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February 19 2013

Was it a Google Algorithm Update or Penalty that Affected your Site?

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Lately there has been a lot of confusion surrounding Google’s search engine updates and how they are affecting the traffic and rankings of the websites that they deliver in their search engine results pages (SERPs). Throughout all of these updates, it is easy for a website to slowly or rapidly begin to lose traffic and/or rankings without knowing the root cause. Often times, the true cause of the lost traffic or rankings is incorrectly assumed to be a penalty.

The good news is that penalties or “manual actions” by Google are actually rarer than people think. Let’s take a look at the main differences between a Google penalty and an algorithm update.

Penalties or “manual actions” are when Google determines that a website has blatantly gone against their guidelines in an attempt to manipulate their ranking within Google’s SERPs. Let’s take a look at what makes up a penalty:

  • How to Know — Check your analytics. The website likely would have lost a large amount of traffic from Google specifically, and for most pages across the site, as well as lost rankings for most all of your keyphrases including branded terms.
  • A Sure Sign — Make sure that your website is verified with Google’s Webmaster tools. Google has begun sending out notifications to Webmaster tools accounts for sites that have been penalized, and many times they will include an example of the reason for the penalization. If you receive one of these notices, it is a sure sign that your site has been penalized.
  • What’s Next — Fix all of the issues that could be causing the penalty, especially any issues that Google has notified you about via Webmaster tools. Then submit a reconsideration request.

Algorithm updateson the other hand are not manual actions. These are changes to Google’s algorithm that decides how they evaluate a website. It is much more likely that a website was affected by a Google algorithm update than a penalty. Let’s take a look at what makes up an algorithm update:

  • Why — There are many reasons that a website could be affected by the different algorithm updates and we have covered some of them in blog posts before. Here are some of the more common causes that websites lose traffic or rankings from recent algorithm updates:
  • Very little on page textual content
  • Issues with duplicate content
  • Technical issues such as slow page load speed
  • Unnatural inbound links
  • How to know — This is one of the more difficult tasks when identifying the issue with lost rankings of a website. There are so many factors that could cause a loss in rankings or traffic due to algorithm updates that we recommend researching our other blog posts and consulting a professional to help identify the root cause.
  • What’s Next — The best option is to perform a full detailed SEO analysis of your website to identify any weak areas. As you fix those issues, it is important to be patient. There are a few things to keep in mind after your website has been affected by a Google algorithm update:
  • Filing a reconsideration request is not likely to help. Reconsideration requests will provide more detailed information about manual actions only.
  • Even after fixing any issues, there will still need to be another algorithm update for your website’s rankings and traffic to return to more normal levels.

The best way to avoid being negatively affected by either a Google penalty or algorithm update is to stay informed about Google SEO ranking criteria, perform routine SEO audits of your website, create new and engaging content, and offer your customers or clients the resources that they want online and with the best possible experience.

January 28 2013

How to Use Google’s Data Highlighter | The Basics

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Last week, we brought you an introduction to Google’s Data Highlighter Tool. This week, we will be covering some basic steps on how to use it. First, we’ll go over a quick recap on what needs to be done. Before using the data highlighter, you must have:

  • Google’s Webmaster Tools verified for your domain.
  • Structured event data, such as an event with a date and time.
  • Checked to ensure the pages have recently been crawled by Googlebot.

The next step is to ensure that the pages you will use the tool on are pages that consistently display structured event data. These pages must also use URLs that follow a simple and consistent pattern. This is called a page set. Currently, the data highlighter can only be used on pages that are in a page set. It allows Google to make sense of the structured data on your site by following this common pattern. Google gives the following URLs as an example page set:

  • www.example.com/events/music/pop/pop-music.html
  • www.example.com/events/music/classical/classical-music

These two URLs are a great example of a page set, because they provide a simple structure and easy to follow pattern. It is clear that they both contain information on music events along with specific genre of music.

After these requirements have been met, it’s time to use the data highlighter. In order to use the tool:

1.   Log in to your webmaster tools account.
2.   Click the “Optimization” menu on the left side navigation.
3.   Select “Data Highlighter.”

Now you will see a video about the tool as well as some more information about tagging pages. You will also notice a blue button that reads “Start Highlighting.” The final steps are:

4.   Click the button that reads “Start Highlighting.”
5.   A box will pop up allowing you to tag either:

  • a. Tag this page and others like it
  • b. Tag just this page

If you will be marking up one page, select “Tag just this page.” If you will be marking up a page set, select “Tag this page and others like it.”

6.   Enter the URL of the first page in the page set, or the single page’s URL.
7.   Select “OK.”

Now the page of the URL that you input will appear on the screen.

8.   Highlight one type of structured data at a time (name, date, location, etc.) using your mouse, just as if you were highlighting something in Microsoft Word.
9.   Right click the highlighted information and select the type of data that is highlighted (name, date, location, etc.).
10.   Highlight all of the pertinent data on the page and watch it appear in the right hand column.
11. Once done, click the red “Next” button on the top right of the screen.
12.   View your final information and if correct, click the red “Publish” button on the top right of the screen.

This is all it takes to show Google the structured data that is contained on pages of your website. According to Google, it takes between 5 and 10 manually tagged pages with the data highlighter for their algorithms to understand the patterns on your website. It also may take some time for these results to appear in Google’s search engine results pages. If you have used the tool properly, and considerable time has passed with no results, your website may be facing other SEO issues that need to be addressed first. Will the data highlighter make structured data markup easier for you?

January 15 2013

Introduction to Google’s Data Highlighter Tool

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In the past we have covered the value of utilizing rich snippets which present search engine users with more detailed information about what is contained on the page before they click through to it. If you are unfamiliar with what rich snippets are, or the possible benefits from using them, take a look at two of our blog posts that cover the subject:

Now that you are familiar with rich snippets, it’s important to keep up to date with resources and tools that can make you or your web team more efficient. It is in this interest that Google has released the Data Highlighter Tool. This tool allows you to tag the data fields on your website using a mouse and does not require any coding. Currently, only event data is able to be marked up using the Data Highlighter, but Google says that more data types will be supported soon!

Event data that can be marked up includes:

  • Name — The event name.
  • Date — The date, date and time, or date range of the event.
  • Location — The venue name and address of the event.
  • Image — An image describing the event.
  • Official URL — The URL to the official website of the event.
  • Category — The category of the event.
  • Performer — A performer in the event.
  • Ticket offer — A description of the price information and the price of admission.

Additionally, it is important to note that the data highlighter can only be used on pages that have been recently crawled by their spider Googlebot. One easy way to see if the page has been crawled is to check to see if Google has a recent cached version of the page. This can be accomplished by:

  • Copying the specific URL of the page you want to check
  • Typing cache: and then pasting the URL after the colon

For example –     cache:www.example.com/page-1

If Google has a recently crawled and cached version of the page, the page will load with a box near the top that looks similar to the following screen grab:

This tool will be expanded by Google in the near future to support more types of structured data, but if you are more eager to learn about it now, visit the Google’s Data Highlighter page here: http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=2692911&topic=2692946&ctx=topic  

Do you see this as being an easier or more efficient way to mark up the structured data of your website? A more detailed post on how to use Google’s Data Highlighter will follow this one, so check back with our SEO blog to learn more.

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