What Have Our Bloggers Got Planned in 2015?

With 2014 coming to an end, we spoke to a few of our bloggers to find out what they have in store for 2015 on a business and personal level. Keep reading to hear from Gianluca Fiorelli, James Crawford, Matt Beswick, Jan-Willem Bobbink, Ned Poulter, Barry Adams, Claire Thompson, Andy Miller, Sarah Bradley, Russell O’Sullivan, Krystian Szastok, Jo Turnbull and Arianne Donoghue.

This isn’t all the blogging team as we didn’t get replies from everyone in time for this post so if there is someone you would love to hear from, be sure to ping them a message on Twitter and ask them! N.B – Don’t forget to change the Twitter handle to the right one.

@STATEOFDIGITALBLOGGER Tell me what your plans are in 2015.
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Let’s get started with a bit of light but interesting reading….

What have you got planned in 2015; Business and Pleasure?
Gianluca Fiorelli

I have nothing really planned for pleasure, apart visiting again Istanbul.

About business plans… I’ve quite few things already going on for 2015, even if right now they still are in the their early steps:

Organizing a mini-conference in Valencia where I live, meant as a field-test for something bigger in 2016. It’s a “dream” I have since few years: organizing a international web marketing confererence in South Europe (and not having to travel around the world for attending one);
Writing four hands an ebook with our own Aleyda Solís;
Having more public speaking opportunities in UK/Europe and USA conferences (hint hint)

James Crawford

My plans for 2015 include trying to grow my company but do so by doing really interesting and innovative work.
I also want my work to take me more places so I can meet new and interesting people. The EU Search Awards in Berlin are in the diary already and I might fly out to Las Vegas for Pubcon too.
To counter any accusations of being boring, I am also planning to travel as much as possible with my family too.  I’ve never been to Japan and while my family spends a lot of time in France, I’ve never visited Lyon either, so that City is also on my hitlist.

Matt Beswick

On the business side some big changes are coming. I’ve got a new business partner who most of you will know (we’ll be announcing things soon) and we’re going to be doing a rebrand in early January too. Aside from that I’m getting married… so 2015’s going to be fairly eventful!

Jan-Williem Bobink

Improving the relationship and results with my current clients and combine that with travelling around to online marketing conferences throughout the world. Combining my work with travelling is the biggest benefit of working in SEO.

Ned Poulter

For both business and pleasure, I’m really looking forward to travelling more in 2015. As it turns out, starting your own business in a foreign country, while trying to visit family, my girlfriend and friends back at home takes quite a lot of time and headspace! In 2014 I particularly enjoyed travelling to a few destinations that I’d not been to yet, such as Iceland for RIMC and Germany for SEOktoberfest. In 2015 I have plans to revisit my friends in Iceland and re-attend RIMC (I recommend everyone else to also!) to network more with the fantastic digital marketers in these places and also to travel to more destinations that I’ve not yet had the chance to, in Europe and further afield!

Although it sounds rather cryptic, I’m incredibly excited for a number of announcements that I’m going to be making in 2015, some of which are smaller side projects that I’ve been looking to get going for a while, others are bigger more enthusing changes. Watch this space!

I think that 2015 is going to be a very exciting year for me and my fellow State of Digital bloggers.

Barry Adams

Compared to previous years, 2015 is different for me when it comes to plans, as this is the first new year that I’ll be my own boss. Since I started out on my own in July of this year, I haven’t been able to do any long term planning for things like holidays as it’s been a constant race to get work done, win new clients, and generally stay on top of my own business.

So there’s not much planned for 2015 at the moment. There are some conferences I will definitely be at, such as the Friends of Search event in Amsterdam, Brighton SEO in April, and of course SAScon. Beyond that, I’m taking it one day at a time.

Claire Thompson

In 2015 I am launching a new business – very exciting and set to disrupt a thing or two! Watch this space.

(Of course, in the unlikely event it comes to nothing, it’s business as usual. I’m lucky: I love my day job (PR) anyway, so I’m in a win-win situation.)

Sarah Bradley

New for 2015 is expanding my client base and working on much larger campaigns also continuing writing and presenting my social media training classes. I also plan to go on an all inclusive holiday somewhere sunny and finish the 17 books I started in 2014 haha.

Andy Miller

Few big things planned for 2015; I’m actually leaving BlueGlass at the end of this month to go on as self-employed, I’m heading up the digital for the Uganda International Marathon, going skiing for the first time and spending far more time on building my fancy dress shop!

Russell O’Sullivan

From a business point of view, for 2015 I would really like to expand my network of people within the industry, I have been lucky to have met and become friends with such a great bunch of people from different agencies and brands alike, so I want that to continue. There are so many interesting and knowledgeable people out there and  met a lot of them during 2014. So more of the same would be great. I would like to also expand more speaking opportunities too. I did a presentation at RIMC this year and the people who organised it and the attendees were fantastic and I would highly recommend getting over to Iceland as the people are great.

From a pleasure point of view, spending time with my family and making sure that they are happy and that Dad isn’t grumpy, because I am working too hard is my main focus. I have two young kids and they grow up really quickly, they don’t care what job I do, they just care that I am there, being happy and having lots of laughs.

Krystian Szastok

Business – speaking at Brighton SEO in April, which is really big for me. Other than that to help grow our digital marketing offering at RocketMill.

Pleasure – going for a nice holiday somewhere with my girlfriend; we havent’ done enough of that this year.

Jo Turnball

Business:

Search London (http://www.meetup.com/search-london/) will continue to have some fantastic speakers. January will kick off with a well known professional in the search industry. It will be announced soon so watch this space.

In 2014 SEO Jo Blogs (http://www.seojoblogs.com)  had a redesign and next year I will continue to work on the site. This year will be updating it more regularly with posts on key industry changes and take aways.

I will continue to work with small to medium sized businesses helping them with their online marketing and in particular their SEO and social media. Businesses can contact me via Twitter (https://twitter.com/SEOJoBlogs) if they would like some help with their marketing in 2015.

Pleasure:

I have a travel site (http://being30.com/) which I will be dedicating more time to in 2015. It will have lots of tips on places around the world to visit, all on a budget. I have been to 42 countries so far but have not yet written about some of these amazing places. I will continue to explore new cities and write about them on my blog.

2015 will see me continuing to learn Spanish with the aim of being fluent by December. I have also joined Cross Fit and hope to take part in some of their competitions later on in the year.

Arianne Donoghue

Tricky to say right now – 2014 has been a year full of big change for me, so in some ways I’m looking forward to not having very much planned at all, other than continuing to write for SoD of course! Everyone always says they’d like to travel more, but in 2015 I really would! I’m actually really enjoying with the idea of just going with the flow and seeing where the industry goes and where it takes me.

How About You?

What have you got planned for 2015; business and pleasure? We would love to hear from you in the comments below.

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Stopping SEOcentrism: What Lego Can Teach All Web Marketers

Posted by gfiorelli1

Houston, we have a problem

We SEOs, myself included, have a habit of almost always focusing our attention on what concerns us directly.

We suffer what I call 
SEOcentrism

Everything is SEO and, and everything ends in the sphere of influence of SEO, as if Search Marketing was a gigantic black hole.

Content? Clearly, it is SEO and SEO should govern Content Strategy! Social Media? SEOs are those who really understand it! Inbound Marketing? Isn’t that a synonym for SEO?

In reality, though, things are very different.

Simplifying all components of marketing, SEO is only one small component of a much bigger strategy a brand may have:

That is why most brands, above all, tend to not consider SEO as essential as we would like. Even in the best cases, they usually do not consider SEO (or more broadly Inbound Marketing) as a discipline which could inspire and coordinate all others.

That quadrant can also help us understand why the more traditional media agencies tend to have more success in winning contracts than the new digital ones (not to mention the classic SEO Agencies). The reasons are twofold:

Brands have the ability to have a unique and coordinated strategy designed and built by a single agency; For a traditional media agency, it is relatively easier to just create a digital (or just SEO) area within its existing structure.

Be aware that I am not saying that this is the best choice a business can make; I am simply describing the reality I see every day.

This Venn by Econsultancy explains all the complexities of a complete integrated Marketing strategy

However, there is another problem.

Even if we are good at analyzing data, fixing technical issues, creating content marketing campaigns, influencing community building… even if we follow the instructions of the “good marketer” book, many times the results we obtain still don’t make us feel fully satisfied with our work.

We score a hit, or maybe more than one, but many times that success is extemporary and does not translate into continuous and long lasting improvements… and maybe for that reason our clients may fire us.

Why? It is ironic to say it, but this is mainly because
we do not think organically.

Because of our innate SEOcentrism, we lose or do not take into full account the global marketing strategy of our clients, and we do not see how our job is influenced and may influence the overall marketing strategy.

For this reason I am going to describe how Lego has designed its marketing strategy, what principles guide it, how all the channels are connected by a common “brand storytelling” and what we can learn from the success of Lego.

Why Lego and not another brand? Because Lego really is a brand that is winning in marketing. It is a perfect case history and—let’s be honest—if The Matrix exists it is built with Lego bricks.

Start with why

Ten years ago, Lego announced losses of over $400 million USD.

In reality, crisis has hit Lego since the ’80s because of various reasons including:

The liberalization of the patents related to its famous bricks; and therefore The birth of numerous competitors that offered to the public substantially similar products at a cheaper price; and An almost total impermeability to customers and fans.

Crisis derives from Greek word “choice,” and any crisis—if well managed—can result in renewal and positive transformations that, remaining within the Greek mythology, can revive a person, a country or a business company like they were a phoenix.
Lego understood that, and everything changed.
Lego understood that it needed to reinvent itself, and it needed to start with its 
why:

Inspire
Think creatively
Invent

The mission statement is also fundamental for understanding the archetypical figure Lego wants to represent, and that permeates all its messages:
the Builder (and it is not a case that, for those who know the reference, we all are “Master Builders”).

Reading the 
“Mission and Vision” page of Lego, then, we are able to understand how Lego pretends to make its Why real:

Pioneering new ways of playing;
Pioneering play material;
Pioneering the business model of play;
Leveraging globalisation and digitalisation.

The last two points (and partly the first) have a direct influence in what Lego did and does in marketing.

Takeaway

We must remember to start always from the “About us” page when pitching and building a strategy for our brand or our clients. 

That nearly always-forgotten page is where we can understand the core of the marketing message that must pervade the strategy and work as an unconscious connection with our audience.

Exercise

Pick one of these other great About Us pages and try to define the Why and the How:

REI
Google (no, this is not a joke)
Moz

Audience

As I wrote before, one of reasons why Lego went into decline was that it was completely misaligned with its audience.

Lego took a long time to realize that it was no longer just a game for children, but that those children who were playing with its bricks had grown up and, because they loved Lego, they wanted it to grow up too and start creating products that could respond to their new needs.

Lego Ambassadors

Lego, then, created the Ambassadors Program (now that I am writing the post, the page is under construction for redesign, but 
this other page explains what it is quite well).

Lego Ambassadors, because of their über-fan nature and their evangelizing Lego values and initiatives in forums and blogs, have the function to operate like a communication bridge between Lego itself and its wider fan base, and they do it on a daily basis.

Lego Ideas

In 2010, then, Lego created the Legoclick community, which evolved into what now is 
Lego Ideas, a place where fans do not just discuss and present their own Lego inventions, but also can see them becoming a real Lego product, thanks to other fans’ upvotes and a final review by Lego itself.

If we have the Delorean Lego version or the Lego Ghostbusters car, it is thanks to the fact that Lego finally understood how its audience had changed. Moreover, the entire Minecraft Lego series, now quite popular, started as a Lego Ideas project.

I will return to this concept later, when talking about the importance of fandom and prosumers in marketing today.

On the other hand, Lego also created a community place for its yourger target: 
My Lego Network. 

If you click on the previous link, you will see that Lego also prefers not to use social sign-ins, but how it relies on a detailed process for creating “Lego IDs”. This is not just for retrieving useful information, but also—from a marketing point of view—for offering children (and parents) the fan pride of owning a well-defined identity in the Lego world.

Letting your audience create what you cannot

Have you ever noticed how Lego City or the simple bricks’ boxes  present no weapons? This is a voluntary choice by Lego, which does not extend to products created through co-marketing (e.g. Lego Star Wars).

This choice, however, is a problem for many fans who use Lego to recreate, for example, aircrafts, vehicles or dioramas related to World War II.
For this reason, forums or even small companies that filled this void, such as BrickArms, begun to arise.
The reaction of Lego is not to go against this unorthodox use of its name and bricks, but it is quite the opposite:

Lego allows the forums to “live,” while maintaining a discreet control over them; Lego sends very detailed technical specifications to the companies, which manufacture unofficial pieces so that they can accomplish their work while respecting the level of internal quality of Lego itself.

Let’s build

Let me finish this chapter describing how Lego did not forget that its other main public are the children. We saw how their mission is all about them.

Lego targeted them anew, not only with a stronger attention to kids’ inputs (and possibly answering them), but also with its foundation, which has a similar mission of 
building
a future where learning through play empowers children to become creative, engaged, life-long learners.

Products and marketing around the power of learning through play and through building is at the base of the “Let’s build” tagline. 

Building the game, for Lego, is the common passion that links its two audiences: children and adults.

Takeaways

We must put the users at the center of our marketing strategy, and this starts with achieving a precise audience analysis.

However, we must always remember that the audience is not something monolithic and abstract, but that the data derived from our analysis are a reflection of real people and, as such, subject to changes.
For this reason, the audience analysis should not be conducted only at an early stage, but repeated over time so to identify as early as possible any possible change in the personas, that we have identified.

We must always remember that our audience is multifaceted and that, often, there may be personas with totally opposite characteristics, but having in common the love or interest for our brand. 

Finally, let’s remember that it is in our nature to be data-informed, and that it is in our DNA to retrieve and understand data points that are not the ones commonly taken into consideration by more classic marketers. We must use this as one of our competitive advantages.

More about Audience Analysis:

How Inflow Does Audience Profiles Personas: The Art and Science of Understanding the Person Behind the Visit The Fandom/Canon pendulum

Whenever we deal with a Brand, especially if it targets the main public, we should always remember that 
there exists a constant dialectic between the Canon and the Fandom. Let me explain:

The
Canon represents the official branded content and messages produced
by the brand, and it is defined by the official marketing strategy. 

Moreover, the Canon develops its actions in the so-called “cultural industry channels (e.g. a movie like “The Lego Movie”).

The purpose of Canon is always profit, even if it may be through actions that deal with or encite fandom.


Fandom
, on the other hand, represents the original content fans create using the same brand’s products—a repurposing of the original content a brand creates. 

Fandom is usually delivered using channels independent from those of the brand. To use the Lego example, Vine, Instagram, and YouTube were used by Lego fans far before Lego started using them. Those channels follow very different production principles (e.g. crowdsourcing), and it’s main purpose is pleasure.

The importance of strategy in marketing and brand storytelling

Lego is very much aware of this dialectic, and explores every possible way of taking advantage of it while spreading its own brand storytelling.

From the canonical one, Lego creates (using a typical 
Transmedia term) a “Bible” for each one of its campaigns and products’ lines. 

The Bibles, which we might also call strategic plans, are documents where everything related to a campaign is defined:

Business model Audience Brand storytelling Media/Platforms Execution Experience How all these elements interact between them and when.

Moreover, for every single action previewed in the campaign, the strategic plan also defines:

Business model (because a website follows different rules than a TV series); Audience (a campaign may target just one of the different personas we have defined); Premise (what is causing and justifying, from a storytelling point of view, this action?); Genre (in our cases this could be the kind of content: long forms, infographics, white paper, video…); Theme (or what facet of the general storytelling the action will be about); Narrative synthesis (somehow a sort of adaptation of what the content will narrate); Technical Specification (a field where we can contribute, as demonstrates Richard Baxter in his latest posts here on Moz and on Builtvisible Expansion (the content created can possibly expanded, and this is where we should think about repurposing the content we create).

Now let’s take Yoda Chronicles, and let’s consider it as complex marketing campaign for giving new force to the Lego Star Wars products.

If we look at the Yoda Chronicles campaign by Lego, we can easily find all the elements described above:

The general business model is the co-marketing with the Star Wars brand, which is at the base of the Lego Star Wars’ product line (generic business model); Yoda Chronicles is a spin-off of Lego Star Wars (premise); It it set in the Lego version of the Star Wars universe, in a consistent continuity with it, and it narrates the adventures of a group of young padawans and their master, Yoda; The audiences targeted are both the Star Wars fan (Yoda) and their sons (the Padawans); The media/platforms used were:

TV (the 8-episode miniseries aired on Cartoon Network, but we should also consider the classic promotional teasers and trailers); Microsite (intelligently hosted inside the main Lego Star Wars section in the Lego.com site); Online videos, hosted both in the Lego Star Wars section and in the Lego YouTube channel; Images of any kind (wallpapers, avatars, ready-for-memes images); Several apps, for pre and post-launch, and for iOS, Android, and desktop browsers; Billboards; Guerrilla marketing actions; Books. The TV Series is produced by Lego itself, while external companies take care especially of the pre-launch marketing actions (Execution); Users have plenty of occasion for engaging with Yoda Chronicles, and are enticed to revamp their own fans’ nature, thanks in particular to guerrilla marketing actions, games and message board on the site (Experience); The games allow users to relive the adventures of Yoda and his Padawans, and the games incite players to discover secret codes to use on the site, guiding them into a web ecosystem that see also the possibility to buy the Lego Star Wars products and discuss them (interactions between all elements).

3,000,000+ bricks were needed for creating this 1:1 X-Wing Fighter. The buzz was of similar scale.
(Photo by 
Pascal on Flickr)

When it comes to Fandom, Lego simply allows fans the freedom of doing (almost) everything their imagination inspires them to create, and doesn’t try to control (at least in most cases) their creativity.

This attitude is key for letting consumers becoming prosumers—people who create new original content from brands’ products, helping grow the brands’ recognition and  

The “philosophical” reason is that products become part of the life of the buyer, and extension of his personality, which shares the same values of the brand. Letting the buyer freely share and produce content with its own products, then, is like creating a promotional force for the brand at zero cost.

Remember, fans look for pleasure… so we should concede them the liberty of finding pleasure with our products.

The liberty of building, then, is extremely consistent with the company’s Why, and denying the freedom of literally building content would be going against its own principle.

For this reason, too, Lego lets fans doing everything with its bricks and does not commit the mistake George Lucas, for instance, did not understand about the force of Star Wars fandom when he tried to block it.

Takeaways

When we design a strategy for a brand, even if it is “just” a search marketing strategy, we should always remember to ask the right questions, which can help us understand the general marketing landscape our action will be a part of (it will determine ours). 

Consistency is key in marketing. If it is not present, then the message fails to pass or our actions can even produce results opposite to those desired.

Creating a “Bible,” which not only takes into consideration all the possible connections our strategy has with other marketing channels, but also defines and describes the specs of every action and the brand storytelling consistency common to all them, will help us with the following:

Maintaining control over the development of the campaign; Developing campaigns aligned to the general marketing campaign of the brand we work for; Getting inspiration for new actions and new campaigns; and Offering clear expectations to the client.

When creating this document, then, 
we must always answer these questions:

What facet of the brand storytelling do we want to narrate? How are we going to narrate it? What is the genre we will use? If we use different elements for narrating a story, how do they relate to each other? What kind of engagement are we looking for? Will this engagement influence the evolution of the campaign and of the storytelling? How will we manage the engagement and what control we will let the users have over the story? How can we create synergy between online and offline engagement? What platform will we use (and not use)? And do any of them really add value to the users? Will we start targeting a massive audience or a small subset? Will the experience be free for everyone, or will we go for a freemium or invite-only model?

This last two points are very important, because a strategy should be thought of as a modular building, so that we can start developing it even if we do not have a big budget. Remember, a marketing strategy that previews the deep interaction with the fans can also have its start in something like Kickstarter, which means that it can even be paid for by very engaged fans.

Exercise:

Choose two brands, for instance 
Betabrand and Beardbrand, and analyze how their marketing is based on the dialectic between canon and fandom.

Experience

If we put users at the center of our marketing efforts, then we should create a marketing strategy that is not only able to answer our customers’ needs, but also able to make them feel our brand
is partly theirs.

For this reason engagement is so important, as was explained well by 
Rand Fishkin in his last Whiteboard Friday.

One mistake we do make, though, is considering engagement to be something related only to Social Media.

In fact, engagement is the consequence of a principle, which must be at the basis of every action realized by a brand in every aspect of its relationship with its audience:
creating positive experiences for its users.

If we understand this, then we see how all the best practices in every field of marketing have logical meaning, and how all of them have a common purpose: earning such trust and loyalty that when we receive a critique, it will always be a constructive one.

(note: Lego answered to Greenpeace announcing that it will not renew the contract with Shell)

Lego has understood this well, and almost everything I wrote above about Lego proves it.

But there are two areas in which this research of the positive experience is fundamental:

Customer care Products
Customer care

Lego, even though it also uses its social media profiles for instantly attending to customer care issues, prefers to maintain this facet offline, paying extreme attention to the quality of the service offered. 

In some cases, it decides to go further and personalize the experience such a way that a simple customer care answer can become a pure marketing action, as in the case of this letter sent to a kid by a customer care representative, who responds to a problem the child had with the Sensei Wu minifigure:

It is not a surprise that a letter like this saw a viral response on social media last year.

Products

Sometimes we forget that products are marketing. Moreover, sometimes we forget that creating a product that can result in a winning marketing action doesn’t necessarily need a huge budget.

A good example of this is a very simple idea Lego had for this holiday season: the 
Minifigure Family.

Minifigure Family is based on a simple idea: It offers users the possibility to share on their social media profiles a virtual Happy Holidays postcard, where users and their family are portrayed as Lego figures.

A simple product, a simple idea and a great success on social media (here’s 
Twitter data by Topsy).

But if we want to find a product that us SEOs know well, and that the most intelligent brands, and Lego is one of them are starting to offer to its prosumers, that is data under the form of 
APIs.

Moreover, APIs now for us SEOs are starting to have a new interesting consequence: structured data and better Semantic SEO.

In fact the best APIs (and unfortunately this is not the case of Lego’s ones yet, a better example is 
Marvel’s API) can be available also via JSON, and JSON LD is also a way to inject structured data into a website. Hence, APIs can be a bridge to semantically optimize every website using them, and so making the brand, which owns them, more visible.

Drillability

If experience leads to engagement, and engagement leads to spreadability, then we must add that experience and all its consequences can be achieved also thanks to drillability, or the creation of really targeted content/products, which is able to combine two different passions our audience has in a simoultaneous experience.

In the case of Lego this is achieved mainly through franchising and co-marketing actions with other brands, as is in the case of Lego Star Wars, Lego Minecraft, Lego Marvel, Lego DC Comics, etc.

Having found other passions of its fanbase, Lego was able to expand its audience into new markets.

In cases more like the ones we deal with everyday, this may lead to opportunities for writing a regular column in a website our audience visits, hiring an influencer to write for our company blog, or any other “co-marketing” opportunity.

Takeaways

Marketing has changed. All marketing—not just SEO.

Users now are the main protagonists of every action, and sometimes they even are the ones creating the actions that market the brands.

For this reason everything – from the website performance to the product description, from the content we create and the support we offer – must be focused on offering positive experiences to our audience, so to earn trust and loyalty, and having it becoming our main commercial force.

Lego does it, Mattel does not… and the results are here to demonstrate it:

Conclusion

In the past weeks I have been asked several times what my previews about SEO and marketing are for 2015.

Sincerely, I do not have an answer to those questions.

What I know, though, is that more and more,
every marketing channel influences every other, and therefore, SEO must be absolutely aware that it is part of something bigger.

It is increasingly clear to me that
the boundary once existing between online and offline no longer exists. We should not talk about multi-device, we should talk about OnOff as the only existing reality.

Google itself is urging us to think this way, since we’ve been many months now with Google Universal Analytics and, recently, with Adwords’ In-Store Conversions.

What I do know is that
the best brands have become publishers, and Google is well aware of this evolution and rewards it.


Everything is content
, I hope we will understand it once for all.

What I see is that there is no more space for extemporary actions, and that
with no strategy behind it even the more resounding success will quickly be forgotten and will not help achieving the goals that we have set.

What my intuition tells me is that we are in a transition phase, in a time when we have to decide what we want to be and really understand what our competitive advantages are. Those are the ways we can actually help businesses and assume a well-defined role in their marketing.

If we do not decide and understand, then we will become nerds at the service of the big media agencies, or working in their shadow.

This is why I hope that, more and more, the strategic component of our work will be considered the foundation of every campaign that we SEOs realize. 

That’s why I wanted to describe to all of you what Lego can teach us about marketing: because it responds to a finely defined strategy, which has helped Lego go from near bankruptcy to dominating the toy industry.


Fewer tips and tricks, less looking for short cuts, and more aspiring to think big
: this is what I urge to all of us to do, because the greatest successes have always been the dream someone once had and decided to make real. 
Only if we do so, 2015 will be awesome (and Google-proof).

Let’s build
.

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The Massive Ranking Factor Too Many SEOs are Ignoring – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Despite Google’s ambiguity about how it’s used in the algorithm, we’ve seen evidence time and again that there’s a giant ranking factor that SEOs just aren’t optimizing for. In today’s very special Whitebeard Friday, Rand (or Randa Claus) shows us how to fill in this important gap in our work.

For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard!

Video transcription

Ho, ho, ho. Howdy, Moz boys and girls, and welcome to another special Christmas edition of Whitebeard Friday. I’m your host Randa Claus. (pause) I just can’t keep making fun of Santa like this. It’s just terrible.

I am very thrilled to have all of you with us for the holidays and for this special edition of Whitebeard Friday. We actually have some really important, juicy, meaty SEO material. Hopefully, my beard won’t get too much in the way of that. I feel like I have the same mustache. It’s just whiter this week.

I want to talk about this big ranking factor that a lot of SEO practitioners and experts are almost ignoring. By ignoring, I don’t mean to say we don’t know it exists. We just aren’t optimizing it yet.

That factor is engagement. I’m not just talking about onsite engagement. I’m talking about overall web engagement with your site and your brand. That can manifest in a bunch of different ways. A branded search is certainly one manifestation of that. Direct navigation, so lots of people going directly to your website, lots of people typing in searches for clearly your brand. They want to go just to your website. Time on site and browse rate, we’ve seen a bunch of elements around this. Pogo-sticking, which we’ve talked about on Whiteboard Friday previously. Traffic referrals, meaning traffic you’re sending out to the rest of the web. Google can see this. They have Chrome. They have Android. They have Google Analytics. They have all sorts of plugins. They have the web’s biggest advertising network. They can see all of this stuff. Then, finally, amplification in the forms of press and PR and word of mouth, kind of the non-link forms of amplification, which could even encompass social media.

So what is our evidence that these things are real factors in the search ranking algorithms? Well, unfortunately, unlike the early days of links when this was more directly observable and when the search engines were a little more open about this, they’ve been pretty quiet about engagement. They all talk about it in a broad sense, but they don’t specifically say, “Oh, yes, we specifically use time on site and browse rate.” In fact, they’re very nuanced around this.

The only thing that I’ve heard engineers or search engine folks say is, “Yes, we do use pogo-sticking, and yes, we will look at some forms of amplification and some things around brand,” which you could interpret to mean maybe branded search and some things around brand that could be interpreted as direct navigation. But they are not specific about this.

However, we’ve seen tons of experiments and lots of information that suggest that even if these aren’t exactly what they’re using, they’re using stuff like it. When you see experiments that show, hey, despite the fact that site speed is a very small factor, we reduced the page load time and saw all these wonderful things happen around search. What’s going on there? It’s some form of engagement. It’s something they’re measuring around that, that’s not just site speed, but engagement overall. That increases as you bring page load speed down.

So what’s the problem here? Why is it that SEOs, many of us at least, are not optimizing for this yet? Well, the answers are oftentimes we don’t have the authority. If you go to someone, you pitch an SEO project internally at your company, you’re the person who runs SEO, and they’re like, “No, you take care of our crawlability. You take care of our links. You’re not responsible for how much traffic we send out or the time on site and browse rate or amplification and press.” Those are all different departments, and it’s very tough to get that synchronization between them.

We may not have access to the tools or the data that we need to measure this stuff and then to show improvements. That’s very tough and hard too.

Then the inputs around a lot of this stuff are not direct. Let’s go back to links as an example. If you know that links are the big ranking factor for you, you can show, “Hey, we got this many links. Here’s how it changed our ranking position. We need more. Here’s how we go about getting them.” Plan, execution, analysis, it’s simple. It’s direct. It may not be easy, but it is observable.

This is often indirect. There are so many things that impact this stuff that’s indirect, and that’s really tough and frustrating.

As solutions, it’s going to be our job to do what early SEOs had to do — socialize. We have to go out to the industry, to our colleagues, to our clients if we’re consultants, to other web professionals across all the forms of marketing, and we have to socialize the fact that engagement is a major input into SEO, just like SEOs did starting in about 1999/2000, where we had to explain, “Look, this is how links work. Links are important. It’s not just about getting listed in the directory. It’s not just about keywords anymore. It’s not just about meta tags anymore. Links really matter here. I can show you Google’s PageRank paper here. I can show you all these patent applications here. I can show you the impact of links.”

We have to do that again with engagement. That’s going to be tough. That’s going to be an uphill battle, but I believe it’s something we’re already starting. A lot of industry leaders have done this ahead of this Whiteboard Friday for sure.

Second off, we’ve got to utilize the tools that we do have available to be able to get some of this data, and there are some. While I am no big fan of Google Webmaster Tools — I think a lot of the data in there is inaccurate — we can look at trending numbers around things like branded search, and we can do that through Google Analytics. So Google Analytics, yes, keyword not provided is 90% of your referrals. That’s okay. Take the sample 10% and show over time whether you’re getting a bigger and bigger proportion and bigger and bigger quantities of branded search. That’s a directional input that you can use to say, “Look, our brand is growing in search. There it is.”

You can do user testing around search results. This is something I see very few folks doing. We often do usability and user testing on our websites, but we don’t do them in the search results. If you ask a group of five users, “Hey, go perform this search. Take a look at these 10 results. Tell me which one you would choose and why. Now tell me your second choice and why. Now tell me your third choice and why,” you will get to things like time on site. You’ll get to things around pogo-sticking. You’ll get to those engagement metrics that happen in the search results.

Then, of course, you can use, if you’re a Moz subscriber, Fresh Web Explorer or something like mention.net or Talkwalker or Trackur or something to get these amplification numbers and data that you might not be able to get from raw links themselves. This is gettable data, just in different ways than we’re used to.

Finally, we actually are going to have to change what we’re comfortable with. We’re going to have to get comfortable in a world where the ranking factors are indirectly influenceable, not directly influenceable. That’s weird for us, because we’ve always said, “Okay, algorithm has all these factors. I can influence these ones. That’s the ones I need to work on. I’m going to go to work.”

Now we have to go, “Wait a minute, wait a minute. In order to influence traffic referrals, I’m going to have to do things around my content, things around how I earn traffic, and then, boy, I don’t know if that’ll have a direct impact on my rankings.” You don’t. This is a world of indirect inputs. This thing, this tactic I’m going to pursue is going to lead to this thing, which I hope is going to lead to engagement, which I hope is going to lead to rankings.

That’s frustrating. It’s harder to sell. It’s harder to invest in, but, oh man, the ROI is there. If you can do it, if you can earn that buy-in, you can make these investments, and then through experimentation, you can learn what works for you and where you need to move the needle. This is going to be weird because it’s a world where our tactics are correlated, but they aren’t explicitly causal into the ways that we influence the rankings. It’s a whole new world, but it’s about to be a new year, and I think it’s a great time for us to invest in engagement.

With that, happy holidays, whatever holidays you celebrate. Happy new year if you celebrate the new year. I’m looking forward to seeing lots of you here on Whiteboard Friday in 2015. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Happy Holidays from Moz

Posted by FeliciaCrawford

Ah, the holidays! This is the time of year when we give our thanks and make our wishes, when new and old meld happily together like hot buttered rum and Grandma’s pistachio fudge.

There’s been a lot of newness this year for Moz. As the smilin’ face behind live chat, I’ve had the good fortune to meet many of you as you embark upon your Mozzy journey for the first time. And throughout 2014 alone, we welcomed more than two dozen new Mozlings into our family!

With all this wonderful change, we’ve added a few things to our list of office holiday traditions. Party with us as we celebrate the old and the new, the weird White Elephant gifts and the lumpy sweaters from your aunt, and all the good intentions and warm, fuzzy feelings of the season!

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

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Mike

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A Step-by-Step Guide to Updating Your Website Without Destroying Your SEO

Posted by Richard_Foulkes

The first thing any SEO thinks when a client says “I’m redesigning my website” is what impact will this have on all my work? In these events, often the client doesn’t even consider telling their online marketing agency about the redesign until two days before launch.

This resource will cover how to do SEO checks on your test site/development site to ensure the structure, URLs, Page Titles, Meta Descriptions and more all match up properly. It also serves as an SEO checklist touching on things that are often forgotten when a website goes through a complete overhaul.

Why consider SEO in a redesign?

Why is it important to consider your SEO during a website’s revamp? In short, you have a lot to lose.

Let’s say your site’s doing great. Rankings are strong, organic traffic is flowing and revenue is growing. Do you really want to undo all that hard work? I’m guessing not.

However, by thinking strategically, you can take the opportunity to improve a site’s performance after a redesign. That’s what this client did:

As you can see, a steady increase in traffic followed (from the red circle) even during the re-indexing phase. If you do a redesign right, you won’t lose any traffic or rankings; in fact, you’ll gain them.

Below I outline some steps that can help you understand the test site being built and your current site from an SEO viewpoint. This is vital when changing your website around, and I will cover how to make sure the web development agency keeps the important SEO work that’s gone into your website.

Step 1 – Consider the SEO

The first thing you must do is think about SEO. Too often clients don’t stop to consider the SEO impact of changing their website. They chuck away valuable content from historical pages or decide it would be a good idea to completely change every single URL without redirecting the old ones.

This only happens because they misunderstand how Google et al. read a website and how URLs hold credibility. It’s no fault of their own, but it happens.

Step 2 – Crawl the existing siteWhy do I need to crawl my site?

If you don’t know what your site’s structure looks like now, you’ll set yourself up for a massive fall. Grabbing the structure, meta data and URLs is vital to identifying exactly what is changing and why.

How to do it

Your SEO crawl will give you a roadmap of how your entire site is currently set out. The best way to grab this data is to use a tool like
Screaming Frog. Once you have the current site’s meta data and structure, you will know how to match the new site up.

Step 3 – Audit the old site

Next, you need to audit the site. Free tools like Woorank will do the job, but I strongly advise you to get your hands dirty and manually do the work yourself. There’s nothing like getting into the nitty gritty of your site to find any problem areas.

Why audit the site?

You need to know what search engines like and don’t like about your site. This can help you spot any problems areas, in addition to enabling you to see which areas must be retained. 

What am I looking for?

Here are some of things we check at Liberty. Sometimes it’s worth checking more, but these are top-level checks:

Using your Screaming Frog data, I advise checking the following:

Missing page titles
Duplicate page titles
Page titles over 512 pixels
Page titles below 200 pixels
Missing H1 tags
Duplicate H1 tags
Multiple H1 tags
Missing meta descriptions
Duplicate meta descriptions
Meta descriptions over 923 pixels
Canonical tags
Canonicalisation
Broken internal/external links
Image alt text

You should also manually check for:

XML sitemap
Robots.txt
Duplicate content (do exact match search “insert content” or use Copyscape)
Pages indexed by Google (do a site: command in Google)
Site speed and performance (here’s a tool to check)
URL structure
Pages indexed by Google using a site: command in Google
Site speed and performance using Google’s PageSpeed Tools

This data gives you a good understanding of what the website’s doing well and areas for improvement.

Step 4 – Noindex your test siteWhy do we need to noindex?

This stage is simple; yet it’s the point where many redesigns go awry.

If you’re working on your test site, the last thing you want is for Google et al. to index it. If you’ve added great new content, it will get indexed. Then when you launch the new site, the new content will have no value because it will be duplicate.

How to noindex your test site

A site can be noindexed in two ways by your developers.

1 – Tick the noindex box in your site’s CMS. If you have WordPress, for example, you simply check the box that reads:
“Discourage search engines from indexing this site.”

Blocking Search Engines in WordPress

This adds the following code in the <head> of every page:

No Index Meta Data

2 – Your second option is to block the site in the Robots.txt file. This is a little trickier; hence, why most CMS have a box-ticking option. 

If your CMS doesn’t allow for this, you can put the following in your Robots.txt file:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /

No CMS? You can manually insert the code if you have access to the header file by implementing the noindex, follow code as above.

Step 5 – Crawl the test siteWhy should I crawl the test site?

You also need to understand how your test site is structured. Using
a site crawler, crawl the test site again to see how it looks in comparison to your current site.

How to do itOpen the first crawl of your current site and make a copy. Click “Save+As” and name the file “Current Site Crawl for Editing”. This is your editable copy.
Crawl the test site. Export the test site crawl and save it as “Test Site Crawl”. Make a copy and name it “Test Site Crawl for Editing”—from now on we’re going to use this.
Take the newly created old site crawl (Current Site Crawl for Editing from Step 1) and do a find and replace on all the URLs in Excel. Replace your domain name: “example.com” with your test server’s domain: “test.example.com”.
Select all the URLs and copy them into a txt file (use something like notepad ++ or similar). Save this as the “Testing Crawl for Screaming Frog”. At this point, you should have the following documents:

Current Site Crawl (xls)
Current Site Crawl for Editing (xls)
Test Site Crawl (xls)
Test Site Crawl for Editing (xls)
Testing Crawl for Screaming Frog (txt)
In Screaming Frog, locate the Mode in the menu bar and select List. The system will change slightly, and you’ll be able to upload a .txt file to the crawler.
Locate your txt file (Testing Crawl for Screaming Frog) of all the URLs you changed and pop that into Screaming Frog. Hit Start.
If you followed this correctly, you’ll end up with all the URLs being crawled. If it didn’t, go back and make sure you didn’t miss anything. You’ll need to allow the crawler to crawl blocked/noindexed URLs. Simply click Configuration and Spider. Then you’ll find a tick box that says Ignore robots.txt. You may need to tick this. On the same part in the tab called Advanced, you’ll see Respect Noindex; you may need to un-tick this, too. It will look something like this:

screaming-frog-tab.png

Download all of the HTML and save it as an Excel file. Name it “Final Crawled Test Site”. This will be the test crawl you’ll check through later. Also, hold onto the very first crawl we did of the test site (Test Site Crawl). 

At the end, you’ll have these docs:

Current Site Crawl (xls)
Current Site Crawl for Editing (xls)
Test Site Crawl (xls)
Test Site Crawl for Editing (xls)
Testing Crawl for Screaming Frog (txt)
Final Crawled Test Site (xls)

Okay, you made it. Now you have the data in Excel format, and you can see what works on the test site, and what doesn’t. This allows you to understand what’s missing from the test site that is on the current site.

Step 6 – Analyse Your DataWhat we’re looking for

Now that we’ve done all the crawls, we need to open up the XLS spreadsheet called “Final Crawled Test Site” from Screaming Frog. You should see a lot of data.

First, delete the row across the top named “Internal HTML”. Then do the same for number “2,” if this is a blank row. You should have these headings:

Address
Content
Status code
Status
Title 1
Title 1 length
Title 1 pixel width
Meta description 1
Meta description 1 length
Meta description 1 pixel width
Meta keyword 1
Meta keywords 1 length
H1-1
H1-1 length
H2-1
H2-1 length
Meta robots 1
Meta refresh 1
Canonical link element 1
Size
Word count
Level
Inlinks
Outlinks
External outlinks
Hash

Some of these have the number “1” next to them, signifying that there is only one. If some of yours have number 2 next to them, then you have several of these. The elements you shouldn’t have a number “2” on are as follows:

Title
Meta description
Meta keywords
Canonical tag
H1 (I’ll leave that open to debate)

With all this, we’ll begin identifying what changes need to be made.

Go to the
Status Code header, click the filter icon and select 200 code. This shows all the URLs that are working. You might see “Connection Timed Out” on some of these. This could be because Screaming Frog timed out. Manually check these. If they work, just update the spreadsheet; if they don’t work, then you’ve identified a problem. Let the developer know these are timing out. They should be able to identify a fix.

How to match up the data

I’ve told you how to test the data, but not what to do with all those crawls. The purpose of crawling your current and test sites in this way is to identify meta data, structure and errors the test site currently has. First, apply a filter to the columns:

Excel Filter

Locate the
Level heading, right click and sort from smallest to largest. Now segment all the data. I start with Page Titles (Title 1). Take the first 7 columns on the spreadsheet and highlight them all. Copy and paste these onto another sheet within the same Excel spreadsheet called “Page Titles”. Do the same for “Meta Description”, but this time pick the first 4 columns, then 8-10. Repeat this for each section to end up with the different sheets as follows:

Page Title Sheet

Address
Content
Status code
Status
Title 1
Title 1 length
Title 1 pixel width
Meta Description Sheet

Address
Content
Status code
Status
Meta description 1
Meta description 1 length
Meta description 1 pixel width
Meta Keywords Sheet

Address
Content
Status code
Status
Meta keyword 1
Meta keywords 1 length
H1 Sheet

Address
Content
Status code
Status
H1-1
H1-1 length
H2 Sheet

Address
Content
Status code
Status
H2-1
H2-1 length
Canonicals, Word Count, Level, In-links and Out-links

Address
Content
Status code
Status
Canonical link element 1
Word count
Level
In-links
Out-links

This number of sheets may look like overkill, but in my experience working with smaller amounts of data is much easier than trying to work on one large, data heavy spreadsheet.

Here’s the best bit

Remember all the crawls we did before? Well, we’ll need to go and open Current Site Crawl for Editing. Filter the Level first so it shows “smallest to largest”, then locate the following columns on this spreadsheet:

Title 1
Title 1 length
Title 1 pixel width

Highlight all the data in these three columns and copy them into your test site spreadsheet onto the
Page Titles Sheet in the empty columns. Place those three columns apart from Title 1 Pixel Width.

Now that you have the test site’s Page Titles next to the current site’s Page Titles, you can highlight the duplicates. Highlight both Title 1 columns and go to
Conditional Formatting > Highlight Cell Rules > Duplicate Values. This will highlight everything that matches. 

I have no shortcut for this. You’ll need to manually move things around and get them in the right place. I go about this by looking at the
Page Title 1 closest to the left, (the one from the test site) then copy the text. Use the Find and Replace box (ctrl+F) to search the text. Hit “next” and go to the next match, where you’ll grab the three relevant columns and stick them next to the text you copied. Then repeat.

Sometimes nothing will match. When this happens, try doing this:

Search a few words.
Remove the brand at the end or beginning.
Check if there is a | or – in place.
Check for apostrophes.
Check for misspellings.

These are a few things that may cause issues with matches, so be sure to check yours with vigilance.

Rinse and repeat

After you’ve done this process once, you’ll need to rinse and repeat for the other sheets to match up all your Meta Descriptions, Canonical Tags, Word Counts, etc. It’s important to remember that the point of checking these areas is to ensure that any changes are good changes.

Once you’ve nailed all
200 codes, you’ll want to look at the 404s.

Go to the Status Code header and select
404 on the filter icon again to find URLs that aren’t working. This is assuming you have 404s.

This will give you a list of all the URLs that didn’t work. In theory, it should give you everything else that needs to be checked. You should only have
200 status codes and 400 status codes, but sometimes you will have 500s or 300s that need further investigation.

404 time

If the URL is a 404, it means that the page doesn’t exist. So we’ll need to do one of two things:

Create this URL on the test server.
Redirect the old URL to the test server’s new URL.

Here’s an example of a 404:

Lego's 404 Page

Look at the test server’s URL. If you think it needs to redirect, highlight it in red. If you have to create a new URL, fill its cell with the relevant meta data and highlight it green. Don’t forget what each colour means.

You’ll also need to highlight the corresponding URL that will redirect to the new version on the Current Site Crawl for Editing.

What do to with live URLs that aren’t on your current site?

These URLs are most likely new pages. Like with any page on your website, it has to be optimised correctly. There are tons of guides to help you here (this
visual guide is my favourite).

Now what?

I’m glad you asked. Now you have a fully comprehensive spreadsheet of everything needed to minimise the damage of moving a site. You need to work closely with the developers to get the changes you’ve recommended implemented. With the spreadsheets laid out in this way, you can simplify the data and give the developers the bits they need, making their lives easier.

Don’t forget, when you redirect pages to a new site, you’ll lose around 10%-30% of your link equity. But you’re giving search engines the best opportunity to bring over your old site’s strong reputation.

From this point onwards, I’ll detail things that can go wrong, common problems, and important elements to check along the way to monitor the changes.

Now you’ve given the new URL structure and changes to your developers, you need to check they’ve got it right. You’ve been involved in several meetings discussing the strategy to proactively make sure you don’t upset the rhythm and have a positive impact on the changes. But, unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there.

You’ve more than likely been handing over changes periodically and testing as you go. Now, it’s a good opportunity to test everything again.

Crawl the test site again—being vigilant in cross-referencing all the relevant meta data and ensuring that the URLs match up. If they are even slightly off, then change them. One way you can check is to use “find and replace” in Excel. This time, swap the test.example.com with example.com, then crawl the URLs with Screaming Frog.

From now forward, make it a habit to check these additional elements.

Step 7 – All the additional checksRank check

Why do you need to rank check?

A rank check measures how the site performs for a host of keywords in search engines. You’ll use this data as a comparison for the newly launched site. If things change, you can react and identify the problems when you check the results.

What to look out for:

Big movements. If a keyword jumps from page 1 to page 20, you may have a problem. Look out for any big or unusual movements by checking these things:

Did the URL change?
Did you change the meta data?
Has the page lost all its content?
Is there a redirect in place?
Does it have a noindex tag in place?Content

Don’t delete anything you don’t have to delete. You might think your old blog posts aren’t needed, but they are all adding to the credibility of your site. Without these blogs, you’ll lose a chunk of value. 

Similarly, now’s not the time to change your landing page content if you’re currently enjoying decent rankings.

Analytics code

This is pretty self-explanatory—make sure you place your analytics code back in the <head> section of the site. It is important to check the ecommerce tracking, goals and event tracking if you currently have those in place.

Unblock the site

It’s time to check the new site to see if it’s allowing search engines to index it. Simply follow the reverse instructions of blocking the site. Whichever method you used to block it, do the reverse to unblock. Failure to do this could create big problems when you launch the new site.

Summary checklist

Here’s the checklist I mentioned earlier. If you skipped to this, then use it as a guide to help you do a redesign with SEO in mind. With this in your arsenal, you never need to fear a website redesign again. 

tick-box.pngThink about SEO from the start

tick-box.pngCrawl the current site

tick-box.pngAudit your existing site

tick-box.pngStop the test site from being indexed

tick-box.pngCrawl the test site

tick-box.pngFind and replace URLs

tick-box.pngCrawl those swapped URLs

tick-box.pngCheck test site meta data on live URLs

tick-box.pngCheck 404s on test site

tick-box.pngMap out 301s

tick-box.pngOptimise all new pages

tick-box.pngCheck implementation

tick-box.pngDo additional checks

tick-box.pngLaunch!

Common problems to look out for

Each scenario will differ between websites. It’s important to understand how this foundation approach helps segment and break down important meta data so you don’t lose SEO value during a redesign.

As with any project, there are common problems SEOs, businesses and developers all come up against:

Communication—This is the big one, which is why it’s first on the list. We all know how important communication is, and lack of communication is at the center of most problems associated with web redesigns. Right at the start, have your SEO in the initial strategy meeting with the web developers or anyone else who has an obvious connection with the website. From there, keep the lines of communication open. Missing meta data—Crawls can be fickle endeavors. You cannot afford to launch the new site with missing information. If you force search engines to guess what they should be putting there, the ensuing results will not be to your liking. Missing Content—All too often, content isn’t given the credit it deserves. Take the time to get the right content in the right places on the new site.Failure to implement redirects—This is a very important step. After you’ve laid out the redirects, it’s vital they’re put in place and work as planned. Additional resources

Once you’ve checked these elements, you are in a strong position to launch. It’s still important to keep a close eye on the performance of the new site. Sometimes a
single line of code can upset the rhythm.

Here are some additional resources to reinforce what we’ve covered here:

Search Engine Journal –
Website Redesign Disaster
Search Engine Watch –
Website Redesign: Re-launching Without Losing Sleep
Moz – Site Redesign – Checklist for Online Marketing

One last thing…

As with any changes to your website, it is important to monitor the situation. Use whatever tools you have available to keep a close eye on the following:

Rankings
Organic traffic
Indexed pages
Webmaster Tool errors

These things will help spot any problems. If you notice your rankings plummet, you can quickly investigate and make any needed changes. 

If Webmaster Tools reports errors when Google tries to crawl the site, then you know to be proactive and explore the problem. 

Once you are confident there are no issues, loosen up a bit. You don’t need to keep such a close eye on these things. You can work on promoting the site and carrying on with your growth and maintenance SEO work.

Give me some feedback

How do you approach a site move?

Do you have any cast-iron techniques you recommend to maintain strong rankings during a move? I’d love to hear from you.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

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Five Years of SEO: the most important part of an SEO’s Job

As you can read in all the other articles around the five years of SEO there have been a lot of changes. These changes of course impact how an SEO works. Five years ago an SEO’s job was mainly to focus on links. And then there were the ‘standard’ strategies like content creation, technical optimization and other tactics.

These days an SEO’s job is different. But what does it exactly look like? I asked a group of experts on their views of what an SEO’s job looks like these days and what the most important part of the job is.

Michael King, Digital Marketing Leader, Thinker and Doer

“SEO is largely about helping to create things that have visibility. That is largely a role of choreography to ensure that many different teams are doing their part to support the initiative. In a lot of ways SEO is a subset of UX and Content Strategy. In other ways it’s full-blown Digital Strategy. It all depends on the context.”

James Carson, Founder at Made from History:

“Difficult to say because SEO is multi skilled and it depends on the context of the client. The four core disciplines of analytics, information architecture, content marketing and social / PR are all vital to me, and I wouldn’t want to put special emphasis on any one of those because they work best together.”

Anders Hjorth, MD at AZNOS:

“Planning has become so much more important. You need long term strategies to succeed and executing them requires planning. Obviously, monitoring and data handling goes with the planning and finding the right ideas in the first place also go with the planning.”

Nick Garner, Founder of 90Digital:

“Thinking beyond SEO and treating it as a component of a bigger thing: helping a brand/client be a valued part of the Internet.”

Barry Adams, founder at Polemic Digital:

“It’s hard to point at a single most important aspect of SEO as so many different factors combine to do good SEO: content, IA, links, brand, UX, social, technology, etc. SEOs also need to stay on top of Google’s fickle whims and adapt tactics accordingly.

If there was one single aspect of an SEO’s job I would identify as the key to successful SEO, it’s defining the strategic vision that a website’s SEO efforts should be built on. Without a solid long-term foundational strategy, SEO is just a collection of quickfire tactics that are just as likely to harm a website as to improve it.”

Joe Hall, Senior Marketing Analyst at Internet Marketing Ninjas:

“Advocating for digital marketing strategies not typically associated with SEO. Google is trying very hard to favour sites that have strong branding and public relations. If a site has a strong brand with an effective PR strategy, then SEO is mountains easier. Which means that SEOs can’t just be advocates for SEO. Instead we must now advocate for all types of promotion.”

Kaspar Szymanski, SEO Consultant at SearchBrothers:

“SEO consulting today overlaps to a large extent with evaluating and at times re-inventing the business model of a client. The data aggregated sometimes leads inevitably to the question, what is the unique business proposition for the users. Answering that question can be difficult but only businesses capable of reinventing themselves will be successful over time, as their environment, their users constantly evolve. Helping clients to maximize their sites potential in search today is all about understanding their audience and streamlining the user experience marking accordingly.”

Kate Morris, Director of Client Strategies at Outspoken Media:

“Reporting – getting that right for clients and learning how to report for other marketing verticals.”

Bastian Grimm, VP Organic Search at Peak Ace:

“Be a good communicator; you actually need to be able to explain things to different people with different backgrounds, most likely from different departments and sometimes even from a totally different culture. This is incredible hard doing it just right. But – on the other hand – if you master that you’ll have open doors to actually get (SEO-) things done.”

Russell O’Sullivan, Snr Digital Marketing Manager at Legal & General:

“Wow – hard one… looking for opportunities and keeping the client informed. Not crumbling to the clients needs when they say, wheres my ranking report. Ranking #1 can be done, but is it driving the right kind of traffic?”

Marcus Tandler, Cofounder at OnPage.org:

“1) The technical SEO part, making sure your site is properly OnPage SEOd, easy to crawl and understand by search engines crawlers.

2) The creative SEO part, coming up with relevant and engaging content that attracts new users, leads to people sharing your content and satisfies the search needs of people finding your site in the SERPs for any given query.”

Debra Mastaler, President and owner of Alliance-Link:

“Making sure your webpages offer what your audience is looking for.”

Arianne Donoghue, Account Director at The Home Agency:

“I think the most important part of an SEO’s job, or where they can add the most value is almost as a project manager – co-ordinating all of the elements that combine together to deliver the greatest possible value. They possess the knowledge and it’s up to them to make sure that all of the outreach, technical elements and content creation are implemented as best as possible.”

Andre Alpar, MD at AKM3

“In order to achieve excellent levels of SEO, integration is key. SEO is more versatile than ever, so the number of persons that need to be involved in order to be successful with SEO is growing accordingly. The challenge is becoming even bigger as more and larger established (brand) advertisers are trying to bring their SEO efforts to a cutting edge level.”

Kevin Gibbons, Managing Director at BlueGlass

“SEO is now very much about building a strong user experience for people. That may sound obvious, but it hasn’t always been that way – and search engines are now secondary towards engaging with and building your audience, which is how it absolutely should be.”

Lisa Williams, Digital marketing strategist, speaker, networker & columnist

“The biggest change to an SEO’s job is that we can no longer work in isolation. It used to be that we could make or share necessary technical changes needed for accessibility, or share a page document with meta data needed to provide relevance or drive link building that impacted authority. Now we need to work with other teams to drive collaboration across teams that impacts a more sophisticated model of accessibility, relevance and authority.”

Razvan Gavrilas , Founder & Chief Architect at cognitiveSEO

“Nowadays SEOs and Digital Marketers need to be ahead of the game by trying to “guess” what Google is going to do next and be prepared for it.Here I am referring to ample concepts such as Image Reading, Image Object Detection, Semantic Content Interpretation and Entity Detection. When a search engine will be able to “read” you content, whatever the form of the content might be: text,image or video image the way it will start to rank it and how you will no longer be able to easily manipulate it.

Digital Marketers should focus on creating a happy user experience and generate campaigns that create interest and boost share ability. While doing this you will not only receive good traffic from search engines, but you will cover the entire spectrum of places that send you traffic such as Social Media Platforms and Referrers. It is important to not be 100% reliable on one traffic source, whatever the source is. Diversification with a strong focus on what works best if key when it comes to Digital Marketing. But always try new things. You never know what new digital marketing methodology that works on your particular case you may find.”

What do you think is the most important part of an SEO’s job these days? Let us know in the comments or via Twitter.

I think the most important part of an SEOs job is…
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Be sure to read the other articles in this series:

Hummingbird and Knowlegde Graph
The impact of Mobile
The Panda and Penguin updates
The SEO’s nightmare: Not Provided
The changing SERPS: Personalisation, Localisation and more
The biggest changes to an SEO’s job
The most important part of an SEO’s job
Overview of all

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Mike

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Five Years of SEO: The biggest changes to an SEO’s job

If Google changes so much, an SEO’s job must change with it. But what were the biggest changes in an SEO’s job in the past five years?

I asked a group of experts on their views of what the biggest changes to an SEO’s job have been.

Michael King, Digital Marketing Leader, Thinker and Doer:

“That’s a hard question because in the real world a lot of SEOs are still confined to the meta tags and links. For those that are on the bleeding edge of things it’s become a lot more about content marketing. Rand also showed at MozCon that a lot of people are shedding the SEO title and having SEO be moreso a part of their jobs.”

James Carson, Founder at Made from History:

“I think that depends on how you defined SEO in the first place. There was always a lot of emphasis on link building, but that’s not necessarily ever been the most important part of the job. I think people who build and plan websites for the web still need to be good analysts, Information Architects, content marketers and PR / social media workers. SEO has always been a multi skilled discipline – the change on emphasis in the last few years is perhaps more focused on the latter part of that list, but analytics is a vital component. By and large, bad platform builds of the old days are numbered through services like WordPress and Magento, which take care of a lot of technical SEO. Certainly understanding what great content looks like, and how to create similar content to build an audience and think beyond the link has become more important.”

Anders Hjorth, MD at AZNOS:

“I would imagine a lot of SEOs will have had to re-invent their jobs. The most important change is to put “user” before “link” and “content” before “keyword”.”

Nick Garner, Founder of 90Digital:

“Going from a geek to a hybrid social engineer / Digital PR person.”

Barry Adams, founder at Polemic Digital:

“In terms of progressive tactics – i.e. tactics that advance a website’s search visibility – things haven’t changed much the last 2-3 years. Content marketing became the new hype about 3 years ago and has remained the buzzword du jour since then. Technical SEO remains important for large scale websites, and social signals still contribute to getting your content more widely seen.

 

What has changed are defensive tactics: every website needs to monitor its link profile to spot any potential anomalies and negative SEO attacks, historic SEO efforts need to be scrutinised and acted upon, and content needs to be re-optimised and tweaked to make sure it’s sufficiently unique and of good quality.

 

These are defensive tactics that take up a lot of time and effort, all intended to avoid a Google penalty or tripping an algorithmic filter like Penguin or Panda. SEOs are spending more and more time on this, which is not a good use of resources, but Google has forced us to. It makes SEO more expensive and more difficult, which I suppose is exactly why Google makes us jump through these hoops: It makes PPC look all the more enticing.”

Joe Hall, Senior Marketing Analyst at Internet Marketing Ninjas:

“More risk mitigation. There are now more opportunities to violate Google’s guidelines than ever before. Tactics that were once considered kosher like guest posting, are now violations. Further more Google has been very convoluted when it comes to handling manual penalties. Sometimes for reasons that are unknown. Therefore, mitigating risk is vital. This is true for both tactical campaigns and strategy development.”

Kaspar Szymanski, SEO Consultant at SearchBrothers:

“SEO risk management seems to require more thorough clean-up efforts these days. Both Panda and Penguin flushed out years of flawed SEO practices.  To straighten these out and get a site back on track takes occasionally a lot of digging and investigating in order to be successful.  There are no hopeless cases. It still is possible to salvage any site, no matter how bad the situation seems to be. It just may take a little more effort. This appears to go along with an increased level of transparency and information sharing on Google’s side. As more data becomes available to site owners, it seems just fair to expect exhaustive results in return.”

Kate Morris, Director of Client Strategies at Outspoken Media:

“Marketing. It’s a marketing thing now. No longer is it all about the keyword optimization and it’s no longer just a numbers game.”

Bastian Grimm, VP Organic Search at Peak Ace:

“Not really a change per-se but the amount of time you need to invest to just stay up to speed just massively increased. That said you need to become way more efficient in managing multiple things / projects at once.  So coming back to the question at hand, what really changed is actually the profile / skillset you need to succeed in SEO. Whilst an SEO job 3-4 years ago might have been something like 80% “getting any link you can, to make a site rank” this has massively shifted to really “market your site properly” – the day to day work is now completely different.”

Russell O’Sullivan, Snr Digital Marketing Manager at Legal & General:

“Understanding that content for the user – I am still amazed that the term or job title for an SEO changed quickly sometime last year, when I was introduced to some guys who I knew were SEO’s and they said nah, my new title is Content Marketer Optimiser or something like that. Long gone are the techniques of the old days and more and more we are seeing that a small site with really engaged rich content being surfaced in SERPS overs larger publishers.”

Debra Mastaler, President and owner of Alliance-Link:

“Shifting from 100% traditional on-page optimization to finding ways to incorporate SEO and marketing tactics for a mobile, app driven social audience.   I have become more focused on marketing around my analytics and keeping tabs on industry trends than being worried about keywords and building links.”

Arianne Donoghue, Account Director at The Home Agency:

“I think it’s probably that SEO has become more creative – it’s not just about the technical side or link acquisition anymore, although these are still important. It’s now key to be able to do those parts alongside all of the elements that could be classed as “creative communications” – the PR, blogger outreach, content creation etc.”

Andre Alpar, MD at AKM3

“Definitely the broad switch to quality in the whole industry and consequently having to deal with the “bad” heritage of those who have done this switch too late. The innovation intervals are so short that education and explanation have also become a lot more important.”

Razvan Gavrilas , Founder & Chief Architect at cognitiveSEO

“Digital Marketers have to focus more on creating a happy user experience and generate campaigns that create interest and boost share ability. While doing this you will not only receive good traffic from search engines, but you will cover the entire spectrum of places that send you traffic such as Social Media Platforms and Referrers. It is important to not be 100% reliable on one traffic source, whatever the source is. Diversification with a strong focus on what works best if key when it comes to Digital Marketing. But always try new things. You never know what new digital marketing methodology that works on your particular case you may find.”

Kevin Gibbons, Managing Director at BlueGlass

“SEO has become too broad for one person now, but in the traditional sense I see the role being SEO strategists – supported by content production and outreach/promotion specialists.

 

Strategy always starts with one thing, data – and this is now the most important part of an SEO’s job. Without data you can’t analyse past performance, marketplace trends, or link profiles etc – and more importantly you can’t make key business decisions on how to best move forward.”

Lisa Williams, Digital marketing strategist, speaker, networker & columnist

“The biggest change to an SEO’s job is that we can no longer work in isolation. It used to be that we could make or share necessary technical changes needed for accessibility, or share a page document with meta data needed to provide relevance or drive link building that impacted authority. Now we need to work with other teams to drive collaboration across teams that impacts a more sophisticated model of accessibility, relevance and authority.”

How do you feel an SEO’s job has changed in the past five years? Let us know in the comments or via Twitter.

I think an SEOs job has changed mostly in…
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Be sure to read the other articles in this series:

Hummingbird and Knowlegde Graph
The impact of Mobile
The Panda and Penguin updates
The SEO’s nightmare: Not Provided
The changing SERPS: Personalisation, Localisation and more
The biggest changes to an SEO’s job
The most important part of an SEO’s job
Overview of all

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Mike

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Five Years of SEO: The changing SERPS

Google has made many changes in the past five years. On average over 500 a year. Most of these changes have been algorithmic, but there have also been a lot of changes on the ‘front end’. That what the users see: the SERPS.

In this article we’ll look at the most important changes in the past five years. You can say that in 5 years time the ’10 blue links’ have changed into a rich page full of answers. These answers come from different places, but Google is definitely providing them to the searcher as ‘their own’.

This also means that the results that are organic website results have less visibility. Bastian Grimm thinks this process is far from over:

“A big change is SERPs aka “no 10 blue links anymore”: Which is not meant as one change per-se but rather as a process. Whilst a long time we just had a pretty solid set of 10 (similar looking links) it’s almost changing every day now.”

Let’s take a look at the most important changes. We’ll look at:

Knowledge Graph changes
Localization changes
Personalization changes
Other changes
Finally we take a quick look at authorship…

Knowledge Graph

Without a doubt Knowledge Graph has had the biggest impact on how the search results have changed in the past five years. To mention every change on the Knowledge Graph here would make for an entire book, so I won’t do that, but just to give you an idea of the changes, only in 2014 we saw amongst others these changes to just the Knowledge Graph:

Videos

Showing the video of a song with added information, pushing everything else below the fold:

video-search

Direct answers

Have a question? No need to click through, Google will tell you in the SERPS directly:

2014-direct-answers

Artist information

No need to look further, everything you want to know about an artist is right there:

2014-artist-information

 

Find out all about the movies

And of course there are the movie searches where you can find all about the different movies playing:

movie-results

Basically you can say that Google went from showing websites to showing answers. With Knowlegde Graph they have over the years changed the SERPS from Search Engine Results to an answering machine.

Localization

Local is mentioned several times in the different articles. There are several reasons for that. The most important reason of course is the fact that people are getting more ‘local’ as in, they are more online while on the road (mobile) and are looking for different types of results. This means we’ve seen the results changed because of local many times.

Back in 2010 Google first started playing with getting business places out of the maps into the actual search results. We then saw the map show up for the first time in the right pane of the search results as this image (from Moz) shows us:

local-serps-2010

In November 2011 we saw more changes to the SERPS when Google put more emphasis on rich content around what they are displaying, especially in local. This image from Getg5 shows the most important changes very nicely:

SERPS-november2011-changes

As you can see the changes mostly impacted local results, giving the searcher must more information within the results. At the same time Google put more emphasis on the ads in the sidebar and at the end of the results. This was a direct result of adjustments in the years before that made that users scrolled down more than before.

2012 saw the birth of Knowledge Graph. By Google itself described as the “first step in the next generation of search.” And as described in the article around Knowledge Graph it really was a major step, especially from a SERPS perspective of course. We now started to see all sorts of different type of content in the SERPS and mainly in the right pane of the SERPS.

Look at how Google described Knowledge Graph at the launch of it:

The Knowledge Graph Carousel for local searches that you can see at the top of the results these days was added in 2013.

Google+ Local

But Google wasn’t done yet when it comes to local changes. In May 2012 they added Zagat reviews to the SERPS, but more importantly: they made another move with Google Places and Google+: they combined them.

Google has been struggling with Places (Local) listings for years and this was another step to try and ‘make it work’. By launching Google+ Local they would replace Google Places as the new platform for local business listings. Google Place Pages suddenly became Google+ listings, pushing the social network to a new position. It also (again) was a step towards mobile, making sure the businesses were more present on Google+ and more easily found.

Personalization

2012 was a year of changes, a lot of changes. And they started early in the year with the launch of ‘Search Plus Your World’. This was all about personalization. We have been seeing personalized results ever since 2009 (and before logged in), but Search Plus Your World takes it to the next level and outside of ‘just’ your search history.

This of course had a huge impact on how the SERPS look. They now look different for all, with the personalized results playing a prominent role.

Back in 2012 we asked the experts about their thoughts around Search Plus Your World and most responses were mostly positive, with some exceptions, and most of them connected SPYW instantly to Google+.

Fact was that from this point on personalization was a big focus in the development of the SERPS.

Other changes

Above changes are all around localization and personalization, but Google made much more changes to the SERPS.

In 2010, but we also saw Google for the first time changing the titles in the SERPS. In the sponsored section we saw the change of the name “Sponsored links” to “Ads” (what increased the CTR with 11.4%) and more space for ads:

updated-serp-23-11-10

2011 again showed many changes to the SERPS. As Jeroen described in his article “The changing SERP of Google”, Google introduced a new design across most of their products, including search. Most emphasis this year definitely was put on local results, but also the enriching of results.

In 2012 Google made more little changes to the search results as well, all gathered in the name ‘Enhanced Search Results’, like for example moving the menu bar moved from left to top:

2012-menubartop

From that point on the search tools were on top and expanded as well, with additions like Applications (another hint at mobile movement).

Google Images

In 2013 Google completely redesigned how Google Images looked. It might not be easy to remember so here is how it looked before:

Google-Image-Search-old

And here is how it looks now:

Google-Image-Search-new

A lot of features were added which makes it easier to find related images and different types of images. On top of that it also added gif search.

Larger Page Titles

Google in 2013 made the titles a little bit bigger and added a drop down for the links to Cached and Similar pages:

2013-dropdown

Sitelinks

Sitelinks have always been a nice add-on for the website owners since it would allow you to have additional links in the SERPS if you did well. In 2013 Google increased that benefit by showing up to 10 sitelinks for a website. It doesn’t always show, but when it does it looks great:

Google-sitelinks-2013

The management of the sitelinks was changed as well, allowing you to block certain pages from showing up inside Webmastertools.

In-depth articles

In August of 2013 Google introduced “In-depth articles”. When searching for specific topics you can find a block of what Google determines as ‘high quality content’ about the topic. They are clustered as ‘In-depth articles’.

indepth-articles

As a site owner you can optimize for these using Schema.org, using things like pagination and using the right logos for example.

New Google Bar

Also in 2013 Google added the new Google Bar in the top right of the homepage, giving you direct links to apps:

2013-Google-bar

Yellow labels and images for Google ads

Google is always playing with the coloring of the ads. In November 2013 Google started making another change, marking ads with a yellow label:

yellow-ad

This came on top of adding image extensions to ads earlier that year:

ads-images-2013

 

2011-2014 The rise and fall of Authorship

Finally there is authorship. This could be worth an entire article on its own, that’s how much impact it has made on the behavior of some SEOs. I won’t do that, also because there are articles, like this one on Searchengineland or Ann Smarty’s presentation here, that describe the rise and fall of authorship in Google very well.

authorship-with-image

But we cannot ignore it. Authorship first really showed up in the SERPS in 2011. Google then pushed webmasters to mark up their sites. This first led to SEOs and webmasters going crazy in implementing this (and with that Google+, even though the SEO’s didn’t realize that at the time) but in the end it seemed as not many were using it. More importantly however: it didn’t do much for CTR. Google’s John Mueller said in his announcement saying that Google would not be showing authors anymore that

“removing authorship generally does not seem to reduce traffic to sites. Nor does it increase clicks on ads.”

In August of this year Google ‘officially’ took away Authorship from us, but actually they had been removing it slowly already. It had removed author photos in June and before that had taken away links to more from this author before that.

The actual impact of Authorship seems to have been lower than the talk around it, though SEOs still believe author rank could play a role, but not as in ‘ranking’ but more as in ‘proving’.

As you can see the last five years have been all about change in the SERPS. If you realize that in this long article we didn’t even get to cover all of it, you will know that Google has plans. And those plans have been rolling out in the past five years, but without a doubt are only the start. With the focus on mobile and the ever changing behavior of the user, we are bound to see more changes in the next five years.

What change in the SERPS do you think had the most impact for SEO? Comment below or tweet:

I think the SERP change that was most important was…
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Be sure to read the other articles in this series:

Hummingbird and Knowlegde Graph
The impact of Mobile
The Panda and Penguin updates
The SEO’s nightmare: Not Provided
The changing SERPS: Personalisation, Localisation and more
The biggest changes to an SEO’s job
The most important part of an SEO’s job
Overview of all

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Mike

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Five Years of SEO: The SEO’s nightmare: Not Provided

Some call it ‘SEO bullying’. Others believe this was truly a measurement of privacy by Google, which is what the official statement said. Fact is that ‘Not provided’ has had a big impact on search, mainly on how SEO’s work, in the past few years.

What is it?

In the ‘old days’ life was good for an SEO when using an analytics tool like Google Analytics. After all, you could go in to your analytics, look for the search section and there was a list of keywords there which helped you understand how people got to your site using Google. The keywords showed what people searched for in Google before reaching your website. Combined with ranking data this helped improve the website and SEO.

Back in 2011 Google started to ‘cut back’ on the keywords provided in Google Analytics and to other analytics tools. Now you could see that people came from search, but the keywords would be highlighted as ‘not provided’.

not-provided-93

Originally Google claimed this was for ‘privacy reasons’, however the SEO community has never really trusted this statement. There are still SEO’s who believe the reasons behind this were either because Google will be selling the data in the future or Google doesn’t want to ‘help’ SEO’s anymore by giving them free data.

When Google rolled this out it claimed it would only be a small percentage of keywords that would become ‘not provided’. However these days the ‘not provided’ keywords goes up to 98% and is expected to reach 100% in the next year.

The response of the Experts

When asked about changes in search in the past years SEO’s all mention the ‘not provided’ as one of the major changes. There also seems to be some sort of ‘acceptance’ around it. SEO’s know it’s not going to change and have to live with it.

That doesn’t mean they like it though. Bastian Grimm thinks it’s a sad move by Google:

“Just sad and still a massive pain to not have them, completely the wrong direction in a sense of “SEO is not a blackbox” – in fact that didn’t help at all.”

Andre Alpar believes the change was given in by money and business reasons:

“The denial of search queries aka “not provided” was definitely not introduced to improve the user experience but rather to defend the market position IMHO. Nonetheless for SEO it amplified the importance of informational and site structure.“

The suggestion that Google one day might be selling the data becomes less likely as time passes by. After all, what are they waiting for if they want to sell it? Or do they just want to move people to the Adwords tools, and thus advertising, by this measurement? Arianne Donoghue doesn’t seem to believe that. She thinks it’s on all Google levels:

“[not provided] – has massively changed how SEOs do their job and this has then filtered through into other areas, e.g. now in PPC.“

A Workaround?

With the keywords gone, what is it that SEO’s do now? Are there alternatives? Of course they still have ‘some’ data to work with, but slowly they are losing that as well. So now SEO’s are looking into other sources to understand the search results better:

Google Adwords data: of course there is the Google Adwords data. Google still (for now) provides information on what people search for. Combined with rankings and visits that can give you some idea of what people are searching for to reach your website.

Pages instead of keywords: instead of looking at the keywords, SEO’s are much more looking at the landing pages: what pages do people land on after search and where do those pages rank on? Based on external data from different type tools, like Semrush for example, you can get close to the actual search terms.

wmt-keywords

Google Webmaster tools: there is still data available in Google Webmastertools on the keywords that people use to reach your website. You’ll have to do some math in combination with your analytics, but it is still useful. For however long it lasts…

What is your workaround for the Not Provided problem? Tell us in the comments or tweet:

My solution for Not Provided is…
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Be sure to read the other articles in this series:

Hummingbird and Knowlegde Graph
The impact of Mobile
The Panda and Penguin updates
The SEO’s nightmare: Not Provided
The changing SERPS: Personalisation, Localisation and more
The biggest changes to an SEO’s job
The most important part of an SEO’s job
Overview of all

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Five Years of SEO: The Panda and Penguin Updates

As one would expect almost every expert mentioned either the Panda or the Penguin Update or both as changes that have been most important within Google in the past few years.

James Carson feels they changed the industry significantly:

“They’ve significantly changed the way that SEO can operate. Previous to this, exploiting loopholes through content farming and link networks was a significant undertaking in the industry. Nowadays continuing to exploit these is seriously risky.”

What are they?

Let’s first take a quick look at what these changes are before we discuss the impact.

The Panda Update: Content

panda-battle

In 2011 Google rolled out its first Panda Update. Unlike you might think based on all the angry Panda pictures going around the web, the update had nothing to do with an animal. An engineer at Google with the last name Panda developed the essence of the update. Like with Pagerank this update was named after its originator.

The Penguin Update: Spam and links

penguin-update

The Penguin Update was first rolled out in 2012 and has been rolled several times since. The update focuses on links. Websites that violate the Google guidelines (don’t buy links, no link schemes etcetera) were ‘punished’ by Google for doing that and thus lost rankings.

About the updates

The Panda and Penguin updates both were measures to fight spam and bad content. They didn’t improve the searchers experience with features, but with better results. For an SEO these meant ‘extra work’. Or as Anders Hjorth puts it:

“Sadly, the other most important changes all seem to have a negative ring to them…”

The negative ring that Anders is talking about is the fighting of the spam and the penalties that came with it. The ‘negative’ part here has to do with the SEO’s job, the searcher ‘only’ benefitted with better results.

Our very own editor Barry Adams is known for his strong opinions on the “matters of Google”. And in this case he doesn’t disappoint us. Barry feels Google is using webmasters for their own benefits:

“Google has switched the burden of spam detection and removal from themselves to webmasters. Google was apparently not happy it had to spend so much effort to keep spam out of its SERPs, so it decided to ‘delegate’ that to website owners instead. Through expert use of tools like manual penalties, webmaster tools messages, propaganda, disavows, and algorithm updates, Google has changed the SEO ecosystem for its own benefit.

 

Aligning with that, Google is increasingly placing the burden of making sense of content on webmasters as well. Through techniques like structured data Google is making sure it’s up to webmasters to tag their content appropriately, thus reducing the effort Google has to spend on understanding the content it finds on the web.

 

Google has broken the unwritten rule of web search: “websites provide content to search engines, and in return search engines provide traffic to websites.” Increasingly, Google is taking websites’ content and not giving traffic back. Knowledge box SERPs, ever more common, are stealing traffic from websites that publish original content, and the new site search box is another example of Google’s nefarious tactics to steal traffic from websites so it can show more ads.”

Former Googler Kaspar Szymanski doesn’t share the harsh opinions from Barry, but points at how these changes have changed the way the industry looks at content:

“While Penguin changed the way we look at link building, Panda had a profound impact on content. Few future oriented businesses today would even consider any content spinning tactics. Instead content marketing seems to be on everyone’s mind and it’s almost like there was never anything else but that. As a result of this two famed algorithms and countless little updates that will never reach this level of visibility it seems like overall the industry matured and that online marketing focus, search risk management and SEO strategy development became important parts of an integrated business model of today.”

His fellow countryman Andre Alpar agrees with Kaspar:

“Penguin and Panda have moved the whole industry to a higher level of quality which means that more investment into SEO is necessary to get your voice heard when it comes to generic search terms.”

We can say that Panda and Penguin have had a huge impact on the SEO industry as well as on the SERPS. Going through forums where SEOs gather will show you lots of discussions where SEO’s are talking about these updates. It has become top of mind in the past few years. In the SERPS the effect has been visible as well with some sites completely disappearing and others losing rankings.

How did you survive the Panda and Penguin Updates? Tell us in the comments or tweet:

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Be sure to read the other articles in this series:

Hummingbird and Knowlegde Graph
The impact of Mobile
The Panda and Penguin updates
The SEO’s nightmare: Not Provided
The changing SERPS: Personalisation, Localisation and more
The biggest changes to an SEO’s job
The most important part of an SEO’s job
Overview of all

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