How I Helped the Prancercise Lady Hide a News Article on Google

It was summer 2013, and I was driving my kids to one of my wife’s performances when my mobile phone rang. It was a Florida area code.

“Hello?”

“Yes, I was calling to see if you could help me with some search engine optimization.” The woman’s voice sounded awfully familiar. We hadn’t met, but I could almost place her.

Kate Micucci appeared on seasons 6 and 7 of The Big Bang Theory, and is one half of Garfunkel & Oates. She is NOT the Prancercise lady

Kate Micucci appeared on seasons 6 and 7 of The Big Bang Theory, and is one half of Garfunkel & Oates

“Sure, I can help you with that? What’s the problem?”

“Someone wrote a negative article about me, and it keeps appearing at the top of Google whenever I search for it. I’m worried other people are going to see it and it’s going to harm my reputation.”

Lucy! It was Lucy from Big Bang Theory! Who would be mean to Lucy? I love Lucy!

Well, it was Kate Micucci, the woman who played Lucy, Raj’s love interest from Season 6, but I was so excited!

Except it wasn’t.

“Who is this?” I asked, hoping she’d say “Kate Micucci.”

“My name is Joanna Rohrback. I’m the Prancercise lady.”

Dammit!

It seems Joanna had been a big Internet rage in 2013, because her original Prancercise video on YouTube had garnered millions of views. She went on to appear on the Today Show, in John Mayer’s “Paper Doll” video, and was named MSNBC’s Surprise Star of the Year for 2013. Richard Simmons was also a fan, and shed a few tears describing her journey to make Prancercise a viable form of exercise.

Joanna told me about her problem. A young journalist had signed up for one of her classes, never said she was a journalist, and then wrote a blog article for a major newspaper making fun of Joanna and the class, and called it a ripoff.

Joanna was worried people would see the piece and refuse to take her class.

So we talked for a while, and I reassured her that the article wouldn’t be that damaging for a few reasons:

  1. Nobody is liked by everybody, and while this may not be a favorable article, if people really liked her, then they would take her class anyway. And it sounded like millions of people already liked her, so I was sure they would be on her side.
  2. She could always get more positive attention and press for her work, and eventually bury that negative article under an avalanche of good stuff. I could certainly help her with it, but it was going to take a lot of effort and would be pretty costly, and would probably require a PR professional as well. She was famous, but she was not making “I have my own PR person” money.
  3. Most importantly, she was actually creating her own problem! The thing people don’t realize is that the Google search engine wants you to have an excellent experience so you’ll continue to use it. That means it will show you the results it thinks you want to see, including articles you’ve already read several times, because Google thinks you want to see it again. That article may actually be 347th in actual rank, but because you’re clicking on it, it appears first to you.

She didn’t quite believe me, so I walked her through doing a private/incognito search on her web browser. The article disappeared from the first few pages.

“How did you do that?!” she asked.

“That’s what I was saying,” I said. “Google is showing you that article because you keep looking for it. In the incognito version, Google can’t tell it’s you doing the search, so the article doesn’t show up anymore. You’re seeing a more accurate representation of the true results, and this is what a stranger will see if they search for you.”

I told her I could help her further if she needed it, but that it probably wasn’t a wise use of her money, especially in light of the “disappearance” of this negative article.

She thanked me, and said she was going to be in the Irvington Halloween parade that year, if we would like to get together sometime that week. Sadly, I was never able to make that happen, so I never got to meet the woman who invented Prancercise. But I helped “hide” a negative article from Google, and made her a little happier.

Photo credit: Kafziel (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)

Content, not SEO, Should Rule Owned Media (Guest Post)

Sean Sullivan is a digital marketer in Indianapolis, specializing in content marketing and analytics. He’s also a good friend. Sean is publishing guest posts in several places, and I’m going to start contributing to his site. This is his latest submission.

Writing should be storytelling. The Internet should throw papers on your door step every morning. Writers should expect their paper articles read. Since the Internet, content overload diminishes what the public can see. Readers want information now. And businesses scramble to publish where readers are.

Old News

Marketing is not an instant solution. Marketing takes a lot of trial and error. Companies need a balanced media approach. This would include owned, paid, shared, and earned media strategies. Since you can’t control earned media, and paid media gets expensive, let’s focus on owned media.

What is owned media?

Owned media includes content marketing and search engine optimization (SEO). As the publishing company/entrepreneur, you “own” these medias forms because it’s your website and your content. Many industry experts are saying SEO is in the past, and content marketing is the future. That is not true. All media forms are important, and SEO sometimes means not doing certain things as much as it means using certain tricks. (SEO is not dead yet.)

For the last 15+ years, Google still makes the rules. And you have to follow those rules. Google created the sandbox. And we all have to play nicely. Or we get put in time out. Here are a few ways to play.

View Google Traffic as a Bonus, Not the End Goal. SEO has taken such a beating, and it’s such hard, ongoing work, that it’s not an effective long-term strategy any more. Don’t play old SEO tricks either, because Google will drop the ban hammer on your site. Instead, figure out how to build on online business by connecting with people. Look at Google traffic from inbound marketing as a bonus. You can build your business on SEO, but it can be hard if you don’t have the time to dedicate to always changing and adapting to Google’s new algorithms.

SEO Depends on Content. SSEO is a competition between people finding the best tactics and using them better than anyone else. Content has the potential to go viral and be shared by people who like it, but monkeying with SEO might prevent it from going viral, because Google can penalize your efforts. SEO can help, but your best content — your “hero” content — takes a whole lot more work to create than the actual SEO. It’s your hero content that people want to share and talk about, and that will always be more powerful than traditional SEO.

For Converge Street, I get much better organic traffic when writing about a name or a concept, but that doesn’t help SEO. Writing more quality content and sharing that with my networks is what wins traffic.

Editorial Writing and Tracking. Write in a news/editorial style while linking credible outbound links — link to help with editorial content, not because SEO says you need X number of links. Track results to expand your focus — check page views and time on site. Figure out who likes your writing (i.e. who reads and shares the most) — count social shares, social networks, and even regular sharers. This way you know what people and search engines like. Then, give them more of what they want.

Having good content and using SEO does’t mean readers will flock to your website. Those are just two legs of the three-legged stool. Understanding the different media channels will definitely help. Know where your audience is, write the things they want, and share it on the places where they’re found.

SEO impacts inbound marketing but it’s not main the reason people come to your website. SEO, analytics, and social media lands your paper on people’s doorstep. But good content compels them to pick it up and read.

Photo Credit: @Doug88888 via Compfight cc

There’s No “Best Time to Blog”

I’ll tell you now, you can ignore all of those articles that tell you when you should publish a blog post, send an email, or publish a tweet.

There is no best time to do any of those things.

That’s false thinking for a number of reasons:

  • The articles are usually based on a single case study of one company, usually themselves. “We saw a 40% increase in open rates by sending our email newsletter at 8:37 am on the third Tuesday of every month.”
  • It doesn’t take into account the quality of the content. Great content gets read, shitty gets ignored. You could scientifically determine the exact pinpoint moment to publish your post, but if it sucks, no one will read it.
  • Even if this actually did work, it’s a floating target. If an article says Monday mornings are the best time to send e-newsletters, everyone will start sending theirs on Monday mornings, which will drive down everyone’s willingness to read them. Then someone will find they have good luck on Wednesday nights, which will drive everyone to send theirs on Wednesday nights.

The best time to send email newsletters is whatever works for you. The best time to post Twitter messages is whenever you feel like it. The best time to blog is any time.

But the big secret is to make it interesting, valuable, and well-written. Without that, no one will care.

Blogs are like DVRs

A blog post is not like live television. You don’t schedule a blog post because everyone is going to flock to it at that exact moment. A blog post is more like the show you DVRed. Better yet, it’s more like Netflix.

You record a show so you can watch it later. I’ve got DVRed shows that are 5 months old (last episode of 30 Rock anyone?), and I only watch them when I have time. I’ve got even older shows on Netflix. They’re there when I need them, and I can happily discover new ones.

While a lot of your blog traffic is going to come from that immediate discovery when you promote your posts via social media, don’t forget the search engine traffic and the readers who clicked on a “similar post” link at the bottom of your page. I’ve got several blog posts that get more traffic weeks after the publication date than I got on the day I hit “Publish.”

Screenshot of Google Analytics about my Malcolm Gladwell article.

One of my favorite rants against “Malcolm Gladwell says you need 10,000 hours to be an expert,” because that’s not what he said. Click the image for a closer look.


For example, one of my more popular blog posts, What Malcolm Gladwell REALLY Said About The 10,000 Hour Rule only received 79 views the first day I published it. As of today, it’s been viewed 24,694 times, but it was published on March 15, 2012 at 9:00 am.

So either 9:00 am is an absolutely terrible time to publish a post, or the thing really started picking up steam three months later when it hit the top 5 on Google for “10,000 hour rule.”

I think it’s the latter. I wrote something that managed to get some decent attention, and it wasn’t because of the time of day, or the day of the week, or whether I was wearing a big yellow hat. The time of day had nothing to do with the success of the blog post. It was the subject matter and the quality of the writing.

The myth of the ideal publishing time is just that: a myth. It’s either always changing, only works for a few people, or does not consider the context and quality. You need to pay attention to whether your content is well-written, well-produced, and is interesting to your readers. If it’s not, nothing else is going to save you.

Special hat tip to Scott Stratten and Alison Kramer’s Unmarketing Podcast for the idea.

Embrace Google Hummingbird, “Keywords Not Provided” for Better Content Marketing

If Google’s new Hummingbird algorithm doesn’t force you to be a better writer, nothing will.

The new evolution from the Panda/Penguin updates, combined with Google’s practice of no longer providing keyword data, are going to leave content marketers in the dark.

I couldn’t be happier.

HummingbirdBefore Panda and Penguin, SEO professionals used all kinds of tricks, both sneaky and legitimate, to game the system. Panda eliminated “thin” content — too-short blog posts, posts that contained 20 words and then took you to another page — and Penguin eliminated a lot of backlinking strategies.

Hummingbird is going one step further. According to TechCrunch,

(it) allows Google to more quickly parse full questions (as opposed to parsing searches word-by-word), and to identify and rank answers to those questions from the content they’ve indexed.

In other words, Google is no longer looking for results that match the collection of words you put into the search bar, they can identify the question, identify the intent behind the question, and find the best possible results.

Hummingbird is geared toward, and has been shaped by, mobile and voice search. People open their Google Maps or Google Search on their smartphones and speak their search as a question. Or they get on Google on their tablet or laptop and type in their question:

  • How do I delete my Twitter account?
  • How do I ask a girl out?
  • How do I get a passport?

“But, how do we know which keywords to write about?”

How Do I on GoogleYou don’t. You just write about the things that you think people want to know about.

You can figure that out by looking at your page visits and seeing which pages have the most visits, and then writing about those topics some more.

You can figure that out by searching in your email archives for the phrase “how do I.” Repost the answers you sent.

You can figure that out by writing about leading stories and trending news in your industry. (Read David Meerman Scott’s Newsjacking to find out how to get ahead of the competition in these instances.)

You can figure it out by paying close attention to the things you sell and the problems they solve.

You don’t need keywords to figure out what people are looking for. You need to look at your readers’ behavior, figure out why they came to your site, and respond to the things they want.

(Of course, you could just call up a few of your customers and ask them too.)

But most importantly, you need to quit trying to game the system by dinking around with keywords and just start writing real content that people want to read.

 

Photo credit: AnnCam (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Google Cracking Down on Hyperlinked Keywords in Press Releases

A shudder went through the PR industry last Friday after articles like SHIFT Communication’s announcing “Bad Press Releases Can Hurt Your SEO.”

Google added the phrase “optimized anchor text in press releases” to their Link schemes document, which meant you can no longer used hyperlinked keywords in press releases, at least those press release distribution sites that have become flooded with link-heavy press releases.

  • Links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites. For example:
    There are many wedding rings on the market. If you want to have a wedding, you will have to pick the best ring. You will also need to buy flowers and a wedding dress.

In other words, you weren’t allowed to do this in article marketing, now you’re not allowed to do it in press releases either.

Want to see how strict they are? Mouse over any of those links, or even click on them. They all go to Example.com, which is a domain we can use when we want to show what a hyperlink looks like, but without actually using a real hyperlink and incurring the wrath of an angry Penguin.

In other words, Google does not want to fall prey to Google’s algorithm. That’s how strict the algorithm is. It will punch itself in its own face.

What does this mean for SEO?

Same thing it always has. Ever since Google wrote the Link schemes policy, and added the ban on “Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links, professional SEOs have been walking on eggshells.

But there are four ways you can still use keywords and still get good SEO placement.

  1. Use one keyword in the title and a couple times in the body copy. Keywords are not dead; Google still uses them. It uses them the way a library uses the cover of a book. Without a cover, the library has no way of knowing where to shelve the book. Without a keyword, Google has a harder time figuring out what your blog posts are about.
  2. Use synonyms. Google is getting smarter. It understands what words mean. It knows that “running” and “jogging” mean the same thing. It knows that “band,” “music,” and “artist” are all in the same category of performing arts, but it can also figure out that “rubber bands” and “painters” could also be synonyms, so it uses context.
  3. Use co-occurrence. I’ve called this co-citation previously (my bad!), but I should have been using this term instead. Co-occurrence is when two terms appear in close proximity to each other. Rather than using the phrase “stainless steel coffee mug,” I can use the phrase “coffee mug made from stainless steel” once in a while. Google will still recognize the co-occurrence of the term, and treat it like a synonym.
  4. Use Google’s Authorship. Authorship, which uses the rel=”author” and rel=”publisher” tags, tells Google who wrote a particular article or is responsible for a particular piece of content. If you want Google to recognize your contribution, use Google+ and the Authorship tags, and link your name to your Google+ account. Put that inside your bio and include it in everything you write.

Google is destroying the link-building schemes we’ve all come to love and rely on over the last few years. They’re making it harder and harder to do this kind of SEO work. This latest volley from them shows they’re not screwing around. They’re forcing us to do a better job to sound like real people, rather than putting out keyword-stuffed, over-optimized crap that real humans don’t actually want to read.

If you’re going to use any kind of link-building tactics, you’re better off writing guest posts on blogs and only linking to your author bio, or using links that make sense editorially (like the ones I’ve used in this post).

The press releases door has been shut, and Google isn’t done yet. Look for more serious measures in the coming months.

Google’s Search Results Don’t Paint an Accurate Picture

You can’t trust your Google search results. They’re biased, and they don’t reflect the true reality of what everyone else sees.

“But Google’s, well, Google! It’s the biggest search engine in all the world! What do you mean, we can’t trust it?”

You can’t trust Google’s results, because it’s trying to be so helpful and useful to you.

Let’s say you need to find someone to build a deck for your house. You go to Google, and do a search for “deck builder.” The results that pop up will be all kinds of deck builders within a 10 – 20 mile radius of where you happen to be sitting at that moment. That’s because Google can tell where you are. And if you’re logged in to your Gmail or YouTube account at the same time, Google even knows who you’re connected to.

Google search for Deck Builder in north Indianapolis, IN

That means the results you see are based on your location and who Google thinks you’ll want to talk to. It will even show you a little map of all the deck builders in relation to where you’re sitting.

This is a useful little feature that Google has, because they figure you want to see the deck builders who are closest to you, and not the ones who have the best optimized website but are 1,000 miles away.

Want to See the Real Results?

But what if you want to get a more accurate picture about what Google “really” ranks as #1? Maybe you’re doing a national search for some company or manufacturer, and you’re not as concerned about whether they’re 10 miles away.

For this, you would do an anonymous search, where Google doesn’t know it’s you. On your web browser, open an Incognito or Private browsing session (look in the File menu). That turns off all cookies and identifiers so Google and every other website doesn’t know who you are and won’t track you. Now do the same search.

You should see some different results. In fact, depending on your search terms and your location, you’ll see some wildly different results.

That’s because Google doesn’t know a thing about you. They’re showing results that anyone who’s not signed in to Google would see. They’re as close to objective, unbiased results as you’re going to get. But even then, Google is trying to figure out where you are, so it can try to give you the results you would most likely want.

Do that deck builder search in an Incognito search, and chances are, you’ll still see the local results, but the rankings will be different. Some pages will drop and other pages will appear, but they may still be locally-focused.

Take that one step further: Do the same search while you’re sitting in a hotel room on a business trip, and Google won’t show you deck builders in your area. They’ll show you deck builders within 20 miles of your hotel room. (Google knows where you are, based on your IP address, which it can pinpoint to your physical location.)

Again, that’s because Google wants to be as helpful as possible. They want to show you the results closest to you, and the results all your Google+ friends have shared or created themselves.

Why This Is Bad for Businesses

This creates a serious problem for businesses who do this to check their Google search rank. The first thing an eager marketer will do is search for their best keywords to see where their own website ranks.

And, because Google is so helpful and kind, it figures, “A-ha, Shelly wants to see her website. Let’s show it to her!” and places her little website at the top of the search results page, where it outranks giant mega-companies who have been doing this for years.

WE WON GOOGLE!” Shelly hollers at the top of her lungs, running around the office, high-fiving everyone.

Then, because she’s eager to show her husband how awesome she and her web team have been, she makes the 30 mile commute home, pops open his laptop, and does the same search only to find that in a few short hours, her company website has dropped from 1st to 87th.

It only gets worse when she goes back to work, checks again, and sees she’s winning Google once more.

You’re Not Really First

This is a problem for anyone who relies on Google search results to see how their search engine optimization and website design are performing. They get lulled into a false sense of security by Google’s personalized results, and slack off their SEO. And without realizing it, they slip lower and lower in the real, objective results, disappearing from everyone’s view except for their own.

If you want to get a real idea of how well you’re doing, you need a Google rank checker like WebCEO, which will check the actual rankings and tell you where you reallyrank for your chosen keywords.

This is true whether you’re doing the searches for your company, or even your own name (very handy for a job search, because it tells you what the recruiters and hiring managers will see).

In its efforts to be as helpful as possible, Google has inadvertently tricked us and lulled us into a false sense of success, which creates problems for us that we’re not even aware of.

But rather than rest on your laurels, you need to keep track of how things are really going for you. Use a rank checking website like WebCEO, and run a report at least once a month. Then, focus on new SEO techniques — a regular blog, social media promotion, submitting blog posts to Google+ — that can help move you up in the actual rankings.

Ultimately, you may end up getting your personalized search and actual search rankings to match up.

It’s Not Dead, It’s Pining for the Fjords: The State of SEO Today

SEO pros all had to stop on a dime and pivot after Google’s algorithm updates, abandoning all the old SEO tactics, and refocus on new, acceptable practices instead.

They may have acted too hastily.

We heard from a partner recently that a joint client we used to work with is seeing a decrease in their search rankings after we stopped doing the “old-school” SEO tactics for them (since when did 2010 become old school?!).

Their Google rankings have dropped because the posts didn’t properly use keywords in the headline and body copy.Monty Python's Dead Parrot sketch

We weren’t doing anything special. No keyword stuffing, no black hat trickery, nothing. We had been using keywords the way we were supposed to all along — mention them once in the headline, a few times in the body copy, once in the tags — but once we stopped doing it, everything headed south.

What this tells us is that old-school SEO is not actually dead. It’s just different.

It’s pining for the fjords.

Google still needs us to tell them what our blog posts are about. It operates just like a library’s catalog service: if the library doesn’t tell the database what a book is called, who wrote it, or what the subject matter is, you’ll never find it in the library.

Imagine walking into a library filled with books without covers and title pages. You have no idea what the books are about, there’s no rhyme or reason to the organization, and the only way you can know what’s what is if a friend tells you where to find the book you want.

That’s Google without basic SEO practices. All you’re doing by following on page SEO is slapping a cover on the book, telling the library who wrote it and what it’s called, and letting them organize it the way they see fit.

Now, compare that to the millions of web pages that never followed the SEO basics, or worse, the companies that no longer follow the SEO basics. If you continue to use the SEO basics, you’re going to outperform these other pages just by taking 30 seconds and filling out three fields on your copy of WordPress SEO by Yoast

So, while a lot of so-called SEO “pros” like to jump on the “SEO is so OVER!” bandwagon and look down their noses at traditional SEO practices as useless, don’t be so quick to abandon them. We’re seeing evidence with several of our clients that these are still helping Google understand what their pages are about.

The tactics aren’t boosting search rankings, and you can’t rank higher because you use SEO “better.” But old-school SEO is still serving a very utilitarian purpose. Don’t give them up just yet.