Google Launches Update Targeting Webspam In Search Results

Google has announced that it is releasing a new search algorithm that it hopes will better catch people who spam its search results or purposely do things to rank better that are against Google’s publishers guidelines. Going live today, Google says it will impact about 3% of search queries.

From the company’s posts on the Inside Search and Google Webmaster Central blogs:

In the next few days, we’re launching an important algorithm change targeted at webspam. The change will decrease rankings for sites that we believe are violating Google’s quality guidelines. This algorithm represents another step in our efforts to reduce webspam and promote high quality content.

Fighting Web Spam

What’s “webspam,” as Google calls it, or search spam? Pages that try to gain better rankings through things like:

Our search engine spam penalties page explains more about these types of common spam.

Did Google Already Fight Spam? Yes, But…

The web spam techniques above aren’t new. Some of them are more than 10 years old and date back to before Google even operated as a search engine. So why is Google only now going after such methods?

It’s not, even though the blog post might give some newcomers that impression. Google’s warned about and fought against such techniques for ages. Rather, what’s really happening is that Google is rolling out better ways that it hopes to detect such abuses.

Despite warning against such spam techniques, it’s easy to find cases where they still work. It’s enough to make some long-time “white hat” SEOs feel foolish arguing that people should avoid spamming Google when it seems to pay-off, as I wrote about recently.

“We’ve heard a lot of solid feedback from SEOs who are trying to do the right thing and who don’t want to see webspam techniques rewarded, and we feel the same way,” said Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s webspam team.

How’s Google improved its spam filters? No surprise here, Google’s not saying.

Targeting Spam, Not “Over-Optimization”

Somewhat related, is this the “over-optimization” penalty that Cutts warned was coming last month? Yes and no. It is the update he was talking about, but Cutts is clarifying that now somewhat infamous over-optimization statement.

“I think ‘over-optimization’ wasn’t the best description, because it blurred the distinction between white hat SEO and webspam. This change is targeted at webspam, not SEO, and we tried to make that fact more clear in the blog post,” Cutts told me.

By the way, if you’re looking for a catchy name for this update as Google has sometimes given other ones like the Panda Update, bad news. Officially, Google is calling it the “webspam algorithm update,” the company told me.

SEO Continues To Be Encouraged

Indeed, today’s post makes a point of contrasting “white hat SEO” against “black hat webspam” and encourages people to continue with SEO best practices:

Our advice for webmasters is to focus on creating high quality sites that create a good user experience and employ white hat SEO methods instead of engaging in aggressive webspam tactics….

Sites affected by this change might not be easily recognizable as spamming without deep analysis or expertise, but the common thread is that these sites are doing much more than white hat SEO; we believe they are engaging in webspam tactics to manipulate search engine rankings….

We want people doing white hat search engine optimization (or even no search engine optimization at all) to be free to focus on creating amazing, compelling web sites.

3% Of Queries Impacted

Is this update the reason behind ranking drops that many reported last week? Google had already said the cause of that was due to a problem with a parked domains classifier and reconfirms that today’s new spam fighting algorithm update was not part of last week’s changes.

Google says the new update will impact about 3.1% of queries in English; 3% in German, Chinese and Arabic. The percentage might be higher for languages where spam has been slipping through even more, such as in Polish, where 5% of queries are expected to change.

YouTube Boosts AdWords for Video With Ambassadors, How-to Guide & $75 Ad Credits

In addition to introducing some new features to AdWords for VideoYouTube is also creating an Ambassador program, providing an Advertiser Playbook, and giving away $50 million in free Google AdWords advertising. Adding envoys, best practice tips, and free money should help even more businesses get into video advertising on YouTube.

YouTube’s New Ambassador Program

To recognize business owners that are already using YouTube to grow their business, YouTube is naming nine businesses from across the country as its first ever Ambassadors.

These businesses have seen outstanding success in reaching new customers, building a brand and engaging their fans with video. This includes ModCloth, an online-only retail operation that started in a college dorm room and has since grown to global, 275-employee company in less than a decade.

YouTube Finally Creates an Advertiser Playbook

The YouTube Creator Playbook covers two dimensions of YouTube marketing very intelligently: content and audience. But as we mentioned two months ago when Version 2 was published, a third dimension was missing: advertising.

Now, there’s an Advertiser Playbook that shares best practices and tips on how video can be a core part of a company’s advertising program. It covers: getting started with video, managing your videos, promoting your business, and tracking your success.

The new Advertiser Playbook also includes a collection of templates to help you develop a creative strategy and write a script about your business as well as a storyboard and shot list and an equipment checklist. You will want to set aside at least six hours to read the 122-page step-by-step guide.

The Advertiser Playbook also mentions several YouTube success stories, including the Orabrush, Rokenbok, and GoPro case studies.

In September 2010, Search Engine Watch looked at how funny YouTube videos helped Orabrush make a million dollars in one year.

And in October 2011, Search Engine Watch examined how Orabrush got into Walmart. Orabrush became the first product to go from no sales online or offline, to nationwide retail distribution just using YouTube.

Four months ago, ReelSEO shared the story of how the Rokenbok Toy Company was using YouTube to transform into an online business. A video about that case study was also just uploaded on April 17, 2012.

With fun and educational videos, Rokenbok Toys was able to create entertaining in-store demos of their toys virtually. Today, the majority of their online sales come from YouTube channel viewers who make up more than half of their customer base.

We haven’t covered the GoPro YouTube case study before. A video about it was just uploaded on April 19. The video tells the story of how the YouTube community has helped GoPro become the world leader in wearable and gear mountable cameras for sports and activities.

On Jan. 26, Search Engine Watch revealed how YouTube TrueView ads had pumped up search traffic and conversions for TRX. Although this case study isn’t mentioned in the Advertiser Playbook, it has also been turned into a video that was uploaded to the Advertise on YouTube channel on April 12. Using TrueView video ads, they focus on making content that’s relevant to their users, which leads to more interest in their brand – and more customers.

If advertisers need help creating a video, YouTube’s My Business Story free tool advertisers can use to create their first video. And as with all AdWords advertisers, advertisers can also call YouTube’s free phone support line, 866-2-GOOGLE, to get started with AdWords for video.

$50 Million in Free Google AdWords Advertising

To help 500,000 businesses get into video, new AdWords advertisers can receive a $75 credit toward video advertising when they sign up for AdWords for video. To put that into context, with $75 their video campaign can reach more than 1,500 of their most valuable customers on YouTube for one month.

Combined with the new features to AdWords for video, the Ambassador program, Advertiser Playbook, and $50 million in free AdWords advertising should help even more businesses get into video advertising on YouTube. It never hurts to send envoys, tips and money.

Google AdWords for Video Launches with Improved Targeting on YouTube

What does the new Google privacy policy, YouTube and Trueview metrics all have in common? They form the foundation of Google’s latest AdWords platform change which brings video advertising out of the realm of huge budgets and TV ad campaigns and into the hands of small to medium sized businesses all over the world. Google aims to bring the analytical power of paid search advertising to video content and use the same type of bidding model to make video advertising available, affordable and measurable for everybody. The most significant change for experienced video advertisers is that campaigns will now be able to demographically target 10x more users on YouTube.

Just like paid search, where you only pay per-click to your website regardless of how many times your ad is show, with AdWords for video you only pay per-view of your video ad. What is more, with TrueView pricing you only pay every time a user watches your entire video ad. Should a user skip your video ad (by pressing the skip button) in the first 30 seconds or before the end of your video ad, you will not be charged. If your ad runs over 30 seconds, you will be charged a cost-per-view at the 30 second mark.

There are four types of TrueView ad formats, which enable you to determine exactly where you want your ad to appear on YouTube and the Google Display Network (GDN). These ad formats are in-stream, in-search, in-slate and in-display and these essentially control whether you want your video ad to appear as a pre-roll to other videos, in search results, at the end of other videos or in the related videos section.

It’s really simple to get started. All you will need in advance is a YouTube account. All you have to do is go to AdWords.Google.com/Video and link up your YouTube account. To celebrate the official launch of this product Google is also giving away a total of $50 million in free advertising credits worth $75 per account.

New Features in AdWords for Video

Now that AdWords for Video is out of beta, Google has released a slew of new features for users to target and analyze the impact of your video ads. Here is a quick overview video of the AdWords for Video features and an explanation on how to get started (the key points in the video describing new features are linked below).

TrueView Format Selector – Now with the four TrueView ad formats you can opt out of specific types. For example, disabling in-search ads will be denoted as a partial opt in to the Google Display Network.

Conversion Rate Optimization In Paid Search: Why Click Through Rate Matters

One might find it strange to talk about click-through rate (CTR) optimization when talking about conversion rate optimization, since these indicators do not initially seem related. Yet, while these metrics are not always correlated, they sometimes – and actually often – are.

However, a high click-through rate does not assure a high conversion rate. The two can even have an inverse relationship: an ad copy geared towards curiosity clicks will result in fewer conversions, percentage-wise, than an ad copy geared towards qualified clicks.

Keeping An Eye On CTR Helps Maintain Conversion Volume

Focusing on conversion rate optimization and neglecting CTR will keep you from scaling up your paid search program. You need to maintain a high traffic volume to maximize the number of conversion opportunities. If you don’t do so, you’ll end up with great conversion rates but low conversion volume overall.

A better way to go about it is to maximize the conversion rate within a certain CTR range, thereby keeping a good rank at a decent cost per click and maintaining traffic volume.

Even excluding the effect of CTR on Quality Score (and thus CPC), it is important to find the right balance between an appealing ad copy which generates lots of clicks, and a more conversion-oriented ad copy which generates fewer clicks at a higher conversion rate. The Quality Score factor makes it even more important to optimize the CTR as it helps mitigate the average cost per click and lowers the cost per acquisition (CPA) as a result.

The best performing ad copies are rarely those with the highest CTR or the highest conversion rates, but typically somewhere in the middle for both metrics. They are appealing without being deceptive or too generic. Best-performing ad copies usually have a strong CTR and an ok conversion rate – as opposed to an ok CTR and a strong conversion rate – because of the Quality Score factor and its consequences on CPC.

Beyond CTR & Conversion Rate: Maximizing Profit Margin

In the following chart (inspired from actual data) ad #1 has the lowest CTR and the highest conversion rate, while ad #10 has the highest CTR and the lowest conversion rate. Again, these metrics do not always have an inverse relationship, but it is the case very often.

If you are still unconvinced, you can give it a try for yourself with two ads in rotation – the first one clearly geared towards curiosity clicks, the second one clearly geared towards qualified clicks – and this logic should be verified.To get back to our sample data below, it is worth noting that neither ads #1 nor #10 are the best-performing ones overall.

If you look at the conversion volume, ad #6 is doing the best without having the strongest CTR, nor the strongest conversion rate.

If you look at the CPA, ad #8 has the lowest CPA. Ultimately, ad #6 performs best with respect to the effective profit margin.

In a nutshell, one should keep an eye on the CTR when testing ad copies in order to maintain decent traffic volume and maximize overall profit margin. The right balance might take time to find, but the important thing to keep in mind is that the best ads in terms of CTR or conversion rate are most likely not the best-performing ads out there. There is a middle ground where profit margin can be maximized.

Also, while Quality Score is only available at the keyword level (and unfortunately not at the ad level) it does make sense to monitor this metric when testing multiple ad copies geared toward qualified clicks rather than curiosity clicks.

Google engineers designed their paid search algorithm in such a way that the inverse relationship between CTR and CPC forces search marketers into coming up with ads which don’t necessarily generate the most revenue per visit, but the most clicks. It is mostly about relevance to the end users, Google says – where relevance is defined based on clicks, whatever their engagement level is.

Preparing For Google’s Over SEO Algorithm

Just about a month ago, Google’s head of web spam, Matt Cutts announced Google is going to release a new algorithm to target overly SEO’ed sites to “level the playing field” for the rest of the web.

Now that there are strong indications, all speculative and rumored, but strong nevertheless, that Google is rolling out the algorithm update or at least testing it, how can you prepare for it? The number of complaints in the forums was scary to say the least, almost at Panda levels. So there is no doubt that when this does officially launch, SEOs and webmasters will be seriously impacted – at least many will.

Webmasters and SEOs are trying to document in SEO style a checklist of items that Google might consider to be “over SEO.” A WebmasterWorld thread has some considerations and John Britsios spent the time going through some of the threads we linked to yesterday and complied a list in the comments area of our post.

John outlined these items:

  • High keyword densities
  • Anchor texts that are too similar
  • Less or near duplicated content
  • Inorganic and/or unnatural /paid inbound links

The WebmasterWorld thread is just getting started but some great ideas are being shared now. They include:

  • Keyword/phrase over usage
  • Too many redirects
  • Same/similar anchor in back links
  • Same Niche same server
  • Doorway/thin affiliate
  • Link schemes/cheap backlink packages

So join the discussion, let’s try to provide helpful tips to webmasters and SEOs who may be impacted by this when it is officially rolled out. Try to be proactive versus reactive here.

By asimfarooq633 Posted in Google

The Most Destructive Lie In Search Marketing

The biggest lie in search marketing is that paid and organic search are separate channels. From the customer’s perspective, paid and natural search are nearly identical. In fact, according to this study done by Performics last year, around a third of all searchers don’t even know the difference between a paid and a natural search listing.

This lie wouldn’t be a big deal except that it causes advertisers to under-optimize their search marketing programs. There have been several studies done to show that having a paid and organic listing on the same SERP can either cannibalize or have a synergistic effect on traffic.

The problem is that most companies don’t know which one is happening for their listings. This ignorance means that companies are either leaving money on the table by not having both listings present, or wasting money cannibalizing their own traffic.

The solution to this dilemma is to think about, organize your team around, and set goals with the idea that paid and organic search are the same channel.

Let’s first explore team organization and setting goals to help explain why paid and organic should be considered the same channel despite the obvious differences in how they are executed.

If your natural search and paid search people are not currently reporting to the same boss, it is very likely that these teams rarely communicate. I have even seen paid and natural search teams within the same company using destructively competitive tactics so that each team can reach its own goal.  This competitiveness is just a simple fact of how organizations work.

Until these two groups are on the same team, you will be fighting an uphill battle to get them to collaborate. If your search analysts don’t all currently report to the same person, start the process now to combine these two teams.

Once all of your search marketers are on the same team, you can then set a combined goal for everyone involved with getting your listing on the SERP. With combined targets, it is in each person’s best interest to maximize the performance for the entire search experience.

It will become natural for the specialists to develop collaborative strategies to achieve that goal. Most search managers try to achieve this collaboration by just telling the analysts to collaborate, while setting goals that undermine that collaboration. Search managers need to walk the walk. If you want your team to collaborate, you need to set up the goal structure so that collaboration helps your team achieve their goals.

Here is an example of the difference between having separate goals and having a combined goal. Let’s say we have Jack and Jill on our search team. Jack is working on paid search and Jill is working on SEO for a particular program.

Scenario A (Separate goals)

Jack has a budget of $10,000 dollars and a revenue target of $30,000 while Jill has a budget of $2,000 and a revenue target of $40,000. The problem with this scenario is that there is no motivation for Jack and Jill to work together. They both go their separate ways to achieve their goals and leave money on the table.

Scenario B (Combined Goals)

Jack and Jill are given a combined budget of $12,000 dollars and a revenue target of $90,000 to use in whatever way they find is most effective in driving revenue. This scenario may seem like a minor change, but it reflects a major shift in how we approach optimizing our SERP listings.

This shift motivates Jack and Jill to figure out ways to minimize cannibalization and maximize synergies between paid and organic listings on the SERP. The increased revenue target reflects the belief that having a combined strategy will succeed in directing Jack and Jill to find these opportunities.

One counter argument that I have heard against combining paid and natural search, is that it removes the accountability for those working on the separate programs. This is a valid argument and one that needs to be addressed carefully.

If Jack and Jill both have a shared goal, then it would be easy for one of the two to slack off and let the other work to achieve the goal. One solution for this challenge is to have them develop a plan for how each is going to contribute to achieve their performance targets.

Once this plan is approved by each person and by the manager, it can be used to hold each person accountable. This challenge can actually have an added benefit because it will make planning a more essential part of the search marketing process. It will take extra time up front, but it will pay off in the long run.

I am consistently surprised by how little paid and organic search marketers communicate. This lack of combined strategy adversely affects the experiences of those searching for information and causes a large majority of companies to have immature search strategies.

I believe that the reason we in the search industry leave so much money on the table is due to an improper perspective of paid and natural search.

In other words, we are lying to ourselves. It is easy to see why we have split them up. They are very different when it comes to execution and how they are funded, but the reasons for combining them are much stronger than the reasons to split them up.

Developing unified search teams, search goals, and search strategies will allow you to fully optimize your company’s marketing initiatives, and create the best experience for your customers.