We all know that there is value in participating in social media networks from a search engine optimization (SEO) perspective. There is link and traffic potential, the benefit of additional organic listings, and the ability to reach a targeted audience. As this is becoming more important for SEO almost everyday, there are often obstacles that must be overcome when participating outside of the U.S. Recently I read an article about social media in China and came across a few interesting facts.
China, with a unique and highly regulated media market, has one of the fastest growing online populations in the world. The Internet is censored of sensitive political content; however, this censorship has not hindered the growth of social media and online communities among the population. One research study noted that China’s blogging community is the largest in the world, more than both the U.S. and Western Europe combined. According to China’s Internet Network Information Center, the online population grew by 56% during the first six months of 2008 in comparison to the previous year. With these types of numbers, well-known social media giants are eager to become big players in this growing market, but have encountered a few difficulties along the way.
Unlike in the U.S. where users can freely post and share any information they choose (within reason), social sites in China are held accountable for all content that is posted and shared. Mainly content that is politically sensitive in nature is scrutinized, but these types of regulations play a part in making it difficult for sites outside of China to become as widely popular as they are in the U.S. Not only is it likely that websites outside of China are less familiar with the regulations and political environment, but they are also competing with locals who may have government associations and the ability to better influence the system.
China’s social networking sites have been required to develop robust systems to filter, block, and remove any content that may be considered unacceptable. Many companies also have employees that serve as censorship teams to supervise the content and manually make changes to prevent the site from being banned. Although social networking sites in the U.S. also employ technologies to detect and filter inappropriate and copyrighted content, they are not accustomed to a regulatory environment like that in China.
In an effort to become big players in this market that has such tremendous growth potential, social media giants such as MySpace and Facebook have made adjustments and agreements, often relying on the partnership and cooperation of China based companies. For example, MySpace China is hosted on servers in China and licenses the brand to a company who then monitors the content. A Chinese-language version of Facebook has been developed and is located on offshore servers, avoiding the responsibility of supervising the content. Google Inc. has partnered with Tianya.cn to launch the Chinese social-networking sites Tianya Wenda and Tianya Laiba.
Not all companies have found ways to weave through these difficult regulations as MySpace, Facebook and Google have. Others such eBay, Amazon.com and Yahoo! all have lost market share as a result of local competitors.
A common SEO technique is to make sure the content of your web page is placed as close to the top of your HTML as possible. This will help ensure that your relevant content achieves higher priority by search engine spiders. ASP.NET provides a great framework for developing feature rich web applications, especially with the addition of view state. View state gives web forms the ability to persist changes across postbacks. Other web scripting languages are not able to accomplish this easily, however, this benefit may have some negative SEO implications.
The view state of a page is placed by default in a hidden form field named ___VIEWSTATE at the top of the html source code. The contents of the __VIEWSTATE form field contain serialized information, which can get very large (tens of kilobytes), about various controls on the web page. When a web page does not have a lot of controls using view state, the hidden form field will look something like this…
… which is probably fine at the top of the page. But, often times a web page may have numerous controls, no matter how much it is optimized to minimize view state, which produce a view state value that looks something like this…
… actually it could go on and on. This particular view state sample (this is just a small portion) was 10 pages long! Needless to say, you don’t want that to appear before your precious web page content.
There is an easy way to move the __VIEWSTATE form field to the bottom of the html source code. By pasting the following VB.NET code, “as is”, into your web form, the view state will be moved to the bottom of the html source code right above the closing </form> tag…
Protected Overrides Sub Render(ByVal writer As System.Web.UI.HtmlTextWriter)<br />
Dim stringWriter As System.IO.StringWriter = New System.IO.StringWriter<br />
Dim htmlWriter As HtmlTextWriter = New HtmlTextWriter(stringWriter)<br />
Dim html As String = stringWriter.ToString()<br />
Dim StartPoint As Integer = html.IndexOf("<input /><br />
If StartPoint >= 0 Then<br />
Dim EndPoint As Integer = html.IndexOf("/>", StartPoint) + 2<br />
Dim viewstateInput As String = html.Substring(StartPoint, EndPoint - StartPoint)<br />
html = html.Remove(StartPoint, EndPoint - StartPoint)<br />
Dim FormEndStart As Integer = html.IndexOf("") - 1<br />
If FormEndStart >= 0 Then<br />
html = html.Insert(FormEndStart, viewstateInput)<br />
End If<br />
End If<br />
Now when you browse your web page, the __Viewstate hidden form field and its ridiculously long value, will be at the bottom of the page, and your precious content will be closer to the top, just how the search engines like it.
Web page optimization can be daunting for the beginner so we’ve put together five easy steps to optimizing a page for search engines.
1. Identify your goal. (This is always the first step in anything, but we’re going to mention it anyway). Remember that ranking number one is great but at the end of the day, the ultimate goal is acquiring customers, so choose the keyword carefully – which leads us to the next step.
2. Research the keyword target and make sure the keyword is right for you.
* Does anybody ever search for that keyword? It doesn’t do any good to rank number one if nobody ever looks for it.
* Is that the word people would use to find my product or service?
* How competitive is the keyword? Who is your competition?
For example, an exact match search for “blue widgets” reveals that about 22,000 other sites are relevant for that phrase while “big blue widgets” displays only about 40. It will be much easier to get the number one spot for big blue widgets. If a keyword is too competitive, consider choosing a longer phrase containing the keyword. Ranking on page 1 for a lower traffic key phrase will bring more traffic than ranking on page 5 for a high traffic keyword.
3. Choose a page to target that key phrase. Which page you choose will depend on a couple of factors:
* Page Content – the more precisely matched the page content is to the keyword target, the more likely that a visitor will click on your link in the search results and buy something once they are there.
* Competitiveness of the keyword – If the keyword is highly competitive, you may need the ranking power of your homepage.
Whatever page you choose, make sure it contains clear information on how to get the product. Ranking well for the keyword doesn’t do any good if the target page doesn’t convert them into a customer. (Did I say that already? Remember it. It’s important.)
4. Check out your competition for the keyword.
* What’s their current keyword density?
* Does the keyword appear in all of the important places, title tag, description tag, keywords tag, headline, etc. on the competitor’s page?
* How many backlinks do they have to their page and what kind of anchor text appears on those backlinks?
5. Optimize your page for the keyword.
* Put the keyword on the page in all the important places.
* Target a keyword density at or slightly above (or below) that of other top ranking sites.
* Get inbound links to the page — ideally with the keyword in the anchor text.
Alert readers will have noticed that all the steps listed here are really just extensions of the first step — identify your goal. Identifying your goal is definitely the most important step in web page optimization. The second most important step isn’t really a step but it’s still crucial. Monitor your progress and not only for how your page ranks in search engine results pages.
Compare the ranking in search engine results pages before and after and then compare the difference in traffic before and after your listing appeared.
* Make sure you give search engines enough time to crawl and index your pages. It can take up to a couple of weeks after they have crawled your page for changes to produce results.
Compare customer conversions from the page before and after.
* Are your new visitors sticking around to become your customer or are they coming to your pages and just “bouncing away”?
Fierce competition and shifting search engine algorithms make web page optimization an ongoing process. If the results aren’t what you hoped, then maybe this wasn’t the best keyword for you or maybe the page needs a little more tweaking for keyword density or backlinks. You can always benefit from another good backlink. Maybe the page is fine for search engines, but needs to be optimized for visitors. Identifying goals, taking a step-by-step approach, monitoring your progress and never giving up are the keys to success in web page optimization.