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 Some sites that have used or are continuing to use outdated tactics (specifically tactics to get other websites to link to theirs for the purposes of improving rankings in search results) have been affected by this,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
So, what’s the problem?
Nothing, if you haven’t been massively over-zealous about how well optimised your website is. Being vigilant and up to date isn’t a problem, the issue Google is trying to fix relates to those link-fiends who have over-used their ‘white hat’ so much so, that is has turned a miserable shade of grey (In case you’re confused, I refer to this post).
Okay, so what is ‘over-opimisation’?
In a nutshell, it’s the act of doing everything that is possible to optimise your website, in a non-human and bot-like way.
Sure, over optimisation can include (and will probably be identified by inclusion of ) any of the following:
- Scraped, copied web content
- Too many ads on the page & not enough original content and copy
- That fact that your website loads faster than the speed of light
- When all links that are inbound and have identical anchor text
- Infinite forum links
- Hidden text (in a colour that matches the background, so it can’t be seen)
- Sites linking to you that are dodgy or malicious in any way
This list is not exhaustive as there are many more examples of things Google might suspect & then penalize you for.
Below, I’ve included a helpful video from SEOMoz’s very own Rand Fishkin that does well to explain what changes should be made to save your site from dropping in the ranks and possibly fading into obscurity online after Google’s next update:
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.
Those rascals in Europe have really done it this time. They have dreamt up the most insane law that will render any complicated website practically unworkable.
Their intentions were probably honourable but as the law is a mess but they are happening and YOU DO NEED TO TAKE NOTICE.
The law comes in on May 26th 2012.
There is a £500,000 max fine for non compliance.
It”s all about cookies
Why do cookies always come with consequences? If it isn’t calories you’re trying to avoid it’s breaching someones privacy – you just can’t win!
What are cookies? In short they are a method for tracking what you “do” on a website and where you go afterwards, how you got there etc. Most cookies are essential for a website to work. Some admittedly are a bit suspect and it’s not entirely wrong to be doing something about them but the sledgehammer approachby the EU is not the solution we feel.
The new shiny piece of legislation is being enforced as a solution; a way to protect you from the prying eyes of the web owners.
We’re not going to rewrite all the great articles out there already so here are pointers to finding out more about the Cookie Law
- Here’s the official ICO site http://www.ico.gov.uk/
- Here’s a nice well written PDF Click here to read the PDF on new EU Cookie Law’s
- Just in case the above PDF is too much to bear, you can check out this informative video that breaks the new rules down in just under 3 minutes:
- Here are some examples on how to comply with the law and implement solutions on your site http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/9202-eu-cookie-law-three-approaches-to-compliance
- Make the pain go away: For a small price these guys will tell you what to do and how to do it, and you don’t have to learn anything legal. I think they will be busy this summer http://www.cookielaw.org/
Biting of more then they can chew?
Before you get collared by the EU police you can refer them to their own website which is used to announce the legislation and has been criticised for breaking the very same laws they intend to enforce as pointed out (and illustrated with pretty pictures) by the good folks at Code Blog here: “UK Government ‘break’ the law they imposed“.
So, to summarise: This legislation will apply to nearly everything on the web, will probably reinforce the much dreaded “pop-up” and seems to be an overall nuisance.
In conclusion, you can choose to do the following:
- Implement the new functionality to comply with the law ASAP
- Delay the implementation as long as possible
- Ignore the law
What do you think?
February 15th, 2012.
The star ratings that you often see in Google ads are known as seller extensions. These are now likely to appear in the paid, organic and shopping results. These ratings are generated when product reviews are submitted either on 3rd party sites such as ReeVoo or TrustPilot, or when Schema.org mark-up is used to tag internal/on-site reviews.
It is often cited that these star ratings can improve click-through rates by as much as 30%, which will not only increase both organic and paid visitors, but an increase in PPC click-through rate is also likely to reduce your overall cost per click.
Now, while the effects of these are obviously positive when dealing with generic searches, consider the impact on organic brand traffic when seller extensions appeared for one of our clients brand searches.
As you can see, organic brand traffic fell by around 49%. Overall brand traffic remained around the same level, the client was now just paying for a much larger proportion of it via their own PPC ads.
The obvious solution in this case is to turn-off the PPC ads for brand search terms. However in this specific case the situation is compounded by other (legitimate and non-legitimate) companies bidding on their brand term, this includes Amazon, an approved distributor who also benefit from seller extensions in their own PPC ad, so turning-off the client brand ads would probably result in a large share of their own brand traffic diverting to the Amazon result.
So what can be learnt from this?
- Seller extensions have a dramatic uplift in click-through rate
- Protect your brand/trademark results from unauthorised bidders
- Prevent affiliates from bidding on your trademarked terms
- Google are making a lot of money from selling companies their own brand traffic
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.