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…


Don’t loose your Google Places account

Google Places Changes
Google Places is changing again, and it looks to be for the better. Places for Business has changed dramatically both on the front end (the public facing bit) and the backend (where you make edits to your business’ details).

Email Alerts
Importantly, Google Places are also cleaning up irreverent, redundant and spammy Google Places – about time!
They are sending emails out to any Google Places records they suspect fall into these categories, asking for action from the registered ‘owner’. Check your emails for the subject Important changes to your Google Places account and I suggest act promptly to avoid loosing that important Google Places registration. While you are there, update your business details to make sure the it reflects how you want your business to be seen online page.

Google Places

Do this by searching for your business name then click on the Places ICON

I’d also strongly recommend you don’t cross any of the Google Places Quality Guidelines because Google have definitely moved from the carrot to the stick approach in other areas, so I’m sure it would also apply here…




What’s the difference between Google Places and Google Plus ?

If you are also confused about the difference between Google Places (recognizable as the search results adjacent to red teardrops) and Google Plus Business pages which is a social media display then I found this article from Amanda Di Silvestro as very helpful indeed!

Google Places is a very important search element because it can provide exposure in local search results and best of all there is no charge from Google (currently anyway). Google Plus Business Pages is part of Google’s foray into Social Media and although it was initially mainly used by Geeks, it is now becoming mainstream.

One reason for the increased adoption of Google Plus is the suggestion that Google rewards users with SEO advantages and these days, every little bit helps!


So Duplicated Content isn’t a Rank Penalty anymore… Or is it?

In this new video Matt Cutts redefines the impact of duplicate content on a site’s SEO performance. For years the SEO community has been heeding guidelines, hints and more from Google that duplicate content will damage your site’s SEO. In what appears to be a complete turn-around, Matt now tells us that duplicate content wont damage your’s site ranking, but it will find the “best” result from the “cluster” of duplicated pages…

So did the SEO ‘community’ over-speculate on the duplicated content penalty or did Google decide to change their mind about this… All we need to do now is second-guess what Google means by “best result”; well only until they change their mind again…

Penguin 5 is hurting more sites than you might think

Based on the number of phone calls I’ve had recently from disgruntled website owners looking to find an alternative SEO provider following their recent rank crash, its clear to me that Penguin 5 has affected many more websites than the 1% that Google is coyly suggesting…

..and of course there is rampant speculation, rumor and scuttlebutt on what is causing ranking penalties. There’s a lot of opinions out there (seems like everybody has become a link spam expert) but until we get through the Penguin 5 recovery cycle no-one can say with any degree of confidence how they recovered and how long it took.

The closest I’ve seen is Tony McCreath’s article on how he recovered from an earlier Penguin penalty then sailed, even benefited, after the Penguin 5 (2.1 in the old money)  update – well done Tony!




Are you ready for Semantic Search? Google is now.

Now I’ve had a chance to reflect on Google’s recent Hummingbird update, I thought you might be interested to hear how you can (re-)position your business website to take advantage of where it seems Google search is going.

Here’s the background:

What is ‘Semantic Search’?
Google people and the SEO industry have been talking up the virtues of ‘semantic search‘ for a while, but frankly it seemed to be much ado about nothing… or maybe semantic search’s time is near.  Semantic refers to ‘the meaning’ of searches rather than just focusing on ‘key words’ in your search.

We are already doing ‘semantic enquiries’
Folks are tending to ask Google questions rather than traditional searches – distilling their query into ‘key words’.  This becoming quite evident when doing keyword research; there’s a trend of searches being conversational questions of Google such as “how do I…”, “where can I” etc etc.

Google Search Voice ICONSearch by Voice
The semantic approach is further supported by Google’s Search by Voice – the little microphone in the Google search box. Try it. You might be surprised at how well it works.
Voice search suits mobile users
Voice search works really well with smart phones and tablets where typing quickly can be a pain 😉  Click on your device and ask Google your question – its easier, faster and more convenient. Did I mention Mobile devices are the fastest growing internet devices; predicted to surpass desktop use of the internet in 2016?

Apples’ Siri is an early implementation of voice search – not really reliable, but interesting anyway. I’m sure it will evolve. Siri’s use of Bing for online search might even be part of Google’s impetus to push ahead with their semantic search capability.

Hummingbird is more ‘semantic capable’
Hummingbird apparently gives Google the ability to analyse and respond to searches semantically for:

  • better quality search results
  • better voice search performance
  • better answers to searched questions

How do I take advantage of this?
Google is now ‘officially’ geared up for semantic search – what now ?
Give Google answers. As a business owner interested in attracting sales, answer the questions these people ask. To give Google and sales prospects the answers in your site, the most obvious places are:

Frequently asked Questions
This popular information structure is under-utilised, and not critically implemented.
Ensure your FAQs answer your clients most popular questions – ie the ones your clients ask the most.
Dont just make them up; test your market Listen to what your clients ask.

Don’t have a FAQ section ? Now is the time to review that!



I am a huge fan of blogging as part of your SEO strategy and now even more so!
Blogs provide a great forum to ask, then answer questions yours clients ask.
Frame the question in your post’s title and introductory paragraph, then answer it in the body of the post.
Don’t forget to use Categories and Tags to reinforce your Q & A


Google anticipates and has geared up for question/answer based searches.
Get questions and answers into your site to capture the sales prospects asking Google those questions.

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Are Web Dev’s being innocently penalised by Penguin 5?

Google Penguin

Fabulous image stolen from

One of the bitter sweet things about working in SEO is responding to Google’s Updates.

  • Bitter because clients and associates’ businesses occasionally get hurt by them.
  • Sweet because I enjoy the intellectual stimulation of distilling vagaries, rumors and research into workable strategies. 

Google’s latest anti-spam release Penguin 5 which landed here Saturday 6 Oct is an interesting example of this. Reputable SEO blog discussions about it focus on its attack on web spam ( ie SEO ‘naughtiness’ specifically poor quality backlinks and ‘thin content’).

BTW this should really signal to businesses to not be tempted by the barrage of overseas businesses spam offering cheap SEO solutions!

So Penguin 5 (P5 ) is positioned by Google to filter out naughty websites from search results, however I’ve encountered a growing number of P5 victims who haven’t deliberately undertaken to cheat; they just innocently didn’t comply with Google’s rules, and are being treated very heavily handed for it. It like the scenario where you say: “I’m sorry Officer I didn’t realise ” but you get booked anyway.

Sadly many people wont even know if they’ve been pinged by P5 because they aren’t monitoring their website’s performance… (exasperated sigh)

Anyway back to our innocent P5 victims – Website Developers (I prefer ‘web devs’) have an accepted practice of acknowledgement links in their client’s websites back to their site. Web Dev friends tell me this is an important source of new business for them. Prospective clients impressed with a site can easily find out more about the authors. A nice outcome all round.

But this does leave the web dev’s website with multitudes of backlinks (from their clients) all with hugely duplicated backlink text eg “Website by…”
I speculate (but haven’t yet proven – standby Ill update this post when I have further proof)  that this it triggering P5’s spammy backlink alert and consequently causing rank penalties for the web dev’s site.

When I’ve got a moment more Ill share some more experiences with ‘innocent’ P5  victims.. You’ll be horrified!

As an SEO professional my role for some time now has been evolving to include policing duties; checking websites for contraventions of Google’s rules and putting solutions in place… Contrary to reports that ‘SEO is dead’, the role is evolving and apparently become much more critical for business…





Is ‘Dark Google’ getting darker?

Not provided search terms

63% of search terms are being withheld

Google is withholding important data but only if you don’t use their advertising system AdWords. 

To the right is an Analytics Organic Search Traffic report for a site for September 2013. At nearly 75,000 organic search visitors in a 4 week period the site is doing well,  but note that 63% of the search terms or over 47,000 searches have their data masked as  (not provided)

So this client cannot see what the majority of their visitors where searching for in Google before they entered their site. Given the critical nature of online exposure, this type of data is as fundamental as a Profit & Loss financial statement to a business.

For the entire existence of the internet up until Nov 2012 it has been possible to see this ‘referer’ data. But with Google’s absolute domination of internet search, they are in a unique position to control what data they share. Worse it seems they will only show this critical data if you are a paying customer with Google.

At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, Google has also been on a vendetta for the last few years to ‘cleanup search’ with their much publicised releases including Panda and Penguin.

As someone inside the SEO industry, the most apparent outcome of Google’s actions is that businesses have invested more significantly in Google’s paid search because SEO results have become ‘less predictable’. Is it just a happy coincidence that Google’s actions has resulted in increasing their own AdWords revenue ?

It is a great concern to all online businesses that Google seems to be using its overwhelming domination of the internet to its own commercial advantage. This behavior is not tolerated in traditional media channels like Print, Television etc where it is regulated and meticulously monitored by Governments.
Maybe its time that Google was similarly monitored and managed.