Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Staying Out of Bad Neighborhoods

Part of the competition that exists for high rankings on search engine results pages includes web site owners and webmasters that are willing to cut corners and manipulate the search engines to reach their objectives. Defined as black hat techniques, these practices are targeted by the search engines and penalized when discovered. The penalties range in severity from demotion of a ranking to the stock market equivalent of a de-listing where the site is taken out of the search engines’ index.
Unfortunately, the spiders that crawl websites cannot delineate between the intentional and accidental implementation of practices that cross the line into perceived manipulation. One of those manipulative practices is the linking of a website into what Google refers as “bad neighborhoods”. These bad neighborhoods/websites are typically spammers or link farms that may be tempting due to the traffic they tend to generate. These spam sights started popping up after Google incorporated link popularity into its algorithm to count links as “votes” from relevant sites toward ranking websites.
With the weight given to link popularity, it is now one of the main focal points for search engine marketing. Well aware of the practice, Google and the rest of the search engines will penalize a site if it is deemed that the site is linking to a “bad neighborhood”. Google is pretty clear on this in their guidelines saying, “Don't participate in link schemes designed to increase your site's ranking or PageRank. In particular, avoid links to web spammers or "bad neighborhoods" on the web, as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links.” Fortunately, this guilt by association only goes so far. Sites are not penalized for inbound links from these same neighborhoods.
It can be difficult to determine whether a site or blogger you may want to link to has been penalized by the search engines at a glance but a download of the Google toolbar can reveal a site’s PageRank and whether it’s been removed from their index. On the toolbar, the sliding scale will show whether a site is indexed by the presence of a green bar which measures the site’s PageRank. Even the tiniest sliver of green in the scale means that the site is indexed and not on Google’s hit list.
The absence of any green in the scale is not irrefutable evidence that the site has been penalized but linking to it is going to represent more risk than reward for your site. The likelihood that this type of site has been penalized is much greater, however, and linking to it should be avoided.
Everyone has wandered into a bad neighborhood by accident at one time or another, and Google realizes that the same thing can happen on the internet. In another quote from their guidelines they state, “Also, be assured that we’re not looking to penalize folks for a ‘bad’ link here and there. Rather, our algorithms are tuned to look for patterns of ‘egregious’ linking behavior - both on individual sites and in the aggregate.”
The occasional mis-step is going to happen but, as in life, being aware of the areas that can be troublesome can keep you out of trouble and save you a lot of grief. The same can be said about the bad neighborhoods on the internet.

There is no need to be afraid of linking to sites whose scale shows only a tiny sliver of green on their scale. These sites have not been penalized, and their links may grow in value and popularity. However, do make sure that you closely monitor these kind of links to ascertain that at some point they do not sustain a penalty once you have linked up to them from your links page.
Call us today at 770-529-2262 or visit Gervais Group at http://www.gervaisgroupllc.com

Friday, April 5, 2013

Avoiding SEO Rip off’s

It’s a familiar story. A business owner gets a website built and, knowing he needs to drive traffic to the site to make it worthwhile, starts shopping for a company to do some search engine optimization. The bids that come in vary so much in price it’s like comparing apples and oranges. One of the biggest differences between the companies bidding for the owner’s business is that the ones with bids ranging from $100 to $200 all guarantee a page one ranking on Google, Yahoo, MSN, and the rest of the search engines in a matter of weeks. The bids that come in at $2,000 per month and above don’t come with any guarantees. Instead of guarantees, these companies give an estimate of hours doing link work, writing content, and doing press releases. “It’s a process, it can be done, and we’ll do all the necessary work to get you on page one”, goes the pitch. To make things even more confusing, the higher bids are more conservative about how long it will take to get to page one than the cheaper guys.

The business owner goes with the guarantees and low price of the cheapest bid. In real life, a nephew, a friend at the lodge, or his wife’s friend’s son just out of college can be substituted in place of the cheapest bid. At this point there are three possible outcomes for the endeavor:

1) Nothing – Either the winning bidder doesn’t have the wherewithal to deliver on the guarantees made or he does but ends up with a bigger, more lucrative project that takes most of his time. After dedicating long hours to the design, marketing, or whatever else the bigger project entails, there is just not enough time or energy to do what needs to be done on the smaller project. Both paths lead to the same destination; frustration, money spent, and no traffic to the site.
2) Something, but it’s not good – Trying to optimize a site by taking shortcuts and trying to trick the  search engines is one way to offer a labor intensive service for pennies on the dollar. Unfortunately, search engines are very good at detecting shortcuts and trickery and don’t take very kindly to either practice. “Black Hat” techniques, as they’re called, may be the only way to deliver on a guarantee for these types of companies but it also results in the site being black-balled from the search engines. The business owner is now put in a position where he has to shut down the original site and start from scratch with a new site.
3) The Business Owner Decides That Search Engine Optimization Doesn’t Work – Getting ripped- off with no results or getting them and then getting penalized for it, quite frankly, sucks. The bad experience convinces the owner that SEO simply doesn’t work and if there is going to be another website it will be one that people can find when they see its address on his business card.

This is a story that gets repeated on a daily basis which is unfortunate because search engine optimization/marketing, when done properly, can do exactly what it’s supposed to do. Doing it properly takes experience, creativity, and time. How much of each depends on the size of the market the business plans to address and how much existing competition there is in that market. A company in the business of supplying side view mirrors for ’55 T-Birds, for example, will require less search engine optimization/marketing than a company trying to get on page one for cell phone accessories.

Prior to starting a project, a responsible SEO firm will be able to determine keyword traffic, competition, and whether doing search engine optimization/marketing makes sense for the company. A viable project may take 100 hours of work to get started and 100 hours of work per month to achieve the desired end result of getting listed on the front page of the search engines. That works out to about $2 per hour for the guys bidding $200 per month for your project. As the saying goes, “If it seems too good to be true…”  

Algorithm Changes and Over-optimized Websites

As Google continues the follow-through on its mission to surface the sites that deliver the highest value information to its users, the king of search engines appears to be increasingly focused on penalizing sites that are over-optimized. There are several web design characteristics that can factor into a determination that a site has been over-optimized. If your site has any of the following, decreasing the optimization of your site may help to avoid being penalized and either preserve or improve its rankings on the search engine results pages (SERPs):

Titles that are so heavy with keywords that they don’t make sense – Increased sophistication at the search engine level means that stuffing titles with keywords will probably work against you. Instead, compose your titles so that they read logically for the people that visit your page and convey what the page is about.
Cramming footers with links – These types of links were once used in web design to score in search engine algorithms but not any more. Search engines now see this practice as designed to manipulate, which doesn’t make them happy at all. Instead, only put links in footers that will add value for visitors.
Useless content blocks – These keyword stuffed blocks are stuck on site pages to increase keyword density, adding nothing to the user experience. Instead, produce content for your site that is relevant to your related keywords and adds value for your visitors.
Links from farms and low-ranked non-relevant sites – It used to be “The more, the merrier” with backlinks, but no longer. As a caveat, losing these links will take a lot of work but it will be worth it. Instead, seek to build links selectively from relevant sources and authority sites.

The risk/reward ratios of all these practices are now heavily skewed toward the risk side of the equation as search engines target and penalize sites that use them. The second issue is that recovering from the penalties that are incurred can be a long and arduous path. With no upside potential and a very real possibility of disappearing from the SERPs these over-optimization practices no longer belong on your website. For more information on web design that aligns with the objectives of the search engines, visit: http://www.gervaisgroupllc.com/