Article Writing: A Land of Opportunities?

With the recent algo updates (Penguin and Panda, namely) and Google’s claims that they are going to take further actions against spammers and low quality content producers, I have seen a spike in requests for article writing and copywriting services in Japanese.

Up to now, many marketers have been happy with poor contents (automatic translations, rewriting or cheap translations by non-natives) but the situation is changing rapidly. If you are checking freelancing websites regularly, you will have noticed not only that employers tend to stress out the importance of quality more than before, but also that they are starting to accept bids for higher prices than usual. Nothing amazing yet, but still far better than the $1/hour you often see. People start to understand that cost of life in Japan is high and that quality has a price.

In this context, I think it can be interesting for copywriters and translators to focus a little more on even specialize in article writing early on to be able to build a portfolio and have solid references to show potential clients once prices will have definitely raised to a satisfactory level.

Google Panda Released in Japan: First Impressions

A quick (and late, since it happened a couple of weeks ago) heads-up on the release of Google’s infamous “Panda” update in Japan, which took the Asian SEO World by surprise (since Korea was affected as well).

Google Panda Update in Japan

I was quite surprised as I thought the update was already released last. There was indeed a lot of movement in 2011’s Feb and March, so I guess this was just a smaller update, probably for chasing duplicate content and obvious spam pages.

So, how is this update? Well, in my opinion, largely better than Penguin. It’s done a bit of damage to innocent sites, too, but overall it did a fine job at removing some crap content and generally low quality sites. Overall I’ve seen some pretty big shake up in the SERPs for many keywords, usually rather positive changes, where Penguin penalized more heavily but had smaller ranking changes.

Have you been affected by this update? Positively or not? Share your thoughts and look forward to our follow-up post with advice to those whose SEO efforts suffered from the evil Panda!

SEO News: A Link Removal Tool in Google Webmaster Tools?

With the recent Penguin Update, aimed at fighting web-spam and targeting more specifically link anchor over-optimization, Google opened the door to so-called negative SEO, which I saw performed on some Japanese sites with a certain success… Gloomy.

So much that Matt Cutts (head of webspam team at Google) himself admitted that recently, the guys at Google noticed successful cases of negative SEO, meaning that innocent sites were severely penalized for actions they had absolutely no control over.

Following this statement, the rumor has been growing that Google may soon be releasing a tool in Google Webmaster Tools that would allow website owners to indicate which links they think shouldn’t be taken into consideration by search engines.

As many stated, it would be not only a good way to limit negative SEO damage, but also a great chance for Google to easily uncover bad link sources, link farms, networks, and progress faster in their war against spam and work with a better marketing communication.

So will the rumor turn into something concrete? I personally hope so, for all webmasters who were unfairly hit by the recent search engine updates.

Google Penguin and SEO Recovery

So it’s been exactly a month since Google took the SEO World by surprise with its infamous Penguin update. Although widely criticized, Google didn’t flinch and keeps updating its algorithm as it’s always been doing.

Thus, one of the big topics lately, in Japan and the rest of the World has been “How the hell do I recover from the Penguin?”. Let me share an experience from Scottsdale SEO Company in this topic, I’ll show you how they helped a few struggling clients get their traffic back.

The first thing to understand is that penalties from Penguin are given automatically. In other words, there has to be some sort of “Overoptimization/Spam score” being calculated for pages and websites, and if your score is too high, you get your ass kicked. As simple as that. So in theory, recovering from these penalties is all about adjusting a number of variables.

It is believed the penalty is applied depending on a number of pondered factors, anchor text distribution being by far the most important one. I will focus on anchors for this article, but please understand that you will only help yourself if you remove links to low quality pages and avoid keyword stuffing/aggressive internal links. If anchors are not the problem, it is something you may want to take a look at.

So, back to recovery, I would see two big cases, which correspond to two levels of penalty:

  1. Page-based penalty: Only some of your pages have seen their rankings drop significantly. This one is rather easy, just check each individual page and the links they receive. Change the anchors of links you have control over to something less aggressive, and create new ones, also with “natural” anchors (brand name, “here”, URL…). Editing the page’s contents, adding new info can also help send positive signals to Google. If it’s not enough, recreate the page with a new URL and updated contents.
  2. Site-wide penalty: That one’s nasty. If you get it, it means you really screwed up your SEO and probably have thousands of nasty links pointing at you. Here, you have two possibilities: if you have some level of control on most of these links, go ahead and edit them, removing the lowest quality ones, creating new good quality links, maybe add a few good pages on your site, then wait and pray. If not, this is tough to hear, but you will probably need to start a new page. In this case, my advice is to reuse all your legit contents, get the old, good links pointing at your new domain when possible, and redirect the old pages that you consider of good quality and that don’t have a lot of bad links pointing at them

It might sound like a lot of work, but if your contents are good, there is no reason not to recover from the penalties you may get. Like I said in my previous post, this update is changing the SEO World and I still believe the Japanese SERPs didn’t benefit from the update at all, but the only thing you can really do is get back to work and put good stuff out.

If you were hit by the update or are trying to improve your rankings, please feel free to check my service page. And if you want a quick, free and informal diagnosis for your damaged site, just drop a quick comment below!

Google’s “Penguin” Update: a Global Fail? In Japan, no Doubt…

Things may not be absolutely stable just yet, but it isn’t hard to say Google’s last update, called “Penguin”, is going to change the way people approach SEO not only in Japan, but in the whole World, to an even greater extent than Panda.

The problem is, the penguin we’re dealing with is more of a socially akward one than an emperor.

Google Penguin Update
Yeah… more like this

Last year’s Panda did a good job, removing a lot of low quality contents from Google’s index. There were a few collateral casualties, but they were quick to recover, and objectively the relevance of search results improved significantly.

Now, Google decided to take things a step further and try and hit the bad SEO guys, black hats, spammers, call them what you want. I say, great! There is yet a lot in this field to do for sure. So, Google rolled out a new update to take down sites that were “overoptimized”, especially regarding incoming links.

And this is when s*** happened…

Google PLS

Can't wait for the duck update!

Long story short, relevance of results significantly decreased from what I’ve seen on a number of English, Japanese and even French requests. Some quite decent sites have disappeared although they had clean link profiles, and worse still, some awful ones made it to the top of results, helped with… keyword stuffing. You know, that dumb tactic from the 90’s? Some sites exclusively relying on directory links, using always the same descriptions and anchors, seem to have held up exceptionally well.

So what is causing this? Well, after discussing with lots of webmasters and SEOs from different countries and backgrounds, it seems Google decided to hit certain types of links in priority. Especially those from PR sites and blogging platforms with optimized anchors seem to be having really nasty effect. This is leaving out a LOT of really terrible blog networks and low quality directories, which kind of blows my mind. My feeling is that we’re facing a half-baked update, which doesn’t only need to be better balanced, but also do what it is supposed to do thoroughly: take the crap out of the Internet.

What to do for now? I’m not sure. I don’t expect Google to let such a poor update out without reacting quickly, and I would advise webmasters/SEO people not to panic and give it a few extra weeks. As a first, safe measure, you could review your current backlinks and, when possible, edit those that may seem “too good to be genuine”, particularly regarding anchor texts.

So far, this blog seems to actually have benefited from the update, but trying to have a reasonable look at things, there’s just no way our little penguin will remain as it is. Learn manners, my little friend, and come back prettier!


CommentLuv: What’s the Score?

So, a couple of months ago, I installed the CommentLuv plugin on this blog not really knowing what to expect. Since I’ve been asked about the results a few times, I’ll share some here.

One question that comes up a lot is “Do you get more spam?”. The short answer to that would be Yes. I do get a lot of spam, more than before I installed the plugin. But it is hard to say whether it is the plugin’s fault or if it is just my site being noticed (I mean, scraped) and added to spammers’ lists. In general, from the moment you put a blog with anything identifying it as a WordPress blog, you can expect spam to be overwhelming.

The SEO effects? I don’t really know. Apparently, this site ranks well for “commentluv seo”, which I frankly don’t give a… which I don’t really care about, right. Anything with Japan attached would interest me more… What I can say is that it didn’t hurt my rankings, nor did improve them very significantly.

Now, what people want with this plugin is more human-written comments, correct? I do get more of these, clearly. Most of them come from people coming here to get a backlink, more or less discretely. One thing I realized is that it’s so so so easy to tell when someone comes to pick up a backlink for their SEO, Japanese or not, even the comment is relevant.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve been commenting on blogs with the intention of gaining relevant backlinks for my site… but I am doing some sorting between comments that really add something to the conversation, and those that may be absolutely relevant to the topic, but pretty empty in terms of added value. I’ll get you a few examples of what types of messages I usually validate and those I ignore.

Conclusion? Well, this may be a bit of a disappointing answer when you expect a clear YES or NO, but my best advice is to just give it a try. It did nothing to hurt my SEO, the spam is pretty bad whether you use the plugin or not any, and I got a couple of really nice comments. Takes me more time to sort them but I consider it an acceptable price to pay. See what works best for you!

Latest Google Updates in Japan – SEO, Over-optimization and Aggressive Anchoring

So, this is the time of the year where website owners freak out seeing their sites’ rankings go down and up and disappear and come back (maybe), the time of the year where webmasters question themselves “What did I do wrong?”.

After the infamous Panda Update, Google again came with a number of algorithm updates, trying to penalize sites that broke (a number of) its guidelines. And this time, implementation in Japan was quite fast, compared to our dear Panda.

More specifically, two types of penalty got a number of sites are starting to be kicked out of the SERPs:

-Aggressive anchoring: having 99% of your links anchored with the very keyword you are targeting is, well, suspicious. Most of the time this penalty seems to be automatic, so the best way to recover from it is to either update your old links with more natural anchors, or build new links with new linking texts.

-Over-optimization: do you need to have your keyword repeated 4 times in the title tag, even if the 4 versions are slightly different? Short answer: NO. It is unnatural, and Google is apparently getting good at detecting these types of things. So, make sure you don’t use your keywords more than needed. How to know whether or not it is the case? Well, if your copy doesn’t read very naturally, you certainly have the answer in hand…

These are the two big updates from Google for March/April and the effects on search engine results have already been very significant here in Japan.

A Productive Week of Japanese SEO R&D

This week I spent some time doing research about Japanese SEO resources. I of course did have some already, but sites live and die so fast that you need to refresh your lists a little bit every once in a while.

So I went digging, this time mostly for social bookmarking sites and directories, and I am reasonably satisfied with my findings. The social bookmarking sites in Japan are still far from being a strong trend, but I found an extra 2-3 I didn’t know before and that will complete my little Japanese resources collection.

Browsing through link directories was much more time costing. I had to do a lot of filtering through literally thousands of links to remove too low quality directories, those who don’t validate sites anymore etc… In the end, I came up with 20-30 directories that are of decent quality and have their own domain name. More satisfying was the fact I found a couple of Japanese link directories engines I didn’t know about. Pretty promising for my future SEO efforts!

It was a lot of work, and, to be frank, it was pretty tedious at times… but it is research, it is what you need to do if you want to stay at the top of your game. At least, it leaves me with the satisfactory feeling that I have stronger resources than ever!

Gray Hat SEO and Low Quality Links in Japan…

If you read some of my previous articles on this blog, you probably know already that I consider Japanese websites much less vulnerable to spam and black hat SEO tactics than their foreign equivalents. Your blogs, guestbooks and message boards never really get overly spammed and this is all great.  Now does it mean people here never employ tactics to artificially boost their rankings?

The answer is a big and definitive NO! They simply use tricks that are a little less dark, a little less unethical. And they’re kind of right because from what I’ve seen, it works pretty strong here.

The gray (dark gray?) tactic I see used a lot is automatic link exchange. You have something like 3-4 big platforms and networks that offer this service: you plug in your site, your title, your description and here you go! Usually these sites let you refuse manually link exchange with bad sites, but only let choose your category between very vague ones, such as “Business” or “Shopping”. They won’t let you spin your descriptions to make them unique, either.

So you do get a lot of links, but obviously these are of low quality. But since they are organized in tight networks, they actually are pretty strong at the moment. Panda apparently didn’t work the same just everywhere…

I can’t really blame people who enter these networks, because they actually provide some sorts of results, free of charge. The thing is, the day Google decides they’ve got enough of this and starts detecting such networks, most of these sites who rely only on automatic link exchange will see their rankings decrease dramatically, if they don’t get sandboxed.

I would recommend against these networks, because they are not what you want for the long term. If you want to give it a try though, make sure that you are extremely picky about the sites you accept to exchange links with, and don’t neglect other, more ethical forms of link building.

Google+ in Japan: How Big of a Rival for Japanese Social Networks?

There’s one question your hear a lot in the international marketing/SEO sphere recently: Can and will Google+ grow enough to catch Facebook someday?

The situation here in Japan is a little different. Gree, Mixi and Mobage are the leading social networks and Facebook, although progressively gaining ground, is still fairly far behind the 100% Japanese SNS, that are probably more adapted to the local audience.

Another point is, Google+’s growth in the West owes much to the search engine itself, and Google’s very aggressive marketing. But here in Japan, Yahoo is still the leading search engine, may it be by a small margin, and it won’t display results depending on your circles, or promote G+ directly.

Actually, Japanese SERPs tend to give Google+ much less visual importance when compared to their European/North American counterparts. It doesn’t necessarily mean Big G isn’t trying to break into the Japanese market, but they are most like aware of the uniqueness of this market and may not want to spend too much money.

Does it mean Google+ shouldn’t matter for Japanese businesses? Not at all! As a rather niche SNS, G+ in Japan will attract techies, other marketers and in general people who are active on the Internet. I can still offer some interesting opportunities, not to mention the potential SEO benefits.

My take would be: see Google+ in Japan a bit like you would see LinkedIn, a place where you can meet interesting people you may want to partner with  and increase your B2B efforts, rather than a website where you will be easily able to reach large audiences and the mass market.