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Tuesday, May 09, 2017 6:36:42 PM

by Jayson DeMers

Link building has always been an important part of search engine optimization; links indicate authority, which in turn dictates how sites can rank in SERPs for relevant keyword terms. The Penguin update, which was originally released in 2012, overhauled how optimizers viewed link quality, and subsequent iterations of Penguin helped to shape the "Penguin era," demanding intelligent, relevant link building instead of link spam and forcing optimizers to reevaluate their previous strategies.

Now, we may be entering an entirely new era of link building, thanks to a major change in how the Penguin update works. This is the post-Penguin era, and your link building strategies should change with that distinction.

The Last Penguin Update

In September of 2016, Google released what became known as Penguin 4.0, an end cap to the regular, iterative Penguin updates. According to MultimediaX, the biggest takeaway here is Penguin's incorporation into the "core" Google algorithm, and the resulting process of Penguin-related data to update in real-time.

What does that mean? Previously, Penguin existed as a separate algorithm that worked in conjunction with Google's core. Data refreshes occasionally updated information in Google's index about specific sites, but those refreshes weren't exactly consistent.

You might find out that your rankings dropped due to a link you built two months ago, or fail to see your rankings recover for months after you initially made changes to your link profile. Now, those refreshes happen constantly and automatically, so any actions you take will have a nearly instant impact on your performance.

In addition, Penguin 4.0 introduced a change to how penalties work. Previously, if a formal penalty was applied, it would apply to a full domain. It still might apply to an entire domain, but in some cases, it may only apply to a specific page. However, it's still bad to get a penalty, no matter what.

How to Build Post-Penguin Links

So are links still important? Absolutely. It's almost impossible for any site to rank without first building authority--and you need inbound links for that. Let's take a look at how to build links, now that Penguin is officially part of Google's core algorithm:

  • Focus on "natural" links. Even though Penguin is now part of Google's core algorithm, the standards it set for link quality still remain. If you want to avoid getting penalized, you'll need to build "natural" links, which means the links pointing to your site shouldn't look like they're intended solely to pass authority to your domain. In practice, there's an easy rule of thumb for determining how natural the link appears: ask yourself if a user encountering this link would find the link valuable. If they do, it's probably okay. For example, if you're writing an article about the importance of getting new tires for your vehicle, a link to a site with tire reviews would be helpful to readers while a link to a bowling alley would not.
  • Use strong content as an anchor. Instead of focusing on building links, focus on writing fantastic offsite content. Your content should take priority, and your links should be secondary. Establish guest posting profiles on multiple offsite sources, and do your best to contribute material that those publishers want to see. You'll make the publishers happy and the readers happy, and whatever links you can fit into your content will look natural and add even more value to your already-valuable content. Plus, if the content's good, it will bring your brand some reputation value even without a link.
  • Check your rankings weekly (at least). The biggest change that Penguin 4.0 offered was the constant state of refresh in monitoring backlinks. That means your rankings could change within a day or two of a new link being considered as part of your backlink profile. Accordingly, you'll want to keep a close eye on your rankings, checking in on at least a weekly basis. Doing so will help you identify any problem links proactively so you can remove them before they do any more harm.
Is There a Future for Penguin?

It's unlikely that Google will revisit Penguin, now that it's joined Panda as part of Google's core. However, Google may update the way it evaluates authority in the future.

Over the past few years, Google has made moves to incorporate things like user reviews, ratings, and appearances in third-party review sites like Yelp. It's also incorporated more apps (including streaming app content) in search results. If a new authoritative score emerges in the future, it may come from one of these areas.

Until then, links remain your best way to improve your site's authority and overall rankings--as long as you comply with Penguin's standards.

Be sure and visit our small business news site.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017 6:42:16 PM

by Jayson DeMers

Consumers have increasingly turned to online stores to do their shopping, but with so much competition in play, it's hard for ecommerce business owners to remain competitive. Your online catalog exists to showcase your products to an interested audience, but if that audience never gets their eyes on your offers, it won't matter how good your deals or products are.

One solution is to optimize your online product catalog for search engines, which will help you rank higher, achieve more brand visibility, and get more traffic to your pages. So how can you do this without spending a fortune?

Strategies for Catalog Optimization


These strategies will help you build a bigger online audience:

1. Use printed and online catalogs together.

If you're used to operating exclusively online, using a printed catalog may seem foreign to you, but catalog printing is relatively inexpensive through sites like Printing Center USA. It's a good way to quickly advertise the existence of your online catalog to an audience who may otherwise miss it (demographics who rely on printed advertisements and news), and start directing traffic to your site. This, in turn, creates a synergy between your digital and physical campaigns and jumpstarts your SEO efforts with new traffic, shares, and social media buzz.

2. Use specific product names in your page titles.


Your page titles and descriptions will be the main sources of information that search crawlers use to judge the relevance of your page. Including the specific name of your product will ensure that your page is considered when consumers search for that name; for example, you'll want to include the brand, the model, the model number, and the variation (if applicable). You'll also want to briefly describe the product in the meta description.

3. Include at least two paragraphs of descriptive text for each product.

You'll also want to include lots of descriptive text--at least two paragraphs' worth--for each of your product pages. According to Spotify's guide, this not only gives more content for search crawlers to consider and index, it also helps consumers by giving them more information to make a final decision.

4. Optimize your images and videos.

Including images and videos on your product pages is a good way to secure more customer engagement, and you'll likely earn more backlinks, which are vital if you want to build your authority over time. You can optimize images and video by giving them a descriptive name, including alt text (for images), and including a meta description that describes what's happening (in the video). You may also consider hosting your videos on YouTube and embedding them on your pages, giving you another outlet of optimization; Backlinko has an excellent guide on YouTube optimization if you're interested in more information.

5. Include reviews and testimonials.

Reviews and testimonials will make your site seem more authoritative, and as an added bonus, they'll help push consumers to make a decision. In fact, 88 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, so the more reviews you're able to collect, the better.

6. Answer common consumer questions on-site.

You should also include a brief Q&A section on each of your product pages. Here, you'll list at least a handful of common consumer questions with common phrasing, alongside detailed answers that address those concerns. Again, the information may help consumers make a decision, but they'll also optimize your pages for long-tail keyword searches, making you more likely to rank when customers submit those queries.

7. Employ Schema.org microformatting.

Microformatting, sometimes called "structured markup," is a way to format your backend code in a way that allows Google to better understand and categorize it. For example, you can point out what portion of your page is a collection of reviews, and feed information like star ratings and review text to search engine crawlers. This makes it more likely that these features will show up as "rich answers" or "rich snippets," the sampled bits of onsite content that sometimes appear above regular search results in SERPs. Schema.org is still the best name in microformatting, and they have an excellent guide on how to get started.

Investing in SEO

SEO is a complex strategy, and if you want to get serious with it, you'll need to hire an expert or start educating yourself in more advanced technical areas. As you can see, however, you don't need to be an expert to get started. These strategies should be able to help you refine the audience you're targeting, differentiate yourself from your competitors, and start building the authority you need to outrank them. Remember, this is a long-term strategy, so don't be frustrated if you don't see results right away.

Stick with it, and eventually you'll see your traffic rise.

Be sure and visit our small business news site.

Friday, March 17, 2017 8:33:10 PM

by Jayson DeMers

If you want your content marketing campaign to be successful, you need to make sure it appeals to your target audience, both to achieve higher relevance for strategies like SEO, and to better hold attention from readers. If your target audience is made up of professionals, that means catering to industry considerations, including offering instructions, news, practical advice, and other materials that can improve their performance in a given niche.

But professional audiences are evolving, using new technologies, working in different environments, and developing new demands. For example, according to Dialpad, only 19 percent of full-time workers spend 40 hours or more behind a desk per week. Our workforce is becoming increasingly mobile, working remotely and on the go, and our content needs to change to reflect that shift.

How to Write Better Content for a Mobile Workforce

There are three major changes to consider when brainstorming new content:

  • Mobile devices are smaller and offer a different UI. As you've undoubtedly experienced in your own life, mobile devices tend to have smaller screens and more limited forms of interaction than laptops. This reduces the mobile experience and forces you to consider narrower, more precise forms of content engagement.
  • Mobile workers have less time. If a worker is constantly mobile, they're probably traveling from meeting to meeting and trying to fit everything into a tight schedule. That means they have less time and are looking for content to meet their needs quickly. As Content Marketing Institute points out, some of the best performing mobile content is also the fastest and easiest to read.
  • Mobile workers research immediate needs. When you consult your mobile device, it's probably for something you need immediately. Otherwise, it could wait until you were at a formal work station. That means your topics and your tone should be geared toward solving a problem as quickly as possible.
Tips for Improvement

So how can you take action to address these considerations?
 
  • Optimize for mobile devices. Your site should already be optimized for mobile devices; if you aren't sure, you can always run a check using Google's mobile-friendly tool. Your site should be responsive, meaning it adapts based on the size and shape of the device viewing it, and all your content should load quickly and easily. In addition, all your text should be clearly legible without having to scroll or zoom. This is a basic prerequisite if you want your content to be engaging.
  • Choose helpful topics. Your mobile workforce isn't as interested in reading high-level concepts; they want fast, practical tips. The more useful your content is, the better, so spend some time coming up with topics that are helpful for your audience. How-to guides, step-by-step troubleshooting, and tutorials are all good ideas here.
  • Write more concisely. According to the Purdue OWL, concise writing is a way to choose the most effective, efficient combination of words in your article. Writing more concisely doesn't necessarily mean using fewer words; however, that's often a side effect of the process. Go through your articles and eliminate any language that is redundant or unnecessary to achieve a complete understanding of your intended meaning. This will help your audience read through your content faster, getting to the point of your article rather than dwelling on the fluff.
  • Create more videos and visual content. Visual content is naturally more engaging, thanks to its appeal to our intuitive senses, rather than processed thought. According to Hubspot, the inclusion of a video can increase a page's likelihood to convert by 80 percent or more, and videos are much faster and easier to engage with than a written article on mobile devices. That doesn't mean you need to create videos instead of written articles, but you should consider including them more frequently--whether they're standalone content submissions or embedded enhancements in your core written material.
  • Make your text stand out. When you do write articles, you should structure them in a way that naturally appeals to fast readers using small screens. Break up your text into smaller paragraphs and shorter, separated sentences. Use bold and italics to make certain phrases stand out more than others, and use bulleted and numbered lists to make your listed items more obvious.
Once you implement these tips, you'll see several benefits for your overall campaign. For starters, your readers are going to be more engaged, and they'll get more out of your material. That means higher customer loyalty, more conversions, and of course, more comments and social shares, which will increase your audience further.

Beyond that, optimizing for mobile devices and attracting more links will increase your search rankings in Google--which is never a bad bonus to reap.

Be sure and visit our small business news site.

Thursday, March 09, 2017 5:36:45 PM

by Jayson DeMers

If you're thinking about launching an SEO campaign, one of your biggest concerns is going to be whether it will yield a positive ROI ... and how fast you can make it happen.

If you're planning a campaign for a client, you'll also want to be able to estimate your effectiveness as a selling point. But is it possible to estimate or predict SEO results with any accuracy?

Why SEO Results are So Hard to Predict

As you're well aware, the SEO industry is extremely variable. Not only can Google push activity in an entirely new direction with little more than a simple algorithm update, but trying to figure out what the search engines want often seems like trying to shoot a moving target.

There are plenty of signs that suggest how you might proceed, but you aren't likely to stumble upon the perfect solution.

Herein lies the problem. As an SEO specialist, you have a fairly advanced grasp of what does and doesn't work, but many factors remain outside of your control.

You can make all the right moves, but at some point, you have to let events happen on their own and trust that the process will unfold according to your plan. In addition, you have to assume there won't be any significant changes between the moment you execute and the period when the results start to pour in.

"SEO is highly technical and creative at the same time. You can't just follow a formula and expect to get the same results every single time," explains Kyle Sanders of CWR SEO. "As any experienced professional in this industry knows, every campaign deals with a unique set of factors. It would be foolish and irresponsible to make wide, overarching projections when there's so much variance."

It's not just the search engines that shift over time, though. You also have to consider the butterfly effect of content popularity.

One small, uncontrollable alteration in the marketplace can have an outsized impact on the type of content that will be most effective thereafter. Thus, while you might be able to design a stellar SEO campaign around a promising set of keywords and topics, only a small shift could suddenly transform your best predictions into anyone's guess.

Obviously, there will be factors outside of your control, but that doesn't mean you can't make any predictions. Clients have a right to request an estimate and hold you to it. After all, they're paying for a service and expect value. Your mission is to tap into your experience and don't make promises you can't keep.

SEO thought leader Stephan Spencer likens SEO to a fitness routine. It's possible to create a plan, but everyone's body responds differently.

You can tell someone that he or she will lose weight by burning more calories than the person consumes, but specific steps will still have to be executed and results may vary depending on such details as metabolism, body type, and age.

Furthermore, in order for the desirable results to be achieved, you have to stick to the routine and take it slow.

Four Tips for Estimating Results as Best You Can

Refusing to offer predictions probably isn't an option. When a client asks you to project future results, you should be prepared to provide an informed answer. The essential strategy is to proceed with caution and avoid making promises you can't possibly keep.

Here are a few tips that many in the SEO industry have found helpful over the years:

1. Focus on Achievable Goals

"As with your own personal fitness, often it is best to focus on small, achievable goals that are right in front of you. Doing so allows progress to happen, less inhibited by the constant worry of where you are in comparison to the mountain of work ahead of you," Spencer says.

"Instead of trying to succeed at SEO with a single herculean effort, you can create something great, measure its performance, and then create another starting point from which to continue improving." In other words, don't bite off more than you can chew.

When you break the SEO campaign down into digestible bits for your client, you can make more accurate predictions and enjoy plenty of small "wins" along the way.

2. Compare Apples to Apples

If you're going to go out on a limb to make a prediction for a particular SEO campaign, make sure you compare apples to apples. Just because you achieved a specific result last month with another client, this doesn't mean you can replicate it utterly today.

Take all of the vital factors into account and only make cross-campaign comparisons when the proper details line up accordingly.

3. Look for Actionable Changes (Not Win-Loss Results)

It's crucial that you set up clients for positive changes that you can control, especially in the early stages of a campaign. Identify items you are fairly certain you can fix immediately, such as correcting 404 errors, improving site speed, and fixing NAP information on major directories. This will enable you to make concrete projections on the front end and looser estimates on the back end.

4. Project With Past Experiences and Results in Mind

We've all had those moments when we read a new article written by a respected expert in the SEO industry, and become excited about applying a new technique or concept. Sometimes these new techniques work and other times they don't.

The point is you can't possibly know until you try them out. Avoid making predictions about an SEO concept you've never personally employed. It's best to project with past experiences and results to back you up.

Transparency is the Best Policy


It's always preferable to under-promise and over-deliver. Clients may try to pressure you into providing quantifiable projections, but do your best to avoid placing yourself in a position you're liable to regret later.

It's impossible to predict SEO results to perfection, but you should be able to make fairly accurate projections by leveraging the right resources and sticking to the techniques outlined above.

At the end of the day, transparency is the best policy. Explain to clients why it's difficult to make accurate predictions, then supply them with the most realistic projections you can.

That's how to convey value without getting yourself in trouble down the road.

Be sure and visit our small business news site.