Tag Archive | "Problems"

Should You Trust Influencers to Promote Your Brand? Consider These Problems First

Influencer marketing is drawing more and more suspicion from brands and advertisers alike. There is a growing concern in some business sectors that consumer trust in influencers is waning or has reached its peak. Empirical data, however, shows that influencers still have a lot of pull. They can still raise brand awareness, push customer loyalty, and boost engagement. One study by Marvrck also shows that cost per acquisition (CPA) was also far lower with influencer marketing compared to other types of advertising like Facebook ads.

cost per acquisition

While there’s no denying that influencer marketing works, it has a lot of issues that have resulted in brands having a general lack of trust for influencers.

4 Reasons Why Brands Don’t Trust Influencer Marketing

1. Hard to Measure ROI

The majority of brands find that choosing the right metrics to use and measuring return on investment are the main challenges they face when it comes to influencer marketing.

Every marketing campaign should be based on measurable objectives, like an increase in revenue, higher brand awareness, or more social media followers. You need to determine your objective first. Once that’s done, you can then identify how you will track your KPIs and evaluate how the content or an influencer has performed.

Luckily, most of the tools used in tracking conventional and digital marketing are also appropriate for influencer marketing. For instance, tools like Google Analytics, promo codes, giveaways, vanity URLs, and UTM parameters can all be used to measure the results of an influencer marketing campaign. Social media platforms like Pinterest are also taking steps in this direction by giving access to their APIs to ensure that influencers and marketers can work well together.

2. Fake Followers and Fake Accounts

Fake followers and fraudulent accounts are also behind the mistrust of influencers. According to a New York Times report, this practice is so rampant that about 15 percent of Twitter profiles are fakes and many celebrities and influencers buy followers to inflate their perceived social influence.

Image result for fake followers statistics

Too often, brands look for influencers with the largest number of followers and pay big money for access to them. So it’s not surprising that some influencers pad their numbers with fake accounts. Unfortunately, the practice messes up one crucial element of this marketing methodinfluencing another individual. After all, you can’t wield your influence over an imaginary person.

To combat this problem, brands should focus more on quality than quantity. Instead of looking at the numbers, they should concentrate on the kind of consumers that follow the influencer, and whether said influencer is suitable for the brand. Social media platforms should also put more effort into cracking down on dubious accounts. 

More importantly, the influencers should hold themselves accountable and check for fake followers, even if it means they have to scroll through their list of followers and vet each one.

3. A Million Followers Doesn’t Mean More Profit

A social media account might have tens of thousands of followers but not have much influence. There are people who are influential in one area but not in another. For instance, an account that specializes in memes might have a million followers but those followers are not there to buy anything. They just follow the account for its entertainment value.

Brands should first determine whether an influencer is considered trustworthy by their followers or just a digital performer. The former has an impact on a follower’s buying decision while the latter doesn’t. Companies can tell which is which by their posts. Consumers respond to honesty and passion, and a good influencer shows these in their posts.

4. Competition Between Influencers and Marketers

If your brand has a marketing team, they may view influencers as a direct threat. This implied threat is due to the fact that influencers work in direct competition with traditional marketing strategies. Moreover, a lot of marketers don’t totally trust social influencers with regards to content development.

To get past this problem, you’ll need to understand how influencer marketing actually works. Influencers have to be authentic and strive to show this in the tone and passion of their posts. In contrast, your marketers need to double check everything or have some say in the content creation process. You’ll need to find a good compromise between the two groups to prevent conflict.

Should Brands Still Trust Influencers?

Many consumers have relationships with influencers that are more like friendships. And according to Neilsen, 92 percent of consumers trust the recommendations of family and friends. For this reason, influencers still have the power to greatly impact a brand. However, the problems that come with influencer marketing have gone largely unresolved.

Part of the problem is that these issues have only recently come to the forefront, so best practices have not yet been established. Brands and influencers are still learning and adjusting. 

Moving foward, more influencers will need to audit their followers and check for fake accounts. Branded content should merge well with integrated content, and sponsored posts should be kept to a minimum. Meanwhile, it’s imperative for brands to thoroughly research their potential partners, making sure they only work with credible influencers and choose the right platforms to promote their products and services.

The post Should You Trust Influencers to Promote Your Brand? Consider These Problems First appeared first on WebProNews.


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An 8-Point Checklist for Debugging Strange Technical SEO Problems

Posted by Dom-Woodman

Occasionally, a problem will land on your desk that’s a little out of the ordinary. Something where you don’t have an easy answer. You go to your brain and your brain returns nothing.

These problems can’t be solved with a little bit of keyword research and basic technical configuration. These are the types of technical SEO problems where the rabbit hole goes deep.

The very nature of these situations defies a checklist, but it’s useful to have one for the same reason we have them on planes: even the best of us can and will forget things, and a checklist will provvide you with places to dig.


Fancy some examples of strange SEO problems? Here are four examples to mull over while you read. We’ll answer them at the end.

1. Why wasn’t Google showing 5-star markup on product pages?

  • The pages had server-rendered product markup and they also had Feefo product markup, including ratings being attached client-side.
  • The Feefo ratings snippet was successfully rendered in Fetch & Render, plus the mobile-friendly tool.
  • When you put the rendered DOM into the structured data testing tool, both pieces of structured data appeared without errors.

2. Why wouldn’t Bing display 5-star markup on review pages, when Google would?

  • The review pages of client & competitors all had rating rich snippets on Google.
  • All the competitors had rating rich snippets on Bing; however, the client did not.
  • The review pages had correctly validating ratings schema on Google’s structured data testing tool, but did not on Bing.

3. Why were pages getting indexed with a no-index tag?

  • Pages with a server-side-rendered no-index tag in the head were being indexed by Google across a large template for a client.

4. Why did any page on a website return a 302 about 20–50% of the time, but only for crawlers?

  • A website was randomly throwing 302 errors.
  • This never happened in the browser and only in crawlers.
  • User agent made no difference; location or cookies also made no difference.

Finally, a quick note. It’s entirely possible that some of this checklist won’t apply to every scenario. That’s totally fine. It’s meant to be a process for everything you could check, not everything you should check.

The pre-checklist check

Does it actually matter?

Does this problem only affect a tiny amount of traffic? Is it only on a handful of pages and you already have a big list of other actions that will help the website? You probably need to just drop it.

I know, I hate it too. I also want to be right and dig these things out. But in six months’ time, when you’ve solved twenty complex SEO rabbit holes and your website has stayed flat because you didn’t re-write the title tags, you’re still going to get fired.

But hopefully that’s not the case, in which case, onwards!

Where are you seeing the problem?

We don’t want to waste a lot of time. Have you heard this wonderful saying?: “If you hear hooves, it’s probably not a zebra.”

The process we’re about to go through is fairly involved and it’s entirely up to your discretion if you want to go ahead. Just make sure you’re not overlooking something obvious that would solve your problem. Here are some common problems I’ve come across that were mostly horses.

  1. You’re underperforming from where you should be.
    1. When a site is under-performing, people love looking for excuses. Weird Google nonsense can be quite a handy thing to blame. In reality, it’s typically some combination of a poor site, higher competition, and a failing brand. Horse.
  2. You’ve suffered a sudden traffic drop.
    1. Something has certainly happened, but this is probably not the checklist for you. There are plenty of common-sense checklists for this. I’ve written about diagnosing traffic drops recently — check that out first.
  3. The wrong page is ranking for the wrong query.
    1. In my experience (which should probably preface this entire post), this is usually a basic problem where a site has poor targeting or a lot of cannibalization. Probably a horse.

Factors which make it more likely that you’ve got a more complex problem which require you to don your debugging shoes:

  • A website that has a lot of client-side JavaScript.
  • Bigger, older websites with more legacy.
  • Your problem is related to a new Google property or feature where there is less community knowledge.

1. Start by picking some example pages.

Pick a couple of example pages to work with — ones that exhibit whatever problem you’re seeing. No, this won’t be representative, but we’ll come back to that in a bit.

Of course, if it only affects a tiny number of pages then it might actually be representative, in which case we’re good. It definitely matters, right? You didn’t just skip the step above? OK, cool, let’s move on.

2. Can Google crawl the page once?

First we’re checking whether Googlebot has access to the page, which we’ll define as a 200 status code.

We’ll check in four different ways to expose any common issues:

  1. Robots.txt: Open up Search Console and check in the robots.txt validator.
  2. User agent: Open Dev Tools and verify that you can open the URL with both Googlebot and Googlebot Mobile.
    1. To get the user agent switcher, open Dev Tools.
    2. Check the console drawer is open (the toggle is the Escape key)
    3. Hit the … and open “Network conditions”
    4. Here, select your user agent!

  1. IP Address: Verify that you can access the page with the mobile testing tool. (This will come from one of the IPs used by Google; any checks you do from your computer won’t.)
  2. Country: The mobile testing tool will visit from US IPs, from what I’ve seen, so we get two birds with one stone. But Googlebot will occasionally crawl from non-American IPs, so it’s also worth using a VPN to double-check whether you can access the site from any other relevant countries.
    1. I’ve used HideMyAss for this before, but whatever VPN you have will work fine.

We should now have an idea whether or not Googlebot is struggling to fetch the page once.

Have we found any problems yet?

If we can re-create a failed crawl with a simple check above, then it’s likely Googlebot is probably failing consistently to fetch our page and it’s typically one of those basic reasons.

But it might not be. Many problems are inconsistent because of the nature of technology. ;)

3. Are we telling Google two different things?

Next up: Google can find the page, but are we confusing it by telling it two different things?

This is most commonly seen, in my experience, because someone has messed up the indexing directives.

By “indexing directives,” I’m referring to any tag that defines the correct index status or page in the index which should rank. Here’s a non-exhaustive list:

  • No-index
  • Canonical
  • Mobile alternate tags
  • AMP alternate tags

An example of providing mixed messages would be:

  • No-indexing page A
  • Page B canonicals to page A

Or:

  • Page A has a canonical in a header to A with a parameter
  • Page A has a canonical in the body to A without a parameter

If we’re providing mixed messages, then it’s not clear how Google will respond. It’s a great way to start seeing strange results.

Good places to check for the indexing directives listed above are:

  • Sitemap
    • Example: Mobile alternate tags can sit in a sitemap
  • HTTP headers
    • Example: Canonical and meta robots can be set in headers.
  • HTML head
    • This is where you’re probably looking, you’ll need this one for a comparison.
  • JavaScript-rendered vs hard-coded directives
    • You might be setting one thing in the page source and then rendering another with JavaScript, i.e. you would see something different in the HTML source from the rendered DOM.
  • Google Search Console settings
    • There are Search Console settings for ignoring parameters and country localization that can clash with indexing tags on the page.

A quick aside on rendered DOM

This page has a lot of mentions of the rendered DOM on it (18, if you’re curious). Since we’ve just had our first, here’s a quick recap about what that is.

When you load a webpage, the first request is the HTML. This is what you see in the HTML source (right-click on a webpage and click View Source).

This is before JavaScript has done anything to the page. This didn’t use to be such a big deal, but now so many websites rely heavily on JavaScript that the most people quite reasonably won’t trust the the initial HTML.

Rendered DOM is the technical term for a page, when all the JavaScript has been rendered and all the page alterations made. You can see this in Dev Tools.

In Chrome you can get that by right clicking and hitting inspect element (or Ctrl + Shift + I). The Elements tab will show the DOM as it’s being rendered. When it stops flickering and changing, then you’ve got the rendered DOM!

4. Can Google crawl the page consistently?

To see what Google is seeing, we’re going to need to get log files. At this point, we can check to see how it is accessing the page.

Aside: Working with logs is an entire post in and of itself. I’ve written a guide to log analysis with BigQuery, I’d also really recommend trying out Screaming Frog Log Analyzer, which has done a great job of handling a lot of the complexity around logs.

When we’re looking at crawling there are three useful checks we can do:

  1. Status codes: Plot the status codes over time. Is Google seeing different status codes than you when you check URLs?
  2. Resources: Is Google downloading all the resources of the page?
    1. Is it downloading all your site-specific JavaScript and CSS files that it would need to generate the page?
  3. Page size follow-up: Take the max and min of all your pages and resources and diff them. If you see a difference, then Google might be failing to fully download all the resources or pages. (Hat tip to @ohgm, where I first heard this neat tip).

Have we found any problems yet?

If Google isn’t getting 200s consistently in our log files, but we can access the page fine when we try, then there is clearly still some differences between Googlebot and ourselves. What might those differences be?

  1. It will crawl more than us
  2. It is obviously a bot, rather than a human pretending to be a bot
  3. It will crawl at different times of day

This means that:

  • If our website is doing clever bot blocking, it might be able to differentiate between us and Googlebot.
  • Because Googlebot will put more stress on our web servers, it might behave differently. When websites have a lot of bots or visitors visiting at once, they might take certain actions to help keep the website online. They might turn on more computers to power the website (this is called scaling), they might also attempt to rate-limit users who are requesting lots of pages, or serve reduced versions of pages.
  • Servers run tasks periodically; for example, a listings website might run a daily task at 01:00 to clean up all it’s old listings, which might affect server performance.

Working out what’s happening with these periodic effects is going to be fiddly; you’re probably going to need to talk to a back-end developer.

Depending on your skill level, you might not know exactly where to lead the discussion. A useful structure for a discussion is often to talk about how a request passes through your technology stack and then look at the edge cases we discussed above.

  • What happens to the servers under heavy load?
  • When do important scheduled tasks happen?

Two useful pieces of information to enter this conversation with:

  1. Depending on the regularity of the problem in the logs, it is often worth trying to re-create the problem by attempting to crawl the website with a crawler at the same speed/intensity that Google is using to see if you can find/cause the same issues. This won’t always be possible depending on the size of the site, but for some sites it will be. Being able to consistently re-create a problem is the best way to get it solved.
  2. If you can’t, however, then try to provide the exact periods of time where Googlebot was seeing the problems. This will give the developer the best chance of tying the issue to other logs to let them debug what was happening.

If Google can crawl the page consistently, then we move onto our next step.

5. Does Google see what I can see on a one-off basis?

We know Google is crawling the page correctly. The next step is to try and work out what Google is seeing on the page. If you’ve got a JavaScript-heavy website you’ve probably banged your head against this problem before, but even if you don’t this can still sometimes be an issue.

We follow the same pattern as before. First, we try to re-create it once. The following tools will let us do that:

  • Fetch & Render
    • Shows: Rendered DOM in an image, but only returns the page source HTML for you to read.
  • Mobile-friendly test
    • Shows: Rendered DOM and returns rendered DOM for you to read.
    • Not only does this show you rendered DOM, but it will also track any console errors.

Is there a difference between Fetch & Render, the mobile-friendly testing tool, and Googlebot? Not really, with the exception of timeouts (which is why we have our later steps!). Here’s the full analysis of the difference between them, if you’re interested.

Once we have the output from these, we compare them to what we ordinarily see in our browser. I’d recommend using a tool like Diff Checker to compare the two.

Have we found any problems yet?

If we encounter meaningful differences at this point, then in my experience it’s typically either from JavaScript or cookies

Why?

We can isolate each of these by:

  • Loading the page with no cookies. This can be done simply by loading the page with a fresh incognito session and comparing the rendered DOM here against the rendered DOM in our ordinary browser.
  • Use the mobile testing tool to see the page with Chrome 41 and compare against the rendered DOM we normally see with Inspect Element.

Yet again we can compare them using something like Diff Checker, which will allow us to spot any differences. You might want to use an HTML formatter to help line them up better.

We can also see the JavaScript errors thrown using the Mobile-Friendly Testing Tool, which may prove particularly useful if you’re confident in your JavaScript.

If, using this knowledge and these tools, we can recreate the bug, then we have something that can be replicated and it’s easier for us to hand off to a developer as a bug that will get fixed.

If we’re seeing everything is correct here, we move on to the next step.

6. What is Google actually seeing?

It’s possible that what Google is seeing is different from what we recreate using the tools in the previous step. Why? A couple main reasons:

  • Overloaded servers can have all sorts of strange behaviors. For example, they might be returning 200 codes, but perhaps with a default page.
  • JavaScript is rendered separately from pages being crawled and Googlebot may spend less time rendering JavaScript than a testing tool.
  • There is often a lot of caching in the creation of web pages and this can cause issues.

We’ve gotten this far without talking about time! Pages don’t get crawled instantly, and crawled pages don’t get indexed instantly.

Quick sidebar: What is caching?

Caching is often a problem if you get to this stage. Unlike JS, it’s not talked about as much in our community, so it’s worth some more explanation in case you’re not familiar. Caching is storing something so it’s available more quickly next time.

When you request a webpage, a lot of calculations happen to generate that page. If you then refreshed the page when it was done, it would be incredibly wasteful to just re-run all those same calculations. Instead, servers will often save the output and serve you the output without re-running them. Saving the output is called caching.

Why do we need to know this? Well, we’re already well out into the weeds at this point and so it’s possible that a cache is misconfigured and the wrong information is being returned to users.

There aren’t many good beginner resources on caching which go into more depth. However, I found this article on caching basics to be one of the more friendly ones. It covers some of the basic types of caching quite well.

How can we see what Google is actually working with?

  • Google’s cache
    • Shows: Source code
    • While this won’t show you the rendered DOM, it is showing you the raw HTML Googlebot actually saw when visiting the page. You’ll need to check this with JS disabled; otherwise, on opening it, your browser will run all the JS on the cached version.
  • Site searches for specific content
    • Shows: A tiny snippet of rendered content.
    • By searching for a specific phrase on a page, e.g. inurl:example.com/url “only JS rendered text”, you can see if Google has manage to index a specific snippet of content. Of course, it only works for visible text and misses a lot of the content, but it’s better than nothing!
    • Better yet, do the same thing with a rank tracker, to see if it changes over time.
  • Storing the actual rendered DOM
    • Shows: Rendered DOM
    • Alex from DeepCrawl has written about saving the rendered DOM from Googlebot. The TL;DR version: Google will render JS and post to endpoints, so we can get it to submit the JS-rendered version of a page that it sees. We can then save that, examine it, and see what went wrong.

Have we found any problems yet?

Again, once we’ve found the problem, it’s time to go and talk to a developer. The advice for this conversation is identical to the last one — everything I said there still applies.

The other knowledge you should go into this conversation armed with: how Google works and where it can struggle. While your developer will know the technical ins and outs of your website and how it’s built, they might not know much about how Google works. Together, this can help you reach the answer more quickly.

The obvious source for this are resources or presentations given by Google themselves. Of the various resources that have come out, I’ve found these two to be some of the more useful ones for giving insight into first principles:

But there is often a difference between statements Google will make and what the SEO community sees in practice. All the SEO experiments people tirelessly perform in our industry can also help shed some insight. There are far too many list here, but here are two good examples:

7. Could Google be aggregating your website across others?

If we’ve reached this point, we’re pretty happy that our website is running smoothly. But not all problems can be solved just on your website; sometimes you’ve got to look to the wider landscape and the SERPs around it.

Most commonly, what I’m looking for here is:

  • Similar/duplicate content to the pages that have the problem.
    • This could be intentional duplicate content (e.g. syndicating content) or unintentional (competitors’ scraping or accidentally indexed sites).

Either way, they’re nearly always found by doing exact searches in Google. I.e. taking a relatively specific piece of content from your page and searching for it in quotes.

Have you found any problems yet?

If you find a number of other exact copies, then it’s possible they might be causing issues.

The best description I’ve come up with for “have you found a problem here?” is: do you think Google is aggregating together similar pages and only showing one? And if it is, is it picking the wrong page?

This doesn’t just have to be on traditional Google search. You might find a version of it on Google Jobs, Google News, etc.

To give an example, if you are a reseller, you might find content isn’t ranking because there’s another, more authoritative reseller who consistently posts the same listings first.

Sometimes you’ll see this consistently and straightaway, while other times the aggregation might be changing over time. In that case, you’ll need a rank tracker for whatever Google property you’re working on to see it.

Jon Earnshaw from Pi Datametrics gave an excellent talk on the latter (around suspicious SERP flux) which is well worth watching.

Once you’ve found the problem, you’ll probably need to experiment to find out how to get around it, but the easiest factors to play with are usually:

  • De-duplication of content
  • Speed of discovery (you can often improve by putting up a 24-hour RSS feed of all the new content that appears)
  • Lowering syndication

8. A roundup of some other likely suspects

If you’ve gotten this far, then we’re sure that:

  • Google can consistently crawl our pages as intended.
  • We’re sending Google consistent signals about the status of our page.
  • Google is consistently rendering our pages as we expect.
  • Google is picking the correct page out of any duplicates that might exist on the web.

And your problem still isn’t solved?

And it is important?

Well, shoot.

Feel free to hire us…?

As much as I’d love for this article to list every SEO problem ever, that’s not really practical, so to finish off this article let’s go through two more common gotchas and principles that didn’t really fit in elsewhere before the answers to those four problems we listed at the beginning.

Invalid/poorly constructed HTML

You and Googlebot might be seeing the same HTML, but it might be invalid or wrong. Googlebot (and any crawler, for that matter) has to provide workarounds when the HTML specification isn’t followed, and those can sometimes cause strange behavior.

The easiest way to spot it is either by eye-balling the rendered DOM tools or using an HTML validator.

The W3C validator is very useful, but will throw up a lot of errors/warnings you won’t care about. The closest I can give to a one-line of summary of which ones are useful is to:

  • Look for errors
  • Ignore anything to do with attributes (won’t always apply, but is often true).

The classic example of this is breaking the head.

An iframe isn’t allowed in the head code, so Chrome will end the head and start the body. Unfortunately, it takes the title and canonical with it, because they fall after it — so Google can’t read them. The head code should have ended in a different place.

Oliver Mason wrote a good post that explains an even more subtle version of this in breaking the head quietly.

When in doubt, diff

Never underestimate the power of trying to compare two things line by line with a diff from something like Diff Checker. It won’t apply to everything, but when it does it’s powerful.

For example, if Google has suddenly stopped showing your featured markup, try to diff your page against a historical version either in your QA environment or from the Wayback Machine.


Answers to our original 4 questions

Time to answer those questions. These are all problems we’ve had clients bring to us at Distilled.

1. Why wasn’t Google showing 5-star markup on product pages?

Google was seeing both the server-rendered markup and the client-side-rendered markup; however, the server-rendered side was taking precedence.

Removing the server-rendered markup meant the 5-star markup began appearing.

2. Why wouldn’t Bing display 5-star markup on review pages, when Google would?

The problem came from the references to schema.org.

        <div itemscope="" itemtype="https://schema.org/Movie">
        </div>
        <p>  <h1 itemprop="name">Avatar</h1>
        </p>
        <p>  <span>Director: <span itemprop="director">James Cameron</span> (born August 16, 1954)</span>
        </p>
        <p>  <span itemprop="genre">Science fiction</span>
        </p>
        <p>  <a href="../movies/avatar-theatrical-trailer.html" itemprop="trailer">Trailer</a>
        </p>
        <p></div>
        </p>

We diffed our markup against our competitors and the only difference was we’d referenced the HTTPS version of schema.org in our itemtype, which caused Bing to not support it.

C’mon, Bing.

3. Why were pages getting indexed with a no-index tag?

The answer for this was in this post. This was a case of breaking the head.

The developers had installed some ad-tech in the head and inserted an non-standard tag, i.e. not:

  • <title>
  • <style>
  • <base>
  • <link>
  • <meta>
  • <script>
  • <noscript>

This caused the head to end prematurely and the no-index tag was left in the body where it wasn’t read.

4. Why did any page on a website return a 302 about 20–50% of the time, but only for crawlers?

This took some time to figure out. The client had an old legacy website that has two servers, one for the blog and one for the rest of the site. This issue started occurring shortly after a migration of the blog from a subdomain (blog.client.com) to a subdirectory (client.com/blog/…).

At surface level everything was fine; if a user requested any individual page, it all looked good. A crawl of all the blog URLs to check they’d redirected was fine.

But we noticed a sharp increase of errors being flagged in Search Console, and during a routine site-wide crawl, many pages that were fine when checked manually were causing redirect loops.

We checked using Fetch and Render, but once again, the pages were fine.

Eventually, it turned out that when a non-blog page was requested very quickly after a blog page (which, realistically, only a crawler is fast enough to achieve), the request for the non-blog page would be sent to the blog server.

These would then be caught by a long-forgotten redirect rule, which 302-redirected deleted blog posts (or other duff URLs) to the root. This, in turn, was caught by a blanket HTTP to HTTPS 301 redirect rule, which would be requested from the blog server again, perpetuating the loop.

For example, requesting https://www.client.com/blog/ followed quickly enough by https://www.client.com/category/ would result in:

  • 302 to http://www.client.com – This was the rule that redirected deleted blog posts to the root
  • 301 to https://www.client.com – This was the blanket HTTPS redirect
  • 302 to http://www.client.com – The blog server doesn’t know about the HTTPS non-blog homepage and it redirects back to the HTTP version. Rinse and repeat.

This caused the periodic 302 errors and it meant we could work with their devs to fix the problem.

What are the best brainteasers you’ve had?

Let’s hear them, people. What problems have you run into? Let us know in the comments.

Also credit to @RobinLord8, @TomAnthonySEO, @THCapper, @samnemzer, and @sergeystefoglo_ for help with this piece.

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SearchCap: Google Maps accessibility, Google Posts expire & link problems

Below is what happened in search today, as reported on Search Engine Land and from other places across the web.

The post SearchCap: Google Maps accessibility, Google Posts expire & link problems appeared first on Search Engine Land.



Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.


Search Engine Land: News & Info About SEO, PPC, SEM, Search Engines & Search Marketing

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How to Find and Fix 14 Technical SEO Problems That Can Be Damaging Your Site Now

Posted by Joe.Robison

Who doesn’t love working on low-hanging fruit SEO problems that can dramatically improve your site?

Across all businesses and industries, the low-effort, high-reward projects should jump to the top of the list of things to implement. And it’s nowhere more relevant than tackling technical SEO issues on your site.

Let’s focus on easy-to-identify, straightforward-to-fix problems. Most of these issues can be uncovered in an afternoon, and it’s possible they can solve months’ worth of traffic problems. While there may not be groundbreaking, complex issues that will fix SEO once and for all, there are easy things to check right now. If your site already checks out for all of these, then you can go home today and start decrypting RankBrain tomorrow.

thatwaseasy.gif

Source

Real quick: The definition of technical SEO is a bit fuzzy. Does it include everything that happens on a site except for content production? Or is it just limited to code and really technical items?

I’ll define technical SEO here as aspects of a site comprising more technical problems that the average marketer wouldn’t identify and take a bit of experience to uncover. Technical SEO problems are also generally, but not always, site-wide problems rather than specific page issues. Their fixes can help improve your site as a whole, rather than just isolated pages.

You’d think that, with all the information out there on the web, many of these would be common knowledge. I’m sure my car mechanic thought the same thing when I busted my engine because I forgot to put oil in it for months. Simple oversights can destroy your machine.

Source

The target audience for this post is beginning to intermediate SEOs and site owners that haven’t inspected their technical SEO for a while, or are doing it for the first time. If just one of these 14 technical SEO problems below is harming your site, I think you’d consider this a valuable read.

This is not a complete technical SEO audit checklist, but a summary of some of the most common and damaging technical SEO problems that you can fix now. I highlighted these based on my own real-world experience analyzing dozens of client and internal websites. Some of these issues I thought I’d never run into… until I did.

This is not a replacement for a full audit, but looking at these right now can actually save you thousands of dollars in lost sales, or worse.

1. Check indexation immediately

Have you ever heard (or asked) the question: “Why aren’t we ranking for our brand name?”

To the website owner, it’s a head-scratcher. To the seasoned SEO, it’s an eye-roll.

Can you get organic traffic to your site if it doesn’t show up in Google search? No.

I love it when complex problems are simplified at a higher level. Sergey Stefoglo at Distilled wrote an article that broke down the complex process of a technical SEO audit into two buckets: indexing and ranking.

The concept is that, instead of going crazy with a 239-point checklist with varying priorities, you sit back and ask the first question: Are the pages on our site indexing?

You can get those answers pretty quickly with a quick site search directly in Google.

What to do: Type site:{yoursitename.com} into Google search and you’ll immediately see how many pages on your site are ranking.

site-moz.png

What to ask:

  • Is that approximately the amount of pages that we’d expect to be indexing?
  • Are we seeing pages in the index that we don’t want?
  • Are we missing pages in the index that we want to rank?

What to do next:

  • Go deeper and check different buckets of pages on your site, such as product pages and blog posts
  • Check subdomains to make sure they’re indexing (or not)
  • Check old versions of your site to see if they’re mistakenly being indexed instead of redirected
  • Look out for spam in case your site was hacked, going deep into the search result to look for anything uncommon (like pharmaceutical or gambling SEO site-hacking spam)
  • Figure out exactly what’s causing indexing problems.

2. Robots.txt

Perhaps the single most damaging character in all of SEO is a simple “/” improperly placed in the robots.txt file.

Everybody knows to check the robots.txt, right? Unfortunately not.

One of the biggest offenders of ruining your site’s organic traffic is a well-meaning developer who forgot to change the robots.txt file after redeveloping your website.

You would think this would be solved by now, but I’m still repeatedly running into random sites that have their entire site blocked because of this one problem

What to do: Go to yoursitename.com/robots.txt and make sure it doesn’t show “User-agent: * Disallow: /”.

Here’s a fancy screenshot:

Screenshot 2017-01-04 17.58.30.png

And this is what it looks like in Google’s index:

2-robots-1.png

What to do next:

  • If you see “Disallow: /”, immediately talk to your developer. There could be a good reason it’s set up that way, or it may be an oversight.
  • If you have a complex robots.txt file, like many ecommerce sites, you should review it line-by-line with your developer to make sure it’s correct.

3. Meta robots NOINDEX

NOINDEX can be even more damaging than a misconfigured robots.txt at times. A mistakenly configured robots.txt won’t pull your pages out of Google’s index if they’re already there, but a NOINDEX directive will remove all pages with this configuration.

Most commonly, the NOINDEX is set up when a website is in its development phase. Since so many web development projects are running behind schedule and pushed to live at the last hour, this is where the mistake can happen.

A good developer will make sure this is removed from your live site, but you must verify that’s the case.

What to do:

  • Manually do a spot-check by viewing the source code of your page, and looking for one of these:
    4-noindex.png
  • 90% of the time you’ll want it to be either “INDEX, FOLLOW” or nothing at all. If you see one of the above, you need to take action.
  • It’s best to use a tool like Screaming Frog to scan all the pages on your site at once

What to do next:

  • If your site is constantly being updated and improved by your development team, set a reminder to check this weekly or after every new site upgrade
  • Even better, schedule site audits with an SEO auditor software tool, like the Moz Pro Site Crawl

4. One version per URL: URL Canonicalization

The average user doesn’t really care if your home page shows up as all of these separately:

But the search engines do, and this configuration can dilute link equity and make your work harder.

Google will generally decide which version to index, but they may index a mixed assortment of your URL versions, which can cause confusion and complexity.

Moz’s canonicalization guide sums it up perfectly:

For SEOs, canonicalization refers to individual web pages that can be loaded from multiple URLs. This is a problem because when multiple pages have the same content but different URLs, links that are intended to go to the same page get split up among multiple URLs. This means that the popularity of the pages gets split up.”

It’s likely that no one but an SEO would flag this as something to fix, but it can be an easy fix that has a huge impact on your site.

What to do:

  • Manually enter in multiple versions of your home page in the browser to see if they all resolve to the same URL
  • Look also for HTTP vs HTTPS versions of your URLs — only one should exist
  • If they don’t, you’ll want to work with your developer to set up 301 redirects to fix this
  • Use the “site:” operator in Google search to find out which versions of your pages are actually indexing

What to do next:

  • Scan your whole site at once with a scalable tool like Screaming Frog to find all pages faster
  • Set up a schedule to monitor your URL canonicalization on a weekly or monthly basis

5. Rel=canonical

Although the rel=canonical tag is closely related with the canonicalization mentioned above, it should be noted differently because it’s used for more than resolving the same version of a slightly different URL.

It’s also useful for preventing page duplication when you have similar content across different pages — often an issue with ecommerce sites and managing categories and filters.

I think the best example of using this properly is how Shopify’s platform uses rel=canonical URLs to manage their product URLs as they relate to categories. When a product is a part of multiple categories, there are as many URLs as there are categories that product is a part of.

For example, Boll & Branch is on the Shopify platform, and on their Cable Knit Blanket product page we see that from the navigation menu, the user is taken to https://www.bollandbranch.com/collections/baby-blankets/products/cable-knit-baby-blanket.

But looking at the rel=canonical, we see it’s configured to point to the main URL:

<link  href="https://www.bollandbranch.com/products/cable-knit-baby-blanket" />

And this is the default across all Shopify sites.

Every ecommerce and CMS platform comes with a different default setting on how they handle and implement the rel=canonical tag, so definitely look at the specifics for your platform.

What to do:

  • Spot-check important pages to see if they’re using the rel=canonical tag
  • Use a site scanning software to list out all the URLs on your site and determine if there are duplicate page problems that can be solved with a rel=canonical tag
  • Read more on the different use cases for canonical tags and when best to use them

6. Text in images

Text in images — it’s such a simple concept, but out in the wild many, many sites are hiding important content behind images.

Yes, Google can somewhat understand text on images, but it’s not nearly as sophisticated as we would hope in 2017. The best practice for SEO is to keep important text not embedded in an image.

Google’s Gary Illyes confirmed that it’s unlikely Google’s crawler can recognize text well:


CognitiveSEO ran a great test on Google’s ability to extract text from images, and there’s evidence of some stunning accuracy from Google’s technology:

6-text-google-extracts-pdf.jpg

Source: Cognitive SEO

Yet, the conclusion from the test is that image-to-text extraction technology is not being used for ranking search queries:

6-text-google-doesnt-extract-search.jpg

Source: Cognitive SEO

The conclusion from CognitiveSEO is that “this search was proof that the search engine does not, in fact, extract text from images to use it in its search queries. At least not as a general rule.”

And although H1 tags are not as important as they once were, it’s still an on-site SEO best practice to prominently display.

This is actually most important for large sites with many, many pages such as massive ecommerce sites. It’s most important for these sites because they can realistically rank their product or category pages with just a simple keyword-targeted main headline and a string of text.

What to do:

  • Manually inspect the most important pages on your site, checking if you’re hiding important text in your images
  • At scale, use an SEO site crawler to scan all the pages on your site. Look for whether H1 and H2 tags are being found on pages across your site. Also look for the word count as an indication.

What to do next:

  • Create a guide for content managers and developers so that they know the best practice in your organization is to not hide text behind images
  • Collaborate with your design and development team to get the same design look that you had with text embedded in images, but using CSS instead for image overlays

7. Broken backlinks

If not properly overseen by a professional SEO, a website migration or relaunch project can spew out countless broken backlinks from other websites. This is a golden opportunity for recovering link equity.

Some of the top pages on your site may have become 404 pages after a migration, so the backlinks pointing back to these 404 pages are effectively broken.

Two types of tools are great for finding broken backlinks — Google Search Console, and a backlink checker such as Moz, Majestic, or Ahrefs.

In Search Console, you’ll want to review your top 404 errors and it will prioritize the top errors by broken backlinks:

broken-backlinks.png

What to do:

  • After identifying your top pages with backlinks that are dead, 301 redirect these to the best pages
  • Also look for broken links because the linking site typed in your URL wrong or messed up the link code on their end, this is another rich source of link opportunities

What to do next:

  • Use other tools such as Mention or Google Alerts to keep an eye on unlinked mentions that you can reach out to for an extra link
  • Set up a recurring site crawl or manual check to look out for new broken links

8. HTTPS is less optional

What was once only necessary for ecommerce sites is now becoming more of a necessity for all sites.

Google just recently announced that they would start marking any non-HTTPS site as non-secure if the site accepts passwords or credit cards:

“To help users browse the web safely, Chrome indicates connection security with an icon in the address bar. Historically, Chrome has not explicitly labelled HTTP connections as non-secure. Beginning in January 2017 (Chrome 56), we’ll mark HTTP pages that collect passwords or credit cards as non-secure, as part of a long-term plan to mark all HTTP sites as non-secure.”

What’s even more shocking is Google’s plan to label all HTTP URLs as non-secure:

“Eventually, we plan to label all HTTP pages as non-secure, and change the HTTP security indicator to the red triangle that we use for broken HTTPS.”

https-non-secure.png

Going even further, it’s not out of the realm to imagine that Google will start giving HTTPS sites even more of an algorithmic ranking benefit over HTTP.

It’s also not unfathomable that not secure site warnings will start showing up for sites directly in the search results, before a user even clicks through to the site. Google currently displays this for hacked sites, so there’s a precedent set.

This goes beyond just SEO, as this overlaps heavily with web development, IT, and conversion rate optimization.

What to do:

  • If your site currently has HTTPS deployed, run your site through Screaming Frog to see how the pages are resolving
  • Ensure that all pages are resolving to the HTTPS version of the site (same as URL canonicalization mentioned earlier)

What to do next:

  • If your site is not on HTTPS, start mapping out the transition, as Google has made it clear how important it is to them
  • Properly manage a transition to HTTPS by enlisting an SEO migration strategy so as not to lose rankings

9. 301 & 302 redirects

Redirects are an amazing tool in an SEO’s arsenal for managing and controlling dead pages, for consolidating multiple pages, and for making website migrations work without a hitch.

301 redirects are permanent and 302 redirects are temporary. The best practice is to always use 301 redirects when permanently redirecting a page.

301 redirects can be confusing for those new to SEO trying to properly use them:

  • Should you use them for all 404 errors? (Not always.)
  • Should you use them instead of the rel=canonical tag? (Sometimes, not always.)
  • Should you redirect all the old URLs from your previous site to the home page? (Almost never, it’s a terrible idea.)

They’re a lifesaver when used properly, but a pain when you have no idea what to with them.

With great power comes great responsibility, and it’s vitally important to have someone on your team who really understands how to properly strategize the usage and implementation of 301 redirects across your whole site. I’ve seen sites lose up to 60% of their revenue for months, just because these were not properly implemented during a site relaunch.

Despite some statements released recently about 302 redirects being as efficient at passing authority as 301s, it’s not advised to do so. Recent studies have tested this and shown that 301s are the gold standard. Mike King’s striking example shows that the power of 301s over 302s remains:

What to do:

  • Do a full review of all the URLs on your site and look at a high level
  • If using 302 redirects incorrectly for permanent redirects, change these to 301 redirects
  • Don’t go redirect-crazy on all 404 errors — use them for pages receiving links or traffic only to minimize your redirects list

What to do next:

  • If using 302 redirects, discuss with your development team why your site is using them
  • Build out a guide for your organization on the importance of using 301s over 302s
  • Review the redirects implementation from your last major site redesign or migration; there are often tons of errors
  • Never redirect all the pages from an old site to the home page unless there’s a really good reason
  • Include redirect checking in your monthly or weekly site scan process

10. Meta refresh

I though meta refreshes were gone for good and would never be a problem, until they were. I ran into a client using them on their brand-new, modern site when migrating from an old platform, and I quickly recommended that we turn these off and use 301 redirects instead.

The meta refresh is a client-side (as opposed to server-side) redirect and is not recommended by Google or professional SEOs.

If implemented, it would look like this:

Screenshot 2017-01-05 15.46.13.png

Source: Wikipedia

It’s a fairly simple one to check — either you have it or you don’t, and by and large there’s no debate that you shouldn’t be using these.

Google’s John Mu said:

“I would strongly recommend not using meta refresh-type or JavaScript redirects like that if you have changed your URLs. Instead of using those kinds of redirects, try to have your server do a normal 301 redirect. Search engines might recognize the JavaScript or meta refresh-type redirects, but that’s not something I would count on — a clear 301 redirect is always much better.”

And Moz’s own redirection guide states:

“They are most commonly associated with a five-second countdown with the text ‘If you are not redirected in five seconds, click here.’ Meta refreshes do pass some link juice, but are not recommended as an SEO tactic due to poor usability and the loss of link juice passed.”

What to do:

What to do next:

  • Communicate to your developers the importance of using 301 redirects as a standard and never using meta refreshes unless there’s a really good reason
  • Schedule a monthly check to monitor redirect type usage

11. XML sitemaps

XML sitemaps help Google and other search engine spiders crawl and understand your site. Most often they have the biggest impact for large and complex sites that need to give extra direction to the crawlers.

Google’s Search Console Help Guide is quite clear on the purpose and helpfulness of XML sitemaps:

“If your site’s pages are properly linked, our web crawlers can usually discover most of your site. Even so, a sitemap can improve the crawling of your site, particularly if your site meets one of the following criteria:

- Your site is really large.

- Your site has a large archive of content pages that are isolated or well not linked to each other.

- Your site is new and has few external links to it.”

A few of the biggest problems I’ve seen with XML sitemaps while working on clients’ sites:

  • Not creating it in the first place
  • Not including the location of the sitemap in the robots.txt
  • Allowing multiple versions of the sitemap to exist
  • Allowing old versions of the sitemap to exist
  • Not keeping Search Console updated with the freshest copy
  • Not using sitemap indexes for large sites

What to do:

  • Use the above list to review that you’re not violating any of these problems
  • Check the number of URLs submitted and indexed from your sitemap within Search Console to get an idea of the quality of your sitemap and URLs

What to do next:

  • Monitor indexation of URLs submitted in XML sitemap frequently from within Search Console
  • If your site grows more complex, investigate ways to use XML sitemaps and sitemap indexes to your advantage, as Google limits each sitemap to 10MB and 50,000 URLs

12. Unnatural word count & page size

I recently ran into this issue while reviewing a site: Most pages on the site didn’t have more than a few hundred words, but in a scan of the site using Screaming Frog, it showed nearly every page having 6,000–9,000 words:

Screenshot 2017-01-05 16.25.58.png

It made no sense. But upon viewing the source code, I saw that there were some Terms and Conditions text that was meant to be displayed on only a single page, but embedded on every page of the site with a “Display: none;” CSS style.

This can slow down the load speed of your page and could possibly trigger some penalty issues if seen as intentional cloaking.

In addition to word count, there can be other code bloat on the page, such as inline Javascript and CSS. Although fixing these problems would fall under the purview of the development team, you shouldn’t rely on the developers to be proactive in identifying these types of issues.

What to do:

  • Scan your site and compare calculated word count and page size with what you expect
  • Review the source code of your pages and recommend areas to reduce bloat
  • Ensure that there’s no hidden text that can trip algorithmic penalties

What to do next:

  • There could be a good reason for hidden text in the source code from a developer’s perspective, but it can cause speed and other SEO issues if not fixed.
  • Review page size and word count across all URLs on your site periodically to keep tabs on any issues

13. Speed

You’ve heard it a million times, but speed is key — and definitely falls under the purview of technical SEO.

Google has clearly stated that speed is a small part of the algorithm:

“Like us, our users place a lot of value in speed — that’s why we’ve decided to take site speed into account in our search rankings. We use a variety of sources to determine the speed of a site relative to other sites.”

Even with this clear SEO directive, and obvious UX and CRO benefits, speed is at the bottom of the priority list for many site managers. With mobile search clearly cemented as just as important as desktop search, speed is even more important and can no longer be ignored.

On his awesome Technical SEO Renaissance post, Mike King said speed is the most important thing to focus on in 2017 for SEO:

“I feel like Google believes they are in a good place with links and content so they will continue to push for speed and mobile-friendliness. So the best technical SEO tactic right now is making your site faster.”

Moz’s page speed guide is a great resource for identifying and fixing speed issues on your site.

What to do:

  • Audit your site speed and page speed using SEO auditing tools
  • Unless you’re operating a smaller site, you’ll want to work closely with your developer on this one. Make your site as fast as possible.
  • Continuously push for resources to focus on site speed across your organization.

14. Internal linking structure

Your internal linking structure can have a huge impact on your site’s crawlability from search spiders.

Where does it fall on your list of priorities? It depends. If you’re optimizing a massive site with isolated pages that don’t fall within a clean site architecture a few clicks from the home page, you’ll need to put a lot of effort into it. If you’re managing a simple site on a standard platform like WordPress, it’s not going to be at the top of your list.

You want to think about these things when building out your internal linking plan:

  • Scalable internal linking with plugins
  • Using optimized anchor text without over-optimizing
  • How internal linking relates to your main site navigation

I built out this map of a fictional site to demonstrate how different pages on a site can connect to each other through both navigational site links and internal links:

Website navigation with internal links diagram.

Source: Green Flag Digital

Even with a rock-solid site architecture, putting a focus on internal links can push some sites higher up the search rankings.

What to do:

  • Test out manually how you can move around your site by clicking on in-content, editorial-type links on your blog posts, product pages, and important site pages. Note where you see opportunity.
  • Use site auditor tools to find and organize the pages on your site by internal link count. Are your most important pages receiving sufficient internal links?

What to do next:

  • Even if you build out the perfect site architecture, there’s more opportunity for internal link flow — so always keep internal linking in mind when producing new pages
  • Train content creators and page publishers on the importance of internal linking and how to implement links effectively.

Conclusion

Here’s a newsflash for site owners: It’s very likely that your developer is not monitoring and fixing your technical SEO problems, and doesn’t really care about traffic to your site or fixing your SEO issues. So if you don’t have an SEO helping you with technical issues, don’t assume your developer is handling it. They have enough on their plate and they’re not incentivized to fix SEO problems.

I’ve run into many technical SEO issues during and after website migrations when not properly managed with SEO in mind. I’m compelled to highlight the disasters that can go wrong if this isn’t looked after closely by an expert. Case studies of site migrations gone terribly wrong is a topic for another day, but I implore you to take technical SEO seriously for the benefit of your company.

Hopefully this post has helped clarify some of the most important technical SEO issues that may be harming your site today and how to start fixing them. For those who have never taken a look at the technical side of things, some of these really are easy fixes and can have a hugely positive impact on your site.

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Backlinks from Client Sites, Sites You Own, Widgets, & Embedded Content: How to Maximize Benefits & Avoid Problems – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

When it comes to certain kinds of backlinks, avoiding penalties can be a real gray area. How can you earn the benefits without gaining the scrutiny of Google? In this Whiteboard Friday, Rand will teach you which rules to follow to keep you safe and on the up-and-up, all while improving your link profile.

Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high-resolution version in a new tab!

Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week, we’re going to chat about a question we see a lot here at Moz, around what you should do with websites that you maybe design or build or do work for, your clients’ websites if you’re an agency or consultant, or a web designer or builder, sites that you own but are not your primary website, and widgets and embeds, blogrolls, all these kinds of things where you control the link infrastructure, or could control it, and should you.

I think one of the challenges here is to understand that many folks have recognized that, over the years, widgets, embeds, links from client websites have gotten other sites penalized, potentially even your sites penalized over the years, because you had all these links that you control pointing back to places, and to Google that can look really sketchy. So I want to talk through some best practices about how you can get link benefit and value from these places without getting yourself into trouble.

The challenge

All right. The challenge here is let’s say that I own sneakerobsessed.com, but it is not my primary website, or maybe it’s a client’s website. But I do own sneakysneakers.com, and I’m thinking to myself, “Gosh, you know the fact that I control, I have the login for the admin here, the site owner, or me, would be fine with linking from these pages to these pages. What should I do there? I don’t want to get into trouble. But I would love to get some benefit, and I think that these links could help me. Should I:

A. Add a link from every page here to a bunch of pages here or to my homepage?

B. Should I link to a variety of my pages, like take a few of these and link them to my homepage, take a few others and link to some internal pages?

C. Should I use a single page on this website to link back to maybe my homepage?

The answer is kind of, it depends. It depends.

My recommendations

Client websites

If it is a client website or a site you’ve done work for, a site you designed or built, or your agency did, if you have clientdomain.com, what I’m going to suggest is that you take a page, the About page or a page you specifically built like About This Site, and you link to that page from the footer or the sidebar or the header. It’s kind of one of those things that gets us linked to from a lot of pages. It’s like the About page or the Contact page or the Privacy Policy, those kinds of things would get on clientdomain.com. You make that the only page where you intentionally specifically link back to your domain. You essentially have some blurb about, “Here are the details about the designer or developer, the technologies used on this website,” those kinds of things. “If you would like to get in touch with the creator of this website, it is these folks over here,” and that points over to you. That means you essentially have a site-wide link to one page, which is flowing a lot of link equity to that single page on your client’s website, and that link is pointing over to you. This is very unlikely to be penalized. It’s very likely to draw in clicks. It has all these beneficial properties.

Site(s) you own

For sites that you own, so myothersite.com and mymainsite.com, what I’m going to suggest here is that you don’t have an intentional specific link strategy like, “Okay, one out of three pages I’m going to have a link. I’m going to have them link to these pages in particular. I’m going to have the anchor text always be this.” Don’t set up that kind of policy or process. Instead, I want you to focus on providing visitor value. Reference things on your main site when they are relevant to content on your other site, and this should happen naturally and organically.

Anytime you’re referencing other content you’ve created or things that you’ve done, or recognition that you have, or someone else from your organization, you would naturally link over here. That’s the way you should play it, not with some specific process and checklist. Anything that matches a very standard pattern is going to be easily recognized by Google, and that can get you into trouble.

Blogrolls, syndicators, etc.

With blogrolls and syndicators and those type of sites, it’s a little less stringent, because blogrolls and syndicators have these unique attributes of basically saying it is the right thing to do for a blogroll when it exists usually on one of the sidebars of a blog, sometimes the blog’s homepage, sometimes every page of a blog, it’s usual for those to be kind of site-wide style links that always point back to the other blogs’ websites’ homepage or blog pages. That’s okay here too. That is not a big problem.

The only time you get into real trouble is if that blogroll is essentially just a paid manipulation. It’s technically a blog network. It’s not that you’re being editorially endorsed by someone else. They’re only linking to you because you’re linking to them. You get into that reciprocity challenge. That’s not to say you should never link to anyone who has you in their blogroll either. It’s just that this has to look natural and editorial to Google, or you can get in trouble.

Syndicators, by the way, it’s okay to link from every syndicated piece of content back to the original piece of content. In fact, that’s the way it should be. If you do your own syndication, like I do sometimes on Medium, where I put up my blog posts that I’ve already put on moz.com/rand on medium.com/randfish, then you should have each of those link back to their original pieces, and that’s just fine.

Widgets & embeds

For widgets and embeds, things get a little dicier, and this is actually where we see a ton of penalties. Not to say that people don’t have problems with their client sites too a lot of the time, but widgets and embeds have been particularly taken to task by Google in the recent past.

So the idea here is that you have this piece of content here that’s being embedded from your site. So Sneaker Obsessed, maybe the guys there went to Sneaky Sneakers. They saw a data graph of Nike shoes versus Adidas shoes sales over the last 12 months, and they were like, “Oh, man. I really want to show that. That’s awesome.” In fact, there’s a little “embed this graph onto your own website.” So they took that, and they put it on there.

More dangerous

You get into more dangerous territory with this type of thing when in the link between here there’s:

  • Keyword-matching anchor text
  • No opt-out option, meaning there’s no way to say, “I don’t want to include the link to the original”
  • When visitors are very unlikely to click that link; when there’s no sort of, “Oh, why would I ever click on the attributed link from the embed?”
  • Remotely controlled via JavaScript, meaning you can remotely update this link and anchor text, that gets real sketchy.
  • Widget’s purpose feels like it exists only for links, like it’s not particularly useful, there’s not a clear reason why this is a widget instead of just a graphic that other people can use or content they can syndicate, why make it a widget as opposed to something like a graph whose data can change, or an interactive content element, or a video player, or something like that?
  • Any sort of payment or discounts that you offer or coercion to get people to embed it gets you into more dangerous territory.

Less dangerous

You’re much less likely to have problems if you:

  • Keep that anchor text branded or omitted entirely. It’s non-branded anchor text. It’s just your brand name, or it’s very limited. It just says “Data Via,” and via is the link itself.
  • Opt-out of the link is available, meaning that someone could say, “Yeah, I want to embed that. Include a link back to sneakysneakers.com? No. No, thank you.”
  • There should be a compelling reason to click.
  • That embed is static.
  • It’s not controlled by JavaScript.
  • The widget feels like it’s reference-focused, so there’s actually some value there.
  • Only embedded intentionally by those who are naturally and editorially choosing to include it.

That will keep you safe.

Hopefully, you will not encounter these problems. I think if you follow these rules, you’ll be in the safe zone, and you’ll also be benefiting from the link value that these can provide. I look forward to your comments. We’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

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The 5-Step Process that Solves 3 Painful Writing Problems

writing tips - how to write clear, clean content

I once asked the Copyblogger community to name their biggest writing challenges.

From the many responses, a pattern developed:

  • How to get started
  • How to cut the fluff
  • How to finish

These three issues are really symptoms of the same painful problem, which boils down to not clearly understanding what you’re trying to accomplish with your writing. Don’t worry … it’s a fairly common ailment.

There’s a five-step process you can work through that will help clarify your objectives, which leads to greater clarity in your writing.

This method also helps you kick-start any writing project (and finish it) with only the necessary elements, because you’ll know exactly what you’re after and how to make it happen.

Step #1: Begin with the end in mind

The most important step in the process happens before you even write a word.

You must understand your objective for the content.

You have an idea, but what’s the goal? From a content marketing standpoint, you’re usually seeking to educate or persuade (often both, and as we’ll see in the next step, they’re actually the same thing even when intentions vary).

Having a “great idea” and sitting down to write can often lead to a half-finished train wreck.

What’s the “why” behind the idea? Figure this out first, or move on to another idea.

Step #2: Identify questions

Okay, so now you have a goal in mind — a mission, if you will.

What’s standing in the way of your mission?

The obstacles you face are the concepts your audience does not understand yet, but must accept by the time they’re finished reading. These are the questions you must answer before you can achieve the goal you’ve identified in Step #1.

In copywriting circles, we say an unanswered question (an objection) is a barrier to buying.

With education, an unanswered question is a barrier to learning. Education is persuasion (and vice versa) when you realize this fundamental truth.

Step #3: Write the headline and subheads

With your goal in mind and the questions you must answer identified, now you start to put things down on virtual paper.

Some people open a word processor during Step #2; I do everything up until now in my head. Do what works for you.

What promise are you making to your audience with this piece of content? What will you teach them? And why should they care? That’s your working headline.

Then, each of the major questions you must answer to achieve your mission (and the promise your headline makes) becomes a subhead. Your subheads don’t ultimately have to be phrased as questions, but this technique helps you compose a focused draft.

Take some time to decide if a particular question is its own subhead or part of the content below a subhead. It’s simply outlining at this point.

Step #4: Fill in the blanks

Want to write lean copy?

Answer the questions designated by each subhead, and answer only that question.

Do not digress. Do not go off on a tangent.

Just answer the question. Do it as simply and clearly as possible.

Step #5: Now … edit

If you’ve followed these steps, you’re not likely suffering from fluff.

Rather, you might find that you need to add more details or rephrase for clarity.

This is also the time to refine your language. Experienced writers can often pull the perfect turn of phrase in some places of a first draft, while in other places there are opportunities for better, more precise word choices.

Finally, review how the piece of content turned out:

  • Does your working headline still reflect the fulfilled promise?
  • Does your opening keep the momentum going?
  • Can you revise the headline, opening, and subheads so that they are even more compelling?

Over to you …

Everyone’s approach to the writing process is different. This process works for me, and I wrote this article fairly quickly using the process as a demonstration.

What works for you?

Any tips you can pass along that might help your fellow content marketers?

Let us know in the comments.

Are you a writer who wants to become a Certified Content Marketer?

We open our Certified Content Marketer training to new students periodically. Click the button below to find out more.

Join the Copyblogger Writers List

Editor’s note: The original version of this post was published on October 6, 2011.

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Solve Your Online Proofreading Problems With This Simple Trick

rd-proofreading

This episode of Rough Draft is for anyone with limited time and limited proofreading skills. Like host Demian Farnworth.

There’s a common myth web writers fall for: the idea that proofreading online isn’t nearly as important as writing for print. If you believe that, you would be wrong.

Proofreading is essential.

So today Demian is happy as a kitten to introduce you to Stefanie Flaxman, Copyblogger’s Editor-in-Chief, who will help you choose the right words and teach you time-saving ways to improve your copy.

You are going to love Stefanie because she doesn’t consider herself a defender of language … she considers herself a defender of the writer.

That means she’s full of neat tricks and deep wisdom about writing clear, concise, and compelling copy for the web. From the proofreader’s perspective.

In this 16-minute episode of Rough Draft with Demian Farnworth and Stefanie Flaxman, you’ll discover:

  • That some things you write online are actually permanent (in other words, can’t be changed)
  • Whether or not people are more forgiving online
  • What kind of proofreader never to hire
  • The dead-wrong way to use language
  • A time-saving exercise that will solve most of your proofreading problems
  • When it’s okay to make language errors or break grammar rules
  • How profanity can make your writing look worse

Click Here to Listen to

Rough Draft on iTunes

Click Here to Listen on Rainmaker.FM

About the author

Rainmaker.FM

Rainmaker.FM is the premier digital marketing and sales podcast network. Get on-demand business advice from experts, whenever and wherever you want it.

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​The 3 Most Common SEO Problems on Listings Sites

Posted by Dom-Woodman

Listings sites have a very specific set of search problems that you don’t run into everywhere else. In the day I’m one of Distilled’s analysts, but by night I run a job listings site, teflSearch. So, for my first Moz Blog post I thought I’d cover the three search problems with listings sites that I spent far too long agonising about.

Quick clarification time: What is a listings site (i.e. will this post be useful for you)?

The classic listings site is Craigslist, but plenty of other sites act like listing sites:

  • Job sites like Monster
  • E-commerce sites like Amazon
  • Matching sites like Spareroom

1. Generating quality landing pages

The landing pages on listings sites are incredibly important. These pages are usually the primary drivers of converting traffic, and they’re usually generated automatically (or are occasionally custom category pages) .

For example, if I search “Jobs in Manchester“, you can see nearly every result is an automatically generated landing page or category page.

There are three common ways to generate these pages (occasionally a combination of more than one is used):

  • Faceted pages: These are generated by facets—groups of preset filters that let you filter the current search results. They usually sit on the left-hand side of the page.
  • Category pages: These pages are listings which have already had a filter applied and can’t be changed. They’re usually custom pages.
  • Free-text search pages: These pages are generated by a free-text search box.

Those definitions are still bit general; let’s clear them up with some examples:

Amazon uses a combination of categories and facets. If you click on browse by department you can see all the category pages. Then on each category page you can see a faceted search. Amazon is so large that it needs both.

Indeed generates its landing pages through free text search, for example if we search for “IT jobs in manchester” it will generate: IT jobs in manchester.

teflSearch generates landing pages using just facets. The jobs in China landing page is simply a facet of the main search page.

Each method has its own search problems when used for generating landing pages, so lets tackle them one by one.


Aside

Facets and free text search will typically generate pages with parameters e.g. a search for “dogs” would produce:

www.mysite.com?search=dogs

But to make the URL user friendly sites will often alter the URLs to display them as folders

www.mysite.com/results/dogs/

These are still just ordinary free text search and facets, the URLs are just user friendly. (They’re a lot easier to work with in robots.txt too!)


Free search (& category) problems

If you’ve decided the base of your search will be a free text search, then we’ll have two major goals:

  • Goal 1: Helping search engines find your landing pages
  • Goal 2: Giving them link equity.

Solution

Search engines won’t use search boxes and so the solution to both problems is to provide links to the valuable landing pages so search engines can find them.

There are plenty of ways to do this, but two of the most common are:

  • Category links alongside a search

    Photobucket uses a free text search to generate pages, but if we look at example search for photos of dogs, we can see the categories which define the landing pages along the right-hand side. (This is also an example of URL friendly searches!)

  • Putting the main landing pages in a top-level menu

    Indeed also uses free text to generate landing pages, and they have a browse jobs section which contains the URL structure to allow search engines to find all the valuable landing pages.

Breadcrumbs are also often used in addition to the two above and in both the examples above, you’ll find breadcrumbs that reinforce that hierarchy.

Category (& facet) problems

Categories, because they tend to be custom pages, don’t actually have many search disadvantages. Instead it’s the other attributes that make them more or less desirable. You can create them for the purposes you want and so you typically won’t have too many problems.

However, if you also use a faceted search in each category (like Amazon) to generate additional landing pages, then you’ll run into all the problems described in the next section.

At first facets seem great, an easy way to generate multiple strong relevant landing pages without doing much at all. The problems appear because people don’t put limits on facets.

Lets take the job page on teflSearch. We can see it has 18 facets each with many options. Some of these options will generate useful landing pages:

The China facet in countries will generate “Jobs in China” that’s a useful landing page.

On the other hand, the “Conditional Bonus” facet will generate “Jobs with a conditional bonus,” and that’s not so great.

We can also see that the options within a single facet aren’t always useful. As of writing, I have a single job available in Serbia. That’s not a useful search result, and the poor user engagement combined with the tiny amount of content will be a strong signal to Google that it’s thin content. Depending on the scale of your site it’s very easy to generate a mass of poor-quality landing pages.

Facets generate other problems too. The primary one being they can create a huge amount of duplicate content and pages for search engines to get lost in. This is caused by two things: The first is the sheer number of possibilities they generate, and the second is because selecting facets in different orders creates identical pages with different URLs.

We end up with four goals for our facet-generated landing pages:

  • Goal 1: Make sure our searchable landing pages are actually worth landing on, and that we’re not handing a mass of low-value pages to the search engines.
  • Goal 2: Make sure we don’t generate multiple copies of our automatically generated landing pages.
  • Goal 3: Make sure search engines don’t get caught in the metaphorical plastic six-pack rings of our facets.
  • Goal 4: Make sure our landing pages have strong internal linking.

The first goal needs to be set internally; you’re always going to be the best judge of the number of results that need to present on a page in order for it to be useful to a user. I’d argue you can rarely ever go below three, but it depends both on your business and on how much content fluctuates on your site, as the useful landing pages might also change over time.

We can solve the next three problems as group. There are several possible solutions depending on what skills and resources you have access to; here are two possible solutions:

Category/facet solution 1: Blocking the majority of facets and providing external links
  • Easiest method
  • Good if your valuable category pages rarely change and you don’t have too many of them.
  • Can be problematic if your valuable facet pages change a lot

Nofollow all your facet links, and noindex and block category pages which aren’t valuable or are deeper than x facet/folder levels into your search using robots.txt.

You set x by looking at where your useful facet pages exist that have search volume. So, for example, if you have three facets for televisions: manufacturer, size, and resolution, and even combinations of all three have multiple results and search volume, then you could set you index everything up to three levels.

On the other hand, if people are searching for three levels (e.g. “Samsung 42″ Full HD TV”) but you only have one or two results for three-level facets, then you’d be better off indexing two levels and letting the product pages themselves pick up long-tail traffic for the third level.

If you have valuable facet pages that exist deeper than 1 facet or folder into your search, then this creates some duplicate content problems dealt with in the aside “Indexing more than 1 level of facets” below.)

The immediate problem with this set-up, however, is that in one stroke we’ve removed most of the internal links to our category pages, and by no-following all the facet links, search engines won’t be able to find your valuable category pages.

In order re-create the linking, you can add a top level drop down menu to your site containing the most valuable category pages, add category links elsewhere on the page, or create a separate part of the site with links to the valuable category pages.

The top level drop down menu you can see on teflSearch (it’s the search jobs menu), the other two examples are demonstrated in Photobucket and Indeed respectively in the previous section.

The big advantage for this method is how quick it is to implement, it doesn’t require any fiddly internal logic and adding an extra menu option is usually minimal effort.

Category/facet solution 2: Creating internal logic to work with the facets

  • Requires new internal logic
  • Works for large numbers of category pages with value that can change rapidly

There are four parts to the second solution:

  1. Select valuable facet categories and allow those links to be followed. No-follow the rest.
  2. No-index all pages that return a number of items below the threshold for a useful landing page
  3. No-follow all facets on pages with a search depth greater than x.
  4. Block all facet pages deeper than x level in robots.txt

As with the last solution, x is set by looking at where your useful facet pages exist that have search volume (full explanation in the first solution), and if you’re indexing more than one level you’ll need to check out the aside below to see how to deal with the duplicate content it generates.


Aside: Indexing more than one level of facets

If you want more than one level of facets to be indexable, then this will create certain problems.

Suppose you have a facet for size:

  • Televisions: Size: 46″, 44″, 42″

And want to add a brand facet:

  • Televisions: Brand: Samsung, Panasonic, Sony

This will create duplicate content because the search engines will be able to follow your facets in both orders, generating:

  • Television – 46″ – Samsung
  • Television – Samsung – 46″

You’ll have to either rel canonical your duplicate pages with another rule or set up your facets so they create a single unique URL.

You also need to be aware that each followable facet you add will multiply with each other followable facet and it’s very easy to generate a mass of pages for search engines to get stuck in. Depending on your setup you might need to block more paths in robots.txt or set-up more logic to prevent them being followed.

Letting search engines index more than one level of facets adds a lot of possible problems; make sure you’re keeping track of them.


2. User-generated content cannibalization

This is a common problem for listings sites (assuming they allow user generated content). If you’re reading this as an e-commerce site who only lists their own products, you can skip this one.

As we covered in the first area, category pages on listings sites are usually the landing pages aiming for the valuable search terms, but as your users start generating pages they can often create titles and content that cannibalise your landing pages.

Suppose you’re a job site with a category page for PHP Jobs in Greater Manchester. If a recruiter then creates a job advert for PHP Jobs in Greater Manchester for the 4 positions they currently have, you’ve got a duplicate content problem.

This is less of a problem when your site is large and your categories mature, it will be obvious to any search engine which are your high value category pages, but at the start where you’re lacking authority and individual listings might contain more relevant content than your own search pages this can be a problem.

Solution 1: Create structured titles

Set the <title> differently than the on-page title. Depending on variables you have available to you can set the title tag programmatically without changing the page title using other information given by the user.

For example, on our imaginary job site, suppose the recruiter also provided the following information in other fields:

  • The no. of positions: 4
  • The primary area: PHP Developer
  • The name of the recruiting company: ABC Recruitment
  • Location: Manchester

We could set the <title> pattern to be: *No of positions* *The primary area* with *recruiter name* in *Location* which would give us:

4 PHP Developers with ABC Recruitment in Manchester

Setting a <title> tag allows you to target long-tail traffic by constructing detailed descriptive titles. In our above example, imagine the recruiter had specified “Castlefield, Manchester” as the location.

All of a sudden, you’ve got a perfect opportunity to pick up long-tail traffic for people searching in Castlefield in Manchester.

On the downside, you lose the ability to pick up long-tail traffic where your users have chosen keywords you wouldn’t have used.

For example, suppose Manchester has a jobs program called “Green Highway.” A job advert title containing “Green Highway” might pick up valuable long-tail traffic. Being able to discover this, however, and find a way to fit it into a dynamic title is very hard.

Solution 2: Use regex to noindex the offending pages

Perform a regex (or string contains) search on your listings titles and no-index the ones which cannabalise your main category pages.

If it’s not possible to construct titles with variables or your users provide a lot of additional long-tail traffic with their own titles, then is a great option. On the downside, you miss out on possible structured long-tail traffic that you might’ve been able to aim for.

Solution 3: De-index all your listings

It may seem rash, but if you’re a large site with a huge number of very similar or low-content listings, you might want to consider this, but there is no common standard. Some sites like Indeed choose to no-index all their job adverts, whereas some other sites like Craigslist index all their individual listings because they’ll drive long tail traffic.

Don’t de-index them all lightly!

3. Constantly expiring content

Our third and final problem is that user-generated content doesn’t last forever. Particularly on listings sites, it’s constantly expiring and changing.

For most use cases I’d recommend 301′ing expired content to a relevant category page, with a message triggered by the redirect notifying the user of why they’ve been redirected. It typically comes out as the best combination of search and UX.

For more information or advice on how to deal with the edge cases, there’s a previous Moz blog post on how to deal with expired content which I think does an excellent job of covering this area.

Summary

In summary, if you’re working with listings sites, all three of the following need to be kept in mind:

  • How are the landing pages generated? If they’re generated using free text or facets have the potential problems been solved?
  • Is user generated content cannibalising the main landing pages?
  • How has constantly expiring content been dealt with?

Good luck listing, and if you’ve had any other tricky problems or solutions you’ve come across working on listings sites lets chat about them in the comments below!

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SearchCap: Bing Xiaolce, Google Sitelinks Search & EU-Google Deal Problems

Below is what happened in search today, as reported on Search Engine Land and from other places across the web. From Search Engine Land: Bing Launches Xiaolce Chinese Chatbot With Cortana Smarts For Windows Phone After taking its Windows Phone 8.1 with Cortana to China last month, Bing announced…



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SearchCap: eBay’s Google Problems, Bing Ads Targeting & Yahoo’s Search Share Drops

Below is what happened in search today, as reported on Search Engine Land and from other places across the web. From Search Engine Land: Yahoo Search Share Falls Below 10 Percent For “All-Time Low” We’re on the cusp of new comScore U.S. search market share data for June. According to financial…



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