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About two weeks ago, Google completed an update of their algorithm and listings. While this is something they do every few months (you can see a great recap of when these updates have occurred in the past here: Google PageRank Updates) it still causes a massive shakeup in the SEO world every time. For me, this update was well worth paying attention to for a number of reasons.

1. Learn Page Rank changes

As I have mentioned in the past, the Page Rank that Google assigns to any given web page is often reflective of how important it is to Google and how highly it will rank in Google search results. When Google does one of these big updates, it often modifies the PR of different web sites and pages to reflect changes since the last update. Generally speaking, if you’ve increased traffic, backlinks and content by enough, PR will go up. In my case, I went from a PR3 to a PR2 – this decrease is probably due to the fact that it was not within the last three months, but the three months before that in which I wrote an article that got on the front page of digg, temporarily bringing me a huge increase in traffic and backlinks. I care when Google does an update because I can see how my site’s value has changed in Google’s eyes through change in PR.

2. See if SEO has been working

Search Engine Optimisation is tricky for me as it is often difficult to gauge results. I can optimise my text, no-follow the right links, and build backlinks to The Top Floor Flat, but generally speaking, it takes a few months to see any impact and it’s all but impossible to attribute any change in search engine rankings to any one action or event. When Google does an update, it’s a chance to see where rankings have improved, where they have fallen, and compare that to overall improvements in the site. For example, I’ve seen an increase in my ranking for the term “Reposado restaurant” – the Palo Alto restaurant I reviewed a while back.

3. Gauge competitor’s SEO
Google updates its algorithms across the board, not just for your site so of course you see how things are looking for all web players after the shakeout. Upon doing a search for your key search terms, are you seeing your competitors more often? Perhaps they’ve got a new SEO strategy and you need to make sure that you are staying up to date with your own SEO goals. Have the PRs of your competitors increased? Maybe they are getting more backlinks – take a look at who’s linking to them.

For anyone heavily involved in SEO, it’s difficult to miss a Google update (the Twitter and Blog chatter on the subject during the update was a clear indication of how important a subject it is) but for someone just learning about SEO who might not have seen an update before, as was the case for me, it might be easy to miss, or questionable why an update is so important. For me, seeing a change in page rank, a change in actual search listing results and the changes in my competitor’s SEO is an indication of whether or not I’m on the right track in my own SEO attempts. I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled in about three months for Google’s next major update.  Want to learn more about Google? Check out this interesting interview with Google employees.

One of my most popular posts to date, based on the number of visitors from Google searches, has been my previous guide for how to get high page rank backlinks to a website using forums and the SEO for Firefox toolbar. Although that is a very effective way to get high PR backlinks, it’s also quite time consuming and might not necessarily be the most efficient way to carry out the process of backlinking. I wanted to review another tool called Fast Blog Finder that makes the job of building manual backlinks significantly easier. I discovered this tool quite a while ago and when I first came across Free Trial of Fast Blog Finder, I could not locate any good reviews on the tool, particularly it’s paid versus free versions. Here’s a recap of my experience.

If you are not familiar with backlinking, dofollow and nofollow tags and SEO, you might first be interested in reading the following posts:
How to get High PR Backlinks
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and the English Language

As I mentioned in my last post on the subject of building backlinks – that is, links from other websites pointing to yours – is one of the most important elements in ranking highly for search engine results. Three main ways to get backlinks are to wait for them to come naturally as people link to your content, ask people directly for links from their page to yours, and create them manually. While using forums for high PR backlinks is one of these manual methods, using blog comments is another. Simply posting a comment that includes a URL on someone else’s blog post can create a backlink from their blog. However, as anyone who has tried using blog comments to generate backlinks will know, it is often very difficult to find blogs in which the comment field does not generate all URLs as nofollow links, rendering the backlink invisible to Google robots.

Fast Blog Finder is a tool that searches the web for blog posts based on your search query and returns a list of places where you can leave comments that include dofollow links back to your site. Instead of spending hours searching for these dofollow blogs yourself, this tool can do it in a matter of minutes, leaving you the time to actually post comments (with a link back to your site of course).

Fast Blog Finder is a downloadable piece of software that contains no malware or spyware and has a free trail version as well as a full paid version. The free trial is fully functional – allowing customised searches, links to all blog results, the page rank (PR) of the domain and induvidual post, whether or not the blog is dofollow, how many outbound links appear on the page and when the page was las updated. The free trial, however, will only return up to 50 results for any given search term, no matter how many blogs are available. Often of a list of 50 results, between one and five of the blog posts will be dofollow, and will be suitable for creating a backlink. There is no limit to the number of searches one can do.

This is undeniably useful for beginners looking to test out some SEO practices and are just starting to generate backlinks for their site. However the true power of this tool becomes apparent when splurging on the full, paid version of Fast Blog Finder which is available for a one-time fee of $49. While users with the free software may feel they are getting results, and that perhaps there aren’t significantly more than 50 blogs out there – at least not enough to justify the expense – the proof is in the number of dofollow links generated. Popular keywords, such as music, travel, technology or celebrities might generate over 50 dofollow links alone. The paid version delivers results and is definitely worth the money, allowing those interested in generating backlinks to find literally thousands of places to post a comment and a link back to their site. The only thing Fast Blog Finder does not do is post a comment for you.

For a whole variety of reasons, I do not in any way endorse spamming these blogs with comments simply to get a backlink, nor will it necessarily help your backlinking campaign. When leaving a blog comment, please make sure your comment is relevant, on topic, polite and not simply a link and spam.

I wrote a post earlier about SEO and the English Langauge that described the ways text can influance search engine placement and I want to talk briefly about one of the other factors that can affect search engine optimization and that is backlinking. A backlink is a link from any other website to your own.  If I were, for example, to link to Spoonfed that would be considered a backlink to the Spoonfed site, an external link from my own.  The more backlinks a website receives, from more reputible sources, the higher Google ranks them in the search results, and the higher page rank (PR) they are awarded.  PR is an artificial indicator, created by the search engines, that indicates how important a page is perceived on the web.  PR can go from unranked, which is lower than 0, to 10 which is the highest.

Of course, the trick becomes finding ways to get sites with high PR to give a backlink to your site.  Of course, you can create content that other sites find interesting, causing them to link to your interesting information; you can contact them directly and ask them to place a link on your site, especially if you think they might find your content valuable – this is what I am currently working on for Spoonfed; you can purchase high quality backlinks OR you can find places where you can actually post your own link on someone else’s website.  That might sound counterintitive – why would someone allow you to change their page to add a link? – but it’s actually more common that you might imagine.  Blogs have comment fields where you can enter your own comments, forums as well allow visitors to take part in a conversation.  By placing your link in comments or forum posts, you can manually increase the number of backlinks to your site.

Things become a bit more complicated, however, with something called the Follow tag.  When you typically create a link in HTML code, it looks like this:

<a href=”http://www.name-of-website.com”>Name of Website</a>

However in that code, you can add special tags that cause the link to open in a new window, to open in a new tab, or even a tag that tells Google robots (discussed in the previous post) not to visit that page at all.  Most blogs (including mine) include “no-follow” tags as a default setting in comments, so spammers can’t take advantage of the exact manual backlinking strategy I described above.  However many forums and blogs have “do-follow” tags that allow Google robots to explore your site after you manually create the link, thus passing the high PR from their blog or forum to your page.

There are many directory listings of forums and blogs that are do-follow, so I won’t go into those lists here.  What I want to discuss is how to find high PR pages within the forum or blog where you can post your link.  Because each page on a domain has an individual rank (for example, this blog post alone is unranked while the homepage at www.thetopfloorflat.com has a PR of 3), sometimes it can be tricky to find high PR places to link even within do-follow domains.

The first step is to download the Firefox addon, SEO for Firefox, a fantastic tool that will show you, directly in your search results list, valuable SEO information about the pages your search has returned.  This information includes PR, the number of backlinks that page itself has, and age of the site.  Once the addon has been installed, you’re ready to find some high PR target pages to add your backlinks.

Pick one of your favorite do-follow forums or blogs – if you don’t know of any you can start with my favorite web developer’s forum, Digital Point.  Go to the Google search engine and make sure your SEO for Firefox addon is turned on.  Then, do a search for the phrase “site:forums.digitalpoint.com” of course replacing the URL forums.digitalpoint.com with whatever forum or blog you plan on using.  As your search loads, the SEO for Firefox addon will show you the PR of each page indexed on the site, while the Google results will show you how many forums posts are on the page.  A quick scan through the results can indicate some valuable results, such as this one here:

This image shows a result with a PR of 3, a fairly high PR, and only six other posts on the page.  This is an excellent target – I can go to the page, add a post to the forum thread, and instantly have a PR3 backlink to my site.  Then, I can return to the search results to find more easy targets and high PR backlinks. Once you’ve exhausted one site, there are thousands of other do-follow blogs and forums to explore.

One note – Google does not allow you to run limitless searches on their cached site pages, so it may be useful to do a few searches under one domain, then another, switching between them as you look for high PR backlink options.

This is a departure from my usual, less technical posts, and I do hope to start including more of my tech experiences in the blog here.  If you have any questions about this information, feel free to leave a comment below.  Didn’t understand a word? Don’t worry, the usual fluff will return to a blog near you soon :).

There are a number of different elements to online marketing and as I may have mentioned before, one techniques I have been utilizing quite a bit is called Search Engine Optimization or SEO.  SEO is the buzz topic of internet marketing at the moment and involves finding ways to make your website rank highly on search engines.  If you did a Google search for ‘London’ for example, it’s not simply luck that the results you see there have been placed at the top of the list.  Search engines such as Google carefully guard the algorithm that ranks results so that marketers and web site owners can’t take advantage of it and artificially rank more highly but there are a couple of factors that go into causing a website to rank highly for a particular search and that has created the practice of SEO.

The first and most important part of ranking highly is keyword and text optimization.  You could never expect to rank for the search ‘London’ if you don’t have the word London on your webpage.  Additionally, if you have the word London displayed in such a way that the search engine crawlers that automatically view, catalog and rank your webpage can’t see it (such as in an image or movie instead of in text) the search engine doesn’t recognize that your page has relevant keywords.  On the other hand, a popular SEO strategy used to involve “keyword stuffing” which meant adding high numbers of popular search keywords, or the same word repeated many times, penalizes the site as search engines have developed advanced ways of determining if the text is relevant and contextual or not.

The trick in writing SEO text is to compose paragraphs that involve the most popular keywords, in the format they might appear when someone types a search phrase into Google, yet making those keywords sound natural contextually.  The higher up on the page, and in your body text, the keywords appear the better.  Like a topic sentence in an academic essay which outlines the rest of the content of your writing, text in the first paragraph or even sentence of an article, blog post or web page lets search engine robots know what the content of your page is about.  For example, look at the first sentence of this post:

There are a number of different elements to online marketing and as I may have mentioned before, one techniques I have been utilizing quite a bit is called Search Engine Optimization or SEO.

This is a great SEO sentence.  It doesn’t sound like I’ve stuffed keywords in to trick a search engine but I’ve managed to include three key search phrases, ‘online marketing,’ ‘search engine optimization’ and ‘SEO’ in the first few lines of my post.  Here is an example of how I could have written my first paragraph that would have meant the same thing to my human readers but might have caused search engine robots to view my post as less relevant to people looking for online marketing and SEO information:

There are many different elements to my marketing job, all related to driving more traffic to the Spoonfed website.  One of the most important parts involves finding ways for Spoonfed to rank highly on popular web search results.

In that case, I didn’t use any key search phrases, and I probably wouldn’t find a way to fit those key words in until much farther down in my post, causing the robots to believe those subjects are less relevant to my post over all.

This has been a longwinded and fairly technical way to get to my main point which has been nagging me ever since I began to learn about SEO.  As the pressure increases to rank highly in search engines, bring traffic to websites and create pages that Google and the other leading search engines can recognize and rank, how much will this change web writing? While of course talented writers will always find a way to incorporate keywords naturally, the need to be understood by artificial Google robots can easily lead to a stilted and unnatural writing style – just look at the top ranking results on some Google searches.  As print authors are more and more turning to the web, and web authors are more and more looking towards SEO strategies to bring traffic to their site, what happens when those authors find themselves not writing for a human audience but for a robotic one?

I find it unlikely that such a writing style would ever be more appealing than natural, well-crafted prose. In what is possibly a unrealistic and utopian vision of the SEO future, some sort of AI English teacher-style robot will troll the web, knocking the web crap out of the rankings no matter how many keywords they work in.  One can only hope.