Back in April 2012 a post was made about negative SEO and how it actually works.  A forum poster provided a detailed account about how his team had sabotaged a major competitors website through a number of techniques designed to cause the website lose reputation in Google. Sadly, it worked.

For years people had been complaining to Google about how this was possible and Google seemed to ignore their pleas for help, insisting their algorithm would protect the innocent. After the very public evidence that negative SEO actually works Google finally took action, giving webmasters a tool to eliminate questionable links added to their websites. This tool is Google’s Link Disavow Tool and can be found within your Webmaster Tools account.

Some very important points to consider before using this tool:

  • This is a power user tool, use with extreme caution.
  • This tool only allows you to indicate to Google what links you wish to disavow. Google reserves the right to trust their own judgement and may not remove links you specify.
  • The vast majority of webmasters will not need to worry about negative SEO.
  • You should only use this tool if you (or a bad SEO practitioner you hired) have been using link spam techniques (i.e. spammy forum posts, spammy blog message posts, link schemes, buying paid links etc.).

If a number of questionable links have been added to your site you will typically receive a notification from Google via your Webmaster Tools account. This would be a good time to consider using the new disavow tool. If you have not received any notifications you should probably not attempt to use the tool unless you are 100% certain a link is bad quality.

Here are a few links that will provide additional information about the link disavow tool, it’s benefits:

Google’s official announcement (with video

SEOMoz article (in depth)

Search Engine Land article – Q&A with Matt Cutts

I hope this post has helped you gain at least a basic idea of what the link disavow tool is all about. Please let me know your thoughts.

A lot has been written and this is a subject that may be hard to understand for the novice so let’s break it down into some simple steps and provide a few extra resources for those who want to dig deeper.

I am going to plagiarize a bit here because, quite frankly, others have done a great job of simplifying what canonical links are. I prefer they get the credit and you get the knowledge.

What is a Canonical URL?

The best short answer I found was given by Matt Cutts: Canonicalization is the process of picking the best url when there are several choices (that is several links that take you to the same information).

Matt goes on to recommend we read more about it on Greg Grothaus Blog and we get a nice real life type example. The following links are set up perfect for the user but not so nice for SEO.

Here is a specific example:

* http://blahblahdomain.com/breadcrumbs/tents/bags/red/tent_bag.html
* http://blahblahdomain.com/breadcrumbs/bags/tents/red/tent_bag.html
* http://blahblahdomain.com/breadcrumbs/bags/tents/red/tent_bag.html?view=print

All three of the above pages are likely to have redundant information and duplicate content issues.

Canonical Link Solution:

The relatively new rel=canonical suggestion is simply to add to all 3 of these pages one single tag:

<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://blahblahdomain.com/breadcrumbs/bags/tents/red/tent_bag.html”>

You add this tag into the <head> section of the similar or identical web pages so search engines understand you have a preferred single page you want indexed in place of several that may be the same or similar in content.

This is very important for sites with a lot of varied data wherein there may be several ways to get to the exact same information at different URLs. The canonical link tag helps Google sort out the duplicate content issue and bring the preferred page to the forefront.

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Old Barn in the SnowAbout 20 years ago I learned a very important lesson about quality. A mentor of mine sat a bunch of us young execs in a room and asked each one of us to give him our definition of quality. Well, to put it bluntly the “philosophy” was flowing thick and fast that day with all these young Whippersnappers thinking they knew so much more than the boss (who happened to be a highly experienced Harvard Grad). After letting us hang ourselves for a while he defined it in 4 words:

Quality is: conformance to customer requirements

To say we all felt pretty stupid after hearing such a simple four word definition is the understatement of the year, but the lesson never left me and I am very grateful to have been able to work for that old boss of mine and to have learned such a valuable lesson. I have since had the opportunity to put that definition into practice countless times (thanks Andy).

Quite some time ago I had a client come to me and tell me he wanted to be #1 in Google for (no I’m not going to tell you what keyword it was). I knew from my own research that almost no one ever searched using that Keyword phrase and his site traffic would be zero. I respectfully told him that I would be very happy to optimize his site for whatever keyword he wanted, as long as he understood his site would get almost zero traffic for that keyword. He said “that’s fine – just optimize the site for me”. So off I went and his site did end up in the top spot in Google for that phrase.

In this particular case it was a matter of personal pride in his industry to be #1 for that specific phrase. I’ll make one up just as an example. Maybe for Keebler™ or Nabisco™ it would be a matter of pride to be #1 for “chocolate chip cookies” even if the amount of people searching for that term may be minimal. Such was the case with this client.

We don’t always understand the driving force behind what is pushing a client in a specific direction, in SEO or in any business endeavor. Why is a client insisting on doing something a specific way? The reasons behind the requests are where quality can be found and the answers will help you deliver a much better product.

Do you have an interesting story about what quality really is? Please share it by commenting.

Dew on spiders webOK – you’ve built a web site and according to popular SEO theory it’s time to go out there and get some links, because link popularity is something Google says is important for a good ranking. So, you begin contacting other webmasters and offering to exchange links.

Not only are you careful to ensure the sites are relevant, or in a complimentary market to yours, you’ve made sure the links you are getting are from pages with good PageRank or “PR”, because all your best SEO buddies have told you that good PR is extremely important.

After several months of tedious work you can see your web site has finally gained some Google respect, a PR of 2. You are proud, a bit excited and continue your work of exchanging links with as many webmasters as you can find. Some have suggested special three way links or even four way links as though there were some special advantage to these. Not quite sure whether that is so important or not you go ahead and accept the links because the PR of the page being offered looks good and the incoming links are from relevant sites so, hey! What’s the harm?

After another few months your Google toolbar indicates your homepage PR has gone up to 3 but you begin to notice what most web site owners eventually discover: your traffic hasn’t really gone up that much. Sure it’s gone up a tiny bit – but a careful review of the web logs shows 70% of your traffic is search engine robots visiting your site everyday as a direct result of all the links you placed. The actual number of humans visiting your site is still abysmally low.

This same story is played out over and over again throughout the Internet world because link exchange is not an effective means of building traffic, and toolbar PR is not an indication of how much traffic you are getting – only an indication of how much link popularity you are gaining. Let me say that another way: PR is no indication of whether any of your links are bringing you traffic.

I’ll ask you a question: all things being equal, would you rather have a PR5 home page and 20 visitors per day, or a PR2 home page and 200 visitors per day? The answer is obvious isn’t it?

Now let’s look at a different scenario.

Let’s pretend your name is Dr. Richard Smartypants and you happen to know more about arterial plaque buildup than any other person on the planet. You’ve just written an article about a new advanced treatment that can cut arterial plaque buildup by 50%. You publish this article on your web site and do the following:

  • You send out several tweets (see www.twitter.com) to your followers letting them know the article has been posted
  • Your blog software is set up to instantly ping all the blog update services to let them know you just posted a new blog
  • You let a few of your closest colleagues know about the blog post and ask them to review it for you
  • You post a quick note on your MySpace page about the new article
  • You visit a few popular Medical Science Forums where you are a member and your Forum signature indicates you’ve just posted a new article in your Blog.

Within a short time a number of things happen. The social community begins to get wind of the new article and the viral engines of the Social world start moving in your favor. Twitterers start tweeting, stumblers start stumbling, diggers start digging, sphinners start sphinning and del.icio.us things start happening to your article (at this point I feel it is only proper that I offer a sincere apology for all the ridiculous puns just used).

The result of all these visits is a natural amount of links back to your site from various supportive readers. Visitors to other sites who spot the link will then visit your site and enjoy the article and hopefully the cycle continues. The cycle can even move into other non-web media if some readers happen to work for newspapers, radio shows and Television. Dr. Smartypants may even get requests for phone interviews and TV appearances and so will be able to promote the article and his web site even more heavily.

This is an example how a simple blog post can generate hundreds or even thousands of natural links if all the right pieces are in place. As redundant as it sounds, success is based on quality and using successful promotional tactics.  Quality research & writing must come first. Web content must be “linkworthy”. Each and every person with a blog or any type of web site has the capacity to write something phenomenal – it just takes time and the will to do it. Don’t write more frequently than is necessary. Wait until you have something truly important to say and you have researched it well. Who knows? Maybe we’ll see you on TV with Dr. Smartypants next month!

What ways have you found to promote your web site effectively using the web?

Google has created a series of videos to help the beginner learn about SEO. I think this is a great step in helping to eliminate the oodles of myths out there about how to get your site noticed and ranked by Google. We’ve posted the first video here and all 5 one a back page for you. Watch this one if you like and the you can watch the others by visiting this link.

In the meantime – here is the first Google video in the series, entitled:

Discoverability: How Google Can Find Your Site

All the google seo videos can be found at this link