Okay so the search world has ended for some website owners out there with Googles latest algorithm update, Penguin. The update which was designed to cull spammy websites from the search results, had an (un)expected side effect on websites which had usually hired less than stellar SEO companies. There have been multiple threads posted on the Google forums, about how each website was wrongly infracted; in their view.
Google has made some drastic changes in their algorithm in the last year, the majority of which were implemented to help clean up the results page. Pandas, Penguins aside, the goals to clean up the results has started to shine a light on an SEO trouble spot. Search engine optimization is a greatly discussed, debated, and lucrative topic online. Because it’s such a high margin of profit enterprise, it’s seen as an added value feature for, mostly web development firms, and even for some who just like to ride the trend wave. The trouble begins, when you, as a business owner, begin to be taken in by a few buzz words in the market. Backlinks, social media, videos, all of these are definitely avenues to explore and work with to help raise your organic search worth, but they’re far from what matters the most to the engines. There are certain keywords that you should keep in the forefront of your mind, when discussing hiring an SEO for your firm.
The first of which is quick – proper, organic optimization is anything but quick. Part of the reason that the organic listings are so desirable is because, for the most part, they can be trusted as being authoritative. You don’t become listed in the top 10 of your niche overnight, and definitely not in the top 3 within a week unless you’re trying to rank for a 5-6 term, specific long tail search phrase; then you have a shot. But again, that’s not true search engine optimization, that’s a clever marketer, gaming the organic results by searching for a sentence on your website.
Another term you need to be wary of, is Google Partner – namely because Google doesn’t have partners. They’re Google, they buy and assimilate what they feel will improve their core product, search, and anything else they have cooking in their tech kitchen. If when you meet with someone trying to sell themselves as a Google Partner, it’s best to just bite your tongue, thank them for their time and then, instead of using the phone book to find an SEO, here’s a thought – use a search engine! You don’t have to be clever, you can type in exactly what you’re looking for, like search engine optimization Winnipeg, and from there you begin your phone calls. You find a plumber, or perhaps a local mechanic in the yellow pages, you should be looking online for SEO experts.
And in case you were wondering, here’s what your traffic looks like when you don’t play by the rules.
Often times, you’ll read blogs, reviews, forum posts and editorials about the search engines. Almost in every instance that there is a complaint, the perpetrator is none other than the big guy on campus, Google. The company is no stranger to scrutiny being that it is the search engine with the largest index, and what they feel they can’t develop in house, they search for, and obtain the technology to meeet their ends.
They’ve purchased Youtube, Motorolla, and a slew of other companies in order to meet their goals. But the top skill set that the company is known for of course, is search. The company has been around for nearly 20 years now and what started off as a simple exercise to build an index, has grown into a multi-billion dollar empire. With the real juice behind the company being their famous search algorithm, techs, SEO professionals, even black hat practitioners have tried to work out just what it is that makes it tick. In the end, Google isn’t talking, and we can all just speculate on how close, or far, we are from ‘solving’ it.
It wouldn’t surprise me if even the techs who work on the algorithm itself, don’t entirely know how it all works. Google is famous for saying that the actual search mechanism is comprised of hundreds of different ranking factors. Ranging from content, quality of content, quality of the site, off site factors etc. There’s no telling just what it is exactly that’s a part of that machination, but there is however a small secret, shared amongst the search industry elite. It’s a simple phrase, and it’s a technique that none truly share; those who know, know. It’s short, simple, cryptic, and while only a handful, born with the search industry on the web truly know the loops and kinks in the algorithm, they’re not talking either. If you should happen to find yourself in the company of one such individual, pay very close attention, as you may, and will, still miss it. I know I have.
Branding, it’s what makes your business and it’s purposes widely known, usually by mention of name and reputation only. It’s like when someone mentions the name Pepsi, or Coca Cola, you know immediately what is being talked about and can picture the products.
There’s a bit of a razing argument going around lately about how if you’re a “real brand” that you shouldn’t, or won’t have to worry about the search engines. The argument is basically online shoppers don’t search for brands nearly as often as they Google generic categories and phrases. Which is somewhat true, and the article goes on to argue that ‘everybody’ automatically knows that Amazon sells online books and knows that eBay is the number one online auction site. The problem with this argument, is that the average online user doesn’t strictly use a search engine to search for a single term. Most of the time users are searching for an article or they’ve seen a product or service which they want to research.
Even when a user is searching for a specific brand name or service, it’s typically typed directly into a search engine to quickly find their desired destination. It’s a fallacy to think that the only time a person uses a search engine is when they have no idea what they’re looking for. Small business, large business, branded and not branded all need to recognize that search engine optimization is more and more becoming a required marketing tool. To believe that your company, name and brand will be easily found online only because of your brand, is a misinformed position, typically trumpeted by old media advertisers. Do not get trapped in the idea that your name, your brand and your company are too big to fail in search, because more often than not it’s the little guys who rank better than the brands because they embrace the high return on investment where search is concerned.
As a daily user of the web, Google, Bing, Yahoo and a vast majority of their tools and services, I’m having trouble with the issues that are being brought up with regards to the new policy. When Google first introduced the idea, one of the first terms which needs to be satisfied in order to glean your personalized information was: sign into your Google account. If you don’t sign into your account, anything you search for via the search enging, any videos you view, will just be dumped into that already existing cache of trends and web usage. If you happen to be signed into your account, using Gmail, Docs or some other tool, then your search will possibly (likely) be used as an advertising tool at some point down the road.
I would have to admit, the confusion for me exists where users are calling it an infringement of privacy of what they are doing on the internet. But as someone so eloquently put it in a discussion I’d had about the new policy: Unless you’ve been living in the hills, hunting for your food and clothes and being completely cut off from *everything* in this techno world, you have a web history, it’s been recorded, and it is used to deliver advertising to you.
Have you noticed any shifts over the last couple of days in your search results? As a site owner or an SEO for a client, have you noticed any changes as of late? You wouldn’t be alone in taking note, and you would be correct. It has recently been confirmed that Panda had been unleashed on the web again, making it even more accurate and more sensitive to changes online.
Some site owners are noting huge gains in their organic results, perhaps because they’ve attended to any issues that cropped up when Panda first passed over their site and erroneously booted them. On the other hand, some sites were hit harder than they have been previously by the update, and continue to flounder in the search pool. It may be a good, or a bad point, but Google also came out and said that the entire update hasn’t finished yet, it probably will only do so tomorrow. As well, there are still some high numbers being reported on forums, about being dumped in the results by Panda, but if you’ve been on your game and following the good practices guide you should be sitting just fine.
For all of the updates that are done to the various search engines, for all of the tweaks they do to their algorithms there remains a very simple truth. Stick to the basics and it’ll work. It may take longer than trying to work out every single step of the algo, but so long as you concern yourself with sticking to the best practices guides provided by the search engines, your site will list. And will continue to list, so long as you haven’t done anything naughty that is, to get yourself kicked out of the SERPs.
So it’s no secret that Bing and Google aren’t the best of friends, but with Microsoft behind the Bing machine, it was a shock for the web to suddenly find Google labelled as malware.
You may think it’s really not that big of a deal, but it only takes one red flag to turn many novice users away from using any service or website. The mistake has since been ironed out on Microsoft’s end, and Google is no longer labelled as a security risk. Malware is a rather generic term, basically covering any kind of code or software which either steals your private information or messes up your computer enough that you can’t really use it effectively. Unfortunately for those same novice searchers and computer users, malware has another, more inconvenient side.
It should be no surprise that scripters and hackers who work to develop malware, are also tied to the black hat side of the SEO world. Search is a multi-billion dollar a year industry, and being able to sit atop the search results for highly competitive terms for even a few days is a million dollar industry. Many times this is where you’ll find a specific type of malware usually known as ransom software. What happens is when a user clicks on the address of what they innocently think is their top results choice, instead they’re greeted with a popup message usually along the lines of “Your computer is infected – click here to protect your data!” And once that user clicks the button, they’ve been hooked. Once that back door has been opened, it is nefariously difficult to shut. It often leaves you open to backdoor access as well, which the scripter can use to steal your information, or even use your own computer to attack other unsuspecting searchers.
The first step to defending yourself is to have a proper anti-virus product, even a basic one will stop the majority of malware. The second step is to know what you’re seeing when you search. A proper website url will be www.this-is-a-real-site.com/yourresults.html, shown in green below your search results. A strong indication of a hijacked site or possible malware trap is when that address looks like so: www.possibly-malware.com/?p=23466. If you find an address which begins with a query string, there’s a good chance you’re not going to necessarily end up where you’ve hoped.
In what seems like a lucrative and exciting idea for any local business, it was announced recently that the possibility to pay for a guaranteed listing may be possible through Google, Bing and Yahoo. On the surface it seems like a great idea, especially for smaller businesses who may not have the time to wait for organic listings to kick in. But as anyone who has been in search engine marketing for more than a few days, the web just can’t work that way.
The idea for the paid inclusions was put forward as a program which was “officially approved” and in “cooperation” with search engines. The release stated:
“Local Paid Inclusion is a Google, Yahoo and Bing contracted service and is offered as an approved official program in cooperation with those search engines.
Local Paid Inclusion promotes a local business’ profile page, like those found in Google Places, Yahoo Local and Bing Local, into a top position on the search result page for up to 30 keywords per profile page.”
The idea was simple, you could simply have your local page, and pay to have it ranked highly within the search results locally. But then, shortly after the news began to spread and be picked up, Bing, who serves Yahoo their results, threw their hat into the ring.
“Bing has no interest in paid inclusion into the local algo that artificially impacts ranking of algo results…”
And as for Google:
“We are not working on any program that enables a site to pay to increase ranking in organic search results.”
The idea that any company is going to guarantee a search result simply makes no sense, and it would be especially tricky in the local space. Local search results change, depending on your province, city and can even be influenced on the time of day.
Over the last couple of weeks people have been hacking and slashing at Google because they’ve rolled out a change to how your results pages show up when you conduct a search. They’ve dubbed the change “Search plus Your World” and the idea is you receive Google+ data while signed into your Google account and conduct a search. Personally, I really don’t see the issue with their idea and here’s why.
Number one reason, if you’re signed into your Google account, searching Google.com, why would it surprise you to find publicly available information from Google+ in your results pages if it’s relevant? And from all of the screenshots of the integrated social results, a click of a button and they’re gone. Another argument I’ve seen about Google integrating the information into the SERPs is they are prioritizing its own content instead of linking out to third-party sites, which arguably is the whole point of a search engine. Valid point to bring up, but again, you can simply shut the option off with a few clicks at most. In the online world where 800 million or so people are used to the “opt-out” model thanks to Facebook, it’s almost surprising that it’s taken this long for another major web player to try it. Twitter and Facebook even backed a small browser bookmark of sorts to help cull out the Google+ results from your results pages. It’s outraged enough people, that bloggers are already forcasting that Bing is the new King of Search.
It’s perhaps those last two points which contributed to my puzzlement. For all of the people up in arms with Google and switching over to Bing, I can only assume two things. You were born on January 1, 2012 and you don’t have a Facebook account; amazing really considering there are so many. Here’s a brief excerpt from an article stabbing at the changes Google has recently made:
The new feature is baked right into Google and aims to personalize your search results by including Google+ data when you are signed into your Google account.
And here, is an excerpt from an article written in May 2011:
The worlds of SEO and social media were rocked the other day when Bing announced they will incorporate Facebook data into their search results for the most personal social-search integration to hit the web. What does this mean for the user? If you search for something on Bing and are logged into your Facebook account, you will see which pages, products and websites your friends Like and recommend high in the results, regardless of where that page ranks in the general SERP.
Perhaps Facebook should recite the idiom, people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, as Bing and Facebook have been at social search integration coming up quickly on a year of implementation.
With the influx of so many SEO “experts” into the field over the last few years, it’s not really a surprise when discussion topics begin to crop up about some old topics. The most recent discussion which has had me pondering who might actually work with this individual, involved one of these aforementioned experts.
Apparently they’ve noticed that when they made content changes on their website, it has zero impact on their search rankings. The point which this began to bother me, is somewhere along the way this search engine otpimization expert had learned or decided that your content was what would make you or break you online. That is true to an extent, but just like you need more than just flour to make a cake, your content isn’t the only factor that will make your website king. Content is not the only piece of the puzzle, just like social isn’t, just like working for quality links isn’t, just like a properly coded and built web site isn’t. They’re all pieces in the SEO puzzle, they need to be put together properly and completely to make you a leader in your field.
Google, Bing, and Yahoo have maintained for years that the content of your website is tantamount to your ranking within the SERPs, but it’s not the only deciding factor. Your tags, your headers, your images all tell a story to the spiders who digest your content and file your website accordingly. If you own a business which makes blue shoes and your content is about red umbrellas with tagged pictures of yellow bananas, then you’re not going to get too far on the SERPs for any term as you’re not relevant to any of them. If however, you’ve created your website, developed your content around blue shoes, provided and tagged pictures of them and optimized your web site properly? You will be viewed as highly relevant should anyone search for the topic ‘blue shoes’ online.
I think the best way to describe how content relates to your SERPs appearance would be – your content is how you tell the spiders who you are. If your content is relevant to all of the elements present on your website, you will be rewarded for your hard work. If you don’t have the time or the inclination to craft your content to be as relevant to your niche as possible, then there should be no surprise if you do not appear in the index for terms you may wish to rank for.
Did Bing play dirty over the shopping holidays? If you tried at all this most recent Cyber Monday to use the Bing search engine, the signs currently point to yes, they did play dirty with their results.
The creators of the idea of Cyber Monday, found themselves lost in Bings search listings because according to Bing their content was too “thin”. If the term is familiar, it’s because it sounds a lot like Google-speak when they started rolling out the infamous Panda updates and culling “thin content” based websites from their index. A difference to note however, Panda didn’t actually remove the offenders from the index, it just meant the odds of those sites ranking well plummeted.
Back now to Bings version of taking care of thin content and removing websites which fall into this category. Cyber Monday is now a billion dollar online shopping event, where website owners have the opportunity to make some good money heading into the holiday shopping weeks. If a site which could promise and deliver strong referrals could rank well, they would also stand to make a fair bit of change. Shop.org came up with the term Cyber Monday in ’05 and a year later created the corresponding website, cybermonday.com. This past Cyber Monday Google had the website in their SERPs, while Bing did not. Bing did however, have their shopping channel listed at the top of their results for searching cyber monday.
Bing has stated previously that they will dispense internet justice on sites deemed unworthy to be listed as part of their SERPs, but completely removing any and all traces of a site? Bing defines spam as:
Some pages captured in our index turn out to be pages of little or no value to users and may also have characteristics that artificially manipulate the way search and advertising systems work in order to distort their relevance relative to pages that offer more relevant information. Some of these pages include only advertisements and/or links to other websites that contain mostly ads, and no or only superficial content relevant to the subject of the search. To improve the search experience for consumers and deliver more relevant content, we might remove such pages from the index altogether, or adjust our algorithms to prioritize more useful and relevant pages in result sets.
So by removing the cybermonday.com website, if Bing were to stick to their guidelines they should remove all “thin” websites which fell under the same blanket. Yet they did not entirely and websites which feature almost identical content to the cybermonday.com website still appeared in their results. To further muddy the waters, the Bing powered search results which were served up in Yahoo would turn up Black Friday “websites” which would be deemed even thinner than the Cyber Monday website. With all the fuss that Bing was putting up about Google favoring their own results over all others, this sure doesn’t look well on the Bing radar. The Panda updates may drop websites rank if they’re found as being too thin a website, but at least they’re not completely removing them from the index ala Bing.