search newsletterSearch News You Can Use
Episode 4 - March 9, 2017

In this episode of Search News You Can Use there are some really good tips that you can implement right away. We'll talk briefly about the major algorithm changes that are happening right now. I'll also give you a bunch of actionable advice on ways in which you can improve your content. The tip on reviews for local businesses is my favorite this week.


Possible big algorithm update March 8, 2017

Who is this important for?
Likely just Black/Grey Hats, but it's early to say for certain
Barry Schwartz wrote about a possible big algorithm update that appears to be happening now. He has noticed a lot more chatter than usual in Black Hat forums and thinks this has something to do with links. My own data is not showing anything obvious at this point.
The general consensus is that this seems to have something to do with links. I'm not sure if I completely agree though. I have seen a couple of examples of sites with spammy link profiles that have been hit...but I have also heard of massive drops in sites that have relatively clean link profiles.
The algorithm change has jokingly been called "Fred". This is because Gary Illyes from Google has been on vacation and has been posting pictures of a tropical fish he calls Fred.
I'll have more information in next week's episode about what we know when we have more data on this change.

Panda looks at everything

Who is this important for?
Everyone, especially people with large sites.
Barry Schwartz wrote an article this week in which he stated that John Mueller from Google said that Google's Panda algorithm takes into account site architecture.  Barry was quoting from this webmaster help video. A site owner asked John whether having low quality category pages on their site could cause Panda to demote their site. John said that "Panda is a general overall quality evaluation of a website, and it takes into account everything around the site." He went on to say, "If we find issues on the site that essentially affect the quality of the website overall, then that's something that might be taken into account....So, If you're saying that your category pages are really bad and that's something you need to improve, then that's something I'd really work on."
Personally, I wouldn't interpret John's statement as directly saying that site architecture is a big Panda factor. I also wouldn't conclude that having low quality category pages is going to automatically cause you to get demoted by Panda. I think, rather, the key to avoiding (or escaping) Panda is to find areas where users are not happy and then improve upon those.
One good way to do this is to have someone who has never visited your site attempt to complete a task on it. You could ask a friend to search for a particular product and complete a purchase or to see if they can find information on a particular subject by navigating your site. Now let's say that the friend is having trouble clicking on a navigation button. Or, perhaps the search bar on your site is not giving them any usable results. Or, maybe they can't figure out how to get to their shopping cart. This type of thing can frustrate users and, in my opinion, can cause Panda to flag your site as a lower quality site.
In the past when Panda first came out, we would focus a lot on thin content and duplicate content. Over the years though, Panda has evolved to take many measures into account when it assesses a site. Google wants to show searchers the absolute best sites that answer their query and Panda is one of the ways in which Google helps determine whether your site is the best.
User testing, as I mentioned above, is a really good way to determine whether your site has issues that would make it look like a lower quality site. But, there are other things you can do. Here is an exercise that I often use in trying to track down problem areas on a site by using Google Analytics data.

  1. Go to Google Analytics --> Behavior --> Site Content --> All Pages and extend the list to show 500 results.
  2. Take note of your average Time on Page and Bounce Rate.
  3. Now, skim through the list for pages that have a low Time on Page and high Bounce Rate.

There will be some pages on your site where you would expect users to only spend a few seconds on the page or bounce off quickly. However, when I did this for one of my sites I found a page that had a Time on Page of 35 seconds (where the site average was 3 minutes) and a 95% bounce rate. When I visited this page I realized that the formatting was all messed up. Users who visited this page would get confused and quickly bounce away. This is an area that I should focus on improving in order to improve my overall site quality.

Google patents a method of determining whether searchers visit places that Google recommends

Who is this important for?
Small business owners
Bill Slawski wrote a fascinating article about a new Google patent. What this patent does is determine how many searchers actually visit a place when Google recommends it and then that business' ranking can be adjusted depending on the results. Let's look at an example of how this might work. Imagine you are staying at a fancy downtown hotel. If you use Google Now or Google Maps on your phone, Google might give you suggestions of upscale restaurants that you could visit that are nearby. If Google gave several suggestions and a large number of users actually visited one of those suggestions, then that restaurant would likely rank higher on a Google maps search. Similarly, if there was a restaurant that Google suggested and very few people actually took the suggestion and visited that restaurant, then this business may not rank as well.
Bill also talks about the fact that Google is now showing how busy a business is during a particular time of day. This is based on tracking location history as well.
This makes me think of how many other ways Google can be using location history. I don't know if Google is doing this already, but I bet that they use your location history to help determine whether a review is legitimate. If you are reviewing a friend's business, but you've never actually been there, then that review may not be considered helpful. Or perhaps Google has an algorithm that determines that the majority of reviews for a site are from people who have never been there. That could possibly cause a demotion for spamming. (Note: These are just my thoughts...I don't have proof that Google is doing this.)
Google is making it harder to game the local results. I remember when a friend of mine started taking clients for local SEO years ago. She learned that a few directory citations combined with choosing the right categories for your business listing could often propel a business to #1 on the maps listings. Today, it is not that easy. Google is making it so that you can't trick them into thinking you are a thriving, popular business unless you actually are.
If you own a small business, and if you use Google maps, I would recommend that you join the Google Guides program. If you choose to take part, you'll see the types of things that Google is trying to learn about small businesses. For example, here is one of the questions that I was asked as a Google Guide:
Google Guides
Google also asks me things like whether a place has a unisex bathroom, has a good wine selection or has good coffee. So how can you take advantage of this as a small business owner? Find ways to make sure that your customers know about these things. When Google starts making suggestions to people, they are going to pick their results based on the answers to these questions.
Sometimes Google asks me whether a restaurant is somewhere where I could go to just order a coffee and usually my answer is "I don't know" because I didn't go there to order a coffee. If this is something that you offer, then perhaps add a little insert in the menu that advertises your coffees and invites people to come and enjoy a good coffee. Or, you could offer a coupon for a free coffee on their next visit. That way, if that customer is a Google Guide provider, when they're asked whether this is a place where you can go just for a coffee, they will know that the answer is yes.

AMP Statistics are borked in Google Analytics

Who is this important for:
Anyone using AMP pages
Christian Oliveira wrote an article that explains that if you use AMP pages, your Google Analytics statistics are likely not correct. The article is quite detailed. If you use AMP, it's probably best for you to read the article rather than have me summarize it. Essentially though, what is happening is that AMP users can possibly be counted as up to four separate users on Google Analytics. This will result in inflated metrics and an increased bounce rate. Google is aware that there is an issue and they are working on fixing it.

Should you nofollow links to your About Us, Contact Us and TOS pages?

Who is this important for?
Jennifer Slegg wrote a good summary of something that John Mueller talked about in a recent hangout. Something that I have seen some people do for SEO purposes is add a nofollow tag to links pointing to a site's About Us Page, Contact Us Page or Terms of Service page. The idea is that you don't want to have your PageRank leak to these pages. The thought by those who did this is that if you have every single page on your site linking to your contact page then Google would rank your contact page much higher than other pages on your site.
However, there probably isn't any need to nofollow links to these pages. John Mueller stated that Google is pretty good at figuring out that these pages aren't the main sources of content for your site.
One important topic that did come up from this discussion is the importance of internal links. John mentioned that if you have a new page on your site that you are wanting to rank, then you should make sure to link to that url from important pages on your site.
It is amazing how much can be gained by adding good internal links to your important pages. It is also important to link internally using keyword anchors. What? I know..some of you are saying, "But, Google says we shouldn't link with keywords" and that's just not true. If a site has a large number of external links with keyword anchors, then this can be a sign that the site is engaged in unnatural linking. But, for internal links, a few years ago Matt Cutts from Google put out this video in which he said that linking internally with keywords is perfectly ok and would only be considered spammy if it was extremely overdone. For example, you don't want to have a footer on your website that contains thousands of keyword anchored links to all sorts of pages on your site.
I recently had a site for which I gave a blueprint on improving internal linking. Within a couple of days of implementing this strategy, the site moved up from #9 to #6 for a competitive keyword. Good internal linking can be SUPER helpful.
My process for improving upon keyword linking

  1. Identify a page for which you would like to improve rankings. This could be your home page, or it could be a page that tends to convert well but perhaps doesn't rank as well as you'd like.
  2. Make a list of your known keywords for this page
  3. Make a list of what Google considers to be related keywords. Google's information on related keywords is gold and so easy to obtain. Let's say that I am trying to rank a page that is a guide to buying lawnmowers. I am going to search Google for "guide to buying a lawnmower" and then scroll down to the bottom of the page where I will find this:related keywords lawn mower
    I'll add the keywords that make sense to my guide page to my list of related keywords.
  4. Find good pages on your site on which you can add internal links. If you have a small site, you may just try to add an internal link from each page of your site, including your home page. However, if you have a larger site, here is a great way to find good pages from which to add links:
    -Do a search on Google for keyword. For example, let's say I wrote a new article about Google's Penguin algorithm and I was looking for places to link to that article from my site:site search plus keyword
    Now I have a list of the pages on my site that Google thinks are related to Penguin. These are pages on which I am going to add internal links.
  5. Start adding internal links from each of these pages using the following guidelines:
    -Make sure that the link is in the main body of content rather than in the sidebar, footer or navigation. Why? Gary Illyes from Google recently tweeted that keywords have different value depending on where they are on a page. He has also said previously that internally, Google labels some links with things like "footer link".
    -Ideally, link from up high in the body of content. We don't know this for sure, but many people think that links at the top of an article have more value than those below. Personally I think that this might be the case because more people are likely to click on a link that is in the first few paragraphs.
    -Try to link from within a paragraph of text so that the link is surrounded by related words. For example, rather than have a line that says:related: Guide to buying a is probably better to do something like this:If you are considering purchasing a riding mower, you might find our guide to buying a lawnmower a helpful resource. In it we have included tips on different lawnmower brands available, what size you should choose and describe all of the different types.

    -Make the majority of your links keyword anchored and then anchor a few links with related keywords. I don't have a source which I can link to to prove this as this is just my theory and is how I do internal linking.

How many internal links are too many? I would say that provided you are not doing something that is annoying to users, you can put in as many internal links to a page as you would like. Look at wikipedia. They do pretty well with this strategy.


The DMOZ Directory is closing down

Who is this important for?
It's not really important - but it's interesting news.
DMOZ is one of the most well known good directories out there. It is known for being a human edited directory that was actually really good to get listed in. Sadly, the directory is now shutting down. I found it funny this week to read all of the tweets from people who were still waiting after many years to get a listing approved in Dmoz. Personally, I had a great connection who was a DMoz editor and I was able to get businesses listed instantly. Well..there goes another easy to obtain link source!

Tip - Optimize your images for SEO

Jeniffer Slegg had a good summary here on a discussion in a hangout recently on optimizing images for SEO. Here is a summary of what John Mueller recommended for image optimization:

  • Descriptive alt tag
  • Descriptive image title. (This one surprised me as I seem to recall Google saying before that image titles weren't used for ranking purposes.)
  • Having a caption below the image and text around the image

He didn't talk about optimizing for size, but it goes without saying that an image that loads faster is usually the best option.
Do you regularly optimize your images? I would recommend reviewing the pages on your site to see where you have used images and whether you can improve upon the optimization. For example, let's go back to the example I gave earlier of a site that has a guide to buying a lawn mower. Perhaps you have an image of a riding mower on that page. Does the image have an alt tag that says, "Riding mower"? Does the image have a title tag? Does it make sense for you to add a caption to the image? Is the text nearby the image related to it?
If not, then making these changes may help with rankings.
I have to admit that I have not taken good advantage of using captions or title attributes on images. I will likely start experimenting with this.

Tip - Best practices for use of the meta keywords tag

Who is this important for?
Does your site use a meta keywords tag?

This tag used to be helpful to let search engines know what your site is about. John Mueller recently tweeted a reminder that Google pays no attention to the meta keywords tag:

Also, I tweeted about an article from 2011 in which Bing spokesperson Duane Forrester shocked the SEO world by saying that Bing does use the meta keywords tag but as a NEGATIVE ranking factor if it is keyword stuffed.
I was discussing this because I have been working on helping a site overcome a Bing penalty (which is not something I commonly see). When I tweeted about the fact that Bing could treat the keywords tag as a negative factor, a few people were quick to tell me that for some sites, their site search is dependent upon the presence of meta keywords tags.
In most cases, I would recommend that if you use the meta keywords tag, you should remove it. Google doesn't use it and it actually could hurt you if Bing considers it stuffed. (They don't give us details on what constitutes stuffing.) However, if your site uses the keyword tag in order to help users search the site then I would recommend reviewing your keyword tags and ensuring that they only contain a couple of keywords each.

Tip - Ask for reviews!

Who is this important for?
Businesses with a local presence who want to rank in Google maps listings.
Summary and Recommendations
If you are trying to rank locally, it is believed that the presence of reviews for your business is a ranking factor. I have heard some say that you need to have more than five reviews in order for them to start helping with your rankings, but I'm not sure if anyone has proven this.
I recently convinced a client of mine to start reaching out to their clients and ask for reviews. I crafted an email for him that he could send out to clients. It went something like this:

Hi Clientname,
Hope you are well! I'm writing to ask if it would be possible for you to leave a review for us on our Google Maps page. The more reviews we have, the more people are likely to choose us as their [profession name]. It doesn't have to be much...just a few paragraphs would be great.
Here are some instructions on how to do this. I've also included an image that should help:
1) Search Google for "[brand name + keyword]".
2) On the right hand side you should see a box with our business logo and information. Click on "Leave a review".
[Include a screenshot with arrows pointing to the search query and also the place where it says to leave a review.]
Thanks so much! 

The client sent out five emails and within two weeks three of those had added a great review:
ask for reviews
Now, we already held the number two position for this local keyword,  (We're working on getting to #1!), so those reviews didn't improve our rankings. I'll report back when we have a few more and see if this changes. However here is the really cool thing. Those reviews appear to have dramatically improved conversions. Unfortunately Google My Business data only goes back 90 days, but here is the information showing how many people clicked through to the client's website:
local reviews
Thirteen visitors may not seem like many, but I can tell you that several of those people converted and this is a business where one new client results in a huge sale. This business owner recently told me that they have not been this busy in a long time.
The point here is that having good reviews is good for business!
If you are a local business I would urge you to develop a strategy in which you ask clients for reviews. You will not break Google's TOS by doing so provided you don't offer an incentive. Just a word of warning though, you can't solicit reviews on Yelp.
Our plan for this business is to contact 3-4 past clients each week and ask if they can provide us with a review. I thoroughly believe that reviews are helpful for rankings, but only if you are getting them regularly. You don't want to have a big burst of 10 reviews and then never get another one.


Recommended Reading

SEO Case Study – 313% More Organic Traffic with REAL Examples - By Nick Eubanks. This is one of the best SEO articles I have read in a long time.
Google May Check to See if People Go to Geographic Locations Google May Recommend - By Bill Slawski
7 Tweaks We Made To Our Online Store That Drastically Improved Business - By Steve Chou
Why the bounce rate of my AMP pages is so high - By Christian Oliveira
The Link Building Olympics - Good summary of talks by Kirsty Hulse and Rand Fishkin on link building
How we hijacked Google's SEO Guide Search Rankings - This is an interesting read of how Screaming Frog managed to take over Google's rankings for SEO Guide by copying Google's content. It's still a little bit unclear to me exactly how this happened, but the article has a lot of good theories.

That's it for this week! As always, I would love any feedback that you have on this newsletter. My goal is to make this as useful as possible. Feel free to contact me or leave a comment below.