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Google’s Freshness Algorithm: Major SEO Change

Google Freshness AlgorithmGoogle’s freshness algorithm is out! This is a major search engine change by Google. In fact, it is more major than the last Panda Update which affected a very high number of search results. This was presented on Google’s official blog today. The announcement says that the freshness update affects up to 35% of the searches. This is huge.

As its name suggests, the freshness algorithm is aimed at bringing in results that are ‘fresh’, i.e. more updated. This is a natural move from Google, when people are so active on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter and thus used to getting the latest updates and information. Don’t we all log into Facebook just to see what major is happening across the globe, apart from looking for the cute kitten and the annoying game requests? Well, now Google wants to be that portal.

The feature is pretty neat and should help people a lot. From an SEO perspective, I am not too sure how this will pan out since this is too early in the day. However, I think it is not that major a change for most of the internet marketing type of sites. However, don’t be surprised if one of your ‘pillar articles’ is displaced from the throne (aka first rank in Google) because Google thinks something more recent is more relevant.

This might not cause as much an uproar as Panda did in the SEO world, but it is a very important update that every blogger and internet marketer should be aware of and prepare accordingly. Also, this was important enough to get front page web coverage from New York Times which usually reserves such news to the bottom annals of technology news.

Of course Google will now need to act quickly in collecting data and determining how relevant it is to be shown in the search results on the top. This is of course not easy, but nothing Google does usually is. How this pans out in the end will be interesting to see. I think a lot of smaller sites that were designed around displaying the ‘live scores’ for example will be hurt very badly.

At this point, I would guess that fresh content will become even more important from an SEO point of view. Google doesn’t like stale information. Keeping your blog updated with quality information is one way of telling the Big G that you provide fresh and up to date content to your users. This might become even more important in the long run.

Also, if your blog has been affected by Google’s freshness algorithm, you should consider more ways to promote your blog, especially on social media which has constant updates. So for example if you want to rank high for certain live scores, you should try to provide exactly this rather than just having the keywords in your title. In addition, you might want to have a widget showing the live scores and perhaps publishing some information on to social networking sites too.

As more information becomes available, I’ll write a more detailed strategy of how you can benefit from this algorithm change and how you can protect yourself. In the meantime, I would love to hear your comments.

Handling Negative oDesk Feedback

Negative oDesk FeedbackHandling negative oDesk feedback is a very important aspect of being a successful freelancer at oDesk. A very important part of the oDesk Marketplace is the presence of a feedback system. Much like eBay, this feedback system provides a great system of trust which is used by both freelancers and employers. In an ideal world, the feedback would tell you everything about the freelancer and the employer will do a cost-benefit analysis to hire the right candidate for the job. Similarly, the employers with a negative oDesk feedback would be in the ‘high-risk’ category and thus need to provide a better pay for this increased risk.

However, nothing is ideal and even though the oDesk feedback system is a great one, it is not always accurate. After all, the feedback system is highly subjective and you may not always agree with the assessment. However, it is a prominent part of your profile and perhaps the very first thing that a potential employer is going to look at. This means a negative oDesk feedback can ruin a potentially great job opportunity. Obviously you would like to avoid it.

In addition, having a negative oDesk feedback at the very initial stage of your freelancing career isn’t a great way to start it off. You can find it difficult to get hold of good jobs and assignments even if you are otherwise qualified for them. This is why it is important to handle negative feedback right away. That is the purpose of this article – to help you get ahead of the game.

Understanding How oDesk Feedback System Works

The oDesk feedback system can be a little different from what you are used to seeing at sites like eBay or even other freelancing sites like Elance. Here are some important aspects of the system:

  • You cannot remove a negative oDesk feedback. It is on your record forever.
  • You can hide the comments written for you along with the feedback. It would show up as ‘private’ on your profile. However, the star feedback will still be visible.
  • You can enable an employer to change the feedback left for you. Make sure you have communicated before doing this because they can obviously leave a worse feedback if you are not professional about it. It is up to them whether to change it or not, though.
  • A project should have a payout of at least $1 for the feedback to show on your profile.
  • You cannot see the feedback of the other party before submitting your own feedback. After 14 days, you can no longer leave a feedback, at which stage this becomes available to view to you and the public. In the interim, it shows as ‘feedback awaited’.
  • It is possible to dispute a feedback with oDesk but it only removes negative feedback under exceptional circumstances, which means it is not very common.

Now that you understand how the oDesk feedback system works, lets work our way through to solving the problem of a negative oDesk feedback.

Identify the Reason for Negative oDesk Feedback

This is the very first step and also perhaps the most important, because the course of action you take later on depends on the reason for this negative oDesk feedback. The reasons can be several and it is important that you identify them. Once you have this figured, we can move on to how you should resolve the issue and possible solutions. Here are some possible reasons for this negative feedback:

  • Genuine Miscommunication: The project was a good experience for both you and the employer and he was happy with your work. There was constant communication throughout. However, there was some miscommunication – perhaps you didn’t get an email update or a resource which they thought they had given you. As a result, the final product was good but not completely as was required. This does happen, so you need to clarify with your employer.
  • Very high standards: The employer has very high standards for whatever reason. This means they will leave a very good feedback only if they are blown off their feet by your work. They don’t leave a negative review but not a very good one either – remember that even a ‘neutral’ 3 star review is going to hurt you a lot when everyone else gets a 4.5-5 star feedback.
  • There was a Conflict: This happens at times when the employer doesn’t have a clear idea or what he wants or when the freelancer is unable to provide the service he promised. This is a real conflict situation and cannot be resolved just by talking over because both parties have different expectations about the project. As a result, the employer leaves you with a negative oDesk feedback.
  • Pay Conflicts: This is a fairly common situation where the employer is happy with the quality of your work but wants you to work at an incredibly cheap price and this wasn’t made clear during the start of the assignment.
  • Feedback Hostage: We are now entering the shady areas: some employers hold a freelancer hostage to a feedback, getting more work out of them and threatening to lower the feedback if not delivered. This is a serious issue and should be reported to oDesk.
  • Shady Employers: Some employers are just shady and don’t leave a good feedback no matter what. All their previous assignments end badly too. It can be a tough situation to handle.
  • You are Just Bad: You can just be bad. May be the pay you ask for is reserved for experts and you don’t know the ABC of the trade. Or you might claim to be an expert and clearly lack the knowledge and authority. It is hard to resolve this issue except maybe talking to your employer and explaining your situation or if you have any genuine excuse.

These are but a few of the reasons why an employer might leave a negative oDesk feedback for you. Remember that every situation is unique, so you need to look for the best resolution method.

Next, let me present you some possible solutions

Solutions to Negative oDesk Feedback

You can use one or more of these strategies to reduce and revert your negative feedback. These are just pointers and you might want to use many of them at once. Sometimes the stakes are quite high and you need to ensure that your feedback isn’t tarnished. These should help you deal with the problem.

  • Talk to the employer: This is always the first step in the process. Be professional and don’t be rude. Never ever use profanity or other unwelcome behavior. Never threaten. Ask politely what the problem was. Also tell him how much a positive feedback means to you and how important it is for your freelancing career. Try to resolve the issue through emails. Most employers are nice people and they will only want to help you. However, if you are genuinely very bad, there is nothing they can do. For slight adjustments to the feedback, this system works the best.
  • Offer Something Extra: If the employer feels that you are not up to the mark and that the price you demand doesn’t reflect the quality of the work produced, offer to do something extra so you can earn ‘bonus points’ and thus enter into his good books. I am not suggesting you give away freebies especially to someone holding your feedback as a hostage. However, if you feel that you didn’t do as good a job as to deserve a 5 star rating, you might consider this option.
  • Refund the Money: This is an extreme situation but shows how important the feedback system can become. I personally had to do this once. Some employers are just outright mean and have no intention of leaving a good feedback no matter how well the work was done. In this case, you might want to consider just refunding the whole project amount. Remember that if the amount drops below $1, the feedback is removed from the profile. Obviously this is not an ideal situation since you work to get paid but is necessary at times.
  • Dispute with oDesk: If you think you have a good case against the employer, you can take the issue up with oDesk. This is especially so if the employer was threatening, blackmailing, being profane and other unacceptable behavior. You should show all the proof and evidence to oDesk and let them take appropriate action, including removing it from your profile page.

In the end, I would like to mention that negative oDesk feedback is also a learning experience. It tells you about your shortcomings and the scope for future improvements. Always take the feedback seriously and think about how you can improve and grow as a freelancer. Take a long term view. Also remember that oDesk isn’t the end of the world and for talented freelancers, there is no holding back and one site doesn’t make or break a freelancing career. Take the negative feedback as a learning experience and move on. And remember not to repeat your mistakes!

SEO Companies: Fastest Growing Businesses

Fastest Growing BusinessesSEO companies are one of the fastest growing businesses. This is hardly surprising, considering how much of what we do is shifting online and the growth of the internet in all parts of the world and traditionally ‘offline’ businesses (who would have thought 10 years ago that you would buy shoes online!) SEO is a great investment for small businesses to make their presence felt in the online sphere and attract new customers. There are several famous SEO experts who have famous SEO companies, like Neil Patel. Then there are fast growing SEO companies like SEO.com.

The scope of an SEO company is quite vast, especially if you are good at what you do. So here is a piece of news that might interest you – SEO.com is officially one of the fastest growing companies of Utah. That is a significant development. Now, SEO companies are on the forefront of digital companies, although none of them are as famous or big as their dot-com counterparts which can be billion-dollar companies. This, however, is a step towards gaining more popularity for SEO companies.

SEO companies can be one of the fastest growing businesses because they have the scope to expand. You would be surprised by how many small businesses don’t care about SEO. Heck, you would be surprised by the number of small businesses and start-ups that don’t even have a website! SEO is a great tool to employ in the overall growth of a company, especially when it is one without borders. You can reach a global audience through the internet and every business should make use of the opportunities that the internet provides.

That being said, you should always beware of the dark side of SEO, the so called black-hat SEO. In a nutshell, you need to have quality content defined by Google. Without this, all your efforts are meaningless in the long run because a small change in the Google’s algorithm can destroy you, like the Google Panda update. This is why it is important to remember that quality content is at the heart of SEO and all your efforts to grow your website and blog.

If more SEO companies line up with Google’s policies of quality content, we can have an industry leader that is not after short-term profits but after long term value that SEO can provide a business.

Google Analytics not provided Keyword

Google Analytics not provided KeywordWhat’s up with Google Analytics not provided keyword? I was surprised to see this as one of the major source of traffic for my site when I tried to check into my Google Analytics account. Along with the regular keywords, it shows a (not provided) keyword. This was quite surprising because the search analytics data is very useful for webmasters in determining what kind of traffic comes to their site.

So I looked around and found the official post from Google. You can find the post in the official Google Analytics blog titled Making Search More Secure. Essentially, what the blog post said was that for users who are logged into their Google accounts, the default setting is the SSL search setting. With this, the data is hidden from Google Analtyics and the webmasters cannot know the query. However, what the webmasters do know is that the visit is from an organic search result.

The Reaction

The reaction all over the web, especially from webmasters and SEO experts was that of shock. I don’t think too many people are happy about this. After all, keyword data is a very useful tool that all webmasters use. This data can be used to improve a site and the experience for the users. If I know that most of my readers are coming to my blog to know about freelancing, SEO and making money online, perhaps I will not write articles about the economy or about gardening.

SEOBook had written a scathing review, titled, “Google Whores Out Users With False Privacy Claims” of the whole process, and they point out a very good issue – Adwords users are unaffected! “Google cares about your privacy, unless they make money on you, then they don’t.”, reads the article. How true. In addition, do remember that Google still owns all your search data.

Further, the article claims and makes a good point that Google has taken the move only to turn away competition from accessing the data. Apparently competitors like Chitika are becoming more and more efficient in using this information.

How Will it Affect You?

If you are a webmaster, this could definitely affect you significantly. The news is still fresh and it is hard to know how much it is going to have an affect. People might always come up with ways around the system, like getting an Adwords account or something else that works with Google. If the case that SEOBook makes against Google is sound, it could be possible that some anti-competition or anti-trust regulators might be noticing.

The (not provided) keyword information from Google Analytics is definitely a tough one to digest for webmasters. It is an information black-box through which you cannot see. It represents a good segment of your visitors and you will never fully know your audience now. It is kind of sad because such information empowers webmasters.

That being said, even without this data, there is still a ton of other data available through Analytics that you should be able to utilize as before. Also, perhaps it is time to move beyond just the keywords anyway, and look for other promotional material. Or may be not.

Can Data be Interpolated?

I am not too sure about this. with the (not provided) keyword, Google is just lumping all these keywords into one. Now, you might lose access to some lucrative long-tail keywords. This information is hard to research and Analytics was a great tool to go out and hunt for these. After all, what better way to search for keywords than going through the list of what actual users typed and found you.

Also, I don’t think it will remain very statistically balanced, i.e. it will be hard to interpolate data (unless you have a million visits a day to smooth out the bumps). Some keywords might be more susceptible to show up in the not provided keyword category while others might not.

Alternatives and Future

I am not too sure about this, but I have a feeling there will be a few follow up posts – it is a big news and big change from Google.

If you are a webmaster and blogger interesting in making money online, you still need the best SEO tools. Try out the Keyword Winner WordPress Plugin which is extremely helpful and convenient in giving you all the SEO information in one place – your blog! On the other hand, if you want an accelerated ranking and fast forward through the SEO process, try SEO Elite. I’ll let the product speak for itself.

What are your thoughts on this new change?

Is Article Marketing Dead?

Article Marketing DeadIs article marketing dead in 2012? 2011 was the eventful year with the Google Panda Update being rolled out by Google. There have been countless articles about whether article marketing still works. Here, I will present my own views and my own experience with article marketing. Let me see if I can answer whether the Google Panda Update killed article marketing or is it still a potent tool to use.

What is Article Marketing?

The idea behind article marketing is simple – you contribute an article in return for links. Lets look at how both parties here benefit.

The article marketing site benefits because it gets access to fresh, unique and good quality content absolutely free of cost. This is not easy to come by. So how does the site use this article? Simple, advertising mostly. If you look at popular article marketing directories like EzineArticles, you will find a ton of advertisements. These sites make millions of dollars every year from advertising (it was much higher prior to the Panda Update). Every article it gets contributes to this cost. There is no charge in obtaining these articles as they are submitted free of cost.

For the article marketer or writer, article marketing sites provide a good quality, high PageRank backlink. This helps new sites steadily grow up in Google search results. It also improves the PageRank of the site being linked to, which is a good addition to have in the long run. Article marketing provides an easy way to get good links back to your site, especially during the initial days when no one knows about your site.

How Article Marketing was Abused

Let me briefly talk about how article marketing was abused in general by webmasters and small businesses. They would hire article writers from sites like oDesk or Elance and produce a bunch of articles barely meeting the quality requirement in these article directories. These were just artificial ways to increase the number of backlinks and the site provided no more authority on the topic than it did before the marketing campaign.

Another common source of abuse was the proliferation of article spinners. These can be good tools but very easy to abuse. Essentially, they just product a bunch of replicas of a single article so they appear unique and then send them all over the internet. This was just an abuse of the system.

How Article Marketing Seemed Meaningless to Google: The Reason for Panda

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Google wasn’t particularly fond of these article directories and article marketing in general. Part of the reason was described above – the system was abused. However, there are more fundamental flaws in the system.

Suppose I am a great writer and can write a very good article for my blog. Because it is new, it would appear way behind in search engine rankings. However, when I publish a far lower quality article on an article marketing site, it ranks highly because it has a high PR and is better established. See the problem? Google survives because it provides the best and most relevant results on top. With article marketing these articles seldom provide the full information – you need to go to the contributor’s website to know more (the good quality article).

My Personal Experience

I have a lot of experience with article marketing and over the years, I have seen its effectiveness decrease. Couple of years ago, it was a very potent tool for webmasters and small businesses. However, today it is certainly far less effective.

When I started off blogging (not GeeksMakeMoney, which is relatively new) I used article marketing to promote my blog. However, I was quite frustrated when I found that my article in the article directory would rank higher than my blog! This didn’t seem right because my blog had far more information than just a small article I write to promote it.

It was also quite frustrating to see low and substandard articles outperform my blog simply because they were on more established sites. This happened regularly with Squidoo, with the lenses beating my blog even though they contained outdated information.

With the Google panda, however, I was very happy to see all these go down in search rankings and my blog had come up first. This helped me quite a lot and I wrote an article about it on Problogger as well. Even now, when I look at keywords in my particular niche, I see article directories quite down the list. Couple of years ago, I would find all the top searches dominated with these.

So Is Article Marketing Dead?

Not necessarily. If you are starting a brand new site which no one knows about and you want some quick reasonably good links, this is an easy way to go about it. In addition, it helps Google index your site soon, so you can be assured of showing up in the search results.

That being said, I wouldn’t advise you to spend a lot of time on article marketing as a tool to promote your blog. If you have time, look for other methods. Try guest posting or try building relationships with other bloggers in your area. Better still, try to master social media and learn the new modes of information exchange on the internet like podcasts, videos, etc.

You might still want to use article marketing and perhaps it can give good results for very low competition keywords but I wouldn’t spend too much time with these.

Are you into article marketing today? Previously? I would love to hear your experience and thoughts!

Is Freelance Economy the Future Economy?

Freelance Economy Future EconomyIs freelance economy the future economy of the world economy? Is the nature of work undergoing a fundamental shift away from traditional “stable” jobs and more towards a “plug-and-play” economic system where each worker provides his services for a project rather than a company? Well, it is hard to predict the future, but it looks like such a shift is indeed happening. I just read an interesting article on the freelance economy and its future on MSN which got me thinking more about this. It seems that the future economy can be significantly different from what we know today.

Why Small Businesses Like the Freelance Economy?

It looks like more and more small businesses are hiring freelancers as and when they need. This does make sense – small businesses need to be smart about their decisions. They will choose the best possible way out which will increase their chances of success and survival. From a small business point of view,  the freelance economy is a huge boon. Why is that?

Consider that you are a small business. In order to reach your target audience, you want a website and a blog so you can connect with your customers. How would you solve this problem? If you tap into the freelance economy, you hire the best professional web-designer for a fixed price. If you hire a full-time employer for this job, it is just going to cost so much more.

In addition, the freelance economy can provide several projects down the line. Need some articles and blog posts? Hire a freelance writer to write an article a day. Need to collect some leads online? Hire a virtual assistant. Need a new logo? Hire a graphic designer. The freelance economy gives a lot of freedom to small businesses.

Access to Specialized Skills

Many people have a very wrong concept that freelancing is about outsourcing. It is not. Even if all the jobs are within a country, it provides great flexibility. It is not that businesses profit from cheap labor. In fact, in the freelance economy, talent everywhere demands similar price. However, as a concept, the plug and play system is very powerful.

The reason is that small businesses now have access to one of the best people in an industry without ever needing to hire them at a ridiculous price. This gives them a great competitive edge as well. For example, a small business can hire a very good graphic designer for a few hundred dollars to design their company logo. Even they spend a thousand dollars for the logo, it could be well worth it in the long term. In the traditional economy, they will perhaps have to find an agency, post a contract or advertise for a temporary position. In the freelance economy, they have access to great skill directly without involving middle men.

Freedom to Expand

In the freelance economy, businesses have the power to expand beyond their core expertise. They can take on a risky idea with a high chance of failure but a highly lucrative result in case of success. Such ideas can be explored more easily because they have access to a very diverse pool of specialized talent ready at their disposal that will work on a specific project.

In the freelance economy, it is easier to take on risk and explore new options. That this comes at a lower cost is an added benefit which should help small businesses enter new areas.

Free Market Access to Talent

The freelance economy more accurately represents the future economy or rather the free economy as it can be. Freelance work for hire doesn’t come with additional baggage that usual full time jobs come with. They are not restricted by geographical boundaries – a company in the United States can hire a freelancer in Australia.

It is also free because it is a bidding process in most cases – freelancers bid on projects depending on their skill sets and small businesses choose between skills and price as it should be in a truly free economy. This bidding process is what is followed at well known freelancing sites like oDesk and Elance.

So what do you think about the future economy? Do you think the freelance economy can last and redefine the way we understand work and employment?

You can also read my posts about 5 freelancing ideas for dummies and 5 creative ways to make money as a freelance writer.

5 Strategies for Business Through Internet

Business Through InternetBusiness through internet can be a richly rewarding experience, both in terms of money and general satisfaction. Whether you are a total beginner or a small business looking to establish yourself in the online sphere, these business through internet strategies will prove to be very useful for you.

Business through internet is a rapidly growing market segment and rightly so. As more and more consumers move online in search of purchasing decisions, business has also moved, following the customers. The good thing is, the “little guy” has a lot of value online, so even if you are a complete beginner, you have hope for doing something significant and having an impact, if only in a small niche.

So the first question that I get asked a lot is what I want to answer right off the bat:

Question: Can I make enough money to quit my job?

Answer: Depends!

I can tell you this – if you follow the right strategies that I outline here and don’t fall for scams, you have a good hope of making a good passive income stream online. You should also remember that business through internet can be tough and is highly competitive so it really depends on how well you are able to perform and outsmart your competition by providing something unique and useful to your consumers or visitors. Yes, it is possible to live off the income you make online and no, not everyone who starts off with this intention reaches his goal, so my advice is don’t quit your job just yet.

With that being said, lets delve deeper into this topic, so I can provide you with some useful practical tips.

Business Through Internet Strategy-1: Explore Your Options

When I say explore your options, I mean you should know what you are good at and what interests you. By listing all the things that you might be interested in, you will get a nice list of things that you can do online. There are plenty of ways in which you can do business online. The question is, which ones are you ready to pursue with interest.

Some of the more common ways of business through internet include blogging, selling on eBay, promoting books and products from Amazon, affiliate marketing, eCommerce and selling products you make at home, like crafts and arts and other small items, freelancing like becoming a virtual assistant or writer, consulting, etc. All these are great ideas for different people. Which ones appeal the most to you? These are the ones that you should be looking to pursue.

When you explore all the options, you have more than one way to make money. You don’t need to stick with just one of them. For example, you might be interested in blogging and when your blog is popular, you can promote the books that you like, affiliate products that you use or even your eBay page. You can combine them all. When you know your options well, you can diversify your income sources.

Business Through Internet Strategy-2: Know Your Market

This is very important for any business through internet. Many people try to be all over the place and wonder why they don’t have any success. You should target your market in a specialized way. This is possible only when you know your market inside out, which you should. It doesn’t matter what niche you choose or what method of making money you choose. In the end, you are just like a small offline business catering to the needs of your customers.

There are plenty of analytics tools, like Google Analytics that you should definitely try to look into. These give you deep insights into what your customers are looking for and how they use your site or page.

Business Through Internet Strategy-3: Get Started Soon

The online marketplace is a very fast-changing environment. An year or two can completely alter the online landscape for a product or service. In addition, if you think you have a great idea, waiting longer means you are exposing yourself to the possibility that other small businesses or even larger ones will eat your lunch.

One of the best things that I found personally to do when you have an idea or want to do something is to go right in and do it. You cannot hope to learn 100% of all aspects that are required to run the business. Instead, I would suggest the simple 80-20 rule: If you learn the 80% you need to succeed, the other 20% can be learned on the go as you get personal first-hand experience in running your business through the internet.

Business Through Internet Strategy-4: Learn the Basics of Internet Marketing

No matter what kind of business through internet you want to get into, it will always help to know about internet marketing. The topic is as rich and diverse as traditional marketing itself. It is only going to become more and more powerful as the world gets more connected and millions of others join the internet. Businesses too are moving online and the average time spent on the internet keeps rising. All this means there is immense potential for reaching out to new audiences.

However, the way others get to know your business is through internet marketing. This is a very powerful force that you ignore at your own risk. Of course, anyone who hopes to succeed online will need some amount of knowledge in internet marketing. However, if you keep yourself informed from reliable sources, you can get great ideas that should help you grow your business.

Business Through Internet Strategy-5: Study your Competition

There are several advantages of studying your competition. It is possible that your competition is much better established than you, in which case you can learn important tips from looking at their business model and what things they do right. In addition, you can always pick up nuances and ideas when you scan through businesses and websites that are similar to yours (of course I don’t mean plagiarize, which you should never ever do). Ideas can be powerful movers and the way to get more ideas is to expose yourself to a diverse set of ideas and strategies.

There are plenty of very successful businesses operating through internet. You can study and look at what they do right, and then emulate them to some extent. You can also improve upon what they do wrong. For example, a competitor might lack a good social media strategy, so you can capitalize on it by having an active Facebook and Twitter presence.

There is plenty to learn in business through internet but once you do, you can have great successes. It is not easy but if done right, is worth every single minute of the time you put in during the initial stages.

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