Friday, September 30, 2016

Google's Penguin Algorithm Update: What You Need to Know

Google's Penguin algorithm was introduced in April 2012 to penalize websites with "bad" or "artificial" links--or, as the search engine clarified, "Any links intended to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results."

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, in response to these link-building schemes. Since its inception, Google has updated the algorithm three times, including a recent, final update.

Each successive update has improved the bad link filters, yet the algorithm also attempts to target webspam, including on-page factors, like keyword stuffing, hidden text, and cloaking--when the content presented to the user differs from the content presented to the search engine crawlers.

As John Mueller, the former Google webmaster, said a few years ago in a Webmaster Chat:

"The Penguin algorithm is a webspam algorithm and we try to take a variety of webspam issues into account and use them with this algorithm. It does also take into account links from spammy sites or unnatural links in general, so that’s something that we would take into account there, but I wouldn’t only focus on links."

The Penguin Algorithm is now "Real Time" [Photo Source]
Although Penguin's intent was to limit bad links and webspam, plenty of websites have suffered penalties from inadvertently breaking Google's webmaster guidelines.

Some sites were even penalized as victims of "negative SEO" campaigns--campaigns that Google had, inadvertently encouraged. As we noted before:

"Negative SEO--the practice of harming another site's search engine rankings--has been getting a lot of press in SEO circles recently. The well-respected site, SEO Roundtable, even conducted a poll and 75% of the respondents agreed: "Negative SEO is Easier" thanks to Google's most recent algorithm updates."

Read: "Negative SEO: What You Need to Know"

By penalizing companies for bad incoming links, Google created a weapon: It's impossible to control bad incoming links--and so many websites were "attacked" with bad links from competitors and penalized by Google.

For sites penalized by Penguin--fairly or not--the consequences have been dire and lasting. As Search Engine Land recently noted in its article on the recent update:

"Introduced in 2012, [Penguin] has operated on a periodic basis. In other words, the Penguin filter would run and catch sites deemed spammy. Those sites would remain penalized even if they improved and changed until the next time the filter ran, which could take months. The last Penguin update, Penguin 3.0, happened on October 17, 2014. Any sites hit by it have waited nearly two years for the chance to be free."

With this new update, announced last Friday, Google has seemingly resolved the wait:

"Penguin is now real-time," the search engine says. "Historically, the list of sites affected by Penguin was periodically refreshed at the same time. Once a webmaster considerably improved their site and its presence on the internet, many of Google's algorithms would take that into consideration very fast, but others, like Penguin, needed to be refreshed. With this change, Penguin's data is refreshed in real time, so changes will be visible much faster, typically taking effect shortly after we recrawl and reindex a page."

This is great news for websites that have been penalized in the past, especially those that have been penalized unfairly.

How to Identify Bad Links 

The first step to Penguin compliance is identifying any bad links pointing to your site.

1. You can ask a professional SEO specialist to audit your website. A website audit can also identify other on-page factors that might be harming your site's performance on Google.

2. Or you can manually investigate each link on your site. For the most part, bad links are fairly obvious; they point to sites with little or nothing to do with your site. These sites will often reveal the telltale aspects of spam: a lack of coherence or downright nonsense content.

How to Remove Bad Links

To remove bad links, you have several options:

1. Write the owner of the bad link and and ask him/her to remove it. This may or may not be effective, depending on the provenance of the links. Many bad links are generated by bots; certain websites deliver bad links in vast numbers. The owners of these websites usually lack integrity and they have little incentive to remove their own bad links.

2. A better option is to remove any page that has been hit by bad links; some website owners who have been victimized by negative SEO campaigns have removed entire domains.

3. If you can't remove manually remove you bad links, you can ask Google to ignore the links by using the disavow tool. Be careful, though. As Google notes:

"This is an advanced feature and should only be used with caution. If used incorrectly, this feature can potentially harm your site’s performance in Google’s search results."

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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Google Algorithm News: What You Need to Know About Local SEO

For the SEO community, summer went out with a bang. Just before Labor Day weekend, according to webmasters and Search Engine Land, Google implemented several big algorithm updates--to its core algorithm and local search.

As the website Vertical Measures noted, the change seemed to have occurred on September 1--at least according to Mozcast, "a weather report," as Moz describes it, "showing turbulence in the Google algorithm." On that day, Google's algorithm was a scorching 108° and stormy.

The date is notable because it lands nearly a year after the last major local update, in August, 2015, which changed the local "7-pack", where seven local businesses were featured on the SERP, to a trim "3-pack."

This new local update, which seems to be more evident than the core algorithm change, effected rankings within the highly competitive three-pack; a subsequent update might have effected local organic results.

"Most the local SEO experts are saying this is related to a quality update based on Google removing a lot of spammy local results," Barry Schwartz reported for Search Engine Land. "Local results have thus shifted and changes because removing a local result due to quality issues will result in different local results showing up."

Is your website intended to reach a local audience?

If so, now is an important time to pay attention to Google's algorithm updates. More than ever, it is crucial for local sites to optimize precisely for local audiences. Paying attention to the recent changes can give you clues about how to optimize.

Now is the time to optimize precisely for local results! [Picture Source]

Have You Lost Your Spot on the 3-Pack? 

With this new update, Google has become much more precise about the 3-pack. As Search Engine Land noted in its article about the update, "The physical location of the searcher is more important than it was before."

A local search for "Mexican restaurant." The "local 3-pack"--the three local businesses listed on the SERP has become more precisely attuned to the searcher's location. 

Apparently, Google wants to offer the person-on-the-street a more precise view of local businesses. Depending on where you Google your own business, then, you may or may not show up on the 3-pack results.

If you Google your business from nearby and don't show up on the 3-pack, you should not necessarily panic. As SEO PowerSuite noted after the 2015 local update:

"Google's local packs depend on the searcher's IP so much that you and your neighbor could literally be getting different results for the same query."

With this new update, the local results seem to be even more precise to the searcher's IP.

At the moment, there is not much a business can do to change the local results of the 3-pack--short of changing business locations, but you can check your local ranking from any given location by using BrightLocal's search ranking tool.

Make Sure Your Keywords are Hyper-Specific 

Some webmasters have cited changes in organic keyword rankings for local clients. Search Engine Land noted these changes in the 3-pack, too:

"I’m seeing lots of reports of variations of the 3-pack based on slight keyword variations...Since the update, we are seeing a lot more fluctuation between similar keywords."

Unlike the 3-pack rankings, this change offers an opportunity for enterprising local businesses: optimize for hyper-specific keywords. Now is the time to perform updated keyword research.

Search Engine Land notes that some people are seeing varying results for similar--but minutely different--keywords. Before the update, for example, you might see similar results for...“Los Angeles Chiropractor” or “Chiropractor Los Angeles” or “Chiropractor Los Angeles CA.”

"Since the update," Search Engine Land writes, "we are seeing a lot more fluctuation between similar keywords. In some cases, I’ve looked at a listing that was filtered for one query but then appeared back in the local results if you added the state abbreviation to the keyword."

Performing keyword research, you can easily sort short- and long-tail keywords by search volume, difficulty index, and competition. The key here is to optimize for a variety of hyper-specific keywords suitable to your local audience.

Make Sure Your Google My Business is Accurate

Most savvy business owners know that Google offers a free business listing--even to businesses without websites. Links to your My Business page are not available to browsers, but Google uses most of the info from your page for its 3-pack.

Now is the time to ensure that your listing is optimized and accurate.

If you haven't done, so fill out your Google My Business listing with a unique description, a good profile image and cover photo, additional photos of your service and/or product, and, of course, accurate phone numbers and a business address. Of course, too, make sure all the information is consistent with your website.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Long-Tail Keywords & Short-Tail Keywords: Why You Need Both

Search Engine Journal published an article today asking "Are Short-Tail Keywords Phasing Out?" Julia McCoy argues that, yes, short-tail keywords are phasing out--"Google and search engines like it," she writes "are beginning to drift toward intent-based search, and away from short-tail keywords."

The prominence of short-tail keywords has declined at least since the introduction of the Hummingbird algorithm in 2013, when Google announced its first entirely new algorithm in twelve years: Google Hummingbird.

The new algorithm, which effected 90% of Google's results, was made to accommodate the increase of voice-based searches as well as more complex searches.

In her article, McCoy cites a Google study that reveals that 41% of adults use voice search each day (and 55% of teens).

41% of all teens use voice search more than once a day [Source]

Beyond Google's algorithm changes, the tech world has recently been abuzz with talk of RankBrain, Google's machine learning tool, which uses artificial intelligence to sort search queries.

Last year, in October, Google surprised the tech world by announcing the search engine had been using machine learning for a few months:

"The new system," we noted at the time, "uses artificial intelligence to sort search queries, including, as Bloomberg reports,'the 15 percent of queries a day it gets which its systems have never seen before.' RankBrain will take these often ambiguous queries and "learn" from them by making connections between the search itself and the websites they lead to--in other words, where the browser finally clicks."

RankBrain is what McCoy means when she refers to intent-based search--search that attempts to look beyond mere keywords to offer the most precisely appropriate result.

In the future, machine learning might make today's search unrecognizable. Whatever the future holds, McCoy, and many like her, see the writing on the wall: the end of shorter queries and the ascendance of longer queries (long-tail keywords).

What does this mean for your SEO efforts?

Should you abandon all efforts to optimize for short keywords?

Not entirely. As search evolves, you must keep one eye on the tried and true even as you look ahead to the future. Short-tail keywords and long-tail keywords have a place in any optimization campaign.

Why Use Short-Tail Keywords?

In addition to long-tail keywords, your best optimization strategy should include at least a few, carefully researched short-tail keywords (for now). Why?

  1. Shorter keywords can drive a lot of traffic to your site. 
  2. Short-tail keywords are easier to identify.
  3. Optimizing for short-tail keywords will give you a presence in your industry.

Short-tail keywords can work in concert with long-tail keywords. Short-tail keywords will increase your traffic while more precisely-targeted long-tail keywords will encourage your ideal customers to stick around.

Without the short-tail keywords, however, some of these customers might not have ever discovered your site.

Why Use Long-Tail Keywords?

Although shorter keywords will drive more traffic to your site, long-tail queries account for more total impressions. Simply put, people are using long-tail keywords more often. Yet since long-tail searches are so specific, you might have a harder time discovering the best long-tail keywords for your content. That said, long-tail keywords must be a part of your optimization campaign. Why?

  1. Ad campaigns for long-tail keywords have less competition so they cost less.
  2. Long-tail keywords can increase conversion rates. As we noted above: short-tail keywords might drive traffic to your site, but long-tail keywords can attract real customers looking for your precise product or service. 
  3. Long-tail keywords are a by-product of good content; if you write excellent content, you might not have the hardest time discovering the best long-tail keywords; your content will do the work for you.
Long-tail keywords attempt to answer browser's specific questions. The best way to write content that discovers long-tail keywords is to ask yourself: What is my ideal customer looking for? Or: What question does my product or service answer?

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Friday, September 9, 2016

SEO 101: How to Perform Keyword Research

No SEO-related activity offers a potentially higher ROI than keyword research. For a new online business, in fact, keyword research is the most important part of an online marketing campaign.

By researching your market's successful keywords, you can learn how to brand your business and how to compete against the current top ranking sites. Successful keyword research can also give you valuable insights into your potential customers.

More to the point, ranking for the right keyword often means the difference between success and failure. You want to attract traffic to your site; far more important than traffic, however, is conversions--when a visitor  performs an action on your site, like buying your product, sharing your content, or signing up for your newsletter.

As the popular SEO website, Moz, says in its helpful guide to keyword research, "It's not always about getting visitors to your site, but about getting the right kind of visitors"--in other words, conversions.

So how do you attract the right type of visitor?

For certain websites (and alien invasion movies), the wrong type of "visitor"
can mean certain catastrophe
[Photo Source]

Start With a "Working Keyword"

Most online keyword research guides urge webmasters to begin with a keyword research tool. Before you use any number of the available keyword research tools, however, you must identify, in a general sense, the most appropriate way to define your core offering.

But don't be too general. Do you sell watches? Well, "watches" will likely not be the most effective keyword for your site. Instead, identify the keywords you believe to be most relevant to your unique site's content. Perhaps you're a Philadelphia-area purveyor of Swiss watches. You might begin, then, with the working keyword "Philadelphia Swiss Watches."

Google the Competition

Once you have identified your "working keyword," Google the word or phrase. This is the best way to quickly and easily identify your core competition. Browse your competitor's sites. Try to identify why and how they rank for your working keyword; just as important, take note of any other potentially useful product descriptions that might inform your own keyword research.

Find a Suitable Keyword Research Tool 

You now have a working knowledge of your own keywords and your competition's keywords. Now you can use a keyword research tool.

You will find many available tools online--most will ask you to begin with a working keyword; many work on a similar premise to Google AdWord's Keyword Planner:

"You can search for keyword and ad group ideas, get historical statistics, see how a list of keywords might perform, and even create a new keyword list by multiplying several lists of keywords together."

Other good keyword research tools include Moz's Keyword Explorer and WordStream's Free Keyword Tool.

The purpose of these tools is simple. As WordStream writes in its guide to finding "niche keywords", a good keyword research tool "will help you identify a wide range of potential keyword opportunities including less obvious terms that could potentially drive traffic and sales."

Pay close attention: the "less obvious" keywords could be the perfect avenue for a new site to rank quickly. Most likely the most effective keywords for your site, especially a local site, will be long-tail keywords that incorporate locations.

Refine Your Keyword List 

The research tools will give you many keyword options. Your next task is to refine your list; the tools should give you the ability to refine as well. Your goal, to begin, is to find a minimum of 10 keywords that speak most precisely to your current offering.

Google the Competition Part II

Again, many keyword research tools will enable you to select keywords based on relevance and competition. However, as before, you can Google each keyword and research the competition on your own.

Writtent has a nifty DIY formula for analyzing the relative competitiveness of any keyword.  In general, however, the advice of Backlinko is quite sound:

"If you see a page littered with authoritative, big brand results, you might be better off moving to the next keyword on your list. But if you take the time to evaluate keyword competition, you can usually find keywords that get great search volume AND have little to no competition."

Some business owners might want to try to rank for the most competitive keywords; however, using a mix of highly competitive and moderately competitive keywords is often the best option.


Once you have selected a sound list of keywords, you must create relevant, engaging content based on the keywords. For help writing the best content, check out some of our most popular content posts:

How to Write Good Content

Does Your Content Count?

Two Simple Questions to Inspire New Content

And remember: Keyword research is an on-going process. You might refine or change your strategy depending on your initial results.

As WordStream writes:

"It's important to remember that just because a keyword tool returns a keyword doesn't mean you'll be able to rank for it, or that the traffic it sends from search engines will end up converting. Make continual keyword management a priority and be vigilant about analyzing and acting on keyword research to improve your results."


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