Mistakes and Lessons from the Google Penguin Update

When Google’s Panda update started targeting on-page optimization that were considered low-value—with special focus on duplicate content and outbound links that appeared to be spam—it caused quite a controversy. Now, the most recent Penguin update, which targets primarily inbound links and links that are particularly identified as unnatural, controversy has once again arisen. Many businesses on are now seeing their traffic, search engine rankings, and even a significant amount of income drop with amazing speed. And just like what happened with the Panda, many are complaining that they’re being targeted unfairly.

The problem with many of those who complain is that they really have no clear idea what the term “ethical SEO practices” mean or what they constitute. This is particularly true of small businesses; this is why many people think they’re being unfairly targeted by Google’s updates—they don’t think they’re doing anything wrong. Take the case of an online business that has derived its ranking from the start by using tactics such as article spinning, using inbound links from networks, and buying links: for years the business owner may have used these tactics without realizing that they go against the primary mission of Google, which is to provide its users with only the most relevant search results. One of the reasons for the business owner’s failure to realize this fact is that his online business may have been doing quite well until the Penguin update. Also many businesses underestimate the importance of hiring a white hat SEO company to handle their accounts properly and in the end they got what they paid for.

 

The fact that you continued to enjoy good rankings, good traffic, and good sales even after the Panda update was launched doesn’t necessarily mean you can just relax and expect to be saved from the Penguin update as well. After all, the very reason why these updates are launched in the first place is for Google to be able to provide their users with the best answers to their queries. Imagine yourself being the one searching for something on the Internet. You wouldn’t want to do a Google search only to be victimized by the manipulative use of SEO services, would you? The best way for site owners to ensure good rankings regardless of what updates Google comes up with, therefore, is to make sure they follow only ethical SEO practices.

 

The problem lies in the fact that not all webmasters are SEO professionals. This means your webmaster may not really know how much is too much where search engine optimization is concerned. Even if you read Google’s updates and guidelines, they still wouldn’t do you much good if you don’t know the basic rules in the first place. That’ll be like cooking with a list of ingredients, but no cooking instructions. Making even the slightest mistake could ruin the entire recipe. To further aggravate the situation, search engine algorithms are so mercurial that what works today may not necessarily work three months from now. This is why it’s very important for you to keep up with the latest algorithm changes.

 

To make it easier for you to deal with the Google Penguin and any other further updates, here are three important things the Penguin should have taught you by now:

 

             1.       Diversity and balance are the key

The reason why Google’s Penguin update focuses on penalizing “spammy” sites is that Google wants to improve SERP quality for the benefit of searchers. If you want to get on top of search results pages, therefore, you either have to buy an AdWords spot there or come up with exceptionally good content for organic rankings. More importantly, you’ll have to forget about shady SEO tactics. Remember that saturating your title tags with keywords, using low-quality back links, and unnatural inter-links are the top targets of the Google Penguin. You should also learn how to mix up the types of content on your site. You can learn more about balancing your page look and feel with content, here.


In this image, the Biltmore website was able to achieve balance by distributing content evenly in blocks. Well chosen illustrations also added dimension to break the monotony of the site. – http://net.onextrapixel.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/biltmore.jpg

 

             2.       Strive to be as Pertinent as Possible to Your Audience

As long as you remain relevant to your target audience, you’ll always be safe from the pummeling these Google updates give errant sites. Take note that Google has recently introduced the Knowledge Graph, which is expected to hugely change the SEO game. Google is changing the way online search is processed; instead of depending heavily on keywords, search results are becoming more and more dependent on concepts that are relevant relative to each other. This means searches are moving away from its dependence on disjointed keywords. What this means for site owners is that the quality of their outbound and inbound links will now be measured according to their relevance and usefulness as well as the importance of the information in relation to the user’s query. This makes it even more important for you to develop connections and authority in your chosen niche. If you haven’t already started, then now is definitely the best time for you to start community building, particularly since community members are usually the best sources for natural links. Community building is also an excellent tool for customer retention.

 

             3.       Provide Useful Content

Since you now know that your main focus needs to shift from shady SEO tactics to building your credibility, your target audience’s trust, and your authority in your niche, then you need to understand that the best way to achieve this purpose is for you to keep things real. This might mean overhauling your entire site content. What’s important is for you to start focusing on creating better content, especially in on-page and guest posts. To put it simply, you have to keep your site content clean, clear, and useful.

 

There is a way for you to avoid getting pummeled by the Penguin and even if you’ve already been hurt, you can still bounce back. The secret is in taking a close look at your site to identify what could have gone wrong and then making the necessary adjustments.

 

Top Mistakes to Avoid After Google Penguin

 

If your website has been heavily affected by the Penguin update, you may want to go all out on SEO. However, due to the update, some of the old tried and tested optimization tactics may not work as well as before.

 

If you are still doing the same things you have been doing before, then there are chances that you may be making some grave SEO mistakes, which may even drive down your rankings even more.

 

1)      You Are Using the Same Anchor Text – Using the same anchor texts, like “click here” or “find out more” or “click the link” may not do well for your website rankings. However, using these kinds of keywords would make your anchor text profile look natural. Use your brand name in the anchor, as well as your domain name. The key here is to link as naturally as possible by using natural keywords, and avoiding being aggressive.

 

2)      Spun Content – In the past, the more content out there, which linked back to your site, the better it was for your rankings. However, eventually, article directories became breeding grounds for poorly written articles, which were posted just for the sake of links, and we saw plenty of spun content, which absolutely made no sense. Spun content that do not make any sense and are posted for the sake of placing links will definitely get you penalized by Google.

Spun content is very common but is not helpful for your SEO success at all.

3)       Over-Optimizing – Back in 2010 and 2011, over-optimizing was a very popular thing. People used keywords as many times as they could in a blog post or article. Today, however, over optimization does not give your site that boost and appeal to Google like it used to before. So, avoid forcing keywords in the first and last sentences when they look unnatural, and avoid unnecessarily underlining, italicizing, and bolding the keywords because these do not provide any added value to your site.

 

4)      Spam Blogs – Using spam blogs can also be bad for your rankings. Spam blogs are basically blogs with poorly written content. Most posts for spam blogs usually do not have any sense, typically contain a wide range of disconnected topics, and are posted only to put links in them. Real blogs that want to rank in search engines need to have a clear focus and should have excellent content that people will take time to read.

 

5)      Spam Commenting – Some people prowl popular niche blogs and post spam comments. However, this may not work at all. Spam comments include all comments which are placed to simply drop links and do not contribute to or provide any real value to the blog readers.

Some examples of blog spam comments. Image credit.

6)      Ranking Using Only Popular and Paid Blog Networks – Plenty of sites which were dropped by Google Penguin used popular blog networks. Instead of using paid blog networks, you may want to use article marketing instead since this continues to be a solid method for site ranking.

 

7)      Using Free Directories – Article directories used to be very popular a long time ago and they were the go-to places to find helpful information on the web. However, they became loaded with poor and uninformative content, which is why Google has forced them to take a backseat. Good directories categorize and classify effectively so people can find helpful information easily. However, there are free and poor directories which do not classify their content and also accept poorly written content. These will not help your site at all.

 

 

Aside from these mistakes, there is one thing that you should remember. Google dislikes spam. Keep this in mind regularly and remember that any practice that constitutes spamming or providing spam-like content to readers will definitely not be good in the eyes of search engines.

 

So, take at look at your current practices or the SEO services of your provider and determine if they are currently making any of these mistakes. If they are, then you should stop doing these and use more helpful and relevant SEO tactics instead.

 

Read Up and Keep Yourself Updated

 

The key to search engine success is to play by Google’s rules, which changes from time to time. So read up and update yourself about the newest Google updates because a good tactic today may be an SEO mistake tomorrow.

 

See you at the top!

 

Traian, the guest author of this article, is the Director of SEO and co-founder of Pitstop Media Inc, a Canadian company that provides top rated SEO services to businesses across North America. To invite the author to guest post on your blog too, please contact www.pitstopmedia.com.

Social Media vs. SEO – No Contest!

When I googled “social media vs. seo” (in quotes) this morning, 12,400 results were returned. Restricting the same search to only the past year, over 800 results are returned. Obviously, many people are pitting the two against one another, and have been for some time.

There’s little sense, in my mind, in postulating whether social media is better than SEO or SEO is better than social media. Making these two marketing channels adversaries is akin to pitting shirts against pants/shorts. For those people who don’t wear dresses or jumpsuits, they’ll likely be wearing a shirt and a pair of pants. Asking them which is better will probably only result in having them give you a look that implies they think you’ve lost your mind.

Cross-Channel Marketing Rules

When promoting anything, whether it’s a business, a website, a product, or a brand, promotion works best when it covers a broad spectrum of marketing channels. Television ad campaigns work best when they are reinforced by radio campaigns, magazine campaigns, newspaper campaigns, email campaigns, etc. Cross-channel marketing succeeds because the layers of reinforcing messages work together to create a connection with the target audience.

Waves of Data Engulf Users

People today are absorbing external stimuli in huge waves of data, much like a whale ingests enormous swarms of krill. It is unlikely that a whale would be able to pick out the one particular krill that tasted peculiar amongst the millions he ingested. Likewise, the data we absorb each day is so large and diverse, that recognizing and remembering one marketing message amongst the continuous data flow is rather low. It’s much easier for a lone marketing message to be lost in the flow than it would be if it were repeatedly reinforced by entering the data stream in various ways, from various places, and at various times.

Be Where They Are

The goal should always be to interact with users where they are. If they are searching via a search engine, then an SEO campaign can help reach them during that process. Of course, a PPC campaign also works hand-in-hand with SEO to cover both the organic and paid listings that are returned in the search results for the queries relevant to your brand, service, or product.

Users are spending a considerable amount of time on social networks, so a social media campaign is needed to reach them there. Like the concept of using both SEO and PPC campaigns to cover organic and paid search listings, social media campaigns will include organic interactions such as tweets, Facebook Likes and wall posts, etc., in addition to paid interactions such as promoted tweets and Facebook ad campaigns.

Value In Each Piece Reinforces Overall Value

Each channel will reach users at a different point in the marketing funnel, so the value should be calculated and compared in relation to other marketing efforts aimed at that same audience. In most cases, a search user is likely to be in one part of the marketing funnel, and a Facebook user is in another (or may even be outside of the funnel altogether). Pitting the value of an SEO campaign aimed at the search user against the value of a social media campaign aimed at the Facebook user will only result in a confusing matchup. There is value in both, with each being one important part of an entire cross-channel promotion.

Give each marketing channel its own level of respect, evaluating the effectiveness of each using data that is relevant to that particular channel. Analyze how well the campaign is working within its channel, adjust, re-analyze, adjust again, until you are satisfied that it is accomplishing the goals you set for that particular channel.

Make sure each channel’s message is consistent with the messages from other channels, so that every channel reinforces the others. As the daily influx of data streams through each person, those reinforcing messages will build upon one another and help the entire package of marketing messages stand out in the user’s mind.

The key isn’t to compare seo vs. social media, but to use the right messages in the right formats to ensure the best chance of reaching users at the right time and in the right place. The more often you can accomplish that, with consistent messaging, the more successful each campaign will be, no matter which channel it was focused upon.

Let us know if you’ve found a particular combination of cross-channel marketing especially successful, or if you’ve had problems connecting various channels to create a tight overall campaign.

How to sell local clients

If you’re an affiliate, you’ve heard a lot about local. Drive down the street and look at all those businesses– 40% of them don’t have websites, and of the ones that do, only 8% are doing PPC. Of those that are doing PPC, it’s highly unlikely they’re as good as you. But while setting up a PPC campaign for a Denver liposuction surgeon might be easy– you just choose a few keywords, make a couple ads, and send them to a landing page– getting the clients is where most local marketing companies fail. We’ll get to the secret in a bit– keep reading…404error

So let’s talk about how to actually get these businesses to become your clients, starting first bywhat NOT to do:

  • Cold calling– Going door-to-door and walking into someone’s business is NOT cool. You are a stranger, they’re busy running their office– and most of the time you won’t even be able to get to the decision maker. The receptionist will stop you. Might as well sell magazines and charity chocolate bars, since you’re just going to get rejected. Rejection sucks– you want THEM to come to you. That allows you to set the price and puts you in a great spot. More on that in a sec.
  • Spending money on PPC– Yeah, I know it’s hypocritical. You are selling PPC, but don’t do it to promote yourself. The reason you don’t is the same as cold calling– selling SUCKS. You spend money, waste your time, and have to deal with rejection. And that’s just more marketing cost you have to pass on to the clients.
  • Building the most awesome, informative website about your services– Let me tell you something. You don’t even need to have a website! “But what if they want to see my website?”
    you ask. Tell them that you’re so busy serving clients first that your site is still in progress. Clients first, see?cheap-debt-consolidation
  • Giving away services for cheap or free: Someone probably told you that if you’re just getting started and don’t have a client list, then you need to do the first few for cheap to build up a portfolio. That’s complete nonsense. Most prospects won’t ask you, for example, about other Italian restaurants or veterinarians that you’ve done. Discounting your services devalues you in the client’s eyes, plus will make you unmotivated to work hard for so little money.
  • Talking about how well you know PPC, SEO, social media, etc: Seems counter-intuitive, right? They’re a business owner, not another affiliate. The more you sprinkle acronyms into your language, the more you’re losing them. You’re not speaking their language. I almost never mention the word PPC to clients. Instead, I say “I couldn’t find your name on Google. But we can get you to show up if you let us advertise on Google for you.”

So those are the 5 most common ways to fail at selling and getting new clients. There are a few companies in the local space– VC-funded monsters that have tens or hundreds of millions of funding to blow on these techniques. But if we’re talking about YOUR money, then focus on what actually works.

And now the secret to how to sell local clients….

You ready?





The secret is that you don’t sell– you let others sell for you because of your reputation.
So you get clients by building up your reputation.

no_sale

Put on a seminar at the local chamber of commerce or networking event– if you can charge $15 each, even better. Not because you need the money, but because it makes folks who attend take you seriously. Every one of the 5 mistakes mentioned above degrades and devalues your offering– it turns you into a panderer instead of a highly sought after expert.

In the course of every day life, you will run into people who are small business owners. There’s 20 million of them– how can you not? And when you’re talking to friends about how Google works– which we do all the time to folks who don’t understand what we do– you’re equipping others to sell your services.

And each friend of yours has perhaps 100 friends that they talk to and will mention that you’re an expert on getting people on Google. So you should almost never take on a project from a friend– but you should definitely consider taking on a project from a friend of a friend. A friend will expect a “good friend” discount, while a “weak tie” (friend of a friend) will not. Plus the number of people that you are connected to 2 steps away is 100 times larger than those just 1 step away.

word-of-mouth marketing

And when those people come knocking, because a friend told them that you’re a Google expert, then you run them through this process:

  • What do you want to show up on Google for?
  • Let’s do a search and see who is there now.
  • It’s going to cost between $1,000 and $5,000 a month to advertise on Google– depending on how much market share you want. Shall we start with $1,000 a month for a couple months to see how we do?
  • We can track exactly how our ads are doing- how many visitors click on the ads and then how many calls result from that. That allows us to calculate the cost per call. You’ll probably be between $40 and $100 a call, depending on the competition. We’ll have to test.
  • And from there, we can adjust the ads based on what kinds of clients you want (more laser hair removal, and less botox? Sure).
  • We will place a phone number on the website that is only on the web, just for tracking, which bounces to your regular number.
  • No website? We can make a minisite for you.
  • Sign here and gimme your credit card.

If they don’t get that, whine about cost, or complain, then don’t push the issue. You have a number of other interested clients that you have to get back to. You don’t want bad clients. There are so many local businesses out there that you can have your pick– and that includes the competitors of the guys who aren’t really interested in your online advertising service.

no_whining

So there you have it. No need to deal with rejection. Don’t have to spend a lot of money or build a site. Just have to casually talk about getting onto Google with your friends, who then spread the word for you. And then you walk those friends of friends via the process I’ve just laid out.

The hardest part is the first few weeks to build your reputation. You might feel like an imposter if you haven’t done it before. Take heart that local PPC is not the hard part, nor is listing clients with Google and BING Local Business Center. Just remember that you’re competing against the other local dentists and massage therapists- not thousands of affiliates worldwide.

And once you have a few of them down, then these clients tell their friends— and soon you have a thriving business of people who are seeking you out. You just have to sit back, take the calls, and decide which of them you want. Doesn’t sound like selling does it?

Now managing clients, building sites, setting up call tracking, billing credit cards automatically, and so forth is a whole different set of issues– I’ll write another post on that if people want to hear it. But as for selling, it’s easy when you let others sell for you.

5 Ways to Track Leads From Online Marketing

In a perfect world we would be able to ask our visitors and prospects where they heard about us, and they would say something like this:

“After performing a Google search for ‘local blue widgets’, I found your sponsored ad toward the bottom of the first page. Your ad looked more professional and appealing than the others even though it wasn’t at the top. I clicked on the ad and it brought me to a page that had great information on blue widgets. It was exactly what I was looking for, as if you somehow knew what I wanted…”

In the past when print media was the primary marketing channel, asking your prospects was a much more viable way to track your leads. You would get answers like “The billboard near my house”, “Your ad in the local newspaper”, “The Yellowpages”, or “The flier I got in the mail”. These things are easy for a viewer to remember. Online Marketing is different: when you browse through 20 different pages in ten minutes, it’s difficult to remember how you stumbled upon a website.

google_billboard

Unfortunately, with Online Marketing your typical answers like “The Internet”, or “A Google search”, simply aren’t enough information. You have no way of knowing if it was an organic result or a sponsored ad that they clicked on, and you can’t tell which page on your website they first landed on, or what keywords they searched. The fact of matter is that you can’t depend on prospects to tell you how they heard about you. We’ve seen folks say they searched Yahoo! for “Denver liposuction”, when we don’t even advertise on Yahoo! for that client. They’re not lying– they just don’t remember.

question-mark3a

Here are 5 ways to track your online leads, the first being least effective and last being most effective:

  1. Ask them how they heard about you: Even if the client had proper recall, the folks at the front desk aren’t always consistent. Do it anyway, but don’t rely on this data alone.
  2. Use a “click to call” technology: For example, Google Voice allows you to embed a widget that will connect both parties. However, folks over 30 (the ones with money to spend on professional services), prefer seeing a phone number and dialing it. Plus, not seeing the phone number on the website will hurt your SEO– the search engines won’t see it as necessarily being local. If you’re in NYC, use a NYC area code; if in San Francisco, use a San Fransisco are code etc. This method is great for tracking leads, but you’re going to miss out on some sales or conversions. People want to see a phone number.
  3. Use rotating extensions: So maybe you want to buy only one phone number. To track the source, you can have each page be a different extension– Press “1″ for “Denver Hair Removal”, press “2″ for “Denver Smart Lipo”, and so fourth. This does have its drawbacks; putting clients through another step is going to cause some portion of the leads to drop out.
  4. Use multiple phone numbers:  Buying a web-only phone number guarantees that if they called that number, then they were on the site.  You can forward that web-only number to your regular number, so it’s no extra work for your office.  There are a bunch of vendors that provide call tracking, charging from $10 per line per month to $35 per line per month.  If you have 10 numbers, one to track each type of traffic, it becomes a large expense for a small business.  However, if you have just ONE phone number on the site, how are you going to track what keyword they came in on? Though it may be expensive, this is an extremely accurate and easy way to track your leads. You also wont have to worry about prospects dropping calls out of confusion or frustration like you do with multiple extensions.
  5. Use a coupon code: For example, when visitors are on a Botox landing page, tell them to mention “BOTOXDOCTOR” to get $50 off their next procedure. Have a different code for each of your different landing pages. Good old fashioned coupon codes that provide an incentive for customers don’t cost you a thing, and is a simple way to effectively track your leads.

COUPON_Full

I find it surprising that more people don’t use coupon codes. Google Local Business Center and MerchantCircle as well as a few other directories have begun integrating coupons into their advertisements, making it easy for business owners to determine whether a new lead came from Google Maps, MerchantCircle, or some other source.

How can you tell if you are an authority site on Google?

SEOs use a variety of tactics to determine what Google thinks about them– their homepage PR, backlinks listed, page indexed, rankings on key terms, how much traffic they get, and so forth.  One of my favorites is to look at how many sitelinks are listed.  Below is a search on our company name.
blitzlocal_sitelinks
See those 8 links underneath our first listing?  Those are called sitelinks and you cannot directly control which ones show up or how many of them show.  The maximum number you can have is 8.

To get a sitelink, you have to show up as the #1 result and also be “authoritative”.  Have you tried this on your own sites?  First off, if you’re not ranking #1 on your own name, something is terribly wrong– else you’re brand new or have chosen a generic name that is impossible.

While your Google toolbar PageRank might not change, you have to rely on other factors to tell if Google now thinks more highly of you.  BlitzLocal has been at a PR5 for quite some time, but recently, has been getting more sitelinks and also is showing up in more searches related to “local online advertising” and “facebook advertising”– hence, the new sitelinks.

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