What’s the New Google Pigeon Update all About?

If you want to know how hard it is to stay on top of all the Google updates, this is what we inbound marketing companies have to deal with:

  • 500 Google algorithm updates per year
  • 15-20 of them make the news
  • Even Matt Cutts, Google’s spokesman, makes mistakes when talking about the latest updates
  • These updates don’t always impact websites the way Google says they will, so we have to analyze the real results for clients

Google tends to pick animal names for its updates. Usually, they’re seemingly benign animals, with names like Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird.

Google did release the “Pigeon” update, but SEO thought leader Search Engine Land coined the official name.

So What’s the Point of Pigeon?

The whole reason it’s been rolled out is to make local search results more useful and relevant. One concrete example of what’s happened is that the local search pack listings that look like this now appear much less often:

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This blog post at Link Assistant says Pigeon means Google now focuses more on traditional domain authority factors as ranking signals for local search listings. To put it simply, domain authority is made of:

  • The quality and frequency of content published on your website
  • The number of links pointing to your site, and the quality of the websites linking to you
  • Getting listed on authoritative local business directory sites like Angie’s List and others relevant to your niche
  • Positive customer reviews
  • Optimizing everything on your site with as natural of language as possible

What Should You Do to Make Pigeon Happy?

Really, Google’s not changing what you need to do to rank well. They’re doing exactly what they’ve said they would do all along.

When you think of authority websites in ideal terms, envision those websites that are household names like:

  • Time.com
  • Forbes.com
  • The Huffington Post

“But my site will never attract massive readerships like those!” is your first objection.

You’re right – it won’t. Only a few websites attract such massive audiences. But the point is, the more you aim to be like those niche-leading websites, the better off you’ll be in the search rankings in the long run.

Remember, most local and small businesses do not understand the importance of content. Most also don’t realize what an “awesome website” looks like in the eyes of Google and their users.

If you realize and acknowledge where your website is and where it needs to be, you’ll be ahead of 98% of all other local businesses.

For a nice example of a simple, but useful website, check out PaylessPower.com and their blog. They have 4 blogs per month, and a simple web design anyone can use.

How to Increase Authority

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In our final post in the technical SEO audit series, we’ll discuss how to increase your website’s authority. You should care about this metric because the higher it is, the better your site ranks. Remember, you can check yours at http://www.opensiteexplorer.org

The top authority signals a technical SEO audit checks for include:

  1. Links. These are the number one off-site authority signal, and they will stay that way for some time. And out of all search ranking factors, links are most likely the strongest.

Over the years, Google has significantly changed how links impact your search rankings. 5-7 years ago, you could have links from any random website pointing to yours, and you would get some benefit.

But then some SEOs learned how to spam links, helping low-quality websites rank highly. This practice actually still happens.

Today, Google wants links that are not “built,” but instead require some sort of editorial review process by the other site owner. Good links come from other sites with high levels of authority. Those sites should be topically related to yours. And the text on the link should match your keywords precisely in less than 5% of all instances.

For example, a not-so-good link would come from an internet forum or article directory. A great link to your plumbing website comes from a blog post at a respected DIY website.

If you have a wide-scale effort of links with the exact same anchor text pointing to your website from a number of other websites, Google suspects you of trying to manipulate the search rankings. To you, this means you’re at high risk for a penalty.

It also matters who you link to. Google figures reputable websites link to other reputable websites. And, all valuable sites on the web would do this to some extent. So, it is a good practice to occasionally link out to other authorities in your niche.

  1. Content. Every page of content, and blog post, should include keywords relevant to your service offering. Google prefers websites that offer fresh content. You should publish at least one blog post per month. More is better, but only post when you have valuable information to offer.

Google will crawl and index your website more often, and rank it higher, if you regularly create content. Eventually, Google wants “thick” websites with 25, 50, 75, 100 pages or even more at the top of its rankings.

The figuring is that websites who publish content regularly like that are likely to be more established players in their field and more valuable to their target audiences. And Google’s probably right on that.

  1. Social shares. There’s actually some debate on this one. Matt Cutts recently released a video saying social shares are not a ranking factor. On the other hand, Moz conducted a thorough study in late summer of last year that found a high correlation between website rankings and the number of Google +1s they had. Correlation does not mean causation, but it’s enough strong evidence to make you wonder what’s really going on.

Regardless, the more followers and social shares you have, the better. Even if social shares aren’t a ranking factor, you at least have a good platform for promoting your content and getting more people linking to it.

So those are the main authority signals, and you want to get as many links, produce as much quality content, and get as many social shares as possible. A technical SEO audit checks to make sure you are doing this in a natural, Google-safe way. Just keep in mind that your overarching goal should be to contribute value to the web, and not to manipulate your search rankings.

You can do deceptive things like purchasing 1000s of Facebook followers, but that does you no good because they don’t care about your company and won’t share your content or purchase from you.

Hope this clears up the muddy waters of technical SEO audits for you!

Technical SEO: How to Audit Your Website’s Design

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In part 3 of our 4-part series on technical SEO audits, we’re going to visit website design.

From a big-picture perspective, Google’s trying to place websites that users like at the top of its search rankings. Google already does that far better than any other search engine out there, and the company’s worth more than $355 billion, so you can bet they’re going to do everything possible to stay on top and not become the next Yahoo.

Websites with attractive designs that load fast get lots of love from searchers, so page load speed and bounce rate have become prominent ranking factors. Google has also endorsed responsive design as a SEO best practice, so it’s very important to optimize your site’s load speed.

Here are some of the more important factors that affect how fast your web pages load:

  1. Compress All Your Pictures

It’s fine to use 1 picture on your web page. That increases your visitor’s engagement and the time they stay on the page. On your services pages, you should use no more than 1-2 pictures. With your blog articles, you can use 2-3, or even more if it makes sense. But, pictures take the longest to load, and especially so if they’re large files. Compressing them means you reduce their quality so they load faster. It’s possible to compress their size 60-75% without noticeably (to the naked eye) reducing their quality.

  1. Combine Images with CSS Sprites

Sorry, we do have to go into the geek speak here! If you have many images on your page you must have loaded, this causes your PC to make multiple trips to the server. That slows page speed a bunch. Sprites combine all the background images on a page into one single image, noticeably decreasing page load speed.

  1. Using Browser Caching for Your Website

In the digital world, “caching” refers to storing a copy of a page for a defined period of time. That page is then served, rather than the most recent version of the page.

So, rather than having to take more time and load the newest version of a page, your user gets a cached version. Most web pages, especially for SMBs, don’t change that often. And, you can set this up so the program managing the caching checks the page for any updates every week or so and serves up the new version.

WordPress has a number of plugins that make this process simple.

  1. Check Your Navigation’s Structure

Web users expect small/local business sites to all follow a general format. You should have a Home, Services, About, Blog, and Contact sections on your website. The “Services” section should highlight all your major services. You might also have a “Locations Served” section as well.

Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Unfortunately, many sites don’t follow this format and try to get creative. That frustrates your visitors and costs you business. This behavior gets reflected in your “bounce rate” in your analytics. This number shows the percentage of visitors who view just one page on your website and leave right away.

The web design stuff, clearly, gets a little more technical. But, you have to pay attention to it so you stay on top of the search rankings. And again, this is all fairly high-level. A technical SEO audit goes into much more depth.

How to Conduct a Technical SEO Audit: Part 2

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This is part 2 of 4 in our technical SEO audit series.

Let’s be honest right up front: if your site has never had an SEO audit performed, it’s time to have one done. Technical SEO audits are not easy work, either.

They can be as complex or as simple as you want. We can’t go into full-depth here because discussing all the nuances fills many, many pages. But, we can discuss some of the basics and more common problems found over a series of blog posts. When you correct all the various technical SEO factors, the net benefit to you is better search rankings and the best ability to rank in Google for the long-term.

Here are some of the major on-page things you should check for:

  1. Are keywords in the title tags for every page? This is one of the biggest signals that tells Google what terms you want your page to rank for. Ideally, the keywords are near the beginning of the title. The title should also be benefits-oriented and include your brand name, if possible.
  2. Are meta descriptions unique, interesting, and do they include calls-to-action? Each page should have its own meta description so visitors know what to expect when they actually reach the page. Calls to action increase your click-through rate, so they’re important to have.
  3. Is there enough copy on each page? Best SEO practices include having at least 300 words on the page for static web pages, and at least 400 for blog posts. Neil Patel, inbound marketing thought leader, found pages with 2400+ words of content rank the best. You don’t have to use that many words, and you shouldn’t unless the words are helpful to visitors. But, it demonstrates the point you need to have substantive content on each page.
  4. Keyword placement. Besides having the keyword in the SEO title, it should be included in your meta description, the URL of your website, the h1 tag on your page, and another couple places within the page’s content. This allows the language to sound natural, while also make it clear to Google which keyword you want to rank for.
  5. What is your home page’s authority? You can easily check this yourself by visiting http://www.opensitexplorer.org. “Authority” refers to the amount of trust Google places in your website, and the specific page checked. The higher your authority, the easier it is for your site to rank for various keywords. However, authority and rank do not have a linear relationship. Yours can be higher than another website’s, but it can still rank lower than it in search. Authority basically gives you a much better probability of ranking for a keyword, and you want to keep it as high as possible. One of our future posts will discuss what to do to increase your authority.
  6. Is regular content being created? Google doesn’t want content – it demands it. You should be producing at least 1 blog post per month, and even more than that if you can. The posts should be interesting and of value to your readers, and they also should be something hard (ideally impossible) to find anywhere else on the web.

So those are just a few technical SEO factors affecting your search rankings. There’s much more detail to check like:

  • Do your web pages have social sharing buttons?
  • Is your physical address and contact information located in an easy-to-find spot on every page?
  • Do all the links on your website work?
  • How easy is your content to read?
  • What’s your site’s bounce rate?

It gets as detailed as the person or agency performing the audit is willing to go. And the more detail, the better.

 

What is a Technical SEO Audit and How do You Do One?

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You’ve heard the discussion before – Google has 200-300 factors it uses to rank websites. And no one, not even the most influential Google execs and employees, knows exactly what they are.

But, everyone knows they have a target to shoot for. And SEO thought leaders like Moz, Neil Patel, KISS Metrics, Search Engine Land, and Search Engine Journal routinely perform tests and debate what’s happening in the SEO world to try to get an accurate understanding of what Google wants. Matt Cutts, Google’s official SEO spokesman, sometimes tells you exactly what to do. But even on some occasions, he’s wrong!

This is part 1 of our 4-part series on technical SEO audits.

Why do a Technical SEO Audit?

The whole purpose of doing a technical SEO audit is to make sure you’re running as close to a 100% Google-friendly website as possible. No one hits the mark perfectly, but the closer you are, the better your rankings are now and for the long-term.

Another reason to do one is you’ve been told by Google that you are being penalized, or you noticed a substantial drop in your website traffic around the time Google performed an update.

A SEO audit uncovers what you’re doing right, wrong, and steps you can take to get back on the right path if you’ve veered off.

How do You Do a Technical SEO Audit?

No two consultants or agencies will agree on this 100%. At a high level, agencies and consultants develop their own technical SEO audits based on what they’ve learned works best for Google.

That doesn’t necessarily make one agency right and another wrong, just different in their approach.

How Often Should You Do Technical SEO Audits?

Think of it like taking care of your car. You take it in for a diagnostic with the mechanic every year or so just to make sure everything’s okay. And you do this even if there’s nothing noticeably wrong with the car.

If you’ve never done one before, it’s a good idea to do a technical SEO audit now. You could catch significant mistakes you’re making before Google penalizes you. And if you’re not making any serious mistakes, you can fine-tune what you are doing right now. An annual SEO audit is a good idea, and it’s even better if you have one done every six months.

You can catch problems like competitors building bad links to your site, trying to destroy your search rankings (this happens rarely, but it does happen).

If you’re getting the sense that managing your website is like taking care of your physical business location, you’re right! Google wants to increase the quality of the web and get rid of spammy, low-value sites. So, the better you do at making your site the best place it can be for visitors, the better you’ll do in the search rankings.

Can You Recover from a Google Penalty?

As great as Google is at giving searchers the best possible results for the keywords they enter, it’s filled with gaping flaws too.  Yes, Google is far from perfect.

Case in point:  A Moz blog post by the head of another digital marketing agency discusses a startling scenario.  Their client, a fairly large company that makes a number of spelling and grammar check tools that integrate with e-mail and other applications, got a notice that Google was penalizing them for “unnatural links.”

They lost 94% of their search traffic immediately (yikes!).

The digital marketing agency was caught totally off guard because they had not been acquiring any bad links.  In fact, since they serve primarily large brands, they’re extremely cautious in following SEO best practices.

So What Happened?

After a painful phone call with the client notifying them of the situation, the agency began to dig into the client’s link profile.  It was easy to spot the problem.  A massive number of spammy links had been acquired.

Someone had used a program that writes articles, changes the order of the words, and automatically posts the articles and a link on pornographic, pharmaceutical, gambling, and other low-quality websites Google does not like.  They repeatedly used the same keywords for the link’s anchor text.

Google explicitly states not to do this when building links.  Clearly, someone who wanted to destroy this company’s search traffic decided to attack the company with negative SEO.

Yes, this does happen sometimes.

Even More Shocking:  Google’s Response

So the director of the agency was at a conference and asked John Mueller, an employee at Google, why his client should get penalized for someone else building bad links to their site.  He also pointed out that it makes more sense to simply not allow certain links to count, rather than penalizing websites for having bad links.

John’s response went something like this:  “Yeah, it’s happened before.  Sometimes we (Google) can tell it’s a negative SEO campaign, but other times it’s harder.  However, if you get a manual penalty from us, you’ll be aware of the situation so you can simply disavow the links.”

Wow!  So basically, Google is aware that this happens, but really isn’t doing anything to stop dishonest individuals and companies from doing it?

True story.

What You Can Do

Unfortunately, there’s not a heck of a lot businesses can do, except work with a SEO company who monitors for negative SEO attacks like these.  The links are obvious and easy to spot, and it’s not too difficult (although it is time consuming) to use Google’s disavow tool and remove them.  But, it’s important to catch them prior to receiving a penalty because you don’t want to lose your rankings and all the business they bring.

And the digital marketing company’s client?  They’re still technically being penalized!  The agency was able to get 82% of their pre-penalty traffic back.  That’s good, but still not fair to the company who had done nothing wrong in the first place.