The Value of Local SEO to Small Businesses

SEO can be challenging for small businesses. They must compete for the same market share against larger brands that often have more prestige, brand recognition, and consumer affinity.

That doesn’t mean that organic search is out of reach for small businesses as a powerful inbound marketing channel with high potential for return. In order to compete with large brands, small business owners must have an SEO strategy that offsets the often large difference in marketing budget. Because small businesses will not be able to outspend their larger counterparts on media acquisition, they must take a much more targeted and refined approach.

When it comes to short-tail SEO—general phrases with a high amount of search volume—the search engine results pages are dominated by big brands. There is little that a small business marketer with limited budget can do to change these results.

Despite various limitations, small businesses can gain meaningful search engine result real estate with a focus on areas of lowered competition. When geography is taken into account, there is often a much smaller big-brand presence in search results. That opens a window of opportunity for small businesses to gain useful organic search visibility.

Focusing on consumers looking for products and services in specific locales is a great way to limit the competition and give small businesses the ability to gain valuable real estate on search engine results pages. If the business also has an offline presence in a specific locale, there is even more opportunity in targeting these consumers. Consumers trust of a business they can visit in person, which will lead to higher conversion rates.

Geo-Modified Keyword Targeting

Part of the opportunity of location-based SEO for small businesses is to utilize geo-modified search queries. Better yet, in order to benefit from this method, the business does not necessarily have to be location-based. Geo-targeted search phrases are typically very low in competition and are often searched at the purchase stage of the buying cycle, which means they carry high-conversion rates.

Let’s use “home security” as an example. There are 22,200 Google searches for “home security” each month in the U.S.m according to Adwords. However, a small business typically would not have enough budget allocated to SEO to rank on page 1 for that query. When the geo-modifier “miami” is added to the query the monthly search volume drops to 210. This is still a decent amount of search volume and can certainly lead to home security sales.


The interesting part of this example comes when we look at competition. Examining the number of online pages that have each of these phrases in both the title tag of the page and the anchor text of an inbound link (this metric is known as In Anchor and Title) offers a picture of the relative competition for each phrase. This data can be pulled from MajesticSEO’sKeyword Checker tool.


The In Anchor and Title data show that the business will only be competing with approximately 51 other pages for the phrase “home security miami” as opposed to 248,328 competing pages for the more generic “home security.”

A business likely will not  be able to rest on the 210 monthly searches for “home security miami.” This strategy, however, can be implemented at scale. Building geo-targeted content on the site for multiple geographic areas that the business can service provides the opportunity for several page 1 rankings within a specific budget.

Marketers should start by optimizing for the geographic areas that have the highest demand for the specific product or service that is being sold and working down from there. This can be identified by looking at the location report in Google Analytics to see where the majority of existing customers are coming from. You can also use keyword suggestion tools, such asGoogle’s Keyword Tool or Wordtracker, to see the search demand of various geo-modified phrases.

Local Search

If the small business has physical locations that consumers can visit, local search is an absolute must. Local search campaigns are ideal for capturing consumers searching on mobile devices because they can get directions and call the business with a simple click. There is no excuse for any local business to not have an optimized presence in local search engines, particularly within the major ones (Google +, Yahoo Local, Bing Local).

By creating and optimizing listings in local search engines, small business can get a great deal of search engine presence with a limited budget while increasing their rankings within aspecific region.


Build Relationships, Not Links


Build relationships, not links. If you’re in the business of link acquisition and looking for a new mantra, or a way to be great at your job, there it is.

Building relationships is a new beast to tame. It’s not about trying to influence machines – it’s about trying to influence people. Every human is a kaleidoscope of attitudes, behaviors, and emotions.

Empathy – immersing oneself in the prospect’s world – is an asset for fostering trust, negotiating exchanges, and building lasting relationships.

Here’s how tapping in to the study of human behavior can help us better understand people’s actions and build stronger ties in a post-Penguin/Panda world.

1. Man (and Woman) is a Perpetually Dissatisfied Animal

Time warp back to philosophy class. Karl Marx’s theory of production and consumption says, “When basic needs have been met, this leads to the creation of new needs.”

Every prospect you contact has a need, something they want or they don’t know they can have – yet. The first step for building relationships is identifying why the person that you’re trying to foster a connection with would benefit from a relationship with you.

Robert Cialdini, author of “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”, identifies six key principles of persuasion. The very first principle is reciprocity: “People tend to return a favor”. The idea is that when someone makes an effort to do something for us, our moral fabric tends to make us feel obliged to do something in return.

If your client sells shoes and you approach a fashion blogger with a free pair to review, their conscience (and their shoe addiction) will make them happy to review.

Not only does your offer have to be creative when you approach a prospect, it has to relate to how they can achieve a goal.

This may mean having to re-evaluate your link acquisition strategy with your clients, to identify the collateral you can exchange with prospects, whether free samples and trials, exclusive offers, or expertise.

2. Personality Can Tell us a Lot About What Motivates People

The extinct practice of paying for links is now frowned upon by most SEOs, bloggers, and search engines alike. Since Google’s Penguin/Panda updates, outreach solely based on “link building” significantly reduces your response rates and terminates your chances of being considered on an A-list blog.

Now you have to work harder to learn more about who you’re contacting and what you can offer each other in the long-term. There’s a lot more involved than just evaluating the keyword relevancy or pagerank value of a site.

The secret to relationships lies in knowing people’s underlying interests, needs, and values. That’s what helps you determine what motivates them and how you can help each other in the future.

Every one of your prospects is a potential ally. And empathy is the way you will step into their world, and understand what drives their behavior and how you can influence it.

Fortunately (for marketers), you can tell a lot about a person by what they post online. They leave an entire trail of digital footprints for you to follow, from their “About” page, their blog posts, their LinkedIn profile, to what kind of stuff they post on Twitter and Facebook. Your detective work is all laid out for you. It just takes a few extra clicks and a little curiosity.

3. Identify Relevant “Currencies”; Theirs and Yours

MindTools’ Influence Model talks about using “relevant currencies” in order to influence people. The model was actually developed for a work setting, but it’s incredible how these principles can be applied to relationship building. The idea is to establish what the most meaningful “currency” is to the person you are reaching out to.

The five currencies below can be great sources of inspiration when you’re negotiating an exchange:

  • Inspiration-related currencies. People who value these currencies want to find meaning in what they’re doing. To appeal to these people, approach them with a cause, something that will lead to a greater good.
  • Task-related currencies. Task-related currencies are often highly valued where supplies and resources may be scarce. Offer them your client’s expertise on a topic that’s relevant to their site that they haven’t covered yet.
  • Position-related currencies. People who value this currency focus on recognition, reputation, and visibility. Create content relevant to their interests that make an active attempt to engage them, either directly through the content or through social channels.
  • Relationship-related currencies. People who value relationships want to belong. These people want to feel connected on a personal level, with you or the organization you’re representing. Show them that they aren’t just a means to an end and involve them in various initiatives.
  • Personal-related currencies. These currencies relate to the other person on a personal level. You should give courtesy and gratitude for the help you receive. It’s as simple as writing “Thank You” follow up emails, sharing a person’s blog post, and making it a habit of acknowledging people for their efforts.

4. The Medium is the Message

From email to Google+, Facebook to face-to-face, each of these communication channels has their own unique characteristics, much like the people who use them.

Marshall McLuhan stated that the medium through which we choose to communicate holds as much value than the message itself. One contact might like IM, another might always be on Twitter – it’s good to know where people want to be reached.

5. Influence is Give and Take

In Francisco Dao’s article Networking is for Losers, he makes a key point that sums up how you should approach building relationships; a road to quality versus a shooting slope to quantity:

“A few strong relationships can open far more doors than a thousand evenings of glad handing and networking.”

With that, keep in mind these six steps for building fruitful and lasting relationships. See if getting to know the person behind the email address might be worth the time and the nurturing.

Image source: Brands & Idea


Proper SEO and the Robots.txt File


When it comes to SEO, most people understand that a website must have content, “search engine friendly” site architecture/HTML, and meta data (title tags and meta descriptions).

Another meta element, if implemented incorrectly, that can also trip up websites is robots.txt. I was recently reminded of this while reviewing the website of a large company that had spent considerable money on building a mobile version of their website, on a sub-directory. That’s fine, but having a disallow statement in their robots.txt file meant that the website wasn’t accessible to search engines (Disallow: /mobile/)

Let’s review how to properly implement robots.txt to avoid search ranking problems and damaging your business, as well as how to correctly disallow search engine crawling.

What is a Robots.txt File?

Simply put, if you go to, you should see a list of directories of the website that the site owner is asking the search engines to “skip” (or “disallow”). However, if you aren’t careful when editing a robots.txt file, you could be putting information in your robots.txt file that could really hurt your business.

There’s tons of information about the robots.txt file available at the Web Robots Pages, including the proper usage of the disallow feature, and blocking “bad bots” from indexing your website.

The general rule of thumb is to make sure a robots.txt file exists at the root of your domain (e.g., To exclude all robots from indexing part of your website, your robots.txt file would look something like this:

* Disallow: /cgi-bin/
Disallow: /tmp/
Disallow: /junk/

The above syntax would tell all robots not to index the /cgi-bin/, the /tmp/, and the /junk/ directories on your website.

Other Real Life Examples of Robots.txt Gone Wrong

In the past, I reviewed a website that had a good amount of content and several high qualitybacklinks. However, the website had virtually no presence in the search engine results pages (SERPs).

What happened? Penalty? Well, no. The site’s owner had included a disallow to “/”. They were telling the search engine robots not to crawl any part of the website.

In another case, a SEO company edited the robots.txt file to disallow indexing of all parts of a website after the site’s owner stopped paying the SEO company.

I also remember reviewing a company’s website and noticing that several directories that were part of their former site were disallowed in their robots.txt file. The company should have set up a 301 permanent redirect to pass the value from the old web pages on the site to the new pages instead of disallowing the search engines to index any of the old legacy pages. Thus, all of the value was lost.

Robots.txt Dos and Don’ts

There are many good reasons to stop the search engines from indexing certain directories on a website and allowing others for SEO purposes. Let’s look at some examples.

Here’s what you should do with robots.txt:

  • Take a look at all of the directories in your website. Most likely, there are directories that you’d want to disallow the search engines from indexing, including directories like /cgi-bin/, /wp-admin/, /cart/, /scripts/, and others that might include sensitive data.
  • Stop the search engines from indexing certain directories of your site that might includeduplicate content. For example, some websites have “print versions” of web pages and articles that allow visitors to print them easily. You should only allow the search engines to index one version of your content.
  • Make sure that nothing stops the search engines from indexing the main content of your website.
  • Look for certain files on your site that you might want to disallow the search engines from indexing, such as certain scripts, or files that might contain email addresses, phone numbers, or other sensitive data.

Here’s what you should not do with robots.txt:

  • Don’t use comments in your robots.txt file.
  • Don’t list all your files in the robots.txt file. Listing the files allows people to find files that you don’t want them to find.
  • There’s no “/allow” command in the robots.txt file, so there’s no need to add it to the robots.txt file.

By taking a good look at your website’s robots.txt file and making sure that the syntax is set up correctly, you’ll avoid search engine ranking problems. By disallowing the search engines to index duplicate content on your website, you can potentially overcome duplicate content issues that might hurt your search engine rankings.

One last note: if you aren’t sure whether you can do this correctly, please consult with a SEO specialist.


Search Engine Results Protected by First Amendment

first amendment protection search results

Although Google has been the ct of multiple antitrust investigations related to how they arrange search results and rank Web sites, a new 27-page report suggests that Google should be offered the same First Amendment rights as a newspaper. The report, which was commissioned by Google, makes a strong case that search engines are protected by the First Amendment and that the government cannot attempt to control the search results in any way.

Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor, First Amendment expert, and the author of the “First Amendment Protection for Search Engine Results” report said the following:

“Google, Microsoft’s Bing, Yahoo! Search and other search engine companies are rightly seen as media enterprises, much as the New York Times Company or CNN are media enterprises.”

Since Google and the other search engines are media enterprises, the report argues that they have a constitutional right to exclude or include certain Web sites and information from their results. In the report, Volokh also indicated that the search results are a direct product of an algorithmic “opinion” based on what is best for the end-user.  The report claimed that the same laws that protect news aggregators, such as the Drudge Report and the Huffington Post, will protect Google from antitrust legal action.

When Paid Content asked Google why they commissioned the report, the search engine stated, “we thought these issues were worth exploring in more depth by a noted First Amendment scholar.” However, with multiple antitrust investigations by the U.S. government, the European Union, and other foreign governments, Google is probably planning to use this report to bolster its legal positions.

When an Oklahoma ad agency sued Google in 2003 for decreased rankings, the federal judge ruled that the search engine’s actions were protected by free speech. In 2007, a California court ruled that Google’s rankings were private property and that they had the right to choose the businesses they feature in the search results.

While this report and the legal precedent related to free speech may further Google’s case in the U.S. court system, the prominent search engine is unlikely to find success with the First Amendment argument in Europe, South Korea, and other foreign countries.

Do you think that search engine results should be protected by the First Amendment or could this result in monopolistic control of information?


Why SEO is Best in Recession

Yes, the country’s back in recession and we’re all doomed to spend the next 10 years wandering through an economic wasteland.

Or are we? Now’s the time for start-ups with good ideas and great motivation to take advantage of low spending by their bigger rivals. And here’s how low-budget SEO can help…

SEO is Flexible

Whatever web presence your company has already, SEO can help. It’s a little term for a huge area, so tailoring your SEO campaign to meet your specific needs is a must, and doesn’t need to be too stressful.

If your website is currently just a few pages, SEO might mean writing new content to flesh it out. In a stalled economy, an ever-growing website is a clear indication to your potential customers that your company is alive and well, and regular updates can also help to improve your search ranking. Even putting that to one side, more pages on your website means more words – and particularly more SEO keywords – and that naturally improves your search visibility.

Even large websites usually need some work to make them perform particularly well in search results. SEO specialists can recommend ways to tweak your site’s layout and wording to help it rank higher for your chosen keywords.

Bear in mind that, in a recession, you might want to reword a few pages to focus on value for money, rather than luxury, eco-friendliness and other aspirational claims.

SEO is Integrated

You might not think your website is the main focus of your online operations – perhaps you prefer to communicate with your customers via Facebook or Twitter.

An integrated SEO campaign can help to produce content to populate your Facebook page and Twitter timeline, with search-visible, keyworded blog posts, news articles and static pages that you can link to from your social networking profiles. This kind of inbound marketing puts the full user base of those social networks at your disposal, and allows you to build some real brand buzz while expanding your website at the same time.

Remember, in a recession, plenty of people will be looking for a bargain, and products they discover on social networks are likely to seem like hidden gems, compared with those seen in display ads which can seem over-hyped. Place your marketing investment wisely – make the most of these untapped resources and low-competition channels and your return on investment is likely to be higher, as the playing field will be less crowded.

SEO is Future-Proof

Display ads and PPC campaigns can be a valuable part of an all-encompassing online marketing initiative, but if you’re not certain of how your company’s cash flow will cope in the months to come, you might want to look to more long-term options.

Once your ad placement expires, or your PPC account balance runs dry, your online marketing presence pretty much drops back to zero. With organic SEO, you’re making a long-term investment into expanding and improving your website. New pages, articles and blog posts will be there for as long as you need them, while any work done on increasing the number of SEO keywords on your site will also last indefinitely.

All of this means that, if you have to interrupt your SEO work, you’ll retain the value already invested into it – and if you’re able to continue with it for an extended period of time, the positive effects should be cumulative, securing your Google ranking for competitive keywords without an ever-increasing cost of doing so. And if Google change their algorithms – which they do a couple of times a day, to some extent – your SEO strategy can be adapted to compensate, so you’re not at risk of dropping back down the rankings.

SEO is Ethical

While we’re on the subject of Google algorithm and policy changes, it’s worth giving some thought to how the market-leading search engine decides its rankings, and why organic SEO is among the best and most economical ways to give Google what it wants.

First of all, let’s look at some of the bad ideas for search optimisation…

  • Duplicate content is a big no-no. If your e-commerce site is filled with product descriptions copied and pasted from the manufacturer’s website, you’re unlikely to see your pages at the top of Google’s results. Why? Well, because Google is particularly successful at identifying the originalpage of any given content, and filters out duplicates – you may have seen a notice at the bottom of some searches saying that ‘very similar content’ has not been displayed.
  • Paid links are increasingly risky, too. Google’s all in favour of its own PPC services, but paying another website to link to yours indiscriminately is definitely out these days. If Google sees too many artificial-looking inbound links to your site, you can expect to be demoted in the search rankings (this is becoming such a major issue that there are some reports of companies paying for links to their competitors’ websites, in order to get them penalised by Google!).
  • Keyword stuffing can be tempting, but is another growing grey area. Google has always outlawed gateway sites – pages full of links, or with large sections of hidden text crammed full of keywords. But now, the search engine is also acting to demote pages that seem to have been written purely for SEO purposes. That doesn’t mean SEO isn’t still a good idea; it’s just that you need to make sure your pages are written by someone who understands the changing search climate.

If you’re thinking those points don’t make SEO sound particularly ethical, well, there’s a bad apple in every basket. The above are increasingly considered ‘black-hat’ SEO techniques, used by less legitimate practitioners despite their potential to damage the client’s search ranking.

White-hat SEO, on the other hand, has always been encouraged by Google. It’s not about tricking the search engine into thinking your page is about a particular subject when it’s not – instead, it’s about using headings, bold text, image captions and so on to signpost the key phrases in your content.

Google welcomes content that is:

  • well written
  • original and unique
  • sensibly linked

…and, perhaps most importantly, Google’s Webmaster Guidelines for Design and Content clearly state: “Think about the words users would type to find your pages, and make sure that your site actually includes those words within it.” There’s no clearer indication possible that the search engine is all in favour of sensible, ethical keywording, so don’t be afraid to invest in it.

SEO on a Shoestring

To briefly sum up all of the above – SEO is a long-term, ethical investment that will grow your website (or improve an already-large site) and give you content to link to from your social network profiles. If you’re on a budget, though, it’s not always easy to decide where to start.

Consider your audience – are you targeting existing customers for repeat business, or those who are unfamiliar with your brand? Think about the brand perception you want to create – a luxury that’s still worth buying in a recession, or a value-for-money product that doesn’t cost the earth?

If you’re clear about your own company, product or service from the outset, you can create a much more cohesive SEO campaign, and achieve positive ROI with relatively little capital to invest.


Negative SEO: Myths, Realities, and Precautions – Whiteboard Friday

This week we will be covering a topic not often discussed on Whiteboard Friday. We are going to be talking about negative SEO tactics and how these practices function. Negative SEO is definitely not something we condone here at SEOmoz but education around these techniques can be a helpful, precautionary method that could prevent you from being the subject of malicious intent.

We hope you enjoy the video and don’t forget to leave your comments below.

Video Transcription

 Howdy, SEOmoz fans. Welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re talking about a very concerning and controversial topic – negative SEO. Now, negative SEO has a number of meanings. I want to walk through them and get to some points. If you’ve been paying attention to the Twitter-sphere or the SEO blogosphere over the past week, two weeks, there’s been a lot of discussion around negative SEO, particularly backlink pointing to bring down sites. I will get to that, but first I want to start with some of the classic ways that negative SEO could potentially hurt you.

The idea behind negative SEO is that rather than doing good, positive things that will promote signals in the search engines that bump up your rankings, there are ways to do bad, terrible, negative things. Now, obviously you could do these on your own sites, but hopefully you’re smart enough not to do that. There may be things that other site owners, webmasters, marketers, or black hat SEO’s, mostly we’re talking about black hat SEO’s, spammers, and even people doing very illegal things to bring down your website in the rankings or to even take your website offline.

There are classic types of things, like malware, hacks, and injections. So this is the first one I’m going to talk about. Basically, what we’re saying here is that you’ve got your site, it has some pages on here, and hackers may find security vulnerabilities in your site, in your FTP logins. It may be a WordPress install. Earlier this year I had a hacker essentially come in and inject spam and malware onto my personal blog at The idea is that they all inject spam, links to spam sometimes, sometimes very subtly. They will make changes to your site. One of the classic examples of this is someone going and editing your robots.txt file to block Google bot or to restrict all IPs from a certain range, or those kinds of things. Obviously, that’s going to take your site out of the search engines. Or inject viruses or malware that will install itself on computers that visit you.

Unfortunately, I was actually visiting, which Gianluca Fiorell, one of our Pro members from Spain – he’s Italian but from Spain – had set up last year to promote MozCation in Barcelona, in Spain. Unfortunately, it looked like some spammers had injected some malware on that site, and it had been on there a little while. I think he’s taken care of it now, but these are the types of problems. What you’ll see is a download will go into your cache, and sometimes Microsoft Security Essentials will alert you that that’s happened, hopefully if you’ve got it installed. So this is something to watch out for. You want to close those security holes.

The other kinds of things to watch out for is spam reporting. Sometimes a lot of people, unfortunately, in the SEO-sphere still do manipulative kinds of link building. Obviously, most of the people who watch Whiteboard Friday are not in that group, but some of you probably are. Maybe you buy a few directory listings. You go on Fiverr and you buy some cheap links. You find some spam through some forums that potentially works. You’re doing sorts of things that are on the grey hat/black hat borderline, in terms of link acquisition, and sometimes you will see that your competitors might spam report you. So this guy’s going to go over to Google and maybe he’ll leave a threat at the webmaster forums, or he’ll send it through a spam report in his Google Webmaster Tools. A lot of this spam reporting, I think they said they get tens of thousands of spam reports each month, I believe it was. Actually, fewer than I’d expect, but a lot of people do report spam to Google. These might be your competitors. These might be other webmasters. They could just be random people on the Internet who are like, “Why isn’t this site ranking here?. This looks terrible. I don’t like this.”

When this happens, Google might take a closer look at your backlinks, and obviously this might bring you down. There are arguments about the ethics inside the search engine industry. Personally, I think that removing low quality crap from the Internet is all of our jobs, and I like to be part of that. I think that it’s a good thing to make the Internet a better place, and if you’re not making the Internet a better place, I hope that you’re not doing web marketing because it makes the rest of our industry look bad.

However, certainly reasonable minds can disagree. Aaron Wall, from SEO Book, who I highly respect, who I grew up with in this industry and think the world of, takes a complete opposite view. He thinks that because I support disclosing spam and manipulation to Google and to search engines that this makes me a bad person. That’s too bad. That’s frustrating, but I think reasonable people can disagree. Certainly whatever angle you are on, on this, you should at least be aware that this stuff happens and know that it’s a potential risk, particularly if you’re doing highly manipulative things.

The last one I want to talk about is actually the biggest one and probably the most important and the most salient and relevant to what we’ve been talking about today. That is pointing nasty links to your website. Now this has been something that a lot of webmasters have been discussing actively over the last couple of weeks in this sphere, essentially kicked off by a forum thread on Traffic Power Forum. I haven’t previously spent a lot of time there, but it’s a very active forum populated by a wide mix of white hat folks, grey hat folks, some pretty dark black hat folks, which I’ll show you in a minute.

Two members there, Jammie and Pixelgrinder, hit two different websites. One is called, that’s owned by Dan Thies. Dan, of course, early keyword research guru in the SEO space, big industry mover and shaker. Spoke at a lot of the early search engine strategies conferences. I’ve met him a number of times, really good guy, solid guy. He complimented Matt Cutts, the Google Webspam Chief, on the search quality team. He complimented him over Twitter on knocking out some spam. Some people on the forum felt that it was, I don’t know, in poor taste. Right? Essentially they felt that because he was being complimentary to Google for kicking out webspam, that he should then be the target of this negative SEO. The other site was, which was essentially a website offering services to get someone banned from the search indices, and this a little concerning in and of itself.

Now the thing that’s interesting about these sites, and Dan admitted this about SEOFastStart. Not a very big site. Right? Not a lot of great brand or link signals. Potentially some small amounts of not wholly white hat types of activities already happening around these sites. So we’re not talking about (a) big brand sites, or (b) sites that have no idea about the SEO world and aren’t doing anything manipulative and are clean as the driven snow. These are a little off that track. These were both hit by these guys, at least presumably, according to the forum thread, and lost a lot of their rankings.

When I say hit, what I mean is this type of thing happens. So here’s your up here. Right? Essentially, what’s going on is you’ve got some nice white hat, editorially given, earned links, high quality stuff, and that’s great. Then there’s some kind of this dark cloud of black hattery, spammy, manipulative posts. They talked about a number of things, XRumer blasts, buying links on Fiverr, buying links from some link networks, pointing some links that they had seen get hit on other sites at this site, and essentially trigger this loss of rankings. Now, they didn’t get banned from the index, but they fell from, I think Dan Thies’ site in particular fell from ranking #1, for his personal name, to number30, 35, somewhere around there, and hits like that similar across both these sites.

The second example was another forum thread started by a user with the user name, Negative SEO, and that was for the domain Now again, Just Good Cars unfortunately looks like they were doing a little bit of things that might be construed as manipulative, even prior to this attack on them by the Negative SEO guy. Some links that were of questionable sources or how they were acquired, and then a big network of websites that were all pointing back and forth to each other from many different pages on these many different sites. This guy took it upon himself to say, well they were . . . I guess this website had been complaining in the Google webmaster forums about some other sites outranking them, so this person took it upon themselves to do some pretty nasty, evil stuff.

Now I can’t support this in any way. I’m frustrated that unfortunately this is a part of our world. But you should be aware of it, because what they did was creative, almost to the point of ingenuity, but definitely dark and evil, maybe even bordering on illegal depending on the legalities. I’m not really sure. Here’s what they said they did. Of course, I can’t prove that they actually did these things, but here’s what they said they did. So they did go do a lot of manipulative, nasty backlinking to the site from a lot of those sources we talked about. They mentioned a few XRumer blasts. They posted a lot of duplicate content. They set up fake WordPress splogs, essentially a spam blog, and then they re-posted the content that existed on on tens of thousands of pages across the Web so that Google might say, “Oh, well why is this duplicate content?” I don’t know that that’s actually highly concerning in and of itself. A lot of people copy content from all over the Web for both good and bad reasons.

Then they did something that’s really nasty. They went to Fiverr and they asked for people to post fake reviews to Google Reviews to make it look like Just Good Cars was manipulating Google Reviews, and actually got them thrown out of that program. According to the forum post, anyway, that’s what happened. They got their stars and their Google Reviews and their ratings removed, and all that kind of stuff, which that’s whew, that’s really low. That sucks if that’s what really happened.

It’s even more terrifying, but they sent fake emails. They set up email addresses that looked like they came from Just Good Cars, and sent fake emails to websites that had posted good editorial, positive links, saying, “Hey, you should stop linking to this site. There are these problems with it. We’re requesting a DMCA take down action against it. Our attorneys will be in touch if you don’t remove your links.” Those kinds of things. So really just, oh man, that’s really evil. But stuff that we definitely need to be aware of in terms of the world of negative SEO and what this kind of stuff can happen.

Now, it’s very tough to verify anonymous users on an anonymous forum posting and whether all of this stuff actually happened, but certainly the ideas behind it are very concerning. What I want to express today is that there are some things you can do on your site that will make you higher risk and lower risk to these kinds of things.

Higher risk is going to be, like some of these other sites, you’ve already done a little bit of manipulative linking. Right? You’ve already done some spammy stuff. You have manipulative on-site stuff. Meaning for example, like Just Good Cars there’s kind of that footer with all these links pointing to all these other places. This was mentioned in the forum thread. So I’m not giving away new information here, but there’s stuff on this site that looks like it might be not wholly kosher, not wholly white hat.

Your site has few high quality brand signals. High quality brand signals, things like lots of people searching for your domain name and brand name. Lots of mentions of you in the news and press, in outlets that are high quality. Lots of offline sorts of signals. Lots of user and usage metrics types of signals. Lots of verification kinds of things. Using high quality providers of everything from the IP address, where your website’s hosted, to the domain registration link, to the services you might have installed on your site, Akamai or any of the CDN networks suggest you’re very popular. Any type of signal like this that looks like a highly brand intense signal.

Lower risk is going to be the opposite. Right? So things like a totally clean backlink profile. Never done any kind of manipulative linking, at least not intentional outbound backlink building. Don’t forget, everyone’s going to have some spam links. Even if you’ve never done any manipulative backlinking or any backlinking or marketing of any kind, you will have some bad backlinks, because the Web, just there are all sorts of weird crawlers and bots that host links all over the place. It’s fine. Don’t sweat those. It’s the normal volume. Things like having a beautiful, elegant, high quality UX. A great UX is a fantastic defense against a lot of spam and manipulation. It’s even a great tactic for folks who are trying to do SEO. It’s just a great signal in general. Right? Having a great UX is going to get you more conversions and more people using your site. Anyone who is browsing your website, say, from the Google Search Quality team or the webspam team, or the Google reviewers, which Google hires, or from Bing, any of those folks who are looking at your site are going to say, “Oh this is clearly a great site. We want to have this in our index.”

If you review some of these other sites, you can take them or leave them. One that does not feel very SEO. I think you all know what I mean. There’s sort of that sixth sense of, boy, they’re doing a lot of things on the page and off the site that don’t feel like they’re natural, don’t feel like they’re for users. Whenever you have that sixth sense around a site, that’s going to put you in a higher danger category. Not doing that, having that very natural sort of site, you can target keywords, do a good job with your titles, do a good job with your content, do a good job with your internal linking, but make it feel very natural. I’ll give you good examples. Amazon, very well SEO’ed, but doesn’t feel SEO’ed. Zappos, doesn’t feel SEO’ed. Even SEOmoz, it doesn’t feel very SEO’ed, but it’s doing a good job. TechCrunch, doesn’t feel SEO’ed, but ranks phenomenally well.

Finally, having those strong brand signals, the branded searches, lots of people searching for your brand name specifically. Good links, good mentions, good press, good user and usage metrics, all these types of things are going to protect you from a lot of these types of spam attacks.

That being said, there’s nasty stuff that other people can do. So you want to (a) keep your eyes wide open. Make sure you’re registered with Google Webmaster Tools so you can get any of these warnings ahead of time. If you happen to see an influx of really nasty looking links, you might want to send a preemptive reconsideration request to Google saying, “Hey, we don’t know where these came from and we have nothing to do with this. We just want you guys to know that this is not our activity. Please feel free to disregard or not count these links.” 99% of the time Google is not going to say, “Oh these bad links that are pointing to you, we’re going to count those as reducing your SEO and bringing you down in the rankings.” They’re instead going to say, “Oh well, we’re going to ignore these. We’re going to remove the value that these pass.” They’re not going to pass PageRank or anchor text value or link trust, or whatever it is. We’re just going to count the good stuff.

I remember being in a session, this was years ago, probably five or six years ago, with Matt Cutts, the head of webspam for Google. He was looking at a site on his computer, and the person asked about their website from the audience, and he said, I see, I don’t remember what it was, 14,000 odd links pointing to this site, but Google’s actually only counting about 30 of them. That’s why you’re not ranking very well. Most of those links we’ve removed all the value that they pass. So it’s not that they were having those bad links hurt the site. It’s just that they’re saying, “Oh these are not going to pass any more link value.”

Now, what I would suggest here is, if you see stuff that looks like manipulative and negative SEO, you just be careful. We are trying to do some things here at SEOmoz to help with this. One of the things our data scientist, Dr. Matt Peters, is working with some folks here at Moz to build a large list of spam so we can do some classification, and eventually inside the Mozcape index, which will appear in Open Site Explorer, show up in your Pro-web app, show up in the Mozbar, we’ll try and classify sites to say, “Hey we’re pretty sure this is spam. This looks like the kind of thing where we’ve pattern matched and seen Google penalize or ban a lot of these sites.” We’re also trying to build some metrics to show what are really good, high quality, and editorially given sites. So domain authority and page authority already exist to try and do that.

Then, we’re also running some experiments where I’ve offered up my personal blog, which is a relatively small site, probably has as few links as any of these, probably fewer than Just Good Cars,, to see if some of these nasty folks, who are hitting and taking down sites with negative SEO, would like to concentrate their focus on my sites. For two reasons, number one, we’d be very curious to see it happen, and number two, we can certainly afford the hit. We offered up SEOmoz as well. Most people seem to think that SEOmoz is not a good target. It won’t actually be taken down.

We’re going to run some experiments internally as well on this front and hopefully be able to disprove that negative SEO is a common thing that works very well. I’d hate to see an industry spring up like this. I think that this type of activity, particularly some of these really nasty things, are just an awful part of being around the black hat spam-sphere. I hope that it’s something that we can defend against. I hope you’ll join me in contributing. I look forward to your comments. If you’ve seen stuff like this before, please do feel free to talk about it either anonymously or openly in the comments. I will see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday.


24 Eye-Popping SEO Statistics

SEO isn’t exactly the most understood medium in online marketing. For one thing, people aren’t too sure what SEOs do exactly. Then there is talk about how SEO is converging with social media, content marketing, usability, and more.

It’s not exactly the most well regarded marketing channel either:

Every now and then, you’ll hear from the jaded webmasters who have invested in SEO a few times and wasted their money. After that, you’ll hear about discussions about black hat and white hat SEO. As a webmaster, you don’t have time to worry about all this chatter.

That’s understandable. You need to get the important things done.

To start things off, you should get your minimum viable SEO right and then move onto building your site.

You can turn to the more advanced SEO tactics to really help make some strides with your traffic. And take the word ‘advanced’ with a grain of salt, it’s not that bad once you get into the flow.

Keep the following statistics in mind as a reminder that investing more into your SEO efforts later will pay off handsomely:


  1. Content marketing rocks. Marketing Sherpa reports distribution lead to a 2,000% increase in blog traffic and a 40% increase in revenue.
  2. 70% of the links search users click on are organic.
  3. 70-80% of users ignore the paid ads, focusing on the organic results.
  4. 75% of users never scroll past the first page of search results.
  5. GroupM states “when consumers were exposed to both search and social media influenced by a brand that overall search CTR went up by 94 percent.”
  6. Search and e-mail are the top two internet activities.
  7. Companies that blog have 434% more indexed pages. And companies with more indexed pages get far more leads.
  8. Inbound leads cost 61% lower than outbound leads. An example of an inbound lead might be from search engine optimization. An outbound lead might be from a cold call.
  9. 81% of businesses consider their blogs to be an important asset to their businesses.
  10. A study by Outbrain shows that search is the #1 driver of traffic to content sites, beating social media by more than 300%
  11. SEO leads have a 14.6% close rate, while outbound leads (such as direct mail or print advertising) have a 1.7% close rate.
  12. For Google, a study from Slingshot SEO shows 18% of organic clicks go to the #1 position, 10% of organic clicks go to the #2 position, and 7% of organic clicks go to the #3 position.
  13. In that same study, tests for Bing show the following: 9.7% of organic clicks go to #1, 5.5% of organic clicks go to #2, and 2.7% of organic clicks go to #3.
  14. 79% of search engine users say they always/frequently click on the natural search results. In contrast, 80% of search engine users say they occasionally/rarely/never click on the sponsored search results. Here’s a look at what the natural (blue) and sponsored search results (red) look like:


  1. Google owns 65-70% of the search engine market share.
  2. 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine.
  3. MarketingCharts reports that over 39% of customers come from search
  4. The search engine industry is estimated to be worth more than $16 billion.
  5. There are over 100 billion global searches being conducted each month.
  6. 88.1% of US internet users ages 14+ will browse or research products online in 2012.
  7. Search directly drove 25% of all online U.s. device purchases in 2010.
  8. 82.6% of internet users use search.