Google’s Semantic Search: What a Year Has Taught Us (Part 1 of 3)


Semantic Search: A Look Back

Semantic search was introduced in its most concrete form in Google's Hummingbird update released over a year ago in September of 2013. Back then the digital marketing world was abuzz with chatter about how this would change the future of SEO. It seemed there were two sides to the argument - one that SEO was dead and the other that this was great news for good and honest SEOs. If you were doing what you were supposed to be doing, building quality content and listening to your customers, then you were already doing what was required from this new release. Of course, knowing exactly what to focus in on is important even for good and honest SEOs.

Hindsight is 20-20 and a year later, we can take a clear look at what really did change and what we've learned in the post Hummingbird days. The three truths that came from semantic search changes are:

  1. Knowledge Graph Continues to Grow in Importance and Is Fed by Structured Data
  2. We Now Know More About Buyers' Intent
  3. Link Your Social Media to Your Website

Here's more about them and advice on how all of us good and honest SEOs can make sure we're covering the basics.

Truth #1:

Knowledge Graph Continues to Grow in Importance and Is Fed by Structured Data

A year ago the Knowledge Graph, in the format it appears in today, was a new concept and today it is still in its infancy. It will continue to grow and it will become more and more important to make sure to be included. And if Knowledge Graph doesn't persuade you to start preparing your content to be easily decipherable to search engines, think of the future of semantic search outside of your desktop and as it relates to navigation, operating your home, and Google Now.

When considering your website, there are three types of data: structured, semi-structured, and unstructured. Structured data is what Google relies on to populate the Knowledge Graph. Where structured data isn't available, Google will turn to semi-structured and then unstructured. The following lays out the types of data and details about each. Use this as a guide for preparing your websites for Knowledge Graph.

Structured Data

Structured data is content on a website that has been marked up specifically using one of these following four systems. Although Google accepts all of the following forms, they recommend using Microdata, because they have "found that microdata strikes a balance between the extensibility of RDFa and the simplicity of microformats..." (Google Support, " FAQ").

1. uses "the microdata markup format and a vocabulary that is shared by all the search engines and that supports a wide variety of item types and properties," (Google Support, " FAQ"). Because offers Google's preferred format and adds in vocabulary that has been agreed upon, it is the best place to go to mark up your next website. For more about microdata, skip to #3 below.

2. Microformats

"In general, microformats use the class attribute in HTML tags (often <span> or <div>) to assign brief and descriptive names to entities and their properties," (Google Support, "About Microformats").

Example of How to Write Microformats from Google

3. Microdata

"Microdata uses simple attributes in HTML tags (often <span> or <div>) to assign brief and descriptive names to items and properties," (Google Support, "About Microdata"). To get your microdata markups for your next site, head over to to get shared vocabulary too.

Microdata Example from Google

4. RDFa

"In general, RDFa uses simple attributes in XHTML tags (often <span> or <div>) to assign brief and descriptive names to entities and properties." (Google Support, "About RDFa").

Example of RDFa from Google

Semi-structured Data

Semi-structured data in SEO is content that contains data mark-ups which are not grouped together in a structured manner recognizable by search engines.

When could semi-structured data be useful? When a structure doesn't exist that could constrain it.

1. XML

For instance, an XML sitemap uses tags but doesn't use a hierarchy like fully structured data would. "...a Sitemap is an XML file that lists URLs for a site along with additional metadata about each URL (when it was last updated, how often it usually changes, and how important it is, relative to other URLs in the site) so that search engines can more intelligently crawl the site," (

XML Sitemap Example from


"JSON or JavaScript Object Notation, is an open standard format that uses human-readable text to transmit data objects consisting of attribute–value pairs," (Wikipedia). Notice the lack of hierarchy here as well.

Example of JSON from Wikipedia

Unstructured Data

Unstructured data is the content on a website that has not been assigned to fit into a database or algorithm neatly. "Experts estimate that 80 to 90 percent of the data in any organization is unstructured," (Webopedia).

Any type of content can be unstructured including images, videos, text, etc. If no markup has been has been added, the data is left for the search engine to try to decipher implicitly. "The technology utilized to obtain these entities is typically some sort of stochastic algorithm like NLP (Natural Language Processing) or a similar form of information retrieval technique," (Search Engine Land).

To optimize data that can't be structured, the best advice is to set up topics through structured data where possible and then speak to that topic in the unstructured data portion of the content.

Next Steps

Now armed with a basic understanding of the importance of the Knowledge Graph and how to properly "feed" it (with as much structured data as possible) what should you do right now? Go here and download these awesome tools for decoding what entities are on websites and start structuring everything in site (pun intended).

Stay Tuned for Part Two, Coming Soon!

Follow Steph McGuinn on Twitter, @HeartBuzzAgency.

The Top 6 Social Media Platforms in the USA, and How to Use Them for SEO

If you are a business trying to optimize your content for search engines or someone who manages such accounts, adding social media into your marketing toolkit is a must if you haven't already. In the brave new world of SEO in which we live, social media is another form of high value content for your online profile.

To help get you started, or help you get on track, here are the top six social media platforms in the USA. We have also listed resources under each with our favorite tips pasted below. Happy reading!

1. Google+ for SEO

How To Hack Google Plus For SEO Value

“It is not the +1's themselves that are causing the high rankings of posts but the fact that most +1's on a site result in a shared post on Google+, which creates a followed link back to the post. It's instant organic link building.”

Google+ & SEO: How Google+ Impacts Search Results

"The most straightforward way Google+ impacts search results is with personalization. For example, if someone is following you on Google+, the chances that they will see your posts in Google's search results go way up."

2. Facebook for SEO

Facebook & SEO: 5 Ways To Optimize Your Business Page

Keywords are still a magnet for search engine visibility. Occasionally use naturally-placed keywords in your status updates, photo descriptions, and overall communication to boost your page’s SEO benefit.

Ten ways to use Facebook as a Killer SEO Service

Backlink to each page on your site from somewhere on your Facebook page. While it is important not to essentially spam your Facebook page with links, make sure customers can find the information on your website easily by linking there from Facebook.

3. Twitter

How To Use Twitter To Boost Your Google Rankings

Add keywords and phrases to your Twitter bio and use them (naturally, mind!) in your tweets. Without that, Google may not know how relevant your tweets and retweets are.

10 Tips to Improve Your SEO Using Twitter

Since Google is now displaying tweets in SERPs, despite nofollow, putting your links on your posts will aid your link building activities or has the potential of giving a wider web presence.

4. LinkedIn

HOW TO: Leverage LinkedIn for Your SEO Campaign

Maybe you have already pinpointed the company or website from which you’d like to gain coverage... Find that company on LinkedIn and search for its employees. If those people have blogger, writer, blog owner, journalist or editor on their profile, it’s time to make connections.

3 Ways a LinkedIn Company Page Boosts SEO

Have your employees associate the company in their profile and share appropriate company updates in their personal feed.

5. Pinterest

4 Simple Ways Pinterest Can Boost Your SEO Game

Pinterest is a search engine.

The Marketer's Guide to Pinterest SEO

Your 'About' sections and board names should all be optimized using terms your target customers and buyer personas actually use in their everyday lives.

6. Instagram

Is Instagram a Valid Marketing Tool?

Learn what already has been working.... This includes what filters they used on their visuals, what time they posted and where they found the most success.

Instagram Does Boost Your SEO Rating

Pick and choose the photos that most highlight your products and services the best.

Follow Steph McGuinn on Twitter, @HeartBuzzAgency.

Quit Blogging if You Don’t Use These 10 SEO Tips [Part 2 of 2]

We took a long break there but now we're back to finish off our list of 10 can't-live-without SEO tips for bloggers. This is the second of a two-part series.

Tip #6: Tagging and Naming Images

When web audits are run on new clients at Search Engine Savvy, it is not uncommon for over 1,000 images to be flagged as missing titles and alt text.

As you blog over the years, omitting information for one or more photos per post adds up.

The best thing to do is to add alt text, a title, and use proper naming protocols every time you add a photo.

We could use this photo of a horse with yellow hair, taken by me, as an example for what to write for each.


File Name

It's tempting to accept the default names given to photos as they are uploaded from your camera to your computer, but resist the urge. Search engines crawl files names for keywords in addition to crawling titles and alt text.

For our horse above, a good file name could be:



The title can usually be seen when you hover your mouse over an image. This should work if you hover over the horse image above.

Titles should be catchy and descriptive and follow the rules most titles do. Additionally, keywords should be included.

For our horse:

Yellow Haired Horse Teaches Image Tagging Guidelines

Alt Text

Alt text displays when the image doesn't and is also used for the visually impaired to help describe the image. For SEO purposes, the alt tag is relied upon heavily by search engines to determine what the image is.

When creating alt  text, include keywords, why the photo is included, and a good description. Keep alt text to about 150 characters.

Photo of horse with yellow hair for image tagging example.

Tip #7: Hook Your Readers in the First Paragraph

Sure, there are some visitors who are only skimming headers. But there are some who are there to read the whole post.

Here are 5 techniques to use in the first paragraph of a blog post to hook the readers and possibly a skimmer or two as well.

1. Identify a Want and Fulfill It

The holiday season is in full swing and before hanging your exterior holiday lights, follow these tips so your home is the talk of the neighborhood!

(From a Free Contractor Quotes Company)

2. Create an Interesting Image

"There's little better way to celebrate the bounty of early summer or to nourish your body than with a bright and beautiful salad.  Enter the Strawberry and Pickled Beet Salad...."

(From an Organic Skincare Company)

3. Pull a U-Turn Mid-Sentence

Virginia may be a Southern state, but some winters leave Northern Virginia residents wondering if they really live in the Arctic Circle.

(From an HVAC Company)

4. Share Ground Breaking News

On its fifteenth birthday, September 26, Google shook up the SEO world once again...

(From an SEO Company)

5. Pique Their Curiosity

It’s not often that Ed Schultz and Mark Levin agree on something. But when it comes to Chris Christie, they both agree that he is a terrible human being.

(From a Republican Pundit)

Tip #8: Use <H2> Tags and Make Posts Skimmable

Author Steph McGuinn holding up a sign: People Have Short Attention Spans

Header tags, specifically <H2> tags are important for two reasons:

1. Headers provide Google crawlers with information.

Headers are used by crawlers to decipher what the post is about.

2. Headers help readers skim your post.

Let's be honest people have short attention spans when it comes to reading on the web, so it's best to write in sections with each subject labels with a header.

Tip #9: Make the Content *Really* Useful to your Target Audience

Define your target audience and determine what would be useful to them. Also base what tone, language, and photos you include on who the audience is.

Ryan Homes has a blog called Bedrooms to Backyards that makes a perfect example. Bedrooms to Backyards is divided into parts that directly correlate with target audiences:

Screenshot of Ryan Homes blog with useful content categories.

  1. "Savvy Homebuying" => home buyers with a DIY mindset
  2. "Money Sense" => home buyers on a budget
  3. "True Style" => first or second time home buyers
  4. "Keeping House" => first or second time home buyers
  5. "Living Green" => eco friendly home buyers

Tip #10: Use Keywords Responsibly


It can be easy to fall into a keyword happy state of mind when blogging for SEO. The best way to rank for keywords in our post Penguin/Panda/Hummingbird world is to create a separate landing page for each keyword and make them truly useful and relevant.

As you blog, here are some Dos and Don'ts.

Keywords Dos

  • DO use your keyword in your SEO title, meta description, body text, tags, and alt text.
  • DO make sure your keywords make sense everywhere they are used.
  • DO keep keywords to 2-4 words.

Keyword Don'ts

  • DO NOT use your keyword in nonsensical sentences (like the picture above).
  • DO NOT use one keyword more than a few times in your post.
  • DO NOT use stop words because search engines ignore them.


Congratulations! You're now armed with enough basic SEO knowledge to write an interesting, easy-to-read blog, that is optimized for search engines. So now it's time to get out there and blog like you've never blogged before!

Follow Steph McGuinn on Twitter, @HeartBuzzAgency.

Quit Blogging if You Don’t Use These 10 SEO Tips [Part 1 of 2]

No Traffic on Your Blog

Everyone these days seems to have a blog. But what everyone does not have, it's safe to say, are consistent readers. And what is a blog without readers? A lot of time invested and nothing to show for it! In order to boost your blogger popularity and gain a consistent following, you must know and use [at least some of] the SEO tips discussed in this 2-part series.

If you put these tips to use, you will:

  • Appear higher up and more often in search results pages
  • Attract more readers
  • Keep people on your blog for longer
  • Avoid penalization by Google
  • Make the most of sharing efforts

If you don't put them to use? Well... you may as well quit blogging.

Tip #1: Title Tags


Blog post title tags designate the title that shows up on search engine results pages. A well crafted title is not only a necessary part of earning a first page rank in search results, but also in standing out among results.

Notice the techniques used in the titles above.

  1. Keywords are integrated thoughtfully and mirror probable search terms.
  2. Brand names are added on at the end of the titles.
  3. Titles should be no longer than 70 characters or they will be cut off with an ellipses in search results. [Notice my title exceeded the limit and was cut off!]
  4. Titles are written in a way that is compelling. For example, "Complete Guide..." and "Wake-Up Call!" are more likely to draw interest than a less exciting title.

For those of you feeling stumped on how to write a compelling title, here are some proven formulas you can use to get started:

  • [#] Myths About [SOMETHING CONTROVERSIAL] Debunked!
  • [#] Reasons You Need to Change [SOMETHING SEEMINGLY BENIGN] Now
  • [#] [THINGS] We Now Know Are Dangerous

Tip #2: Link Within Your Blog

Blog posts should include links within the body text to previous popular posts you have written. The more well integrated the links are, the more clicks they will get, resulting in:

  • Visitors staying on your site longer
  • Giving visitors more opportunity to read your work
  • Creating return visitors
  • More opportunities for old posts to get shared and continue to drive traffic to your blog

Below is a great example, from Jason Acidre writing on the Web Gnomes blog, of how to include a mention of a previous post. What I like best about it is that the wording acts as a preview for where visitors will be directed when they click. Reading "I usually focus on" tells us that the link will go to one of the author's blogs and the wording also gives us a glimpse of what the author is passionate about. Like how I enjoy writing posts on converting visitors to leads.

An additional bonus is that this method of linking focuses on SEO-friendly anchor text.


Tip #3: Longer is Better

It is true that visitors should be able to scan your posts quickly. However, that does not mean the posts have to be short. Informative headings, a summary paragraph, good formatting, and images can all help make a post scannable.

The posts themselves, though, should be on the longer side. According to testing performed by SEO Neil Patel, longer blog posts are shared more often and rank higher in search results. In Neil's tests, posts with 2,000 words of content ranked highest in results. He also recommends posts have 400 words at a minimum.

In his exhaustive blog post, How Content Length Affects Rankings and Conversions, Neil explains his methodology, displays graphs of his findings, and lists many statistics to back up his theory.

Tip #4: Avoid Duplicate Content

Duplicate content isn't always obvious. Consider some of the ways it can occur:

  • Licensing content from another blog
  • Reposting your own material as a guest post on another blog
  • Pages within your site that contain the same content without a 301 redirect
  • Paraphrasing an entire blog post

So how can you avoid accidental duplicate content? The most important thing to remember is to write content with unique value.

Also remember that when content is licensed or copied to several different sites - think newspapers running the same article or posting your blog entry on several sites - the site with the best user usage data, branding, links, sharing, etc will win in the search results.

As far as how much material has to be duplicate to ring the alarm bells? According to Rand Fishkin over at, what is considered duplicate content is not determined based on something as simple as a percentage of text. Google's algorithms are very sophisticated and use a vast array of inputs to make the determination.

My advice? Proceed with extreme caution.

Tip #5: Rel="Author"

Rel="Author" is code that identifies you as the author of a blog post and connects the content with your Google+ profile. An important benefit of adding authorship code is that your photo is added on the search results page. Take for example this result by Pete Cashmore.

Pete Cashmore Search Engine Result

What is the benefit of a photo? People are 5 times as likely to click on links with the author photo than links without it!

Additionally, the mark up also shows how many times you are circled on Google+ and links to other articles by the same author.
Thank you for reading. Stay tuned for Part 2!
Follow Steph McGuinn on Twitter, @HeartBuzzAgency.

Complete Guide to Hummingbird, Knowledge Graph, + Penguin 2.1 Every SEO Must Read


On its fifteenth birthday, September 26, Google shook up the SEO world once again by releasing a new search algorithm and several other changes to their system, the most notable being Hummingbird, Knowledge Graph updates, and Penguin 2.1. With all of the new information coming at us, Search Engine Savvy has assembled a guide to the changes, with insightful blog posts hand picked from across the web to educate you on the changes and how they might effect your SEO campaign. Complete with mini CliffsNotes from each post.

Happy reading!

All About the Improved Knowledge Graph

1. The Secret Behind Google’s Knowledge Graph [Business 2 Community]

"To ensure that your website is getting the proper visibility and exposure from Google’s newest search engine result system, be sure to follow these simple steps:

"1) Create a Google+ page for your business.

"2) Connect your Google+ business page to your website

"3) Utilize markup on your website’s products and articles."

2. Google Improves Knowledge Graph With Comparisons And Filters, Brings Cards & Cross-Platform Notifications To Mobile [TechCrunch]

"...[Google] is now featuring the ability to use the Knowledge Graph to compare things...

"Also new in this update is the ability to use Knowledge Graph to filter results...

"On mobile, Google is now making it easier to use your voice to set reminders and have those synced between devices...

"Google is now adding Google Now push notifications to its iPhone app, which will finally make Google Now useful on Apple’s platform."

4. Knowledge Graph [Wikipedia]

"Knowledge Graph display was added to Google's search engine in 2012..."

What is Hummingbird?

1. FAQ: All About The New Google “Hummingbird” Algorithm [Search Engine Land]

"In general, Hummingbird — Google says — is a new engine built on both existing and new parts, organized in a way to especially serve the search demands of today, rather than one created for the needs of ten years ago, with the technologies back then."

"In particular, Google said that Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query — the whole sentence or conversation or meaning — is taken into account, rather than particular words. The goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words."

"Google’s saying there’s nothing new or different SEOs or publishers need to worry about."

2. Why "Hummingbird" – Google's First New Search Algorithm Since 2001 – Is A Huge Deal [Business Insider]

"One beneficial result of Hummingbird should be that it creates a more even and fairer playing field for ‘the long tail’ of website publishers. Search keywords are dominated by large companies and brands who can afford to win the search word bidding war created by Google. Semantic search results are less predictable, and should enable small and niche website providers to gain a higher page ranking when a precise and complex search phrase is used."

3. Google Birthday: Piñata Doodle and 'Hummingbird' search algorithm update [Telegraph UK]

"New algorithms are therefore replacing traditional "Boolean" or keyword-based systems, because of the need to match concepts and meanings in addition to words."

4. An SEO Guide to the Google Hummingbird Update [Huffington Post]

"Hummingbird will be looking at search strings of three, four, five, or more words and rather than breaking these down it will provide results for the whole search string."

"Hummingbird will help ensure that Google delivers users to the most appropriate page of a website, rather than to a home page or top level page. As such, every single page should be closely targeted to potential visitors."

"Website owners and marketers should concentrate their efforts on a well-rounded content marketing plan. Website owners need to find ways in which to cover the different aspects of the topic their site is related to. They need to find ways to regularly implement new content and they also need to be able to do so in such a way that will make them appear more authoritative with readers, users, and the search engines."

5. Google Hummingbird: Where No Search Has Gone Before [Wired]

"Google now gives much better answers. For example, say a user searches for 'Hair salons near my house.' Previously, Google would analyze each word individually and provide results based on that — so you might get a Wikipedia article about hair salons, some map results based on your current location, and home improvement websites with pages titled 'my house.' With Hummingbird, Google better understands what you’re asking for, and displays a list of hair salons near your house (provided you’re signed in to Google and have provided them with a home address in Google Maps). The results match the meaning behind the search, rather than just individual words."

"As we edge into the era of wearable tech, Google is making sure they are ready to provide the best voice search experience around."

How Has Hummingbird Effected SEO?

1. Google’s Hummingbird Takes Flight: SEOs Give Insight On Google’s New Algorithm  [Search Engine Land]

"From a practical perspective, the need to identify the [unique selling point] of each business and become authoritative within it is now a key criteria for continued SEO success."

"[David Amerland] emphasizes the importance of content not being left in isolation, but instead shared across social networks via identified influencers. 'This is not something that can or will happen at the drop of a hat,' said Amerland, 'It requires time and commitment to building a relationship with influencers and sharing with them content that is of real value to their network.' Quick SEO, according to Amerland, 'Is now firmly in the past.'”

2. What Does Google's Hummingbird Update Mean For Your SEO Efforts? Nothing [Forbes]

"If you have original, high-quality content, and you have high-quality and relevant websites linking to your own website, then your website is still going to rank well. If anything, your website’s rankings will improve just as they should have after the Penguin and Panda updates rolled out."

3. Things, not strings: How Google’s new Hummingbird algorithm sets the stage for the future of mobile search [Venture Beat]

"One of the most telling things about Google’s recent updates is that the company chose to illustrate them with images of its mobile app, not its desktop site. That’s no accident."

"...stuffing your webpages with SEO-friendly keywords isn’t going to cut it anymore."

"If you want to understand where Google wants to go, take a look at Google Now, which pulls together data from all over to deliver you information that you didn’t know you needed. That idea, coupled with the always-listening, and always-present Google Glass, should give you a pretty clear idea of how Google wants you to interact with it in the future: constantly, quickly, and transparently."

"Sullivan says the general SEO advice remains the same: 'Have good, descriptive content, and you should be doing all you can be doing to tap into long-tail searches,' he wrote."

4. Google’s Hummingbird Update: Should You Be Concerned? [Wired]

"If I can give businesses one piece of advice after this update, it’s to prioritize a well-rounded online marketing strategy that continues to deliver a clear message. Every business in America has an audience, but not every business in America understands the needs of their audience. The companies who prioritize the needs of their users and create content to satisfy those needs will see the biggest successes in the future.

"It’s not enough to have a beautifully designed website or an entertaining blog that keeps people coming back for more. Businesses need to focus on staying ahead of the competition by taking advantage of all the marketing initiatives the Internet provides. From blogs and website design to a strong social media presence, it all ties in to becoming the authority in a given space.

"...all businesses should take a page from [Google] and focus on making their company name synonymous with their field."

5. What Google's Hummingbird Update Means for Small Business [Business News Daily]

"'Those businesses that didn’t have great results for generic terms will have more opportunity to see better placement,' Wisnefski said."

"'Businesses need to consider as many queries as possible, and what the searcher could really be asking,' said Bill Sebald, owner of Greenlane Search Marketing, a search engine optimization (SEO) consulting group. 'If your business is relevant for a search like, 'the best plasma TV to buy,' are consumers looking for bang for their buck in this case? Or rationale as to why it’s the best? Popular opinion? Content should now expand to cover as many meanings as possible to be more appetizing to the Hummingbird algorithm.'"

"'Content for the sake of 'words on a page' doesn't have the base value it once had,' Sebald said. 'Now, your content really has to answer something. This should move content strategy higher on the list of business marketing objectives; it's now even more important for desktop and mobile SEO.'"

"One of the biggest changes Hummingbird has to offer is search content displayed right on search pages... Although this is helpful for users, it can do a disservice to businesses, Evans said. With this feature, Google not only scrapes content from other websites to display information on search pages, but the process also promotes a Google-only user experience."

"So what should businesses do when Google takes your data and uses it to prevent customers from visiting your website? Adapt, Evans said. 'Businesses are going to have to offer something else to their visitors to make it worth the click for them to go to the site.' Although Google does not tolerate content scraping, Evans said businesses have to roll with the punches."

The Penguin 2.1 Update

1. Google Penguin 2.1: Who Got Hit? [Search Engine Watch]

"Penguin 2.1 appears to have identified newer link spam:

  • Forum spam: This includes comments in forums with exact match anchor text links.
  • Forum bio spam: Biographies of forum users containing exact match anchor text links.
  • 'Do follow' blogs: Blogs that don't add nofollow to the links posted. 'Let's face it,' Gabe said. 'Being listed on do-follow resource sites can absolutely send Google a signal that you are trying to game links.'
  • Blogroll spam: Watch for blogroll links gone wrong. 'Some may be fine,' Gabe said. 'If you are unsure which ones are bad versus good, ask for help from a seasoned SEO.'
  • Spammy directories: If you've used spammy directories in the past, and still have links out there, Gabe said 'nuke them, have them nofollowed, or disavow them.'
  • Blog comment signature spam: Google seems to be targeting these links even when they're not followed, Gabe said."

"Here are Gabe's top five recommendations on what to do if you've been hit by Penguin 2.1:

  • Understand that Penguin heavily targets unnatural links. Your new content and social activity won't trigger a recovery.
  • Thoroughly analyze your link profile, while keeping a keen eye on exact match and rich anchor text. That's what Penguin targets.
  • Remove those links if you can, and disavow the remaining links. And use the domain operator in the disavow file when the domain is low-quality. Don’t try and target specific URLs on a spammy domain, when you can nuke the entire domain.
  • Make sure more unnatural links aren’t being added as time goes on. Gabe said he's had a number of business owners think they cleaned up their situation, only to get hit harder during Penguin 2.1. After checking their link profiles, you can clearly see more spammy links were added during the spring, summer, and fall. This is what got them hit by Penguin 2.1.
  • Move fast and be aggressive. Gabe said he has seen Penguin recoveries during Panda updates, so there is a possibility of recovery prior to the next official Penguin update."

2. Penguin 2.1: What Changed Since 2.0, and How to Recover [Search Engine Journal]

"The trick is not to abandon link building; inbound links are still the most important piece of the ranking algorithm. Instead, you must replace them with high-quality, authoritative links that you earn.

"One of the best ways to build these backlinks is through guest blogging... In addition to building links through guest blogging, you’re going to need a quality on-site content strategy. Your goal should be to fulfill the 3 Pillars of SEO: Content, Links and Social Media."

3. Penguin 5, With The Penguin 2.1 Spam-Filtering Algorithm, Is Now Live [Search Engine Land]

"Here are all the confirmed releases of Penguin to date:

  • Penguin 1 on April 24, 2012 (impacting around 3.1% of queries)
  • Penguin 2 on May 26, 2012 (impacting less than 0.1%)
  • Penguin 3 on October 5, 2012 (impacting around 0.3% of queries)
  • Penguin 4 (AKA Penguin 2.0) on May 22, 2013 (impacting 2.3% of queries)
  • Penguin 5 (AKA Penguin 2.1) on Oct. 4, 2013 (impacting around 1% of queries)"

4. Your Keyword Strategy Is Wrong . . . But It Can Be Fixed [Business 2 Community]

"The primary changes are the ability to crawl and analyze pages that are deeper in your website to identify spam activities. What do you need to do? The same thing we told you to do in May:

"Review your backlinks; identify any spammy links, remove them or disavow them.

  • Stop spamming.
  • Stop trying to game the system.
  • Produce quality content, promote it, and trust that the cream will rise to the top"
Ready for professional SEO management after reading this? Start with a free SEO Audit from Search Engine Savvy.


Follow Steph McGuinn on Twitter, @HeartBuzzAgency.

What Everyone Ought to Know About the Most Popular Search Engine Conferences for 2013-2014

There are so many amazing opportunities to meet other digital marketers and learn at search engine conferences globally. But if you're anything like me, you can't take the time and money to go to every one! So how do you pick? Don't worry about it - let us pick for you by sharing what everyone ought to know about 5 of the most popular search engine conferences for 2013-2014.

1. Pubcon - Las Vegas 2013

Register for PubCon Conference

Oct 22,23,24

Official SEO Conference Description:

Pubcon Las Vegas 2013 will once again be one of the biggest and boldest international gatherings of search and social media innovators ever assembled.


  • MASTERS GROUP TRAINING PROGRAM - The Masters Group Training program is a great way to learn multiple topics over a short period of time. Topics cover Web Design and Development, Desktop Publishing & Graphic Design, MS Word and Excel, Graphics & Animation, Cross Media & Workflows, and 508 Accessibility.
  • MATT CUTTS KEYNOTE - Matt Cutts the head of the Webspam team at Google should make for a memorable and insightful keynote speaker.


Video from 2009 PubCon

2. MozCon - Seattle, WA 2014

Register for MozCon 2014

July 14 - July 16, 2014

Official SEO Conference Description:

Push your inbound marketing knowledge into the outer limits! For three intensive days, MozCon delievers future-thinking content from industry leaders from SEO, social media, and marketing analytics to content strategy, the mobile landscape, and so much more. You'll end MozCon excited for everything you can take home and apply to your site(s).


  • SPEAKERS - The details of the conference haven't been announced yet, but so far, there is a long speaker lineup. Speakers are from HubSpot, Google, Moz (of course), the New Yorker, SEOgadget and more.

MozCon 2013


3. SXSW Interactive - Austin, TX 2014

Register for SXSW

March 7 - 16, 2014

Official SEO Conference Description:

SXSW 2014 will attract over 50,000 registrants for its conferences, trade shows and festivals this March 7-16. Creative professionals of every stripe from over 64 nations will meet each other to share ideas and together experience the sensory overload attendant to SXSW.


  • 700+ SESSIONS - SXSW has a huge offering of more than 700 sessions on a variety of topics of interest to digital creatives.
  • NEVER THE SAME - No two years at this conference look the same. The agenda boasts a host of fresh and new ideas every year.
  • OFF THE BEATEN PATH PROGRAMMING - SXSW dives into sports, athletes, television, popular culture, and more.



4. Tech Marketing 360 - Dana Point 2014

Register for Tech Marketing 360

February 18 - 20, 2014

Official SEO Conference Description:

Tech Marketing 360 is dedicated to you - the technology marketer- the unsung hero of a multi-billion dollar engine of economic growth. Our mission is to build a community of tech marketers, for tech marketers, and at this path-breaking event, you’ll gain insight from the top thinkers at top companies, and be immersed in a community of practice, sharing, teaching and learning that will supercharge not just your skill sets, but your strategic vision.


  • DEDICATED TO THE TECHNOLOGY MARKETER - Events and workshops are focused on teaching topics like:
    • Developing the right mix of digital and traditional channels
    • Finding new ways to scale your messaging and sales enablement at low cost
    • And much more.



5. Conversion Conference - Boston 2013

Register for Conversion Conference

September 30 - October 2 - Starts today!

Official SEO Conference Description:

Come discover why Conversion Conference was selected as one of 2013's must-attend conferences by Under30CEO ... and ... why over 900 leading companies send their marketing teams, web designers and executives.


  • THE ALL MIGHTY CONVERSION - The conference is focused on conversions, cutting through the fluff for marketers who are mainly concerned with getting their ROI up.
  • 1300 COMPANIES - The conference is attended by more than 1,300 companies, including eBay, Yahoo, Go Daddy,, and more.


All of these conferences are great opportunities to meet peers and learn how to do our jobs even better. But one stands out for me as the most exciting: SXSW Interactive. With the size of it, the promise of incredible innovation, what I've heard about it from friends, and the off-the-beaten-path programming, it is the conference I would pick if I had to pick one.

I'd love to hear about your experiences at any search engine conferences. Please comment below!

Follow Steph McGuinn on Twitter, @HeartBuzzAgency.

The Secret of the SEO Plan and Kickoff Meeting

Kickoff Call Quote

An important part of being an SEO contractor is setting appropriate expectations with clients. This is especially vital in a field that has the potential to come across as mysterious. It is our job as SEOs to demystify the process as well as what can be expected as the results.

Kickoff Meeting

The kickoff meeting should revolve around a plan for the first several months of SEO.

This plan serves a few purposes:

1. It builds initial trust between you and the client by showing that you have thought several months out and are prepared. 2. It builds extended trust between you and the client as you set and meet deadlines. 3. It lays out a plan for success for you for the first several months so you can send your client deliverables throughout the month. Continuing to plan in advance will deepen this trust as well as give the client advance notice if any industry expertise is needed.

Before the call, write your plan and send the document out to everyone involved. Label it a preliminary plan and note that changes can be made during and after the call.

SEO Plan

A good plan for the first several months of SEO should include the following:


An overview should be about three sentences. This is where you can let the client know that this plan is preliminary.

Here's an example:

"The following is a preliminary plan and timeline for optimizing [website url] for search engines. This plan should be discussed during the kickoff call tentatively scheduled for [insert time]. A final plan will be distributed to team members following the kickoff call."

Team Members

Everyone who will be involved in the SEO process should be listed including:

  • a liaison from the the client company
  • a member of the company's  marketing team, or the owner of the company if there is a small staff
  • other people within your SEO company who will be involved, however it's best to stay a little light on the details here. Stick only with team members who will be talking directly to the client.

If you're at all hesitant to include the client on the team, just remember that in SEO the client has an important role.

Some examples of duties that may fall on the client are:

  • To share industry specific expertise as a part of content creation.
  • To clue you in when marketing efforts are made outside of SEO.
  • To review content within a reasonable time frame and give approval.

It's best to let the client know their importance up front.


Assumptions can be defined as low-level risks. In an SEO kickoff call, the assumptions should be anything you see as being potentially in the way of successfully optimizing the website and material.

A few examples:

  • Preliminary marketing information is collected from CLIENT.
  • Deadlines stated in timeline are met by both SEO COMPANY and CLIENT.
  • Industry specific expertise is provided from CLIENT when needed for content creation.


The timeline should include onsite and offsite SEO.

Consider starting your timeline with onsite SEO. Include dates for:

  • research
  • development tasks
  • reports
  • check in calls

For offsite SEO, you may choose to lay out a general plan from month to month and fill out specifics after you've familiarized yourself with the company's target market.

An example of text that could be included in the timeline to this point is:

"The schedule may repeat similarly from month to month as offsite optimization progresses. Diagnostics and research will be performed each month and content will be created based on its conclusions."

A well written project plan and well managed kickoff call are two best practices that will get your client relationship off to a good start. Keep up with your deadlines and provide plans a couple of months in advance throughout the relationship and you are well on your way to SEO success.

Did I forget anything? Please let me know by commenting below.

Follow Steph McGuinn on Twitter, @HeartBuzzAgency.

What is SEO and What Can it Do for Your Business?


“I finally have a nice website but nobody comes to it.” “We don’t have time to keep up with a blog on our website, why do we need one?” “When I search for my product or service on Google, why doesn’t my website show up?” These are all questions that SEO companies get on a daily basis and the answer is: SEO, SEO, SEO.

What is SEO? Here’s how SEO is defined by Search Engine Land:

SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” It is the process of getting traffic from the “free,” “organic,” “editorial” or “natural” listings on search engines. All major search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing have such results, where web pages and other content such as videos or local listings are shown and ranked based on what the search engine considers most relevant to users. Payment isn’t involved, as it is with paid search ads.

Companies compete for the top spots on search results pages through SEO. These sought-after positions are attained by developing a widespread presence on the web and establishing your site as a trusted source for information.

5 Ways SEO Can Increase Revenue

With a well crafted SEO plan, you will be able to:

1. Attract Customers You May Not Otherwise be Able to Reach According to a 2010 Nelson Global Consumer Report, 81% of people research products or services online before making purchases. When people are narrowing down which store to patronize, or which company to use, they are doing it online. More specifically, as we’ll see in a moment, they are searching Google. Do you think you should be there? I do!

Many people in this market are not likely to walk into your store or meet you at a networking event. The best way to reach this population is to show up high on Google search results.

The best part? These people are already shopping for your product or service.

Additionally, you can use keyword research to determine what people are typing to search. For example, if you are a dentist and sell tooth implants, you might discover that people are searching for pricing information rather than where to get their implants. Answering this population’s query with a blog about average pricing can develop instant rapport and give them the feeling that they need not search any further than your dental office.

2. Convert More Site Visitors to Customers With a good SEO plan, you can be in front of potential customers at their point of decision, which is already a great start.

But even better, is that you can monitor their behavior once they get to your site and rework web content that isn’t resulting in sales.

A wealth of data about the behavior of visitors to your site is available merely by adding a snippet of code to your site.

It’s important to note, though, that the amount of data is massive and complex. You’ll likely need the help of a professional or you’ll need to be prepared to spend hours upon hours learning the system on your own to be able to process and make decisions based on the data.

3. Increase Your Brand’s Credibility “Google isn’t a search engine, Google is a reputation management system.” Clive Thompson, Wired Magazine. Google spends a huge amount of resources to ensure that its algorithms provide visitors with search results that best meet their needs. If your site appears as a top result, it provides instant credibility.

4. Increase Traffic to Your Website Managing where and how your company appears in search results will ensure that people looking for your brand will easily find you. Places you may wish to appear in addition to searches for a product or service are: within search results for your competitors’ names, and in response to common misspellings of your company’s name.

Also, as you acquire more web real estate by creating shareable content, your site will appear in more search results, websites, blogs, social networks, and directories. This will not only help in getting and keeping you top of mind with consumers, but should also build your reputation in the eyes of the customer as they see you on multiple reputable platforms.

5. Go Head-to-Head with Your Competition Each month 87.8 billion searches are performed on Google. Your competitors are on those results pages, getting new customers, and in Google, the top results win.

Here are ten facts about how click-through traffic on results pages is distributed, courtesy of The Beginners Guide to SEO on

1) The first ranking position in the search results receives 42.25% of all click-through traffic 2) The first ten results (page one) received 89.71% of all click-through traffic 3) The second position receives 11.94% 4) Third position on the first page obtains 8.47% 5) The fourth placed position on page one receives 6.05% 6) The others on the first page are under 5% of click through traffic 7) The next 10 results (normally listed on the second page of results) received 4.37% 8) Third page receives a total of 2.42 % 9) The fifth page receives a total of only 1.07% 10) All other pages of results received less than 1% of total search traffic clicks.

If you want to increase traffic to your site, grow your brand, and increase online sales leads, SEO could be the right next step for you.

For more information, visit or email

Follow Steph McGuinn on Twitter, @HeartBuzzAgency.