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Google Makes the Switch To HTTPS Mandatory

Google Makes the Switch To HTTPS Mandatory

Take a quick look at your website’s URL. Do you see a little green lock and the word “Secure” next to it? If you do, congratulations – you’re on the right side of technology history. But if you don’t see that lock, you need to be aware of Google’s latest mandatory change. Starting in July 2018, Google will begin marking all sites that aren’t using HTTPS as “Not Secure.” Additionally, you could start to be penalized in organic rankings. So what do you need to do?

A Quick Primer on HTTP and HTTPS

For many years, HTTP – or HyperText Transfer Protocol – was the default way information was transmitted across the web. HTTP allows computers to talk to each other and share information in a standardized way. Any time you enter an address in your web browser, click on a link, or submit your password to a website, you’re actually making an HTTP request to another computer somewhere in the world. The content of your request, and the response you get from the other computer, determines what comes up on your screen.

The problem with this system is that it wasn’t built with the modern Internet in mind. Today, people do all kind of sensitive and personal things online. This includes transferring money, writing confidential emails, managing medical information and more. But HTTP doesn’t keep any of this information private. It’s possible to extract sensitive data like passwords, credit card details, and other personal info when you communicate with a website over HTTP.

This is the problem HTTPS solves. HTTPS – HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure – uses encryption to scramble information transmitted between computers over the Internet. When a website uses HTTPS, you can feel safe entering your password, financial details, or other personal information. Everything is protected at all points between your computer and the one you’re communicating with.

Google is pushing for more sites to use HTTPS to protect both standard users and websites. Additionally, HTTPS benefits you by allowing you to use new features on your website, like allowing users to take and send pictures directly or requesting a user’s location.

How Can I Get HTTPS on My Website?

To have your website marked as Secure, the first step is to purchase and install an SSL certificiate. SSL certificates are available from a wide range of vendors and authorities. However, finding a trustworthy one and installing it on your site can be complicated. You might not have much experience managing your website’s hosting and services. In this case we recommend reaching out to your webmaster or hosting provider for help.

After you have the certificate, you’ll also need to redirect your old, non-HTTPS website to your new secure site. You can use 301 Redirects on your site to automatically send visitors to secure pages. Setting up 301 redirects isn’t too complicated, but it can be time-consuming, especially on larger sites. Again, a good webmaster can help you handle this task and ensure your site is set up correctly.

How We Can Help

Alternatively, you can work with a dedicated partner like RankMonsters. At our agency, we provide website hosting, SSL certificate setup, and website optimization packages for all types of businesses and organizations. This includes setting up HTTPS, making sure all your pages are redirected, and keeping your site up-to-date and optimized. We can help your site manage the transition from HTTP to HTTPS smoothly and professionally. Plus, we’re always happy to answer questions and to help you get results.

If you want to learn more about helping your website perform better, contact RankMonsters today at (405) 605-8218. Or, you can fill out our form to request more information. We’re looking forward to helping you succeed online, so contact us today!

Big Changes Coming to Google Ad Grants

Big Changes Coming to Google Ad Grants

If your organization makes use of Google for Nonprofits and the Google Ad Grant, you should know that there are big changes coming to the system. On January 1, 2018, Google will begin implementing new rules for several aspects of Ad Grant accounts, including the ways organizations manage bids and the way they keep their accounts open. Here is a brief overview of what is changing and how you’ll have to adjust.

Changes to Bid Strategies

First, the biggest change: Google is lifting the $2.00 per click maximum bid for Ad Grant accounts.

This is a huge change for Ad Grant recipients, but it comes with a catch: You can only bid more than $2.00 per click when using the “Maximize Conversions” bid option, which sets your bids automatically using Google’s machine learning algorithms.

You can read more about the Maximize Conversions system directly from Google.

Here Is Conversion Rundown

  • To use Maximize Conversions, you will first need to enable Conversion Tracking. This means you’ll need to have your website set up in Google Analytics and have to add conversion tags to specific actions or events on your site. Conversions can be any defined action, such as visiting a certain page on your site, filling out a form, or clicking a link.
  • Maximize Conversions is a campaign-level bidding strategy that requires its own budget. You cannot share a budget with any other campaigns in your account. For Ad Grant recipients, that means you will need to manually set the budget to use either the entire $329 per day or a pre-set portion of that amount.
  • You won’t have direct control over how much you bid for individual keywords. Instead, Google will use the historical performance and expected performance of your ads to set bids on your behalf.

This is a major change to the Ad Grant program that could open many new possibilities to grantees. However, it could also present a significant challenge if you aren’t an Adwords power user already.

Changes to Terms and Policies

Along with the change to bid strategies, Google also made a number of changes to their policies and rules regarding Grant accounts. Here are a few of the big changes you need to be aware of:

Website Changes

Google requires that your website must be owned and operated by your organization. However, they now also require that your website clearly state your mission and purpose. You also must be very careful about the claims your site and your advertisements make, and especially if you are promoting specific services or consultations.

Furthermore, Google is now disallowing organizations from promoting websites with a commercial focus. That means if your organization primarily sells merchandise or requires fees for services, you must clearly disclose how you use money gained, such as by providing annual financial reports.

Account Management Policies

Ad Grant accounts have always had specific management policies, such as requiring grantees to log in to Adwords at least every 30 days and make changes at least every 90 days. Now, however, there are additional policies and rules:

  • Your account must maintain at least a 5% overall CTR each month. If your account goes longer than two months without meeting this goal it can be cancelled.
  • Ad Grant accounts must use specific geo-targeting to show ads in relevant locations.
  • Grant accounts must have at least one campaign with at least two ad groups, with two text ads in each ad group. Furthermore, each ad must have at least two sitelink ad extensions.
  • You must complete Google’s annual survey about the Ad Grant program. If you don’t complete the survey by the deadline your account can be suspended until after you complete it.

Some of these new policies might require major changes on your behalf, so make sure you start working on your account soon in order to meet the requirements.

Mission-Focused Advertising

Finally, Google is tightening their policies regarding keeping ad campaigns mission-focused. Google has always required that your advertisements be focused on the services of your organization, but now they are making adjustments to how they evaluate this rule. Most of these adjustments are based on the type and quality of keywords your account uses:

  • Organizations are still prohibited from using keywords for products or services they don’t own or manage, like “Google” or “YouTube.”
  • Your organization cannot use any single-word keywords except those on this short list of exceptions.
  • You can’t use overly broad or generic keywords such as “free e-books” or “download videos.” This also applies to broad keywords such as the names of individuals or the name of specific geographical places (“New York City”) or historical events (“The Battle of Hastings”).
  • Your keywords must maintain a Quality Score of 3 or more. You won’t be allowed to add any keywords with a Quality Score of two or lower, and your account could be suspended if you add or maintain keyword lists with too many low-quality keywords.

What These Changes Mean for You

Overall, these changes could be good for you if you are an active and dedicated manager of your Adwords account. They could allow you to make higher bids on desirable keywords and spend a larger portion of your $10,000 monthly grant.

However, if you aren’t an experienced Adwords manager, these changes could spell trouble. Google is obviously trying to weed out low-effort and low-engagement grantees with these changes, but they could also catch inexperienced nonprofits in their net. One thing is certain: if you need to make any changes to your account to stay in compliance and maintain your grant, you need to start working now.

How We Can Help

Not sure what to do or what steps to take? RankMonsters can help. We’re Adwords Certified Partners with years of experience managing Adwords and Ad Grant accounts of every size and type. Take a look at our available packages or give us a call at (405) 605-8218 to learn more.

How Nonprofits Can Use Google’s New Text Message Ad Extension

How Nonprofits Can Use Google’s New Text Message Ad Extension

Recently Google announced a new extension for Adwords customers to use in text ads: click-to-message. Much like the popular click-to-call extension, the message extension is a mobile-only ad extension that allows people to directly contact you through your Adwords advertisements; without needing to visit your website.

The possibilities for the new messaging extension are huge. Especially for nonprofits hoping to connect with younger, mobile-savvy audiences. What makes this new extension so special? Keep reading to find out.

What Is the Message Extension?

The new click-to-message extension is one of many ad extensions that users can add to their text ads on Google’s Adwords advertising platform. There are several types of ad extensions. Including ones that add your business address to your ad or display multiple links to your site. However, they all have the same goal. Get more people to click on your ad.

The message extension works similarly to Google’s call extension. Underneath your ad will be an option to send a text message to get in touch with someone at your business. When a user clicks on this option, they will automatically be taken to their messaging app. Where they can send you a text as usual.

Organizations using the message extension also have the opportunity to write a “suggested” text for people who click on their ad. This text will automatically appear in the text entry field when the message app opens. Though users will be free to edit it as they wish. This suggested text can give you a good way to connect with potential clients before the conversation even begins by anticipating their needs, and focusing your message around them.

Why Is the Message Extension Good for Nonprofits?

Nonprofits stand in a position to make especially good use of the message extension. Some of the biggest ways the message extension benefits nonprofit organizations are:

Audience Reach

One of the biggest benefits of this extension is how it allows nonprofits to connect to a younger mobile-focused audience. For instance, a nonprofit pregnancy center focused on helping women in crisis pregnancies can use this extension to connect easily with teens and younger women, who are more likely to use a smartphone instead of a computer or laptop.

Convenience

Another benefit of this extension is convenience. With a call extension, you need to make sure someone is available to answer calls and talk to clients. In contrast, text messaging allows one person to handle several client conversations at once, and to respond to messages as they come in without worrying about putting people on hold.

Privacy

Text messages are also beneficial because many people are more comfortable with the relatively private and removed nature of text messages versus more intimate phone conversations. For clients requesting services or help from your organization, texting might be a more private and comfortable way for them to communicate.

Cost

Like all of Google’s ad extensions, the message extension doesn’t have any additional cost beyond a regular Adwords ad. That means if you’re already paying for Adwords – or if you make use of a Google Grant to get free advertising on the platform. You won’t see any additional costs from making use of this new feature.

Record Keeping

Finally, text messages have the benefit of creating an immediate record of all information in a conversation. With phone calls you have to be sure to have good record-keeping practices in place, but texts allow you to refer back to earlier messages easily. That means you can focus on the conversation itself rather than on taking notes.

How To Set Up the Message Extension

If you’re interested in setting up message extensions in your Adwords account, simply follow the steps outlined in Google’s Adwords Support Pages. If you need additional help or advice in setting up your message extension, or you don’t have an Adwords account yet, you can also contact us for help.

  • The phone number used for receiving text messages from clients must connect to your business or organization or to a representative of your organization. You can’t direct text messages to a third party or external service.
  • You must respond in a timely and appropriate manner – no excessive delays. Also, once someone texts you, that doesn’t give you license to send them promotional or unrelated text messages afterward.
  • Finally, you aren’t allowed to ask for any financial information or any government-issued identification data in text messages. If you want to take donations or get detailed data about your clients, you’ll need to talk over the phone or set up a secure system on your website.

Learn More About Nonprofit Advertising

If you want to use Adwords and other online advertising to help your organization succeed online, contact RankMonsters today. We specialize in working with 501(c)(3) organizations who want to reach more customers and clients online. Contact us today to learn about how your organization can make use of Adwords and qualify for a grant worth $10,000 per month in free advertising from Google.

Did Penguin 3.0 Crash Your Rankings?

Did Penguin 3.0 Crash Your Rankings?

Where did my website go?

Many business owners and webmasters asked themselves this question late last week. On Friday, October 17th, Google issued an update to it’s infamous Penguin ranking algorithm. This update, Penguin 3.0, has caused both ranking gains and losses for websites in Google search results. If your website used to rank on Page 1 and now ranks on Page 8 (or vice versa). You might have been hit by Penguin.

But this begs the question – what is Penguin, and how does it decide which websites to praise and which ones to punish?

What Is Google Penguin?

Google runs on algorithms. These computer programs work together. Using defined sets of rules and criteria, to filter through the millions of websites on the Internet. Google’s many algorithms include Panda, an algorithm designed to exclude poor content from search results; Hummingbird, which lets Google interpret search queries better; and Penguin.

In theory, Penguin is designed to help filter low-quality websites from search results. It operates by looking at a site’s link profile. The links coming from across the web back to that site. If the link profile looks “spammy” to Penguin, it penalizes the site in search results while simultaneously promoting sites with “clean” link profiles. Unfortunately, innocent or older sites can also get caught in the algorithm.

How Many People Were Affected By This?

This update marks the first major change to the Penguin algorithm since October 4, 2013. When Google released a refresh of the algorithm which they called Penguin 2.1. That last refresh affected rankings for somewhere between 1 and 2 percent of all searches on Google. So far, Penguin 3.0 is looking to be broader in scope than previous versions.

Did Penguin Affect Me?

The biggest problem with Penguin, at least to webmasters, is that it doesn’t give websites any warning before it strikes. One day your website is comfortably ranking on the first page for some of your key terms, and the next it’s simply gone. Many website owners don’t realize they’ve been hit by Penguin  until weeks later. Sometimes they never realize at all.

There are a few ways to tell if Penguin has affected your site. The first is simply to check your search rankings. Google’s own Webmaster Tools is a good way to keep track of your average search engine rank, though you should keep in mind that it’s just an average. If your site fluctuates between ranking in position 1 and position 10, your average rank will be 5.

However, if your average rankings and impressions in Webmaster Tools have taken a hit since October 17th, Penguin is probably to blame. As an alternative method, you can also check how much traffic you’re receiving from search engines and compare it to pre-Penguin levels. If your traffic has dropped off significantly, you may have been hit.

What Can I Do to Recover?

Penguin works on a simple principle: if a website has a link profile that looks to be spammy or unnatural – that is, made up mostly of links that were bought instead of earned. That website will be penalized. That means the only real way to gain your rankings back after being hit by Penguin is to clean up your link profile and remove links that Penguin finds suspicious.

What Web Tool Should I Be Using?

There are a few different tools you can use to view the list of sites linking to you. The one tool most website owners should probably use is Webmaster Tools. For a detailed overview of how to clean up your link profile and get your site back on Penguin’s good side, take a look at our blog post on how to clean up your links.

Unfortunately for many webmasters punished by Penguin, cleaning up your links isn’t an instant solution. The Penguin algorithm is updated manually by Google. So the changes in your link profile may not impact your rankings in Google search results until the algorithm updates again. Since Penguin only updates every few months at best, and over a year in this case, it’s very important that you get your links as clean as possible so you aren’t waiting for a long time to recover from negative links.

How Can I Protect Myself from Penguin in the Future?

One thing is for sure: Penguin 3.0 will not be the last Penguin update to shake up the search results. Whether you were hit by this latest update or you simply want to protect your website’s current rankings from future updates. You should do what you can to clean up your link profile and make sure Penguin won’t target you.

Whats Going To Be My Strategy?

Once you’ve cleaned up your link profile, you should think about your strategy for earning links online and getting better rankings. If you’ve ever paid to have your site listed in a directory or placed in a blog post, now is the time to stop those activities. Even if your site didn’t get punished this time. There’s no guarantee it won’t get caught in Penguin’s next iteration.

Paid Links Equal Bad Links

Keep in mind that not every paid link is a bad link. Paid links on high-quality sites or respectable directories for your business can be valuable. A good rule of thumb is, if you’re paying for more links than you’re earning naturally, you should retool your activities. You should never pay for a link with the sole goal of earning rankings. Only use paid links when they offer actual value to your site or the one linking to you.

Get Honest Results

If you are paying money to someone who promises thousands of links in just days or weeks. You should stop immediately. Your link-building strategy should focus on earning high-quality links from other authoritative sites. The best way to do that? Do something on your site that other people want to link to and share it with those people.

Focus On Quality Work

Many small businesses find success in running promotions on their site. While bigger businesses may also get lots of links by releasing white papers or original research about their industry. Whatever your strategy, it should be focused on creating good, high-quality content, not just getting links.

Want to learn more about getting better results and higher rankings for your website? Contact us today at RankMonsters! We’re a local Internet marketing agency, and we specialize in helping business owners get more performance and more revenue out of their websites. Call us today at (405) 605-8218 or check out our Facebook and Twitter pages for more insight and tips!

Google Changes Algorithms Again, Your Site May Be Affected

Google Changes Algorithms Again, Your Site May Be Affected

Though it seems like only yesterday that Google rolled out the last round of updates to its ranking algorithms, a new update has just arrived. Over the last few days, Google updated its Panda algorithm and its Spam algorithm. There is also speculation that another update to the Penguin algorithm could soon follow. These updates mean significant ranking and traffic change for many websites.

Google

Google has officially denied that they have any plans to update Penguin, but some people in the SEO industry suspect that they might just be saying that to avoid public outcry before the algorithm takes full effect.

Feeling Confused?

Confused about what these vicious penguins and giant pandas want to do to your website? We totally understand. It can be tough for people who don’t keep up with SEO news to keep track of every Google algorithm. That’s why we thought it might be useful to provide a brief overview of Google’s ranking algorithms and how they affect you.

Google Panda

Google’s Panda algorithm finds and filters low-quality content from search engine results. This ensures that only the most relevant, truly engaging websites make it onto the first page of results. The current update, known as Panda 4.0, marks the fourth major change to Panda. However, Google also updates Panda with rolling monthly updates in an effort to stay ahead of each new scheme to drive up rankings for low-quality content.

Panda affects a large portion of the searches done through Google. In fact, Google’s SEO expert Matt Cutts says that Panda 4.0 affects the results for about 7.5% of all English language searches. This has caused dramatic changes to the rankings and traffic of some websites.

Google Spam Algorithm

Also known as Google’s “Payday Loan Algorithm”, the Spam Algorithm specifically targets spammy websites that use terms you might see in your email’s junk folder, such as “payday loans”, “viagra”, “life insurance”, “LASIK” and “free coupons”. The Spam Algorithm mostly affected foreign websites and pages containing large numbers of spammy or extremely low-quality links and keywords. Most legitimate websites were not hurt.

Google Penguin

Penguin may be Google’s biggest and baddest algorithm update. While Panda targets low-quality content and the Payday Loans Algorithm fights spammers. Penguin punishes poor SEO tactics. Sites that were SEO-ed with practices that worked in the past but are frowned upon today are going to feel the brunt of this algorithm change. This is because Penguin doesn’t differentiate between recent work and optimization done years ago. When guidelines were different. In fact, it’s extremely harsh on any problems that it finds.

Penguins Hunt

Penguin focuses primarily on finding and filtering out sites it believes to have unnatural or highly optimized link profiles. In other words, it looks at all the websites on the Internet that link to your site and decides whether or not you “earned” those links (by providing high-quality content and services that people want to share or listing yourself on high-quality curated directories) or you “paid” for them (by hiring an unscrupulous SEO company or spamming links out across the Internet indiscriminately). If Google’s Penguin decides that your links weren’t “earned”, it will drastically reduce your site’s ranking positions and traffic.

What Worked Then, Wont Work Now

Unfortunately, the Penguin algorithm can’t tell when or how links were created. This means that people who used SEO companies several years ago are getting penalized for these poor links today. Even though the work these companies did wasn’t frowned upon at the time. Google is punishing these people for doing things it decided were wrong long after they did them. Penguin also makes it easy for competitors, spammers, and malcontents to sabotage your website by sending spammy links to negatively affect your rankings.

What You Can Do

All of this may sound very scary to you. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to protect your website. The best way to avoid any trouble is by following Google’s Webmaster Guidelines very closely and making sure your SEO company does the same. The Webmaster Guidelines are Google’s own list of tactics that will and won’t get you penalized by their current algorithms. Following these guidelines ensures that your website will keep attracting the same high traffic unimpeded.

The Guidelines 

While following the guidelines is the safest path, it doesn’t get you much movement. Even if you follow Google’s guidelines to a T without additional work you may not achieve the success you desire. Fortunately, there are still a few SEO techniques that will help boost your rankings and your website traffic without attracting any penalties from the Google algorithms. These tactics include:

  • Keeping Your Site Updated – Regular updates to the content on your website, whether it is on your homepage, in a blog, in your testimonials, or in your service page, helps Google’s ranking algorithm index your site and will send ranking signals that show your page is relevant for certain keywords. You earn more notice from Google and make it easier to gain rank by updating your website regularly with high-quality content.

  • Using Social Media – Using social media sites, such as Google+, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, to link back to your site performs several actions that help to raise your rankings. Firstly, you make it possible for people to see and share your content. Secondly, you build a connection between your social profiles and your website. Thirdly, you show Google that you’re an authority in your field who works hard to share your knowledge with others. All of these signals can make your site stronger and more likely to rank higher.

  • Building a Quality Site – Sites that buy higher rankings will get punished. Sites that earn higher rankings don’t. You need to earn higher rankings for your website by putting in some old-fashioned elbow grease and providing high-quality resources for the people who want your product or service. Well-written and original content, clean and easy-to-understand design, and helpful information tells Google that you’ are an upstanding and trustworthy member of the online community.

What RankMonsters Can Do For You

RankMonsters can answer any questions you may have about your website, your rankings and anything else related to Google algorithms and search engines. We live and breathe SEO and always stay on top of the latest algorithm changes. Call us today and find out how we can deliver you more traffic, deeper customer engagement, and higher sales.

Read more about Google updates here and here.