Penguin 4.0: Faster (and somewhat more forgiving)

The SEO community has been buzzing for the past several weeks about possible revisions to Penguin, Google’s powerful anti-spam algorithm aimed at detecting illicit link schemes and vanquishing their perpetrators.

Well today, the webbed foot dropped with a post by Gary Ilyes to Google’s Webmaster Central Blog: Penguin 4.0 has been finished, released to the wild, and will now begin separating good and bad actors on the web. In its post, Google also noted that this latest iteration of Penguin will be the first version to operate in real-time.

Why is this a big deal? Because even Google isn’t infallible, and if and when Penguin makes a bad call, it can take many months before webmasters who’ve remediated issues can see their sites returned to its whitelists. This can be a serious problem – especially when negative SEO issues are implicated. But it’s expected that Penguin 4.0 will do a much better job of allowing webmasters who innocently run afoul of Penguin to clear their names and restore their rankings. In doing so, it will also make negative SEO less of an effective tactic, which is good news for everyone (except, of course, the spammers).

All hail the new (and improved) bird in town! (My colleagues at Didit have prepared a new article discussing the bird’s arrival and how marketers can ensure they’re completely “penguin-safe.” You can read it here):

Accelerated Mobile Pages now active for Google organic search

accelerated-mobile-pages-focal-zoom-black-bgGoogle has — for months — been jawboning SEOs, webmasters, and marketers that upgrading their pages and posts to AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) isn’t an option — it’s a mandate for those who want visibility on mobile (and that’s everybody).

And while many SEOs haven’t been quick to jump on the bandwagon (AMPwagon?), those that heeded Google’s message got a big boost today, when Google announced that it will — when presented with a choice between an AMP-formatted page and a plain vanilla HTML page — choose the AMP page for display on the SERP.

But getting AMP running correctly on sites — even WordPress-based sites, which are generally more adaptable than those running on many competing CMSs — can be a pain (that’s probably why many SEOs have been avoiding the task!). Some early plug-ins haven’t worked as well as expected, and AMP-related errors can be a bit cryptic for those not up to date on the latest developments in micro-data.

Still — by employing the right plug ins — it’s possible to get AMP errors down to very low levels. For WordPress users, I’d recommend the following “trifecta” of plug-ins:

Official WordPress AMP plug-in:

Yoast SEO Plug-In:

Yoast Glue Plug-in:

(The reason you’ll need Glue is so that your metadata correctly flows from your existing posts and pages into AMP).

Install these plug-ins, fill in their required information, go to Google Search Console, and use the validation tool to examine which pages pass muster with AMP. While this process isn’t exactly painless, it’s a lot easier than you might think, and well worth the effort.

Why do small businesses stay small?

small-biz-storefront-public-domainIn 2011 Erik Hurst and Benjamin Wild Pugsley, two researchers at the University of Chicago, published a groundbreaking paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research examining entrepreneurial behavior among small business firms in the U.S.,

Using data from several sources, including U.S. Census data, the 2003 Survey of Small Business Finances, the Kauffman Firm Survey, the Dun & Bradstreet database, and the Panel Study of Entrepreneurial Dynamics II, Hurst and Pugsley’s findings were  peculiar, perhaps even shocking, especially to those automatically equating entrepreneurial behavior with small business ownership. “The vast majority of small business owners do not expect to grow, report not wanting to grow, never expect to innovate along observable dimensions, and report not wanting to innovate along observable dimensions,” wrote the researchers.

The paper also failed to find much evidence of entrepreneurship among U.S. small business owners. “Only between 6 and 8 percent of new businesses reported that they had developed any proprietary business practices or technology during their first few years of business. Even conditional on survival five years later, 80 percent of firms still report not developing any proprietary technology, process, or procedure.”

Finally, the study looked at small business job growth and found very little evidence for it. For example, even for successful small businesses (those in existence for more than 20 years), only 9.1 percent reported adding any employees in the past calendar year (6.9 percent lost employees in that same time period, and the majority, 78.4 percent, reported no change in employment. “Even among very young firms,” the researchers wrote, “most firms do not grow by any meaningful amount.”

Why small businesses don’t grow
Several factors explain the no- or low-growth character of most U.S. small businesses. First among them is the personal motivation of the small business owner. While respondents mentioned “income” as an important reason for starting a business, “the most common response for why individuals were starting their own businesses was the existence of non-pecuniary benefits. Individuals reported that they liked being their own boss and like the flexibility that small business ownership provided.” Obviously, non-pecuniary motivations are distinct from those held by entrepreneurs and empire-builders seeking to leverage and scale their business operations in order to become the next Google or Microsoft. “Only a fraction of firms start because they have a good business reason,” wrote the researchers.

Secondly, is it not likely that many small businesses could grow, even if they wanted to. Most small businesses “are concentrated in a small number of 4-digit NAICS industries that mostly provide standard services to local customers.” These industries consist of restaurants, skilled professionals, professional service providers, general service providers, or small retailers. Consequently, the potential servable markets for these firms are often circumscribed by geography, fixed demand,  or by the very nature of the business itself: “Many small businesses are dentists, plumbers, real estate and insurance agents, small shop keepers and beauticians,” the researchers wrote. “Within these industries, the productivity of the firm is directly linked to the individual’s skill set. Given the fixed costs of production may be small relative to the variable costs, optimal firm size may be quite small.”

Implications for marketers
Both the psychological profile and market reality of a small business owner are very different from those of a typical “grow big/grow fast” entrepreneur. Consequently, marketers may need to take a second look at the way they pitch their messages to small business owners. For example, pitches based on the “grow big/grow fast” idea will likely not resonate with the majority of these people, whose economic goals are modest, potential market reach is constrained, and who, for better or worse, seem perfectly happy to “stay where they are.”

On the other hand, “efficiency” (do more with less) pitches, however, may find a more welcome audience among these people, given that time is a scarce and non-replenishable commodity for all humans. And given that personal autonomy is clearly a driving factor in the decision to form a small business, appealing to the innate desire of the business owner live a freer, more autonomous life, or appealing to other “non-pecuniary” motivations may provide a more profitable strategy when tailoring messages and campaigns for these individuals.

Your business site = your reputation insurance policy

reputation-green3-1When an online reputation crisis strikes, one of your best lines of defense is your business web site. Here — under your firm control — you have a chance to prepare your defense, answer the public, and take other communications steps necessary to address the issues. A business website also functions as the central point for your digital outreach efforts, via Twitter, Facebook, paid news release distribution, and paid search engine placements.

While the main reason for building a good business site is to land business, it’s important not to ignore this important, often crucial defensive role in terms of insuring against negative news about your company or brand.

My colleagues at Didit wrote an article on this topic which you can read here:

Google Analytics gets realtime intelligence update

Google Analytics blog assistant before export final5Google has added quasi-real-time reporting capabilities to its popular Google Analytics site analysis software. The upgrade, dubbed Automated Insights, is currently available only on late-generation mobile devices, either Android or IOS. According to Google, a web-based version is also in the works (which is good news, because most people I know use GA at work, on a desktop display).

Automated Insights promise to “automatically surface actionable data” — either positive or negative — using machine intelligence. This will definitely appeal to e-tailers, where being able to track — and react to — fast-moving changes in the competitive landscape is mandatory to maximize profitability.

Here, being able to make “nimble, smart decisions” — in realtime (or near realtim) provides a key advantage. In the post announcing GA’s upgrade, Google outlined a typical scenario in which real-time reporting will clarify action for such an etailer:

During this busy time of the year, retailers face questions that can be the difference between making their numbers for the year or falling short: Which products are going to be popular this season? Where should we advertise? How are our customers hearing about us and purchasing from us? Answering just one of these questions and acting on that information can take analysts and marketers hours or even days.

Automated Insights will also use machine intelligence to eliminate the kind of “data overload” that marketers can suffer from when facing a blizzard of usage reports. As Didit’s Kevin Lee observed in an Ad Age article, “Google is realizing is people tend to exhibit the same behaviors when they pull reports from Analytics.  Some people just want to see a geography or conversion report. They see people are exhibiting repeat behaviors and are streamlining the process for them.”

Kevin notes that while “displaying an analytics report before someone’s 3 p.m. meeting can be handy,  it won’t always get things perfect initially.” This is where Google’s employment of machine intelligence about how its many Analytics Users actually will be helpful. GA will learn about what’s important to each one of its many thousands of users, personalize reports for each, and focus attention where it matters — the same approach it’s used for years for each user of any of Google’s products.

Google’s team is clearly excited by the possibility of making Analytics — a perennial tool for thousands of web marketers — a more productive experience. As Judah Richardson put it, “this addition to Google Analytics lets you see in 5 minutes what might have taken hours to discover previously. Even better: it gets smarter over time as it learns about your business and your needs.”

My colleagues at Didit have been covering GA’s upgrade with a longer piece on you can read here:

Facebook: the Business-to-Business social network?

fb-for-b2b-600-400A new study dispels the popular myth that Facebook is just a place for personal sharing. According to UK-based Hotwire, which polled 1,000 decision-makers in the Information Technology vertical, Facebook is the preferred channel for lead acquisition, more popular than LinkedIn, Twitter, or any competing network.

This somewhat counter-intuitive finding actually makes sense when you think about the big picture. Facebook — like Google — is such a ubiquitous part of our lives, and people — including corporate decision-makers — spend so much of their daily online time there, that chances of a B2B running an intelligent paid or organic campaign breaking through to a qualified prospect is relatively high. And Facebook’s internal data — derived from behavior on its own site but also augmented by 3rd party sources — allows such granular targeting that it’s a highly effective way to reach these prospects. Add Custom Audiences to the mix and you’ve got an incredibly powerful, cost-effective B2B platform.

Of course, no marketer should embrace a single-network strategy. Marketers need to be ubiquitous on all the networks where their prospects are likely to be active. This includes LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and (for some verticals) emerging networks like Snapchat and Instagram. As my colleagues at Didit observe, “B2B marketers seeking to reach – and impress — decision-makers need to embrace a channel-agnostic distribution strategy, produce trustworthy content assets, and not overlook the benefits of traditional media placements in relevant industry publications, digital or otherwise.”

That’s a tall order (especially for small firms that may lack internal resources with social media chops), but it’s the only way to make the most of the B2B potential provided by social media today.