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Category Archive: Google

  1. 5 Ways Smart Watches Could Impact Local Search

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    Smart watches have been on the horizon for years, sometimes seeming like a joke and other times seeming like the next big thing. Now that Apple is on board with the Apple Watch and tech companies at every level are looking to get on board with the technology, it appears inevitable that the age of smart watches will soon be upon us.

    At first glance, the change may not seem significant; early prototypes of smart watches appear to function just like smart phones, except attached at the wrist and with a smaller screen. But the age of technology that smart watches are influencing will soon grow to disrupt traditional search marketing strategies, and if you want to avoid getting left behind, you’ll have to start adjusting your campaigns accordingly.

    Local search appears to be the area of search most susceptible to changes from the smart watch trend. Since users will start wearing technology on the go, users will demand more efficient, more relevant, and easier-to-interpret results for their local queries.

    As you start to refine your strategy, consider these five potential ways that smart watches could revolutionize local search:

    1. Proximity Will Become a Factor.

    articleimage632Proximity Will Become a Facto

    Proximity already matters. When a user logs onto a laptop and starts a search, Google will recognize the general location of the user and generate results accordingly. For example, the search engine may detect that a user searching for “great burgers” is in Dallas, and populate some of the most well-reviewed burger restaurants in the city.

    Smart watch users will demand more specific results, and search engines will be happy to give them. By tracking a user’s exact location (and storing the exact locations of known local establishments), smart watches would conceivably give more accurate proximity-based results, giving users the closest burger restaurants to them with up-to-the-minute adjustments for moving targets.

    Proximity would also be a factor for local businesses looking to take advantage of smart watch technology. For example, a local coffee house could feasibly send out a discount coupon to smart watch users who enter the perimeter of the restaurant at a specific time, essentially producing a form of proximity-based promotion.

    Companies that take advantage of these proximity-based features will likely be rewarded in two ways: first, they’ll be more likely to show up in relevant searches because they’re optimized for location, and second, they’ll generate more foot traffic from early adopters looking forward to cash in their location-based coupons.

    2. Users Will Rely on Voice Search.

    articleimage632Users Will Rely on Voice Search

    Voice search is a technology already in use, but for a number of reasons, it has yet to catch on. Users are still accustomed to typing in their search queries, and many users don’t even know voice search exists on Google. Siri, Apple’s virtual assistant, has helped to popularize the possibility of implementing computer functions with vocal prompts, but the inefficiency of the system has led to many people avoiding it entirely.

    However, virtual assistants and semantic voice recognition have evolved over the course of several years. The technology is capable of giving users much more relevant results, dissecting the intent behind the spoken message and fetching results accordingly.

    Smart phone screens are already small and difficult for some users to type on, and smart watches will only make those screens smaller and more difficult. Users will be almost forced to rely on voice search to execute their queries.

    This shift in user adoption will force a change for search marketers in two ways. First, search marketers will need to include more phrase-based messaging on their web pages, including more colloquial and conversational language. People speak differently than they type, and search marketers will need to adapt to a new common input. Second, search marketers will have to contend with multiple search engines—the voice search functions of major search engines like Google as well as personal assistants like Siri.

    3.Alerts and Shorter Messages Will Become the Norm.

    articleimage632alertandmessage

    Smart watch screens will be smaller, and since the technology will be attached to a user’s wrist, it will be more difficult to play with. As a result, the technology will demand shorter, more immediate forms of communication with its accompanying user. Messages will need to be shorter, and concise, immediate alerts will take precedence over any other medium of communication.

    As a result, search engines will begin to show preference toward businesses with short streams of message content instead of long-form, detailed content. Users themselves will also prefer to follow and engage with companies who offer concise, valuable alerts and content instead of longwinded or cumbersome messaging. Tech giants will start to favor apps and integrations that offer convenient user alerts, and businesses that submit to those changes will earn more visibility.

    The proximity-based offers I mentioned above are a part of this potential system; businesses can give special offers to customers who visit locations in-person, or design an alert system to let users know of recent changes.

    4. Wearable-Specific Content Will Become Relevant.

    Some companies might attempt to optimize their content to be visible on any format, including desktop, mobile, and wearable technologies, but the next step of content evolution is personalized content, which seamlessly integrates real-word and digital-world experiences. Wearable technology will start to serve as the gateway that allows such a world bridge to form.

    For example, when users are eating at a restaurant, wearable technology could theoretically alert users to the various stages of preparation that their meals go through, integrating a digital experience into a traditional one. Pizza chains already offer a form of this technology online, and QR codes have already attempted to start a trend of using real-world establishments to spark digital experiences, but wearable devices will serve as the first generation of technology to solidify that world.

    As a result, companies will need to begin offering wearable-specific content and wearable-specific experiences. Search engines will favor establishments who have taken the steps necessary to push that trend, and users will gravitate toward the businesses that offer the best overall experience.

    5. Web Pages Will Wane in Significance.

    Already, users are starting to abandon the old formats of online experience. Instead of relying on a browser window and a URL bar, users are relying on individual apps and integrated experiences to accomplish their goals and work. Google is starting to promote this trend by integrating third party applications into its broader network—for example, it recently integrated OpenTable and Uber functionality into its Maps application, and it increased the page rank for third party local directories like Yelp and TripAdvisor with the Pigeon update earlier this year.

    If you want to stay relevant for search engines, you’ll need to find an alternative way to get your business online. It’s unlikely that traditional web pages will disappear overnight, but gradually, they will decline in significance. As a search marketer, you need to start hedging your bets and increase your visibility in as many ways as possible.

    These paradigm shifts will be gradual, especially considering only a small portion of the population will be early adopters of smart watch technology. However, the local businesses that adapt the fastest will earn the fastest, most significant rewards. Stay ahead of your competition by refining your strategies early, and preparing for the inevitable shakeups that smart watch technology will cause.

  2. 7 Ways the Knowledge Graph Could Change SEO Forever

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    The Google Knowledge Graph is a feature that started rolling out back in 2012 in order to improve the amount of information available online and the speed at which users could find it. It sounds like an amazing initiative—after all, the faster users can find relevant information, the better online experience they’ll have. However, the future of the Knowledge Graph could completely disrupt the world of search engine optimization, and decrease the value of the strategy altogether.

    Today, the Knowledge Graph exists in a relatively straightforward form. When a user sends a search query for a specific entity, Google will scour the web to pull and analyze properly formatted information about that entity, and display it in an organized fashion on the right side of the screen. For example, if a user searches for “Barack Obama,” the Knowledge Graph will display important biographical information, such as his birthday, full name, and of course, the fact that he’s the 44th president of the United States.

    Google gathers this information by dissecting and interpreting information found on external authoritative sites. This information is efficiently readable if it is entered in a specific microformatting template, like those found at Schema.org for various categories. Currently, the Knowledge Graph only covers a handful of categories of information, but as it expands, it could offer more information on more topics.

    The Knowledge Graph doesn’t have much impact on search as it stands today, but as it grows in both sophistication and user acceptance, it could have significant consequences for search marketers:

    1. Fewer Visitors Will Find You When Looking for Information.

    articleimage633Fewer Visitors Will Find You When Looking for Infor

    Google is trying to simplify the process of obtaining information. In the old way of searching, if you wanted information on a subject, you would type the query into Google, then sort through the results until you found what you were looking for. The Knowledge Graph immediately cuts out the last step of that process by providing such information directly to web searchers.

    That’s a good thing for most web users because it ultimately saves time, but many companies have fought hard to earn the top ranks for those search results, and they depend on the information-seeking traffic as a huge component of their overall web traffic. Their content strategies are based on providing information and positioning themselves as an authority, and as a result, they get thousands of visitors seeking information. Theoretically, the Knowledge Graph could dramatically reduce that traffic.

    2. You’ll Have More Targeted Traffic.

    articleimage633 You’ll Have More Targeted Traffic

    There is a positive side to that dramatic traffic reduction. Let’s say a user is intentionally searching for information on a specific movie, and your site provides that information. If the user reaches your site and finds the information he/she is looking for, he/she will likely leave immediately afterward. You may be getting a thousand hits from people looking for information, but those thousand hits are leaving after they get what they wanted out of you.

    The Knowledge Graph will filter out that traffic by providing them with that information right away. You’ll be left with more specific, targeted traffic—the people who want to visit your site for reasons other than basic information. The Knowledge Graph will also force users to type more specific queries, bypassing that initial wave of information in order to dig deeper and get more specific results. That means as long as you provide niche content to meet those queries, your conversions could actually increase.

    3. There Will Be Greater Demand for Contextual Clues.

    In order to attract more targeted traffic, your blogs and web pages will need to become more specific. It’s no longer enough to write posts that cater to specific keywords—like “Barack Obama.” Instead, you need to do more to ensure that the specific topic of your post is easily understandable to Google. For example, if your blog post is specifically about Barack Obama’s greatest accomplishments, you should spend less time covering background information on the president and more time showcasing the specifics.

    Doing so will help you avoid the problem of overcrowding in search results pages and rank for the hyper-specific pages your users will soon demand. It’s a less predictable strategy, but if you’re consistent, you’ll be rewarded with a greater, more relevant flow of users.

    4. Information Will Be in Less Demand.

    articleimage633 Information Will Be in Less Demand

    I covered this partially in point two, but the demand for information will rapidly decrease once people get used to the Knowledge Graph. If information is immediately available after briefly typing the topic into a search bar, why would users need to rely on the authority of a specific blog to get their information?

    All information-based content strategies will require a major overhaul. While it’s fine to provide some baseline information about these topics, your users will demand something more from you, and if you want to stay relevant in search results as well as with your audience, you’ll have to step up your game. More interactive, personalized content with walkthroughs, guides, case studies, examples, and engaging collateral features are all going to become more important, especially as Google starts adding more categories to their already-impressive Knowledge Graph repertoire.

    5. Knowledge Graph Ads Will Become a Viable Strategy.

    The Knowledge Graph will likely attract considerably more attention than the remainder of the SERPs, and Google realizes this. While right now, the Knowledge Graph is dedicated only to providing accurate, relevant information to the searcher, don’t be surprised if Knowledge Graph ads emerge as a Google products offering in the near future.

    It’s not certain how much these will cost in comparison to traditional PPC ads, but their visibility and click through rates will probably be superior. If you want to guarantee yourself some search visibility, consider investing in the strategy when it starts to emerge.

    6. The Gap Between Authoritative and Non-Authoritative Sites Will Widen.

    It’s difficult to make yourself stand out as an authority on anything, but Google has already made its mind up on the authoritative influencers for most Knowledge Graph categories (such as people and places). Most of its entries are heavily based on information found on Wikipedia and Freebase. At this point, it’s highly unlikely that the most authoritative sites on the web will ever be overthrown, meaning it will eventually become nearly impossible to emerge as an informational authority. Experience will matter more than information, but the inability to cultivate authority from information is a serious blow to some strategies.

    7. Users Will Demand More Immediate Experiences.

    The Knowledge Graph will likely tie into wearable technologies like Google Glass and smart watches to give users immediate results and information. As a result, users will start to demand even more immediate experiences, losing patience for any system that requires hunting and analyzing to find something they need. As a result, the winners of the search war will eventually be the ones who can provide that immediate experience, whether that’s in the form of an incredibly specific and helpful website, an integrated app, or an affiliate partnership with Google. Eventually, people may no longer rely on searching for traditional websites.

    It might be a little too soon to start worrying that the Knowledge Graph will destroy SEO as a strategy, but it is important to be wary of its potential impact. For now, implement microformatting throughout your site, work on providing the most relevant, accurate information for your customers, and hedge your bets by investing in inbound strategies other than basic SEO, such as social media marketing.

  3. How to Audit Your Local SEO Strategy

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    Local SEO is growing in importance, and too many companies are neglecting it in favor of a national strategy. Local SEO doesn’t take much more effort than a national campaign, and it rewards participants with a greater visibility in an environment with less competition. Ranking on page five for a national term isn’t worth nearly as much as holding a number one position for that same term on a local level, even if the potential audience is somewhat smaller.

    After Google’s recent Pigeon update, the scope and environment for local SEO has changed dramatically. There are now dozens of new ranking factors, stemming from third party sites and user reviews, which can affect your overall ranking for a local search term. The good news is that you don’t have to spend as much effort stuffing keywords into your content, but in exchange, you have to rely more on the actions of your customers and audience to fuel your authority.

    If you want to get a read for the health of your local SEO campaign and find direction for any changes you’ll need to make, it’s a good idea to perform a high-level audit.

    Here’s how:

    Get a Campaign Snapshot

    articleimage619Get a Campaign Snapshot

    Before you start looking at the individual factors that are affecting your authority and rank, you’ll want to get a relative measurement of how your campaign is performing. For this, you’ll want to look at some of the same metrics you’d use in a national campaign, with extra attention to your user demographics.

    Organic Visits

    Log into Google Analytics and check out the Acquisition tab, whose Overview will show you a breakdown of how many site visitors you had, and where those visitors came from. Pay special attention to the Organic Traffic number—this is the number of people who came to your site from searching for a term. Social Traffic is also important, especially if you have an active social media presence as a part of your overall campaign.

    Your Organic Traffic figure should grow from month to month fairly consistently. If you notice the numbers growing stagnant, it could be an indication of something wrong with the campaign.

    Demographics

    While still in Analytics, head over to the Audience section, and take a look at the Overview. Depending on the operating range of your company and which local markets you’re targeting, you can look at the county and territory of your users or the city under the “Demographics” tab on the left. Analytics will break down your user visits as a total number of visitors, and as a percentage of your total traffic. A high percentage of local visitors is generally an indication of a high-quality local optimization campaign.

    Once you know where you stand with organic visits and demographics, you can look at the individual components of your campaign and analyze how they are influencing the broader numbers.

    Check Your Offsite Presence

    articleimage619 Check Your Offsite Presence

    One of the most important elements of a post-Pigeon local optimization campaign is your business’s presence on as many third party and local directory sites as possible. The go-to example is Yelp, an aggregator of local business information and customer reviews, but there are several other sites with a niche focus, such as UrbanSpoon or TripAdvisor.

    Claim your company’s account on as many of these platforms as possible. You’ll want to do this for two reasons: first, you’ll be able to verify your information’s consistency across the web, especially your name, address, phone number, and business hours. Second, you’ll have more opportunities to cultivate reviews, but we’ll get more into that in the next section.

    Claiming your profile and verifying your information on these sites is usually a one-time process, but you’ll want to check back every so often to make sure your information is still up-to-date. You’ll also want to do a quick check to see if there are any new, relevant directories that have emerged and claim your account early.

    Analyze and Nurture Your Reviews

    articleimage619 Analyze and Nurture Your Reviews

    Checking your business information is only the first half of the local directory audit. The second part is more intensive, and arguably more important for your customer relationships. These sites all share one core feature: the ability for customers to post public reviews. The more high-quality reviews you have the better—it looks good to the other customers and even sends an authoritative ranking signal to Google.

    Take a look at the number of new reviews you’ve gotten, and how positive those reviews are. If you’re getting a high number of negative reviews, read them carefully and try to figure out what you can change to encourage more positive reviews. If you aren’t getting many reviews at all, you need to do more to encourage your in-person customers to leave feedback. (Remember, it’s a violation of policy to directly ask for reviews. Instead, simply direct your customers to the review site itself and leave the decision to review up to them).

    You’ll also have the opportunity to reply to reviews. This is a good chance to reinforce positive experiences, and make up for any negative ones.

    Scrutinize Your Link Profile

    Like with any SEO campaign, you’ll want to take a look at your link profile, especially if you notice your organic traffic numbers dropping. You’ll need a lot of links to gain authority, but you also want to make sure those links come from quality sources. Use a tool like Moz’sOpen Site Explorer to search for instances of your links on external sites. If any of them look suspicious or unfamiliar, take a closer look. If you don’t remember building the link, or if you suspect the link may be harming your domain authority in any way, reach out to the webmaster and ask for the link to be taken down.

    Dissect Your Content Strategy

    Finally, you’ll want to take an objective look at your content strategy. Like with a national strategy, you’ll want to ensure your content answers customer questions, covers topics related to your industry, is detailed, and is well written. But local optimization campaigns need to go a step further, with content that frequently mentions your city or region, and occasional pieces that are relevant to the local community.

    For example, you could write about a local event or local news story and feature it on your blog, or you could submit a press release about your company’s attendance at a local celebration. The goal here is to produce enough content to objectively tie your company to the city or region in question. Don’t go overboard—keyword stuffing is a danger here—but if you aren’t producing enough locally optimized content, it could interfere with your demographic makeup and local visibility.

    After performing a local SEO audit, you should have a good idea of where you stand, and what areas you’ll need to improve upon as you move forward. Take some time to outline a plan moving forward, including objective goals related to traffic changes and new initiatives. Set milestones for accomplishing each of these goals, and follow up when appropriate to re-audit your campaign and see whether you hit the mark. Just don’t expect immediate results—auditing your campaign once a month is enough for most businesses.

  4. A New Google Maps: What’s Ahead for Local Business?

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    articleimage617 A New Google Maps

    Search marketers usually scramble to try and analyze and predict the course of Google search algorithm updates, but it’s an application update that has us puzzled this week. Google updates its applications regularly, just as it updates is search algorithm, to keep things fresh and add new features—it’s a standard practice for app development and management, but with an air of Google’s classic unpredictability.

    If you’ve driven anywhere unfamiliar in the last ten years, you’ve probably used Google Maps at some point. Almost a billion people use it as their maps application of choice on a monthly basis, making it the most popular app in the world, and Google wants to maintain that popularity the same way they’ve maintained the popularity of their search function—by improving user experience.

    That user experience improvement most recently came in the form of a full-scale redesign of the app, along with the addition of a few new features. For average app users, the update appears to be a simple facelift, making it easier on the eyes and more “modern” looking. But the fundamental experience of the Maps application is beginning to change altogether, and it could forecast new challenges and new opportunities for local businesses in the future.

    An Analysis of the Changes

    articleimage617An Analysis of the Changes

    Let’s take a look at the changes that Google rolled out. The fundamental functionality of the Maps application is the same—users can search for locations, and plan routes from one point to another. The biggest changes are visual, barely affecting user experience, but the more significant changes came in the form of added features.

    First, Google overhauled the graphic design elements of the app, changing the interface users have gotten used to since the last major update. It now sports the features of Material Design, a set of styles that Google has begun to adopt for most of its applications. For example, Google Play, Google Newsstand, and Android operating systems have all gotten facelifts based on this design. Google Maps is just the latest to fall in line. Some users have found the new design less easy to use when navigating, but this is subjective; for the most part, navigation is identical to what it used to be.

    The bigger changes are the functional ones—Google has now added both OpenTable reservation options and Uber estimates into its interface.

    If you aren’t familiar with OpenTable, it’s an independent platform that works with restaurants to allow users to schedule reservations quickly and easily. Google now allows users to take advantage of the scheduling service without ever leaving the core Google Maps app—a strange move for the company. When a Maps user finds a restaurant that lists OpenTable as a reservation scheduling option, Google Maps shows a “Find a Table” icon under the typical information section. From there, you’ll be able to select your information (such as the number of people in your party, time, and date), and schedule a table without leaving Maps.

    Similarly, Uber has gotten the in-app treatment from Google with this latest update. You’ve probably heard of Uber by now, but if you haven’t, it’s a popular ride sharing service almost like a taxi in several major cities across the country. Now, whenever you chart a trip using the Google Maps navigation function, as long as you already have the Uber app installed on your phone, you’ll see an “Uber” section, which will estimate the length of your trip and the associated fare should you choose to go with the service. Then, users can click a button to open the Uber application.

    A Deeper Look Into Google’s Motivation

    articleimage617A Deeper Look Into Google’s Motivation

    The superficial design changes of Google’s latest Maps update require little explanation. Google is playing the role it always has, trying to give its users the latest, sleekest, most visually pleasing experience possible. It’s the new functionality that has search marketers and tech enthusiasts guessing the search giant’s ulterior motivation.

    By now, it’s pretty clear that Google wants to take over the world—or at least the online world. And so far, it’s done a pretty good job. Google immediately rose to the top of the food chain after it released, becoming the go-to search engine for billions of users, and it’s remained untouchable as the king of search despite increasing attempts from competitors like Bing to make up ground.

    Google isn’t losing ground in search, but it is starting to lose ground in some specialized, niche markets. For example, Yelp has become a force to be reckoned with online, aggregating information on local businesses and collecting reviews from consumers in order to provide a straightforward and informative database—one that gives users more information than a simple Google search. Similar local directories, like TripAdvisor and UrbanSpoon, have also popped up to serve special verticals. Google was initially reluctant to aid these companies in any way, but recently it released the Pigeon update, which gave a ranking boost to company entries on these directories, and gave a boost to companies who had a large number of great reviews.

    It shows that Google is willing to acknowledge when another company upstages it—but it’s not willing to let them take its users. Google found a way to make the directories happy, make their shared users happy, but still keep people relying on Google for their needs.

    The principle is the same here. Google is starting to recognize that other applications and companies are more convenient for certain functions, so rather than trying to compete or submitting and sending users away, Google is keeping all its users within the confines of its own application while simultaneously taking advantage of these outside services. Everybody wins.

    Strategic Changes for Local Business

    OpenTable and Uber are the big names here, so if you aren’t affiliated with either of them, this update won’t affect you much. You might see a few more customers using Uber to get to your destination, and a few more people sending reservations your way through OpenTable (provided you’re listed with them), but other than that, this particular update shouldn’t send you scrambling.

    Instead, this update is an indication of the shape of things to come, and as a result, you can use it as a guide to adjust your strategy for the future. Google is starting to favor highly authoritative, niche, third-party applications, and that trend will likely accelerate, especially over the next few years.

    Local businesses can take advantage of this by listing themselves on as many of these third party services as possible. Claim your profile on every local directory that pertains to you, and keep watch for new applications emerging in popularity. Cultivate positive reviews and user activity on these sites as much as possible, and respond quickly to any negative reviews or comments.

    This strategy is already useful for local SEO as well as overall user engagement, but it’s only going to grow in significance as Google spends more time trying to provide an integrated, seamless experience for its users. You’ll get more attention, Google will keep its users, independent applications will get more credit, and ultimately, your shared users will have a more enjoyable, more reliable online experience.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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 torrentz.eu, a popular torrenting brand in Europe, experienced a keyword drop of nearly 68 percent since the initial algorithm rollout in 2012. Isohunt.to, 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?

    articleimage578RankingLoss

    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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

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