Thanks For The Updates, But No Thanks..

You have to give Google credit for trying and trying to improve their algorithm by means of constantly updating it. If only I had that kind of perseverance I would be sitting on a sandy beach sipping cocktails by now (probably). The only problem is, is that these updates don’t appear to do very much apart from hurt small and medium sized businesses. After numerous updates and revisions I still see a lot of spam, but I also see MASSIVE brand bias. Nearly everything I see in the serps now is either some news website, some large brand or Youtube or Amazon or Wikipedia…the list goes on. And when I talk about updates, I am referring to the 500 estimated algorithmic updates they make. Panda for content, filtering out so-called ‘thin’ content. We should of course have 1500 word articles on every page, a brief and succinct description simply will not cut it! At major update no.25 you’d think this would work perfectly. Then there is Penguin, which we know is the mother of all changes. This focused primarily on poor linking strategies, but as we know, they didn’t quite get that right either. Domain crowding was also an update to deal with the complaints made by many about seeing multiple results from the same domain, which no one particularly wants. It has been successful to a degree but it won’t take you long to find an example of where it still exists – I’ll give them C- for this one. Exact match domains, you know the ones, keyword-keywordkeyword-keyword.co.uk. Those dirty spammers have been at it for so long that you probably couldn’t even rank a keyword rich domain nowadays anyway. I switched one out myself for a branded domain and serps returned almost overnight. The PayDay loan one was a great one, the results post-update are laughable. Go ahead, if you’re in the UK Google ‘pay day loans’. Well, at least I have a choice of highly authoritative news websites to choose from – now where to find a good pay day loan provider…ah, page 5.

Now I don’t like to seem like I am ranting but I actually find this quite irritating, for I for one feel that if I am having to use a search engine to research information on products/services I probably have already considered that the big brands are not what I am looking for. Google, please explain to me why I need to see Amazon and eBay listings so often in your serps. If I want to look at things from Amazon and eBay I will go and use their very useful internal search engines!

So anyway, back to small and medium businesses. It’s really sad that in Google’s pursuit of algorithmic perfection they have dialed down all the signals that once listed very good and very niche websites. I think part of the problem is that there was a lot of cross-over between good sites and bad sites using roughly the same sort of grey-hat techniques, and by dialing down all the signals that the bad sites used, it caught all the good sites using it too. Actually I can live with a bit of spam, I can see it a mile off and I just skip over it. I would continue doing this if it protected small and medium businesses from getting caught in the crossfire.

Taking out the middle-ground does achieve one very useful thing for Google, that middle-ground it has punished will more than likely resort to using AdWords. Hoorah! for the shareholders. Damn shareholders, you’re killing what was a fine and beautiful search engine. But I guess we are all guilty, we allowed ourselves to be seduced by Google and all its wonderful (and often free) offerings.

But as they say, “Google giveth, and then Google taketh away again”. What’s that? Yes, Google Shopping is not free anymore, so c’mon small business owners, hand over your last sheckles – and your children’s uni fund if you have to.

My advice really is to continue creating great content and developing user friendly websites, back-linking from sources you think could act as good referrers. The internet is so vast that search engines are a must, but I wonder if working on direct and referral traffic would be a good way to combat the reliance on search engines. Engage with users where possible, in forums for example, offering advice and becoming an authority. Time consuming I know but the quick routes in life are never permanent.

Link Building For 2013

Yes I know, a rather unimaginative title, but it is what it is, link building for 2013. This year we are taking a mixed approach for if 2012 has taught us anything it is not to rest on our laurels. Do not think that just because one technique is working now, that it’ll work forever more. Or that just because one technique is weak now, that it’ll be weak forever more. A balanced approach in this sense has always been advisable.

I often hear about techniques that we use that hold no value but we include them anyway as I continue to work on the anti-seo theory, which is to do the kind of link building that both SEO people would do and wouldn’t do. I believe this helps to make the link profile look natural as it would contain a nice helping of no-follow  naked links and links from discussions on related topics. Not mind blowing links, but the kind of links you might see from genuine posts.

Then we move onto the hard part, which is link acquisition. For this you need time, patience of a saint and someone who can write genuine, real and engaging articles. When you can combine all these elements together you can really pick up some fabulous links. The key thing here though is to make sure that what you’re writing about isn’t so generic it could have been spun from anywhere, but also not to specific that webmasters will reject it as not suitable. This is a tricky balance to find. Sometimes we find that we are asking the webmaster what kind of content they require and we create something around their needs. Even then it isn’t always quite right.

But it is worth it when it works. So many times I have come across article writing services that churn out utter junk. Webmasters are so skeptical when we approach them but with a gentle hand and some examples they soon warm to us. It is absolutely key that if you want good solid links that they will not come without some major investment of time from your side. Get into a routine of having well thought out content created and you will succeed. Of course there are those that say article marketing does not work now, but this is not article marketing. The reason for this is that actually, none of the content we write is ever about any particular company, it is only ever about the wider issue of that topic. Then we request a referencing link back to sponsor (our client). My theory here is that it is a mutual exchange for, engaging content for webmaster in exchange for client recognition. There is nothing shady or spammy about this.

So go fourth, and start populating the web with something that people actually want to read. Who knows, you might even get a link back from someone with a domain authority of 100!

Exact Match Madness

Firstly I would just like to apologize for posting with such a large gap between the last one. I didn’t feel I had anything massively worthwhile to write!

So this time I want to touch upon a couple of changes regarding the previous update and a more recent update regarding EMD’s (exact match domains) and/or freshness update. The first thing is regarding all the hell let loose due to Google’s Penguin update. As a lot of webmasters will have found out, this has been quite a painful update which caused mass panic and furious updating of websites and link profiles. Anyway, we discovered that over time things have kind of settled down but to improve ones chances it was helpful to create ‘noise’ on your profile. Having been in talks various different people we agreed that Penguin focused particularly on really biased anchor profiles, which I always feel a little annoyed that we have to discover this for ourselves, but then I guess Google is not likely to come clean about what it does and doesn’t like. So in order to add noise to your profile we would suggest diluting your anchor profile with much more anti-seo friendly keywords such as ‘site’ ‘website’ ‘click here’.

The second thing is regarding an update that was rolled out recently which was designed to adjust the value given to websites that are thin on content but rank well due to having keyword rich domains. I can just imagine that there will be lots of stories from people who have actually got decent sites being caught in the crossfire. Google is trampling on everything right now. There isn’t really much you can do, as I have seen many just saying they might as well just having a domain with random letters. I wouldn’t advise on doing that, obviously, but just think twice about creating lots of keyword rich gateways to point at a money site. This trick should in theory stop working, but I am still seeing keyword rich domain gateways ranking well – not sure what that is all about.

And lastly is an update or adjustment regarding freshness. Google is looking to see that websites are keeping fresh and to use this as a ranking signal. Not everything on Google is a blog or news, and some commercial sites don’t exactly have a requirement to update, but there it is. I sometimes wonder that by following Google’s guidelines we might be unwittingly helping Google to achieve their goal of a non-seo based results search engine, by constantly scaring us into de-optimization tactics – who knows!

 

P P Pick Up A Penguin…

Google’s penguin isn’t actually quite so tasty and I never found the biscuit bar that exciting anyway, all dry and biscuity. That said they are a hell of nicer then Google’s ‘Penguin’ update which has been wreaking havoc across the world of online business. And perhaps rightly so..

In my last post I said I hadn’t noticed much change in the SERP’s and I suppose now I should be eating my words, or perhaps the other type of penguin mentioned earlier and not definitely not the animal version – is that even legal? Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that SERP’s have actually been quite volatile and unstable recently and the whole dynamics of ranking has changed. The change has been for good in theory, and I do believe the modified ranking factors should put the brakes on those trying to boost their rankings in an aggressive manner. And now there has been a slight revision; consequences of which are still unknown to me but things are certainly still up in the air. That’s not say anyone in particular has been naughty but we have noticed a lot of chopping and changing. For example we have seen websites with absolutely no backlinks rank on page 1 for several days, then disappear. How did that happen? We have had even our own clients bouncing around like kids on a bouncy castle high on Skittles. I liken it to the current economic conditions, as in there is a huge amount of re-adjustment going on and things have yet to settle down.

As always with major updates you have to be on the ball and tweak your strategies accordingly. At the moment our current focus is on making sure backlink profiles look balanced. We take into account the weighting of anchor text, link destination and link placement. The more you mix this up the more you prevent a website getting caught out. It’s almost like bad SEO is the new good SEO because bad SEO looks natural. When I say bad I don’t mean ‘blackhat’ I just mean a site that looks like no one has knowingly done any SEO….if that makes sense, I’m sure it does.

Penguin aside I still have a gripe which I mentioned in a post a long while ago. I still see websites ranking well with a collection of really nasty gateway pages all sharing a similar template, all linking out to the same client base of that SEO company. Perhaps the next update which I think should be called ‘Zebra’ (another black and white animal) should address?

It’s about time it did…

Google Bites Back – The Demise Of Blog Networks?

Wow, this could be a biggy. So basically Google has continued its crusade against online spam and search result manipulation and rightly so. Some might see it as an attack on SEO companies and in a small way (or large depending on your techniques) it is. You see, we believe a lot of SEO companies have probably relied on such things as blog networks to boost their clients’ results. It is understandable from a business point of view as it makes scaling up so much easier. If you can have a client pay a large subscription in return for inserting anchored links to large blog networks then surely it would seem an attractive and profitable proposition. The problem is that it was always a bit short sighted; it was always potentially at risk from an eventual crackdown. The other problem is/was that they also worked quite well, which means the temptation to succumb to such time effective techniques was often all too much.

So what now?

To be quite honest, I have not actually seen any huge changes in SERPs, but then perhaps I haven’t actually looked very hard. The whole crackdown has been going on for a while, and there has been some SERP volatility but nothing that I’ve not seen before. Also, if you have been naughty (and have been caught) you are due to receive a message in webmaster tools stating that you have not followed the guidelines. We have not received such messages but then actually, our profitability comes from doing everything in-house by hand, rather than outsourcing to here and there who then submit to various sources and acting as some kind of agent/broker. That doesn’t mean to say we have never had the help of 3rd parties; when starting out I did in fact use help from many places, but back then I wasn’t fussed on blog networks, back then it was all about bookmarking. Still use them from time to time.

I guess a lot of people are feeling quiet anxious, especially if they are guilty and probably working hard to remove links from offending networks. But the one thing I would always say is that one should always slow-bake their SEO.

Stating the obvious but…

Take your time, build links manually and honestly to decent landing pages, with a nice diverse link strategy and you should be okay. This to us is the very essence of good SEO, so don’t cut corners, stick to the rules and you should be okay. If you don’t have the time and effort and pay good bullion for a blog network, then take a moment to appreciate the risks and then stick by your decision.

Pay On Results SEO

Well,  I don’t normally write something that is self promotional but to be honest, this isn’t really self promotional, it’s just something I think is worth being touched upon.

As the title suggests, pay on results SEO is what I want to talk about. Some time ago we were carrying out a marketing campaign to create some exposure for the business and a prospect responded. It’s not unusual to get a few responses from a marketing campaign that involves hundreds of contacts but this was a little bit different. The prospect contacted us and made an offer. Simply put, we were told that they would only pay if we (unlike most SEO agencies) were willing to carry the entire burden of risk until we had succeeded with the campaign. This got me thinking, why hadn’t I thought of this, and who else uses this model? A little research revealed a number of SEO companies that offer a pay on results scheme but not strictly pay on results. More like, pay a bit now and pay some later or something along the lines of a money back guarantee. Which gets my knickers all a bit twisted, I feel it is a little misleading. In fact I would find it amusing if this blog ranked page 1 for the term so people could see what I am talking about at the same time. Having said that, there are genuine pay on result SEO consultants willing to genuinely take the risk to get paid when they succeed. Good on you.

Anyway, aside from the rant, I do believe the concept of pay on results SEO to be a very reasonable expectation in our industry. SEO reminds me of what finance was like in the 80s and 90s, a little unregulated and full of sharks looking to make a quick buck, taking huge commissions.  And so with having a results based offering I think we can begin to improve to credibility of the SEO industry. Mind you, I wouldn’t want it to start sounding like one of those many, many no win no fee companies.

I wonder if the real question is of viability…

How many companies can realistically offer such a scheme, are they bank financed? Can they really afford the risk? Are they over committed with running overheads and salaries? Is it more viable for larger companies or smaller companies? And why is it not more common? Or is it just a simple case of, why bother? Perhaps there are enough companies out there willing to just stump up massive up-front fees.

I really hope this didn’t seem too self promotional but if you’re into business or SEO, email us or comment to let us know what you think.

Cheers,

 

Google Search Plus Your World Minus SEO?

There has been an awful lot of fuss surrounding the new ‘plus your world’ feature; complaints made by many corners of the internet world.

So what’s the big deal?

Well, in one camp there is the argument that Google can use its search monopoly to force its social network in front of millions (billions?) of people who use Google search regularly, giving it an unfair advantage in the social network market space. Google is of course insisting that it is purely to enable the search giant to personalize results, providing relevant content that your social contacts may have also recommended.

That’s fair enough I suppose, but then I don’t actually use any of my social spaces to get friendly recommendations and to be honest I’m quite happy seeking out information for myself by myself. If I want a recommendation I’ll ask a friend in person, or do we not see our friends anymore?

Another camp accuses Google of violating rights to privacy and then there is anti-trust which is an issue I won’t get into now. But don’t get me wrong I’m not against ‘SPYW’, in fact I think its good that Google want to try and further integrate the social factor into its SERPs

So how does all this affect SEO?

Well, not as much as I think people fear it will. What we strive to accomplish in SEO is to drive new traffic to a website via top SE rankings. As individuals we are regularly looking for unique things online, stuff which is unlikely to be found within your social network, so in this case I believe most searches will remain unaffected by SPYW, I also still think most people will stick to Facebook for the majority of their online social activity. Also one has to remember that if a company (perhaps a client) is being talked about within a Google + network and then a member of that network is searching and Google brings it up as a recommendation, then that’s quite useful for us, as in a way, they have done some of our own work for us. According to analytics it will look like organic traffic, unless of course a new metric is accounted for in analytics in time to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Social Signals in SEO

So by now most of us will have seen lots of talk about how social networking can be used as part of ones SEO strategy. The theory is that if we create enough buzz in the social arenas of Facebook, Twitter, linkedin and others, that the likes of Google will look favorably upon those who are being talked about. So far in my hours of reading I have seen how this is most relevant to blogs. Yes, I can understand that in the case of a blog, having it talked about and spread across social networks is important and highly desirable. So how does this fit into the world of business? Lets face it, the internet is a great social tool, but its also a crucial sales tool for hundreds of thousands of businesses. This is where I am skeptical; we often get asked by clients and prospects about being on Facebook as they have heard this will be good for business. This only really applies to businesses that have a deeply rooted social aspect. Most companies won’t benefit from trying to create buzz out of something no one is that interested in talking about. The other issue I have a problem with was mentioned in an earlier post, and that is the abuse of creating an artificial social buzz. You can now buy Facebook fans in thousands, Twitter followers and Google +1s, just as I expected would happen. Generally speaking I think its a good idea that search engines may use social signals but only if the algorithm can be tuned to detect irregular social patterns.

But its not all bad..

There are a number of ways I believe non-social companies can benefit from using the social arenas. The first one is for companies to offer customer support through Facebook. This would allow customers and prospects alike to post questions and queries that others may also want to ask, a bit like a self generating FAQ. This has got to be good for businesses and customers. Another way is to get more social, and a great example of this is the Nightlife Exchange Project directed by Smirnoff. Of course it helps if you have a big budget to get social and it also helps of sell a product which is consumed in social environments but the concept of companies bringing people together through a social project is a fantastic excuse to generate social buzz online. And then of course there are competitions; why not give away free products in a competition conducted on Facebook, we all like a freebie.

Google +1 (dislike?)

(I have noticed that I am getting traffic about how to dislike – unfortunately this post doesn’t tell you how, but that’s in part due to the fact you can’t! Please read on though, as all my posts are interesting.)

You may be aware of Google’s new +1 button and for those of you who are not familiar with it, it’s basically like the Facebook like or thumbs up in Youtube. In principle it seems a good idea, I for one have installed it on my blog but there are a few unanswered and unsettling questions surrounding this newfangled obsession to share our opinion on everything. According to a research group there is some suggestion and some evidence that it could affect search rankings in Google. Obviously you would think that’s great except for one small thing; doesn’t this make it easier for organizations to game the system? If I ran a large organization surely I could artificially increase the amount of +1s by instructing my fellow disciples to +1 it and therefore achieve high rankings? I’ve seen it done countless times on bookmarking sites like Digg, whereby some average promotional material has 3000 diggs and therefore I cannot get away from its super high ranking. No I don’t want to read about Toyota’s environmental commitments or get slimmer with some magical diet pill!

The other camp suggest that it should make no difference but I can’t see that as being true because one of Google’s signal is click through rate, and that will surely increase the more +1s it has and naturally ones ranking should improve. Anyone seen a reccommendation for Rebecca Black next to a video of Godsmack or some other totally unrelated video? I think if Google is going to make this work it needs to make the impact of increased +1s based on the user interaction post or pre +1 clicking. Otherwise we will have hoards of people affiliated with large companies clicking +1 just for the sake of it, and without having navigating through the website or actually reading any content associated.

It really all boils down to the individual value of the +1, but I won’t be surprised to see certain pages achieving astronomical +1s for something that is really essentially of limited interest. Time will tell.

A generalised view of SEO

Through the years I (owner of MurdenEnterprise) have seen numerous debates on whether search engine optimisation is a justified method of marketing. The SEO industry has a bit of a poor reputation for gaming the system into thinking certain sites deserve to the be the first ones we look at. After all I’m sure Google would prefer it if all commercial ventures just used Adwords. Any decent SEO consultant or company will work hard to dispel the myth that it is somehow cheating and I believe they can do this in a number of ways. Firstly I think people need to begin to understand that although SEO appears to be one of those job types with no distinguished rule book or set procedures it does actually play an extremely important role in the world of marketing. One hopes that as time goes on and search engines get smarter, so that the unregulated SEO environment will become stricter and tougher on those who abuse it. To help customers understand the relevance of this work one only needs to look at how often they use a search engine on a daily basis, and with £1 in 4 of marketing budgets spent online it has become big business. The reality is that the most convenient way to search for information or for a good deal is online – who doesn’t do that? At the same time businesses working within a tight budget need marketing strategies that get the most bang for buck. No one likes to watch pointless adverts on television and we skip past the majority of them in magazines and yet with search engines that problem is well, less of a problem. People are in control when they load up a search engine, they are in control of what they want to see and that’s where businesses need to spend their time – in front of actively searching consumers.

So why is it considered shady by some, cheating by others and frowned upon by search engines if its so ideal? Well herein lies the problem; it is all too easy to promote pages and website to page 1 of Google for example even if they’re not directly relevant. This creates an unfair environment for those looking to genuinely promote a product directly relevant to their big keywords against those USING shady methods to promote sites that are vaguely relevant or just complete rip offs altogether. Unfortunately doing it the honest way takes longer and costs more. When promoting a website, we are looking to attract interested consumers or readers and to do that we need to be in all kinds of places, social ones included to create the buzz and backlinks. The difficulty is when we mix that with the urgency of profit making in a capitalist environment then larger companies begin to see that it is not cost effective to use this method. So what do they do? They create spaces online where they can artificially re-create that buzz or social interest and of course link to their clients site, and sadly it works quite well. At least for now.

MurdenEnterprise believe that in order to restore dignity and honesty as well as transparency search engines should work on an algorithm that not only discounts blatant link farms (those that are not clearly marked directories) but gateway pages that contain numerous anchors, but only when the anchors are dense and unrelated. If a page can be indexed and sees anchors that are relevant then that should be okay, just not if the same page discusses 25 different topics containing 60 anchors all within 600 words. This way companies using gateway techniques will be forced to buy more domains, more pages with more content just to represent a link to 1 client – this could begin to seem a little less cost effective.

The end goal would be that there is no easy way to build reputation and authority other than to do what they should be doing anyway, getting out there and proving themselves worthy of the top spot.