Google rolled out version three of its Penguin algorithm a few weeks back, and SEO folk everywhere took note. The original Penguin was released in April, and targeted sites that Google considers spam. (In contrast to last year’s Panda, which went after low-quality sites, Penguin is built to weed out violators of Google’s anti-spam guidelines.)

What’s new with Penguin 3

Victims of Penguin’s wrath include keyword-stuffed sites, link schemes (manipulation of links to or from a site), “cloaking” (showing search engines and users different content), and content that’s purposefully duplicated from other pages.

With each update, Penguin has gotten smarter. The first version of the algorithm affected 3.1 percent of sites across the web; the latest update affected just 0.3 percent, as most sneaky sites have already been sorted out.

Who cares? You might be wondering. If you’re not one of the sad content creators still trying to boost rankings the shady way, you’ve got nothing to worry about, right? Well, yes and no. If you’re following Google’s quality guidelines and aren’t doing anything clearly unethical, you shouldn’t get hit too hard. On the other hand, you could be racking up penalties unintentionally.

For example, maybe you haven’t updated your site in a while, and some of your outbound links are now defunct. Or maybe you have just one more keyword per paragraph than Penguin likes. You may not notice a huge ranking change, but you’ll pay the price.

How to fight back

What’s an upstanding SEO manager to do? Stay informed on updates like Penguin. There are plenty of plugins and software you can download to make sure you’re in the clear (I use free plugin SEOquake). Also, check out SEO news sites, blogs, and head Google spam-slayer Matt Cutts’ infamous Twitter feed.

At Atomic, we keep our clients’ websites search-friendly by running a checkup every few months using a checklist of SEO guidelines. Staying current and updating regularly saves us time in the long run—and ensures that we’re prepared for what’s ahead. That way, when the SEO gods at Google unleash their next beast (Platypus? Prairie Dog?), we’ll be ready for it.

SEO still a total mystery? Contact Atomic and we’ll help you fight off Penguin and Panda alike.

Marketing a business online through search engine optimization is a great way to draw in targeted customers at a low cost. The problem with most companies, though, is that many don’t know how to get their website ranking for the keywords they want. This is where a search engine marketing company will come into play. With thousands of SEO companies out there, it’s important to distinguish the good from the bad. Since so many scams are floating around in cyberspace, here are five things a legitimate SEO company will never do:

#1 Guaranteed Rankings – To the Top in 48 Hours!

Search engines can be very unpredictable and if a company ever claims that they can get you number one rankings, it’s best to run very fast. First off, how can they get these number on rankings? Do they have some special relationship with the search engines? Probably not. With a natural marketing strategy, rankings will usually follow.

#2 Unknown Company Name – Who are They?

A great SEO company won’t only offer a great sales pitch but they will have a great presence online. Since they will practice what they preach, a good company will rank for great terms and have a great reputation online. Usually, a quick search for the company will bring up some decent results. If you’re reading a lot of negativity or nothing at all, it’s safe to say that this company may not know what they are doing. Now, this isn’t always the case, but if you can’t find anything about them, it’s safe to consider someone else.

#3 It’s a Secret – We Won’t Share

If a company won’t talk about their marketing strategy or content development up front, then there’s probably something to hide. See, most search engines rely on hundreds of factors. One of those main factors include gaining backlinks from other sources to your website. If your website has thousands of unnatural looking backlinks, then this can actually come around to bite you in the butt down the road. A great company will not only lay out a plan but they will tell you exactly how they are going to promote you to the top. Always make sure that you get this information in writing.

#4 Spelling and Grammar

Upon landing on a SEO website, it’s important to read the content that they have written. A lot of the bad SEO services out there are outsourced through countries such as the Philippines or India. While there are great companies in these countries, a lot of them have shady tactics that just don’t work. A great way to find these bad businesses is simply by reading their sales copy on the front page. Since there’s a good chance that they will work on content development for your website, would you want the world to know that your website can’t spell or write right?

#5 Bad References – Nothing to Show

A great company can showcase a lot of the clients that they worked for. Wouldn’t it be impressive if a company could rank a client for the terms like “credit cards.” If they can prove they can do something like this, then the proof is in the pudding. Yes, it’s a cliché, but it’s so true. Always ask for references and a portfolio before signing a long-term contract.

In 2011, Google changed how it ranks websites in its search results. Google’s new ranking algorithm is called Google Panda, and this algorithm is intended to promote high-quality, informative websites and weed out spam-filled web pages. Marketers and business owners alike should be aware of these changes. Websites that continue to use old practices will fall in the rankings under the new guidelines and this can cause companies to lose potential customers and clients. Keep reading to find out more about life after Google’s Panda update and important new SEO practices.

No More Keyword Stuffing

The new changes penalize websites for stuffing their content with keywords. Articles need to be informative and well-written. A large number of spelling mistakes and other typos on a website can also damage its search engine ranking. Instead of trying to game the search engine system, companies should focus on creating articles that website visitors will find legitimately valuable. Keywords can still be used sparingly, but should no longer be the primary focus of any article.

Plagiarized Website Copy Can Get A Website Banned 

One of the worst things that a company can do is steal content from another website. Although this practice has been common in the past, the Google Panda algorithm specifically looks for instances of plagiarism. If a website is determined to be composed of stolen content, Google might delete the page from its search engine entirely. Companies should invest in original, well-written content for their web pages.

Relationships And Contacts Are Key

Google’s Panda algorithm wants to promote websites that are considered trustworthy and authoritative, and one of the ways Google Panda makes this determination is by counting the number of pages that link back to the original article. Companies should work on relationship building by encouraging visitors to share articles and features. By including social media buttons, websites can make it easier for visitors to share pages. Social media engagement can help boost a website’s search engine ranking and help companies with relationship building online. Marketers should make sure that every article published on their client’s website is worthy of sharing.

Fresh Content Is More Important Than Ever

Under the new search ranking guidelines, fresh, high-quality content is more important than ever. Google Panda privileges websites that are updated frequently over those that are not. Companies should make sure that their pages are not filled with stale content. Updating a website at least once a week is a good strategy. Of course, in the attempt to produce fresh content and comply with new SEO practices, website managers should not forget that all their content should be original, error-free, and informative.

Keep Ads From Cluttering The Page

Google Panda also will penalize websites for overcrowding pages with advertisements. Not only does the inclusion of too many ads make it difficult for readers to navigate a website, but will also cause the page to drop in the search engine rankings. Companies should choose ads for their websites strategically, and should make sure that any ads that are posted do not distract visitors.

Most of the websites we create include blogs. We consider them a critical component of most websites and most successful SEO strategies.

However, blogging usually represents foreign territory for our clients. They’re unsure why it’s important or what they should write about. And if they’re not IT people, the whole process can seem intimidating.

For those just venturing into business blogging, here’s a basic explanation of why it’s is so darn important — and some quick tips on what to write about.

Why blog at all?

First off, there are too many websites for search engines to monitor in real time. Therefore, how often they crawl a given website depends in large part on how often new content is added.

For example, Google might crawl your website after an absence of three weeks. If new content has been added since then, Google will be more likely to return after only two weeks. And if there’s always new content, that’s a sure sign to Google that someone cares about this website. They’ll start crawling even more frequently.

Conversely, if Google never finds any new content on your site, their spiders might not return for a month or even longer. That means your site is going to do poorly in search results.

So adding new content to your site is a critical way of promoting your search rankings. And what’s the easiest place on a website to add new content? Your blog.

What in the world should I write about?

Once our clients get the importance of new content, they’re willing to start blogging. The next stumbling block? Figuring out what to write about.

Here are some fail-safe suggests.

  • Client problems and the solutions you provided
  • New developments within the company — new employees, a new office
  • Developments within the industry — Is there a new product available? What technology is pushing your industry to change?
  • Fun topics — company parties, company pets, a particularly interesting project
  • Writing specifically for keyword phrases. For example, a client of ours specializes in exterior home improvements and is interested in acquiring roofing leads. He and I created an article on energy-efficient roofing solutions, frequently linking from the article to his roofing page.

 

How do I do it?

I’m not going to belabor this point. Suffice it to say that once I sit down with a new blogger and show them the incredibly easy GUI that modern blogging platforms provide, they’re sold. They can see the parallels between Word and WordPress, and see how easy it is to make the leap.

A final suggestion

So this is the basic information I give to our clients about getting started with blogging. One final suggestion: In terms of content, don’t limit yourself —remember that nearly any content is helpful.

After all, Google learned what you’re selling the first time it crawled your site. It also probably knows 500 other websites selling the same thing. Start blogging and differentiate yourself by out-content-ing your competitors.

Optimizing your website for search is a critical way of bringing visitors to your site. And you do that, in part, by matching the keywords in your site with the words that users type into their search engines. Sounds straightforward enough.

But finding just the right keywords? That’s another matter.

Tools like Google Adwords can be helpful in developing an initial list of targeted keywords and phrases. But there’s no way to predict exactly what phrases web users are going to search to find your site. And it’s difficult to predict what phrases Google will associate with your site.

The answer? Google Analytics.

After your site has been initially optimized and is up and running, you can use Google Analytics to learn exactly what phrases were typed into search engines to find your site. By regularly checking what phrases are attracting visitors, you’ll get a better idea of what phrases should be dominant on your website, and which to target. Often, Google Analytics will turn up phrases that would never have occurred to you on your own.

Here’s an example.

Say you’re a beanbag importer and you’ve optimized a page on your site for “Beanbag Chairs. ” But when you check Google Analytics, you discover that “Children’s Furniture” is unexpectedly attracting lots of web users to your site.

Now you have real-world data on how real users are getting to your site. Here’s what you do in response.

  • Search. The first step is Googling “Children’s Furniture” and locating the first page of your website that appears on Google. You’ll want to make this page your landing page for “Children’s Furniture.”
  • Adjust. Once you’ve identified that page, you can adjust the page’s meta data, content, headlines, images, and image alt tags to increase number of times this new phrase appears.
  • Observe. Over time, these adjustments should improve the Google positioning of your site when “Children’s Furniture” is searched, thus increasing the number of visits to your site.
  • Repeat. Monthly or quarterly, you should repeat this process, discovering what new phrases are taking hold and bringing visitors to your site. And you would adjust your landing pages and content accordingly.

This process is time-consuming and can be tedious, but it’s a critical part of a complete SEO process. Doing it religiously is the only way to ensure that your site stays aligned with what real users are searching for online.

By now, many of you many have heard about J.C. Penney’s epic fail: their recent attempt to trick Google and claim search superiority on a number of phrases you wouldn’t normally associate with Penney’s — phrases like area rugs and skinny jeans.

The story goes like this. Over the course of several months, at the end of 2010 and moving into 2011, Penney’s started appearing at or near the top of searches for a variety of terms: everything from dresses to home décor. The trend was spotted by the New York Times, who asked online search expert Doug Pierce to investigate.

What Pierce uncovered was what’s called “black hat optimization”; in other words, cheating.

Essentially, J.C. Penny (and its search engine consulting firm, SearchDex) engaged in a massive effort to game Google’s search algorithms. Their method of choice? Creating thousands of links to JCPenney.com across hundreds of sites across the web. Most of the referring sites were little more than “link farms”—sites set up for the sole purpose of creating outbound links to other websites.

According to the Times:

“There are links to JCPenney.com’s dresses page on sites about diseases, cameras, cars, dogs, aluminum sheets, travel, snoring, diamond drills, bathroom tiles, hotel furniture, online games, commodities, fishing, Adobe Flash, glass shower doors, jokes and dentists — and the list goes on.

Some of these sites seem all but abandoned, except for the links… When you read the enormous list of sites … the landscape of the Internet acquires a whole new topography. It starts to seem like a city with a few familiar, well-kept buildings, surrounded by millions of hovels kept upright for no purpose other than the ads that are painted on their walls.”

After the Times revealed its information to Google in February, the search giant went all medieval. Within a span of 10 days, Penney’s average position for 59 search terms dropped from 1.3 to 52.

When we talked about this scam internally, here at Atomic, we were surprised that such a major retailer could make such a stupid mistake. Trying to game Google might get you some short-term increases in traffic, but you’re going to pay for it in the long run. You’ll pay with a loss of customer trust, and you’ll pay big time when Google drops the axe on your search results, as it did in this case.

Zach Hensler, our SEO guy, noted that one of Penney’s goofiest moves was loading links on sites with totally random subject matter—like putting links to dresses on websites about fishing. Google’s all about content and context—a disconnect like this raises a big red flag for them. Especially when they see it multiplied hundredfold on link farms across the internet.

The big lesson here? Be attuned to Google’s SEO approach, and for goodness sake, don’t try to outfox their engineers. Focus on your customers and what they need, and fill your site with that content. If you’re providing valuable material that people want to read and share, inbound links will come naturally. And your search will improve as a result, now and into the long term. Inbound links are valuable but they should come from quality sites of similar subject matter.

Want to learn more about the right way to improve your search results? Contact Atomic.

web semantics

Have you ever wished that the web was more helpful—and less robotic?

Let’s imagine you’re traveling to Florida for Christmas.  You hop onto your search engine and query “christmas florida.” But the first eight results are about the city “Christmas, Florida” — not what you had in mind.

Wouldn’t it be cool if search engines could tell the difference between Christmas the city and Christmas the holiday?

Enter the semantic web. The semantic web is a development paradigm, part of the HTML5 proposal, that structures the content of sites so the internet can “understand” words based on context.

For example:

  • If you search for “house main character,” the semantic web would understand that you mean the TV show House, not a house where someone lives.
  • If you search for “green windows,” it would understand that you meant energy-efficient windows—not windows that were painted green.
  • If you wrote “I love Atomic Interactive – they provide excellent web development,” the semantic web would understand you mean that “Atomic provides excellent web development.”

In other words, the semantic web can understand the association between pronouns and the words they’re linked to. Wow.

How does this all work? The semantic web’s enhanced understanding of words is driven by microdata, one of many new tags in HTML5.

So if I were writing content about Christmas, Florida, I would include microdata indicating that I’m talking about a location. Conversely, if I were writing about celebrating Christmas in Florida, I would include microdata indicating that I’m talking about the location Florida, but the event Christmas.

Modern search engines like Bing, Google, and Yahoo take advantage of this microdata to keep your search results relevant.  In fact, Bing was built from the core up to parse microdata and associate content together. That explains why Microsoft markets Bing as a “decision engine”— supposedly, it helps you make better decisions by getting rid of superfluous search results.

The bottom line? If you have a data-heavy website or are having trouble with SEO because search engines are confused about your content, utilizing the semantic web can help. Atomic can help you take the first step in coding for this brave new web. Reach out to us anytime you want.

thanksgiving-blogpost2

It’s the time of year when people sit back and reflect on the things they appreciate in life.

With a long weekend stretching out in front of us, Ryan and I thought we’d take a minute to write about some of the things we’re thankful for. Call us sentimental … but we want to share some of the things that are important to us … things that we appreciate every day.

  • Our awesome clients. Your support and belief have helped us grow from just an idea to the thriving company we have today. It’s been great to work with each and every one of you. Thank you.
  • Our staff. It’s exciting every day to walk into our shop and know that we’re working with such a talented group of people. Everyone from our designers and developers to our project managers and SEO specialists are the best at what they do. They’re also excited about learning new things – helping us and our clients “push the envelope” and constantly take advantage of new technologies.
  • Our space. We’re so glad to be in the Firefly Building and to be part of the revitalization going on in our downtown. It’s inspiring every day to be in this space – to see how a few visionaries took a “junk” building and turned it into something amazing.
  • Our city. Yeah, we know Dayton’s not New York. Got it. But there’s a tremendous amount of creativity here – c{space and the new group culturemash are just a couple examples of many. And there’s a tenacity that we admire – people who see opportunity and interest in a landscape where others see only waste.
  • Our technology. Of course, at heart, we’re geeks. And we’re crazy about the technologies we work with and the possibilities they bring for our clients. So we’re thankful for the hackers creating holograms using XBox Kinect, our own developers creating new apps for the iPhone … and everyone in between.
  • Our families. Sometimes going the extra mile for our clients means extra hours at work. So here’s a final shout out in this Thanksgiving edition to our wives Nikki and Lisa. Thank you for supporting us in this venture and picking up the slack whenever we can’t. You’re the best.

Enjoy the next couple days off … spend some time with the people who are important in your lives … and we’ll catch you next week. Thanks to everyone for being part of the Atomic family.

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We live in a society that places an incredibly high level of importance on image. In this image-conscious, hyper-competitive business world we live and work in, using web design to effectively convey your company’s brand, corporate culture and values is essential for setting your business apart from your competitors. This makes your business’ website incredibly important, considering it’s the first place people go to learn about your company.

Is the design of your company’s website getting people excited about your products and services? If your website looks outdated, what message is being sent? Is the image your website is presenting accurate? When your potential customers, future employees or prospective investors visit your website, what is the design telling them about your brand?

Web design impacts not only your brand and how outsiders perceive your company, it also impacts how effectively your search engine optimization efforts will perform. You might be asking yourself what web design has to do with SEO. Well, Yahoo, Bing and the guys over at Google track how much time people spend visiting your site. So, when visitors land on your site and aren’t instantly engaged, they’ll hit the back button before they’ve even read a line of copy. Websites that can’t hold the attention of visitors, can’t hold the attention of search engines, either.

While the “love at first sight” factor is important, like any good relationship, you need to be engaging as well. Good design should have the end user in mind. A beautifully designed website that is easy to navigate and effortlessly promotes your brand attracts new customers and keeps them coming back. Quality web design could be the difference between building a new relationship and getting dumped.

Custom Magento

So… you want to make money online? Putting a few items on Ebay is one thing. But building a successful online store is another. Whether you’re selling products, services, or information, careful planning is essential for success.

Here are a few questions to consider before getting started:

Inventory

  • Do you have a brick-and-mortar store that will share products with your online store? If so, what would happen if you sold a product online and in the store at the same time? Would one of your customers have a bad experience?
  • How will you track your inventory online? Some store owners use the web; some use Quickbooks and sync the store and the ecommerce site together. Whatever method you choose, create a process and follow it diligently.

Software

  • Is there existing ecommerce software system that you can use?
  • If so, is it the best solution for your customers? Would they have a better experience with a website ecommerce design that was custom-built to their needs? A custom Magento solution, for example, might pay off in the long run if it makes the buying process easier for your customers.

Handling payment

  • How will customers pay for your product or service? You’ll need to select a merchant account and gateway to get started.
  • PayPal is an affordable option – but they aren’t a bank and don’t have to obey the same legalities that banks do.
  • Authorize.net might work with your business banking account.
  • Your bank might have a custom solution, or your inventory management system might have a built-in system.

Shipping

  • Will you offer free shipping? If so, how will that cost be built into your business model?
  • What vendor will be most convenient and cost-effective: UPS, USPS, or Fedex?
  • Are your products large enough to require freight shipping? Can your vendor handle that? What will the handling fee be?

Marketing

  • How will you market your website? Customers won’t find you automatically – you need a plan for getting their attention and moving them to your site.
  • Are you familiar with the ins-and-outs of website marketing—from search engine optimization to analytics? Or would it save money in the long run to work with a trusted advisor to market your ecommerce site?

Figuring out the best ecommerce system for your products and your customers may take some time. Remember that time you spend upfront in planning will save headache down the line — and that custom development, if it helps convert interest to sales, can be worth its weight in gold.