How Google’s Penguin Update could affect your small business website

The Penguin Update and your small business websiteGoogle Penguin

Google recently announced an update to their search ranking algorithms that in most part only affects what Google terms “spammy websites”  but with that being said, there is in my opinion, some unintended affects to small business websites…so I thought I would cover them here in my blog.

Why Google’s Penguin Update is creating so much hype

Obviously if you found my post, you too have heard of the Google Penguin Update.  For most small businesses, this update will not affect them in the least…in fact Google estimated upon launch that this update would only affect 3% of searches, but with over 600 million searches being performed everyday in the United States, that equals out to 18,000 searches or 12.5 searches every minute being affected (as of about 2 years ago).

In my experience, Google “affected” ratios often are off, i.e. the dreaded “not provided” metric for organic searches on Google Analytics.  When this was first rolled out, Google claimed that at the most 10% of searches would be included in this “not provided” category…but I have seen as much as 30% of some of my client traffic here.  So if we apply this to Google’s new update, we could surmise that 54,000 searches each day, or  37.5 per minute are changed.

Is Google’s Penguin Update bad?

In my opinion, absolutely not.  The Penguin update is targeted at websites that are trying to gain SEO rankings through spam activity, and Penguin specifically targets websites trying to create links to their site by buying them or other black hat methods.

What is the focus of Google’s Penguin Update?

Google’s Penguin Update in not like a lot of other updates they have had in the past.  Below is what this update is specifically designed to do:

  1. Penguin does not improve search results.  The Penguin update is specifically targeting websites that Google deems as being “over-optimized”.  What does that mean to you as a small business trying to achieve rankings on Google?  It means that if your website has been deemed by Google as a web property that has manipulated their search algorithms, and even if your site is the best match for a specific consumer query, they really don’t care (to an extent) they will down-grade your site ranking because of this update.  Before anyone runs screaming…Google has provided a form for you to fill out if you think your site has unfairly been penalized… and whaalaa here it is: Google Penguin Update Form
  2. Removed link value.  If you were previously ranking high for certain keywords, and now your position has dropped, and you’re certain you haven’t been engaging in black hat practices, you may have been unfairly penalized based upon in-coming links to your website.   One of the items Google did with this update is remove link value, or often refereed to as “Link Juice” from so called spammy websites.  If you had some…or a lot of these sites linking to you, you may have been affected…in which case fill out the update form above.
  3. Manipulative linking. This update seems to be focus for the most part on manipulative links.  Most small businesses will encounter this type of penalty when they subscribe to a service that promises hundreds…or sometimes even thousands of links, or sometimes referred to as back links to their website, in hopes of garnering positioning on the first page of Google for desired keywords.

man with mag glassHow Google’s Penguin Update can affect a small business

Unfortunately many small businesses don’t pay as much attention to their internet marketing strategy as they should.  Correctly marketing your business online takes dedication, or a internet marketing company that has your best interests in mind.  With many small business owners I have seen that they often buy what advertising seems to make sense at the time, with little to no regard to how it will affect them in the long run.  Having a truly successful internet marketing campaign takes time, dedication and research.  If you decide to outsource you internet marketing, the below list will help you decide if your working with someone that truly has your best interests at heart, I do need to point out that everything I talk about below pertains to SEO…because anyone can get on the 1st page if they pay for it…

  • Promise of first page of Google.  Although not impossible to achieve, if you’re a new website…and someone comes in and says they can get you on the first page of Google for that impossible keyword such as “Carpet Cleaning”, do your check book a favor and tell them “no thanks.”  Highly competitive keywords take time to achieve rankings for.
  • Hundreds of links (or backlinks) to your website.  Many business owners get hit everyday by solicitors or emails promising hundred…and even sometimes thousands of links to their websites, all for only mere cents or dollars a day.  What you as a business owner doesn’t realize is this exactly what Google’s Penguin Update targets, and scams like this have been going on as long as commerce has been alive on the internet…want to check it out?  Google “Link farming” and see what you find…or you can watch a video explaining what link farming is.
  • Spammy Small Business Websites.  Small business owners are often “presented with a great opportunity” to buy preexisting domains that already have a large amount of traffic coming to them.  These websites often will have very generic names such as (but not including as the following urls are only examples): portlandinjury.com, pestcontrolvancouver.com, autorepairbeaverton.com and so on.  The problem with these sites is that the traffic is built upon black hat techniques, and eventually they will get penalized.  What happens then to the small business owner who spent a lot of money for a website that now is doing nothing for their business?

I think the old verbiage of “if it sounds to good to be true” can be applied to internet marketing.  A good rule of thumb I use to determine if an internet marketing strategy is truly on the up-and-up is asking myself, if I had to explain my Google strategy to their board of directors…would I be embarrassed?

Well, would you?

Website Ranking Factors For Small Business (Part 3 of 3)

In this final article of Website Ranking Factors For Small Business, I will cover factors that can get your website penalized by the search engines, hurting your chances of appearing for the keywords you want.  The below information is by no means all inclusive, but covers some of the more common black hat SEO activities that will eventually hurt your rankings.

Black Hat SEO Violations

There are many black hat SEO tactics that have surfaced over the years, it would be impractical for me to cover them all here in one article.  As I focus on helping small business owners achieve search engine rankings, I will cover the black hat tactics, and tactics used by some SEO companies claiming to help small business owners.

In this article I will cover:used car salesman

  • Thin Content
  • Keyword Stuffing
  • Cloaking
  • Hidden Text
  • Link Spam
  • Paid Links
  • Duplicate Content

Thin Website Content

As I have talked about before, content is king.  If your website does not talk in detail about the information someone is searching for, it just won’t rank well.  Google and the other major search engines have done a very good job of deciphering well written “thick” content to give their customers (the search engine users) a rich experience when using their product.

Thin content can be described as adding a page to your website, trying to achieve rankings for a particular keyword set, but not backing that up with sufficient text tied back to that keyword set.  Thin content can also be not enough pages to your website (see my article on Google Caffeine), or pages that are not specific enough to target any one set of keyword(s).

Typically small business owners will run into this type of issue when they outsource their website development to a third party that mass-produces websites for a very small fee.  These companies will offer to build the business owner a website, but at a very low price typically in the $30 to $100 a month range.  I recommend staying away from these types of offerings as they will do little to nothing to help move your sales figures on-line.

Keyword Stuffing

Keyword stuffing is the practice of overloading a pages text, title tags, meta-description and page title with keywords and keyword variations to the point where the information on the page or descriptions doesn’t read right.  Keyword stuffing doesn’t work because when a search engine spider crawls the page or site, the algorithm it uses can determine if a keyword(s) are used to many, or an unreasonable amount of times.  For example, lets say you’re a transmission shop, it may be tempting to use something like the following for your page title and page description:

Transmissions, Used Transmissions, Cheap Transmissions

Nissan Transmissions, Transmissions Shop, Transmissions Repair

Transmissions Portland, Transmission Expert, Used Transmissions

As you notice in the above example there is no sentence structure, no call to action, no confidence factors – it doesn’t invite the search engine user to do anything.  Keyword stuffing may produce a temporary “increase” in rankings – but temporary is all it will be.

I won’t link it here, but if you want to cut and paste this url into your browser, this is an excellent example of Keyword Stuffing, make sure to scroll down to the bottom to see:  http://www.becklawidaho.com/auto_accidents.htm

Website Cloakingfooled you

Without getting to technical, website cloaking is a practice where different information is presented to the search engine spiders than to human users.  This can be accomplished several different ways such as showing html code to a search engine spider, but delivering flash content to a human user,  using JavaScript redirects and more.  The techniques behind cloaking are against search engine guidelines, and can get a website blacklisted from results.

Doorway Pages can be an example of cloaking in certain situations.  These pages are typically optimized for one set of keywords and traffic going to these pages is re-routed through use of re-directs to other sites.

Cloaking and doorway pages frustrate search engine users, who will typically back out of the page anyways.  The main goal of SEO is to get people to stay on your website.  So aside from the fact that these practices are against search engine rules, they do little if anything to help a business out.

Hidden Text

This one always makes me crack a smile when I come across it, because anyone employing this tactic is knowingly and willfully trying to deceive a search engine spider.  Hidden text is the practice of placing text behind pictures, or coloring text to be the same color as a website background. (where it won’t be seen by a human visiting the site).  The idea is to place keywords and text in these areas to help out rankings.  Be aware search engine spiders see in color and they have x-ray vision.  This will get your website penalized, so don’t do it.

Link Spam and Paid Links

I typically don’t see this a lot with small businesses, but I have come across it, so I will cover it.  Link spam is the practice of trying to generate lots of links to your website through spam activity on blogs, forums, articles and websites.  The idea here is to manipulate the search engines into thinking a website is relevant for descriptive embedded links placed on other pages across the internet.  This is a highly frowned upon exercise that can get a website penalized heavily.

Retailer JC Penney got caught up in a link scheme that employed the same techniques as link spamming, which eventually pushed them back several pages in Google’s index.

Duplicate Contenttwins

Duplicate content unfortunately for small business is still a big problem.  Duplicate content comes in many forms, but for small businesses the main ones I see are from companies selling the same content over and over again to the same types of small businesses across the country and the other I see is a variation on an old technique called a “mirror site”.

Scenario 1: Mr. Small Business owner answers the phone and a slick internet sales guy on the other end says something like:

“I work for XYZ Marketing, and we guarantee first page of Google, and because we are so good, we don’t charge you a dime until you see that you’re there.” 

Now as a small business owner this sounds like a great deal, and of course their fee is relatively inexpensive, and you don’t have to pay until your on the first page…everyone wins, right?  Well I guess that’s up to you.  I will explain how duplicate content fits into the above, then let you decide for yourself.

The above company will most likely build you a new website, profile, storefront, or whatever they’re going to call it – and it’s going to be free of charge, they are most likely going to steal the content you already have on your current website, and place it on this newly created site, this new site will not be a URL that you own, they own it.  They will attain rankings for this new site, while your website stays back on the 10th page.  They will use common SEO practices (some good, some bad) to get this site to the first page, and once it’s there, you pay and continue to pay for something you will never own.  Oh and by the way, they will want a valid credit card number up front, even though they will tell you that  you’re not on a contract.

Two problems for business owners and the above.

  • Problem 1: You never build relevance in your own website.  The search engines, local directories, internet yellow pages and everything else will be pointed to this new site.  Once that happens, they own your internet advertising.  Ever want to cancel, kiss everything you have build and paid for on-line goodbye, because you will be starting from ground zero again.
  • Problem 2:  Many of the websites, profiles, storefronts or whatever they promise to build you are built on very thin content.  Many of these companies leverage there size with link building and other SEO factors to achieve first page results (typically guaranteed for only a few keywords).  So when a normal human visits these sites, they bounce right out of them because the information they are seeking isn’t there.  So the site will produce lots of visits, but that’s about it.

Content sold over and over again.  This happens when one of these slick SEO companies claims they specialize in a certain vertical, and say they will build you a great website, get you ranked on the internet and everything else.  The problem is that they will sell you the same website content that they just sold your competitor up the street.  The problem this creates is that you and your competitors will rank for the exact same keywords.

Don’t believe me?  Try searching on Google: “SSDI Denied Portland, OR”.  The first 6 attorneys that appear in the organic results all buy their advertising from the same company, scroll to the bottom of their websites and you’ll see.

Avoid Black Hat Tactics

While it may be tempting to try these tactics out, or perhaps you’re like every other small business owner out there and are just to busy to do your internet marketing the right way, these tactics, or employing a firm that uses these tactics will hurt your business.  Steer clear of outrageous promises and guarantees.  True quality SEO and Internet Marketing takes time, knowledge and on-going commitment for it to work.  It’s not a set-it and forget-it proposition.  Hiring a good quality Local SEO Company that has you’re best interests in mind reaps big results month over month (if you noticed that embedded link, you’ve been paying attention!).

Website Ranking Factors For Small Business (Part 2 of 3)

In my prior article in this series, I discussed website On-Page Ranking Factors for small business websites.  This article will cover factors that are considered Off-Page Ranking Factors and how they apply to a small business trying to achieve first page rankings for desired keywords,

Off Page Search Engine Ranking Factors for Small Business Websites

This first article will cover what is known as Off Page factors, meaning what can be done on the website itself. We will cover the following:

  • Link Qualityworld wide web and computer mouse
  • Embedded Link Text
  • Number of Links
  • Domain Age
  • Social Media Shares
  • Social Media Reputation
  • Locality

Inbound Link Quality

As a small business owner, you have no doubt been presented with so called “opportunities” to link your website with other web properties across the  web.  These solicitations often come in the form of emails or phone calls promising hundreds of inbound links to increase your optimization, often for a nominal fee per month.  The other form of linking small businesses are often presented with are paid links from local directories such as: dexknows.com, yelp.com, yellowpages.com and others.

When considering buying links as a small business, it is very important to weigh the quality of the links, and what if anything they will do for your website.  Solicitations that promise hundreds or even thousands of inbound links for a very low monthly price I recommend steering away from.  These links are often generated from spam activity to other websites, or they may even be links traded or bought through other webmasters.  Paid links can get you penalized by the search engines.  No matter what kind of testimonials, reviews or whatever you see from these folks – however tempting it may be – don’t do it.  SEOMOZ did an experiment with paid link building, you can watch the video here on why paid links are bad.

The second form of link building for small businesses above is links from local, trusted directories that Google and other search engines considercartman authority “Authoritative”.  I do recommend this, as it will help the search engines understand what your small business does – and when you tell Google what you do, and an authoritative source says the same thing – that’s a good thing.  I do however caution small business owners to buy listings on local directories for the right reasons.  In my opinion the only thing you are looking to achieve with these local directories is getting the authoritative juice from them.  This can be achieved many times with just a basic listing and profile, which often can be bought for under $40 per month.  Many of these local directory companies (sometimes referred to as IYP’s or Internet Yellow Pages) offer so called variations of pay per click and SEO services, I recommend steering away these services as almost 100% of the time they are optimizing “doorway pages” to your site.  They call these doorway pages many different things such as: store fronts, business profiles, 1 page websites and more, but the bottom line is that they drive the traffic to their site and not yours.

Embedded Link Text

There is a lot of speculation these days from different SEO experts on the value of embedded link text on your website…but since this article is related to SEO OFF your website, I won’t go into that.  Embedded link text is the practice of try to achieve what is known as “link juice” from another web property.

Whether the website you are trying to gain juice from is a blog, forum, or maybe just a related type of business, embedded link text is nothing more than placing a link on another site with keywords you hope to be found for.  For example in this article about Link Juice you can see that the person who wrote it linked the following terms: Link Juice, High Quality Backlinks and SEO Link Building Service.  The hope here was that they would rank for these terms – which worked because I searched Link Juice and found them in 6th position.

Number of Links

PageRank is an algorithm that Google uses to measure the popularity of a website, page or post in relation to competing websites, pages or posts.  I won’t even attempt to explain it further as the algorithm was developed by the famous mathematician John Nash – winner of The Nobel Math Award – he had a movie made about his life called “A Beautiful Mind” which starred Russel Crowe and Ed Harris.

Here recently Google has changed the way it applies the PageRank Algorithm to websites, but for purposes of local small businesses essentially it boils down to how many quality websites link to your domain.   These days inbound links can be achieved through social media also…maybe the start of Link Building 2.0?

Domain Age

How long have you owned your domain?  How long has it been registered?  How long till it expires?  These are things that the search engines check.  A domain that’s been active for 10 years will be considered as a more trusted source than a domain that’s been active for 6 months.  Unfortunately websites come and go for many reasons, if you’re the new kid on the block, registering your domain for longer periods shows the search engines that you are serious about your commitment to your website for years to come.

Social Media Shares and Social Media Reputationsocial media sites

I’ve been in the internet marketing arena for almost 10 years now.  Eight years ago when I would meet with small business owners, often the question was “do I really need a website?” and for obvious reasons I always said yes…fast-forward  to the last few years the question is now “do I really need to do social media?” and again my answer is the same.  Google and the other major search engines look and grade on how people socially engage your business, website and content.  Whether someone is sharing your business on Facebook, or someone is Digg’in your website, it’s all tracked.  How people are engaging your business right here, right now matters – not matter if you use social media or not.  With the roll out of Google+ and the popularity of other social media sites, it’s something that can’t be ignored by a small business.

Social Media Reputation is a measurement of who shares your information on social networks.  This is probobly one of the biggest reasons to get involved in article writing and blogging.  Small business owners in local areas are in a unique position to set themselves apart as locally trusted sources on social media outlets by publishing high quality content that demonstrates their expertise in a certain field.  98% of small businesses will never take it to this level, so that leaves 2% to propel themselves ahead of their competition – garnering valuable real estate on SERP’s and social media sites.

Locality

Have you let the search engines know where you pull your customers from?  The search engines realize that local search is huge, Google estimates that 20% off all their queries have local intent.  Not telling the search engines your service area will leave your business in the dark to consumers looking for you outside of your immediate area.  Google Places, Yahoo Local, Bing Maps, your website content, and those authoritative sources we spoke about before are great areas to start letting the search engines know where you serve.

Next article in this series will be: Website Ranking Factors for Small Business – Things that will hurt your website

Website Ranking Factors For Small Business (Part 1 of 3)

In this article series I will cover top-level factors that search engines use in determining where a website will rank for given keyword(s), and how a small business can use these factors to propel their website ahead of the competition, driving quality traffic through organic placement.

On Page Search Engine Ranking Factors for Small Business Websites

This first article will cover what is known as On Page factors, meaning what can be done on the website itself. We will cover the following:

  • Contentopen for seo business
  • Keyword Research
  • Keyword Use
  • Engaging Visitors
  • Updated Content
  • Page Titles
  • Meta Descriptions
  • Heading Tags
  • Indexing
  • Page/Site Speed
  • URL’s

Website Content

As I’ve written about before, website content is king when it comes to attaining rankings on the search engine results page (SERP).   I can not stress enough how important it is to have a good amount of Quality Content on each page of your website.  The old days of having a website with the same old, stale set-up of: Home, About Us, Services, Gallery and Contact Us are dead and gone.  The web and how people use it has changed dramatically, and to keep up with this change, the search engines have changed their game too.  Having quality content, with a purpose, will help any small business get to the first page of the search engine results.

For a more detailed explanation of why quality content matters and how the search engines have changed, please read my article on Google Caffeine and how it applies to small business websites.

Keyword Research for Small Businessman with mag glass

What keywords do you want to show up for?  How competitive is it to get to the first page for those keywords?  Do you know what keywords will get your phone to ring or get people walking into your store?  These are some of the questions that need to be answered when determining what keywords you will want to work on.

For many of my customers the first keywords they say are typically the hardest ones to achieve rankings for.  For example, and automobile mechanic in Portland, Oregon may want to achieve rankings for “Auto Repair Portland”, or something similar.  I typically try for rankings for less competitive, but higher converting keywords.  This has proven to be very successful for many small businesses.  So for an auto repair shop, I might suggest building a page directly targeting people who need to have their timing belt replaced, with quality content that explains why this auto repair shop are experts in replacing timing belts.  The auto repair shop gets to the first page of the search engine for a keyword such as “timing belt replacement”, the people that land on that page can see that this shop knows their stuff about timing belts, and thus coverts more of these prospects into customers.  This process can be duplicated over and over again for different services such as: transmission flushes, emissions repair, brake repair and so on.  A good quality, robust website will eventually get rankings for even the most difficult keywords with this tactic.  The question I ask many of my customers is “would you rather be on the first page for 150 keywords or 10?

Keyword research is a tough job that requires researching trends, search volume, and competitiveness.  Hiring a qualified SEO Company can take much of the guessing out of this task.

Keyword use in your website

Do you use keywords and phrases in your website content you hope to be found for?  If you’re trying to get rankings for the keyword “timing belt replacement” do you use that keyword string and related keyword strings in your content?  Do you know what words Google considers the same?  For example right now Google recognizes that the words “replacement” and “repair” are very similar, so serves results that are very similar for the searches of “timing belt replacement” and “timing belt repair”.

Understanding keyword similarities and using variances of these keywords on your websites text will help you achieve ranks for these desired keywords.

Engaging your website visitorsbounce

Do you measure “bounce rate” by page on your website?  One of Google’s engineers explains bounce rate as “I came, I puked, I left”.  High bounce rates point to one of two problems with your website.

Serve the information your visitors want.  Is there something that is distracting your visitors and making them want to leave?  What keywords is that page being found for?  If a website visitor thinks they are mislead when visiting your site, they will simply back out and look elsewhere.  So if you have a webpage about “timing belt replacement” make sure your information on that topic above the fold, where the visitor will see it quickly.  Making a visitor hunt for what they are looking for does little more than inflate your bounce rate.

Design and layout above the fold.  Is your page to busy?  Is your page confusing?  Page layout and message can start a prospect down your sales funnel, or can kill it.  Using heat maps of web pages can help web designers fix high bounce rate issues regarding layout and design of a web page.  Google Analytics also offers “In-Page Analytics” to help show click tracking on a page.

Updated Website Content

How often do you update the content on your website?  Is the content new and about topics that will get your website traffic?  One of the most important things that can get search engines coming back again and again to your website is creating new content.  I typically recommend two new pages or posts per month for each of the small businesses I work with.  Having Quality Content and constantly Updated Content builds a firm foundation for SEO success.

Page Titles, Meta Descriptions and Heading Tags

I’m not going into this as I wrote a previous article titled “Quick and Easy SEO for Small Business Websites” that covers this exact topic.  I will say that Page Titles, Meta Descriptions and Heading Tags all play significant roles in helping achieve rankings on SERP’s.

How to make your website easy to index

The search engines want to serve websites that are easy for normal people to use.  If your website is not easy for a search engine spider to use, they will assume it will be hard for a normal human to use also.  Making it easy for a search engine to find ALL of your websites pages, using alt-tags on every picture, limited or non-use of flash and using an Xml Site Map will help the search engines index your website.

Conversely, disabled back buttons, pop-ups, hidden pages, doorway pages, certain types of redirects, heavy use of flash, text in picture format and others make it hard for a search engine to index and will hurt your rankings.

Page and website speedspeedometer

This is defiantly one where you get what you ask for.  Your website speed and page load speed are factors that the search engines grade heavily on.  Pages that are loaded with lots of pictures, big header pictures, picture sliders with to many pictures, self hosted videos and flash laden websites all slow load speed of a website.  Search engines want to serve up websites that are quick and give their customers the information they seek quickly, and a slow website is counter-productive to that.

Cheap, inexpensive web hosting can hurt the speed of your website.  Google offers a free on-line website speed tester to see how fast your website is.  The tool also offers advice such as: browser caching, image optimization and others to help fix your speed issues.

URL Keyword Tagging

There is a little controversy these days over url’s with keywords in them getting better rankings.  There has been a lot of speculation over the last year that Google would be dropping this from their ranking algorithms, but since it hasn’t been announced, I will cover it here. URL Keyword Tagging is the practice of buying highly sought after url’s with keywords or keyword strings in the url.  For example, a carpet cleaning company in Portland might be interested in buying the url PortlandCarpetCleaning.com to try and target people searching that phrase.  The hope here is that the search engines will give added weight to that website since the url contains those keywords.

I typically don’t recommend spending the money that many of these highly sought after url’s cost for two reasons.

  1. Since there is speculation that Google will be dropping this from their ranking algorithm, the SEO boost for the time being versus the cost of the url may not bring a good return on investment.
  2. Keyword URL Tagging can be done by adding the desired keywords into the page slug, giving almost, if not the exact same effect.  I have used this on many of my customer websites, with excellent SEO results.

However, there are studies out there that point to these types of URL’s getting more SEO traffic, so ultimately I leave this decision to the business owner after weighing their options.

Next article in this series will be: Website Ranking Factors for Small Business – Off Page SEO

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