Why SEO Agencies Do Great Digital PR

There was a time, not too long ago, when SEO performance could be driven by a handful of technical experts and a budget for purchasing links. Over the years this has been killed off and SEO agencies have had to adapt in order to deliver SEO performance.

Links have always been a major ranking signal, and still are, albeit they share the space with a few other well-known ranking factors. SEO agencies now have to be able to deliver links without a link broker, without relying on article directories, paid blog posts and forum dropping etc… Google’s recent action against link spam has meant everyone has had to clean up their acts.

Most forward thinking agencies saw this coming and as such have adapted over time, in most cases very successfully.

Change in Recruitment Strategy

We decided way back in 2010 to change our recruitment method, up until that time there had been a heavy focus on technical and analytical skills, of course these skills are still very much needed, but for link acquisition we knew we needed to start looking for individuals who were skilled at forming relationships and who understood what publishers wanted to cover.

As such we began to build out our Digital PR and Social department, taking on graduates and executives with marketing, PR and communications backgrounds. This new recruitment strategy brought its fair share of challenges, not just in terms of how we delivered links but also with the dynamics of the agency.

Our Digital PR department is now 15 people strong, and in my bias opinion the best in the country at driving high quality links, coverage, traffic and revenue for our clients.


SEO agencies are perfectly positioned to adopt social and PR campaigns into the work they do, particularly campaigns that revolve around digital.

Firstly, SEO agencies understand the value of links; they know which websites are more beneficial in order to improve SEO performance and as such can use this knowledge to shortlist publications and journalists.

Secondly, because of this understanding, they also know which websites to stay away from, or which pieces of coverage could be potentially harmful from an SEO point of view. Very often clients will issue press releases, or come to an arrangement with an online publisher with regards to a piece of content they are willing to publish. Unbeknown to the client the site may be actively selling links, or have been blacklisted for other activity that goes against Google’s guidelines. If an SEO agency has visibility on these placements, they can make some simple suggestions to ensure there aren’t any issues caused through the coverage or links. This could include making the link no followed, adding the domain to the disavow tool or in some cases asking for it to be removed.

Thirdly, a lot of good SEO agencies have been creating digital content for a long time, we have had to understand what content is likely to go viral and what media works on different social networks and platforms. Not only do we know this, but we can create it too! Again most good SEO agencies already have the internal capability to create awesome content, and as UX, personalisation and content marketing become more important, these capabilities are only going to increase over the years. We don’t need to outsource this kind of work; we have been creating it for years, often outsourced to us by traditional PR and Media agencies.

Once you take all this knowledge and capability, and layer it with a communications team who understand what type of content and data gets coverage, not only that, but are capable of developing the right relationships; then you have a team ready to drive links, engagement, coverage, traffic and revenue for your clients.

Where are the Lines Drawn?

There are of course differences in all the disciplines; SEO, PR and Content Marketing are about more than simply getting coverage, on the PR side there are reputation and crisis management activities, audience engagement and advocacy on the content marketing side, and of course SEO involves just about every digital discipline out there.

However, if your aim is to get coverage and be seen online by your target audience, then I can’t see a better option than a good SEO and/or digital marketing agency. Getting coverage that incorporates skills from all of the disciplines allows you to gain coverage and exposure that drives traffic, visibility and revenue.

I was going to write another section at the bottom covering a real example of what could be achieved by combining your SEO, Content Marketing and PR capabilities, however it makes sense for me to just link out so you can go take a look yourselves.

Brits, Boobs & Botox

A simple map using enquiry data to inform users about cosmetic surgery trends and hotspots.

Debt Map

A similar concept displaying debt assessments across the UK.

How Well Do You Know Your Team

Some gamification allowing fans to show off how knowledgeable they are about their respective teams.

All the above campaigns drove links, shares, and revenue directly to the sites in question.

If you want your coverage to give you a tangible ROI, then you have to work with an agency who are capable of delivering not only great placements, but also great content and SEO value.

What Does The Future Look Like?

I think the key to doing excellent PR, SEO, Content Marketing or any other form of digital marketing is collaboration. If you don’t enrol broader skills you will find yourself delivering campaigns that are not even half as effective as they could be, and won’t deliver against your client’s expectations. Collaboration is the future both client and agency side.

Yes SEOwizz still exists

I admit, it has been a while, in fact over the course of 2014 I only posted twice on the blog, which is ironic considering I had access to more insight than ever before. The truth is I really struggled to find the time, and SEOwizz has been penalised by Google for the last 3 years so there has been no search benefit to anything I have been writing.

Over the past 18 – 24 months Branded3 has seen significant growth, and managing the demands of a growing business has meant my priorities had to change, however I have always planned on coming back to the blog and sharing some of the insight I now have access to, as well as thoughts and opinions on search and the wider digital marketing landscape.

Truth is, since I started SEOwizz back in 2008/9 the landscape has changed, massively, and as the landscape has matured so has my outlook. There are so many posts on this blog alone that are simply out of date and need to be refreshed, SEO is now so much bigger than keywords and links, they’re both still there, and important, but in isolation they’re pretty worthless.

When I started SEOwizz I wanted to focus on what really worked, not what the ideal was, not whitehat/blackhat/greyhat but what really drove results, what signals worked and how to influence them. Because of this I had no interest in ‘real’ marketing, just manipulating well known signals and teaching others how they could do it too. The reason for this was due to the fact that there was so much information out there, some of it was completely wrong and some of it sounded great but didn’t work. I wanted to focus only on what worked, regardless of which discipline it fell into.

So, where are we now?

Well, everything has changed, multiple penalties, algorithm changes and devaluing of historic signals has completely changed the landscape, Google is no longer a place where building a real business can revolve around a handful of tactics. Yes, if you have no long term aspirations for your website, go ahead and game Google, you will win for a while but eventually your site will get burnt. If you’re looking to build a brand this is not a great strategy.

I still want to focus this blog on what works, but what works for businesses that are interested in building their brand, that are looking for longevity; so moving forward that’s what will be happening.

Just by way of an update, I have had my own run in with Google:

SEOwizz Visibility

Only now, nearly 3 years after the original penalty is SEOwizz starting to recover. That’s despite a successful reconsideration, cleaning up content and having some very strong links (check the profile out).

Moving Forward

Helping to grow Branded3 over the past 5 years has been awesome, starting off in a business of 8 people and seeing it grow to 80 really has been a privilege, and there is a lot more to come.

It has given me lots of experience in broader digital marketing, understanding commercial pressures and discovering new signals and areas of importance to drive search performance.

We have invested in technology that allows us to see algorithm changes as they happen, understanding the impact on multiple industries and quickly been able to identify the signals that are driving it.

I get to work as part of a team of experts in their individual disciplines; Designers, Creatives, PR strategists, SEO’s, Analysts, Content Strategists, Developers, Social Strategists, Paid Media Managers etc….. and I get to see what real business benefits these activities drive, both independently and collaboratively.

In other words, the experience I have, the insights I have access to and a general broader understanding of digital and business as whole, means the output of SEOwizz has to move on.

I am planning on writing a lot more, as of the beginning of March it will be weekly, and in the near future a possible domain change, plus the introduction of some solid guest bloggers.

Hopefully, if Google have now forgiven me, I might also get some rankings 🙂

ps I have had to disable comments due to the sheer amount of spam coming through. Will look into bringing this back online in the future.

The Real Challenge for SEO Agencies

With all the turbulence in the SEO industry at the minute it can be easy to assume that the challenges SEO agencies face revolve around building natural links, understanding users, hiring the right people or producing genuinely interesting content. Whilst all of these areas could be a challenge given the new landscape, there is a much bigger challenge to consider, however, let me first start by revisiting how SEO agencies have previously worked.

Driving Results

When I first started this blog I wanted to ensure that I stuck to what worked; back in 2009 there were wild theories about social, Chrome’s browser share and AdWords being a ranking factor. However, after working in SEO for 5 years at this point, I was a little tired that the advice being offered up was never going to rank a website. So whenever I wrote a new article it focused on the reality, rather than speculating about the future.

This is how a lot of SEO agencies developed their focus, they only invested in what worked, which was primarily link spam and paid links. It drove rankings, it helped clients grow revenue significantly and best of all it was easy to execute, which in turn meant it was cheap to supply.

Why would you change this business model? It focused on what worked and gave clients the results they wanted.

The Focus was Wrong

The problem with focusing on what worked was that Google were focusing on something entirely different. It was easy to manipulate Google search rankings up to 2011/12, for the last 10 years SEO’s had been focusing on the algorithm trying to take advantage of any signal that had a close correlation to rankings; in the meantime Google’s sole focus was on generating the most useful, targeted results possible. They wanted to provide the right answers to the right people at the right time; this made for a great user experience and also drove ad revenue.

So in 2011 when Google launched Panda it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to most SEO agencies, but it did. Then in 2012 Google launched Penguin which should have come as even less of a surprise yet the whole industry were up in arms about it.

All the time SEO agencies had been focussing on Google, and at the same time Google had been focussing on the user and delivering a better quality search result.

A New Landscape

There is nothing any agency can do about it now, Google have dropped multiple bombs to clean up manipulation and spam results, there are no shortcuts to top rankings and greater visibility on Google, not if you’re trying to build a genuine brand at least.

So back to my opening paragraph, what are the challenges?

Yes, this change in landscape means a need for genuinely engaging content, a user focus and link acquisition based on ‘being worth talking about‘, however doing these things isn’t the challenge, in fact it’s relatively straight forward.

The Real Challenge

When SEO agencies focused on manipulation they very much worked in a silo, they may have met with the client once a month to deliver visibility reports and updates on rankings. There was no need for them to be involved in the wider business because the work could be done perfectly well in silos, plus, the wider business would have probably had a panic attack if they’d have seen the work being produced.

However, fast-forward to 2014 and manipulation is dead, to deliver SEO results you have to have buy-in from different areas of the business; IT, PR, Content, Product and Marketing just to name a few. You have to be able to work with them, collaborate on projects, educate and help the WHOLE business understand the opportunity that lies within increased visibility on Google.

Very often clients with a good brand, or who at least are trying to build one, are already engaging in PR, advertising, content and creative; the role of SEO is now very much about infusing knowledge into a business to make all that activity significantly more visible.

This is the real challenge, selling SEO into the wider business, building relationships with in house teams and ultimately getting buy-in so that the work you want to do can be prioritised.

Despite being well into the ‘digital age’ some companies still have processes that make them incapable of reacting to market changes quickly, unable to update the website without a formal release, unable to publish content without 10 levels of sign off etc. SEO agencies need to work hard to find a way to get buy-in for their ideas, to get a place on the big table and ultimately manoeuvre into a position that allows them to execute the work needed.

This is the real challenge, to be taken seriously at the top level and to be able to work within businesses, not in an external silo.

Why SEO’s Should Let go of Links

Before I even write this post I am imagining the comments that will begin to come through from those that only bothered to read the title, however if you keep reading I can promise you that this is not a “links are dead post” however I maintain that SEO’s should let go of them.

We all know about penalties, penguins and the hunt for new link networks so I won’t waste your time revisiting that here, however despite all this there is one fundamental principle people just aren’t getting.

Before I go into that principle let’s look at some of the links that have come under scrutiny in the last few years specifically:

Blog Networks – Typically a cheap online service that allowed you to upload the content of your choice with some highly targeted anchor text. These articles were often spun and pushed out to hundreds of low quality websites. All content and links were under your control which meant you could optimise them perfectly.

Press Releases – Press release syndication has also come under the hammer by Google’s web spam team. These services allowed you to craft your very own press release and control your links within it. Again you were able to perfectly optimise each piece before they were pushed out to hundreds of websites.

Directories – Low quality directories started getting deindexed back in 2012, again you would create your listing, control the anchor text and sometimes pay a small fee for the privilege.

Article directories – Very similar to blog networks, write your content, control your links and send it out to hundreds of low quality content websites.

Guest Posts – Seen as a fairly safe tactic, you would approach a blog that was relevant to your audience, write a great piece and add a link in your author profile, and sometimes within the content.

Infographics – A (sometimes) cool graphic you have created where you encourage publishers to paste a snippet of code which you control, usually with a link back to the said infographic.

My guess is you’ve probably already got the point I am trying to make, what makes your link strategy fail (in the long term) has nothing to do with tactics, and has everything to do with the obsession around link control. If you are engaging in any tactics that allow you to control your links, the content they are in or the anchor text you use, then I can absolutely guarantee you that your link strategy will fall down in the future.

Everything Google has done with regards to links, particularly over the past few years, has been targeted at tactics that display an element of control. When you begin to control the links you acquire they cease to be editorial, and I believe Google only really want to count editorial links.

What does this mean?

It means that you need to become worth talking about, and when you promote your awesome content, ideas, events, data, etc… You shouldn’t worry about the links, where they are on the page, what anchor text they use and the fact they don’t go back to your money page. Anchor text will eventually come back to bite you, so you have no reason for wanting to control this aspect of your links anyway.

Still do your outreach, social advertising, and chase up mentions of your brand, but care less about what your links look like, let go of them and let people link back to you how they see fit.

It’s tough, because historically bad links have worked, anchor text was king, and if a page had no links it couldn’t compete. However, things are changing, natural link strategies are working and so should your focus.

As the title says, it’s time to let go of links and worry more about being link worthy.

One thing to remember is that links you control will come back to bite you, but links you don’t control can do the same. Whether it is a negative SEO attack or someone scraping your content, keep an eye on your profile and disavow any nasty links that come through.

What Is SEO Going To Bring Us in 2014?

Well, this is my first blog post since August, and the first thing I can tell you is that 2014 is going to bring a revival, lots more blogging, tweeting, speaking etc…

Things have been extremely busy over the past 12 months at Branded3, we’ve seen massive growth in SEO, Content, Online PR and Creative; proof that SEO is going through a change, thanks to all the curve balls that Google keep throwing our way. It’s no longer about picking up as many links as you can, strange anchor text formulas or in content links (dear me) to rank well in Google, you have to focus on becoming the best result, and this means more than acquiring a handful of rubbish links.

So, over the last 12 – 18 months I have been working hard with the team to restructure our offering, add new skills to our growing department, and thankfully it’s been a massive success.

What will 2014 bring us then? More link penalites as Google tightens the choke hold? Will SEO finally die? For the next 1000 words ‘ish’, I am going to presume people are interested in what I have to say and reel off what I think are some things to look out for in 2014.

Engagement & Brand Building

Now these have been losely spoken about in the past, but in my opinion they are about to get really important, really. We have a saying at Branded3, “If you have enough links to be in the top 5, you have enough links to be position 1”. I am a firm believer in this, and how someone engages with your site is key to winning the battle at the top of Google.

I was speaking with X Googlers (Web Spam Team) around a year ago, and they kept talking about an algorithm ‘return to SERP’, we’ve adapted this slighty and called it ‘return to search’. The algorithm monitors the time it takes for a user to click on your listing and then click back to Google, either to refine the search or choose an alternative result. If users clicking on your result are back on Google within seconds looking for the next result, then this may suggest you aren’t ‘the right’ result and your rankngs will drop. We believe that this was a part of the Panda algo, but has since been incorporated into the main algorithm, and it’s going to be important over the next 1-2 years as Google tries to identify who should be at the top.

Return to search algorithm

We have trialled this since with great results, moving clients from 4-5 to position 1 without running a single link acquisition campaign. Of course links will continue to be important, but if no one is engaging with your site, link efforts will be a waste of time. Engagement on and off site are going to be really important.

This brings us nicely onto brand building, how else will Google recognise that you’re a result that should rise to the top? Well if thousands are searching out your brand every month this is a pretty good signal, and your link acquisiton strategies should incorporate an element of ‘becoming famous’. Let’s face it, Amazon don’t rank for everything because of their perfect site architecture and quality links, they rank where they do because they are the result everyboby wants to see (Do you honestly search ‘books’ anymore?).

I’ll likely be blogging/speaking on this throughout 2014 quite a lot, so hopefully I can catch up with you at one of the events.


Boy, they have had a rough ride for the last couple of years, does anyone know what a natural link is anymore?

There is a lot of speculation about links, what works, what doesn’t work, people still trying to trick Google etc…. For me there are a couple of very clear cut facts:

1) Google are still going to ‘manually’ identify unnatural links.

2) Google are going to penalise any website operating any form of manipulation, the bigger you are the harder you’ll fall.

When I hear people talking about anchor text formulas, mixing up landing pages, and brand link building only, I can’t help but think they’re just not getting it. If you’re trying to think about how you fly below the radar, then it is only a matter of time before you’re in trouble. Real people are looking at your links, if you’re using low quality blogs, or even high quality paid links, it is going to stand out. Google are active on ‘black hat’ forums, and other SEO forums looking for new tactics and supposed tricks, lets face it, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist, but just in case they probably have those too.

Your links have to be a natural by-product of genuine activity, think traffic first, or brand exposure, or social interaction, think anything, but don’t run a link strategy where the sole purpose is to acquire as many links as possible.

To make my point you only have to read the post on iAcquire with regards to how they would solve the RapGenius problem (once they have recovered of course).

Badges?! Isn’t that too risky? Not if you switch up the link destination and ALT attribute randomly using Javascript magic.

They are talking about giving badges to fans, however, if you have to go to lengths to manipulate links using JS then your strategy clearly isn’t the type of thing Google want to work. Natural links shouldn’t need manual intervention, we should all be moving away from link control, unless of course you are disavowing the nasty ones.

Great post otherwise, but I’m not sold on this particular tactic.

The Disavow Tool

Yes, I think this tool will continue to be heavily used, simply because it works. I do think Google will come out with an official statement which makes it clear that the tool works and put an end to the crazy amount of link removals that are happening. Going to blog on Branded3 early next year about link removals and why they are a bad idea.

Lets keep this simple, continue to disavow your bad links, even if you have no manual penalty, keep things clean. It will prevent as well as recover.

Link Tools

Little left field this one, but I think link tools will go through a drastic change. A lot of link analysis is now dead, you simply don’t know what your competitors have disavowed, or what may be penalising them, so mining their links is a waste of time. However, understanding what links are harmful is key, so tools that help you audit and disavow nasty links will become more popular. Tools like Linkrisk and LinkDetox already exist and I expect to see a few new competitors pop up in 2014. (I would always manually audit your links as well as using these tools, if Google can’t create an algo to detect all the bad links, I doubt anyone else is close.)

Even though technical link information is going to be less popular, competitor strategies are still going to be important to understand. What is the campaign, who is talking about it, how popular is it on platform x, where did the conversation start… these are all questions Online Marketers and SEO’s are going to be interested in.

Guest Blogging

Time up I’m afraid, it’s been overdone and I think Google are going to be all over this in 2014, penalising blogs with follow links on posts marked as ‘guest post’ and sites that have lots of links coming from such posts.

Yes, if you are an expert looking for brand exposure, and the posts have an authorship box that links back to your Google plus profile, and you only post on the best quality, high traffic blogs etc…. then yes, it is still worth doing, otherwise I would simply leave it alone.

So where does this leave SEO?

Well, it leaves it exactly where it has always been, going strong.

SEO has never been about link spam, anchor text, high PR links, sidebar links, keyword stuffing etc… it’s always been about driving relevant search traffic to your web property, those were simply tactics to artificially increase rankings. Search traffic is still there, it’s still extremely profitable, and you will still need to inlist the help of a search expert to help you get at it.

You will absolutley need collaboration between different teams and skill sets, but the objective remains the same, more relevant search traffic.

I could go on, but I’ve covered the things I want to discuss, yes social will continue to be important, more so as an activation tool in my opinion, but nevertheless important, and yes mobile, we all know it is huge, and having your site in order is a priority, Google have already fired the warning shot.

Anyway, hope eveyone is enjoying the holidays and looking forward to 2014.

Happy New Year!

Stop Building PPC Landing Pages and Expecting Them to Rank Organically

You may or may not have read my post in April on SEO and Ecommerce websites, it discussed the need for a change in mindset as well as covering some of the basic technical problems ecommerce websites face.

This post expands on the change of mindset based on conversations and experiences I have had in the last few months, in my opinion people are still struggling to understand what Google want from them. Rankings are declining, organic traffic is dropping and business owners just don’t understand what to do.

If you have an ecommerce website there is one simple truth you have to understand, Google only want to rank you organically if:

A) You’re a brand (aka the result people want and search for)

B) You add genuine value on and above the average ecommerce website

Historic Ecommerce SEO

For the last 10 years it has been pretty easy to rank ecommerce sites, you build your category page and then you get as many links to it as possible. You didn’t worry if the content justified the links, or even think to yourself ‘Why would anyone link back to a list of products?’, even if you did think about it you couldn’t overcome the undeniable fact that it worked, it made you a lot of money.

So for the last decade ecommerce site owners have been using link building tactics to rank their category pages and make a ton of cash.

The Truth

If you have a list of products that you want to market through Google, Google want you to pay for it.

Afterall, they can do a good job on there own of finding and listing products:

Google Shopping SEO

Do you remember when Google shopping used to be free, happy days.

The fact is Google can find and index products, and then make you pay for it on Google shopping, and if they can’t find the products they can send you to Amazon 🙂

Google does not want to list your page of products, for free, and let you make a load of money, it’s that simple really.

Making Conent Unique

Of course, any good SEO will always advise unique product descriptions, and ensuring that canonicals are set up as to avoid duplication across categories, this should be the foundations of your SEO strategy. However, this is not going to get you the best rankings possible, because you’re still only displaying a list of products.

Your content needs to be unique, yes, but it also needs to add genuine value. If you sell wallets, why would someone visit your website over any other?

– Do you use videos and other rich media?

– Do you have expertise, insights or even a qualified opinion on your products/industry?

– Are you creating compelling offline campaigns that are driving brand search?

– Are you investing in creative digital campaigns that drive natural links, citations, traffic and brand engagement?

– Are you considering the user journey and developing content/campaigns that aim at engaging customers at different points in that journey.

If you aren’t thinking about the above, then you’re going to struggle organically moving forward.This is why content marketing/strategy is such a buzz word at the moment, because a sound strategy helps to add that value, gives people a reason to share/link to your site and ultimately allows Google to award you with organic traffic.

How do I know it will work?

Despite all the buzz around content, I feel there is still some hesitation in investing in great content and creativity. I think in part it is due to the fact this is real marketing and not link spam, therefore it requires a greater investment, but also I think some are struggling to accept that the good old days are over.

12 months ago we began work with a client in a really competitive industry, flooded with link spam and blackhat tactics, yet we insisted on a campaign fuelled by content and creartivity. Yes, the investment was greater, yes results weren’t fully realised in the first 3 months, and no we didn’t deliver 100 links every month, in fact link targets aren’t even set, we’re measured against what really matters, results.

As of today this client has more traffic, higher rankings (dominates a lot of keywords), better engagement, increased social following, and importantly more conversions than ever before. All this despite disavowing previous poor links, never using exact anchor text, and only ever acquiring links to pages that genuinely deserved it.

A content/creative strategy can work for every website, of course the thinking behind it has to be sound, and the execution planned and implemented well, but it will work.

How can you measure this?

Traffic – Not just from Google, a content strategy should increase referals from social and other websites as well as from search engines

Links/Shares/Citations – Your campaigns should always include a promotional element, in fact it should make up a major chunk of your time. If done correctly this will always produce buzz in the form of mentions.

Brand Search – Brand search almost always increases as you invest in real campaigns

Sharing/Following – Your social stats across the board should increase

What about engagement?

This is a difficult metric. If you start investing in content when historically you have had a page full of products, then you might see decreases in time on site, and increases in bounce rates. This is due to the fact people will leave as soon as they have read the content, they’re not coming to browse your products, they are coming to engage with the value you have added. However, they have engaged with your brand and now stand a better chance of returning and buying from you when they are ready.

You can decrease the risk of increasing bounce rates by producing content that catches people whilst they are in that buying cycle, but this has to involve a lot of tact, we’re looking to add value at this point, not sell directly.

If you want to understand the commercial value of the content you’re investing in, then you can do this using page value in Google analytics. This will help you understand how each page contributes to your sites conversions by giving it a value based on how it fits in to the conversion funnel.

I could write another post on this but Stephen Kenwright does a much better job than I could: Using Page Value in Google Analytics to measure the ROI of content marketing

If you aren’t willing to invest in content, and producing real digital marketing campaigns, then I suggest putting all your budgets into paid media. If you’re paying for SEO services that are focussed on building links to category pages that don’t add value, then I suggest you stop, you’re paying for something that won’t pay dividends and potentially land you in trouble in the long run.

I’ll be speaking on Ecommerce and SEO at BrightonSEO in a couple of weeks, I’ll also be running a penalty recovery workshop on the 12th.

Hope to see you all there.

What The Hell Did Penguin Do?

So Penguin rolled out 2 weeks ago, I posted some early thoughts over on the Branded3 blog, and since then I have been trying to work out exactly what Penguin actually did, because being 100% honest, there are a lot of sites I expected to get hit that didn’t get touched!

What the hell did penguin do? By the way, if anyone genuinely knows please say so in the comments.

A few of things we did see were 1) a definitive boost for perceived authority domains, 2) some kind of adjustment to the freshness algorithm and 3) a drop in authority for sites that had used the disavow tool extensively.

None of this has been confirmed, but here are a few examples of the kind of thing we have been seeing:

Authority sites

In the legal sector we saw huge gains for high authority websites like advice guide and the law society. However, when I search ‘injury claims’ am I really looking to read a long piece of boring text? Or do I actually want to make a claim?

Injury claims serps

Let’s presume I want to make a claim, if so 3 of the top 5 results are fairly useless. Let’s hope Google’s return to search algorithm deals with this.


Now, you may have seen an increase in high authority newspapers ranking for what seem like irrelevant queries:

Buy a coat serps

When looking to buy a coat I always run straight to the daily mail and telegraph…

However, it’s not just news sites that seem to have had a boost, it’s also any pages that are displaying dates, check this supplement result out:

ds craze serp

The site in 5th has a date in the snippet, this actually relates to a review that has the date within a h tag. Close monitoring of product pages on this site seems to show some correlation between a new review being left, and a temporary boost in rankings. It also seems to be more prominent since the last penguin update.

Disavowed Links

We probably have more experience than any other agency using the disavow tool, and in preparation for Penguin we audited all client links and disavowed any that weren’t 100% natural. In most cases this meant we had very few issues after the update, in fact we saw some great results. However, there were one or two which left us puzzled.

I disavowed over 1200 domains to SEOwizz (dodgy article directories from 2008), all I have left is 300 – 400 domains still linking, all from great websites (including the great and powerful moz and even Google themselves). I disavowed them nearly 5 months ago with no impact on traffic or visibility.

SEOwizz searchmetrics

Then penguin hits, my site loses all visibility and traffic drops from 3000 – 1800 a week… thankfully I don’t rely on the site commercially.

….and this isn’t a one off, we have seen this trend on 4 – 5 different sites who all disavowed links anticipating penguin.

Cyrus published his thoughts on this over on SEOmoz (now moz 🙂 ) last week, he disavowed all his links as a test, nothing happened (the disavow tool doesn’t work right?), then penguin hit and it died!

cyrus searchmetrics

So as you can see, there are still a lot of question marks around the most recent update, please, if you have any insight leave it below or drop me a line. Also, if anyone has recovered when Penguin rolled out please share 🙂

SEO for Ecommerce – Google and People

On Wednesday I attempted to make my way down to the Internet World Expo, unfortunately due to a delayed train I was unable to make it and therefore unable to present on SEO for ecommerce websites.

I am planning on running a webinar in the near future, however I thought it would also be good to put up a post detailing some of the advice and tips I was going to share in the presentation, plus I don’t think I have published anything on SEOwizz in nearly 3 months, apologies for that.

In Summary

The running theme throughout the presentation was that ecommerce site owners had to start thinking about people, and not just appeasing Google, this should be common in all SEO campaigns, however for ecommerce sites it’s even more important for them to get this. Ecommerce sites are ‘usually’ heavily lead by products (as you might expect), however simply having a site full of products does not, and should not, make you engaging, trusted, or (and probably most importantly) link/share worthy. In order to compete in today’s ecommerce market you have to think about people, how you catch them throughout the user journey, what you give them outside of a product and a price, and how you make your site generally interesting and link worthy. If you don’t do this your SEO strategy will fall down (if it hasn’t already), if all you want to do is sell products then all Google has for you is PPC, if you want to engage and add value, then there is huge organic opportunity.

Google & People

Having made that grand statement, there are still technical issues many ecommerce sites will come across, and when it comes to technical issues, you have to please Google. If you don’t people won’t find your site. In the presentation, I thought it would be beneficial to run through a few of the common issues faced by ecommerce owners and come potential ways to deal with it.

Duplicate Content

You may think it makes sense to:

– Copy your product descriptions from other sites
– Give hundreds of affiliate’s content to place on their sites
– Add T&C’s and delivery information to every product page

You’re creating masses of duplicate content on your site and around the web, not a great quality signal. Unless you have the authority of Amazon or EBay, then I would make every piece of content on your website unique, yes even if you have 10,000 products, it is one of the most worthwhile investments you can make.

What is Google’s Panda algorithm looking to kill? Sites that don’t add value. If your site is a list of products then you’re not adding value.


There are a few different ways of dealing with Pagination, none of them seem to make that much sense and all of them aimed at helping Google understand what it is.

– View all page

Canonical link all your component pages back to the view all page. This would effectively mean your view all page was your new category/landing page, Google think this is what users want, I’m not too sure. If your view all pages are fairly small, then maybe it’s a good option, if they are huge the page speed issues alone are enough to put you off.

view all pagination

– Rel Prev & Next

Probably the better option in my opinion, simply mark up your pagination with the prev/next tags, allowing Google which pages are component pages.

prev next pagination

– No index

Many would say this is a last resort, but I think it’s quite a clean way of dealing with pagination. No index all your pagination other than view all and your top level category. The risk with this is that Google stop crawling after you have requested 20 pages before to be no indexed.(Remember just no index, not no index/no follow, this will stop all your pagination pages from being crawled and hence your products).

The purpose of helping Google understand where you have pagination is twofold:

– Helps prevent any duplicate content issues occurring
– Ensures the correct crawling of products deep within the pagination, or only on the view all pages.

Rich Snippets

This is such a missed area for so many websites, and it can have dramatic effects on your click through rate.

Do you have reviews? Mark them up

Do you have videos? Mark them up

Authors? Mark them up

I could do a whole post on rich snippets covering tons of opportunities, but you’re best reading about it here and here.

Link Building

OK, let’s get this out of the way, you can’t and won’t compete with amazon, not unless you have 20 million to pump into SEO, and even then you’re struggling.

Your aim is not to build links to every single product/category page; it’s not natural and will lead to problems later down the line.

What you need to do is simple, ask yourself, what do I have that makes me worth linking to, or what do I have on a page that makes it worth linking to. If your answer is nothing, you need to think ‘asset creation’ instead of ‘link building’.

Everybody should have something to leverage in order to start earning links into the homepage of their websites, natural, brand based links that help build the authority of your domain, rather than trying to target specific pages because ‘you sell a lot of product’.

If you do have a product you would like to do well organically, what value are you adding? Unique reviews, perspective, videos, tips?? It can’t just be a picture and a description.


Google wants to understand people, and what they want to see from a set of search results. They want to understand why you and me would trust, use and endorse a website over another. They’re not perfect, but they’re getting there. So, in order to build a strategy with genuine longevity, you need to build a campaign around people.


Do you know which channels are helping to generate revenue? Remember, revenue is rarely generated just because someone found your site and decided to buy; they have usually interacted with your brand/website through other channels. A pretty typical conversion path is:

PPC > Organic > Direct > Purchase

Or even

Organic > PPC > Facebook > Direct > Purchase

How much is each channel really worth? Yes focus on the last interaction before purchase, but don’t ignore those channels that assist in moving the customer down the conversion funnel. Understanding assisted conversions is really important, and something you can setup and use within Google analytics.

Again, I could do a whole post on this, but you’re better reading here and here.

You need to know what you are giving the customer/user at all these different touch points, and you can better influence them at each stage.

More on Content

As stated previously in the post, ecommerce websites are historically product focussed, “here are my products and this is where you pay”! Everything is focussed on that last action, not considering that the average customer will want to read or see 4 – 5 pieces of information before making a decision to purchase.

– Why do they want this product?
– What are the benefits?
– Where else can they get it from?
– How much does it cost?
– When will they receive it?
– What are the alternatives?

All these questions lead to more questions, and unless you have a content strategy to deal with it, you’re allowing other websites and competitors to influence your target audience, your potential customers!! Not having a content strategy is absolutely bonkers.

This might be a big shift in mind-set for many online stores who have historically been focussed on getting people on the site and through the basket. Google wants those business models to use PPC, if you want to keep benefiting from organic traffic then you have to add value, you have to think about people, what they want and the questions they have. Becoming useful and interesting is the only way to future proof your efforts and build genuine, natural links.

Here are the slides if you missed them.

Google Disavow Tool: 10 Insights from 4 months of Testing

We have been testing the disavow tool for nearly 4 months, we have always been an advocate of it after achieving some quick wins immediately after it was launched. However, after months of testing we have found out a lot more about how the tool works, what kind of results are possible and what risks are involved.

In the last year we have worked with over 20 sites to diagnose and remedy link penalties, out of all the sites we have worked with there are only a couple we have not yet managed to lift a penalty for, and we expect these to recover very soon.

Working with these sites has given us some solid insight into the disavow tool and link penalties, I posted on some of these back in October last year, the post did pretty well generating over 100 comments, plus around 50 follow up emails! Because of the interest in link penalties and particularly the disavow tool, I thought it would be helpful to post a follow up, addressing some of the issues people are having with the process of recovery.

So below are my 10 insights, I’ve tried to address most of the questions I have been asked since my last post, however I’m sure there will be more so please leave them in the comments.

Being Honest About Your Links!

So many people have approached me over the past few months, unable to understand why their penalties have not been revoked. It only takes 2 mins in OSE to see links that haven’t been removed/disavowed, when I ask why the site owner will often use the following excuses:

“That’s a high PR site”

“I rank OK for that keyword”

“The site is very relevant”

The fact is if your link is not editorial then its advertising, and as much as we may love a link, if it’s advertising Google doesn’t want to count it. If you have had the unnatural links message, then it means Google knows about your bad links. There is no point making excuses for obvious bought or manipulated links, just get them down, the chances are they aren’t helping you anyway.

If you got the message and have since been hit, be absolutely brutal with your disavows/removals.

Refresh Your Data

If you have been doing ‘SEO’ type link building for the last few years then you have a lot of work to do, there will be a lot of links that you won’t find in WMT, OSE or Majestic (Despite what Google say). This means you will have to refresh your data each month, adding new links to the disavow tool and/or removing them. You may have to run through a refresh/disavow/recon request 5 or 6 times before you have cleaned up enough links, but you will get there.

Anchor Text

If you have been struggling to get a penalty revoked and there are obvious keywords you no longer rank for, remove or disavow every single link with that anchor text, it will not be helping you. Who links with commercial anchor text anyway?


Typically you will get a response after a reconsideration within 2 weeks, if you are successful and have a penalty revoked you may have up to 4 weeks to wait before any rankings come back. However, I have noticed things are taking a little longer than they did last year, I am guessing this is due to an increase in reconsideration requests.

Link Profile Valuation

When you submit a reconsideration request after submitting a disavow file, Google will almost immediately crawl all your links according to any removals and disavows you have made, totally re-evaluating your link profile and making a decision as to whether you have done enough to recover. You can see this clearly if you check your crawl stats in WMT:

Recon Request Spikes

This follows suit with every reconsideration request we have ever worked on.

A Word of Warning

If you haven’t had an unnatural links message, you need to be very careful when using the disavow and reconsideration process. If you haven’t had the warning it likely means Google haven’t found your bad links and are still counting them, disavowing and sending in a reconsideration request will cause a full valuation of your profile and you may have added links that still count into the disavow tool.

Of course you will need to remove all bad links eventually, but maybe replace them first.

Negative Signals

There seems to be a genuine fear of using this tool around the SEO community, however if you have had the unnatural links message you really shouldn’t worry, I have yet to see even one negative consequence when using the tool to remedy an unnatural links message. Likewise, I have yet to see any negative results through the submission of multiple reconsideration requests. If you have had a manual penalty you simply need to go through with this process, don’t worry about another penalty hitting through being transparent.

Site wide Links

We have found consistently that the removal of site wide links along with a thorough disavow file works really well, especially if the site wide links have commercial anchor text.

Reconsideration Requests

Even though I would still recommend sending in a detailed reconsideration, I am 95% sure Google are not reading them, or delving into any Google docs sent. However, I would continue to write a good reconsideration request and send all data, just to show willing.

Start Again?

I know there have been various posts published over the last month or so suggesting there is a time to just give up and start again, and even though I understand the frustration in dealing with these penalties, I’ve yet to come across a hopeless case. We have had sites where we have had to remove over 5000 linking domains and still managed to secure a positive result.

I really believe recovering from this penalty is a numbers game, and unless you have enough links removed or disavowed you’re not going to recover. It’s almost like Google have a blacklist of domains, you’re profile is run against this list and unless you tip the threshold, you simply fail the reconsideration request.

Keep refreshing your link data, keep your disavow file updated and don’t be afraid to submit multiple reconsideration requests, you will get there.

We really have learnt a lot over the past 4 months, and I really can’t take any credit, we have a fantastic team at Branded3, collecting data and optimising the recovery process. In my opinion they are the best in the business when it comes to penalty diagnosis and recovery. Hopefully they will get involved in any questions in the comments.

I’ll be down at Brighton SEO running the penalty recovery workshop, hopefully I will see some of you there.

SEO is Here to Stay, Best to Embrace it.

This is kind of a late response to the recent SEO debates, the main articles being published on Smashing Magazine by Paul Boag and a rebuttal by Bill Slawski in collaboration with Will Critchlow.

In all honesty I think both articles have their merits, however I think neither fully deal with the problem of why SEO keeps getting slammed.

Paul’s article focuses on:

  •  Manipulation not being a long term strategy
  • Businesses developing in house teams to write content
  • Designers being responsible for accessibility
  • Discouraged reliance on SEO companies and using rankings as KPI’s

I pretty much agree with all of the above, however I am not in the ‘rankings don’t mean anything’ camp either. The article clearly showed a distaste for the SEO industry, and questioned the value SEO’s bring to overall success online.

It was also a little naive suggesting you simply create quality content that is sharable, forgetting even the best content needs promotion.

You’ve probably read the article already, but if not head over there, the comments are particularly interesting.

As you can imagine, 100’s of SEO’s came out in defence and the end result was a very comprehensive rebuttal put together by Bill.

His article covered some of the technical issues we deal with as SEO’s and thoughts from industry leaders, which included:

  • SEO is the practice of helping site owners connect with their target audience
  • SEO is making sure search engines can find, classify and value content
  • SEO is doing anything that will increase traffic from the major search engines
  • SEO is about succeeding in a world where users turn to search engines for discovery, research, validation and comparison (I like this description by Will Critchlow)

Despite a very thorough article there were still responses like this:

Ok, this will sound controversial but all the techniques mentioned above are just common sense. I still agree with Paul’s view from last week that SEO is unnecessary if you have a clever developer and great content.

You’ve had a big article to try and persuade me otherwise but all I’ve read is some advice on prev/next and canonical links meta tags. These are are just this year’s equivalent to keyword meta tags.

The rest of the article is just meaningless rhetorical business-speak, like: “SEO means focusing more on the customer and less on yourself. SEO means providing value. SEO means looking at the big picture and helping a company transform its business. SEO means identifying business objectives and determining the best way to go about realizing them.” Not very convincing.

I know I’ll be down voted by those working in SEO desperate to cling on to its assumed relevance in today’s web industry but my advice to clients is to forget about any approaches by SEO salespeople and consider spending the money on content, via copywriters or PR agencies for example. All they need SEO-wise is half a page of instructions about simple methods such as page title lengths, url structures, image alt tags etc. It seems to get them to the top of Google.

Apparently we’re trying to cling on to the relevance of SEO in today’s web? I think ‘clinging on’ is a ridiculous thing to say, the industry is booming, there are more jobs in SEO than ever before, more investment, and the forecast is further growth. Clinging on? Really? This shows it’s more of a ‘chip on the shoulder’ attitude rather than a well informed opinion.

The Real Problem

I personally don’t think it matters what the rebuttal stated, there is a clear attitude towards SEO, particularly in development, design and even journalism circles, for whatever reason they just hate the industry and no matter what value we as SEO’s add, this never seems to change, with certain groups only ever focussing on the negative, thinking they are somehow helping in the demise of SEO.

If SEO is really that much of a con, why is the industry growing so fast? Why are more businesses both big and small investing more money in it? Why is there growing demand in the job market?

Do you hate SEO? If so these are the questions you should be asking! Not ‘what do SEO’s actually do?’ but ‘Why do companies invest so heavily in it?’ and ‘Why is it growing?’.

The SEO market is worth over £500 million in the UK alone.

It is growing by nearly 20% each year.

Stop hating on SEO and ask yourself, “Why is this market so successful?”.

I appreciate snake oil salesman and spam emails don’t help the perception of the industry, however I continually get spam emails from developers, design agencies and cheap copy writing services, yet I don’t feel the need to question the industry.

OK, so what do I think SEO is?

I Might as well have my say in this debate. Let me start by saying what I think SEO was:

  • Ensuring sites were accessible
  • Pages were keyword optimised
  • Anchor text was informative and descriptive
  •  Unique content was being produced regularly
  • Directory submissions
  • Article spinning
  • Forum spamming
  • Text link buying

Yes, 6 – 7 years ago, I would say 90% of SEO companies had a model very similar to this, and the reason it looked like this is because it worked. It drove traffic, revenue and helped to establish some major brands in the UK and US markets.

Some companies still adopt this low quality model; however they have a big shock coming to them if they don’t adapt.

As SEO’s our primary objective is to understand signals search engines use to rank websites, and have the ability to advise on and implement strategies that provide the right signals. In short an SEO should be able to go into a business, quickly highlight the opportunities available and put a plan together to capitalise on them, this may include:

  • Accessibility audit
  • Canonical issues
  • Pagination mark-up
  • Schema mark-up
  • Duplicate content issues
  • Content strategy
  • Content Marketing
  • Analytics audits
  • Outreach
  • Content promotion
  • Digital PR
  • Link auditing
  • Penalty recovery and link clean up
  • Google +
  • Authorship
  • Rich Snippets

These are just some of the tasks we do as an agency and all go through the SEO team. Maybe the name is wrong ‘Search Engine Optimisation’, maybe it should be ‘Search Engine Opportunity’, after all an SEO specialist is someone who can identify opportunities to drive traffic and revenue from search engines.

Most of the above tasks would require input and assistance from developers, designers and copywriters; however the SEO Specialist would usually be responsible for bringing all these elements together.

Would a developer, designer, PR specialist and copywriter be able to deal with all of the above? You need all the elements to be successful. This is why I think Paul’s original article, although had valid points, was a little naive.

The reason why companies invest in the above is simple, because it works! It delivers results.

A quick example….

I worked with a small business last year who really wanted to increase revenues through the website. The site was well designed, converted well and had great content. It was in a very niche market and traffic was never going to be massive, however there was still significant opportunity to grow revenues to this small business, so I put the following plan in place:

  • Optimised title tags on all pages
  • Created location based landing pages which incorporated the details of partner businesses
  • Listed company on Google places
  • Built local directory listings and citations
  • Set up 10 guest blogging opportunities
  • Offered promotional badges to partners
  • Set up Facebook page
  • Shared photos of recent work and encouraged clients to like the page
  • Encouraged clients to review services, and added them to the site and applied schema mark-up

The Results?

  1. Increased monthly traffic to the site via Google by 800%
  2. Increased traffic from Facebook by 2000%
  3. Gained top 3 rankings on over 30 core keywords
  4. Top rankings across 10 locations on Google Places
  5. 250% increase in monthly revenue from the website

This made a significant difference to this very small business, it was transformational. Would anyone else other than an SEO specialist put the above in place? Would the designer, Copy Writer?

Good SEO produces business changing results

SEO is growing so fast because of the results it can drive, if you can show your expertise or activity has an SEO benefit you will more likely get the budget you need. Does it really matter what it’s called?

Companies will invest in opportunities to drive more revenue, SEO justifies this investment, it doesn’t matter what the activity is.

A good developer is vital to the work I do as an SEO, as is a good designer, copy writer or PR specialist. Even though there is plenty of snake oil in all these industries I still recognise a need for the services and how they integrate with what I am trying to achieve.

It’s time to drop the pride, SEO is here to stay, the advice of a good SEO will help developers, designers, copy writers and PR specialist all get more from the work they do. It’s time to embrace it, there is no need to feel threatened, SEO isn’t here to replace any of the above industries, rather it is here to compliment them.

SEO’s understand search engines, and the signals used by search engines to understand how authoritative a website is. They then use this knowledge to bring together a pool of skills to help capitalise on opportunities and drive more traffic, conversions and ultimately revenue.

… Hope everyone is enjoying the holidays…