Five years

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Yesterday marked five years that I’ve been at WebpageFX.

It’s been an awesome ride so far and I can’t believe it has already been five whole years. The company has grown so much since I first started. I remember touring the decked-out but tiny offices in a business incubator and getting grilled by an Internet marketing team that consisted of two (!) people at the time.

I remember holding an iPad in my hands for the first time ever in the office while waiting for my interview to start. I remember stopping at Applebees in Altoona for a self-congratulatory dinner after accepting an offer. I ordered the most expensive item on the menu. I think it was a steak.

I remember moving furniture into new office space when our tiny offices were bursting at the seams. Our new space seemed so massive. I remember thinking that we couldn’t possibly need more space. Ever. Then a couple years later we ran out of space and did it all over again.

Most of all, I remember how wonderful all of the people are at WebpageFX. Especially my wife…who I met when she started working on the exact same day as me.

Here’s to the next five years…and maybe an even bigger office. 😀

Leaked: Thumbtack’s Reconsideration Request To Google

Dear Google Search Quality Team:

We are writing this to request reconsideration of our site in Google’s search results. We have received notice of unnatural links pointing to our domain. It is with great care that we have reviewed each backlink to our site.

pssssssst

It’s me Marco Zappacosta, CEO of Thumbtack…you know, the Thumbtack that Google Capital invested $100m into last year.

Anyway, the links….yes, those sketchy anchor text links you are probably looking at right now…you can disregard those. Our advisers at Google Capital assured us those are “brand citations.” We need to verify websites on our service somehow so what’s the harm in a backlink? I can assure this whole unnatural links thing is purely a byproduct of successful branding.

Let me paste in the message Dave at Google Capital sent us about this whole thing below:

<a href=”https://www.thumbtack.com/ky/louisville/commercial-cleaning/”>Commercial Cleaning Louisville KY</a>

Ahh shoot. Don’t know how I copied that…I swear!!!!!

Let me try again:

Dear Thumbtack Community!

We have an exciting new opportunity for members of our community. While we can no longer offer you 20 points for linking back to our site anymore, if you add this line to your .htaccess file we can offer you 40 points! Just paste this in below and you’re good to go:

Redirect 301 /  http://www.thumbtack.com/

Thanks for being a loyal Thumbtack Professional!
-Marco

Errr…WTF. That’s not right! That’s a draft in my email inbox. Not sure what is going on here. Let me try one more time…

Yooo waddup! Here is how it works: If you have a dope post that you would like us to tweet out – get you MASSIVE traffic – then put this html (below) at the bottom of the post and send me the URL along with the EXACT text you want tweeted. I will send that shit out and it will bloooowwwww up

Wait! That’s from my buddy Mahbod Moghadam at Genius. We exchange link buildi…”branding” tips on occasion. This copy/paste thing just isn’t working out.

How about I just attach what you need? See the Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free.PDF file that I’ve included. This was included in our signed agreement with Google Capital (see page 35, section c).

…ahem…..

We are committed to doing whatever it takes to meet the Google Search Quality guidelines. If you or your team still finds links that do not meet the guidelines, we would highly appreciate an example of the specific links that are outside the guidelines to help our efforts in removing these links.

Thank you for your time and your consideration.
Marco

PS – Kiss that $100m goodbye if you don’t approve this in 3 days.

On Mobilegeddon: Why Google’s Free & Open Web Kind Of Sucks

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A free and open world depends on a free and open web.
The Internet empowers everyone to speak, create, learn, and share.
It is controlled by no single organization, individual, or government.
It connects the world, and we should protect it.

Google

Heartwarming, Google. We’re actually on the same page for once.The Internet is best when it is free and open and accessible. I owe a lot to the Internet and the freely available information that can be found. I wouldn’t know how to hang heavy things on the wall or fix a leaky faucet. I wouldn’t know what books to add to my reading list or the best travel route for a vacation. I wouldn’t have a job without a free and open Internet. The Internet rules.

Google’s message hits home for me but it’s also awash with irony, especially this part:

It is controlled by no single organization

Well, not yet at least.
Continue reading

SEO is everything, SEO is nothing

Interesting discussion going on about what being an SEO actually involves in 2015.

There are a bunch of different sides to this issue, but the two ends are:

SEO is everything. Google wants to rank successful brands. Anything you add to your brand is SEO.
SEO is nothing. Google wants to rank successful brands. Spend your time creating a brand and don’t worry about SEO.

Few people would agree 100% with either of the statements above but fall somewhere in between. They either view SEO as a byproduct of success or a driver of success.

Your perspective on SEO’s role in business depends largely on the type of online marketing campaigns that you’ve worked on in the past.

If you do SEO work for large brands, you’re more likely to believe good SEO is a byproduct of success. The site you manage is already trusted by search engines. You aren’t out building links or finding longtail keywords you might have a chance to rank for. You are publishing content like crazy and running conversion tests to make the most out of the powerful domain.

If you work for startup/small/medium size companies, you are more likely to view SEO as a driver of growth vs. a byproduct of other things. You can’t get away with the same things from a site structure or technical standpoint that established brands can get away with. Your time is best spent doing what we traditionally think of as SEO work: keyword research, writing page/product copy, optimizing title tags/URls, cleaning up links…you know the drill.

It’s a good sign for SEO as a marketing channel to see it mean different things to different people.

A mature marketing channel is going to play different roles for different strategies. SEO for Acme Brand might manifest itself as a year-long content marketing campaign. SEO for Widget Co. might end up looking like 5,000 unique product descriptions.

This is a good thing. Nobody thinks of print advertising as a short list of 5 strategies and anything else isn’t “real advertising.” SEO as a channel shouldn’t be limited to only writing meta tags or sending link removal requests. Even if some people are misguided in the role of non-traditional SEO signals as ranking factors, more people are placing importance on the role of SEO as a channel.

It can be frustrating to know and study the art of classic SEO and then watch some stooge parade around a conference stage proclaiming how SEO is now content marketing or link building is dead. I get annoyed by that too.

But if you work in the industry, the more exposure SEO as a marketing channel gets, the better.

(Plus, if other people want to optimize their websites by asking friends to +1 them or by focusing solely on UX…fine by me :D)

Small SEO fixes, big returns

There’s a weird pattern with websites I’ve done SEO for over the years. The campaigns with the most drastic improvements were usually the easiest to fix.

The biggest issues with optimization on most sites aren’t crazy fixes that require hours of development time. They are usually simple things done wrong: duplicate content, duplicate or poor page titles, thin content, site/URL structure. These are all SEO 101 fixes that cause massive issues for poorly optimized websites.

I’m all about attacking the tough fixes but the best results come from simple changes.

Here are a few examples:rel-canonical-fix

– I increased year-over-year revenue 62% for an ecommerce sites by adding one character to their source code. It wasn’t SEO voodoo or black magic…but their rankings plummeted because of a typo in a sitewide rel=canonical that I found on the site. Google had no clue how to index their domain. As soon as the proper canonical tag was added, traffic and revenue shot up. The site has continued to grow steadily since then by adding new products and improving other SEO issues but nothing will match the canonical fix.

– I’ve been lucky enough to work on 4 or 5 projects where high trusted sites had tons of organic links (DA over 50) but had never been touched by anybody who knows SEO. This type of “virgin ground” is getting less common by the day but nothing is more fun than rewriting a handful of titles tags and adding copy to pages and watching traffic from Google soar to new heights.

Hoping for some in-depth, never before seen tactics? Sorry to disappoint.

SEO isn’t really that complicated most of the time. The hardest part — which I’ve been fascinated by lately — is the process behind the SEO: ensuring any potential issues are audited and addressed ASAP. Knowing SEO 101 isn’t a very valuable in 2014 but knowing how to execute & deliver SEO can be a game changer. You can deliver results in any situation when you lean on process.

That said — the  bigger and more optimized a site becomes, the harder it is to grow.

In the early stages, you can double traffic by changing one line in header.php. Every unique product description you write for an ecommerce store is guaranteed to increase search traffic by that page tenfold.

A few years down the road, growth is a lot harder to come by which makes for other unique and more in-depth challenges.

No matter where your skills in SEO lie, savor the days of early stage SEO when starting a new project. The results you can get for even 10 minutes of your time are mind-blowing.

 

Penguin 3.0 or Ebola?

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The weeks before an impending Google algorithm update are strange times. SEOs check rankings even more than usual, write and store “Ultimate Guides” to penalty recovery in WordPress and wear out their CTRL+R buttons refreshing Matt Cutts and John Mueller’s Twitter Google+ pages.

Mostly, though, these pre-algorithm update days are full of hyperbole. SEOs embarrass themselves by making predictions, spreading FUD and disavowing links to save their sinking ships. Woof.

If you didn’t know about search engine algorithm updates one could easily confuse Penguin 3.0 with something far more sinister…like ebola.

In fact, just change a few of the words in recent Penguin 3.0 fear-mongering pieces and they could easily be about the worldwide viral outbreak:

Penguin or Ebola?

Ebola will bring tears to your eyes (via)

How to avoid getting slaughtered by Ebola (via)

The key takeaway from this post is that EVERYONE needs to check their  fever regularly to ensure that it’s clean. If it isn’t clean, NOW is the time to do something about it (via)

Ebola is Coming Soon. Will [You] Survive? (via)

This week, Mueller also confirmed that a Ebola refresh is indeed required for an affected site to recover. (via)

Hope for the best, Sound horrible. (via)

If you’re hit, you’re website will remain at the mercy of Ebola (via)

Take action now and reduce the risk of being hit by this impending virus before it’s too late. (via)

The impact should be noticeable within a few days following the Ebola release. (via)

Google gets set to unleash Ebola (via)

The Incoming March of Ebola and How You Can Avoid It! (via)

——-

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Who needs Hot Dogs or Legs when you can play Penguin 3.0 or Ebola?

It’s cool to analyze algorithm updates and I’m very much curious about Penguin 3.0. But making it out to be a matter of life vs. death, creating over the top graphics of blood-lusting penguins and making the general public fear SEO is bizarre.

And we wonder why everybody thinks SEOs are crazy?

Weaponized SEO

weaponized-seoDejan SEO recently shared an extortion email that they received from a negative SEO spammer.

They are threatening to send a XRumer blast to DejanSEO.com.au unless they receive $1,500USD.

Scary stuff indeed.

In the old days, SEO was fun because it could only help you, not actively hurt you.

Blast 400 domains to a new site? Go for it! Hire somebody to build 100 directories for $5? Sure, why not.

Looking at new backlinks used to be exciting. If you run a big site nowadays you are probably holding your breath every time you open up a recent backlink report.

As Google gets more aggressive on anchor text and blog posts, negative SEO attacks become more valuable and easier to execute.

Links used to only help you. Now 75% of links can only hurt you.

Learning SEO gives you a lot of power to help improve a website’s search visibility but manual penalties and Penguin also give you a lot of power to do damage to other people’s websites. You can weaponize SEO into a tool to knock off competitors.

To me, the scariest thing about negative SEO is how well it scales.

Think about your traditional SEO agency. You’ve got to figure out how to build quality links in a number of different industries. You need lots of top notch website copy. You need development and design help.

A negative SEO agency needs a few pieces of software and a rudimentary understanding of Google’s algorithm.

There’s a tipping point that the SEO industry is approaching where the numbers look better knocking off 15 competitors with negative SEO instead of investing in trying to naturally outrank them through traditional SEO.

You can build 10,000 links in XRumer for less than the cost of an infographic or a well-written blog post.

When Google guesses at the intent of a link, they open the door for a new era of weaponized SEO. These extortion emails might not work against an SEO company but send hundreds to a bunch of small businesses and I bet you’ll get a few hits.

Google’s Link Graph Is Broken

Every now and then, the mighty hand of Google reaches out and jerks the collective chain of SEOs. Google reminds us that they are king. We can run tests, blast links and not do SEO but none of it matters . We have no power over the future of search.

Today’s reminder came courtesy of inbound marketing company Moz. Google has listed one of their community blog posts as an example of an unnatural link in a recent Google Webmaster Tools message.

You can debate whether or not the link is a violation of Google’s Guidelines but that’s a pointless endeavor.

Here’s how Google defines an ‘unnatural link’Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results

This is hilariously and intentionally broad. If you know anything about search algorithms, it’s impossible to link to another website without understanding that a link may influence that site’s ranking on Google.

As I have said many times, there is no way to easily determine if a link is good or bad. It’s all relative. Put 100 SEOs in a room and show them that link and you’ll get 100 different opinions.

The more interesting thing about Rand’s post, to me, is that this is another great example of how Google has lost control of the link graph.

Before Google was big enough to use cash to influence Washington, they grew a search company based on the principle of the link graph. The link graph was a wonderful way to determine trust and authority on any topic. PageRank was their biggest asset and what made them great.

Now? Google is doing some cool stuff with hardware and software but the link graph that powers the algorithm is a disaster.

Maybe it isn’t a big deal now that Google controls so much of the web’s traffic (which means they control much of the world’s commerce), but Google’s biggest strength is now one of their biggest weaknesses. The algorithm does not work well and even if Google tweaked it, they have ran the natural link graph into the ground by over-policing links the past few years.

It’s frustrating to see Google send an inaccurate and useless notice of unnatural links to a Webmaster. It’s frustrating to see a quality site like Moz listed.

But getting too caught up in if this particular link was good or bad shifts the focus away from Google and back to editors and SEOs.

The bigger issue is that the link graph is ruined and Google doesn’t seem to be fixing it.

Only bad SEOs ignore rankings

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SEOs can’t really agree on anything.

Link building is good. Link building is worthless
Matt Cutts is the devil. Matt Cutts is a saint.
Pages should be 300 words long. Pages should be 1000 words long.
SEO is dead. SEO will never die.

It takes a special type of infighting to argue whether or not your entire industry is alive or dead.

One of the classic disagreements that SEO have is about rankings. Some people say rankings are meaningless and shouldn’t be measured. Others check them multiple times per day and rely on them as a KPI.

To the anti-rankings crowd, rankings represent a short-sighted way of measuring marketing’s impact. Nobody has ever paid a bill with a “ranking” and they are only a small step in a much bigger process.

The pro-ranking people use it to directly measure how well their SEO and link building campaigns are working. Higher rankings mean something is working and is worth trying again.

I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about which side of the fence I’ve been on until recently. The anti-rankings movement seems to have gained traction as the “The best way to do marketing is to not do marketing” crowd grows.

Poke around on Twitteror in forums and you’ll see the inbound crowd say things like “Bro..you still care about rankings? That’s your first mistake. Rankings are worthless in 2014″

This is harsh but true:

If you work in SEO and don’t care about rankings, you are probably terrible at your job.

Sure, revenue is more important than page one rankings. Yes, brand awareness is important. But so many of the numbers that really matter including the cash that pays the bills can be tied back to rankings. Saying rankings don’t matter in SEO is like saying hits don’t matter in baseball because runs win the game.

If you want to make more money, you’ll be hard pressed to find higher ROI than you’ll find from an SEO campaign. For your SEO campaign to work, you’ll need some traffic. Good luck achieving that without ranking on page 1 in Google.

I get it. Focusing only on rankings is idiotic. Rankings do not correlate with overall business growth nearly as well as other numbers. But search traffic doesn’t magically appear to your site. You have to be able to be found.

Rankings matter because traffic matters. And with traffic comes sales and revenue and profit and all of those other metrics that are most important.

P.S. – If you don’t think rankings matter, here’s a little growth hack that will help keep your efforts focused on brand building instead of meaningless.

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Ultimate Guide To Panda 4.0 Recovery