Phantom Google Update May Have Tanked Your Traffic
23/09/15 Google's Algorithm Updates

Phantom Google Update May Have Tanked Your Traffic

No one saw it coming…mostly because Google never said anything. Here’s what “Phantom” does and what you can do about it.

Did you hear about Google’s new “Phantom” update?

You’re not alone if you didn’t – because no one else did either!

Google didn’t tell anybody about this one.

This Update’s Had a Huge Impact…

It mostly targets websites with loads of thin “How-to” type content. Some websites, following Google’s content guidelines from years ago, have hundreds or thousands of authors producing content.

The problem: Google views it as “thin” content, contributing nothing new or unique to the web.

So, sites like HubPages (lost 22% of its search traffic), eHow (remember how they used to dominate search years ago?), wikiHow, and have taken a painful beating.

But it’s not just hit the big guys. It’s a domain-level update, so it can hit a domain of any size – maybe even your domain. Plus, it’s separate from Panda or Penguin!

It could affect you – even if you have some decent quality content! This information’s according to G Squared Interactive’s Glenn Gabe (based in Lawrenceville, New Jersey).

What Were Some of the Websites Doing That Got Them Penalized?

Here’s some examples of things not to do, again according to Gabe:

  • Writing pages that have a long list of links to content on other areas of your website
  • Writing content just a few paragraphs long
  • Using articles as “clickbait,” just to get clicks, but not to provide useful info
  • Too much supplementary content (ads, recommended articles boxes, sidebars) on each page
  • Using too much third party content from other sites
  • Pages had waaaaay too many videos
  • Outdated designs that appear like they were made decades ago
  • A high amount of spammy and completely irrelevant comments on the page

How Do You Know If Phantom Got You?

There’s still a lot of uncertainty around this update. No one knows exactly when it rolled out.

But it did happen somewhere around the beginning of May. If you saw a 10-20% drop, or greater, in your web traffic, this update probably got you.

That leaves you with a few options:

  1. Keep things as-is and live with the traffic drop
  2. Rewrite thin “how-to” posts that are similar to many others on the web
  3. Keep building fresh new content that goes farther into depth than anything else on the web
  4. Re-evaluate the design of your web pages, and see how you might improve the user experience, rather than your business goals

You’ll probably have to do some combination of all of the above. Recovery won’t be quick, easy, or cheap.

You Can Do It Right the First Time!

All these changes sound scary. And they are.

But, Google’s talked about giving users the best possible experience on your website for years.

Always focus on what’s most helpful for your visitors first. Don’t add every new thing to “improve SEO” because you heard that’s what everyone else is doing.

Instead, keep things simple, your content quality high, and your rankings safe.

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Google’s Big Mobilegeddon Update’s Coming – Are You Ready?
27/03/15 Google's Algorithm Updates

Google’s Big Mobilegeddon Update’s Coming – Are You Ready?

How big will this update be? Google’s own Zineb Ait Bahajji, of its Webmaster Trends team, said it’s going to have more impact than both Panda and Penguin.

Search Engine Land, which made that statement, isn’t sure what this means precisely. All they know is this update’s going to be big – likely the biggest yet.

But if you watch Google closely, they’ve been recommending responsive design since at least June 6, 2012. They talk about it on their own Webmaster Central Blog. Some SEOs suspect having a responsive design has played a role in search rankings already.

What Google’s doing now, though, is much more drastic. If you don’t have a responsive design by April 21st, you will get actively penalized. Some good news – the penalty will only affect mobile search.

You Can Lose a Substantial Amount of Business from this Update!

To put the potential effects in perspective, let’s say you get 500 unique visits per month. 250 come from mobile devices (50%’s a realistic rate). Say 50% of those 250 visits, 125, no longer happen because you got a penalty. 50% loss of your mobile traffic is a good guesstimate – actual numbers may run slightly higher or lower (no one knows with 100% accuracy).

Who knows how many of your mobile customers buy, but that could represent an overall 25% loss in business overnight!

What is a “Responsive Design?”

It’s simple. It’s a design that scales to fit the screen on all devices – desktop PCs, laptops, smartphones, and tablet PCs.

So, your website should look like a normal website on each of those devices. Visually, it’s easy to get.

But writing all the code behind the scenes to make that happen takes work.

How Do I Check If I Have a Responsive Design?

You actually don’t even have to check – if your website is verified in Google Webmaster tools. Google is sending e-mails with the subject “Fix mobile usability issues”.

You know you have a problem if you get that e-mail.

If you want to check to be 100% sure, simply follow this link and enter in your web address.

If your site is NOT mobile responsive, you’ll see these horizontal scrollbars:

If you do have a responsive website, you’ll still get scrollbars, but they’ll only be vertical:

mobile responsive
In this case, I’m totally safe. Whew 🙂

What If I Don’t Have a Responsive Design?

You need to move fast and get a responsive design in place now. Web designers are going to get flooded with business.

You can wait until after April 21st too. But who knows how long it will take you to recover from the Google penalty? You could lose 25% of your business for several months!

Can I Make My Own Design?

You could, but design takes a lot of time to learn. And do you really want to spend 5 hours trying to figure out how to move an icon just 1/2 inch to the right? That’s what it’s like to learn coding from scratch.

Some business owners also think of going to free template-based websites like Wix. They make you feel good, but lack critical features like:

  • The ability to fully control your SEO (a major rankings hit)
  • Giving you control over your site and its content (Wix reserves the right to modify your site and content at any time!)
  • Wix isn’t even mobile responsive, but they let you play around with your site to get it to fit various screen sizes

If you don’t have a responsive design, get one now before it’s too late!

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Google’s Penguin 3.0 Is Coming Down the Pike…Are You Ready?
19/11/14 Google's Algorithm Updates

Google’s Penguin 3.0 Is Coming Down the Pike…Are You Ready?

Google expects to release Penguin 3.0 within 2014, reports Search Engine Land. It’s actually almost a year since the fifth Penguin update, Penguin 2.1, was released.

Did you know Google actually refreshes Panda monthly? Penguin 3.0 is expected to be a major update. And part of the update may include refreshing it more frequently like Panda so those impacted know where they stand.

Part of the reason it’s taken so long to get to the next Penguin update is that Google needs to completely refresh its data. It’s not a simple tweak to its algorithm, according to Google’s John Mueller.

One of the unfortunate negative effects of Penguin is that if you were penalized by it in the past, you don’t get your rankings back until the next refresh. So, many small businesses have been struggling to stay afloat for the past year while they’ve been awaiting the next Penguin update.

Most likely, Penguin 3.0 will be even more sensitive to paid, spammy, and low-quality links. Just one spammy link could negatively impact your search rankings.

Let me explain further.

What Should You Do?

There’s not a heck of a lot you can do – unless you’re technical and have a lot of time on your hands.

What you need to do to stay safe is to perform a complete audit of all the links pointing to your site. Here are some of the things you should look for:

Paid links – Google’s warned publicly to never have any of these pointing to you.

Exact match anchor text (EMAT) – You shouldn’t have any of these coming to your site either. An EMAT link would be one saying “personal injury lawyer Dallas,” or whatever would fit your business.

Spammy – This term is very broadly defined, which makes SEO so tough. Basically, “spammy” links come from low-quality websites. And “low-quality” is a broad and subjective term too. Generally, if the website the link comes from tries to regularly publish interesting, engaging content, and they have a respectable design, it’s going to be a good link.

Monitor for negative SEO – It’s not very fair, but negative SEO is a reality every website owner deals with. It may not actually happen, but you do have to watch for it.

It’s actually very easy to do. All your competitors have to do is go to low-quality forums, article directories, and website directories and start posting exact-match anchor text links to your website. It could be sooner or later before Google catches on, but they will punish you for your competitor’s actions.

Sound unfair? It is, but it’s one of the realities of SEO in 2014.

I have even been the victim of such negative SEO attacks.

Proactive Businesses Will Survive

If you’ve used a low-quality link building service, or you’ve built your own links, you may be at risk for a Penguin penalty. And when that refresh comes, it could tank your entire business – instantly.

Smart businesses who have any question about the quality of their links will audit them now and disavow any questionable ones. And if you’re looking for links in the future, you’ll focus exclusively on writing high-quality content and promoting it.

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Does Your Website Make Google Pigeon Happy?
19/11/14 Google's Algorithm Updates

Does Your Website Make Google Pigeon Happy?

First there was Panda, then Penguin, and then late last summer Google rolled out Hummingbird. Now, they’ve come out with Pigeon.

Search Engine Land actually took the reins and gave the update its name this time. What is it with Google updates and animal names? Well anyway, here’s the quick of what it does:

  1. Makes Local Search Rankings Work More Similarly to Organic/National Search

Google uses more than 200 hundred factors to determine where your website ranks in organic search. Organically, Google’s looking for fresh, original content, beautiful, well-organized websites, and naturally optimized web pages.

It’s too early to tell precisely what the ramifications will be for local search. But Google has at least made it clear it wants local search to work more like organic search.

  1. Eliminates the Local 7-Pack for Many Search Queries

Fewer search results are going to display it now. Experts are still debating whether this is bad or good for local SMBs.

  1. Local Directories Get Better Visibility in Search Results

In the past, Yelp accused Google of manipulating search results with its name lower in Google’s rankings. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know.

But Yelp gets better search visibility now. Others like Urbanspoon, TripAdvisor, and even very small directories few people know are getting better web rankings too.

  1. Search Radius is More Precise

“Search radius” refers to your geographic location, and what results appear when you do a local search. A post by Search Engine Watch notes in one instance this “has been reduced significantly.”

Other individuals have made conflicting reports. In the near future, we’ll know more about the true impact of Pigeon on search distance and location and your rankings.

How This Affects You

For the most part, it’s too early to tell exactly what’s going to happen to your web rankings. It will take a period of weeks, perhaps months, before I finally know Pigeon’s specific effects.

Initial reactions from other SEO experts are both positive and negative. So you could experience better or worse rankings, or perhaps little net change at all.

Undoubtedly, what you do need to do on your website now that Google is changing local search to be more like organic search is:

1) Use META title/description tags optimized with your keywords, but with an emphasis on natural language first.

2) Make sure all content on your geo-targeted city pages is 100% original for each city. You can talk about similar ideas, but the wording must be different.

3) Regularly update your website with useful, original content (2 times per month minimum, and more if you have the time/budget).

If you do all that (it’s actually quite a bit of work), you’ll be just fine in the rankings.

I know all this change is overwhelming and frightening – stay tuned to my blog. I try hard to never steer you wrong!

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How to Stay on Top of Panda 4.0 & Google’s General Ranking Factors
19/11/14 Google's Algorithm Updates

How to Stay on Top of Panda 4.0 & Google’s General Ranking Factors

Building a user and Google-friendly website, and maintaining one, is actually much easier than you think. Yeah, there’s 200 factors Google changes around twice per day.

But you don’t need to be afraid of it. When you stick to the general principles of what Google’s trying to accomplish with the web, you’ll be safe regardless of what the latest update does. I wrote a general guide on this – it’ll get you through Panda 4.0 too.

Here are some additional factors a little more specific to Panda 4.0 that you should watch out for also:

  1. Bounce Rate

This is the number of people that enter on a page on your site and leave. If the number’s high, above 70%, that means they’re not finding what they’re looking for. Google logically figures that page shouldn’t rank highly for targeted keyword searches.

  1. Engagement

The more social shares and bookmarks your content gets, the better it is in Google’s eyes. Some SEOs dispute whether this truly affects your rankings, but most seem to agree it’s going to be important in the future (if it’s not already now).

  1. How Many People Close Their Browser After Visiting Your Site

To Google, this indicates they found what they were looking for and stopped. If they don’t, that means to Google they’re going to keep looking for a better resource.

  1. Up-to-Date Code & Mobile Responsiveness

Google recommends mobile responsive design in its official blog here. By the way, if you like technical reading about SEO and the like, that’s the resource to go to.

Also, the coding you use to design a website changes over time. Google wants to see that your website loads in the most efficient way possible – which gives a great experience to your users.

  1. Valuable, Clear Content

Content is valuable if it entertains, informs, or persuades. Most sites go the informational route.

And that’s fine – just make sure you have unique information that’s only available on your website. That gives people a reason to visit your site instead of someone else’s.

It’s also got to be clear and professionally written in conversational language – that’s what today’s web reader wants.

And Here are Some of Panda’s No-Nos

  1. Duplicate Content & Meta Tags

When is content really “duplicate?” Some SEOs say 40% of the content on a web page has to be different from another page to be original.

If you look at it that way, though, you’re not understanding the full value of content. For geo-targeted city pages, it’s okay to repeat an idea using original language.

But for blog posts, that’s not. The idea with those is to be completely original so people have no reason to read at someone else’s blog.

  1. Linking Issues

You can use anchor text that matches your keywords exactly about 5% of the time. Nobody’s done a study to confirm that exact rule, but generally you don’t get in trouble with Google for it. If you want to be safe, go even less than that, or even 0%.

You also want “earned” and not “built” links. Built links come from places where the site owner doesn’t review them (common with forums or blog comments). Earned links happen when you expose your content to the public and they willingly choose to link to it in their own way.

  1. Website Structure Issues Like Sitewide Links

Sitewide links appear on every page of your website. As long as you use them in a non-manipulative way, they’re okay.

It’s okay to have a menu on every page of your site that links to all other pages on your site. That’s helpful for your visitors.

However, footer links can get you in trouble, depending on how you use them. If you link to the same place as the menu at the top of your page with different anchor text, that tells Google you’re trying to manipulate SEO authority. It hurts your rankings when Google catches you doing it.

  1. Over-Optimization

This is when you use the particular keyword you’re targeting way too much. You can get away with different densities on various types of content.

But you always want to use natural language first, and get those keywords in there second. It’s really quite simple – get that keyword in your URL, SEO title, meta description, on-page H1, and then another time or two in your content. You’ll rank for it or very closely related terms.

Don’t Worry about Panda 4.0!

At the end of the day, don’t emotionally go too far up or down with a particular Google update. If you keep doing what it wants – building a website that’s more useful than any other in your niche, you’ll do well in the rankings for the long run.

And you’ll definitely avoid penalties, some of which it is not possible to recover from.

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