A few days ago, we found out that Google would be removing all PPC ads from the right-hand side of the search results page; an announcement that has since sparked widespread debate amongst SEOs. The search results page now has 4 paid ads displayed at the top of the page, which means that it takes longer for users to reach the stream of organic results than it would have previously. While Google have attempted to compensate somewhat by adding a greater number of organic listings below these ads, with 9 blue links being displayed, there is still  a great deal of concern from those who rely on organic rankings.

Previously, side adds would have been more obvious to viewers due to their positioning aside from organic results, which helped to highlight the fact that they were ads. Reserving them for within the list of organic searches means that they viewer has to look through these ads, making it more likely that they will get clicked. This has come as an unwelcome change to many SEO professionals, who are concerned that Google is prioritising its commercial gain over the experience of its users. Results that would once have appeared near the top of the page, have now been pushed closer to the middle, giving an almost entirely new meaning to the prospect of coming out 'on top' in organic rankings. 

Naturally, there are both positive and negative aspects to these changes with regards to the user, which will depend largely on how aware the specific individual would have been of paid results previously. The more street-wise internet users may be irritated by the fact that they now have to scroll through even more paid results, while those who pay little attention to ad markers may even find the new layout refreshing in comparison to the somewhat cluttered appearance of the previous format. The users least affected by this will be those who conduct their searches largely by mobile devices, on which side ads were not present prior to these changes. 

This change has also led to much debate amongst paid search marketers, who fear that the loss of side ads will drive up the price of PPC campaigns, as the competition for the top position becomes more intense.However, some have been quick to dismiss these fears, due to the fact that these ads were already accounting for a low percentage of the total click volume. Wordstream founder Larry Kim also notes that all ads will now be able to use additional add-ons such as sitelink, location and call-out extensions, allowing them to take up a larger area, and providing them with a chance to stand out amongst their competitors. Additionally, he also drew attention to the fact that desktop now account for less than half of all searches, suggesting that perhaps these changes would have had a gradual impact over time regardless, as people gradually migrate from desktop to mobiles.

Whether you view these changes as a positive progression towards better quality ads, or see them as an inconvenience which serves as proof of Google's prioritisation of financial gain over user experience, there is no doubt that you will have to adapt your approach to suit these new developments. As with any updates and alterations in the world of SEO, it is doubtful that the affects of these changes will be felt straight away, however, it is important that people start to examine new strategies straight away to avoid being left behind.

To find out how we can help to improve your visibility in search engine results, or assist you in targeting the right audience with your Google ads, get in touch today.

When someone first suggested that you should get a blog, you weren’t really too keen on the idea. But eventually, after a lot of nagging, you came around to the idea. You thought it wouldn’t be too much work – after all, how much time do you really need to dedicate to a blog anyway? In fact, you were quite surprised by how easy it was to update your blog at first; you even began looking forward to writing the posts. 

Then one day, an important task came up when you were right in the middle of writing. ‘It can wait until later,’ you thought. ‘The blog isn’t my top priority anyway.’ Eventually, you were spending less and less time on your blog, going from one post a week to one a month, until you were spending virtually no time on it whatsoever. Neglected, and without any fresh content to sustain it, the blog soon became a distant memory, inactive and unloved.

So don’t neglect your blog any longer, use these three techniques to ensure it stays fresh and healthy:

Create a schedule

Be sure to make time for your blog. Decide ahead of time when you’re going to post and what the content will be; this will give you a plan to work from and something to stick to, so you can easily manage your other tasks around it. Thinking of topics in advance will also mean that you’re not stuck for something to write when you do get down to it, minimising the risk of writer’s block!

Think of your audience

It’s important to keep customers and readers engaged with useful content, so do your best to consider their needs and expectations when planning your blog posts. Think: what would the people who visit your website and/or use your services want to read? What would make them want to engage with your post?

Stay current

The easiest way to source fresh content and keep your blog up-to-date is by looking for important news that’s relevant to your field, or by scouting out trending topics that may be of interest to your readers. Try to make sure that what you’re posting is as original and as high-quality as possible; regurgitating content that already exists elsewhere could make people lose interest.

Here’s the bottom line: if you’re going to add a blog to your website, be sure to utilise it to its full potential. Post regularly, and post well; don’t ignore your blog for months on end, revisiting it only to post the odd bit of company news or an annual Christmas message to your clients. Your blog needs attention and love – if you don’t update it regularly, then it will not only fail to serve its intended purpose, it may actually cause your search rankings to drop. Why? Because if you haven’t updated your blog since last year, Google and its users might think you’ve abandoned your website entirely!

New TLDs and SEO

A lot of new top-level domains have been created over the past year or two, and more are on the way. For example, .lol, .dog and .movie are all launching this month - creators of funny dog videos will soon spoiled for choice!

The popularity of newly-established domains such as .brand, .london and .wales may have you wondering if you ought to get with the times and snap up one of these snazzy new TLDs while the iron is hot. In particular, a lot of our clients have asked if using a more unique TLD will help their website's rankings on Google and other search engines.

Or, to put it another way...

Will a new TLD help my website's SEO?

The short answer? No - Google themselves have said that the new gTLDs (generic top-level domains) do not have any special advantage over the ones we're more familiar with:

"Overall, our systems treat new gTLDs like other gTLDs (like .com & .org). Keywords in a TLD do not give any advantage or disadvantage in search."

So that's Google's position on the matter (the above quote is taken from the official Google Webmasters blog). Unfortunately, it looks like your choice of TLD won't have much of an impact on your website's keyword rankings; for example, your cookery blog won't have any more chance of conquering the foodie SERPs if you change your URL from www.grub-with-gwen.co.uk to www.grub-with-gwen.cooking. Sorry about that.

However, this doesn't mean that purchasing yourself a new gTLD is completely pointless. The really good thing about some of these new gTLDs is that they give users a little more information about your site than the ultra-vague likes of .com and .org. For example, it's impossible to guess what kind of website www.samsonswan.com might be from its URL alone, but we can reasonably assume that www.samsonswan.cymru is owned by a Welsh company, or that www.samsonswan.music belongs to a musician or band.

And that can be useful for search engine bots as well as for humans. Let's say you own a second-hand car dealership in London called Marvellous Motors Ltd. Your customers are Googling 'used cars London' and you want to show up on the first page of results for that term. Purchasing a domain name like www.marvellousmotors.london will make it more obvious (both to human users and to Google's spiders) that you're a London-based business, and this may well improve your chances of ranking locally.

The new TLDs may also come in handy if you share your brand name with somebody else from a totally different field. Imagine, for instance, that you've just opened a new pub called The Branch & Blossom, but - shock horror! - it turns out that there's a popular indie-folk band by that name already. Anybody attempting to Google your new business will end up on TB&B's SoundCloud page or browsing a list of their upcoming gigs, and since they're already using the domain name you wanted (www.branchandblossom.com), you're going to have to pick a different one instead.

So what'll it be? Your instinct might be to simply pick the closest available domain to what you originally wanted (www.branchandblossom.co.uk or www.branchandblossom.org), but it may be a better idea to register www.branchandblossom.pub or www.branchandblossom.bar instead. This will let everyone know that you're a bar, not a band, and people searching for your business will find it easier to spot which Branch & Blossom website is the one they're after. This also works if you're on the other side of the equation; newly-formed bands can use TLDs like .music or .rocks to differentiate themselves from established businesses who share their name.

So while an unusual TLD won't necessarily help you to scale the SERPs, there are other ways in which it can help you. If you want to make your website's URL more descriptive of who you are and what you're about, using one of the many new gTLDs that have been available recently may well be a good choice for you.

Of course, if you already have a website with a standard TLD (such as .com or .uk), it would be foolish to discard your established URL in favour of a trendy new domain name with no history. This will break any links to your current website, and erase the reputation that you've built for yourself with the search engines (they put a lot of stock in domain age and history!)

Instead, we recommend using 301 redirects to ensure that users and bots trying to reach your old domain are automatically sent to the new one instead; this will allow you to switch to a nicer domain name whilst retaining all the positive SEO 'juice' that you accumulated before the changeover.

Need help with registering a new domain name or setting up your company's website? Contact Designer Websites for assistance!
Block referrer spam

If you use Google Analytics to track the performance of your website (and you definitely should!), you may have noticed something strange going on in your traffic reports of late. Does this look familiar to you?

Referral spam

If you've seen URLs like buttons-for-your-website.com and 100dollars-seo.com in the 'Referrals' section of your Analytics account, then you - like countless others - are a victim of referral spam. This is when spammers send phony visits to your site so that their name will appear in your Analytics reports.

Hold on - why are people doing this?

For the spammers behind buttons-for-your-website.com and the like, fraudulently appearing in somebody else's Analytics report is like a very unorthodox kind of advertising.

Allow us to explain. When your website gets referrals from a site you don't recognise, your first course of action will probably be to check out that site and find out why you're receiving traffic from them - for all you know, somebody has written a blog post about you or reviewed one of your products. So you type buttons-for-your-website.com into your browser's address bar and press enter...

...and that's how they get you. As soon as you visit your new referrer's website, their shady marketing tactic has worked and they've won. Bear in mind that these spammers have most likely been targeting many thousands of websites; your one inquisitive visit may not seem like much, but multiply it by a hundred thousand and you may begin to see what these people stand to gain by inserting themselves into other people's Analytics data.

The end goal of all this varies depending on which spammer you've been hit by; some want you to sign up for their SEO service or install their button on your blog, whilst others simply get money for every hit their website receives.

Is this a problem?

At first, you may not see much reason to do anything about these referral spammers, but the more they do it, the more your Analytics data will become skewed and inaccurate. For example, Analytics might tell you that you received 3,000 visits last month - a new record for your site - but, upon closer inspection, you'll realise that roughly a third of those visits came from spammers instead of real people.

In short, referral spam makes Google Analytics much harder to use properly, and if you want to get a truthful impression of how well your site is performing, we strongly recommend that you take action.

So how do I block referrer spam?

We're glad you asked. Broadly speaking, there are two types of referral spam: bot referrals and ghost referrals. In this blog post, we'll tell you how to tackle 'em both.

Part 1 - Terminating Your Bots

Some spammers use bots to invade our Analytics accounts, setting up programmes that automatically visit people's websites over and over again. Since Google Analytics can't differentiate between a legitimate session and an automated one, these visits will be counted alongside all of your real customers, and after a while they'll really start to pile up.

Here's how to block bot referrals and put an end to your own personal robot uprising:
  • Log into your Google Analytics account and click on the Admin tab at the top of the page.

  • In the right-hand column, select your preferred View and click Filters. Then, on the next page, click + NEW FILTER.

  • Select Create new Filter and give your filter a sensible name, like this:
Death to spam
  • Under Filter Type, click Custom. Then, click Exclude and, from the drop-down menu, select Campaign Source.

  • In the box marked Filter Pattern, type the name of the website(s) whose referrals you wish to block. If you are blocking multiple referrers, separate each website name with a | rather than a space. You should end up with something like this:
  • Click Save to apply your filter and lock the specified websites out of your Analytics reports. Note that you may need to add more websites to the Filter Pattern field further down the line - if so, just add a | to the end of your original list and add the new sites as above.

Part 2 - Exorcising Your Ghosts

Ghost referrals are tricky. These spammers never actually land on your website (not even via an automated bot, like the spammers covered in Part 1); instead, they send information straight to Analytics saying that they've been on your pages.

Fortunately, there is a way to stop them. Here's our step-by-step guide to busting ghost referrals and restoring peace to your Google Analytics reports:

  • On your Google Analytics reporting screen, set the date range to show the past year's worth of data.

  • On the left-hand side of the screen, click Audience > Technology > Network. Then, just underneath the main line graph, you'll have the option to set a Primary Dimension - set this to Hostname instead of Service Provider.

  • You will now be shown a list of hostnames that have used your website's tracking ID in the past year. Your main site URL will (hopefully) be the most prominent, but you'll probably see a bunch of others that aren't so familiar:
  • Make a note of all valid hostnames on this list. This will include your domain name, but it may include other sources too - if you have pages on the domain/server in question, it's probably a legitimate source of Analytics data. In the list above, www.henstuff.co.uk (main website) and freedapromotions.us2.list-manage.com (mailing service) are valid hostnames; the others are spam referrers.
IMPORTANT! You may find that google.com and other seemingly reputable names like mozilla.org and firefox.com appear as hostnames in your Google Analytics report. However, since you probably don't have any pages on the Google servers themselves, this traffic is almost certainly spam. Some spammers fake a 'google.com' hostname to appear legitimate and escape the attention of site owners like you. Don't be fooled - ignore these hostnames!
  • Once you've made a list of all valid hostnames, click the Admin tab at the top of the screen. Then, go the right-hand column, select your preferred View, and click Filters.

  • Click the + NEW FILTER button; then, on the next page, select Create new Filter and give your filter a sensible name, like this:
Ghostbusters reference
  • Under Filter Type, select Custom; then, set the filter to Include > Hostname.

  • In the Filter Pattern box, type each of the valid hostnames you noted down earlier. Again, use the | vertical bar to separate hostnames instead of spaces. Your filter pattern should look like this:
  • Click Save to finalise the new filter and block all traffic that isn't using a legitimate hostname.
One final tip: after you've applied the filters described above, it's a good idea to create a new View in Google Analytics (without any filters). This will allow you to compare your filtered, spam-free traffic with Google's raw data and spot any genuine traffic sources you've accidentally blocked.

Need more help managing your Analytics account? Get in touch with Designer Websites now.

Is SEO Dead?

We've seen a lot of articles in the last few months with titles like this:

"Yes, SEO Really is Dead!"

"Stop Doing SEO - It Doesn't Work Anymore"

"SEO is over. Here's the new way to get your site seen!"

Invariably, these pieces will talk about the supposed demise of search engine optimisation as a worthwhile practice. They use the following arguments to convince readers that SEO is, indeed, a thing of the past:

  • Link-building doesn't work anymore. Seeking out links from external websites used to be a huge part of SEO, but inbound links are no longer an automatic guarantee of high rankings - these days, quality is far more important than quantity, and it can be very difficult to manufacture a really good link to your own site. Also, Google are getting much better at spotting unnatural and/or manipulative links and punishing the sites on the receiving end; this has put an end to linkbuilding as an effective means of boosting rankings, or so some bloggers would have you believe.

  • Keywords are more complicated than ever before. Once upon a time, you could achieve high rankings for a search term like 'cheap sofas' by simply mentioning 'cheap sofas' a hundred times in your site copy. Nowadays, the system is a lot more complex - search engines are aware of things like synonyms, closely related topics, and a whole variety of other ranking factors that don't have anything to do with keyword density. Also, Google and their competitors have learned to spot keyword-stuffed content from a mile away, and the penalties for this can be just as severe as the slap you'll get for dodgy link-building.

  • Sites should be optimised for users, not search engine bots. The problem with a lot of old SEO practices (particularly keyword stuffing) was their tendency to make things unpleasant for the user. You can write a 500 word essay that uses the phrase 'best mobile phones' in every other sentence if you so desire, but even if it ranks highly, it's not going to make especially riveting reading; in fact, all of that keyword stuffing might well make it harder for your customers to find the information they need. Nowadays, a good user experience is valued above high rankings, and since aggressive SEOing can quite easily get in the way of a strong UE, those practices no longer have a place on most websites.

Now, these are some good points - keyword stuffing and link farming do more harm than good, and we would certainly advise any webmaster to stay well away from these practices if they value their site traffic. But SEO isn't just the black hat stuff; those three letters may have picked up some negative connotations over the years, but search engine optimisation is still alive and well, and if you want your website to have any kind of presence on Google, Yahoo! and Bing, you absolutely must take it into consideration.

First of all, you need to stop viewing SEO as a shady effort to fraudulently boost a site's rankings. SEO is actually a very important part of website design, and it starts with the code itself - our developers have spent the last decade building sites in a way that's easy for Google and other search engines to digest. We also work hard to create lightning-fast pages, user-friendly functionality, and so much more; all of this is as much a part of SEO as strategic keyword placement.

But we won't bore you with an in-depth dissection of good quality code. Instead, allow us to address the points above, and demonstrate why SEO remains very much alive:

  • Links are still important. Building a lot of low-quality links to your site is unlikely to do much for your rankings nowadays, but remember what we said about quality and quantity? That's an important thing to bear in mind - Google themselves have stated that inbound links are still a major part of their algorithm, it's just that they're now more interested in the value of your links than in how many you've amassed. Of course, since artificial links can land a site in very hot water, it's better to focus your SEO efforts on creating a site that encourages people to link unsolicited - make it easy to link, and make sure you provide something that's worth linking to. This is what really impresses search engines at the moment.

  • Keywords still have their place. Modern SEO demands a rather less ham-fisted approach to keyword placement, but that doesn't mean you should forget about keywords altogether. When creating your website, think about the search terms you would like each page to show up for, and then tailor your copy and any other content to those keywords. Make sure you're providing potential users with the clear information and the useful resources that they are likely to be looking for, and this will make each page's purpose clear to search engines as well.

  • User optimisation and SEO are, in many ways, the same thing. User optimisation makes your site more appealing to humans. Search engine optimisation makes your site more appealing to search engines. These two practices are very closely related, especially as search engines get smarter and more capable of thinking like humans. The articles we've read always tell you to forget about SEO and concentrate on the user experience, but this is misleading - they are two equally important undertakings that will yield sizeable rewards if done properly in tandem.

To answer that million dollar question, then: no, SEO isn't dead, it's just different to what it was a few years ago. Mind you, this shouldn't surprise anyone (least of all the type of people who are liable to write 'SEO is Dead!' aritcles) - SEO has been an ever-changing entity since day one, but none of its transformations have ever negated its usefulness as a practice. In fact, as web designers, optimising for search engines is one of our most important jobs!