The Difference Between A Manual And Algorithmic Penalty

Difference Between A Manual And Algorithmic Penalty


A Google penalty can spell the end for a business which relies on the internet for customers. Since early 2011 Panda and Penguin have compelled internet marketers to change their black hat ways and follow tactics which abide by search engine guidelines. When business owners approach me for advice after they’ve noticed a dramatic drop in traffic, the first question I ask is whether or not they’ve received a manual penalty from Google. Most will reply ‘yes’ but when I log into their Webmaster Tools account I see no such penalty. Many are unsure as to the difference between a manual and algorithmic penalty. If you are in this group, please read on…

If Your Traffic Drops Dramatically, Check Webmaster Tools

If you have received an unnatural links warning in your Webmaster Tools account then your site is under a manual penalty. This will explain loss of rank and traffic.


Google Unnatural Links Warning


If you receive one of these you have to act. A detailed description of the process involved to remove a manual penalty is outside the scope of this blog post. However, the steps can be summarised as follows:

  1. Analyse all links pointing to your site using Webmaster Tools and other SEO tools.
  2. Determine which links are having an adverse effect on your search visibility and contact the site owners to get these links removed.
  3. Get Google to disavow any bad links you can’t get removed using the disavow tool.
  4. Send a reconsideration request to Google.


The main point to remember when creating a case for reconsideration with Google is that you have to be able to prove to them that you have done your utmost to remove any bad links.

My Traffic Is Down, I Don’t Rank Anymore, But I Haven’t Received A Warning

Your site may be subject to an algorithmic penalty. Strictly speaking, penalty is the wrong word. In reality what has happened is that Google has changed its ranking algorithm and as a consequence, the links you have pointing to your website no longer pass any value. This means you lose rank and your traffic plummets.

Obviously there could be other issues which have caused the loss of traffic to your website, such as infrastructural problems. However, a quick look at your analytics can confirm whether or not your problems are down to the change in algorithm. If your traffic drop corresponds roughly to the dates of these recent major Google updates, then you can be reasonably sure you have an algorithmic penalty:


  • Feb 2011 – Panda
  • April 2012 – Penguin
  • May 2013 – Penguin 2.0




Posted in seo

5 Ways To Increase Traffic To Your Website


Rewind the clock back to the year 2000. Back then, it would have been unusual for a small business to have a website. Today it is pretty much essential to have one in order to survive in these tough economic times. However, having a great, fully functional ecommerce website is just the first step of the journey to a successful online business. The remaining steps of the journey involve driving relevant traffic to your site. Here are 5 ways to help you take this important step.

1.    Guest Posting
This tactic du jour in the online marketing world can be a powerful way of connecting with potential customers on external websites and driving traffic to your own. However, many get it wrong as they fail to utilize this strategy to its full potential.

Guest posting isn’t simply about getting a link. Publishing useful content on a high traffic site relevant to your business niche, will enable you to capture some of that traffic and drive them to yours.  This will mean you will have people coming to your website, who may have an interest in what your business offers thus creating the potential for increased sales. And all this would be in addition to building a link and increasing your site’s visibility with the search engines.

2.    Interacting on social media
Small businesses simply cannot ignore this marketing channel any longer. Social media is a valuable tool for connecting with potential customers. But beware – don’t market your products or services as social media is a ‘personal space’ for people. How would you feel if somebody barged into your home to try and sell you something?

Many businesses set up social media accounts then never use them. It is important to interact daily and build up a following in your niche. If you interact daily, posting information which is useful or interesting to your target market, your following will grow, and so will the number of visitors coming to your site.

3.    Create A Site Blog
If your business website doesn’t have a blog you’re missing out on a tonne of traffic. Posting regularly on a blog enables you to capture what we call in the digital marketing world, long tail search traffic.

Imagine you have an online business selling plant seeds and flower bulbs. Your website is perfectly optimised for the search term ‘buy flower bulbs’, but because this is a highly competitive (short tail) keyword, your site never ranks highly enough to drive any traffic. However, write a blog post ‘Best Growing Conditions For Lupins’ and you stand a good chance of ranking on page 1 for the search query ‘what are the best conditions for growing lupins’ (long tail, low competition). This will drive relevant traffic to your flower bulb site, and create awareness for your business within your target demographic, in addition to potential sales.

4.    Add Social Share Buttons
Once you have published a new post on your site’s blog, the next step is to make that content work for you. You need to get that content under the radar of as many relevant people as possible and drive them to your site. A good way of doing this is to encourage your readers to share the post via their social media channels, so make it easy for them to do so by adding social share buttons. There are literally 100’s of plugins out there, so you don’t need to be a coder in order to add this functionality to your blog.

5.    Add schema mark up
Web pages are coded in HTML and marked up to tell a browser how to display the content. For example, the following text has been marked up (with h1 tags) so that a browser will display it as a heading:

<h1>Click Alchemy</h1>

Schema mark up is additional mark up to provide the major search engines with additional data (known as microdata) regarding the content on a web page.

Search engines such as Google love schema mark up, because it helps them provide the most relevant results to their users. However, there is also an advantage for online businesses using schema mark up, as rich snippets are added to your website listing in the search results. Rich snippets are additional information which is sometimes displayed in search engine results, such as in the following example where the third result has a photo of the author:

how to increase website traffic

Which result are you most likely to click?

Rich snippets can have a positive effect on click through rates and therefore increase traffic to your website. People are more likely to click on a result which displays author name and photo, or any other relevant information, even though it may not be the top result. Adding schema mark up is fairly easy to implement and is a simple way to drive more traffic to your website.

Posted in seo

Factors To Consider When Expanding Your Online Business Overseas


The internet has opened up the global economy in ways never imagined 25 years ago.  Back then companies with goals of international expansion needed to invest a vast amount of resources and time in order to set up a base overseas. And after the initial set up there were the inherent difficulties of navigating the particularities of a foreign business culture. Now, I’m not proposing that the internet has broken down all these barriers to entry, but things are a little easier for small businesses wishing to target foreign markets, because setting up a website is far simpler than establishing a bricks and mortar premises abroad.

However, setting up a website to target a foreign market requires some planning and there are a few important questions you must ask yourself, from a digital marketing perspective.

What Will The Domain Strategy Be?

There are three options to choose from and the best option is probably out of reach for many small businesses:

  • Choosing a country specific top level domain (best option)If you want to target the French market, then it’s best to go for a .fr domain. However, this means a totally new website so will require resources to build links to it in order for it to rank well with local search engines. Many small businesses don’t have this level of resource.
  • Choosing country specific subfoldersFor a small business on a tight budget this is probably the best option. Instead of having to begin again, adding a subfolder eg:  to an existing site means that any link equity built up over the years will filter to the sub-folder. However, the ability to rank in the local market will not be as effective as having a country specific top level domain.
  • Adding a subdomainFor example This isn’t a great choice as more authority is passed down to sub-folders than sub-domains. However, sub-domains can be hosted on a different server to the main site, so a slight benefit could be had by hosting in the country you wish to rank in.


Language Difficulties

Although many people throughout the world speak very good English as a second language, studies have shown that people are more likely to buy from websites in their own language. Any required content needs to be written by a professional translator or native speaker. Never rely on translation services such as Google translate otherwise you will look unprofessional as these services are only useful for translating single words and short phrases at best.


In addition to creating a website in the official language of your target market, it is essential to localise for the culture also. Do not assume that search terms translate directly. For example, in the UK we might search for ‘low cost flights’ when looking for a bargain holiday. The direct translation of this term in Italian is ‘voli basso costo’ but people in Italy use ‘voli low cost’ when doing an online search. Failure to take into account these details could lose you potential business and waste time and money in ineffective marketing strategies.

What is the main search engine

Google may  be the Gods Of Search in the UK, US and many other parts of the world, but in a few countries their market share is minimal. For example in China, where the main search engine is Baidu, Google only has a 3% share of the market.  Different search engines will use different algorithms to rank websites, so it is important not to assume that what has worked well for your business website in one country, will work in another. Different countries will require different SEO strategies.

Although English is still the web’s most common language, its share is rapidly decreasing as countries such as China, Brazil and India embrace eCommerce in favour of traditional bricks and mortar businesses. The business potential for UK based online businesses is huge, but careful consideration must be made to language and cultural differences, and the SEO strategy has to suit the specific market.

Posted in seo

How To Recover From The Google Penguin Update


If you are a business reliant on web traffic for your bread and butter, Google holds a lot of sway in determining whether you sink or swim. In April 2012, Google released an update to its search algorithm which impacted sites which use manipulative link building tactics to rank highly – particularly building links with exact match, commercial anchor text. Nick named Penguin, the update effectively devalued these ‘bad links’ and affected around 3.1% of sites in the English speaking world. Two weeks ago on May 22nd 2013, Google released the next generation of the Penguin update, Penguin 2.0.

Symptoms You’ve Been Slapped By Penguin

Unfortunately Google doesn’t send you a message informing you that the Big Bad Penguin has paid you a visit. However, there are two symptoms which would indicate that the algorithm change has impacted your site:

  • A marked drop in traffic – if you’ve seen an unusual drop in organic search traffic to your site around April 2012 or/and May 2013, you may be dealing with a Penguin issue. This will be confirmed by the second symptom
  • A drop in rankings for your keywords – if this drop in traffic coincided with a drop in rankings around about the same time, you can be pretty sure you’re site has been affected by Penguin


There is a third symptom which would indicate you have received a Penguin penalty, and that is the receipt of an unnatural links warning from Google in Webmaster Tools. However, be warned that non-receipt of this warning doesn’t mean your site hasn’t been affected by Penguin. Penguin is an algorithmic change in the way Google ranks websites – if your site has been engaging in what Google sees as manipulative link building tactics, your rankings and traffic will suffer whether you receive a warning or not. The unnatural links warning is manually sent out by a member of Google’s Web Spam Team and is meant to draw your attention to the fact you have dubious links pointing to your site, which may be affecting your rankings. Its Google’s way of saying you might have a problem, but not all sites affected by Penguin will receive a warning.

How To Recover From The Slap

Since the Penguin update penalises sites which have been using manipulative link building tactics, any site which Google detects as having an unnatural looking link profile, will be affected. The first stage of recovery is therefore to examine the inbound links to your site:

  • Examine Inbound LinksThere are many free tools you can use for this task such as Open Site Explorer, Majestic SEO and Google Webmaster Tools. A detailed account of the steps taken in using these tools is outside the scope of this post and warrants a post of its own. The main thing we are trying to determine with this examination is the proportion of inbound links with exact match, non-branded anchor text. A high proportion (anything over 20-30%) of exact match anchor text could be deemed unnatural by Google.


So what do we mean by ‘exact match’ anchor text? If I have a website which sells blue widgets and I want to rank for ‘cheap blue widgets’, an exact match anchor would be ‘cheap blue widgets’. A branded anchor might be ‘blue widget company’ and a generic anchor ‘visit our site’ for example. Before the Penguin update, having a high proportion of exact match anchor text links gave strong signals to Google as to the relevancy of your site for specific search queries. The ease of manipulating search results with this tactic is a major reason why Penguin was introduced.

If your inbound link analysis has shown that you have too many exact match links, you have to delete these harmful links.

  • Delete Harmful LinksContact the site owners asking for the links to be taken down. It is strongly advisable to be as courteous as possible, as the site owners have nothing to gain by cooperating with your request. If you can’t find any contact details on site, try using whois lookup.


A word of warning on deleting harmful links – make sure you don’t delete any valuable links. By a valuable link I mean ones from domains where metrics such as DA and PA (domain authority and page authority) and PR (Google’s page rank) are high and the website is in the same or a similar niche to yours. The subject of determining the characteristics of a good link will be discussed in a future post.

  • Dilute Harmful LinksEmbark on a link building campaign creating branded and generic links to dilute the harmful links and show Google a more natural link profile. You will want to stay away from sites irrelevant to your niche, with poor metrics. Avoid poor directories and spamming blogs with comments that serve no purpose other than to provide you with a link.

Link building today is about building meaningful online relationships with relevant sites. Get involved in online communities and offer something of value – for example, answering questions on forums. Aim to become an authority within your niche and people will naturally want to link to your site, especially if it has good content.

Write well researched, outstanding content and publish it to high quality, relevant blogs which accept guest posts. If this content is placed on the right sites, not only will you be able to attract traffic and conversions, you will please the Google Gods and be rewarded with good search engine rankings.

Posted in seo

How Do Search Engines Work


The invention of the internet and the world wide web is akin to the invention of the printing press or internal combustion engine. It has revolutionised the way we do business and interact in a little over 20 years and it’s scope is so vast it has changed the way we speak; if you asked somebody to ‘Google it’ 20 years ago people wouldn’t have a clue as to what you were talking about.

The fact that we can find out information on virtually every conceivable subject, from any device connected to the internet, from anywhere in under a second is an amazing feat. Search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo amongst others, allow us to select one web page out of trillions, which is relevant to a given query. Just how they do this is down to a complex algorithm they use to grade pages in terms of relevancy and importance.

The 3 Main Functions Of Search Engines

  1. Crawling – Search engines employ automated robots called spiders which crawl the web from document to document. Spiders crawl the web using links.
  2. Indexing – Once a spider reaches a web document, it looks at the code to determine what it’s about, then stores it in massive data centres owned by the search engines.
  3. Serving results – When a user enters a query into a search engine, it will return a list of relevant pages from those stored in it’s database. The list of pages the search engine returns is ordered in terms of relevance and importance.

How Search Engines Provide Relevant Results

The relevance of a web page is the degree to which it matches a user’s query. Early search engines circa late 1990’s would look at a document’s text, such as titles, headings and content, to determine the relevance of a page for a specific query. Because unscrupulous SEO’s would use techniques such as keyword stuffing to trick search engines into thinking a page was relevant when it wasn’t, engines have become much more advanced, and there are now 1000’s of additional characteristics which will determine the relevance of a page.

How Search Engines Provide Important Results

To a search engine, the more popular a page is, the more important it is deemed to be. And the more important it is, the higher it will rank for relevant queries. A question you may be asking yourself now is just how do I go about making my web page or site more popular or important. One way this can be accomplished is by building links from relevant sites to your web page. In the eyes of the search engines, links from external sites count as votes, so if the relevance of two pages is the same, the one with more links (votes) to it will rank more highly.

SERP example

Searching for ‘cheap holidays’ includes these results ordered by relevance and importance.


The reality is, of course, much more complex than this and search engines use hundreds of ranking factors to determine where a page should be on the search engine results page. These factors are all part of a complex algorithm, search engines use to serve up results which satisfy user queries.

You Can’t Fool A Search Engine

Or rather you used to be able to. Early search engines such as Infoseek, Lycos and early Google were very simplistic and only looked to a document’s text to ascertain whether a site was relevant. A whole industry was set up around fooling the engines, to ensure a site came at the top of the search engine results. As this sometimes led to poor results being presented to users, Google and other search engines, have had to develop increasingly complex algorithms, to ensure users get the best search experience possible. Over the past two years, Google has introduced two major updates to it’s algorithm – Panda and Penguin. These updates badly affected sites which were using unethical tactics to rank, some being de-indexed by Google.

The bottom line is, today you can’t fool the search engines, but if you work with them, within their guidelines, you will benefit from higher and more sustainable rankings.

Posted in seo

On Page SEO


Good SEO is like a great sandwich. With a great sandwich you need two things – freshly baked bread and your favourite tasty filling. Sandwich greatness only comes when these two ingredients are present. With SEO, the two vital ingredients are on page SEO and off site SEO. In today’s post we’ll be discussing which aspects of a web page need looking at, in order to rank well for your chosen keywords.

The Title Tag

Arguably the most important on page ranking factor, the contents of the title tag are limited to 70 characters. Google displays the title tag when it lists a site in the results page. If you want a web page to rank well for a particular keyword, it’s essential to have this word at the beginning of the title tag (search engines generally place more importance on the words at the beginning of the title) possibly followed by your company name. For example, if you wanted to rank well for ‘blue widgets’ a good title tag would be Blue Widgets – Company Name.

Meta Tags

There are two tags you need to be concerned with here – meta robots and meta description

  • Robots – If you find a meta robots tag there is probably an issue with your site which will impede search engine spiderability and affect rankings for some of your site’s pages. There are two scenarios to watch out for. <meta name=”robots” content=”noindex”/> instructs a search engine to not index a page. <meta name=”robots” content=”nofollow”/> instructs a search engine to not pass link juice via the links on a page.
  • Description – Google, Bing and other search engines display the meta description in the search results pages. Although the description probably has only a minimal effect on getting a high ranking, use it to market your company and services and improve click-through rate.

Heading Tags

Although heading tags affect rankings to a much lesser degree than title tags, they are still an important element to get right when considering on page seo – the <h1> tag being the most important. They also create a good user experience notifying visitors that they are on the correct page and guiding them through the content.

Keyword Density

I’ve read many blog posts over the years which talk about an optimal number of times a keyword should appear on a page. In the past having the ‘correct keyword density’ may have helped with rankings, but Google has got a lot smarter these days. Google’s mission is to serve the most relevant search results for any given query, and as SEOs we have to consider the user more and not the search engine algorithm. Keyword density is old hat as well as black hat. Writing for visitors and not search engines will mean keywords will appear naturally and your content won’t look spammy.


Naming the various pages of a web site with target keywords influences search rankings. For example if your page was about blue widgets, naming its category hierarchy this term would give the url


This will indicate to search engines what the page is about before the content has even been crawled. It also enhances user experience as anybody can tell what the page is about from the url.

Image alt Tags

Having a keyword in an image alt tag used to influence rankings to a small degree but nowadays it is more important to use this tag the way is was intended – to display a description of the image for those whose browsers have image rendering switched off. Again, optimise for the user, not the search engines. However, giving keyword rich names to image files is good SEO practice.

Internal Linking

If you are linking to a page that talks about blue widgets then using the anchor text blue widgets will help the linked to page’s ranking ability. Using keyword rich anchor text also ticks the box of usability as users will know that the page they are visiting will be about blue widgets.

Any link building campaign to improve organic visibility in the search results will never reach its full potential if the on page work hasn’t been done. It would be like putting low grade fuel into a Ferrari – it may work, but sure as hell not as well as it would with premium quality fuel!

Posted in seo

White Hat SEO


Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) describes techniques used to help a website rank naturally in search engines such as Google and Bing. Search engines use a sophisticated algorithm which uses many factors to determine where in the search results a website ought to rank. Some of these factors include
•    Domain age
•    Title of web page
•    Number of links pointing to website
•    Page Rank of site
This is by no means an exhaustive list and there are over 200 factors used.
SEO is a constantly evolving field as search engines continue to develop their algorithms to ensure their results are relevant to user queries.
White Hat v Black Hat SEO
These two terms were coined several years ago to describe the two sides of SEO. Broadly speaking, white hat sticks to search engine guidelines whilst black hat ignores them. Black Hat SEO’s will use any tactic necessary to get a website to rank. The downside to high rankings is that success is often short-lived and sites can get banned by search engines for flouting their guidelines.
White hat SEO techniques adhere to search engine guidelines so sites don’t get banned. Although page 1 success may take more time and effort, the results are long lasting.
Search Engine Algorithm Updates
As mentioned above, search engines are continually refining their algorithms to give searchers a better and more relevant user experience. Over the last 2 years Google has released two major updates named Panda and Penguin. These updates adversely affected sites which had used Black Hat SEO tactics, some of which got de-indexed by Google. Businesses which relied on the internet for new customers got into serious trouble.
The best way to ensure your website can withstand the effect of these updates is to play by the rules laid down by the search engines and stick to White Hat SEO.