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NEWS: Google Local Search Rankings – From Pigeon To Possum

If you have noticed changes in your Google local search rankings recently it may be as a result of a major update to the ranking algorithm in early September 2016.

This is the first major update to the Google local search algorithm since the so called ‘Pigeon’ update of 2014. Early evidence appears to show the update only affects the 3 pack (not organic results) and was intended to take out spam results.

Nicknamed ‘Possum’ the update appears to have impacted on some businesses with multiple offices that the algorithm finds it difficult to distinguish. It also appears to have helped businesses with a location based keywords (City / Town name) that are located outside the city limits and / or more than 10 miles from the centroid.

The full impact of the update is still under review so it is worth keeping an eye on the local search ranking for your business over the coming weeks. Also, watch this space for more news.

Think Before Investing In A New Small Business Website

When trying to take your business to the next level don’t believe all you need is a new small business website and the customers will flood in. As a stand-alone item a new (or updated) website can be a complete waste of time and money.Small business website design is not enough

If you think it through the new business website pitch is fundamentally flawed. It assumes your potential customers will naturally find the website when they search for your products or services. It assumes all your prospects are using a traditional search engine. It ignores the power of word of mouth.

A website has a role but it is important to establish the small business marketing process before designing the website as any mismatch will simply waste time, resources and (worse still) your hard earned cash.

How many website visitors do you actually need to achieve your goals and from what geographic areas? For many websites <2% first time visitors actually convert to customers.

It is often worth taking a step back and really thinking through what it is you offer, what sets you apart, what type of customer you want to attract, how many of those customers you need and, finally, how you are going to attract them to your business. What is your marketing process?

If a website has a role in the marketing mix then a proportion of the funds available need to be kept back to work on activities that ensure it is found. Research from Chitika shows >90% of searchers on Google never go beyond page 1 of the search results.

It is important to research your customers, their information needs and where they look for that information. How are they likely to search and what search phrases are they likely to use. If target prospects are all within the local area a Google My Business may be all that is required instead of investing in a website.

Even then the battle is not over as there is so much misinformation peddled on how to ensure your website is found in search that it is too easy to waste even more cash on poor quality search engine marketing companies that fail to deliver results.

A well thought out new small business website that fits within a robust marketing process can without doubt pay for itself many times over. However, it is important to remember that on its own it is unlikely to deliver the required result for most small businesses.

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Google+ Local Vs Google My Business

Have you heard about Google my Business and are you worried about what impact it may have on your existing Google+ Local listing? In short, there is no major need for concern but if you want to know more about Google my business vs Google + Local and the advantages (and disadvantages) of one over the other then read on.

The history behind the changes of Google places to Google+ local to Google my business is long and complex. If you want the detail it is available in this excellent post from WrightIMC so I don’t intend to cover it here. All I cover are the key features of Google my business and how it differs from Google+ Local.

For any business with a local customer base Google My Business is a powerful promotional tool. You can read more about its benefits here but in summary it offers:

– A presence on Page 1 Google (location based).

– A products and services showcase.

– Increased credibility.

Often a small local business can dispense with the need for a business website altogether. All they need is a Google My Business page.

The major change is to the dashboard. It is now much easier to update the primary company contact information. The addition of an Insight, Reviews, Analytics, You Tube and Adwords box delivers all key data in one place.

The new Insights box allows you to track engagement with your Google My Business page by visibility, engagement and audience in some detail. However, the reviews box is perhaps even more powerful for any business with a local customer base. Reviews and testimonials are a powerful promotional tool when trying to distinguish a business from the competition in a crowded marketplace.

The reviews box shows you your Google reviews and where other reviews for your business have originated from around the web. The analytics show the number of reviews and (crucially) the average rating on Google. Potential customers may quickly use this rating to check your business against the competition in the 7 pack. It is also thought to influence Google on their decision to display your listing (or not)

The other boxes are optional to an extent. If enabled, the key stats from the Google Analytics account attached to your website will display in the analytics box. The stats from your You Tube account, if enabled, will show in the next box, followed by the key stats from the Adwords account associated with your website, if you have one.

The move to Google Your Business then has simply tidied up some of the long standing mess associated with the move from Google Places to Google+ local and delivered a more user friendly dashboard. The long standing benefits of a Google My Business account to small business with a local customer base remains unchanged.

4 Small business Marketing Myths

There are many small business marketing myths that continue to be peddled online. Perhaps the myths are simply perpetuated by those who know no better. Or it could be more sinister and based on vested interest. Whatever the reason any small business falling for the hype is likely to end up out of pocket for no real return.

Myth1 – All I Need Is a Business Website!

Many businesses believe that all they really need for the enquiries to roll in is a professional business website. While there is certainly a credibility issue if a prospect types in the business name and no website is found investing in a new website build is not necessarily the best use of resources.

The questions to ask are:

  • How much of my business comes from existing customers?
  • How much existing customer business will I lose if there is no website?
  • Can I expect to obtain more business from existing customers if a website is in place?

With these answers in hand you can now turn your attention to new customers. Is it likely those prospects will be searching for your product or services online? As the answer will almost certainly be yes then how many website visitors do you need to secure a sale and what is the value of that sale? It is important to research these figures to establish how much can be invested in the website build and in making sure the website is found by target prospects.

To secure new customers via a website assumes those prospects can find the website. Statistics shows >85% of website searchers never go beyond page 1 of search to satisfy their information requirements. While these statistics can be misleading there is little doubt if a website cannot be found it is a waste of time and money.

Myth2 – I Need To Be On Page 1 Of Google!

Small businesses probably waste more on search engine optimisation than any other marketing activity. Yes a website needs to be on page 1 but that is only relevant if it is based on a relevant keyword search. Which search words or phrases (keywords) are prospects most likely to use and how common is that phrase (traffic) is a key consideration.

For a very specific keyword phrase a website may rank on Page 1 without any difficulty but does that keyword phrase (and its immediate derivatives) actually bring any traffic (prospects) to the site? Single keywords and phrases are less relevant to search than they once were and ranking on a single phrase is now of little use.

At least one post (probably more) is realistically needed to cover what follows but for now a quick, but important, summary will suffice. There are two major SEO myths to be aware of. The first states that backlinks (websites linking to your site) are no longer relevant. The second states that all you need is lots of relevant and engaging content on your site for it to rank high on the search engines. Both, taken in isolation, are utter rubbish.

Content is important, so are backlinks but to use one in isolation will not work. What is needed is both high quality backlinks and engaging content as part of a search engine optimisation process. Content then needs to be distributed appropriately to drive both visitors and high quality links.

Myth3 – Mobile Marketing Is The Way Forward!

In principle yes, there are lots of statistics to show that search traffic is moving away from desktop and towards mobile telephone and tablet but that is only part of the story.

A recent post from Graham Jones perhaps illustrates one of the major issues. We all tend to segregate our activities so the relevance of mobile is very much dependant on the product. Using mobile marketing inappropriately can quickly alienate a potential prospect base.

A quick look at Google analytics will show the relevance of mobile to your site. Click on the browser tab on the left and take a look at the percentage of current traffic coming from Safari and Android. Then ask around among your customers to establish what they use to browse to your website and why. This is far from perfect science but it does give an indication of the relevance of mobile (or not) to your business.

Myth4 – I Need To Be on Facebook!

Well yes if your customers are there and they are using Facebook to research your type of products or services then it makes sense. On the flip side for many businesses their customers are simply not there or they are not active users.

It is also important to remember the segregation issue mentioned above. Many use Facebook and the other social networks for social activities (there’s a surprise!) like keeping up with friends or gossip and not for business. Often, finding business information when in social mode is a real turn off and creates a negative impression of the business.

There is a common theme to all of the above and that is there is little point using any marketing technique that does not reach your target market. What do I sell, who needs that product or service, how do they decide on a supplier and how do I reach them are the key considerations. The marketing tools or techniques are secondary.

It is the big picture and process that matters, not the hype over the latest and greatest marketing technique or the small business marketing myths perpetrated by those who simply need to sell a product or service regardless of the ROI.

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How Much Should A New Website Cost

As may be expected the answer to the question of how much should a new website cost is not straightforward and depends on a number of factors. That said, we will try to deliver best estimates based on the website platform and the level of website complexity.

Before we get into the detail perhaps we can save you some money? It may be you do not need a website at all? Before deciding on a new website, technology, design, layouts, costs and potential suppliers there are several important issues to consider.

Think About Your Strategy

It is important to re-visit your business plan to ensure that whatever you create fits with that plan and delivers on your business objectives. What are your key messages? Prospects are not generally interested in ‘welcome to our website’ statements or a company history. They want you to get to the point, in plain language, and to do it in as few words as possible.

What Do You Hope The Website Will Achieve

What would you like your website to achieve? Do you want a brochure site that builds authority and your brand or is your prime objective to obtain quality leads for your sales department to chase down? Try not to get caught somewhere between the two and make a firm decision on one or the other.

A Website May Not Be The Best Option

Really think about your business, what you want to achieve and the other options available before investing in a website. For example if you are a local plumber it may be far better to have a strong Google Local listing than try to compete for a spot on page 1 Google with the nationals, the major directories and those prepared to invest heavily in SEO.

Remember To Keep something back for SEO (or PPC)

On the subject of SEO remember a website is of little use if it cannot be found when a prospect types a relevant search phrase into a search engine. To compete for that all important page 1 position then something will have to be spent on SEO or PPC.

Do As Much As You Can In House

Both to keep costs down and to ensure there are no misunderstanding it is worthwhile spending some time thinking about the keywords that best describe your business. What is a prospect likely to type into a search engine when searching for your goods or services?

Write out key statements and think about the information that absolutely has to be on your website and how it all links together. Collect relevant photography you own or source stock photography (making sure you do not breach copy write) that you would like on your site.

Build A Solid Brief For Your Website Supplier

The above maximises the chances that misunderstandings will be avoided and that your website designer delivers a website that covers your key messages, it also minimises costs. Although design is important it is essential to make it clear up front that the design should not slow the site down or detract from the message and objectives.

It should be made clear that any website delivered must be SEO friendly and fully updateable via a robust (and simple) content management system (CMS). Check your website supplier carefully, it is best to avoid one man bands who may well go out of business or move on causing you a problem if there are any technical issues or major changes required.

What Should A Website Cost

As a rough guideline a simple website build on the WordPress platform is more than adequate for most small businesses and should cost anywhere between GBP(£) 400 and (£)700. For more complex requirements or simple e-commerce sites this may rise to between GBP(£)1,000 and (£)2,000.

The two other most common website build technologies are Drupal and Joomla. These tend to lend themselves to more complex websites, with more functionality than WordPress but tend to be more expensive as a result. For a simple website be prepared to pay in excess of £750 with more complex designs costing up to GBP(£) 5,000, sometimes more, for special functionality.

There are also many, so called, website builder packages available from Yell, 1&1 and many others. These may appear cheap options but nowhere is it more true that you get what you pay for. If you would like your business website to look almost exactly the same as many others and you don’t mind becoming frustrated with what you can, and cannot, achieve then go ahead.

Thinking through your objectives and preparing properly can save you an awful lot of time and money in your website design process. It can also lead you to the point you may have a reasoned conversation with your website design company on what the best build package and cost level may be best for you.

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Does Small Business Content Marketing Deliver Results?

Search online for any information on small business marketing and it is hard to avoid the topic of content marketing. But what is small business content marketing, is all the hype justified and does it deliver ROI on the time and effort involved? This post attempts to answer those questions.

What Is Content Marketing

The purpose of content marketing is to deliver the information prospects need to make a purchasing decision. It is about customer education, business reputation and staying front of mind.

So what is content? In simple terms, it is information that is both relevant and of value to the potential customer. It is information that engages the prospect without being pushy in any way. Content can take many forms including:

  • Case studies and reviews.
  • How to guides, posts and videos.
  • Comparison information.
  • Responses to frequently asked questions.
  • Industry or market comment.
  • Seminars or webinars.
  • Business news, for example, a charity event.

The important point to remember is the content must be helpful and engaging and build trust and credibility.

The Benefits of Content Marketing

The way customers and prospects react to promotional messages have changed in recent years. Potential customers that once waited for information to be pushed their way now seek out the information they need.

Prospects believe word of mouth and the reviews of their peers more than anything a potential supplier may deliver. Some low value or commodity products may be purchased online without too much thought. With more complex products consumers seek out information and educate themselves before making a decision.

Is All The Hype About Content Marketing Justified?

Much of the small business content marketing advice published on the internet is, in fact, bad advice. Content marketing may be useful as part of an overall marketing mix but it is not a silver bullet. Content marketing may work well for some small businesses but certainly not all.

Simply publishing content without a purpose is a waste of time and effort. What is the objective of each piece of content and how does it fit into an overall plan? Ultimately the time and effort involved in small business content marketing need to generate a return. There needs to be a plan and objectives and measurement of progress against that plan.

Some Examples Of Small Business Content Marketing

There is little doubt content marketing can be resource intensive but that does not need to be the case. A simple campaign based on a few content marketing tactics can deliver results for small business. Some examples from our own experience:

A shop retailing specialized high quality items generates business via social media. They publish photography of items new to the store, they prepare guides and examples of how their products can be used. They promote offers and promotions all via only two social media channels (Facebook and Pinterest). This is the only promotional activity undertaken and sales continue to grow month on month.

A specialist car paint shop uses a combination of customer testimonials, helpful guides and YouTube videos. Cars they have painted often win awards at various specialist car shows. They use this as an opportunity to create YouTube videos both to discuss the car, its specification and their involvement.

Since implementing content marketing business continues to increase. The main promotional activity in the past was PPC advertising (at a cost of over GBP(£) 800 a month) which has now been cancelled.

A specialist distributor publishes regular blog posts discussing industry trends and qualification standards. They have produced a useful guide for customers that they give away in return for an Email address. They also deliver E-newsletters (built around their blog posts) on a monthly basis.

They solicit customer questions and answer these via their blog and produce YouTube videos as how to guides. In the past the business spent over GBP(£)20,000 per annum on traditional advertising but this has been reduced significantly.

As the old push style marketing (advertising, direct mail, telemarketing) becomes less effective many small businesses are trying to identify new ways to attract customers. Content marketing is, in many cases, a major part of that new small business online marketing process.

Content marketing requires a solid, well thought out strategy and plan, resources and (crucially) time to make an impact. However, it can deliver a consistent stream of high quality sales leads in the medium term.

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In House Small Business Marketing

time available for DIY marketingIs in house small business marketing a viable proposition or is it always best to buy in marketing services? The answer, I am afraid, is not clear cut but depends primarily on the time available to the business owner or key staff to deliver the marketing process on an ongoing, consistent basis.

Can In House Marketing Succeed?

If the time and the will are there to take on raising the profile of the business in house there is plenty of evidence that those with little marketing education or experience can achieve results.

Despite what marketing agencies and freelancers may wish to portray the majority of online marketing is not particularly difficult but it is time consuming. If there is information available to point in the right direction and overcome the inevitable short term experience gap then it is possible for the small business owner to achieve real results.

 

DIY Marketing – The Basics

For any small business to make a success of in house marketing the key requirements are

  • Time
  • A willingness to learn
  • Persistence

Time to both learn the process and achieve meaningful results is perhaps the crucial ingredient. If the business is either desperate for short term sales or the time is not available to both learn and deliver marketing on an ongoing and consistent basis then it is best not to start the process at all and simply hire in the required services.

It is fair to say little will go as expected and there will be many times when the results obtained appear to be not worth the effort but this is normal. The will to carry on and a firm belief that the marketing process will deliver results in the medium to long term are vital to success.

Small Business Marketing Tools

To deliver a successful local marketing campaign requires appropriate delivery of

The website is the hub for all marketing activity. It must deliver the key company messages, act as an information hub, facilitate ongoing customer communication and ultimately convert visitors to customers.

However, if a website cannot be fouin house marketing processnd when a local prospect types in a relevant search term then it is of little use. There are various studies that show that over 85% of potential website visitors never go past page 1 Google when search for suppliers of goods and services. Appropriate, localized search engine marketing (SEM) is therefore crucial to success.

Link building is a vital component of search engine marketing activity but local link building requires a different approach. Local links are required and to secure those requires networking. More details can be found in this post from Hallam Internet

Finally, content is the fuel for the marketing process. It builds SEM, builds credibility, facilitates ongoing communication, builds relationships and has a significant impact on conversion rates.

In House Marketing – Useful Resources

So where can you find good quality education resources to help you build your own, in house, local marketing process? Unfortunately, it is not as easy as may be imagined. Best practice internet marketing develops at a rapid pace and books on the subject are often out of date soon after publication. There are a vast array of blogs and information online but it always important to check the date of publication and the source.

The vast majority of information online is either regurgitated from another source, plain bad advice or of little value. Some good, reliable sources I have found include

Local website design – this post may help you get started

Content Marketing – Some useful material here from Iconsive

Search engine marketingSearch engine Land

Google+ – Key to local marketing success – A number of useful posts from Daniel Sharkov

Social media tips and resourcesThe Social Media Hat

General online marketing tips and advice – from Kikolani

But there are many others that are out there to be found and utilise

In summary therefore, in house small business marketing can deliver results but those results will take time to come through. Time and persistence are required to learn a process, to make mistakes and to go again. However, if the time and energy are available then the savings over buying in services can be substantial.

The risks of hiring a marketing supplier who then fails to deliver on their promises are also minimised. It is an unfortunate fact that although there are many high quality suppliers available marketing does tend to attract those with little expertise, who are aware of the relevant buzzwords, who can talk a good game. It may be worth saving your hard earned cash and givivng in house small business marketing a try.

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How To Write Business Case Studies And Secure New Customers

Securing new business leads is only a small part of the battle to secure new customers. These leads need to be nurtured and ultimately closed. Having a series of well written business case studies can significantly improve closure rates.

How Case Studies Help Secure New Business

Whatever you sell, but particularly if you sell a service, let’s imagine a pitch to a potential new client / customer. What is the prospect really interested in? They are interested in you (because people buy from people), hence they want to know that you are credible and have a detailed knowledge of whatever you are trying to sell. Of course, they want to know that the product or service will deliver the specified result.

A well written business case study based on a project you have delivered to others can address their fears:

  • Credibility – Tick – Delivered to others.
  • Result – Tick – This is what we did and these were the results.
  • Social Proof – Tick – (see below).
  • Objections – Tick – A well written case study will address potential objections before they occur.

It also allows you too big up your previous clients which helps cement your ongoing relationships.

A Little About Social Proof

there is no better recommendation than a case studyIn his book ‘The Psychology of Persuasion’ Robert Cialdini states ‘one means we use to determine what is correct is to find out what other people think is correct’ which means a natural human instinct is to believe that if someone else is doing it then it must be OK. You may not like, or believe, that statement but for lots of examples (and research) of how and why it works read the book (or at least Chapter4).

By using case studies you are taping in to the power of a natural human trait. We all may wish to think we are entirely rational and can easily override any in built natural human response but be honest with yourself, is that really the case?

Key Elements Of Business Case Studies

So what should a case study include? First it should talk a little about the client and their business (some promotional copy for your client). Then, in brief, it should discuss the requirement and specifically the initial KPI’s and agreed timescales. It should then discuss a little on how results were achieved before going into detail on the results showing how the initial objectives were met or, better still, exceeded.

Graphics should be included in the results wherever possible using credible sources of information like Google analytics or photography of before and after and the job in progress. Appropriate general photography can be used sparingly to break up the text.

Building The Case Study – Process

Writing business case studies requires planning and organisation. A single case study helps but the real value is in a series of case studies including at least one for each of the products or services you deliver.

Not all clients will agree to a case study based on the work you do for them but there is more chance of success if you ask early in the process. It is best to ask not too early but once some relationship and client confidence has been built. Then asking the question can actually build your credibility as it shows you have early confidence that the results you promised will be delivered or even exceeded.

Of course every customer project should be tracked and measured but this is even more important if a case study is required. Data, be it photographic, analytics or whatever else is appropriate must be collected as the task progresses.

It is possible the customer or client may wish to write the case study when the job is complete but much more likely that you will be required to write it and let the client approve and/or make any required amendments. The completed case study should not be too long (two sides of A4 should suffice) but long enough to include all the required elements.

Conclusion

To write business case studies takes planning, time and effort but the benefits they deliver in handling objections and aiding closure should not be underestimated. The key is to build a process and ensure they are an integral part of your marketing system.

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Build A Joined Up marketing Process

Don’t shoot the messenger but the latest great small business marketing techniques you may have heard about won’t work. Now I have that off my chest let me clarify that statement – it will not work in isolation. Only a joined up marketing process will produce the required results but don’t expect it to be easy and it won’t happen overnight.

Single Tactic Marketing

Let’s look at the old outbound techniques first. Yes, many of them did work in isolation and that was why they were so popular. However, things have changed telemarketing does not work, the effectiveness of traditional advertising and direct mail have been in decline for years and sales orientated Emails increasingly end up in spam folders.

What about the brave new world of online marketing? The website salesman arrives at your door with what appears to be a compelling argument. A new website increases the credibility of your business, it raises your profile, allows you to deliver your message to the marketplace and presents the opportunity for you to jump ahead of your competition.

SEO as a key element of the marketing mixAll true, but what is the point if your great new website cannot be found online by prospects who may type in a relevant term to a search engine. Various search engine research documents show that 92% of searches never look beyond page 1 of the search results. So some method of ensuring your website is on page 1 is required but that really does open up a can of worms.

Historically, there were three main options, Pay Per Click, organic SEO or a combination of the two (SEM). Taking PPC first, yes it does work well in many markets (not all) if set up and managed correctly. Consistent results can be achieved in time but it does require an initial investment to build a reliable process. However, the amateur can waste considerable sums on poorly set up PPC campaigns.

Some research (GroupM and Neilsen) shows 94% of searchers prefer the organic results to PPC. Although this figure is extremely difficult to measure and the figure is unlikely to be correct it is probably safe to assume more searchers prefer organic results. SEO tends therefore to be the preferred route for many businesses and, in the past, there were many SEO agencies that could deliver results for a relatively low cost.

Those days have gone and good quality SEO services are far less easy to find. The costs today can seem much higher than in the past but that is based on the reality of the time and effort that is required to generate the required result. One thing is certain when it comes to SEO, if a deal seems too good to be true then it should be avoided at all costs.  It really is possible for a poor quality SEO supplier to more harm than good.

Marketing Strategy And Process

The number one reason any marketing activity fails to deliver results is a failure to think through both what a business wants to achieve and what makes the business different from all the rest. If a business cannot document why a customer should choose them then, unless all of their business is via recommendation, they are in a very dangerous place.

With the basics in place a strategy to deliver the required result can be assembled and this can be flowed down to the promotional plan. The process does not need to be complicated and a simplified marketing strategy can often be documented in a few pages. The time invested is usually refunded many times over as it prevents the waste involved in jumping from the latest marketing bright and shiny object to the next.

A Customised Marketing System

There are many possible marketing tactics (a colleague recently documented a total of 46) both online and offline. What matters is how those tactics are chosen and combined to achieve the planned outcome. Every business is different, their objectives are not the same and markets constantly evolve and change so it is not possible to produce a one system fits all system. Many have tried, and failed, to develop a standard approach.

content fuels the marketing processThere is however, one constant and that is the value of content. The amount written about content marketing is enormous. Although, it has to be said, a large amount is produced by those with a vested interest in content marketing services its value should not be underestimated.

Various marketing research studies show that up to 81% (GE Retail research) of consumers of items worth >$500 research online before contacting a supplier. Buyers in general are generally more resistant to the old push marketing tactics and much more likely to research a product or service before making a purchase. They are looking for credible information (content) to guide that process and are likely to value a supplier that delivers that information above the rest. Content, in its many forms, is the fuel for any successful marketing process.

Most small businesses are quite rightly focussed on the product or service they deliver and their customers. Marketing and promoting the business is often recognised as a key task but in house marketing expertise and resource can be an expense too far. Outsourcing can therefore be the norm, which is fine, if it remembered that whatever service is bought in fits with the businesses joined up marketing process and is delivered by those with the required expertise

 

Avoid A Google Penalty – Is All The Hype Justified?

Much has been written about how to avoid a Google penalty but is it all hype? Is there really an issue? There are many banner ads and spam Emails proclaiming they have the solution to so the called toxic links issue but are they simply using fear and misinformation to generate sales.

Google panda penaltyOf course it is true Google implemented their now famous Panda and Penguin algorithm updates to clamp down on dubious backlink practices. Just recently they also announced updates to counteract fake rich snippet schemes but does this mean generating backlinks and creating rich snippets should be avoided – absolutely not.

Historically, Google (and the other major search engines) used the number and quality of incoming links (backlinks) to a website as a key measure of the authority of that site. However, generating relevant (high quality) links to influence a website search ranking is difficult and time consuming. This resulted in the rise of many dubious (link wheels, purchased links, reciprocal links etc.) schemes designed to game the system and gain an advantage.

If a website used one or more dubious link schemes in the past then, if spotted by the Google algorithm, the site may receive a penalty (a significant drop in the position on the search pages). If this happens recovery in the short term is difficult and in some cases impossible. Does this mean link building is no longer a valid practice? The opposite is in fact true, all that has changed is that Google has clamped down on automated link building schemes and moved the emphasis to quality of link versus quantity.

Link recovery schemes (methods to identify and remove penalised links) can help but to clean up a website that has used links schemes can take significant effort and they therefore come at a considerable cost. On the other hand a website that inadvertently picks up a few poor quality links is unlikely to be penalised and paying to have those links identified and removed is not cost effective.

Much of the comment on backlinks is over hyped as is the more recent chatter about rich snippets. The issue is exactly the same, there is nothing wrong with rich snippets but to indulge in automated / spammy rich snippet processes to try to obtain an unjustified position on the search engines is likely to be picked up by Google and penalised.

So in conclusion the so called Google penalty does exist and it can have a serious impact on a website position on the search pages but the solution is simple – don’t indulge in quick fixes or automated processes. New, bright shiny objects are to be avoided and if someone offers some quick fix in search engine marketing then it is almost certainly going to have a significant negative impact in the medium to long term. Ignore the hype, ignore the quick fixes, ignore those trying to make a quick buck by spreading fear and misinformation and build success based on best practice over the medium to long term.