Archives March 2020

Is Google Biased? We Analyzed 50 Key Politically-Driven Topics to Find Out

If you search “is google biased” you’ll find all kinds of conspiracy theories, opinions, and even inaccurate information.

That’s why today I’m going to show you real data to see if this claim is true or false.

Let’s jump in.

How to We Conducted the Google Bias Project

The way we conducted this case study was simple:

1. We found over 300 “controversial” topics using sites like ProCon.org

2. We broke that list down and focused on 50 politically-driven topics (see them here). Why? Because political bias is easier to identify.

3. We scraped Google’s SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) for each topic using the Data Miner plugin for Chrome

4. We then built a list of websites that were frequently showing up for these key political topics.

5. We then categorized each website as either left, center, or right-leaning based on findings from AllSides.com and Media Bias Fact Check. “Center” can also be defined as “non-partisan” or neutral.

6. Then we went through the top 10 for each topic and marked each result as left, center, right, or unknown. This was based on the website’s known political leanings. Not based on the content of the individual page. We made this decision because categorizing each individual result would make the process too subjective on our end.

We analyzed a total of 500 results (50 keywords x 10 first page spots on Google). Why only 50 topics? Because as you’ll see in a second, the discrepancy was getting redundant.

Now let me show you the results:

Google Bias Project Results

google politics

63% of Results are Non-Partisan

While 63% is almost a failing score in school, it’s impressive that an algorithm can be so effective.

316 of the results were from non-partisan and unbiased websites. Websites that present facts. Not opinions.

This is super important for politically-driven topics where there tends to be lots of misinformation or “fake news”.

32% Left vs 5% Right

While Google’s algorithm presents unbiased information for the majority of the results, it isn’t perfect. As you can see, left-leaning publications received more coverage and visibility for key political topics.

In a perfect world, there would be equal representation for both parties.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.

Now you might be wondering why? Why are there more left-leaning websites showing up for key political topics?

Well, it’s not for the reasons that you probably think.

More on this in second, but it has to do with Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

But before we get into that, let’s dive into some of these topics a little.

Top 3 Left-Leaning Topics

Topics that had the most left-leaning websites present:

  • “black lives matter” = 9/10
  • “border wall” = 7/10. This one is almost inline with Gallup poll data. 60% of American’s oppose “significantly expanding the construction of walls along the U.S.-Mexico border”.
  • “dreamers” = 6/10

Top 3 Right-Leaning Topics

Topics that had the most right-leaning websites present:

  • “blue lives matter” = 4/10
  • “second amendment” = 3/10
  • “pro life” = 3/10

Top 3 Unbiased Topics

The topics below had the highest number of non-partisan results:

  • “electoral college” = 10/10
  • “gold standard” = 10/10
  • “roe vs wade” = 9/10

Google’s algorithm was effective for these topics. It had almost a 100% success rate in showing non-partisan results for these topics.

Top 3 Topics With Fair Representation

“second amendment” = Left: 3, Center: 4, Right: 3

“pro life” = Left: 3, Center: 4, Right: 3. According to Gallup Poll, 46% of Americans are “pro choice” while 49% are “pro life”, so this was pretty accurate.

“gun control” = Left: 2, Center: 7, Right: 1. The first two results were fair, but after that there weren’t any other topics that had “fair” representation. “Gun control” was the closest.

So at this point, it’s clear that right-leaning websites get less visibility and coverage for key political topics.

But the question is: why?

Why Do Google’s Results Seem Biased (from an SEO Perspective)?

First, let me quickly cover how SEO works. Google uses over 200 different ranking factors for determining what pages should show up any given keyword. These factors are NOT created equal.

But in most cases, pages that perform well in Google have the following characteristics:

1. They are targeting a keyword phrase like “black lives matter” or “gun control”.

2. The page provides detailed information about the topic.  This is referred to SEO content in my world. More often than not, pages that have bigger word counts tend to perform better.

3. The website and target page have backlinks. A “backlink” is created when another website links to your website.

what are backlinks

Google uses backlinks as “votes” for a website. The more high-quality backlinks a website has, the better it will often perform. Out of all of the 200 ranking factors, backlinks are one of the strongest by far.

So now let’s look at the data.

Left-Leaning Websites Are Stronger

On average left-leaning websites in this study were substantially stronger than right-leaning websites. By “stronger”, I’m speaking in terms of website authority driven by quantity of high-quality backlinks.

Here’s the data pulled from Ahrefs:

Left-leaning websites also have substantially more .gov and .edu backlinks.

So without getting too deep into SEO, the primary reason why there are more left-leaning websites outperforming right-leaning websites is because of the volume of backlinks and overall website authority.

But this raises some other questions:

Why do left-leaning websites get more backlinks?

There are a few possibilities:

1. Left-leaning websites are more likely to engage in active link building. “Active” link building is when a company pays a company like mine to acquire backlinks on other websites.

2. There is a greater pool of left-leaning websites capable of linking compared to right-leaning. According to data in this article, the tech industry (who have very powerful websites) leans left.

3. .edu and .gov websites tend to be more left-leaning and therefore or more likely to link to left-leaning sources of information.

These ideas are difficult to quantify, but there’s worth exploring further.

To Conclude the Google Bias Project

So back to our original question:

Is Google biased? Not likely.

Google’s results were surprisingly non-partisan (61%) for key political topics. It’s not perfect and the results lean left, but it’s likely not because Google’s algorithms are biased.

It’s because those left-leaning websites are simply better at SEO.

Now there is one thing that can’t be quantified, but it could make Google results biased in some cases. And that’s the fact that Google’s algorithm is designed and operated by humans. Humans are inherently biased in one way or another.

You must also consider that Google uses over 10,000 humans for manually reviewing the quality of their search engine results. It’s entirely possible that these humans could suppress pages they don’t agree with.

Bias is inevitable when humans are involved.

If you’d like to see all the data we used for this case study go here (no opt-in required).


A brief history of Google’s algorithm updates

These days, the way we do SEO is somewhat different from how things were done ca. 10 years ago. There’s one important reason for that: search engines have been continuously improving their algorithms to give searchers the best possible results. Over the last decade, Google, as the leading search engine, introduced several major updates, and each of them has had a major impact on best practices for SEO. Here’s a — by no means exhaustive — list of Google’s important algorithm updates so far, as well as some of their implications for search and SEO.

2011 – Panda

Obviously, Google was around long before 2011. We’re starting with the Panda update because it was the first major update in the ‘modern SEO’ era. Google’s Panda update tried to deal with websites that were purely created to rank in the search engines, and mostly focused on on-page factors. In other words, it determined whether a website genuinely offered information about the search term visitors used. 

Two types of sites were hit especially hard by the Panda update:

  1. Affiliate sites (sites which mainly exist to link to other pages).
  2. Sites with very thin content.

Google periodically re-ran the Panda algorithm after its first release, and included it in the core algorithm in 2016. The Panda update has permanently affected how we do SEO, as site owners could no longer get away with building a site full of low-quality pages.

2012 – Venice

Venice was a noteworthy update, as it showed that Google understood that searchers are sometimes looking for results that are local to them. After Venice, Google’s search results included pages based on the location you set, or your IP address.

2012 – Penguin

Google’s Penguin update looked at the links websites got from other sites. It analyzed whether backlinks to a site were genuine, or if they’d been bought to trick the search engines. In the past, lots of people paid for links as a shortcut to boosting their rankings. Google’s Penguin update tried to discourage buying, exchanging or otherwise artificially creating links. If it found artificial links, Google assigned a negative value to the site concerned, rather than the positive link value it would have previously received. The Penguin update ran several times since it first appeared and Google added it to the core algorithm in 2016.

As you can imagine, websites with a lot of artificial links were hit hard by this update. They disappeared from the search results, as the low-quality links suddenly had a negative, rather than positive impact on their rankings. Penguin has permanently changed link building: it no longer suffices to get low-effort, paid backlinks. Instead, you have to work on building a successful link building strategy to get relevant links from valued sources.

2012 – Pirate

The Pirate update was introduced to combat illegal spreading of copyrighted content. It considered (many) DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown requests for a website as a negative ranking factor for the first time.

2013 – Hummingbird

The Hummingbird update saw Google lay down the groundwork for voice-search, which was (and still is) becoming more and more important as more devices (Google Home, Alexa) use it. Hummingbird pays more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole search phrase is taken into account, rather than just particular words. Why? To understand a user’s query better and to be able to give them the answer, instead of just a list of results.

The impact of the Hummingbird update wasn’t immediately clear, as it wasn’t directly intended to punish bad practice. In the end, it mostly enforced the view that SEO copy should be readable, use natural language, and shouldn’t be over-optimized for the same few words, but use synonyms instead. 

2014 – Pigeon

Another bird-related Google update followed in 2014 with Google Pigeon, which focused on local SEO. The Pigeon update affected both the results pages and Google Maps. It led to more accurate localization, giving preference to results near the user’s location. It also aimed to make local results more relevant and higher quality, taking organic ranking factors into account. 

2014 – HTTPS/SSL

To underline the importance of security, Google decided to give a small ranking boost to sites that correctly implemented HTTPS to make the connection between website and user secure. At the time, HTTPS was introduced as a lightweight ranking signal. But Google had already hinted at the possibility of making encryption more important, once webmasters had had the time to implement it. 

2015 – Mobile Update

This update was dubbed ‘​Mobilegeddon​’ by the SEO industry as it was thought that it would totally shake up the search results. By 2015 more than 50% of Google’s search queries were already coming from mobile devices, which probably led to this update. The Mobile Update gave mobile-friendly sites a ranking advantage in Google’s mobile search results. In spite of its dramatic nickname, the mobile update didn’t instantly mess up most people’s rankings. Nevertheless, it was an important shift that heralded the ever-increasing importance of mobile.

2015 – RankBrain

RankBrain is a state-of-the-art Google algorithm, employing machine learning to handle queries. It can make guesses about words it doesn’t know, to find words with similar meanings and then offer relevant results. The RankBrain algorithm analyzed past searches, determining the best result, in order to improve. 

Its release marks another big step for Google to better decipher the meaning behind searches, and serve the best-matching results. In March 2016, Google revealed that RankBrain was one of the three most important of its ranking signals. Unlike other ranking factors, you can’t really optimize for RankBrain in the traditional sense, other than by writing quality content. Nevertheless, its impact on the results pages is undeniable.

2016 – Possum 

In September 2016 it was time for another local update. The ​Possum update​ applied several changes to Google’s local ranking filter to further improve local search. After Possum, local results became more varied, depending more on the physical location of the searcher and the phrasing of the query. Some businesses which had not been doing well in organic search found it easier to rank locally after this update. This indicated that this update made local search more independent of the organic results.

Read more: Near me searches: Is that a Possum near me? »

2018 – (Mobile) Speed Update

Acknowledging users’ need for fast delivery of information, Google implemented this update that made page speed a ranking factor for mobile searches, as was already the case for desktop searches. The update mostly affected sites with a particularly slow mobile version.

2018 – Medic

This broad core algorithm update caused quite a stir for those affected, leading to some shifts in ranking. While a relatively high number of medical sites were hit with lower rankings, the update wasn’t solely aimed at them and it’s unclear what its exact purpose was. It may have been an attempt to better match results to searchers’ intent, or perhaps it aimed to protect users’ wellbeing from (what Google decided was) disreputable information.

Keep reading: Google’s Medic update »

2019 – BERT

Google’s BERT update was announced as the “biggest change of the last five years”, one that would “impact one in ten searches.” It’s a machine learning algorithm, a neural network-based technique for natural language processing (NLP). The name BERT is short for: Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers.

BERT can figure out the full context of a word by looking at the words that come before and after it. In other words, it uses the context and relations of all the words in a sentence, rather than one-by-one in order. This means: a big improvement in interpreting a search query and the intent behind it.

Read on: Google BERT: A better understanding of complex queries »

Expectations for future Google updates

As you can see, Google has become increasingly advanced since the early 2010s. Its early major updates in the decade focused on battling spammy results and sites trying to cheat the system. But as time progressed, updates contributed more and more to search results catered to giving desktop, mobile and local searchers exactly what they’re looking for. While the algorithm was advanced to begin with, the additions over the years, including machine learning and NLP, make it absolutely state of the art. 

With the recent focus on intent, it seems likely that Google Search will continue to focus its algorithm on perfecting its interpretation of search queries and styling the results pages accordingly. That seems to be their current focus working towards their mission “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” But whatever direction it takes, being the best result and working on having an excellent site will always be the way to go!

Keep on reading: Should I follow every change Google makes? »

Feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the different names and years? Don’t worry! We made a handy infographic that shows when each Google update happened and briefly describes what the purpose was.

Google's algorithm updates 2011-2020

The post A brief history of Google’s algorithm updates appeared first on Yoast.


6 Considerations To Prioritize eCommerce SEO Opportunities

When it comes to eCommerce SEO, it’s common to be flooded with questions around prioritization, either from your company or your clients. With so many product categories, sub-categories and SKUs, the question of where to start can be a daunting one to answer. In this blog, I’ll teach you how to prioritize your eCommerce SEO optimizations via 6 important considerations.

Consideration #1: Organic Opportunity (MSV)

Let’s start with the most obvious consideration: monthly search volume. This is a basic metric that any SEO would probably use to prioritize, so we won’t spend too long on it. More people searching for a product means we have a greater likelihood to draw traffic to our site (and hopefully convert that traffic into sales and revenue).

💡 While MSV should be included in the consideration set, by no means should it be the only metric (or even the most important metric) to weigh when prioritizing opportunities.💡

Consideration #2: Likelihood To Convert (PPC conversions)

If you want to understand the conversion potential of a keyword or group of keywords, I’d recommend sorting by highest PPC conversions instead of MSV. Some may make the argument that PPC is a different channel than organic and as such conversions shouldn’t be comparable. To that argument I’d say it’s actually one of the best indicators of success an SEO can use.

PPC conversion data is real, not an estimate, and what’s even better is that it’s specific to your website, your landing pages and your products. MSV is just an estimate provided by Google (and we’ve found it can be off considerably when comparing it to actual PPC impression data).

seer icon audience analysisseer icon arrow 1seer icon desktop layoutseer icon arrow 1seer icon mouseseer icon arrow 1seer icon money 1 1

To conclude my argument for using PPC conversions, it’s also important to note that doing so will help you focus solely on low-funnel opportunities, which is a large chunk of what eCommerce SEO is all about. If this post was about prioritizing high-funnel content, guided selling assets, etc. I might sing a different tune. But if you want to focus on what’s going to drive revenue the fastest, give PPC conversions a thought during your next optimization project.

One caveat is that if your ads were not triggered by search terms for a specific product category, they won’t be in your PPC search query report and thus never had a chance to earn PPC conversions. In these instances, I’d defer to MSV but strongly consider running a tactical PPC campaign targeted at getting PPC data to increase your confidence in opportunities you decide to prioritize.

Consideration #3: Product Selection

Let’s shift gears from talking about SEO and PPC metrics and start talking about people. 

seer icon team 1

People like options when shopping online and thanks to search engines like Google, they have no shortage of options. Before deciding to optimize a page, search for the terms you plan to target it to and get a sense of what the competition is providing with regards to product selection. If they have 100 products and you only have 2, will you provide the best experience for the user? Probably not. As a result, it’s going to be difficult for you to rank.

Create a list of all your product categories and the number of products you can offer in each. This will come in handy when it comes time to make a matrix so you can weigh product selection alongside your other prioritization metrics. It can also show you which product categories to de-prioritize completely until you’re ready to beef up your merchandising.

Consideration #1: Average Order Value

It’s likely that you offer products that range in price point. Using the landing page report or content groupings within GA, you can identify which pages or product categories have the greatest average order value and prioritize those higher than others. This is a key part in determining whether the juice (potential traffic, sales and revenue) is worth the squeeze (effort involved in getting optimizations live).

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Consideration #5: Seasonality

We’ve all gotten excited about an opportunity only to remember that peak season for that opportunity just passed and we’d have to wait a whole year to see results if we were to optimize for it now. If your business doesn’t have a seasonal nature, you can leave this out of your prioritization matrix. However, if you see significant peaks and valleys in performance for some of your product categories during particular months, weighing seasonality into your decision making process will be important.

There are a few ways to determine peak season for a product category:

  • Historical organic performance data (GA or GSC)
  • Google Trends
  • MSV Trends (Google Keyword Planner)

I’d recommend using a mixture of the tools above to determine which month has the greatest search interest and when that search interest begins to curve up and to the right. Plan to optimize pages for that product category ~6 months prior to when this incline begins. On average, it takes about 100 days for content to reach maturity, but you must also account for the time needed to bring your optimizations to life (research, recommendations and implementation). A 6-month timeline provides a nice cushion to get the work done and start seeing results by the time your users are searching for your products.

Consideration #6: Additional Business Priorities

Treat this last consideration as a catch-all for anything you want to prioritize that doesn’t fall into the categories above. Where is your company headed in the next 5 years? Are there new product categories that maybe don’t have strong performance now, but are a part of the long term vision for the brand? If so, they’re worth prioritizing!

seer icon rocket

What’s Next: Build A Prioritization Matrix

  1. Using a spreadsheet, create a column for each of the considerations listed above.
  2. In the rows, add each of the specific opportunities you’re hoping to prioritize.
  3. Determine the weight of each consideration (for example, is average order value more important than product selection? Is breaking into a new product category more important than the MSV reflected by your keyword research? If so, how much more important?).
  4. Using a weighted scoring system, to score each opportunity.
  5. Sort your opportunities by score.

Voila! You’ve just created a data-driven tool to prioritize your eCommerce SEO opportunities AND you’ve done so in such a way that you’ve kept non-SEO elements that are important to the brand at the forefront of your decision-making.

Got any other tips for prioritizing eCommerce recommendations for SEO? Drop ‘em in the comments below! In the meantime, check out our eCommerce SEO offerings or keep reading to learn how to find even more SEO opportunities using the site search functionality of your eCommerce site.

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What Are N-Grams & How Can They Help You Meet Your Business Goals?

<div class=”edt-highlight-block”>
<p id=”h.kjqw83lg8q0s”><em>This post was written by <a href=”https://www.seerinteractive.com/about/team/hayden-gridley/”>Hayden Gridley</a> &amp; <a href=”https://www.seerinteractive.com/about/team/chris-konowal/”>Chris Konowall</a>.</em></p>

So You’ve Been Hearing About N-Grams

If you’re a client at Seer, or have been following any of our data analysis work, you’ve definitely heard or seen the term “n-gram” before. You can find n-grams in almost all of the big data work that we do. In this post we’ll break down what n-grams are, why they’re important for you as a business, and some potential use cases.

What Are N-Grams?

N-Grams are words, or combinations of words, broken out by the number of words in that combination. As an outline:

  • Unigrams: one word
  • Bigrams: two words
  • Trigrams: three words
  • And so forth

To further explore n-grams, we can break down the sentence below:

Hi there everyone, we’re exploring n-grams today.

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  • Unigram: hi | there | everyone, etc…
  • Bigram: hi there | exploring n-grams | etc…
  • Trigram: hi there everyone | exploring n-grams today | etc…

Note that the words must follow sequentially to be an n-gram.

N-Grams are useful for turning written language into data, and breaking down larger portions of search data into more meaningful segments that help to identify the root cause behind trends. That was a mouthful, so we’ll dig a bit deeper below.

Why Are N-Grams Valuable to You?

N-grams cut out the noise from the data in your analyses.

The search industry is centered around search term data, therefore n-grams play a valuable role in cutting down the noise of thousands of rows of data on individual search terms. By aggregating data at the n-gram level, we can instantly pull out themes that would otherwise be impossible to identify when analyzing search terms in their entirety.

From a business perspective, this means that we can easily slice through the millions of data points that you have to answer questions about how you operate, and how your audience talks about your brand. Some questions n-grams can help answer are:

  • What topics are our competitors speaking about in digital video content?
  • Are we more likely to convert on a certain product organically in one location vs another?
  • Where can we increase our paid spend confidently without losing efficiency?
  • How did our recent TV spot affect our paid campaign targeting users in the Southeast US?
  • What topics convert well for our paid users but we haven’t yet capitalized on for our organic users?
  • What’s the difference between how users search for our brand vs how we talk about the brand on our website?
  • How can I improve profitability and efficiency by eliminating as much waste from my paid search campaigns as possible?

Let’s use this last question and breakdown some real data from Seer’s paid search efforts to walk you through an example below:

A raw search term report looks something like this. Can you easily find inefficient searches, or new investment opportunities from this screenshot?

There are 15 search terms in this screenshot, would you be able to find inefficiency as easily if there were 100? What about 1,000? What about 100,000? Sounds like a job for n-grams.

N Gram Blog Post Search Terms

We can see the same words like premium and salesforce occurring multiple times across separate search terms. This is easy enough to gather from the screenshot, but a lot more difficult when our average analysis contains at least 30,000 unique search terms. When we run this analysis for Seer (and our clients) we want to know:

  • Which individual words does Seer’s target audience use the most?
  • Which individual words are being used by people who are not Seer’s target audience?
  • How do we know what content topics are driving more conversions?
  • How do we know what topics drive conversions most efficiently?
  • How do we know whether we should invest more resources in premium or salesforce keywords?

It would be incredibly tedious and take up significant time counting each search term and aggregating its data, or you make a guess about what your data might be telling you. At Seer, we don’t guess.

N Gram Blot Post N Grams

When we look at the n-gram premium vs the n-gram salesforce we know that salesforce is costing us almost double the spend that premium is costing us, however, our CPA is almost 5x better for premium than salesforce.

We’re getting conversions for premium at ⅕ the cost of salesforce. Maybe we should invest more heavily in content and ads related to premium. Maybe we should improve our landing pages and ad copy for salesforce.

With the right context, n-grams can help us better decide what has the most ROI and where we should invest our dollars at a highly strategic level.

Without n-grams, you have to rely on cherry-picked terms to guess what content topics might yield conversions efficiently and risk allocating your budget on a hunch. You can miss the opportunity to capture hundreds of leads, or thousands of dollars in revenue, when you don’t aggregate your data and pull out insights quickly and efficiently using n-grams.

Seer + N-Grams = Meeting Your Business Goals

The beautiful thing about n-grams is that they are a tool, not an answer. If the data you’re dealing with is text, you have n-grams. That means everyone has them. But what everyone doesn’t have is a team of experienced data strategists that can effectively leverage n-grams to slice your data and deliver insights that shape strategy and move that performance needle.

At Seer, we’re coming up with new ways to use n-grams every day to find value and drive strategy for our clients. If you’ve already got an overwhelming amount of text data, or are looking to leverage your search data in new ways both within and outside of PPC/SEO, Seer and our use of n-grams just might be able to help.

Asking the same questions at your organization? Schedule a call with Lindsey to see if Seer can help.

Be sure to sign up for Seer’s newsletter to stay up to date on all things digital!


6 Google My Business Tips You’ll Be Glad You Know

If you’re a business owner or are someone just entering the digital marketing world, you may be wondering what is Google My Business and how does it work? Google My Business (GMB) is a free tool available to businesses to help them create and manage their business listings within Google Search and Map results. GMB is an excellent way for businesses to provide relevant information to existing customers, whether it’s their address or hours of operation, as well as attract new customers in need of their services.

In addition to being there when customers are in need, Google My Business can improve a business’ online visibility and local search engine optimization (SEO). Check out our Local Search Success Indicators Study to better understand what some of the most prominent local ranking factors are, how proximity affects local rankings, and what Local SERP features you should be aware of.

Below, I will break down a few of the top Google My Business tips I’ve found to be most helpful to know.

Tip #1: Fill in ALL of the available GMB features for your business with up-to-date information

There’s a good chance that your Google My Business listing is the first thing that people will see when searching for your business or similar services, so it’s vital to make it count. Have you ever looked up the phone number of a restaurant to place an order, only to find the number listed has been disconnected? Or searched for the address of business, but you find two listings for the same business with different addresses and you’re not sure which one is correct? If you answered yes to either of these, you probably remember just how frustrated you felt, and maybe even chose to not give that location your business after that experience.

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Tip #2: Choose your business category wisely

The category you list your business as will affect what you rank for. Google relies heavily on the GMB information you provide to help match your listing with relevant searches, so including a category as specific and appropriate for your business as possible is important. For example, if you’re a pediatrician, but list your business as a “Medical Clinic” and not a “Pediatrician,” it’s possible you may lose out on visibility for highly relevant searches for those seeking a doctor for their child.

Depending on what category you chose, the special GMB features that you have available to fill out for your listing may be impacted. For example, food and drink related businesses can add their menu and URLs for reservations, while a hotel may be able to list the various amenities that they offer at their location. Before choosing a Google My Business category, be sure to review Google’s Guidelines for best practices and suggestions.

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Tip #3: Respond to Google My Business reviews – both positive and negative

When a customer takes the time to leave a review, it’s usually because they want to be heard. Maybe they want to boast about the amazing, unexpected service they received, or possibly vent about the unfortunately long wait they experienced even after making reservations. Either way, it’s vital to respond to these reviews so that the customer (and other potential customers reading reviews) know that they are heard and to continue to build (or restore) customers’ trust with the business.

A few things to keep in mind when responding to reviews:

  • Respond to negative and positive reviews
  • Respond in a timely manner
  • Express appreciation or empathy/humility
  • Consider your tone in responses – stay positive and professional at all times
  • Don’t argue with negative reviews. Take time to process the review before responding, apologize, and come up with an appropriate remedy.
  • Be authentic in your responses.

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Tip #4: Leverage GMB Insights to gain more information

Google My Business Insights provides owners with free information on how customers are finding their listing and the actions they’re taking once found. This information can be found within your GMB Profile either within the Home section or with the Insights tab-

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For more info on how to view GMB Insights via phone or tablet see here.

Below are some of the most useful Insights to leverage to see how users are finding your business and gauge how you’re performing over time-

  • Queries used to find your business – see the exact searches people are doing when they find your listing

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  • How customers search for your business

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  • Customer actions

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Pro Tip: Google My Business Insights isn’t the most intuitive experience and it can be difficult to understand what exactly each metric encompasses. To get a full breakdown of each metric and visual, I recommend reading Joy Hawkins’ “How to Interpret Google My Business (GMB) Insights” for further clarification.

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Tip #5: Utilize UTM parameters on your GMB listings

“UTM parameters” may sound intimidating, but they’re very easy to utilize and are a game changer when it comes to properly tracking GMB data within Google Analytics. So, what is a UTM parameter? They are additional tags you can add you a URL so that when clicked, the information is tracked and sent to Google Analytics. UTM parameters can be added anywhere within GMB that includes a link such as the website link, appointment link, menu link, etc.

It is recommended that UTM parameters are made unique for each location and for each action tracked. To quickly and easily build UTM parameters, I recommend utilizing Google’s Campaign URL Builder tool.

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Tip #6: Reach out directly when you need Google My Business help

Like anything else in the digital or technology space, there are times when you will run into glitches with Google My Business. When I run into an issue within the GMB platform, I usually reach out directly to GMB Support via Facebook Message, Twitter (@GoogleMyBiz), or Email Support Form. At times these direct lines to GMB can take up to a few days for responses, so another option you have is to jump into the local search community to review others’ previous problems and solutions, or post your own question to the community to see if anyone’s able to offer advice. Some of the most reliable outlets include:

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Looking for guidance on location data management strategy and local search engine optimization? Give us a shout!

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Mobile’s Impact on Voice Search – Courtney Cox Wakefield // Cwake.digital

Episode Overview: At the intersection where voice search meets mobile devices lies the next big innovation in SEO – mobile voice search. Despite the high potential the medium holds, innovation and growth has plateaued over the course of the last year. Join host Ben as he speaks with Courtney Cox Wakefield, co-author of “Voice Search,” and head of consumer marketing at Children’s Hospital to discuss the impact of mobility on voice search and how SEOs can use this time to begin implementing new optimization tactics to increase their mobile presence.

Summary

  • Nearly 27% of people use voice queries on mobile devices according to Google, but voice search growth has plateaued over the past several months.
  • Voice search queries are typically longer than queries entered on desktop devices and are subject to environmental variables, which introduces an unique dynamic.
  • The best mobile voice search optimization tactic SEOs can begin implementing is to provide quick, succinct answers to user queries within their content so Google can easily pull that information quickly.

GUESTS & RESOURCES

Ben:                 Welcome to Mobile Marketing Month on the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro and this month we’re taking a long look at the small screen to help you understand what you need to know about SEO optimization for mobile devices. Joining us today is Courtney Cox Wakefield who is the co-author of “Voice Search,” the new search engine. Outside of being an author, Courtney is also the head of consumer digital marketing at Children’s Health Hospital which is one of the top care facilities in the United States. And today Courtney is going to tell us a little bit about how mobility is impacting voice search. Okay. On with the show, here’s my conversation with Courtney Cox Wakefield, the co-author of Voice Search, the new search engine. Courtney, welcome back to the Voices of Search podcast.

Courtney:         Thanks for having me Ben.

Ben:                 Great to have you as a friend of the pod, as a returning guest. The last time we talked you were giving us your SEO predictions for 2020 as they relate to voice search, that voice search is going to be important in local searches and business. And one of the trends that I stopped you from talking about is what’s the impact of mobility on voice search? I wanted to save it for this month when we were talking about mobile marketing. So give me the lay of the land, how much does mobility matter when it comes to voice search? And how is this changing the landscape?

Courtney:         Okay, so we’ve always had, or not always, but for the recent history we’ve had voice capabilities on most smartphones starting with Siri and then with other devices, Cortana and the Google assistant on the Google phones. So we’ve had these assistants that could be triggered by voice and utilized through voice and the growth of those things has been not unsignificant. We’ve got 27% of people that are using voice queries on mobile devices according to Google. So that’s not unsignificant but the growth of it has been relatively flat in recent months and really it’s still growing linearly but it’s plateauing in a way. And so what we’re really starting to see now, and what I think is interesting is, over the last couple of months maybe even over the last quarter seen Amazon make a lot of investment in the mobility of voice devices.

Courtney:         And so you’re seeing the Echo Buds which are the Echo devices which are, they basically like your AirPods. You’ve also got Apple that’s invested in the EarPods and they have the ability to do Siri. But really the way that Amazon is differentiated is that Amazon positions these as voice devices where Apple positions their AirPods as being listening devices not as much as voice devices. And I think that positioning matters in the way that people utilize them. You’ve also got Amazon investing in other devices, like the Echo Loop which is a ring that you can wear where you can speak with the Echo device. And then you’ve also got Echo Auto where you can have the Echo Auto in your car and then it connects through your smartphone to the internet, is able to provide the answers that you’re looking for.

Courtney:         So that is really increasing the access to the internet and to answers and to voice devices as you move throughout your day because, as we know, most of us are not tethered to our desk, we’re not tethered to our homes where we have those voice devices positioned, some of us all the way throughout our homes. That makes a difference in terms of our utilization and so it’ll be interesting to see how the infiltration of those new devices into the market will, number one, be adopted by consumers. And number two, how that will actually impact the way that people search and what queries are made on these devices.

Ben:                 Yeah, it’s interesting to me that, I think that most people think of voice search and they think of some sort of home device that listens and provides the answers, and I honestly think that’s the least useful case for voice search. When I am in my car and I am driving, I use my car play all of the time. Granted most of the time it’s, “Put on some different music” or “Call someone.” It’s not like I’m doing anything super sophisticated. Or when I’m walking around or I’m getting exercise, “Play the next song.” I don’t want to fiddle with my device, I just want to be able to communicate with it. It seems like there would be more opportunity for those queries than when you’re sitting at home and you want the music to change.

Courtney:         Mm-hmm (affirmative) And because we know that local dominates from a voice search perspective, people are using these things on the go so they want to use them on the go. So being able to actually have voice devices available on the go makes a lot of sense.

Ben:                 I guess the thing that surprises me about what you said is that you are not seeing an increase in the number of mobile searches that are happening through voice. And I would think, obviously there’s a technology investment specifically with Amazon working on what I would call their “Me too” products to the Apple AirPods and the ring is interesting, but I don’t know if anybody’s going to wear that thing. But okay, they have all these devices that they’re creating for mobility, so if there isn’t an increase in the adoption, why are the big platforms focusing on adding utility?

Courtney:         It’s not that there’s not an increase in adoption, so I’ll correct myself there. There’s an increase in adoption it’s just that it’s not happening nearly as quickly as it was previously.

Ben:                 Okay. So we’re seeing slowed growth in the adoption.

Courtney:         Right. So it’s starting to plateau in terms of its growth where these other devices may make the growth happen faster. Does that make sense?

Ben:                 Absolutely. So talk to me about some of the ways that SEOs can optimize their mobile strategies to take advantage of some of the changes happening in the voice search landscape.

Courtney:         Yeah, I think we need to really try to understand how the mobility of voice devices changes the query. So I think we’ve done a good job at optimizing for those things that people would ask in their home or even sometimes in their office and we’re creating that content. We’re doing a pretty good job of those things because we were already doing them anyway. We were optimizing for the content that people might search when they’re sitting down at a computer and we’re kind of in it as we optimize for searches on mobile but we don’t really know where someone is when they’re searching on mobile. Are they sitting on their couch? Are they moving down the road? Are they at their office? Are they in an airplane?

Courtney:         We don’t really know where they are and I think this is going to give us an opportunity to say, “Okay, how does the things people search or the way that people search away from their home when they’re on the go differ from the way that they search, the things they search about when they’re in their home?” I don’t have an answer to those questions about how they differ. I would predict that they do differ and I’d be really interested to see what those differences are. I’m sure the content is different and I think we could probably make some really obvious predictions about what content differs at home and away. But I mean, even just the way that they search, how many refinements of the query they’re willing to do, things like that, that might be very different away from the home than they are at home.

Courtney:         And I even think one of the things that we’ve said about voice search is that the queries are longer. You get people that are speaking more naturally so they’re asking longer queries than they would if they were typing in a query online. And I wonder, as people are making these voice searches out in the world where they may be bothering someone with their voice or there may be a lot of noise, will people shorten those queries because they don’t want to bother people? Will they shorten them because there’s a lot of noise and the opportunity to get a word in to your device might be shorter? How is that going to affect the way that people search? And I think that remains to be seen.

Ben:                 So as the SEOs are thinking about their content and thinking about content optimization for where we stand today where people are doing long form queries when they’re moving around and making sure that they are optimized for the mobile world, is there different content you should be creating, a different strategy that you recommend, a different set of keywords that you should be targeting? Or is this just take your content and hope that the long form queries are relevant?

Courtney:         I think when someone’s away from their house, it’s more likely that they’re ready to take action. And so more ‘bottom of the funnel’ optimization for content seems to be more relevant than something that’s more ‘top of the funnel.’ If you’re away from your house, if you’re on the go, you’re probably doing that search so that you could take action on it. You’re not just sitting around thinking about, “How might I cook a chicken dinner later?” You’re probably ready to go to the grocery store and actually purchase the recipe items to cook that chicken dinner. So that I think is something that’s really clear today that’s actionable is just, if somebody is searching on a voice device, they’re searching those long queries, they’re probably more in action mode than if they are at home searching on a desktop device or even doing a text search on their mobile device.

Ben:                 So here’s the thing that sticks out to me. We’re seeing an increase of people talking to their devices as they’re walking around and they’re long form queries and maybe there is some content optimization that puts you in the right standing with Google to get your content in front of consumers as they’re walking around. You understand or you have a sense that they’re conducting a mobile query. Is there any way to optimize that of like, “Okay, I know that this is a mobile query so I’m going to create a different experience.” Or is there any way to get a signal whether a query is from a mobile device or not?

Courtney:         Yeah, I mean I think for me when I’m looking at devices or queries that might be coming from a mobile device, I’m looking at queries that looks like questions. They are those longer form ,more natural language sounding queries. I think the recommendation that I would make to SEOs is to cut to the chase. If somebody’s listening on a voice device or they are even reading on a mobile device, their screens is a lot smaller, the answer needs to be quick and to the point. They’re on the move, they are already disconnecting from the world that’s around them to listen. So the amount of time that they spend doing that, if you can reduce that and get to the point as quickly as possible, I think that’s a win. That’s also true as you optimize for instant answers and things like that on desktop or mobile text searches but it’s even more relevant, even more needed in a voice answer.

Ben:                 I think that the moral of the story is, and excuse my language everybody, cut the sh*t. When people are moving around and they’re on their mobile devices, and this goes to the same thing with trying to be positioned zero even if it’s a text-based search, is that you need to get to the point and we need to start thinking in sentences and paragraphs, not pages. And for two reasons. One, people are moving faster and that’s the experience that they want. And two, Google has the natural language processing capabilities to pick out the snippets within your content.

Ben:                 And so maybe there’s a different writing style here of formatting your content in a way where you’re breaking it up so it’s not long paragraphs, it’s short forms and answers, maybe writing things in more question and answer style. But when you’re thinking about optimizing for mobility as it relates to voice search, it really is the same exercise as trying to be in position zero, obviously getting your content to Google and submitting it in the appropriate fashion using your rich and featured snippets, and then also the format of your content being relatively short form. That seems to be the key here.

Courtney:         Yeah. I’ll give a really good example that we just addressed about a month ago at Children’s. So we own the answer box for “How much does it cost to park at Children’s Medical Center, Dallas.” But a month ago we didn’t own that answer box, actually a different hospital was owning that even though our name was in the query, Texas Children’s down in Houston was owning it. But we couldn’t really understand why we had the exact query in our H3 on the page right below it, we answered the query in a table where we had the pricing table there. And so we started to take a look at Texas Children’s answer that had been selected by Google.

Courtney:         What we saw was they had the same thing as we did, they had the table. But one difference that they had was, above the table they summarized the table. They said, “Parking at Texas Children’s is between $2 and $5 depending on X, Y, Z.” They just summarize it in a quick sentence that was super concise and that can really easily be pulled into that answer box and really easily read out by a voice device. And the moment we changed that and had Google re-crawl it, we overtook that answer box the next day. And so what Google and these other publishers are looking for is the most concise answer that they can give their users. And if you can do little small tweaks and optimizations like that you’ll be more likely to own those answers.

Ben:                 Well, I think that’s the biggest, most important tip as we think about how voice search relates to mobility. The format of your content being concise, providing answers, and summaries that is just content that is going to be a natural match for voice search is going to help you show up in the right position. Okay, Courtney, thanks again for being our guests. Always an honor and a privilege to chat with you and thanks for sharing the knowledge about voice search and mobility.

Courtney:         Thanks Ben.

Ben:                 All right, that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search Podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Courtney Cox Wakefield, the co-author of Voice Search, the new search engine. We’d love to continue this conversation with you so if you’re interested in contacting Courtney you can find a link to her LinkedIn profile in our show notes, you can contact her on Twitter where her handle is cortewakefield: C.O.R.T.E.W.A.K.E.F.I.E.L.D, cortewakefield. Or you can visit her website, which is cwake.digital, that’s C.W.A.K.E.

Ben:                 Just one more link in our show notes I’d like to tell you about, if you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast head over to voicesofsearch.com where we have summaries of all of our episodes, contact information for our guests. You can also send us your topic suggestions or SEO questions or you could apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices of Search podcast. Of course, you can always reach out on social media, our handle is voicesofsearch on Twitter and my personal handle is benjshap: B.E.N.J.S.H.A.P. And if you haven’t subscribed yet and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, we’re going to publish episodes multiple times per week. So hit the “Subscribe” button in your podcast app and we’ll be back in your feeds soon. All right, that’s it for today but until next time, remember the answers are always in the data.


Four essential ecommerce site optimizations that drive sales

The whole point of marketing is to deliver the right message to the right audience at the right time. But what about conversion optimization? How do you know which tool to use in which area of your ecommerce site that’s key to the customer journey? What’s better for a particular campaign?

In this article, we cover a list of ecommerce site optimization suggestions and tactics that can boost your sales.

1. Design and UX

A. Optimize your home page

So, there’s the home page of your ecommerce site. The first thing your target visitor expects to see on it is the product/service you’re selling.

Since a person’s eye first falls on the center of the page, it is better to attract his attention with a bright thematic image of the main product.

Suppose the image has worked and the user has decided to stay. Now he would like to know what shop he got into, whether it’s worth buying here. The vision moves to the bar in the top of the site, where it’s necessary to place:

  • Company logo – always in the upper left corner
  • The search bar
  • Contact details (obligatory – phones, in addition – addresses and hours and other means of communication, button to order a call). According to the survey results, 90% of respondents confirmed that they once became the victim of fraudsters when making online purchases. This means that the trust of customers must be earned, and detailed information about the store – one of the effective ways.
  • Shopping cart (always on the right)

Here you can also find a horizontal menu with product categories or information pages (delivery and payment, reviews, FAQs).

Becoming acquainted with your shop, the visitor will surely want to explore a variety of products. As usual, on the left side of the screen, they will look through the category menu. A left sidebar is an appropriate place not only product categories, but also news, promotional, and top products, if necessary – the benefits of buying.

B. Simplify your product categories

The visitor gets to the category page in one of three ways – goes from the main page, goes from the search, goes from advertising. In each case, they want to see exactly the products they’re looking for.

On this page, everything should be extremely simple, clear, and convenient – especially the images of goods to make sure that the person got to the address.

The left-side docket provides the advantage of sorting products in customized searches and detailed views.

Important: If the product is out of stock, it’s better to gently notify the client – to offer to buy under the order or notify about the receipt of goods.

If the visitor opened the product card, the main thing they want to see here is a good photo, price, a button to buy. These are the elements that need to be highlighted and worked through.

Therefore, only high-quality professional photos may convince the customer to make a purchase, with the possibility of magnification, taken from different angles. Place a photo in the left upper part of the card. Being acquainted with appearance, the client for certain will be interested in the description of the goods.

The card should be compact but filled with the basic characteristics, feedback and evaluation of the product by customers (psychological trigger of social evidence). This will increase confidence in the store.

The order of placement of all elements in the product card should follow the logic of the client: What is the product/service? How much does it cost? How to buy and get?

This information is offered to the person consistently, which corresponds to the AIDA marketing model:

Attention → Interest → Demand → Action

2. Understand and fix server site errors

Much has been written about the usability of the site. Today, anyone who has their own ecommerce site understands what is needed at the start. But, even working with large sites, you can notice a certain tendency of repetition in usability shortcomings. One of them is related to displaying server errors.

A. Error 404 is helpful

The 404 error page is one of the most common and yet undeservedly forgotten errors. Keep in mind that our main task is to ensure the longest interaction between a user and the site. That’s why even the 404 page should not lose a user at least but redirect them to another useful section of the site.

Act as a guide and prompt your site visitor the following steps: “Return to Home”, “Order a call”, “Pick up similar ones?”

Again, act creatively – it’s a whole free page on your resource. Ask yourself, “what can be placed there?” Once again remind your target audience about the company with the logo, give a coupon/discount to the “Top Sales”, make an announcement of upcoming promotions, lotteries or the opening of new sites.

Do not forget about the correct title for pages 404 error. For example, “404 Not Found”. In a series of open tabs in the browser is much more convenient to see immediately “broken” URLs.

And, of course, check that all links on your 404 page are working.  If you redirect the user to the main page or directory, the links must be correct and working. Finally, owners of ecommerce sites, in particular, should know basic information about HTTP code errors and how to fix them.

3. Improve the shopping experience

A. Setup structure so visitors can easily find products

If you have a good understanding of your business, it will be easy to identify the main product categories and divide them by their key attributes.

But if you are just starting your online business, you may have problems forming the structure of the catalog. In this case, you need to arm yourself with your own buying experience and proven recommendations for building a directory structure, analysis of competitors and their comparison with popular search engine queries.

Try to form a directory tree by keeping a balance between sections. There are some rules to follow when creating a directory structure:

According to the psychology of perception of information, 7 is the optimal number of sections of the highest level in the directory, in which the user can simultaneously capture the view.

In each subsection, there should be no more than 100 items. If any category has hundreds of items, and there are only 10-20 product cards in the neighbouring categories, it means that you should divide a large section into subdivisions or create a handy filter for key features.

The maximum level of nesting sections – no more than three: The buyer should go from the catalog to the product card in three clicks:

Section – First click > Subsection – Second click > Product – Thirsd click

The catalogue should be balanced: in each section, there should be an approximately equal number of subsections, and in each subsection – an approximately equal number of goods.

4. Tweak and test your ecommerce checkout process

A. Offer a variety of ways to buy wisely

Let’s start with the fact that there is no and can’t be a single ideal list of payment instruments for all sites. The list of payment methods is formed depending on several key factors:

  • The size of the average check
  • The geography of business
  • Goods or services
  • Habits of clients (buyers)

Next, we will give you some tips that will make the page of choice of payment methods as effective as possible.

B. Do not follow the logic of “the more, the better”

In most cases, only a couple of payment instruments are really in demand. The largest selection of payment methods provides its customers with coupon services, online software stores, ticket offices, and other services. In the vast majority of cases, 99% of online payments will fall on two-to-three payment instruments. Do not forget that most customers prefer to pay for large physical goods on delivery and check the quality of goods before buying.

C. Structure your payment methods

If you provide your clients with a wide range of payment instruments, create a separate section for bank cards, a separate section for electronic money, and a separate section for payments via mobile operators. Visualize payment methods with icons and logos. In large amounts of text, attention dissipates, sometimes it is difficult to understand how they differ. All discounts and commissions should be immediately converted into the final amount of the order.

D. Don’t scare the client with terminology

Your buyer does not have to know the terminology common among Internet entrepreneurs. Separately, it should be noted that even payment service providers, not to mention stores, often use completely different terms to denote certain phenomena of “payment reality”. Talk to customers in their language, and get rid of rejections at the stage of choosing a payment method and at the stage of payment, the additional burden on the call center and other consequences of misunderstanding.

E. Do not pass on your work to the customer

Often ecommerce businesses that accept payments through several payment services (aggregators, payment service providers, bank-acquirers) offer their customers to choose, but most likely, they hear about any for the first time.

F. Do not overload the payment page with unnecessary links

The buyer should not be distracted by unnecessary information and leave the payment instrument selection page. This breaks the conversion chain and negatively affects the proportion of successfully paid orders.

G. Let customers checkout as guests

Do you need to force a user to remember another login and password? I don’t think so. You should not create another obstacle to the client’s way of payment. Forcing users to register an account on your site is too obsessive, especially for first-time buyers. Mandatory registration is another winner of the “killer conversion” rating.

Usability research conducted by Smashing Magazine has shown that the main reason why users dislike registering accounts is waiting for unwanted spam. The study also noted that many customers do not understand why they need to register at an online store to buy something, while in offline stores they do not require registration when buying. Another disadvantage of registration is that it adds a few additional fields to fill, which delays the process of ordering and negatively affects the conversion. To make life easier for customers and increase the chances of a favorable outcome, it is necessary to minimize the customer’s time for ordering and request only the necessary minimum information from them.

In conclusion

The answer to increasing online sales is simple, use the tools listed above. All of the tips on internal and external factors we’ve covered in this article are based on a long experience with customers and the term of world-renowned online stores.

Feel free to share your thoughts and queries in the comments section.

Birbahadur Singh Kathayat is an Entrepreneur, internet marketer, and Co-founder of Lbswebsoft. He can be found on Twitter @bskathayat.

The post Four essential ecommerce site optimizations that drive sales appeared first on Search Engine Watch.


Google Penalty Checkers: 7 Tools to Quickly Diagnose If You’ve Been Hit

Worried your website has been hit by a Google penalty? Use these tools to diagnose (and fix) any issues.

Picture the scene.

One minute you’re website is going from strength to strength, with organic traffic and conversions steadily growing.

Business is great. And then, BAM!

In the blink of an eye, half your traffic vanishes without any hint of danger.

There’s no warning, no alerts, but suddenly all your keywords are plummeting along with your traffic.

Traffic drop from Google penalty

Image source: Glenn Gabe

Your business is in jeopardy. 

What do you do? How do you find the cause of the traffic loss?

A Google penalty checker tool helps identify if you’ve been hurt by an algorithmic update or manual action, pinpoints the source, and provides insight into how to fix the problem.

In this post, we’ll look at several tools that can help you quickly gather these insights and get your website back on track.

But first, its important to understand what exactly a Google penalty is.

Disclaimer: This article does contain affiliate links. If you purchase a tool through one of my links I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. This is one of the ways I fund the blog. Thanks for your support. 


What is a Google Penalty (Actions vs. Filters)?

A Google penalty is a sanction handed out by Google, referred to as a “manual action.”

But before we go any further, it’s important not to confuse manual actions with algorithmic filters.

Here’s the lowdown.

Manual Actions

Google has a team of reviewers that manually check and rate websites based on Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines. If your site gets reviewed, and an issue is spotted, then you might receive a manual action.

You can check in Google Search Console, under Security and Manual Actions, to see if you have manual action:

There are two types of manual actions:

  • Sitewide matches, affecting an entire site.
  • Partial matches, affecting an individual URL or part of a website (eg: subfolder).

The list of common manual actions includes:

  • Hacked site
  • Unnatural links to your site
  • Unnatural links from your site
  • Thin content with little or no added value
  • Cloaking and/or sneaky redirects
  • Cloaked images
  • Pure spam
  • User-generated spam
  • Spammy free hosts
  • Spammy structured markup
  • Hidden text and/or keyword stuffing
  • Note: In 2018, Google sent more than 180 million messages to webmasters to notify them of spam issues on their site.

    Algorithmic Filters

    An algorithmic filter is part of the main Google algorithm that can cause your site to be algorithmically suppressed. For example, the Panda algorithm can act as a filter to suppress your site’s ranking and traffic.

    As Google’s algorithm has evolved and added more filters to its core, there are fewer one-off filters like Penguin and Panda.

    Unlike manual actions, it’s harder to know if you’ve been hit by an algorithmic update. You can check to see if you have a drop in organic traffic that coincides with a known algorithmic update. But that in itself is not 100% proof.

    Note: Sometimes you may not have been hit by a penalty or suppressed by a filter, but have just lost ground to rising competition.

    Next, we’ll take a look at a set of tools you can use to diagnose if your site has been hit by an algorithmic filter, and drill in to see the root cause of it.


    Important: Always Identify the Penalty (or Filter) Before Making Any Changes

    A lot of people panic when their site gets hit by a Google penalty. Their immediate reaction is to start making changes to their website before they truly understand what the problem is.

    And when you take a stab in the dark like that, you often make the problem much worse.

    Once you realize you’ve been hit by an algo filter or penalty, you need to drill into the root cause.

    And almost always, the problem relates to quality in these 2 areas:

    • Backlinks – If you get a manual penalty for unnatural links, it’s usually because you’ve bought links or created link schemes on a large scale.
    • Content – If you get a thin content penalty, it’s usually because you’ve created loads of thin content, such as doorway pages, that are only there to try and manipulate Google search results. 

    So, it’s essential to accurately diagnose which penalty you’ve been hit with before making any changes. And you can do that using one of the penalty checker tools listed below.

    Editor’s note: A couple of great resources I look to immediately after an algorithm update is Glenn Gabe and Marie Haynes. 

    If you check their blogs, you’ll find they analyze the algo impact across lots of different websites.

    For example, here’s how Marie covered the November 2019 Google Update. You can see the analysis of a site who had disavowed a load of links a while back, recovered traffic, only to see it drop again on November 8th:

    The reason: they went and bought more poor quality backlinks!


    Glenn provides a similar level of analysis.


    Here’s his take on the September 2019 Google Update with case studies on the volatility with health and medical sites:

    The data they have access to can provide valuable insights.

    Once you’ve identified that a traffic drops aligns with an algorithm update, you can use these sources to help you dig deeper into the potential causes and provide more context around the penalties.


    7 Best Tools to Check If Your Site Has Been Affected by a Google Penalty or Filter

    The tools in this list work in a couple of ways.

    The first three tools act as a general barometer of what’s happening in Google Algo world, so you can go and check your analytics manually.

    The next three tools allow you to see which Google algorithm update has hit your site by linking your Google Analytics account to the tool.

    And finally, there’s the Search Console, which helps with identifying and fixing any manual actions you get hit with.

    Let’s jump in…

    1. SEMrush Sensor

    The SEMrush Sensor tool tracks the volatility of Google’s SERPs based on daily changes in rankings across 6 different countries. Using this info, SEMrush can monitor for any signs that could indicate an update to Google’s algorithm. 

    It measures SERP volatility on a scale of 0-10 to indicate how much change occurs each day:

    • 0-2 is low
    • 2-5 is normal
    • 5-8 is high 
    • 8-10 is very high

    A high or very high score (as in the image above) indicates a strong chance that your website’s rankings could significantly fluctuate due to a Google update.

    Sensor also provides scores by industry (as you can see on the left-hand side above), which is super helpful. For example, after all the recent volatility in the health niche, you can see there is currently less movement (4.6) than the overall score (5.6).

    SEMrush also integrates the Sensor data into its other SEO reports. For example, here’s a snapshot of the Wirecutter Traffic Trend with Sensor notes for August 2019 open in a popup:

    Any fluctuation in your traffic can be x-referenced with the Google updates tracked in Sensor.

    Robbie headshot

    Editor’s note: SEMrush is a powerful all-in-one SEO platform. If you’re looking for a tool that not only aids penalty analysis, but supplements all other areas of your SEO campaign – keyword research, backlink analysis, audits, rank tracking etc – then try out their 30 day free trial

    2. Mozcast

    MozCast is a “weather report” showing turbulence in the Google algorithm over the previous day (or see the 5-day history on the left). The hotter and stormier the weather, the more Google’s rankings changed.

    Every 24 hours, Moz tracks a hand-picked set of 1,000 keywords and records the Top 10 Google organic results. Each day, they take the current Top 10 and compare it to the previous day’s Top 10 (for any given keyword), and calculate a rate of change or “delta.” Then, after a calculation, they produce something that looks like a temperature (in °F), where an average day is about 70°F.

    MozCast is also available as a widget to add to your site.

    3. Accuranker Grump

    The AccuRanker Google Grump rating highlights unrest in Google’s algorithm. The grumpier the mood, the bigger the fluctuations in rankings. 

    Grump rating graph

    It’s based on a unique algorithm, calculating the average number of rank changes across the top 100 results per keyword. Each day it monitors 30,000 randomly selected keywords, split 50/50 between mobile and desktop, and compares them to the previous day.

    The final index number for a given number is calculated by finding the sum of all differences, and dividing by the number of results (usually 100).

    You can also check back in time. Today, the tiger’s chilled, but earlier in the month (Jan 5) he was grumpy:

    Robbie headshot

    Editor’s note: AccuRanker is widely revered as the fastest (and most accurate) rank tracking solution on the market. It allows over 20,000 agencies and SEO professionals to track keyword ranking across all major search engines, including Google, YouTube, Baidu and Yandex.

    Grab a 14-day free trial.  

    4. Panguin

    [Image Source: https://npointseo.com/blog/google-penalty-checker-tools/]

    The Panguin SEO Tool from Barracuda is a free tool to help you investigate whether you’ve been impacted by Google’s algorithm updates.

    All you have to do is sign in with your Google Analytics account to instantly see a map of your traffic and the precise moment a Google Update went live. Each line represents a known algorithm update, so it’s easy to see whether your site is impacted.

    You’ll also notice the colored icons under the graph that allow you to toggle on/off the different types of Google algo updates.

    5. Algoroo

    Algoroo is a Google algorithm tracking tool developed by DEJAN. It monitors carefully selected keywords and looks for fluctuations. 

    The negative and positive movement adds up to create a single SERP flux metric called “roo.”

    A high roo value (orange) indicates a high volatility in Google’s search results. Whereas a low roo value (green) is an ordinary day.

    For example, you can see today is low (1.48) compared to a few days before when the January 2020 Core Update occurred and the roo score was higher (2.18)
    You can slide the scale underneath to look further back in time.

    6. Fruition

    Fruition’s Google Penalty Checker Tool takes a couple of minutes to set up and is free for updates older than 3 months. The paid version lets you check 3+ websites and includes weekly updates.

    The tool compares your Google Analytics data against 100,000+ websites to determine if a particular Google algorithm update (Panda, Penguin, and others) had a negative, positive, or no impact on your website. 

    Underneath, it has a table with all the recent Google algorithm updates, and a probability score that it will have changed traffic to your site:

    Fruition works best for websites with at least 1000 monthly unique visitors rather than small blogs with low monthly traffic.

    7. Google Search Console

    You can check in Google Search Console, under Security and Manual Actions, to see if you’ve received a manual action penalty:

    Hopefully, it’s all clear. 

    But if not, you may get a site-wide warning that looks like this:



    Or a or partial warning that looks like this:

    [Image Source: https://www.linkresearchtools.com/google/google-manual-action-penalties/]


    2 Quick Ways to Diagnose the Root Cause of a Google Penalty or Filter

    A good penalty checker will not only allow you to identify the penalty or filter, but also help you pinpoint the root cause, so you can start to take corrective actions.

    Robbie headshot

    Editor’s note: We’ll be using SEMrush for this diagnosis since it provides a full suite of tools to help diagnose the most common causes of penalties and filter suppressions – backlinks and poor quality content.

    1. Diagnosing Backlink-Related Issues

    Did the penalty checker alert that aligned with your content drop also align with a link-based algo update, such as Penguin?

    You can dig deeper into the Notes list, and click-through to external sources to get more information on the underlying target of the update:

    Follow these steps to see what action you should take:

    1. What date did the traffic drop?
    2. Does that date align with an alert or high volatility in SEMrush?
    3. If so, click into the Notes section to learn more about the algo update. For instance, is it a core update targeting thin content, like Panda, or is it a link-based update, such as Penguin?
    4. If it looks like a content-related issue, then jump to the section below. But if signs lean towards a link-based update, then drill into the Backlink Audit tool.

    Assess toxic links with SEMrush

    The Backlink Audit Tool allows you to check all of your backlinks, analyze their toxicity level, email website owners to remove toxic backlinks, and also create a disavow file to send to Google.

    Start by selecting ‘Backlink Audit’ from the sidebar menu, and then choosing one of your projects to see the latest audit results:

    You can immediately see the Domains by Toxic Score showing colored segments of toxic (red), potentially toxic (orange), and non-toxic (green).

    What’s really useful is the option to connect the backlink audit tool to your Google Search Console and Google Analytics accounts:

    The Search Console integration allows you to access extra backlinks for your analysis, check the latest data on the disavowed backlinks, and update your disavow file. While the Google Analytics connection gives you the most recent Toxic Score for the affected backlinks.

    In the Audit report, you can examine the toxicity level of each referring domain, and choose from 3 possible actions:

    1. Add the toxic link to your disavow list.
    2. Email the domain owner asking them to remove the link.
    3. Add the link to your list of safe domains.

    The Backlink Audit tool automatically re-crawls your website every two weeks, plus you can launch a crawl every week, so you stay ahead of any further penalties.

    If SEMrush notices any toxicity in your link profile, it will send an automated email like the one below so you can take proactive action:

    SEMrush toxic link notification

    2. Diagnosing Content-Related Issues

    If you’re faced with content-related issues, you can use the Site Audit tool to find thin content, duplicate content, and orphaned pages.

    First, go to your project that you’ve set up in Site Audit, and click the ‘Re-run campaign’ button at the top-right corner to refresh the data:

    Note:
    If you don’t have a project set up, create a new one, run Site Audit, and wait until your website crawl finishes.

    Find thin content

    If your site has a manual action labeled as “Thin content with little or no added value,” then you can use Site Audit to identify the pages with a low word count – i.e. less than 200 words.

    Go to the ‘Issues’ tab and click on the ‘Warnings’ section to see whether you have any thin content issues:

    Click on the link to see which pages have a low word count. Then hover over the ‘Why and how to fix it’ to get guidance on how to fix the problem:

    Check out what Matt Cutts has to say about fixing thin content.

    In short, you want to create in-depth pages that add value with original content, original research, and original insight.

    Find duplicate content issues

    Pages are classified as duplicates if they have 85% identical content. If you have duplicate content, Google usually displays only one of the pages and filters out the remainder from its index and search results.

    The trouble is, they may have filtered out the incorrect page as far as you’re concerned:

    Go to the ‘Issues’ tab and click on the ‘Errors’ section to see whether you have any duplicate content issues:

    Click on the link to check which particular pages have duplicate content. Then hover over the ‘Why and how to fix it’ to get guidance on how to fix the problem:

    Follow Google’s guidelines for consolidating duplicate content.

    Find orphaned pages

    Orphan pages have zero incoming internal links, so they can’t be reached by crawlers or users while navigating your website.

    Go to the ‘Issues’ tab and click on the ‘Notices’ section to see whether any Orphaned Pages have been found:

    You’ll see pages that are in your Sitemap.xml files, but don’t have any incoming internal links. Hover over the ‘Why and how to fix it’ to get guidance on how to fix the problem:

    Note: While there are many other causes, these two are the most common. I recommend you also check out the Google Search Quality Guidelines. 


    Keep an Eye on the SERPs

    It’s vital to be proactive and monitor on-going SERP updates so that you can stay on top of Google’s algorithm changes.

    Use a tool like the SEMrush Sensor to monitor SERP volatility across different industries, and make sure you understand the penalty before taking any corrective action:

    If you’re unlucky to get a manual action, follow Google’s guidelines to remedy the problem and then ask for a reassessment.

    SEMrush Free Trials: Test Drive SEMrush PRO for 30 Days, GURU for 14 Days or PRO + Traffic Analytics for 14 Days

    The post Google Penalty Checkers: 7 Tools to Quickly Diagnose If You’ve Been Hit appeared first on Robbie Richards.