iMarket Solutions Blog : Archive for the ‘SEO’ Category

How Online Reviews Help Your SEO

Tuesday, April 30th, 2019

There are a number of factors that go into having a successful digital presence for your contracting business. Is your website responsive? Are your landing pages optimized? Do you have social media accounts? Perhaps most importantly, what do your online reviews look like?

It’s no secret that this type of “word of mouth” advertising is still very important. This is perhaps even truer, now that people can find information about your business within seconds with a simple click of a mouse. Google My Business heavily impacts the relationship between online reviews and your SEO efforts—what does this mean for you?

Google My Business Is More than Just a Business Listing

Google My Business helps contractors reach and engage with local customers through Google Search and Google Maps. Because Google owns the platform, they’re going to put the most weight on reviews that come through it.

Google’s Official Stance

Last year, Google published a revised version of their 164-page set of Search Rating Guidelines, which helps human “quality raters” evaluate online content. This includes website, landing page, and overall online business content. The raters then provide feedback to Google in order to enhance their search algorithm.

There are specific factors they look for, and rate on a scale of 1-5 (with 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest), based on what online visitors like to see and want to see. The overall ratings determine the E-A-T of any given search result that comes up.

What Is E-A-T?

E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. The search ratings measure this as well as the web pages’ reputation. Usually, if one is high the other is high. This is the good and the bad news. Your business’s E-A-T score and reputation may be high and allow your reviews to show up on page one of Google. But, if you have bad reviews then it can work against you.

If this happens, you want to put focus on improving the review score on that particular platform, whether it is Google My Business, Facebook, BBB, Yelp, or Home Advisor. We encourage contractors to invest the resources necessary to respond to and monitor your company reviews. This may mean providing internal training to your staff, and even adopting a review generation platform of your own.

“Should I Respond to Bad Reviews?”

This is a common question, and the short answer is “yes.” But only if you do so in the right way. It is possible, if you respond to an unhappy customer who left a bad review in an amicable way, that they may update or remove their review. You also have the option to ask the customer to do so after a problem has been resolved.

After all, a bad review may have come as a result of a misunderstanding, or it’s something you can or already were able to correct. The best case scenario is that a customer will edit their bad review after coming to a satisfactory resolution. However, you want to be careful to not be too aggressive about it.

Another option is, instead of asking the customer to remove or edit their review, is to work on crafting the perfect response to negative reviews. For instance, you can respond to an initial review by acknowledging the customer had a problem, and encouraging them to contact you privately. Once the situation is resolved, you can go back to the review and leave a response such as:

“Hi [name], per our offline discussion, we were able to remedy this situation. We look forward to doing business with you in the future.”

What this does for you is it shows potential customers and 3rd parties that even though a customer had a bad experience, you as the company owner addressed their concerns, and you care about the service you provide.

Reviews Have a Direct Impact on SEO and Site Visibility

The reviews you receive on the various review platforms have a direct impact on your SEO results, site visibility, and, as a result, your leads and customer conversions. This trend is very likely to continue, particularly when you consider the amount of work and resources Google has put into this facet of their local search engine guidelines over the past few years. The longer you wait to invest the resources needed in managing your business reviews and reputation, the more likely it is you’ll fall behind some of your local competitors.

iMarket Solutions provides a full suite of contractor marketing products, including SEO for contractors and reputation management. Contact us today to learn more.  

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Upgrade Your Marketing: Digital Marketing Tips for Contractors

Thursday, March 28th, 2019

You have many options when it comes to developing a marketing plan for your contracting business. Creating the right strategy is a vital part to helping your business thrive. This includes traditional marketing methods as well as newer, digital marketing strategies.

We mentioned this briefly in our last blog post about selling in the shoulder season, though it applies year round—forming a reputable digital footprint in today’s online and mobile environment is not optional. It’s key to helping you build your brand, attract leads, and build customer relationships.

If It’s Not Digital, Is It Even Marketing?

There is of course still value in traditional marketing practices, such as sending direct mail pieces that advertise your products and services, promoting your business and services from a booth at a home show, or even setting up charity events in your local area. But there is no denying that today’s consumers are increasingly mobile and web-based. Therefore, it’s essential to have a solid digital marketing plan in place.

What does this look like? Here are just a few digital marketing tips for you to keep in mind:

  1. Create a Well-Designed Website: It’s not enough to simply have a website up—it must be well designed. This means creating a site that is visually appealing, allows site visitors and customers to figure out what you’re about right away, is user-friendly (customers can find what they’re looking for instantly), and properly optimized. Don’t forget that it has to be fast and responsive—this means it works on any online and mobile device.  
  2. Optimize Your Web Pages and Blog: Weak keywords are the worst enemy to a well-designed website and blog. Choosing the right keywords to attract your target demographic requires a long-term strategy that includes understanding your competition and knowing exactly what web visitors are searching for. Trusting an experienced marketing company to create your SEO (Search Engine Optimization) strategy will ensure that this is done correctly and that you avoid what’s known as “black hat” SEO practices—tactics that can get your website flagged by Google and other major search engines.
  3. Invest in Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Ads: Also called “paid advertising,” PPC ads are an essential component of any effective digital marketing plan, especially in highly-competitive markets. A PPC ad is what you see on the top and right sides of search engine results pages. They’re named as such because advertisers pay each time a web visitor conducting a search clicks on one of those ads.
  4. Have a Social Media and Email Marketing Plan in Place: There’s a lot still to be said for “word-of-mouth” advertising. Social media has taken this form of marketing and amplified it. Businesses can now easily reach customers where they’re at, not necessarily to make a sale, but to engage directly with potential consumers in order to build a relationship. Email marketing is another way to effectively get the word out about your business to leads and members of your community. From eNewsletters to promotional announcements, email allows you to get your business top of mind when the recipient needs a home services contractor down the road.

Not all products are right for each and every contractor. You’ll want to work closely with a qualified professional who specializes in marketing for contractors to help determine the right mix of products for your particular contracting business. When you work with our team, you don’t have to worry about your knowledge of the digital marketing space—that’s what we are here for!

iMarket Solutions is your resource for the leading digital solutions, and other great marketing tips. We would love the opportunity to assess your current digital campaign and see where your lead opportunities are. Contact us today!

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Google Search Algorithm Update

Friday, December 28th, 2018

As a leader in digital marketing and SEO, we wanted to share some industry relevant news that may interest you. 

As you may already know, Google’s organic search algorithm is updated hundreds of times every year, and in some cases multiple times each day. And while specific details surrounding the update are not always shared, we know one thing is for sure. Google is rewarding websites that provide exceptional value to those who are visiting them. 

With that said, we’ve been tracking a lot of volatility within organic search results over the last week, which is consistent with an update to the algorithm. Many third party, unbiased, search trend tools have identified changes within the search landscape, which may or not impact your website. Barry Schwartz, a well respected member of the organic search community recently posted an article sharing his insights on what’s going on.

Our digital marketing and SEO team here at iMarket Solutions continues to track the organic search presence of our clients’ websites amid these suspected algorithm updates. Often times, when an algorithm update is released, website rankings may see an increase in volatility over a short period of time (we call this the Google dance). It’s not uncommon to see keyword rankings increase / decrease 5 or more spots in the days after an update of this magnitude. Eventually the dust settles and we have a better idea of how this particular update has impacted any websites. 

Have questions? Connect with an iMarket team member at 800-727-3920 to learn more about the latest Google trends and how we can help your website improve organic rankings and generate leads. 

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Frequently Asked SSL Questions

Wednesday, November 28th, 2018

We’ve written before about the rise of secure protocols, and their increasing prevalence across the internet. This is largely due to the actions of Google, which has a vested interest in ensuring that the sites they index are as trustworthy as possible. Still, this is a deep topic, and our previous writings may have left some remaining doubt as to the benefits of migrating your website to HTTPS. If that’s the case, have a look at the following reasons why it is in your best interest to make sure that your site is using an HTTPS configuration.

How Does HTTPS Differ from HTTP?

HTTP stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol. It is the method that the website uses to organize and display data between itself and any computers that may be connected to it. While this is a fast and easy method for retrieving and displaying data for those visiting your site, it does little to secure the site itself against malicious attacks.

Man-in-the-middle attacks are common on HTTP sites, as they allow someone to intercept the data from your site and display something of the attacker’s choosing to your customers. Usually, it’s an exact copy of the unsecured site with all information entered collected by the attacker. You can imagine what kind of havoc this could cause with sites that handle confidential information like medical records and finances.

HTTPS is Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure, which adds an extra layer of security encryption to help ensure that your customers are looking at the correct website. When someone navigates to an HTTPS address, the browser retrieves a special SSL (Secure Socket Layer) security certificate. Think of this as a kind of additional key needed to display the information. This certificate identifies the site to both Google and the browser as a trusted site. When a user is on an HTTPS site, they can be sure that:

  1. They are seeing the authentic site (E.G. their actual banking site instead of an imposter)
  2. Any information entered on that site will be encrypted for an added layer of security.

Does HTTPS Slow Down My Website?

It has been a longstanding myth that making use of HTTPS instead of HTTP is inconvenient because it slows down the website. Many webmasters are afraid to migrate to an HTTPS, for fear that the added page loading time will put off potential customers. Rest assured, though, this is not the case when the migration is done correctly.

In our in-house testing of roughly 150 SSL migrations, using Pingdom and GMetrix, websites experienced an average of 0.14 seconds faster load time after implementing HTTPS than they did before. So, instead of slowing down those sites, migrating to HTTPS actually made them load faster. Now, 0.14 seconds is so short a time as to be unnoticeable to humans. Google will most certainly notice, though, and that will reflect positively on your site.

Is it Really Worth the Effort to Migrate to HTTPS?

Making the switch to HTTPS can be an involved process, one that is also typically confusing to those who have never done it before. Even with all of the above benefits, some people just don’t want to go to the trouble of getting an SSL certificate to make their site more secure if it means jumping through that many hoops.

Here’s the thing, though: From an SEO standpoint, HTTPS helps you in more ways than one.

Remember: Google wants sites to start using HTTPS. For the past few years, it has even said that it uses SSL certification as a ranking factor for its websites. So, if you use HTTPS for your site, you are both more secure and more likely to rank better in Google’s search results than your competitors who don’t use it. With that in mind, if you haven’t yet migrated your site to HTTPS, we highly recommend that you consult with a trusted professional who can do that for you.

With all of this said, it’s easy to see why every single client who signs up with iMarket Solutions is given an SSL Certificate!  Contact us today to learn more. 

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Google to Prioritize Security for Local B2C Websites

Monday, February 5th, 2018

Have you ever wondered why some websites start with HTTP, while others start with HTTPS? Or perhaps you’ve seen an indication in your browser that the website you’re viewing is “Secure” while others are not?

In their infancy, security protocols were often used on sites that collected data sensitive to user privacy. Think along the lines of credit card information, social security numbers and even mailing addresses.

In years since, security protocols have grown in popularity and are now used in many different verticals including HVAC, plumbing and electrical industries. One player you can thank for the bulk of this change is Google.

Along with changing the way that your website looks within a browser, having a secure website also changes the way that search engines look at your website. You may have heard that search engines prefer sites that are secure. This is correct.

Starting in 2014, Google began prioritizing security in efforts to serve their audience with a better user experience. In 2017 the Google Chrome browser began labeling sites without security protocols as “Not Secure” within the URL display. More and more, sites that offer a secure browsing experience are seeing increases in their rankings and more competitive advantages in organic search. With strong indications that security is a top priority in the search industry, it’s imperative that local businesses keep this in mind as they build out their digital strategies moving into 2018.

 

What are the Benefits of Having a Secure Website?

The long and the short of it is: having a secure website better protects your users from malicious attacks and keeps the layers of communication between your website and its users safe.

Outside of this benefit, it’s also a factor that search engines look at when comparing the hundreds and thousands of options available for any given search query. User security is a benefit that search engines look for when pitting one website against another. With the end goal of providing end users with the best experience possible, search engines have embraced security protocols and their ability to serve a better user experience.

While there are hundreds of different factors that play into search engine ranking algorithms, having a secure website could provide you with a competitive advantage. With heavy hitters doing all they can to rank in a competitive landscape, adding security to your website is one piece of the puzzle that you don’t want to miss.

 

What is HTTPS?

Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) defines the way that computer systems are able to standardize and communicate with data found on the World Wide Web. Without getting into the nitty-gritty details, Hypertext Transfer Protocol functions as the base layer that website browsers use to add human context to the numbers and code behind the curtain.

Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) encrypts data during the communication process so that it cannot be modified, corrupted or tracked without detection. This added layer of protection authenticates the identity of the website, ensuring that the user is being communicated the right data, protecting against man-in-the-middle attacks which prompt users to share information with the wrong party.

 

Should I Have Transferred to a Secure Website Already?

It depends. As mentioned in the beginning of this post, website security was born out of a necessity to safely access and share sensitive information on the World Wide Web. For verticals that did not require the transfer of sensitive information, the migration to a secure protocol could prove to be costly, time-consuming, and could even lead to drops in organic visibility if done incorrectly. For most businesses, the juice was not worth the squeeze.

In this time, many websites had to bear the burden of shaky keyword fluctuations as search engines tested and perfected the way that website security fit into their ranking algorithms. With a change made to the application layer of a website, search engines were not as readily capable of identifying the history of a site or its pages and struggled to assign authority that had built up over time. If you were to migrate your site to HTTPS during this time, it was as if you had launched a brand new domain! For webmasters around the world who had taken the time to develop longstanding authority in their niche, this was a very difficult hurdle.

At this point, however, search engines have fine-tuned their algorithms, and can now recognize past authority and assign it to the newly launched protocol. Website security has withheld the test of time and is a smart addition to building the trust value of your site.

If you haven’t previously considered migrating to a secure application protocol, now is the time.

 

What Can I Expect When I Transfer to a Secure Website?

The process for adding a layer of protection to your website security has evolved, and it’s now easier than ever to apply a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) into your website application. When migrating to HTTPS, there are many different factors that must be looked after in order to ensure that the transition is smooth and will derive the greatest benefit for search engine optimization and end users alike.

For all intents and purposes, one of the most important considerations is that a user can quickly and easily access your site, even if they use the old URL. When transferring to HTTPS, it’s imperative that you set up redirects so that search engines and users will be directed to the correct page.

Along with this step, there are also many different checkpoints that need to be addressed to provide the highest level of user experience, and to avoid any of the technical pitfalls that may hurt organic performance. Your digital provider must consider the best SSL certificate for your domain’s needs, how the hosting of your domain impacts the migration, where images are stored, whether website tracking is appropriately updated and even how external links to the old domain will be handled for streamlined performance.

When choosing a partner to help migrate your website to a secure protocol, make sure that they have set an action plan for retaining and tracking organic performance. Without the appropriate quality checkpoints in place, you may not catch a small error – making a switch for SEO benefit moot. But when done correctly, migrating your website to a secure protocol can prove to have strong benefits in user experience and organic search. To learn more, reach out to iMarket Solutions today!

Have questions about the organic performance of your HVAC, plumbing or electrical website? Reach out to iMarket Solutions today to learn more!

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3 Ways Being Different Can Help You Earn Leads

Monday, December 7th, 2015

It is the end of the year. Companies are spending a lot of time evaluating their employees, processes, budgets, failures and successes. One common thought shared among them all during this time is, “How can we do it better next year?” It is a question with an infinite amount of answers, but for contractors in the HVAC, plumbing and electrical industries, the answer always involves lead generation.

One of the ways we help our clients’ improve their online visibility and earn leads is by answering yet another question: “How are they different from their competition?” In this post, I am going to discuss how thinking outside of the box, and focusing on what makes you, your employees and your company unique, can benefit your small business.

Stand out to earn more leads

 

How Are You Different from Your Competition?

The internet is a crowded place. In any given city, there could be hundreds of contractors competing for service leads. As an internet marketing company that specializes in search engine optimization for contractors, we know all too well the challenges involved in helping our clients capture a part of that market share. In order to get your piece of the pie, you have to be clever. Below are some of the things that make our clients unique, and how we make that information work in their favor.

Are You or Any of Your Employees Veterans?

Many of our clients have veterans working for them, or are veterans themselves. Three of the ways you can make this work in your favor:

  1. Post job ads at veteran employment websites, such as Explorethetrades.org. Not only is this a good way to support those who have given so much to protect our country, but it’s also a great way to get backlinks to your website (backlinks are one of the best ways to improve your websites visibility in Google.com).
  2. Many people love to support the troops, and one of the ways they choose to do this is by supporting veteran owned businesses. Submit your site to places like Veteranownedbusiness.com, to improve your chances of earning these leads. At the very least, you will reap the benefits from the backlinks you will acquire.
  3. Offering military discounts is yet another way to incentivize people to want to do business with your company, and yet again, is another source of quality referral traffic and leads. Just by creating a page on your website that references you offer active duty military or veteran discount, you open up the possibility of someone typing in a related query in Google and finding your company. You could also submit yourself to sites like Vetfriends.com.

Do You Offer Green Products or Services?

Being green is not a standard shared by many contractors. But with so much discussion revolving around climate change, consumers are awakening and starting to make smarter decisions regarding their energy and water usage. Capitalize on this surge by making sure your company stands out as a green advocate. Make sure your website states it, and make sure you are listed on websites that advocate green contractors (GreenHomeGuide.com is one such company). (P.S. If your company does not offer any green products or green service, you are missing out on potential revenue.)

Climate change statistics from NASA

Climate change statistics from http://climate.nasa.gov

Are You A Specialty Contractor?

Unique problems require unique problem solvers. If your circuit breaker turns off and you cannot get it to turn back on, you call an electrician. But if you are disabled and need your property to be retrofitted with a ramp or chairlift, then you will need to get in touch with a contractor that is prepared to address your specific needs. HomeBlue and HomeAdvisor are two contractor directories that do their best to help disabled people find the contractors that can best assist them – make sure you are listed on sites like these!

Keep in mind that this advice extends to any products or services that you provide. If you offer solar services, you would want to be listed at places like the SEIA directory or the Find Solar directory. A great way to find where you would want to be listed is to put yourself in your ideal client’s shoes – simply type a combination of the “service you offer + contractor directory” into Google.com, and you will likely find quite a few sites you can list your website on (i.e. solar contractor directory, bathroom remodeling contractor directory & refrigeration contractor directory).

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Stop Wasting Time and Start Making Money

They may not be the end all solution, but hopefully the above tips will help guide you in making your small business even better next year. And if you are a contractor that is interested in expanding your inbound leads from online marketing endeavors, we would love to work with you. Our creativity and years of experience in building websites for contractors could make us a valuable asset in your arsenal.

Give us a call at (800) 727-3920 to learn more about how we can help you earn more leads.

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From 7 to 3: Google’s Local Map Pack Slims Down

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

Google is known for changing things up on a regular basis when it comes to their algorithms, but when it comes to the design of their search engine’s search result pages (SERPs), they tend to be a little more careful. When they do make changes, it’s typically done so within controlled test groups (i.e. only certain servers or countries will see the change). As a result, there is usually little talk regarding UX changes on Google.com in comparison to algorithm introductions, updates, refreshes and the like. But late last week, Google introduced a major redesign of their local map pack that is anything but subtle.

What Happened to Google’s Local Map Pack?

The 7-pack is no more. Google’s local map pack, which is also referred to as the “7-pack,” has been in place for quite some time. Over the past couple of years, there have been some indications of the decline of map pack visibility due to algorithm changes, as well as due to some SERP tests, such as the introduction of the local carousel and local 3 pack.

But the local carousel only lasted a little over a year before Google pulled the plug on it, and the local 3-pack remained within SERPs. So you can imagine the shock now reverberating throughout the local SEO industry when we found out that Google had decided to replace the 7-pack with a new and improved 3-pack.

Below is a screenshot of the typical 7-pack you would have seen in recent years:

The Google 7-pack (a.k.a map pack), as of early 2015.

 

And below is a screenshot of the 3-pack in its most recent form:

The Google 3-pack (a.k.a map pack), as of August 2015.

 

Aside from the obvious loss of four results within the map pack, there are some rather significant changes that have taken place in Google’s most recent UX revision.

The Google map pack changes are as follows:

  • Phone number is no longer displayed on desktop. The option to click-to-call from the desktop, let alone see the phone number associated with a local listing, no longer exists. However, when searching from your mobile phone, you do have the option of click-to-call, which when pressed, will immediately connect you to the phone number associated with the Google My Business listing for the respective company.
  • Full address is no longer displayed. The address is still displayed within the map pack, but it only displays the street address now; not the city itself. You also have the option to click the Directions button either on your mobile phone or desktop, which will provide you with directions to the address associated with the respective company’s Google My Business profile from your present location. With the introduction of Google’s Pigeon algorithm, we know Google is showing more preference to businesses within the immediate area of the person doing the search (or for the location they are searching). Perhaps this suggests that Google will no longer be displaying Google My Business listings within the map pack unless they are specifically located within the searched city, or unless their service area specifically states they service people there?
  • No more URL displayed on desktop or mobile. Previously, you could see the URL that was associated with the Google My Business profile within the map pack, but now it just shows the brand name and a website icon that links directly to the website URL associated with the respective company’s Google My Business profile.
  • No more link to the Google+ page. Google My Business (a.k.a. Google Plus and Google+) profiles are necessary in order to even compete within the local map pack, so it comes as a surprise to pretty much everyone in the industry that Google would remove the link associated with a business’s G+ page; especially considering that Google+ has been pretty much forced down everyone’s throat since its introduction.
  • Business hours are now easily seen. Now you can very easily see how long a business is open until; this is the one feature introduction that actually makes sense.

Why a 3-Pack instead of the 7-Pack?

Of course, this was all done under the premise that it’s best for the end user. Barry Schwartz of Searchengineland.com reported Google as having stated, “We are constantly exploring the best way to bring a better search experience to our users. This update provides people with more relevant information, including photos, reviews and prices, for searches that have multiple results for a given location.” Time will tell if this UX change is indeed in the best interest of the end user searching via Google.com, but it’s not hard to see why many within the search industry are speculating that this is just one more way for Google to force people to use paid search.

How Does this Affect Local Businesses Engaged in Local SEO?

As you can see in the above screenshot, the new 3-pack is very large in nature, so it doesn’t seem to suggest that there will be an increase in click-through rates for any websites listed in Google organic search. What is painstakingly obvious is that the local landscape has now become more than twice as competitive as it was previously. Any local businesses previously listed within positions E-F of the 7-pack will likely see a sharp decline in views, as well as clicks and calls. And on the flip side, anyone in positions A-C (which were previously the top 3 local listings) will see an increase in those same metrics.

What Can I Do to Help Secure a Position in the New 3-Pack?

SEO is very secretive in nature. Not by our choice, but rather by design. Google shares as little as possible with the public when it comes to their algorithms, as they don’t want people to game the system. However, there have been plenty of surveys done within the past years that indicate the most likely things that need to be done in order to successfully rank at the top of local search results.

The most recent survey is 2014 Local Search Ranking Factors, which was conducted by Moz.com. The survey clearly outlines which ranking factors are most important for local search, as argued by 40 of the leading influencers in this industry.

The chart below depicts the overall importance of these ranking factors:

The 2014 local search overall ranking factors pie chart from Moz

(Image courtesy of the 2014 local search ranking survey, provided by Moz.com)

 

Breaking it down more specifically, below are the top five things you can do as a business owner to help increase your local visibility online:

  1. Establish a physical address in the city you want to target.
  2. Select the proper categories within your Google My Business profile.
  3. Maintain consistently structured citations! This means your NAP should always be the same, no matter where it is listed online (i.e. a directory profile, a news article, forum comments, etc…).
  4. The authority (i.e. trust, reputation, etc…) of the structured citations you receive is also very important. Long gone are the days of quantity beating out quality when it comes to SEO. Nowadays, “who?” is much more important than “how many?
  5. Use the same NAP (Name, Address, Phone number) on your website and on your Google My Business profile.

Rest assured that if you have hired iMarket Solutions to help increase your online visibility through our SEO services, we are already following these best practices. Should you have any questions or concerns that are not outlined above, please do not hesitate to reach out to your online marketing coordinator for further clarification.

If you need any assistance with improving your local, organic or paid visibility online,

feel free to reach out to us for help: (800) 825-7935.

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Google Penguin 3.0 – The Algorithm Refresh That Should Have Been an Update

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

On October 4, 2013, Matt Cutts announced the release of Penguin 2.1 – an update to their infamous algorithm that targets spammy onsite and offsite SEO strategies. Quite a few webmasters in the SEO community reported that the 2.1 update had quite the negative impact on their websites. And due to the nature of this particular algorithm, a recovery is not possible without a manual update, or refresh, of the algorithm being pushed through by Google.

The Google Penguin thug

The Google Penguin thug

Many people perceive the Penguin algorithm as nothing more than a thug, here to force thousands of small businesses into paid advertisement on Google by tanking their organic visibility. So I’m sure you can imagine the unrest within the community as the one year anniversary of the last update passed. But on Friday (October 17th, 2014), webmasters finally got their wish – Google began rolling out Penguin 3.0. Whether or not it was what they had hoped for is yet to be determined.

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The Difference between a Penguin Refresh and Update

As I mentioned above, a website that has been negatively impacted by the Penguin algorithm cannot recover, unless Google manually updates the algorithm, or refreshes the current version of that algorithm. So what is the difference between an algorithm update and an algorithm refresh? I’m glad you asked …

What is an Algorithm Refresh?

An algorithm refresh simply means Google has not modified, removed or added any new signals to a previously introduced algorithm. Think of it as running anti-virus software, except that all of the “viruses” (a.k.a. spammy tactics) it finds when it is initially rolled out are not allowed to impact your “computer” (a.k.a. website) again.

But just like with viruses, there are always variations of spammy SEO strategies being utilized, so as to try and stay one step ahead of the “software” (i.e. algorithm). Google can then run a refresh of their algorithm, in hopes that they will catch any new spammy tactics that have been used since the previous refresh or update. However, just like anti-virus software, these refreshes can become obsolete as SEO’s find new ways to avoid the algorithm. That’s when an update comes in handy.

What is an Algorithm Update?

An algorithm update means Google has modified, removed, or added new signals to a pre-existing algorithm, in hopes that these signals will catch any new strategy variations that previous updates had missed. Again, using the previous analogy; it would be just like Norton providing updates to the anti-virus software on your computer, in hopes of catching any newly found viruses, or variations of old ones.

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What Do We Know About Penguin 3.0 So Far?

It’s tough to say at this point. Commentary from Matt Cutts and other Google representatives led us all to believe that the next version of Penguin was to be a significant update, which implied new signals would be introduced. Barry Schwartz wrote an article at the beginning of October that suggested a Penguin 3.0 update may come as soon as within a week following his post. Barry made this prediction based on input provided by Gary Illyes, a Google Webmaster Trends Analyst who apparently was involved in working on the algorithm. However, it seems Barry may have been a bit too ambitious with his choice of words, as Gary even commented on Google+, “I love how you guys could twist “soon” into this”. Some useful insights on the Penguin algorithm were extracted from Barry’s post though.

Penguin Insights:

  • Gary confirmed that a disavow file (which is a .txt file you can submit within Google Webmaster Tools that pretty much indicates to Google which backlinks pointing to your site you do not want any credit from) are taken into consideration when the Penguin algorithm is updated or refreshed.
  • Disavow files submitted after two weeks prior to Gary’s presentation at SMX East would not be taken into consideration in this next iteration of the Penguin update/refresh.
  • Google is working on speeding up the rate at which future Penguin refreshes will happen.

In a Google+ Hangout session on October 20th, John Mueller stated that as far as he knows, the Penguin update had rolled out completely – but when asked by Barry to clarify if it was indeed an update or just a refresh, he declined to comment. However, that same day, he then followed up with Barry in a Google+ comment stating, “I might have spoken a bit early, hah – it looks like things may still be happening. I’ll double-check in the morning.”

It turns out that John did indeed jump the gun in stating Penguin had rolled out completely, as Pierre Farr (who works at Google UK) stated the following:

“On Friday last week, we started rolling out a Penguin refresh affecting fewer than 1% of queries in US English search results. This refresh helps sites that have already cleaned up the webspam signals discovered in the previous Penguin iteration, and demotes sites with newly-discovered spam.

It’s a slow worldwide roll-out, so you may notice it settling down over the next few weeks.”

Notice the choice of words in his first sentence – Penguin refresh? Although it’s not an official confirmation, it definitely suggests that this iteration of Penguin is indeed just a refresh and not an actual update of the algorithm. He then goes on to state refresh again in the next line, and his definition of what this refresh does pretty much coincides with what you would expect from a typical refresh; not an update. Lastly, he confirms that this refresh (which supposedly impacts < 1%) is still rolling out worldwide, and as such, fluctuations in rankings and traffic can be expected to last for the next few weeks.

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What Can Should You Do?

First and foremost, it is of the utmost importance that you DO NOT panic. As we’ve seen with rolling updates (which so far have only been confirmed with the Panda update), they can take some time to impact all websites. And in some instances, we have seen rankings move up, down, and up again over the period of a roll-out (and significantly in some cases).

Don't panic; organize your SEO strategies!

Don’t panic; organize your SEO strategies!

So before you decide on throwing in the flag, wait to see how your websites traffic and impressions are impacted. If you see noticeable positive increases, then keep on doing what you’re doing, as it’s obviously working at this point in time. And if you see that your website was negatively impacted by Google, then it’s important to understand why, so you can develop a strategy to fix the issues on your website, or within your backlink profile.

Fortunately for us and our client’s, we build the majority of our clients’ websites from scratch, so it would be rare that one of our sites would be targeted as a result of their onsite work. Much more common scenarios are domains that were involved in unscrupulous link building campaigns prior to hiring our services. Nevertheless, we’re adequately prepared to tackle either issue, should they arise, and want any webmasters reading this blog post to be prepared as well.

Below Are Some Steps You Can Take to Help You Recover from Penguin:

Step 1 – Review Your Analytics Data

It is important to know if your site has been impacted, and which pages in particular, before you can devise a strategy to keep Penguin from targeting you. What my team and I do is look at only Google organic analytic’s data, comparing traffic of landing pages for the 2 – 4 weeks following the day the algorithm rolled out to the same amount of time immediately prior. You have to compare apples to apples (i.e. looking at Monday – Sunday vs the previous Monday – Sunday) in order to get an accurate representation of what your traffic trend should look like.

Also, it’s important to look at absolute data vs. average data, as the number of visits lost is much more telling of a sign vs. the average percentage (as you could have a -100% decrease to a specific landing page, but that does not really tell you anything if the page was getting 4 visits in those two weeks prior and is now getting none).

Step 2 – Understand Why Certain Landing Pages Were Targeted

Penguin can and does impact traffic to your entire site, but more often than not, specific landing pages are the cause of you being targeted in the first place (especially if you’re dealing with onsite spam vs. low quality backlinking). So what you need to do is evaluate the pages on your site you have deemed as being targeted and determine why Google thinks those pages are spammy. Are you stuffing important keywords or mentions of a geo-target within the content or headers? Are the Meta tags extremely long and stuffed with near identical variations of a keyword? For further guidance, you can read my previous post on Penguin 2.1, where I specify the instances of onsite spam I would be consider “Penguin bait”.

And beyond onsite, you also have to take into consideration offsite work: backlinks. Using www.MajesticSeo.com, we are able to evaluate the quality, quantity and methodologies our clients’ have used in the past to build backlinks for their website. My blog post on “How to Recover from a Google Unnatural Linking Penalty” will walk you through the steps on not only identifying spammy backlinks, but how to disavow them as well.

Step 3 – Take Action!

As pointed out above, understanding why you have been targeted by Penguin is the key to recovering. Once you have identified the culprit strategies, you need to work diligently on remedying them. If spammy onsite is to blame, then you need to work on cleaning up the SEO strategies you have in place on your website. If spammy backlinks are to blame, then you need to identify what backlinks are harming your site and work on asking the webmasters of the linking sites to remove those links.

And always remember: what may have worked wonderfully in the past will not always work as well in the future, so just appreciate the ride you had enjoyed, implement a revised search engine optimization strategy as soon as possible, clean up what needs to be cleaned up on or offsite, and hope that a future refresh or update of the Penguin algorithm will work in your favor.

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The Life and Death of the Google Authorship Markup

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

It was exciting while it lasted, but unfortunately, Google authorship is no longer supported by Google. But first, allow me to shed a little light on the rise and fall of Google’s authorship markup.

Google authorship markup is no longer supported  by Google

A screenshot from the Google Webmaster Tools Help forum, which states, “Authorship markup is no longer supported in web search.”

The Google authorship rich snippet was first introduced by Matt Cutts at the SMX Advanced conference, back in 2011. For those unfamiliar with this rich snippet; it allowed you to identify yourself as the author of the content within a blog post, which would then publish a small thumbnail of your Google+ profile photo directly to the left of your blog post snippet within Google’s search results. In the beginning, the process for setting up authorship on your website and verifying it with Google was quite unclear for many, which proved to be quite the perk for those that were successful in setting up their authorship’s markup early on.

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The Benefits of Google Authorship

As mentioned previously, the early adopters of Google’s authorship rich snippet quickly realized that the most obvious benefit was the increased click through rate (CTR) for their blog posts that ranked on the first page of Google. It’s no surprise really; the addition of the photo thumbnail displayed prominently on search results pages, especially when it was the only one showing for a particular keyword.

An example screenshot of the authorship markup in Google's search results

An example screenshot of the authorship rich snippet for Nadia Romeo (the President of iMarket Solutions) within Google’s search results

Another large benefit of having authorship was the ease in which one could find all of the content another had written and associated with their Google+ profile. All you had to do was click on their name within the byline of their search snippet and it would take you directly to a Google search page that listed all of the content associated with their authorship. This was beneficial to both brands and authors alike, as people who followed their work could more easily find other content the author had written which they may have not previously read.

The last benefit, AuthorRank, was largely considered a myth up until Matt Cutts confirmed its existence on Twitter after Amit Singhal publicly denied its existence at SMX West this past March.

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AuthorRank was the concept that Google assigned quality scores to authors who created a Google Plus account and correctly associated their authorship with content they had written and published to websites. The assumption was that the more authoritative you appeared to Google on a particular topic or topics, the more likely their AuthorRank algorithm was to rank your related content higher in their search results. Many of us in the search engine optimization (SEO) community truly believed AuthorRank was going to be the key to the future of becoming more visible in Google’s search results. But alas, it appeared it was not used to the broad scope that so many SEO’s had imagined.

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R.I.P. Google Authorship

On June 25, 2014, it came as a shock to most SEO’s when Google’s John Mueller announced on Google+ that they would be “simplifying the way authorship is shown in mobile and desktop searches”, so as to provide for a better mobile experience. The simplification turned out to be a mass reduction of authorship photographs showing for particular searches on Google. However, the byline and date of publication still showed below the URL of a search result for those who were affected. The significance of the impact that change had on search results was documented by the MozCast feature graph and can be further reviewed here.

Then just two months later, John Mueller reported that Google had made the decision to remove authorship from their search results entirely. In paraphrasing: he stated Google found that the authorship markup was not very useful to visitors of their search engine, and in fact, was potentially distracting.

A Few Last Words for Google Authorship

For those of you who have the authorship markup installed on your websites; don’t worry about Google punishing you for leaving the code in place. Barry Schwartz, the owner of the popular SEO blog SERoundtable.com, asked John Mueller in a comment on his announcement of the death of authorship if Google would penalize websites which left the authorship markup in place. John confirmed that Google would not punish you for leaving the markup on your website, and that in fact, visitors to your website still might appreciate being able to find out more about you and/or your company through your Google+ profile.

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The Google Algorithm Frenzy:
Pigeon, HTTPS, Authorship and MUCH More

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

On July 3, 2014, Matt Cutts declared to the search community that he was going on leave for 4 months, all the way through October. Upon hearing the news, I had a big sigh of relief. For you see, I thought to myself, “There is absolutely no way Google is going to launch any algorithms or make any significant updates to their existing algorithms while the face of their search quality department was on leave of absence.” I mean, who are SEO’s going to yell at and blame for all of their woes while he is away, right? John Mueller, a Google Webmaster Trends Analyst, tends to navigate Google’s help forums and host Google Hangouts, giving advice on how to build a website that’s both user and search engine friendly, would be my first guess – but is he adequately prepared to fend off the masses of SEO questions ahead?

Screenshot of Matt Cutts stating he is going on leave in 2014

A screenshot of Matt Cutts stating he is going on leave in 2014.

 

Google Algorithms Launched and Updated in 2014

Well, it turns out that Google had no plans for holding back during Matt’s absence. In fact, it seems they’ve decided to turn up the heat a bit. They’ve made quite a splash with announcing two new algorithms, and there have even been a couple periods of unconfirmed algorithm changes hitting the streets, causing significant SERP (search engine ranking placement) changes. But before we get into the more recent algorithms, let’s first have a quick look at the algorithms that Google has acknowledged have launched or been updated, prior to Matt skipping town.

Page Layout Algorithm #3

Release Date: February 6, 2014

The Page Layout algorithm (originally referred to as, “Ads above the Fold” algorithm) was first launched on January 19, 2012, and then updated in October 9, 2012. Google believes having too much ad-space / advertisements above the page fold of a website provides for a bad user experience, so the algorithm aims to hinder the rankings of websites that are dominantly ad heavy. In trying to find what impact the Page Layout algorithm had on our 130+ HVAC, plumbing and electrical clients, I found that this algorithm negatively impacted any thin content pages. And I also suspected that it treated having too many images above the page fold the same as having too many advertisements. Moral of the story is to try and have as much unique and valuable content above the page fold as possible instead of having too many images or ad’s.

Unnamed Update

Release Date: March 24, 2014

Although it was never publicly confirmed by Google, there was a major shake-up in the SERPs around March 24 – 25. According to Moz.com’s documented Google Algorithm Change History, SEO’s speculated this was the softer Panda update Matt Cutts confirmed at SMX West 2014 would be rolling out relatively soon.

Payday Loan 2.0

Release Date: May 16, 2014

The Payday Loan algorithm was first introduced by Matt Cutts via Twitter on June 11, 2013. In his tweet, he suggested webmasters watch a video he posted previously in which he discussed some upcoming changes to Google’s search. In the video, he hints that the algorithm is geared towards cleaning up search results that tend to be more aggressively spammed than others, such as payday loan, Viagra, gambling, pornographic and other like keywords.

Panda 4.0

Release Date: May 19, 2014

In what’s now becoming a more common thing, Google is releasing significant algorithm updates within short periods of one another, in what I believe is a tactic to help make it more difficult for SEO’s (such as myself) from reverse engineering the exact metrics their algorithms target. Apparently Matt Cutts stated the algorithm started rolling out on May 20, but the SERP data Moz.com collects indicated it may have started a day earlier.

Payday Loan 3.0

Release Date: June 12, 2014

Not even a month after the 2nd confirmed update for the Payday Loan algorithm, we received word from Google that they launched yet another update. According to Barry Schwartz’s Search Engine Roundtable article, Matt Cutts stated that the 2.0 update not only helped to better prevent negative SEO (the black hat art of pointing spammy, irrelevant and/or low quality backlinks to competitor sites), but it also specifically targeted spammy websites. Whereas this 3rd update more so targeted spammy search queries, which is consistent with what the initial algorithm did.

Authorship Photo Dropped

Release Date: June 28, 2014

This is more so a SERP display change rather than an algorithm update, but it is significant enough of a change to have earned a spot on this list. John Mueller announced on June 25, 2014 that Google would no longer be showing authorship photos within their search results. Many webmasters, including myself, noticed in the days and weeks prior to the official announcement that there were some rare instances of authorship photos disappearing, but I don’t believe any of us would have believed Google would have removed the authorship photos entirely. Nevertheless, Google has opted to leave the authorship name, which links directly to the Google+ profile for the respective authors, as well as the date of when the blog article was published. You can see an example of this in the screenshot below showing my authorship info for my blog post on keyword cannibalization.

Screenshot of the authorship search result for my post on keyword cannibalization

A screenshot of the authorship search result for my post on keyword cannibalization.

 

Above I discussed new, updated and unconfirmed algorithm tweaks that occurred prior to Matt Cutts going on leave.

Below are the algorithm’s which launched after Matt Cutts going on leave.

Pigeon Algorithm

Release Date: July 24, 2014

This update was actually never officially named internally at Google. So in an attempt to make it easier for SEO’s to reference it later, Search Engine Land (SEL) was, as usual, quick to dub this algorithm – they decided on “Pigeon.” Keeping with the theme of P-named algorithm updates (i.e. Panda, Penguin, Payday Loan, Page Layout), SEL felt this name was appropriate because this algorithm specifically targeted local search results, and “Pigeons tend to fly back home.”

Now getting to the good stuff – what we do know about this algorithm is that it is said to be the 2nd largest algorithm to be released since the Venice update. Barry Schwartz also claims Google told him that the new local-focused algorithm particularly made local SERP ranking signals similar to that of organic SERP ranking signals, and that it improved their ability to better interpret and factor in both distance and location for improved local ranking. To me, this suggests that websites will have a harder time ranking locally for cities in which they are no physically located within.

MozCast’s Google SERP Feature Graph, a tool that shows changes in Google SERP results, indicated a local SERP drop from 19.3% to a low of 9.2% within the days following the algorithm’s launch and a slight increase of knowledge graph results, from 26.7% to 28%.

Screenshot of the MozCast Google SERPs Feature Graph tool showing the impact of the Pigeon algorithm update

A screenshot of the MozCast Google SERPs Feature Graph tool showing the impact of the Pigeon algorithm update.

 

The commonality spotted by many SEO’s in the industry is that there are many keyword phrases which used to show a local map pack, but no longer do (Mike Blumenthal, a well-known local SEO expert, noticed that real estate type keywords in particular seemed to be the ones that were most significantly impacted, which he indicates in his comment here). Moz’s graph is showing that local search results seem to have regulated back to normal around July 29, 2014 – Barry Schwartz reached out to Google to confirm if we were already seeing a fresh of the Pigeon algorithm, but they would not confirm nor deny.

HTTPS / SSL Algorithm

Release Date: August 6, 2014

During my trip to SMX West this year, Matt Cutts stated that he would love to see websites that utilize SSL certificates (i.e. https://www.wellsfargo.com; note the HTTPS vs. HTTP, which means this website is secured) receive a ranking boost for providing a secured website to their websites visitors. Well, it seems he knew more than he was letting on – five months later and Google officially announced that they now provide a minor ranking boost to websites that have SSL certificates installed. They also suggested that they might increase the weight of this ranking signal in the future.

If this post has been informative for you, feel free to share it with your friends.

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The Google Algorithms Keep Coming, and Coming, and Coming ….

As you can see, we SEO’s have our hands full. There are only a handful of algorithms (out of the hundreds of updates Google makes per year) that are significant enough for Google to publicly announce, but it truly is a never ending battle. One day you might have 1st page rankings for “Denver Plumber”, the next week you could fall off to the 5th page or even farther, and then you could find yourself ranking higher in the weeks following.

My seven plus years of SEO experience has taught me that Google’s SERPs are in a never-ending state of flux, but if you build and optimize your website to the highest standard, you tend to not have to worry about any sort of negative impact from these frequent updates. And this holds true with the majority of client’s here at iMarket Solutions. We only utilize white hat methodologies, and we stay up to date on Google’s quality guidelines and the algorithms they do publicly announce, so we know exactly what Google prefers in a website.

We and our methodologies aren’t perfect; we have had some clients’ who have seen negative results from algorithmic changes, but I’ve learned to accept that as collateral damage, if you will. It’s simply impossible to build a perfect website and marketing campaign, especially with so many great minds and websites competing with our own, and to not expect some sort of backwards movement at one time or another. The important thing to do in those situations though, which is pretty much a favorite past-time of ours, is to review ranking, Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools data to try and determine which pages or strategies an algorithm has targeted on a site, and to use that knowledge to better your methodologies as a whole. This is what iMarket Solutions does on a weekly basis for our clients’, and a large reason as to why we are capable of building such successful SEO campaigns.

 

If you are in the HVAC, electrical, plumbing or home remodeling industry and want a website that dominates organic search results, feel free to give us a call – (800) 825-7935!

 And if you have any questions or comments regarding this blog post, I’d love to hear about them below.

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