Have you heard about Penguin? Everywhere you turn in marketing, people are talking about it, and stating that it’s time for small to moderate to large business owners to take quick action and update their sites to be “Penguin ready” – if they haven’t done so already.
Google Penguin “one ups” Google Panda by actually penalizing websites that “over optimize.” What does this mean? Is there such a thing as over-optimizing? In general, terms, no. Optimization is a rather broad term that simply means readying your website to be easily crawled and indexed by search engines. Therefore, the more you optimization work you do; the better. As we’ve learned before, the more content you produce; the better.
However, what Penguin is specifically penalizing is websites that over-optimize in terms of excessive keyword repetition. This is indeed an Internet phenomenon, and one that you can’t really imagine seeing in the entertainment world, the news world or in print media. After all, how many times does a newscaster begin his/her story with “Are you looking for information on tube socks? Well, we have information on tube socks. For more on tube socks, let’s turn it over to Jane…”
You would think the newscaster was insane! Likewise, publishing keyword-excessive content seems to go hand-in-hand with a lower quality of writing. Not surprisingly, article directories are suffering from the Penguin strike in a big way, as many of these sites are guilty of over-keywording articles and over-generalizing information, to the point that it’s not really helpful to a real human Internet viewer.
Penguin is actually doing a lot of good, as webmasters and site owners are now being forced to re-edit their content and make sure it is of interest to human beings, and not merely to robot crawlers mindlessly looking for keywords. If you haven’t updated your site to be Penguin friendly yet, then by all means do so…one of the algorithms most controversial changes is the fact that entire sites can be penalized for a large number of individual pages with over-optimized content. It’s time to start taking Internet writing seriously!
If you want to advertise your company to the online world, then what should your SEO campaign consist of? Don’t make the mistake of leaving the SEO company to decide. Not only are there some unscrupulous types out there who will take advantage of ignorance, but more to the point, you will never know how well you’re doing unless you actively take charge of the campaign.
That means that you must plan goals, and decide the most profitable avenues for your business. So let’s review some major SEO arenas that are most likely to benefit your company.
1. Article Marketing
Article marketing has taken a “hit” lately as some of the top article directory sites (where articles are submitted and published) have taken a dive in Google search rankings. However, article marketing still remains a legitimate way to build links – provided you’re writing quality stuff.
Blogging and guest-blogging (on blogs of online acquaintances) helps you market your business by targeting keywords and writing detailed blogs that are informative or educational. Blogging gives you more freedom creatively and more control over publishing rights.
3. Press Releases
Press releases are articles submitted to news outlets, meaning they can by syndicated and get you loads of traffic. However, these releases must be written in a sophisticated way and have a newsworthy topic. Press releases can be distributed for free on cheap directories or distributed globally for a fee.
4. Social Media Marketing
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and many other sites are earning highest search rankings for many keyword phrases. They are also the most popular Internet sites because of mainstream and global popularity. Use their big names to your advantage by creating content exclusively for social networking.
5. Local Pages
One of the newest trends in SEO is that of local page marketing, using big name sites like Google Maps/Places, Facebook Places, FourSquare, Yahoo Local and Yelp. These sites concentrate search engine efforts on sites within a specific location, and actually crawl and index webpages with local keyword searches. They integrate smoothly with mobile devices, which can direct users in “real time” to the nearest local business based on local cell phone keyword searches.
When you read about SEO, these are the most important arenas you’re discussing. Plan a campaign around these five areas, based on your budget and your schedule.
Two of the biggest avenues and thus the biggest “sells” in SEO and web content creation are article marketing and blogging. Chances are, if you ask for an SEO firm to give you a price quote, they will be pushing one of these two options. While they might sell you “linkbuilding” packages, blogs and article directories are two of the easiest – and most effective ways – to create quality links.
In the past, article marketing had a distinct advantage over blogging, since many blogs had low traffic, while popular article directories benefited from high “robot” traffic – they were being crawled and indexed rather quickly, thanks to the popularity of their site and their huge number of links. The latest algorithm updates from Google, however, changed this dynamic. Sites that “over-optimized” were penalized with the latest updates, while social network sites, news sites and even company or individual blogs were rewarded with higher rankings.
Now, blogs are actually being favored by search engines and are getting loads of traffic – at least more than they ever were in 2010, before Google’s Panda change. Does this mean you should focus only on blogs? Not necessarily. Article marketing can still be an effective way to build links, provided you write a quality article with some well-placed longtail keywords.
However, you cannot afford to invest all of your web marketing solely in the “big five” article directories, when there is clearly a need to establish more quality links all over the web. This is just a matter of common sense—when you put up signage for your company in a local area, do you want to put a thousand signs up in one mall, or do you want to put a few dozen signs all around the city?
Think of your new Search Engine Optimization strategy in a similar context.
Google’s three latest algorithm updates have set the Internet marketing industry ablaze. Since February of 2011, when Panda was first released, the world’s top search engine has declared war on websites that have “low quality content.” Just as everything was settling down in the SEO world, two new algorithm updates make headlines: Venice and Penguin. Just to review what we’ve learned from Google thus far:
Google Panda: Lowers the SERP rankings of low quality sites, including “content mills” and pages with little content but heavy advertising. Sites that benefit include social network pages and news sites.
Google Venice: An improvement for local content publishing. This update automatically matches locally produced content appropriate for user searches based on the user’s IP address.
Google Penguin: A further refining of Google’s algorithm, based on Panda’s changes, this time further targeting content mills, and higher-grade content mills like article directories. This update specifically targeted “over-optimized” sites, that is sites that excessively linked or keyword stuffed their content.
In light of these new updates, many in the SEO world are now backing away from keyword densities and content-mill style writing, and are instead focusing on blogs. Blogs are usually written with a bit more sophistication, since they are aimed at people and not directories. Directories have always been traffic magnets, but mostly because of web crawlers that seek out keyword requests. The latest filtering technology penalizes websites that go after search engine crawlers or “bots” but fail to converse with actual website surfers.
How does this affect you, the small business owner? Now is the time to take your message online and to refocus your strategy to be read, and not merely to be “found”. It doesn’t matter how much content you produce, if it fails to pass Google’s new “human” filter. That is will bring you traffic and sales in the long-run.
If you are working on an SEO campaign for your small business, or perhaps already publishing content, then it’s time to think about how to distinguish yourself from the competition. This is not only a smart strategy for dealing with Google (which values unique content) but also for dealing with your human visitors. They are more likely to remember you if you stand out.
So what you might try is taking a look at your competition, including their sites, their chosen keywords and their linking strategy. This is why the best SEO companies always insist on analyzing your competition. One common SEO technique is to use keywords repeatedly, when research shows that the best approach may be a subtle repetition, rather than constant copying and pasting. Actually, it’s quite the SEO dilemma at times. The more you aim for popular keywords, the higher keyword density competition you’re facing. Your competitors may not use 100 keywords per page…but they could publish 100 pages with matching keywords. Suddenly, the competition is intense and you’re feeling pressured to maximize keyword usage.
A smarter strategy would be to focus on moderately popular keyword phrases, perhaps even niche keywords. Because of less competition for these keywords, just a little bit of repetition will go a long way. You will also score points from the likes of Google and Bing for “naturalness” in writing.
Be sure to modify your existing pages according to the performance you are seeing from analytics. You might try studying what the visitors are doing at your site, how they visit, what pages and keywords are popular and other related data. Focus on what works, rather than constantly experimenting. Not only is this good for traffic, it’s good for targeted traffic and that means higher conversions. The pages that are not working very well should be updated or perhaps even deleted if necessary.
In essence, to invest in SEO today is to invest in conversation with web viewers, with the search engines and within your own company. Don’t just write…react to what is happening around you.
Just as you began to recover from the Google Panda algorithm update, now it’s time brace yourself for Google Penguin, the next update made exclusively to combat web SPAM. As usual, Google is vague about what precisely the Penguin is going to analyze and penalize. They merely stated that the change will “decrease rankings for sites that we believe are violating Google’s existing quality guidelines.”
They also gave some basic guidelines as to what SPAM is, and thus what webmasters want to avoid. They include hidden text and hidden links, redirects, cloaking, automated queries sent to Google, irrelevant keywords, multiple pages with duplicated or mostly duplicated content, phishing sites, or malware/virus sites, doorway pages (which are pages created solely for search engines) and affiliate programs that have low value pages.
Webmasters are uneasy about Google’s citing of “substantially duplicate content”, since this could mean anything from obvious plagiarism to quality keyword pages that read “similarly” to others.
The best way to plan for Penguin, Panda, and any other P-updates that Google comes up with is to avoid underhanded tactics that call out to search engines at the expense of human viewers. In other words, webmasters are being told to stop deceiving their visitors, avoid tricks for advancing to the top (such as link schemes), avoid “bad neighborhoods” when it comes to linkbuilding, and don’t use unauthorized programs to submit pages or check rankings.
Not everyone was pleased with Google’s algorithm update and have even petitioned Google to eliminate the Penguin update altogether. Complaining users state that it’s almost impossible for smaller sites to compete with large publishers like E-How, Yahoo Answers and Amazon, since they have access to more writers, more topics and thus more content.
The long-term effect of Google’s Penguin update remains to be seen, though it’s clear that spammers—and perhaps non-spammers too – have much to fear.
If you feel you’ve been affected by the Penguin update, Google has an online form for you to voice your grievances and while they get thousands of requests, believe it or not, you will get a response. But don’t think Google will automatically reinstate your website index. make sure you follow Google Webmaster best Practices.
Some basic rules:
- Don’t load pages with irrelevant keywords (AKA keyword stuffing).
- Avoid creating multiple pages, subdomains, or domains with substantially duplicate content.
- Stop adding hidden text or hidden links.
- Don’t use cloaking or sneaky redirects.
- Skip creating “doorway” pages created just for search engines, or other “cookie cutter” approaches such as affiliate programs with little or no original content.
Are you writing for robots or people? That seems to be the question of search engines today, as Google and Bing (which powers Yahoo Search) attempt to reward quality sites (with magazine style articles) and penalize sites that have poor content, presumably written for robots. The robots we refer to are search crawler applications that are programmed to notice popular keywords, keyword density and new web content.
In years passed, the algorithms of Google and Yahoo were not that complex and rewarded sites for ambitious planning – as in multiple keywords, tags and page titles. Now, with multi-million dollar budgets, Google and other search sites are putting more elaborate thought into their algorithm updates and are building their search software to take a more human approach to filtering out low quality sites that, presumably, a human wouldn’t even read.
So, when you are planning an SEO campaign for your small business, take into account who you are speaking to. Don’t write anything for robots. These search bots can automatically sense what is grammatically correct, what is efficiently communicated and what is informative to a living audience. Beyond that, remember that the major search engines still employ a human staff to accomplish editorial tasks that robots presumably cannot do.
When trying to communicate with a human audience ask yourself, “what is my audience thinking right now?” Most online visitors are thinking “Tell me something I don’t know!” They go into a search with a fairly broad knowledge of their favorite keyword topic. For you to present only the most basic subject matter will be an insult to this web viewer’s intelligence!
Another common complaint: don’t try to sell a company or even an idea until you teach the audience something relevant an enlightening. These are not only the fundamentals of sales, they are also fundamentals of human communication! The moment a website starts to focus on winning human viewers rather than search engines is the same moment they notice an improvement in search engine success.
Google Panda has struck again, and the after effects are still taking place. According to a webzine called The State Column, their site reported a 98% drop in traffic in March. While they suspected a “glitch”, they later found it this was merely the after effects of a major algorithm update—and their site is not alone. Many other sites are reporting traffic and ranking drop offs, which are presumably occurring because of low quality.
What seems to be the cause? While the original explanation of Google is that they are trying to offer results with greater prestige, (i.e. better writing, less ads and more trusted sites) some webmasters are speculating that altered permalinks, duplicated content and altering canonical tags could be problematic.
What the overwhelming message appears to be is that Google is serious about ridding its version of the net from low quality sites – even if those low quality sites do have original content. Therefore, it is important for webmasters not only to produce high quality material, but also to maintain a clean site, a non-cluttered site, and a site with proper search optimization in HTML, CSS and any other language.
One of the big problems with Panda is that Google is not exactly proactive when it comes to resolving customer disputes. Google doesn’t have a lot to lose and thus doesn’t owe much explanation to angry webmasters who notice their falling rankings and traffic. Therefore, the only defense is to be thorough the first time around. Rather than make changes to tags, page titles or content from day to day after publishing, for the best results, proof the document in advance and then let it age naturally. Check the navigation of your site and make sure that it is user-friendly.
When you plan an SEO campaign for your small business, make sure that you take the stringent new Panda standards into account!
If you believe you’ve been unfairly targeted by the Panda updates, you can request a review from Google by going to the Google Reconsideration Form.
We will discuss the effects of Penguin in a later post.
What is the difference between Yahoo and Bing’s algorithm? If you follow SEO news, you might think that the two companies are one in the same, since Yahoo took over Bing just a few years ago. In fact, Yahoo Search even claims to be powered by Bing. However, being “powered” by Bing or by Google really doesn’t mean anything. Practically every minor search engine out there is powered by Google. If you were to compare Gibiru (an anonymous, uncensored search engine) with Google (just plain old Google) many of the same results would be identical.
This points to the fact that just because a search engine “powers” another one, doesn’t mean that the new search site is above manipulating the results to its favor. Most search engines have human editors in addition to a unique algorithm. So, many of the algorithm differences will be subtle, if not completely unnoticeable to human eyes. Nevertheless, user experience documents some more than subtle differences between Google, Bing and Yahoo. Google is gaining a reputation as favoring back links, while Yahoo seems to put more relevance on title tags. Yahoo also has that reciprocity thing going on, rewarding sites that pay to get listed on Yahoo Business, and that earn other Yahoo-exclusive links, like Yahoo Answers, Yahoo News and so on.
Bing is often said to reward quality content first, while Google tends to pay more attention to site reputation. There are also some reports suggesting Bing has a higher success rate than Google when it comes to users finding what they want, suggesting that Bing probably has more relevant results than Google does.
In any event, as you may know, all search engines change their criteria and algorithms so often, it is sometimes impossible to keep up with all the changes. In most cases you are safe by going after three C’s – content, context and consistency. Write high quality articles, and make sure you are not wasting it on low quality links. At the same time, always remain consistent, so that you can outlast the competition and any fading search engine trends.
Local SEO is a booming business right now, and that is mainly thanks to three major innovators: Google, Facebook and Apple. Though Apple’s efforts were truly innovative, plenty of other mobile and PDA companies have since risen, bringing us high-tech portable phones and digital multimedia players. All of these entities are making local SEO a big business.
Just look at Google Maps and Google Earth, which can now help consumers, traveling locally within a city or town, find a business of their choosing based on keyword search. They can simply type in a keyword search into their mobile device and be pointed via GPS where to go. Google Places is another avenue to explore, as business owners can now create locally based information (including company info, photos and even videos) that earns high local search rankings.
Facebook is also joining the fray, as they have their own Facebook Places now, which directs users to local companies and brings location-based functionality to the highly popular social network. In addition, smartphones like the iPhone, the Blackberry and Android-compatible phones now have apps that deliver customized text information, including locations and directions of companies.
Whether you have a restaurant, a retail store, a dealership, a practice, or any sort of locally based business, you have much to gain by associating with these local SEO powerhouses. If you find that your local SEO campaign isn’t growing much with regular longtail or niche key wording, then maybe it’s time to join the mobile phone and social network revolution. Your first move is to embrace these web tools and show the community where you are, and what you offer. Don’t give up on content production—just integrate it with the most popular sites of the day.
For more information on local SEO and the importance of social media integrated with SEO, talk to a consultant or an experienced SEO firm.