Forget About SEO: Ex-Google Employee

SEOUpon doing my regular travels around the usual SEO news sites this week I came across an interesting interview published by Australian search marketer James Norquay, in which he spoke with former Google employee Andre Weyher.

The interview provided some great insight in to the thoughts of an ex-member of Matt Cutts’ Search Quality Team, but there was line in particular that stood out from Weyher: “forget about SEO.” Okay, this will not come as a surprise to many people, and there are plenty of marketers out there that have been saying this for years; however, hearing it from a former Google employee – a man that knows the inner workings of the search engine we try so hard to please – adds extra significance.

The alternatives

So if we’re being told not to use SEO, what exactly should we be doing? Well according to Wehyer, marketers should be looking to develop sites and content that “speaks to users” and that it is “most important to “focus on content quality.”

“Try to work on your website as if SEO was not a part of your plan,” Wehyer tells Norquay in the interview. “Create content out of a sincere interest and enthusiasm for the topic of your page. This is what Google and your users want from you.”

Wehyer’s point is correct; although I would not go as far as to say forget about SEO, it is true that the processes required for search engine optimisation have changed. Essentially, what Wehyer is talking about – focussing on quality content – is still SEO, but with more focus on providing articles, blog posts and videos for the users and opposed to the search engines. Following the latest Penguin update, Google is rewarding sites with valuable content in the SERPs, so it isn’t so much forgetting about SEO, as evolving and developing new strategies.

Wehyer also had this to say about link building: “Everyone knew that Penguin would be pointed at links, but I don’t think many people expected the impact to be as large as it turned out to be. At this stage a webmaster is out of his mind to still rely on techniques that were common practice 8 months ago.”

Again this is true, as Penguin has changed link building dramatically; however, not to the point where it is obsolete. What the Penguin update has done has placed the emphasis on top quality links instead of those that are irrelevant and from low quality sources such as link farms. If you can get yourself some good backlinks by writing guest posts, and commenting informatively on reputable forums, your search engine ranking will benefit as a result.

As the recent study by Compete.com (which we talked about here last week) showed, organic listings are still essential for website traffic and using SEO is the best way to get your set in first position.

The advice that Andre Wehyer gives is interesting and the interview with James Norquay is well worth a read, however, I believe that providing we all adapt to the Google changes, SEO will continue to be as valuable as ever.

Pheed: The Future of Social Networking?

Pheed Social networking is nothing new, and many of us will have been using social media in some form or other for a good ten years now, having first started with Friendster and Friends Reunited, progressing on to MySpace and Bebo, before finally arriving at Facebook and Twitter. Nowadays there are so many different social media sites that let us share music, video and photos, and read content from various sources, but there has never been what you would call the ‘complete package’, a site that that takes a bit of YouTube, some Twitter, a helping of Facebook and a portion of Tumblr and delivers it in one place…until now.

New social networking site Pheed aims to grab the best bits of social media and give them to you, ruling out the need to spend hours each day going back and forth between your favourite sites. Its founder O.D. Kobo says he is keen to build upon, and expand, good ideas, “In the past five years I haven’t seen anyone do anything as masterful as them,” Kobo said in an interview with Fast Company. “But after two years I kept thinking, Why can’t I do more? Why didn’t they introduce video? Why can’t I upload an album? Wouldn’t it be interesting if Instagram offered text? Would Twitter have been shaking in their boots a little bit? Maybe it was necessary for other platforms to come about.”

Attracting users

New social networking sites pop up all the time, so just how is Pheed going to attract a user base? Exactly the same way as Twitter did, and the new Myspace is doing – with celebrities. Kobo has already enlisted 200 celebrities including Paris Hilton, Chris Brown, David Guetta, Miley Cyrus and Ashley Tisdale, and where there are celebrities fans are sure to follow, which seems to be the case with Pheed which has attracted over 350,000 unique views in the past couple of days.

Pheed isn’t all that interested in a huge fan base though, they are more focussed on the die-hard fans – the ones that are willing to pay for unique and premium content. As an obvious incentive for celebrities and other artistic users, Pheed offers the chance to charge for content. This can involve charging a fee for one-time viewing or a monthly subscription fee. Current access to a Pheed feed can cost you anywhere from $1.99 to $34.99 per view or per month.

Such an opportunity will be very appealing to independent musicians, writers and filmmakers; however, established artists are not likely to need such exposure, so it will be the job of the marketing team and the other celebs that are on board to convince them otherwise.

The key to any success in social networking is to carve out a niche for yourself and Pheed has managed to do that. Kobo is hoping that his site can follow in the footsteps of others by improving on predecessors in order outdo the competition in what is a crowded marketplace.

“The wheel had to come about before the car,” Kobo said. “There are stages, like how Friendster came, then MySpace, then Facebook, each one improving on and adding to the format. There was Twitter and now Pheed–the evolution of a genre.”

Google vs. French Media

Google FranceAn interesting story has been brewing over the past few days regarding everyone’s favourite search engine Google, the French media, and the French government.

Google France and the government are locking horns over a proposed move to make search engines pay a charge for every link to French newspaper content. Naturally, Google do not like the thought of paying a commission fee to newspaper sites every time they are referenced and have threatened to simply stop linking to such content if the law is passed.

French news

This story originally started last month when French newspaper publishers asked the government to adopt a law that would force the search engines to pay copyright fees for displaying links of top French newspapers such as Les Echos and Le Figaro in its results. For example, if someone searched Google for The Eiffel Tower and the search returned related news articles from those newspapers mentioned, Google would be required to pay a commission fee.

The law is very similar to one that was drafted earlier this year in Germany – which Google are also unhappy with.

The reason for the whole sage has to do with advertising. French media, like German media, say they are having a hard time making any money through advertising, while Google is raking it in thanks to the sponsored ads and links that are displayed on each of the one billion plus searches per day.

Upon hearing about the proposed move, Google sent a letter to the French government, telling ministers that it “cannot except” the legislation and that the law would “threaten its very existence”. The letter – which was later posted on Google’s Europe blog – said that the search engine is responsible for redirecting 4 billion clicks a month to French Media sites and that making them pay for doing so is like “asking a taxi driver to pay for taking a customer to a restaurant”.

“The web has led to an explosion of content creation, by both professional and citizen journalists,” Google wrote on the matter. “So it’s not a secret that we think a law like the one proposed in France and Germany would be very damaging to the internet. We have said so publicly for three years.”

Upon reading the letter, French Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti was surprised by the tone, telling Agence France-Presse, “You don’t deal with a democratically elected government with threats.” She also defended the law by saying it is, “a tool that it seems important to me to develop.”

Going against Google

People have accused Google of blackmailing the French government by threatening to drop all media links, and blackmail it may well be, but French newspapers may have bitten of more than they can chew by taking on the internet giant. U.K. newspaper The Times are a perfect example of this.

Two years ago The Times and The Sunday Times – owned by Rupert Murdoch – decided to block all Google traffic with Murdoch calling the search engine a “parasite” and “content kleptomaniac.” However, last month it was revealed that The Times had opted back in to Google as 30 to 40 percent of traffic to the site came from searches. A ban on French media would have similar results and upsetting Google is something that newspapers will want to carefully consider.

SEO as Valuable as Ever

SEOWhen it comes to search engine optimisation, a lot of emphasis is placed upon using both on-page and off-page techniques to help improve a ranking and propel your website on to that all-important first page of Google. But just how important is it to be on to be on top of the rankings?

A recent study by Compete.com looked at “tens of millions” of consumer-generated SERPs from Q4 of 2011 and revealed that the difference between first and second place can be very significant.

While some people would argue that paid links provide more exposure than organic links, this study proves once again that natural is the way to go. A massive 85 percent of all listings shown are organic, not only this, when it comes to clicks a massive 53 percent went on the first result. The second placed result seen 15 percent of clicks, while the third, fourth and fifth, received a dwindling 9, 6 and 4 percent respectively.

Focussing on organic

The research also showed that paid listings on the top of the page performed considerably better than those on the side or bottom of the page. 85 percent of clicks went on the paid listings that featured in the top ad block, although only 24 percent of ads appear there. 61 percent of ads appear in the right hand column, but these only receive 13 percent of clicks. As expected, ads at the bottom of the page performed poorly, with only 2 percent of total clicks going on 15 percent of ads. However, with paid links making up only 15 percent of total listings, it is clear that primary focus for SEO practitioners should be organic.

“Since the vast majority of listings on a SERP [search engine results page] are organic, and the majority of clicks are on the first listing, it’s imperative that brands strategy including constantly monitoring results due to the ongoing evolution of search engine algorithms,” the study advises. And it’s right. The top two places in the SERPs are way too important to ignore in terms of value and as a webmaster you should be looking to employ an SEO strategy to firstly get to the top of the rankings, and then stay there.

If this means employing an expert SEO practitioner to execute on-page tactics such as keyword rich content, search engine-friendly URLs and captivating meta descriptions, then so be it. The cost of hiring an SEO professional will be miniscule when compared with the benefits to be had from featuring at the top of Google’s listings.

Find someone that can help set-up and employ a diverse range of SEO tactics to maximise the potential of your site.

As the saying goes, ‘if you’re not first you’re last’ and employing an effective SEO strategy is the only to ensure you stay ahead of the competition.

England’s Footballer’s Given Strict Rules on Social Media

FA CrestSocial media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have given the chance for celebrities and sports stars to interact with their fans and followers and a platform to voice opinions and vent frustrations on certain issues. However, under a new code of conduct set out by the English Football Association, if you are in the privileged position of being an England footballer, you will need be prepared to give up some of your social media habits.

In recent weeks two England stars have caused controversy on Twitter; first it was Ashley Cole who – in reaction to the FA decision in the John Terry racism case – took to the micro-blogging site to vent his frustration, tweeting: “Hahaha well done #fa I lied did I, #bunchoft***s.” Of course, Ashley forgot to include the stars in place of the actual letters in the expletive.

Next it was Cole’s Chelsea teammate Ryan Bertrand, who said, “Do you think a “sorethroat” could stop me being a part of a match for my club or country? #yourf******nuts this is what every boy dreams of,” in reaction to the FA’s comment that he had pulled out of the England squad with a sore throat as opposed to the swollen glands and headache that he was actually suffering with.

There has also been past instances with other footballers such as Rio Ferdinand and Joey Barton, although these were dealt with by the players’ individual club sides, which have their own social media policies in place.

The rules

The new FA rules should effectively put an end to Twitter rants, and subsequent apologies, as England players have been warned that they must “not publish (on Twitter or Facebook) anything that may cause or embarrass a member of the FA, the England squad and management.” There must be no criticism of any social media site at all, and another rule states that there must be “no Twitter or Facebook comments on the day before the game or the day of the game unless authorised.”

The six page code has been given to the England senior men’s team and every member of the 24 different representative sides, from youth teams, to the women’s side and the England disabled football team.

Failure to comply with these rules “could result in disciplinary action” and special emphasis has been placed on the captains of England sides.

“The position of England captaincy is a privileged position which carries with it the additional expectations and responsibility (both on and off the field),” reads the code of conduct.

“The captaincy may be removed from a player by the Club England Management Board in the event that his or her conduct does not meet the standards required for the role.” This decision will be made regardless of the opinion of England managers and head coaches.

This new code of conduct demonstrates the power that social media has in the modern age. One ill-judged tweet in the heat of the moment can become mainstream news within minutes. Even if the tweet is deleted soon after; the chances are it will have already spread around social media like wild fire. Whether or not these news rules can put an end to Twitter rants remains to be seen, but you do get the sense that social media is slowly but surely losing its freedom of speech element – the one thing that makes it great.

Google’s New Disavow Links Tool – The Last Stand against Negative SEO

Manipulating Google’s algorithms with artificial external link profiles is a big no no. The webmaster guidelines have said it for years and this year’s Penguin update attempted to hammer the point home by flagging any site that attempted to use spam techniques. But what if you are not using unethical practices as a way to manipulate the search engine?  What if your hard earned search engine ranking has been compromised by a competitor? Then you have probably been the victim of Negative SEO.

Negative SEO has been an issue in search engine optimisation for some time and involves shady practitioners deliberately setting out to destroy a competitor website by using various tools to point thousands of low quality links at a site, thus leading to the targeted site being penalised by Google. Despite downplaying Negative SEO for some time, Google has finally released a much anticipated disavow links tool to help webmasters take control of harmful links and have them disregarded.

Disavow links

The new tool was announced by head of Google’s web spam Matt Cutts during his keynote speech at the Pubcon conference in Las Vegas. It has been tested for a number of weeks by selected SEOs and is now live and ready to use.

The introduction of the disavow links tool aims to help webmasters that believe their Google search ranking to have been affected by low quality links from spam sites. Google are quick to suggest that the tool should only be used after alternative methods have been tried, “If you know of bad link-building done on your behalf (e.g., paid posts or paid links that pass PageRank), we recommend that you contact the sites that link to you and try to get links taken off the public web first,” says the updated Google help section. “You’re also helping to protect your site’s image, since people will no longer find spammy links and jump to conclusions about your website or business.”

If your efforts of trying to have a link taken down are unsuccessful you can then go ahead and use the disavow links tool. But be warned, if you disavow a good link in error, it could be a long wait for that link to be reinstated – if ever.

Webmasters will be able to disavow individual URLs, or entire domains in a text file uploaded to Google’s Webmaster Tools. Cutts said that the tool uses the “nofollow” attribute, which allows sites to link to other sites without passing ranking credit to those sites.

Finding spam links

The disavow tool is a very powerful one and can be effective if you feel that your website has be targeted with Negative SEO. The difficulty in using the tool successfully is being able to determine which links are causing the damage. If your website contains thousands of backlinks from hundreds of domains, trying to find bad URLs and domains will prove almost impossible, especially as Google does not provide us with the ability to find out which links are harming a ranking.

If you want to learn more about the tool, there is a video of Matt Cutts talking about Disavow Links here.

Felix Baumgartner Takes Social Media Engagement to New Heights

Felix BaumgartnerIf you’ve been anywhere near a computer or television in the past couple of days, then you will probably know all about Felix Baumgartner. The Austrian skydiver became the first man to break the sound barrier on his own on 14th October, 2012 when he broke the skydiving world record from a height of 128,000 feet, reaching speeds of 1,342 kilometres per hour (833.9 mph) as he plunged to Earth. If you haven’t seen it, it is well worth a watch.

When he set out on his skydiving mission, Felix knew he was going to set all kinds of records; one record he probably didn’t know he was going to set though, was the record of being the first live YouTube event to receive over 7 million viewers.

Social media boon

As Baumgartner was making the ascent into the stratosphere, social media was going nuts. The closer Felix got to his jump the more the event became popular on social networks with YouTube links being shared by the thousand on Twitter and Facebook. At the moment when he was about to jump, almost 7.3 million people were tuned into YouTube.

Sponsors Red Bull, who were surely delighted by all this social media coverage, were quick to capitalise on the success jump by posting a picture on Facebook of the Austrian record breaker sat on his knees safely in the New Mexico desert after the near 10 minute descent. The picture was shared 29,000 times in just 40 minutes and received 216,000 likes. Embracing social media even further, Red Bull took questions from fans on Facebook and Twitter to ask Baumgartner at the press conference.

Over on Twitter, the jump was trending worldwide with over half of the trends related in some way to the jump.

Great year to be social

The daredevil jump of Felix Baumgartner is another sign of how big events and social media go hand in hand. It is no longer possible to simply watch an event; instead we must share, like and pass comment on just about everything we consume.

If there is something that captures the public imagination, then you can bet your bottom dollar on it trending on Twitter and being liked on Facebook. The three big events of the summer – Euro 2012, the London Olympics, and the Paralympics proved that social media can make people feel like they are part of an event.

During the final of Euro 2012 between Spain and Italy, some 15,358 tweets per second were related to the game. The Olympics was a similar story with over to 5 million tweets sent just about the opening and closing ceremonies.

The other big event of the year – the American Presidential elections – is also expected to set new social media records.

Social media is more powerful for business and brands than ever before, so if you want to generate some interest in your company how about attempting a world-record skydive from 129,000 feet? Go on, social media users will love it!

Google AdWords Gets Update to Improve Quality

google adwords logoOver the past 18 months, Google has been hell bent on improving their services and making the search experience a more user friendly place. First there was the 2011 Panda algorithm update, which proved to be a game-changer for SEO, then came this year’s Penguin update which served to clamp down further on those using unethical SEO and spam tactics. Today (October 15, 2012), Google AdWords receives a similar update – one that is aimed to bring more quality to PPC advertising. Panda and Penguin have worked wonders in making the organic search service better for those that use it by keeping spammers at bay. Now, Google has turned their attention to PPC and will be hoping for the same results.

What does the update bring?

By bringing in this update, PPC advertising should become better for everyone – apart from spammers of course. The AdWords guidelines won’t change with the update, but those practicing PPC will need to pay much more attention to them in future campaigns to avoid being penalised.

What the update aims to provide is better quality ads. This means trustworthy links and more relevant ad text. Auto generated ad text, ads that feature little in the way of description and trying to direct traffic to an irrelevant landing page are all tactics that are likely to see your PPC strategy suffer.

In SEO, Panda and Penguin algorithm changes have put much more emphasis on content and the creation of informative and quality articles, videos and blog posts – the same sort of thing is now happening in PPC. AdWords will now need to be relevant, truthful and well written in order for a website to reap the benefits.

The rules

ClickThrough Marketing published a list of the rules that are now being enforced by Google:

  • Ads and keywords must directly relate to content on the landing page or the topic/business model of a site
  • Products or services mentioned in an ad must be featured on the landing page
  • Generalised call-to-action phrases, such as ‘Click Here’ or ‘Click +1’ must not be used
  • Ads cannot have missing lines of text or extreme spacing
  • Poor grammar or illogical ad text will be punished
  • Sites with interstitial ads which create unexpected pop-up pages are prohibited
  • Sites built solely to display ads won’t be allowed to use AdWords
  • Irrelevant, unclear keyword campaigns could be punished
  • Stock template websites with duplicated content will be penalised
  • Scraped content will be penalised
  • Landing pages featuring ads must ensure the ads are distinguishable from actual content
  • Site navigation must be clear – deceptive structures could be punished
  • Malicious or frustrating websites won’t get paid ads
  • Phone numbers must not be used in site links
  • Ads must not simulate email inbox notifications

Ads that are found to breach the rules will be required to be changed accordingly before approval is granted. Worse punishments could result in a domain being suspended and AdWords accounts being banned and all ads deleted.

Google is getting serious about spamming, and that can only be a good thing for the future of the internet.

Yahoo Down in Latest Search Market Numbers

yahooWeb analytics firm comScore has published their latest search engine rankings, and as ever the results make for interesting reading.

Of course, it goes without saying who is at the top of the market. Google has remained king once again and has even seen a 0.3 percent increase from August to September (2012). The figures also make decent reading for forgotten search engine Ask, which has also added 0.3 percentage points. Former internet giant AOL – clinging on to a place in the top five search engines by their fingernails – strengthened its position ever so slightly by 0.1 percentage points, giving them 1.8 percent of the search market. If you work for, or are a fan of Yahoo though, things are not looking so good.

Between August and September, Yahoo’s market share dropped by 0.6 percent. Not the most significant of drops I will admit, but another sign of the former market leader’s continuing decline. In August Yahoo’s market share stood at 12.8 percent which was down 0.2 percent from June and July when the Sunnyvale, California-based company posted a market share of 13 percent. With Bing holding a steady 15.9 percent of the market over the last month, Microsoft has firmly cemented second place in the market; granted, they are way off the 66.7 percent of Google, but are increasing their advantage on Yahoo and looking forwards rather than over their shoulder.

Yahoo needs all the help it can get in the search department right now and the comScore statistics on total search volume will not brighten their day any. ComScore says that about 16.53 billion searches were conducted in September, down approximately 4 percent from August’s figure of 17.04 billion.

Google and Bing both saw total searches drop by 4 percent over the month and AOL took a 2 percent hit. Surprisingly, in an all-round good month for Ask, the fourth-placed search provider saw a 3 percent rise in total searches. Yahoo, though, suffered badly, with a 9 percent decrease in monthly searches.

Yahoo’s troubles

Yahoo do not have to worry about slipping down to fourth place in the search market, despite Ask’s good performance last month, a total market share of 3.5 percent puts them way off the 12.2 percent of Yahoo. However, the former top dog has lost even more ground to Microsoft and the distance between the two search providers is increasing by the month – not because of Bing’s outstanding performance, but because of Yahoo’s lacklustre one.

Yahoo has recently appointed a new CEO, Marissa Meyer, but she has yet to announce any changes to the search engine. Given Meyer’s former role at Google and her history with search, you would expect changes to come at some point, however, if Yahoo are indeed serious about being a search provider, these changes need to happen sooner rather than later.

YouTube to Begin Charging for Some Content

you tubeAddressing the Abu Dhabi Media Summit yesterday, YouTube Chief Robert Kyncl revealed that YouTube is to begin experimenting with subscription fees for some of its branded content.

“You will see us offer an option to all the channels that are our partners to start charging subscriptions for their content,” said Kyncl to those in attendance. The “partners” Kyncl talks about include BBC Worldwide, Endemol and FremantleMedia, and the announcement comes days after YouTube launched 60 new dedicated European channels, adding to the near 100 that the social video sharing site launched last year in the U.S.

“From local cuisine, health and wellness and parenting to sports, music, comedy, animation and news, this new line-up of original channels will have something for everyone,” said Kyncl in his blog post on Sunday.

“They are backed by some of the biggest producers, well-known celebrities and emerging media companies from Europe and the US.”

The YouTube Chief’s comments are not likely to sit too well with TV execs who are already losing, not only viewers, but advertisers, to YouTube and similar sites. Kyncl’s further announcement that mobile views of YouTube clips have quadrupled in the last 18 months, from 6 per cent to 25 per cent, will serve as another blow to the humble television set.

It was also revealed that mobile devices would soon be classed as the first screen, pushing television into second place in terms of how we consume content.

“This is the first screen, so when you talk about second screen, you are talking about the television,” said Kyncl, holding up his smartphone. “When you’re making your selections on your phone and you’re sending them to the TV, something that is coming very soon, when that transition is seamless, this becomes the first screen.”

YouTube has invested $150 million into the new channels and has provided companies with the ideal opportunity to make money away from television. The question is will it work?

Making money

As a provider of video content, YouTube is incredibly successful, but will that success continue if subscriptions are introduced?

You would have to believe so.

Look at the likes of LoveFilm and Netflix. Each of these sites charges a monthly subscription fee and allows customers to watch TV shows and movies on demand. Many people thought that availability of films on illegal download and streaming would hamper the success of the each company; however, both have proven to be massively successful, proving that consumers are willing to pay a fee for legal content and the convenience of being able to watch videos 24/7.

The success of iTunes and their video download catalogue is another example of how consumers are more than willing to pay for legal and original content. If the new YouTube channels provide content that people are entertained by, then consumers will be happy to pay a subscription, especially if that fee means content can be viewed ad-free and across all devices.

As Robert Kyncl says, ““The living room is right here in your pocket and goes with you wherever you are.”