SiteStream SEO - Online Marketing Blog

Do You Know Your Penguins from Your Pandas? Google Updates

April 27th, 2012

There has been a lot of upheaval in the world of SEO over the last month or so.  Google has continued to roll-out Panda, its search quality update but has also announced an “over-optimization” update that has site owners panicking all over the web.  If you have lost search rankings in the last couple of weeks, then now is the time to learn to tell your Pandas from your Penguins.


oopsilon – CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 xrayspx – CC BY-SA 2.0

Penguin is the codename given to the over-optimization update (which many are calling a penalty).

Timeline on Recent Google Algorithm Updates

  • March 23rd – Panda Rollout
  • April 19th – Panda Rollout (which everyone seems to have missed)
  • April 24th – Penguin Update (over-optimization)

If you have lost lots of rankings or think you may be hit by an over-optimization penalty from Google, the place to start is to look at the timing of the drop.  Does it coincide with the dates of any of the updates?  Because which update it coincides with will give you great clues as to what caused the drop and what you need to fix.

Panda has been rolling out for over a year now so there is plenty of information on the kinds of sites that are getting hit.  The over-optimization penalty, which has had everyone in uproar is, according to Google, only affecting 3.1% of sites but you wouldn’t know it by the reaction.  Matt Cutts was at pains to re-focus coverage of this update and point out that they are targeting web spam rather than SEO.

Initial indications are that Penguin is hitting sites with poor link profiles.  You know those scalable, low quality, easy to get links we’ve been railing against?

We’ll try and post an analysis of the factors being targeted on Monday.

Online Marketing News this Week – 26th Apr 2012

April 27th, 2012

Google rolls out ‘Over Optimization’ update

The official Google Search blog  calls it: ‘Another step to reward high-quality sites’ understandably putting a positive spin on another algorithmic update aimed at combating  webspam.  This is the change which was flagged in Google’s announcements on  ‘over optimization’ a few weeks ago.  Matt Cutts told Search Engine Land:

“I think ‘over-optimization’ wasn’t the best description, because it blurred the distinction between white hat SEO and webspam. This change is targeted at webspam, not SEO, and we tried to make that fact more clear in the blog post,”

Under the spotlight are techniques like keyword stuffing and link schemes and Google reckon 3.1% of sites in English will be affected in a way that would be noticeable to the user.  There is much discussion about whether or not this and other updates are penalising the right sites and doubtless there will be much more.  Seemingly aware of a common SEO frustration in the face of the effectiveness of unapproved methods, Matt Cutts ends his post with:

“We want people doing white hat search engine optimization (or even no search engine optimization at all) to be free to focus on creating amazing, compelling web sites. As always, we’ll keep our ears open for feedback on ways to iterate and improve our ranking algorithms toward that goal.”

Panda updated (quietly) on April 19th

During all the confusion caused by Google’s announcement of over optimization penalties, many site owners and researchers have been attributing ranking drops to possible over optimization.  This could be a little hasty, as Google also quietly slipped in its latest Panda update on the 19th of this month.  If your site has seen ranking losses in the last week or so and you’re blaming over-optimization, the chances are you should be looking at Panda instead.

April 19th Panda Update: Winners and Losers

Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land has published  data on winners and losers  from the latest Panda update.   It makes interesting reading and there are significant winners.

Searchmetrics points to the following factors in relation to the main losers:

  • Sites using databases to aggregate information
  • Press portals and aggregators
  • Heavily-templated web sites

As ever with this type of research, you can make no assumptions.  If your traffic reports show you have lost out you can only use these findings to test the many reasons which may have caused it.

3 functions are being removed from Google Webmaster Tools

The Webmaster Central blog announced on Tuesday  that the Subscriber stats feature, the Create robots.txt tool, and the Site performance feature will be removed in the next two weeks.  If you use these features, do not worry.  There are other ways.  Site performance can be monitored using the Site Speed feature in analytics and subscriber stats can be found in Feedburner.  There are many tools available online to help you create a robots.txt file if you need one.

How does a Search Engine work?

Not a question that can be answered in a 7 minute video but Matts Cutts youtube posting on Monday does give some useful basic insights into the workings of the Google engine.

It’s almost all about Google

Search engine, Blekko, are reporting a huge spike in traffic since January of this year.  Their stats come from hitwise and are backed up by comScore.  Bing, DuckDuckGo and Blekko are just about preventing it from being all about Google in the US, but only just.

Matt Cutts on How Google Search Works

April 24th, 2012

Matt Cutts has a particularly useful video today on how Google search works.  The process of how Google crawls, indexes and ranks is useful to understand.  At each step there are challenges for the search engines and for websites looking to maximise exposure.  This is mostly a process video about how things work rather than what will make you rank but there is value in understanding this stuff.

In the video, Matt explains the process of how Google:

  • Crawls the web
  • Indexes those pages
  • Ranks and serves results

He explains changes over time in the crawling process as well as the importance of PageRank for crawl priority.  He goes on to give a broad outline of a crawling system favouring important (high PR) and fresh content.

Matt gives a basic explanation of an inverted index and a basic process for starting to select the documents relevant to any given query.  He doesn’t go into great detail on how Google ranks results but then you wouldn’t expect him to.

Many people will watch this video and hear nothing but PageRank so I just wanted to pick a couple of things out here:

What Google is looking to find:

“Reputable documents that are also about what the user typed in”

The Secret Sauce

“Trying to figure out a way to combine those 200 ranking signals to find the most relevant document.”

I have very little time for SEOs who quote the 200 ranking signals thing as though we know all the answers and you can never figure them out.  It’s really important though to understand that this is NOT all or even mostly about Page Rank.  Yes Google is looking to serve sites and pages with reputation but it needs to be the most relevant document with reputation.

SEO Training Day in Dublin – April 19th 2012

April 13th, 2012

This is just a quick note to let readers of the blog know that we are running a training day in Dublin on April 19th 2012 at the Burlington.

It’s a one-day training course covering the fundamentals of SEO.  What that means in practice is that we start from the basics but cover some pretty advanced concepts through the day.  Helping participants form the foundation of their SEO strategy.  That includes touching on areas like content planning, content marketing and social media.

If you have a strong interest, you could do this course as a beginner.  If you have some experience with SEO, it will still be very worthwhile.

The course is suitable for site owners wanting to do their own SEO, or those who may choose to work with sub-contractors but need a better understanding to get that right.  It would also be suitable for designers or coders who understand the importance of SEO and the need to build it into projects early.

Learn Tactics Relevant for 2012

In 2012, things are moving in the search world, particularly with Google.  Many sites and most contractors are still chasing last year’s ranking factors and aren’t doing themselves any favours.

Book or Find Out More

You can find more details of the training day and an outline of the course content is available on request.  Click here for more details.

You can of course contact us by all the usual means, if you have any questions.

The Advantages of Building Links Through Content Strategy

April 12th, 2012

Inbound links pointing to your site are a crucial part of ranking in Google and other search engines.  That makes building links part of what every site owner needs to do. You can divide link building down into two basic areas, links that you build and links that you attract. Built links are gained by actively going out and adding or requesting a link from another site. In this post, we’ll discuss attracting natural links through content strategy.

Strategically attracting links through content, design, relationships and integrity can transform the success of your site.

You could divide the links that you build down further. Some built links are directory submissions, some are done through finding sites that allow you to add content and don’t notice the links. Some are done by simply contacting people and asking for them. Others are gained from link networks like the one Google just delisted.

I have nothing against building links. There should probably be built links in every link profile. There are high-end link builders who put great time and effort into effective link building strategies. There are good built links and bad ones.

Having got that out of the way, I want to discuss the advantages of attracting links through content strategy rather than building them through tricks.

Read the rest of this entry »

Earth Shattering Changes Coming to Google SERPs?

April 4th, 2012

A few weeks ago we covered news from the Wall Street Journal in their article Google Gives Search a Refresh.

“The changes to search are among the biggest in the company’s history and could affect millions of websites that rely on Google’s current page-ranking results.”

Given that site owners might be expecting earth shattering changes and potentially destructive effects on their rankings and traffic, I thought I’d take a look at what we might expect.

The piece is based on comments from Amit Singhal and says that Google isn’t replacing it’s current search system.  It mentions developments that sparked a fair bit of chatter about how big a deal this will be.  The 3 things I’d like to pick out from the WSJ article are these:

  • Semantic search
  • Named entities
  • Presenting more than a list of blue links

The first two sound pretty scary and this is where a lot of the debate has focused for the last few weeks.  Semantic search basically refers to trying to understand the meaning behind terms, their context and searcher intent, as opposed to just understanding keywords and looking for matches.  The named entities bit is suggesting that Google will change what it presents for certain queries.  Instead of just looking for keyword matches on websites, it will consider it’s database of named entities (people, or places or things) and return information on that entity.

So how big a deal is this?

The first thing to say is that if you are in SEO, neither semantic search or named entities should be new to you. Read the rest of this entry »

Online Marketing News this Week – 3rd Apr 2012

April 2nd, 2012 is de-indexed by Google has admitted that the majority of its pages have been de-indexed by Google. There is much speculation about how many other similar sites have been hit. That Google is very much on their case can no longer be called speculation.

@danthies ah, glad you noticed that. Good to see at… that it’s on peoples’ radar that they’re on our radar. :) — Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) March 15, 2012

As Barry Schwartz at search engine round table says:

There are rumors that other networks have also been hit but none have come out saying so, outside of What is funny is that they said, “in our wildest dreams, there’s no way we could have imagined this happening.” And I am thinking, wow – people really think this will work in the long run?

So, if link networks and other scalable shortcuts and programmes are the basis for your link building.  In 2012.  What are you thinking?

Google Tweet a Panda Refresh

Reportedly tweeted by Matt Cutts himself and the first announcement of its kind made via twitter, there are interesting discussions going on about the effects of the refresh and whether or not it is actually Panda related!

Layoffs at Yahoo!

Kara Swisher at AllThingsD reports on plans to layoff  thousands of staff at Yahoo!

Facebook plans to improve its search capabilities

Internal search is notoriously bad on Facebook and they appear to be making a big effort to make improvements. Bloomberg Business Week look into the possibility that they will eventually move into the global search market.

Google in trouble over privacy again

There have been many high-profile cases against Google on privacy issues, particularly in Europe. Now a Tokyo court has ruled against Google and demanded that they delete certain terms from their auto-complete. The case was brought by a Japanese lawyer who claims he lost his job and failed his subsequent applications because the Google auto-complete was associating his name with a series of criminal acts of which he had no knowledge. Google is refusing to be bound by Japanese law. From the Japan Times:

Before turning to the court last October, the man asked Google to delete certain words from the feature. Google refused on the grounds that the suggested words were being selected mechanically, not intentionally, and thus do not violate his privacy, the lawyer said.

This must surely be the cop-out of all cop-outs.

SEO Analytics, Monitoring and Improving – 12 Post SEO Guide #5

March 27th, 2012

Monitoring is vital to a viable Internet marketing strategy and any SEO campaign.  Now that you Know Your Goals, have done some Keyword Research and created an SEO Friendly Website, it is time to put some monitoring in place.  Monitoring your traffic, your site’s performance, your search positions and those of your competition allows you to make decisions that gain more traffic and sales.  It allows you to test and to measure the results of tests.  To improve on what is working and to do less of what is not working.

Google Analytics

Probably the most common monitoring is Google Analytics.  Google Analytics is a freely available analytics package that allows you to track visitors to your site.

Google Analytics can Provide Details on:

  • Numbers of visits to your site
  • Numbers of sales leads generated
  • Where visitors are coming from
  • Where sales leads are coming from
  • What content is converting to leads
  • What search terms and which ads convert to leads

Monitoring Search Positions

Monitoring search positions is important.  Keeping a periodic record of ranking for your most important terms is also good.  You need to know what is working and what isn’t and that means having a record of changes that you make and having a record of your rankings over time.

With personalisation and social becoming more and more a part of how search engines work, it is not really viable to just check your rankings on your machine by going to Google.  There are many 3rd party rank checkers available.  They range from free to around €60 a month (usually as part of larger SEO and marketing toolsets).  As well as saving you time and effort in checking your results, these tools should avoid you getting a false indication of where you are, based on personalisation.

Monitoring is vital but beware of getting obsessed.  If you find yourself checking rankings every hour or so and looking up Google to see if the changes you made have taken effect, you will be wasting your time.   Set up proper monitoring.  Weekly or monthly is enough for most cases.  You may use your monitoring tool to check up more often to monitor a specific change from time to time but don’t get stuck wasting your day.  That time could be used getting links or generating fantastic content or fixing problems on your site.

Monitoring Links and Social Mentions

Tracking inbound links to your site and factors like social media mentions is also an important part of your monitoring.  Building social mentions, building social reach and building links are all part of the goals of the content marketing we will discuss later in the guide.  Monitoring these factors allows you to gauge:

A) the impact your efforts are having in getting more links, more mentions etc. and

B) the impact that links and social reach are having on your search rankings.

Just like with links, more and more social monitoring tools are popping up all the time.

Ongoing Process

SEO is an ongoing process and monitoring from the start is central to getting that process right.

  • Try things
  • Testing, testing and more testing
  • Monitor your results
  • Do more of what works
  • Change or discontinue what doesn’t

This post is part of our 12 Post SEO Guide, an ongoing series.  If you would like to keep up to date you can follow the blog through RSS or follow us on Twitter.


Online Marketing News this Week – 20th Mar 2012

March 20th, 2012

Google Places Ranking Factors – You need 5 reviews!

Bizible has just published the first of five planned reports on Google Places optimisation.  Google places has a massive hold on local search and local search has a massive and increasing effect on many businesses.  This is a detailed and well researched report and essential reading for anyone involved in local SEO.  Many of the findings are interesting and some are surprising.  The full report is: Local Ranking Factors Study 1 of 5 – Google Places Optimization.  Here are one or two findings:

  • Having the search category in your business name is a strong ranking factor.
  • Make sure your targeted search categories (keywords) and location appear in the “at a glance” section.
  • The mere presence of a business description does not improve rankings.  Having the search category in your business description does.
  • Having an average review score of less than 1 hurts your rankings.  Increasing this to just below 5 makes for some but very little improvement.
  • Reaching 5 Google reviews significantly improves ranking. You have to get to 100+ for the next significant gain.!!!

Moral: Don’t write anything without keyword targeting.  Hustle for 5 reviews and then don’t panic about competitors who have 40.

If  local search is where it is at for you, watch out for the next 4 reports:

  1. On-site optimization
  2. Citations
  3. Reviews
  4. In-bound links and off-site

Google working on ‘Over-optimized’ penalty

In recent training day discussions a sort of content writing mantra developed around here:

  • Research your keywords
  • Use natural language


  • You are more likely to get in trouble for over-optimisation than under-optimisation

Here it is from the horse’s mouth, in this case Matt Cutt’s from Google:

What about the people optimizing really hard and doing a lot of SEO. We don’t normally pre-announce changes but there is something we are working in the last few months and hope to release it in the next months or few weeks. We are trying to level the playing field a bit. All those people doing, for lack of a better word, over optimization or overly SEO – versus those making great content and great site. We are trying to make GoogleBot smarter, make our relevance better, and we are also looking for those who abuse it, like too many keywords on a page, or exchange way too many links or go well beyond what you normally expect. We have several engineers on my team working on this right now.

Barry Schwartz transcribed this from the published audio of a Search Engine Land panel discussion called: Dear Google & Bing: Help Me Rank Better!

The ever changing world of search results

About the only thing you can say with certainty about search is that it will be different tomorrow and a recent WSJ article points to some, apparently, radical possibilities being looked at by Google.  I say apparently because it is pretty easy to argue that semantic search has been around for a long time and that the article is discussing fairly predictable consequences.  That Google is looking for active ways to keep people on their site and away from the sites of competitors like Facebook, for example, is interesting.  Interesting, mostly, for the effect it could have on the look of  search result pages.  Eye-tracking research already tells us how important such visual changes can be and SEO strategies will need to be ready to react.


Find Irish Media & Journalists on Twitter

March 5th, 2012

About a month ago the Fingal Business Network put on an event, Getting PR Through Social Media.  As a follow up, I prepared a list of Irish Media and Journalists on Twitter for you to use in your own media outreach (included below).

The task of attracting natural links and social mentions through content marketing is an important part of modern SEO.  We talk a lot about working to identify markets for your content.  In large part, that means identifying individuals who control links or who are active on social networks.  Traditional media and bloggers both come slap bang into the middle of that process.  So PR and SEO are fields that have been getting closer over the last few years.  Having an experienced PR professional discuss using social media to identify and reach out to journalists and bloggers is right up my street.

The talk was great, so congrats to Eoin Kennedy who presented and to the Fingal Business Network for a fantastic event and an impressive turnout.   If you are interested, you can see the slide deck from the event here:

List of Irish Media on Twitter

Before I get to the list, I should say that this is not some target list for you to spam.  It is an opportunity to listen and engage with media relevant to what you do.  Some of those listed here barely use Twitter at all or only to spew out intro’s to their stories.  Others are openly engaged in discussion and some are actively soliciting story ideas in their profile description.  All the usual social media warnings apply.  You should probably listen more than you talk.

I have included all the media types I could find.  Only some of them will be relevant to what you do.  Only some will say things that interest you.  Only some will cover areas where your expertise might someday add something.  Hopefully the list can provide a starting point and help you find the journalists that are relevant to your message.  You can find out what they have to say, identify what kinds of stories they cover and perhaps figure out how you could help them.  If what they talk about interests you, you can comment and start a relationship.

Irish Journalists and Media, Twitter List

The following list of journalists and Irish media includes names, twitter handles and twitter descriptions.   Read the rest of this entry »

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