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.
I had an odd occurence recently in terms of how search is evolving and it involved a rogue browser extension. It’s mildly annoying when you have a toolbar become installed in your browser of choice, but it’s frustrating when it’s installed without your expressed knowledge, say by having the install clause buried in a EULA for another program.
The rogue extension in question was Surf Canyon, a real time search reorganizer would be the short description. With the internet being comprised of literally trillions of web pages, search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo are the big hitters in locating what you need online. They all offer their own pros and cons, Google is the weapon of choice for the majority of searchers out there for the past 10+ years.
Real time search results have become a challenge for all of the search players, with everyone working to get a solid solution to serving up relevant results which compliment the current organic offerings. The idea behind Surf Canyon extension is that it personalizes the web for you as you search. A fine enough idea, what was actually noticed however was the extension has somewhat a mind of it’s own.
Toolbars are a nuisance in a browser, fake links on webpages are a pain as you don’t really know what’s real and what isn’t without clicking. But a browser extension which supplants false links into webpages which you know have no outgoing links? That’s poor business practice and sketchy access to a computer and browser history.
Is Bing more biased than Google when it comes to the results pages? In research that has been gaining traction as of late, the answer seems to be yes. It wasn’t a directed study on a few select terms either, it was a large random sampling of the SERPs conducted by a professor at George Mason University.
What he found in the tests that he conducted was that for the most part, Bing will favor Microsoft content more often and more prominently, than Google favors its own content. According to the findings, Google references its own content in its first results position in just 6.7% of queries, while Bing provides search result links to Microsoft content more than twice as often (14.3%). The percentages may seem small, but when you consider there are billions of searches performed daily, suddenly 14% isn’t such a small number.
The findings also cast a different light on the recent FTC antitrust complaints which Google has been handling surrounding anti-competitive behaviour. It’s also a stark contrast to a similar study done earlier in the year, which concluded that “Google intentionally places its results first.” So now as a user with two completely different data points, which is the set to believe?
Well the second study which has been conducted had two goals in mind : To replicate the findings of the first study and to also expand on the methods used to determine if it was perhaps an issue in how the results came about. From the very beginning, it was found that while Google does favor its own content at some points, the selection of terms is exceedingly small. What was also learned and wasn’t mentioned in the first study, Bing does precisely the same in preferring Microsoft results, but for a much wider range of terms than Google does and is much more likely to do so. “For example, in our replication of Edelman & Lockwood, Google refers to its own content in its first page of results when its rivals do not for only 7.9% of the queries, whereas Bing does so nearly twice as often (13.2%)”
As for the second part of the study, the study used a much larger, more random sampling of search queries as opposed to the only 32 samples that the first study used to portray Google as the big bad guy of search. And the findings of the second study were related in the beginning of the post; Google references own content in its first results position when no other engine does in just 6.7% of queries, while Bing does so over twice as often (14.3%).
So, what does this mean as an end user?: Google (and Bing, though less so) really are trying to deliver the best results possible, regardless of whether they come from their own services (local search, product search, etc) or not. It all comes down to preference.
There are many steps which are part of a successful organic SEO campaign. There’s all of the little steps like writing good content, making sure you have the titles and meta tags in place and having a menu which is comprehensive. When you’re finished with the good practices pages, you begin to read about one of the time intensive steps of the campaign, link building.
Since Panda has reared it’s head over the last year or so, there’s been chatter about how the SEO game has fundamentally changed. That scrapers and content aggregators, the black hatters and the link buyers would just disappear and we’d have pristine, precise results. Time has started play it’s part and while the scrapers, aggregators, black hatters and link buyers have mostly been swept away, there has recently been a new call to revamp the way the system has been working. The desire to change the link building metric portion of the search game sometimes comes up in discussion as the points for and against the practice are argued. When you break it all down to the basic points, primarily every search engine will tell you the same thing: content is king. If you produce quality, relevant content, you will rank in the SERPs.
The kicker about producing this kind of content however, is you will naturally receive back links to your site and it’s pages. When you’re a new site and you need to visit and email possible consumers and possible partners in the same niches, building those back links takes time. But they will be built, they will be taken as a metric by the search engines and until an algorithm can come along which can read and evaluate content as a user would, link building will be relevant. It will be an important portion of any and every organic SEO campaign no matter how big or how small. The success of your link building campaign can be directly tied to how much work you’re willing to put into contacting those who are in an industry which compliments your own.
It really shouldn’t have to be said, but search is changing, it’s evolving into a faster, finer tuned machine than it was 10 years ago. Within all of those changes, there are different focal points which are constantly being tweaked. Recently, MDGadvertising produced a great graphic outlining the current and future trend of local search.
The term ‘local search’ shouldn’t be an unfamiliar one, any business owner with a website absolutely needs to be concerned with their online exposure. The image which MDG produced puts a lot of the research gathered about local search into an easily digestible format. And some of the information while straight forward, is still exciting to read.
There are a number of factors directly affecting current local search growth. One is business owners and search engines for that matter, are getting better are targetting where it is you’re conducting your search from. If you’re searching in Winnipeg there’s no reason for Google/Bing/Yahoo to give you results for Regina for example if you’re looking for a new car or home repairs. A second large metric to consider is the widely increased use of mobile phones to conduct searches while on the go. It’s estimated that on average 33% of all mobile subscribers use their phones to conduct searches, and 20% of those do it on a daily basis.
All of this local search business has a lot of value in it, especially when you work hard at becoming a leader locally in your niche. It’s estimated that this year nearly $6 billion will be generated by local search and by 2015 that number will be over the $8 billion dollar range. A huge amount of cash flow, that seems to be going largely untapped. Because at present,
less than 40% of businesses have a local search presence on the SERPs. Local search is only starting to pick up, soon the game will be running a full speed. Have you taken the proper local search optimization steps?
There are a lot of tips out there online about search engine optimization and the methods you can put to use to rank higher in the Google/Bing/Yahoo SERPs. You can find some of the same type of posts on our blog here as well. You’ll find discussion of white hat techniques, black hat techniques, the common steps known as well as some of the not so obvious ones.
What you don’t find very often however, are posts about what not to do, or what to look out for when you’re looking at contracting a company to perform SEO on your website. While the search engines are somewhat flexible in what you’re allowed to do, there are most definately some tricks which can get you black marked, all the way to completely kicked from the SERPs.
So, when you’re looking for a company to perform optimization on your site, keep your ears open for any of the below terms. If there is mention of using any of these practices, it’s time to run for the hills.
Using Cloaked content
This is one of the most common, and most likely to get your company banned, practices out there. For the most part, when you create content for your site you’re telling the search engines what your site is for. Google/Bing/Yahoo then lists the website under the titles and keywords that is found in that content. Cloaking content is when a company shows Google content, and then shows viewers different content such as ads or links to malware infected sites. This is what is cloaking and will get a site removed from Google in very short order.
A lot of blogs talk about how the meta data for keywords and description are defunct, but Google often looks to these as indicators of keywords that make up a site. For example a site about water softeners will often contain content relevant to that industry. Some companies, however, try to gain new content by what is known as “keyword stuffing”. Mainly this involves hiding keywords with single pixel sized font or camouflaging text the same as the background color to try and get listed more often, for more terms. It may seem to work short term, but it will get a site removed from the SERPs.
Duplicate content Websites
Some novice SEOs and SEO companies try to increase rankings by putting the exact same content on different pages on multiple sites. Typically they also use a scraper tool to gather quality content from websites for their own. Search engines have gotten adept at catching this and will happily penalize, a website that has too much duplicate content.
Auto Generating Content
Another poor technique is to use a program to write content for your website. This is exactly as it sounds, taking one article and then having a program rewrite the article by changing a few sentences and keywords over and over again.
Those are only a few of the terms you need to be aware of when speaking with an SEO company. Absolutely stressing the point that if any of the above techniques are mentioned as a tool they use, avoid them at all costs. There is no shortcut to success in online marketing, real SEO takes time and the more time and effort you can put into it, the bigger return on investment you can expect.
The anti-trust hearings versus Google and their supposed stranglehold of the web has been continuing in front of the senate. There are people on all sides of the argument it seems, Google on the defensive, Microsoft and a few others decrying that they’ve been wronged by the search giant. And one of the most basic arguments that Schmidt has used to rebut all of the claims of unfair business could very well win the day. Schmidt’s defence basically says:
“Google faces competition from numerous sources including other general search engines (such as Microsoft’s Bing, Yahoo!, and Blekko); specialized search sites, including travel sites (like Expedia and Travelocity), restaurant reviews (like Yelp), and shopping sites (like Amazon and eBay); social media sites (like Facebook); and mobile applications beyond count, just to name a few.”
Now on one hand, yes Google can provide all of the services that are available on the web, but there are simply better options. If you’re big into social networking, Facebook is still the king, if you travel a lot you use Expedia to find tickets and deals. I’ve personally used Amazon, eBay and Kajiji to post and purchase items and even the smaller search engines like Blekko have their place and a few tricks that Google just can’t do.
So Schmidt’s argument that there are options available online, users just need to navigate to them, is utterly true. Google doesn’t so much have a dominance of the internet, as it has a dominating presence in the search arena. And there are many out there who would point out, Bing, Yahoo and the littls start ups like Blekko which come along, chip away little by little at that armour. Google’s search advantage or position isn’t going to disappear or diminish in any great capacity until a revolutionary game changer makes itself known, just as Larry and Sergei did with Google.
So don’t worry about Google’s “dominating web presence” so much, instead use your keyboard and mouse and investigate the alternatives. Just because one site offers similar products, doesn’t automatically mean you have to use them. After all, you wouldn’t call Coca-Cola to order some Pepsi.
Some would think it foolish to continually bail out a sinking ship, as it springs more and more holes the longer it’s in the water. Yet as strange as a metaphor as that may be, that’s exactly what Microsoft has been doing for the last 4+ years with it’s search engine, first Live and now known as Bing.
Realistically you may initially think that it can’t really be that bad, search is a multi-billion dollar a year industry, Bing and search powered by Bing has about a third of the market so how bad could it really be. Bing search share has been growing slowly, abeit steadily since they rebranded themselves and growth and change has been positive. So how bad is it really? Since 2009, Bing has lost $5.5 billion dollars for Microsoft.
The image itself should put into stark contrast the amount of money that’s been lost in the search game. But Microsoft isn’t without tricks or ideas, and in an interview they hinted at some upcoming surprises.
Microsoft President of Online Services Qi Lu gave an impassioned speech about how Bing would improve search by “reorganizing the Web.” To do that, Microsoft plans to leverage its network of products and partnerships to gain a better understanding of what the user is after when they enter a query into a Bing search box.
And as if to emphasize that Microsoft has recognized the necessity for radical change, Lu also said in the same interview:
Microsoft could not and would not try to “out-Google” Google. Instead, it must “change the game fundamentally.”
If Bing stays the course, even the money analysts are predicting positive cash flow in the next 3-4 years, provided of course Bing continually earns search share from Google. Lu’s statement however, sounds as if Bing is being poised to be sent in a new direction.