Content Curation: The New Buzzword

Content curation is the in thing nowadays. It’s getting all the attention and even mainstream media is adopting it. What is it about content curation that is making people take notice? After all, simply speaking it’s just gathering and presenting content around a specific subject. So what’s the big deal?

The answer lies to this lies in Internet’s biggest strength and weakness – Vast Content. Internet is a treasure trove of all kind of information – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Everyday millions of new webpages are generated. Any topic or news results in truckloads of new information and sifting through all this information to find the best piece of information is very daunting.

Here is where content curation comes in to picture. Content curators sift through the data pertaining to a topic or news, sort, arrange and then publish them. This then gets picked up by the audience and spreads even more through social media.

A content curator tries to pick the best and most relevant information and share it with people. It’s not just compiling a list of links for a subject. Content curation goes much beyond that. A curator not only provides a meaningful platform for the best matter for a particular topic but also chimes in with his opinion and commentary.

Moreover, curator is generally an authority in his niche. A good curator will present diverging sets of views in his pieces. He won’t be bound or affiliated to a certain   group or brand and hence ideally will become a source of fair and comprehensive information.

Over the last few years, content has become even more relevant to search engines. The combination of social media and content curation is helping content reach even wider audience.

But there are some rules. Automated curation while easy and tempting is not the right way to go. And since, it’s all about sharing, credits and linking back is absolutely essential.

So if you think your niche needs some curating then go ahead, this is the right time!

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Countering Negative SEO? It’s Google’s Job!

After the recent spate of events there is a widespread talk about Negative SEO. The premise is if Google is penalizing websites for unnatural links like it did in the recent Penguin update then it means that anyone can create a link profile consisting of large number of unnatural links for his competitor in hope of Google noticing and then penalizing it. Sounds simple? Well, if Google is punishing sites for having unnatural or paid links then yes, it’s that SIMPLE!

The easier solution to counter negative SEO could have been Google not taking in to consideration unnatural or paid links (if Google thinks so) in its ranking algorithm. Sites indulging in black hat SEO or link buying would have simply got no advantage of creating unnatural link profile and Negative SEO practitioners would not be able to harm any site. But Google is obviously not going down that road.

But why? No one really knows the answer. But one is for sure. Google wants webmasters to do its job. Highly inefficient if you ask me. Google  has billions of dollars of hardware and human resources which can be harnessed in much better ways to provide much better results.

Some SEO experts are already playing to Google’s hands. Instead of calling out to Google for its decisions, they are suggesting ways which will make website owners’ job even more difficult.

This article suggests that website owners and webmaster be more proactive and list out bad links to their sites in a XML file.

Well, it may sound fine but misses out on one thing. Not everyone has expensive software to extract out all the links. There maybe some free tools but they may not give the complete list. So how do we find out all the bad links to our sites?

One can imagine from the article that Aaron Friedman on knees and groveling in front of a huge statue of Matt cuts.

Why don’t these SEO experts realize that it’s Google’s job to fix their algorithm. If they are fine enough with sending us cryptic standard mails then why the onus is on webmasters to do all the dirty work for Google.

Can’t Google with so much power at its disposal simple make out which sites are truly indulging in shady link building? Google is after all developing driverless cars. If they can create super complex algorithms for their cars then surely they can create better search algorithms.

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This Penguin Is Pure Evil

On 24th April, 2012 Google rolled out a new update called ‘Penguin’ which was intended to target webspam in Google’s search results. This update will supposedly target websites which spam the SERPs by indulging in tactics which violate Google’s quality guidelines.

The update will target about 3% of search queries.  According to Google Webmaster Central blog:

In the next few days, we’re launching an important algorithm change targeted at webspam. The change will decrease rankings for sites that we believe are violating Google’s existing quality guidelines. We’ve always targeted webspam in our rankings, and this algorithm represents another improvement in our efforts to reduce webspam and promote high quality content. While we can’t divulge specific signals because we don’t want to give people a way to game our search results and worsen the experience for users, our advice for webmasters is to focus on creating high quality sites that create a good user experience and employ white hat SEO methods instead of engaging in aggressive webspam tactics.

The intentions were noble. For last 1 year we have seen Google take many measures through which it claims to clean up the search results. Panda updates, paid link messages etc. were all part of Google grand scheme of things to curb the menace. But did they really succeed?

Google Penguin - As evil as the comic one?

Panda was targeted at content farms. While many small publishers were punished and they never really recovered, we saw big time publishers regain almost everything. We still see results from content farms. Maybe tad less from pre-panda times but still significant.

The initial reactions to Penguin update have been thoroughly negative. If the outcome was to weed out spam, we still have to see it. Many genuine sites have been caught in this update. Their crime? No one quite exactly knows.

At Enovabiz Solutions, we analyzed top twenty sites for a niche to see the losers and gainers. All the sites had same kind of link profile. Link exchanges, article directories, web directories, Press releases and some of them even had paid links. But the Penguin update affected one of the most established sites. Even the new sites with blatant paid links were rewarded.

So where did the Google go wrong? One thing is for sure that Google has made a huge mistake with this update.

The question is will it own up the mistake and rectify it?

The jury is still out on this one. Till that time losers can just wait for some time to see if any more updates will restore their rankings.

Oh yes, one more thing if you really trust Google and think that your site was unfairly penalized  then you can fill up this Feedback Form on Google’s recent algorithm update (“Penguin”) and hope for any positive reply.

Good Luck!

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Funnyman John Stewart cracks jokes on Instagram and rightly so!

John Stewart captured everyone’s surprise and shock at Instagram’s acqusition by Facebook. He was totally nonplussed at the news. Were we all not? He also makes fun of Google Glasses which I admit looks very futuristic but still so confusing for non techies out there. Check out the video

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WTF!!! Instagram Bought by Facebook for $ 1 Billion

Only in the crazy world of technology can a startup like Facebook acquire an infant startup like Instagram for an astounding figure of $1 billion. The even more curious point in this curious purchase is the fact that Instagram hasn’t made a single penny till now.

So has Facebook made an expensive mistake? What are its plans for Instagram?

Everyone knows that if there is any company has challenged mighty Google, it’s Facebook. With just one product it has managed to keep millions of its users loyal. Google tried with its all its might to make a dent on Facebook’s social media domination but so far Google + has been at best a mediocre success with now chances of overtaking Facebook anytime soon.

The tech world is agog with rumors that Facebook will be coming up with a much improved search engine which can have the potential to rival Google search engine usage. With such a search engine, Facebook will be able to provide an efficient ecosystem with this Facebook universe where its users can make a better use of Facebook’s vast social data.

With Instagram’s acquisition, Facebook will be adding another arrow in its quiver. In must be hoping that with this popular photo sharing app, Facebook users will be able to seamlessly share photos on their mobile. This will help it retain its loyal users.

But the moot point remains if this is a good purchase. One is sure that we will see results very in the fast moving world of social media.

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Is This the End of Paid Links?

It was great while it lasted. Since, Google wanted websites to have a great link profile, for any webmaster, links from blogs came in handy. Webmasters paid few dollars to the blog owner for link with a specific keyword rich anchor text and everyone was happy.  The webmaster’s site got link juice, the blog owner made some income and Google got what it asked from websites.

The Beginning

It continued for many years before it all went downhill. The system started getting exploited. I am not even sure if it can be called that. I will touch upon this subject later. Millions of blogs sprouted which had just one goal – To pass link juice to other websites. These blog were fed on spun articles and junk content. These blogs were often a part of huge blog networks and were meant only for Google. Google may say that it cares for good content but the problem was that it didn’t simply follow that or was not capable of. Its search algorithm just cared for content on these blogs and rewarded them with good Google PageRank. This PR was then used to judge the value of a link from that webpage.

Soon, this method was followed by every SEO company – big or small. SEO companies started acquiring links for their clients in hundreds and thousands depending on the paying capacity and the competition. The situation deteriorated when websites started dominating the Google search results on the basis of just paid blog links. This kind of SEO became the de facto standard for almost entire SEO industry. Clients wanted quick results and paid links ensured that. Google did nothing except deindexing few sites which it thought violated its webmaster guidelines.

Last year, Google received bad publicity by the sheer amount of spammy sites in their search results. Google acted by rapping J.C. Penney on knuckles and introducing a series of Panda updates to weed out content farms and spammy sites. But it did little to curb the influence of paid links.

How Google Responded

In 2012, situation started changing or at least looks so. Google started deindexing sites which sell paid links with a great fervor. Axe fell on major blog public networks such as BMR. If this was not enough, it started sending messages on Google webmaster accounts regarding unnatural links.

Dear site owner or webmaster of ….

We’ve detected that some of your site’s pages may be using techniques that are outside Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

Specifically, look for possibly artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site that could be intended to manipulate PageRank. Examples of unnatural linking could include buying links to pass PageRank or participating in link schemes.

We encourage you to make changes to your site so that it meets our quality guidelines. Once you’ve made these changes, please submit your site for reconsideration in Google’s search results.

If you find unnatural links to your site that you are unable to control or remove, please provide the details in your reconsideration request.

If you have any questions about how to resolve this issue, please see our Webmaster Help Forum for support.

Sincerely,
Google Search Quality Team

And thus, panic ensued. Google has been saying that websites are not been manually penalized. As per Google’s instructions webmasters have started removing all paid links.

Is this the End of paid Links?

So the question is – Is this the end of paid links? Will the webmasters stop acquiring paid links?

I think not. What will end for sure is indiscriminate and obvious buying of links with specific keywords as anchor texts. Maybe, webmasters will have to use a variety of anchor text which look more natural and in context.

SEO companies will not stop buying links altogether. For now, many will stop on their tracks and evaluate the situation. But as soon as the hysteria and mass panic will die down, link buying in a different avatar will start. After all, the essence of internet is sharing of links. If there are no links then internet will die. Rel attribute is still not used by all and won’t be ever be. Link buyers will get smarter. To differentiate a normal link from a paid link is almost impossible if patterns are avoided. Other ways are when either the buyer or selling openly proclaims that they are indulging in it or if Google actually conducts a sting operation to out the blog networks.

Websites with only paid links in their link profile will obviously suffer and there will be a temporary cleanup of Google SERPs. I say temporary because all SEO efforts essentially needs lot of manpower and money to run. While earlier also, big companies spent big bucks on link buying they will divert their efforts on other SEO tactics. All we all know that just because a website belongs to a billion dollar corporation it doesn’t naturally follow that it’s most relevant or even useful for a searcher.

Essentially what has happened is that Google is responding to the allegations that people can manipulate their SERPs so easily.

Will Google Succeed?

Will they succeed? The answer is No. Because, by bringing in Google + and social signals in to SERPs, Google has introduced new elements which can just as easily be exploited and much harder to detect.

To summarize, paid links are not going anywhere too soon. Mindless link buying will stop and in its place will start smarter ways to include paid links. 

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Tackling Google Over-Optimization Penalty

As if Panda and the news of deindexing weren’t enough, SEO companies and clients now have to contend with another vague and mysterious warning regarding over-optimization penalty.
As is the norm, whenever Matt Cutts announces anything, SEO industry sits up and takes notice.

This time Matt Cutts made an announcement on over SEO update

Matt Cutts hinted what he and his team meant by what over-optimization is when it comes to SEO. The main culprits are keyword stuffing and over the top link exchanges. Even if he had not mentioned these SEO tactics most SEO consultants may have guessed it correctly.

Let’s try to understand why these 2 particular tactics were mentioned by Matt:

Keyword Stuffing: For too long, SEO practitioners have been focused about keyword density. Even though there was no official word regarding it, even industry experts bandied out percentages which were accepted by SEO noobies as the holy grail of SEO. Everyone use a stuffed a keywords inside the tags and contents of their pages. No one even cared to question these figures. Gradually the stupidity has died down, but still we see websites stuff with keyword. Google has been quietly targeting pages which it thought were stuffing their pages with keywords.

What we will see now is much vigorous effort by Google to clean up the internet by targeting websites who have little content beside keywords.

Link Exchanges: Link exchange had outlived 3 years back but still many not-so-bright SEO companies have been persisting with this approach. Why? Probably this is a no-brainer activity which can be done by anyone with no skill set. Link exchanges evolved as one way link exchanges, two way link exchanges and three way links exchanges.

Google had stopped giving it much weightage in its ranking algorithms but now it seems that it will specifically penalize sites indulging in link exchanges.

Likewise, Google will also be targeting websites which are violating its guidelines for webmasters. It will keep an eye for signals which will indicate sudden increase in links, exact anchor text and artificial link profiles. Such signals are flashed when link buying and link exchanges are pursued vigorously.

So, if Google is tightening the screws for SEO companies and webmasters what are the options for them? If you ask me, I will suggest going back to basics.

One of worst things about on-page optimization was that we had to read keyword filled content which made no sense for a human reader. If one has to avoid this new penalty from Google, then he should make the content for humans and not bots.

This is perhaps the simplest SEO strategy one can use and which can never go wrong. Enhance the experience of your user with improved web design and content and you will notice gradual changes in your Google rankings.

The purpose of SEO was to optimize a website for human readers. Sadly, even the best intentions go horribly wrong. Till now, search engine bots have been fooled by keyword stuffing but the things are changing. Google is changing and evolving. Now, only the websites with relevant and human readable content will be recognized by Google. Though, this update can take many months, one thing is for sure – spammy SEO tactics won’t last long

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Panda 3.4 is here

Google has announced over twitter that Panda 3.4 is happening as of now.

Panda refresh rolling out now. Only ~1.6% of queries noticeably affected. Background on Panda: goo.gl/mTKCH

— A Googler (@google) March 23, 2012

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Deindexing of blog networks and its implications for SEO

Last night, I got a newsletter from some “SEO Guru” whose entire blog network has been wiped out. Needless to say he was furious and disappointed. Not a single day passes by when we hear about people getting messages from Google about “unnatural links” and blogs getting deindexed.  If this was a trickle earlier, now it’s a flood.

SEO experts are in a panicky mode. If there was one easy and sure shot way of getting links and good rankings in the least amount of time, it was buying truckloads of links from blogs.

Many blog networks sprung up where one could place links with anchor text with absolutely no hard work. No SEO company big or small was shy of using these tactics.

Yes, sure on respected SEO forums, big guns of SEO industry always preached good content and blah, blah, blah, but the fact was that these SEO companies were not averse to buying links. In fact they were the worst culprits because they had big money to buy links. Soon, link selling and buying became an industry in itself.

So now that Google has started cracking the whip, SEO experts have to look for ways to gain rankings. Can the SEO industry continue to persist with link buying?

I am of the opinion that, while wholesale link buying and selling will come down drastically in next few years, it won’t be eliminated. Google will eventually downgrade links in their ranking algorithms but nevertheless they will remain an integral part of the any SEO strategy.

What other options does a SEO company have? How can a SEO company get good rankings for a website without endangering a client’s website? Here are few ways:

1)      Make a good website: Not everyone can have a website with killer looks but what matters is that it should be user friendly. Its navigation system, content layout and architecture should be such that human users as well as search engines bots can navigate a website easily. Hiring a web design company in India should be your starting point.

2)      Create Great Content:  Now, it gets difficult here. Not every industry or business is tailor made for great content. For many website it is difficult to get a whole lot of good content. But, a website anyway should have original and relevant content. Keyword stuffing is not an option nowadays as Google will soon be coming down hard of over-optimized sites also.

3)      Create a Blog: Creating a blog and posting regularly not helps in only gaining authority but also gets good visibility, traffic and inbound links. One has to be regular with blog posts. Blog posts should be insightful, thought provoking or at least help readers with their problems.

4)      Guest Blogging: Since, Google is deindexing blogs indulging in link selling, one has to be careful with this aspect also as there is very little to distinguish a guest blog posts from a paid blog post. Still the benefits outweigh the risks if the blogs are selected carefully. Guest blogging on reputable blogs which have very little or no paid links will benefit any website over a period of time in more than one way.

5)      Article Submission: While article directories have been hit hard from last year’s Panda update, they are recovering with more stringent editorial guidelines. The links from articles have been devalued a lot but they still are beneficial.

6)      Social sites: Social signals are now being counted as a ranking factor. The effects are still very limited but if the trends hold out then they are the way to go. Google SERPs are already including results from Google plus.

7)      Link buying: Link buying will stay for a long time to come. Blatant link buying with same and exact anchor texts will stop in next 1-2 years and it will evolve a bit more.

SEO experts will have to be sophisticated in their approach. As always Google is always changing and reinventing itself. If you are in SEO business then this is one thing you cannot escape. To keep yourself relevant, you have to adapt to the changing landscape around you or else PERISH!

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French Court Fines Google $660,000 because of unfair competition

Court rules that giving Google Maps free is tantamount to abusing its dominant position

As Google gets more powerful, various voices are being raised over its money power and dominance. In such a case, a French court has ruled that the company is abusing its dominant position by making Google Maps free resulting in huge loses to a French mapping company.

The court asked Google to pay a fine worth $660,000. As per reports the French commercial court “upheld an unfair competition complaint lodged by Bottin Cartographes against Google France and its parent company Google Inc. for providing free web mapping services to some businesses.”

Bottin Cartographes provides mapping services for a fee and its clientele list includes Louis Vuitton, Airbus and several auto companies.
The French court ruling ordered Google to pay $660,000 in damages and interest to Bottin Cartographes, along with a 15,000 Euro fine. That means total damage from the ruling is about $680,000.

A Google France spokesperson says the company is still studying the court’s decision and reviewing its options, adding that Google is “convinced that a free high-quality mapping tool is beneficial for both Internet users and websites.”
This ruling can have far reaching implications as many critics and analysts have been saying that Google’s dominance over internet is squeezing out both customers and competitors.

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