Google’s Outbound Link Penalties: How to React without Overreacting

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Google’s Outbound Link Penalties: How to React without Overreacting was originally published on BruceClay.com, home of expert search engine optimization tips.

Penalties for links usually focus on the inbound kind. So Google’s recent spate of manual actions against websites for having “unnatural artificial, deceptive, or manipulative outbound links” was a surprise to many. (If this is news to you, go ahead and read about it here.)

The quick version: This time, the search engine targeted sites linking out because the links looked like an attempt to boost the destination sites’ rankings in search results. Google took action by devaluing all of the linking site’s links as untrustworthy.

Granted, we saw this coming as an SEO services company that’s successfully mitigated countless penalties for clients. But here’s why this outbound link penalty shouldn’t have surprised anyone paying attention.

Warning Signs That Penalties Loomed

Just a few weeks before the penalties came down, Google noted that those receiving compensation for things such as product reviews needed to take steps to call out any links from their site to the product site, page or supplier.

In a Webmaster Blog post, Google spelled out exactly how to disclose such a relationship, when to use a nofollow tag, and so on — items that are already clearly explained in the guidelines. That was a clear warning sign that a crackdown was coming.

At a more basic level, disclosure is also covered by federal law. In the U.S., Federal Trade Commission guidelines require businesses and individuals to identify when they have been compensated for a review, whether that’s through payment or just free products, for example.

All in all, this outbound link penalty shouldn’t have caught anyone unawares.

Overreacting Can Hurt Your Website

padlocked gate

There is simply no logic behind cutting off all link equity flowing out of your site, and we highly recommend avoiding this action.

Here’s what is surprising: the reaction of some websites to simply nofollow ALL links across their website. (For those not up on SEO lingo, “nofollowing” a link means applying a “nofollow” attribute to the link tag.)

Such a drastic move is an attempt to avoid any problem with Google in the quickest way possible.

Unfortunate reality check: By nofollowing all outbound links, webmasters simply create other issues for themselves.

In fact, when he saw this happening last week, Google’s John Mueller posted this urgent advice in a Webmaster Help Forum: “There’s absolutely no need to nofollow every link on your site!” (source: The SEM Post).

The Appropriate Reaction to a Penalty

First, check your messages in Google Search Console to find out if your site received a manual action for outbound linking. If you were penalized, the best solution is to call out things naturally. For example, wherever you’ve linked to a product you’re reviewing, you should:

  • Explain in the article the relationship with the company supplying the item to be reviewed.
  • State the circumstances (full disclosure).
  • Add rel=”nofollow” to links to the product supplier within the article itself. Many plugins exist for the popular CMSs to enable on-the-fly editing of nofollow on links at the article/publishing level.

Search engines see the internet as a connected entity. If you suddenly nofollow all of your outbound links, it makes your site appear reclusive. It also hurts the sites you’re linking to that are natural links, relevant to your subject matter and qualified to receive your vote of confidence.

There is simply no logic behind cutting off all link equity flowing out of your site, and we highly recommend avoiding this action.

Instead, you need to take legitimate actions to clean up the problem. There are no shortcuts here.

It will pay dividends for any website to be clear about why they are linking to other pages across the web.

Taking time to review your outbound links is good business. Over time, things change, so a page you linked to several years ago may be entirely different in its focus today.

Domains are bought, sold and expire, only to be purchased, parked and plastered with ads.

While these normal activities and link-location changes have always been factored into the search engine algorithms, it’s never too late to ensure you’re linking to — and thus sending your patrons to — quality web pages at relevant, related websites.

After you review your outbound links and nofollow the ones that are unnatural, you can submit a reconsideration request to get back into Google’s good graces.

A Sign of Penguin?

A final point to keep in mind. In the past, we’ve seen minor moves like this ahead of more major updates by Google.

Remember that Penguin we’re all waiting to be updated? We’re not willing to say definitively that this outbound link penalty action is the precursor to a Penguin refresh (as many have predicted already).

However, the fact remains that when the teams are working on one portion of the algorithm, the rest is often close at hand. There can be economies of timing when making algo updates, from the search engines’ perspective. So don’t be surprised if the refresh we’ve been waiting for is near.

find out about SEO Penalty Assessments

April 23rd 2016 Google, SEO

Hello Again. World.

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It’s been a long time (long time), we shouldn’t of left you (left you),
Without a dope beat to step to
It’s been a long time (long time) we shouldn’t of left you (left you),
Without a dope beat to step to.

April 18th 2016 SEO

Digital Marketing Keynotes from Google, Microsoft, LinkedIn & Disney #SEJSummit

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Digital Marketing Keynotes from Google, Microsoft, LinkedIn & Disney #SEJSummit was originally published on BruceClay.com, home of expert search engine optimization tips.

Search Engine Journal hosted an exclusive event limited to 150 digital marketers. The second annual SEJ Summit featured eight industry leaders from companies including Google, Microsoft, LinkedIn and Disney. Several key themes that emerged from the exclusive day-long event in Santa Monica:

  • Think of your users as humans. You’re not an SEO optimizing for a user, but a human optimizing for another human.
  • We live in a multiscreen world. You never know where someone will be interacting with your content. #ResponsiveDesign
  • Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is gaining momentum and regardless of your industry you need to be ready to implement.

The last point about AMP was highlighted in a Q&A with Googler Maile Ohye. Read on to find out what she had to say about AMP and read more from all the speakers!

Googler Maile Ohye’s 3 Key Takeaways

  • Do something cool.
  • Get AMP or structured data ready.
  • Stay relevant.

Q & A with Maile Ohye

Where is AMP going?

Maile Ohye: I cannot disclose that. I would say if you’re wondering, just be ready in general. Start updating. Whether it’s AMP or structured data, there’s more stuff you can do to better feature it. You will get better ROI with these things. And then, when they say they’ve just rolled it out for entertainment, for example, you’re ready.

As far as markup is concerned, what other tools besides schema do you recommend?

Maile: The best place to start is the schema.org blog. Also, try data highlighter in Google Search Console.

How much importance does Google place on progressive enhancement?

Maile: Try Fetch as Google with the rendering. Anytime you use a new JavaScript framework, you can use this tool to see what we see. The progressive part isn’t about doing it for Google, but for doing it for all levels of users.

Should we stop doing responsive design websites and just do AMP?

Maile: No.

There are two methods to implement HREF lang: by page-level or XML sitemap level. Per developer tools you can use either one. Which one is more successful?

Maile: Yes. In the short term, if you have a lot of languages that you’re trying to map to, use a sitemap. For rel canonical or pagination we cut off at the head so no one can alter anything. But for sites that evolve a lot, their head is closing way sooner than their other elements. But if you do it in the sitemap you don’t have to care about what developers are doing with their code. The sitemap is more foolproof in that way, but in the long term, the sitemap is also harder to debug. Also, always check for errors in Search Console.


WordStream Founder Larry Kim’s 3 Key Takeaways

  • It’s a paid social world — we’re just living in it.
  • Don’t ever forget social media marketing.
  • Find your unicorns (unicorns = 100X better content)


Microsoft’s Kevin Henrikson’s 3 Key Takeaways

  • Have skin in the game.
  • ROI is everything.
  • You need a quota.


Ant Farm President Melissa Palazzo’s 3 Key Takeaways

  • Humanize the brand.
  • Be about the people.
  • Contribute to the world.


Circle Click CEO Anne Ward’s 3 Key Takeaways

  • Speed is king. Do the work and reap rewards.
  • Don’t build an app just for the sake of it.
  • There is no dominant platform. Always consider the myriad screens.


Googler John Brown’s 3 Key Takeaways

  • Prevent against ad blocking.
  • Focus on the user.
  • Write simple, compelling relevant content.

Disney Senior SEO Manager Jeff Preston’s 3 Key Takeaways

  • Launch your app in the Australia app store before launching it in the U.S. to see how the app fares among reviewers.
  • Optimize your app store description!
  • When you update the app, review the keywords and update those that need it!

LinkedIn Product Manager William Sears’s 3 Key Takeaways

  • Look at your site performance through multiple lenses.
  • Build a strong network of people by reading blogs, going to conferences, getting out and thinking differently.
  • Share your knowledge at conferences — we all have something to share.


Want to attend an SEJ Summit? SEJ Summit comes to Chicago on June 23 and New York City on Nov. 2! Find out more.

April 16th 2016 Google, SEO

How Bloggers Can Fix a Manual Penalty Caused by Compensated Content & Reviews

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This past weekend Google sent out a round of manual penalty notices citing “unnatural outbound links” – later confirmed to be targeting sites publishing compensated content and reviews where the blogger is linking out to the brand or site that compensated them. If your site received the notice, you’ll find some advice for fixing your… Read More

The post How Bloggers Can Fix a Manual Penalty Caused by Compensated Content & Reviews appeared first on Sugarrae.

April 14th 2016 blogging, SEO

How to Use Customer Reviews and Ratings for SEO

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by Jayson DeMers

It’s no secret that customer reviews and ratings are a good thing. Social proof is a demonstrably powerful effect, with more than two-thirds of online users being influenced by customer reviews and testimonials in their purchasing decisions. They may see a review and be prompted to take immediate action, thus affecting your on-page conversion rate, or they may be indirectly influenced by the review, influencing them to refer friends and family to your business, or causing them to buy from you at a later date.

This alone should be enough for you to seek more (and better) online reviews, but what about search engine visibility? Is it possible for your online reviews to influence your position or visibility on SERPs?

Dedicated Review Pages vs. Embedded Reviews

The two main ways to feature reviews on your site are on a dedicated review page (here’s a great example of one) or as embedded bits on individual product or services pages. The approach should depend on your approach to business. For example, an ecommerce provider with lots of individual products may need specific product-based reviews and have very little in terms of overall branded reviews, while a B2B service provider may have the opposite effect; if someone is specifically searching for “[your brand] reviews” or something similar, you’ll want your dedicated review page to come up.

Keyword Opportunities

Online reviews are beneficial because they present more opportunities for you to have keywords and natural language content on your individual pages; this is always a boon for rankings. You won’t be in full control over your customer reviews, but if they’re writing them for individual products, you can bet that they’ll feature some of the most important phrases associated with your products. You can nudge this in the right direction by encouraging specific types of reviews from your users, or offering prompts.

Ongoing Content Submissions

Accepting and publishing online reviews also gives you an opportunity for a free stream of regularly updated content, which Google likes to see. This won’t provide much of a boost in rankings, but it will show site visitors that you’re dedicated to keeping your site up-to-date, which may boost conversion rates. This effect is more pronounced for a dedicated review page, as individual product pages may take longer to cycle through new reviews.

Microformatting

So far, we’ve mostly discussed how on-site reviews can improve your rankings. This approach will help your search position become more visible and attractive to potential visitors. Through the use of microformatting, you can communicate to Google where your reviews begin and end, and if there is a rating system associated with your products. With this information, Google can create rich snippets of information to display to users immediately in the search results. If they see that your product is rated an average of 4.7 out of 5 stars, they’ll be far more likely to click through to your specific page.

Local SEO and Off-site Reviews

Of course, on-site reviews aren’t the only type of reviews that can be good for SEO. The topic’s been suitably covered under the topic of local SEO, but it’s important to acknowledge that the more reviews you have for your business in third-party directory and other offsite sources (and the better those reviews are), the more likely you’ll be to earn a place in the local 3-pack.

The Bottom Line: Get More Reviews

Since you won’t be the one doing the writing of the actual reviews, you won’t have as much control over how your reviews are optimized. Even if you could, reviews play only a small part in your rankings and visibility–it’s worth obtaining them, especially for local SEO visibility, but this approach won’t make or break your SEO strategy. Instead, set your sights on attracting as many reviews as possible (and making sure those reviews are positive with best business practices). More reviews will build your reputation, earn you more traffic, and bolster your conversion rates–you can’t go wrong.

Be sure and visit our small business news site.

April 13th 2016 Search Engine Optimization, SEO

Google: Those Unnatural Link Penalties Are About The Product Reviews We Warned You About

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As previously reported, Google handed out a bunch of penalties over the weekend for unnatural outbound links. Now, the company has clarified that this is directly tied to product reviews that violate its guidelines.

If you were affected by this, you can’t say you weren’t warned. Beyond this being pretty much common knowledge for years, Google posted a warning of sorts to its webmaster blog last month. In that, it laid out “best practices” for bloggers and companies when it comes to the latter giving the former free products, and the former reviewing them.

It was this post Google’s John Mueller referenced in response to people complaining in the Google forums (via Search Engine Roundtable). In one thread, he said:

In particular, if a post was made because of a free product (or free service, or just paid, etc), then any links placed there because of that need to have a rel=nofollow attached to them. This includes links to the product itself, any sales pages (such as on Amazon), affiliate links, social media profiles, etc. that are associated with that post. Additionally, I imagine your readers would also appreciate it if those posts were labeled appropriately. It’s fine to keep these kinds of posts up, sometimes there’s a lot of useful information in them! However, the links in those posts specifically need to be modified so that they don’t pass PageRank (by using the rel=nofollow).

Once these links are cleaned up appropriately, feel free to submit a reconsideration request, so that the webspam team can double-check and remove the manual action.

Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Roundtable links you to several separate threads in which Mueller responds similarly, but you get the gist.

Image via iStock

The post Google: Those Unnatural Link Penalties Are About The Product Reviews We Warned You About appeared first on WebProNews.

April 13th 2016 Google, Search, SEO

HTTPS Launched For All Custom Domains On WordPress.com

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Automattic announced that they’re launching free HTTPS for all custom domains hosted on WordPress.com. WordPress.com has supported encryption for WordPress.com subdomains since 2014, but now it’s being expanded to over a million custom domains.

The company says users will see secure encryption automatically deployed on every new site within minutes.

“We are closing the door to un-encrypted web traffic (HTTP) at every opportunity,” writes Automattic’s Chief Systems Wrangler.

As he notes, encryption provides more than security.

“Protocol enhancements like SPDY and HTTP/2 have narrowed the performance gap between encrypted and un-encrypted web traffic, with encrypted HTTP/2 outperforming un-encrypted HTTP/1.1 in some cases,” he writes.

Google announced HTTPS as a ranking signal in 2014. Back in December, the search engine started indexing HTTPS versions of URLs by default.

Earlier this year, Moz found that HTTPS URLs made up 25% of page-one Google results across 10,000 queries.

The post HTTPS Launched For All Custom Domains On WordPress.com appeared first on WebProNews.

April 9th 2016 Search, security, SEO, wordpress

5 Features of a Perfectly SEO-Optimized Homepage

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by Jayson DeMers

Search
engine optimization (SEO) is a process that happens all over your site, in the
aesthetics as well as the back end coding, and across thousands of off-site
points of interest. With such complexity, it’s easy to lose sight of the most
important page of your website–the homepage. When you’re focused on maintaining
an active blog, creating dedicated internal pages for your target keywords, and
building links, you might neglect the optimization fundamentals that lead to a
well-optimized homepage
.

Is It Worth
Optimizing the Homepage?

There have been some discussions over whether it’s “worth it” to optimize a
homepage
. Let’s say you have an internal page where you sell your core
product–nightstands. If you optimize this page for keywords related to
“nightstands,” any similar optimization of your homepage may introduce
redundancy, or a kind of SEO cannibalization to your efforts. Along similar
lines, any optimization efforts in your internal pages will carry over to your
homepage, giving it a kind of “natural” optimization.

However, it’s still important to keep your
homepage in sufficient shape for branded searches, broad searches related to
your industry, and to make a valuable impression to the prospective customers
visiting you for the first time.

Features of an
Optimized Homepage

These are the most important pillars of homepage
optimization:

1. Use a concise and accurate title tag. Your homepage title gives you approximately 55 characters to
offer a compelling identifier for your business. That isn’t a lot of room, so
you’ll have to reduce your description to what’s most important for your brand.
See if you can reduce everything you offer your customers to only three or four
words, and be sure to include your brand name at the beginning or end to
capitalize on branded searches. FreshBooks provides a valuable example here–its
title tag is simple, focused, and to-the-point. “Small Business Accounting
Software in the Cloud | FreshBooks.”

2. Provide an accurate, compelling description. Along with your title tag should be an equally
compelling meta description–and here, you’ll have more wiggle room, with 150-160 characters. Here,
you should describe a handful of the key solutions you offer your customers. When
users encounter your homepage in search results, this description will appear
under your page link, so it’s the best chance you have to convince a user to
click your result instead of the others on the page. Make sure you keep this
concise, accurate, and still intriguing enough to encourage new users to click
through.

3. Offer an intuitive navigation that shows off
your internal pages.
Google
favors sites with clear, intuitive internal linking and navigation. This is
because it’s easier for users to find exactly what they want, when they want
it. As a general rule, no page of your site should ever be more than three
clicks away from another page, so your homepage serves as a central “hub” for
connecting all these pages together. Accordingly, you’ll need to include an
intuitive form of navigation for your users, complete with a breakdown of your
most important internal pages. This is important not only for search
optimization, but also for your user experience overall. As an example, take Stor-Mor’s header navigation, which expands
downward to link to all its internal pages. An even more thorough example is
the White House homepage, where an
exhaustive list of links is provided in the footer.

4. Include ample content. Though some companies have taken to offering
only a short headline and a conversion form, it’s better for SEO to include
detailed, descriptive content about your company and its services on your
homepage–at least 300 words’ worth. It’s tough to say everything about your
company in a concise, compelling way, so try segmenting it with various
subsections (and of course, strong H1 tags to go along with them). Mint
is a good example
here–there’s less than 500 words of content on the entire
page, but it’s concise and descriptive enough for any new potential customer to
walk away with a relatively complete understanding of the company.

5. Feature social media integrations for user
engagement.
Google
doesn’t take your social profiles directly into consideration when it
determines your authority and rankings, but including social icons will make it
more likely for users to share your material, follow, and engage with your
brand. These are secondary ranking signals, because they can influence primary
signals like inbound links, but perhaps more importantly, they’re a powerful
outlet for user engagement. Be sure to include links to all your social
profiles in the header or footer of your site.

These
aren’t the only ways to optimize a homepage, but they are the most important
fundamentals if you want to get your homepage more search visibility and higher
user engagement rates. Of course, homepage optimization isn’t the only
important segment of SEO–especially compared to ongoing content marketing and
inbound link building–but completing this sequence will earn you higher
visibility and might just secure
you a higher conversion rate
.

Google Drops the Google+ From Business Reviews

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Google is reportedly no longer requiring users to have Google+ accounts to leave reviews. Given that Google+’s popularity never really caught on, this could open up the door for local businesses to get a lot more reviews on Google for better or for worse.

Google has of course been removing the Google+ integration it spent several years building into many of its products, and this is just the latest example. For the most part, users have not seemed to be incredibly thrilled with Google+ being thrust upon their various Google experiences. The YouTube comment integration was particularly unpopular, but Google got rid of that last summer.

According to reports, all users need to leave reviews on businesses is a Google account. They’re still required to leave a first and last name.

More Google users leaving more reviews? I can’t imagine that Yelp, a frequent critic of Google, is thrilled with this news.

Local search guy Mike Blumenthal who reported on the change (via Search Engine Land) also notes that Google has fixed a bug that prevented reviews from being left on mobile browsers if the business had no previous reviews. This is another reason businesses might start seeing their review counts go up.

In related news, late last week, Google updated its documentation that contains advice for improving your local ranking. More on that here.

The post Google Drops the Google+ From Business Reviews appeared first on WebProNews.

April 5th 2016 Google, Search, SEO

Google Says More About Local Ranking In Updated Document

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Google has updated its documentation that contains advice for improving your local ranking on the search engine.

This was spotted by local search watcher Mike Blumenthal. Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Roundtable has the old version saved here. According to him, the document has been tripled in size.

There’s a section about “prominence” that has some new language in it, and that seems to be the most significant change. Here’s what the section says now:

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.

The key part to take note of here is the one about Google using links, articles, and directories from across the web for prominence.

The post Google Says More About Local Ranking In Updated Document appeared first on WebProNews.

April 2nd 2016 Google, Search, SEO