search-engine-optimization-411106_640If you are still running SEO the same way you were at the start of the year you are already behind the curve. SEO is constantly changing and proper SEO strategies need to be well-planned enough to stay on target over long periods of time while also flexible enough to adapt to the constant guideline changes, algorithm roll-outs, and new ideas about usability.

In the past year alone, Google has pushed out 13 updates to algorithms that the public knows about. That number is just the big algorithms that people might know by name such as Penguin and Panda, while there has also been a multitude of more incremental changes that have gone undocumented in the public.

You don’t have to rebuild your SEO plans from the ground up every time there are significant changes over at Google, but you need to keep the biggest changing trends in mind as you progress and refine efforts. As we head into 2015, consider the most important shifts in SEO thinking that have happened over the past year.

1. Focus on Mobile Traffic

This may not be the newest shift in SEO, but it is more important than ever and all indications suggest mobile isn’t slowing down any time soon. Google has also shown their commitment to improving the mobile web with the introduction of mobile analytics tools and new warnings for users who are about to click on non-mobile friendly websites.

You can see if your site passes Google’s mobile-friendly test here, but don’t stop with that. Ensure your mobile site lives up the standards set by your desktop page and your company to keep mobile customers coming.

2. Optimizing for Alternative Search Engines

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that 2015 may be the year when Google’s iron grasp on search market share could start to crumble. Google has lost some major clout as Firefox replaced the search giant with Yahoo as the default search engine for the browser. Google’s agreement with Safari is also ending this year, and Apple seems keen to replace their competitor’s search engine with a more neutral option such as Bing, Yahoo, or even DuckDuckGo.

Even if Google maintains a strong majority of the market share (which they likely will) you should still make it your mission to be visible across all platforms, not just the most popular one.

3. Stop Focusing on Rankings and Start Looking at ROI Metrics

Rankings are so last year. Since all the major search engines have put a heavy emphasis on personalized search results that cater to users’ interests and location data, there is no guarantee your site will show as the top result for someone else even if it is the top result for you. Instead, turn your attention to return on investment. It offers a more accurate depiction of how your online marketing efforts are working, and gives a more direct understanding of the value of your SEO.

4. Emphasize Social Media

In the past, emphasizing social media basically meant blasting the same updates across every platform you can find. But, social media has matured and users won’t respond to your efforts if you treat every platform as the same. You should learn the unique demographics and behaviors of any social media platform you are considering sharing on, and ensure your ideas, voice, and medium match the crowd.

More importantly, social media users expect brands to more than just yell at them. Users expect ways to engage your brand and establish a more personal connection. The best solution is to isolate two or three social media platforms that best suit your brand and build on your efforts there. If you can really succeed there, you won’t need to be on the other social sites.

5. Earn Links, Don’t Hoard Them

You have most likely heard the routine proclamations that “links are dead!” more than once since Google began cracking down on weak or suspicious link portfolios. However, this is no truer now than when the internet first gained a foothold in our society. Links are still the most influential signal of trust and authority to search engines and that is going to stay the case for quite some time. However, the game has changed in a couple important ways.

Back in 2011, you could purchase countless low-quality links to masquerade as a reputable site. Now, Google has means of seeing through the mask. Google can analyze link quality and they don’t take kindly to poor quality, irrelevant links meant to boost visibility without effort. In 2015, earning a single high-quality link the right way is worth more than any number of links you could buy or collude to gain. Put your effort into proper SEO and you’ll find success. Rely on shady tactics and Google will be hunting for you.

With the constant stream of information coming out of the online marketing industry, it can be hard to keep up with all the latest updates without missing some important news. That’s why we compile all the biggest stories you may have missed this week all in one convenient place every Friday. This week, Pinterest dominates headlines. Let’s get started:

Pinterest Finally Starts Paid Test of Promoted Pins

PromotedPinsImage

Last fall, Pinterest announced they would be making their first foray into paid ads on the social media platform under the title of “Promoted Pins”. They ran some tests shortly after the announcement to gauge how their users responded to the ads. Now, Pinterest declared they have officially begun a small paid test of the Promoted Pins while working with a small group of brands from the U.S. The test will only be shown in Pinterest’s search and category fields.

Pinterest lists the entire list of brands taking part in the test, including ABC Family, Banana Republic, GAP, and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. If you do happen to catch one of the Promoted Pins being tested, Pinterest would like users to give feedback via a form found here.

Pinterest Reveals the Most Popular Categories On Each Day of the Week

Twitter Daily Trends

Just about every social media platform has their own mini-trends that influence what type of content gets shared the most at a certain time. Facebook users follow predictable patterns of usage times and the success of content on Reddit is partially decided by the “prime sharing times” when users are more likely to see new content. Similarly, Pinterest recently shared a post on their blog detailing the most popular categories for each day of the week.

4 Statistics About Pinterest You Need to Know

pins-by-gender

On the topic of Pinterest trends and data, RJMetrics recently ran a study of 50,000 random pinners and their pins to analyze how people are using Pinterest. At first glance, the data may seem like old news, however the details found in the study give strong insight into what pinners are interested in, what they are likely to share, and when they are most likely to Pin. For example, it is no secret that the majority of Pinterest’s users are female, but it may come as a surprise that around 80 percent of pinners are female, and an whopping 92 percent of all pins on the site come from women.

You can get all the details from the study in RJMetrics’ report on their site.

Google Maps Adds Location Based Quick Facts

Yesterday, Google announced via Google+ that they have added a new section on map results for location searches named “Quick Facts.” As many have pointed out, the section looks quite similar to the Knowledge Graph that appears on some Google searches, and has the same type of very quick information about the area you are searching for. The Quick Facts are pulled from Wikipedia and other data sources typically used in the Google Knowledge Graph.

You can get an idea how the Quick Facts operate thanks to the example Google released of the results for Angkor Wat in Cambodia below.

Quick Facts

Twitter Introduces a Mute Button To Quiet Individual Users

Earlier this week, Twitter revealed they will be adding a new feature for its iPhone and Android apps, as well as Twitter.com, which allows users to mute specific people and forbid their tweets from appearing in your timeline. You can mute users two different ways. You can either mute a user from a Tweet by clicking on ‘more’ followed by ‘mute @username’ or you can mute users from their profile page.

When a user is muted, their Tweets and Retweets will be no longer visible in your home timeline and you won’t receive push notifications if you previously set up that feature for the user. However, the muted user will still be able to see, face, reply to, and retweet anything you share. From the muted users perspective nothing will have changed.

You will be able to unmute users at any time and the new feature is expected to be rolled out in the next few weeks.

Facebook and Twitter See Slightly Less Global Usage While Instagram and Tumblr See Big Increases

gwi-q2-2014

Facebook and Twitter still hold a strong hand on the social media landscape/ However their grasp may not be safe forever as new survey data from GlobalWebIndex shows a slight reduction in usage for both networks over the past six months. They Facebook may not be too nervous yet. The survey of more than 40,000 internet users in 32 global markets, excluding China, found that as much as 82% of users worldwide have Facebook accounts.

However, several reports suggest the small dip in usage may be an indicator of a growing trend within Facebook, opening the door of opportunity for smaller and more focused social platforms such as Instagram and Tumblr.

The survey also found a significant growth in the use of mobile apps. Out of all apps, Snapchat saw the biggest rise in use as it is accepted by more and more teens worldwide. You can download the full report from GlobalWebIndexhere, but Martin Beck also summarizes the findings over on Marketing Land.

bing-2The most prominent figures in search engine marketing must get tired of hearing the same old fables and myths that seem to fill the SEM market. Even when well-known employees of search engines like Google’s Matt Cutts and Bing’s Duane Forrester give clear-cut answers to common questions about SEO, PPC, and social media, their answers tend to be met with skepticism and derision.

Of course, as employees of the search engines they represent, it is fair to be critical of public statements that Cutts and Forrester make, but the level of mistrust between SEO’s and major search engine employees tends to breed misinformation and myths which have to be regularly addressed.

This is why Matt Cutts regularly answers common questions in his Webmaster Help videos, but Forrester also frequently clears the air via the Bing Webmaster Blog. Forrester, Bing’s Senior Product Manager, recently took to the blog to give his own perspective on 10 of the most common questions in all of SEO. Let’s break down his responses together:

1. I need to rank #1

The main motivation for most businesses to hire professional SEO services is often to get to the top of rankings. Logic dictates (and studies back up) that sites appearing at the top of the rankings get the vast majority of traffic from search engines for queries. Unfortunately, as Duane points out, things have become vastly more complex. Search engines individualize rankings based on personal information such as location data and shopping habits, so the sites that appear in the top of your rankings may not be as high for someone else’s search.

On top of that, rankings are constantly fluctuating, so your time as king of the rankings won’t be as long lasting as you probably hoped. Duane also encourages site owners to not obsess over being on the first page as much, as click-through rates for top rankings on the second page often outperform click-through rates for lower positions on the first page.

2. My Title tag will save me

Title tags are quite important, but many overestimate the value of title tags in context of their other efforts on their site. A tag can help you perform better, but it can’t hide skipping all the other important steps of SEO. Often, bloggers will claim they must rely on title tags as many popular platforms don’t allow things like meta descriptions in their base code, but that argument is nullified by the number of plugins available that easily and quickly add them, as well as opening doors to many other aspects of SEO for you to play with. Treat your titles with care, but don’t invest all your care on just one spot.

3. Social is all I need

With the rise of social media, many brands have decided to forego their SEO efforts in favor of just engaging their users on a direct platform. This was likely brought about due to old SEO understandings where a concentrated effort on one aspect of your site was enough to boost rankings. However, things have changed quite drastically over the past few years. SEO is a holistic process now, where social, content, link strategies, optimization, and PPC all come into play together.

Forrester compares the process to making a quality seafood chowder. “Success depends on a complex mix of ingredients, freshness, and timing. One ingredient along won’t bring success, and yet without that one ingredient, you don’t have a chowder.”

4. Videos are all I need

People love online videos. Businesses love them because they are easier to produce than ever, while people love them because they can sit back and take in news or entertainment without having to parse long and complex article. But, they are far from a silver bullet. Videos also slow down page load times significantly, and search engines simply can’t understand them as well as written content. If you are going to lean heavily on videos for your marketing, Duane advises adding a transcript of the audio at the very least to benefit the search engines.

5. Buying ads helps my rankings

Matt Cutts devoted a sizable portion of one of his Webmaster Help videos recently to addressing this question once-and-for-all, but it should come as no surprise that some people just won’t listen. Duane is similarly blunt with disregarding the assumption ads can give you an inside lane to success on search engines. Quite simply, “no amount of ad buying will get you organically ranked higher […] The instant [an] engine starts determining ranking based on ads bought is the instant it loses credibility.”

6. I already make awesome content

You may be right, but you aren’t the best judge on the matter. You can have all the technical rules and standards of writing and grammar mastered, but if readers aren’t responding to your content then it needs improving. Grammar does play a big role in deciding how readers perceive you, but style, voice, and message can be even more important. You’ll know when you’re making great content that connects with visitors, because they will tell you.

7. Links are all that matter

I could devote dozens of pages to clarifying the current state of links in online marketing (and several others have), but the simplest description is that good links are still very valuable while bought, spammy, or otherwise improperly acquired links are more dangerous than ever. However, your site can’t succeed on the back of a good link profile alone. As Forrester explains, “links are part of the bigger picture. You want them, but you want them to feel natural. If an engine sees you growing [them] naturally, you’re rewarded with rankings. If they see you growing them unnaturally, you’re rewarded with penalties.”

8. Marking up my content will help it rank

No, there is no direct link to marking up content and better rankings. Marking up content helps search engines understand your content better, so it can be beneficial if you also have good content for the engine to parse. But, simply installing markup code doesn’t inherently boost rankings.

9. Usability is different than SEO

If we are arguing semantics, yes SEO and usability are different disciplines. As more time passes though, it can be hard to tell them apart. Both aim to improve a website for users, and a site with great technical SEO can still be penalized for poor usability such as slow load-times, buggy performance, or clear usability. What is the point of leading someone to your site if they can’t use it properly?

10. SEO is all I need

Doing only one thing doesn’t tend to lead to success. SEO sets the foundation for you to build upon, but it won’t get you where you want to go alone. However, anything you build without that foundation is likely to fall apart.

google-red-cardYou would think most guest blog networks would be watching their steps in the wake of the widely talked about penalty levied against MyBlogGuest, but one network named PostJoint has remained steadfast, if not cocky. Unsurprisingly, that means they are the lucky recipient of the second penalty Google is giving to a guest blog network.

Last week, someone tweeted to Matt Cutts that PostJoint had been hit, and it didn’t take Matt long to confirm that action had been taken, stating that “any link or guest blog network that claims to have ‘zero footprints’ is waving a giant red flag.”

When Cutts first began to talk about guest blogging being done for, both PostJoint and MyBlogGuest were outspoken in their defense. The operators of MyBlogGuest tried to argue that they didn’t fit the definition of a guest blog network, and PostJoint tried to explain how they were different from MyBlogGuest after their penalty. Neither defense managed to protect either network.

Perhaps the most entertaining part of the penalty is the response PostJoint has given in their blog titled “Matt Cuts Us Out“. The short story is that PostJoint is confused about the warnings they received while openly admitting that at least 16% of their network received the unnatural links notification.

All of that leads them to conclude: “The fact that only 16% of our sites have been hit shows that Google can’t infact trace all of the sites using PostJoint.” Clearly, PostJoint doesn’t understand how Google’s penalty system works.

It was difficult to trust most tech news early this week, as April Fools’ Day pranks went live across the web, and all sorts of joke announcements were published. But, now the laughter has died down and the employees at Google and Bing have returned to work. We’ve gathered up their latest changes and (real) announcements, so you can be caught up going into the weekend.

Bing Testing New SERPs Layout

Bing is ending the week by following Google’s most talked about recent change. Barry Schwartz and other prominent members of the SEO community began reporting that Bing is showing a new search results layout earlier today, but it currently appears to just be a test.

Bing Test Design

The new design changes the color of the logo from gray to the more familiar golden yellow, and the search button has been colored to match. Bing has also removed the gray background from the right side column. The interface is notably cleaned up, but overall the design won’t feel like as drastic of an update when it goes live as Google’s did.

Google Gets Another Privacy Fine From Europe

Not long ago, Google was forced to pay a 145,000 EUR (approximately $189,000) to Germany for privacy violations associated with their Street View program, a Reuters story reports the search engine has now been issued a fine in Italy. The roughly $1.4 million (1 million EUR) fine also related to Street View, though this time it appears to deal with a failure to clearly mark cars used for Italian street photography in 2010.

When announcing the fine, Italian authorities acknowledged that Google has already remedied the problem and is no longer in violation.

Google Adds More Apps To Its Index

Late last year, Google announced that they would begin allowing Android users to click on a Google result and open the page directly within an app, if it is already installed on the users smartphone. The first wave of apps being indexed by Google went live in December, and it would appear the test has been a success so far.

The search engine has now announced that they would be including 24 more apps in their indexing program. You can see which apps have been added in the image below.

app-indexing-google-apps-1396614385

Social Media Fail

Source: Dashburst.com

It’s no question that social media has become one of the most prominent aspects of online marketing. As Facebook and Twitter have become ingrained in the public consciousness, companies and search engines alike have recognized the value and social media marketing has become intertwined with SEO and advertising to the point that it can be hard to tell where one stops and another begins.

But, as with any new field of marketing, there are bound to be plenty of missteps, gaffes, and wildly ill-advised attempts. For every brand that is killing it on Instagram and Twitter, there are just as many who have found that social media can also magnify your mistakes and make a PR issue into a complete catastrophe.

Thankfully, there is always something to be learned from the mistakes of others. Search Engine Journal recently shared a list of 35 of the most remarkable social media failures in recent history. As they explain, the point isn’t to laugh at those who have made huge mistakes on social media (though it is hard not to laugh at some of the entries). Instead, you should take note of how fine the line is between viral and bad taste, as well as how important it is to keep your cool in times of crisis.

Well, you can’t say nobody warned them. Not long ago, Matt Cutts clearly stated that Google was planning on penalizing large guest blogging networks, and yesterday Google followed through. It was widely assumed Google would be targeting MyBlogGuest, run by Ann Smarty, brand manager of Internet Marketing Ninjas, though Ann continuously defended her site, claiming they would be safe because MyBlogGuest didn’t sell links and wasn’t a “network.”

It turns out everyone but Ann Smarty was right, as Cutts announced on Monday that the guest blog network had been taken down, and MyBlogGuest vanished from the rankings, even for branded terms. Eventually Smarty even confirmed the penalty through Twitter.

MyBlogGuest has been running since 2009, and estimates they were averaging 256 articles posted per day at their height. But, the big problem is that MyBlogGuest had a very open policy on linking and refused numerous times to make it possible for links to be nofollowed.

Jennifer Slegg refers to MyBlogGuest’s true purpose as a “well-known secret” in the industry. Numerous agencies were using MyBlogGuest to promote their clients, while supporting writers who would sell links openly. The website community embraced both, making the more questionable actions wildly obvious to anyone paying attention.

Smarty is still defending her site. Since the take-down, she has spoken to multiple news outlets. She told Search Engine Watch “There are lots of networks that openly abuse the concept and promote paid guest blogging (I won’t list any names; I am not as bad as that!) but they choose to hit the oldest, best-known brand first – does it make sense? Instead of setting a good example, they make it obvious that no one is safe even such good guys as us.”

Notably, it seems that MyBlogGuest isn’t the only entity being punished in this action. Even sites that were only benefiting from the guest blog network’s policies are being struck with manual action penalties.

When Cutts made the announcement that Google had penalized the guest blog network, many speculated that sites who had been heavily using the network would also get cut down to size. Then, many sites began to notice manual actions appearing in their Webmaster Tools, but there was no clear confirmation the two were related. That is, until Cutts cleared up the situation somewhat by tweeting that Google is acting against sites that benefited from any spammy behavior on the site, which could range from running blogs hosting guest posts or benefiting from the bad links.

I could almost feel sorry for the owners of the associated sites being penalized for these behaviors, but Google has been warning about penalties for months without taking action. There has been plenty of time to cut away from questionable guest blogging practices and platforms, but many like Ann Smarty believed they could circumvent the rules. In the future, it is better to just follow the guidelines, rather than becoming the face of a new spammy industry’s downfall.

SpellingPretty much anything Google’s most popular engineer Matt Cutts says makes headlines in the SEO community, but often his Webmaster Chat videos and advice aren’t mind-blowing by any stretch of the imagination. For instance, we recently covered a video where Cutts explained that bad grammar in the comment section most likely won’t hurt your ranking (unless you allow spam to run rampant).

For content creators, it was a legitimate concern that poorly written contents might negate the hard work putting into writing legible and well-constructed content. However, many used this to run headlines that Google doesn’t care about grammar, which is not even close to being confirmed.

As Search Engine Land points out, way back in 2011, Cutts publicly stated that there is a correlation between spelling and PageRank, but Google does not use grammar as a “direct signal.” But, in his latest statement on the issue Cutts specifies that you don’t need to worry about the grammar in your comments “as long as the grammar on your own page is fine.” This suggests Google does in fact care about the level of writing you are publishing.

It is unclear exactly where the line is for Google at the moment, as they imply that grammar within your content does matter, but they have never stated it is a ranking signal. Chances are a typo or two won’t hurt you, but it is likely Google may punish pages with rampant errors and legibility issues.

On the other hand, Bing has recently made it pretty clear that they do care about technical quality in content as part of their ranking factors. Duane Forrester shared a blog post on the Bing Webmaster Blog which states, “just as you’re judging others’ writing, so the engines judge yours.”

Duane continues, “if you [as a human] struggle to get past typos, why would an engine show a page of content with errors higher in the rankings when other pages of error free content exist to serve the searcher?”

In the end, it all comes down to search engines trying to provide the best quality content they can. The search engines don’t want to direct users to content that will be hard to make sense of, and technical errors can severely impact a well thought-out argument.

As always, the best way to approach the issue is to simply write content for your readers. If your content can communicate clearly to your audience, the search engines shouldn’t have any problems with it. But, if a real person has trouble understanding you, the search engines aren’t going to do you any favors.

2014The New Year is here and many are already looking forward, making resolutions and formulating predictions about the year to come. But, we can’t know what is going to look for in the future without looking back at 2013. The past year brought big changes to online marketing thanks to some big revisions in Google’s policies and the ever-changing world of design.

Whether you spent the past year doing the Harlem Shake or actively following all the notable blogs to keep your site up to the latest standards, you might want to refresh yourself on the big events and articles from the past year. With that in mind, we thought we would share our most popular posts from 2013. You can remind yourself what mattered in 2013, and see what might be important in 2014.

Our Most Viewed Posts

Source: John Sutton

Source: John Sutton

Blogs are an important part of marketing and SEO. Publishing content on a regular basis allows you to connect with your audience in more direct ways while also helping establish your brand and it’s value. You can generate leads through your community and demonstrate your own expertise while your at it, which makes it a great multi-faceted positive marketing technique.

While it is great as a general marketing method, blogging also helps your SEO by making search engines value your site more. The more content you are putting out, the more crawling the search engines will do of your site, while Google and Bing also recognize your perceived value within your field from your community. Blogs also allow you to do natural link building without getting into questionable connections to other sites, and you’ll have content that can be easily shared through social media.

Just because blogging is inherently good for SEO, it doesn’t mean your blog is as optimized as it could be. Many companies have blogs that are hardly optimized for search, and because of this they aren’t getting the rewards out of it that they could be.

Optimizing your blog isn’t all that hard, especially if you’re using a popular CMS or publishing platform like WordPress, but you have to be willing to take the time to correct the missteps. Ken Lyons pointed out six common ways that blogs fail to optimize. If you just follow through on his suggestions, you’ll find your blog will start performing beyond your wildest dreams.

Many of the suggestions can be done through simply making some changes to your CMS like adding plugins that establish related posts. Making your content easy to find is crucial to search engines, because they crawl pages by simply following links and mapping out the page. If it takes a dozen clicks to find something, there is less chance the crawlers will ever see it. Adding related posts to the end of blog posts allows readers to more easily find content on the topic they are learning about, without having to go back to the search engine, while also improving the navigation of your site and boosting your SEO value.

Similarly, adding previous or next post links at the end of posts on your blog improves the net style navigation you want on your site while also keeping viewers immersed in content. They don’t have to go back to the list of posts unless they want to, and there are even more ways to access individual posts than before. Rather than isolated points in your site map, your posts become part of a chain or a thread creating a larger net.

You can add some things to your site that don’t affect navigability, but will start bringing in many more eyes than before. Many companies are learning how much social media can help their brands, and there are still many ways for companies to capitalize on social media. The most common way this is done is by adding sharing buttons which allow readers to bring content they find important or interesting to the attention of their friends, family, and peers. If people are sharing your content, it is more easily found, even by search engines.

Lyons had three more ways you can juice up your blogging and get the views your content deserves, but there are many more ways you can make your blog more efficient in SEO terms. Navigation is key, but you also just want to make sure your site is as easy to use as possible and find ways to make people want to stay on the page.