Sunday, December 28, 2014

2014: The Top SEO Stories

The Organic SEO Blog was created two years ago, in December, 2012, with a simple purpose: to demystify the theory and application of organic search engine optimization. We spent a great deal of our first year writing about SEO basics, like keywords and algorithms. In 2014, we began to write more about topical matters, like the emerging market for mobile SEO and Google's ever-changing algorithms.

Despite our evolving emphasis, however, we've continued to explore the world of organic search engine optimization in layman's terms. We write with an eye for how small business owners can apply key SEO principles. We hope that you've found our posts helpful!

Today, in the spirit of the ubiquitous end-of-year lists, we'd like to take a look back at the year in SEO. And as we near the end of our second year, we'd like to wish our readers a happy, healthful, and prosperous new year.

1. Mobile SEO

2014 was certainly the year that mobile SEO caught fire--so much so that many SEO professionals are sick of talking about it. In its predictions for 2015, Search Engine Watch gathered a few choice comments from the SEO community:

"I hope we move away from having to tell advertisers to invest in mobile. Those who aren’t providing a good mobile experience for their visitors will be left behind, plain and simple." - Melissa Mackey (@mel66), Gyro

"We’ll finally be moving away from the tired reminders of the importance of mobile. By now, I think we are aware that a lot of people use smartphones to search for things!" - Andrew Goodman (@andrew_goodman), PageZero Media

To Melissa Mackey's point, we posted a detailed analysis of two decidely different mobile experiences from two Brooklyn-based clothing companies: one clearly optimized for mobile, Brooklyn Industries, and one one clearly not optimized for mobile, The Brooklyn Circus.

Since that post, The Brooklyn Circus has optimized their site for mobile. Below is a screenshot from an iPhone. At the time of our post, the site was essentially a shrunken desktop site with zero navigability. Now the site is easy-to-read and easy-to-use. Kudos, Brooklyn Circus!

A new mobile experience from The Brooklyn Circus

For more on mobile SEO, please read: "Don't Lose Sales: Optimize Your Website for Mobile Search Now!"

By now, as Mackey so definitively notes, and our experience in Brooklyn revealed, if you're not optimized for mobile your totally hosed, plain simple.

The intriguing question for 2015: How will SEO mobile evolve to match consumer's browsing habits? Since social media seems seems intertwined with so many people's mobile experience--and, let's face it, people's experience of life itself--how will brands adapt the mobile experience to take advantage of, say, Facebook.

Speaking of social media...

2. The Changing Nature of Social SEO

We predict 2014 will be remembered as the year that brands lost the power to "advertise" on social media.  Recently, Facebook announced that starting in the New Year, the social media giant will crack down on "overly promotional" posts. And if you're thinking about switching your efforts to Twitter, forget about it!

In November, Shareaholic released a "quarterly report" (for Q3 of 2014) detailing how much traffic the eight largest social media sites drive to other sites. Facebook drives the most traffic: 22%. And Pinterest is Facebook's closest contender. Surprisingly, among the eight largest social media sites, Twitter ranks close to StumbleUpon in referrals. Despite its apparent influence, Twitter is a relatively insular site, driving less than one percent of the"big eight" referrals.

So Facebook it is--for now. And Pinterest, which we believe will attract even more SEO attention in 2015. But without the power to "promote" what's a brand to do? Take a cue from the best social media mavens: engage!

For more, please read: "Brands: Say Goodbye to the Facebook News Feed and Hello to Your New Customer Service Hub" & "SEO 101: Three Tips for an Effective Social Media Campaign."

3. The Implications of Algorithms

Of course, talk of algorithms will always dominate the SEO world. But this year seemed to bring a host of conversations about the very idea of algorithms. More than ever, algorithms have been scrutinized in light of what information is revealed (and sometimes withheld).

With the debate about the nature of algorithms, came the startling news that many sites were testing users without their knowledge all in the name of the algorithms. There was an uproar about Facebook testing its users without their knowledge or permission. Then OKCupid announced the results of its own studies without the slightest hint of apology.

As the company's president, Christian Rudder, wrote on the OKCupid blog:

"We noticed recently that people didn’t like it when Facebook 'experimented' with their news feed. Even the FTC is getting involved. But guess what, everybody: if you use the Internet, you’re the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site. That’s how websites work."

For more, please read: "A Frank Look at Algorithms: OKCupid, Google, and How You Can Fight Back with Organic SEO." 

Rudder was essentially detailing part of the problem people have with algorithms--specifically how they seem to compromise privacy at the expense of a better browsing experience.

The idea of "algorithm neutrality" developed particular poignancy in the wake of Ferguson, which we detailed with an eye to Facebook, who seemed to be burying Ferguson posts on the News Feed.

Please read: "Algorithms Have Consequences: #Ferguson, Facebook, and Algorithm Bias."

The most elegant work on this subject came from Zeynep Tufekci:

"But I wonder: what if Ferguson had started to bubble, but there was no Twitter to catch on nationally? Would it ever make it through the algorithmic filtering on Facebook? Maybe, but with no transparency to the decisions, I cannot be sure. Would Ferguson be buried in algorithmic censorship?"

***

What will 2015 hold for the world of SEO? Stay tuned next week for a futuristic look at 2015.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Facebook Introduces a New Search Tool for Status Updates & Comments

Facebook has taken another step to challenging Google for search engine dominance. Earlier this year, we learned from Business Insider that Mark Zuckerberg believes that Facebook has a bigger database than Google. Zuckerberg's stated goal has been to make Facebook "more than any search engine," by sharing information from billions upon billions of status updates and shared photos.

Until now, this information has been hard to find. Despite the lofty intentions of Facebook's search engine, Graph Search, most users have simply scrolled through endlessly loading pages to find past updates or comments.

But yesterday Facebook introduced a new search tool that allows users to easily find past status updates, comments, and other bits of information posted by themselves and their friends. At the same time, much to the delight of seemingly every Facebook user, Facebook has stopped showing Bing results in its searches. As Rueters reported last week:

"Searches on Facebook have long been geared toward helping users connect with friends and to find other information that exists within the walls of the 1.35 billion-user social networking service. But for years, Facebook’s search results also included links to standalone websites that were provided by Bing."

The inclusion of Bing's results might have been more about the relationship between Facebook and Microsoft--and less about user experience. As Rueters notes:

"Facebook and Microsoft have a longstanding relationship dating back to Microsoft’s $240 million investment in Facebook, for a 1.6 percent stake in the company, in October 2007. As part of that deal, Microsoft provided banner ads on Facebook’s website in international markets.

Facebook stopped using Microsoft banner ads in 2010 as it moved to take more control of its advertising business. But Facebook, during that same time, expanded its use of Microsoft Bing search results to international versions of its service."

Have you used Facebook's search to access any information outside of Facebook?

In our own anecdotal questioning of friends and family, no one remembers using Facebook search for the web at large. Instead, for web-based queries, most have turned to Google. In our estimate, by focusing acutely on its own results, Facebook has certainly enriched the user experience.

And this seems to be the true story here. Most articles about this change have focused on Facebook's disavowal of Bing, but for us the story is about Facebook's new insular-style search.

How will this style of search challenge Google for dominance?

The answer to this question is not entirely clear. Facebook's ultimate search goal will take years to develop, yet you can see inklings of its style now, in Graph Search and the News Feed. Both attempt to deliver accurate results based on feedback and previous habit patterns. And undoubtedly, like Google, Facebook will teak its algorithm to deliver better results.

But again, if these results are limited to the Facebook experience, how can Search Graph possibly compete with Google?

Whatever Facebook's long term ambitions, coupled with its recent decision to "crack down" on overly-promotional posts, the new search experience will certainly change the social landscape for brands. More then ever, to be relevant on Facebook, a brand must inspire conversation.

Facebook users do not want to be talked to. People are attracted to social media because of the engagement. Successful brands understand that customers are friends, too.  If you're a brand, then, try to be a part of the conversation. On your own page, especially, respond to all inquiries with sincerity, compassion, and timeliness. Talk to your "followers." And definitely do not treat your followers like followers. Treat them like friends.

***

Social Media Marketing with Stepman's PC

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to effectively promote websites on all social media channels, we suggest contacting our sponsor, Stepman's PC: 215-900-9398 Stepmans PC combines traditional marketing methods and organic SEO--with an emphasis on natural website optimization--to design thoughtful, inspiring, and effective social media marketing campaigns.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Bing Details its Essential Ranking Components with an Emphasis on Content Quality

Early this week in a blog post, "The Role of Content Quality in Bing Ranking," Michael Basilyan, a Senior Program Manager from Bing, detailed the essential components of the Bing algorithm with an emphasis on how the search engine evaluates content quality. While much of this is self-evident, the post is a timely reminder of precisely how search engines go about separating the wheat from the chaff. So here's a review of what Basilyan had to say with our own comments.

First, for Bing, according to Basilyan, content quality is one of three parts of what determines a search ranking. In his post, Basilyan included this nifty mathematical graphic:
Bing's essential ranking components

Here's how Basilyan defines the three parts:
  • Topical relevance to the query (“Does it address the query?”)
  • Content Quality (as measured by the three pillars...[see below]), and 
  • Context (“Is the query about a recent topic?”,“What’s the user’s physical location?” etc…)
In his discussion of content quality, Basilyan cuts right to the chase: using the example of a serious medical query, "breast cancer symptoms," he writes that search results can have "life-altering ramifications." Considering the stakes, Basilyan infers that it is a search engine's duty to limit low-quality, "incomplete" content written by non-experts.

In the case of medical information, this is particularly true. A great deal of the available medical content is lacking depth (example: Web MD); a great deal more, what you might find on forums and periphery websites, is often untrue and unhelpful. And yet, there's a ton of information. To produce what Bing feels is the best results, the search engine focuses on authority, utility, and presentation:

How Bing translates "Content Quality"

Authority

The best writers in any genre establish a sense of authority via the written word. Yet, oddly, Basilyan does not note the value of writing in establishing authority. According to Basilyan, to establish authority, Bing includes "signals from social networks, cited sources, name recognition and the author’s identity."

But really, we think Basilyan and Bing would agree: ultimately, authority is established by the writing itself. Of course, name recognition and identity play a huge role in establishing a sense of confidence. Yet a name is merely enough to lure readers. To maintain and establish a readership, an author must write with lucidity and confidence.

Lucid and confident writing (preferably with a unique perspective) is the sort of writing that attracts "signals from social networks." This is the way good writers without much name recognition attract attention. As Cheryl Strayed in the guise of Dear Sugar said, "Write like a motherfucker."

Strayed was a relatively unknown writer when she penned the Dear Sugar advice column. Yet she ingeniously used the attention she attracted from Dear Sugar to promote her memoir, Wild, which became a monster hit and was adapted into a film (now playing).

For more on Strayed's masterful self-promotion, read "Dear Sugar's True Identity is Revealed."

Utility

Have you ever spent your hard-earned time reading an article that a) had little to do with the content the title seemed to promise, or b) made you feel that you wasted your time, or c) actively annoyed you with its lack of clarity and detail? Useless content is the scourge of the Internet, and the enemy of all good organic SEO specialists. On the opposite end of the content spectrum is the type of useful content that Bing characterizes as "utility":

"When considering the utility of the page," Basilyn writes, "our models try to predict whether the content is sufficiently useful for the topic it is trying to address. Does the page provide ample supporting information? Is it at the appropriate level of depth for the intended audience?"

That last word is key. To truly provide utility, your content must address a specific audience. Understanding your topic is crucial, but understanding who needs/wants to read about your topic is even more crucial. Once you understand your audience, you can create content uniquely suited to convert your readers into potential customers. In crafting quality content, you create an image for your customer. Suitably, Bing emphasizes imagery in its algorithm:

"We prefer pages with relevant supporting multimedia content: instructional videos, images, graphs, etc."

The logic here is clear: the more supporting material, the more useful the content.

For more information on Bing's emphasis on multimedia content as well as creating the best image for your customer, read: "Bing's Emojis & the Diversity of SEO Content."

Presentation

Sometimes even when a website offers good content, the message is lost in a barrage of pointless information, pop-ups, and aggressive advertisements. You see this across the Internet, from an ultimate purveyor of quality content, The New York Times, to the pointless Esquire Style Blog.Thankfully, Bing is fighting back against the annoyance of poor presentation:

"A well-presented page will have an easy-to-read, accessible design, and will make its primary content easy to find. In contrast, poorly presented websites require the user to wade through introductory or unrelated material to access meaningful content."

It's important to note, however, that Bing does welcome "appropriate usage and presentation of advertising." We've always thought that the style website, Put This On, manages to offer its advertisements in an elegant manner that does not compromise the site's stellar written and visual content. On the other hand, bad examples of the "usage of and presentation of advertising" can be found all over the Internet. Basilyan's comments on this seem especially helpful:

"Bing will promote and support websites and webmasters that provide ads relevant to the content of their website and place ads so that they do not interfere with the user experience. Pages with well-designed layouts will be preferred to pages that hide content behind ads, fail to clearly delineate ads from the main content, or feature ads that are easily confused with navigational elements."

The takeway? Ads are OK. Just make sure they don't "interfere" with your otherwise good content!

Content Marketing with Stepman's PC

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to create quality content that will attract a specific audience, contact our sponsor, Stepman's PC: 215-900-9398 Stepmans PC combines traditional marketing methods and organic SEO--with an emphasis on natural website optimization--to design websites with engaging and click-inspiring content.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Brands: Say Goodbye to the Facebook News Feed & Hello to Your New Customer Service Hub

Businesses that have tried to market their brands on Facebook have been stymied by Facebook's evolving News Feed algorithm. In the past, Facebook showed users every post from every friend and every page that a user "Liked." But as the size of the network evolved, Facebook introduced the News Feed algorithm to collate information tailored to each user.

In the past year, especially, the News Feed algorithm has presently a distinctly tailored experience, rich with friends and family. Late in 2013, Facebook abolished the organic reach of page posts. Businesses could no longer expect a significant amount of traffic from the News Feed. Instead, Facebook asked brands to pay for exposure. Today you'll likely catch more posts from your best friends and family, but you'll miss most posts from your favorite brands.

The current News Feed may or may not appeal to you. Some users, for example, might actually prefer to see occasional updates from the likes of, say, a favorite clothing brand who is offering a sale. Even if some users are ambivalent, however, the businesses themselves likely do not find the News Feed algorithm appealing at all.

As the News Feed has evolved, Facebook has all but eliminated posts from "Liked" pages. And recently, Facebook announced that starting in the New Year, it will crack down even harder on "overly promotional" posts. Precisely what Facebook means by "overly promotional" is not clear. As Marketplace reported yesterday:

"It's a gray area, says Jim Rudden, chief marketing officer of Spredfast, a social marketing platform. Rudden tells clients they should keep posting even if the rules change, but they should make sure their posts are what people will want to see. The industry term for this is 'good content.'"

For Facebook, "good content" is the apparently the opposite of "too promotional" content. As Facebook noted in its announcement:

"According to people we surveyed, there are some consistent traits that make organic posts feel too promotional:
  1. Posts that solely push people to buy a product or install an app 
  2. Posts that push people to enter promotions and sweepstakes with no real context 
  3. Posts that reuse the exact same content from ads"
Even if you avoid these types of posts, there is no guarantee that your "good content" posts will show up on timelines. Facebook says that "pages still matter--a lot," but many brands might find this hard to believe. Frankly, with this latest move, Facebook is sure to frustrate many business owners.

So what's a business to do? We believe a Facebook page is still an essential part of a quality SEO campaign. Instead of hoping to attract attention from the News Feed, however, you might do well to view your Facebook page as a destination--much like your website. In its announcement, Facebook itself offered solid evidence for this reasoning:

"What many businesses may not realize is that Pages are an important destination for their current and potential customers. In October, for instance, nearly a billion people visited Facebook Pages. Of those visits, more than 750 million happened on mobile devices. Many businesses also use Pages as a customer service channel. Businesses should think about their Page as a cornerstone of their online identity, not simply as a publishing service. The businesses that are doing this well understand the discovery and communication that happens when people come to their Page."

So good advice for your Facebook page might look like good advice for your website: offer high quality and relevant content, tailored to your unique audience. Beyond this simple advice, it might be helpful to remember the social nature of Facebook. Instead of trying to sell products on social media, try to socialize with your fans (customers).

Please read: "Facebook, Sociability, and Organic Reach."

Given the new limits on content, however, perhaps the best way to make your Facebook page a viable space is to use the page itself as your customer service hub. Do not advertise your goods, per say; advertise your  service. On your website and other social media platforms, urge customers to reach out to you on Facebook for any comments, concerns, or questions. And make sure you provide quick and truly helpful answers.

Social Media Marketing with Stepman's PC

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to effectively promote websites on all social media channels, we suggest contacting our sponsor, Stepman's PC: 215-900-9398 Stepmans PC combines traditional marketing methods and organic SEO--with an emphasis on natural website optimization--to design thoughtful, inspiring, and effective social media marketing campaigns.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

It's Small Business Saturday: Do You Know Where Your Customers Are?

Today is Small Business Saturday, a national "shopping holiday" conceived in 2010 by American Express to promote local brick and mortar businesses. Despite the heavy-hitting financial power of its founder, the holiday stands in contrast to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, two more "shopping holidays" that promote big guns retailers like Best Buy and Amazon, respectively.

Will you be shopping local businesses today? We hope so. There are many, many reasons to go local. Shopping a local business will benefit your community. Local businesses offer unparalleled customer experience as well as unique goods and services. And there's still something to say about a face-to-face transaction--it's humanizing touch in a world otherwise dominated by screens.

Unfortunately, many people will not shop local businesses today for a very simple reason: marketing. Despite increasing awareness, many consumers do not even know about Small Business Saturday. As ABC News reports today:

"Small Business Saturday is still very much in the shadow of Black Friday, according to small-business owners.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving is meant to boost sales and customers far away from the big-box stores. But some owners say the day doesn't rake in nearly as much sales and traffic as Black Friday.

Black Friday is 'more known,' said Darrell Kingston, the owner of the footwear retailer Vamps in New York City."

We have to agree with Mr. Kingston, yet we'd also venture to say that it's not simply the event itself that pales in comparison to Black Friday. Many consumers do not know about Small Business Saturday; yet many more consumers do not even know about local businesses in their own town!

Why? Well, part of the problem is sociological. People are spending more and more time and money online--to the detriment of brick and mortar stores. But this very point clarifies precisely why local businesses fail to attract attention: most local businesses do not have a solid web presence. In the end, for brick and mortar businesses it really is about marketing--online marketing.

With the support of our sponsor, Alex Stepman, (a small business owner himself), The Organic SEO Blog is dedicated to helping small and medium-sized business owners compete on a level playing field with the big box retailers. We truly believe that a quality organic SEO campaign can elevate any business, small or large, to the top of the search page rankings.

For more on how SEO favors or disfavors certain businesses, please read: "What is Google Looking For?"

However, the experience of writing this blog has taught us exactly why it is so hard for small and medium-sized businesses to compete against the big guns. For most local business owners, for example, the work of running the day-to-day business supersedes all other activities. Day-to-day, many small business owners rarely have time to eat a proper meal!

Now, most small businesses understand the need to create some sort of online presence, yet many merely create a website without performing any marketing for the website. The experience of writing this blog has taught us that many small business owners simply do not know the first thing about on-line marketing or organic SEO. And who can blame them? As we've said before (again and again), the work of organic search engine optimization is tedious and time-consuming.

Please read: "Organic SEO is a Specialized Talent."

Even then, many small business would benefit from the simplest of SEO campaigns. It's important to remember that website optimization does not have to be a tedious affair. For a local brick and mortar, especially, just creating a reliable presence on Google might be enough to elevate sales. Many local websites, for example, do not even claim a local listing with consistent information: phone numbers, hour of operation, etc!

Beyond this, a few changes can make the difference between visibility and invisibility. An easy way to think about building a successful local website is to consider the SEO basics:

1. Website Design
2. Website Development
3. Content Creation
4. Conversion

If you're one of the small business owners who make up our small (but growing) audience on The Organic SEO Blog, we wish you success today and throughout the holiday season. And just remember, a little SEO know-how can go a long way.

***

Small Business Marketing with Stepman's PC 

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to effectively promote websites for specific local areas we suggest contacting our sponsor, Stepman's PC: 215-900-9398 Stepmans PC combines traditional marketing methods and organic SEO--with an emphasis on natural website optimization--to design thoughtful, inspiring, and effective SEO campaigns that can attract your ideal local customer. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Organic SEO: Five More Tips for a Successful Cyber Monday & Beyond

Last year we wrote our Cyber Monday post on Saturday--merely two days before the event! In that post, we offered five simple tips for a successful Cyber Monday and beyond: perform a website audit, create a unique Cyber Monday landing page, increase your speed, perform a language audit, and monitor your performance and analyze your competitors.

All of this is standard SEO fare--the sort of strategy that (as we noted last year) will help you succeed on any given day. In reality, to create successful one-day SEO campaigns, like Cyber Monday, most websites start planning months in advance. As we've also noted before: The success of organic SEO  depends on complex search engine algorithms—and the world’s largest search engines, like Google, Yahoo, and Bing, change their algorithms frequently. The work of understanding and utilizing these ever-evolving algorithms is time-consuming and tedious.

Please read: "Organic SEO is a Specialized Talent."

Last year's post, then, was simply a play on our part to attract some Cyber Monday attention. And that it did: last year's Cyber Monday post attracted our largest one-day readership! Notwithstanding our intentions, the fact that last year's post attracted so much attention is a perfect illustration of SEO content in action: the most successful content is the most relevant content. If you want to attract attention, follow the zeitgeist--and soon, hours after Thanksgiving dinner, the holiday shopping zeitgeist will be here.

So in the spirit of the times, we'd like to offer five more tips for a successful Cyber Monday. Just remember: these tips are really about creating a successful and enduring SEO campaign that will produce results on any given day.

1. Optimize for Mobile

Mobile SEO just might be the hottest SEO trend of 2014. As Search Engine Journal reported earlier this year: "By 2015, mobile marketing in the U.S. will generate $400 billion, compared to $139 billion in 2012." And last year, mobile was cited as a strong factor in a Cyber Monday sales record. As Mashable reported:

"Online sales for Cyber Monday increased by more than 20% from a year earlier, helped by strong growth in mobile sale."

There's little doubt that this year's Cyber Monday sales will break last year's record, and mobile will certainly play an even larger role. So now is a good time to revisit your mobile SEO strategy!

Please read: "Don't Lose Sales: Optimize Your Website for Mobile Search Now!"

2. Create Cyber Monday-specific Keywords

Once a staple of SEO practice, the use of keywords has lost some luster in the face of increasingly complicated searches. Still, the judicious use of carefully targeted words and phrases can certainly increase traffic on any given day--especially on a day like Cyber Monday, which itself is a powerful keyword. For Cyber Monday, then, you would do well to add some specifically-targeted keywords to your current pages--or possibly create new pages with targeted keywords.

Of course, as the holiday shopping season nears, you'll want to think about the use of common keywords like "deals", "gift guide", "top gifts for men", "top gifts for women", "holiday shopping"--you get the point! But more importantly, you'll want to think about keywords specific to your industry.

The "Holiday Shopping" Season is Almost Here! [Source]

For more info on keywords, try Google's Keyword Tool.

3. Create Cyber Monday-specific Content

Adding precisely targeted keywords to your website can drive traffic, but to really compete you need to create content that complements your keywords. In a sense, keywords can help you clarify your Cyber Monday offering. As we've noted before:

"You can clarify your offering, first, by thinking about keywords. Imagine you are an Internet user searching for your product or service. What keywords would you use to search for your product or service? Think precisely about the exact keywords that best describe your product or service."

Once you've clarified your offering, however, your success will be largely defined by the content you create to support that offering. The easiest way to create content quickly is to write a blog or to create new articles for your website. And just remember: quality is crucial.

Please read: "Quality over Quantity: A Different View of SEO Marketing."

4. Get Shopping with Google Shopping

Google Shopping allows users to search for products and compare prices between different vendors. If your products are already well-optimized on Google, you might not need this service. However, if your products do not enjoy first page rankings, the service can offer you a chance to compete against those that do. For pricing and information, visit Google Shopping.

5. Don't Wait Until the Last Minute!

We write this today with irony--ideally, you should've started planning your Cyber Monday campaign weeks or months ago. That said, you can use some of the tips here to immediately boost traffic. More importantly, however, is how you can use these tips to boost traffic today and tomorrow. SEO is a strategy ideally suited for the long-run. To create a truly effective campaign, one must display patience and resolve!

Cyber Monday Marketing with Stepman's PC 

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to effectively promote websites for specific seasonal shopping days--such as Cyber Monday, Christmas, or Valentines'--we suggest contacting our sponsor, Stepman's PC: 215-900-9398 Stepmans PC combines traditional marketing methods and organic SEO--with an emphasis on natural website optimization--to design thoughtful, inspiring, and effective SEO campaigns that can attract your ideal customer.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

SEO News: Pinterest Refers 5X More Traffic than Twitter

A few weeks ago Shareaholic released a "quarterly report" (for Q3 of 2014) detailing how much traffic the eight largest social media sites drive to other sites. I happened to discover the report in my research for a previous blog about the diversity of SEO content. I was not surprised to see that Facebook drives the most traffic--and, at 22% of all traffic, by a large margin. I was surprised, however, to see that Pinterest is Facebook's closest contender.

If someone had asked me before I read the report, "Who is second behind Facebook?" I honestly would've answered, "Twitter." I would've been wrong, of course--but more wrong than I would've imagined.

Among the eight largest social media sites, Twitter ranks close to StumbleUpon in referrals. StumbleUpon? Yes. In fact, despite its apparent influence, Twitter is a relatively insular site, driving less than one percent of the"big eight" referrals.

Of the eight top social media sites, Facebook and Pinterest have seen up and down referral percentages, but Twitter's referrals have been declining steadily...

News of Twitter's decline has been in the air at least since this summer, when its positive quarterly earnings report was belied by its drop in monthly active users. As Digiday reported in late July:

"Twitter’s growth rate may have exceeded Wall Street’s expectations on Tuesday, but its year-to-year growth in monthly active users continued to decline, from 25 percent in the first quarter to 24 percent in the second quarter...With this trend expected to continue, eMarketer predicts Twitter’s user growth will continue to plateau through 2018 in all regions worldwide..."

More recently, NPR's Marketplace has asked, "How long does Twitter have to not become Myspace?"

For an avid Twitter user, this possibility feels impossible, but who knows: I was also an avid Myspace user! The upshot for the SEO savvy business owner? Twitter is not the best place to drive traffic. Facebook is, of course, the best. But just as surprising (to me, at least) as Twitter's relative lack of referral power is the notable influence of Pinterest, which drives about 5X as much traffic as Twitter and really all the other social media sites combined.

This is a visual representation of Facebook's absolute dominance, yes, but it's also a telling indication of the influence of Pinterest.

Perhaps this is why Pinterest believes it can evolve into a personalized search engine. As Search Engine Land reported yesterday:

"Much more than a 'scrap-booking' site (its origins) or even a product discovery or shopping site, Pinterest sees itself now as a kind of personalized search site that can blend search and discovery in new and compelling ways...Pinterest thinks it can do a better job meeting certain kinds of needs and answering user questions than a traditional search engine (read: Google)."

Search Engine Land included a nifty graphic from Pinterest, too--a graphic that suggests that Pinterest can yield results that surpass even traditional search engines:


Note how Pinterest believes it can offer valuable content to both the "general" and "specific" browser. The "specific" browser is the domain of Google, but Pinterest hopes to break ground by inspiring the "general" browser with beautifully illustrated pictures, photos, etc.  

So, as always, we ask our SEO-centric question: What does this mean for you, the website owner, who is striving to optimize your website naturally. First, if you're spending time on Twitter to the detriment of Pinterest (or worse, Facebook), you might want to reconsider your strategy. But more to the point: Pinterest is decidedly different than both Facebook and Twitter. While the latter sites are heavy on the written word, Pinterest is all about imagery. 

This is good for image-centric sites. If you already have a host of high-quality and unique images, we suggest trying your hand at Pinterest now. As we wrote in our post about the diversity of SEO content:

"Play to your strengths. If you create lovely images, then by all means you should be populating your site with images. The key to proper use of these 'alternative' forms of content is proper optimization. If used correctly, all types of content can contribute to a positive ranking."

The lesson here, however, is that you shouldn't limit your images simply to populating your site--populate Pinterest, too, and see if you can utilize the site's increasing influence to drive more traffic to your site.

Social Media Marketing with Stepman's PC 

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to effectively promote websites on all social media channels, we suggest contacting our sponsor, Stepman's PC: 215-900-9398 Stepmans PC combines traditional marketing methods and organic SEO--with an emphasis on natural website optimization--to design thoughtful, inspiring, and effective social media marketing campaigns.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

What is Google Looking For?

What is Google looking for? To many in the SEO community, the answer is defined by the algorithms. The algorithms do tell us what Google is looking for--but only in one sense. The evolution of the algorithms reveals that each update is the best Google can do now; implicit in this evolution, is the admission that the Google can do better and better.

So yes, the algorithms can tell us what Google is looking for today, but perhaps not tomorrow.

So how can a business create a sustainable website that attracts visitors year after year even as the algorithms change? We believe the answer to this question is startlingly simple.

Before we answer this question, however, let's take a look at our premise. Is it true, in fact, that Google can do better and better? Or perhaps more to the point, does Google want to do better?

Algorithms, of course, are imperfect. Some feel that this imperfection is, in part, intentional. Last spring, Eric Lonstein, writing for The Harvard Business Review, stated the case plainly:

"Although industry leading and innovative, Google’s organic search algorithm is inefficient and imperfect because it creates large barriers to entry and incumbency advantages. Google likely recognizes these inefficiencies, but chooses not to significantly alter its technological approach due to legacy processes and economic motivations."

Lonstein's intriguing article, "The imperfection and Injustice of Google Organic Search," claims that the reason that Google will not change (appreciably) for the better is PageRank™, a system that defines ranking by counting inbound and outbound links to a website. Lonstein seems to have neglected Google's evolving thinking about links, yet he does make a good point about Google's reasons for staying the PageRank™ course--essentially because of Google's own corporate culture as well as its willingness to appease its biggest customers.

Lonstein on Google's corporate culture: "Google is slow to significantly alter its algorithms due to deeply embedded processes and perverse customer incentives. Google’ highly complex algorithmic systems are heavily dependent on PageRank technology. Moreover, when a system is highly successful, a corporate culture evolves with distinct processes and priorities that shape approaches to problems and reinforce the existing systems."

Lonstein on Google's willingness to appease its big customers: "Google’s largest advertising partners, such as Amazon and Overstock, will likely oppose significant changes to Google’s organic search engine. These companies have invested hundreds of millions of dollars on SEO optimization by generating thousands of inbound links to their sites. As compensation for these investments, Google’s large advertisers expect Google to keep its organic search algorithm consistent so that the companies can continue to achieve favorable ROI for their advertisements."

One can debate whether Lonstein's premises are true. We've written here before about the problems with algorithms--most recently about how the algorithms seemed to filter information about Ferguson: "Algorithms Have Consequences: #Ferguson, Facebook, and Algorithm Bias."

On the other hand, many in the SEO community might be quick to add that Google's recent refinements, specifically the Penguin algorithm, which targets bad links, has changed the nature and purpose of links, and that the importance of links has been devalued. Last month on the Moz blog, Paddy Moogan predicted, for example, that deep links will matter less and less. Even then, Moogan writes, "Google is always looking for more data, more signals, more indicators of whether or not a certain page is a good result for a user at a certain moment in time."

So, again, how can a business create a sustainable website that attracts visitors year after year even as the algorithms change? The reason we've so extensively quoted thoughts on algorithms here is to illustrate a point: algorithms change, people change, and thinking about algorithms change. How can you maintain a viable offering in the face of this change?

For the answer, you might look to the successful companies of the present and future: Apple, for example, or GE. Both companies have offered exceptional products backed by exceptional marketing campaigns. Our startlingly simple answer, then, is this: make a great product and create a great marketing campaign.

To this point, we believe Moogan offers a helpful marketing template:

"Marketing is hard. If you or your client wants to compete and win customers, then you need to be prepared to ask really hard questions about the company. Here are just a few that I've found difficult when talking to clients:

Why does the company exist? (The answer has nothing to do with making money)
Why do you deserve to rank well in Google?
What makes you different to your competitors?
If you disappeared from Google tomorrow, would anyone notice?
Why do you deserve to be linked to?
What value do you provide for users?"

By answering these simple questions, you can develop a campaign that will ensure success--independent of the algorithms.

Online Marketing with Stepman's PC

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands the nuances of the algorithms as well as traditional marketing, we suggest contacting our sponsor, Stepman's PC: 215-900-9398

Stepmans PC combines traditional marketing methods and organic SEO--with an emphasis on natural website optimization--to design thoughtful, inspiring, and effective online marketing campaigns.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Bing's Emojis & the Diversity of SEO Content

Big news! Yesterday, the search engine Bing announced that it will now offer results for emoji-exclusive searches. At the risk of inviting ridicule, Bing made the announcement with a straight-face, appeasing the ten-and-under crowd:

"As you likely know, emoji are small pictures used to express an idea or emotion. With the explosion of mobile devices and the ubiquity of texting, it has become a shorthand language used by billions of us around the world. At Bing we want you to be able to search the same way you communicate every day."

Here's a visual representation from Bing's blog post, "Do You Speak Emoji? Bing Does":

Apparently, SEO specialists will now need to optimize for emojis, too.

We're speaking tongue-in-cheek here, but this move by Bing, however ridiculous, speaks to a key SEO concept: diversity of content. Here at the Organic SEO Blog, we talk a lot about content, especially in terms of good, error-free writing. Original quality writing is the cornerstone of any successful organic SEO campaign.

The Organic SEO Blog's sponsor, Alex Stepman of Stepman's PC, employs experienced copy-writers for each of his SEO clients. Most of these copy writers have advanced degrees in writing--including yours truly, from Warren Wilson's MFA Program!

Alex believes the Internet is best served when website owners provide quality writing. Happily, this is not only Alex's opinion: it's Google's opinion, too. In its Webmaster Tools, Google offers the following advice:

"Provide high-quality content on your pages, especially your homepage. This is the single most important thing to do. If your pages contain useful information, their content will attract many visitors and entice webmasters to link to your site. In creating a helpful, information-rich site, write pages that clearly and accurately describe your topic. Think about the words users would type to find your pages and include those words on your site."

So, first and foremost, your site should offer quality language. Yet, as the Bing announcement reveals, content is not merely language. When optimizing your website for search engines, then, think about all the various forms of content that you might offer.

Pictures? Videos? Emojis?

What forms of content do you use? Let us know in the comments!

Our suggestion: play to your strengths. If you create lovely images, then by all means you should be populating your site with images. The key to proper use of these "alternative" forms of content is proper optimization. If used correctly, all types of content can contribute to a positive ranking. Just pay attention to that "if." For example, Google itself notes:

"Try to use text instead of images to display important names, content, or links. The Google crawler doesn't recognize text contained in images. If you must use images for textual content, consider using the ALT attribute to include a few words of descriptive text."

To be safe, you might simply support your text with other forms of content. However, if you want to make alternative forms of content the centerpiece of your site, you'd do well to read Google's Webmaster Guidelines.

Just remember, the best content is the content that makes sense for your unique website. We wouldn't suggest adding emojis--unless, of course, they make sense for you--but you might do well with other forms of content.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Algorithm: A Working Definition

We've been talking a lot about algorithms recently. The reason is simple: Google has been talking a lot about algorithms. Two weeks ago, Google announced an "update" to its Panda algorithm. And a little over a week ago, Google announced an update to the Penguin algorithm.

For the SEO community, the news is arriving fast and furious. Google often "refreshes" its algorithms monthly, but "updates" are less frequent, and usually more consequential. So we feel it's important to write about these updates, and to discuss their potential consequences for your website. 

With all our talk about algorithms, however, we've received some feedback from several readers--mostly owners of small Internet businesses--that our talk has gotten a little "esoteric."

The word "esoteric" is often associated with cults, like this one. However the definition of esoteric is more benign: "intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialized knowledge or interest." [Picture Source: Sensei Marketing]

The Organic SEO Blog was created with the intention of writing about SEO in a way that would be accessible for specialists and laypeople alike. So, honestly, we hate to be referred to as "esoteric." 

In reality, however, it is hard to write about Google's algorithms without sounding, well, a bit esoteric. After all, this stuff is complex.

As Google's own, John Mueller, wrote in a help thread in September:

"In practice, a site is never in a void alone with just a single algorithm. We use over 200 factors in crawling, indexing, and ranking."
 
If you're an SEO layperson, pay attention to this comment. It's simple, yet profound, and it gets to the heart of what the word, "algorithm," really means.

In fact, we believe this quote offers a good working definition of an algorithm: a system for crawling, indexing, and ranking websites.

Viewing these three functions--crawling, indexing, and ranking--separately also offers a helpful view of exactly why algorithms--and SEO specialists--exist.

So below we'll try to define each function as simply as possible. Just a note: we often refer to Google's algorithms, but the definitions below can also apply to how search engines, like Yahoo or Bing, offer reliable search results. 

Crawling

Web "crawlers"  are often called "spiders," and this is the easiest way to envision their function. Spiders crawl the Internet in an attempt to gather valuable information from websites. If a certain website links to another page on the same site, or a to a different site, the spider will follow the link and gather more information. In this way, the spider creates a web of information that is sent back to Google for indexing.

It's important to note: not every website is crawled. This is why it is important to follow today's web development standards, and why, we believe, it is important that your website developer understands the basics of SEO. Please read: "Website Development: The Perfect Job for Spock." Beyond making sure your website is crawled, a website developer with knowledge of SEO may or may not make "granular choices" to further refine how it is crawled. Again, your website developer should know about these choices. As Google writes here:

"Most websites don’t need to set up restrictions for crawling, indexing or serving, so their pages are eligible to appear in search results without having to do any extra work. That said, site owners have many choices about how Google crawls and indexes their sites through Webmaster Tools and a file called “robots.txt”. With the robots.txt file, site owners can choose not to be crawled by Googlebot, or they can provide more specific instructions about how to process pages on their sites."

Indexing

The information obtained from crawlers needs to be organized. This is the function of indexing. This process is self-evident: Once Google receives information from the crawler, it creates an index, much like the back of a non-fiction book, so that it can easily retrieve the information for future use.

As Google says:

"The web is like an ever-growing public library with billions of books and no central filing system. Google essentially gathers the pages during the crawl process and then creates an index, so we know exactly how to look things up. Much like the index in the back of a book, the Google index includes information about words and their locations. When you search, at the most basic level, our algorithms look up your search terms in the index to find the appropriate pages."

An SEO specialist can have a profound influence on how a website is discovered by the crawlers, but indexing is purely a a Google function. 

Ranking

Last week Google inferred that it would be adding a new ranking signal: websites that offer better mobile experiences will rank higher on mobile search--and, possibly, desktop rankings. This new signal, however, is merely one of hundreds that define precisely how each algorithm will effect your website's ranking.

Ranking is the end-result of crawling and indexing. Once the information is gathered, and sorted, it is then ranked in a way that Google believe is most beneficial to the browser's experiences. Attentiveness to crawling and indexing is an important function of an SEO specialist, but attentiveness to the many ranking singles is really what sets the best SEO specialists apart.

Backlink has a very helpful list of the "complete list" of Google ranking factors. Some of this list is speculative (Google is often stingy about offering ranking single information), but much of it is really spot-on. Some factors are more important than others; and some matter very little, although it's good to be attentive to each and every one.

***

If you're looking for more information on algorithms, try Google itself.

Here on The Organic SEO Blog we discuss algorithms not only as functions but ideas. If you're looking for a more philosophical view of algorithms, please read: "A Frank Look at Algorithms."

For a more topical view of algorithms, try: "Algorithms Have Consequences."

And, of course, if you'd like to speak directly to an SEO specialist who understands the complexity of algorithms, we suggest calling our sponsor, Alex Stepman, of Stepmans PC: 215-900-9398.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Panda Refresh: Good News for Small and Medium-Sized Websites

Last week Google announced a new update to the Panda algorithm, which, according to Google's Pierre Far, should help small and medium-sized websites. As Far announced on Google + last week:

"Earlier this week, we started a slow rollout of an improved Panda algorithm, and we expect to have everything done sometime next week.

Based on user (and webmaster!) feedback, we’ve been able to discover a few more signals to help Panda identify low-quality content more precisely. This results in a greater diversity of high-quality small- and medium-sized sites ranking higher, which is nice."

Our obligatory Panda picture [Source]

So it seems: this new update should continue to redress the first Panda release, in 2011, which inadvertently harmed many smaller and medium-sized websites. Back then, Panda's original purpose was to promote quality content and downgrade low-quality websites with excessive advertising and little original content. The prime target, then as now, was aggregators.

And indeed, this recent update seems to have hit the mark. As Marcus Tober, of SearchMetrics, reported last Friday:

"The 4.1 iteration of Panda ties in with the preceding updates. Losers are often games or lyrics portals as well as websites dealing with medical issues and content – to cut it short...in general, it hit pages with thin content. Aggregators do not provide unique and relevant content."

This is great news for those who enjoy a quality browsing experience, and according to Tober, it really should help smaller sites:

"Panda Updates focus on content quality. They are supposed to remove redundant, irrelevant content and spam from Google’s index. So far, this is nothing new. The interesting thing about the current Panda generation is the fact that apparently smaller and medium high-quality websites are supposed to benefit from the update."

This has not always been the case. Google originally viewed Panda as the algorithm that would truly distinguish sites with original, high-quality, and relevant content. Meanwhile, sites without "authority," which Google defined in several ways, all essentially relating to content, were downgraded.

Unfortunately, in trying to separate the wheat from the chaff--perhaps the most relevant metaphor for Google's mission--Panda penalized small and medium-sized sites in favor of brand names with more "authority."

Smaller sites just couldn't compete with the likes of Amazon, even if they offered equal/or better products at equal/or better prices--which they often do.

The early reports from SearchMetrics, however, seem to reveal a new pattern. Sites with original, quality content that have been hurt by Panda are now gaining traction:

"Sites with quality content won. Babble.com has been a loser of the Panda 4.0 update and has now recovered quite impressively. And there are even more losers of Panda 4.0 that recovered. Just to name a few: rd.com, Hotelguides.com, Yourtango.com, Spoonful.com or ivillage.com."

This is important news for small and medium-sized website owners, who might want to look back to Google's original questions for Panda, for inspiration.

These questions read like a template for a beautiful Internet--an Internet free of the scourge of spam and content farms who exist for little purpose than to perpetuate their own pointless existence. By paying attention to these questions, and refining your content to meet the demands of the algorithm, you just might be able to compete with the likes of Amazon.

A few of Google's "Panda questions":

Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature? 

Take a look at your current content. Is your website merely offering superficial content? Are you adding to the conversation of ideas? If not, you might want to hire a professional copywriter to create unique content designed for your site.

Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations? 

This is an easy fix! Delete your redundant material. Do not repeat yourself.

Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site? 

The "feel" of your website is often dependent on the content. You want to inspire your potential customers with confidence. Nothing says "authority" like well-written, thoughtful content, which brings us to...

Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?

Nothing condemns a website like language errors! This is just another reason to hire a professional copywriter.

Need Algorithm Help? Contact Stepmans PC!

If you're a small or medium-sized site that has seen recent downgrades in ranking, you might need an SEO specialist to help you evaluate how Panda's changes might effect your business. Alex Stepman, of Stepmans PC, can help you navigate the complicated challenge of the new algorithm.

Do not let the changing algorithms compromise your sales. You need the astute wisdom of a professional search engine optimization professional who works with both the right and left side of the brain. Contact Stepmans PC today to learn how you can improve your website's performance: 215-900-9398.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Apple Watch: Style, Functionality, and Local SEO

With all the excitement about the new "huge" iPhone, you might say Apple's new Apple Watch has faded into a (very) temporary oblivion. We like to see and feel our products--and the Apple Watch will not arrive in stores until "early 2015." Still, the mere announcement of the new gadget seems to have inspired a frenzy of speculative writing.

Will the new watch actually be cool? Esquire's style blog seems to think...maybe:

"So ... it's not so bad," John Hendrickson writes for Esquire. "Not as bad as we anticipated, at least."

This tepid enthusiasm reminds us of the response to Google Glass, which we wrote about last May, with a nod to our favorite Russian writer, Gary Shteyngart.

Gary Shteyngart doesn't necessarily present the most stylish view of Google Glass.




Why mention style on an SEO blog? Well, the success of the Apple Watch will be dependent, first, on a simple question: Will people want to wear it? And obviously the answer to this question has as much to do with style as functionality.

At $349, in terms of functionality, the Apple Watch seems to be a steal. The famous watch blog, Hodinkee, seemed quite impressed:

“Apple got more details right on their watch than the vast majority of Swiss and Asian brands do with similarly priced watches, and those details add up to a really impressive piece of design. It offers so much more functionality than other digitals it’s almost embarrassing.”

Hodinkee's review offers a lot of pictures of the new watch, too:

The Apple Watch as worn by Hodinkee

Meanwhile, Forbes, seemingly taking for granted the success of the Apple Watch, has posted a very intriguing article on how the new watch might change local search:

"SmartWatches have been experimented with by other companies in the past," Jayson DeMers writes, "but Apple’s foray into wearable smart technology could mark the beginning of a new tech era—and some radical changes for the world of local SEO."

Among the changes, DeMers notes how the new "mapping feature" could radically change local SEO:

"Rather than showing a map and speaking audible directions, like smartphones and older navigation systems, the SmartWatch will use a system known as 'haptic feedback' to provide hands-free, eye-free directions with directional buzzes."

What DeMers is envisioning here is a watch that offers "hyper-local" search results that can essentially guide a person, step-by-step, to your local business:

"Instead of focusing on results for a given query within a city, the SmartWatch could give you results within a given city block."

While DeMers notes that this "super local" search is merely speculative--and while we wonder how it differs, in practice from the iPhone's About Me app--DeMers advice to local businesses seems sound:

"Optimizing for a very specific crowd could eventually become more important than optimizing for a city or region."

If you've been following our coverage of mobile SEO, you'll know that the very practice of SEO is evolving to meet a new type of search, driven by voice technology like Siri. As Google's latest major algorithm revealed so definitively: more and more users are asking Google complex questions, and they're actually asking the questions aloud, with voice-based queries.

The best way to envision how the Apple Watch might change local SEO is to imagine a potential customer walking by your store. What could you say to entice that customer to enter? Perhaps you might offer a "mobile coupon" or some other interactive element. As DeMer notes:

"Mobile coupons have already become popular with smartphones, and interactive elements like QR codes have given smartphone users a chance to use their technology in real life for some kind of benefit..."

The operative word here is "benefit." While organic SEO has always been about matching a specific website with a specific customer, the new world of SEO might be about attracting the random customer from the street. What benefit can you offer the person on the street? This is a question you must answer with your SEO specialist, and then you must create the relevant, intriguing content that will make your answer count.

Of course, this view of SEO applies primarily to brick and mortar locations, yet it will likely effect all websites, increasing the need for hyper-specialized organic SEO across the board. We can now say, with certainty, that the world of search and organic SEO is evolving more rapidly than ever before. The Apple Watch simply offers a new image for this evolution. It is small, sleek, and incredibly local. Even more than the iPhone, the Apple Watch offers the world of search in a flash. All you have to do is look at your wrist.

If you're interested in learning more about the changing landscape of search, we suggest reading this blog weekly or contacting our sponsor, Alex Stepman, of Stepmans PC.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Algorithm Refreshes and the True Challenge of SEO

Last week, in a Google Webmaster Hangout, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst, John Mueller, said that Google will likely refresh Penguin algorithm soon, hopefully before the new year.

"I'm pretty confident we'll have something in the reasonable future," Mueller said, "but not today, so we'll definitely let you know when things are happening."

Mueller was then asked to clarify if the update would occur in 2014.

"My guess is yes," he answered, "but as always, there are always things that can happen in between. I’m pretty confident that we’ll have something in the reasonable future but not today, so we’ll definitely let you know when things are happening."

Despite Mueller's ambivalence, this news may come as a relief to webmasters and SEO specialists, whose websites were adversely affected by the last Penguin update a year ago.

With each algorithm update, Google changes the rules of the game, so to speak. Sometimes websites that had once performed well find themselves plummeting in the rankings. In response, webmasters and SEO specialists make changes to comply with the algorithm's new demands. Unfortunately, these changes might not prove fruitful until Google "refreshes" the algorithm.

As WebProNews wrote last week:

"Google’s Penguin update is notorious for taking an extremely long time to get refreshed, leaving sites negatively impacted by it out of luck until Google finally pushes a refresh through. You can make all the changes you want in an effort to recover, but if Google doesn’t refresh it, it’s not going to make much difference."

This quote is telling for what it says about Google's efforts to perfect the algorithm; yet, it is also telling for what is says about the work of search engine optimization.

First, Mueller himself admits that Google could work better to release algorithm updates. As he said in an earlier Google Webmaster Hangout:

"We'll see what we can do there. That's something where we're trying to kind of speed things up because we see that this is a bit of a problem when webmasters want to fix their problems, they actually go and fix these issues but our algorithms don't reflect that in a reasonable time, so that's something where it makes sense to try to improve the speed of our algorithms overall."

Mueller's comment is a reminder that the work of an SEO specialist is unremitting. The success of organic website optimization depends on these complex search engine algorithms, and Google (and Yahoo and Bing, for that matter), change their algorithms about 500-700 times a year.

The work of understanding and responding to these ever-changing algorithms is time-consuming and tedious. A high-quality SEO company understands how to do this work without wasting time. Yet, of course, SEO is not only about responding to the algorithm changes.

This simple fact seems to be elude many intelligent SEO specialists--even the writers of WebProNews, who assume that a website is "out of luck" if it's negatively affected by algorithm changes. The algorithm changes can heavily influence search ranking. Yet "optimization" also implies a quality website that can reasonably withstand the algorithm changes.

To this point, we'd like to offer a lengthy quote from John Mueller:

"In theory: If a site is affected by any specific algorithm or its data, and it fixes the issue that led to that situation, then the algorithm and/or its data must be refreshed in order to see those changes. Sometimes those changes aren't immediately visible even after a refresh, that's normal too.

In practice, a site is never in a void alone with just a single algorithm. We use over 200 factors in crawling, indexing, and ranking. While there are some cases where a site is strongly affected by a single algorithm, that doesn't mean that it won't see any changes until that algorithm or its data is refreshed. For example, if a site is strongly affected by a web-spam algorithm, and you resolve all of those web-spam issues and work to make your site fantastic, you're likely to see changes in search even before that algorithm or its data is refreshed. Some of those effects might be directly related to the changes you made (other algorithms finding that your site is really much better), some of them might be more indirect (users loving your updated site and recommending it to others).

So yes, in a theoretical void of just your site and a single algorithm (and of course such a void doesn't really exist!), you'd need to wait for the algorithm and/or its data to refresh to see any changes based on the new situation. In practice, however, things are much more involved, and improvements that you make (especially significant ones) are likely to have visible effects even outside of that single algorithm. One part that helps to keep in mind here is that you shouldn't be focusing on individual factors of individual algorithms, it makes much more sense to focus on your site overall -- cleaning up individual issues, but not assuming that these are the only aspects worth working on."

In our opinion, too many SEO specialists focus on the technical side of website optimization to the detriment of the human side. This might be a right brain/left brain problem. As we've written before:

"After your hire a professional website designer to create a visually-appealing website, you will need to hire a developer to make the website work for both users and search engines like Google. Unfortunately, since these tasks are so different, and require different parts of the brain, you will rarely find a professional who can perform both with the talent and energy you require."

The same is true, in theory, with many SEO specialists, who are decidedly left brain (more logical). Yet to create a beautiful website design with great content, you also need a right brain (more creative and intuitive) individual. 

Need Algorithm Help? Call Stepmans PC!

To navigate the complicated challenge of SEO, you might need to hire an SEO specialist like Stepmans PC. Do not let the changing algorithms compromise your sales. You need the astute wisdom of a professional search engine optimization professional who works with both the right and left side of the brain. Contact Stepmans PC today to learn how you can improve your website's performance: 215-900-9398.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The New iPhone 6 is Here! Is Your Website Optimized for Mobile Search?

After months of speculation, Apple has finally unveiled two new iPhones today: the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus. Perhaps still smarting from the tepid reception to the iPhone 5, Apple's CEO, Tim Cook, has upped the ante with these new models, introducing new designs with larger screens, increased pixels (over 1 million pixels on the iPhone 6 and over 2 million on the iPhone 6 Plus), and thinner sizes--4.7-inches for the iPhone 6 and 5.5-inches for the iPhone 6 Plus.

The new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are the thinnest iPhones to date.



Apple also introduced its new payment feature, Apple Pay, which is built into the new phones. Apple Pay is an NFC payment that allows you to easily pay for items with your phone. For each transaction, a one-time number is created with a dynamic security code, eliminating the need for the static code found on most credit cards.  Participating retailers include Staples, Macy's, Walgreen's, Subway, McDonald’s, and Whole Foods. Certainly, this list will grow in the coming months.

Apple Pay will also enable easy, one-touch checkout online. Browsers will be able to easily find their preferred products and purchase without sharing any credit card information with the merchant. This feature could have big implications for e-commerce, boosting an already thriving market for mobile sales.

You might remember Search Engine Journal's report from earlier this year: "The 2014 Mobile Landscape: 25 Statistics That Will Drive The Future of Mobile Marketing."

Among the compelling statistics, we were particularly excited by this one:

"By 2015, mobile marketing in the U.S. will generate $400 billion, compared to $139 billion in 2012."

Obviously this number did not take into account the addition of the iPhone 6 to the marketplace. Our bet? These numbers will increase even more, which is great news for online business who have optimized their sites for mobile search, especially if those sites rank first in search rankings.

In late July, Google released a blog post urging (demanding) all websites to support mobile search:

"Starting today in our English search results in the US, we will indicate to searchers when our algorithms detect pages that may not work on their devices. For example, Adobe Flash is not supported on iOS devices or on Android versions 4.1 and higher, and a page whose contents are mostly Flash may be noted to look like this..."


At the same time, it seemed that Google was showing a marked preference for sites that rank first in mobile search. As Skyword's Content Standard blog reported in late July:

"Google has started testing two new changes to its mobile search-results interface. Google Mobile’s search algorithms will now favor sites that rank first in search queries, likely increasing clickthrough rates (CTRs) for those lucky enough to claim top spots...these new tests make finding the right content much easier for the user.

The first test increases the title size of the link that appears at the top of a query’s search-results page, which means users may only see one result for a given search on mobile devices...

The second test involves site info cards on mobile, which are already common in desktop-based Google searches. These cards take over the entire screen with richer information and more in-depth sitelinks, giving sites with top spots in searches additional real estate."

The upshot is obvious: if your site is not optimized for mobile, your online business is doomed to fail. We don't typically make such grandiose, harsh announcements, but in this case, it seems warranted. 

So is your website optimized for mobile search? If not, we suggest taking steps now.  As we noted earlier this year, Forbes published a guide to mobile for SEO, "How to Master Mobile SEO in 2014," with plenty of helpful tips that can enacted ASAP:
  • When embedding videos and images, check to ensure they play correctly on mobile devices. 
  •  Make sure your redirects go to the right mobile page (preferably the right page instead of just your home screen, which is annoying for any user). 
  •  Avoid having any type of mobile 404 or unavailable content. 
  •  Make sure no interstitial, click-to-leave ads appear on mobile sites, even if they appear on desktops.
***

Need Mobile SEO Help? Call Stepmans PC!

The announcement of the new iPhone 6 only serves to remind us that ecommerce is now a mobile game! To navigate the new rules of mobile SEO, you might need to hire an SEO specialist like Stepmans PC. If you sell a high-quality product that deserves customers, you also deserve a well-optimized mobile website.

Do not let the changing search landscape compromise your sales. Now, more than ever, you need the astute wisdom of a professional search engine optimization professional.

Stepmans PC is now offering a free mobile website audit. Contact Stepmans PC today to learn how you can improve your website's mobile performance: 215-900-9398.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

How Black Hat Practices Reveal the True Value of Organic SEO

Tina Courtney Brown over at SiteProNews recently posted a thoughtful and funny piece about Black Hat Social Media--the most recent iteration of Black Hat SEO. In the piece, she exposes Black Hat practices for what they are: "the bane of the Internet." Yet she also notes how many brands might be  practicing Black Hat Social Media, "whether or not they're aware of the offense."

The article got us thinking about how Black Hat practices, by virtue of their very awfulness, reveal precisely how organic SEO attracts business. This point is important for all brands, but especially those who might be inadvertently (or not) using Black Hat techniques to attract business.

In the end, the hard, and time-consuming work of organic SEO will always trump the purported "value" of Black Hat SEO or Black Hat Social Media. Unfortunately, this fact is often obscured by the very nature of the Internet: Black Hat practices produce quick results, and we've been conditioned to act quickly and to expect quick results.

Perhaps this is why Black Hat practices persist, despite their ineffectiveness: they give the semblance of quick results. Yet quick results do not necessarily translate to true value.

Tina Courtney Brown nails this idea when she writes of "buying your audience":

"When you stop and consider this tactic, it’s borderline ridiculous, and clearly doesn’t work. Social media is not about the number of followers you have; it’s the level of engagement that audience has with your content. If you buy a list full of fake profiles, those 'people' will never buy, support, or even like one single product or post."

We laughed at "borderline ridiculous" because it's so true. Black Hat practices often come across as ridiculous, or worse. This is why most reasonable people dismiss Black Hat spam out of hand.  In her article, Brown writes of evil, awful comment spam," and we couldn't agree more. Comment spam shows up everywhere, but especially on poorly-maintained websites and blogs. As we wrote elsewhere:

"Like a neglected lawn, apparently, old blogs can actually sprout weeds. Since we last posted, we received a slew of comments--almost all from spambots. I've just spent an hour or so deleting these comments form our old posts. Most were an illegible scramble of code and nonsense; some, though, were charmingly ridiculous.

My favorite, from 'Anonymous': 'Hi there! I would like to burn a theme at this forum. There is such a thing, called HYIP, or High Yield Investment Program. It reminds of ponzy-like structure, but in rare cases one may happen to meet a company that really pays up to 2% daily not on invested money, but from real profits.' "

I would like to burn a theme at this forum. What does that even mean? It's hilarious. 

Although it's absurd, comment spam is prevalent, damaging both individual websites and the Internet community. As Brown writes:

"Spammers who comment en masse on articles and posts are the bane of the internet. They clutter up otherwise legitimate comments with horrible, lying posts like 'Oh, great content here, check out my stuff and buy something!' They pretend to care about the topics discussed, then quickly attempt to drive traffic to whatever horrendous site they represent."

Amazingly, spam, by virtue of its sheer volume, manages to attract some attention. If you spam a million sites, you're bound to get a few clicks. As we wrote this spring:

"A spammer works on the principle of nearly 100% quantity. Blasting emails to millions, regardless of the recipient's preferences, spammers care little about the quality of their image. Instead, spammers play a numbers game, hoping for bare minimum conversions: 1% or less. Sounds inefficient? Well, it is, in a sense. Yet a 1% conversion for one million emails is still 10,000."

The practice of spam commenting, and the "bordeline ridiculous" practice of buying your audience on social media, stand in stark contrast to organic SEO.

Both of these practices promise a quick fix to a challenge that can only be solved with time and effort.

This is the true value of organic SEO: the very time and effort required to launch an SEO campaign guarantees results. Of course, that very word, "guarantee", smacks of spammy promises, but the nature of this guarantee is evident in the work itself: if you take the time to craft a quality SEO campaign, you will likely succeed.

As Alex Stepman said in last week's interview:

"Any quality marketing campaign will take some time to truly produce results. Marketing is like radioactivity in the soil--its effects are felt in the long term." 

This is why, if you're goal is a successful and sustainable business, Black Hat SEO and Black Hat Social Media is not the answer. When you engage in these practices, your image is degraded. You might attract 10,000 customers, but you repel 990,000 others. This is why we prefer quality over quantity. And rhis is why it's so important to a) never, ever participate in spamming (obviously) and b) to fight spam in your own way.

Do you fight Black Hat practices?

Take a look at Tina Courtney Brown's article: "Black Hat Social Media: An In-Depth Look." You might just discover that you're inadvertently practicing Black Hat Social Media.

If so, remember, true results