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Category Archive: Google

  1. 10 Free Tools to Use with Google Analytics for Your SEO Campaign

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    Google Analytics is any search marketer’s go-to tool of choice. It provides real-time and historical insights on your site’s performance, including a breakdown of traffic sources and user behavior. With the information provided by Google Analytics, it’s possible to learn from your campaign and make adjustments to improve your performance, but if you want to truly perfect your strategy, Google Analytics isn’t enough. There are serious gaps when it comes to keyword research, competition analysis, and visibility into factors that affect your ranking.

    Thankfully, there are plenty of free tools available to complement Google Analytics and give you all the information you need to succeed in your inbound marketing campaign. Here are 10 of our favorites:

    1. SEO Book.

    articleimage461seobook

    SEO Book actually has several different free tools available on their website, including a keyword checker tool, a local rank measurer, and a competitive research tool. Here, you can also download several Firefox extensions to integrate your SEO monitoring with your natural web browsing experience. Examples are the basic SEO toolbar, which produces competitive and search data and displays them in search results, and the Rank Checker, which automatically updates your ranks in major search engines. This site is best used for research on your target keywords and competitors, but it’s especially convenient because it offers so much functionality.

    2. Wordstream.

    articleimage461woodstream

    Before you get deep into your SEO campaign, you need to think about your target keywords. It’s true that specific keyword optimization tactics are no longer as effective as they used to be, but it still pays to know your competition and look for low-hanging fruit whenever possible. Wordstream offers several free keyword tools that you can use to perform background research and prep your campaign for success. Their niche tool is especially useful for companies trying to uncover niche opportunities within a general field or topic. You can perform keyword discovery searches up to 30 times for free.

    3. Open Site Explorer.

    Open Site Explorer is a moz application that accurately calls itself the “search engine for links.” Type in your own URL and get a full list of all the inbound links currently pointing to your site. This is useful when you want to audit or reevaluate your current link profile, but it’s even more useful when you want to learn more about your competitors. Type a competitor’s URL into the search bar and gain valuable insights about their link building strategies. Learn from their mistakes and compare your own inbound link efforts to theirs on the “Compare Link Metrics” tab.

    4. Remove’Em.

    Remove’Em is a paid backlink removal tool, but the reports they generate are free to use. This tool is great for determining the current state of your anchor text. Remember, over-optimizing your anchor text for a given keyword can actually warrant a penalty from Google, so it pays to proactively scout for any discrepancies. Through this tool, you’ll be able to see how many external links a given domain has, including which anchor text supports those links and percentages of each segment of anchor text. With this information, you should be able to easily clean up your external links.

    5. Yellowpipe Robots.txt Generator.

    In case you didn’t know, a robots.txt file is a text file that should be in your home page. The purpose of this file is to inform web crawlers about which directories, files, and sections of the site they should not be allowed to see. This robots.txt generator by Yellowpipe Internet Services allows you to quickly and easily generate a robots.txt file that exactly fits your needs. All you have to do is download it once it’s generated, and then upload it to your site.

    6. Schema Creator.

    Much like the robots.txt generator, this tool is designed to quickly and easily create a complex data structure. Schema microdata is important because it feeds information to search engines in a very specialized, specific format. Basically, it makes it easier for search engines to pick up information on your site and populate that information in search results. This tool offers schema formatting for people, products, events, organizations, movies, books, and reviews, and there’s even a free plugin for WordPress. Simply input the information, and the tool will generate the HTML code you need to use onsite.

    7. Pingdom Website Speed Tester.

    articleimage461pingdom

    Speed matters to SEO. Sites that load faster get ranked higher than their slower counterparts, so it pays to keep tabs on your site’s loading speed. Use Pingdom’s website speed tool to regularly check in on your site loading speed. Google Analytics offers a similar functionality, but this tool goes into far greater detail, breaking down every file that a browser downloads and how long it takes to download. It can help you identify any bottlenecks or obstacles that are preventing your site from loading as fast as it should. Check it once a week or so.

    8. SERPs Keyword Ranking Checker.

    In a modern content marketing and SEO campaign, you should worry more about your customer experience than your specific keyword rankings. However, it’s still valuable and rewarding to learn how you rank for which keywords. SERPs’s free keyword rank checker is the perfect tool for the job. You can check your domain’s rank for any given keyword, including a ZIP code to see your rank for a specific local search, on either Google or Yahoo!. This is especially valuable since Google Analytics doesn’t offer any specific information on keyword rankings.

    9. Moz’s SEO Toolbar.

    If you’re interested in an easy, convenient way to get more SEO insights for your campaign, try integrating Moz’s SEO toolbar (for Chrome or Firefox). The toolbar will highlight links and keywords, and will analyze page overlay to give you more insight into how Google sees your page. Search engine results pages (SERPs) are also broken down and illustrated with detailed metrics on each result—and you can create customized searches to mimic a local search from anywhere in the world. You can even view social media metrics for some popular platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

    10. Simply Measured Social Media Analytics.

    Simply Measured offers a suite of different free analytics apps for several social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. The free tools here do have limits, such as the Twitter Follower Analysis app only working on the first 10,000 followers for a given account, but that should be plenty, especially for a search marketer just starting out. Simply post the URL to your company’s social media profile, and Simply Measured will generate a fully customized report analyzing your current user base, as well as how many people interacted with your brand. It goes far beyond the limitations of social media measurement within Google Analytics.

    While these tools aren’t necessary for every search marketer, they do offer valuable information and capabilities that you would miss with just Google Analytics. Try them out—after all, you’ve got nothing to lose. It can be overwhelming to deal with such volumes of data, but the more raw information you have to work with the better. Over time, you can narrow down your toolset and hone in on the metrics and research tools that matter the most for your campaign.

  2. How to Recover from a Bad Review on Yelp

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    If you run a local business, eventually you’re going to encounter a negative review on Yelp, or a similar local business directory. It doesn’t matter how hard you try to perfect your business or make your customers happy; it’s simply impossible to please everybody all the time. Unfortunately, an accumulation of negative reviews could spell disaster not only for your PR strategy and your brand, but for your SEO strategy as well.

    Before you get too upset or react instinctively, take the time to understand why Yelp reviews matter, and what you can do to recover from a particularly bad review of your business.

    Why Yelp Matters

    Yelp wasn’t always the powerhouse it is today, but as local searches grew in both significance and popularity, the local directory site exploded in importance to the world of SEO. Consumers use Yelp because it gives them a public voice where they otherwise had none, and potential consumers appreciate Yelp because it gives them objective insight into a business before they make a final purchasing decision.

    Today, Yelp is especially important due to Google’s recent “Pigeon update,” a minor algorithm change that affected the way Google populates local search results. This change gave greater emphasis to the value of local directory sites, including reviews—meaning the number of positive reviews you have on Yelp and similar sites could result in a higher ranking (and, conversely, negative reviews could cause you to drop in ranks). For some local businesses, their Yelp pages actually rank higher than their official company pages. Some see this as a disadvantage, but if you take full ownership of your Yelp page and handle the negative reviews appropriately when they come up (and they will), you can turn it into a major search advantage for your business.

    Step Zero: Take a Deep Breath

    articleimage462 Step Zero

    It’s natural for your first reaction to be offense or anger, but don’t let that emotion take control of your response to the situation. Remember that everybody is entitled to an opinion and a voice, even if that voice is damaging or nonsensical. If the post in question is poorly worded or blatantly accusatory, odds are that most potential new customers reading the review won’t take it seriously. If the negative review is thoughtful and seemingly accurate, you might even walk away from it with a lesson learned about your business.

    Nevertheless, it’s a bad idea to fight fire with fire. Introducing more negativity into the situation will only make things worse. I’ve seen a handful of small businesses attempt to fix the damage done by a bad review by accusing the review writer of bias, or insisting that their story was contrived. Responding in this way weakens the character of your brand and makes you appear defensive, ultimately creating more bad impressions than you would have had if you had simply left the bad review alone.In Yelp’s own words, “responding to criticism with criticism of your own will almost always work against you.”

    Don’t panic. This is not a situation you can fix immediately, but with time and careful effort, you can turn this around the right way.

    Step One: Take Charge of Your Page

    articleimage462Step One

    The first thing you need to do, if you haven’t already, is to take charge of your Yelp page. Yelp offers a simple, easy-to-follow process for local business owners to verify their ownership and correct any discrepancies on the page. This will give you more control and insight into your customers’ reviews. Having this ownership will not allow you to remove negative reviews from your page, but you will have the opportunity to respond to them.

    If you choose not to claim your business page on Yelp, your information may still be presented (possibly inaccurately). Yelp pulls and displays basic business data from third party providers and public sources, so you’ll be at the mercy of the accuracy of those sources. There’s also no way to take this information down entirely, so you might as well claim your territory.

    While you’re at it, it’s a good idea to claim your company’s profile on any relevant local review and directory sites you can find. Post-Pigeon Google algorithms view your presence on these sites as ranking signals, so it’s vital to ensure all your details are accurate and consistent across each platform.

    Step Two: Respond (Publically, if Possible)

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    Now that you’ve claimed your Yelp page, you’ll have the ability to respond to your reviewers (both negative and positive ones). Take your time with this step, and think through exactly what you want to say. Responding to negative reviews is the best way to generate something positive out of the bad experience—first, you’ll have a chance to make it up to the reviewer, but more importantly, you’ll have the chance to prove your brand trustworthiness to others.

    Yelp offers two options for businesses to respond to negative reviews: public and private. It is possible to send a private, direct message to the reviewer, giving you a chance to apologize and offer a discount or refund to help make things right. Again, avoid responding with criticism or negativity; the reviewer could easily take your email response and publicize it, making you look even worse. Instead, be sincere and constructive, and work to make things right.

    Still, private messages aren’t the best way to respond to a negative review since not everyone can see them. It’s far better for your brand if you respond publically. Acknowledge the complaint and treat it as constructive criticism (even if the post is inflammatory or hateful). Explain the circumstances or apologize, and tell them what you’re going to do to make this better for future customers. Even if the negative reviewer remains adamant, your potential customers will read your response and rest assured knowing that even if they do have a questionable experience, you’ll be there to try and make things right.

    Step Three: Encourage More Positive Reviews

    Once you’ve taken control of your page and addressed the reviewer publically, the last step to take in your recovery is to encourage more positive reviews. Since there’s no direct way to eliminate the negative reviews that already exist, the best you can do is overwhelm those negative reviews with positive reviews.

    Learn from the negative reviews that are posted, and do what you can to improve your customers’ experience. Encourage your customers to post a review of your business on Yelp—either with posted signs in your establishment, social media callouts, or a follow-up form of communication asking them directly to post their thoughts. If you have enough positive reviews on Yelp and similar sites, the negative reviews will no longer matter.

    It’s impossible to completely avoid the possibility of getting a negative review, but if you respond quickly and positively, you can turn each bad experience into a productive one. Use negative reviews as a learning experience, and correct any mistakes that could lead to future reviews. Take control of your page, respond to negative users publically, politely, and directly, and ameliorate your reputation by fostering an environment that encourages more positive reviews. Follow these steps and eventually, your negative reviews will be lost in a sea of positive brand demonstrations.

  3. The Pros and Cons of Content Automation

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    articleimage454The Pros and Cons of Content Automation

    Many social media and content marketers use some kind of automation to supplement their content distribution efforts. Whether totally relying on technology to syndicate and schedule posts or simply using it as a backup plan when taking a day off, there are advantages and disadvantages to the strategy—so make sure you fully understand the effects before jumping in.

    There are several content automation platforms available, from mass post uploading and scheduling platforms like SocialOomph to dashboards created to give more insights into the performance of your posts like Sprout Social. For the most part, the primary intention of these platforms is to allow marketers to schedule social media content in advance and monitor the results. They can be great tools, if used properly, but there are some real disadvantages to plotting out your content in advance.

    Benefits

    articleimage454Benefits

    Most of the benefits of content automation are practical, saving time and maximizing your efforts. With a handful of clicks, you can theoretically set your social media profiles to run on autopilot for weeks at a time.

    Scheduling in Advance

    The first and most obvious benefit is being able to plan for the future proactively. Instead of logging into your Twitter account, typing up a message and hitting send each time you want to post something to your followers, you can do a week’s worth of work in the span of a few hours. If you keep a running list of your onsite content, you can upload that list and automatically distribute those posts at regular intervals for any stretch of time. Alternatively, you can type in and schedule posts one by one until you have an even spread across your chosen time period.

    This is advantageous because social media demands regular updates, and not everybody has the time or desire to make all those updates manually. It’s a form of protection against taking time off, becoming busy with other tasks, and even forgetting about posting. A regular habit is reduced to a single task, making everybody capable of being a full-time social media manager.

    Perfect Timing

    This automation also allows you to make posts with perfect timing. Rather than necessitating a login at a specific time to make an appropriate post, you can schedule your posts in advance. It may take some time before you are able to tell which times are the most popular for your brand, but once you do, you’ll be able to take full advantage of it. For example, if you figure out that your posts get more responses at 1:00 pm than any other time, you can schedule your most important posts at 1:00 pm, and never have to worry about logging in at that time.

    It’s also a valuable feature for holidays, when it is common practice to make a holiday-themed post, but most full-time employees are enjoying the time off with their family. With content automation, you can avoid the need to log in during holidays but still make posts announcing or celebrating the holiday.

    Consistent Insights

    Whether you use an analytics-based scheduling platform or not, if you automate the posting of your content, you can measure your performance more consistently. For example, if you post content at random times, sometimes once a day and sometimes ten times a day, you’ll have random data that doesn’t align into any one coherent picture. But if you use automated content to post every hour, on the hour, every day of the week, it will soon be very clear which times and which post types are the most popular. You can then use that information to paint a picture of your “average” follower, and customize your posting strategy to cater to them.

    Content automation also gives you a chance to make controlled experiments. For example, you can use one Monday as a “control” measure, scheduling posts as you normally would, and use another Monday as an “experiment” group, making a variation in post type, frequency, or timing to measure which is better at attracting interest.

    Risks

    articleimage454Risks

    There are, however, a few downsides to relying on content automation for the bulk of your social media campaign. Scheduling your posts in advance is a great way to save time and stabilize the consistency of your posts, but it also leaves you vulnerable to a handful of risks.

    Predictability

    Over time, if you automate your posts enough, they may grow to become predictable. For example, if you post hourly from 9am to 8pm, Monday through Friday, people will grow accustomed to your updates and might tune them out as white noise. A good way to avoid this is to shake up your scheduling by rotating the types of content you post or by alternating your posting schedule every once in a while.

    Some forms of predictability can actually be helpful. For instance, if every Monday at 1:00pm, you post a new coupon code that’s only good for a few hours, people will get excited and begin to anticipate that 1:00pm reveal. However, if your content becomes stale and unexciting, you’re going to lose followers. It’s fine to keep automating your posts, but keep things fresh.

    Delayed Responses

    Automating your content posts also takes you out of the driver’s seat, and leaves you unable to immediately respond to people who are interested in your posts. By letting a machine take care of the posting, you’re taking the “social” factor out of social media. Engaging with your followers regularly and as often as possible is the best way to build an active, involved community, and without that factor, you could risk alienating your followers. The best way to avoid this is to check your profiles regularly for new comments and interactions, in addition to core scheduling.

    Automated posts also means you can’t respond to news items as quickly. If you’re trying to build a reputation as a thought leader in the industry, you should be watching industry news channels and jumping at any chance to express your opinions immediately. Automating your posts in advance can rob you of these opportunities.

    Impersonality

    Automated posts can also make you seem impersonal. It’s possible, and certainly ideal, to schedule posts in advance that strongly display your brand’s unique, personal voice, but there’s only so much you can do to make your robotic posts seem human. If readers see a tag such as “This post was scheduled by…” they may immediately distrust the source. Over time, it becomes increasingly easy for users to identify automated posts, and while some users have accepted them as a reality of social media, others will be turned off by the impersonality of the strategy and feel as if they are being advertised to. To remedy this, make sure you vary your strategy often and get involved directly in the community with your individual, personal voice.

    For most marketers trying to make an impact in content marketing, automated distribution and scheduling tools are more beneficial than harmful. Be aware of the drawbacks of this strategy, and incorporate regular natural posts to make up for them. Actively monitor your social media activity, including the opinions of your followers, and make adjustments to keep your business presence personal and your community happy.

  4. The Future of Semantic Search and What It Means for Content Marketing

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    articleimage442The Future of Semantic Search

    Content marketing seems to have stabilized over the past few years. Originally, as part of an SEO strategy, content was solely intended to be a means of holding keywords. Search marketers would optimize keyword-stuffed articles in the hopes of getting enough presence to land a high ranking for that particular keyword. As search algorithms evolved to detect such black-hat practices, search marketers retracted their keywords to comprise only two to five percent of their total content. The popularity of quality content marketing skyrocketed, flooding the market with gimmicky sites and entrepreneurs blindly writing large volumes of content to join the bandwagon.

    Today, content marketing is still extremely valuable, though the significance of specific keyword inclusion has dwindled to almost nothing. It has also diminished in hype, allowing it to mature from a popular buzzword to a familiar strategy that almost every website uses.

    Content marketing is a constant at this point. Even though search engine algorithms are still updating regularly, putting a new focus on advanced elements like HTTPS encryption and site speed, content marketing is and will always be valuable because it provides information to users. The elements that make “good” content are consistent, regardless of technical search engine changes, so it’s somewhat surprising that a new direction could one day shape the way we think about content.

    A concept known as “semantic search” is starting to emerge, though it’s currently in the early stages of development. Semantic search would look at the intentions and meaning of the words a user enters into a search engine, rather than the words themselves. For example, in a traditional search of “how do I make a grilled cheese sandwich”, a search engine would pick out keywords like “how,” “make,” and “grilled cheese sandwich,” then find content that contains those words. A semantic search of the same query would look at the user’s intention—producing a grilled cheese sandwich, probably at home—and display results that allow the user to achieve that goal. In the former case, you might get a handful of how-to articles and an encyclopedia entry for “grilled cheese sandwich.” In the latter case, you might get several how-to articles as well as options for cheese and bread.

    Understanding the future of semantic search can allow you to take advantage of these intuitive results. Rather than optimizing for a specific keyword, content will one day optimize for a specific intention. If you can understand your demographics’ intentions and deliver them, you’ll easily rise to the top.

    The Limits of Semantic Interpretation

    Why isn’t semantic search in full force today? It’s due to the limitations of current technology. Algorithms, the complex series of processes that formulate search results, are mathematical processes. Everything is based in numbers, logic, and “yes or no” responses. Understanding the meaning behind a written phrase cannot be reduced down to a simple logical interpretation—as anybody who’s misread the tone of a sarcastic email can attest.

    But at the same time, it’s clear that almost anything is possible with technology, given enough time and resources. Watson, the sophisticated algorithm-based supercomputer that outperformed previous champions on television game show Jeopardy!, was successful because its programmers allowed it to adapt to new information and analyze the intent behind otherwise indecipherable meanings—such as pun-based wordplay or contextual clues.

    This same technology is already starting to emerge in Google’s search algorithms, and it’s only a matter of time before they become complicated enough to turn the world of SEO on its head.

    Hummingbird and Conversational Search

    articleimage442Hummingbird

    The Hummingbird update, back in 2013, was not as significant as the Panda and Penguin updates of 2011 and 2012, respectively. But it did add one new feature that marks the beginning of the semantic search trend: conversational search. According to Google, “conversational searches” are very popular, and they’re trying to increase the relevance of results that are produced from this type of query.

    For example, if you type in an ambiguous question like “where is the best place for chicken?”, older algorithms would focus on certain keywords like “best” and “chicken” and blindly compile results that contained those keywords. A conversational algorithm, like the one deployed with Hummingbird, would instead focus on the meaning behind each individual word in the sentence, even “where.” Hummingbird would determine that “chicken” could mean either live chicken or chicken meat, and would determine that chicken meat is the likely intention, since few people look for locations where live chickens can be bought. Hummingbird might also detect that since the searcher is looking for the “best place” for chicken, he/she is also likely looking for a restaurant, rather than a grocery store, and would therefore compile a list of well-reviewed restaurants in the area that serve chicken.

    This is a speculative example, of course, but it’s evidence that semantic interpretation is already emerging. It’s in a basic and alterable form, but the gears are starting to turn.

    The Future of Semantic Search

    Google is already quite impressive. It’s able to reasonably guess the meaning behind your given search phrase, even with the elementary Hummingbird update. But the future of semantic search will likely extend far beyond the current limits of algorithm technology.

    Already, Google is beginning to incorporate various external factors into its search results, based on your own personal data. It might creep you out to learn that this is happening, but it’s also giving you much more relevant results. Google likely knows exactly where you live, and can use your previous search history to customize predictive search results.

    If we take those factors and incorporate them into an environment that is built on semantic search, we end up with a search engine that can guess users’ intentions based on their previous behavior—maybe even before they search for it. By using big data to analyze and interpret patterns of behavior based on individuality, time of day, social media activity, and even recent news, Google could take the world of search into a direction previously limited to science fiction. We’re likely a decade or more away from building a machine that can accurately guess what you’re thinking, but knowing Google, we’re probably already closer than you think.

    How to Adjust Your Content Marketing Strategy

    articleimage442Howtoadjust

    In some ways your content marketing strategy shouldn’t change. Presently, subject-focused content strategies tend to pay off. Writing about a given topic will naturally attract people searching for keywords related to that topic. It’s all about giving people what they’re looking for, and that fundamental principle will remain firm.

    However, in order to adapt to the surely-coming revolution of semantic search, you need to go a step further. You need to understand the meaning behind why people are searching for a given topic. It’s a fancy way of saying you need to understand your demographics better, through surveys, studies, and big data analysis. Understand exactly what motivates your customers to search for a given topic, and extend your content strategy to cover those peripheral motivators.

    Doing so will put you ahead of the search engines—Google will attempt to understand what’s motivating your customer, but you’ll already know. And if you can provide that to them with relevance, uniqueness, and quality, Google will reward you with a high rank.

  5. Did Google Update Their Algorithm on August 8th?

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    articleimage405Did Google Update Their Algorithm on August 8th

    A recent disruption in search engine ranks has search engine marketers confused and intrigued. Many business owners are reporting that they’ve dropped in ranks significantly, while others are reporting a ranking recovery after what could have been another update in January. Google has made no official announcement about a significant update in the month of August, and officials have refused to comment on whether or not these are the aftereffects of an algorithm change.

    What’s the Evidence?

    Reports are varied, and without an official statement from Google, it’s difficult to tell what has been affected and why. However, reports began to trickle in on August 8th, with continued disruption continuing over the August 9th weekend. Various webmasters have noticed significant changes in their rankings for different keywords, with some acknowledging a boost and others acknowledging a decline. These ranking changes seem to be unaffiliated with any significant site change or deployment.

    While the public does not have access to Google’s master search algorithm, there are tools available to us to measure whether or not there are changes going into effect. For example, Algoroo tracks possible algorithm changes by measuring the relative “turbulence” of aggregated keyword rankings. Their chart seems to indicate a disruption around August 8th that is continuing to have moderate aftershocks:

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    Similarly, SERPs.com measures the volatility of thousands of websites on a daily basis to see whether there have been any significant updates or changes. Their report does show a modest spike in volatility, but not to the extreme that Algoroo is showing:

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    These sources indicate at least some kind of official change. However, since Google made no official announcement, and nothing seems to have completely crashed, this update is likely not major (or at least is not in the same league as the Panda and Penguin updates).

    Why Is Google Refusing to Comment?

    articleimage405Why Is Google Refusing to Comment

    Google is no stranger to coyness. While they like going on the record and explaining the rationale behind their major overhauls, like Panda and Penguin, they also like to downplay the details of their smaller updates. Their algorithm is not available to the public, so it’s no surprise that they keep at least some of their updates under tight wraps.

    There are several possible reasons for this:

    • First and most significantly, Google wants to make the web a better place, and that means preventing people from taking advantage of cheap ranking tactics. They’ve done their best to make updates that favor real, natural web strategies, but the more they reveal about their ranking algorithms, the more vulnerabilities are available to be taken advantage of. Keeping their updates secretive is another measure that discourages people from finding loopholes.
    • These small updates could be mere tests. Google is a perfectionistic company, and they like to make sure their products and features are in tight working order before they’re deployed in a full environment. Small, unannounced updates could just be beta tests they aren’t ready to reveal to the public yet.
    • Google wants to be in charge. Can you blame them? If they publicly disclosed every single update they made, they’d be opening themselves to universal criticism and possible backlash. While they already seem like the ultimate web authority, they still benefit by keeping some of the details private.

    How Does This Fit in With Panda and Penguin?

    articleimage405How Does This Fit in With Panda and Penguin

    As you are already aware, the Google Penguin and Panda updates made major algorithm changes that disrupted the world of search engine marketing—and they continue to make impact as Google refreshes these standards.

    It’s possible that this latest statistical anomaly is merely the result of a small-scale addition to one or both of these broader algorithm modifications. If that’s the case, this could merely be the latest in a series of regular refreshes.

    Google Panda first hit the scene in February of 2011, affecting almost 12 percent of all search queries. The main intention of the update was to reward sites with high-quality content and penalize sites with low-quality or spammy content. This update was announced by Google directly, and was followed by a second Panda update in April of 2011. After those initial rollouts, there were 24 more instances of Panda-related updates, either announced or belatedly confirmed by Google, between May of 2011 and May of 2014. Since 2013, Google has acknowledged that they would be making regular, monthly updates to the Panda algorithm but would no longer be announcing them. In fact, they stated these updates would be gradual, occurring as a steady rollout over the course of several days.

    This gives us two conflicting pieces of evidence about how this August 8th update is related to Google Panda. On one hand, the fact that it wasn’t a major disruption and it wasn’t announced leads one to believe that this is a part of a regular search engine update “routine.” Then again, the fact that this variance seemed to happen immediately conflicts with the idea that the update would be rolled out over the course of the entire month.

    Google Penguin came out in April of 2012, impacting 3.1 percent of queries (which is still significant, but not as monstrous as Panda). Whereas Panda focused more on encouraging high-quality content, Penguin focused more on eliminating shady backlinking activities. A second update came in May of 2012, with a handful of new updates trickling in over the course of 2012 and 2013. These updates came as relatively sharp peaks, making a big impact in a short amount of time, but there have been no confirmed Penguin updates since October of 2013.

    Given the non-disruptive nature of the August 8th update, and the fact that Penguin has not had a confirmed update since the end of 2013, it’s unlikely that this update is affiliated with Penguin.

    What Do I Do if I’m Hit?

    Odds are, if you got lost any ranks with this alleged update, you aren’t hurting too bad. But if you have seen a drop, don’t think of it as a penalty. You haven’t changed anything, and you haven’t necessarily done anything wrong. Just focus on sustaining best practices for search engine ranking—a steady stream of quality content, an organic backlinking strategy, occasional guest posting and press releases, and an audience-driven social media marketing campaign.

    What Does This Mean for the Future?

    In the grand scope of Google algorithm changes, this probable August 8th update is insignificant. There’s a sizable chance this is just a ripple effect from this month’s Panda refresh, and if it isn’t, then it’s probably the result of some minor tweak. It may even be a test, to be refined and announced at a later date. The bottom line is, this isn’t a sign of any new revolutions in search engine marketing.

    Instead, this is the latest manifestation of Google’s philosophy. By keeping the majority of their updates small, unannounced, and gradual, they can avoid generating too much negative attention, prevent black hat practitioners from taking advantage of any holes, and make sure their algorithms remain as functional and useful as possible for the Internet. Whether this is a Panda refresh, a mini-update, a test, or just a fluke, you can expect to see more anomalies like this in the future. All we can do is learn what we can from the data and wait until Google tells us more.

  6. Is Google Slowly Reducing The Power of Authorship?

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    Google Authorship is a feature available to individuals on Google+. Since it first debuted, it’s been seen as a must-use feature for anyone with a content marketing strategy, but some recent changes to the feature have called its power into question. Google may be gradually stripping away the power of Google Authorship with a series of subtle changes, and if they are, you’ll need to adjust your strategy accordingly.

    Google Authorship Then

    articleimage387googleauthorshipthen

    When Google Authorship was first rolled out in 2011, it seemed like a new and exciting concept. By connecting a Google+ account, writers could build their authority by connecting themselves to the pieces they wrote online, across any external sites. These articles would show up with the author’s headshot, name, and circle information, and over time, consistent authors would grow in authority and become more visible.

    The system was well-received because it gave authors more power to build their reputations and increase the click-through rates of their articles on SERPs because of the accompanying image. Google Authorship was hailed as a breakthrough program, which would grow in power and significance over time. However, this may no longer be the case.

    Changes Upon Changes

    articleimage387Changes Upon Changes

    Since it debuted, Google has made a number of alterations to the display and significance of Google Authorship. It’s normal for Google to make revisions to its products and features, especially in their infancy, but these changes suggest a strong departure from previous speculations on the future of the program.

    Back in June, Google’s John Mueller announced that Google would be eliminating both the profile photo and the displayed circle count from search results that feature a Google Author. Listings would still feature a clickable name of the Google Author responsible for the work, but the signature image would be gone. Mueller justified the change by calling it “less cluttered” and insisting that click-through rates were more or less the same for both the old and the new format.

    At the beginning of August, Google rolled out another massive change. Back in 2011, Google launched a feature in Google Webmaster Tools known as “Author Stats,” which allowed Google Authors to see the impressions and click-through-rates of content they’ve written across multiple sites. Many users noticed these stats failing to update since July 9th. On August 4th, Google quietly removed this feature entirely.

    However, there’s another interesting change that some authors have noted. If you are logged into your Google+ profile and you perform a search, Google Author images still do appear—but only for actual Google+ posts. It’s a potential sign that Google isn’t necessarily getting rid of Google Authorship entirely, but it is changing the way we use it.

    What It Means

    articleimage387What It Means

    There are several reasons that could be motivating Google’s seeming reduction of Google Authorship.

    First, let’s believe John Mueller’s statement. It could be a simple matter of cleaning up the search engine results pages, allowing for a simpler, cleaner look. The new results entries do appear less cluttered than their older, image-laden counterparts, and if click-through rates are just as high for the imageless entries, there really isn’t an immediate disadvantage for the authors—at least not yet.

    Google profile images have also been abused. Some businesses have had authorship displaying for their homepages, despite the fact that they hadn’t actually written anything. It’s a reasonable deduction; practically any time Google comes out with a new feature or a new algorithm change, people try their best to abuse it in order to gain more traffic. The entire concept of SEO is, on some level, a way of taking advantage of their system. All of Google’s search engine algorithm updates have been designed to move gradually from a system that can be taken advantage of to a system that objectively measures and ranks authority. The removal of the authorship image could just be an alternative way for Google to fight back against people taking advantage of the system.

    Finally, the fact that profile images are still present for Google+ articles when you are logged into Google+ is a telling sign that Google is more interested in building the credibility of their own social network than they are building the credibility of their registered authors. It’s the latest step in a series of moves that have built up the power and significance of Google+. Despite the fact that it’s still lagging behind its competitors in terms of popularity, Google’s dominance over the web and commitment to encouraging Google+ articles suggests that Google+ will continue to grow whether you like it or not.

    For writers who have invested heavily in Google Authorship, thinking of it as a powerful and long-term strategy, these changes are somewhat perplexing and disheartening. The entire concept of “Author Rank,” the level of authority Google gives an author based on the number of articles he/she has written and the amount of social influence he/she has, could be becoming obsolete. If, as a Google Author, you’ve spent the majority of your time writing for external sites in the hopes of building your overall credibility, the loss of Author Stats and profile visibility could be damaging. And if Google continues to diminish the power of non-Google+ Google Authorship, all that effort could be wasted.

    What You Should Be Doing

    There’s a lot of speculation surrounding these recent changes, but here’s what we know for sure: Google loves Google+, and will keep making efforts to increase its audience and reward its users. Even if Google Authorship for external sites dwindles away, the ranking potential and author credentials of Google Authors posting on Google+ will continue to grow.

    If you’re looking to build your reputation as a writer, make sure you are using your Google+ profile and posting to it regularly. Already, posts on Google+ receive a ranking boost from Google, and if their pattern of behavior continues, that boost will only increase.

    If you’ve been using Google Authorship on your business’s website for the sole purpose of generating more traffic, these changes aren’t good for you. If Google’s claims about click-through rates are true, you won’t have lost any traffic in the short-term, but if you were investing in Google Authorship as a long-term strategy, it may be time to switch gears. It’s uncertain whether there are more changes for Google Authorship in store, but for now it’s a wise decision to hedge your bets and start posting on Google+ more often as part of your content strategy.

    Looking to the Future

    Google is always updating things. New features and new products are being rolled out constantly, some of which are refined over and over again, and some of which are scrapped entirely. These recent changes to Google Authorship could be the beginning of the end of the entire concept, or they could just be a temporary step backward for the feature.

    At only three years old, Google Authorship is still a fairly new concept. The past three years could have been a simple experiment to gather data about the feature and see if it’s worth developing further. As such, it’s hard to tell exactly what the future holds for Google Authorship, but the most significant takeaway is this: if you’re not yet actively posting on Google+, it’s time to start.

  7. How to Recover from Google’s Pigeon Update

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    articleimage386howtorecovergooglepigeonupdate

    Google is always updating its algorithms, and while it’s great for searchers who are trying to get the most relevant results, it can also be problematic for business owners who have adapted their website and business to Google’s previously existing standards.

    In the last few years, Google’s updates have been hard-hitting and somewhat radical, even though casual searchers probably noticed nothing:

    • The Panda Update, from 2011, targeted sites with low-quality content (usually in the form of keyword-stuffed or spam-like content) and penalized them by ranking them much lower.
    • The similar Penguin Update, from 2012, targeted spam and other black hat SEO practices, and penalized offending sites by ranking them lower as well.
    • The Hummingbird Update, from 2013, was a complete change of the entire search ranking algorithm—the first overhaul in many years—in order to produce ranks that respond to a searcher’s intent, rather than a searcher’s keywords. Unlike Panda and Penguin, Hummingbird was not intended to penalize sites for black hat practices.

    Now, we’re looking at the most recent animal-themed Google algorithm update—Pigeon.

    What Is the Pigeon Update?

    articleimage386What Is the Pigeon Update

    The “Pigeon Update” is so named by Search Engine Land in the absence of an official name from Google. Despite the fact that Google has not named the update officially, it does appear that the algorithm is significant enough to cause some major waves in the world of SEO, particularly in local results.

    Before we take a look at what the Pigeon Update specifically involves, let’s take a look at the possible motivating factors for its release:

    • Yelp recently accused Google of excessively favoring its own local results more than Yelp’s. This favoritism was evident even in branded searches. While it is logical for Google to favor its own listings, the search engine giant does tend to make changes with the best interests of its searchers in mind. It is reasonable to suspect that Yelp’s criticism was at least a considering factor in this recent local business algorithm change.
    • Google is a major proponent of advancing technology to favor mobile devices, particularly local searches. The Pigeon Update improves the experience of mobile search by adding location-relevant results, furthering Google’s greater agenda of optimizing the web for mobile.

    The bottom line for the Pigeon Update is an improvement in local search results, both in traditional web searches and Google Maps. As an expansion to the overhaul algorithm update Hummingbird, the Pigeon Update will give a greater weight to the searcher’s location in generating search results, and more local results will be displayed at the top of the page.

    Ultimately, the update will accomplish four things:

    • Locations and distances will be improved. This will work for both indexed locations and for the locations of search users. Local businesses will be seen in terms of their exact location, and searchers will be able to see more accurate locations and distances when searching for businesses in the area.
    • Yelp and similar local directory sites such as Zagat, Urbanspoon, and OpenTable will enjoy higher rankings, likely in response to Yelp’s recent criticisms. Previously, even branded search queries containing the word “Yelp” would not yield a Yelp page as a top search result. Now, local business entries in these local directories will be ranked higher than the actual business webpages in some cases, forcing them to the second page. This portion of the update has been met with mixed response.
    • Synonyms and misspellings will be handled differently. While the specific changes have not been fully released, business owners can anticipate more relevant results for searchers who do not accurately input the name of the business.
    • The knowledge graph has been updated.

    Who Is at Risk?

    Unlike the Panda and Penguin updates, the Pigeon Update does not appear to be penalty based. That is to say, your webpage will not suffer the wrath of Google for any black hat-related infractions. However, the changes to location and distance data and favoritism toward local directories could be problematic for some local business owners.

    If you currently own and operate a small business, the Pigeon Update will probably cause some changes in the amount of traffic you receive and the type of traffic you receive. Depending on where and how you are listed in local directories, this could be a good thing or a bad thing.

    Some local businesses might maintain or slightly improve in rank thanks to better, more accurate location-specific search results. Other local businesses will benefit peripherally thanks to a higher emphasis on local directory traffic. Other local businesses might suffer in terms of traffic, especially if their information in local directories is obsolete or lacking in relevance. While it’s important to keep in mind that Google is not penalizing local businesses without a strong local directory presence, the possibility of dropping in rank is real.

    As a local business, you could therefore experience four possibilities, depending on your specific location and how you are listed in local directories:

    • Similar ranks, more traffic.
    • Similar ranks, less traffic.
    • Worse ranks, more traffic.
    • Worse ranks, less traffic.

    If you aren’t targeting a local audience, the Pigeon Update will not affect you.

    Steps to Recovery

    articleimage386Steps to Recovery

    If you’re a local business suffering from less traffic as a result of the Pigeon Update, there are a handful of steps you can take to correct your drop. Since you have not been penalized by Google, don’t think of this as domain authority recovery. Think of it as an adjustment to your SEO strategy in response to these new changes:

    • First and most importantly, claim your space on every major local directory and industry directory you can find. Hunt down all the major review sites relevant to your business and register your business with them.
    • Take a consistent effort to improve the number and positivity of the reviews on these sites. Do not pay for reviews and do not force people to write them, but do encourage your best customers to take a few extra minutes to write up a complimentary review after their experience.
    • Monitor your appearance for your target keywords. You may no longer be in the local search 7-pack after the update, or the local search 7-pack may not even exist for those keywords. Likewise, a local search 7-pack may exist where it didn’t before. Take note of these changes and be sure to update your strategy accordingly.
    • If your overall ranking has dropped as a result of the algorithm changes, step up your onsite content game. An extra post per week with associated syndication and backlinking could be the recipe to help you move back to your original rank.
    • Double check your NAP (name, address, and phone number) on your website as well as on all local directories you are listed for. Any inconsistencies, even in formatting, could lead to negative consequences.

    Moving forward, it’s important to note Google’s broader intentions. Its primary goals are giving more weight to informational directories, improving the accuracy of local searches, and catering to mobile device users, so the more you can do to stay in line with these trends, the better. Make sure your site is mobile-friendly, update your local listings whenever you can, and keep watch for new directories to stay ahead of the game.

    If you need help determining how the Pigeon Update affected your business’s listings or need help responding to those changes, get in touch with us!

  8. Why Doesn’t My Business Appear in Google Local Search?

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    Google pretty much dominates local search at the moment. When that works in your favor, you’ll see your company sitting atop the search results for many a local phrase. But if you’re not ranking high in local search, or not appearing at all, it can seriously impact your business. If people can’t find you, how can they buy what you’re selling? It’s a big problem with a multitude of solutions. For some, it’s as simple as getting listed. For others, it’s a bit more complicated. Though local search has specific requirements, it’s still search and requires SEO. Bearing that in mind, let’s look at some reasons a company might fail to appear in Google Local and what can be done to remedy the situation.

    You’re Not Listed

    articleimage380 yournotlisted

    This is by far the simplest reason you’re not appearing in local search results but not always the easiest to fix. Getting listed can be a bit of process. Google is very stringent in its listing guidelines so you absolutely must do your best follow them to the letter if you want to see progress. Your first step is to create a local business on Google. You only qualify for this option if:

    So long as you follow instructions, set up isn’t all that difficult. But this is actually where a lot of people get tripped up.

    You Didn’t Follow the Quality Guidelines

    As Local University puts it, Google’s quality guidelines for business listings shouldn’t be called guidelines at all — they should be called rules. Because if you don’t follow them precisely, the result is more often than not a failure to be listed or a failure to have your listing appear as you’d like it to. The guidelines are pretty detailed. For instance, if your business has a mail box or suite number, you need to include that information in Address Line 2, and under no circumstances should it appear in Address Line 1. It’s a bit persnickety, to be honest.  You should definitely take the time to review them on your own. But let’s take a look at a few aspects here just so you’re clear on some of the bigger requirements:

    • Only a business owner (or someone authorized by the business owner) can verify a business listing.
    • Try to use an email address attached to your company’s domain name to add trust to your verification request
    • The business name in your listing should be what it’s actually called, though you can use one word to clarify what your company does. You can also use a “single descriptor” to better identify your company’s location, which can actually be made up of more than one word. See what I mean about these guidelines being very precise?
    • Use your company’s real physical address
    • Only one account can be created for a business location unless you’re an individual practitioner within a larger business (like a doctor or lawyer) or the page is for a department that acts individually within an organization like a university or hospital.
    • Use a local phone number.
    • Select a category based on what the business is “not what it does.” You would say “Hospital” not “Vaccinations,” according to Google.
    • Fraudulent or illegal businesses aren’t allowed to create listings.
    • Google does have some country restrictions.
    • Some business models are ineligible for a listing including those that:
      1. Don’t make in-person contact with customers
      2. Aren’t open yet
      3. Consist of a class or event held at a location you don’t own
      4. Stock your products but you don’t own the retail store

    I realize that’s a lot to wrap your mind around and it will take some serious time to familiarize yourself with all of these rules before you can get a handle on it. But it’s worth the effort if you want to see your business rank higher.

    Your Business Isn’t Verified

    articleimage380Your Business Isn't Verified

    If you’ve gone to all the effort to do the above, it would be a real shame to forget to verify your listing, now wouldn’t it? But that’s often a reason why people fail to see their businesses in the local search results. They just never got around to this step. So take this opportunity, while you’re thinking about it, to verify your page. When logged into Google+ and navigate to your page then hover on the “Unverified” button at the top. Click on “Verify Now” and follow the instructions. Typically, you just need to input your mailing address and click on “Request Postcard.” You’ll have to wait a few days to get your postcard but this is your ticket to verification. Seems sort of low-tech, I know, but it’s Google’s way for business owners to prove they are who they say they are. Just follow the instructions on the card to complete the verification process. Your site should be listed and ranking in no time after that.

    You Didn’t Fill Out All of Your Business Details

    Once you’ve got the basics taken care of, you need to populate your listing with some real information. That means filling out your business introduction as fully as possible. Really take this opportunity to introduce yourself to your potential customers. What is your business all about? Why did you start it? What are you passionate about? What separates you from your competition? Don’t go all salesman mode in your introduction but you should definitely make the effort to demonstrate what makes you stand out. Another thing you need to remember to include is photos. As with anything online, photos add character and life. Without them, your listing will look incomplete and is less likely to engage potential customers. Plus, even if it does appear in the search results, it’s going to be a lot less enticing if there aren’t any images to attract attention. Your profile photo, especially, needs to be eye-catching. From there, you can share photos to your Google+ Page regularly. People always like to get a behind the scenes glimpse of how businesses operate, so the more photos of that nature you can provide, the better. Customers who frequent your business can upload their own photos and tag your company in them as well, which further adds to your credibility and literal visibility.

    You Don’t Have Any Reviews

    articleimage380 youdonthavereviews

    While not having any reviews won’t prevent a business from showing up in local search results altogether, it can impact your rank. A business in your niche with a ton of reviews will always rank much higher because it’s viewed to be a greater authority in your industry by Google. And reviews don’t lie. This customer word-of-mouth is worth its weight in gold and a highly coveted piece of the Google Local puzzle. Your “star” rating will appear with your business listing, along with review excerpts when somebody Google’s your company name. It appears along the righthand side of search results. This snapshot is your opportunity to really impress a potential customer. Think of how many times you’ve searched for a business or service. When greeted with the search results, which ones were you the most likely to click on? The ones with the most positive reviews, right? It’s human nature to pursue options that other people have already vetted for you. So by all means, take advantage of that fact! Google Local search results are becoming increasingly important — seemingly with every algorithm update. If you’re a small business owner with a brick and mortar location, you can’t afford to gloss over this optimization strategy.

  9. Is Google Slowly Withdrawing from Showing Rich Snippets?

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    Before we dive into answering this slightly complicated question, let’s first take a look at what rich snippets are, exactly.

    Rich snippets are enhanced listings that show up within the usual Google search results. These snippets contain all of the same information a typical search result would include with the addition of an author byline, an author photo, and Google+ follower counts. For a while, those who knew the importance of setting up Google authorship found their author photos appearing next to their articles in the search results.

    As you might imagine, this was great for click-through rates. However, Google is always adjusting things and it seems now the rich snippets are only being featured when you’re logged into Google+. And the follower counts have disappeared completely. So, what’s the deal here?

    The Rich Snippet Slim Down

    articleimage348 The Rich Snippet Slim Down

    Rich snippets were sort of all over the place in Google search results there for a while. If you’d bothered to set up Google authorship, then your face was probably popping up next to just about everything you wrote. It was exciting for authors everywhere,especially those trying to expand their online reach. And let’s be honest here, who isn’t?

    Along with an author photo – pulled from your Google+ account — the rich snippet would also feature your byline and the number of people currently in your circles. It made for an intuitive way to integrate G+ into the search experience. Though some viewed it as Google forcing their hand a bit. After all, why should its social network be the only one integrated into search results when there are bigger, and arguably better, social networks to consider?

    But the politics of that aside, it’s important to note that Google has since removed much of what made rich snippets “rich.” In fact, search results look much as they did prior to the whole Google authorship rollout. This has been disheartening to some who view the inclusion of rich snippets as a way to better identify authors and build online reputation points.

    Now, when the average user searches for something on Google — who is not logged in— he will only see the author’s name next to or below the search result title. It’s better than nothing, sure, but a lot of content marketers are sorely missing those headshots right about now.

    Some are arguing that a lack of author photos in search results is actually a good thing, however. Now, no one gets an advantage over anyone else. If you’ve made the appropriate authorship connection for a page, your byline will appear with the article title, just like everyone else’s articles. Before, who would receive a photo and who would receive just a byline seemed to be a bit random. Now, if your content is great, it’ll show up with a byline and so will that other guy who wrote something on a similar topic. No one really gets and advantage over anyone else except for where the page ranks in the search results.

    Rich Snippets Aren’t Really Going Away

    articleimage348 Rich Snippets Aren't

    Okay, so I know I just said that rich snippets have gotten the ax, but the truth is they’re just being moved around a bit. Instead of being featured so anyone can view them, they’re only visible now those who are logged into Google. And even then, you’ll only see the author photos of those who you are personally connected with on Google+.

    It’s all apart of Google’s personalized results effort. So yes, it’s totally possible you’ll see familiar faces pop up on in search results because you’re connected to them socially.

    The truth may be even more narrow than that, actually. Relevancy plays a key role here as well. According to Joshua Berg, you’ll only see an author photo next to an article written by someone in your circles if they are relevant to you. This can be difficult to establish, yes, but investing time in building a Google+ following and being active there on a regular basis should help you to realize greater relevancy in a greater number of people’s personalized search results.

    It’s a significant scaling back of the rich snippet concept, but they are still in use, at least as of this writing. And since not just anyone can receive an author photo anymore in rich snippets, those who do will stand out even more. That’s a definite step up for those looking to establish authority.

    Google+ More Important Than Ever

    articleimage348 Google+ More Important Than Ever

    As I already said, being active on Google+ will increase the likelihood of your author photo appearing next to your articles in the search results of logged in users. But you might be curious as to what “active” means. After all, every social network is different and a lot of people have yet to come over to Google+ land.

    Just for posterity’s sake, here are a few tips for using Google+ and boosting your engagement there.

    Cross-Posting is Not the Answer

    First and foremost, it’s important to note that G+ is its own network and should be treated as such. It’s okay to post the same content across multiple social networks on occasion, but do this too much and you cause the original post to lose some of its punch. Offer something unique for your G+ followers and you’ll do well to capture their attention.

    Longer Posts Make an Impact

    Unlike Facebook and Twitter where brevity is important, you can actually get away with making quite lengthy posts on Google+. In fact, it’s encouraged. The site supports up to 100,000 characters in a post. Many people are opting to put entire blog posts — or at least lengthy snippets from them — on Google+ and the results are pretty impressive. Engagement goes up considerably, mostly because your followers don’t have to click through to read your content. They can just read it straight within their feeds, comment, and engage. Convenience is key.

    Use Photos

    This is sort of becoming a mantra across all of the social networks but photos stand to make a big impression on G+. They appear quite large on the site and are an effective way to make a statement. There are plenty of free graphics services out there you can use to create custom images for your blog posts and social posts. Or, if you have the skills, you can create your own graphics using Photoshop or Pixelmator.

    Build a Relevant Community

    One of the most important things you can do to make the most of your Google+ presence is to only follow people who are relevant to your industry and niche. This will help to ensure your posts are seen by people who would be most interested in them. And don’t forget to segment your followers into circles, too. This will help you to target your posts more effectively.

    Last Word

    Google is paring down its use of rich snippets but Google+ users shouldn’t notice that much of a difference, especially if they are actively engaged on the network. While it’s probably all just an elaborate push to get more people to use G+ more often, it’s a worthwhile endeavor for the moment. Especially if you want to expand your content’s reach and establish yourself as an authority in your industry.

  10. What to Learn from the eBay Google Penalty

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    articleimage355What to Learn from the eBay Google Penalty

    Back in May, eBay was hit was a manual penalty from Google that knocked the site down in the search rankings. At first, the penalty appeared to be automated and a result of the Panda 4.0 rollout. The timing would suggest as much. However, further reporting by Re/code revealed that a manual action was likely the culprit for the rankings drop.

    The Panda updates are designed to boost sites with high quality content and demote those with low-quality or duplicate content. According to Re/code, people following the Panda update noticed that several eBay pages were bumped off the search results shortly after rollout. But the tell-tale sign it was a manual action had to do with what pages were affected. You see, an automatic penalty due to Panda would’ve resulted in all of eBay disappearing from the search results. Instead, just individual pages were wiped, indicating a manual action was to blame.

    But what does all of this mean for you, the regular, everyday site owner? There are several lessons to be learned from the eBay fiasco. Let’s take a look at each in greater detail.

    Big Sites Aren’t Immune to Bad SEO

    articleimage355Big Sites Aren't Immune to Bad SEO

    eBay has been around for how many years now? The specifics don’t matter. Let’s just say it’s been around a long time. And a lot of people would assume that since it’s beenaround for such a long time, it would never run into any problems with its SEO strategy. So, this Google penalty should be one loud, “guess again,” to those who ascribe to that line of thinking.

    It doesn’t matter how big your site is or how well established it is — if you do something that Google views as spammy or low quality, you will get penalized for it eventually.

    I would think most site owners would find that fact comforting. The idea that the big name brands out there have to play by the same rules as everybody else has a stabilizing effect. No one can opt out of the Google Webmaster Guidelines. No one is above it. Not eBay. Not Amazon. Not any number of other big sites out there.

    Gateway or Doorway Pages Are a No-No

    Many of the pages knocked from the rankings had “bhp” in the URL, according to a RefuGeeks report. In fact, 90k of the 120k bumped had this subcategory in their URLs. These URLs aren’t linked to normally within the eBay site structure and instead are only directly accessible through Google search results. These are starting pages made specifically for search engine users.

    Now, there isn’t anything wrong with this on the surface, and it’s certainly not all that shady, but it does seem like eBay did a bit of overkill with this tactic. The pages themselves are very optimized — in totally legit fashion, mind you — and are obviously meant to carry the full weight of the site.

    Someone in the comments on the Refugeeks report notes that Google seems to be ignoring the majority of the “bhp” directory now, “which was really a host for doorway pages.” And another commenter claimed that the pages in this directory are related to an eBay content marketing push to create buying guides with tons of links to “bhp” pages within the content.

    All that being said, you’re probably wondering how this relates to the average site owner who doesn’t have hundreds of thousands of pages to deal with. The answer is quite simple, actually: too much of anything can be bad. Though eBay had a decent strategy here, they tried to do too much too fast with no real control for quality. The content on these pages was okay but certainly not high-quality. And that’s what Google is looking for now. High quality content that is obviously created for readers. Not search engines.

    SEO is Serious Business

    articleimage355SEO is Serious Busines

    According to Search Engine Land, eBay suggested it might have lost around $200 million in revenue thanks to this SEO snafu as of July 2014.

    This juicy tidbit was revealed during an earnings call with Bob Swan, eBay’s chief financial officer. Specifically, he said that eBay was receiving less traffic from Google, which has affected revenue and growth for the auction business. Swan then said that the company is focusing on getting eBay users “reengaged” through the use of “couponing, seller incentives and increased marketing spend…”

    eBay has yet to address specifically what the SEO issue is but, as the analysis compiled above shows, it seems pretty clear at this point. One thing the company does admit is that fixing the SEO issues will take a long time and will likely cost a lot of money.

    Finally, Swan adjusted the eBay’s high end revenue estimate from $18.5 billion to $18.3 billion. Not all of that can be blamed on a drop in SEO traffic, but it seems a good chunk of it can.

    At this point in time, eBay is leaning toward paid search as its method of digging itself out of the SEO hole. But I realize that’s not a viable solution for everyone. If you’re a small company with a relatively small advertising budget, investing in paid search might not work.

    To the average site owner, eBay’s run in with Google should act as a gigantic warning sign. SEO is serious business. Really. It’s not something that can be taken lightly or ignored. It’s essential. And as eBay has swiftly found out, SEO errors can leave you hurting in a major way.

    Now imagine if the same type of penalty had been incurred on a small business? eBay is a huge company with plenty of revenue and other business ventures to keep it afloat, even in times of struggle. But if you’re small, having a Google penalty levied against you could literally mean the downfall of your business. No traffic = no sales. A million times, ouch.

    Moving Forward

    The most important thing you can learn from eBay’s SEO penalty is to use it as an example of what not to do. No, eBay’s SEO problems weren’t all that egregious but that just goes to show how specific and precise your search engine optimization efforts need to be. To avoid an eBay-style debacle, you can:

    • Keep up to date with the latest SEO trends
    • Monitor for new algorithm updates
    • Learn by example • Follow the Google Webmaster Guidelines
    • Focus on building high quality content

    Those takeaways should help to keep your site atop the search engine ranks for the long term.

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