The first Penguin algorithm update was announced on April 24th 2012. Now there’s another major Google ‘Penguin’ update on the way.
The news comes straight from the horse’s mouth, courtesy of Google’s Matt Cutts. The update is set to go deeper and have a greater impact than the 2012 version. Apparently the folks at Google are calling it Penguin 2.0 and they’re close to roll-out.
Penguin 2012 dealt with sites whose owners had over-indulged in low quality, spammy link-building that gained them lots of links using the money terms that they wanted to rank for as anchor text. It affected around 3.1% of English language search queries and as much as 3% in other languages.
The update’s aim was to penalise websites which had used manipulative techniques to win high rankings in the search results and while it was designed to catch excessive spammers, a lot of ordinary site owners also came under fire, either through ignorance or retrospectively risky SEO.
Here’s a link to the Search Engine Land site, where you’ll find more info about the 2013 Penguin update. And here’s the video about the next generation Penguin update, Matt Cutts in action:
It’s Friday! Yesterday I wrote a lengthy post about on-site SEO. And I’ll be writing about the off-site side of SEO next. But right now all I have the energy to do is give you a spider. Here it is. It’ll follow your mouse, which is great fun.
Spend time enjoying it and you’ll increase the average time visitors spent on my site, which is good for SEO. Thanks!
And thank you to Andrew Bowman for a delightfully realistic piece of Flash animation.
SEO has undergone profound changes over the past couple of years as Google tightens up its algorithms, slapping down sites with unnatural backlink profiles and sub-standard content.
SEO isn’t about buying or otherwise ‘acquiring’ backlinks and stuffing content with key terms any more, although there was nothing wrong with these techniques – they worked perfectly well in the olden days when Google’s algorithms weren’t anywhere near as intelligent and subtle. But what does SEO actually mean these days?
Much more than the techie side of life
Contemporary SEO encompasses much more than the technical aspects of website implementation. It’s vital stuff because when you pay attention to all the factors it involves, more visitors will find your site and be engaged by it when they get there. OK, they might not make an immediate purchase. But the site will have grabbed their attention, fuelled their interest and raised their awareness, all of which are crucial steps in the customer journey.
A definition of SEO
Rand Fishkin at SEOMoz.org recently described SEO as: “The combination of tactics and strategies, including, but not limited to, optimization of information architecture, usability, content focus, audience targeting, design, development, keyword research, keyword placement, link building, social media marketing and any other online or offline branding/marketing elements that support the goal of receiving more traffic from search engines.”
Cool. But let’s look at the on-site side of SEO life first.
Search engines – Pretty damn clever but still intrinsically dumb
Search engine optimisation pays attention to an incredible variety of nitty-gritty detail that make it easy for visitors and search engines to interpret and understand web pages. Although search engine technology has become very sophisticated, it’s still impossible for them to experience and evaluate web pages in the same way a human visitor would.
I’m shocked by the number of web designers who still don’t bother with on-site SEO. The resulting sites often can’t be indexed by Google and co, full stop, which is just crazy. And although they’re top quality eye candy, the owners face huge problems achieving organic visibility because of poor site structure, silly page titles and meta data, no thought given to key terms, canonical issues and so on. In other words, the basics.
Whether you like it or not, you still need to ‘tell’ search engines what every page is about. And on-site optimisation – AKA common sense – is still the only way to do it. Whatever route you take to site visibility you really can’t avoid on-site optimisation. And you need to take it into consideration at the very beginning of the design process. It’s no good going back later and trying to fix it.
Paid or organic visibility?
There are variations in the percentages of folk who click on the paid listings and organic search results, depending on the search query and other factors. But research indicate around 20% of search users click on a paid advert and 80% on the organic listings.
How come? Perhaps counter-intuitively, people tend to trust the organic search results because they know prominent sites deliver the best results for their search queries. Whereas sites in the paid section of the SERPs are there because site owners have paid to be there, not through merit.
Even if you’re planning to use AdWords to win search visibility, paying good money to appeal to the 20% or so who’ll click on the paid results, it’s obvious SEO is enormously important if you want to hook the other 80%.
Traditional marketing comes to the fore
As writer with a strong direct marketing background it’s lovely to see SEO growing up, so much so that some industry luminaries believe it’s on the brink of changing its name to the much more accurate ‘digital marketing’.
The first step in any marketing activity is to define the target audience. It’s also useful, in the context of search marketing, to define a handful of example search queries that potential customers might use. Why bother defining your audience? There are two main reasons:
- Keyword research: Having a good understanding of who the website is intended for informs keyword research. Rather than focus solely on terms that relate to the products or services sold through a site, it’s much better to identify key terms that relate directly to the needs of the people it’s aimed at.
- Content creation: It is important to provide content and resources that are as relevant and useful to site visitors as possible. An appreciation of the specific needs and concerns of the target audience, along with what influences their buying decisions, is enormously beneficial in developing content they’ll love.
Getting your key terms act together
Key term research is fundamental to internet marketing success. Why? A thorough and accurate understanding of the queries people enter into search engines lets you develop relevant site content that’ll potentially rank for their search queries, engaging visitors when they land on pages because the content fulfils their intent.
The most important SEO advice on the planet!
Google’s webmaster guidelines confirm the importance of understanding the terms people use when searching, and how they should be included in the website for pages to be listed in the organic search results. This is what they say:
“Think about the words users would type to find your pages, and make sure that your site actually includes those words within it.”
They provide an excellent example:
If your web page is about the height of Mount Everest it’s no good calling it ‘everest-info.htm’ or ‘mountain-stuff.htm’ or ‘page-one.htm’. Call it ‘how-high-is-mount-everest.htm’. Use the H1 header ‘How high is Mount Everest?’, use relevant related phrases within your copy, create the right meta data and so on, and you stand a decent chance of being found when people type ‘how high is Mount Everest’ into Google, Bing or Yahoo.
Simple. Elegant. Logical. You’re not playing the system, you’re abiding by it.
Put it all together and you get…
Audience insight plus key term research gives you the knowledge you need to get cracking and pin down your site architecture and page focus and create content prospects are likely to look for. Then you can go forth and have fun engaging with off-site SEO, knowing your site is tailored directly to the needs of visitors and search engines. In an online world that’s more competitive and crowded by the day, where perfection isn’t an option but a must-have, you’d be mad not to.
What about off-site SEO? I’ll cover that next.
(Thanks to PacificRim at www.sxc.hu for the fab cat image)
A quickie for today – just released – here’s a cool video in which Google’s Matt Cutts reveals the top 5 SEO mistakes made by website owners.
Widely slammed as the new scourge of our inboxes, bacn isn’t spam. But it isn’t personal email either. It hovers uncomfortably between useless and useful in a dreary email marketing no-man’s land. You don’t really like it. But you don’t hate it either. It’s the marketing equivalent of magnolia paint: acceptable, neutral, dull.
You might have signed up for email updates on a whim, or through force of habit. But unless the messages are useful, relevant, interesting and all that good stuff, they don’t resonate.
It’s all very well creating worthy email marketing content. But you need to step up your game if you want to avoid generating bacn.
How do I avoid creating bacn?
Wouldn’t it be lovely if people fainted with pleasure when reading our news and spent the rest of their lives unable to eat or sleep with the sheer excitement of it all?
In reality most people never get further than the subject line. They’re too busy, too preoccupied, not in the mood, having a bad hair day, at the wrong end of the buying cycle for a multitude of reasons from the sublime to the ridiculous. All of which makes creating email marketing messages that deliver real value, pleasure and usefulness pretty damn tricky.
Luckily there are a few things you can do to minimise the risk of creating bacn.
Getting your subject line right isn’t enough
While a compelling subject line encourages people to open the package, it can’t help you if there’s a bacn buttie inside. Imagine the disappointment when you open an exciting-sounding email only to find it’s about as thrilling as watching grass grow.
Looking the part
Most of us can look at the content of emails from our inbox without having to actually open the messages. If it looks boring it doesn’t matter how shockingly brilliant your subject line is – they’ll hover and delete. Your looks are as important as your content in this context – include fab images, use colour to its best effect and create a template that’s just as easy to find your way around as it is good looking.
Relevant or off-piste?
You could stick to being strictly relevant, narrowing your content down ’til it squeaks in an effort to target people’s interests and needs head on with all guns blazing. Or widen your reach and talk about interesting off-piste subjects to pique and hold your audience’s attention. Or do a bit of both.
Whether it’s off-piste or bang on target make your emails worth the bother: powerful and definite not limp, bland and middle-of-the-road. I know everyone’s banging on about it but you need to be extraordinary. It’s usually easier said than done, but within the realms of possibility.
Setting the right tone of voice
Drone, drone, drone…. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Make everything you write a pleasure to read and it’s less likely you’ll end up with bacn. Err towards a professional tone of voice if you need to, or take a lighter tone if you’re selling less serious stuff. But make your voice recognisable and consistent, warm and attractive, and you’ll weave the right kind of spell.
Analysing customer data
You can use customer data to tailor email marketing messages according to what people have bought, when and how, observing and analysing their buying behaviour.
Imagine someone has just bought a small blue thing. Would they like to know about the big red thing you’ve just got in stock? It helps to apply logic like this and if marketers’ faith in targeting has any real welly behind it, customer data analysis should help you achieve bacn-free email marketing.
Avoiding hard sells
Do you enjoy being bombarded by hard sells? Probably not. Nor do most of us. Go light on the selling, heavy on the interesting, informing, entertaining and inspiring.
Only contacting people when there’s something to say
There’s nothing worse than sending a marketing message just because it’s on your schedule. If you don’t have anything worthwhile to say, don’t say anything. Less is more. Never ‘do’ marketing just for the sake of it.
Providing opt outs in every communication
It’s best marketing practice to give people the chance to opt out every time you contact them, not just at the start of your relationship. Opt out stats are also handy for analysis. If one particular message makes people opt out in droves, take a long, hard look at it and see if you can figure out why they disliked it so much. And don’t make the same mistake again!
(Thanks to the talented Oscar Nilson on sxc.hu for the lovely royalty-free image)