Wrapping up 2021 with our top 10!

30-second summary:

12 months, several curveballs, and some masterstrokesIf you missed out, today is a great day to look through the Search Engine Watch lens for the year gone byKey themes that were front of mind in 2021 – Google’s updates, cookie death counter-strategies, mastering customer experience elements, trust-building, and alternatives for search marketing and ranking

As the world, people, and of course businesses motored through a year of uncertainties – these crackers of articles gave your strategies an unfair advantage.

#1 – Google Page Experience update is all set to launch in May 2021 – Webmasters, hang in there!

You asked, “What is Page Experience, anyway? Do we really need to have an overflowing to-do list?” – and we answered everything around this enigma. This piece touched upon every aspect, angle, and action point that SEOs needed to know.

#2 – The search dilemma: looking beyond Google’s third-party cookie death

The ad tech and search industry continued to remain precarious that Google will use the cookie deprecation as a new way to establish market dominance to feed its own interests. Google expert, Susan Dolan drew from her rich experience and detailed realities of the search scape. She also shared insights and predicted future key themes that rose out of the 3p cookie death.

#3 – Everything you need to know about the Google MUM update

As the industry bid farewell to BERT, Google’s Multitask Unified Model (MUM) update in June 2021 opened new search experience dimensions. The cranked-up competition for search visibility between businesses and advertisers – left SEO practitioners and agencies with yet another burning question, “How will we win MUM’s good graces?” Joe Dawson’s comprehensive guide left no stone unturned.

#4 – Why killing your content marketing makes the most sense

“Kill your darlings”, yes, we said it! Though it sounded outlandish, this piece held wise and valuable advice from best-selling author Joe Pulizzi on why this could be one of the best business decisions you could’ve made in 2021.

#5 – Quora and Reddit: Powerhouses for SEO and marketing in 2021

Everyone is obsessed with Google, but did you know Reddit is the seventh most popular website in the US while Quora has a DR of 91? This guide shone a light on how your search strategy could take advantage of these platforms with diversification, tap into great brand-building opportunities, and enhance your E-A-T standing.

#6 – Now is the best time to stitch your search marketing loopholes before 2022

The third-party cookie still stands at a crucial intersection between digital marketing, SEO, paid media, web design, and several business tangents. The industry needed to think hard and think differently for a contingency plan. SEO pioneer, serial entrepreneur, and best-selling author, Kris Jones helped weave a tight SEO and search marketing strategy way ahead of 2022. Why? Because a stitch in time saves nine.

#7 – Seven first-party data capturing opportunities your business is missing out on

The internet continued zigging in a privacy-focused direction as a response to consumers’ increasing demand for a transparent, responsible, and ethical outlook towards their data. First-party data became indispensable and consumer trust, invaluable. While the playing field inched closer to the great reset, we revealed some hidden first-party gems every business could use to redesign their search marketing strategies.

#8 – UX: an important SEO ranking factor

The story of SEO and UX began almost 20 years ago with both making a foray into the market in the 1990s. Since then, SEO practitioners saw seasons change and the Page Experience, paired with data analysis finally etched UX as a key ranking factor. Atul Jindal condensed years of his experience working with fortune 50 companies into this SEO guide to help you win at SEO and search experience.

#9 – Cross-channel marketing: why you shouldn’t put all your eggs in the Google basket

The pandemic didn’t let us forget that while every business is unique, budgets too took a hit, making allocation stringent. But why did so many businesses still stick to the “big guns” when allocating spending? Adzooma CEO Rob Wass and Cambridge University’s Akanshaa Khare joined forces to challenge this notion. They produced some truly unique insights that would make stakeholders rethink their media spending habits.

#10 – Core Web Vitals report: 28 Ways to supercharge your site

Everyone remembers the chaos surrounding the Core Web Vitals in early 2021. SEO folks were keen to get ahead on optimizing their site and Twitter threads were full of speculation. Armed with information, we shared a 28-point checklist on action items to spot, optimize, and embrace the inevitable rollout of these new ranking factors.

Thank you for being valuable supporters throughout our journey. Team Search Engine Watch wishes everyone a happy year-end and an adventurous 2022!

*Ranked on page views, time on page, and bounce rate.

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2021 Google updates round up: everything businesses need to win at search

30-second summary:

There have been three core updates in 2021, released in June, July, and November, while another was rumored but unconfirmed in OctoberFeatured snippets that fell under the YMYL algorithm were unexpectedly removed in February, then restored in MarchProduct reviews came under the microscope in April, with marketing and sales-centric language penalized in favor of expertise on review-centric websitesMultiple spam updates unfolded throughout the year, though these updates should not impact any website that follows Google’s guidelines

Successful SEO strategy is akin to dancing the tango with Google updates. Unfortunately for copywriters, the Big G can be an unpredictable partner at times. In addition to daily algorithm tweaks that go unnoticed, we all brace ourselves for core updates that have a sizeable impact on page ranking and performance. Throughout 2021, Google has confirmed a handful of updates.

Further updates have also been speculated by experienced web-based professionals, reporting these to aid others in remaining on the right side of an adjustment. Throughout this guide, we’ll discuss the updates rolled out by Google in 2021 to date.

Complete list of 2021 Google updates

As promised, let’s review all the algorithm updates issued by Google during 2021, major and minor alike. Some of these are official, confirmed by Alphabet themselves. The core updates are an obvious example of this. Others were noticed by webmasters of influential brands and discussed online. These unconfirmed updates are marked in red below.

1. Passage indexing (February)

The passage indexing update, announced in October 2020, is probably better described as passage ranking. The purpose behind the update is simple and noble. It will pick out one particular sentence or paragraph from a long-form article, aiding a niche web query and avoiding irrelevance.

Essentially, this update seeks out keywords and terminology in an entire article rather than focusing primarily on titles and subheadings. At the time of writing, Google projects that this will impact around 7 percent of search queries. At this point, the passage indexing update also only applies to copy written in US English, though this will eventually become global and translingual policy.

Now, you may be wondering how this differs from a featured snippet. The short answer is that a snippet is chosen based on the whole web page, seeking relevance to the subject at hand in all aspects of the query. The passage indexing update can pick up on a small element of a broader discussion that would otherwise be banished to the mid-page and beyond. Speaking of featured snippets, however…

2. Featured snippet drop/featured snippet recovery (February and March)

In mid-February, MozCast noticed that featured snippets vanished from countless SERPs on Google. This involved a decline of some 40 percent, the largest in over six years. Snippets that revolved around medical or financial advice were particularly impacted. Some of the keywords and terms that experienced this plummet included:

AcneAutismDiabetesFibromyalgiaInvestmentIRALupusMutual fundsPensionRisk management

As you’ll see, the YMYL broad algorithm appeared to be a particular bone of contention. We’ll never know for sure, as this update – if indeed there was an update – has never been confirmed or denied by Google. What’s more, around a month later, these snippets returned as though they had never been away.

Without any explanation behind the mystery, it’s impossible to offer advice to webmasters on how to avoid a future unwarned absence of featured snippets. The fact that YMYL was hit so hard suggests that it was a deliberate action, though. Whenever working within this niche, proceed with caution – especially if relying on SERPs for ecommerce opportunities.

3. Product review update (April)

April’s product review update was also critical to ecommerce sites and those that collate product insights. Google is adamant that this has not been a core update. However, the approach that content marketers must now take mirrors the core updates that arose later in the year.

Following the review update, it’s more important than ever that product reviews remain strictly factual. That means discussing a product’s qualities (or lack thereof) without clear and obvious attempts to push for a sale from an affiliate. Sites that used their copy to talk up the qualities of a product using popular keywords and directing consumers toward Amazon were typically penalized.

Thin copy, as always, captured Google’s attention too, and not in a positive manner. Meaningless, fluffy words designed to pad out a page, along with repetition, will see a page slide down the rankings. A product review site that hopes to remain in good stead with Google must remember the fundamental rules of E-A-T. You can still attempt to make a sale, but not at the expense of demonstrating expertise, authority, and trustworthiness.

4. Multitask Unified Model aka MUM (June)

June was a busy month for Google, starting with the Multitask Unified Model update, better known as MUM. This update could be considered a logical extension of the previously discussed passage indexing update. MUM also used AI to improve the search experience for users, replacing BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers).

It’s claimed that MUM is at least 1,000 times more powerful than its predecessor. In addition to providing greater, much more insightful data for users, MUM works to eradicate language barriers, including misspellings, leaning upon nuance to meet the expectations of a search.

Perhaps more importantly, MUM means that irrelevant content, picked up through a questionable use of keywords to game the SEO system, will soon disappear from the top of the page in favor of more appropriate content. The core update that came later in the month garnered most of the headlines, but don’t sleep on the impact of MUM.

5. Spam updates (June)

Next in June came a spam update, which took place over two weeks. In theory, this update should not have impacted any website operating under white hat SEO rules. It was designed purely to keep content relevant and appropriate, battling against sinister tactics.

As always, though, there was room for error with this update. It’s always advisable to keep on top of the latest webmaster guidelines laid out by Google. This way, a site is considerably less likely to fall foul to a misunderstanding and accusations of black hat traffic-hoarding.

Updates to Google’s Predator algorithm could also be considered a crucial part of this update. Google has been taking lengths to protect people from harassment online, and a big part of this is downgrading sites that seemingly exist purely to denigrate a reputation.

6. Page experience update (June)

Page experience update sounds like a grand event, comparable even to a core update. In reality, this was a pretty low-key affair. It was also a slow procession, kicking off in June and rumbling on until August. All the same, there will be a degree of ebb and flow as a result. Discuss the update with your UX designer and ensure it remains at the forefront of your thinking.

One of the biggest takeaways from this update is that AMP is no longer essential to rank as a top new story. That could make a sizeable difference to any reporting site. The usual caveats still apply, though – sticking to the established policies of Google News is non-negotiable. Although AMP is no longer critical, ensure your news articles remain mobile-friendly, hosted on a fast and secure server, and unfold devoid of interruptions such as intrusive advertising.

7. Core update (June and July)

Here’s the big kahuna that has every web admin across the globe on tenterhooks – Google’s major summer core update. In 2021, Google announced two updates over June and July, both of which would be connected.

As always, there were winners and losers from this update. In a recurring theme, YMYL sites appeared to lose a great deal of traffic throughout the update – especially in June, when the changes were most volatile. Thin content in any niche also seemed to be a particular focus of this update, with such sites pruned cautiously.

However, some sites that were previously heavily penalized may have experienced a little bounce back. It has been claimed that the biggest priorities of the June and July updates, other than thin copy, have been domain age and the use of backlinks.

Review the traffic of any old sites that you wrote off after the game-changing updates of 2019. These sites may have experienced a revival in page ranking and could be worth reinvestment. Just be mindful that Google may consider this an oversight and reverse the decision at any moment.

8. Link spam update (July)

Another spam-detecting algorithm rolled out in July, this time focusing on backlinks. What’s interesting here is that Google referred to this update as ‘nullifying’ spam links, not penalizing them.

Essentially, Google will just stop counting inappropriate links toward a page ranking and quality score. Naturally, though, it would feel like a punishment if a site relied upon these links previously – this is an important Google update for link-building professionals to pay attention to.

Keep an eye on the links on your site if you have seen a drop in traffic, ensuring that they meet Google’s link scheme standards. It could be all too easy to fall foul to this update based on outdated copy that has not been updated in some time and now links to an altered and irrelevant online location.

9. Page title rewrites (August)

Here’s an interesting update from August. Google started to adjust carefully selected page titles, leading to different ‘headlines’ in search results. This may have SEO consultants across the world wailing and gnashing their teeth, seeing meticulously curated messaging adjusted according to Google’s whims.

Rest assured, the page titles are not undertaking complete rewrites. We are talking about adjustments, not wholesale changes, to title tags. All the same, it could be enough to leave a webmaster frustrated with the outcome. Nobody wants to be accused of click-baiting, especially when the news industry has a questionable reputation with a cynical population segment.

There is little anybody can do to prevent this. To retain some measure of control, though, keep your H1 headings short and readable, and be mindful of your H2 headings. These may be used, in part or whole, to adjust the title of a search result.

10. Speculated core update (October)

We previously discussed how, back in February, MozCast acknowledged some strange patterns pertaining to featured snippets that Google never acknowledged. Something similar unfolded in October when various significant webmasters noted sizeable changes in traffic and performance. This led to claims that Google had engaged in another core update.

Much like February, these changes remain unconfirmed. However, as we’ll discuss in a moment, there was a reasonably seismic core update in November. Given that the previous update unfolded over two months, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Google adopted the same practice this time around.

11. Spam update (November)

Another spam update occurred in November 2021, once again targeting infractions that break Google’s general content guidelines. A website that does not contravene basic regulations or cut SEO corners should remain unaffected. Do keep an eye on your traffic and performance, though. If you notice any fluctuations, it could be time for a refresh of your content.

12. Confirmed core update (November)

Finally, we had another core algorithm update in November. At the time of writing, this was still a very recent development. As a result, the impact of the update will become more apparent over time. Some early responses and acknowledgments have been noted, though.

The most significant adjustment appears to be mobile searches, which were declared 23 percent more volatile than the previous update. Again, much like earlier in the year, featured snippets and ‘quick answers’ in the YMYL niche seem the most heavily impacted. Health and real estate, in particular, have seen a big change in performance.

Now, it’s worth noting here that Google felt compelled to address the timing of this update. Danny Sullivan took to Twitter and accepted that an update just before Black Friday and the Christmas shopping season is not ideal for ecommerce sites – especially those that already adjusted their copy based on previous updates.

Source: Twitter

It will be interesting to see if this will change how Google approaches algorithm updates in 2022 and beyond.

This concludes our trip through the Google algorithm updates of 2021. Just remember, more tweaks and changes are made each day. Most of these adjustments have little to no impact on the performance of your website. If you have spotted a change in fortunes, though, review when this occurred. You may find the answer lies above.

Joe Dawson is Director of strategic growth agency, based in the UK. He can be found on Twitter @jdwn

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Did you miss our previous article…


You Sell Widgets, You Rank for Widgets, But You Also Want to Rank for Gizmos. Should Gizmos Get a Separate Site?

“Does Google expect my site to focus on just one thing?” is a common concern people have about their SEO campaigns, both local and non-local.  You might also have that concern if you’re thinking about wheeling out a service or product on your site that’s very different from your other services or products.

The one offering seems at least a little out-of-place with the other offerings on your site.  You wonder whether by adding it to your site you’ll mess up any existing rankings.  Maybe you also wonder whether the different/unusual service or product even can pull in some rankings on the main site, or if it needs to live on a separate site.

In considering an additional site, you’re not looking for extra work, but rather just don’t want to mess up a good thing or go on a fool’s errand.   Of course, there may also be a “branding” concern, but I’ll set that aside because it may not be an issue for you, or maybe you’ve already figured it out.  So I’ll assume your main worry is purely an SEO one – about whether you’ll water down your site and end up not ranking for much at all.

I’ll give you my short answer now, and fill in some gaps in a minute: you CAN successfully branch out on your site and rank for a service/product that’s different from the others, if you play your cards right that will not mess up your rankings for the other offerings, and unless branding is a big concern you do not need a separate site.

As usual, what I say is based on what I’ve seen for clients and observed in the wild.  In keeping with that, here are a few real-life examples I’ve been involved in, which may sound like the situation you’re in:

Example situation #1: A roofing company tries to rank also for siding terms and gutter terms, and succeeds.

Example situation #2: A divorce attorney tries to rank also for bankruptcy and personal-injury terms, and succeeds.

Example situation #3: A couples counselor tries to rank also for individual-therapy terms, and succeeds.

Example situation #4: A dentist who focuses mostly on cosmetic procedures tries to rank also for implant-dentistry terms, and succeeds.

Example situation #5: A battery shop tries to rank also for phone-repair terms, and succeeds.

I have more examples, but you get the idea.  In those cases and in many others I’ve seen, the branching-out didn’t involve whipping up a separate site for the different service.  You’ve probably also seen exactly what I’m talking about: No doubt you have seen some local businesses outrank you for terms that are dead-on relevant to your business and not very relevant to theirs, and thought “Why are they outranking me for that term – WTF?”

The kicker is that if those competitors went the route you’ve considered – if they had created separate sites for the relative oddball services or products – there’s a good chance they wouldn’t have outranked you.  Instead they chose to kept everything together, and it seems to have worked out perfectly.


But wait a minute.  Doesn’t Google care about the theme of your whole site?  Don’t you get some advantage from focusing on a niche?  Doesn’t Google favor specialists over generalists (especially in the Google Maps results)?

Yes, to some extent.  Where all else is equal, the specialized site has an advantage over the plump site, probably because generally more of the pages are relevant to the niche and viable to rank, because the domain name is probably dead-on relevant, because probably a greater percentage of the links are from sites relevant to the niche, and for about half a dozen other reasons I can think of (speculate on).  That’s why you can create a separate site, and why (with some work) it can be extremely effective.

But the older site and the newer site are not equal.  Probably the most important difference is the old site typically has more links from relevant sites than the new site will for a while.  Google knows more about the older site in general, and sees more signs of life, including whether you whip up a page for the new service and existing visitors go to it right away (even before it ranks for anything).  Your site may already have a smattering of rankings for terms related to the unusual service or product, even though you don’t have any pages for it yet.  The difference is that in one case you’re raising a kid for 5-6 years and then teaching him or her to ride a bike, and in the other case you’re only teaching a kid to ride a bike.  One of those processes is much quicker.

You have options.  You can whip up a new site to target the different or unrelated service, but it will take longer.  In my experience it’s easier to expand the range of terms the existing site ranks for.

How do you go about that?  By doing the basic steps I talk about all the time, most importantly:

On your longtime site that’s all about widgets, make a detailed page on the gizmo you offer.Go heavy on the internal links to the page about the gizmo, including on the homepage, main navigation, footer, and on a couple of other other products/services pages.Add to your homepage a section all about the gizmo(s). Keep all the existing content about the widgets you’re so renowned for.Get links from a couple of sites that are more relevant to gizmos than to widgets, to complement the links you’ve already got from widget-related sites.Get Google Maps reviews and other reviews from customers who bought the gizmo and who go into a little detail in their reviews.If possible, specify a “Gizmo Maker” or “Gizmo Seller” category on your Google Business Profile (Google My Business) page.Study the “performance” tab in Google Search Console and see if you’re getting any impressions for gizmo terms.On an ongoing basis add detail, internal links, FAQs, reviews, photos, videos, or other content to your “gizmo” page.In the later stage of that process revisit the idea of the separate site for gizmos. Yes, the one I said you should skip in favor of working on the existing site. If it ranks well, great.  It may.  Or if it doesn’t rank, you can always redirect or axe it.  It probably won’t do as well as the page (or pages) on the older site, or it will take more work than you’re willing to put in, but that’s what you’re here to find out.  Once you’ve avoided a situation where a dime is holding up a dollar, experiment away.

Do you have a site that seems too specialized for you to branch out on it?

To what extent do you have outlier pages that rank for very different terms from what your other pages rank for?  Why do those pages do well, as far as you can tell?

Any questions, puzzles to figure out, or strategy tips?

Leave a comment!


Google AdSense Guide: increase earnings and escape low CPC

30-second summary:

There are many factors that affect your AdSense performance right from content quality, ad placements, media selection, and so onHigh traffic doesn’t directly indicate high earnings, in fact, some of your practices may be equivalent to handing out money to your competitionHere are six informed steps to help you earn more from AdSense

Throughout this guide, you’ll learn how to increase your Google AdSense earnings by making some very simple changes and by following a few simple tips. In my personal experience, this can help skyrocket your AdSense CPC and results can increase your AdSense earnings by more than five times.

Your aim and objective throughout should be to gradually increase your AdSense CPC and CTR little by little and by following these simple tips you are bound to see results.

Don’t forget to keep on testing and your AdSense earnings will surely increase over time. Just don’t give up quickly!

1. Content is king on the internet and also on AdSense

The reason content is placed at the top of all the other tips is because it is the single most important rule to follow on your journey through SEO and internet marketing. It is the first thing your visitors, advertisers, and bots (ad bots and crawl bots) will notice after coming to your webpage.

If you are providing your users with low quality or outdated content, Google will rate your website much lower and your CPC (the bids advertisers make to appear on your website) will greatly fall. This can also get you smart-priced, even if you generate quality traffic on low-quality content.

So remember, always provide your readers and visitors with something unique and worthwhile which will actually acknowledge rather than something which has already been posted on a thousand other websites.

2. Ad sizes and placements are decisive

Do not neglect the placement and size of your Google AdSense ads as they play an important into delivering a better user experience and thus, improving your AdSense earnings.

“While creating ad sizes and placements, user experience and ad viewability should be the center focus”, explained SEO expert Boris Dzhingarov, in an email interview.

“Some placements and ad sizes will disrupt users, particularly if they’re covering content. Others, however, will fail miserably as the users never see them leading to a decrease in AdSense revenues”, he added.

So the question now is: where should you place your ad and which of Google’s display ad sizes are best for your business? The answer is pretty simple, place two ads inside your blog posts (or content) and one outside the post. Keep one 336 x 280 large rectangle ad on the top of the blog post just below the title and place the second ad in the middle of the blog post as a 468 x 60 sized banner. The remaining unit can be placed to the right of your post inside your sidebar.

Position your AdSense ad units as such to not annoy your visitors by popping right in their faces. Instead, perfectly fit inside your content, or in positions that you aim to get more clicks from.

For example, a site that provides file downloads can have an AdSense Ad Unit right near the download link to get a High CTR.

3. Monitor and limit the use of AdSense ad units

Have you tried limiting the use of your AdSense ad units? The biggest difference I myself have noticed is that by reducing the ad units which had the lowest CTR you can quickly and easily increase your AdSense CPC.

What usually happens is if you don’t have enough content to support all the ad units is that lower-paying ads start showing on your websites. This may increase your click-through rate (CTR) and bring in more clicks but because the ads may not be relevant to your website (public advertisements). This results in your CPC falling and your AdSense earnings decreasing. If you are increasing your ad units ultimately you are making it easier for advertisers to be shown on your website meaning an even lower CPC (because of low bids).

Remove the low CTR ad units and replace them with the higher paying ad units which have a higher CTR and your earnings will rise automatically.

Trying these tips for a couple of days will make you notice a real improvement and an important increase in low AdSense CPC.

Google AdSense Custom Channels will be necessary to keep track of things. This will give you a precise and clear idea of the best-performing ad slots. Measure the CTR, CPC, CPM, and earning of every ad unit.

Create custom channels for every ad slot and monitor their performance for at least two weeks to get an idea of things. If you keep changing ad units too often without testing them thoroughly you might get inaccurate results and miss out on better opportunities by placing your ads elsewhere.

How this is going to help in increasing your AdSense CPC?

Remove the low-performing ad units from your website (Compare CTR and final earnings of different units). Google should now serve better ads to other remaining ad slots which are performing well, so your earnings and CPC will increase.

4. Enable both text and image, media-rich ads

Always enable both text and image ads on your websites. Never limit your ad visibility to ‘Only image/media-rich ads’ or ‘Only text ads’ as this will lower the bids for advertisers to appear on your website. This directly means low AdSense CPC.

If you enable ‘Both text and image ads’ AdSense will automatically show the ad with the highest bid on your website which means a higher CPC for you.

In short, the more advertisers that are bidding to appear on your website the higher your AdSense CPC will be.

5. Keywords, keywords, and more keywords!

Try researching to find keywords with ‘High AdSense CPC’ and a ‘High Search Volume’. Searched globally using the Google Adwords keyword tool. Search, search and search some more to find specific keywords which have low competition, high CPC, and high search traffic.

After researching you can start creating your website pages, blog posts, and articles on such high-value keywords. Always use these keywords naturally at the beginning, the middle, and the end of your content. It is also very useful to add them to your headings or tags.

Try not to bother with keywords that pay a few cents and those that have a low CPM. Ideally, I would recommend grabbing keywords with a CPC higher than $2.50.

This should be the most important part of your mission. You would never want a page that earns one dollar from five to 10 clicks. Rather you want a page that pulls an impressive four to five dollars out of just two ad clicks, or maybe even $40 dollars out of just eight clicks!

If you don’t concentrate on your keywords, even if you have a lot of traffic you will be wasting it and not earning a substantial amount. Imagine this as handing out money to your own competition! By targeting the right keywords you can make a lot more with a lot less traffic.

Research on the Google keyword tool today and increase your Adsense CPC and earnings.

6. Reduce fraud, accidental, and useless clicks

Do you have an ad unit placed near the top of your content that gets a high CTR? Can this also be because of the awkward location that some people end up clicking on your ad by mistake? When this happens, the visitors often back out or close the ad. This is counted by Google as either an accidental or fraud click.

You may temporarily get earnings from these clicks but they will most probably be reverted due to the low-quality nature of the click.

So always try to minimize any accidental or useless clicks on your AdSense ad units and NEVER ask your friends or family to click on your ads!

Jacob M. is a copywriter, marketing blogger, inbound marketing consultant, and founder of Write Minds. He can be found on Twitter @jmcmillen89.

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Shoehorning Cities into the Address Field of a Google My Business Page

I may have seen this before, but it must not have registered with me until I saw it more than once on the same page of Google Maps results.   In any event, it’s new to me.  Below is an example.  Do you see what’s out of place?

Is it the plump business name?  Nope.  Keyword-stuffing like that is omnipresent.  What else looks odd?

That “service area” – Holy Moses!  Has Google started displaying in Google Maps all the cities in your GMB service area?  That’s what I thought at first, but notice: the cities are in the “address” field.

The street address is in the address field, but so are 12 cities (known as “suburbs” in Australia) and communities the business serves.

That isn’t a fluke, because on the very same page of Google Maps results is another GMB page with the same rigging, though both pages appear to belong to the same company.


That city-stuffed “address” field only shows up in Google Maps, as in at  It does not show up if you just type the query into Google and click on the map, or click on the “View all” link under the map, to pull up the local finder.

So, as with so many other things Google lets slide, it appears you can cram your service area into the address field of your GMB page.  Does it help rankings or help the business rank in a wider area?  I don’t know, though I would guess it doesn’t.  Those particular GMB pages don’t rank at the top of the heap for that query, but they’re far from the bottom: they’re #4 and 9, respectively, as of this writing.  Not bad.  They’re in the mix.  I could see how that stuffed address field might get more clicks, because the misplaced “service areas” blob is eye-catching.  But is that possible benefit worth increasing the chances of a suspension?  Probably not.

I wouldn’t suggest stuffing the address field with city names (or anything else), but I’ll admit I admire the fancy footwork required to do what that business did.

Speaking of which, how did they do that?


My educated guess is they verified the GMB page at the appropriate address, waited a while (and maybe worked on their citations), and then later went to work on the 1st “address” field in the GMB dashboard.  It’s possible that didn’t even trigger re-verification by postcard.  If it did trigger reverification, then the business owner must have been able to get the postcard sent to the first, correct version of the address (the one without all the city names), possibly in the way Joy Hawkins described here.

I might tinker around with this on my own GMB page (not a client’s) – just out of curiosity, and to see what’s involved.

How many times have you seen a GMB address field like that?

Has someone else written about it before?  (If so, I’d like to give that person credit.)

Any part of it you’re curious about?

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10 Years of Local Search Blogging

Today marks 10 years since I started blogging about local SEO and related topics, and in my view it marks the real start of my business and all that’s brought – including 400+ posts, way more skill, great clients, a great living, some friendships, a better understanding of my place on this dustball, and a bit of fun along the way.

Therefore, as Klingon ritual dictates, I must offer up a few stray thoughts today, even if there is an 80% chance it’s all irrelevant to you and a complete waste of your time.  On the other hand, if you’re a business owner who’s interested in the blogging or “content” thing, or if you’re a longtime reader here, or if you’re a local SEO-er, there may be bits and pieces of interest to you.

As I alluded to in my post from 5 years ago, I had been in local search for a couple of years by June of 2011, but my business model was completely different (i.e. not workable), and I didn’t have a blog or any other good way to connect with the very few other people in local search at the time, with or most of the people who’d become my clients.  If I never started the blog, there never would have been a business that lasted this long, and the start date wouldn’t have meant anything to me.  So maybe June of 2008 is the anniversary of my career choice, and September of 2009 is the anniversary of the website.  But June 1, 2011 is the anniversary of the business.

Anyway, even though most of my comments are on other matters, there are a couple of drive-by points I’d like to make about local search in general on this auspicious day.

I’m amazed at what a friendly industry this still is. By that, I mean the vast majority of people who work full-time in local SEO are nice people. I still haven’t figured out exactly why that is.  I haven’t even figured out how that can be, given how many unethical agencies there are, how many questionable software “solutions” have come and gone, how much spam is on the map, Google’s ever-increasing shadiness, and of course the horrors of the last year-plus.  Despite all of that, there remains a Mayberry vibe, and I’m grateful for it.Local search doesn’t seem to change much. Google’s tweaks, updates, ad injections, and rebrands seem like a big deal at the time, but they rarely still seem like major events in hindsight. Non-Google entities – other search engines, directories, software, services – tend not to influence the basic activities that separate some businesses from others.  “Revolutions” are few and far-between.  Mobile was a big deal.  Voice search…apparently not so much.

Neither of those observations is new to me, and probably isn’t a “Eureka!” moment for you, either.  In a similar way, if I were to recap what I’ve learned in the last 10 years, at least half of it would be exactly what I remarked on 5 years ago.  I’d say all of that still holds true.  But since then a few more things have dawned on me.

So, below are some observations, recommendations, and other neural gas from my last 10 years of blogging.  I hope these are relevant to you if you’re either a business owner who has some interest in blogging or other “content,” or if you’re in the local search industry, or both.

Don’t write for a big splash on Monday; write a post that readers will find useful for years.  The post may address a problem they don’t even have yet, and those people’s first visit to your site may be many months away.  Delivering your solution to those people is tricky, but if you can do it even a few times, your blogging will be worth everyone’s time.  If there’s one thing I’ve come to appreciate in the last 10 years, and especially in the last 5, the “think in years” approach is it, and most of my other thoughts here today are about how to do it.  A blog post should be less like sushi and more like a Slim Jim.You need an additional line of communication immediately downstream of your blog posts.  Probably your best bet is your email newsletter and not a Twitter feed or Facebook page or similar medium that you don’t really control and can be booted from.  In any event, very few people will read your post and contact you with the intention of working with you.  Either there’s not a need yet, or they need to get to know you more.  Whatever you hope to get out of it, blogging should part of the system, rather than the whole system.  This is where my “seed audience” approach may help.You can’t just be a blogger; you still need to ply your trade.  Ever watch This Old House-type shows and wonder whether the hosts ever swing a hammer?  Skills rot, and then insights do.  If you become the “ideas person” then it’s a matter of time before you start writing about inconsequential stuff, because you’ve lost sight of your audience’s challenges and therefore any solutions.  You can’t keep growing plants in soil that never gets replenished.  Keep your focus on doing your craft, rather than on blogging.  That’s how you’ll keep growing the experience that makes blogging worth your time and your readers’ time.Customers / clients / patients are your single best source of ideas.  They never run out of questions, observations, or new challenges.  If you talk with them all the time and hear what they’re saying, you’ll never run out of “content” ideas.  This is a main reason I say you need to remain hands-on in your business.Link out often and err on the side of giving more credit rather than less.  It compels you to do a little more homework on whatever you’re writing about, it makes for a more-helpful read, it’s just good form, and you’ll make more friends.It’s OK to slow down the pace.  The “write every day” approach has benefits, but isn’t sustainable.  Even if you put up something new once a week, you’ll run out of good ideas faster than you can get your hands on them.  Then either you’ll be forced to slow down anyway, or you’ll produce mush.  The right pace is the one you can stick with.  Case in point: I don’t post as often as I used to.  My “5 Years of Local Search Blogging” post was #276.  This one today is #405, rather than #552.  In the first 5 years I’d average 4 posts a month.  In the last 5 years I’ve averaged 1-2 posts a month.  So I’m going at about half the pace.  Has it hurt business?  Quite the opposite.  The posts are just more consistently useful these days.Avoid sounding corporate, or like a bigger organization than you are.  Avoid pompous words (like “ideation”), avoid industry jargon when you can, and don’t say “we” when you can say “I.”  Whatever you write or share, make it sound more like how you talk in-person.  I know that’s easier said than done, and I’ll admit that a very useful but stuffy post does more good for you and the reader than a less-useful but fun post can.  All I’m saying is go for useful AND relatable whenever you can.Don’t imitate anyone else, or at least anyone else in your industry.  Cover topics nobody else has, and do it in whatever style works for you, without necessarily thinking too much about it.  There’s a practical layer to that, which is that you don’t want to be an also-ran.  A decent number of people and entities in local search have done, shall we say, adaptations of my posts – often years after I wrote about whatever topic.  (I’d rather not name names.)  Often even the titles of the posts are similar to my originals.  Can’t say it doesn’t irk me a little, but those posts tend to be written by newer people, who often don’t have a mental bibliography of what’s been covered over the years.  The other reason not to cover other singers’ songs is that what you produce will be more memorable and therefore more useful to your readers.  I can’t tell you the number of times I talk with business owners who tell me they approach SEO/marketing in a certain way because of something I wrote in a post 3 years ago.  This may sound odd, but the universe knows if you’re original.Figure out what kind of habit or habits your posts will reinforce.  The people you’re writing for don’t want “fresh content”; they want to form habits that have payoff and can help them with problems big and small.  There is a place in the world for “daily news,” but people also get maxed out on that.  Also, the bearer of news often is not or will not seem to be a go-to person anyone wants to hire.  If your whole blogging or other content strategy is “news,” you’ll get an audience that just wants the news…and nothing more from you.  Instead, what you want is for people to think of what you produce in terms like, “every time I’m done with his post I come away with an idea I want to try,” or “every time I read one of her posts I learn about a problem I didn’t know about, and can avoid before it becomes a problem for me.”  Your blog (or other content vehicle) should be a gym, and not a sample tray at the supermarket.  Do that by focusing on specific questions and concerns, rather than on what you think will get clicks.Show gratitude to your readers.  Never take them for granted, even if they never pay you a dime or help in a conspicuous way.  The best way to do that is not to waste their attention with info that isn’t useful.  The next-best way is to ask for their feedback whenever you can and along the way to thank them for reading.  You may have a rough idea of what their situation is today, but you never know what’s next.  Some readers may be squeaking by today but will become a big success tomorrow – possibly due in part to the info you share – and he or she will return the good karma when you least expect it.  Other readers may refer you to friends or family who become great and longtime clients.  Some readers will get hit by a bus tomorrow.  Most people will read your stuff and benefit from it quietly.  Your audience isn’t a blob; the people in it will change over time.  We’re all just passing through town.  The question is what you do in the interim.  Pay extra attention to people who read your stuff year after year.  Ask them questions from time to time, and get to know them on one level or another.


This is probably a good time to say, whether you’re a longtime reader or just tripped on a banana peel and landed here, thanks for reading!

I’d be interested to hear if you have an all-time favorite post, or a favorite recent one, and of course I’d love any suggestions or questions.  (As always, I hope you’ll leave a comment.)