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SEO Best Practices for Canonical URLs + the Rel=Canonical Tag – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

If you’ve ever had any questions about the canonical tag, well, have we got the Whiteboard Friday for you. In today’s episode, Rand defines what rel=canonical means and its intended purpose, when it’s recommended you use it, how to use it, and sticky situations to avoid.

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SEO best practices for canonical URLs

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Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week, we’re going to chat about some SEO best practices for canonicalization and use of the rel=canonical tag.

Before we do that, I think it pays to talk about what a canonical URL is, because a canonical URL doesn’t just refer to a page upon which we are targeting or using the rel=canonical tag. Canonicalization has been around, in fact, much longer than the rel=canonical tag itself, which came out in 2009, and there are a bunch of different things that a canonical URL means.

What is a “canonical” URL?

So first off, what we’re trying to say is this URL is the one that we want Google and the other search engines to index and to rank. These other URLs that potentially have similar content or that are serving a similar purpose or perhaps are exact duplicates, but, for some reason, we have additional URLs of them, those ones should all tell the search engines, “No, no, this guy over here is the one you want.”

So, for example, I’ve got a canonical URL, ABC.com/a.

Then I have a duplicate of that for some reason. Maybe it’s a historical artifact or a problem in my site architecture. Maybe I intentionally did it. Maybe I’m doing it for some sort of tracking or testing purposes. But that URL is at ABC.com/b.

Then I have this other version, ABC.com/a?ref=twitter. What’s going on there? Well, that’s a URL parameter. The URL parameter doesn’t change the content. The content is exactly the same as A, but I really don’t want Google to get confused and rank this version, which can happen by the way. You’ll see URLs that are not the original version, that have some weird URL parameter ranking in Google sometimes. Sometimes this version gets more links than this version because they’re shared on Twitter, and so that’s the one everybody picked up and copied and pasted and linked to. That’s all fine and well, so long as we canonicalize it.

Or this one, it’s a print version. It’s ABC.com/aprint.html. So, in all of these cases, what I want to do is I want to tell Google, “Don’t index this one. Index this one. Don’t index this one. Index this one. Don’t index this one. Index this one.”

I can do that using this, the link rel=canonical, the href telling Google, “This is the page.” You put this in the header tag of any document and Google will know, “Aha, this is a copy or a clone or a duplicate of this other one. I should canonicalize all of my ranking signals, and I should make sure that this other version ranks.”

By the way, you can be self-referential. So it is perfectly fine for ABC.com/a to go ahead and use this as well, pointing to itself. That way, in the event that someone you’ve never even met decides to plug in question mark, some weird parameter and point that to you, you’re still telling Google, “Hey, guess what? This is the original version.”

Great. So since I don’t want Google to be confused, I can use this canonicalization process to do it. The rel=canonical tag is a great way to go. By the way, FYI, it can be used cross-domain. So, for example, if I republish the content on A at something like a Medium.com/@RandFish, which is, I think, my Medium account, /a, guess what? I can put in a cross-domain rel=canonical telling them, “This one over here.” Now, even if Google crawls this other website, they are going to know that this is the original version. Pretty darn cool.

Different ways to canonicalize multiple URLs

There are different ways to canonicalize multiple URLs.

1. Rel=canonical.

I mention that rel=canonical isn’t the only one. It’s one of the most strongly recommended, and that’s why I’m putting it at number one. But there are other ways to do it, and sometimes we want to apply some of these other ones. There are also not-recommended ways to do it, and I’m going to discuss those as well.

2. 301 redirect.

The 301 redirect, this is basically a status code telling Google, “Hey, you know what? I’m going to take /b, I’m going to point it to /a. It was a mistake to ever have /b. I don’t want anyone visiting it. I don’t want it clogging up my web analytics with visit data. You know what? Let’s just 301 redirect that old URL over to this new one, over to the right one.”

3. Passive parameters in Google search console.

Some parts of me like this, some parts of me don’t. I think for very complex websites with tons of URL parameters and a ton of URLs, it can be just an incredible pain sometimes to go to your web dev team and say like, “Hey, we got to clean up all these URL parameters. I need you to add the rel=canonical tag to all these different kinds of pages, and here’s what they should point to. Here’s the logic to do it.” They’re like, “Yeah, guess what? SEO is not a priority for us for the next six months, so you’re going to have to deal with it.”

Probably lots of SEOs out there have heard that from their web dev teams. Well, guess what? You can end around it, and this is a fine way to do that in the short term. Log in to your Google search console account that’s connected to your website. Make sure you’re verified. Then you can basically tell Google, through the Search Parameters section, to make certain kinds of parameters passive.

So, for example, you have sessionid=blah, blah, blah. You can set that to be passive. You can set it to be passive on certain kinds of URLs. You can set it to be passive on all types of URLs. That helps tell Google, “Hey, guess what? Whenever you see this URL parameter, just treat it like it doesn’t exist at all.” That can be a helpful way to canonicalize.

4. Use location hashes.

So let’s say that my goal with /b was basically to have exactly the same content as /a but with one slight difference, which was I was going to take a block of content about a subsection of the topic and place that at the top. So A has the section about whiteboard pens at the top, but B puts the section about whiteboard pens toward the bottom, and they put the section about whiteboards themselves up at the top. Well, it’s the same content, same search intent behind it. I’m doing the same thing.

Well, guess what? You can use the hash in the URL. So it’s a#b and that will jump someone – it’s also called a fragment URL – jump someone to that specific section on the page. You can see this, for example, Moz.com/about/jobs. I think if you plug in #listings, it will take you right to the job listings. Instead of reading about what it’s like to work here, you can just get directly to the list of jobs themselves. Now, Google considers that all one URL. So they’re not going to rank them differently. They don’t get indexed differently. They’re essentially canonicalized to the same URL.

NOT RECOMMENDED

I do not recommend…

5. Blocking Google from crawling one URL but not the other version.

Because guess what? Even if you use robots.txt and you block Googlebot’s spider and you send them away and they can’t reach it because you said robots.txt disallow /b, Google will not know that /b and /a have the same content on them. How could they?

They can’t crawl it. So they can’t see anything that’s here. It’s invisible to them. Therefore, they’ll have no idea that any ranking signals, any links that happen to point there, any engagement signals, any content signals, whatever ranking signals that might have helped A rank better, they can’t see them. If you canonicalize in one of these ways, now you’re telling Google, yes, B is the same as A, combine their forces, give me all the rankings ability.

6. I would also not recommend blocking indexation.

So you might say, “Ah, well Rand, I’ll use the meta robots no index tag, so that way Google can crawl it, they can see that the content is the same, but I won’t allow them to index it.” Guess what? Same problem. They can see that the content is the same, but unless Google is smart enough to automatically canonicalize, which I would not trust them on, I would always trust yourself first, you are essentially, again, preventing them from combining the ranking signals of B into A, and that’s something you really want.

7. I would not recommend using the 302, the 307, or any other 30x other than the 301.

This is the guy that you want. It is a permanent redirect. It is the most likely to be most successful in canonicalization, even though Google has said, “We often treat 301s and 302s similarly.” The exception to that rule is but a 301 is probably better for canonicalization. Guess what we’re trying to do? Canonicalize!

8. Don’t 40x the non-canonical version.

So don’t take /b and be like, “Oh, okay, that’s not the version we want anymore. We’ll 404 it.” Don’t 404 it when you could 301. If you send it over here with a 301 or you use the rel=canonical in your header, you take all the signals and you point them to A. You lose them if you 404 that in B. Now, all the signals from B are gone. That’s a sad and terrible thing. You don’t want to do that either.

The only time I might do this is if the page is very new or it was just an error. You don’t think it has any ranking signals, and you’ve got a bunch of other problems. You don’t want to deal with having to maintain the URL and the redirect long term. Fine. But if this was a real URL and real people visited it and real people linked to it, guess what? You need to redirect it because you want to save those signals.

When to canonicalize URLs

Last but not least, when should we canonicalize URLs versus not?

I. If the content is extremely similar or exactly duplicate.

Well, if it is the case that the content is either extremely similar or exactly duplicate on two different URLs, two or more URLs, you should always collapse and canonicalize those to a single one.

II. If the content is serving the same (or nearly the same) searcher intent (even if the KW targets vary somewhat).

If the content is not duplicate, maybe you have two pages that are completely unique about whiteboard pens and whiteboards, but even though the content is unique, meaning the phrasing and the sentence structures are the same, that does not mean that you shouldn’t canonicalize.

For example, this Whiteboard Friday about using the rel=canonical, about canonicalization is going to replace an old version from 2009. We are going to take that old version and we are going to use the rel=canonical. Why are we going to use the rel=canonical? So that you can still access the old one if for some reason you want to see the version that we originally came out with in 2009. But we definitely don’t want people visiting that one, and we want to tell Google, “Hey, the most up-to-date one, the new one, the best one is this new version that you’re watching right now.” I know this is slightly meta, but that is a perfectly reasonable use.

What I’m trying to aim at is searcher intent. So if the content is serving the same or nearly the same searcher intent, even if the keyword targeting is slightly different, you want to canonicalize those multiple versions. Google is going to do a much better job of ranking a single piece of content that has lots of good ranking signals for many, many keywords that are related to it, rather than splitting up your link equity and your other ranking signal equity across many, many pages that all target slightly different variations. Plus, it’s a pain in the butt to come up with all that different content. You would be best served by the very best content in one place.

III. If you’re republishing or refreshing or updating old content.

Like the Whiteboard Friday example I just used, you should use the rel=canonical in most cases. There are some exceptions. If you want to maintain that old version, but you’d like the old version’s ranking signals to come to the new version, you can take the content from the old version, republish that at /a-old. Then take /a and redirect that or publish the new version on there and have that version be the one that is canonical and the old version exist at some URL you’ve just created but that’s /old. So republishing, refreshing, updating old content, generally canonicalization is the way to go, and you can preserve the old version if you want.

IV. If content, a product, an event, etc. is no longer available and there’s a near best match on another URL.

If you have content that is expiring, a piece of content, a product, an event, something like that that’s going away, it’s no longer available and there’s a next best version, the version that you think is most likely to solve the searcher’s problems and that they’re probably looking for anyway, you can canonicalize in that case, usually with a 301 rather than with a rel=canonical, because you don’t want someone visiting the old page where nothing is available. You want both searchers and engines to get redirected to the new version, so good idea to essentially 301 at that point.

Okay, folks. Look forward to your questions about rel=canonicals, canonical URLs, and canonicalization in general in SEO. And we’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Moz Transitions: Rand to Step Away from Operations and into Advisory Role in Early 2018

Posted by SarahBird

I have some big news to share with you.

As many of you know, three and a half years ago, Rand began to shift his role at Moz. He transitioned from CEO into a product architect role where he could focus his passion and have hands-on impact in evolving our tools. Now, over the next 6 to 9 months he will transition into a supporting role as a Moz Associate. He will continue to be a passionate speaker and evangelist, and you’ll still see his enthusiastic face in Whiteboard Fridays, on the Moz Blog, and on various conference stages. And of course, he is one of our largest shareholders and will remain Chairman of the Board.

This is hard. Rand started Moz (formerly seomoz.org) over 16 years ago as a blog to record what he was learning about this new field. He and his co-founder Gillian Muessig created a marketing agency that focused on helping websites get found in search. They launched their first SAAS software product in February 2007, and I joined the company nine months later as the 8th employee. We’ve come a long way. Today, we have over 36,000 customers, 160 team members, a strong values-based culture, great investors, over $42 million in annual revenue last year, and a large and growing community of marketers. So many people have helped us reach this point.

What else is next for Rand? We’re excited to find out. His book about the last 16 years at Moz comes out next year.

When you see Rand, please show him gratitude and support. He is an incredibly talented, passionate, and productive individual with a commitment to helping others. I know he’s going to continue to make marketing better and spread TAGFEE in all his future roles.

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The Unspoken Reality of Net Neutrality

Posted by rjonesx.

It’s not very often that Moz as a company openly advocates for a particular political position. While we’ve always supported our employees’ choices to be vocal about the issues for which they’re passionate and have done our best to live by the TAGFEE values (as imperfect as that attempt may be), we have rarely directed the attention of our customers or our readers toward a particular end. Today, we break with that tradition to join hands with countless organizations across the web in a Day of Action in support of net neutrality.

Net neutrality is a fairly simple principle: that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites.

At face value, net neutrality seems to affirm the basic principles of free speech which most of us hold dear. If the FCC moves forward in retracting policies that protect the Internet in the interest of the public good, it is reasonable to suspect that these freedoms will be curtailed.

This curtailed freedom is often described in terms of small or independent content producers who will be cut out of this new caste-like system of Internet access. However, I would like to take a moment to shed light on different vital services which are likely to suffer without the protections provided by net neutrality.

1. 911 call centers

Over 65 million Americans rely on Voice-Over-IP (VOIP) for their home phone service, and in 2009, the Congressional Research Service called for 911 call centers to migrate to IP technology in modernizing their infrastructure. Both families and the call centers themselves depend on unfettered bandwidth. When you call 911, seconds matter, and the quality of that bandwidth determines that speed. Without net neutrality, that bandwidth and those seconds are put to the highest bidder.

2. Clinical Video Telehealth for our veterans

In 2016, the Department of Veterans Affairs served over 677,000 veterans in rural and under-served areas via telehealth. The VA’s Clinical Video Telehealth (CVT) is a true innovation, connecting their best doctors with their neediest patients. Unfortunately, this critical health technology relies on the same network backbone as any Internet service. Who will pay the increased tolls to ensure that serving our veterans remains a priority on these networks?

3. Online education for K12 students and their teachers

Finally, by 2014, 75% of all US districts offered some form of online education for K12 students. More than 2.7 million students took advantage of this blended ed-tech, while 315,000 students were enrolled in full-time online education. The same technology you might use in your workplace to hold sales calls is used by teachers to meet with parents and students across the country, delivering education to those who are difficult to serve otherwise. It’s annoying when Netflix buffers, but it is tragic when a child can’t communicate effectively with his or her teachers.

These are just three of countless examples of how the Internet has come to provide vital services to our veterans, our children, and our communities. Without the basic protections net neutrality affords, these vital services, and so much more, are at risk. Net neutrality advocates are correct to be concerned about the free and unfettered speech of sites across the web if the Internet is left unprotected, but we should not pretend that only our words are at stake. Our safety, our veterans, and our children are on the line, too.

If you’re interested in learning more and taking action, take a look at Battle for the Net.

Thank you for your consideration.

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Google Site Creator Review| Google Site Creator Review and Bonus

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Mission SEO Impossible: Rank a Single Brand Website for a Broad, Plural Search Query with Comparative Intent – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Competing with comparison sites in the SERPs can feel like a losing game, but it doesn’t have to. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand explains the challenges and outlines five solutions that can help you begin ranking for those high-value comparative terms.

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Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to this impossible edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re chatting about one of the toughest things that a lot of SEOs face, which is trying to rank for these specific types of queries that have a plural comparative intent behind them.

Some examples:

So I’ll give you a bunch of examples just to set the stage for this.

Let’s say I’m a hotel operator in Edinburgh, and I run one individual hotel, maybe a boutique hotel, and I want to rank for “best hotels in Edinburgh.” But that is nearly impossible, because if you look at the front page of results, all the folks there are comparative types of sites. They’re media properties. They’re hotel comparison shopping sites. So it’s TripAdvisor and Telegraph and US News & World Report, and This is Edinburgh, which is a media magazine there.

If I want to rank for “compare headphones” and I am the maker of one particular type of headphones, it’s incredibly difficult to outrank a PC Magazine, Forbes, HeadphonesCompare.com, CNET, Reevoo. This is an incredible challenge, right?

“Best Broadway shows,” if I’m operating a new Broadway show and I want to come up for this, which would be really meaningful for my Broadway show, which, by the way, most of them lose money. It’s an incredibly tough business. NYC Theatre, Time Out, Broadway.com, how do I get in there?

Or let’s say I’m in the software field. I’m FullContact, and I want to rank for “FullContact versus Clearbit.” There are lots of comparative types of searches like this. If you search for your brand name or your product’s brand name and “versus,” you’ll almost certainly come up with a bunch of suggestions. Well, it turns out neither FullContact nor Clearbit rank for this type of query. It’s Inbound.org and StackShare and Quora and Analyzo.

For “Android word games,” if I’ve come out with a new word game, it could be huge for me to rank for this term. But you know what? It’s going to be Android Central and Google Play, Tom’s Guide, Android Headlines, right?

If I have a new TV comedy, it would be fantastic because a lot of people are searching for “TV comedies” or “TV comedies on Netflix” or what have you. If I was Netflix or if I were some of these folks, I would love to come up here. But instead, it’s UPROXX and Ranker and IMDB. It’s comparative media sites almost always.

The problems

So what do we do? The first step is we have to identify the problem, like what is fundamentally going on. Why is it that these types of sites consistently outperform? This is not universal, but it’s close enough, especially on competitive head terms, like some of these, where it gets close to impossible or feels that way.

I. It’s really tough to rank without using the right words and phrases.

If you are a boutique hotel in Edinburgh, you might not be very comfortable using words like Hilton or Marriott or some of these other words that are branded terms that are owned by your competition. There could be legal issues around that, but it might also just be a brand guidelines type of thing. So that’s one part of the hard problem.

II. It’s really hard to rank without serving the searcher’s true intent.

In these cases, the searcher’s intent is, “I want to compare multiples of these things.” So if you have an individual hotel website or an individual headphone website, an individual Android word game, that’s not actually answering the searcher’s intent. It used to be easier, back before RankBrain and before Google got really smart with Hummingbird around their query intent understanding. But these days, very, very challenging. So that’s the second one.

III. It’s really hard to get links, hard to get links when you’re purely promotional or self-interested, you’re just one brand trying to outrank these folks, because these types of pieces of content seem sort of less selfish. The comparisons feel less self-interested, and therefore it’s easier for them to get organic links.

So tough challenge here. Three big issues that we have to address.

5 primary solutions

There actually are some solutions. There are some ways that some very creative and clever folks have worked around this in the past, and you can use them as well.

1. You can try separating your media or your blog or editorial content.

By separate, I mean one of two ways. You could go with a wholly separate domain. That’s pretty tough. You won’t inherit the domain authority. It will probably be a new domain, so that will be a challenge. Or you simply separate it editorially, such that it’s segmented from the promotional content. Moz actually does this, and, as a result, we rank for a lot of these types of queries. We even rank for a lot of SEO software types of queries that are clearly comparative, because we have that editorial independence in our editorial content. So this is one way you can go about doing that.

2. You could try a guest posting strategy or a guest contribution.

So if you can go out to the websites that are already listed here or ones like them, those independent, editorial, media-driven properties and say, “Hey, I will contribute to this as an independent author or writer. Yes, I work for this brand, but I think when you see my content, you will see that I’ve done my research and I am not biased.” If you can prove that to the editors at these publications, you can often prove that to the audience as well, and then you can earn these types of rankings.

You can actually see an example of this. I think it was, yes, I think the Forbes contributor here, I suspect they worked either with or for or at least in conjunction with a brand, because it seemed like they had a preference behind them and the author had a connection there.

3. You can commission independent research.

This is something that a lot of big companies will do. They’ll go out and they’ll say, “Hey, you’re an independent research firm that’s well-trusted. Will you do some research in our particular space?” Then hopefully it’s something that the press will pick up. It’s these press websites that you’re actually hoping are going to earn the rankings over here.

I will say while most of the folks doing this right now are very large companies with big research budgets and big advertising and promotional budgets, you don’t have to be. You can go and contract a single expert in the field, someone that you trust to do a great job, and you can say, “Hey, you already contribute to CNET, you already contribute to Time Out, you’re already a contributor to Tom’s Guide or Android Headlines or whatever it is. Could you do this independent research? We’ll pay you. Whatever the results you find, we’ll pay you regardless.” That can be quite successful.

4. If you need to do it yourself, but you don’t want to keep it on your own site, you could use a microsite.

So creating a site like if I’m Q over here and I’m XvsYvsQ.com, I’m not sure the exact match domain is precisely the route I’d take, but conceivably that microsite can perform well in these searches, and there are several examples, few and far between though they are, of this strategy working.

5. Win all the lists.

So if I want to rank in “best Broadway shows,” well, maybe I could just be “Hamilton.” If I want to win at “compare headphones,” maybe I could invent that patent on the noise-cancelling headphones that Bose have, which, by the way, win like three out of five of these. If I want to win the FullContact versus Clearbit, well, I need the features and the functionality and the things that these reviewers are using in order to win.

There’s almost always a bunch of objective criteria that you can identify by looking through these SERPs and related SERPs to figure out what you need to do. The challenge is it’s not just a marketing or an SEO or a content problem. Now it becomes a product and a positioning and oftentimes an engineering problem as well in order to have that win. But now you’ve got the strategies, hard though it may be. This is not impossible. It’s just difficult.

All right. Look forward to your comments and we’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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