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.

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!

The Core Fundamentals of SEO: Quality Content

SEO Quality ContentIt isn’t surprising that there is a lot of discussion all around on SEO. As more and more of the economy shifts online, good SEO practices can make or break a business. Perhaps this is also what prompts businesses like JC Penny to use unethical SEO practices to try and game Google. It shouldn’t be surprising though – JC Penny got millions of dollars worth of shopping during the holiday season. The difference between first and second position in Google can be huge.

Which is why, you see so many techniques for SEO, “tricks” that will rank you higher in the search results. There are both the “WhiteHat” and “BlackHat” methods. Then there is the middle ground “GrayHat” methods. There are the ethical and unethical methods, there is manipulation, there is money, there is violation of Google Webmaster Guidelines. There is everything you can think of under the sun. Which is what makes ranking difficult.

It is a constant cat and mouse game between Google and webmasters. Google originally came up with PageRank, with the idea that it is not just about the keywords on the site (which is what earlier search engines used. Yea, there was a life for search engines before Google too!) but also how many other sites would like to link to it. In an ideal world, one would only link to a site if he felt the content valuable. However, in hindsight, it is easy to see how easily the system can be manipulated. What if people enter into “backroom” deals as link exchanges? Google was smart and reciprocal links aren’t as “valuable” today, so people started a “three-way link exchange”. Then of course there is the class of webmasters that buy and sell high PR ranks. There are a million things that can go on in the world of SEO.

And that brings me to the point of the article: what lies at the core, at the very heart of SEO? It is simply finding the best content. Period. It all boils down to providing value to the searcher. The way Google determines this might change from one day to another, but at the core, it is all about finding the best web pages, out of the more than trillion pages out there.

There are many tactics and strategies used by webmasters. One day it is backlinking through article marketing and another day it is blog and forum commenting. These tactics are fragile and they can change easily. After the Google Panda update, article directories were badly hit. This is in tune with Google’s idea of providing the best results to users. Without good search results, Google is dead.

So when you are building a site and want it to rank high in Google, you need to build high quality sites. This is at the heart of SEO. Read this article by Amit Singhal of Google and you will see why. Though he doesn’t go into the details, everything there has to do with content. Everything. There is no mention of linking at all in the checklist. Yes, backlinks can be very helpful but they are only a stepping stone towards what Google ultimately wants: Quality Content.