#askninja Episode 5: Google Penguin 4.0, Penalty Recovery, and More

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Google Penguin 4.0 Update

One of the big things that happened this week is that it was announced that the Google’s latest update, Penguin 4.0, had been released and was starting to roll out. Now we don’t know the exact timing of this because Google’s being a little bit cagey about it. They haven’t given us an exact date. But really, the fact that we can’t tell the exact date that Penguin was released kind of tell us a bit about what this update’s like. Fairly minor impact noticed across the board really.

So Penguin 4, what’s it all about? Well, the first thing to remember is all Penguin updates are a very specific type of filter that all search results go through. So what Penguin is all about is purely about looking at the links to your website and judging whether these are low-quality links. You know, what sort of impact the quality of these links coming into your site should have on your ranking? So it’s specifically there to address basically spam SEO like spam comments. So that’s what Penguin’s all about.

If you’ve read any of the SEO blogs, you’ve seen a bunch of bullshit about how Penguin being real-time means that now content is gonna be indexed in real time and all of this stuff. Penguin has nothing to do with that. Penguin is purely about spam links and that’s all. If your site has spam links, then you could be impacted. If your site doesn’t have spam links, then it’s unlikely that you’re gonna be affected by Penguin anyway. If you’ve seen ranking movements – which a lot of our sites have over the course of September – it’s unlikely to be because of Penguin specifically.

Having said that, what do we know about Penguin and how it works? Well, there’s a few things that we know. The first is that Penguin is now real-time. So this means that the updates and the impact of Penguin is supposed to be felt in more real-time. Now this doesn’t mean instant because there’s a float with anything ranking-wise, but it does mean that Penguin is constantly refreshing and the impacts of Penguin will be felt without having to wait for an update.

So a lot of people who got hit by Penguin the last update two years ago have been waiting two years to get a penalty lifted from their site. So they won’t have to wait so long anymore because it’s now real-time. In order for any changes to be felt because of Penguin, Google has to recrawl. So how Penguin works is when Google crawls your page, it will have a look at all of the links that are pointing in. It will make a decision about whether any impact needs to be felt because these are low-quality links. And then that will change the ranking of your page, okay? So that’s the process. So Google needs to crawl the entire internet before the full effect of Penguin can be felt and that’s gonna take some time.

What else do we know about Penguin? We know that Penguin is now baked into the main Google algorithm which means that we’re unlikely to hear much, or we’re unlikely to be talking specifically about Penguin again. This is it really because now it’s just gonna be part of everyday life so there’s not gonna be any significant updates.

What else do we know? We know that so far Penguin 4.0 has had a relatively minor impact. We saw a lot of ranking movement around the start of September due to some local ranking changes around the prominence of the local three-packs. But that’s been much more significant than anything that we’ve seen Penguin related. So for most sites, they’re not seeing any movement at all.

One thing that was really interesting which came out and has only come out in the last couple of days is relating to the disavow file. So previously, if you had some low-quality links pointing at your site, what you’d do is you’d put all these low-quality links into what’s called a disavow file. You’d submit this to Google and then Google would apparently ignore those links from your ranking, from your link profile, and they would no longer affect your ranking. Well, what Google’s saying now is that actually Google no longer penalises sites for low-quality links. It just ignores those links, okay? So rather than being actually demoted, they’re just gonna be ignored. So the question this raises is whether you actually need to submit a disavow file at all if you have low-quality links because if your links are being ignored, do you really need to tell Google to ignore them? Well, one of Google’s employees has actually come out and said, no you don’t really need to. So that’s really really significant. Now I’ve long felt that the disavow file was more like a kind of input from webmasters to help Google’s machine learning algorithm learn what a spam link was so that it could kind of better assess what junk links were and ignore them. So it’s great that Google’s actually just completely ignoring spam links or claims to ignore spam links now so they’ll no longer hurt so much.

Lozz says, “If spam links harm your SEO quicker, “do good links raise your SEO quicker, too?” Google’s only updated Penguin and made Penguin real-time. So Penguin is only about spam links. Penguin is not about good quality links, so there have been no announcements to say that the impact of good quality links will change at all.

So this also raises the question. Is it possible to get an algorithmic link penalty, right? If I get spam links, can my site actually get penalised? Well, if Google is just ignoring spam links then actually you cannot get algorithmically penalised at all. The only thing that can happen is that those links can’t help you anymore. So we saw a lot of this particularly around 2012. You’d have a site, and they got a bunch of really low-quality links coming in, and the site’s ranking started to improve because of the low-quality links. Then when Penguin came it started ignoring or penalising for all these links, right? So the ranking went from that to actually down. So the ranking was actually down on where it was. You’d submit disavow file or you would remove the links or whatever, and the ranking would return to base level, okay? What was actually kind of being perceived as a penalty was actually losing the benefit plus that actual penalty.

So now what we’re gonna be seeing is sites that we’re seeing benefit from low-quality links, if those links are now being ignored, they’re gonna perceive that they’re being penalised whereas actually, they’re just back to base level. So rather than seeing actual link-based penalties, what I suspect we’ll just see is that sites are no longer feeling the benefit. They’ll perceive this as a penalty, but in all likelihood, it won’t be a penalty at all. It’ll just be no more positive effect.

Anna says, “Does buying spots in web directories still work?” It depends on the directory, Anna. So a really good question. Lots of directories out there exists that are actually genuinely good. So any directory that’s designed for a human, designed to help humans find a good quality business, that’s typically a good directory to be seen in. The sort of directories that you don’t want to be seen in are the ones that are purely there for SEO for building links. Normally you can tell these because you’ll go on the site and the main call to action will be “add link” or “add listing” or something like that, so they’re just designed for people to add their listing to the site. The downside of that is that it’s very easy to automate that submission process with software. And any time you can automate something with software, it tends to get abused really badly.

So if you’re looking for directory, find the ones that have a manual review process. In other words, somebody actually needs to approve each of the listings. That stuff can help your SEO because if people are there filtering out the spam, that directory will generally tend to stay pretty good quality. So yes, web directories can still work as long as they’re human focused, as long as they’re genuinely good, as long as the information is ordered in a useful way. And as long as there’s a manual review process.

You say “buying spots on a web directory”. It’s not normally necessary to actually pay for some kind of upgrade for keywords or whatever. Typically that’s just a pile of crap so you don’t need to do that. The free listings, they’re just as good.

So that’s Google Penguin 4.0. Relatively minor for everyone. There’s some important stuff around disavow files where you might not need to submit a disavow file anymore. If it was my site and I was here, I’d probably still submit one anyway just because you want to do everything that you can, but it seems to be that that’s the way things are going.

Do YouTube Ads Really Work?

Now we had a question about YouTube ads – you’ve probably seen them in action. The video loads up and before your video starts playing you see that little ‘skip ad’ button. That little skip ad and you see the countdown going five, four, three, two. And as soon as it gets to zero you’re hammering on that ‘skip ad’. Get me out of this ad, get me to the video I want. So I had question that said, “I see these ads around all the time, and I always click skip. Do they really work, and if so, how do you set them up?”

So do YouTube ads really work, and if so, how do you set them up? We’ve actually started testing YouTube ads ourselves over the last few weeks. And we’re seeing some really interesting numbers. Now we’re not positive ROI yet, but I’m confident seeing the numbers that we’re getting that positive ROI is there. Now one of the greatest things about YouTube ads is that you have to have a video and the ad is your video. So most people won’t bother with it because it’s just too much work which means that it’s gonna generally be better value than something which is really easy to set up like Google Adwords where you can just pump in some text.

So I think YouTube ads, definitely a lot of potential, and we’ve seen some really interesting case studies where they can generate quite high ROI.

How do they work? Well, the first thing to know about YouTube ads is that there are three different types of YouTube ad, okay? You’ve got what are called pre-roll ads. So these are the ads that show up before the video that you really want to watch. And they’re the ones that have the little skip ad button. So that’s pre-roll ads. You’ve also got the ads that appear in the sidebar or in the search results. So these are kind of like sponsored listings if you like. A bit more like Google Adwords, for example. The third type of ad are little six second ads, which you could have at the start or end of a video, and you can’t skip them, okay? These are little bite-size things which are just designed to raise brand awareness. They’re not really designed with a specific call to action. So those are the three types of ads.

Now how you set up YouTube ads, the first thing that you need to do is get your video on YouTube. So get your channel set up, get it all optimised, get your advert video on YouTube. You then need to link that video channel up with your Google Adwords account because you’re gonna actually build your ad campaign inside Adwords. So what you do when you’re ready to set up your video ad campaign is you open Adwords and you create a new campaign, but instead of running a search or display ad, you’ll run a video ad. So you’ll go through the process of setting this up, you’ll choose a video that you want to show as your ad. The most important thing to know about this is that it’s all about your placements, right? Where these ads are seen. By default, YouTube will just show your ads to anyone in your target demographic which is a freakin’ nightmare. We ran some ads as I said. We’re testing this a few different ways and we ran some ads and we weren’t getting great results for a few days so we had a look and noticed that actually where the ads were being displayed, we could see the placements, see the videos that they were being shown in front of, and it was all just a bunch of trash, right? Stuff about Pokemon and politics and news. Nothing to do with digital marketing at all because we hadn’t tightened our ad placements and where we wanted the ads to show.

So there are a few different ways that you can target your ads. A few different places that you can have them showing up. You can have them showing up for your target demographic, you can have them showing up for people that have interest in a particular topic, you can even have them showing up for people that have expressed intent to buy a particular product or service which is really really interesting. I think that’s where they hold the most value. You can have your ads show up for people before particular videos so you can choose a particular video which you know is gonna be quite relevant for your business and have your ads showing up before that. You can choose to have your ads show up before particular channels, so you might find that there’s a bunch of channels your competitors, for example, that you might want to get your ads showing up.

So there are loads of really really useful targeting options and I think there’s a lot of potential with YouTube ads. There really is.

Some tips on how to kind of make these the most effective: Now as you know, if you’ve ever seen a YouTube ad, as soon as it shows up you got that countdown. Five, four, three, two, one, skip ad, right? So you’ve got to do something in that first five seconds which breaks people away from that and moves them away from the skip ad button. So what can you do? Well, you can immediately break the pattern. So show them something weird, do something that’s slightly unusual. You want to get them out of the thing of saying, this is just an ad. You gotta get them thinking, oh, this is interesting, this could be relevant to me. So a quick benefit statement, what are they gonna get from watching your ad or what are they gonna get from your product or service? A quick call out to make sure that they understand who’s supposed to be listening to this. So “if you’re a business owner turning over 5K to 50K a month”, you know, you might be interested. So something really relevant which calls them out and feels like you’re talking to them. That’s all good stuff to get in that first five seconds because the goal of the first five seconds is to keep people watching for the rest of the video, right?

It doesn’t really matter too much about the length of your video. We’re seeing some really interesting viewing statistics for the four-minute ad, which is quite interesting. Also testing one-minute ads, two-minute ads, 30-second ads as well so doesn’t really matter too much about the length. The important thing is to continue adding value throughout the video because you need to make sure that you’ve got people engaged. Obviously, the call to action that you have in the ad needs to be interesting and relevant to whoever’s gonna be watching it, right? So low barrier to entry, high appeal, high perceived value, all of that sort of stuff, the same with any ad campaign. So I definitely think YouTube ads are something worth testing. They definitely do work for some people, and we’ll post more stuff as we get some useful data out of it.

How long does SEO take to work?

Good question and a common one. So, in my head, there are two different types of SEO task. There’s the low hanging fruit stuff. So the stuff that should always be done. And then there’s the stuff which is the hard slog stuff. Okay, so that’s the stuff that’s long-term, you’ve got to put in a lot of attention and time and maybe even money. You’ve gotta keep pounding away at it. So things like website content and page titles, descriptions, website loading speed, all of that kind of quick stuff which is just… it should be there anyway, that’s the low hanging fruit stuff. Then the long hard slog stuff is like the digital PR, the link building, you know, increasing your domain authority, all of that stuff just takes work, right? There’s no way around it.

So how long SEO takes depends how much of the stuff that you’re gonna be working on is the low hanging fruit stuff and how much of it is the long hard slog stuff. So let’s say that you’ve got a website, really under-optimised, and you’re in a really weak market with loads of competitors. They’re sleepy, they’re not really doing anything. Well, if you make the tweaks to your website, you get that content on there, you get the titles and descriptions up-to-date. All of that stuff. You’re gonna see results much much quicker than say someone who’s working on trying to increase the ranking of Amazon where pretty much everything that can be done on site is being done. So it depends on how much of it is low hanging fruit versus hard slog stuff. If you’ve got a lot of low hanging fruit, you’ll see results much quicker so, you know, it feels like it’s under-optimised and you’re getting page titles and content on there for the first time, then you could see some ranking movements within a month. Certainly within two or three months.

If the site’s pretty well optimised, you’ve got a good link profile already and you’re just adding more links to that to try and increase the domain authority, then it can be a longer process. It can be four months, six months, 12 months, depending on the market. So Neil Patel mentions that his approach on his blog is just loads and loads and loads and loads of content on the site. And what he’ll do is put loads of content on a site around a particular topic, build some links around that topic, and then he’s really aiming to see some ranking improvements in a year’s time, right? So that’s his time frame. So it can be a year if it’s a more competitive search where lots of other people are doing some really good work as well.

So, how long does SEO take? It really depends how much of your stuff is low hanging fruit and how much of it’s hard slog stuff. It depends on what your competitors are doing as well. However, if you’re not seeing some sort of ranking movement within three to six months, then I would suggest that maybe you’re not looking in the right sort of areas because you should be able to get some movement within that sort of time frame.

eCommerce Duplicate Product Listings

Dave Oakley dropped a question today and it’s a really interesting one. It actually relates to something that we were doing this week insides Exposure Ninja as well. So he says, “I have the same item made by “different companies each with their own part number. “One page or separate pages?” Okay. So he’s got one product and it’s got lots of different part numbers because it’s being created by different people and each of them have their own name for it or whatever. So does he need to have one page which has this part and all the different part numbers, or does he have to have a separate page for each different part number? Really good question, Dave. And we’re working on a site this week actually that had a similar kind of problem.

These guys were doing garage shelving, right? And each of the different sizes of garage shelving has its own different page, okay? You might have one that’s two foot by one foot by three foot, and that has one page. You might have one that’s three foot by five foot, you know, and that’s another page. So there are two ways to approach this. The first is to give each different sides its own page and the second way to approach it is to have once page for garage shelving and then you can choose your sides. How I think about this is it depends if the size is fundamental to the use of the product.

Let me give an example. I’m a drummer and I play with X5AN drumsticks which is a particular size, particular shape, and particular model. It’s really important for me to get the X5AN drumsticks. I can’t be getting X5As, they’re not right. It has to be X5ANs. When I’m searching, I’m searching for that specific thing, okay? I’m searching for a very specific thing. And the difference between an X5AN and the 2B is completely different, right? Different usage, how you’d use them is totally different. In that sort of situation, it warrants having a separate page for each model because they’re very different and people will definitely want one and they definitely won’t want the other.

If you’re selling the same product or the same product in different sizes and it’s broadly gonna have the same use no matter what they size is, then what I would do instead is put as much useful information about that product on one page as you possibly can and then let people choose the dimensions or choose the manufacturer or whatever from a drop-down before they order. The reason I would do this is because you can make that page the most useful and the most awesome page about that garage shelving or that water filter that you possibly can. You can get all of the reviews on there, you can get some rich media, you can get some videos about that thing. You know, you can do whatever you want to do and you can make that page so awesome that people land on that page and they can’t fail to convert, right? That page is so well optimised. The reason I would not go for separate pages in your particular example, David, is that if I’m looking for a water filter and I visit a site and it’s got 15 pages all with the same water filter, all with different brands and different model numbers, how am I gonna choose between them? Or I’m gonna go in one and I’m gonna read the description. Okay, yeah, so that’s cool. I’m gonna go on the next one. Duplicate description, okay. So what’s different about that one? Go on the next one. All of these look the same. That’s a bit weird, I’m gone. If you put them all on the same page, you can include all of the different model numbers in the text on that page so that page will still rank for those model numbers but just kind of help people out, make it really easy to use, so I’d stick ’em all on one page. Right, we had a question, we’ve got a few questions coming in.

Tom says, “The best way to optimise SEO?” Really broad question there. There is loads that you can do. I think the most important thing to start with is getting your website sorted. So understand the sort of keywords that you want to rank for, make sure those keywords are found on your site, make sure they’re in your page titles, your meta descriptions, in the copy on your site and the headlines as well. I’d focus on getting as much content on your website as possible and then get some links built to it.

Anna says, “I’m currently reading “How to Get Started with Google which is “amazing how the books stated 2013 “which in internet terms is very old. “Is the book SEO principles that are still relevant? “Any idea when an update will be coming?” Anna, the book’s not 2013. It’s cool if you’ve bought your book from Amazon. It’s actually late 2015, I believe. The only reason it says 2013 is that Amazon hasn’t updated their listing. ‘Cause they’re too busy spending all the money. So yes, the book is updated pretty regularly every time there’s something significant. The honest trust is that actually nothing about SEO has really changed since the start of 2015, so the advice in the book hasn’t changed. But don’t worry, you are reading the latest version, I expect.

Right. Nicola David says, “Why does some stuff rank high immediately “and established site changes take ages?” Great question, Nicola. So there are a couple possible answers to this. The first is if a site is well-established and it takes time for Google to crawl that site and takes time for those changes to be indexed, that can take a little while. There’s a particularly interesting thing. Why can some stuff rank really quickly and some stuff can take ages? Particularly new sites can rank really quickly for some stuff. What we suspect is happening is that Google will test a new site. If Google decides that a new site is really well optimised and really finely tuned for a particular keyword, it can sometimes test it ranking really well. So we saw this with one of our own experiments around the diesel compensation scandal. We were doing some lead gen for diesel compensation leads. And we got it ranking well and Google was seeing how it’s responding and see what sort of engagement it’s getting, if it can maintain and sustain that engagement then that’s great. If it starts getting some links and starts getting some attention then it’ll keep that ranking. If it doesn’t, then it might start to drop off. So I wonder if maybe the site is being tested.

It also depends on the market as well. If you’re entering a really competitive market, it’s unlikely that you’d be able to get a new site ranked really quickly whereas if you’re in a really kind of fresh market with not a huge amount of good competitors then yeah, you got a much better chance of competing with that with a new site as well. So think about that.

Guys, if you’ve got any other questions then drop ’em in. Otherwise, we will get on with our work. Okay, cool, well we’re gonna wrap up then, so thank you, everyone, for joining us on this #ASKNINJA. Remember, every Thursday 1pm. Get some digital marketing questions answered, see if you can come up with something which is gonna totally stump me. We haven’t had anything this week, so I’m a bit disappointed about that but hey, maybe someone will figure something out for next week. So yes, Thursday 1pm on our Facebook page. Thank you, everyone, for joining us. The replay will be live on our Facebook as well if you want to go through anything again. Other than that, peace out. Have a good week and talk to you all soon.

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