Tuesday, 19 June 2012

55 SEO Productivity Tools We Use at Single Grain for the better SEO Tactis

Looking for a new tool that will help you get the most out of your SEO campaigns?  Consider any of the following programs that we use at Single Grain in order to maximize the efficiency of our SEO activities and our general productivity:

Tool #1 – Google Adwords Keyword Research Tool
Although the free Keyword Research Tool offered by Google’s Adwords doesn’t offer as many features as standalone SEO programs offer, this resource is a great option for checking general search, competition, and CPC metrics on the fly.  Be sure to check out the feature that allows you to brainstorm keywords by URL in order to uncover the keywords your competitors may be targeting!

Tool #2 – Google Trends
With Google’s new freshness update in effect, picking up on and capturing breaking news stories and trends is a must for SEO.  Google Trends is one of the best places to find this information, so make it a habit to regularly monitor this service for trends in your industry.

Tool #3 – Buzzfeed
Another site we use to identify the hot trends within our industry in order to rank highly for QDF (query deserving freshness) SERPs is Buzzfeed, a popular news aggregation site that covers a wide variety of niches.  It’s also a great place to keep up on the latest memes and popular sayings floating around in Internet culture.

Tool #4 – Google Insights for Search
Before you launch any new SEO campaign, check out Google’s Insights for Search tool to confirm that there’s consistent demand for the particular search terms you’ll target.  A few minutes of research on this free service can save you a fortune by preventing you from going after the wrong keywords!

Tool #5 – Google Related Searches
Any time you conduct a search in Google, you have the option of selecting from a number of other potential queries that Google considers to be substantially related to your original term.  This data can be found in the left-hand sidebar of any Google SERP (under the “Show search tools” menu), and it provides a great opportunity to find potential LSI keywords for your blog posts and content marketing articles.

Tool #6 – Google Correlate
One final Google tool to take a look at is Google Correlate, which will help you determine if trends that exist in your target keywords’ search volume variation correspond with trends in the real world.  This can be especially helpful when understanding unexpected SEO behavior or when predicting the potential variability of search volume for future projects.

Tool #7 – Alexa
Although the Alexa ranking system itself has some weaknesses, the service’s webpage offers website owners data on visitor demographics, top search queries, potential target keywords, and other helpful SEO metrics.  Simply enter your URL into the company’s homepage search bar to get started!

Tool #8 – Keyword Discovery
Keyword Discovery is one of the most widely used, standalone keyword research tools on the web, and its breadth of features easily demonstrates why this site remains dominant in the competitive field of market research programs.  Give the site’s free Search Term Suggestion Tool a try, and then consider signing up for a free trial of the site’s paid keyword research and competitive intelligence tools.

Tool #9 – Keyword Questions
Wordtracker’s free Keyword Questions tool is a godsend whenever you’re struggling to come up with article topics for your site or for your marketing campaigns.  Simply enter your target keyword into the engine, and it will return specific questions that people have entered into the search engines that relate to your topic, providing you with instant article-writing fodder that’s guaranteed to interest your audience!

Tool #10 – SearchStatus plugin
Yet another SEO aggregation toolbar, the SearchStatus plugin deserves special mention for its keyword density measuring feature, which allows you to quickly measure the specific keyword usage rates found on other industry websites for your own competitive analysis.

Tool #11 – KGen
Want to know which words on any webpage will be deemed most important by the search engines?  Then install the KGen plugin for Firefox, which enables you to view websites through the eyes of the search engines and uncover potential opportunities to outrank your competitors for valuable keyword phrases.

Tool #12 – Soovle
Another fun keyword research tool to take a look at is Soovle, which pulls search suggestions from the seven top search engines.  Simply start typing your target keywords into the site’s free engine, and you’ll automatically receive related keywords that can be used to power your own SEO campaigns.
Onsite Analysis

Tool #13 – Google Analytics
If you carry out any SEO activities at all, you simply must have a web analytics program in order to measure the impact of your campaigns.  Google Analytics is by far the most commonly used option, and it’s easy to see why.  The program is free to use and provides a wealth of data, including advanced event and goal tracking features that allow you to conclusively measure the ROI of your SEO campaigns.

Tool #14 – SEOQuake
SEOQuake is one of many different SEO extensions (available for both the Firefox and Chrome browsers) that return information about individual web pages, as well as about the listings within individual SERPs.  Use this tool to check things like web page PageRank, Alexa traffic rank, site age, number of backlinks, and more crucial pieces of information to uncover when conducting competitive research.

Tool #15 – SEOBook browser extensions
By signing up for a free SEOBook account, you’ll gain access to the site’s selection of free SEO tools, including “The SEO Toolbar,” “SEO for Firefox,” and “Rank Checker.”  Much like SEOQuake, these Firefox plugins pull several different SEO metrics that can be used to identify potential link partners, uncover weak spots among industries and competitors, and much more.

Tool #16 – SiteTrail for Chrome
The SiteTrail for Chrome plugin allows you to pull up various website SEO metrics, including site rank, site traffic, and site analytics, from a simple link within your right-click menu.  The tremendous amount of information this tool provides and the speed with which it generates SEO data make it a great option for conducting market research on the fly.

Tool #17 – SEO for Chrome
One final SEO research plugin to consider is the SEO for Chrome plugin.  In addition to providing data on key SEO metrics from within the Chrome browser, this tool takes competitive web marketing research one step further by providing information on a given site’s social media presence.

Tool #18 – SEOTools for Excel
Although Microsoft’s Excel program may seem outdated, it can be turned into a productivity powerhouse with the addition of the free SEOTools for Excel add-in.  Once installed (see the instructions here for tips on setting it up correctly), you’ll be able to use this tool to conduct on-page analysis, monitor backlinks, pull Google Analytics data directly into Excel for further exploration, and more!

Tool #19 – SEOSiteCheckup.com
Want to get a feel for whether your site’s SEO is on track compared to established best practices?  Enter your URL into the SEOSiteCheckup.com analysis tool and get a free custom report measuring a number of different SEO factors.

Tool #20 – Hubspot Marketing Grader
Formerly Hubspot’s Website Grader, the new Marketing Grader service provides free reports that measure your site’s progress in three key areas: your promotional efforts, your on-page conversion optimization, and your website analytic &Link Building

Tool #21 – Majestic SEO
When it comes to competitor backlink research, a tool like Majestic SEO, which lets you view and analyze all the links pointing at other websites within your industry, is an absolute must.  Although you’ll need to upgrade to the paid version for full access, even the free version provides some data on both your own site’s backlink profile and your competitors’ link collections.

Tool #22 – Open Site Explorer
The Open Site Explorer provides similar type of information as Majestic SEO, but since the two tools pull from different data sets, it’s worth comparing the results between both services to get a better feel for the health of your site’s off-page SEO activities.  Again, the program offers both free and paid versions with different levels of access and functionality to suit your specific needs.

Tool #23 – Affiliorama SEO toolbar
While the Affiliorama SEO toolbar pulls many of the same pieces of information as the previous plugin recommendations, this free extension deserves a spot in any SEO’s tool chest as a result of its dofollow/nofollow feature, which highlights link attributes that are crucial to consider as part of your linkbuilding campaigns.

Tool #24 – Google Alerts
Google Alerts, which allows you to receive email updates whenever your designated keywords are mentioned online, can be used for a number of different SEO needs, including identifying potential backlink sources that reference your target keywords and uncovering negative brand mentions that should be fixed using Linkception.

Tool #25 – Onlywire
When used correctly, social bookmarking can be a good way to reach new followers and build brand awareness for your website, but since the process of hand-submitting links to multiple sites can be time consuming, take a look at the free Onlywire service. It will automatically post your links to the networks you participate on.

Tool #26 – Seesmic Ping
As another automated social bookmarking service, Seesmic Ping is a similar option to consider for your web promotion and SEO needs.  Expanding on its predecessor’s (Ping.fm) weaknesses, the new Seesmic Ping service allows users to post from their iPhone, iPad, Android device, or email, in addition to providing advanced spell check and preview capabilities.

Of course, this is only a small selection of the thousands of SEO productivity tools out there.  If you have other recommendations you’d like to share, please include them in the comments section below!

Tool #27 – SEMRush
SEMRush is the “Mac Daddy” of the SEO world when it comes to understanding the true monetary value of your traffic or the potential of your target keywords.  It’s pricy, but it’s often worth the cost, given the amount of information made available through the service.

Tool #28 – Traffic Travis
While there are plenty of SEO tool suites out there, there aren’t many free ones that are as fully functioned as Traffic Travis.  Whether you’re a beginning user or a more advanced SEO, Traffic Travis’s free collection of keyword research, search engine, PPC, and page analysis tools can help you to compile a significant amount of SEO data quickly and easily.

Tool #29 – Market Samurai
Market Samurai bills itself as a comprehensive SEO suite, and with good reason. Not only does this single program include keyword research tools, rank tracking, link sourcing, and more, its one-time fee makes it a great value compared to similar programs that require a paid monthly subscription.

Tool #30 – Raven Tools
According to the company’s website, “Raven’s SEO, advertising, and social media tools help you work faster and smarter.”  And there’s really no arguing with this statement when you take a look at the breadth of SEO information that’s pulled from SEMRush, SEOMoz, MajesticSEO, WordTracker, Google, and other services for aggregation in the program’s “Research Central” dashboard.

Starting at $99/month, it’s a more expensive SEO productivity solution, but the ROI of a toolset like this could be high if you’re able to secure higher SERPs rankings as a result.

Tool #31 – SEOMoz Pro

One final comprehensive SEO tool suite that you should consider is SEOMoz Pro, which combines the expertise of the SEOMoz community with top-of-the-line SEO monitoring and social media marketing products.  Of special note is the service’s “Q&A” feature, which allows you to get expert answers to any SEO questions you encounter, a “must have” for new SEOs and webmasters.

Tool #32 – SEO SERP Workbench for Chrome
If paid SEO programs aren’t in your budget right now, check out a fun, little tool called the SEO SERP Workbench plugin for Chrome.  It won’t do everything that the paid services listed above will, but it does give you a quick and easy way to check the position of multiple sites (including both your page and your competitors’ pages) for a given keyword in the SERPs,

Tool #33 – Spyfu
While Spyfu primarily offers paid services that allow you to “spy” on your competitor’s PPC campaigns, the free edition of the company’s “Spyfu Classic” service also provides free information that’s valuable from an SEO standpoint, including top organic keywords and top natural search competitors.  Give the free tools a try, and then investigate some of the more complex options available in order to improve the effectiveness of your PPC advertisements.

Tool #34 – Google Adwords Editor
Once you start getting into PPC advertising on a serious level, you’ll likely find that manually creating campaigns, ads, and keyword groups within your Google Adwords account becomes tedious and time consuming.  A better alternative is to download Google’s free Adwords Editor application, which will allow you to bulk edit your campaigns from your desktop and then automatically sync them to your online Adwords account.

Tool #35 – Microsoft Adcenter Editor
Similarly, if you advertise your website through Microsoft’s AdCenter program as well as Google Adwords, the Adcenter Editor program is a “must have.”  In addition to allowing you to edit your PPC campaigns more efficiently from your desktop, the program offers performance alerts that will notify you whenever key campaign metrics dip below a certain level.

Tool #36 – SocialOomph
As social media continues to play a larger than ever role in search rankings, building and establishing your profiles on these sites should be considered a primary SEO priority. Since carrying out social networking marketing campaigns can be time consuming, consider adding an automation tool like SocialOomph, which allows you to schedule tweets for future updates, set up “following” rules, and more.

Tool #37 – Tweriod
In order to improve the effectiveness of the messages you send to your social networking followers, you need to know when they’re most active, and, therefore, when they’ll be most receptive to your offers or conversations.  For this purpose, check out Tweriod, which will compile data on your Twitter followers’ online activities and provide you with recommendations on the best times, by the hour, to engage with your community on this social site.

Tool #38 – Twiends
If your social networking following isn’t as robust as you’d like, take a look at services like Twiends, which will allow you to quickly connect with potential new community members based on your shared interests.

Tool #39 – Triberr

Similarly, the Triberr website enables you to multiply the reach of your social marketing efforts through the formation of teams that automatically promote each other’s content to their own followers.  Look for existing networks within your industry and request an invitation, or simply start your own “tribe” to effectively expand your social networking reach.

Tool #40 – Google Documents
Whether you collaborate with virtual workers around the world or simply need to share files with your colleague down the hall, Google’s free document editing and storage solution offers a great way to share and collaborate on files.  As an added bonus, the program’s easy-to-navigate permission settings allow you to control exactly who can see and edit each file in your account.

Tool #41 – Dropbox
Another alternative for sharing files across teams is Dropbox, one of the web’s top file storage solutions.  After you sign up for a free account, you’ll be able to automatically sync files from your desktop computer to your online account, allowing for enhanced backup protection as well as easy collaboration with other Dropbox users.

Tool #42 – Basecamp
Basecamp is the “Mac Daddy” of online project management and collaboration programs.  It’s expensive, but the features this tool offers in terms of detailed task tracking and delegation across multi-person teams is unparalleled among free competitors.

Tool #43 – Evernote
Evernote is a great option for capturing ideas on the fly, whether that includes potential web development opportunities you encounter while working on your SEO campaigns or new target keywords you think up while running errands on your day off.  We at Single Grain especially love the fact that the program syncs easily between mobile, web, and desktop applications, making it nearly impossible to forget the brilliant ideas you have while on-the-go!

Tool #44 – Skype
If you work with team members or clients in various locations, installing Skype is an absolute must.  Not only does this free tool enable you to quickly set up text-based chats, phone calls, or video conferences, it’s also easy to record your Skype conversations for later reference (additional add-in tools may be needed).

Tool #45– Trello
Trello is a free project management utility that allows you to collaborate across teams through the use of project boards, activity cards, and task lists.  Although it doesn’t offer all the same features as Basecamp, it’s one of the best free alternatives available today, and it’s one that we use frequently at Single Grain.

Tool #46 – Notable App

If you manage SEO campaigns for clients, you’ll occasionally run into situations that require you to obtain feedback on different web activities. Instead of asking clients to type out lengthy comments and explanations, the Notable App enables you and your clients to capture shared screenshots and add notes in an intuitive click-and-drag format, resulting in huge time savings for both you and your customers!

Tool #47 – HipChat
If you’re still using AIM, Gchat, or other free internal chat services to share messages among your team members, take a look at HipChat, a business-oriented solution for group chat needs.  We love the fact that it operates across platforms, as well as the professional environment the app creates for business communications.

Tool #48 – Excel
Excel and the rest of the Microsoft Office suite might seem like dinosaurs in this new world of online apps and cloud-based programs, but don’t count them out yet. When paired with the SEOTools for Excel add-in discussed earlier, this comprehensive data management program can be transformed into an SEO powerhouse that’s capable of providing many of the same features found in expensive paid SEO programs.

Tool #49 – Adobe Reader
Chances are good you already have this standard program installed on your computer, but are you really using its full capabilities?  The Adobe Reader package can be used to search PDF documents, track comments across multiple parties, and even verify digital signatures, making it an important tool for any SEO’s arsenal.

Tool #50 – Jing
Jing is a free screen-capture utility put out by Techsmith (the makers of the popular Snagit and Camtasia programs) that can be used to take screenshots, record screen-capture videos, and collaborate on images taken by the tool.  While it won’t substitute for a full-fledged image or video editing program, it’s a great option for visually sharing quick ideas between team members.

Tool #51 – Photoshop
While it’s true that Photoshop has a pretty sizable learning curve compared to Jing, it’s worth learning this full-featured program for a variety of SEO campaign needs.  Whether you’re simply resizing images for web deployment or creating custom graphics for use on new websites, Photoshop has the advanced features needed to make your SEO activities more visually appealing.

Tool #52 – Filezilla
Every SEO worker needs an FTP program, and Filezilla is by far our favorite. It’s free, easy to install, and offers plenty of options for controlling the security of your remote web connections, making it an ideal solution for your file sharing needs.

Tool #53 – Boomerang for Gmail
The Boomerang extension for Gmail can help you take control of your inbox by allowing you to schedule outgoing messages, as well as set archived messages to be returned to your inbox at set times.  It’s a major time saver over digging through your email account to find that one important piece of information you archived months ago!

Tool #54 – Gist
These days, professional networking requires more than just contact information, which is why you need a social CRM system like Gist.  This tool integrates with your mobile devices and email accounts to pull additional social data on your contacts, including their most recent social networking activities, blog posts, and more.  It’s a great way to get the conversation rolling with new and existing business contacts!

Tool #55 – Notepad++
Finally, when it comes to modifying code to improve a client’s on-site SEO, our favorite tool for the job is Notepad++.  This free tool goes above and beyond the standard Microsoft Notepad editor, offering a number of features, including support for multiple coding languages and higher execution speeds, that are critical for efficient code editing.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Google Talks Penguin Update

Two Weeks In, Google Talks Penguin Update, Ways To Recover & Negative SEOa

It’s has been about two and three weeks since Google going to launched its Penguin Update soon. Google’s new spam-fighting algorithm is improving things as intended. But some hurt by it are still wondering how to recover, and there remain concerns about “negative SEO” as a threat. I caught up with Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s web spam team, on these and some related questions.

Penguin: “A Success”

The goal of any algorithm update is to improve search results. So how’s Penguin been for Google?
“It’s been a success from our standpoint,” Cutts said.

What About Those Weird Results?

Of course, soon after Penguin was released, people quickly started citing examples of odd results. The official Viagra site wasn’t listed, while hacked sites were. An empty web site was listed for “make money online,” and there were reports of other empty sites ranking well. Scraper sites were reported outranking the sites they scraped.
How could Penguin be a success with these types of things happening?
Cutts said that many of these issues existed before Penguin launched and were not caused by the new spam-fighting algorithm.
Indeed, the Viagra issue, which has now been fixed, was a problem before Penguin hit. Penguin didn’t cause it.

False Positives? A Few Cases

How about false positives, people who feel they’ve been unfairly hit by Penguin when they weren’t doing any spam?
“We’ve seen a few cases where we might want to investigate more, but this change hasn’t had the same impact as Panda or Florida,” Cutts said.
The Panda Update was Google’s big update that targeted low-quality spam last year. TheFlorida Update was a major Google update in 2003 intended to improve its search quality.
I’d agree that both of those seemed to have impacted more sites than Penguin has, based on having watched reactions to all these updates. Not everyone will agree with me, of course. It’s also worth the regular reminder that for any site that “lost” in the rankings, someone gained. You rarely hear from those who gain.
Bottom line, Google seems pretty confident that the Penguin Update is indeed catching people who were spamming, as was intended.

Why Spam Still Gets Through

Certainly when I’ve looked into reports, I’ve often found spam at the core of why someone dropped. But if Penguin is working, why are some sites that are clearly spamming still getting through?
“No algorithm is perfect. While we’d like to achieve perfection, our litmus test is, ‘Do things get better than before?’,” Cutts said.
Cutts also explained that Penguin was designed to be quite precise, to act against pages when there was an extremely high-confidence of spam being involved. The downside is that some spam might get through, but the upside is that you have fewer false positives.

How Can You Recover?

One of the most difficult things with this update is telling people how to recover. Anyone hit by Penguin was deemed to be spamming Google.
In the past, if you spammed Google, you were told to file a reconsideration request. However, Google’s specifically said that reconsideration requests won’t help those hit by Penguin. They’ll recover naturally, Google says, if they clean the spam up.
However, one of the main reasons I’ve seen when looking at sites hit by Penguin seems to be bad linking practices. People have used sponsored WordPress themes, or poor quality reciprocal linking, have purchased links or participated in linking networks, such as those recently targeted by Google.
How do people pull themselves out of these link networks, if perhaps they don’t have control over those links now?
“It is possible to clean things up,” Cutts said, and he suggested people review two videos he’s done on this topic:

“The bottom line is, try to resolve what you can,” Cutts said.

Waiting On Penguin To Update Again

If you do clean things up, how will you know? Ideally, you’ll see your traffic from Google recover, the next time Penguin is updated.
That leads to another important point. Penguin, like Panda, is a filter that gets refreshed from time-to-time. Penguin is not constantly running but rather is used to tag things as spam above-and-beyond Google’s regular spam filtering on a periodic basis.
Is Penguin a site-wide penalty like Panda or page-specific? Cutts wouldn’t say. But given that Panda has site-wide impacts, I think it’s a fair assumption that Penguin works the same.
What that means is that if some of your site is deemed Penguin-like, all of it may suffer. Again, recovery means cleaning up the spam. If you’ve cleaned and still don’t recover, ultimately, you might need to start all over with a fresh site, Cutts said.

New Concerns Over Negative SEO

Before Penguin, talk of “negative SEO” had been ramping up. Since then, it seems to have gotten worse in some places. I’ve seen post-after-post making it sound as if anyone is now in serious danger that some competitor can harm them.
At the core of these fears seems to be a perfect storm of assumptions. Google recently targeted some linking schemes. That caused some people to lose traffic. Google also sent outwarnings about sites with “artificial” or “unnatural” links. That generated further concerns in some quarters. Then the Penguin Update hit, which caused more people to lose traffic as they were either hit for link spam or no longer benefited from link spam that was wiped out.
These things made it ripe for people to assume that pointing bad links at a site can hurt it. But as I wrote before, negative SEO concerns aren’t new. They’ve been around for years. Despite this, we’ve not seen it become a major concern.
Google has said it’s difficult for others to harm a site, and that’s indeed seemed to be the case. In particular, pointing bad links at a good site with many other good signals seems to be like trying to infect it with a disease that it has antibodies to. The good stuff outweighs the bad.
Cutts stressed again that negative SEO is rare and hard. “We have done a huge amount of work to try to make sure one person can’t hurt another person,” he said.
Cutts also stressed again what Google said before. Most of the those 700,000 messages to publishers that Google sent out earlier this year were not about bad link networks. Nor were they all suddenly done on the same day. Rather, many sites have had both manual and algorithmic penalties attached to them over time but which were never revealed. Google recently decided to open up about these.

After Negative SEO Campaign, A Link Warning

Of course, new messages do go out, which leads to the case of Dan Thies. His site targated by some trying to show that negative SEO works. He received an unnatural link warning after this happened. He also lost some rankings. Is this the proof that negative SEO really works?
Thies told me that his lost rankings were likely due to changes he made himself, when he removed a link across all pages on his site that led back to his home page. After restoring that, he told me, he regained his rankings.
His overall traffic, he said, never got worse. That tends to go against the concerns that negative SEO is a lurking threat, because if it had worked enough to tag his site as part of the Penguin Update, he should have seen a huge drop.
Still, what about link warning? Thies did believe that came because of the negative SEO attempt. That’s scary stuff. He also said he filed three reconsideration requests, which each time returned messages saying that there were no spam actions found. Was he hit with a warning but not one that was also associated with a penalty?
I asked Cutts about the case, but he declined to comment on Thies’s particular situation. He did say that typically a link warning is a precursor to a ranking drop. If the site fixes the problem and does a reconsideration request quickly enough, that might prevent a drop.

Solving The Concerns

I expect we’ll continue to see discussions of negative SEO, with a strong belief by some that it’s a major concern for anyone. I was involved in one discussion over at SEO Book about this that’s well worth a read.
When it’s cheaper to buy links than ever, it’s easy to see why there are concerns. Stories like what happened to Thies or this person, who got a warning after 24,000 links appeared pointing at his site in one day, are worrisome.
Then again, the person’s warning came after he apparently dropped in rankings because of Penguin. So did these negative SEO links actually cause the drop, or was it something else? As is common, it’s hard to tell, because the actual site isn’t provided.
To further confuse matters, some who lost traffic because of Penguin might not be victims of a penalty at all. Rather, Google may have stopped allowing some links to pass credit, if they were deemed to be part of some attempt to just manipulate rankings. If sites were heavily dependent on these artificial links, they’d see a drop just because the link credit was pulled, not because they were hit with a penalty.
I’ve seen a number of people now publicly wishing for a way to “disvow” links pointing at them. Google had no comment about adding such a feature at this time, when I asked about this. I certainly wouldn’t wait around for it now, if you know you were hit by Penguin. I’d do what you can to clean things up.
One good suggestion out of the SEO Book discussion was that Google not penalize sites for bad links pointing at them. Ignore the links, don’t let the links pass credit, but don’t penalize the site. That’s an excellent suggestion for defusing negative SEO concerns, I’d say.
I’d also stress again that from what I’ve seen, negative SEO isn’t really what most hit by Penguin should probably be concerned about. It seems far more likely they were hit by spam they were somehow actively involved in, rather than something a competitor did.

Recovering From Penguin

Our Google Penguin Update Recovery Tips & Advice post from two weeks ago gave some initial advice about dealing with Penguin, and that still holds up. In summary, if you know that you were hit by Penguin (because your traffic dropped on April 24):
  • Clean up on-page spam you know you’ve done
  • Clean up bad links you know you’re been involved with, as best you can
  • Wait for news of a future Penguin Update and see if you recover after it happens
  • If it doesn’t, try further cleaning or consider starting over with a fresh site
  • If you really believe you were a false positive, file a report as explained here
Just in, by the way, a list of WordPress plug-ins that apparently insert hidden links. If you use some of these, and they have inserted hidden links, that could have caused a penalty.
I’d also say again, take a hard look at your own site. When I’ve looked at sites, it’s painfully easy to find bad link networks they’ve been part of. That doesn’t mean that there’s not spam that’s getting past Penguin. But complaining about what wasn’t caught isn’t a solution to improving your own situation, if you were hit.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Google’s 2012 Phishing Expedition: When Matt Cutts Goes Fishing You’re the Fish

As SEOs and Inbound Marketers it’s important that we keep our finger on the pulse of what changes Google is making with Search, but oftentimes doing so whips our community into a “the sky is falling” frenzy that often results in a flurry of “SEO is dead” posts. It seems that over the first quarter of 2012 the Ministry of Truth that is Google’s Webspam Team has been on a fishing expedition and SEO’s and marketing managers are the fish.
Matt Cutts Goes Fishing
If you have recently received a warning from Google Webmaster Tools about suspicious inbound links to your site you are not alone… Google’s Tiffany Oberoi shared with the SMX West crowd in late February that Google has sent out over 700,000 messages via Webmaster tools in the first two months of 2012.  This number is unprecedented:  the first sixty days of the year has seen roughly as many messages as were broadcast in 2010 & 2011 combined.  Juxtapose this with the recent announcements from the Inside Search blog about the change in link evaluation and then by Matt Cutts during SXSW around Google’s intentions to discourage not reward over-optimization, and you can see where things are heading.
Google is well aware of the power they have over the SEO community and it’s their ambiguity that leads unseasoned marketers to scramble to make changes to their sites. Rule of Thumb: Until you have data that backs up Google’s claims, it’s better to not make a move.
There’s a lot of discussion buzzing around the community regarding this topic, so we’ve taken the last few days and discussed experiences and perspectives with several of our partners and colleagues across the industry to try and provide some clarity and context.  Our job as SEOs is not just to reverse engineer algorithms, but human intention as well.
Type I and Type II errors
Sorry to drag up what may amount as bad memories (for at least some of you) but that statistics class you took years and years ago:  remember type I and type II errors? Type I describes a false positive, and type II describes a false negative.  The easy example for this is to think of a base concept of our justice system: given a choice it is far more preferable to allow a dozen guilty persons to go free (Type II error) rather than accidentally hang one innocent person (Type I error).  This is the tacit cost of a free and just society.
This same logic has and always will be applied by search engines when it comes to suspicious links pointing to a website.  Since any site can link to anything, it’s difficult and risky for search engines to identify suspect third party website links and penalize the recipient.  If that were not the case, the SEO industry would (unfortunately) be filled with Google Bowling services building suspicious links to your competitors’ sites.
Google Bowling
The search engines recognized this conundrum and long ago resigned to the reality of living with type II errors.  String every outwardly guilty looking site up by the neck with a penalty and pretty soon everyone will be hanging around with their feet off the ground… The only real thing the SE’s could do is discount links that appeared contrived.  And that’s been continual process over years and years.  Florida Update and the Hilltop filter long ago wiped out thematically irrelevant sites and A↔B linking schemes.  We’ve seen the rise and fall of effectiveness of services that offer automated link networks that utilize ad servers, link boxes (standalone anchor text links resting on the sidebars and footers often stacked up on top of one another), and the like.  Despite popular rhetoric, these kind of sloppy automated link building approaches don’t tend to cause penalties; they are just simply discounted by the algos and rendered moot.  We’re simply witnessing another aggressive step in this evolutionary process.

Reverse Engineering Human Intention

Naturally, Google has the ears and eyes of the search marketing world, and if you’re in Matt’s role and you must improve search quality, what do you do? Asking people to turn each other in didn’t work so well, so what is the next logical tried and true approach by leaders throughout history? Scare tactics! Google delivers in extremely vague messages along the lines of I know what you did Last Summer, but point out no specifics and as a result panic ensues!
You’re sure to get a percentage of folks to have a come-to-Jesus moment, report themselves, and request reconsideration.  They’re likely to not only acknowledge the things that were suspicious, but they may well additionally remove things that were not considered suspicious. You’ve almost got to admire this crafty textbook example of manipulating human psychology. Ladies and gentlemen we are in the middle of the Google Phishing Expedition of 2012 and you are the fish.
Of course a larger subset of recipients will not admit anything around removing existing links nor apply for reconsideration.  They may however have the fear of God Google scared into them and discontinue any future initiatives. Large volumes of vague and looming threats are going drive behavior change: it’s a smart play if you are working at a SE and your mission is to discourage artificial activities.
What’s the aftermath behind these emails?  In a small minority of cases rankings are eventually being affected.  There certainly a lot of articles posted to help companies seeking remedy from the cut corner tactics that have landed them in the Google pickle jar.  After conferring with several agencies and knowledgeable practitioners it’s apparent that a small percentage of sites that have been warned are subsequently seeing instances of certain head term rankings taking a hit a few weeks after receipt of these emails.  It’s important to note however that in most instances folks are reporting no noticeable consequence…
However, it is important to note that Google announced nearly 50 updates to Search at the end of March and many sites across many verticals experienced “flash crashes” in number of pages indexed and rankings during the middle and end of the month. I call these flash crashes because large portions of sites dropped off the face of the SERPs for as many as 4 days and rebounded completely. You can see this for yourself across many sites in the STAT Codex. As these are not clients of ours there is no telling whether these sites received Webmaster Tools messages or not. But, if a site has these flash crashes and has read news of the devaluation of link networks like BuildMyRank,  Google’s scare tactic might cause some sites to jump the gun and admit to artificial linking done in the present, past, or even distant past.
These emails aren’t forewarnings of an impending penalty.  Things are not plummeting fifty spots down, nor disappearing off the face of the Google universe. These hundreds of thousands of warnings are simply saying that there may be as little as one backlink pointing to a site that appears suspect. We even heard of one instance where a site that did some not so intelligent link building back in 2007, and has been stagnant for five years (no new activity at all), suddenly got a warning email last month. There’s no statute of limitations to be found here.
Whether there’s a slipping in ranking following the receipt of one of these letters has everything to do with the makeup of a domain’s backlink portfolio.  Whatever Google is deeming as ‘suspicious’ is now getting filtered out much more aggressively than in the past. If 1% of your backlinks is deemed suspicious and suddenly gets filtered, there’s not likely to be any effect.  If ~70% of your backlinks are suddenly whacked by this newer more aggressive filter, then yes, rankings will certainly slip significantly.
The kind of backlinks most exposed to this recent update are the over optimized insert-your-main-keyword–in-the-anchor-text-every-single-time kind. Until recently, these keywords were being considered by the SE’s, and for competitive head keywords they were often an important pillar for these sites to rank for hugely competitive queries. Now we are hearing weekly about one spammy, automated network after another being obliterated.  Many find it surprising it’s actually taken this long…
From our vantage point we see some basic commonalities existing from an off-page perspective when sites experience a significant ranking loss subsequent to a warning letter.  The sites commonly feature:
  • Volumes of over optimized anchor text (generally to the most competitive head terms)
  • Links coming from multiple outside websites which show clear signs of being networked (same IP or C-Block class, cross linking, same Google AdSense ID,same/similar coding or CMS technology – double check the links your vendor gets you using SpyOnWeb.)
  • Poor overall deep linking ratio to the site
  • Low quality sites (repurposed content) and off topic sites
Matt Cutts Confused

So You’ve Been Baited by a Webmaster Tools Email: What Do You Do?

There are a lot of options on how to play this out, and a wide range of opinions on what to do.  There’s no perfect answer, but here are some thoughts:

Step 1
  1. You have the right to remain silent. Probably best to exercise this Miranda right.
    1. If the links in question are a small portion of your overall backlink portfolio, you will probably not face a serious threat to rankings or traffic. Ignore the email.
    2. If you have engaged in heavy over-optimization of anchor text links, and/or link building from heavily networked sites, you are not really penalized from these links; they’ve just stopped taking effect.  If it’s not a penalty, then turning yourself in for something artificial within your backlink portfolio is likely not going to help you.
  2. One of the most important points to be clear on is the difference between a penalty, and filter.  Make sure that everyone on your team understands this critical difference.

    Step 2
  3. If you have seen a large portion of your links suddenly become discounted and rankings are tanking, there’s no immediate fix.  Build the right expectations within your company to understand what has happened and what the timeline will be to remedy the situation. SEO Directors are witnessing things called out today from sloppy link building programs conducted by predecessors years ago.  Make it clear that these warnings may stem from activity from yesteryear, and sell folks on your plan to lead the domain (and the business!) to salvation.

  4. Step 3
  5. (Re)Build your domain’s authority and trust the right way. Some sidesteps may have been taken to achieve an artificial level of authority for your most competitive keywords.  These shortcuts may have worked for some time, but now they do not.  A material percentage of (what was) your meaningful backlink portfolio has been lost.  Make up for that loss through proper link building initiatives that drive the process naturally.

  6. Step 4
  7. The old school rules are the right rules. Nothing has changed. Go back to the old fashioned values, they work!  Develop citations and links from trusted sites that are independent of other sites you work with.  Your backlinks should be as independent and distributed as the SERPs themselves are.  Focus on domain authority and trust, not on anchor text optimization and keyword jockeying.  Stay away from automated approaches, networks, blog posts from school children in the Philippines…

  8. Step 5
  9. Link Reclamation services are often essential. Reach out to the domains linking to you:  see if you can de-emphasize your anchor text or find some other way to work with the site owner.  Use this as an opportunity to promote new products or enhancements to your services.  Drive a higher natural deep link ratio: get more sites to link to a more diverse number of deep pages. Don’t discount the value of an experienced consultant or agency to do this right way and maximize the reclamation opportunity (yes, there goes our shameless plug).  You only want to reach out to websites that link to you once:  have the right conversation the first time- one shot!

The Last Word

Finally, understand that Google’s transparency is made to serve its own objectives. Stay aware of the announcements from the Google Search Quality team, but don’t treat them as gospel until you can verify what they’ve said with your own experiences and data.  Ultimately, we are all swimming in Google’s pond but it’s up to us decide whether we are going to swim with the school of fish caught in the net or if we’re going to be the whales that offset the tide.

Friday, 6 April 2012

About SEO and PPC: Synergistic or Cannibalistic?

Many ecommerce managers wonder whether the paid search ads they place enhance or cannibalize the organic search results. They wonder, in other words, if they end up paying for clicks they could have had for free organically. A recent study by Google suggests that the relationship between paid and organic search is more synergistic than cannibalistic.

Top organic rankings in the major search engines can be construed by consumers as endorsements of those top-ranked sites. If Google ranks a site number one it must be the best site, right? Ecommerce sites in the trenches know that’s not always the case. We’ve written about ways to increase search result visibility with rich snippets in "Capture More Search Traffic with Rich Snippets," but there are other ways as well. Google’s latest findings on paid and organic search results suggest that paid and organic listings are mutually beneficial.

50 Percent Incremental Clicks

Google's Study: "How Paid Search Incrementality Is Affected by Organic Search Rankings."

             Google's Study: "How Paid Search Incrementality Is Affected by Organic Search Rankings."

Google recently released its results in a blog post: "Impact of Organic Ranking on Ad Click Incrementality" 

Including the news that 50 percent of the clicks on AdWords campaigns that occur when the same site is also ranked number one organically are incremental. For example, if a hypothetical site typically received 100 organic visits from Google from a certain number one ranking and 100 paid visits from that same keyword phrase, the site would only receive 150 organic visits if the paid search ad was paused. So yes, the site ends up paying for some of the visits it could have had organically for free, but it can counterbalance that cost with the additional visits it wouldn’t have received if the paid search ads weren’t running for that keyword. The return on investment for this relationship may be positive or negative depending on the site and the keyword phrase.

To determine this, Google studied 390 paused search ads to determine the difference in click-though rate between organic and paid ads. The original study in August 2011 was highly questioned by the SEO community due to a low number of simultaneously occurring organic and paid search results. Google’s follow-up study controlling for simultaneously occurring organic and paid search results was released in late March 2012.

Lower Rankings and Higher Paid Ad Performance

In addition to the 50 percent incremental click through when paid and organic both rank highly, Google also found that lower ranked organic results produced higher incremental paid search click through. When the organic search result ranks between position 2 and 4, 82 percent of the ad clicks are incremental, and 96 percent of the ad clicks are incremental when the advertiser’s organic result ranked in position five and below.

Google is quick to note, as it should, that individual sites’ performance may vary. Ecommerce sites can run a variation of this test themselves by pausing ad campaigns that run for phrases that rank in position one on Google, position two through four, and positions five through 10. For example, a site that ranks number one for the phrase “hunting socks” might pause its Google AdWords ads that run for the same phrase and measure the change in organic click through from Google. When tested across multiple phrases that rank in multiple positions, an ecommerce site can determine its own relationship between paid and organic search results.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Personalized Search: "Clients from Hell & How Not To Be An SEO"

Alex Moss SEOfilms Script Linkdex Stories

Linkdex recently announced the last month's winners of their ongoing competition to win $250. Below are three animations that take an irreverent look at aspects of the search marketing industry and satirize real life situations which we often find ourselves in.

First place went to go Alex Moss for his entry 3 Rules: What not to do as an SEO. Alex's film is a cautionary tale about boasting of your SEO achievements at a networking event.

In particular, he has an axe to grind with so-called SEOs who attribute all their success to their own efforts rather that understanding and acknowledging that rank changes can just as easily happen due to "powers beyond your grasp". In his own words, "The script I have written contains situations that are all true – having either experienced them myself or had someone I know tell me it happened to them."

Simon Heseltine has been announced as a runner up for his entry: The Client From Hell. Simon's film is a classic challenge you can face in the boardroom of hell.

In particular way , Simon's SEO film script focusses on people's tendency to "believe that SEO is a switch that you turn on and off, it’s a magic wand that you wave to make things happen right away. The truth is that SEO takes time, and depending on the competition, and the artifacts that you have available to you, that time will vary. Sure you can make some things happen in 7-10 days, but you’re not going to knock out major news sites with legitimate, aged, ranking articles about the company in that time frame."

For obvious reasons, SEW wasn't eligible to enter the competition but Linkdex kindly turned a script I sent them into an animation. My film deals with a question I have been grappling with this year, namely what is the actual point of integrating social data into search?

My script is only the true insofar as I often burst into Mike Grehan's office with a question about "the latest thing" and usually his answer is that social data is transforming the web. The film imagines a future of mobile search where voice activated personal assistants like Siri are ubiquitous and social sign-in on e-commerce sites has become so advanced that they can predict exactly what you want to buy based on your social data and sharing habits.

In the cartoon there are numerous clues as to what data might be used, such as the flags on Mike's desk, the background scene through the window and the writing on his mug upon which the punchline is based... hopefully it is not lost on you!

These are just the SEO film scripts that have been animated so far by the Linkdex Stories competition. Linkdex tell me that the competition is ongoing and they plan to make more – so get a pen and start writing to win $250 and get your video made next month!

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

An SEO: Pre-Audit Preparation Process

An SEO Pre-audit process will be a little different for everyone. Even if two SEOs followed the exact same template for pricing and scoping the audit, conducting the audit, doing the analysis, and outputting the findings their path and the things they identify would be slightly different. That said there’s still a lot of great content on the subject of carrying out an effective SEO audit out there, and for anyone looking to build a new SEO audit process or refine an existing one understanding some common best practices and other people’s workflow can be very powerful.

Series of articles I’ll try to outline a flexible process for conducting an SEO audit with a mixture of specific suggestions as well as more general recommendations, similar to the approach Alan Bleiweiss took in his excellent series on the topic. This is mainly aimed at SEOs who are just starting to take on side work, striking out on their own for the first time, and/or just starting to develop a small agency, but hopefully there will be some reminders and tips for anyone who offers SEO audits.

First Step: Pricing & Scoping

Figuring out pricing in any business is hard. If you’re an independent consultant or a small consulting shop it’s even more difficult because every mistake you make hurts more than it would for a larger firm. The core factors you need to juggle here are:

  1. Value – Creating value commensurate with (and really well in excess of) the work you’ll produce.
  2. Margin – Building enough margin into your pricing that the work is beneficial for your business.
  3. Sales – Sales can be a dirty word to some small shops that do good work and survive on word of mouth, 

but even if people rave about your work keeping your prices at a level where the customers you can connect with will be willing to pay them will keep you afloat.

Providing the value is a core part of any sustainable business model. If you can’t create value for clients at a level where you can charge enough for your services to cover your personal costs and/or your company’s costs, you really don’t have a legitimate business. The good news is if you’re a competent SEO that almost certainly isn’t the case. There are plenty of companies with an awareness of the need for SEO with sustainable business models of their own that would benefit from your (or your firm’s) expertise. It’s important, however, to make sure you’re always dedicating enough of you and your company’s time and resources to the client to meet and exceed the price you’re charging in the value you’re delivering.

It seems to be obvious, and clearly it is more of a business fundamental than anything that’s SEO-specific, but not creating margin for yourself while delivering value to the client is one of the most common mistakes I see independent consultants and small firms make. It’s important to deliver value to the client, but it’s equally important not to undervalue your own talents and services.

Another difficultly in selling out the services as an SEO is striking a price that creates enough margin for you while also being a number that a prospective client is willing to pay. Even if you can create and demonstrate value, you still need to have a price for your services that is competitive and is reasonable for your target market. If you have the capacity to do enterprise SEO and create millions of dollars in value for clients that’s great – but if you’re only able to get in front of and land clients who are SMBs, you have to adjust your pricing accordingly. Once again if you can’t do that and create enough margins for yourself, you don’t really have a business.

So how do you think about pricing something like an SEO audit so that you can serve all these pricing masters? You have to be aware of:

The Output

Determining the value of your SEO audits will generate can be tricky. One critical factor for mapping a site to an estimated value is the business fundamentals of the company – how much traffic are they driving? How many leads or sales? What’s the value of all that activity to the business? If it’s a large site generating lots of revenue for the company and you can quickly spot some potential issues, you’ll know you can create more value for that client. If it’s a well-optimized, medium sized site the value will be less and so on. This analysis is less about trying to extract maximum value and more about trying to ensure that you’re providing the value you’re charging for. If you view your time as being worth X, and it takes you 10 hours to do an audit, you need to make sure 10 xs is an amount of value you feel comfortable charging for a prospective client.

Your Inputs

You have to understand what generating your SEO audit will entail. This can be vary pretty wildly depending on the work you’ll do and the deliverable you’ll hope to produce. SEO Moz’s Lindsay Wassell mentioned on the SEO Moz blog that her SEO Audits typically take around 50 hours to complete.  If you’ve ever seen the output from some of the “free site audits” offered by SEO companies you’ll know that many of those likely take minutes (or are even simply automated). In many cases the only real hard cost in your SEO is going to be billable hours (your time) so this is actually relatively straight forward to track. Have an understanding of what you and/or your team are putting into these audits in terms of hours and of course, have an idea of what you need to be charging for that time.

If you’re new to independent consulting and aren’t sure how long an SEO audit will take, a great way to get an idea is to do one (or even a couple) for free to extremely cheap – volunteer to help out a cause you’re passionate about or a friend or family member’s business for free and then map future audit scopes to that one. You’ll likely still make some pricing mistakes in evaluating different types of sites, sites of varying sizes, etc. and you’ll have to refine the process over time, but it can be a valuable starting point. (This can be a great way to get started with independent consulting in general – several years ago when I was first getting into SEO I did some volunteer work for a cause I was interested in and built a relationship that has lead to several paying client referrals over the years).

The Competitive Landscape and Perceived Value of Your Services
Finally, you need to understand what similarly priced services can be obtained for. If you’re creating $5,000 worth of value for a client but they can get the same service for $2,000, you won’t be able to charge $3,000 for it even if it seems unfair. So how do you know what people charge for an SEO audit?

It’s pretty easy to ferret out – Alan outlines a price range in this post and if you dig around some SEO sites and ask around you’ll get a general range. You also need to be aware of the fact that a number of agencies offer SEO audits for free. This can, of course, be hard to sell against but the reality is doing a thorough, in-depth and high value SEO audit for free is clearly impossible. One good means of selling against these types of audits is to encourage a prospective client to get the free audit and compare it to a sample audit that you can provide them with. You want to be careful to here not to give away anything proprietary here while still sharing enough to give them an idea of the value and thoroughness of the report.

Finding a consistent means of balancing value, costs and margins, and competitive pricing can certainly be tricky, but we like to strive to create projects with the following distribution of costs and value:

And thinking about this type of value creation, pricing, and cost structure will help you to better price and scope all of your services, including your SEO audits.

Paid Searches Cuts in SEO Revenue

Paid Searches Cuts in SEO Revenue : For the first quarter of 2012, paid search has recorded 30% gain over the same quarter in the previous year. At the core of this increase was a boost to paid search revenues for the Bing/Yahoo of over 46%. This left Google as a relative failure with a 24 percent increase.

We say relative because, when Google sees a 24% bump upward, it amounts to quite a few more quid than that earned by Bing and Yahoo combined. Bear in mind also that these figures are globally based, not solely for the UK. In the UK, Google’s dominance for all things search is absolute and unshakeable. Bing and Yahoo manage to scrape together just 4% of all United Kingdom search biz.

The increase in paid search revenue does however affect those in the Search Engine Optimisation business. Regardless of where your SEO firm is located, there are always only so many marketing and advertising dollars or pounds to spread around. An increase of 30% for paid search revenues means that SEO agencies will have likely suffered.

The reasons for this are simple. Every time Google changes their algorithm drastically SEO experts are scrambling to both explain the latest changes to clients and counter any negative effects. Customers accustomed to buying ad space seldom understand the overall cost advantages to being patient with SEO. These buyers know that paid search properly handled offers guaranteed results. Read again the words “properly handled.”

With SEO costing in the neighborhood of 10% the price of paid search, relative to return on investment, it will always be the better web marketing bargain. It is up to the sellers of said SEO services to make sure clients not only are aware of this but constantly see low cost results.