The world of search engine optimisation (SEO) has changed. Websites that tried to trick Google are now reaping what they have sown, with disastrous results. Instead of getting lots of traffic and making lots of sales, their SEO tactics have led to the exact opposite result. No traffic and no sales.
The sad thing is that the owners of these websites often had no idea what their SEO agency was up to. The owners were offered “No.1 ranking” in return for cash, and simply handed the money over.
Typically that cash was used to pay ‘link farms’, based abroad. These are the bad boys of the SEO world. Many of them use automated systems to ‘scrape’ content from respectable sites such as the Marketing Donut and upload it onto a series of new sites. They then sell links from these new sites, to boost the ranking of whichever web pages those links go to.
But Google algorithms are always getting smarter. And Google also has a small army of humans who search out and penalise such ‘black hat’ SEO practices. Well known websites such as Interflora and Halifax — and more recently the law firm Irwin Mitchell — have found themselves removed from the Google rankings. In 2013 Interflora only reappeared in the rankings once the company had already missed out on millions of pounds worth of flower sales over the crucial Mother’s Day period.
Noisy Little Monkey has been brought in to sort out several such messes and in one case we found no fewer than three million spammy links in place — none of which the website owners knew about, as they had simply trusted the SEO agency to get on with improving the rankings.
Google eventually has to reinstate big brands such as Interflora, as so many people search specifically for the brand name and Google has to serve its users. But the same is not true of a small business. In some cases you cannot even re-use your old content on a completely new website, as Google treats it as the same website that was given the penalty previously. At this point businesses are better off jettisoning their website and starting afresh with a new URL and new content.
All of which is irrelevant if you have always followed the guidelines that Google publishes. These guidelines can be summarised in two words: Don’t cheat. If you do anything that is not ‘natural’, it is probably cheating. Paid-for advertorial that has a link back to your website is cheating, as that link would not be there unless you had paid for it. So if you want to do advertorials, make sure that any links in the content are ‘no-follow’ links.
And we can all recognise a spammy link when we see one. For example, those annoying website comments: Great post! Paul Paul’s Office Furniture [with an optimised link to a page on Paul’s furniture website]. Unless the comment and the link are contributing to the discussion, the purpose of such comments is as obvious to Google as it is to the rest of us. ‘Low value’ links like this will not help your website’s rankings at all.
Proper SEO in has always been about optimising each page. The easy wins are the same as they have always been. Choose one or two key phrases that you want a page to rank for. Mark up the HTML carefully. Optimise the page title of each page. Make full use of high quality online directories such as Google+ Local, Yell and maybe your local chamber of commerce (ie those directories that people use to find things) and make sure that your contact details are identical, including even the spaces in your phone number — which ideally should have a local code and not an 0845 code.
Above all, you need to have high quality content, because that is what Google and the other search engines are all about. Put yourself in Google’s shoes. If someone searches for ‘Solicitor in Bristol’, there may be 50 firms to choose from. Which one would you rank at the top? It would be the site that has traffic, that visitors spend time on, and that people link to and mention in blogs and in social media — all of which adds up to a winning digital footprint. It would not be a site that people arrive at and then quickly leave.
Finally, if you are using an SEO agency, make sure you know what they are doing. Google Webmaster Tools is free and is easy to use. If nothing else, just look in the messages section. Any really bad news from Google about your website will be in there.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the way of improving visibility by trying to ensure one has as high a web ranking as possible when relevant searches are undertaken. This is visibility in unpaid or organic search results as opposed to those opportunities which companies pay for in order to be found.
As many people’s first port of call, when looking for a new product or service, is a search engine, the importance of coming up in the first few entries, on a relevant search, is widely understood.
Many people, however, still think of SEO as separate from any social media activity they undertake. However, this is simply no longer the case. Social media is fast becoming the major way that people are sharing and, therefore, discovering new information online. This means that search engines have long had to take into account social media activity and incorporate it into their search results. This is because so much web activity is undertaken on social platforms and so failure to do this would start to render search results irrelevant.
The trend, however, has been fast tracked by the creation of the Google + platform. Google is now incorporating brand pages from the platform into search results. They are also providing users with the option to see relevant search information, gathered from their connections, in the Google + network.
This means that if businesses want to ensure they show up in the searches that people undertake, they have to address their social media activity as part of their SEO strategy, not as a separate entity. In other words, the lines are blurring between what is traditional SEO and what is social media activity. Over time, they are very likely to become almost one and the same thing.
Social Media Optimisation (SMO) is not as familiar a phrase as SEO. However, it is now becoming increasingly important in the effectiveness of SEO.
Businesses must increasingly ask themselves what they are trying to convey in a piece of social media activity. By understanding the message they are trying to put across, they will be able to ensure they use the relevant keywords in order that the content is found.
Furthermore, companies must ask where the value in their activity is for a customer. It is only by ensuring that they are adding value, from a customer perspective, that businesses can protect themselves from falling into the trap of simply using social media platforms to broadcast their message. Simply broadcasting is not engaging and is likely to damage a company’s reputation over time.
Finally, businesses must ask themselves why and how they would expect someone to share any content they create. Without making it easy for people to share content and without giving them a reason to do this, companies miss out on the biggest opportunity social media provides. That is, not all marketing and communications have to be undertaken by your business.
Today, those people engaged with your organisation have the means to market and communicate your business for you. These communications are more likely to be well received because they are not sent by a company but by one’s friends and colleagues. Moreover, these are people you could probably never hope to reach any other way.
One of the trends for 2012 is the increasing socialisation of information. The web is becoming social. The lines between activity on social platforms and other web activity are becoming blurred. Failure to incorporate social media as part of your overall SEO strategy will render it less likely that your organisation appears in the search results of your potential customers.
Back in February I wrote about the growing fashion to buy up multiple keyword-rich domains — like “big-grey-widgets.com”, “small-grey-widgets.com” etc — in the hope of gaining higher rankings on Google. There was some evidence that this type of domain could indeed rank well, without requiring many inbound links. At the time, though, I cautioned against this approach. Google has a history of acting against such practices by de-emphasising the spammy element and wiping out any benefit gained. Since then, we have seen it do just that with links on article sites.
Now it seems that the big G may indeed be preparing to act against spam in domain names. In March of this year, Google spokesman Matt Cutts slipped the news into one of his popular YouTube videos. You can watch the whole video here.
So if you are one of those who bought up a raft of keyword-enhanced domains, now is the time to prepare for their disappearance. If you’ve being considering doing it, don’t bother.
This recurring pattern of action and reaction by website owners and Google does raise an interesting question. What will happen when every ranking factor that could be spammed, has been spammed, and Google has de-emphasised all of them? Theoretically we should end up pretty much back where we started, except that the whole web will be stuffed with spam.
It’s always tempting to look for the magic bullet that will fire you onto the top page of Google, and the potential rewards are obvious. Forty percent of external traffic to websites comes from search (source: Outbrain), and in the UK over ninety percent of that comes from Google. But to build a sustainable online business with rankings that will stand the test of time, you need to provide good quality site content that is useful to your customers; and invest in building a network of links from good quality and relevant sites.
Anything else is vapour.
Read more about SEO here:
Google has made two big announcements recently that could have a huge impact for online businesses. An algorithm change could promote better customer service with the rumoured possibility that positive customer ratings may result in a more favourable search page ranking on Google.
The second announcement is a new partnership with Twitter to display the social networking site’s paid advertisements within Google’s own search results. Here’s what these changes could mean for you.
As with all things Google-related, the search engine kingpin is being decidedly ambiguous on the subject and although they have publicly stated that positive merchant ratings could be taken into consideration when deciding on rankings, they have yet to actually admit they are definitely using ratings as a ranking factor.
But Google does appear to be closely monitoring customer ratings and feedback and there is a high likelihood that the Google algorithm has been updated to include merchant rating when populating SERPs.
One online store publicly revealed that they had previously been manipulating customer feedback to improve search engine rankings. Basically, the website owner fuelled negative customer response and it is alleged that the sudden tirade of comments and feedback led to the website gaining greater online exposure and an increase in its search engine rankings.
The new algorithm may have changed that that. Whether these tactics did improve the retailer’s ranking is debatable. But Google took notice and admitted to an algorithm alteration. Now the website in question appears to have slipped down the rankings since the algorithm change.
Google has suggested that they were concerned about beneficial ranking results from negative feedback and that any recent algorithm alterations were intended to provide a better customer experience. However, there is some speculation that Google is now monitoring positive merchant ratings as well using various sources such as: actual website feedback, consumer websites, and Google Checkout.
This is a positive move if true. If the Google algorithm now includes a feature that monitors and rewards websites receiving beneficial consumer feedback it is great news for any online business providing quality service. If a reputable online business can see an improvement in their search engine rankings due to positive consumer feedback, this will provide a real incentive for businesses to increase their level of consumer service and satisfaction.
Social networking behemoth Twitter has finally bowed under pressure to monetise the site. It has been on the cards for a while now and Twitter has responded and decided to fill its cash coffers by means of paid advertising.
Promoted tweets are similar to Google Adwords. Promoted tweets will appear at the top of Twitter searches and already some major companies have signed up to appear on Twitters search pages. There is also an opportunity to purchase slots in Twitter’s Trending Tweets feature. At the moment, this new feature is being trialled in the US (it was rolled out in April last year) and has already attracted some major players. The plan is to offer this monetised feature to the UK soon (possibly early this year but no actual date has been confirmed).
Twitter comments already feature regularly within Google’s search engine pages. The recent emphasis on providing relevant, up-to-date, real-time content within search results has led to a massive increase in the amount of blog, forum, and social media posts featuring in top positions in SERPs.
Google has realised the potential of Twitter’s Promoted Tweets monetisation and both market leaders have joined forced to create an advertising golden team. Google will now feature Promoted Tweets from Twitter search results on its own search result pages. The format will be very similar to how it already displays its own Adwords listings, except the Promoted Tweets will be clearly labelled as Ads by Twitter.
The two companies will share the revenue earned form these paid promotions.
Any business with an effective online presence campaign should already be using the power of Twitter for marketing and consumer interaction. Many businesses are running successful Adwords campaigns and have seen the success they can achieve. Now, not only can a business generate extra interest from Twitter users, any Promoted Tweets they have in place stand a great chance of appearing on the first page of Google for their specific keyword(s). It is almost a two for one offer.
Twitter has already had talks with many interested companies working the UK market and some of the more prominent businesses showing real interest include: Sky, Vodaphone, Sony, O2, Ladbrokes, LoveFilm, and Capital One.
Google introduces new features at fairly regular intervals and keeping on top of these changes can be crucial to maintaining a positive online presence for businesses. These new developments could be very important for many businesses looking to increase their target audience and online visibility.
Any online merchant should count customer satisfaction as their number one goal. But with the possibility that Google is monitoring and potentially using these consumer ratings to determine search page rank, positive customer opinion is now more important than ever.
Using social media as an influential marketing tool is nothing new, but while Facebook and other social networking giants already provide a platform for paid advertising, Twitter has never offered this prime opportunity. But with Promoted Tweets they have finally offered marketers a much-welcomed advertising platform and it should be available to UK business very soon. With the news that Promoted Tweets will also be featured in Google search results, it is a very exciting prospect indeed.
Daniel Offer is a partner in the Facebook messaging application Chit Chat for Facebook
Since we launched our small business resource website in April many people have found the Marketing Donut through typing various queries into search engines. When we looked under the bonnet of our website, we found some more curious examples of the search terms people have entered. Either accidentally or intentionally, people found their way to the Marketing Donut by searching the terms from the following list:
If you would like to know more about search engine marketing and optimisation, we have some handy resources available.
If you have a website and want to gain new customers, why not build landing pages optimised for search terms with geographic modifiers. If that sounds like gibberish, I’m talking about creating special pages to attract potential customers who enter (for example) ‘copywriter Norwich’ instead of just ‘copywriter’ into search engines. Because location searches are more specific, there’s generally less competition for them, increasing your chances of achieving good SEO results. For example, as I write, my page on Copywriters in London ranks at #4 in Google and #1 at Yahoo, outperforming the sites of dozens of other copywriters who really are in London! When visitors click through to the page, it explains that they could get practically the same level of service from a copywriter in Norwich and save money, since our overheads are inevitably lower. Is it ethical? Am I bending the truth? Believe me, I’ve agonised over this. But I only considered it when I saw competitors doing the same thing. And all I’m really doing is creating a page about finding copywriters in London, not masquerading as a London copywriter. Does it sell? I believe so, although I don’t always grill my new clients on how they found me (I know I should). You’ve got to be realistic. Drop-off rates will inevitably be high when people seeking local suppliers twig that you’re 100 miles away. But some are bound to be convinced. If you want to do something similar, just create a web page with 300-500 words of text talking about finding your product or service in your target location and linking that to your own offering. Explain how you can easily reach customers in the location and, if appropriate, mention any clients you already have there. Make sure you use your keywords in your HTML page title, heading tags and throughout the text. Aim for a keyword density of around 5% - you can check it here. Use keywords in the document name too (Yahoo likes this). The ‘description’ meta tag carries no weight for SEO, but may still appear in search results. So you can use it to grab searchers’ attention with a punchy message like ‘Looking for an electrician in London? Call our national helpline to find a reliable, affordable contractor.’ (For more help with SEO writing, see this guide to SEO Copywriting.) Remember, your page is primarily aimed at search engines. You don’t really want people to read it! So make sure people who arrive at it can easily click through to your home page, perhaps via a link in the first sentence. To boost rankings further, link to your page from blog posts and online PR articles. The only thing you can’t do is get listed in local online directories for your target locality - although you could always make that possible by investing in a virtual office. A final word of warning - if people do choose you, they’ll be expecting you to match the service a local supplier could provide. Make sure you can keep your promises!