Saturday, October 29, 2016

Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP): Everything You Need to Know

Google changes the layout of its desktop and mobile SERP (search engine results page) periodically. You may or may not notice these changes, but even the most seemingly mundane SERP calibration can influence website rankings.

That is, if any change to the SERP can be viewed as "mundane." At the Organic SEO Blog we tend to view all SERP changes as vitally important.

Last February, Google announced two important changes to the desktop and mobile SERPs, respectively. At the time, we reported on the desktop change, which limited the number of paid advertisements on the SERP:

"Traditionally, a Google SERP included up to eleven paid advertisements and eleven (or more) organic results," we reported. "The search engine...will no longer display ads on the right side of the page. The change now limits SERP ads to a maximum seven-per-page--three (or four, in cases of highly "commercial queries") above the organic search results and three below the organic search results."

This change had implications for both paid advertisement and organic SEO campaigns. To read more about the change, read "Google is Changing the SERP: What You Need to Know."

Around the same time, Google announced a change to the mobile SERP, which predominantly effected news sites. The search engine would now display Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) on the top of the SERP.

AMP is a Google-backed open-source initiative that empowers website to create pages that "render fast," as the AMP site says.

"For many," the site also states, "reading on the mobile web is a slow, clunky and frustrating experience - but it doesn’t have to be that way. The Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) Project is an open source initiative that embodies the vision that publishers can create mobile optimized content once and have it load instantly everywhere."

With AMP, sites strip down pages to the essential content. In highlighting AMPs, Google was trying to advance its perennial goal: to improve the browser experience, or as Google's vice president of news, Richard Gingras, puts it, "to drive the ecosystem forward."

Great news for browsers! The AMP style, however, has not necessarily worked for the news sites. As The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, some news organizations are seeing a loss in ad revenue:

"For some publishers...AMP pages do not currently generate advertising revenue at the same rate as their full mobile sites. Multiple publishers said an AMP pageview currently generates around half as much revenue as a pageview on their full mobile websites. That’s largely because of limitations related to the types of ad units AMP pages will allow and the ad technology providers that are currently integrated with the platform."

In simplifying the browser experience, then, Google is "advancing the ecosystem" at the expense of certain news organizations revenues. Now, not all news organizations have lost revenue. CNN, for example, has noted that visits to both the AMP pages and the full mobile site monetize at the same rate.

The takeaway, however, is that Google's relentless pursuit of an optimized browsing experience will not yield, even at the news of lost revenues--for other companies, that is. As always, to compete on Google, you must evolve.

You may have noticed AMP results at the top of your search results on your mobile device (first picture above). The AMP pages are intended to offer a cleaner, faster browsing experience (second and third pictures above). [Photo Source]

The AMP pages are here to stay, and news organizations are not the only sites that need to pay attention to the changes. Just this week, Search Engine Journal reported that AMP pages will be included in organic search results worldwide:

"When people are searching on a mobile device," Matt Southern writes, "Google search results will automatically default to displaying the AMP version of a page (if one is available). This change means a significant amount of new exposure for AMP pages; possibly leading to more traffic, revenue, and so forth."

The key here for your business is the quote in the parentheses: if one is available. Again, AMP is an open source code, available to any web developer. AMP optimization is not automatic for your site. You'll need to create new AMP pages to take advantage of this new change to the SERP.

As always, our advice is simple. If your site is dependent on mobile visits for income, you must adapt to compete.

If you have a developer in-house who can code AMP pages, you're a step ahead of the game.

If not, now is the time to partner with an enterprising developer, preferably with SEO knowledge.

Website Optimization AMP Coding with Stepman's PC

To create a fully-optimized website, with AMP pages, you'll need the help of many experienced professionals to perform different tasks.

Or you can call one multifaceted company. Stepman's PC is the rare company that offers a host of  development, SEO, and marketing professionals to optimize your website.

Contact Stepman's PC today to learn how you can improve your website's performance: 215-900-9398.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The True Purpose of Content and Technical SEO

To optimize a business website, you must perform two distinct, but equally important, roles: content marketing and technical SEO. Most online business owners and marketing professionals presume to know the purpose of content.

However, when we ask our SEO customers the question--"What is the purpose of content?"--we often hear vague answers that miss the point.

"To promote my brand." "To share my message." "To advertise our products."

Of course, in a simple sense, all of these answers are viable. Yet the true purpose of content for an online business must be more specific.

The Purpose of Content

Simply put, the purpose of content must be to create conversions. You're running a business, after all, so your content must achieve a specific goal, and that goal must be focused on not merely attracting customers, but making customers.

This is why promotion, sharing, and advertising miss the point. These definitions focus on attracting customers, but not necessarily making customers.

So how do you create content that inspires conversions?

Our experience has taught us a valuable lesson about content marketing: There is no magic bullet for creating content that inspires conversions. This is why we write so extensively about content. We try to present content marketing from different perspectives.

You might create content that inspires emotions. We've reported, for example, on the work of Kelsey Libert and Kristin Tynski, who writing for The Harvard Business Review, reviewed 30 of the top 100 images from imgur.com "to understand the best emotional drivers" of viral content.

The pair offered a valuable insight: "Think carefully about how your company, product or service is related to a topic or topics that taps into deep-seated human emotions within your target demographic."

Read: "Like Attracts Like: SEO and The Power of Emotions."

Or you might create content that answers a specific question or adds a new element to our existing understanding of a product or service.

Read: "Two Simple Questions to Inspire New Content"

Whatever strategy you assume, though, your purpose must be the same: to create a conversion. After all, this is the only purpose that speaks to the elemental purpose of your online business: to make money.

Customers at a drug store. The purpose of business has always been the same: to make customers. This must be the purpose of your content, too.

The Purpose of Technical SEO

If many business owners and marketing professionals presume to know the purpose of content, many more presume not to know the purpose of technical SEO. Most website owners, for example, admit total confusion when confronted by the technobabble of the SEO community.

"What is structured data?" "What is a gateway page?" "What is keyword density?"

In one sense, these questions are beside the point. If you're working with an SEO company, for example, you really do not need to understand technical SEO--unless, of course, you have the time and need to understand a variety a different language. In our view, however, website owners only need to understand the simple purpose of technical SEO.

Simply put, the purpose of technical SEO is to lay the foundation for a successful content marketing campaign. In the past, technical SEO played a more direct role in online success. As Neil Patel writes: "With some solid pages, good structure, keyword-stuffed page titles, and heavy keyword saturation on your main navigational pages, you were set for SEO success."

This is not the case anymore. Today's technical SEO is about following the careful requirements of search engine algorithms. Technical SEO is about adapting to algorithm changes. Technical SEO is, simply, about compliance.

In this way, many--but not most--websites have successfully optimized for technical SEO. Many websites play on a relatively level playing field.

So what differentiates one website from another? Content, of course.

The problem is that too many website owners, fearing technical SEO, have completely avoided optimization in favor of content creation. Without technical SEO, though, even the best content will fail to fulfill its purpose. As we've noted before:

"Do not fear the code. And do not fear SEO. Far more fearsome is your competition--how the top sites use content to craft exquisite, attractive titles, descriptions, and headers that attract audiences...When you fear the technical aspects of SEO, you distract yourself from the true work of optimization: crafting precise content. All else is techno-babble."

Read: "Do Not Fear the Code"

Some Simple Advice

Our advice for any new website owner is two-fold:

1. If you feel you cannot optimize the technical aspects of your site, partner with an SEO firm.

2. Once you have optimized the technical aspects of your site, create content that inspires conversions. Again, if you feel you cannot create purpose-driven content, partner with a content marketing firm.

Technical SEO and Content Marketing with Stepmans PC 

If you're looking for an SEO company that understands how to effectively perform technical SEO and content creation, we suggest contacting our sponsor, Stepmans 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 content marketing campaigns.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Big News: Google's Primary Index Will Now Be Mobile-Based

Every new website or blog must be crawled and indexed before appearing in search engine results. For most search engines, this process is similar:
  1. A web crawler (aka: a web spider or bot) follows links within websites and between websites to copy pages for search engine processing. 
  2. The search engine then indexes the copied pages, sorting each page by certain keywords and/or metadata to make the page available to browsers.
For a search engine like Google, this process is exhaustive. According to Google's own numbers, the search engine now includes over 60 trillion pages; the index is over 100 million gigabytes.

Even then, of course, 60 trillion does not represent the total number of pages on the Internet. Writing for the Tennessean, JJ Rosen claims: "Google's index represents only an estimated 4 percent of the information that exists on the Internet."

The rest of the pages, Rosen writes, exist in the "Deep Web," which "consists of everything from unpublished blog posts to public websites that require use of a search field to get information back."

So why are some sites indexed and some are not? As the crawler follows links across the Internet, it should confront specific instructions from each link:
  1. Index and follow the link 
  2. Follow the link but do not index 
  3. Do not index and do not follow
These instructions are built into links by webmasters. However, even with these instructions, a a search engines may or may not index the page.

If the crawler discovers spam, for example, it removes the offending page. As Google notes in its How Search Works infographic, the search engine "fights spam 24/7 to keep your results relevant." However, the search engine also takes steps to allow webmasters to remedy the spam: "When we take action," Google says, "we attempt to notify the website owners." Site owners can then fix the offending pages and let Google know about the fix.

Yet spam is not the only reason a website might not be indexed. The process of crawling and indexing, in fact, highlights the importance of using knowledgeable web designers and web developers. A simple mistake can prevent Google from crawling and indexing your site.

When performing SEO, you must ensure that no page contains any mistakes or spam elements. Good SEO specialists understand how to work with Google's algorithm to meet the search engine's quality standards.

Is your site in the index?

To  perform a Google index check, search for "site:mywebsite.com".

Does your site appear?

If Google is missing some of your pages, your webmaster can create and submit a sitemap. Again, however, you want to make sure you're dealing with a knowledgeable webmaster. Mistakes can be costly.

For more information on proper design and development, read our guide to building a website as well as our companion articles on website development.

Also, Google's Webmaster Guidelines are an invaluable resource for website owners and webmasters alike.

Google's index isn't much different, in spirit, from a library card catalog [Photo Source]

Google Announces New Mobile-Only Index

We're talking about the Google index today because the search engine recently announced a major change. Until now, Google has had a single index for search results. However, as Search Engine Land reported this week, Google will now divide its index in two, between desktop and mobile, and mobile will be the primary index.

The SEO world is full of speculation about how this change will effect Google's efforts to crawl and index sites. As Search Engine Land writes:

"The most substantial change will likely be that by having a mobile index, Google can run its ranking algorithm in a different fashion across “pure” mobile content rather than the current system that extracts data from desktop content to determine mobile rankings."

Of course, as above, success in this new environment will be dependent on the quality of your design, development, and SEO efforts.

Is your site optimized for mobile? We've been asking this question since at least 2014, when Google began to place an increasing preference on "mobile-friendly" sites.

Read our article from that time, "Mobile SEO in 2014: What You Need to Know." The information is still valid--more valid and important in light of Google's recent announcement.

Need Mobile SEO Help? Call Stepmans PC!

Search is now a mobile game! To navigate the new rules of mobile SEO, you need an SEO specialist that understands Google's guidelines. If you sell a high-quality product that deserves customers, you also deserve a well-optimized mobile site.

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. Call Stepmans PC today to learn how you can improve your website's mobile performance: 215-900-9398.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Google's Top Three Ranking Factors: Links, Content, and RankBrain

In Google's recent Penguin algorithm update announcement, the search engine referred to its ranking factors as "200 unique signals or 'clues' that make it possible to surface what you might be looking for."

These "signals" have long been a rich source of speculation for SEO experts, yet we still have no precise view of the ranking factors. Even the top result for "Google ranking factors," Backlinko's "complete list" of 200 ranking factors admits: "Some are proven. Some are controversial. Others are SEO nerd speculation."

The most important ranking factors are self evident. In the recent announcement, Google stated, for example, "These signals include things like the specific words that appear on websites, the freshness of content, your region and PageRank."

So keywords, updated content, local SEO, and authority: SEO experts have long celebrated these crucially important factors.

It's the 196 or so other factors that lead to "nerd speculation." And really, that's all it is, speculation, of relatively little importance. We might never know the majority of the 200 ranking factors. Thankfully, we know the most important.

In 2015, in fact, Google confirmed that RankBrain was the "third most important factor."

Last year, Google confirmed the top two. As Search Engine Land reported at the time, "In a Q&A with Google, Andrey Lipattsev, a Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google, said the other two factors were links and content."

"I can tell you what they are," Lippattsev said. "It is content. And it’s links pointing to your site."

What of the 197 or so other factors? Who knows, for sure? Any successful optimization campaign, should start (and continue) with special attention to the top three.

Below we discuss each factor in detail.

Google's Top Three Ranking Factors: Links, Content, and RankBrain [Photo Source]
Quality Inbound Links

Google counts incoming links from reputable sites as a primary "clue" to determine the quality of  your content. The more reputable links your content receives, Google believes, the better your site.

In the past, Google's algorithm counted incoming links without focusing on the link's provenance. A website might've attracted an abundance of links, however, from exchanges or from bogus websites.

As we reported last week:

"To Google, a 'good' link is a one-way link: a link that points from one site to another. Before the Penguin algorithm, many sites exchanged links, a practice Google penalized. To avoid penalties, Black Hat webmasters created multiple websites, a hundred or more, all owned by one website, and built to create links to the primary website. Flooded with incoming, one-way links, the primary website leapt in the rankings."

The Penguin algorithm was created, in part, to punish these link schemes. Now that Penguin is "real time," the emphasis on quality links may have more immediate consequences--good or bad--for websites.

So how do you attract quality links? Let Google's advice guide you:

"The best way to get other sites to create high-quality, relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can naturally gain popularity in the Internet community. Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it."

In other words, "Don't Just Build Links--Inspire Links!"

Quality Content

You do not need to an SEO expert to know that content dominates the Internet. From listicles to polls to op-eds, we have a seemingly insatiable appetite for all types of content.

The good news, so to speak, is that our appetite requires endless fresh content. The bad news, though, is that the endless appetite for content inspires an equally endless competition.

To compete, you must create "quality" content--or as Rand Fishkin has said, "10x content."

How do you create quality content? Again, Google's advice is helpful: Create content that is "high quality" and "engaging" as well as "useful and informative," yet also "more valuable and useful than other sites." You must also display a certain level of "credibility...by using original research, citations, links, reviews and testimonials."

The Organic SEO Blog is devoted, in part, to exploring the nature of quality content. We have written extensively on how to write and share quality content.

Remember, despite the abundance of content on the Internet, your personal content strategy should always focus on Quality above Quantity.

RankBrain

In a way, RankBrain, Google's new "machine learning" system, which uses artificial intelligence to sort queries, is an algorithm itself. However, right now RankBrain does not sort every search, and is merely a part of Google's core algorithm, Hummingbird.

The intent of RankBrain is to take Google's 3.5 billion daily searches and learn from each by noting connections between the search and where the browser finally clicks.

In the past, all of Google's "learning" has been performed by coders, which creates inherent bias: "We end to think about algorithms as neutral," we wrote on algorithm bias before, "but really, although engineers base algorithms on mathematical principles, most of the judgments about those principles are exactly that--judgments, made by biased humans."

Please Read: "On Algorithm Bias and the Important Work of Organic SEO"

Now that Google uses artificial intelligence, the algorithm should, in theory, choose the most precisely optimized sites pages available for each and every query. Of course, as above, optimization here means "quality"--a hopeful sign for new websites trying to compete. In theory, if you follow Google's advice of how to inspire links and write quality content, your page should get a fighting chance against more established sites.

Natural Website Optimization with Stepman's PC

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

And for more information about how you can optimize your content, read our posts about content.