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Link Building checklist

Link building also sometimes goes by the name of “offsite optimization.” It is very important to your SEO efforts, and it’s also one of the most time and labor intensive. You can’t wish other webmasters into linking to your site, and when they do, what anchor text are they using? How will you get inbound links to deep pages in your content?

OK, sure: great content is important. But who has time to wait around for the world to finally discover your great content? You need a great plan to go along with your great content. Consider link building as a vital business strategy for your website’s long term success. It has to be integrated into your standard business practice and regularly tended to. Here is a checklist to determine if you’re doing what you need to in order to continually build up your constellation of links.

1. The easy stuff. Submit your site to DMOZ and the other standard directories. Submit your content for syndication and submit the occasional press release when it’s newsworthy. Create RSS feeds and submit it to feed lists.

2. If you have a mailing list of happy customers, thank them and offer them a free benefit for helping spread the word on a new product page. Give them link text that they can use in their own home pages and blogs. The freebie can be a coupon for free shipping on their next order, a free e-book download, or something similar.

3. Make sure that every page on your site has a “link to this page” box. This will make it easy for people to create deep links with correct keywords.

4. Offer a free web tool or script that performs a service and links back to your site. Make sure you have at least one keyword in the link text.

5. Find out who links to your competitor. Using a backlink competitor tool (as in the screen shot) can help. There’s nothing wrong with contacting sites that link to your competitor and asking for a back link. Be polite about it, and you’ll be amazed how many sites will agree.

backlinks compare

6. Stay away from link swapping and link buying. These practices will hurt your site’s PageRank and SERP standing. Link buying can get you banned from Google altogether.

7. Do you have the time to devote to link building strategies? If not, seriously consider outsourcing this work to a reputable SEO business that has a good track record of getting links. If you do have the time, build that time into your schedule, because it is very important to the long term health and growth of your site.

8. Keep a written record of the back links you pick up and what page they link to. This will benefit you in numerous ways. For one, it will help you judge which pages are most popular. It may point up deficiencies in pages that aren’t getting much link love, and it will let you know when your pace of back link building lags, indicating that you need to step up the effort.

9. While back links are SEO gold, internal link building is important too. Don’t neglect this aspect of your SEO strategy.

10. Make sure there are links to your site on all the social profiles you have for your business or website. Build a link into your email signature, and on forums and comment threads that allow it use a link to your site in some of your comments, but by no means all of them. If comments are monitored and it looks like the only purpose for your comment is trolling for back links (Comments like, “Great post! I hope you’ll stop by my site at http://www.myawesomewebsite.com”), then you might get booted off the site.

11. Offer to write a guest post on a blog you admire that’s relevant to your website. This is a great way to squeeze yourself some healthy link juice.

12. Don’t get links from sites that themselves link out to SEO related sites like link building software, link building clubs, paid link building, and SEO forums.

13. Don’t get links from sites that discuss Google PageRank in their ad sections. These have a whiff of desperation about them that Google can sniff out easily.

At the root of all this is knowing why you’re building links and what you want to get out of the process. If you do it right, you can get more traffic to your site, better SERP position, higher PageRank, and a healthier bottom line for your business. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the things a webmaster has to do to keep his or her site in top form and attracting all the traffic it deserves. There’s social media strategy that requires time and effort, on-page SEO to be tended to, link building, and all the while if it’s an e-commerce site, you have to actually run the business too!

Most webmasters have to map out the tasks specifically: “Twitter / Facebook updates every day by noon; 30 minutes on link building strategy every day after lunch; 30 minutes monitoring competing sites every morning first thing;” etc. So many of these things seem like things you can easily do on the side, but they’re important enough to require your full attention, and you could easily let them slip unless you write them into your work schedule. Good content, good strategies, and good discipline are what it takes, and no, there really aren’t any shortcuts.

Used properly, social media can help you with market research, learn about the type of people interested in your business, and build your customer base with only the investment of time. Using social media to build your site traffic and improve visitor loyalty is one of the biggest trends for 2010, and small businesses everywhere are doing it to make their businesses better and increase their sales.

Even though there’s no way around the requirement for having good content, a social media campaign built as a framework around your great content can sincerely help your efforts along. And you can track your success due to your social media campaign pretty easily. Here’s a checklist of the things you should do to make your social media campaign work hard for you.

Steps to a successful social media marketing campaign

social media1. Step 1 is the biggie: get involved. Social networking is a giant conversation between businesses and customers and among the customers. Setting up your presence on the big social media sites (Facebook and Twitter are the hot sites right now.) is easy and quick, and there’s no reason not to try it. You’ll be able to increase brand awareness and build up relationships with customers. The marketplace is heavily competitive, particularly with the world economy still lagging, so don’t miss out on the opportunities social media brings.

2. Block out time or assign a staffer to dedicate to social media marketing. Just Tweeting something whenever you happen to think of it and have a minute or two isn’t good enough. Plan for daily updates. Write it into your schedule. It’s like exercising in that if you don’t schedule it and realize that it’s important, you won’t bother. Regular updating and interacting with followers are important enough that they should be part of your (or your staffer’s) regular work schedule.

3. Remember that social media participation is a give and take relationship. Signing up and spamming everywhere will hurt rather than help your business. Twitterers will stop following you the minute they think you’re only on there to spew links and bombard them with ads. It’s only 140 characters, but you can do a lot with it as far as making it actually say something.

4. Check and double check the quality and make-up of your content. If you put up a new “Top 50” list on your blog and each of the 50 items on the list come with an image, think about what happens if your dream comes true and thousands of visitors at once want to read it. Will it exceed your host’s processor’s bandwidth limitations? You’re better off using Picasa or Flickr for hosting your images so you don’t use up your hosting resources on extras.

5. Add social media vote buttons and badges. Sure, visitors can go to Digg.com and manually digg your blog post, but they won’t. Have a Digg button and make it easy.

6. Be aware of events that are going to swamp your social media posts. Huge news events like earthquakes and celebrity deaths are going to put the strain on the social media networks. It may be best to wait it out for a day or two. Avoid trying to compete with known big events like elections and holidays. Those are days when you can and should keep it light rather than announcing a new product.

7. The corollary to Step 6 is to pick a good time to launch something big. On what days do you pick up the most attention on Twitter and Facebook? What time of day is best? Do it then.

8. Keep a close eye on analytics during any social media campaign. Instant traffic stats are very helpful in finding out what’s working well and what isn’t. Tracking the number of inbound links both before and after a social media campaign is important, particularly if you’re doing a social media campaign as a consultant for someone else. You want to be able to see how well the campaign is working. SocialMention is a good website for tracking chatter about your brand on social media sites. The interface is very simple, as you can see in the screen shot. SEMrush (see screen shot) is a tool that lets you find out what a page is ranking for and other goodies like the Google keywords for a given site.

Socail Media Mention

Social Mention

semrush

SEMRush

9. Keep an eye on Digg, Stumbleupon, and reddit to see what type of articles in your niche regularly make it big on those sites.

10. If you can do it regularly and do it well, start a blog. The web is littered with carcasses of old blogs that people started and then abandoned. Don’t let this happen to your brand. If you start a blog, update it regularly. Once a week is good, and once a day is better. Blog posts don’t have to be long, and they don’t have to be Pulitzer Prize material. Blogs are for keeping interested parties updated and engaged. Allow comments (moderated if necessary) and answer at least a few of the comments.

The bottom line is that as a webmaster, you avoid social media at your own peril. It is something important enough that you should devote regular blocks of time to taking care of social media updates, interactions, and metrics. Two similar websites selling the same thing using a similar design or approach can have very different success rates depending on which one uses social media like Twitter and Facebook to their best advantage. Make sure that’s you and not the other guy.

content creation

Everything you read about SEO at some point comes back to the same thing: offer great content. You can put every SEO tactic to work at the same time, but if your site doesn’t have great content, it’s like putting Robert DeNiro in a Valentino cocktail dress and Christian Louboutin heels: it’s worth a look, but you’re probably not going to go back to it very often. Whether you write the content in-house or outsource it is really a matter of your staff makeup, your budget, and your preferences.

Regardless of whether you in-house or outsource your content writing, here is what you need to know about good web content.

First of all, people usually don’t “read” on the web. It’s like a glossy magazine. People scan pages looking for images or headlines that appeal to them and often skip past entire blocks of text. Good web content has number of attention-snaggers: the occasional boldface font, headings and subheadings, and plenty of white space around the content. Headings need to be simple and clear. Links must stand out by way of color or underlining, and lists, whether bulleted or numbered, should be used where appropriate. Lists shouldn’t have more than about 10 items, and in general, the shorter the list the better.

The first screen shot is part of a page from Ars Technica (arstechica.com). This is how good web content should be displayed. The title indicates that there will be a list. The graphics are clean and include a helpful screen shot. The headings break up the text into digestible chunks, and there isn’t a bunch of annoying flashy stuff trying to give you a migraine.

Keep in mind that people read screens about one-quarter slower than they do a printed page, and that screen reading is harder on the eyes. Keep the fonts at 10 or 12 point size. Internal links will let your readers jump to the parts of the page they’re interested in. If your external links open in a new window, let your reader know. Some users flip out when they click a link and suddenly windows are opening everywhere. The anchor text to your links should be descriptive. Sure, you’re going to use the occasional “click here,” but try to keep that to a minimum and use anchor text that’s descriptive.

If you’ve written a page that you expect will be printed out for reference purposes or whatever, here are a few points to bear in mind. Keep the links to a minimum for stuff to be printed, since they won’t be clicking them from their paper. If you make a “print version” of a page, indicate in your robots.txt file that the print version shouldn’t be crawled. That will ensure that you don’t get dinged for duplicate content.

On paper, serif fonts are easier to read. Who knows why, but it’s true. Your print pages should be black text, white background, and a minimum of graphics. One of the fastest ways to incur the wrath of a visitor is to give him a print page that will drain all the ink from his printer.

But back to the web pages that will be read on-screen.

Make sure each page uses its <title> tag properly. The information in these is seen in search engine listings, history listings, and favorites. They’re what other webmasters use as link text when they link to your site. The first word in the title is most important. Think about it: if your visitor has half a dozen tabs open in her browser, the titles of those tabs will get shorter and shorter until they’re just one word long. Since that one word is the first one in your title tag, make it count.

The addendum to this rule is that if you have a large site, make sure each page has a title all its own. Sure, this is a pain and it’s tedious, but your site will perform better in the search engines if you go ahead and do this.

Your content should start with the conclusion. If you write your pages so that you build up to a whammo conclusion, nobody will read it because they won’t get that far. This isn’t Walden, and you’re not Henry David Thoreau. You want to start out with the big news and then go into the details. The phrase “above the fold” is even more important to web readers than newspaper readers. They’re not likely to scroll down for something unless they’re hooked by the first or second sentence.

Writing good web content is work, and you may not have the time or inclination to do it. That’s when you consider outsourcing. You already know that your website needs to be updated regularly, and if you don’t have someone on your staff who’s gung-ho to do this (and can be the alloted the necessary work time), then you should consider hiring someone to do it.

If you hire a freelancer or go through an agency, it is important to clearly define an initial job for the writer. Try to be as specific as possible as to tone, topic, length, and how densely keywords or key phrases need to be included. Consider their first assignment a test run and see how well it meshes with your needs. You may want to keep this person on hand regularly because updating your site needs to be regular. It almost doesn’t matter how often you update – though the bigger tech blogs are updated more than once a day – but regular updating is a big plus and it builds up your site’s archive of valuable information while you’re building PageRank and ascending in the search engine rankings.

choosing domain names

Some people have the idea that the best domain name is the most generic, but that’s not always the case. In most cases, a domain name tied to your brand is better. Think about it. If you’re searching for a certain brand of organic pet food, a domain name matching that brand is going to be more intuitive to you than simply organicpetfood.com (which, as of this writing, is available). The name that you use to advertise your products is almost always the best name for your domain. People who don’t search will try this first in their browser, and if it matches, they’ll almost certainly remember it.

(more…)

Increase Email Opt-In

It seems that practically every webmaster understands (or has at least heard) that email marketing is important. The problem is, too many webmasters just stick an email newsletter signup form on their website and figure that they’ve got email marketing taken care of. Nothing could be further from the truth.

An email marketing campaign needs to be carefully planned, setup and optimized for maximum performance. There are many aspects of an email marketing campaign that need your serious attention – opt-ins, messages, deliverability, open rates, etc. This article will just cover one important aspect: email opt-in rate.

In this article, I want to cover three keys to a high opt-in rate that every email marketer should constantly work to improve. (For the purposes of this article, it does not really matter if your campaign is primarily a newsletter or autoresponder.)

Key #1: The Offer

The first step to maximize email opt-ins is to offer website visitors a strong value in exchange for subscribing. In most cases, just offering a newsletter is not a strong enough offer – you need something with a much higher perceived value.

One of the best offers is to give a free ebook or whitepaper to subscribers. It does not have to be extensive – oftentimes a 5-10 page ebook that is filled with solid, valuable information will work very well. Make sure that the free gift that you offer subscribers will be appealing and offer value to each segment of traffic that visits your website (or as many of the segments as possible).

An example of a free ebook offer:

Guide

(Note how the free ebook in this case is actually relatively promotional in nature. In small, product-focused niches, this strategy often works well. In other markets, you’ll usually need to offer a more educational ebook.)

Key #2: The Opt-in Form

The opt-in form on your website should be crafted and optimized to convert as many visitors as possible into subscribers. The form should be:

  • Prominent – Place the opt-in form above the fold on your website and ensure that it is easy to see. You should split test various locations, colors, and designs.
  • Compelling – Typically, you will have a small space to present your offer and opt-in form. Take the time to craft compelling copy for your opt-in form. Split-test different headlines, images, submit button texts, etc.
  • Easy – Make sure it is as easy as possible for visitors to opt-in. Do not ask for more fields than you need (usually just name and email address should be enough) and make sure each aspect of the opt-in form is easy to understand and use.

Example of a poor opt-in form:

Poor Email Opt in

Examples of strong opt-in forms:

good

good

Key #3: Getting Your Subscribers To Double-Opt

Note: If you aren’t already, you should be requiring subscribers double-opt in. (We’ll just assume that you are for the rest of this article.)

It is essential that you optimize your double opt-in process, since a poorly constructed process can “leak” a substantial number of subscribers. A well-constructed double opt-in process, though, could reasonably get 70-80% of subscribers to complete the opt-in. (While losing 20 to 30% of subscribers may sound bad, realize that a substantial portion of those are probably users who mistyped their email or intentionally submitted an incorrect e-mail.)

Here are several factors you should look at to improve your confirmed opt-in rate:

  • Thank you page – the page that subscribers see after completing the single opt-in is pivotal. This page should make it blindingly clear that the opt-in process is not completed, and that they need to check their e-mail to complete the process and receive their free gift.Example of a strong than you page header: “Important: Please check your email for your confirmation message”
  • Confirmation email – make sure that the subject line of the double-opt in email makes it very clear that the user’s response is required for them to get the free gift that they requested. In the body of the email, make it clear that the user will be able to instantly download the free gift as soon as they click the confirmation link.Example of a strong confirmation message subject: “Response Required: Please confirm your ebook download request – _______”
  • Deliverability – it’s a factor that is easy to forget, but make sure that your confirmation emails are being delivered and that they’re not being caught by spam filters. An easy way to check this is to signup for your list using several free email addresses from the top providers (Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, etc.) and test deliverability yourself.

Summary

Achieving a high email opt-in rate is the starting point for a successful email marketing strategy. Hopefully the tips outlined in this article help you as you continually work to increase your email opt-in rate.

Adam ThompsonAbout The Author

Adam J Thompson is Senior Partner at RYP Marketing, providing search engine marketing, conversion rate optimization, and online marketing results to clients around the globe since 2006. You can follow Adam on RYP Marketing’s Facebook page.

social media marketing

And you thought the web would allow you to hide in your mom’s basement and run a business to fund your beer and gamer laptop obsession without having to experience direct sunlight or interact with others. Silly you. Being sociable on the web isn’t just neighborly, it’s downright required for running your website or e-business successfully. Fortunately, there are enough tricks and tips today that you can do a lot of it from the privacy of your own office, cubicle, or sofa. Here are five steps to making sure you’re not left behind by the social media tsunami.

1. Go Old School.

This means developing actual face-to-face relationships with real human beings. It can be daunting if you’re the shy type, but the investment of time and occasionally money will pay off in a big way. Attend trade shows, business expos, and other events in your community. Even grant-writing workshops can be great opportunities for building up your flesh-and-blood network. Many communities have business clubs just for people who run their own businesses with the sole purpose of trading information and leads. Try it.

2. Prepare and Plan.

Social media sites help bring together individuals. Keep an eye on the proceedings and get a sense of what people in your field are talking about. Follow people in your industry on Twitter. Get a feeling for the general vibe. Are these deadly serious interactions? Or are they more casual and non-intimidating. Know the climate you’re entering.

You should also know whether you are interested in connecting with marketing experts, product developers, designers, or just plain customers and seek these people out. If you have employees develop a social media policy with guidelines on appropriate ways to engage in social media marketing online. While the attractive redhead in product development might attract plenty of attention with pictures of herself leaning over a copier, you won’t be seen as a serious enterprise (unless you’re a producer of adult content). Get everyone in your firm on the same page when it comes to social media marketing.

Start small. Participate in one or two social media platforms at first, and build your strategy from there. While social media marketing is increasing in performance it doesn’t mean you have to tackle every single platform all at once. Doing so is a recipe for miscommunication and potentially marketing disaster, particularly if you don’t have a social media policy in place.

3. Listen twice as much as you talk.

Know what conversations you’re entering before you enter them. Barging into a conversation with a horribly tone-deaf statement will be something you’ll have to make up for an will cost you valuable social media marketing time. There are several ways you can monitor conversations and social media content to get an idea of the general zeitgeist.

Try Social Media Firehose (http://pipes.yahoo.com/update_maker/social_media_fire_hose) to track a niche or brand across a large range of social media sites. As you can see in the first screen shot, I’ve chosen to track “Nexus One phone.” I don’t care to filter by location, and I’m not interested in filtering out certain domains or URLs (such as my own Tweets on the subject). Once I click on “Run Pipe,” after a minute or two I can look at a map or a list of the latest chatter about the Nexus One phone. The second screen shot shows part of the list of results I got. I can click on any of those and find out the latest of what people are saying on social media about the Nexus One phone.

social media

social media 2

4. Interact with people.

It’s best to start out small: leave comments on blogs, build a Twitter community, or upload images to Flickr. Create a Facebook page. Generally speaking, the more sociable you are (without being stalky or annoying) the more positive interaction you’ll get and the better your company will look from the social media universe. If you’re prone to “forget” to interact, or if you’re prone to never stop interacting once you stop, it’s a good idea to structure time into your schedule to participate. Maybe you could block out the first half hour after lunch to interact on social media sites. It’s long enough to make your presence known, but it doesn’t blow the entire afternoon.

5. Stop and reevaluate.

It may be worth meeting with staff weekly to discuss the things you’ve learned from your social media marketing activity. Have you learned anything new about your customers and potential customers? Did you get any product or company feedback? Are you managing the company’s reputation well? Do customers know you better now? Has there been an up-tick in sales, leads, or site visits?
Social media marketing is here for the foreseeable future, so you might as well make the most of it. If you do it right, you can get a lot in return for your investment of time. While there will continue to be trends and fads about which sites are the hottest and which are so-five-minutes-ago, it doesn’t look like social media marketing is going to go away. If your competition hasn’t already started using social media marketing, being the first is awesome. If they have, then you’ll just have to be both different and better at it. It’s like any marketing strategy: you’ll invest time, energy, and money (whatever that time is worth), and in the end, you hope to build up your brand and get more customers. Don’t pin every hope you have on social media marketing, but don’t sit it out either. The opportunities in it are too big to ignore.

analytics tools

Whether you have a blog or a full-fledged e-commerce site, you probably are curious about how many people visit your site, which pages are most popular, how many page views you get, and how long visitors stay around. Fortunately, there are several free analytics programs you can get right online to help you dig into the numbers your website is generating and learn what stories those numbers tell. Four such programs are Onestatfree.com, Google Analytics, Piwik, and GoStats.

Onestatfree.com

Onestatfree.com is a free subset of onestat.com, which provides web analytics for marketers and webmasters. The paid version starts at $125 per year and provides information on visitor behavior, conversions, and online advertising, plus a full range of website statistics software. Onestatfree is a hit counter that is password protected and has the ability to track an unlimited number of pages. It also gives you information about your visitors and your site for free. You can see an example of the information Onestatfree gives you on the first screen shot. To get Onestatfree, just go to onestatfree.com and register. You’ll be given a snippet of code to insert into your website’s source code that will start monitoring and analyzing visits to your site.

onestatfree

Onestatfree has a directory based on web statistics, and when you use the service, your website is automatically listed in the categorized charts based on web statistics. This is a way to easily see the most popular websites in each category based on Onestatfree statistics. Your site starts being listed as soon as the first visit is tracked by the counter. Categories of websites in the directory are: Arts, Business, Children, Computers & Internet, Culture & Religion, Education, Employment, Entertainment, Finance and Money, Games, Government, Health & Fitness, Hobbies & Interests, Home & Garden, Life & Family, Marketing, Movies & Television, Music & Radio, News & Media, Personal Homepages, Pets, Science & Technology, Society, Sports, Tourism & Travel, and Weblogs.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics is perhaps the most famous of the free analytics packages. It gives you a broad range of information about your site, including advertising return on investment, cross-channel multimedia tracking (as you can see in the second screen shot), customizable reporting, and many ways to visually represent your site’s analytics. Using Google Analytics is also a matter of installing code into the source code of the website you want to track. Users of Google Analytics include some big names, like The American Cancer Society, Discount Tire, Yelp, Huffington Post, and RE/MAX Global Real Estate.

google analytics

If you use Google AdWords, then you can integrate Google Analytics with it and review your online campaigns and track things like the quality of your landing page and your conversions. You define conversions as sales, lead generation, page views, or downloads. You can also use Google Analytics with Google AdWords to determine which ads perform best. You can identify poorly performing pages by looking at where your visitors come from (their referrers), and their geographical location. You can add up to 50 site profiles to Google Analytics, and each site must have traffic lower than 5 million pageviews per month, unless the site is tied to an AdWords campaign, in which case it can be bigger in terms of visitors.

Piwik

Piwik is an open source, GPL licensed website analytic software program that is downloadable. Piwik gives you real-time reports on website visitors, including information like which keywords and search engines they used, what language they use, and which of your pages are most popular. Piwick calls itself the open source alternative to Google Analytics. It is a PHP MySQL program that you download and install. After the installation process, you get a JavaScript tag that you copy and paste into the source code of websites you want to track. An example of the type of reports you can get is shown in the third screen shot.

piwik

Piwik is constantly adding new features, like goal tracking, that can help you optimize your affiliate income if you participate in an affiliate program. Piwik 1.0, to be released in 2010, has already added some new features, like a one-click update check, new JavaScript tagging, and a dashboard to track multiple sites.

Gostats

Gostats is another free hit counter that provides stats on not only the number of visitors to your site, but also information about page views, page popularity, and return visitors, as you can see on the fourth screen shot. Like the other free analytics software programs, you visit gostats.com, create an account, and copy and paste a small bit of code into your website’s source code. GoStats will then start tracking your site data. If you want more data than the free version of the software provides, you can upgrade to the professional version of GoStats. Another interesting page on the GoStats site is a huge chart comparing web hosting services in terms of price, how much disk space and bandwidth they provide, monthly cost, and initial setup cost. The three plans highlighted in green at the top of the chart are paid listings. You can narrow the chart down by specifying monthly costs or setup costs.

gostats

If you upgrade to GoStats Professional, you’ll get comprehensive site and data analysis, with regular reports and displays of visitor traffic on a map of the world.

Web analytics can be as simple or as complex as you want them to be. Whether you simply want the ego boost of knowing that your blog is being read, or whether you need lots of numbers crunched in order to maximize your site’s profitability, you can get that functionality easily. While Google Analytics is the leader of the pack, there are plenty of other options that you can try so you can find the analytics that are right for you.

Domain Penalties II
In Part I, we talked about how to determine if your site has been banned or penalized by Google and what to do about it. This part delves more into Google penalty folklore, and how the search engine is constantly changing and evolving to counter nefarious work-arounds that people develop to game the search engine world.

In August and September 2009, Google made changes that demote a site by 50 places in the rankings if you are penalized. At this time, variation of anchor texts grew in importance even more than it had in previous years. The “rules” of building natural anchor text change a lot. Not that you should stop using natural anchor text. More on that later.

Here are five things you probably shouldn’t spend much, if any, time worrying about anymore:

  1. Alexa Rank is tilted enough toward online marketers that it does not tell nearly enough of your web traffic story to be worth much.
  2. Google back link data can be dicey. Suppose a random sample is returned with your most spam-laden link? Don’t make major decisions based on Google back link data. You want the kind of links that come along with good content. You’ll find them with little page widgets like the one in the screen shot.
  3. Google cache date is overused to where great pages can be returned with no cache set. Therefore cache date is irrelevant too.
  4. Google PageRank can be randomized to throw SEO experts off. Apparently Matt Cutts has confirmed this, as can be seen here.
  5. Precise anchor texts are officially “out” since anchor text filters have been in effect for quite some time now.

DNS level penalty part II

The so-called “minus 50 penalty,” a filter in Google operates on the domain, page, and keyword level. In other words, pages drop by 50 positions in the ranking because of over-optimization of keywords the page has been linked to, either internally or externally.

What does this mean? Un-optimize your keywords?

Actually, yes.

Since the moods of Google change fairly rapidly, the things that worked last year may not work now. If you’re hit with a penalty, all you can do is fix the problem, suck it up, and move on starting today. Various webmasters have said that it takes 60 days to get rid of the penalty, so the sooner you deal with it the better.

Something else you must do is change up your anchor texts. Don’t just use one hot keyword to link all your links. And you can’t just vary them singular and plural. You have to use everything from natural language phrases to pieces of keyword phrases to misspellings and typos. What you don’t want is to overdo the linking with the hot keywords and phrases. Write your anchor texts as if you don’t care about squeezing every last bit of juice out of a particular keyword or phrase.

When it comes to anchor text variety, your best bet for figuring it out is to check out what your best competitors are doing because there’s no exact number of times a keyword text can be used to anchor links. The key is not to be too far out of line when compared to your competition.

Page level penalties are becoming more common, whereas before, penalties were usually applied at the domain level. In many cases the page level penalties are hitting home pages of  sites. Key phrase specific penalties are becoming more common too. This happens when there are easily detected paid links pointing to a page with exact anchor text for one key phrase. The problem is, the page can continue to get search traffic for some phrases, but not the one you want.

Apparently the reason Google does it this way is that sometimes Google susses out paid links, and sometimes it doesn’t. If the algorithm is going to hand out penalties for paid links, it needs to prevent itself from messing things up for a site too badly if the algorithm thinks there are paid links when there aren’t. Therefore, they limit the penalty to one specific page and one specific key phrase so that an entire site isn’t penalized in the even to of a mistakenly applied penalty. Of course, the best thing to do if you have paid links is get rid of them and wait for your site to be crawled again.

These page level and key phrase specific penalties are sometimes hard to detect, but there are some things you can do that might give you clues that your site is on the receiving end of a page level key phrase specific penalty.

  • If you have paid links from a link network that it would be easy for Google to pick up. Get rid of them. If you haven’t been penalized yet, you will. It’s just a matter of time.
  • Paid links use identical anchor text and point to the exact same page. Again, get rid of them.
  • If the page linked to doesn’t have a good ranking for the target key phrase, you can be hit with a “minus 30” penalty or worse.
  • If the page ranks OK for similar key phrases, then you could be the target of a key phrase level penalty. Test your ranking across several similar key phrases.

In the long term you’re always better off using above board link practices, such as the following:

  • Don’t purchase links for Page Rank. Seriously, why would you do this? Google uses PageRank mostly as a signal that it has been banned. The ego-stroking that a high PageRank gets you isn’t what gets you traffic, search engine ranking, or conversions. Make yourself not care about it.
  • Don’t have links on duplicate content pages such as article sites and article directories. And don’t add links into ancient pages without changing their content.
  • Put in some no-follow links on relevant pages. If you add a no-follow tag, it still passes along relevancy and trust, even if PageRank juice isn’t passed along. Not that you would care, because you know not to care about PageRank, right?
  • Links on relevant pages and in appropriate context are what you need. Simple, but true.
  • Domain trust is very important, both from your domain and from domains linking to you. Domain trust has to do with domain age, and that site’s links. If your page has a link from a page that links to bad neighborhood sites, then by the mysterious Google transitive property, you may look sleazy by association.
  • Conversely, “juicy” pages pass value to you if you put a link on it. Juicy pages are ones that rank for a keyword or phrase that is important to you, regardless of PageRank or other metrics.

The moral of this long story is that while domain level penalties appear to have peaked, you have to watch out for page level and keyword specific penalties. While Google’s intentions in doing this were probably honorable, these penalties can be a little harder to figure out than domain level problems, particularly keyword and key phrase level penalties. If you have paid links, shady links, or happen to link to a nice looking site that itself has questionable link issues, you need to fix these things now. It isn’t always easy finding out which of the sites you link to themselves link to porn or other dodgy sites, but it’s worth checking out. The bottom line is that if you shun all questionable practices, build links organically, and continue to provide fresh, relevant content with natural sounding anchor text for links, your site will bubble upward and is almost certain to resist getting penalized.

Guide To Google Penalties

Has your website’s search engine ranking dropped drastically for no apparent reason? It is possible that your site has been hit by a domain level penalty from Google’s web spam team. A domain level penalty means your whole site has been demoted drastically in the search engine rankings – not just certain pages of it. The bad news is this can be difficult to pin down. While there are tools to help you figure out if your site has been penalized, there is a degree of speculation about it.

When your site’s Google search engine ranking takes a hit suddenly, then you can pretty easily conclude that you have done something wrong in the opinion of Google. They’re not all that specific about what happens when they “catch” you doing something wrong, and exactly how they penalize you. But in general, there are a few categories into which these mistakes fall, and there are ways to make a reasonable conclusion about which sin you’ve committed.

Here is how to figure out if you’ve been hit with a site level penalty.

  • Is your site still indexed?
  • If not, you may have been banned. If you think this is the case, verify it with Webmaster Central, fix the problem you think caused you to be banned, and file a re-inclusion request.
  • If your site is still indexed, find out if it still ranks for its domain name.
  • If not, you may have been hit with a penalty for keyword stuffing, manipulative linking, or cloaking. Get rid of your bad outbound links – particularly any paid links. Then go to Webmaster Central, beg forgiveness, and submit a re-inclusion request.
  • If your site does still rank for its domain name, find out if it still ranks highly when you search on five or six unique terms in your title tag.
  • If it doesn’t, then your links have probably been cleansed of any value they had. If Google finds out about any attempts to pass link love, it penalizes it. Fix the problem, plead your case with Webmaster Central, ask for re-inclusion, and next time get your links honestly.
  • If your site still ranks highly when you search on several unique terms in your site tag, then you’re probably not penalized at all, but just lost ranking naturally. Maybe some spam comments got through, or maybe it’s time to review your on-page SEO.

Google Penalties Explained

Cataloging the various Google penalties people have come across is like trying to herd cats. Whatever relationship exists between the punishment and the crime either isn’t transparent, or is not handled evenly across the board. Being banned is, of course, as bad as it gets, since your site is suddenly not able to be found. This usually only happens when some kind of serious deception is going on on the site. But there are a few activities that have been pinned down as sending the Google gods into a frenzy.

Domain level redundancy is one thing that can get you penalized. This is what happens when webmasters clone sites. In other words, they point the Domain Name System (DNS) from several domains into the same directory. This makes each domain display exactly the same site.

If you duplicate the same content over several pages or sites, or if someone copies your site or content, Google will ding you for content redundancy. If you think someone else is ripping off your content, check Copyscape and see if you can track it down.

Purchasing a number of domains, each of which address separate keyword targets is now considered punishable.

If Google thinks you’re a link seller, your links will rapidly mean zilch. If your links do not pass on PageRank juice, they’re worth less than the pixels they’re written on, even if you are using them on your own site.

There is a certain amount of mystery surrounding the Google “sandbox” theory. Some people believe that young sites are penalized. You don’t see this penalty unless you try to SEO the heck out of it within the first few months of the site’s existence. Apparently there is a certain amount of dues paying your site has to do before your SEO starts getting respect from the big guys.

Does your site support (or appear to support) porn, gambling, or “male enhancement” sites? Well, duh. Of course you’re going to get penalized. Same with spam.

If your site may be perceived as a threat to national security, like if you sell fake IDs or something, your site will be penalized. If a third party hijacks your search engine rankings by means of cloaking and proxy, unfortunately, your site gets hit with a penalty. This one is mostly Google’s fault. The same is true if an affiliate uses content from your site, or if your competitor intentionally links to you from “bad neighborhood” (porn, gambling, etc.) sites.

And, of course, there’s the fact that the Google algorithm isn’t perfect. Algorithm quirks can have the same effect as a penalty if it makes your site unreachable.

If you want to find out if your site has been penalized, we have a free penalty checker tool you can use if you go to http://tools.lilengine.com/penaltychecker/. Click the button below to give it a try.

Penalty Checker

You just input the address of the site you want to check out, and you’ll get a result either like screen shot one (when a site does appear to have been banned or penalized) or screen shot two (when a site is not believed to have been penalized).

Domain level penalty

No penalty

If you suspect your site has been penalized, there are a number of steps you can take to find out if it has, and why. Once you fix the problems, you can request re-instatement by the Google search engine and eventually get back in its good graces.

Google Merchant Center is for those who want to submit products and sell them through Google. It used to be called Google Base. Google Merchant Center is where you upload feeds, check item status, and get information about how well your listings are doing. Your products uploaded to Google Merchant Center feed the searches that other people do for products they want to buy. For example, suppose someone wants to buy some dog toys. Starting at Google’s home page and clicking on “Shopping,” they’ll see a page like in the first screen shot. After typing “dog toys” into the search box and hitting enter they’ll be taken to a listings page like the one in the second screen shot.

Google Base still exists, but Google Merchant Center is optimized for product listings, and it is where Google will concentrate on adding features and improving the tools needed for uploading product listings and managing them. If you already used Google Base for listing products, your existing data feeds, FTP settings, and other items will still be there. Your account will have already been transferred to the Google Merchant Center, and you will sign in using the same account you used on Google Base. For most users the transfer will be transparent. There are, however, a small fraction of users who have been uploading product listings and other items on Google Base. They will need to sign on to Google Base to create new FTP settings to be able to upload non-product feeds to Google Base.

Google Merchant Center has a new dashboard page that contains an overview of your product listings, and feeds, and performance graphs, making them more accessible than before. There is now a blog you can visit, googlemerchantblog.blogspot.com for news and tips for using Google Merchant Center effectively.

If you sell items over Google Merchant Center, the Google Checkout is the secure web application that lets you process orders, which includes tasks like charging credit cards, specifying carriers and tracking numbers, canceling or refunding orders, reviewing payout summaries, and updating Google Checkout settings.

To process orders in the Google Merchant Center, you sign in, review the order, and charge the buyer’s credit card. Google will then authorize 100% of the order amount. You are required to charge the order within seven calendar days to be guaranteed the funds. After the order is charged, you automatically initiate the payout process. You have to ship the order within a specified time frame that you agreed to when you confirmed an order so that you will be eligible for the Google Checkout Payment Guarantee. You’ll notify the buyer that their order has shipped. There are ways of automating order processing using the Google Checkout API.

If you sell services or goods that don’t need to be physically shipped, you have to mark the order “shipped” in order to send the buyer a confirmation email. Some transactions involving digital goods might not be covered under the Google Checkout Payment Guarantee policy.

In processing orders, Google uses automatic fraud risk modeling to alert them to possible fraudulent transactions. If a fraudulent transaction is detected, it is immediately cancelled. In order to protect you and other Google Merchants, active orders from the same fraudulent credit card will be cancelled. Google Merchant also uses industry sources like worldwide fraud blacklists to block fraudulent shoppers from using Google Checkout in the first place.

For example, if Google detects suspicious activity related to one of your orders, it will flag the order with “customer review in progress” status and will perform fraud detection tests on the order to keep your risk as low as possible. Google usually completes their reviews in four to six hours.

You, as a Google Merchant, are able to review credit verification information on each order you receive. You just sign in to Google Checkout, click the order in which you are interested in your “orders” box. At that time buyer credit verification information appears below the buyer’s shipping information, including whether the transaction is covered by the Payment Guarantee, the Address Verification System check, the Card Verification Value, or CVV, and Account age shows how long the buyer has been qualified to buy through Google Checkout. If you are concerned about an order, you do have the option to cancel it to avoid the risk of a fraudulent transaction.

Fees for Google Merchants vary by the dollar amount of monthly sales and are reset every month on the 5th. For monthly sales under $3,000, the fee is 2.9% + 30 cents / transaction. For sales between $3,000 and $9,999.99, the fee is 2.5% + 30 cents / transaction. For $10,000 to $99,999.99 per month, the fee is 2.2% + 30 cents / transaction, and for sales over $100,000 per month, the fees are 1.9% + 30 cents / transaction. Orders that ship to buyers in a country different from the Merchant’s country will also have an additional 1% processing fee.

If you plan to sell apps in the Android phone market, your transaction fee is 30% of the application price. In other words, if you sell your app for $10.00, your transaction fee is $3.00 and your payment will be $7.00.

Google Merchant Center is an answer to those who want to sell products through Google Products searches. This can be a real sales booster for those who have shops online at places like Etsy. Google Merchant Center is now split apart from Google Base, with the goal of making online product searches more fruitful and online sales easier for merchants and shoppers.