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  • Penguin 4.0 Update

    On Friday Google's Gary Illyes announced Penguin 4.0 was now live.

    Key points highlighted in their post are:

    • Penguin is a part of their core ranking algorithm
    • Penguin is now real-time, rather than something which periodically refreshes
    • Penguin has shifted from being a sitewide negative ranking factor to a more granular factor

    Things not mentioned in the post

    • if it has been tested extensively over the past month
    • if the algorithm is just now rolling out or if it is already done rolling out
    • if the launch of a new version of Penguin rolled into the core ranking algorithm means old sites hit by the older versions of Penguin have recovered or will recover anytime soon

    Since the update was announced, the search results have become more stable.

    No signs of major SERP movement yesterday - the two days since Penguin started rolling out have been quieter than most of September.— Dr. Pete Meyers (@dr_pete) September 24, 2016

    They still may be testing out fine tuning the filters a bit...

    Fyi they're still split testing at least 3 different sets of results. I assume they're trying to determine how tight to set the filters.— SEOwner (@tehseowner) September 24, 2016

    ...but what exists now is likely to be what sticks for an extended period of time.

    Penguin Algorithm Update History

    • Penguin 1: April 24, 2012
    • Penguin 2: May 26, 2012
    • Penguin 3: October 5, 2012
    • Penguin 4: May 22, 2013 (AKA: Penguin 2.0)
    • Penguin 5: October 4, 2013 (AKA Penguin 2.1)
    • Penguin 6: rolling update which began on October 17, 2014 (AKA Penguin 3.0)
    • Penguin 7: September 23, 2016 (AKA Penguin 4.0)

    Now that Penguin is baked into Google's core ranking algorithms, no more Penguin updates will be announced. Panda updates stopped being announced last year. Instead we now get unnamed "quality" updates.

    Volatility Over the Long Holiday Weekend

    Earlier in the month many SEOs saw significant volatility in the search results, beginning ahead of Labor Day weekend with a local search update. The algorithm update observations were dismissed as normal fluctuations in spite of the search results being more volatile than they have been in over 4 years.

    There are many reasons for search engineers to want to roll out algorithm updates (or at least test new algorithms) before a long holiday weekend:

    • no media coverage: few journalists on the job & a lack of expectation that the PR team will answer any questions. no official word beyond rumors from self-promotional marketers = no story
    • many SEOs outside of work: few are watching as the algorithms tip their cards.
    • declining search volumes: long holiday weekends generally have less search volume associated with them. Thus anyone who is aggressively investing in SEO may wonder if their site was hit, even if it wasn't.
      The communications conflicts this causes between in-house SEOs and their bosses, as well as between SEO companies and their clients both makes the job of the SEO more miserable and makes the client more likely to pull back on investment, while ensuring the SEO has family issues back home as work ruins their vacation.
    • fresh users: as people travel their search usage changes, thus they have fresh sets of eyes & are doing somewhat different types of searches. This in turn makes their search usage data more dynamic and useful as a feedback mechanism on any changes made to the underlying search relevancy algorithm or search result interface.

    Algo Flux Testing Tools

    Just about any of the algorithm volatility tools showed far more significant shift earlier in this month than over the past few days.

    Take your pick: Mozcast, RankRanger, SERPmetrics, Algaroo, Ayima Pulse, AWR, Accuranker, SERP Watch & the results came out something like this graph from Rank Ranger:

    One issue with looking at any of the indexes is the rank shifts tend to be far more dramatic as you move away from the top 3 or 4 search results, so the algorithm volatility scores are much higher than the actual shifts in search traffic (the least volatile rankings are also the ones with the most usage data & ranking signals associated with them, so the top results for those terms tend to be quite stable outside of verticals like news).

    You can use AWR's flux tracker to see how volatility is higher across the top 20 or top 50 results than it is across the top 10 results.

    Example Ranking Shifts

    I shut down our membership site in April & spend most of my time reading books & news to figure out what's next after search, but a couple legacy clients I am winding down working with still have me tracking a few keywords & one of the terms saw a lot of smaller sites (in terms of brand awareness) repeatedly slide and recover over the past month.

    Notice how a number of sites would spike down on the same day & then back up. And then the pattern would repeat.

    As a comparison, here is that chart over the past 3 months.

    Notice the big ranking moves which became common over the past month were not common the 2 months prior.

    Negative SEO Was Real

    There is a weird sect of alleged SEOs which believes Google is omniscient, algorithmic false positives are largely a myth, AND negative SEO was never a real thing.

    As it turns out, negative SEO was real, which likely played a part in Google taking years to rolll out this Penguin update AND changing how they process Penguin from a sitewide negative factor to something more granular.

    @randfish Incredibly important point is the devaluing of links & not "penalization". That's huge. Knocks negative SEO out. @dannysullivan— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) September 23, 2016

    Update != Penalty Recovery

    Part of the reason many people think there was no Penguin update or responded to the update with "that's it?" is because few sites which were hit in the past recovered relative to the number of sites which ranked well until recently just got clipped by this algorithm update.

    When Google updates algorithms or refreshes data it does not mean sites which were previously penalized will immediately rank again.

    Some penalties (absent direct Google investment or nasty public relations blowback for Google) require a set amount of time to pass before recovery is even possible.

    Google has no incentive to allow a broad-based set of penalty recoveries on the same day they announce a new "better than ever" spam fighting algorithm.

    They'll let some time base before the penalized sites can recover.

    Further, many of the sites which were hit years ago & remain penalized have been so defunded for so long that they've accumulated other penalties due to things like tightening anchor text filters, poor user experience metrics, ad heavy layouts, link rot & neglect.

    What to do?

    So here are some of the obvious algorithmic holes left by the new Penguin approach...

    • only kidding
    • not sure that would even be a valid mindset in the current market
    • hell, the whole ecosystem is built on quicksand

    The trite advice is to make quality content, focus on the user, and build a strong brand.

    But you can do all of those well enough that you change the political landscape yet still lose money.

    “Mother Jones published groundbreaking story on prisons that contributed to change in govt policy. Cost $350k & generated $5k in ad revenue”— SEA☔☔LE SEO (@searchsleuth998) August 22, 2016

    Google & Facebook are in a cold war, competing to see who can kill the open web faster, using each other as justification for their own predation.

    Even some of the top brands in big money verticals which were known as the canonical examples of SEO success stories are seeing revenue hits and getting squeezed out of the search ecosystem.

    And that is without getting hit by a penalty.

    It is getting harder to win in search period.

    And it is getting almost impossible to win in search by focusing on search as an isolated channel.

    I never understood mentality behind Penguin "recovery" people. The spam links ranked you, why do you expect to recover once they're removed?— SEOwner (@tehseowner) September 25, 2016

    Efforts and investments in chasing the algorithms in isolation are getting less viable by the day.

    Obviously removing them may get you out of algorithm, but then you'll only have enough power to rank where you started before spam links.— SEOwner (@tehseowner) September 25, 2016

    Anyone operating at scale chasing SEO with automation is likely to step into a trap.

    When it happens, that player better have some serious savings or some non-Google revenues, because even with "instant" algorithm updates you can go months or years on reduced revenues waiting for an update.

    And if the bulk of your marketing spend while penalized is spent on undoing past marketing spend (rather than building awareness in other channels outside of search) you can almost guarantee that business is dead.

    "If you want to stop spam, the most straight forward way to do it is to deny people money because they care about the money and that should be their end goal. But if you really want to stop spam, it is a little bit mean, but what you want to do, is break their spirits." - Matt Cutts

    Categories: 


  • Free Google AdWords Keyword Suggestion Tool Alternative

    Google recently made it much harder to receive accurate keyword data from the AdWords keyword tool.

    They have not only grouped similar terms, but then they broadened out the data ranges to absurdly wide ranges like 10,000 to 100,000 searches a month. Only active AdWords advertisers receive (somewhat?) decent keyword data. And even with that, there are limitations. Try to view too many terms and you get:

    "You’ve reached the maximum number of page views for this day. This page now shows ranges for search volumes. For a more detailed view, check back in 24 hours."

    Jennifer Slegg shared a quote from an AdWords advertiser who spoke with a representative:

    "I have just spoken to a customer service manger from the Australia support help desk. They have advised me that there must be continuous activity in your google ad-words campaign (clicks and campaigns running) for a minimum of 3-4 months continuous in order to gain focused keyword results. If you are seeing a range 10-100 or 100-1k or 1k -10k its likely your adwords account does not have an active campaign or has not had continuous campaigns or clicks."

    So you not only need to be an advertiser, but you need to stay active for a quarter-year to a third of a year to get decent data.

    Part of the sales pitch of AdWords/PPC was that you can see performance data right away, whereas SEO investments can take months or years to back out.

    But with Google outright hiding keyword data even from active advertisers, it is probably easier and more productive for those advertisers to start elsewhere.

    There are many other keyword data providers (Wordtracker, SEMrush, Wordze, Spyfu, KeywordSpy, Keyword Discovery, Moz, Compete.com, SimilarWeb, Xedant, Ubersuggest, KeywordTool.io, etc.) And there are newer entrants like the Keyword Keg Firefox extension & the brilliantly named KeywordShitter).

    In light of Google's push to help make the web more closed-off & further tilt the web away from the interests of searchers toward the interest of big advertisers*, we decided to do the opposite & recently upgraded our keyword tool to add the following features...

    • expanded the results per search to 500
    • we added negative match and modified broad match to the keyword export spreadsheet (along with already having phrase, broad & exact match)

    Our keyword tool lists estimated search volumes, bid prices, cross links to SERPs, etc. Using it does require free account registration to use, but it is a one-time registration and the tool is free. And we don't collect phone numbers, hard sell over the phone, etc. We even shut down our paid members area, so you are not likely to receive any marketing messages from us anytime soon.

    Export is lightning quick AND, more importantly, we have a panda in our logo!

    Here is what the web interface looks like

    And here is an screenshot of data in Excel with the various keyword match types

    If the tool looks like it is getting decent usage, we may upgrade it further to refresh the data more frequently, consider adding more languages, add a few more reference links to related niche sites in the footer cross-reference section, and maybe add a few other features.

    "Every market has some rules and boundaries that restrict freedom of choice. A market looks free only because we so unconditionally accept its underlying restrictions that we fail to see them."Ha-Joon Chang

    Categories: 


  • How I Learned to Start Loving Social Media's Darkside

    I'm baaaaaaack.

    Organic Listings

    What a fun past couple years it has been in the digital marketing landscape; we've seen hummingbirds, ads displacing organic listings, phantoms, ads displacing organic listings, rank brain, and of course ads displacing organic listings. It has been such a long time since my last post that back when I was last writing for SEObook we were still believing in the timelines provided by Google employees on when Penguin was going to run next. Remember that? Oh, the memories.

    Idiot Proof SEO Concepts You Better Not Screw Up For Me

    The reason I'm back is to share a tip. Normally I don't share SEO tips because by sharing information on a tactic, I end up burning the tactic and killing whatever potential usable market value remained on its shelf life. Why share then? Because this isn't something you can kill; it involves people. And killing people is bad. To explain how it works though, I need to explain the two concepts I'm smashing together like chocolate and peanut butter.

    Keepin' it REAL.

    Chocolate

    The chocolate, aka Influencer Marketing – my definition of influencer marketing is having someone tell your story for you. Some people view influencer marketing as paying someone like Kim Kardashian $50,000 to post a picture of herself on Instagram holding a sample of your new line of kosher pickles. While that does fit under my definition as well, I consider that aspirational influencer marketing since her audience is primarily comprised of being aspiring to be Kim. Also equally valid is having Sally your foodie neighbor posting that picture in exchange for getting a free jar of those delicious pickles; in this particular case though the influence would be considered peer level influence since Sally's audience is going to be comprised largely of people that view Sally as their equal, and possibly recognize that Sally as a foodie knows her food. Personally, I am biased, but I prefer lots of peer influence campaigns than a single big budget aspirational influence campaign, but I digress. If you want to learn a lot more about differences in the campaign types, I spoke with Bronco on the ins and outs of influence.

    Peanut Butter

    The peanut butter, aka Online Reputation Management, aka ORM – while I would hope reputation management doesn't need to be specifically defined, I'll define it anyhow as changing the online landscape for the benefit of a client's (or your own) reputation. Peanut butter is a really good analogy for ORM because a lot of work gets spread around in a lot of directions, from creating hundreds of thousands of properties designed to flood the SERPs and social channels as a tail that wags the dog, to straight up negative SEO. Yeah, I said it. If negative SEO wasn't made so much more available due to Panda, Penguin, and the philosophical neative a priori shift, in ORM would not be the industry that it is today.

    So what's the tip? You can combine these two concepts for your clients, and you can do it in a variety of different ways. Let's walk through a few…

    POSITIVE/BENIGN Focus

    1. Use aspirational influence to find a blogger/writer to talk about your client or product.
    2. Use peer influence indirectly to let a more difficult to approach blogger/writer “discover” your client and write about him or her.
    3. Use aspirational influence as a means to gain links to some properties. Seriously, this works really well. Some audiences will write a series of articles on whatever certain individuals writes about.
    4. Use peer influence to change tone/meaning of a negative article to something more benign.
    5. Use peer influence to find bloggers/writers to discuss concepts that can only be disucssed by referencing you or your client.

    NEGATIVE Focus

    1. Use peer pressure influence to get material removed.
    2. Use aspirational influence to change the mind of blogger/writer (think politics – this works).
    3. Use peer influence to change links from one target to another in source material (this occurs quite a bit on Wikipedia too).
    4. THE TRUMP® CARD©: Use aspirational influence and peer influence in combination, which I call compulsion marketing, to inspire frightening movements and witchunts (coordinated DOS attacks, protests, crap link blasts, et al).

    My business partner at my influencer marketing network Intellifluence, Terry Godier, and I also refer to some of the above topics under the umbrella of dark influence. I'm sure this list isn't even close to exhaustive, mainly because I don't want to go too deep on how scary one can get. If you need to address such things, I still take on select ORM clients at Digital Heretix and can help you out or refer you to a quality professional that will. Combining concepts and tactics is often a lot more fun than trying to approach a tactic singularly; when possible, work in multiple dimensions.

    Think of a way that I missed or some cool concepts that could be paired to be more powerful? Let me know on Twitter.

    Cheers,
    Joe Sinkwitz

    Categories: 


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