By now I’m sure you’ve noticed that there has been a stir on the web, a shift in the rankings and maybe you’ve received an email or two from Google describing in vague terms that your site may, or may not, have bad backlinks. It’s the latest iteration of an algorithm update to help cleanse the results pages, and you can further more refer to it as Penguin 2.0 – or webspam filter number 2.
First things first, if you’ve received notice either directly into your webmaster tools account or via your web site manager that you suddenly have been put on notice, right off the bat, don’t panic. The thing is, it’s likely that hundreds of thousands of websites received the same notificatiosn you did, as Google added a handful of new information to the guidelines as to what constitutes following the guidelines. So first piece of advice, don’t panic, allow your web team to step back and go through your website and it’s backlink profile to see what may be coming up as having run afoul of the algorithm update.
Once that time has been taken to go over the message you’ve received then you can put into place a plan to take care of any issues that are being outlined. In the mean time, what you can do as a site owner to help your own cause, is to go over your pages and its content. Give your main landing pages a thorough run through, make sure you take the time to read your content with an open view and try to imagine what your target user would see. A quick and simple test, read your content out loud to yourself, if it doesn’t sound right, chances are you need to clarify your message. The content you have on your site has to be clear and consistent across all of your pages in order to be viewed as an authority in your market. The higher the quality of your content, the easier it will be for the search engines to determine what your market is. It sounds like we’re a broken record sometimes, especially to our long term clients when we ask them over and over again to refine their content, but high quality unique content is your number one key element that is required for online success.
Once you’ve taken care of your on site performance, you need to make sure that the time is taken to examine your off site strategy. There are a handful of steps that you’re in control of as a site owner, and once you follow the below steps the rest is in the hands of the algorithm and the Google machine. If you’ve been notified that you have bad backlinks coming to your site, then first things first, you need to get your hands on that list. You can generate your inbound links list, all of the backlinks that Google has picked up at any rate, via your webmaster tools account. You might have a handful of backlinks, or you could have thousands. Once you’ve generated that list, you either need to take the time to go through it to determine what looks like spam and what fits your market. If you don’t have the time to go through your list, or your list is in the thousands, there are link audit services which can help speed your process along; if you have a dedicated web team this should be a non-issue. One of the last steps you have available to you as a site owner is to request that a link to your site be removed, the unfortunate side of this request is you have no way to force a link removal. But once you’ve requested it, if it hasn’t been removed you can use the link disavow tool through your webmaster tools account to tell Google to ignore the backlink pointing to your site. Once you’ve followed these basic steps you can submit your site for a reconsideration with the search engines, and then you have the hardest task of all. You need to be patient and wait.
Let’s face it, sometimes regardless of how much you may want to hire an SEO agency to help you with your site you just cannot come up with the necessary budgetary needs. It happens, it’s happened to people who’ve called us for help and it will continue to happen so long as the internet exists. I’ve written extensively about the power of high quality content that you create with the intent of engaging your audience and make the desired conversions. As time intensive as it is to properly create content on your site, working to build a proper back link profile is even more time intensive, and has to be done more carefully than crafting your content.
Building up a relevant back link profile is one of the best things that you can do help increase your visibility in the ranking pages. The downside for you if you need to do it yourself though, is the time required to properly build that profile. One of the first points you need to realize about building links to your site or content, is that regardless of what you may read, the search engines know when you’re building links and so long as you keep two major points in mind, they’ll work for you and not against you. The first thing you need to keep in mind is the relevance of the link you’re working to gain – is the site you’re pitching relevant to you and your niche? It doesn’t matter if they can hook you up with thousands of back links if they’re not relevant to your site, it’ll look to the search engines like you’re trying to cheat your way to the top with spammer tactics – a big negative mark in their books. The other major consideration you need to keep in mind once you’ve determined the relevance of the site, is you need to be mindful of the site owner and if they provide backlinks to other site owners who approach them – and what those links may be. It’s a case of guilty by association in this case, and even if you’ve done everything perfect, all of your work on sticking to the rules can be thrown in the trash if you’re not careful with who you ask to provide you with a link profile.
The second most important issue regarding building your own back link profile that you need to keep in mind is the cost associated. You need to understand that even if you’re doing the work yourself to build your links, your time is valuable and if you’re working on your online profile, you’re not selling your product or services. In other words, don’t mess around with your site or your business, it’s what pays your bills and keeps food on your table. To understand that your time is valuable is important, because it keeps the emails and phone calls offering to sell you links in perspective – if you value your time at $200 per hour for example, and it takes you a few days to curate back links properly, how can someone who doesn’t know you, or your business, come along with 10,000 back links for only $50? Staying away from link sellers is one of the most important steps you can keep in your mind, as all it takes is one link in the wrong place to sink your site. If you can’t afford to hire an agency to do it right, make sure you take the time to do it right and stay away from the seemingly easy solutions, because if it seems too good to be true, then it most likely is.
When you’re building that fancy new website for your business, there are always a handful of problems that you can run into. Sometimes it’s because of being unfamiliar with the way the web works, and sometimes it has to do with trying too hard. No matter what the issue is boiled down to, it can always be remedied, but here are some of the most common mistakes new site owners tend to make.
You’ve built yourself a singing, dancing website that can identify exactly what what your visitors are after with just a couple of mouse clicks. But that kind of technology comes at a cost, and if your site takes a long time to load (longer than 10 seconds) it’s most likely that you’re actually losing out on more visitors than you engage. Some of the easiest ways to avoid long loading times are to avoid the use of fancy ui elements based on Flash and don’t use images or animations where text will suffice. This is even more important with the recent growth in the mobile market, where internet connections are slower than what you experience with a pc. If you’ve already built your site and it’s incorporated some of these elements already, before you run off and completely tear your site apart, check it’s loading time first. If your load times are good, then your real need to redesign is based more so on the search engines side of the equation, flash and animations aren’t indexable by the spiders so the sooner you can step away from graphical designs that may be hiding your content, the better.
With the billion or so members on Facebook alone, it’s sometimes difficult to imagine that business owners would forget that it’s a major part of the internet. And yet, it’s still a common enough occurrence to find out that a new client has nothing in the way of a social media offering, let alone reaching out to their customers or clients using those channels. There is a growing trend as of late with the search engines which is starting to take into account your social engagement level. While they still aren’t as important as a strong back link profile, social signals are increasingly becoming a sign of trust that lends legitimacy to your website. Flexing your social media muscle requires more than testing the placement of your social share buttons on your site, you need to generate content that demands to be shared, and engage in regular interaction with your target audience. It’s a simple enough issue to work around however, and it really just takes the time to understand your audience to make it work for you.
One of the most common mistakes that we’ve seen the last while with new clients especially, is the heightened focus and awareness of search engine optimization. Carefully crafting your content and your pages with or without outside help is not always a bad thing, as it shows that you understand that it’s important, but it becomes a problem when you only focus on the search engines. I found a great two point synopsis of what you should be considering when you’re creating pages and content for your site: if your keyword is in the title of your article, and it’s what the article is about, you’re well on your way. To make it even plainer, stop worrying about what the search engines see and think about your customers. It doesn’t matter if you can rank in the top spot if your content and delivery is crap, it’s your visitors that make you profitable. Craft your site and pages for your visitors, and the algorithms will do the rest.
One of the more difficult aspects of being a consistent force online, is being able to show to not only the search engines, but your target audience, that you are approachable as a business. One of the cheapest, and simplest ways to prove to the powers that be is by utilizing the power of social media. The most difficult phase of using social media, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc, is just the time involved in keeping your target audience engaged.
Rolling with the assumption that you have the time to sit down and engage your audience, instead of tweeting and posting everything to your social pages, there are some points which are more beneficial than others to cover. Right off the top, one of the biggest bonuses for you to try and keep on top of would have to be the news that is relevant to your market. If you sell toilets for example, and there has been a revolutionary break through in the industry, you’ll want to let your followers know that you have the newest and best crapper in town. Add in to the mix all of the facts and figures regarding the news is the simplest way to offer up quality information, that is quickly and easily consumed by the search engines and by your followers. People on the whole, love having statistics at their fingertips that allows them to compare products or services at a glance, and if you’re at the top of the offerings and quick to act, you’re greatly increasing your chances at making that next big sale.
Twitter especially is great for pushing out snippets of information quickly, and using a website that greatly shortens a web address (like bit.ly for example) allows you to host information on your site, without eating up your 140 character post limit. Taking the SEO side of the equation into consideration, this allows you to break down your visitor flow through your website, as we can tell at a very quick glance if you’ve been found in the results pages for your organic terms, or if people are flowing into your site via your Twitter or Facebook postings. A growing method in the last year or so especially for offering up quickly digestible information has been the use of infographics. Typically brightly colored and visually appealing, infographics allow you to sell your business and it’s services in a simple format. Prevalent more so on Pinterest and it’s growing userbase, the graphics can help to outline why you’re the best toilet salesman around, with the facts and figures to back it up. Producing any kind of content that can be taken in quickly and visually is one of the roadblocks to leveraging social media to engage your audience, as consistency is greatly important. Your content must resonate with your audience emotionally is the best case scenario. Start by creating a compelling title, one that is clear, concise, and relevant — and maybe even mysterious. Invigorate your social media marketing with bold new content ideas, and you will see your website being boosted with shares across the web.
Seems like the ever growing web is going to experience some growing pains again over the next little while, with the inclusion of Penguin version 2.0. Googles head of the webspam team over at Google came out with a few points about what the successor to one of the largest updates for search has in store for site owners across the web.
From his video blog that was posted, Cutts had this to say as a short description of the coming upgrade: “This one is more comprehensive, we expect it to go a little bit deeper and have more of an impact than the original Penguin.” So in short, if you were affected by the first update and still haven’t been able to self determine what you may have done to wrong the algorithm, chances are this may further sink you in the search results. But, putting all of the doom and gloom aside, upgrades to the search algorithm are widely accepted as a good thing, but there will always be winners and losers when there are any changes, regardless of how big or small. We’ve always extolled the virtues of having quality content in order to sell yourself on the search engines, and if the video blog post was any indication, strong content will be even more important as the update approaches.
Contrary to what some in the search engine optimization space may think, Google doesn’t hate those of us in the space that optimize websites to help a quality site improve it’s positions. What they do hate, are the black hat users and the spam sites which seek to circumvent the algorithm and cheat their way to the top, very different methods than any quality SEO will leverage to help improve your site. It seems that there are new methods to maintaining control over your site and opening improved channels of communication so you can help discover what your issues may be so you can correct them. Cutts also spoke to reassure site owners who are following the guidelines: “If you’re already producing high quality content when you do SEO, you won’t have to worry. If you’ve been hanging out at black hat SEO forums, you may have a more eventful summer in store”.
If you own a website for your business, then the chances are pretty good that either you’ve been contacted by someone who offers to perform SEO for your site, or you’ve realized (hopefully) that the web is the way to go and optimization is another tool in your kit you need to leverage. There is an ongoing problem within the SEO world, however, it is slowly being rooted out and the agencies or people who don’t know really what they are doing are slowly falling to the bottom of the heap.
The chief issue with search engine optimization is that very deep down, at it’s very core, it’s a free service that can be used to help improve your website. The caveat to this though, is that just like every other product and service out there, you get what you pay for. So if someone comes along and offers to sell you full service for only $200, don’t be surprised if you find yourself sinking in the results page. Buying the cheapest SEO on the market is like using a rock you find on the ground to hammer together your new roof on your house, it might work in the beginning, but in the end you’re just going to end up hurting yourself and likely not getting the work done properly in the first place.
Freely available information is the culprit in this regard, it only takes an internet connection to learn “everything” about search engine optimization. The problem with information being available though is that sometimes it’s just not the right kind of advice or information you want to follow. As an example, it wouldn’t take long to Google up the steps to be able to rebuild a basic lawnmower engine, but you wouldn’t be able to even begin to parlay that into rebuilding a jet engine. Both of them power machines in order to provide a service, but are immensely different. The readily available information regarding SEO is most often the type of tactics you don’t want to leverage when trying to have your site listed. A lot of culprits that we see when having someone contact us for help are old tricks which the search engines didn’t much worry about at the time, but the algorithms are much smarter now than they ever used to be, so as a result, you need to be better as well. Over used keywords is one of the biggest culprits where lost ranks are concerned that we see, and even from a user experience stand point, spammy text just looks wrong. If you’ve created your content, or had someone work on your content for you, make sure to give it a very careful read once completed. Read it out loud to yourself, because if it sounds strange when you read it, chances are the search engines will pick up on that and you’re not going to be too thrilled with the results.
Unfortunately, a method which I still see to this day when we have people calling us is the use of hidden text on their site, and they can’t understand why they’re not visible in the results pages. It used to be that unscrupulous SEOs would hide text on the page by matching it with the background color of the page, so the text technically exists on the page, it just isn’t visible unless you select the text with your mouse or view the source code of the page. The search engines decided a number of years ago that this was a method in poor taste used to rank a website, and as such devalues any site using such a method. The list of old tactics to rank a website are incredibly simple to find, and as a general rule of thumb if the person working on your site talks about the tricks that they use, make sure you take the time to look into their methods. They may just be setting you up to sink like a stone.
There is occasionally a great discussion to be had on the topic of search engine optimization, and this passed week was no different. There was a discussion started about how SEO isn’t the same game as when it all started some 15+ years ago, and all I could really chime in on that note with would be – of course it has.
In the beginning, search engine optimization wasn’t comprised of more than a handful of tactics really, as the web hadn’t really started it’s cycle of rapid evolution that we see today. The tactics to rank in the beginning weren’t even that difficult to pick up on, a few links from sites, some keyword spammy content and a decently built site and you could push it up the search results in fairly short order. To be fair, those base elements of the SEO world really haven’t change all that much, it’s just the importance of each factor has changed over time, and continues to change. Your content is your most important factor on your site, it always has been and likely always will be, as it determines your message to the search engines. You need to tell the spiders who you are and what you do, in such a way that your message is heard loud and clear. Your site architecture and design is important as well, but it’s as much from a user interaction stand point as it is a search metric these days, as the spiders are pretty good at discovering your site and it’s pages with even a rudimentary navigation setup.
Being an SEO company we’re often met some criticisms when we’re engaging a new client, as it is unfortunately likely that they have been burned by someone calling themselves an SEO, especially in the last couple of years. And the optimization world has changed so much in the last 5 years or so, especially when you start throwing in the rapidly expanding social web and the signals that tie them all together. Having a responsive web design which can detect whether your visitor is on a PC, tablet or even a cell phone these days is also a contributing factor to the marketing decision as you can immediately turn down a highly qualified visitor just by making your site unfriendly to a mobile audience. Search engines measure your value to the results pages on so many additional metrics now, that it’s important to keep them all in balance with your brand image in mind. It is understandably difficult as a business owner to let loose the reins a little and allow a company like Freshtraffic to do what we do best, but your increased online presence is our job. All of the points I’ve mentioned that affect your marketing online are all the important factors we weigh and measure to ensure you’ve exceeded the recommendations for the search engines. Because increased traffic, means increased conversions, which means more business for you and your employees, and we’re in business to bring you business.
For all of the bonuses of having an online presence, occasionally there is going to be a hiccup. The best you will find a host promise you is to have 99.99% up time, because there will be the occasional circumstances beyond their control. It’s an unfortunate discussion that we have sometimes with clients when they try explaining to us that Sally from Edmonton is having difficulty navigating the website because it isn’t loading properly. All we can do is ensure that the site is up, that it’s operating properly and that the connectivity is fine. Everything beyond those few points, is unfortunately beyond our control.
There are however, some very real consequences if your website does happen to come down due to a coding error, or a database retrieval problem.
For example, in the event that your website goes down, and it could happen for any one of a thousand reasons, you need to be aware that first and foremost that visitors can not currently reach your website. So that means no sales for your products, no emails for your newsletters and no exposure to the social market as well. No website online means you can’t work with your content, and it means that you can’t operate your business at 100% capability. Most hosts only have downtime issues that average, at most, only 20 minutes or so at a time over the course of a year. And in the big picture, that may not seem like a whole lot, but the web isn’t a market that forgives easily or quickly.
Say for instance that your website crashed this moment, and that it was down for only a few minutes while your host plugged your server back in, you wouldn’t think too much of it. But just to play devils advocate, if during that window that your website was down the search engine bots came by, they would see that your website was not only gone, but the entire address is invalid. The next step? Regardless of your position on the web, you would be dropped from the results pages because, well you need a website to be on the results pages and you didn’t have one at the moment it visited. Don’t worry though, because this is an outlier situation and anytime a search engine bot encounters a dead url where there was previously a website, it’ll continue to try until it receives a definitive response.
While we work very closely with our clients, we make it part of our routine to ensure your website has as close to 100% uptime as absolutely possible. We’re always watching your address to make sure that everything is ticking along as it should, because your improved position in search is our primary goal. And you’re not going to get there if we be lazy and allow your website to go offline for an extended period of time.
There are a great deal of rules that determine how to conduct yourself and your business online, and make no mistake, the rules for SEO are some of the least flexible of the bunch. Due to the nature of the web being so flexible as a whole, it’s common to see new Search Experts crop up and whither away in a very short time. There are a lot of myths, misconceptions, and just plain bad advice out there online about search engine optimization, and with that in mind allow me to offer just a little bit of insight.
For all you internet beginners out there, you need to realize that just because you can find a template and put it online, it doesn’t mean you’ve optimized a site for search, let alone basic web use. You need to start with the basics of building and designing a website, clean coding with a navigation menu that is simple to use and crawl-able by bots. One of the more simple methods we use to get across to a new client when we tell them they need a new website, is when we show them the output of a basic spider and it returns a blank page regarding their website. If you don’t make it visible, don’t expect it to rank, regardless of how much time and effort you spend on optimizing it.
One of the necessary components to being able to rank online is by having quality content on your pages. Well written and keyword rich for both the search engines and for your visitors which come to your site, you need to be able to quickly and clearly deliver your message and call to action. This is where some of the time intensive processes come into play, because our goal as SEO’s is to deliver visitors to your site primarily, if you’re unable to convert those visitors however it’s irrelevant how much traffic you get. Your call to action needs to be obvious on your landing pages so that when someone arrives at your site, they know precisely what you want them to do. If you’re into selling merchandise, make your sales or features prominent for example, with contrasting text or images so it stands out to your viewer. You only have around 3-5 seconds to get your message across to the user, so you need to do it quick and clean.
The one last thing you need to remember as a new denizen of the web, is that just because there is the world at your fingertips and the code can do wild and incredible things, doesn’t mean you should use it. The more complicated you make your site, the more you invite something to go wrong, whether it’s with search or with conversions, and when things go wrong online it can be a game stopper for a business. Keep your site simple, and keep your message simple, and you will begin converting your new visitors almost as fast as they’re coming in.
Winnipeg I need your help, I wanting to know if the above title has any merit? I suppose I’m looking for some clarification or answers to the following questions, and before someone mentions the need to employ a consultant to help, forget it, I seem to be living in the land where it seems every other person is in that profession.
I’d like to paint the picture from an outsider looking in, since moving to the city six years ago and setting up office from the US & UK I have had a few problems trying to comprehend local business thinking and decision making.
Let me try and explain, 99% of consultants I have met in my six years in Winnipeg have either had their own business and failed, worked for a company that failed, got fired, came out of a local college, were unemployed so it seemed like a good idea, did a 2 day course or there a part-time stay at home mum. Most work out of a home office or basement and like to charge what we call New York prices for their work. I’ve seen life & business coaches charging $500-$1000 for a few hour course or speech who drive around in a 10 year old rusty Chevvy but get employed by local business & marketing associations to advise members. Does this not set alarm bells ringing to these people?
These people who consult don’t have any more experience than you do. They are typically young, but not necessarily. They can certainly “talk the talk” but have never “walked the walk”. In other words they are big on theory, some have lots of qualifications but very little real-life experience to match. In many instances, as a hands-on business manager, you may well have already exceeded their ability to help you advance your enterprise any further.
Then there is the dangerous kind – the dodgy consultant. You often can’t really determine whether these people are good, bad or indifferent until it is too late. They often originate from outside of the city or are returning Winnipeggers with seemingly immense international experience. Their objective is clearly to impress.
They will blind you with tales of their achievements and impressive examples of their triumphs in the markets you are trying to enter. Unfortunately, if it sounds too good to be true, and often it is.
In reality if the same consultant fronted for a corporate job his ability and track record would be quickly found out. How? Well corporates approach employing senior executives quite differently to the way most of us employ a consultant. Not only do the businesses undertake verbal reference tests but they have extensive international networks of contacts to tap into and a range of psychological and other testing at their fingertips. Too many of us approach employing a consultant as you would select any other service provider — as opposed to a critical member of your team.
This is not a new story but I feel it is worth repeating because I have recently been running into cases where a fledgling company (and sometimes not so fledgling) has engaged with someone, or some firm, and suffered badly from false expectations. A person (or firm) can appear to have an impressive track record, look very smooth and professional and have money to invest, but this doesn’t mean they are not the consulting equivalent of Typhoid Mary.
When considering using a consultant I make three key recommendations:
1. Look closely at their track record. You are looking for tangible results and an understatement of their ability as opposed to “talking the talk”. Contact the companies they say they have worked for and/or helped.
2. Try to check out their ex-partners/employers. You are looking for someone with whom you can form a close relationship. Look for past examples of the same thing. You want to establish that the consultant has personal attributes that you can work with. It doesn’t matter how long they have been consulting — check.
3. Use your own networks. Guys like me who have been in the game a long time hear the same names circulating time and time again with question marks over their performance. Often it is more critical to listen to what is not said about a person, than what is said. You don’t need the most professional consultant – you need the most effective. I’m just saying.