For one reason or another, plenty of sites are in the doghouse. The dust has settled a bit. Google has gotten more specific about the penalties and warnings through their notifications, and much of the confusion is no longer… as confusing. We’re now in the aftermath – the grass is slowly growing again and the sky is starting to clear. A lot of companies that sold black hat link building work have vanished (and seem to have their phone off the hook). Some companies who sold black hat work are now even charging to remove the links they built for you (we know who you are!). But at the end of the day, if you were snared by Google for willingly – or maybe unknowingly – creating “unnatural links,” the only thing to do is get yourself out of the doghouse.
Ever wonder how powerful some of the oldest SEO recommendations still are? With the birds and the bears (and a little caffeine) changing so much in SEO since 2011, I wanted to see first hand some of the results we can get from some moves like internal linking and title tag optimization. Using my own site as the proving ground, and moving quickly between tweaks and first results to try and exclude any other ancillary update or change, I decided to test some optimizations I still see recommended or used in the field. The set of competing pages I chose below don’t move very often, so I thought this might be a good group to experiment with.
As an SEO I bet your chest just tightened up reading that. We’ve all been there. Our lot in life will put us there again. When the spotlight is put on natural search performance, it’s almost always put on you as a performer (at least semi-consciously). Maybe you feel threatened or defensive. The counter-arguments start squirting through your neocortex.
My fiancé loves shoes. Like the stereotype, she has a closet full. I don’t get it. I own three pair, and one pair are flip-flops. One afternoon she came into my office and said, “you’re the Google geek, find me these shoes.” She had a pair of Candie’s that broke right in the middle of the sole. I found out she searched for about 45 minutes looking for these shoes, to no avail – I suspect much longer than the average person. Challenge accepted – I’m supposed to be good at this, but within 30 minutes I couldn’t find anything either. I used everything from reverse image search to the most descriptive keywords I could image. I looked in CSE’s, Pinterest, Amazon, and a few major shoe retailers. I went deep into supplemental pages of smaller retail sites (which is a very scary place).
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. 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:
Here’s a quick link building (or link reclamation) tip for you. Google Webmaster Tools has really grown. Yeah, there’s still some squirrely reporting (like why my impression count is exactly the same every day), but the Crawl Errors function is vital for anyone who adds and removes a lot of pages, or has switched sites and URLs.
A client of mine recently got a new website. More than a reskin, 98% of the URLs had changed (for the better). With Screaming Frog and some insight on what the URLs were going to be, I was able to whip together a good .htaccess file to use.
The new site has been live for a few months now, and despite thinking I had the 404 issue pretty covered, I logged into the Crawl Errors tool in Google Webmaster Tools.
I thought I had it under control. Clearly not. But Google makes it easier than ever to fix. Click the Not Found button, and take a look at the list of 404’s it gives you.
Ideally you can clean these up with a couple sweeping server redirects. In my case I simply forgot to remove an old XML sitemap. But the beautiful thing is that each resulting page can be clicked for more information:
Are you of the video persuasion? Here’s the a screencast of the tactic:
And they did. The tests in the footer of this site showed it. Not only could Google index my pages that had the anchor text in them, but they could also index the thin destination pages. And they did so within 3 hours! Hey, they did say they’re obsessed with speed this year.
The Simple Experiment
I also tried:
Finally I tried:
Again, Success! I’m pretty satisfied with Google here. Bing and Yahoo? Not so much – they were only able to index the page with the anchor text. And even then, not every time. But they never claimed to be able to (that I’m aware of).
Now this isn’t surprising to some groups of SEOs, but it really is interesting how often I still hear old SEO recommendations as being critical today. Granted, this test isn’t exhaustive (the actual PageRank associated through JS links wasn’t tested – just crawlability), but it’s valid. I think some SEOs really need to get caught up to Google, and start implementing what really matters – user value, context, authority, recommendation, and community. Whatever you want to call it (SEO 2.0 or not), the wave is starting to build right now – get in front of it, and down shift on the old school SEO tactics.
Oh no – not another guy trying to create another marketing acronym!
Well, I care less about the acronym and the ‘coolness’ of labeling something, as I do the real principal behind what it is. As an SEO who came up with it for 10 years, I’ve realized I’ve taken a different path than many. I don’t get excited by the algorithm manipulations anymore. I don’t really get involved in the forum arguments on SEO minutia. I started my professional life as a marketing guy, in love with the art of thought and context, and somehow deviated into web and graphic design. SEO was a chance to connect it all together. Now I think I’ve changed in the same direction that search engines changed (or will continue to change). It’s not about “original content” as much as it’s about “original, valid, creative, editorial content with a purpose.”
Algorithms are headed in the direction of trust, reputation, and influence. Google wants to rank pages based on the way people would rank them if asked. Of course, there’s no way every human to assist Google on the billion of pages, so Google’s algorithms will have to grow. And based on the progress (and patented algorithms) we’ve seen in the last year or two, it’s really likely that they’ll get closer to achieving that goal. Is SEO dead? The odds of it dying are as likely as search dying – nada. It will just change, even if it means another acronym.
Searchable Content Optimization = Marketing
If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say it at all. Don’t create noise. There’s enough of that. But if you have a passion and a purpose, sing it from the rooftops. Defend it like it’s your child. Specialize in your vertical, and be an authority. Care less about the algorithm and more about your niche and the people you can connect with. Make the content easily available. Make it readable and crawlable (= searchable), and groom it to be your voice. Then, market the hell out of that content. Set it to the top of your hierarchy and speak to it from your other pages, other venues, other channels.
For me, SEO is art. And for me, in 2010, it is more art than science. The split is now flattening in my opinion. And if I had to pick an area to focus solely on, this would be it.