2013 Mid-Year SEO Review

30 May 2013 – Tina Courtney-Brown – Featured –


2013 is already halfway over, and there’s been a flurry of SEO changes (thank you, Panda) to keep track of. Now is the perfect opportunity to review what’s occurred, take stock of current trends, and look to the remainder of the year for impending updates. With each day that passes, SEO becomes more and more critical to businesses, so keeping your finger on the search engine pulse is a wise move indeed. If you’ve fallen a bit behind, keep reading and get yourself up to speed.


Content Marketing Climbs to the Top

Google’s latest Panda release made what many already knew a cold-hard reality: Quality trumps quantity in the world of search engine supremacy. Those without fresh, relevant, valuable content are feeling the squeeze in a big way now, and those with excellent content practices are also scrambling to decipher Google’s preferences and land at the top of each competitive keyword marketplace.

Content marketing, therefore, could arguably be seen as more important than traditional on-site SEO. Offering your visitors useful resources and engaging content is now the key to landing prime ranking spots across the various search engines, but don’t count-out the necessity to balance this with SEO tactics.

The Guardian’s Jonathan Piggins recently expressed the same, stating in an insightful article about content marketing that SEO is not dead, just transformed.

“These scenarios do not herald the ‘death of SEO’. Far from it. The future lies in collaboration. The relationship between content marketing and SEO only reaches its true potential when it’s designed to be symbiotic. This means that brands need to underpin their content with SEO strategies like strong internal navigation… The idea is to use varied skills to build hubs around interdependent content and search terms in order to nurture cross-selling potential.”


The Rise of the Small Screens

The buzz around new technologies like Google Glass aims to shift SEO strategies all the more. It remains to be seen on a large scale what these screens really mean for rankings, but it’s likely that the need to reach page 1 results will now be usurped by needing the top 1-3 rankings all together. Mobile has already created this urgency with their smaller screens and impatient users, so things like Google Glass and the rumored iWatch will only up the ante. When users only see a few lines of results, it’s clear that most businesses won’t be able to stop at anything less than the top slot if they are after the lion’s share.


Mid-Year SEO Must-Do’s

As you become familiar with what’s changed, don’t forget to keep a constant eye on your existing sites, and keep your content and strategies clean and current. Now is a great time to dust the cobwebs off your Google and Bing Webmaster accounts and study your latest results. Look for SEO and crawl errors, 404 patterns, and other issues that are begging for assistance. Even small changes can help you optimize your site performance and speed, not to mention bump up those elusive SERPs just a little bit more.

It’s also an ideal time to review your keyword strategies. Use tools like those listed in our SEO Tools for DIY Webmasters article to help you analyze your current selections, study what users are actually using in the majority, and shift meta data, content keywords, and related on-site sections to help you capitalize on the most effective tactics for your niche.

Do a run-through on all your social media profiles and campaigns as well. Make sure all contact data, company info, and current promotions are up-to-date, engaging, and doing all they can to gain you loyal followers and fans. If you’re not staying connected to your customers in this space, it’s time to make a solid schedule to do so. Your Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and other social pages should never feel lifeless or outdated, or you’ve lost the chance to get these respective audiences excited about what you’re going to do next.


What the Rest of 2013 Holds for SEO

Google search engine representative Matt Cutts recently released a video outlining what to expect in SEO in the coming months. In it, he stresses the obvious (writing quality content), but also alludes to a forthcoming update of Penguin. “We’re relatively close to launching the next generation of Penguin,” states Cutts. “We call it Penguin 2.0. It’s an attempt to target black hat web-spam. We expect it to go a little deeper and have a greater impact than 1.0.” So if by some chance you’ve been employing less than honest SEO practices and have thus far gotten away with it, Google wants to make sure that won’t last throughout the year.

In the spirit of nabbing spammers, Cutts had this to say:

“We’re also looking at some ways to go upstream to deny the value to link spammers. We’ve got some ideas on ways to make that less effective. We expect that will roll out over the next few months. We’re working on a more sophisticated system, we’re still in the early days for that.”

Yes, that’s vague, but it does tell us where at least part of Google’s strategy still lies – in finding and punishing all those looking to cheat the system. How do you cheat in SEO? By tricking the engines to grant you high rankings without providing anything of value to your visitors.

Finally, Cutts also indicates that author rank will continue to be critical for top rankings later this year, stating: “We’ve been doing a better job of detecting an authority in a specific space. And trying to make sure those rank a little more highly if you’re some sort of authority or a site that we think might be a little more appropriate for the users.”

In other words, continue to be an online authority for the fields you specialize in. And when you hire writers to help you spread the word, find those that also have credibility in the space. Not only will you amass more valuable content, but the author rank scenario will offer a potential SERP boost too.

The SEO roller coaster has been wild and wooly this year, with no end in sight. By staying focused on your quality business practices and content offerings, you’ll give yourself an edge as Google continues to tighten the reins. In the end, a targeted blend of on-site SEO, keywords, and content marketing is the strategy that’s most likely to see you doing the victory dance at year’s end.

Official Google information: what to expect from Google in the coming months

14 May 2013 – André Voget – Featured –

Spammers beware! This summer, Google is going after black-hat and link spammers. In a video on YouTube, Google’s Matt Cutts announced 9 things that Google will do within the next months. How do these changes affect the position of your web pages in Google’s search results and what can you do to protect your rankings?


1. There will be more Penguin updates

Google is going to launch the next generation of the Penguin algorithm within the next few weeks. The Penguin 2.0 update will go deeper than the first Penguin version and it will affect a lot more sites.

The Penguin update targets websites that use spam tools to create backlinks. If you’re using tools that automatically create backlinks to your site, stop using them now. If any tool that you use contains the words “nuke”, “dominator” or “brute force” then it’s likely that your website will be affected by the next Penguin update.

2. Google does not like advertorials

Some websites use advertorials to get more backlinks. Matt Cutts said that non-nofollow links from these advertorials violate Google’s webmaster guidelines. If you purchase advertorials just to get backlinks, this might have a negative influence on your Google rankings.

3. Google will take a closer look at spammy queries

Some search queries such as ‘pay day loans’ tend to attract more spam than other queries. Google’s search spam team will take a closer look at these queries.

4. Link networks might get in trouble

Matt Cutts said that Google is going to go “more upstream” to make sure that some kind of links become less attractive. This probably affects link networks. Google has penalized several link networks in the past.

5. Google is going to analyze backlinks better

Matt Cutts also said that Google is in the early stages of a much more sophisticated link analysis software that will understand backlinks much better. That probably means that the influence of forum profile links might become even lower while the value of editorial links increases.

6. Better handling of hacked sites

Google is working on a better system to detect hacked sites. The new system should be available later this year. Google also wants to improve webmaster communication about hacked sites.

7. Authority websites will get a ranking boost

Google plans to give websites that are an authority in their category a ranking boost. For example, if your website is an authority in the medical space, Google plans to show your website above websites that are not as authoritative as your site.

8. The Panda update becomes less strict

Matt Cutts said that many of the websites that were affected by the Panda update were border cases. Google is looking at other quality metrics that enables them to make sure that these websites aren’t impacted by the Panda algorithm. The Panda algorithm targets websites with low-quality content.

9. Less domain clusters

Matt Cutts said that the number of same domain clusters on Google’s first result page should lessen this year. Google wants to make the results on page one more diverse. The second result page might contain more domain clusters.
What does this mean for your website?

At the end of the video, Matt Cutts explains that Google wants to reduce the number of webmasters who use black-hat spam techniques. Smaller businesses that use white-hat SEO methods should rank better.

If you want to make sure that your website rankings are safe, avoid spammy SEO methods at all costs. You can get short-term results with black-hat SEO tools but your website will be penalized as soon as Googles detects the spam.

Google, SEO and Author Rank: It’s Getting Personal

08 Apr 2013 – Tina Courtney-Brown – Featured –



In the competitive world of SEO, any edge up on the competition is a godsend. Here’s a word to the wise: If you’re looking to up your Search Engine Page Rankings (SERPs), you should start caring very deeply about author rank. A well charted content strategy consists of more than just well written, on target, audience-specific articles; nowadays it’s crucial to tie it all to a well-ranked author.

Consider this a similar notion to the spirit of link sharing; we now know it’s critical that we understand imperatively the reputation of everyone we link to, and those who link to us. In that same vein, it’s now a must that we equally consider author reputation. In a world of rampant social sharing, this is one of a few key ways search engines are cutting through the content clutter. And it’s your ticket to better SEO.

Consider this book excerpt from “The New Digital Age,” authored by Google Executive Chariman Eric Schmidt:

“Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance.”

Irrelevance?!? That’s a very strong statement. And that alone is proof that author rank should be on your SEO radar.


How Author Rank Became an SEO Darling

Every day, a staggeringly high number of “social events” are triggered by web users. “Social events” are things like Facebook Likes, Google +1s, tweets, and content shares. To that end, search engines can conceivably sort the relevance of this mountain of data by considering each author’s reputation (a little like Klout, a site that lets authors track their own ranking prowess, aims to achieve.)

It used to be that the key to SEO was in massive link building, but as this transformed into a less than stellar user experience, search engines shifted their strategies. In order to maintain credibility and track the quality of content in a more cohesive manner, author rank has become a much stronger focus. This is an obvious evolution for the algorithms, especially considering the astronomically increasing amount of data that must be tracked in real-time. Gone are the days when link directories and volumes of anonymous posts reigned supreme. As people, we have long since preferred to interact with other people, not bots or nameless, invisible beings – it turns out Google feels the same way.


Quantifying Author Rankings

SEO is not an exact science, but it does support common sense in considering how the algorithms might dissect a concept like author rank. Here are some key social signals to consider as you’re building your own ranking (please note these are ideas, and not guarantees… yet):

1) Social Media Profiles: This one is a no-brainer. If you’re going to have any credibility to the masses these days, you clearly need to be on the big dogs: Facebook and Twitter at a minimum, but ideally other sites like Pinterest and LinkedIn. Likewise, a Google+ definitely feels like a must-have, because it’s obvious Google is paying hyper-close attention to their own social darling.

2) Quantity of Social Events: The volume of content you create is certainly applicable, but what’s more relevant these days is the number of tweets, shares, +1s and Likes a piece you authored generates. Bear in mind search engines are not looking at how many social events you trigger, but those of your content instead.

3) Frequency of Social Events: It’s not just about volume, but how often your content generates a Like, share, etc. Both Google and Bing have already admitted that they measure social velocity to help identify high-ranking news; it’s reasonable to assume they are tracking the same for author rankings too.

4) Publisher Credibility: Remembering that quality still trumps quantity, the authority of the site where the content appears is also integral to your success. We are therefore reminded to choose our publishing partners carefully while building SEO rank, because mass publication on sites with bad reputations – or none at all – can actually hurt your cause instead.


Ways to Improve Your Author Rank

So now that you’ve embraced the importance of author rank and have started understanding how it might be quantified, let’s talk about some real-world strategies to improve your results over the long term.

You obviously need a great social media and SEO strategy for the content on your actual website. Consider unifying your marketing efforts and having one cohesive voice write the majority of your content. This may go against the grain of large teams of marketers and writers propelling forward various styles, but given the increased importance of author rank, it’s advisable that you seek an authority to lead the charge – not just a snazzy copywriter. This means you should consider hiring an author with expertise in your field, so that you may utilize the social following and clout they’ve already established. By all means, leverage the audience these experts have already established. The more you personalize the messaging from your brand, the more likely you are to make a personal connection with your customers. (Seriously, who likes impersonal sales-y sounding social signals and marketing materials?). Likewise, it now seems SEO is gearing towards the personal too, so this is a win-win. Use sites like LinkDex to help identify the perfect candidate to author your content charge.

Next up is outreach – identify news sites, bloggers and related content hubs that feature information related to your business’s expertise. Once determined, don’t just go through the standard submission process for the site; seek out the authors you are most in tune with and ask them personally to consider featuring your business, content, inforgraphic or related media. See the personal trend here? It’s becoming as good as gold. (It always was for customers, now search engines are getting in on the action too.)

Finally, remember that diversity in content is also a key tactic. Don’t just focus on keyword-rich articles, have some fun and mix it up. Create compelling viral videos, interactive content, infographics and related visuals, and/or eBooks so that your offerings create a broad appeal. Above all, don’t forget to clearly delineate authorship on all the content you publish.


Author Rank’s Longevity

Considering all the current web trends, and Google’s most recent statements, banking on author rank as a growing SEO trend is a safe bet. Start utilizing the requested tactics straight away, and stick with them long term, as they are likely to become more and more critical to your rankings. As Google executive Schmidt clearly stated, staying anonymous may result in irrelevance. It’s clear Google can’t, and won’t, ignore the immense amount of social data out there, so make yours count as much as possible by tying content to credible authors. If Google wants to know all they can about who’s writing your content, you should clearly want the same.

The Year of the Panda (and Penguin)

13 Feb 2013 – Lauren Hobson – Featured –


In 2012, Google made some very big algorithm updates – namely, Panda and Penguin, that introduced a way for Google “bots” (or spiders) to better understand a website’s content and meaning. It also changed some fundamental ranking signals to penalize low-quality websites and give more weight to quality signals like fresh content and social media engagement. So after several iterations of Panda and Penguin updates all year long, do you know which changes can actually help or hurt your rankings in the coming year? Here’s a recap of some of the biggest changes from Panda and Penguin in 2012:


Low Quality Content

Google bots are now smart enough to tell if the content on a website is poorly written, is keyword stuffed, has spelling or punctuation errors, is riddled with ads or third-party links, or a myriad of other ranking signals that indicate a site’s quality (or lack thereof). This particular change knocked out many formerly high-profile “content-farm” sites and low-quality article sites from the top search positions, allowing higher-quality, more relevant sites to rise to the top of the results – giving users links to better content.

Takeaway: If you have published low-quality syndicated articles or have poorly written content (even if you wrote it!) on your web pages, it’s time to re-think and re-write for the new rules.


Freshness Counts

Google’s “freshness” ranking signals are highly important, while inbound links have become less important. Simply put, if you don’t add fresh content to your website regularly, don’t expect to do well in Google’s search engine results. Google’s freshness ranking signals focus on three key areas;

1) Recent events or trending topics,

2) Recurring events such as the Superbowl or elections, and

3) Recently updated or “fresh” content discovered on a website.

Takeaway: Add new content or update the existing content on your website as part of your marketing activities each month, because sites with “fresh” content get better quality scores and higher search positions than sites that have not been updated in a while.


Originality Counts, Too

With the Panda and Penguin updates, original content is now one of the most important ranking signals that Google uses in evaluating a website’s quality and determining ranking positions. Today, instead of flimsy content and “unnatural” inbound link building, sites need solid, original content that attracts links organically. If you don’t have the time or skills to write original content, hire someone who does – it’s that important.

In 2013, it will also matter who creates the content, and who does the linking out to that content – which is why Google is pushing businesses to get active on their Google+ profiles. According to many SEO experts, Google’s “Author Rank” now has the potential to be the biggest algorithmic signal for SEO since the hyperlink itself.

The Google Authorship feature lets authors tag their own original content (articles, web pages, posts, etc.) as belonging specifically to them by tying it to their Google+ accounts. Google already uses Authorship to help identify duplicate content on the web and provide rich snippets (images, video) in search results, but it is also likely that Google uses both Authorship and Google+ popularity as ranking signals as well.

Takeaway: If you publish original content (tied to your Google+ profile) and your competitors do not, which business do you think will be listed higher in Google’s search results?


Social Impact

Google now uses social “content” in its search results (e.g., “sharing” on Facebook, re-tweets on Twitter, posts on Google+, etc.). However – don’t just slap together a business profile or two on the social sites! In order to be successful, your social profiles should not only match your existing branding (colors, logo, marketing message), but must also provide valuable content that will resonate with customers. A social profile that just sits there (or spews pre-canned robo-posts) provides little value to visitors and no value to Google in trying to evaluate your social impact.

Takeaway: An active social presence matters – a lot. If you don’t currently have a marketing strategy that includes regular posts and sharing on social media, you need to think about including this for 2013. Marketing today demands a multi-channel approach (e.g., website, social media, mobile, SMS, SEO, etc.) in order to reach your customers and prospects effectively and score quality points in Google.


Technically Sound Architecture

Today, Google has little regard for websites that are built with non-standard code or contain technical errors. If your site was built with a freebie template, uses tables-based design or Flash code, or was created more than two years ago, it is probably time to re-evaluate the architecture of your site and repair or rebuild as necessary. If your site does not have the basic technical elements right, you have very little chance of getting Google’s attention – or rankings.

Takeaway: Google rewards websites that comply with its quality guidelines, which means that if you have not been keeping up with Google’s changes (e.g., using standards-based code, valid CSS tags, correct meta data, etc.), it’s time to get your site in technical shape.


What Matters for 2013

The year of the Panda and Penguin brought about some pretty substantial changes in the way Google evaluates and ranks websites, and if you’re still thinking that inbound links and keywords are the path to good rankings in Google, you need to think again. Although many of the tried-and-true SEO strategies are still in use by Google, they are less important today than ever before. So for 2013, the Panda/Penguin updates mean that your Google strategy must include:

* High-Quality Content (no pre-canned articles or poorly written page content)
* Regular Updates (freshness)
* Original Content (with Author Rank)
* Social Impact (useful, quality posts that are shared socially)
* Technical Correctness (standards-based code, error-free HTML, no templates or Flash, etc.)

In the coming year, experts predict that marketing channels will continue to mesh together – for example, the way that Google now uses social media signals as SEO ranking factors – so your marketing strategy needs to include multiple channels as well. The Panda/Penguin updates have fundamentally changed the way in which your website is evaluated and ranked by Google, so proceed accordingly.