Google Algorithm

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SEO News and Google Updates – August 2015

Here’s what making news in the SEO community in the last couple of weeks.

Moz Ranking Factors Preview

Moz is getting ready to publish its latest set of Search Engine Ranking Factors and gave author Eric Enge early access to some of the data. Here is what he has found:

  1. More and more Top 10 Results are Mobile Friendly:
  • 75% of Top 10 Results for commercial searches are mobile friendly.
  • 64% of Top 10 Results for informational searches are mobile friendly.
  1. Using HTTPS is a very new and minor ranking factor:
  • 17% of Top 10 Results for commercial searches use HTTPS.
  • 11% of Top 10 Results for informational searches use HTTPS.

Gary Illyes of Google confirmed HTTPS as a minor ranking factor on July 22, which we are told is used as a tiebreaker when two competing sites are similar in all other aspects. Google has warned that they will continue to increase the weight of this ranking factor over time.

Actionable Takeaway: Mobile Friendliness has arrived. To maintain or improve your rankings your website needs to be Mobile Friendly. HTTPS is on the horizon and many are waiting to see the impact this will have on rankings and the best way to implement on various types of websites.

Google Showing 3 Local Results Instead of 7

We started noticing this ourselves last week and Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Roundtable confirmed it on August 7. Google is now showing just 3 local listings with a link to see more. Previously, it had shown 7 local listings in Search Results.

Many SEOs and businesses are upset that just 3 make it to the Google Local Pack, making the competition even tougher.

There are a number of other big differences between Google Local 3-Pack and 7-Pack, as pointed out by Jennifer Slegg:

  • Exact addresses removed (just street name is shown)
  • Phone numbers removed (mobile version still has “call” button option)
  • Google+ links removed
  • Store hours added
  • “Google Reviews” now called “Reviews”
  • No fly out listing when you hover over a business (must click to see information)

When you click on a business from the Local Pack you will see a list of 20 additional local listings (competitors) in the left column, the selected business’ local listings information in the middle, and a map of the area on the right.

Google says they are exploring the best way to bring a better search experience but many business owners and marketers are wondering how this will impact potential calls and clicks.

Actionable Takeaway: Make sure you do everything possible to have a complete Google+ Profile including customer reviews. Make sure your website is properly optimized for the opportunity to show up below the Local Pack. You need to do everything you can to try to get in the Top 3 Local Pack, have a complete profile for if searchers click on you from the list of 20 Competitors on the side, and have a great ranking site if searchers scroll right past the local listings all together.

Reviews Deliver ROI

Myles Anderson has spent a lot of time and resources uncovering the true value of reputation management for local business marketers. Some of his latest findings include:

  • 83% of marketers believe reviews and reputation management absolutely delivers a good ROI,
  • 61% ask customers for reviews, and
  • 73% spend less than 20% of their time on review/reputation related tasks.

The results suggest that Review Management doesn’t have to take up too much of your time, is as simple as asking customers for reviews, and can provide a great ROI.

Anderson sought out an additional four experts in the area to provide advice on reviews, which included:

  1. Positive reviews can mean more clicks than your competitors.
  2. No reviews can be just as detrimental as bad reviews.
  3. Take the time to read, mine, and apply your reviews – both good and bad.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask multiple times for a review.
  5. Remember all sources for reviews … Facebook, Yelp, Google+, TripAdvisor, Yelp, Houzz, Healthgrades, and more. Niche sites in your industry are important too.

Actionable Item: Follow Anderson’s advice in thinking of this process as Reputation Development rather than Reputation management. How can you further develop your reputation?

Recent Google Algorithm Ranking Updates

Google makes hundreds (300-600) of changes to its algorithm each year. Many are minor and go unnoticed but there are some more major updates that affect a significant number of websites and get the SEO community buzzing.

So far in 2015 there have been several Google ranking updates that people are still talking about:

  • Panda 4.2 – July 17, 2015
    This is the 28th Panda refresh that is expected to take months to fully roll out. Panda was first launched on May 20, 2014 and is designed to target low quality content.
  • The Quality Update (aka Phantom) – May 3, 2015
    The SEO Community started buzzing about large scale ranking changes and named this update “Phantom” before Google would officially confirm it. Google did finally confirm this as a quality signals update that has a broad impact.
  • Mobile Update – April 22, 2015
    For the first time ever Google preannounced a ranking update before it happened plus the exact date it would hit, giving website owners a deadline to upgrade to a mobile friendly or mobile responsive website. Many took the warning seriously and upgraded their websites to become mobile friendly. So far the update has had a smaller than expected impact on websites although it is expected to increase in the future.

Actionable Item: Google is making changes to how your site might rank each and every day. Focus on Google’s best practices and principles, and take a holistic approach to SEO and online marketing as a whole.

Have you kept up with all of these changes, or do you need assistance going mobile friendly or secure? Do you have enough reviews and local exposure?

Call us at 1-888-262-6687 for advice.

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Google Algorithm Quality Update – May 2015

google-quality-update-may-2015Google recently confirmed that it indeed changed its algorithm earlier this month.

Many website owners and SEO’s started noticing changes in rankings in early May although Google kept saying there were no updates. Some were even calling it the “Phantom Update” because everyone noticed something was happening but Google wouldn’t acknowledge it.

Finally Google confirmed with Search Engine Land that there were changes to its core ranking algorithm in terms of how it processes quality signals.

In the first few days of confirmation the May 2015 Google update is being affectionately called the Quality Update. Google has not recently given any specifics of how they now measure quality but based on past statements and Webmaster Guidelines we can know that quality is measured through a wide range of factors. It is likely Google is shifting the importance weighting of some factors or even considering new quality factors in the mix.

In the past Google has given us insight into how to create quality which still holds true today:

“The key to creating a great website is to create the best possible experience for your audience with original and high quality content. If people find your site useful and unique, they may come back again or link to your content on their own websites. This can help attract more people to your site over time.”

Does your website pass Google’s quality test? Have you noticed a change in ranks or traffic lately? Do you have a strong, quality website that not only maintained its positioning but perhaps gained in rankings this May?

Here’s some tips for writing valuable and quality content straight from Google if you need help boosting the quality of your website:

  • Make your website useful and informative – gather all the information your visitors are looking for and will need, and organize it so it is easy to find.
  • Make your website more valuable and useful than your competitors – do something different, say more than others, add different perspectives, and stand out in a good way.
  • Make your website credible – you want visitors to trust you and the information on your site by citing sources, adding testimonials, sharing author biographies, and including other trust factors such as badges and awards.
  • Make your website engaging – you need to interact with your visitors through pictures of your products or team.
  • Make sure your website stays up to date – you can add a blog, comments boxes, social media widgets, or an events page to keep your website fresh.
  • Make your content perfect – you need to double and triple check for spelling, stylistic and factual errors throughout your website.
  • Make your website distraction-free – make sure visitors don’t leave your site because of excessive ads, spam, or glaring mistakes in information.

At 1st on the List we offer both Site Audits and Content Optimization to help assess the current quality score of your website and add new content to your website that Google will love to read and rank.

Call us at 1-888-262-6687 ext 705 to get more information today!

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Great Resource! Your Google Algorithm Cheat Sheet

The Moz Blog just published an invaluable resource for you as a business owner, website developer, content writer or all of the above! The article unravels the mystery behind all of Google’s algorithm updates as of late in simple terms that anyone can understand. Head over to the full article on The Moz Blog by Marie Haynes  or skim our TLDR (too long didn’t read) notes below.

What’s an Algorithm Update?

An algorithm change is an update in the rules Google uses to evaluate and rank a website.

Google uses over 200 different rules to determine the value of a website, how it relates to searcher’s queries, how well it will answer a Searchers question and how it compares to all of the other websites similar to it.

The three biggest algorithm changes in the last couple years are all animals:

  • Penguin
  • Panda
  • Hummingbird

Panda Algorithm Updates

  • Launched February 23, 2011.
  • Named after one of its creators, Navneet Panda.
  • It’s all about on-site quality.
  • Purpose is to show more high-quality websites and fewer low-quality websites in Search Results.
  • Affected a lot of content farms.
  • Tends to be a site-wide issue rather that page-specific issue. This means Google doesn’t just demote the pages with the low-quality content but demotes the entire website.
  • You can use Google’s Checklist to evaluate the quality level of your content.

There are three types of bad quality content to worry about with Panda:

  • Thin content – doesn’t add extra value to someone reading it, usually short pages.
  • Duplicate content – either the same content from another page on your website or someone else’s website.
  • Low Quality Content – content that is not in depth or that helpful to readers.

Panda algorithm is refreshed approximately once a month. Each time Panda is updated Google takes a new look at each website and evaluates the quality of its content based on the updated Panda algorithm’s set of rules.

Penguin Algorithm Updates

  • Penguin first launched April 24, 2012.
  • Designed to get rid of low quality, self made links created to game the system.
  • Google has always used links as a way to measure a website’s popularity.
  • A link is like a vote of confidence, the more websites that link to you, the more useful, important or popular your content must be.
  • Penguin is Google’s way of evaluating the trust factor on your links.
  • The Penguin algorithm is updated occasionally just like Panda.
  • The last recorded update is October 4, 2013 which means everyone is anxiously waiting for the newest one to launch.

If you aren’t sure if you have unnatural links in your profile check out these helpful resources:

What is an unnatural link – An in depth look at the Google Quality Guidelines

The link schemes section of the Google Quality Guidelines

Hummingbird Algorithm Updates

  • Hummingbird is a very different algorithm than Panda and Penguin.
  • Hummingbird was live for over a month and no one in the SEO community even noticed.
  • Hummingbird launched just a week before a big Penguin Update on October 4, 2013. Many site owners may blame Hummingbird for changes in traffic when it wasn’t actually to blame.
  • Google designed Hummingbird to better understand searcher’s queries and intent.
  • You can take advantage of Hummingbird by writing great content that addresses your users’ questions and concerns.
  • Stop focusing on ranking for particular keywords – go for a well-rounded content strategy designed to answer questions.

How is Your Website Doing As of Late?

How has your website fared through these Google algorithm updates? Are you worried you may be at a disadvantage?

The good thing is that there are many small tweaks we can help you make to ensure your website adheres to as many of Google’s ‘algorithm’ rules as possible – making your website more searchable and find able to all the customers who are looking for you!

Give our consultants a call today at 1-888-262-6687 and get back on the right track!

All of our Algorithm Resources:

Intro to Hummingbird Algorithm Update

Your Action Plan for the Hummingbird Algorithm Update

How does Hummingbird affect SEO?

Google’s Penguin turns 1

9 Things you need to know about Panda

Key Takeaways for Panda Changes

4 Takeaways for Panda 4.0 Changes

Google-Panda-Updates-sm

Recently I came across an excellent article by Razvan Gavrilas about Panda 4.0 which investigates several winners and losers in SERP visibility after the May 20th Panda algorithm update.

If this is the first time you are reading about Panda consider reading our previous article 9 Things You Need to Know to familiarize yourself with the latest Google algorithm update first.

By looking at the common themes between sites that had huge boosts in SERP visibility (as much at 900%) and sites that drops in SERP visibility Gavrilas developed 4 key takeaways to make your website “Panda Friendly”.

Needless to say these are all items we already stress to our clients.

1) Be an Authority

“Content Based Topical Authority Sites are given more SERP Visibility compared to sites that only cover the topic briefly … More articles written on the same topic increase the chances for the site to be treated as a “Topical Authority Content Site” on that specific topic.”

A lot of specific content covering your area of expertise is better than a load of generic content covering a wide range of semi-related areas. Think of this as if you have a pain in your foot. Would you rather see a Podiatrist or your Family Doctor?

2) Content Needs to Engage With Visitors

“Sites with High User Interaction measured by shares and comments got a boost.”

If you are providing good quality content that visitors are finding useful it is inherent that they will want to share it. User interaction can be things like forums, Social Shares, comments and so on. As Gavrilas points out, Google is looking for an active community that gathers people who share the same needs, desires or passions.

3)  Stay Away from Thin or Automated Content

“Thin Content and Automatic content is deranked, even if it is relevant.”

Gavrilas bases this remark on a Matt Cutts quote from an earlier interview:

“Content that is general, non-specific, and not substantially different from what is already out there should not be expected to rank well. Those other sites are not bringing additional value. While they’re not duplicates they bring nothing new to the table.”

You need to do the opposite of what Cutts is saying here in order to achieve better SERP Visibility:

  • Be specific.
  • Be different.
  • Bring value.
  • Be unique.

Essentially – what do you have to offer that is above and beyond any other competing authority on the web? Thin content is like going to a job interview and stating all the same answers as the other candidates. What makes you better? You need to stand out in order to get the job, or in this case, catch Google’s attention.

4) Clear Navigation to Explore Your Unique Content

Sites with clear navigational structure and unique content got boosted.

Finally SERP visibility winners had strong navigation and structure throughout their website for visitors to easily find the information they need and explore related topics to what they were originally searching for. Think of a messy navigation like a library with no organization, where nothing is arranged by topic, author or type of book.

Glavrilas recommends that you look closely at your site structure and make sure every piece of content is relatively linked to other topical content on the site.

Need some help with your website content?

At 1st on the List we can help you develop a feasible long-term content strategy within your budget in order to establish your website as an authority. Contact one of our SEO Writing Consultants by emailing contact@1stonthelist.ca or calling 1-888-262-6687.

9 Things You Need to Know about Google Panda 4.0 (Google’s Newest Algorithm Update)

Google Panda UpdateYou could say it’s “PANDA-MONIUM” in the SEO community in the last couple days as Google just released the highly anticipated Panda 4.0 algorithm update.

As a website owner what do you need to take away from all the Panda buzz?  We’ve read through the most trusted SEO experts’ early evaluations of the Panda 4.0 and have compiled this guide on everything you need to know about Panda 4.0, plus several tips to make sure your website is Panda-Proof.

1.  Panda 4.0 was officially launched on May 20, 2014 around 4 PM.

As reported by Matt Cutts, Google’s Head of Spam, over Twitter yesterday afternoon:

To date, this announcement has been retweeted 2,477 times. Just an hour later Cutts tweeted:

Check out these resources to see an entire history of Panda Algorithm Updates:

MOZ Google Algorithm Change History

SEJ’s Google Panda Update Tips and Timeline

2. The Panda Algorithm Update targets low quality content.

Since its introduction in early 2011 the purpose of Google’s Panda algorithm update has always been to keep low quality content from appearing in Google’s top search results. Early on Panda was known as Farmer as it targeted article farm websites. Panda also took action against scraper websites that copied content from other websites. Finally, websites that were designed for the sole purpose of hosting AdSense ads with ads above content were penalized by Panda. Essentially, according to one Forbes article, Google design Panda 4.0 to stop low-level spam page creators from damaging the Google Search product and to product the integrity of their search results. Unfortunately many business websites that didn’t have enough quality content or had features similar to spam sites were negatively affected by Panda.

3. Panda 4.0 affects ~7.5% of queries.

Google predicts Panda 4.0 will affect approximately 7.5% of English search queries, to a degree that a regular user might notice (as reported by Search Engine Land).

4. Panda 4.0 and Payday Loans Refresh occurred at the same time.

Google generally doesn’t launch more than one update at one time because it makes it harder to see the individual effect of each. You need to be aware that Google launched the Payday Loan 2.0 update on May 20, just one day prior to Panda 4.0. The Payday Loan 2.0 refresh impacts extremely spammy queries such as “payday loan” while Panda targets low-quality content. SearchEngineWatch reports that:

“Releasing two back-to-back updates makes it a lot harder for webmasters to analyze the changes and what specifically was targeted in these updates, and could affect Google’s ability to evaluate how well (or not) the two updates worked. It also means webmasters might have a challenge knowing what changes need to be made in order to recover search rankings.”

5. Panda 4.0 could seriously help your site’s traffic.

Many fear the worst of Panda 4.0 with visions of their rankings and website traffic dropping even further. There are early reports of Panda bringing some serious improvement to website’s traffic, such as this tweet by Alan Bleiweiss:

6. Panda 4.0 is much softer and more generous.

Barry Schwartz recently spoke with Matt Cutts and reports that:

“He made it sound like this update may appear gentler for some sites but it does lay the groundwork to future changes in the direction of a softer and gentler Panda algorithm.”

Based on what Google is telling us we believe that Panda 4.0 could reverse some damage done to sites that have good content but were impacted by previous Panda updates for various on-page reasons. If your site was truly hit by Panda in the past you may see some much needed recovery.

Search Engine Journal shares that:

“There’s already been accounts of site’s previously hit by Panda seeing significant recoveries and, as such, it looks that the update has indeed been a little softer and more generous to site’s, especially those previously affected.

In the same article, industry expert Marie Haynes also notes that:

“I think it’s too early to say what this new iteration of Panda is affecting, but I can tell you that in the case of the site that I saw big improvements on, no cleanup work had been done at all.”

7. Panda is integrated into Google’s overall continuous algorithm changes.

Just over a year ago Matt Cutts let us in on a secret at the SMX West conference. Panda is actually integrated into Google’s overall continuous algorithm changes which means that the effects of an update or refresh like Panda 4.0 will be less severe. It’s like going to the dentist every six months for a checkup and finding very minor issues or going to the dentist every five years and finding significant issues.

Rohan Ayyar at E2M Solutions explains the differences between the ongoing Panda refreshes and this new Panda 4.0 update:

“Last year, around this time, Matt Cutts had announced at the SMX West conference that Panda will be integrated into Google’s overall continuous algorithm changes. This can be taken to mean that the effects of an update or refresh (two different things) will be less severe or noticeable. It is less of a manual effort and happens more in real time as and when Googlebot visits your site. So don’t go running off to your analytics yet to see if you’ve been hit. Hang around for a couple of days and keep looking everywhere … Panda 4.0 is clearly a major update (changes to site identification and classification processes; worth announcing) to the algorithm as opposed to a data refresh (changes brought about as a result of deeper crawling with more site-specificity).”

8. Don’t panic over Panda 4.0.

As Ayyar suggests, don’t freak out over your traffic right away. Barry Schwartz tells you to look at your analytics over the next few days and isolate if you were impacted by one of Google’s algorithms. If you feel you may be affected by the Panda update have an expert (like us) do a careful analysis of your website and the probable causes. If you need to make changes on your site do so systematically so that you know what changes make a difference. Remember that Panda updates can take awhile to fix and you will need to be patient and wait for Google’s next Panda data refresh to get your site re-evaluated and reindexed.

9. Many anticipate Penguin Update is soon to follow.

Many industry leaders feel that a Penguin Update may be soon to follow this big Panda update.

What’s the difference between Panda and Penguin? Basically, Panda has to do with content while Penguin has to do with inbound links.

How to Panda-Proof your Website

What you should do to protect against Panda updates? In a nutshell you need to deal with thin and duplicate content!

  • Remove low quality content that doesn’t serve a purpose for website visitors.
  • Aim to have at least 400-500 words on informational pages and at least 150-200 words for descriptions on product pages.
  • Remove any content you have copy pasted from your suppliers’ or competitors’ websites.
  • Update any pages that have duplicate content from other pages on your website.
  • Use www.copyscape.com or www.siteliner.com to ensure your content is 100% unique.
  • Stop using automatically generated content or scraped content.
  • Make sure you provide enough content on your website to answer all of your visitor’s questions
  • Aim to establish yourself as the most credible source in your industry/ area/ market.
  • Check your ad to content ratio if you are running AdSense on your website.
  • Make sure your website loads fast.
  • Build trust with your content.
  • Stop writing duplicate or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations. Get creative and give your visitors something they can be excited to read!
  • Make sure your pages provide something unique and substantial value when compared to other pages in search results.

Additional common sense strategies you should use for overall sound SEO include:

  • Share your content over your Social Media platforms of choice.
  • Find ways to lower your bounce rate.
  • Always focus on improving user experience.
  • Be patient as results won’t be immediate.

Have you seen any changes in your website traffic recently? Have you experienced steady declines in traffic since 2011? You could be a victim of Panda. Call us at 1-888-262-6687 and have us walk you through how Google’s algorithm changes may be affecting your website.