Posts by Jon Clark:

Knowledge is Power: Preparing for the Growing Importance of Google Knowledge Graph

Knowledge is Power: Preparing for the Growing Importance of Google Knowledge Graph

Author and tech journalist, Steven Levy, has released an in-depth study on the evolution of Google over the years, and the continued advancements that have allowed the search engine to compete in the changing landscape of search–in particular, the advent of mobile search’s growing influence over desktop search. A key finding of this report involves Google’s Knowledge Graph; the product that aggregates information from various publishers to produce a direct answer to search queries that appears before  the SERPs. The Knowledge Graph does not appear for every query, but according to Levy’s report, Google has alluded that as much as 25% of all searches may yield a Knowledge Graph result.

While we aren’t able to anticipate which queries Knowledge Graph shows up for, this 25% approximation is substantial enough to demonstrate a change in the way Google is thinking about how people search.

Entities, Not Keywords; Things, Not Strings

The Knowledge Graph is appearing for enough people to show that Google is taking user intent seriously: it is evolving to become more intuitive–to draw connections between the way humans think and the way humans search, and to provide results that reflect that. In essence, Knowledge Graph is representative of the overall shift to semantic search that became most apparent after the Hummingbird update in 2013. With semantic, or conversational search, Google aims to provide results directly relevant to the concepts or ideas people naturally search as opposed to a string of keywords. These overarching concepts, or “entities”, are shaping the future of search, and are the foundation of the Knowledge Graph.

According to Google’s original blog announcing Knowledge Graph:

…we’ve been working on an intelligent model—in geek-speak, a “graph”—that understands real-world entities and their relationships to one another: things, not strings. The Knowledge Graph enables you to search for things, people or places that Google knows about—landmarks, celebrities, cities, sports teams, buildings, geographical features, movies, celestial objects, works of art and more—and instantly get information that’s relevant to your query. This is a critical first step towards building the next generation of search, which taps into the collective intelligence of the web and understands the world a bit more like people do.

Keywords in the traditional sense therefore take secondary importance to the relationships between the terms in the search query–the way a user’s entire search conveys the thing they are looking for. In this way, Knowledge Graph is able to pull information from various sources on the web to create the panel of information users now see in some of their searches. Product manager Emily Moxley compares Knowledge Graph to a highway system, telling Steven Levy:

…you sort of get off that exit and say, ‘Okay, what are some possible Knowledge Graph things that might be interesting for this query?’ — and we search of all these documents and return relevant ones. Then you join back up with 95 and we say, ‘Okay, we thought this stuff was interesting, so let’s surface that information more prominently.’”

Knowledge Graph’s primary sources are Wikipedia, Freebase, and the CIA World Factbook, but as it continues to evolve, it pulls from more and more sites across the internet. Knowledge Graph information also powers event listings in Google Maps and notifications in Google Now. Herein lies the importance for SEOs looking to “get into” the Knowledge Graph:

  • to have content that is optimized enough for semantic search that it’s deemed relevant for thematically similar queries and is pulled into the Knowledge Graph as a listed source, and
  • to be able to submit content to Knowledge Graph sources such as Wikipedia, and thus have some level of control over third party information about your brand that might be pulled into a Knowledge Graph result.

Optimizing for Knowledge Graph

A search engine that focuses on the entities present on a webpage means that the quality of the information on your site matters most. A keyword strategy centered on keyword density and a fixed set of targeted keywords per page will no longer cut it. Your website’s content must be consistent, authoritative, and thematically relevant. Content must contain entities that are relevant to both your vertical and the kind of searches you’re hoping to get traffic for.

Knowledge Graph interprets entities in two different ways: implicitly and explicitly. Implicit entities are the elements in the actual text of your website. They are the topics of content on your site–the natural language you use to present information to the user. To an extent, they are also the keywords you’re going after; but you should treat those keywords as overarching guides for the creation of content. In order optimize for Knowledge Graph, identify the topics and information that matters to your audience and create content around that. Make sure the topic of each page is clear and that the content relates to that focus.

Explicit entities are the structured data markup on each web page; the information Google crawls to determine what a page is about. This will allow the search engine to identify the entities on your page and determine the relationships between them. This is crucial to getting into Knowledge Graph, and the best way is to mark up your site using a structured data markup from Schema.org. Mark up each page, ensuring that the elements are properly identified, so that the information on your page is readily crawlable. It is essential that both your implicit and explicit entities are telling Google the same thing: your data markup must say that your page is about what your content discusses, and vice versa.

Knowledge Graph won’t appear for a hundred percent of all searches–at least not for a while. There is a chance that none of your content is currently being pulled into a Knowledge Graph result, and that all of your organic search traffic is driven by SERPs. But 25% is a significant number, and in all likelihood, that number will continue to grow. It is representative of an overall change in the way search engines think, and the way we must adapt to keep up with that. Consider optimizing for Knowledge Graph–that is, essentially, optimizing for semantic search–as optimizing for the future.

Looking Ahead: Pigeon and Local SEO in 2015

Looking Ahead: Pigeon and Local SEO in 2015

Perhaps the single most critical update for local search in 2014 was Google’s announcement of the Pigeon algorithm, which had major implications for small businesses and local SEOs. Pigeon significantly changed the way local businesses are ranked by integrating basic web search ranking signals into localized queries. The result: a far more dynamic ranking of local businesses that is highly relevant to the user’s individual search based on their query and geographic location–and a more complicated challenge for SEOs.

There are a slew of rising SEO trends in 2015 that experts are keeping an eye on, and local SEO is certainly one that should not be overlooked. Google is putting greater effort into local search, and we must do the same. This entails, according to Search Engine Journal columnist Greg Gifford, that we take a more inclusive approach and not become sidetracked by individual tactics that seem to impact one or two ranking signals. Instead, we should observe how involved local search rankings have become, and strategize various tactics that account for each of the major ranking signals.

2014 Trends in Local Search Rankings

Moz’s 2014 Local Search Ranking Factors survey, conducted by David Mihm, visualized this increase in the complexity of local search results. Participants in the survey were asked to weigh the influence they have observed of certain ranking signal groups. On-page signals, which include keywords in titles and domain authority, among others, held a 21% influence over rankings. Link signals–including linking domain authority, quantity, etc.–came in second at 18.3 percent, and external location signals was third at 15.5%. While there were eight groups in total , and some held more influence than others, no single ranking signal outweighed any other significantly enough to warrant a narrowed focus in local SEO strategy.

The survey, which you can view in detail here, goes into further detail about the differences between localized organic results and pack/carousel results, and asks participants to rank the importance of specific individual ranking factors. In the final section, participants ranked 10 factors that have increased in importance since the Pigeon update. Domain authority is considered to be the most important factor affected by Pigeon, with proximity to searcher, the authority of inbound links to the domain, and the authority of inbound links to the landing page close behind.

Seeing the Big Picture with Local Search

In his post, “Local SEO in 2015 – Look at the Big Picture”, Gifford advises SEOs to shy away from using a “microscope” in their strategies, arguing instead that the focus should be on the “big picture”. This statement is only reinforced by the findings of Mihm’s survey.

Local SEO is not, nor has it ever been, based upon a single tactic. Recently, it seems like many business owners will read a post or watch a video, realize that they’re not utilizing the tactic mentioned, and immediately drop everything and concentrate on the shiny new object…A few years ago, you could rock some citations and do nothing else, and you’d still rank at the top of the map pack. Now, there might not even be a map pack for your vertical.

Google’s recent approach to local search has proven that single-tactic strategies do not work. Pigeon itself integrated a myriad of ranking factors into U.S. search rankings, and in the final week of 2014, Google rolled out Pigeon internationally, beginning with the UK, Canada, and Australia, and expanding to all English-speaking locales except India. The extensive roll-out of Pigeon is just one of several updates Gifford notes in his post that further demonstrate the continued evolution of local search we can expect to see in 2015.

Should we be concerned with the trajectory of local search in 2015? Probably not. By integrating more complex ranking signals into local search rankings, Google is forcing local SEO’s to avoid shortcuts and tunnel vision. Founder of Fuze SEO, and Yext Partner, Jon Clark, reminds us that, “Pigeon is a very SEO-friendly update. Because the update aims to align local search with traditional web search, many best practice SEO strategies still apply. On-page optimizations, link building, and a solid content strategy are strong ranking signals for all searches; these should be a key component of your local search strategy.” If anything, integrated local search rankings will help SEOs with their overall strategies.

Looking Ahead: 10 SEO Trends to Look Out for in 2015

Looking Ahead: 10 SEO Trends to Look Out for in 2015

Believe it or not, 2014 is almost over. This year we’ve seen the release of the first Penguin update in in over a year, the launch of an entirely new local search algorithm dubbed Pigeon, and the announcement of site encryption as a ranking signal. People have hotly debated the importance of the keyword, while content marketers have continued to espouse the increasing importance of a solid content strategy.

Most of us are already looking ahead to what 2015 might have in store SEO. While the landscape of our industry sometimes moves at an almost breakneck pace, based on how 2014 has gone, it is easy to predict which SEO trends will dominate the new year. Here are our picks for the 10 most important SEO trends to keep your eye on in 2015.

1. Mobile optimization is key to success

Back in July, Search Engine Watch reported that, for the first time in history, mobile usage exceeded PC usage. This is a continuously growing trend that has enormous implications for SEO, as users are doing more of their searching on smart phones or tablets, hopping, accessing content, and connecting on social media. B2B sites are also significantly impacted, as the rate of users searching on mobile devices for business purposes is also increasing.

Google is emphasizing the importance of a site’s usability across mobile devices. Search results now display a mobile friendly icon to indicate which sites can be seamlessly used on mobile devices, and mobile optimization has been a ranking signal for over a year. In 2015, optimizing for mobile search will need to become a pivotal part of your SEO strategy.

2. Search will continue being fragmented across different channels

Much as users are searching across devices, SEOs must recognize that they are also searching across different platforms and channels. While Google still maintains a hold over the search market share, other platforms and search engines are gaining traction. Just last month, Firefox removed Google as its default search engine and switched to Yahoo. Not too long ago, Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt identified Amazon as the search engine’s largest competitor. Per his reasoning, people are now going to e-commerce sites directly when searching for something to buy.

The same is true of mobile apps, which provide content and information to users directly without needing to search through a search engine. SEOs should keep in mind that the way users search is changing.

3. User intent and long-tail search traffic should focus your keyword strategy

For a long time, Google has demonstrated a commitment to search results that accurately reflect user intent–that is, not only what the user searches, but why they search for it. This is an important upper level of the funnel to target users, and in 2015, SEOs should be mindful of those longer-tail keywords that qualify a lead, customer, or conversion before they’ve reached the site.

Which keywords demonstrate that someone is searching for your product or service? What keywords will lead them to your site before they’ve begun searching your branded keywords? A combination of keyword research and an understanding of the habits of your target audience will help you identify where in their search process you should begin targeting them.

4. Build relationships in your community and space

Content is one of the focuses of SEOs in today’s industry, but far beyond the creation of great content is its promotion and distribution. In determining the relevance of a site’s content to a search query, Google searches for the community that has been built around that content. That “community” encompasses links, social mentions, shares, and a swath of other indicators that your content is relevant, valuable, and contributes to your space.

Building relationships is key here. SEOs should focus on reaching out to fellow bloggers, organizing social campaigns, engaging with thought leaders, and staying active on social media campaigns. Building relationships with other innovators in your space ensures maximum exposure for your content, and is an excellent way to earn quality links.

5. Earn, don’t build, links

A result of the relationships you form are earned links back to your site, which have always been more valuable than purchased links, or referrals attained through unfocused link building tactics. Links remain one of the most prominent ranking signals, and Google places heavy emphasis on quality, organic links.

6. The rise of brand mentions

With the search landscape evolving to serve user intent, there is renewed focus on the power of the brand. A company’s brand is crucial to establishing their online presence. It is their number one distinguishing factor–how their audience recognizes and interacts with them–and Google is factoring brand into its rankings. According to Forbes, Google now differentiates between “explicit links” and “implied links”–that is, traditional backlinks versus mentions of a brand without a link. It is predicted that over 2015, brand mentions will become as important as “dofollow” links.

7. Social integration

While Google Authorship may not have had the impact Goole hoped for, the integration of social media and SEO is still high on their radar. It is likely that 2015 will see an increased value in social signals for rankings–Facebook and Twitter activity that ties into the relationships formed around content and the relevance of a brand to its audience. The exact importance of social activity to the ranking algorithm remains a subject of speculation, but most experts agree that if Google is not already accounting for a site’s social media activity, they soon will be.

8. Content remains king

The creation of content has been at the center of a new wave of SEO for some time now, and this is a trend that will only continue into 2015. Users demand engaging, relevant content customized to their own unique experience, and the worlds of SEO and content marketing are continuing to overlap. In general, a large part of many SEO strategies are driven by the creation and promotion content that integrates a variety of formats and multimedia as opposed to text to create a dynamic user experience.

9. Integrating SEO with other disciplines

Forbes also predicts that the isolation of SEO teams from other teams in the marketing department will soon be coming to an end. In keeping with the increased importance of content marketing to SEO, cross-disciplinary teams of content marketers, social media professionals, SEOs, and other related verticals will become the norm. As web marketers, each background we come from plays an important part in the managing of a brand or a site’s web presence.

10. Beware Negative SEO

On a precautionary note, 2015 may be the year of negative SEO. As the industry overall works to adapt to changes in search and re-establish its commitment to white-hat tactics, those black-hat practitioners are still using tactics to damage the work we do. Negative SEO involves building thousands of spammy links to a competitor with the hopes of causing their rankings to drop, and is a serious threat to websites. Disavowing links, a complex and timely procedure, is the only known way to repair the damage caused by Negative SEO, and Forbes predicts that as the threat continues to rise, Google may need to consider ways to maintain the integrity of search rankings and recognize manipulative links.

All in all, 2014 has proven to be a typical year in the world of SEO: exciting and fast-paced, with several developments that could potentially change the course of the industry. As we look towards 2015, we anticipate another busy year of change. Are you ready for it?

European Parliament Votes to Break Up Google Businesses

European Parliament Votes to Break Up Google Businesses

In a brazen move, the European Parliament passed a vote on November 27th to break up Google’s search and advertising businesses. The vote comes after a more than four-year long antitrust investigation launched by the European Commission in response to allegations that Google has formed a monopoly in European search markets. The complaints, which were raised by a variety of European publishers and political parties, suggested Google’s dominance over the internet lead to a disproportionate emphasis on Google-owned properties that severely restricted competitors’ share of the market.

The vote, while significant in its implications, is wholly symbolic. The European Parliament has no legal right to force the dissolution of an American company’s properties, but according to the Financial Times, the decision represents a substantial amount of pressure on the European Commission, which does control legislation. The Parliament’s increasing influence over the Commission can potentially shape how legislators respond to the decision, and how they proceed in allaying accusations against Google.

The Case Against Google

In November 2010, the European Commission was tasked with determining whether or not legal action must be taken to “unbundle” Google’s search engine from its other commercial products, and prohibit Google from giving preferential placement to its own products or advertising partners in search results.

Despite mounting pressure from complainants, the European Commission remained determined to settle the matter without the need for legal proceedings. In 2012, Jaoquin Almunia, Vice President of the European Commission on Competition Policy, released a statement insisting that “these fast-moving markets would particularly benefit from a quick resolution of the competition issues identified. Restoring competition swiftly to the benefit of users at an early stage is always preferable to lengthy proceedings…” The statement identified four key areas of Google’s exertion of dominance:

  1. Vertical Search Services: Google prominently displays links to its own specialized services, such as Google Shopping, Maps, YouTube, and Google News.

  2. Copying Competitor Materials: Google copies original content from competitors and presents the material as its own answers to search queries. According to Almunia, “they are appropriating the benefits of the investments of competitors..this could reduce competitors’ incentives to invest in the creation of original content for the benefit of internet users. This practice may impact for instance travel sites or sites providing restaurant guides.”

  3. Google Advertising Partnerships: Google restricts the placement of advertisements to websites who have purchased ads with Google.

  4. Google AdWords: Google restricts the portability of AdWords campaigns, preventing advertisers from transferring their search advertising campaigns to other platforms.

Google expressed a willingness to cooperate with the European Commission to address these issues. This past February, according to the New York Times, Google agreed to a settlement to avoid fines and a “finding of wrongdoing”. The settlement, which would allow competitors to buy top-ranking spaces in search results, was met with brutal criticism from the parties who launched the complaints against Google. Back in September, Almunia told Bloomberg TV:

We received a lot of complaints. We have been trying to obtain from Google proposals to overcome the difficulties and the concerns. Now with the last version of proposals we came back to the complainants. The complainants sent us replies during the summer. Some of these replies are very very negative…complainants have introduced new arguments, new data, new considerations so we now need to analyse this and to see if we can find solutions…it’s a long investigation, it’s a complex issue.

The complaints against the settlement led to the European Commission’s reopening of the case, according to The Guardian, and ultimately, to Parliament’s vote to break Google up.

Free Search, Free Speech?

A case like this raises questions about the legality of a search engine’s authority over its own search results. Is Google breaking the law by favoring their services? Are they betraying a code of ethics? Similar cases against Google in the United States have yielded opposite results. In a case brought up by CoastNews, a regional weekly newspaper, a San Francisco Court ruled in favor of Google, contending that search is a matter of “free speech”, and that Google is entitled to display search results however it wants.

According to The Telegraph, “the ruling underlines the stark difference in how US and European authorities approach the issue of search engine regulation. In Europe, regulators are in the process of imposing a series of measures – such as forcing Google to display rivals’ ads in prominent places – to address the company’s allegedly anti-competitive practices.” The First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech in the United States, however, has potentially strong implications on Google’s practices domestically.

Google Responds

Is Google a monopoly? Google Chairman Eric Schmidt contends they are not. He recently spoke to an audience of thought leaders in Berlin to deny these claims, citing Amazon as a viable competitor for Google:

People don’t think of Amazon as search, but if you are looking for something to buy you are more often than not looking for it on Amazon…They are obviously more focused on the commerce side of the equation, but, at their roots, they are answering users’ questions and searches just as we are.

This sentiment was reiterated in an open letter to the Financial Times, where Schmidt insisted that Google is not the “gateway to the internet”, and that with the rise of mobile apps, eCommerce, social media, and online directories, people now go directly to other sources when searching for information.

Whether or not Google is a monopoly is up for debate, and the impact that the European Parliament’s symbolic vote will have on the European Commission’s legal actions against Google remain to be seen.

16 Things SEOs are Tired of Hearing

16 Things SEOs are Tired of Hearing

We get it: not everybody gets SEO. The industry has been thriving for a long time now, but it is still a considerably small branch of an overall digital marketing strategy, and those outside the industry are less likely to know the ins-and-outs. Clients, and even people on other marketing teams, may understandably need some clarification about a lot of things when we try explaining our day-to-day. Still, there are a lot of misconceptions that come up a lot, and of course, they can be exhausting. Which of these 17 things are you most tired of hearing?

“I need you to help me rank #1 in Google for X amount of keywords…”

Keyword Rankings


“…by next week.”

Ranking by Next Week


“I want to rank for ALL the keywords!!!!”

Rank for all the keywords


“Can’t I just pay for all my links?”Paying for Links


Link building is dead.”

Linkbuilding


“Google has just announced the rollout of a new update to their Penguin algorithm…”

Penguin update


“I don’t really have the time or the resources to devote to content.”

Content Creation


“Can we just stuff a bunch of keywords in here?”

Keyword stuffing


“We don’t really tweet…”

Tweeting


…or the other extreme…”let’s just move everything to our social channels”!

Social Channels


“Let’s do an Infographic!”

Infographic


“My content is AMAZING….so what if the bounce rate is high?”Bounce Rate


“All you need is great content, and it’ll promote itself.”

Content Promotion


“Do I really need a sitemap?”
Sitemap


“So…what exactly IS SEO?”

What is SEO


“What do you do all day?”

What do you do all day


Amazon vs. Google: The Growing Influence of e-Commerce

Amazon vs. Google: The Growing Influence of e-Commerce

In a recent speech delivered at the Berlin headquarters for Native Instruments, Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, stated that when it comes to competition, Amazon represents the biggest threat to the search engine. “Many people think our main competition is Bing or Yahoo. But, really, our biggest search competitor is Amazon,” said Schmidt. His statement came in response to accusations* that Google has become a monopoly by dominating the search market.

According to NetMarketShare, Google leads the global search marketplace with approximately 58% of all worldwide searches. While this is hardly a monopoly, it’s substantially more than Bing or Yahoo’s 8.10% and 4.01%, respectively, and still far ahead of the first runner-up, Baidu, which accounts for 29.06% of global searches. Compared to other search engines, Google does enjoy a level of dominance. So, why is Google weary of Amazon’s growing influence? How do e-commerce sites constitute a viable threat to search engines?

Amazon: The “Next Google”?

In theory, an e-commerce site like Amazon, which is driven by product sales, should not be in direct competition with a search engine. Yet Eric Schmidt argues that Amazon accounts for a definite loss in Google searches. Says Schmidt:

“People don’t think of Amazon as search, but if you are looking for something to buy you are more often than not looking for it on Amazon…They are obviously more focused on the commerce side of the equation, but, at their roots, they are answering users’ questions and searches just as we are.”

In this regard, Amazon becomes its own “e-commerce search engine.” Rather than searching for products on Google, people are increasingly going directly to Amazon to find what they’re looking for. Google becomes the unnecessary middle man, and thus they experience losses. The number of searches decreases as users look elsewhere for products, as does ad revenue. People searching on Amazon do not see the same paid advertisements they see in Google search results, so Google is losing money on clicks.

Google is still a major player in the search market, but these trends prove that Amazon has gained enough traction to become a significant threat in the e-commerce market. According to Schmidt, “Research by the Forrester group found that last year almost a third of people looking to buy something started on Amazon — that’s more than twice the number who went straight to Google.” Add to this the fact that listings on Google Shopping are paid listings, and the numbers speak for themselves: users are searching for products where they know they can find exactly what they’re looking for.

Google Fights Back

Amazon continues to grow. In 2012, The New York Times reported that product searches on Amazon grew by a whopping 73% in just one year. It is the world’s largest e-commerce site, and its efforts to diversify its product offerings — with ebooks, streaming services, and mobile devices — suggests this growth will continue in other verticals. Google has attempted to recapture its share of that audience and stay abreast of the competition. They’ve recently expanded Google Express (an expedited delivery service in the vein of Amazon Prime) to more cities in the hopes of keeping users on Google Shopping. They’ve also revamped their product listing ads to be more dynamic and engaging. Now, when users search for products, they are taken to an Amazon-like “digital showroom” where they can browse directly on Google.

Amazon is still a long ways away from outweighing Google as a whole, but their increasing momentum is enough for the search engine to be concerned. As Schmidt says,

“The next Google won’t do what Google does, just as Google didn’t do what AOL did. Inventions are always dynamic, and the resulting upheavals should make us confident that the future won’t be static. This is the process of innovation.”

The assumption that Google would be eclipsed by another search engine is something many SEOs have fallen into. Moz argues that SEOs are actually ignoring Amazon altogether, and missing out on important opportunities. Ranking well on search is one thing, but ranking well on e-commerce sites is another entirely. In short, if there’s something that makes Google take notice, it’s something we should pay attention to.

*The accusations made against Google are part of a larger anti-trust investigation launched by the European Commission in 2010 to determine whether or not Google holds a monopoly over Internet and Mobile Search. The investigation has taken four years, and the ruling is forthcoming.

5 Disciplines and Skills All SEOs Should Learn

5 Disciplines and Skills All SEOs Should Learn

As SEOs, we wear many different hats in managing clients’ various web properties. We are content strategists. We are link builders. We are outreach coordinators, as well as data analysts. Sometimes we are even developers. At last month’s C3 Conference, Brian McDowell, Director of Search Intelligence for Conductor, discussed an overall shift in the perception of SEO from siloed search engine optimization to web presence management.

Web presence management, a more holistic approach to web marketing, encompasses multiple disciplines working together to power a brand from a variety of channels—paid search, social media, SEO, and more. Web presence management is “not a one man task”, says McDowell, but the effort of a team comprised of talented people from different backgrounds, with a diverse range of skillsets.

While managing a brand is not a one man task, being familiar, at least at a cursory level, with other web marketing disciplines, can strengthen your own skills as an SEO. If you work for an agency or an in-house team, exposure to these other disciplines is often encouraged. If you are a consultant, then having an understanding of other disciplines is important to guiding your strategy and identifying additional areas of need for your client. Here are five other disciplines that can make you a better SEO.

1. Social Media

While social media has always been important to increasing brand awareness, there is an increasing trend in the relevance of social media to search. In their efforts to further emphasize user intent, Google is placing greater importance on social media, integrating activity on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and other channels into its ranking signals.

It’s becoming more important to harness traffic driven to your site through social channels for ranking purposes. Learning social media enables you to take advantage of this trend, helping you identify opportunities across social channels and interacting with their networks in engaging ways that drive them back to your site. You can acquire new customers directly through your increased social presence, and the activity will be a boost to your rankings.

2. Paid Search

Paid search, or Search Engine Marketing (SEM), involves gaining traffic by purchasing ads on search engines. SEO targets keywords organically where SEM places bids on high-volume keywords for the paid advertisements to appear in those searches. While these may be different approaches, they can still inform one another. Experience with SEM can give you keener insight into keywords, as analyzing the performance of paid keywords can inform your organic keyword strategy.

3. HTML Coding

Many experts agree that learning HTML is one of the most essential technical skills for SEOs to have. Even more than HTML, however, is a working knowledge—if not fluency—in more advanced coding, such as CSS. Codes are the language in which the internet is written, and in order to properly optimize websites, SEOs should be familiar with the way their sites are coded and structured. Much can be done in SEO without a technical knowledge of coding, but certain key components—such as Meta tags and the XML site map—depend on you being comfortable with HTML. You will be able to directly optimize sites on a much more structured level, without relying on a webmaster to carry out SEO recommendations.

4. Programming

PHP, JavaScript, JQuery, and other programming languages dictate the behavior and functionality of websites. They are far more involved (though can be integrated with) HTML code, and for SEOs, being able to interpret and manipulate this coding expands your ability to test and experiment. Create a more engaging user experience by serving content based on IP address, browser, language, and other personalized factors.

Responsive design and a website’s adaptability to different devices are all made possible through these codes. While much of this falls out of your domain, an understanding of JavaScript or PHP can help you work more closely with a web developer, and keeps you involved in the development process.

5. Analytics

It’s not enough to simply strategy and implement site optimizations. A good SEO is responsible for monitoring the performance of their sites, tracking changes and analyzing trends from before and after. While you may be working with other people solely dedicated to data analysis, it will help you cultivate your own strategy if you take ownership of that data. An SEO should be able to utilize different tools, such as Google Analytics,  Webmaster Tools, Conductor, or BrightEdge, to thoroughly mine the data for pages and analyze how their optimizations are performing. Site traffic, conversion rate, rankings, and other key metrics are crucial to determining what is working and what you need to refine.

It’s not necessary to become an expert in all things web marketing. Your area of expertise is SEO, and that is what you bring to the table. But it never hurts to expand your knowledge—to diversify your skill set. Exposing yourself to these other fields can give you a better understanding of your own, and makes it easier to work with others on a team. After all, with the way our industry changes on an almost daily basis, adaptability is a prerequisite for the job!

Self-Education for SEOs: 15 Actionable Tips on Learning Your Client’s Vertical

Self-Education for SEOs: 15 Actionable Tips on Learning Your Client’s Vertical

As SEOs, we encounter clients across a plethora of verticals. Every industry needs to optimize for search engines–from education and real estate to entertainment and e-commerce. This makes a thorough knowledge of search engines a highly sought-after skill, but it also means SEOs need to be highly adaptable and ready for anything.

Whether you work for an agency, as a consultant, or even on an in-house SEO team, your career will expose you to subject matters you may not be familiar with. You don’t need to be an expert on your client’s vertical, but to create an effective SEO strategy and build trust, it helps to develop at least a preliminary knowledge of their industry. Consider these 15 tips your guide to educating yourself on the basics of your client’s vertical.

1.) Begin with your keyword research

After conducting your research, type in some of the most searched phrases–not just to identify gaps and opportunities, but to read up on the topic from some of the top ranking sites.

2.) Don’t rush your site audit

When auditing your client’s site, take your time to absorb their content. Learn what they have to say about the space they’re in, and familiarize yourself with their mission, business model, and history–all of which go into strengthening your own relationship with them.

3.) Competitor research

Researching competitors is standard practice in identifying new opportunities, but competitor sites can also be a source of information for SEOs to learn more about the space.

4.) Request materials from previous SEOs

Has your client worked with an agency or consultant previously? Those documents and research can not only inform your own strategy, but give you insight on the space from another SEOs perspective.

5.) Sign up for Google News alerts

Keeping tabs on relevant news alerts will keep you current on what’s happening in your client’s space.

6.) Follow influencers

Follow prominent influencers and thought leaders in the space across social media channels, and subscribe to their newsletters or RSS feeds.

7.) Follow conversations and trending topics

Following trends and conversations will give you good insight into the vertical from a community perspective.

8.) Familiarize yourself with regulations and restrictions

Does your client work in a heavily regulated industry, such as education, healthcare, or finance? An even cursory knowledge of any laws or mandates that regulate their vertical should give you an idea of the limitations to your own strategy.

9.) Don’t be afraid to ask questions

Asking thoughtful questions about your client’s industry shows you’re thorough. Identify areas where you need clarification, and before presenting recommendations, arrange a meeting with the client to learn directly from them.

10.) Establish a point of contact

When sourcing or writing content, establish a point of contact in your client’s organization to answer questions, review content, and provide additional resources or information.

11.) Leverage your writers

If you are sourcing content externally, choose your writers carefully. Search for writers with a thorough knowledge of the industry, who have either a career or educational background in a related field and can use their experience to inform their writing. Once you’ve found a writer you and your client are confident knows the field, lean on them as the experts to drive robust content.

12.) Learn about the local community

For local SEO particularly, learn about your client’s community. Identify local businesses as potential link partners, relevant discussions on social media your client can join, and local news or events to create content around.

13.) Read reviews about your client

Does your client own a restaurant, a private medical practice, or real estate firm? For clients who have their own clients, it is likely that people review them on other sites. Reading these reviews can help you manage your client’s reputation as well as identify needs they may not be meeting.

14.) Learn through link building

Using tools like Mention to find places where your client is referenced but not linked to is good practice for building links, but taking a little extra time to read the articles is good for your own self-edification. You’ll learn more about the space and how your client fits into it.

15.) Leverage SEO communities

Places like Reddit, Google +, and even Moz, have community spaces where SEOs can post questions and leverage the expertise of others. If you’re taking on a client in a space that’s new to you, chances are other SEOs have worked in that space before. While you should avoid posting questions specific to your client, use some of these spaces to source general information to influence your own overall strategy.

SEO best practices are universal, but must still be tailored to each individual client to meet their specific needs. And unless you narrow your scope to only focus on clients in a specific industry, you must be prepared to learn enough about any given vertical to target relevant keywords in the field, craft a content strategy, and identify link building opportunities. Integrating these tips into your own strategy can help you adapt to almost any kind of client you take on.

Google Releases Penguin 3.0 After More Than a Year

Google Releases Penguin 3.0 After More Than a Year

On Friday, October 17, 2014, Google finally released Penguin 3.0: the sixth iteration of the Penguin algorithm and the first update in over a year. The release comes after much speculation, following a statement by Bruce Clay at Pubcon Las Vegas on October 9. According to Clay, sources had alluded to the fact that a major Google update would be rolled out within the next 10 days, and sure enough, the update everyone’s been waiting for was released eight days later. SEOs and webmasters have been eagerly awaiting the next Penguin update due to the unique nature of the algorithm. With Penguin, if a website is impacted negatively, the effects of any changes you made won’t be apparent until the next iteration. So for those who took a hit last October when Penguin 2.1 rolled out, it is only now when they will see if their efforts have paid off. Google confirmed that the roll out of Penguin 3.0 was completed on the morning of Monday, October 20, 2014.

Penguin: an Overview

Google unveiled Penguin back in 2012 with the purpose of ensuring that search queries yielded relevant results from trustworthy, authority sites. The emphasis was on quality, user-focused content, and it can be said that Penguin 1.0 was the catalyst of the resurgence of content-driven marketing strategies that are dominating the current landscape of SEO. On the flip side, Penguin penalizes sites that utilize black-hat link building tactics, with each iteration refining the algorithm to target more poor practices that yield spammy, low-quality links. Naturally acquired links, such as through social media, are now the preferred practice. Paid links, guest posts, and other link-baiting tactics are now severely discouraged. It is still too early to tell exactly how Penguin 3.0 is affecting searches, though initial impressions are that it specifically targets spammy links. It is also unclear what percentage of searches have been impacted by the now-complete update. Initial data was mixed, according to Search Engine Journal. Some sites have shown either sharp inclines or declines in traffic, whereas others have shown no change whatsoever. Experts believe that Penguin has either eluded search volatility tools, making it difficult to detect the actual percentage of sites affected, or that only a very small number of sites experienced an impact. Either way, we can expect additional data, different points of view, and Google’s official statement to guide reactions to Penguin 3.0 in coming days.

Penguin-Proofing Your Site

In Search Engine Journal’s report on Penguin 3.0, their managing editor, Kelsey Jones, indicated that none of her clients were affected by the update. She attributed to the quality and regularity of their content: Amazing content is the only thing that is Google update-proof. Google will never penalize useful, unique content that the user is actually looking for. Instead of spending your time on trying to beat Google algorithms, you should be focusing on asking yourself what your ideal end user really wants… Google is always changing, and part of our job as SEOs is to stay ahead of the curve. While we can’t anticipate Google’s moves, it is clear that their general evolution is towards a user driven experience, where search results are highly personalized and reliable. We can’t just think ahead to the next algorithm–what that “might” be, and how we can trick it. Our strategies have to be long term, creating a solid plan for our sites that is truly focused on the needs of our particular audience.

4 Link Building Opportunities You May Be Missing

4 Link Building Opportunities You May Be Missing

SEO is always changing, with search engines continuously updating their algorithms to provide more dynamic rankings, and the practice of optimization evolving with those changes. While many ranking metrics fluctuate–such as Google’s recent inclusion of site encryption–some consistently remain important. Of all ranking signals, one is still considered the strongest and most important for sites to optimize for: links.

Links are the core of Google’s search algorithm. A diverse portfolio of high quality backlinks from reputable sites establishes your own site’s trust. It also has positive implications for your PageRank, Domain Authority, Page Authority, and Moz’s own MozRank link metric. Different links carry different weight, which makes the authority of the sites linking to you equally important. This is why link building remains key to a successful online marketing strategy.

There are many ways to build links back to your site, and SEOs should always be on the lookout for new link building tactics. But be careful; Google frequently refines the algorithm to penalize blackhat activities. Certain methods, such as guest blogging, are overused, considered spammy, and generate low quality links. Fortunately, you can think outside the box without resorting to black hat tactics. Here are some link building opportunities you may be missing out on.

1.)   Claim links you should be getting

You may be surprised how often your site, product, or service is being mentioned without any link to the actual website. Reaching out to sites that should be linking to you is both effective and Google-friendly. If the website is already talking about you, it’s likely they are a relevant link partner, and they have a better chance of accepting a link. Some ways to claim missing links include:

  • Link reclamation: Use tools like Mention to find instances of your client being mentioned and reach out to the website requesting a link. You can also contact sites that already link to your client and request a more optimized link (more targeted anchor text, a link to a different page).
  • Reverse Image Search: You can use services such as TinEye to find images of your client’s that are used, but not linked to, on other sites, and request a link.

2.)   Buy Links–the Right Way!

Paying for links has become synonymous with black hat SEO. But there are ways to monetarily ensure links that are so strategic, that they bear no resemblance to traditional, low quality link buying. Depending on your client’s scope or budget, some high-concept ideas include:

  • Event Sponsorship: Offer to co-sponsor an event, in-person or online. You can choose the event based on location or topical relevance. Find out what their sponsorship needs are, and request a link in exchange for your contributions.
  • Charitable Donations: Donating to a non-profit is not only a noble thing to do–it can also earn you a link on the organization’s donor’s page.

If your client does not have the budget for something as large event sponsorship, there are other lower scale options. Paid content placement involves using a vendor to place content on a relevant publisher’s website, with a link back to your client’s. You can also form a content partnership with another relevant site that involves syndication of content or mutual content creation.

3.)   Update old content

Content is still an important part of Google’s algorithm, and a solid content strategy is just as important as your link building efforts. In fact, link building and content marketing go hand-in-hand, as you can use your link building strategies to promote and strengthen your content.

Evergreen content is always of interest to readers, but depending on your client’s vertical, information on their site can become outdated and should be updated periodically. Updating this content allows you to pitch your page to other sites as a relevant source of information. Your content is current, timely, and for sites discussing similar topics, presents an opportunity to link to a related source.

You can also search competitor pages to determine content gaps you may be able to fill. What information is missing in your client’s verticals? What needs are not being met? Create this content, and then promote it to establish credibility in the space and build links. Search Engine Land recommends a similar tactic for Infographics, creating revitalized versions of competitors’ outdated graphics.

4.)   Answer questions and become an expert in the space

One interesting way to build links is a longer-term play that may be slower to yield immediate links, but if executed correctly, can help establish your client as an authority. Similar to finding and meeting needs in the space, dig through Question & Answer sites, forums, and the comments sections of popular sites to determine what is being asked the most, and what gaps exist. You can create content to answer these questions, and link to that content in summarized, yet detailed, answers you post in the forum. You will establish trust in the online community, and if you’ve given a quality answer and it performs well, this increases the chances of that content being linked to. Quora is a great example of such an opportunistic site.

Link building is the bread and butter of a successful SEO strategy. Many of your tried and true methods will always be effective, and there is no reason for thinking outside the box to replace those strategies that already work for you. However, to stay ahead of the curve and keep up with Google’s ever-changing algorithm, SEOs should always look for ways to innovate their practice. When executed strategically, and without overusing them, these nifty link building tactics can set you apart from the competition!