Follow Along

RSS Feed Join Us on Twitter On Facebook

Get Engaged


Related Reading

Our Sponsors


Join Us

Newsfeeds from around the industry
SEO Book

  • Virtual Real Estate Virtually Disappears

    Back in 2009 Google executives were scared of not being able to retain talent with stock options after Google's stock price cratered with the rest of the market & Google's ad revenue growth rate slid to zero. That led them to reprice employee stock options. That is as close as Google has come to a "near death" experience since their IPO. They've consistently grown & become more dominant.

    In November of 2009 I cringed when I saw the future of SEO in Google SERPs where the organic results were outright displaced & even some of the featured map listings had their phone numbers removed.

    Investing in Search

    In 2012 a Googler named Jon Rockway was more candid than Googlers are typically known for being: "SEO isn't good for users or the Internet at large. ... It's a bug that you could rank highly in Google without buying ads, and Google is trying to fix the bug."

    It isn't surprising Google greatly devalued keyword domain names & hit sites like eHow hard. And it isn't surprising Demand Media is laying off staff and is rumored to be exploring selling their sites. If deleting millions of articles from eHow doesn't drive a recovery, how much money can they lose on the rehab project before they should just let it go?

    Breaking spirits works!

    "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

    Through a constant ex-post-facto redefinition of "what is spam" to include most anything which is profitable, predictable & accessible, Google engineers work hard to "deny people money."

    Over time SEO became harder & less predictable. The exception being Google investments like Thumbtack, in which case other's headwind became your tailwind & a list of techniques declared off limits became a strategy guidebook.

    Communications got worse, Google stopped even pretending to help the ecosystem, and they went so far as claiming that even asking for a link was spam. All the while, as they were curbing third party investment into the ecosystem ("deny them money"), they work on PR for their various investments & renamed the company from Google to Alphabet so they can expand their scope of investments.

    "We also like that it means alpha‑bet (Alpha is investment return above benchmark), which we strive for!" - Larry Page

    From Do/Know/Go to Scrape/Displace/Monetize

    It takes a lot of effort & most people are probably too lazy to do it, but if you look at the arch of Google's patents related to search quality, many of the early ones revolved around links. Then many focused on engagement related signals. Chrome & Android changed the pool of signals Google had access to. Things like Project Fi, Gogle Fiber, Nest, and Google's new OnHub router give them more of that juicy user data. Many of their recently approved patents revolve around expanding the knowledge graph so that they may outright displace the idea of having a neutral third party result set for an increasing share of the overall search pie.

    Searchers can instead get bits of "knowledge" dressed in various flavors of ads.

    This sort of displacement is having a significant impact on a variety of sites. But for most it is a slow bleed rather than an overnight sudden shift. In that sort of environment, even volunteer run sites will eventually atrophy. They will have fewer new users, and as some of the senior people leave, eventually fewer will rise through the ranks. Or perhaps a greater share of the overall ranks will be driven by money.

    Jimmy Wales stated: “It is also false that ‘Wikipedia thrives on clicks,’ at least as compared to ad-revenue driven sites… The relationship between ‘clicks’ and the things we care about: community health and encyclopedia quality is not nothing, but it’s not as direct as some think.”

    Most likely the relationship *is* quite direct, but there is a lagging impact. Today's major editors didn't join the site yesterday & take time to rise through the ranks.

    As the big sites become more closed off the independent voices are pushed aside or outright disappear.

    If Google works hard enough at prioritizing "deny people money" as a primary goal, then they will eventually get an index quality that reflects that lack of payment. Plenty of good looking & well-formatted content, but a mix of content which:

    • is monetized indirectly & in ways which are not clearly disclosed
    • has interstitial ads and slideshows where the ads look like the "next" button & the "next" button is colored the same color as the site's background
    • is done as "me too" micro-reporting with no incremental analysis
    • is algorithmically generated

    Celebrating Search "Innovation"

    There has been a general pattern in search innovation. Google introduces a new feature, pitches it as being the next big thing, gets people to adopt it, collects data on the impact of the feature, clamps down on selectively allowing it, perhaps removes the feature outright from organic search results, permanently adds the feature to their ad units.

    This sort of pattern has happened so many times it is hard to count.

    Google puts faces in search results for authorship & to promote Google+, Google realizes Google+ is a total loser & disconnects it, new ad units for local services show faces in the search results. What was distracting noise was removed, then it was re-introduced as part of an ad unit.

    I'm confused didn't Google pull authorship cuz faces in the SERPS was a bad experience for the users?— Michael Gray (@graywolf) July 31, 2015

    The same sort of deal exists elsewhere. Google acquires YouTube, launches universal search, offers video snippets, increases size of video snippets. Then video snippets get removed from most listings "because noise." YouTube gets enlarged video snippets. And, after removing the "noise" of video stills in the search results Google is exploring testing video ads in the search results.

    Some sites which bundle software got penalized in organic search and are not even allowed to buy AdWords ads. At an extreme degree, sites which bundled no software, but simply didn't link to an End User Agreement (EULA) from the download page were penalized. Which leads to uncomfortable conversations like this one:

    Google Support: I looked through this, and it seemed that one of the issues was a lack of an End User Agreement (EULA)

    Simtec: An EULA is displayed by the setup program before installing starts. Also, the end user license agreements are linked to from here

    Google Support: Hmm, They do want it on the download page itself

    Simtec: How come there isn’t one here?

    Google Support: LOL

    Simtec: No really?

    Google Support: That’s a great question

    Of course, it goes without saying that much of the Google Chrome install base came from negative option software bundling on Adobe Flash security updates.

    Google claimed helpful hotel affiliate sites should be rated as spam, then they put their own affiliate ads in hotel search results & even recommended hotel searches in the knowledge graph on city name searches.

    Google created a penalty for sites which have an ad heavy interface. Many of Google's search results are nothing but ads for the entire first screen.

    Google search engineers have recently started complaining about interstitial ads & suggested they might create a "relevancy" signal based on users not liking those. At the same time, an increasing number of YouTube videos have unskippable pre-roll ads. And the volume of YouTube ad views is so large that it is heavily driving down Google's aggregate ad click price. On top of this, Google also offers a survey tool which publishers can lock content behind & requires users to answer a question before they can see the full article they just saw ranking in the search results.

    "Everything is possible, but nothing is real." - Living Colour

    Blue Ocean Opportunity

    Amid the growing ecosystem instability & increasing hypocrisy, there have perhaps been only a couple "blue ocean" areas left in organic search: local search & brand.

    And it appears Google might be well on their way in trying to take those away.

    For years brand has been the solution to almost any SEO problem.

    I wonder how many SEOs working for big brands have done absolutely nothing of value since 2012 yet still look like geniuses to executives.— Ross Hudgens (@RossHudgens) August 7, 2015

    But Google has been increasing the cost of owning a brand. They are testing other ad formats to drive branded search clicks through more expensive ad formats like PLAs & they have been drastically increasing brand CPCs on text ads. And while that second topic has recently gained broader awareness, it has been a trend for years now: "Over the last 12 months, Brand CPCs on Google have increased 80%" - George Michie, July 30, 2013.

    There are other subtle ways Google has attacked brand, including:

    • penalties on many of the affiliates of those brands
    • launching their own vertical search ad offerings in key big-money verticals
    • investing billions in "disruptive" start ups which are exempt from the algorithmic risks other players must deal with
    • allowing competitors to target competing brands not only within the search results, but also as custom affinity audiences
    • linking to competing businesses in the knowledge graph

    Google has recently dialed up monetization of local search quite aggressively as well. I've long highlighted how mobile search results are ad heavy & have grown increasingly so over time. Google has recently announced call only ad formats, a buy button for mobile ads, local service provider ads, appointment scheduling in the SERPs, direct hotel booking, etc.

    And, in addition to all the above new ad formats, recently it was noticed Google is now showing 3 ads on mobile devices even for terms without much commercial intent, like [craft beer].

    I like how this new-ish search box takes up a ton of space and puts all these ads right in the prime viewing area— Jared McKiernan (@jaredmckiernan) August 18, 2015

    Now that the mobile search interface is literally nothing but ads above the fold, early data shows a significant increase in mobile ad clicks. Of course it doesn't matter if there are 2 or 3 ads, if Google shows ad extensions on SERPs with only 2 ads to ensure they drive the organic results "out of sight, out of mind."

    Earlier this month it was also noticed Google replaced 7-pack local results with 3-pack local results for many more search queries, even on desktop search results. On some of these results they only show a call button, on others they show links to sites. It is a stark contrast to the vast array of arbitrary (and even automated) ad extensions in AdWords.

    Why would they determine users want to see links to the websites & the phone numbers, then decide overnight users don't want those?

    Why would Google determine for many years that 7 is a good number of results to show, and then overnight shift to showing 3?

    If Google listed 7 ads in a row people might notice the absurdity of it and complain. But if Google only shows 3 results, then they can quickly convert it into an ad unit with little blowback.

    You don't have to be a country music fan to know the Austin SEO limits in a search result where the local results are now payola.

    Try not to hurt your back while looking down for the organic search results!

    Here are two tips to ensure any SEO success isn't ethereal: don't be nearby, and don't be a business. :D


  • Yahoo! Search Testing Google Search Results

    Search PandaMonium

    A couple days ago Microsoft announced a deal with AOL to have AOL sell Microsoft display ads & for Bing to power AOL's organic search results and paid search ads for a decade starting in January.

    The search landscape is still undergoing changes.

    I am uncertain to what degree they are testing search results from Google, but on some web browsers I am seeing Yahoo! organics and ads powered by Bing & in other browsers I am seeing Yahoo! organics and ads powered by Google. Here are a couple screenshots.

    Bing Version

    Google Version

    Comparing The SERPs

    Notable differences between the versions:

    search providerBingGoogle
    top ad colorpurpleblue
    top ad faviconyesno
    clickable ad areaallheadline
    ad labelright of each ad near URLonce in gray above all ads
    ad URL
    ad units above organics54
    ad sitelinksmanyfewer
    ad star rating colorblueyellow
    Yahoo! verticals like Tumblr & Answersmixed into organic resultsnot mixed in
    footer "powered by Bing" messageshownmissing

    When the Google ads run on the Yahoo! SERPs for many keywords I am seeing many of the search arbitrage players in the top ads. Typically these ads are more commonly relegated to's right rail ad positions.

    The Google Yahoo! Search Backstory

    Back in 2008 when Yahoo! was fighting to not get acquired they signed an ad agreement with Google, but it was blocked by the DOJ due to antitrust concerns. Unless Google loses Apple as a search partner, they are arguably more dominant today in general web search than they were back in 2008. Some have argued apps drastically change the way people search, but Google has went to great lengths to depreciate the roll of apps & suck people back into their search ecosystem with features baked into Google Now on tap & in-app keyword highlighting that can push a user from an app into a Google search result.

    In Q4 last year Yahoo! replaced Google as the default search provider in Firefox in the United States.

    And Yahoo! recently signed a deal with Oracle to bundle default Yahoo! Search settings on Java updates. Almost all the Bing network gains of late have been driven by Yahoo!.

    A little over a year ago Yahoo! launched Gemini to begin rebuilding their own search ad network, starting with mobile. In their Q1 report, RKG stated "Among advertisers adopting Gemini, 36% of combined Bing and Yahoo mobile traffic was served by Yahoo in March 2015."

    When Yahoo! recently renewed their search deal with Microsoft, Yahoo! was once again allowed to sell their own desktop search ads & they are only required to give 51% of the search volume to Bing. There has been significant speculation as to what Yahoo! would do with the carve out. Would they build their own search technology? Would they outsource to Google to increase search ad revenues? It appears they are doing a bit of everything - some Bing ads, some Yahoo! ads, some Google ads.

    Bing reports the relative share of Yahoo! search ad volume they deliver on a rolling basis: "data covers all device-types. The relative volume (y-axis) is an index based on average traffic in April, therefore it is possible for the volume to go above 1.0. The chart is updated on a weekly basis."

    If Yahoo! gives Google significant share it could create issues where users who switch between the different algorithms might get frustrated by the results being significantly different. Or if users don't care it could prove general web search is so highly commoditized the average searcher is totally unaware of the changes. The latter is more likely, given most searchers can't even distinguish between search ads and organic search results.

    The FTC was lenient toward Google in spite of Google's clearly articulated intent to abuse their dominant market position. Google has until August 17th to respond to EU antitrust charges. I am a bit surprised Google would be willing to run this type of test while still undergoing antitrust scrutiny in Europe.

    Choosing to Choose Choice

    When Mozilla signed the deal with Yahoo! & dumped Google they pushed it as "promoting choice."

    A cynic might question how much actual choice there is if on many searches the logo is different but the underlying ads & organic results are powered by Google, and an ex-Google executive runs Yahoo!.

    "Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black." - Henry Ford


  • Web Design Resources for Non-Designers

    Most of you are too busy monitoring Google's latest algorithm updates, examining web analytics, and building links and content to stay up to date on the design world.

    Usually, creative people who excel at design aren't very good at the left-brain thinking required to succeed in the highly-technical search engine optimization industry. Likewise, very few people with the analytical mindset required for search engine optimization would do well in the free-spirited design industry.

    Unfortunately, in the real world, you're often expected to do exactly that. And while most people understand that it would be ludicrous to expect their doctor to also troubleshoot their plumbing, they don't seem to understand why they shouldn't expect the person responsible for their SEO to also handle their design needs from time to time.

    So you're often forced to design things for your clients from time to time. Or sometimes, you just need to whip up something for yourself instead of trying to find someone who can deliver what you need on Fiverr.

    Since you probably won't start sporting a black turtleneck and talking about crop marks, press checks, or CMYK colors anytime soon, it seems silly to shell out thousands of dollars on software you'll only use occasionally, so I've compiled a list of design resources for non-designers.

    The resources in this list are every bit as powerful as any of the professional-grade software, but they are free. (Some do offer premium versions with more options.) The only downside is that it might be a little bit tougher to find tutorials for some of these programs compared to the industry standard software like Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator.

    Image editing

    Image Editing.

    We all need to edit and create images from time to time, but if you only do it occasionally, software like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator works out to be pretty expensive. Fortunately, there are several feature-rich image editing programs available.

    • Gimp - Anything you can do with Photoshop can be done with Gimp, and it runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux. The learning curve can be steep, but it's worth the time.
    • Pixlr - If you're used to Photoshop, this program has a very similar interface, and it even opens native .psd files with the original layers intact.
    • Canva - The drag-and-drop interface of this web-based design program make graphic design quick and simple, plus it comes with a library of over one million professional stock images.
    • Inkscape - Easily create illustrations, logos, technical drawings, and vector images with this free alternative to Illustrator.
    • SVG Editor - If you're obsessed about website speed, you probably love SVGs (scalable vector graphics) and this handy tool from Google make it easy to create and edit them.


    OK, so you're not going to compete with Pixar anytime soon, but 3D capabilities do come in handy for designing mockups of books and DVDs, creating characters, and even complete photorealistic animations.

    • Online 3d Package - This tool lets you quickly and easily create photorealistic mockups of books, boxes, DVDs, and CDs.
    • Blender - If you occasionally need to create 3D renderings but can't justify spending big bucks for professional-grade software that you'll only use a few times, Blender is the perfect (and free) alternative.

    Web design

    Web Design.

    Designing a website requires a blend of creative and technical skills. Fortunately, there are plenty of tools available to efficiently complete both. From the pretty parts, to the nuts and bolts, to the little details, here is everything you'll need:

    Palette generator - Upload an image and this tool will generate the perfect color palette to compliment it that you can download as a CSS file.

    Subtle Paterns - Creating seamless backgrounds can be a pain, so instead of starting from scratch, just download from over 400 high-quality seamless background images, including textures and patterns.

    Web page editors

    Whether you're building a website from scratch with a WYSIWYG editor or fine-tuning the code on an existing website with an HTML editor, web design software will probably get a lot of use in your hands. If you have the technical chops to hand code your websites, that's ideal, but if not, or if you just don't want to, here are several options:

    • Kompozer - With a WYSIWYG editor in one tab and raw HTML in the other, on-the-fly editing with built-in FTP, Kompozer will make creating and editing web page a breeze.
    • Google Webdesigner - Build HTML5-based designs and motion graphics that can run on any device without writing any code! (If you want to get your hands dirty, you can edit all HTML and CSS by hand.
    • Expression Web - Microsoft offers another free web page editor which has made significant improvements since that abomination called Frontpage.

    Favicon Generator - A truly polished website needs consistent branding throughout, and that means all the little details, including a favicon—that tiny little image that sits in the tab or bookmarks. Just upload an image file, such as your logo, and this handy tool will spit out the .ico files you need.

    Web Developer Toolbar - This browser toolbar is available for Firefox and Chrome, and helps you troubleshoot your website and even test it at various screen sizes.



    Infographics are still an effective method to earn social shares and links, and they are a great way to present a lot of data-rich information, but they can be a pain to create. Here are several tools to simplify the process that might even be better (and easier) than traditional design software.

    • Infogram - Build beautiful data-driven infographics in just three steps with this free tool.
    • Piktochart - With a simple point and click editor and over 4,000 graphics, icons, and template files, Piktochart makes it easy to create infographics that look exactly the way you want.
    • - Loaded with tons of creative templates and an east-to-use interface, this is another powerful tool to create your own stunning infographics.
    • Venngage - This drag and drop interface provides all the charts, maps, icons and templates you'll need to design attention-grabbing infographics.
    • - Turn your boring resume into a unique visual expression of your skills and experience to stand out from the crowd.

    If you are in a saturated market or have a great idea you are certain will be a success then it may make sense to splash out for a custom designed graphic, but in less competitive market some of the above quick-n-easy tools can still be remarkably effective.

    Data visualization

    Google Charts is a great way to create all sorts of charts, and the best part is that you can create them on the fly by passing variables in the URL.



    Today you have plenty of options when it comes to font choices, so please stop using Arial, and for the love of all that is good, never use Comic Sans or I will hunt you down. You can choose from thousands of free fonts, so it's easy to pick one that fits your project perfectly.

    • Typegenius - Choosing the perfect font combo can be tough, but Typegenious makes it easy. Just pick a starter font from the drop down list and the site will recommend fonts that pair well with it.
    • Google Fonts - I recommend embedding Google fonts instead hosting them on your own server because they load more quickly and there is a chance they're already cached on visitors' computers.
    • Font Awesome - This is an awesome (hence the name) way to add all sorts of scalable icons without a load of extra http requests. Simply load one font for access to 519 icons that colored, scaled, and styled with CSS.
    • DaFont - Download and instal these fonts (.ttf or .otf formats) for designing documents or images on your computer.
    • What the Font - If you've ever experienced the rage-inducing task of figuring out what font was used when your client only has a 72dpi jpg and no idea how to track down their previous designer, then this is the tool for you. Just upload your image and it goes to work figuring what font it is.

    Social media

    Social Media.

    Social media can multiply your website's exposure exponentially, but it takes a lot of work. From branding profiles on each network to crafting engaging visual content your fans will share, you'll have to create a lot of graphics to feed the beast. Doing that manually, the old-fashioned way is tedious and slow, so I recommend these tools to speed up your workflow.

    Easy Cover Maker - Stop wasting time trying to position your cover and profile photo for your Facebook and Google+ page. This tool lets you drag everything into position in one handy interactive window, then download the image files.

    Quote creators

    • Quotes Cover - Just select a quote or enter your own text, apply various effects for your own unique style, and download eye catching pictures perfect for social media. It even creates the perfect dimensions based on how you intend to use it.
    • Chisel - This tool has the most user-friendly interface and tons of great images and fonts to create the exact message you want to share.
    • Recite This - There are plenty of images and fonts available, but the downside is you have to scroll through images one at a time, and fonts are selected randomly.

    Jing - From the makers of Camtasia, this free program gives you the ability to capture images or video (up to 5 minutes long) of your computer screen, then share it with the click of a button.

    Social Kit - Create cover images, profile pictures, and ad banners for Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and YouTube with this free, up-to-date Photoshop plugin.

    Social media image size guide - The folks over at Sprout Social created (and maintain) this handy and comprehensive Google doc listing the image sizes for all major social media networks, and since it's a shared document, you can have Google notify you anytime it's updated!

    Meme creators

    Instead of wasting time searching for the perfect meme, why not just create your own?

    Stock photos

    Powerful photos can mean the difference between a dry post that visitors ignore and one that entices them to read more. The good news is you don't have to take your own spend a fortune on stock photos because there are several free and low-cost options available.

    • Unsplash - These are not your typical cheesy stock photos; they lean more towards the artistic side. New photos are uploaded every day and they're all 100% free.
    • StockVault - With over 54 thousand free images available, both artistic and corporate-style, you should be able to find the perfect photo for just about any project.
    • Dreamstime & iStockPhoto - Both of these sites give you the option of a subscription model or a pay-as-you-go credits. Many images on one are available on the other, but I've found great images that were only on one of the two sites, so it's worthwhile to check both.


    Even the best designers hit a wall, creatively speaking, so it helps to look for inspiration. These sites curate the best designs around and are updated regularly, so you'll find plenty of fresh ideas for your project.


    Since you're days are filled with keyword research, content development, link building, and other SEO-related tasks, you probably don't have time to stay up-to-date on the latest design trends and techniques. No worries—with these websites, you'll be able to find a tutorial to walk you through just about any design challenge.

    • CSS-Tricks - Whenever I have a CSS question, I always slap “css tricks” on the end of my search because Chris Coyer has the most detailed, yet easy-to-understand tutorials on damn near every scenario you could imagine.
    • Tuts+ - Learn everything about graphic design, web design, programming, and more with a growing library of articles and tutorials.
    • Smashing Magazine - This is probably one of the most comprehensive web design resources you'll find anywhere, going wide and deep on every aspect of web design.

    About the Author

    Jeremy Knauff is the founder of Spartan Media, a proud father, husband, and US Marine Corps veteran. He has spent over 15 years helping small business up to Fortune 500 companies make their mark online, and now he's busy building his own media empire. You can follow Spartan Media on Twitter and Facebook.


All the Latest

Getting Around the Site

Home - all the latest on SNC
SEO - our collection of SEO articles
Technical SEO - for the geeks
Latest News - latest news in search
Analytics - measure up and convert
RSS Rack - feeds from around the industry
Search - looking for something specific?
Authors - Author Login
SEO Training - Our sister site
Contact Us - get in touch with SNC

What's New?

All content and images copyright Search News Central 2014
SNC is a Verve Developments production, the Forensic SEO Specialists- where Gypsies roam.