Search engine optimization for small and very small businesses.

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Watch Out: Google’s Coming Rankings Killer!

Google’s testing a change that may destroy some site rankings

Google is creating a separate mobile index.Google has announced that they’re testing a big change in the index of websites they use for ranking search results. It may not affect most sites, but if your site is built a certain way it can really hurt your Google rankings.

The change is in recognition of the fact that more searches are now done on phones than from desktop/laptop computers.

The Google Index

Google’s index is a complicated copy of the content of every web page, which Google uses to tell what the page is all about so it knows what keyword searches the page is suitable for. Since desktop and mobile versions of websites may differ, Google has been using the desktop version of a website in it’s index.

However, for many websites, the mobile version may be quite different from the desktop version. The mobile version may actually be like a separate website with less or different content from the desktop version to accommodate the limits of a small cell phone screen.

What’s being tested is relying primarily on the mobile index

If a website has different versions for desktop and mobile, that constant may be quite different. Content that’s well optimized for a critical keyword on the desktop may not be well optimized for that keyword in the mobile version.

By default, Google has up until now relied primarily on the desktop version of a web site in its index. If a website has a desktop version and a mobile version, Google uses the desktop index to decide what searches to display a given web page for. Only if  a website exists solely in a mobile format does Google use the mobile version in its index.

Google wrote recently:

Google's G logo

To make our results more useful, we’ve begun experiments to make our index mobile-first. Although our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps, our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results. Of course, while our index will be built from mobile documents, we’re going to continue to build a great search experience for all users, whether they come from mobile or desktop devices.

While it’s only under testing at the moment, we can reasonable expect this is the direction Google will be moving in going forward.

Will this hurt your rankings?

Maybe.

If your site is configured to have a separate mobile version with even slightly different content, you may be at risk. If your site is “responsive” then you’re probably safe.

Is your site “responsive”?

A responsive website is one that changes in appearance in response to the device that’s looking at it. Certain elements on a page may shift around to accommodate a different screen. So that site will look different on a tablet, a phone, and a laptop or desktop. But all the content remains the same.

Typically you can check this by changing the width of your browser window on your desktop. Make the window narrower and narrower until it’s roughly the shape of a phone screen. Does stuff change and move around?

If it does, you’re responsive. And you’re probably safe from this change.

If you’re not responsive …

You may need to check the mobile version of your site. Is it essentially identical in content to your desktop site? If so, you’re probably fine.

If it’s different,make sure it’s optimized as effectively for your important keywords as the desktop version. Otherwise you’re likely to suffer a drop in your rankings.

My recommendation:

If your site isn’t currently responsive, you should be planning to make it so. And don’t put it off until your 2018 budget year, but plan for it now.

Failing that, check out Google’s recommended actions here.

Your thoughts and observations are requested – please comment below.

 Need help with your optimization overall? At Rank Magic, we can fix that.

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Are Website Sliders Hurting Your Visibility and Conversions?

Sliders may be cool, but be careful.Sliders are cool.

Sliders are an increasingly popular technique on websites. You know, the rotating images with compelling marketing text that scroll across the top of a web page. Four or five seconds of one marketing message or feature promotion followed by four or five seconds of another, and so forth for anywhere from three to a half dozen or more before the rotation starts all over again. Many websites do this on their home page, but some sites repeat the same slider progression on just about every page.

But sliders can hurt your conversions

My cool sliders are bad for me? Who knew?Customers are impatient

For one thing, images contain a lot of bytes, and the more images on a page, the longer it takes for the page to appear on a customer’s browser. If your page takes two or three seconds to download, that’s not a problem. But if it takes five to ten seconds to download, impatient or time-stressed customers may well bail on you before the page finishes loading, and go back to the search results to find a better page. When that happens, you’ve lost the customer.

Customers only react to your first slide

Another concern is that customers almost never see anything past the first or second slide in your sliders. They may look at the first one for a few seconds, read it or even click on it for more information. But customers who are looking for what you promote on the second slide or the third may never see them. Why? Because they’re in a hurry and want to see if you provide what they need. So they scroll down your page quickly, moving the slider up and out of sight. They may never even realize it was a slider with more information than they absorbed in the first three or four seconds on your page. It’s no wonder that research demonstrates very few people ever click on any slide past the first one.

Subsequent slides don’t make your page any stickier

Research has shown that you have less than three seconds to convince someone they’re in the right place. That means most people are deciding whether to stay on your site before your second slide ever appears.

And sliders can hurt your SEO, too

Perhaps not this dramatically, but sliders can reduce your search visibility.Sad, but true: having sliders on your pages runs the risk of sabotaging your search engine visibility. One of the more recent and increasingly important ranking factors at Google is page speed: how quickly your page downloads into a visitor’s browser. This is so important that Google has published a page to help you understand your page speed and how to improve it.

Beyond that, when someone is looking for information you cover in later slides that they just don’t see, they are inclined to hit the back button to select something from the search results. When they do that, that’s called a bounce, and that, too, is a negative ranking factor.

How to fix it?

There are a number of alternatives to sliders that don’t carry problems for your rankings and conversions.

Hero image

This is a single large image at the top of your page that conveys the primary message of the page. You’ll find a good example of that on our own home page. Chances are each of your slider images links to a topical page within your website that focuses on the topic of the slide. Take those slides and turn each one into a hero image on the page it matches. Here’s an example of an excellent hero image on a website’s home page:

A hero image like this is a good replacement for sliders on your home page.

Collage or image array

This is like it sounds: one image made up of other images or pieces of them, or a number of separate, static images on your page.

This collage image is made up of separate photos, and is better than having a rotating slide show on your home page.

Call to action and/or request form

A static image with either a contact request form or a call to action can be very effective, too.

Calls to action to call and to click to learn more.

If you’ve got sliders on your site, consider replacing them with one of the alternatives above. It just may help both your search visibility and your conversion rate.

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How to Focus Your Home Page Optimization

How to optimize your home page.We usually optimize home pages for the organization or company name and perhaps one specific keyword, and not much else.  That’s to guarantee that someone learning about you from another customer or client of yours will find you at the top of the results when they search for your name.

Clients ask us:

Why don’t you optimize my home page for all my important keywords?

There are reasons both practical and behavioral.

First, the practical SEO reasons:

The Title Tag is the most powerful place for your keywords to be. It shows up as the text in the tab of your browser, sometimes in the top border of your browser window, and almost always is the headline of your listing whenever the page shows up in search results. You need to get all the individual words from your optimized keywords into the title tag. Anything past about 70-80 characters is treated as less important than words near the beginning, so this limits how many keywords can be fully optimized. And only the first 55 characters or so will be visible in the Google search results.

Optimized keywords need to appear in a number of places on the page. Many of those places are in the code, and there’s a limited number of opportunities for that. But they also need to appear in the readable text copy on the page, in headings and sub-headings, in paragraph text, and in the clickable text of links. In order to cover all of your keywords on the home page and have them be used in a natural, readable way would require you to write a tome. And people just aren’t going to read your page if there’s that much text: it’s intimidating. When that happens, people click back to the search results and try something else  — probably your competitor.

Search engines need to understand that your page is 'al aboutSearch engines need to understand that your page is really “about” the keyword phrase that was searched. If your page covers dozens or hundreds of keywords, it can’t really be “about” all of those things. It ends up being about everything and nothing. Then search engines won’t be able to tell what searches your page is a good match for.

People don’t have to always come in through the front door. Our objective is always to have well-focused internal pages for our most important keyword groupings.

Let’s take a law firm, for example. There may be many attorneys, each focusing on a small set of legal practice areas: criminal defense, wills and trusts, business contracts, real estate closings, personal injury litigation, employment law, and so forth. Each of those practice areas needs its own page in order to be optimized for all the keywords related to that topic. If you land on a page that lists all the many and varied things the firm does, you may need to scan down the page, scrolling down “below the fold” to see if they do what you need. Most people won’t take the time.

But if you land on a page that’s all about real estate closings, that page will be immediately recognizable as what you want: both from it’s headline in the search results and from the headings and sub-headings on the page itself. That focus is essential for search engines to know what searches to show any web page for.

Now the behavioral reasons:

Firsat impressions are important, and they happen fast.First impressions happen fast. Depending on the research, you have between 50 milliseconds and three seconds to convince the new visitor that they’re in the right place. If people are searching for a child custody lawyer, it needs to be immediately obvious that they’ve landed on a page about family law, focusing on child custody issues.There’s no way your home page can convince them it’s a match that quickly. It may mention child custody but the searcher would have to take the time to scan through the home page to find it among all the other things your firm does  — and people just don’t do that anymore. They simply won’t take the time; they’ll click the back button on their browser and pick another listing from the search results hoping for a better match.

Avoid bounces.When someone clicks a search result and then comes quickly back to the search engine results to look for another choice, that’s called a bounce. Bounces are bad. They tell the search engine that your page was actually not a good match for the search term. Search engines learn from user behavior and will reduce your rankings as a result of a high bounce rate.

It’s as simple as that.

That’s why I won’t encourage you to spend a lot of time and energy working detailed keywords into your home page. It won’t necessarily hurt the home page’s rankings, but it won’t help it appreciably to rank for focused keywords. And it won’t help convert those visitors into paying customers. Your internal pages are where you need people to end up, and those are the pages that will include calls to action and encourage them to reach out to you to become a client or customer.

Need help focusing your home page and internal pagges for great rankings? Rank Magic can help!

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Should You Avoid Hidden Content?

hidden-contentA Hidden Danger

A common web design technique may now be dangerous to your rankings.

A Common Technique

A lot of blogs don’t display entire blog posts on the blog’s home page. It’s common to see a teaser or perhaps the first paragraph of the blog post followed by a “read more” link to open the entire blog post. That’s probably okay, as the blog post itself usually includes all the content of the blog.

I’m seeing this technique becoming more popular on non-blog pages, too, as a way to attract viewers who may be intimidated by too dense text content. Insofar as it works kind of like a bullet list where a reader can skim down and click on the one or two sections they want to read more about, it works. But it may present a hidden danger to your rankings on Google.

May Be a Bad Idea

A page that has a “read more” or “click to expand” link typically doesn’t link to a new page with its own URL. Instead, it opens the hidden content right there. And that hidden content may just be more hidden than you want it to be. It may be hidden from Google completely.

All the way back in 2012, Google wrote: “we’ve heard complaints from users that if they click on a result and it’s difficult to find the actual content, they aren’t happy with the experience.” Google went on to talk about content that’s not visible above the fold or that’s buried beneath ads and such. However, Search Engine Journal is now reporting that Google may be extending that practice by not be indexing the hidden content that’s only revealed by clicking on one of those “read more” links.

It hasn’t been 100% confirmed that Google is ignoring this kind of hidden content, so if revealing all of that content would be a major undertaking on your site it may be premature to do that. But if this is a technique you use on your site only occasionally and it would be easy to remove the hidden nature of that copy, you might give it a try and watch to see if your rankings change.

If you make a change like this, please let us know whether it affected your rankings in the comments below.

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Don’t Try to Cheat on Google

Fooling Google.

It happens with regularity: somebody comes up with a new scheme to fool Google into ranking your website higher than it deserves. Often those “Black Hat” techniques work quite well at first. But then when Google discovers your chicanery, you get a well earned slap-down. And you may be totally banned from Google for many months, if not longer.

The latest scheme is an online tool that purports to rewrite a web page so as to avoid Google’s “duplicate content” filter. With this you can, supposedly, steal someone else’s work and make it look like you didn’t plagiarize it. Or you can adjust duplicate pages of your own copy so that (you hope) they will all show up in search results without Google realizing they all say the same thing.

The product is called Article Rewriter, and I’m mentioning it here not as an endorsement, but as a warning. Completely apart from the fact that it’s despicably unethical, this product clearly doesn’t work well.

I’m suspicious.

Their website nicely offers to let you test their product. Paste in your own copy and it will rewrite it for you, claiming the result will not trigger Google’s duplicate content filter.

Not so fast!

I entered the copy from my blog post dated October 9 of this year about Google’s rollout of the Panda 4.1 algorithm update. You can check the original content there, and then compare it with what this new tool produced:

Google Panda four.1 Rolls Out

Google has extended a replacement version of the Panda algorithmic rule, and it’s believed to have an effect on 3-5% of internet sites. which will sound sort of a tiny variety, however as Google algorithmic rule changes go, it’s a fairly massive one.

Google’s state capital so much proclaimed the update on his Google+ page fortnight past. He explained that it’s not a straightforward update as a result of it truly adds some additional signals to assist Panda establish inferiority websites higher. assumptive your web {site} isn’t an occasional quality site, this could add your favor. In fact, he says this update leads to a”greater diversity of high-quality small- and medium-sized sites ranking higher”.

There’s a pleasant Panda summary and guide to Panda four.1 over at The Huffington Post.

The rollout may be a slow one, not touching all Google knowledge centers at an equivalent time. It wasn’t expected to continue into on, however in line with Moz it absolutely was still rolling out as of 3 days past. square measure saying} “fluctuations and ranking changes you’re seeing are doubtless associated with that.”

There ar a series of queries you’ll raise and answer concerning any given website that ought to offer you an inspiration of whether or not Panda can am passionate about it (improve its rankings) or not (potentially drop its rankings). The Moz web log of 2 days past goes through that for a few representative sites that were helped by Panda four.1 and a few that were hurt. There are links there to some places wherever you’ll get a page evaluated … however the simplest one (PandaRisk) prices concerning $100 to judge a couple of pages for you.

How ar you doing beneath the new (and improved?) Panda algorithm? Please allow us to apprehend within the comments below.

Egad.

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And if you need assistance with ethical SEO or recovery from damage done by less scrupulous SEO companies, Rank Magic can help.