The MyBlogGuest Penalty: What It Means for You

Matt Cutts, the head of the Webspam Team at Google, has spent a lot of time the past couple years gunning for link networks, sites that exist solely to manipulate search engine rankings. But Cutts’ crusade isn’t stopping with penalizing the link networks, which are considered a seedy practice by most search engine optimization companies. Cutts recently struck at a different sort of network: the leading guest blogging platform, called MyBlogGuest.

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The community had been a haven for SEO specialists and bloggers where they could upload content they had written and field offers from bloggers to publish those posts. While participants were required to pay a fee to upload content, it was by no means a textbook link network or even a paid link scheme, in the traditional sense. It served to connect content providers with bloggers.

Google’s decision to penalize MyBlogGuest appears to have hurt many legitimate sites that accepted or benefitted from the site’s links. The search giant’s action is yet another reminder that there are no shortcuts in search engine optimization. Links must be high quality, and any outbound links should be carefully considered. Here’s what the takedown of MyBlogGuest means for business owners and webmasters.

Expanding Their Target Zone

Google has been going after link networks for some time, with Cutts leading that charge. For years, what mattered to Google in determining its search rankings was the quantity of links that a business received on the web. But the past several years, Google has become more focused on the quality of those links, and it’s begun punishing sites that essentially serve as an artificial ranking inflation service, putting up nothing but low-quality posts full of links to shady SEO company’s clients.

Google even reconfigured its search algorithm last year to value high-quality links over low ones, and every minute it’s working toward rooting out the link networks that, it argues, devalue legitimate mentions of businesses that should be determining which sites come up first in a search. For instance, if you’re looking for a plumber, the listings that comes up first should be those with good reviews and a great track record of success, not the one that paid the most for its SEO program. In essence it boils down to this: Google doesn’t want to run a popularity contest; it wants to run a talent contest.

Real Problem or PR Scheme?

Many businesses have employed these SEO tactics simply because it was the only way to keep up with the Joneses, so to speak. With other companies employing link networks and seeing their search rankings soar, their competitors had little choice but to do the same. Once Google decided this was no longer a legitimate approach, these companies had to look for a new way to get their business out there, and MyBlogGuest seemed to be a happy compromise: A more straightforward approach to guest blogging.

After Cutts teased the penalty against the site, MyBlogGuest’s Ann Smarty took an interesting approach. She accused Google of targeting the site not because it poses any real threat to Google’s preferred way of search optimizing but rather to put fear into other sites. As she told Search Engine Journal: “Matt Cutts is using us for the PR game: To get more people scared. We are the hugest guest blogging brand out there: He could not have got more publicity by hitting anyone else.” Others agreed:

It’s an intriguing accusation. Certainly Google did get a ton of attention for going after MyBlogGuest, because it was a departure from the link networks it’s been targeting of late. It could be that, after months of laying out the same types of sites, Google wanted to generate headlines by going after a site considered more “legitimate.” And if that was its aim, it seems to have worked. People are now questioning what is and what isn’t considered a Google-acceptable form of search engine optimization, and they are worried about ticking off the powerful company by using even white-hat tactics that have become commonplace.

Learning Google’s Lessons

Confusing as the MyBlogGuest penalty may seem, there are some lessons to be gleaned from it, and here’s the most important one: Don’t try to cut corners. The smartest SEOs know that in the end, the only thing that will fuel a sustained traffic supply and ultimately, conversions, for their clients is using proven, Google-approved tactics that don’t put your client in any danger of penalty.

Here are a few things you can pursue without worry:

  • Focus on a human audience. Don’t worry about search engines and search engine optimization all the time. Think about how your copy reads and whether it will resonate with real people, rather than trying to get it picked up by the search bots. It’s still possible in this day and age to build strong traffic based on word of mouth.
  • Value quality over quantity. Invest in content marketing, secure in the belief that smart, useful information will help your business more than tossing a few keywords onto a site that may or may not be run by a legitimate blogger. For instance, a motorcycle lawyer might start a blog with news of interest to bikers, not simply promoting his business but providing a real service to riders.
  • Target smart keywords. Ethical SEO does not mean abandoning all search tricks; it simply means targeting the right ones. Have a few keywords that you target throughout your site for consistency’s sake, and use them in all your branded content. But make sure you’re not speaking “search-ese” (i.e., talking like a human Google search). That doesn’t read well on the page.
  • Pursue legitimate guest posts. There’s a reason why link networks thrived. The idea behind them, pumping up the number of links to your page, worked. But don’t use a link network to distribute your guest posts. Be selective and hook up with high-quality blogs that you’re proud to see your name associated with. Always be straightforward and honest in all your dealings.

As Google seems intent on teaching us, your mother was right. Honesty is the best policy, whether you’re in kindergarten or trying to generate more page views on the web.

Top 7 SEO Tactics in a Post-Penguin 2.0 Era

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Being the top dog in the search engine realm, Google has the luxury of essentially dictating the state of the SEO industry. Whenever they decide to tweak their algorithm via updates like Panda, Penguin and Penguin 2.0, this heavily impacts which tactics are effective and which ones become defunct. To achieve favorable rankings and maintain them, it’s more important than ever to build your SEO strategy according to what Google wants in today’s post-Penguin 2.0 era. Here’s what’s working in 2013.

1. Create and Publish Awesome Content

Perhaps the best way to future-proof your rankings is by creating valuable content, and publishing that content to your website regularly. A few years ago, cheap tactics like article spinning, duplicate content and keyword stuffing could make a site rise to the top of the rankings. Now, these are considered black hat tactics that often lead to websites getting penalized. Emphasizing quality, and originality should put you on the right track and help maintain solid rankings, regardless of Google’s next move.

2. Cater to the Mobile Crowd

It should come as no surprise that smartphones and tablets are huge these days. A report from Marketing Land stated that “nearly 40 percent of Internet time is now being spent on mobile devices.” Understanding and basing your SEO efforts around this trend is important in 2013 and is likely to be a necessity in the coming years. One way to accommodate mobile users is to keep your website’s layout simple, and not overload it with excessive content.

Utilizing responsive web design is an ideal way to ensure a great experience on a variety of mobile devices as well as PCs, because it makes content easily viewable regardless of the screen size. Testing your site across a few devices should also help point out any issues that need to addressed.

3. Avoid Link Spam

Another strategy that worked not long ago but can now wreak havoc on your rankings is black-hat link building. Anything created solely for the purpose of acquiring a link is likely to be seen as spam and can end up hurting your rankings. That’s why it’s so important to clean up your backlinks by removing anything that could be deemed as spam.

4. Maintain Proper Sitemaps

Making it as simple as possible for search engines to index your content is crucial. Installing a sitemap is an excellent way to streamline this process, because it acts as a shortcut for indexing, allowing search engines to more quickly and easily find and index your content.

5. Use Safe Anchor Text

Not too long ago, it was popular to use exact-match anchor text for backlinks. This tactic worked, but it was an easy way for Google to identify unnaturally-obtained links. Google now sees this practice as a way to manipulate the rankings. Consequently, many sites have been penalized for an excessive amount of exact-match anchor text, which must now be avoided. Instead, diversify your anchor text so that it looks natural.

6. Publish Across a Variety of Media

While traditional text-based content still has value, integrating other forms of media like images, videos and audio can be helpful. Since you can add filenames and alt tags, this provides search engines with even more information to properly index content. Besides this, a variety of media should enhance the reader experience and increase the likelihood that content gets shared. Whether it’s a blog post or an email newsletter, peppering in one or more additional forms of media should provide a boost.

7. Engage in Social Sharing

People share the content they love through social media. Due to the massive volume of users on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc., it’s a convenient way for people to spread news and ideas. Capitalizing on this trend by installing social share buttons to your site can mean substantial exposure while improving search results at the same time.

By making it quick and easy for people to share your content on their favorite network, this can help it circulate over the web, reaching new audiences. Since Google’s entire aim is to provide its users with valuable and relevant content, the number of social shares that content receives is a terrific benchmark for quality and usefulness. For instance, a blog post that receives thousands of shares means that plenty of people find it entertaining or useful. Consequently, the more social shares you receive, the better odds you have of climbing the rankings.


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How to Compete with the Big Brands for SEO Rankings

Big Brands and SEOIf you’re a smaller business and competing in an industry with big brands that perpetually dominate the search results, it can be tough. At times, you probably get frustrated and simply feel like you’ve been run over. No matter what you do, you feel like you can’t break through to gain the recognition you deserve.

Google has a reputation for preferring the big boys, and their brands seem to always appear at the top of the search results. It makes some sense, though. These are trusted brands that many customers as well as the search engines feel confident about.

So what can you do?

Plenty, actually. You’re not alone, and you DO stand a chance of winning some games in the big leagues. You just have to adjust your way of thinking and use the right tools. Here are a few ways that you can improve your playing strategy.

Focus on Branding

Stop spending so much time trying to research keywords and rank specifically for them. That’s always going to be a part of SEO, but we’re talking about stepping onto a much broader playing field—one whose boundaries don’t stay within the realm of SEO.

Get Visual

The way you convey your brand through visuals is important. It’s the first thing that registers in peoples’ minds. Before they read a single sentence, the colors and the overall feel of your logo and website have already made a statement.

Your logo should represent what you stand for. The color scheme should do the same. Your color scheme plays a big role in your branding. I’m sure you are aware that certain colors tend to evoke certain emotions. Did you know that there are also good color combinations and bad ones? Here are a few sources to help you out with that:

This doesn’t have to be an expensive proposition. It’s easy to find freelance designers who are very affordable. Once your designs, colors, and logo are ready to go, it’s time to bring in the copywriter. At this stage, you have to develop an original, catchy set of slogans, taglines, and other messages.

Brand Keywords & Steering Clear of Extremely Competitive Keywords

Let’s say that you run a store for dog toys. Instead of focusing all your content, titles, and keywords around “dog leashes” and “puppy chew toys,” switch to more brand-related keywords. If your store’s name is Zippy’s, for example, then use “Zippy’s dog leash sale” and the like.

Of course, you still want to include some generic keywords that people often search for; but don’t try to compete with PetCo and other big brands for the most common and obvious one- or two-word phrases. Instead, shoot for long-tail keywords. You’ll stand a much better chance at ranking for them.

Be Persistent

Branding is about consistency and making sure that consumers think of you when they need your product or service. At the very first glance, they should recognize that an ad, a sale, or even an email is yours. Everything that you do should reflect your brand. Anything you do on social media should include it—your emails, your ads, your website. Everything.

Get Local

If you’re a business that serves your local area, then you need to be concerned about and use local SEO to your advantage. If you do it right, you can generate an extensive amount of business.

Big brands might dominate most of the top search results. But in many cases, Google will place local results at the top for a lot of searches that people perform. Local, dedicated server hosting is one way to match what the big brands are doing if you want to compete for local search results. An entire book could be written around local SEO, so it would be a bit much to try to cover it all here. However, this guide to local SEO will get you geared up and ready to go.

Find Your USP & Get Creative

One of the best things you can do is to sit down and figure out what makes you different from the big boys. What do you have to offer that they don’t? That’s your unique selling point (USP), and it’s something that can set you apart and reward you with loyal customers.

Once you know what your USP is, get creative about letting people know about it. I actually found out about a company called Dollar Shave Club while reading a blog on branding. This company nailed it, and they figured out how to let the world know! Just check out their video below:

Sure, Dollar Shave is competing with some very huge companies and brands. But they deliver what seems to be an amazing service, with a high-quality product that those big companies don’t have. They found their USP and they definitely got creative; they weren’t afraid to step outside the box. This video was uploaded merely a year ago and has received more than 9 MILLION views.

Don’t Forget Social Media

Social media can be a powerful tool for smaller businesses. It gives you the chance to do many things. You can put yourself on an almost-level playing field here: engage customers, run contests, and get attention just like anyone else.

One place in particular that will probably become a powerhouse for local businesses is Facebook Graph Search. If you aren’t active on Facebook, now is the time to start!

Image Credit: Shutterstock / iQoncept

Google Panda Update: 24th Data Refresh Rolling Out

 

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Yesterday, Google announced that a new Panda data refresh affecting 1.2% of English queries. This is the 24th refresh of the Google Panda update, and for those of you who don’t know what Panda is, let me give you some brief information on the Panda update.

What the Panda?

Google Panda is a change to the search engine’s ranking algorithm. The initial change took place in February 2011. This Panda update is aimed to give more credit to high quality sites by increasing their rank in the search engine and lower the rank of sites that have low quality or sites with thin content. Google places a huge amount of focus on (and rightfully so) making the user experience a positive one.

So What Can You Do?

As a website owner or online marketer, there are 23 things Google says you should ask yourself when looking at or improving your site to benefit search rankings. These questions will help you analyze your site better and help you find opportunities for improvement.

These 23 questions are:

  1. Would you trust the information presented in this article?
  2. Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it shallow in nature?
  3. Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
  4. Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
  5. Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
  6. Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
  7. Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
  8. Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
  9. How much quality control is done on content?
  10. Does the article describe both sides of a story?
  11. Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
  12. Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
  13. Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
  14. For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?
  15. Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
  16. Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
  17. Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
  18. Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
  19. Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
  20. Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
  21. Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
  22. Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?
  23. Would users complain when they see pages from this site?

There will be many more Google Panda updates in 2013.  It will be interesting to see HOW these updates will affect websites.

Can Bad SEO Hurt Your Brand?

A friend of mine is engaged, and I am to be one of her bridesmaids. As a four-time bridesmaid, I’ve unfortunately been to more wedding blogs and bridal shop websites than a sane human should. Some are fantastic, doing everything SEOs recommend: engaging and well-written content, a solid back link profile, good information architecture, attractive designs and clean code. And as with any industry, a large number are poorly designed and built, and even more poorly optimized.

Recently, my friend and I were going wedding dress shopping, and she sent me to the website of the bridal store she’d chosen. I was slightly horrified.

I’d like to say this was one of the worst wedding sites I’ve seen, but the errors they were making are quite common to sites across sites in all niches. From keyword stuffed content pages, to duplicate content, and spammy back links, this shop was doing nearly everything SEOs consider to be wrong.

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Knowem: One Tool to Rule Them All

One of my favorite tools of all time is one I often find marketers have never heard of. A colleague told me just last week they hadn’t heard of it. Seriously? I can’t figure out how they managed to miss it. This single tool can help you get the ball rolling for all of your social media, brand management and online reputation management campaigns, and assist you with content creation and link building. It alone has saved me countless hours of mind numbing work  and possible carpal tunnel.

It is, of course, Knowem (like “know ‘em”).

In essence, Knowem signs up for all your social media profiles for you. Like, 300 of them. Run an agency and frequently sign up social media accounts for clients? Save your interns from carpal tunnel and sign up for one of their plans. If you work for a large organization with many brands to manage, again save your interns the pain and sign up for a plan.
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