Semalt Still Spamming

They aren’t giving up so I assume it works to catch the dumb fish. I (again) found “traffic” spikes in Analytics coming from,,, only to find that it is our old friends at Semalt. Does this spam even work? Maybe their real purpose it to generate traffic out of your curiosity to visit one of their spam links in Analytics that forwards to their website to improve their Alexa Rank or something. I can’t imagine anyone would do business with someone who uses dirty tricks to advertise “spam advertising” – not cool! So I advise that you don’t give them the benefit of a visit.

For those who won’t visit but are curious, search a bit for other webmaster comments. What I have found (and I’m not visiting their site to see what they are pitching today) is they are reportedly a Ukrainian SEO outfit.

Since this isn’t real traffic (100% bounce rate) you can’t filter them from your analytics. You’ve got to block them at the server. If you have access to your Apache htaccess file, adding this line in mod_rewrite should do it.

RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} ^.*seo-service.* [NC,OR]

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Diary of Google My Business

HARTENSTINE Search Engine First Marketing

This is the unvarnished version of the Ultimate Google My Business Guide, calling-out all those happy horse shit blogs about the so-called “support” that Google My Business (GMB) provides.

The Ultimate GMB Guide is here but that is just a rehash of Google guides – just a bit more straight forward.

But if you are here reading this, it means that The Ultimate Generic Guide won’t solve your problems, nor will it make your pain disappear.

Unlike the SEO “experts” writing blogs which make Google’s support sound like a pleasant walk in the park, I’m here to tell you it is anything but. I am one of those webmasters that actually does the work first-hand, and this is my experience.

#1 – Contrary to the what the experts write, you need to be disabused of the idea that GMB support DOES SOMETHING for you. When you ask them to actually “do something”, they will say “we can only guide you sir”. They explicitly say THEY DON’T DO ANYTHING.

Now here is one of those happy horse shit blogs

They write “staff is still incredibly helpful” and “they’ll be able to shut them down immediately“. Sounds like bullshit, because it is. GMB support is just following instructions on their screen. They won’t actually do anything except say rote-friendly things like “I understand your frustration” and “thank you for your patience” and they will not shut anything down.

Here are a few tips that might relieve some pain and speed your recovery.

#2 – Understand that Google probably (theory) makes more money if your GMB is screwed up. So no reason to think they are going to solve your problem quickly – thus the slow-motion labyrinth you currently find yourself in.

When you have 2 GMB listings that are causing your website to rank poorly – and I can prove that 2 listings will cause your website to NOT show up in Business Card where the big clicks are, you will be then compelled to spend more on ads to get the same traffic. (this part is not theory)

#3 – Google probably does not delete anything. First and foremost, Google is in the data mining business and they archive EVERYTHING. This has several negative implications for us when (supposedly) deleting location information like GMB listings and you can see that logic as things unfold…

#3a – If you manage to claim a listing (now you have 2 – a Published listing and a Duplicate listing). Regardless of what your support rep tells you, and in spite of what the final delete screen shows, the NEWER LISTING WILL BE DELETED.* It just happened to me. I was told the duplicate would be deleted – duplicate to whom?

I was given conflicting instructions from different GMB support reps. I was first told not to remove the duplicate listing. And that once I claimed the duplicate, the 2 listings would be merged. Well that never happened. On the next support call, I was told to remove and delete the duplicate. I asked (in writing) “will you confirm that nothing will be lost”? “No sir”.

Once that duplicate was deleted, the newer listing was gone. There goes a years worth of content! And we were left with a listing we did not create and with content that was now over a year old.

*Reviews will not be deleted. (see #3) Reviews will be MERGED, but everything else will disappear never to be recovered. Curious how that works, No?

(in this scenario, the business was purchased from a prior owner, the owner created a NEWER listing, while there also existed an OLDER listing which was never transfered due to lost logins).

Lesson learned: Google is going to delete the NEWER listing! You have no say in this! Google does it their way and support tells you what you want to hear AND THEY DON’T ACTUALLY DO ANYTHING!

#3b – Now you have Manager access of the OLD listing. You need Owner access. You get to start over and request Ownership and wait 7 days again.

#4 – When something goes wrong (in our scenario in #3a), your support rep will do 2 things, a) refer you to Adwords support (Really? Really! It just happened to me) and/or b) they will stop responding to your email.

#4a – When you call in AGAIN, and your rep is now curiously never available. The rep who answers your call this time will say “They will be in touch shortly. Thank you for your patience.” Click – end of the call and funny…I never get the survey at the end of those calls anymore.

Here is a twist. If you are trying to claim a listing, for reasons known only to Google and the current “Owner” (usually an agency) you may be given only Manager privileges. What good is that? You need Ownership to do many important things (besides the principal of the matter – that you are the owner of the business). KNOW THIS: you need to make the OWNERSHIP request using a DIFFERENT email than the email that is currently a Manager. What? This makes no sense and no one would normally arrive at that conclusion by themselves. I was told something like “its for your own protection”. Yeh, where have I heard that before?

I can document everything in this post. I have the email. I thought carefully before writing this post. I would like to provoke a response from the Google sycophants or from Google, who should take steps to see that their support is not giving advice that is destructive with no recourse otherwise. Where do you go when support screws up? We lost a years worth of content and then support won’t answering email or making things right (recover our lost content).

Some will say that the service is free and therefore we should not expect anything but a “best effort” from support. I argue that you overlooked how much money we spend on Adwords which is not “free” and Google My Business is fully integrated with Adwords. GMB has a huge affect on the efficacy of Adwords (ads).

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Chrome Browser SSL Ending Support For Symantec Thawte Verisign Equifax GeoTrust RapidSSL

Well that’s a big deal.

If you are running a Symantec certificate issued before June 1, 2016, and you do not replace the certificate, come April 17th, your site will be regarded as unsafe. The browser will display a big nasty warning that “Your connection is not secure” and most would-be visitors will be long gone.

Failure to replace your certificates will result in site breakage in upcoming versions of major browsers, including Chrome.

If you want to test your site

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How to Add Rich Snippets for Reviews and Ratings

HARTENSTINE Search Engine First Marketing Like everything we do, the subject of this post is really “How to get better visibility in Google Search Results”. Isn’t that what everything is about?

Use this How To post as a way for you (business owners) to understand the scope of the subject as well. Its not just about Review snippets. Here is how Google describes it.

Integrate with Search to help grow your business > Enhance Your Presence on Search > Search is evolving beyond ten blue links to bring your content to people in much richer and faster ways. Learn how structured data markup can drive users to your content and services with rich results on the Search results page.

Here are the features you have at your disposal to accomplish that.

For most business we work with, this is what we want – Local Business schema

And finally the Rich Snippets for Reviews and Ratings

Login to your Google Search Console (GSC) >
Structured Data Testing Tool >
Fetch & Validate >
Expand Reviews Section >

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Can I Optimize (SEO) Accelerated Mobile Pages?

HARTENSTINE Search Engine First Marketing What are Accelerated Mobile Pages and do I need to redesign my website yet again just so Google will keep my website in the top of SERPS? ( for crying-out-loud I just got a responsive website! )

Spoiler alert – No. relax. You do not need to do anything. AMP has a very small audience ( at the moment anyway ) since it is not usable for business websites – and your competition will not likely migrate their website to AMP. So there is no MAD imperative here.

AMP has been around for a while actually, and most people are just becoming aware of it. What is it? AMP is just a stripped-down version of a normal website. It has restricted functionality in exchange for loading speed with mobile devices in mind. As the creators point out below, it is designed for “reading” content, not things that require interaction. Therefore AMP is not a consideration for most businesses. As time enables more functionality into AMP designs, it may become a consideration.

AMP HTML is a subset of HTML with only specific JavaScript “components” available. It’s designed for creating “reading” content, rather than anything interactive. It is already designed to have ad units included and is going to have a standardized way of including analytics code, but it drastically limits the use of JavaScript.

But can I optimize AMP? Accelerated Mobile Pages are philosophically search engine optimized (SEO) already. That just means optimized for speed. So the answer is yes, Of course you can optimize other things that are not related to AMP – such as the content of the page, which can still be crafted for search engines. ( remember Grasshopper, 2500 words! )

If you want to transition your website to an AMP platform, get started here

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Inaccurate Search Rank in Google Search Console

HARTENSTINE Search Engine First Marketing Google’s Search Console (GSC), formerly Webmaster Tools (GWT) is the go-to for many people looking to determining the performance of their website. Many SEO firms and Third-Party vendors build tools entirely around Google’s Search Console API. For individuals its a warm-and-cozy-and-FREE source for search rank reporting. GSC data and related reporting is so ubiquitous that you would assume it must be, well…ACCURATE.


What if Google’s search rank reporting is inaccurate or plain erroneous?

We stumbled upon this issue because Google’s Search Console told us a client’s website ( don’t click here yet!) ranks an average 8.1 for their brand name keyword (black forest tours). That didn’t make sense. We’ve seen the website perform magnificently in search. It simply crushes all competition. So before you click-through and corrupt your personalization bais, conduct your own search for “black forest tours” and tell us in the comments what position the website got in your SERP.

Why should I use GSC

We searched from many different locations using different computers, employed SearchStation*, called some friends around the world to remove any personalization or location influences, and the website is in fact usually in the #1 spot and sometimes #2 – consistently for an average rank of 1.3 – globally!

Google’s reported average search rank of 8.1 is a huge difference. You would think something like that can’t be. So you have to ask, can we trust Google at all? Google says they “Dont’ Do Evil”. Does that translate into “we don’t mislead for profit?” There would be a strong motive here. If I rank #8 for my money-keywords, then I am highly motivated to pay Google (via Adwords pay-for-position) so that I am #1. Hmmm…

Search Console increasingly offers some useful tools for the webmaster, SEO, and business, but search rank reporting is not one of those.

What can you do about it?

You can use SearchStation* to get accurate real-world search rank reporting and other valuable analysis.

Are there others questioning or challenging the accuracy of search rank as reported in Google Search Console? Yes.

…My message to everyone: think about data quality and validity before using Google Webmaster Tool data for your research, predictions or reporting purposes. It is ok to analyse trends and movements, using individual data points is not recommended.

…Call me unsurprised, but this wasn’t even close. Standard rank tracking methods performed far better at predicting the actual number of clicks than the rank as presented in Google Search Console. We know that GSC’s rank data is an average position which almost certainly presents a false picture.

…Google does not really like others to evaluate what they scrape 🙂 So if you want real rankings from specific locations or languages you’ll have to go with…

*We build SearchStation for exactly these reasons, and more, accurate search rank checking is impossible to get any other way.

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Google Analytics Direct/Other Traffic Drop – Answered

HARTENSTINE Search Engine First Marketing Has your website analytics traffic suddenly dropped -80% in the Direct channel?

Normally we would look for this missing traffic to show up elsewhere, but no other channel has increased proportionately. You are probably down @ -50% overall as seen in this screenshot.
Default Channel Direct Drop in Traffic

What has happen?

Don’t panic. That traffic did not go somewhere else. Your search rank did not tank.

The traffic is still coming to your website. It is just not being reported in Google Analytics.


What happened is the referring website was switched to https but your website is still http therefore those visits will not be reported in your Google Analytics.

Didn’t you get this memo? back in 1999 in (RFC 2616)?

Because the source of a link might be private information or might reveal an otherwise private information source, it is strongly recommended that the user be able to elect whether or not the Referrer field is sent. For example, a browser client could have a toggle switch for browsing openly/anonymously, which would respectively enable/disable the sending of Referrer and From information.

That essentially was a privacy design in the https protocol 18 years ago. Now that privacy “option” is the default for our modern browsers. That means no referrer information is passed when outbound https protocol goes to (inbound) http protocol. The assumption is that you don’t want anything passed to an insecure (http) host from a secure (https) host.

Here’s an easy to understand grid of how it works between http and https:

http > http referrer passed
http > https referrer passed
https > https referrer passed
https > http referrer not passed

Back in about 2012 Google implied that employing https (secure internet communications) would increase your search rank performance. Savvy webmasters implemented https right away. “Old” industries didn’t get that memo.

The Cleanest Dirty Shirt

Five (5) years later and our (slow to adapt) website vendors just read what Google said (actually they are suddenly faced with competition forcing them to show they have a cleaner dirty shirt).

How to Fix https-to-http Referral Loss

Three (3) things :

  • 1) All outbound links on the referring website need to be edited to https where they link to an https enabled website.

However, you may not be able to get those links edited by the referrer. And to edit each link individually depending on the receiving protocol? That’s crazy! Everyone has got more important stuff to do. So we have to look at what we can accomplish ourselves.

A workaround was developed to tell browsers to override the privacy feature. All pages on a https website should include this meta tag to enable the referrer explicitly – so Google can capture it for analytics.

  • 2) <meta name=”referrer” content=”origin”>

Note that a newer tag has been introduced in HTML5 but fewer browsers support this tag. You may want to experiment for best results.

  • <meta name=”referrer” content=”always” />

Read more at W3C about Referrer Policy.

What if you have an https website, and the referrer is https. That should work, but it does not? Help!

  • 3) That means your website/host/vendor needs to FORCE https encryption (this is on the inbound website). Some hosts will accept both http & https requests and therein lies a problem for you. ( If you can’t get the referrer to edit the page and change the link to your websites to https, then that http link will be answered by the unencypted http protocol and then Google won’t report those visitors)  The solution to this problem is to FORCE HTTPS for all incoming traffic. That is how a proper webmaster would do it.

In the case you have the ability to edit both the outbound links and control the inbound website. Then do all of the above.

Want to know more about Google Analytics traffic sources ( Direct / None)?

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Can I Use One Google Search Console for Multiple Domains?

HARTENSTINE Search Engine First Marketing You can Google all-day-long and you will not find a definitive answer to this question.

Why is that?

For clarity, here is the closest thing you’ll find on the topic

We are not talking about Subdomains!

We are talking about Domains aren’t we? Exactly! I have been “doing this stuff” since Google was birthed (or became better than Altavista) @ 2001. I have seen all the evolution of methods to do-these-things with Google. These “things” I’ll call “methods”. They are simply ways to communicate with Google so they can do what they want to do; bigger, faster, better. These methods are called SEO (or “White-Hat SEO” that is).

So there are millions of people (you) doing their own SEO. You read Google support pages like most people read the newspaper. You participate on forums, ask questions, write about your opinions and experiences. All that gets indexed by Google.

Then how can a question like this remain ambiguous?

Exactly! Now here is where the developer says, “I don’t understand?”. The marketing person says, “But of course! That’s marketing”. The business person says, “Of course! That’s the nature of proprietary information.”.

I’m going to answer this question based on experience alone.

  • Question: Can I use one Google Search Console for multiple domains?
  • Answer: Its probably not a good idea.
  • Question: That’s no answer. OK! Why should I NOT use one Google Search Console for multiple domains?
  • Answer: Because Google likes Accounts linked to websites. ( And so do you because it provides more accurate telemetry in your analytics reporting ).

An ACCOUNT is a gmail login. A website is a PROPERTY of the ACCOUNT.

  • Question: I don’t get what that has to do with setting up multiple Domains in Google Search Console?
  • Answer: Because Google links Services (like Analytics) with Search Console, with Adwords, with GMB (Google My Business – God awful name that it is), and Adsense, etc.

Given all that linking between SERVICES, why do you think its a good idea to add to the complexity by adding multiple domains (Properties) to one Search Console (Account)?

  • You are not supposed to ask US questions! You are just blowing smoke with this “Services linked to Properties, linked to Accounts”. What’s next in your complexity lesson? Worm-holes?

I have found only by relative search rank performance – there is no absolute benchmark I can offer – that keeping 1 Google Account (gmail) dedicated to 1 Domain (website), yields much better search rank performance ( also mistakenly called SEO. re “My SEO is now much better because I...” Sounds like a health problem to me ).

  • Question: What else? Is that all that is floating around in your pea-sized brain?
  • Answer: No. Keeping 1 Google Account (gmail) dedicated to 1 Domain (website) also cuts down on management headaches, because Google gives you all the methods you need to setup your many Account/Domains in an easy-to-manage MCC, ( …wait for it…) proving that Google is very aware of the difficulties in adhering to all these ever-changing “methods” they create for you, whether you can find it documented online or not.
  • Question: Will this post get indexed?
  • Answer: Yes.
  • Question: Will I be able to find it in search results?
  • Answer: Probably not.

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Employee Policy Handbook for the Search Engine Marketing Age

HARTENSTINE Search Engine First Marketing These days, or in this post search engine marketing age, what employees do online can have a serious impact on a business’s success or failure. While I have no story to share about a business getting blacklisted by Google due to the actions of an employee, I have plenty of stories of employees doing things that inadvertently hurt the business’s online presence, which must certainly cause some financial loss.

(If you have such a story, please do share it in the comments)

Clients request guidance in this area all the time. Therefore it would seems obvious to do a quick search to locate a template from which to start writing your own Employee Policy Handbook (because I’m not a lawyer and nothing here may be construed as professional legal advice). As is often the case, that’s about as effective as trying to drink from a fire-hydrant. Here’s one example:

  • Company employees are expected to use the Internet responsibly and productively. Internet access is limited to job-related activities only and personal use is not permitted.

Duh! we need lawyers to write stuff like that, but that is not what we need to pro-actively help our employees do the right thing. And the other 100 commandments that go with that are not going to prevent employee related search rank mistakes from occurring (and the financial loss that goes with it). Yes, that boiler-plate stuff is good for the employee handbook, but not real-daily-life.

So I have put together a tangible-effective-non-legal set of rules that should achieve our goal of communicating to employees what is right and wrong, and therefore what is dangerous to the business’s well-being. It is important to not only have rules, but also an explanation regarding the reason for the rule.

  • You MAY NOT CREATE an online account for the Company, or use the Company name in ANY online account.
    • Why? (Really? you need me to spell this one out?) Lawyers will tell you that the Company name is a property. Since you don’t own it, its like stealing.
    • The other reason; these accounts will be indexed by search engines and displayed in search results in ways that may hurt the real business listing(s).
  • Do not use the Company name in ANY personal online account TITLE. For instance, you MAY NOT TITLE your Facebook account as “John Doe My Company“. You may use only your name in the account name (title). You may indicate that you work at My Company in your profile, but ONLY in your profile.
    • Why? Because the title will be indexed by search engines and compete in search rank where it is vital the company is displayed to customers searching for the company or its products.
    • Note this applies to ALL online accounts (re. Social Media accounts Pintrest, Google+, Twitter, etc.)
  • Do not click on the Company’s PAID ADS. You may occasionally see ads run by the company while searching  for something or reading articles in a trade website. DO NOT CLICK on any Company listings you may encounter.
    • Why? These listings cost money for each click. They are designed to bring customers to the website, and convert into sales. Your click amounts to a waste of valuable resources.
    • If you must search for the company’s website, scoll down the page to find the natural results listing. Ads are usually clearly marked.
    • Note you should bookmark the URL in your browser instead or simply type the URL into the browser address bar. Its quicker.
  • Do not post online reviews of yourself or of the Company. Reviews should come from real customers.
    • Why? There are several ways Google can tell its a fake review and penalize the Company website accordingly. Also, Most self-reviews are easy to recognize and it could serve to turn people off.
  • Do not try to “Claim” the Company website on Google+, Google Maps, Bing, Bing Maps, etc.
    • Why? The website/business listing is already claimed and managed by the appropriate person in the Company. You will be required to provide a phone number to verify the account and it will be easy to identify you. You don’t want that 😉
    • If you wish to help keep the Company profile fresh with photos and posts, please talk to your manager. Often they will welcome your help.

While this is not a robust list yet, the intent is to grow this non-legalese version of an Employee Policy Handbook for the Search Engine Marketing Age, so that this can be appended to your Official Employee Policy Handbook. These rules may be copied without permission or attribution. (but linkbacks are very welcome)

Your contributions are welcome and will be added so long as you agree to also share without permission. I will give attribution via linkback from this page if you like.

Some notes for Managers and Owners

  • Create Sub-accounts for Employee-Managers
    • You should already have your accounts ( GoogleMyBuiness, Google+, Youtube, Twitter, etc. ) setup with a webmaster (email) account. Employees should not be given access to webmaster accounts (if possible). Rather, best practice is to create sub-accounts that are given permission to manage the same account, thereby making a disgruntled employee departure much less dangerous.
    • Write it down! While regularly maintaining your online accounts makes it easy to remove a manager who has since moved on, you will forget who has permissions to what. Better to keep a log.
  • Use a good password manager (per the prior item)
    • I like Keepass to not only manage passwords, but to also keep notes on who has access to what.
    • It also has a document attach function – very handy

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Does HTTPS Help Search Rank?

HTTPS Should I Go All-In? Does encryption help my search rank?

There was a lot of noise some time ago (August 2014) about how Google would use https as a ranking signal. SERoundTable had this article out shortly thereafter. We finally decided it was time to test this signal.

We tested this very website over several weeks to see if Google treats websites that use HTTPS (SSL encryption) any different. We used forced and unforced https from WordPress and using htaccess (apache).

We saw the greatest drop in traffic using forced https by way of htaccess redirection for all URLs. This caused Google Mobile Friendly test to choke for some reason. We checked all our settings to see if we screwed up some where. But no other service reported issues. Everything worked fine except we saw our queries in Google Webmaster Tools drop to almost zero. Obviously Google does not seem to like this method very much.

The spot of good news was the drop in unwanted bots in logs and other noise from “those” referrers in our Google Analytics – not really worth if we also loose legit traffic.

We then switched to WordPress to do the same all-URLs redirection from within the settings menu. This worked better for Google Mobile Friendly test, but our traffic remained at the lows we experienced using htaccess and our queries as seen in GWM did not rebound.

We then rolled back to only forcing https using htaccess for only those pages requiring SSL encryption. The entire website can be accessed using both http and https. This seemed to be the best solution as our traffic began to return as queries seem to be rising back to normal levels.

Its not expensive to buy a SSL certificate. But considering how difficult it can be to setup SSL on a website – something requiring a bit of experience to get right – there is no reason to switch unless you need encryption. And then only force https on those pages that really need it.

…….January 24…….

https google search console


After a few weeks and with no further modifications, we noticed that Google Search Console prefers the https property over the others. That means we followed Google’s instructions to setup all possible URLs as properties with https one of them – as seen in this screenshot. As it turns out, Google has chosen to use the https property under which all all dashboard data is displayed. What does it mean? We have seen no significant change in search rank – if even a slight drop in placed.

We’ll report more as we learn more.

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