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Episode 2 - February 9, 2017

A lot has happened in the search landscape over the last two weeks. In this episode we are going to look at some Google algorithm updates, some things that might affect your Google Analytics data, information on switching to https, some stuff on Amp pages. This episode also has several tips to help you learn more about how to improve your site.

In this issue





Possible algorithm updates this week

This is important for
Anyone who is noticing a traffic drop
Google is continually changing the algorithm that determines the order in which sites rank. However, in the last two weeks there were two dates on which a lot of ranking changes were noticed.
On February 1st there was an update that appeared to affect sites that relied on links from private blog networks in order to rank well. Not everyone with PBN links noticed a problem, but there was significant chatter in black hat forums from people saying that they noticed a change.
On February 7 there was another significant algorithm change, but we don’t really know what it targeted. It appears to be a quality update.

Google Publishes Information on Protecting Yourself from User Generated Spam

This is important for
Anyone who has a website that allows users to contribute in some way.
If you offer comments on your site or have a forum, then you need to be aware of the potential for user generated spam.
Why would users put spam on your site? The most common reason for this is that people are trying to create links to their site in order to help with search engine rankings. Often spammers will use a bot to try and submit spam comments or spam forum posts to millions of sites. If they only succeed with even a small percentage of these, they’ll end up creating links pointing to their site. While those links should really be ignored by Google under the new Penguin 4.0, there still is a chance that they will help with rankings.
Google’s article listed here, has a number of things for you to do including keeping your site’s software updated, adding a captcha, moderating comments, and using nofollow for outgoing links that come from user generated content.
I mentioned this last week, but a good way to check for the present of spam on your site is to set up Google Alerts for searches like this: viagra | cialis | ugg | kors | adidas | “payday loan”

This is important for:
Any sites that receive a lot of searches from people clicking on images on your site.
Did you notice a drop in search traffic around Thursday, January 26? If so, it may be because there was a bug that caused people not to be able to click through to your website via image search.
No changes are necessary. However, here is a tip to help you see what pages of yours are bringing in traffic from image search.
Go to Google Analytics → Acquisition → Source/Medium and then click on / organic.
Next, click on Secondary dimension and click on Landing page.
GA Landing Page
Now you’ll have a list of all of the pages on which people landed on your site after clicking on an image in the search results. Now that you have this information, take a look at other metrics such as the time that users are spending on the site. If you have images that are bringing in a good number of visitors, take a look at your pages and see if you have good information that would satisfy a user’s query.
For example, let’s say you ran a site discussing car repairs and you had an image of a BMW engine that was getting a lot of hits for “how to replace oxygen sensors”. But, even though you have an image that shows the oxygen sensors, your article doesn’t actually discuss how to replace them. You now know that you can improve this page by adding this information. Or, if there is enough information you can create a whole new article on the subject.

Chrome and Firefox now showing security warnings for non-https sites

This is important for
Everyone who has http pages that collect password or credit card info
Chrome 56 is now live. This means that if you have an http site that collects confidential information. Users in Chrome will see the following:
Not Secure
If you’re thinking of making the switch to https, here are some great resources:
Chrome and Firefox Updated Security Alerts for http pages - This great resource written by Ashley Berman Hale has good information on switching to https.
Does and Don’ts for https migration - This is a fantastic, easy to understand slideshare presentation on switching to https.

You can now share Amp Pages

This is important for
Anyone who is running or thinking of running amp pages.
Amp (Accelerated mobile pages) is a relatively new thing. These are special pages that load extremely fast. While they don’t get a ranking benefit, they should get a higher number of people clicking on them as users get used to seeing the lightning bolt in the search results which tells them that this will be a fast loading page.
One major complaint with amp is that the urls are difficult for people to share. What happens is that Google makes a copy of an amp page and serves it from If someone went to share that page, instead of sharing a url from your website, they’ll share something that looks like
The new changes make it so that you can easily share the actual url rather than the Google url.
Really, it doesn’t make much of a difference and this is not huge news. You can read more here on Search Engine Land.

Google adds a mobile friendly test API

Who is this important for
Most of you do not need this tool, but if you use software to monitor your site, this is a tool you can use.
Google now has a tool which allows you to programmatically check your site or parts of your site for mobile friendliness.

Migrating to https? You can have a Google employee take a look.

Who is important for
Anyone who is currently migrating your site from http to https, or anyone who has migrated and noticed a traffic drop.
Google’s Gary Illyes tweeted the following this week: “If you're following Fred's lead & decided to move to HTTPS, Search would like to hear from you! Any problems? Traffic decline? Let us know!”
Google knows that one of the reasons why people are possibly postponing switching to https is because of the fear of a traffic drop if things are not done correctly. I believe they are putting this call out so that they can see what types of issues site owners are having. They likely want to remove the prevalent fear that is out there that causes site owners to not want to switch.
If you want to contact Google about this, probably a good way is to Tweet at Gary Illyes or send him a DM on Twitter.

A “read more” button won’t trigger an interstitial penalty, but…

This is important for
Anyone who uses a “read more” button on mobile.
John Mueller was asked this week whether having a “read more” button and hiding a bunch of content until that is pressed would trigger the mobile interstitial penalty. The answer was no, but John also said, “It's not an interstitial, but oh how I hate those. WHY WHY WHY would a site want to hide their content?”.
Most likely sites that do this are doing it to somehow improve ad revenue. However, I do think that it is possible that this type of strategy will not work well when Google goes forward with mobile first indexing later this year. Right now, Google is taking desktop content to determine mobile rankings, but when mobile-first ranking happens, they’ll be taking the mobile content in order to determine all rankings including desktop. If you have most of your content hidden by a “read more” button on mobile, then Google will not see this content and you will likely lose rankings.

You can get stars in the Google search results with just one review now!

Joy Hawkins tweeted this week that she was noticing businesses having stars appearing next to their Google Local listing even though they just had one review. Previously, you needed five reviews in order to have the rating stars appear.
On a personal note, this week I convinced a client to reach out to former clients to ask them to review him on Google. Many business owners are reluctant to do this for fear of bothering people. This business contacted just four previous clients and one of them left a five star review for the business this week. He now has a beautiful five-star markup when people search for his keyword.
5 star review
If you are a local business, I challenge you to reach out to just a few people this week and ask them to review your business! Here is the wording of the email which my client sent out:
Hi [name],
Hope you are well! Would it be at all possible for you to leave a review for us on Google? The more reviews we have the more business we are likely to get. If you are able to do this, just follow the instructions below:

  • Search Google for [business name - city]
  • We should appear in the big box on the right. Click on “write a review”.

Thanks so much!”
We also included screenshots of the search results with an arrow pointing to the “write a review” button.

Who is this important for
We know that links are always going to be a big ranking factor in Google’s eyes. This article by Bill Slawski discusses a new Google patent that talks about some interesting ways to look at links. The patent hints that Google might give much more power to links that are actually clicked on, especially if users dwell on your site after clicking that link.
After reading the patent, it seems to me like this is going to be used mostly in spammy verticals. But still, I think that if you are trying to get links to your site, the most important question you can ask is “Will this link bring me visitors?”

Google’s algorithm changes are usually worldwide

Often when SEOs are noticing an algorithm change happening, we’ll ponder whether the changes are only affecting the US, or perhaps only Europe or another part of the world. Gary Illyes from Google commented recently that when Google makes an algorithm change they usually launch “everywhere at once”.

How long does it take to rank?

This was an interesting study published by Neil Patel. It looked at how long it took for a site to get to the first page of Google. The study found that on average it would take about three months to rank well. However, these were all relatively authoritative sites that were actively link building. If your site is new or not well known, it may take significantly longer for you to reach your full potential in rankings. I generally tell people that it will take a good six months for us to see the full benefits of any SEO work that we are doing.
In fact, that’s what this study by found as well. Their conclusion was that it takes about 2-6 months on average to get a site to page one for a keyword.


Tips for Choosing a new SEO agency

Who is this for
Anyone who is thinking of hiring an SEO agency or freelancer
Summary and Recommendations
I have done a lot of work with sites that have had Google penalties. Most of these businesses fell into the trap of hiring the wrong SEO company. Even now, I get several emails a week from people asking me if a particular company they want to hire is going to do good work for them. Quite often I see SEO companies offering SEO packages that seem to be too good to be true for $500 a month. I’ve yet to see one of those that is good.
Good SEO is expensive. The pool of people who are good at doing SEO is quite small.
I came across two good resources this week that will help you decide on a good SEO company:
5 Things to Ask An SEO Agency - by Bill Sebald
How to Choose a Good SEO Company for your Business or Website - A Whiteboard Friday video by Rand Fishkin at Moz.
If you are looking to hire, I would love to connect you with a reputable SEO company.
As a side note, if you would like to learn how to do SEO, now is the time to get into this field. There is an incredible demand for good SEOs and very few skilled practitioners out there. If you want to learn how to do SEO, I’ve put together a course to teach you everything you need to know. If you stick with the course for long enough, I’ll send you clients as I have many businesses that contact me wanting to hire SEO help.

Adding a new plugin or tool to your site? Be sure it doesn’t cause your page to drop out of Google’s index!

Who is this important for
Anyone who adds third party tools to their site.
I came across this interesting Moz Q&A thread this week. A site owner was asking why his page had dropped out of Google’s index. It turns out that they had recently added a script that was supposed to help somehow with social media. That script contained a line with the words, “meta content=”noindex, follow”>.
Many people do not know that you can noindex a page by including those words in the body of your page. If you install a tool or plugin, you really want to make sure that those words are not included!
An easy way to do this is to use Chrome’s Developer Tools to view the source of the page and its scripts. Click on View → Developer → Developer Tools and do a CTRL-F to look for “noindex”.
This is one of the first things I do when I am investigating why a particular page has dropped out of Google’s index.

Did you know you can use to look at old versions of your robots.txt file?

Who is this important for
This is good information for sites that are investigating a traffic drop.
Most of you will be aware of, the internet archive. You can use this site to see how a website looked in the past. Most sites will be archived on I use it often when sleuthing out reasons for a traffic drop. For example, if traffic dropped in May of 2015 and I see via that the site had a redesign in that same month, then this tells me that the redesin is a likely culprit.
What many people don’t know however is that you can look at a site’s robots.txt file on as well.
For the beginners reading this newsletter, your robots.txt file is a file that can give instructions search engines and other bots. It is commonly used to tell search engines not to visit certain parts of your site. You can do harm to your site by putting the wrong thing in your robots.txt file.
Glenn Gabe has a great article on a case study of how a robots.txt problems hurt a site’s traffic.

Make sure your WordPress installation is up to date!

Who is this important for
Everyone running a WordPress Site
Summary posted an article this week about a potential flaw in WordPress that can be exploited by hackers. Also, Google sent out warnings in Google Search Console to many sites that had outdated WordPress or Joomla installations. It should be noted, however, that many sites got a warning from Google when their sites actually were updated to the most recent software.
Some WordPress sites will update automatically to the most recent version. Still, it’s a good idea to check and see if your site has updated. To do so, log in to your WordPress dashboard and click on Updates. You’ll see if you are on version 4.7.2 which is the current version or whether you should update.
As a side note, if you have outdated plugins that need updating, you should update those as well as hackers can often take advantage of old plugin code and hack into your site.

Beginner Tip: Use Google’s Site Operator to see what pages are indexed

Who is this for
Did you know that you can get a list of which urls from your site Google has indexed? To do so, type the following into Google:
Replace with your domain name. Don’t use the www or http/s and make sure that there is no space in between the colon and your domain name.

That's it for this week! I'd love to hear your feedback. Feel free to leave a comment below or contact me here.