Online businesses use SEO to get better visibility in search engines for desired keywords so that they can attract more eyeballs eventually converting into paying customers.
From the last few years, when it comes to online marketing, SEO is mainstream and this is possibly because the investment it requires is small as compared to offline advertisement; and in the longer run, the ROI is better than any other online or offline marketing channel.
As SEO is a traffic and conversion driving channel, many businesses are always competing against each other. Although this is healthy, unfortunately a small percentage of people try to manipulate the Google algorithm by doing negative SEO.
What is Negative SEO?
According to Search Engine Journal, “Negative SEO is the practice of implementing black hat SEO techniques on another site. Usually, an SEO attack is unleashed by a disgruntled competitor and his or her minions with the goal of reducing that site’s rankings.”
This simply means that when you are ranking well for money making keywords, there is a chance that your competitors or other SEO companies might attack you with their black hat techniques with the basic goal to knock down your rankings in search engines and win over you the wrong way.
Kinds of Negative SEO:
To be fair with you, there are countless ideas that I have in my mind that one can use against your business and website rankings, but here are a few methods commonly used:
- A Competitor buying bad links and pointing them to your website
- Hacking websites to inflict damage
- Posting either negative or fake reviews on your business website or listing
- Reporting Google about you involved in any spam activity
- Stealing no-index content and filing a DMCA removal request
Note: The good and the bad part about negative SEO is that it’s a hit and miss game. So it’s not necessary that it will work, but in my experience, most websites with good authority and reputation are hard to hit as compared to the ones with lesser or no reputation at all.
How would I know if I’ve been attacked?
Negative SEO can be expensive. So it makes complete sense for one to believe that someone will only use negative SEO against your business when you are playing good in the game or when and if someone has something personal against you!
If you are new in the game, you don’t really have to worry too much about it, but if you are performing well for your money making keywords, you should always keep the possibility of being a victim of negative SEO in mind.
There are a few checks that you can use to figure out if you have been attached by a Negative SEO strategy.
- Continuously Monitor your Link Profile
If you are doing in-house link building or outsourcing it, you will have a clear idea of how many links you are building and where! If you see any unusual behavior in your link chart, you should be worried.
Obviously, anyone can build links on your website and you have less to no control over it. But keeping a close eye on your link profile will give you an idea about how fast it’s growing on a daily, weekly and monthly basis and where exactly these links are coming from.
- Track your Mentions
I use Mention.com to track my name and brand mentions. Every time people on the internet use my brand’s name, it updates me via email.
This idea works when you face negative SEO in the form of bad or fake reviews and mentions on other third party review websites.
I’ve been attached, what now?
If you’ve been attacked by negative SEO, here are a few things you should do in order to stay safe.
- Detect the kind of negative SEO you got hit by
As discussed above, there can be multiple types of negative SEO attacks that you can encounter. The first and the most important step to take is to understand the kind of negative SEO you‘ve been hit with. Once understood, follow an approach best suitable for that situation as they will differ based on the attack.
- First things first!
Now you know the kind of negative SEO you are facing, it’s time to take some quick preventive measures in order to get out of the attack and protect your website and business reputation.
Let’s say for a moment you are facing a bad link bombing attack; the best idea is to dig deeper into your link profile and find all the bad links, separate them from the good ones and create a disavow file and submit it to Google. By doing this you are actually telling Google that you don’t need the link juice from these domains and links which effectively means any juice coming from these links will be discounted and it will have no negative or positive impact on the website.
If the penalty is based on fake and negative reviews, it’s a little different and difficult to tackle as it’s very difficult to track fake reviews from genuine ones especially when someone else is doing it for your business.
The best and fastest approach in order to handle this situation is to update a blog post about what you are going through and continuously stay in communication with your audience via your company blog and social media pages. Obviously this is just an easy way out; you still need to find a way to figure out how to find fake reviews and request their removal.
- Start protecting yourself
Now that you have taken the initial precautions, it’s time to protect and safeguard your website. So even if someone tries to attack your website, it doesn’t really hurt you technically or from the reputation standpoint.
Increase your Domain Authority with quality links
As per my experience, a website with a quality link profile is the most difficult to affect by negative SEO. Moz.com got hit a bit after getting literally 1000’s of bad links pointing back to their link profile. Theoretically, the impact has to be big, but in my opinion one of the many reasons why Moz.com wasn’t affected really badly was because of the fact that they have a high domain authority which they built by using quality links directed to their profile.
Monitor and Audit your assents on a regular basis
In the online world, your assets are your website, the links you have built or got naturally, your reputation. The idea is to audit these on a regular basis. Check your website’s health and make sure there is no malware attack or virus found on the website as this has a direct negative impact on search rankings.
Audit your link profile on a monthly basis at least to find out if the link profile is clean and you are getting quality links as naturally as possible. Also, try and look into online review websites, social media platforms and see how people are talking about your brand and what kind of reviews you are receiving.
If you see any kind of odd activity, fix it instantly because if you are facing a negative SEO attack, fixing things up quicker is the best solution.
Build and Attract Quality Links
If you are outsourcing link-building or managing it in-house, you are already spending lot of your time building and acquiring quality links. In case of a Negative SEO attack, it’s more than just a necessary thing. By building and attacking quality links back to your profile you are actually letting Google know that you are not involved in any shady activities, but you are actually facing Negative SEO.
Having said all of this, I’m just going to sum it up by saying stay safe and never practice Negative SEO! And always make sure you are not under the attack of one!
I get asked this a lot. Google has released 3 substantial algorithm updates in the past 2 years: Panda, Penguin & Hummingbird, with the latter being more of a complete fundamental change to the entire algorithm landscape. It’s without a doubt the most loaded question I’ve ever been asked in regards to SEO, but a fair question. Website owners have been dropping like flies in past few months, losing ranking and losing all of their organic traffic. And some SEOs have thrown up their arms and concluded that SEO must be dead.
Honestly, the answer really depends on how you define SEO. If, when you say SEO, what you really mean is manipulating search engines to place sites that don’t really deserve to rank well at the top of the Search Engine Result Pages (SERPS)…then yes, I’d say that’s dead (or dying at least, as some manipulative tactics still work quite well).
However, even though some SEOs work to game the system, I’ve never really felt like that was the correct definition of SEO.
Because we so often use the SEO acronym, we forget sometimes that it stands for Search Engine Optimization. SEO, at its heart, is the process of making websites more accessible and understandable to search engines. It shouldn’t be, and really doesn’t need to be, manipulative.
Why is Google making all of these changes? Do they want to kill SEO?
I don’t think they want to kill SEO. They just want to put a stop to SEO’s who have learned to manipulate their ranking system. You see, while plenty of SEOs (like me) were helping legitimate sites to improve their presence, to the benefit of searchers, far too many were making Google’s search results poorer in quality.
Google relies on having excellent search results so that people will continue to use them when they perform searches. Many SEOs were muddying up the search results with crappy sites, causing a degradation of overall search result quality.
Lower quality SERPs means a poor experience for searchers, so Google needed to make drastic changes to clean things up and restore/improve the quality of search results.
So Just Answer the Question: is SEO dead or not?
Absolutely not. But the game has been changed. Engaging in SEO tactics that worked 5 years ago (even 2 years ago) now poses a big risk, not to mention rapidly diminishing returns.
SEOs will need to adapt or die. Luckily, SEOs like me are really good at adapting to change. SEO, the art of making content more accessible and understandable to search engines, will exist and thrive for as long as search engines exist.
That said, SEO is no longer a silo. It has massive dependencies in other departments, from social and content to PR and advertising.
If anything, I’d say that the role of SEO has changed from specialist/technician to more of a project manager/strategist role. SEOs must be exceptional at understanding how all the pieces of the online marketing puzzle fit together.
Current SEOs, the smart ones, are already shifting into roles like creative director, marketing manager, digital marketing strategist, etc. They’re escaping the SEO silo because they know full well that SEO is no longer an independent discipline.
For people looking to get into SEO, I’d probably recommend against it. I mean, learn SEO, by all means, but you’d better also learn PPC, CRO, design, social, copywriting, basic coding skills, and numerous other disciplines on top of that. The days of being a plain old SEO are pretty much done.
(Too Long; Didn’t Read)
I’d really encourage people to think of SEO differently. SEO is far from dead, but it’s changed so drastically that people really need to learn to think of it as less of a marketing tactic, and more of a branding play. SEO is definitely more complex and less-understood now than ever before. But is it dead? Not by a long shot.
This goes to show that it doesn’t matter who you are or how popular your website is, if you try to out-wit Google, they will have the last laugh.
The Rap Genius co-founders are a bunch of over-the-top, obnoxious arrogant – yet wildly successful – entrepreneurs. Founded in 2009, Rap Genius is a lyrics and text annotation site. It lets users provide their own explanations for song lyrics, religious texts, legal documents, images, and more that other users see when they hover over snippets of text hosted on the site. The site even has several artists with verified accounts that contribute explanations to their own material. The startup lept into the limelight when it received a massive $15 million investment led by Andreessen Horowitz in late 2012.
But Google doesn’t really care about how much funding your website has, or how many celebrities participate on your website. When you try to game the system and are cocky enough to publicly violate their webmaster policies, Google lays down the law. At this moment (though it’s subject to change), Rap Genius has been removed from Google’s index and can no longer be found through a Google search, even by Googling “rap genius”.
Here’s how it started…
They took to their Facebook page and invited those with high-ranking blogs to participate in a blog “Affiliate” program. At this point, one fairly prominent blogger replied and asked for details. One of the co-founders then replied:
Here’s where Justin Bieber comes into play, albeit not directly. But here’s the problem. Google rankings are obviously incredibly important. No need to explain that. Especially for lyrics websites that get millions of searches every single day. Even just a small cut of that traffic can be very profitable. And one of the things that will earn you a top position in Google, and lots of traffic, and lots of dollars are a large quantity of high quality backlinks.
The problem is that Google is looking for organic backlinks. In other words, links to your site that other websites have placed on their site because they want to provide a resource to additional, relative content. Over the past 2 years, Google has released several updates cracking down on non-organic backlinking schemes and are very outspoken about creating quality content that people voluntarily link to. Unforunately, it’s still a common practice for SEOs to place these kinds of links (that may work in the short-term but will eventually get your site banned just like RapGenius.com)
As you can see in the screenshot, Rap Genius is providing the HTML code (with links included) and asking anyone & everyone to place it on their website, regardless of that website’s subject matter, in exchange for a Tweet from Rap Genius which they claim will then make your “shit bloooowwwww up”. Classy.
This is an obvious gaming of the system. It would be great for them if they were creating quality content and I had a music blog. I would then link to them because I want to give my readers additional quality content regarding the subject matter in which they are already reading. But if I have a blog about SEO, or dogs or home-made pants – why the hell would I be linking to Justin Bieber songs?
I wouldn’t be, and that’s exactly how you get a manual action on your site from Google.
So why the Biebs?
Well… Rap Genius made a terribly stupid decision in trying to trick Google, but at the same time they at least understood what they were doing. Lyric websites are one of the hardest to SEO because songs are constantly being created. If you’re a plumber, you’ll most likely always be taking about plumbing, and the search terms for plumbing will likely be similar over years to come. But with lyrics, new songs and CDs are coming out daily, so there’s a never-ending stream of keywords to optimize for.
Justin Bieber just released his new album “Journals” last night; Beliebers will be searching for the lyrics to his new tracks repeatedly in the upcoming months. And Rap Genius wants a piece of that traffic. To demonstrate the magnitude of the Beliebers, check out this graphic: Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus were the most searched musicians in 2013, but Bieber is consistently the most searched person over time.
At this very moment, Rap Genius is missing out on millions of website hits, Bieber related and otherise, and that will continue until they correct the problem, which can take months. On the other hand, this is a pretty popular topic today, generating lots of articles like mine and social media conversations, so I guess all news is good news.
But that may not be the case for you. If you’re a local plumber, restaurant, carpet cleaner, etc. and you make the same attempts to game the system or hire a crap SEO firm who games the system because they just want your money, you won’t get the supplemental press. Although these methods can often spike your SEO rankings quickly, it will always be short-term. Google will always figure out what you are doing, and you will always be kicked off their search engine. It’s just not worth it.
Moral of the story: create an engaging web presence, produce quality content and allow the links to build naturally and organically. You may think you can out-smart the big G, but if Rap Genius can’t do it, neither can you. And he’s a genius!
2013 was a big year for changes in the SEO algorithm for Google. So with all of these changes, how does a local, small business owner continue to survive and move forward with their organic SEO?
Google suggests that there are about 200 different SEO ranking factors. Of that 200, I’ve identified about 80 that are relevant to local search. Of those 80, here are the top 20 local ranking factors that you must do if you want to rank.
1. Proper category associations
2. Physical address in city of search
3. Consistency of structured citations
4. Quality/authority of structured citations
5. HTML NAP matching place page NAP
6. Quantity of structured citations
7. Domain authority of website
8. Individually owner-verified local plus page
9. City, state in Places landing page title
10. Proximity of address to centroid
11. Quality/authority of inbound links to domain
12. Quantity of native Google Places reviews (w/text)
13. Product/service keyword in business title
14. Quantity of citations from locally relevant domains
15. Proximity of physical location to the point of search
16. Quantity of citations from industry-relevant domains
17. Local area code on local Plus page
18. City, state in most/all website title tags
19. Quantity of third-party traditional reviews
20. Page authority of Places landing page URL
By reading this guide, my goal is to help you understand both the lingo and the concept of each local search ranking factor. Use this information and you will be on the road to promoting your local business on the web from a firm and educated foundation. Sound good? Let’s dig in!
1. Proper Category Associations
Proper category associations are important enough to be ranked #1 in the survey. During the process of creating your Google+ Local page, you will be choosing categories at two distinct points.
When you enter your initial details, you will be selecting a primary category for the business. This is the most important category you will choose.
Then, once inside the dashboard, you will be allowed to select up to nine other categories for your business.
All categories must be chosen from Google’s pre-set category taxonomy. Earlier versions of Google’s dashboard allowed the business owner to custom create categories, but this feature is being phased out.
The concept here is simple. If you wish to appear in the local results for a search like “dentists in denver”, your business must be categorized as a dentist. If it is categorized as a certified public accountant, you have no hope of appearing for your important search terms.
2. Physical Address in City of Search
Your business is most likely to appear in Google’s pack of local results for searches that either:
1. Contain the name of the city in which it is physically located, or
2. Stem from devices based in that city
If you are a chiropractor in Indianapolis, you are most likely to appear in the local pack of results for a search like “Indianapolis chiropractor”, or if someone searches for “chiropractor” from a computer or cell phone based in Indy.
This search for “Chirporactors Indianapolis” illustrates this phenomenon, in that all of the results Google is returning in its local pack are for practitioners physically located in that city:
In the above screenshot, you will note that there are no chiropractors in neighboring cities included in these results. It’s safe to say that Google has a very definite bias towards physical location in the city of search. This is a simple concept, but it represents a major stumbling block for businesses that serve customers outside of just that one city or for brick-and-mortar stores whose address may be just outside of the city limits, but still cater to those clients.
In this event, it’s smart to focus your local search pack efforts on the city within your address, and then target the surrounding cities organically by creating city-focused landing pages to show your association with those areas.
3. Consistency of Structured Citations
A citation is any web-based mention of your company’s partial or complete name, address, and phone number (NAP). A “structured citation” refers to a listing of your business in an online local business directory such as YP.com, Citysearch or HotFrog.
Inconsistent citations might involve:
– A difference in the business name (i.e. Smile Dentistry vs. Smile Dental Clinic)
– A wrong street address, a typo in street address numbers, or a missing suite number
– A wrong or different phone number, a toll free or call tracking number
– A different or wrong website URL
Citation inconsistencies may arise from simple carelessness during the citation-building process and these mistakes may then be duplicated across the local search ecosystem. Inconsistencies also commonly arise if a business has moved at any time in the past decade or so. Apart from causing confusion for humans, these discrepancies hinder Google’s ability to trust the data they have gathered from around the web about a given business. A lack of trust on Google’s part can spell ranking difficulties for the business.
4. Quality or Authority of Structured Citations
It’s just good sense that having your business listed on high-quality websites is going to help you more than being listed on sites of low quality. As a rule of thumb, businesses should initially concentrate on getting listed on a handful of really authoritative local business indexes and directories. Use the tool at GetListed.org to be sure that you have a listing in the dozen or so basic, authoritative directories highlighted there.
Once you have all your ducks in a row with these basic citations, you want to continue down the citation building path to further enhance your company’s visibility and authority. Perform searches for category terms, service terms, and geographic terms to see what comes up in the search engine results. The websites that come up may be places you would like to list your business, if possible.
There is no standard process for judging the quality of a citation source. Metrics you might consider could include domain authority, domain age, link profile quality, and even simpler quality signals such as whether the website looks fresh or neglected.
5. HTML NAP Matching Place Page NAP
Google will be looking at the website page you’ve linked to from your Google Places/Google+ Local page to cross reference the name, address and phone number of your business. If all elements match, you’re good to go.
However, if there is a discrepancy in the NAP you have on your +Local page and the NAP on the website page your +Local page links to, then Google will become “confused” about the data they have about your business. Small discrepancies like Ste. vs Suite or Hwy. vs Highway do not matter. Reference Point 3 in this guide for a list of discrepancies that do matter. Your task is to ensure that your NAP is cohesive in both places.
There is a specific scenario in which Google may not be able to cross reference the complete NAP in the +Local Page dashboard with the NAP published on a website. This relates to home-based businesses which, for reasons of privacy, do not publish their street address on their website. It is speculated that this decision may put the business at some disadvantage, given what an authoritative source the website is, but to date, I am unaware of any in-depth studies that have been conducted surrounding this interesting topic. One might guess that if there are five home-based seamstresses in a town and only one of them publishes her home address on her website, she might have an edge over the other four, because Google is able to confirm that the Google+ Local page dashboard address matches the one found on the website.
6. Quantity of Structured Citations
Just as the quality of your citations is important, quantity is important too. Each unique local business owner will find he needs to build a different number of citations in order to be competitive. Typically, the more competitive your market is, the more citations you will need to build.
You might use a tool like Whitespark’s Local Citation Finder which will not only help you find new citations to build, but will also keep track of the numeric quantity of citations you have earned.
7. Domain Authority of Website
At present, the overall strength of a local business’ website plays a major role in how it ranks both locally and organically. Simply stated, “Domain Authority” is a metric used to predict how well a website may perform in search results compared to other websites.
There are many factors that make up the domain authority of a website. Some of these include the age of a website and the number and quality of links pointing to it. In general, every local business will want to publish the strongest possible website. This means having a user-friendly, optimized site with excellent content that earns links and social mentions over time. You will always be working to build your domain authority, and the higher it is, the better your chances of ranking well for your most important terms.
8. Owner-Verified Local Google+ Page
Creating your Google+ Local page for your local business is your first step to being included in Google’s index. Your second step is to verify your ownership of the listing. These days, this typically involves receiving a postcard/letter from Google containing a pin number which you must enter in order to complete verification.
Avoid letting anyone else act as a go-between for your company, putting your Google+ Local page into some master Google account of their own. It’s fine to have a Local SEO help you with the steps of verification, but this should be done with your own Google account and not the account of any third party. You need to be in direct control of your Google+ Local page. I can’t tell you how many business owners I’ve met with who need help fixing problems in their Google listing but can’t get ahold of the person who set it up (and still controls it).
9. City and State in Places Landing Page Title
Your Google+ Local page should link to a page on your website. This page on your site will have an element in its code called a “Title Tag.” This is typically located in thesection of the code and the words contained in it send a very important signal to both search engine bots and human users regarding the topic of the page in question. The title tag of a page typically displays in the upper left hand corner of your browser window:
In the above screenshot, you can see that the title tag of the page contains both the city and state name. Local search tanking factors cite the inclusion of these geographic terms as being especially important on the landing page to which your Google+ Local page links. For many local businesses, the landing page will simply be the homepage of the website.
10. Proximity of Address to Centroid
Traditionally, the centroid in Local Search has been defined as the city center identified by Google in its Maps product. You can go to maps.google.com, type in a city and state and get a result that looks like this, with Google putting a red pin on the presumed city centroid:
However, the centroid can change position relative to different industries and may often have nothing to do with the the designated center of a city. In other words, Google can decide that the center of business for auto dealers is different than the center of business for chiropractors. This is a somewhat complex topic and I recommend you read Linda Buquet’s forum thread, Google+ Local Centroid – Not City Center! to see illustrations of this concept of the shifting center of business.
Proximity of address to centroid is one of those factors over which your business will have little control. Some businesses located outside this centroid/center of business radius may discover that they are at a disadvantage in comparison to competitors who are within the radius. Short of moving to a new location, (not a realistic suggestion) your proximity to Google’s designated center of business for your industry isn’t something you can change.
11. Quality/Authority of Inbound Links
Because organic signals play a big part in local rankings, earning high quality links from authoritative sources will help your business to improve its visibility in the search engine results. A tool like the Open Site Explorer can help you to begin understanding both the number and quality of links currently pointing to your website.
For a local business, high quality, authoritative links may come from a variety of places, including local and national newspapers, local business indexes, high profile bloggers and professional industry associations.
12. Quantity of Native Google Plus Reviews with Text
This is a simple one! It is currently felt that the number of reviews your business earns on its Google+ Local page influences rank more than reviews you might earn on other review platforms. You can easily see how many reviews you have by clicking either on the “reviews” link on your Google+ Local link in the main search engine results, or by visiting your + Local page directly.
No local business needs to earn a ton of Google-based reviews at once. In fact, if you earn reviews at too great a velocity, you may find that some of them get filtered out. Rather, best practices for this revolve around slowly acquiring positive reviews from happy customers, one by one, over time. You want to earn more reviews than your direct competitors have, but you don’t need 10 times as many reviews to see the benefits. In fact, if you’ve got many more reviews that your competitors, it may look suspicious to Google and human users.
Google allows you to ask for reviews, but not to offer money or incentives in exchange for explicitly-required positive reviews. Reviews must come directly from your customers’ Google accounts. Never hire a third party marketer to pose as a customer and post fake reviews or post reviews on behalf of real customers. Create an internal process in your company for requesting reviews either at the time of service or shortly thereafter. Remember, a slow, steady acquisition of reviews is the goal here, so that you are gradually building a great online reputation, over time.
13. Product/Service Keyword in Business Title
The business title of your business is its legal name or DBA. It is believed that having the name of a core product or service in your business name may give you some advantage over competitors who lack this. So if you are a mechanic and your business is called Zionsville Auto Body, then you may have an advantage over another mechanic called Joe’s Services.
This is one that isn’t easy to adjust unless you’re willing to change your business’ name. Don’t worry, it’s not make or break – there are still a ton of other factors. This is one really to consider if you are a new business brainstorming a name.
14. Quantity of Citations from Locally Relevant Domains
Having your business NAP (name, address, phone number) mentioned on a website that relates specifically to your geographic community acts as a locally-relevant citation. This type of citation reinforces Google’s trust in your relevance to your locale.
One great example would be on your local Chamber of Commerce website. Other locally-relevant domains on which you might earn citations could include local news sites, local professional association sites and local blogs that publish content about businesses or happenings in your community.
A citation does not necessarily have to link to your website, but that’s always nice, too!
15. Proximity of Physical Location to the Point of Search
For many searches, it is no longer necessary to include a geographic term in your search in order to be shown local results. If Google feels that your search term has a local intent, they will automatically detect your physical location and show you local results. For example, I am writing this from the north side of Indy. I can simply search for “wood stoves” in order to be shown a local pack of results containing businesses near me:
This demonstrates Google’s bias towards businesses with a physical location within a specific geographic area. If your business is physically near to the searcher, your chances are good of showing up in the local results, but if it’s too far away, it is unlikely to be included in the results.
16. Quantity of Citations from Industry-Relevant Domains
Just as it can be helpful to earn to have your name, address and phone number listed on locally-relevant websites, being included on industry-relevant sites can improve your authority and rankings, too.
An industry-relevant website can be defined as one that is widely recognized to be authoritative within a particularly category of industry, be that automobiles, hospitality or health care. GetListed.org partnered with Whitespark.ca to create a great data set highlighting The Best U.S. Citation Sources By Category. Here’s an example of the data you’ll find on this page:
Definitely check that resource out if you are looking for citation sources that are relevant to your industry. You can also perform manual searches for your industry category and create a list of the authoritative websites that come up most frequently for your terms. Once you have created this list, you can visit each of the sites to see if they allow local businesses to be listed in a directory-type feature, or if there are other opportunities for earning a citation, such as guest blogging.
17. Local Area Code on Local Plus Page
Using your local area code phone number as your primary phone number on your Google+ Local page is considered a best practice. The area code of the phone number should match the area code/codes traditionally associated with your city of location. This may seem obvious, but the local search engine results reveal that some businesses take a wrong turn here and publish a toll free number, instead. Alternatively, they might publish a cell phone number or call tracking number with a different area code.
Google allows you to enter a secondary number (such as a toll free number) when creating your listing. This is especially important for businesses like hotels who receive calls from all over the world and want their guests to be able to make a charge-free phone call to book a room. Just be sure that, when you create your listing, you are putting the local area code number in the primary number field.
18. City/State in Most Webpage Title Tags
As referenced in point #9 of this post, the title tag is an extremely important element of any website page. Inclusion of your city/state name in most or all of your title tags can have a positive impact on how your local business ranks.
While it isn’t necessary to include your city/state in every single title tag of your website, it makes sense to include it on major pages such as the home page, contact page, service description pages and bio pages. You want to send the clearest possible signals to search engine bots and human users that you are a local business and the title tag really helps transmit that message.
19. Quantity of Third-Party Traditional Reviews
In point #12 of this post, I discussed the importance of earning customer reviews on your Google+ Local page. Beyond this, there are many third-party platforms on which it can be useful to get reviews. In ranking your local business, Google takes into account the quantity of reviews you have earned around the web.
How do we know that Google takes this third party data into account? For one thing, they link out to third party review sites right on the Google+ Local page. When trying to decide where it would be best for your local business to win reviews, it can help to look at the +Local pages of your direct competitors to see which third party platforms, if any, are being highlighted.
The idea is to get your business profiled anywhere that your potential customers might leave a review so that you are building a broad, web-based portfolio of positive reviews over time.
20. Page Authority of Places Landing Page URL
Similar to the concept of Domain Authority of a whole website described in point #7 of this guide, this ranking factor relates to the authority of the specific website page linked to from your Google+Local page. For many companies, this will simply be the homepage of the website, but for businesses with multiple locations or practitioners, other pages on the website may have been designated as the landing pages.
Because of the influence organic factors have on local rankings, the higher your landing page’s Page Authority, the better your chances of becoming dominant in the local search results.
I consider the study of local search ranking factors to be essential and exciting homework for every Local SEO and local business owner on the planet. The smartest Local SEOs I know are the ones who study hardest. Taking the time to understand the concepts represented by each factor can spell success for any local business you own or market.
Since Google Hummingbird was announced on September 27, I can’t even count all the comments and blog posts about how “SEO is dead”. That statement cannot be further from the truth. If your strategy for SEO is to cut corners, manipulate ranking factors and to take automated shortcuts, then yes – SEO is dead for you. And really, it has been for a while.
I think that these recent changes are incredibly positive and I believe that SEO is more alive than ever. And now I’m going to convince you of why.
First, let me explain what Google Hummingbird is. As you may or may not know, Google likes to give cute animal names to all of their major algorithm updates. Last year, we saw Panda and Penguin shake things up in a big way. Last month, they gave us Hummingbird – which turned out to be even more of a significant update than the 2 prior. I would even go as far to say that this ins’t really an “algorithm update”, but more an entire platform change. This is the first time in 12 years that the algorithm has been so dramatically rewritten.
Interesting fact: Google doesn’t just choose animals at random. They chose Hummingbird to describe the new update because they are “precise and fast”.
For years, website owners and SEO companies have focused their entire efforts around keywords. You would do some keyword research and then make sure your keywords were in your title tags, text, description, etc. But as technology updates and the way we communicate socially evolves, so does the way that we search for information. People are no longer searching the web in keywords; they’ve transition to search the web in communication queries.
Because of the way that we talk on Twitter or ask Siri to look something up, we are shifting away from searching “dog food” to “Find the best dog food suppliers near me.” Hummingbird is nothing more than a shift in search indexing to accommodate for the shift in search.
Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query — the whole sentence or conversation or meaning — is taken into account, rather than particular words. The goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words.
For example: “What is the closest pizza place in Indianapolis?”
Traditional keyword searches would return results from pages matching “pizza” and “Indianapolis.” Whereas Hummingbird focuses on the entire sentence and attempts to fully understand the meaning behind all the words instead of just keywords. Hummingbird would pinpoint your actual location in order to map out the closest pizza in your area or realize that by “place” you actually want a physical location that sells pizza or that pizza is a popular food choice in many restaurants throughout Indianapolis. Knowing these things will make searching more personable and human-like and will provide results matching the meaning, rather than just specific keywords.
Note: I believe as of today, this feature has only been rolled out on Google Chrome and is still in Beta, meaning it may not work for everyone and is still working out the bugs.
The Five Major Updates Stemming from Hummingbird
1. ‘(Not Provided)’
For those that utilize Google Analytics to monitor website traffic, you already know that keyword data, the data that you’ve relied so heavily on, is no longer available. On September 23, Google decided to make all searches “secure” – you know, for privacy reasons. You can still get this data when you are paying on AdWords, so many question the privacy reason. Really it’s just to shift your mind away from relying on the traditional method of keyword stuffing.
2. Conversational Search
This is the coolest feature of Hummingbird. You can now do a back-and-forth conversation with Google. For example, you can search “Show me pictures of Lucas Oil Stadium” and Google will accommodate. Next, search “What teams play here?”
No need to start a new search – Google will actually remember your previous search and base those results on the conversation you’ve started. Some website owners will argue that this is killing SEO. Why? Because Google is serving the answers to both of those questions right on their results page. They are showing the physical pictures and showing the actual teams, right under the search bar. So, this is taking clicks away from sites that we’d normally have to visit to get our answers.
But I cannot stress this enough – SEO is dead for your average SEO guy who has learned a few shortcuts in the past to manipulate short-term rankings. But where do you think Google gets this data that they serve on their search page? They scrape websites – the websites of the industry leaders related to that search – and displayed the scraped content. This will still lead to visits for websites that have done a long-term quality SEO campaign.
3. Google Plus and Author Rank
Neither Google Plus nor Google Authorship are new. But what’s new is the increasingly important social signals, specifically from Facebook and Google Plus. Overall, social signals (how engaging your content is across social media) are playing a larger role in determining your credibility as a website author. If you and I both had competing websites, assuming all other factors are the same, and I was getting a lot more likes and shares on my social content, then Google is going to find that I am sharing more relevant information and will rank my site higher than yours.
If you are a website owner and are not using Google Plus and/or have not linked Google Authorship with your blog, then your rankings won’t be around for much longer.
4. Goodbye Page Rank
Since forever, Google has assigned page rank to every page on the web. The higher the page rank, the higher you rank. The higher the page rank, the better quality of back link. Everything was keywords and page rank. Well, as we say goodbye to keyword data, say goodbye to page rank. This is still somewhat speculation, but Google has not updated their pagerank since February of this year (and it’s something they usually update every 3 months).
Matt Cutts, the big wig SEO compliance guy over at Google has also confirmed there will not be another page rank update this year. So they are either skipping 3 updates, or more probable going to ax this measurement all together, which makes sense as they move to more real-world methods of measuring websites.
5. Going Mobile
As I’m sure you know, smartphone/tablet usage is on its way to surpass traditional desktop/laptop usage. And since Google is all about providing an amazing experience for the end-user, be prepared to lose ranking (or struggle to ever gain ranking) if you don’t have a website that is optimized for both desktop and mobile visitors.
This can be done in 1 of 2 ways. You can build a website that is responsive. Basically that means that you have 1 website, but the layout of that website changes based on the device it’s being viewed on. It will display wide and with columns, as you designed it, on desktop. But will also auto-detect when a visitor is coming from a handheld device and restructure the layout to be viewed more easily on mobile without the user having to zoom in and out in an attempt to try to find what they are looking for.
The other option is to create a separate mobile website on a subdomain like this: http://m.mysite.com/ While the first option is preferred by Google, either will work.
But one thing is for sure, you must make sure that your website is optimized for all browsers and all devices. This part of the algorithm is supposed to hit hard around Thanksgiving, as bits and pieces of the update are still being rolled out.
What effect does this have on me and my business?
That’s all you really care about, right? So here it is. This means that you have to do what I’ve been preaching for years. Stop taking shortcuts, stop hiring the neighborhood computer guy who says he knows SEO, and build a real SEO framework right now that will last you for the life of your business and survive all of these cute animal algorithm updates.
I’ve never been affected by an algorithm update in a negative way. Not once. Neither have my clients. Yet, millions of website owners were crying after Panda. Even JC Penny got knocked down and lost millions of dollars and were forced to shut down stores and lay people off.
All Google wants to see is that you are worried about building a web experience that is designed NOT for SEO, but for user-experience. They want to see that your website is easy to navigate, filled with a bunch of well-written content so users can find answers to all of their questions, they want to see you linking out to other authority sites in your niche, and they want to see a site that is both desktop and mobile friendly.
They do not want to see you swapping links, buying links, spamming other blogs, stuffing keywords into your site and writing content specifically to impress the search engines.
Guidance for organic SEO remains the same: have original, high-quality content (and lots of it, often). Signals that have been important in the past remain important; Hummingbird just allows Google to process them in new and hopefully better ways.
Contact Me for a free SEO analysis on your website, or to talk about how I can get your site to the top of the search results.
It’s hard being an SEO on the Internet. The old people on Facebook can’t understand what we do, we’re not famous enough for Twitter and our forums are more shady than that alley behind the Arby’s. So where can a search engine optimizer go to hang out and talk shop with his or her compatriots?
The answer is Reddit. Yes, other communities exist. You can praise the latest Moz blog post in its comments. You can congratulate yourself on the links you’ve bought in BlackHatWorld’s forums. And you can tweet into a great void until there’s no more SEO to talk about. But Reddit has everything if you know how to use it.
This isn’t about using Reddit to bring traffic to your website. People have written about that. It’s not about how to use Reddit when you have no idea what it is either. People have written about that, too. I want to convince you that being on Reddit is good for you, as a person first and foremost, and as a crazy ass marketer second. Reddit is opportunity waiting for whatever part of you needs it most.
Redditors are Painfully Honest
The truth is, there’s a lot of dishonesty in marketing. The irony is that honesty is a very effective marketing tactic. It’s especially effective in the digital space. When you look at the success of something “viral” like the Old Spice Guy campaign, it was the foundation of honesty that made it well-received.
The brand had fun with its fans and celebrities. No overt ulterior motive needed. They didn’t even mention a product in some videos. Compare that to the Terry Crews Old Spice Guy. This Old Spice Guy has a message, and it’s something to do about power? Why? I don’t know, because it’s not an honest message. It’s a marketing attempt to connect Old Spice with Power for some reason.
Good marketers have to learn to be honest. And Reddit will force it out of you. If there’s one thing that Reddit excels at it’s keeping people honest. For instance in 2010, Reddit called out a History professor’s hoax when he had successfully deceived the Internet. In Reddit’s infamous /r/IAMA subreddit, where scientists, movie stars, and the President all come to answer questions, Redditors never shy away from asking the things that make PR professionals cringe. Take the now infamous Woody Harrelson AMA. Some PR agent probably thought it was a great idea. They even had studio interns asking tough questions about Harrelson’s upcoming film Rampart. Except Reddit didn’t care much about Rampart and called Harrelson and his PR team out for not only planting questions but also lacking transparency.
If posts, promotions, comments, discussions want to succeed and gain traction on Reddit, they need to be honest. As marketers who want to bridge the gap between search and marketing, and more importantly convince traditional marketers that we have something to offer, we need to be real.
Reddit has natural hostility towards SEO and marketing. It’s overt at times and for good reason. Marketing, in Reddit’s eyes, tends to subvert communities, influence actions, and cheapen interaction. And Reddit has no qualms about calling this out. You want to know how X feels about Y? Ask a Redditor.
You Want Engagement?
Redditors are great people to know and interact with. You never know what someone might bring to the table. They’ll challenge you, educate you, maybe just insult and/or annoy you. This engagement might be Reddit’s greatest gift. Whatever person you need at any given moment is on Reddit. They’re sitting at their computer just waiting for you to ask for them. Ever wonder why taking a shower makes your hair pliable? Redditors have the answer.
These individuals, anonymous and not, come together to make Reddit what it is: a community of communities.
According to Reddit, there are over 10,000 subreddits with 100 or more users. Over 100,000 exist in total. These subreddits vary from discussing Starcraft and Guns to Philosophy and Home Remodeling. Soccer moms and Hackers occupy the same domain but create distinct communities. Redditors are driven to act, interact, and mobilize for a greater purpose. No better example of mobilization exists than Stephen Colbert’s Rally to Restore Sanity. In short, guy writes a post about making a satirical rally in the guise of Glenn Beck’s Rally for Honor. Article gets posted on Reddit. Redditors “charity bomb” DonorsChoose.com to get Colbert’s attention. Two months later, the Rally is a reality and Colbert credits Reddit as the catalyst. And who said neckbeards don’t take action?
Subreddits like /r/Startups offer genuine feedback for founders. /r/ELI5 (Explain Like I’m 5) translates complex questions into simple analogies and explanations. /r/ShitRedditDoes compiles a list of the amazing acts of kindness Redditors are capable of – just another example of real people using Reddit as a vehicle for good.
Understanding Audience Culture
Old Abe wasn’t on Reddit, and society passed him by. Now he doesn’t understand what anything is. Don’t be like Abe. The landscape is rapidly changing, and you can easily get left behind. Being active on Reddit will keep you immersed in the latest that digital culture has to offer.
If you don’t understand this culture, it can be very difficult to succeed online. As an example, just look at Microsoft. They were innovative once. Bill Gates is the epitome of what you might find on Reddit, give or take a few billion dollars. At one point in time, Microsoft “got it,” but they took it and focused on making money, creating products and marketing those products. They forgot to keep their eye on society. Now they have Bing. Did they ever think to ask what people want in a search engine? No. They decided a picture on the homepage would be “cool.” Did that come from knowing the Internet community or from an internal need to be exciting, fresh, dynamic and other adjectives some marketer wrote on a whiteboard during an hour-long brainstorming session. Look at Xbox, though. Here you have a successful brand from Microsoft where marketers got it right. They took the time to understand the gamer community, to create not only a console that could fit their personality but an original video game to match. Halo was smart marketing because it was a product informed by the culture of its target demographic. A product like that makes marketing easy.
So, when you’re coming up with your next great strategic vision for the digital space, don’t forget about the culture. If you’re not in tune with it yourself, how can you expect to strike the appropriate virtual chord? You can’t. You have to understand the Internet.
And what better way than reading “the front page of the internet.”
Anonymity brings out the best and the worst in people. As marketers, we’re used to plenty of self-aggrandizing or publicly stroking the egos of “big wigs” in our open online communities. Behind the mask of a Reddit account you get real opinions. Ideas, not personalities, rise to the top. If you want genuine discussion, aren’t afraid of feedback, can withstand the occasional troll, and want to grow as a marketer, then you should be on Reddit.
You’ve heard that you need backlinks to improve the SEO of your website. But not really sure what it means? Have you contacted some SEO companies only to find they want $5000 to do SEO with no guarantees?
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