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Webmaster Academy is a school run by Google designed to help new webmasters learn how to build an effective website and get it indexed in the world’s largest search engine. It’s a useful course, but I wouldn’t expect to learn everything there is to know about building a website if I were you.

The three newest modules in the academy are:

  • How to make a great site that is valuable to your audience
  • How Google sees your website
  • How to communicate with Google about your website

All of this is useful information to new webmasters, but there is more to building a website than making it look pretty and getting it indexed in the search engines (although, both of those are good places to start).

You also need to concern yourself with accuracy of content, navigational issues, whether or not your site is accessible to mobile phones, and the importance of keeping it updated. That’s just to name a few of the important details webmasters should concern themselves with on every new website.

It’s a lot harder to build an effective website than it used to be. There is a lot more to think about. I wouldn’t trust it to an amateur.

To learn more about how to build an effective website, visit http://www.reciprocalconsulting.com/web-design.php.

At Moz, Cyrus Shepard shares 12 powerful ways to optimize for Google traffic without building links. It’s a great list, but I’d like to focus on just 5 of those optimization tactics and show you how you can put them to good use in simple ways.

  1. In-depth articles – You don’t have to be a news publisher to take advantage of this markup, but you should take a cue from popular news websites like Huffington Post and the New York Times. Use pagination, Google Authorship, canonicalization, and paywalls more effectively.
  2. Rich snippets - Google is adding more and more rich snippets all the time. You can use them for reviews, videos, events, books, articles, and much more. This is advanced SEO.
  3. Google Authorship – Google Authorship means having your photo appear in search results, which gives you a higher authority rating and potentially more click-throughs for your content.
  4. Local SEO – Cyrus Shepard mentions internationalized SEO, which is great, but what about local SEO? If you’re a local business, then you want to drill down.
  5. Social annotations – Simply sharing your content on Google+ is enough to increase your SEO potential. Your content will show up in more search results, even among people who are not in your network, but it will definitely appear at the top of the search results for people who are in your Google+ network.

Implementing these tactics won’t necessarily increase your search engine results or get you more traffic, but not implementing them will definitely hold you back.

Get more information on the best SEO tactics at http://reciprocalconsulting.com.

Google Labs inside Webmaster Tools is an experimental section that allows Google to test new products before unleashing them on the public. Did you know you can check your Google Authorshipstats inside Google Webmaster Tools?

Sign in to your Google Webmaster Tools account. On the left side of the page you’ll see a link labeled Labs. Click that and you’ll see a dropdown with Author Stats. Click that.

Inside the Author Stats section of Google Labs you can get a glimpse of the pages you have authored around the web, both those on your website and those that are off-site. You can see a limited number of stats on those pages, as well.

To begin with, the overview consists of the number of pages you have authored, the number cumulative page impressions your pages have received in the last 30 days, and the number of clicks. When you scroll down you’ll get an overview of each page.

The stats you can check for each page you have authored include:

  • Number of page impressions
  • Number of clicks
  • Click-through rate
  • Average search engine position

This is all useful information, especially if you do a lot of guest blogging, which you should.

I hope this experiment continues and that Google rolls it out as a real product. I’d like to be able to track my authorship stats around the Web. Wouldn’t you?

Affiliate marketing icon Sugarrae posted a rant knocking Google and Matt Cutts off their conjoined high horse. Near the end of her post is this brilliant little gem:

From here on out, you work on generating traffic. From here on out, you work on generating branding. From here on out, you work on obtaining customers.

There’s more. You’ll have to excuse the profanity, but you should read the post. I’ll add this caveat:

This is really nothing new.

Your job has always been to build traffic and brand. That hasn’t really changed. The problem is, many online marketers got away from the real goal and started focusing on search engine rankings. Rankings are nice, but they’re not an end in themselves. They’re not the end goal. They are a means to an end.

With personalized search, Google+, and other late great algorithm changes, you can’t predict search rankings.

You might have a page rank #1 for a search phrase only to later in the day rank #10 for the same search phrase. There are a number of reasons for this. One reason is because different searchers have different search profiles and Google is tracking them. You can’t control that. That’s why you shouldn’t focus too heavily on ranking in Google.

Online marketers now have a lot of reasonable avenues for attracting new traffic to their websites. You have:

  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Bing
  • Niche websites

And more!

Focus on building your brand and traffic through a variety of online promotional means. If you do that, rankings will take care of themselves – as long as you don’t get too spammy.

If you run frequent social media campaigns, you will undoubtedly use certain applications to assist you with posting messages. There are quite a few of them out there. The purpose of this blog post isn’t to discuss the merits of those applications or compare them. What we’d like to discuss today is whether or not it is prudent to pre-schedule your social media messages.

Some of the applications you can use allow you to pre-schedule your social media messages on the various social media sites.

Hootsuite, for instance, will allow you to pre-schedule messages on Facebook and Twitter, but you can’t pre-schedule on Google+. Do Share is a Google Chrome application that allows you to pre-schedule messages for Google+, but you have to be logged in for those messages to actually post.

Despite these drawbacks, there are benefits to pre-scheduling. First and foremost is time management. By pre-writing and pre-scheduling your messages, you can save time. Write your messages in advance and schedule them to post when you want them to.

I’d be careful to rely on this method too much. You still want to interact with your audience, retweet and re-share posts on the various social media sites you participate on. You want your presence to be personal and approachable if not spontaneous. Still, pre-scheduling some of your messages – those that are not necessarily timely or that are easy to write and can be posted at any time – can benefit you in the long run.

Our recommendation: Pre-schedule certain posts that you can share at any time without detriment. More timely messages should be posted when prudent for your business and your audience.

Search Engine Journal explains really well why you might be losing traffic to Google if you fall into a certain website classification. But it’s been our experience that even new websites aren’t getting as much direct traffic from Google as they used to. And that includes websites where Google is not providing direct information.

Nevermind why this is happening. The truth is, you can’t do anything about it. Except one thing: Seek alternative sources of traffic.

Now, more than ever, it is very important to seek website traffic from other sources. But what sources should you consider? Here are three specific sources I’d recommend for getting more website traffic besides Google search:

  1. Guest blogging – Much has been said about guest blogging. I won’t harp on the benefits. One thing is for sure, however. If you guest blog correctly, you’ll get more traffic to your website. Start with blogging on sites within your niche or that target the same audience you do.
  2. Social media – Google can’t control Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites. If you’re more active on these sites, you’ll drive more traffic to your website. You may also appear in Google search more for your brand name, which is a huge benefit. By the way, Google+ is included in this category, and you should know that Google+ is counted as a separate referrer channel in most analytics packages than Google search.
  3. Paid advertising - Google wants your money. They want you to advertise with PPC. That’s why they’ve made certain changes like (keyword not provided). Don’t get upset about it. PPC is a good traffic generator. Use it wisely.

I know what you’re thinking. PPC costs money, and that’s true. If you want a less expensive alternative, spend some time on social media. It’s growing in its payoff benefits.

Google Trends is a fun way to find new opportunities for keywords and subjects to blog or write about. If you’re not using it in your research, you might want to give it a go. According to Google, they’re beginning to improve the tool with a beta.

In other words, they’re incorporating some changes to deal with ambiguity in searches and search comparisons.

For instance, to use their own example, if you want to compare search trends for Rice University and Harvard University, then you need to narrow your search to beyond “rice.” Otherwise, you might get skewed results as Google will include trends for the tiny white food that some people say isn’t real food. That’s not what you want.

There are countless other examples where this kind of ambiguity can play out. Searching for celebrities or place names could pose a problem as previously Google Trends wouldn’t include misspellings. Now, it does.

Also, alternative search terms may be included in your findings when you use the search tool. That would be a useful feature too – if you could exclude the alternate search terms at will.

I think we should all spend about half an hour playing around with Google Trends this afternoon. Then, you can get back to work and produce more of your fantastic content based on your findings.

A few years ago, if you’d have asked anyone doing any kind of Internet marketing at all what their No. 1 referrer was, the answer would have been overwhelmingly “Google.” In fact, Google accounted for about 90% of all website traffic at one time. Today, that number is reduced drastically.

If 60% of your traffic is coming from Google today, then you’re doing well. Chances are, however, that you’re getting the bulk of your website traffic from other sources.

But what are those other sources?

For many website owners, those sources include:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • YouTube
  • Craigslist
  • Third-party niche websites
  • LinkedIn
  • Pinterest
  • Google+

See a trend?

For many website owners, social media has risen to be the No. 1 referrer of traffic. If you are active on several social media sites, then you may have noticed that too. But more often than not, it’s not just one social media website that is referring traffic. It’s several sites delivering a portion of the traffic each.

In that climate, Google may still be your No. 1 referrer, but it isn’t a majority referrer. In other words, they may refer more traffic to your site than any other website but not above 50% of your total traffic. If you do get more than 50% of your traffic from any one source, then you’ve got a gold mine.

This is important to note for several reasons. You should put your money where your traffic is, and where your conversions are.

In other words, if your No. 1 traffic referrer is Facebook, no matter what the percentage is, then focus on converting that traffic to sales. If Facebook is your No. 1 traffic source but most of your conversions come from Twitter, then spend a little more time on Twitter. But don’t neglect Facebook! Instead, try to figure out how to turn Facebook traffic into sales.

It’s an age-old strategy. Put your investment where your payoff is. Re-invest in your biggest moneymaker and you’ll see your ROI go up.

Google is getting more sophisticated in the way that they allow webmasters to track and measure website traffic. The new analytics is referred to as Universal Analytics.

Universal Analytics is centered around four specific and key areas of measurement:

  • Organic search traffic – Universal Analytics allows you to designate which search engines are more significant to your measurement goals. You can remove search engines from your list and prioritize those that are on your list.
  • Session and campaign timeout – The default is 30 minutes for sessions and 6 months for campaigns, but Universal Analytics allows you to change those parameters based on your cookies and website policies.
  • Referral exclusions – Referral traffic is an important metric for any website. By being allowed to exclude certain referral sources you can get a truer picture of your session timeout data. Learn more about how this works here.
  • Search term exclusions - You can exclude search terms that people use to find your website and when you do Universal Analytics will count that traffic as Direct Traffic.

Universal Analytics gives you more control over how you measure traffic information related to your website, but it also means spending more time playing with the controls that measure these statistics.

If you need help figuring out Universal Analytics, talk to a search engine marketing specialist about how to incorporate it into your business.

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?

Search Engine Journal comments on a video by Matt Cutts wherein he recommends three things specifically about metatag descriptions:

  • Write unique metatag descriptions for “pages that really matter”
  • Let Google auto-generate metatag descriptions for other pages
  • Absolutely DO NOT allow duplicate metatag descriptions for any of the pages on your website

This advice coincides perfectly with our own experience. We prefer metatag descriptions for most pages, but there are definitely times when you should let Google generate metatag descriptions.

For instance, when you have several web pages that are close to the same but not quite – an example would be an online dictionary of niche terms organized by alphabet where each letter of the alphabet has a separate page – then you might not want to write a metatag description. The last thing you want is 26 metatag descriptions that read something like

Glossary of terms for _____________, letter A.

where the only difference is the actual letter. In this case, you’d essentially have 26 duplicate metatag descriptions with one small variation. Even if you rewrite this description, there are only so many ways to say the same thing. Your best bet is to let Google generate the search snippet based on the user’s query.

When it comes to long web pages with a lot of information on them, especially web pages where you might have several subheadings, you want to write your own metatag description.

Still, even if you write your own metatag description, there is a good chance that Google will replace it with a search snippet customized to a searcher’s query. There’s nothing wrong with that so don’t be alarmed if you see it. But if you are targeting your long-copy web page toward one or two keywords or phrases, then you can write a metatag description that targets those words or phrases. That can benefit you.

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?

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.

Bill Slawski has an excellent post this morning on Hummingbird and Authorship. What it boils down to is short text, or social messages.

If you’re one of those people who has developed a habit of sharing links on social media but not including any context for those links by adding helpful commentary so your fans and followers can understand the importance of the link, then you probably aren’t doing yourself any favors. You should start adding more to your social messages.

I’m not saying you should write a book. Twitter only gives you 140 characters, but those 140 characters are very important.

In a word, they add context to your links. But that’s true of your messages on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ too. What you say about the links you post can determine an awful lot about what you think of that link. In the case of Google+, it could also determine your authority on the topics you post about. Google knows what those topics are based on your social messages – or short text.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say you post a link to a how-to on changing the oil in a Mercedes. If you are a Mercedes auto mechanic, then that’s a link that is right in line with your expertise. But how will Google know that if all you post is a link. One paragraph of text explaining that the article is a must-read for anyone who owns a Mercedes helps Google associated the keyword “Mercedes” with your name and reputation. Do that enough times and Google will learn to associate your name with “Mercedes” all the time.

One post here and there isn’t much, but long term, a habit of turning your links into short commentary will give you a boost in authority.

It appears that Google passed the biggest update since 2010′s Caffeine a month ago. Did you notice? That’s OK. Most of us didn’t.

But it’s being talked about all over the Web.

The change seems to be in honor of its 15th birthday and took place in a private meeting evidently with some of the world’s top journalists yesterday. But what does this new algorithm update mean for us content marketers?

Google’s Inside Search blog gives us a clue.

Hummingbird is designed to make extensive use of Google’s Knowledge Graph. That’s great. I was wondering when they’d get around to actually doing something with that. Remember, the Knowledge Graph was introduced last year?

So the idea is this … you want to know something. Instead of typing in a keyword phrase to get information on a particular topic, you simply ask a question. One example Amit Singhal gives is, “How much saturated fat is in butter versus olive oil?” Just ask Google to compare them. Instant answer.

I have a feeling that this is in its primitive form and nowhere near perfect, but let’s try it out. Here are a few more examples:

Obviously, it doesn’t work for every search, but how can search marketers use this information to create better content? Start by ensuring that your content is designed to answer a single query. Write intelligent natural language content rather than keyword-based content searchers can find anywhere.

Lead your niche in high quality content that answers searchers’ questions and you’ll have a leg up.

Online marketers are infatuated with an alleged war taking place between Google+ and Facebook. An article at LinkedIn claims that Google+ is sneaking up on Facebook, but this could only happen if the two are competing or at direct odds with each other.

The folks at Google+ have claimed that they are not competing with Facebook. In a sense, I think they’re right.

Google+ is a bit of a social network, but it’s not JUST a social network. It’s also a content organization platform. Google wants you to integrate Google+ into your total online experience. That includes being social.

However, in a real sense, it is Google that is competing with Facebook. Both properties are competing for your advertising dollars. Google+ doesn’t display advertising, so you can’t say it’s about Google+. Google displays ads on its search results pages. That’s where the real competition is taking place.

That said, it might be worth discussing how Google+ influences the SERPs.

I have noticed that they do influence brand searches. That is, your personal profile does rise higher in the search results when people search your name if you are active on Google+. Of course, you could say the same thing of Facebook, Quora, Twitter and other social networks. The more active you are the more your profiles will rise in the search results.

Google+ is making good improvements. I’m looking forward to seeing more. But as to whether they beat Facebook or Facebook beats them, does it really matter?

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?

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.

Jeremy Page shares his insights into marketing on Instagram in only five minutes a day at Search Engine Journal. More interesting to me is that his strategy uses hashtags.

Hashtags have become a de facto social media organizing tool. They started on Twitter. You can even search Twitter hashtags at Hashtags.org.

Over the past year, hashtags have become regular use on Google+, Facebook, and Instagram.

While this doesn’t exactly spell ubiquity, it does say something about the growing popularity of hashtags. It’s entirely possible that hashtags could become the Internet’s social organizational tool and may even be indexed through a dedicated search channel in the search engines. Just as Google has search channels for News, Blogs, Videos, and other verticals, it’s possible that search engines could develop a vertical for hashtags.

I’m not saying that will happen, but it could. Hashtags are becoming, more and more, a way for people to catalog their information and a way for them to follow and find information that is important to a large cross-section of people with something in common.

How do you use hashtags? Are they important to you? Do you use the same hashtags across several social media platforms or do you create unique hashtags for each platform? What are your thoughts about the future of hashtags?