Monthly Archives: October 2013

Google Has No Clothes Part Three

This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series Google Changes And What They Mean To You

Google animals run wild

Then along came Panda. Why does Google choose the names of fauna for their updates? Here apparently is the answer:

Believe it or not, Google named the 2011 quality update “Panda”, not after the endangered animal, but after one of the engineers responsible for the algorithmic breakthrough – Navneet Panda. It’s unclear how they came up with the name for the over-optimization update of 2012, but it seems they just decided to stick with the animals starting with the letter “P”, and so the Penguin was born…. er, hatched.

This Google algorithm update in February 2011 banished low quality sites from the Google realm. Penguin, released in April 2012, then went to town on sites that boosted their rankings with the use of dubious linking methods (content farms and the like). They also targeted keyword stuffing – which is exactly what you imagine i.e inelegantly cramming keywords into your posts – and duplicate content (using the same or similar content in your site again and again).

This is why SEO providers which offer “affordable SEO” supplying backlinks and developing comments should now be avoided more than ever. Be careful of anyone who does not have legitimate industry experience and keep an eye on their geographical location – I think it is best to deal with a domestic provider, although many Indian (as an example) companies do great work. As a rule, you will get what you pay for.

Quick change algorithms

The good boffins down Hubspot estimate that Google changes it’s algorithms 550 times a year (!!!). I don’t know how this is possible, because it suggests some very dedicated algorithmic-centric (obsessed) people at Google are tweaking their backsides off ten times a day seven days a week. This should at the least make it clear that you have no control over the situation. As the Buddhists have known for eons, sometimes it’s best to accept the relentlessness of change and let it all go – in other words, resistance is futile.

It does serve to again prove the point that good online writing, especially reader-oriented articles that are genuinely helpful, have a very long shelf life and represent a far better place to invest your energies. And honestly, if you concentrate on rankings, which are subject to fluctuations for reasons beyond your control, it really will drive you crazy! But worse, it detracts from the main game, and for professionals that is enhanced client relationships. For smaller and mature professionals, it is only content marketing that both helps your clients and helps your rankings.

Why should you care?

Look, if you are a regular reader it’s more than likely you are a mature professional, the principal in a small professional firm, or both. So the question you are entitled to ask is, “should I care about any of this stuff?” The easy answer is no. If you are a professional with a small firm (that’s most professionals in Australia) then you already know what your clients want – good information and good service. For you, good content is good SEO. So stay right away from the SEO hucksters who promise the world but will more likely see you penalized by Google.

Which means that there is essentially good news for smaller professional firms in all of this. You already know what drives business your way – it’s word of mouth. And the drivers or word of mouth are well known – the extra effort that enhances client relationships; the means to broadcast a reputation based on earned trust; giving clients an holistic experience, including added value information or appropriate referrals to other professionals; plain English information that makes the decision-making process much easier and promotes trust; exceeding client expectations.

In Part Four I’ll look at the good news in all of this for mature professionals and smaller professional firms.

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Google Has No Clothes – Part Two

This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series Google Changes And What They Mean To You

Keywords and the search for meaning

I’ve written an eBook about keywords, so you would think I have a vested interest in their central role as a determinant of search engine ranking. I don’t. In fact I hate them. Have you tried to write an article or a blog post or content for your website with one eye on the volume and placement of particular words? It may be a relevant skill, bit it certainly kills the creativity of writing.

The change, which represents a new approach to search for Google, required the biggest changes to the company’s search algorithm since 2000. Now, Google, the world’s most popular search engine, will focus more on trying to understand the meanings of and relationships among things, as opposed to its original strategy of matching keywords (New York Times)

You can spend forever looking for the best keywords. You can use them, test them, drill down into them, change the syntax and form. You can research what keywords your opponent uses. You can slice, dice and bake with them, but there will come that morning when you discover that the Google ground rules have changed yet again. If you are a smaller professional firm that has relied on keywords to attract eyes to your site, there is bad news, because the way Google brings that traffic has shifted. According to Google, the result for consumers will be a more precise search result. But if your search engine optimisation (SEO) has relied on keywords, for you it means a major hassle.

Even if the place of keywords had not been downgraded, Google has made sure they are not easy to find unless you are part of paid search. If you just want to rely on organic search (where you don’t pay to be ranked higher) then the most prominent tool for this, the Google Keyword Tool, is no longer available.

Bye bye to backlinks

So keywords are no longer as relevant nor as accessible. Now here’s the kicker for mature professionals and smaller Australian professional firms, which represent the largest group of professionals, who cannot afford the big dollars for commercial SEO. If you are going to spend money on SEO, then be prepared to spend more. Apart from keyword research, in the past a cheapie way of getting a better Google rank was to “buy” backlinks – the links from other websites to your own that are so prized by Google. This was originally the backbone of the Google experiment, which looked at how many sites linked to you in order to establish your site’s credibility. This was somewhat based on the idea that the authority of academic papers is established in part by the number of other academic papers that cite it. With Google, substitute “other academic papers” with “links back to your site”. At the time of Google’s launch this was a revolutionary idea in website search.

One of the results was the inevitability of “gaming the system”. This meant that so-called “link farms” created artificial authority for websites, pushing up their rankings. Link spam (spamdexing) was also popular. Whether paid blog networks, reusing unique content by changing certain words, and automatic blog (and forum) posting, all are cheap methods to create links back to your site.

In Part Three I’ll explain how this too has come to an end.

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Google Has No Clothes – Part One

This entry is part 1 of 6 in the series Google Changes And What They Mean To You

Google changes course (yet) again

Have you heard about the latest changes to Google? No, it’s not that nifty logo (the Google doodle) they use to celebrate everything from the 50th anniversary of The Beatles to Korean Thanksgiving Day to the Australian elections. This is more serious, and it might affect you as a professional who wants to improve the performance of your website. At the least it says a lot about the ascendancy of Google.

Many professionals, certainly those looking to create an online edge, nowadays keep an eye on Google’s every move – and really, that can be a full time job. Though they may start by looking at website content marketing in a cursory way, before long they are searching for the latest insights as to why Google does what it does (as though anyone really understands this). This will always be an exercise in frustration.

Algorithms algorithms, make me a match

And so it is with a sense of inevitability we find that Google has announced yet another major change to its algorithms. As the New York Times noted, this affects 90% of searches. It also affects your brain because it is impossible for the average professional, especially those of us of more mature years, to keep up with these changes or place their significance in an appropriate context. We’re told (harangued) to concentrate on search engine optimisation, and then after mastering some of those basics, or worse paying a lot of money for someone else to do it for us, we learn that the rug has been pulled out from under us and it’s time to readjust. Again.

This seems to be a litany for mature professionals – we are warned to adjust to the modern world of social media and the proliferation of search engines (Google) as the preferred directory for prospective clients. Or else. This implicit threat is backed up by some frightening numbers – according to Pew Research, 83% of internet users are tethered to Google. If this feels a little like blackmail – it’s the Google way or the highway – then you are right, but Google is right as well, because in part their aim is to improve the search experience for consumers.

It’s all quite confusing.

It’s a load of….

I’m not an SEO (search engine optimisation) expert. I’m a lawyer and a writer and someone who has developed a particular interest in the ability of mature professionals and smaller professional firms – Australian lawyers, accountants and all superannuation, insurance and finance professionals – and how we deal with the imperative to put everything online.

It’s go online or die, and just being there is no longer enough, we have to do it with aplomb and a serious dedication to the rules of Google and their omnipresent algorithms. So when I look at the latest pronouncement from the Google algorithm department, what I see is vindication for a view I have held since I started closely looking at these issues a few years ago. It’s all a lot of hooey.

In Part Two I’ll explain why.

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Teach Blogging to Students

University Of Blogging

Blogging is a required professional skill

I got the idea for this post from a great article in a U.S. lawyer blog, and I will use some of the same quotes:

If there is a single skill that I wish law schools would focus on, it should be blogging. I know I’m biased – I’m a blogger myself – but the discipline of writing regularly combined with the urgency of getting timely posts to press – has improved my legal writing immensely. Incorporating blogging into legal education  is moronically easy.  Professors could assign students to blog about the daily lecture, relevant topics (e.g., students could blog about bankruptcy law). Doesn’t have to be every day; maybe 3-4 posts per class per semester. Blogging would also get students comfortable with blogging software which is another key skill since they could offer to blog for practicing lawyers and help build up content.

That is from an Open Letter To Law Schools by Washington lawyer Carolyn Elefant.

Should students learn blogging?

It got me thinking on two levels. One, it’s an original idea by Ms Elefant, and that’s rare enough to get my attention. Two, and this is applicable to all professions, I wondered  (yet again) what the hell are tertiary students learning nowadays? Not the ones learning a trade, presumably they study the means to ply that trade, but the ones who study law, finance, commerce, accounting – the service professions that involve graduates in the day to day affairs of real people. Obviously this is less an issue for those many graduates who enter larger firms and (perhaps) are far less exposed to the real world needs of real world clients. But what of the smaller firms who hire out of university?

And I have a personal interest in this. My son is at Monash University undertaking combined degrees in Engineering and Science, and my daughter will hopefully enter university following a gap year during which she will learn (in the real world!) how to be a volunteer youth leader. So I have some first hand knowledge of this, at least from an Australian perspective. It’s an irony that many of these tertiary students, who will one day enter service industries, are symbiotically tied to their personal technology but have little idea how to express themselves in longer form writing.

Ms Elefant again:

The importance of blogging isn’t limited to writing blogs. Students gain insight from reading (blogs). In fact, I’m not even suggesting that lawyers stick to law related blogs. I track the future of lawyer and trends …not at law sites but rather places like TechCrunch which are months ahead of anything that makes its way down to legal. What’s important is to keep current and engaged.

The future for professionals is already here

Look, everything has changed. We’re all in danger of being left behind. I’m convinced that social media is entrenched as a tool for professionals, and all too soon will be part of the set of expectations every client brings to the marketplace. For mature professionals and smaller firms who ignore this warning there is still a future, but in the end, when the dust settles in a globalised and commoditised world, the winners will be those who made the shift before their hands were forced.

What better time to start than in the very institutions in which we train to take our places in the real world?

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Should Professionals Get A Blog – Yes, No, Maybe?

The bad news about blogs for professionals

Here’s the bad news – you need a blog. I know this is not what you want to hear, and as a fellow professional, I also understand that you don’t have the time (or indeed the interest). You’re right. So let me qualify that a little – if you want to develop a content marketing strategy then you need a blog.

Which begs the question, do you need a content marketing strategy? Yes, if you want to have a real online presence. You will be told by all and sundry web designers and social media consultants that every professional must have a significant online presence to succeed in the “modem world”. But it’s not true.

Let’s say you are a professional in a high wealth boutique area (lawyers love to use this term “boutique” to describe their firms, as though it conveys something exclusive and exotic). You give advice to high income individuals about planning their retirement, or you deal mostly with the investment of assets in self managed superannuation funds of significant value. In that case you don’t need a content marketing strategy. What you need is a website – and a directory listing in Yellow Pages, and probably a membership in a professional association and a Linkedin profile to assist with networking. In other words, you are not trawling for clients – your demographic is small and clients generally find you through discrete word of mouth. Fine.

And now the good news about blogs for professionals

If you fall into the previous category well and good, but then you are part of the vast minority of Australian professionals. Now let me speak to the vast majority of us. Here’s what a blog will do for you:

It will generate traffic to your site and make Google happy, which is something we all want. Even if you do not seek a high rank in search engines (e.g. Google) it is still important to offer fresh materials for readers, otherwise you will have a moribund “static” website. Again, if that suits your purposes, well and good, but for most professionals (especially smaller suburban firms) you want an ongoing means to broadcast your expertise.

More good news – it’s not that hard to write a blog, all it takes is a little learning, and we have done that for you in one of our MatureMedia Guides on getting started with a blog. If you use WordPress (and I do and I recommend it highly) then a lot of time will be saved by using appropriate WordPress plugins. These are little pieces of software that add functionality to WordPress – for instance, I use the SEO Yoast plugin to help search engine optimisation (it’s free).

Look, don’t sell yourself short. Do you have a secret vision of grabbing your laptop (tablet or whatever) and heading down to your favourite café to write a blog? Would that gladden your heart? Then do it. You might find it opens up a creative part of your professional life you had not previously considered.

Where to start

If you want a lot of ideas about building a blog, then you might want to check out our MatureMedia Guides on these topics. Or just get in touch for a chat (free) or ask a question.

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SEO Myths for Professionals