Google Summer Updates

google penguin

Search Quality Highlights
There’s been so much Google news lately, that it’s hard to pick a starting point. First off, Google released search quality highlights for June and July. Out of the 86 updates, here are some changes that caught our attention:

– “ng2. [project codename “Other Ranking Components”] Better ordering of top results using a new and improved ranking function for combining several key ranking features.” Could it be any more vague?
– “Lime. [project codename “Freshness”] This change improves the interaction between various search components to improve search results for searches looking for fresh content.” Highlighting the importance of consistent updates!
– “Challenger. [project codename “Snippets”] This is another change that will help get rid of generic boilerplate text in Web results’ titles, particularly for sitelinks.” Just another example of how Google hates spammy sitewide links and boilerplate anything.

Next Penguin Update
In a keynote at SES San Francisco, gave SEOs everywhere quite a scare when he mentioned that the next Penguin update will be big. Online, Matt went on to later clarify that he meant that Penguin updates will take longer (as opposed to the almost monthly Panda updates) because it will incorporate “additional” signals. As we mentioned the vagueness of these additional signals, the overall goal is to create a more noticeable impact that will improve user experience.

7 vs 10 Results
Have you noticed less results in your searches? Google has been testing 7 results per page, as opposed to 10. On these certain searches, you’ll probably see more sitelinks for branded terms. Less results on a page means more clicking and more opportunity for paid ads… interesting. On the other hand, some proponents believe that Google is sending them higher quality results for their queries so that they’ll have to do less digging around for what they want. Any thoughts on either argument?

Panda 3.9.1 Refresh
The latest Panda refresh was unleashed this past Sunday. Again, Google has been criticized for releasing these updates on the weekends as webmasters have a hard time analyzing data that usually naturally trends downwards because of cyclical search behavior. This update supposedly only affected less than 1 percent of queries and it will take a few days before all the dust settles so that webmasters can properly analyze their rankings.

For now, that’s it for Google but don’t expect things to slow down after summer! What are you worried about and what would you like to see addressed?

What’s the Worst SEO Advice You’ve Heard?

It’s not unusual to come across questionable advice when combing for SEO news. Having different theories, ideas or conspiracies is fine… but some things are just plain ridiculous. Here are a few bad ones that I’ve seen lately and if these are part of your online organic strategy, it should be time to reconsider:

1) Don’t worry about search engine updates – In other words, keep doing what you’re doing and everything will be just fine. Right… Google Panda updates have consistently been rolled out within weeks of each other. In what world does it make sense to ignore these important updates? (Keep in mind that this isn’t a change in the algorithm, just a refresh). The idea is there but there’s no way you can completely ignore these updates and expect stable rankings.

2) All you need to worry about is creating great content – Preaching creation of great content is great but there’s more to online marketing than just that. Links are an essential part of helping readers find your content. This involves on page SEO, external linking and social factors. In the wake of all these Google updates, there are many proponents who believe that “less is more” and that can be a good thing. But it’s important not to leave out the basic aspects of optimization.

3) If your competitors are outranking your business, copy their methods – From copying link sources, website design to anchor text, I’ve heard it all! Copying a competitor is not a great idea as you might not understand everything that they’re doing to achieve those high rankings. You might think that it’s one thing but there is a lot of behind the scenes work that could make all your hard work ineffective… or even worse, it could tank your site! Lastly, how are you ever going to differentiate and have a clear brand voice if you’re getting all your ideas from someone else? It’s fine to get inspiration but in the end, you have to make it your own and make sure that it fits in with your long-term goals.

4) More content/links will help me rank better – I recently came across a case studies page of an internet marketing firm. Their “success” stories went a little something like this: Before: 78 web pages / After: 395 web pages. Before: 254 backlinks / After: 3764 backlinks. Since when did quantity become more important that quality? If you come across a company like this, it’s ok to question it. Let’s say you have 10 pages on a niche area and are still not ranking well – it’s time to ask WHY and not ask for MORE content. If you can’t rank for desirable phrases with that much content, something is seriously wrong.

Let us know of any bad or questionable advice you’ve heard recently.

Waiting Around for Panda 3.9?

Have you seen any fluctuations in your search results lately? There’s some speculation that another Google Panda update has hit or that’s coming very soon. The last confirmed refresh was on June 28 and it’s not unusual for updates to occur within as little as 2 weeks from the previous one.

It’s important to keep an eye on: website traffic, impressions, calls, and even number of contact forms received. Looking at trends will help you diagnose the problem if something has gone terribly wrong. For example, a website with a weak backlink profile can go from 1st page rankings and tank to 10th + page after an algorithm update. Without regularly monitoring your website, it would be difficult to tell until it’s too late. Summer months tend to be slower (depending on your industry), so it can also be a seasonal factor and not a Google update. Nowadays, people are too quick to jump the gun and blame everything on Google when there is a bigger picture.

Prevention is the key to being flagged by Panda or Penguin updates. But what about the paranoia that your site could be penalized? Some website owners admit to making SEO content updates so frequently that they can’t tell if the results they get are from their own handy work or from Google updates. In fact, that’s the last thing you want to do – make random changes, change loads of anchor text, add or remove tons of links. This isn’t helpful if the end result is good or bad if you don’t know what lead you there.

“Slow and steady wins the race”. In this case, it could pay off to wait and see what changes need to be made and how to recover instead of digging yourself into a deeper hole. Even if it’s out of fear of being nabbed by Google’s updates, it will help if you constantly monitor your website and make additions that will help it become more effective and user friendly.

Google’s April Search Quality Highlights: What Stands Out For You?

What a month it’s been! Google has released 52 search quality updates over the past month and it’s felt like non-stop changes in search results.

While you can check out the entire list here, these are a few that stood out:

Smoother ranking changes for fresh results. This update is meant to help users easily find fresh, breaking news stories. For example, if you search “Google Panda Updates” you can expect stories about the latest update (Panda 3.6) to be at the top of the search results. This is slight factor plays a minor role in ranking changes and you can expect more to come as the algorithm is tweaked to be more sensitive to fresh stories.

Keyword stuffing classifier improvement. Google has designed a keyword stuffing detector so that they can better seek out sites that are participating in this outdated and ineffective practice. As we can assume, this was one of many signifiers used in the Penguin update, which solely targeted “webspam”.

Less snippet duplication in expanded sitelinks. It’s a well known fact that Google is averse to duplicate content and content that is used over again site wide. With this update, Google is working on reducing duplicate snippets of expanded sitelinks. This means that you’re less likely to see the same content summary of related topics that you’re searching for. In another related update, Google also worked on displaying the beginning of the content on each page for snippet results to give users a better idea of what they’re about to click on.

More authoritative results. This is a vague mention of an important update. Google has updated a signal that they use to find more authoritative content. Perhaps this is related to the PageRank update, although it technically occurred in May.

What do you think of last month’s search updates and do you think they’re helping you prepare for changes in the upcoming months?

Can Competitors Attack Your Site With SEO?

Lately, there’s been much debate on whether Google penalizes bad/low-quality links OR if they simply de-value them. With every algorithm update, there is more speculation. The argument is that Google can’t (or shouldn’t) penalize outside factors, such as links, that can be created by virtually anyone – including your competitors.

This is where the notion of negative SEO comes into play. Since frantic webmasters are scrambling to avoid over optimization penalties, what’s to stop the really vindictive ones to use these tactics against a competitor?

If you’re interested in reading this long thread, 2 users posted a case study about their experiment on using “negative SEO” techniques to cause 2 sites to tank in just a few weeks. They post rankings of specific keywords before and after their link bombs and the 2 targets suffered accordingly. If this experiment really holds true, this means that competitors can focus on penalizing your site instead of optimizing theirs. Rand from seoMOZ eventually joined in on the conversation and even offered his site as an experiment for negative SEO.

On one side, this is terrifying news and imagine all the possibilities! Competitors can spend a few hundred dollars a month to send crummy links to your site, buy social mentions, submit false/wrong information to automated local citation services and more. This is all in the realm of possibility… but others argue that negative SEO alone cannot bring down a site that has been thriving solely using white hat techniques.

The best thing you can do is to keep an eye out on the search marketing newsphere. Keep this information on your radar so that you know what’s going on and when. It’s also important to keep tabs on your site via analytics and check them regularly for any drastic and unnatural changes – like say a couple thousand incoming links from irrelevant sites! It also helps to check your rankings (with a service like Authority Labs) or even keep Google Alerts so that you’re aware of mentions and if anything else unusual occurs.

For now, we’ll have to stay tuned to see how this negative SEO experiment turns out. In the mean time, SEOs around the world are awaiting Google’s official word on this topic. This idea of manipulating a competitor’s link profile is controversial but relatively low-key (for now) but what if it catches on with more and companies attacking each other? Do you think that Google will wait until then to make an announcement or change the way that they value bad incoming links?

Search Marketing Odds & Ends

For your Friday: here are some helpful tips that we all hope you can benefit from.

Don’t focus on just one factor: When it comes to metrics and analytics, it’s difficult but sometimes, you just have to pull through! Focusing solely on one measurement whether it is Page Rank, bounce rate, or clickthrough rate can cause you to lose focus of other measures as a whole and lose sight on the big picture. For example, it’s not uncommon to hear about a client who complains of being outranked by a competitor for 1 particular term… even if they are outranking that particular competitor for 10 different terms! In other words, pick your obstacles and choose wisely.

LinkedIn Answers and Avvo: These are both reputable Q&A sites for business professionals. Being active can help increase your credibility in the community. Bonus: as you become more active, your search engine visibility may also increase as these trustworthy sites are favored in search algorithm.

Don’t be intimidated by updates: Google Panda updates or algorithm changes can seem like a scary thing. The important thing is to stay in tune with what’s going on. As we’ve always said before, if you haven’t dabbled in black/grey hat linkbuilding methods, you should be in the clear. Many times, these announcements drum up anxiety and panic causing people to go out and make sporadic changes to their site. In the mean time, they may very well be doing unnecessary damage to their own site and blaming the drop in SERPs to the updates.

Put the most important things first: This goes with content, Facebook updates and Tweets and anything else you want to link. In a more specific example: we are conditioned to think of Twitter updates in 140 short characters. Think again – how about 45 characters, instead of 140. Many people have found that while whole Tweets are indexed, the messages are truncated in results at about the 45 character mark. While it’s tempting to please the search engines, remember to put real human readers first.

Don’t believe the SEO is dead hype: While the tactics of search marketing from 5+ years ago are “dead”, SEO is far from dead. An increasing number of these articles are showing up for many different reasons: link bait, shifting the focus on alternative search marketing strategies (local and social) or even just because SEOs who want to be disassociated with the myth that all search engine optimization is spam. Make sure to check out this article to see why SEO will never really die.

Stay tuned for more odds & ends and have a great weekend!

Are You Guilty of SEO Overkill?

Google PandaEven though it’s 2011, it’s amazing how many people still associate keyword stuffing with effective SEO. Sometimes, being too results-driven can cloud your thoughts and make you forget the most important thing – effective content is written for people not robots.

Optimization could involve brand new content or pages that already exist. Whatever the case, keyword research is always the first step. This will help you determine the keywords you want to use for meta descriptions, titles and tags. It’s also important to incorporate these chosen keywords into H1 tags. They key here is to do so sparingly. When you have natural and well-optimized content, your site will rank better and become more trustworthy to human readers as well as search engines.

In honor of the recent Google Panda Updates here’s an example of a paragraph that has gone too far (hopefully, content like this doesn’t remind you of your own!):

Panda Toy Palace – the best online store for panda toys! As a panda toy store in Los Angeles, we offer the best in panda accessories, panda clothing, and panda supplies! If you can think of a panda-related product, we have it! We love panda toys and are happy to share our love of panda products with all our fans. Panda Toy Palace is the only Panda toy place that you’ll ever need!

We get it. If your key products are panda toys posting content like this is neither helpful or relevant. It’s just a really long and drawn out way to promote your products and Panda Instead, you can write about natural or “natural” panda toys. Maybe a post about panda toys to coincide with upcoming holidays like Halloween and Christmas? You can even highlight a few products and ask customers for their opinions. Your content needs a good reason to exist!

Panda Updates are cracking down on “spammy” content that is overstuffed with keywords. Many legitimate sites have had trouble because of these updates and it’s just a reminder for everyone else to be mindful of their optimization tactics. Remember to keep your eye out for signs of over optimization and overkill – the Panda is always watching!

Is It Possible to Have Too Much Content?

Believe it or not, there IS such a thing as having too much content (and we’re talking about onsite content here). Effective SEO strategies are linked with quality content but people may often mistake that for just adding more content. Notice how quality gets left behind?

This is becoming more clear as Google Panda updates are rolling out. The goal is to weed out pages that are not helpful to consumers. So, how do you explain this to a client who wants 50 pages of content put up simultaneously?

Content, Search Engines and Customers

Dumping a ton of content in a single move looks suspicious to search engines because they are aware of many things: the quality of your content, the potential of its usefulness and in the end, it helps them uncover your motive (black hat or white hat SEO). I think that making this move gives off a hint that this is a one time thing and that your site won’t be updated frequently.

There’s only so much content that customers can digest without being completely bored or disinterested. As a consumer, when was the last time you sat down and made time to read more than a handful of pages on a website?

Consistency and Quality over Quantity

The next time someone urges you to add massive amounts of content at once, it’s important to let them know why it’s not a good idea. (And no, it’s not because you’re looking for an excuse to not do work!) SEO content strategy requires a consistent schedule and more does not mean that you will rank any better. If anything, posting too much content that is not useful to users can actually hurt your rankings nowadays.

Life After Google Panda Updates and Link Building

link building

Love it or hate it, link building is still an important part of SEO after the massive Google Panda updates.

The quality of your inbound links is becoming more important as Google Panda updates have shown us.  Although these updates are aimed at getting rid of “content farms” and lower quality links, many people’s rankings have been hurt by the recent Google Panda 2.2 updates.  For example, many people who used to rank well for certain phrases using article submission sites have now seen drastic drops. Of course, you know Google is already preparing version 2.3!

Because of these updates and changes to Google’s search algorithm, quality links have become increasingly important. Overall, the point of these updates is to help you recognize and ultimately remove low ranking on site pages and off site content in order to improve user/customer experience.

And with the debut of Google +,  you bet that social media activity is becoming more important in determining your search engine rankings! Back to my point of link building – it’s crucial to continue your efforts on a consistent basis. Here are a few good link  building resources that are sure to be helpful.