Monday, July 1, 2013

Navigating the Net Part 1: Finding What You Want

A few years ago, my friend told me about some openings at the online marketing company he worked for. My degree and all of my experience was in music, but I felt like this was something I was supposed to pursue.

One night I couldn't sleep because the Spirit kept prompting me to take action. So at about 3:30 am I found myself downstairs on my laptop instead of upstairs in bed. I canceled the Suzuki class I had signed up for, even though the first class started in only a few hours. While I was up, I put in an application for OrangeSoda.

It wasn't long before I had an interview and was sitting in a training room. I knew that the people interviewing me had been impressed by my participation in NaNoWriMo as much or more than my work or education experience. I knew that I would soon be starting my first desk job. I knew that I would be working on the same team as my friend, who also happened to be the most amazing guy I knew. I had a general idea about what my job entailed and knew I would be working with online marketing, specifically the SEO side of things.

But I had no clue what SEO stood for.

A year later, I was grateful for the opportunity I had to work with such a great team at a great business. I had married the awesome guy on my team (we didn't tell anyone we were dating until after we got engaged. That was fun.) I was expecting a baby and planning to stay home after the baby came so I was training my replacement. And I had a pretty good grasp of what SEO stood for, as well as many other things that helped me use the internet better. I hope to share some of those tools with you today.

What is SEO? 


During training my first day at OrangeSoda, I kept hearing a lot about SEO, but missed the original explanation of what it was. It was clear it was an important part of what I would be doing, and also clear that it should be obvious, common knowledge for anyone who got hired at an online marketing company. Rather than ask a question, I decided to pay close attention and take notes to ask or look up such things later.

It didn't take long to discover that SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. Still confused? Simply put, if you have good SEO, or hire an SEO company to help you out, you will have better rankings on Google and other search engines. There is a lot that goes into it (which is why such companies are so successful), so I'm just going to touch on a few basic points that are helpful for your average internet user.

Spiders and Link Juice

Spiders are little robots that search engines send out to determine the content of a website. They collect the information and send it back to the search engine so it will show up in search results. There are a lot of factors that determine the ranking, but content is a big one. Titles, headings, bolded words, labels and buzz words all play a role.

Spiders also take link juice into account. If I have 50 million links going to my site, it must be a good site to be so highly recommended, right? The text that is being linked and where the link is coming from are all taken into account.

Not all links are created equal. My site isn't very big (yet!), so a link from here will contribute to another sites link juice, but not as much as a link from a big site with 100s of followers. How often the link is clicked, how long people stay after they click and other factors are also taken into account.

Keep in mind that all links are good links. I may share on my facebook status "Can you believe this? This is the worst thing I've ever seen! This guy steals ideas from little kids and claims they are his own! Don't support this site!" I've not done a very good job not supporting them. I gave them a link for the term "little kids" which adds link juice. I said enough to pique your interest so you will click on the link which helps add link juice. Since I shared it on facebook, there is a chance this will go viral and lots  of people will click the forbidden link, just helping it rank higher and higher with each share and each click.

Understanding a little of how link juice works helps me share links responsibly. You will never catch me sharing a link for something I don't want to support. You will frequently catch me sharing links for people, organizations and sites that I do want to support. It is an easy way for me to support good things without having to spend any extra money!



It is common for sites to write for SEO purposes. They want your business, so it is worth a little research to make their site pop up higher for the most common search results. So if you are looking for something in particular, do a little reverse engineering and if your first search doesn't work so well, try rephrasing it.

I teach private lessons on piano, violin and viola. There are lots of search words that I could use that would beneficial to me. But rather than targeting a really big keyword with lots of competition like "music lessons", I can choose something for more of a niche that will still bring me traffic, but a more specific sort of traffic. I know that viola teachers are more rare, and I'm more interested in picking up traffic in my area (although google already knows your location when you search) so search terms like "viola utah", "private viola lessons utah county", "utah viola lessons" and other similar variants are probably my best bet.

It also is worth your time to know how to make the most of a search engine. Have you noticed that the built in search engines in most sites are greatly lacking in effectiveness? Next time you want to find something on a specific site, try searching " search terms". For example, if you remembered that I wrote about infant baptism, but can't find it easily through the searches on my blog, you could type: " infant baptism" when that returns no results, try some synonyms. You can use the vertical bar as an "or". The search " infant|children baptism|ordinance" will bring up exactly the right thing.

Sifting Through Search Results

Sometimes I wonder if half of the internet exists purely as SEO purposes and support of the half that is actually useful (Actually, I think more than half is the support side). When you get search results, you want to know what will best answer your question and meet your needs, so it is useful to know how to recognize spam and fluff so you can get to what you really want.

Recognizing Spam

You've learned how to recognize spam in your mailbox, your inbox and it is pretty easy in the comments too. Now you can recognize it on websites and know what to do with it.

Spam usually uses a lot of words to say absolutely nothing just as an excuse to give a link. Take this comment for example (it came to my spam comments section):
I've been surfing online greater than 3 hours today, but I never found any interesting article like yours. It is lovely price enough for me. In my view, if all website owners and bloggers made excellent content as you did, the net will probably be much more helpful than ever before. Also visit my homepage: アバクロ tシャツ
So how do I know this is spam and not a thrilled reader? Well, for one thing, while flattering, this is so generic it could go on almost any site. I also get the impression they didn't really read anything at all. It has the feel of bad english or been put through a translator or thesaurus a few times.

Awkward use of locations is another sign that someone cares more about SEO and link juice than good flowing content. It is one thing for me to say "Looking for a good viola teacher in Utah county?" on my site, but it is another to say "If you are learning to play viola Utah, you will need to learn how to hold the bow correctly." 

If you trying to find a good plumber, you may want some ideas on what to look for. A search for "how to find a good plumber" will find you a lot of results with articles that seem to address your query exactly! But when you start reading the 5th article titled "How to find a good plumber" and realize it is pointed out things that were obvious maybe you need to search elsewhere. Another tell tale sign of spam is when the same article can be changed out for a different keyword. When the instructions for finding a plumber could apply equally to a dentist, electrician, painter, or daycare, you have a spam article.

Spam articles will usually have a link somewhere in them. Clicking the link will get you closer to what you really want. Someone cared enough about their business to try to boost their SEO and get more link juice. The juice may not be the greatest, but that doesn't mean their services are sub-par. Save yourself some time, stop reading the article and follow the link to see if it is what you are looking for.

Look Through Your Results


The top results of your search probably paid to get there. They know you are more likely to click if they are in the top 10 on Google, and it is an advertising investment. The ads you see around your search pay every time you click on the ad. (So if you are interested, click the ad and check them out. If you hate the company the ad is for, you could click on the ad every time you see it and then never buy anything from them.)

I like to know that I'm getting something from a site I trust. From a real person, not just spam or a robot. There are also a lot of sites and information on the internet that is from real people, I just don't agree with them or don't trust them. If I click on a blog and find that the "about me" section shows a person who chooses a completly opposite lifestyle than I choose, I probably won't find much on their site. There are some sites that I have become somewhat familiar with as I do searches. I know the recipes from are sometimes great, sometimes gross. But most the time if I find a recipe that is preceded with a long story about how much they love this food, detailed pictures and instructions to prepare it and a recipe at the bottom, it will probably turn out alright.

I like to get info from blogs or sites with some authority. I try to find places that are somewhat unbiased or have the same biases as me. It is also nice if they aren't trying to sell me something. Things just don't feel as genuine when you read a biased post that ends with "and here is a link to my sponsor!" or "click this link and I get a commission", especially if the whole article is bashing something without any real support except opinion. If you want to rant for an entire post, that is fine, it is your blog, you can share your opinion, but make sure you share it as your opinion not fact. You can say "I will never do this again" but don't try to tell me I should be just like you unless you have a good reason.

When you are looking at a site, look for specific details. It is great if they care enough to make their site easy to use and accesible. It is good that they care enough to build good SEO, but if you are getting a product (or ideas) from them, are they really offering quality? I frequent a lot of sites that have a disclaimer of "I am not a doctor or a medical professional in any way. I offer this as suggestions, and am not responsible if it doesn't work for you". I still frequent the sites and appreciate the honesty (and find their methods better than many doctor approved ones).

If you are looking to purchase something, can they back up their claims or are they too vague? I always like to compare and contrast before making any big purchases.


There is a lot of information available on the web. It can be a great tool if we use it wisely, but we can waste a lot of time wandering through misinformation if we don't know what we are doing. Hopefully this information and the tips can help remove a bit of confusion and frustration next time you are searching for something! In my next post I'll be focusing on making the most of a blog and a few specifics for boosting SEO in your own blog (I'll give you a hint, since I don't depend on my blog for income, I don't follow a lot of these rules).

What things have you found helpful in finding what you want on the web?

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