Improve Your Local Ranking on Google

This week, Google has provided new guidance for local business owners about how to raise their profile in Google’s local search results.

Local results appear for people who search for businesses and places near their location. Local results appear in a number of places across Maps and Search. For example, you’ll probably see local results if you search for “Italian restaurant” from your mobile device. Google will try to show you the kind of nearby restaurant that you’d like to visit. In the image below, Google uses local results to suggest some options.

Local business search results in Google

Local business search results in Google

You can improve your business’s local ranking by using Google My Business

Can’t Find Your Business? Improve Your Info.

You may find that your business doesn’t appear for relevant searches in your area. To maximize how often your customers see your business in local search results, complete the following tasks in Google My Business. Providing and updating business information in Google My Business can help your business’s local ranking on Google and enhance your presence in Search and Maps.

Enter complete data

Local results favor the most relevant results for each search, and businesses with complete and accurate information are easier to match with the right searches. Make sure that you’ve entered all of your business information in Google My Business, so customers know more about what you do, where you are, and when they can visit you. Provide information like (but not limited to) your physical address, phone number, and category. Make sure to keep this information updated as your business changes.

Verify your location(s)

Verify your business locations to give them the best opportunity to appear for users across Google products, like Maps and Search.

Keep your hours accurate

Entering and updating your opening hours, including special hours for holidays and special events, lets potential customers know when you’re available and gives them confidence that when they travel to your location, it will be open.

Manage and respond to reviews

Interact with customers by responding to reviews that they leave about your business. Responding to reviews shows that you value your customers and the feedback that they leave about your business. High quality, positive reviews from your customers will improve your business’s visibility and increase the likelihood that a potential customer will visit your location.

Add photos

Adding photos to your listings shows people your goods and services, and can help you tell the story of your business. Accurate and appealing pictures may also show potential customers that your business offers what they’re searching for.

How Google Determines Local Ranking

Local results are based primarily on relevance, distance, and prominence. These factors are combined to help find the best match for your search. For example, Google algorithms might decide that a business that’s farther away from your location is more likely to have what you’re looking for than a business that’s closer, and therefore rank it higher in local results.

Relevance

Relevance refers to how well a local listing matches what someone is searching for. Adding complete and detailed business information can help Google better understand your business and match your listing to relevant searches.

Distance

Just like it sounds – how far is each potential search result from the location term used in a search? If a user doesn’t specify a location in their search, Google will calculate distance based on what’s known about their location.

Prominence

Prominence refers to how well known a business is. Some places are more prominent in the offline world, and search results try to reflect this in local ranking. For example, famous museums, landmark hotels, or well known store brands that are familiar to many people are also likely to be prominent in local search results.

Prominence is also based on information that Google has about a business from across the web (like links, articles, and directories). Google review count and score are factored into local search ranking: more reviews and positive ratings will probably improve a business’s local ranking. Your position in web results is also a factor, so SEO best practices also apply to local search optimization.

There’s no way to request or pay for a better local ranking on Google. Google does its best to keep the details of the search algorithm confidential to make the ranking system as fair as possible for everyone.

All of the above article is a near verbatim copy of this original article from Google which I first learned about from Mike Blumenthal’s blog.

Below is a screenshot of how we did it for ourselves (we practice what we preach) and how we do it for our clients. This is the result for a search in Google for SEO Surrey.

SEO Surrey google local search results

SEO Surrey google local search results

Want to get your business seen or seen more in Google?

Learn more about Local SEO from our main Local SEO Services page or get help with your local SEO today.

Feefo Reviews

Feefo website screenshot

Feefo website home page

A client recently asked me to review Feefo and in particular its benefits from an SEO standpoint. I knew little about it up to that point but found it interesting enough to decide to make it the subject of my next (this) blog post.

Although Feefo is first and foremost about reviews, it also has big implications for content marketing and SEO and also for the financial performance that a business can achieve, in terms of return on investment, from using Google AdWords, Google’s paid advertising service.

So, What is Feefo?

Feefo is an independent online review system. Independence is claimed because the reviews are generated by Feefo and not the trading business (which I’m going to refer to as the ‘shop’ from now on to avoid confusion over which business I’m referring to). This independence means the reviews should be able to be trusted more than reviews that are generated by the shop and published on its own website. More about the independence, later.

How Does Feefo Work?

After the shop makes a sale or supplies a service, the shop periodically provides certain customer contact data to Feefo which enables Feefo to contact the customer by email and invite them to leave a review about their experience. This data can be supplied to Feefo in a number of ways, ranging from manual to automatic feed. After Feefo emails the customer, the review is supplied by the customer direct to Feefo who publish it on the Feefo domain so the review is therefore not under the control of the shop.

How Do You Set Feefo Up?

There are two options for installing Feefo on a shop’s website. Some shops use both methods concurrently and others choose just one of them. The quickest and simplest is to install a short piece of JavaScript code in the shop’s website pages which generates a pop-up window displaying the Feefo reviews to the shopper.

Method 1
This is the method chosen by my customer and the screenshot below shows how it looks on their page about glazing tools.

You can click on the image to get a much bigger version.

Feefo badge on the Wholesale Glass Company

Feefo badge on the Wholesale Glass Company

When you click on the badge, you get a pop-up window the top section of which looks like this.

Feefo pop-up display 1 on wholesale glass company

Feefo pop-up display

The bottom half of the pop-up window displays a list of all the individual reviews. These reviews allow for the shop owner to respond to the reviews and each review also has a link back to the relevant product page on the shop.

Feefo pop-up display 2 on wholesale glass company

Feefo pop-up display

Method 2
An alternative to the JavaScript pop-up method above, is to include the reviews as part of the permanent content of the shop’s page. This has been done by notonthehighstreet.com and has several advantages. Firstly pop-ups can be an annoying distraction. Secondly, there is a small chance that a visitor will leave the shop to read the reviews and not return. By hosting the reviews on the shop’s domain, there is no need for the shopper to leave the page he is viewing. There may be an additional benefit to Google rankings from having the content on the shop’s pages as well as on Feefo.com but since this would be a duplicate of the content already hosted on Feefo, I’m not clear whether having the content existing in two places instead of just one actually provides an incremental ranking benefit.

Feefo method 2 on notonthehighstreet.com

Feefo method 2 on notonthehighstreet.com

What Are The Main Benefits of Feefo and Reviews?

1. Conversion rates. Trust, or lack of it, is one of the biggest obstacles to overcome in converting a browser into a shopper and the presence of independent, trusted reviews can increase conversion rates enormously. In the world of online reviews “bad” is the new “good”. Nobody expects 100% perfect reviews and indeed the existence of perfect reviews is likely to be viewed with some scepticism. Bad reviews are usually seen as opportunities by enlightened busines owners these days. Bad reviews as well as good reviews can help to engender trust for different reasons.
2. Reputation management and brand protection. Providing a mechanism for your customers to leave reviews means that you can respond, address any valid concerns that particular customer has whilst in addition accumulating, from all reviews, invaluable feedback about how you might improve your business. Far better to have a bad review on a site where you can reply rather than find that frustrated customers have left reviews on other sites or on social media where you don’t have access to be able to comment. The fact that a shop owner replies to customer complaints will be seen by other shoppers as a sign that the owner genuinely cares about quality of service.
3. Better AdWords campaigns. After a certain number of reviews have been acquired, you can have gold stars displayed by Google as part of your AdWords ads and this can improve click through rates, improve ad positions, reduce costs and therefore increase return on investment of AdWords campaigns.
4. SEO benefits. Ever since the Panda updates were announced by Google, ‘content became king’ in the world of SEO. But trusted content probably became ace. Many large ecommerce sites that had thousands of product pages with very little original or in depth content suddenly lost a lot of traffic. The challenge for those sites was how to create content for all those product pages without employing an army of content writers. User generated content such as reviews provide the perfect solution. The reviews are in essence content that works well from an SEO standpoint. The content is unique, it’s highly relevant to the product (since it’s on or linked to the product page and is about the product) and is trusted. This is like the perfect SEO content outsourcing solution for product pages. Notonthehighstreet.com had 229,957 reviews at time of writing. That’s a vast amount of content, automatically populating the deep pages of the shopping site. The reviews will not only help those pages rank better but they will convert better and improve any AdWords campaigns.

Feefo summary stats for notonthehighstreet.com

Feefo summary stats for notonthehighstreet.com

Are The Reviews Totally Independent and Trustworthy?

When there is so much at stake, there are always those who will try and manipulate the system. Perhaps, the one achilles heel of this system is that the shop owner could filter the email addresses he supplies to Feefo. Technically, it would be possible not to supply contact details of any customer that was known to have had a bad experience e.g. late delivery, damaged goods etc. in an attempt to improve ratings. So it was interesting to see one business make a public declaration that they always provide all their customers with an opportunity to leave a review. Of course, anybody could say that but the more effort one makes to be transparent, the more likely you are to trust them.

Who’s Feefo Best For?

Feefo really comes into its own when deployed on very large ecommerce shopping sites. However, there is no reason why it can not also be used by a service business or for that matter by businesses of any size in almost any sector.

I hope you found the above helpful or interesting. Please feel free to leave a comment below (using your real name) if you’ve had any experience of Feefo.

If you would like help with your SEO, you can find all our contact details here or alternatively you can get an overview of all our services on our home page.

Page Title Tags: Detailed Guide, Examples & Tips on Best Practice

Page Titles – Still Crucial, Still Neglected

Page title tags

Page title tags

Page title tags offer one of the easiest opportunities for small businesses to improve their website’s performance in the search engines and yet countless numbers of small businesses – and even some bigger ones – neglect this vital piece of the SEO jigsaw. Having said they’re easy, there’s a real art to designing the ideal tags for your web pages.

It’s so important that it probably should have been the first post I published on this blog. There’s plenty of material out there on the web but this is “my take on title tags” and provides a free resource that I can point some local businesses to when they contact me for advice.

I have often seen a website achieve page 1 rankings or improve its existing page 1 rankings by doing nothing more than optimising title tags. That won’t usually be the case for the most competitive keywords but for many businesses it’s a great way to make some progress.

I take into consideration all the factors in this article each and every time I prepare a page title tag for a client. I have experimented ad nauseam and found the most painstaking attention to detail was always worth the effort in terms of improved rankings, improved click-through rate or some other factor.

What Is A Page Title Tag?

It’s a snippet of code that appears in the head section of a website page.

Please note, you can click on all the images in this post to see the full size version of the images.

Example of page title tag code

Example of page title tag code

What Is It Used For?

Its primary purpose is to provide search engines with important information about the subject matter, theme or topic of that particular website page. If the tag is well optimised, it can help the page rank more highly in the search results for user search queries that match or nearly match the terms in the title tag.

Semantics

Let’s get this out of the way. Although it’s most commonly referred to as the page title tag, many point out that the correct terminology is really page title element. It doesn’t matter. We’re all referring to the same thing.

The Answer Is ‘It Depends’

The answer to most questions I get asked about SEO begins with ‘It depends’. It depends on context. What’s right for one website page in one sector, geography or other set of circumstances may not be right for others. The same is true for title tags which should be optimised dependent on context. However, there are some principles of best practice that apply universally.

Where Does It Show Up?

Apart from being visible in the page code and browser tab, the content of the title tag is used by search engines in various ways and can appear in different places in the search results so it’s important to bear all these in mind when designing your tags because they are highly visible.

The content of the tag almost always appears as the first line of the summary of the page that appears in the search results (see image below). When expanded site links are shown in Google, many page title tags may appear at once. They are therefore very high profile and should be well optimised to ensure the best information is presented to the viewer and that they create the most professional impression of your business. This is not the time to forget to use your spellchecker. There are a few exceptions when Google does not use the page title tag as the first line of the summary in the search results but those occasions are rare and beyond the scope of this article.

Example of page title tags appearing in expanded site links

Example of page title tags appearing in expanded site links

In The Back Link Anchor Text

Other websites may create hyperlinks to one or more of your web pages. These are known as ‘back links’, ‘inbound links’ or just ‘in links’. Sometimes they will link using your page title tag as the anchor text (anchor text is the clickable text that you see in the link). If you have your main keywords in the page title tag and those same keywords therefore end up in the anchor text of some of your back links, then you score twice since targeted keywords occurring in back link anchor text can help your page rank better for those keywords.

The Google ‘Site Command’

If you enter ‘site:www.anyoldwebsite.com’ (substitute your own choice of website name) into your Google search box, you’ll see a list of summaries for all the pages that Google has in its search index for that website. The first line of each of those summaries is the page title tag of each page so you can get a quick feel for how well optimised the page title tags are generally throughout your site.

Example of page titles using google site command

Example of page titles using google site command

Does It Have Any Other Uses?

At the same time as serving its primary purpose of providing information to the search engines about the topic of the page, the tag can be used to help meet one or more secondary objectives. It’s important to know what these are so that you can decide whether to try and meet one or more of these at the same time when designing your tags. The tag is highly visible so it’s an opportunity to get various kinds of message across.

Secondary Objectives

1. Improved click-through rate (CTR)
2. Branding
3. Corporate message or other message
4. Improved rankings

Improved Click-Through Rate (CTR)

Improved click-through rate can be achieved in various ways by making sure your message is appealing, invokes curiosity or entices the surfer in some other way. You may decide to include a call-to-action (CTA) in your title tag. If you’re less concerned about rankings for specific keywords and more concerned with trying to encourage users to take a particular action, then including a CTA can be effective. You can usually incorporate a CTA as well as your main keyword target. For example ‘Buy the best digital cameras online here’ includes the main keyword target embedded within a CTA. There’s a bit of a trade-off. There’s a limit of about 60 or 70 characters that can be effectively used in a title tag so including a CTA reduces the amount of space remaining for other characters which could be additional keyword targets or other wording.

Example of page title tags used to meet several secondary objectives

Example of page title tags used to meet several secondary objectives

Branding

Some big brands may not be concerned with using their website as a means of direct lead generation but may be more concerned with brand exposure. See the example below which uses the tag to convey to the user that they are viewing the website of Apple in the UK. They don’t use the home page title tag to try and rank that page for terms like iPad, iPod or iPhone. But they do include those keywords in the tags of other pages within the website dedicated to those products. The home page tag has been reserved for the brand name and location.

Example of page title tag used for brand

Example of page title tag used for brand

Corporate Message or Other Message

The tag might be used for a corporate message which doesn’t include keywords or a CTA and could be a message about corporate values or some other message.

Compromise
It’s important to remember that search engine traffic depends on many more factors than just appearing high up on page 1 of Google. The result in 5th place may end up getting more clicks i.e. enjoying a higher click-through rate (CTR) than the result in 4th place if the former has a more appealing or eye catching message in its title tag.

Improved Rankings

The following section contains most of the factors that I take into consideration when optimising title tags.

Display Limit in Search Engine Results Pages (SERP)

Currently, Google usually displays up to 70 characters in its SERP. This does change sometimes, so it’s safest to stick to 65 or less if you want to be sure your tag won’t be truncated like the one shown in the example below.

Example of page title tag being truncated

Example of page title tag being truncated

Use Excel to Lighten Your Workload

Whenever you’re doing something a large number of times it makes sense to find the best methodology that works for you and then stick to that every time. I use Microsoft Excel to make the work easy, to provide automatic character counts and to record ‘before’ and ‘after’ tags as an audit trail for client work. This also allows me or the client to review proposed changes before implementation if required.

Example of page title tag character count in Excel

Example of page title tag character count in Excel

Indexation

It’s worth pointing out that just because some characters in a long title tag might not be displayed in the search results, they are usually still being crawled and indexed by Google. So keywords near the end of a long title tag may still have an impact on rankings but that impact is likely to be small. Keywords appearing early on in the tag are likely to be given more weight than other keywords. It’s best to avoid having an excessively long title tag solely for the purpose of being able to accommodate more and more keywords.

Priority of Keywords in The Title Tag

Generally, the earlier in the tag that the keyword appears, the more weight it is likely to be given by Google in determining rankings so try to include your most important keywords at the beginning.

Keyword Matching

Exact Match
Your title tag is likely to be most effective in obtaining a good ranking for your target keyword if the tag contains an exact match for that keyword. For example, if you want to rank highly for the search phrase ‘blue widgets’ then try to include the exact term ‘blue widgets’ in your tag.

Broad Match
If your tag does not contain an exact match, a partial match can still help. So, taking the above example of ‘blue widgets’, if your title tag was ‘Widgets – Buy Blue, Red & Green Widgets Online’, the exact term ‘blue widgets’ does not appear anywhere in the title tag but this web page may still rank highly on a search for ‘blue widgets’ depending on all the other factors such as the words included in the content on the page, in the back links etc.

Proximity Score
In an exact match, the keywords are right next to each other and in the right order but in a broad match the same words might be present and in the right order but separated by other words, punctuation or other characters. In the above example, although the words ‘widgets’ and ‘blue’ are not adjacent or in the right order, they are very close, separated only by the ‘buy’ and some punctuation. So, their proximity score is high. If the two words were further apart, they would have a lower proximity score and might therefore be treated by Google as less relevant for a search on ‘blue widgets’. If you can’t get all your target keywords in your title tag as an exact match, then try to get high proximity scores by placing the words as close together as possible.

Order of Keywords
If you can’t include all the words in your targeted key phrases in the right order, it may be worth including them in reverse order. If you have ‘widgets blue’ in your tag, that is still a match to somebody searching on ‘blue widgets’. It may only be a reverse match and not an exact match but it has a maximum proximity score and is still highly relevant. And occasionally some surfers will actually type the words into their search box in reverse order so occasionally ‘widgets blue’ in your title tag might still be an exact match for the search query.

Repetition of Keywords
It doesn’t help to repeat keywords in the tag just for the sake of it. However, sometimes a keyword might occur at the beginning of the tag and again within a phrase which adds further value or information. So, ‘Blue Widgets, Blue Widgets, Blue Widgets’ is likely to be counter-productive but ‘Blue Widgets, Buy Cheap Blue Widgets Online Here’ might work well.

Close Variations
Sometimes you might be able to incorporate both the singular and plural version of your main keyword target in your tag. For example ‘Blue Widgets, The Cheapest Blue Widget Supplier in Town’ contains ‘widget’ and ‘widgets’.

Other close variations could be synonyms such as ‘Buy’ or ‘Purchase’ as in the Pixmania example above.

Other variations might be different cases of the word. For example you might want to rank for ‘glaziers’ as well as ‘glazing’ as well as ‘glass merchants’. In the example below, the tag incorporates the variations ‘emergency glazing‘ (as an exact match for 1 keyword target), ’emergency glass’ (as a broad match with high proximity score) and ‘repair’ and ‘replacement’ as close variations.

Example of page title tag incorporating variations and synonyms

Example of page title tag incorporating variations and synonyms

The Challenge With Long Business Names

If you want to maximise the exposure of your company name by including it in the title tag, that can present a conflict. If your business name is very long, there may not be much room left for other words. A short business name is more easily incorporated without compromising the other objectives you might be trying to meet with your title tags.

However, if your business name also has your main keyword targets in it, then you might be able to kill two birds with one stone. In the example below, it has been possible to include the business name without compromising one of the obvious keyword targets because one is contained within the other. It has also been possible to incorporate keyword target sub-phrases within larger keyword target phrases e.g. incorporating the sub-phrase ‘glass supplier‘ within ‘wholesale glass supplier’. Both are useful targets so, by nesting them together, you can target both within one phrase.

Example of page title tag with nested keyword targets

Example of page title tag with nested keyword targets

Punctuation – Vertical Bars | Commas, Dashes – or What?

Different websites use different forms of punctuation to separate the words in their tags. This choice may affect click-through rate more than rankings. Having punctuation does affect rankings. For example ‘SEO, services’ will be treated as different from ‘SEO services’. The choice between different forms of punctuation may be largely one of personal preference.

Ambiguity of Keywords

This is really more about choice of keyword targeting than title tags but it’s worth bearing in mind the idiosyncrasies that can arise from ambiguity. If you are a furniture supplier who is targeting ‘conference tables’ in your title tag, you need to be aware that you will be competing with all the sites about the conference tables in football. Your title tag might be better used to target ‘meeting tables’ or ‘conference room tables’.

Special Cases – The Home Page

The home page is a special case. There may be a natural choice of keyword target such as an umbrella term that encompasses the overall business but which is not already targeted on other pages within the website. If there isn’t, sometimes you see a home page targeting a series of keywords which are already targeted on other pages but for which the home page might rank even more highly than the inner page dedicated to the topic. This choice of how to use the home page title tag for targeting will depend on the particular circumstances of each business.

10 Common Mistakes

1. Identical title tag on all pages (containing the same target keywords).
2. Same title tag on all pages (containing just the business name).
3. Different title tags on all pages but still targeting the same core keyword in all of them.
4. Tags too long and containing too many keywords.
5. Keywords repeated excessively.
6. Poor punctuation.
7. Inconsistent casing.
8. Title tag is inconsistent with the content on the page.
9. No title tags at all – ‘untitled documents’.
10. Spelling mistakes due to lack of care and attention to detail.

My Top 10 Tips For Optimising Title Tags

1. Decide on what objectives you’re trying to meet before starting to design your tags.
2. Choose the keywords very carefully so that you include as few as you have to. Each one will carry more weight than keywords in a title tag containing, say, 20 keywords.
3. Make sure your tags are consistent with the theme of that page i.e. the content on the page. If they’re not consistent with each other, then either the title tag, or the content on the page, should be changed.
4. Use Excel to make the job of drafting and reviewing offline easy, prior to implementation.
5. Take all the relevant circumstances of your own business into account. What’s right for one business is not necessarily right for another.
6. Keep a record of rankings immediately before and about 14 days after any changes to title tags so that you can try to establish cause and effect i.e. did your changes help to improve things?
7. If you don’t have an eye for detail, you likely won’t spot some important differences between a good tag and a bad one so it might be better to get someone else to check your work or possibly even do them for you.
8. Don’t hurry them. It’s worth spending as long as it takes to get the best versions.
9. See what your competition is doing to help generate ideas but don’t blindly copy. Another business may be very successful in spite of its title tags not because of them.
10. Every page should ideally have a unique title tag. If you have many pages with the same tag, you won’t be penalised but you’ll be missing opportunities to get the other pages to rank for additional, different terms.

Related reading:
Meta Description Tags – Your Free Ad Copy
Meta Keyword Tags Are Irrelevant – The Final Word
Home Page Title Tag Can Be A Dead Giveaway

I hope you found the above helpful and/or interesting. Please feel free to leave your own tips or other considered comments below, using your real name.

If you would like help with your SEO, you can find all our contact details here or alternatively you can get an overview of our SEO & PPC services on our home page.

Addendum 1

Less than an hour after I made this post live, it was ranking on page 1 of Google for terms closely related to the subject matter of this post.

As you can see from the image below which is a screenshot of the results for a search on ‘guide to page title tags’, this page came up number 2 in Google, behind my good friends at SEOMoz.

Guide to page title tags search results screenshot

Guide to page title tags search results screenshot

The search was made using Firefox private browsing so was not a set of results influenced by my own search history. I also set the search location to Glasgow to see whether my 2nd place was just local or nationwide.

The exact search term that was used i.e. ‘guide to page title tags’ does not appear in the title tag of this page/post and it did not appear anywhere on this page when the search was carried out.

There is a reverse broad match in the title tag because it includes the words ‘page title tags … guide’ so the words in the search term are there but (a) in the wrong order and (b) not adjacent (because the word ‘detailed’ separates them).

Interestingly though, this addendum now includes the exact phrase ‘guide to page title tags’ a handful of times so it will be interesting to see if this page moves into the number 1 position for that exact search term. If it does, I’ll update this post with another addendum!

Blogging about SEO is fascinating, eh?

Addendum 2

OK, now it’s a couple of hours since I published this post and I decided to look at Google’s image search results.

The main featured image at the top of this blog post ranks number 6 in Google’s image search for ‘page title tags’ and one of my older posts has an image that ranks number 1 for the same search term.

Images can be an important source of additional traffic via google’s image search, so it’s always worth including a large high resolution well optimised image in your blog posts, both from a search engine point of view and user perspective.

Page title tags image search results in google uk

Page title tags image search results in google uk

How To Choose an SEO Company That Won’t Burn Your Domain

Domain in Flames

Your Domain Can Be Burnt By An SEO Company

Is Your SEO Company Safe?

Last month SEO agency iAcquire, in the U.S., was banned by Google for breaking its rules about link building.

This post is aimed at non-SEOs so, for you folk, Google’s ban of iAcquire means that (at the time of writing this) you can no longer find iAcquire’s website in Google. That’s enough to sink any business without a trace in a very short space of time. No presence in Google means your supply of website visitors (and their wallets) is choked off.

That’s a terrifying thought for any business owner.

In the same month, thousands of companies saw their website traffic plummet in the wake of Google’s Penguin update, which targeted manipulative and spammy link building practices like those which led to iAcquire’s ban.

Is the Damage Permanent?

Some companies have already successfully recovered from having their website traffic decimated by the Penguin Update. These companies have been successful in getting spammy back links removed from the websites that are linking to them. But for others, it won’t be so easy. Companies, or their SEO agencies, that have been acquiring spammy links from diverse sources for years, may not find it possible to get sufficient numbers of those links removed in order to recover.

You see, your domain’s back link profile is a bit like a tattoo on the back of your hand. You had better be sure you want them for life because they’re not so easy to remove.

In fact, Google’s advice was that some businesses will be better starting again i.e. transferring their website to a new domain.

Thoughts of lawsuits flying around spring to mind but there is likely to be little recourse against SEO agencies that have damaged their clients’ businesses. In such a complex area, proving cause and effect i.e. pinning down those responsible is almost impossible which probably places remedies out of reach. Also, of course there is no shortage of clients who were well aware or even encouraged the practices that led to their own demise so it is not only SEO companies that are to blame.

How Can I Undertake a DIY Evaluation of an SEO Company?

In this post, I’ll explain one fast, cheap and easy way that you can put any SEO company under the microscope to see if it has a natural back link profile or an overtly manipulated one. If it has a highly engineered back link profile, then it will almost certainly be using the same techniques for its clients so you could be at risk by choosing this agency. If it doesn’t, then you would need to carry out the same exercise for one or two of its clients to make sure that it isn’t protecting itself by practising sound link building techniques but not extending the same courtesy to its clients.

It’s back link profile does of course provide only so many clues about its methods but they are critical clues. They are more useful for eliminating SEO companies from your shortlist than for anything else.

Back Link Tools

There are quite a few tools on the market that you can use to explore the back links of any domain. I’m not going to provide a list of all of these or recommend any as being better than any of the others.

For the purposes of this exercise, I’ll be using Open Site Explorer from SEOmoz. You can get a free 30 day trial and then decide whether to buy a Pro subscription for $99 per month. There is an extensive set of tools available and more.

The above sounds very promotional but I will not benefit in any way from referring you to SEOMoz. The details are provided solely for the purpose of enabling you to carry out your own tests. Also, it may sound expensive but no commitment is required and the cost is really nothing compared with the cost of making a mistake by choosing the wrong SEO company.

3 Examples of Domains With Natural Back Link Anchor Text

One of the link building tactics that was targeted by Google’s Penguin Update was the aggressive over-optimisation of anchor text. Those companies that tried to boost their rankings by excessively engineering their back links to include their target keywords set themselves up for a big Google slap.

To escape penalties like these, it is essential to have a natural link profile and that means you should have back links with anchor text that is varied. Not only should it be varied but a good proportion should contain your business name and/or your domain name because these are what would tend to be used by most people naturally.

The 3 examples below show link anchor text profiles that are all credible and might have occurred had nobody ever heard of SEO.

You can click on the images to get larger ones.

Example 1: distilled.net

Natural back link anchor text example 1 - distilled.net

Natural back link anchor text example 1: distilled.net

Example 2: seerinteractive.com

Natural back link anchor text example 2 - seerinteractive.com

Natural back link anchor text example 2: seerinteractive.com

Example 3: adjuice.co.uk

Natural back link anchor text example 3 - adjuice.co.uk

Natural back link anchor text example 3: adjuice.co.uk

3 Examples of Domains With Artificial Back Link Anchor Text

Look at the difference between the last 3 examples and the next 3 examples.

Example 1 (anonymised)

Artificial back link anchor text example 1

Artificial back link anchor text example 1

Example 2 (anonymised)

Artificial back link anchor text example 2

Artificial back link anchor text example 2

Example 3 (anonymised)

Artificial back link anchor text example 3

Artificial back link anchor text example 3

Limitations of This Test

The above is a very limited and very specific test to carry out but for non-SEOs trying to get to grips with how to evaluate and shortlist SEO companies, this tool provides much more analysis than described above.

However, the test does have some shortcomings.

1. The back link data is not real-time and is only updated every few months. That said, if there is enough history in the back link profile, that won’t matter too much.
2. The back link data does not include all back links. The web is a big place to crawl so no tool has 100% of the links in its database. However, the most influential i.e. the ones that count should be included within the reports.
3. Lack of history. Nothing can be done in the case of new domains where there is no back link history to analyse. But that’s exactly why you must check the age of the domain. If a domain has been ‘burned’, then the business may have been forced to transfer its website to a new domain. In the case of an SEO company using a new domain, that should sound the alarm bells.

Domain Checks

Look up the domain using the www.who.is free domain check service. If the domain is new and the business is not, then you should find out why the business has started hosting its website on a new domain. There aren’t many good reasons for changing domains.

When you’re entrusting your website marketing to a third party, make sure you choose an SEO company that won’t burn your domain.

Related reading:
Google’s Penguin Update? Get Real!
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) – Advice From Google About SEO and Choosing an SEO Service Provider.
About SEO Companies
Questions to Ask An SEO Specialist

3 Poignant Examples Highlighting The Cruciality of SEO Audits

No entry to spiders sign

Let The Spiders Crawl Your Site

Hidden Road Blocks

Ever wondered why your website doesn’t seem to be attracting any visits or as many as you expect? You might be amazed at how many hidden pitfalls could be lurking in your website’s code that could put the kibosh on your plans to dominate the world.

This is a post for small and medium sized businesses to highlight some of the risks of not having an SEO audit carried out on your website, domain, backlinks and server set up.

I’ve encountered 3 road blocks recently which turned out to be very easy to circumnavigate. However, if they had not been seen in the first place, then they would probably have permanently impaired the performance of some aspects of each website’s performance.

SEO can be perceived by people outside the industry as being about little more than keywords and back links. But in reality the breadth and scope of the subject is mind-boggling and that’s why it has such enormous potential and also why it’s so much fun.

Example 1: Crawler Access Inadvertently Denied By Robots File

When we reviewed Bytes website recently, we found that the robots.txt file was preventing spiders from crawling one whole section of the site. This was no fault of anybody in particular and arose due to a peculiar coincidence between the choice of name of a subdirectory within the site and an existing command in the robots file.

This means that, as far as the search engines were concerned, that subdirectory and all the pages and all the content within it, simply did not exist because the crawlers (aka spiders or robots) had been prevented from accessing the code.

Simply renaming the subdirectory (and of course setting up 301 redirects from the old addresses to the new ones) cured the problem instantly. Within a day or two, pages like these were appearing on page 1 of Google (google.co.uk) for obvious search terms.

http://www.bytes.co.uk/info/licensing-updates/microsoft-price-increases-from-1st-july-2012/

http://www.bytes.co.uk/info/licensing-updates/microsoft-price-changes/

The nature of the content on the pages is time sensitive so sorting it out brought benefits, in the form of hundreds of visitors, that would otherwise have been lost.

Note:
If you or your customers have an inventory of Microsoft licenses, Microsoft confirmed last week that volume licensing prices would rise from 1 July 2012 by between 1.7 per cent and 25.9 per cent for the UK private sector.

If you’ve been caught napping, 25% is not to be sniffed at, so you should not delay any further if you don’t want to miss the deadline. Talk to the UK’s leading microsoft licensing experts as soon as you can.

Example 2: Crawler Access Blocked By Java Script Menu

In this example, the main navigation menu for The Wholesale Glass Company website was encoded using Java script. Some of the code rested in a subfolder blocked by the Robots.txt file.

However, there was an HTML sitemap which was crawlable and therefore helped to ensure that all the pages and the content on them were indexed, so what’s the big deal?

The problem was that each of the most important pages on the site, the product pages like this one about acoustic glass, had only one internal link to them which was the link from the sitemap. Some less important pages had links from every other page on the site in the header of those pages. The number of internal links pointing at a page is one signal Google uses to interpret the importance of that page relative to other pages on the site. Therefore the non-crawlable internal links were contributing to the most important pages rankng less well than they should have done.

Replacing the code for the main navigation menu was a simple matter and rankings for the product pages improved in less than a week by typically 20 to 40 places.

Example 3: 301 Redirect Set Up Incorrectly

This one is embarrassing but I like to be open!

When carrying out a few experiments (see my earlier post on Google’s Venice update), I deleted this page:

http://www.adjuice.co.uk/seo-camberley/

and replaced it with a new page with largely modified content here:

http://www.adjuice.co.uk/camberley-seo/

Following the Venice Update, the first page above started ranking at number 5 on searches for “SEO” and “SEO Services” to a searcher in this locality. I wanted to try and determine what factors might be at play and wondered if deleting the page would result in the home page ranking in the same position as the deleted page had. After all, the site has the Camberley address on every page and on many third party sources like our Google Place Page, so why shouldn’t another page still be highly relevant?

Weirdly enough, the home page did but only if I set my location to one of the neighbouring towns, for example Guildford. If I set my location to be Camberley, the home page did not appear. I still haven’t worked that one out.

Next step was to create the new page, highly optimised for Camberley. This didn’t work. That is until I discovered, on checking 2 days ago, that I had not correctly set up the 301 redirect from the old deleted page to the new page! :-(

I corrected this and within a few hours, the new page re-appeared at number 5 on a search for “SEO” (see image below) and also at number 5 on a search for “SEO services”. No pages of the site ranked in the top 30 previously for just “SEO” (I have never targeted that term). The home page previously was ranking on page 1 (at number 10) for “SEO services” but, hey, I’ll take another 5 places if they’re up for grabs for free!

Rankings for other search terms like “SEO companies” did not trigger the new page to rank in place of the home page which I found slightly surprising.

Click on image for full size version.

Search results for SEO

Localised organic search results for SEO

This discovery nicely rounded off the experiment in the aftermath of Google Venice. Whilst it is not possible to be certain it does look like a couple of key factors to ranking higher in the localised organic search results are to have (1) a page with content that is highly relevant to the search query and (2) for the searcher to be in reasonably close physical proximity to the location implied by various characteristics of the page, including content.

One might argue that the business address of Camberley is a major contributory factor to the Camberley page ranking well but this does not apply to two other pages on the site that rank equally well in the same circumstances for searchers based in Berkshire and Hampshire. This may mean that sites with large numbers of doorway pages can still be effective using these tactics but I suspect (no proof here) that since the Panda Updates, they would probably need wholly unique content on every page.

Anyway, I’m getting a bit off topic now, so back to the plot.

The real message from the above three examples is that if you haven’t had an SEO audit carried out, you may never know what you’ve been missing! All 3 were easy to fix and all 3 fixes should generate more visits.

Related articles:
After I had started writing this post, this one dropped into my inbox and is a good write up on SEO audits if you want to learn more.

How to Perform the World’s Greatest SEO Audit by Steve Webb on the SEOMoz blog.

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