Rap Genius didn’t find the best present from Santa in their stocking when they received a penalty from Google for using link schemes to boost their search rankings. This has resulted in their website not being found on the first page of results for even their own brand name. Instead news stories reporting this and their social media accounts are displayed. A site that saw over half a million unique visits a day has now been reduced to 10% of that showing the enormous power that Google hold in making an online business successful.
The link scheme they were penalised for was asking bloggers to join and affiliate scheme by adding a link to their website in exchange for a ‘thank you’ tweet from Rap Genius. In Google’s eyes even agreeing to exchange a tweet for a link back to a website is considered ‘paying’ for it and falls under “exchanging goods or services for links” which can result in a penalty. A link in a tweet may not have the same value to Google as a link on a website but social media still has an influence on search rankings. For Google this is about the credibility of the search results they provide and need to have these highly visible targets to penalise so as to not encourage link buying behaviour.
Critics argue that the manual penalties that Google applies are not done in a fair way as there are plenty of sites that buy links yet do not get penalised. The consensus is that Google would not be so vocal and stringent about the buying of back links if it didn’t actually work and wasn’t the easiest method to get a higher ranking.
It can be frustrating that behaviour of competitors is overlooked or even tolerated. When your competition is clearly buying links in order to improve their rankings yet do not receive a penalty and you follow Googles best practices and still get a lower position on search results it can be very tempting to follow suite. This is why gaming their SEO would have been a strategy that was seriously considered.
Most agree that Rap Genius has, in their market, the best content and is perceived to be the least spam driven lyrics site on the web. However others suggest that they couldn’t rely upon this to continue having good rankings. While they may have offered a better user experience they didn’t have the number of lyrics that other sites did. In addition while they may have built up an on-site community this would not be as important to ranking in Google as just providing the basic information people look for.
Will Rap Genius be able to return to the top of rankings by cleaning up their site and disavowing those links and will Google be seen to apply their penalties in a fairer way? We will await that news.
As ludicrous as it sounds, there are only 106 days left until Christmas and whilst the sane amongst us are still hanging desperately onto barbeque season and flip flops, the retailers amongst us know that now is the time to get ready for the festive season. The mince pies are in the supermarkets, the incidence of toy adverts on the television is steadily increasing and consumers, whether they know it or not, are being subtly herded towards the bright lights and ringing tills of Christmas shopping.
Now is the time to make sure your website is ready for the approaching season of madness, take stock, decide on any strategies or special offers and make sure your web development company has details of any changes you want to make sooner rather than later. Christmas 2013 is going to be tough for retailers but with a slight upward trend in the amount of consumer spending, for the well-prepared things are looking up. So, what to do to get your website ready?
1. Freshen up.
Have a good check through your content. It is always a good idea to change or add to your website, keeping your content fresh not only gives you Google points, but it keeps your customers interested too. If your site has a featured products section, start adding in your best-sellers or any new ranges. Make sure any photography is professional and shows off your products to their best advantage.
2. Special Offers.
Consider running some seasonal offers. Online purchasers love little extras like free delivery and that can make the difference between them choosing your site and someone else’s for their gifts. Most modern ecommerce systems will allow you to display linked products (customers who bought this also bought that). Alternatively a good old-fashioned BOGOF always goes down a treat.
3. Keep things simple.
Making your website hassle-free is one major way of improving your customer commitment. Look at how smoothly your search function works, and how easy it is for customers to checkout. Keep things simple and give good customer service and people will come back.
4. Don’t go mad on the tinsel.
Although you want to get ready for the festive market, don’t over-do the Christmas vibe. Gradually introduce changes to the site to get ready for the bells and whistles of December, but don’t go for it too early.
If you need to discuss any promotional changes to your website, or would like further information on website design, get in touch with eSterling today. We offer full design and development services to ensure your website is at the heart of your business.
Anyone who pays any attention whatsoever to the world of web design will by now be very familiar with mobile sites and the concept of responsive design (and if you aren’t, you can read more here).
Well, now there’s another reason to perfect your mobile presence – Google have now decided to take the smartphone-friendliness of a website into consideration when determining where a site ranks in its SERPS – meaning if your site can’t strut it’s stuff on the small screen, you could be losing even more traffic than before.
Google have announced in a recent blog post that they are planning to roll out algorithm updates that will penalise websites that are incorrectly configured for mobile browsing.
Here are a few of the most common errors made in mobile sites, and our advice for avoiding them:
Correct Your Redirect
A common strategy for providing a mobile site alongside your desktop website is to use different URLs to serve different pages. This tactic can work very well, as it allows you to lay out the content on your pages in a different format that is better suited for smaller screens and touch-based interaction. However, these redirects must be handled correctly in order to provide a consistent experience for the user with minimal frustration.
A mistake that often crops up with this sort of configuration is directing smartphone users to a set page (most often the home page), no matter which desktop page they are trying to access – requiring extra work from the user in order to navigate back to the page they originally attempted to visit in the first place! Naturally, this can be a source of annoyance for the user, and can result in them leaving your site in search of something less tedious to find their way around.
The solution for this issue is simple – make sure each page redirects to its own respective mobile-friendly page. If the content is not available in mobile form, then directing the user to the home page or other related page is preferable to serving a 404 page – but still not really ideal.
The difficulty that mobile platforms have with video content is well documented, and a topic for lengthy discussion in its own right. However, if you’re serving unplayable video content to your mobile users, pretty soon you can expect to see a drop in your search rankings.
The solution for this problem is (perhaps unsurprisingly) to avoid Flash content on mobile sites in general, as it is unsupported in iOS and Android version 4.1 and higher. To include video content, it is possible to use the new HTML5 markup
<video> tag, which should work without a hitch on all mobile platforms.
If you also provide a mobile app, it would seem only logical to promote this app to users browsing on a mobile device – and this can seem like a perfectly user-friendly move too, as your app may provide a better interface for your users to interact with similar content. However, advertising your app through interstitials or other methods which disrupt the conventional user experience of your site will soon start to have a negative impact on your site’s rankings, as well as annoying your users.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t try to entice mobile users with your shiny new app – as long as it is done tastefully. Google recommends using a “simple banner” displayed inline, alongside the rest of your website’s content. This can mean either a standard HTML image banner or utilising the support offered by the device’s native browser and operating system – for example Smart App Banners for Safari on iOS6.
More Speed, Less Haste
On top of these new rules concerning content, Google’s head of search spam Matt Cutts has alluded to a site speed penalty for mobile sites, similar to the penalty imposed on slow loading desktop sites. Whilst not much information has been disclosed at the minute, it’s fairly safe to assume that as mobile users are often connected to the internet via low-speed cellular connections, the load time that must be achieved will probably be significantly faster than in the desktop speed test.
As is usually the case with Google’s algorithm updates, these new guidelines will help to make the web a better place – both for webmasters and users themselves. Here at eSterling, we welcome them with open arms, and look forward to the mobile web becoming more user-centric and streamlined.
If you’d like to read more on the issues which may cause your mobile site to lose rankings, Google has helpfully compiled a list of common mistakes in smartphone sites to help you out.
As always, if there’s anything in this post which you wish to discuss or would like some more information on, please leave us a message in the comments or email us here.
Little more than a year ago, Google introduced what was then one of the biggest updates to its search algorithm. Originally dubbed the “Webspam Update”, it rocked the SERPs, knocking a considerable amount of websites reeling, causing their rankings to drop faster than you can say “p-p-pick up a Penguin”. This was obviously serious news for us here at eSterling, as we pride ourselves in our ability to consistently achieve and maintain good results in Google for our clients using strictly white-hat techniques. However, despite our dedication to good practice in our optimisation work, we still saw the websites of a few clients suffer.
Fast forward 12 months to where we are now, and the Big G is at it again. Matt Cutts (Google’s guru on all things search) announced last Friday that “Penguin 2.0” is on the way. We know a few things about this update – the most important being that it’s coming soon, and it’s going to be big. Big enough to disrupt the SERPs again, probably on a much larger scale than last time. Whilst the guys over at Google like to portray the penguin updates as cute, wide-eyed little penguin characters, here at eSterling we like to think of them as being more similar to Danny Devito as “the Penguin” from Batman Returns:
But never fear! As always, our SEO team of caped crusaders are here to bring justice to the search engine results pages with our words of wisdom and cutting edge strategies. Here’s our rundown of the information we have gathered so far concerning the new update:
1. It’s Just Around The Corner
In typical Google fashion, we don’t have a date for the implementation of the new update, but head of all things search at Google HQ, Matt Cutts, has helpfully informed us that it will be “sometime in the next few weeks.” Thanks Matt!
“Advertorial” creation (or native advertising) is an advertising method which disguises paid adverts and links as part of a site’s content, and passes link juice (and PageRank) on to the site being advertised. Google is clamping down on this, as it is a violation of their “quality guidelines” – attempting to hide the adverts and also passing on link juice to the advertised site. As we already know, Google doesn’t take kindly to paid links of any kind, but Matt Cutts is keen to mention that there is no harm in advertorials or native advertising, provided that the advertorial carries a clear disclaimer and there is no link juice being passed on (i.e. the link has a “nofollow” attribute).
3. Spammy Search Queries
For as long as people have been using SEO techniques to maximise their rankings, there have been certain niches which have been plagued by webspam from SEO practitioners using unscrupulous tactics such as keyword stuffing, doorway sites and hidden links. Some of these niches include “payday loans” and various adult-orientated areas, such as pornography and adult dating sites. Whilst this doesn’t apply to any of our clients, it’s nice to see that the Big G is starting to clamp down on these webspammers, as the advancements that are made in this area are sure to trickle down into the more above-board SERPs, helping to combat webspam across the whole internet.
4. Link Spam
Furthering their efforts to clamp down on webspammers, the new update will see Google once again penalising sites who have built unnatural links portfolios that comprise of paid links, links from sites with the sole intent of manipulating rankings (such as doorway sites) and any other dodgy link building or traffic boosting tactics. Think of this as the real “2.0” part of Penguin – this is basically what the last Penguin update did, but on a larger scale.
5. Rolling Out A System For More Advanced Link Analysis
Penguin 2.0 will introduce a more comprehensive link analysis procedure. Matt mentions this is still in early days, but this could potentially turn the SEO industry on its head if Google makes large changes to their link analysis algorithm.
6. Looking To Improve Communication With Webmasters
This is an almost out of character (albeit very welcome) move from Google: we are told that they will be increasing their efforts to provide useful support and information to webmasters, especially concerning hacked sites. If all goes according to plan, Google will be providing us with a “one-stop shop” to diagnosing hacked sites, providing useful information to webmasters straight from Webmaster Tools.
7. Looking To Reward Authority Sites In Niche Directories
Authority sites (sites which are deemed to be the best source of information in their specific niche) have become an important part of Google’s search algorithm. The new update will introduce new systems to identify these authority sites in a more appropriate way, and make it slightly easier to become an authoritative site if your site is exhibiting the requisite characteristics by “blurring the edges” of what makes a site authoritative.
8. Looking To Minimise “Domain Clusters” In SERPs
“Domain clusters” are a phenomenon of search in which a group of results from the same domain will be “clumped” together on the search results pages. This obviously occupies a considerable chunk of SERP real estate, pushing other domains further down the page. As the domains that tend to create this kind of “cluster” tend to be the big boys of the internet (Amazon, eBay etc), Google’s action to minimize these groups of results is good news for small to medium businesses, as it gives them more of a chance of squeezing into the first few results pages.
Obviously, as we exclusively employ white hat tactics here at eSterling, the majority of our client’s sites should see no negative repercussions from these updates – in fact, you may notice a positive outcome as competitors who have used less legitimate SEO agencies get stung by the update and their rankings drop. However, the inevitable truth is that some sites will be undeservedly penalised, as has happened with previous algorithm updates, but rest assured we will be keeping a close watch on all client’s rankings over the coming months and striving to continue to provide all of our clients with our usual first-rate SEO services.
Well, that was a pretty gloomy blog post! In the interest of brightening things up a bit, here’s a little something you can try in Google image search:
1. Go to Google image search
2. Type in “Atari Breakout”
3. Hit search
4. Play the Atari classic “Breakout” with your image search results!
See if you can beat our office high score!
If you’ve ever been curious exactly how Google works, you might have found it a bit difficult to get your head around – which is completely understandable, as it’s not exactly simple being the most powerful search engine in the world!
However, the generous guys at the Big G have taken time out of their hectic schedule to let us know exactly how they do it – in simple terms, of course.
The introduction of Google Authorship into Google’s ranking algorithms could seriously shake up the SERPs – We take a look at why, and how you can start to prepare!
In-bound marketing techniques have made quite a large shift in the last few years, as I’m sure regular readers are aware by now – the importance of inbound link building has subsided to make way for a content and usability-based ranking system known as TrustRank.
This shift has, however, brought with it a new breed of unscrupulous strategies – poorly generated content with no real substance, article spinning (the chopping-and-reforming of articles in order to make them appear unique – often with less than perfect grammatical results) and article directory sites full of worthless content that is read by no one, created solely for the purpose of manipulating positioning on search engine results pages.
The Authorship concept was conceived a lot longer ago than you may first think; the relevant patent was approved way back in 2007. Originally dubbed Agent Rank, the patent has now undergone two continuations (the first in 2009), but the most recent continuation is the most significant.
This is the first claim in the most recent update:
“1. A computer-implemented method comprising: evaluating a document that is hosted on a site, the document including a content item to which a maker of the content item has applied a digital signature; determining whether the digital signature is portable; if the digital signature is portable, using a reputation score associated with the maker in calculating a quality score for the document; and if the digital signature is not portable, using the reputation score associated with the maker in calculating the quality score for the document only if the digital signature is fixed to the site.”
(I know, it made my head hurt too!)
The most important bit is the mention of a “portable” digital signature. This allows the author to create content for various blogs, websites and article directories, whilst carrying through their reputation from their other online content. The name of this portable digital signature? The big G’s very own social network, Google Plus.
This allows you to associate all the content you personally produce with your own Google account. Google can then use this to determine how useful your content is, by judging how well received your previous content has been. If you continue to write good, useful articles with meaningful content, then you can expect to see your Author Rank increase, and as a result, your articles will reach higher positioning in search results. If you write rubbish articles with spammy content that are of no use to anyone, then you can probably expect the opposite to happen.
Authorship works by utilizing a new tag introduced in HTML5: the rel=author tag. This tag can be added to any <a> tag to denote that the link refers to the author of the content. Using this tag in conjunction with your Google+ URL allows you to link your content to your Google+ account, et voilà! You’ve claimed your first piece of content.
Of course, it isn’t quite that simple. In order to verify your authorship of the article, you must first add the URL of your blog to the “Contributor to” section of your Google+ profile, in order to prevent people from claiming their content was written by any Google+ user that takes their fancy.
Being able to verify your content with your Google+ account will help your content rise above the sea of poorly written junk-content of the black-hat SEO practitioners and article spinners.
It’s important to remember that at present, authorship doesn’t offer any actual boost to your search engine rankings (although studies have found that the “rich snippets” that authorship can generate can increase your CTR by 30-150%, and there’s another hidden benefit of authorship too!); it is simply just a way of claiming credit for your work. However, Google have frequently voiced their intentions for a method of distinguishing and validating content in search results, so it is extremely likely to become a deciding factor in search engine rankings in the near future. Whilst the introduction of Authorship as a factor in deciding rankings isn’t likely to penalise sites, and it probably won’t have anywhere near the SERP-smashing effects we’ve seen from our furry friends Panda and Penguin, it’s going to carry some sort of weight, and it makes sense to begin preparing for it to come into swing now, as those that don’t are putting themselves at a disadvantage already. If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail!
Facebook’s new Graph Search tool could threaten Google’s search domination
This week, the hottest internet news seems to be the new addition to Facebook: Graph Search. Graph search is a new search tool that allows users to search for information based on how their friends (and other users) display information or have interacted with pages. For example, it will allow a user to search for “restaurants in Birmingham that my friends have liked”, or “people in my home town who enjoy fishing”.
Aside from the privacy implications (Graph Search is reported to be fairly invasive when it comes to personal data, and leaves no option to remove yourself from the service), the new addition to the social network could resurrect the Facebook “like” as a marketing metric, as businesses finally see a return on investment for the huge “likebase” they have collected.
This new search tool has the potential to revolutionise the way we trawl for information on the internet, and by extension of this, the way we market and promote online. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has emphasized that (at the moment at least) there is no intention to make money from Graph Search – but it should be noted that it is still in beta.
Graph Search invites comparison between Facebook and one of the other internet big boys – our good friend Google. After treading on the toes of Facebook with the inception of Google+, Google now risk a very bitter taste of their own medicine, as Facebook encroaches on their primary specialism: searching the internet. Whilst at this stage, Graph Search is only capable of searching Facebook’s own content, partnership with another big rival to Google, Bing, could stand to change all of this. We are already seeing ever-increasing proportions of time online being spent on Facebook, and if the possibility of searching the whole internet via Graph Search becomes a reality, then it could really hurt Google’s traffic, as more Facebook users discover they don’t ever need to leave the site.
Facebook and Bing seem to be operating on a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” policy, too – with Bing’s search results now being bolstered by recent Facebook updates (provided you link your account to Bing, of course). From Bing’s recent blog post:
“Starting today, five times more of your friends’ content on Facebook is searchable in the sidebar – including status updates, shared links, comments and photos from your friends. With the addition of status updates, shared links and comments to the sidebar, it’s now easier to see who knows and what they’ve shared related to your search. So when your friends aren’t around, Bing is the perfect stand-in.”
So, as far as inbound marketing is concerned, how should we approach Graph Search? I think currently the best course of action is simply to watch and wait. The idea is still in infancy, and regardless of statements issued by Facebook, once the platform is more established, paid advertising and other promotion strategies will begin to emerge.
Whilst Facebook Graph Search is not available to the public yet, you can read more about it, check out a video explaining how it works, and sign up for beta testing here.
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.
Browsers are fickle. If you want to convert a visitor into a customer you need to instantly grab their attention. Beyond eye catching images, bullet points and benefits (not features!) you need to focus on your headlines.
In the world of content strategists and copywriters they call this microcontent and we’re going to show you how to improve yours.
You only get a sentence, that’s 40 to 60 letters, to work with. That’s a lot less that a tweet so every word counts. This kind of text is also displayed usually without context. Sure, it may be displayed with an image but often those are a little generic or abstract. Because of this you have to write a headline that stands on its own.
Here are a few hints on writing that perfect line of text.
Be clear in what your message is.
Your headline has to be appealing. What are you offering? Why does this benefit the customer?
It has to be relevant to both the site and to the reader. Match the headline to the content.
Be credible. Don’t over exaggerate or make claims that simply are not true.
Be sure to “front-load” your headline. That is, putting the most valuable phrase at the beginning.
Use numbers. “10 reasons good headlines improve online sales!”
Use powerful words like “free” and “imagine”.
Try phrasing your headline as a question. “Want to get more business by writing the perfect headline?”
Be succinct. Remove
Focus on what the customer will find desirable.
“We promise you this: you are now ready to write great headlines”
In the past two years Google cracked open it’s dictionary of animals at page ‘P’ and named the biggest updates to their super-secret search algorithm Panda and Penguin. These two on-going changes fundamentally changed how SEO works by cracking down on any sites that used low quality techniques to gain rankings. While this still effects websites that are not prepared to offer good value to potential customers it leaves others in potential good stead for the future. Achieving the best for your website is now about providing engaging content and high quality links that have been genuinely earned, as it always should have been.
What then should the focus be 2013?
Good SEO is about providing a compelling experience for users of your website. This encapsulates everything from User Experience, having good and relevant content, and well defined navigation and structure. It is no longer possible to do a bare minimum and expect to hit the top of the search engine results. The best search engine optimisation will not help if you have a bad product.
Provide a website that meets people’s needs through researching who your customer base are and what you can offer them above your competition. Your website should be working to your business strategy to provide a service of value to potential customers.
A new year means a fresh start. Talk to eSterling now for a new website that can work for you.