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Category Archive: Google

  1. 3 of The Easiest Tricks to Increase Your Google Rankings

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    Boosting your page rank in Google is—let’s face it—a pain. If you’re just starting out, it takes days to get your onsite structure in proper order even if you know what you’re doing. After that, you have to constantly update your onsite content, social media syndication, and all your external links. Depending on the size of your company, it could be much more than one full time job’s worth of responsibilities, and it needs to be performed consistently.

    It’s certainly overwhelming, even to the seasoned pros. These are the fundamentals of search engine optimization, and even with them, it can take months or even years to see the results you want. Fortunately, there are a handful of shortcuts out there; they won’t get you to a number one position overnight, but they are incredibly easy and can help you get to the next level in search.

    1. Spread Local Hype.

    articleimage554Spread Local Hype

    You’ll notice that two of these three tricks rely on a principle that removes you from the equation: getting others to do your work for you. In this case, you’ll be creating an environment in which your users can spread the word about your company, and give you a higher rank as a result.

    Let’s take a look at the world of local SEO. Even if your business doesn’t rely on local foot traffic, you can still build a valuable buzz around your company in your local community, and take advantage of the benefits of being associated with geographic terms in major search engines. In order to do that, you need to start claiming all your local profiles—which is a bit of a headache, but you only have to do it once. Claim your Google Places page, your Yelp profile, and any other local directories you can think of.

    From there, make sure your local information is accurate and consistent across the board, then do everything you can to get local citizens to talk about your business. Encourage positive reviews (but don’t compensate people for them—that’s a major no-no that could get you penalized). The more positive reviews you have on local directories like Yelp and similar services, the higher you’ll rank, both with and without associated geographical terms. Plus, when people check you out on those local directories, you’ll have a much better chance of winning the favor of those potential new customers.

    Another way to spread local hype and get the corresponding SEO value is to get attention through local events. Attend local gatherings and spread the word about your business, or post on social media about the event. You could even publish a press release about your attendance for the extra link juice. It doesn’t take much time, and it has a killer impact on your domain authority and local relevance.

    2. Get Your Content Shared By Influencers.

    articleimage554 Get Your Content Shared By Influencers

    This trick is even easier, and it relies on others to do the real work. Even if you’re just starting out, you should have a solid content marketing strategy in place—one that includes the creation of highly informative or highly shareable material. You’ll need at least one of those pieces for this trick, and a presence on either Twitter or LinkedIn, but the rest is pretty straightforward.

    Facebook marketing gets a lot of hype, but when it comes to personal sharing, networking, and sharing content with a huge audience, Twitter and LinkedIn are superior. Their user bases are more public, making it easier to reach a wide audience, and their most prolific users are able to connect with thousands of people at a moment’s notice, either by tweeting directly or by posting in a LinkedIn Group.

    Don’t spam your material, but don’t be shy either. On Twitter especially, there’s usually no problem with introducing yourself to an influencer in your industry and simply asking them to share your content with their followers. If your content is interesting, they’ll probably post it—it’s a win-win situation for both of you. If you don’t hear back, follow up once. Any more than that, and you’ll be an annoyance.

    Influencers can be your shortcut to a huge new audience. Most influencers are already connected to thousands of people who see them as an authority, meaning your content is instantly imbued with a level of authority. That means your content is far more likely to be picked up, shared, and linked to—and your domain will see all the benefits in the form of increased rank. If it works out well, you can continue the relationship by providing regular pieces of shareable content for them to distribute. You might even get direct leads from the experience!

    3. Start Using Google+.

    articleimage554Start Using Google+

    Google has taken a number of recent steps to reduce the power and ubiquity of their Google+ platform, but don’t let the hype or fears dissuade you. Google+ is still a highly powerful social platform, and you can take advantage of it to see search benefits almost immediately.

    There are still signs that Google favors its own platform above others; content posted on Google+ seems to rank slightly higher than other similar forms of social content. That means anything you post or syndicate on Google+ automatically gets a bit of a boost.

    It’s better to use Google+ as an individual though, integrating your personal brand with your corporate brand. By doing so, you’ll build a level of “authorship” authority that will transfer to any articles you write throughout the web. While the power of authorship has been reduced, it’s still highly valuable, especially for articles you’ve written and distributed through the Google+ platform. Any articles you post on Google+ will show your headshot and bylines as an author, embedded in your search results, which makes your link immediately more clickable and gives you greater search visibility without necessarily increasing your rank.

    Plus, any recurring social presence you have is good for your SEO. Odds are, you’ve already created and started updating your Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn profiles, but the more platforms you’re on, the better. It isn’t entirely clear which elements of a social presence trigger a ranking signal to Google, but the more visibility you have for your brand, the better.

    It’s also worthwhile to build a company page for your business on Google+. That way, you’ll get twice as many opportunities to post content and gain visibility for your brand in Google.

    Put these easy tricks to good use, either as a short-term shortcut to your target results or as a long-term addition to your otherwise solid strategy. Each of these mini-strategies can be implemented as a one-time callout, or pursued as a regular campaign.

    Whatever you do, keep in mind that search engine optimization must be treated as a long-term strategy, and that your primary focus should be on improving your users’ experience rather than solely increasing your rank. These tricks can add some momentum to your campaign, but they won’t necessarily improve your core web presence. If you want to stick around as an authority for any lasting period of time, you’ll need to make a major commitment to regularly updating your website and giving your users everything they need.

  2. How to Prepare for The Next Penguin Refresh

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    If you were around for the first few iterations of Google’s Penguin update, you know just how much of an impact it had on the world of link building and search marketing. For months, Penguin refreshes served as follow-up attacks to Google’s initial release, and search marketers were kept on edge, trying desperately to stay ahead of the curve.

    Now, it’s been quiet on the Penguin front since late 2013, and many search marketers believe we’re long overdue for a new update, or at least a refresh. With the recent release of Panda 4.1 marking a quarterly rhythm for the search giant back in September, experts suspect a Penguin refresh could be right around the corner. If you incorporate link building as part of your offsite SEO strategy, it’s vital that you take immediate measures to protect yourself against the inevitable refresh.

    A Glimpse Into Penguin’s History

    articleimage540A Glimpse Into Penguinu2019s History

    First, we’ll take a look into the chain of events that led to the most recent Penguin release, and why so many webmasters were hit with ranking penalties in the first place. Penguin 1.0 was first rolled out in April of 2012, designed as a complement and a follow-up to its predecessor in 2011, Panda. While the Panda update was created to penalize websites with low-quality or keyword-stuffed content, Penguin was created to penalize sites with low-quality or keyword-dense backlinks. It was a one-two punch that sent both onsite and offsite black-hat SEO practitioners scrambling.

    While Penguin 1.0 only affected around three percent of all search queries, the long-term impact it had on the world of link building was tremendous. Link builders could no longer build large quantities of keyword-stuffed, irrelevant links wherever they pleased. Instead, links had to be on-topic, posted in a relevant forum, and had to appear as a valuable and realistic part of the conversation.

    Between May and October of 2012, various refreshes of the Penguin update hit on an almost monthly basis, rolling out new penalties to link schemers who might have otherwise survived Penguin 1.0 without a penalty. In May of 2013, Penguin 2.0 was released, introducing even more sophisticated changes to Google’s ranking algorithm and affecting another 2.3 percent of all search queries.

    A handful of refreshes came between May and October, repeating the same pattern as 1.0. It led many to believe that Penguin 3.0 would hit in May of 2014, following the pattern, but it never did. Here we are in October, a year after the last known Penguin refresh, and we still haven’t seen an update.

    What to Expect From a Refresh

    articleimage540What to Expect From a Refresh

    There are two reasons to expect a new update. First, we’re overdue for one. It’s been more than a year now without any follow-up from Google, and it’s highly likely that they’ve developed some new sophisticated tricks to catch link schemers and penalize irrelevant links by now. Second, Panda 4.1 hit last month, just four months after the second latest major Google update. This may indicate a new, almost quarterly pattern for the search engine giant’s updates, putting a new Penguin update anytime between now and December.

    The next Penguin update could be a simple refresh—a new addition of data that Google then uses to distribute penalties or change ranks for sites whose backlink profiles have changed since the last refresh. The update could also be a major overhaul, the long-awaited Penguin 3.0, which would change some of the criteria for how backlinks are viewed, analyzed, and determined to calculate page rank.

    Either way, the update could affect your site’s rank if you aren’t up to speed with Google’s best practices for user experience and link building.

    How to Prepare

    articleimage540How to Prepare

    It’s impossible to tell whether the update will be a refresh or a major overhaul, but any update will require you to reevaluate your link building strategy, and proactively eliminate any questionable practices that could put you in jeopardy of getting a penalty.

    We’ve put together a step-by-step guide to help you do just that:

    Step One: Hunt Down and Disavow Any Questionable Links

    Your first step should actually be a part of your regular link building process. Once a month or so, it’s a good idea to go through your existing links and weed out any that might look suspicious, or ones that you haven’t built yourself. You can use a free tool, like Moz’s so-called “search engine for links, Open Site Explorer. Don’t judge too harshly, but if you do see a link that stands out from the rest, consider it for removal. First, try and delete the link yourself. If you cannot, contact the webmaster in charge of the site—you can usually find this contact information through a contact page or through the domain registrar. If the webmaster refuses to take the link down, you can file a request for disavowal with Google directly.

    Step Two: Review Your Sources and Timing

    Next, review the totality of your current strategy. Take a look at your “usual suspects” of link sources, and weed out any that might be considered irrelevant, spammy, or of low authority. Examples of bad sources include article directories, link building schemes, or blogs and forums not directly related to your industry. Replace these sources with higher quality sites like news affiliates and relevant forums. You’ll also want to review how many links you’re building, and how often you’re building them. Posting too many links too quickly could send a red flag to Google.

    Step Three: Increase Your Brand Mentions and Nofollow Links

    It may sound counterintuitive, but your link building strategy shouldn’t be solely reliant on traditional links. Instead of posting nothing but links, work more brand mentions and nofollow links into your strategy. Google’s algorithm detects non-linked brand mentions—that is to say, mentions of your company name, product names, etc.—and treats them as similar to links. Posting more brand mentions and fewer traditional links will give you a similar increase in domain authority without putting you at risk of a penalty. Nofollow links, which are links marked with a rel=nofollow tag, will not affect your rank at all, but will allow you to post links to your site without seeming spammy.

    Step Four: Encourage More Natural Link Building

    Finally, establish more avenues for natural link building. Your goal shouldn’t be to make your links appear more natural. It should be to make more natural links. You can do this by posting more relevant, engaging, amusing, or insightful forms of content such as infographics, videos, and detailed blog posts. Syndicate these through your social media channels, and if your content catches the public eye, you’ll easily attract hundreds of new links—and you’ll never have to worry about any of them triggering a penalty.

    Watch Out for Penguins

    Take the time to review and adjust your link building strategy—even if the next Penguin refresh doesn’t hit this year, you’ll still receive the benefits of the extra offsite authority, and reduce your chances of a future penalty.

    If the update does hit and your site seems to be affected—don’t panic. Contact us, and we’ll work with you to determine the root of your penalty, and rebuild your link profile to restore your rank.

  3. How to Acquire Legitimate Anchor Text Rich Backlinks

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    Anchor text, the portion of text that contains a hyperlink, has been a controversial element of offsite optimization for the past several years, especially after Google’s Penguin update in 2012 ushered in a major overhaul of what constituted a “good” backlink. Back in the early days of SEO, anchor text was a search engine optimizer’s best friend; you could easily anchor any link you wanted with the keyword or phrase you wanted to rank for, and instantly get more relevance for that keyword or phrase.

    Today, things aren’t so simple. The Penguin update scours the web for links that appear to be solely intended to boost page rank and penalizes them. To most search marketers, that spelled the end of using keyword-rich anchor text for links. If you were caught trying to optimize for a specific phrase using offsite links, you’d be begging for a penalty.

    But new evidence suggests that might have been an overreaction, and that it is not only possible, but advisable, to build at least some links with rich anchor text. This article explores the process of scouting and building anchor text-rich backlinks without infuriating the Google robots.

    Anchor Text Rich Backlinks: Spammy or Safe?

    articleimage536Anchor Text Rich Backlinks

    Why have anchor text-rooted links been treated as such an imprudent strategy in recent years? It’s because heavily keyword-dense backlinks truly are a spammy tactic. Building dozens of links with identical keyword anchors is a sure recipe to earn a penalty from Google. However, according to recent tests from search engine authority Moz, links with specific anchor text still carry a significant chunk of authority.

    Here’s what that means for the average search marketer: stuffing keywords into your anchor text is still a bad idea. But if you diversify your strategy, use appropriate keywords, and temper your link building with natural sources, including relevant, targeted anchor text can be a valuable strategy.

    Abandoning Control

    articleimage536Abandoning Control

    Most link building strategies at least partially rely on outside sources constructing links. For example, if a news publication runs a story that references one of your recent blog posts, they’ll be in charge of posting the link to it. This relieves you of some level of work, but on the other hand, it presents a problem if you’re thinking of including more anchor text. Allowing outsiders to build links to your site means abandoning some level of control. Your links, in terms of their destination, framing, and anchor text, are essentially at the mercy of whoever posts them.

    Don’t worry. This is actually a good quality, and a necessary quality if you want to ensure that your anchor text linking strategy remains in the good graces of Google. Google expects to see a certain amount of “natural” links, and while some search marketers have been wracking their brains to try and build links that “seem” natural, the best strategy to build natural links is to let those links be naturally built. If the vast majority of your inbound links are out of your control, they’ll likely be seen as natural, while the remaining minority—your anchor text-rich hidden weapons—won’t register as spam.

    The bottom line is, don’t be afraid to relinquish control of the majority of your link building strategy. Allow the majority of your outside sources to link to your site however they want, and only take control over the portion of link building that remains.

    Choosing Appropriate Anchor Text

    articleimage536Choosing Appropriate Anchor Text

    When starting your anchor text-rich link building strategy, your first step is going to be choosing the right anchor text. In older SEO strategies, you would research keywords with the most traffic, and post them like there was no tomorrow.

    Today, you need a more refined, less spammy type of anchor text. In fact, you should avoid thinking about it in terms of “keywords” at all. Instead, you should choose highly relevant, easily repeatable text that makes sense in natural usage; for example, the phrase “cheap batteries in Minnesota” doesn’t naturally come up very often, so if it’s used as anchor text, it will trigger a red flag. But there are types of anchor text that are natural, and can be used in your strategy.

    Harnessing the Power of a Brand

    Your brand is your identity, and if your branding strategy is in line with best practices, you’re doing everything you can to make sure it stays consistent in every possible iteration. For example, it’s always “Coca-Cola” and never “Coke-a-Cola” or “Co-ca-Co-la.” Brand names are repeatable—almost mandatorily repeatable—and unique to you, which makes them perfect elements of any anchor text strategy.

    Use brand names as part of your link building strategy. That consistent use will appear natural, limiting the risk of getting penalized, and increase your brand’s authority in the eyes of major search engines. Keep in mind you can use this not only for your company name, but for your product names as well—this is especially useful for e-commerce sites.

    Linking to Relevant Pages

    It’s also completely natural and acceptable to include an accurate description of the page you’re linking to as the anchor text of the given link. For example, if your company sells paint and paint thinner, and you have an onsite page explicitly titled “Paint Removal Services,” feel free to link to that specific page with anchor text containing “paint removal services.” It’s accurate, it’s appropriate, and it’s going to give you a sizeable boost in relevance for paint removal keyword phrases. The key here is to link to a variety of internal pages, to avoid spamming one deep linked page over and over again. Eventually, you’ll build consistency and relevance for each internal page that’s a part of your campaign.

    Making a Textual Request

    If you want to strengthen your anchor text rich link building efforts, it is possible to get others on board with your formatting. For example, on your blog, you could make a request to all linkers by saying “please cite this article as…” followed by instructions that clarify your intentions. This isn’t always the best strategy, especially since part of your penalty-protection efforts are dependent on others linking however they want to link, but if you want an extra boost for a specific phrase, you can try this trick. Ensure the anchor text is appropriate, no matter what.

    Changing Things Up

    Finally, I want to remind you of an important aspect of your link building efforts: variability. If you use the same collection of exact phrases over and over, you will be penalized. I can almost guarantee it. If you want to protect yourself against such an eventuality without sacrificing the benefits of link building with a repeated phrase, change up your anchor text selections on a regular basis, such as monthly or quarterly. Don’t be afraid to rotate them back in eventually, but keep in mind that diversifying your strategy is the best way to keep yourself from getting penalized.

    Rich anchor text is not a dead strategy, as some search marketers might have you believe. The difference today is that you have to allow more links to be built naturally, giving your external sources more textual freedom, and you have to diversify your link strategy with appropriate, repeatable choices.

  4. 3 Ways to Acquire Links from Large News Websites

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    Link building has come a long way since the early days of posting links pointing to your site like they were flyers for a lost cat. Successful offsite SEO is no longer a matter of quantity (though, quantity and regularly still play a role) so much as it is a matter of quality. In order to build the authority of your own site, you must leverage the authority of existing sites, and construct links that are meaningful in the eyes of users as well as search engine robots.

    So what constitutes an “authoritative” site? Two of the most valuable options, .gov government official sites, and .edu educational sites, are rare to find and hard to build links on—it’s no simple matter of making a simple request or doing the posting yourself. The next best thing is getting your link on a major news website, like CNN or MSNBC, but that must be just as hard, right?

    Actually, building links on major news sites isn’t as difficult as you might imagine. It’s true that it will take significantly more time and effort to build these links, and you may never be guaranteed a spot at the end of it, but these links are far more valuable than ones you build on traditional forums or blog spaces.

    Try any or all of these three significant ways you can earn valuable backlinks from major news sites:

    1. Take Advantage of Google News.

    articleimage529Take Advantage of Google News

    Your first option is one of the easiest. In order to get a link on a major news site, you have to get noticed. And getting noticed isn’t just a matter of making an introduction. In order to get seen and appreciated by a major news site, you have to have information that is truly newsworthy; these outlets have a reputation because they’re committed to publishing only the most significant material.

    Google News is a publication outlet that can help you achieve that visibility and credibility. If you’re new to Google News, think of it as a gigantic, constantly updated database with news stories from around the world. Google takes this aggregated cache of news and then displays it to users using sophisticated algorithms that show content appropriate for each user’s interests, history, and geographic location.

    Google News allows almost anyone to post credible news articles for consideration to be included in this database. If you have a “news” or “press” section of your website (and you actually use it to publish newsworthy information), this option is perfect for you. You can set your site up within the Publisher Center, and submit content regularly for consideration. You can also submit individual articles or press releases.

    If you’re lucky, another major news publication will take notice of your Google-published news entries, and will either reference it in a link out to your site, or follow up with you for more information. It’s a roundabout way of getting attention from news sites, but if your content is worth their attention, they will take notice.

    The worst-case scenario here is that no major news sites pick up your link—if that’s the case, you can still enjoy the benefits of having your articles listed on Google News. It may not increase your domain authority as much as a pack of high-authority links, but it will send a significant flow of new traffic to your site.

    2. Distribute Your Own Press Releases.

    articleimage529ownpressrelease

    The principle behind this tactic is the same as the previous entry: in order to earn a link on a major news site, you have to get their attention with a major news article. Google News is incredibly useful for sites with regular news releases, but it only increases the visibility of content in one channel: Google search results. If you’re interested in submitting your article to major news sites directly for consideration, you can distribute your own individual press releases with a service like PRWeb.

    Through PRWeb, you’ll be able to publish your press release and syndicate it—depending on the service you use, you should be able to submit it to tens of thousands of different news outlets, differentiating them according to their geographic location or industry niche. This distribution usually includes some of the biggest names in national news, but you will have a higher chance of getting picked up in low- to medium-authority news sites.

    If your press release is highly significant, well-written, and timely, you do stand a decent chance of getting picked up by a major news outlet, featuring a link pointing back to your site as a reward for your efforts. However, even if your article falls through the cracks of the highest-tier publications, the links you earn on lesser-known publications will still be highly valuable. This is especially true for local news sites, which will earn you backlinks anchored with a specific location, enhancing your relevance in local SEO.

    Temper your expectations by remembering that submitting a press release is no guarantee of publication on a major news channel, but distributed press releases are still one of the best shots you have. Submit newsworthy press releases regularly for the best SEO benefit.

    3. Get Involved in the Community with Comments.

    articleimage529Get Involved in the Community with Comments

    Comments are always a decent option for link building, and major news sites are no exception. You’ll certainly get more visibility and credibility if a news site publishes one of your articles, but if you’re looking to get some high-authority link juice, posting something relevant in the comments section is a great alternative.

    Your best bet is to find an article that has something to do with your industry. For example, if you work with new technology, find something in the “Technology” section that is related to a product you’ve produced. If you work in financial services, something in the “Money” section might be better. You can also use a search function to find a highly specific article, but do your best to select articles with a recent publication date in order to stay relevant.

    As with any link building exercise, take caution to ensure your link appears natural. Any indication that could give a webmaster the impression that you are only posting a link for the page rank boost will immediately get your comment flagged as spam and removed. Make sure your link is to a specific, relevant page on your site, and introduce the link by explaining why you’re posting it and why it’s relevant to the article. Get involved with the discussion, and you might earn a handful of new web visitors in addition to improving your SEO.

    Getting links from major news sources is neither stable nor easy enough to be a reliable, independent link building strategy. However, when executed as part of a broader, multifaceted offsite SEO campaign, news-related link building can be an enormous assist to your efforts. Be patient with news sites and stay consistent in your efforts even if you don’t get a bite right away. Emphasize the quality and relevance of your news items, and diversify your strategy whenever possible to cover the most ground. Eventually, you’ll find a rhythm for your news, and your SEO strategy will succeed because of it.

  5. 8 Changes You Need to Make After Panda 4.1

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    After four months of silence on the Google Panda front after May’s Panda 4.0 update, the next iteration of Panda is here. Referred to as Panda 4.1, the update isn’t big enough to warrant the title of “5.0,” but is significant enough to have search marketers scrambling.

    Building on the intentions of its predecessors, the Panda 4.1 continues Google’s tradition of gradually weeding out low-quality content in favor of well-written, informative, engaging content. Sites with aggregated or copied content, such as lyric databases and medical content hubs, seem to have been hit the hardest by this iteration of Panda, suggesting that Google’s duplicate content detection is becoming more sophisticated. On the flip side, small- to medium-sized businesses with diverse original content are seeing a boost.

    The update started rolling out officially on September 25, 2014, and became active in gradual updates that spanned through the first week of October. Most companies have already seen the gains or losses from this update, so if you haven’t noticed your rankings change in the past few weeks, don’t worry—Panda 4.1 probably didn’t affect you.

    Still, Panda 4.1 has changed the world of search yet again, and if you want to take advantage of it and prepare for the next phases of Google’s evolution, there are several strategic changes you’ll need to make:

    1. Scour your site for duplicate content—and get rid of it.

    articleimage509Scour your site for duplicate content

    Sites with volumes of duplicated content are the ones who have been hit hardest by Panda 4.1. Now is your chance to get rid of the dead weight. Look throughout your site and your blog to find any articles that might be partly replicated from an outside source. Just because you don’t plagiarize work doesn’t mean you’re not at risk—extended quotes, attributed work from outside authors, and paraphrased sections could all register as duplicated material, and could hurt your overall ranks. If you find any content that could be seen as a duplicate from another source, get rid of it.

    2. Do a content audit and remove or improve “thin” content on your site.

    articleimage509Do a content audit

    “Thin” content is a vague term, referring to content that is densely packed with keywords, light on value or specificity, or shoddily written. We’ve all seen content like this, so it should stick out like a sore thumb—especially in comparison to a longer, more detailed piece. Go through your previously published material and review the pieces of content that look like they’ve been scrapped together. You have two options for these pieces: either delete them, or take the time to revise them and turn them into a similar, but more valuable piece.

    3. Adjust your content strategy to include only the highest quality material.

    articleimage509Adjust your content strategy to include only the hi

    Depending on the current level of your content marketing strategy, this change could be enormous or barely noticeable. Moving forward, all your content needs to be of the highest quality—that means based on an original idea, written by an expert, and highly detailed. Don’t worry as much about the frequency of your posts; if a piece of content isn’t as high quality as you’d like it to be, do not publish it. It’s better to have a smaller number of better-quality posts than a greater number of lesser entries. You may be doing this already, but it’s still a good idea to revisit your strategy and see what positive changes you can make.

    4. Add more outbound authoritative links to your content.

    Google wants to see high-quality, authoritative content. If you want to be seen as authoritative, you need to back up your facts and provide references to support your claims. The best way to do that is to provide in-text links pointing to outside, authoritative sites. It’s a way of leveraging the current status of well-established sites to bolster your own authority. As you continue writing new content, experiment with posting more outbound links to build your own credibility. Make sure to use a diverse range of sources to avoid spamming any one source with an excessive number of backlinks.

    5. Include more images in your posts.

    Embedded images in your blog posts do two things: first, they look more enticing to your readership, giving you greater reader retention and more reader satisfaction. Second, they give your content the appearance of detail, and make your content seem more valuable according to Google. Include infographics in the body of your blog posts to illustrate a point with information; if they are original, they’ll naturally attract backlinks and assist your strategy in multiple ways. Otherwise, include any relevant images you can find (as long as they’re legal to use) to complement the text on your page.

    6. Publish author credentials to establish author expertise.

    According to the recent leak of Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines, author expertise is an important factor in evaluating the authoritativeness of a piece of content. Instead of trying to make your content seem like it was written by an expert, have your content actually written by an expert. Include author credentials at the bottom of each published article, identifying the author’s name, title, and area of expertise. If you do this consistently, and offsite content also features this author’s name, you’ll effectively build that author’s authority, and your content will be seen as higher quality. It’s a small change that could add up to major results.

    7. Build more high-quality links to your content.

    Despite all the changes that the Penguin updates have made to the world of backlink building, backlinks are still tremendously important for building a site’s authority. This change is essentially the strategy I covered in point 4, but in reverse. If a high-quality site, such as an information database or a .edu site, links to one of your articles, that article will be seen as much more credible, giving you a Panda-proof boost in authority. If you can incorporate more of these high-authority backlinks into your link building campaign, your domain’s overall authority will significantly increase.

    8. Perform content audits regularly.

    The best ongoing new strategy you can adopt in response to Panda 4.1 is a regular content audit. On a monthly or bi-monthly basis, take an hour to review all the new onsite content that’s been published since your last audit. Carefully review each piece to determine its quality; check for originality, authoritativeness, and level of detail. If any of these pieces does not meet your quality standards, either get rid of it or revise it to make it comply. Doing this regularly keeps you vigilant, and keeps your content quality from ever declining or putting you at risk for another Panda-related drop in rank.

    Google is notorious for keeping online marketers on their toes, and it has continued that reputation with this latest update. With Panda 4.0 coming in May and 4.1 rolling out in September, Google could be back on a quarterly (or near-quarterly) updating pattern, like it was for previous iterations of Panda. If that’s the case, it could mean another major update is on the horizon for December or January.

    Stay sharp and keep your strategy up-to-date, and you’ll likely ride past the next Panda update with no mysterious drops in rank. You might even get a boost!

  6. How Google Determines Search Results [Infographic]

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    Google’s algorithm is more sophisticated than ever, and its secrets have been the focus of thousands of hours of research and testing. After all, if you understand how Google determines the rankings of its search results, you can influence the way your own content ranks, gaining a significant advantage over your competitors.

    Two recent correlation studies have garnered particular interest and respect; one is from Moz, and the other is from SearchMetrics. We combined the data from both correlation studies to draw new insights, analysis, and recommendations for marketers, business owners, and webmasters looking to gain an advantage on the competition. Below is the infographic we created to illustrate our findings.

    GoogleBot-Infographic-ver-10

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  7. How to Find and Remove Bad Links Pointing to Your Site

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    Link building is an essential part of any SEO campaign. Onsite strategy revolves around producing relevant, engaging content on a regular basis while ensuring your site is structured appropriately, while offsite strategy focuses on building your site’s authority through external links and brand mentions. But not all links are good links, and just a handful of bad links could compromise the integrity of your strategy and cause you to lose rank as a result.

    After the Penguin update of 2012, link building became a much more sophisticated process. Today, it’s no longer enough to post links wherever you get the chance to—you have to make sure your links are natural, relevant, and beneficial to the parties who see them. Anything deemed irrelevant or spammy is decidedly marked as a ”bad link”, and will damage your SEO efforts for as long as it continues pointing to your site.

    Fortunately, tracking down and removing bad links is easier than you might think. In this article, I’ll walk you through each step of the process.

    What constitutes a “bad link”

    articleimage496badlink

    Bad links come in many forms. As a general rule, anything that was posted with the sole intention of increasing page rank is determined to be a bad link. This includes links posted on irrelevant sites, links that were paid for, high numbers of links in a given area, and links anchored with keyword-stuffed text. Here are some of the most common culprits:

    • Low-quality article directories
    • Link farms and other sites that try to host links for thousands of sites
    • Paid sources of link building
    • High-frequency post exchangers (two sites that bounce links off each other constantly)
    • Link wheels and other link building gimmicks
    • Spam links in forums or conversations, or links intended solely to generate traffic
    • Links in non-industry related directories
    • Links in irrelevant or fluffy content, such as non-newsworthy press releases

    Your first step is to avoid building these types of links in the first place. Instead, focus on posting links only in relevant conversations on sites related to your industry or geographical location. Don’t focus on making your links “appear” natural—focus on building natural links.

    Once you’ve integrated that into your strategy, there’s still a chance of bad links seeping through. You aren’t the only one building links on the Internet, so it pays to scout for third party sources that might be interfering with your search marketing campaign.

    How to view links pointing to your site

    articleimage496How to view links pointing to your site

    If you haven’t already, set up a Google Webmaster Tools account and add your website to it. You’ll probably need to go through at least one verification step before you can access the account. Once you’re logged in, go to Search Traffic > Links to Your Site, and you should see a great listing of links pointing to your site. Alternatively, you can generate a more comprehensive report using Moz’s free tool Open Site Explorer, dubbed the “search engine for links.”

    Simply type your URL into the search bar and you’ll be able to see the type of links you have as well as the anchor text, link URL, site source, and various other pieces of data. Here, you should be able to determine which links are “good” and which links are “bad.”

    When to take action

    articleimage496When to take action

    Of course, there are always gray areas, and not every questionable link demands an immediate action. The best long-term practice to adopt is careful monitoring of your ranks and domain authority. If you notice a significant drop with no explanation, a rogue bad backlink could be the culprit. When you notice a drop, browse through the links pointing to you and weed out any that don’t appear natural or don’t seem like a part of your regular strategy.

    Alternatively, if you don’t notice any significant drops, it’s still a good idea to peruse your link structure occasionally. In these cases, only pull the links that appear to be big red flags—the obviously terrible links, which will probably harm you sooner or later.

    How to take action

    Now that you’ve identified a link or two that needs to be removed, it’s time to take action against it. There are a series of escalating steps you can take in order to remove these links, and you may never need to use all of them.

    Step One: Try and remove it yourself

    The easiest way to remove a bad backlink is to remove it yourself. If your link exists in the form of a comment on a forum, you can flag it as spam. Or, if your account is the one that posted it, you can manually take it down.

    Unfortunately, this isn’t always an option. If you can’t remove the link yourself, move on to step two.

    Step Two: Contact the website administrator

    The next step is also simple: ask the person in charge to take it down. It really is that simple. If the link was built as a mistake, or if it was built by someone unauthorized to post it, most webmasters will be more than happy to assist you in taking it down.

    For this step, locate the source of the link—this should be easy if you’re using the Open Site Explorer Tool. Usually, the webmaster’s contact information is posted somewhere on the site, but if you can’t find it, check Whois.

    In your contact, remain polite and repeat your approach for each site you reach out to. This will give you a better chance of getting results, and will save you the time of writing a new letter each time. Follow up if you don’t hear anything after a day or two.

    If you can’t find the webmaster’s contact information, or if the webmaster has some reason for refusing to take your link down, you can escalate the process to the final step.

    Step Three: Use Google’s Disavowal Tool

    If there’s no other way to remove the bad links, you can ask Google to exclude them from consideration when calculating your ranks. The Disavowal Tool, found in Google Webmaster Tools, allows you to make that request. It allows you to create a singular file that contains all the URLs you wish to “disavow” from consideration, indicating which sites refused to take the links down and which sites were impossible to contact.

    Remember, the disavowal tool is not a removal tool—it is a request tool. Google reserves the right to deny your requests and keep the links in consideration if it feels you are relying too heavily on it. As such, you should use the disavowal tool only as a last resort. Do everything you can to remove your links manually before it escalates to this level.

    Once the bad links are removed, it may take some time before your rankings return to normal. This is an expected part of the process, so be patient after removing the links in question. The authority from good links and the damage from bad ones both seem to linger for a few weeks after the links are removed.

    Invest time in your link building campaign, and don’t forget that removing bad links is just as important as building good ones. Take at least one or two days a month to review the number and type of links pointing to your site, and make adjustments accordingly. Over time, you’ll sculpt a near-perfect link profile, and you’ll keep your website positioned as a positive authority in Google’s eyes.

  8. 6 Metrics That Define Your Site’s Average User – and How to Learn From Them

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    Understanding your audience is the key to creating a great user experience and building the reputation of your brand. A few decades ago, the only way to get more information about your customers was to conduct lengthy market research studies, involving in-depth surveys and qualitative analysis. While market research is still around, there is even deeper, more quantitative data available immediately to every website owner in the world. By using this data to better understand your site’s average user, you can perfect your user experience and improve your customer retention.

    Today, I’ll take a look at six key metrics that illustrate a picture of your site’s average visitor:

    1. Acquisition Data

    articleimage495Acquisition Data

    Acquisition data is your key to discovering how people are finding your site. You can find this information in Google Analytics under the “Acquisition” tab—to start, check out the “Overview” section. Here, you can see a nifty pie chart that will segment your audience into the four main channels responsible for drawing traffic to your site: direct traffic, which constitutes visitors visiting your site from a typed-in URL or bookmark, organic traffic, which constitutes visitors who found your site through search, referral traffic, which constitutes visitors who found your site through external links and advertisements, and social traffic, which constitutes visitors who came to you through social media.

    What to learn: Here, you’ll be able to get a relative gauge on how effective your different inbound campaigns have been. For example, if you notice your social campaign is generating 80 percent of your visitors, you can rest assured your social campaign is doing well, but your organic search campaign could use an extra boost. You can also learn the primary motivation of your average visitor: for example, you know that most direct visitors are already familiar with your brand, while organic visitors are looking for information on your site.

    2. Bounce Rate

    articleimage495bouncerate

    The bounce rate is a crucial measurement that lets you know how often someone leaves your site after viewing a specific page. For example, if you’re looking at your home page and it has a 60 percent bounce rate, that means 60 percent of your homepage visitors leave your site after viewing the page, while 40 percent delve deeper to learn more. You can view your bounce rate in several sections of Google Analytics, since it’s going to be different for each page and for each section of traffic.

    What to learn: Obviously, you want all your bounce rates to be as low as possible, but comparing different bounce rates on your site can give you a good idea of which pages are the most effective, and which need some work. Check out your bounce rates under Behavior > Site Content > All Pages to see which of your pages specifically have the lowest bounce rate, and check them out under Acquisition > Channels to see how each segment of your inbound traffic bounces or stays.

    3. Behavior Flow

    Behavior flow is a new feature in Google Analytics that, truthfully, looks like a bit of a mess on first view. Don’t be intimidated, however. Behavior flow is an incredibly useful tool that can give you an accurate portrait of your average customer’s journey as he/she traverses your website from initial entry to eventual exit. The flow chart begins with a landing page, which is the first page your users come into contact with, and shows the most common next steps in each user’s interaction. At each step, you’ll be able to view information such as total number of sessions, and drop-off rates.

    What to learn: Here is the perfect place to understand the navigability of your site. Most sites start with a captivating landing page and engaging internal content pages which all eventually lead to a conversion page, such as a contact or request-a-quote form. By looking at your behavior flow chart, you can determine what portions of that traffic direction are effective, and which ones need further work.

    4. Demographics

    articleimage495demographics

    Your demographic information is perhaps the easiest to understand in this list, but it’s still important to get in the head of your user. Check out the Audience > Demographics > Overview section of your Google Analytics page, which will show you a report detailing the ages and genders of your average users. In this section, you can also learn the geographic location of your visitors, which can also help you get a solid image of your average site user.

    What to learn: There are two ways this can go. First, if you do not have a clear understanding of who your target demographic is, you can use this information to form that knowledge. From there, you can adjust the design and writing of your site to appeal to its most popular demographics. Second, if you do have a firm idea of your target demographics, you can use this information to adjust your strategy so you maximize the percentage of site visitors who actually belong to that demographic.

    5. Engagement

    Your engagement metrics will vary depending on the structure of your site, but they should at least include conversions and social signals. To track conversions, you’ll have to set up a goal in Google Analytics, which will track user information that leads to an eventual “goal completion” (e.g. filling out a contact form, clicking a specific button, etc.). On a regular basis, you can measure those engagements and get an idea of who is converting and why. Similarly, if you include social sharing options on many pages throughout your site (especially on individual blog posts), you’ll be able to gain key insights about what types of users are interested in your content, which content they’re interested, and how they’re interested in sharing it.

    What to learn: With this behavioral information, you’ll be able to customize your site and your content to cater to the engagement preferences of your user base. These adjustments will lead to higher engagement rates and higher conversions.

    6. Access Points

    Learning how your customers access your website is also important, especially with the rise of mobile traffic popularity. Go to Audience > Technology, and you’ll be able to see the browser preferences of your average site visitors. Check out the Mobile tab, and you’ll be able to see what percentage of your visitors are accessing your site via mobile.

    What to learn: It’s always important to optimize your site for mobile, no matter what. But if you find that the majority of your site visitors are accessing your page using a mobile device, it’s critically important to make sure they have an ideal experience. Learning the browser information of your users is also important; for example, if you find that the majority of your users use Internet Explorer, you should ensure browser compatibility and optimize your site for Bing.

    Once you have a solid understanding of your site’s average user, you can analyze the factors that significantly affect their experience. When you make adjustments to your site layout or your inbound strategy, you’ll be able to measure your new data and compare it, apples-to-apples, against your previous information. Gradually, you’ll refine a near-perfect platform for your target audience and grow your brand’s reputation.

  9. Could This Be the End of Google+?

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    Ever since it was first launched, Google+ has lagged in popularity, especially in comparison to its biggest rival, Facebook. As of 2014, Facebook had 1.28 billion users, but according to USA Today, the number of active monthly Google+ users was just 300 million. Despite losing the numbers game consistently, Google has shown favoritism for its product, doing everything possible to encourage more users to sign up and call more attention to the platform.

    But a handful of recent tactical moves by Google are withdrawing from this aggressive strategy, possibly indicating that the decision makers at Google are no longer banking on Google+ being a success. Much of Google+’s current user base uses the product solely to get the ranking benefits, so if Google is no longer favoring the platform, their incentive will disappear and enrollment could drop even further.

    Essentially, if Google pulls away its support, the entire foundation of Google+ could crumble, and the platform could fall into MySpace territory—in a pit of forgotten irrelevance. That’s the extreme perspective, but it’s realistic to think that, given the steps Google has taken, it’s losing enthusiasm for its social media platform and is ready to move on to other endeavors.

    Let’s take a look at some of the factors responsible for this apparent shift.

    The Decline of Google Authorship

    articleimage492The Decline of Google Authorship

    Google Authorship was first rolled out with the platform in 2011, catering to writers by displaying the author’s headshot, name, and various social information in SERPs next to the article information. Google used this as a tool to entice new writers to the platform and simultaneously give more visibility to their social network. However, in June 2014, John Mueller first announced that the profile photo and the display of various circle count information were going to be eliminated from listings. Mueller insisted that the change was to make the results pages seem less cluttered, but it also seemed to reduce the power of Google Authorship.

    Then, in August of 2014, Google removed a feature known as “Author Stats,” which previously allowed Google Authors to measure their impact by tracking impressions and click rates for their articles. While Google+ articles now once again feature profile images, it’s clear that Google is reeling back some of the Authorship benefits that once made the platform so appealing to bloggers and writers. This could be a step in a new direction for Google+, or it could be one of several signs that Google+ is no longer a priority for the tech giant.

    The Departure of Vic Gundotra

    articleimage492 The Departure of Vic Gundotra

    Vic Gundotra had been working for Google for five years when Google+ officially launched in 2011. As the head of the Google+ division, Gundotra was seen as a figurehead of the social media platform. In April of 2014, however, Gundotra resigned from his position at Google. Gundotra elaborated that his departure was for personal reasons unrelated to the state of Google+, but it can still be seen as a major change for the platform. Obviously, the departure of one person cannot spell the doom of such a large system, but as one of several factors, it is a significant event.

    The Transition of Hangouts

    articleimage492 The Transition of Hangouts

    Google Hangouts—an interactive video conference platform—were once tied directly with Google+, requiring all participants to have a Google+ account in order to host or join a meeting. However, in summer of 2014, Google took a number of steps to enhance the Google Hangout experience, one of which was removing the requirement of having a Google+ profile. Now, Google Hangouts can be accessed by anyone with a Google Apps account, even if they do not have a Google+ profile. Google claims this change is simply to make the platform more professional (since personal profiles will no longer need to be seen), but it’s also one less reason to get a Google+ profile.

    The Transition of Videos

    At the end of August 2014, Google secretly rolled out a new feature in YouTube—the ability to import all your Google+ uploaded videos to your YouTube account. At first glance, it seems like just a nifty feature that allows you to connect your shared videos to your YouTube profile. However, it could be the first of many steps that Google is rolling out to give users a chance to export or re-host their shared Google+ content.

    Sign in With Google

    There is an increasing trend among web developers who have already created a button on their site with an option to “Sign in with Google+.” The integration is a nice feature for users of the Google+ platform, so developers are reluctant to remove it. However, Google appears to be rolling out a new button with an option to “Sign in with Google” to select web developers as a replacement. This may not seem like a small change—just removing the “+”—but it could be a major sign that Google is preparing to take more efforts to step away from the traditional Google+ brand.

    No Longer Required

    For several years, building out a Google+ profile was a requirement if you wanted any type of Google account. If you wanted a new Gmail address, or if you wanted to sign into YouTube, you had to create a Google account from scratch, and you’d automatically be enrolled in Google+, with no option to remove yourself unless you delete the account entirely. However, as of September 2014, Google+ enrollment is no longer a requirement for new signups. If you create a Google account from scratch, eventually you will be prompted to either “Create your [Google+] profile” or turn down the offer with a “No thanks.” Again, this is a relatively minor change, but the fact that Google is no longer pressing Google+ on new signups could be an indication of their declining enthusiasm for the product.

    What Does Google Think of All This?

    Clearly, Google has heard all the speculation that they’re doing away with the Google+ platform. But for now, they’re as insistent as ever that Google+ is a quality product they’ll continue to support. According to a report by TechCrunch, at least one Google representative denied the decline of Google+ by acknowledging Vic Gundotra’s resignation: “Today’s news has no impact on our Google+ strategy—we have an incredibly talented team that will continue to build great user experiences across Google+, Hangouts, and Photos.” There have been some significant staffing changes, but that doesn’t mean that Google+ is going away; according to internal sources, it’s just an indication of shifting priorities or new team assignments. To date, Google has given no explicit indication that it’s doing away with the platform.

    So What Does It All Mean?

    There’s no clear answer yet. Google+ could be phased out over the next year, or it could stick around for decades to come. But it is clear that Google is reevaluating their priorities, and is attempting to isolate the “Google+” brand from some of its other products. Rather than forcing Google+ down its users’ throats, it’s taking a more relaxed approach, segmenting its features and keeping Google+ as what it is—a social network for friends, colleagues, and family members. Whether these changes lead the platform to a new height in popularity, or result in its final demise remains to be seen.

  10. Why Germany Is So Desperate to Uncover Google’s Search Algorithm

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    articleimage481Why Germany Is So Desperate to Uncover Google's Sea

    German justice minister Heiko Maas recently demanded that Google reveal its search algorithm. Unfortunately for him, and for the people of Germany, that’s simply never going to happen. Google has demonstrated a long history of keeping its search algorithms a tight secret, and it’s not about to compromise that history because of one man’s—or one country’s—request.

    However, it’s important to understand why Germany is fixated on uncovering Google’s classified search engine algorithm, as well as why Google will probably never give it away. It’s more than just a battle of transparency versus proprietary control; Google truly believes it has the best interests of the online world at heart, but Germany does as well.

    So who’s the justified party in this request and denial? And why does it matter for search marketers?

    The Request

    articleimage481The Request

    Let’s take a look at why justice minister Heiko Maas made the initial request. Originally made public in an interview with Financial Times, Maas explained that he is unhappy with Google’s actions in Europe as a whole, including its policies on the privacy of user data, and the perceived monopoly it has on the world of online search. As a result, and in the interest of consumer protection, Maas believes that uncovering Google’s algorithm will give users more visibility and more information about the online tool they so regularly use.

    Google immediately and predictably pushed back. It’s kept its search algorithm an uncompromisingly tight secret for more than 15 years, despite countless requests—both public and private—to release that information to the public. Google officially responded that they would not comply with the request, stating that publishing their proprietary search algorithm would mean compromising its trade secrets and making the search engine more vulnerable to spammers.

    Both sides have valid concerns.

    Germany’s Case

    articleimage481Germany’s Case

    German justice minister Maas speaks for more than just his own country. His request came as a result of Google’s actions and presence throughout all of Europe, and by extension, the entire world. There are Internet users relying on Google as their search engine of choice in almost every corner of the globe, and the issues Maas sees are present everywhere.

    The case for user privacy

    The European Union tends to care about the privacy of its citizens a little more than the United States. As a result, the EU is concerned about the types of information Google has on its users, as well as the information that is semi-permanently stored on its databases. For example, the EU enforces a “right to be forgotten law,” which legally mandates that private citizens have the right to permanently remove old information about them that exists on the web. Google has resisted this mandate, offering a compromise that has since been rejected by EU officials. By revealing its search algorithm in full, users can learn more about their privacy and learn what they can do to protect it.

    The case for transparency and user safety

    In general, consumers have a right to know about the products they buy; this is why ingredient lists are mandated to be displayed on food products. Barring proprietary secrets, this information should be made public, and Maas would argue that all German (and European) citizens have a right to know what makes Google’s search engine work. It’s a relatively weak argument, since Google can immediately counter that their search algorithm is a trade secret, and its revelation could damage its integrity as a business.

    The case against monopolization

    In the United States, Google carries about two-thirds of all web searches, making it a powerhouse, but leaving a bit of room for the competition. In the European Union, however, Google is used for 90 percent of all searches. For years, the EU has been trying to make headway in the case against Google’s unrivaled power in the search world. While it is true that Google is dominating the competition, there isn’t much they can do. Nobody is forcing users to rely on Google; there are many other alternatives, such as Yahoo! or Bing. This makes it difficult to hold Google accountable to anti-trust laws, and allows Google’s reign to continue.

    Google’s Case

    Google has a strong case as well. Rather than focusing on the individual safety and privacy of its users, Google wants to make sure the web experience for the population as a whole is as good as it can be—and at the end of the day, they want to make a profit too.

    The case for proprietary secrets

    Google is a for-profit company. They are responsible for 90 percent of searches in the EU because they’re the best search engine around, and that’s a direct result of the effort they’ve spent on improving their algorithm over the years. If you give that algorithm—and all that work—away for free, anybody could build a similar search engine, and Google’s value would instantly plummet. As a private company that employs thousands, Google wants to stay profitable and healthy.

    The case for web quality

    There’s another big reason why Google keeps its algorithm secretive. Back in the old days of SEO, search marketers would take advantage of Google’s loophole-ridden algorithm any way they could, including spamming keywords and backlinks across the web. This led to a poor web experience for online searchers, and an online world riddled with low-quality, irrelevant content. As Google’s algorithm became more refined—and less predictable—the web gradually evolved to reward sites with high-quality content and structure.

    Google would argue that making its algorithm public would instantly take us back to a darker time, when any search marketer could use shady manipulative tactics to take advantage of the holes in the algorithm’s structure. By keeping the algorithm a secret, Google is keeping the Internet on a stable path forward to even more sophisticated content and search marketers who are more interested in providing a good user experience than in manipulating their rank.

    Why Google Remains in Control

    Google is an international company with an international dominance, so even if Germany passes restrictions or imposes fines on the search engine giant, Google will likely be unaffected. Nobody is forced to use Google. They use it because it’s the best search engine available. As a result, people will continue to demand it even if its top-secret algorithm is never exposed, and even if their privacy and consumer safety are at risk.

    Google is a powerhouse, people love it, and it isn’t technically breaking any rules. A public and international movement that demands the revelation of its algorithm might eventually sway the search giant, but such a movement would take years—or decades—to swell. In that amount of time, search will have evolved so far that this conflict may no longer be relevant.

    The ultimate takeaway here is that while Germany wants Google to be more transparent, Google is still in control, and for the most part, online searchers don’t care. They just want to log on, type in a search, and see the relevant results they’re used to. Unless users start caring enough to switch to an alternative search engine, Google won’t bat an eye; they’ll keep their search algorithm under wraps no matter who starts requesting it.

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