Playing 21: SEO Domaining

21 Tips on domains, domaining and SEO:

  1. Domains and portfolios thereof are like fine wine. A lot of it, purchased originally with foresight and then aged over time, is a very good thing.
  2. Domains are like real estate. There's varying quality and limited inventory, so demand can be high and the competition aggressive... (and yes, to-day I'm shamelessly not posting much beyond my own expansion on Quad's earlier list, and drawing on a couple unoriginal analogies in the process).
  3. .com, .org, .net and country-specific TLDs can have weight for ranking whereas all others are much, much weaker.
  4. Newly registered domains are not trusted by engines for a trial or sandbox period that can last months.
  5. Expect that recently-dropped domains are put on a probationary period by search engines to limit their value to spammers
  6. Some recently-dropped domains are "damaged goods" and/or may have a shady past, so use archives to try to look into that.
  7. Aside from branded domains, keyword-rich domains can help.
  8. Use alert services e.g. ClubDrop if watching for certain keywords and/or key phrases.
  9. Consider the value of snagging visitors with easily-made typos, and what one can do with Typo Generators and/or Wordtracker in hand. Try to nail typos that you've verified are happening in the real world. Don't think this is a big deal? Try any easily-made typo of one of the largest sites on the Web, and see where it leads you... You might not want to try this while at the office. πŸ˜‰
  10. Use reservation services if hoping a registered domain will be dropped and up for grabbed, i.e. not renewed upon its next expiration date.
  11. Own your brands(s) and variations thereof thoroughly. If planning to go international, learn per-country requirements and register early on.
  12. Don't forget how vanity domains can make for brand impact, and keep watchful for situations where you should get creative. See where you can go applying this concept to TLDs as discussed in the previous item. If you see great chances which don't have hurdles aside from price, you may end up doing something kinda special. Be sure to send me letters of spanks, anyone who runs with this approach and finds it fruitful.
  13. Know registrars and their reputations well, e.g. Godaddy vs. Registerfly etc. - check customer references. Some registrars are huge beasts that have large, robust infrastructure but a habit of treating loyal and paying customers poorly and/or being real fascists with SEOs especially. Others have a reputation of looking other way re. things like spam content remixing but still treat their customers poorly. So ask around.
  14. If hosting externally, never have that ISP double as your registrar (in case of disputes with that ISP). The last thing you need is some situation where there's some dispute tempting a host to hold your domain(s) hostage as leverage, because they happen to be able to.
  15. Buy in bulk, and watch for discount offers (coupon codes) to save money.
  16. Assume that search engines and other people are reviewing your WHOIS information which BTW can never be fake details, legally speaking. Keeping your WHOIS current is your responsibility, but forgetting to sometimes does happen. Also, use private registrations to avoid solicitations if unwanted, and/or general privacy. If people really want to get in touch with you, they probably will still find a way to do so.
  17. Never leave registered domains sitting just pointing to default park pages. In each case apply a simple "Coming Soon" page that has at least some relevant content on it, until your new site and/or targeted landing page is ready.
  18. Mind redirects and URL rewrite rules - issues of duplicate content (manage canonicalization) in cases where you're focused on promoting (1) main property. Engines need to be clearly shown it, whenever a rose by any other name is still a rose. As for (segue) when trading in domains with other registrants...
  19. Get them appraised through a mutually-agreed method and/or service between buyer/seller.
  20. There can be a fine line between a transaction and a dispute. Know who trademarked vs. registered first etc. details, but keep solicitations to buy/sell friendly (carrot before the stick). Negotiating a deal can take a while.
  21. In worst cases when claiming domains from others, squatters or otherwise, use arbitration services and/or your lawyer. Know your rights and those of others in detail.
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Myspace, Meet SEO 101

To-day one of the profiles I manage there was down for a few hours, for "routine maintenance." Shortly afterward I noticed a couple changes on Myspace worth noting:

Their robots.txt file changed since the last time I mentioned it, moreover this change happened just to-day actually. I know this because to-day I was, pseudo-paranoid that I am, looking up my temporarily-downed profile in in case for some off-the-wall reason I was about to lose it (I've heard of people losing profiles innocently on occasion). In the morning I was able to get to some older caches of it, yet now at nearing 11pm Pacific time it's no dice: They have now at last issued their first 'bot block, and it's of ia_archiver.

My guess is this is to make it harder for spammers or or other undesirables to scrape content, for generating profiles and/or restoring banned content in fresh ones. The other big reason to do this would be user privacy issues. Pretend for a moment that you're a female Myspace member being harassed by an ex-boyfriend (statistically a cyber-stalker would probably be male). You're pushed to extreme measures and delete your profile(s) altogether. Here raises ye olde SERM quarry: Is it deleted everywhere, truly wiped from the face of the 'Net into a sheltering oblivion? Maybe, maybe not. Depends how it was removed, and whether someone copied it down first even if it was removed thoroughly upon being subsequently cut.

That's the best theory I have for the reasons behind a change of this ilk. Anyway, despite whatever higher purposes this one inhibits me from illustrating something else of interest (though many active Myspace marketers will see this next one plainly upon checking), also a change at least somewhat recent:

They are also making progress with adopting basic tagging standards, by now making profile TITLE tags more descriptive. This is happening now with both regular user and band profiles. Not long ago, if you has one of these its title would just mirror your custom URL, e.g.


Now though, if you have a regular user profile it's something more like

<TITLE> - yourName - yourAge - yourGender - yourCity, yourState -</TITLE>.

The same principle applies if you have a band profile. In that case, your new tag template is

<TITLE> - yourBand - yourCity, yourState - yourGenre1 / yourGenre2 / yourGenre3 -</TITLE>.

Obviously this item is also a simple but very significant edit. It helps to reduce duplicate content issues some, to be sure. If you've ever tried to find someone on Myspace you probably already know it used to be pretty difficult sometimes. Various parameter values can be shared limitlessly and logically. But now, Presto. Pinpointing people - or at least who/what they say they are - on Myspace, and also searching for such profiles within Google and other engines, just got a whole lot easier. On sites as huge as this, there is no such thing as a minor SEO change really.

It looks like Myspace may be taking a few SEO 101 lessons from Google since buddying up with them. Or perhaps, certain SEOs now within the FIM ranks (you know who you are πŸ˜‰ ) are behind these gradual however serious improvements.

Ironically, the TITLE tag changes actually make it easier for targeted social marketing or other structured, granular queries in some ways. To target specific demographics and point-of-interest indicators, scrapers now don't necessarily need to look to the Myspace domain itself anymore. Now, when one wants to do simple filtrations like weeding out a solid sampling of 30 year-old males in San Francisco for example, one can just use Google operators.

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Dup' Content Googlebombing

Duplicate content is easily created mistakenly and unwittingly by publishers. It's what happens when the exact same content presentation exists - or can be made to exist - at more than a single, unique URL. When engines find this lack of a squarely 1:1 relationship, it can confuse them about what's the authoritative and/or original source, and in some cases they may interpret it as spam. The jury is out on whether they apply filters or actual penalties (i.e. ranking demotions) for sites found with this problem, but everyone in the business is in agreement about it being a bad thing fundamentally. Engines do have sophisticated algorithms to try to avoid interpreting legitimate RSS feeds and other syndications as something to penalize, however making sure one isn't causing or potentially causing it is a critical SEO best practice. Doing this for sites within our influence and/or control is much of what we talk about when we stress the importance of establishing canonical domains via 301 redirects, for example.

I bring this up now because there's an illustration handy:

Jason Calacanis is an A-list blogger whom I've mentioned before. A former AOL exec who knows how to stir up activity by having a little fun flare for the dramatic (not unlike other masterful marketers like Marc Benioff, Steve Jobs and various other heavy-hitters), Calacanis has been in and out of SEO news over the past year with infamous quips like "SEO is bullshit."

Now, his blog is, which has up until very recently showed a duplicate content issue. Weblogs, the company he co-founded after his stint at AOL, has the same issue across its network. To be fair, many sites and their networks have various security vulnerabilities, but anyway continuing with the example: The problem here is with the potential for wildcard subdomains, specifically.

When something like this is found, what competitive and skilled SEOs can do is essentially pump URLs of their own design into the organic ranks, to knock down other domains' natural standing by hanging duplicate content issues over them. This kind of downgrading of other people's domains is one example from a set of methods usually affectionately referred to as "Googlebombing," though methods aren't always limited to any specific engine, technically. Note the following little pinch of litter, which took minimal time and effort:

Calacanis duplicate content trick

For posterity, here's the screenshot (evidence highlighted in red).

The "-15." was a randomly generated numeric suffix, appended to an array of randomly rotated, cheeky (and fake) subdomains:

  • jason-sucks-seo-rules
  • jason-must-go-to-supplemental-hell
  • punished-for-blasphemy
  • etc.

So crawlers would've picked up a different permutation upon every visit.

For courtesy, all of this BTW was done under some casual, lightweight cloaking... however admittedly without restricting engines' caches at the time (I don't have it in for Calacanis or anyone else for that matter. Were I to seriously try testing anyone/thing i.e. engines or otherwise, I certainly wouldn't go blogging about it as I'd be aiming to exploit from the shelter of anonymity). Doing this in earnest however, that is from a popular site getting crawled many times a day with its changes getting into the SERPs very quickly, could've perhaps harmed his blog's rankings - perhaps substantially after a bit of time. Engines say in their public documentation that there's "almost nothing a competitor can do to harm your ranking" in their indexes. Yeah... "almost" just might be an operative word here. If not that, at the very least this kind of thing can make for pretty noteworthy PR stunts.

Now, in this particular case Calacanis has actually been alerted to this it appears, by a nice SEO (yes, we exist) who found and announced this publicly. Michael Gray could've kept this in the shadows and people could've exploited it for however long it could've flown under the radar. The hole has seemingly recently been hence patched... as of this writing though, only for the domain I assume. There are many blogs out there on the Weblogs network that still show the vulnerability (random example).

The main lesson here IMHO is not that one might do well to avoid talking smack about SEO (though one might infer that, obviously). It's that this is the kind of thing SEOs must educate their clients about and help them take care of, preferably as part of preventative maintenance.

The main (if not only) reason scientists say it's rare that hyenas take down elephants is because they've only observed and documented it happening in nature first-hand so much. This kind of method is just one example, in other words, of how it's totally possible for big brands to lose what should be their rightful rankings to packs of savvy affiliate marketers, spammers and/or general competitors.

As much as possible we SEO consultants (again, yeah some of us exist - still) must make sure our elephants can be helped to stay strong, mobile and without blind spots. Many sites, both with security and SEO, have a ton of work to do if they're to get it together. The reality of the situation is quite far from "bullshit."

Hat tip to Graywolf, and good on ye for the quick-fix action, Jason.

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Lead Qualification & Strategy

SEO is a TLA (Three Letter Acronym) πŸ˜› often misused and misunderstood, despite being a subject of a good amount of hype. It's a safe bet that more people want it than are really ready for it.

Also, sometimes I feel a little bad when talking about SEO requirements. More than a few times, to avoid being clichι I've bitten my tongue when tempted to bust out with "Please don't kill the messenger." It's true that it touches just about everything about a given Web strategy and its realization; some disciplines more than others. Having worked a number of them to some degree at least, I'm always trying to make sure I don't accidentally misrepresent, i.e. make any unintended implications that certain other disciplines are an inherent problem for SEO or vice-versa... because that's totally not the case. Not at all.

Ours (SEOs) therefore is to educate prospects and clients on what it is exactly, and theirs is to then decide if they will be willing and/or can afford to commit to it or not. It's up to our clients mostly, how much we can effectively help them or not in the long run... and with SEO, not all client types are created equal.

To help illustrate, here's a snippet of recent chatter:

Session Start (blueman:harlequin): Fri Mar 16 13:25:02 2006
[13:25] blueman: feelin much better πŸ™‚

[13:25] blueman: still really sick but i can at least breath

[13:25] blueman: how have you been dude?

[13:35] harlequin: hanging in there thx; trying to stay healthy too.

[13:36] harlequin: barfed out another mfa site recently for experimental purposes.

[13:37] blueman: cool

[13:38] harlequin: not too spammy at the moment but possibly filtered for duplicate content; dunno yet. only yahoo's indexed; google and msn had taken in the domain fine but dropped it after i changed from a park page to an actual site. it's kinda fun though; whenever i do anything with ggl sitemaps; googlebot comes running like a puppy.

[13:42] blueman: hehe

[13:44] harlequin: figure sandboxed maybe? πŸ™‚

[13:46] harlequin: i'll let you know if anything entertaining happens. i just might flip a switch to make all its content more truly unique, just to see if it pops back into the indexes, without linking it from anywhere other than where it is already (like almost nowhere).

[13:47] blueman: right on

[15:58] harlequin: hey man

[15:58] harlequin: can i get yer opinion on something?

[15:59] blueman: sure whats up

[15:59] harlequin: in your mind, must every site on the web need optimization?

[16:00] harlequin: interested in your take in terms of basic philosophy.

[16:00] blueman: answer: nope just the ones that would benefit from search engine traffic

[16:01] harlequin: thank you!

[16:01] blueman: hehe np

[16:03] harlequin: my take is it's not just the ones that would benefit from search traffic

[16:04] harlequin: but the ones that would benefit from natural traffic specifically, moreover the ones that are prepared to do what it takes to earn (or deserve, whatever) it.

[16:05] blueman: agreed

[16:08] blueman: hey do you have a digg account?

[16:09] harlequin: why?

[16:12] blueman: heh it's nothing i'm just asking everyone. need more diggs.

The fact is that some clients and/or projects are much more in need of and viable for the investment than others. Selling SEO to a large degree therefore kicks off with making sure the client gets what it means to run in the marathon, and has thought carefully about if they're ready for the potential rigors of competing seriously. It's not always the case, sometimes not at all... and some tryouts approach the field bringing much more readiness and potential with them than others.

For example, to my knowledge we can generally always to more for clients who are ready to bring robust textual content life-cycles to the table. Media companies whose sites put out 10+ new articles every day for instance, are perfect. These poor souls should be feeling like they're drowning in their own output; most ripe. Also, e-commerce sites with huge inventories of products to advertise and move, they're harder but can be awesome challenges to take on. On the other end and less than ideal sit gigs like Consumer Product Group (CPG) companies who are all about tasking marketers to, via rich media, digitally simulate clinking soda bottles, skin cream, zooming sports cars, bouncing boobs, fun family meals, whatever etc. ...Sure, such sensory stimulation is content which can be made robust to the human experience, but it's all presentational. Lacking eyes with which to see or ears with which to hear, search engines though are systems of algorithms and robots that evolve in benign indifference to all that. Search marketing therefore is driven by informational content, so candidates for it need to have something not just important - but also verbose and articulate - to say if they're to be seen as relevant. If they can't be brought around to that, SEO can only do so much for them no matter how deep their pockets are.

Some marketers debate the virtues of optimizing for search engines vs. humans, including which is of greater importance. Google tells marketers to do both. My own opinion is that it's all just different ways of looking at the same problem: Search engine optimization is about optimizing for humans really, in that through it online brands are posed this simple challenge:

Mean more. If expanding your reach demands expanding your content scope, so be it, and have fun with it.

For clients hip to the concepts like

  • shift from broadcast to narrowcast
  • talk with customers instead of to them, and help them talk to one another
  • build out your brand "universe" with more primary and supplemental topics

...the need can get treated as a great opportunity. All it takes is creative thinking, then creative writing especially.

Along the way brands will find though that while SEOs help expose and promote content, and nowadays some even help clients brainstorm and develop it if/as tasked to link baiting, for the most part they don't create it much themselves. SEOs must be at least decent writers, but on whole they're more often about editing/re-writing copy than making it from the ground up. This may however keep gradually changing. They used to never make any original content for clients, but in recent years they've started to take it on a bit. Eye/ear candy is great but the writing is much of what sets a site's organic status apart, so it does need come from somewhere.

Regardless, for now direct SEO work remains slightly more of technical matter. It's not one of just adding in / optimizing a few lines of code on every page. It's about much more (informational content included) and that message hasn't reached all prospects and clients, or even all agencies yet. Any core SEO evaluation needs to be taken all the way back to identifying why a company is online in the first place, as that's what first should be referenced in starting to set and manage client expectations. It's part of why usually a mark of experienced SEOs, from hats White to Black, is that they're cautious about what clients they take on. Also, how much they feel they can responsibly do so in cases where they do accept new business, can vary greatly per account.

More thoughts on qualifying SEO leads TBA to come (Augh; them pesky TLAs).

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Based out of Northern California, is a bl.og dedicated to the advocacy and study of high-impact, data driven marketing disciplines and related concerns: Analytics and Data Mining, Marketing Automation, Integrated Advertising (targeting, retargeting), Demand Generation and Lead Nurturing, Social Media / Social Engineering (Crowd-hacking) and the new PR, Privacy, Security, CRM, SEO / SEM, CRO, ROI... more TLAs (three letter acronyms) than any sane person's daily lexicon should include.

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