Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Halloween Inspired SEO Tricks to Keep Spiders at Bay

Over the years, I’ve made a habit of prodigiously extolling search engine best practices per contra to taking shortcuts designed to trick search engines into trusting that an online destination is something it is not. This Halloween, I’ve decided to produce an antithetical essay to my digital morals and beliefs by way of parody and embrace the dark side of search engine spoofs.
Fear of spiders?
Not a problem. There are many ways to keep unwanted arachnids from crawling through your content.
For starters, why not avoid using visible text on your website? Embed as much content as possible in images and pictures. Better yet, make your site into one big splash page that appears to scroll to infinity and beyond.
Also, make certain that the imagery loads as slowly as possible. Consider yourself lucky that you will be able to streamline your web metrics around paid search campaigns and not worry about those pesky organic referral terms [not provided] by Google anymore. Keeping spiders out of your content is your first step toward complete search engine invisibility.
If your site is inherently text heavy, consider using dropdown and/or pop-up boxes for navigation. Configure these with Flash or have them require JavaScript actions to function. If possible, put the rest of your web content exclusively in frames. Designing a website in such a manner is another great way to keep all those bad robots out of your site.
When it comes to URL structures, try to include as many ampersands, plus signs, equal signs, percentage signs, session IDs, and other dynamic parameters as possible in a multifaceted, splendidly deep file structure. That way, your website will be made up of really long URL strings that can confuse humans and spiders alike. Even better, add filters and internal site search functionality, metrics tags, and other superfluous attributes to your URLs, just to keep the search engines guessing about your site structure. Get ready to burn your site’s crawl equity to the ground, while watching your bandwidth spend soar, when you wrap your site up like a mummy with this navigational scheme.
If you really want to turn your website into a graveyard for search engine spiders, consider using completely unnecessary redirects on as many different URLs as possible, taking multiple hops along the way. Combine permanent and temporary redirects with soft 404 errors that can keep your content alive in search indices forever. Make certain to build in canonical tag conflicts, XML sitemap errors, perpetual calendars and such, reveling in the knowledge that you will never have to waste precious development time fixing broken links again!
Content creation budget got you down? Build in new economic efficiencies by using the exact same content across as many domains as your budget can spawn. Invest in machine-generated content instead of having to listen to those troublesome user reviews. Make “Spamglish” the official language of your website. Since you don’t have to worry about looking at what keywords Google allows to send traffic to your Frankensite, feel free to target irrelevant keywords on as many pages as possible.
Additionally, try to keep all the title tags exactly the same on the critically important pages within your site. Spiders don’t have good eyesight – sometimes you have to shout to get their attention. Consider keyword stuffing as a way to make certain that the search engines understand precisely what your site is all about. If you don’t have room to stuff unnecessary contextual redundancies into your web content, consider using hidden text that flickers like a ghost when users mouse over what looks like dead space.
Still not convinced you can hide your site from the search engines this Halloween?
Break out the big tricks, my friends, because we’ve got some link building treats to share.
If your ultimate goal is to bury a domain name for all eternity, make certain that you participate in as many link farming free-for-all sites as possible. When you get a chance to do so, go ahead and “splog” other’s guest books and forums. In addition to buying site-wide text links, demand that your backlinks be placed in the footers. While you’re at it, sell a similar “service” to others.
Consider hiding some links in places that surprise visitors and always embrace bad linking neighborhoods. You know the type of sites I’m talking about… they’re the spooky ones and the non-paranormal that a business person would avoid.
Have a wonderful Halloween this year, with the knowledge that you too can make a website completely disappear!
Disclaimer: I don't actually endorse that you try any of the above; everything in this particular column should be taken with a serious dose of tongue-in-cheek.

The Value of Referrer Data in Link Building

Before we get into this article let me first state, link building is not dead.  There are a lot of opinions floating around the web on both sides; this is just mine.  Google has shut down link networks and Matt Cutts continues to make videos on what types of guest blogging are OK.  If links were dead, would Google really put in this effort?  Would anyone get an “unnatural links” warning?
The fact is, links matter.  The death is in links that are easy to manipulate.  Some may say link building is dead but what they mean is, “The easy links that I know how to build are dead.”
What does this mean for those of us who still want high rankings and know we need links to get them?  Simply, buckle up, because you have to take off your gaming hat and put on your marketing cap.  You have to understand people and you have to know how to work with them, either directly or indirectly.
I could write a book on what this means for link building as a whole, but this isn't a book, so I'll try to keep focused.  In this article, we're going to focus on one kind of link building and one source of high quality link information that typically goes unnoticed: referrer data.
I should make one note before we launch in, I'm going to use the term loosely  to provide additional value.  We'll get into that shortly but first, let's see how referrer data helps and how to use it.

The Value Of Referrer Data

Those of you who have ignored your analytics can stop reading now and start over with “A Guide To Getting Started With Analytics.”  Bookmark this article and maybe come back to it in a few weeks.  Those of you who do use your analytics on at least a semi-regular basis and are interested in links can come along while we dig in.
The question is, why is referrer data useful?  Let's think about what Google's been telling us about valuable links: they are those that you would build if there were no engines.  So where are we going to find the links we'd be happy about if there were no engines?  Why, in our traffic, of course.
Apart from the fact that traffic is probably one of, if not the best, indicator of the quality and relevancy of a link to your site, your traffic data can also help you find the links you didn't know you had and what you did to get them. Let's start there.

Referrers To Your Site

Every situation is a bit different (OK – sometimes more than a bit) so I'm going to have to focus on general principles here and keep it simple.
When you look to your referrer data, you're looking for a few simple signals.  Here's what you're looking for and why:
  1. Which sites are directing traffic to you?  Discovering which sites are directing traffic to you can give you a better idea of the types of sites you should be looking for links from (i.e. others that are likely to link to you, as well). You may also find types of sites you didn't expect driving traffic. This happens a lot in the SEO realm, but obviously can also happen in other niches.  Here, you can often find not only opportunities, but relevancies you might not have predicted.
  2. What are they linking to?  The best link building generates links you don't have to actively build. The next best are those that drive traffic.  We want to know both. In looking through your referrer data, you can find the pages and information that appeal to other website owners and their visitors.  This will tell you who is linking to you and give you ideas on the types of content to focus on creating.  There's also nothing stopping you from contacting the owner of the site that sent the initial link and informing them of an updated copy (if applicable) or other content you've created since that they might also be interested in.
  3. Who are they influential with?  If you know a site is sending you traffic, logically you can assume the people who visit that site (or the specific sub-section in the case of news-type sites) are also interested in your content (or at least more likely to be interested than standard mining techniques).  Mining the followers of that publisher for social connections to get your content in front of them is a route that can increase your success rate in link strategies ranging from guest blogging to pushing your content out via Facebook paid advertising.  Admittedly, this third area of referrer data is more akin to refining a standard link list, but it's likely a different audience than you would have encountered (and with a higher-than-standard success rate for link acquisition or other actions).
As I noted above, I plan to use the term referrer data loosely.  As if point three wasn't loose enough, we're going to quickly cover a strategy that ties nicely with this: your competitor's referrer data.

Competitor Data

You probably can't call up a competitor and ask them for their traffic referrer data (if you can, I wish I was in your sector).  For the rest of us, I highly recommend pulling backlink referrer data for your competitors using one of the many great tools out there.  I tend to use Moz Open Site Explorer and Majestic SEO personally, but there are others.
What I'm interested in here are the URLs competitors link to.  While the homepage can yield interesting information, it can often be onerous to weed through and I generally relegate that to different link time frames.
Generally, I will put together a list of the URLs linked to, then review these as well as the pages linking to them.  This helps give us an idea of potential domains to target for links, but more importantly, they can let us know the types of relevant content that others are linking to.
If we combine this information with the data collected above when mining our referrer data, we can be left with more domains to seek links on and broader ideas for content creation.  You'll probably also find other ways the content is being linked to. Do they make top lists?  Are they producing videos or whitepapers that are garnering links from authority sites?  All of this information meshes together to make the energies you put into your own referrer mining more effective, allowing you to produce a higher number of links per hour than you'd be able to get with your own.

Is This It?

No.  While mining your referrer data can be a great source of information regarding the types of links you have that you should be seeking more of, it's limited to the links and traffic sources you already have.  It's a lot like looking to your Analytics for keyword ideas (prior to (not provided) at least).  It can only tell you what's working of what you have already.
A diversified link profile is the key to a healthy long term strategy.  This is just one method you can use to help find what works now and keep those link acquisition rates up while exploring new techniques.

30 Quick & Easy Ways to Increase Your Site's Linkability

Well here's the big problem with that: yes, I can just handle it and send you a report each month and I have clients where that works very well. But every single one of those clients has someone else handling all the "other" stuff that I'd be doing or thinking about, or they're knowledgeable themselves.
Link building can exist in a bubble and it can be successful that way, but it can't reach maximum success without the client getting involved on some level, and I'm talking about doing more than paying the invoices.
While we're on the subject of invoices and money, that's another problem: paying someone to do link building for you can get very expensive, especially if they're really good at what they do. For some small business owners, the cost is difficult to justify so they have to either do it themselves or accept the fact that they probably won't be able to compete very effectively.
The beauty of building links is that there are many, many things that can be done to both get you a link and raise your visibility so that your likelihood of generating more links increases. You can get a link from:

  • Handing out your business card.
  • Talking to your neighbor who mentions your business to the barista who makes his morning latte and is overheard asking another customer if he knows of anyone in town who does what you do because he wants to interview them for his side project, a personal blog. 
  • Emailing someone and asking for it.
  • Someone who finds your content in a search.
You can also invest some time in making your site a better and more efficient resource for your users. Link building isn't just about doing something that immediately gives you a text link. Links can be built from 100 different paths, some of which you'll never be able to accurately track.
It's hard to get that idea across to many clients who want to get lots of links and get them right now.
You have no idea how many times I've gone to a client and said "you know, if we rewrote the content on this page a bit so that it better reflected the anchor you want us to use, I think we'd be better off" or "you might want to figure out where the contact us form goes because when I tested it, it went nowhere and no one got in touch with me" and they basically (and usually nicely) tell me to keep quiet and just build them some links.
You also have no idea of the times we've lost link opportunities when a webmaster said "I can't even get their site to load" or asked why we wanted specific anchor text when it made no sense.
For example, if I'm writing a post like this one and I need to cite a source about a topic, I'm not going to use a site that takes a full minute to load. I'm not going to use one where there are 50 spam comments with no legitimate ones. I have my personal biases as does everyone else, and if those biases mean that a site loses a link opportunity, then it's something that could be fixed in order to improve the odds of a link opportunity.
Let's go through a few quick things that any client can do on his or her own, just to get started on the path of (eventually or immediately) building links and improving the linkability of the site.
You probably won't see massive changes overnight with any of these ideas, but they're all practices that we conduct ourselves and advise clients to do. They're also quick and easy (with the exception of the few more intensive initial ones), and they're a great way to get more comfortable with doing all the things you need to be doing in order to maximize your online visibility.
The key here is to make time to do something, even if it's just 15 minutes here and there.
You know how writers tell you that if you want to write, you should just set aside a few minutes a day and write something, just to get into the habit? Do the same with link building.

If You Have a Nice Chunk of Time

  • Analyze your backlink profile.
  • Analyze your competitor's backlink profile.
  • Make a list of what you have to offer a potential linking partner. If you don't have much, figure out what you can add.
  • Check your Site Speed Suggestions in Google Analytics. It's under Behavior > Site Speed. I've found this to be incredibly useful in identifying issues that are causing sites to lag.
PageSpeed Suggestions

If You Have an Hour

  • Find a top referring URL in your analytics that has a very low time on site/visit duration listed. Figure out why they're bouncing so fast. Does your site content that they're landing on seem misleading based on the anchor or the topic of the page that led them there? If they're landing on your contact form page and not spending much time, that might be fine, but if they're landing on a page where you'd expect them to stick around for more than 15 seconds, you might need to update your content, find a better landing page for that link and try to get it changed, or even change the anchor so that it better reflects its target.
Low Site Time
  • Write a blog post about something relevant to your industry, something big happening, etc.
  • Rework an outdated blog post or page on your site. See what you wrote about a year ago and update it in a new post. Socialize that you've updated it.
  • Write a response to another blog post on someone else's site and email or tweet to them to let them know about it.
  • Set up Google Authorship.
  • Check your site on a mobile device and move around. Do the links work properly? Is everything rendered correctly? With more and more people using a mobile device to surf the web, you really need to make sure that your site works well there.

If You Have 30 Minutes

  • Set up Google Analytics if you haven't done it already.
  • Set up Google and Bing Webmaster Tools if you haven't done it already.
  • Make sure you're listed in Google and Bing Places.
  • Set your business up on Foursquare.
  • Read Google's Webmaster Guidelines on link schemes.
  • Set up a social profile somewhere where you don't have one already, but only if you're prepared to use it. If you're a Twitter maniac but don't have a Facebook profile and can handle both, set up a Facebook page for your business. Set up a LinkedIn page. Set up a Quora account and go answer some questions.
  • Do a search to find any unlinked brand mentions. "Brand Online Niche" -press -release.
  • Do some manual rankings checking to see how your results look from a potential user's perspective, and not just to check the spot where they appear. For example, I recently found a result for one of my clients that was ranking at position 3 consistently but the CTR was terribly low. Once I saw the result and how it appeared, it became obvious that people were clicking on the other results (even further down the page) because their results looked much more enticing and mentioned a lower price, free software, etc.
  • Create a list of Potential Partner sites that you want to reach out to when you have more time. Go ahead and note the contact info, your idea for the site (guest post, potential linking partner, getting added to their resource page, etc.) and any other info that will help you.
  • Check to see if you are throwing any 404 errors and if you are and there are good links coming to these pages, either 301 redirect them somewhere else on your site (to the most relevant page, or the homepage if you have to although that isn't great for usability) or rebuild the page.

If You Have 5-10 Minutes

  • Set up Google Alerts (and/or Talkwalker Alerts) for your main keywords and your competitors' brand names, adding to it whenever you have a few extra minutes.
  • Reach out to a site that's authoritative in your niche and ask if there's a chance you could do a guest post there. To avoid irritating them, first check to see if they have a policy about this. Some have specific rules to follow for submissions, but some state that they don't accept guest posts so check to see if they list their policy before contacting them.
No Guest Posts
  • Ask someone authoritative in your industry if you could interview him or her for your site. That builds links and visibility as the people interviewed tend to promote these pieces.
  • Email or call one of the sites on your Potential Partners list that you created for this exact purpose.
  • Find more relevant people to follow on Twitter. Followerwonk is good for searching Twitter bios by keyword.
  • Interact with people on Twitter. This almost sounds silly but honestly, you'd be amazed at how many people do nothing other than occasionally tweet out links to their own content with nothing else ever being socialized. Most people who use social for the interaction aren't going to bother with you if that's how you work social.
  • Socialize an older blog post that's still relevant. (On that note, when you do write, work in some evergreen topics to increase the chances that you'll always have relevant content on the site.)
  • Thank someone who's just given you an unsolicited new link. Thank them on Twitter, thank them via email, etc. Just say thanks.
  • Send an email to your employees asking for content ideas and volunteers to write content.
  • Ask your employees or customers to ask you questions or identify areas where they're having difficulty. Sometimes when I'm stuck trying to decide what to write about, I'll ask a couple of my link builders to let me know where they're having trouble, for example. It's great fodder for content as the chances are they aren't the only ones having this issue. They can also point out issues that you've overlooked, so it's a great chance to fix something.


Just remember that building links involves more than doing something that immediately generates a link. Sometimes the process takes a very long time.
You might write a blog post that doesn't do well for months then suddenly someone uncovers it and links to it. You might send an email asking a webmaster to update his or her link to your site because you have a much better target that fits the anchor and it takes 6 months to get a reply saying it's been changed.
This post certainly isn't even close to being an exhaustive list of ideas of what you could do in small amounts of time, but hopefully it can help you realize that little changes can have big results.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Targeting Weird Niche Audiences for Links

Want to know an extremely successful strategy to get links and gain rankings? This one is actually a sub-strategy of the "limited edition" link building strategy.
Instead of making huge adaptations to your product or service, make small changes to make the product suitable for a weird niche audience.
The choice of your target audience should be illogical, but you should be able to defend it in the media. The fact that you created a special product specifically for that particular group of people makes you linkable.
Leftover Happy Hour
Here are a couple of examples:

  • "New dating site for LARP-ers" (Live Action Role Playing)
  • "Hyundai SUVs for midgets"
  • "Unique solar energy service for the Amish"
  • "Lingerie line suited for transsexuals"
  • "Restaurant leftover timeslot for poor people"
  • "Special car insurance for natural blonds"
  • "Trendy 'high school' bulletproof vests"
  • "Fast food discounts for recently divorced men"
  • "Strict celibacy group travel"
Once you've figured out what new audience you're going to address, you can start attracting media attention.
Select various angles from which your story is interesting to different media.
Prepare enough background information for each angle on your website so you're linkable to everybody.
Always try to involve any existing industry specific news sites. These will probably be interested in your explanation on why you see your new audience as an untouched market potential.
If your product has a technical aspect, make sure you're able to explain the inner working and how that appeals to your unique audience. If your storyline can be interpreted as a stance for or against a certain viewpoint (or group), make sure you attract attention from both sides. If possible, try to get a discussion about the ethics of your approach going.
Try to roll out the story within a week or two. This way no one interprets it as yesterday's news and they'll all want their share of the story's momentum.
If you need more time to contact all your preferred media partners, give them scoops under the embargo that they may only launch when the rest of your campaign does. This allows them to prepare the story and allows you to help and them in creating perfect link bait for your website.
Timing is key, but links and ranking are sure to follow.

What '(Not Provided)' & Google Hummingbird Mean for Small Business SEO

Many small businesses measure the performance of their SEO agency based on keyword-level data. They believe the value proposition stems from better rankings on specific keywords that they select. Small businesses generally approach SEO firms with the assumption that better rankings will equate to more business.

Small Business SEO Monthly Reports

As time goes by, the small business will receive a monthly report that will explicitly show that great progress has been made moving the rankings of the selected keywords in Google and Bing/Yahoo. More sophisticated agencies transform raw keyword analytics into several buckets.
It has been popular to bundle keywords that are branded (i.e., use some form of the company's name or brand in the search phrase) against those that are non-branded. An increase in non-branded traffic has been attributed to SEO, while increases in branded traffic were attributed to other marketing efforts.

'(Not Provided)' Kills Specific Analytics Reporting

Regardless of the politics of the decision, Google’s recent move to 100 percent secure search has decimated the branded/non-branded keyword analysis used by many small businesses to evaluate their SEO firms. But this is OK.

SEO is Changing (Again)

Google has made several large algorithmic changes in 2013. The net result of these changes is that many old tactics for link acquisition are no longer helpful.
Additionally, both small business owners and SEO firms need a new orientation to remain successful.
The Evolution of SEO Metrics

Brand is Important to Rankings

The death of branded versus non-branded keyword traffic may be a blessing, as many now believe that branded mentions are a key signal in the Google algorithm.
While no one will deny that backlinks remain the primary driver of rankings, the anti-spam filters have also become much more sophisticated.
Mentions of a small business company name, even when not accompanied by a backlink, are believed by many to be a signal of legitimacy.

Breadth of a Website Matters to Hummingbird

Whereas small businesses used to obsess over the rankings of their top money keywords, Google's new Hummingbird algorithm implies their focus needs to be elsewhere.
It is now critically important that the website answers questions for end users.
Yes, content is still king. In fact, content that answers specific questions may be critical for Hummingbird success.

Replace Non-Branded Keyword Traffic with Entrance Pages

A healthy website is constantly expanding in breadth. In other words, SEO post-Hummingbird requires that a site gain new keyword rankings every month to demonstrate that it is a helpful resource.
The easiest metric to review is the number of unique entrance pages used by users to get to the website.
A website with more entrance pages:
  • Is a stronger resource for answering questions.
  • Offers expertise on more topics.
  • Ranks on more long-tail keywords.
  • Has more breadth in a specific space.

How to Grow Website Entrances Pages

Websites can't grow their entrance pages without introducing new content regularly. While hard to believe, there are many webmasters who don't update their websites, have no blog, and refuse any assistance.
While introducing new pages of helpful, high-quality content is a great start, the issue of syndication and recognition remains a barrier – particularly in highly competitive keyword spaces.
Webmasters and small business owners need to be very creative to be noticed:
  • Newsjack hot stories in their areas of expertise.
  • Create infographics.
  • Make videos to post on YouTube.
  • Utilize staff to promote in social media.
  • Use a small budget to promote the best content via PPC.

Measuring Keyword Traffic Was Wrong Anyway

While new alternatives to keyword-level analytics, branded and non-branded traffic are rapidly emerging, the punchline is that measuring keyword rankings and traffic was the wrong criteria. The real return on investment from SEO comes from an increase in new customers.
Lead tracking remains the single best measure of how a small business website is performing. Many websites lack the appropriate web-to-lead and phone tracking (up to 50 percent of leads come through phone calls even when the website was found via a search engine) integration to have a complete picture.


This year has proven to be very dramatic for SEO with major changes from Google in the form of Hummingbird and "(not provided)". Small business owners who once obsessed over their top keyword rankings and traffic from a few "money terms" now need to adjust their thinking.
Google's secure search has removed the popular branded keyword traffic data, but offers an opportunity to instead focus on the breadth of a website via entrance pages. And Google Hummingbird clears the path for small business owners to generate high-quality content that really answers questions.

Big Brands, Google, Penalties & You

For years there has been controversy about big brands and their special place in Google's heart. For the most part, Google's supposed brand bias is really an SEO myth told late night over beers in darkened corners at conferences and in forum postings.
Most sites that are big brands rank well because they meet so many points on Google algorithm – everything from authority, to quality score, to links, to social signals.
If you see Wikipedia everywhere, as annoying as it may be, it positions so well because it has tons of content and more links pointed at it than stars in a desert sky. This doesn't mean Google prefers brands; it means the site is algorithmically awesome.
OK, so "algorithmically awesome" isn't really an SEO term, but it might as well be. If you naturally meet more points on the algorithm than any of your competitors, then your gift from Google will be to occupy a higher position in the search results. It just kind of works that way.

Wait, What About Google's Vince Update?

Yes, there was an algorithmic update called Vince in 2009 that threw big brands some special algo points.
That same year, there was "brand affinity." This quote from Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO at the time, probably said it best:
"Brands are the solution, not the problem. Brands are how you sort out the cesspool. Brand affinity is clearly hard wired. It is so fundamental to human existence that it's not going away. It must have a genetic component."
So big brands were wired into the algorithm with Vince, then even more so with Panda. Yet, Google's Distinguished Engineer Matt Cutts said big brands "can't do whatever they want" and are subject to the algorithm just like regular sites. What is an SEO to believe? Which is it?
Well, it's really all of the above. You don't automatically get to the top by just being a big brand. If you have a poor website and are in general not doing well on the algorithm, you might do well for a few terms sure, but overall, no.

Big Brands and Search

Being a big brand naturally helps you with some algorithmic factors, including perceived site authority and quality. You also have the one thing most mom and pops don't: brand affinity.
One sentence of the Search Quality Rating Guidelines is telling: "Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?" Brands are more well known to users by simply being a brand, so the user intent is more likely to be Target the store then say target the bullseye.
Wikipedia ranks well everywherebecause, frankly it should. That said, you don't always position well just because you are a brand.
I once sat in a site clinic in which one of the largest ecommerce sites on the web didn't understand why it couldn't position for selling television sets. The problem? There were no signals from the site that it deserved to position to sell television sets. While the site did position well for things related to its core brand, it just didn't for things that weren't.
So where is the benefit for big brands outside of having a bit more ability to extract authority, quality, and large value points on links and social and rank for being a known brand?
Well mostly it seems limited to penalties.

Penalties and Big Brands

Many big brands have a direct connection at Google, which means someone at Google that will tell them when they crossed a line or at least one to Cutts to answer a question or two. And if you're really big, Cutts will warn you himself (see Mozilla)
Big brands also more likely to survive a Google penalty than a small- or medium-sized business (SMB) site, partially because they are stronger sites, partially because their penalties do seem to have much more limited damage.
Seriously, when was the last time you heard of a big brand being removed entirely from Google's index? Sure they get hit with penalties all the time, I know Cutts isn't misleading us about that. But the damage is much more focused and much more limited.
Remember JCPenney and Overstock? They lost keyword traffic, not their entire website.
Go to Google forums see how many SMBs can say the same.
Now some theorize that it is because Google gives these sites leniency – in the hey – they were at #1 they could not rank any higher, so those link buys didn't actually help them. Others believe it is just a strict brand preference.
Personally, my SEO brain has settled on it is a set of algorithmic factors, I like to term "the expectancy factor" or the "should be there factor" (this is just an easy way to say algorithmic factors combined with the fact that the sites are just stronger and the brands are given leniency and limited penalties).

'Should Be There' Status

Some sites should be in Google's index – not just because Google thinks it should be there, but because searches by end users have indicated to Google that they expect it to be there.
If one of these "should be there" sites didn't show up in Google's results, then the searcher might think Google has a pretty lousy product.
So Google protects its product by making sure to limit the effect of penalties on big brands by warning them directly and by helping certain ones recover quickly if a penalty is more damaging. Whichever it is, big brands are like a naval carrier in the middle of a penalty storm; your SMB is a Tiki raft.

Google Penalties – Big Brand Leniency

So how does it work in the real world when you have "should be there" status?
While a standard SMB site might receive one penalty and find itself without a homepage in the Google index (and many have), a big brand might look like this:
Manual Action Viewer
This is the manual action viewer of a big brand site.
Under each of these penalties, except for one, in the manual action viewer were approximately 1,000 pages (the maximum the viewer can handle). These penalties were on the subdomain, but the main domain was also penalized.
Both the main domain and the subdomain lost key terms in the search engine and key placements, but it did continue to position for new, highly trafficked terms though less relevant and longer tail, didn't cause enough damage that its core business functions were threatened.
Now what happens if you're a company that doesn't have "should be there" algorithmic triggers? And you receive even one of these manual actions on your site over a multitude of pages or even just a percentage of them?
You would have probably woken up to this:
Analytics OOPS
But this big brand site never saw this graph. This site hardly noticed the blip. Partially because it creates new pages all the time, which were positioning (well enough), which helped cover up the loss, but mostly because the penalties were isolated and not cross sectional.

Penalty Removal: Big Brand vs. SMB

These penalties were there for quite some time. So, if your site was not expected to be in the index, if you did not have site authority, site strength and your site was not a big brand, you would probably expect the road back would be pretty tough (noting that you would at most be dealing with one or two of these penalties as no small site would survive more than that without getting their homepage kicked out of the index along with the rest of their site).
Here's what the site looked like after one reconsideration request and one penalty removal.
2 million impressionsWithin a few days they regained 100 percent of their impressions, or 2 million (on average). This change shows that their site was repositioned into key terms and their new content was likely being shown highly in the search results.
We did a hand-check and yes, they regained key category terms and they were now positioning for relevant, highly competitive terms, even highly competitive phrases with short life expectancy (terms that would live only a few days).
If you aren't a big brand, you site isn't likely to work the same way. At the same time as this big brand site was recovering, we helped an SMB recover.
Instead of days, the SMB site took three months, three requests (one rewrite for depth and breadth), and a complete site rebuild. Only then did the homepage just start to show for their own name on the fifth page of Google.
This is more likely the outcome for an SMB. If you recover at all.

So Why do You Care About What Big Brands do?

Maybe that big brand corporation site is getting away with some black hat tactic, and your (clueless) boss, marketing team, board of advisors, or some other stakeholder knows about it.
"If they can do it, well we can, too!" they say.
No. You can't.
Unless you have algorithmic awesomeness, authority, and expectancy (and that expectancy is the key) you will much more likely end up losing your position, your pages or your homepage if you buy links or engage in other practices that violate Google's guidelines.

What Else Can You Learn From Big Brands?

Acting like a big brand is your best method for achieving success. Big brands send out strong signals to Google that tell Google there is a company and people behind them. These signals tell Google that the site is taken care of, that the company is awake at the helm, and that the site is going to be a good product.
Now not all big brands put out great websites, in fact a lot of them put out horrible websites, which is where expectancy (brand) can save them and where you can beat them.
Google has provided some guidance on building high-quality sites, in the form of these 23 questions. Follow these concepts, check your site. Does it meet the criteria of what Google (not you) considers a high-quality site? You don't have to hit every point, but the more signals you send Google the better.

Be a Big Brand in the Making

SEO times they are a' changing
Get your site to send out big brand signals. If you mimic all the good things a brand does well, Google will give you some of those authority and quality points:
  • Create content.
  • Build a natural link profile.
  • Use social.
  • Create more content (and more content).
  • Have a blog.
  • Make sure your site is technically sound, fast, visually appealing, and easy for users (and search engines to navigate).
  • Utilize experts in the industry to audit your site and tell you what you're not doing well, so you can do it better.
You aren't likely to get those valuable expectancy signals unless you have offline indicators as well, but that's OK. If you build a better site, with authority and meet more brand points on the algorithm, you don't need that to compete.
Brands do have leeway, but that is a much stronger case when it comes to penalties. Being a brand just means they need to be there and found, not found in the top position except for their name and a few core key terms.
Expectancy, being a brand, having authority doesn't get you automatic position; it just gets you some advantages in the game.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Securing the Future of SEO: Global Brands & 5 '(Not Provided)' Solutions

Future SEO
SEO has changed forever.
The great philosopher Heraclitus once said "change is the only constant". But wait? Einstein said a similar thing about the universe. Even the very subject on the correlation of change and constant in life is open to debate.
This sums up the situation that search marketers face themselves in today. SEO has a new meaning, a new direction. How we deal with it is driven by marketers' perception and the word "secure" now has more than one connotation in our market.
When Google made it apparent that 100 percent of its keyword data will be "(not provided)" (to the SEO community), many reacted with anger, angst, and frustration. Others sat back to absorb the news and some, content-based marketers, embraced the news as part of the natural evolution of SEO. They saw it coming and planned ahead. Read more

Will Google Punish a Guest Posting Strategy Due to Unnatural Link Patterns?

The Missing Link
"The Missing Link" is a Search Engine Watch exclusive reader-driven Q&A column with veteran content publicist Eric Ward. You can ask questions about all aspects of links and link building and Eric will provide his expert answers. Submit your questions here, and you may be featured in a future installment!

Until Google's recent algorithm changes we consistently ranked on top of the search results for our primary keyword phrase. Now we are on page two for that phrase so I am looking into pursuing guest posts on other sites. To my understanding Google will detect and penalize unnatural link patterns. As a result I am wondering if I obtain guest posts from a blog network would or could this be easily detected and penalized as a pattern?
– Blue on Page 2
I'll give you a short answer and a long answer.
Short answer: Writing posts for other sites (which is a form of guest posting) is still an effective way to build credible links.
The devil is always in the details though. Here's a longer answer.
First, a video from Google's Matt Cutts addressed this exact subject. I strongly suggest you watch it:
Of everything Cutts said, the thing that struck me most was when he said, "It's a long and time honored tradition" for writers with expertise in certain topics to share content with each other. In other words, it's absolutely acceptable.
In fact, this column you're reading likely falls into that category. I've written this post for Search Engine Watch and nobody else.
Technically, this is a guest post. But this is much different than a guest posting approach where you aren't selective about where you seek out posting opportunities or, on the receiving end, you aren't selective about who you accept guest post content from.
Here are few guidelines/criteria that may help you as you seek out guest posting opportunities:
  1. Look for signals/signs of credibility and longevity:
    • How long has the target site been on the web? Longer may mean more credibility.
    • Who owns/operates the site? Have you ever heard of them?
    • Is there an editorial team with clearly stated guidelines? There should be.
    • Is the target site's content made up of mostly guest posts? If so, be very cautious. Search to see if the posts have appeared on other sites.
    • Look at the other guest posts on the site. Search on author names to see who they are and what kind of web presence they have.
  2. If you want to take your credibility analysis really far, do a backlink analysis of the target site, as well as the target sites of the guest posters, to see just how credible their existing link profiles are. I personally stay away from any site that has any evidence of a spammy backlink profile, because I don't want my site to have any negative signal association with those sites.
One final point: at the start of your question, you specifically mentioned your Google rankings. Consider that even under the best guest posting circumstances, you can only take guest posting so far as a ranking-specific strategy.
You can't permanently guest post your way to the top of the search rankings. Nor should that be the only goal.
In fact, I look at guest posting opportunities for their potential to help my direct traffic and exposure to an audience I'm interested in reaching. I don't guest post for search rank. Seeking search rank via guest posting can lead you to make poor decisions and leave a linking footprint that Google can detect as manipulative.

3 SEO Success Factors for 2014

I recently came upon one of my old articles, "SEO Factors for 2011". I chuckled to myself, not only about how some of the details were actually still relevant but also how many seemed so elementary compared to today's search environment.
Yes, we still need to worry about the possession of "natural-looking" link profiles and how we feed our data to the engines. Those items will always be of consideration.
However, the nostalgic review of my piece had me thinking about what factors we need to consider for successful SEO as online marketers in 2014.

Social, Local & Mobile

We've spent the last handful of years practicing and preaching the importance of being in social, mobile, and local. This mindset was proactive. It allowed us to not solely focus on keywords and search results, but how these elements were going to change the search results our users saw as well as our user's experience.
While we walked down this road, at first it felt as if we were making strides to build silos of these efforts. Soon we saw the convergence of local and social sites molding into Google local results (e.g., Yelp reviews in Google local listings). We've also seen the fast paced growth of mobile and how localization of results has brought a more relevant delivery of results in this arena.

Search in 2013

This year has brought upon a lot for us to understand as marketers. As we close out 2013 algorithmic intelligence is changing faster than ever, at least in my opinion.
The buzz of 2013 and even more so the last few months has been upon the advancements of the Knowledge Graph, Local Carousel, Google Now, Hummingbird, and the great secure search/"(not provided)" change.
That's not even to mention Penguin and Panda, but those changes are more about what you may have done wrong in the past. We're here to talk about the future.

The Future of SEO

While the "(not provided)" announcement was a smack in the face to SEO professionals, hopefully it has helped you to realize that our intentions shouldn't be so focused so solely or intently on ranking a keyword in search results.
After watching what Google has been doing over the last year or so, where do keywords tie into the above-mentioned rollout features? They each in some way or another tie into local, mobile, or social.
  • Will keywords help you with the Local Carousel? No, proximity and review generation will.
  • How will Google Now propel your keyword strategy? It won't, but social efforts will.
  • Do you think that Google will give you a Knowledge Graph box for a keyword and link to your site? If so, you're dreaming.
Add in the Hummingbird update, and all of these changes tell us that Google is moving closer to bringing everything together through the tie-ins of localization and semantic improvements for conversational search, which is popular on mobile.

SEO Isn't Dead, It's Converging

SEO at its core will never be dead. All of the on-site needs of yesteryear will remain important in 2014. All of the newer processes of creating informational, enticing, and insightful content for link building and social digestion are still the hot topic now and will be heading into the future.
My point is that we need to watch the converging of our old silos into the new SERP display. SEO has taken on a converging role with other mediums which impact SERP display.
Pizza Near Shawnee KS Google SERP
For example, you've created optimized local listings for your local business, but know that the display weighs even more heavily on reviews, have you done your job at local-social integration.
Lowes Google SERP
Do you want to display your social activity in SERPs?

2014 Will Still be Big for SEO

Sites must be crawled efficiently, content must be targeted, and yes we still want to rank where desired. The focus as we move down the road is more so on what vehicles we use off-site to help drive traffic to our sites.
How we use the previous discussed pillars alongside their continual convergence by Google will determine how successful your online marketing strategy will become.
Quick takeaways:
  • Don't build a local listing. Allow your audience to help you build a local presence.
  • Don't build a brand. Build a community, a socialized brand, one that can keep your audience in tune with you in real-time.
  • Don't just optimize a site. Optimize an experience for those that are mobile and content hungry.