Saturday, October 26, 2013

Is SEO Gaming the System?

A recent Forbes.com article posed the question: "SEO and Other Web Marketing Techniques: Tools or Tricks?" The article, written by Roger Kay, who "covers endpoints and how they relate to the cloud," begins by differentiating Google (over Facebook and Twitter) as the premier Internet platform: "Because," to quote Kay's surprisingly sophomoric writing, "no other company ties together everything on the Internet the way Google does."

Despite our misgivings with the quality of the writing itself, Kay's article inspires an intriguing discussion on the value of Google and how "charlatans" have gamed the platform to increase PageRank. For a definition of PageRank, Kay (showing a first-class knowledge on the subject) links to Wikipedia.

Of course, Wikipedia offers a concise and studious definition of PageRank. However, if you're going to write about PageRank and its relation to web marketing techniques, like SEO, you might seek a more nuanced definition. We attempted to offer our own definition of PageRank in a prior post: "The Difference Between Website Ranking and Website Optimization."

In that post, we also quoted Wikipedia to illustrate a seemingly elusive component of PageRank: "Google has not disclosed the specific method for determining a Toolbar PageRank value, which is to be considered only a rough indication of the value of a website."

Kay seems to have missed this last, crucial caveat: PageRank is "only a rough indication of the value of a website." And by misunderstanding the term itself, Kay's article commences with a faulty premise.

Specifically, when speaking about the so-called "charlatans," Kay seems to imply the whole goal of "gaming the system" is to increase PageRank. Specifically, in terms of SEO, he describes a keyword stuffing scenario we have condemned again and again here on the Organic SEO Blog:

"The idea is that certain words and phrases on a Web page will raise its ranking.  Stuff your page with them, and your visibility on the Internet will rise."

High-qualty SEO is not about stuffing your page with keywords. High quality SEO is about the appropriate use of keywords. This is not some form of trickery; it's a fundamental marketing principle: speak in your customer's language.

When defining keywords for a site, a website owner necessarily refines his/her vision. The simplest way to achieve this vision is to ask, "How would someone find me on Google?"

SEO specialists use keywords for this purpose: so that customers can more easily discover the exact product or service they are looking for. We wrote about this, too, in a prior post: "How SEO Can You Clarify Your Business Offering."

Now, thankfully Kay does not limit his opinion of SEO to keyword stuffing:

"Of course, there’s more to it than that. Aside from the cat-and-mouse game played between Google and the SEO mavens, there’s the dynamic aspect of it. Fresh content does better than stale content, and so the SEO devotee needs to keep changing what’s on the page."

Kay is right: the SEO specialist does need to continue changing "what's on a page." But he does not adequately explain why, exactly, this is gaming the system.

In fact, fresh content is a core principle of high-quality SEO. Relevance is key!We believe the Internet is a better place, and yes more "dynamic," when websites strive to offer new, relevant information as often as possible. After all, one of the most popular sites on the web is The New York Times. Of course, not all website are storied news publications--but why shouldn't a website refresh often to better meet the dynamic needs of its potential users/customers?

After seemingly dismissing SEO without understanding it, Kay finishes his article by praising "Inbound marketing":

"So, what does inbound marketing even mean?  It’s closely related to viral marketing, the idea that a really good idea takes off by itself as people pass it along to one another, eventually spreading it everywhere...inbound will only work if the product is good.  Effectively, the Internet is a fantastic channel to give an idea a chance to make it in the wild, but the virus only spreads if the content justifies the buzz."

In a sense, this is the central theme of The Organic SEO Blog: no SEO campaign will work without a sufficiently "good" platform. We advocate well-written content and dynamic changes--the type of inventive information that will create a buzz and attract users. As we wrote in a recent post, "A Crucial SEO Question: Quality or Quantity":

"The Internet is best served when website owners pay attention to the quality of writing. Happily, this is not merely our opinion: it's Google's opinion, too. Google favors well-written, informative content. And despite the example of Bleacher Report, good writing is still the best way for most websites to attract attention."

This is what Kay seems to miss about SEO--and perhaps what he misses about his own writing: quality trumps all.

This is not trickery. It's hard work. But as our sponsor, Stepmans PC writes in "SEO is not the Enemy":

"Remember, do not fight the algorithm, and do not attempt to trick the system in any way. If you perform optimization correctly–organically—your website will be richly rewarded."

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: How Google Views Your Website

We've been writing about Google's new algorithm for a few weeks now, and for good reason: the algorithm is dramatically changing the search landscape. The new algorithm is also making the work of SEO specialists even more complex and challenging. For the best SEO specialists, this is good news. Google's evolving algorithm has always compelled websites to offer relevant, high-quality information and seamless designs, and the best websites, no doubt advised by the best SEO specialists, have responded with a world of fascinating content.

For sub-standard websites with sub-standard SEO specialists, however, the new algorithm is bad news. With each algorithm update, in fact, Google has endeavored to separate what is useful from what is worthless or harmful. As we noted in a prior blog, "Why Only Organic Website Optimization Works," with its latest algorithm update, Google Penguin, Google attempted to limit the rankings of "Black Hat" websites that violate Google's Webmaster Guidelines as well as other manipulative or spam-ridden sites. 

When Google Penguin was introduced, Google proved, more then ever, that its main objective was to offer its users only high-quality content. Now, with its newest algorithm update, Google seems to have struck a fatal blow to, well, bad websites.

What do we mean by bad websites? If you're a business owner you probably assume that your site is good, and for most websites owner this is true. Still, it's important to clarify exactly what we--or Google--might mean by a "bad" or "good" website.

First, the "ugliest" websites use Black Hat SEO to break the rules. For more information about the "rules," here is a handy article from About.com: "10 Google Dont's: SEO Tricks You Should Avoid. But beyond the obviously dirty tricks, other not so apparent problems can lead your website to the land of the "bad."

A recent article on the Forbes website, for example, noted how Google's new algorithm pays special attention to bad incoming links:

"At the simplest level, Google looks at how many links are pointing to a website and the quality of the websites those links are coming from. All other things being equal, a website with a lot of incoming links would rank higher than a competing website without many incoming links. In the past quantity appeared to trump quality, and many SEO firms engaged in the technique of building as many incoming links as possible, regardless of whether those links made any sense."

As the article notes, however, with the latest algorithm updates, Google has begun to severely punish websites with bad incoming or outgoing links. It seems that a high-quality website is not good enough; you have to also make sure your website is only associated with other high-quality websites.

Following our sponsor, Stepmans PC, at the Organic SEO Blog, we've always believed that quality trumps quantity.

Why? Well, this just happens to be the singular characteristic of a "good" website. Quite simply, a "good" website is typified by good content--specifically good writing. A simple way to evaluate your website's viability, at least in the eyes of Google, is to evaluate your website's content for the following features:

Frequent Updates: Does your website highlight frequent content updates--at least once every few weeks, or perhaps more? If not, you might work with your website designer or SEO specialist to add a "news" tab to your site, or perhaps a blog.

Good writing: We mentioned above: good writing is the key to a good website. If you do decide to add a news tab or blog, make sure your content is written by a professional. At the very least, a professional should provide elegant, error-free writing (most top pages contain absolutely no spelling or grammar mistakes).

Relevance: Your content should contain terms related to the keyword as well as variations of the keyword. 

Short paragraphs and sentences: This is an interesting factor that even good writers tend to ignore: brevity is crucial for Google. Make sure your content is concise and snappy, and try to limit your paragraphs to 1-4 sentences. Long blocks of texts simply are not attractive to browsers--and Google reflects this fact in its search rankings. As with paragraphs, shorter sentences (eight or ten words or less) define good content for Google. Think Hemingway and learn to write like Hemingway.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The SEO Specialist: Your New Best Friend

When first learning about SEO, many enthusiastic website owners assume that they can do the work of optimization without the help of a trained specialist. This is an admirable pursuit, and to the extent that this is possible, we support website owners in their quest to optimize their websites. In fact, we write The Organic SEO blog not merely for our peers in the SEO community, but for website owners who wish to learn more about natural website optimization.

If you are a website owner, and especially a new website owner, we strongly urge you to browse our blog. Learn as much about organic SEO as possible! If you feel overwhelmed, start here: "Building a Website: Read This First!"

At The Organic SEO Blog, we also value specialization. For example, this blog is supported by Alex Stepman of Stepmans PC. Alex is a gifted SEO specialist with vast experience. However, although Alex certainly provides inspiration and ideas for The Organic SEO Blog, he understands that writing is not exactly his strength. For this reason, Alex hires a small team of professional copywriters for this blog as well as all of his content-driven SEO work. Of course, to Alex, it just makes sense to focus his strengths and to outsource his weaknesses to others.

Now, if you own your own website, and you feel you have the time and patience to optimize your website's structure and content--well, more power to you! We share a democratic view of optimization: SEO is a talent that anyone can understand and apply.

What many website owners do not understand, though, is that the work of an SEO specialist is a full-time occupation. A majority of this work is about keeping up-to-date with the changes in search engine algorithms--especially Google's algorithm. To maintain a website's first-page ranking (and any website that employs an SEO specialist should maintain a first-page ranking), an SEO specialist will use his specialized knowledge of search engines, algorithms, website structure, and content to make necessary changes to a website. Changes might be a daily requirement. If you're a website owner, you likely have other problems to worry about, like the quality of your product or offering, or the productivity of your employees.

Last week, we wrote about some big SEO news: Google's New Algorithm. As we noted:

"Google's algorithm evolves over time. Over the years, we've seen a few entirely new algorithms and many 'updates.' However, even as Google's experience improves, the algorithm changes might not be apparent to most browsers. For the trained SEO specialist, though, even the slightest change should be apparent."

For a view of just how often Google updates its algorithm, check out the fascinating Google Algorithm Change History. As the site notes, "Each year Google changes its algorithm around 500-600 times." Should an SEO specialist know and understand each one of these changes? You better believe it! If you're a website owner, and you're considering performing your website's SEO work (or of you're considering giving your "tech guy" the SEO work), we urge you to take a moment to browse the Google Algorithm Change History. Do you understand what you're reading? If not, you're not alone! Believe me, as a copywriter I have no idea what I'm reading on this site. Here, for example, is the entry for July 19, 2013, in full:

Knowledge Graph Expansion — July 19, 2013

Seemingly overnight, queries with Knowledge Graph (KG) entries expanded by more than half (+50.4%) across the MozCast data set, with more than a quarter of all searches showing some kind of KG entry.

Say what?

We write The Organic SEO blog with the goal of simplifying SEO. However, we also believe that any website owner who wishes to achieve even moderate success should consult with a qualified SEO specialist.  If you wish to learn more about organic SEO from a trained SEO specialist, we urge you to contact our sponsor, Stepmans PC.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Big SEO News: Google's New Algorithm

If you're a regular reader of The Organic SEO Blog, you probably know that we're obsessed with Google's "algorithm." If you're not a regular reader, and you're just learning about organic SEO, perhaps you're asking, "Google's what?" Well, if you're not familiar with Google's "algorithm," Google's own explanation is precise and helpful:

"For a typical query, there are thousands, if not millions, of webpages with helpful information. Algorithms are the computer processes and formulas that take your questions and turn them into answers. Today Google’s algorithms rely on more than 200 unique signals or “clues” that make it possible to guess what you might really be looking for. These signals include things like the terms on websites, the freshness of content, your region and PageRank."

Google's algorithm evolves over time. Over the years, we've seen a few entirely new algorithms and many "updates." (For the difference between a new algorithm and an update, check out the first paragrph of this helpful article from WebProNews). However, even as Google's experience improves, the algorithm changes might not be apparent to most browsers. For the trained SEO specialist, though, even the slightest change should be apparent.

Now, any SEO specialist worth his or her salt will watch Google's algorithm like a hawk. In one sense, this is the greatest value an SEO specialist can provide for your website. The best specialist will stay up-to-date with Google's algorithm, and will continually apply changes to your website's infrastructure and content to meet the evolving demands of the algorithm. This is the true work of organic SEO. If the algorithm never changed, SEO specialists would find dramatically less work! Websites could be optimized once and forever.

Happily (for everyone, we believe) the algorithm does change. To meet the evolving demands of today's browsers, continually Google strives to deliver the most relevant results. So recently, Google announced its first entirely new algorithm in twelve years: Google Hummingbird. This new algorithm, which will effect up to 90% of Google's results (source: USA Today), was made to accommodate the recent increase of voice-based searches as well as more complex searches. As the USA Today notes in its article about the new algorithm:

"The change comes as people become more comfortable asking long, complex questions when they use Google to search the Web, rather than single words or simple phrases...Google is also making the change to ensure its search results work well with voice-based queries. When people speak, rather than type on a computer, they use more complex phrases and Google had to update its algorithm to handle that."

How will this change effect your business? Well, that's a good question for your SEO specialist. If you do have an SEO specialist, make sure you make a plan with him or her. Ask yourself--and your specialist--how, exactly, how you will update your site to meet Google's new demands?

If you tend to think about your product or service in terms of a simple keyword--"denim jeans," for example--now might be the time to update your website to adequately answer today's browser's longer and more complex questions. Browsers in the past might've simply searched for "denim jeans." But today's browser, working from a smart phone, might search for: "slim fit denim jeans to wear with dress shoes." Whoa! Of course, this might not be your product at all. The point, though, is to clarify your offering as precisely as possible. To do so, add new content to your website--and make sure it's relevant.

If you do not have an SEO specialist, now is the perfect opportunity to take advantage of natural website optimization. Of course, we recommend our very own sponsor, Stepmans PC. Alex Stepman is a small business owner who understands your need to spend money efficiently. He is also an incredibly astute algorithm-watcher, as up-to-date as any SEO specialist on the planet.