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Influence of Keywords in SEO

Keyword research and targeting are critical first steps in any SEO campaign. Traffic-driving keywords that you bucket into high-level keyword groups. Then, you map those keyword groups to corresponding pages on your site. Or if there are no relevant URLs to map to, you have new content created.List of keywords and URL targets, you still need to determine which terms deserve more of your time and which deserve less.

You need to prioritize and allocate your time and resources accordingly based on a range of deciding factors, which include:
  1. Search demand
  2. User intent
  3. Competition
  4. Budget
  5. Timeframe
  6. Goals
  7. Profitability
  8. Scalability

Guest Blogging in 2014

New blog post: The decay and fall of guest blogging

If you're using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop. Why? Because over time it's become a more and more spammy practice, and if you're doing a lot of guest blogging then you're hanging out with really bad company.

Matt's blog post. In it, he also has this to say:
"Ultimately, this is why we can't have nice things in the SEO space: a trend starts out as authentic. Then more and more people pile on until only the barest trace of legitimate behavior remains. We've reached the point in the downward spiral where people are hawking "guest post outsourcing" and writing articles about "how to automate guest blogging.
"So stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done; it's just gotten too spammy. In general I wouldn't recommend accepting a guest blog post unless you are willing to vouch for someone personally or know them well. Likewise, I wouldn't recommend relying on guest posting, guest blogging sites, or guest blogging SEO as a linkbuilding strategy."

Purpose of Guest posts:  

As with anything, you don't want to be out there trying willy-nilly to get your posts on every blog for the sole purpose of building (probably bad) links. It's important to have this tied to your business and marketing goals, as you would with any other tactic. SEO is only one piece of the larger strategy, and if you focus solely on writing posts for link building purposes, you're missing out on a ton of other possibilities, such as:
  • Branding, branding, branding
  • Build credibility in a specific niche
  • Increased traffic 
  • Exposure to new audiences
  • Community building!
  • Authorship: The more legitimate posts you write and connect to your Google+ account, the more likely your lovely face will show up in the SERPs.

How to be a better guest poster: 

  1. Develop a relationship with the publisher outside of "guest blogging platforms" in order to customize the relationship better.
  2. Pitch a series of content instead of one "guest post".
  3. Describe yourself as an "expert contributor" not a "guest author", explain the difference if you have to, and explain to the publisher why this is better for their site.
  4. Don't contribute to sites that want to publish your content under a general "guest author" account. Always insist on your own contributor/author account, and markup with rel author.
  5. Work with authors who have Google profiles to which they can add contributor to links. If they don't have one, help them get one.
  6. Go back to the same authors for similar content to develop them as experts in a specific niche (e.g. if John Smith did an article for a client on PBX solutions and you have need for another piece of content about VOIP, office phone systems, etc... go back to John Smith again)
  7. If the resident authors don't have their bio below/above every post then our content shouldn't have one either.
  8. Stop thinking about links. Think about traffic and exposure instead. Links are fine if they are relevant, but don't let a nofollow policy keep you from contributing to a major site with lots of traffic in the clients' niche.
  9. Track the right metrics, which starts with aligning our goals with the clients'.

SEO Predictions for 2014

Scoring My 2013 Predictions:

  1. We'll get confirmation that steering anchor text in links you get is bad. Score a full point for this one. Google now discusses this in their Webmaster Guidelines
  2. The relevance of a linking page will carry increasing weight. Well, no proof of this one. I maintain it is true, and that belief certainly is impacting the content marketing work we do with our clients. I will take a half point here.
  3. People will finally accept that +1's aren't treated by Google like a link. I think the proof of this one is available, but there are still more people who believe that +1's are a ranking factor than not. With some reluctance, I will take a half point for this one, too.
  4. Rel=author will become a ranking signal. Another area that people debate heartily. Many will say that I should take a full point here. However, I will take a zero instead, because I don't think it has become a ranking signal. For people who think I gave myself too much credit on #2 or #3, we can call it even, OK?
  5. Google+ will begin to show some of its true influence in search results. Definitely happening. I take a full point here.
  6. The industry will start to talk about the role of landing page optimization in SEO.People have been talking about bounce rate for some time, but that isn't what I mean here. I was talking about real management of the customer experience. Well that has in fact begun to happen. The driving factors for this one will be Semantic Search and Hummingbird.However, not as broadly as I had thought it would, so half a point.
2013 Score:: 4 out of 6

2014 Predictions

Now it's time for six predictions again this year, and the first one sets the stage for the remaining five! Once you're done checking these out, let me know your predictions in the comments, or argue with mine if you like!

1. Hummingbird Rising

Just ahead of their 15th birthday, Google let the world know that it had released a new platform called Hummingbird. In fact, it had been live for three months or so at that point and few people had noticed. This all changes in 2014.
Hummingbird was in fact a rewrite of Google's search engine. Note that this doesn't mean a rewrite of all of Google's code, just the function that executes searches.
As a platform change, the near term impact was in fact quite small. The specific algorithms, such as Panda, Penguin, and basic ranking algos weren't changed. Google restructured things so they can better bolt on new algorithms to the platform.
What does this mean? It could mean new algorithms for processing links. It could mean social signals starting to carry weight. It could mean lots of things.
The bottom line? In 2014 we start to see the impact of Hummingbird. It is quite possible thatall of the predictions that follow are all only possible because of Hummingbird.

2. Author Rank / Publisher Rank (again)

Once bitten, twice shy! Or, older and a little wiser might be more appropriate. My 2013 prediction for Author Rank failed because I fell into that trap that is so easy for us all to do. Just because we can conceive of Google using a ranking factor doesn't mean they will, or that it's easy to implement:
Implementing new algorithms is hard. Google needs to do an enormous amount of testing of any changes they make, and more often than not those simple changes break something else. In 2013.
My 2014 prediction for this will be more cautious than I was in 2013. We will see one or more new changes to the search results related to AuthorRank and PublisherRank. We may also see the in-depth articles feature rise to more prominence.
What we won't see however is some huge shift in the search results based on Author Rank. The use of this signal will likely come out as part of some specific features or scenarios. An example scenario might be an Author Rank specific ranking change in personalized results that shows up as some type of new presentation of authors you follow.

3. Natural Language Search

You might call this one a layup, and that would not be entirely unfair. Prior to Hummingbird, natural language search queries were specific to the Knowledge Graph. After Hummingbird you could start to see natural language queries visibly impacting other types of search results.
This screenshot is part of a sequence of searches that started with the [give me pictures of Tom Brady], and ended with [when did he start playing football].
when did he start playing football Google SERP
However, the types of queries that work at this point in time are pretty limited. During the course of 2014 I believe we will see significant additions in natural language search capability. One reason for this is that Google sees mobile as a dominant trend, and believes that this will increase the demand for voice searching capabilities.

4. Impact of Google+ Grows, But Not in the Way People Expect

Google+ continues to grow as a social platform, but its adoption to date has been uneven. There are many categories where the discussions are rich and vibrant, such as science, food, photography, health and fitness, and many others. But, there are also other categories where the community is not yet as vibrant. Still, haters aside, Google+ is succeeding, and that sets the stage for this prediction.
The impact of Google+ on the SERPs will increase. Once again, we should expect moderation. This won't be some type of sweeping change. I wrote about the impact so far in this article.
The main impact we already see from Google+ on the SERPs are:
  1. Personalized results. This is a big one. If you publish lots of content, people who follow you will see it often when they perform related searches in Google.
  2. Google+ posts in the SERPs. This is the one that is less recognized, but also important. If you are influential on Google Plus, and you share a post that ends up being very well received on the platform, that post itself can show up in the search results, even for people that don't follow you.
What will Google do to increase the influence of G+? I'd expect to see more G+ posts in the SERPs (even for people not following you) at a minimum. We may even see some new search features tested. For example, if there is a breaking news item, and there is an active G+ community discussion about it, maybe we will see that discussion featured in some way in the SERPs.
What we won't see if Google Plus taking over the SERPs or remapping them in some big way. Google can't punish people for not being on G+, because that would break search itself. But, they can do more with it, and they will.

5. Guest Posting Takes a Visible Hit

I wrote the first draft of this post back on January 12th, and low and behold 12 days later Matt Cutts writes an article about guest posting to say Stick a Form In It. Fortunately, this position softened somewhat, and the upshot of it is that guest posting that is primarily for SEO purposes is in Google's crosshairs in a big way. And so it should be.
So I could take a full point already for this, but since I did not get this post up prior to Matt's article, I will not take the easy way out. Instead, I will offer up some thoughts on what parts of guest posting will take hits in 2014:
  1. More action against rich anchor text, even if it's in the attribution only.
  2. Devaluing sites for publishers that focus on many domains vs. authoritative relationships.
  3. Discounting (or punishing) low relevance posts, where relevance is defined as the relevance of the page giving the link to the page receiving the link.
Based on Cutts' post we already know is that Google will look dimly on guest posting for SEO practices in their manual reviews of link profiles, so the above expectations relate to potential algorithmic action by Google.

6. More Weight Placed on Having a Mobile Site Experience

We live in a world where mobile (tablets plus smartphones) is going to be more important than the desktop. This has already happened in online retail. We also know that Google cares deeply about the user experience – they don't want to send users to sites that offer a crappy experience because it's bad for their search engine to do so.
So yes, sites with no mobile implementation might take some rankings hits in 2014, at least when the user is coming from a mobile device. If mobile devices represent 20 percent or more of your traffic (and I think is pretty much every website these days!) then you need to pay attention to this. Cutts already discussed this in his keynote at Pubcon Las Vegas.
In 2014, it begins to have serious implications.

What's New With Google+ In Short

It was hard to miss the news that Google announced yesterday around Google+.
If you did and you really don't have time to sift through everything, Google's Aygul Zagidullina captured notes in very short bullet point format that makes it quick and easy to consume.
So for those that missed it, here are her notes:
Latest Google+ stats:
  • 20 launches in the last 4 months
  • 540M active users across Google
  • 300M active users in the Google+ stream
  • 1.5B photos uploaded every week to Google+
  • 20x increase in Google+ video uploads
Google+ Hangouts:
  • Location sharing (text Hangouts)
  • Animated GIFs (text Hangouts)
  • SMS support (text Hangouts)
  • Plan > promote > manage (video Hangouts)
  • Auto awesome (video Hangouts)
Google+ Photos:
  • Google+ Gallery "Moments that matter"
  • Full-size backup on iOS
  • 1000 more words in computer vision photo search
  • Search images in your library or across your circles
  • Auto enhance: low or high and on album-by-album basis
  • New Snapseed filter: HDR Scape
  • New Nik Collection feature: Analog Efex Pro
  • Two new awesome effects: action, eraser
  • Auto awesome movies (auto and manual flows)

Google May Charge Fees For Google+ Custom URLs

One of the other big announcements was that Google is offering vanity URLs within Google+ for virtually everyone. But if you read the terms of service, Google says for now these URLs are free, but Google may charge for them in the future.
Google+ Custom URLs
The requirements are minimal to get these custom URLs:
  • Has a profile photo, and
  • Has at least 10 followers, and
  • Has an account that's at least 30 days old

Google Skeleton

Search Engine Land Wins Best Search Blog At US Search Awards

It has been a while since there have been a reputable place offering "Awards" in the search community. Now, we have the US Search Awards backed by PubCon, Majestic SEO, SEMPO, and some other companies.
There is a long list of winners in several categories, but I am proud to be part of the Search Engine Land team that won for best search blog.
Here is a picture from Shane Borelli of Elisabeth Osmeloski and Greg Finn, representing Search Engine Land by accepting the award the other night:

  • Grand Prix: Catalyst Canada on behalf of HSBC CMB USA - Out of Home Search - Airports
  • Best Blog: Search Engine Land
  • Best Use of Search, Retail: Mannix Marketing - Rover Parts SEO
  • Best Use of Search, Finance: Havas Media - Aggressively Tackling the Competitive Financial Landscape
  • Best Use of Search, Travel/Leisure: Havas Media - Driving Growth in the Competitive Travel Market
  • Best Use of Search, Third Sector: Google Grants University: Matt Cardoni of Performics with the Marketing Academy of University of Iowa MBA program help 9 non-profits with free traffic and consulting
  • Best Local Campaign: Kenshoo - SIM Partners Velocity and Kenshoo Local Improve SEM ROI for Sonus Hearing Care Professionals
  • Best Low Budget Campaign: Advice Interactive Group - TryMunity - A Social Network for Traumatic Brain Injury Survivors
  • Best Use of PR in a Search Campaign: SEO-PR - SEO-PR / Get City Dealz / Business Wire Multimedia Press Releases
  • Best Use of Social Media in a Search Campaign: Nebo - P.L.A.Y. Rescue Pledge
  • Best Integrated Campaign: Overit - KnowTheOdds
  • Best PPC Campaign: Catalyst Canada on behalf of HSBC CMB USA - Out of Home Search - Airports
  • Best SEO Campaign: Geary LSF - MegaPath SEO Campaign
  • Innovation: Catalyst Canada on behalf of HSBC CMB USA - Out of Home Search - Airports
  • Best PPC Management Software: Kenshoo Search
  • Best SEO Software: Linkdex - Enterprise SEO Software for 2014 and beyond
  • Best In House Team: Rasmussen College
  • Best Agency: Elite SEM
  • Young Search Professional of the Year: Fil Lourenco - Catalyst
  • US Search Personality of the Year: Marty Weintraub - aimClear
Here is a classic picture of Marty Weintraub with his new Google Glass accepting his award from Dixon Jones, photo by Nicky Wake:

Google's 100 Search Results Per Page Breaks

Google has confirmed the reports of a bug where configuring your search preferences to non-instant results, set to show 100 search results on a page, stopped working.
Google Search Results Setting

Disavow File May Not Be Accepted

If you use a disavow file to remove links, Google may not process them if they don't see you making a serious manual attempt at removing those links.

         The disavow tool should be used primarily if you have done everything you can to remove an inorganic link and still cannot get the link removed. If you are primarily disavowing links and not trying to remove them, your reconsideration request may not be successful 

Other reasons why the disavow tool may not work for you include:
  • Double check your disavow file and make sure the link you mentioned is properly disavowed. You can download your latest Disavow file by going to the Disavow tool, clicking "Disavow Links", and clicking "Download".
  • Documentation is really good and can help when reviewing your site for reconsideration. Make sure that when you send in documentation that it's accessible, though. It looks like hasn't been shared properly.

Google Bolding Related Words In Search Snippets - Not Titles

I searched for "gone" but Google highlighted the word "dropped" in the snippet. Not in the title, Google did not bold the word "Drops" in the title tag. They did bold the word "dropped" in the snippet.
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