What are SEO audits and why do you need them?

Most organisations now realise that SEO is a hugely important element of any marketing strategy.

SEO dictates the level of visibility of your brand and is an inextricable part of any content marketing strategy.

So how do you ensure that your websites tick all the right boxes?

How do you make sure that your websites are performing as efficiently and effectively as possible?

SEO Audits

To begin with search engine optimisation is now all about value and quality. Content is King… right?

Not so fast!

Your content may be exceptional and your website might be state of the art in design and user experience but if you make any mistakes you will attract varying degrees of loss of trust or you will be marked down as a preferred solution to a given query.

The rise of technical compliance

This has been an incremental process and Google has been very clear that fast, efficient, error-free websites that don’t suffer from thin content or spammy backlinks will perform well in Google’s search results.

A series of major algorithm updates have targeted specific ranges of tactics – Panda, Penguin, Pigeon, Pirate, EMD, HTTPS/SSL, Payday Loan, Page Layout, Hummingbird, DMCA Penalty and several unnamed and unannounced updates.

Overall the requirements are fairly clear. But working through the increasing range of needed compliance factors has become increasingly complex.

Google Webmaster Tools

Webmaster Tools has become an essential addition to website performance analysis and this is where a large portion of research can be done. Google has been continually adding features to this tool and gives recommendations on what can be improved on your site.

This is also where Google advises if you have received a manual penalty for non-compliant behaviour or if you have security issues such as malware.

It is not surprising then that I recommend every website must have Webmaster Tools added and the data should be continually monitored.

Other recommended tools

There are a number of very useful tools that take care of different elements of your website. We use the Moz Suite, Ahrefs, Majestic, Screaming Frog and others to look at and analyse backlink profiles.

A clean, high quality link profile is extremely important. Any sign of manipulative behaviour and penalties can be severe resulting in removal from search results or a dramatic reduction in visibility.

What are SEO audits and how do they work?

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Clean up your backlinks or face off with Google Penguin

The Penguin: ‘Please, don’t hurt me! I didn’t mean it!’

It wasn’t all that long ago when getting as many links as possible pointing back to your site was top priority and it didn’t really matter too much where those backlinks were coming from. The goal of course was to position your website on the first page of Google and other top search engines such as Bing and Yahoo.

The quantity of backlinks was extremely important and many websites were rewarded with good search engine rankings and as such were placed at the top of the list when anyone carried out a search query.

Unfortunately, or fortunately (depending on which side of the fence you were on at the time), the bubble burst as the major search engines started to evaluate the quality of the links pointing back to your site.

This switch from quantity to quality caused all sorts of problems for those websites that were originally set up with “quantity over quality” link building methods.

Google penguin

The Penguin: ‘You don’t really think you’ll win, do you?’

Google first released their algorithm, code name Penguin, back in April 2012. Rankings quickly fell and many sites were penalised for having backlinks from sources now regarded as black-hat link building tactics. The latest update, Penguin 3.0, was released on 17 October 2014.

As a result, many of today’s SEO specialists need to deeply audit client websites and remove the offending backlinks. This is probably one of the most painstaking and time consuming tasks in SEO and yes, I’m speaking from experience as we have been called in many times to clean up toxic link profiles that have been built by other companies. I almost called this task unrewarding as well but that’s not quite true. The reward is the recovery from a Penguin penalty, or watching a client website start to improve in page rank, traffic and authority in their niche because you’re actually doing your job. So it has become a critical SEO task to clean up your backlinks regularly.

The Penguin: ‘I believe the word you’re looking for is “Aaahh”!’

If you want to use Google as your search engine of choice (and why wouldn’t you – Google is still the most popular search engine in the world with almost 70% market share?), you really have little alternative but to do your best to stick to Google’s rules of engagement. You only need to look at Google’s webmaster guidelines to see for yourself the types of penalties you could incur should you choose not to adhere to them.

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Impending Google updates and what your business needs to know

Matt Cutts – head of Google’s search quality team (and as a colleague commented the other day – one of the most powerful people on the planet) has made a new video. This outlines in his usual friendly, noncommittal manner what Google is doing in the next few months as far as the hugely influential search algorithm goes. (Google seldom pre-announces anything!)

In other words…

Things are about to get very rocky in the website sea!

Hold on to your hats everyone!

Google has “pre-announced” a number of areas where they are going to seek out and punish sites that are using “black hat” SEO techniques to artificially push sites up Google’s search results. Again.

The unfortunate thing is that your site might very well fall into this category without you even being aware of it.

We do have sympathy for the cause…

No one likes cheats and no one likes lazy people gaining big returns for very little effort (or if you are Black Hat – being smart enough and entrepreneurial enough and technically brilliant enough to subvert the biggest business in the world to make money)

The problem with black hat is that it is not a long term business proposition. Awesome for quick buck hacks but scary for real businesses and reputations.

To be honest I think it is amusing that these guys think they are smarter than a couple of hundred of the world’s top engineers…

But, back to the impending Google updates.

The importance of the Penguin Update

No one expected the first Penguin update to be as game-changing as it was.

The SEO world shifted on its axis – any manipulative “link building” was suddenly at best almost worthless and at worst a huge detriment to a client website and business.

I won’t go into Penguin 1.0 detail here as it has been very well covered elsewhere.

But the major outcome from our perspective has been the elimination of a huge number of cheap, automated, low quality SEO services offering the world’s riches for tuppence.

And there have been real benefits for great websites that are technically sound, that offer great user experience, that have high quality, well structured content, that have a commitment to fresh, high value information and a social sharing strategy. These benefits can be profound as I documented in this ROI/website visitor growth case study.

And true to his word Penguin 2.0 has just been rolled out. It is too early to make any judgements around whether it has been more effective, more punitive and whether the desired outcome has been achieved.

We will track this closely as the next days and weeks pass.

I am sure there are a lot of very nervous people out there right about now…

Before I digress further let’s get right down to what Mr Cutts is promising in the next few months.

Here’s the video:

And for those of you (like me) who are way to impatient to wait for a video to slowly roll out here is a helpful transcript (thanks Ross Hudgens)

So what are the big takeaways from the announcement?

My first thought is that like an iceberg only a small portion will ever be visible above the surface. Google seldom gives a warning of impending action and if it does you can guarantee it will be big!

Forget the platitudes and forget the cuddly Matt Cutts persona.

This will be a rocky road for many.

Impending Google updates and what you need to do

Penguin 2.0 – Now live

In my opinion this is the biggie. This has been telegraphed as far back as SMX West in early March and it has been built up as an update to be deeply concerned about if you have ever strayed across the line.
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Shockwave Flash has crashed – How to fix it once and for all!

Are you sick of super slow browsers and constant crashes and every time the culprit is Shockwave Flash?

Is this familiar?

Shockwave_flash_has_crashed

 

 

Frustrating?

Well, fear not!

This problem was really bugging me a few months back and it got to the stage where I was going out of my mind because of the frustratingly slow browser.

Hey, Chrome is supposed to be fast, right?

So I tried Firefox for a while…

That was even worse (sorry Firefox fans!)

The next step was to try Google…

Shockwave Flash crashing Chrome

A highly laser focused Google search – multiple phrases and  tricks to get through the rubbish to a real solution.

Now that was a joke!

You may have already found a few of the sites I went to.

Why do tech guys have to over-complicate every thing they do?

The huge amounts of code changes, browser settings and PC setup adjustments blew my poor feeble SEO mind!

Finally I found the Shockwave Flash has crashed solution!

And it was easier than you could imagine.
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Is Google Adwords the new snake oil target?

The last couple of months has been a rough ride for many website owners due to the frequent punitive Google Updates and now I am seeing new serious risks appearing for business owners who are not completely up to date with how websites and search engines work. Please use the share buttons above and let your business connections know about this new scam so they can avoid a really costly mistake!

Panda Updates and Penguin Updates

It had to happen really!

Let’s look at the last few months of Google updates and the repercussions felt by a large number of websites both good and bad.

First up, the Panda was tough… and very necessary!

The first Panda update was more than a year ago and I outlined the reasons for it here.

Each of the following Panda updates seemed to be even tougher and there was some serious collateral damage as even a number of high quality sites with tons of great content were punished!

And then came the Penguin… wow!

There will be a large number of web design and development companies who add anchor text based site wide footer links to every client’s site who will be feeling the pain right now (and probably wondering why).

And it seems from the various SEO based forums that SEO companies, web development, bloggers, Internet marketing services and more in the tech services field were hit disproportionately.

But it was not just this field that were hit. Many sites who historically had work done by low cost SEO companies to “boost search ranking on Google” also noticed disturbing trends in their analytics reports after Google’s aggressive targeting of non-compliance.

And because of the close dates of the various Panda and Penguin updates it can be difficult to analyse which particular update has afflicted many sites. Duplication issues, site errors, anchor text repetition, unnatural link profiles, overuse of keywords, over optimisation, comment spam links, thin content, too many links from a particular source, links from unrelated niches? And I could go on.

Google really came out with guns blazing! They hit every possible webspam or manipulative technique they could think of in short succession.

Here is the list of some of the recent Google updates:

April 19, 2012 – Panda 3.5

April 24, 2012 – Penguin

April 27, 2012 – Panda 3.6

May 25, 2012 – Penguin 1.1

June 8, 2012 – Panda 3.7

June 25, 2012 – Panda 3.8

So, Google has decimated webspam. Nice one Google!

Matt Cutts (Head of Google’s webspam team), take a bow.

You have made the Internet a better place…

Or have you?
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New Zealand SEO Companies Punished For Dangerous Link Building Strategies!

When SEO companies go bad!

After you have read this post please share it with anyone who currently employs a company to do search engine optimisation for their business website. What is outlined in this post could have a major negative impact on the future of their website and their online business prospects. You can also share on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn using the buttons at the top. Here we go…  

Something big has happened at Google… really big!

SEO companies try to fool search engine robots

And so far the new Google initiative has mostly gone under the radar (note I said “So far” )

But this will change very quickly once businesses realise that:

  • the phone is not ringing as often this week compared to last week
  • or maybe the email volume from the Contact Page seems a little more manageable
  • or sales seem to be down this week
  • or any of the other conversion targets your business has for the company website don’t seem to be firing the way they were

Sure, there are seasonal fluctuations, there are even weekly and daily fluctuations which seem sometimes to have no logical cause.

But, this is a bit different!

What has happened that could cause such a sudden drop in traffic and sales?

The major international SEO blogs have been abuzz with this latest initiative for a week or more now.

And it is looking like it cuts a bit closer to home and has more serious consequences  than Google’s now infamous Panda Update!

What is Google up to and how does this affect business SEO?

Google signaled quite clearly at the recent SXSW (Annual music, film, and interactive conference in Austin, Texas) that it intended to level the SEO playing field a bit…

No, actually, a lot!
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Panda Update | One Year After The Google Bomb! [Infographic]

It has been a year now since the infamous Google Panda update was covertly rolled out.

Now is probably a good time to do a bit of analysis on whether it has achieved what it set out to do.

Panda Update on Google

How has Panda altered the way people approach search engine optimization?

Did it succeed with what Google set out to achieve?

First of all…

What exactly is the Google Panda Update?

The Panda Update could be described as a clip-on rather than a change in the Google algorithm. The algorithm itself is one of the most closely guarded secrets in the world and it is amended and updated more than 500 times a year.

The Panda Update is run periodically to improve the quality of a searcher’s experience by providing search results that are as relevant as possible. It does this by penalising sites that appear to have thin or low value content.

The Update has been run ten times that we are aware of – the most recent one on January 18th of this year!

Who was the Panda Update targeting?

There had been a major build-up of poor quality content over the last few years. A huge number of Internet marketing programs were and still are being sold to new online marketers. The potential to make a ton of money by teaching people how to manipulate search engine results in order to make sales of products, businesses or services is just too attractive to resist for some people.

And the organic results were free!

A couple of years ago you could research a keyword, write an article, create a press release, make a video, post on a Web 2.0 site and publish a blog with almost identical content and you would end up with 5 or more positions in the search results on Page One for the keyword!

Wow!
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The Social Media Benefits Of Telling Tall Tales!

What are some of your most cherished childhood memories?

…your most loved activities as a child you have grown up with and continued to love as an adult?

Most of the activities and pleasures we love as children change as we mature and become immersed in adulthood and all the trappings of maturity – career, travel, marriage and families of our own to start the cycle over again.

There does however seem to be one aspect of our childhood that never loses it’s appeal – and that is storytelling.

Tall tales bring social media benefits

 

Just think about it for a minute, at any given time you are either listening to a story being told, you are regaling one to a friend or audience, you are reading someone a story or reading one yourself.

Some smart educators and trainers use storytelling to teach new programmes, managers use them in resolving conflicts, addressing issues and facing challenges and many games are based around stories often in an outrageous form with hyperbole gaining the highest points!

Even your best kept secrets destined only for the most private ears – are stories!

Our existence is one big story made up of thousands of tales that weave together the fabric of our lives, chapters that inspire, sadden, excite, rejuvenate, sparkle, enthuse, bring a delightful end to a long day, evoke buried memories and bring joy and laughter into our lives.

Stories can also frighten, agitate, cause discomfort, scare to death, unnerve, disappoint and make you sad.

You will at some time have come across brilliant raconteurs who can recount their anecdotes and experiences with a talent that leaves you feeling the pain or pleasure of their tale, as if it were your own!

You are probably wondering how this relates to the title of this article: ‘The Social Media Benefits Of Telling Tall Tales’ but before I get to this point I want to indulge you just a little bit more.
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The War Against Blog Comment Spam And How To Gain The Upper Hand

Blog comment spam… What exactly is it?

How do you know whether you have become an easy target?

How do you stay ahead of the comment spammers?

Spam in blogsI decided to put this guide together for two reasons which I will outline below but first let’s look at what blog comment spam is and why it has become such a major issue.

Blog comment spam is sometimes called spamdexing, comment spam, spam in blogs and a number of other variations on the same theme.

The reason why it exists is purely because of the value of links in SEO. One of the most important aspects of gaining good results in the search engine results pages is having a large number of back-links pointing at your website. These are seen as votes for your site by Google and the other search engines and are therefore counted as a powerful factor when allocating positions.

So, obviously the more links you can get the better your site will do (I have used an over-simplification here to avoid a full search engine optimisation explanation – you can read a fairly comprehensive explanation here)

Unfortunately when it comes to working online many people prefer to find ways to circumvent the safeguards which have been put in place to protect the integrity of the search results. By using “black hat techniques” many marketers break most of the compliance regulations in order to avoid the large amount of manual work and the patience required in implementation of “white hat SEO” techniques.

By sending massive amounts of automated spam out across the web with the attitude that some of it will “stick” these cowboys become the nuisance that we all have all grown to seriously dislike…

Google made a major change way back in 2005 to address this issue. By adding a nofollow attribute to links from comments and trackbacks the theory was that this would discourage automated blog comment spam as there would no longer be any SEO benefit from the comments. Google’s post is here:  Preventing Comment Spam.

Unfortunately there are millions of blogs which do not have the nofollow attribute (we voluntarily set our comments as dofollow in order to reward real comments but understand that we need to be more vigilant about spam because of this decision).

Blog spam software launches millions of comments per day at the web and the main problem is with the number of blogs where the owner auto-approves any comment. It is not unusual to find a blog of very low quality which has thousands of spam junk comments per post… Uggh!

Fortunately Google seeks out websites which have a disproportionate number of these low quality comment based links and penalises or even bans the websites which are using these techniques. Frustratingly though, it can take a while for them to identify some of the perpetrators and so ethically SEO’d websites can be relegated below the cowboys for periods of time.

The two reasons why I have created this guide?
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Oh No! SEO Fail Causes Search Engine Ranking Disaster in Australia!

It seems a large number of New Zealand and Australian businesses are seeking answers to search engine ranking difficulties between the two countries.

In a previous post “The Great Geographic Divide – Google Splits New Zealand And Australia” I talked about geographic modifiers and how many businesses are unaware of how important location is to search engine results.

Search Engine Ranking in Australia and New ZealandI also discussed how tough it can be to get traction in Google in the other country and how it seems to be easier to get US placement than Australian placement if you are a New Zealand business.

This post is based on my research into the poor performance of a local company who also has representation across the Tasman and who felt like they had tried everything without success to improve their Australian search engine ranking.

Here is how the websites are set up.

There are two sites on two different ccTLDs (country code top level domain). So one is website.co.nz and the other is website.com.au. The New Zealand site is hosted here in NZ and the Australian site is hosted in Australia.

So far, so good.

The sites are both optimised for a range of keywords and each page of the site has unique meta data. Yes, good as well.

I am afraid that is the end of the good news though.

The New Zealand site performs reasonably well on Google for most of the keywords on several of the site pages. Traffic figures for the main keywords in New Zealand I would describe as average. However, when I use Google Australia ( http://www.google.com.au/webhp) to search for the same keywords the Aussie site is nowhere to be found.

So, what is going on here?
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The Great Geographic Divide – Google Splits New Zealand And Australia!

This could rattle a few cages out there!

I am about to give away a little secret which many local SEO exponents would probably rather I didn’t…

But here goes!

When you type in your business keyword into Google you are only seeing what someone in your immediate location will see. This can be as precise as your town or city.

So, you were given those amazing global search volume figures for your keyword but after a search engine optimization campaign you were left wondering where the thousands of new customers were…

I have a bit of bad news for you!

If you are based in New Zealand, you are more than likely only ranking in New Zealand. And if you are in Auckland you are possibly only showing front page in Auckland results. Even the websites you have visited have an impact on what shows up on your front page Google results…

but that is for a separate post!

If you are based in Australia, you are more than likely not showing anywhere else in the world… just Google Australia!

Why?

Geographic modifiers are a major influencer in search. If you are based in a particular country then it is way more likely that you will be trusted by people in your own market, culture, ethnicity than some one who is across the ocean.
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