The only constant in Organic Search is change

October 2012 was another busy month for Google. The search giant started the month by announcing 65 changes they made during August and September. Google also pushed out a new Penguin Update (v3) on October 5 – these Penguin updates penalize the overuse of keywords both on a website, and through links.

We have had a few clients with really bad – and sometimes profane links. They may consider Google’s new disavow links tool, just released. But we recommend caution with the tool right now: Some SEOs are speculating Google may see this as a confession!

Information also came out early in the month about Google penalizing domains that were more “keyword rich” than authoritative. This Google update (called EMD, or Exact Match Domain) is hitting domains like cheap-flights-from-denver.com. They would have been favored in the past for searches like “cheap flights from Denver”, but no longer. Authoritative sites were not hit though: ski.com still ranks #1 for “ski”.

Google also had an update to its penalty for “Top Heavy” sites – those with too many ads at the tops of the page.

Highlights of Google’s 65 recent changes include:
1. Changes to titles and snippets. Google is ever more treating the robots.txt directives, title and meta description tags as “suggestions” from webmasters. Sometimes this can be helpful – such as when titles have “comments on” or other generic phrases. Other times, Google’s choices may directly conflict with choices the webmaster has made.

2. Google is using more like terms, and expanding their autocomplete suggestions. A search for “telecom provider” returns results where the term “carrier” is bolded as well as “provider”. Google is sure getting smarter, and it’s a good time to diversify keywords!

The Google webmaster guidelines were also updated this month, and reflect their move away from counting low-quality directory as well as low quality bookmarking sites.

There wasn’t much news for Bing this last month, but a recent report from antivirus vendor Sophos found that Bing search results contained more than twice as many malware-infected pages as Google’s search results(which is still at a hefty 30%).

Google My Business for Your Business [Summary of Search]

Businesses thrive when they have an effective way for customers to find them on Google – the search engine most frequently used by your future customers. One of the most effective ways to ensure your business is found is with citations.

A citation is any mention of your business online. A structured citation is a mention of your business on a directory such as Google My Business or Yelp, and an unstructured citation is your business information (NAP: Name, Address, Phone Number) that is not in a business directory; this could be anything from an article about your company or a mention of your business on a vendor’s website. Citations are important for Local Search, as they give search engines your business information across the internet. If you want to rank in Google’s Map Pack, you’ll want to start by making sure your Google My Business (GMB) listing is properly optimized and maintained. Here’s how:

  1. Who Owns Your Listing? If you’re not sure who owns your GMB listing, or you don’t remember which email address you claimed it under, don’t worry! You can request ownership by creating a Google My Business account and searching for your business listing. If it’s already claimed, you can request ownership at this point, and if it isn’t claimed you can request a postcard be mailed to your business address to verify you are who you say you are, and this business is indeed yours.
  2. Search For Duplicate Listings. SEOs know there is nothing search engines hate more than an incorrect NAP on a citation listing. Second to that would be duplicate listings. Google looks at duplicate listings for a business, picks which one they like best (regardless if the information is correct or not) and shows that listing in search. So, how can you tell if you have a duplicate business listing in Google? It’s simple: search for your address and select Maps results. This will show every Google My Business listing for that location. If you see a duplicate of your business, you can claim this listing and merge it with the correct one.
  3. Is Your Map Marker Correct? There is nothing more frustrating as a user than finding incorrect information on a business listing. Wrong hours of operation, a listing for a business that is no longer at the address, and the dreaded map marker location. When users are getting directions to your business address, they’ll often look at your listing in maps to see where you are located. Especially if the user is familiar with the area in which your business is located, they may skip the directions altogether. Make sure your map marker is in the correct place by updating your correct address in your listing information and moving the map marker to the correct spot. Trust me, your users will appreciate it!
  4. Optimize Your Listing. Optimizing your Google My Business listing is a lot easier than it sounds. You want to make sure your business name is correct, your address and phone number are correct, and as we covered above, your map marker is in the correct place. Additionally, you want to make sure the correct business categories are selected so users know exactly what your business does. Make sure your hours of operation are correct and add additional hours of operation for holidays so your customers know when they can and cannot reach you. Add images of your business so users will know when they’ve found you, and add attributes so they know what features you offer! GMB also recently brought back the description section so you can tell users more about your business. Be careful, though; getting too crazy with keywords can cause Google to hide your listing in search. A good rule of thumb is to not leave any field blank, but to keep your listing as organic as possible!
  5. Keep Responding To Your Reviews. This is arguably the most difficult part of maintaining a Google My Business listing. Fortunately, every time you get a review Google will email you at the email address in which you claimed your listing. However, many business owners find this task daunting, especially if they are getting negative reviews. Think of it this way: you can’t make every customer happy. Users know that, and typically find businesses with 100% five-star reviews untrustworthy. Negative reviews are a normal part of doing business, and responding to these reviews show you care about customer service. Google My Business is a platform for unhappy customers to come and express their frustrations with your business, and how you respond says a lot about you. Don’t offer coupons or discounts for the customers to return to your business; instead, express your concerns and give them a phone number or email address to contact you directly to resolve the issue. This turns a negative review to a positive experience and shows Google you’re interacting with your customers which helps boost your rankings. It’s a win, win!
  6. User Suggested Edits. Google allows users to suggest edits to business listings directly from search. This means if I know a business location offers bathroom access, has a different phone number, or the listing is missing a suite number, I can suggest the update directly from search. When you log into your GMB account you’ll find a yellow banner across the top of your listing prompting you to approve user suggested edits for your business. Sometimes, Google will publish these edits if they go unapproved by the business owner, or if the listing is unclaimed. So, it’s very important for business owners to be checking in on their listing frequently to make sure their listing information isn’t being changed.

Making sure your Google My Business listing is properly optimized (and stays that way!) is the first step to achieving local search rankings. Google My Business is just one piece to a very extensive puzzle, but once you master your Google My Business listing you can easily begin claiming and optimizing other local citations for your business. Want to know more about Local Search? Give us a call and we’ll help guide you through the process!

6 Changes in Google Search

Google has made many changes over the years, other engines have followed suit, and SEO has evolved along with these changes. Consider these 6 ways Google has changed over the last several years.

1. More pages are not necessarily better
Google used to reward what would now be considered duplicate content. Endless search results pages, doorway pages, and many other techniques of the past are easily detected by the modern Googlebot. In today’s world, these techniques can be ignored, or even penalized. Where quantity ruled supreme, now quality does. Many sites are pruning, combining, or redirecting the flood of URLs of the old days. If you are tempted by these old techniques, consider that you will likely have to undo the changes.

2. CSS and JS should not be blocked
It used to be a best practice to block Google from JavaScript and CSS resources, as they could otherwise show in the index. And to have those as landing pages was just horrible. But modern Google is very smart: It wants access to everything and needs everything to fully render the page. In having to access these resources, Google analyzes mobile friendliness, speed, layout, and many other factors.

3. Get only good links
From the start, Google has always weighed links very heavily. SEOs used to be able to get websites to rank without even improving the site! And in the old days, any link helped – and was disregarded at worst. In modern Google, links should come from the best sources. Links from penalized, unimportant or even new sites are risky and can now cause a Google penalty. A typical link profile of a site might have these and ratios should be monitored – but some low-quality links are best disavowed. A high ratio of any one type can be a red flag to Google. It’s best to invest your time in getting the best links.

4. Google wants to understand you
Google wants to understand concepts better, and wants to understand you better, too! With the advent of Hummingbird and RankBrain, Google is getting smarter and smarter. Hummingbird was Google’s update to help with classifying content. RankBrain is an Artificial Intelligence update to help Google understand what sort of results a certain query would like to see. Consider that these similar queries are actually quite different:

https://www.google.com/search?q=windows+update
https://www.google.com/search?q=windows+replacement

Think about your prospects’ most important queries driving your traffic. Are you delivering what they are looking for?

5. It’s not just 10 blue links
Google has many changes over the years, and what began as a simple list of 10 blue links has evolved into a wide variety of results that could be returned. Results can now include answers, cards, carousels, images, videos, and more. And voice results are becoming increasingly valuable for some queries. Getting to “number one in Google” isn’t quite the same as it was: Number one might be a block of images or an answer ABOVE the number 1 position.

The modern approach is key to being successful in today’s Google. Images should be named, tagged and captioned appropriately. Schema should be used to help Google understand and classify your content and even your site. For those that commit to helping Google understand their content, the reward is visibility in a multitude of ways.

6. Keywords? Not provided
In the old days, it was easy to see what keywords your prospects were using to find your site. But since “(Not Provided)” has replaced keyword data in analytics, there have been some big changes. Many sites were over-optimized in the old days, anyway. The new approach isn’t spammy but instead is about being more relevant. In the old days, you could target a broad phrase by using it multiple times, and with a heavy bit of anchor-text. In modern times, it’s important to “talk around” any broad phrases. If you want to be relevant for “Blue Widgets”, you must be relevant for as many aspects of the Blue Widget as possible. Consider what questions prospects are asking, what information or media exist around Blue Widgets, etc.

In your SEO approach, always keep in mind that Google has changed quite a bit over the years. Yesterday’s approach was for yesterday’s Google. Bing and the other remaining competitors will keep changing, trying to catch-up to or outdo Google’s innovations. To ensure your success, make sure your approach is in line with Google’s ongoing changes.