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Search Engine Optimisation | Aqueous Digital

All posts in “Search Engine Optimisation”

Aqueous Digital discusses the closure of DMOZ

What does the closure of the DMOZ directory mean for SEO?

 

The SEO community was left to reminisce about the good ol’ days of the internet after the ancient relic that was the DMOZ directory closed its doors last month, but has the closure had any effect on SEO or rankings?

The AOL-owned DMOZ web directory disappeared from our browsers on March 17th 2017, leaving just a link to a static mirror of the site which can be found at www.dmoztools.net and the following message.

 

 

What was DMOZ?

For those that weren’t familiar with DMOZ.org, the website was an Open Directory Project that had been around since 1998 (under one name or another) and used human editors to organise websites rather than computers. The directory listed millions of websites that had all been added and categorised by thousands of volunteers.

When it started out in 1998 (the same year Google launched) its main competition was the Yahoo Directory.  Over the years Yahoo saw the benefit of machine-generated search results and gradually phased out their directory, until eventually closing it down in December 2014.

 

SEO and DMOZ

Then

For SEO, having your website listed on the DMOZ directory used to be a highly sought after prize.

This was during a time when the directory was very active, with new links constantly being added, reviewed and modified.  Before Google’s rise, DMOZ bought websites a lot of direct traffic and Google even had the directory copied as the Google Directory which they linked to on their homepage.

However as Google grew, DMOZ began to decrease in popularity and requests to be listed on the directory began to take a longer and longer time to process, until it became a near impossible feat.

 

Now

10 years ago or so having your link listed on DMOZ may have been the Holy Grail, but over more recent years the directory’s SEO value had significantly decreased as it has become less popular, relevant and current.

Machine-generated search results and Google’s growth have slowly but surely bought about the demise of the open directory.

Late last year both John Mueller and Gary Illyes from Google made negative comments about directory listings, suggesting that they now provide less SEO value than ever.

 

Will DMOZ’s closure effect rankings?

So far there has been no obvious reported effects on rankings from the closure of the mostly redundant DMOZ directory.

The only reminder to webmasters and SEO professionals will be the NOODP meta tags that have been used to instruct search engines like Google not to pull in descriptions from open directories like DMOZ.  If you have this tag in place on your website it will not have a negative effect, it will simply now be redundant.

 

Curlie?

Although many people in the SEO community may believe that it’s time to let open directories like DMOZ rest in peace, for those that have devoted years to the project it is proving hard to let go!

On the 31st March the DMOZ Facebook page posted a link to a website called https://curlie.org/ that contains a static page mirroring the late DMOZ directory and the defiant message ‘Humans still do it better.’

Article discusses Accelerated Mobile Pages

AMPing up your website’s mobile speed in 2017

Could AMPing up the speed of your website’s content give you the edge over your competitors?

Did you know that all around the world more people are now searching for information online using their mobile devices than they are desktop computers? (According to Google)

Mobile browsing has been on the increase for some time now and this doesn’t seem set to slow down any time soon.

With the digital landscape constantly shifting and becoming more mobile-oriented is your website keeping up and delivering a mobile-friendly experience?

 

What is AMP?

Since 2015 Google have been slowly rolling out accelerated mobile pages (AMP) in response to the increase in demand from users for more instantaneous access to information on mobile devices.

In a world where we have access to almost any information we could dream of at the tips of our fingers, we don’t want to have to deal with the frustration of slow pages taking an age load – we want answers and we want them now!

Accelerated mobile pages can be identified in search results by looking for the AMP initials and lightning bolt symbol next to the listing as shown here:

Rudy Galfi, the AMP Project Product Manager has been quoted saying that on average an AMP-formatted webpage takes 0.7 seconds to load, whilst the average time for other webpages is 22 seconds!

So far AMP has most commonly been used by news websites and blogs but is now being adopted by a more varied mix of websites.  It is expected that as with most things Google, early adopters of AMP will be the ones that reap the rewards!

How does it work?

AMPed pages load almost instantaneously because they are coded to prioritise loading text content.  Additional content like imagery is kept to a minimum and loaded after the text content on the page.

 

Why AMP?

The key benefits of using AMP are:

  • Improves user-experience by minimising frustration caused by slow-loading pages, which will in turn keep people on your website.
  • Fast-loading pages are great for SEO. AMP is not yet known to be an individual ranking factor, but site speed is!
  • Improved visibility of content. Google uses a ‘top stories’ carousel that highlights AMP content.

 

How can I get it?

In order to get AM on your website you will need new versions of your web pages built and developed using the AMP HTML.  These new pages will strip out all ‘non-essential’ information on the page when it is being viewed on a mobile phone.  When your webpage is viewed on a desktop computer, visitors will still see the full webpage, giving users on both mobile and desktop devices the best experience for their browsing device.

Worried about duplicate content?

We’ve all had it hammered home that duplicate content is bad for SEO, so won’t your new AMP webpage contain the same duplicated content as the desktop version?

In short, yes, it will contain the same content but using a rel:”canonical” tag will prevent Google from marking either version as duplicate content.  The rel:”canonical” tag simply tells Google which piece of content is the original and should be applied with all the credit and lets it know that the AMP page is a related copy of this page.

 

Want to find out more about AMP?  Visit the AMP Project website for more details and tutorials or give one of our team here at Aqueous Digital a call on: 0800 285 1424.

Voice search and SEO

Is Voice Search a Game Changer for Digital Marketing?


As we become increasingly comfortable with speaking to our electronic devices the number of people using voice search is growing.  This shift in the way people search means businesses and websites need to adapt their online strategy in order to stay ahead of the game and thrive.

Just as you thought you were getting to grips with how to optimise your website for typed search engine queries, technology advances and gives you a new dimension to learn about!

According to a survey by Comscore, 40% of adults now use voice search once per day.  If your business hasn’t started to at least consider how to optimise your website for voice search then you could be at risk of getting left behind.

 

What is voice search?

Voice search is a basic form of AI, you probably know it best as Siri on the iPhone, Alexa on Amazon’s Echo, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google’s own voice search feature.

 

Voice search and SEOHow is voice search changing digital marketing and SEO?

First of all, it’s important to understand that voice search is not taking over from typed search, so don’t panic, all previous digital marketing and SEO work undertaken is still relevant!

In order to adapt for voice search businesses need to add a new dimension to their strategy rather than changing anything existing.

Voice search requires a different SEO approach to typed searches as users deliver their queries in a different way.

Think about what you may type to search for a hairdresser versus what you might say via voice search.

For the majority of people a typed search will be 2-3 words long, written in ‘computer speak’ and narrowed down to just a few essential keywords.  Whereas when we use voice search we expect the technology to be able to understand full sentences, so we tend to talk as though speaking to another human being.

 

Common features of voice searches

  • Longer query length
  • Generally these are question searches
  • We ask as though speaking to another human
  • More frequently performed on mobile devices
  • Queries often have greater intent
  • Often used when speed is of the essence
  • More likely to be used for local-based queries

 

How to adapt online for voice search

Eager to get your business’ online presence optimised for voice search? We’ve come up with a few tips on what to consider and changes to implement to keep your business one step ahead when it comes to voice search.

 

Research, research, research!

Keyword/phrase research for voice search is essential.  Find out what questions people are asking on voice search in order to discover your business.  Once you’ve got some idea on what kind of phrases and questions are being used, identify which ones are your highest value questions.

Remember that generally people using voice search tend to use more specific search queries that are capable of revealing their level of intent a lot more accurately than with text search.

 

Update content accordingly/create new content

Once you’ve identified which voice search queries people are using to find your website you can begin to tweak existing content or create new high quality content around these questions and queries.

 

Adjust bids

Of course if you’re able to identify the highest value queries and long-tail key phrases, then it makes financial sense to adjust your bids on any Adwords campaigns that you may have running to reflect your findings.

 

Update local business listings and ads

Due to the speedy nature of voice search, a high percentage of searches performed this way are local searches, meaning that local businesses that adapt will reap the rewards and have the advantage over competitors who are slower to adapt.

People performing local searches on the move often want quick answers with minimal actions before a decision is reached.

This is why local voice searches often trigger business listings/ads in search results, making it essential to keep business listings up to date.  Local voice searches often have high intent, resulting in searchers bypassing business websites and instead taking action directly from the search results by using the ‘call now’ or ‘book now’ call to action buttons.

 

With new and emerging technologies like Amazon’s Alexa Smart Home becoming more popular and wearables like smart watches now being released by popular brands like Michael Kors, speaking to our devices is becoming more and more commonplace.

Businesses with their finger on the pulse should begin adapting their online strategy now if they haven’t already in order to stay ahead of competitors and save themselves a bigger job down the line.

 

Need some help or advice with optimising your online presence for voice search? Get in touch with our team of experts here at Aqueous Digital by giving us a call on 0800 285 1424.

Search can be difficult sometimes

Here’s how we helped one company recover after a website move [infographic]

Not every website move goes as planned.

Every day hundreds of thousands of new websites are unveiled and whilst many go smoothly, occasionally things can go wrong.

Aqueous received the call last year to take a look at a website which had been rebuilt to reflect the new image of the business. In a business where imagery is everything this new website was design led and looked stunning. The problem was that since launch, half of the organic traffic had disappeared.

Our role was to find out why it had gone, where it had gone and to establish whether we could get it back.

The infographic below sums up nicely what happened. But in case you can’t be bothered to read it;

TL;DR – we recovered the traffic! Yippee!

Here’s how we did it.

Website recovery case study - Aqueous Digital 2016

If you are struggling with a website move that’s gone wrong or simply want some advice before upgrading your site to ensure you don’t lose half of your traffic, call us on 0800 285 1424 and see if we can help?

Google Partner Badge

How to decide if an SEO Company could help your website

Most website owners get at least one email a day offering them SEO services and most ignore them.

But how do you know if your website really could benefit from Search Engine Optimisation and if it could, what exactly should you be paying for?

The starting point

Most people, when faced with the task of optimising a website will look online for some help and there’s no shortage of tools out there with which you can test your site. As an example, we ran a Google search for “online SEO checker” and selected the top six organic results.

Each of them offers a free analysis service so we put the url of a website we own into each of them and asked them to review our website.

The results varied across the piece and those that gave scores ranged from 46 to 61 out of 100, so overall this site was about half optimised according to these tools.

SEO checker 6 SEO checker 5 SEO checker 4 SEO checker 3 SEO checker 2 SEO checker 1

The issue is that none of them were consistent. Some were better than others, some missed obvious things and others picked up on items which would make no material difference to your everyday SEO. On the whole, most of them did find the easy and obvious bits so there is definitely some value in running these tests.

All of them however suffered from the same problem which is that they are designed to hook you into buying their SEO service. Some offered partial reports with certain elements being ‘premium’ service whilst others gave you the same thing for free. One of them even allows a banner advert trying to sell you ‘premium links’ which is more likely to get you a Google Penalty than anything else. The trick here is to run your website across a number of these different free services and pick out anything that is consistent on all of them.

For example, on our site, all bar one of the checkers picked up the fact that the meta description on the home page was missing. Given that this is a key element in getting your sales message across it’s pretty important. The fact that most of them found the issue highlighted that we needed to change it and that this was one element that should definitely be on the ‘to do’ list.

If you do this for your website you will quickly see which things are essential to fix to optimise your website for Google.

The next steps

Having run the tests you may well find that there are some bits you can do and some you can’t do. The question is, should you do anything about them?

Well, as a rule of thumb if your site scores well overall i.e. above 75 or more on their score charts then you may well be able to get away with doing nothing. This is not advocating that you ignore your site’s optimisation, more that you shouldn’t need to spend large sums of money putting right the things highlighted as wrong.

If you are lucky enough to have a website which does score highly then it is still worth addressing the things which are highlighted that you can do yourself, such as meta descriptions, content or title tags.

Seo-optimization

There may well be some elements which you won’t be able to do such as reducing the number of inline CSS styles or HTML compression. These elements can make a difference to the way your site is optimised so it’s worth considering getting these fixed.

The decision on whether to proceed with these changes needs to be done with a bit of context in mind.

Some of these tools are designed to make you feel as if your website is a hopeless wreck with these changes being made. As an example, we tested https://www.google.co.uk/ on each of them and none of them gave it a clean bill of health. Even putting the url’s of the checkers themselves through their tools, they still didn’t get 100%.

Even if you did make all the changes they suggest and get your site to 100% the question remains, will this make any difference to where you rank on Google?

The SEO decision

We often get people coming to us who have been through this sort of process and in many cases they have tried some ‘cheap SEO’ to see what happens. In most cases they get some simple technical changes to their site (if they are lucky) which encompass no more than these free tools will give you or they get some automated link building which does little for the site or its rankings on Google.

The problem is that even doing the things they recommend could still make no difference.

As an example, changing title tags, H1’s and meta descriptions are common bits of advice given to anyone optimising a website. But what should you change them to? Do you actually know? How do you find out? What research should you be doing to determine what these things should say and having made the changes what are you expecting to happen? How will you measure the results?

And so we end up talking to customers and prospective customers about the thing you really pay for with SEO; time and experience.Google

It seems odd that in so many areas of life we take it for granted that we need a specialist to help us.

If your teeth are hurting you go to a dentist and will pay large sums of money for specialist help. Similarly, with a legal problem, we seem to have no problems paying Solicitors for their time and advice.

Now I appreciate that SEO doesn’t have the same standing as these professions. It’s not been around for hundreds of years and there is no single professional body which oversees the competence of its members. And on that basis choosing a good SEO firm can be something of a lottery. So, how do you do it?

What SEO should really do for your website

First off you want to find a firm that understands Marketing. Not just someone who says they do but preferably someone with qualifications to back it up.

The reason for this is simple; SEO is no longer all about just the technical side of getting your website ranking. We have seen many examples of websites that rank highly for keywords and get lots of traffic yet don’t do any business.

Why? Because the website has been optimised for machines, not humans.

Last time we checked it’s humans that need and buy your products and services which is where the Marketing knowledge is essential. Modern websites need a careful blend of technical know-how and traditional sales and marketing.

If you get this bit right then SEO should help your website to rank well for the keywords that matter to your business and help encourage people to buy from you.

We’ve compiled a quick list of some of the things that are thrown at us about SEO. Do any of these strike a chord with you?

SEO is NOT

  • The only thing you need to do to get your website to work well
  • A replacement for good solid professional Marketing
  • A tick box exercise, as Google changes daily[1]
  • A ‘quick’ process to get your website on the ‘front page’ for an indeterminate number of phrases/keywords
  • A panacea for all that ails your website
  • A dark art with smoke and mirrors

SEO is

  • An essential component within a Digital Marketing Strategy
  • A professional service to help deliver long term Marketing and business goals and strategies
  • A long-term process that delivers consistent benefits and sales leads to your business
  • About understanding and recognising the changes made by the search engines and adjusting your website accordingly.
  • An ongoing process to help identify how best to optimise your website so that the Search Engines can crawl and index your website properly
  • Just one part of the overall marketing jigsaw

Summary

So, the summary is that SEO should help you to deliver business, not just rankings. Getting the technical elements of the website right is an important step towards success but not the only step. Be wary therefore of firms that can offer a ‘tick box’ solution to your issues as in many cases this simply won’t have the desired effect.

If you are going to pay for SEO services you want transparency on what they are going to do for you, a clear plan which starts with basic research and understanding of your market and a strategy for how this influences both your keyword positions and the way customers see your website.

If you need some reassurance then choose a company who are part of the Google Partners programme as firms are only allowed to be Partners if they can demonstrate competence and an understanding of Google’s products.

To find out more about how Aqueous could help you call us on 0800 285 1424 and let us start the process of helping you drive your business forward.

 

[1] In 2013 Google made over 380 changes to its algorithm

Penguin

Five trends that will dominate SEO in 2016

It’s the end of 2015 so time for a look ahead and a prediction on where we think the real changes are going to happen in 2016. Some of these are with us already and will only increase in importance, but others may surprise you.

1. Voice search changes everything, but it’s only the start

It’s quite a bold statement but it needs something as dramatic as this to successfully sum up the way Google is heading.

November saw an article in Time magazine (worth ten minutes of your time to read by the way) entitled Google Searches for its Future and if you don’t have time for that here’s a very simple summary;

The Evolution of Search

Amit Singhal, who is Google’s senior vice president in charge of all search-related products, has been working on this project for some time and was quoted in the interview saying that this is likely to consume the next few years of his life.

The vision? Think Star Trek and their communicators.

Amit Singhal

Amit Singhal from Google – Copyright Time.com

To quote the interview;

“The company’s hope is that, together, this transforms the concept of “Googling” from something that happens via a static search bar into a kind of ongoing conversation with an omniscient assistant, ready to step in and fulfill [sic] any request—even ones you haven’t thought about yet.”

The key to this is of course, understanding you, and this explains why digital companies want to ‘own’ you. The four biggest and most noteworthy of these are Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft and if you have or use any of their products just spend an hour diving into the Terms and Conditions you have signed up to.

They own you. All of you.

They all reserve the right to track everything you do and offer you suggestions as to what you might like to do based on your past behaviour.

Right now each of the companies is at the voice product stage with Microsoft embedding Cortana into mobile phones, Apple using Siri, Facebook having ‘M’ in Messenger and Google is pursuing this with its own ‘OK Google’ voice product which featured in TV adverts in July 2015. Even Amazon is getting in on the act with a voice product named ‘Echo’ that sits in your home waiting for voice commands.

OK Google Rockhopper Penguin

So what’s the next move?

Well, the predictive arm of Google’s assistant, ‘Google Now’, is planning to be an even more powerful evolution of traditional search. Launched in 2012, ‘Google Now’ aims to find information for users before they even think of typing it into the search box.

Google Now

This is how it is described;

“Initially Now offered obvious features that were readily accessible via apps, like weather forecasts and sports scores. But the information available is getting increasingly sophisticated, making use of Google’s different services (and its tracking capabilities).

The program will pick up on your daily commute schedule and use real-time traffic data to recommend when you should leave home to make it to work on time. It will comb through your emails to produce info cards showing your upcoming flight times, purchased movie tickets or incoming package shipments. Google Now can even remember where you parked your car.”

The next step is ‘Now on Tap’ which allows Google to scan whatever is on a user’s smartphone screen and then pull up relevant information or links to relevant apps.

Google wants to implement ‘Now’ cards that can tell you which of the restaurants near you have the shortest waiting time, create holiday itineraries for an upcoming long weekend or send you reminders to take your prescription medicine.

And so we come to the most disturbing bit. This is where they are all going;

Google has to convince users they should trade their personal data for convenience. ‘Now’ is an opt-in service, and it works best when you essentially hand the digital keys of your life over to Google and trust the company to drive.

(The red and bold emphasis in the paragraph above is mine and there simply because this is the most disturbing part of the whole tale.)

Apple, which is building out its own predictive search feature into Siri, has been quick to cast Google’s data-hungry model as a potential invasion of privacy. In a June speech, Apple CEO Tim Cook did everything but call out Google by name when he said, “Some of the most prominent and successful companies have built their businesses by lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information. They’re gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it. We think that’s wrong.”

Google stresses that it doesn’t sell user data to third parties, but the company isn’t apologetic about the fact that Now works better the more Google knows about you. “We can build a far better future by knowing a little bit more about you,” Singhal says. “People should only opt in if they get value out of it. Otherwise they should go to ‘My Accounts’ and just delete all that data.”

But can you? Can you go to My Accounts and delete all the data? What happens to the useful bits that you already have stored there?

Google’s plan is clear. They want to make “ambient computing” a reality. Essentially computing that is seamlessly present wherever you are, so easily accessible that you barely even realize that you’re interacting with a computer. And they want this to be available Worldwide.

Google’s Gary Illyes even went as far as to day that said that he would love to see Google Now replace traditional e-commerce transactions. Seriously? This is heavy stuff as it requires us all to embed Google so far into our lives that it knows everything about us, all of the time.

Whether you want this or not, it is a reality and it is coming. The question is how will that affect business and what do we need to do now to build for the future? That’s the challenge for SEO.

2. Mobile search will dominate in 2016

Earlier this year, Google announced that for the first time, it was seeing more search activity on mobile than desktop with the one caveat that this was for ten countries, including the US. During October Google has now said this is the case worldwide. The summary is that right now over half the worldwide Google searches are on a mobile device.

This is massive. It means that we have moved away from the birth of search and we are now in a new and uncertain future.

Google also confirmed that as well as the data it holds on websites it says it has indexed 100 billion links within apps.

Mobile phone on a laptopThis is a frightening number and goes some way to explaining a story that went around the SEO community earlier in the year saying that there may be a ranking benefit from sites which have an app.

Last year Google said that more searches were happening on mobile devices than desktop in the US, Japan and eight other countries that weren’t named. In some countries desktop searches still top mobile but the direction of travel is clear.

It’s worth noting that this doesn’t mean that desktop searches have diminished. Stats on desktop search from comScore routinely show the overall amount has risen from month to month. Rather, it’s that mobile searches have been a growing new segment that have caught up and now overtaken desktop search.

On the whole, desktop search has grown. As a percentage, it has dropped.

That’s because we’re living in what I’ve called an “always-on search world,” where we’re always able to search.

Got a query? Your phone is always in reach, as opposed to the past when you’d have to get to wherever your computer was.

So the overall volume of search queries has grown. And now you can also ask your mobile to search for data through a voice activated service meaning a whole new range of searches are opening up.

Mobile is clearly incredibly important and of growing importance, so if you have not gone mobile friendly – do it. If you are not thinking about Apps and App Indexing, get thinking.

As you can see from the first subject in this article, mobile is essential for not only the way people search now but to make the future voice and predictive services a reality.

Of course, this is a slow process but is being given a bit of a shove by Google’s latest development which is Accelerated Mobile Pages.

Google announced in October a new initiative to make the web even faster on mobile, an open source project called Accelerated Mobile Pages.

The technology is new; it is AMP HTML, a new open framework built entirely out of existing web technologies, which allows websites to build light-weight webpages.

The current issue for many is that you probably need to maintain two different code bases to manage it properly.

Google however has wide support from Twitter, Pinterest, WordPress.com, Chartbeat, Parse.ly, Adobe Analytics and LinkedIn so it appears to have gained considerable traction already with some big names on board.

You can try it out in search by going to http://g.co/ampdemo on your mobile device. I tried it and it loads pages at a lightning quick speed which is massively beneficial on a mobile device in most of the country where 4G (or even 3G) coverage is sparse.

Google Accelerated Mobile Pages

This fully aligns with Google’s drive towards mobile and the massive rise in mobile searches.

In fact, in November Google issued a statement saying;

“Google will begin sending traffic to your AMP pages in Google Search early next year, and we plan to share more concrete specifics on timing very soon.”

So where is this likely to go? Well, Google is committed to making mobile the default platform for websites so you need to be thinking long and hard about how you make your site mobile friendly if you haven’t already.

The good news however for those on WordPress is that they announced the development of a plugin to the AMP standard.

The plugin will enable WordPress publishers to create AMP versions of posts with a single click, WordPress said in a blog post;

“We believe that open source is one of the most powerful ideas of our generation. We strongly and actively support a free, open internet. We’re very happy to support an open source initiative like AMP, which brings publishers and technology companies together to make a better mobile experience for everyone.”

So 2016 will see more and more news about mobile data and search and inevitably, as it gets easier to use a mobile to search, so the usage will rise. The SEO landscape means anyone not thinking mobile and voice first is missing out.

3. Beware of the Penguin; it will be a killer

PenguinWe’ve written a lot in the past about being hit by the Penguin algorithm and in fact had one or two clients who came to us with penalties who were never able to free themselves from its grasp.

The problem typically is that there are so many awful backlinks pointing to the website that they could not remove them or disavow them fast enough. And even if they did manage to clean them up the Penguin has to wait for a refresh meaning that it could be over a year before your efforts are rewarded.

Now we are told if you get a slap from penguin for bad links it should be possible to get an instant bounce back.

Garry Illyes from Google said on Twitter that the update still should be on schedule by the end of 2015, but in early December it was announced that this is likely to be delayed until 2016.

He also said it should be the real-time/continuous version that we are expecting. So if you get slammed by Penguin and the algorithm is real time, as soon as Google processes your link removals (i.e. disavows or links are actually removed) you can potentially recover immediately.

This is the theory but the reality may be very different.

I argued as far back as 2013 that Google was wrong to penalise sites with bad backlinks and that they could achieve much better results by simple rewarding good link building. After all, the logic goes that if they know which links are bad they must, by definition, know which links are good, or at least not toxic.

The inherent problem with this is that Google’s entire algorithm and thereby competitive advantage, relies on counting and valuing links for it to work. It needs the rest of the world to link to make sense of the digital environment.

The fact that this is common knowledge and that people have been cheating it ever since Google first arrived doesn’t help matters.

What this means is that if the Penguin update does go live in 2016, and there’s no reason to suggest it won’t, then we could see some significant fall out from its effects very quickly. The last recognised update was December 2014 so if you have been hit by a link penalty since then the chances are you are still hampered by it today.

Whilst the principle is fine we need to consider the impact that previous Penguin updates have had on websites. If history teaches us anything it is that Penguin updates all come with considerable fall out. Expect the 2016 version to be equally devastating.

4. Google’s RankBrain brings AI to your search results

Bloomberg reported in October 2015 about a new method Google uses to interpret a “very large fraction” of the search queries they see every day. The new method is called “RankBrain” and has already been live in Google for months now.

Google Rank Brain Artificial IntelligenceRankBrain is basically a way for Google to understand more ambiguous queries better. It uses AI (artificial intelligence) to try to guess what your query is referring to, like a human would.

Greg Corrado, a senior research scientist at Google confirmed that it uses a human “gut feeling” approach, to interpret the hard to understand searches.

He also said this is considered the third most important signal of the hundreds of signals Google uses in search. This is crucial and has been overlooked by many SEO’s to date.

To quote from the original article;

“RankBrain uses artificial intelligence to embed vast amounts of written language into mathematical entities — called vectors — that the computer can understand. If RankBrain sees a word or phrase it isn’t familiar with, the machine can make a guess as to what words or phrases might have a similar meaning and filter the result accordingly, making it more effective at handling never-before-seen search queries.”

It is live worldwide now and has been for quite some time, with Gary Illyes from Google saying it “was launched months ago,” and it doesn’t kill SEO, he added “your SEO magic still works” with RankBrain.

But does it? The traditional and typical ‘SEO magic’ relies on keywords as the basis for any optimisation, but what do you do it the machine has learning capability and can interpret metaphors as searches for specific items? What if keywords are no longer the key to your ‘SEO magic’?

As an example, if you need a local plumber you are more likely when using voice search, to ask ‘find me a local plumber’ as opposed to typing in ‘plumber + location’.

But do the words ‘find me a local plumber’ appear anywhere on the website? Indeed do they need to? Or is Google now so advanced that it can dispense with the requirement to have the ‘right words in the right order’ on the page?

The author of the story at Bloomberg also added on Twitter that the AI in RankBrain is not run in real-time but rather “periodically re-trained” over time.

In other words, it is learning as it goes along.

The development of this AI took over a year and has been carefully blended into the main search algorithm so that it can now handle around 15% of all the search queries that Google receives.

But what about when Google gets these queries wrong? Some webmasters are speculating that this is why we are seeing more zombie traffic via Google and this has been quite a talking point during 2015.

Either way, the result is clear; SEO has changed and the old ‘SEO Magic’ simply won’t cut it in 2016. Expect early learnings and results to come from the bigger brands with the higher traffic volumes and expect all the smaller players to be playing catch up throughout the year.

5. Local becomes everything as Google starts to dominate this space

I wrote about this recently in this article but it’s worth repeating and updating it here as it is a game changer.

Back in the 1990’s, pre-internet and certainly pre-Google, there really were only a few ways that most businesses generated enquiries on a daily basis.

Aside from the huge brands with the deeper pockets for TV and in some cases Radio, the millions of small businesses, SME’s in the UK and ‘Mom and Pop’s’ in the US, relied on traditional print media for their day to day existence.

Local newspapers always had thriving advertising sections and directories such as Yellow Pages, Thomson’s and a multitude of smaller players made a living in this space.Directories are now irrelevant

Many businesses got around 80% of their revenue from a 20 mile radius of where they were based and despite the rise of the Internet this hasn’t changed much over the past twenty years.

And then along came Google. And the world as we knew it changed.

Fast forward 20 years and we are living daily with the new paradigm. Today Google is the behemoth of the advertising world and everyone dances to their tune. Yellow Pages is a pamphlet which floats gently to your doormat once a year and rumour has it that Thomson’s will actually give up on printing a directory in the next year or so.

If I owned a directory I wouldn’t, as Google is about to destroy all Directories and aggregators in the online space.

I first covered this in July of this year for our SEO customers to give them a heads up on the changes that were coming to their online environment but now we have the real thing in action and it’s a game changer.

In summary, Google has created an advert box which puts home service providers in touch with searchers. Plumbers, builders and the like will be able to get leads directly from Google without them having to go anywhere else.

The service has been trialled in the San Francisco Bay Area and was covered admirably by Ginny Marvin in her article when it first appeared.

This was the image which accompanied the original article;

Google Home Services 1

Having ironed out early glitches, observers noticed Google rolling it out of the San Francisco area with adverts spotted for the search ‘San Jose house cleaners’;

 

Google Home Services 2

 

Google officially announced it on Google+ saying:

From “unclog bathroom sink” to “locked out of apartment,” there are millions of searches every day on Google for plumbers, locksmiths, and other home services. To help these businesses better connect with their customers, we’re introducing AdWords Express home service ads — available today in beta for plumbers, locksmiths, house cleaners, and handymen in select cities throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Learn more about home service ads google.com/homeserviceads

Remember that this is the core space in which directories, aggregators and local newspapers used to play.

Whether you think this to be a good or bad idea it seems that trials are telling Google two things; firstly that users like it and secondly that they can make money at it. You will notice that it is currently occupying the top slot in place of the usual top three advertisements meaning that to dominate PPC search you will now need to sign up to their ‘home service ads’ programme.

It is still unclear if the standard PPC rules apply regarding size of bids, quality score and content/keywords but this will become clearer as the trial progresses and it moves towards mainstream roll out.

The reality is that Google knows it can make money at this and any aggregator or directory should be massively concerned at this development.

In the UK 95% of all search engine traffic is via Google so anyone looking for a plumber, builder or roofer is using Google.

So that’s it, Directories are now officially dead. Google Home Services ads are now live.

The reality is that when the new system is introduced the top results, which on PPC and Organic for many trades are aggregators, are likely to be removed and replaced with an actual tradesman.

Given that aggregators rely on PPC to make their business model viable this will be a significant blow to their revenue stream. In fact, in a recent sample we took 45% of the advertising belonged to aggregators and these adverts are likely to get displaced although what has happened in the USA is that they now all appear on the right-hand side instead of at the top.

The interesting element from an SEO perspective is the organic listings that are currently below the advertisements and the local pack where there are five aggregators and/or directories. In the US, the results immediately below the adverts are ALL for Yelp;

Google Home Services 5

This doesn’t look so bad until you click the ‘More Plumbers’ button and…..

 

Google Home Services 6

 

Everything other than the Google product is removed and every one of these entries is a paid entry.

Talk about a competition killer. With a monopoly position, Google has now found a way of removing people who would like a part of its revenue stream from the search results.

The argument will go that the user has made a conscious choice to use the service and everything else would be a distraction, but I can’t see that holding any water with the sites that have just been removed.

And for those of you reading this thinking that it won’t affect you; think again. It will.

Every small business owner who wants to appear in these search results will need to firstly have an up to date Google My Business profile page and then have to put budget aside to enter the world of Google PPC. Like it or not, Google will be asking for money for every transaction that goes through this platform and moreover they become the final arbiter of quality.

If a customer complains about your service, or lack of it, you will find your entry ‘deep-sixed’ rendering it impossible to get visibility, enquiries and business.

There are no details so far on how this programme works but your business life will be in the hands of a single provider who can turn the tap on and off at will.Google My Business

You may be sitting there thinking that you are OK as you are not a small home service business. What makes you think that this will stop at tradespeople?

Why not Solicitors? Why not Accountants? In fact why not any business at all?

Back in the day Yellow Pages (or now Yell.com) had over 2,400 classifications which generated revenue and in the online space there must be over 3,000 separate searches that they currently rank for on Google.

What if no one ever got to Yell.com? Or Rated People? Or Checkatrade? Or Thomsonlocal?

What if all the clicks that currently go to these sites go directly to Google?

You can see the compelling logic from Google’s point of view. Aggregators always have been an interruption to search and this new Home Ad Service simply cuts out the middle man.

Is there anything that aggregators can do? Probably not, although it is unlikely that they will go down without a fight.

Whatever your view on this development one thing is for sure; it will redefine the local space in 2016.

UPDATE: We’ve created this infographic to represent the changes and you can see how the five elements link together.

2016 SEO Changes

google-panda

Google’s April Fool’s joke isn’t funny for some

In an interesting diversion today Google announced Panda 5 and Panda 6 but it’s not quite what you might think.

In an attempt to mirror the presentation style of Apple they have come up with a cute Panda that acts as your own personal search engine.

Whilst clearly a joke it has left a number of web masters and website owners less than happy, especially those who have had their livelihoods destroyed by Google algorithm updates.

Watch for yourself and decide how funny it really is…

These pages will not be seen as mobile-friendly by Google Search, and will therefore be displayed and ranked appropriately for smartphone users

Why Google’s latest message is more than a little bit frightening…

Last week we received an email from Google in our inbox. Nothing exceptional in that, we get them every week however this one was slightly different to anything we had seen previously.

This email said the following;

Google systems have tested 133 pages from your site and found that 100% of them have critical mobile usability errors. The errors on these 133 pages severely affect how mobile users are able to experience your website. These pages will not be seen as mobile-friendly by Google Search, and will therefore be displayed and ranked appropriately for smartphone users.

Given that Google are always concerned with user experience and their primary aim is to rank sites in search that can satisfy a user’s requirements then this type of email probably shouldn’t be a surprise.

What worried us was the fact that the site it referred to is on WordPress.

Now with WordPress currently making up anywhere between a fifth and a quarter of the web depending on which figures you want to take, you would assume that it is ‘mobile friendly’. In fact when this one was built it was on a responsive framework so it is definitely ‘mobile friendly’.

Apparently not in this case and when we dug a bit deeper we discovered the reason why. This particular site has been hosted on our sever for some time but not updated by the client. We would have automatically offered a maintenance contract when we built it but as is often the case we were informed that ‘they would do it themselves’ to save cost.

The upshot now is that this is costing them more than just the maintenance. It is costing them traffic and business.

Typically sites we look after get between a quarter and a half of all their traffic each month from mobile devices and this one is no exception. In fact over the past six months they have derived a third of their traffic from mobile devices so it is quite an important source for them.

Missing the updates means that they are now missing traffic, not because the site is a bad mobile experience (it’s not) but because Google’s ‘systems’ have decided it’s not good enough.

And this is the troubling part for us, Google’s behaviour in this case.

As an almost monopoly provider of search in the UK they are stating quite clearly that “These pages will not be seen as mobile-friendly by Google Search, and will therefore be displayed and ranked appropriately for smartphone users.” In other words don’t expect to appear in mobile search anytime soon.

Is this right? Is it consistent across the piece and are all sites getting warnings like this? We’ve seen no others, even on sites which frankly are a dogs dinner and still come up in mobile search.

There has long been a feeling amongst site owners that Google has simply too much power and tales of sites being removed from search and businesses going under are commonplace. Small businesses in particular feel the pinch in circumstances like this and there are too many tales across the web of businesses that have simply had to give up and go out of business as they cannot be found. Ironically you can just Google this to read for yourself….

The frightening part is that once again Google can and do act with impunity.

We regularly tell clients that this is Google’s game and you either play by their rules or not at all. But it seems that they can change these rules at any time, without notice and once again small businesses around the country are feeling the brunt.

This new benchmark is a warning shot for anyone who has an old non responsive site and we are expecting a flood of complaints over the coming months as more and more people realise that their perfectly reasonable site which has served them so well for so many years is now deemed by ‘Google systems’ to be not good enough and they are going to have to invest large sums of money to bring it up to Google’s new threshold.

It might be that, as in this case, a simple set of WordPress framework and plug in updates will cure the problem but for so many more this could be a make or break moment for them and their business.

spam seo copy

Seriously spammers, why do you bother?

We regularly hear that times have changed and that SEO has moved on; that the old tactics no longer work and that we should all be working towards a brand new utopian future where spam is a thing of the past. It sounds great doesn’t it?

The reality however is that despite all our best efforts the idiots are still out there determined to clutter up the place with their spam. As an example this arrived in the filter this week with the author ever hopeful that I’m just going to approve this and set it live on our site.

spam seo copy

Some people still believe that this muck is SEO

Heads up to the person who generated this heap of ordure. It’s spam; of the worst kind. It doesn’t make sense, it adds nothing to the cesspool of this stuff that exists on the internet and no, I’m not letting it go live on our site.

If you recognise any of the links in this muck then feel free to advise the firms concerned that their hard earned online reputations are being trashed by this idiot. I can’t imagine for one moment that someone at Avis sanctioned this rubbish but I do know that enough of this kind of spam can bring a site to its knees.

If you have any of this sort of stuff linking back to your site then you need to deal with it – now. It is poisonous and the longer it stays in place the worse it will become for your business. If you need help cleaning it up then feel free to get in touch – we can help.

 

Hit by Google but unsure why?

Virtually every day we hear another story of a website that has been suddenly hit by Google and thrown out of the index, or demoted from their previously stable position on page one to page three or below. Sometimes the tale is one of slow decline but on occasions it happens overnight; you wake up one morning to find your entire business model in tatters.

In the majority of cases the reasons for this are quite straightforward and at Aqueous we have helped a number of businesses recover from being hit by Google, but the bit which confuses most people is what type of penalty they have been hit by.

In simple terms there are two types; the type that gets you a warning message from Google in Webmaster Tools and the more sinister sudden and unannounced drop in rankings.

The first type is generally easier to deal with as you can be clear on what Google doesn’t like about your site (mostly your backlink profile) and that can be dealt with. It takes time but you can get past it.

The second type is harder to deal with as you are left guessing what Google doesn’t like about your site; it could be something on your site, on one of your pages or it could be the type of links that you have to your site. In certain cases it can even be where you are hosted. The point is that this type of penalty takes a lot longer to figure out and to deal with.

In fact Google themselves don’t consider that they have applied a penalty, as far as they are concerned it is ‘business as usual’ and the algorithm that ranks pages and sites has decided that there are other more worthy candidates to rank above you.

To try and help you figure out what has happened to your site we’ve produced the following infographic – take a look and see if you can figure out what has caused your problem?

“This blog first appeared on www.aqueous-seo.co.uk