Bing has announced a new series of link penalties aimed at reducing the presence of spammy or manipulative sites across its search engine. Specifically, the latest link penalties target private blog networks (PBNs), as well as those using subdomain leasing or manipulative cross-site linking.

What Bing is Targeting

For the most part, Bing is looking to penalize sites who are misleading search engines by essentially bundling site level signals to increase the presence of unrelated subdomains. Lately, a number of larger sites have been leasing subdomains while promising high rankings through site-level signals.

Subdomains are regularly used for legitimate purposes to help separate areas of a site. For example, many sites may use a separate subdomain for areas of their site related to customer support, which would appear as support.example.com. In this case, it makes sense for the support areas of the site to still benefit from the site-level SEO signals present.

On the other-hand, you have leasing services such as WordPress which are used to host a wide-range of unrelated topics, brands, and philosophies. In this case, it would not make sense for each subdomain to receive the SEO boost from WordPress’s main domain.

While WordPress follows the best practices of search engines and properly insulates each subdomain, some bad actors have been misrepresenting their site structure to artificially inflate the presence of unrelated subdomains.

As the company explained in its announcement:

“…we heard concerns from the SEO community around the growing practice of hosting third-party content or letting a third party operate a designated subdomain or subfolder, generally in exchange for compensation.

…the practice equates to buying ranking signals, which is not much different from buying links.”

Private Blog Networks

In particular, Bing called out PBNs for misrepresenting their site structure to artificially inflate content:

“While not all link networks misrepresent website boundaries, there are many cases where a single website is artificially split across many different domains, all cross-linking to one another, for the obvious purpose of rank boosting. This is particularly true of PBNs (private blog networks).”

Cross-Site Linking

Another issue that Bing is putting in its crosshairs are sites that are essentially a single site but are broken into multiple interlinking sites to create false link signals.

The graphic below illustrates how this site structure may appear:

Notably, this practice has already been against Bing’s policies and subject to penalties, but the search engine says it will begin applying additional penalties.

The Takeaway

All of the types of activity being targeted by Bing’s latest link penalties are systematic misrepresentations of websites to artificially boost their presence in search engines. It is hard to imagine many cases where legitimate sites could be affected inadvertently – though it is always possible.

Customers who have left a review for your website on Google will now receive notifications via email when you respond, providing even greater incentives for businesses to promptly respond to any reviews they receive.

In the past, it was possible a reviewer may have never seen your response unless they deliberately checked on their post. This made it difficult to properly address complaints and provided little reason for businesses to respond to praise.

Now, the new email notifications will help ensure both happy and disgruntled customers will see when you’ve responded and help develop better customer interaction.

Google has always recommended replying to your reviews because it is simply good customer service and shows that you care, but the email notification system makes it more important than ever to keep an eye on your reviews and reply promptly.

In their announcement, Google also included a number of tips for responding to reviews, such as:

  1. Be nice and don’t get personal. This isn’t just a guideline—it’s also a good idea as a business owner. It’s difficult to win an argument with a frustrated customer, and you want to avoid burning bridges. Keep your responses useful, readable, and courteous. In addition, responses should comply with our local content policy.
  2. Keep it short and sweet. Users are looking for useful and genuine responses, but they can easily be overwhelmed by a long response.
  3. Thank your reviewers. Respond to happy reviewers when you have new or relevant information to share. You don’t need to thank every reviewer publicly, since each response reaches lots of customers.
  4. Be a friend, not a salesperson. Your reviewers are already customers, so there’s no need to offer incentives or advertisements. Tell reviewers something new about your business, or share something they might not have learned from their first visit.

Google-My-Business-Logo

Google recently made it even easier for businesses to maintain and edit their online listings by allowing businesses to directly edit their listing information shown in the knowledge graph without having to visit the Google My Business Dashboard. Google has confirmed a new Knowledge Panel interface allows users to directly edit local listings.

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The new feature allows logged in users associated with a business to directly update business information without having to go through to Google My Business Dashboard, however the GMB Dashboard is still needed for updating menus or booking links.

The change was first rumored by Barry Schwartz at SEO Roundtable based on a comment by Gary Illyes at State of Search in mid-November. The first person to report seeing the feature put into action was Prya Chandra on G+.

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While the feature is available in the Knowledge Panel and the Local Finder on both desktop and mobile, it is not available through Google Maps. It is likely the feature will eventually make its way into Google Maps in the near future, but there’s no word for now on when to expect that.

The biggest question in the wake of this change is what it means for the future of the Google My Business Dashboard. The dashboard still serves some purpose for business owners who need to update or correct menus and booking listings, but many are seeing this as a sign Google may be moving away from GMB.

It isn’t a reality quite yet, but image reading and object recognition are likely to change the search game in a big way before long. Razvan Gavrilas has spent the past few months researching the advancements Google is making in the fields of “reading” and indexing images and not only does it appear these types of systems and algorithms are closer than previously believed. There are steps you can take to be prepared right now. Find out more in Gavrilas’ article for Search Engine Journal here.

Responsive design is definitely the most talked about web design method right now, especially when discussing designing for mobile. It isn’t the only option though. There are three real options currently and each has its own pros and cons to them. Choosing the way you interact with mobile customers should reflect the type of business you are running and what you hope to accomplish.

Source: Flickr

Responsive Design – Though it is well covered, responsive websites are those that adapt to different sized screens across all platforms, from mobile to tablet to desktop. The idea is that you only build one website for everyone rather than different sites for all different devices. That time you would have spent designing sites for different platforms will have to be spent testing your one site on all of the devices. It also removes some of the ability to customize sites for certain devices.

Mobile Sites – A mobile site is optimized for that specific section of on-the-go customers. The sites are usually minimal, with large, finger-friendly buttons, and they load faster than responsive sites. This allows more direct control of how sites appear on different devices, but more importantly, the content selected to appear is tailored for the mobile demographic accessing it.

Native Mobile Apps – If you own a smartphone, you know what an app is. They are specific to their platforms so they have the benefit of being able to curate mobile content like websites do while further focusing on the differing needs of different platform users.

All three have their merits. Responsive websites create a sense of consistency and deliver the full experience of a desktop website in an accessible form for a specific device. Some hail it as a time saver, which isn’t quite true, but it does allow you to spend equal time on a site for all devices. Mobile sites and apps load faster and cater to specific audiences, while allowing them to act immediately.

Diksha Arora compares the three against each other at Vandelay Design. If you don’t know what is best for your business, she can help you identify your needs.

The debate between skeuomorphism and flat design has been covered thoroughly, but when I talked about it I found it hard to think of many examples of flat design. Possibly because I largely use Apple products or because flat design is a new-ish trend, I find myself interacting with skeuomorphic design interfaces much more often than flat design schemes.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of sites out there using the ideas behind flat design to create striking pages. For those unfamiliar, flat design is a style that drops all forms of imitation of depth or “realism” in favor of designing based on the flat screens we actually use. A great deal of new sites are using the style to create clean, minimal pages that emphasize simplicity and interaction, and Chris Spooner compiled a list of sites that have sprung up using flat design, complete with images for each website.

The actual debate between the two design methods is of course overblown. Some writers act as if the schism will decide the future look of the internet in the same way VHS and Laserdisk competed for how we watched movies at home. Unlike that type of competitive market, neither is “better” for the internet, though one may be more suited for your current project. These pages definitely make it clear that flat design can inspire creative and user-friendly interfaces just like skeuomorphism can.

Last week, Matt Cutts responded to a question he receives fairly regularly concerning the PageRank feature in the Google toolbar. Specifically, why haven’t they removed it? It is apparent that many believe that the PageRank feature is “widely used by link sellers as a link grading system.”

There is, of course, some truth to this. While spammers do take advantage of the PageRank system, Cutts says that it is still relevant to many others. “There are a lot of SEO’s and people in search who look at the PageRank toolbar, but there are a ton of regular users as well.” Apparently, many internet users see the PageRank feature as indicative of reputability  and Google doesn’t plan on forcing them to stop.

That doesn’t mean PageRank is here to stay forever. While Google plans to keep supporting it so long as it is relevant to their users, it is telling that Chrome does not have the PageRank feature built into Chrome. Now, IE 10 is disavowing add ons, meaning Google’s toolbar will no longer work with the browser.

Considering that Internet Explorer was the only browser supporting the Google toolbar, it is highly likely the PageRank feature, as well as the toolbar as a whole, will fade away before long. As Matt Cutts puts it, “the writing is on the wall” that the new iteration of IE could be the end of PageRank, but we will have to wait and see.