Watch Brunch with Branded3: An SEO Hangout with leading experts
Being the first month of a new year, questions mostly surrounded Search predictions and trends for the year ahead. Tim predicted, quite understandably, that 2013 will be the year of content, however he was keen to stress that it’s not enough to just create great content, you need to have the resource available to correctly promote it too.
Tim also commented on the fate of spam websites in 2013, predicting that sites with low quality links will continue to drop off the top rankings.
Both Tim and Patrick touched upon the fluctuation in rankings they’ve seen over the past couple of weeks, with Tim advising viewers that a decline in rankings shouldn’t necessarily be associated with the Panda update.
Patrick gave some essential advice to both agencies and clients, explaining how fundamental a communicative and transparent relationship is to the success of an online marketing campaign.
Watch the video below to see the Hangout in full and if you’d like to see a particular Digital topic covered in our next Hangout, feel free to email it over and we’ll see what we can do.
Thanks again to all those who got involved last Thursday and we hope you’ll join us again!
Patrick: [inaudible 00:05] Today we’re going to talk about quite a few different things. We’ve got some questions that people have submitted by email just before we came on but, also, the main thing is if you’ve got any questions, just type those questions and get them across to us ASAP, really.
When we went round this before, people were a little bit reluctant to ask questions but just fire away and well make sure they get answered. Anything that we don’t answer we can always answer a bit later on by email or something like that.
So while you guys are thinking of some questions, we’re just going to go through a few burning issues that are going on at the moment and a few things that people have asked.
I guess one thing people have asked is, “What services have seen the biggest changes in recent weeks?” just a bit of an update on recent algorithm changes and what’s going on.
Google seems to be doing gradual changes at the moment. If you remember last year in March, April, and May, Google was making some major changes and there was loads of stuff going on, whereas the latter half of last year there weren’t as many changes. There weren’t as many updates.
Certainly in the last two or three months, there has not been the same level of major penalizations or updates as there was last year. It seems like Google is now just doing rolling updates that are fairly minor. They’re not necessarily doing the major penalizations that they were last year.
One of the key effects of that is that people with any type of bad links or bad content, something like that, they’re just seeing gradual sort of week-on-week declines, rather than seeing a big drop one day. I think that’s probably the major thing that’s going on.
In terms of services that are seeing the biggest changes, I think pretty much everything that we monitor is seeing fairly major changes, but they’re not massive drops one week. They’re sort of gradual changes over three or four weeks and then you’ll get three or four weeks later, the whole landscape has changed. It does tend to people who have already had a penalty or are recovering from a penalty.
There are some industries where loads of sites got penalized and they’re all coming back again now, so that entire industry is being changed. I think that’s something we’re going to see a lot this year, people recovering from the penalties they had last year. You might think you’re doing great because all the sites around you are penalized, but when they start to recover, there’s going to be some quite big changes in the rankings.
I don’t know, Tim, if you have anything on industries that we’re seeing in particular changing.
Tim: No, I think you’ve pretty much covered it all there. We have had a lot of questions about the disavow tool, as you might imagine, so maybe just to touch on a few points around that.
I myself have published a few posts about the disavow tool, about how it works, about recoveries, and there’s been a little bit of a mixed response to it, really. I just really want to cover the disavow tool, what it can do and what it can’t do. In short, it works. The disavow tool definitely works. We’ve used it across multiple websites to disavow bad links, then submit a reconsideration and get these sites recovered.
However, there are a couple of things that people are finding, people who are a little bit more skeptical. I think what they expect is that this disavow tool is an ultimate recovery tool and that when you use it, you can get rid of all your bad history and then you’ll start ranking again, even though you might not have one single decent link to your name.
If you have a lot of bad links, you can get out of penalty, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to get your rankings back. It isn’t a tool to rescue rankings unless you already have the links to rank for them already.
There was another point I made in one of my posts, as well, which is being picked up in the questions. It was about Google, and what happens when you submit this disavow file and then submit a reconsideration request. What happens then?
I had a few comments on this. I suggested that Google hit some sort of button or set some sort of crawl up to make sure these links were still live, to crawl them, to not follow them according to this disavow tool, and this caused a lot of crawl activity on the affected website that had been penalized.
The way I came to this conclusion was because we’ve been monitoring webmaster tools and, specifically, crawl rates. Every time we do a disavow file and submit a reconsideration, we see a massive spike in Google’s crawl activity on our clients’ websites. These spikes coincide with every single disavow file and reconsideration we’ve sent, and sometimes you have to send multiple files and reconsiderations in order to get recovery. We can see this activity and it correlates perfectly with it.
We also saw some server activity–which almost looked like a DDOS attack–directly after submitting a reconsideration request. I think it was within 24 hours. We believe that’s what Google is doing. You disavow your links, they run that disavow file through one of their tools, which crawls these links and tries to establish if they’re still live and obviously not follow them, so you can [inaudible 00:05:42], and you can see that activity within your crawl rate.
Also, when the disavow tool does work, the problem people find is that they can’t get enough links in there. They presume once they have their penalty recovered, they’re going to get their rankings back, but that doesn’t happen unless you already have the good links to rank anyway. It’s more about creating a clean sheet rather than recovering to high rankings unless you’ve got good links already to make that work for you.
Patrick: Another interesting question is about the Penguin update. If you remember, the Penguin update wiped out loads of people at the end of April last year. Unlike the Panda update, which is on number 28, now, something like that, Panda seems gets refreshed all the time but Penguin has only been refreshed once, I believe, since it came out.
A lot of people are wondering when that’s going to happen again, because anybody who’s been penalized by Penguin will never recover until Penguin gets refreshed. There are a lot of people on the waiting list hoping that they’re going to recover one day when Penguin gets refreshed again. People are asking, “When is it going to happen?”
I’m sure it will happen within the next couple of months. I don’t think that Google is going to run it more than a couple of times a year. I suspect that by the end of this year it will probably be outdated anyway, so they might not continue to run it very often other than to let people recover.
We asked the question of Google a couple of months ago, “When is it going to run?” and they said, “We won’t tell you. We won’t give you advanced warning when it’s going to run again,” which leads me to believe that it will run, but it’s probably going to be sometime within the next two or three months. They might even run it in April again and just have it as an annual thing, or every six months, or something like that.
Tim: We had a question come through about anchor text. Should people focus on it? Does it count as much as it did a couple of years ago? There were mixed feelings on anchor text in the mix. I’m sure in every industry we can check out websites, have a look at their backlink profile, and see a ton of anchor text in there, and think, “Oh, that must be the reason why they’re ranking.”
I think what people forget is that people are disavowing links, they’re removing links, and what you see them link too is not necessarily what Google are counting. I wouldn’t read too much into that in terms of, “Does anchor text count?”
Our feelings on anchor text, from an exact point of view anyway, are that it should just not be the focus. Yes, try and incorporate some relevant keywords into that anchor text to get some relevance through the links, but it just shouldn’t be a focus anymore.
We actually started talking about this back in 2010, and then we saw the demise of the anchor text and the weight it was given. In our opinion, now, we should keep it relevant and diverse and really not focus on anything too keyword-heavy. In my opinion, I just wouldn’t worry about anchor text at all. It will die out even further, in my opinion. I don’t know if you’ve got a different thought process on that Patrick.
Patrick: I think one of the things that Google does to decide whether a link is good or bad is look at anchor text. Obviously, if a link is on a bad site, then it’s definitely bad, but if a link is on a good site and it has keyword anchor text, then Google also regards that as definitely bad at the moment.
We had an issue this week where a client had sent out a legitimate press release. They got venture capital funding, so they sent out a press release to announce that. When they sent out the press release, they put a link to their site using their company name as the anchor text. It so happens that their company name is also a keyword, and Google is classing that as an unnatural link. Google has actually emailed to say, “This is one of your unnatural links.” I think it’s very difficult. If you’re not even allowed to send out a press release with your company name as the anchor text, if that is a keyword, then how can you send out a press release?
If you happen to own laptops.com, if you want to send out a press release that has laptops.com as the anchor text, you’re not allowed to do that in Google. That’s against Google’s unnatural link guidelines, which makes it really, really hard to figure out how to send out press releases.
There are a lot of people who have been penalized in the past because they sent out loads of press releases with keyword anchor text in because that was what their SEO company advised them to do. Now they’ve got too many keyword anchor text links, and you can’t take down all these press releases. It’s really, really hard to do.
You can obviously disavow them but if you’ve got loads, then you probably ought to take them down as well.
I think you’ve just got to be so careful with every link that you’ve built.
Tim: We’ve got a question come in from Chris, Chris Green. “Any views on the recent Panda update and what that is and what it’s based on?”
I think the first thing to mention with this update is that there is a lot going on at the minute with server activity and what we’re seeing in terms of rankings. I wouldn’t point at Panda as the cause of some of those issues that have been happening.
There has been a lot of link devaluation that we’re seeing on sites that have great content and no duplication issues, but yet are still getting hit by something. For me, Panda is based on what it always has been based on–the type of content you have on your site, the duplication, the quality of it, and probably Google starting to factor in some behavior signals as well. If you’ve got a very high bounce rate, or if they believe people aren’t engaging with your site as they should in your industry, I believe that will start coming in with Panda as well.
I think a lot of the declines we’re seeing in rankings, especially over this weekend period and into this week, have a lot to do with link devaluation, not just Panda. I would be very careful about which algorithm you point to as the cause of any drops that you’re seeing or any spikes that you’re seeing within your rankings at the minute.
Have you got anything on that Patrick?
Patrick: I think Penguin is . . . I’m not sure whether this was just a data refresh or whether it was an actual change in the algorithm. If it’s just a data refresh, then it’s probably likely to be not very much going on. The impact on queries is more likely to be people recovering rather than people necessarily getting penalized.
Another interesting question is, “Is it important to get all areas of the client’s business involved with the conception and seeding of links? If so, what challenges does this present?”
This is quite a detailed question, really, but I think the key is that any link building that you do should be absolutely integrated with what the client does as far as their day-to-day business or marketing activity. As soon as an SEO company starts going off and doing things on their own in terms of link building, that doesn’t have anything to do with what the client is actually going with at the moment, that’s when it becomes unnatural link building.
I think the problem in the past has been that people and companies hired an SEO agency and the SEO agency went off and stared building some links here and there and doing some kind of link strategy, whether it was pure spam, like articles and directories and dodgy footer links, or whether it was just blog links talking about particular products the client sold. As soon as the SEO company goes off and does that on their own, it becomes unnatural links, and there is a big footprint there, whereas if the client, for example, released some kind of press release or some kind of data or had some insight on a particular industry issue, if the client has that, then that should be the basis of the link building campaign for the next few weeks.
I think gone are the days where you could just hire an agency and let them get on with it. There has to be involvement from the client in terms of them feeding the agency with information and material, so that the link building team can actually go out and do some interesting stuff.
It’s far better for an agency to be involved in the company and involved in what’s going on, because it makes it more interesting. Our link building team is always prying out really interesting stuff from the client, so that they can have a more interesting job and they can place the sort of links that are really relevant. I think that’s what makes a natural campaign.
With regard to link bait, I think the same applies. Any link bait that you do should be the sort of thing that the company would be sending out to newspapers. Don’t just do some link bait for SEO purposes; do some link bait that the company CEO would be happy to send to all of his friends.
In terms of what challenges this poses, I think massive challenges sometimes, because small business don’t have the marketing activity going on at the moment to be able to do this without extra effort.
Big companies often have all of this activity going on, but it’s quite hard to actually integrate with what they’re doing sometimes because they might have old-fashioned ways of doing things or the team isn’t quite set up to integrate with SEO.
The real wins are when a company comes along and says, “Right. We’ve got all this great marketing strategy but we don’t actually generate any links out of it at the moment. What can you do to help us generate links?”
I think that’s where everything comes together and the SEO campaign works best. It’s when a company is already doing something interesting. If you’re Nike, then you’re already doing lots of interesting things. You’ve got interesting products. You’ve got loads of stuff going on. So Nike would have a lot easier job doing SEO than a brand that just sells shoes and doesn’t really do any interesting stuff at the moment.
There are definite challenges, and I think it’s just a question of really, really focusing on things like the kick-off meeting and focusing on getting the information flowing between the client and the agency right from the very start. If the information isn’t flowing, then the agency just needs to keep pushing back saying, “Look. We’re not getting enough information. We don’t know enough about what’s going on with your business.”
I think that’s the key, really, being as involved as possible with the client’s business.
Tim: We’ve had a question about 2013 and any trends in SEO. I guess that’s quite a broad question, and there’s quite a lot to talk about on it.
I think generally we will see in 2013 further link penalties and links being devalued. It’s becoming much more difficult to manipulate the link graph and boost your site. We still see spammy sites on the top, now. We still see sites succeeding with low-quality links, but I think the time they get to succeed and be at the top will get smaller and smaller.
There’s one trend that everybody is talking about at the minute. Everybody is talking content at the minute and how content is going to grow and going to explode in 2013 and become really important. I agree to an extent, but I think what people are missing is the fact that even great content needs promotion.
Yes, I think content will be mattering in 2013, but unless you have the people and the resources in place to correctly brainstorm that content and idea to find where the tight audience is and pitch that in correctly, building a community around it, and then outreach after the content’s been produced and put on the site somewhere, and you’ve got some sort of social buy-in to activate that piece of content, it still isn’t going to work.
It’s not just about creating great content. 2013 is not just the year of creating great content. It’s about creating it and the promotion of real, genuine, really good content.
I think that’s something that a lot of people miss out on when they’re writing about content and how it’s going to grow in 2013. There still needs to be a promotional effort. There still needs to be outreach. Without it, you’re still going to struggle to get your content out there unless you’re lucky enough to have that community around you, which will share whatever you put out there. If you haven’t–not a lot of business have them–you will still need that promotional element. Outreach will still be important. Public relations will still be important. You need that there.
Patrick, anything to add to that?
Patrick: I think Google has been pretty quiet for a while now, which normally means that they’re going to do something crazy, so I would say within the next four months they’ll release some kind of major update, which will finish the process that they went through last year.
There are loads of sites that have dodgy links that haven’t been penalized. There are loads of sites that have dodgy links that have not been devalued. I suspect that Google will basically continue that process, but I’m sure they won’t just do it gradually. I think there will be some kind of major update, whether it’s the next Penguin update that wipes out the next few sites that haven’t been penalized so far.
I think there’s definitely going to be something that goes on before the end of April, just as we’ve seen in the couple of years, with Penguin and Panda last year and then Panda the year before. Then there was a Mayday update a few years ago.
There are all sorts of updates that happened within the first few months of the year, and I think we’ll definitely see that again.
Tim: Okay. We have a question about .co.uk domains being hosted in the US and whether that will cause a penalty or not.
I think it’s difficult to say. In terms of Google, they’ve always said that they will use three things to try and determine where a site should rank and where the audience is. They use, obviously, the domain extension. They will use the targeting of the webmaster tools. Then they may look at the hosting–where the site is hosted–as well.
We’ve seen sites with .co.uk domains that are hosted in the US still rank very well in the UK. You can still target it in webmaster tools. So I would say that just having it hosted in the US isn’t going to cause a natural devaluation or penalty enough to affect your ranking in the UK necessarily.
However, ideally, if I were giving anyone any recommendations or advice I would always try to recommend it, just in case. You never know when Google’s algorithm is going to be tweaked–and they don’t always get it right–so you could see the site affected that way. Generally speaking, at the minute, I don’t see any massive impact from that.
Patrick: Next question on the list. I’ve got one here. “What would be your advice to a small business who has been penalized? Pay an agency to get links removed or get started new with a fresh domain?”
I have to say, we’ve never failed to get a penalty removed. I would never start afresh with a new domain. The problem, if you start afresh, is it’s going to take you a couple of years to get back to where you were before. It’s actually a lot slower now because you can’t use the same dodgy tactics that you used before, which are the ones that got you penalized in the first place.
I would say always try to get the links removed. You don’t necessarily need to pay an agency to do that. If you know where all these links are and you built them in the first place through somebody else, then there is no reason why you can’t get those removed through whoever built them in the first place. What we tend to find is that people who build bad links are very uncooperative when it comes to removing them. You may need to pay somebody else to do the work.
They key thing isn’t necessarily link removals. It’s having the knowledge to identify all of the links. A lot of people will just download a link report and think that they’ve found all of the links, but that’s not the case. You need to download the link report from three or four different sources, merge all the data together, manually go through that list, and then decide which links are good and which links are bad.
You can imagine the amount of work involved for an agency. If somebody has 5,000 domains liking to them and each domain takes five to ten minutes to evaluate as to whether that’s a good link, then there’s a huge amount of man hours required to do a full link audit. Even if you only go over a few hundred links, it takes a lot of time to actually go through and actually look at all of those.
That’s why it can be expensive to hire an agency to do it. Certainly, in pretty much every case that we’ve worked on, it’s far more expensive to hire an agency to fix it than it was to get the links in the first place.
A lot of these links are generated by automated methods. I think that’s one of the key problems. If you submitted an article to an article site like ezarticle or one of those similar ones, a lot of those just keep getting picked up. You’ll find bloggers going on these article sites every week, picking up articles, and spinning them out on their spam blogs. That just means that you’re going to have a continual problem.
Originally, that was the benefit to putting an article on an article site, because a blogger would pick it up and leave you a link back. But now it’s an absolute disaster.
Tim: We’ve got a question here, again from Chris, about the link graph and Google moving towards a more social graph and how we move with this as SEOs.
In my opinion, I don’t think Google is trying to change it into a social graph. I think what Google are trying to do is classify the link graph based on social signals. You mentioned in the question about author rank and authorship. I think what Google are trying to do there is find out which links should count and which links shouldn’t count. I don’t think the link graph is going anywhere fast. I think Google are just trying to validate it.
In terms of how we work and how we should structure things, I think it’s about improving our link building, improving our outreach to people who we are trying to deals with and get to talk about the brands that we work with. We could even start targeting people who have authorship markup on their sites, knowing that Google may trust that link a little bit more.
It’s about reaching out to real people, real people who are non-publishers and who want to be out there publishing, not just creating blogs for the sake of making money off of a few links.
I don’t think the link graph is going anywhere, certainly not in the next five or six years. I do believe Google will use whatever signals they can get ahold of to validate that link graph, and that’s what we should be thinking.
Do you have anything you want to add?
Patrick: Yeah, but I think the key thing is that Google is trying things all of the time. They’re getting more and more intelligent and they’re moving away from looking specifically at how many links you’ve got and what types of links you’ve got. They’re looking more at matching patterns with sites that they know are great. Let’s have a look at what their pattern of online activity is, whether its linked content or social, and you just need to make sure that you’re matching the patterns of the really, really good sites that are out there. If you can match what they’re doing across everything, then you’re basically as good a site as they are.
I think that’s the key thing that people need to understand. It’s not just about building a few links. It’s about making the site and the whole online activity profile as brilliant as it can possible be.
Tim: David’s just mentioned in the comments on the site, here, about getting SEOs involved in the link building and some of the relationships there that you have that you may be able to leverage for link building purposes.
I absolutely agree. Anybody in the business, you’d be surprised, can give you something that you can leverage for link building activity. They don’t always know it.
Funnily enough, I was speaking with one of the receptionists at a client I was at yesterday, and they were telling me about some activity that the company was doing and how they were getting involved. There were videos going out and all kinds of things. It was perfect for link building, which I then brought up in the meeting.
You be surprised how many different people can actually contribute to the link building. Anything a business is doing that is real, that you can leverage, can be used in link building in some way. There is always a way to put a new angle on it and a twist on it.
So, yeah, I would agree. Anyone can be involved in this process. That’s why there should be regular brainstorms with the people you work with or the business that you’re in to understand what assets different areas of the business have. Then, when that somebody who is doing the SEO, the creative side of it, wants to, they can use that to do the link building and the outreach, definitely.
Patrick: We have another question from David. “Rather than reaching out to give away content, shouldn’t we now be focused on building great on-site content which gains links naturally?”
I think the key thing is, whatever you’re doing, you need to do multiple strategies. What we would try to do is reaching out as well as building the great on-site content. There is no point in building lots of great on-site content if you’re not reaching out to people to link to that content.
If you’ve produced an amazing article, you should be reaching out to relevant bloggers and also reaching out to people who have big social media profiles and getting them to share the article. It’s sort of like link building, but it’s also about building great content on the site. They’ll link to you if you have great content to talk to people about.
What people often forget with content marketing is that they build some great content or great article and they publish it and that’s it. There is no promotional activity. With content marketing and content strategy, you have to back up what you produce with promotional activity.
A lot of journalists fail at this. You quite often see a journalist who has published an article and they haven’t bothered to share that on Twitter when it goes live, or they just rely on the newspaper to share it, something like that.
As soon as you publish an article, you ought to spend at least the next hour promoting that article via all the different methods that you’ve got, which is sharing it on your own social media feeds, getting your friends to blog about it, and emailing it to other relevant bloggers. Put in the effort. If you bothered to write the article, then you need to bother to do the promotionally work as well.
Tim: Okay. We’ve got a question about the devaluation of domains and trying to figure out what it’s about and where we draw the line with domains.
In my experience and what I’ve seen is that any link you could consider to have been placed, whether it’s in a sidebar, whether it’s in a submit directory, whether it’s on a forum where you created a profile and slammed a few links in the signature, anything like that, I would say needs to be removed or disavowed.
I think, if we’re talking domains–what kind of domains we should look for and where we draw the line with directories, which was the question–I think most directories, unless they are super-relevant to your business, either to what it does or to the location of where you are, and there would genuinely be some traffic there to take advantage of, I wouldn’t say it’s a link worth acquiring.
What we’ve seen out of Google in the past 12 months is that directories are on their hit list, and they’re looking to take down as many of the easy submit directories as possible. I wouldn’t waste too much time unless, as I said, it’s really relevant to your business and what you’re doing.
I think it’s worth pointing out that you may find a great site but you have a bad link from it, so it’s not always about the domain. A lot of great sites sell links, and all the time. They can have lots of sold links in the footer, on the sidebar, or in posts. I would say those links, as well, are the types you should be classifying as bad and looking to remove.
It’s not just about how good the domain is and its metrics. It’s really about how the link looks. Is it natural? Is it placed? If it is a placed linked, it’s not a link. Its advertising and Google will always look to devalue it.
Patrick: I think on that note, I don’t think anybody’s sent necessarily any more questions, but we will be running one of these again fairly soon. If you do have any questions then you can always email us through the contact form on the Branded3 website. We’re more than happy to answer anything about penalties or anything like that. Or you can message us on Twitter or Google+.
I think, unless there are any more questions . . . I’m just going to see if anyone is typing now maybe with a final question.
Okay, thank you. Thank you very much, everybody, and if you’ve got any questions, let us know. Otherwise, we’ll see you at the next one.
Tim: Bye-bye. Thank you.
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