Google Penguin Algorithm Update Sends ‘Black & White’ Message

On April 24th, Google rolled out its newest algorithm change to bring higher quality sites to the top of the search results pages. Named Google Penguin, the update targets ‘spammy’ sites or ‘webspam.’

google-penguinBlack, white or grey. Those are the three hats you can wear as an SEO professional. With Panda, and now with the latest algorithm update, Penguin, Google is sending a strong message to steer clear of any grey areas.

Google is trying to ‘level the playing field,’ said Google’s Matt Cutts, head of the search engine’s webspam team. Originally referred to by many in the blogosphere as the over-optimization algorithm change, Cutts has clarified that Google is not targeting search engine optimization (SEO), but webspam. There are still plenty of great ways to do white hat SEO and not be affected. However, companies that have used tactics to try to ‘trick’ the search engines by loading websites with meta data with repeat keywords,  exact-match anchor text links, too-high on-page keyword density, low-quality or irrelevant backlinks and other grey or black methods, have been adversely affected by Google’s algorithm updates in the past. Companies that specifically used black hat tactics to build link profiles just took a hit over the last week from Penguin. Many companies are going to have to reinvent their online marketing strategy and get more creative. That’s just what Google wants – more competitive, quality materials for its users to find.

Penguin initially knocked down lots of sites that didn’t deserve to be ranking on page one or two, but has also affected some more reputable sites that didn’t believe they were creating ‘spammy’ material. Since then, it appears that some of those quality sites recovered as Google adjusted the algorithm. Here are some tips to avoid this penalty (or fix it if you’ve been hit):

  1. Don’t use 100s of exact match anchor text to build back links to your site. Make sure anchor text is natural and diverse.
  2. Don’t play in bad neighborhoods. Make sure not to get links from sites flagged for spam. Be extra careful when building your link profiles and go back through and remove any links only if you can for certain tell that they are hurting your SEO.
  3. Do create great content and get involved in social sharing. Get a hold of some experts at your client’s company. Get them to write guest posts that are interesting and share-able. Create a blog, along with an editorial calendar of relevant topics. Use keyword tools to find out what people are looking for and give them the answers! Tweet your content and post to Facebook! Use bitly urls to track the amount of traffic coming to your site from this new content. You’ll soon see its powerful effect. And you’ll earn great back links in the process.
  4. Don’t submit your site to 1000s of low quality directories, while ignoring higher authority links from pages with Page Rank.

Good luck and happy SEOing.

SEO Experiment – Success With An Interactive Form

I would say that 99% of website forms aren’t interactive. You plug in your name and email, and the site returns a thank-you message saying “we will be in touch.” Bleh. The user gives away all their information and gets nothing in return.

Make the forms not just useful to you, but interesting to the user.

I helped to create a form on a vacation rental site that produced real results. The original button just said “Request a Quote.” We changed the button to ask the for the number of guests too. The form doesn’t let you hit the “Request a Quote” button until you fist enter in the number of guests.

Depending on the number of guests indicated, the form returns different recommendations of vacation villas appropriate in size for the number of people you plan on bringing with you! It also lets you know the different costs for different villas at particular seasons throughout the year.

One customer got on the site and started plugging in different numbers of guests. They played around with the tool for about 30 minutes. Afterward, the customer called the property manager and booked the vacation rental!

The property manager was already aware of this individual’s needs because he designed the form to notify him when anyone clicks “Request a Quote” and provide the number of guests they indicated.

The form basically provided a no-obligation (to the user) method to increase user interaction. Users are more hesitant to enter in an email and name that can be used to spam them. But asking how many guests they plan on having stay in the vacation property provides the website administrator with just enough info and is less intrusive.

Advantages of Requiring The Field to Be Filled In To Request a Quote:

  • Increases user interaction and interest.
  • Provides instant reward (eg. tailored recommendation/pricing) in exchange for a little bit of non-intrusive information (number of guests).
  • Actually useful for the user in planning the trip.



Faster Form Filling Using AutoFill

Two posts ago, I wrote about the importance of streamlining online checkout in relation to conversion rates. In that post, I advised not to force the buyer to fill out too many unnecessary forms.

Forms are a great way to log information about who is visiting your site, but they can also be a turn off for buyers looking to quickly check out and be on with their lives. The result? They leave your site before buying.

Google’s Webmaster Central Blog acknowledged this problem in January, when it introduced Google Chrome’s Autofill. Google called filling in forms over and over again with similar information “one of the biggest bottlenecks on any conversion funnel.”

Google has come up with one solution to help you speed up this process for your buyers. Chrome’s AutoFill, allows you to keep the valuable information from the forms and (hopefully) still make your sell.

The new “auto-complete type” attribute for form fields lets you manually label ‘text’ and ‘select’ fields with common data types such as “city” “name” or “street address.” There’s no need to change the user interface or the backend to use this attribute.

If you still have several forms on your website, mark them for auto-completion using this new attribute.



What Kind of Content is King?

In the world of SEO, it is often said that “Content is King.”

This is oh-so true, but many SEO writers have developed a bad habit of writing primarily for the search engines. With so many tricks and strategies out there for jumping your site straight to the top, it’s easy to slip into this routine.

The best website content effortlessly weaves keywords into useful and interesting content. If you find yourself stumbling through sentences and tripping over awkwardly-placed keywords, you’ve probably over-optimized your site. If you are able to read an article beginning to end without noticing it has been optimized, you’ve probably found the Search Engine/Site Viewer content sweet spot.

Don’t try to force content. If you aren’t the best writer and there’s not much new for your site, try rewriting what you already have using your keyword analysis. Your hidden meta tags will also give your page an SEO boost without pushing away your readers.

However, it’s important to remember that a Google Algorithm Change in 2011 increased the impact of the “freshness” of queries three-fold. That means that recent and new content can significantly impact your rankings for certain queries. Always be thinking of opportunities to create new content for your site. Anything new or interesting that is going on with your business should immediately be turned into a piece of news to go on your website. Did you reach a certain goal? Win an award? Start offering a new product? If so, write some new content to go in the ”News” section of your site.

SEO Conversion Rates and The Importance of Streamlining Online Checkout

Let’s pretend your website sells young and fun clothing for 20-something women. Picture your buyer. She’s probably visiting your site on her laptop while sitting on the couch sipping coffee. In 20 minutes she needs to get out the door and pick up her youngest from school. And she’s visiting your site for convenience. So let’s make it all the more convenient for her to buy.

Here are a few SEO tips for increasing your conversion rates online.

Your website conversion rate = number of visitors who buy / number of total visitors

  • Keep Your “Buy” Button Highly Visible – Bottom line is that every single one of the pages on your site should have a highly visible button linking to a page where your visitor can buy your product. This button should be in a bright color, a color that contrasts with the rest of your color scheme, have a bold border, or have some other eye-catching aesthetic. The button should also be located before the fold, the point on a web page where text cuts off and you must scroll down to see more.  
  • Choose “Buy” Button Text Wisely – Beware that your “buy” button text can ward off potential buyers. For example, I once was speaking to a client who had a “Book It!” button on every page for a website for a vacation rental property. This button could ward off visitors not quite ready to book the house, but interested in the pricing. Better language for this feature would be ”Get a Quote For Your Stay,” “Get a Rental Quote,” or “Check Pricing.” 
  •  Avoid Forcing Visitors to Create an Account or Sign Up In Order to Buy – Have you ever immediately left a site just because you didn’t want to have to create an account? Chances are your buyers have too. Forcing the buyer to enter in too much information allows time for him or her to think twice about buying your product. Check them out first. Then offer a page where they can sign up for future deals or save their information for future use.
  • Make Your Check Out Process User-Friendly – Congrats! Your visitor has hit the checkout button. But don’t celebrate just yet; you can still lose the sell. Try to use as few pages as possible for your checkout process and don’t ask for too much information. Again, the idea is to close the sell before the buyer gets frustrated and wants to leave the page. For example, I’ve been on sites that for some reason don’t seem to recognize my primary email as being valid (most likely because it is just my first and last name without any spaces or underscores). When I try to fill out the form, it rejects my email in the form field and asks me to re-enter it. At this point, I’m so frustrated that I can’t get to the next stage of the checkout process that I just leave the page and never complete my purchase. The biggest problem here is of course that the site only need my mailing address, not my email address, to ship the order.
  • Make Return Policies Visible - Online buyers are wary of scam sites. Make sure to let your buyers know that they can return their purchase if it arrives damaged, or just isn’t the way it looked in the online picture. Keep your return policy visible on the check-out pages. This will increase buyer trust by letting them know you are a legitimate vendor. Perhaps include a testimonial or two from former customers about how they easily exchanged their jeans when they didn’t fit or how the product was shipped quickly and was as-advertised. Also show a phone number, e-mail address and physical address so that your buyer will feel like they can contant you if needed.

Your website could have an absolutely gorgeous design, but if it’s difficult for visitors to buy your product, that beautiful site won’t serve its intended purpose! If you have any other SEO conversion tips or idea, feel free to share them below!

Feel Free To Drink The Link Juice

Link Juice is one of the most important parts of SEO strategy today. Though we don’t know everything about how Google’s web crawlers work, we do know that the algorithm considers the type and amount of sites linking back to yours. 

Google considers the combinations of sites linking to both you and your competitor sites to then determine your rank within the search engine for particular keywords or locations.

The Keyword Academy has a nice chart that demonstrates this concept.

It is important that you determine which keywords you would like to use using Google Analytics or other website analysis software before trying to optimize your site for backlinks. If you are not a major player in your field, you might opt to go for the “bottom half” of your keyword ladder. This means that you choose the terms that fewer people are using to get to your site. However, these terms often convert, or turn a website visit into an online sale, better because they target buyers needing a more specific product.

For example, if you sold ice cream, instead of optimizing your site for the keyword “ice cream” you might instead use “organic ice cream” or “preservative-free ice cream” or whatever keywords came up in your keyword analysis. If you were renting a site for a beachhouse on the coast of North Carolina, you might not want to use the keyword “vacation rental North Carolina” because you will be competing with companies with the resources to spend $1,000s per month on SEO strategy. Instead, if your rental property is somewhere near a great canoeing spot, you might optimize your site for the serach term “North Carolina vacation rentals canoeing.”

Please note that these are just sample keywords. It is very important to first do your keyword analysis before trying to optimize your site! Why? Because you might not think like your buyers think. It is important to know which words potential clients are most likely to use, not which words you guessed they might use.

Some SEO strategists provide you with artificial link juice, by creating fake websites loaded with keyword content that link back to your site. But this isn’t the best way to increase your online presence. One way is to ask your past clients to link to your site, even friends or family members. Also, you can host online forums or pariticpate in forums in online communities interested in your product. This will increase your online presence and hopefully afford you more opportunities to get others to believe in your product and link to your site. It is also important to produce interesting and new content on a daily basis. A great way to do this is by starting a blog. If your blog posts are interesting enough to your field’s online community, you will eventually develop a greater readership, meaning more links to your content.

Getting real link juice will direct people to your site who are more likely to buy your product. For example, let’s consider the organic ice cream business again. Perhaps there is a local foodie group in your town that has a website or a recipe sharing forum online. You decide to participate in these online communities and as a result get more from these users on their own personal blogs. You then start your own blog about organic farming processes or the latest topics in organic food. The readers coming to your site are likely to be interested in your product before ever arriving there, and therefore, are more likely to buy it.