The natural evolution of digital for brands: becoming more human

The natural evolution of digital for brands: becoming more human

It used to be that digital interactions portrayed in the Jetsons, on Star Trek and through KITT on Knight Rider were make-believe preserved for the television and big screen.

However, with the rise of digital personal assistants in recent years like Cortana and Siri, and intelligent bots, what was once science fiction is quickly becoming fact.

We are on the cusp of the next big shift in computing—a shift that is fueled by the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) and built around the one act that comes most natural to us—conversation.

We are optimistic about what technology can do, and this is rooted in a belief that every person and organization should be empowered to achieve more. It’s important though to set some context on how we’ve arrived at this new reality to help answer why you should care and what you should do as a marketer.

Every decade is marked with a shift driven by technological innovation. From the proliferation of PCs during the 80s to the emergence of the Web in the 90s to the rise of mobile and the cloud in the last decade – we have expanded our commerce, improved our communication and strengthened our connections.

But while these advances have helped the world become smaller, in many ways they’ve added layers of complexity, and more significantly, they’ve put the onus on us, the user, to adapt our behavior and expression so that we can be understood by the machines.

But what if we could just talk and interact with technology in exactly the same way we do with other people? Call upon it when we genuinely need support and not have to change the way we behave in order to reap the benefits?

We envision a world where digital experiences mirror the way people interact with one another today. A world where natural language will become the new user interface. A world where human conversation is the platform—the place to discover, access and interact with information and services, and get things done.

Computing is becoming more human

The mobile first, cloud-centric world of computing is driving this new platform of engagement. With the ability to understand tone of voice, interpret emotions and remember conversations, the nature of AI is no longer about man vs. machine, it’s about machines complementing and empowering people to do more of what really matters to them.

One of the major trends that has set the stage for an era of people communicating with their devices is the growth in people communicating through their devices.

With more than 3 billion people using messaging apps every day, consumers are spending five times longer on average using messaging apps than they do on all other mobile apps.

And, what’s more, we’ve reached a point where natural language is the new universal user interface with technology. Search intelligence is now embedded across platforms and services, harnessing intent understanding and using a vast base of semantic knowledge.

When coupled with machine learning that’s infused throughout all of our digital interactions, technology is becoming more human. People and machines are able to sustain conversations with personal digital assistants and intelligent bots in such a way that the meaning, intent and even emotion behind the words are as comprehensible as the words themselves. And we’re nearing a time when this will be scaleable to every individual and every business.

Conversations are the new platform

Imagine if brands had the opportunity to engage with consumers in ways that were not only relevant and personal but also in an environment where their added value is proactively sought out by the individual themselves. In the realm of conversations as a platform, this is the new reality.

Picture having a sudden craving for pizza. Just by telling the personal assistant on your phone “I would love a thick crusty four seasons pizza right now,” you’ve initiated a conversation to seek options or gone directly to your preferred pizzeria.

The bot you choose to talk to will place the order for you and arrange delivery and payment within seconds. In essense, you expressed a need, an emotion and took the initiative to engage with a particular company through their bot and you got what you wanted with more speed and ease than was previously possible.

This example illustrates how brands need to be ready for the engagement opportunities within this conversational exchange.

Marketers must think strategically about the best framework for building bots that cater to natural language and play into conversations across all platforms.

From there they must figure out how to connect these into their existing cloud, CRM and other elements of their digital marketing ecosystem. This is a business strategy that will require input across functions – starting with the CMO and throughout marketing, sales and IT – in order to offer a customer experience that is consistent with other more traditional digital engagements as well as being timely, relevant and serendipitous.

It’s a time of fundemental change in the digital technology experience. Conversations as a platform, A.I. and emerging search technologies are advancing this next frontier in ways that will simplify and enhance our lives and will be critical to every future marketer’s success.

To put a twist on these three timeless words from the Cluetrain Manifesto, it’s not just “markets are conversations,” but the future of “marketing is conversations.”

Ryan Gavin is General Manager, Search and Cortana Marketing at Microsoft.

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Google Penguin 4.0 Recoveries, AMP over Apps, Local & AdWords

Google Penguin 4.0 Recoveries, AMP over Apps, Local & AdWords – This week in search I covered a lot more around the Google Penguin 4.0 launch. The impact five days after its launch was minimal to ay the least. The recoveries supposedly started on Wednesday afternoon and will take a few days to roll out. The algorithm probably rolled out in part before the 23rd and then in several parts after. Penguin 4.0 is real time but also it devalues versus demotes and I get into those details. Google said Penguin 4.0 was one of their nicest launches. Google said expect one thing, that Google will continue to have the search results change. Google began showing AMP results on desktop by accident and it broke the web for an hour or more. Google told SEOs to stop fussing about redirects. Google said the app indexing ranking boost is still in play even with AMP around. Google added science datasets to the structured data support. Google is showing green checkmarks emojis in the search results. Google said at SMX they restricted the keyword planner because of bad actors, did he mean SEOs? Google AdWords has a new site links format they are testing. Google My Business added recommendations for hiring third parties. Google My Business updated their API. Google’s I’m Feeling Lucky button is broken. Google celebrated their 18th birthday this week. That was this past week in search at the Search Engine Roundtable. Google Penguin 4.0 Update Impact Seems Minimal : Google: Penguin Recoveries Rolling Out Now Over Next Few Days : Google May Have Rolled Out Penguin 4.0 Before Its Launch Date : Parts Of Google Penguin 4.0 Rolled Out Prior To 9/23 : Google Penguin Doesn’t Really Need Disavow Files – Devalues vs Demotes : Gary Illyes: Google Penguin 4.0 Was One Of Our Nicest Launches : Google: You Can Expect More Algorithm & Ranking Changes : Google Showing AMP Results On Desktop Results : Google: Redirects Are Not An SEO Thing, So Stop Fussing : Google: App Indexing Ranking Boost Still Valid Regardless Of AMP : Google Quietly Adds Science Datasets Structured Data & Schema Support : Google Displays Green White Check Mark Emoji In Search Results : Google Keyword Planner Restrictions Due To "Bad Actors" : Google AdWords Sitelinks New Linear Format : Google My Business Adds Recommendations For Working With Local SEOs : Google My Business API Version 3.1 Live : Google’s I’m Feeling Lucky Button Stops Working : Google’s 18th Birthday Doodle: When Is Google’s Birthday :

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How to Add a Donation Page to Your Non-Profit or Charity WordPress Site

How to Add a Donation Page to Your Non-Profit or Charity WordPress Site

WordPress is the ideal platform for charities and non-profit organisations.

It’s free and open source and you have access to a huge community of users and developers who can help you build and manage your site.

But one of the most important functions of a website for many nonprofits is to encourage people to donate money.

So in this post, I’ll show you just how to do that. We’ll go through five steps:

  • Creating a site and customizing it
  • Installing and configuring two plugins, including linking to Paypal.
  • Creating a form with donation options.
  • Creating a donation page and adding the form to it
  • Improving the page and form to encourage people to donate.

So let’s get started!

Create and Customize Your Site

If you’re an established non-profit organisation, you’ll probably have already followed this step. I’ve created a simple demo site to demonstrate the techniques from this post, so you can check that to see what I’ve done.

I’ll be using the twenty sixteen theme for my site, but you’ll probably have your own theme already installed. So you don’t need to use the same theme as me: this technique will work with any well-codd theme. But make sure your theme is responsive so people can donate on their mobile devices.

Here’s my site. It’s got a home page and a donation page, and I’ve set the homepage as a static page:

Site running twenty sixteen with a static home page

Install the Plugins

The next step is to install and activate the plugins you need to add your donation page. I’m using the Gravity Forms plugin. You’ll also need to install a plugin that links Gravity Forms up to Paypal – the Gravity Forms Paypal Add-on.

These are premium plugins and you will need a developer license for the Paypal add-on. However they include features that will encourage people to donate more and should pay for themselves over time. I tried to create a donation form using free plugins and just couldn’t get them to work well.

Go ahead and install and activate your plugins by downloading them from the Gravity Forms site and then uploading them to your site. You do this by going to Plugins > Add New and then clicking the Upload button. You’ll see a Forms item added to your admin menu:

A Forms item has been added to the admin menu

Setting up Gravity Forms

First you’ll need to set Gravity Forms up and add your license key. Go to Forms > Settings and you’ll see a field for your key. You were sent this when you registered for Gravity Forms. Add it to the field then click the Next button.

On the updates screen, click Next to have the plugin auto-update, then on the following screen, add the currency you’re using. Click Next again.

Linking Gravity Forms to Paypal

Before you can add Paypal to your form you’ll need to configure the settings to link Paypal and Gravity Forms.

Go to Gravity Forms > Settings and then select PayPal from the tabs on the left to see the settings screen:

Instructions for linking paypal to gravity forms

This screen gives you instructions you need to follow in Paypal to link the two:

  1. Go to your PayPal IPN Settings page using the link provided.
  2. If IPN is already enabled, you will see your current IPN settings along with a button to turn off IPN. Just check the confirmation box.
  3. If IPN is not enabled, click the ‘Choose IPN Settings’ button.
  4. Check the box to enable IPN and enter the Notification URL that’s provided on the screen in your Paypal settings (copy and paste it).

Doing this lets Paypal and Gravity Forms talk to each other. Your screen in Paypal should look something like this:


When you’ve done all that, check the button to confirm that you’ve linked Paypal and Gravity Forms.

Now you can create your page and your form.

Create the Donation Form

Now for the fun bit. You’ll need to create your form first and then add it to your donation page.

Creating the Form

In the admin screens, go to Forms > New Form.

In the popup box that appears, ad the title and (optionally) the description for your form:

Adding a form - enter the name and description in the popup

You’ll now be taken to the screen for adding form fields.

Go ahead and add any fields you need to capture data. Remember that the more you include, the less people will complete the form. So only add this fields you really need and make as few of them as possible mandatory.

I’m adding the following fields:

  • Name
  • Email address
  • Message of support

Only the email address is required, so the system can send confirmation of receipt. You’ll find the fields for the name and email address in the Advanced Fields box and the text field in the Standard Fields box.

To edit a form field (include changing its label and making it required), click on its name on the left hand side of the screen and use the editing metabox that appears.

Finally click Update Form to save it.

Here’s my form:


Add Payment to Your Form

Now let’s add some payment details to the form. I’m going to add a few options for the amount people might like to donate – it often encourages people to donate more than they might have otherwise. I’ll also add a field where people can add their own amount if they want.

From the Pricing Fields box on the right hand side, add the Product field type to your form.

Now you need to edit the product itself. First give it a new name (mine is Donation). Then in the Field Type dropdown list, select Radio Buttons.

This lets you define the values for your radio buttons, i.e. the suggested amounts. Add some amounts – don’t add too many or you might put people off. Your final option should be a zero amount with a label of Other (or something similar). If a user selects this they’ll be promoted to enter their own amount.

Check the Required box for this field. Here’s my settings:

Settings for the Amount field - three amounts have been added plus zero for 'other'

Now you need to add another field, which will be displayed if someone selects that ‘other’ option. Again from the Pricing Fields box, select Product.

Edit the new product, including a title and description that will help people understand what this form is for. In the Field Type dropdown, select User Defined Price.

Here’s my field so far:

User defined donation settings

Now click on the Advanced tab for that field. Check the Enable Conditional Logic checkbox. Edit the conditional logic statement to show this field if the previous field (Donation) is Other amount. This means that this field will only appear if someone hasn’t selected one of the predefined amounts in the previous field.

Here’s my selection:

Adding a form field with conditional logic

Now click the Update Form button to update your form.


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Create a Donation Page

Next, create a new page and call it Donation. Do this by going to Pages > Add New in the admin menu. Leave this page blank for now, but add it to your site’s main navigation menu by going to Appearance > Menus or using the Customizer.

Add the Form to Your Donation Page

Now it’s time to add the form to the donation page you created.

Go to the editing screen for that page by clicking Pages and then selecting it. In the page editing screen, click the Add Form button.

Select the form you’ve created and check the title and/or description checkboxes if you want to display those:

Select the form you want to insert

Then click the Insert Form button. This will add a shortcode to your page. Don’t edit that.

Finally click Update to update your page. Here’s my page:

The donation page with the form

And if I select the Other amount option in the radio buttons, it gives me the option to add my own amount:

A field for the donation amount is displayed if the users selects the 'other' option

Improving the Page and Form

Let’s finish off by making some final tweaks to the form and the page.

Improving the Page to Encourage Donations

Start by editing the page. Add anything you can that will encourage people to donate – text, images or video. Make sure it doesn’t push the donation form out of the way, though.

Editing Confirmations

Now let’s edit the message someone sees after completing the form. Go back to the form editing screen and click the Settings option at the top. This will open the Form Settings tab. Scroll down and edit the button text for the submit button – I’m changing mine to Donate.

Click Update Form Settings to save your changes, then click the the Conformations tab on the left. Select Default Confirmation.

Edit the message people will see after submitting the form. Instead of thanking them for contacting you, it’s better to thank them for their donation:

Editing the confirmation message

Click Save Confirmation to save your changes.

Adding an Email Notification

Finally, let’s add an email to be sent when someone makes a donation. Click the Notifications tab and click the Add New button.

You might want to add a message of thanks and some links to information about the charity’s work, plus links to your social media accounts.

Fill out the options as follows:

  1. Add a name to the Name field that makes sense.
  2. In the Send To field, select the Select a Field radio button, then select the Email field. This will make sure the notification goes to the email address the donor has provided.
  3. In the From Name field, type the name of your organization.
  4. In the From Email field, keep it as the default admin email or add a do not reply email address.
  5. Add some text to the Subject field.
  6. Add some thank you text, images and links to the Message field. You can add anything here you’d add to a WordPress post.

Finally click the Save Notification button to save your changes.

A Well Designed Donation Page will Get you More Donations

Adding a donation page to your website will give people an easy way to donate money when they’re visiting your site. Make sure you add plenty of links to it from elsewhere in your site, and maybe a nice big button on your home screen.

By designing your donation page to encourage people to donate set amounts, you’ll find that you receive more. And by adding extra text and media and sending people a thank you email, you’ll encourage sharing and repeat donations.

I hope your donation page makes you lots of money!

Related posts:

  1. 20 Beautiful WordPress Themes For Charities, Churches and Non-Profits As more and more developers move into creating websites for…
  2. WordPress for Non-Profits: A Comprehensive Guide From the $0 price tag to the robust community around…
  3. 10 Top Quality Plugins for Creating Custom WordPress Forms A good-looking form gives your site a professional appearance, and…
  4. Upfront Part 5: Adding Plugins and Styling Gravity Forms Adding plugins to a site using Upfront isn’t any different…

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SEJ LIVE: Anne Ahola Ward & Bridget Randolph on the Future of SEO, Mobile Search by @wonderwall7

SEJ LIVE: Anne Ahola Ward & Bridget Randolph on the Future of SEO, Mobile Search by @wonderwall7

This week #SEJLive was joined by Anne Ahola Ward and Bridget Randolph to discuss mobile SEO and the future of the search industry. Below are their live sessions and the topics they covered.

Anne answered questions from the SEJ community on the future of SEO, including mobile optimization. She appeared LIVE on our Facebook page:

Some of the Future of SEO questions Anne answered include:

  • What’s the current state of search now?
  • Is mobile search a necessity?
  • How is mobile search different?
  • What is the relationship of mobile search and local search?
  • Should we now prepare for voice search?
  • What are up and coming trends in search?
  • How will we know if sift through the SEO trends to check which is applicable to our small business?
  • Is virtual reality the future?
  • What is the future of the search industry?
  • Should we always ride on SEO trends? What are your thoughts on experimenting?
  • What major search principles do you enforce at CircleClick?

To learn more from Anne, check out her chapter What’s Next in Search? in our brand new complete SEO guide. There, you can also read the SEO guide in its entirety or download it as a PDF.


Want to learn more from Anne? She also did a mobile SEO and ASO podcast with me:

Another important aspect of search is mobile, especially since mobile search has taken over desktop search as most popular. Bridget answered questions from the SEJ community on mobile SEO. She appeared LIVE on our Facebook page:

Some of the mobile SEO questions Bridget answered include:

  1. How important is mobile search?
  2. What exactly is mobilegeddon?
  3. How do we make our websites mobile-friendly?
  4. What’s the difference between mobile search and being mobile-friendly?
  5. How do roll out SEO in mobile search?
  6. How do we optimize an adaptive website for mobile search?
  7. What other mobile search trends should we know about?
  8. What is the relationship of mobile search to local search?
  9. What are the unique challenges and opportunities for mobile
  10. How have you used Responsive Web Design and HTML5?
  11. As the team lead at Distilled, and as a freelance consultant, do you recommend small businesses to convert to AMP?

To learn more from Bridget, check out her chapter An Introduction to Mobile SEO in our brand new complete SEO guide. There, you can also read the SEO guide in its entirety or download it as a PDF.


Featured image made by author on Canva, using illustration by Paulo Bobita.

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Creating Your Company Using $0

Creating Your Company Using $0


If someone told you that your startup could cost you nothing to get off the ground, you would think it was a joke. It may sound impossible, but it truly isn’t with careful planning, a pinch of talent, and a lot of hard work.

Many entrepreneurs launch startups without spending a dime on the foundation of their business, using a little insider knowledge and elbow grease.

You can join the league of business owners who built their companies starting from scratch by following these four tips.

Believe In A Zero-dollar Investment

Just because you have no money to invest in your company doesn’t mean it’s a lost cause.

When you believe in your idea, you can make it work with a zero-dollar investment if you have the confidence and willpower to put in all the work it will need. There are many free tools for the eager entrepreneur if you know where to look, and that includes the tools to build your website and market your product.

Start by building a website. No matter what product or service you offer, you’ll need a website. You can build one at no cost, at least initially, and spend money improving it once you’ve already made a profit. There are step-by-step guides for beginners available online if you don’t know where to start, or you can jump right in and figure it out as you go along.

Today’s websites have state-of-the-art design techniques such as responsive layouts and video content, but you can start small with a basic design. The main point is to have a place where your consumers can learn about your product or service, place an order, and contact your company. Once you’ve established your company and made some cash, you can redesign and improve your website for better optimization.

Another zero-dollar investment opportunity comes in the form of using a service-based business to fund a product-based business. If you have a talent or skill that you can use to trade business opportunities, capitalize on it. For example, if you know someone with an empty office space, trade your computer troubleshooting skills for a month’s rent. If your company can provide a service initially, use it to build up to the product you’d like to sell.

Capitalize On Your Online Opportunities

Besides creating a free website, you can capitalize on other online opportunities, as well. Building your brand doesn’t have to come from expensive marketing strategies. While big data and analytics are helpful to a business in the long run, you can build your brand using your own social media know-how at the start.

Begin by identifying your target audience. Ask yourself what type of person would be most likely to buy your product or service. Look at your audience’s age range, demographics, location-specific targeting, and income target. If your company offers high-end web design services, for instance, your target audience will lean more toward the mid- to high-income range than the low-income range.

Facebook_DemographicsSource: The Demographics of Social Media Users[/caption

According to Pew Research’s demographic charts, if your target audience trends toward women 18 to 29 years old, Facebook would be a good choice. Consider Instagram or Snapchat as well for a younger audience, or LinkedIn if you’re targeting an older demographic. Understanding which social media platforms your target audience uses can help you establish your brand without spending anything in marketing. Simply create a profile with your brand’s name and logo, and start introducing people to your company.

Keep your personal and business social media accounts separate. Otherwise, you risk looking unprofessional, and consumers may not take you seriously. Social media marketing is not the place to push your products blatantly. Consumers on social media sites want to see the personal side of your brand, not the sales side. Let your brand’s personality shine by posting photos of yourself and your product, offering something of value to consumers with your posts. Social media matters to startups, and you can begin marketing on every major platform without paying a penny.

If you don’t know what you’re doing on social media, however, it may be wise to skip this step until you can afford to hire someone who does know what they’re doing. Fumbling around social media sites will hurt you, not help you. Social media marketing is a complex science, and if you don’t possess the natural talent for it, you may be better off sticking with traditional marketing. Print ads still have the power to reach your audience, as do email marketing campaigns.

Try Public Funding Outlets

Thanks to the rise of major crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter, entrepreneurs have the opportunity to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars without putting in a cent of their own money. Crowdfunding doesn’t guarantee a response, but great ideas are bound to see success eventually. If you believe your idea is truly great, entering it on a crowdfunding site may have a big payoff.

Differentiate your idea from competitors by showing the value of your intellectual property. A successful startup gives the public something they’re missing, a solution to a current problem, or fills a gap in the niche market. Uber made the taxi more comfortable and convenient. Airbnb made traveling much cheaper. Your product or service should fill a need. Capitalize on this fact by making your idea the strongpoint of your pitch to investors.

If you’re confident that your product or service is one that people will want, investors will listen. It may take time and hard work, but if you believe in your company, then others will, too. You can consider a business incubator program, sponsored by local organizations, or an accelerator that provides funding. Accelerators expect a rapid return on investment, however, so be prepared to deliver.

Nail The Investment Pitch

Pitching your idea to investors can be grueling work, and often quite a blow to your self-esteem. You’ve worked hard to get your startup off the ground, and hearing that someone doesn’t believe in it enough to put money into it can be difficult. You have to remain optimistic, however, and remember that a “no” isn’t personal – it’s business. These are some of the best tips to help you pitch your idea:

  • Tell a compelling story to engage your investors.
  • Share what makes your product or service unique (i.e., the problem your product or service solves).
  • Build credibility by listing your previous successes. Talk about a social media platform that’s generated a lot of buzz about your brand, your successful prototype, and other accomplishments.
  • Narrow your target audience. Pitching an idea that the whole world will want is too broad, and will turn investors away.
  • Explain how you plan to reach your customers. This plan should include the costs of marketing efforts.
  • Touch on your competition and explain why your product or service is more valuable.
  • Present a solid financial projection. Your projection should extend three to five years into the future and include supporting statistics.

If you nail your presentation in front of the right people, you could acquire partial or even total funding for your startup – and all you invested was your time and effort into building the perfect business pitch.

Hand-Picked Related Articles:

* Adapted lead image: Public Domain Dedication (CC0) Public Domain, via

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Penguin 4, what we know and how to react

Penguin 4, what we know and how to react

Penguin 4, what we know and how to react

paul-maddenThis is post from Paul Madden, Co-Founder of Kerboo. Paul has been making a living from links and the management of links for over a decade. As a co-founder of Kerboo (a link analysis and data platform) Paul has extensive access to the data on Google’s most important signal, links.

Since the release of the latest version of Google Penguin last week the industry has been awash with speculation and opinion on what this means for how we handle link related issues. In this post I hope to set out what we know, what that means for you and what we have yet to learn.

As we are all busy people there is a one sentence summary on each point highlighted so you can absorb the key points and then come back and read the rest at your leisure. I strongly suggest you read the whole piece when you can, this is an important change from Google and it’s vital that we all understand how it will impact what we do.

What has Google actually confirmed about this latest Penguin release?

Major points

  1. Penguin used to operate at site level but is now much more granular, operating at a page or link level
  2. Penguin now runs when a page is crawled rather than as a separate routine
  3. Penguin no longer demotes pages, it removes the value from links that are considered spammy

In previous versions of Penguin, Google used to run the Penguin routine and sites would be swept into or out of its influence. The impact of that would be that the whole site would typically be suppressed in the search results.

This latest version takes that external routine and moves it into the core search algorithms. That means that when a page is crawled Penguin now makes an assessment and applies its results directly at that point.

Google have also now confirmed that the way they apply Penguin has changed. Formerly Penguin used to set a flag against a domain as a whole and the site would fall in rankings until such time as the issues were corrected and Google ran the routine again (which was often many many months between instances). Often even when the issues had been corrected sites would struggle to regain their previous rankings even after Penguin was run again. Now though Google says that when they crawl a page they make their Penguin assessment and if they see links that violate their webmaster guidelines the value that those links would pass is removed. They devalue the link rather than demote the site as a whole.

The intention being that, as links are such a core part of the search algorithm, removing that link equity should have the impact of suppressing that page’s ability to rank.

Google has also indicated that the need to use their Disavow Tool to help correct Penguin issues has now reduced but that their advice on its use in general has not changed.

The original Penguin announcement post in 2012 (interestingly linked to in the new announcement post too) gave us some information on what Penguin would impact. That original post indicated that the reach of Penguin was not just to target violations with regard to links (link schemes) but also other manipulative tactics like keyword stuffing etc, there is no evidence so far that the new Penguin 4 release targets anything other than link violations. This may be because they haven’t confirmed it or it may be that tactics like keyword stuffing are now handled well by other parts of the algorithm (it is 2016 after all).


So does that mean that the disavow is now no longer needed?

Major points

  1. Google’s advice is still to create and submit a disavow file when you become aware of links that you feel violate their guidelines.
  2. Google confirm that manual actions for link related problems still exist, Penguin may make it easier for them to detect and punish these issues.
  3. Even if Google are devaluing links they consider problematic they will still be issuing manual actions for people who’s link profile contains a lot of violations.

The disavow tool was one of the ways in which Google suggested webmasters deal with violations of their guidelines, in relation to links. You were advised to audit the links you had and then create a file containing the links or domains you no longer wanted to contribute to your rankings and Google would ‘disavow’ you of those links.

The disavow tool has long been the main method for webmasters to correct link problems, actual removal of bad links had proven to be hard for many and the disavow provided a convenient way to turn off that risk.

Now that Google are devaluing links that they consider spammy before they can impact a site the need to disavow for Penguin related issues has diminished. That does NOT mean that the disavow is not needed, it seems likely that if Google see you persistently violating their link guidelines and you haven’t issued them with a disavow to correct it manual actions will still be issued.


The disavow tool remains your insurance against Google action and the process of producing the file still requires a full audit of your link profile and that gives huge insight into what issues you might have and what you should do to correct any potential threats to your ranking ability.

But if Google are devaluing links rather than demoting sites now why aren’t we seeing movement and recoveries?

Major points

  1. In previous versions of Penguin recovery was often slow or non-existent.
  2. Webmasters have not reported big recoveries from this version so far
  3. Google seem to retain the memory of the original intent of the link placed, even after correction the value doesn’t seem to come back in many cases.

Now that Google are removing the equity that spammy links could pass before they impact the page linked to’s ability to rank when issues are corrected you would expect to see ranking improve. Sadly we haven’t seen much of that so far, that could be for a number of reasons.

The impact of Penguin 4 is only applied once the page is recrawled. Google have not confirmed that Penguin applies when the page linked to is crawled or when the link itself is crawled.

This is an important point to consider: –

If we have to wait until the page is recrawled then the visibility impact of any problematic links would be in line with when each page was cached again by Google. If this was the case we would see incremental movements as the pages were crawled, typically days or weeks for most sites.

If we have to wait until the link pointing at the page is crawled again then the impact of Penguin 4 will take months or even years to be fully felt. Some of the links targeted by Penguin will only be crawled by Google rarely as they have already determined them as low value.

I believe it’s likely that it will be impacting at link level and therefore we will see a very slow slide for pages that rely on problematic links over the extended period as the links are recached by Google.

This will make it harder to diagnose as a specific problem and therefore heightens the need to gain complete visibility over the issue now rather than wait.

Can we rely on Google to do the discounting of links?

Major points

  1. In short no.
    Google have been shown to be quite inconsistent on how they diagnose problematic links.
  2. If you rely on Google alone you will find it hard to diagnose Penguin as the reason for any slow trending loss in visibility.

Having looked at more manual action reconsideration requests than probably anyone it is clear to me that Google aren’t as good at understanding problematic links as we might hope. When a site is given a manual action (you don’t get notifications for Penguin but for link issues the issue is the same) you are invited to submit a reconsideration request once the problem has been corrected. If that request is not successful Google would often include some example links they consider problematic as a guide to the webmaster on what areas had not yet been resolved.

This data has been our only real insight into what Google actually thinks about problematic links and it’s from that data we could see that their opinion on what was actually manipulation was patchy. We would often see links that were perfectly natural flagged as part of the problem, some examples: –

  • Links from forum posts where the link was in context and in a post which was on topic and genuinely helpful.
  • Links from resource pages on sites, for example local authorities linking from their tourism section to sites that provided information or services that would help tourists.
  • Links from sites where the link was clearly editorially given, in context and without any evidence (or likely expectation) that the link was provided in return for some incentive.

If what we know about the hit and miss nature of these example links is also what Penguin operates off then it is likely that webmasters will still need to understand what they have in their link profile and take steps to insure themselves against the risks posed by the worst links found.

Link quality is now central to the ability of sites to rank

Major points

  1. Link quality is now a central part of the Google search algorithm
  2. Link quality is now a massively important part of the SEO’s work

For many years we suspected that Google had the ability and did prevent sites from passing link equity or even that they could turn off the value at link level. It was believed that some of that was automated and some of that was manual exclusion by search quality engineers. Penguin 4 means we have confirmation that equity is removed for links that violate the Google Webmaster guidelines and as such we are left with some unknowns: –

  • How many of the links we have pointing at our sites will actually pass value?
  • What risk do the links we have pose to our visibility?

It is likely that many sites may now have some links that Google has stripped the value from (via Penguin or other methods). It is also likely that even if Google is stripping the value that those links can pass any accumulation of bad links will still put the site at risk of manual action.

Even if you don’t consider manual action to be a significant threat to your sites visibility the fact that Penguin is removing equity from the links you have can have a similar impact on your visibility.

It may be that the impact takes a long time to slowly show itself but we do now certainly have another reason why certain sites or pages suffer long term downward or static trends in their visibility.

Knowing the quality of the links you have is now more important than it’s ever been, without visibility of that how can you understand the risk or the reason for visibility changes if they are related to links?

People are saying that this represents a return to the days of volume links and hoping that some count, it’s not.

Pre 2012 and the first Penguin some people (me included to some extent) would see links as a volume game. Some counted and some didn’t so you gathered as many as you could and hoped that enough would count to mean you came out on top.

There have been a number of people suggesting that this latest Penguin update takes us back to that world.

It does not

Google will remove the ability of the bad links to pass value, so no benefit to your rankings will be gained. Google will also continue to use the accumulation of bad links as a signal to apply manual actions to your page or domain.

The rules haven’t changed, the reality hasn’t changed. All that has changed is that we now have the action of Penguin acting in real time rather than periodically.

It’s as hard to spam Google now as it’s ever been, if not harder.

I’ve also seen people saying that negative SEO is now easier, is it?

In short, not really but we will have to wait to see

Negative SEO assumes the ability to negatively impact a sites rankings through external factors.

For many years Google insisted that you couldn’t impact another sites visibility by  simply throwing bad links at them (or redirecting in bad sites). They have modified that advice since to suggest there is ‘almost’ nothing that you can do to impact a sites visibility through such tactics.

In reality I see a viable negative SEO attempt probably once each year, I see a lot of attempts but I don’t see them doing what they intend from the attack.

The theory goes, you create a raft of really bad links pointed at a site. Google spots these bad links and penalises the site for the infringement.

An additional theory is that you find sites already penalised by Google and you redirect them to a site you want to knock out of the SERPs.

In practice, gaining links that Google will view as a genuine intent to manipulate their results is expensive and unreliable (See earlier points about Google being patchy on what they seem to consider problematic).

It also seems very likely that the penalty will not follow a 301 redirect (the link value may just be removed for penalised domains) so no impact would be observed. I think that view is reinforced by the observation that there isn’t a thriving black market for penalised domains to use for this.

I think therefore that Penguin 4 is unlikely to impact the naughty webmaster from performing negative SEO attacks against rival sites.

What you should take from this latest update

There is much still to test and consider from this latest update but there are some clear suggestions for every webmaster: –

  • Whilst the disavow is now not required as much in Penguin related issues it is still your best insurance against all link related risks and issues.
  • Knowing what possible exposure you have to bad links is even more relevant now than it was before Penguin 4, it’s this visibility and understanding that dictates a lot of what we plan as SEO’s
  • The impact of Penguin 4 is likely to be felt slowly over an extended period of months so it now has to be one of the considered reasons for a steady reduction in visibility for any site.
  • Google still has all the processes in place to prevent and punish the accumulation of bad links and so it is vitally important that all site owners continue to identify and manage their exposure to those risks.
  • Anyone looking after the organic visibility of a brand or an agency client needs to make sure that they have in place processes and plans to manage their risk and to protect their site from factors which could impact visibility.



This is post from Paul Madden, Co-Founder of Kerboo. Paul has been making a living from links and the management of links for over a decade. As a co-founder of Kerboo (a link analysis and data platform) Paul has extensive access to the data on Google’s most important signal, links.


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Your Customers Can Teach You How to Sell to Them. Here’s How (FS182)

Your Customers Can Teach You How to Sell to Them. Here’s How (FS182)

One huge risk in modern small business is to spend months or years working on a project only to release it… and find nobody wants it.

Entrepreneurship has risk at the heart of it. We manage risk.

Some of us manage that risk well. Others poorly. Most of us don’t plan for risk very well, but we’ve got enough tenacity to make changes on the fly as we learn.

So, what if you could reduce the risk of your business?

What if you could make your project or business or campaign more likely to succeed?

What if you could do that right now, without creating a business plan or designing prototypes or even naming your business?

Would you do it?

And if I told you it had something to do with talking honestly, curiously and candidly with potential customers — doing more listening than talking, in fact — would that make you nervous? Or would it excite you?

It probably bums you out a little. Talking to customers can be hard, but it will literally make your business more likely to succeed over the long-haul.

Now, when we at Fizzle talk about talking to customers we actually mean a very specific methodology. We teach that method in this course. It involves anchor questions, follow up questions, insights about finding people to talk to, etc.

But for those of you who might be new to this way of talking to customers, we wanted to create a podcast episode where we talk you through what we think are the most important pieces of this process.

This conversation will be especially helpful if your business is online and you, like many of us, spend more time talking AT your customers than you do talking WITH your customers…

… because feedback from these people can change the course of your business success forever.


It’s better to listen on the go!    Subscribe on iTunes 

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Let your customers tell you how to sell to them. Here’s how.

Show Notes

Customer Conversations Course — the 5 step process

Fizzle Members : Customer Conversations Helped Me Find My "Why" – Fizzle Forums

Hey, Could I Ask You a Few Questions? The Art of Surveys (FS094)

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