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There are three great web tools for looking quickly and easily at how well your site is ranking for keywords you are targetting. Of course, there are many such tools, but these three in particular are commonly overlooked and each can help you assess and improve your site in different but valuable ways. Whether you are working on free SEO or paid PPC ads, these are all worth looking at:

(1) Website Grader is a great site that, as a free service, does a few valuable things all at once. First, it checks your site’s general statistics on Google, Technorati, etc… More importantly, however, it shows you how you rank for keywords you are targetting AND compares that to other sites which YOU define as your competition. The tool also looks for gaps in your page structure or other problems with your site that may be hurting your rankings or keeping you from turning up higher on search results. Of course, as the name suggests, it also creates an overall ‘grade’ for your site based on this combination of factors.

(2) Google Site Related Keywords is a great way to see what Google itself thinks of your site. You simply enter your domain name then wait for Google to browse your site and return what the GoogleBots decide are your top keywords of choice. If you aren’t turning up on search results, this can help explain why. This site, for example, returns top keywords like ‘page rank,’ ‘search engine’ and ‘blog’ – a good sign that I have targetted the right keywords and that Google has a good idea of what this site is about! Google thought this site was about funny and weird humor, which is partly true, while it originally thought this site was about fine art, not street art.

(3) Stealing Competitor Keywords is a great way to get ahead of whatever sites you may be competing with and outranking them on search engines by seeing what they use! As the linked article suggests, it might be best to sign up for a 1-day trial (quite inexpensive) and do a lot of searches in that first day.

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I assume everyone is as sick of thinking about the impending Google PageRank update (slated for this month – August 2007!) as I am. If you’re concerned about your PageRank and fretfully trying to predict it, just remember: it isn’t all about incoming links and their PR value. Most people focus on that particular part of a very complex equation. In fact, Google looks at a number of factors that many folks don’t realize in determining PageRank. Here are two that may surprise you:

(1) Relevance of Outgoing Links: Amazing but true, Google looks at not only who links to you but who you link to! If you link to every kind of site under the sun, Google won’t know what to think your site is about (yes, I’m attributing ‘thought’ to the mindless GoogleBots!). Also, if you link to too many low-PR sites Google might not believe you to be an authority in your niche.

(2) Other References to Your Site: buried deep within Google’s patent applications are strong pieces of evidence that suggest Google scrapes even non-indexed sites, follows no-follow links and even checks emails for references to webpages. So, if there is a lot of buzz about your site, you might find that your Google PageRank turns out higher than you thought it would!

With that said, I swear I won’t write another post about PageRank until after the update!

Using Technorati, Google or Alexa alone provides an incomplete pictures of the rank of a given website or blog. However, taken together, these provide a meaningful way to measure the worth of a site. Each of these can be ‘gamed’ – particularly Technorati and Alexa – so taking any one rating system at face value can be misleading. So why does this matter? Well, knowing the ‘value’ or ‘rank’ of a page helps you assess the quality and accuracy of the content you see.

Google: People love, hate, bash, ignore, and adore Google for the PageRank system – but it is an invaluable way of checking the value of a site. A rank of PR3 or less is fairly easy to acheive, so any site with a rank from PR1 to PR3 is likely either new or not well read or linked to. PR4 is somewhat harder, and marks a typical decent/good blog that has taken reasonable effort to create and maintain. PR5 suggests strong readership and/or high-quality incoming links, while PR6 generally means that a site or blog is quite well established – and possibly run by multiple authors. Anything PR7 or above is either extremely old and well-developed with incoming links and/or it is maintained by multiple authors and frequently releases new and useful information.

Technorati: Technorati authority ranks blogs based on the number and kind of incoming links, as well as the number of people who have manually ‘Faved’ a given blog. This latter part of the equation is part of what makes it so easy to game – a lot of people have joined “Technorati Fave Trains” and Fave one anothers’ blogs in order to gain rank. So, Technorati rank is useful, but probably best used if you’re concerned about a site’s Google PageRank or if the site is too new to have a reliably current PageRank.

Alexa: Alexa rank is a good way to gauge traffic to certain kinds of pages. However, because that rank is based on the number of visitors to a site using the Alexa toolbar, it can be heavily skewed by the kind of page being visited. For example, since people want to boost their own Alexa rank to earn money, sites about making money online often have a disproportionately high Alexa rank. So, again, Alexa is a useful gauge of page value – but only in conjunction with these other sources.

Mixed: So, with all of this in mind, the question becomes: what does it mean if a site has a higher rank in one of these categories than the other? Well, if a site has a high Technorati rank but low Alexa and Google (Page)Rank, then the ranking is likely inflated. A high Technorati and Alexa rank but low Google PageRank probably means the site is popular or blog well-read, but it is too new and has become popular since the last PageRank update. High Google PageRank and low Technorati and/or Alexa rank indicates that the site has strong support from powerful incoming links, but that it likely isn’t trafficked by the same mainstream audience that uses Alexa and Technorati..

OK, I’ve added some pretty new bloggers (but with interesting blogs and blog concepts, so check them out!) to the blogroll here so I feel a little compelled to throw out some tips for getting started with blogging. Yes, you can find tips for blogging all over the web but most sites will try to sell you something – and if you haven’t noticed: there are exactly 0 ads on this site. So here goes:

1) Find blogs you like, subscribe to their feeds, fave them on Technorati, and leave comments on them. Make those comments relevant. Feeds and faves will help you easily keep track of new posts on these blogs you like, plus if you feed/fave a blog it helps their rank – so tell them when you’ve done it! Some blogs with ‘do-follow’ will give you a PageRank boost for your troubles, but in other cases it’s just a way to get a feel for the blogosphere and will help you get to know bloggers who you can ask questions of and get tips from.

2) Don’t overload your blog with ads and buttons too early. Put a few things up, the things you really want people to click, and add and subtract as you go. Too much stuff looks spammy and can make it so people won’t click anything. If you watch your Google or MyBlogLog analytics (both of which you should be signed up for by the way,  with an MBL widget on your site too!) you can watch what people click, where it is on your page, and adjust accordingly. Also, think about your goals: you probably aren’t going to make a ton from AdSense right away, so think longer-term and put up buttons like Technorati faves and FeedBurner buttons like you see on this site to build up the readership and popularity you’ll need to earn more in the future.

3) Carefully choose your blog tagline. This has two incredibly important functions: it both tells your readers right away what the page is about and helps Google and other search engines know as well. It is much easier to rank for things in your blog title – so choose those phrases carefully, and change them as the content of your blog changes. For more keyword/SEO tips see recent posts on this blog.

4) Link out to get links in. Linking to relevant blogs and websites will help get their attention. Most veteran bloggers have various ways to see who is linking to and talking about them, and they will perk up and pay attention if someone new comes into that mix. However, don’t expect linkbacks from big-time sites like TechCrunch, of course – look for successful bloggers who still interact with their readers.

5) Get the right bookmarking and stats tools on your site. I recommend checking out the beta test for the Romlet blog widget, which is a brag badge, bookmarking tool and stats counter all rolled into one. If you’re not getting many visitors you can opt out of the public stats portion, but the widget will help you track in real-time where your traffic is coming from. Ther’es nothing worse than getting a big hit from a social news site and finding out about it too late to vote for it or ask your friends and fellow bloggers to! The MyBlogLog Recent Visitors widget is also a must-have – it lets you see who is visiting, then trackback to them and thank them for showing up. Together these two widgets cover a lot of the basics, and are better than cluttering a blog with all sorts of stuff.

That’s it for now – feel free to ask questions or add to this list!

A lot of bloggers and others working to develop SEO on websites frequently report writer’s block. Personally, I find enough relevant content in any given day skimming my usual sources and branching out through links – enough to write posts on between 1 and 6 blogs or websites a day! So how do I do it? Well, I use a few different resources, which gives me both a variety of content to choose from and a number of perspectives on any given issue. Blogs, Google news, and prominent websites in a given subject area are all good places to start, but here are some other ways of finding content on relevant subjects that many people don’t (but should) take advantage of:

1) StumbleUpon by Keywords: sure, a lot of people use Digg and Reddit to find content, but it’s pretty hard. Neither of those sites have nearly as good precision search capacity as StumbleUpon. Many Stumble users don’t realize that (right on their toolbar) they can choose to Stumble by keyword. This taps into sites both new and old with information related to the search term, and usually yields results that are significantly different than search engines

2) Technorati Blog and WTF Searches: Technorati is another great resource, particularly if you’re looking for up-to-date information you aren’t finding on Google. For example, when I was looking for information on the upcoming Google PageRank update, most of the Google searches seemed to turn up out-of-date information about the last PageRank update. Technorati, however, shows recent blog posts on the subject which were more helpful

3) Forums and Newsgroups: of course people who are really passionate on issues usually end up posting on various sites online. If you’re writing about niche subjects be sure to seek out relevant forums. These are also places you can ask questions if no one is writing specifically about what you need to know.

4) Other User-Submitted Content Sites: Sites like Associated Content and Yahoo Answers can be good places to look for subjective content. You probably can’t trust these (as with Wikipedia) to be definitive sources, but there is also more interactivity than a static resource – like forums, you can ask questions and get community answers.

Of course there are many other ways to find relevant content, but if you use these kinds of resources to keep informed you’re sure to have more ideas for subject matter you and write about!