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Late last week Google announced an additional metric to how it will be handling search results. Starting from last Friday, Google will be taking into consideration valid DMCA requests when parsing the index. While the new portion of the algorithm hasn’t been made live, they did have this to say:
Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results. This ranking change should help users find legitimate, quality sources of content more easily – whether it’s a song previewed on NPR’s music website, a TV show on Hulu or new music streamed from Spotify.
There are a couple of Google owned properties which are notorious for having copyrighted content, specifically Youtube and Blogger. And while they tend to receive the lions share of DMCA requests, Google has said it’s the valid takedown requests which will be used as the metric to decide who should stay, and who should fall. It’s the next major algorithm shift in store for site owners and it’s going to be interesting to see where it takes the content of the web.
Google is taking another page from Facebooks social networking prowess, and will being allowing vanity urls to some select profiles. Currently the majority of the Google+ urls are followed with a long string of numbers denoting your profile, while some are being tidied up.
While the idea is to roll out the feature and vanity value to all of the users, currently they have only passed the cleaned up address to a few on the social network. While it’s a step in a good direction for Google+ social offering, they still have a fair amount of ground to cover in order to catch up to Facebook. A small problem has been picked out currently with the change, as the new vanity urls haven’t been forwarded with optimization in mind. The new addresses are being used as canonical urls as opposed to being a full 301 to pass the full and proper content to the search engines.
Google has been king of the search world, from almost the day it became a tool on the web. There are a handful of other search engines as well, all which do their best to offer a choice when you’re looking for online information.
There’s been some discontent with Google as a service, and it sometimes leaves users craving an alternative to the giant. There is a small problem with that idea however, and it’s the same reason that makes Google so successful. When you consider the basics of search, if you have quality content that people easily link to, you’re going to be well represented on the search engines, Google, Bing, etc. Google has just worked out how to best deliver the most likely content you’re searching for, because it can work out the content and the links leading back to that content.
It doesn’t mean though, that the web and search is due to stagnation. Everyone is working to innovate on the space, trying to find the newest, and biggest evolution in search and online interaction. There are some out there that do their best to be an answer engine, where you can basically query a database for an answer, and there are others out there which pride themselves on being hand curated by teams of human users to help promote the most relevant content. Bing and Google are both trying their hands at integrating your social life into your search results, both with mixed success at the present. But what all of these search engines become stuck and stuble upon, is the same issue, all of the current relevant results are built primarily upon links and link structures to help give value and authority to the website.
The future of search, won’t lie in constructing links back to your quality content, it will be when someone is able to come up with a search engine which can predict what it is you may be searching for. When you’re able to start looking for a new home for sale in a new city for example, and based upon your current, and previous searches it can determine that you’re in need of a new home near a school for your children, and it delivers those results to you as the most relevant. The technology doesn’t quite exist in such a way at the moment, as it would require massive amounts of calculations to hold the web open, ready to pick out the points you’re searching for. But the web and it’s technology do grow everyday, and perhaps soon enough we’ll be able to talk to our devices to find what we want.
When you’re working on your online branding campaign, a portion of your time is well spent on working on your pay per click offering. It’s like writing ad copy for a commercial, as adwords are the results which you see often on the top of the organic results, or to the left of the page. Typically marked as ‘Sponsored Links’ so as not to confuse those who are looking for the organic, or natural listings in the center of the page.
The pay per click model of search listing and advertising has been gaining a growing number of clicks, especially with searchers actively seeking to purchase an item. While working hard to improve on page and off page otpimization to rank organically is great for the long term gains, you can experience short term growth with adwords (PPC) advertising.
Once you’re setup with your adwords account, you’ll begin to get emails from Google offering to assist you with your account. Sometimes they offer simple suggestions as to keyword optimization or increasing your daily budget, and sometimes straight up offer a helping hand at improving traffic. On the surface at the moment, it seems that the helping hand that can be offered is worth it, with increased traffic and lower over all cost. And if that were all that were important with the PPC model that would be great, but the number one metric of measurement still hasn’t been determined – conversion rate.
It’s a great point of pride to say that your website receives 1000 visitors per hour (example only), and that your adwords cost to drive those visitors is only a few cents. But if you’re only able to effectively complete your goal – sign up for a newsletter or email, purchase a product etc, a few times out of those thousand then you’re really not doing as well as it looks initially. Your conversion rate is the key metric that matters the most in a pay per click campaign, and while it seems that letting the Adwords associates do the heavy lifting for you is great on the surface, they really only serve the same purpose as a search engine optimization expert. Driving traffic is key to visibility online, but it’s up to you and your website to convert the visitor.
In the middle of last year or so, Google started slowly pushing out warnings to webmasters of what they deemed as ‘unnatural links’ which were pointing to their website. Unnatural links, for lack of a better description, fall under the realm of being unrelated to your website. As an example, like a plumbing forum having links pointing to a website on cooking or gardening. Earlier this year, Google stepped up the notification significantly and almost immediately, sent the world of search engine optimization into a tizzy.
It was at that juncture, that webmasters began to start to drop links too and from their website, probably in the hopes that sending in their reconsideration request they would be able to clear the mark from their webmaster tools page. It’s an interesting process that Google has put in to place with the unnatural links notifications, some webmasters have laid evidence showing that they did nothing and plummeted in the search results. While others, who went through untold rigmarole trying to get their links cleaned up, reported no change in their positioning, despite multiple notifications.
And to muddy the waters just a little more, over the last day or so, Google has sent out another massive batch of notifications of unnatural links to webmasters everywhere. It seems that as of late, with all of the features Google has been adding to it’s webmastertools suite, they’re really looking at placing responsibility on the web owners. An interesting twist to the equation, is when you consider that search engines place at least some of the portion of their ranking factor into the links pointing to a website. Maybe, this is the beginning of Google trying to diversify their ranking algorithm and ideals? Time will tell, but giving webmasters the idea that they need to carefully maintain their link profiles is an interesting step.
Just as Hitwise measures search market share, there is a report put out by ACSI (American Customer Satisfaction Index) which tries to put a number on how happy users are with the varying search engines and social media sites out there. While there were some expected results with the survey, there was a surprise or two to be seen.
As far as search engines were concerned, it wasn’t a huge surprise to see Google still on the top of the list with an overall 82 points out of 100, and Bing picked up a little ground on them coming it at 81 points of satisfaction. When pressed for reasons about satistfaction, more than half of the respondants who chose Bing, noted that they liked the ease of use of Bing. I may be somewhat biased as I’ve always primarily used Google to do the bulk of my searching, and perhaps it’s a difference of Bing.ca versus Bing.com, but I’m not sure how Bing is easier to use over Google when both are just a search box. The links which appear after performing a search are nearly entirely alike, and it’s a rather short affair to be able to specify your results and tailor them as you like. Opinions are different for everyone, and that is the main point of a survey after all, to gather as many different ones as possible, back to the list. Plonking our way down we pass Ask.com at 80 points on the list and Yahoo at 78 points in customer satisfaction. And note, the survey wasn’t conducted about who uses which search engine, Hitwise covers that quite well and the numbers are fairly static with Google holding onto the lions share of the market. The point of the survey was about the satisfaction of using their preferred search engine, acquiring a rounded opinion would mean that after a point, the survey would have filled their quota with Google results and have been looking for Bing, Yahoo, and Ask users.
A new report that ACSI has put out however, has detailed the satisfaction level of those who use social media sites like Facebook and Google+. And again, just like the report for search engine satisfaction, it’s not about market share, it’s satisfaction so the same principle applies – to form a rounded opinion you need to have as equal amount of respondants as possible for each social media site. It was with this report, that the numbers were beginning to be surprising. The top marks in the survey actually went to Google+, with 78 points out of 100, followed by Youtube (73 points) and Pinterest (69 points). Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook all took the bottom spots, with Facebook holding the basement spot with 61 points. With such a vastly diverse user base, it is understandable that opinions would be strong with some users about how Facebook handles itself, but there were some key reasons which came out which hurt the social media giant. The biggest issues came from the implementation of the Timeline feature, users felt there were too frequent, unnecessary changes to the user interface. Intrusive advertising came in as an issue with nearly 20% of the respondants complaining and one of the largest contributors to unsatisfaction was the privacy concerns which still dog the social giant. Nearly half of those surveyed rated Facebook a 5 or lower on a 10 point scale on how they handle privacy. Not surprisingly, the reasons Google+ excelled on the survey, happened to be the reasons Facebook tanked in comparison. On that same 10 point scale, 60% of the respondants for Google+ ranked their privacy protection as excellent with the fledgling social site. No advertising, at least not in the sense that dominates Facebook, exists on the service, and at present there aren’t any plans to add them, and a very strong mobile presense all helped Google+ to attain the top marks in satisfaction this year. There is, however, a small caveat to bear in mind with the social media results. On the whole, taking all of the social sites in hand, users are only 69 points out of 100 satisfied with social media sites, almost putting it in the basement of the study with television, newspapers and airlines.
When discussing links and linking strategies to your website, I had made mention as to the negative connotations around having poor, or unrelated backlinks pointing to your website. The watered down version of this would be, say you own a window repair business and in passing the search engines notice that you have a few hundred links from a taxidermy site pointing to your url. That’s a very quick way to get yourself in trouble, have your site scrutinized and quite possibly, dropped from the index until you have gone over all of the backlinks pointing to your site.
It’s long been an issue for the search engines in dealing with the proliferation of improper linking schemes employed by sketchy SEO practitioners. Google has their list and documentation about what they’ll do to your site should they happen to have improper links or linking strategies pointing at your site, but have they been beaten to the punch in truly dealing with the problem? Very recently one of the other guys in search, Bing, has released a way to allow users to disavow the links pointing to a website. What leads to a tad bit of confusion however is the way that Bing talks about the way improper backlinks affect your site, sometimes saying that it won’t do any harm and them sometimes saying that it could very much negatively affect your position within their rankings.
From the Bing Webmaster Blog:
Today we’re announcing the Disavow Links feature in Bing Webmaster Tools. Use the Disavow Links tool to submit page, directory, or domain URLs that may contain links to your site that seem “unnatural” or appear to be from spam or low quality sites.. There is no limit on the number of links you can disavow via this tool.
It’s a great way for you to have more control over who is pointing their content at your site, as well as the control it lets you have over your own web positioning. It’s a solid first step in being able to control your backlinks, it will be interesting to see how Bing deals with the reports which are submitted, as they have been notoriously slow to deal with changes and updates to their index.
With the way things have been progressing online, it’s not much of a stretch to think that some of the old ways have gone to the wayside for search engines. Google, Bing, Yahoo and all of the others out there need to choose a metric of sorts where by it allows them to determine what is relevant to certain topics and categories. The long running, and highest contributing factor since the beginning, has been linking to websites; both those which are relevant to your business and those which may help your positioning. It’s a very simple formula really, site A compiles a great deal of information about cogs and becomes known across the country as the top producer and information source for them. Site B, is a reseller of site A, and as such provides a link directly too site A, helping cement their positioning online as the top purveyor of the cog industry. That’s a very basic example, multiply that a trillion times and you’re beginning to see the beginnings of the internet, and how linking works to sort out the web.
Over the last couple of years especially though, the social web has made a big splash. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, all social sites which are being hooked by the spiders and are being more frequently plugged into your search results. Some companies out there like to make the correlation that the larger the web has gotten, the more community focused people have become. Instead of searching out for the best cog company, people are asking their friends on Facebook and Twitter for example. It was a shock that ran through the SEO industry to think that the value of links was going to be tossed away, all because people suddenly had the ability (not that they didn’t already) to ask their friends for their opinion. It’s a (non)issue that continues being blown out of proportion by the unseasoned search experts out there.
Bet a very simple truth is this, the weight that linking and back linking to websites sin’t going to go away. Not just yet, and not in the near fore seeable future at any rate. That’s not to say that social signals and social linking isn’t going to become the heavy weights at some point, but that point is not today, not next month, and not next year.
It’s simply another method which you can use to become a more trusted business online, but Googles AdWords advertisements are sometimes met with ire. With complaints of search privacy and too many advertisements, Google is about to roll out a feature which should help clean up your browsing in the near future.
The newest feature to begin rolling out, is one which directly, and indirectly affects your browsing. Ads which are displayed on Youtube have had a small [x] in the top corner which allows you to close the ad so you can continue watching your chosen video uninterrupted. This muting feature, is currently now on its way to all ads served on the AdWords display network. Display ads are visually driven ads, often pictures or a short gif, as opposed to the purely text ads you often find attached to search results on the Google results page. By allowing users to be able to mute ads, it’s allowing a few things. You’re telling the search engines that you’re not interested in seeing ads from that ad group any longer, and a link to an Ad Preferences page where you can tell Google the types of ads you don’t want to see. By using the ads preferences page you can tell Google exactly which types of ads you don’t mind seeing occasionaly on your browsing adventures, and which types you explicitly don’t want to see.
With the idea of being able to mute display ads, you’re also saving advertisers money, as they don’t have to pay for ads which are served to individuals who aren’t interested in them, and you don’t have to continually filter out advertisements in an ad group you don’t want to see. All in all it’s a solid step forward for both parties online, the advertisers and the consumers.
At present, there are a couple of different sets of active penalty systems being tossed around on Google. There’s the Penguin update, and the link penalties which are being levied against sites with strange link profiles. If you’ve noticed a backtracking in your site position, how are you to know which way to proceed? Let’s have a quick look and see if it can be narrowed down some.
Firstly, the Penguin update which is still running around, seemingly causing mass havoc with some site owners. The most recent version of Penguin in the wilds of the web are searching for unnatural backlinks, a tighter field of view when looking for fresh content, better page title generation (if your page doesn’t have one), and better detection of hacked websites and pages. Note as well, that all of these algorithm changes, and much more, all run automatically as the spiders break down your site. If you’ve received no notification in your webmaster tools area, chances are you’ve been hit by a Penguin drive by.
The second current most common way that sites are being hit, is with what is called an unnatural link penalty. The key difference between this method and Penguin, is the link penalty is manually handed down against your website. If you pay heed to your webmaster tools notifications (you did remember to set that up right?), then just follow the steps in place to correct the penalties levied.
Or as I saw it put so succinctly:
Unnatural links is more about link networks, paid links, blog networks and unnatural link patterns.
Penguin is more about low quality links with weird looking anchor text, plus other over optimization related link building techniques.
In the discussion that has followed, it has been noted that the two seem to be inter-related to each other, so be sure to keep tabs on your websites performance, and don’t ignore the notifications you receive. You’ll only be sinking yourself faster should you choose to ignore any warnings or messages.
With all of their updates that have been applied in the last while, Penguins, Pandas and who knows what else is coming, it’s becoming fairly common to read the occasional article on how poorly Google is faring as a search company. The news headlines are even beginning to creep into mainstream media more and more often, especially with Google+ trying to creep into Facebook territory.
But when you start to look at the numbers, year over year, nobody is really going anywhere. Where online search is concerned, just over 2/3 of the users choose to use Google as their search engine when looking for information online. The Bing/Yahoo machine (since Bing provides all of the results for Yahoo) stayed at a near 30% search share for the month of May, overall a loss of search share for the duo. Bing remained constant from April, and gained from a year ago, but since they’re filling the role of search engine for Yahoo, it is only logical to lump the pair together. The remainder of the search market is taken up by everyone else, Ask, AOL, and all of the other smaller engines out there like DuckDuckGo. These numbers are relevant to the desktop search market.
The mobile search market is much different than the desktop variant. While there maybe a much more varied platform base in the mobile market, it is absolutely dominated by Google, taking up the monster share of 95% of the US market. It seems that regardless of how much some SEOs decree the death of Google as a search engine, that the general user disagrees. At this point in the life of the web, the original search engine, is still the best search engine, going by the numbers. Your personal use and interpretations will vary somewhat from the general public.
Google, the Government, and you
Going over the search share numbers, it’s very plain to see that Google is sitting on the largest share of the pie, by a very clear margin. Being a company of such a huge size, with such a massive market share, makes you an impressively large target to take aim at. A couple of years back, in order to make information more available for view, Google began a new feature they dubbed as a transparency report. The introduction of the information was to give the general public an idea as to the types of removal requests the company faces on an ongoing basis. They’ve released their fifth data set, which gives a fairly clear timeline of events and online postings, and in their blog post from yesterday, Google has noticed a disturbing trend.
“We noticed that government agencies from different countries would sometimes ask us to remove political content that our users had posted on our services. We hoped this was an aberration. But now we know it’s not.”
It should be no surprise that governments are keenly interested with online activity and online content, it was only a short time ago that portions of the internet went black in opposition of the proposed SOPA bill. But even though governments have been requesting blog posts, videos, and sometimes even entire websites to be removed from the index, in the end they are just that; requests. And with the nature of requests, can come denial, which is what Google has been doing with most of the requests they’ve received. You can delve deeper into the report by following this link and it’s safe to assume that other search engines often receive the same requests to remove content from their index as well.