David Leonhardt’s SEO and Social Media Marketing

Tips for better SEO (search engine optimization) and website marketing …

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Archive for October, 2013

A social media monitoring success story

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

Smart brands are monitoring social media to track their reputation and following up with action. This is the story of one such smart brand.

So here I am, working remotely once again from my favourite office away from home – the Ottawa Public Library. I wrote about this set-up on my lifestyle blog, not from a marketing perspective, but focusing instead on the flexibility that working remotely allows me to have with family life.

I mentioned the service I use to access my desktop computer, back at my home office, remotely from the library: LogMeIn.com. I did not really do a review of the service, as I have nothing to compare it to. And I was very frank about the advantages of the service as well as the weaknesses. But all in all, it was a positive experience, and I reported it as such.

And I tweeted it. Here is the tweet (It’s a good one; don’t be shy to retweet it.):

 


 

And that’s where the branding fun began. Interestingly, I did not tweet #LogMeIn or @LogMeIn. But the folks at LogMeIn were obviously paying attention, because they messaged me via Twitter for my address. A few days later, a courier arrived with a care package from LogmeIn. Look at all the promotional items they sent me in appreciation for having blogged about their service.

We can always use new water bottles around here. And pens, of course. And I know my daughters will love the little iPod speaker port when I release it to them, as well as the ear plugs. Nice sticker, too, although perhaps less useful. The playing cards will be a hit when one of our current decks burns out, and we need another deck for Dame de Pique or Sequence. And who doesn’t need more pens? (The hats were already on the mantle.)

Tweet this: “Look what brand really ‘gets’ social media.”

Why was it smart to send these promotional items to me? Well, for starters, I am a user of their services and it will build loyalty. Yes, I do feel more positive about LogMeIn because of the gesture.

Perhaps they thought I would be likely to share a pic of these items on Instagram or on Pinterest, and as a blogger who is at least somewhat connected, that would be good promotion for them. (Answer: yes to Pinterest, no to Instagram).

Perhaps they are trying to build brand ambassadors.

They might hope this will inspire me to upgrade to “pro”.

Perhaps they figured I might write about them again, and it never hurts to show your appreciation. After all, in any networking situation the two most important words are “Thank you” – even more important that “How can I help you?” If that was the case, they were right, because here I am writing about them.

Read Also: Case Study on how NOT to do reputation management

Of course, as a social media strategist myself, I am more keenly aware than many people of how a brand is using social media. But I suspect that most bloggers would also sit up and take notice.

Are you monitoring your brand on social media? Are you taking advantage of positive opportunities as much as trying to fix negative situations? Any time your brand is mentioned, you should know about it and take action. And that action should be…

  • Turn a disgruntled customer into an advocate.
  • Consolidate an advocate
  • Provide more fuel for advocates to use

I have no idea how consistent LogMeIn’s social media monitoring and follow-up are; I can base my opinions only on how they followed up with me. And for that, they get an A+ in social media marketing.

 


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Google Disavow. Why I actually like it.

Friday, October 25th, 2013

Google’s Disavow Tool is more than just a quick fix for a high-strung website owner. Used properly, it can help a website regain Google’s favour or possibly even avoid falling victim to Google’s link jailor Penguin mascot.  (post updated with video from Matt Cutts)

There is a lot of debate about whether or not it is a good idea to disavow backlinks. Some people think it is an admission of “guilt”. Others worry that, in using the disavow tool, people will end up losing valuable links that are not actually causing them any problems.

I will not dispute the validity of either of these views.

What if you know you have a backlinks problem?

Let us assume for a moment that you know you have a backlink problem. Perhaps you have received the infamous “unnatural backlinks” letter from Google. Perhaps your rankings have tanked, and you have ruled out other causes. Let’s assume that you need to clean up your backlink profile, one way or the other.

Basically, you have two choices. The first is to get rid of the backlinks. The second is to leave them up and use Google’s Disavow Tool.

Let’s be clear – Google prefers you to get rid of them. Let’s also be clear – most webmasters ignore requests to remove links. The first benefit of the Disavow Tool is that it lets you deal with the majority of links that you cannot get removed.

Remember, in this case, you will not be losing any valuable links with the disavow tool that you would not be losing if your begging, bribing, threatening and temper tantrums had worked with the website owners linking to you.

Read also: How Google reads your backlinks

There are also those links that you think are actually pretty good, but you are also pretty sure that Google disagrees with you. You probably should get rid of them to get back into Google’s good books…but what if those links are the reason you are still getting traffic from Bing and Yahoo. OR What if those links are sending you real traffic? Sure, Google is better than Bing, but Bing is better than nothing. And nothing is very realistically what you could end up with if you remove a whole bunch of links that Bing likes, and the Penguin still isn’t satisfied.

What if you do not have a backlinks problem…yet?

The Disavow tool is also a great way to take a pre-emptive strike to avoid getting into Google’s bad books. It has been my observation that it is a lot harder to get out of a penalty these days than to stay out. It’s sort of like falling into a well. It’s much easier to avoid being pushed in by a passing Penguin than to try scrambling out once you hit the bottom, so best to just avoid falling in.

Tweet this quote: “It’s much easier to avoid a Penguin penalty than to get out of one.”

I am not suggesting to make a pre-emptive strike for just any links, but I have seen twice how websites have been attacked by what you might call negative SEO. This very blog was used by a black hatter to try (unsuccessfully) to funnel PageRank to some websites through random text and image links pointing to blog comment URLs that did not exist (they left comments on this blog that were never published, but they pointed links at the non-existent URLs anyway). Their attempt was unsuccessful, but there were still hundreds of pure spam links on toxic domains increasing in rapid succession, pointing to this blog, to my domain.

Read Also: Monitor Backlinks – 7 juicy inside- and outside-the-box strategies

In another case, I worked with a website that was burdened with hundreds of new links pointing to it every day. The links were using pharmaceutical text (it was not a pharmaceutical site) and were in the company of dozens of other links all being placed invisibly in the code of blogs that the black hatters hacked into. The host blog owners never even knew the links were there, pointing to my client’s site or pointing to the many other sites.

In both these cases, spam attacks got the sites into Google’s bad books, but much, much, much more clean-up has been required to fix the link profile than just cleaning up the ones that got them into trouble. A preemptive disavow might have prevented huge headaches and a fortune of lost income for each of these websites.

The disavow tool should not be a crutch to lean on for worried website owners. If you know you have some really bad backlinks, do whatever you can to get them removed. But don’t be afraid to use the Disavow tool if that’s the best tool for your situation.

UPDATE: Google’s Matt Cutts has now confirmed that “If you’re at all worried about, you know, someone trying to do negative SEO or, you know, it looks like there’s some weird bot that’s building up a bunch of links to your site and you have no idea where it came from, that’s the perfect time to use Disavow, as well.”

Here is the video:

 

Disavow corrosive links

 


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Five backlink metrics to elude the dreaded Penguin

Friday, October 4th, 2013

Ever since Google released its Penguin algorithm, website owners have been swimming in murky and dangerous waters. It is no longer enough to get lots of good quality links pointing to your site. you also have to avoid the naval mines* lying in ambush – links from sites that Google considers to be toxic. Consider this article to be your minesweeper.

Once upon a time, not that long ago… ah, but this is not a fairy tale we are telling. Just two years ago, in fact, the main task of most SEO specialists was building links. That was never all there was to SEO, but it certainly was the most labour-intensive and the most never-ending task. I think Tom Shivers puts it best when he wrote:

“I’ve been a SEO consultant for over a decade and although I am sound with technical SEO the majority of my expertise and emphasis has been on gaining natural links.”

Most readers know the story well enough. The lovely princess and the handsome price… Oh, no, that’s not it. This is the tale of the weary link-builders who would look for shortcuts and systems and automation and ways to build thousands of backlinks to their websites or their client websites. This was never a very good idea, but Google rewarded them handsomely for doing so despite tut-tutting them for it.

What a difference two years make.

Google's penguin at work (cartoon)Having noticed the ravaged landscape of the Internet, Google has decided to align its actions more closely with its words, unleashing its “Penguin” algorithm, a hungry beast that is shredding webmaster’s little empires across the Internet.

The Penguin has turned the SEO world quite literally upside down. Just two years ago, the main task of most SEO specialists was building links. Now the main task of most SEO specialists is unbuilding links or at least defending against disreputable backlinks.

A couple years ago, any link was a good link. Even the most hoity-toity, holier-than-thou SEO practitioner paid no attention when a spammy site linked to their site.

Now, even people who once paid no attention to SEO at all are running around in a panic that the wrong kinds of sites might link to theirs, lest the Penguin get wind of it.

Instead of people coming up with tools to help webmasters build lots of quick and easy backlinks, savvy entrepreneurs are now coming up with tools to monitor their backlinks. I recently reviewed a really neat subscription software that does just that: Monitor Backlinks. This service also gives you some really neat metrics to help decide if each backlink is worthwhile or not, or dangerous or not. And you can keep tabs on your competition with it, too.

Five metrics to evaluate your backlinks

This blog post describes five metrics you can use to easily identify the worthwhile backlinks and the dangerous backlinks you might have or you might have the opportunity to acquire, so that you can avoid building a questionable backlink profile.

For those of you with some spare change and python-tight schedules, Monitor Backlinks is a quick way to identify troublesome backlinks. For those of you who misplaced your cash flow but have some spare time on your hands, there are free tools available.

Metric #1: Design

This is very simple. Take a look at the site. If the design is exceedingly poor, it is unlikely to attract good traffic or good backlinks. Chances are that the site sucks.

Free tool: Eyeballs

It’s not for nothing this is commonly called “the eyeball test”.

What to look for

Look for obvious signs that the site is not being maintained. Check if the pages are filled with ads. Check if there are tons of outbound links. Look for images that are not scaled properly. Check for real contact information. A site that posts telephone number and mailing address are much more likely to be in Google’s good books than a more secretive website.

Metric #2: PageRank

This is at the same time a no-brainer and somewhat of a red herring. A no-brainer because this is the only public metric of a site’s value that Google displays. It is somewhat of a red herring because it is often inaccurate and out of date, and is often relied upon far to heavily just because it is such an each measurement to check.

Free tool: Google toolbar

This is probably just plain obvious.

What to look for

Look for very high or very low PageRank. If a home page has zero PageRank, it is either a very new website or one that really has no presences on the Internet (or there is a glitch in the toolbar data). If you are really pressed for time you might want to pass it by.

If a home page has really high PageRank, like 5 or more, chances are that the site is a steal. But remember that there are often inaccuracies in the toolbar, so never take PageRank at face value. If a site has high PageRank but doesn’t pass the eyeball test, I’d trust the eyeball test more. In fact, I would never even look at the PageRank of a site that totally fails the eyeball test.

Look also for page-specific PageRank. This can be useful if the home page has a high PageRank and you have the option of being linked from an internal page with low PageRank or one with medium PageRank.  Choose the better page.

Metric #3: Traffic

One great way to quickly determine if a website makes a good backlink is based on traffic. Google has a lot of data on which websites send traffic from their links. A website that gets no traffic, sends no traffic. So low-traffic counts could be a sign that the site has little respect from Google.

Free tool: Alexa

Anybody who has been around on the Internet for a while knows about Alexa, a website that measures traffic trends for any significant website.  Of course, this might be of little use if the site is new or has very little traffic.

What to look for

There are two things to look for. The first is the overall traffic levels compared to other similar websites. BIG emphasis on “compared to other similar websites”. You cannot compare a website about fish tanks with a website about free clip-art. Alexa will tend to draw much more data from one niche than from another; this is the weak point about Alexa.

Similarly, you cannot compare a website that runs a forum for fish owners with a fish-related blog or with a website selling fish tank supplies. They might be the same niche, but they will draw different levels of traffic by their different functions.

The second thing to look for is the trend. Alexa offers really cool trend graphs so you can see if traffic has been growing or falling over the past year.

Alexa website traffic graph

Growing is good. Falling is bad. But don’t worry too much if traffic has been gently falling over the long run. That is unlikely to reflect badly on the site.

However, if traffic has suddenly plunged, that could be a sign that Google has penalized it. If you are in a rush, you might just want to steer wide of that website and avoid getting a backlink from them. If you have time to kill, you can always try comparing the timing of the drops in traffic with the timing of Penguin updates.

Still, even if there is no direct correlation in timing, something drastic has happened. It could be the end of an ad campaign or the break-up of a partnership or some other Google penalty. Whatever it is, it is probably not worth your investment in time to figure it out.

Metric #4: Backlinks

What better way to assess the quality of a potential backlink site than by looking at its own backlinks? A website with lots of strong, credible backlinks is one that is very likely to get the stamp of approval from Google. A website with lots of spammy looking backlinks is quite likely to be in or to be headed for the doghouse …er…the penguinhouse.

Free tool: BacklinkWatch

This is not the only free tool to check backlinks with; but I find it useful.

What to look for:

You could spend hours analyzing the backlinks of every site or page offering you a backlink. Let’s not. There are a few things to look for that don’t require deep analysis.

First, check for simple link diversity. If a website has 1200 backlinks and it looks like 900 of them are coming from a single domain, or even from just three or four domains, that could be a big concern.

Of course, it also depends where the other 300 links are coming from. If several of them are coming from recognized authority websites like CNN or Forbes or webMD, the site might be well worth getting a link from. So the second thing to watch for are well-known websites that likely convey authority.

The third thing to look for are really spammy looking websites. I don’t mean to click-through each backlink, but you can easily tell if there are a lot of cheap-ugg-shoes-for-sale.com type of domains linking in. Or if a large number of inbound links come from directories or forum profiles or article directories. Nothing wrong with having some of these in a link profile. Something very wrong with having oodles of them.

Metric #5: Social signals

You might have heard that the search engines are valuing “social signals” of late. It’s true.

Free tool: ShareTalley

This tool will give you a quick count of social mentions across a broad range of social sites. It does not look at the domain, just at individual pages.

What to look for:

First, I would look at the linking page to see what social profile it has. A good social profile will show mentions across several services. I have found that if a page is promoted in any of the big six social sites (Twitter, FaceBook, Google Plus, Pinterest, StumbleUpon and LinkedIn), it will naturally pick up mentions in other places, especially Delicious and Pocket. If there are 100 or more tweets and no mentions in any of the smaller services, that is a red flag that the page might have been promoted artificially, such as by buying tweets or FaceBook likes (not good).

Next, I would look at the home page and check its mentions. That can sometimes also give an idea of the website’s social profile. But be aware that a content page that is actually of interest to people might get shared more than a home page.

Happy linking

We come to the end of our fairy tale. This is where the prince and the princess kiss and ride off into the sunset. They can do this because the Penguin is off in the next county hunting down people who didn’t bring their eyeballs and their other tools with them.

* If this imagery reminds you of a certain Monty Python skit, I take no responsibility for the consequences.

Illustration credit: A big thank you to Aires C. Bautista.

 


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