Google penalties strike fear into the heart of every digital marketer. We’re used to our stats and usage fluctuating, that’s part of what makes SEO so interesting. However, when your traffic suddenly plummets and your SERPs crash out, it could be a sign that Google is penalising you for something. So what ‘kind’ of SEO strategies could get you penalized? That’s the big money question.

There are two different types of Google penalties – algorithmic and manual.

The algorithmic penalties are automatically issued when your site is in breach of Google’s ToS, whereas manual penalties require an actual human to assess the situation and decide if, and what, punishments should be dealt out. You can see manual penalties in your Google Search Console and they are usually for tactics that fall under the more black hat end of SEO.

We’re not going to get into the minutiae of black hat versus white hat SEO, that’s a discussion for another time. Instead, let’s look at the mistakes SEOs might not even realise they are making. It doesn’t matter what hat you wear, these approaches could get you in hot water, so let’s delve into how best to handle them and keep your website penalty free.


If you’re cloaking content, whether that be through images or actual pages, you’ve got to be really careful. When you don’t show your users what you say you will, Google gets pretty peeved. They will penalize you if they catch you doing this. Yeah, it could be a way of getting your keywords in there, and it might hide your ads with a sleeker design, but it’s risky. So clean up your htaccess file, check out all the plugins you are using and if you are going to play this game, be really savvy about it. If you’ve got the option, you might want to consider trying your methods on websites that aren’t as valuable, before you use them on your money site. Test things out, and do your research!


How’s your markup? It sounds like a bad chat-up line, but it’s something you should definitely be asking yourself. In digital marketing, there are two higher powers to appease: the users and Google. Your users probably don’t care about your markup because they can’t see it, but Google will penalise you for things like rich snippet spam. You’ve got to be clever if you’re going to game the rich snippet – those penalties are real and they’re painful.


The game with backlinks is to make Google believe that they are natural. There are various ways to do this, and some are better than others.

Some SEOs choose to create PBNs. By creating a network of sites that are interlinked both literally and thematically, you are building up your authority. But a decent PBN can take almost as much effort as traditional outreach, and it can be risky. You would be surprised how often people leave glaringly obvious footprints throughout their PBNs. Some people even use the same domain registrar or web host for all of their sites – crazy, right? You need to be canny with your PBNs, if you’re going to make the links look natural.

If you haven’t already, you should consider investing in tools that can assess your links. You want something like Moz, Ahrefs, or Majestic, that can help you pay close attention to the DA, trust flow and citation flow of every link on your site. This will enable you to keep your house in order, and it will mean you’re less likely to wind up penalized.

No matter what tactic you go for, it’s all about making your backlinks look as natural as possible. Gradually build your link landscape, including links from images and subdomains, and keep them all as relevant as possible. Oh, and don’t butcher your anchor text for a cheap shot at your keyword, guys, that’s lame.

Remember the basics

You would be surprised how many people still fall foul of low quality content and keyword stuffing. In case you need a reminder, Panda (the update that addressed this) was way back in 2011, which is aeons in digital marketing terms. Since then, keyword discussions have morphed and evolved and now the focus is on natural language. So you might be surprised to hear that there are still some folks out there producing thin content and cramming in keywords where they don’t belong.

Don’t make the same mistakes as them. While you’re trying to up your game and keep your SEO on point, remember to make sure you populate your website with decent quality, natural content, or it will all be for naught.

Something else to consider: HTTP vs HTTPS

Unless you’ve been under a rock, you will know that the shift from HTTP to HTTPS was given a deadline this summer. This change doesn’t mean that having a non-HTTPS site will get you penalized by Google, but it does mean that Chrome will display a security warning on all HTTP websites. Although Google isn’t specifically blacklisting or penalizing these websites, by showing Chrome users this warning, they are bound to be deterred, and that’s going to have an impact on your traffic. Don’t think you can dismiss this because it only relates to one browser, either; as of this summer, Chrome had 80% market share of browser usage.

With the changeover this summer, HTTPS has become part of SEO best practice. It’s the same as having good, readable HTML5 code, and ensuring your site is optimised for mobile. Google loves all of this stuff, and HTTPS is just the latest to join the ranks. If your site is still on HTTP, you won’t get penalized but you’ll lose traffic and you’ll be ranked lower. Nobody wants that.

TL;DR – how do you avoid getting penalized?

Staying in Google’s good books comes down to keeping your website clean and tidy, and toeing the line of SEO best practice.

  • be savvy with your markup and cloaking
  • keep your backlinks as natural as possible
  • only publish decent, original content on your site
  • optimise your keywords wisely
  • get your site migrated to HTTPS

While you’re at it, keep your site secure – make sure you have a robust firewall, choose secure passwords, and regularly update your platform and any themes or plugins.

It’s also a good idea to read through Google’s dev guides so that you’re up to date on algorithm changes. Or, you know, if you have trouble getting off to sleep at night.

Are you confident you’ll be compliant by May?

The biggest change in data laws the UK has seen in the last 20 years, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (also known as GDPR) is less than 5 months away.

This legislation replaces the current Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC, which aims to sync all privacy laws across Europe and protect EU citizens data privacy and regulate how companies use this information for marketing purposes.

You may be thinking, yawn.

However, when a letter asking for £500,000 million (or up to €20 million) comes across your desk, your jaw may slam shut. For a little peace of mind, the ICO has never issued a fine over £400,000 (what a relief, hey?).

If you’re thinking, they won’t get around to doing any harm before the UK leaves the EU in March 2019 – think again. GDPR is coming for the UK, despite Brexit.

While the impending GDPR deadline has been whispered around the EU since 2015, many companies and individuals haven’t actually acted on it. It has been recorded by the Direct Marketing Association (2017), that only 54% of businesses expect to be compliant by the deadline.

Founder and Strategy Director at Let’sTalk Strategy, Jenna Tiffany, delivered a first of its kind session on GDPR at UnGagged London in June 2017. Bringing to the stage her insider knowledge, Jenna revealed to attendees how they can prepare for this data protection act, and what steps to take to excel their marketing strategy accordingly.

UnGagged is returning to London again in June this year, and the GDPR is assured to be one of the hottest topics to be discussed at the event; just a mere month after the legislation is implemented… your company can’t afford to miss out on the advice shared.

Here’s what we learned…

  • What is GDPR?
  • Key Features of GDPR
    • The Individual’s Privacy Rights
    • The Organisation’s Obligations
  • What level of compliance is necessary for your company?
  • Key Steps to Take

What is GDPR?

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) commences on the 25th May 2018. By this date, EU and non-EU companies that process European citizen’s data have to already be GDPR compliant. GDPR aims to “harmonize data privacy laws across Europe, to protect and empower all EU citizens data privacy and to reshape the way organizations across the region approach data privacy” (, 2017).

What are the individual’s privacy rights?

  • Valid consent – which is freely given, well informed and unambiguous
  • Transparency – all collecting and processing information is clearly understood
  • Correction – ability to amend inaccurate data
  • Right to be forgotten – obtain the right to ask the data collector to erase all of his/her personal data which he/she has provided to the controller
  • Data portability – can move personal data from one service provider to another
  • Automated Processing – not subject to a decision based solely on automated processing

What are the organisation’s obligations?

  • Accountability – a record of all data processing activities required to be maintained
  • Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA) – mandatory condition if the outcome of any processing activity is likely to result in a high risk to the rights of individuals
  • Data Security – technical and organisational measures are taken to ensure personal data is kept secure
  • Data Breaches – as soon as the organisation is aware of the breach, it is their responsibility to notify all customers, controllers and stakeholders within 72hrs
  • Data Protection Officer (DPO) – a DPO directs and oversees all data protection activities within the organisation
  • Data Transfer – data transferred to the EU, is only allowed if the necessary safeguards are in place

What level of compliance is necessary for your company?

Depending on the size of your company and the level of impact the GDPR will have (for example, it will vary for companies dealing with profiling and children’s data) will determine the severity of GDPR compliance. A comprehensive understanding of what the GDPR is and how it can be applied to the context of your business is essential. To achieve this, you could turn to professional auditing, or seek out a specialised legal consultant to assist you in achieving compliance.

What steps can I take to ensure I’m GDPR compliant?

  1. Investigate your current level of conformance to the DPA/GDPR
  2. Identify gaps that are preventing compliance
  3. Analyse the standard of your information security management system (ISMS) against an internationally accepted standard, such as ISO 27001
  4. Identify Private data
  5. Protect data with DLP
  6. Document your DPA/GDPR and information security policies
  7. Perform audits
  8. Undertake a GDPR staff awareness training
  9. Prepare steps you would take if you suffer a data breach
  10. Appoint a data protection officer (DPO)

Need to know more? Are you confident your company and marketers are GDPR compliant? Check out UnGagged on the 11-12 of June, 2018 for actionable strategies and advice.

Make the most of the Super Early Bird Sale ON NOW to get the best price offered this year!

First published on October 5, 2017.

How important is CRO to your company? According to a recent survey conducted by Econsultancy, 59% of company respondents consider it to be a crucial part of their digital marketing strategy, while 98% believe it carries a significant degree of importance. If this same survey had of been recorded 10 years ago; the results would vary dramatically. CRO has made its debut in the industry, and only recently has it been recognised as a significant cog in the digital marketing wheel. The question is, how well do you know CRO?

Conversion Rate Optimization

What is CRO?

Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) is the process of optimising a website with the aim of increasing the percentage of visitors, who complete the desired action. Put simply, whatever you want your visitors to click on, sign up to, or purchase; you need to measure this act and optimise the process accordingly, to increase the likelihood of it occurring.

5 Most Common Misconceptions… dispelled:

As internationally recognised digital marketing keynote speaker & thought leader, Tim Ash (CEO of the strategic CRO agency SiteTuners), has noted; over the last 10 to 15 years the biggest change in CRO is that it has become institutionalised. It has a very similar trajectory as the SEO/SEM people had; as now it’s a job description, even directors, VP and C-Level people are claiming to have an optimization title.

Providing the latest insight and knowledge at UnGagged’s last event in Las Vegas, Tim Ash identified common issues with online marketing programs and provided a clear roadmap to deal with them. While the secrets shared during Tim’s session could never be repeated…(UnGagged policy), below are a few common misconceptions that could be affecting your marketing strategy.

Misconception #1: A/B Testing is the be all and end all

While A/B testing has been a blessing for many digital marketers out there looking to see the performance of differing headlines and subject lines, it has also become too relied upon when it comes to optimization. Many entrepreneurs will insist upon A/B testing design tweaks of the site when trying to determine what is interrupting the customer buying journey, rather than considering alternative tests or structural problems with their site. Instead, a basic usability test using the “think aloud protocol” is a great way to reveal some issues that are preventing a visitor from buying from your site. Be sure to benchmark your data before and after any changes are made to give you a guide to what works and what is necessary. Overall, you need to understand when A/B tests are appropriate and when other means are more suited for optimising your website.

Misconception #2: Inconclusive tests are of no use

If you find yourself running test after test, all producing inconclusive results; don’t be too disheartened as it could be exactly what you’re looking for. Often entrepreneurs will change the semantics and be faced with the same inconclusive result. This actually allows you to try something dramatically different, a new approach or message you thought of trying but never had a reason to. It provides you with the opportunity to learn from these inconclusive results and pushes you to get to the core of your message.

Misconception #3: Tactical testing is the way to go

Most companies tend to view conversion optimization inside their company as a segment of their digital marketing strategy, rather than taking a holistic approach. As Tim Ash describes this as a “digital marketing ghetto”, the “swim lane” approach consists of pay per click, SEO and CRO; which all need to be looked at in conjunction to one another, as opposed to individually. Ultimately, if you “treat it as a tactical testing activity, that spells death.”

Misconception #4: Blindly following the ‘best practices’

The “one size fits all” mantra certainly doesn’t apply when it comes to your CRO practices.  Considering every company is selling their product/service differently to the next, how can an array of audiences all follow the same customer journey and share the same experience and gain the same reaction to a product than the next? In short, they can’t; which is why you need to determine what practices work for you. Forget the lists you’ve found on the internet of what thought leaders have recommended on what ‘works’, and instead, test different changes you make on your website to confirm what works and that you are improving your conversion.

Misconception #5: It’s all about the design tweaks

Sorry to say, but changing your ‘checkout’ button colour from green to blue, doesn’t cut it. While cosmetic/design changes are a small part of your optimization strategy, CRO is more complex than this. Consider various factors of the functionality and usability of your site, such as your website is too slow, your content is hard to read, there is a lack of trust or confidence in your site, the customer journey isn’t clear, etc. There are many things you can test that can all help you get better conversions.

What The Experts Say…

If you have found yourself in a slight state of panic about your CRO and are in need of training and further explanation of the processes and tools you could personally implement; look no further. UnGagged is returning for an industry-altering conference in London on the 11-13th of June, 2018. While the team at UnGagged are working tirelessly to find, test and create the best speaker line-up yet; you can be assured that you will learn the latest in all the top areas of SEO and Digital Marketing as an attendee.

Join us to experience a close-knit circle of digital marketing professionals; on a large scale in London 11-13 June, 2018.

If you’re reading this, you probably know a bit about marketing funnels. Also known as the buyer’s journey, it’s the active research process a buyer goes through before making a purchase. The marketing funnel comprises of three main stages:

  • Awareness (also known as top of the funnel or TOFU)
  • Consideration (also known as middle of the funnel or MOFU)
  • Transaction or Decision (also known as bottom of the funnel or BOFU)

Marketing Funnel

As marketers, it is our goal to get prospects to the end of the funnel i.e. the transaction stage. This can be done in 2 ways:

  1. Get more people to enter the funnel through the awareness stage
  2. Increase the conversion rate within the funnel

To do this, you need a specific marketing strategy tailored to each stage. For example, someone at the awareness stage of the funnel would require more educational content compared to someone at the transaction stage. And this is where interactive content comes into the picture.

According to research conducted by the Content Marketing Institute, 46% of marketers are using interactive content to get prospects into the funnel and also to nurture them down the funnel. Here are the most popular interactive content types among marketers.

Types of Interactive Content

Let’s take a look at how you can use quizzes & calculators, one of the most used forms of interactive content, to get more prospects into and down the funnel.

#1: Awareness (TOFU)

Goal: To make the prospect aware of the problem you solve by providing educational content and building a relationship.

At this stage, as a marketer, you are looking to generate awareness about the problem. For example, say you are trying to market a software which helps websites do A/B testing and CRO. For the awareness stage, you might want to create interactive content which talks about website conversions, lead generation etc.

The core focus should be on providing education content which relates back to your product, but not in a sales-y way. HubSpot does this really well with their Inbound Marketing Quiz. This quiz helps marketers determine how well they understand inbound marketing. The idea is to steer clear from talking about your product or making any sales pitches at this stage.

You can also create some very interesting experiences around ideas like:

  1. Are you a ___ expert?
  2. Are you a true ___?
  3. Which ___ are you?
  4. Are you a ___ or a ___?

#2: Consideration (MOFU)

Goal: To build a deeper relationship with your subscriber, introduce them to the solutions that you provide, and nurture them with contextual or targeted content.

Once the buyer has become aware of the problem, it’s time to introduce solutions. However, a hard sales pitch might not work just yet. So, at the consideration stage, the focus should be to introduce the solutions that you provide and build trust and authority around those topics. Let’s continue the A/B testing and CRO example from the previous point. At the awareness stage, you built interactive content around general topics like website lead generation, conversions. Now, it’s time to relate those topics to your product. You can do this by creating a calculator such as “Find out how many more leads you can generate by A/B testing your homepage” or a quiz like “How much do you about CRO?”.

At Outgrow, we do this through a calculator named “How many more leads will I get from interactive content”. This calculator helps marketers find out how much they can improve their lead generation with quizzes and calculators. The idea here is to talk about what you do, not who you are.

Interactive Content Calculator

You can use these ideas to create interesting interactive experiences around the Consideration stage:

  1. Which is the right ___ for you?
  2. Am I spending too much on ___?
  3. How much should ___ cost?
  4. What is the risk of not doing ___?

#3: Transaction or Decision (BOFU)

Goal: To make the buyers familiar with the benefits of your product/service as you gently push them towards purchase or signup.

At this stage, the prospect is ready to buy, whether it be from you or someone else. Now, your job is to promote your products and services and convey why the buyer should choose you over another vendor. Taking the A/B testing and CRO example forward, at this stage you can create a calculator such as “Find out how much you can save by using us vs. a competitor” or a simple ROI calculator. In fact, HubSpot does this with their ROI Calculator. This calculator gives an estimate of the potential ROI on using the HubSpot inbound marketing software.

This is the stage where we can talk about ourselves. But while we do that, we should keep in mind to always be adding value. While you can talk about your product, you should never undermine the ultimate objective of education.

Use these following templates to create quizzes and calculators for the Transaction stage.

  1. Should I switch to ___?
  2. How does ___ compare with ___?
  3. What is the ROI on ___?

In closing, what we can all agree on is that the marketing funnel is unique for every business. It is heavily influenced by your industry, your target audience, your marketing strategy as well as a number of other factors. However, the general principles remain the same. Understand your audience, develop your funnel, and understand what the buyer wants to know at each stage of the funnel.

No matter what stage the buyer is in, they don’t want to be sold to. Instead, they want to be engaged with. And there is nothing better than interactive content to engage with your buyers as you can personalize the information to their specific needs.

This post was sponsored by Outgrow.

The relationship between business and consumer edges further into sci-fi every day. From the potential of Amazon drone-dropping groceries at your house, to Google developing driverless cabs, 21st century consumers are increasingly demanding quick, easy and responsive service.

E-commerce is always evolving, are you ready for this next big leap? Even the most analogue of businesses can use artificial intelligence to satisfy their customer base.

The Chatbot Trend: Where AI meets ROI

Meet Chatbots. Think of them as the smallest, easiest-to-use AI around. The job of a Chatbot, simply put, is to communicate with business patrons on a 24-hour basis.

Say you’re looking to buy a pair of shoes online. Instead of browsing through an entire website to find what you’re looking for, you simply have a chat with the company’s chatbot. The bot would ask you what you’re looking for and you can tell it – like you’re having a conversation with an employee in-store!

A chatbot is something your customers can interact with through a chat service. There is unlimited potential as to what the service is used for. A chatbot can be hosted from any major chat platform (think Facebook Messenger, Viber, Text Messages, etc.).

Why Chatbots?

Well, customers like to be able to get in contact with a business on their own terms, which usually amounts to “whenever they want.” (Customers are fickle in any and all circumstances.)

With the differences in time zones for international businesses and the goal of reaching out to as many customers as possible, it’s important to have an unrestricted communication system.

ChatBots are the solution, and they’re only going to get more prevalent! A little creative effort puts them into pretty much any design space. Starbucks has one, TechCrunch has one, heck, even Spiderman has one.

Bots have ceased to become an annoyance for people, and are now something they’re happy to see; depending on the service or business, they’re even fun for consumers to talk to.

“Despite bots causing a tremendous amount of headaches to marketers, their benefits by far outweigh their current flaws,” says entrepreneur Murray Newlands. “Chatbots are slowly entering the mainstream of marketing, providing tangible value to brands worldwide.”

Who uses Chatbots?

With the likes of Starbucks, National Geographic, and Whole Foods bringing out their personalised Chatbots in their Marketing campaigns – it is certainly something your company should consider when determining which path to take to astutely target your audience.

Starbucks – a chatbot built inside their mobile app that allows you to order your favourite drinks and snacks

Starbucks Barista Bot

Image Credit: Top Bots

National Geographic’s Genius – a Facebook Messenger bot National Graphic used to promote their show Genius

National Geographic Genius Bot

Image Credit: Top Bots

Whole Foods – a Facebook Messenger bot that allows you to search for recipes and products, all without leaving Messenger.

Whole Foods Bot

Whole Foods Bot


Got Bot? Chatbots are quickly becoming mainstream, providing tangible value to brands worldwide. Learn how to use bots to save money, improve customer service, grow an audience and increase ROI with Murray Newlands’ UnGagged Las Vegas session. Conference attendees will be provided with the most up-to-date and actionable information on the latest developments in the field.

This November, Get UnGagged.