Negative SEO: A real threat?

Author: Mike Hagley 5/7/2012

Google SEO Criminal

Source: negativeseo.me

Since Google Penguin has highlighted the fact that websites with unnatural links profiles will be penalised quite easily, some dodgy folks are now using this for their own gain. Blackhat SEOs are now offering negative SEO services that promise they will “destroy your competitors” and “blast your competitors out of the SERPs”.

After reading a nice recap of the challenges we face in SEO in 2012, I stumbled upon a negative SEO case study that proves negative SEO to be a viable tactic to damage your competitors’ website rankings on Google.

Negative SEO Case Study

A couple of members of TrafficPlanet carried out some negative SEO tests on two different websites. The first website chosen was clearly for personal reasons – an attack against self-proclaimed industry guru Dan Thies, of seofaststart.com. The second site chosen was negativeseo.me, for obvious reasons.

The tests

  • seofaststart: An estimated “30,000 blog network links built in 3 days” on keywords “seo”, “seo service” and “seo book”; and 1 million scrapebox blast on “Dan Thies”
    • Note: TrafficPlanet members claim they did not carry out the blog links. It seems Dan Thies was the target of a negative SEO attack from two different groups at the same time
  • negativeseo.me: 1 million scrapebox blast on “destroy your competitors”

The results: seofaststart

1. The brand keyword “Dan Thies” didn’t move from the #1 spot. This could be for a number of reasons…

  • The scrapbox blast wasn’t strong enough
  • The link building campaign wasn’t carried out for long enough to do any real damage
  • It’s a brand keyword and unlikely to be hurt by Pengiun

2. Keywords “seo” and “seo service” dropped out of sight and did not appear in the top 1000 results (originally ranked #11 and #34 respectively)

3. Keyword “seo book” declined to rank #34 (originally ranked #3).

The results: negativeseo.me

1. The keyword “negative seo” declined from #2 to #6 on Google.

2. The keyword “destroy your competitors” dropped from #1 to #13

Things to note here: “destroy your competitors” declined heavily compared to “negative seo” most likely because this was the exact keyword used in the test, whereas the small decline for “negative seo” was merely a side effect from the test.  This shows that spam link building will not only affect the exact match keyword used in anchor text, but it will affect complimentary keyword rankings also.

These results clearly show that negative SEO is a real threat, and it is possible.  But what is the likelihood of your competitors being so evil?  We hope it’s very slim.

Detecting & combating negative SEO

1. Ensure you use Webmaster Tools (Bing has one too).

Google has been known to contact webmasters via messages through Webmaster Tools, such as the “unnatural links” messages which many sites hit by Penguin found in their inbox.

2. Keep an eye on your link profile

Using backlink tools such as Open Site Explorer, AHREFS and Majestic SEO, you are able to monitor your link profile. If you see any unexpected, sudden increases in link volume, I suggest carrying out a deeper analysis on the data to find out where these links are coming from.

3. Monitor your web analytics and keyword rankings

If someone wants to hurt you, they will need to target your most popular, high volume keywords to do the most damage to your SEO traffic. If you’ve been affected, you should notice a substantial decline in SEO traffic. And of course, you should notice a drop in rankings too.

If you haven’t played with SEOMoz Pro, I highly recommend it for SEO monitoring, tools and advice – and this will also give you access to Open Site Explorer, which can be used to manage your link profile.

4. Get in touch with Google slash Matt Cutts

While Penguin is an algorithmic-based change and a reconsideration request is futile, there is a Penguin feedback form for those who feel have been wronged by the Penguin algorithm.

Otherwise Matt Cutts might be able to help. Here’s a spoof video of him, just for kicks.

5. Avoiding negative SEO

Before you get hit though, the sure-fire way to avoid negative SEO is to have a solid external link profile in place. If you’re already using any spam or paid linking techniques, you will be more susceptible to a negative SEO attack.

SEOMoz on Negative SEO

Here’s Rand with an excellent in depth explanation of negative SEO. It’s long, but worth it. Whiteboard Friday: Negative SEO.

Google aims to make “search more secure” with SSL Search

Author:  Mike Hagley

In an announcement that has sent the SEO industry into a spin this week, Google has said that it is making a vital change to its search engine which will be rolled out over the next few weeks.  Users logged into Google services (+1, Gmail, YouTube, AdWords, Analytics etc) who conduct a search on Google.com, will soon be using a secure (SSL) version of the popular search engine.  Google says it is aiming to improve the privacy of its signed-in users, yet it has industry professionals wondering if there are more sinister motives for the change.

Ultimately, this change means web analysts, webmasters and SEOs alike, will be unable to view the search queries used on the new secure version of Google.com (https://www.google.com/), for those users who click on an organic search listing.  The catch is that customers of their paid search product, AdWords, will still be able to view search query data within Google Analytics (and similar applications), for those visitors who clicked on a Google ad.

Google has estimated that this change will only affect a single-digit percentage of all queries on Google.com, and at this stage SSL Search will not affect queries on Google Australia.

Read the official Google blogs:

Your (Social Media) Party

Author: Hamish Anderson

I have had numerous conversations with clients in recent months about social media, with specific focus on explaining to them what social media is and how they can better use it. Too many clients see social media engagement as “being on twitter and Facebook”. They are truly missing the opportunity and the point. Startlingly, I have had to point out to too many, that the comments section on their website for example is a social media platform too. As such, I’ve started using a crude metaphor to help explain things to them.

The Social Media/Party metaphor

Social media is not a broadcast medium. It is an avenue for conversation and a successful social media policy should be built on the principles of hosting a successful party. At first you may think I am slightly daft for proposing this, however, let me explain.

If you host a party and want it to be a success and want people to talk about how good it was for years to come (and let’s face it, everyone secretly wants this) then it is all about setting the right mood. Generally, success depends on:

  • Providing your guests with an environment they feel comfortable in (location, music, alcohol, refreshments);
  • Allowing them to mingle, move around and to chat as they want
  • As the host, making sure you move around the party, talk to everyone, listen to what they have to say, comment, and be yourself.
    • Sure, depending on the type of party (a birthday or something) you may want to give a speech which everyone listens to, but as a general rule, everyone is pretty free to do as they want and to talk as they wish without “having” to do anything.
    • Being yourself (relaxed, confident, fun) is essential, people want to know you enjoy them being there without being uptight about everything going on.

The same is true of a successful social media policy. If you want your social media efforts to be successful, and prompt people to talk positively about your brand, then you need to draw synergies with the above. To have a successful social media strategy:

  • Interact with your audience in an environment they are comfortable with
    • The right platform is key as there no use trying to connect with your audience on a platform which is not relevant to them
    • A key is to watch them and learn before trying to ‘host them’
    • Don’t try to change the way they use the platform, or at least don’t force them to do it.
    • Engage the audience, listen to what they say, respond accordingly; throw in the occasional information about things they may be interested in. Don’t overpower the conversation
      • There is nothing worse than being at a party where someone controls the conversation & brings the conversation back to themselves, or where they are forced to do things they don’t want to.
      • Similarly, a host may broadcast occasionally (eg the birthday speech) but they will not do it all night. If people want a broadcast medium they will sign up for it, such as a newsletter (or in terms of my analogy, will go to a conference where they know they are there to listen).

Hosting your own

OK, so you (or your client) now want to host their own party, and now you want to know what the appropriate platforms are to host it? Not so fast! Back it up.

You wouldn’t host a party without a good premise for doing so would you? People want to know why they are coming there over making the choice to go elsewhere and want to know it is worthwhile. So, do you have something which will entice them? Basically, do you have the content to entice; do you have a content strategy? If not, take the time to work out what you have to say to people, do you have answers for their questions, do you have confidence in your ability to interact with people and enrich them through your interaction?

If you can answer yes, then excellent, now you may want to consider where you will host your party(ies). Firstly, take a look at your content/premise for interaction and work out the best way to communicate this in an engaging way. Do you want to learn from people, do you want to work to increase understanding of your brand and so forth? Remember to consider that social media doesn’t have to be one of the broad spectrum platforms, nor a broadcast medium. Something as simple as a comments section on your website blog, or a forum on your website may be a good way to start getting to know your guests and begin your interaction. Remember however, you need to engage with them, thank people for their comments, respond to positive and negative feedback alike, learn from this feedback and grow from it.

With this knowledge, you should then look at what other environments resonate with your target audience. Find where there is overlap of where your audience is and the right platforms for you and you will have determined where you will host this ‘get together’.

Final thoughts

  • Do not become pre-occupied with one group of people at the expense of everyone else
    • Sure you may be engaging and lovely to this one group, but if you ignore the others, then the party will quickly fizzle. Social media is about growing your presence and connecting with all sorts of people/customers/prospective customers.
  • The party can run itself to an extent but if you are absent, what positive outcome have you got as a result of your initial hard work?
    • If spend all your time in away from the party (maybe you are asleep after putting the hard work into organising the party, but none into the party itself) in another room and the party rages around you, how will people remember you as part of that positive experience?  What will you get from the experience?
    • More worrisome for you will be what you do to get people back if they move on from you due to your absence and engagement?
  • It is ok to sometimes control aspects of the conversation or platform at times to protect the party
    • Same as you may want to lower the volume to stop things getting out of hand, you may need to control the conversation at times
  • This party has the potential to rage indefinitely if you do it right. Make sure you have a support crew to help you when things grow
  • Learn from what people say. In your conversations, listen to others, make notes and do everything you can to make sure they get a positive outcome from their conversation.
    • If you do this, people will talk to others about how good the party was and others will come to the party next time, your reputation will precede you, and isn’t this what you are looking to achieve?

Now enough talking from me, time for you to let me know what you think, or perhaps, for you to kick-start your own party! Oh and if you need an ‘event’ organiser, I am sure we can help!

Please also feel free to read some of the other blogs we have posted including:

Digital Marketing is not an Ad Hoc process

Author: Hamish Anderson

For many years digital marketers have worked to establish the credentials of the digital medium, arguing that the efficacy of online marketing is as good as, or better than that of offline. Slowly – due in large part to the permeation of mobile technology, as well as the growing evidence of solid ROI figures  –  digital marketing has become accepted as an integral and necessary component of marketing as a whole.

However, from our vantage point as a digital marketing firm, we see too many firms engaging in ad hoc digital marketing, believing that a foray into the digital world will reap generous rewards. We’ve had countless discussions with companies who want to develop an engaging  website, conduct social media activity, create a blog, thinking it will improve their marketing performance, yet who do it in apparent isolation to other marketing activities – be these online or offline. What these conversations seem to do, is highlight a lack of understanding as to the current marketing landscape, and perhaps more importantly, to the way consumers are digesting marketing. Furthermore, more often than not, clients seem to be focussing more on what they want to convey to the market, or on how many followers they can get, forgetting that their marketing interaction has the potential to offer them deeper insight into their market.

Furthermore, it surprises me how many marketers fail to treat online activity the same as they would offline. Too many, still see integrated campaigns as offline activity which drives people to their website, or as social media activity which boosts their ‘followers’. The question I pose to my clients is this: “what are you doing to engage them and translate this activity into continued interaction/sales?” Unfortunately, too often, I get blank stares back!

Now, those of you reading this will fall into one of two categories. The first group represents those who to date are treating digital marketing as a platform for increasing their marketing spectrum and promoting a specific marketing message without consideration of the greater picture. The second group is that group of people who agree with me, and know that digital marketing is more than ever about conversations and content and campaign integration; where digital platforms are utilised to communicate a message, derive benefit, provide insight, learn from the market and interact with them. For those in the later group, the below list will serve as little more than a reminder of things to consider for your next integrated campaign.

Misconceptions about Digital Marketing

What I have noted from my various conversations, is that there are common misconceptions about digital marketing platforms:

  • Activities such as creating an ‘engaging’ website (in isolation to other activity), or starting social media activity will somehow be a panacea which will boost marketing ROI several fold
  • Social media activity will show positive results even through intermittent updates and/or posts
  • Adding social media posts will add such a ‘bevy’ of indexable content that other SEO activity can take a back seat
  • Social Media is a platform for seeding information to your audience
  • Email campaigns don’t necessarily require integration with the company/product website
  • Click throughs from social media sites can be used as predictors for increased revenue/business
    • They are often surprised to learn that path analysis of these visitors shows the visitors abandon the site very quickly
  • That cutting SEO budgets will not affect SEO performance

Re-educating the Misguided

In the face of comments which stem from one of these misconceptions, I remind my clients that Digital marketing:

  • Is more market  responsive than traditional marketing and that getting digital marketing wrong can have greater negative effect than getting it wrong elsewhere
  • Has better ability than offline to target a specific audience
  • That digital marketing should at all times be part of the overall marketing strategy and not sit apart from it.
    • Many clients are surprised to be told that online and offline marketing needs to be consistent –
  • Allows the ability to engage in dialogue with your audience
    • The ability to listen, learn, interpret and respond to the market
  • Has the ability to report actual metrics not aggregated industry metrics
  • SEO activity is a pivotal component of marketing.
    • We use the anecdote that if you build a brand new amazing house full of the best gadgets, an amazing layout, a view to die for and enough space for a huge party, but don’t build roads or signs to allow people to get there, then the house is offering nothing to anyone.
    • Cutting SEO budget to fund other activity will most definitely affect search performance
  • Requires ongoing maintenance. Digital marketing is not a set and forget platform. Your audience will abandon you if you abandon them through lack of relevant and timely information.

At the End of the Day

Whilst companies have begun to embrace online marketing, there is still a preponderance of firms who limit their digital involvement or who undertake isolated activity in the blind belief that it will lead to a spike in sales. As digital marketers, it is our responsibility to re-educate those who see online marketing as an adjunct to mainstream marketing, rather than a pivotal component of their overall marketing plan which requires the same efforts, maintenance and attention as all other marketing activity.

2BInteractive is hiring – looking for a full time Web Analyst

As a Web Analyst, your primary focus is on identifying deep insights into clients marketing campaigns with the goal of achieving client campaign goals. Responsibilities of this position include:

  • Performing weekly, fortnightly or monthly analysis and reporting across all digital channels
  • Troubleshooting , tracking codes (cookies & JavaScript)
  • Providing analytics educational ideas to clients  and interfacing as required
  • Training and mentoring junior staff / contractors as and when required
  • Team interfacing for supporting development and testing
  • Strong adherence to quality, processes and standards

To be successful in this role, you will need to have an analytical and practical approach to work, and possess the following qualifications and technical skills:

  • 3+ years in the digital industry
  • Related University degree (similar work experience will be considered)
  • A strong passion and interest in digital and interactive technologies
  • Great communication and presentation skills
  • Strong working knowledge of HTML and all Google marketing tools, including Google Analytics, UTM tagging, conversion tracking and Google Adwords (certification highly desirable).
  • A good understanding of both SEO and Paid Search marketing principles
  • An understanding of website design and usability best practice
  • A knowledge of email marketing objectives and goals – experience with a variety of ESPs (ExactTarget etc is an advantage)
  • Advanced Microsoft Excel skills
  • Strong attention to detail and quality
  • Excellent time management and problem solving skills
  • A team player capable of working well with multiple levels of management and peers
  • Additionally, working within an agency environment is advantageous and other professional qualifications / certificates are highly regarded

If you are interested in the position, please send your resume to the HR Manager at 2BInteractive at contact@2binteractive.com.au

2010 – What did we learn?

Author: Hamish Anderson

We are now 11 days into 2011 and well into the year. Most people I know are back at work, and the memories of the silly season are slowly being forgotten as people begin to realise the year ahead needs to be planned out and prepared for.

Having read a few blogs and articles already posted and written about 2011, it seems that the popular thing to do is focus on what to expect from 2011 (be that technological advancements, trends or similar). Having read them, I think many of them are useful and insightful – but I am postulating that in planning for 2011, we as marketers should be doing one other key thing; reflecting on key aspects of 2010, learning from these and only then making decisions for 2011.

Thus, below I have summarised some of the key events which I believe have revolutionised the marketing and communications landscape and which will have significant bearing on the year that will be 2011.

It’s all about being Social

Though 2009 saw the rise of social networking, 2010 saw continual growth in the number of users and in the diversity of use of social media. New figures compiled this week found that on average in any 2 hours of 2010 (http://blogs.cisco.com/socialmedia/things-that-happen-in-social-media-in-2-hours/)

  • 25,000 new users joined Twitter
  • 5.4 million tweets were sent
  • 5 million new status updates were published on Facebook
  • 1.6 million Facebook applications were installed
  • 167 million videos on YouTube are viewed

These figures are just mind boggling really. And these are the figures which focus on 3 social media platforms only. With other major platforms in existence, the figures above represent only a portion of the social activity which is shaping the way people interact. Throw into the equation the fact that people are relying more and more on social media and the opinions of those they interact with prior to making any purchasing decisions, and it is evident that the marketing landscape has changed. The challenge which arises from this for businesses is: “How can they meaningfully partake in the conversation”. Answer this, and you are one step closer to planning 2011.

Search: Content Relevancy and Social Relevancy

In 2010 the emphasis shifted from pure content delivery to one of active engagement, based purely on the rise of social media. Given the above social media usage figures, its’ really no surprise that social media posts have started to have relevancy within search engine algorithms. In late December 2009, Google announced that Google search would now include social media posts and news articles, bringing the relevancy of searches to new levels. Google even launched www.google.com/realtime as a dedicated portal where individuals can perform searches and see real time results only.

Further testament to the rise in popularity of social media relevancy is the fact that in 2010, figures showed that Twitter had the 2nd most number of searches performed on its site (and through affiliates) of any search engine, behind Google, and ahead of Bing! and Yahoo. Research has shown that people are using social media to conduct research prior to purchase decisions. What this has meant through 2010 and now into 2011, is that businesses must consider not only content relevancy on their site, but social relevancy of their brand as a whole and what it is that the market and the press is saying about them.

On the other hand however, although real time search results have been elevated in importance on search pages, the market has not completely discounted the value of other search results.  Furthermore, social media and social chatter has not pervaded every industry completely, meaning the opportunity for well constructed SEO campaigns is as strong as ever. Therefore it remains as important as ever that businesses construct and maintain a strong SEO campaign. This will be as important as ever moving into 2011. However, emphasis will also need to be given to social relevancy and the efforts business makes in partaking in the conversation.

Media Convergence

Whilst the concept of media convergence has been in existence for a few years, it was in 2010 that the concept became a part of life and a new and heavily contested market. 2010 will be a year remembered as the year:

  • Apple introduced the iPad
  • The dominance of the iPhone was attacked by a myriad of other producers
  • Android platform
  • Research in Motion platform
  • TV manufacturers began to integrate internet browsing ability to their screens

These three events alone revolutionised life for consumers (and promise to continue to do so) and through this, for the way marketing is conducted. In many ways, media convergence has driven and influenced much of the activity outlined in the above 2 points. That is to say, the ability for individuals to access the internet from their mobile phone, to post to Twitter or Facebook, to receive feedback and to generally stay in touch with others is unparalleled as compared any other time in our history. Thus individuals as consumers are now in a more powerful position than ever before. Content is literally at their fingertips.

Marketers have had to respond accordingly, and will continue to need to do so, on an ongoing basis. In 2010, innovative companies rose to the challenge, launching new apps, or new marketing programs, aimed at targeting the media savvy and converged media audience. Just look at The Australian newspaper which worked with Apple to launch Australia’s first iPad ready publication. Whether or not it was universally accepted and applauded, is not as important as the fact that it opened up a whole new medium and marketing channel for users.

With the rise of converged media and the growing improvements in geo-targeted advertising, it is inevitable that marketers will need to improve and refine the way they communicate with their target audience. Timely delivery of information which adds meaning to the user interaction is going to be of growing importance to the marketplace as a whole. 

Takeout: Integration is Key

So what were my takeouts from 2010 as regards marketing? In one word: Integration. Failure to integrate marketing channels, failure to integrate with your audience, and failure to integrate feedback from your audience with your ongoing marketing will cause your business to miss huge opportunities which exist within the market. Successful integration however, offers huge opportunity for savvy marketers.

Moving into 2011 it is critical that you look at the activities you undertook in 2010 and work to understand how the influences of the market and technology worked to change the marketplace as a whole. With this understanding you will be better placed to determine what marketing activities you should be considering, and better placed to predict what may come from 2011. The links below are some of the better blogs written about the predictions for 2011 and these may also help you plan ahead.

Happy 2011 everyone!

2011 Predictions

Having researched and read a nuber of different articles, the common predictions for 2011 include:

  • Integration
  • Increased use of an ever evolving Cloud environment
  • Increased online transactions
  • Increased reliance on smart phone
  • Geo-targeted advertising

And some interesting blogs for you to review if interested…

Apportioning your Marketing Budget

Author: Hamish Anderson

Since the first marketing report was written, marketers the world over have had to deliberate (often with themselves) how to best allocate their marketing budget amongst the various options available to them. Today, when there are so many different options available, and with markets converging and diverging simultaneously, what is the best way to split your budget so as to achieve the best results for every dollar you spend?

Here are a few things you may want to consider when trying to work out how to apportion that marketing budget for the year ahead.

Tip 1 – Ignore the options

I know many marketers – and truth be told I have been guilty of this in the past too – who lose weeks when writing their marketing plan. It is not that they are inefficient, but rather that they get too easily get caught up in flights of fancy, postulating on how they can use some new emergent form of marketing, or integrate a campaign across various digital channels, or reap the benefits of creating a new campaign that goes viral. However, to use an old analogy, that could perhaps be a case of putting the cart before the horse.

Whilst it may seem innately obvious, a good thing to always remember is that one of the first things you need to do when looking at your marketing year ahead is work out what your goals are, how they can be broken down into short and long term goals and if possible broken down again from here.

Tip 2 – Determine the ROI you want to Generate

Similar to the above – yet potentially more important given the need to determine how you split your budget – is determination of what constitutes financial goals and what other goals cannot necessarily be given a numerical value and therefore need different classification. An example of the latter may include something such as increasing your membership database of ‘refer a friend’ contacts.   By doing this, you are giving yourself a total aggregated goal which you have to achieve. Similarly, in knowing what your non-financial goals are, you can quantify what constitutes success for your initial outlay. Remember, investment in marketing activity – especially as concerns platforms such as social media – is no longer necessarily only quantified by a gross dollar value, but by other factors such as time invested. Thus, have you considered ROI in terms of number of new customers which result from specific activity and which thus saves further investment in other activities (I have previously written about this in my article “ROI – More Sense than Dollars”. )?

Tip 3 – Consider how your market has evolved

Most marketers have an understanding of how technology is evolving and the newer technologies which exist. However, it seems that many of these same clients have a misunderstanding of how their market are utilising technology.

Consider this: At the end of Q1, 2010, 48.1% of all phone’s sold in Australia were Smart Phones. Why is this significant? Well Smart Phone’s allow users to easily access the internet to conduct searches whilst they are out and about. Sure, this is not really a surprising fact, however, have you considered what this means for your search budget? Are you investing any of your budget into paid search? Or are you relying purely on organic? Sure organic has definitive advantages over PPC, BUT, think on this. Techcrunch.com reported that on a Smart Phone:

“A single search ad on a PC takes up about 4 percent of the screen real estate, whereas a single search ad on a smartphone takes up about 20 percent of the screen. The relatively larger size of the ads results in higher click-through rates on mobile (as much as 3 to 5 times as much)”

Sure, there are more paid ads displayed on a PC/desktop than a Smart Phone, however, the value of holding a strong PPC position is therefore even more important when considering the growing use of smartphones. Therefore, have you considered investing more in PPC than you have in previous years?

Tip 4 – Are you taking learnings from the market?

It is one thing to say you are listening to what your customers are telling you and evolving your service or product to better cater to their needs/meet requirements or so on. In fact it is very important to do this, however, what are you doing to capture a larger share of the market?

Whilst it makes fundamental sense to seek to maintain your existing brand advocates, are you listening to what the broader market want? Are you seeking to meet their needs and therefore increase your market value/share even more? Are you using social media for example to listen to the broader conversation, or are you using it only as a platform to seed brand information?

Either way, whatever you are doing, make sure that you consider what the return is, and what you can justify as a viable spend as well as what your returns are likely to be, ahead of committing funds to it.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, every marketing situation is unique. Even the most meticulous plans may need to be changed and maintain some fluidity throughout the year. However, planning ahead is essential if you wish to have any marketing success. My tip for ensuring things go more to plan, is to make sure that you have evaluated your requirements, determined what is a suitable ROI and how you plan to implement everything. I don’t guarantee this will lead to success, but it will put you in a better position.

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