SEO Q&A: How Can You Quickly and Safely Remove Pages From Indexing?

Question: We have tons and tons of posts and pages from years ago that we believe are harming our search engine ranking. We don’t want to just remove them because we’ve heard that can hurt SEO. What should we do?


As always, a common misconception has within it a kernel of truth. Broken links hurt SEO — but simply deleting pages does not. You can delete the pages anyway you like, you just need to make sure that you don’t break your links when you do so. You have two solutions: you can either just delete them or remove them from crawling through Google’s Webmaster Tools.

Deleting them entirely. Usually the best solution for a significant amount of content; you can just delete the pages off your server. Run a broken link checker and delete the links to those pages, then log into Google Webmaster’s Tools and request that your entire site be recrawled. Easy, but you do lose those pages forever.

Deleting them from search engine results. If you have only a minor amount of content that you want deleted, you can submit the url to the “Remove Outdated Content” tool in Google’s Webmaster tools. You can also submit entire directories (such as if you want your /img/ directory to remain uncrawled). But you shouldn’t submit dozens (or hundreds) of individual URLs to this tool, as it generally looks like suspicious behavior. A side effect, though, is that the pages remain in your site and available to readers — they just aren’t indexed.

Of course, just because something doesn’t directly hurt SEO doesn’t mean that it can’t indirectly hurt your SEO, by reducing the usefulness of your site. Test your site before and after to make sure you haven’t lost valuable content.


 

Answer: As long as you don’t leave behind broken links, removing pages from your site should not directly hurt your search engine ranking. You can remove them either manually or through the Remove Outdated Content tool provided by Google.

 

SEO Q&A: What Exactly is “Duplicate Content” and How Badly is a Site Penalized for It?

Question: I’m worried about duplicate content on my site. If I place a blog post on multiple sites, is that going to harm my search rankings? Will it be marked as spam?

 

Placing a piece of content on multiple sites isn’t always a good idea, but not necessarily for the reasons that you might think. There is no such thing as a duplicate content penalty. Google does not penalize sites for having duplicate content. And Google does not consider duplicate content spam.

Google does take action against sites that seem solely scraped from another site; in effect, the entire site is a duplicate of another site. But that’s really another issue entirely, and not likely to be one that you will casually encounter.

I occasionally see marketers avoiding quotations out of a misguided fear that it will show as duplicated content. Google looks for pages that are identical in content, not paragraphs of quoted content — so this is unnecessary. There are many situations in which a quote can be used to add value to content, so this would be disingenuous on Google’s part.

So why is it bad to have duplicate content? Google will generally combine multiple copies of a page into a single entry, and the entry that has the greatest PageRank will be the only one shown. So it’s not really bad for SEO, it’s just kind of pointless. The other listings will only be shown if the user specifically asks to be shown all the listings, which really only happens when someone is desperately searching for an obscure tech support issue.

But it is bad for the overall user value of a site to have multiple pieces of entirely duplicated content, so that’s something that needs to be considered. For the most part, a carefully curated outbound link is probably more usable and useful.

 

Answer: Duplicate content being considered “spam” is actually a myth. Duplicate content does not lead to any site-wide penalties. Google will group together duplicate content in the search engine page, so it isn’t great for SEO on an individual basis, but it doesn’t hurt the domain.

Does Your Domain Extension (.COM, .ORG, .NET) Really Matter?

No — but yes. If only the world of digital marketing was clearer. Your domain extension does matter to your search engine optimization, but perhaps not in the way that you think. Mechanically the differences are small; most of the key issues involve usability. After all, an organic web search runs based on user behavior; even Google can’t tell how relevant a website is without links, popularity and other behavior-driven data.

httpDispelling the Myths

Google, Yahoo and Bing do not take into account a domain extension when they promote a website, even if the search query happens to be government or education related. So whether you’re .net or .org, you’re probably safe in terms of Google’s matching algorithm. But that doesn’t mean that your domain extension has no effect on your organic search rankings, which is another common myth. There are still ways that your extension can affect your position on the SERP.

Consider this. Google most definitely uses links — and the quality of those links — to measure whether your site has prominence. Sites that have .gov, .edu or .org domains are generally considered to be more reputable in academic situations than .coms, so they are more likely to be referenced by high quality sites. Likewise, .coms are more often considered to be reputable than .nets. So it’s easy to see that having a specific domain extension can have a potential impact on your organic search ranking even if the search engine itself isn’t actively scanning for it.

computerThe Human Component

And it isn’t just a question of search engine results — you also need to consider the human component. Namely, people are used to .com addresses and they are very unlikely to remember more obscure extensions. If your website is AwesomeWidgets.net, you’ll find a lot of people getting lost when they try to type in AwesomeWidgets.com. One way that some sites have gotten away from this is by directly incorporating the domain into their site’s name somehow. Fish.Net, for instance, is memorable.

People are also conditioned to treat domains that are not .com, .gov, .edu or .org with some suspicion. In particular, .net domains have always been referred to as “Nuts! Everything’s Taken.” It’s considered a last result domain name that only occurs through poor planning or fly-by-night operations. No one wants a .net domain name, the rationale goes, so one should be suspicious of someone who has one. Of course, as the proliferation of .com addresses has continued, this poor reputation has been somewhat reduced.

bakerHere Come the gTLDs

OK, so what about all those entrancing new gTLDs that just popped up? .butcher, .baker, .candlestickmaker? These new domain names are so specific and so out there that they require some additional consideration. gTLDs, just like other TLDs, don’t affect search directly. Google doesn’t say “Oh, it says .baker, I’d better send all queries about cakes there.”

But what a gTLD does do is it inserts a major keyword into every single URL. If you have .baker, and you’re, well, a .baker, you’re going to have that keyword in your URL every time someone searchers for a “baker” in your area. And this had led many people to believe that a gTLD might actually be better for SEO than an ordinary domain.

And that might be true — a little. Still, if you’ve been properly optimizing your site, you should already have your major keywords in your site’s URL — as it does “help a little bit.” But it doesn’t help a lot —  remember, Google really mostly looks at the content of your site, not the URLs. And it may not help enough to alter some of the usability issues.

Mainly — users think it’s weird. Many users aren’t comfortable typing in losangeles.baker and having it actually go to a website. This also gives them one more thing to remember — they can’t just type in losangeles.com — and it makes them less likely to link to your site (because they can’t remember the URL). Obviously this isn’t true for all users, but it’s true for the majority of users. This might be different for a tech-oriented or youth-oriented website.

As developers and marketers, it can be easy for us to forget just how challenging small changes can be for a user base. When choosing a domain for your site, you should think largely about how that domain is going to be received by your audience. Google and other search engines really don’t care what your domain name is or what your domain extension is, but something that you think is charming, quirky or clever may actually be impossible to remember. Short, sweet and .COM is usually the best answer.

SEO Q&A: Does Purchasing PPC Advertising on Google Help Your Search Engine Ranking?

Question: Does purchasing paid advertising help with organic search engine results? I know Google says it doesn’t, but have there ever been any tests to determine whether that’s truly the case?


It isn’t just Google that says that paid advertising has no affect on search engine results — Moz agrees, too. That doesn’t mean that PPC campaigns SEO don’t work great together. As Search Engine Watch points out, PPC campaigns give a marketer a lot of additional data to work with.

And there’s a correlative effect, too; marketers who are willing to spend money on PPC campaigns are more likely to have spent some time on their search engine optimization and site quality.

It’s easy to see why this myth keeps coming back. But a few moments of thought should make it really clear that this wouldn’t be ultimately beneficial to Google — or to anyone.

  • It would lower search engine quality as a whole, reducing the amount of control they have within the search engine industry.
  • It would be extremely obvious; marketers would notice it very quickly and thus be able to game the system.
  • If it wasn’t obvious, marketers wouldn’t be aware of it, and thus it wouldn’t help them.

The final reason is perhaps the most obvious. It’s silly for Google to promote PPC advertised sites in their organic search and then deny doing it, because that invalidates any reasons they might have for doing it. By promoting advertised sites in organic search, they would actually lessen the importance of PPC ads.

Funnily enough, this has actually led to a competing theory: that Google actually sabotages websites that invest in PPC advertising, so that they need to pay for more PPC advertising. But, again, that makes no sense — marketers crunch a lot of data, and this would just incline them to believe that PPC advertising had a negative effect on SEO somehow and should not be used.

But that’s not to say this is an entirely paranoid or naive thought. Companies like Facebook sabotage marketing efforts all the time — and Facebook is a big company and they make a lot of money in advertising. It’s worth it to be skeptical. In this particular situation, though, neither the numbers nor the logic add up.


Answer: Not directly, and certainly not as any initiative through Google. But there are indirect results of a PPC campaign that can help with organic search queries, such as improved data collection and site quality.

 

 

How Social Media and Search Engine Optimization Work Together

How does social media really impact search engine optimization? As with most areas of digital marketing, there are a lot of myths out there and not a lot of hard facts. Social media and search engine optimization are both incredibly important aspects of a digital marketing campaign, but that doesn’t mean that they necessarily have a lot of overlap. There are very few ways in which social media can be used for SEO, and a few of known strategies are either misleading or mythical.

facebookSocial Media Signals Do Not Affect Search Ranking

Matt Cutts has described exactly why Twitter and Facebook messaging aren’t generally considered any different from other crawled pages… and, further, why social media signals are not used in their ranking algorithm. While it would be easy to simply say it’s too difficult — and it would be very difficult — Cutts also points out that they can randomly lose access to the information on Twitter, Facebook or other platforms, and that it would be prohibitively time-consuming for their engineers to manage the signals from platforms that they may or may not continually have access to.

Some have theorized that sharing through social media will directly affect SEO, but Google states this isn’t true. Instead, it’s simply that popular pages are more likely to both be shared and to rank highly on the SERP — it is not that one is causing the other.

trafficSocial Media Traffic Doesn’t Have Significant Impact on SEO

Some marketers believe that social media traffic can make your site seem more popular, which will then boost your place in the SERP. But in actuality, that isn’t likely to be true — for a couple of reasons. Think about it from a technological point of view. If a person clicks a link on Facebook and gets sent to YourReallyCoolSite.com, Google is not going to track that traffic; Google is not some all-knowing, all-encompassing entity… at least, it’s still pretending that it’s not, until it takes over the world. What happens between a person, Facebook and YourReallyCoolSite.com stays inside of that transaction.

Second, there are some indications that Google pays more attention to authority than strict popularity, regardless. In particular, backlinks remain critical to Google’s algorithm; Google has experimented in searching without links in the past and found that the results were extremely poor. As Cutts himself has noted, if searches were run by popularity, every result returned would be pornography.

linksSocial Media Cannot, As a General Rule, Be Used for Link Building

Curiously, many marketers mention that social media is the “new link building.” It’s curious, because almost all social media links are marked “nofollow. They have absolutely no impact on search engine rankings. You can simply view the source on a Twitter page to see that all the links are marked nofollow — so it’s strange that this strategy gained traction. One notable exception — which we’ll get into a little more below — is Tumblr, due to it being a hybrid of social media network and blogging site.

Tweeting your links is an excellent way to build an audience and gain exposure, but there’s no reason to believe that a tweeted link is going to build any form of search engine traction. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Google+ all create nofollow links.

likeThe Google+ Like Exception

Here’s a weird little thing that you might not have known… and, to be frank, I don’t know how anyone could reliably shoehorn it into any social media or SEO strategy. Google will mark links that your other friends have liked through Google+, provided you’re signed in at the time. So if a ton of your friends have liked a certain page, you’ll see it noted below the link. That’s not to say that it will be pushed up the SERP — it will just be more visible.

Now — is that useful? Well… eh. Maybe. It’s useful on a very niche level; if you have a campaign to get Google+ likes in place, you’ll be more visible to other people on Google+. But realistically, no one uses Google+ — so that’s already dead in the water.

tTumblr Inhabits a Unique Space

Tumblr is interesting. When we think of WordPress, we of course know that it is a content management system and that things published on WordPress will be crawled by search engines. But, one thing you may have noticed, is that items posted on Tumblr — which is primarily a social media site, but also a blogging site — tend to rank fairly high in search engine results. For whatever reason, Tumblr appears to have fairly high domain authority, and this is being pushed to (of course) everything on its domain.

When you deal with Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn updates, it’s not very likely that you will be returned in search engine results at all. When you post in WordPress, it really depends on your personal domain or site — and even if you’re on WordPress.com, you may see limited traffic. But Tumblr posts appear to have some inherent search engine traction, for a variety of reasons. What holds Tumblr back (or, for some, actually makes it better), is its rather niche demographic.

authorThe Google+ Authorship Debacle

Google+ pushed their “authorship” program hard. Through authorship, a profile photo and follower information was shown on Google’s search engine pages if the author of said page was registered with Google+ and the domain. Google authorship never affected search engine ranking directly. What it did was increase search engine visibility. People were often more likely to click on articles that had a trusted face beside them.

It’s understandable why Google would do this. Google has always had this overarching vision of linking everything together through people rather than through pages and posts, but they’ve been held back because they have little control over the other social media platforms. But it’s also understandable that they pulled the program. It put too much of an emphasis on their own property — Google+ — and provided too little in terms of value. Regardless, even if it had affected search engine ranking (which it didn’t), it’s gone now.

As with anything, testing is really necessary to confirm or deny any theories regarding social media and search engine optimization. There’s a lot of competing information, conspiracy theories and conflicting strategies that can alternately distract and damage. But overall, there should not be any direct connection from social media to search engine optimization; nothing that happens on social media should impact your search engine rankings.

That doesn’t mean that social media doesn’t aggressively grow traffic — we know that it does — it just doesn’t do so through the SERP.