Why Google Wants to Know About Small Websites That Aren't Ranking Well

matt-cutts-talks-linksDo you have a small website that isn't performing as well in Google's search results as you think it should? If so, you could have the opportunity to have someone on the Google webspam team look at it personally.

Google's Distinguished Engineer Matt Cutts has asked small website owners to submit their site via a Google Docs form detailing why you think your website deserves to outrank the current websites in Google search results, and why you think your website is better than the ones that rank.

Google would like to hear feedback about small but high-quality websites that could do better in our search results. To be clear, we're just collecting feedback at this point; for example, don't expect this survey to affect any site's ranking.

So what exactly is Google looking for website submissions? According to Cutts, one of his engineers "was looking for more concrete examples of small sites/mom-n-pop sites."

He also said that they are looking for a wider range of examples than simply a group of engineers sitting around come up with, so they are "looking for feedback from a wider circle of folks so we can assess the scope of things" and "get input from a wider circle of folks."

Cutts also revealed that it was a tech lead on his webspam team who was thinking of looking into the issue of small websites ranking, "but wanted more data. I offered to ask 4 data"

So your website might not necessarily rank higher because of filling out the survey, but it seems like Google is at least starting to look at the problems where smaller websites are having a tougher time keeping against larger authoritative sites in the search results right now – something people have complained about since the Vince update.
Cutts said he has been looking personally into some of the submissions for small websites that have ranking issues. Meg Geddes, (a.k.a., @netmeg), who is well-known in online marketing circles, had back and forth tweets with Cutts that shows he is clearly looking at some the submissions.
Surprisingly, Cutts commented yesterday that they'd only received a couple hundred submissions, so it is definitely worth taking the time to submit your small website, if you think it's not ranking as well as should.

Article Post @ Search Engine Watch

New on Twitter: Lead Generation Cards for All Advertisers; Conversation View

Twitter was busy this week with two announcements that included the availability of Lead Generation Cards to all advertisers, and an easier way to follow conversation happening on Twitter.

Lead Generation Cards Available to All

Back in May, Twitter announced “Lead Generation Cards” that allowed a select group of advertisers to experiment with capturing emails right in a tweet. This week, Twitter unveiled the feature to all languages and all levels of advertisers from big to small businesses.

Twitter reported one of its Lead Generation Card beta users saw a 4.6 percent engagement rate from the feature, and generated more than 1,700 new email contacts in less than one week as part of a Promoted Tweet campaign.

This week, Twitter also announced updates to the feature, which includes the ability to download leads right from the Twitter ad into a CSV file. Advertisers can also view important metrics now like cost per lead.
Cards manager


Follow Conversations Better on Twitter

Reading a conversation between Twitter users hasn't always been the most intuitive. This week, Twitter announced it would keep conversations in chronological order to make it easier to follow.

From Twitter:
You’ll see up to three Tweets in sequence in your home timeline; if you want to see more, you can tap a Tweet to see all the replies, including those from people you don’t follow. We will start rolling this out to everyone today.

With this update, users can now share Twitter conversations over email, whether the recipient uses Twitter or not. On iPhone and Android, users can share individual Tweets over email. On Android, users can share through a direct message (DM), too.

Article Post @ Search Engine Watch

Link Building 101: How to Conduct a Backlink Analysis

Link Building 101 Backlink Analysis Guide

Every day, individuals who are new to SEO need to learn the basics of link building and important concepts and strategies within a campaign. This link building 101 post will continue the education of new link builders, this time on the topic of how to perform a backlink analysis.

Being able to perform a thorough backlink analysis is a fundamental element to any link building campaign. What's more, running backlink analyses can help develop your fundamental knowledge of links, link building strategies, and link quality.

What are the elements of a thorough backlinks analysis:
  1. Total number of links
  2. Number of unique domains
  3. Linking domains vs total links
  4. Anchor text usage and variance – branded, keyword rich, etc.
  5. Fresh/incoming links
  6. Page performance
  7. Link quality*
*Learned only by experience, running multiple backlink analyses, and manually checking links.

The Importance of Link Portfolios

A link portfolio (or profile) is a fancy way of saying all the sites currently linking to your site. Links matter. Big time.

So, when you run a backlink analysis on a site – whether it's your own or a competitor's – you're looking at the websites linking to that website, in what manner, and to what page.

And, since we understand Google's algorithmic reliance on links, we know that a website's ability to rank in Google is largely dependent on the websites linking to it (i.e., its backlink portfolio).

So, before you can even begin to consider a link building campaign you need to understand the site's current link portfolio. There are a variety of tools to help you along this path:

All of these tools will do the job properly, and choosing one mainly comes down to a matter of preference. If possible I would recommend using two or more of these tools to ensure you're getting as much information as possible.

Currently I use Open Site Explorer and MajesticSEO, so the walkthrough will be based largely on the use of these two tools, and the screenshots you see will be pulled from these as well.

Getting Started

To start, you simply go to your chosen tool's website and plug in the target website's URL. This will immediately take you to an overview page, in which the target website's backlinks are summarized in full.

I highly recommend that if this is your first time ever using a backlink explorer, you take 30 minutes to an hour and simply click around and familiarize yourself with the various tabs, graphs, functions, filters, etc.

Being comfortable with the tool is extremely important in understanding the data it can reveal, as well as the implications therein.

Once you've acclimated to your new SEO tool, the first element you should analyze of the site's backlink portfolio is the total number of links.

1. Total Number of Links

Open Site Explorer:
Total number of links

This will be at the top of your screen once you've searched the URL. Red highlight is mine.

Majestic Site Explorer:
Total number of links

Once again, highlighted in red.
(Note: there's a large discrepancy here. Majestic commonly reports more links than Open Site Explorer, but in this case it seemed to be picking up some recent ads as links, creating a large inflation.)

Understanding total link count is a good start to understanding how competitive a website is currently (especially if you're looking at competitors link counts, too). However, it's easy to spam a high link count with tactics such as sitewide links, article directories, blog comments, etc. So, total links definitely doesn't correlate to a strong link profile, or high rankings.

The next step, which helps understand link quality, is to check the number of linking domains as well.

2. Number of Unique Domains

Linking Root Domains
Referring Domains

Unique domains are typically a better metric than link count, since multiple links from the same domain are typically considered to have a drop off in value.

Of course other factors weigh in, such as site relevance, quality, anchor text, link placement, etc. Still, looking at top-level metrics you want to ensure you're analyzing linking domains as well as total links.

3. Linking Domains vs. Total Links

Linking domains versus total links is done by simply comparing the two numbers we've taken a look at thus far. If you have thousands upon thousands of links per linking domain, that could definitely be a red flag for an unnatural link portfolio. And again, it's accepted that link value drops off as you accumulate more and more links from a single domain.

The goal should be to have as even a ratio as possible when comparing unique domains versus total links, although obviously there will always be considerably more total links than linking domains. A single site-wide link can quickly inflate this ratio, and should be something to look out for and avoid when it makes sense.

4. Anchor Text Usage and Variance

For Open Site Explorer we click on this tab:
Anchor Text

This tab displays a list of anchor text terms, the number of linking domains using that specific anchor text, and the number of total links using that anchor text.

Anchor Text Term

For Majestic:
Anchor Text

Majestic will also provide you with a list of anchor text complete with linking domains, total links, along with trust metrics.
Anchor Text List

Alternatively, you can also flip to Majestic's summary tab, which will actually have an anchor text graph available:
Anchor Text

There are two things you should be looking for when you're examining anchor text – usage and variance.

First, you can tell based upon links which keywords have been optimized (and potentially over optimized). Doing a quick search in Google based upon the link anchor text should tell you how a site is performing, and reveal potential insights.

Once again, diversity is key here. Although many link builders used keyword rich anchor text (i.e., "dog beds" or "diesel generators") as the link in recent years, with the implementation of Penguin 2.0 it's more important than ever before to ensure diversity and branding (i.e., your brand name instead of the money keyword you want to rank for).

Understanding the current anchor text portfolio for a website is extremely important before launching a campaign – you want to ensure that branding is by far the largest piece of the pie, and that any keyword rich anchor links are used intelligently.

Furthermore, you can make sure to avoid anchor text that's already been overused, and implement other anchor text that's been underutilized.

5. Fresh/Incoming Links

Once again there are tabs within both Open Site Explorer and Majestic that will show you fresh or recently discovered links:
Just Discovered
New links

Both of these tabs sort by newest found and display their native link data. Majestic also displays a handy graph for quick reference and monitoring incoming links by day or date range:
Links by Day and Date Range

Fresh link data is important for several reasons – you can see recent links built which can let you decipher current/recent strategies, if suspicious link building activities are underway, and generally notice any unaccounted for large spikes in link velocity (amount of links built in a short time).

I would definitely say that seeing thousands – or even hundreds – of links built per day would raise a red flag, unless the website in question is sizable and well known.

Again, fresh links is a great metric to check if a change in ranking has happened recently. Although often Google's algorithm and subsequent actions are outside of our control, we should always be aware what's going on with our own sites as well as competitors.

6. Page Performance

Here is where we look into the breakdown of links per page, and see which pages currently have the most links.

This is extremely important in understanding current site performance, especially for various resource pages. This can help guide discussion about underperforming pages, pages that are currently doing well (and perhaps why), and where the focus of a link building campaign should or should not be.

A couple screenshots of with the page tab highlighted:
Top Pages

Clicking over to these tabs will give you a list of the top link grossing pages per site, from largest to smallest.

Typically the home page will be number one. The top linked pages feature is absolutely great for quickly finding previous wins and shedding a little light on what might work well and prove linkable within a vertical.

I've also found it to be an absolutely great metric to break down competitor wins – you can see what resources they've created that have resulted in high link counts, and use that to brainstorm resource creations of your own.

7. Link Quality

This is the time I spend manually clicking around, exploring links, and simply checking everything out. Usually it's only a thirty minute endeavor to make sure I'm working beyond the tools, and have truly dived into some of the data.

Sure, it's nice to have various tools helping you understand a website's link portfolio, but in all honesty if you're not spending some time manually examining links yourself, you're missing the point.

Here's what I generally look at when checking out link quality:
  • Relevance – including the site, page, and link.
  • The domain author/Page Rank of the site and the page authority/Page Rank of the page (assuming the relevance checks out).
  • The placement of the link – natural versus shoe-horned, helpful for the user versus obvious link building, etc.
  • The anchor text.
  • The overall believability of the link – how editorial does it seem?

As you spend time working on link building campaigns and examining backlinks you'll find there's a natural instinct that lets you know when a link is good and when a link is bad. Obviously, spam itself is easily identifiable. Link sense can develop well beyond that, however, and help you find suspicious links that can fool tools. Often we refer to this as the smell test – because you know when a link stinks.

Taking this All to Excel

All of this data from each tab can be exported into excel as CSVs for further revelations and extrapolations. This gets a bit more advanced, but is a must if you're going to be doing a comparison of multiple sites, or wish to do a competitive analysis with your site and a competitor.

Here's a great guide on competitor backlink analysis in Excel. Here's another advanced guide using Open Site Explorer and link intersect – definitely worth a read if you're looking to learn competitive analysis. And finally, three phenomenal Excel spreadsheets for link analysis.

There are many guides that can walk you through how to export this data, combine each into an Excel spreadsheet, and even do a competitive analysis.

It's definitely worth exploring, but a bit more than I can go into detail here. It's also a bit more advanced, so make sure you're comfortable with backlink audits and analysis before you being exporting it all to Excel and playing around.


Backlink analysis is one of the first skills you should learn as a budding SEO practitioner and link builder. Being able to confidently dive into your website's (or a competitor's) link profile will help you learn more about the SEO industry and gain much needed experience.

For basic analysis, you should be looking at:
  1. Total number of links
  2. Number of unique domains
  3. Linking domains vs total links
  4. Anchor text usage and variance
  5. Fresh/incoming links
  6. Page performance
  7. Link quality

There are so many possible opportunities for insight within a backlink analysis. You can learn:
  • Competitor's link building strategies
  • Competitor's top performing resources
  • Underutilized link opportunities with your own site
  • Viable link strategies within your industry
  • Over-optimized anchor text
  • Links that need to be removed
  • Etc.

So go get your hands dirty and dive into your first backlink analysis today!

Article Post @ Search Engine Watch

Making it easier to discover new features in AdWords

You're busy, and we know it's not always easy to stay on top of every innovation and change in AdWords. To keep you informed about the latest and greatest, we wanted to share how we are making it easier to stay updated on important AdWords improvements and changes with the new look and feel on the Inside AdWords blog.

Product update shortcuts
At the top of this page on the right you will see “Product Updates” written below the search bar. This is your access point for our product and feature announcements going forward.

The first link, Major updates on our blog, is where you will find both in-depth posts on specific releases, as well as posts summarizing all the recent happenings in AdWords on a regular basis. Blog posts related to updates will be tagged with “Updates” to help you find them quickly and easily.

For those of you who want AdWords news in real time, we have added a second link to All updates on Google+, featuring our product and feature changes on the Google Ads Google+ page. Each post will be tagged with #adwords #updates to make them easily identifiable. We encourage you to "follow" this page so updates hit your G+ stream in a timely way.

Blog reader feedback survey
Finally, we would love to get your feedback on our blog to learn more about what you like and expect from it, and what you would like to see us improve. Please complete our short survey to help us provide you with a better experience here on the blog.

Thanks for reading the Inside AdWords blog, and stay tuned for more updates and insights into AdWords.

Posted by Rob Newton, Inside AdWords Crew @ Google Adwords Blog

Exciting new fonts in AdSense

An important element of a user’s experience on your site is how they rate its overall appearance. You’ve been asking for more customization options in our ad units so that they complement the design of your site. Today, we’re pleased to let you know that we’ve added five new font options for you to choose from when customizing your ad units.

We looked at a combination of your requests for specific fonts together with popularity and recent adoption levels on the web when deciding on which new fonts to add. Here’s the full list:
  • Open Sans

  • Open Sans Light

  • Roboto Light
  • Ubuntu Light
  • Lora
You can customize your fonts directly in your account in a few quick steps. We hope you enjoy experimenting with them and would love to hear your feedback on which fonts work best on your site.

Posted by Alan Oursland - AdSense Software Engineer @ Google Adsense Blog

Correlation, Causation & Coincidence in SEO

Google Trends Greece and Ice Cream

A recent blog post on Moz by Cyrus Shepard caused quite a stir in the SEO community. This stir was rooted in part over lack of understanding of the difference between correlation and causation, and in part because the author clearly tried to bridge the gap himself in his writing and imply causation where there was no evidence of such.

Before we dig into that, as well as a couple more examples, let's first get a better understanding of correlation, causation, and – for good measure – coincidence.
Merriam-Webster defines them each as:
  • Correlation: a relation existing between phenomena or things or between mathematical or statistical variables which tend to vary, be associated, or occur together in a way not expected on the basis of chance alone.
  • Causation: the act or process of causing.
  • Coincidence: the occurrence of events that happen at the same time by accident but seem to have some connection.

The difference then is that correlation doesn't make the claim that one event causes the other, just that they occur together statistically in a way that wouldn't be expected based on random chance. One can view this as similar to consistent coincidence.

Causation, on the other hand, claims that two or more events are tied together directly. And coincidence, as we are all likely aware, occurs when two events happen at the same time but aren't at all related.

Let's put this into real-world examples.
  • Correlation: If you eat three square meals every day promptly at 8 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 6 p.m., there will be a sizable period of time twice per year where your dinner time will correlate to the sun setting. An outside observer for this fixed duration may easily claim that like Pavlov's dog, your hunger for dinner is caused by the setting of the sun. Obviously this isn't true, but for this period the two events correlate.
  • Causation: If you're walking down the street, texting all the way and walk face-first into a lamp post, you will get a bruise. While obviously texting doesn't cause facial bruises (though in this instance there is a correlation), the event of striking one's face against a hard object is the direct cause of the bruise. Thus, this is an example of causation.
  • Coincidence: If you're sitting in a coffee shop and say hello to your friend and at exact the same time someone's phone rings, this is a coincidence. The mere sound of your voice doesn't inspire the ringing of phones and statistically one wouldn't expect the event to occur together outside of random chance.

It's very important to understand and remember the difference between the three and to question data based on an understanding of this difference. In fact, below I've included a link to an article on "spurious correlation" (which the meal-time situation noted above is an example of), but for now these definitions will work well.

With this in mind, let's look at the claims made in the Moz article noted above and explore some other examples that you likely have (or will) encounter while monitoring your rankings.

Google +1s and Search Rankings

To begin, you may want to read the article I'm referencing which can be found here.

Now, credit where it's due. The article is properly titled, "Amazing Correlation Between Google +1s and Higher Search Rankings".

With this wording as the use of the word "correlation" throughout the piece, the author acknowledges that there is no evidence or testing done to prove that +1s directly impact rankings, but that pages with higher numbers of +1s tend to rank higher. However, the whole article isn't on +1s so let's go through the points one-by-one that the author discusses.

1. Posts are Crawled and Indexed Almost Immediately

The author's assertion here is that content will get indexed faster if it's posted and shared in Google+. I have seen no large-scale tests of the speed with which content gets indexed by being linked to on standard Google+ profile vs. just being part of a highly crawled site; however there is evidence that a page can get crawled quickly via a strong Google+ profile.

Author's Claim: Accurate, but perhaps too optimistic.

2. Google+ Posts Pass Link Equity

The author claims that shared links pass link weight simply because they're not nofollowed (whereas other links are). Now, this brings up an interesting question: Does the fact that Google nofollows some links necessarily indicate that they pass weight to the others?

One could ask, "Why nofollow some if you aren't going to pass weight to any?" More likely than passing link weight from the easily abused environment that would breed goes back to point one – they will crawl the content that is shared (i.e., followed) and not crawl additional links, thus seriously restricting the benefits of comment spamming on stronger profiles.

I can't say the conclusion that the links are nofollowed just to pass crawlers and not link juice is heavily tested or based on more than an understanding of what Google's trying to accomplish and the pitfalls if they started passing link weight through Google+, but I will assert that it's far more likely than Google setting themselves up to be a link spam property.

Author's Claim: Unlikely

3. Google+ is Optimized for Semantic Relevance

The author claims that the ability to essentially write full blog posts into Google+ adds semantic relevancy to a URL shared by the post. It's true that Google has gone to lengths to ensure that the post page is unique and optimized. It's almost as if Google would like to rank its own site for the posts it contains. That part isn't to be debated, of course.

The real question is: does Google assign relevancy from a Google+ post to the URL shared in it?

If we think about what Google would be trying to accomplish, knowing that they do use Google+ for indexing, it makes sense that Google would use the same technology they use on their general relevancy analysis internally. Now, does Google use that to credit the target URL or do they use it to assign relevancy to their own post? That's a different question, and one which hasn't yet been answered openly (and likely never will, but if Matt Cutts would like to voice his thoughts please consider this the invitation).

Because the task is simple (make sure the description of a link you're sharing is accurate and contains a summary of the content) and the only pitfall will be that it passes no semantic weight to the target URL but does result in a better optimized post, I would add this to the "do it either way" list. It's not going to hurt, it may help – and even if it doesn't help directly, it may result in higher click-throughs and even your Google+ post ranking.

Author's Claim: Possible

Other Notes

The author goes from there to discuss ways to optimize a Google+ profile. One thing is certain, having a Google+ profile and using it is a good idea.

Whether you find Google+ of a high direct value or you simple have it in a "Google said to drink the Kool-Aid so I did" kind of way, more trust signals are being added to the Google web of services and the more trust you can send, the more trustable you are. The advice the author gives (especially in regards to the authorship tag which will directly boost the trust of your profile) is solid.

Now, you may be asking at this point, "The title mentioned +1s but you haven't touched on those. Why?" Interestingly the article itself doesn't cover much about +1s.

The author asserts that, "the relationship between +1s and higher rankings goes beyond correlation into the territory of actual causation," but retracted that with the next sentence added after publishing, "This should say 'posting on Google+' instead of Google +1s. It's clear that Google doesn't use the raw number of +1s directly in its search algorithm, but Google+ posts have SEO benefits unlike other social platforms," which leaves one scratching their head. The title and the image used right at the top to assert its accuracy is based on +1s and yet we're now to learn that it was never intended to be about +1s?

I find that unlikely, and perhaps a response to Cutts coming out and stating, "If you make compelling content, people will link to it, like it, share it on Facebook, +1 it, etc. But that doesn't mean that Google is using those signals in our ranking." There's actually much more he said which you can read here but that's the gist. The article, it seems, is incorrect in the implied assertion that +1s aid in higher rankings.

What Does This Have to do With Causation, Correlation & Coincidence?

At this point, you may be wondering why I started this piece with an explanation of causation, correlation, and coincidence. Throughout the article we had to put on our thinking caps and make this assessment whether we knew we were doing it.

At its core, the question was, "Do +1s improve rankings?" Ignoring Cutts coming out and saying "no," we have to address the probable reality which would be that a strong web presence and brand are going to attract more +1s.

Similarly, a strong web presence and brand are going to attract higher rankings and more links. Did the +1s lead to higher rankings? No. The strong web presence leads to both. This is a correlation, not causation.

What Are Some Other Examples?

Whether we know it or not, we make this assessment often; sometimes correctly, sometimes incorrectly. With SEO we often have to play probabilities and go with the most likely scenario in any given environment, so let's look at a couple other examples.

You Changed Your Title Tag and Your Site Dropped the Next Day

I hear this quite often (though you can substitute H1 tag, description, content, etc.). Rarely do such changes impact rankings that quickly.

The first place to look is to enter the URL into Google and see what they're presenting to visitors. Is the title the new or old one? If it's the old title then your page hasn't yet been cached, if it's the new then it has. The conclusion would be different for each event.

1. Your Title Hasn't Changed
If the change hasn't been cached, then the probability of it impacting the results is extremely low if any.

This is an example of coincidence as opposed to either correlation or causation. It's important to know this as not knowing will delay any efforts to addressing the real cause of the decline.

Rather than spending time undoing changes and waiting, praying, and wondering why it's not working, you'll want to look for other changes that took place; updates, warnings or penalties, etc.

2. Your Title Has Changed
In this event, the change may indeed have impacted the results, but before assuming causation you'll need to investigate other possibilities.

For example, if the environment was exactly the same as in the situation above (i.e., title hadn't changed) with the sole difference being that the crawlers were working hard and the page got cached, the same drop would occur and you may mistakenly draw the conclusion that it was due to the title adjustment.

This is perhaps the worst-case scenario as there is a clear and obvious culprit, albeit incorrect, and without questioning whether it too may be a coincidence, you may spend time and effort directed at correcting the wrong issue.

Here we have to add the title to the list of possibilities, but not ignore everything else.

You Changed Your Title and Traffic Grew

First, congratulations. Traffic is a much easier factor to look at, as there are far fewer variables.

If you rank for phrase X and your rankings stay the same, you'd expect to see the same traffic. If the traffic goes up or down after changing a title or description (remembering that it will have no click-through impact until Google caches it and begins displaying it in the SERPs) then one may (and most likely will) jump to the conclusion that this is an example of causation. That a title of format A will yield an improvement in traffic of B, this may well be the case but, as with the title example above, other factors need to be considered.

Some other questions you will need to ask are:
Is this new traffic to the same page/source?
I've unfortunately had to inform people that the spike they saw was from a different source of traffic when they mistakenly assumed an increase in traffic overall meant that their Google traffic had improved.

To know whether we're dealing with causation we need to look only at a specific set of traffic (example – traffic to that specific page and only from Google) to know whether the two are tied together.

Remember, traffic to other pages doesn't count.

Are you measuring the right timeframe?
Remember that most sites have weekly, monthly, and annual trends.
If you notice a jump in traffic two days after a new title went live you can't compare those two days vs. the 2 days prior. That may well have you comparing Monday and Tuesday with Saturday and Sunday.

The simplest comparison is to wait a week and compare full weeks of data. But assuming you don't have the patience for that (it's OK – I rarely do either) you can compare with the same days the week prior (assuming no special circumstances such as holidays or ranking changes).

Even this isn't ideal. I prefer to compare with the same days the year prior if possible, but this requires the rankings to have held (unlikely) and for you to have a solid grasp of the year over year traffic trends in your sector (i.e. if search volume is up or down overall you may see false positives or negatives based not on the title, but on overall search trends).

Assuming that you're comparing things correctly, you can now assume causation and apply similar changes elsewhere.


I came across an interesting piece in my travels that covers a lot of SEO well (including the +1 discussion) and that is a piece on "spurious correlation" that can be found on the Everyday Sociology Blog.

I've used the term correlation loosely in this article; however, what we're talking about in the +1 example is spurious correlation, which is a situation that isn't at all related, but changes at the same points. An example drawn from the article:
"One student had gone out partying the weekend before, and while sitting in the bar watching his friends during the evening, he noticed that people who had the most fun dancing were also those who were most likely to throw up by the end of the evening. It's not that dancing made them sick ("A" causes "B"), or that being sick make them have fun dancing ("B" causes "A"), rather there is a third variable, alcohol consumption ("C") that leads to both fun dancing and sickness."

To that end, I would task each and every one of us to sincerely ponder correlation, causation, and even coincidence with each assumption about SEO we make. At best, it will save you time and energy; at worst, it'll force you to fully understand all the angles of a situation before tackling it.

Article Post @ Search Engine Watch

Let Your Audience's Interests Guide Your Content Strategy

One of the keys to unlocking the virtuous cycle that exists between search marketing and social discovery is publishing content that is worthy of a Facebook like, a tweet, or a LinkedIn share.

As advertisers are encouraged to think and act more like publishers, writer's block is an increasingly common and pernicious problem.

Creating an ad for a captive audience like the people who tune into the local nightly news broadcast is one thing: Do some market research, create the spot, and then let her rip. But since the dawn of digital media, the iron-fisted control of the broadcast television and radio networks over the audience has weakened to the vanishing point.

In order for an advertiser to capture the attention of a target audience today, the advertiser's content must stand on its own. The audience will vote with its fingers and click or tap away from the content if it's not interesting, useful, or even amazing. In light of this fact, effective advertising has to live up to this promise.
Savvy brand marketers and their agencies are well aware that the bar has been raised. Unfortunately, useful data and analytic/automation tools to guide the creative process from strategy and key messages to content type(s) and format(s) are as rare as a unicorn.

Sure, social listening tools can be useful sources of insights into keywords and phrases people are using to discuss topics directly relevant to your category and brand. Similarly, keyword research can be a great tool for identifying topics of interest to a target audience within the same category.

However, these approaches do little to expand our understanding of what members of our target audience are actually searching for or interested in. They ignore the reality that oftentimes the same people talking about search marketing on Twitter are also talking about the upcoming season premiere of Showtime's "Homeland" on Facebook. And chances are most of them are more passionate about and engaged in the conversation about their favorite TV shows than they are in a new paid search report available through Google AdWords.
Discovering the less obvious or intuitive interests of your target audience is a phenomenal opportunity to unlock insights into topics and content that can capture their attention and drive engagement in surprising ways.

For example, my company works with a hardware technology provider that was running a campaign this spring to market a new device to college and graduate students.

By tracking the sharing of their content and connecting first-party audience data collected on their digital assets to third-party audience data from a variety of data providers, we quickly learned that when these students weren't visiting technology sites and participating in discussions about technology, they were looking for travel tickets and deals to relatively inexpensive destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean.

Varied Interests
Of course they were. These students were seeking low cost destinations for spring break. This was certainly an "aha" moment.

What was a reasonable conclusion from this data and the resulting recommendation to grab the attention of this tech marketer's target audience? In this case, the answer was to create content that combined interests in useful and entertaining ways, such as articles detailing how to use our customer's devices to find last minute travel deals and promotions where students could earn entries to win free air travel each time they referred friends to learn more about the benefits of this particular technology product.

By creating this "smarter content," coupled with engaging experiences that connect with a range of interests in which members of the target audience are passionate, the odds of them generating a lot of likes, tweets, shares, and backlinks go way up as well.

So the next time you're wondering about new and different kinds of content to create in order to reach and engage your target audience, consider using data about the interests of your audience to guide your strategy.

The customer loyalty and thanks you receive from your audience will come in the form of stronger social signals and increasing ranking in natural search results.

Article Post @ Search Engine Watch

Facebook Revamps Contest Rules for Businesses

Facebook drastically changed its contest rules for businesses this week. Businesses can now run contests and promotions freely on their own timelines without the use of a third-party app, Facebook announced.

What was once against the rules is now permissible by allowing Facebook users to like, comment, or create posts on a page as a voting mechanism or entry into a contest.

“We want to make it easier for businesses of all sizes to create and administer promotions on Facebook, and to align our policies to better meet the needs of marketers,” Facebook stated in its promotions help document.

Now businesses can run promotions right on their timelines and:
  • Collect entries by having users post on the page or comment/like a page post.
  • Collect entries by having users message the page.
  • Utilize likes as a voting mechanism.

Does that mean apps are dead? No, in fact, Facebook gives insight into how to decide between using an app versus using the timeline for a contest:
Creating a promotion with an app on Facebook allows a Page to create a more personalized experience, more in line with your branding strategy.
Apps provide more space and flexibility for content than Page posts alone. Promotions run through apps can collect data in a secure, structured way that may be appealing to advertisers, particularly larger brands.
Creating a promotion with a Page is faster and easier. Additionally, as with all Page posts, Page posts about promotions are eligible to be displayed in the News Feeds of the people who like the Page and can be promoted to a broader audience.
Businesses always have the option of using both an app and their Page to administer a promotion.

With the announcement, Facebook also said its page terms are updated to restrict pages from tagging or encouraging Facebook users to tag themselves in content "that they are not actually depicted in."

What that means for contests and promotions, Facebook stated, is that it’s fine to ask people to submit names of a new product in exchange for a chance to win a prize, for example, but not OK to ask people tag themselves in pictures of a new product in exchange for a chance to win a prize.

For example, this approach is OK:
Facebook Contest

Facebook explained this decision further:
We want to make sure that people continue to post authentic, high quality content to their Facebook Timelines to stay better connected with the people they care about.
There are technical reasons for confining the administration of the promotion to either a Page or in an app. For example, because people can choose to limit the visibility of the content they put on Facebook to only themselves, friends, or to a custom group of people, Pages won’t have the ability to access all of the entries that people post on their own Timelines unless these entries are public.

If you're thinking about running a contest for your Facebook page, be sure to brush up on Facebook’s promotional guidelines, found in Section E, here.

Article Post @ Search Engine Watch

Twitter Buys Social TV Analytics Company Trendrr

Twitter has bought social TV analytics firm Trendrr in a bid to capitalize on users discussing television shows on its social network.
Twitter TVTrendrr CEO Mark Ghuneim announced the news on the company's blog, saying Twitter was the ideal platform to benefit from its services.

"What makes Twitter uniquely compelling among these platforms is its connection to the live moment – people sharing what's happening, when it's happening, to the world," he said. "We think we can help amplify even stronger the power of that connection to the moment inside of Twitter."

Twitter confirmed the news via a tweet.
Trendrr creates big data social analytics products for TV and media brands, including Curatorr, which allows clients to curate tweets for broadcast, or analyze discussions on social networks to create ranking lists or voting systems.

It also runs Trendrr.TV to create detailed insights into social media-based TV discussions.

Ghuneim confirmed that while his firm would continue to honor its previous contracts for Trendrr.TV clients, it wouldn't be establishing new ones. He also said that Curatorr would continue to serve clients. The price Twitter paid for the company was not disclosed.

This the latest in a line of purchases made by Twitter that focus on targeting TV advertising at users; the firm bought social advertising firm Bluefin Labs in February. It also made a move into directly influencing the outcome of television shows in January, with a test of a voting service carried out during an episode of "Hawaii Five-0".

This article was originally published on V3.

Keyword Stuffing & Hidden Text Manual Action: Google on How to Fix it

Matt Cutts and Nelson of Google
Author's Note: This article is part of a series detailing specific spam warnings that webmasters might find displayed in Google Webmaster Tools manual action viewer, the types of things that are flagging each warning, and what webmasters should do to fix it to see the warning removed.

Hidden text and keyword stuffing isn't as common today of it once was, but Google is still warning webmasters to avoid.

When you mention hidden text and keyword stuffing, people often think of the 50 lines long text white text on white background in the footer of a webpage. It essentially means placing text on a webpage but for search engines only, not the user.

This was used extensively a decade ago, although it has evolved to include things such as using CSS to hide it off the page, to place it underneath another element already on the page, or to just set the text of hidden.

Keyword stuffing is putting a keyword phrase, or several, multiple times within a webpage, to the extent where whatever is on the page doesn't even make much sense because of the repetitive keywords. This is done so that the keywords are visible to search engine, with the idea that it will help it rank better in Google.

Google's Distinguished Engineer Matt Cutts makes a point of saying that using things like JavaScript that is used on websites to create mouse over menus and other user-friendly ways to show more text is generally OK.

Cutts very specifically brought up the point that many spinner programs – programs that will essentially take content already available on the web and “spin it” to create new content – often don't pass the keyword spamming test. The output is often gibberish and nonsensical.

Most keyword stuffing examples are very obvious. While it is good to have your keywords within your text on the page, you can go overboard quite easily. If you want a quick method on how to check to see if your webpage is a little bit too keyword happy, read your text out loud, as it will often sound very unnatural. If it sounds fine to you or to those you read it too, it should be fine.

Why is this a problem? When users search for certain keywords and end up on your site, they want to see those keywords on the page in a useful format. They don't want to end up there due to hidden text located in the footer. Hidden text and keyword stuffing often make for a very poor user experience for it the user coming in from Google, which is why Google take such a stance on the issue
If you get the warning for hidden text or keyword stuffing, the solution is pretty easy: simply remove it. This type of SEO is still utilized today by some of the scammier SEO companies, so if you are unsure where it is, start looking at your actual source code find it, generally either close to the top or close to the bottom of the code.

Cutts said that occasionally it is a case of hacked site – hidden text and keyword stuffing is most common on WordPress sites, so if you get the warning on a WordPress site, your first thing to do should be to check whether you've been hacked, and if so, upgrade your WordPress and all your plug-ins, and then begin your cleanup process.

Google advises you should document your cleanup process. So document what you found, and how you fixed it, and the dates you did. Cutts said you should also include why it happened, whether it was a rogue SEO or a CMS system gone wild, and explain why you believe it won't happen again.

Article Post @ http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2291159/Keyword-Stuffing-Hidden-Text-Manual-Action-Google-on-How-to-Fix-it

After Being Crushed By Google Panda, Voucher and Car Classified Sites Recover

After unprecedented numbers of sites recovered from Panda as a result of the last confirmed update, many people stil have questions about what sites need to do to escape the wrath of the algorithm. The answer: the same things as before, regardless of how many other sites are seeing a return to the SERPs. The 10 day update is still in full flow, and with so little data around Panda recoveries it can be difficult to know where to start.

By now, most everyone has seen a graph of what Google's Panda algorithm update can do to a site, but not a lot of people have seen what a recovery looks like. That's probably because there haven't been many documented recoveries – at least not full, 100 percent traffic returning recoveries – at least until July's update.

The good news is that partially recovering from Panda should become more straightforward, as Google reportedly moves to add Panda to the real-time algorithm, rolling it out continually for up to a third of each month, instead of on a more occasional basis. Sadly this also means that it's going to become more difficult to diagnose Panda issues – at least from the go-to resources such as Moz's Google Algorithm Change History.

Is it Panda? Where to Start Looking

Internet marketers, just like users (and Google), should be able to tell at a glance whether content hosted on your site is worth reading or not. If you instinctively ignore your own images (unless it's because they're so small you have to squint to work out what they are) and your star ratings are stuck on 0, it should be time to think about improving your content, regardless of whether your site has been hit by Panda.

A completely separate (though related) issue is the state of content not on your site. Many sites have experienced Panda problems related to content that has been scraped and hosted elsewhere on the web; as well as the more embarrassing problem of hosting content that has been stolen from elsewhere.

Traffic Returns to a Voucher Site

Voucher and car classifieds sites are two of the industries hit hardest by Panda. It's not unheard of that Google might take action across a particular vertical, but the idea that an algorithm might be affecting voucher sites, car classifieds sites, and the like is worrisome for people working in those industries. Scarier still for site owners is the fact that this isn't a manual action, but an algorithmic update that just doesn't like their payday loans website or others like it.

One voucher site my agency has been working with for a number of years was badly affected by the Panda algorithm April 11, 2011:

The site was runs an affiliate program, which at the time hosted a section on the site linking out more generally to great deals on products from across the web, in addition to the core product. These pages typically drove around 20,000 visits per month; however each deal's description was (very helpfully) provided by the manufacturer.

This meant that those small blocks of vaguely useful text could also be found in many other locations on the Internet, and there was no way our affiliate program could be the source of that information, hence the impressive drop illustrated in the graph above.

This issue was dealt with by killing this section of the site once it had been determined that this was likely to be the cause for the loss in traffic/visibility. These pages were irrelevant to the core purpose of the site, and in comparison were badly maintained.

The poor quality pages in question were redirected to another, less important site owned by the same company, and the traffic very quickly returned…and grew, well beyond the 20,000 that on paper were guaranteed losses as a result of redirecting the pages.

One of the most significant contributors to the low number of documented Panda recoveries is that while Searchmetrics is a great tool for diagnosing huge drops in visibility, it won't register massive gains in traffic once the site cleans up. You need Google Analytics for that, which means that Panda casualties are generally well-noted and Panda recoveries are not.

In this instance, many of the site's better rankings were related to the poorly converting terms on poorly constructed pages that were killed off – even though traffic improved beyond "normal", visibility is still pretty static.

Can Car Classifieds Sites Recover?

Car classifieds sites have struggled massively since the first Panda update. The content that users are interested in, for the most part, is the selection of cars themselves.

One problem is that users will typically upload their car ad to as many classified sites as they can find in order to get maximum exposure and hopefully sell their car more quickly; the other is that in the UK, this vertical has a runaway market leader in AutoTrader, which gets two or three times as much inventory as its competitors.

Obviously from a seller's perspective, the former isn't a problem at all; it's the sensible thing to do. From Google's perspective we're left with an entire (extremely competitive) vertical with the same content across nearly every site. These sites are invariably crushed by Panda, and take desperate measures in order to escape, such as below:

A prominent car site recently purchased a new (dropped) domain, and redirected its previous one, in order to escape from an old Panda problem that had been plaguing the site for months.

Visually the company had created a wholly new site, with new branding to go along with it; however the same content issues lingered because the same content was hosted on the site, and the visibility plummeted once the algorithm established what had happened. Switching domains is no way to escape Panda – bad content is bad no matter where it's hosted.

The way my agency tackled the drop for the voucher site involved hemorrhaging the bad content pages from the overall strategy, despite being painfully aware of how much traffic the site could lose. The difference for many car classifieds sites is that there is little or no good content on the site to begin with, and what good content there is can be found elsewhere on the web in a more easily digestible format (on AutoTrader).

The good news is that several companies in this vertical have seen a recovery thanks to this update, as illustrated in the graph above. Many car classified sites have been rapidly improving their pages; adding useful content such as videos and reviews; and still seeing no result for many months.

The better news is that car sites naturally have access to a large, still niche audience, by leveraging their authority on several subjects: which car to buy and how to buy it. Large libraries of content sit naturally on car classified sites that many users will find helpful, and with users visiting 11 pieces of content before they convert, a large inventory of content, as well as a large inventory of cars, can be extremely helpful.

How One Travel Site Recovered from Panda

"Cloaking" isn't an issue that often crops up on marketing blogs these days, and few SEO professionals will still try to display content to Google that isn't easily visible to users. But showing content to users that search engines can't see is sometimes necessary to escape Panda's clutches.

A travel site my agency had been working with for years had experienced a big loss in search traffic and visibility due to a Panda update. The site would collate holidays from other travel operators' sites, which inevitably meant that large portions of the descriptions could be found elsewhere.

Consisting of itineraries and general resort information provided by the holiday operators, nobody would suggest that this content belonged to the site to begin with – but nobody could argue that this content wasn't useful for people looking to book a holiday through the website. Rewriting the descriptions would take months, or even years, and with Panda strangling the traffic there probably wouldn't be years to work on this.

To combat the problem the stolen content was placed in iframes so visitors could still read it; set about adding more original content to the pages; and after a few months the site did recover.

The same tactic could be employed across voucher and car classifieds sites, and in a recent Webmaster video Matt Cutts said that content that is not necessarily visible to search engines is not necessarily bad; but the issue we often face in those industries is that all the content can be found elsewhere. If we put that in iframes and add more content, such as buying guides and general information, then Google is going to think our site is intended to do something completely different to what it actually does.


Should You Still Worry About Google Panda?

Google's softening the Panda algorithm is at odds with (or perhaps as a result of) content becoming an integral part of most SEO strategies. As Panda changes, so do the tactics we employ to beat it, and we need to start thinking about content differently when it comes to commercial landing pages.

You can employ a content marketing agency or become a content marketer yourself, and unless you look subjectively you'll end up with a blog full of awesome frickin' content and your business won't sell itself effectively on the pages that you need people to land on and convert. The last thing you want is a blog post that convinces a visitor to buy your product – and a product page that convinces them to buy it from someone else.

Take a look at your landing pages and start asking the tough questions.
  • Is Your Content Only There for Google? Again, we're not talking about cloaking. Users can see it, but they also won't read it. Your "150 words of unique copy" might as well be white font on white background. If the intention of your landing page is to sell your product then you need to write copy that will do that for you; your content should be your sales assistant.
  • Does Your Content Answer All the Questions? Find out what people are searching for – if you think people are looking for your product when they're asking a question, you need to make sure your content answers it effectively. Not many people enter "where do I buy this from?" or "should I buy this product?" into Google, and yet those are the questions SEO professionals instinctively answer in the copy: "we sell this" and "you should definitely buy it".



People are asking "why should I buy this instead of that?" and "what's in it for me?" If your content can't answer those questions, then you should link to someone who can.

Gone are the days when you needed to hoard your link equity. If your content doesn't answer those questions, Google will know because people will probably go back and search again.

Article Post @ Search Engine Watch

How to Write Great Content: Because Awesome Content Won't Write Itself...

You know what's probably really unhelpful for a client or business owner? Being told to write "great content." Because what does that mean? How is that actionable?

It isn't.

We've all been told that creating unique, awesome content is our key to visibility gold and customer loyalty. But how do we do it, consistently? Awesome content isn't going to write itself. It doesn't just happen. You have to figure it out.

This is how you write it.

Know What Your Audience is Searching for

Getting that Great Content ball rolling means first understanding what your customers are looking for both in content form and function. You don't even have to be a mind reader to find out! By using simple tools, content creators (and even content creator wannabes) can decipher exactly what customers are searching for, how often they're searching for it and the specific phrases they're using to look for the information.

Ubersugget is a great tool to help you understand what consumers are searching for. You give Ubersuggest a search term to use as a base, and it works off it, adding new keyword ideas in all directions. This can help you find related queries and learn more about the intent behind them.

For example, one of my most favorite clients is a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing awareness of problem gambling. When the client first came to us, we knew content was going to play a significant role in our plan to increase awareness.

To help us understand what their audience was searching for around this topic, we used several tools including Ubersuggest. By entering [problem gambling] into our keyword tool, we're able to see lots of opportunities for content. Many of which have since been implemented into our content marketing strategy.
Problem Gambling Ubersuggest

Another tool I really like for content ideas is Google Keyword Planner. While this tool is free to use, it does require having a Google AdWords account. However, you don't have to put any money in there. Just create the account.

What I like about Keyword Planner is that it bundles your terms, making it easy for even the most inexperienced content planner to see content themes. Sticking with our [problem gambling] query, you can different categories emerge:
Problem Gambling AdWords Keyword Planner

Understanding what your audience is searching for and segmenting topics is the basis of any content strategy.

Bonus Tip: To really understand the needs of your customers, interview whoever answers your phones and support emails. They know!

Stalking Social Conversations

Hey, what's the point of your customers using the web for social conversations if you can't stalk them and use those conversations as competitive intel, right?

And like all delicious things, stalking customers on social media comes in a variety of different flavors.

There's Social Q&A stalking which happens on sites like Quora. Here, potential customers are looking for answers on a variety of different topics related to your business. You get to hear in their own words what they're struggling with, what's important, and what they're looking to accomplish.
Cooking Hacks

Bonus Tip: If you're a super savvy business, you may even decide you want to hop into these conversations and be their expert.

There is Advanced Search stalking that happens on sites like Twitter, where customers are talking directly to one another, seeking out expertise.
Gluten Free Twitter Search

Because these conversations are so freeform, it provides a unique opportunity to get those natural language searches and identify the topics your customers will most relate to. That last question pictured above may seem like an oddball thing to cover (because it is), but it may relate you to your audience in a fun way. Or, at least, serve as a link-friendly piece of content.

You can also talk your audience via Business Conversations that happen on LinkedIn, by identifying the skills and expertise important to a particular industry. Or via Lifestyle Information shared on Facebook to clue you into what television shows or characters your audience relates to, giving you a list of references to build content from.

When it comes to information gleaned from social media intelligence, you're bound only by your creativity.

See What's Already Ranking

Mimic a searcher and head to the search engine results to see what information already exists for your topic. Based on our social research from above we already know the types of questions our customers have. Throw them into Googlethe search engine of your choice and see what comes up.

Ask yourself:
What content is there?
  • Is what's there adequate? Would it answer your question?
  • How could it be improved or added to?
  • Did it "work" last time?
  • What buying stages are being addressed?

What content isn't there?
  • What answers do you still need?
  • What holes exist?
  • What keyword opportunities could you dominate?
  • Why would a consumer leave that page? Where would they be going?

What format does the content take?
  • Does it work?
  • What formats are missing?
  • How could you be different and shake things up?

With your analytics information in one hand and search in the other, you're able to match query intent with the proposed web answer. If it doesn't work, create something that does.

Get Inspired

I don't want to get all hippy-dippy right here at the end, but you aren't going to create amazing content by staring at a computer all day and only crunching the data. You have to get out of your bubble, your box, and sometimes your own way and let the content come to you.

Get inspired. And then find ways to stay inspired whether that means becoming a content-sharing ninja and exposing yourself to lots of great stuff, or proactively boosting creativity to keep that creative fuse alight. Don't let it go dormant.
Awesome content, the type users can't help but share, doesn't happen by itself. It takes research, understanding and the creative spark to tie it all together.

Article Post @ Search Engine Watch
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