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On the night of July 24, 2014, the "Pigeon" update hit Google's search results.
This update doesn't target spammy sites like Penguin, or content mills like Panda.
No, Pigeon does something very different.
It dramatically alters the landscape of the local search query, virtually spelling the end for Google's local listing pack:
The number of search queries containing a local search pack has dropped from 12 to 3 percent, a seventy-five percent drop.
Needless to say, this has caused a lot of movement in the search results for local businesses, with inevitable winners and losers as a result.
What many seemed to have missed about the update, however, is how this relates to Google+ (and social media in general) as SEO tactics. If you were counting on Google+ becoming some messianic tool that would allow Google to finally understand your true influence and authority, the news doesn't look good.
In fact, Pigeon is probably just the beginning.
If you aren't aware of some of the massive political shifts that have taken place at Google, let me fill you in.
On April 24, Vic Gundotra, the father of Google+, announced that he was leaving the company. On top of that, there don't appear to be any plans to put anybody else in charge of it. The Google Hangouts team is being moved over to Android. Moreover, sources suggest that those who have been focused on Google+ over the past few years will instead be focusing on building "widgets" that use the Google+ platform, rather than focusing on Google+ itself.
One of the most important shifts, however, is the fact that Google is abandoning its policy of requiring Google+ integration to use Google products. The massive PR failure that was the YouTube comment integration with Google+ has taught the company a lesson: they are a search company first and foremost, and they have abandoned any interest in competing with Facebook or Twitter as a social platform. In fact, the YouTube comment abomination very well could be the straw that broke Vic Gundotra's back.
Of course, the change that SEOs have felt the most, before Pigeon that is, was of course the removal of the Google Authorship photos. This change clearly removed one major incentive for webmasters to join Google+, representative of the other changes happening at Google. It's also very likely that the change was closely related to a new focus on mobile technologies, along with the search result redesign that shrunk available title space.
In this context, what does Pigeon really mean?
At least part of it has to do with recent accusations made by Yelp that Google was favoring its own properties over theirs. However, I would be surprised if Google is doing this simply to cave to Yelp's demands, since any lawsuit they might face would probably result in relatively small financial losses compared to Google's massive budget.
Search engine land reports that Google has told them:
...the new local search algorithm ties deeper into their web search capabilities, including the hundreds of ranking signals they use in web search along with search features such as Knowledge Graph, spelling correction, synonyms and more.
What does that mean?
It means that the ranking factors that work for global online sites now have more influence on local sites. This has important implications. It means that traditional local signals like citations, ratings, and (ahem...Google+) reviews are going to have less influence.
For example, here's what I get when I search for "local pizza" over here in Pocatello, ID:
To be frank, these search results suck in comparison to the local search pack and I find them far less useful. Directories and major pizza places are massively favored, and the "local" businesses that show up are in Boise, a 3.5 hour drive away.
Whatever the reason, it's clear that Google is more interested in returning traditional search results than Google Places/Google+ listings, and that means local businesses had better start setting up websites and ranking them.
Can I say you told you so? Because I'm going to say I told you so.
In January of 2013, I warned that spam was probably going to ruin rich snippets for us at some point down the road.
Whether or not spam was the cause, that day appears to have already arrived. Google is intent on uncluttering the search results. Authorship photos have been removed. The local pack isn't completely gone, but it's close. Google+ profile content is all but gone. I suspect the star ratings will stay with us for quite some time, but we can't be too sure.
One thing's for sure: Google has given up on making Google+ a competitive social network. And this should also tell us something about the future of "social signals" as a ranking factor.
I warned at the end of 2012 and again at the beginning of this year that Google does not use "social media metrics" to rank websites, and that there are good reasons to think that they never will. Matt Cutts has also come right out and said:
As far as doing special, specific work to sort of say, "Oh you have this many followers on Twitter or this many Likes on Facebook," to the best of my knowledge, we don't currently have any signals like that in our web search ranking algorithms...
...We've had at least one experience where we were blocked from crawling for about a month and a half. And so the idea of doing a lot of special engineering work to try to extract some data from webpages when we might get blocked from being able to crawl those webpages in the future, is something where the engineers would be a little bit leery about doing that.
Of course, the standard response has always been that Google has access to their own Google+ data, so they might start using that. Matt Cutts has, of course, also come right out and said that they don't use Google+ to rank sites, and I've argued that it would be a very bad idea for them to cannibalize their own +1 button by making it a ranking factor.
Pigeon has proven that Google is no longer interested in promoting Google+ at every possible opportunity. Using Google+ activity as a ranking factor would be tantamount to telling webmasters they need to use Google+ in order to beat their competitors in Google search results. This would be a terrible PR move, possibly worse than the YouTube comment debacle, and the changes listed above make it clear that Google is not interested in requiring anybody to use Google+ in order to accomplish anything.
The idea that web search and social media will ever become one is dead.
While Google's "search plus your world" feature still technically exists, the personalized features have been dramatically downplayed due to a lack of interest from the public. The same goes for the Bing/Facebook incorporation.
Google has had roughly five years to incorporate social signals into its algorithm, and they haven't done it yet. To me, this can only mean one thing: they tried it internally and it didn't work.
This shouldn't be terribly surprising given what we know now. The CEO of Chartbeat dropped a massive bomb back in February:
We've found effectively no correlation between social shares and people actually reading
Chartbeat is the kind of place where access to that kind of data actually exists, so this shouldn't be taken lightly.
If Google's goal is to show people the best content, it stands to reason that they should use metrics which indicate that people have actually consumed the content. Unfortunately, it seems that people share content on social networks to keep up appearances, not necessarily because they actually spend any time consuming content. Shares say more about titles than they do about content.
While it's obvious that social sharing can drive traffic, it is now equally obvious that social metrics such as Likes and tweets are essentially useless indicators of content quality, and +1s are in the same boat.
As for Google+, I want to be clear. It's a good place to have topical conversations and connect with influencers. It can have indirect benefits for your SEO as a result. Conversations on Google+ are generally more topically oriented than conversations on Facebook (and there are essentially no actual conversations happening on Twitter).
Social media can be a useful digital marketing tool if you know what you're doing, but if you think it's directly helping your SEO, it's time to let go.
Remember all those tear-jerking commercials Google put out a year or two ago to persuade people to use Google+? That's not what they're advertising anymore. No, Google is declaring that their identity crisis is over, and that they are a search company. They seem to believe it is especially important to get this message across to teens (likely because they were the ones most offended by the YouTube comment debacle).
Their new tagline? "Search on."
Google has moved on, and you should to.
Virtually every website has crawl errors, and that's not an exaggeration.
Unfortunately, this doesn't mean that you can feel free to ignore them.
In fact, 404s and other crawl errors can be disastrous for your site under some circumstances.
But before you rush out and immediately redirect all of your 404s to the home page, it's important to understand that this isn't always the right move either, and sometimes it's actually the wrong move.
So, let's talk about those pesky crawling errors, what they mean for your site, and what to do about them. (more…)
Websites and blogs are onto our game of guest posting by now. Under many blogs’ “write for us” guidelines, we’re being told that we need not apply if we’re just looking for links.
If you have been sending the same template to multiple blogs a day, chances are that your emails are ending up in someone’s trash bin. Editors get tons of guest pitch emails daily and have no reason to respond to one that doesn’t stand out. To get noticed in the field of other bloggers, your pitch has to be unique and tailored to every website you attempt to contact.
When it comes to sending a successful pitch for a guest post, customized content is key. (more…)
Whenever you move a page, you have two options: a 301 or a 302 redirect.
(Okay, yes, there are 303 and 307 redirects, but they're rarely used in practice since not all browsers understand them.)
So, the question is, which one do you use?
The answer is typically pretty straightforward. You should almost always use a 301 redirect. A 302 redirect does not pass any link authority to the new page (at least not reliably); it's all lost on the defunct page.
But is there ever a case where a 302 is actually the right choice?
That's what I'm going to talk about today. (more…)
There was a time, back in the dark ages of 2009, when "web 2.0 SEO" was the next big thing. Interest since then has...waned a bit:
Well, it was a number of things, but it was mainly Panda. In February of 2011, Google unleashed Panda, which was most likely a machine learning algorithm, trained on a set of manually chosen low quality pages. It identified some of the hidden patterns exhibited by low quality content writers, and it didn't take long for links from places like EzineArticles to become close to useless.
All those "web 2.0 properties," like Squidoo and so on started to look a lot less like viable link building opportunities.
Of course, anybody who was claiming to build links from sites like these for referral traffic and branding was either lying through their teeth or out of touch with reality. The update didn't effect many legitimate marketers, because very few of them were using sites like these. The same goes for any above board SEO agency who steered clear of such grey-hat tactics.
But today, I thought it would be interesting to revisit the state of web 2.0 link building. Does it still work? If so, what does that mean for the rest of us marketers and full-fledged businesses? (more…)
Most marketers' video promotion strategy goes something like this:
Step 1: Submit to YouTube.
Step 2: There is no step 2.
As you can probably guess, I think there's a lot more to it then that.
But today, I'm not going to be covering the more nuanced aspects of video marketing. Instead, I'm going to be pointing out something that should be rather obvious: YouTube is not the only place that people watch videos online. There are actually quite a few sites that let you submit your videos.
Surprisingly, there actually aren't a whole lot of lists online that tell you which sites you can submit your videos too.
And the problem with the lists I have seen is that they either detail every single site that has anything to do at all with video, or they organize them by nonsense metrics like PageRank. Sorry, but the PageRank of the front page of a video site isn't going to tell you anything about how much a link from the video is going to help your SEO.
In fact, before this list becomes some go-to place for every grey hat spammer who thinks that video submission is the new "article marketing," let me add a little disclaimer here. I would not expect a link from a video submission site to do much for your SEO, especially if the video isn't picking up any positive user behavior metrics and natural backlinks of its own.
However, I do believe that traffic from video sites tends to be much higher in quality that the referrals you tend to see from other sites, and you can really improve that click through rate by reminding viewers that there's a link right below the video.
So, I've decided to organize the following sites not by SEO metrics, but by Alexa rank. I know, I know, Alexa and all other traffic estimation tools suck, but it does still give you some indication of the relative popularity of these sites.
Alright, I think I've ranted enough. Here are the sites. Enjoy. (And you better. This list took a much longer time to put together than it will take you to browse through...) (more…)
Want to find out how much traffic a competitor is getting?
Well. Let's start with the bad news.
Google Trends? Don't make me laugh.
It's probably the best tool out there. They certainly have an amazing keyword tool, but they still underestimate the search traffic to my personal site by a factor of 2 to 5, and even the trend lines don't match up all that well:
No disrespect to SEMrush. Being off by a factor of 2 to 5 is damn good when it comes to estimating a competitor's traffic. There's no way they could have known that "the p-value formula" doesn't get searched for very often in the summer months, being a subject that only college students tend to care about. Nor could they have predicted that up to four fifths of my traffic is coming from obscure search queries they couldn't possibly have guessed in their wildest dreams.
I hate to say it folks, but the only way you can actually know how much traffic a site gets is to have access to their server logs or their analytics account. This data is not publicly available, and let's hope it stays that way forever.
Now for the good news. (more…)
It's neck and neck.
Through your amazing powers of persuasion and charisma, you have assured yourself the possibility of earning a link from one of two places.
One opportunity has amazing domain (or "site") authority, and the other one has exceptional URL (or "page") authority.
Through some bizarre hypothetical twist of fate that I lack the creativity to imagine, you can only choose to earn one of these links.
Which one do you choose?
Well, for starters, if you actually do have that much precise control over where your link ends up, you're creeping close to the edges of Google's Guidelines and you'd be wise to tread lightly.
That said, as an SEO, your strategy can change pretty dramatically depending on whether you think in terms of earning links from high profile pages, or links from high profile domains. In fact, this same line of thinking can have important implications for the way you approach your on-site SEO as well.
So, when all is said and done, where should you put your focus? (more…)
Now that everyone is into full-on summer mode, you probably don't want to spend your time in front of the computer searching for the best content. Luckily for you, we've gathered up our favorite SEO, social media, and content marketing articles from June into one convenient place. Peruse these informative posts at your own leisure this long July 4th weekend, whether on the hammock in your backyard or under the rays of the sun at the beach. If you're looking for the same great content the rest of the year, join us on Twitter, Google +, or Facebook. Enjoy!
If you haven’t heard of DuckDuckGo yet, you will soon. On Apple's iOs 8, users can switch their default search engine preference to the up and coming search engine option. It’s all about optimizing privacy, sidestelling filter bubbles and takes a stance against profiling.
Us SEOs put a lot of effort into increasing rankings. We spend thousands of marketing dollars creating link bait, weeks reorganizing the internal linking structure to best support important pages, and hours complaining that Target’s terrible category page or eHow’s poorly written post is still outranking our perfectly crafted page.
Well, can you?
In short, yes, but be careful.
While a growing number of organic search marketers seem to think that Google is a hyper-intelligent entity that can always infer the subject of your content, no matter the medium, Google is actually dumb as a rock on this front (though, admittedly, it's an increasingly intelligent rock). This is especially true of video, which Google can't parse or "understand," even to the level that it "understands" HTML text.
If you think I'm being insulting, official documents from Google confirm that, yes, you should indeed optimize your YouTube metadata.
But, like anything else these days, this kind of optimization isn't nearly enough to carry an otherwise flawed strategy. YouTube also looks at user behavior metrics, including favoring videos that keep people on YouTube for a longer time. If people aren't watching your videos, clicking to see what else you've done, or thumbing them up, don't expect them to do very well if there are other videos that cover similar topics and get a better response.
Still, there's a lot more to the optimization side of things than optimizing for users, and that's what we're going to talk about today.
Here's how to make sure your videos actually get found on YouTube. (more…)