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Rebecca Kelley reviews SEO Internship

Ammon Johns

For those of you who have been following the programme with interest, our very first Intern, Rebecca from SEOmoz.org has written a detailed review of her experiences with us here at Fresh Egg.

We all very much enjoyed having Rebecca over with us to launch this new training opportunity. It is good to read that she found her time both rewarding and enjoyable.

I'm delighted that Rebecca found her time with us, (and yes, it seemed so brief to us too Rebecca), as rewarding as she did. This programme is something that we invest a lot of time and resource into.  Lee and I are both very busy people, with an awful lot of demands upon our time. We give our time willingly to this initiative precisely because it is such a huge opportunity for those who attend.

There is just one thing in the review that struck me as an issue of possibly crossed wires, which I thought I'd take time to address. The issue of differences in our approaches to writing 'Ye olde Title tags'.

Rebecca wrote of our 5th day together:

it turns out that Ammon and Rand have different philosophies on how to structure a title tag.

Rebecca attributed the following points of view to me:

"List the company first on the home page (ex. Company Name | Description). Other pages should look like a reverse breadcrumb trail (ex. Product | Category | Company; Make | Model | Category | Company; Description of Page | Company). You don't even necessarily need to use the company's name in every title tag; in some instances you can substitute the company name for more keywords".

"Users only read the first few words of the title tag, so the most valuable terms should go first. I've seen an increase in page rankings based on switching from placing the company name first to the keyword first."

"If a user wants to remember the brand, he'll bookmark the homepage. When he bookmarks pages other than the homepage, it's because he specifically wants to remember a feature or product on that page. Having that feature/product first in your title tags will ensure users will find it in their bookmarks easier."

Rebecca attributed the following points of view to Rand:

Most of the time, put the company name first on each page. (ex. Company Name | Description). Rand doesn't deliberately try to add a bunch of keywords into the title tag, and here's why:

"Make it sound readable and not too spammy. You see this all over the place on heavily SEO'd sites--just keywords repeated again and again to get maximum targeting. I'm not a huge fan; I think it screams "I've been optimized!", and while it may give a little boost in ranking juice, my general opinion is that getting 1-2 extra good links will be far more valuable."

"I think we're a lot less aggressive than many folks in the industry, and sometimes as a result, we won't rank as well in the short term. However, it's always been my belief that you should give those savvy Google engineers a lot of credit--over time, they're going to look at the two title tags and say, "Hey, wait a minute. There's no reason we should be giving benefit to the less user-friendly, more aggressive content. Let's get that benefit out of the algo." In my mind, this pattern has been pretty consistent over time, and I see no reason why it might stop trending that way in the future."

The reason I suspect simple 'crossed wires' is this: The reason I do not put the company name first is nothing at all to do with 'aggression'. Quite the opposite, in fact. The reason I put the most unique information first is Usability, in combination with solid SEO experience.

As a referrence, let me point to the words of a man whose name is synonymous with usability issues: Jakob Nielsen. Here's what Jakob Nielsen had to say about Microcontent: Headlines and Subject Lines

  • Skip leading articles like "the" and "a" in email subjects and page titles (but do include them in headlines that are embedded within a page). Shorter microcontent is more scannable, and since lists are often alphabetized, you don't want your content to be listed under "T" in a confused mess with many other pages starting with "the".

  • Make the first word an important, information-carrying one. Results in better position in alphabetized lists and facilitates scanning. For example, start with the name of the company, person, or concept discussed in an article.

  • Do not make all page titles start with the same word: they will be hard to differentiate when scanning a list. Move common markers toward the end of the line. For example, the title of this page is Microcontent: Headlines and Subject Lines (Alertbox).
  • So this, in combination with solid SEO practice of making my Title useful to those glancing (not reading word for word) down the list of search result links, is what I have learned to follow, and found in testing to be reliable.

    For the reasons given, I therefore have to dispute where Rebecca wrote:

    Ammon is a more aggressive SEO, whereas Rand strives for balance across the board, between the user, the search engine, and the client. He has a lot of integrity (I'm not saying that Ammon doesn't; it's just that Rand has so much that it seems to seep out of his pores), and if Rand thinks a certain method is best for all three audiences then that's what he'll practice and preach.

    It is nothing to do with aggression in SEO. It is everything to do with balancing the needs of the searcher, the engine, and the client. In this specific case, it seems that Rand and I differ only in whether we - with Rand's method - put the client desire for branding (having their name most prominent) first, or whether we take a more inclusive view of Usability as it affects the search engine and User - the path I choose.

    This issue highlights one of the trickier parts of any training programme - ensuring that what a trainee takes away with them is what was intended, or better. If Rebecca didn't properly grasp why we structure Titles the way we do, then this is my failing as a trainer, and something I need to work harder on with future interns. That knowledge alone made reading Rebecca's review a great experience, and extremely useful to me.


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