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Google’s New Disavow Tool: Why and How to Use it

Much to the excitement of webmasters who have been antagonized by Google Penguin, Google has made a peace offering: its new disavow tool. As you probably know, the reason so many sites are losing their formerly prestigious search engine rankings is due, in large part, to mass quantities of low-quality backlinks. Now, webmasters have been given the option to disavow these links and redeem themselves.

Anyone who has, intentionally or unintentionally through SEO services companies, been sucked into the world of link spam has probably seen a message from the ever-watchful Google that points out the unnatural links – which could be paid-for, created in link exchanges, or the result of some such link scheme – which offend Google’s standards of quality; the message recommends the links be removed, or disavowed, ASAP. It’s Google’s way of keeping its results useful, its users happy, and your reputation clean.

Without further ado, let’s discuss how to use this new disavow tool. The steps are fairly straightforward:

  • Start by visiting Google’s Disavow Links page. You’ll be shown a text box where you can insert your website’s URL. Then press the ‘disavow links’ button.
  • You’ll then see a prompt to upload a file that contains the links you’d like to disavow. A plain text file with one URL on each line will work fine.
  • You can use the prefix domain:http://www…. to remove all links from one site, or
  • Enter the URLs of specific pages on a site with no prefix.
  • Only one disavowal document per website is allowed at the current time, but it can be modified and re-uploaded. It must be less than 2MB in size.

The process itself is incredibly manageable; the most intricate aspect is deciding which links should be disavowed and which should not. Google representatives recommend that prior to requesting that links be disavowed, webmasters attempt to have the links removed organically by contacting the hosts of each link. Google webmasters are able to gather whether or not the organic approach has been endeavoured and may use this information to decide whether or not to carry out the disavow process. The tool is in place not as an easy fix, but as a result of some webmasters charging a fee or being unresponsive when asked to remove backlinks.

Posted in Tips

Google Changes you Might not have Noticed

SEO marketers know that it’s been a rough year in their field; the Google algorithm undergoes up to 600 changes per year, and most SEO aficionados try to keep tabs on specific dates and functions of the changes. This way, they can hopefully anticipate and prepare for anything massive, and have an explanation for and reaction to any drastic shifts in rankings. However, with so much going on this past year, it’s gotten a bit difficult to keep up. In fact, there might even be some Google changes that you’ve yet to notice.

Google Page Layout

It was on October 9th that a tweet confirmed that Google would be updating the way its main page looked and functioned. In an effort to reduce the influx of spam and create a cleaner appearance, the algorithm adjustment preyed on pages that were associated with too many advertisements which would overtake the search results and make the page look very top-heavy. The goal is to assist users in seeing the content they want to see as high-up as possible without having to scroll through advertisements to get to it. Any site that is lacking in content above the fold will take a hit as it does not provide immediate information and therefore harms the user experience.

Third Refresh on the Penguin Update

October 5th was the most recent large refresh on the Penguin algorithm change – yet another attempt to swap spam for useful content. It will affect about .3% of English language searches, but will have some effect on queries in other languages as well.

Exact-Match Domain, or EMD

In late September, Google made the announcement that they will be implementing an update on exact-match searches. Now, there will be a reduced number of exact-match domains. Even if a domain is an exact match, it will not show up based on that fact alone; it must still be a high-quality website to show up in the immediate results.

 

It’s difficult to anticipate what direction the Google changes will go next based solely on the fact that their aim is to improve the quality of the user experience but that quality is fairly subjective. So far, however, the changes have been immensely noticeable, and it’s important to remain in the loop if you want to keep your page well-ranked.

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Matt Cutts does Q&A on Disavow Tool

We discussed how Google has released its link disavow tool a few weeks ago and how it will be beneficial to anyone who has unknowingly hired black-hat SEO companies or who has been sabotaged by competitors. However, despite the fact that we know it will help anyone whose site was damaged after Google Penguin was released, it’s still a tool we’re going to have to master. Luckily, Matt Cutts of Google did a Q&A recently to help better our understanding of its effectiveness.

In the previous blog post, I mentioned that if you’re not absolutely certain that a link is harming you, then you had best leave it alone rather than use the disavow tool. When asked how webmasters would know which links they should remove, Cutts responded, in essence, that the ambiguity was intentional. “We provide example links to guide sites that want to clean up the bad links. At the same time, we don’t want to help bad actors learn how to spam better, which is why we don’t provide an exhaustive list,” he said.

Something he touched on that we were unsure of before was abuse of the tool. Google much prefers that webmasters contact the hosts of the bad links prior to attempting to disavow them. The interviewer asked, “…if they don’t [request a link removal from the host] and just disavow, it’s pretty much going to work, right?” Cutts responded, “No, I wouldn’t count on this…If we don’t see any links actually taken down off the web, then we can see that sites have been disavowing without trying to get the links taken down.” You hear that, webmasters? Go about it the old fashioned way, first, if you don’t want to lose your privileges.

He added that the positive effects of disavowing links could take “potentially months” to show, which is another reason it might be most effective to attempt to have the links taken down on your own first. It seems as though we still have much to learn about this new tool, and SEO enthusiasts have much to look forward to in the coming months.

Posted in News

Foursquare and SEO

Social media enthusiasts have most likely heard of – if not avidly been using – the app known as FourSquare. This app allows people to “check in” using the GPS function when they go somewhere. At the bowling alley? “Check in” and let your friends see where you are. If you’ve checked into that bowling alley more than anyone else, you’re known as the “mayor” of that location on the app. It’s a lot of fun for some friendly social networking competition.

And, SEO activists, now you can consider FourSquare a new opportunity for optimization. They have recently implemented app and site updates including a search engine feature, so that even non-users of the app can search for nearby places, see who goes there, and read reviews. It’ll be similar in style to Yelp!, a site that we all know is extremely useful for SEO purposes.

The search engine update is still in the works – they’re adding features like the hours of the location, the average cost of a visit, et cetera, but as of right now, locations can be searched in general terms. For example, if you’re looking for somewhere to go for some after-hours food, you can search “late-night.” This is going to bring a whole new meaning to keyword research.

If you’ve been keeping up with your Google Penguin news, you know that social media platforms are quickly making their way to the forefront of important SEO tactics. This most certainly goes beyond Facebook and Twitter. Before you know it, you’re going to be making sure your website is easily found on sites like FourSquare and Yelp!, so it’s best to get on the social media train early and stay on top of your game.

Posted in News, Uncategorized

Google Updates AdWord Policy

Google has dropped the hammer on a variety of SEO practices —  excessive keyword use, spun content, and the like. Ever watchful, it has knocked down poorly optimized website after poorly optimized website, leaving guilty webmasters to fumble for their rankings or even start from square one. Google’s lack of mercy toward bad SEO practices has no end in sight; in fact, it’s snowballing. Now, the people behind the algorithm are shifting their focus toward pay-per-click, or PPC, advertising.

We can’t really blame Google for what it’s been doing. Tons of low-quality content gets uploaded to the internet on an hourly basis, which spawns even more low-quality advertising for said content. Google is just trying to help us, the searchers, weed it out so we can more easily find what we are looking for, but the authors and uploaders and advertisers are relentless.

So how does PPC come into play? Hopefully, it will be improved for everyone involved – searchers, managers, and even the Google team – except for those guilty of PPC spam (read: anyone who deceives searchers with untrained eyes into clicking on their ads). Additionally, it will hopefully encourage the staff of PPC campaigns to keep a better eye on their processes.

The goal is to improve these PPC ads the same way Google wants to improve web content – by rewarding those with diligent practices and punishing spammers. Ideally, the ads will become more relevant and useful, benefitting the viewer and linking to legitimate sites. Quality content has become paramount as a result of all the Google updates, and now it will be even more so. By encouraging more responsible ad links, useful ad copy, and relevant landing pages, the hope is that for PPC managers their Quality Scores will rise and their click costs will go down.

It’s a long road ahead but PPC managers should know it’s coming – if you don’t have the best PPC practices, now is a good time to start, since poor practices will be punished. Clickthrough Marketing has a comprehensive list of the new rules and penalties for anyone who is interested.

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Google’s New Sitelink Policy

The people over at Penguin Watch are gearing up for a new Google policy change.  They’re at it again with another policy update, but this time it’s about sitelinks.   According to Google’s new policy each sitelink within a campaign now needs to link to a unique landing page or content on the site.  This change was brought on by a high number of sitelinks that seemed to be all leading to the same landing page.

The policy change will automatically be enforced on any new sitelinks and any existing site links will be reviewed in the upcoming months.  The easiest way to avoid any sitelink penalties from Google is to take time to switch up some of the URLs on your already existing sitelinks.  These links should ideally be relevant to the main ad copy in order to provide additional content in order to increase the conversion and click-through rates.

You should already know that having all of you links connect to the homepage of a website isn’t a good SEO practice.  If you think you’ve been relying too much on the home page, why not try linking to the about us or contact us page?  You shouldn’t stop there though, get bold and have some sitelinks leading directly to certain related product pages.  This strategy is obviously easier for ecommerce sites, but if you’re doing a campaign for other companies and businesses you’ll have to get a little more creative with your URLs.  You could have links that redirect towards positive customer reviews and positive press about the business.

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The SEO Problem of Unfamiliarity

With the online community shaken by Google’s recent slew of updates, we can expect, in the near future, a number of SEO companies to drop off the grid. Why? Well, Google has been hinting for quite some time that, moving forward, it will enforce a lower and lower tolerance for unethical SEO practices. What with the number of websites that have dropped dramatically in their rankings, it is safe to say that many SEO companies have disregarded these warnings, using their cheap and easy techniques to boost their clients’ rankings and continue to rake in the profits.

 

Now, businesses with their online presences significantly weakened by the effects of Panda and Penguin are beginning to notice that all the progress they have paid for has been pulled out from under their feet. They aren’t going to keep paying for these services, and may even ask for their money back…wouldn’t you? For companies in which these unethical practices – keyword stuffing, useless backlinking, and the like — were the standard, profits are going to be in the negatives pretty quickly.

 

Webmasters should take this as a learning experience. The problem lies in their unfamiliarity with the SEO world; they don’t know what they should be looking for, and thus, unbeknownst to them, they don’t always end up with quality service. If you’re looking to invest in an SEO company, here are a few tips to ensure your money does not go out the window:

 

Look for consultation services.

Make sure that the company you hire is willing to consult with you before and during implementing any SEO strategies. This way, you can see, in detail, the plan of action before the money has been shelled out and it is too late.

 

Ask for reports.

See to it that the company you have hired utilizes Google Analytics or other reporting tools. This way, you can get a visual idea of your site’s progress rather than taking someone’s word for it.

 

Know the basics.

Stay up-to-date on this blog and other SEO-savvy sites so you at least have some idea of what is going on in the world of search engines. It is always changing, but as long as you know what specific services you are paying for and what generally satisfies Google, you can prevent anything catastrophic from happening.

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Penguin Algorithm Update to affect even SEO Companies

“You don’t want the next Penguin update.”

This is what Matt Cutts, Google’s SEO specialist, stated during the most recent Google announcement. He didn’t quite specify what he meant by that, but it certainly left webmasters anxiously wondering.

 

We’ve been discussing how businesses with websites will be struggling as a result of the previous and impending Penguin algorithm updates, but we haven’t really stopped to think about how the hundreds upon hundreds of SEO companies – the very ones these businesses had been employing – will fare. Fiona Lewis, a marketing expert, says, “It will be carnage for many companies and business owners. I feel sorry especially for the businesses that pay good money to slack SEO companies who didn’t see this coming.”

 

What she means is that, as it stands, it’s quickly becoming apparent which SEO companies have not been prepared for the worst. It’s unfortunately common for some to rely on the cheapest SEO tricks to get their clients’ sites to the front pages of Google, and by the looks of it, they never anticipated these changes. Regrettably, many businesses have spent valuable time and money employing these services, and may soon be eating their investments. Lewis anticipates that these companies only have about three months to get their acts together before their clients will begin to take note of the detriments and end their contracts.

 

In other words, we guess you could say that Google’s plan is working. The companies that don’t demonstrate better SEO practices will eventually collapse and the ones that are more diligent will be thriving more than ever once all the Penguin updates have rolled out. Let it be a lesson to SEO “experts” to stay on top of Google updates, take the proper precautions, and build rankings in an organic and useful manner.

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Post Penguin Update Strategies

By this point, we all know the basics about the goals of the latest Google changes and what to do to rebuild from their effects. Most webmasters are taking the proper actions: assessing the damage, getting rid of harmful backlinks, creating more organic content, and the like. But some innovators are taking hold of the latest strategy: social networking.

Think about it: the goal of Penguin’s update after update being rolled out is to create a better experience, to make it more user-friendly. It wants to promote interaction between actual people and get rid of anything robotic – spam, senseless content, programs that spin articles, et cetera. What is more legitimate than mentions of companies by actual people? Why wouldn’t Google want to promote sites whose owners interact with their customers?

Aside from the aforementioned speculation, there is actual logic behind taking the social media approach. It has been confirmed that Google takes social networking profiles into consideration when ranking sites, especially after the Penguin algorithm update. Not to mention, this is an organic way to create links to your site. Aside from having questionable websites linking to your page, you can have actual social media users sharing them, re-tweeting them, talking about them, liking them, et cetera. Having actual fans increases the legitimacy of a website, and thus, will boost its ranking on a search engine.

Some SEO adherents make the argument that the old strategic method of optimizing a page should be thrown out the window; instead of the goal being to boost rankings, aim to interact with people – be engaging, and the rest will happen on its own. Jon Thomas of Post-Advertising states: “create useful, relevant and share-worthy keyword-optimized content, share across other owned properties, and [not] worry about what Google may or may not do.” We think he’s onto something.

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Unexpected Google Algorithm Update Released August 28th, Webmasters Suspect

No one was quite prepared for it, but it seems that on August 28th, there was yet another update to Google’s algorithm. Webmasters all across the web noticed huge changes in their sites’ traffic – some for the better, and some for the worse.

We know that Google unleashed a nominal Panda refresh on Monday, August 20th, which was said to have only affected 1% of queries, because Google confirmed it via Twitter. However, they have not confirmed whether or not any new Penguin update was put into motion on the 28th. What leads us to this suspicion is the fact that webmasters have noticed far too much change in their statistics in that one day to go ignored. The following quotes from webmasters have been posted in SEO forums:

“I noticed a massive drop in long tail yesterday.
Our site only went live in June, and there have been no indications of Panda/Penguin.”

“Small drop today [August 28] for keywords with ‘firm’ in the combination.
HUGE drop (a lot going outside the top 100) for keywords with ‘firms’ in the combination.”

“20% google traffic improvement as of yesterday…”

“So nasty hit dates for me include:
July 20th
August 11th
August 28th

The sheer number of developers complaining about – or celebrating – the changes in their rankings in one day after not seeing significant changes for weeks is solid evidence. So, has Google unrolled another Penguin update on us? It seems to be so – but we can only wait to see if they will confirm. Until then, we do not know exactly what it entails, or what is coming next.

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