Google Penguin

Penguin 4 arrival imminent?

Speculation is rife that Penguin 4 will rollout any day now…

Why should you care? Well every indication, including posts from Google themselves is that Penguin 4 will ratchet up backlink testing to another level.
Is my website’s Google ranking at risk?
If you don’t have any backlink issues in your website then you’re likely safe, but frankly most people wouldn’t know. If you have been ‘buying’ links for SEO reinforcement you’re at risk. If people have innocently linked to your site in a manner that Penguin considers to be ‘unnatural’ you may also be at risk.
What is Penguin?
Penguin is Google’s backlink checking system – It sniffs out ‘unnatural’ backlinks and if you have too many, Google will penalise your site as a result. Backlinks are the ‘old-world SEO’ way of convincing Google to rank your site higher in search results. Historical abuse of backlinks led to Google originally introducing their Penguin backlink checking sub-system.
When is Penguin 4 due?
Google have been talking up Penguin 4 since Dec 2015, but its ETA has slipped considerably. Speculation is now mounting about P4’s imminent arrival.
What is different about Penguin 4?
Despite 3 earlier versions, unnatural backlinking has still managed to fly under Penguin’s radar. Google has made a number of improvements in Penguin 4 to analyse backlink legitimacy. Also it will also operate ‘real-time’ rather than running occasionally/intermittently.
What should you be doing?
Assess your site’s current backlink profile for backlink naturalness
Seek to remove or disavow any unnatural backlinks

AMP is now key for mobile SEO

AMP-Extremely-high-speed-mobileIn October I wrote about Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) an initiative to dramatically improve website load times for mobile devices and hinted at its likely impact on mobile ranking as Google was one the players. AMP has arrived.

AMP diagnostics now in Search Console

Google Search Console (previously ‘WebMasters Tools’) has released a new section under Search Appearance dedicated to AMP diagnostics.

If its in Google Search Console it Matters to SEO

My strong suggestion is that as Google’s SEO toolset now has these AMP settings, AMP is no longer some fluffy geek concept, but in fact should be seriously considered to maintain or improve your business website’s mobile ranking in Google going forward.

Mobile ranking is important for Onlines Sales

There’s very few market segments where mobile is not critical to online sales and for a while now Google ranks mobile searches and desktop searches independently. So if your marketplace uses mobiles when searching, then ideally your business site should maximise its mobile ranking to be seen by prospective clients.

Of course you could just throw money into online advertising to compensate for your website’s poor organic position too….

AMP = Fast Mobile = Google Goodness = Sales

Google has made it abundantly clear that fast is good so expect to see AMP compatible mobile searches to float to the top of search results and non-mobile compatible, and non-AMP sites disappear into the ranking depths.

AMP and WordPress

If your website, like the vast majority of websites today, uses WordPress implementing AMP may not as painful nor as expensive as you might think.

The folks from WordPress were part of the project that created the AMP standard and there’s already some early plugins and themes to ‘AMP up your site’.

Automattic AMP Plugin

As an experiment I’ve installed the Automattic (the folks behind WordPress) AMP Plugin in my site. You can see my previous AMP Post load as AMP amazingly fast here

Clearly there are limitations at this early stage, and the Automattic AMP plugin currently only processes posts – not pages.  I’ll continue fiddling and report any relevant things here.

What should you do now?

Well I wouldn’t wait for my competitors to get their sites AMP’d that’s for sure. Speak to your web developer about what’s involved to implement AMP for your website. If they aren’t sure, I’m happy to speak to you or them to help out.

Additional reading:

AMP’ing up Website Speed for Mobiles

Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is an initiative to improve page load times for mobile devices.

What is AMP ?

AMP aims to strip away some of the coding complexities – especially JavaScript – that have evolved to provide sophisticated web page functionality to provide leaner HTML which loads much quicker.  The project is a work in progress, and yet to finalise how it will address a full range of current website functions such as eCommerce etc.

Page Load Speeds and Google ranking

Page load times are a key requirement on mobile devices where connection speeds vary with access to signal.  Page load speed is also a Google ranking factor.

It seems inevitable that Google – one of the AMP initiative partners – will provide ranking preference to AMP compliant pages either on the basis of:

  • detection of AMP compliant coding or
  • the improved page load speed afforded by AMP compliance

What does AMP mean for your business?

So as a business owner interested in attracting mobile visitors, the evolvement of AMP is something you and your web developer should keep a very close eye on. Early AMP adopters are likely to gain Google ranking advantages which will translate into business opportunities.

AMP Compliance Frenzy?

After the recent panic to ensure websites were ‘Mobile Compliant’ for Google’s underwhelming Mobilegeddon release in April, I can see there will be another round of web development frenzy to make sites AMP compliant to maintain or improve online commercial traction.

AMP Deployment Timing

The AMP project is clearly still evolving but there is already a Javascript replacement so I assume (somewhat naively perhaps) that simple (ie non-ecommerce) sites can be recoded to take advantage of the AMP project.

AMP and WordPress

WordPress, the world’s most popular website system have announced they are supporting AMP. If AMP can be easily deployed in WordPress it will significantly strengthen WordPress’ CMS domination.

Reading:

Google is crushing Keyword Networks with Doorway Page Update

SEO Doorway is now shutJust to keep you on your toes while you are sorting out Google’s upcoming Mobile Usability update, they’ve also announced an impending update to target ‘Doorway pages‘ – Its been a busy month at Google that’s for sure!

Doorway Pages/Site is an ageing SEO strategy where your site was at the centre of a network of keyword focussed websites each feeding visitors for a particular search term into the central ‘mothership’ site.  Worked a treat in its day, but apparently not for much longer…

Read more:

Don’t naively fall into a Google Penalty

A Client asked: Is it a good idea to try to get links from other sites and directories to help make my site more powerful? 

This question pops up regularly from folks who want to build their website’s exposure in Google searches. Before the Penguin 5 release in October 2103 the answer was definitely YES, now the answer is it DEPENDS ON LINK QUALITY.

The whole area of backlinks i.e. links from other sites is now extremely fragile/potentially dangerous and I strongly recommend involving SEO professionals or risk destroying your website’s organic performance.

What is a Backlink ?

A Backlink a connection from another website (or web resource) back to your site.  If someone on the other site ‘clicks’ the link, they arrive at your site.

Backlinks and Google

Penguin 5 (later renamed Penguin 3.0 ) was a major turning point in Google’s critical examination of backlinks to your site. If  the Penguin software decided you were trying to scam Google with bad or ‘unnatural’ backlinks, the site was punished by reducing its ranking by 20-30 positions – across all keywords – i.e. pushing your site into obscurity.

Why Does Google punish websites with unnatural links ?

While the cynic inside me says ‘…because they can’, I have to admit it was overdue. Up to 2013 it was common knowledge in SEO circles that the more links, the better search exposure a website would get. SEO programs were essentially about getting as many backlinks as possible. An entire industry emerged that specialised in producing links for anyone who would pay. These flourished in countries where labour costs made this a viable service offering.

Then the brains trust at Google said ‘No More’ – this is scamming the system. They created a subsystem (called Penguin) to inspect back links to try to neutralise the positive influence of ‘unnaturally created’ backlinks in Google searches. Almost instantly, millions of websites were impacted. Globally, many businesses found their websites didn’t attract sales leads any longer because they disappeared from search results.

Who knows how many businesses who specialised in link building collapsed – and I imagine that 100’s of thousands of people (many in 3rd world countries) lost their employment. Let’s not get into a discussion about the ethics of Google’s decision(s) or their largely unfettered  influence on the global economy.

Notably spending on Google ads increased as business owners scrambled for online exposure, when SEO was less certain.

What is Link Quality?

The Penguin software assesses if the links to your site are principally ‘real’ or if they are ‘unnatural’ in which case applies an automatic or  ‘algorithmic penalty’ on the site. As you might expect making this judgement is a complex process, which occasionally makes mistakes so from time to time Google updates its Penguin system to presumably refine it.

Note that Google also uses human backlink assessors in some situations who can impose a manual penalty on sites. Presumably they are alerted by software (probably Penguin) if a site has a suspicious backlink profile that can’t be automatically assigned a penalty.

This FAQ on What is a Low quality Backlink documents factors Google uses to determine Link Quality

How do I know which are the good backlinks?

It’s not easy, but I find that these two toolsets provide the most reliable assessment of backlink profiles:

  • Cognitive SEO
    My favourite link profile toolset as it provides:

    • The ability to import links that are reported in Google Webmasters Tools
    • ‘Auto-Classifies’ links into Un-natural, Suspect and OK
  • AHRefs
    Q
    uick and convenient

Each of these SEO Toolsets provides some ability to provide link profile assessments without having to buy the product, so you can certainly have a bash at self-assessing your site, but if you need a detailed link profile report contact me and I’ll prepare and interpret it for you.

How many bad links can I have before a penalty?

Great question but unfortunately the answer is only speculative, and like many things Google, it’s a moving target. There are a small number of unnatural links in most site’s link profile – often these are inadvertently or innocently ‘unnatural’.
As a broad rule of thumb I suggest keep the ratio of unnatural links well under 10% of all links. NB This could change without notice!

How do I get rid of bad backlinks?

Essentially you need to get them removed, and as they exist on another website you need to get the person who controls that site to do it.  This article covers the process of removing unnatural backlinks.

Your fall-back position is to ask Google to disavow your site of these links.

I’ve removed the back backlinks. What now ?

Sit tight and wait for the next Penguin crawl. When is the next Penguin update you ask? Great question. I wish I knew the answer. You can visit resources like Algoroo that track Google updates, and wait with bated breath.

…and now the character building comment: It’s unlikely your website will bounce back to its pre-penalty ranking. Yep. That is a fact. The path to full recovery from a penalty is indeed long and tortuous

I hope I’ve persuaded you that it’s really important to not get penalised in the first place.

How exposed is your site to a Penguin penalty ?

Just this week I examined a website’s link profile to discover that some idiot has just added 300+ clearly unnatural links over the last 2 months. It’s a penalty time bomb, and the site will surely collapse into search obscurity after the next Penguin spin cycle.

I’m horrified to see an allegedly ‘professional SEO provider’ is still performing unnatural back linking. I’m also concerned for the client who has been paying good money for this naive and dangerous ‘SEO Service’. They’ve got some short-term results but at any moment their site is going to fall into a Penguin penalty.

Make no mistake. It’s still going on right now.

Take Aways:

  1. Get your website’s backlink profile checked
  2. Get bad backlinks removed
  3. Breathe
  4. Go to 1.

 

New ‘Google My Business’ helps businesses ‘Get on Google’

Google My BusinessThere’s been a lot of recent changes in Google Places/Google Local Business lately, and the release of Google My Business brings it all together neatly. Google My Business is a unifying dashboard that  makes it “easier than ever to update business information across Google Search, Maps and Google+.” 

This is very important to small business because it provides localised, free exposure to your local clients.
Make sure you are presenting your business online as thoughtfully as you do your offline presence(s)

There’s even a cheesy US-centric video to introduce it…

Now Adwords is going Dark too…

Business website owners who closely monitor their site’s performance are painfully aware that Google has been increasingly masking the searches visitors used to find your site. In a further development Google announced yesterday they are now applying search term masking to AdWords as well.

I’m steeling myself to not fall into a rant about Google controlling the internet for their own COMMERCIAL PURPOSES and will now CALMLY describe how this might impact your Adwords campaigns…

How AdWords search terms are used currently

Adwords matches your declared target terms to as many searches as possible (keyword matching syntax will influence this**), so lets say I wanted my ads to be shown to folks searching for Internet Marketing Adelaide. Adwords may match and show my ads to searches like:

  • cheap marketing ($8.25 a click)
  • seo adelaide ( $43.29 a click!)
  • marketing courses ($ $15.08)

I wouldn’t want to pay for the clicks for cheap marketing or marketing courses because they don’t relate to my business, but unless you can see the actual searches (usually via the AdWords Search Term Report) and negative these terms out of your campaign you would be blithely unaware and simply pay more money to Google for even more clicks hoping to get some real sales leads…

 ** An astute Adwords operator will use Keyword Matching to reduce the probability of this sample of mis-matching – but even after thoroughly doing this, you still can’t be certain what other mis-matches Adwords will make to reduce the effectiveness (read ROI) of your campaign unless you know what the punters ACTUALLY searched for. At that point you need to make a business decision about whether the matched search is sales-relevant and then use negative keyword(s) to eliminate that search from re-occurring in the future.

Where do we go from here ?

The critical thing with Adwords tuning is eliminating mis-matched keywords to get the best possible outcomes (ie conversions)
It’s really easy to waste heaps of clicks (ie your $$$) on terms that are close to, but are not, sales lead generators.

I think Google is in a really compromising situation here and needs to demonstrate clearly that they are not trying to rip us off, because it looks like Google has chosen to mask data that helps reduce your advertising spend with them…

Is your SERP working for you? 2014 Edition.

Succinct Ideas SERPSometimes the simple things matter.
SEO has evolved into a sophisticated battle with Google and Online Competitors but its refreshing to see that some things remain the same.

A client was concerned about what appeared in their SERP (Search Engine Result Page result) and rightly so! In their case, it displayed misleading information that was more likely to confuse rather than lure prospective clients to click and visit their website.

Google had retrieved details from the page it selected for the search result, and did its best to assemble what it thought was a relevant description of that page as it related to the search. The end result was a misleading jumble of disconnected phrases and certainty not a relevant sales pitch, for example like ours illustrated above.

A SERP is your prospect’s first contact with your business when searching; it is effectively your online classified ad in Google. Quoting from my 2007 newsletter  Is your SERP working for You? The SERP is one of the most critical pieces of copy in online sales.

What can you do ?
You can influence Google to display a nicely composed SERP by astute use of the Title and Description metatags, however if Google decides it may use other information on the page to compose its SERP.

Succinct Ideas Long SERPThe Long SERP
Here’s something more about SERPs – If you use 5 or more elements in your search Google will display an extended SERP – it has a higher character count for both lines.

Site Links
Succinct Ideas Sitelinks SERPThe big Daddy of SERPs is displayed when Google decides that the search is closely related to your site. Google provides previews of your site’s important pages and throws in other info like your Google+ page. Google shows a popout infographic on the right hand side.

Notably Google doesn’t let you nominate what pages it selects to display, but it is possible to remove pages from your Site link display using WebMasters Tools.

Update April 3: This excellent article by Damain Thompson from HitTail provides suggestions on how to compose the Title and Description meta tags to attract attention, then persuade prospects to click through to your site

Don’t get punished by Google.

Google targets a guest blog network

In the latest stage of Google’s evolution into the ‘Internet Police’, Matt Cutts from Google’s Web Spam Team announced that they have targeted a large ‘Guest Blog Network’ for not playing to their rules.

So its official now, Guest Blogging is yet another high risk activity that you should avoid if you want your website to rank successfully in Google.  Ann Smarty, owner of the affected site has this to say about it. Undoubtedly this will have an impact on the commercial viability of this business, and I feel for her because her case seems genuine.

Beyond this though, what does that mean for business folks, who at least in part depend on their websites for sales leads ?
Here’s selection of things that Google now considers ‘naughty’ and may indiscriminately cripple your website’s ability to generate online sales leads if it finds them in your site:

Paid Ad Links
A ‘technically naive’ online advert, including unsolicited ones that you don’t even know about.
Be very careful with ads and anything that can be misconstrued as an ad eg advertorials etc
The acknowledgement of your support on the local kids club site might be killing your sales leads…

Poor quality back links
From backlinkers who either don’t care or don’t know or both.
Again these can be links that you didn’t initiate or condone.
Backlink quality is critical since Penguin 5, Oct 2013.

Over-optimization
Obsessively and unnaturally repeated keywords throughout the site known as ‘keyword stuffing’.

Internal errors
Google wants your site to give visitor’s a good experience.
Broken pages, links and images aren’t consistent with this.

Hidden links & text
You can’t hide stuff from Google to gain a benefit. Don’t even try.
In fact any ‘deceptive’ characteristics in your site wont bode well.

Website performance
Poorly coded sites, a slow web server, overweight images and more will impact user experience and so your ranking.
If your website is unreliable – it goes down, or fails regularly this will hurt you too.

Too much advertising
Too many ads displayed on your site, particularly at the top of the page (ie ‘above the fold’) will cost you more than you gain.

Copied and/or ‘Thin Content’
Text borrowed from other sites will just land you in hot water with Google, as will pages that don’t provide any real value for visitors.
Write your own, or invest in a good copywriter.
Your investment will pay for itself in online leads.

Hacked website
Yes – if your site is hacked and Google finds it they will put a scary notice in your site’s search result, and a scarier page if you try to visit that site.
Expect to drop in rankings or even disappear.
Oh, prospects aren’t going to risk visiting your site either anyway…

Poor mobile pages
Google will judge your site’s ability to provide a good experience to mobile users too.
This are a growing portion of searchers, and predicted to out-strip desktop searchers very soon.
Clearly Google wants to particularly look after mobile searchers – it’s a growth segment for them.

Guest Blogging
Don’t respond to emails asking to put guest blogs in your site.
Treat them like they came from Nigeria.

Are Google softening their approach to Small Business or just taking over?

Google’s Matt Cutts has indicated that an upcoming release of Panda (Google’s website ‘Quality Assessment’ sub system) “should have a direct impact on helping small businesses do better.”

Historically Panda has been heavily critised for giving an unfair advantage to larger sites – read larger businesses. Small sites (typically associated with smaller businesses) may have a greater risk of incurring Panda penalties and there have been some spectacular examples.
Saving Small Business presents a passionate argument on this matter.

As a small business owner myself, of course I’m happy to gain from arbitrary changes Google might make. But on reflection it does bring into question the dangerous amount of influence that Google now has over global online sales. An arbitrary change on which sites Google ranks at the top of searches can dramatically impact business globally. Even locally in little old Adelaide I am aware of several local businesses that have suffered devastating commercial impacts by Google’s algorithm changes.

So Google might be softening their approach to Small Business, but who gave them the authority to make that call on behalf of the global economy ?
It’s time that Google’s algorithms are independantly policed before this gets out of control…