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Category Archive: Google

  1. How to Diagnose Your Low Conversion Problem

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    Conversions are the key to online sales success, serving as the gateway between an interested party and one just passing by. Conversion rates are the filter between your web traffic and your active customer base, so if your conversion rates begin to dwindle, your revenue will take a corresponding nosedive.

    A low conversion rate is not a hard problem to detect. If you’re seeing ample traffic to your website or landing page but you aren’t seeing many people make a purchase or fill out your information form, you have a conversion problem. Determining the root cause of your conversion problem, on the other hand, is more complicated.

    If you’re suffering from a lack of conversions, investigate the root of your problem by focusing on these questions.

    Who Are You and What Are You Selling?

    articleimage608Who Are You and What Are You Selling

    For a moment, forget everything you know about your business and everything you’ve done with this campaign. Look only at the final destination of your customer—usually the landing page, or the specific page of your website where you want people to convert. Using only the information available to you, form an impression of your business, including your brand identity and what it is you’re selling. If you can’t answer those questions, you may have found the root of your problem.

    Visitors need to see, immediately, the personality of a brand and the core goal of the landing page. For example, a new customer would have zero motivation fill out a form and hit “submit” if there’s no information about the business requesting such data. At the very least, you should have a link leading to more information about your business, and a clear showcase of your brand for new users. It’s also helpful to have a paragraph (or two) summarizing your business and providing information about your target products and services.

    Who Is Supposed to Be Reading This?

    articleimage608 Who Is Supposed to Be Reading This

    If you’re answer to this is “everyone” or something as vague as “web visitors,” it’s time to take another look at your target demographics. The most successful online marketing efforts are the ones with a laser focus, pinpointing very specific demographics with targeted messaging. If you write the same message for a 45 year old woman and a 16 year old boy, you’re going to have very different results.

    Only you can determine who your target demographics truly are. Use market research, historical data, or surveys to gather information about your audience, and assess which market segments are most likely to purchase your products. If you have multiple product lines for multiple demographics, you’ll need to split your landing page up into different segments so you can appeal to each independently.

    Once you’re successfully isolated a key demographic, you’ll need to refine your design and messaging to reflect that demographic’s interests. As a simplistic example, an older visitor might be interested in the safety of your product while a younger visitor might be more interested in its design.

    How Much Is There to See?

    Great landing pages are minimalistic. Bombarding a user with tons of images and information is a sure way to overwhelm them. Instead, cut down anything that isn’t absolutely necessary for the landing page to function. You’ll need a goal, like a form to fill out or a product to add to a cart. You’ll also need a strong and visible showcase of your brand and business so people know who they’re buying from. And it doesn’t hurt to have a few compelling visual elements. Beyond that, anything else you include could be doing more harm than good.

    A key example of this is bloated forms to fill out. A person’s name and email should be plenty of information to allow you to follow up—don’t ask them to fill out 20 different pieces of information. It’s too easy for users to quit halfway through the process, or bail before even attempting it.

    Take a razor blade to your landing page if this is the issue you face. Instead of listing the top 20 benefits of your product, reduce it to three, and try to minimize those three to single-word bullet points to capture more immediate attention. Instead of listing 10 different information fields for users to fill out, cut it back to four. Users’ attention spans are at all-time lows, so don’t count on your information being seen unless it’s some of the only information on the page.

    What Are Users Supposed to Do?

    Again, you’ll need to play the role of someone who’s never seen your landing page or website before. Pretend you’re a first-time visitor, and give yourself three seconds to look at the page’s design. Are you able to instantly tell what it is the site wants you to do? For example, is your form the most prominent visual item on the page, front and center? Is the “add to cart” button (or similar call to action) plainly visible, standing out from all the other elements? If not, you’ll need to make some design changes to make it even clearer to the user. Simpler is always better.

    How Are You Communicating?

    articleimage608 How Are You Communicating

    The effectiveness of your messaging is also a crucial component of successful conversion. Already in this article, I’ve written about the importance of targeting your message to a specific demographic, and about keeping things as minimal as possible. Those are important elements of the copy on your landing page, but you’ll need to take things a step further.

    You don’t have much room to work with on a landing page, and first impressions are everything. Look at the most prominent words on the page—usually your headline, first words of paragraphs, and phrasing around calls to action. Are they strong, compelling words, or filler words? Are your sentences clear, concise, and semantically appropriate? What emotions are you eliciting through your messaging?

    If all of this seems new to you, or if you aren’t satisfied with the answers to these questions, you’ll need to do a critical analysis and overhaul of your existing copy.

    What’s the Benefit?

    One more time, I’ll have you pretend to be a first-time visitor with no previous knowledge of your business. You’re seeing your landing page for the first time. Ask yourself immediately—what’s in it for you if you fill out this form or make this purchase? What is the value of taking this action, compared to the cost?

    For a simple purchase, you can make this clear by highlighting all the features of the product in question, along with any special offers—like a discounted price for web visitors. If you’re just looking for a form to be filled out, make sure the user is rewarded for the action. Offer a coupon or a free download of a piece of content. Just make sure it’s clear there’s something valuable available by taking action.

    Optimizing a landing page or website for conversions is an ongoing battle. You’ll never have a form that encourages 100 percent of your visitors to sign up, but with careful attention and responsive tweaking, you can gradually ratchet up your conversion rate and turn more of your site visitors into qualified leads or paying customers. Ultimately, that means more revenue for your business.

  2. 10 Reasons Why Google Isn’t Indexing Your Site

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    It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it feels devastating. If you’re going to get any organic traffic from online searches, you need to make sure your site is visible—in other words, if you want to show up on Google’s search results pages, Google has to know that your site exists. And if your site isn’t being indexed by Google, it might as well not exist.

    If your website isn’t appearing through organic search at all, fight the temptation to start panicking. Most of the time, this is simply an indication of some error or blockage that’s preventing Google from indexing your site—and these problems are easily fixed.

    Take a look at these 10 reasons why Google might not be indexing your site—if you can’t be found in Google, chances are one of these is the culprit.

    1. You don’t have both a www and non-www domain.

    articleimage606You don’t have both a www and non-www domain

    To the average web visitor, there’s no real difference between a URL that starts with http:// or http://www. Both of them ultimately lead you to the same place, so most users and webmasters don’t give it a second thought. But the www variant is actually a subdomain of the broader non-www version. In order to get your website indexed properly, you’ll need to verify your ownership of both in Google Webmaster Tools. You can also set your preferred domain, to inform Google which version you’d like to primarily use.

    2. Google is still looking for your site.

    articleimage606Google is still looking for your site

    If you’ve just launched a site and you excitedly scoured through Google to see your site listed, relax. It usually takes Google at least a few days to index a new site. If several days have already passed and you still haven’t seen any results, it could mean that Google is having trouble indexing your site—and that usually means you’re having an issue with a sitemap. If you haven’t yet created or uploaded a properly formatted sitemap, that could be your problem. Once corrected, you can “force” Google to crawl your website through Webmaster Tools.
    3. You’ve got a lingering robots file.

    Robots.txt files are shockingly common to find. Occasionally, developers or content managers will use a robots.txt file to prevent a search engine from indexing a given page. Essentially, the file communicates with Google crawlers and tells them not to index a site—so if you remove the file, you’ll cease to have an indexing problem. Do a thorough scan of your website code, and remove any instances of robots.txt files that aren’t there for a specific reason. You’ll still need to give Google a few days to index your site after correcting the erroneous file.

    4. Google is experiencing crawling errors.

    articleimage606Google is experiencing crawling errors

    It doesn’t happen often, but there is a chance that Google is having trouble crawling some of your web pages. If your home page is indexing, but not all of your internal pages are, it could be a symptom of a simple crawling error. Log into Google Webmaster Tools and click on “Crawl,” then “Crawl Errors.” This will lead you to a list of any pages on your site that are currently experiencing crawling errors. These errors are sometimes attributable to robots.txt files, detailed above, but can also be the result of DNS errors or server errors, both of which are easily correctable in most circumstances.

    5. Duplicate content is interfering with crawlers.

    If you’re following best practices for content marketing, this shouldn’t be an issue, but there are circumstances where duplicate content can exist on your site—such as variations of a “master page” designed for slightly different audiences. If Google detects multiple instances of duplicate content, search engine crawlers can become confused and abandon indexing your site altogether. The easiest way to correct this is to get rid of the duplicate content. If deleting the duplicate content altogether isn’t an option, you can use 301 redirects or selective robots.txt files to ensure that Google only crawls one instance of each page.

    6. Your site is experiencing loading problems.

    If Google’s going to index your site, your site needs to be up. That means if you’re experiencing a loading problem when Google is attempting to index your site, you might miss the opportunity to be indexed. Ridiculously long loading times are sometimes the issue; if this is the case, you can decrease your loading times by setting up a decent caching system, reducing the size of your images, and installing a few applications to make the site run faster. It’s also possible that your hosting is unreliable, resulting in intermittent downtimes that are interrupting Google’s indexing attempts.

    7. You’re using poorly optimized languages.

    Google has some strong preferences when it comes to the type of code on your site. HTML is one of the most easily indexed languages available, but not all options are so lucky. JavaScript and AJAX, for example, are supported by Google, but they are not as easily indexed as HTML. If your site is built in AJAX or JavaScript and your structure isn’t just right, Google could have trouble indexing your pages.

    8. You’re being blocked by htaccess or privacy settings.

    If you run a WordPress site, it’s possible you accidentally have privacy settings on—you can toggle this off by checking out “Privacy” under the Settings tab. It’s also possible that you’re using a .htaccess file for your website on the server. While .htaccess files are useful in most cases, they can sometimes interfere with site indexing.

    9. You’ve got a Noindex or Nofollow indication somewhere in the meta tag.

    Just like the robots.txt file, this is an addition that can mask your site’s pages from being found by search engine crawlers. Check your site’s code and look for the “noindex” tag somewhere in a meta title. If you find that somewhere, you’ve instantly diagnosed your indexing problem. Simply remove the tag and replace it if necessary, and you should be back on the fast track to search engine indexation.

    10. You’ve been hit with a massive penalty.

    When Google penalizes sites, it usually does so by dropping ranks and thus, visibility and traffic. However, there are rare and extreme cases when Google penalizes a site by completely removing it from indexes entirely. This is a type of manual penalty reserved for major infractions, so you don’t have to worry about this unless you’ve done something very wrong in the eyes of Google. If you’ve gotten deindexed this way, you’ve probably already been notified by Google, so unless that’s the case, you don’t have to worry that you’re not being indexed as a punishment.

    Once your site is indexable, give Google a few days to catch up. You should start seeing your site in search engine results shortly. If you’re still having trouble, it’s possible your indexing problem could be more complex than usual. If you’re appearing, but you’re ranking very low, it could be an indication that your site is still new and doesn’t have much authority, or it could be an indication of a penalty. Either way, staying committed to best practices over an extended period of time is the best way to increase your visibility.

  3. What the “Pirate Update” Means for the Search World

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    Google has taken a firm stance on Internet-related piracy in a recent algorithm filter it rolled out this past week. Known colloquially as the “pirate update,” the change aims to lower the visibility of popular piracy sites in an effort to “clean up the web” and reduce the prominence and accessibility of potentially illegal enterprises.

    Victims of copyright infringement, such as musicians and movie studios, are no doubt pleased about the rollout, but the update might have broader implications for net neutrality and site visibility for questionable webmasters.The update makes Google a stronger, almost judicial authority that can distribute penalties on offending sites without burdening the complex, sometimes ineffective judicial system. What that means for abiding webmasters remains to be seen.

    What Is the Pirate Update?

    articleimage578What Is the Pirate Update

    The pirate update actually has roots in an August 2012 update that Google released as a measure against sites with multiple and frequent reports of copyright infringement, such as sites that condone or enable piracy of music, videos, and other media. Google actually uses a database from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that tracks such reports, and uses that store of information to determine whether a site is a current offender.

    The most recent update, which started rolling out around October 24, 2014, is a new, complex layer of algorithmic changes that is designed to build on the existing processes. Officials from Google are hopeful that this new addition to the algorithm will catch offending sites that slipped through the previous filters, and replace any sites that were caught (but were undeserving of penalty in the first place). Like with most Google updates, the pirate update was rolled out over the course of several days, but it looks like most of the dust has already settled.

    Who Is It Hitting?

    articleimage578 Who Is It Hitting

    The update hit a number of torrenting and pirating sites almost immediately, and hit them hard. For example, the site, a popular torrenting brand in Europe, experienced a keyword drop of nearly 68 percent since the initial algorithm rollout in 2012., another popular torrenting location, told torrent news site TorrentFreak that their traffic numbers had already dropped by about half.

    The main victims of the update seem to again be sites with an unusually high percentage of DMCA requests for takedown. Compared to the changes from 2012, the recent iteration of the pirate update appears to be far more significant. Back in 2012, the update had very little impact, but today, several sites are reeling from a sharp and dramatic loss.

    Getting hit by the penalty doesn’t seem to be a unanimously bad thing, however. Most pirating sites have already earned a significant reputation on their own, without the aid of search engine rankings, and will continue to draw traffic regardless. After all, Google has no authority to take sites down or even directly restrict traffic—they can only limit visibility. Pirate Bay representatives informed TorrentFreak that they haven’t seen much of an impact simply because most of their traffic does not rely on Google to be found. In fact, they claim their traffic will actually increase, since many people who don’t find what they’re searching for will seek out the Pirate Bay as a result.

    Do I Have to Worry About Ranking Loss?


    Unless you’re running a popular torrenting site or a site that advocates or enables piracy, the short answer is no, you don’t have to worry about any ranking loss. Sites that have nothing to do with piracy directly will probably see no movement whatsoever. On the other hand, webmasters of piracy-related sites will have undoubtedly encountered a ranking drop already. In the unlikely event that your site fits some kind of gray area, if you haven’t already seen a significant loss of rank or traffic, you have nothing to worry about.

    However, it’s worth noting that this could only be the first of several new changes the search engine giant is making in an effort to keep the web “clean,” and free from sites with questionable material. Right now, that questionable material is limited to clearly illegal or habitually disreputable businesses, but that could potentially expand in the future—we’ll cover that in more detail in our “what it could mean for the search world” section.

    Google’s Motivation

    Google’s drive to release the pirate update and make continued efforts to try and reduce the visibility of pirating sites is not purely its own. Over the course of the past decade or so, film and music producers have been somewhat aggressive toward the search engine giant, accusing Google of not taking enough measures against piracy and demanding more strict, enforceable regulations. Hollywood and the music industry have been demanding more protection from all sides, including from the United States judicial system, but Google represented a much better opportunity. Google tends to do whatever it wants to do, but it also tends to listen when major players start making complaints.

    Some industry leaders have requested the full removal of offending sites from search results, but Google appears to only be lowering their rankings, attempting a kind of compromise that wouldn’t completely eliminate the visibility of torrenting sites, but would decrease it.

    Google may also be inspired to release such a change in order to simply “clean up the web,” and make it a better, more legal, more ethical place. But what would that mean for the future?

    What It Could Mean for the Search World

    Already, Google has begun to take liberties with what it defines as “relevant” search results. For most users, a search query should lead to a simple result—the most relevant result—as a kind of question-and-answer relationship. Google has adhered to that principle very strictly, weeding out rank manipulators in an effort to preserve that relevance, and even implementing the Google Knowledge Graph to give people more relevant answers to detectable questions.

    Now, Google is starting to pass new ranking boosts and penalties based on what it perceives and evaluates as “good” businesses. Local businesses with limited or negative reviews are ranked much lower than those with positive reviews, and now sites engaging in questionable legal practices are being hit with a similar ranking penalty.

    On the surface, Google appears law-abiding and collectivist, using the opinions of the masses and the influence of authorities fighting against illegal activities to modify its search results. But Google holds a lot of power—they’re by far the most popular search engine in the world, and they’ve never revealed their ranking algorithm. If they wanted to start penalizing sites for lesser infractions—such as not accepting returns—they could easily hurt a lot of business owners and/or quickly set new practically-mandatory standards for every business owner in the world.

    It’s not necessarily a good or a bad thing at this point, since Google has been both reasonable and beneficial to the online community as a whole so far, but the future is up in the air. With one update, Google was able to instantly squelch the visibility of an entire industry’s worth of websites, and it could easily decide to do something similar in the future. As a webmaster, keep watch for these constantly-updated standards, jump through the hoops when you can, and be on your toes for a potentially major shift in the years to come.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 3 Ways to Acquire Links from Large News Websites


    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.


    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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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.


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  10. 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”


    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.

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