Rewrites and redirects are two techniques frequently used in Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Although some people make no distinction between them, redirecting and rewriting are different processes. Because they are the key to solving several SEO problems, it is important to understand the differences between the two mechanisms.
The client/server model and the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP)
In order to understand the difference between rewrites and redirects, you must first understand the client/server model and the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP):
Let’s take a look at an example of how the two previous concepts work together. If you visit a web page, your web browser acts as a client, while an application running on the computer that hosts the website operates as a server. Your browser submits an HTTP request to the server. The server, which provides HTML files and images, among other resources, returns an HTTP response to the client. This response includes status information about the request and may contain the content requested by the client.
Definition of rewrite
A rewrite is a server-side operation in which the web server intercepts and modifies an HTTP message. There are two main uses of this feature:
1. A rewrite permits web administrators to easily replace the URLs generated by an application hosted on the web server with a more user-friendly and search-engine-friendly URL
2. A rewrite can also analyze the URL being requested by the client, and after checking its value against pre-specified conditions, modify the request so that it points to a different destination
Example of rewrite #1
If the URLs of your site look like http://www.example.com/diving.php?item=boots&brand=akona, you can use a rewrite to make the URLs look like this: http://www.example.com/diving/boots/akona.htm.
Implementation of rewrite #1
You can implement all types of rewrites by using Apache’s rewrite module. Apache is an open-source web server software. Apache’s rewrite module allows you to create rewrites by specifying one or multiple rules, which describe what format the rewritten URL should have. In order to make a rewrite work, you will need to place the following code in the Apache configuration file called .htaccess:
RewriteRule ^diving/(.*)/(.*)\.htm /diving.php?item=$1&brand=$2 [L]
Example of rewrite #2
You can implement a rewrite to modify the resource that will be served to a client. For example:
1. A user, through his browser, asks for http://www.example.com/seoservices.htm
2. The web server sends the contents of http://www.example.com/marketing/seo.htm instead
3. The browser remains unaware that the server has done this substitution, and reflects in the navigation bar the original request: http://www.example.com/seoservices.htm
Implementation of rewrite #2
You will need to add the following code to your Apache configuration file called .htaccess:
RewriteRule ^seoservices\.htm$ marketing/seo\.htm [L]
Definition of redirect
A redirect is a type of HTTP response which informs the client that the requested resource has been moved to a different location.
Example of redirect
1. A user, through his browser, asks for http://www.example.com/seoservices.htm
2. The web server responds: “No, you don’t want seoservices.htm, what you really want is http://www.example.com/marketing/seo.htm”. The server does this by sending an HTTP response with a code of 301 (moved permanently) or 302 (moved temporarily), and the new destination URL
3. The browser, after receiving the HTTP response, changes the navigation bar to display the updated URL: http://www.example.com/marketing/seo.htm
How to implement a redirect
There are multiple ways to implement a redirect, such as using an .htaccess redirect directive, utilizing an ASP redirect method, defining the HTTP response in PHP, etc. It would take another article to discuss the technical details of these implementations, but in this article I am focusing on how to implement a redirect using Apache’s rewrite module.
One of the reasons why people confuse rewrites and redirects is because both can be implemented using Apache’s rewrite module. Although a standard rewrite is by default transparent to the user, you can use the R flag in your rewrite rule to send a redirect status code to the client (all redirect response codes follow the format 3XX). This will cause the visitor’s browser to update the URL on the navigation bar. To implement a redirect from http://www.example.com/seoservices.htm to http://www.example.com/marketing/seo.htm, you will need to add the following code to your .htaccess file:
RewriteRule ^seo-services\.htm$ http://www.example.com/marketing/seo.htm [R=301,L]
For more information about how to create rewrite rules, please visit the official Apache rewrite module documentation.
Now that you understand the difference between a redirect and a rewrite, you are ready to implement them depending on your specific needs. There might be times when you need to use both redirects and rewrites to solve a specific problem. For example, you can implement a rewrite if you want to get rid of the parameters in your URLs to make them more user-friendly and search-engine-friendly. You should also implement 301 redirects so that the links pointing to the old URLs get redirected to the new, user-friendly URLs. This will transfer the PageRank earned by your old URLs to the new ones, and it will help avoid duplicate content issues. Although a 301 redirect does not always pass the full PageRank of the old URL, as was confirmed in Eric Enge’s interview with Matt Cutts, this is the best option available to conserve at least part of the PageRank earned by your old URLs.Posted by Antonio Casanova in Site Architecture
Eric Enge, a seasoned internet marketer, had a revealing interview with Matt Cutts, an engineer who works for the Search Quality group at Google. Cutts is well known in the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) community for enforcing the Google Webmaster Guidelines and cracking down on link spam. He also regularly advises the public on how to get better website visibility in Google. Matt Cutts’s comments are especially valuable since they come from the epicenter of the engineering team that makes Google the number one search engine on the Internet. I strongly recommend that you start following Cutts’s blog.
Although the interview with Cutts was highly informative and should be read in its entirety, these are the six most important insights from the interview:
1. A 301 redirect does not always pass the full PageRank from the old site to the new one. Cutts confirmed that this PageRank decay is part of Google’s algorithm.
2. To handle issues relating to duplicate content (i.e., how to assign organic value to two or more pages with the same content), Google compares content between pages, and if duplicate pages are found, Google will use one page as the main page and then pass the other pages’ values to the main page. Cutts recommended letting Google know, by using a canonical tag, which is the main URL, so that Google does not decide for you which page will accumulate the most value.
3. In order to achieve efficient distribution of PageRank throughout your site, it is vital to implement optimal site architecture. Cutts suggested the following tier link method: establish three tiers and classify your pages in order of importance, so that the most important pages are in tier one, the least important pages being in tier three. Keep your most important pages in the root folder, then link to up to ten second tier pages from each tier one page. Finally, link to up to ten more pages from each second tier page.
4. There is no indexing cap, meaning that a website does not have a quota for the number of indexed pages. Indexing, however, has limits. Google crawls and indexes pages based on their PageRank, so that low PageRank pages compete internally with higher PageRank pages. One factor that will negatively affect the number of pages that Google will index from your site is having duplicate content. This issue can be solved either by differentiating the content or by using a canonical tag when needed. The number of simultaneous connections your server can handle might also affect the number of pages that Google will crawl.
5. Blocking a URL in robots.txt will not save your “crawl budget” because if Google finds the same URL at any other website, it will index it whether or not it is blocked in your robots file.
6. Paid links might be detected and not counted. It is important to remember that a few relevant, high quality links are usually better than a lot of paid links, specially if the paid links hold low quality.Posted by Antonio Casanova in Google's Algorithm
Last week I passed the Google Analytics Individual Qualification test (Google Analytics IQ Test), which allows you to demonstrate proficiency in Google Analytics.
In order to prepare for the exam, I watched the video lessons from Google Conversion University. This collection of videos covers web analytics techniques and Google Analytics implementation, administration, and analysis features. Even if you are not going to take the test, I strongly recommend watching the videos, as they are straight to the point and very informative. Two other resources that are useful for mastering Google Analytics are the websites Google Analytics Help and Google Analytics Developer Docs.
If you choose to take the test, you will have to pay $50. You must score at least 80% to pass, so even if you already consider yourself an expert, be sure to at least review the Conversion University course before taking the test. If you pass, you’ll automatically be registered as Google Analytics qualified and listed in a public database. You will also receive an official certificate from Google that is valid for 18 months. During that period, you may indicate on your website, resume, and/or job applications that you have passed the Google Analytics IQ Test, i.e., that you are qualified in Google Analytics.
The test consist of 70 multiple choice questions, which you have 90 minutes to answer. In my experience, the important topics you will need to study if you want to pass the test are:
A couple of extra tips:
A little over a month ago I created the Chicago SEM Meetup group. Now we are finally ready for our first gathering! In this Meetup we will do actual case studies and analyze members’ websites and their SEO efforts. These are the details of the event:
Attendance is free, you are invited to join us and share your ideas or ask questions!
If you want to RSVP through Meetup, please visit http://meetup.com/u/3qwPosted by Antonio Casanova in Chicago SEM Meetups
I recently had the chance to do Keyword Research for one of my clients, whose site is still in the design phase (the seven stages of the software development life cycle are: (1) requirements analysis; (2) design; (3) implementation; (4) integration; (5) testing; (6) deployment; and (7) maintenance). This was a great opportunity to incorporate Search Engine Optimization (SEO) principles into the site’s development. Whether you are designing a new site or optimizing your current one, it is vital to choose the right keywords because they will have a great influence in brand image, site traffic, conversion rate, search engine ranks, and even merchandise planning.
In this article, I will focus on keyword selection, which is the process of selecting the top keywords for your Search Engine Optimization strategy from a more comprehensive list of potential keywords. I will not, however, cover other areas of keyword research, such as use of keyword tools and analysis of: market structure and trends, target costumers, competitors, brands, social media, etc. I have left those topics for another article.
After coming up with a list of 200+ keywords, I used three criteria to determine the top keywords:
This metric indicates the number of people searching for a given keyword. There are several tools that will give you the search volume. The three tools that I like best are Google AdWords Keyword Tool, Microsoft adCenter Keyword Research, and Wordtracker. Although search volume numbers obtained through these tools are not precise (because search engines don’t provide the real figures), the relative volumes will tell you what keywords are more popular.
Relevance refers to the degree that a particular keyword relates to your site’s goals. In other words, how would a searcher feel if he searched for a given term and found your site? Would the site satisfy the searcher’s needs? Once you have determined the most relevant keywords, you will need to develop specific landing pages for each of them.
Imagine an e-commerce site that sells scuba diving equipment. Here are some useful examples to understand the concept of relevance:
Competition refers to the number of sites targeting a given keyword. There are two primary figures for determining the level of competition: (1) the number of sites competing for the keyword advertising space on Pay Per Click (PPC) networks; and (2) the number of sites optimized for the term. With respect to the first figure, the Google AdWords Keyword Tool will yield a number that reflects the level of competition (between 0 and 1 to two decimal places). Unfortunately, this tool doesn’t allow you to differentiate between two keywords that yield the same number. The second figure is more difficult to pinpoint. Wordtracker determines the Keyword Effectiveness Index by comparing the search volume of a keyword to the number of sites that have their title and their inbound links optimized for that term. You can also use Google to get an overestimate of the number of sites optimized for a certain keyword. If you search “allintitle:keyword” you will see how many sites have their title optimized for that term. Similarly, if you search “allinanchor:keyword” you will see how many sites have at least one inbound link with that keyword in the anchor text. You must keep in mind that not all of the sites found using the allintitle and allinanchor operators will be fully optimized.
Final Keyword Evaluation
The most valuable keywords will strike a balance between search volume, relevance, and competition (relative to the other keywords). The three optimal combinations are:
1. High competition and high relevance: sometimes you have no choice but to fight for a competitive term. If this is the case, you have to make sure that the term has a high degree of relevance.
Example: scuba diving boots.
2. High search volume, low competition, and high relevance: ideally, the keywords on your short list will have high search volume, be targeted by a reasonable number of competitors, and relate to the site’s conversion goals.
Example: diving dry suit.
3. Low search volume and high relevance: even if the number of people searching for the term is small, the people who execute the query are more likely to land on your site and ultimately make a conversion.
Example: kids scuba gear.
After you have determined your top keywords, you should periodically refine your list through additional evaluation of your analytics data. For example, once your website is up and running, you will be able to determine the Click Through Rate (CTR) of the keywords that you are targeting through your PPC campaign. The CTR is the number of users who clicked on an ad divided by the number of times the ad was delivered. The keywords with the highest CTR are more valuable.
Using the three criteria mentioned in this article, I was able to determine the most valuable keywords for the client’s SEO campaign. Always keep in mind the objective of your SEO work: to help the company accomplish its business goals.Posted by Antonio Casanova in Keyword Research