May 22nd, 2012.
There has been a lot of discussion around the search marketing industry over the past few weeks thanks to what many consider to be a pretty major update released by Google. There has been a lot of speculation that has followed with some good and not-so-good advice as a result.
With all of this information floating about it’s difficult for anyone without their ‘ear to the ground’ to get a concrete understanding of exactly what ‘Penguin’ is, and what the effects have been. I’ll put the speculation to one side for the moment and start with the facts:
What is it?
Google’s latest update aimed at rewarding high-quality sites in search results by targeting and demoting sites appearing ‘overly optimised’. Some sites that have used or are continuing to use outdated tactics (specifically tactics to get other websites to link to theirs for the purposes of improving rankings in search results) have been affected by this, however there are reports of websites that have never engaged in such tactics being affected by the update as well.
When did this happen?
Google released a blog post stating that the update would roll out “in the next few days” back on 24th April- almost one month ago at time of writing. Most sites affected by this will have noticed changes around 24th onwards.
How to I tell if I was affected?
Sites affected by the update will probably notice a change in rankings and visits from organic search traffic (specifically visits from Google) around this time. If using Google Analytics you should be able to tell by navigating to ‘Traffic Sources’->’Sources’->’Search’->’Organic’, making sure you have a date range that spans a few weeks before and after this date. To be sure it’s best to limit the data you are viewing to Google only. Look for ‘Primary Dimenson’ and click ‘Source’ next to it to give you a list of organic search sources, and click on ‘google’:
The example above shows a drop in visits from organic search (specifically from Google)- if you see a consistent increase in visits around this time it is likely that a competitor may have been affected and your site may have improved in rankings as a result.
OK it looks like my site has been affected- What else do I need to know?
1- You’re not alone-
thousands of sites have been affected by this update- some undeservingly so (to the point where Google has created a feedback form for sites that don’t believe should have been affected by the update)
2- Penguin is an algorithmic update- it isn’t personal.
Google has identified your site as being within this ‘category’ based on the data it has, not due to a human reviewing your site personally.
3- Reconsideration requests won’t help-
“Because this is an algorithmic change, Google has no plans to make manual exceptions. Webmasters cannot ask for reconsideration of their site, but we’re happy to hear feedback about the change on our webmaster forum.”
4- Noone that has been affected by Penguin has recovered… yet-
There is a wealth of speculation and tips for recovering from the penguin update online, however noone can confirm what the best solution to recovering from this update is. Currently there has been no ‘refresh’ or ‘reevaluation’- sites that were affected are still in the same boat.
5- Penguin isn’t ‘real-time’-
Like the ‘Panda’ updates before, the Penguin update isn’t continually reevaluated in real-time, meaning any changes that are made now won’t have any impact until Google reevaluates their data at a later date.
How can I get my traffic and rankings back?
The only certain answer at this stage is no-one can be 100% sure (as with pretty much anything within the SEO sphere), but the potential signs of redemption lie in evaluating the existing links to your website and the methods used to attract links from external websites.
Microsite Masters released some interesting findings of sites they analysed that had been affected by the Penguin update:
“every single site we looked at which got negatively hit by the Penguin Update had a “money keyword” as its anchor text for over 60% of its incoming links. On the other hand, the sites that were not hit by the update had much more random percentages.”
This suggests that sites with a higher percentage of links that use the keyword they are trying to rank for (‘money terms’) in the clickable part of the link to their website (‘anchor text’) are more likely to have been affected by this update. This isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ issue, and I’m certain that Google would have considered several other factors rather than the percentage of keyword-rich links a site has, but suggests that Google are looking for more evidence of brand promotion rather than search engine manipulation when assessing the links to your website.
As with other large updates introduced by Google in the past, this re-emphasises the importance of diversifying the sources of income your business as a whole has. Depending on one revenue channel alone can be risky- even when times are good, so it’s important to remember that channels such as paid search, email marketing, online PR, affiliate marketing and social can be profitable.
img credit: opencage.info
March 7th, 2012.
Barry from Search Engine Roundtable posted an interesting find from a Google Webmaster Central forums post. The OP pointed out that PC World (a leading electronics chain in the UK) is ranking with “Mothercare” (a leading baby/parenting chain in the UK) as it’s title in search results for the term ‘PC World teeside park’:
I’m still very intrigued as to how this happened, but after some digging around I think I’ve found a reason why (which I posted on Barry’s post).
1- It’s showing up for ‘mothercare teeside park’ as well (suggesting it’s not ‘one way’). Both results show a Google Places result with the same address and a phone number: 01642 618325
2- A quick search for ’01642 618325 pc world’ returns http://uk.wowcity.com/hartlepool/?what=digital+camera+consumer+products
3- On this page the first result for Mothercare links through to PC World’s homepage (although the details are correct for Mothercare). Note this passes through an internal tracking script and isn’t a direct link.
This looks to me like an error in Wowcity’s listing as the cause of the problem, and probably isn’t anything to do with the folks at PC World or Mothercare (or the agencies they may be working with), but is an interesting fine nonetheless.
If my theory is correct it begs the question- Does Google Places trust it’s citation sources too much? Would love to hear your comments (particularly if you work for PC World, Mothercare and Wowcity!) below.
December 6th, 2011.
A few weeks ago we asked a few folks on Twitter to complete a short (okay, maybe not that short) 22 question survey, looking specifically at the business side to working in SEO. We asked the all important questions, including:
- Where are you based?
- What kind of business are you?
- How many people work in the business?
- What other services do you offer besides SEO?
- How many clients do you currently manage?
- Do you contract your clients for a set period of time?
- What is your usual client contract arrangement (i.e. how do you charge for your work)?
- Your average charge per month for SEO services?
- Typical client retention period?
- Biggest issues facing your business today?
- Biggest barrier to sales?
- Biggest source of leads?
- What activities are included in a typical campaign?
- Link building tactics- what tactics do you employ for the majority of your campaigns?
- Do you buy links? (what SEO survey would be complete without this question? )
- What 3rd party tools do you subscribe to?
- What keyword tools do you use primarily?
- How long on average do you spend reporting to a single client?
- What metrics do you include in your standard reports?
- How did you get into SEO?
- What skills do you consider to be the most important skills for an SEO?
- Have you ever had a site penalised?
The results of the survey are pretty interesting- take a look for yourself below:
We’ll be releasing the source data as promised in the next few days. Let us know how your company compares to these averages in the comments below!
October 27th, 2011.
Earlier this month Google announced changes to the importance Google AdWords places on Quality Score, which is likely to affect a number of advertisers. Based on tests carried out in Brazil, Spanish-speaking Latin America, Spain and Portugal, Google’s Adam Juda announced that the update will be rolled out globally over the coming weeks.
The update places more importance on the relevancy of a landing page when calculating Quality Score- a component in the formula which determines where your ad displays in search results and your cost per click when competing with other advertisers. Essentially- it’s now more important than ever to ensure that landing pages used for PPC are as relevant and optimised as possible- rewarded by higher positions with lower cost-per-click costs.
In an interview with Search Engine Land’s contributor Pamela Parker, Google’s Director of Product Management- Jonathan Alferness suggests that the current user experience for AdWords users could be improved:
What we’ve seen is that there are ads available in the auction that are as good a quality as the top ads. But the landing pages — the merchant sites, the advertiser landing pages — are of much higher quality than the ads that we see at the top of our auction… This means the user experience isn’t what it could be…
In the end, we believe that this will result in better quality experience for the users.
How will this change affect you?
With added emphasis on landing page Quality Score, it’s important to be aware of this change and now is the time to assess your current landing pages. We can expect to see an initial change within AdWords as this change initially rolls out to the rest of the world:
As the changes roll out, some campaigns will see variation in keyword Quality Scores and typical ad position. Within a couple weeks, things should stabilize and we expect most campaigns will not see a significant change in overall performance.
Past this, sites with lower quality landing pages may expect to see lower quality score values, lower ad positions, and possibly higher cost-per-click prices when competing against advertisers with better quality landing pages.
October 20th, 2011.
Trusted Stores is an ecommerce certification program that Google launched early in October. The idea behind the program is that it will give people more assurance in buying from online retailers. At the moment the program is still in beta those ecommerce stores that attain Google qualification will be able to add a badge to their site, proclaiming them a Google trusted store. The program is backed, more interestingly, with a consumer purchase protection package worth $1,000.
Those retailers interested in applying to become a trusted store will need to furnish Google with certain consumer information as the company is of the opinion that retailer’s data is more trustworthy than customer surveys. In order to qualify for the Trusted Stores status internet retailers will need to demonstrate good customer service and a record of shipping goods on time. In terms of customer service retailers must have evidence of resolving any customer issues and disputes in a timely manner.
When customers move their mouse over the Trusted Stores badge, they will see the store’s customer service and shipping grades. Unlike the Google Checkout the company states, there is no connection between the new program and Google Adwords. Google further reiterated that the program is still in its early stages and too soon to speculate on how the program might be enhanced and expanded.
With respect to the purchase protection package mentioned earlier, it appears to work in a similar way to credit card companies that extend manufacturer’s purchase warranties. Google however, does not offer guarantees rather the $1,000 is potentially money back where retailers fail to resolve problems. The customer can only benefit from this package if they have chosen the free purchase protection option. The consumer should contact the retailer first where there is a problem, if this is not resolved, then the customer can call on Google to deal with it, or be able to claim money back. The fact is that Google is capable of getting retailers to find quick problem resolutions.
While Google have stated that their motive for introducing the program was to increase buyer confidence in online retailers, some may suspect the company of having hidden motives. Notions of a future tie in with Checkout or Adwords are at the moment, pure speculation. As yet it’s unclear precisely what data Google will be capturing, but if customers choose the personal protection, the retailer is more likely to have a record of the transactions.
October 20th, 2011.
When it comes to setting up and establishing a local business, there are a number of milestones. Getting your business letterhead, a merchant bank account and customers who aren’t family members, are just some of the hurdles that spring to mind. As soon as your business has grown sufficiently to warrant a mention on Google Places or Yelp, then you start to get customers’ versions or reviews of their experiences. The comments on your Yelp page should make you smile due to your conviction that you’ve provided people with excellent service.
The initial glow of customer reviews may not last, while it’s great to read the rave reviews about your business, it’s likely that you’ll see some that are bad, and possibly even a fiction of the writer’s imagination. The following should give you an inkling of the experiences of review sites that have befallen business consulting clients of mine.
- Customer is unhappy not to receive a refund when they have eaten their meal at an eating establishment, and to further his argument, adds other fictional complaints.
- Competitors who believe that bad mouthing someone else’s business is a valid marketing strategy.
- A negative review that was actually about a business other than yours
We could go on, but you get the picture. To some extent the kind of reviews you get will vary depending on what type of business you’re in and where it’s located. In some cities bar owners try to get along by arranging to have special nights or offers at different times, while in others the thing is to try and beat your competitors to the floor. No matter what your experience, you will need to find means of dealing with reviews of your business, and below are a few tips.
1. Even if a Customer Declares War, They are not Your Enemy
When there is a customer dispute, especially in the current economic crisis, and following reports of labor abuses, the business owner is always in the wrong.
Don’t respond to negative reviews and even downright lies with more of the same, if you do, you will harm your business even further. Take an approach that assumes the customer is genuinely mistaken, and maintain a professional manner.
2. Offer to Find a Solution to the Problem
If you want to safeguard your reputation, don’t admit to any wrongdoing, but offer to help the customer with their problem. If you’ve had a false detrimental review, try responding with something like the following (depending on what business you’re in)
Hi Paul, sorry to hear you thought we overcharged for your Pizza. We do our best to ensure that customers get exactly the toppings they order and all the prices are listed on our menu. We’re actually on the list good value for money pizza parlours. Please contact me, either by coming into the pizza parlour or giving me a call on the above number to see whether we can resolve this situation. Look forward to hearing from you, Steve.
If you already know the customer, it’s probably easy to get hold of them, sort out the problem and you may even persuade them to take the review down. You need to be careful when you contact a customer directly as it requires more tact than you might need on a review site, so take a sympathetic approach to the issue.
3. Be Ready to Accept that There Might be a Real Problem
While I’m not suggesting that the customer is right, if there is even a hint that the complaint is legitimate, then you still have to resolve the situation, and you need to ensure that the same thing never happens with another customer. You may find that your staff need retraining or you might even have to let a person go. Managing and training staff is extremely important, especially when they are in constant contact with customers and only earning minimum wage.
Perhaps your ingredients are not as good as you thought and you either need to improve them, change the supplier, or lower the price you charge. Sometimes it is possible to contact the review site and have a review removed, especially if the reviewer seems to be making a personal attack on you alone. If you have lots of positive reviews than the impact of one bad one should be minimal, ask all your satisfied customers to leave reviews as this will further boost your credibility against the occasional bad one.
October 17th, 2011.
Findings from Marin Software’s Paid Search Quarterly Benchmarking Report, suggest that if you use one of the new tablets, as opposed to a PC, it’s possible to increase the click through rate on paid ads by more than a third. The research was based on a mapping of how much was spent on paid search by almost a thousand agencies and advertisers across the world, giving a total for all of £1.3 billion.
More than 90% of the annual cost of spending on paid search came from PCs, tablet users spent only 2% and the other 5% cam from smartphone users. The trend tracking was undertaken in the third quarter. According to the report the CTR or click through rate for the ads on tablets was much higher than on PCs. However, when it came to the advertiser’s average CPC or post per click the rate on tablets was 29% less than on smartphones and PCs. The volume of clicks for advertisers with Bing and Yahoo was up 43%, yet there was a drop of 10% in CPC.
The growing use of tablets could mean a shift in advertisers’ strategies for paid search ads, according to Ed Stevenson, the Managing Director of EMEA and APAC for Martin Software He further added may change their strategies for advertising and spending to cope with the shift in browsing habits to things like the iPad. More importantly, advertisers may need to work on device specific programs to improve results. Coincidentally this report was released at the same time as the quarterly report from Google, stating that in the three months finishing the end of September, earnings rose to £6.16bn ($9.72bn), a rise of 33%.
August 25th, 2011.
I’ve been playing about a bit with Google Plus posts this morning, and with the recent share of Vic Gundotra’s Icon Ambulance post I know a lot of people have been viewing the same page that led me to dig a little deeper into Google Plus pages.
Take a look at the source code of the cached version of this page- scroll down and you’ll notice a lot of names appearing in the source code within the <span class=”To”> tag. This tag appears to contain the names of almost everyone who has shared the post, and in this particular case this is a lot of names. On the page this either appears as:
or in some cases:
I’m not yet able to determine why some pages do display some of this text and why others don’t- it doesn’t appear to be influenced by the number of shares, comments or age of post from what I’ve seen. In any case this still contains a list of names hidden from the page:
In order to determine whether Google Plus pages were ranking for people’s names included in the hidden text I decided to run a small experiment. I took this Google Plus post from Matt Cutts and decided to check the rankings of the first 2 pages of Google UK for 38 of the names included in this span tag:
Out of the 38 names I tested for this URL only 2 ranked this URL within the top 20 results. This isn’t a massive feat but I’m sure we’d see more results if we rolled this out across the thousands of post URLs indexed, or expanded the depth past the second page of search results.
This goes to show that the usernames contained in the hidden text can (and does) rank which may be a violation of Google’s Guidelines on Hidden text and links.
Now I’m 100% positive that this isn’t deliberate- I think this is simply a classic case of a developers oversight… another classic example of why SEO needs to be baked into the development process from the very beginning- no matter how big an organisation you are!
February 28th, 2011.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been doing a lot more keyword research recently, but I’ve been seeing a few amusing captcha images lately:
Turns out I’m not the only one- here are a collection of amusing (and somewhat embarrassing on Google’s part) captcha images I’ve come across:
‘no dick’ captcha via ImpactLab
‘retard’ captcha via Techeblog
‘hymen’ captcha via yogomozilla
‘hymens much’ captcha via @ilmv