Google-Proofing Your Business, Protect Yourself from Google Algorithm Updates

Eat24 Gives Facebook a Not-So-Fond Farewell

In business, your best friend is you. Build up your clientele and customer-base. Sell yourself on your own merits. And most importantly, don’t rely on third parties. Case in point:  Eat24. When a popular brand ditches social media, people tend to take notice.

Social media and web marketing outlineMuch like Google’s own fabled Penguin, Panda, and Hummingbird, Facebook relies on complex algorithms to determine what shows up in a user’s news feed. However, as Eat24 notes in their “break up letter” to Facebook, the constant changes required by an ever-evolving online environment often have negative effects on businesses.

The trouble is that the algorithms used by Google and Facebook are more about furthering those companies’ own agendas, rather than servicing businesses. It’s become such a problem in recent years that some entrepreneurs actively seek to “Google-proof” their companies and protect themselves from Google Algorithm changes.

One of the most famous examples is Jason Calacanis, creator of the new app-based news service called Inside. Jason is the former owner of the website Mahalo, and when the Google algorithm “Panda” dropped in 2011, his business was heavily impacted. Essentially a human-run search engine, Mahalo nonetheless relied on traffic driven to it by Google searches. When Panda launched in February 2011, Mahalo took a 77% drop in site traffic, and has continued to drop since then (current estimates put it at a 92% decline as of 2013). Only one week after the Panda algorithm took its toll on Mahalo, Jason Calacanis laid off 10% of his staff due to the severe cut in business revenue.

Eat24 experienced a very similar story, but with Facebook instead of Google. Facebook applies similar algorithms (minus the animal-themed names), in order to direct what news an average user sees on their daily feed. Sometimes this shows relevant news stories or your favorite restaurant’s daily special…sometimes it’s Miley Cyrus’ new album cover or your next door neighbor raving about the sandwich they just ate.

Expressing  frustration very similar to Jason Calacanis’, Eat24 rage-quit Facebook once and for all, taking the opportunity to spell out exactly why in their blog “The Bacon Sriracha Unicorn Diaries” with a lengthy, sarcastic, and brutally honest letter about not just their reasoning, but how changes made by Facebook can affect businesses adversely.

“When we first met, you made us feel special. We’d tell you a super funny joke about sriracha and you’d tell all our friends and then everyone would laugh together. But now? Now you want us to give you money if we want to talk to our friends. Now when we show you a photo of a taco wrapped with bacon, you’re all like ‘PROMOTE THIS POST! GET MORE FRIENDS!’ instead of just liking us for who we are. That’s hella messed up.”

The letter continues in the same vein, mingling witty commentary with trademarked, food-centric attitude.

They continued to detail Facebook’s new attitude, “But we loved you, Facebook, so we tried to understand you and your algorithm. As far as we could tell though, it involves words like ‘affinity’ and ‘time decay.’ There also might be a Greek letter in there somewhere, but we’re not sure cuz we got bored and ordered a Panini. Look Facebook, all we’re saying is that we wanted to share a joke about chicken wings, not ponder astrophysics.”

That just about sums it up. Most businesses don’t have in-house tech support to decipher the Matrix. That’s where SEO comes in. You want Google-Proof? PPC (pay-per-click) advertising is one such way, allowing your company to stay at the top of the list for search terms, regardless of algorithm changes.

There’s an important point to be made in all of this: you can’t rely on any single third party. Your business’ best friend is you, the owner. Social media can be a powerful marketing too, but as Eat24 found out, even that is unreliable. The best way to keep your business from being held hostage by any single online marketing platform, be it Google, Facebook, or the “next big thing” is to ensure as much coverage as possible.  Post on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, as many social media outlets as you can manage. Make sure your website is constantly up-to-date, and blog about relevant topics weekly. The newest Google algorithm, Hummingbird, focuses on quality content, so create the best content you can think of, the kind that other people will want to link to. Most importantly, make your site visible to everyone and you will never end up on the receiving end of Google’s (or Facebook’s) algorithm changes again.

 

The Geo of SEO

Everyone remembers 8th grade geology class: rock samples, videos about volcanos, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and especially the charts showing the layers of the Earth. Well, at Horizon Web Marketing, we may once again refer to that chart, and break down how Search Engine Optimization works in layers too, with the goal of getting your website better rankings.

 SEO and Geology aren't so different.

Layer 1- The Inner Core: The core is the inner-most layer of the earth, the center around which everything else rotates. In geology, the core is made up of liquid rock and metal, and the inner core is the very center of the planet, generating earth’s magnetic field and burning at about the same temperature of the sun. In SEO, the Core layer is our basic setup process: localization. Even if you have a nation-wide business, you need to make sure your address, phone number, and other contact info is correct wherever your company is listed. Your homepage, your social media accounts, your Google+ local listing, and even on ad listings and reviews like Yelp.

Layer 2- The Outer Core: The outer core is slightly cooler, and significantly larger than the inner core.  In SEO, this outer core involves secondary setup procedures for your site. These include establishing Google Analytics and Google Webmasters Tools tracking, and linking all of your reporting sites to your business website in order to get all your data in one place, and keep track of traffic to your site.

Layer 3- The Mantle: Now we’re starting to get away from the basics. The Mantle of our planet is made up of molten rock and metals- essentially the same lava and magma that erupts from volcanos! While the core is our solid foundation for both the planet analogy and SEO, the Mantle is constantly changing, flowing and heating and cooling. This is where we have the maintenance and upkeep process for your website. Algorithms change and traffic ebbs and flows just like the flow of liquid-hot rocks and minerals in our planet. At Horizon Web Marketing, we maintain your website with constant new keyword research; updating and improving content to make sure your site stays fresh and continues to rank as current search trends change.

Layer 4- The Crust: You may think of the crust as the solid ground you stand on, but any good geologist will tell you that it’s far from stable. Tectonic plates are constantly shifting, seismic activity causes earthquakes, and erosion is constantly wearing the crust down and rebuilding it, all beneath your feet. This, our SEO-troubled friends, is the Google Algorithm itself. When nearly everybody uses Google to search for sites, it is a huge upset in the SEO community when the Google Corporation changes the game. First came Google’s Panda algorithm in 2011, then Google Penguin in 2012, and now we have Google’s Hummingbird. Each time they change their algorithm- aimed at making search more user friendly and responsive to the individual searcher- it changes how we optimize for keywords and content. Considering that we seem to be getting a new algorithm each year now, it truly is a tumultuous time for SEO, and the ground we stand on is far from stable.

Business Profile: Buy Shock Blocker

Profiling New Business Partner Shock Blocker/ American Innovative Inventions

Visit the Shock Blocker Website

BabyAndPuppy_clipped_rev_7Horizon Web Marketing is proud to be working alongside American Innovative Inventions, creators of the Shock Blocker home safety product. With an innovative new design, the Shock Blocker is a tamper-proof outlet cover guaranteed to protect your children and pets from unwanted electrical shocks. No more accidentally sticking mom’s keys into the outlet! The patent-pending shutter technology ensures that nothing but an approved electrical plug can be inserted into the outlet.

This is the debut product of American Innovative Inventions, a firm dedicated to helping up-and-coming inventors establish their products. For parents looking to childproof their homes, there is no better solution than Shock Blocker. There are more than 6,000 incidents of children being electrocuted in the U.S., many of them due to unprotected outlet covers. The Shock Blocker offers an utterly tamper-proof design which, once installed in homes, schools, and businesses across the country, aims to reduce this number significantly.

With the launch of the Shock Blocker website, American Innovative Inventions wishes to reach out to retail distributors and individual customers alike, offering the chance to purchase their product. Distributors and customers can order the product directly from the website through a dedicated, secure e-commerce system ensuring   safe transactions and privacy for their information. In this way, you can rest assured that both your personal information and your children are safe when you buy Shock Blocker.

The Yelp Review Filter

Are you a business who depends on local customers?  If you are, then you probably are already keenly aware of the growing importance of client reviews in the health of your business, and the growing importance of Yelp when it comes to reviews.

Yelp icon: Why does yelp filter reviews?

Well yeah, maybe. But a lot of the people who love you on Yelp may never show up to your customers!

But have you ever had this happen?  A client tells you that they left you a nice review on Yelp.  Pleased and encouraged, you visit your Yelp page to see what they wrote.  You look and look and…to your confusion you can’t find their review anywhere?

If you know what we’re talking about you’re one of the many small businesses who have had their valuable Yelp reviews filtered.

Why Does Yelp Filter Reviews?

So why does Yelp filter reviews? They don’t trust the authenticity of them, because well, many of the reviews left on Yelp are fakes.

Now, while it’s understandable that Yelp would try to filter out fake reviews, it’s unfortunate that they do such a crappy job of it. For one of my clients, Yelp didn’t trust 21 of 24 reviews that legitimate Yelpers left on their site.  In fact, they filtered out all of this company’s positive reviews and only left 3 negative reviews.

Here’s how to see those phantom reviews.  Visit your business listing on Yelp.  Then scroll down to the section that says “About this Business.”  Right above that you might seem a line that says “[number] other reviews that are not currently recommended” (see screen capture, below).

screen capture of Yelp's other reviews button

If you’re missing some reviews that you thought had been placed, go and see if they are parked in Yelp’s “dead letter” graveyard.

Giving Your Reviews their Best Shot at Being Seen

Here’s how you can avoid having your best reviews end up in this lonesome place where no one will read them:

  • Yelp pays more attention to active Yelpers, so talk to your satisfied clients and, if they are looking for a place to leave you a positive review, and if they’ve never been on Yelp before, tell them to leave you a review somewhere else, such as Google+ or Yahoo local.
  • Don’t get a bunch of your customers to submit reviews in a short period of time, that looks artificial to Yelp
  • Try to find customers who are active on Yelp and then encourage only those customers to leave a review on Yelp

Keep in mind that all of the review sites prohibit you from soliciting reviews, so never offer to trade discounts, cash or favors for a positive review.  You can mention that you encourage reviews, but don’t tell them you want “positive” reviews or you could be in trouble with more sites than Yelp.

Have you had an experience, good or bad, with Yelp’s review filter?  We’d love to hear about it in the comments.  And if you’d like help with local search engine optimization, read more about what we offer.

 

 

Ross Barefoot is the Chief Technology Officer at Horizon Web Marketing. In his work with Horizon Ross brings 35 years of small business management experience, 25 years programming experience, 20 years web development experience, and 13 years experience as a professional SEO. Ross is also currently a certified SEO trainer with the Search Engine Academy and serves on its board of directors.
      

Is Your Website Search Engine “Friendly” (Part III)

In Part I of this series (6 Questions to Ask that Will Help You Determine Whether Your Website is Search Engine Friendly) I discussed the need to make your website search engine friendly before you try to do Search Engine Optimization.  I think this is a necessity even when you have no budget for actual professional SEO, simply because search engine friendliness is possible and beneficial for any website budget.  It only requires some awareness when the site is being developed and the cooperation of your website developer.

In Part II of the series I discussed the need for a sitemap and search engine friendly URLs.

In this final installment I will be discussing questions 5 and 6 of our original topic, and both are discussed also by Google in their instructions for making your website “Google Friendly.”

Question 5 – Does your site have a substantial amount of relevant text on the home page?

Search engines are text-greedy.  They have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into discovering, indexing, organizing, and analyzing textual content.  Sure they also put a ton into image and video search, but text still is the locomotive that drives their engine.  So are you giving them text that will help them get a bead on your site?  If not, you’re definitely not showing them a friendly face.

Take a look at your home page.  Remove the images.  Google recommends looking at your browser in Lynx, which is a text-only browser; what a nightmare.  I think the most recent version of Lynx was created when Eisenhower was president.  Easier: Use Google Chrome and browse your website with images disabled (at least for this, Firefox is much more difficult to configure).  Now try to figure out what your website is about.  Can you do it?  Is there enough textual content without the aid of images to help the search engines determine what your home page is relevant to?  If not, you need to figure out a way to beef up your textual content.  Doing so will go a long way toward making it more welcoming to Google.

Here’s an example for you.  Note the images-on/images-off difference for Venus Clothing (who somehow bagged the very desirable name venus.com).  Note the screen capture below with images off.  There’s virtually nothing there!

screen capture of venus.com to show display with images on

 

 

another screen capture of venus.com showing images turned off and virtually no content

 

Question 6 – Does your site hide key information in graphics?

This is related to question 5, but a bit different.  Graphics can get you into trouble in a couple of ways with the search engines.  One is by slowing down your page load time (see question 2 of this series).  But additionally lots of companies make the mistake of putting their name, phone number, even their address into a pretty graphic that someone created using Photoshop and then dropped into their webpage.

Look at the examples above for Venus Fashion.  Even their company name is missing except for a small copyright notice at the bottom of the page.

While your browser is still in text-only mode (see above for instructions), see if you can find key navigational information or key company information.  If you can’t, turn images back on and see if it suddenly shows up.  It’s ok to leave key information embedded in images and graphics, but it’s not OK if that’s the only way it appears.  For example, if your company phone number is part of a beautiful image, fine.  Just make sure that you have it somewhere else on the page as text.

Well, I hope this has been helpful to you in making your website friendlier when Google or Bing come knocking…or rather, crawling.  If you want to go deeper into this topic, you can take a look at this guide from Moz, however when I looked at their article I found it, frankly, overwhelming.  As a business person I usually need immediate steps that I can take now, rather than a dense theoretical guide that I’ll get to in that distant and hazy future that never comes.

And for you SEO professionals who might be reading this, if you have run into other Search Engine Unfriendly stuff that business can and should watch out for without a huge investment of money, please leave it in the comments.

As usual, if you found this useful, please do me a favor and give it a Like, a +1, or a Tweet.

Ross Barefoot is the Chief Technology Officer at Horizon Web Marketing. In his work with Horizon Ross brings 35 years of small business management experience, 25 years programming experience, 20 years web development experience, and 13 years experience as a professional SEO. Ross is also currently a certified SEO trainer with the Search Engine Academy and serves on its board of directors.