HitTailing and Professional SEO

HitTail Best Practices Jul 2, 2006

I’m making this post to help fix the SEO (search engine optimization) page of the HitTail site. Once I think through all the issues with this post, I’ll adapt it into the SEO page. The SEO page was one of the first things I put up when creating the site and service, because the two concepts are inextricably linked.

One of the tenants of the HitTailing process, is that you are “deferring” the greater SEO discussion for later. For better or for worse, there are a series of mechanical changes you have to perform to your site to get it on equal footing with blogging software, as far as search optimization is concerned. But if you merely accept the concept of rolling out new content in blog-form, you will get 80% of this optimization secret sauce with 20% of the effort.

Blogging software is not as tweaked-out optimized as a professional SEO can make a page. For example, blogs do not calculate keyword densities and use the element tags that are most in vogue at the moment. But blogs will make every bit of content visible to search, with the extra little push of the news “pinging” that is done to alert Technorati and other services that new content has been added. And that’s more than what many websites today can claim.

I won’t go into an exhaustive discussion of SEO optimization mechanics, but it is fairly common knowledge that a few basics go into making your site visible to search. The first is choosing a title tag that is appropriate to each page, and precisely aligned to the concepts you are targeting. This title tag text should be reused in various places on that page, and site. It should occur in an important element such as a headline tag near the top of your page. It should be used in a “search friendly” URL, and it should be used in the anchor text of links on other pages of your site leading back to this page.

Blogging software does all this, and then almost insidiously answers the “short page vs. long page” question with its “archives”. When you think about it, the archives, be they weekly or monthly, are long-page versions of the same text, and the potential random combination of words on a single page has increased a thousand-fold. The short page versions are the “permalink” pages, and the most recent are the “index”, commonly turned into a site’s homepage.

Further, blogging software takes advantage of the Google PageRank system by stringing sequences of pages together with keyword-rich previous/next arrows. WordPress and Movable Type both use this device, while Blogger uses a “Previous 10 Posts” which accomplishes much the same thing. If you make one tweak to the Blogger templates, it should be putting the title tag into the permalink anchor text, instead of the time-of-day that most templates use.

So, how does blogging software fit in with the corporate website? Well, this is another reason we lean towards Blogger for getting started. If you just take a subdirectory of your site and call it your blog, you can configure blog to transmit files into that directory. Your blog is therefore indistinguishably interwoven with your corporate site. Any advantage you build up in your blog is by association bestowed upon your main website. This strategy isn’t for everyone, for sure, but it does help you kill 2 birds with one stone: generating more free search hits and developing a corporate blogging strategy. Once again, it’s the 80/20 rule at work.

So, is that enough? No. You need to link to the blog located in that subdirectory from the homepage of your website. Links from your homepage carry greater importance than links elsewhere. Think of it as “counting clicks” off of the homepage. The more clicks it takes to get somewhere, the less important you are telling the engines that this content is. Your blog has to be deemed important within your site, and this is the most important clue.

And finally, what about the rest of the site, which in terms of SEO and search visibility terms may be hopelessly broken? Well, you should eventually fix it so that the same magic you’ll be working in the blog area of your site carries over to the rest of your site. Whenever you add any content anywhere on your site, you should be engaging in HitTailing. Every page of your site should be viewed as a potential landing page for search, and as such, you should do what it takes to make it competitive.

And that’s where HitTailing CAN’T help you. That’s right, there’s nothing we can do to automatically optimize the rest of your site if it’s not doing what the search engines like. In this case, we recommend contacting Connors, or one of the other fine SEO companies out there for consulting on your site. But this process is often intimidating to many companies, and the entire natural search initiative gets shelved. And that’s ultimately more damaging to the company than getting started with natural search in SOME capacity.

And that’s where we see HitTailing and the Professional SEO community happily co-existing. HitTailing wraps the SEO discussion in less-intimidating terms, and allows the pragmatic marketer to walk into the shallow end of the pool before jumping off the deep end. This will build confidence and give them some idea of the very close reality of free traffic from natural search hits. Once their appetite is whetted such, it is much easier to visualize for them what is wrong with the rest of their site, and why it needs to be fixed so urgently. They know it has something to do with the blogging software they were using, but translating that into a main site overhaul still requires the professionals.

So, it was our original plan to disclose just about every one of these rules for SEO–the Connors one-page “magic bullet”, if you will in order to make the mechanics of SEO just part of the background. We have since come to our senses, acknowledging the fact that even these principles gradually shift over time, and we don’t want to be in the position to have to constantly adjust our documentation.

The blog packages will adapt to this ever-present continental drift in search factors. The SEO industry will adapt. But the HitTail users don’t need to think about these things, and the HitTail site doesn’t need to shoulder this burden. And as such, SEOs and HitTailers occupy their respective niches in the marketing ecosystem, not competing for eachother’s food sources. SEOs are a more specialized niche, like long-necked giraffes feeding on the leaves high in the trees, while HitTailers are a little more mainstream, like cattle grazing in the field (no offense).

It is in this spirit that HitTailing intends SEO to be an ever-present notion lurking in the background, making the car go, but without the driver really needing to understand how the engine works. That lets them focus on the task at hand, without getting weighed down with the mechanics. But that doesn’t exempt you from having to deal with the mechanics, or else the car will eventually break down. You need your oil checks, annual inspection, and tune ups. In HitTailing, this minimally equates to adjustments in the blog templates and proper linking from the homepage… and an occasional SEO consultancy whereby you can keep your foot in the door for the bigger business.

And there you have it: the perfect synthesis of HitTailing and Professional SEO, with HitTailing helping to mainstream some very difficult concepts. Dominating natural search lurks in the mind of every marketer these days. They are just uncertain as to their path. HitTailing illuminates the path, removes the mysterious and intimidating factors, turning natural search into familiar turf, and a worthwhile, achievable goal. Yet, it falls short of the ultimate online marketing challenge, making HitTailing just one tool in the online marketer’s toolbox, living happily alongside professional SEO.

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