SEO

What we do best – Search Engine Optimisation. The latest tips, tricks and news with regard to getting those lucrative top positions on Google and other search engines.

Mythbusting Negative SEO

You’ve probably heard of negative SEO before, but you may not be entirely clued-up on what does and doesn’t constitute as negative SEO. It’s this middle ground that can cause issues, misconceptions and bad practice.

So to shed some light, let’s delve into the nitty gritty of what actually is and isn’t regarded as negative SEO.

Defining Positive & Negative SEO

To better understand negative SEO, we can take a look at its counterpart, positive SEO, first. Positive SEO, as a broad definition, is the practice of implementing tactics that will positively affect rankings for a URL or main domain, usually by way of manipulating the URL itself, its links, content and other user signals.

Negative SEO on the other hand, is any tactic that is carried out with the intention of (you guessed it) negatively impacting the rankings for a particular page, URL or domain by (you guessed it again) manipulating the URL itself, its links, content and other user or social signals.

Google Disregards Negative SEO

In Google’s eyes, negative SEO isn’t real. But the truth is, if it’s perfectly possible that you can hurt the rankings of your domain or page by changing one of the many variables associated with organic SEO, then an external entity changing any variables associated with your site could also result in your rankings dropping or your pages even being de-indexed.

Here’s what Google had to say about negative SEO:

Google works hard to prevent other webmasters from being able to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index. If you’re concerned about another site linking to yours, we suggest contacting the webmaster of the site in question. Google aggregates and organizes information published on the web; we don’t control the content of these pages.

That’s not exactly a solid “yes” or “no” answer regarding whether negative SEO is possible or not.

Is it Black Hat?

By way of Google’s terms of service on acceptable use, it’s safe to say that Google would consider most of the tactics used in negative SEO to be black hat. But not all of the techniques that can be used in negative SEO are black hat techniques. For example, “hijacking” a backlink by requesting that a webmaster change a link pointing to a competitor’s asset to yours instead, because it offers more value, is perfectly acceptable – even though you are attempting to better your own rankings whilst the change would affect your competitor’s rankings in a negative manner.

Is Negative SEO Considered Hacking?

A quick Google search comes up with the following definition for a hacker: a person who uses computers to gain unauthorised access to data. Of course, the practices of negative SEO differs from person to person just as much as what constitutes as hacking differs from country to country. But with that in mind, we can reference some of the more well-known negative SEO techniques and see how they relate to the above definition.

Links

  • Pointing mass volumes of bad links to the URL of a competitor doesn’t require any unauthorised access to data so it’s safe to assume that this particular technique wouldn’t be considered as hacking.

Content

  • Spamming comments with the sole intention of altering the theme of the content or keyword density. If done on a manual scale through proper channels, it isn’t hacking. However, on a larger and automated scale some people may see it as hacking.
  • Indexing URLs with bad content due to a content management system (CMS) flaw. If the content is truly injected into the CMS, yes, it is hacking. If the content is just perceived to exist due to a misunderstanding of how Google reads the CMS but does not actually exist, I would argue it is not hacking.

Is Negative SEO Illegal?

Again, this boils down to the particular techniques involved and the scale. All we will say is this – you should weigh the benefits against the risk. Negative SEO takes time and resource as much as organic SEO does, but wouldn’t you rather be bolstering your own organic growth and securing yourself against negative SEO attacks than trying to dish it out yourself?

Are You Being Too Restrictive On Your PPC?

It’s a well-known fact that it’s quite easy to “waste” money on PPC in a very short amount of time. For this reason you will often find PPC management being overly strict and really tuning in their configuration to be too defensive. But this protective stance can have its downsides.

Lets take a look at some different ways you could be missing out of perfectly good traffic by being too restrictive on your PPC account without realising it:

  1. Out-Of-Hours Bid Adjustments

It’s a very common practice for online retail stores to adjust their bids downwards during “off-peak” or out-of-office hours, typically outside of the 9-5 range.

B2B (business to business) PPC campaigns may also seem reasonable to run during typical business hours, rather than evenings or weekends.

But the truth is, people are still searching and researching on their phones and tablets out of office hours.

You should consider loosening the reins on your bid adjustments so that your ads will be more eligible to show up 24/7.

  1. Blocking IP Addresses using a Click Fraud Detection Service

IP blocking can be very useful. Depending where in the world you live, a given internet protocol (IP) address might be associated with hundreds or thousands of different people. But click fraud software could actually be doing you more harm than good, so it could be beneficial to tweak your settings so that you’re not missing out on valuable traffic.

  1. Not using Broad Match

As with organic SEO, discounting broad match isn’t the best strategy and we often see PPC managers targeting too refined and specific exact match keywords. Exact match is great, but if you’re looking to grow, then using broad match to catch a wider audience is a good place to start. You might even need to run conventional (gasp!) broad match or dynamic search ads.

  1. Geography-based Assumptions

All PPC managers do it, and more often than not with very good reason. Excluding certain countries from your PPC ads is good practice, but when it comes to tuning, excluding certain cities or counties from your campaign just because you don’t traditionally have clients or customers from that particular location could mean you’re missing out on traffic. By all means adjust your bids accordingly based on location, but don’t just “turn off” locations because you don’t think you’ll get any customers from there.

Summary

Has your PPC campaign been performing poorly recently? It may be worth taking a look at the above factors, tweaking your settings and seeing if your traffic improves as a result. As with all SEO, PPC is about managing, analysing and tweaking your campaign to see what works best for your business and your target audience.

 

Mobile First Index, a Refresher

The new Mobile First Index continues to roll out and it’s a hot topic in the SEO industry. We’ve talked about it in the past, but now it’s time for a refresher to ensure you’re completely on board for this new Google experience.

In March of 2018, Google rolled out a new mobile first index.

But what does that mean? Well, going forward, Google will rank your website based on the mobile version rather than thee desktop version.

Historically, Google’s indexing and ranking system have always used the desktop version to rank your site, but now since the majority of users are using their mobile devices for browsing the web and making searches, Google will look at the mobile version of your site and use that in search results in order to offer a better mobile experience to its customers.

Each website is now evaluated individually and ranked based on how mobile-friendly it is (among many other factors of course).

If your website doesn’t have a mobile version, you don’t need to particularly worry about the mobile first index. Google will just use the desktop version to rank your site. But you should really consider making your website mobile friendly, as user experience is what Google takes into account most.

Google has previously said that content that’s not deemed mobile-friendly will not rank as well. That still remains the case with the new Mobile First index.

Google have also said, “If you only have a desktop site, we’ll continue to index your desktop site just fine, even if we’re using a mobile user agent to view your site.”

If you have a responsive website, which means one that changes and scales the content accordingly depending on the type and size of device that’s being used, you are certainly heading in the right direction.

However Google has said that it will look at the mobile version of your site even if it has less content than the desktop version. If your mobile version has less content on page A than the desktop version of page A, then Google will probably just see the mobile version with less content.

If your content is the same across devices, there are no guarantees your rankings will remain steady, too. Research has found that 79 percent of keywords return different results across mobile and desktop, which points to the fact that users expect different content depending on their context.

(Also If you’re a Soar client, there’s nothing you need to do because we always use responsive design on our websites!).

As always, keep in mind that Google uses many factors to rank your site, but the mobile-first index shouldn’t be overlooked. Google will send a notification via your Search Console when your site has been switched over to the mobile-first index, so it’s best to keep an eye on this if you want to maintain and grow visibility when it inevitably does arrive for your site.

8 SEO Trends Heating Up In 2018

We already wrote about some SEO Trends to watch in the New Year, but we think it’s about time for a refresher. Here are some of the hottest topics being talked about in SEO so far this year:

Voice Search

We’ve been talking about optimising for voice search for quite some time now, and it’s only going to become more relevant. There’s no doubt about it: voice search will change how we create and optimise content, particularly how it relates to searcher intent.

SSL / HTTPS

Google announced quite some time ago that rankings would be impacted by website security certificates (SSL). Now browsers like Chrome display warnings if a website isn’t HTTPS secured. If you haven’t done so already, it’s important that you take the plunge and install a security certificate on your domain – it’s quite cost effective.

Searcher Intent

It’s obvious that Google continues to improve the way it serves results to its users, particularly in how it aims to serve quality content that is most relevant to the searcher’s query. It’s time that we optimise beyond simple keywords and traditional ranking factors to understand the types of content the search engines deem relevant for priority terms.

Video SEO

A study done by Cisco last year predicted that by 2021, video will account for over 82% of all consumer internet traffic. Not to mention, YouTube is the world’s second largest search engine, with no signs of slowing down! Optimising video content is still a work in progress, but a powerful tool nonetheless.

You also have options other than YouTube. You can simply embed videos directly on your site and increase your ‘time on page’ metrics – yet another reason for Google to rank your site higher.

Snippets

Google continues to test and roll out new SERP features, including schema and “rank zero” snippet results, answer boxes and much more. There has never been more canvas to aim for!

Site Speed

Yes, we’re going to talk about site speed again. Google has officially announced site speed as a ranking factor and is only becoming more and more important for mobile with the introduction of the mobile first index.

Local SEO

For business owners, Position 0 is the most convenient place to be in search results. Featured snippets are like billboards: big letters, bright logo, address and phone number, a couple reviews as a bonus – all covering a large chunk of the screen and shamelessly in your face. Absolutely worth fighting for, too.

Accelerated Mobile Pages

In 2015, Google launched the Accelerated Mobile Pages project, and it’s been a great help for webmasters who want to speed their sites up. If your site has pages that function without code that’s excessive by AMP standards, consider using AMP. Once more, this coincides with Google’s heavy focus on improving their mobile experience and introducing the mobile first index.

What’s happening to .EU domains after Brexit?

You’d have to be living in a cave if you haven’t seen Brexit invading headlines for quite some time now. Apparently, it will be impacting the web in surprising new ways too!

In an official statement, the European Commission announced it will be cancelling all circa 300,000 domains under the .eu top-level domain that have a UK registrant, following Britain’s eventual withdrawal from the EU.

“As of the withdrawal date, undertakings and organizations that are established in the United Kingdom but not in the EU and natural persons who reside in the United Kingdom will no longer be eligible to register .eu domain names,” the document states or if they are .eu registrants, to renew .eu domain names registered before the withdrawal date.”

This obviously will have some very serious implications for companies in the UK who have been building their brand on .eu domains.

It also surprisingly goes against internet norms, which usually permits grandfathering of domains. For example, the .SU domain (Soviet Union) still exists, even though the region itself ceased to exist all the way back in 1991.

The EU does have the right to do whatever it wants with the .EU domain, and the original, 2006 rules clearly outline that it’s only available to those with EU residence, which soon enough will not apply to those in the United Kingdom – According to the registration rules for .EU domains, these domains are reserved for European Union, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein, and once the United Kingdom is out of European Union, all the persons and businesses can lose access to these domains.

Under the current policies, an individual or organisation needs to have an address in the EU and a couple of neighbouring countries to qualify for registration:

(i) an undertaking having its registered office, central administration or principal place of business within the European Union, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein, or

(ii) an organisation established within the European Union, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein without prejudice to the application of national law, or

(iii) a natural person resident within the European Union, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein.

The document from the European Union states that the United Kingdom submitted on 29 March 2017 the notification of its intention to withdraw from the Union pursuant to Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. This means that, unless a ratified withdrawal agreement establishes another date, all Union primary and secondary law will cease to apply to the United Kingdom from 30 March 2019, 00:00h (CET).

According to a quarterly report from EURid, the organization that manages .eu domains, there were 317,286 .eu domains registered by UK citizens at the end of last year (Q4 2017).

Brexit is currently scheduled for March 30th, 2019, so if you are currently utilising a .eu domain and are keen to avoid any losses you may want to consider setting up a new domain name now and putting all necessary SEO and marketing foundations in place.

From an SEO perspective, having 301 redirects from one URL to another URL indefinitely is best, but if that is impossible, the longer you have 301 redirects in place, the better off you are with Google, and other search engines.

5 Easy But Effective SEO Spring Cleaning Tasks

Today we’re taking it back to basics; but you’d be surprised how often the everyday technical SEO chores are overlooked or underutilised. But having a solid SEO foundation is key if you want any kind of longevity in your project.

Whilst building links and producing content is very powerful and effective when it comes to SEO, sometimes you just need to take a moment to do a little spring cleaning and ensure your house in in order.

Let’s take a look at five smart SEO tasks that will make sure you are getting the most out of your link building and content development efforts.

Broken Outgoing Links

Making sure your outgoing links are still operating is just as important as keeping your internal links 404-free. Websites come and go all the time, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to discover that some of the sites you’re linking to don’t exist anymore or their pages and URL structures have changed.

In some cases, you may even find that the websites you’re linking to have become unscrupulous, which is worse! These types of outbound links can harm your website’s organic ranking and can also create a poor user experience (UX).

Task – Perform a thorough scan on all outbound links using a tool such as Screaming Frog and ensure they are linking to relevant locations in one step.

Meta Descriptions

Whilst Meta Descriptions no longer have the same bearing on SEO as they used to, they are still a powerful piece of canvas for conversion and click-through rates on organic search. Often times however, someone will write a Meta description for a page once and never update it again.

However, it’s important to keep track of the changes in the search landscape and how this affects Meta descriptions. In December of 2017 for example, Google increased the maximum length of search results snippets from 160 characters to 320 characters. So anyone who hasn’t updated their descriptions may be missing an opportunity to improve click-through rates by adding a more engaging description.

Task – Review and tweak the Meta descriptions on all of your highest priority pages. If possible write an accurate and engaging description up to 320 characters long, naturally incorporating the target keyword for those specific pages.

Responsive Design

We keep barking on about how important mobile pages are becoming, but it’s the truth! Mobile search traffic takes up a significant majority, and that’s only set to increase.

Ensuring your mobile pages are responsive in design creates a positive user experience, which is a big plus in Google’s eyes.

Task – Test the mobile responsiveness of your website’s most important pages using Google’s Mobile Responsive Test and multiple mobile devices. You may even want to consider implementing AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) across your website, as it aims to serve mobile users in the quickest and simplest way possible.

Internal Linking

Much like auditing your outgoing links, it’s important to keep an eye on where your internal links are going and ensuring the destination URLs are still correct and relevant.

As with outbound links, search engines expect inbound links to point to a relevant page, without multiple steps.

Task – Scan your internal links and double check that they are pointing to relevant and working pages in one step for the best possible user experience and ranking signals.

Page Speed

This goes for both desktop and mobile pages – most websites load at an extremely sub-par speed.

Why is that important?

Firstly, page speed will become a ranking factor in mobile search in July of 2018. From Google’s Zhiheng Wang and Doantam Phan:

The “Speed Update,” as we’re calling it, will only affect pages that deliver the slowest experience to users and will only affect a small percentage of queries. It applies the same standard to all pages, regardless of the technology used to build the page. The intent of the search query is still a very strong signal, so a slow page may still rank highly if it has great, relevant content.

Secondly, it plays a huge role in user experience, and as we all know UX is a ranking factor. So even before the mobile first index comes in to play, Page Speed is hugely important.

Task – It largely depends on the type of website you have as to how you should go about optimising page load times. However, the general rule of thumb should be to reduce the number of HTTP requests, optimise / merge CSS and Javascript files, optimise your images and make use of caching and content delivery networks (CDNs).

Are You Using nofollow Incorrectly?

It’s become a recent trend among large sites like Forbes, Huffington Post and Entrepreneur to use nofollow attributes on their outbound links. But this is a trend that needs to stop!

As a general rule of thumb, if you can’t trust the content you are linking to, then don’t use it! It’s that simple, really. But lets take it back to basics and see exactly how nofollow attributes work:

Using nofollow in the head section of an entire page is vastly different to using it on specific outgoing links, and should really be avoided unless absolutely necessary.

How does Google treat nofollow?

When it comes to nofollow attributes, Google is clear in how they are treated:

In general, we don’t follow them. This means that Google does not transfer PageRank or anchor text across these links. Essentially, using nofollow  causes us to drop the target links from our overall graph of the web.

Let the juice flow

It’s always a good tactic to let PageRank flow to your website. If you absolutely have to automate nofollow links, try implementing a system that focuses nofollow attributes only on external links for body content, but only for links that you can’t control or don’t trust.

Nofollow attributes can create dead ends in crawls and stops the flow of signals through your website, especially when used at a page level. Whilst it may be easier to simply “blanket” nofollow in the head of the page, but the easiest route doesn’t always mean it’s the best route.

So to summarise, here are some important points to consider when you are looking to utilise nofollow attributes:

  • If you have to use a nofollow attribute, use it as an attribute on specific links but not at a page level.
  • Using nofollow at a page level just hurts you more than anything. It’s not a good idea.
  • Using nofollow on all outbound links is just a ridiculous practice built out of fear of linking out.
  • Using nofollow attributes on all outbound links may end up hurting your own website. I recommend you not do it.
  • Be careful not to use noindex and nofollow together in all situations just because you think they should be used together. They have different purposes.

 

301 vs 302 Redirects – What’s Best For SEO?

It’s easy to get confused when considering which redirect you should use, whether you’ve removed or moved content on your website. Let’s take a look at what is best practice and also how the search engines view 301 and 302 redirects.

There are plenty of articles available in the SEO industry that discuss 301 and 302 redirects, particularly focusing on the fact that 302 redirects don’t pass any PageRank and that 301 redirects are far better for SEO.

But does this theory still apply in 2018?

To get straight to the point, first let’s answer the question “Should I use a 301 redirect when I want to permanently move content from one webpage to another?” In short, the answer is “Yes, absolutely”.

To ensure the search engines understand that your URL has been moved to a new location (permanently) with equivalent content, and should therefore pass any link equity, then a 301 redirect is the best.

But do 301, or any other 30x redirect for that matter, pass PageRank? Yes! They do!

Back in 2016, Google spokesperson Gary Illyes stated that all 300 level server-side redirects pass PageRank. This means that whether it’s a 301, 302 or even a 307, PageRank will still be passed.

According to Gary Illyes, in terms of redirects, 301s and 302s both pass the same PageRank to identical content. So really, if you’re only focusing on Google, using a 301 should be your first port of call, but using any 30x redirect you think is appropriate isn’t a bad move either.

However, in the US in particular, Bing claimed to have 33% of the market share, with a respectable 23% in the UK. So disregarding the alternate search engine entirely is inadvisable.

According to Bing’s webmaster guidelines it “prefers you use a 301 permanent redirect when moving content, should the move be permanent. If the move is temporary, then a 302 temporary redirect will work fine.”

Bing also stated that 302s which look permanent are eventually treated as 301s and pass link equity, but if you want to ensure the link equity is passed sooner, you should use a 301 before a 302 if you know the redirect is not temporary.

So what’s best practice?

To put it simply. If you’re redirecting a URL to equivalent content, and you aren’t planning on putting that content back on the original URL at any point, then use a 301 redirect to pass on link equity. As a rule of thumb, you can’t really go wrong by using a 301 for permanently redirecting content for SEO purposes.

7 Reasons Why SEO is a Long Term Project

It’s important to understand, when embarking on an SEO campaign for your business, that it’s no simple and quick task. It takes time to see a return on your investment and measurable results. Here’s 7 reasons why you should invest your time and budget in to SEO as a long term project:

1 – SEO is Always Evolving and Changing

As Google likes to switch up its algorithm on a regular basis (reportedly up to 500 – 600 times a year!), it’s important to stay on top of what is ‘best practice’. Monitoring your SEO campaign constantly, tweaking and proactively making adjustments is key. You don’t want your site to be left in the dust on the SERPs.

2 – Rankings Don’t Improve Over Night

There’s no magic formula to put your website on to the first page of Google overnight. In fact, the big G themselves have stated that you need anywhere from 4 – 12 months to actually see tangible results from your SEO efforts. This of course depends on your strategy and the expertise of whoever is implementing it.

3 – Keeping up with your Competitors

According to research, around $68 billion was spent on SEO in 2017, with a prediction of up to $80 billion to be spent in 2020. With that said, in order to remain competitive, SEO is a must as more and more companies look to increase their investment in online marketing and SEO budgets.

4 – The Effects of SEO are Exponential

Just like any good investment, the ROI on your SEO will grow exponentially. As you get a good strategy in place, increase your budgets over time and your returns will continue to snowball and increase simultaneously.

5 – SEO is Advertising

Just like traditional advertising mediums, a good SEO campaign attracts customers. You stop doing SEO, you stop attracting customers. It’s that simple. Couple this with point 1 in particular, and you need to have a long lasting SEO campaign that varies and evolves as both the marketplace and algorithms change.

6 – Fresh, New (Quality) Content is Google’s Favourite Thing

Providing quality, accurate and up to date information to its customers is Google’s main purpose. So keeping your website up to date with regular, high quality content puts you in their good books as far as the algorithms are concerned.

7 – Ending Your SEO Campaign Prematurely Is a Waste of Money

A steady, ongoing campaign is a must if you want to see any type of return from your investment. So it’s safe to say that if you’re going to start an SEO campaign, you’ll want to stick with it. If, after a month or two, you pull the plug, you’re unlikely to see a return on your investment whatsoever in that timeframe.

Are you using GS1 SmartSearch?

There is a new, advanced schema markup for products known as “GS1 SmartSearch”, which aims to boost the visibility of listings in the SERPs.

Schema Product Markup can be utilised on e-commerce sites to serve product data in a structured format that is Google friendly and has the potential to produce a rich result, such as product rich snippets and rich cards for your product pages.

There is now a more advanced way to introduce Schema Product markup, which gives your product pages the benefits above as well as helping them to gain additional visibility. Labelled “GS1 SmartSearch”, this new and advanced structured data type uses customer-facing attributes that are related to beverages, food, healthcare, clothing and footwear.

What is GS1 SmartSearch?

GS1 Smartsearch gives you the ability to highlight additional elements than traditional Schema Product markup, such as Global Trade Item Number (GTIN), which can improve how users discover your products.

Schema.org announced in 2016 that GS1 Web vocabulary is now an external extension of their format.

“GS1’s SmartSearch initiative has been working with the schema.org community (at W3C and Github), creating a Web-based structured data vocabulary that extends schema.org to support richer product data description. Unlike our hosted extensions (e.g. bib.schema.org, auto.schema.org) that are reviewed, versioned and published as part of schema.org itself, external extensions to schema.org such as GS1’s are fully independent and have their own workflows, review processes and infrastructure.”

The benefits, as stated by GS1 themselves, are as follows:

  • Better search results for consumers to find the products and information they need
  • Greater visibility of their products in online searches
  • Improved, accurate online product information
  • Shared product information via consumer-facing mobile devices and websites, which ultimately drive sales

Example of GS1 SmartSearch Schema product markup

Tesco have adopted and implemented the GS1 SmartSearch markup in their grocery products

This is how the JSON-LD code appears for the above page, which validates perfectly in the Google Structured Data Tool:

How to Implement GS1 SmartSearch Markup

GS1 supplies a full guide of how to implement the markup and outlines various product and other Schema markup.

The recommended format is JSON-LD and must be included in the body section of the page, much like regular Schema Product Markup. It also must exist in an area where it is visible to users.

Here is a small section of the GS1 SmartSearch Product guildines:

We highly recommend you test this markup on a select few products before you roll it out across your website. Once implemented, test it thoroughly with the Google Structured Data Tool also.