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Posts Categorized / SEO

  • Nov 16 / 2014
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Do It Yourself, Internet Marketing, SEO

The Basics of Keyword Research

Just about every week someone asks me a question about basic keyword research. With the advent of Hummingbird and semantic search, people were too quick to announce the death of keywords. But their significance has changed.  And of course, Google is encrypting more search data than ever before making it harder to find out what your customers are searching for. The best way of thinking about keywords now is as building blocks. Semantic search has put the focus squarely on visitor intent.  Context is everything.  So keywords in isolation don’t mean very much. But keyword research has to start somewhere.

Think like Your Customers

Before investigating keywords you must have sight of the fact you are trying to uncover what searchers type in Google’s search box.  For the most part these are long strings of words and typically these don’t appear in keyword tools replicated in full.  Generally speaking the shorter the phrase the harder it is to rank and the less useful the keyword. This is because it’s also more difficult to discern searcher intent so shorter phrases tend to convert less well.  A precise phrase, often with three words or more implies the searcher has purpose.

keyword research

So, not all keywords are created equal. Your target is to find the right keywords to bring the right visitors. Searchers don’t search in a linear fashion and they mostly complete online and offline research before they make a purchase. The more expensive a product or service, the more research is required. For example, a searcher may research prices, product reviews, product features and suppliers. It’s no good thinking in terms of only “money” keywords. A site should have content which appeals to searchers at each stage of their search (and buying) process.

Long Tail Keywords

This brings us to long tail keywords or phrases which make up the bulk of searches on the web.  These are the search strings that are more likely to convert but the variety of these searches is immense and hard to predict. If someone types “laptop” into Google it’s unlikely they plan to buy today. This is a head term that gets lots of searches but isn’t useful for monitising. But if someone types in “best price on XYZ model” the suggestion is they are closer to actually buying.

Ultimately your goal is to create clusters of long tail keywords for each section of your website including plenty of variety such as synonyms.  The rest of your content then becomes the context.

Read my blog about concentrating on topics not keywords https://carrieannsudlow.co.uk/2013/12/why-we-should-focus-on-topics-and-not-keywords/

Keyword Research – How to Get Started

Keyword tools, remain helpful, but will only take you about half way where you need to be.  They will however help you to get started. Google Adwords’ Keyword Planner Tool is freely available to Adwords account holders.  One thing to keep in mind is that the same information is available to all Adwords Advertisers. So inherently there is no competitive advantage in generating keyword ideas using the tool. It’s what you do with the keyword data that’s that counts.

You’ll find the Keyword Planning Tool inside your Adwords account. Treat the traffic estimations with caution, just as you would for any other source. Focus on relativities.

adwords keyword planner tool

You must supply details of your product or service, landing page and product category. Use filters to get more precise keywords and phrases. For example, local search is important for many service based businesses.

From there, further ideas for long tail keywords can be found using Google Instant and the related searches feature. Both are under-utilised but very useful. The more sources the better. Established businesses can utilise their own customer research.

Building on Basic Research

I encourage clients to develop keyword plans using lots of variation. When the time comes to create content it’s essential to write naturally. Using marketing psychology will take your research to the next level. This is difficult to do without having some understanding of your customers or if you are a new business, your competitors’ customers. Ultimately, keywords and phrases should be tailored for the persona of your own customers. That way, you can create meaningful, semantic-led content.

  • Sep 08 / 2014
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seo predictions 2015
Internet Marketing, SEO

Online Marketing & SEO Predictions for 2015

Here are my personal predictions for SEO in 2015. Regular readers of my blog won’t be surprised at what I’ve included.  Outside of my list there could be a major development from Google, but only Google knows what it is. As a small business owner you must focus on what you can influence and control.

Diversify Sources of Traffic

I mention this constantly. This requirement hasn’t changed. I consult with businesses week in and week out who have placed all their faith in Google. You should ask yourself this question: Who is driving my online marketing? Is it you or do you allow Google to pull your business left, right and centre? You simply must have multiple sources of traffic. The look of the first page of the serps is changing incrementally, and you simply can’t rely on being able to sustain traffic from first page rankings.  Google wants to exploit commercially as much of that first page as possible.

Think of having multiple sources of traffic as a form of business insurance, which it surely is. When Google sneezes you don’t want your business to catch a cold. Hand in hand with diversification is an understanding of the ROI for each stream of traffic. Analytics and analysis are essential to support budget management.

seo predictions 2015Online success was never about Google rankings. Rather it’s measured by what your visitors do.

Social Media Marketing

Social media already influences search engine rankings. However Google’s desire that businesses “keep it real” will lead, in my view, to social media being even more important to support rankings.  From your businesses point of view developing or maintaining a social media presence will become even more important for branding and sales. On the face of it, these days new businesses don’t even need a website to get started. But I would add that a business doesn’t need to be operating across many social media platforms – find out what works in your sector.  Social media activity rather than a website is a small business’s best source of differentiation. Your business will need a good understanding of its audience and how social media works. You also need to have interesting things to say. If you do, people will link to you.

By the end of 2015 the absence of a social media presence will simply undermine your other online activity and it’s the most cost-effective way to develop your brand.

Getting Mobile is a Must

By about 2015 those accessing the internet using mobiles will outnumber all other platforms. No business sector will be left untouched by this development.   Don’t be under the impression that this is only for B2C businesses – it’s not. By now you should be able to determine the amount of traffic you’re getting from mobile devices.  If you’re not getting any or not much then you may well be working with a site that pre-dates HTML5. But there’s so much more to this topic than simply having a mobile compliant website.  Are you providing information that people are searching for? Has your business begun to exploit Apps?

Now Google Mobile search is still some way behind the main search engine but it’s catching up all the time.  It’s hard to believe Google isn’t making this a priority. This investment will bring further opportunities for businesses who take mobile search and social media seriously.

Writing for Real People

In 2015 and beyond customer psychology, rather than keywords are going to drive content. You can see it happening already.

Does your content move people? It doesn’t have to make people laugh or cry, but it should make them feel something. Google never did want webmasters and business owners to write for search engines. And with the removal of keyword data, it’s become essential to write with your customers and prospects in mind.

Google is now predicated on semantic search.  I’ve been encouraging clients to write around topics rather than keywords for about 18 months. Google can now bring visitors to your site based on search queries rather than on the basis of pattern matching keywords. This means content has to cover the answers to the queries. With keywords no longer a useful guide, the only way to create meaningful content is by writing for your customers and prospects.

But of course even Hummingbird has limitations. While it can handle semantics it doesn’t have the human ability to build associations with different words nor does it have access to the mental models people do. This is where your customer research and customer personae are essential. And you also need to remember that while a particular position on a page my help you get the click, it’s the searchers emotional response to what you write that gets them ordering or picking up the phone. If you only write for Hummingbird your content will be very boring.

You may well ask what you do with all the keyword-driven pages on your site or blog. I would focus on ensuring your key pages (not posts) meet the new content criteria.


There have been significant changes to Google Adwords in the last year.  I now think it’s very hard for non-professionals to run accounts of any size. But putting that to one side for a moment, I do think businesses should be take advantage of both Facebook’s Remarketing offer and Adword’s. Remarketing allows you to serve up targeted ads to people who have visited your web page.  You can even develop ads for people who have added products to your shopping basket but not purchased.  In my view, more businesses will exploit remarketing because of its ability to advertise to people who have already shown an interest in your product or service. This is more cost effective than just about anything else you can do. The Facebook product is relatively new but by the time next year will have become a must do for Facebook advertisers.

Site Security

The HTTPS issue isn’t going away anytime soon. While it’s only currently a small ranking factor Google has already said this position may change in the future. I would take that as a definite “Yes” rather than a “Maybe” and would encourage any business owner reading this to make the change. It’s effectively a free gift from Google and they don’t come along that often.

Author Rank / Credibility

I’ve just written a piece on this but I want to return to it here in my selection of what’s going to be important in 2015. Google is effectively an index of everything on the web. It makes sense that the source of material (the author) may have some influence on trust and therefore rank. Although this is currently only rolled out for “In-Depth Articles”, I am confident it will be expanded. Google wants to know who is writing your content. Therefore you should make it easy for it to determine author identity. Authors should build up online profiles – but in a sensible way, restricting themselves to credible online platforms and off-line activities – there’s more than one way to build credentials.

Light Touch SEO

As we move towards 2015, if your SEO consultant / agency, is still talking to you about keywords and linkbuilding it might be time to walk away. SEO has evolved into something far more psycho-socially driven where links are a product of other activity – especially what you do with your social media accounts. Customer personae, whereby you build up comprehensive pictures of your customers and their online behaviours yields the best results even if there is some effort in doing so.

  • Mar 16 / 2014
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Google Rankings

What Do Google Layout Changes Mean for Your Business?

I am going to enjoy writing this.  The last few years have taught all of us not to take traffic for granted. As you will know by now, my approach is to encourage you to diversify sources of traffic.  In particular, it’s essential not to be too dependent on Google’s organic traffic. This isn’t just because of algorithm updates.

Ranking on the first page of Google no longer essential?

Five years ago, say, it was essential to make sure you ranked on the first page of the serps. That thinking is no longer as valid as it used to be for a number of reasons. Other channels are readily available (and should be utilised). But the other significant part of the equation is that Google is apt to make changes to the first page of the serps. These are entirely outside your control and are likely to be to Google’s advantage rather than yours. In essence, as I have written about before, the first page is more cluttered than it’s ever been with the organic listings moving further down the page. Ranking number one is no longer as attractive as it used to be and traffic calculations based on certain positions are no longer valid. It may even be the case you get better traffic from being further down the page. It might seem like strange reasoning but it’s true.

Now there are further design changes in the pipeline which have been tested by Google over the last few months. Essentially the search engine has been testing layouts which make the organic results easier to read.

Google Page Layout Changes

It seems likely organic listings will no longer be underlined (indicating there is a link). Google may feel we no longer need this guidance. From what people have seen of new formats there are other changes too. A larger font is in the pipeline too and there is more spacing between lines and between entries.

More white space is always a good thing in design terms but it could come at the expense of leaving fewer results on the first page. The other very significant consideration is whether the ads on the home page will continue to be underlined the way they are now. If that is the case, then it’s not too much of a leap to suggest that this might be a veiled attempt to encourage searchers to click on the ads rather than the organic results. Cynical maybe, but I think the logic is sound. It is as well to remember Google is wholly dependent on its advertising revenue. If they can tip the balance in favour of ads while improving the searchers experience I would say that is a win-win from Google’s point of view.

Are You Vulnerable?

There is no doubt in my mind any traffic you receive from rankings on the first page of the results is vulnerable for reasons you would never have considered 2 years ago. And for once algorithm changes don’t feature.

I can illustrate this point another way. In the US Google has added restaurant menus to the search results. Thus far it’s not been rolled out further afield but will be seen on a screen near you in due course. These appear in a large menu OneBox above the serps, taking up precious screen real estate. The menu information is believed to come from a third party provider – much like weather information does.  Further details are not available at this time but I mention it here because it shows the first page of the serps is highly volatile in relation to Google developments.

  • Mar 10 / 2014
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what are paid links

What Are Paid Links?

When Matt Cutts, Google’s head of Web Spam speaks, people in the internet marketing community listen. On 3 March Google released a video in which Matt details how Google determines what paid links are. What stands out for me is the way he draws parallels between deception via linking and other marketing codes such as that produced by the FTC (Online Ads Guidance). The point is marketing should never deceive its intended audience whether online or not.

Google’s contention is of course, paid links are undeserved and a form of manipulation. They are intended to give the recipient kudos they don’t deserve.  As you might expect Google is on the case. It is the job for the web spam team, headed by Matt, to determine what links are likely to be paid whether money has changed hands or not. Even if you don’t buy links as such, Google may still conclude you’re guilty of some form of manipulation. The penalties are severe and links can command penalties for additional reasons including issues with anchor text. That said, the focus here is on how Google determines whether a link is “paid”.

Much of this new video focused on intention from either party. Matt Cutts refers to “bad intent” when there is an expectation of a favour. For example, if you give someone a £5 hat, there may be no expectation the recipient has to do anything. But if you give away £500 worth of clothes there may be an expectation they are supposed to do something in exchange for the gift.  This becomes clearer when I go through the various (but not exhaustive, Google likes to hold something back) ways Google determines whether a link is “paid”.

Is the link a gift or loan?

As mentioned above significant gifts can influence behaviour. A loan on the other hand implies there is no lasting benefit to the recipient. In the example above, if the clothes were loaned by a designer to a photographer for a photo shoot, then the expectation would be both parties benefited from that arrangement without any need for additional benefit. Another example would be a car magazine being loaned or given a car for a review. If the car was a gift the expectation might be the reviewer had to be positive about the car. Significant gifts influence behaviour and in ways that aren’t always for the better. They influence judgement.

How close is the Value to Money?

Not all paid links involve money but they can be “close to money”. A free trial or sample may not influence behaviour that much.  However, linking in exchange for say a gift card or voucher with a high monetary value may influence behaviour. Another example would be someone leaving a significant tab behind a bar for a third party. We are talking champagne bars rather than a half of lager.

Is the Benefit a Surprise or Not?

Let’s revisit the car magazine example for a moment. If a journalist is given access to a car and a track for a day so they can review a new model they wouldn’t be surprised. However if they were actually given the car on a permanent basis they would be surprised. The latter example suggests the intention to influence.

Intent of the Audience

This is slightly more subtle.  Think of a mobile phone conference where free hats are given away. These low value freebies won’t influence the behaviour of the audience much. But what if the same conference gave away smartphones to bloggers? The expectation would be that the bloggers would write about the conference.

And finally there are of course paid links where one webmaster sets out his stall to offer links in exchange for cash. This is so old hat now, but clearly some individuals still persist.  If you participate in such an exercise it won’t end well. Businesses wouldn’t get away with comparable manipulation in the offline world. It’s also true, illustrated by my examples above, no money needs to change hands for Google to make the conclusion links are “paid”.

I hope this answers your question as to what are paid links. If you would like to read more about marketing your website please click here to read my marketing guide for 2014.

You can also view the video from Matt Cutts below

  • Feb 20 / 2014
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Keyword ranking reports

Are Keyword Ranking Reports Worth Doing?

Here’s my question to you. Does your internet marketing consultant supply you with keyword ranking reports? Do changes in rankings correlate with your website traffic? With conversions? With achieving your business goals?  The answer is almost certainly no.

Here’s my view. While tracking keywords has its uses, still, keywords by themselves were never designed to demonstrate your business was achieving its goals online. Keywords are one of the easiest measures to track. Clients frequently try to instruct marketeers to do what it takes to get to number one on Google for X,Y and Z keywords.

This approach to tracking the progress of your business has a number of issues. Some are new, but others we’ve always known about.

In the days when you could track keywords in Google Analytics, we’ve always known that a substantial amount of traffic was coming from other terms. These were often long tail keywords, and exactly the phrases which are likely to convert to enquiries or sales.  With keywords themselves you have no idea what traffic they are sending you since searchers rarely type in ‘head terms’ into Google.

Keywords, then, have always been something of an abstraction and not to be taken literally.  I still run keyword reports for myself, but only as a benchmark. They are less useful now than they have ever been and should not be used to gauge success.  Put another way, keyword rankings are no substitute for marketing psychology and customer research.

Google has been downgrading keywords for some time. Killing off its keyword tool was one step. Removing useful information from Google Analytics was another. Finally, Google launched Hummingbird, its new algorithm which uses semantic search.

Briefly, if you search for something on Google now you’ll find many of the page 1 results don’t contain the exact term you’re searching for.  That doesn’t mean the results aren’t accurate. Rather it means they are based on semantics rather than simply keyword matching. Google’s new algorithm can more easily return content according to the long queries, real people type into the Google search box. If you don’t believe me, just check the phrases that are currently converting for you. You’ll be surprised at the variation. Ref: see my earlier article regarding focusing on phrases not keywords!

In prior years everyone (clients and consultants) believed you had to be number 1 on Google. But Google is re-working the structure of the first page. It’s now more cluttered than it’s ever been with ads, photos and links. Being number 1 for a keyword is no longer such an attractive proposition. Just as in the case of Adwords, being number 1 doesn’t automatically mean better conversions.

You should also consider any internet marketing consultant worth their salt should be encouraging you to develop non Google traffic which also needs to be quantified and linked to broader goals

All internet marketing companies now need to get to grips with marketing psychology and give clients meaningful and transparent reports. This is good for clients since, in my view, it makes SEO more relevant to your business goals.

SEO can’t be divorced from wider internet marketing.   It’s important to measure all sources of traffic (including social) to determine your business’s total footprint.  Its footprint, won’t just measure traffic but also how well the wider internet community responds to your content. Pre-Penguin this would have meant links but really means mentions on social sites and the wider internet.

I think the downgrading of keyword reporting is bringing internet marketing closer to traditional marketing where multiple channels are the norm.

  • Feb 18 / 2014
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SEO Ranking Factors in 2014

Success drives business owners and marketeers. It’s perhaps then not surprising understanding SEO ranking factors is a major pre-occupation. Not just understanding what factors influence rank in the popular search engines such as Google, but also taking action accordingly.

The problem with this approach is that the ranking process is now so complex and subtle it’s impossible to base a successful strategy on what the outside world knows about the Google algorithm. I’ve said before only Google knows the interplay of the various factors and how they are adjusted over time. All we can do is make inferences based on experience.

Google Search

Nowhere is this demonstrated better than the most recent edition of the MOZ Survey of Ranking Factors. Carried out every two years, it’s widely regarded as the best guide available on what factors matter.  It polls a panel of experts on what factors they think is important.

But is it actionable? Only at the macro level.

Categories surveyed include Page Authority, Page Level Social, and Domain Link Authority features.  There’s a lot to take in (really) but I do recommend you have a browse if only to realise how complex, once and for all, the ranking process is.

The most recent survey (July 2013) suggests Page Authority correlates most highly as a ranking factor. That in turn, is comprised of many different signals. Social signals, including Facebook shares are also strongly correlated with rankings but again have many elements.

Also consider Google is getting both more and less transparent. The voice of reason (Matt Cutts) is more prominent than ever. Yet Google has reduced dramatically the data available on keywords as their importance has reduced. Cutts focus is, to some extent, on letting the outside world know the latest developments and major dos and don’ts and that’s all business owners need. Really.

Serious SEO these days isn’t about rankings but is part of an overall strategy. Anyone who bases their strategy solely on what Google is doing or might do in the future is in for a rude awakening.   A meaningful internet marketing strategy is based on the best tactics to use to help you achieve your business goals.  Branding is a significant issue for many small businesses and needs to be addressed in the strategy. A risk assessment should be built -in which makes certain you have multiple sources of traffic.

It would be wrong to suggest I am advocating ignoring Google.  It’s critical for sites to acknowledge what Google is looking for: a site visitors and customers engage with. Developing that should be the focus of your activity, not reacting to what Google does tomorrow to adjust its algorithm. Viewed in this way SEO is just one of many components of your marketing strategy not the be all and end all.

Social media must be done at the same time. SEO without social media is going to be less effective, all things being equal. We know (broadly) it influences Google rankings, but when it comes to increasing the reach of your website and developing your brand there is nothing else like it. Social media excels at branding which will, if finessed appropriately, build your authority and shares. It will also build awareness, boost CTR’s and reduce bounce rates. The latter two are ranking factors. You cansee, I think,  how interconnected social media and SEO are. In 2014 they are two side of the same coin.

Some people will always want to pick through the detail of the latest survey on ranking factors. For me, that’s the wrong focus. If you want to build a business you should be focusing on your customers and producing content they’ll want to read and share. You also need to be where your customers are. For most that’s Facebook. For others, it’s multiple social media platforms.

  • Jan 28 / 2014
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Mobile Search

Are You Forgetting About Mobile SEO?

The statistics are impressive. It’s estimated around 91% of the people on the planet have a mobile phone. 50% of those use their mobile as their primary way to access the internet. About 30% of the searches on Google are made using a mobile device.  Mobile search is big news.

If you’re one of the online business owners who think mobile will look after itself or believe you don’t need mobile search traffic, think again.  All you have to do is look at your analytics to see where your traffic is coming from. Do you notice an increase in traffic from tablets and mobile devices? Even if you don’t this may mean that your site is not optimised for mobile search and traffic is passing you by.

Society has changed and keeps changing, and is gravitating towards a mobile web experience. Even corporate business people will admit to running much of their online activities from a smartphone: On the hoof so to speak. No sector is exempt from this general change in how we access and use the internet.

Mobile Seo

It’s been well understood for some time mobile website rankings differ from the results found when using a laptop or PC for the same search. While returning rubbish results for a mobile query is still commonplace, more sites will wake up to mobile optimisation and Google will get better at finding them.

Google is certainly taking mobile search seriously. In mid-2013 it announced it would start demoting sites offering a poor searcher experience on smartphone searches.  It even gave examples of the kinds of configuration problems that could result in a demotion. These include the absence of a mobile landing page. In these examples a searcher is re-directed to the homepage. Another problem is having a smartphone landing page that is too slow. Even having links on your smartphone site to a desktop site or media could get you in trouble.

Hummingbird, Google’s new algorithm is very in tune with mobile search. A conversational type of search is, after all, more likely to happen on a mobile.  Hummingbird brought us semantic search and the need to be more creative in our treatment of keywords. This links well to mobile search, where it’s essential to build up a more diverse range of keywords. Of course (“Not provided”) and (“not set”) have made keyword tracking and discovery more laborious, but I have previously covered suggestions on how you can do this. Grouping similar keywords together is a good starting point which will help you determine what you’re getting found for. These terms can then be fed into PPC Campaigns .

Don’t forget either to use the full capability of your analytics package. In Google Analytics you can isolate a segment called “Mobile Traffic”. It’s easy to set up using the Segment Builder. Also compare the performance of your content across devices down to page level.  It’s also worth adding that testing mobile and desktop content on real people is a sensible way to beef up your statistics.

Summing up then, the look, feel and functionality have to be mobile friendly, without compromising your other efforts. You then have to get found by mobile browsers. Just as with desktop search split testing is vital. You can use PPC mobile ads to spot trends in phrases you can recycle for SEO.

  • Jan 20 / 2014
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Google authorship image

Google Authorship Image not Showing Up?

You may have noticed a drop in the number of Google searches being returned that include your authorship image – what’s known in the trade as a ‘rich snippet’. You are not alone. But I must say on balance I am not surprised it’s happened. After all, when there is an opportunity for webmasters to enhance their profile in the serps some over-egg things. It appears then Google may have come to conclusion content being served was not of sufficient quality and too numerous.

When a search returns nothing but a page full of author photos and their links, it can do so at the expense of reputable businesses who don’t use Google +. It depends on the individual search.  From Google’s point of view what’s the point of these results being returned if no one clicks on them?   Of course some authorship links have created huge returns for authors in terms of traffic but that can’t be said of all. And at the end of the day, all that matters to Google is how well results serve searcher intent.

If you are getting less traffic as a result of this development my message is don’t panic.  It seems Google Authorship is in a state of flux, just like other aspects of Google’s algorithm. Therefore we shouldn’t be surprised when it changes. After all, when it comes to internet marketing, you must adapt to thrive.

What is Google Authorship?

Google Authorship is the photo and byline that appears in the search results. Back in the day, around the mid-2000s, Google filed a patent called Agent Rank. The point of this was to reward more credible authors by allowing them to rank more highly in the search results. However Agent Rank as it was known back then wasn’t sufficient to put Google’s initiative into practice. It also needed a means by which to find such authors.   It was only when Google + came into being that Google was able to morph Agent Rank into Google Authorship.

If you scrutinise the serp results which contain Google Authorship links you will also find more information including the number of Google circles an author is a member of. Naturally with the internet community realising social signals were a component of ranking, Google + became popular. Google + users tend to have a different profile than those on Facebook and Twitter and is particularly popular with the internet community.  You can see where this is going, can’t you? This isn’t the first time Google has had to scale back an element designed to ‘reward’ content or site owners. Look what happened to link building.

Why Google Authorship Became Important

The ability to link your Google + profile to the content you create had a strategic element from Google’s point of view. On the surface it doesn’t appear that much is involved. You simply link the content you publish on specific domains to your Google + account. However what is actually happening is you are creating (in Google’s eyes) a verified connection between content and its creator. Google assumed, perhaps incorrectly, that if you were willing to put your name to content, it was going to be quality content.

‘Under the hood’ of a rich snippet you will find Google authorship markup and the rel=author tag. Don’t worry if this is unfamiliar. The point is really that these rich snippets only exist because Google makes it happen.

Implications of the Shake Up in the Serps

It’s important to emphasise that Google Authorship has not disappeared altogether with some searches being more impacted than others. One type of search that does seem to have been impacted are what I call “vanity” searches. In other words, searches for an author’s name.  You may find their Google + photo is nowhere to be seen in the serps. This, in my view, gives us a clue to why Google has made this adjustment but it’s not the only viewpoint.

Some commentators are postulating that in Google’s eyes, authors have various levels of credibility, leading them to suggest various sub groups exist with the leading authors not impacted by the shake-up.  This is reflected in the fact that it’s been possible to identify various types of authorship snippet, from the rich snippet down to the absence of one.

On the other hand, others say the shake up is less about authors per se and more about sites. So for example, any author publishing on a specific site may have had their authorship class reduced for content relating to that specific site. There’s also the question of whether authors who violate Google’s authorship guidelines have been penalised. Some are also suggesting there may be a sector bias to the changes with the seo / internet sector less impacted that (for example) travel or restaurant sites.

If you have lost mark up for some searches there is little you can do about it right now. While some say this isn’t a penalty as such, it’s clear that in Google’s view, use of authorship markup has become too omnipresent.  In addition, this will have fed through to Google’s ranking signals which are being adjusted all the time. Authorship markup has perhaps lost its ability to discriminate between great content and average content.

Of course this shake up also comes hot on the heels of Google’s shift towards semantic search. Content has to meet new criteria otherwise it won’t rank for a specific search. Perhaps then in a similar way, Google has now refined the triggers for authorship markup to appear.

It’s easy to see that some business owners may have become too reliant on using authorship tags to help drive traffic to content. This isn’t a substitute for other internet marketing activity and was never going to be the main plank of content marketing.  That said, it’s worth having a look at other ranking factors such as social mentions, to see if these may have accounted for a ‘demotion’. However at the end of the day, internet marketing has to be broad based to reduce the risk that Google or someone else will pull the rug from under your feet. I also believe we’ll see further tweaks to Google + itself.

  • Dec 11 / 2013
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Google Rankings

Why we should focus on topics and not keywords

If you’re still optimising your web content for keywords you’re out of date.  While for the most part the practice of SEO has evolved, with adjustments here and there, the launch of Google’s Hummingbird represents a revolution in Google’s search capability. Yes, Panda and Penguin and their reiterations changed the direction of SEO, but Hummingbird renders keywords redundant (almost). And for many, keywords were SEO, more or less. So now keywords are out, and topics are in, because its search queries that will bring Google visitors to your site.

Consider, for a moment, that the number of webpages being produced is growing all the time. Google’s overriding mantra has always been to improve the user experience. But with so many pages to index and rank, Google needs to refine the way it identifies the best results for any given search. Keywords alone can’t achieve this and over the last year Google has reduced the amount of keyword information available to webmasters. Therefore it’s perhaps not surprising Hummingbird was launched when it was.

The Impact of Hummingbird

In essence you should now be thinking about topics that will help a user answer a search query. I like to call this ‘embedded’ content because content now has to have real meaning and relevance for your visitors. Hummingbird is better able to understand the meaning of search phrases and therefore user intent e.g.  Is the searcher looking for information or buy or make something today?

Keywords were always artificial. Just think back to the old days when it was common to find web content that didn’t make sense because webmasters were determined to shoe-horn keywords into copy. Webmasters felt those phrases had to be included for them to stand any chance of ranking.

Keywords were only ever an abstraction; A form of short hand.  Hummingbird moves Google beyond matching keywords to understanding what a combination of words – the search string – means. In essence, Google now has a much more human-like understanding of the words that the user types into the Google search box.

Rankings will now partly depend on whether your content answers specific search queries.  By writing around topics you will naturally include what we think of today as variations of a keyword. Think about it for a moment. In the past, webmasters may have assumed that the only search terms that counted were the words provided by the Google keyword tool. In contrast, what people actually type into Google is virtually endlessly varied. Keywords alone don’t convey intent. Very few people type ‘pizza’ into Google.  They are much more likely to type ‘where can I buy a pizza in Grantham’ or ‘recipe for pizza’.

Optimisation Post Hummingbird

Above all else you must write for your visitors / customers. This is what Google wants you to do.

Others aspects of optimisation continue to be important including page load times and optimisation across different platforms. Hummingbird has revolutionised how we think of content.  Google has always wanted you to write near professional quality copy. But now to get found by visitors you must address your customers’ needs directly in your content.

I must also mention the fact that Google can now handle semantic search doesn’t mean you should be including search phrases in your copy. That’s the old keyword-bound way of thinking.  Your copy should answer search queries.

Getting Traffic post-Hummingbird

The SEO community has to a greater or lesser extent been focused on keyword rankings as a measure of success. As Google’s algorithm has becomes more complex and subtle it’s become harder to determine why any 1 page ranks higher than other.   But one thing is certain at the time of writing, page authority is still the most important ranking factor.

Going forwards, everyone needs to change their mind set. Rather than focus on keyword ranking objectives, as measures of success, the way forward is to measure success according to visitor actions. This is a huge change in direction. Keywords won’t go away overnight, but measurement will be increasingly about traffic and conversions and topic driven content will play a very significant role. Content will also have to be engineered correct to include calls to action and the like.

Keywords were easy to manipulate, if you were inclined to do so.  On page optimisation still accounts for an important chunk of SEO ‘juice’.  However your mind set has to change from using keywords as search engine ‘bait’, to finding ways to bring traffic to your site using great topic based content.

This fits in nicely with what I have been saying for years – you must reduce your dependency on Google.  Social media is a great way to maximise the impact of your content and to bring people to your site. How visitors react to your content also influences Google rankings. You just can’t rely on Google directly for most of your traffic.


  • Oct 17 / 2013
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Google Hummingbird

Hummingbird and Link building

Were you engaged in old-style link building activity? If Hummingbird didn’t catch you out you’re very lucky. But it’s far more likely your rankings have taken a nose dive. But off the back of Hummingbird we can safely say link building, as the term is commonly understood, is finished..

Where Hummingbird is Leading Us

I’ve written before on the dramatic changes in SEO over the last few years. Panda re-shaped the way people think about content. Penguin followed on to sort out low quality links. Then within the last month came Hummingbird, launched on Google’s 15th birthday. Read my hummingbird launch post here http://carrieannsudlow.co.uk/2013/09/what-is-google-hummingbird/

Hummingbird is a more fundamental change than either Penguin or Panda because it’s a new search engine. I will also say Hummingbird will be the platform to usher in further dramatic changes. You can bet on it.

Google wants to improve the searchers experience. Hummingbird enables, for example, better searching on mobiles and allows conversational cross platform search. From this you can take away Google’s number one aim is to produce the best results for searchers, faster.  This makes sense since the internet is a far different place than when Google was originally launched.

As I wrote recently, Hummingbird is geared towards semantic search; actually understanding the meaning behind words and their context. Searching for ‘curry’ on your PC is likely to mean something quite different relative to the same search on a mobile.  The fact it can also handle longer conversational queries is important too. This means longer search strings, requiring more specific, complex answers (content).

Your goal as the owner of a small business website hasn’t changed. Your content must give searchers what they want.  For example, if your business builds laptops, you might want to have content that answers typical queries such as what laptops are a best buy and why. Or which laptops are best for music production or website design. The alternative would be to simply list laptops by model, including all their technical bells and whistles.  This is a product-led perspective rather than a customer-led one. If you provide helpful and interesting and sometimes distracting content you’ll find other people and businesses will want to link to it.

How Hummingbird Changed Link Building

The practice of link building was always going to get found out. In simple terms it put the cart before the horse. The premise underlying it was to encourage Google to think your site was more important than it actually was. In truth, that’s manipulation of the highest order.

It’s no secret Google’s over-riding aim is to improve the user experience. Tell me then how finding a 5 page website at the top of rankings, helps the searcher? Naturally it would be there on account of link building activity. If you prioritised your aims over searchers needs in that way your small business website was doomed to failure.

In commonly understood marketing terminology you can look at it like this. You must be customer/searcher centred and use their goals not your own as your starting point when it comes to developing content.  Rather than build links proactively, you should be looking to earn them passively.

This is a huge change in mind set that puts your site squarely in the middle of an online ecosystem. From there you must build relationships with influencers who occupy the same space as your business.  It follows social media will be central to how your business operates online. Be a proactive member of your online community and links will follow if you’re content is interesting enough. Seen this way, linkbuilding is a by-product not the goal of your online marketing.

Future Proofing Your Website

There is no doubt that the link building community is now on the defensive. Trickery no longer works and in my view hasn’t really worked for some time. As a consultant I sometimes meet people who are flummoxed by a sudden drop in rankings. This only happens for one of two reasons. Either Google has changed or the site has tried something new, and a so-called link building programme is often to blame.

I have written before only Google knows what Google is going to do next. All the SEO community can do is watch and wait. But post Hummingbird there are things you can adjust to give your site the best chance of success.

Real SEO starts with content. From a small business’s point of view this means it has to address specific needs – what’s known as the ‘long tail’ and also be authoritative. Authority makes content longer lasting and is also a point of differentiation. Google likes this and actively seeks out authority sites regardless of size.

Since Hummingbird can handle more conversational queries, be prepared to create content that can answer those queries. Also make sure your content is helpful. That’s a great way to earn links. In the old days it was called ‘link bait’. Now it’s about creating content that real people want to share.

All this suggests a certain level of customer knowledge. And you’d be right in thinking customer research will become more important for online businesses. Historic search information such as that provided in the old Google keywords tool has less significance. The long tail is no longer an abstract concept. Rather than second guess your customers now is an opportune moment to get to know them.

Small businesses struggle with customer research but it doesn’t need to be expensive nor heavy handed. Simply spending face time with customers can yield surprising results. It’s here that businesses operating solely online are at a disadvantage. But if you can devise ways to capture customer insights then you have the basis of some great content: Exactly what Google wants you to produce.

In that sense then perhaps Hummingbird has done small business a favour. Business theory says this kind of business is better placed to learn from its customers. Great content, in Google’s eyes, is no longer the preserve of big companies and their sites. Hummingbird has levelled the playing field.


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