6 Questions to Ask a Search Engine Optimizer BEFORE your Hire Them

Hiring a Search Engine Optimizer is no easy task.  For one thing there are a lot of people out there that claim they know how to do Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and build quality links, when in fact they don't.  Also there are Search Engine Optimizers that will give a great price that undercuts what everyone else told you.  However, what they don't tell you is they will use all BlackHat (meaning Google doesn't like it) link building techniques to rank your site.  You could very well rank for 1st for some keywords for a couple days or weeks, but most likely your site might get deindexed from Google or face penalties.  You could still be listed in other search engines… but who really cares about those?

search engine optimizerAs someone who's seen and heard of waaay to many people getting ripped off by SEO scammers out there, here are 6 Questions to Ask a Search Engine Optimizer BEFORE you make the decision to hire them.

1. What SEO Software and Tools Do you Use?

Search Engine Optimizers need quite a few SEO tools and software to pull data about competitors websites and to try to figure out how to rank your site for certain keywords and terms.  Typically they will have a subscription to some sort of rank tracking software or monitoring service, link analysis software, and have one or several VPS (Virtual Private Servers) for running some of these programs.  In addition they might have to hire workers via oDesk or another freelancing service for doing small tasks and jobs they don't want to do.  This could be writing articles, contacting blogs or websites where they might be able to post an article with your URL above the fold (this means not as a comment or forum signature link), link analysis, filling out forms, etc.

Any legit Search Engine Optimizer should be honest with you about what SEO tools, software, and subscriptions they are paying for and what tasks they sub-contract other people to do.  Many feel sharing with clients is giving away trade secrets, but that just isn't true.  If you bought SEO tools, guess what, other people bought use those SEO tools too.

Even though I would let clients of mine know what SEO software I use, they obviously don't have the expertise or knowledge to use the effectively.  Of course if later they want to learn, that's fine with me.  The client is paying me for my knowledge and there is always plenty of SEO business out there. 🙂

2. What link building Techniques & Strategies Do you Use? Blackhat or Grayhat?

This is an important question you really need to be on your toes about.  If it's clear they completely use BlackHat techniques, then run away very fast!  (This is hard to know if you don't have any idea about search engine optimization.)

I assume most people that read my website are looking for long term benefits from SEO.  You need someone who understands that and isn't going to give you a bunch of crappy low quality links, even if they drive traffic.

Consider how your potential search optimizer answers question 1# and what tools they told you they use.  Guess what, you should Google it.  Is it SEO software that is mainly used for BlackHat link building?  Then ask how they use the tools and what strategies they use to build links?

To be fair and honest and what you do need to keep in mind… no Search Engine Optimizer, and I mean NOBODY, completely does whitehat SEO.  Everyone works in “Grayhat SEO” when it comes to link building.

Larger sites and companies will buy links, which is technically against Google's guidelines, for certain keywords they want to rank for.  Smaller sites and blogs don't care since they need the money.  (I know since I've been there.)  It's not like Google isn't aware of it but I've never seen Google do much about it since a lot of these companies have large advertising deals with Google.  Also there is no way the bots are smart enough to figure this out on ever single website out there.

A lot of SEO software is not necessarily considered “whitehat” by Google.  For instance I use a program called ScrapeBox, which everyone uses.  You can't use ScrapeBox with one IP address or Google would ban it.  ScrapeBox sends to many automated queries at one time, so if you are going to use it you need to buy proxies.  ScrapeBox is not a bad tool in my opinion, but Google doesn't like how it pulls data.

Bottom line, a Search Engine Optimizers should be honest about SEO strategies and link building tactics they will use for your website before you give them any money.  Like I said I'd keep in mind Google expects everyone to play fair, but nobody does.

3. What Keywords can you Rank me for within my Budget?

Before you talk with a Search Engine Optimizer you should figure out how much you can spend monthly or for a one-time upfront cost.  You need to understand that harder the keywords you want to rank for, the more time and therefore money it will require.

If you are told by a company they can rank you for some crazy competitive keywords such as “make money online” they might be able to… but it will cost you a lot of money.  That's why nobody posts pricing on directly on their websites.  It doesn't make sense since they are billions of searches for different categories and regions.  Cost and difficulty range with regards to what keywords and terms you want to rank in Google for.

There should be a discussion of what is doable within your SEO budget.  I'm not saying you should not expect something for your money, but understand some companies spend $500-$2,000 a month with SEO firms while other are spending upwards of $10,000+ for a whole range of SEO, social media, and website development services.

4. Can you Guarantee 1# Ranking?

This a bit of a trick question since the answer, should be “No!”  If you work with a huge SEO company that's been in the game for awhile and you are paying them tons of money each month, then it might be possible if they have the staff and resources.  Still there is no way any Search Engine Optimizers or company can “100% Guarantee” #1 sport ranking in Google for extraordinarily competitive keywords.

Even these large SEO companies can't always figure out how to get a 1# SERP (search engine results pages) ranking.  People who claim otherwise are blowing smoke.

Google rankings are NOT determined by the search optimizers you hire.  They are determined by Google and their massive computing power and stupid algorithms which sometimes nobody can figure out.  There are over 200 different ranking factors Google uses and they don't tell the public what all of these are.

5. Do you hate Matt Cutts?

The answer to this question, should be “Yes!”  (In case you don't know who Matt Cutts heads the Webspam team at Google and works on Google's search algorithm.  He wrote the family filter engine for Google as well.)

I personally don't trust a lot of things Matt Cutts tells people in the Google Webmaster Help videos on Youtube.  He tells you what Google doesn't like, not what doesn't work.  These are 2 very different things and SEO pros know the difference and will exploit them.

Watching the Google Webmaster Help videos is good for many reasons though.  For instance I wouldn't have been aware Google changed their stance on .IO domains for global use.  Also he gives straight-up advice like Don't Buy a Spam Domain and that you should always Link to Your Sources.

Often times it is quite difficult to figure out what he means in these Youtube videos though.  The issue is he is trying to appeal to beginners watching these videos that don't know much about SEO and people in the SEO industry, which doesn't work.  This was clear when Penguin 2.0 hit and his answers about regarding “Does site downtime hurt Search Engine rankings?” should have been more clearcut.  (That's why there was a website created call The Short Cutts.)  Additionally Matt Cutts SEO talk at WordCamp 2009 doesn't tell the whole story about Google and SEO.  There are a lot more factors that go into ranking than diverse keywords in articles.

6. Do you hate Google?

The answer should always be “Yes!”  🙂

Other Questions to Ask a Search Engine Optimizer

Obviously I can't account for what your specific situation or website needs are.  There are too many factors or specialty areas.  So you need to feel out how the SEO company or Search Engine Optimizer you are going to hire seems.  Do they seem like an “SEO Diva?” or are they pretty chill.  Try to think of other questions and definitely get on Skype or Google+ to talk with them “face to face” if you can.  If they don't want to take a little time to answer your questions I'd find someone else.

Personally if I get hired by a small business to do SEO work I am always open about what I am doing and I keep them updated.  They are paying me to do work for them and it's my job to make it clear what I am doing and how I am doing it, so they feel they are getting value for their money.  I even try to provide clients with tools and resources other people wouldn't.  Transparency is not something you find often in the SEO world, but you should expect it from whoever you hire in my opinion.  (If you want to Hire Me, I'd be happy to talk with you by the way.)

Ranking in search engines is something you should want to do in the long term, not short term.  Be careful who you hire and just make sure you feel comfortable working with them and what they are going to do with your website.

Think I missed something?  Have anything to add regarding SEO or search optimizers?  Let me know below!

Catch me on Twitter @AdamYamada … if you can!

15th Google Birthday celebrated with Google Pinata Doodle & Google in 1998

In case you hadn't heard or seen, today is Google's Birthday.  The search engine giant celebrated with a fun Google Pinata Doodle game.  You earn points by whacking the Pinata for the most candy, which tabulates a score, then you can share you score with people on Google+ if you want.   google pinataGoogle also inserted an Easter Egg into it's search engine so users can be taken back to Google in 1998.  All you do is type into Google's search bar “Google in 1998” and you can see what the Google looked like back when it first started.

google in 1998

What's fun is they have links at the bottom to competitors search engines at the time via Archive.org so you can see how much better and cleaner Google was compared to the other search engines.  The majority of the ones in 1998 are now gone or are were bought out.

Google also made a sweet visual timeline of 15 years of Google.

It's incredible to think how quickly technology and how fast Google has evolved over the years.  Recently Google switched their popular Google Keyword Tool to the Google Keyword Planner and they just celebrated 10 Years of Google Adsense.  In addition Google's most used tool, their search engine, got updated with Google Penguin 2.0 to improve search quality and results.  (At least that's what Matt Cutts and Google claims.)

In tech years Google is probably considered 100 years old since the titan of search has been around for so long.  How old do you think Google is in tech years? 🙂

Have any thoughts about Googling turning 15 years old? Want to share your experiences of how Searching the web was before Google?  How has Google's search engine and many other products improved, changed, or ruined your life? 🙂

Google Webmaster Tools in Vietnamese

Yesterday I checked Google Webmaster Tools in Vietnamese for this site, AdamYamada.com!  No, this wasn't on purpose and in case you are wondering I can't speak or read Vietnamese.  Since I thought it was kind of weird Google thought I could read Vietnamese I did went any normal person would do, I took a screenshot.  Check out the screenshot of Google Wembaster Tools in Vietnamese.

google webmaster tools in vietnamese

It seems to have been a glitch on Google Webmaster Tools side which I was happy with.  I just logged out of my account and logged back in and then everything returned to good old English.  Some of you are probably laughing reading this and looking at the picture but I actually didn't think this was funny at first since I assumed someone had hacked my Google account.

Luckily that doesn't seem like it was the case and I am glad since Google Webmaster Tools has a lot of important data about all of my sites.  In addition it can tell you when your sites have been hacked or if there is malware on them that you need to be aware of.  So it's important to keep you Google account and Google Webmaster Tools account secure.   I'd recommend 2-step verification if you own a cellphone with a text messaging plan.

Trying to understand Google Webmaster Tools in Vietnamese wasn't as hard as you might think though.  Since I already know where most of the buttons are in the user interface in English it was sort of second nature.  Looking at the picture can you navigate and figure out what the buttons do?  If you are familiar using Google Webmaster Tools I bet you can.  It is still a bit confusing but should be somewhat doable.

Let's hear from other webmasters that use Google Webmaster Tools.  Have you every had a similar experience with Google Webmaster Tools showing up a different language?  What was the language?  How did it make you feel?  Worried, concerned, upset? Share below and let others know!

Gmail Tabs make Email Enjoyable Again

Gmail, the most widely used email service in the world, has just added a great new email tabs feature.  Since the new Gmail tabs are going to be affecting a lot of people it is something I thought we could be exploring together.

To get a better idea, without me explaining, here is a video Google released on May 29th showcasing Gmail's updated tabs.  The title of the video is “Meet Gmail's New Inbox.”  Google of course uses a great Motown song “Please Mr. Postman” by The Marvelletes as the soundtrack.

New customizable tabs put you back in control so that you can see what's new at a glance and decide which emails you want to read and when.

I like how in the beginning the video it reads, “Inboxes can be overwhelming” which is sooo true.  However as the video points out “Unless you have the new Gmail inbox.”

gmail tabs

Basically what this means is Google has several tabs for your inbox now and it automatically sorts incoming email into those different tab categories.  What are the different Gmail tabs?

  • Primary – This is for all your important emails from say friends, family, etc.  As Google describes it in the video “One tab for email you really, really want to see.”
  • Social – Essentially any emails or updates from Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.  What is surprising to me is that the
  • Promotions – This tab is for any promotions or special offer emails.  So you love Groupon or getting special Amazon deals this is where all those emails would go.
  • Updates – This is where you put any orders you have made from online retailers or shipping information or order status updates you might receive from them.
  • Forums – If you take part in any discussion forums this will sort your emails from them into this tab.  Reply to topic emails will go in here too.

Gmail defaults to using Primary, Social, and the Promotions tabs.  You can add the Updates and Forums tabs if you want or feel the need.  Since Gmail  sorts the emails automatically it may not put the right email in the right Gmail tab category.  If you don't feel like Gmail sorted an email correctly you can Drag and Drop an email into the tab you want.  Any future email from that sender will go into that specified Gmail tab.  So if an email that should go in the Promotions tab goes into Primary, and you drop into Promotions, all future emails go into the Promotions tab.

Personally I have found the new Gmail tabs extremely useful and a huge time saver.  For the most part Gmail is very accurate in sorting emails but once in awhile it will get it wrong.  Hey, it is is a computer doing the sorting and not you.  Still, this makes me love Gmail and all it's other great features even more. Kudos to Google and the Gmail team that came up with the Gmail tabs idea.  As it said at the end of the video, “The inbox has gone Google.”

What is interesting to note is that the pre-filtered “Promotion” tab has caused a lot of internet marketers and those that have email lists to become quite concerned.  Since Gmail rolled out the tab features about 2 weeks ago all of the those emails go into Promotions mostly.  If an email slips by and goes into Primary I usually immediately drop into the Promotions tab.  I don't open these emails nearly as much anymore.  A lot of emails from these people are titled “Urgent”, “Don't leave in Promotions”, “Open if you use Gmail” and more things like that.  It is clear email open rates have gone waaay done Gmail tabs rolled out.  Sorry, but you guys are staying in Promotions since it is making my life a lot easier! 🙂

The only complaint I have is it would be nice if you could customize the tab lables.  A Primary tab isn't a problem but I might want to relabel the other tabs to fit my personal email needs.  Other than I think is is a great Gmail update.

While the Gmail tabs change is not good for companies or marketers, it certainly is for Gmail's 1 billion+ users.  Since Google is always says they are focused on the user experience it is great they back it up with great changes to products.  I totally love the new and updated Gmail tabs and look forward to Google's continued improvements to Gmail in the future.

What are your thoughts about Gmail's new tabs?  Do you love it as much as I do?  Is it saving you time?  If you run an email list have you seen a drop in open rates?  What do you think Google could have done better with Gmail tabs?

Does site Downtime hurt Search Engine Rankings?

search engine rankings

Does site downtime hurt Search Engine rankings? ”

This is a question that is hotly debated by webmasters, search engine optimization specialists, bloggers, hosting companies, etc.  A lot of people say that a little bit of downtime, say 20 minutes, in a day, can hurt SERPS (search engine results page) for your website.  Others say that you can have a little bit of downtime here and there and it will not matter much.

Well this question was touched on in one of a Google Webmaster Help videos with Matt Cutts recently. Check it out and the question that was asked.

I got a “Googlebot can't access your site” message in Webmaster Tools from my host being down for a day. Does it affect my rankings when this happens?
Sally

Matt Cutts initial response to this question was,

“Well if it is just for a 1 day you should be in pretty good shape. If your host is down for 2 weeks then there is a better indicator that the website is down and we don't want to send users to a website that is actually down but we do try to compensate for websites that are transiently or sporadically down.  We make a few allowances and we try to comeback 24 hours later… So it is just a short period of downtime I wouldn't really worry about that.”

While I mostly agree with what he said in the video, and after explaining that the Googlebot was having trouble crawling sites a few weeks ago, Matt Cutts commented, “If it is just 24 hours I really wouldn't stress about that very much.”

Well… a friend of mine recently had his websites on a JustHost dedicated server and it went down for 1 day.  He told me hasn't been able to get back his SERP rankings since the downtime.  Despite what was said you should realize downtime can hurt your search engine rankings in Google.  I've heard this from a number of experienced webmasters.

However, I want people to think about how the Googlebot spider works when indexing pages.  I will not go into everything as it would take too long to explain but just do a quick overview.

When you do a Google search you are not actually searching the web instantly, like a lot of people assume, but you are actually searching Google's stored version of the web.  For instance when this article was first posted it DID NOT immediately get indexed by Google and was searchable. Why?  While this blog gets ok traffic my current pagerank is 3, which is decent but not too high.  Sites that post content more frequently and that have a higher pagerank are going to get crawled before mine.  Websites like FoxNews and NY Times will get crawled first since they have a higher pagerank, more content, and are in Google News.

So if my website was down for say 1 hour it is actually pretty possible that Google will not even see my website is down since the Googlebot may not crawl it.  While Google is really good about crawling new webpages very fast these days they can't get to every new piece of content posted simultaneously.  If you were running FoxNews and had downtime 24 hours that would be a much bigger deal since they get millions of visitors a day and the Googlebot expects there to be content frequently.

So my answers to the question “Does site downtime hurt Search Engine rankings?” would generally be the same as Cutts.  I caution anyone asking this question to consider the type of website you are running, how much traffic you get, and your user's expectations which will influence Google's.  Choosing a reliable web hosting company is very important if you want good uptime and don't want to have to worry about websites going down.  I prefer Site5 and you can read my Site5 review to get a better idea about their web hosting services.

So that is my professional opinion on this topic of site downtime and search engine rankings.  By the way if you want to monitor website downtime and uptime I highly recommend a service called Uptime Robot.  It will ping your website every 5 minutes to see if it is up and if it isn't you can get a text message, email, or RSS feed notification.  Best part about Uptime Robot is that it is completely free website monitoring service.

Has website downtime ever hurt or affected your search engine rankings?  Have you ever had your website hosted with a hosting company that had frequent downtime?  Share your experiences below as I am sure a lot of people have something to say about this.

Short Domain Search

short domain searchJohn Forsythe, the creator of Impossibility.org, has just launched a new free domain search tool called Short Domain Search.  The goal of Short Domain Search is to help people find a quality short one word domain name for their new website or startup.

UPDATE – John has sold Short Domain Search to a domaining company.  He informed me that, “they're better positioned to profit from the traffic than I was (hence the sale).”  The Short Domain Search service and site is still active and useful for those looking for short domains for a web project and business.  They've added many features to it since I wrote this article.

This tool is different from Impossibility.org in that the focus is on short single world domains.  Virtually all of the good short single world .COM domains are taken and go for big bucks nowadays.  Short Domain Search focuses on mostly country code top level domains (ccTLD) which includes .CC, .CO, .IO, .NU, .ME, .BZ, .TV, and .US.   The only global top level domain (gTLD) that it includes is .BIZ.

John explained, “The extensions [were] chosen based on two factors: 1. The domains are easy to check for availability (sadly, not all TLDs are easy to check for various reasons), and 2. I started with TLDs that Google says can be geotargetted.  In other words, can work the same as .com, and show up for all users, not just for the particular country the domain represents.”

His reasoning for including these specific domain extensions for Short Domain Search makes sense since in Google Webmaster Support they have a list of ccTLDs they consider are ok for global use.  Although back in February of this year Matt Cutts shot a Google Webmaster Help video saying he isn't so crazy about domain hacks and vanity domains that use ccTLDs.  Regarding startup domains he specially mentioned .IO which is for domain extension for the Indian Ocean.  The .IO extension is popular with startups these days since in computer talk I/O stands for input-output.  Kinda geeky.

How Short Domain Search works is that the server has a group of 2948 hand-picked words it searches for.  All the words are short between 3-5 letters.  As soon as a domain becomes available (expires) it gets added to the list. Once someone buys a domain name, it will be automatically removed within a few minutes, “The list updates every 60 seconds, and all the domains are checked at least once every 10 minutes, so the list should be very fresh.” commented John.

Short Domain Search allows you to sort domains by length, alphabetically, or by extension.  If you only want to see domains available from a specific extension type in a “dot” plus the domain extension in the search bar.  For example if I want to check .IO domains I would type “.io” for all the available short .IO domains.  (Don't capitalize “.io” or it will not work.)

Playing around with Short Domain Search I think it is a good tool for startups that are searching for an extremely short domain name and are not concerned about using a ccTLD.  For those that are super tech-savy using a non-COM seems to be all the rage nowadays.  While I did find some good short domains I would personally prefer a .NET, .ORG, or .INFO over a short ccTLD.  I do own a few .US domains though.

In my opinion it can't hurt to try these 4 tools and Impossibility first.  You would be surprised by some of the quality 2-word .COM domains you can find still and other gTLDs.  Hey, ShortDomainSearch.net was still available to register.

John informed me he has plans to expand the domain extension offering for Short Domain Search.  “I plan to add more extensions in the future, particularly as some of the crazy new ones come online (like .app).”

Since the tool is called Short Domain Search John wants to concentrate on short domain names for now.  “I wanted to make it easy for people to find short, single word domain names. I think most people don't realize there's still lots of good ones left.” said John about his new domain tool.

If you have any questions or recommendations for Short Domain Search you can email – John AT blamcast.net.