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Everywhere I look now there is an article going up on some SEO website, in an e-mail newsletter, or one of the dozen or so Internet marketing news websites I read each day about how you get can back in Google’s good graces following the fallout from all those bad links you built. My only question is this, why did you even start building those links in the first place?

For at least ten years, Google’s song and dance has been “focus on content quality and usability.” You ignored that advice and went with your SEO agency’s advice instead. That advice amounted to

  • Paid links
  • Reciprocal links
  • Link wheels
  • Article directories
  • Link spam tactics

All the ways Google said not to do it, you did it anyway. Now you’re trying to figure out what happened.

In some cases, SEOs and online marketers thought they were following search engine guidelines. By the letter, they were. By the spirit, they weren’t even close. And now the owners of those websites are trying to figure out how to kill all their dead links and get back on top of the search engine listings.

Here’s a reality check: Even if you got rid of all of your bad links, there’s a good chance that you wouldn’t rise high enough in the search engines to recapture your old ranking. Sorry, but Google’s smarter than that. The latest algorithmic overhaul – Hummingbird, it’s called – is designed to give whole new ranking factors a greater prominence in the final results.

Instead of trying to game the system, why don’t you just focus on quality content instead?

Here’s an idea. If you want a new way to appear in the search results without having to build a website, tweak your website with a few additional pages, and/or bombarding your friends with social media messages, try writing and publishing a book. The long, drawn out legal battle between Google Books and The Authors Guild over whether or not it constitutes copyright infringement for Google Books to scan pages of published works has resulted in a big win for Google.

This is actually good for searchers and authors alike. Consider this scenario.

You write a book about the mating habits of warthogs. A searcher interested in the topic of warthog sexual behavior conducts a Google search and one of the results is a passage from the Foreword of your book. That Foreword actually entices the searcher to head to the library and check your book out. After thoroughly reading the book and returning it, they decide it would make a great Christmas gift for Uncle Bob.

Congratulations! You just picked up two new readers of your book, and it was all because you found a new way to be included in search results.

Authors should consider this a good thing. Google has been saying all along that the practice of scanning pages from books acts as a digital card catalog. They’re not scanning entire books, just a few passages, a few pages. A judge considered it fair use. I think we can expect The Authors Guild to appeal, but will they win?

The Local Search Ranking Factors survey has been around for a few years, but it bears to take another look. The latest results are posted at Moz and it’s interesting to see what the top 5 ranking factors are.

  1. Proper category associations – Google doesn’t really want to play with you if you don’t categorize your business correctly. From a user perspective, who wants to find your dentist’s office under the “restaurants” category?
  2. Physical address – This is extremely important. If someone searches for auto mechanics in Chicago and you are an auto mechanic located outside the city limits, there’s a good bet you won’t show up in the search results. Like it or not, that’s how local search is played. By the same token, if you are in another city limit, then Chicago businesses won’t be listed when a searcher is looking there either.
  3. Structured citations – I consider this very important. It’s also easy to get it wrong. Structured citations is any mention of your business on other websites. You can’t control how bloggers mention you, but you can control your business directory listings. Note that consistency is more important than quality and quality is more important than quantity.
  4. Link from Google+ or Google Place page – I highly recommend a Google+ page for a local business. Make sure you link to a website with your correct physical address. I think this factor has the potential to become more important in the future.
  5. Domain authority – Take a look at your website. How does it stack up against similar sites in your area? This is not an objective standard, necessarily, but it is a worthwhile standard. You can learn more about domain authority and how to influence your website’s authority from this Moz article.

It would be worth your time to study the top 20 local search ranking factors.

Local search is important for a number of reasons, especially if you are a local business serving a distinct geographic area.

I still run into people trying to do SEO likes it’s 2005. Bill Slawski has an excellent post at SEO By The Sea regarding a Google patent that may help the search engine identify link spam.

There are several aspects of this blog post that we could discuss. I’d like to focus on one point: Anchor text spam.

Here’s what Bill says about it.

Anchor Text Spamming – This involves acquiring links from a large number of pages linking to a particular page using the same anchor text, to get that page to rank highly for that text in search results.

I can think of two instances where this could be a problem for regular people trying to increase their search engine rankings and using outdated strategies that could get them into trouble. One is bloggers who use their blog to build internal links using the same anchor text phrases over and over and associating those phrases with a particular web page on their website. The other instance is guest blogging.

If you do a lot of guest blogging and you have a single bio that you use for every guest blog post, then you should pay attention this. It’s possible that your bio could be considered anchor text spam if you use the same anchor text phrase to link to your website every time.

I’m not saying you should stop guest blogging. I am saying you might consider varying your anchor text in your bio.

This isn’t to say that Google is definitely flagging your blog posts as anchor text spam, but if you keep doing the same thing and you aren’t getting results, then maybe you should try something different.

If you haven’t figured out that site speed is important, then you should consider why Google might introduce the Page Speed Suggestions Report inside Google Analytics.

This is a report that truly looks helpful.

When you’re inside your Google Analytics account, click on the Content – Site Speed section. Next, click on PageSpeed Suggestions. You’ll get a Page Speed Insights page, which should help you see how you can improve the necessary pages on your website.

Your Page Speed score will be a number between 0 and 100. The closer to 100 you get on that score, the better your page speed for the tested page. It’s important that you understand, however, that the tool doesn’t measure page speed. It measures the extent to which you can improve the speed of the page. A lower score means you can improve it a lot.

By analyzing the speed of your web pages, you can determine if you have too many graphics on a page, too much script, or a lot of videos. Too many ads, for instance, can result in a slower page speed.

As the Internet gets faster and faster, page speed will likely be a bigger issue for websites. That illustrates the importance of updating your web pages from time to time to take advantage of the latest web design practices. You should test all the pages on your website periodically to see how they rate on page speed.

Google’s Hummingbird update has turned the SEO world upside down. Everywhere you turn now, it seems you can find an article or blog post explaining how webmasters should optimize their websites for the new search engine. The talking point is that Hummingbird isn’t just an algorithm update. It’s a complete change in how Google ranks web pages.

Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t.

Regardless of what you believe about Hummingbird, there is one thing that is absolutely true. It has changed the way we do SEO going forward. And because of that, it’s time to evaluate your website to see if it stacks up against the new search engine ranking system.

Your first step should be to look at your content. Is it written well? Does it target a specific target? If not, then you need to fix that first and foremost.

Next, take a look at your link portfolio. If you have any questionable links, then you need to disavow them. It’s better to mess up and disavow a few good links than it is not to evaluate your link portfolio at all and be penalized for have a few bad links. You don’t want to be hit like the content farms were under Penguin.

Thirdly, review your technical SEO. There are some very specific things you should look at. Search Engine Journal has the list.

Finally, take a look at your social media strategy? Do you have one? Is it a good one? If not, then you seriously need to think about starting a social media strategy that helps you promote your brand.

SEO post-Hummingbird isn’t a far cry different than it used to be – if you’ve always tried to follow the search engine guidelines – but it is different.

A few years ago there was a trend to classify all search engine optimizers into three categories. They were either white hat, black hat, or grey hat. These distinctions, borrowed from old spaghetti westerns, are readily recognized as the good guy, the bad guy, and the guy in the middle, respectively.

Today, there is less of a tendency to discuss SEOs in these terms, primarily because SEO has become “content marketing.” I don’t care what you call it, it’s still SEO.

More or less, you can still classify SEOs into three distinct classes, but let’s dispense with the references to hats. We’ll call them withers, forers, and againsters. Again, terminology isn’t the issue. Call them what you want. The idea is that there are SEOs who work with the search engines, those who appear to be search engine cheerleaders, and then those who seem to actively work against the search engines – just doing what they want.

That last category is a little bit difficult to define because if you get the wrong idea, you might think they are the same as the black hat SEOs of five years ago. Not necessarily.

The “working against” category could include contrarians and SEOs who just do their own thing. They aren’t really concerned with best practices or following the latest trends. That’s not to say they don’t employ SEO techniques. They are more apt to write in a natural language style or use plain English rather than stuff your content full of keywords.

What’s the takeaway?

When you hire an SEO team to write your content for you or to plan your content marketing strategy, ask them what their search engine philosophy is. Do they work with the search engines or do they sound like cheerleaders? Or, maybe, just maybe, they are those maverick types who do it their way, right or wrong. You deserve to know.

There’s no doubt that link building is still important. After Panda and Penguin, there’s been a lot of debate about it. Many link builders have transitioned their business models to focus on content marketing instead, but is there really any difference?

Content marketing isn’t about building links. It never has been. It’s been about delivering a message. It’s easy to get the two confused.

I’m not saying that content marketing is bad for building links or that it won’t build inbound links to your website. What I’m saying is, if that’s your main reason for doing it, then you’re really just building links. Ask yourself if the content would be valuable without the inbound links to your website. Would your audience read it even if they didn’t know who wrote it or what website it was promoting?

That last question is very telling. If the answer is “no,” then you’re link building.

Good content marketing is about the content, not the links. What that means is, you take the time to develop a great idea, research it, publish it, then promote it. That’s what a content marketing strategy is. It’s a publishing model.

There’s nothing wrong with building links. Many SEOs, post-Penguin, would have you believe that link building is bad. That’s not the case. You still need a link portfolio, but it’s not more important to have 1,000 links than it is to have great content. You need a fine balance between the two.

One of the most important SEO tasks to get right is matching your landing pages with the right keywords. If your landing pages are optimized for the wrong keywords – even if they are optimized perfectly – you’ll have a hard time attracting the right customers from the search engines.

That’s why it’s important to ensure that your landing pages are optimized for the right keywords.

It starts with keyword research. It will save you time and money to put the investment into good keyword research in the beginning. Before you start building pages and writing content, you should know what your most profitable potential keywords are. Base that judgment on these criteria:

  • What keywords searchers will use to find businesses like yours
  • Types of products and services you offer your clients
  • What your closest competitors are using

Not that you have to use the exact same keywords that your competitors use, but you should be familiar with what keywords they are targeting and determine if those keywords are right for your business.

Once you’ve narrowed down your keyword list and have a general idea what searchers are searching for, then you can marry the keywords with your landing pages.

When deciding which keywords match your landing pages, think only of the intent for that landing page. What are you trying to sell on that landing page? If not selling anything, what is the main goal of the page? If it’s an opt-in to your newsletter, then pick a keyword that will attract more opt-in subscribers.

That’s it in a nutshell. Put your research in up front and come up with the best keywords for your landing pages.

Search engine optimization is all about positioning your content so that you maximize the traffic you receive from it. In other words, your job as content marketer is to keyword-optimize your content so that you achieve high rankings, right?


It never was about that really – even before Google started reporting keyword data (not provided).

The essence of search engine optimization has always been about producing great content. Period. Sure, your content might contain keywords based your ability to research what is hot right now, but simply adding keywords to your content was no guarantee that you’d rank well for that content or, if you did, receive any traffic from your rankings.

Historically, Google has been littered with top ranking content that didn’t receive much traffic because it was easy to tell that content was low quality content despite its high rankings.

Google started reporting (not provided) to keep webmasters from relying on keyword-specific search queries to target search engine rankings with more keyword-based drivel. We simply don’t need more low quality content. What we need is more high quality content that answers searchers’ queries.

SEO has always been about answering searcher queries. Find a question that a lot of people want an answer to and provide them with the answer. If you do that, Google will like you.

It’s easy to talk about good search engine optimization. It’s even easier if you don’t have a clue about what you are talking about. SEO isn’t just something you do once and forget about it. It’s something you start and never finish.

That said, what is the most important part about providing good SEO? Is it …

  • Link building?
  • Keywords?
  • Your Title tag?
  • Meta tags?
  • Site speed?
  • Page titles?
  • h1 and h2 tags (heads and subheads)?

Actually, it’s none of those.

The most important part to remember about your website’s search engine optimization strategy is your audience.

Yes, your audience.

Most webmasters don’t think of their audience as an aspect of SEO. In fact, most SEOs don’t think of it that way either. But it’s very important to think about who your audience is and what your audience wants before you start trying to search engine optimize your content.

The reason is real simple. You are writing your content to appeal to your audience. Your SEO must be written with your human audience in mind or it won’t matter what the search bots think of it. That not only goes for the optimization part of your content but the language part, as well. Your content needs to be written in the language your audience understands, and by “language” I don’t mean French vs. English. I’m talking about word choices, sentences structures, etc.

Those considerations are every bit as important as your keyword usage.

Write for your audience. That’s the best SEO you can practice.

Remember when every SEO in the universe was harping on building inbound links? For awhile there, getting more links was the most important SEO activity in the world for most optimizers. Then, Google Panda happened. Then Google Penguin. What’s next? Google Platypus?

The truth is, good links have always been necessary. Not just for SEO but for traffic, as well.

You can’t build a successful website without some inbound links. The question is, what kind and how many? Ask any ten SEOs that question and you’ll get ten different answers. If you see any duplicates, it’s probably because those SEOs shared their notes.

The name of the game today, and it pretty much always has been, is simply writing great content and promoting it around the Web. If you get more links, fine. If not, go for the traffic.

Successful Internet marketers understand that links are a valuable commodity. But you don’t want to get in the habit of chasing links every chance you get. You could spend a lot of your time chasing bad links and getting your websites penalized. You’re better off just writing great content, getting it published, and promoting it.

The days of making inbound links the most important currency on the Web are over. Some people would say that’s progress. Others are crying that their game is over.

One of the most frequently asked questions of any search engine optimization company is, “How long will it take to get my site ranked?”

The answer is, it depends.

One thing you should know is it won’t happen overnight. SEO takes time. You have to be patient.

Remember, you are competing against a lot of other websites, many of which have been marketing online for years. They have a well-established search engine optimization campaign. It may or may not be working for them, but you wouldn’t know that. It’s been in place for a long time.

Your website has a chance. I’m not saying it doesn’t. However, rarely will you rise to a page one listing overnight.

What will likely happen is you’ll write a blog post or establish your website and you’ll find yourself getting listed rather quickly (as long as you build a few valuable inbound links – it only takes one). But that’s just the beginning. You have to be diligent and work your content marketing strategy. Write blog posts, write guest blog posts, do some social media, etc. Over time, you could start to see your website rise in the rankings.

SEO is not a happenstance activity. It isn’t a quick fix either. You have to give it time.

For years, Google has been assisting Internet marketers, search engine optimizers, and other members of the public with finding the right keywords for their online marketing targeting efforts with the Google AdWords Keyword Tool. In fact, if you search for “Google keyword research tool,” you’ll find it at the top of the SERP. Click the link, however, and it’s not there. It’s been replaced by the Keyword Planner.

This happened two days ago when we weren’t watching.

Judging from the response on Twitter, there are a lot of unhappy campers.

The biggest problem I see with the Keyword Planner is you have to be logged into your AdWords account. That means you have to have an AdWords account. With the external keyword research tool, you could find the best keywords for your SEO targeting efforts without needing an AdWords account. Now, if you want to do keyword research, then you need to be an advertiser – or at least have a Google AdWords advertiser account.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

There are free keyword research tools online that serve as a decent alternative to Google’s retired AdWords tool. I’m not ready to recommend them yet, but you can Google “free keyword research tool” and see what you find.

Here’s a question: Have you tried the new Keyword Planner tool? Will you give it a go? If not, why not?

There has been a lot of talk about Google’s rel=author tag, a lot less about rel=publisher. As you’d expect, there is quite a bit confusion about which one might be appropriate under certain circumstances. Google attempts to clarify this with this blog post, but I’m not sure they were clear about it in all situations.

One particular question where there seems to be some concern is when you are writing articles using a mascot, or persona.

Personas are nice. It’s a marketing gimmick that may or may not work depending on how it is rolled out. However, Google doesn’t want you to use rel=author for articles written under the guise of a fictional entity. In other words, you shouldn’t use rel=author for articles written by mascots, personas, or generic company faces.

In those cases, I’d use the rel=publisher tag. The rel=publisher tag is less personal and allows you to establish an identity with your company. That could be through a mascot, a persona, or some generic non-real person.

For instance, you could post articles under the name of your company – as XYZ Corporation, for instance. If you do, use the rel=publisher tag.

I think the Google Authorship guidelines will become more clear with time. As for now, keep it simple and only use the rel=author tag for real people and articles written by real people.

If you’re looking for new ways to build links for your website, try conducting interviews. These can be great ways to build inbound links, which increases your exposure in the search engines.

Here are 5 ways to conduct interviews for link building:

  1. Video interview – Videos are easy. You simply invite the interviewee to a specific location, turn the camera on, and start asking questions (over-simplified, but you get the point). Then, you distribute the video. You can upload the video to YouTube then embed it into a page on your website and share the link to all your social media accounts. The inbound links you’ll get are from people who share the video and link to it from their blogs. This works well for a high profile person in your niche.
  2. Your blog – You could interview someone by phone and transcribe the video onto your blog.
  3. Podcast – Since you’re interviewing by phone, why not just record the interview and share it on your blog or website as an audio file?
  4. Your newsletter – If you have an e-mail newsletter, put your interview in the newsletter as an exclusive. Then advertise that you have interviewed such-and-such in your newsletter. Others in your niche will link to you and drive traffic to your newsletter opt-in page.
  5. Article – If you do a lot of interviews, set up an interview section on your website and run a periodic interview as an article. If you do a good with these, you’ll get people linking to your interviews page.

Interviews can be a great source of content and links. They may be time consuming, but you’ll be glad you made use of that time when you see the rewards.

Google has said that it needs to transition from a search engine to a “knowledge engine.” This is essentially the same thing Bing says it wants to do. I think Google is closer to the goal than Bing, but Google got a head start.

A knowledge engine implies a destination whereas a “search” engine implies a conduit, a place you pass through to get to your destination. That’s an important distinction.

So how does Google plan to transition itself into a knowledge engine? The key to that transition is what they are calling the Knowledge Graph.

The Knowledge Graph is essentially a set of semantic search protocols based on semantic markup. This semantic markup is code you can add to your website to communicate with Google and Bing on what specific types of information exists in each section of your website. But it goes beyond that even.

Where traditional search was based on keywords being matched to queries made by people searching for information, semantic search relies on matching synonyms and concepts with search queries.

Semantic search attempts to eliminate the guesswork by tossing out non-relevant queries with matching keywords. Instead, it tries to judge the searcher’s intent based on previous search data, current session clicks, and other information. Google, and Bing to some extent, have already started retrieving information on these bases. It’s just a matter of time before they perfect it.

The conventional wisdom surrounding e-books as SEO tools pretty much says give it away and people will link to your giveaway page. You’ll acquire a lot of links and you’ll be giving away information that translates into dollars.

Unless, of course, the e-book is no good. Then, you’ll get no links and no dollars.

Is that all there is?

No, not really. There’s more to it than that. You can still receive SEO benefits on an e-book that you sell from your website. If it’s a good book, people will link to it, or at least mention it by name. A good book will always get a recommendation by someone.

There are other ways to drum up some public relations on your e-book, which will lead to additional inbound links and SEO. You could send out a press release. You could also read an excerpt from your book and post it to YouTube. Or you could host a Google+ Hangout. Social media promotion is always a good way to get more publicity for your e-books, and it often results in more inbound links.

Of course, none of this is a guarantee. The first step is quality. Write a quality e-book about a topic that people care about. If you do that, links and SEO will take care of themselves.

We’ve been saying it for over a year now. Google+ impacts search engine listings.

In fact, if you read the article, it says that search results for brand names increased by 10% for Google+ users during the period between January 2012 and May 2013.

The study conducted by dealt only with technology writers, but I’m willing to bet that it applies to any type of writer. I’d be willing to bet that it’s true of any type of content producer – whether you be a writer, a CEO, a middle manager, or a small business owner.

You can compare Google+ to LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter all you want, but the one benefit that Google+ offers that none of the others do is that regular usage increases the search mojo for your brand.

It’s important to note that this is relative to personal brand searches, not generic keyword searches. You should understand the difference.

The importance of Google+ as a personal branding element and a social search tool cannot be overstated. When you use Google+, you are affecting your online brand powerfully. Take advantage of the Google Authorship markup tools available to you and use Google+ for your personal branding efforts. The two go hand in hand.

While reading SEO Theory, I came across this startling paragraph:

As the provider of content you create the keywords people search for. I have said this in oh-so-many ways over the years. This is a particularly important lesson in search marketing for journalists who fear the keyword-laden spreadsheet. No self-respecting SEO should be demanding that journalists write about keywords. Journalists should be taught to understand what the difference is between a keyword and everything else, but the journalists make the keywords — not the readers.

This is in stark contrast to how many SEOs think of keywords and keyword-based content.

That first sentence is a humdinger.

As the provider of content you create the keywords people search for.

You create the keywords? You mean, the keywords aren’t already there? It’s not the SEO who is just tapping into them?

Many SEOs approach content marketing that way, but it’s not necessarily the right way. If you let your readers dictate what your keywords are, then you’ll always be pandering to your readers. If you create your own keywords based on your business philosophy and what’s important to your business, then you can teach searchers to look for your content by teaching them which keywords are important.

This is how leaders in search marketing are made. Think more deeply about what a keyword is and how you employ them. SEO is broader than you think.