The first thing I do when I wake up is grab my iPhone and delete about 40 junk emails that come in overnight. I do this while eating my Cheerios. No matter how many times I unsubscribe, the trash keeps coming.
This morning I received this subject line: “Regarding Guest Post Opportunity On Your Blog.” I’m sure you’ve all gotten these. I’m sure some of us have sent our share of these. So why did I stop to read this one? Why didn’t it get deleted with my other morning garbage? Not because it was good, but because I was drawn to it (though not for the right reasons).
I’m not against guest posting. I do, however, wince a little when I see the tactic poorly executed in 2013. This is an old tactic now, and I like to think it’s matured.
This type of prospecting email may work fine when you’re pitching a site who’s model is to publish guest posts. They’d snap up this type of opportunity faster than me with a plate of hot wings. But for my site, I don’t usually have much guest posting here. It’s not because of any reason besides pickiness. Anthony Pensabene is the only one so far, and that’s because it was unique, he knew my blog’s tone, he’s a known entity, and he’s a very clever writer.
See, I knew as much about him as he knew about me and my site.
In the case of the guest post pitch, I didn’t get the feeling this author took the time to review my site at all. The three titles he pitched didn’t really fit my style of writing or my subject matter. The truth is, I’m actually open to guest posting pitches. I would have been excited if this were a thorough pitch. I really could have taken it (or at least gotten to know the writer and worked with him in some capacity going further).
What I Would Have Changed
I would have started with some research. I would have spent some time on the Greenlane blog to see what kind of posts have been done to date. The titles sent over, while I censored them above, were akin to “top 5 ways to do something that’s been rehashed a million times in the SEO blogosphere.” I don’t really have much content like that anymore. Frankly, it’s rare when I read that kind of article now and it doesn’t come off as lazy. I would have thought up some ideas that flow with my blog. How about a take on something I’ve written about before? I’d much rather you come me with the concept of something unique, than a backlog of generic, homogenized, no-frills copy.
I would have written a better subject line. The subject was confusing. Regarding what guest post opportunity? I haven’t actually posted, tweeted, or facebooked any defined opportunity. This subject was about as spammy as it gets for me, and looks a lot like the ones I now have a habit of deleting without a thought. If it were me, I would have been more open to “An idea for a guest post,” or “Question for you.” These are subjects suggesting a visitor wants to engage with me, not pitch me. Or, just like the concept of “the neon resume gets remembered,” maybe a subject line of “Hey jerk, your opinion is wrong, and I have a counterpoint article to prove it.” I would love that. That would be speaking my language!
I get pitched all day long from vendors. I welcome an opportunity that doesn’t feel like a hard sell. I believe most business owners and webmasters agree. We want to be pitched on really awesome ideas. It makes us look better to our bosses and employees when those ideas come to life.
I would have used my real name. The author’s name in this email was different than the name he used in his Search Engine Journal example. Someone is getting duped. See, I do my homework. I suspect many others do as well. Granted, I’m in the industry so I care about things like authorship and the writer’s reputation. But if you use your real name, and have created a cache of great material, that’s a selling point. Show me what you’ve written, and show me some kind of biography. Show me that when you say you live in Montana, you don’t really live in Tibet.
I know you’re busy… That line was the closer. “Don’t worry, I’ll make it easy for you.” I bet that sounds great to a lot of busy affiliates who run thousands of sites, especially if they don’t care about what gets published on their site. But as a business owner, or even a webmaster looking out for the integrity of their site, I’d like to have some control on what I get and post. I’d rather hear, “I’d love to work on some ideas with you. I can send you over a draft.”
I would have customized the email. I can still smell the cntrl-V in this email. At least it was specifically sent to me (instead of being in the BCC field with 10,000 other recipients). Still, I’m sure this was an attempt to be scalable. All good, but again, this type of email isn’t going to win a site like mine. I have personality all over my blog, all over my Twitter, etc. If the guy wrote, “hey man, I love your band,” that would have probably worked – I’m a sucker for egobait. The truth is, a site like mine may not have a huge PageRank or DA (whatever you prefer), but I do have a big mouth. I do have followers who would have seen this post. I think I’m worth the little bit of extra attention.
Where do these opinions come from? Experience. I’ve tried – and failed – at good guest posting opportunities, and digital PR opportunities, because I was lazy. I am lazy no more.
Scalable Marketing Shouldn’t Be The Same As Lazy Marketing
Our blog isn’t like Problogger, Ezine Articles, or even Search Engine Journal or Search Engine Watch. We’re not a depository. We have our own distinct voice (hopefully). In my case, communication matters.
In my experience, most websites, media outlets, and companies want to be engaged. If you think I’m a diva, I promise that some of the big, jucier prospects are even worse. If you’re looking for quality over quantity in your links/citations/brand mentions, then you must be careful when you reach for your prospecting weapon of choice. If you’re aiming for a cat, and you pull out a machine gun, you’re only going to make a mess.
Just to get ahead of any nasty comments or tweets – I am NOT against scalable or automated link building. I’d be an awfully big hypocrite. While I’m certainly not great at it, I’m always impressed by those who do it well. By well, I mean smart. Those who can do good marketing with scalable (or automated – I’m aware they aren’t the same thing per se) techniques are brilliant. It certainly has its place. But trying to win over a guy like me, that certainly isn’t its place.
No cats were harmed in this blog post.
Let’s face it – the SEO industry has a tendency to stomp a tactic into the ground. Some of us even get lazy (pleny of this kind of junk around).
Directory submissions were once wildly valuable, then SEOs started creating directories by the thousands thanks easy-to-install directory scripts. Some SEOs / webmasters blatantly charged a fee for the “SEO value”. Additionally, cheap directory submission tools popped up like Directory Maximizer. Back then there wasn’t as much fear of Google making sweeping changes; thus, the tactic was pushed hard for years. Eventually Google sussed out the tactic – directory links aren’t even close to what they were.
Article marketing worked for a while as well. The same suit followed. Article sites and tools like Unique Article Wizard and Article Marketing Robot came and left a huge footprint. Originally some article marketing was even editorial when the webmasters scrutinized each article before publishing, but it was quickly outshadowed by services and bloggers that would take (and publish) any crap.
Next came blog networks. ALN and Build My Rank (now redirects to www.hpbacklinks.com) were among the first to get a real Penguin beat down. Spinning tools (that literally “spun” your content to look unique, but rarely made articles that users could understand) became popular as content for these blog networks. These illegible articles were pumped out by the thousands. For some SEOs this (somewhat) resembles what we think of today with the guest post tactic.
Now SEOs are waiting for the guest blogging [filter|penalty|panda|penguin] update.
Google Doesn’t Hate Guest Posting
As far as I know, Google doesn’t hate guest posting, at least according to this video 2012 video. Things may have changed, but I don’t think so.
Google has made some illogical decisions. Really, obvious mistakes. I’ve given them the benefit of the doubt and been wrong before.
Dumb Bill Sebald quotes:
“Negative SEO can’t exist. Google knows how easy it is to blast a bazillion garbage links at a website. They’ll figure out the fraud!”
“Google doesn’t need help with duplicate content. They told us so!” (Next day they came out with the canonical tag).
The truth is, at the risk of putting my foot in my mouth again, I really don’t want to jump onto the guest post scaremongering band wagon. As I said with the great Anthony Pensabene, I think we’re reading too deeply into things:
But aside from a few a lot of bad eggs, why would Google hate guest posting? This can be amazing, user-loved content!
This is what Google’s infamously vague Google Guidelines say:
Additionally, creating links that weren’t editorially placed or vouched for by the site’s owner on a page, otherwise known as unnatural links, can be considered a violation of our guidelines.
An editorial piece of text is an unpaid, opinion piece. It is a piece placed by an editor to give value to the reader. In newspapers (for example) editorials have often been the opinions of authors who may not have been associated with the publisher. Google might be powerful, but I don’t see them having the power to change a definition.
We live with a noisy web, where soundbites are everything. Tweets are our headlines. Sometimes newsreaders and social bookmark sites give us the news with a short 70 character headline. Sometimes it’s even exploitative. This leads to major misinterpretation and FUD.
What I Think Could Happen
While Google’s done a great job in the last year of pruning gamed results out of their index (I actually found it quite difficult to find some truly “bad” examples using Google), they could still possibly monitor heavier for footprints. For example, they may be able to tune up their recognition of certain footprints left in the byline. SEOs will adapt, and maybe start seeding their backlink elsewhere in the text other than the byline, and vary up their bylines more frequently, but the lazier SEOs could probably get swept up. Have you created a sea of trash guest posts? You might need to worry, but you couldn’t have thought your thin content was a long term play.
Authorship may come into play more, and either highlight good authors or flag spam authors. I just don’t think Google will be able to get too liberal here. They’re the best search engine we have, but they’re still not talented enough to truly understand the intent of any content online. They’re just not that good. They have to know that.
Famous last words.
Sites like Moz, major tech sites, recipe sharing sites, entertainment sites, countless online newspapers,etc., would likely get swept up if Google pushed this update. We’ve seen so many babies get thrown out with the bathwater just with Panda and Penguin alone. For me, I’m going to sit back, have a homebrew, and keep on recommending guest posting where it makes sense and proves out to be a real marketing opportunity.
Related: Why I Will Continue With Guest Blogging As Part Of My Strategy! SEtalks.com
Nobody loves Google+ as much as Google. So much so, they’re using Google+ Pages as the destination URLs in the packs now. Looks like you don’t even need a website anymore.
Click image to enlarge
What do you notice from this screenshot? First, I apparently need Google’s help spelling collision. Second, if you click the blue link or the Google+ page link, they both go to the same place – a very thin Google+ business listing:
Click image to enlarge
This may not have been claimed. No reviews. And Google thinks this is a better result than the other fleshed out Google+ local and direct websites? Google doesn’t even have any entities showing for this listing.
This isn’t the first time SEOs have seen this.
Local Search Is The Land Of The Lost
Google has a lot of products. I can only imagine how difficult it is to manage them all internally. I have no idea how big their local team is (likely less than the “web” team, which is already surprisingly small), or what their company goals are with this product, but this is a vital vertical to many small businesses that just doesn’t seem to have the love. This whole integration feels like web search from 2002 – very little made sense there either.
Since Google+ and Google Places merged, forming this mess called Google+ Local, every SEO has been recommending you flesh out a Google+ business page. Our recommendations were for you to flesh out your Google+ and places page, even if you’re already having trouble finding time to tend to your Facebook page. We said, “don’t complain, just do it – Google needs your information to rank you in the packs.”
From the looks of these screenshots, it doesn’t look like we were necessarily right, eh? If Google does indeed have an algorithm biased to any Google+ site, then maybe you don’t need to do the work? Read on…
Can You Understand Google’s Local Algorithm?
I don’t really try. I’m not sure Google really can understand it either. I suspect their hands are full trying to tame the jungle. For almost a decade I’ve described the “Google (web) algorithm” as a rope. A rope has hundreds of threads woven in (all algorithms working together to make the big algorithm). Google Local seems more like a bag of hair. But to be fair, Google web turned into a bag of hair in the early 2000’s as well. They’re only now starting to braid it.
With local and Google+, we have a business page, a local page, maps, and pack listings. They just all don’t tie together nearly as well as they should.
Wut Do? – Do Marketing!
SEO is still marketing. I’m frustrated to see Google+ being so awful, but I believe it will get better. I have local clients I adore, and seeing things like this makes me mental. Google doesn’t always reward content, Google doesn’t always reward your support. Google has made many local business owners I speak to feel jaded by “failed” SEO. To be honest, sometimes an SEO can’t hit a specific goal if Google simply doesn’t want it to be so. You have to give it months – sometimes years – to see. If you want the internet to work for you, you have to accept it could take a long time.
But if and when Google does shift in your favor, your customers will benefit from your hard work. When you’re doing SEO (or having a firm do it for you), make sure you’re doing marketing too.
Despite the bag of hair algorithm throwing a few freebies away to local companies who didn’t do any real marketing, there’s a lot of gold for the business owners who did find time in their busy day to keep the content river flowing through their Google+ account.
Mini Case Study
Michele H, local wedding photographer (asked to be private, apparently a competitive field).
Goal is to fill up the fall with jobs, with no expenses.
I have a friend in the local photography space. Her name is Michele. She moved to Philadelphia suburbs right before Christmas 2012 to stay with her sick mother, and wasn’t really set up financially. As a wedding photographer, she didn’t have a strong ‘word of mouth’ network in Philly, something many local services rely heavily upon.
In such a short window, I figured a social content strategy and local search was the way to go (forgoing general web SEO). I helped her get her photography service up and running with a quick, clean SEO friendly platform (simply WordPress), and pushed Google+ on her hard (as an experiment on my end). She spends most her day retouching photos, and naturally didn”t want to do any more on a computer than she had too. Still, we created a balanced plan to create engagement with only a few hours a month. This included:
- Minimum 5 shares a week on Google+
- Minimum 5 original thought pieces\
- Citation building
- Post anything created solely for the blog
- 10 interactions on relevant Google+ pages
- Always driving Google+ traffic to her blog, and blog traffic to her Google+ (create a loop)
- Respond to all comments quick and humbly
- Soft promotion of services
All the authorship stuff was also put in place. In took about 3 weeks in May to start showing her photo in the search engine result pages.
The Waiting Game
For months nothing came of it. I was rarely involved, assuming she was following the steps. I didn’t do any other SEO work for her.
The content she created sat around on Google+. She wasn’t getting into the packs, and more importantly, she wasn’t getting any pack traffic or Google+ referrals. Everything she did on Google+ she mirrored on Facebook, which was semi-active (helped mitigate any feeling of it being a huge waste of time), but let’s just keep this mini case study on Google+ and related website content.
She was a worried and a little stressed.
Then suddenly she got a few followers in April who started sharing her stuff. More saw it and circled her. In March, 29 had her in their circles. In July, two thousand. By checking out the most shared stuff in Analytics, we knew what flavor of content she needed to continue writing in (in her case it was about what wedding photographers can use to differentiate themselves, and unique wedding photo ideas). She was becoming a brand on Google+.
She started taking small jobs when weddings weren’t happening, and asked them to consider reviewing on her places page. Happily for her, they were all favorable.
She also got a few organic links and upward trending traffic to her blog (located on a folder off the root domain). Things were starting to happen slowly. 10 more visits here, 20 more visits there, with a low bounce rate. Not big numbers, but to a local wedding photographer, this was helpful. 45% of her closed leads came from this traffic from April to July.
In her vertical, her Google+ may not have been ranking well at first, but it was a vital social component and cause of the informational searches she was now receiving. Attribution reports showed some decent interplay. Impressions and actions started to go up. It’s all connected.
She had one goal: fill up the fall with wedding shoots in a new town. She succeeded last week. Added benefit: zero cost. All really minor effort leading to a big win for a minor business.
The opportunity is there for the small business of any size – the bigger you are, the more work you need to put into it. In this day of big brands getting the lionshare of the rankings and traffic, the small business can still rock in long-tail and local search. It’s not hard or expensive – just awkward and confusing… but completely valid.
Protip: Click the sleestack.
I definitely expected more from Authorship by now. For me it’s kind of a let down. So far, it’s akin to the flying cars we were expecting. We were under the impression Authorship would bring AuthorRank, and it would do all these wonderful things. But like the flying car, this was never specifically promised (that I know of).
I’m a little tired of telling clients, “put this and this on your pages, force yourself to use Google+, and get your whole content team to adopt it,” without a better reason.
“Because one day this might really matter!” doesn’t really cut it for me anymore. I’ve become skeptical since this.
Where Is AuthorRank?
While the common expectation of Authorship was that it will become a ranking factor is exciting, Google has shown us that our expectations don’t always come true, despite even obtaining patents.
Case in point: social signals. I was told by someone at Google over 4 years ago that +1 buttons were going to improve rankings. Rarely do they come out and tell you that. He was a rarely loose-lipped project manager probably in violation. By now there should be some majority proof that these buttons work, if they truly did.
Still, while exciting, it’s also scary. If I wrote the definitive post on a particular SEO strategy, and Danny Sullivan wrote a half-assed or inaccurate similar piece (not likely!), would Authorship favor him?
There’s no doubt Google is into taking Authorship further. They created triggered emails to give particular “authors” more context when needed. They added it to their rich snippet testing tool. They’ve even tried to make it happen when it wasn’t properly implemented (suggesting the developers are hard at work). It’s got to mean more than just a photo in the SERPs. Don’t get me wrong, I know the value of the rich snippets in click-throughs (I worked very closely with a usability lab in a past life), and can’t imagine a face shot would turn anyone away from an informational search. Even someone really ugly. I don’t sweat over the studies.
On their Authorship page, Google says, “Make your content feel personal.” I think that’s just a quick and safe banner. They’ve told us they may use the data they collect as a ranking factor. What are they waiting for? It’s safe to assume they’ve been collecting since well before August of 2011, when this rel=author standard was highlighted in a video. Rel=author is not a Google invention.
Maybe It’s In Play – Just Not As Expected
I was talking to my business partner Keith, and we were having the usual water cooler conversation about Authorship. Then he says, “maybe it’s more of a defensive play?”
I hadn’t heard anyone really suggest that before. We’ve been expecting it as a ranking signal. But what if rel=author went the way of the +1 as a ranking factor, and is now more of a validator of editorial, non-spammy links? After all, when’s the last time you saw spam or unnatural backlinks come from an author-verified page?
I could see Google ultimately determining that’s as far as it should go for now, with their current infrastructure. Since they’re probably wrestling with how game-able Authorship really is, I could see them defaulting on it being a signal of trust which doesn’t push rankings, instead defends the link graph. Until (or unless) spammers were to figure it out and start adopting it of course. Maybe Google is thinking most spammers are too lazy, and using this now as a pluggable cog.
I don’t have the answer, but it’s an interesting thought. Would love your thoughts. Are we looking into Authorship incorrectly?
I enjoy footprints, advanced operators, and link building with content. I like the personalized, conversational nature of the link building I do. Though not fast, it’s fun and very impactful. It’s like a cannon versus an AK47.
Naturally I was drawn to broken link building. Garret French’s ridiculously cool Broken Link Building tool is a great resource. While some are great at this, my success rate is unfortunately low with this tactic. My assumption is that the resources are usually so old (hence, the link breaks because it’s abandoned) that the webmaster doesn’t even care that it’s broken. Thus, no response from the webmaster following my inquiries.
But they do seem to respond more often when they have wrong information on their site.
I’ve always been able to use the Broken Link Building tool to get content ideas and find good blogs, but thought, “instead of fixing the link by suggesting my own content, why not produce content that fixes a bloggers on-page content.”
Time Is The Enemy Of Information
In time, things become outdated. Data refreshes. Ideas expire. Studies prove other studies wrong. Trends, interests, and feelings change. The problem with the web is that you’re hard-pressed to keep your website 100% current. How often have you searched for the answer to a question to find a 4 year old, out-dated article? Google does a poor job with QDF, and simply needs help with detecting the latest, most accurate information.
That’s where this tactic kicks in.
Each of my clients (or past employers) is an expert in something. Once I figure out what these strengths are, and identify who can write the content, I search for sites that have wrong information.
Here’s a couple opportunities I was able to “refresh” with this tactic:
- 5 great iOS apps that help you manage your time (updated a 4 year old article with something much current. 2 of the apps were not even in the App Store anymore).
- Fracking does not cause groundwater contamination (one site had this claim, where an article we produced had proof of Marcellus Shale region contamination from fracking results).
Each new article we placed had a link to our site either in the byline or in the body itself. This tactic works great with a content strategy. Throw the results into Buzzstream and you’re on your way.
Introducing The Outdated Content Finder
I like this idea so much I wanted a tool that could quickly find these opportunities. I asked Mike Angstadt, a great Philadelphia developer and SEO, if he thought he could help me build it. In 24 hours, the Outdated Content Finder was born. Mike is the man, so hit him up on Twitter.
Give it a spin. Click the logo below:
It’s still in beta, and will grow to include more features. I’d love your feedback in the comments below.
Friday was the last day of my security. Today, I’m a full-time business owner. I’m completely out of in-house, and 100% dedicated to Greenlane Search Marketing, LLC.
I’ve been doing work through Greenlane since 2005. Most of the time it was split between other internal roles with agencies or in-house. I went 100% solo once, and failed. Naturally, I was a little gun shy about trying this again. But I’ve realized things truly are different (if not evolved).
“Do not be embarrassed by your failures, learn from them and start again.”
Richard Branson and other off-beat CEOs have been the subject of a lot of my latest readings. Clearly, I’m getting the bug again. I’ve sat in rooms with some incredible CEOs and CMO’s – some well-known, some not. My father is very successful in a large company in Philadelphia, and an influence. I like the way many of them look at running a business as an art form, where there is no real playbook. I like that many successful CEOs aren’t the serial-killer personality types that we’ve come to expect. I’m not smart enough to compete on an intellectual level with most Wharton grads, but I started to get confidence that reminded me I didn’t need to.
Then again, I’ve run important marketing departments. I ran SEO relationships with companies like GNC, Petsmart, Calvin Klein, Levi’s, and Mattel. So I do have some experience. The only thing that was holding me back was the risk of security and the memory of past mistakes.
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
I have that quote from TS Elliot on my wall. I’m not a big risk taker, but I do want to explore as much of life as I can. This quote was strong for me. A motivator.
I used the excuse, “the timing is bad,” when thinking about going on on my own. But when is it ever good? I have a lot of expenses (an ex-wife, a wedding coming up), my fiance is on disability for a few months from a necessary surgery, and there’s some other potentially expensive things going on. Plus I have an 8 year old son. I’m sure I’m going to rack up some credit card bills, but I’ll be able to see my son and fiance more, while finding happiness in (re)building a business.
This was also a motivator.
I had the fear of failure, but a lot of thoughts on how to learn from my past mistakes. I weighed it out, and made some adjustments. I suck with accounting and bookkeeping, so this time I partnered with an accountant. I was not disciplined enough to work from home, so this time I got an office. I didn’t enjoy being a one-man show, so this time I teamed with consultants, and built with a partner who is much smarter than me (more on that later, but it’s someone I know and trust, and is more of the straight man to my shenanigans).
So now I have a team. I already had great clients, and was forced to turn some good ones down. That pained me. I had the same business plan, just more robust now. I had a defined, reachable business goal. Based on the skills of our team, we even had some stronger differentiators now. What I didn’t have were core values. We looked into what we believed in, based on what we’ve seen from other agencies (including SEO), and pulled heavily on our past experience. We realize we’re altruistic people angry at the game. So, we built something around that.
Let the past feed the future.
Not a quote, just common sense. From fear of more mistakes, and the time clinging on to a security blanket, I did make some good choices. I’ve done B2C agency work for over 10 years, but had little experience doing in-house B2B. I took a position in a growing, well-funded company. This was a conscious decision to learn something new, and hopefully have a long stay. I had some serious on-the-job training by a company of seasoned businessmen. I’m quite proud of that decision, and struggled with leaving a good company two years later. I simply found myself always returning to Greenlane.
Working in-house was an amazing eye-opener. I recommend all agency folk try it at least once in their life. Want to really understand the game? Put on the client’s shoes.
The biggest motivator – Inspiration.
If this industry should be remembered for anything (in my opinion), it’s the warmth and openness of the people. What is it about SEO and digital marketing where so many of us want to be writers and confess honestly the issues of running a business? Wil Reynolds is a friend and early influence. It blew my mind how much he gave away to an industry full of people who would use the info to win business against him. In my first agency run, I was forced to be closed to the blogosphere. I was asked to present (being with GSI Commerce/eBay), but I couldn’t do the SEO presentation I wanted to do. Julie Joyce was more than happy to share her heart and soul with me, and gave me incredible motivation (even if she didn’t know it). AJ Kohn, James Agate, Dan Shure, Rhea Drysdale, and Mackenzie Fogelson are all people I met in person only a year ago, and I thought about them often when designing my second run. They’re very inspirational. Nick Eubanks, Eppie Vojt, John-Henry Scherck, Mark Kennedy, David Cohen, Anthony Pensabene, Justin Freid, and all my Philly SEO friends have been incredibly valuable. It’s inspiring to be surrounded with a great support system. And of course, my original SEO rock band of Ian Howells, Bill Rowland and Anthony Moore. The most influential team of my life.
Thanks to everyone in this industry for helping me realize my dreams, and giving me the courage to make them a reality (and ultimately push me into the pool).
In summary, it was a well-deserved, opinionated rhapsody on one SEO link building tactic. SEOs only need to read an excerpt from a link builder, which the author published, to get the gist of this article:
“Unfortunately we have had new guidelines introduced that state we can’t place any more articles that are labelled as sponsored as they highlight the link has been paid for. Not great in the eyes of Google.
If that’s the case that you definitely have to state ‘sponsored’, then I won’t be able to go ahead I’m afraid.
I don’t suppose offering you a bit more money would sway the decision would it?”
As you can imagine, this sparked debate in SEO on what is, and what should never be.
I’m a realist. Some parts of SEO (as an industry) are eccentric. It always was, it probably always will be. We were born in forums, so conversations can get kind of bizarre, off-topic, chatty, etc. But, as long as there are SEOs who define search optimization as motions to improve rankings, there will be tacticians like this, and their defenders. The problem for SEOs, who define search optimization as a more holistic marketing channel, is this grants a negative context by which they don’t want to be known by. The antics continue online, and the machine starts spinning again.
But negative or not, it’s one half of what SEO is. Other SEOs, and Google, may want to change that. I think it’s a lost cause. It’s complete chaos. Sometimes we ourselves fall into our own vortex. Sometimes we drink our own (and each other’s) Kool-Aid. Some of the “personalities” we promote and the content we praise makes it feel more like a popularity contest. Sometimes we act less than classy. Alternatively, sometimes we fight each other. We trash what the other side of SEO does. The whole things starts to feel like playground fights.
It’s like republicans vs. democrats. One party can tell another group (of any political persuasion) what code they should live by, but banking on a sweeping change is a fool’s bet. Like anyone, I’d love to convince all our industry peers to see it my way (don’t try to lie and manipulate a blogger, don’t be a lazy link builder, etc.), but I don’t waste the bandwidth on the unachievable. Instead, I’d rather focus on sending the message I stand by, to the clients I pitch, the people who read my stuff, and the people I meet at networking events. I fully acknowledge what we REALLY are. It helps me define what I am.
I’m Bill. I do online marketing and strategy. The way I go about it, SEO is a big fiber in the whole canvas I create on.
As an aside, I find myself more and more distancing from SEO as a label in conversations, and instead embracing all of online marketing. When people ask me what I do, I used to say “SEO,” now I’m noticing I don’t. It’s not because of any negative industry connotation, but because I feel like I’m expanding into something more. The acronym isn’t the big picture anymore. I don’t agree with those who try to pack a multi-channel definition into such this three-letter word.
It started a year ago. At Mozcon 2012, there were a couple presentations about “SEO needs to grow up”. We need to get more into digital PR, content marketing, etc. I completely disagreed (it took a few weeks to sink in). If you want to get more into those channels – and why not, it’s an asset – I think you stop labeling everything as SEO, and start considering yourself bigger than SEO. Should an SEO be an expert at usability, graphic design, content marketing, analytics, and social media? No, you should be an expert in what they do for improvement in SERPs and better conversion rates through search traffic. However, if you want to be an expert in those things, strive to be a digital marketer (or inbound marketer, if that’s what you prefer to call it). SEO doesn’t need blurrier definitions or an obtuse label.
I simply don’t spend time defending, labeling, or being a criticizer of SEO tactics that I personally don’t employ, though I do feel defensive whenever the other side of a story is absent. It’s valueless, and a cheap headline grabber. I don’t pitch or “negative sell” to clients on the scary SEO monsters out there. Instead, I talk about the incredible value SEO and digital marketing can have for a company.
I suggest you stop fighting about SEO definitions; accept what it is, while taking inspiration from its marketing potential, and start branching into other digital marketing channels. I believe that’s the best next step you can make to further your expertise.
Now… read this: Why I’m Quitting SEO by Martin McDonald
(There have been a few updates to this article at the end; the title of this article has been changed to reflect all the data. I highly recommend you read the comments as well).
Yesterday I posted an article on quick link wins from Moz’s new Fresh Web Index. I happened to catch the announcement of the tool and tested it immediately. I wrote up a quick post about an hour later. There were comments from Twitter, inbound.org, and my own blog about how fast I produced the article.
Unfortunately, my domain didn’t make the first page. But two sites who republished my article did. My post was the canonical version – Google is supposed to figure that out, right? Especially since my page was indexed before the other two. Let’s look at this deeper.
I get republished by Business 2 Community. They hand-pick posts from my feed that might suit their members. Yahoo is a publishing partner of B2C, so they again publish some of B2C’s posts. If you look at the image above, both those domains are ranking for my article. Authorship didn’t help me here (not that I expected it to), and the links back to my site didn’t clue Google in. Nor is there a canonical tag in place by B2C or Yahoo. From the looks of it, I appear to be beaten by sheer domain authority. Not only that, I appear to have been completely filtered out of the first 100 ranks.
To me, this is Google doing a poor job.
So it got me thinking – what else can I do to signal to Google that my original post should be shown in place of one of these re-publishers? I could ask B2C to remove my posts, citing duplicate content issues, but I like the visibility I get there (and on Yahoo).
The Long Shot
If you look at my single post pages, my template actually removes the time stamp. It has the date, but not the actual hour the post went live. Could that be the magic bullet to get Google to value my original post higher?
As of 10:20am (of day 2), I have coded the time stamp into my WordPress single-post template. Again, I think this is a long shot. Because it’s easily faked, would Google actually factor that?
Now we wait to see if Google actually pays attention to the posted time. I’m also going to “fetch as google” and submit to the index again, since some think that might work as an old-school ping. Can’t hurt.
Success. Google decided to list me on the first page today (a fresh cache is listed for today, March 8th), right under a great post that came out by Rhea at Outspoken Media. The Yahoo listing still exists, but the blended News listing (Business 2 Community) has dropped.
So other than adding the time stamp (my long shot), what changed?
Well, let’s check FWE to start. According to the tool, I got two new linking root domains (aside from the Yahoo and B2C) link. One is from the result right above me, the strong Outspoken Media. Clearly as I sing FWE’s praises, I know it can’t catch all the links out there. There may be more. Additionally, Yahoo and B2C probably received links too (at this time, it’s still too soon to see in OSE, Majestic or ahrefs).
Second, since the news vertical dropped off, it could have specifically been my barrier to entry. While that algorithm runs differently to Google’s general search algorithm, I could understand where an IFTTT type of scenario occurred. By rule, possibly Google says, “if three of the same post appears on a page, then kill the least authoritative.” If the freshness of the news vertical times out, maybe my site is granted it’s appropriate return. This still doesn’t speak highly of Google’s internal canonicalization abilities.
So What’s My Best Guess?
Correlation doesn’t equal causation, so I have to go with my gut until I can get more information. Currently I suspect the answer lies in one of the above three explanations.
I’m publishing this post now, but expect to come back to it as I think a little more through it. Would love to see your thoughts in the comments!
Update 3/28/2013: Well, it’s been about a month, and my page no longer ranks for the term. The Yahoo duplicate content listing still does (on the first page as of this writing). It looks like the QDF and any internal canonicalization Google may do has worn off. Some of the web pages now dominating are strong, unique pieces. Some are low quality.
Quite disappointing. FAIL… and updated the title of this post accordingly
At the very least, hopefully this post is useful for someone in the same situation to understand more about how Google is currently processing through this issue. I urge you to read the comments, as more information is contained there.
Update 11/17/2013: Much time has passed. I’ve been noticing that duplicate content issues have seemed less and less dangerous for some of my clients. In the past couple months I saw Google start getting it right for two clients in particular, who struggled with some of the same issues I noted above.
I remembered this post and decided to do the query again. Now the duplicate pages are completely out of the index, and my URL is the first (and only ranking) piece. It came back. I’m quite pleased, actually.
It looks like Google may have gotten its act together a bit more in the recent months.
Once again, I updated the title of this post accordingly
It’s fast. It’s big. It’s sexy. It’s simple. It tracks links and mentions in aggregate, and so far, has proven to be faster than Google Alerts and Topsy. This is especially cool for SEOs banking on co-occurrence and citations in the future of ranking. Plus, it has a feed authority feature (in the vein of the defunct AlertRank) which could be pretty useful for many.
It provides a legend of search operators, most we can guess if we are fans of the operators that work in Google. Quotes, minus signs, “OR” – they work great. I picked a few terms that I know gets used in conjunction with my blog:
- bill sebald
- green lane seo
I have the option to input one at a time, or both in a string like “bill sebald” OR “greenlaneseo” OR “greenlane.wpengine.com” OR “green lane seo,” depending on whether I want an aggregate or comparison view. I can also scan web mentions as far back as “last four weeks.”
Not only did I find a post that linked to my site just today (this tool is fast!), but I also found a page that mentioned me but didn’t link. I’ll be emailing him shortly to see if we can’t turn that co-occurrence into a link.
Protip – This tool also lets you export, which after a little tweaking of the CSV, makes for a juicy import into Buzzstream for even better link management.
I’m usually very successful with finding and connecting my good content with relevant posts – a reason I love the broken link building tactics. I recently wrote a review for a Visual Link Explorer from Cognitive SEO. I saw State of Search did a write-up on the tool within the hour my post came out. I wrote to them and asked if they’d like to link to my review as more context for their readers. Unfortunately there was no response (hey, it happens to the best of us), but this tool makes the success of that tactic even more possible.
I entered “Visual Link Explorer” into the tool, and had a couple nice hits. I could easily contact all of these sites with my review, and try to negotiate a link. Think about the varieties of keywords you could enter here to find timely posts and content that is still within the webmaster’s attention span. I’ve always found it’s much easier to get a link on fresh content, than something that’s been long forgotten by the webmaster.
Is it missing content, links, and citations? Yes. But this is a really great start. These tricks worked great for me in my first hour of playing with it. Would love to hear what you can come up with in the comments.
Oh, and check this out too – Fresh Web Explorer Bookmarklets
Updated 3/21/2013 – On the heels of Fresh Web Explorer, SEOmoz has rolled the concept into Open Site Explorer with “Just Discovered.” This new tab shows the freshest links discovered by Open Site Explorer by scanning pages recently shared through social media. It appears pretty accurate, unfortunately some of the links they just discovered for me are year old links on popular websites.
Before starting this review, I want to highlight some good prospecting by Razvan Gavrilas. He read a comment I left on a post from Seer about data visualization and Google Fusion Tables, and reached out to me (for those who disagree with me about the power of comments, here’s more proof of value). Razvan emailed me through one of my e-mail accounts, to which I unwisely mistook as being a vendor looking to pitch. He then hit me on Twitter, to which I unwisely ignored thinking it was also a vendor pitch. He then added me on Linkedin, and finally got my attention. His persistence was impressive, and my ignorance was shameful. I wish I had taken notice sooner, as he was offering me a demo of a really incredible tool. Semi-serendipitously, I offered to do a review, and recommended the company to a few of my friends, one of which was Mike King who also shared it – he has much more amplification than I do. This is more proof that persistent, smart, personal outreach may not be scalable, but it’s still incredibly powerful. Now, on to the review…
I’m a very-right brained, visual person. I really like data visualization. The critique I left on the Seer blog about Google Fusion Tables was that the functionality wasn’t there to click through and look at specific data points. As an answer to that, the Visual Link Explorer by Cognitive SEO was born. In addition to the Visual Link Explorer, my demo gave me a huge array of link slicing tools, with a lot of filters and features. Unlike many link tools predecessors, this toolset was clearly created to serve the masses who may each be looking to gather different link metrics. On many reports you can filter on link strength, citation flow, count, etc. Also unlike some simpler link reporting and analysis tools, there’s a learning curve here. But like any robust analysis tool (like Omniture for instance), it may take some time to learn this platform. I see this being valued more by the enterprise agencies or in-house SEOs who are held to higher reporting and analysis standards.
I tinkered. I created a campaign and ran an audit on my company’s services domain and another Philadelphia SEO company’s domain. I already had a fair sense of their linking tactics – they have a lot of exact match anchor footer links embedded in clients’ websites. I wanted to see how the two link profiles compared. The campaign wizard prompted me through the initial steps (where I deepened the data pull), and returned massive digital reports within 7 minutes (which the system then saves for immediate review later). That was impressive considering how slice and diced data I had at my fingertips, right in my browser.
So jumping into the new Visual Link Explorer feature specifically, this was really the most impressive of all. A fully navigable, functional, clickable visualization of my link graph:
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Now here’s the comparison of my SEO competitor, which was just as easy to pull up:
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Right off the bat it’s pretty clear that we have two completely different link building, content marketing, and site architecture strategies. By examining the cluster above, I confirmed what I suspected about my competitor. They have hundreds of links pointing directly to their homepage, with very little variation of exact match anchor text – terms like Philadelphia SEO Company, and Philadelphia SEO. Surprisingly, while Google spanked a lot of this with the Penguin updates, this company still remains strong for these keywords. They rank very well, and this visualization helps me recognize (in seconds) their exemption, and possibly put together a plan to match them at their own game. In my opinion, that’s the biggest value of data visualization – the ability to “snapshot” the landscape quickly, and start driving actionable strategies. With a lot of clients or busy days, this is incredibly important.
Zooming into the interactive interface, I’m able to see links much closer (the scroll wheel on the mouse is heavenly for this). I’m also able to toggle Link Trust Flow, Domain Trust Flow, Link Citation Flow, Domain Citation Flow, and Link Rating.
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I’m able to click through each of the data points to get more information (in the form of a knowledge box), a fix for one of my biggest criticisms of other data visualization tools:
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It’s really pretty amazing, and I’m just tapping into it. My only criticism is (and I shared this with Razvan) is its missing some definitions, and by that I mean, clearly descriptive labels of what all the amazing data means. Novice link builders will get lost in this data, so I’d like to see it maybe cater to them more. This is a powerful tool and should be clearer so all SEO clients can benefit from an empowered (and fully comprehending) SEO service provider.
I would be shocked if this doesn’t quickly become part of an SEOs regular arsenal.
More coming soon – I’m going to create a video tour hopefully soon. In the meantime, to see some of the other reports from Cognitive SEO’s great tool, here are a few more resources: