David Leonhardt’s SEO and Social Media Marketing

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

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Five backlink metrics to elude the dreaded Penguin

Oct 04, 2013 - filed under linking 19 Comments
 

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

Sep 18, 2013 - filed under linking, SEO 9 Comments
 

I love new tools that make online marketing easier, and I have always been a fan of SEO.  So when Monitor Backlinks was released, of course I had to review it.

CAVEAT: I am not a fan of automation for content creation or for link-building, as I have often said.  But I am a great fan of automation for form filling and for research.  And this is all about putting research on Steroids.

This review will not be a step-by-step walk-through of the interface, nor a pros-and-cons type of review, for three reasons:

Monitor Backlinks Logo

  1. This tool is mostly self-evident and easy to use – I love it when that happens!
  2. There are already several reviews of this kind, such as here and  here and here - and I am sure many more will appear.
  3. These guys bend over backwards to help you figure it out (Hello Big Brands who don’t want to keep getting bashed on Twitter - are you paying attention?).  Here is a message I got from founder Razvan Girmacea when I signed up:

“Got any questions about our software? Want to get a second opinion on your SEO tactics? Just reply to this email.

“I like helping people to get the most out of Monitor Backlinks and I like talking to people interested in SEO in general.”

Instead of walking through the interface, let me run through seven juicy ways I have discovered this tool can be harnessed to boost your business, some of which you will find “du-uh” obvious, others of which you’ll find “Hey, that’s refreshing!”  (like cantaloupe with vanilla ice cream – go ahead and try it)

KEEPING LINK PARTNERS HONEST

This is not the most original or the most exciting way to use Monitor Backlinks, but it is the most obvious and the most traditional – plus it allows me to easily introduce how Monitor Backlinks works at the most basic level, so let’s start with it.

Monitor Backlinks 'SEO Auto Discover' feature

The “SEO Auto Discover” function tracks all your backlinks, which new ones you get and which old ones disappear.  So if a linking partner removes your link, you will be alerted in the change log.  Or if you choose to be alerted by email on your account page, you will receive an email alert.

Receive email notification of change of status

To be frank, keeping reciprocal linkers honest has never been a priority of mine, and I will not use it this way.  Most link partners are honest anyway, and a natural backlink profile does not include a high degree of reciprocation in backlinks…or in the timing of backlink removal.  But I know that some readers will want to keep track of this.

But it’s not just link partners you might want to monitor, as Razvan Girmacea pointed out when I interviewed him:

“Think how hard is to get a baklink and then think how easy is to inform a webmaster about a link with a problem (nofollow, 302 redirect, robots.txt blocked, removed because changed theme, meta noindex/nofolllow, server errors …). This is exactly why I’ve built Monitor Backlinks, to make sure you keep your current links when it’s possible.

“About 10 to 20% of the links that have problems can be recovered with a simple notice to the website owner.”

PENGUIN CLEAN-UP

I have been helping websites clean up their backlinks for a couple years, ever since Google’s bloodthirsty Penguin has been ravishing the Internet.  When a website gets the infamous “unnatural backlinks” letter from Google, it means not hours, but days of tedious work:

  • Tracking down backlinks
  • Deciding which ones to try to eliminate
  • Seeking webmaster contact info
  • Requesting link removal
  • Keeping track of which links are being removed
  • Re-contacting the webmaster
  • Disavowing links that do not get removed

Sorry, but Monitor Backlinks won’t do all this work for you.  But it will help you keep track, which can save you days of work.  To put this to use, you need to first create a list of all the backlinks you want removed, and load it up…

Import backlinks to monitor

I know that a Penguin Penalty and an “unnatural backlinks” letter are not the same thing, but there is a very strong correlation, probably in the vicinity of 95 percent.  And if you have been hit by Penguin and not “yet” received the dreaded letter, best to start cleaning up your backlinks quickly to avoid getting the letter.  It is my observation that this is a situation where an ounce of prevention can save you a pounding headache of cure.

RELATED ARTICLE: How Google interprets your backlinks

LOCAL SEO

Another innovative way to use Monitor Backlinks is to keep track of competitors.  I know I have always said to ignore what the competition is doing and just focus on being the best you can be, but there are some useful reasons to monitor competitor backlinks.

When a competitor wins a new backlink, it just might be from a website that you can also approach for a backlink.

When a competitor wins a new backlink, the linking website might not be one that will link to two competitors, but you might be able to look for a similar link from one of that website’s competitors.  For instance, a local bar might make a taxi company its “preferred supplier” and link to it.  Oh yeah?  Well, you can go out and get other bars to link to your taxi company website.

When a competitor gets a spammy link, you can see it right away.  And perhaps you will want to report it to somebody. I will warn you to be very careful about this.  Once you start a food fight on the Internet, it can get out of control.

This approach can be useful for any website, not just local SEO.  But it especially useful for local SEO where linking opportunities might be more limited and truly useful links should mostly come from local sources.

I contacted Gerald Weber, a friend who I knew was using this tool (see the “here” links above), and he told me: “My wife has recently launched a new phone screen repair business (www.houstoniphonescreenrepair.com) and with all of the craziness that has been going on in Google these days we want to know immediately if we get some weird or spammy looking links. It’s also extremely cool that we can always see when we are getting new and powerful links as well.”

A little bird told me that Monitor Backlinks might soon be adding a “local citation” feature, so you will know not only what sites link to your site, but what sites mention your company (and your competitors).  Here is a good post on the importance of citations to local SEO.  I am not sure how far advanced this is, as I have yet to come across any studies on local citation (please feel free to identify any in the comments below), but it appears to be something that has begun.  And, I might add, it is a good reason why your local website should be well optimized for your company name and area code.

NEGATIVE SEO

You might have heard a lot about negative SEO, especially now that Google will penguin-slap you for too many unnatural backlinks.

Many webmasters are afraid that a competitor will pay an offshore “link building” service to create 1000 forum backlinks and 1000 spammy, keyword-specific-anchor-text blog comments to their sites and get them in trouble.  The scary thing is that there is precious little that you can do about this.

But if you see them coming, which is where Monitor Backlinks comes in handy, you might be able to throw them all into a Disavow file with a note about being bombarded by negative SEO, and upload it to Google’s Disavow tool.  Will that protect you?  I don’t know.  But you will have a MUCH better case to make if you report the links proactively as soon as they appear than if you respond only after Google finds them.

For those who don’t think negative SEO is possible, I was a victim.  In my case, it was not a competitor who hit me, just some black hat SEO “genius” using my blog to try to boost rankings.  They posted spam comments here.  Those comments were never approved, but they still had specific URLs.  The spammer was linking from garbage websites using random images and anchor text to the exact URL of their comments, hoping to boost the SEO value of their comment links.  Although the comment-specific URLs never went live, the spam links still pointed to this domain.  Had I been monitoring those backlinks, I might have taken pre-emptive action to avoid the mess of a full-fledged backlinks clean-up.

JUICE UP YOUR CURRENT BACKLINKS

Monitor Backlinks gives some great analytics about each link.  Here is a partial slice from a few of my backlinks…

Monitor Backlinks data

What you see is the domain for each link, to and from.  You have to move your cursor over the domains to see the exact URL and click on that to open the link in a new window.  Then comes the MozRank of the domain.  Move your cursor over it and see the Page Authority.  Next comes the social sharing tally.  Move your cursor over that and view specific counts for Twitter, FaceBook, Google+, LinkedIn and Delicious.

What I cut off to keep the image manageable on this narrow blog space are:

Number of external links on each linking page, the tag representing the source of the data (in this case, all from the “autodiscover from Google Analytics” function), the button to edit the data, the current status of the link and the date the link was added to the Monitor Backlinks database.

So, how does this help me leverage my backlinks.  Well, in this example you see that I have some nice links from some authoritative websites.  That is good. But the pages themselves lack much authority, and no wonder when you look at the social sharing numbers.  So that tells me that I should social share some of those pages, where appropriate, and perhaps ask some friends to do so, too.

Or there might be opportunities to build in some links to those pages.  For instance, one is a company profile.  There might be a way to work that into a blog post or a forum post at some point. Or there might be a blog post mentioning your site that you were unaware of.  After reading the post, you might find that there is a follow-up that you can do to cement a relationship and maybe get mentioned in another way.  Or write a guest post for them…

NEW GUEST POSTING IDEAS

An even better way to find guest post opportunities is to keep an eye on where competitors are guest posting.  If a blog is keen to accept a guest post from one of your pet supply competitors, chances are good that they will be interested in a post from your pet supply website, too.

A quick check at the MozRank of the site and the amount of shares that your competitor’s guest post garners will give you ample data to decide if you want to approach the blogmaster to also contribute a guest post.

AS SEEN IN…

Oh, looky here…

As seen in Forbes

Maybe you will be so lucky as to see a link come in from Forbes or Inc. or CNN.  These are valuable for much more than SEO and a short burst of traffic.  Set up an “As seen on” graphic for your website to create amazing social proof that will impress visitors and help you increase sales.  Here is an example from my friends over at Client Attraction:

As Seen In logos

MORE IDEAS?

I am getting hungry (why did I have to mention cantaloupe and ice cream?), so that’s enough writing for now.  Feel free to suggest in the comments below other ideas for using Monitor Backlinks, or other features they could include so that it could be used in even more innovative ways.


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Why DIY videos are poised to take the marketing world by storm

Aug 29, 2013 - filed under marketing, video 3 Comments
 

I’ll be the first to admit that I prefer text over video for most things.  I can quickly scan text to see if I am interested.  Even if presented with a video, I prefer to skim the transcript before investing ten minutes – or even one minute – watching a video.

But the reality is that there are just as many people – perhaps even more – who find reading to be more work than watching a video.

And study after study shows that conversions rise with media variety.  So text is good.  Text and images are better.  Text, images and video are better still.

But video is costly and time-consuming to produce. Or is it?

DIY video to the rescue

The old-fashioned way of doing video was to hire a videographer – essentially film a movie, with all the multiple cameras and personnel and scripting and staging that is involved.  But in recent years, people have been producing their own videos online.

Still, these videos generally take time to produce, so automated solutions are becoming more and more common.  In fact, three new DIY video services have  been announced so far in 2013.  The most advanced of these by far is Tawki, which just launched its crowdfunding campaign on IndieGogo: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/new-fun-social-video-channel

Tawki: One Click, Animate

Fair disclosure: I am a partner in the Tawki project, and very excited to be pushing technology in two unique ways.

The first way that Tawki is pushing the envelope is one that relates directly to the focus of this article.  Namely, that by making DIY video creation even simpler and faster and less work, it will become an increasingly integral part of marketing campaigns even at the low end of the marketing spectrum.

Consider the renovations contractor at the end of a job (or picture any other small business you know ).  He goes to Tawki and uploads a series of snapshots he took during the job, adds a couple keywords and hits “Mix!”  Instantly, the Tawki mixer algorithm goes to work.  By the time he returns from the washroom, he has a complete professional video with transitions and appropriate music on his desktop.

He can add his website URL, company name, phone number – whatever he wishes – and with a click of a button share it on social media accounts or upload to his website.

Or, to really stand out from the crowd, one more click can add animation – but that’s another exciting story for another blog post.  ;-)

DIY video for bloggers

Adding video to blogs - quoteBloggers, pay attention.  You know how much more effective your posts are with images, right?  And finding good images you can legally use is a time-consuming pain right?  So video surely must take longer, right?

Wrong.

Let’s say you run a renovations blog, just to keep to the same theme as earlier.  You go to Tawki with no photos in hand, no video clips, nothing but keywords.  You punch in those keywords: granite, kitchen counters, sink, faucet,… then one click and when you return from the washroom, you have a complete professional video with transitions and appropriate music on your desktop.

Adding video to your blog, your online store, your marketing emails, your social media campaigns has just become quicker and easier than adding images.  That is a watershed that will vastly change the nature of marketing over the next couple years.

Tawki is not the only player that will make this happen.  Several others are making it pretty easy, but none of them have quite as simple a one-click environment as Tawki.  We know that if we want to jump into a hot niche like DIY videos, we had better offer something that leaves the others in the dust.

I invite you to join Tawki on IndieGogo and help us make digital history. Yes, even a small donation helps in a big way!  Here are three of the easier-to-afford perks we are offering.  Just click on any one to join this campaign.


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Free SEO advice (for what it’s worth)

Jun 20, 2013 - filed under SEO 11 Comments
 

They save that advice is free, but they also say that advice is worth only what you pay for it.  I suppose both statements are true, and if you add on an even more famous saying – caveat emptor – you should be free to listen even to free advice without needless panic.

I put together this little poster…

The main purpose of the poster was to rectify some serious violations of the telephone pole nudity prohibition bylaws in my town.  (If you see any nude telephone poles in your town, feel free to post this poster on them, too.)

 Must Read: Top SEO Tips

But since we have the poster now, let’s look at what free SEO advice it offers.

If you’re doing it just for the search engines…stop!

Basically, build your site for your target market.  Build links for your target market.  Social share for your target market.  It’s OK to give a thought to the search engines, but your main focus should be on your target market: your readers, your customers, your brand advocates, your early adaptors, your co-conspirators, etc.

Lately Google has been telling people to add and remove links based on what its algorithm wants to see.  This will ultimately make the Web a worse place.  Try to ignore the search engines as much as you can afford to.  It might put the headache medicine manufacturers out of business, but all good things come with collateral damage, right?

Variety is the spice of life and of search engine rankings.

OK, if you must pay attention to the search engines, here is a pretty good rule of thumb.  If you have several sitewide links on huge sites, that is not a lot of variety.  If all your inbound links say “steampunk pajamas”, that’s not much variety (and possibly not very comfortable, either!).  If all your inbound links come from press release sites, that’s not much variety. If all your inbound links come from a few identical articles or press releases syndicated to hundreds of domains, that’s not much variety.

Don’t ask me how much variety you need.  The answer is simply “more.”

You can’t orchestrate a natural link profile.

So don’t try.  The one thing that computers do infinitely better than us humans, is they find patterns quickly.  Try to orchestrate an organic link profile, and the search engines will discover the pattern of an orchestrated organic link profile – which is probably more incriminating than just an orchestrated link profile.  Do you prefer Google to call you a cheat, or a cheat and a liar both?

Think about the words your audience responds to.  That is what keywords are.  Use them.

People search with the words they use. If you use those words as makes sense to do on the pages of your website, the search engines will know to serve up your pages to searchers.  There, now – I have just saved you the expense of subscribing to a keyword research tool.

Google isn’t half as dumb as you think it is.

Please re-read “You can’t orchestrate a natural link profile.”

Do something worthy  of mention in the New York Times.

Want coverage in the New York Times?  And in other newspapers and their websites?  And radio stations?  And blogs?  Then do something worthy of it.  Make some news!

Don’t believe half  of what you read  on the Internet.   

I read this line on the Internet. It was attributed to Abe Lincoln.  ‘nough said.*

There is no such thing  as the Tooth Fairy or keyword density.

Please re-read “Think about the words your audience responds to.  That is what keywords are.  Use them.”  Yes, if you use those words in your text so that it makes sense… OK, why not also re-read “If you’re doing it just for the search engines…stop!” while you’re at it.

The Internet is a cocktail reception. Act accordingly.     

Forget that you are sitting in front of a PC or an iPad.  You are in a large room, filled with millions of people.  Some are possibly even customers, but most are other business folks and media folks and would-be-celebrity-expert folks.  They all have followings, communications channels, etc.  You want them talking about your brand, your website, your products, your services, whatever.

What’s the first thing you do?

You start pitching your company and handing out business cards and…  Hey, where did everybody go?

I guess you’ve never been to a cocktail reception.  The first thing you do is size up the room, see how people are dressed, listen to how people speak, get a sense of what is considered acceptable(which will vary from blog to blog, from social site to social site, from Skype group to Skype group – so pay attention) and what kind of talk might be considered overly self-promotional or even “spam”.

Then, start to give.  Offer to help.  Suggest getting in touch later.  You get the idea.  Do that on Twitter and FaceBook and in blog comments and before long people will also be giving.  To you.

Link to this poster.   It will bring you good karma.

Yup.  When you read something really good (Oops, I guess I am being presumptuous.), share it.  That’s what this cocktail reception is all about, isn’t it?

So that’s my free advice for the day.  Free SEO advice.  Free business advice.  Take from it what you can use and leave the rest for next person foolish enough to follow free advice.

*  I told you advice is worth only what you pay for it.


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Do as Google says and get penalized

Apr 23, 2013 - filed under Google, SEO 24 Comments
 

Over the years, Google has been telling webmasters to avoid manipulating their content and links to try to gain higher rankings. The advice has usually been along the lines of, “Do what is good for your readers.” In other words, we should ask ourselves, “Would I do this if Google did not exist?”

Of course, spamming has worked, at least in the short term. That is why people have continued to do it. And Google has waged a guerrilla warfare with spammers over the years.

But people could always get ahead as long as they made it look like they were doing things just for their readers. In other words, as long as it looked natural, and not automated.

  • If they were careful to vary the link text.
  • If they were careful not to have a thousand identical articles with the same resource box.
  • If they avoided link-exchange scripts.
  • If their content was “technically” unique (not the same content with just a couple words changed or synonyms substituted).

All that changed in what I call Google’s “Zoo Period“. Google unleashed pandas and penguins on the world, two black and white animals we usually associate with the words “cute” and “cuddly”.  But Google’s penguins and pandas are anything but cute and cuddly.

These two algorithms are delivering a hard strike at spammers.  The problem that everybody notices, however, is so much collateral damage of innocent websites and in particular that the small guy seems to be hit more than the big brands.

The problem that few people are talking about openly  is…

Webmasters are doing stupid things to please Google

Google’s advice that we should be creating web content for our readers, not for Google, is wise – at least in theory.

The problem is, that Google is now penalizing those very activities that we should be doing to make great websites for our readers.  Here are a few examples that I have noticed.

Content stuffing

Once upon a time, keyword stuffing was a big problem.  This was when people would just cram their keywords into their pages at an unnatural rate in order to gain an advantage in the search engines.  It made for hard-to-read pages.  People don’t do this too much any more; it no longer is considered effective.

Instead, they do content stuffing.

It seems that early results show that “thin content” (not many words on a page) can get a page into trouble with Google.  Worse still, several pages of “thin content” have been shown to drag down an entire domain. So webmasters and bloggers are rushing out in droves to beef up thin content pages, which typically would be any image-heavy page or blog posts with fewer than 100 or 200 words.  On one of my blogs, I have deleted a lot of old posts that were incredibly small.  Those posts were small for a reason, but they are gone now.  Others I have beefed up.

The problem that any writer worth her salt will immediately recognize, is that you cannot equate quality with word count.  In fact, a good writer seeks to streamline her content and use only those words that are absolutely necessary to convey the message.

“Brevity is the soul of wit.” So says William Shakespeare.

“It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book.” So says Friedrich Nietzsche

“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” So says Thomas Jefferson

“Stuff it!” So says Google?

 

So the Internet is being again polluted by low-quality content, just to keep it all above Google’s word-count penalty threshhold.  Will this finally be the end of all those Wordless Wednesday blog posts?  Will I have to add a whole lot of extra verbiage to posts like this, where the video pretty much says it all?  Or to posts like this where a picture is worth a thousand words (if only Google could read pictures)?

Retired shotguns

In any marketing campaign, you have three choices.

1. You can use the rifle or sniper approach, narrowly defining your target audience and delivering a message directly to them, for their eyes only.  If your market is very small and very well-defined, such as if you manufacture street signs or oxygen dispensers for hospitals, this is usually the best choice.

2. You can use the shotgun approach, spreading your message as far and wide as possible hoping to reach the largest possible market.  This is ideal if you are selling a consumer product that appeals to a wide section of the population, particularly if it has appeal across all ages, genders and income levels.

3. You can use some combination of the rifle and the shotgun.

Once upon a time, before Google was a household name, people used to do article marketing that encouraged syndication.  The idea was the more websites published your article, the more people would see it and the more potential visitors you would get.

If you could blast your article to 1000 websites for the same amount of effort as to one or two websites, who cares if nobody saw the article on half the websites.  What counted is that some people saw it on some of the websites some of the time.  If the article was rubbish, it was just web pollution.  If the article was riveting, the shotgun would pull in traffic.

If you’ve been around long enough, you might recall ads to “post your ad on 1000 websites”.  Again, the shotgun approach.  You have no idea which of those websites are actually worth posting on.  Maybe 10 of them will bring you traffic.  But if the cost is $25 and you end up making more than that from just one of the sites, already you have positive ROI.  This has nothing to do with search engines, by the way.  And this would never have made you rich.  But it is/was a legitimate part of a shotgun approach to marketing.

You can’t do that anymore.

No more syndication

Even before the Penguin, people were panicking over “duplicate” content and “spinning” their articles so that each instance of the article would be “unique”, at least in the sequence of words it would use.

But now, the matter of spinning versus duplicate content is a moot point.  Now the Penguin will bite you for all the low-quality websites linking back to your website.

Google has plugged the shotgun, so that now it backfires and injures webmasters!

What a mess!

The problem is that if you have an amazing article, it makes perfect sense to get it syndicated as widely as possible.  If posting it to one article directory brings in five great leads and posting it to another brings in three great leads, good business sense dictates that you should syndicate it as far and wide as possible.  You want to include instructions on your site saying, “Please copy my articles, with attribution and a link.”

The problem is that Google will get you for the duplicate content.

Then the Penguin will stomp all over you for the poor quality links.

Verbose blog comments

What’s next?  Already I am hearing the chatter about blog comments.  People are asking whether we have to make sure our comments are long enough?  I know that a lot of spam comments are short: “Nice site”.  But other spam comments are long-winded, such as this drivel I just pulled from the moderation queue:

“I actually wanted to type a brief word so as to express gratitude to you for some of the pleasant guidelines you are writing at this website. My extended internet look up has finally been rewarded with wonderful tips to go over with my guests. I ‘d assume that most of us visitors are unequivocally blessed to dwell in a very good place with so many perfect individuals with helpful secrets. I feel very much privileged to have encountered your entire web site and look forward to some more cool times reading here. Thanks once more for everything.”

When I leave comments, sometimes I am long-winded.  And sometimes I am short-winded.  Here are three examples I left on three different posts of the same blog, over time.

 

 

 

How long a comment depends on how complex a remark one wants to leave.  It is not a sign of quality but of complexity.  Hopefully this will never be a concern, but if current trends continue, it won’t be long before the next black and white animal comes charging out of the Googleplex to cause mayhem on the Internet.

 


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How Google reads your backlinks

Apr 11, 2013 - filed under Google, linking 11 Comments
 

People spend a lot of time scratching their heads, trying to understand how Google reads their backlinks.  They want to know what links they should seek to their websites that are still “safe”.

With all the turmoil over unnatural links and Penguin penalties over the past year or two, ever more people are sorting through their backlink profiles trying to understand which links to keep and which to try to cull.  What confuses many people the most is why some links would be valued over others.  “Why doesn’t Google like the links I worked so hard to build?”

The problem is that people are used to assuming that:

  • Every link is good.
  • High PageRank is what counts the most
  • Automation is good, because more is better.

These are wrong assumptions.  Remember that Google looks at each link to your website as a vote of confidence or a recommendation.  And not all recommendations are of equal value.  For instance, suppose you need headache medication…

 

Add the Infographic above to your site!

 

If one person recommends a headache medication, you might be inclined to try it. But if several people recommend a different headache medication…yes, exactly.  More is better.

But wait!  What if a doctor recommends a different headache medication.  Yup, authority trumps quantity.  And if several doctors recommend a completely different headache medication…exactly!  More is better, after all, especially when it comes with authority.

Now, what if the drug pusher around the corner offers his recommendation?  No thanks.  But what if a dozen drug pushers all recommend the same headache medication?  Of course you’ll take their advice, because more is better, right?

No way!

And Google is at least as smart as you are.  If hundreds of spammy sites link to your website, that is not a better recommendation than if one spammy website links to yours.  The more “drug pusher” websites recommend your website, the more likely Google is to label your website…

So, just as you would not want a throng of drug pushers recommending your product, make sure there is no throng of spammy websites recommending your website. Google will see more value in your website if inbound links come from trusted or – even better – highly trusted sources.


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“There can be only one” Highlander and SEO

Apr 05, 2013 - filed under marketing, rankings, SEO 1 Comment
 

I’ve written about how content marketing is cooperative. I’ve written about blogger collaboration and why it’s important to partner with fellow web marketers.

But there is one part of web marketing that is pure bloodsport: SEO. Ranking is search engines is a cut-throat fight to the death. So draw your sword and prepare for battle.

It’s just like the 1986 classic movie, Highlander. Just like immortal swordsmen, walking the earth, we all meet at the Gathering of the search results page. Hundreds of millions of times each day, Google is showing top 10 lists. And there’s only one spot at the top of Google for a given phrase. There can be only one…

Ranking high matters. A lot…

There’s more to life than marketing and more to marketing than search, but ranking high makes a big difference. just ask anyone who has ranked low and climbed or ranked high and fallen.

The top ranked site gets a lot more traffic than number two, and number two gets a lot more than number three. The correlation between rank and clicks is logarithmic. In other words, high ranking pages get exponentially more traffic than lower ranking pages.

Yes, before you decapitate me in the comments, I’ll agree that there are many other factors in clickthrough rates on search results pages, such as branding, relevance, rich snippets and Google Authorship. But generally speaking, higher rank means more clicks.

Source: Optify

Here are some tips that Ramirez might have taught Conner McCleod had they been search marketers:

  • Pick your battles. Don’t rush out and pick a fight with the Kurgen right away. Work your way up through smaller battles and less competitive keyphrases. It would be wonderful to rank for that high volume phrase, but the competition would skewer you.
  • Don’t get too attached. She might be pretty, but you shouldn’t get too hooked on one phrase, one social network, one tracking tool, one writer, one partner site. Someday you’ll have to say goodbye.
  • Never give up. Even if you’re not immortal, you need to be patient. Ranking high for a good phrase can be the work of years. But keep fighting. Trust, with search engines and humans, takes time to build.

Finally, here’s a top-rank tip that everyone can use:

Make sure you rank #1 for something…
Even if it’s a low-volume keyphrase that doesn’t drive much traffic, even if it’s a four-word phrase that people rarely search for, it’s good to rank first for something. It builds credibility off-line when you tell people you rank first in Google for “samurai sword identification expert.”

This is about thought leadership and personal branding. To make it work, focus efforts on one page with a highly relevant (but low search volume) phrase. Pay close attention to keyword researchand on-page SEO. If the phrase isn’t competitive, you’ll soon see yourself at the top of search results. If you add the two links that make Google Authorship possible, you’ll see your face right there in search results.

Now, when you talk about your business, use the phrase, smile and suggest that the listener search for it.

Ramirez: Patience, Highlander. You have done well. But it’ll take time. You are generations being born and dying. You are at one with all living things. Each man’s thoughts and dreams are yours to know. You have power beyond imagination. Use it well, my friend.

See you at the Gathering…

This post is the third in series of movie-themed web marketing posts. Check out Die Hard SEO and Coffee is for Bloggers.


 

Guest blogger Andy Crestodina is the Strategic Director of Orbit Media, a web design company in Chicago. He’s also the author of Content Chemistry, An Illustrated Guide to Content Marketing You can find Andy on and Twitter.


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Free Blog Planner to make blogging easier

Feb 11, 2013 - filed under marketing 12 Comments
 

This is a guest post by Sicorra of Tackling Our Debt.

It is has been 2 months since I created this Blog Planner on Excel and it has made a huge difference to the way I do things when it comes to working on Tackling Our Debt.

I created this blog planner on the spur of the moment. I was tired of having post-it notes all over my desk to remind me about things, as well as other notes randomly thrown into a spreadsheet.

Prior to using the Blog Planner I would stumble through each day doing what I thought I needed to do but never really having a specific plan of what needed to be done to achieve my ultimate goals.

Daily Checklist

Now the first thing I do after logging on to my laptop is open my copy of the Blog Planner and head straight to the Daily Checklist page.

Each week of the year is setup so that I can see the exact tasks that need to be done on a day by day basis. The task list reminds me to do everything I need to do when publishing a new blog post.

Below that is a section of reminders for blog hopping, social media and dealing with emails.

There may be days in the week that I don’t publish a new post but I still follow the task list to do all of the other things necessary to network with others and to market my blog.

Weekly-To-Do-List

Once all of the tasks on the daily checklist are done it is easy to move on and see what else is scheduled to be done that day. The weekly-to-do-list makes this part quite easy. If it’s on the list for that particular day, then it needs to get done. If it isn’t, then I don’t even worry about it.

Now that doesn’t mean that everything always goes as planned and that every single task gets done on time, but now at least I have a clear indication of what did and didn’t get done each day.

For the tasks that didn’t get done I can easily use the weekly calendar to quickly find another free day to reschedule those tasks on.

But the bigger advantage is the sense of accomplishment you feel when you are able to check off all of the tasks that did in fact get done each day and each week.

That is a big part of what motivates me to keep going. The second part of what keeps me motivated to keep going is the amazing results. Sometimes they are instant and sometimes they appear months down the road. But they are always very important.

Editorial Calendar

I know many people use a hand written Editorial Calendar or one that they find in WordPress.

My blog isn’t on WordPress so I didn’t have that.

So for most of last year I was just writing blog posts and publishing them with no specific plan. I still managed to get posts uploaded for up to 2 sometimes 3 weeks in advance, which was nice, but there was no plan around any of them.

Now, using the Editorial Calendar, I can add in topics of posts, specific titles, giveaways, sponsored posts, and so on, weeks and months in advance. And if something changes at the last minute I can easily re-arrange my schedule to fit the changes in nicely.

Another advantage of using the Editorial Calendar is that if you decide to write a series of posts on a specific topic you can easily setup your schedule for that and fit in your other posts accordingly.

You can create blog posts based on specific themes. This is best done if you setup your schedule for several months in advance. For example, you can use it to create a weekly or monthly theme, such as small business week, or work from home week. And then all of the posts that you write on that topic can be published and post-dated for that week or month.

Importance of SEO

If you are in this for the long haul and enjoy watching your traffic stats rise then you need to begin paying attention to SEO as you work on your blog. Why? Because of the residual benefits.

You see many people will visit your blog and read the most current post and typically leave without looking at what else you have written.

But you don’t want that to always be the case.

You want the blog posts that you write today to be found online tomorrow, next week and for many years to come, should you continue to blog that long.

You want the search engines to index your blog posts and you want your blog posts to show up when someone searches for something that you have written about.

This is often referred to as “organic traffic”, and when you look at your Google Analytics under traffic sources you should see a line with that says “google / organic”.

Organic traffic is the best traffic you can receive!

It happens because your blog posts were found by someone that was specifically looking for a topic that you wrote about. And chances are very good that once they click on your link, in amongst all of the other links listed, they will have a strong interest in reading your work.

How Does SEO Fit In With The Blog Planner?

As you begin jotting down your thoughts for a new post or series of posts in the Editorial Calendar you want to make sure that each post is based around a specific keyword phrase.

Once your post is written the next step is to come up with an attention grabbing title that includes your keywords.

Your title shouldn’t include more than 10 words and it should give people a reason to click on it.

Instead of your title just meaning something to you, it needs to mean something to everyone else.

For example, “Save Money”, is far too generic, as is “Blogger Roundup”.

“25 Incredible Ways to Immediately Reduce Your Living Expenses”, will attract more readers.

As well, by focusing on the keyword phrase “reduce your living expenses” in your blog post you stand a much better chance of showing up in Google when someone does a search on that phrase. You may have an SEO plug-in installed that you can use as you publish new posts, but do not rely on that 100%. Take some time to do a few extra steps as part of your SEO strategy for every blog post you publish.

Now we all know that there is more to SEO then a good title and a specific keyword phrase, but focusing on those two items is a very good start.

Download the Blog Planner

If you love blogging and feel that you could be more organized then you already are, please feel free to click on Blog Planner and download a copy of my digital based Blog Planner and get it setup to meet your needs. You will find that it also includes separate pages for you to keep track of your blog stats, conferences, renewal dates, a contact list, blog expenses, advertisers, interviews, special projects and giveaways.

Sicorra is a freelance writer that is figuring out how to tackle debt as she blogs about topics such as Personal Finance, Health, Travel, Work From Home, Food & Drink, and more. You can also find her at her personal blog Tackling Our Debt.

 

 


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REVIEW: Comparing MORE Social-sharing Co-op Services

Feb 07, 2013 - filed under marketing, Twitter 4 Comments
 

A few weeks ago, I reviewed three social sharing websites, all three of which revolved around building more tweets for your content.

Today, I am reviewing a few more.  All of these have value, but it greatly depends on what you plan to promote.

Triberr

Social Buzz Club

You Like Hits

ReTweet It

 

I had not reviewed Triberr earlier, because it lacks flexibility.  You cannot post any link or any tweet for sharing.  You can submit up to three blog feeds.  That’s it.  If you guest post or if you put something on YouTube or on Tumbr, there is no way to ask people to share it.  And if you don’t really want one of your posts shared (suppose it is just administrative), there is no way to hold it back.

I have changed my mind; these limitations do not mean that it should not be reviewed, especially since so many people use it.

The best aspect of Triberr is that it functions automatically, feeding your blog posts to your tribe members.  If all you want to promote are your own blog posts, then this is an easy addition to your arsenal.  But keep in mind that you still have to visit now and then to share your tribemates’ posts.

Tribemates?  Yes, Triberr is divided into tribes of ten.  So the only items you will see for review are the other nine people’s posts.  You can be in multiple tribes, and therefore see more than nine posts, but still you are limited in content to the members of those tribes.

Your posts and theirs will show up in a stream something like this:

I do participate, but I have found that I share much more than my content is shared.  There is no really tally of credits, as there are at the three services I reviewed earlier.

As for the quality of the content and the quality of the accounts that would share your content, that is totally determined by who is in your tribe.  There are a few trigger words that will remove your posts from being retweeted through Triberr – but those posts will still show up, so tribemates can still view them and RT directly from the page.

Although every bit as Twitter-centric as the three services I reviewed earlier, Triberr also includes FaceBook, StumbleUpon, LinkedIn and Google Plus.

Social Buzz Club is similar in quality to Viral Content Buzz (reviewed earlier); you have to get approved to participate.  So the content tends to be high quality and the sharers tend to share from high quality accounts.  This is not the place to post eCommerce links and marketing offers.

The tabulation of points is a little strange.  You get a point every time you share someone else’s post, and you spend a point every time you post a link to be shared – whether that link gets shared 100 times or never.  Like with Triberr, I find myself sharing a lot more than getting shared.

There is a FaceBook support group, which is a very helpful and convenient way to have an instant social-sharing mastermind  group.

Social Buzz Club covers Twitter, FaceBook shares, LinkedIn and StumbleUpon.  Twitter-centric to some degree, but perhaps less so than those previously mentioned.

What I would like to see is a much easier way to see who is sharing my content, what is being shared and where it is being shared.  I find I have to dig to find this information and it is not all totally clear.  It would be even better if the credit system compared shares to shares, rather than shares to posts.

Overall, I do not find I get a lot of buzz from Social Buzz Club, although the quality is good.

You Like Hits is different than the other services reviewed today and a few weeks ago primarily in the plethora of sharing options.  This service is much less Twitter-based than the others, although the Twitter options are more varied: tweets, favourites, retweets and follows.

Unlike most of the others, FaceBook is missing.  But Google Plus and StumbleUpon are both included – not for sharing or liking, but for following.

The quality varies, with some highly-informative posts and some highly spammy posts. Where You Like Hits really excels, regardless of quality, is for visual and audio content.  It offers YouTube views, likes and subscribers.  It offers Pinterest likes, pins, repins and followers.  And it offers followers for Instagram, ReverbNation and SoundCloud.

Yes, if you have music to promote or eCommerce products with pics or with related videos, this platform gives you plenty of promotion options.

One really cool thing about You Like Hits is that they give you ten free points just for showing up each day.  Every 24-hour period you can claim 10 points with two clicks.  It is their incentive for you not to slack off.

If nothing else, this can easily build your Twitter follower base.  Although not the most targeted followers, they are for the most part at least real (unlike those buy-100-followers services) and tend to be useful if your target audience is composed of either marketers, the general populace or people interested in music.

Some of the code on the site is buggy.  When I “click here to load more”, it never does.  And very often when you click on an item to view, you discover that it has run out of points.

I do like the running chart of my shares, so I can see exactly what has been shared, where, by whom.

By appearances, Retweet.It is the smallest of the services I have reviewed so far.  That is to say, it appears to have the fewest users and the fewest options for content to tweet.

It is most similar to EasyRetweet in three ways:

  • It focuses solely on Twitter.  You cannot earn FaceBook, StumbleUpon or Google Plus support through Retweet.It.
  • You earn only half the points that you spend.  So if you want your content to be shared 10 times, you have to share 20 pieces of content in order to earn enough credits.  Why do these two services make you work doubly hard to share your content?  I assume that it is to make credits scarce and force users to purchase credits.
  • The ratio of spam to quality content is low.  In fact, the lowest of any of the services I have so far reviewed, even lower than EasyRetweet.  Perhaps this is because so much of it is purchased.  More often than not, I cannot find any new content good enough to tweet.

It seems to me that there is a vicious circle going on here…

  1. Credits are kept scarce.
  2. People are forced to buy credits.
  3. Purchased credits tend to be for spammy tweets.
  4. Therefore, there is very little worthwhile content to share.
  5. With little to share, it’s hard to earn credits.
  6. Credits become even scarcer.  The downward spiral continues.

But there is another way in which Retweet.It is similar to EasyRetweet.  If you want tweets for an eCommerce page or a landing page, these are the places to go.  Nobody will call you out for spamming or for low quality.  Sales pages are not allowed on JustRetweet or on ViralContentBuzz, and you cannot get them on Triberr.  So there is a place for Retweet.It in the Internet marketing ecosystem.

 

 

 

 

 


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Does Google think it’s God?

Dec 13, 2012 - filed under Google, SEO 12 Comments
 

Something occurred to me as I sat in church the other day.  For those readers who worship in synagogues or mosques or some other temple, I suspect you will relate to this just as well.

I was watching people enter and file into their pews.  I was noticing how well they were dressed.  Most people dress up to go to church.

They will tend to wear better clothes than for a day around the house or even to go shopping.

They will make sure their hair is just right, almost as if preparing for a date.

They tend to shave just before the service.

Looks are important.  Outward appearance is important.  This might be to honor God, but of course it is not for God’s sake that we do this.  We do this for each other and for ourselves.  People dress well for people.

When God looks at us, it is not through ocular vision.  If God notes our color coordination, it is not on that basis that we are judged. (at least, I hope not, or I am in deep, deep trouble!).

If God notes our hair to be clean or greasy, it is not on that basis that we are judged.

If God notes that we have shaved or failed to do so, it is not on that basis that we are judged.

Nice people can look scruffy.  Evil villains can look sharp.  God looks past the external looks. He ignores the hair, the clothes, the cologne.  He sees what we are really made of.

What does this have to do with Google?

What does all this have to do with Google?  Well, many people do grumble that Google has a God complex, that it is so powerful that one wave of its hand can smote a business.  And to a great degree, that is true.

Is Google God?

But sitting in church, it occurred to me that Google plays God in another way, too.  Google looks at your website on the Internet that same way as God looks at you in church (or anywhere else, for that matter).

Google might note that your website has a flash presentation, but no matter how fancy it is, it is not on that basis that your website is judged.

Google might note that your website has several images, but no matter how elaborate they are, it is not on that basis that your website is judged.

Great websites can look boring, even amateurish.  Trashy splogs can be dressed up fancy.  Google looks past the visual. Google ignores images and layout for the most part.  Google sees what our websites are really made of – the code, the content, the information.

The Google Sermon

You don’t need me to tell you that you should be a good person – patient, generous, forgiving, nice to other people, to animals and to the planet.  I don’t need to repeat the Sermon on the Mount

It is fine to dress up nicely.  Nothing wrong with that, so long as we make sure our inside is nice, that what really counts is attended to.

It is equally fine to dress up our websites nicely.  Pay attention to white space, to fonts, to images, to layout.  Make the site look pretty, professional, inviting.

Nothing wrong with that, so long as we make sure what is behind the external image is nice.  That the code is clean.  That the structure makes sense to Google and other search engines.  That the information is all there, easy to find, easy to understand.  That there is plenty of content, on-topic, not playing with hidden text or keyword stuffing or any of those unforgivable sins of SEO.

Of course, Google is not God.  But clearly Google is trying to emulate God.  So make sure that your website is emulating the faithful worshipper.

Now let us take a moment to pray for those websites that have fallen from grace…

 


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