’t cut it: Content, whether blog posts, additional on-site pages, or guest posts, should serve a greater purpose than simply accumulating keywords for which you’re trying to rank. Sure, Keyword Research (a service we provide) delivers extraordinary insight regarding which terms are within grasp and which may require a year or more to see results in the search engines. We use this data to understand which answers we should be answering through content, thus transforming a website into a helpful entity for visitors.

Directory submissions

Why this doesnat cut it: Black hatters sway brands with the big numbers (120,000 submissions to directories!) but what they don’t mention is how this outdated tactic can cause websites to lose traffic. Directories were once a reliable source for search engines to use to find and index websites, but they have become so saturated with spam and weak sites that Google is no longer valuing directories as reliable sources. Auditing a website (in a way that actually benefits a client) requires strategy and tedious research. You won’t find a cheap or free audit that yields tactical solutions for the future or next steps you can digest. The point of an audit is really to gauge where your website stands before you waste any time or money on strategies you’re not prepared to handle. We’re pretty open about what steps we cover during an audit; give our checklist a look and let us know what you think!

Everyone, this is Blake! Blake, this is everyone.

Team Evolve Digital Labs is happy to have a new member on board. Read on to find more about this guy!

Hey everyone! I’m Blake, and I’m really stoked to be doing digital strategy work on the Evolve team.

I’ve been active on the web for years. It’s been almost fifteen years since I built my first website, and I haven’t stopped learning the way the web works since. At previous jobs I’ve used my skills in digital and creative strategy to help social and search campaigns for many different industries.

I’m hoping to add a lot to the Evolve team, and hoping to learn a lot from the incredible talent they have here already. Lots of great stuff to look to in the future!
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