Future Proofing Your SEO – GPWA Article – Mike Litson in Print

Keep in mind this was actually written quite a while ago for GPWA‘s Magazine, but was relatively recently published, (pre link disavowal tool).

Still some good actionable tips in this though.

SEO: Think Ahead

Before writing this article I asked myself what is the most common question that I hear  from clients, affiliates and pretty much anyone I meet in the online marketing sector that wants to pick my brain about all things SEO. The answer that I came up with was the inevitable, how can I future proof my SEO? Sure I’m doing great now, but what about in 12 months’ time? The answer to this question is by no means a simple one, and some of it may not be pleasant to hear if you’ve been working with some “grey” to “blackish” tactics in the past. However I’m going to try to cover the key points that you can implement to help secure your sites position in the SERPs and avoid penalties/the devaluation of your work down the line.

Anchor Text is DEAD

Whilst I expect a lot of arguments to the contrary on this point, that doesn’t change the fact that a natural link profile for a large brand with natural links is always going to be mostly made up of brand and compound terms (compound being terms containing a mix of brand and money terms for example “pkr poker” pointing to pkr.com).

Even though some sites are getting away with a very high amount of Money based terms, currently we are already starting to see this change, I know an awful lot of webmasters who have recently received warnings from Google in WMT about unnatural link profiles and a lot of them seem to be guilty as charged, there are other factors involved in this however anchor text does seem to be a major contributor.

The fact is that Google can (and is) reading the text around the link to decide its relevance, so if you have a link in a great piece of content from a guest post or something similar, why ruin that by overcooking your anchor text? If the content is all about poker hands, Google can see that, so if you have the anchor text “generic poker site” linking to GenericPokerSite.com it is still going to attribute authority to the terms your after whilst protecting your site going forward. Remember that isn’t to say don’t build any non-brand links; just make sure that your percentages shift more towards brand and compound rather than simply your money terms. Google has spent a lot of time and money buying and creating the technology to be able to discover the “intent” behind content and behind search itself, in doing this Google is taking steps to truly understanding context and when it can do this properly (not if) the content and context of links will become infinitely more important than they currently are.

Developing a Truly “Natural” Footprint on the Web

To elaborate a little further on the last point I’m going to show you what a smaller sized brand should naturally look like without having started link building for SEO purposes. This should be an indication of what you are trying to replicate. Just in greater volume, in better content and perhaps with some alt text for any banner based links (if you’re an operator you should have a lot of these being placed, if not you will find it a little more difficult to get these, but they are still worth placing when you can). After looking at this you can see very clearly that all those links saying “poker” and “online poker” to other sites all look a little obvious.


This example is the link footprint of PokerXe.com, as you can see they have not been aggressively link building in any way. (As it happens they don’t rank particularly well in the SERPs, but in terms of ratios this exactly what a natural footprint should look like.) In terms of text links you can clearly see that the most common appearing anchors are brand related. (Chart from link research tools)

The Penguin Update wasn’t really something that took the industry by surprise we knew it was coming and we were already seeing brand based link building have a larger impact. Based on a study of sites I did for another well-known Gambling Webmaster on sites which picked up penalties following the original penguin update we are able to ascertain that they had one thing in common. Too Much Emphasis on Money Terms.

Whilst this is clearly a factor we should look to taking into consideration as many factors as possible and look to emulate not those who rank well at the moment, but those who have never implemented SEO strategies for building link. We really need to make sure that we take into account every possible metric before building any “unnatural” links (of course it would be better if we didn’t at all, but we all know that is a something of a pipe dream).  Make sure you evaluate every ratio you can (IPs, TLDs, Money to Brand and so on). The best way to do this is by paying for a tool like linkresearchtools.com and evaluating a medium sized brand which has not actively been engaging in SEO. This is what you want to replicate, not necessarily those who rank at the top for your keywords as their success may well be short-lived.

Over Optimisation Penalty

Now a few months back I started a thread in the GPWA forum to discuss this, and whilst I must say I agree with the general consensus that this is quite probably Matt Cutts performing some good old fashioned scare tactics I would be inclined to suggest that thinking about how your content is going to be valued in the future is a good idea.

For those of you not familiar with the particular statement from Google’s anti-spam front man here it is.

 

“Normally we don’t sort of pre-announce changes, but there is something we’ve been working on in the last few months, and hopefully in the next couple months or so, in the coming weeks, we hope to release it. And the idea is basically to try to level the playing ground a little bit.

 

So all those people who have sort have been doing, for lack of a better word, “over optimization,” or overly doing their SEO, compared to the people who are just making great content and trying to make a fantastic site, we want to sort of make that playing field a little more level.” Matt Cutts – Google

 

So let’s think for a second about things that people have been telling you to do with your content to help “optimise” it. Are lots of Bold tags and Italics around your keywords helpful to the user? Probably not. On the other hand are a lot of social shares, references to relevant, high quality sources and well written content a good indicator of whether or not a user will find this useful? Probably yes. Furthering this again, what about Title tags and H1’s and H2’s shoving keywords into those has been one of the most common ways of “optimising” these for quite some time.

Whilst I’m not suggesting that you stop these practices completely think about toning them down a little bit. I recently saw one website with 14 different phrases in <strong> tags and whilst it wasn’t in the gambling sector I did see them jump 7 places (they were already on the 1st page) upon removing these based on a recommendation I made to a colleague.

Again whether Penguin was the over optimisation penalty or not is a point of contention in the SEO community, however the idea that we are going to see more of this sort of thing roll out moving forward is something we should all get used to. We are seeing a clamp down on these things even though some still slip through the cracks, if you are doing this be warned, you will be caught out soon.

User Behaviour

We know this has been a growing factor for a while, and with Google keeping people logged into their products and effectively spying on their online behaviour more than ever before they will be able to use this data more effectively and will probably assign it more weight in coming updates. Now this is in many cases going to be bad for affiliates, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise as a few recent updates (such as the above the fold update) seem to be aimed to punish affiliate sites with little in the away of valuable content that just look to shift their traffic on to their promoted product as quickly as possible.

The fact is that if this effects rankings in the way we expect then odds are sites with high bounce rates, short staying visitors and those which are generally not user friendly (slow loading speeds, too many banners, etc) are going to be hit even harder, pandering to the Google Panda update will not be enough, you will need to add unique selling points to get users coming back to your site and interacting with it (I know Google says that they don’t use analytics data, but what about all their other products?). Building communities may seem like the best route to go about this, but that is of course something that the part time affiliate is probably not going to be able to manage. So going forward affiliates need to focus on making great content, (not just well formatted, well written, long, with any old image thrown in), as well as making their sites easily navigable and only placing banners where absolutely necessary.

Also make sure to properly make use of rich snippets, for those of you that have large sites, focus on images and ratings as they will boost your click through rates the most.

Social Integration into the SERPs

This is something that we’ve all been seeing, Google is paying closer attention to the behaviour of the general public than ever before and with things like G+ impacting the SERPs in such an obvious manner it would be foolish not to anticipate that this is going to become increasingly prevalent. Whilst as it stands the uptake of G+ has been relatively slow, the value of social mentions cannot be disputed; the only problem is that you have to continue to produce socially viral content to continue to hold your places gained with it.

There is also the creation of the Rel Author tag which ties in with G+ with authors being able to claim their content furthering an old promise that Google will be able to associate content with the writer and give content written by notable authors a higher priority, this was already the case in some circumstances with high quality profiles having more value than weak ones in terms of article directories, social bookmarks, forums and other low level links. This is simply an evolution, although this idea could be hampered by a lack of take up it stands to reason that those creating quality social profiles and guest posting can make themselves power authors and reap the inevitable benefits. It is possible that the whole concept could come to nothing, however if you implement a strategy now and become an authority early then it will be a great deal easier than trying to establish yourself later when you are competing against 100s if not 1000s more webmasters. It is already becoming an increasingly competitive landscape so don’t miss out.

You’ve Burned Your Domain with Old School Tactics Now What?

Having seen this time and time again recently, particularly through dodgy link building, it becomes rapidly apparent that this is a huge problem for a lot of webmasters at the moment. After all cleaning up harmful links is a lot harder than placing them. Whilst there are a few theories on “blocking bad backlinks” a lot of these are just that “theories”. One or two bad links aren’t going to hurt you too much, but if you have picked up a noticeable penalty or the dreaded WMT warning then what?

Well there are a couple of tricks to try and get around this, but in many cases you are better off moving to a new domain and starting again, you can move your content and entire site even 301 redirect the site, this doesn’t seem to move the penalties with it. At least not in all cases, this has of course been a topic of a great deal of contention recently, but taking a quote from another well regarded SEO.

“I’ve seen a bunch of these and weirdly, the 301s do seem to (often) remove the penalty in cases where it’s a true penalty.” Rand Fishkin – SEOmoz

Now this does only apply for domains burnt through unnatural linking penalties and the like, if you’ve stolen content or been implementing some iffy on site SEO then you will need to fix this as well. There is the other worry that your site has just been re-evaluated following an update, if this is the case then the 301 will not work. There have been some changes to using this as a catch all for getting out of penalties now as eventually the penalty will follow the redirect through although there will be some latency which can buy you valuable clean up time (yes I mean link removal) whilst keeping your cash flow up. Ammend: This doesn’t work as well as it used to, it does occasionally, but I haven’t had as good results recently so it’s likely Google cottoned on to this little trick.

If link removal is not an option, due to automated spam or the like, then the smart move is simply to move all your content to a new domain and not redirect starting from scratch with the new domain, you will take a hit, but most decent links you’ve created will be easy enough to have pointed to the new domain. As opposed to the bad ones which are a lot harder to get rid of.

Negative SEO – Be Prepared

Negative SEO is on the rise and we are seeing more and more cases of it, many SEOs will say that this is not an issue, but I have seen far too many examples where it has been effective and have tested it myself (on my own sites) and know it can be done. Very cheaply!

There is no way to stop somebody from doing this to you, however you can plan for the event, not making yourself an easy target by using spammy tactics is of course the obvious way. However investing in link updating software so you can see what is being built can give you an advantage. Quite often negative SEOs will leave a paper trail and if you catch up to them quite often they will stop. You also have more chance of Google considering your story if you have the attack well documented from the start. Following that, you can look to implement some of the strategies from the previous section of this article. Affiliates who rank for “trophy” or “Hollywood” terms need to be extra vigilant.

The Quick Win is Over

The time when we could make a fast buck is coming to a close and coming is the time of genuine social interaction. Don’t be surprised if the next major Google update (some animal beginning with P no doubt) is related to social media spam. So make sure you’re careful with this as well. That means use flat retweet this competition’s and the like in moderation try and get people to vary it for you asking for reasons are a good way to do this. Social intergration is something that we are going to see more and more of going forward and it is only going to get more important. Those who do not prepare for this will struggle in the changing landscape.

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