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Penguin 2.0, What to Expect

Disclaimer, I am quoting Matt Cutts’ video and adding my own recommendations to comply with google guidelines.  Several years ago, I considered myself an authority on google search engine optimization.  I think the expert or authority title is no longer appropriate as there are probably very few, if any, humans that could be an authority on the complex algorithms that now power google search.

Matt Cutts released a video on May 13, 2013 titled, “What to expect in SEO in the coming months.” The topic of this video is upcoming Penguin 2.0 updates.   Matt starts with the recommendation of “try to make a great site that user’s love. ” As he says, they try to make sure if that’s your goal and google is aligned with that goal, that it will result in showing high quality content to users.

Google is close to releasing the next generation of Penguin, referred to as Penguin 2.0.  Here are some of the things that likely are included and my editorial comment on what you need to do to be in compliance.  Please note, the what you need to do comments are my personal recommendations, not necessarily from google (although I am trying to interpret the best way to follow google guidelines).

1. Advertorials – If you pay for an advertisement, google wants to be a little bit stronger on ads that violate quality guidelines.  If someone pays for an ad, those ads should not float PageRank and should be clear and conspicuous that they are paid.

Myview, As per google webmaster guidelines, external links from paid advertisements should use rel=”nofollow” which indicates to google to not pass PageRank. Note, I think that google will not pass PageRank anyway if there is reason to suspect that a link is paid or some other quality factor affects the website in question. Ads need to be marked as paid.  If you have banner ads in the header or side column, a small header such as “Related Ads” should suffice.  It’s a little harder when the ad is in text within content on the site.  A possible rollover link with small related ads title might work, or a footnote in the footer of the page might work.

2. Link Spammers – google is working on a system that does a more sophisticated analysis of links and looking upstream with the goal that some link spam will be less effective.

Myview, link building as done in the old days is a thing of the past.  Submitting to directories, posting on forums just for the link, paying for links on content farms, posting on blogs, and writing articles are all less effective or even detrimental.  Yes, it is good to be an active member of a forum with subjects related to your websites and maybe as you are perceived as an expert, you will get some traffic to your website. But do not expect it to boost your sites rankings in google.  Links that are more likely to help your site will come spontaneously from other websites or social media by genuine users that are referring to your site or products.

3. Hacked Sites – google is trying to detect them better and communicate better to webmasters.

Myview, keep your wordpress up to date, passwords secure, monitor your sites and make sure you have your sites in google webmaster tools – they will notify you when they see malware or other signs of hacking. If you are on shared hosting, I have found that if you notify your host, they can often trace the source of a hack faster than you can.

4. Authority – google is working to do a better job of detecting when someone is an authority in a space.

Myview, websites should always have contact information, phone, email, and address when appropriate.  I know that when I look at a contact page and there is nothing but a form, I wonder why they are hiding their identity. If a site is tied to you personally, how about adding a picture and a bio? Then list your credentials as an expert in the field.  This should help google figure out that you are an authority.

5. Sites in the Gray Area – Matt mentioned that they will soften the effects on some sites that have been affected when they do have some signals of authority.

Myview, there is some hope for sites that have been affected by Penguin 1.0, work on your authority signals.

6. Cluster of Results – google is looking at a change that once you have seen a cluster of results, it is less likely that you will see a cluster deeper in the results.

Myview, no way to affect this change. I just wish google would shorten the cluster of results on the first page of results. I have not heard anything indicating that they will.

Matt ended by saying they were working to get more information to webmasters.  All of Matt’s comments are a rough snapshot, things can change.  He is excited about these changes coming in summer of 2013.

Myview, I am excited about these changes as well. I think there is some hope for websites to recover from Penguin 1.0 if they follow google webmaster guidelines. I would work on authority indicators and carefully evaluate linking strategies.






At South by Southwest (SXSW), on March 10, 2012, there was a session entitled “Dear Google & Bing: Help Me Rank Better!” Questions from the audience were addressed to Matt Cutts of Google and Duane Forrester of Bing.  You can find the complete audio here.  One of the most interesting questions was what can the Mom & Pop do when everyone is doing SEO? How can they compete?  Matt mentioned that they do not usually pre-announce changes to the algorithm but he was doing so then.  Within a couple of months or weeks or so there is going to be a change to Google that affects over optimized sites.  Google wants to find sites with great content as opposed to sites with great optimization.   Matt mentioned problems such as too many keywords and unnatural links as signs of over optimization.  These things have been against Googles terms of service for a long time.  My interpretation is then that Google must be working on better ways to recognize these problems and maybe other signs of over optimization that Matt did not mention.  Google’s goal is always to make a better user experience. Matt mentioned that sites that have too many ads in your face are annoying, so they recently implemented a change that affects sites with that type of advertising.

Duane, from Bing, discussed social media as an important aspect for helping Mom & Pops.  You may have a great product but does the rest of the world think you have a great product? You need to be engaged with with your target audience.

What does all this mean?  Well, some are going to worry about over optimization.  Several years ago, site popularity was all about link popularity and so we all tried to get numerous, quality links to our sites.  Unfortunately, we also ended up with some less than quality links, often from scrapers and foreign countries where they could care less about our sites, they were just trying to rank their own sites.   Over optimization of keywords may be a worry as well, if you have a site about Halloween costumes, how can you refer to the product without using the word costume over and over.  You can say superman outfit but it’s really more effective to say superman costume.  It’s going to be interesting to see if the upcoming changes are going to cause problems for sites with many similar products on one page.  And I suspect that there will be other over optimization targets that Matt has not mentioned.  Can we prepare for them in advance?  Probably not.  When the search engine changes come, we try to analyze the results and find out what has changed. Until then, the suggestion is always to try to keep making those great websites that users appreciate.



Affiliate Summit West 2011 My Notes

I was very fortunate to win a platinum pass to Affiliate Summit West from buy.at.  buy.at was a Bronze Sponsor of Affiliate Summit and gave away several platinum passes on abestweb.com.  Thanks buy.at, much appreciated!  The conference started with the buy.at party in the Mix Lounge on the top floor the The Hotel at Mandalay Bay.  Classy party.  The buy.at representatives met every attendee at the entrance. The drinks and hor dourves were first class.   Best of all, I got to meet many folks that I knew from previous conferences or from abestweb.

The conference started on Sunday.   For the first session, I attended the Affiliate Improv, a panel of bloggers, publishers and affiliate managers.   They spent most of the hour trying to brainstorm on ideas for an audience user with a surfing themed website.  I noted two take aways from this session for further research:

1 – Check out WPtouch for making a wordpress blog mobile.

2. Check out ericnagle.com for posts on Building a Datafeed Site.

The next session I attended was Web Redesign by the Numbers – speaker Sharon Mostyn.   The point is to understand who your visitors are before redesigning a site. Who are your visitors – new or returning? What are the goals of these visitors, what keywords do they use, what pages do they visit? When do they arrive – are they 24/7, are they seasonal? Where do they come from – search engines, social media, other places? Why do they come to your site? How do they arrive via what browser, operating system, desktop or mobile, what screen resolution are their monitors?  Sharon suggested that most of this information can be gleaned from Google Analytics and Alexa.  My take aways from this session:

1. Spend some time on google search picking up the completed phrases for my keywords.   This is not a new Google feature but one I just haven’t spent a tremendous amount of time with.

2. There is a new Google Analytics feature in beta called In-Page Analytics which shows exact clicks within a page.  It’s under the Content section. Good find!

Next I attended Making Money with Affiliate Programs for Beginners by James Martell.  Even though I don’t consider myself a beginner, I found it to be a great session.  Sometimes at these conferences, primarily because of the make up of the expo, you begin to think that the only people there are CPA networks.  James talked about his bootcamp students with real websites promoting real products in niche areas – I liked it.  James described 7 popular affiliate modles: coupon sites, shopping/comparison sites, niche review sites, loyalty, email lists, podcasting sites, and hybrid sites.  Hmm, one of the takeaways from this session was to turn off the clutter in the right hand column of the site. Mine are definitely filled up with banner ads and they don’t get many clicks.  So in that sense, maybe they are not detracting, something to think more about and experiment with.  James also shared 5 tips for choosing profitable topics and I agree with all of them.  The product should cost $150 and up, the brand should be well known, make sure the product has good reviews, make sure the merchant is reputable,  and check the search volume on the product.  James had many more tips, I won’t repeat them all,  you can probably find them on his website jamesmartell.com

Next I attended Tips & Tricks to Increase Website Conversion by Christopher Pearson of DIYthemes.com. Christopher used his own website and the purchase plans for the Thesis theme as his example.  I had recently purchased the developers version and could follow how he led me down the path of purchasing the higher end product.   A couple of reasons were that it wasn’t that much more expensive than a single copy while giving me access to multiple copies and the caution that the price would go up when Thesis 2.0 comes out.  Sort of unrelated, but there is another SEO product that I looked at in December for $129, if I would have known the price was going up, I would have looked harder.  Now it is $499 and I can’t bring myself to pay that much (yet). 

Later that evening I attended Enterprise SEO for Social Publishers.  The tips from this session tended to be geared around wordpress platforms.  One tip, on the Category page, be sure to have unique headers and a unique leading paragraph to avoid duplicate content.  Another suggestion is to use robots.txt to disallow search engines from crawling pages such as the tags pages (again because of duplicate content).  Another takeaway was to be sure to have easy share buttons (share this one facebook and the like).

On Monday, I attended Wil Reynold’s Tools for SEO Success in 2001.  I have seen Wil a couple of times before and he never does the same talk twice. His sessions are packed with information. Some of the areas of change expected for 2011 include Universal Search, Brand Bias, Gooogle’s renewed spam focus, and Local Queries.  Universal Search refers to the increase of distractions in the search results.  A search now can include sponsored links, images, news, local listings, shopping, video, maps, and blog posts much of which shows up before the organic listings.  Being number 1 in organic results, is not being at the top of the page. 

One of my first takeaways from Wil’s session was to find out about Google Alerts in Google Analytics. Wil has a habit of talking fast and not going into detail, but I did look it up and its in a section of google Analytics called Intelligence (labled Beta), then pick Daily, Weekly, or Montly and Create a Custom Alert. Yes, something I need to get back to and try out.

Wil, as many others did in this conference, talked about the importance of being in local search. He also mentioned the idea of giving sponsorship to local events as a strategy to get social mentions and links. Wil also mentioned to turn Google instant on for keyword phrase research (yes, I knew that but needed a reminder).  

Wil flew through some tools for SEO – scrapebox, promediacorp keyword research tool, soovle, Majestic Tools, open site explorer, Zemanta, and PostRank.  So many tools, too little time.

Some other thoughts from Wil.  2011 is the the year that the un-natural link profile gets slammed.  Yep, I think it started last year. The social graph impacts the link graph (not sure I got that phrase right but I believe he was saying that social links are becoming more important).

Another great SEO session was Ask the Pros with Bruce Clay, Greg Boser, Todd Friesen, and Stephan Spencer.  All legends in the industry.   What are the most important factors this year? Links and localization.  The authority of a link is more important then the anchor text. Sites will come back when the link profile is fixed. Links do not have to be topically relevant. Links from a University for doing a presentation can be very good.  Exact match keywords in a URL are not as important as people think and Google has stated that they will be dialing back the importance this year. More than 2 hypens in a domain is bad.  Never do sitewide links, if inter-linking sites, put it in an about us page with a paragraph about the company. You don’t want to be on pages of sites in bad neighborhoods.  Hiding ownership of a site does not work.

Someone in the audience asked about getting slapped from #1 to #50 because of paid linking.  The new filtering (from Google) is less punative than in the past, the entire site is not penalized. Sometimes just phrases are penalized  or a different page is shown. Once fixed, the site comes back, you don’t have to do a re-inclusion request. If paid links, they should be easy to get rid of, other links are harder.  If penalized keep going forward with link building and the penalty will be diluted.  There are less manual penalties now (Google doesn’t like to play whack a mole),  most are algorithmic.  Matt Cutts cannot see algorithmic penalties.  If you are at position 50 and still have site links, that might be bad (argh, describes one of my sites).

The next day I attended Google Analytics: Stop Wondering & Start Measuring with Joshua Ziering.  Joshua gave many tips for using Google Analytics.  One pro tip is to check bounce rate by browser which will give you an indication if the site has problems in a particular browser.  Joshua spent a lot of time on the usage of goals.  I asked how to use goals with affiliate links and he described using javascript as part of the affiliate link to fire a pretend page view (the page view can then be set up as a goal).  Joshua also mentioned that Google Analytics changed to asynchronous last year (I don’t remember getting a notice about that). Time to update my Google Analytics code.  He mentioned awstats as a good alternative to Google Analytics – I agree.

Lots of great information to be learned at Affiliate Summit.  I have summarized some of the key points that I found valuable.  Now time to implement!


Google, Matt Cutts @ Pubcon

The representative from Microsoft Bing had a last minute cancellation due to illness.  So we got more time with Matt Cutts which is always a bonus. Matt started with some trends in the industry. Mobile search is big and growing and most mobile searches are local. This was a frequent theme through many presentations over the last couple of days.  If you have a local business, it is key to optimize for mobile phones and local searches.

Chrome’s market share is growing. Obviously this is important to Google.

A key focus this year has been trust and security and implementation of enhanced security in Google products such as gmail using https, SSL search, and 2 factor authentication. Google has committed resources to trying to find hacked sites and is rolling out soon (this week possibly) new updates in Webmaster Tools to give users more information about site problems such as doorway pages and parked domain issues.

Speed has been another big focus for Google this year.  The Caffeine infrastructure has allowed for real time incremental indexing. Several years ago index updates were monthly and more recently daily.  Now a change to a page can be in the results in less than a minute.  Google Instant is another form of speed enhancement.  Google’s research showed that users spent 17 seconds typing a query and Google instant is a way to improve that. An example, when a user starts a query with “w” they are often typing weather and Google Instant can bring up those results quickly. Matt did concede that power users don’t like Google Instant.   Instant Preview was launched this week which gives the user an option to look at a page preview before going to a site. Flash sites do not look so great in a page preview, another reason to avoid flash or at least not have the whole site be flash.

On the left navigation on Google, there is now a way to change your location and see the results for the indicated location.

Matt suggested that is always a good practice to reduce page load time.  Today, site performance (speed) only effects 1% of search rankings. This may change in the future.  You can see your site performance in Google Webmaster Tools.  Google is also offering new tools to increase page speed including mod_pagespeed.

Matt’s Nine Tips:

1. Chase users, not algorithms

2. Keywords – “Ask 10 taxi drivers”, in other words, see what an everyday user wouldl use in search

3. Blog – Pay attention to the first link

4. Content – Read it out loud.

5. Twitter – Leave room for RT @ you

6. Video – Make one.

7. Conversion – Test, repeat.

8. Anyone – Own your own domain.

9. Webmaster Tools – Make sure you turn on email communications.

From the audience questions:

Matt was asked how Google discovers domains with no links.  Matt indicated that links was the primary way of discovering new domains.  Adsense is not used to discover new domains.  For competitive reasons, he would not address other methods.

Is age of domain still important?  After a domain is about 6 months oldl, the age does not make much difference.  Older domains do often have more links which may lead some to believe that the age of the domain is important.

What is Google doing about content farms? Some consider them spam. Users are angry with content farms. Google tries not to be in the position of having human evaluators determine the worth of a domain. The content farms are not currently part of the spam teams targets.  It’s controversial even within Google.  Things may change in the future.

Is it right that a domain ranks high simply because it has exact keyword match in the domain? No. There will be adjustments to change this.

Disclaimor: I took notes while Matt Cutts was speaking and in some cases, paraphrased his comments. To the best of my knowledge, my notes are accurate.


PubCon Day 1

Wow, information overload.  I thought I would blog at the end of each day of PubCon.  I think I’ll have to summarize quickly and come back with more details later.

Brett Tabke welcomed us to the 10th anniversary of PubCon.  The event started 10 years ago in London when a group got together at a local pub. This years event is the largest ever with over 2000 attendees.  The search engines have not been at the conference (as exhibitors) for 3 years now they have not been willing to pay to attend search conferences. 

David Pogue of the New York Times was the keynote speaker.  His technology info was informative and entertaining. Many people say that the new app phones (smart phones) are a cross of a cell phone and laptop but the app phones actually have many features not available in a laptop including the tilt sensor, built in GPS and more.  David had many examples of iphone apps, one most interesting was Ocarina, a music teacher created the app, sold 1.5 million copies for $1 each.  Wow.  There was much more to David’s presentation and the grand finale was a live version of his hit video, iPhone The Musical.

The first session I attended was entitled In-House SEO. It was a pitch that would probably be of interest to anyone trying to justify and elevate the presence of their SEO efforts within a large corporation.  One good point, anyone involved in SEO should have some sites of their own for safe testing of SEO techniques.

Next up was “Smart Organic Keyword Research and Selection.”  Lots of good tips and especially SEO tools from Wil Reynolds, Seer Interactive; Craig Paddock, Boost Search Marketing, Carolyn Shelby, United Way of Metro Chicago, and Mark Jackson,  VIZION Interactive Inc.   Some of the tools for keyword research that were mentioned are Raven, Google Instant, Google Insights for Search, soovle.com (suggested phrases), delicious (how sites are tagged), Juice Analytics Firefox plugin (keywords with higher traffic), Google Trends, Microsoft Ad Intelligence, Blekko (search engine with seo and links for websites), Wordtracker, semrush, opensiteexplorer.org.   Another way to find appropriate keyword phrases is to show a picture of your product to someone and ask them what they would use to search for it.  Once you’ve selected keyword phrases, a PPC campaign can be used to verify their conversion rate for your site.  Lots of good information in this session.


WebmasterWorld PubCon 2010

I am headed to Las Vegas today for Webmasterworld’s Pubcon. Yea! My last Pubcon was in 2004. It was a great event. The search engines were well represented.  If you were in the know, you could go to the Google booth and pick up free adwords credits. Yahoo threw an elaborate casino night party that all were invited too.  Webmasterradio was new and co-hosted the party. The speakers were great and there were lots of networking opportunities.

Search engine optimization was a lot easier in 2004.  You could look at a site and make sure they had the right on page items and picked up some good inbound links and you were set.  The search engines even still valued links from directories such as Dmoz, the Yahoo Directory, and Microsofts small business directory.  It’s a lot harder now to find authoritative, trusted links. So that’s one of the reasons I am off to Pubcon.  I will attend as many sessions as possible to learn from the masters of SEO.  Looking forward to it. Time to go pack.


CJU 2010

Just got back from Santa Barbara and CJU 2010. I had a great time. The Fess Parker is a wonderful venue and the conference is first class. Lots of great food, drinks, and parties. But the best part is the networking.  The first afternoon is the expo with many major advertisers, publishers, and agencies exhibiting.  I quickly found the ones I wanted to say hello to or meet and then picked up a few  freebies.  As an affiliate publisher, my sales are good this year and it was encouraging to find out that my merchants had noticed.  It looks like I’ll pick up some commission boosts for that performance. I am working towards CJ Performer and this could be the year that I do it.

The opening cocktail party was at the Santa Barbara zoo.  The weather has been unusually cool in California this year and this day it was as well.  But a lovely spot, overlooking the ocean. Great food, drinks and giraffe feeding.

The next day was full of sessions and networking followed by the CJU awards dinner.  I was thrilled to sit with Kristen and Priest from buycostumes as they accepted their People’s Choice award.  Yea! They are the best!

Thursday was the last day, a few more meetings, a look at some exciting new technology from Commission Junction, an informative session on SEO and then time to head home. The time sure went by fast.

I love this conference and will be back in 2011.