Expanding your SEO strategy for 2013 and beyond.
2012 was a turbulent year for SEO and eMarketing professionals – amongst a slew of algorithm updates and tweaks from Google, we have seen several other game-changing factors that have really tested the adaptability of our dedicated SEO team here at eSterling.
Google have been working hard to negate any unscrupulous SEO activity, as well as reducing the effectiveness of scalable link building strategies such as mass directory submission or article spinning, giving many grey-hat SEO practitioners a major headache.
Google’s Penguin update, which was released in April 2012, focused on eliminating websites using webspam tactics such as spamdexing (squeezing a keyword into a site as many times as possible, often using nefarious tactics such as black-on-black text) and linkbombing (posting a link to the site using a keyword as anchor text in as many locations across the internet as possible) to artificially boost their search rankings, at the expense of website usability. The update penalised these sites by placing them lower in search engine results pages than they featured originally – or, in extreme cases, removing them from Google’s indexing entirely.
Exact match domains (URLs which directly match one of the site’s keywords, for example www.teethwhitening.com) have also felt the pressure, as Google introduced the imaginatively titled Low Quality Exact Match Domain Update. This update, whilst not sounding as cute or cuddly as either of the major updates Panda and Penguin, was no less important. It was an attempt to rid the SERPs of sites which are of low quality, but have used their exact match domain name to push their way to the top of the results pages.
So, if this is what Google has done in the last year to make our lives more difficult, where do we go next?
The good news for us is that this means it is now harder than ever to increase a website’s search visibility with these dubious tactics, leaving much more room for honest, user-friendly SEO strategies, and has shifted the emphasis from building as many links as possible to your site to being much more about the end user – the importance now lies with ease of navigation, increasing usability and offering informative, relevant and up-to-date content.
Google’s actions over the last 12 months could easily be misconstrued as disdain for the SEO profession – this is not the case. Rather, The Big G is trying to encourage webmasters and SEO professionals to remember that the content of their site, not where it appears in search engine results pages, are what is most important to the user – and, by extension of this, to the website owner.
This is not to say that search engine optimisation as a profession is on the way out – far from it, in fact. 6 out of 10 organizations expect to increase SEO headcount in the coming year. The industry is also becoming more widely understood – the same report details that 63% of executive teams are more familiar with SEO metrics than 12 months ago.
The shift has been moved away from SEO as an independent discipline, and it is now becoming a more integral part of constructing an internet presence. For an SEO campaign to be truly effective it must be integrated with other aspects of the business – marketing, sales, design, and social media – must all become one holistic package in order to establish a brand online, as opposed to trying to “pull a fast one” on Google.
To quote Trond Lynbø on Edgyseo.com:
“Many site owners want to do the minimum possible, yet expect awesome results. But the days of ‘quick fix SEO’ are numbered, if not already over. It’s time to see SEO from a different angle, with broader, wider focus. To step back, rather than blindly rush to implement new tactics. To decide where you want to go, and act on a strategy-driven plan.”
Having a strategy for your SEO is becoming more and more important, as simply building up link equity is no longer enough to get by. Social media is becoming increasingly important to every business – more than 1 million websites have now introduced Facebook integration in various manners, and social media now accounts for 18% of all time spent online.
If 2012 has taught us one thing about what lies in store for 2013, it’s that we as SEO professionals need to stay on our toes – major algorithm updates are pretty much inevitable, and they could pop up at any time with little or no warning – but rest assured, the team here at eSterling are ready to rise to this challenge and continue to provide you with a solid internet marketing strategy to see you through the year and beyond.
For more information on our eMarketing and SEO services, click here.
What are cookies?
Cookies are also known as browser cookies or tracking cookies and are small, often encrypted, text files located in browser directories. They are used to help users navigate a website efficiently and perform certain functions.
Some of the most common functions using cookies are:
- Logging into a website
- Buying goods online
- Personalised adverts
- Tracking data using Google Analytics
Why has the law been changed?
The law has been designed to protect the privacy of internet users – even when the information being collected about them is not directly personally identifiable. The changes are a response to increasing concern about online tracking and the use of spyware.
An example of this type of tracking is personalised advertising – where a retailer can use data about what you have looked at online to advertise related products to you when you are visiting a different website.
How does the law affect my website?
The new rules are not designed to restrict cookies as such, they are intended to prevent cookies being used to store information on people’s computers and recognising them via the device they are using, without their knowledge and agreement.
Using cookies is therefore not prohibited by the new regulations, but they do require that people are told about cookies and given the choice as to which of their online activities are monitored.
All websites are now required to offer users the chance to opt out of cookies. This is what the legislation states:
“a person shall not store or gain access to information stored, in the terminal equipment of a subscriber or user unless the requirements of paragraph (2) are met.
(2) The requirements are that the subscriber or user of that terminal equipment-
(a) is provided with clear and comprehensive information about the purposes of the storage of, or access to, that information; and
(b) has given his or her consent.
Regulation 6 of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 (PECR)”
(a) for the sole purpose of carrying out the transmission of a communication over an electronic communications network; or
(b) where such storage or access is strictly necessary for the provision of an information society service requested by the subscriber or user.
This means that e-commerce websites will be able to carry on using cookies for transactions without consent. Other cookies that are likely to be exempt from the legislation include security cookies (e.g online banking) and cookies that speed up loading of data.
Shortly after the new legislation was announced, the regulations were amended to allow ‘implied consent’ for other cookies, such as first and third party advertising cookies, cookies used to recognise a user when they return to a site (in order to display personalised information) and analytical data cookies, e.g Google Analytics.
What do I need to do next?
You will be required to display a message on your site asking users if they wish to opt-out of cookies. The message must:
tell people that the cookies are there,
explain what the cookies are doing, and
obtain their consent to store a cookie on their device
What happens if a user opts out of cookies?
Due to their core role of enhancing or enabling usability or site processes, disabling cookies may prevent users from using certain parts of a website. This is why e-commerce sites and websites requiring a log-in are exempt from the regulations.
It is crucial that any opt-out message you decide to display will make users aware that cookies could affect how they use your website in a negative way. You may also need to be prepared to deal with some additional customer enquiries from users that have opted out of cookies and are now finding it difficult to use your website. Please note that users can re-enable cookies by changing their browser settings.
It is possible that Google Analytics tracking data could be affected by users opting out of cookies, and visits may appear artificially low. We anticipate that Google will work to resolve this and the eMarketing team will inform users of any long term changes to Google Analytics policy.
Pinterest is without doubt the new hotness on the interwebs. Similar in concept to other social bookmarking sites like Delicious and Sumbleupon, Pinterest lets you to ‘pin’ images of ‘interest’ you’ve found and comment on the collections of others. Opening the site will give you an appreciation of the service as every space of the screen is filled with all manner of knick knacks and items people have discovered and covet.
What has turned heads is the rate of growth Pinterest is experiencing and the demographics using the site. Pinterest reached a userbase of 10 million unique visitors in the U.S. faster than any site in history. It is also driving more traffic to retail sites than YouTube, Google+ and LinkedIn combined. The site skews towards a female user base and the icing on that cake for savvy ecommerce site owners is that Pinterest generates conversion rates as high as 20%. If your product is pinned to someone’s board there’s a 1 in 5 chance they’ll be purchasing that item.
Pinterest encourages a browsing and discovery orientated approach rather than the specific product searches you’ll encounter throughout most of the web. This mirroring of real-world shopping behaviour is seen in the correlation of pining and offline purchasing which is even stronger than online conversions. If you are an ecommerce site owner then now is the time to get on-board the Pinterest bandwagon. The first item on your agenda should be the addition of a Pinterest button to your site to allow users to easily pin items to their boards. Now would also be an ideal time to get your product imagery in order. Conversion rates have always benefitted from good, large and clear images being used throughout the site but now that they serve as the focal point it is essential you have the best pictures you can.
The next step is establishing yourself on Pinterest. This shouldn’t just be pure self-promotion with all the pins being items from your ecommerce store. Pinterest is about sharing and engaging with the whole community, pinning items from other sources will ingrain a sense of trust in followers. You’ll want to test your site to make sure that items are pinned correctly. Pinterest works by scanning each page to select the image if there are issues you’ll need to get in touch with your sites developers and discuss your options. Also essential is tracking the traffic you are getting from Pinterest through Google Analytics.
Ideas for increasing engagement and conversions through Pinterest can range from having a sale on the most pinned items through to offering a voucher to traffic arriving from the site. You may also want to think about setting up boards that offer a collection of items that go together – think of something along the lines of IKEA display rooms – which serve as a super-sized related items page. Even adding the Pinterest button to your site and an encouragement to pin can help increase the amount of sales you are getting.
Please be aware that not everything is great on Pinterest. It is increasingly being used by scammers pinning items that link to malicious websites but this is activity that Pinterest says it is actively monitoring. Despite this inevitable spamming of the service there are still users coming up with all sorts of creative methods to pin items.
Google has been given a deadline of “a matter of weeks” by Europe’s antitrust chief to explain how it will end concerns about abusing its dominant position. The search engine giant has been criticised favouring its own products in the search engine results pages over those of rival advertisers.
The investigation was sparked by complaints from several companies; British shopping comparison site, Foundem; Microsoft-owned Ciao, the French legal search engine justice.fr, and the German maps company Hotmaps. These companies complained that their services appeared artificially low on Google’s general search results – an indication that they were being penalised for being competitors.
The European Commission commissioner, Joaquín Almunia, has warned Google that if nothing is done in response to his letter, the EC will begin a formal investigation which would lead to large fines amounting to billions of pounds. Google disagreed with the commission’s conclusions, but responded that it was happy to discuss the issues further.
With Google controlling 86% of the EU search market; it will be an interesting battle should a formal investigation take place. Rival companies will certainly be hoping that Google’s search engine monopoly will be broken during the fight and that balance will be restored to the market.
Some of the whistle-blowing companies aren’t particularly popular rivals (I hadn’t even heard of Foundem before today!), so is this just a case of sour grapes? Or could it be argued that ‘penalisation’ by Google could effectively end a brand before it’s even started? Either way, it shows that Google has a power which generates fear among its rivals – and is this really healthy for the internet?
While big in America, start-up culture doesn’t seem to have quite as much traction in the UK. Sure Dragon’s Den gets the viewing figures but it is little more than reality TV panhandling and doesn’t offer any insights into how to get the next Facebook beater off the ground. Here then is a quick guide to how to build your empire from scratch.
First up. What is the problem you are trying to solve? What possible solutions are there? What key metrics do you need to measure to see if what you are doing is a success? What is your unique value proposition? What advantage do you have that cannot easily be replicated? Who are you targeting? What will it cost? How are you going to make money from it?
Solve genuine problems. Don’t just come up with a list of features and don’t just offer a workaround to common problems offer a complete solution. Interview potential customers and find out what their problems are? What would be your solution? Everyone has that one great idea but it’s execution that counts.
Minimize your total time in getting something in front of potential customers. Launch as quickly as possible in fact you need to be even quicker than that. Your first step is your Minimum viable product, MVP in start-up lingo. This is always less than you think. It could be just a one pager with a sign-up form or a blog outlining your big plans. But you need to get something, anything, out there in front of your potential customer base.
Waiting until something is perfect is a recipe for failure. Things will never be just right and you’ll tinker forever over things that are just not important at all. You ain’t gonna need it is a mantra programmers follow and you should too when cutting features from your product. That’s right, you should always be thinking about what to get rid of next rather than what your next great feature is. Less is more. Keep it simple stupid. You need to find the one feature that customers LOVE. You’ll know you’ve found it when they complain that you’ve taken it away.
Iterate rapidly. Launch your MVP. Measure the analytics. Test your assumptions and trust in the data. Make the changes you need, optimise your product and launch again. Rinse. Repeat.
Fail Fast. You need to know if your product is succeeding or failing. This is why it’s essential to iterate and not go with the big up front product that is perfect. If you do and it fails you’ve thrown away months of work. Get the MVP out there and measure. If it fails start over again with the data you’ve got in hand.
Don’t feel guilty about making your product pay to play. It can be a big mistake to offer up all your work for free in the hope that someone might pay for it down the road. By charging money you’re telling people you think it’s worth something. By giving it away you’re telling them it’s not worth anything yet. Maximise your user acquisition, make your current customers happy and they’ll work as your viral marketers. You also did remember to set up your Twitter and Facebook accounts right ?
Don’t let customers get away. If you’ve converted someone through a signup you have their details. Follow up. Send them a personal email asking why your product didn’t meet their needs, what problems they encountered. If it’s viable then consider it for the next iteration.
Once you have found a fit between your product and customers you need to transition to growth and riches! Possibly. If you do make it to be the next Mark Zuckerberg just remember who gave you the advice…
The cloud storage space is now feeling a little more cramped as the big boy of the web sidles in for a piece of the action. Announced yesterday, Google Drive aims to tempt over those enamoured of the likes of Dropbox by offering server space to store your files. Other than the fact it’s backed by the web giant the other benefits Google is touting are integration with their other services such as Gmail and Google Docs. One very interesting differentiator is the ability for 3rd parties to use an API to access Google Drive through Chrome browser apps. This allows these 3rd parties to effectively write a web based file system that ties into Google’s Chrome browser and ecosystem. Clearly Google has been learning lessons from Apple’s vertical integration methods.
By signing up you can get 5Gb for free and the paid upgrade offerings are priced very competitively in comparison to Dropbox among others.
Of course as with all things there are grumblings from the side lines the most major of which are concerns over privacy. After all, what is to stop the big G from having a quick peek at the files you are storing on their servers and add to the profiles they are cheerfully building up on you. All the better to show you more targeted ads. Others more amusingly point out that this all sounds rather like Gdrive, Google’s cloud based storage system which was, according to Steven Levy’s book ‘In the Plex’, shelved after lobbying by a certain Sundar Pichai. Strange indeed then that the very same Senior Vice President of Chrome & Apps is the one making this very announcement.
The issue has raised its head on a bug opened on the official Github Bootstrap repository wherein Bootstrap is described as not working with JSMin, minification software created by Douglas Crockford. Commentators say the issue could easily be resolved by adding the semi-colons. Crockford himself comments on the thread, his opening gambit being, “That is insanely stupid code. I am not going to dumb down JSMin for this case.” Lines are drawn, sides taken and insults thrown around.
However Ruby developers are also seen as San-Fran livin’, fixie riding, floppy haired hipsters with giant egos who are more concerned with image that substance. Developers who are concerned with making code “beautiful”, as if programming were a medieval art like glassblowing or being a blacksmith. People who wear T-shirts proclaiming them to be “Code Poets”; programming Lord Byron’s. It is unsurprising then to find that Bootstrap is the output of Ruby developers.
The bug has now been closed with no resolution and a lot of acrimony, the debate will, we are sure, continue.
The favourite whipping boy of programmers everywhere has once again taken its licks in a blistering blog article titled PHP: a fractal of bad design. While no stranger to lengthy lists of its shortcomings the latest attack is a cavalcade of issues that the language suffers from. Apart from the vigorous nodding in agreement, debate online has centred on the most pertinent of questions, “Why would a programmer use this abomination of a language?”
PHP is not universally held in such low regard. It is, for the web layperson looking to dip their toe into the world of development, an easy and forgiving environment which allows them to peruse a few tutorials and have a basic site up and running in almost no time at all. By just creating a text file adding a bit of code, changing the extension to .php and uploading to a web server you can instantly create a site. Skimming a few more articles will have you connecting to a database and proudly running a “real” website. Besides it’s used on some of the largest websites in the world such as Wikipedia and Facebook, they must know what they are doing so it can’t be all bad right?
Detractors would point out that enabling amateur web developers to throw together sites will almost no idea of what they are doing is a recipe for disaster. While the site they produce may indeed work, in the eyes of a developers it is only in the most tenuous sense possible and will most likely be riddled with security holes. When such code bases are inherited the amount of refactoring require means that almost none of the original code will be kept. As a developer you will have to view PHP code that will likely leave you bug eyed in disbelief. For the language itself the bizarre rules of equivalence, the inconsistencies in everything including the standard functions will likely drive you mad. The avoidance of any discussion of parameterized sql statements in the official documentation in favour of telling you to escape your strings is insane. The list goes on and on.
So why use PHP? Simply there is no viable alternative if you need to be able to host your site almost anywhere. Other languages require software stacks and web specific frameworks to run a site, ensuring you will need to have knowledge of more than just the language used. The site produced will probably have to run under Fast CGI on a server resulting in less than grand performance. PHP in contrast is ubiquitous and supported by pretty much all web hosts. It is unavoidable if you are to be a web developer and you will need to know the language even if it is not to be your primary skill. Even then your job most likely will be using PHP given that easily 80% of development jobs will use it.
To know PHP’s shortcomings is to be able to avoid them. You do not need to program in the Cargo Cult, copy and paste method used by beginners. There are a variety of frameworks now available that take care of the boilerplate and require you to structure code with a separation of concerns. While PHP is forgiving when used poorly there is no reason you cannot code in a correct manner following best practices. Doing so will help raise the awareness of these issues with potential developers and allow them to avoid the mess of spaghetti code that has come before. When used with a framework such as Codeigniter PHP becomes almost pleasant to use, but maybe that is the Stockholm syndrome speaking.
Another South by Southwest (SXSW) interactive has just finished wrapping up. As tradition would have it Bruce Sterling, Sci-Fi writer, Visionary in residence and Transglobal Futurist gave his annual closing keynote address, this year labelled as “The Ultimate Bruce Sterling Talk”. His thoughts on the current and future state of technology and it’s intersections with people and politics are always something I look forward to hearing.
This year was just as special with Sterling opening his address by lamenting that the state of the world was even worse than last year which he described as a horrible, shameful thing to watch. He talked of the current burden of debt placed upon students who had no possibilities of employment at present calling it a “smart tax on the population”. Moving on from a discussion of Mexico which despite being plagued by Narco-cultura was becoming a new hot bed of artistic talent through to his thoughts on fabricators. His attitude being that now was the time to get on board with 3d printing and fabrication likening it to investing in your first 300 baud modem back in the 80’s way before the internet explosion.
After a conversation about geek art and aesthetics destined to become dominant in mainstream culture Sterling got to the main point of his speech with a discussion that affects everyone on the internet, companies he describes as “The Stacks”. The Stacks are companies that are setting out to build vertically integrated media empires. Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon. These companies he says, want to lock you into their stack and they see their future as taking over and replacing the internet. While they are not inherently hostile to the internet they are in favour of their own situation preferring for you to use their eco-systems, a-la Facebook and Apple’s Facetime, making the rest of the internet irrelevant.
These Stacks, he says, offer no prosperity, security or wellbeing to participants, other than shareholders. The internet had users; Stack users are livestock. The Stacks want to reduce you to “dog status” which they see as the easiest way of handling you. People like the Stacks because the internet scares them and the walled garden is a more comfortable experience. While he believes the “lords of the stack are not bad guys” we shouldn’t be so dependent on these Stacks which he thinks are leading to the life blood being drained out of other forms of expression such as music, literature and film. Each stack thinks it’s the future and they think the other four are doomed and irrelevant. Sterling predicts that all five will be rendered irrelevant and be destroyed but he doesn’t think that when the end comes for them it will be pretty.
Sterling’s keynote as usual gives plenty of food for thought. Will his predictions turn out to be true? Will the internet prevail? Let us know what you think.
In recent days there have been grumblings of disquiet over a few vocal bloggers decrying an apparent rampant overuse of Twitter Bootstrap – a toolkit of simple but elegant HTML and CSS conventions used for building web apps. While this nerd backlash may seem to some to be a storm in a teacup, it’s raised a few heckles with developers who find the convenience of the library to be a good thing.
The issue appears to be the “samey-ness” of websites using the framework. Sites such as the Built With Bootstrap Tumblr feed showcase the variety of websites built with the toolkit. When flicking through the galleries a certain style does leap out and, admittedly, some even use the library “as is”. The result though is not entirely unpleasant, and as one wily commentator pointed out it is better than the ‘Geocities look’ that developers would routinely come up with on their own.
Still, there are others fighting in its corner. Dave Winer has run to its defence and compares Bootstrap to the legendary Apple Macintosh, arguing that the standardisation and ease of use it offers allows people to focus on what’s important with a web application. The negativity he believes comes from people worrying that such frameworks commoditise user experience, will block development of alternatives or even somehow remove creativity from web design. Winer believes that the benefits of adapting to resources like Bootstrap allow developers to build ever better software on these foundations rather than wasting time on the basics over and over again.
I heartily concur with his opinion. From my own perspective I have found working with Bootstrap to be a great experience allowing me to concentrate on the nuts ands bolts, nitty gritty of development without having to worry about how form controls look by default. Bootstrap offers a standardised and useful set of defaults that allow the developer to focus on content and usability rather than wrestling with getting the same appearance with a dozen different browsers. All that and it doesn’t look half bad either.
One of the cornerstones of development is to not repeat yourself. Using third party frameworks or developing your own saves wasted time and allows us to focus on the needs of the customer. Bootstrap is the beginning. The rapid take up and support it has generated shows there is a need for such frameworks. Eventually there will be replacements and soon thereafter Bloggers complaining that everything looks the same. Again.