5 Crucial Tips To Add To Your Conversion Rate Optimization Toolbox

Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) analyses exactly how well your incoming web traffic converts into your desired action. This desired action may be a purchase, email newsletter sign up, completing a contact form, registering for a course etc.

Squeezing the most out of your web traffic means you need to pay attention to exactly how you can increase your conversion rate.

Here are some of my best tips:

 

1. Your Gut Instinct Is Often Wrong

 

Testing out different variations of colors, text, images and flow is the first step most marketers take when attempting to optimize. This of course, can be very effective, however, don’t be tempted to skimp on the testing and go with your gut instinct!

Real data overrules instinct and has proven that what actually increases conversions are what we least think will work.

Let the numbers be your guide.

 

2. Pay Close Attention To Your Competition And Analyze Their CRO Strategy

 

Fortunately, we’re not the only ones who know about the importance of optimizing conversion rates. Your competitors will surely be doing their own conversion testing and this gives you an opportunity to gain an often overlooked insight as to what works and what doesn’t.

Every time you visit your competitor’s website, make a note of what is different. This may be easier by taking screen shots and comparing them over time.

Note that I am not suggesting you copy or steal your competitor’s layout or ideas, but gain inspiration and rough guidance for your own. What works for one website/company won’t necessarily work for another and innovation is always the key to exceptional results.

 

3. Create A Sense Of Urgency

 

Have you ever wanted to buy a product but put it off in your mind until one day you receive an email from the company that has the following call to action: “Buy now for $39.99, the price goes up to $70 in 2 days 10 hours and 48 mins” – with a timer counting down to the dreaded price hike doomsday?

Of course you have, and what did you do? If you’re like me, you probably made the purchase right then and there.

There’s nothing that gets people pumped to hit a “buy now” button than the mention of scarcity and will make your conversion rate soar through the roof.

 

4. Examine Your Sign Up or CheckOut Process

 

Abandoned shopping cart syndrome is real.

Is your check out process causing you to lose clients? Most people expect between 3 – 4 steps when checking out, any more than that and you will lose customers. Less steps? Even better!

People purchase online because they desire ease and simplicity – don’t make it more difficult for potential customers to do business with you.

Logical, no?

 

Other CheckOut Optimization Tips To Keep In Mind:

 

- Keep the “Back” Button functional during your checkout process. People often need to make adjustments and you don’t want to add frustration or lose customers by having them start all over from the beginning.

- Have a Progress bar indicator. This gives your customer a sense of control and shows them how many steps they have completed and how many more remain.

- Make it easy for your customers to modify their order during the checkout process. Have “remove” links and editable “quantity” fields.

- Offer real time support – either through chat or telephone assistance.

As for sign up forms, reducing the number of fields to complete will also reduce abandonment rates. Be sure to give examples of what customers should write in the text fields – this small change has a surprising effect on sign up form completion.

 

5. Kick CAPTCHA To The Curve

 

This seems like dubious advice, however, the truth is, CAPTCHAs have become a huge pain in the rear. Have you noticed how difficult they‘ve become to decipher? Well, that frustration does not bode well for your conversion rate.

Many businesses have revealed that their conversions increased after removing CAPTCHA altogether; up to 3.2%! Even Paypal doesn’t use it on their signup form.

Despite these statistics, the use of CAPTCHA has been steadily increasing over the years. Don’t be another sheep in the crowd – decide for yourself if you can handle a little spam and significantly increase your profits or not.

Do you have any additional killer tips for conversation rate optimization? Share them below!

 

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4 Fresh Link Building Strategies Guaranteed To Boost Your Rankings In 2014

Discovering new methods of building effective backlinks is one of my most fun activities.

Maybe that doesn’t say very much about what I think is fun but there is no doubt that good SEO is about uncovering and testing new backlink methods frequently.

Adapt, change and evolve is the name of the game and you’ve gotta keep with the times cause being an old geezer surely won’t help your rankings game!

So, let’s get started shall we?

 

Create A Spankin’ Awesome Private Blog Network

 
Hold up, I know what you’re going to say: This backlink strategy has been hacked to pieces! Well…Not quite.

Blog networks that sport tons of low quality websites with random content/ loosely relevant content and countless outgoing links to money websites has been the norm for years. However, when I say, spankin’ awesome I mean:

1. Your network should contain a websites or domains you have purchased that have good domain authority, page rank and backlinks. Domain Jawa was recently created by Spencer from NichePursuits to help smart marketers easily find and buy these high metric expired domains that are spam free and ready to use.
 
2. Each of the websites in your blog network should only have a maximum of 10 – 12 outgoing links to the websites you wish to rank. This ensures that the quality and SEO power of each website remains high.
 
3. Each post or page must contain at least 700 words, be of high quality and all the websites in your network built out using “white hat” techniques.
 
4. Cover your e-footprint: Use different registrar’s, fictitious names, WhoIs privacy and Class C IP address hosting providers.
 

Create A Drupal/Magenta/Wordpress/Joomla Theme

 
Wordpress is the most popular and widely used CMS and by creating a WordPress theme, you will easily obtain numerous backlinks. This can quickly become spammy and useless unless you create niche specific themes.

For example, if you have a health website you want to build links to, simply create a health based WordPress theme. This way you’ll get highly relevant backlinks since only people with health related websites will use your theme.

Tip: Spammy links and anchor texts are to be avoided – so no exact match keywords!

Also, to get more exclusive backlinks, develop themes using other CMS’s like Joomla, Magenta and Drupal. WordPress themes are very popular and there are thousands of themes out there. Other lesser used CMS’s can provide more powerful and effective backlinks.
 

Give A Little! Offer A Scholarship

 
This is one of my favourite link building strategies that not only gives you extremely high quality backlinks, but creates an opportunity to spread the love.

Sure it will cost you, between $500 – $1500+ per scholarship and I recommend a minimum of $500 since it has to be enough to garner attention.

You can offer this scholarship on your website and contact various schools and universities to inform them of it and they will in turn, inform their students by linking to your website.

Can you say hello to all those beautiful .edu backlinks?
 

Guest Post Those Infographics

 
Marketer’s online usually have a lot to say about guest posting – mostly along the lines of “Guest Posting is Dead!” and “Google hates guest posts!” or “Guest Post if you want a penalty!”

While this may be true to the extent of low quality abusive guest posting, it is NOT true for high quality guest posts and infographics.

The real deal about infographics straight from Matt Cutts:

“The link is often embedded in the infographic in a way people dont realize, versus a true endorsement of your site.”

So, the takeaway here: Make the links within your infographic known and seen – no sneaky stuff and you’re good.

Create a superb infographic that provides immense value and ask other bloggers in your niche to check it out – no pressure and you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results.

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The Ultimate Guide To Dodging A Google Penalty SmackDown

google penalty

Worried about getting a Google Penalty? As you build your website – whether it is a passive income machine, soon-to-be epic blog or a company website, you need to follow certain guidelines to reduce your risk of getting a Google Penalty.

I can’t give a 100% fool proof method of completely avoiding a penalty – cause let’s face it – sh*t happens. There are no guarantees and this is the crux of online marketing.

However, the following guidelines do a gobsmacking good job of covering the major bases to dodge that Google bullet.

 

Factor # 1: Website Structure & On-Page Factors

 

H1 Tags
Are you a little too heavy handed with H1 tags? Not every subheading within your blog or article post should have an H1 tag. The H2 and H3 tags work just fine for subheadings. Overusing H1 tags can give the appearance of trying to manipulate keywords since this tag is usually used by Google to understand exactly what the Page is all about.

 
XML Sitemaps
It is imperative that your website has an XML Sitemap submitted to Google. You can submit your sitemap in your Webmaster Tools account so that Google can figure out your website’s structure and layout. The sitemap is basically a list of all the pages on your site and ensures that Google can “see” all the pages on your website that may not have been naturally “crawled” and obtain detailed information about your website’s content. Having an updated sitemap can go a long way to ensuring your website stays penalty free.

 
On-Page Factors
Some on-page factors you *must* avoid having on your website at all costs:

1. Pop up advertisements that a visitor has no choice but to click on. Not a great selling tactic and definitely a no-no in Google’s eyes.

2. Deceptively hiding text on a web page so that certain keywords seem more relevant to the page. These tactics involve changing text color to blend in with background or making some content only visible to search engines or visitors. This is an old school black hat SEO trick that will make your rankings magically disappear.

3. Redirecting visitors to other pages within your site automatically after they click on another page in search engine results. In most cases, these automatic redirects are to landing pages for specific products or services, affiliate offers, email submit forms and other selling or marketing funnels. Again, being deceptive doesn’t pay off guys!

4. Enabling comments on your blog post. Hold your horses, of course this is crucial to building an audience and interacting with your website’s community. However, you need to weed out spam comments as these usually contain links to pretty crummy sites, that you never want to have your website associated with since these can pretty much kill your website and search engine favor.

 

Factor #2: Content

 

The most important aspect of any website is the content: This is unquestionable. Thus, if you make any of these content related faux-pas, rest assured, your website will eventually be on the receiving end of a fatal penalty.

1. Duplicate content – No one likes being copied and plagiarising or stealing someone else’s work isn’t cool. This is just too easy for any search engine to identify, so only do this if you *want* a penalty.

2. Too many posts or articles less than 500 words. Google wants webmasters to provide more value and less “fluff” to web searchers… it’s kind of difficult to do just that in less than 500 words. In years past, 250 – 500 word articles were all the rage and ranked highly in search engines. However, if your website is chock full of pages that stick to the 250 – 500 word count, there is a high probability that you might get a visit from the formidable Panda.

3. Content that exists solely to rank for a specific keyword.

4. Boring, rehashed content that can be found all over the web.

5. Scraped content – this was once a good idea to bulk out your website, but now, it’s just unnecessary and useless duplication.

In order to win big with the search engines, create content that is unique, vivacious and will stop your visitors in their tracks! You should be thinking along the lines of detailed case studies, interviews with niche experts, podcasts, videos, unique infographics, detailed and informative 1000+ word articles and blog posts etc.

 

Factor #3: Keywords

 

Keywords, the building blocks of the inter-webs. Here’s what you need to avoid:

 
Keyword Stuffing
The rules about keyword density are constantly changing. Now, it’s best not to use a hard and fast percentage applied across all your posts/articles. This creates a pattern and the Google algorithm is almost perfect at detecting patterns. Therefore, use your main keyword (very) sparingly but effectively throughout your article. Also bear in mind not to use your exact keyword in all the elements of your page such as the title, url, all your headers (h1, h2 and h3), image alts, internal page links etc.

 
Keywords In Domain Name
EMD (Exact match domain) websites used to rank quite highly in Google without being authoritative websites, but this has now been corrected and many EMD’s are suffering from penalizations. This does not mean, you cannot have an exact match domain name or have your domain contain the main keywords you’re trying to rank for, but you will need to be very careful how you build links to your website. Why? Well, if you build links to your home page using just the url, the keyword in the actual url counts as anchor text – which can unsuspectingly land you a Penguin algorithm penalty.

 
Redundant or Repetitive Keyword Usage For Different Web Pages
In the initial stages of “fleshing out” the blueprint for a website, keyword research is the critical component of planning future pages on a website. Each page is assigned at least one main keyword, and these are usually structured around the demand, supply, traffic volume, monetization or adsense cpc of each keyword within that niche. However, when analysing keywords, you will see groups of keywords with high demand and low supply that basically point to the same topic.

For example, look at the following 3 keywords:

“fedex driving jobs”

“fedex driver jobs”

“fedex drivers”

These are three different keywords that happen to all have moderate search volume, so if someone had a website about Fedex, they might be tempted to use each one of these keywords for 3 different pages, to make sure they rank for all three of these seemingly separate keywords to get more long tail traffic to their website.

This is redundant and will get you a penalty! These 3 keywords, should all be used for one page on Fedex driving jobs. This technique has been used quite successfully in the past to secure boatloads of easy long tail traffic, but as Google algorithm’s become smarter, this is now highly dangerous territory.

 

Factor #4: Links

 

This forth factor shall be further broken down into Internal Links, Outbound Links and Back Links for clarity.

 

Internal Links

 

For goodness sakes folks, have an actual plan when interlinking between the pages of your website. A good internal link structure that makes sense can go a long way to helping your website rank higher and dodge a penalty.

Broken Internal Links: Take the time to prune, weed and take care of your internal web landscape, fix broken links asap! If it looks like you don’t care about user experience and keeping your website up to date and running smoothly, don’t expect to keep good rankings – logical no?

 

Outbound Links

 

The links within your website that point to other websites are used to gauge whether you recommend authoritative websites within your niche – i.e. if you point your website visitors to other reputable websites in the same niche to enhance user experience and satisfaction.  It’s no secret that linking to authoritative and highly relevant external websites can actually boost your own website’s rankings! (And well, if you didn’t know, you know now).

The websites that you link to from your website are the only links (besides internal links) that you have FULL control of (unlike backlinks). This means, you better watch ‘em links buddy!
 
Reciprocal linking: This has been heavily penalized in the last couple years. Thus, if you do engage in reciprocal linking, be sure to do so sparingly! Also, whenever engaging in reciprocal linking, always ensure that the website you’re exchanging links with is highly relevant to your website or in the same niche.

 
Linking out to websites that are in another language. Search engines see this as non-sensical. Why? If your website is in one language, and you link to another website in another language – that means that the majority of your web visitors who are only fluent in one language (the majority) would simply close the tab and exit (or return to SE results) – i.e. bad user experience once again.

 
Hiding links by making them the same colour of your website’s background is extremely suspicious (no matter your reasoning) and will definitely be frowned upon by Search engines, who won’t fall for this ancient blackhat seo tactic.

 
Sitewide Footer Links – Especially those left by web designers for link juicing their websites. You might think no-following these links should be okay, but unfortunately this is no longer the case, so remove ‘em altogether.

 
Affiliate Links – Monetizing your website by placing affiliate links is quite popular and in itself, won’t get you a penalty. However, overusing affiliate links on your website will! Don’t place these links on every single page of your website or have more links than content. Also, an affiliate link on your home page, especially above the fold, increases your chance of a penalty quite significantly.

 
My advice:

The best way to successfully (and profitably) run an affiliate website is to make sure it does not LOOK like an affiliate website.

Affiliate links should seem like an afterthought as oppose to the main purpose of the website. Google isn’t particularly fond of affiliate sites, so make sure your content is up to scratch.

 
Blog Comment Links: As mentioned previously, allowing web visitors to comment on your blog posts is great. However, make sure that when they comment, you don’t approve comments that link out to spammy websites or have keyword stuffed usernames. Somehow, I don’t think someone’s real name would be “toyotacardealerflorida” ;)

 
Links That Are Guilty By Association.  You know that saying, “show me your friends and I will tell you who you are”? Well, it applies even with websites. Don’t link out to pornographic websites, websites that are related to hacking, malware, illegal activities or even websites that you know have received a google penalty in the past.

 
Too Many or Too Few External Links (Ah, the struggle!) Too many links are a sign that your website isn’t an authority on its subject matter whilst too few external links indicate that you don’t reference other authority sites in your niche and are trying too hard to keep all the delicious SEO juice.

 
Code based links – Messing with your code and trying to hide links in your script file? Think again – These links will be found and anything hidden is suspicious.

 

Backlinks

 

Backlinks have and will always be one of the strongest SEO factors that affect how your website ranks. Therefore, it is one of the most manipulated factors in SEO and as such, is heavily policed by Search engines. The Penguin algorithm was specifically rolled out to penalize websites with questionable back-linking strategies and the following are the main tactics that will get you a penalty.

 
Over Optimized Anchor Texts – Put your keyword in the link text of a backlink one too many times, and you will be quickly shot down by the Penguin. Keyword based anchor texts should be kept to around 8% or less of your total backlinks. Even long tail keyword based anchor texts are not safe – these definitely count as over optimization for long tail traffic.

Therefore, create more natural backlinks using anchors texts like the website’s URL (unless it’s an EMD or contains your keyword). You should also use anchor texts like “click here”, “website brand name”, “your name” as well as varied sentences that look more natural.

The point is, Google is now placing more emphasis on the actual presence of the back link as opposed to the anchor text.

 
Competitor Spamming Your Website – This is unsportsmanlike and just sucks. Unfortunately, it happens and a competitor might send tons of spammy backlinks to your website so that you can get penalized by Google.

However, all is not lost – The first step is to send emails to the webmasters requesting them to remove the offending links. If you get no response or the webmaster doesn’t remove them (usually the case), you can use Google’s Disavow tool to report the harmful links and they will then remove these links from your profile.

The point is, you need to ACTIVELY keep watch over your backlink profile and take timely and appropriate measures to ensure your website stays free from a backlink based penalty.

 
Paid Links or Rented Links – Buying links from websites (or link networks) that pass link juice from page/domain rank and authority is one of the ultimate methods of earning a penalty. Sure, it will help your rankings and traffic in the short term – that’s why people do it – it’s highly effective. However, in the long term, do you really want to have nightmares from wondering when Google will catch onto you?

Rented Links are also popular whereby webmasters rent links from other websites on a monthly basis. These are sometimes used for a few months to boost rankings and then stopped or other links rented on other websites. This is pretty much the same as buying links and the same consequences apply.

 
Blog Networks – The strategy of obtaining backlinks from 250 – 500 word articles or “guest posts” on websites within a blog network no longer works. It was great while it lasted, but the recent crackdown on these types of links and major penalization of these networks by Google, makes them a high risk method of obtaining backlinks. Some of the popular blog networks that have been Google slam-dunked include: BuildMyRank, MyBlogGuest, BlogBlueprint, Unique Article Wizard, MyArticleNetwork etc.

 
Link Velocity – Building backlinks too quickly looks unnatural and will leave a noticeable pattern easily detected by a search engine’s algorithm. Keep a log of your backlinks and dates on which they are built/indexed to ensure everything looks natural to avoid penalization.

 
Irrelevant Links – Having a backlink profile with links from highly unrelated websites is suspicious and indicative of a poor/blackhat SEO strategy. Your backlinks should come from websites that are related to your niche and not from random websites in different niches.

 

Factor # 5: Social Media

Social Media has become a prominent factor in SE rankings in the last few years due to the rise of Facebook, Twitter, Google + and other social mediums. It provides social proofing of your website and will drastically affect your website traffic and rankings.

As tempting as it may be, do not buy Facebook “likes”, Fan Page or Business Page members, Twitter “followers” etc. This is just the same as Paid links previously discussed and will attract a penalty.

 

Factor # 6: Monetization

 

Advertisements – Ads are an easy and quick way of monetizing a website, however, they can easily cause your website to be penalized. Similar to affiliate links previously discussed, you need to keep the ad to content ratio in mind. Too many ads on too many pages of your website will spell trouble. Also, you should never have too many of these ads “above the fold” as this impedes on user experience. The ad should never be the “star” of your website or web page, but rather be secondary to the actual content of your website.

These guidelines are also applicable to displaying Google Adsense ads on your website. Never have more than 2 adsense blocks per page and very rarely place these ad blocks above the fold as this pattern is widely copied by MFA (Made For Adsense) websites which are indiscriminately penalized.

 

Factor # 7: User Experience

 

If there is one thing that you can take away from this blog post is that by analysing all the ways that your SEO efforts can go wrong is that – Search engines, particularly Google place HUGE emphasis on User Experience above all else.

If your website does not fulfil the user’s needs or inhibits user experience in any way – then your site does not deserve to be ranked highly for the keywords in your niche! Makes sense right? After all, the purpose of all search engines is to serve up websites and web pages that provide the information or product that the user is specifically searching for! If a search engine can’t do that, then they’d be out of business!

Some specific user based penalties you could incur:

 
High Bounce Rate Penalty
If a website user, clicks on your website from search engine results and only stays on your page for a relatively short time ( say less than 30 seconds) and doesn’t view other pages on your site and simply goes back to the SE results page – this signals a high bounce rate. Meaning, your web page doesn’t fulfil the needs of the user and as such, can attract a high bounce rate penalty.

How do you prevent this? Provide engaging quality content that the user was looking for in the first place!

 
Low Interaction/Engagement
A high bounce rate indicates low engagement and user interaction. User engagement can be increased by creating a community such as active Facebook fan pages, responding and interacting with users on Facebook, twitter etc.  An active forum also indicates good user interaction as well as genuine blog commenting.

 
Website Downtime & Poor Load Time
If your website is not available 24/7, then this creates a very poor user experience, thus leading to removal, de-indexing or a decreased ranking. The same goes for a website with poor load time – web users have much shorter attention spans and if your page takes long to load – you can say goodbye to impatient web visitors and google rankings.

 
Website Not Optimized For Mobile Devices
More people are searching the web using smart phones, tablets and other mobile devices. Therefore, it is imperative that your website is optimized for these devices as Google would not want to serve up a page that doesn’t load on these devices or shows up poorly – affecting user experience.

 

Factor # 8: External Variables

 

Has your website been hacked in the past? Or does it have malware? Even if you have fixed these issues, your website might still be penalized simply because your website is now seen as a risk to web users. Not to mention, if you have been hacked, then your website could contain links to unsavoury websites that could unknowingly cause a penalty.

 
Your SEO Service Sucks
Most companies or webmasters are just too busy to SEO their websites themselves and usually outsource this service to a SEO company or individual. However, with the alarming number of SEO companies using out dated techniques (cloaking, spammy links, keyword stuffing, anchor over-optimization etc) – they could be the ones landing you a penalty! (This happens more than you think.)

How can you stop this? Ask questions about exactly what on-page and backlink techniques they are using! Request that they show you where the links are coming from and decide for yourself if these fall in the Google penalty zone or not. Relying on your SEO service 100% is a gamble, so make sure to be an informed and questioning customer.

 
Conclusion
Avoiding a penalty is a lot of hard work! But completely worth it as you see your traffic, income and website’s popularity soar. However, this list, while comprehensive will continue to change and evolve over time as Google is no sleeping beauty.

Be sure to keep abreast with the changing Google Algorithms here and always follow Google’s Webmaster Guidelines – This is the literal guidebook to building a website that search engines will love, so make sure to read it ya!

What do you think? Got any other tips on avoiding a Google Penalty? Let me know in the comments below!

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The Evolution Of SEO: Bridging The Gap Between The Past + Understanding The Present State Of Affairs

cheerstoseo

 

 

 

“Everything is relative in this world, where change alone endures.” – Leon Trotsky

 

 

The Internet exists as a universe of endless information, open through the doorways of search engines and unlocked with virtual keys made of keywords. Vast multitudes of data lay ready for consumption, with a couple strokes on your keyboard in mere milliseconds.

What was once a world with people starved of information is now one where we are drowning in it.
But I think, it is much better to have too much knowledge than too little!

The internet has come a long way and search engines are the gatekeepers that Internet marketers and anyone who desires to be found on the web must learn to court. Yes, you heard me right! Search engine optimization now requires intuition, a gentle knowing ability to give the SE’s what they want, when they want it so you can be rewarded with high rankings for your keywords. Not to mention the ability to figure out the cause of penalizations and traffic drops and attempt to reverse your transgressions!

In a post panda/penguin/hummingbird/ [+ all other terrifying Google algorithms named after adorable animals] world, any Internet Marketer worth his rankings knows that SEO is now an art form and not an exact science.

However, this wasn’t always the case!

So, this leads to a short (probably very long) look at the history and evolution of SEO:

 

1990 – 1997: The Beginning

 

The great Google was born in 1998, but before the rise of Google, the first search engine was born in 1990, named “Archie”- This was basically a FTP site that allowed people to find and access different files. Archie being derived from the more familiar word, “archive.”

Other early search engines included the VLib, Excite, World Wide Web Wanderer, ALIWEB, Primitive Web Search, Infoseek, Altavista, Galaxy, Webcrawler, the popular Yahoo Directory, Lycos, LookSmart, Hotbot and Ask Jeeves.

Search Engine Optimization – Interest Points From The Early Days:

  • The first step in SEO that these early Search engines developed and implemented was allowing webmasters to use page titles, meta data, meta descriptions and page urls/file names. These were the first SEO factors to be used to sort through web pages and present them to users.
  • Yahoo directory was launched in 1994: Here webmasters could submit their website for consideration for a $300 fee. This directory still exists in 2014 and is one of the very few web directories that is highly regarded by Google and has a positive effect on website rankings. Don’t believe it?

“If a directory takes $50 and every single person who ever applies in the directory automatically gets in for that $50, there’s not as much editorial oversight as something like the Yahoo! Directory, where people do get rejected,” – Matt Cutts (leads the Webspam team at Google)

  • In 1996, BackRub, the precursor to Google, was the first search engine to use backlinks as votes for a website – this technology was then used to develop Page Rank.

 

1998 – 2002: The Early Years Cont’d

 

Google was fully launched in 1998 and quickly became the top search engine. DMOZ was also launched in 1998.

In 1998, Google released the famous Page Rank (PR) tool which measured the link juice of websites from incoming links in order to rank them. This beckoned the start of the close relationship between links and successful SEO.

In the late 90’s and very early 2000’s, the SEO strategy of using meta tags to target specific keywords was a very successful tactic for easily gaining high rankings. However, as we all know, this strategy was quickly penalized in 2003.

In 2002, the first ever paid link network, known as “PR AD Network” was launched. This was the first link network ever created that brokered paid links between websites in order to manipulate Page Rank and Google rankings.

 

2003 – 2004: The Rise Of MFA (Made for Adsense) Websites

 

In 2003, Google launched Google Adsense which started the trend of Internet Marketers creating websites made specifically for adsense ads which became a huge issue for Google and users alike for years to come.

Text Link Ads was also launched in 2003 which allowed webmasters to buy and sell links (paid links) and became vastly popular in the following years which eventually led to Google heavily penalizing paid links in the future.

As you can see, link manipulation was a very popular SEO tactic in the 2000’s, with the creation of numerous link farms and paid link services including the famous Digital Point Co-op network (founded in 2004).

With more and more IM’s attempting to manipulate Google’s algorithm, the search engine started penalizing all earlier SEO strategies commonly practiced in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. In particular, websites with over optimized anchor text and keyword stuffing were targeted.

 

2005 – 2008: Fun, Easy Times For IMer’s Everywhere

 

The Internet is now awash with blog spam and rankings are oh so easy to manipulate and achieve. The Internet Marketers are rolling in the dollars, while search engines try to figure out what to do about it.

In order to reduce blog spam, Google introduces the “no follow” tag which is also supported by Yahoo and MSN. However, Internet Marketers then used this attribute to funnel Page Rank to specific pages they want to rank using the “do follow” attribute and “no follow” to other unimportant pages – This strategy was known as Page Rank Sculpting.

In 2005, Google also launched its now famous, Google Analytics, giving all webmasters the ability to easily analyse traffic and website data including unique visitors, traffic sources, organic traffic sources, long tail keywords, seo campaigns etc.

Google introduced what was known as the “Google Sandbox” which acted as an aging filter so that new websites wouldn’t be able to immediately gain high rankings. This was of course followed by what is known as the Google Dance where traffic and SERP positions fluctuated for a period before settling.

Google Algorithm Updates in 2005:

  •  “Jagger” Algorithm update: This was implemented to penalize unsolicited link exchanges.
  • “Big Daddy” Update: This was an infrastructural update which enabled Google to process the quality and type of links between websites for more accurate ranking.

Other notable happenings:

- XML Sitemaps launched in 2006

- The famous, Text Link Ads service was officially banned in 2007 by Google.

- Launch of “Google Suggest” in 2008, allowing SEO’s to use this for keyword research.

 

2009 – 2010: Pre-Apocalypse Happy Times

 

In 2009, Freshness was the next big factor to be introduced. This lead to the Google Caffeine Update which allowed faster indexing of web pages to provide results that were “fresher” and up to date.

This included real-time search being introduced which showed Twitter results for searches until 2011, when the contractual agreement with Twitter ended.

By the end of 2010, Google had implemented over 500 algorithm updates! (Much to the distress of Internet Marketers worldwide of course).

 

2011: It’s the Beginning Of The End Folks!

 

2011 marked the date of one of the biggest and most destructive virtual natural disasters to hit the SEO landscape. Yes, you know what I’m talking about…. The dreaded Google Panda update. Millions of websites around the world were hit by drastic drop in rankings, website traffic and of course, income, almost overnight. The Panda algorithm, sought out websites that had what it deemed as low quality content with high SE rankings and hit these with huge penalties. The purpose of the Panda was to crackdown on content farms, especially article directories, websites with thin content as well as those with a high ad to content ratio.

The Panda filter almost mimics the Google Dance and is refreshed from time to time so that if a website was wrongfully penalized, this may be automatically reversed in the next Panda update. Thus, if the appropriate changes were made to a site that had been rightfully penalized, rankings would be restored either fully or at least to some degree after the next refresh or update.

Another interesting wrench that Google threw in to frustrate SEO’s even further, was the encryption of keyword data in 2011. Meaning, when website owners, looked at their site’s analytics, they could no longer see some of the specific keywords bringing in traffic to their website. These unspecified keywords were labelled as “(not provided)”- and were usually the ones that provided a high percentage of traffic – bummer right?!

 

2012: Is SEO Dead?

 

The apocalypse part II known as the Google Penguin was released. After the Panda declared war on content, the Penguin was deployed to target link building – the pillar of SEO and the life blood of organic traffic. With more and more Internet Marketers and website owners using and abusing the power of links by implementing unscrupulous black hat tactics, the Penguin was brought in to serve “justice,” – well that was the intention, I think.

Some of the link tactics penalized include:

Blog networks, paid links, article spinning and submission (Build my Rank/ blog blueprint etc), links with over optimized anchor text, low quality links (profile links, blog forum post links, directory links) and just about every other shady link building trick in the book to name a few.

The Google Disavow tool was also introduced in 2012 so that you can now “disavow” or discredit external links pointing to your website. This can help you get out of a link penalty and is useful if a competitor decides to send spam links to your websites to get you penalized.

 

2013: Nope, Not The End Of SEO – Time To Embrace Change For The Better

 

The Google Hummingbird algorithm was introduced in 2013, and is thankfully not as destructive as its predecessors. The main goal of this algorithm is to provide better search results that are tailored according to human language and interaction.  Meaning, this algorithm is meant to understand the actual words, context and meaning of terms in a given search query and give results according to that “understanding.”

Pretty cool stuff right?

In other news, the Google Panda and Penguin algorithm continue to be run and updated very frequently ensuring Internet Marketers and website owners are kept on their tippy toes. SEO is no longer a free for all it once was pre-2011 and making a living from niche websites is more of a skilled game of chess than a fun game of monopoly and counting dollars.

 

2014 + The Great Beyond:  A Challenge For The Brave

 

So far for 2014, there hasn’t been any major SEO upsets except for the now typical updates of the Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird. Who knows exactly what other fuzzy animals await us?

However, Google has been *very* clear on what it wants from us:

Mega-AmazeBalls-Content-SuperfraglisticUserExperience-Social Media-Phenomining-SuperDuperGodzillaLikeBrandability… and not forgetting… a flawless squeaky clean link profile *badoom ching!*

Basically, the Search Engine gods just want us to do what is right and treat our websites as a business that provides real value! And not just meant to make a quick buck with ads or sleazy products. In order to improve and evolve the Internet, we all need to step up our game and rise to the challenge of creating websites that are ranked according to their actual merit and not just based on highly optimized SEO tactics.

Does Google get it right every time and reward the best websites with high rankings? Definitely not, but that’s a whole other blog post. But the point is, that this change does not come over night – and based on previous SEO trends over the last 15 years, we’re in for a lot more changes and “apocalyptic” SEO events in the future  ;)

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