As widely varied as the information always is regarding search engines, the way they operate, and guesses and ideas about changes that may or not be happening, there is always someone out there who is making huge assumptions about their activity. The problem with speculation isn’t the nature of the act itself, but in how it can turn into the telephone game, and where the person in the front wrote a snippet of an article about funny page ranking activity, on the other end of the spectrum we have people telling you that they were banned from search for buying links or some such. The inception of search engine myths are a danger to the web, not for practiced experts in the field, but for those website owners and new comers to the space. They tend to run with the incredible ideas and notions, and forget that the simplest answer is likely the right one.
Every year we get some of the same myths making the rounds and they crop up year after year. At the outset so far it seems that the first myth to start us off is all about links and backlinking to your site. One of the largest offenders so far is that anchor link text is going to be at the very least a waste of time for you, at worst a detriment to your site. Now to start with, it’s dangerous to start spreading the misinformation that using anchor links on your site is a bad thing, as it is one of the simplest tools in the book to allow search engines to index your site quickly. The only danger that is associated with anchor text and links comes from ending up with backlinks coming from a less than squeaky clean site, but even then search engines have gotten much better at detecting and ignoring them. So the idea that anchor text and links are bad things, is a myth that needs to just finally go away, maybe 2013 will be the year that happens.
And I think one of the biggest myths that needs that just seems to stick around year after year along with the death of SEO, is that backlinks will no longer be the/a defining ranking signal. Anyone who has been involved in the industry for more than a couple of years will tell you, high quality, relevant backlinking isn’t going anywhere in terms of how important a factor it is where ranking is concerned. Here at Freshtraffic, we have more than 20 years of experience of working on the web and scouring the globe for high quality, relevant backlinks for our clients sites. And the number one thing we can take away with that experience is aside from upkeep on those links, is that backlinks are always important. The naysayers who are primarily calling out the death of backlinking are often marketers who are pushing fully into the social area, putting all of their eggs in a single basket. Bing has integrated social signals into their search, Facebook is coming out with their own version of a search engine, and Google has their own social angle with Google+, social is definitely here and it is here to stay. But if nearly two thirds of average online activity is done while not signed into a social account, it shows how much are those marketers losing by focusing on the social only angle.
Online optimization isn’t a one step process, the companies who will remain successful on the web will embrace all aspects of optimizing a clients website. Social, local, on page optimization and off page back link gathering and that is only the beginning of the optimization spectrum.
What was once the most popular place on the web, Yahoo and it’s landing pages, have made the announcement they’re going to make a push into search. With an aggressive new CEO in Marissa Mayer at the helm, she made the message loud and clear that Yahoo needs to improve their search offerings if they even hope to improve their own position in market share.
Way back when the web was still young, in the early 90′s Yahoo was pretty much the premier starting point of the web. It had news, email, a search engine, a small launch pad for you to start hopping about the web. The web portal enjoyed a very strong following for a number of years, until the upstart Google entered the scene and changed the search game forever with its introduction of Pagerank and the search algorithm that went with it. It was lean, mean, and very fast, and Yahoo remained comfortable, for a short time, but before long they found themselves slipping first in search share, and then as a starting point for the web.
From the call yesterday, Mayer admitted that big investments need to be made in the companies search offering, and they’ll carry that on into their mail and homepage as well.
“We have a big investment we want to make and a big push on search. We have lost some share in recent years and we’d like to regain some of that share and we have some ideas as to how.”
It is clear that Mayer is working aggressively to try and recapture some of the lost glory that the company enjoyed some 15 years ago, and ideally to return to its own search engine instead of relying on a Bing powered infrastructure. Initially it looks like Yahoo will start with a new, improved search user interface, and look for a way to rebuild their web home page status from there.
With the way that the internet works, and with the way that the search engines whiz about indexing and ranking content million of pages at a time, it is a daunting task to try and break into that mold. It is that seemingly insurmountable wall that often troubles companies from taking on search engine optimization experts, as they see the search engines and the ranking pages as mountains, when they’re closer to speed bumps if you can do the job right.
Often times we get a phone call from a company or individual who has decided they would like to improve their business options by being prominently displayed in search. Thankfully because we are very good at what we do, our phone calls are prequalified up to a certain point, because they found our website at the top of the results pages. First rule of shopping for search engine optimization – if you can’t find the company you just called on the search engines, you should hang up. Picking an SEO company that you found in the yellow pages as opposed to searching for them is a bad idea.
Once you’ve found the company you would like to engage, then you need to pay close attention to what they’re saying. If you ever hear the phrase “..guaranteed #1 ranking..” in any results page, then you need to immediately start paying attention. To put it plainly, no SEO can guarantee placement in the results pages, the web is immensely fluid, with positioning sometimes changing daily, and often happening every 10 days or so. It’s not uncommon to see someone in the top 3, then disappear for a few hours while everyone gets re-indexed, and then reappear back in their previous spot. If you find you’re not suddenly available in the results pages after engaging an SEO company, before you pick up the phone in fear, just wait a couple of hours and search again. Pay attention to the layout of the results on the first couple of pages, and if you don’t reappear within a couple of days then absolutely contact them. Second rule of engaging a search engine optimization expert – shift happens.
When we have a discussion with a client, whether they’re new, existing, or a long term one, often we work with them directly with a handful of key on page components. One of the first things we look at are the very basic elements, the titles and meta tags of the individual website pages. We’ll also work with the on page content, and try to ensure that they’re keeping it relevant to what their campaign is focused on, otherwise you could find yourself at the end of a confused ranking algorithm. Once we’ve made sure that all of the on page basics are covered, you can start to expect the deliverable from our end – increased traffic to your website. One misconception that seems to hound the SEO industry is that engaging an expert to help with your positioning will yield more online business. And while that is partly true, it’s actually much more basic than that. Because while we can promise increased traffic to your website, we won’t promise you directly increased sales. Conversions are up to you and your website, as it doesn’t matter if we increase your traffic a thousand times and you have no way to convert it, you’ll still not gain as much as if you had a clear, strong call to action. Third rule of engaging an SEO expert – we can bring you traffic, but you need to work on your call to action to convert.
Google, and for Bing as well for their part in the search game, make hundreds of changes to their search algorithms every year. Two of the largest changes came in the past year from Google, with the inclusion of the Panda and Penguin algorithms into the search world. When the two came online, it didn’t take long for the affected site owners to cry foul, and some even still are feeling the effects of the new search cleaners.
Something very recently however has changed again, and this time it’s almost a backwards trend in search as opposed to moving forward. The Panda updates of the last year were included to try and clean out the scraper sites from ranking higher than the original author sites. And over the last couple of weeks it seems that either someone turned Panda off, or perhaps Google is placing more weight in their rel=”author” tag and just decided to not tell anyone. Since Facebook has come out with the news of their upcoming Graph search, perhaps this is Googles way of trying to push web owners into using the tag, in order to boost their own social pages in the search results. Only Google really knows, but at the present there seems to be a handful of scraped content sites showing up more prominently than the content owners. What this could possibly be is anyones guess, but maybe Panda took a vacation for a few days, just to see if anyone is paying attention.
And just to throw a little more into the fire for search speculation today, it seems like Googles Panda isn’t the only one up to something. Over the last couple of days there has been some shifting in the SERPs, and while that’s not uncommon, what makes it unusual is that it’s affecting 1-2 keyword searches, most affect 3+ term searches. The reason that is a little strange is you don’t typically see major changes in the 1-2 keyterm range, as the results pages are much larger. Penguin was the machine that was used to tune these pages, and at first glance it looks like that half of the Google zoo is on vacation as well. On some of the webmaster forums posts are trying to discern how they suddenly increased visibility and clicks by nearly 50%.
As mentioned previously, the only ones who really have any idea as to what is going on in terms of the changes in the SERPs the last few days, is Google. What ever the switches were that they tuned within Panda and Penguin the last few days however, definitely have the webmasters and SEOs on their toes, because rapid change like this can sometimes have some serious blowback.
As a website owner, the past year was a bit of a roller coaster ride where search and search engine activity was concerned. Between Pandas and Penguins attacking across the web, and Bing and Facebook amping up their own search options, it can sometimes be a bit of a surprise that you came out the other end on a positive note. It’s a simple task to take a minute and search around for the projected search shifts for the year, so instead here’s a short list of topics you should focus on for your website, regardless of the unknown changes in search to come.
First things first, you need to address your website and its content. The search engines over the last year, contrary to popular belief, have been ramping up efforts to deliver quality websites with real content as opposed to scraper sites which offer only a sliver of real information. When you are going over your sites content you need to take the time to ensure that you’re delivering your message, in your own unique way. Keep your articles clear and on topic, and try to work in the trending terms or topics which relate to your niche. Once you’ve gone over your site and reworked everything you can then begin pushing it out, either on Facebook or Twitter social channels, or even providing snippets to industry white paper sites. It’s free to market yourself on your social pages, and if you didn’t get the message last year, search engines are slowly pushing towards integrating social content into the results pages. As an added bonus, if you’ve done a bang up job creating your content, you’ll garner backlinks and it will help your efforts that much more.
Since you’ve taken the time to rework your content (you’ve done these steps right?) you need to go the next step and break down your website. I’m not insinuating that you take it offline or anything, but you need to carefully deconstruct your site, performance, appearance, layout, and then once you have finished optimizing for desktops you need to consider tablets and mobile displays. Over the last few months especially, the amount of users on mobile devices conducting search queries has grown to around 25% or so, and while that may not seem like much on the surface, think of that percentage again with the realization that there are more internet connected mobile devices on the planet than there are people. Ignoring the mobile search market is just as bad as ignoring the social angle, you’ll only continue to shoot yourself in the foot online. So load up your website on your tablet or smartphone and try using your pages, if you’re experiencing issues, correct them and count your fortunes later.
Now that you have your site mobile friendly, and you’re taking advantage of the mobile search growth, you have one more small step to take, and it is one that has been touted for a number of months as a trending market to grasp. You need to work on focusing your efforts into your local market, even if you don’t have a brick and mortar store, zeroing in on your target area and demographic will have the search engines loving your site more and more. Take advantage of the maps and local information that you can include on your website and social profiles, as the search engines will build a default local page for your site if you don’t already have one. Encourage your visitors to post their reviews to your social pages and engage your customers. Be active with them and you’ll soon find yourself with more work than you can handle.
When you perform a search with Google or Bing, one of the elements which allows a website to climb the results pages are the backlinks pointing to the site. When the links are from a similar site, which is related to the site they’ve provided a link for it tells the search engine that “even though we’re an authority, this other site is better than we are” type scenario. This is an extremely basic description of how the search engine results pages become filled with those little blue links, but Facebook search is going to try and do something a little different.
Facebook isn’t necessarily concerning itself with virtual locations, they are wanting to focus on the real world version of a page. Instead of using a similar system of backlinks however, they will be going down the route of using a like system, using your friends list as a foundation. It’s a twist on a way to determine a search results page, and it’s going to have some interesting applications moving forward with some people having hundreds and thousands of friends.
A solid description of one of the goals of Facebook search that I came across was it can be considered a multi-dimensional search results page. If you have a vacation planned for Las Vegas for example, you would need a hotel to stay at and try to plan it around the shows and events you would want to enjoy. Performing the search on Google or Bing, will return you the pages that have typically the best SEO laid out based on your search terms. From there you would do more research until you made your decision. The goal of Facebook search and using the Like idea, is that when you perform the same search within their service, you instead get a results page populated with the results based on your friends feedback. Instead of your results being based on the best optimization team, it will be based on the experiences of your friends, and if they enjoyed their visit to a particular venue.
There is a great deal of discontent already for the way that SEO works, and a lot of speculation that the methods used are gaming the search engines and breaking and bending rules to cheat to rank. The system, while built on solid principles does have it’s flaws, but it works as it is implemented. When Facebook introduces it’s method of basing their results around a like and share system, at that point I believe we will truly see what it is like to game a results page.
With the way that the internet is continuing to evolve, and will continue to evolve and grow for the foreseeable future, it is common place to want to change and update your website. And while making a change or giving your site a face lift normally isn’t too great of a concern, you can’t just start hacking away and changing the way your site has always worked. If you’re not careful with your methodology, you could end up disappearing from your online position, and virtual loss will translate into real world loss.
So if your site has a dated look, or you have a desire to revamp your image, don’t fret because it is possible to do, you just need to follow a few steps first. If you want to retain all of the authority that you’ve gained in your niche marketplace, it is best when you decide to build a new website to follow a few guidelines. One of the first steps you need to ensure, is that your goal, and your content remains the same. Your images, text, even if you can keep your navigation functioning the same, it doesn’t matter how strong your SEO is if you completely change your message. Sometimes even the most seemingly innocuous changes can wreak havoc on an optimization campaign. It is always wise to run any content changes passed your SEO provider to ensure it won’t throw a wrench into the works.
Once you’ve worked out that you are keeping the same content, the web development team needs to work it’s magic and try it’s best to retain the same URL structure to your new website. Really basic example would be if your product page is named products.html, that your new page on a new design is named products.html or even products. If keeping the same structure is impossible for what ever reason, then persevere to ensure that proper 301 redirects are in place so that the search engines, and users, can find their new counterparts. And when you’re ready to launch the new design, you really should not see a change in rankings or indexation by the search engines. But like with any major website design change, you need to test, test and test again to make sure you didn’t forget anything.
With the always growing concern over privacy online, it wasn’t a great shock that Google announced that their browser, Chrome, is moving to an entirely encrypted service. Currently the beta version of the browser provides private search features for logged in users, and they’re quickly working towards that being a default for all users, signed into your Google account or not.
It’s a mildly distressing point when you drill down into your analytics, because at present the average is somewhere between 20-30% of analytics traffic is coming up as “Not Provided”. Up until the last year or so, when a user conducted a search, made a choice, our analytics tools would show the URL that “refers” the visitor to that page, and would typically include what the visitor searched for. Now when someone performs that same search, the referring URL just looked like www.google.com. The analytics didn’t know how to provide a proper break down of traffic with that referrer, so instead it started giving results of “not provided”. And when you’re dealing with online optimization, not being aware of what your target audience is searching for can be a distressing blow, in the short term.
It’s highly likely that the amount of users taking advantage of secure search methods will continue to grow, especially after Chrome makes it a default setting for all users of it’s browser. But just because the referrer is no longer being provided, it doesn’t mean all is lost. As a website owner, you’re losing the ability to easily see how trends are shifting in search for your particular niche, but you can counter that simply by being up to date with your clients and customers. You should be on the cusp of shifting trends in your industry if you expect to be a leader. Additionally, those search terms are not entirely lost, you just need to look in a different place. You should have Google Webmaster tools setup to monitor your website, and within that toolkit you can see the last 90 days of search terms for your site, with up to 2000 key terms. The data isn’t gone, it’s just in a different spot, and with the utilization of your entire toolkit you can still find any answers you seek.
Now that Facebook is entering the search arena with it’s own version of search, which still has a fair amount of work to do on a large scale, it’s a good time for you to go back through your website and make sure you’ve crossed all of your t’s and dotted your i’s. There are a handful of basic practices that you can implement as a website owner, without the assistance of an expert, but only one piece of advice: If you don’t understand what you’re doing, don’t do it.
First things first, when you’re ready to try putting together some basic SEO, you need to understand it is not a one shot deal. A change you make today, will need tweaking in a week, and every week there after. Website optimization is not impossible to take on yourself, just understand the time investment, and attention to detail required.
One of the points you need to focus upon first, is you need to examine the goal of your website. Are you trying to sell a product or service? Or are you looking to entice users to sign up for a newsletter or email? Examine your end goal, and keep that goal in mind while going through your website. There are a number of free services you can leverage to engage your customers and clients, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites are free to use services that are a direct interaction with your current, and prospective customers. Where the cost is incurred, is your time. The more you are able to engage your audience, the more likely you are to grow your following.
You’ve determined your end goal, and settled on the time and attention required to attend to your SEO and social efforts, this is where you need to temper yourself. Every day there is an amazing new piece of software, or website out there that can tell you exactly what to do to become number 1 in search. They claim to have all of the answers for social and search, when in fact all they have is an untested idea. Don’t forget the basics, just to chase what might be, the fundamentals of website optimization remain the same. Clarify your message, stay away from sites and services that claim to promise number 1, and engage your audience on the social front. Adhering even to just those very basic points will help you to improve your positioning online.
We’ve written countless times about the basics of online marketing and that the trying to work with the search engines, not against them, is a constantly shifting landscape. Once you’ve followed the basics, gotten your site steadily climbing the results pages and are working on your back link profile there is one more key component you can add that will help your position and your site. Take a look at your site, your content, and your activity on your pages and think to yourself: Would I link to my own content?
You need to add some link bait to your site occasionally, so instead of continually hunting for back links, others in your industry (hopefully) will be following you and decide to naturally link to you because of your content. This is usually referred to as creating link bait, and it’s one of the quickest ways that you can build up a quality link profile for your website. You can start creating your link bait content by knowing what you’re talking about, everyone has an opinion and if you’re knowledgeable about yours, there is no reason not to share it. Sharing opinions is a great way to start a dialogue with people, whether it’s your customers or others in your business space, it gets people talking, and talking about you.
Everyone has a hiccup every now and then when it comes to creating your content, especially if you’re the lone person responsible for it, so don’t be scared to talk to your co-workers. Sometimes a brief conversation can help you decide on a blog topic, a new page to create or a way that you can help drum up news or a flash sale for a product or service that you may offer. We all need inspiration sometimes, and everything becomes easier when you ask for a helping hand. Being able to write a high quality page or article is fine, but if you’re unable to grab any attention with it, or drum up some discussion with it then you won’t garner a great deal of backlinks from it, if any at all.