Probably the most important question for SEO’s or Site Owners in 2015 is going to be– “Can my website survive a manual or algorithmic Google penalty?”

Over the past two years, as Google’s Webmaster Spam team gets better at identifying tactics, we have seen the number and frequency of algorithmic updates and manual penalties increase. This looks set to continue over the next couple of years.

So, how can you adjust your tactics to get results without risking everything?

Here are some ideas for content, link building, technical, offline, local, social and mobile considerations to create an overall picture of what search engines see as a ‘good’ site and help you renovate your SEO strategy for 2015. Just to let you know, we have been working successfully and carrying out the majority of these strategies since last year.

Content Using content as the foundation of your SEO strategy is not a new concept, but the definition of “good” quality content is ever-changing. Although the Panda update punished sites with thin content, there still are sites that use such content to rank higher. It might help temporarily, but will definitely have an impact in the long run.

Good content:

  • Drives traffic through searches related to your industry.
  • Builds authority in the eyes of users and search engines.
  • Increases engagement with your brand on social media.

So what can be termed as good content?

Content in 2015 will not be just limited to the pieces of text you will add to the website or blog. You will need to think outside of this and make sure to develop a range of varied media like videos, presentations, whitepapers, info-graphics, how-to’s etc. These become your assets and can be one of your best sources for links. Basically, you have to provide content, which is useful to the end user.

Link Building Link building is still the mainstay of how major search engines rank websites, but the interpretation of link data has changed ever since the Penguin update was launched.

Bad link building is one of the easiest ways to get penalized, but good link building can be the hardest part of your job (even more so in certain niches).

So, what can definitely be considered as a bad link or a link that should be “disavowed”?

  • Site wide footer links / multiple links from the same domain.
  • Blogroll links.
  • Forum posting / profile links.
  • Many free directory links.
  • Links from same class C IPs.
  • Links from spun content.
  • Links to different industry websites from the same article / content.
  • Links from link-farm directories / pages.
  • Links from many non-English sites (for example – .ru, .jp, .cn, etc.).

It is advisable to get rid of such links either manually or by disavowing the links via Google Webmaster Tools.

From our end, we use the following techniques for building links.

  • Backlink Analysis – Balancing of followed links to nofollow to have a natural profile. Check backlinks and traffic of sites from which we are getting links to find and weed out sites that are themselves hit by this update.
  • Link Velocity – The first and most significant observation that stood out among sites which were affected by the Penguin update was link velocity. We have reduced our link velocity since the update. Getting too many links quickly will be flagged by Google.
  • Anchor Text Diversity – Continue to vary anchor text and lower the % of specific key terms focus. We have been doing this since 2012 and will continue to work the %’s.
  • Link Diversity – Sites performing well have good link diversity including links from Guest Blog Posts, info-graphics, videos, local business directories, presentations, coupons submissions etc. Since Google prefers a diversified link profile. We recommend getting links from these sources. Most of these sources are also now part of new deliverables.
  • Reviews – Get clients to get reviews for their sites. They should make this a part of their daily business.

Apart from this, to get quality links you can also consider link reclaiming. Link reclaiming is the act of finding sites that mention you, your brand or a related story and simply asking for a link.

There are a number of ways to find opportunities for link reclamation:

  • Web Mentions – Google Alerts is the most popular tool for monitoring mentions on the web, but Moz has also just released an alert function for their Fresh Web Explorer. Set up an alert for your brand name and when a site mentions you without linking, send them an email.
  • Images – Use Google’s Search by Image tool to find out where people are using your images and ask for a link credit, this works a majority of the time.
  • Videos – If you are hosting videos on YouTube you can use their analytics platform to see where your videos are being watched on external sites. Visit those sites and ask for a link to your website to supplement the video.

    Local Something that we have personally seen develop over the past two years is the influence of location on search results. Google is actively expanding the number of searches that trigger a local result as they understand which searches are relevant to a location.

    You need to be clear about the locations your business really serves and try and make sure you don’t look more broad than you really are.

    Schema is one way to show search engines where you are based and which areas you serve. Apart from this, you can also look at some local on-site changes like creating GEO based landing pages for each location you serve, optimizing your Google Places page by filling out as much information as you can and getting genuine reviews from your customers, implementing rich snippets and obviously altering the page titles and meta descriptions to feature the service and areas you serve.

    Mobile Mobile data has almost overtaken desktop. Results are starting to deviate more from desktop as search engines try to improve the quality of results by presenting results that will work well on mobile. For example, a site that is created in flash will not rank if the searcher is using a device which does not support flash.

    If your site is not mobile friendly that doesn’t mean it won’t rank, but it’s always best to give the user the best experience. Google has officially declared in a blog post that having a responsive design is the best way to move forward. Having a responsive design also has its own benefits from SEO perspective.

    Social Media The final piece of the search puzzle is social. While there is still no absolute direct link between social and ranking, search engines are increasingly adding social elements to search results. Google uses Google+, Bing uses Facebook and both show reviews. Social proof is a great way to encourage searchers to click through to your site.

    Social is also the best way to promote new content immediately to encourage shares, links and engagement.

    We already have social media integration as a part of our deliverables. In addition, to improve social signals, instead of doing social bookmarking of the articles submitted we are getting social signals to those articles which will include (either of) Facebook likes, Tweets or Google+ Votes. Client participation is encouraged.

    We hope this post has given you something to think about for 2015. Start planning your strategy for next year and get ahead of the competition.

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To start with, “Google Mapmaker” has been revamped to become the database that rules them all. Prior to this update, all the different Google services (Map Maker, Maps, Google+, and the Dashboard) all ran different databases and were required to sync up regularly via bots. This led to plenty of data and technical issues in the past. Now that Google has just merged all of these databases into one and all of that data is now held within Google Mapmaker this may significantly clean up a lot of issues. Most of the changes that have taken place are behind the scenes as mentioned by Mike Blumenthal in his blog.

Some of the changes, like no more authorship photos in the Local Pack, are just for the look of things. However, the reversion to pure Maps Local Pack listings and ranking via the Maps algorithm takes away the huge advantage big brands with powerful websites had in getting their locations into the packs. THis helps to achieve better balance between big brands and small business which in our opinion is always welcomed.

It shouldn’t be impacting the rankings too much. As an SEO company, we have to satisfy both the Maps and Organic algorithms which sometimes result in getting the same site listed in both the organic and the Local pack results. Here is an example for the term “vein treatment san jose”.

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We came across a Google Webmaster Help thread that has a story of a webmaster who is trying to disavow and remove all the bad links pointing to his site.

The webmaster simply has to remove the manual action, but Google’s John Mueller tells him, the site also has algorithmic trust issues. John mentioned –

“Looking at your site’s history, it looks like you’ve done quite a bit for quite some time, and it looks like our algorithms have picked up on that too. So, while resolving the manual action is a good way to start, you need to keep in mind that it can possibly take quite some time for our algorithms to regain trust in your site even after that.”

We have typically seen this happening a lot – We notice a drop in rankings, we review the backlinks and come up with a list that needs to be manually contacted. After this we come up with a list that needs to be disavowed and finally disavow the links / domains. However, even after months, we do not see an improvement in rankings. The only reason could be the algorithmic actions taken on the site. According to Google –

The algorithms seem to have lost trust over time. The manual action is a “good way to start”, but the algorithms need to “regain trust” in the site for there to be an improvement – which may take some time.

How we are helping your site regain trust after we disavow the links?

  • We build good quality links – There is no denying the fact that links are here to stay. We build links from highly relevant sources that include guest blogs, videos, info-graphics, local business directories, coupons, etc. making it a diversified backlink profile. We also make sure to diversify the anchor text by lowering the percentage of exact match anchor texts and getting more links for naked URLs, branded terms, and variations.
  • We improve your On-site SEO – With the rebalancing of some off page SEO factors, the importance of on page SEO has to be respected. We continue to focus on more on-site optimization techniques which include correcting all possible 404 errors, fix duplicate (thin) content on the site, implementing rich snippets, etc.
  • We write good quality content for your site – We understand that having relevant content on the site is vital for its success. The content is written by professional content writers who write with search engine standards in mind. Apart from this, we feature informative content on blog posts (added on the website blog) to benefit the Hummingbird update as well.
  • We recommend implementing Google Authorship – Since Google has given clear indication that Authorship will be used as a ranking factor in near future, it’s better to implement it right away and take advantage. It also helps to improve click through rates as well as protects your content.
  • We improve social signals – Instead of doing social bookmarking of the article URLs, we get social signals to those articles, which will include things such as Facebook likes, Tweets or Google+ Votes. Client participation is encouraged. We have also included Social Profiles creation as part of our strategy.
  • We recommend getting reviews on your Google+ local page – This has been mentioned many times earlier, but customer reviews are of the utmost importance to rank a local website higher. We always recommend getting genuine reviews from your customers.

As opportunity grows for businesses to connect with customers via search, so do the challenges of determining the best approach. Here are a few local search happenings to expect in this year.

National to Local Approach for Brands The idea of a coordinated national to local strategy will become a reality for more brands and local businesses in 2015. Many local markets (and vertical industries) are very competitive and keyword saturated, making it difficult for national and regional brands, as well as for independent business owners to win the online visibility game on their own.

National marketers that depend on the success of independent business owners (franchises, dealers, contractors) will find they can create a platform effect with a coordinated national-to-local approach to SEO, social media and content marketing.

Mobile Optimized Websites Making sure a business’ website is mobile optimized might mean the difference between being found by customers on a mobile browser or not. With more consumers shopping via mobile, it is clear that site traffic is moving to mobile. So, being mobile-ready is a must.

In 2013, we witnessed Google giving prominence in mobile SERPs to local businesses that properly configured their websites for mobile devices, and this will be a growing trend in 2015.

Google may even devalue some websites as well as the other major search engines if they’re not optimized correctly. Also on the mobile front, strategies like click-to-call will become even more interesting as they play a larger role in the digital lead generation strategy for many business verticals.

Google will Focus more on Ratings & Reviews In 2013, Google focused on ramping up its local ratings and reviews. It will continue to try to gather this rich, hyper local content from local consumers to grow Google+.

In another sign of this effort, businesses with verified Google listings will continue to reap benefits including having the ability to see customer ratings and reviews in their Places for Business dashboard and the ability to reply to those reviews.

This means: 1. It will be important for businesses to encourage their loyal customers to write reviews. Businesses must verify their local search listings appropriately on Google and the entire search ecosystem.

Social Media & SEO Continue to Converge Impacting local search, social media channels will continue to help drive traffic to a business’ website, building valuable links along the way and driving significant referral traffic. In general, this traffic is very valuable as time spent, number of pages viewed, and bounce rate numbers are comparable to organic traffic and other (more traditional) sources of referral traffic like directories.

Social signals will also continue to impact search algorithms since search engines now weigh “people links” higher than other links that can be “managed” or paid. Businesses successfully connecting with customers via social media channels will build more loyalty, positive ratings and reviews, natural backlinks and these websites are more likely to have higher conversion rates.

Google announced that Google Places for Business has added a new section for business owners to manage and respond to reviews left on their Google Maps business listings.

According to the post –

“Today, we’re introducing Reviews in Google Places for Business. Now you can learn what your customers are saying about your business on Google and across the web, in one place. If you have a verified business listing, you will now see your customer ratings and reviews in the easy-to-use review inbox.”

To get started, go to the dashboard you use to manage your business information, click the listing you’d like to manage, and choose Reviews from the left hand navigation menu.

You’ll see a Reviews inbox listing any reviews Google users have left for your business as well as snippets of reviews written about your business on other websites. The Reviews analytics tab includes information detailing where users have evaluated your business and the average score of reviews of your business.

If you are still using Blog Commenting as your primary source for link building post the Penguin era – Beware!

Matt Cutts released a video giving his advice in regards to using blog comments as a link building strategy.

Make sure you –

  • Do – Use your real name, instead of your business name; be sure your comments along with the links you’re including are relevant to each other.
  • Don’t – Use blog commenting as your PRIMARY link building strategy.

Our Take: If you plan to leverage this technique just be smart about it. If this is one of your main link building strategies then you’re setting yourself up for failure. As far as our strategy is concerned, we do not do blog commenting for our clients and have always advised our clients to stay away from such techniques.

Apart from blog commenting, we have come up with our own research about what should be considered a bad link or a link that should be “disavowed”.

  • Site wide footer links / multiple links from same domain
  • Blogroll links
  • Forum posting / profile links
  • Free directory links
  • Links from the same class C IPs
  • Links from spun content
  • Links to different industry websites from the same article / content
  • Links from link-farm directories / pages
  • Links from non-English sites (for example – .ru, .jp, .cn, etc.)

It is always advisable to get rid of such links either manually or by disavowing the links via Google Webmaster Tools.

However, disavowing should be done with care as there is a chance that amateurs might disavow the good links, which can cause more harm in the long run and can negatively affect your positioning. As always, if you need any help getting this done by professionals, contact us.

We have spoken about this several times and here it is again. Choosing a Responsive Web design over a Mobile-only design is a sensible choice. This time, we have decided to share the latest video from Google’s Matt Cutts himself – just in case.

Matt explains that a Responsive design is nothing, but good for your website in the eyes of Google. We believe responsive websites are given more preference in the SERPs. Unlike a Mobile-only template, Responsive designs are not as prone to technical errors and they allow you to keep all of your domain’s authority factors (link juice, URL structure, on-site SEO implementations and content) in one place. This also helps to better optimize the mobile website as you will have to work SEO on one site instead of focusing on two different websites.

Simply said, Responsive web design is the BEST choice you can opt for from a long term perspective.

As far as our strategy is concerned, we have already started implementing mobile websites for our existing projects. If you have missed out, you can directly contact your project manager to get started with the implementation. We can also work on mobile versions of sites independently if desired.

When it comes to Local SEO, following the best practices will definitely give you the most desirable results. There are methods and techniques that have consistently proven to be more effective, compared to those that are machiavellian where “the end justifies the means”. But, as major search engines keep evolving, the best practices in SEO also need to adapt to these changes.

Some SEO professionals, however, do not follow the best practices, and this could lead to the misuse of some of the best SEO strategies that would otherwise benefit your business. Here’s how you can achieve the local SEO results you want without having to manipulate your way to the top of the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).

Building And Mantaining Local Search Profiles

Claiming and setting up your business’ local profiles on the right online platforms is what’s needed in order to connect with local customers. It’s vital. Google My Business will help your business’ listing, but you should also list your business in other major search engines such as Yahoo Local and Bing Places. If you don’t have a social media presence, then you should create your business’ social media pages on Facebook, Foursquare, and LinkedIn.

Do’s: Provide your company’s phone number, website’s URL, links to its Twitter and Facebook profiles, hours of operation, and description. Include everything your clients should know about your business and leave no information out. You can also verify your business by providing your information, or the information of the business’ owner.

Don’ts: Creating multiple listings with the same address and under different names can lead to duplicate listings resulting in the removal of one or more of these listings from search engines. If your business has multiple locations, you can create different profiles for each location, each one with their respective NAPs (name, address and phone number). However, checking if an existing listing was already created is a good thing to do before creating a new one. Also, leaving your profile incomplete and not adding all of your business’ information can lead to lower rankings in Local Search.

You should also note that a brand page and a business page are not the same thing for search engines, and therefore, they’re not treated equally. Google’s latest algorithm update, known unofficially in the SEO community as “Pigeon”, now favors local businesses over local brands. This is supposed to benefit small businesses, but mostly the changes were made to improve the user’s local search experience.

Getting Review Sites To Work For You, Not Against You

Online reviews can be a double-edged sword; they can either help or hurt your business. However, it all depends on the quality of the service or product you provide. Google’s new carousel design bases its major local search ranking factors on reviews, and that’s why the best reviewed local businesses end up on top of the SERPs. Google wants local consumers to find the best businesses in their area fast by saving them the time it takes to check out review sites like Yelp, Angie’s List, Google Local/Places/+, Insider Pages, Citysearch, Bing Places for Business and Yahoo! Local Listings. Thanks to Google, reviews are now one of the first things you will see about a business online.

Do’s: If you want your business to rank higher on local online searches, you’ve got to think of quality instead of quantity when it comes to reviews from your customers. It doesn’t really matter how many reviews your business has. If the feedback from your clients isn’t very good, then your local search rankings probably won’t be either. So, if you want the reviews to be as good as your business, you can ask your customers nicely to provide honest feedback on the business’ website. Their constructive criticism can definitely help your products and services improve, and good online reviews will come as a result. Also, responding to reviews can be a good thing, whether they are good or bad, because it allows you to interact with your customers. And, who knows? Perhaps, bad reviews could turn into good ones, in the future.

Don’ts: Fake (or paid) reviews might mislead and misinform consumers, tricking them into making a purchasing decision based on false information. Also, these unethical practices are illegal, so abstain from giving yourself “five stars” if you don’t want to pay penalty fees and get the customer protection agencies on your back.

Fixing And Keeping Track of Your NAP

A business’ NAP (Name, Address, and Phone Number) is more important than ever in local listings, directories, and business profiles and websites now that Google’s ranking factors have apparently changed to favor local businesses after the last update to their search algorythm. That’s why it’s a good idea to check if your business’ information is accurate, to avoid confusion and make it easier for your customers to find you, both online and in the real world.

Do’s: Do a search for your business online and verify that the NAP is correct on Google+ Local, Yahoo Local, Bing Places and other local business profiles, if any. This data should be consistent on every place your business is listed. It must appear on all directory listings exactly as it appears on your business website. So, if you spell out “Avenue” on the website and abbreviate it by writing “Ave.” on your business listings, your ranking on the SERPs might get negatively affected.

Don’ts: Not adding all of your business’ information can hurt you when it comes to local SEO, so don’t hesitate to include local specifics that might be relevant in search results. Also, don’t forget to monitor your business’ NAP so you can keep track of changes and discrepancies in local business profiles or listings.

The secret to not getting your business website penalized by search engines is to just play by the rules. Following the best practices for local SEO will benefit your business in the long-term. You can claim local SEO victory the right way, without shortcuts or black-hat techniques, so your local SEO success won’t be short-lived.

Advanced Web Ranking has released a study showing fresh data on the click-through-rate from Google’s organic search results. The data was taken from Google Webmaster Tools Search Queries reports from large accounts back in July 2014.

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On average, 71.33% of searches resulted in a page one Google organic click. Page two and three get only 5.59% of the clicks. On the first page alone, the first 5 results account for 67.60% of all the clicks and the results from 6 to 10 account for only 3.73%.

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Here is a chart showing the click through rate by exact position:

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The study was first presented at SMX East by Philip Petrescu of Caphyon, who has written a more detailed write-up on our Search Engine Land sister site:

The full details of the study break down desktop versus mobile click-through rates, branded versus non branded search queries, and more. You can download the full study as a PDF over here.

September ended with a bang when Google announced the launch of a new Panda algorithm update. It began rolling out on September 23. The update, which was stated to affect around 3-5% of queries depending on the locale, is the first official notice from Google since May’s Panda 4.0.

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This new update incorporates user and webmaster feedback to more precisely identify low-quality content, according to the announcement from Google UK Engineer Pierre Far. The goal of the update is to better surface higher-quality small and medium-sized sites in the search results.

Searchmetrics published a Panda 4.1 Winners and Losers report and some trends were easily identifiable. Winners were predominantly News, Content Sites, and Download Portals while Losers reflected Games, Lyric, and Medical/Health Information Sites.

As far as our clients are concerned, we haven’t seen any major rankings shift for their websites after this roll out. Our continuous efforts remain to keep ourselves updated and make sure that we future proof our client’s websites from such updates as much as possible.

In other news, Google Engineer John Mueller announced in a Google+ Hangout the following when asked if Penguin 3.0 would launch before the end of 2014:

“My guess is yes. But as always there are always things that can happen between. I am pretty confident we will have something in the reasonable future. But not today, so we will definitely let you know when it is happening.”

The last Penguin update was 2.1, launched almost a year ago on October 4, 2013. Since then, thousands of affected site owners have been waiting, and waiting, and waiting for a refresh which will hopefully recover their affected sites. According to the news above, their wait may soon be at an end.

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