The Penguin Update

Assessing Google’s Penalties

A few times a year in the SEO industry, the sky falls, just after the rankings do. In the Year of the Panda, many SEOs and online marketers felt the wrath of Google like never before. Many sites lost their rankings in 2011 (and not due to competition pushing them out), some sites lost their revenue and a few sites lost everything. Many agencies and so-called experts were forced to explain to their clients “why the site isn’t getting traffic any longer.”

In the book SEO SecretsDanny Dover breaks penalties into two broad categories. By labeling the penalties Algorithmic and Manual, I believe he makes penalties easy to understand. Just remember:

Algorithmic Penalty = Panda

Manual Review Penalty = Message from a member of Google’s spam team in your Webmaster account

An Algorithmic Penalty is generally an effort to make the search results more accurate and effective, while minimizing user manipulation opportunities. So when one of the search engines experts has determined a way to lighten the impact of dishonest tactics, that ranking signal is added to the equation and essentially acts as a penalty for shady behavior. So what are the indications of new signals being added? Simple: losing rankings and traffic. In the case of Panda, it was entire industries.

As a result, links have lost their juice. One of the most common practices for manipulating search engines rankings using content farms to provide massive amounts of inbound links. For years companies would invest in building low-quality content sites with the intention of providing inbound links for clients. These inbound links would increase rankings for many clients with little effort. Throughout the Panda updates, article submission sites and other forms of user-generated content sites were losing value due to an overall low quality of content.

The silver lining is this: you can get your site out of this googleplex by improving your “quality score.” Become trustworthy through links from more authoritative, trusted websites than your own.

A Manual Penalty, however, generally means your site or specific pages of your site have been put in a holding cell. The repercussions are worse, and it takes a lot of due diligence to correct. Sometimes a domain has to go the graveyard. So what are the signs? Well, of course, traffic and rankings.

To be more specific, Google will play Houdini.
Top pages (sometimes the home page) which previously ranked will be buried. When Google assesses a penalty like that, it is usually in response to cloaking, keyword stuffing, and link selling or buying. In really bad scenarios, Google will remove domains. In that case, just pack it up.

What are the steps to correcting?

Having a search audit performed by experts is an obvious place to start, but if your “experts” got you into this digital pickle, you might look elsewhere for the audit.

The primary functions to execute in search of the problem:

  1.  Examine Link Profile. Why? Because this is where most things go wrong. Links are where Google spends most of its resources (remember: how Google views links is what makes the engine unique).
  2.  On-Site Analysis. Checking for duplicate issues that could be perceived as spam, canonicalization, and robot files. Yes, robot files. Your CMS is capable of doing crazy things from time to time, as are humans. Occasionally that results in mistyping and misclicking.
 

More Resources:

Googleas Webmaster Blog
Googleas Webmaster Malware & Spam Forum

 

New SEO Audit for Victims of Googleas Penguin Update

Youave likely been hearing a lot about Googleas latest algorithm change, the Penguin Update. As an attempt to further advance the search engineas efficiency, the Penguin Update primarily affects those websites that have been treading shady waters, such as keyword stuffing, mass link exchanging, cloaking, and just about any activity that is intended to trick the search engines into thinking that a site deserves to rank higher than it actually does.

Unfortunately there are plenty of SEOs out there who still work this way. Maybe they are too lazy to organize a strategic content plan (as in, creating content that people will actually want to read). Maybe theyare just unflinchingly rigid in their old ways and refuse to adapt. Regardless of their intentions or reasoning, they can be very persuasive, promising higher rankings at low costs. You may want to pay attention to this post if one of these aexpertsa has  whispered sweet nothings into your ear and swayed you to climb aboard the Black Hat Express. Brace yourself: The Penguin Update is going to hurt a little.

What will happen?

Short term strategies will yield short term success. If you knowingly moved forward with the aforementioned SEO tricks, or even if you signed checks for someone to do it for you, your site is going to take a blow. Signals such as repeated copy, link-saturated footers, or hidden keywords will alert Google of your websiteas inadequacy, or as Google puts it, aa negative user experience.a  Keep in mind that Google isnat an inclusive list of every website. Itas an index of pages that are believed to contain relevance to certain queries. If you prove to Google that your site is a piece of crap-ola, youare going to be bumped back, whether 10 positions, 10 pages, or simply wiped from the index entirely.

Our best advice: avoid it.

If itas been a while since youave had a look under the hood, you should really consider getting a new site audit. Last week we listed a few simple steps that you can perform to find out how well your website is performing in the search engines. Google, of course, doesnat reveal which specific signals are the cause for sitesa visibility demise a but by understanding Googleas interpretation of spam, which they are always trying to remove from their indexes, you can understand which Penguin-specific triggers to clean up. These include, but arenat limited to:

  • Keyword stuffing a overusing keywords in the titles, URLs, and anchor text
  • Duplicate content a identical blocks of copy on various pages of your site. Hereas a good article on how to fix this.
  • Hidden text  – making the copy the same color as the background so it is only visible by search engines.
  • Cloaking a essentially, this is disguising links or copy so that they appear to Google differently than they do to users.

If youare not much of a DIY-er, you should consider investing in a blown-out audit and SEO consultation. The black hat tricks that worked several years ago donat work as well as they once did a and for all you know, your past SEO or website developer relied heavily on those tactics. Instead of working for you, black hat SEO can cause radical harm, to which Derek referred in his post from a while back which explained the differences between Manual and Algorithmic penalties. Anyone burned by the Penguin Update has officially suffered an Algorithmic Penalty, and unfortunately the situation is not likely to be resolved with a reconsideration letter to Google. Rather, the search engine is making is very clear that it wants sites to clean up their acts. If that includes you, we suggest you hop to it! Start with a new audit that is up-to-date on current algorithm trends and signals.

 

Penguin-approved link building

Weare more than a month into seeing the effects of Googleas Penguin Update. Hopefully youare one of the many webmasters who have breathed a sigh of relief with each Google Analytics log-in. But if youare not, you should have started the humbling journey to recovery by now.

Of the many on-site black hat activities that can trigger a punch from the Penguin, weave observed that unnatural links are fairly high up there. Google makes it very clear that link quantityand quality play a major role in how a particular website ranks in its search engine results pages. When obtained naturally, a websiteas inbound links will vary in anchor text and time of acquisition. When this isnat the case, Google raises a giant eyebrow and begins to further investigate the legitimacy of a websiteas link profile.

Link building can sometimes get a bum rap because it is a proactive approach of acquiring links. Google never intended for the aLinkeratia to divide and conquer as it has a but the link building techniques we recommend involve no monetary incentives; rather, we suggest offering up an informative white paper or an original guest post that displays your expertise and serves a purpose.

Penguinas link building pet peeves:

It shouldnat be too difficult to tell whether or not your link building tactics are penalty-worthy or not, but below we have listed out a few examples in case you have been previously misled by black or gray hat SEOs.

Link buying: When companies want to rank for a specific term, they might pay sites to link to their site using that keyword or phrase as anchor text. This qualifies as search engine manipulation and can result in major punishmenta even de-indexationa from the Goog.

Links from content farms: If your website is receiving inbound links from article-dominant sites like About.com or eHow.com, Google will probably suspect fishy activity. The majority of the pages on these sites consist of weak, unhelpful content that is primarily composed for the purpose of linking.

Guest posts on low-quality sites: Guest posting is a fantastic way to volunteer your brandas expertise to a relevant siteas blog. More often than not, youall get a link back to a certain page on your site in return for the favor. Thatas how it works.

Comment spamming: Itas difficult for us to fathom that this even exists still a and yet, it most absolutely does. Google really doesnat like you to self promote your own website via the comment section of anotheras blog. Thatas just not cool. Itas frustrating to other users and especially to said siteas webmaster(s). If you or a past SEO have pursued this tactic, you should strongly consider changing your game plan.

Link-saturated footers: This is often a resourceful location to insert links back to the main navigation points on your site (Home, About Us, Careers, etc.). When you start to stuff it with keyword-heavy links that are rarely clicked, it becomes apparent to Google that you are trying to manipulate its algorithm.

So what is good link building again?

Hereas our basic rule of thumb: if link building is easy, youare doing it wrong. So whatas the right way?

Start by solving a problem. Then reach out to authoritative websites with the solution. Theyall be glad they heard from you. Make it as easy as possible for them to showcase your white paper, infographic, etc. by asking them to add your content to their resource section.

Write a press release and distribute it! Sharing company news through trusted sources is a great way to potentially reap high quality links and rank for terms. Just make sure you limit the links and anchor text. Always, always vary the wording so that it sounds natural.

Spread your expertise. Guest posting is good. It is encouraged. It allows webmasters to upload fresh content that they didnat have to write. It shows readers that a websiteas blog is interesting enough to attract guest writers a and that additional perspective adds value to the blog.

But waita| thereas more!

Before you dive too deeply into a link building project, you should get into the habit of reaching out only to websites that will truly benefit yours. Do this by using software like SEOmoz Open Site Explorer to verify the Domain or Page Authority of a particular site, as well as which domains it links to. If it has an unsettling amount of outbound links, thatas a bad sign a as the link juice will be diluted (and not be a very strong signal to the search engines). Check for duplicate content by quickly searching exact sentences in quotations. If multiple pages or websites appear in the SERPs for identical content, you should move on to the next contender.

Link building, while it may not be the most exciting SEO tactic we know of, can certainly be the most rewarding. It forces you to critically assess your own site, work to make it better, reach out to form relationships, and reap the benefits in the form of tasty link juice. Are you as pumped up as I am? On the count of three, letas all throw our white hats into the sky and shout ahuzzah!a

 

Fix your on-site errors

Start on your own site. Fix the things that are in your control, such as weak content, duplicate content, and missing Meta data. We recommend knowing exactly which pages are sending red flags to search engines; an SEO Audit that is specific to Googleas Penguin update can provide a much-needed baseline. You will know exactly how bad the damage, but more importantly, you will know what actions to take in order to get back on track.

Get rid of poor backlinks

Remember that time you paid a company or person fifty bucks for 10,000 inbound links? Sounded like a great deal at the time, but you know the saying: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. So how do you get rid of links from other sites to yours? Contact the owners of those sites and ask for them to remove the link?

Precisely. Itas not a fun job. It may not be an easy job. But with the right tools, you can slowly clean up the mess you have made.

  1. We first recommend calling up the SEO aexperta who sold you on the idea in the first place (assuming you are innocent here). This person might have an easy fix for you, especially if the purchasing process was a simple overnight  that can be reversed just as easily. If not, you might have to start with one site at a time.
  2. Use sites like Open Site Explorer, Majestic SEO, and of course, the Backlink Report from Google Webmaster Tools. These tools will inform you of the quality of your backlinks. Filter the results to show only followed links (meaning the search engines understand to pass the authority of a site on to the domain to which it links). Any incoming links that seem unnatural will need to be removed.
  3. Visit the websites that are harming your authority and search for contact information. I find the Tout extension for Chrome to be extremely useful in that it scrapes email addresses; this can save a lot of time.

If youare up for it, we recommend tackling an SEO Audit on your own; the process is not easy, but we have compiled a checklist of the steps we go through here at Evolve. Otherwise, feel free to give us a call; we can tell you if a sudden drop in traffic is due to Googleas Penguin update, a personal penalty to your site, or something else.

 

Penguin 2.0

Penguin 2.0 rolled out at then end of May 2013 and below we list out the additions to how it affected millions of websites.

For those of you who prefer reading to video viewing, here is a summary of my interpretation of things to come:

1. Stricter Policy on Advertorials

There is nothing wrong with a pay for inclusion link in the form of an advertorial. But Mr. Cutts says that these links need to:

a. Not flow link juice, and
b. Provide clear disclosure that they are in fact ads and not organic links

Sites that do not adhere to these guidelines may be penalized for poor link tactics, even if it was not intentionally deceptive. If you are paying for a link, make sure you are getting a true ROI by requesting that these guidelines are in place. Otherwise, that link may do your site more harm than good.

2. More Sophisticated Link Analysis

Some factors that will be evaluated will include:

– The use of exact match anchor text
– Links coming from sites that solely offer aSEOa for your website
– Footer links

3. Webmaster Tools Improvements

Matt mentioned that there will be better detection and notifications for webmasters when a site has been hacked. As more and more sites continue to be targeted by hackers, this is definitely a positive.

Better communication to webmasters through Googleas Webmaster Tools has been a trend in recent months, and it sounds like this will continue to be the case. Any information about how a site is appearing to Google is extremely valuable, so this is one thing Iam excited about.

4. Rewarding Brands for Authority

Brands that are aan authoritya in a space will be rewarded with extra weight in search results. Exactly how this will be determined was not said, but I would imagine that social interaction, reviews, and link profile will all contribute to aauthority.a

5. More Diversification in the first page of results

Google, in an attempt to keep results as helpful and relevant as possible, is cutting down on clusters of pages from a single domain appearing on the first page of results. However, this doesnat mean that deeper results pages will not include some of these clusters. In fact, Cutts implies that these might actually be more common on the second page of results.

Reading Between the Lines?

I donat claim to be a mind reader, but my hunch is that we can expect the following as well:

1. Engagement metrics will increase in importance.

Matt opened the video with saying that if webmasters continue to build sites that are engaging to users and include quality content, they are doing what they should be. Weave always known that social interaction and things such as click through rate are important. But there has been some debate about how important some other metrics, such as time on site and bounce rate, really are. I have a hunch that Google might examine these things a bit more closely in the future.

2. Google+ reviews will matter even more.

Similarly to on-site engagement metrics, I think that social engagement and reviews on Google+ will grow in significance.

Why? The content on Google+ is all crawlable, and I would imagine that is no accident. Plus, we all know that Google likes it when people use their products, (hence why so many YouTube videos show in Google mixed results). Also, the fact that Google just rolled out a whole new layout for Google+ means that their developers are hard at work to make this platform optimal for users. I would suggest any brand to jump on the Google+ bandwagon and quick.

What does this mean for brands?

If you are aware of any spammy link tactics that a not-so-great search team has done for your website in the past, it might be time to clean up some of those links. Regardless, I would suggest taking a hard look at your siteas link profile and look for anything unnatural or of very low quality.

The penalties for link spammers are only going to become more and more strict. Since theaBackruba planning stages, links have been considered extremely important for giving a site legitimacy. So it makes sense that they would also be weighed heavily when deciding if a site has used manipulative tactics.

What does this mean for SEOs?

If SEOs are doing their job the right way, they shouldnat have too much to worry about. There is always a risk that client sites will get dinged, even if you are following guidelines, but Google is fairly good at updating and correcting these imperfections in algorithm updates.

One thing though, that Iam excited about at least, is a promise for more Webmaster reporting. Google has been really stepping up its game lately as far as providing us with more data in its free tools. With the new social measuring capabilities in Analytics, and more and more upgrades in Webmaster Tools, they seem to be working on improving these tools significantly. Now if only they would get rid of akeyword (not provided)aa|

Your content should sell three things.

By Emily Wisely. Find her on Twitter! I’m back to talk about the delicate art of content marketing because I believe in its effectiveness when it’s done well. Something that’s kind of annoyed me lately is the abundance of posts about content creation, especially articles geared toward industries that are lackluster. No one really has any unique examples to share. There’s dollar-shave-club-this and red-bull-that. But what about everybody else? How can a boring brand produce something that will actually help customers? I want marketing companies to stop describing good content and start showing me. Unless we can see how quality content is actually working for brands, how are we supposed to sell the idea to potential clients? Frustrated by repetitive, thin articles, I decided to crank the tunes and curate some examples myself. I learn best by doing, anyway. After a little research, I realized companies’ content (not just B2B) can sell three things: products, creativity, and information. The content that really impresses me is able to sell all three. Most brands’ content sells at least two. Let’s dig in to what these mean. Three things content can sell

Product-oriented and informative:

content that sells products and infoThis is where most companies should start when generating ideas for content because it is easy to find an audience that’s seeking answers specific to a business. I think educating an audience is a fantastic start; don’t be afraid to give away secrets or explain a process. When someone grows to trust a brand, he or she will be more apt to invest in the products or services. Unfortunately, this kind of content can be a little boring to people who aren’t searching for specific answers. Of course, if the whitepaper, article, video, or infographic you’ve produced is yielding qualified traffic, who cares if it’s a little bland as long as it’s serving a purpose? Bank of America has videos and articles that offer tips for repairing credit history, budgeting, and credit counseling.

Bank of American content

Example from Evolve: Last year we documented our success in saving a client six figures in paid search. It isn’t a document that will appeal to a mass audience; in fact, I’m pretty sure the only people interested in it will be brands that a) spend a lot of money in SEM and b) are competing with affiliates. The document gives clear direction for controlling the situation and it also showcases Evolve’s ability to take charge of paid search accounts.

Product-oriented and creative:

product-creativity contentI’m impressed with brands that find new or unusual ways to promote a product or service. Sharpie comes to mind here; this brand has dedicated a space on its website to showcasing submitted Sharpie artwork. It engages visitors while staying completely focused on the product. Not only can you see your own work, but it’s also a pretty cool source of inspiration for DIY decorating projects. And we all know how trendy crafting is these days.

Sharpie creative product content

The downside to creating content that only emphasizes creativity and products is that it doesn’t necessarily answer a general question that visitors commonly search. That said, there is still an opportunity to spin service-related keywords into something that draws an audience. Example from Evolve: When leafing through the St. Louis Business Journal’s list of the top 150 largest privately held companies, we wondered how successful the websites of these brands were performing online. So we decided to find out. Our report presents several metrics of the top 100 companies’ sites, and throughout the document we link to the SEO Audit. Are customers searching “how do st louis’s top companies’ sites compare to each other?” No. Of course not. But because we decided to use our talents in a creative new way, we’ve been able to share this document with a pretty big audience.

Informative and creative:

When companies are able to validate the need to create this kind of content, they really understand what content marketing is all about. The brand is ultimately saying: Look, we know you’re searching for an answer. We’re here to educate you in a memorable way. For American Express, that meant creating an infographic about international trade. They’re not selling credit cards here; they’re presenting information in an aesthetically pleasing, easy-to-digest way. And you know what? I’m sure they got a bunch of links from the ordeal, not to mention an increased respect from the audience that has searched for this information.

American Express infographic

Brands are often hesitant to invest in the time and talent required to create a piece like this, and it’s easy to see why. With no mention of services or products, it seems unlikely to make a sale. But converting a consumer isn’t necessarily the point of an informative/creative piece; rather, it’s to instill a sense of trust, appreciation, and at the very least, awareness. Example from Evolve: One of my first major projects was to create an SEO Guide for Beginners. As someone new to the industry, it was both challenging and rewarding to research the ins and outs and then present them in a format that would resonate with other beginners. It was not easy. It took a long time. The audience was not expected to pick up the phone and buy an SEO Audit from us. But having the guide on our Resources page certainly earns us trust, appreciation, and awareness from an audience that is eager to learn about SEO. Mission accomplished.

Selling all three at once:

Finally there are the brands that are able to sell all three in one. This isn’t an easy task. It’s not cheap. It probably takes a lot of hours to plan, let alone implement. These content pieces are brilliant works that people can’t help but share. Warby Parker is a great example of a brand that has created content encompassing products, creativity, and information. I’ve been a fan of this opticals company for some time now. Its 2012 annual report blew my mind (though I should have expected it from such a ballina company) and even the business model is unique and often enough to pique the interest of the visually impaired (looks around, raises hand).

Warby Parker Class Trip

I was really intrigued when I discovered the brand’s latest marketing strategy, Warby Parker’s Class Trip, during which the brand is live documenting a cross-country venture to spread brand awareness and show off products to the people they encounter. It’s so perfect that a brand named for characters from Jack Kerouac’s infamous On the Road would embark on a journey that spans the coasts and cultures of the United States of America. If I weren’t a fan of Warby Parker yet, I would certainly be by now. There is a separate domain dedicated to the project that presents the overall purpose, destinations, and contests, making sure to document the colorful experiences and stories along the way. Very Jack Kerouac. Bravo, Warby Parker. And interestingly enough, the whole ordeal is sponsored by American Express, proving once again that the brand sees value in content marketing. Example from Evolve: While we don’t have as wide an audience or the resources that Warby Parker has, we’ve managed to generate content that dipped into each of the three circles. Our SEO Audit checklist shows exactly what we check off when performing an audit for a client. And here we are, tossing it out for anyone to snatch up and use. We’re not afraid to expose the details because we’re a transparent-kind of brand. If brands want an audit, they’re going to call us, especially once they see what these bad boys entail. The PDF is designed well enough to encourage sharing, so we’ve also been able to earn some links in the process.

In Conclusion!

SEO is still very much about fixing technical issues on a website, performing keyword research, and earning links. However, with so many brands shifting their focus to the idea of CONTENT CREATION, it’s challenging to find new ways to showcase familiar information. Researching this post alerted me of many brands that are choosing to NOT be boring, despite their industry’s dull reputation. Coyote, for example, is an awesome logistics company that somehow manages to make logistics seem… cool. Similarly to my post about the purposes of content, this post will hopefully help you look at your own brand’s efforts in a new light.

Welcome to the team, Michael!

Michael Kovis at Evolve Digital LabsHappy Monday, friends! Today is a swell day because it’s the last Monday in January AND we are welcoming a new team member. As Director of SEO, Michael Kovis will work closely with clients to develop and implement SEO strategies that will improve the overall quality of their sites. We feel really fortunate to have Michael on our side, not just because he has more than 10 years of experience in the digital world (designing, developing, optimizing, and managing sites), but also because he understands the industry like we do: it changes, and so does the strategy, but the basic concept of transforming a site into one that is easily crawled (for search engines) and helpful (for humans) stays the same. He’s got a fantastic blog saturated in SEO finesse and sarcasm. It’s worth a read. As you may know, the intro interview is practically a rite of passage for Evolve employees. Michael’s answers are below; get to know the new guy! What’s your favorite web site? Not sure I really have a “favorite” website anymore. A couple of sites that captivate my attention are on a consistent basis are: A List Apart, AJ Kohn’s Blind Five Year Old, Nick Eubanks’ SEO NickBarclay’s Premier League (yes, I’m a footy fanantic), PC-Mech forums and Michael Martinez’s SEO Theory. On a given Friday night, you’ll probably be: 10 years ago I probably would have been out seeing what kind of trouble my friends and I could get into. Well, we wouldn’t really get in trouble as we were always very responsible young adults. Fast forward to the present and having our first child, Charlie, my Friday’s are now usually extremely low key. For the most part I spend time with my family. Lately I have been finally finding the time to sit down after they are asleep to enjoy a little bit of late night gaming on the PC or PS3. What draws you to this industry? The [search|digital|inbound] marketing umbrella is so dynamic. I enjoy the strategy involved and implementation immensely. It seems like the possibilities are endless when working on projects of all sizes and niches. Mac or PC? Definitely a PC. Sorry Mac lovers. Show me a Macbook that can outperform a comparatively spec’d PC dollar for dollar. What’s the last book you read? Game of Thrones: A Song of Fire and Ice If you could have a beer with anyone in the world, who would it be? Tough question. I have this imaginary list in my head of several people in the search industry I would love to have a beer with one day. Although, if I had to choose one it wouldn’t be from that list. If I could choose someone that I could have a beer with again, it would be my brother Matt. Truly miss his presence in my life. Is there anything you want us (and the world) to know about you? Not really. I’m an open book for the most part. There aren’t too many hidden skeletons in this closet that need to be made public. I would hate to ruin my reputation. /sarcasm I guess one thing I could take a moment share with everyone is that my wife Katie is almost 8 weeks pregnant. The new bundle is due for earlier to mid September. I have been waiting until the first ultrasound was done to unleash the news publicly (and that was last week). [Congratulations, Kovis family!] Find Michael on Twitter and LinkedIn!

Intern wanted!

 

Team Evolve is searching for someone with an interest in Search to contribute to the team as an Internet Marketing intern.

About us:

We’re a digital marketing agency that focuses on SEO, PPC, content strategy, outreach, and beer. Our office is located in Maplewood and has some exceptional character, just like everyone on Team Evolve. One thing that makes us different from a lot of other SEO or SEM firms is that we put a strong emphasis on educating our clients, rather than just doing the work for them and sending over the results.

We have fun, but we also get shit done. This is a PAID internship, so we’re only interested in applicants that impress us.

Read more

Take Control of Bad Google+ Reviews

Are bad Google+ reviews getting you down? Trust us when we say you are not alone. Google+ Local business pages are extremely important for company reputation, and when bad reviews arise, it can be difficult to fix them. But with a little dedication and TLC, it is possible to overcome negative reviews.

Why Does it Matter?

Google+ Local has proven to have quite an impact on both click through rates and online reputation. And unfortunately, this means that when bad reviews accumulate, they need to be addressed. Otherwise they can negatively affect traffic, rankings, and conversions.

  • Google+ and Reputation
    According to Reach Local, 85% of consumers are searching for local businesses online. In addition, “76% of consumers reported considering online reviews when determining which local business to use.”
Image credit: http://www.slideshare.net/ReachLocalPresentations/150-smartstatsonlinemarketingtrendseverybusinessneedstoknow

 

For business, this means that people need to be both: 1. Able to find your business through local search, and 2. Impressed by what other consumers have to say about your business

  • Maps and Click Through Rate
    Social signals and maps have been proven to increase the likelihood of someone clicking on your website. According to an eye-tracking study, which monitored the direction of the human eye on search results pages, people are much more likely to be drawn to local search results and rich snippet thumbnails than to other results on a page. Google+ Local also allows for clickable phone numbers, which make it easy for people on mobile devices to get in touch with your brand quickly.

Google plus review screenshot

For these reasons and others, Google+ Local is a big deal for businesses. However, Google+ is not an easy monster for businesses to tackle. With profiles, pages, local pages, and the verification process, it’s enough to make even the most experienced social media or marketing professional’s head spin. Even when a company expels a great deal of effort to create a verified page and build it out with images, videos, +1s, and posts, negative reviews can still greatly damage both ranking potential and the ability to yield conversions.

That’s right; not only can negative company reviews damage reputation, but they can actually inhibit a business’s ability to rank in Google+ Local search results. The thing about Google is that it prefers to show results that people like. When a company is receiving consistently negative feedback, Google takes notice. So if your business is not ranking in local search queries, it might be a good idea to take a look at its Google+ Local reviews.

How can I counter negative reviews?

It’s not easy to overcome negative Google+ reviews, but the good news is that it usually can be done with a little hard work and TLC. Here’s how:

1. Request the Removal of Reviews that Do Not Follow Guidelines.

Did you know that Google has guidelines and content policies regarding what can be posted in reviews? Here are just a few highlights of little-known factors that warrant removal:

  • Off-Topic Reviews: This one is a huge deal. According to the guidelines, a review is off-topic if it is “based on someone else’s experience” or “not about the specific place you are reviewing.” In other words, someone cannot post a review about what they think or know has happened to someone else, including family members and close friends. And they cannot post about the brand in general, if it does not apply directly to the particular location about which they are posting. Do you know how many reviews start with “I heard,” or “They did this to so-and-so?” A lot.
  • Advertising or spam: In the words of Google, “Don’t post fake reviews intended to boost or lower ratings, and don’t include links to other websites.” So if someone is looking to promote his/her own services by downplaying yours, this is not acceptable. Even if a review is not negative, but is created with the sole purpose of advertising another company, it warrants removal.
  • Conflict of interest: Similar to the point above, this states that: “reviews are only valuable when they are honest and unbiased.” Google goes on to say that employees as well as competitors should not be posting reviews about a company when it results in a conflict of interest. It also discourages offering money for reviews, setting up kiosks or stations at a place of business to promote reviews, or mis-representing affiliations with companies someone is reviewing.Therefore, in order to abide by this guideline, it is not recommended to post a review as an employee or partnering agency in an attempt to counter negative ones. If Google finds out that this is the case, it can remove these reviews quicker than you can post them.
  • Hate speech: According to Google this refers to speech that “promotes hatred or violence” based on “race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, or sexual orientation/gender identity.” Anyone expressing an opinion about your business due to any of these factors, and explicitly using this as the basis for a review, causes that review to become moot. When a review violates any of these and other guidelines listed, click the “Flag as Inappropriate” link next to it so Google can take a look. If the review is still not removed, throw one in Google’s inbox by following instructions here.

2. Dilute Negative Reviews with Positive Ones.

Set internal company goals to obtain a certain number of positive reviews in a set period of time. A constant flow of positive reviews will greatly diminish the impact of negative ones.There are several ways to request customer reviews, including on-site requests, direct mail, online surveys, and email. Keep in mind your customers’ main channel of communication and what is most convenient to them. While this is obviously very important, do not get carried away. Missing a quota is far less damaging than angering or losing valuable clients with incessant requests for reviews. Know the boundary, and under no circumstance cross it.

3. Respond to Negative Reviewers Directly

You can publicly respond to a negative review if you are the verified owner of a Google+ Local page. Keep in mind that this generally only helps if your intent is to fix the issue and make that customer happy. If that is the case, it is a great way to show other customers that you care about what they have to say. Plus, if you succeed in solving that personas issue, they may remove their negative review altogether. Negative reviews happen, and some cannot be removed or avoided. But when people abuse their right to post reviews and ignore Google’s guidelines, your brand should not have to suffer. Even negative comments that abide by the rules can be subdued through positive reviews and direct responses to consumers. This will ensure that your business continues to dominate local search results.

St. Louis's Top 100 Largest Privately Held Companies

Cover of the St. Louis Top 100 Companies documentEvery year the St. Louis Business Journal lists the city’s top 150 largest privately held companies. We’d like to join the ranks one day, but in the meantime we figured it would be interesting to perform a very brief analysis of the top 100 companies’ websites. Why did we do it? Several reasons: Read more

Why most agencies miss the point of Search

In the last few years, many traditional agencies have tried and failed to dip their toes into search marketing. Others have tried to find partner agencies but experienced limited success. Either way, it has left a bad taste in both the agency and their client’s mouth. Here is a list of common mistakes and a few ideas for the agencies to consider before partnering or investing in search.

Common Mistakes

1. Search is the last piece. “We will just add it to the website after we are finished.” -Famous last words. Sorry, but SEO isn’t a shot you inject into your website. Success in the search engines is a collaboration of many parties within your organization and outside of it. It takes a great deal of research and strategy. Optimizing a website for Google extends beyond the technical upgrades to a website. It now includes adding supportive content to the site that answers consumers’ questions and (bonus!) features keywords for which it aims to rank. A website is not much different than a physical store where most transactions still take place.

SEO improves the user’s experience when navigating a website. Pushing these efforts to a later date or half-assing the work prevents a website from earning valuable search engine real estate. Here’s the icing on the cake: The limited number of customers that reach the site are likely unsatisfied with the on-site content if the brand hasn’t utilized keyword research as a guide for solving problems.

2. Lowest person on the totem pole has the responsibility of managing or implementing. It isn’t that this is an inherently poor idea. Often these positions can afford the time for massive amounts of learning. The problem starts when the reporting and requests come in. The lowest folks on the totem pole can’t always move the needle when it comes to resources; they do not have the authority to spend the budget or allocate a team members’ time. The other issue is the lack of experience they can bring to the project. To be successful in search marketing, it isn’t enough to just have an understanding of the technology, there must also be an understanding of the consumers’ needs. This critical awareness typically comes with time and experience (although not always).

3. More time is spent in analytics than on the campaign. The tools and the information available to us are amazing; it is vital to review and understand the data for future success, but it’s easy to get distracted or discouraged by the constant fluctuation of traffic or SERP positions. Action is typically more valuable than contemplation. It is absolutely important to spend time setting goals and creating a meaningful report, one that gives specific direction and tangible steps. That is when the investment of time will pay off. Logging into Google Analytics every day will not change the results.

 

4. They just do not believe in it. There isn’t much an agency can do when there is not a belief in the power of the search engines. Like it or not, it happens. When the decision-makers of a brand haven’t experienced SEO success firsthand, they’re not likely to consider future efforts worth the required time and budget.

 

Not-common-enough truths

The ideas below aren’t just points to consider, they’re also part of the practice. 1. The big idea doesn’t always come from you, the agency. In a previous life, I worked at a branding agency. I would constantly hear statements about “the big idea” and “that doesn’t feel on-brand.” While I completely understand the need to build a brand and maintain the integrity, it seems that agencies like this miss the point and power of search marketing. They are looking at a website as a static extension of the brand. While that is true to a degree, a website should help you learn about and mold the brand, and in large part, lead it. Improvement is a core concept of search marketing that agencies need to understand. The improvement should come from consumer feedback and data. 2. Function, then form. While aesthetics have and will continue to improve online, the simplest of sites still prove to be successful. Function rules. Consumers have a job to do when they are searching, even if it is something mundane. If the best attribute of your content is the design, it will only be as successful as the trend.

 

3. A consumer search = A consumer need. What is the starting point for online success? Consumer need. Think about the volume of search for an industry combined with the value of a transaction. Those two factors greatly contribute to what industries and companies are willing to invest.

4. Bounce rate and conversion rate = consumer satisfaction Learn what content and messaging people respond to and optimize the format in which you present it. Search might be the most effective way to test messaging and conversion paths. If you have a low bounce rate, your ability to optimize for conversion is greatly improved. May not a novel concept to all, but there are those out there who haven’t looked at this way.

Wrap-up

Search marketing involves more than keyword-enriched metadata and 301 redirects. We scratch our heads when companies donat see the value of investing in efforts that yield results almost instantly. Google is a digital matchmaker; it aligns customers with potential solutions to their queries. Maybe that’s why we and so many other internet marketers have chosen to come into work every day and follow Google’s rules blindly; we see that it’s an opportunity to improve Evolve’s and our clients’ processes. Search tactics and trends shift over the months, but the basic motive remains the same: to meet potential clients halfway and win them over with an effective on-site strategy.

Want to hear more about Search? Give us a shout.

Or check out our dynamite SEO Resources Page!