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Page Rank

Source: Felipe Micaroni Lalli

Ever since the roll-out of Google’s Penguin algorithm there has been a substantial amount of confusion regarding the current state of link building within the search marketing community. Thanks to Google’s vague practices everyone has an opinion on an algorithm which few actually understand in depth. Everything we know on this side comes from what Google has told us and what we’ve seen from data and analysis in the two years since Penguin came out.

The fact of the matter is that link building in the post-Penguin climate is risky business, but it is important for your online presence. If anything, links are more potent for your visibility than ever before. The problem is the rules are stricter now. You can’t buy and sell wholesale links, and bad links can be heavily damaging to your traffic and profits.

If you acquire quality links, your site is likely excelling in numerous areas and seeing success in both web traffic and search engine visibility. However, getting the wrong types of inbound links is almost certain to result in penalties from Google. In fact, Jayson DeMers from Search Engine Land says it is often more expensive to clean up the mess from bad backlinks than it would be to just acquire good links to begin with.

So what exactly constitutes a bad link? A bad link is any which is gained through questionable methods or goes against Google’s best practices. DeMers pinpointed six of these link building tactics which are likely to cause you problems if you attempt them.

Paid Links – Buying or selling links in the post-Penguin market is the same as putting a target on your website’s metaphorical back. Your site will get seen and penalized. Google has openly stated multiple times that buying or selling links is a huge no-no, and even links from long ago can come back to haunt you.

Article Directory Links – Article directory links were once a staple of link building because they were easy to get and they worked. But, low-quality spun content and distribution software relegated to the spammy category. At this point, Google has outright penalized many article directories, and this practice won’t help your SEO anymore.

Link Exchanges – For years link exchanges were a highly popular form of link building. It almost seemed like common courtesy to practice the concept of “you link to me and I’ll link back to you”, but of course many began to abuse the system. Once it was compromised and turned into a large scale pattern of link scheming, Google shut it down.

Low-Quality Press Releases – A press release is still a popular means of announcing important company information to the public, but don’t expect them to help your SEO. Most free press release submission websites are entirely ignored by Google.

Low Quality Directory Links – There are still a small number of industry-specific directories that are great for helping certain industries gain good links and traffic, the majority of old, free directory sites have been de-indexed by Google, and the search engine has publicly denounced the practice. In general, you should be staying away from low-quality directory links.

Link Pyramids, Wheels, Etc., – Over time, many SEOs came to believe they could get around Google’s watchful eye by using methods to artificially pass page rank through multiple layers of links, obscuring the distribution patter. But, in May, Matt Cutts, Google’s head of Webspam mentioned how the new version of Pengion has been refined to further fight link spammers and more accurately measure link quality. While we don’t know for sure what practices Cutts was referencing, it is widely believed he was talking about link pyramids and wheels.

BudgetAs it comes time to prepare for business strategies going into the next year, many are wondering exactly how much they should be planning for in their SEO budget. Well, there is good news and there is bad news. The good news is SEO continues to yield great returns on your investment. The bad news is SEO is getting more and more expensive to do well. Jayson DeMers put together five reasons you should be asking for more for your SEO in 2014.

1)You Can’t Cheat With Cheap Backlinks

Not too long ago, you could just buy packages of a huge number of cheap backlinks and skate into high rankings on Google. That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but not much. However, Google has made it very clear they won’t let you play that game anymore. They’ve started penalizing those who try to use cheap shortcuts to a lot of backlinks, and they’ve gotten great at spotting when you do try to game the system.

Article spinning, excessive social bookmarks, paid links, duplicate content, and keyword stuffing have all been ruled illegal in Google’s book. You’ve got no choice but to go legit now.

2) Recovering from Google Penguin Can Be Costly (And You Need an Audit Anyway)

While many have already managed to recover from a drop in the rankings thanks to Penguin 2.0, there are plenty who haven’t been able to make a full recovery yet, and even more who are likely to be penalized in the coming year. But, recovering from Penguin takes a lot of time and effort, and time means money.

Usually, site owners need to undergo complete SEO link profile audits to identify all of the problems costing their site and begin recovery. Even if you haven’t been hit with an unnatural link warning within Google Webmaster Tools, it is still wise to perform an audit to spot any potential trouble links before Google does.

3) Good Content Marketing Isn’t Cheap

Google has begun to favor quality content pretty heavily, but this also means the bar has been raised. You used to be able to write just a few short blurbs every work and get reasonable traffic and authority in Google, but now every brand has a blog. You have to put in more work to stick out.

DeMers goes as far to suggest the standard minimum word amounts to rank well are going to go up, even as high as 2,000 words per article. He uses Google’s new in-depth article section as an indicator of this move, though Google’s own words paint a slightly different picture. “Users often turn to Google to answer a quick question, but research suggests up to 10% of users daily information needs involve learning about a broad topic.”

I don’t think article word count will necessarily go up as more blogging continues, but exploring your topic more thoroughly is usually a good idea. Google will still allow succinct content into the rankings for those who are looking for quick and ready answers, but that content can’t be weak. Even the shorter content you put out needs to offer a real and identifiable value to visitors.

4) You Need a Content Marketing Strategy

Content marketing doesn’t simply consist of publishing content. There is much more that has to be done to get that content out in front of your audience’s eyes. That’s why many have called content marketing the new SEO, even though many SEO professionals are expected to handle content creation as well.

There is some truth to the idea however. Publishing useful and interesting content builds your brand and generates brand signals that do get your content ranking in search engines. However, this just shows how important it is to have a plan put in place ahead of time for your content marketing. If you don’t plan ahead, you’ll likely fall into the low quality content pattern with less flashes of quality unique work.

If you are expected to handle SEO and content marketing at the same time, you’re going to need more resources to ensure everything is done right.

5) Outsourcing Social Media to Scale Up

Social media appears to be ingraining itself into search engine rankings at an alarmingly fast rate, and as such it requires a lot of attention. It is gaining steam both as an outreach and audience engagement strategy as well as driving traffic and boosting rankings.

The problem is, depending on the size of your SEO team, you likely don’t have the time and means to properly handle your social media on your own. Business owners don’t have the spare time to be investing heavily into social media, and an SEO professional’s time is already spoken for by a multitude of tasks. If you’re brand can afford it, outsourcing social media means your social efforts will be focused and well planned, while your other responsibilities won’t falter.

Blogger Portrait

Source: Marisa Vasquez

Content marketing is all the rage in SEO right now. As links continue to get devalued (though they can still be potent if gained properly), optimizers and marketers are moving their focus to the actual content you see on the page. This is potentially a great shift to providing consumers with real value, but generating content on a regular basis is costly and intensive. If you slack, it can be worthless at best, and damaging to your rankings at worst.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t do it. But, content marketing has to be done right, with smart choices about how to spend your time and efforts. All it takes is some planning and extra thought that too many forget to do. If you think ahead, you can avoid most of the common content marketing mistakes far too many make. Jayson DeMers pinpointed some of those common mistakes, and if you know how to identify them, you can fix them.

1) Writing for the Wrong Audience

Every article or piece of content you put out there should be of value to someone, but that audience shouldn’t be arbitrary. As a business, you have a specific audience that you should be paying attention to. If you understand your audience, you can better choose topics and write in the appropriate tone for who you are trying to connect with. Home services such as plumbing and roofing have very different consumers and audiences than tech startups.

One of the most common ways to forget to write for consumers. We tend to get excited about the content we are putting out and the work we’ve put in – and that is great – but we also tend to geek out and write for those who are spending hours scouring blogs like us. We forget to communicate with the actual people needing their services. For every article, you need to ask, are we writing for our consumers or our peers?

2) Using the Wrong Metrics

Creating content takes a ton of time. You have to research, try to brainstorm unique topics, follow all the social media feeds. It would be tragic if all those efforts weren’t being properly measured and fine-tuned. However, getting started with the right metrics for your business at first can seem even more troublesome than making all that content.

Getting started, it is common to focus on measuring outputs rather than results. It helps ensure you follow through on your content marketing efforts and are achieving the basic creation aspect. But, once you’re in the flow of creating content you have to evolve your metrics to ensure they are actually achieving the larger desired results. You have to make sure you’re getting an actual return on your investment.

Not only do you want to make sure that you are strengthening your front on using the right keywords, you want to be checking on your conversions. You’re content isn’t successful if it isn’t helping direct people to the next step. Are you including clear calls to action? Are you getting people to make the next step you want? If not, you may want to change your strategy.

3) Failing to Focus on Branding

Content serves the purpose of making your brand trustworthy to consumers. Brand development can help build your brand as a leader in your market, or it can build the reputation of a service or product. Simply put, creating content allows you to build your brand as a leader in your industry to those who haven’t used your product or service yet. Writing as a leader or member of your business should showcase your expertise and make consumers trust you. The trick is doing it in a professional way, without being heavy handed.

Trying to make a hard sell with your content isn’t advised, so you have to achieve these goals much more subtly. The primary goal is educating and informing, but that has to be put in a package that will also strengthen your brand. It is a difficult line to walk, but with focus on your brand and the audience, you will find the proper mix.

Source: Stock.xchangIt took a couple weeks for everything to even back out after the recent Penguin update, and now its time to start looking forward to what is coming up in SEO. It is an especially good time to make predictions for the rest of 2013 as we are just now passing the halfway point in the year and Google has made some of their intentions moving forward very clear.

Google has pulled out the big guns in their fight against spam, and have publicly stated their interests in user experience through site design and quality content. None of that is a surprise, but at the turn of the year none of it had actually been confirmed by people within the search engine juggernaut. A few months later and Matt Cutts basically confirmed everything we assumed before. Focus on the user and don’t try to cheat or loophole your way to the top and you should be fine.

Still, Google isn’t content to simply focus on one or two things at a time, and there are bound to be quite a few other changes in the near future that we haven’t been told about. Jayson DeMers analyzed all of the evidence from Google’s more subtle changes and announcements in the past few months to attempt to make predictions for what we might be seeing in the next year or so in SEO. They are all just guesses from the information available, but it’s always good to stay ahead of the curve and aware of changes that may be on the horizon.