Archives for category: Organic Optimization

If a sudden decrease in traffic is occurring on your website, do not necessarily assume it is from the Farmer/Panda update; Google has been cracking down on websites with many inbound paid links with renewed vigor.

The Incredible Hulk transformsIn some cases, Google has been manually punishing sites. Two high profile cases where Google hulked out are JC Penney and Overstock.com.

In both cases, JC Penney and Overstock had SEO firms who’s strategy revolved so heavily on “link building” that inbound links were being paid for, which is against Google’s guidelines – which makes Google angry. And you wouldn’t like Google when it’s angry.

With these two high profile cases coming on the heels of each other, there is evidence that aside from the “Farmer” algorithm update, Google may also be cracking down on sites with paid and/or irrelevant inbound links.

Am I Being Penalized for Paid Links?

If you think you have been affected by Google’s paid link penalty, here’s how to verify in Google Analytics:

  • Sign into Google Analytics
  • Under the website profile, click on Traffic Sources
  • Click on Referring Sites
  • Change the date range to the week before you noticed a decrease in traffic
  • Take note of your highest referrers
  • Change the Date Range to the week you noticed a decrease in traffic
  • Take note of your highest referrers
  • Look for any drastic changes, or some sites suddenly disappearing from the list

To verify that Google traffic in particular has taken a hit:

  • Click on Search Engines
  • Under the graph, where it says “Show” click on “non-paid”
    If you use another analytics program (Coremetrics, Omniture) look in organic referrals by Search Engine.
  • Check to see if you have seen a dramatic decrease in traffic
  • Compare that to the previous week and the previous month
    Saturday and Sunday may be normal low traffic periods.

If your referrers have seen a change, and Google traffic has dropped significantly, you may have been penalized by Google

If you are running a rank checking program, you should wait at least a week after you’ve noticed these fluctuations and then look to see if your rankings in Google have dropped.

Why wait?

  • Because the rank checking program may not have updated accurately
  • Depending on real time search, and which servers are hit when the program runs, you may initially get inaccurate results. A week will give the results time to normalize

I’m Hit! Now What?

Next steps are request reconsideration from Google. Remember to be very detailed when writing out the case for reconsideration.

Avoid Being Penalized in the Future
Many site owners have little to nothing to do with link building, but that doesn’t mean they’re off the hook. If you own the site, you’re responsible for SEO tactics. Be sure you stay informed. Discuss link building tactics with your SEO Department/Firm and ask questions like:

  • What is our linking strategy?
  • What websites are we linking to?
  • How do we know these websites?
  • Who runs the website?
  • Why are they linking to us?
  • Are they affiliate links?

When considering link building, keep these things in mind:

  • Link building is about building relationships online and offline
  • Make sure the links you are receiving are from trusted sources
  • If it’s ambiguous, make sure the inbound link is from someone you or someone who reports to you can contact

The latest update to Google’s Search Engine Ranking Algorithm, known internally as the “Panda” update and externally as the “Farmer” update, primarily targets content farms. This update was rolled out on Wednesday, February 23rd and tweaked on Tuesday, March 1st.

You may have already heard, as there’s a wealth of excellent coverage currently out there such as:

However, we found ourselves explaining and comforting to such a degree that we thought we’d publish a simple how-to guide for the layman who wishes to determine if he’s been affected.

What is a Content Farm?

Essentially, a content farm is a web property or group of properties that creates low-quality “optimized” content en masse designed more for the purpose of ad generation than valuable information. Other attributes include:

How to Tell if You’ve Been Affected by the “Farmer” Update

The fastest way to tell if you have been affected by the “Farmer” update is to check Google Analytics. Unfamiliar with GA? Here’s a play by play:

  • Log into Google Analytics
  • Click on Traffic Sources
  • Click on Search Engines
  • In the list of Search Engines, Click on Google
  • Under the graph, where it says “Show” click on “non-paid”
    If you use another analytics program (Coremetrics, Omniture) look in organic referrals by Search Engine.

Once you’re in, there are a couple things you need to do:

  • Check to see if you have seen a dramatic decrease in traffic since February 24th
  • Compare that to the previous week and the previous month
    Saturday and Sunday may be normal low traffic periods.

If it’s looking grim, you have the option to request consideration from Google. Make sure you’re very detailed when writing out the case for reconsideration.

What About Paid Link Penalties?

Do not confuse the “Farmer” algorithm change to Google’s recent crackdown on paid links. Stay tuned for more info on how to verify if you’re being penalized for paid links.

If we stop and consider what Search, this thing we all love so dearly, actually is, it fundamentally boils down to facilitating successful information retrieval (IR). A User is looking for something. They pick the medium by which to conduct their search. Based on the returned results from the corpus (ie collection of various authoritative documents), the user then selects a document/site. If this is not close enough, the User refines the criteria for their search and tries again. Not terribly complicated… well, maybe?

According to the traditional tenets of IR, a User is strictly seeking information. In the current (and rapidly evolving) state of eCommerce, Social, Social as OS, Local Search for SMB brick and mortars etc, the complexity of a Users IR needs have broadened along with the semantic overlap. As these needs have become more elaborate, the modern day search engine has matured as well. By original standards, the Yellow Pages were one of the best ways to be effective with IR for just about anything non-academic. As information of all types has come to favor bits and bytes, Google of course changed the playing field with its inbound links equal authority concept, removing some of the guessing game as to which local plumber was the better one! Now with real-time search and the overall influence of peer conversation, the tables are turning yet again. But back to the point…

Users, or those searching for something, are notoriously horrible at actually describing what they are seeking with any level of accuracy. Are they looking for a specific site? Are they trying to be ‘self service’ and get hours of operation or a phone number? Are they trying to sign up for an event or make a purchase? This is where we as SEO’s need to consider what Andrei Broder @ IBM research refers to as the taxonomy of web search.

While Broder’s research was done in 2001, the principles are perhaps even more applicable in today’s discipline of Search. Broder suggest that there are three types of query intentions.

  • Navigational
  • Informational
  • Transactional

Let’s take a few minutes to explore this web search taxonomy:

Navigational Queries

There is a reason that ‘Googling’ – to perform a search – has made it to several of the worlds oldest published representatives of the English lexicon. Users typically are not using the direct type method, or bothering to remember your URL, to get to your property unless they are a long term established customer. With this, Users most often type in a brand name, with the expectation to be connected with the brand’s main site.

In practice:

  • User searches “Southwest” | Probable expectation of Southwest Airlines
  • User searches “Swiffer” | Probable expectation of Swiffer’s Main Site
  • User searches “Apple” | Though it could be Apple Records, health benefits of an apple, apple juice or orchards, the User is most likely looking for Apple Computers

Informational Queries

Informational queries serve a series of slightly ambiguous purposes. The simplest function of this query type is for finding things like the price of an item/service, hours of operations, store location(s), etc. The Informational query also has its role in the consideration phase of the buying cycle. A User knows what products or services exist. Now it becomes the query type of choice for Users trying to better understand the best solution for their needs.

This is without question one of the hardest layers for an SEO to effectively target. While being difficult, it is arguable that this is also the highest value type of query for which to target positive SERP visibility. This is where authority and authenticity of a brand can really come through. If a User is able to easily identify and connect with content they deem as valuable, the odds that they will do business with your brand increase greatly. Further, if you continue to provide them with a positive post purchase experience, you just might have made a new long-term customer.

In practice:

  • User searches “Airfares to Las Vegas” | Probable expectation of a page offering details about airfares deals to Las Vegas
  • User searches “Swiffer Wet Jet Coupons” | Probable expectation of a page that has available Swiffer Coupons
  • User searches “Apple iPod Supported File Types” | Probable expectation of a iPod specs page

Transactional Queries

The nature of a Transactional query, thankfully, is considerably more straight forward. Users are most likely done with their research and are ready to commit to, or subscribe, or purchase whatever it is that you are selling. While this type of consumer behavior is split a bit between navigational queries with transactional intent, the fact is, they are ready to conduct business.

Additionally, this is a type of query that is typically associated with a downstream, bottom of the funnel, high value Long Tail type of concept for targeting. These are the ones that the referring logs won’t show super high instances, but the conversion metrics attributed to them are often quite high.

In practice:

It is worth considering these concepts when you are developing your Organic SEO strategies for your site’s content and business objectives. These ideas should provide a bit of guidance in helping you establish the intention of each page on your site(s) and where those pages fit in the User’s IR process.