Friday, June 21, 2013

Responding to the Link Devaluation “Google Update”



It’s been almost half a month and Google still denies that an algorithm update occurred on January 17th, 2013. Even so, SEOmoz’s Dr. Pete noticed that several sites were no longer ranking for branded terms. Within a day of the suspected update, several webmasters contacted us with concerns about big drops in their rankings. We noticed a common narrative in their stories.

Very few of them had seen a site-wide drop in rankings.
Whether the drop in rankings was large or small, the sites were only seeing a loss in rankings forsome of their keywords. We discovered that many of them were still enjoying top positions for some of their other keywords.

After analyzing the affected sites in depth, we reached the conclusion that some sort of targeted link devaluation was underway. Some pages had dropped a few pages, others had plummeted out of the search results, and still others were completely unaffected.

We’ve been tracking the rankings of a wide variety of sites over the past several months, and we find ourselves in agreement with what Branded3 has to say on the matter. We’re seeing Google moving in the direction of devaluing links on a continuous basis, as they are crawled, rather than eliminating them in large chunks with one-off updates like Penguin.

At this point, we’re fairly certain that the January 17 event was the result of continuous link devaluation, rather than a single update.

There was already some talk of an update on January 15, and certainly no shortage of grumblings before then. It’s our belief that January 17 was merely the point where this process reached critical mass. If Google is crawling bad links and using them as seeds to detect other bad links, then at some point this process will explode exponentially, which we feel is exactly what happened.

So in that respect, what Google is saying is true. There was no update on January 17. The changes started several months earlier.

Rather than delve into every nook and cranny of these link devaluation algorithms, we thought it would be more useful to offer you a guide to recovery, in a similar vein as our Ultimate Guide to Advanced Guest Blogging for SEOmoz. So let’s take a look out how to recover from link devaluation, and how to prevent it in the first place.

What is Link Devaluation?

Link devaluation itself is nothing new. Google has never released an “official” update on the matter, but it has been happening for quite some time. Any webmaster who has witnessed a drop in rankings that had nothing to do with a penalty, increased competition, or a Google update has experienced link devaluation. It is simply the process whereby Google disregards a link, treating it as though it does not exist.

What is new is the continuous devaluation of links. In the past, Google employees manually devalued links, or used a combination of manual selection and algorithmic extrapolation to find and devalue links. Now, it appears that Google is devaluing links as they are crawled and indexed, rather than removing them in large chunks.

Google has many incentives to move in this direction. Penalties are post-hoc and selective. They are usually based on sites surpassing a certain threshold of suspicious links or on-site activity. Penalties, in general, target sites or individual pages rather than link graph itself. In short, penalties only put a band-aid on the larger problem of webspam.

In contrast, link devaluation cleans up the entire link graph, rather than targeting individual sites.

Were Your Lost Rankings the Result of Link Devaluation?

If you are seeing a slow decline in your rankings rather than a sudden drop, this is almost certainly the result of link devaluation (if it’s not due to higher competition or fewer searches in the first place). But a relatively swift drop can also be the result of link devaluation if it only seems to be affecting specific pages, or if you are still seeing traffic even after the drop.

This is also true for some other updates and penalties, however, so you’ll want to consider the following:
  1. Has there been a Google update? Wait a few days and check with the top sites to see if any updates have been announced around the time you saw a drop in traffic. Check withMozCast to see if there were any major fluctuations in rankings around that time. If an update has occurred around that time, you will want to check into it before pursuing anything else.

  2. Take a look at the total “Links to your site” in Google Webmaster Tools to see if this number is dropping. If so, link devaluation is almost certainly the issue, since Google doesn’t typically omit links from webmaster tools for no reason. It is a good idea to create a spreadsheet and record your links over time (or use a tool to do this for you), so that these changes are more obvious.

  3. Identify the landing pages that have seen the largest drop in search traffic. If the quality of links is lower than usual and the quality of the content is average for your site, it’s unlikely to be Panda. If there hasn’t been a Penguin update, this means it is probably link devaluation.

Misconceptions About Link Devaluation

It’s easy to conflate all the various aspects of Google’s algorithm, so it’s important to clarify the following:
  • Link devaluation is not Panda – Panda is designed to target low quality content. It is not based on link metrics. However, links from these affected pages are devalued, and this can indirectly affect your rankings.
  • Link devaluation is not Penguin – Penguin targets entire sites that either use manipulative links to rank their own site or other sites. However, the links from these affected sites are devalued, and this is an effect that you may notice even if your site is not directly hit by Penguin.
  • Link devaluation is not the unnatural links penalty – The unnatural links penalty was a precursor to Penguin that completely deindexed several sites that people were using to manipulate their rankings. Once again, links from these penalized sites are devalued, which can indirectly impact your rankings.
The important thing to understand about link devaluation is that it is not a penalty in the true sense. Devalued links simply don’t count, or don’t count as much as they used to. Most people who are impacted by Google updates aren’t actually directly affected. Instead, they are affected by the devalued links from the sites that are directly affected.

Now that links are being devalued on a continuous basis, you can be impacted even in the absence of a Google update. Do not confuse devalued links with penalties.

Responding to Link Devaluation: Do’s and Don’ts

It’s easy to do more harm than good by overreacting to a devaluation of your links (or any update or penalty, for that matter). Here are a few things to keep in mind to keep you on the right track.

Do’s:

  1. Revise your link building strategy by putting a focus on high quality links. We’ve written extensively about how to do that at Search Engine Journal with three posts on the subject.
  2. Use an anchor text strategy built for the modern world.
  3. Focus on content marketing as a link earning strategy, rather than merely building links. Take a look at our guide on the subject to get a handle on how to approach this.
  4. Approach SEO from a brand-building perspective, not a ranking perspective

Don’ts:

  1. Do not waste time removing low quality or spam links from your profile. The bad ones have already been devalued and aren’t being counted anymore. They don’t count against you if this is genuinely a link devaluation.
  2. Do not use the Google link disavow tool. In general, you shouldn’t use this tool unless you have received a warning or a notice of action directly from Google, as we’ve previously discussed. At best, you’ll only disavow the links that Google has already devalued. More likely, you’ll disavow links that Google hasn’t devalued and end up shooting yourself in the foot.
  3. Do not use any link building technique that allows you to personally build a large number of links quickly.
  4. Do not build links using easily produced or automated content. Build links using content that attracts attention.
  5. Avoid links that don’t make sense in the modern era, like the ones we talked about in this SEJ post.

5 Reasons the Push Toward Link Devaluation is Actually a Good Thing

If Google’s new emphasis on continuous link devaluation sounds scary to some SEOs, here are a few reasons to see the change as a positive one:
  1. Devalued links don’t count against you, so there is no reason to spend time removing all the suspected links yourself.
  2. Devalued links don’t cause your site’s traffic to plummet overnight in the majority of cases, which gives you time to adjust your strategy.
  3. You will generally still see some of your pages unaffected after link devaluation occurs, unless a large number of devaluations causes your entire domain authority to start sinking.
  4. You can focus all of your efforts on building high quality links, rather than being concerned about weeding out bad ones.
  5. Spammers will be less likely to see results even in the short term, as opposed to the repeated process of success then penalty over and over again. Similarly, you will get more consistent feedback from your rankings about whether what you are doing is working or not.

Conclusion

Links devaluation is something not easy to identify unless you analyze it deeply or take help from the professionals. Identifying the right cause of penalty is the most important rather than taking actions and moving forward. I highly recommend taking help of professionals if you are unable to identify the cause of penalty as moving into wrong direction will put you in trouble and you will not be able to see your website rankings back that stay last long.

If you come across to suspicious behavior on your website and are not sure about the cause, feel free to get in touch with us and we’d be glad to taking a look and providing our suggestions.
Do you have any other ideas/suggestions to do the best with Links Devaluation recovery?
Increasing Your Local Business Presence Online Is Just 9 Steps Away !!



Google now states that 50 percent of mobile searches are local, and the rising popularity of mobile means that local is growing in a big way. Modern consumers ignore the phone book on their front porch, preferring the convenience of search engines or the social proof of Foursquare. The “world wide web” is increasingly tied to the real world and our local community. How can businesses take advantage of these changes?

1. Set Up Local Social Profiles

Immediately after setting up your own site, get started with this. Your success depends on your ability to create buzz, and social networks are the place to make this happen. Set up business accounts on these networks:
It doesn’t cost anything to set up these profiles, you get trustworthy links, and you get a platform to start growing your online exposure. The process of setting up profiles on these sites is pretty self-explanatory, so I won’t go into it here except to say that you should fill out every field and use eye-catching images that look good as thumbnails.

However, it’s worth explaining how to make the most of these profiles, since many businesses fail to understand why people use social networks in the first place. The answers are a bit different for each network:

Facebook:

According to a recent study, most people use Facebook for entertainment or to pass the time, and a smaller number of people use it for self-expression and communication. 

Virtually nobodyuses the network as a source of information, so it is not the best place for direct sales messages.

Instead, businesses should try to create an entertaining experience for subscribers by sharing images and content that will appeal to their target audience. This includes content from all over the web, not just your own site. (We will explain how to create your own content in later sections).

You can also appeal to those with a desire to communicate or express themselves by asking questions, posting surveys, and so on.

The point is to keep your audience entertained and talking to each other.

You can also take advantage of several Facebook features that appeal to local businesses:
  1. Share posts only with local users by switching the settings from “Public” to “Target by Location/Language”
  2. Schedule posts to go live at the optimal time for people in your area, generally between 1 and 4 PM.
  3. Take advantage of Facebook Events and attach a local placemark to them with a map and driving directions.
Facebook users prefer you not to post too often. Once a day is generally fine.

Twitter:

According to a 2009 study, Twitter lacks many of the characteristics of a genuine social network. The structure of followers and communications suggests that it is more accurately described as a news media source.

People communicate with one another much less on Twitter than they do on Facebook, and trending topics usually coincide with headline news. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take advantage of the community aspects of Twitter by responding directly to tweets or asking your followers questions every now and then. It’s just important to realize that the small character count makes Twitter less effective as a place to have conversations, and more useful as a way to share content. Post links to pieces of content you think your followers will love.

Unlike Facebook, Twitter followers love it when you are constantly posting content. To avoid this becoming a distraction, it can be helpful to use a service like HootSuite, which you can use to schedule tweets for later. Use this to gather all your tweets together at the beginning of the day (or the day before) and schedule them to go out later. This expands your reach without you needing to be on the network all day.

That said, you should still check in on Twitter every now and then to respond to @ messages, and to answer a few questions.

Twitter is also a good place to find influential people online. Search Twitter using queries like “near:Seattle within:30 mi” to find tweets from people in your area. Build relationships with these people to grow your audience.

Google+ and Foursquare:

While Google+ is not as popular as the other networks, its connection with Google Maps and the Google search results can’t be ignored. If a user follows your Google+ profile or +1′s your content, you are more likely to show up in their personal search results. Google+ Local’s information is closely linked with Google Maps, and Google+’s user ratings play a big part in whether your business is likely to show up in the search results as well.

Foursquare is also a tremendously popular site that people use specifically to discover local businesses. Users can “check in” to a business using their phone’s Foursquare app, which can be set up to notify all of their Twitter and Facebook friends. In addition to claiming your location, you can take advantage of:
  1. Send out updates with photos and deals
  2. Use Foursquare specials to give people discounts if they check in on Foursquare
  3. Leave tips about ho to make the most of the experience with your company. If they get “liked,” they will show up at the top and highlight your business’s strengths
  4. Post events
Since Foursquare and Google+ Local are specifically designed for local users, they should be a huge part of your strategy for online growth and exposure.
For more on how to capitalize on social media, we highly recommend 101 Ways Local Business Can Leverage Social Media.

2. Get Listed in Local, Relevant Directories

When your business is listed in local directories that people actually use, you will see an increase in referral traffic as well as search engine traffic. Here are a few examples of trustworthy directories:
The links help your website rank, and the address citation will make your site appear more prominently in Google Maps (more on citations later). You can also search for trustworthy local directories using SEOmoz’s directory list.

3. Optimize for Mobile

This is a huge part of success. According to Google, 50 percent of mobile searches are local. A successful mobile strategy demands:
  • Responsive web design that adjusts to fit smartphone and tablet screens, with buttons large enough to push with an index finger
  • HTML5 design: your site should run with no third party downloads necessary
  • Fast load times that accommodate slower wireless internet connections
  • Mobile apps, so that users don’t need to use their browser to take advantage of your features. Nielson reports that people use mobile apps even more than the mobile web, almost half as much as they use the web on their PC. That’s at least 101 millionAmericans, as of July 2012.
  • Targeted ads that display based on user location
You should also keep in mind that many people are accessing their social networks through apps and mobile browsers, rather than from a PC. Images uploaded to Facebook, and the like, should be shaped for easy viewing on mobile platforms.
To learn more about this, we like Hubspot’s mobile marketing guide.

4. Engage Your Local Community

Seek out events happening in your community and get involved. Work together with organizations and non-competing companies in your area, especially those with a large web following. Events have great appeal to social networks, and discussions often spillover to the online community.

Encourage this connection by posting updates from these events to your social networks and your blog. Use a hashtag to help promote the event in your tweets, and be sure to take advantage of Facebook Events to publicize it. Put up posters and signs to encourage people to Tweet, post to Facebook, check in on Foursquare, and leave reviews on Google+ Local. Here are a few ways to leverage your local community:
  • Sponsor an event or organization with a large online following
  • Host an event of your own and promote it through all of your channels
  • Attend a seminar, or speak at one
  • Post feeds of online activity at your events
No matter how you engage your local online community, you should aim for a feedback loop between your local and online efforts. Promote your events before, during, and afterward online, and (subtly) encourage your audience to do so as well.

5. Encourage Reviews

Reviews on Google+ Local help your results show up more prominently in Google Maps, and Foursquare reviews generate buzz online. You absolutely want to encourage your customers to post reviews, but you should avoid getting overzealous. Don’t do things like:
  • Pay people to post reviews
  • Offer deals in exchange for reviews
  • Set up kiosks etc. specifically for the purpose of soliciting reviews
Instead, you should:
  • Go out of your way to make customers happy
  • Encourage salespeople and service representatives to mention online reviews when they notice that a customer is very happy, and give them business cards to make this process easy
  • Post noticeable but non-intrusive reminders at your location to encourage reviews
  • Offering incentives to check in on Foursquare or other social networks is much more acceptable than doing the same to get Google+ Local reviews
  • Respond helpfully (never angrily) to negative reviews and be as accommodating as you reasonably can. Your response to a negative review is an advertisement to other consumers and tells them how they can expect to be treated by you
  • Include information about how to review your business on receipts and on your other branded materials
  • Mention reviews in your email newsletters

6. Start Blogging

While social media profiles and targeted ads can do a lot for your visibility, no online local strategy is complete without a home for your efforts. The best online home you can put together is a blog. Blogs give consumers a reason to visit your website even when they don’t need to make a purchase. This keeps you on their mind.

Well-executed blogs also attract attention which can spread virally and cause long lasting improvements in search engine traffic. Many businesses fail to understand how blogging should work, however. A successful business blog is not:
  • A company diary
  • A list of upcoming events
  • A series of deals
  • An encyclopedia knowledge about your products
  • A list of reasons to buy your products
Instead, a blog is a media outlet and a central hub for your online community. It’s goal should be to:
  • Solve problems for the kind of people who would like your products
  • Entertain your target audience
  • Appeal to the lifestyle of your brand (as opposed to the subject)
  • Produce viral content that is constantly shared with your core audience’s friends and acquaintances
It should be clear from this that blogs posts should have intrinsic value. Even though consumers aren’t paying you to read your blog, they are investing their time. To share your content, they are even staking their reputation on you. Most consumers don’t want to irritate their friends by sharing deals and specials, even if they think it’s a great deal.

In other words, you need consumers to buy in to the content itself. Once you develop a solid content brand, people will come to trust the quality of your products and services as well. Take a look at our content marketing guide for an idea of how you should approach blogging.
It should go without saying that you should promote your blog content as well. Do so through all of your social networks, as well as local internet forums and other local hangouts online. We also recommend doing guest posts on popular blogs to expand your reach and search engine authority. Take a look at our advanced guest posting guide over at SEOmoz for an idea of how this works.

7. Make Videos and Take Photos

The web is increasingly visual, and this should be no surprise. We humans are visual creatures. This is even more important when it comes to local marketing, because we’d all love to be able to see where we’re going. Here are a few ideas to make your content more visual, and to make the most of promotion in the process:
  • Hire a photographer with a decent online following on sites like Flickr, DeviantArt, or Pinterest, preferably with a website of their own. Give them work they can be proud of and suggest that they link to the images from their web properties afterward
  • Hire graphic and web designers in much the same way, adding that they may be quite popular on Visual.ly as well for their infographics
  • Post your images and videos on your site as well as all of your social profiles
  • Post your social updates as images rather than links in order to make them more eye-catching
  • Post at least one photo with each blog post. You can use stock photos or creative commons images if resources are limited
  • Post how-to videos, since these are fairly easy to make with little experience and tend to be very shareable
  • If you have the resources to advertise on television, try using those resources to make an exceptional commercial rather than to pay for airtime, and post the commercial online with the aim of going viral, as Dollar Shave Club has done very well.

8. Get Citations

When it comes to the local search results, citations are just as important as links. A citation is a mention of your business complete with your address and phone number. Citations tell Google and the other search engines that your business is reputable and worth displaying near the top of Google Maps and local insertions in the main search results.

As we’ve mentioned before, getting your business listed in the major directories is an important place to start in order to get these kinds of citations. But there are other ways to build citations as well. Here are a few examples:
  • Local blogs – Do a search for terms like “[your city] blog” or “[your neighborhood] blog” and see what comes up. Spend some time thinking about something that could benefit these bloggers and then contact them with an idea for a collaborative project. It should be fairly natural to get a link and a citation afterward.
  • Industry blogs – The same goes for popular blogs that are related to your industry or your target audience. We already referred you to our advanced guest blogging post, and we recommend using these tactics to build massive exposure and get citations from relevant sites.
  • Organizations – Contact organizations and sponsor them or work on a collaborative project with them. Many of these sites have a listing of businesses they have worked with, sometimes complete with address and contact information.
  • The Better Business Bureau
  • Your local chamber of commerce
  • Search for your competitor’s names and/or addresses in Google and see where they are getting mentioned, then contact these sites for an opportunity
  • Include your business name, phone number, and address on all of your social media profiles, press releases, events, and any other online promotional activity
  • Target broad categories, and seek out competitor data from a broad range of niches. Don’t get obsessed with a  single keyword phrase
We also recommend using at least one of these citation finding tools from:
These citations guides are also very helpful:

9. Produce Viral Content

One of the best ways to build exposure is to produce content that people naturally want to share with their friends, and to expose that content to as many people in your target market as possible. We’ve written on some of the keys to viral content before, but as a refresher:
  • It’s opinionated (but not to the extreme)
  • It’s funny
  • It’s insider information
  • It’s cute
  • It’s bizarre and quirky
  • It’s practically useful
  • It’s powered by relatively inaccessible information from a diverse range of sources and disciplines
It’s also a very good idea to involve online influencers in the production of the content. Many experts, local bloggers, businesses, etc. will be willing to help with your project if they receive some promotion in exchange. They will also be happy to share the end product with their followers when it’s finished, especially if doing so will also help promote them.

Conclusion

Local businesses need to understand the way that technological change is impacting their strategies. Social networks and search engines offer them a way to reach consumers with relatively low costs, and build a brand in the process. Mobile technologies allow them to reach consumers when they are most likely to seek out local businesses, and local events can be leveraged to reach a wider audience than would ever be possible before technology. Viral content can spread on its own and encourage consumers to voluntarily spread brand awareness.

Have more local online marketing ideas? We’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments, and if you enjoyed this, we’d love it if you passed it along.

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