Q and A: Is this black hat SEO / link farming?

QuestionHello Kalena

In doing my research for Assignment 4 for your Advanced SEO course, I came across something I think is pretty spammy and crosses the line into black hat SEO.

A supposedly respectable design firm has done a number of websites and lists all their client’s website URLs on their site.  They appear to try to have all their clients link back to them.  That much I can understand from a business point of view although the latter is not the best practice.  But – they appear to have set it up so all their clients link to all the other clients of this design firm, even though they are unrelated businesses and not relevant.  The links are presented as this design firm’s clients and not the site owner’s.

So links from the design firm to clients, most clients to design firm, many clients linking to all the others.  Their list is about 187 or so sites.  Does this count as as link farming if the scale is fairly small?  Would Google or Bing notice?

Dolores

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Hi Dolores

Without being able to see the sites in question, I can’t confirm (feel free to message me with a couple of URLs if you’d like me to verify), but it sounds exactly like a 3 way link scheme.

This tactic is definitely dodgy but something that web design firms and ad agencies persist in thinking is a good idea. It’s also something that Google has warned against time and time again. You can see the very scenario you describe listed in Google’s definition of link schemes in their Webmaster Guidelines as follows:

“…links that weren’t editorially placed or vouched for by the site’s owner on a page, otherwise known as unnatural links, can be considered a violation of our guidelines. Here are a few common examples of unnatural links that may violate our guidelines: …Widely distributed links in the footers or templates of various sites”

So you can bet your bottom dollar that Google will notice this and devalue those links, if they haven’t done so already. Bing has a similar stance on 3 way link schemes, so the sites won’t fare well in Bing either:

“Abusive tactics that aim to inflate the number and nature of inbound links such as links buying, participating in link schemes (link farms, link spamming and excessive link manipulation) can lead to your site being de-listed from the Bing index.”

The fact that you’ve spotted this link scheme signals that the SEO lessons are sinking in, so well done :-)

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Fast Five in Search – Week 39, 2014

fast-five

 

So it’s already Fast Five time again. This week is pretty much all about mobile marketing, with a sprinkling of Google and Facebook into the mix.

Here’s this week’s Fast Five:

1) More People Accessing Internet Via Mobile Devices by SiteProNews. Experts had predicted a massive upswing in mobile Internet usage with the birth of the iPhone and iPad, but the rate of growth has taken everyone by surprise.

2) How Responsive Web Design Works by HubSpot. And while we’re on the subject of mobile devices, this cute Infographic published by HubSpot is a handy reference about responsive design and why you need it. If this doesn’t convince you to switch your site to a responsive design template, nothing will.

3) Everything Happening Right Now on the Internet by Digital Marketing Ramblings. Regardless of the misleading title, this graphic is quite an eye-opener. It’s actually a snapshot of the Internet in real time, showing you how quickly data is generated and accounts created on some of the web’s most popular sites including YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Google and Amazon.

4) Facebook Working on Private Sharing App by Mashable. With their privacy protocols consistently in the news for all the wrong reasons, Facebook is reportedly working on a new app designed to encourage private content sharing. Apparently, the app will provide users with a grid-style interface from which to share private moments with friends and family.

and finally…

5) Google+ Is No Longer a Requirement for Creating a Google Account by Marketing Land. Google’s unpopular decision in 2012 to make a Google Plus account a mandatory part of the Google account creation process appears to have come back to bite them. In response to demand, Google has dropped the requirement and now made Google+ account creation an optional choice when signing up for Gmail and other Google products.

Happy reading!

*Image courtesy of Threadless.

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Fast Five in Search – Week 19, 2014

fast-five

 

In my travels around the crazy web, I’m amazed how many web sites still use a boring server-generated 404 error page instead of a custom 404 error page. Even large brands with deep pockets aren’t immune to the dreaded vanilla dead end.

Thankfully, there are lots of clever web designers out there who recognize that there’s no excuse for un-inventive 404s. Web site usability can be fun!. This week’s Fast Five pays homage to them and their entertaining ideas for custom 404 error pages.

Here’s this week’s Fast Five – Five Clever Custom 404 Error Pages:

1) Mint.com – This page combines humor with helpfulness. Not only does it make a joke about the missing content, but it offers up some useful alternative links in a pleasing visual format. No blame, no suggestion that the searcher was at fault. I like that.

2) BlueDaniel.com – This is my current favorite 404. Not only is it Flash based – which I’ve not seen before in a custom 404 – but it’s exceedingly cool. The powerful visuals and sound of an underground train station are bang on target for a motion picture design company. This page alone would probably win them new business.

3) Heinz.com – So an empty ketchup bottle might be a little predictable, but what I like best about this page is the intuitiveness and the very clear calls to action. Did you try searching? Perhaps one of these links will help? Perfect.

4) Mashable.com – Again, another humorous yet helpful Custom 404 page. This one uses the missing sock analogy, combined with a giant call to action in the form of an internal search field. They also keep the main nav menu at the top of the page in case you’d rather resort to standard navigation.

and finally…

5) ApartmentHomeLiving.com – Being in New Zealand, this custom 404 page caught my eye straight away. You can’t really go wrong with a sheep on a toilet. Apart from using an amusing mouseover effect, this page steers lost visitors back to the homepage or to the regular navigation menu. Sorted.

What’s YOUR fav custom 404 page? Would love to hear about it in the comments.

*Image courtesy of Threadless.

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Q and A: Are WYSIWYG design tools bad for SEO?

QuestionDear Kalena,

As I have no seo background and nowhere else to turn for professional advice, I decided to submit a matter that is troubling me, as you not only have a staff of SEOs but you have the first professional SEO site I have found that invites questions from the general public.

This is my issue: I am wondering if using a modern WYSIWYG website application would be better than trying to hand-code a 20-30 page website?

I ask since there seems to be a consensus that such programs hinder SEO efforts. The reasons cited is that programs like XsitePro 2.5 use tables. Yet, Google says there is no real difference between tables and CSS regarding SEO.

Others claim that apps like WYSIWYG Web Builder 8 are bad for SEO due to their use of span tags. Finally, both the above-cited apps do allow access to the source code for changes and adding scripts, as well as to meta title and keyword tags, etc.

As I have witnessed multiple instances of websites created by such programs occupying spots #1-#5 on Page 1 of Google, would it not be better to use these design tools and devote the time to “more important” SEO matters such as content, keywords, and other on-off site practices?

Any/all information you can provide would be greatly appreciated as it would put this issue to rest for me.

Sincerely,
Guy

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Hi Guy

There is absolutely nothing wrong with using WYSIWYG software or a Content Management System (CMS) to design your web site. Some web design tools are better than others in terms of SEO friendliness and you should do your own research on this before deciding. But most web sites these days are created using some type of software or application, rather than built by hand.

In fact, the free blogging platform WordPress is one of the most popular CMS’s used to build web sites these days – we use it almost exclusively for our own sites and those of our clients. From my observations, Google seems to prefer indexing web sites built using WordPress. Developers working on the WordPress themes have taken great care to make sure the code validates, is as concise as possible and uses logical CSS. WordPress also has the benefit of SEO-related plug-ins, which short cuts the job of hand-optimizing a web site.

So you’re absolutely right – don’t be afraid to use auto-design tools and WYSIWYG software to create your site. Then you can devote more time to the most important features of SEO: content, keywords and link building.

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What to Include in a Web Site Audit

What to include in a web site auditThe other day, I found the very first web site audit that I ever performed for a client’s site, way back in 2000. The page load times were hilarious!

But it got me thinking about how things have changed over the years and how sophisticated web site audits need to be these days. From the conversations I’ve had, there is still some confusion over what should be included in a web site audit.

This prompted me to write an article What to Include in a Web Site Audit which has been published over at SiteProNews.  Let me know what you think!

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