Five of Our Favorite Free Marketing Tools

If you’ve taken the time to peruse our blog, you will notice that we take a very transparent approach to the way that we share our tricks and tips on the SEO industry. It is extremely important to us that we help to educate our customers so they have a full understanding of the measures that are taking place behind the curtain. With that being said, I wanted to highlight a few marketing tools that we find to be extremely helpful to our day-to-day workflow.

1) Open Site Explorer

This tool provides you with a list of the websites that are linking to you, or another site. By acquiring insight into a backlink profile, you then have the opportunity to establish strong relationships with websites that are interested in your product or brand. This can also be used as a handy tool to monitor the websites that are linking to your competitors. With this information, you can then work to obtain similar link profiles of these competitors.

Open Site Explorer

Open Site Explorer

2) Content Idea Generator

Are you struggling to come up with unique ideas for your next blog post, or content piece? The content idea generator can help. By simply entering a broad topic, it creates strings of popular searches that can be placed together to come up with innovative new topics. Sometimes the topics that it spits out are just plain silly, but with a little tweaking, it can provide some creative insight.

Portent's Content Idea Generator

Portent’s Content Idea Generator

3) Hemingway

Hemingway is a helpful tool that analyses a block of content, and helps you to tighten it up. State your thoughts concisely with Hemingway.

Hemingway

Hemingway

4) Google Trends

Google Trends works to show how often a keyword, or search term is entered relative to the total search volume across different regions of the world. It also offers insight into, “interest over time” of a certain topic. This can be helpful in dissecting traffic fluctuation over an extended amount of time. Google Trends also provides, “related searches” which can provide additional ideas for keyword research.

Google Trends

Google Trends Graph

5) Buzzsumo

Buzzsumo helps you to quickly identify topics and content that is working well in a specific industry. See who the top authorities are for any given field, and glean insight into areas you may need to strengthen.

Buzzsumo

Buzzsumo

These days, it seems as if there is a tool to assist with the majority of our everyday challenges, and SEO evolves, as do our tools. From content inspiration to competitor comparisons and research, all of the information is right at your fingertips. What tools are integral to your workflow?

Posted in General Online Marketing, Marketing Tips, Web Marketing Tools | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Heartbleed and the future of SEO

With the recent Heartbleed epidemic fresh on everyone’s mind, security seems to be the latest topic to worry about when it comes to your site. Am I safe? Am I putting my customers at risk? Will this have an effect on my traffic? What about my SEO? While security is and always should be a concern, it now seems like it is one more item to put on the ever growing list of priorities you need to be concerned with when it comes to your site.

So first let’s discuss what Heartbleed is and who might be affected. Heartbleed is first a foremost a bug, not a virus, in the functionality of the OpenSSL library. This library is widely used with security vendors for secure web browsing and not an uncommon practice on sites on the web today. The bug, or the chink in the armor if you will, allows an attacker to retrieve systems remotely and access secure information such as usernames, passwords and keys in which they can use to then go on to make larger attacks. Having a security system that seems anything less than secure is not ideal and one that can easily cause panic for webmasters and consumers alike.

Heartbleed should be taken seriously and there are steps to ensure that you have not been affected. If you have not done so already, you can check your site here: http://filippo.io/Heartbleed/ to see if you are vulnerable and it would be in your best interest to have your webmaster regenerate a new private key as well as update the version of OpenSSL if applicable. Once you know everything is again secure, you could turn a headache into an opportunity to shine in customer service. While it may seem like a touchy subject to call attention to, at this point be forthcoming with your customers and let them know what you have done to ensure their safety as well as the actions they can take gives you a chance to be positive and proactive. Pinterest sent out such an email this weekend and it was a great example of how to be helpful without causing alarm:

Hi Elisa,
You may have heard of a recently discovered security issue—called Heartbleed—that impacted lots of sites on the internet, including Pinterest. Heartbleed affected OpenSSL, a type of technology websites use to keep information secure as it travels through the web.
We were quick to fix the issue on Pinterest, and we didn’t find any evidence of mischief on Pinner accounts as a result. But to be extra careful, we’re asking you to reset your password.

Ok, ok so secure sites are obviously important, but what does this have to do with SEO? Well possibly quite a bit in the near future. There have recently been reports stating Matt Cutts would like to begin rewarding secure sites with better rankings. While these comments made during “private conversations” definitely stem from the rumor mill at this point, it is something to take note of, particularly if you are an ecommerce site or one that requires info from your visitors. While this new ranking factor may be a ways out, it all comes down to the common thread of having a quality site. Whether you have a one page site or have a site that offers thousands of products, your goal should always be to ensure you are providing the highest quality possible.  From content to security, quality is the name of the game and it’s time to step it up if you want any chance of playing.

Elisa Houghtelin is one of the Account Managers at SEOhaus. If you would like to stay up-to-date on all of the latest SEO industry news and tips, you can subscribe to our blog here. Thanks for reading the SEOhaus blog!

Posted in Advice, Google, Search News | Leave a comment

Using Reddit to Test Your Marketing Strategy

I’m sure most of us out there with a computer and an internet connection are familiar with Reddit. Essentially a grown-up version of the bulletin boards of yesteryear, Reddit has quickly risen to be one of the most popular social networking and news sites on the web. Many a meme has been birthed on Reddit and opinions are espoused in subreddits fervently and passionately.

It all started somewhat innocently as a way to share my client’s website and the product they offer. For the purposes of this blog–and because I’m fast approaching middle age–let’s say the product my client is selling is a product to treat hair loss for men.

Anyone remember "spray-on hair?"

Anyone remember “spray-on hair?”

Also, for the purposes of this blog, let’s say the hair loss treatment my client offers is a bit different than other products on the market and therefore less proven to consumers. The price for this hypothetical hair growth system is $200. Sales of said product have been minimal and we’re not quite sure why.

First things first, I found the appropriate Reddit thread for male baldness in order to reach my target audience. Then, in trying to find a way to share my client’s site in a non-artificial way, I took a more interactive approach–I posed a question. This is a technique I learned from doing social media updates. Posts that ask questions of the audience tend to have a higher level of engagement. My post looked something like this:

baldhaus

I honestly didn’t think much of it at the time and I moved on to other projects. However, out of curiosity, I checked on the post a few days later and found that I had several responses to my original post.

baldhaus2

After reading the comment, I logged into Google Analytics and under Referral Traffic, I noticed that my client’s website had received about 20 visits from my initial Reddit post. Cool! I was surprised to learn how helpful Reddit users are in answering questions. This particular user actually went to the website and watched the videos in order to have a more informed opinion in answering my question. Most importantly, this comment and other comments like it confirm one of my suspicions–that my client’s product is too expensive.

Let’s move on to another hypothetical comment:

baldhaus3

Ouch! These Reddit commentators don’t pull any punches. That said, the truth hurts sometimes. It might not be a pleasant conversation with my client but the site may be in need of a redesign in order to build trust with potential customers. Based on these comments, I now have some ideas on how to improve my client’s campaign, which may include lowering the price of the product and redesigning the website.

These are just some hypothetical responses but really the possibilities are endless. Reddit users can offer invaluable insight into strengths and weaknesses with your product, service, website, marketing strategy, etc. By finding the right subreddit, you have a direct line to your target audience and their unfiltered opinion. Furthermore, I encourage that you chime in as well, beyond the initial post, in order to a) keep the discussion going and b) extract more opinions and information.

I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t include some caveats:

1) Take Reddit comments with a grain of salt – There’s something known as “online disinhibition effect”, which in essence means that people act differently on the internet than in face-to-face interactions. In other words, under the guise of anonymity, people are more prone to comment negatively on the web. Look at these comments with a critical eye, as one negative comment early on in a thread can set the tone, as people can feed off of each other’s negativity.

2) Strength in numbers – If only one commentator points out a weakness with your marketing, I wouldn’t immediately go and your adjust your strategy. However, if multiple commentators are saying the same thing, it might have some weight.

3) Ethical considerations – My hypothetical comment implies that I am looking for hair growth products, which in reality, is not the case. I don’t advise being deceptive, as I think that white-hat practices should extend into every aspect of marketing, not just SEO. I was merely using this as a jumping-off point. A better, more ethical way to start a Reddit thread might just be something as simple as “what’s your opinion on this product/website: ________?” If you’re trying to solicit honest opinions, it behooves you to set the tone by being honest yourself.

I’d be curious to know how this technique works for other marketers and if anyone out there has found some other benefits in posting on Reddit. Feel free to comment!

Brian Carver is an Account Manager at SEOhaus. If you would like to stay up-to-date on all of the latest SEO industry news and tips, you can subscribe to our blog here.

Posted in Advice, General Online Marketing, Uncategorized, Web Marketing Tools | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Mobile Shift in Google’s Paid Search

An interesting article from eMarketer.com arose in mid-March stating that Google is predicted to lose $1.4B in desktop paid searches. U.S. paid mobile search grew more than double – at a whopping 120.8% in 2013. In contrast, paid desktop search had only risen by 2.3% last year.

On the same note, the Google’s mobile search revenues will increase by $1.76 billion according to eMarketer.com.

So what does this mean for Google?

Desktop search is declining, and in turn mobile search is increasing. With those numbers above, the prospects are that mobile search will total one-third of Google’s total search revenues by the end of 2014.

How has Google put more focus on the mobile market?

Last summer, Google announced “enhanced campaigns” which combine both desktop and mobile pay per click advertising departments into one. These enable users to purchase ads as a single package rather than having two separate Google Adwords budgets for one website.

There are upgraded features and new conversion types in Enhanced Campaigns. For example, phone calls are integrated from a click-to-call perspective in a mobile ads campaign. Another added bonus is that you can make adjustments based on the location of the mobile user, which is helpful for local businesses. You can also find many more features here.

Creating one enhanced campaign will provide clients with the incentive to put more budget toward mobile, and make it easier for users overall.

Is that why the SERP has changed?

It is a possibility that Google decided to shift the design of the overall search engine results page (SERP) so that Adwords clicks (especially in mobile) will continue to grow. Here is a comparison of what the SERP used to look like, compared to what it looks like now:

adwords before and after

Photo Credit: Moz Blog

The old version includes a lightly colored background and underlined title tags. The new design is much more discreet and follows the look and feel of the organic search results. The way you can tell the difference is the addition of the yellow [Ads] label for each section of the SERP.

This may prompt users to click on the ads more often because it is less busy and complex.

What does this all mean?

It means that Google is making an innovative modification to the SERPs as well as Adwords offerings in order to help users as they shift towards mobile searching.

Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Posted in Google, Mobile, Mobile Compatibility, Mobile Search, Paid Search | Leave a comment

The 7 Best Bike Wipeouts Caught On Google Street View and What it Means for Content Creators

For the past several years, Google has been gone beyond the bird’s eye view seen in Maps and Earth and put users right in the street. Using cars, trikes, snowmobiles and other vehicles, Google has mapped out countless miles worldwide. Maybe you’ve even spotted the fabled Google car with its multi-directional cameras mounted on the roof. Unfortunately for some of these bikers, they never saw the Google car coming. Let’s getting things rolling:

Learning To Ride

Google Street View, Little Girl, Bike Crash

The training wheels have come off, and it might be a while before this little girl is racing friends down the street or flying off jumps. I’m just glad that Google wasn’t around to catch the early days of me on a bike. Keep practicing, little one.

Turned To Soon

google, street view, boy, bike, crash

This little guy has the moving part down. He’s just working on moving in the right direction. If all else fails, bail and grab a gate.

Late Bloomer

google, street view, woman, bike, fail

She’s old enough to explore the city alone, but she still hasn’t figured out how to ride a bike exactly. Someone please fill her in on how bikes work.

European Faceplant

Copenhagen, Denmark, bike, fail, crash

Apparently, faceplants are the same across the pond too. Good to know. The Google car caught this dude just as he decided to swoop in for a mouthful of asphalt. This guy’s pain is a necessary sacrifice for many lol’s.

Still Learning To Turn

Ohio, bike, crash, fail

This guy from Ohio might have a few years on our little buddy up top, but he still hasn’t mastered the art of the right hand turn either. The Google car conveniently cruised alongside him, giving us this mini comic strip.

Wrong Place, Wrong Time

Google, street view, european, bike, crash, fail

Let’s just face it (not the concrete like this guy): this just wasn’t his day. Sandwiched between two cars, road workers looking on, and the omniscient Google there to catch it all for everyone to see. That guy is thankful for the Photoshop blur.

Like A Boss

google, street view, kid, bike, wheelie

This kid is awesome. And now thanks to Google Street View, everyone can know it. It might not be a wipeout, but we would all rather hang out with this future BMX star instead of the asphalt eaters above.

*No bikers were harmed in the making of the blog post. Maybe.

Now I thoroughly enjoyed myself putting these together, and it’s my hope that you got a good chuckle yourself, but we have something to learn here. This is the first installation of the SEOhaus Social Media Guide. We’ll be taking a look at how you can maximize your effectiveness across social networks in blog posts in the next few months, and we are compiling everything you need to know into one, comprehensive place.

So, what can this post tell us about social media and shareable content?

Lists

Lists are all the rage. Just ask Buzzfeed. Lists are attention-grabbing and give your viewer a quantifiable start and end. They know what to expect going into it, and if your list is any good, you’ll provide your viewer with the best information – or all the information – they need. People don’t want to read ramblings; they want to get in, read the top-5-this or 11-best-that, and get on with it. That leads to the next point.

Adjectives

Lists are conducive to qualifiers, but you can work adjectives into any headline and content. For example, when I’m hungry, I don’t just want a burrito. I want the best burrito in San Diego. People are always on the lookout for things that elicit the most emotion, not just another blip on the radar. Give them what they want.

Emotion

We might like to pretend we didn’t have our own set of bumps and bruises from bikes, but the fact is we’ve been in the same place as the people above. Luckily, we didn’t have Google rolling down the street as it happened. We can relate to the pictures and feel what they were going through in that beautiful, immortalized moment. Create content that is interesting and relevant to your audience. The more they can feel your content, the better.

Variety

Even though Google captured a similar moment multiple times, each instance takes place in a different place and includes a different demographic. Unless if it’s America’s Funniest Home Videos, laughing at kids can make you feel like a bad person. Add some adults crashing as well, and it’s all okay. But really, avoid tunnel vision and spice up your posts by mixing up who’s including in your posts and who can feel a direct connection to them. You can expand your reach and share-ability by broadening your content every now and again.

Those are just a few of the things that we can learn from looking at Google’s images of people crashing on bikes. What other takeaways can we get from it? Share your thoughts.

Posted in General Online Marketing, Google, Social Media | 2 Comments

Tracking Trends to Transform Your Content: Three Great Free Tools to To Capitalize on Trends in Content!

Whenever an interesting headline takes the Web by storm, a new breakthrough product, service, or event breaks through to the media, or when viral-bait posts start to loom large on social profiles around the Web, we see them everywhere. From an onslaught of social posts within active members of a particular vertical, to pages of results streaming out of the Google News spotlight, there is no running from something that’s truly useful and timely. The ability to create and share content has transformed the way businesses look to promote their expertise; from traditional PR to social media and niche-specific conversations, everyone is eager to get in on the conversation for the latest hot topic or trend. So how do we monitor these events, and have something ready to strike while the iron is hot?

Below, I’ve listed three simple, free tools that can help take the guesswork out of tracking trends and topics–but that also provide ways to look at data to create compelling pieces of content for even older topics that may be receiving less attention than they ever had in the past.

Google Trends

By far the most obvious way to track trends using big data is the biggest corpus of the English language in existence: The Google Index. Google’s affinity for big data has never strayed far from any of its products, and trends provides a free lens to the global conversation at large–no matter what the topic. When brainstorming some pieces for a client recently, I took a look at Google Trends and found some pretty compelling data that showed topics that were ebbing and flowing in popularity. However, the trending topic wasn’t necessarily the most salient point of interest; instead, by focusing on peaks, troughs, and news stories, it can become very obvious as to why certain topics increase in popularity.

Take a look at the graph above for the fitness craze that’s recently swept the nation: CrossFit. By looking at the way in which CrossFit’s popularity has recently skyrocketed, it’s easy to deduce that there are a host of searchers who might be looking for content on this topic. What does that mean for us as marketers, and for businesses who might be looking to take advantage of this? First of all, it is clear that a topic like this is getting a host of media coverage. Having something unique and interesting to say on the topic could potentially open your business to great publicity opportunities, and could help you capitalize on a search trend that seems perpetually on the rise. However, competition may be fierce; since so many people are writing on this topic, it will be increasingly more difficult to get coverage in this field that’s visible on Google’s first page of search results. Similarly, a Google Trends graph for a more volatile global trend might be something like typing in a political figure or subject matter. In this case, let’s take a look at searches related to Mel Gibson:

As we can see, there is a huge spike in traffic right around July 2010, and interest moves away accordingly in either direction. By looking at alarming rises or drops in traffic, we can also track why these spikes may have occurred. Understandably, this was around the same time that Mel Gibson was outed by an explosive rant that leaked to the media; the massive media coverage at the time surrounding his personal life caused a spike of interest and global coverage, which led to this massive plateau. By unpackaging these trends in data, this can lead to incredible new insight to explore a particular vertical, topic, or keyword phrase.

Leveraging big data like this can have a powerful effect on the purpose and impact of your content by showing a greater impact on the global consciousness and facets that are influencing the global conversation at large. This is a critical way to view topics and discuss why things might be losing or gaining popularity. Google Trends has an added level of credibility, as each Google Trends graph that has news-related criteria is coupled by relevant news sources covering the issue, topic, keyword, or trend as it happened.

Similarly, these trends can provide a pivotal lens into how language is changing. See the graph below comparing the use of the word “cell phone” to the use of the word “mobile phone”.

Use of the word “mobile phone” is beginning to overtake the more archaic, limited definition of “cell phone”, yet even this is comparatively dwarfed by the rise of “smartphone” in the lexicon:

Lastly, Google Trends also offers us the ability to parse out these differences by location; it may come as a shock that some of the biggest searchers of the “English Premier League” are not in the UK, or even in America, but spread all throughout the continent of Africa. Using this data can be an incredibly flexible, powerful portal to frame a keyword, topic, or niche-specific industry term in a greater contextual position. Supported by this data, you can create some really killer content.

Twitter Trends and Facebook Fads

Now built into the Twitter and Facebook infrastructure is a similar trend-monitor, which keeps track on lexical instances of popular links, phrases, and more. However, since these are in the social sphere, a huge emphasis should be laid on connectivity.

Zooming in from Google’s massive amount of search data, Twitter offers the same sort of clarity for real-time tracking and recent events. Twitter’s “Trending” and “Discover” functions are excellent ways to find out what people are discussing, either with or without the use of a hashtag. By searching for particular keywords, you can find influencers within your vertical who might be covering your topic, track replies, responses, favorites and retweets in order to see how the narratives are being treated. As people respond, you can also see different angles that might be used to cover the story and find holes that your brand, business, or blog can help answer for consumers who might be asking questions. Similarly, the trends in Twitter can also be adjusted based on location, giving you a better sense of what might be ranking in your particular area, which is a great opportunity for businesses with a strong, localized market.

Furthermore, tools like Topsy help take this to a new plateau. Ever write a piece of content that you’re eager to share with the rest of the world? Try searching for the same types of terms you might be using in Twitter to see how they have populated on Twitter and on blogs and news sources throughout the world. Topsy tracks the past few hours, the past few days, as far back as the past month, with filters available to help further qualify your search by language, popularity, and more. Topsy is a great resource to find both influencers, blogs, and sentiment.

Screen Shot 2014-03-05 at 6.19.49 PM.png

Facebook’s look at trending topics is a bit newer, and certainly far less granular than the aforementioned options:

Screen Shot 2014-03-05 at 6.23.53 PM.png

However, this nonetheless prepares you with some of the tools you need to discover important topics in your social sphere and the ability to discover if any of them could potentially relate to your vertical or persona.

An Even Closer Look at Data: Mine Your Traffic From Google Analytics

Another interesting way to use data like this that represents a collective activity is to look at your own data. From overall visitors, to visits to a certain blog post or landing page, your data can have a tremendous impact on the way in which users are communicating with your site as a whole. Comparing year-on-year data to account for seasonal variations can be especially critical, but irregularities in your data, landing pages that are specifically successful, or hugely important blog posts can transform the way your site is perceived.

Intelligence in Analytics takes a lot of the guesswork out for you; by comparing your site’s performance against its average, Intelligence Alerts in Analytics are able to generate huge clues into irregular behavior on your site, and may give you a clue into some unusual trends with your own site’s performance. Perhaps a spell of unusually bad weather brings more and more traffic to a blog that focuses on recipes, cooking, or ways to rearrange or fix your home. Perhaps a blog topic you wrote covering an unpopular actor is scoring some major visits after news coverage on their new role. Whatever the case may be, turning these spikes or drops into case studies of your own can be a powerful way to help tell a story about how everything connects.

Posted in Advice, Content, General Online Marketing, Google, Google Analytics, Google Plus, Google Trends, Google+, Marketing Tips, Search, Search Engines, Search News, SEO, SEO Advice, Social Media, Twitter, Web Marketing Tools, Website Traffic | Leave a comment

Content Marketing: New Name, Same Old Game

We saw a lot of changes in the SEO world last year, and it’s safe to say that the trend will continue for the foreseeable future. Let’s get real, though. With all the changes, not all that much is changing. I realize that statement is pretty charged, and some of you may disagree, but it all boils down to this: Google is wrapping up loose ends and closing loopholes, but past and future quality work will be rewarded.

Links – both number and source – were Google’s best indicator of authority, but that is changing with a content revolution. Primitive link building tactics like posting to irrelevant directories and guest posting unoriginal content with any average Joe Blogger needed to be tossed out of the window. SEO is evolving. We might call it “content marketing” now, but the goal for many is the same as before: earn (good) links to get a leg up on competition. Now we are just paying more attention to how instead of how many.

It’s a constant process of refining the algorithm. Matt Cutts said it best when guest blogging as we knew it was announced dead: “Ultimately, this is why we can’t have nice things in the SEO space: a trend starts out as authentic. Then more and more people pile on until only the barest trace of legitimate behavior remains.”

The same applies to just about any aspect of SEO. Need I bring up meta keywords? Once a useful and effective white hat tactic quickly added up to more spam than consumed in the state of Hawaii each year. How about directory submissions? What was meant to reward people for extending networks and emphasizing the “web” part of our cherished www turned into a link sharing free-for-all with irrelevance galore.

There’s been a lot of talk about intent and how to measure it, but the bottom line is to produce fresh, quality content and you will be in the clear. The priority is no longer the link itself but what garners links. Good content is more likely to be shared from your site or featured on someone else’s. Our focus needs to be on what is being produced rather than where it ends up. Nathan Safran sums it up well, noting that the goal in Google’s shift is to keep thin content from having the same value as deep content.

Moving into a new age of SEO means strategies need to be adjusted and old tactics must be revisited. Emails addressed “Dear Sir/Madam” won’t fly; get personal and get unique. In that vein, I’m not going to give you a list of the top 20 ideas for your content marketing, but a couple of my favorite resources are Link Building Strategies from Jon Cooper of Point Blank SEO and the recent article on Moz Filthy Linking Rich.

It’s all about having a more authoritative site than your competition. Building links for the sake of building links is a thing of the past. Google is cutting out the spam. There has been a major shift in SEO during the past couple years. As SEOs, we need to adapt or become irrelevant. Now it’s about link earning. Time to roll up your sleeves and get dirty. Link earning takes real time and effort, but isn’t that how the chaff is separated from the wheat?

 

Posted in Content, General Online Marketing, Google, Link Building, SEO, SEO Advice, SEO tips, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Leaving SERP City

Google Rolls Out Increased Entity Search in 2014

It’s not news that things have come along way since the typical search engine results page (SERP) displayed ten simple blue links for a given search query. From maps to products, from news to authors, from contributors and carousels to answers, news, ratings, and more, the search engine continues to show more and more marked up data within its results, transforming the search engine into a decision engine. Below, I wanted to take a look at a few examples I’ve seen in the wild to shed light on how Google is now behaving, underscoring how rich snippets and structured data are now Hummingbird nectar for Google’s brand new engine. We’re leaving SERP City for entity search in 2014. And for the sake of consistency, and because I’m a sports fan, unless otherwise cited, all examples below will be sports-related.

Answer Boxes Everywhere

The knowledge graph already generally answered most questions by pulling text from trusted sources; from iMDB to Wikipedia, we saw queries answered with concise snippets displayed to the right of these major search results, complete with images, relevant data and related searches. However, when Google announced the rollout of the Hummingbird algorithm, they specified that it was designed to respond to an increasing need to answer more complex search queries that users were increasingly inclined to type. While many a naive webmaster may have rushed to hurriedly create an FAQ page, the result of Hummingbird looks more like this:

Recently, my girlfriend and I sat watching a hockey game when she asked me how big a hockey rink was. Having been an avid hockey fan and player for a number of years, I was shocked at my inability to answer the question; however, I wholly was unsurprised at Google’s efficiency. Using the answer box above, Google responded with a concise response that satisfied my query, complete with a citation!

What’s extraordinarily curious is the fact that the cited domain, nhl.com, was the third or fourth organic result in the search. Clearly, the algorithm is forced to reconcile a compromise between the authority on the topic, in this case, the NHL, and other factors like the Domain Authority and TLD of a top-ten search result candidate like Wikipedia. Similarly, the willingness to have a content-diverse SERP robs the user of getting to the website cited in the answer box by putting News results ahead of their preferred cited source. It’s a curious development that begs the question: If Google deemed this site worthy of answering my question, why is it losing out to other sites in ranking?

A corresponding discovery on the way in which News results are changing includes the gradual rollout of cards to display News results.

 

The resulting display showed news concisely displayed with something that appears to me like it would be more intuitive for users on a mobile device.

Decisions, Decisions: SERP Dominance

With other queries, Google’s propensity and confidence in satisfying a user’s query is getting so high that even paid channels are shut out. An example that caught my eye on Twitter was for another sports-related search for [NCAA tournament].

This screenshot is zoomed out to illustrate that the user has to actually go below the fold to even get to the first organic search result. From the marked-up data for two separate NCAA-level tournaments to the knowledge graph on the right with information about the organization itself, it’s incredible to see Google be so decisive with its results.

Prominent Personalization

The last element that really caught my eye was an increased personalization due to the rollout of hashtags in Google+. As a soccer obsessive and a huge proponent of the English Premier League, I recently wrote a blog about my club, Aston Villa, and shared it on Google+ with all the relevant hashtags. Shortly thereafter, when performing a search for the club, I was shocked to find that my blog had made it to position two in the SERPs!

This was, of course, a result of personalization. Forget that Google might now nofollow links within your Google+ profile; when signed into Chrome or Google+, hashtags that satisfy your query within your circles tend to shine through SERP pages and ascend right to the top. And why not? These links within these posts are from users that you’ve vetted by including them in your circles–the primary social circle you share with Google.

While this may improve user experience for those that have devoted time into currating their circles on Google+, it may be alarming to others looking for more qualified search results within their SERP. There’s a chance that these items may still be testing, but seeing these SERPs throughout the past week indicates not only a continued willingness to provide the best user experience through great content, but also a growing preference for marked up sites, and the increasing importance of structured data.

 

Posted in #hashtag, Google, Google Algorithm Update, Google Hummingbird, Google+, Search, Search Engines, Search News, SEO, SEO Advice, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

This Week in Google: Manual Actions for Spammy Rich Snippets and No-follow Google+ Links

Well, technically it’s only Wednesday so who knows what the rest of the week could hold but so far we’ve seen a couple of new changes from Google. Both have some interesting implications for SEO and already the world of internet marketing has been abuzz with accusations of mixed messages from Google.

Manual Actions for Spammy Rich Snippets

The first item I’ll address is manual actions for spammy rich snippets. Structured markup using rich snippets is a practice that was introduced and endorsed by Google as a way to enhance the data displayed in SERPs for products, local businesses, articles, software applications, movies, restaurants, and TV episodes. The one most of us are familiar with is Google Authorship, which links an author’s personal Google+ page with the content created on a website, making the author’s picture appear adjacent to the website listing in Google SERPs. Recently, some webmasters operating websites with structured data received the following message from Google:

Spammy structured markup

Markup on some pages on this site appears to use techniques such as marking up content that is invisible to users, marking up irrelevant or misleading content, and/or other manipulative behavior that violates Google’s Rich Snippet Quality guidelines.

Basically, what this means is Google is issuing manual penalties for sites that are using spammy techniques or deceitful practices with their structured data. Although I was previously unaware that structured data could be used for black hat purposes, it’s apparent that there are marketers out there using this practice and Google is attempting to close the loophole.

As many know, the phrase “manual penalty” sends shivers up any respectable SEO company’s spine. Google’s manual webspam penalties are notoriously hard to remove and have often times been issued to sites who were not engaged in black hat SEO activities but had spam backlinks as a result of malware or possibly even negative SEO. It will be interesting to see how easy structured markup penalties will be to remove. I would think that removing spammy markup data like fake reviews, hidden content, fake G+ profiles, etc. would be sufficient to reverse the penalty, or barring that, removing structured data all together.

Of course, the mixed message being sent here is that this could potentially hit sites that are not engaging in black hat practices. Time will tell as Google sends out more of these messages and more webmasters chime-in.

No-follow Google+ Links

SEOs everywhere have long beat the drum that “you need to be on Google+.” While this remains true, as a healthy presence on G+ sends social signals that can benefit SEO, there’s no longer any value to links included in your profile. Recently it was discovered that any URL listed under the section marked “Links” on Google Plus profile pages is automatically marked as “nofollow” by Google. Some theorize (albeit somewhat tongue-in-cheek) that Google had initially set these up as “dofollow” links in a bid to get more people to join Google+, as they would get a decent link in return. I think it’s more of an attempt by Google to level the playing field a bit. However, it’s possibly sending a mixed message that Google+ may not be as important to SEO as it was previously.

In closing, where there’s a loophole, there’s a way. Savvy black hat marketers will continue to find the chinks in Google’s armor and exploit them to the fullest and in turn, Google will crack down on them. Of course, the fear is that sites practicing white hat SEO could be penalized, too. Regardless, there are no shortcuts in SEO outside of good SEO practice, so spammy or shady activities should be avoided at all costs.

Brian Carver is an Account Manager at SEOhaus. If you would like to stay up-to-date on all of the latest SEO industry news and tips, you can subscribe to our blog here.

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Major Manual Actions: Big Sites That Have Been Hit with Google Penalties

In the past year, Google has made an almost accelerated effort to refine their quality guidelines and link schemes; from Penguin 2.1 to Hummingbird, and everything in between, there are several practices within the search community that have made the journey from tried and trusted tactic to old and obsolete. By refining these quality guidelines, Google’s search results have generally improved, though some sites have been left in the dust. Instead of talking about how to get in Google’s good graces, today we’re taking a look at four major sites who took some minor missteps and ended up with penalties from the search giant.

Interflora

Perhaps among the most famous, the Interflora penalty and subsequent algorithm update that followed was incurred after Google identified that this UK-based flower delivery company was using paid advertorials to acquire links and manipulate PageRank. The site made little effort to disguise its efforts, effectively bribing journalists and websites for links so that the site would rank well for its target keywords during Valentine’s Day. When Google found out, their search quality team made a statement indicating that Interflora, along with the sites that sold and published the paid advertorial space, would be penalized. The PageRank for the site fell to a zero, and they were completely removed from the SERPs–even for branded keyword searches.

BBC News

In the same way that Interflora got penalized for buying links to promote their site, not long after, BBC News received an unnatural links warning in Google  Webmaster Tools. It was shocking to see a news site with such authority fall victim to an unnatural links notification from Google. With the amount of readers and affiliates the BBC has from all over the world, it’s also too difficult to pinpoint which links would be identified as potentially problematic. The site was quick to act, with one source suggesting that RSS feed scrapers were what caused the notification to appear in Google Webmaster Tools. However, the proximity to Interflora suggests that BBC News could have fallen victim to the same unnatural links that other UK news outlets were dramatically penalized for. Google later came out with a statement to identify that one article in particular had a large amount of potentially unnatural links, which is what incurred the penalty. In typical fashion, Google remained tight-lipped over which article had been penalized, and remains an unsolved mystery.

Rap Genius

A high-profile site on this side of the Atlantic, Rap Genius is a pretty amazing site for lyrics that offers a great user experience and an interface that allows people to interpret the poetry and verse that goes into each song, enriching the lyrics with interpretations and meaning, as well as discussion and more. This even sparked a Moz post about different SEO strategies that could be used to help the site grow! However, not long ago, the site was hit with a Google penalty after someone published a blog post on the site’s less-than subtle link building tactics, and Google decided to take action. On Christmas, Google hit Rap Genius with a manual action forcing them to remove all of the links that they acquired by promising link exchanges, special promotion and incentives to sites that used keyword-rich anchor text to link to them. The site’s profile within the search community prompted several articles about the whole ordeal, including an in-depth explanation from Rap Genius about where they went wrong. Google forgave them.

Expedia

Expedia is the latest in a list of big companies who have run afoul of Google’s quality guidelines, and appear to have got hit with a major penalty, losing a huge amount of traffic and rankings nearly overnight. Expedia got singled out by a blog that indicated that the bulk of the content it was creating were paid pieces with overly-optimized anchor text, both which generally send red flags to Google Headquarters. Google seems to have taken swift action:

Again, in typically tight-lipped fashion, Google has declined to comment. A pretty brash way to handle someone who spends nearly $30 million in AdWords each year!

There are countless of other stories as well; JC Penney and Overstock.com have both tried to acquire links through methods that directly violate Google’s guidelines. In an industry that changes so quickly, and with a company that revises their quality guidelines with increasing frequency, even big corporations run the risk of running afoul of Google. So where does this leave SEO?

Links are still a healthy part of any site and a substantial part of the algorithm for both Google and Bing. However, links need to be acquired in a way that is organic, relevant, and natural, without payment or incentive–otherwise, sites may find themselves sitting in Google’s penalty box with a major misconduct.

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