Friday, August 29, 2014

Google Authorship May Be Dead, But Author Rank Is Not

Google Authorship and Author Rank aren't the same thing. Here's why Google Authorship can die yet Author Rank lives on.

Google ended its three-year experiment with Google Authorship yesterday, but the use of Author Rank to improve search results will continue. Wait — you can have Author Rank without Google Authorship? And just what is Google Authorship versus Author Rank? Come along, because they are different things — and Author Rank lives on.
What Google Authorship Was
Google Authorship was primarily Google’s way to allow the authors of content to identify themselves for display purposes. You asserted it by making use of “markup,” code hidden from human view but within web pages. Google extended from this original idea to link it tightly with Google+, as a step to create a Google-controlled system of identifying authors and managing identities.

Those making use of Google Authorship were largely rewarded by having author names and images appear next to stories. That was the big draw, especially when Google suggested that stories with authorship display might draw more clicks. Here’s an example of how it looked:

Above, you can see how the listing has both an image of the author plus a byline with the name.

Google ended Google Authorship yesterday. The image support was dropped in June; now the bylines and everything else related to the program are gone. It’s dead.

The markup people have included in their pages won’t hurt anything, Google tells us. It just will be ignored, not used for anything. But before you run to remove it all, keep in mind that such markup might be used by other companies and services. Things like rel=author and rel=me are microformats that may be used by other services (note: originally I wrote these were part of, but they’re not — thanks to Aaron Bradley in the comments below)

We’re planning to explore that issue more in a future article, about whether people who invested time now largely wasted adding authorship support should invest more time removing it. Stay tuned.

What Author Rank Is
Separately from Google Authorship is the idea of Author Rank, where if Google knows who authored a story, it might somehow alter the rankings of that story, perhaps give it a boost if authored by someone deemed trustworthy.

Author Rank isn’t actually Google’s term. It’s a term that the SEO community has assigned to the concept in general. It especially got renewed attention after Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt talked about the idea of ranking verified authors higher in search results, in his 2013 book, The New Digital Age:

Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance.
For further background on Author Rank, as well as the context of Schmidt’s quote, see my article from last year: Author Rank, Authorship, Search Rankings & That Eric Schmidt Book Quote.

Author Rank Is Real — And Continues!
Schmidt was just speculating in his book, not describing anything that was actually happening at Google. From Google itself, there was talk several times last year of making use of Author Rank as a way to identify subject experts and somehow boost them in the search results.

That was still all talk. The first real action came in March of this year. After Amit Singhal, the head of Google Search, said that Author Rank still wasn’t being used, the head of Google’s web spam team gave a caveat of where Author Rank was used: for the “In-depth articles” section, when it sometimes appears, of Google’s search results.

Author Rank Without Authorship
Now that Google Authorship is dead, how can Google keep using Author Rank in the limited form it has confirmed? Or is that now dead, too? And does this mean other ways Author Rank might get used are also dead?

Google told us that dropping Google Authorship shouldn’t have an impact on how the In-depth articles section works. Google also said that the dropping of Google Authorship won’t impact its other efforts to explore how authors might get rewarded.

How can all this be, when Google has also said that it’s ignoring authorship markup?

The answer is that Google has other ways to determine who it believes to be the author of a story, if it wants. In particular, Google is likely to look for visible bylines that often appear on news stories. These existed before Google Authorship, and they aren’t going away.

This also means that if you’re really concerned that more Author Rank use is likely to come, think bylines. That’s looking to be the chief alternative way to signal who is the author of a story, now that Google has abandoned its formal system.

I’d also say don’t worry too much about Author Rank. It’s only confirmed for a very limited part of Google Search. Maybe it will grow beyond that. If it does, it’ll be only one of many SEO ranking factors that go into producing Google’s listings. Byline stories as appropriate, but more important, make sure the quality of the stories you author make you proud to be identified as the author of them.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Rise & Fall Of Google Authorship For Search Results

Google has completely dropped all authorship functionality from the search results and webmaster tools. After three years the great Google Authorship experiment has come to an end … at least for now.

Today John Mueller of Google Webmaster Tools announced in a Google+ post that Google will stop showing authorship results in Google Search, and will no longer be tracking data from content using rel=author markup.
This in-depth article, which I’ve jointly co-written with Mark Traphagen, will cover the announcement of the end of Authorship, the history of Authorship, a study conducted by Stone Temple Consulting that confirms one of the stated reasons for cessation of the program, and some thoughts about the future of author authority in search.

Authorship’s Gradual Slide Toward Extinction
The cessation of the Authorship program comes after two major reductions of Authorship rich snippets over the past eight months. In December 2013 Google reduced the amount of author photo snippets shown per query, as Google’s webspam head Matt Cutts had promised would happen in his keynote at Pubcon that October. Starting in December, only some Authorship results were accompanied by an author photo, while all others had just a byline.

Then at the end of June 2014 Google removed all author photos from global search, leaving just bylines for any qualified authorship results.

At that time, John Mueller in a Google+ post stated that the photos were removed because Google was moving toward unifying the user experience between desktop and mobile search, and author photos did not work well with the limited screen space and bandwidth of mobile. He also remarked that Google was seeing no significant difference in “click behavior” between search pages with or without author photos.

A Brief History of Google Authorship
The roots of the Authorship project go back to Google’s Agent Rank patent of 2007. As explained by Bill Slawski, an expert on Google’s patents, the Agent Rank patent described a system for connecting multiple pieces of content with a digital signature representing one or more “agents” (authors).

Such identification could then be used to score the agent based on various trust and authority signals pointing at the agent’s content, and that score could be used to influence search rankings.

Agent Rank remained a theoretical idea without a practical means of application, until the adoption by Google of the standards for structured markup. In a blog post in June 2011, Google announced that it would begin to support authorship markup. The company encouraged webmasters to begin marking up content on their sites with the rel=”author” and rel=”me” tags, connecting each piece of content to an author profile.

The final puzzle piece for Authorship to be truly useful to Google fell into place with the unveiling of Google+ at the end of June 2011. Google+ profiles could now serve as Google’s universal identity platform for connecting authors with their content.

In a YouTube video published in August of that year, Matt Cutts and then head of the Authorship project Othar Hansson gave explicit instructions on how authors should connect their content with their Google+ profiles, noted that doing so could cause one’s profile photo to show in search results, and for the first time mentioned that — at some future time — data from Authorship could be used as a ranking factor.

Over the next three years, Authorship in search went through many changes that we won’t detail here (although Ann Smarty has compiled a complete history of those changes). On repeated occasions, though, Matt Cutts and other Google spokespeople reiterated a long-term commitment by Google to the concept of author authority.

Why Has Google Ended the Authorship Program?
Over its entire history Google has repeatedly demonstrated that nothing it creates is sacred or immortal. The list of Google products and services that were introduced only to be unceremoniously discontinued later would fill a small phone book.

The primary reason behind this shuffle of products is Google’s unswerving commitment to testing. Every product, and every change or innovation within each product, is constantly tested and evaluated. Anything that the data show as not meeting Google’s goals, not having sufficient user adoption, or not providing significant user value, will get the axe.

John Mueller told my co-author Mark that test data collected from three years of Google Authorship convinced Google that showing Authorship results in search was not returning enough value compared to the resources it took to process the data.

Mueller gave two specific areas in which the Authorship experiment fell short of expectations:

1. Low adoption rates by authors and webmasters. As our study data later in this article will confirm, participation in authorship markup was spotty at best, and almost non-existent in many verticals. Even when sites attempted to participate, they often did it incorrectly. In addition, most non-tech-savvy site owners or authors felt the markup and linking were too complex, and so were unlikely to try to implement it.

Because of these problems, beginning in early 2012, Google started attempting to auto-attribute authorship in some cases where there was no or improper markup, or no link from an author profile. In a November 2012 study of a Forbes list of 50 Most Influential Social Media Marketers, Mark found that only 30% used authorship markup on their own blogs, but of those without any markup, 34% were still getting an Authorship rich snippet in search. This is similar to data found in a study performed by Eric which is further detailed below.

However, Google’s attempts at auto-attribution of authors led to many well-publicized cases of mis-attribution, such as Truman Capote being shown as the author of a New York Times article 28 years after his death. Clearly, Google’s hopes of being able to identify the web’s authors, connect them with their content, and then evaluate their trust and authority levels as possible ranking factors was in trouble if it was going to depend on the cooperation of non-Google people.

2. Low value to searchers. In his announcement of the elimination of author photos from global search in late June of this year, John Mueller stated that Google was seeing little difference in “click behavior” on search result pages with Authorship snippets compared to those without. This came as a shock (accompanied in many cases with outright disbelief) to those who had always believed that author snippets brought higher click-through rates.

Mueller repeated in his conversation with Mark about today’s change that Google’s data showed users were not getting sufficient value from Authorship snippets. While he did not elaborate on what he meant by “value” we might speculate that this could mean that overall, in aggregate, user behavior on a search page did not seem to be affected by the presence of author snippets. Perhaps over time users had become used to seeing them and they lost their novelty.

It is interesting to note that (as of the time of this posting) author photos continue to appear for Google+ content from people a searcher has in his or her Google network (Google+ circles or Gmail contacts) when the searcher is logged in to her or his Google+ account (personalized search).

When asked, Mueller said he had no knowledge of any plans to stop showing those types of results. However, some users have reported to Mark that they are no longer seeing them. We will watch this development and update here if it looks like Google is indeed removing author photos from personalized results as well.

Study of Rel=Author Implementations
As luck would have it, Stone Temple Consulting was in the process of wrapping up a study on rel=author markup usage. A look at the data illustrates part of the problem that Google faces with an initiative like this one. The bottom line of what we found? Adoption was weak, and accurate implementation among those that attempted to set up rel=author was also bad. If that was not enough, the adoption by authors was also bad. So let’s look at the numbers!

Authorship Adoption
We sampled 500 authors across 150 different major media web sites. Here is a summary of what we saw for their implementation of authorship tagging in their Google+ profiles.

A whopping 70% of authors made no attempt to connect their authorship with the content they were publishing on major web sites. Of course, this has much to do with how Google attempts to promote these types of initiatives. In short, they don’t. They rely on the organic spread of information throughout the Interweb ecosystem, which is uneven at best.

Publisher Adoption

50 of the 150 sites did not have any author pages at all, and more than 3/4 of these provided no more than the author’s name for attribution. For the remaining batch, some of them would allow authors to include links with their attribution at the bottom of the article, but the great majority of these authors did not take advantage of the opportunity.

For today’s post, we also took 20 of the sites that had author pages, and analyzed in detail their success in implementing authorship:

13 of the 20 sites attempted to implement authorship markup (65%)
10 of these 13 attempts had errors (77%)
12 of the 13 attempts received rich snippets in the Google SERPs (92%)
The implementation style for authorship was all over the map. We found malformed tags, authorship implemented on site, but no link to the author’s G+ profile, conflicting tags reporting multiple people as the author for a given article, and one situation where an article had 2 named authors, but only the 2nd named author linked to their G+ profile, and Google gave the 2nd author credit for that article.

Seven of the 20 sites did not attempt to implement authorship markup (35%)
Two of these seven received rich snippets in the Google SERPs (28%)
In the two cases where Google provided the rich snippets even though there was no markup, the authors did link to the site from the Contributor To section of their G+ profile.

Summarizing the Study
In short, proper adoption of rel=author markup was extremely low. Google clearly went to extreme efforts to try and make the connection between author and publisher, even in the face of many challenges. From a broader perspective, this tells us quite a bit about the difficulties of obtaining data from publishers. It’s hard, and the quality of the information you will get is quite low.

Google has stated many times over the past three years its interest in understanding author authority. It’s hard to forget executive chairman Eric Schmidt’s powerful statements on the topic:
Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance.
Eric Schmidt in The New Digital Age
However, this has proved to be a very tough problem to solve. The desire to get at this data is there, but the current approach simply did not work. As we noted above, this is one of the two big reasons why this initiative is being abandoned.

The other problem identified by John Mueller is equally important. The approach of including some form of rich snippet, be it a photo, or a simple byline, was not providing value to end users in the SERPs. Google is always relentlessly testing search quality, and there are no sacred cows. If Google is not seeing end users valuing something they try out, it will go.

We also can’t ignore the impact of the processing power used for this effort. We all like to think that Google has infinite processing power. It doesn’t. If it did have such power, it would use optical character recognition to read text in images, image processing techniques to recognize pictures, speech to text technology to transcribe every video it encounters online, and it would crawl every page on the web every day, and so forth. But it doesn’t.

What this tells us is that Google has to make conscious decisions on how it spends its processing power — it must be budgeted wisely. As of this moment, the Authorship initiative as we have known it has not been deemed worthy of the budget it was consuming.

The rise of mobile may have played a role in this outcome as well. When John Mueller says staffers don’t see a significant difference in click behavior in the SERPs as a result of Authorship rich snippets, remember that about half of Google’s traffic comes from mobile devices now. Chewing up valuable screen real estate for this type of markup on a mobile device may simply be a bad idea.

So is authorship gone forever? Our guess is that it probably is not. The concept is a good one. We buy into the notion that some people are smarter about certain topics than others. The current attempts at figuring this out have failed, not the concept.

As Google moves forward in its commitment to semantic search, it has to develop ways to identify entities such as authors with a high degree of confidence apart from human actions such as markup. Recent announcements about Google’s Knowledge Vault project would seem to reinforce that Google is moving steadily in that direction. So this may be how it approaches detection.

If, and when, it makes use of such data, what will it look like? Don’t be surprised if the impact is too subtle to be easily noticed. We will probably not see author photos in the results ever again. Could we see some form of Author Rank? Possibly, but it may come in a highly personalized form or get blended in with many other factors that make its detection virtually impossible.

So goodbye for now, Authorship. You were a grand and glorious experiment, and we will miss you — but we look forward to something even better for Authorship in the future.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

How To Prove The Value Of SEO Without Drowning In Data?


Having a tough time communicating the value of SEO to your C-Suite? Erin Everhart provides some tips on how to tackle this common issue.
We’ve come a long way as an industry. Since our humble beginnings in 1995 – arguably the birth year of SEO — to the serious identity crisis we’re in today, it’s sometimes easy to forget how much progress we’ve actually made in making this a “legitimate marketing tactic.”

We’ve moved past the hat identifiers and (most of us) have given up spam tactics. We’re better than keyword stuffing and keyword density, over-optimized anchor text and the mentality that “links aren’t for driving traffic, just providing link juice.”

The number of people that call SEO a Jedi magic trick are dwindling every day, but that far from means they get it. They may recognize SEO as important, but when it comes to allocating budgets or making business decisions about the website, it’s usually the first thing to get pushed to the side.

That just means we have to fight harder to prove SEO’s value – and thankfully, we have the data to prove it. Now, it’s about using it correctly to tell the right story.

Drowning In Data
The amount of data we have available to us as SEOs is both helping and hurting us. On one hand, we have more actionable proof that what we’re doing drives more traffic, engagement and revenue than most marketing channels out there. Entries, visits, instances, page views, bounce rate, exit rate, pathing, conversion rate, AOV, revenue – each is important in their own regard, as they each tell a slightly different story.

The problem is that we have no idea what to do with it, so we end up reporting on every number available, which is both meaningless and will fall on deaf ears.

No one likes data as much as SEOs (especially the C-suite), so if you go into a meeting armed with 15 different numbers, you’ll be on the receiving end of a handful of blank stares. Reporting on everything is meaningless. Just because you have the numbers doesn’t mean you have to use them.

Isolate & Dominate Your Base Metric
The best way to avoid this data puke (hat tip to Avinash Kaushik for coining the phrase) is isolating your most important metric or metrics and only reporting on that. Most of the time, that’s going to be:
  • Organic revenue
  • Visits compared to last month
  • Visits compared year-over-year
Regardless of whether things are up or down, some of your stakeholders are going to want to know why — and that’s where you can either keep your supporting metrics in your back pocket or put them in an addendum to your main report.

A good rule of thumb whenever you’re reporting is to start with the highest level possible (revenue and visits) and then drill down to the metrics that support that story.

Relate Back To The Overall Business
Every marketing segment gets stuck in their own world, and far too often we search marketing professionals only think about SEO. We view it and report on it myopically, without thinking of the overall business impact.

Now that you’ve isolated organic visits and revenue, the next step is comparing that to overall traffic and the other individual traffic-driving channels. Saying that SEO accounted for $20,000 in revenue in great, but showing that SEO accounts for 45% of your total revenue is an even more powerful statement.

The same goes for the reverse if you’re showing the negative impact of what happens if you stop doing SEO. Don’t just show loss of ranking or traffic and how that affected just organic search. Show the bigger picture – how the lack of SEO has impacted the whole business — and you’ll have an easier chance of fixing the problem.

Remember: SEO Extends Offline
According to its annual multi-channel shopping survey, PWC found that 88% of US respondents first research online before buying a product, where they’ll either buy it online, buy online and pick up in the store, or go to the store and then pick it up.

SEO plays a key role in that. If you’re not ranking while people are researching, you’re immediately out of consideration for when they decide to buy the product offline. Customers can’t buy what they can’t find, so whenever you’re showing revenue, don’t forget to mention the assumed offline impact that SEO brings for the online researchers.

Getting hard data on those numbers is murkier, because alas, we can’t have cookies following them and tagging their source code when they’re note wired into the Internet.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Five Ways To Boost Your SEO Strategy

A new startup is born every day.

In garages, dorm rooms, and basements all around the world, people are bringing their business ideas to life. But this surge of entrepreneurial energy isn’t limited to actual startups. Big brands like Coca-Cola and Red Bull are adopting lean and agile methods to mimic the flexibility and rapid innovation of Silicon Valley’s hottest up-and-comers.

While it may not be practical to adjust every aspect of your company to be more like a startup, adjusting your SEO strategy at the enterprise level to mirror a startup’s methods can help you stay ahead of the game.

Here are a few SEO tips ripped right from the entrepreneur playbook:

1. Remove Bureaucracy

When you have to submit a request and go through multiple layers of approval to make even the smallest change, it squelches productivity. SEO is no different.

Your SEO team should constantly be adding and altering keywords and phrases. If every change has to be approved by the legal team and the board of directors, it destroys efficiency.

Cut the red tape, and place your trust in your SEO team. Make sure they can easily access web files, CSS, and other privileged information.

2. Stop Keyword Stuffing

SEO operates in a pyramid structure, where main terms are targeted on the home page, ancillary terms are placed on secondary pages, and so forth.

For example, if you have 1,500 terms you want to target about smoke detectors, your home page will target “smoke detectors,” and your internal pages will target long-tail keywords.

However, big companies often try to bypass this process by placing all their keywords on the home page. This method can produce quick results, but Google will ultimately penalize them for bad SEO practices. This year, we saw quite a few big brands — including eBay — tumble down search results for trying to game the system.

Cramming in low-quality links with too many anchor texts will yield feeble SEO results. Instead, hire a qualified PR professional to get you on reputable sites like CNN. The organic, healthy links will filter in naturally and boost your SEO without keyword stuffing.

3. Be Relentless About Creating a Great User Experience

Ultimately, startups succeed due to their commitment to producing the best possible user experience. Big brands can harness this mentality simply by striving to build a better site than their competitors. By producing superior content and increasing your website’s load speed, you nurture a positive brand image.

The Internet marketing blog ShoeMoneyonce described this idea as the “screw Google” mentality, which suggests that you manage your website as if Google doesn’t exist. This will keep you focused solely on building a great website that customers will return to again and again.

4. Embrace Social Media

Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have a larger impact on SEO than you think, and startups know this. The most successful ones know that creating a community around branded content begins a cycle that ultimately elevates a site’s SEO.

When you create attention-grabbing posts and your followers click through, Google notices your site’s traffic spike, and you boost brand awareness.

It may not be a traditional SEO move, but it’s a great one for your site.

5. Don’t Take Shortcuts

Every entrepreneur knows there’s no substitute for hard work and dedication, and that includes a sound SEO strategy.

Back in 2007, SEO “specialists” advised their clients to set SEO bait, which tricked viewers into organically linking to a site. On Myspace, users often took quizzes that produced results in easy-to-copy banner ads. When they embedded them on their Myspace profile, it artificially inflated that site’s visibility. Google eventually caught on, and sites were penalized.

There aren’t any shortcuts to good SEO. It all comes down to great content, an engaged audience, and a solid SEO team that gets your customers the information they’re looking for every time.

While the Internet landscape is constantly evolving, SEO has remained a valuable marketing tool for businesses of all sizes. If there’s one method your company can steal from startups, it’s this: Get to work.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Google’s Push For HTTPS Is More About PR Than Search Quality

Is it worth it for webmasters to switch to HTTPS in light of Google's recent announcement?

Earlier this month, Google announced that its search ranking algorithm will now consider whether a site is HTTPS. Does this mean you should now go out and make the switch to HTTPS, or is this just political jousting with no real search relevance on Google’s part?
What Is HTTPS, Anyway?
HTTPS stands for Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure. It’s a variation of the popular HTTP used to transfer web pages across the internet. The difference (the “S”) is that HTTPS adds a layer of security by encrypting the data.

A normal website is accessed by putting http:// before the domain name, such as If the site supports HTTPS, the URL will look like Typically, browsers will add a padlock icon and will highlight the address bar in green when a site uses HTTPS.

The Push For Security
Over the past few years, Google has pushed for improved security on its site as well as sites in general across the internet, and for good reason. Between the NSA’s spying and routine security breaches that pilfer millions of passwords from popular sites, it’s not a bad idea for a company like Google to take security seriously.

We saw the beginnings of this a few years ago when Google began encrypting search referral terms for logged-in users, which led to a lot of frustration for marketers who no longer had access to keyword data in their analytics packages. This frustration was compounded late last year when Google moved to 100% secure search — whether searchers were logged in to Google or not.

Now, we see another step toward security with Google announcing a potential rankings boost for sites that run HTTPS.

How Will This Impact Your Rankings?
Several years ago, Google announced that site speed would be considered a ranking factor in its search algorithm. As a result, many sites rushed to improve their site load time. While users certainly appreciated the speed improvement, hardly anyone noticed a direct impact to their rankings. Why was that?

Page Speed is what’s called a “modifier.” If two web pages have very similar quality and relevance scores, Google considers which page loads faster as the deciding factor on which ranks higher. The loading speed of the page modified the ranking score only ever so slightly.

Similarly, HTTPS looks to be a modifier, from what I’ve seen. Ninety-nine percent of searches will happen without HTTPS even being looked at; but, in those rare cases when two search results are otherwise “equal,” HTTPS might push one over the edge for the higher ranking.

This Is About Politics, Not Search Quality
Google has a phase it likes to use: “HTTPS Everywhere.” In fact, that’s what they named this year’s I/O Conference. The idea is that if every site implemented HTTPS, the web would be that much more secure; but, it’s a red herring. Here’s why:

HTTPS only protects against a very limited number of site vulnerabilities, specifically wiretapping and man-in-the-middle type attacks – in other words, spying. It makes the NSA’s job of tracking and spying on internet users more difficult, but it doesn’t protect against hackers, denial-of-service attacks and scripting, server or database exploits.

Essentially, HTTPS is useful for sites that collect and transmit personal information. Banks, e-commerce sites, even social networks need to have HTTPS in place to make sure consumers’ sensitive information is protected.

For all the blogs, news sites, brand brochure-type sites or any information site that doesn’t require a member login, HTTPS is useless. It’s like the post office telling you to that all your mail needs to be written in secret code. That’s fine for the military, but do your Christmas greeting cards really need to be written in unbreakable secret code? Probably not. It’s just as pointless to require HTTPS on sites that do not transfer sensitive information.

That’s why it doesn’t make sense for Google to consider using HTTPS as a ranking signal for the majority of sites and queries. If used at all, it will always be a very lightweight signal used on a very narrow set of queries, acting only as a tie breaker between two identically ranked pages.

No, this announcement is not about search quality. It’s about Google trying to get back at the NSA for making it look bad during the PRISM scandal, and it is doing this under the guise of a social cause — internet privacy under the “HTTPS Everywhere” banner.

It’s a classic “greater good” story. Google says HTTPS will be a ranking signal so that everyone runs out and switches to HTTPS. What they’re not saying is that this change will only affect a minuscule number of sites. For everyone else, they’ve wasted time and energy switching to HTTPS for no reason – but that’s okay, because it serves the greater good of improving privacy for the internet as a whole.

What Should I Do?
What should you do about switching to HTTPS? When in doubt, do what’s best for users.

If you run a site in the e-commerce, financial, search, social networking or related fields, you should already be running HTTPS on it. In fact, if your site utilizes a member login or any type of shopping cart, you should really switch to HTTPS.

On the other hand, if you’re running a blog, brochure site, news site, or any sort of information site where users don’t provide you with any personal information, I would recommend not using HTTPS. It costs money; it takes resources to implement; it slows down your site; it’s not needed; and it won’t hurt your rankings.

Long story short: if you make the switch, do it for the users and not because Google said it’s a ranking signal, because it really isn’t.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

2014 SEO Trends You Need to Know


With the recent Panda 4.0 Google algorithm update, SEO is beginning to change in 2014. Changing best practices, keywords and relevancy are just some of the issues businesses now face. It is important to keep up with the latest trends in the space so that your business doesn't find itself on the wrong side of a Google manual penalty that keeps you from showing up in Google's organic results. Here are some trends to take note of when building your business SEO profile in 2014:
Content is king
The ability to create unique, high-quality content is integral for any business' success online. People on the internet are constantly bombarded with hundreds of messages and organic results to choose from when they search for something, so if your content stands out by offering the reader an optimized title and the ability to understand your product or service in a unique way, you'll do much better at capturing their attention than your competitors. Two great options to provide this high quality content is the use of blog posts or whitepapers - however, thinking in broader terms with visual options like videos and infographics can be extremely effective when done correctly as well.

The increasing importance of mobile
The number of people that are using their smartphones and tablets to access the internet is increasing at an extremely fast pace. In today's world of online business, companies that are not optimized for mobile use are putting themselves at a grave disadvantage. A good responsive design can help your business' website keep its look, feel, and integrity across a variety of mobile devices so that anyone viewing your website will get the best experience possible. Search engines like Google are aware of this, and will rank websites with responsive or mobile optimized versions higher than those that don't in organic results.

Conversational search
With the Hummingbird change to the Google search algorithm better handling conversational and long-tail search queries, businesses that are not appropriately optimized will soon find themselves having a harder time ranking well and generating non-branded organic traffic. Optimizing your website for longer tail keywords and phrases will provide more value than ever before and will help to make your website's keyword rankings more diverse.

Links in press releases are great for brand recognition, but not SEO
Toward the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014, Google officially announced that having links that passed equity ("dofollow") in a press release could be the basis of a manual penalty to a website. This means that businesses that still use or have press releases that link to their business could find their rankings negatively affected. Make sure that if your business has used press releases in the past that you go back and mark those links as "nofollow." They will still provide some SEO value this way without endangering your entire website's organic rankings.

Relevancy of content to website theme
More than ever, the content on your website should be relevant to keywords that relate to your website. This basically means that if you haven't already, make sure that each of your pages makes sense in the grand scheme of your website. So if your business is selling say, cakes, make sure that the content on your website is relevant to cakes and that the keywords you use make sense in that context. This is something that your business ideally should have been doing in an SEO strategy before, but with the new Panda 4.0 update, having content that doesn't make sense with the rest of your website can now actually hurt you.

SEO is ever changing and 2014 isn't an exception. Making sure that your website stays within search engine guidelines by taking these trends into account is extremely important to your organic results. If your business acts quickly, you can take advantage of competitors who have not been following SEO best practices and have been penalized in the wake of Panda 4.0 to help get the most out of these strategies and increase your business' organic rankings.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

6 Warning Signs You May Be Dealing With an SEO Scam Artist

We see a lot of pre-packaged, so-called "standardized" online marketing packages for SEO. They should be avoided at all costs. Not only can these waste time and money -- it can actually hurt your website in the long run.
If you are thinking about working with a SEO company, they should be transparent, have a clear track record, offer customized planning and pricing and long-term planning.

1. Pre-packaged or bundled SEO solutions.
Pre-packaged SEO is not a viable solution to grow your business in this day and age. In the late '90s and early part of the millennium, it was possible to “blast” links pointing your website to hundreds or even thousands of websites and see long-lasting results. Some SEO agencies will still offer this practice as part of their pre-packaged solutions, but be weary of the problems that can come from it:

Leads aren't qualified: Not all website traffic is the same. Pre-packaged SEO eliminates the all-important experimentation aspect that separates the professionals from the rookies. It is critical for an SEO agency to outline and continuously tweak the online-marketing strategy to increase website visitors into sales.

Temporary results: If links to your website are also being blasted to other websites, you may see results -- but these are only temporary. After a while, Google’s algorithm will catch on to your website’s “unnatural link building” and penalize your website search-engine rankings back to ground zero.

Blacklisted website: If you are part of a long-term pre-packaged SEO solution, there’s a great chance that Google will blacklist your website so that it doesn’t even show up in search when people type in related keyword.

Prior to doing business with any SEO agency, ask if they have provided SEO solutions in your market, but most importantly, if they have examples or references they can give you. They should be happy to provide them, along with a process for how to reach your specific goals under specific timelines.

2. Manual submission services.
Submission services are geared toward publishing your website out to search engines, directories, article networks and the like. With the intertwining of SEO and social-media signals (Facebook likes/shares, Tweets, etc.), it is critical that your SEO service provides sound business and market strategies, high-quality content and attract links from other people -- as opposed to link-spamming practices. Adding a blog and building authority is a good option. Think strategically about this, do the research and add the tactics into a plan.

3. Guaranteed first-page rankings.
When it comes to guaranteed rankings, it is usually a scam. Why? Even if they are able to guarantee the results to your company, what happens when a competitor wants the same keyword? Who receives priority? Does it turn into a bidding war? What if you lose the bid? Will the SEO company delete your links after their program is over?

Guaranteed rankings are not something that should ever be promised. The best way to achieve first-page rankings is to do a technical audit on your site. This is something you can take on yourself (or you can have the SEO company audit for you) with the use of Google Keyword Planner or SEM Rush. These online tools will help you research the highest performing pages in web analytics to see where you can improve. Start simple and make sure that you review:

  • on-page factors (tags, keywords, internal links, site structure)
  • possible existing duplicate content
  • possible competing pages for the same keyword(s)
  • your external link profile, and your competitors

4. Insider knowledge claims.
There are many companies who claim to know someone at Google or to have insider information about the formula. Many employees at Google do not know all the exact details of the algorithm, so it would be impossible for someone on the outside to know. The only insider knowledge for a great SEO professional is based on ongoing experimentation.

To learn more about the knowledge and skill of the agency or SEO professional you’re interested in working with, ask for case studies, check out some of their previous work, ask for referrals and call them up. Remember, case studies and hands-on experience is what makes an SEO agency great. Asking them for a light audit is another great way to get a feel for their skill level.

5. Paid advertising sales.
The sales pitch sounds amazing. You sign up and tell your friends about the incredible offer, “first-page rankings in hours,” only to quickly learn that they were not offering SEO services, but rather paid advertising services. They claim that it affects organic rankings (it does not).

Avoid confusion and be very clear on what the offer is, what you’ll receive, and the expectations on both sides. Make sure to ask about the natural search-results process. I advise you to walk away from firms like these. They are trying to create a package that is hard to refuse. Their sales teams only care about commissions and don’t offer anything for your SEO.

6. Too much focus on “technical SEO”
Services from questionable companies often include the importance of technical aspects of SEO. These companies will offer to have your meta tags fixed, add H1 tags and update your sitemap. They claim that by fixing all the technical issues you’ll get quick rankings and traffic.

Beware! An experienced SEO firm will outline issues and plans for both technical and strategic reasons. A real partner for search-engine results must include customized, strategic plans that work for your business and market. They should work closely with you to understand your business, sales, conversion strategies, content strategies, website tracking and page effectiveness, PR, marketing and overall growth plans.

Good firms become an essential partner in not only providing guidance, but planning, executing and reporting with your team. This covers all the technical details as well as working to reach your online company objectives.

Check the reputation of the company. Generic advice would be to go to Google and type in “Company Name + Scam.” This is no longer the case as many companies have dedicated online reputation-management efforts.

The best way to check the reputation of the company is to ask about specific past clients and to actually review the work yourself, and if you can contact referrals. You should determine the next course of action based on the results of these conversations.

Ask the tough questions. One of the worst things you can do is to deal with an SEO agency that simply “spins” low-quality content and puts it on your website. Be sure to ask about the content creation process.
  • Is the content 100 percent original? What is the process of content creation?
  • What are your ranking methods? Does the company use a "white hat" approach or does it use "black"?

When you’re ready to enter a new working relationship, be sure to understand that achieving first-page rankings with long-term results will take time. Your new SEO partner will need your help along the way and this will require you to provide information and feedback. The responsibility for success lies largely with you.

Friday, August 8, 2014

HTTPS Sites Secure Ranking Boosts in Google

“We want to convince you that all communications should be secure by default.”

Those were the words uttered by Webmaster Trends Analyst Pierre Far at the Google I/O event this summer, when he and a Google colleague talked “HTTPS everywhere.” And this week, Google Search is taking a very convincing stance on the matter: HTTPS is now a ranking signal in its algorithm.
From Google’s announcement:

Over the past few months we’ve been running tests taking into account whether sites use secure, encrypted connections as a signal in our search ranking algorithms. We've seen positive results, so we're starting to use HTTPS as a ranking signal. For now it's only a very lightweight signal — affecting fewer than 1% of global queries and carrying less weight than other signals such as high-quality content — while we give webmasters time to switch to HTTPS. But over time, we may decide to strengthen it, because we’d like to encourage all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep everyone safe on the web.

On Google+, Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller answered questions from the community, like, "What if you have an informational site – does it apply to you, too?"

Mueller said this:

Some webmasters say they have "just a content site," like a blog, and that doesn't need to be secured. That misses out two immediate benefits you get as a site owner:

1. Data integrity: only by serving securely can you guarantee that someone is not altering how your content is received by your users. How many times have you accessed a site on an open network or from a hotel and got unexpected ads? This is a very visible manifestation of the issue, but it can be much more subtle.

2. Authentication: How can users trust that the site is really the one it says it is? Imagine you're a content site that gives financial or medical advice. If I operated such a site, I'd really want to tell my readers that the advice they're reading is genuinely mine and not someone else pretending to be me.

On top of these, your users get obvious (and not-so-obvious) benefits.

Moving a site from HTTP to HTTPS could have technical problems if not implemented carefully. Google gives tips on how to handle the move here.

And, in its help files, it also talks about best practices for setting up HTTPS, which include helping the search engines see the site as secure by following these tips (more details exist on the help page itself):

Redirect your users and search engines to the HTTPS page or resource with server-side 301 HTTP redirects.
Use relative URLs for resources that reside on the same secure domain.
Use protocol relative URLs for all other domains or update your site links to link directly to the HTTPS resource.
Use a web server that supports HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS) and make sure it's enabled.

If you have questions or concerns, Google is directing people to the Webmaster Help Forums. For example, this search for “HTTPS” in the forums pulls up several conversations already happening on the matter. The announcement said that in the coming weeks, Google would be publishing detailed best practices on this issue.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

7 Things That Will Improve Your SEO More Than SSL

Since Google’s announcement that SSL may have an impact on your organic rankings last week, it’s caused a bit of a stir among the SEO industry. Bill Slawksi questioned its validity since a site’s content won’t change. Cyrus Shepard mused potential profits of investing in an SSL company. But my personal favorite?

for the record, there's about 100 things you could do right now that would have a bigger SEO impact than switching to SSL.

— Ryan Jones (@RyanJones) August 7, 2014
Never has a more accurate statement been said.

The SEO industry, myself included, is a sucker for silver bullets. At one point in our careers, we’ve all looked for that one thing that will give us top rankings with convertible traffic for as long as we hope to have them. So whenever Google announces a new factor that will influence rankings, we obsess over it.

The fact of the matter is there is no one thing that will get you more organic traffic. Good SEO is a healthy combination of things, but it doesn’t have to be the exact same combination of things. As Ryan said, there are hundreds of things you could be doing that help your rankings more than SSL. In no particular order, these are my top seven:

Consistent URLs Everywhere

That means the link your users see, the link you use in your internal linking strategy, and the links you use in your XML Sitemap need to match. The most common mistake I see is having the canonical link still in your XML sitemap. If you update one, update them all.

Short, Non-Parameter Heavy URLs

This isn’t about having an exact-match domain. It’s about making it as easy as possible for spiders to find your URL and read it. Limit the number of parameters you have. Use words instead of numbers. Use hyphens instead of underscores. Avoid subdomains when possible.

Real, Relevant Content, Not "SEO Copy"

It’s rare you’ll see a Web page without a copy block on it now, but far too often this content isn’t really content; it’s "SEO copy," following some formulaic calculation with 300 words, three to five keywords stuffed in sentences, and five internal links with exact match anchor text.

Break this habit. Good content doesn’t follow a formula. Write content that will actually help your users making a purchasing decision.

Live Text High on the Page, Not Stuffed at the Bottom

Search engine spiders read pages very linearly and very literally.

Live text, not hidden behind a div, not masked in links pointing to other pages, is the best type of content you can have. It’s how search engines know what your site is about in order to rank you. If a spider has to crawl through 100 links and 50 images before they get to the meat of your page, it’ll consider those things more important than the copy itself. Push your content up higher.


Plain and simple. Link building is not, and will never, die, and a site that has better, higher-quality links will outrank a site that doesn’t (assuming on-page optimization is equal). Linkarati put together some great link-building resources to peruse through if you need a refresher.

Strong CTA-Friendly Title Tags

Notice this has nothing to do with keyword-heavy title tags. You still need a keyword in your title tag, and it still should be one of the first things in it, but stick to just one, maybe two. I’m also partial to including action words — Shop, Buy, Apply, etc — in my title tags, since it elicits an action that the user should take from clicking on my listing, rather than just a description of what they would find.

Speed Up Your Load Time

The slower your site, the longer it takes spiders to parse your page. More importantly, users have lost all patience and won’t stick around for seven seconds just to see what you’ve got to offer.

If you’ve made a lot of updates and haven’t taken a deep look at your code, chances are you have a handful of lines that you don’t need but that are taking up space, because when it comes to your technical makeup, every bit matters.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and since no one does SEO the exact same way, your top seven may look a little differently than mine. So, what did I miss? What do you think impacts rankings more than an SSL certificate?

Saturday, August 2, 2014

How to Ensure Your SEO Strategy Delivers the Right Traffic

When it comes to SEO, achieving first page rankings and getting more traffic is one thing, but what about ensuring those rankings deliver the right type of traffic to your website, traffic that will actually convert into new customers?
Here are three steps to ensure that your SEO campaign delivers the right traffic to your website.

Step 1: Identify Your Target Audience

You know your customers. So, identifying your target audience should be the easy part, but when it comes to SEO, this isn't always the case. If you offer different service or product lines, your target audience may comprise of a number of different segments. This makes identifying your target audience for SEO purposes much more difficult.

If you attempt to go after every possible customer in one fail swoop, your SEO strategy will most likely fail. Instead, methodically carve away the different segments, and target them incrementally. When you achieve success with one segment, then move onto the next. This is necessary because depending on the type of business you're in, each segment may have very different needs and wants.

How do you identify which segment to target first? It's a good idea to start with your most profitable and least competitive segment, so you can quickly start generating a return on your investment.

Step 2: Select the Right Keywords

Once you've identified which segment you want to target, the next step is selecting the keywords those prospective customers will use when searching for your product or service.

When selecting keywords, don't just look for the ones that deliver the highest search volume. Put yourself in your customers' shoes, and look for keywords that make sense from their perspective. There is a lot of "advice" out there about choosing keywords that have an ideal combination of search volume and competition. However, all of that is irrelevant if you fail to choose keywords that prospective customers will actually use when searching for your products or services.

In addition to choosing relevant keywords, take the purchase intent of those keywords into account. You can have two very similar keywords that indicate very different intentions by the searcher. Keywords with high purchase intent are more likely to convert than keywords with low purchase intent, and are typically long-tail keywords, with lower search volume, and less competition.


For example, let's say a contractor that specializes in kitchen remodels is considering the following keywords, "kitchen remodel" and "kitchen remodeling contractor." The keyword, "kitchen remodel" is much more attractive initially because the data shows that it receives significantly more search volume than "kitchen remodeling contractor."

However, there are two reasons why "kitchen remodeling contractor" is the better choice. First, it has far less competition, and the contractor actually has a shot at achieving first page rankings. Second, someone searching for "kitchen remodel" could be looking for a number of things, not necessarily a kitchen remodeling service. They could be looking for pictures as inspiration for a future potential remodel, or a how-to because they intend to attempt a remodel themselves.

While it is possible that someone using the "kitchen remodel" search term could become a customer in the future, someone searching for a "kitchen remodeling contractor" is likely ready to execute their remodel, and is simply looking for the right contractor.

Step 3: Provide Content Your Customers Care About

The next step to ensuring the right visitors find your website is by providing them with content they find relevant and useful. Your website's content should be able to answer your customers' questions. So, think about what your customers typically want to know prior to doing business with you, and make sure your content answers those questions.

Here are a few examples of how this can be achieved:

Are you selling a service that requires a high level of expertise? Publish posts to your website's blog regularly to show that you're an expert in your field.
Do your customers typically want to see examples of past work? Provide a project gallery to showcase your previous projects, and supplement it with testimonials to reinforce trust and credibility.
Do you sell a product that your customers typically like to compare against other products? Provide a product comparison review that shows why your product is the better choice.
By providing content that your customers care about, you're not only satisfying their needs by answering their questions, but you're also giving them an avenue to find your website.


To ensure that your SEO strategy delivers the right traffic to your website, identify your target audience, select high purchase intent keywords your prospective customers will actually use, and provide them with relevant and useful content that answers their questions.

Friday, August 1, 2014

How to Eventually Become a Millionaire Using Your SEO Knowledge?

There are many types of SEO services you can offer and running your own websites might even be more profitable.
With a wide range of clients you get asked to offer your expertise in many forms, but which ones are the most lucrative?

Here are a few potential career choices for an SEO expert to make.

Teaching SEO

Gathering up-to-date SEO knowledge can be a daunting task that requires a lot of time and effort. If this isn't your daily business you can easily lose touch.

Working with outdated SEO information can even ruin you. SEO is also a hard profession to learn because it involves so many other fields of expertise.

A good teacher is hard to find. Companies should pay top dollar for somebody that can help their team stay up-to-date for both the technical guidelines and possibilities and everything involved in link building.

For a single training of about 4 hours you can easily ask between $600 and $1,200. Most companies require at least four of these to get some grasp of the things involved in SEO.

An advanced SEO expert can teach to in-house teams, freelancers, online courses, and SEM agencies.

SEO Consultancy

An SEO consultant doesn't only teach, but he also provides clear instructions for in-house teams to execute. He checks their execution and directs all the involved tasks and specialized people.

Most SEO consultants are mainly technical consultants that work with website builders. A good SEO consultant should also be able offer strategic guidance that is focused on the ROI of unpaid search traffic.

Selecting the right keyword combinations, determining what texts need to be added to which pages, setting the guidelines for copywriters, monitoring results, and setting up link building are all the tasks of a good consultant.

At this time $150 an hour is a good rate for a broad SEO expert. Most consultants make even more money by selling their consultancy as a fixed fee. Just make sure the client's expectations are clear.

Products and Services

Most companies that rely heavily on search traffic have their own teams for the day-to-day SEO tasks. Setting up teams for certain services can often be challenging and there are many tasks they gladly outsource.

An elaborate keyword research offers valuable marketing information. When you really want to get to know your audience and when it involves recovering search volume trends, competition levels and conversion rates it can easily take two days to create.

Some expensive tools can make keyword research somewhat easier, but a client normally doesn't have access to these. You can easily ask $2,000 for good keyword research.

With unpaid search traffic comes a lot of copywriting. This will often be billed on a per page basis. These so called landing pages can be added for each individual keyword. Depending on the quality and length of a page, prices range between $20 and $60.

When a client works with some outdated CMS that's inflexible for SEO purposes, it's often smarter to build them a new site or additional section in WordPress, osCommerce or other simple open source platforms. These already take many SEO aspects into account and little customization should be needed.

Creating a website in WordPress can range from $5,000 to $500,000. A lucrative business if you use cheap labor.

Link building involves a strategic part, but also requires a lot of manual labor. Getting in touch with all those other website owners and convincing them to link to a website is very time consuming.

It can easily take an online marketer a day a week to make partnerships and acquire links. Something many companies gladly outsource at $60 an hour. Because link building requires a continuing growth as the competition is active, a fixed monthly amount (often $1,000 a month and up) is probably the industry standard.

Conversion optimization comes in many forms and service types. I haven't seen that much industry standardization, but because taking conclusions out of all the available data requires a lot of expertise, an hourly rate of $150 is quite common.

All these services seldom come as a one-time thing. That is why many SEM agencies like to sell them in packages. A mix of copywriting, link building and monitoring starts at $1,000 a month, even for SMEs. If that is too expensive, they should rather do everything themselves.

Revenue Share

All the previous examples show that SEO is often time consuming and expensive for a client. Therefore offering a share of their revenue from SEO traffic allows them to keep the cost within limits and ensures very motivated SEO firms.

For the SEO firm it is often smartest to keep a mix of low initial fees and a revenue share percentage that in many cases earns more than a fixed fee. The risk of under achieving should be limited and the influence on the revenue should be large (whatever metric is used).

Depending on the margins on a product a 5% fee on all revenue from unpaid search is not uncommon. I've even worked with a conversion attribution model where 50% of all direct and indirect sales from unpaid search got paid.

Having Your Own Websites

Working for clients is fun, but using your expertise in industries where product fulfillment is easy or where great affiliate programs (or other business models) exist is often much more lucrative. The greatest advantage of working without clients is the freedom and control you have over the perfect SEO situation.

Link building becomes a lot easier when you don't represent some big brand and when you can easily start many websites within the same industry. Finding the right industry where the competition still leaves a lot of gaps in their SEO approach and where margins are high is the only hard part of having your own websites.

From Steady Income to Millionaire

When you need a steady income to get by, start out with the services at the beginning of this article. Once you've made sure you can pay the rent for some time to come, having your own websites is the only chance to become a millionaire from your SEO knowledge.