All posts in SEO

Black HatOne of the buzziest buzzwords in 2014 is, unfortunately, negative SEO. Recently, Forbes’ contributor Jayson DeMers chronicled how his small company was targeted by scammers. They demanded he pay them US$250 (£151.56); if he didn’t, they’d flood his website with inbound links – and not the high-quality, authoritative links that Google likes so much and which visitors trust so much either. Are schemes like this common, and, if they are, can you protect your website?

What is Negative SEO?

Prior to the Penguin update, the more links, the better. Link farms, link schemes, you couldn’t buy enough of these things.  With this major update, Google told websites in no uncertain terms that poor-quality, spammy links would not be tolerated. Infamous JC Penney and Overstock.com penalties, which caused both retailers to drop precipitously in the search engine results pages, emphasised just how serious Google was.

Now, while this was a great move for searchers – and quality, legitimate websites – it did have an unsavory consequence. It opened up a side industry in negative SEO, where “mercenaries” like those who targeted DeMers, thrive by threatening sites with spammy links.

In addition to bad links, negative SEOs can:

  • Copy your site’s content and distribute it over the internet.  Bam…duplicate content penalties for you.
  • Point links to your site using such reputable and estimable keywords as “Viagra.”
  • Developing false social media profiles in your name or that of your website or business.
  • Removing your high-quality backlinks.
  • Hacking into your website and having free run over your content and backend workings.

Should You Worry?

Yes and no. Yes, it could be devastating if your site were targeted, but no, it’s not that likely. Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team, says:

In my experience, there’s a lot of people who talk about negative SEO, but very few people who actually try it, and fewer still who actually succeed. I know that there’s been a lot of people stressed about this. Whenever we dig into what’s actually going on, there’s been a lot of discussion but very little in ways of actually people trying to do attacks.

It is best to run your website, do your white hat SEO, and produce quality content as usual – but remain aware and take steps to keep your site – and your online reputation – intact. How?

  • Log into your Google Webmaster Tools account and enable email alerts. Google will let you know if your pages are not indexed, your site is attacked by malware, or if you’ve received a manual Google penalty. Simply click on Webmaster Tools Preferences. Enable email notifications for All Issues and click Save.
  • Monitor your backlink profile. See what types of sites are linking to your sites to ensure they are legitimate. You can ask a reputable SEO firm to help you develop and monitor your profile or use a tool such a Majestic SEO, Ahrefs, or Open Site Explorer.
  • Use a tool such as CopyScape to monitor for duplicate content, and keep an eye on your site speed. A sudden and marked slowdown can indicate that spammers or negative SEOs have attacked it.

If you do find bad links:

  • Contact the webmaster and request they remove the links.
  • Use Google’s Link Disavow tool. If you’ve taken every step possible to remove bad links, you can request that Google ignore them when assessing your site.

Like Matt Cutts reminds us, there is likely nothing to “stress” about. So don’t. Just be on top of your link profile and content to spot trouble before it can take root.

ThermometerTo stay healthy, it’s best to make the annual trip to the doctor, get checked out, say “Ahhh.” In the meantime, there are a host of steps you can take to maintain your health on your own – eating right, exercising, getting proper rest, etc. The health of your website is the same: once a year, you should have a professional audit, a thorough checkup to maintain optimal site performance. But in the meantime, there are steps you can take to ensure you stay healthy.

Some aspects to review during your DIY audit:

Crawling and Indexing Issues

Ensuring Google properly crawls and indexes your website is critical. Log into your Webmaster Tools. ON your dashboard, click Google Index > Index Status > Basic. This will tell you how many URLs Google has indexed. Click Advanced  for more information on how many URLs Google has ever crawled and if any have been blocked by robots. Check your robots.txt file to ensure that any blocked URLs are, indeed, blocked by your choice to enhance your strategy (such as to not have Google crawl or index duplicate content).

Look for an increase in the number of crawled and indexed pages. A decrease may mean that Google cannot properly access your content.

Sitemaps

Your sitemap is just that: a map of your content for Google. Make sure it follows the established protocol and that it is formatted correctly. Compare the URLs that Google has crawled to your sitemap and update if necessary.

Links

It is essential that you keep an eye on your link profile. Do you see any spammy or questionable links? Are there high-quality reputable links? With the rise of negative SEO, it pays to stay on top of your profile, and to cultivate great links from authoritative sources.

On-Page SEO Elements

Now you’ll want to examine your tags and metadata. Quickly:

  • Do you have unique title tags for each page? Do you have any duplicates? Are they relevant and keyword-optimised? Are they between 40 and 69 characters?
  • Do you have solid copy for your meta description tags? Is it relevant to searchers and provide the information they need? Are they 200 characters or fewer?
  • Do you have alt image tags? These help visually impaired searchers, and they play a role in your search engine visibility. Make sure they accurately describe the images.
  • Do you have H tags in the proper places? Do you have H1 for the main headline and subheaders as H2?
  • Do you have relevant, interesting content? This applies to your site copy, as well as to blogs, whitepapers, and other “long-form” pieces.

Speed

Site speed is huge this year, especially with mobile users. Make sure your site is running on all cylinders. Google’s PageSpeed tools are helpful here. When you identify issues, create a strategy to address them and boost performance.

This, of course, is not an exhaustive audit, but you should keep your eye on these types of issues continually.  A professional audit will fill in the gaps and give you a great foundation on which to build over the year.

Old KeysWith the move towards contextual search, SEOs and businesses have to be much more concerned with the intent behind the query. When someone enters “Italian food,” for instance, do they want restaurants? Recipes? Diets? Targeting the intent with long-tail keywords can help websites improve their SEO strategies, increase relevancy, and pull in visitors.

Long-tail keywords are usually 3-4 words in length, as opposed to “head” keywords. In our example, “Italian food” is a head keyword, and completion is fierce. How can you ensure visitors find you because your site is relevant to their needs? By:

  • Using very specific search terms. Italian food restaurants in London, Italian recipes for family dinners, Italian and Mediterranean diets. Someone searching for a good eatery will find you using these targeted terms. Hit Google AdWords Keyword Planner to determine which terms your audience is searching for and plan a strategy.
  • Using keyword search tools, such as Ubersuggest and Google (just enter in your keyword and see what it suggests). Ditto that for Bing. Also try Bing’s Suggester.
  • Using Google to search potential keyword phrases. Ideally, you’ll see that there’s not a lot of competition and that the phrase appears in niche sites, Q&As, and forums. Don’t get too granular, though. You don’t want to narrow down so much that you rank first for your keyword – but no one is searching for it! Think like a searcher.
  • Including the keyword into your title tag. Make sure it is compelling and encourages readers to click through.
  • Using 3-4 long-tail keywords for each new post – and make sure posts are fresh. Publish content regularly. Google likes it; so do searchers. Remember, as with any keyword, never stuff. Place them organically into your content.
  • Optimising existing content with the targeted keywords. Again, natural is the key to keywords.

Search queries are increasingly specific, many times even in full question form. Capitalise on what people are actually searching for by including long-tail keywords. You’ll be able to show searchers that you’re relevant and can answer their questions.

SEOFoot traffic and paper directories just don’t cut it anymore.  A confluence of events – from the meteoric rise of mobile to the emphasis in many communities on supporting local establishments – means that local businesses need to create a lively, optimised online presence to engage their customers. Over 46 per cent of shoppers use their mobile devices to research local products and services. Will they find you? Here are a few targeted tips for being on top of the local game.

  • Set up your Google Places space. Run, don’t walk. You can control the information you provide to Google, and to your audience. Use this opportunity to disseminate the essentials: hours, contact information, images, and a keyword-optimised description. After you fill this out, all you have to do is verify your account via phone or mail. Bing and Yahoo also have “Local” services for businesses, so if you want to target these engines as well, follow their specific procedures to get your account set up.
  • Get social with Google+ Local. Here, you can connect with your customers and others related to your specific industry using Google+ circles. You can control the information and the “story” your business tells.
  • Use a real address and phone number. People who search for local products and services want a “real” address, not a virtual one. Not only does it tell them where to go if they want to visit the brick-and-mortar location, but it lends your business greater credibility. Same goes with the telephone number. Adding a map is another nice touch that will help visitors feel more comfortable visiting either in person or onine.
  • Encourage customers to leave reviews and ratings. These are terrific for boosting your online authority and profile. Make it easy and convenient for them. Try printing a link to a review site on a receipt or adding one to an email communication to solicit feedback. If you should get some negative comments, address them immediately! Stay respectful, positive, and helpful – remember, these things can go viral.
  • Make sure your site is mobile-ready. While people do search for local businesses from home, it’s a mobile world. Is your site optimised for smartphones and tablets? If not, work on creating a responsive website or creating a separate mobile experience.
  • Don’t forget SEO. Keywords, site speed, metadata – all critical in local search campaigns.

Customers are out there, searching for quality local businesses. Make sure they find you by implementing these SEO strategies.

Ipad And Iphone

There are more mobile devices on earth than there are people. More than half of us have smartphones, and for half of mobile phone users, their device is their primary internet source. Just one more statistic for you: more than a quarter of all internet searches are conducted on a mobile device. A few years ago, you could get away with a desktop-based site. Not today. To reach your audience, you have to go where they are, and they are on the go. Here are the three ways you can accommodate mobile users.

Separate Mobile Site

With this option, you maintain a desktop version of your site and a separate mobile version. This has a few benefits: you can create a fully customised experience for your users. If, for instance, A/B or multivariate testing reveals your mobile users prefer infinite scrolling while your desktop users like vertical. You can also pare down your “big” version and create a simplified, streamlined mobile site that loads faster. Another plus is that you can employ HTML5 and other technologies without having to worry about compatibility.

Why not opt to create a separate mobile site? Well, it costs more, and that’s certainly a big consideration. Another issue is that if you have users who rely on both traditional and mobile versions (think of an Amazon shopper who likes to search for gifts at a coffee shop and then purchase at home), they may dislike having two separate experiences. It may create a disconnect and reduce the efficacy of the mobile site. Think about SEO, too. While having a separate site does not have to hurt your rank,  you will have to be on top of your redirects to make sure.

Dynamic Serving

With this option, you use the same URL, regardless of what type of device is attempting to access your website. So, how does a site load optimally for, say, a desktop, an iPhone, and a Galaxy? The specific devices employ User Agents. When the user agents request the site from the server, the server delivers the correct HTML for that particular device. This is beneficial because you only need one URL.

On the downside, Google  may not recognize the mobile HTML set, so you have make sure that you point the content out to the bots. The bots will need to crawl the content with different user agents, and redirecting them can be tricky. Check out Google’s help page for more information on that, if you choose dynamic serving. Another issue is that you have to continually update user agent strings for new mobile devices as they come on the market. Finding this information can be difficult, especially when the devices are brand new.

Responsive Web Design

This is the method that web design experts typically recommend. The website uses only one URL and responds to the type of device on which it is viewed. All devices read the same HTML. How does it work? CSS changes the page dimensions and the layout to fit smaller screens. Googlebot and Googlebot Mobile need to be able to crawl your CSS, Javascript, and images, and this reconfiguration process is automatic. No page redirects mean sites load faster; there is just one URL; and bots can crawl more efficiently and index more often; and mobile experiences are the same as desktop. This can be a big plus for many users who want that continuity.

The downside is cost and technical difficulty. Responsive web design is highly technical in terms of implementation, so an experienced web developer is an invaluable asset.

How are you going mobile?

Flying Books 1

Content developers face a challenge every time they develop ideas and start to put pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard or touchscreen. How long? We have a message – but what’s the best format in which to present it to our audience? In a social-media dominated landscape, 140-character messages, snappy, pithy sentences seem to rule. But does longer content have a place? What is the ideal length for copy?

There’s a strong case to be made for longer pieces:

  • Google sure does like them! serpIQ analyzed search engine results for 20,000 keywords, focusing on length. The top-ranked pages were those with more content, or more specifically, more words. The top of the top 10 had more than 2450 words.
  • They generate more inbound links.
  • They receive more social shares.
  • They have higher conversion rates than short-form content.
  • Google now includes PDFs and other long-form content in the search results.
  • LinkedIn just started allowing some members to post long-form content.
  • Sites like Longreads and Longform are devoted to curating the best long-form content, and sites like Buzzfeed are stepping up production of longer pieces.
  • Audiences like them. Sure, we all skim but when we really want to dig into a topic for research and information, we want an authoritative – and yes, longer – piece.

So, does this mean you should write 2000 word articles and eschew 400 word posts? No. It’s best to have a good mix of short and long. Blog guidelines have long informed us that 300-600 words is optimal, and we do need those quick snippets. Longer pieces, though, appeal to a different audience – or, rather, the same audience who has different motivations for reading and researching. Whitepapers, articles, PDFs, and other long-form content help attract these visitors and keep them engaged with the site.

Some tips:

  • Answer questions and serve a purpose with your long-form content. This is a forum in which you can tackle your audience’s concerns in an in-depth way. Provide examples, anecdotes, and thorough explanations.
  • Claim your articles with the Authorship Markup. You should be doing this anyway! Get on it! It helps build your reputation as an authority and expert.
  • If you split your article into multiple pages, make sure you paginate them correctly.
  • Markup your article to ensure Google is able to accurately index it and serve it to searchers.
  • Take your long-form content to YouTube. Viewers still like the quick videos – especially of cats doing adorable things or scary zombie babies terrifying passersby – but 1/3 of YouTube view time is attributed to videos 20 minutes or longer. That’s a significant chunk of time!

There you have it: a short post on the power and importance of long-form content. While social media is short and snappy, Google, curation sites, and audiences are starting to lean towards longer content. Get on board and start producing some lengthy, meaty, substantial pieces. Not everything you publish needs to be epic, but a few integrated into the mix can only help with rankings and audience engagement.

BlogIn the search and content marketing worlds, you have to stay flexible – otherwise you’re apt to get whiplash from all the changes! Nothing is permanent, and as we’ve seen with the decreased emphasis on specific keywords and the shifting status of links, today’s tried and true techniques may be tomorrow’s black hat. Guest blogging is the latest tactic to come under question. So, what’s the answer? Yes, no? Maybe.

 

 

Why Not?

Because Matt Cutts said so! In a recent blog post:

Okay, I’m calling it: if you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop. Why? Because over time it’s become a more and more spammy practice, and if you’re doing a lot of guest blogging then you’re hanging out with really bad company.

And our favorite line, “Stick a fork in it, guest blogging is done.” Cutts takes issue with unscrupulous use of guest blogging and shams set up to “automate” guest blogs or buy and sell links.

Done as in “Done”?

Guest blogging as a content strategy is not horrible practice – but with a big caveat. It has to be genuine, good, solid content. Say you are a management consultant and you help clients improve their leadership abilities. You work with a senior manager at a real, reputable company and she wants to write a post on how to improve communication skills. Or, perhaps she has done such a tremendous job improving her own skills in this area that you ask her to share her thoughts or tips with your readers.

Here’s why this guest post is different and why it’s not “done”:

  • No one’s getting paid, no one’s outsourcing guest posts, no one’s buying links. It is, as they say, on the up and up.
  • It’s content that your audience could learn from and use in their lives. The point of good content!
  • You know this person, and you can vouch for the authenticity of the post as well as its veracity.
  • It’s one post. You have (or should have!) lots of other great content on your site.
  •  You don’t spin this article or post it on more than one site.
  • You use other reputable SEO and content management techniques to bring traffic to your site. You don’t depend on guest blogging to generate all your link activity.

This type of guest post can help add value to your site. It’s genuine content, and that’s what Google – and more importantly, your audience – wants to see. If it’s not real, don’t do it. It’s a good SEO rule to live by.

LoupeRecently, Google’s Matt Cutts indicated that the biggest SEO mistake he sees is that people do not have crawlable websites. It’s interesting that one of the most common errors is one that is unrelated to mysterious algorithm updates or complex changes in Google’s search methodology. It’s just good old SEO. If you’re guilty of this optimisation error, what can you do to get back on track – and in the SERPs?

If Google cannot crawl and index your site, it cannot categorize it or return it to searchers. The first step is to create, if you have not already, a Google Webmaster Tools accounts. This is going to be the best tool in your toolkit.

In your account, go to the Health section and choose Crawl Stats from the menu on the left side. This will tell you if, and when, Google has crawled your site. While you’re there, also check out Crawl Errors This will provide a report on any broken links, malfunctioning 404s, site errors, and URL errors that prevent Google from crawling.

So, what if you have a soft 404 error, for instance? Webmaster Tools provides thorough, and clear, explanation, as well as instructions on resolving issues.

One more Webmaster Tools feature: Under Health, select Fetch as Google. You can request that the search engine crawl pages that you’ve just uploaded.

To ensure that your site is optimally crawled and index, there are several other steps that you can take:

  • Submit a sitemap. This is just what it sounds like: a map that helps Google identify pages within your website. Luckily, there are free online XML sitemap generators so there is really no excuse not creating and submitting one!
  • Add fresh content. This attracts bots and can help encourage them to keep visiting your site.
  • Put your code on a diet. Lose any bloat and ensure that your code is clean and in compliance with W3C standards. Again, you can find W3C validators online that you can use to help you with this. Lean sites load faster and index more easily.
  • Check for pages that are “disallowed.” Robots.txt files, which request that Google not index certain pages, keeps Google from…well, indexing certain pages. Are any pages “disallowed” that shouldn’t be?

These and other steps can roll out the welcome mat for bots. Make sure Google can crawl and index your site so searchers can find you.

Poor EyesightSEO is alive and well, but what about the traditional mainstay of search engine optimisation: the keyword? Is focusing on keyword strategy worth your time and resources, or is this still a vital part of your SEO approach?

First, why do many believe that keywords are endangered species that are on fast-track for extinction? A few reasons:

  • The 2013 Hummingbird update reflects Google’s progress towards semantic search. Instead of focusing on keywords, the search engine wants to focus on the meaning behind searchers’ queries.
  • Google moved all of its search results to https:, or secure sites. This blocks SEOs and webmasters from accessing rich keyword data from organic searches.

Despite this, one fundamental truth remains: keywords organize the Internet. According to some experts, the internet contains over 1.2 zettabytes of information – or 1.3 trillion gigabytes. With the sheer volume of information, there has to be a way to categorize it and return relevant search results.

Keywords serve this important purpose, and despite how “intuitive” search becomes as Google seeks to infer meaning we still have to use them. For instance, if we entered “Why are aardvarks purple?” Google knows we need information on purple aardvarks. We’re not going to get results on orange cats, yellow panda bears, or 1949 Fords.

So, no, keywords are not dead; in fact, they’re an integral part of ensuring your websites are visible and that Google can serve them to searchers. The key to keywords is natural and relevant. Keyword stuffing has long worn a grey or black hat, so that’s not a change. Instead of worrying about ranking for a particular keyword, the focus should be on providing clear, informational, trustworthy answers to the most common questions about your business, your industry, your particular niche.

Google does want to figure out the intent of a search – but they still need to find results with relevant content, and they still use keywords in this effort.

Some tips for optimal use of keywords:

  • Use keywords naturally and don’t be afraid to use synonyms. Google will recognize them, and readers will not get a spam vibe from your site because you’ve used the phrase “best gloves in the UK” 14 times on a single page.
  • Cover a single topic per page. Target the users’ intent: for instance, do they want to learn how to properly knot a tie? Dedicate a page to this helpful topic.
  • Don’t overdo it. One page is enough to help people learn to put on a tie. You don’t need another page with a video, another with tie-knotting FAQs, and yet another with famous celebrity tie-wearers. One thought, one page.
  • After you publish content, do a search of Google, Bing, and Yahoo to see what types of variations come up. You can use this information to create more specific keywords that ensure people looking for the information you have can find you.

Natural, relevant keywords that target your audiences’ intents can help you rank more highly – and more importantly, reach the people you need.

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